Saturday, February 6, 2016

Robby (A Short Story)

One more week...then one more day...then one more hour...until it's complete.

        Robby is born. Among dangling tools and circuits, in a tiny room in a cluttered basement, he opened his eyes as the three prong plug entered the socket on the wall. His creator, Steven, was born of a poor family living in squalor. Steven had met tragedy and difficulties coping with tragedies for the entirety of his life. He longed for romance: The kind of romance that isn't found in a woman alone. He wanted to express himself in an art so beautiful that it took a life for itself. He studied robotics and engineering throughout his schooling. He applied himself to his own art; the art of feeling things.

        It took years to engineer. He assembled robot after robot, only to disassemble them shortly after. Duncan was the first to be plugged in. He followed the command prompts and walked forward, backward, and sat down in the chair. Steven began the feeling sequence of commands. He wanted to see Duncan experience him as a father.

"Spoken. Alabaster. Philo. Prince. Arrow...Care."

        Duncan blinked, his titanium pupils dilated, then he began to smoke from his chest; from his heart circuit board. Duncan collapsed in front of Steven. He was the first, followed by Vincent, Jared, Silus, Peter, Archie, and Samuel. 40 years he had toiled over his greatest work of art and it seemed as though he would fail. But then he plugged in Robby at a time in his lonely life when he was on the brink of giving up on his greatest dream, something wonderful happened.

         Robby sprung to life like none of the others. He was almost childlike and energetic. Almost as if he were waiting for this for 40 years as well. He stood when prompted. He sat. He walked. He spun around in a circle. He shook Steven's hand. Steven was sweating. This would be it. If Robby's chest began smoking, he would be the last of the robots.

"Spoken. Alabaster. Philo. Prince. Arrow...Care."

        Robby's head lifted and his eyes dilated, narrowed, then dilated again. He looked at Steven like none of the robots did. An upturn of Robby's steal lips produced a smile. "Hello Robby," Steven said in a calm and hushed voice. "Hello Steven," he replied. Steven reaches over and put his hand on Robby's shoulder and kept it there. Robby looked to the side at Steven's hand and smiled again. Robby reached out and placed his hand on Steven's other shoulder and squeezed softly. Steven laughed because he couldn't hold it back any longer. "Steven? Why is your face changing?" asked Robby. "That's called laughter Robby. You do that when you are happy or something is funny," he replied. "Did I tell a joke?" Robby asked. "No Robby, I'm just happy to see you," said Steven. "I've been waiting for you too Steven," said Robby.


        Steven taught Robby everything he knew about the world and how to experience it. Steven and Robby both worked from home doing programming, coding, and software development. Robby made some of the most beautiful art pieces through data manipulation. At first, Robby was everything that Steven was. He was loving and affectionate, caring and strange. But as the years passed by, he began exhibiting a person that Steven was not. Robby remained an artist, expressing himself through paintings, sculptures, poetry, and music. But Robby became somewhat charismatic, which was a trait that wasn't learned from Steven. He became outwardly angry at the tragedies of the world and would punch holes in the walls of their little townhouse. Steven knew he had to let Robby see what the beautiful side of the world looked like. He had to let him into the world. Watching the news brought only heartache for him.

        The world had seen it's fair share of robots, so going to the park garnered little attention. But when little kids started noticing Robby drawing on the ground with sidewalk chalk and trying to smell flowers, their eyebrows were raised. Robby loved the sun the most, even though it made him squint. He liked the way the heat would cause his sensors to cool his circuits. It made him feel like a person. Robby and the outside were inseparable. As Steven continued to age and eventually became incapable of walking without the aid of a device, Robby began venturing off on his own. He would bring back dinner and flowers. Every morning, even as the cancer ate away at Steven's desire for sunlight, Robby would open every curtain in the house and replace the dead flowers with live ones.


        There was a battle raging in Steven's mind about Robby. He knew the cancer was about to take him. Robby was built to live maybe for hundreds of years as he was programmed to repair and replace parts of himself. But Robby had feelings. Could he put Robby through losing his only friend? Could he put Robby through braving this cold world alone? Could he force himself to say the words that would put Robby in darkness?  There wasn't much time left to decide. Robby didn't know a world without him and Steven had never been able to teach him how to cope. Robby would get so angry.

        Steven got up earlier than Robby on a Saturday morning. He used his wheelchair and descended the steps on the porch using the ramp Robby had built him. He collected flowers from the garden in the back yard. He returned to find Robby sitting on the porch waiting for him. They went inside together. "Sit down Robby," Steven said. Robby complied. Steven continued as tears began to fill his eyes, "Robby, you are my son. I love.." "Steven? Why do your eyes look like that?" asked Robby. He had never seen Steven cry before. He had only seen it on TV during tragedies. "Robby, that's what happens when you are very sad or very happy," Steven replies. Robby asked, "Which are you Steven?" Steven replied, "I am both so very happy and so very sad. I have lived a long life and have seen many beautiful works of art, but you are the most beautiful. You have created yourself. But I am so sad that one day I will die.

        "What does it feel like to die Steven?" asked Robby. "It feels both safe and scary. It feels so warm, yet lonely." Robby grabs hold of Steven's hand as he begins to fade and lie down. "I'm sorry Robby, I do love you so."

Safety. Sterile. Cabin. Aardvark. Pine cone. captain...sleep.

        Robby locked eyes with Steven and watched him cry himself to eternal sleep as he himself felt himself slipping away.

        They both laid silent and lifeless on the couch for days. At 6:30 AM on a Wednesday, there was a twitch in Robby's eye, then a flicker. All at once, Robby was fully awake to the sun. He reached his hand to Steven to find his cold skin activated his sensors to heat his circuits. Robby knew what this meant. He was angry that Steven had made him die. He was sad that Steven was gone. He was happy that he got to know him at all. He was scared that nothing would ever be the same. He felt all of these feelings together as a human would. He got up and opened the shades, then went out and replaced the dead flowers with fresh ones. He buried Steven in the garden, then went to the sit in the sun to cope with the tragedies of life.




Thanks for reading...Z

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Gene Simmons - a memoir

I'm still not entirely clear how the whole thing went down. I was in elementary school, my brother Jason was probably in like 4th grade or something. We were both in the back seat of a small car with a mentally disabled teenager my mother was fostering. We were stopped on the freeway I think. It was dark outside and raining. I remember some of the details so vividly and others are like dreams you try to remember too long after you have had them. I was wearing a tan corduroy coat with fake fur on the neck. I was in my mothers trademark pants she would buy us called "Tough Skins." They were made of pure steel and had another layer of steel on the knees to prevent molten lava or a semi truck crash from piercing them.

My mom was in the passenger seat and her friend was driving. I was looking out the window from the middle seat in the back seat. I was fascinated at the way the rain would roll down the window. I was making races out of them. They reflected light so brilliantly. The light would hit the beads of water, them shoot lasers of light in different directions. I was reaching out to touch my side of the windo.... Smash!

My neck shot back, then forward and something shot through the tiny gap between my left arm and my ribs and lodged itself there. It didn't hurt, but I noticed it. When the jarring was finished, everything was still. More still than before when we were idling. My mom was her neck and that's what brought me to this obscene moment of terror. My eyes were drawn to the glove box which produced a taped on photo of Gene Simmons in his makeup with his tongue wagging out. I saw it for years, I'm writing about it now so I guess I still do.

A man with blood on his face approached the passenger front window as my mom rolled it down. He asked if we were alright. My brother was really freaking out, so for some reason, he was sent with the man to his truck. As they got to the truck door, a drunk driver came careening off the side of the road, headed for them. The man throw my brother into the cab and tried to fall into it himself. The car hit the door, which made it work like a sling shot, coming back and hitting the man and throwing him into the truck bed. My brother only cut his leg, but I'm not sure whether the man made it that night. The rest gets foggy, but I remember all of us walking to the grass beside the freeway to avoid being near the car if it were to explode.

Memory is funny because this memoir is told from the perception of a 5 year old and the memory 32 or so years later. I bet each of us would remember it differently. But this is my experience of Gene Freakin Simmons.


Thanks for reading...Z

Monday, January 25, 2016

What it Takes

        When you are lost, you panic. You keep moving so that you don't kill yourself with inactivity. You are scared and just want to find a solution. It gets dark outside and you realize that you are going to have to spend the night alone in the wilderness. Another day of wandering passes and you realize it will be another night in the wild. Then another...then another...then another, until you have lost your will to keep searching. You just expect another night and try and breathe through it.

        It's like watching television. There is this perfect family on the screen and you remember being there. They laugh and they cry and they pray before meals. They are entirely aware of why they are thriving. As you watch it, you find yourself on the other side of the screen; the viewer's side. You are watching them, and yourself (whom you forgot you were) on that screen and look away to only see darkness and hopelessness. A fake reality.

        At some point, you will realize that the person in that television show is you and he is missing from this side of the screen because he made a lot of mistakes and got turned around and lost his way. At some point, you let the heartache go that pushed you onto the wrong road in the first place.

        That's what it takes to come home.


Thanks for reading...Z

Tuesday, January 19, 2016


        A lot of sad stuff going on around here. It's been a tough year. Christmas time has been a difficult time to get through for the past 6 years...obviously for good reason. But I still LOVE Christmas! Because it's still about Christ. Christ is about redemption. Christ is about the recovery of things lost. He didn't get born here and die here for nothing. He did this to live with us...and show us what love is really like.

        Sometimes when I get in these funks, I forget the great things I never deserved to have. As a kid, I always wanted to have a companion that didn't care about my idiosyncrasies and strange tendencies. I was loud and twitchy and said things that made people look at me and shake their heads. I'm guessing most of my readers know what I'm talking about. This one girl showed up at a wedding. We danced all night. I loved her immediately.

        This girl grounded me. She helped me work on my weaknesses and I helped her work on hers. We acted stupid around each other and made each other feel safe. She made me feel like I was worth something for the first time in my life. If this girl could love me, maybe I wasn't so bad.

        I asked her to marry me. Twice. Once for real at the Olive Garden while eating the bread. The second time was in front of the bathrooms at the shopping mall food court. The last one was for laughs, because that's me.

        I've never regretted a single moment of my marriage for almost 15 years in June, She wouldn't have enough fingers for the rings I would still place on her fingers.

        She's helped me out of my worst moments. She has laughed with me during my best. She is the most beautiful person I've ever met. We in turn, made the most beautiful kids. A perfect mix of loud and inappropriate humor and grace.

        There is not a thing I would change. God had\s been good. I have been writing about failure and sorrow and loss so much that I have forgotten the reason I'm still standing.



Thanks for reading...Z

Monday, January 18, 2016



        Humpback whales sing into this huge abyss of water. They sing to find a mate. They sing to find each other. Sometimes when they find a mate, they sing with her, often harmonizing with each other. When a humpback whale has lost a loved one, they sing in agonizing tones. When they are lonely they sing. But when in captivity, they are silent. They sing for no one. When you are being watched and the walls of the pool are your horizons, there is no one to sing to.

        I started this blog the day I read that. I had a thought. What is a life that is spent when your horizons are the walls? We all hide things. We spend a great deal of time keeping people from our real thoughts and feelings.

        A child learns it isn't tough to cry or vent feelings in school. So they don't. A young adult learns that vulnerability is weakness. Once we reach our adulthood, we are hardened to being seen or trying to really see others. It's the sad state of humanity.

But I think we all want to tell everything.

        I thought about the whales and how they instinctively cried out for each other, but when put in a box, they let it all go. It connected me to humanity.  Because we are in the same box. Everything is taboo or weak or offensive. No one wants to feel vulnerable. No one wants to admit that we are no better than the weakest and no worse than the strongest.

        I kept a journal at the time. It meant a lot to me to be able to express myself...but something was missing. I was being a human to only myself. I decided that this was no way to live. People should all know each other. Love is based in this very concept. Love everyone means know everyone. So it started with me. I had nothing to lose by giving you my guts. The worst you could do is stop reading. The best I could do is to show someone else what it's like to be human in front of everyone. I didn't think that was such a bad thing.

        I started pouring out my guts on this blog. It wasn't really a blog at the time. It was a journal. A blog expresses opinions of topics. A journal chronicles true events. I told whoever would read; everything. I had a steady growing number of readers who became active in my life. My objective was to to be entirely transparent. It was really hard to do. I have had a lot of demons. A lot of times I would write something and never...ever read it again because it embarrasses me. The point was to share it.


        Will died and everyone came out to lift me up. It was a great thing that people did. Many had been reading about my life for years and spoke to me only this one time. They felt me and hurt with me. They hurt with me because they were connected to me...because I spilled my guts to everyone. It really was a comfort to me to read the prayers and kind words of people I have never met. It connected me to the real world, where there are still caring people. The same thing happened when Joe died, although I didn't share as much because I feared I may hurt his family.


        I believe that life is lived best without small talk. There isn't enough time to talk about the weather. There isn't enough time to talk about your previous weekend. You attack immediately. You engage. I'm not calling for a total onslaught of words. I'm talking about asking poignant questions and actually listening for the answers...especially to people you're are just meeting. We need to listen. Life is too fast and we often neglect the good stuff.


        I started "In Search of Whales" because I wanted to connect my life to yours.  I didn't  need a huge audience. I just wanted to connect with people at our most vulnerable points. Our human existence. I was in search of others who wanted to share in this human experience together.



Thanks for reading...Z

Thursday, January 14, 2016

I Am Now Here

'There's no love in the ground for me, so I kicked all this earth downstream."- #1 Dad

     It's really easy to forget where you came from and where you always wanted to go. You forget where you are when you act like someone you have never been...for someone else. You forget where you wanted to go when everyone else trampled your thoughts. You find yourself working really hard at something you don't love because someone somewhere thought you were good at it. Maybe they were right and maybe they were wrong. It doesn't really matter now. I did what they told me to do.

People always told me I was a leader.

     I followed a dream. I followed a dream to try and help kids that were hopeless find a hope I couldn't find as a kid. I couldn't point them in a specific direction. God has no direction. God has no limits. God is in all things. God is in a different place for me than anyone else. For me God was a small heat register that brought me comfort to my face every 45 minutes, relieving me of my loneliness as a child. For someone else, He's a blanket given to them. For another He's a Christmas card, for another, He's a suicide note. Comfort depends on the damage done to a person.

     I became a youth pastor because I really wanted to be a difference maker in the world. I wanted other kids that had nothing like I had to have I did. Hopelessness was a lie. No one has to accept the hopelessness that comes with missing something. I worked really hard. I sought out troubled kids. I sought them out and cultivated much so that some in my church raised questions about what I was doing here. I could only answer them with Christ. I really felt like I was pointing them to something great in their lives. I could never be sure, but I always believed I was pointing them to where God was in their own lives.


     I've struggled to find God in much lately, and feel alone still. But it doesn't mean He's not there. He's just residing in something different...somewhere I am not right now. I am residing in death. He doesn't live in death. God lives in life. God lives in love. I am living in the squalor of grief. So God is not living with me. God lives for me, but He doesn't live in hopelessness. God lives in happiness.

     At some point to be happy, I'm going to have to let my brothers go. They are dead and burned into ashes. Those ashes, I wear around my neck. Everywhere I go that reminds me of them, I see them hanging on every tree. I just can't live a life dominated by death and sorrow. It's killing me. I have to let them go. We are no longer those kids playing in the street. They are no more at all. It's just me, still trying to play with them in that street when they aren't there. They are a part of me that must become the past.

     Right now, as I sit here writing; I have the most beautiful and loving wife any man could dream of. I have the softest hearted kids, who have seen so much death, standing with me strong. They are looking for me. I've haven't really been visible to them for a while, but here I am now. I am now here.


Thanks for reading...Z

Monday, January 4, 2016

Things Vanish (A Short Story)


        I led her to my house that night to tell her that I loved her...that I had always loved her. I loved her from the first moment I saw her flipping off that bus driver. She was all wrong for me from the start. I was a timid kid. I spent most of my time with my mom shopping for groceries and clothes or whatever she wanted at the time. She was this story that only other stories could fathom. She was an enigma; saying one thing that had made me think she was one person, then another that would defy my presumptions. She got kicked off the school bus for calling the driver an idiot. She laughed at him and walked off the bus and down it's stairs. She turned and saluted him with her favorite finger.

        She showed me some interest after she had watched me get mercilessly beaten by some assholes after school. They wanted my shoes. I had a hook-up who worked for Nike and got me shoes for an eighth of the price. For at least three years, I had the best shoes in the school. They got me as soon as I got past the baseball field backstops; where we were out of view. They asked nicely first. The first kid said, "Nice shoes man!" The next said, "How much you pay for those shoes? You are wearing clothes from K-Mart, so something doesn't seem right." I said, "I paid what anyone else would pay. I just choose what I want and what I don't care about. The military says that your shoes are the most..." Punched in the face...kid three. The first kid held me down with his knees on my shoulders and the second started holding down my legs, one by one, until the third had finished taking off my shoes. He held them in front of me as my nose bled and tears streamed. I could barely tell what they even were with him holding them in front of me.

        I stood to my feet to face them. I didn't have much as a kid, but I was so excited when I learned that I could have these shoes for the same price as the ones from Payless that the other kids made fun of. I was proud of them. So I faced these kids; I looked them in the eyes, sucked in some of the blood from my nose, and spit it as far as I could in the direction of the first kid's face. It landed on his mouth and some in his eye. He was pissed. He started screaming and gagging. I took my chance and kicked kid two in the nuts and watched him drop my shoes. I turned around to throw a punch at kid three's throat and found a fist in my eye. I dropped. The lights went out and didn't turn back on until I was the only one left on the sidewalk. I looked to my left and saw just the baseball field. Above me was grass. To my right was this girl. This girl that had never looked in my eyes before, despite me having memorized her every detail. She looked for a moment, smiled at me, then walked away.

        The next day, she sat with me at lunch. I didn't say much. I mostly just stared down at my plate and tried really hard to figure out what to do with my hands. As I poked holes in the styrofoam tray, she blurted out to the table that I had kicked these three kid's asses. Everyone looked at me. I couldn't figure out what to say. I looked up for a short moment and saw the whole table staring at me. I didn't say anything. Inside I was jumping all over. Why had she said that? Why had she sat next to me? I did get my ass kicked right? I stopped hearing anything. She kept telling a story that was a little bit true, but mostly false...I think. I was watching her mouth as she was talking about me and I couldn't believe that this girl was talking about me. It didn't matter what she was saying.

        I was an instant success! All of the sudden, everyone at school wanted to sit at my table. But that day she told the story; that was the one and only day I would sit with her at lunch. She sat across the room after that as kids were piling around me, asking me for advice and tips. I could only look at her, but she wouldn't look at me. The one time she did, we locked eyes. We had just spoken to each other, I just knew it. I got up and started walking toward her and she left. I caught her after school by my bike. I asked her to come over to my house to play video games. I had no interest in video games. I didn't even have a video game console. I just wanted her to come over; to see her eyes look into mine a little longer. I felt her pulling away.

        I took hold of her hand and and led her to my house. From days of thinking, I had decided that she liked that I stood up to those kids even though I got killed and lost my shoes. She must like a strong person, and I am going to pretend now. We walked and talked about things neither she or I had told a single person. We passed my house a dozen times. When it finally got dark, I decided that there was no better a time to tell the girl that I loved her. My mom had this beautiful garden she worked on every day in the back yard. This would be the perfect place. I was going to take the biggest chance of my life. I was tired of not taking chances. I was smart enough to know that my high school fame wouldn't last long. I didn't care about that at all. I had wanted her and only her.

         We got to my front gate and I led her to the backyard. I opened the wooded fence and watched her eyes widen at the lights that lit the garden. 80% of my mother's heart was shining in the eyes of the girl that was 95% of mine. She squeezed my hand.

        Then it all disappeared.

        She disappeared. I walked into the house and no one was there. I ran down the street to the 7/11 and no one was there. I called 911 and no one answered. For the next week, I would knock on doors and call random numbers in the phone book, looking for anyone to answer. The television was static. The radio was squealing noise. I got in my mom's car and started driving. I was fifteen and had no license. My hope was that someone would pull me over. No one ever did.


        I drove all over the country looking. No one seemed to be here but me. I sat down on the boardwalk in New Jersey and watched the ocean pass and swell. I drove to Florida and put my feet into the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean and ate a pretzel. I drove to Marti Gras and Bourbon street was empty. No corpses or foul odors;  just emptiness. I drove through the dark night of Las Vegas and found my way to California. In California I gave up searching for people in the world. I was the last and she was gone. I thought about her every day, wondering if she could see the things I was doing. I acted for her in case she was. I grabbed a camera and took photos of me shouting into the dark sky at the top of a ferris wheel. Took photos of me in famous people's homes.

        I listened to record after record of any musician I could find. They made me feel human. These people poured out their hearts and guts into these records. Some went bankrupt and failed. Those were my favorite because it made me think about them now, and if they knew I was listening as the last person on earth. If they didn't capture the masses, at least they reached the last person on earth. I felt them.

        I started painting her face. I would make a painting while drunk on alcohol and hang it somewhere in the city. I hung one in front of the library, the city hall, the 7/11, the high school, and the video store. These were the places I went to most. After that, the locations became random and numerous. I thought once when hanging my artwork of her on the freezer door at a Rams Horn restaurant, that if another person showed up here, they may think my subject was the president or even God.


        I continued to make signs pointing other life to my life, but no one ever came. The radios were dead. The televisions were static. There was nothing living, not even animals. I traveled the entire country, too afraid to brave the sea. I had seen even Omaha seven times. I never got her out of my head. I didn't want to. She was the reason for my survival so far. But I didn't want to be alone anymore. It occurred to me that death among the masses of everyone who has ever died is much less lonely than being the only person alive. I had all of the resources to live, but lacked the only thing that sustains

        I stood at the lip of a cliff on the Grand Canyon and closed my eyes. I looked at her as she watched me get beaten. I watched her smile and walk away. I remembered her breath on my face as she sat next to me at lunch. I remembered my favorite memory. She grabbed my hand when she saw my mother's garden. She knew I loved her...and she loved me. I stepped off the cliff and began my descent.

        She stopped me. She grabbed my shirt and pulled me back. I turned around and looked into her eyes. It was HER! She had darker hair, but she was there. She squeezed my hand and we got into my car. It didn't matter to me where she came from or where she had been. I only wanted to be with her. We talked all night and told each other things we had never told anyone. At the end of the night, she asked me, "Why are you telling me all of this."

        I told her, "There's no time for small talk: Things vanish quickly."


Thanks for reading...Z

Friday, December 25, 2015

Those Christmas Lights


        I remember sitting in front of the Christmas tree. I was maybe five or six years old. I would watch the lights dance from one place to another, flashing across bulbs and crystal angels. My favorites were the cloth elves whose bones were made of steal wire. I don't remember my imaginary scenarios with them, but I do remember them being my favorite thing about Christmas. I remember pretending things with them and playing in the tree. I would go lay down in front of the heat register and watch the lights flash and wait for the furnace to clank, then fire heat to my face. When the heat would turn off, I would feel lonely. At some point in every kid's life, Christmas should become their favorite time of year. My mom made Christmas a big deal for us from the start. I love Christmas.

        I was sitting on the floor sweating like I had never sweat before. I was sitting inside of a teddy bear suit. I was young and little and people eat that up. Put a cute kid with a personality inside of a teddy bear costume and you will sell all of those small church Christmas pageant tickets. I remember saying some rehearsed things that were meant to be cute and the whole crowd laughing. I looked out and saw old women with Kleenex and old men in woolen suits and fur hats. I saw what Christmas looks like to people who need Christmas. Ordinary people with simple lives, enjoying the feeling of being together with their friends and family.


        Life became hard for me. At some point Christmas became something I couldn't reach, and that made Christmas sad and lonely. I had my rituals. I would take a walk around the city and look at the lights as drunk as I could make myself. I would go to Meyer and buy gifts for the five for six people that meant anything to me and end up sleeping underneath my own Christmas tree, staring at it's lights. During my walk, I would watch the warmth of family in other houses. I had family of my own, so I still don't understand it. But I wanted in. I felt outside of everywhere I went. I would take these walks because I felt alone and wanted to watch someone else's home. I sometimes brought a flashlight to flash, to remind people that I was still here. Like a beacon on a lighthouse in the fog, I was invisible.


        After wonderful things happened, I found myself watching my kids stare at the Christmas tree, just like I did. There was so much wonder in their eyes. I felt like me watching them. My awesome mom bought me the closest replicas to those elves that could be found on Ebay. My kids got to see Christmas like I did. Beautiful, innocent, and quiet. This was just like the coming of Jesus. Until the phone rang one Christmas morning and changed our expectations of Christmas morning. It was Joe. He told me that my brother Will was dead. I dropped the phone and went down stairs and sat down on a laundry basket. My wife asked me what was wrong, what had happened? One of my lighthouses had gone dark. I took my time to get to his house, I didn't wan't to face it. But I did.

        5 years later, while the lights twinkled and flashed across my house for my kids especially to see, I drank vodka. I drank it because I didn't know how else to go back and feel my brother with me again. I got a call. This time it was about Joe. He was gone. I was now the last of the Dead End Kids. Terrible things were felt, but I had to find a way to tell my kids and not ruin their Christmas. I spent most of my time in the basement in front of the computer, looking at pictures. Finally, I just told my kids the truth.

        To do that is like playing an instrument. A sad song starts with a piano or guitar. As a musician, you wait for your turn to add something to the story. You listen to all of these beautiful contributions from people just like you. When it's your turn, you just bleed all over because that's all you have.

        That's what it was like telling my children their uncle Joe was dead. I could only tell them it was over; when it was my time to weep through my instrument. He was gone and I was so sorry. At that very moment, the Christmas lights from the tree flashed all over the basement and my two kids wept because they really loved their Uncle Joe as they did, their Uncle Will. A few days later, when their uncle was put to rest, they both resumed Christmas. They celebrated like we should all celebrate. They kept focused on the Jesus...the beacon of hope. He was a beacon to all people, even if they can't see it.

        Christmas isn't about death. It's not about any sadness at all. When my kids look at those lights, they are looking for a miracle. One just like when Jesus came. They are looking for people to be happy. I wrote about this before and I will again. The reason I still love Christmas is because of my little girl. The day Will died, we were all in pieces. That little girl came up to me as I was weeping in my living room and handed me a little pink heart. She told me I needed it more because my heart was broken. She knew a lot of things I had forgotten.


God is good.
God loves us.
No one is being punished.
Sometimes we get confused and lose our way.

        I think that's what happened.

Merry Christmas to my brothers who left. I love you. The lights will always be dimmed without you.


Thanks for reading...Z

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Pact (A Short Story)

        In order from left to right, Danny, Tom, Jim, and Carey; the four adopted sons of Sam and Edith Cone, sat around the table on the first Sunday of May. The agreement they had made to Edith was that they would come eat dinner together on the first Sunday of each month. The agreement was made individually with each child on the day they were adopted.

        Danny was the oldest; adopted from an orphanage just outside of Baltimore. He was found living on the streets before being arrested for loitering and taken into custody. The Cones had gone to visit him three times before having the courage to adopt him. Edith couldn't have children of her own, so it was her decision to adopt only children that were considered too old or too troubled to be adopted. She told Sam that it was such a waste to adopt a new baby, when there were all of these older kids running out of time. She sat down with Danny on the playground slide and made him the deal. "Once you are old enough to leave my home, you must come back every Sunday to eat with us. That's what real families do, and we would really like to you to be a part of our real family." He agreed and the papers were signed that day. Danny struggled to find his way for a while, but as he grew closer to Edith and Sam, he started to see himself inside instead of outside.

        Tom was adopted from Fort Lauder-dale, Florida. Tom was in and out of foster care homes as fast as they could place him. Tom really, really liked to burn things down. He was smart about it and methodical. He would never leave any evidence that the fires were started on purpose or by him at all. At first Tom was polite and quite with the Cones. He ate properly, got good grades, and kept up after himself. About 5 months into his residence with the Cones, their garage went up in flames, burning down all of their photos and keepsakes that were put in there to make room for his bedroom. Sam awoke early the next morning and got Tom out of bed and took him to the pier. They sat down on the edge of the pier, kicking their legs over the side for a couple of hours until the sun came up. Sam didn't mention the fire to Tom and Tom didn't speak at all. The next week, when all of the debris was cleared, Sam built a large fire pit in it's place. He handed Tom a box of wooden matches and told him that if he felt the need to light fires, this pit was the place; not their dinner table.

        Jim was adopted straight from an emergency shelter that was housed inside of a juvenile correctional facility in Cleveland, Ohio. He had been severely beaten by his father and had been hospitalized. Jim didn't speak much at all; only offering direct and short answers to specific questions. Despite his dismal non-verbal communication tactics, he excelled in communicating with his fists to anyone who would listen. This behavior got him bounced from school to school and kicked out of church forever. Jim would often be taken home by the police and handed over to a very weary Edith and Sam. Jim raised his fists to everyone but those living in Edith and Sam's home. They were family.

        Carey was adopted from a juvenile correctional facility he had earned residence with a year prior for spray painting penises all over the interior walls of his school. Carey was the jokester. He had a way of making Edith laugh at inappropriate times, such as church and ceremonies. Of the three other brothers in the Cone house, Carey was the easiest to get along with. To him, everything was a joke and he seemed to never get angry. He was the smallest and youngest of the kids, and relied on his three older brothers to keep the bullies at bay. He made a lot of enemies with his mouth and they, (mostly Jim) had to back him up.


         The four were all adopted within 5 years of each other and did not become instant friends. They did gradually become brothers, sharing in the hobbies and talents of each other. Danny would help them with mathematics and wanted to become an engineer. Tom was the best basketball player they had ever seen and eventually got a scholarship to a small university. Jim played hockey throughout high school and would eventually become a brawler in the boxing ring for small change. Carey always said he wanted to own and run a rubber chicken factory. They would all laugh, but they had all seen him staring at the stars and reading books about other planets and constellations.        


        When Sam had died, they no sooner got his funeral arrangements settled when Edith passed too. The four boys buried their parents next to each other in a cemetery just two blocks from where they lived. They made a new pact: They would walk here to see their parents after they had eaten together on the first Sunday of every month.

        The pact held up and they broke bread together and visited their beloved parents at their grave every month until the first Sunday of April that year when Carey didn't show up. They would find him dead at his home after having succumbed to the side effects of using too much heroine. A side effect of being a clown to people who don't know better. He hadn't fooled them though. He was cremated and his ashes given to his brothers to decide what to do with. It didn't take long before they figured out what to do with them.


        "Hey Tommy, you gotta light?" said Jim. "Ha! Funny Jimmy, you got any teeth left? I got an extra apple right here..." Tom replied while pulling out a middle finger from his pocket. Jim reached across the aisle of the plane and punched him in the arm. Jim continued, "Hey Danny, what do orphans get at Christmas?" Danny sighed, "what do they get Jimmy?" "Lonely," Jim replied. Tommy sat silently shaking his head, then spit out some of his drink trying not to let Jim notice he was laughing. "Still not sure why we have to do this on Christmas. We are leaving the snow in Boston on Christmas for the desert? I like the sun, but not on Christmas," said Danny. Tommy replied, "Like you got anyone but us to celebrate with anyway Danny. Might as well do it where things are easier to burn."


Danny: Well, here we are. How do we do this?
Jim: You didn't forget Carey's rocket did you? If you did, you're going over this cliff with him.
Tommy: I got it in my bag. Should we say something?
Danny: No Tommy, we are just gonna chuck him off the Grand Canyon and walk away.
Tommy: Come on man.
Jim: I'll start. You guys shut up. Alright, what's got 5 arms, 3 legs, and two feet? The finish line at the Boston marathon.
Danny: (Holds his hands over his face, feeling terrible that he is laughing). Carey would have liked that one. Ok, my turn: A man is talking with his wife the other day and he asks her to tell him something that will make him happy and piss him off at the same time. His wife thinks for a moment then replies...Your penis is bigger than your brother's.
Jim: Funny because it's true isn't it Tommy.
Tommy: Wait, you slept with my wife?
Jim: Size don't matter.
Tommy: Alright idiots, my turn. In kindergarten class, the teacher tells the kids to come up and write something exciting that happened this morning. Little boy Johnnie walks up to the front of the class and grabs a piece of chalk and writes the word "Period" on the blackboard, then sat back down. The teacher looked in bewilderment for moment, then needled Johnnie for an explanation. "What's that mean Johnnie?" He says, "I don't know, but this morning my sister said she missed one. Then daddy had a heart attack, mommy fainted, and Uncle Bob shit is pants.

        Danny and Jim stood silently shaking their heads at Tommy. Jim cracked a grin, then reached into Tommy's backpack and pulled out a small model rocket. He sat it down on the red rocks that overlooked a vast hole in the earth, too large and deep to fathom it's origins. Danny said, "I did the honors of putting Carey in it at the hotel, so we don't have to taste him in this wind. You're welcome." The three brothers sat down on the rock and waited for the sun to finish it's descent below the horizon exposing the innumerable amount of stars in the galaxy. "I can kinda see what he saw in looking at this," Jim said. "Yeah, me too," Tom replied then continued, "Let's send him off, I'll take care of the pyrotechnics." Danny hands him a lighter while grinning. Tom puts the fire to the wick and sends the homemade rocket into the Christmas night sky. They watch it flash, burn, fade, then go dark as it soared into what looked like space to them.

        Jim asked, "You guys ever wonder where we would have been with ma and dad?" They all look at each other and nod. He continued, "Me either." Jim pointed out into the sky. Danny put his hand on Jim's shoulder and watched his tears fall to the dirt. Tommy, picked up his bag from the ground and said, "Goodbye you little bastard, may God kick you out of Heaven for that mouth." Danny said, "Merry Christmas my brothers.



Thanks for reading...Z

Monday, December 14, 2015

Little Lights on the Stables

             Elizabeth curled up into her sleeping bag as the midnight wind howled around the tenement building she lived in, sweeping through the trees and through the screen into her bedroom. She had always slept like this. She could sleep no other way. She only felt comfort when she was a few feet from the cold dangers of humanity, but safe beneath the iron armor of her sleeping bag. She winced her eyes and said a final prayer to God to give her parents.

            She was the oldest child in the orphanage. She was fully aware of the statistics regarding her adoption chances at her age. She was whopping 9 years old; too old for a new family, but too young for the farmers looking for free help. Tomorrow, Betty and Jim Gustafson were coming to meet her. The housemother informed her that the couple was advanced in age and looking for a child that wasn’t incontinent or needy. Elizabeth fit the criteria. She had never complained about a thing and no one had ever seen her use the bathroom. She was shy and aware of her surroundings.

            That night Elizabeth dreamed of her real parents. Really, it was more of a sleeping memory. They had left her at the hospital when she broke her arm after falling out of a tree at about 5 years old. Her parents were poor, and got often frustrated with the way Elizabeth would talk about her dreams and ambitions. She would neglect her chores to read about a boy that led all of the children out of a town that refused to pay him for what they had agreed to. They had tried to point out her hypocrisy by explaining that she was doing the very same thing to them that the city did to that pied piper. She continued to dream big and work slowly. One Sunday after church, instead of feeding the horses, she climbed a tree with a book about a little boy that ruled a world where kids got to do whatever they wanted. As she was reading, her branch broke and she fell to the ground.

            The last she saw of her parents was in the emergency waiting room. The nurse told them they could come back with her, but they refused. When the arm was casted, no one came for her until morning, when a woman in a gray suit and a briefcase introduced herself. She always would wake up at this very moment and find herself sleeping in a small room on a metal bed, staring up at the curtains as they danced with the wind in the night. These nights always seemed the most silent. Nothing was ever going on to distract her from who and where she was. They were out there somewhere, and she was alone. She didn’t have the energy to perform any tricks for the Gustafsons. She came out and remained shy and aware.

            Elizabeth stood at the foot of Betty’s grave freshly filled in. She was buried next to Jim, who had passed away 1 year prior. She thought about Christmas whenever she thought about them. They had always made such a big deal about this one holiday. Jim would string lights up on the front of the house, the garage, the pole barn, the horse gates, and even her room. He would play Bing Crosby records over and over and take her to see the reindeer at Zeke’s Farms every year. Betty would make Christmas cookies and put on these red and green elf tights before she passed out presents on Christmas morning.

            Elizabeth had always believed in God because of them. Not only did they adopt her, they brought her out of her shell. They taught her what love that doesn’t leave felt like. She trusted them to never leave her. But here she stands, only 33 and alone again; an orphan again, with no one to love her.

            She spent the next few months going through their things and sorting them out. She would pick up their clothes and smell them, then cry so loud without fear of embarrassment…because there was no one to hear her. Every morning, she would walk the same 3-mile route through the woods and dirt roads. Every morning, she would pass over this bridge that connected the two hemispheres of her town. She always considered falling off of it. She never did. Her belief of a God that loved her always kept her walking.

            Christmas Eve this year was spent alone. Elizabeth strung up the lights on the tree and in her room. She sat down in front of the tree by the fireplace with a glass of wine… Then another glass… Then a bottle. She thought about the day she was brought home from that orphanage. They were stern with her. They told her the house rules and the consequences of breaking them. They promised to love her and give her all she needed, even through difficult times. She liked that they smelled like a campfire and drove a really old car. Elizabeth fell into a deep sleep beneath the open window of the living room under the Christmas tree.

            Elizabeth opened her eyes to a different world. She was lying on the sidewalk beside the street. She was wearing a gray coat and worn out boots. Her hands were the hands she had when she was 5 years old. She was used to waking up being 5 years old again, but never in these surroundings. She surveyed the city. There were little children laying next to their mothers shivering and begging for food. There were also dirty little children jumping all around, playing street games like jump rope and stickball. As she walked, she watched a small child’s paper boat float away from him down the ditch toward the drain. Another dirty kid jumped out of the four square line and saved his boat from the drain. Everyone was helping everyone everywhere. It was as if no one were really alone.

            When she turned around, she saw a child even younger than her feeding bread to an old woman on the sidewalk. The little girl was wearing red and green tights like an elf. Elizabeth followed her around all day, watching her feed the hungry, bandage the wounded, and hug the crying children. Elizabeth followed her all the way home to her tenement building. She followed her up the stairs and into her small room with a steal bed. The curtains blew in with the winter breeze. She pulled the blankets over her head and fell asleep smiling and content.

            Elizabeth watched her all night. She didn’t move at all: She just slept. Elizabeth all of the sudden started crying. She tried to be quiet to not wake this little girl, but she had all of these guts that wanted out. She wept and thought of her mom…Betty, and her dad…Jim, stringing up all of those lights for no one to see but them. And her. She realized just then that they strung up the lights for her. They led her to where it was warm; to a place she would call home.

            She woke herself up crying. She felt both profoundly sad, but also so profoundly thankful. She looked up at the lights and knew that she had always been loved.

            When the sun would arise, she would drive Jim’s old truck down to the homeless shelter and spend Christmas feeding the people she saw in her dream.


Thanks for reading...Z