Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A Good Memory

I've seen my share of the insides of jail houses. Nothing crazy, just immature and kid stupidity. The first time was with Will. We liked to steal things that no one would realize were gone. There was a beauty in taking away things that people took for granted. We would steal (boost) silverware, plates, beer mugs, and those mats on the counter at McDonald's that told you the current value meals. I had a closet full of our accomplishments.

I've written about this day before. I'm not gonna rehash the details of our incarceration. But I did smile today thinking about my time sitting nervous in a cell next to my brother Will. When I get nervous I talk too much. When Will got nervous, he would go to sleep. I sat in that cell thinking the worst things and kept getting up to pace the floors. I was scared of everything in that moment. It's strange that I feared at all during this day, I didn't have much to lose really. No one really expected much from me and this would be par for the course.

As I sat there trying to find a way to blame someone else, Will's snoring stopped. I waited for a moment for words, but got nothing. I knew he was awake and he knew I was awake. Nothing happened.

Then out of the corner of my eye, I saw a toilet paper roll race past my cell leaving part of itself behind as it traveled. This single moment in time will never leave my memory. It was a reminder that some things don't really matter that much. What really mattered was who I was and who was with me. I had some very beautiful people with me.

Will got bailed and I ate a terrible TV dinner in jail. Later that night, after my mother had taken a loan from a friend to get me out, we sat in front of our parents and told a story. We told a story of two kids crying for help, totally helpless in our need for attention that we robbed a chain grocery store. How they believed it I have no idea, but we left with them feeling bad. Was any of it true? I don't really know. Maybe? Probably not?

What I do know is that the first time I went to jail is one of the best memories of my brother I have. I don't regret it.

This is my good thought. This is my good thing for tonight.


Thanks for reading...Z

Saturday, April 11, 2015

People at a Funeral- Part 2- Fish

He stands in front of a black hole in his living room, screaming into the abyss. He, Fisher; the eldest son of Sarah, shouts into his closet as if the entire reason for his anger lives in the darkness of his clothing. He screams like a child in the night, waiting for his mother to take him into her arms. He screams until his stomach wretches and he begins to gag.


People look over to him as he stands at the head of his father's casket. Albert had always been his first and most important hero. His father had never missed a baseball game or teacher conference. Albert had loved his only son the most of all of his children; at least the ones he knew about.

People swept through the room and across the front of his father's body at a steady pace throughout the day. He hugged so many people. He laughed and cried with them over shared memories. He will smile instead of weep for the sake of his family. He is and has always been the strong one.

Despite the attention he is getting as Albert's "Only son," he couldn't help but notice the attention Tim was getting from everyone. Tim (Albert's apparent new son), was the life of the party. He was the center of everyone's attention. He was laughing and crying and people were grabbing his head and putting it on their own.

Fisher shook off bad memories and focused on the one's he liked to remember.

Once, Albert took him fishing on the pier all night. Albert told him that he was named after this very moment in the past with his mother. He told him that his first date with Sarah was spent fishing. She was so amazed by his lack of dating prowess that she bought into what he was selling. In reality, Albert knew what he was doing. He was smarter than everybody...all of the time.


As a kid Fisher would fake seizures. He didn't quite know why we liked it so much, but he knew he liked the outcome. Sarah and Albert would rush to him and hold his mouth open. Later they would hold him so tight and pass him back and forth to even tighter arms. Sarah would weep over him and rock him to sleep, but for a few moments in time, he would remember his father's hard hands carry him to his crib from his mother's chest.


Right now, all Fish can hear is weeping from Tim. All he can see are loved ones wrapping their arms around him.


Thanks for reading...Z

Monday, April 6, 2015

Changing Everything

Summer always passes and becomes another winter, then another summer. It's no secret that people in the midwest love Fall and Spring the most. These are the two very brief times where everything is neutral and comfortable. People smile more during these seasons. Then winter comes and brings dread and stagnation and whatever life has stabbed you with in prior winter months. Summer brings happiness mixed with nostalgia. Eventually summer becomes hot and sticky and loud. I think people find real happiness in the middle.

This is a hard concept for me to admit because I am an extremist in nature. There isn't a middle ground with me. You are going to love me or hate me. I will take a stance that is one or the other, but seldom in the middle. I am impulsive and act on those feelings immediately. But this isn't where I am comfortable. Most times I just want silence in the middle of being asleep and awake.

If you have been reading for more than a year or so, you will see this in what I write down. I write down my guts at times, which get hard to read for some people. I write down my high times brought on by moments of clarity, which vanish. In both instances, I truly believe I have turned a corner, but really I'm just either in winter or summer. I'm having a hard time finding a middle ground. I can't find solid footing in either season: It's either snow or mud.

I sat in church today and listened to my pastor and friend speak about a God that he is so passionate about. A God I used to be so passionate about. He spoke about the sacrifice and meaning of what Jesus did. I get that. Then he spoke about the danger of anger in your life. It felt directed at me, like most truth does. I get that. Really, my thoughts were that the truth dies in me. Then he spoke of emptiness. The entire sermon was my photograph. It isn't pretty right now. I know the truth and ignore it for anger. I'm not proud of that.

I'm pretty tired of messing things up. I'm getting hurt a great deal by it, and hurting other people too. So it has become clear that I must discover a solution. I have to change the way I think. I think I have to stop looking at who I used to be and measuring it by who I am now. It makes me feel bad and that guilt drives me to give up. I've had enough of giving up in my life, both in myself and my loved ones. I used to fight. I used to be a person that would fight you until you had no strength left. I burned and wanted for life so badly and gave the best of me to everyone when I could.

I'm not sure the best of me is something that I would be proud to see now. So I have to change everything. The last thing I said to Joe in text was "You have to find it in you to change everything." He couldn't. I can. I will.


Thanks for reading...Z

Monday, March 23, 2015

Jesus Wept Too

I think about the hands that pushed a compound into the fire to mold the steel that once laid beneath my neck. The kid that got a job right out of high school at a rope factory, that maybe placed his hands on the rope that ended up around my two brother's necks. Sometimes people don't know the evil they are doing when they do it.

But what about the hands that placed the base cardboard that would be rolled in tissue at the toilet paper factory? He didn't know that some of my life's most innocent and beautiful moments would be spent building rockets out of what he/she would only picture to be spent wiping some person's butt after eating at a Japanese Steakhouse.

Sometimes when you love and lose someone or something so much, it becomes easy to hate the very thing that brought you together in the first place. It has to be someone's fault. It can't just be my fault. Someone somewhere promised me something that they couldn't provide. Someone told me that everything will remain right?

That isn't the world we live in. The world we live in is cruel and cold. Sometimes, the people you believe have saved your lives lose theirs and there is nothing you can do about it. You just get to watch it fall apart, not knowing what to do with your hands while it crumbles.

The world tries it's best to wrap this darkness around your hope.

It fails.

It fails because God is in the darkest places. When you are cursing Him and shouting: When you are cringing at the very mention of His name. He weeps. Jesus wept.

Jesus wept. The shortest verse in the Bible. The least amount of words He has used to describe Himself. They are the most profound to me.

When you have lost your heart, your kid, your wife, your husband, or anything else that means true life to you, the last thing you need is a lousy explanation. You just want someone to cry too.

So Jesus wept. His friend died and that friend's family was pissed and sad and wanted more. They blamed Jesus. He fully intended to raise this man from the dead...I think. But instead of words, He wept. After all, His name is Emmanuel, which means "God with us." In that moment, the only thing He could do to be with them was weep. I think the writer of this Gospel thought long and hard about that and smiled at the character of God.


I wasn't able to speak very eloquently at either of my brother's funerals. For two times in my life, I had nothing to say at those moments.

I let it kill some of me. I let it kill some of the things I hold very dear to me. I let it make me forget about who gave them to me in the first place. I wasn't much until them. I forgot that He still weeps.

He wept when Will looked up at that strap. He wept when Joe took that rope out of his trunk. He went when I laid my head down on that steel made by some person just trying to provide for their family.

It is entirely possible that God is just as destroyed as I am about their sadness. I think He is.

Jesus wept too.


Thanks for reading...Z

Sunday, March 15, 2015


Mistake after mistake and they tell you to stop making mistakes. At least stop making the same ones over and over.

Failure after failure. For everything that goes well is another that sinks without you even noticing sometimes. Sometimes, the failure happens while you're sleeping under the sun on a pier, and this boat with all of the life and joy and happiness floats by slowly. This unforgiving boat stops for no one, so you have to get on when you can.

For the rest...? We keep moving. If you stop moving, you perish. People can move forward or backward, but they have to move. No one living gets to stay put: Life just isn't that simple.

You have to learn to live with the lot cast for you in your life. Good or bad, you are in your skin for now and you have to learn to live in it. It isn't easy, but nothing worth your time is.

I've been struggling to figure out what it means to be me in all places I have to be. To many people, I mean different things because that's what I have given everyone. Maybe it shouldn't be this way. Maybe I should just be the whole beautiful and ugly me all the time and let whoever wants to walk with me..walk.

The real question I have to solve is where I am going. I don't know if I'm doing better or worse at this point. I'm just turned sideways staring. Everything I have ever believed has been challenged this last 5 years. I have tried to grasp old thoughts that brought me comfort before, but they are just beyond my reach. Terrible thoughts filled their vacancy and I wanted to hold on to them, but they are exactly what they are...terrible and not true.

I won't stop walking. If I stop, I will fall in. I need to keep moving, so I move in the best direction I can. It may be the right direction and it may be the wrong one, but I see the sun on the outside of one of them, so I will follow that and try not to second guess and follow the one that is completely dark.

I get it now...the most common funeral verse. "Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me." I have to believe that I am seeing this valley and that there is a powerful and hopefully graceful and forgiving God shepherding me to where I can feel the sun.

This is faith I think. To really believe when everything tells you to turn around and leave it behind.

But doesn't faith live in the beauty of the misery of God's people when they mourn with hope? Isn't that sharing in the suffering of Christ? Somehow, I think my whole life I pictured this as growing up without a dad. It's far worse than that. A crucified, and undignified Jesus suffered and I though that sharing in that meant that I had to live without a catch with my dad? To walk with Jesus means true suffering for some people and I guess I never thought that would be me. Yet still others suffer much greater. Suffering isn't of God. What happens during your suffering is.

Meanwhile, I sit here with this wonderful life, filled with people that love me and want to be a part of my human experience.

So then I realize. This is a pity party and I am the guest of honor. I whine about what and who is not here because it hurts. I often forget the other side of the coin. Who is here? I am not on some planet alone. I am here. I am breathing. I am breathing in sync with many people, so I am full. Joy is found beyond sorrow and grief. Joy is found in the man crawling out of the mud covered in blood, but so happy to see help.

Help has always been here.


Thanks for reading...Z

Monday, March 9, 2015

Love Just Like Jesus

Religion should never be used as a weapon. Not against gay people. Not against people who have had an abortion. Not against people that can't say no to drugs or alcohol. Religion is for people that understand how badly they need God.

In that case, I need God more than I need food.

It's not a matter of what you think is right or wrong. It's a matter of how you treat the people in front of you.

In the past five years, I've learned some things. People will love you as long as you fit the mold. If I say I love Jesus and am hurting, I'll get maximum support. If I say I'm gay and love Jesus, I'm a liar. If I say I'm an alcoholic and love Jesus, some will have sympathy, but reject God's love for me. This is the religion the world rejects. This is the state of American Christianity.

The question isn't what you do as a human being, it's what rules you have broken. It's the very thing, I believe, that Jesus would turn tables over.

I'm not going to fight over right and wrong. I'm not going to go into Biblical or humanitarian principles. I am only asking you to love everyone as much as you love yourself...just like Jesus did.


Thanks for reading...Z

Sunday, March 8, 2015

When the Glass Shattered

We had two BB guns. A rifle and a handgun. We had too much time on our hands. So we did what kids do...we scoured other people's neighborhoods and randomly shot out car windows.

I drove a 70's Datsun painted with house paint, Smurf blue. The floor boards under the drivers side seat were gone and I could see the road as I drove over it and what splashed under the car, splashed onto my legs. None of us were a very good shot with the guns. In fact, Will got his "Willy One Thumb" nickname because I nearly blew off his thumb trying to shoot a target out of his hand. We would creep up to a car in the night and shoot it's window until it caused a spider effect or shattered altogether. Then we would drive off laughing. Once My truck stalled as I kicked in first gear to get out of there and we were left with several moments of anxious horror as we waited for the owner to come out. We got away and the owner didn't wake up. That night, we were arrested, kind of. We were pulled over and taken to jail but not officially arrested. Joe hid the gun under my work apron in plain sight...the only place they didn't search. Pure genius.

Weeks later, we were driving through the mall parking lot. We had to stop for an old man crossing the parking lot road. As we sat waiting, we heard a snap and a strange cracking sound and looked in horror at the car in the spot in front of us as it's window splintered and fell under it's own weight. Behind us was a single hand holding the pistol from the back mini seat of the truck. It was Joe. In broad daylight. In a mall parking lot. On a Saturday.

Later that week, Will and Joe would go out together to shoot windows. I was at work at the theater. They showed up with Will angry and holding his hand. They had found a prime window to demolish and Joe had convinced Will to let him shoot out the driver window from the passenger seat. Joe missed so badly that he shot Will right in the muscle of the hand web. I couldn't help but laugh because how did Will not know that was going to happen?


Thanks for reading...Z

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Happy Birthday Little Brother

I don't know what to say to you on your birthday. The people left behind don't get the peace you get. The two of us...We have celebrated every birthday together.

It's your birthday Joe and I can't see you anywhere. Your mom sees you everywhere, but I only see you where we were. That space in time that we got to keep and no one else could touch. I won't write about times that were for just us, but I will tell about the time we slept on the pier.

We woke up with spiders on our faces. Literal, nasty spiders. We had fallen asleep while talking in the night about life and what real happiness meant to us. It meant different things. To Joe, it meant acceptance. To me it meant content. Both of us agreed we would rather die than end up nobodies.

You weren't ever a nobody. You were my best friend and brother. We went through some of the most amazing and terrible times standing side by side. You were the first person I called when something was wrong. You continue to be my little brother, even if you aren't here.

My eyes opened to the sun first. I squinted, then gained my bearings. I looked over and watched you snore. It was Thanksgiving and the morning was cool. I hit you and we both stood. I grabbed your hand for a moment and let go. I told you that I would see you at Thanksgiving. You said, "I'll tell mom?" Yeah, I'll be there.

Joe, Ive been rambling on trying to make the first birthday gone something other than hopeless. I've failed. You should be turning 36. You should be getting ready for our joint birthday party.

I left and as I pulled away, you sat there on the dock of a pier. I went to work, but didn't forget that one moment in time.

You stayed there on that pier.

Life is harsh and unforgiving. I miss you little brother. It's not getting better, but worse. I'll see you when I get a decent rocket to follow you with. I would have done everything different if it matters.

Happy birthday kid brother. May you see all of the beauty we never saw as kids.


Thanks for reading...Z

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

People at a funeral- Part 1- Sarah Smiles

Two hours into the second worst day of his life, Tim talks and laughs at the jokes of people from all over the place. They all speak to him, even if he doesn't recognize them. He wears a nice suit he bought for job interviews. He got the first job he had applied for, so this was now recommissioned as his official mourning suit. His official "you just lost your father" suit.


Tim sat at a desk surrounded by off-white canvas walls, listening to fingers move like music over keyboards, and phones ring and handsets drop, over and over. When he started this job, these noises were the bane of his existence. He would here them when he fell asleep and well into his dreams. Now they are just the sounds of being at work. He would describe it to you like the smell of pencils when you walk into an elementary school.

He was researching his adoption information. His adopted mother had just died three years after his adopted father. Since he was an only adopted child, he was concerned about Christmas. Tim was a creature of extreme habit. Christmas was for family and egg nog and presents. Thanksgiving was for football. Easter was for Jesus and lilacs and pastel colors. Halloween was for taking out the screen in the door to hand out candy. He couldn't think of any family left for Christmas. He had to find his original family.


Sarah was lying on the bed on her side listening to Albert snore. This was a sound that meant nothing to her when they married, but now every breath he takes is misery to her. She feels bad for her thoughts, but he should just die already. She was eager to get back to planning for Christmas. This holiday was for family, and she wanted her 6 children to know how strong she was for continuing the tradition without their father.

The noise from his nose rose above the ceiling and back again. He would snort and stop for a moment, then resume. He was a really loud leaky faucet. Sarah was thinking about hiring someone to saw down a Christmas tree from the back yard for her since Albert was sick when she heard the most beautiful sound she had ever heard. She heard her husband of 35 years breathe one long exhale and then silence. She waited the customary 10 seconds to rejoice. There had been too many false alarms. Then she squealed in excitement and put her mirror under his nose. Clear glass. Hurray!

The phone rings. She gathers herself and answers, "Hello, this is Sarah, who am I speaking too?" "This is Tim, your son. Don't hang up. You gave me for adoption as a baby, and I'm not mad, I am just concerned about Christmas," he says. Sarah paused while he was speaking right before she would have removed the phone from her ear to hang up on him. She heard "Christmas" and returned to her intrigue. She says, "Why Tim, good to hear from you. What draws you to contact me now, and also talking about Christmas?" He replies, "Christmas is for families and I don't have one right now and I'd like to find mine before December 10th to give me time to prepare. "What happened to your family?" she says. "Dead. Dad died of cancer and mom just didn't wake up. It was really sad. Time heals all wounds though, so here I am moving on," he replies. Sarah smiles, sets the phone on her leg and looks over at her dead husband, then to the pictures of her kids (who have always hated Christmas) on the wall. She says, "Tim, come on over for tea, we have a lot of catching up to do."


So here he is. Standing in his repurposed mourning suit on Christmas day at his father's funeral. He sat in the front row closest to Sarah, right next to Bill, Kelly, Beth, Terry, Julie, and Fisher. The preacher spoke about feelings and whatever these guys say, and all of Tim's brothers and sisters exchanged glances and head-shakes at him.

Sarah told him a week earlier at tea that Albert was a Christmas fanatic. That's why they lived on a Christmas tree farm. In reality, Albert hated every holiday and wished himself dead when they arrived. But Tim loved his father because of the lie. He wished he had been able to meet him alive. He knew Albert would understand the order of things. At tea, Sarah told him that she had always wanted to meet him, but couldn't find him. She told him she had never stopped loving him. He didn't know her at all, but he knew that love meant following the order of things, so he loved her too. She didn't know love because she was incapable of feeling anything for anyone else.

Tim wept at his fathers funeral because he thought there was something there to weep for.


Thanks for reading...Z

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

There Go My Heroes

Aging may be the most cruel part of the curse of mankind. As you get older, you get more wise and are actually better suited to handle the things that you messed up in your youth. But now you are too old to try again. It's a cruel joke that the things that wreck you make you better. It's seems like there should be a better way to grow up.

No one gets out of this without scars. No one.

It's sad because I don't think that was God's intention for us. I think He wanted beauty and joy and all of the wonderful things we want for our own children. Yet we messed up. It's a hard thing to explain without making people angry, but yes, two people did mess everything up for the rest of us.

But it was bound to happen. If not them...me.

For instance, tonight I watched my senior homecoming basketball game with my son, who is really starting to love basketball. I wanted him to see his dad doing something he was really good at. I rewound the tape...yes tape, and hit play. Immediately, I saw myself on the screen and so young. It was hard to watch at times. I was cocky on the court because I was really good. My son watched the game and the way I carried myself and told me "you were cocky." A twelve year old told me that. I was chirping at the other team and show boating. I haven't touched a basketball in at least 8 years and while I watched that game with my son, all I saw was what I should have done if I were smart at the time.

The video was bitter sweet nostalgia for me because I got to see both Will and Joe play on the court with me...so totally alive and young. Faces without fault. Bodies uncrushed.

Everyone has a hay day. These are the times that you relive to your kids for the rest of their lives. This was mine. I had most of my brothers and my friends right there on the same wooden floor. We laughed and had fun and had no idea that 18 years later, half of us would be dead.

I watched Joe, who got to play because he had convinced the principle to allow him to if he gave his jersey to a kid who forgot his own. He wrote a new number on his shirt made with tape and played the greatest game of his life. In the video, you could hear me shouting for Joe every time he scored or stole the ball. 18 years later and he is gone.

I watched Will block at least 10 shots and grab a dozen rebounds in that game. As he left the court while time was running down, I slapped him on the ass and laughed with him. 13 years later, I would look at him in his eyes, knowing something was wrong and let him go. I wouldn't see him alive again.

Life is cruel. Sometimes it seems that the sun shines so bright on us that we actually get bored with doing well. Other times, we are faced with the shadow of death. Both are extreme moments we all have. Most times we are just moving on without being noticed.

But when you lose a body part, you notice really quickly what that means...you are now crippled.

I would have never labeled us the Dead End Kids if I hadn't already realized that there was something wrong with all of us. We embraced the label because we knew we were born to live or die right here together. We had bad things happen to us and didn't have a lot of friends, but what we had in each other was enough. We wanted to break things. We wanted to make people really mad. We wanted to howl and shout and wail at he moon and stars without any answer. We just wanted to live fully and honestly. We lied to people about who we were because we were not impressive. We fished in the middle of the night when everyone was sleeping. We all dumped girls because they didn't like our brothers.

Tonight is bitter sweet. On my chest lay two small vials of both of their ashes and two enormous holes in my life that won't be filled because I won't allow it. Yet I got to see Joe last night in my dreams doing ridiculous things as always. Two nights in a row and I've got to spend my sleeping hours with him. This means a lot because I haven't seen him awake or asleep in 3 months. When Will died, I saw him every time I went to sleep. The dreams were weird and cruel, but I got to speak to him. Joe died and nothing has happened. It may seem small, but for me it's kind of everything. The last two nights have been spent watching him screw up. Two nights ago, he was pouring kerosine into the hot tub we both were sitting in. Last night he was trying to get his fog machine to work so he could give it to me. Underneath, I knew he was trying so hard because we both knew he wasn't going to need a fog machine anymore.

There go my heroes.

What I have left is enough. I have my wife and beautiful children. I have my brother Andy and my dear friend and brother Jeff. We have all battled together in the trenches in one way or another and have held each other up when the other was too weak.


Thanks for reading...Z