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

Friday, November 27, 2015

Thank You

      It's Thanksgiving! At least it was Thanksgiving. I've always said that a great day ends only when you fall asleep and let it go. Today, I am thankful for everything. I'm not going to make a list this time, but there are so many people in my life that make me who I am. The ones that love me, show it. The ones that don't have served to make me a better person. Both teach me to seek the best in myself...and to see the best in everyone else.

     I think that if you were to closely look back at your life, you will find God's provisions everywhere. At every wonderful turn, you will find one of His own smiling. At every terrible fall, you will find one of His weeping with you. I like that about God. He answers tough questions. People always ask where God was when these terrible things happen. The answer is simple. He was the person closest to you, holding your head to their shoulder.

     Christmas is hard for me. I feel it coming in...this sadness and loneliness. It starts with a fleeting feeling that they are gone. It comes back with this desire to crush me. It won't.

     I look back at the things that have almost killed me. I look around and there they are. On the train tracks, it was Joe. When Will died, it was Laura and Andy. When Joe died, it was Laura and Jeff. There was always a person who loved me deeply to pick up the pieces.

     I look back at those terrible times and see them picking me off of the pavement for months. I'm so thankful for God and the people He has put into my life to save me continually.

     Christmas time at "In Search of Whales" has been pretty bleak for the last several years. Understandably. But this year, I want to write about the one holiday that I think is truly beautiful. The day that God cared so much that He put Himself, His Son, His Spirit, into a world that would kill him violently...because He loved us. He saw me. He saw you.

     While I haven't represented a person who loves God very much lately, I do concede that He is active in my life. I see Him everywhere and that reminds me that He loves me.

     Christmas may be hard, and I may write about it's difficulties, but I'd really like to write about the joy that Christmas has always brought me. When I was a kid, I was really sad. But there was something about Christmas that was magical. I bet you can relate. This Christmas, I'm going to write some Christmas stories. Stories that remind me that this day is all about Jesus. I am reminded that, as a teenager I wanted to go to sleep forever. I tried to make that happen and He stopped me. I lost hope in myself and everyone around me. He sent the right people to heal me. I gave up and I gave up. I wanted rest, but He was always there to save me. All because of a baby being born a refugee in a foreign country.


Thanks for reading...Z

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


     My friend Stacy posted a Story about her family and a group of people looking out for this homeless man in her community. The story made me smile. It's a story that reminds me that we are still connected despite our differences in opinion.

     I worked for a non-profit Christian group called Objects of Wrath. We would set up skate parks for at risk kids and feed the homeless. We had set up this event where we would meet the homeless in the park and eat dinner with them. It wasn't meant to be us helping them. It was meant to be us eating with them.

     It reminds now as I write that God named Jesus Emmanuel... meaning "God with us." It was a sign that God was present in all suffering.

     I wasn't a rookie to helping the homeless. I had heard the stories and the cues meant to manipulate. But when Paul sat down in front of me, I was speechless. I was shocked at what I saw and he was probably used to that. We looked each other in the eyes for a while. I wanted to cry. I didn't. Instead, I just asked him. I've never been a person for small talk. I asked him about his burns. Paul had no recognizable features on his face or body. His fingers were melted off and he spoke through a small hole in his face.

     He didn't hesitate. He told me about the time his mother met this guy that made her whole world go round. He made her feel so special. She married him and soon after, the guy started beating on both of them. Paul said there was something empty about the guy's eyes.

     One night after his mother had been beaten, Paul punched the guy in the face and told him that if he ever hit his mom again, he would be dead. The guy pulled back and smiled. But he left. This made Paul so happy to have helped his mother. That night, while Paul was sleeping, his step-father doused him in gasoline and lit a match. Paul rolled and screamed and tried to put out the fire that was burning him down, but ended up looking less than human. He lost the joy of being human.

     The story made me sick to hear. It made me love him instantly. I put him in my car and drove him to a shelter. I bought him a bus pass and a phone card. I promised to help him. I promised to get him out of hell.

     Over the next few weeks, I found him a job interview with a truck packing company and a half-way house to live in. I was so pleased with myself. I had done something good with my life...finally. When I bought Paul the phone card, I had asked him to call me every night to pray. I always felt bad for not letting him stay with me. The last night he called from Hart Plaza. He said it was so cold outside. I took the cordless outside with me and we both spoke shivering together. I told him about the interview and the half-way house. He was elated. He told me that I had changed his life and was so thankful to God for me. I went to bed feeling like a good person.

     I told him I would pick him up from Hart Plaza at 10 AM. I waited for over three hours. He didn't show up. He never called me again, despite having that phone card. He was ghost.

     I can only pray that he is ok and living well. I pray he found something that made his life worth it. But all I can really think about is how cold Hart Plaza has been the last few years. I truly loved Paul and I think he truly loved me. Despite the separation, we are all connected.


Thanks for reading...Z

Monday, November 9, 2015

A Suicide Letter (Short Story- Fiction)

"Have you ever wondered what your last moment of life would be like? I have. Now I know." - Micah McBain

Log Number 1: 1231 Mulberry St.      

     I used to work at a steal mill. My job was to clean the steal slough of the machines with a torch, then clean and repaint the molds that came through. It was hard work for very little pay. I'm not an idiot and this is America. I left on a Sunday morning when my alarm clock went off to get up and go to work. I went to church instead.

     So as I lay here on these tracks, I wonder if I had cleaned the machine that made the cold October steal beneath my neck. If I didn't, someone else did. That person had no idea what would happen. The thought of that random person gives me comfort for some reason. We are best friends and he doesn't even know it.


     I was a kid, no older than 11 or 12 years old when I left home. I won't make a short story long, so I'll get to the point. While I was sleeping, my drunk of a dad got drunk and let other men come into my bedroom for money. When daylight came and everyone had left, I took an ax and separated his head from his disgusting body. I called the police myself.

     They tried me as an adult, placed me in a juvenile facility until I was 18, then transferred me to a federal penitentiary. One year ago, I was let out of prison after a total of 26 years in various prisons.

     I got out. No one hired me as an ax murderer. I dated, but no one married and ax murderer. I went to church, but no one baptizes an ax murderer. I ended up sitting at the end of the bar, staring at various vices that I asked them to put under my nose. I did crappy work for crappy people. I spent it all on whatever I wanted that day. When a person has nothing; they have nothing to save for.


     My mom left me when I was a toddler. I didn't know anything about her other than what my piece of crap father told me about her. So I guess I didn't much care growing up what had happened to her. My father told me she left us both at the Tiger's game when she got up to use the bathroom. I do remember the foam finger. I do remember that Tiger's game. So it must have been true. During my life in prison, my aunt sent me a letter. The letter was return addressed to her, but my mother signed the letter.

     My mother told me she was sorry. It wasn't her intention to leave me with this animal. She was being hurt by him. She had tried to get me out too...several times. When she left at the baseball game, she had tried to take me to the bathroom with her and my father told her to leave me be. She had tried to kidnap me a few times, but had failed. She told me that she drove by all the time and watched me play at school and in front of my house with my friends and that I looked happy, so she gave up trying. She just wanted me to be happy. She told me that she would have liked to trade places with me.

     I tore up the letter the moment I finished reading it. I got into a violent fight that day and ended up in isolation with 65 stitches to my face and hands. My"aunt"sent me letters throughout my sentence, but I never opened them. Every time I got one, I would get into a fight and end up alone.


     I think they must have gotten tired of the fighting, so they let me out on parole. If good behavior means spending almost as much time in isolation as general population, I guess I was that guy. I left the prison on a Wednesday morning at 6:30 AM. There was no one there to pick me up. I called a cab and waited. I left the prison porch at 4:15 PM and slept at the Day's Inn.

     I tried to make it work. The thought of being free both excited and scared me while incarcerated. I've been here now for 5 months and haven't experienced any excitement. I'd tried really hard to make it work. I shoveled snow, raked leaves, dug holes, carried timber, broke fingers, lost weight, and still ended up laying in an alley in a shelter issued sleeping bag. It's impossible.

     The nights were long, but the days were the worst. At least at night, I could alternate between a shelter (when I could find one) and this small area in the alley behind a huge factory that blew it's hot machine exhaust into the air through these huge tubes. The days left me with nothing to do but ask for charity...something the world will give only in cancer patients and car accidents.

     So I decided to leave. I realized that there wasn't a single thing I would miss. No one would miss me either. I was an ax murderer. Everyone wanted me dead anyway.

     So here I lay on these tracks. I thought about my dad and my mom. I remembered one day that I was happy. We were at Chucky Cheese for my birthday. My mom and dad were smiling and giving everyone tokens. These stuffed machines were playing fake music through fake instruments and I could not have been happier. I opened my presents and didn't even care what I got. For this one moment, I got what I had always wanted.


     I walked 3 miles to get to the tracks. This was a busy rail, so I knew it wouldn't be long. No one wants to lay there waiting all night thinking about it. When a person does something scary, they have to do it fast; because it's hard to go through with it.

    I stared at the stars as a man staring at the sky for the last time. That night, I ate my favorite meal; cheese ravioli and garlic bread. I listened to my favorite song on repeat and just waited for the horror show to be over.

     After many meaningful moments, the tracks began to shake beneath my head. I turned to the right and saw my assassin for the first and only time. He was hooded in a dark shroud of steal and gears. I turned my head to the sky to keep my focus on the stars and not my fear. The shaking got stronger and my nerves couldn't handle it, so I shouted into the air as loud and as hard as I could. I would keep shouting until it was finally over.

Then silence.

     A piece of paper floated over across my eyes and landed to the left of my face. I was annoyed at first, that something was grabbing my attention away from my own chosen last moment thoughts. Then I got so annoyed that I grabbed the paper and looked at it.

     It was a colored picture of a small child, by a small child...handing a yellow flower to a woman who was bleeding from her face. The bottom had a caption, written "Becuze i love u."

     I rolled off the tracks as it's blades blew wind onto my back. I laid there weeping all over the picture. I knew it couldn't have been an accident. Someone loved me. Somewhere. That was enough.


Log Number 2: 1232 Mulberry St.........

(Part of this story was told to me by a person I cannot find in this world. The picture and tracks were his story. I filled in the blanks.)




Thanks for reading...Z

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Time To Go (A Short Story)

            Week after week I lay in my own vomit. The light peaks threw the blinds like jabs from a knifepoint into my eyes. I cover myself with my blanket to keep them out. My phone rings and vibrates, then falls silent. Every time it awakes, I get anxious, then fall into peace when it dies into the quiet of my little studio apartment attached to a tiny guitar store.  It’s been months since I’ve seen another person. I got a settlement from the drunk that killed my wife and bought a year’s worth of vodka and noodles.

            It has been 92 days since I saw her last. It’s been 87 days since I last stepped outside. Today is the day. I haven’t run out of alcohol. I’ve just run out of noodles. At the liquor store, I bought all they had of vodka and all they had of noodles. They are called a liquor store.

            I stepped out of the house into the small parking lot of the guitar store. The parking lot was empty. Must be a Sunday. The shop was always closed on Sundays because the owner liked to go to church and couldn’t afford to pay an employee. The shop was only open when he was able to keep it open. All night though, rain or shine, that old man would play that guitar on the other side of the wall until I was sleeping. Sometimes, he would play the song I dance with my wife too. He didn’t know…he couldn’t have. I would drink more, cry out the lyrics and he would stop. I’d pass out until I heard the guitar the next day.

            I walked over to the shop entrance and opened the door…no one there… nothing moving and no guitars. Just silence. I’ve been foggy before and today is no exception, but something seemed wrong. I walked back out of the store into the street and waited for a car to pass by on the busiest road in town. I waited almost an hour before I gave up and went to my truck. I drove to the convenience store, the liquor store, the grocery store, the women’s clothing store, and finally to the post office. There was no one anywhere. I called 911.

            “911 Emergency, please leave your name, birthdate, and emergency, and we will respond at our very earliest convenience.” Dial tone. I visited every single establishment over the next 2 weeks. No one stirred. No one answered their phones. My mom never answered. My dad never answered. My sister never answered. My friends never answered. The television was white and blue static. My radio was squealing with guttural noise. I thought for a moment that I was dead and this was either Heaven or Hell, depending on my current motivations to live.

Day  1.
            The funny thing is that before everyone was hiding from me, I didn’t want to see a single one of them. Now I just want to find just one. Someone to help me sort this whole thing out would be nice. I’ve always been a creature of curiosity, but never one for the emotional stuff. Right now, I’d really like to know where everyone went. More than that, I want to know why I didn’t go too.
Day 2.
            I borrowed a van from down the street. My friend uses it for camping. It has a mattress in the back and a small gas powered generator. As long as the engine runs, the extra batteries on the van charge. When they go dead, you can start the generator and get another couple days of heat and power.  I’m going to look for survivors or whatever and whomever you want to call us…or just me.

Day 10.
            Halfway across the country and I haven’t found a single person. I’ve meant to write about all I’ve seen, but I haven’t seen anything…just trees and leaves and road. For records sake, I brought the rest of my vodka. Not that I needed it…every liquor store is full.

Day 12.
            I heard a satellite radio broadcast! They identified as being from Long Beach California. I’m in Oregon now: Almost 1,000 miles away from whoever is sending these broadcasts. The broadcast played some old songs from when I was a kid. Songs from bands like Weezer and Jimmy Eat World. I got nostalgic feelings from high school while driving. I couldn’t get to the source fast enough. The broadcast went on as it would have usually. There was no mention of any catastrophe. There was just a guy playing music, speaking sometimes about when the bands would play and where, then commercials advertising things like new windows, hand soap, and lawyers. Most of the band’s dates had past.

Day 13.
            I wanted to drive straight through the night. I wanted to find the only radio station still broadcasting, and compare what we knew. But there was this deer in the road. It was the biggest deer I had ever seen, with the biggest antlers imaginable. I thought, “This should be on someone’s mantle.” It wouldn’t move. I could have drove around it, but the fact that it didn’t move made me wonder why. I got out of the car and it started walking to the right, into the forest. I followed it because I had nothing and no reason not to. It walked without any fear of me to the stream and started drinking from it. I didn’t get it at first. I thought it was just thirsty and I was the idiot that followed a deer panting for water. Then I saw a small deer to the left of it. It was dead. The larger deer walked over to it and lay down next to it. I listened to the water flow from the rocks to the stream and realized that even without people here to see it, the world was so beautiful and sad.  I drove my van to that spot and decided to sleep there for the night so I could listen to what life sounds like without humans.

Day 16.
            My mom told once that if I just applied myself I could see every beauty imaginable. It’s funny how things come back to you once they are only memories that cannot be questioned or rebuked. But here I am, lying on a mattress in a small meadow beneath a large mountain. Both back doors of the van have been open for hours and I have been watching one wild animal look at me and walk away unafraid after another. I am somehow no longer a threat to them. I am just an object in space and time to them. They move forward and forget me moments after they see me. I don’t need them and they certainly don’t need me. I slept to the sound of that silence for hours…the best I’ve ever slept. No one needed me or was afraid of me. There is something both sad and beautiful about that. I cried until I couldn’t cry anymore, then I fell asleep in peace.

Day 18.
            I’m a couple days away from the transmission that just keeps going on like people are still listening. I’m listening, so I guess they are doing their jobs. Maybe hundreds are on their way there, just like me. The roads are clear. If this were a catastrophe, the roads would be a car park. This wasn’t planned. Everyone got gone very quickly. I stopped to take a look at the Grand Canyon today. My mom always wanted to see it and I had promised I’d take her. It was on the bucket list of things to do with my wife. It was so beautiful that I lost my breath. It was bigger than I had ever imagined. My wife would have been so scared when I looked over the edge. I guess we didn’t make it to that. She had done something good and apparently I hadn’t and she is gone and I’m here still. I walked right up to the lip of the canyon. I shouted into the abyss. I told God and anyone who may be listening how I felt. I shouted, “I hate you! I gave you everything! You gave me everything! Then You took everything from me!” I sobbed as I shouted. I threw up and shouted more. “You are a terrible God! You aren’t good or fair. You are death!”

            I’d spent the last bit of my life angry and wondering where my wife had gone. Why her? She volunteered to everything. She always gave to good causes. She went to church and believed in God just like I did. Then it drove me to one conclusion. It wasn’t her. It was me. I am here alone because I have always chosen to be alone. Even when she was alive, I kept myself from her… a very small part of myself. This was a part that only I could see. She could have never really known me; only who I was when I reacted to what life brought me. I reacted badly to what life brought me. I always thought the worst. Then I always self destructed and she always picked up the pieces.

Day 21.
            I’ve been searching the world for people. I haven’t found even a trace of them left. I put my hands on stove burners and find cold medal, hoping to find evidence of life. I stop at campgrounds looking for small fires and find nothing. It doesn’t really matter to me anymore. I guess it never really did. No one is there watching over anyone. I am alone.

Day 23.
            I remember this time that my friend at school had died and my mom maybe heard about it while I was at school, or not. I came home with my 12 years old stomach in knots turning all over. I didn’t have a word yet to describe my feeling. Later in life, I would have the word. It would be the word “alone.” He was alone, I felt alone, we should all feel alone. We don’t. That is what has always driven me to drink. Even before my wife died. I drank because no one feels alone when a 12 year old kills himself.

            I remember this while lying on a mattress in front of waterfall that washes away more land than I’ve ever seen. I think about who I am and where I have been and I finally realize how small I am.

            With or without humans, the world will continue as a clock would. The water will flow until it doesn’t. The air will push to and fro until it doesn’t. Life will begin, thrive, then die in front of maybe no one. This is the Creation of a God I can never understand.

            I smile and turn the key and make my way to my destination. Humanity.  I yearned to feel human touch and togetherness again. I think about the nights I spent in darkness…drinking myself into more darkness. It makes me sad. I really just want to see someone. I want human connection.

Day 31.
            I’ve finally arrived. There is one car in the parking lot. Satellite dishes cover the property. This is where I’m supposed to be. This is hope I have come all this way for. I walk in the doors. They are so welcomely unlocked.  I walk in and find my way into the control room that boasts a large generator roaring and a control panel unmanned. Unmanned…this isn’t what I was expecting. I search the place and only find that the generator is powering reruns of a satellite show to repeat until it ran out of fuel.

            I laugh to myself. I stop to think. Was the journey worth the ache in the heart? Yeah, I think it was. I think I found what went wrong. I lost my vision that the world would thrive with or without me. I would thrive with or without her. You could lose everything you had ever known and it wouldn’t make a difference. What remains will always be what remains.

Day 37.
            I drove to the ocean in northern California. I made a few stops to see the beauty that God made for us or whomever would see. I’ve figured out why I am still here. Because life is beautiful, whether or not you see it. She left because the world is sick and she fell victim to it. She didn’t deserve it. She got sick. She died. Then everyone left without saying goodbye. I can’t be mad. I never said it either. I never told her goodbye. I never told her that it was ok to go. I didn’t tell her I would be ok. Maybe I’ll be ok.

Day 40.
            I got to the coastline. I’ve seen so much. I’ve grown from a person that wanted to hide, to someone who wants to live, even without my beautiful wife and all of these beautiful people. I want to help people. I want to be everything I’ve never been. I want to be human.

            But here is this wave.  This enormous wave that is heading right for me as I stand on the beach and write this. Did they know about this wave? What caused it? It doesn’t matter. It is here and everyone is gone and I am finally here.

            I am finally here, and now it’s time to go. 


Thanks for reading...Z

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Winter Hats

      It was the wee hours of the morning. It was the beginning of fall in Michigan, which means it will have been summer for a month more everywhere else. Will sat on the ledge of the concrete bridge at Horse Island fishing. We had on our winter hats and drank the sugar they called coffee from the gas station vending machine. Joe and I laid in the grass about 50 feet away from the bridge. We were sadistic little buggers. We wanted to hunt and kill something. We had laid out a blanket of popcorn I had gotten from my work at a theater to attract the ducks. We laid in the darkness with blowguns for the ducks to cross. They eventually did. We shot darts, and some landed, only to be shaken from the feathers immediately as the ducks took off.

     Joe used to catch fish and make them smoke his cigarettes. We would sit on that concrete ledge and talk about the deepest things we could. Joe would torture that fish, but it always swam away. Me and Will would look at him and shake our heads, then laugh. Because Joe was always Joe.

    We were terrible fisherman. We rarely caught a thing. But the times that one of us did, we would put it in the video store dropbox. We would always imagine their faces when they got to work. A copy of Porky's, Final Destination, On Golden Pond, and a wreaking fish still moving. We wanted to change a person's day.

     I think if you were to ask us then what the hell we were doing, we would have told you that we wanted to rock everyone out of the boat. People get up and eat breakfast, then go to work and sleep until they can do it all again. I'm not sure that is really living life. I didn't believe it then and I still don't. We wanted to make a person think about something other than what they always think about. We wanted people to see something they haven't.

     Maybe we just wanted to be heard. I don't know, we were teenagers. We thought the world was supposed to yield to us, and serve to keep us safe. We were young and stupid. The world yields for no one. There is no rest. There are no exceptions. We are human and humans are made to suffer.

     They went and I stayed. I don't regret it. I won't follow them there. I am lit up entirely by my wife and children. I have what they didn't see they also had... Hope. I won't speak much of their kids here, but they are beautiful. They are the most loving children I've encountered. I think I'll make it my job to keep them that way.


Thanks for reading...Z

Monday, November 2, 2015


"Laughing With" - Regina Spector

I was watching television and this song came on. Here are some of the lyrics...

No one laughs at God in a hospital
No one laughs at God in a war
No one´s laughing at God when they´re starving or freezing or so very poor
No one laughs at God when the doctor calls after some routine tests
No one´s laughing at God when it´s gotten real late
And their kid´s not back from the party yet
No one laughs at God when their airplane starts to uncontrollably shake
No one´s laughing at God when they see the one they love
Hand in hand with someone else and they hope they´re mistaken

     These words are so true that they stink. Everyone has opinions and beliefs. People believe what they are comfortable believing. No one wants to believe in consequence or cause and effect. Nevertheless, the truth is the truth, even when it doesn't fit into our own belief systems. 

     I've encountered some bad things that didn't fit into my belief system too. I had to adjust the way I think. Truth is, I knew the truth before, but hadn't experienced it fully. I knew the world was really angry. I knew that there weren't many that were going to stand up for me or anyone else without some profit. But when I had to see even worse first hand, I had to try to figure out a life that learned to cope with true reality. Experiential reality is greater than knowledge of this reality. 

     Before I was a believer in a true and loving God, I was a believer in a true and angry and hateful God. I believed this because I went to a hateful and angry church and school. I was a kid trying to live, and they made me this monster. None of that matters now, but I think many have had the same experience with people that claimed to know and work for "God." So in the defense of the angry, I will tell you that I get it. I understand. I've been there until I saw God.

     I had always lived in this religious culture, where everything is subject to the religious commentary from it's "leaders." Rules come down from above and we are subject to them from self righteous pulpits and false visions of a better life. There isn't a better life. God doesn't make exceptions. People are born and people die. It can be funny, and it can make you mourn your entire life. 

     I don't think God really attends the memorials. I don't think God lives very closely to the neighborhoods that preach His name. I think God lives in the places that no one would ever find Him. I think God lives in the moments that the writer of the song above sang about. I think that God lives in the people that know they need him. In America, God is a joke. In reality, God is the hand that holds the head of a dead child in Iraq, who has just had his ams and legs blown off. God is the doctor that goes against his better judgement and makes difficult decisions to give peace to a patient that just wants it all to end. God truly is love. 

God is never a joke when you really need Him. 



Thanks for reading...Z