Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Embers (A Short Story)

     "The stars are missing; nothing but fog," said Finn. "Makes you wonder why we are still staring at the sky," Connor replies. "Because you never know," said Finn. Finn spits up into the air and watches it disappear into the fog. Connor shouts, "Idiot!" as they both scramble get out of the way of what gravity will inevitably bring back onto them.


     Connor shovels in spoonfuls of "Frankenberry" cereal while sitting in front of the television in the living room. Connor loved autumn, in part because this cereal became available. Finn is getting a spanking in their room down the hallway. Connor knows he deserves it. The kid never listens and always says stupid things that he knows will get him in trouble. He stills says them anyway. But Connor has never liked to see Finn hurt. He tries to drown out the sound of his little brother crying, so he looks down at the aluminum TV tray over his lap and pretends. "Darth Vader is here!" shouts a storm trooper. Darth Vader walks into the room and everyone knows he is in a bad mood. "When is he ever in a good mood?" asks a different storm trooper, "It's like someone pooped in his Wheat.." The storm trooper is lifted off the ground and slammed into the wall beside the large control panel. He can see only through his peripheral vision that Darth Vader has gotten him with his hand beams of dark sided invisible matter and is choking him to death. By the time the storm trooper dies, Finn has stopped crying and has entered the room with his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV tray.


     Finn sits in a small jail cell on a hard bed looking cement riser. He looks down at his fingers and watches blood coagulate in between his knuckles and open back up when he bends them. He shakes his head, "Damnit," he says. Hours later the cell made a loud click that echoed all the way down the hallway of cells. An officer stepped into the doorway. "Time to go, lucky you missed dinner, tonight was Salisbury steak fresh from the Lean Cuisine menu," the officer said. Finn gets up and walks shoeless past the officer and through the doorway. Once in the lobby, he is greeted by Connor. "You idiot!" he said. He continues, "Do you know what I had to go through to get the money for this without mom and dad finding out? What the hell is wrong with you?" Connor grabs Finn's head and kisses him on the forehead, then pushed his face away slightly so that he could see his eyes. "You just can't lay off it can you? That poison is going to kill you." He looks down at Finn's hands, then follows his mangled veins back up to his forearm. "Look at your arms Finn. Look what you've done to yourself." Connor grabs hold of Finn, pulling him in and hugs him.


     Connor sits on the couch holding an empty jewelry box that belonged to his late wife. Before the cancer had sunk it's teeth into her breasts, this box was her favorite possession. It held various relics of diamonds, silver, and gold once held dear by her grandmothers. Now it sits empty. One day after Finn had dropped by for a place to crash for the night. One day after Finn asked for more money and Connor declined. "I can't help you kill yourself Finn! I don't have anything for you. If you want some food, come to me. If you want a job, come to me. If you want to talk, come to me. If you want to shoot money into your arm, go elsewhere," said Connor. Finn apologized for asking again and said that he understood. He got up from the couch and put out his hand for Connor to punch. "No hard feelings?" said Finn. Connor shakes his head at him. "Never kid." Finn makes a stop into the bathroom before leaving out the front door. In the bathroom is where she kept the jewelry box.

     Connor picks up the phone and dials Finn. "Hello brother," said Finn. "Where are they Finn? I'll only ask once," Connor said. Finn replies, "I don't know wha..." "One time Finn. I will ask you one time. Where is my wife's jewelry?" asks Connor. Silence on the other side of the line. Then Finn replies, "Gone." More silence, this time the quiet radiates from Connor's side of the line. Finn continues, "She doesn't need it anymore Connor. She's gone. You have to accep..." "Shut up! Just shut your lying mouth. Don't say even one more word to me. Don't you ever mention my wife again, don't...just don't!" shouts Connor. He continues, "My entire life I've taken care of you. I've bailed you out. I've fought for you. I've always invited you into my home. My door has always been open to you unconditionally. You are a parasite Finn. You take and you take and never give anything to anyone. You lie around all day in that broken apartment, sticking needles into your arms. You are pathetic Finn. You are a loser. As of right now, I don't want to hear your voice anymore. We're done here. If one day, you find yourself in trouble and looking for family, you won't find any here. You've killed me Finn." Connor hangs up the phone and throws it across the room, shattering it against the wall. "Damnit!" he shouts.


     Connor sleeps alone in his king sized bed. He still sleeps on the left side of the bed. His wife would always ask him, "How do you know which side you are sleeping on? If you are laying here, you're on the left, but if you are standing up, it's the right." Connor would always say, "My better half is always on the right." He would wink at her as she would always repeat, "Always right." Connor sleeps soundly until his phone rings. He hears it and dreads looking at the screen. He has been dreading this moment in the back of his mind. He reaches over and sees the screen and knows that his brother Finn is dead. After listening to his mother wail over the phone, he gets up and puts on his clothes in no hurry. He would love to put life off for a while and pretend.

.... 1 Week

     The room is full of people from different places. Some his family, some his friends, and some Finn's friends. Finn's friends were easy to spot. Connor was nauseated by the stench of funeral flowers. A concept that he never understood. What were the flowers for? They were obviously there to mask something. Maybe they are meant to help people forget that the person in the coffin is dead or that death doesn't smell bad. Or that the afterlife is some quiet room where everyone whispers in front of picked flowers while listening to organs playing sad bastard music. Connor sits down and listens to the pastor rattle off his death march speech. Another thing he didn't understand. Why have a stranger come in and talk about someone they had barely known? Why does he try to make people that actually know the dead person feel better about the fact that he isn't coming back? Why do they do that? The loved ones would be better served today, if he were to get up and say, "See? This is what happens. This is what happens when you poison yourselves to feel better. This is what happens when you are so spoiled that you think you are unhappy...so unhappy that you need to also kill your family with heroine."

     While the pastor was talking, he remembered the last time the pastor had seen Finn. Finn had to be in the 4th grade. They were in Sunday school and the pastor was filling in for the teacher. Finn was talking and flicking paper footballs while the pastor was teaching on some felt board with these stupid paper people dressed in blankets. The pastor kept telling Finn to behave. Finn had told the pastor, "This is boring. Can we go outside?" The pastor said, "Sure, you can go outside, but the rest of us are staying put. You aren't allowed back. I'll be talking to your father after church." Finn shrugged, then left the room. A few minutes later, we all heard the squeal of the rusty chains on the swing set and Finn was laughing and swinging alone on the swings. The entire class looked outside for the rest of the hour. We all wanted to join him on those swings.

     When the pastor stopped mumbling through Bible verses, he asked for anyone that wanted to say something about Finn to come up. Connor hadn't prepared anything, but he couldn't get the image of Finn laughing on those swings out of his head. He stood up before noticing that he had done so. He let his legs carry him past his little brother to the podium. He got to the front and looked out to the room full of quiet people, all staring at him and realized what a terrible mistake he had just made. He stood in silence for an eternity. Everyone just started to cry harder every moment he stood in the headlights. It was about to become worse than the words of that pastor. He realized that he was ruining the funeral and that the pastor would be looked at as the highlight. So he opened his mouth and spoke.

     "I said some things that I don't mean," Connor said. As he spoke those words, he felt the most overwhelming urge to throw up. The words were so true that they made him sick and hate himself." I never understood my brother completely. I'm not sure there is anyone that did fully. I saw him in the way I wanted to see him and ignored the rest. Finn's friends knew the ignored side of him and ignored what I saw. So in that, none of us knew him very well, but we all knew some part of him very well. I remember when we were little kids, I used to watch out for him. I guess I lived much of my life exerting some sort of big brother pride in being better than him. I got better grades. I went to college. I made a family. I gave him things and I guess, in some way, I liked having him need me to take care of him. But there was a time when Finn saved me. I had gotten into a shouting match with some wannabe gang member in high school. The next thing I knew, there were 7 of them on my front lawn after school. I saw them once it was too late. I turned the corner walking home and they saw me and started chasing me. It didn't take them long to catch me. One of the bigger ones held my arms down on the ground and the little one I had the shouting match with started punching me in the face. I thought they were going to kill me until I heard the boom of my father's shotgun. I looked up as everyone else did and there was Finn now pointing the gun at them." "That was a warning shot. The next is going to his ass and then the other one's nuts," Finn said. Connor continued, "Finn always had a way with words. The idiots ran away and my mom started us in private school the next day. Finn never spoke of it again and neither did I. I think he knew that I needed to be needed. But I think he took care of me sometimes. He did these crazy things and said these crazy things. He would put himself in the most unbelievable situations. He always had this hope in his eyes that would shine bright, then fade out. He used to tell me whenever I would ask about his craziness, "Because you never know." I think that maybe he got hurt by finding out too many times that there isn't much real magic in this life."

     "Everyone keeps asking me how I'm doing. Until right now at this very moment looking at Finn sleeping, I had no idea. But I think I do now. I think he had the right idea all along, but was too impatient with the outcomes. I think that maybe I'll take some chances and wait it out. I'll give the magic a little more time to work." "Because you never know."






Thanks for reading...Z

Friday, September 25, 2015

I Am ?

     People want other people to believe that they are perfect. That there is something profoundly different about them. They are the ones that speak negative thoughts about others. They would have done everything different than you, if only they had the chance. They would see your mistakes before they even happened and would have lived your perfect life. Really, they are just like everyone else; insecure and proud.

     People go to great depths to hurt other people in this culture. Some for their own seemingly good reasons, and others to make someone hurt like they do. People are so angry...and people often get childish when they are angry. I say this because I am and have always been an angry person. There have been times when you wouldn't know it...I think. I try to forgive and move forward always. In fact, the mantra of my house is that Coffman's NEVER GIVE UP. This comes from a lot of pain, but it is true nonetheless. It isn't that I try to hide anger. I just try not to let it fester and become who I am.

     Then there are these times that all I see makes me angry. I watch TV and see only negative. I hear conversations and only see negative. I listen to the stories from other people and only fear dread at what bad is coming for them. This gets exhausting. I have become weary.

     What I've noticed about anger is that it rules you most when you are looking at it. When you are looking at the things that sink you, you find yourself under water too. I've found that when I look away from God, I sink. Much like Peter. I struggle because I want so bad to be mad at absolutely everyone for everything. But I'm not an idiot. There is always the prevailing voice inside that reminds me that this isn't God's fault. This isn't your fault. I didn't cause this. This isn't their fault. The world is lost somewhere in the dark. Maybe the answer isn't to scream into the abyss, but to walk into the abyss and take the lost and lead them by hand to where God reigns.

     The answer isn't judgement or anger. The answer is sacrifice and humility. No one is better than anyone. Some of the Christian culture will shake their head's at me because they want to be angry to forget that Jesus only saved people and never condemned. Some of the non-religious will praise me for speaking differently, forgetting that Jesus stood and died for them regardless of their views on religion. I'd reply to all of them that God loved you. God loves you. God will love you. He only asks for you to trust Him to refine you. God is real. God is perfect, in contrast to what we see before us. God doesn't cause our sin. God isn't responsible for the sin of the world. God isn't responsible for the sin done to you. God didn't want your loved ones to die. The sad truth about the evil in the world is that it exists because we exist.

     If we were an experiment, the scientists would see our entire existence as a failure. We learned to hate each other right away. So we kill. We kill with our hands and with our mouths. We are a broken creation that God severely loves. Because of that, we are not a failed creation. We are only broken. All broken things can be fixed given the right talent. God uses people with different talents to fix us.

     I really do believe that the key to overcoming my anger is believing that God has the power and will to refine me. I have resisted and fought my own desire to feel better. I've really given it a good try. I've shouted and raised my fists. I've tried to hurt Him with my actions. I've tried to protect myself from the God that made me who I am and raised me. I begged Him to not touch my babies, because so many that I have loved have left this world. I just want to be left alone. But that isn't real life is it? Sometimes, we have to find the beauty in the horror and move forward always... NEVER GIVING UP.  I only want to be near God. I want to hear Him speak to me. I want to move as He moves. I want to be a positive person in the lives of all people in my life. I just want to give up and let go. I think that is what God has in mind maybe.



Thanks for reading...Z

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Grind

     Bob walks back through the great hall to the locker room. He sits down on the bench after taking off his protective gear. Sweat falls from the tips of his thinning hair to his nose, then to the floor. "5 O'clock buddy, time to poke the liver," Bill says." Bob replies, "Not today Bill. The liver's been through quite enough lately." "Come on man, she can't have both of your balls. Just go out with us for once. It's Friday!' said Bill. "I'm gonna go home. I'm tired man," Bob replies. Bob grabs his jacket and leaves for home.

     6:30 PM. "Dinner's ready! Get John and Amy inside," says Sarah. John and Amy come in from the front yard covered in black soot and dirt. Bob looks behind them as they walk in and see a brand new black ashen snowman erected in the front yard. "You two are filthy," said Bob. "You should see the snowman," said John. Bob smacks him on the back of the head. "It's time to eat kid."

     "How was school?" Sarah says. "Sam Smith got detention for hitting a lunch monitor. He cried all the way to the office, then hit the principle," said Amy. Bob can't help but to outwardly gasp to keep from all out laughing. Sarah gives him a dirty look. "Mom? Did uncle Joe really die in a glider crash?" asks John.  Sarah replies, "Of course sweetie, what would make you think differently?" "Gliders don't go very fast or very high, that's all. Today, we learned about the great sadness. Seems like he died at the same time as the explosion," John says. Bob drags his fork across the black textured plate, making a squeal that killed their ears. "This is a conversation for some other time than dinner time. I just got home. Can we talk about something a little lighter like; not how my brother died?" he says. "Sorry dad," John says.

     10:00 PM. John puts on his bed clothes and picks up a book off of the dresser; "The Last Stand; How We Almost Lost the War" by Jim Reed. "Coming to bed so soon babe?" Sarah asks. "Yeah. I'm gonna read for a bit. I have to work OT tomorrow," he replies. "But we have a wedding?" says Sarah. "Sorry honey, it's mandatory. Chief says we are running out of guards. I'll make it up to you," he replies. "You always say that." she replies smiling. Sarah rubs his chest as he reads his book about how their world almost ended. By the time he shuts off the light to their small bedroom, he is energized and full of resolve. Reading about the reason he enlisted in the first place always reminds him that the fight must go on.

     6:10 AM. Bob gets up out of bed just before his alarm clock would have gone off. He turns it off to not wake his wife. He sits on the side of the bed and looks at her like she was the only reason to breathe. Life has been so hard over the past 5 years, but she is his rock. He brushes her hair back from her eyes and combs his fingers through it. She doesn't wake, but smiles. He kisses her on the head and leaves the room. He visits Amy's room first, then John's. He kisses them both on their heads and feels full. There have been bad days, but today, he is full.

     7:00 AM. John opens his locker and takes out a pair of white shin guards, followed by a white girdle. He straps the velcro white chest plate around his back, then puts on the arm protectors. He sits down and sighs. Of all days, this is the day he feels something bad is about to happen. He says a quick prayer to God. He asks for safety for his wife, for his kids, and for himself. He stands up and grabs the large white helmet from the upper portion of the locker and places it on his head...then grabs his blaster.


Thanks for reading...Z

Friday, September 18, 2015

Out of Ashes

     Humans have a history of rising up out of ashes. Our very origins in history come from ashes. Adam, meaning "of the earth" or "from the earth." There is a pattern to the human experience. We suffer, then survive. We rule, then thrive. We kill, then lie. We fade, then die.

     I think life takes a similar path. Most of us have figured out some level of suffering. Some more and some less. Everyone perceives suffering in a different way. None more disastrous than the other to the person going through it. White privileged men kill themselves at a higher rate than poor minorities. Many would look at their lives and ask, "Why?" Me too.

     Recently. I've been reading about the plight of black people in America; in particular those during the civil rights movement. I read these historical accounts and it makes me cry. I look at my life as a man that at one time didn't want to live and it makes me ashamed. I read a book by Elie Wiesel, a Jew in the concentration camps. It makes me sick what he endured. I read these things and I am disgusted by my privilege. I am lucky to have been born into a successful nation. I am lucky to not have been a black person anywhere before or during the fifties. I am lucky to not have been Jewish man in the 40's. Not because they were bad, but because humanity was particularly bad.

     Right now, there are refugees fleeing Syria. The world is scrambling, seemingly trying to find a way NOT to take them in. I live in prosperity. Everything I have belongs to God. It comes from God. It will go back to God. I have space I can free up.

     Despite the horror going on around the world, we still have our own horror here. There is a poverty of a different kind going on here. This is a poverty of the mind...and heart. We have too much. We get upset when we can't get the knew phone that has been released. We whine about our economy, yet we have 3-4 televisions in our homes. There is this photo of a kid in Africa that won a Pulitzer prize (I have hope that the photographer also fed the child after snapping his prize). It depicts a starving child collapsed to the ground as a vulture waits for him to die to feed on him. But...the new iPhone is here and I can't afford it right now.

     At this very moment, I have an iPhone 6. I'm the cool guy. There is nothing wrong or everything wrong with this. It's a matter of where your heart lies. For me, I need to do better because I think doing better and helping people makes hurting people feel better. It is a reminder that hurt is a constant all over the world and is a majority experience of the human experience.

     These last 5 or 6 years, I've really given up on feeling bad for other people. I've lost some people that were very close to me and all I see is the mess they left as they passed through. They destroyed my family.

     But here my family is. My wife is laying 10 feet from me on the couch, because it makes her feel better to be close to me. 2 of my kids are sleeping in their beds. Both of them told me I was the best dad in the world today. So all is not lost. I have what God intends for me to have. I am safe. I am loved. I am blessed. But I am still sad. Because no one is in charge of a person's perception of loss.

     America is a sad place to be if you really open your eyes. This poverty of heart is killing us. For me, two boys that took me in, and loved me as brothers, grew up with me. At some point they found a way to make their hurt go away and the rest of ours spiral out of control.

     But I am here now. Right here in this place with these people that I have left. They love me very much. I love very much and I'm quite ready to rise up out of the ashes.


Thanks for reading...Z

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Better Life

     A look back at the things that used to bother you will make most of you laugh. Things generally don't get easier as you get older...at least we don't perceive them to be. I used to worry in the 3rd grade that nuclear war would be my end. I used to worry in 7th grade that the world would be my end. Sometimes I worry now that I will be my end.

    It's not about the end of anything. It really is about what you are while the world leaves it's marks on you. It's also about what you do to make amends for the marks you have left on other people.

     We live in a sensitive society. This isn't anything new to you. Some of us are sensitive and reactive and some of us aren't. Some of us don't really care that much. It doesn't really matter one way or the other. We owe each other. We don't owe each other because are indebted, but because we are the same human species. We rely on each other for survival.

     Everyone needs someone. Most of us pick our friends and resist the rest. The people that are annoying get ignored. The people that talk too much may get ignored. The quiet people may get ignored. The idiots may get ignored. The problem with this society is that people ignore other people that can really enrich their lives and help them. Small differences shouldn't mean so much to us.

     I've had people that have almost nothing in common with me, save my life. I'm not going to explain that because they are my heroes now and it doesn't matter our differences. No one is more valuable than another, and we are all the same. We all have deep thoughts and really strong feelings and opinions.

      This is exactly what makes us all the same. It's also exactly what makes us beautiful. My thoughts are not your thoughts, I believe God said the same thing to us in the Bible. We aren't the same, but so different. Yet we get so upset at each other for these little things. It makes sense to me that life would be better lived without so much frustration.


Thanks for reading...Z

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Instead, We Hate...So Much

      I sat there holding my little girl's hand in the emergency room. She was ok. She had a broken arm, so I'm not trying to be dramatic. But I realized when I jumped at her every groan or movement that things mean much more to you when it is your child that is the subject. People are self centered all over everywhere, but I think people are even more inclined to rest their every emotion and motivation on their children...like an idol.

    People would rather you feel the pain of life than them...unless it's their own children. All of the sudden, you get a stomach ache and start pacing the emergency room floors looking for any way to help that child you have made your entire life. Then everything is different. It makes it hard to fathom that Jesus would take all of that pain on himself, and even more, His Father would watch Him do it, knowing He didn't deserve it. It makes God's love seem a little more believable.

     I've learned since being a parent that most people don't pay much attention to you...unless you are loving their child. I've learn as a youth pastor that the parents of the kids you are working with will either forget your name every time they meet you...if they ever will meet you. Or they will love you like you are a part of their family. It all depends on how much they value their children. I've taken teenagers across the state on youth trips without a child's parents even seeing me face to face or speaking to me at all. I've also battled parents over everything their kids are going through and gotten yelled at and blamed. But...I would have always preferred being shouted at and doubted. Then I know they care. I can work with that. For those reading this, if I have pissed you off, but you learned to love me, raise your hand.

     I didn't learn this from actually doing the job. While doing the job, this pissed me off and made me a self-righteous prick at times. I learned this the moment my kids started needing someone else to teach them something. I had to learn to trust someone else to be an expert at something. I learned trust this way. I could always "trust" someone else for my own life, because it's me...if I get hurt, I'm an adult. But my kids...I'm gonna need to know a little more information first.

     My daughter is in figure skating and needed a coach so she could compete. We asked a friend who's kid competes in the same city and she recommended very highly her daughter's coach. We called her and Aevry started lessons with her. I don't think much about people teaching a talent, because they are usually a dime a dozen. After a few months, we started to notice something different about the coach. She got annoyed with my little girl, but was visibly proud of her when she succeeded; just like we would be as parents. After years of teaching, I trust her coach because she isn't just an awesome coach, but she's and awesome person. She loved my kid. She loves all of the kids. She got married today, so she gets extra attention.

     My son works with a baseball coach that can't remember his age when he comes in. He asks his age every time we come in. For years. But....he remembers my son's strengths and weaknesses and gets really pissed when he hears stories of my kid not having the best position at baseball. So, we love him. Don't know many things about him, but he seems to care about our kid, so we care about him. Their actions remind us that people care about others other than themselves.

     We had this morning where planes hit our buildings and we were reminded that we all are connected and care about each other. For over a decade, we have learned to hate each other even more. Humans like to separate each other from who we kind of are. So we divide, then divide, then divide. In the end, we are alone. In the end, we only care about who really cares about us, personally. I think this is wrong. We should care about a person because we agree they have blood in their veins and because we agree they are full of these different, but similar emotions that we have about things. They have different memories and viewpoints. This should make us closer to them. But all we seem to see are the differences in viewpoints.

     Just because a person sees gay people differently, doesn't mean they see the moon differently. Just because people see any political or humanitarian or social topics different doesn't mean the same sun doesn't also make them squint and hold their hands over their eyes. We are different, but we are really the same. I know this sounds really humanistic and "correct" but I really do think it's true. Love is true. We don't have to agree, but love is ingrained in us. Just let it out.

     If we were to care about people even though they aren't directly helping us or our family, we would be a really great country and a really great asset to people that really need some love. Instead, we hate...so much.

     But I remember right now this one particular time that in the most terrible place I have been, my little girl gave me a little plastic heart. And that reminded me that there is something much greater than all of this anger and greed and sadness. Sometimes the kids have all of the correct answers. We should listen.

Matthew 19:14


Thanks for reading...Z

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Truth About Suicide

      The guy with the saxophone played in the park when I should have been in school. I really can't remember why I wasn't there that day or why I was allowed to be at the park next door. Sometimes I faked being sick. But in those times, I was confined to the couch with the television. Sometimes my mom would give me a 'Mental Health Day." This is a thing that was exclusive to her at the time and to this day I believe whole heartedly in it. I do it for my kids. If I see my kids struggling or really emotional, I'll call them off and we will go to the movies. It may be because I'm a big kid, but I remember it helping me a lot as a kid, and I suppose it helps them too. Sometimes we all need to take a day off for no reason other than to take a deep breath and relax.

     This day, I sat on the ground in front of the sax guy and listened to him play while everyone else was in school. I didn't have money, so I assume that's why he never asked for it. What he gave me was terror. This dude told me of nuclear war. He told me that Detroit was a huge target because of the nuclear power plant in Monroe and the auto industry. He told me that if the bomb hit, we'd be dead in15 minutes. That day started my obsession with death. It made me think about what it would be like to die. A couple years later, a classmate and football team friend would hang himself at 12 years old. I went to the funeral and looked at his dead kid body. I had never seen a dead person that young. We always went to church growing up, so I saw a lot of old people from church that had died. It didn't bother me. They were wax figures to me. This kid was different. I remember my mom giving me at least two mental health days after that. I went back to school after the weekend and the counselor was still there trying to get us to talk to her about it. I came home so full of sadness that my mom asked me what was wrong and I could not help to burst out weeping. She held on to me on the couch and said nothing. She just let me feel it. Kids told stories of why he did it, and conspiracies floated around of foul play. Reality was that this kid didn't want to live in this world. He was profoundly sick and he tapped out.

      I went through a lot of bad things once I started growing into a man. When you stop playing with action figures, you start seeing the world in the way it really exists. I realized that I was missing a dad I had never met. I started fighting and blaming a mom that was doing her best. I kept obsessing with death and the act of dying. I just couldn't fathom having the balls to die. I wasn't so happy with life, but no where did I have the guts to die. Many think that those that kill themselves are cowards. I think those are people that never found themselves on the brink. Those that have been there and have survived it know that it takes a lot of courage to just go. I'm not condoning suicide. I could and would never do that. But I don't think people understand what is actually happening in a person that has had too much and is going to go. I understood it the day I tried to leave as a teenager. It wasn't a cry for help. I had done my research. It wasn't me looking for attention because I got plenty of that, I have always gotten attention. It was illness. Something close to cancer, except it kills you slowly and no one wants to admit you have it.

     Dying from cancer is awful and everyone accepts it. Dying from suicide is awful and everyone thinks you were a coward. It's not true. It actually takes a lot of guts and hopelessness to kill yourself. Most people try really hard to get better and find a way to be happy. Happiness is just on the horizon for some people, but not all. We don't live in a movie world where the happy ending is just on the other side of our pride. Sometimes, we suffer and pray for help and no help comes. Sometimes we give all we have and can't find the answer, even if it in front of us. In those times, we lose hope and go away from the ones we love. They aren't cowards. They aren't selfish. They are sick.

     I used to be a youth pastor for this reason. I worked with teenagers for 13 years. My passion was for the truly broken kids. For kids like I was. I did well at my church. I attracted a lot of hurting kids and many of them are happy adults now. But I also watched many of those hurting kids become even more hurting adults. After Will killed himself, I lost my passion for hurting people. I wanted to quit. I couldn't do it anymore. The kids hurt me when they circled the drain, but watching one of my best friends do it destroyed me. I resigned. I started trying to help people from a different perspective as a nurse. I watched people die, and again they were just wax figures to me. People learn to disengage from reality to survive.

     All the while, this saxophone guy is telling me that everything is hopeless. I lost Joe too in December and I started to really believe him. I really started to believe that hope was lost. No human can or will choose to live without hope. Rich white men lose hope and die. Poor black women lose hope and die. We all can lose hope and die.

     It's easy to look at our culture right now in America and lose hope. We argue and get angry over the stupidest things. It seems from my point of view that we fight for things we may not even know enough to actually believe in. We label each other. We judge each other. We hate each other for our opinions. We celebrate hatred. We fight intolerance with intolerance. We kill in God's name. We hate in God's name. We do both in the name of our denial of a god. We don't apologize when we are wrong. We don't help each other when we are in need. We don't empathize with anyone.

     To me, this world appears to be hopeless. I guess that is why the suicide rate continues to climb. Everyone needs love and there are so few giving it. If we got busy loving every time we got angry, I think we could actually make a difference.

     I have hope. Despite any death I've seen, I've seen more life in my wife and kids. They are hope to me. I watch those that do love for no reason and it makes me smile and want to stay. Kindness makes people want to stay, despite their sadness. Hatred makes people go away forever.



Thanks for reading...Z

Monday, September 7, 2015

A Place Under the Stairs

     Shouting from all sides of the wall. Charlie sits in his little red Camaro bed and holds his hands over his ears. He counts the holes in the ceiling tiles, like he always does. He makes pictures from the sponge painted shapes on his walls. Chuck does this whenever he feels stressed. Times when his mom and boyfriends are fighting. When the lights go out at first. When someone has hurt him at school. When his mother has had enough of his obsessing over things and strikes him. People seem to always strike him.

     One, two, three, four, five, six...He sits on the bed and waits for silence to win. Noise has never been anything but a nuisance. Charlie hates music and he hates the sound of people's voices, especially his father's. He remembers hearing his father speak only once. He knows he must have heard it more, but this once, his father told him that he should have been aborted. Chuck obsessed too much to not look that word up when he got old enough to do so. Now this voice makes him rock back and forth.

Journal entry July 5th 1992. 

I'm not good at this. I hate this. I am only writing this because the lady at school told me that I had to. Here are the events of today; written in order. I got up from bed and brushed my teeth. I got toothpaste on my clean shirt and that doesn't come out well, so I changed it. I locked the bathroom door so that my sister didn't barge in and ask me all of these questions. I went to the bus stop and Michael Salsbury pushed snow into my face, then pushed me into the snow bank. I tried to punch him, but I couldn't see because of the snow and missed. The bus stop laughed at me. I got to school and broke 5 pencil leads. Sometimes I break them because of nerves. I asked to sharpen the fifth and the teacher told me stay in my seat. She told me that having sharpened pencils is part of being responsible, and I will learn what that means and someday I will thank her for the lesson. I went home on the bus. I ate a frozen TV dinner on my Spiderman tray while watching "The Apple Dumpling Gang" on TV. I went to bed and that was the end of my day.

     Charlie sits under the basement stairs that he has made into a fort with blankets. He watches a small portable television that he got from a camper his mom once owned. He had figured out a way to extend cords from the cable box and run a line into the basement to his small TV. He isn't sure how many hours he had spent down there, but this is the place he goes at night when he can't sleep. Sometimes he pretends to sleep when his mom comes in crying to look at him. She will cry and touch his shoulder. Sometimes, she will say she is sorry. Other times, she will just lay next to him on his little sleeping bag and cry. She never stayed long. Charlie always woke up alone.

Journal Entry August 1st, 1992

I got detention for not writing in this stupid book every week. So here is my day, in chronological order. I got up in my fort under the stairs. The basement was cold, so I got an extra blanket from the laundry room and laid back down. I woke up again and my mom was slapping me in the face and pouring water on my face. I was late and had missed the bus. I slept too much. She would have to walk me to school if I was going. But I wasn't going. When I missed the bus it meant I was staying home. I watched the "Winnie the Pooh Show" on my little TV under the stairs. I took a couple of naps. I woke up during the "Pinwheel" show, then fell asleep again when "Picture Page" ended.  I heard my mom come home slamming things around upstairs. She called someone and she was yelling. I covered my ears and rocked myself to sleep. I woke up and ate a peanut butter sandwich for dinner. I did the homework my sister brought me from school. It was easy. I watched "Mr. Belvedere" and went to sleep.


Journal Entry October 25th, 2012

Here is my day from the first to last. I woke up before my alarm clock. I turned over and remembered that Amber was working tonight and I shouldn't expect her to be home until I was off to work. I tried to sleep, but I couldn't so I went to my secret fort under the stairs and fell asleep. I got up when I heard the front door. I came upstairs holding my work clothes so that she wouldn't know about my fort. I went to work. Today was a good day at work. I got my review and it went really well. Jim (My Boss) told me that I only needed to work on my "People skills." I got a pay raise that I couldn't wait to tell Amber about. I called her at lunch and she was so excited about it. I'm not stupid. I know she was pretending. But it feels good to be appreciated at work and at least encouraged at home...even if it isn't completely real. 

     Charlie sat down in front of the Christmas tree on his recliner. Amber sat in front of the tree by the fireplace. She asked him how his day went and he answered, "It was ok." She probed and probed because Amber like to ask questions to keep him talking. She loved it when he would speak. She knew he didn't know it, but when he spoke the honesty that came from his mouth was truly refreshing. Amber loved Charlie from the moment she had met him at their therapy appointment. Her mom had encouraged her to be an adult. Her dad didn't speak to her at all...never had. Amber was his little secret mistake. She knew that because he had told her that. His voice was one that was revolting to her.

    When she met Charlie, she just couldn't stop looking at him. He was so handsome to her. She wanted to speak to him, but she was a proper lady. She waited.

     This one day, he opened the door for her as they were both leaving. She looked at him and said "Thank you my darling." Chuck didn't know what to make of that. He liked it; at least he thought he did. So Charlie replied, "I'd love to eat a cheeseburger...maybe you could come too." It was a date.

     They married without their parent's approval. Charlie's mom left just after he graduated high school and got an apartment with another "very special" roommate. She was shouted at and scolded. Her parents reluctantly came to the wedding and he dad placed her hand into his and smiled at her, even though she knew he didn't mean it.

Journal Entry December 15th, 2025

I did it! I got a promotion! I am the assistant supervisor to the quality department. I am so happy. I just want to tell Amber. I just want to tell Amber. I just want to tell Amber. I just want to tell Amber...Amber is gone though. Amber isn't at home or going to listen.  I forgot for a few minutes that Amber has died. I was sad, so I went to the Dairy Queen and got a cone. I walked for a while. It made me sad to think about her. I've come a long way since I started writing this journal as a kid. I've tried really hard to be more "social" and I think I'm better with people. It's a more difficult task without her here. She used to help me to not say the wrong things. She used to help me to understand why I feel so awkward. I got up and made eggs, fresh from our chickens out front. I stayed home today and worked from home. I looked at her picture every few minutes to remind me that she existed. I stopped working and ate dinner....a TV dinner that Amber would have screamed at me for eating. I went to bed under the stairs and fell asleep remembering that I am happy and got what I have aways wanted.




Thanks for reading...Z

Thursday, September 3, 2015


     I started working out again this week. I have always continued running some, but something inside of me has made me too lazy to lift weights up and down. I guess it didn't seem to matter. This week was a reminder that it matters because it's something I used to love to do. I picked up the weight and got mad and wanted to lift it further. I wanted to release something.

     Maybe that's what all of this nonsense in my life it about...releasing something...letting go. I'm gonna go ahead and do that. I have been avoiding the topic. I've been coasting. I've been trying not to feel much or share much. I went back last night and looked at my posts from when Will died and I realized that I had shared so much more than I do now. I'm not sure why exactly, but my bet is that so many things and feelings about them were the same that I didn't feel the need to share them. Maybe it's because it hurts some people to read my thoughts about them because their thoughts equal mine. It may be because I'm tired of being some kind of person that people say they will "pray for."

     I'm not proud, but I'm no victim. I war everyday. Most days I win. Some days I lose. The losing has always looked worse than the winning. No one weeps about winning. Books and poems are seldom written about winning.  Songs are hardly written about perfection. I'm broken like always. Nothing has changed. I win a few and lose a few, but nothing can replace the huge wins I have had. I could lose everything and it wouldn't erase the joy God has given me in my life.

     I have this wife that endures my every struggle. These kids that weep at the feeling of my distress. My family that sits and waits for me to ask for help. My hybrid brother Andy who continues to bleed with me through all things. These amazing friends, old and new, that keep me laughing. I am blessed. I have a loving God. We all have a loving God. We are not alone in anything. We only sometimes feel that way.

    Somewhere along the line, I stopped fighting. I stopped  doing the things I loved to do. Enough is enough. I'm going to try and change some things. It hurts so much to let go. It doesn't happen all at once. It starts happening and continues until you are almost lost. I usually give up when I feel lost. Maybe just letting go is the answer. Loving God. Loving the people God has given you. Loving people more destitute than you think you are.

     Maybe this is happiness from now on.


Thanks for reading...Z