Sunday, October 4, 2015

I Love You, Too

Her arms frozen, like leafless branches.  Her eyes focused, but only she sees.  Light as a feather.  Lifted.  Soaring.

Father pushes the swing
Mother smiles and claps
She gets the hang of it
From grimaces to grins and giggles.

Elevator music and her fingers wiggle.

Her first solo recital
A draw of her bow and a scrape across the violin strings
A scream or a song?
Her smiling parents in front row never been prouder

She’s loaded in back.  Bounces jostle her. Focused with her arms locked and on task.

Fixing her hair for the school dance
Little brother bumping her in the narrow bathroom
Both yelling to get out of the way
Mother shouting over them about how a lady behaves.

Gurney up the sidewalk.  Chilled from the breeze.

Sweating, exhausted and trembling
Her arms extending for her newborn
An unwed mother giving up to adopt
The nurse reminds, better to not get attached.

A car honk louder it passes and fades

She stands with him at his train
Their gold bands shine in the sun
A final goodbye
He’s off to Europe and the approaching D-Day

A yellow transfer form on the paramedic’s clipboard.  Sign here with the date.

Quaking sobs.
Can’t stop reading
The telegram confirms
He’s not coming home.

An aide stops them in the hall.  A stroke of her rigid arm and a smile.  "Welcome home, Miss Jenkins."

Reunited nearly a lifetime later
He’s found her at last
The son she gave up
Both hunger for "Mom".

Lifted into bed and one paramedic stays behind.  Her mind and body frozen, arms rigid and eyes stare beyond.  He sings so quiet and strokes her white hair.

Her son and his family
Gave her great years
They visit her often though she’s not there
Drifts out of focus and grabs what’s not there

The paramedic feels her calm
And kisses her forehead
“Hi Grandma”
Their eyes meet and they both smile.

“I love you.”

I saw paramedics wheeling a very old woman into a Memory Care facility.  Her mind and body weren't gone, they were just elsewhere.  I wrote this for her.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Grandfather's Letter

Note: This was a writing exercise where the story's purpose was to apologize.
                                                                                                                                                               February 2, 1967
Dear Grandchild,

I write this letter to my unborn grandchild because I am of failing health.  I’ve asked your father to give this to you upon your 21st birthday, as its content is better understood with an adult mind.  It’s become evident that cancer will end my life before you will be born.  This is my effort to apologize for what I have done, and to explain why I did what I did.

You certainly learned early in your life that your grandfather was a scientist.  I became interested in the sciences at a very young age. I was blessed with a mind for science and passionate desire for mastering it.  My hope for you is that you find such a passion in your life.

How I went from a passionate pursuer of scientific knowledge to being called The Father of the Atomic Bomb, I will try to explain.  The fact that I was involved in such as project is something that I have regretted for decades.  I’m not arrogant enough to think that without me, there would be no nuclear bomb.  I just wish my name wasn’t connected to it.

For this I sincerely apologize to you, grandchild.

I apologize because you have to share the last name with my moniker of destruction and death.  Your last name will be forever associated to mine.  In my heart of hearts, I hope you’re a baby girl because then, perhaps you’ll marry and rid yourself of the Oppenheimer name and my curse to it.

I apologize for being part of a team that knowingly created a weapon that we knew would change warfare for lifetimes to come.

We knew that man had never, not used a weapon he’d created, and that using this one would leave its target devastated and reduced to uninhabitable, radioactive rubble.

I apologize because I knew that I was helping create a nuclear arms race.  Giving one nation an atomic bomb meant that others would do everything they could to negate this threat by making their own.  After that, it would be a numbers game.  Governments and their militaries would think that the nation with the most atomic bombs had an advantage.  Eventually, their stockpiles would number the thousands.

I apologize for giving you The Cold War, for leaving you with a world of uncertainty.  A world that can be destroyed in minutes, by the press of a button, and entrusting that button to soldiers

You must be asking why I would I be involved in such a project?  There are multiple reasons.

First, President Roosevelt asked me to help.  During a war, when the President of the United States calls upon you to serve your country by developing a weapon that could save American lives, you do as you are asked.  Sadly, the other two reasons why I took part in this project were not so patriotic.

I wanted a challenge.  I thought it could be done and I wanted to be a member of the elite group of scientists that made the first atomic bomb.  The cause was a weapon, but it could have been anything else of great challenge, and I would have wanted to be involved.

Ego was the second reason.  I wanted to be involved because other great scientists would be taking part.  I wanted to prove to myself that I was better than them, and that I could be chosen to lead the group.  I was.  I was the best of the best.  As a result, history has forever linked the Oppenheimer name is to this weapon.

If you’ve studied the history, you know that we first tested the weapon in New Mexico.  After I saw the successful results of our first test, I was quite relieved.  Nearly speechless, I told a military officer, “It worked.”  However, in my thoughts was a quote from the Bhagavad-Gita, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”[sic]  As I mentioned before, I feel this bomb was inevitable.  However, I’m very sorry I am known for its creation.”

Nothing can really make up for what I did.  History carries with it some facts, fiction, and plenty of speculation about my life.  What I have written in this letter is fact.  I will not burden you with the veracity behind what else may or may not be fact.  Any burden I wish to place on you would be that of using the Oppenheimer name to better mankind.  Perhaps you’ll go into medical research and use the popularity of the name to secure funding for cancer research.  Such a thing would not absolve me of my sins, but the thought does sooth this old man’s heart.

So grandchild, I close the letter by wishing you a wonderful life of love, joy, and peace.

With love, your grandpa,

J. Robert Oppenheimer

Monday, May 4, 2015

Two Voices

(My writing mentor gave me a challenge.  Write a story based on:  an old fishing pole, cold lasagna, and sock suspenders.  Enjoy.)

His lasagna was cold.

She licked the bits of it off her finger.  Pretty good still, but when she left it was warm and ready to be cut up for him.  Now it had a hole in the center where you could fit a substantial birthday candle.

She’d only been gone an hour.  His prescription refills were ready and she wanted to be sure he had his medicine for the big day ahead.  When she pulled into the driveway and saw their home health aide’s car gone, and her worrying began.

She called her husband’s name as she swept the house from room-to-room.  Sometimes she’d find him sitting on their bed, staring at nothing.  The only thing on the bed now was the black tuxedo jacket she’d put their earlier.  She was too preoccupied to notice that the remainder of the outfit was no longer hanging from the doorknob.

She picked up the phone and dialed the number on the aide’s business card.  She got her answering machine.  “Voice mail,” she reminded herself.  Her own cell phone peeked out of the wicker basket on the kitchen counter.  It lay amongst the tape dispenser, Post-It Notes, address book, daily pill reminder, and sugarless gum…all the things she used daily and never quite put away.  She intended to use her cell phone more often, but it always sunk to the bottom of the basket.

She finished leaving a message.  Did the aide leave him alone?  Was he with her?  What happened?  She was supposed to get him fed and dressed in his tuxedo.

She didn’t really care what the doctors called it.  Alzheimer’s or dementia.  In the year since his diagnosis, she knew it was getting worse.  He’d gone from being a bit forgetful to needing help every day.  Family’s subtle suggestions about moving to assisted living were increasingly pointed.  She wasn’t ready.  Her health was good and she wasn’t about to put him somewhere without her.  Plus, there was this house.

They’d raised kids in this house.  Spoiled grandchildren.  It was beyond a dream home. It was the center of their lives.  He built it with his bare hands.  A log home on the lake decades before they were popular.  Over the years, the pine trees overtook their view, but once you got the bottom of the log staircase, the panorama of the lake took awhile to take in.

“A million dollar view,” he called it, and this was back when a $10,000 view would have impressed.  On a good day, like today, the only thing that kept the crystal clear lake from blending with the crisp blue sky was a brim of trees on the horizon.  A bad day, perhaps a heavy rain and the family parked in front of crackling fire watching old movies.  She knew better.  Those were also the good days.

When she looked at the fireplace, she noticed right away.  His old fishing pole was gone.  The cane bamboo rod was his sole birthday gift that summer of 1929.  He cherished it.  “It was the only gift an eight year old boy needed,” he said most every time he used it.

Her heart pounded in her throat as her dress heels hit the log staircase.  There was no use yelling for him.  Unlikely he’d hear her, and if he did he’d try to come back up the stairs.  It would be enough of a blessing if he’d gotten to the water without falling, she wouldn’t risk him climbing back up.  “Oh lord, what if he made it to the dock?” she thought.  Her mind raced with visions of him tripping and drowning.  “Not today, God.  Please, not today,” she pleaded.  Not on their grandson’s wedding day.

Things had to go well today.  He made a point of having the wedding in town, so they could attend.  Afterwards, they’d return to their lives time zones away.

Slow and steady, she descended through the trees.  As the sun crept through, she thought she heard a voice, but her hearing wasn’t what it used to be either.  Two voices?

Relief swept over her when she saw them.  At the end of the dock, a grandson taking the time on his wedding day to have one last fish with his grandpa.  “Two peas in a pod,” she thought, shaking her head.  Their neatly-pressed tuxedo pants draped over a bench.  Each with a fishing pole, wearing tuxedo shirts, boxer shorts, shiny black rental shoes, dark socks, and sock suspenders.

She took in the moment, then turned back up the steps.

“…only gift an eight year old boy needed.”

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Stood Up or: Learning How Strange Love Is

Yes, I got stood up.  You know what I mean.  The only kind of stood up there is.

Five days earlier, I made the call.  Not a call I’d done in awhile.  I asked a woman out to dinner.  A date.  I know men sometimes do this in a backwards, fraidy-cat way, being vague and saying, “You want to hang out some time?”  I chalk that up to a fear of rejection.

I was not vague.  52 years old is way past vague.  Literally said, “I was calling to see if I could take you out to dinner.”  No ambiguity.  A date.

“Sure,” she said, no hesitation.  Mission accomplished.  I asked her on a date.  I advised I’d call a few days before the date with the details.  Schedules didn’t mesh until then.  I was clear.  Sunday dinner plan was in pen, logistics in pencil.

Mission accomplished?  I’m not 16.  What’s the big deal?  When it comes to affairs of the heart, there’s some 16 in all of us. 

As planned, I called on Friday.  Got her voice mail and left a message about the plans.  Asked her to call back with directions to pick her up.  If she countered with meeting me at the restaurant, that would be fine.  I was assuming the male dating role of the picker-upper.  The gentleman caller.  In a perfect world, she’d have a parlor.

By Saturday night, I hadn’t heard back.  It didn’t give me a good feeling about the date.  I texted her, referenced my voice mail, and let her off what I already assumed was a spit out hook, suggesting that her schedule must have changed.

The next day came and went.  No date, but also no peep from her.  I was a wee bit pissed, and rightfully so.  In most situations, anger just masks the real emotion.  Sadness.  When someone makes you angry, they have usually made you sad.  Anger is easier to admit.

My feelings were hurt and I did nothing to deserve it.  That’s the worst.  There‘s not a person out there who wouldn‘t tell me I had a right to be angry.  What do I do?  The other person is off living life with no remorse, and I’m left stewing in a realization age isn’t an indication of maturity and manners.

“It’s her loss.”  I understand the gesture, but it’s my loss.  I did it the right way.  I put it out there.  It was a god-damned mission for me and I got burned.  Please don’t tell me “Everything happens for a reason”.  All this calls for is some compassion, not a meme.

I did not see this coming.  This was me, by god!  Who wouldn’t want to chat with me over a free meal?  I’m very entertaining and my table manners are top notch.  My wardrobe would’ve been clean, perhaps even snazzy.  I would have arrived showered and perhaps a fresh shave, but I wouldn’t want to give the wrong idea.  I’m not a first-date kisser.  I’m old enough to join AARP, and yet talking about kissing on the first date.  I wince and wonder what the hell I’ve done with my life.

For a few days, I watched self-pity rain down on the yard of my life.  Told myself I was right to not try.  Look what it got me.  Eventually, the sun broke through and a new growth of humor appeared.  No matter how bad the storm, humor emerges.

I have forgiven.  Let’s face it, she know not what she did.  I feel for this the woman, whose hyphenated name will never contain Brennan.  Now’s your chance, Connie Britton.  Britton-Brennan would make for some fine alliteration and I’d look good on the red carpet.

Let’s clarify.  This was someone I‘d met on numerous occasions, but hadn‘t seen in awhile.  We had a good, group-setting rapport.  She was sharp.  Funny. A nice smile.  After running into her a few days earlier, I decided to ask her out.  At the very least, I looked forward good conversation and some laughs.  We’d had that already.  I knew date one would go well enough that I was mulling over the second date plan.  Oops.

What remains with me is wonder.  What is the thought process that says the blow off is the right way to go?  Just vanish.  Ignore.  No call or text to cancel, or just a simple “Thanks, but you smell like plums and I’m strictly paleo.

Does she do this sort of thing in other aspects of her life?  Does she carpool, yet skip someone on the route?  A mail carrier who refuses delivering in rain?

Were there others like her in history?  If a gender-neutral wise man, would the baby Jesus be without myrrh?  If John Wilkes-Booth, does President Lincoln complete a second term?

Kidding aside, the bigger deal was the mission.  This was the first time I asked someone on a date in years.  Years.  Think in terms of presidential administrations.  Here goes…

I have not had a date since George W. Bush was president.

Trust me, I take no pride in that statement.  Judge me if you must.  I‘m being honest.  I didn’t spend these years focusing on my career.  I wasn’t the Secretary of State.  No excuse.  None required.  I quit trying.  It’s not like I ever pounded the pavement looking for the one.  Never been the super-driven, planning type.

I appear to be easygoing.  People say, “Mike just goes with the flow.  He never gets riled up or angry.“  My still waters run deep.  I come across that way, but the last 15 years have been influenced by fear and shame-based stuff.  Worrying about what’s going to happen, and not quite feeling worthy of certain successes.  It’s a whole other story.  I’m fine.  Just piecing together the puzzle for you.

I’m not afraid of rejection.  I’m afraid of limbo, of not knowing what will happen.  I’ve circled Yes on her “Do you like me?” note, but not knowing her answer.  Asking one woman on a date is no cure.

Me asking a woman on a date was a big deal.  I have never dated like some have job interviews, for practice.  Nor do I look to a first date like she’s my future wife.  Or do I?

After all, I am the model for Rodan’s lesser known statue, The Over-Thinker.

When I was dating during the G.W. Bush years, I often dated women I wasn’t interested in for the long haul.  Before you think me the cad, I was honest and it was mutual.  It was my way of shielding myself from relationship anxiety.  Genius, I know.  Like eating foods you don’t like so you won’t gain weight.

I’m not waiting another ten years for a date.  I’ve dabbled with the online thing and just hate it.  It’s hard to get excited about dating based on her interest in the outdoors, animals, and showing off her cleavage in a selfie.  Definitely feels like a job search.  It’s hard to approach it as a fun way to meet new people.  Gee, maybe make a friend.  Huge load of crap.  How many of your current friends became so because of a lack of dating chemistry?.  It just feels like torture.

Social waterboarding.

I’m exploring alternatives.  Like in these days of terrorism, I am be aware of my surroundings.  I will be on the lookout for someone interesting.  Join a few groups, charity stuff, volunteer. You meet good people when doing good things.

As I look at the endeavor of dating, I am baffled.  How do two people find each other?  Trust themselves and each other to marry.  Adam and Eve were kind of stuck, but after that?  Leap of faith?

Given divorce rates, you’ll have to do better than that.  You’re embarking on this life-long venture with someone who very likely refuses to fart in front of you.  Should there not have been a Saturday morning or two’s journey into the Dutch oven?  My god, you should at least know if your future spouse is putting out rotten eggs.  If you find this out after the wedding, you’ll deal with it.  However, 25 years later there’s an insurmountable resentment because your spouse put you off egg salad sandwiches.

I would like to love someone.  Yes, it’s true.  I don‘t enjoy being alone and do hold out hope for that fun, smart, crazy-cool chick who will call me on my shit.  She’ll tolerate my occasional methane-tainted path, all the while embracing her own silent-but-deadlies.

On the other hand, when I called and texted, part of me expected her to cancel.  Yes, even hoped a little.  It would have allowed me to skip right over the limbo part.  Granted, I didn’t hope for the silent treatment.

Any potential date reading this is figuring out how to automatically send my calls to voice mail.  This confession honesty isn’t easy.  It’s not where I thought I’d be at 52 years old.  Might as well embrace it and poke a bit of fun at it.

Tongue and cheek approach.   Two things my former date will never get from me. 

Call me, Connie Britton.