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Friday, February 28, 2014

Bryson Forrestor, Part 3

Julie's voice hit his ears first playing a sour note in his noggin, “Bryson, please speak to me, we really need to talk.”
            No. The word popped into his head, but never issued from his lips.
            “Come on, man, it's not what you think,” came Ian's voice through the window.
            I'm sorry, the dagger in my back will not allow me to comply.
            “We're not going to give up until you come out and talk to us,” Julie reported.
            Give up trying to talk to me, or give up humping each other’s brains out.
            “Will you please just come out and talk to us?” Ian pleaded.
            Nevermore, quoth the raven.
            They issued a few more pleas, but with pillows over ears, Bryson refused to hear them. Not only that, but he seemed to have fallen asleep during the barrage, after all heartbreak can take a lot out of a man. In his twisted dreams toy soldiers blasted the hell out of invisible aliens, cheating girlfriends, and conniving best friends. When he woke up three hours later to the DVD menu for Predator he knew what he would do: join the military.
            Of course, it wouldn't be that easy; for a freshly graduated former high school student he was grossly out of shape. Besides his short stint in sports, what little physical education he had to take during high school he never took seriously. So to make boot camp easier he started getting up in the mornings to walk, run, or bike. It was the only time he'd leave the house, and he made sure to go as early as possible to keep from running into either of “them” which is how he started referring to Ian and Julie a few days after the incident. Dehumanization was his friend.
            During the day he remained in his room except to eat and use the bathroom. His parents wondered what was up with him, but he refused to answer any questions, after all, he knew they would just think he was overreacting and that this was just a phase. While he was in his room he watched movies and researched the military on the net to determine what field would be the best for him. The Air Force would be easy, but it would be far too easy for a guy who wanted to kick his life into high gear, and he didn't want to go into the Navy because he knew he didn't want to ever be referred to as a “Seamen.” The Army was a viable choice, but most people chose to go into the Army, it was the biggest branch of the military after all. He wanted a challenge and to become a badass, so the only choice was the United States Marine Corp.
            For a month straight he kept up his routine, and “they” kept their routine as well. Every day like clockwork Bryson's mother would come to his door telling him that “they” wanted to talk to him, and every day he would tell his mom that he didn't want to speak to “them”. Every day after the rejection “they” would appear at his window pleading to speak to him, and he would remain as quiet as a church mouse until “they” left. By the end of that month since the incident he had steeled himself against the attack so that he was able to keep his functionality, he would even routinely do sit-ups or pushups as “they” shouted through the window.
            When that month was up he knew his next course of action. After he finished with his run that morning he ran a little further right down to the Marine recruiter's office. When he walked through the door he was nearly blown back outside by the excellence and honor that exuded from the office. Marine Corp decor littered the walls, as well as motivational posters that weren't cheesy but instead badass, and he never thought that was possible. The recruiter behind the desk made him think of the Spartans of old, he exuded a confidence that didn't feel like it derived from an ego in the least bit. At the same time Bryson felt both at home and proud that he made the right decision and slightly intimidated by this gladiator sitting behind his desk.
            He proceeded to step in before the recruiter and made no bones about what he wanted, he wanted to join up and ship out as soon as was humanly possible. Staff Sergeant Blake smiled and told him that there was an Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test available today, or he could schedule one for next week if he wanted to study. When he told Blake that he wanted to take the test today, the recruiter gave him a look of incredulity and told him testing starts in an hour. S. Sgt. Blake reached into a drawer in the desk that stood between them, and pulled out a book and handed it to Bryson, “I recommend you give this a once over before the test starts.”
            Bryson took the book and sat down in a chair across the room and began to look through it, but wasn't really taking much in. For one thing the intimidation of the warrior sitting across the room coupled with the thought that in a few hours his life would probably be changed forever stalled his mental progress. On top of that the other testers were starting to file into the office taking seats next to him. Increasing his nervousness was the fact that a few of them had gone to school with him, but luckily he didn't know any of them closer than a fleeting glance here and there.
            The hour passed fitfully slow, and then the recruiter called them all into the back room where they were to all take the computer test together. After they finished the preliminaries, Bryson felt at ease once he started taking the actual test. He scored high on the SAT and the ACT so he knew he'd ace an aptitude test to enter the military no problem. He was the first finished, and when the score was tabulated by the computer he had achieved an overall score of 77, allowing him his pick of any job he wanted in the military. He already knew he was going to pick Intelligence, but he still had another obstacle to overcome before he could say he was ready for boot: Medical Expenditure Panel Survey or MEPS. He had to pass the physical to get into the military and before he could choose his Military Occupation Specialty.

###
           
            Here in the MEPS office he sat waiting for the trip out to Paris Island. He had been sworn in, he had passed his physicals, he had filled out all the paperwork, and he had picked his occupational specialty. He didn’t get Intel though; his choice to leave earlier didn’t coincide with the dates of Intelligence training. Instead he was going to be working Motor Transport which Sgt. Thompson jokingly referred to as “Grunts on Wheels”. While Bryson was a little disappointed by the job change he took it willingly to be rid of the history of this place, to be rid of “them”.
            One month ago everything had changed. All it took was one moment to determine a course for the rest of his life. Now, here he stood waiting to board a van that would take him up the east coast to the Marine Corp training facility in Paris Island, SC. Where he would go after that he did not know, he just knew it would be far away from “them”.
            He found a spot in the back of the van, and looked around at all the families with freshly minted recruits about to board the van and leave on their way to a life of bravery and American tradition. As he looked out the window behind him he thought he saw Ian in the parking lot looking directly at him. He turned and looked the other way and never looked back. This was a time for moving forward, he could never turn back.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Bryson Forrestor, Part 2

Here Bryson was, running the gamut through every emotion dealing with loss, while Ian and Julie lay canoodling in her bed. That's why he went over there: it was supposed to be him lying there nose to nose with Julie, not Ian. They had made plans today to lie around and do nothing, sit around and do nothing, or walk around and do nothing. Had she become so tired of doing nothing that she was driven into the arms of someone more like-minded?
It was just all so sudden: he walked over there knowing her parents wouldn't be home, walked in without knocking as he normally did when they were gone, and stepped into her bedroom to see Ian and Julie lying there nose to nose. What were they doing, or what would they say they were doing? What would be their excuse?
“We were just discussing the deeper meaning of life and preparing for future lessons in philosophy at college when a seizure overcame me and Julie was giving me mouth to mouth and you walked in at the moment her tongue became disengaged from my throat,” Ian might say.
Or maybe Julie would chime in: “It's not what it looks like, I was just practicing on Ian what I was going to do to you later, after all he is a suitable stand in; don't you think? When I'm screwing Ian, in spirit I'm really screwing you!” Yeah, Bryson’s spirit felt screwed all right.
At any rate, it was over, for both of them. As he reached his house, he was determined to find his own way. Sure, he had already been accepted into the same college as Julie and Ian, but he didn't have to go there. He might have just barely squeaked out a 3.0 GPA when school was all said and done, but he'd find somewhere to start a new life with new friends and a new girl. Maybe he wouldn't even go to college; maybe he'd just dive into the workforce. There might be a lot of sharks in the water ready to devour a small fish like him, but he was more up for that challenge than having to see either Julie or Ian ever again.
He made his way to his room avoiding any eye contact or words with his mother or stepfather, afraid the slightest bit of human interaction would send him into a barrage of tears and unstoppable shakes. As he went into his room he quietly closed the door, despite the fact that he wanted to slam the door shut several hundred times he knew that would quickly arouse suspicion. Once he was in his room he quickly closed the blinds to make it as dark as possible in the room. Eventually, they would come to his house to tell him that what he had seen was an accident of some sort, and at that time he would alert his parents to the fact that he didn't want to see them. Of course, they wouldn't stop at the door, they would try knocking on the windows when the door didn't work and he didn't want to look at them.
Right now all he wanted to do was turn off his mind and give in to a movie or TV show or something that didn't require a thought to enter his sad little brain. Maybe Tenacious D: the HBO skit “Death of a Dream” seemed apropos at the moment. What was the next step in the death of his dream? Door to Door Rocking? No, there were too many memories to be had with Tenacious D that would keep his mind on the current situation. An action movie might fit the mood better. For sure a few explosions would cheer him up a bit. Maybe Predator. The idea of a humanity murdering unseen alien force ripping through a team of special ops soldiers only to be thwarted in his scheme to take over the world by an overly ripped Arnold Schwarzenegger seemed to warm his broken heart. It seemed like an allegory for his soul: the Predator was his heartbreak, and now Schwarzenegger must be his mind fighting back the heartbreak and ultimately defeating it.
As he lay on his bed, huddled under covers and pillows watching his mental metaphor on film, it came much sooner than he expected. He heard the rat-a-tat-tat on the front door followed by the muffled sounds of his mother talking to someone. The edges of his sight became black and his vision blurred as his heart began to race with the sound of footsteps making their way down the hall toward his door.
“          Bryson, Julie and Ian are here to see you,” came the typically soothing voice of his mother through the door, delivering this message of certain doom.
Thickly he replied, “I don't want to see them right now.”
“Why not?”
“I don't want to talk about it. Please just tell them to go away.”
“Okay,” the response seemed to almost question if this was truly his wish, but she reluctantly seemed to trudge back down to the hall to deliver the message. He heard her muffled voice from the front door followed by the sound of it closing. He started to breathe a sigh of relief, but the sigh caught midway in his throat as he realized this can't be the end. Sure enough, the steps came back down the hall once again. “Can I come in?”
“Not right now, Mom, I'm… indecent.” He felt like a fool as the words came out of his mouth. Was he now transported to the early nineteenth century that this phrase now issued from his lips? Of course, he knew he meant this more about his mental state than his physical appearance.
“Okay, well if you need to talk about anything, your stepfather and I are here for you.”
“Thanks Mom,” the words came out thicker than before and he had a hard time getting them out as a couple tears leaked onto his cheek. Of course, he would never talk to his parents about what happened this day, not in twenty or a million years. They'll question his choices once he makes them, but they were his choices to make and they'd just have to accept the fact that he made them. Right now wasn't the time to think about those choices though.
Not to mention the attack on his mental state wasn't quite over yet as the rat-a-tat-tat came to his window.
***
Bryson made his way to the phone; his feet felt heavy as if he was walking the green mile. What would he say? What would his parents think? Well, he wouldn't have to worry about too much fallout now, he'd be gone for three months, and during that time they'd get over the fact that he left so abruptly, and they would embrace the fact that their son was in the Marine Corp serving his country the way his stepfather thought every young man should.

He made the call. His mother cried, his stepfather dejectedly told him he was proud of him. He was sure his mother was thinking he was going to end up shipped overseas where he would be shot by some evil insurgent with the highest contempt for America. He wasn't sure himself what was going to happen to him from here on out and didn't want to think too much about a future that led him to war. Bryson told them he loved them and would call them when he reached Paris Island to let them know he got there safe and he hung up the phone.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Bryson Forrestor, Part 1

Bryson sat alone. Everything was moving so fast now, but for the most part the pace had helped him keep his mind off things like the events of a month ago. The physicals, the tests, the papers he had to sign, the people he had to meet, and the overall hustle and bustle of the office kept him preoccupied. Now came the “hurry-up-and-wait” he had been told to expect, and everything came flooding back to him like a bad dream. A single tear traced its way down the crease of his nose and landed on his shoe. He reached down and wiped it off before erasing the trail it left on his face. This was the home of bravery and masculinity, not of tears and bad memories; still the thoughts remained.
“Forrestor, Bryson!” he heard as he sat with his head buried in his hands. Slowly he pulled himself off the chair and made his way toward the uniformed titan standing in the office doorway.
***
Everything had been beautiful outside when Bryson left his house on that humid Florida morning, or at least he thought it was. Now that he was returning in shame everything was losing its color. What once was a bright deep blue sky now took on a gunmetal gray sheen, and the green grass he passed was masked by what appeared to him as ominous shadows; an omen that should have foretold the coming disaster that was spread out before him as he left home. As he reached the sidewalk he couldn't bear to even look at the cars that passed by for fear of more heartache; that doom would reach through the window of a passing car and rip his stomach out the way his heart had already been stripped from his chest. Such a thought didn't ease him any, and as he made his way to the nearest tree he felt all the life drain out of him, just as his breakfast spewed forth from his stomach and drained down the trunk of the tree.
            How could this happen? Just a week after graduation, everything seemed to be in perfect order. He was enrolled in college, the same college that his best friend, Ian, and his girl, Julie, were enrolled in. It seemed like it would be the perfect set up. He was almost certain that when they got to school he'd be rooming with Ian, and Julie would be a stone's throw away. Maybe later on they could rent a house or a large apartment together; most likely after Ian found the love of his life like Bryson had. They could do everything together, and why wouldn't they: Bryson and Ian had been friends since they were six years old, and he had been dating Julie for the last four years. They were practically family.
            Of course, “were” was the key word now. That one word incensed Bryson as he started back out on a brisk walk toward home. The walking pace didn't last, though; as he thought more about the word “were” he quickly moved on from a brisk walk to a run. “Were” ruined friendships. “Were” tore apart lovers. “Were” broke apart families. “Were” brought nations to their knees. “Were” caused the world to stop spinning. “Were” was a destroyer of the future. If the world ended today, aliens would pass by the wreckage and say, “There WERE humans there.” When you die your conversations with other dead people would most likely begin, “If I WERE alive...” “Were” was the most useless, no, heartbreaking word in the English language. Then again, “Was” wasn't very far off, in Bryson's mind. “I WAS going to college,” he thought.
            How could he have been so stupid, though? He always felt that Ian was making eyes at her, or whatever it was called these days (a steady diet of old television programming, like The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, sometimes clouded his judgment on exactly what lingo was considered modern). Bryson lived in such an old school world in his mind that he never thought once of it; let alone twice. Seriously, though, how could he have forgotten the way Julie looked at Ian? Bryson knew he, himself, was lazy, but he could have taken Ian's place as captain of the soccer team easily if he had the ambition. He could have even run the Math League had he not been busy with World of Warcraft. Captaining the football team might have been a tad bit harder, but Bryson was confident he could pull it off. Okay, maybe he was kidding himself a little bit. Wait, a little bit? Try a whole lot! There was no way he was as good a person as Ian, and that made things hurt that much more. He knew he would never be on his level. For Christ's sake, he would be lucky if he finished his undergrad, let alone go on to further education like Ian was destined to do.
            In all honesty, he could take betrayal from Julie more than he could from Ian. There was more than one occasion where she had left him in the past and he had always taken her back. Even Ian had wondered why Bryson had always taken Julie back. Bryson never had a question in his mind about it though. Each time Julie left him, he took her back with open arms, no matter what had happened. Why wouldn't he? She was the class president and captain of the volleyball team. On top of that she never neglected her participation on the yearbook staff or as the editor of the Astronaut Herald.
            All in all he wondered where he fit into their schemes and things. He tried playing sports his freshman year of high school but gave that up when the coach pissed him off. There was that time he tried out the school choir but got himself kicked out when he had the whole boy's section cracking up in class as he made fun of the choir director. Now that he thought about it, he was more known for spreading joy through the lower levels of the student body with his shenanigans than he was ever known for his school spirit or academic valor, while those closest to him embodied those latter qualities.
***

Bryson walked into the office and sat down in a chair opposite the burly uniformed individual that had called him in. Looking him over Bryson saw that his name tag read “Sgt. Thompson”. As Bryson sat there Sgt. Thompson kept jotting notes in his notebook, a serious look on his face. What he was writing Bryson was not sure. He hadn’t had a chance to look at his own face so he wasn’t sure if his eyes were red as if he had just been crying or not, but he hoped that he wasn’t giving off a wussy kind of vibe. After all, he needed this.
            “When were you thinking you wanted to leave for Paris Island?” Sgt. Thompson asked, not looking up from the paperwork before him.
            “As soon as possible,” Bryson answered without hesitation.
            “Well, you have a few choices: each Friday for the next three weeks we’ve got groups shipping out; otherwise, there is one that will be leaving here at seventeen hundred hours today.”
            “I'd like to leave today, if at all possible.”

            For the first time since Bryson entered the room Sgt. Thompson looked up from the paperwork with a surprising smile gracing his lips. “Oorah! That's what I like to see, a gung ho future Marine. Well, I'm sure you'll want to call your family to let them know you'll be leaving.” Thompson walked him out of the office, and pointed to a corner of the waiting room where a pay phone stood. “You can use that phone over there, call’s free courtesy of the USMC. You can tell your parents that you'll call them again when you get to Paris Island to let them know you arrived safely. When you're done just come have a seat back over here, we have more paperwork you'll need to fill out before shipping out today.” As Bryson walked toward the phone Sgt. Thompson called Garrett, David into the room after him.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Portrait of an Apology, Revision: Part 2

He was released with a prescription for some sedatives. Theresa had gotten back into town, and during her visit to the hospital promised that she would be there to pick him up and take him home. She kept her promise. She had only been there once, but during that time she had done more for him than anyone else had in years. She offered to take him home and supervised the cleaning of his place. He expressed his thanks in monosyllabic grunts; he couldn’t find the strength for more conversation.
He entered his house and felt it an alien world. Where was he without Francie? Theresa and whoever had helped her had done a great job cleaning the place up; no one would ever have known a murder had been committed here. He sat on the couch looking around wondering if he would keep this place or movie. So many good memories had been made here, yet one memory seemed to destroy them all.
By the time of her funeral a week later he had decided to stay. He felt the place was imbued with her soul now; it was the only way he could feel in touch with her. If he left he felt he would lose that connection. Family and friends came to visit and they never really ever seemed comfortable in the place. They expressed their condolences and Gerard expressed what gratitude he could under the tranquilizers and sedatives he was taking. Many of them brought food. Gerard ended up throwing most of it away. His appetite never fully returned in the wake of Francie’s death, or maybe it was the tranquilizers, either way he didn’t want the food in the house.
Her funeral came and went, and Gerard was able to wean himself enough off of the sedatives and tranquilizers to the point where he was lucid. He still remained sedated enough to keep a lot of thoughts to himself at least, which was beneficial when it came time for him to make a statement. He was also still grieving at the time; anger hadn’t replaced sorrow by then.
It wasn’t long before anger, hatred, betrayal, and a need for vengeance replaced the deep well of sadness within him. It ate through Gerard; bore a hole in his gut as if he was rotting from the inside. By then he would do anything to take his mind off that night; but no matter what, his vision turned toward Francie’s scars and the malice of the one who did it.
It was at this point when he started going to the local dive bars looking for fights. He just wanted to find the toughest meanest son of a bitch in the place and take him down. Gerard didn’t care if he would win or lose. If he lost the physical pain would fill the emotional void for a short time, if he was knocked unconscious he didn’t have to think at all for a while. It was never enough though, and picking a fight wasn’t the easiest thing to do. Often he would get kicked out of bars for causing problems, or he just found himself wasted, puking his guts out on the side of the street or in a back alley.
It’s in places like that where he began to make friends, but not with anyone he’d normally want to see in the light of day. It was puking in a back alley that he learned a line of coke could keep him from throwing up when he drank too much. All it took was a few more lines to learn that with coke he could drink all he wanted, but then he also couldn’t sleep. When he did sleep thought he dreamed of his days as a child on his father's boat, but those dreams were probably more associated with his brawls than his drug induced state. By the time he realized coke was the cause of his insomnia he couldn’t stop, and he didn’t want to. It made him feel like he was in total control; he just didn’t realize he was spinning completely out of control.

Coke and brawls brought him to his current position: passed out in an alleyway. Gerard was awakened from his drugged out sleep by someone kicking him in the ribs. He moaned and rolled over onto his back. He dared not open his eyes. On one hand he didn't want to lose the limited happiness he had in his dream state, but he also didn't feel like he deserved a better bed than the curb side one he napped in now.
The kick came again and he opened them expecting to see the bartender telling it was time to leave, instead it was his dealer. "What the fuck?" he exclaimed as he sat up.
"Bar's closed, I figured you were still out here. Tractor don't come back in the bar from a fight unless dude he's fightin' is knocked the fuck out. Figured I should check on ya."
"Thanks, I'd rather you find me than the bartender. Besides I'm runnin' low."
"Seriously? I just sold you an eight ball a couple days ago. If you're puttin' that down this fast maybe you should slow down."
"I thought you were a dealer. Just sell me the fuckin' coke."
"Alright, I only got a little on me."
"I'll take whatever you got, I've got a family reunion later today and I'll take whatever I can get to deal with those bastards." Gerard got a dime of coke and was on his way.
He didn't sleep or eat the rest of the morning; he didn't go to the doctor either. When he showed up at the reunion he had only run a washcloth over his bloody face. When he showed up at the reunion his left eye was swollen shut, his right cheek had an open cut that was still oozing blood, and some of the bruises on his face were being covered by the beard growth that had accumulated from weeks of not shaving but a few bruises could be seen elsewhere.
The reunion took place in his Uncle Steve's backyard, and there was a lot of family around. He didn't really want to have anything to do with them so he found a spot by himself next to an old oak tree. Every so often people would reluctantly make their way over to him and express their condolences for his loss. He would simply nod, but with each expression of regret he felt angry. He knew none of them gave a damn, if they did they would have come to visit every once in a while, said more than a word or two when we came to these family gatherings. After a while he excused himself to the bathroom so he could do a couple of lines.
When he came out he ran into Theresa. "Hey, how are you doing?" she asked.
"I'm doing alright I guess," he responded. "You?"
"Pretty good. Are you sure you're okay? You look like you've lost a lot of weight and you're lookin' pretty pale."
"Yeah, it's just an after effect of all the shit I've been going through. I'm starting to get my appetite back," he lied, "I was actually about to go grab something to eat."
"That's good."
Gerard walked back outside and true to his word fixed a plate of a hamburger, brat, and some fries. He hadn't been gaining his appetite back, but he felt obligated to Theresa to at least try to eat something. After a couple of fries though he felt he could stomach no more and threw the rest out.
He looked around the reunion from his lonely place by the oak tree and saw laughing smiling faces all around; except for the ones that looked at him with worry and concern in their eyes. He looked at them knowing it was nothing more than an act. It was all a lie. Those were the faces of hypocrites. He desperately wanted to tell them all so.
"What the hell are we all doing here?" he yelled out to them all. "We try to meet once a year like we're one big happy fucking family, for what?" Now he had gotten up and started walking around them, his mangled face contorted into an angry sad grimace. "You come up to me expressing your grief like you actually gave a fuck about Francie when she was alive, but how many of you tried to talk to her when she was alive? Not a single one of you! But now you care, now you want me in the family, but I see the way that you've been looking at me. Staring at me like you want me gone. Like I'm an outcast. But Cindy's still in the fucking club. Hey Cindy, I still haven't heard from your fucking caretaker, Alice. How's she doing? I betcha her kid is still alive. Guess what Francie's not and maybe I should blame her. Or should I blame you because you recommended her?
"No, I know why y'all look at me like you do, because I'm to blame. She was my family, my responsibility. I should have known better than to get help from any of you. I…I…" He was standing in front of a table of food when he collapsed.

When he woke up he was in the hospital; Theresa sat by his bedside. "Hey," he muttered, startling her from the magazine she read.
She looked at him from her seat beside his bed with a tender smile lined with worry, "Hey, how are you feeling?"
"Like I got hit by a truck."
"Yeah, you look like you've been hit by one too."
"No, just Tractor."
"What?"
"Never mind. What happened? What am I doing here?"
"You don't remember?"
"No."
Theresa recounted the events of the reunion leaving out the more colorful language he had used. She had always been averse to the joys of cursing. The doctors blamed Gerard's collapse largely on dehydration, but also noted from his chart that he had lost 20 pounds since his hospital stay after Francie’s passing.
As she recounted the story of the reunion Gerard noted how Theresa averted her eyes from his. He felt shame in the way that she told the story. A deep pang of guilt hit him that drove tears to his eyes, tears of the saline they were pumping into his veins rather than any reserves of water that had been stored in his body. This guilt stemmed from the thought of what Francie must think of him if she were able to see him in this moment. Where is she? Can she see me?  he thought. If she can surely she must be devoid of the maladies that plagued her in this life, her mind no longer feeble as it once was. There with Theresa by his bedside, for the first time since the night of Francie’s death, he sobbed until he could cry no more.

They kept him overnight and then released him in the morning. Theresa was there to pick him up and take him home. When they arrived she offered to stay with him. He thanked her for her offer but declined. He had things to do.
After she had left he walked inside and sat down at the desk in his bedroom. He pulled out a piece of paper and a pencil; it had been a long time since he had written anyone a letter. I'm sorry, he started, I'm so sorry. The letter was addressed to his family, but those words were meant for Francie. When he first sat down he wasn't sure exactly what he was going to say, but now he found the words mingling with ink as they dripped from his pen onto the page.
When he was done he closed the letter in an envelope and printed, "Please make sure the rest of the family gets this," on it. From his closet he pulled out a suitcase and packed some clothes. Then he went to the kitchen and packed some food; mainly cans of soup, fruit, and vegetables. Now he knew what he would do. The last bit of his coke he flushed down the toilet.
He loaded the suitcase into the back seat of his car and placed the envelope in the front passenger seat. First stop on his itinerary was Theresa's house. It was right across town from his place, and gave him an opportunity to clear his mind and think of the future. Most of it was hazy, but he was surprised that he hadn't thought of this sooner. He pulled up to Theresa's home. She wasn't there just like he had hoped. He placed the envelope in her mailbox by the street and drove away.

Next stop was the marina on the river. Over the past ten years he and Francie would come out here and take the old boat for a spin just like in the old days. It was when they were both most happy. He loaded his suitcase onto the boat and looked around him. This was his father's spot: the captain's seat at the wheel. He inserted the keys and started the engine and took off. Where he would go he didn't know, the wind blowing through his hair as he drove the boat down the river seeking the ocean. In this moment he was happy.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Portrait of an Apology, Revision: Part 1

I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, he thought as the burly biker’s fist plowed its way into his face. Gerard wasn’t thinking of the biker, no, he wouldn’t apologize to the biker. He wanted to be in this alleyway, he wanted to be punished. So here he was on all fours before this man he had just insulted in the bar. “Hey cocksucker,” he had said in a drunken coked up stupor, “the Outlaws are nothing more than pansy ass freaks. Why don’t you go back to your clubhouse and take it up the ass.” He was really thinking, Bring the pain.
            Gerard knew taunting a member of the city’s most notorious biker club wasn’t a bright idea, but at the moment it was punishment he wanted; that he needed. He pushed himself up onto all fours spitting up blood and possibly a tooth. Catching his breath he started to laugh. It was the reaction of a man who wasn’t done yet, the coke made him feel as though he could take anything, and he was ready to take it.
            All it took was one more hit, though. The biker’s fist came down, colliding with the side of Gerard’s face. Gerard collapsed to the ground, his head bouncing off the pavement. Before everything went black he heard the biker say, “I reckon you ought not come back here, shit’ll only get worse if you do.”
Gerard heard the biker spit, but he wasn’t sure if it was on him or not. He closed his eyes and listened as the biker’s steps, and his consciousness, faded away.
As he lay there a dream came to him, one that often came when he was in the deepest depths of despair; a memory of days gone by. It was his family, long before things went awry, back when they were all happy. Gerard stood on the bow of the family boat, he was nine years old. He was the navigator while his father was the captain at the wheel, his mom at his father’s side. Francie, his sister, sat in a chair on the starboard aft side of the boat, the wind blowing back her auburn hair.
They weren’t able to get out on the boat very often in those days; it often depended on Francie’s mood. She had a severe form of cerebral palsy that affected her as much mentally as it had physically. While taking care of her wasn’t easy, everyone in the family pitched in to help her and they all loved each other. In this moment they were all happy.
Gerard didn’t recall which trip this was, he didn’t dream of the specifics, he just froze the image in his mind: he stood at the front of the boat looking back to see his dad and his mom laughing while Francie sat in the back of the boat with a smile on her face looking up into a clear sky. Gerard and Francie hadn’t yet received the word that their parents had died in a car accident on Valentine’s Day coming home from a romantic dinner. Gerard hadn’t been scuttled off to his Aunt Cindy’s, a woman who remained perpetually drunk 24/7. Francie hadn’t been moved to a home yet because no one in the family wanted to deal with her many needs.
No, none of that had happened in his dream, and while he lay there unconscious waiting for the bartender to stir him from the pool of blood he lay in on the asphalt, he was happy.

While growing up at Cindy’s after the death of his parents Gerard took every opportunity he could to visit Francie. She was treated well by the nurses in her new home, but he could tell she wasn’t happy. As he got older he was able to spend more and more time with her, and he could tell this made her happier. Every time he came he promised that when he was able to move out on his own he would take her away from this place and they would live together, happily ever after just like in the stories he read her. Her cognitive abilities, such as speech, weren’t very developed, but he knew she was happy when she said, “I love you,” which always drove him to tears.
He spent as much time studying to graduate high school as he did learning how to take care of Francie when he did graduate. All of the money he earned from any jobs he could find during high school went into savings so he could get what he needed to take care of her. He quizzed the nurses when he went to visit Francie to find out exactly what they did, often shadowing them once they knew his intentions. Never once did he consider any career besides taking care of his sister; all he wanted was to have what was left of his family back.
And when he got out of high school that’s exactly what he got. Due to the fact that his sister was no longer a burden on any state system she received disability checks and he received checks from the state as her caretaker. It wasn’t easy, and he was expecting that, but they were happy together. Due to her developmental disability she had her mood swings, but he could tell the difference in her mental well-being almost immediately. They loved each other, and from now on they would never be separated.

For ten years he hadn’t done anything without Francie by his side. He didn’t date, he didn’t go to parties, he didn’t go to bars, and outside of Francie he didn’t have a life. To be honest, he didn’t expect one and didn’t want one. She was the only true family he felt that he had left. After he had left Cindy’s she felt that he hadn’t been appreciative of her hospitality. He didn’t know her hospitality, after all she knew more about vodka than even her own children (who had left her and disappeared years ago). The only member of the family who visited them regularly and seemed to enjoy their company was their cousin Theresa. He liked her visits, mainly for how she treated Francie like a real person and not as a plague on the family.
Gerard kept a few contacts from high school, even though he was always preoccupied with Francie and learning about her care he had been fairly popular and they were always trying to get him to spend some time with them. "C'mon man," they would say, "you need some time for yourself, and don't forget about us!" He wanted to, but he was always worried about leaving Francie with someone else.
He began making plans and his first choice was Theresa, she was the only one he trusted with Francie. Unfortunately Theresa was going out of town the week he had plans. She promised to keep a look out for caretakers for him, and that resulted in Cindy giving him a call.
“I know you’ve made it abundantly clear you want nothing to do with me,” she said in her croaky cigarette ruined voice, “but I might know someone who can help you.”
“Honestly, Aunt Cindy, I’ve never tried to make you feel that way,” he said, lying through his teeth, “I just felt like I was always a burden to you and I really wanted to get Francie back.” The next words that came out were some of the hardest he ever felt he would say: “I’m sorry if I made you feel that way, and I really do appreciate you all you’ve done for me since the accident.”
“I accept your apology boy,” he hated when she called him that, but his fake apology got her to give up the contact information. The woman’s name was Alice, and she specialized in temporary medical care. He didn’t have much to go on as far as recommendations, but he called Cindy and she spoke very highly of her character. While he didn’t relish ever taking Cindy’s advice on anything, he reluctantly called Alice and booked her for the evening.
That night he met his friends at Speak Easy before going out to a Kings of Leon concert. Every once in a while his mind returned home to Francie with an urge to call Alice to find out how things were going, but he resisted the urge and kept his mind in the present. He had a great time, and even questioned whether he could make a monthly plan of going out without Francie. He said his goodbyes mixed with let’s-do-this-agains and they went their separate ways. Gerard drove home humming random verses of “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody”. As he pulled into his driveway he began wondering what they would do next time.
As he got out of his car, though, something wasn’t right. Where was Alice’s car? He looked around; he could have sworn she had parked in the driveway. As he walked to the front door he noticed that it stood partially ajar, with the lights still on. He stood there for a moment looking around the neighborhood. Most of the neighboring houses’ lights were off; a few had the soft dancing lights of TV’s playing in bedroom windows. The neighborhood was mostly quiet though. Fear washed over Gerard. What awaited him inside? He didn’t want to answer that question; he knew the answer wouldn’t be good.
Slowly he pushed the door open. His breath caught in his throat. Momentary paralysis seized him. His eyes fixed to the scene greeting him in the living room. There Francie lay, next to her overturned wheel chair. She lay naked in a pool of her own blood; stab wounds gracing her stomach and bite marks on her back and neck. Her face was filled with cuts and bruises, the places where the ones who had done this had beat her to a pulp. Her body had been violated by multiple entry wounds in other ways as well. He didn’t need anyone else to tell him that some sick individual had beaten and raped her before stabbing her to death.
Paralysis fled making way for limpness. He fell to the floor losing complete control of himself. He let out an agonizing howl as tears fell to his cheeks and splashed to the floor. Later on he wouldn’t recall any of his entry of the house beyond Francie’s mangled body lying on the floor, a sight that would haunt him for the rest of his life.
Now he crawled and clawed his way across the floor trying to get to her. Not even thinking about the pool of blood or anything else he drew her to him, cradling her lifeless body in his lap wailing at the ceiling. How long he held her there he didn’t know; he refused to let her go. Even when the paramedics and cops came, called by a concerned neighbor woken up by his screaming, he wouldn’t let them take her from him. She was all he had, she was his everything. Finally the paramedics had to sedate him to remove the body. Even as they removed the body and he lay on a stretcher near loss of consciousness he could only say, “She can’t be dead, she can’t be dead.”
He was taken to the hospital and kept there for a few days and kept largely sedated. The cops came to question him and he told them all he could remember.
“We’re sorry for your loss sir,” the two officers said as they prepared to leave his hospital room.
“Wait, I haven’t heard anything from Alice, she was watching Francie,” Gerard asked in his drug induced haze, “do you know what happened to her? She was gone when I got home.”
“She received an emergency call,” one of the officers responded, “her son had been rushed to the hospital.”
“Do you know for what?” Gerard asked.
“Unfortunately we can’t offer you those details sir, we’re sorry.”
“Do you have any leads?”
“We believe so, but we can’t give you much more information on that either sir.”

“Oh…okay, thanks.” The officers left the room and Gerard sat there in silence. He tried to process the information, but the sedatives made it hard. He drifted back into uneasy sleep with dreams that teetered between highlights of the best and worst moments of his life. The early life boat rides with his family. His parents’ funeral. Francie’s smile when he brought her to their new place away from the home. Her violated body. He found himself waking in a cold sweat. The dream lasted for hours in his mind, but it was only a short while in reality.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Story Behind "Portrait of an Apology"

I originally came up with the idea for “Portrait of an Apology” several years ago. I used to have a friend who took care of her sister who was mentally and physically disabled, and on occasion when she wanted to go out, I would watch her sister for her. From that I saw how much she loved her sister, as well as how much her sister took over her life. It’s very difficult to maintain personal relationships outside of such a demanding relationship, and I wanted to approach that.

It was not an easy task. I didn’t feel as though that was enough, so I felt I had to sever that relationship to push the main character forward. In my first draft I don’t feel I was as successful as I would have liked to have been in demonstrating that. Because I opted for the letter treatment in my original draft, I didn’t really build scenes for the story. That was a large part of the reason why I opted to rewrite this story.


With that I will leave you with the second draft to come. The concept is still the same, I just moved out of the character to write it. I hope you enjoy it.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Portrait of an Apology

I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Those are the words that have been playing in my head for the past few months, but they’ve never made their way across my lips. Now I find them mingling with ink as they drip from my pen onto this page. This is my letter of reconciliation for things that can never be reconciled; my apology for things I know that will not be forgiven. I just hope that the details contained within will allow you all to understand my plight. Maybe then I can earn back your respect.
            “You need some time to yourself, Gerard,” my friends always used to say. “Live your life.” No one ever seemed to understand that Francie was my life. She couldn’t take care of herself, what was I to do; she was my little sister. No one else knew how to care for her the way I did. Who else would provide her with the compassion and the love that I gave her? God knows none of you wanted the burden; hell, I was the only one who didn’t see her as a burden.
            Eventually, I relented though. Lord knows I wish I hadn’t. Some of my old high school buddies were going to a concert and invited me along. It took some convincing, but I finally decided to put to use the caregiver’s number that Aunt Cindy had given me a while back. Why I decided to take Cindy’s advice in the first place I’ll never know; she can tell you more about vodka than her own children (wherever they’ve been all these years), she’s constantly soused. But, hey, if you can’t trust family, who can you trust?
            Sure, I had an appropriately good time at the concert, but when I got home I learned that the fleeting moments of fun were not worth the time spent away.
            Most of you remember the first time you heard the news, and I’m sure it came as a shock. At least I hope it did. As many of you only saw us once a year, I would like to think that being family would not preclude you from the civility of feeling sadness for a family member in pain. As much as it might have shocked you though, you cannot imagine the heart stopping feeling I felt when I came home that night.
            I remember most of it vividly, and I probably will for the rest of my life. As I walked up to the front door I noticed that it was slightly ajar. I recall stopping for a moment as my heart started beating faster. Before I could bring myself to enter the house I called out to Beatrice, the lady Aunt Cindy said would be a great help if I needed some time away from Francie, but there was no answer. I slowly pushed open the door and as I did my stomach hit the floor as my heart leapt into my throat.
            There, right in the middle of the living room lay Francie’s overturned wheelchair and her lifeless body. The stains on the carpet, that must have been deep red long before I had arrived home, were already turning a deep dark brown. Next thing I recall I was holding her body in my lap, her forehead pressed against my cheek. I begged and I pleaded for her to come back, but there was no use: she had left me long before I had arrived. The horror of her condition still haunts me to this day, and even then I tried not to look at her violated body. Words cannot express the depravity of whoever had done this, of the condition they left her in.
            I don’t remember much else about that night. The police arrived with an ambulance to take her away, but I recall I didn’t want to let her go. That was the last time I ever saw her, even her funeral a week later was a closed casket. Never again would I feel her skin against mine. Never again would I kiss her cheek. Never again would I take care of her. I had let her down once, and that’s all it took for her to be taken away from me forever.
            The week between her brutal death and the funeral is all a haze. I know some of you came to visit me expressing your condolences, but I can’t remember who. I do want to express my gratitude for those of you who did come. Unfortunately, I had been prescribed enough sedatives and tranquilizers to take out an elephant for a month. I say unfortunately but in reality it was the only way I could function in any capacity at the time. When Francie died, I died. I had given up everything to take care of her. It’s not that I regret doing it, but when she died I had nothing. Not only had the demon who broke her taken her away from me, but they had taken away my livelihood. I spent every waking moment with her and she was the only person who had ever loved me unconditionally. What was I to do after that?
            Her funeral came and went, and I was able to wean myself enough off of the sedatives and tranquilizers to the point where I was lucid. I still remained sedated enough to keep a lot of thoughts to myself at least, which was beneficial when it came time for me to make a statement. I was also still grieving at the time; anger hadn’t replaced sorrow by then.
            It wasn’t long before anger, hatred, betrayal, and a need for vengeance replaced the deep well of sadness within though. It ate through me; bore a hole in my gut as if I was rotting from the inside. By then I would do anything to take my mind off that night, but no matter what my vision turned toward Francie’s scars and the malice of the one who did it.
This point is when I started going to the local dive bars looking for fights. I just wanted to find the toughest meanest son of a bitch in the place and take him down. I didn’t care if I would win or lose. If I lost the physical pain would fill the emotional void for a short time, if I was knocked unconscious I didn’t have to think at all for a while. It was never enough though, and picking a fight wasn’t the easiest thing to do. Often I would get kicked out of bars for causing problems, or I just found myself wasted, puking my guts out on the side of the street or in a back alley.
It’s in places like that where you begin to make friends, but not with anyone you’d want to see in the light of day. It was puking in a back alley that I learned a line of coke could keep you from throwing up when you drank too much. All it took was a few more tries to learn that with coke I could drink all I wanted, but then I also couldn’t sleep. By the time I realized coke was the cause of my insomnia I couldn’t stop, and I didn’t want to. It made me feel like I was in total control; I just didn’t realize I was spinning completely out of control.
I remember bits and pieces of the family reunion. I remember being sick of everyone telling me how sorry they were about Francie. I knew none of them gave a damn, if they did they would have come to visit every once in a while, said more than a word or two when we came to these family gatherings. I remember Cousin Theresa telling me that I looked pale and sick; that I should go see a doctor. I remember making myself a plate of food wondering when was the last time I actually ate something. Even then I think I choked down a fry before throwing the plate in the trash.
I looked around and saw these laughing smiling faces all around; except for the ones that looked at me with worry and concern in their eyes. I looked at them, I looked at all of you, knowing it was nothing more than an act. It was all a lie. These were the faces of hypocrites. I desperately wanted to tell you all so, and according to Theresa I did. That thought was the last thought to pop into my head before I began shouting at you all in more colorful language than Theresa cared to repeat. She told me all of this as I sat confined to a bed in St. Julia Hospital.
Apparently, after going off on everyone at the reunion I collapsed. The doctors blamed it largely on dehydration, but also noted from my chart that I had lost 20 pounds since I received a complete physical after Francie’s passing. As she recounted the story of the reunion I noted how Theresa averted her eyes from mine. The look on her face was a mix of shame and concern. It struck a chord deep within me; she was the only one I ever felt was truly sincere in her concern. She was the only one to come and visit Francie and me on a regular basis.
A deeper pang of guilt hit me that drove tears to my eyes, tears of the saline they were pumping into my veins rather than any reserves of water that had been stored in my body I’m sure. This guilt stemmed from the thought of what Francie must think of me if she were able to see me right now. Where was she? Can she see me? If she can surely she must be devoid of the maladies that plagued her in this life, her mind no longer feeble as it once was. There with Theresa by my bedside, for the first time since the night of Francie’s death, I sobbed until I could cry no more.

This is why I write to you today. Maybe I’m not even seeking your forgiveness or respect; that time may have passed. I do know that if Francie can see how I acted she would be ashamed, and so I do this for her more than for you or even myself. I’m also writing to let you know I’m going away for a while. I know there have been murmurs that maybe I should go to rehab, but my mind is in a much different place than it was after Francie’s death or at the reunion. For now I need to get away from this place to further my reevaluation of myself. Where I will end up is anyone’s guess, but I’m sure things will be brighter there than they are here and now.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Live Life

Live life:
not as everyone's told you to,
as you want to;
not as a god wants you to,
as you want to;
not as your parents taught you to,
as you want to:

live life.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Compliance

Take the pill, swallow;
slipping into madness, one,

the whole. We all fall…

Friday, February 7, 2014

Void

Broken, separated,
cut off from the one you love.

Empty, without right.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Story Behind the "Milwaukee Segregation Speech"

The “Milwaukee Segregation Speech” was an academic endeavor. I was originally planning on taking the Celtic Studies Certificate at University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, but then I decided that my first step for graduate school would be getting my MA in Teaching from Cardinal Stritch with a focus on Secondary Education in English. So my plan to take First Semester Gaelic and Celtic Crossings ended when I realized I had other courses I needed to take in preparation for my post-grad work.

In place of those courses I opted to take my English capstone class, Advanced Workshop in Fiction, and I decided to take Public Speaking since that meets the requirement for the Wisconsin Public Teaching requirements. This speech started out as a project for my Public Speaking class. It was my first speech actually. Now I had preached sermons at my childhood church, and I had introduced an inductee into the Milwaukee Press Club Hall of Fame, but this was a different kind of speech.

I changed this speech from the original version I spoke in class. The reason for that was that I presented this speech in the preliminary round of the 2013 University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee Public Speaking Showcase: Issues of Community Concern. The majority of what I did for this speech was change my narration and peroration of the speech to allow the listeners to feel the topic more.


I didn’t end up winning the showcase unfortunately but I did well. If anything, I probably read the speech too much (which makes me a good reader), causing me to lose. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the speech, and moreso I hope it makes you consider the life without segregation.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Milwaukee Segregation Speech

In 2011, the Milwaukee County community was outraged by an event that took place at the Wisconsin State Fair. On August 4th of that year, a group of African American teenagers committed acts of violence against white people as they stood at the gates of the fair. According to one of the teens who was arrested, they targeted white people because they were “...easy targets...” This isn’t the only attack that we’ve seen of this nature in the Milwaukee area. In July a white man named Christopher Simpson was attacked by three black men who told him, “This is for Trayvon Martin.” The question that always comes up after such attacks is why, and one of the answers that is consistently given is segregation. According to an article that appeared in The Business Journal in June of 2013, Milwaukee ranks sixth out of 15 similar regions in diversity with one third of the population of the four-county metro Milwaukee region being part of an ethnic or racial minority; however, Milwaukee is still the most segregated of that group.
Segregation in Milwaukee has become ingrained in the identity of the area, and is an important issue of community concern. It is our responsibility to understand how this affects our identity as well. As citizens we should understand what leads to such segregation in the Milwaukee area, as well as the effect such segregation has on us and those stuck in segregated areas of Milwaukee.
A study of the 2010 Census data by Professors John Logan and Brian Stults of Brown University and Florida State University respectively notes that Milwaukee’s black to white dissimilarity score is 79.6. According to Business Insider in an article “21 Maps of Highly Segregated Cities in America”, a score above 60 is considered very highly segregated. The map of Milwaukee in this article shows that white people are represented as living on the edges of the city and more in the suburbs, where black people are found more in the north-central area, and Hispanics live near Humboldt Park. These areas are known for their minority populations, but they are also known for their poor economic conditions as well.
A large part of the reason why such segregation continues is due to the segregated areas containing largely impoverished populations. A study by Marc Levine of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Center of Economic Development titled “Race and Male Employment in the Wake of the Great Recession” shows that as of the 2010 census data only 44.7 percnt of the Milwaukee metro area’s black males of working age were employed. In 2008 this number was 52.9 percent. This lack of employment makes it difficult for many minority families to be able to move out of these impoverished areas. Furthermore, David Papke of the Marquette University Law School notes that some suburban and outlying towns such as New Berlin and West Bend have made a concerted effort to prevent the construction of moderately priced homes that could possibly appeal to residents of impoverished areas seeking to move out of those areas.
With impoverished conditions and an inability to escape comes crime. Even with that realization, though, the African-American population is over represented in our criminal justice system. At the time of the US Census, the data revealed that 12.8 percent of the African American population of Wisconsin was incarcerated. The national average for the incarceration of African Americans was 6.7 percent. John Pawasarat and Louis Quinn of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Employment and Training Institute stated in their 2013 research, “Wisconsin’s Mass Incarceration of African American Males”, “State DOC records show incarceration rates at epidemic levels for African American males in Milwaukee County. Over half of African American men in their 30s and half of men in their early 40s have been incarcerated in state correctional facilities.” This can be attributed to poverty and the inability to find meaningful work, but could also be the result of institutionalized discrimination. Crack cocaine and powder cocaine are the same drug, however they carry drastically different sentences. According an article in US News, “Crack vs Powder Cocaine: a Gulf in Penalties”, the sentences for selling crack cocaine were 43.5 percent longer than the sentences for selling powder cocaine. They also noted that 82 percent of crack cocaine arrests in 2006 were African Americans, whereas 72 percent of arrests for powder cocaine were white or Hispanic offenders.

As citizens, it is up to us to understand what leads to the segregation of Milwaukee, as well as other areas of the US, and how it affects each of us so we can try to find a way to fix the issue. Our identity is as much defined by the areas that we live in as those who find themselves in these unfortunate circumstances, so as citizens we should remain informed these matters. When Christopher Simpson was attacked he suffered a broken hand as well as injuries to his arms, chest, and head. Our knowledge of the cycle of segregation in our community could help to prevent the violence and crime that caused Christopher Simpson's injuries and heal the economic divide that plagues this city.