Thursday, August 28, 2014

Elementary Chaos Theory

The sky hung heavy, big, gray and brooding overhead. Rains fell from above all over the city wetting everything. It was no real surprise that it had begun to rain that day. Throughout my morning walk, to my Fifth grade class at Parker elementary, the petrichor buzzed heavily on the muggy air.

On that particular day I sat in the back of the classroom starring through the last of the large rectangular windows. The glass was partially distorted and runny with the constant rolling of water. As I did frequently, I was watching a house far off in the Oakland hills. It was light gray, like an overcast sky, and surrounded by thickets of woodlands. From my view I could see one of the home’s windows, wooden back fence, and a swig set.
 
I desperately wanted to live in that house, with my family, away from the sprawl everything in East Oakland seemed to be surrounded by. Funny thing is, I do not recall wanting to move there in order to escape the violence that plagued the city. Human's are adaptable creatures, and it's children are incredibly resilient. Maybe that is why all the fighting, the shooting, and even the frequent wails of sirens all seemed incredibly average by that point in my life. I was aware there existed more peaceful, "better" places. However, at that age I figured they were either rich, where White people lived, or only in the episodes of sitcoms.
 
This nonchalance towards chaos extended even to the immediate environment of my dysfunctional classroom. That year I had the awesome luck to land in the absolute worst class of the entire school. As it were all the days before it, and would be many days after it, nothing was being accomplished. None of the students listened as Mr. Evans made a futile attempt to teach. Perhaps the situation would have been different elsewhere. Maybe if it were a city where more funds were available, where more people cared, and day to day survival did not constantly occupy a majority of minds, someone may have intervened to permanently to permanently transform the madhouse back into a classroom. Such was not the case here.

Our teacher, Mr. Evans, was one of those very unfortunate educators caught in a worse-case scenario. He found himself serving as dungeon master to many of the worst students the school had to offer. On a daily basis he was endlessly mocked, ridiculed, and insulted. His attempts at authority were swiftly slapped away.
 
It did not start that way of course. He once had the reigns of power in his slippery hands when the year first began. But he let things go too far. So, like some sort of unmediated border dispute, the situation in that class slowly escalated. First there was laughing and noises behind Mr. Evans back. Then there came outright defiance and insults.
 
Finally the first shot was fired. Someone threw a small pebble at him while he had his back turned. It did not take long for others to soon join in on the fun. From there it worsened. The artillery grew to large lime green science books and dark blue math books. The class had completely spiraled out of control, and with the last dying breaths of order, Mr. Evans role as an authority figure was null and void.
 
Such happenings is why I continued staring out the window that day while ignoring the happenings in class. Any attempts to learn would have just been dust in the endless chaotic winds of the room anyway. However, to his credit, Mr. Evans was still trying to write something despite being met with such malicious deterrence.
 
It happened like clockwork. Any time he dared to turn his back on the class in order to write on the blackboard, a book was stealthily launched. Its pages wildly fluttering and flapping through the air like the broken wings of an out of control bird, before ultimately hitting the board, or Mr. Evans. Finally having had enough he turned about with an almost flabbergasted look on his round bearded face.

"That is assault!" He angrily warned, only causing the children to laugh and ridicule him. "If one of those books do me any serious injury,” He continued sternly. “And I catch who threw it, it won't be me, you, momma and the Principal. No Sir! It will be me, you, momma and the Police!"
 
The laughter only grew from the class and someone yelled ‘Shut that shit up!’ from the anonymity of the class.
 
Mr. Evans looked about the class with a sort of haggard expression. Finally he seemed to just sigh and give up before retreating back to his desk. Sitting there quietly for a while he appeared to ponder his plight then shuffled through some tests only a very limited number of us participated in. I can still recall just how weary. down trodden, and forlorn he appeared. Even as a child it was abundantly clear to me that he was very unhappy. It must have hurt to have so many kids mocking and disrespecting him on a daily basis. He existed in some bizarre universe where the students were bullying the teacher.
 
No, do not confuse my observations as altruistic concern. I would like to say I was deeply moved by the circumstances he suffered. Perhaps it would benefit my image more if I were to say such. However, my father had been murdered only months earlier, and I honestly just could not find it in me to feel much about anything. So, I sat there in class as just an observer behind a thick glass of apathy.
 
There were two ringleaders of that carnival of malice. Two boys named Abjah and Jimmy. Both were held back before, both were too old to be in the Fifth grade, and both had behavioral problems. With those two boys in the class, equipped with an entire gaggle of flunkies, there was almost no way of ending the troubles.
 
On the day in question, Abjah and Jimmy were just in rare form that afternoon. They had both riled the class up quite a bit, ensuring the school day would start out pointless, and end equally as pointless. I was growing increasingly bored. I finally lowered my eyes from the window, opened my desk and began searching for something to do. Again, I heard books fly across the room. The multiple impacts hit along the walls and floor as the students laughed.
 
Mr. Evans gave another impotent warning that only served to further amuse his tormentors. For a moment he seemed to have had enough. Quickly standing from his desk, he marched over to the phone on the wall that would put him in contact with the office on the first floor, but then stopped, shook his head and apparently changed his mind. It was a pitiful thing to see. Perhaps he was afraid calling in for assistance once more would not bode well for him.
 
A sudden knock at the door drew Mr. Evans’ attention and caused the class to quickly power down. Such always happened in case it was the principal or someone else with more than enough power to handout punishments until their heart was content. Mr. Evans answered the door to find a student sent by one of the other teacher’s with a message of some sort.
 
I was just about to return to what I was doing until the conspiratorial whispers from Abjah, Andre, Ben and Jimmy baited my curiosity. I was sure they were all up to something by the way the poisonous smiles began to slowly spread across their faces.
 
Walter.” Abjah looked over at me and then motioned to Mr. Evans. “Watch this.”

I ceased what I was doing and continued to watch with building curiosity.

I quietly waited...

I continued quietly waiting...

I kept waiting...

Then nothing happened.

Finally I shrugged at the anti-climactic finish, and returned to digging through my desk for something to read. I had already finished our textbooks. Well, all except that damn math book, which I had not even entertained touching because I absolutely loathed math. Fortunately I had checked-out a couple of books from the school library on the previous day.
 
The fearful, high-pitched scream of a girl suddenly soared above the rest of the noises in class, and yanked my attention upwards in time to witness Mr. Evans about to close the classroom's door when a small trophy, with a marble base, cut through the air and smashed into the wall right in front of his face. The impact shattered a large hole in the plaster and snapped the trophy into various pieces.

Mr. Evans, startled by the near miss that was obviously aimed for his head, took a few clumsy steps back, bumping into the still partially opened door, causing it to swing open once more. The room erupted into of amused uproar of laughter as he stood there so startled and dumbfounded. The curtain had been raised, Mr. Evan’s was on stage, and the audience was so eager to see him preform.

Yet, the longer he stood there, oddly frozen with that exact same frightened expression on his face, the more the clamor of the room began to die off. After several long seconds the audience was not so elated anymore as it became terrifyingly obvious that something was wrong. Mr. Evans finally took a curious half step to the left, then turned as if he was going to walk off, but his legs went limp beneath him, and he toppled over quite suddenly with all the grace of something spilling out of a container, causing his head to bounce off the hard floor, where he remained sprawled halfway between the hall and room.

There was a silence after that. It was a quiet so harsh that only the sounds of the rains pelting building dared to make any noise. The eyes of the entire class were forced upon the results. Mr. Evans was not moving. The audience had expected a comedy but was now privy to a tragedy of their own making.

A very skinny, dark-skinned girl, Felicity, bounced to her feet and rushed over to him as if she was hoping to help, but upon arriving the reality was truly overwhelming, causing her resolve to instead disintegrate into a fit of hysterical screams. By then blood was beginning to run from the side of Mr. Evan’s head, pooling upon the beige, brown and black swirl pattern floor. The sight of the blood instantly ignited the fear of many other children.

Mr. Evans! Mr. Evans! Oh my god!” Felicity continued screaming a short while longer before suddenly bolting out of the class room. Panic is a volatile contagion. It has this terrifying ability to spread with speeds that can out pace even the most voracious wildfires. Soon many other students began rushing from the classroom, pouring into the hallway, hysterically banging at neighboring classroom doors.

Mr. Evans is dead! Mr. Evans is dead!” The panicked children began raising the alarm. But even as all the screams for help were occurring, not all the students were trying to find help for our teacher. Many began focusing on saving themselves. Abjah, Jimmy, and the rest of their crew were beginning to accuse one another. Fear was rising. This latest escapade had gone much too far. There were going to be the usual suspects, but none of them, even the most brazen amongst their ranks, wanted to be the one tossed under the massive, flaming, many wheeled bus obviously speeding towards the class.
A reckoning was nigh.

I continued sitting there watching it all occur. I was calm because the event mostly did not resonate with me on an emotional level. Of course I felt bad for Mr. Evans but I realized there was nothing I could really do for him. I briefly considered retrieving a coat out of the closet to lay his head on, but I also remembered constantly hearing not to move an injured person.

The class was empty by the time I finally stood from my desk, walked over, and watched him for a while. Despite the blood it was clear he was still breathing. After crossing over Mr. Evans, I wandered into the hallway. Other teachers were exiting their classrooms while telling their own students to stay in their seats. Some of the kids were still yelling that our teacher was dead.

I was uncertain of what to do next. I watched the commotion around me for a short time before moving off down the hall, walking down the two flights of steps leading to the first floor, and going to the office. A very large man named Mr. Knolls, who served as security, stepped out of the office as I approached. Felicity, who arrived long before I did, could not be soothed enough to speak coherently. Ms. Gause, an administrator in the office, was hugging the girl tightly in an effort to calm her.

Walter,” Mr. Knolls began sternly in his normally deep voice. He was a very intimidating figure. “What happened up there?”

Someone threw something and I think it really scared Mr. Evans. It looked like he fainted.” I explained with a shrug.

Did you see who threw whatever it was?” Mr. Knolls asked.

No. Sorry.” I replied.

He watched me suspiciously for a while as if maybe I knew more than I was admitting to. Perhaps there was some truth to that. I saw the conspirators whispering and one of them did tell me to watch for what was coming. However, I did not actually see who threw the trophy. I only saw the object in mid-flight and the ending results.

Mr. Payne, the school’s principal, emerged from his office. He was so worried about Mr. Evans that he rushed past us all and raced up the steps to check up on him. Mr. Knolls began corralling the entire class downstairs near the office. All the kids, even those who were never involved in the craziness, appeared frightened by the unfortunate turn of events. There was still bickering amongst the main instigating group, each vying not to lose their head.

At the front of the building, one of the two pairs of large, beige, double-doors, making up the entrance, were pushed open by Mr. Knolls as the paramedics slowly pulled to a stop near the curb just outside. Cold air blew in through the building, carrying the sounds of rain gurgling in the gutters, and the tires of vehicles sloshing through the wet streets as they passed. A pair of EMT’s hurried into the building with a stretcher as a cop followed them into the building.

Mr. Payne was furious by the time he returned to the children gathered there near the office. “You should all be ashamed of yourself.” The principal began in his mildly high voice. “What you did here today really hurt an innocent man that was only trying to teach all of you. Are you proud now? Are you happy about what happened here? Mr. Evans is going to the hospital because of all of you.”
Many of the students, including the instigators, began to cry as the severity of his words sank in.

I remember seeing Abjah, Jimmy and the others of their crew crying as well when I glanced over at them. Back then, the fact that they, the worst of his tormentors, were now crying, looking for some form of sympathy, or maybe even a hug, seemed absurd to me. Now as an adult, I gaze back on them with the sympathy I would have denied them then, because it is abundantly clear to me they were just children. Foolish, misinformed, perhaps even poorly raised, children.

We are going to find out who did this.” Mr. Payne continued gravely. “The responsible party will be found. There will be real repercussions for your actions.”

The crying only increased as the EMT’s carefully carried Mr. Evans dazed form down on a gurney. He had a bandage on his head and there was a glazed look in his eyes. Mr. Payne continued his tirade but I had stopped listening by that point. Instead I turned my attention to the falling rains. I am not sure when it happened, or even why, but suddenly he, and everyone else annoyed me so much that I simply walked off down the hall. I did not want to be a part of it all any longer. I heard Mr. Payne, and some other adult call after me, but I did not acknowledge them. I did not want to be privy to any more speeches or crying. It all felt pointless.

As I searched to find some place quiet to sit alone, the world seemed increasingly silent and gray like the cloudy sky outside had somehow saturated everything to such a point that all the colors were washed out down into the gutters, leaving everything bleak and colorless. I walked down the secondary hallway and sat at the flight of steps leading out of the side of the building. It was a secluded area that I often isolated myself. No one really ever went there Sometimes I would just sit there and think about everything. Other times I would read. That day, through the high windows above that side entrance, I watched the rains falling while unintentionally reflecting all that happened.

"Walter?" A soft and familiar voice called from behind causing me to turn and find Mrs. Language, the school's special programs coordinator and psychologist. She was a short, blond woman who frequently wore floral print dresses, and scarves around her neck. My desires to be left alone caused us to cross paths frequently. She was always kind and funny. Always giving me one book or another to read. Everyone seemed to love having her around.

Hi, Mrs. Language.” I said with a small smile.

What’s the matter?” Mrs. Language asked with some concern.

Nothing.” I replied simply. “Why?”

Well, I just heard about everything that occurred with Mr. Evans so I came to see what was happening. I was told you left so I walked around to find you.” Mrs. Language explained.

Oh.” Was all I could really think to say for a while. “I just didn’t want to be there with them. What’s the point?”

Well, maybe you should come and sit with me in my office for a short while.” Mrs. Language smiled. We walked down the next hallway before stopping outside her office door. Unlocking and opening it, she allowed me to walk in first, then followed up the short flight of steps.
Mr. Language's office always seemed to have a comfortable glow no matter the weather. There were a pair of large windows that overlooked the entire schoolyard. All about the office were a great deal of books on shelves, trinkets from various cultures she had studied, posters against drinking, drugs, unsafe sex, and others about homework, honesty, integrity. Besides for the sound of the rains there was some sort of R&B instrumental playing on the radio from one of those stations that only played that sort of thing.

How are you feeling?” Mr. Language asked gently as she took a seat at her desk.

Okay, I guess.” I shrugged after sitting across from her.

Are you sure, Walter?” She further inquired. “A lot has happened today. It is okay to be sad or upset about any.”

I was quiet for a while. I seriously contemplated what she was explaining to me and I wondered if I should feel something. “No. I guess I'm alright.” I replied to her sincerely and turned my eyes out towards the rain. “It has been raining a lot lately.”

Yes. It has. The forecaster said it should last throughout the next couple of weeks.” Mrs. Language said cheerfully but not enough to conceal her concerns. But she did not press. She was always very patient that way. God knows she would need such dealing with me.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Ride

Note: An Excerpt from "Restless Dreams", an upcoming book of short non-fiction stories.

There was the sound of the gunned car engine and the rains constantly smashing into the vehicle’s frame. No one cared that it was a storm. It was the deadest hours of the night and the highway was virtually deserted. It was dangerous. It was stupid as hell. But it mattered littlet, and I can say without a doubt, I cared even less than the three others. They were laughing as the Driver’s vehicle continued picking up speed, daring him to go faster, and faster. He, of course, enthusiastically obliged, taking us all careening recklessly into the night with just his headlights guiding the way.

I was quiet there in the front passenger seat. I listened to all the excitement while staring through the windshield as the torrents of rain continued washing over the glass. The world was rushing by with increasing speeds as one dark stream.

The exhilaration of such speeds was not wasted on me. I was only quiet because the experience had partially taken my breath away. We were cutting through the darkness and water at speeds without fears or concerns. It was the first time I felt any excitement in such a long time at 17.

"Walt is scared." The woman playfully teased in a sing song voice.

"What?" The Driver asked with a confused laugh.

"He’s been super quiet the entire time." She continued nastily.

"Walt, are you scared?" The Driver asked with a quick glance over at me.

"Doubtful." I said while still starring ahead. It was all almost hypnotic.

"Oh yeah?" The woman in the back seat pocked my shoulder. "You can admit it, dude. No one is going to call you a puss. Well, at least not to your face."

"I imagine you would love that." I called back to her.

"Poor baby." She offered sympathies far too sweet to be anything but mocking.

"You not used to driving fast, Walt?" The second male passenger joined in with the woman’s, and his girlfriend, teasing. "All you have to do is say ‘please slow down because I feel the pee starting’, and we promise not to laugh too hard."

"Dude, you aren’t scared?" The Driver laughed but there was a hint of disappointment that I found a little odd.

"Shh. He might cry and stop hanging out with us." The woman added causing the three of them to begin laughing in unison.

I remember beginning to feel annoyed. Not at the teasing but at all the chattering. I wanted to enjoy the experience because it had been so long since I really felt anything outside of the lethargic fog that seemed to hang over me so often. I glanced in the review, then the driver, and then I began rolling the window down. The cold winter air came rushing in and it felt good.

"Oh shit! Are you about to be sick?!" The Driver asked urgently despite their continued laughter. "Dude, seriously just try not to spew all over inside the car!"

I unbuckled my seatbelt and partially leaned out the window meeting the darkness and water. The rain partially stung and the air was a steady torrent rushing by. I could barely see the cement road tearing by below us. It all combined to further escalate the exhilaration that was surging than me. For reasons too bizarre, foolish and morbid to really understand, I pushed myself up from the seat and climbed further out the window. Was I trying to prove something? Was I daring fate? Or was that feeling of excitement just addicting? I would say a little of all three, plus something else.

"What the fuck are you doing?" The other guy called as the laughter was ceasing.

"Walt, are you alright?" The Driver asked nervously.

"It’s fine." I called back with a sudden laugh. The feeling was nearly overwhelming as I sat partially out the window with my legs still in the car. "Keep going."

"You heard the man." The woman encouraged with more laughter. To this day I have met only one other woman who laughs anything remotely similar to her. It was more of a musical, gleeful cackling really. When it would reach a certain pitch it was easy to imagine she was a bit mad.

"Faster." I called back into the car.

"That’s what I’m talkin about! Fuck it!" The Driver yelled back proudly just as I felt and heard the car picking up more speed. His engine always had a growl to it like some sort of mechanical beasts doing his bidding. He loved that vehicle. Truth be told, anyone who rode in that car for at least a couple of minutes fell in love with it. Racing through the night with them, to not care one way or another, to see death as more of a release than a fear; that feeling was divine.

That feeling. How can I describe that feeling? The words partially escape me even now. It was dark, rainy and the air was very cold. The highway and city was rushing by at over 90 mph. I knew I could fall. That would have been a definite death. They were laughing and cheering. I closed my eyes feeling as if I was riding closer and closer to a place between oblivion and life. A razor thin membrane that could rupture and let a violent death pour in.

There has and probably will always be two halves of me. One that is hopeful, compassionate and truly, and eternally, believes in humanity’s potential to rise above. The other was, and is deeply depressed, nihilistic, cynical, and bordering self-destructive. It was that exact same side that sent me climbing up the sheer side of a cliff without any gear only a few weeks earlier. It was there, at 14 yrs old, when I would stand as close as humanly possible to the railroad tracks as freight or passenger trains went shooting by, just to feel that rush of knowing an inch closer was death. Or riding along with friends, at 16yrs old, who were drag racing others on dark streets.

That group, on that particular night, was feeding that negative half unlike any other group of people I have ever known. They drank, hung out constantly every night, did drugs and wanted me to join them on that pointless midnight carnival. I was never more close to fatally embracing them and that terrible shadow in me.

The woman suddenly called out behind me with excitement and I realized she had partially climbed out of her window as well. That cackle of hers was reaching that pitch. It was clear she absolutely loved the experience.

"Shit, I want to try it too. But you bastards get all the fun." The Driver lamented in good humor. "But I am the goddamn driver. I do that shit and we crash."

As the off ramp drew closer he was forced to rapidly decrease the car’s speed and began pulling onto the street. We were all laughing at the experience as the woman and I climbed back into the vehicle, soaking wet from the rain.

"You both got issues." The other guy laughed somewhat nervously.

"Shut up. You fucking love it." The woman teased him before leaning over and kissing him roughly.

We all continued talking and laughing until reaching my stop. The driver pulled the car over to the curb.

"Well, here you are, brother." He announced.

"You coming out tomorrow night?" The woman asked hopefully.

"You know it." I said while climbing out the vehicle.

"Catch you later, Walt!" The other guy called after me. The Driver sped off suddenly causing the passengers to laugh with excitement. I turned watching them drive off into the night. That is how I will always remember them. Perhaps that is the way I really want to remember them as well. They sometimes seem almost mythical to me now as if they were the incarnations of something dark and poisonous.

They each were like ghosts to me sometimes. I almost never ever saw any of them during the day. They manifested only after the sun was down and there was something crazy enough to summon them. For us, when we were all together, life was a poorly made product that was going to break no matter how gently you handled it, so why not push it as hard as you can before the inevitable? Make it crumble on your terms and goddamn the consequences.

Of course we all hung out a few times after that night and each time was almost addicting. Fortunately better sense began slowly winning out. It happened after I realized they came close, very close, to convincing me to try just a ‘little line’ to see what it was like. I slowly began pulling back and distancing myself. I loved being around them and talking to them. That is why I choose to leave despite not wanting to.

They fed a side of me that I just do not want ever coming to the foreground. I could try and say it was the moral high ground that forced me back to my senses. No such thing happened. I just did not want to hurt the people that cared about me. In the end it was probably the only reason I permanently ended my ride with them.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Turbulance

The years spanning from 12 to 17 were especially trying. In rapid succession first my father died, and then my home was gone. What does one do when it appears the God they have been raised to believe in, for the entirety of their life, has suddenly stepped back and allowed the ceiling of the world to cave in upon them? It is either lie down and die. Or continue on as best as possible.

For a while I truly began to hate life and sometimes the mere act of existing felt exceedingly complicated and painful. Roughly starting around the age of 14, I could not sleep much because either it felt like my mind was constantly racing on multiple channels all at once, or I would have the most disturbing nightmares. So I frequently spent hours sitting up alone in the dark of my room, or setting up camp in front of the cold, animated fire of the television. This insomnia was coupled with a near daily cocktail of frequent headaches and sudden bouts of deepening depression.

It could all feel so unbearable at times. I would be lying if I were to deny having never seriously contemplated ending my own life during some of the worst moments. Perhaps the biggest factors in not further exploring such was knowing my mother would be left holding a rather shitty bag, combined with the understanding she had experienced more than enough grief in her life without me adding to it. Now, looking back as an adult, it is easy to see why suicide is not the best of answers. Yet, as a kid sometimes I just wanted the world to stop, and since I could not accomplish that, I considered simply ending my involvement in it.

Such conditions made school, especially high school, a burdensome experience at best, and nearly lamentable at worst. It was not so much because the academic requirements were difficult, as it was losing the ability to care, or believing wholeheartedly that none of it would matter in the end. I had come to the bleak understanding that life was a product made to crumble. An inevitable ending of ashes.

It was also during these times I learned one harsh truth very quickly. When you are a Black kid, being it consciously or unconsciously, very few teachers, administrators, and other such officials ever pause to consider you have a psyche that can possibly become wounded like all the other kids around you. Acting out, being sullen, isolated or angry is never explored as possible symptoms of depression, grief, or other such complications birthed by experienced trauma that may require therapy. No. You are just a bad kid because you are Black. Predisposed to being aggressive, and possessing atavistic criminality that will lend itself well to a future in the prison industrial complex.

Other students, especially those who were White, were assumed to be naturally good so any forms of misbehavior were considered alarmingly deviant. Yet, when you are a Black student aggression and failure is considered the routine norm, while any exhibited intelligence or academic success was viewed as pleasantly abnormal. So much so it leads to compliments for "breaking the mold".

Despite not always having stellar grades I frequently engaged in conversations or debates on multiple topics in class. On numerous occasion I had teachers tell me-- with straight faces-- that I "talked different" than many of the other Black students, or ask if I were adopted. That is what attending James Logan high school, in Union City, was like for me. While there were truly some amazing, compassionate and generous faculty members, such as Ms. Covento, Mr. Seaton, and Mr. Dino or, one of the assistant principals, Mr. Angelus, However, they were not the norm.

Admittedly I sometimes had a smart mouth, and sharp tongue powered by sarcasm and cynicism. But the truth was I was just a really depressed and confused kid trying my damnedest not to fall apart. Maybe I put up a great disguise. Maybe some faculty members were too stressed with their work load to notice. And maybe many of them simply did not care.

Needless to say such circumstances led to a great many conflicts with different teachers during my time at that high school. One such grudge burned far brighter than many of the others. It was with a P.E teacher who made it no secret that she truly despised me. Fortunately her efforts were not in vain because the feeling was exceedingly mutual.

One day our private war unexpectedly-- or maybe expectantly depending on who you ask-- escalated to new heights. It was a dull, gray Wednesday. I remember for several days leading up to that point it felt like the weather grew grayer, and grayer, and each time it seemed like it was as gray as it could possibly get, the next day proved you wrong.

I had not slept the night before. I was feeling sullen and irritable. I was not in the mood for company so I arrived for school through one of the rear entrances. First period was P.E. But I would not be participating. It was not that I did not want to participate, or some badass attempt at being defiant. The truth is I found the entire idea of being around so many half dressed/naked people, while being nearly naked myself, to be unsettling and creepy. The best disguise for insecurity is through dispassionate negativity. I hid mine very, very well. I made up all sorts of reasons as to why it was all so stupid...but I would have liked nothing more than to get over my issues, and join in.

By the time I arrived at the large, brown double doors leading into the gym, I was already 10 minutes late. I was dreading going inside because I knew it would most likely lead to nothing pleasant. I considered just 'cutting class' altogether...but that presented its own unique set of potential problems.

So, I took a breath, prepared myself, and pushed the doors open. The sounds of laughter, sneakers squeaking across a glossy floor, and various bouncing balls, all instantly greeted me. The bright lights above made me rethink removing the visor I was wearing unless I wanted to risk a headache. It was black, like the rest of the baggy clothing, and boots I was wearing. It was may favorite color then and is still so now.

A cursory glance found no trace of Coach Lynette through the assortment of students either playing basket or valley ball in different areas of the large gym. Spotting some familiar figures seated on various levels of the wood colored bleachers to the far right, I decided to head over in hopes of perhaps blending in.

"As passionate about class as always, eh Williams?" Mark, an advent Stoner, called from where he lounged on the third row. He was a Latino kid, dressed in a white jersey, oversized jeans, and a pair of beat up sneakers. To his right was his girlfriend, an Asian girl named Molly. Her otherwise black hair had blond streaks, and she wore a dark red sleeveless shirt, with a flowing black skirt, and combat boots.

"Just trying my best to following in your grand footsteps." I called before taking a seat near the couple. While I was still not much in the mood for company Mark was a mellow, frequently high kid it was easy to hang around.

"Yeah, man! That’s what I’m talking about." He laughed before hugging Molly close with one arm, causing her to squeak then playfully swat his leg. "Yo, at lunch, me, Nick and all them, are going to go to my house to get a little toasted, you in?"

"Nah. I got enough problems." I replied with a short laugh.

"You’re lost, brother." Mark grinned. "But if you really was following my example you would dive on in. Let the bud set you free."

"I'll keep that in mind." I remarked before turning my attention back to the rest of the gym. "I miss anything?"

"Just the coach running her pie hole." Molly mumbled with an unappreciative tone.

"Well, then I'm just in time." I smiled falsely.

"Williams!" A deep female voice called from the far side of the gym. I turned to unfortunately discover Coach Lynette departing from a group of girls playing volley ball. How on earth did I miss here is anyone's guess. She was a short, stocky woman with her black hair in a crew cut. As always she wore a dark pair of track pants, and a Logan windbreaker, with her whistle hung about her neck. I could imagine she probably wished that whistle was a pistol every time she dealt with me.

"And we're off..." I said with a frustrated sigh.

"I told you man, she loves you." Mark grinned. "She looks for you first thing in the morning. She wants you so bad."

"She is going to rape you in here one day and no one will hear you scream." Molly giggled.

"Way to make me sick." I blanched at the mere thought.

"Then the both of you will get married, and have coach babies." Mark laughed causing his girlfriend to follow.

"The both of you may want to clear out of the blast radius." I recommended while continuing to watch her approach. I may have been mistaking but her irritation seemed to increase with each step.

"What? You couldn’t take the 5 minutes to get dress for P.E?" Coach Lynette began as she stopped a few feet away and folded her arms."Why do you ever bother showing up?"

"I am required to." I replied simply.

"But you are not required to be a loser Williams!" Coach Lynette responded firmly. I was a bit surprised at her reply. It caused me to push my sun visor up from my eyes. "All you have to do is put the clothes on, show up and play around for an hour. How are you incapable of that?"

"Well, you just got my pegged." I replied flatly. To my growing discomfort most of the class had stopped what they were doing and was beginning to watch. I could normally take her quips, insults and biting comments with little care. But what I could not stomach was becoming a spectacle as some of the gathering students laughed at her comment.

"Fine, Williams. If you want to be a loser, if you want to be nothing then that is fine too. At least you won’t have to worry about career day." Coach Lynette continued on as she raised her voice for the audience. "What is this really about? Are you too afraid to get dressed in front of other people or something?" She was just being condescending but had no idea how correct she actually was.

"Doubtful." I replied flatly despite silently dying of embarrassment within.

"Well you are a guy. No one is looking at you like that." Coach Lynette frowned.

"I am baby!" A guy called out anonymously from the crowd and a lot of people began laughing. Coach Lynette laughed a little as well with a smug smirk. I pulled my visor back down to cover my eyes, and remained emotionless. I was not giving her or anyone else the pleasure of me squirming or appearing uncomfortable.

"Okay, seriously Williams. You are washing out, and at this rate you won’t amount to anything." Coach Lynette had the entire class undivided attention by then and my intuition told me she was really enjoying it as the diatribe went on. "Is that what you want? You saunter in here day after day like you own the place, and like the rules don’t apply to you. Well I am sick of it. If you want to be a loser, fine, because if you fail this class you won’t graduate, and if you don’t graduate you won’t find a good job, and if you don’t find a good job you are going to be a bum. Or maybe worse, you will become something your mother can’t and wouldn’t be proud of."

Much of the class was laughing by that point and such left me feeling like the punchline of a really ugly joke. It was the last straw.

"I guess you're right." I shrugged and looked up at her. "I wouldn't want to end up becoming a bum, or something far worse and embarrassing...like a P.E teacher."

The class suddenly burst out in a roar of laughter. Mark and his girlfriend joined loudly before he punched me in the arm while yelling, ‘Goddamn!’. The laughter reached a fevered pitch but Coach Lynette and I silently stared daggers at one another for several long seconds.

"Get your shit," Coach Lynette began angrily as her face redden. "And get the hell out of my class. I don’t want to see you for the rest of the week!"

"Can't say I am sorry to hear that." I said while picking up my back-pack, tossing it over my shoulder and walking out.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Fireball Incident

Note: This is an excerpt from the upcoming collection of short non-fiction, "Restless Dreams"

A tennis ball and some duct tape. There is nothing suspicious or fascinating there. You could put some tape on stuff or bounce the ball around a little.

But what if we combined them? By wrapping, like, half the duct tape around the ball? Still not much possibility there, except for maybe one stupid ass game of tennis where there is no need to keep score because everyone's a loser just for participating.

But what if that insanely wrapped tennis ball was drenched in lighter fluid? And that lighter fluid was lit? Now it’s getting good. But it’s not done just yet.

What if that fiery object was attached to a thick rope, which was tethered to a big stick? Now add one extremely excited, reckless boy swinging that flaming contraption to and fro with all the heedless joy of a mentally-ill monkey on a bender. Are you picking up what I’m putting down? Oh, I think you are. And there’s more.

Now surround that half-crazed man-child with a younger, but equally crazy large group of boys. One half is loudly chanting, "Fireball! Fireball! Fireball!" and the other half is chanting. "U.S.A! U.S.A! U.S.A!"

It was like magic! We were all mesmerized! How did we get to this point? Who came up with it? Where did we get the stuff from? Who cares! It was party time and we actualizing the hell out of our potential!

You should have seen it. It was this burning orb being flung all around through the air in every which direction like a small comet we snatched out of the sky and stuck on a stick. A stick that was being swung wildly through the air without thoughts or concerns about possible fire hazards, safety, injury or other little annoyances like that.

But then reality got all rude and didn’t even bother to call to let us know it was on its way back. Somehow, during our haste to bring our brilliant blue print off the page, and into life where it belonged, we never considered "fire hot" and the rope was not indestructible. So, during one exceptional feat of stick swinging, the burning, fiery tape ball suddenly shot through the air and hit Mitch in the chest. To make matters worse he was not wearing a shirt on that hot summer day.

The chanting and excitement ends. This kid is screaming in pain. In fact he screamed running all the way home. Things get a little hazy after that. It’s hard to keep track of what exactly happened while running in blind fear in hopes of not being connected to that tragic incident. Don’t look at me like that. Everyone ran. The next day, Mitch showed up with a bandage, and no hard feelings.

See. Fun was had by all.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

My Friend the Monster

Note: An excerpt from the upcoming book of short non-fiction, "Restless Dreams".

I was 16 when I woke up on that particular evening. Faint rays of light from the setting sun managed to partially seep in through the black curtains and heavy pale blinds to ease the normally dark shadow of my room. I did not immediately get up from the bed. Instead I remained lying on my back staring at a ceiling. I was still annoyed and disappointed by a sudden turn of events that had been transpiring.

A close friend, a girl named Anne, started dating another very close friend, Argus a few months earlier. Despite my outward smiles and support I felt little happiness about any of it. Secretly, every night when I was alone, I was having fist fights with a green-eyed monster. My true feelings about the situation invited this new and terribly alien opponent to a rematch again and again no matter how hard I tried to feel differently.

The first time I saw Anne I immediately caught feelings for her. She was a pretty, olive skinned girl with raven hair. When looking into her large brown eyes it was easy to see mysteries and dreams that made every smile seem secretive. She was a witty type of spirit that loved to create, laugh and question. Unfortunately Argus saw her through the same lenses at the same time. He was also much quicker and braver about approaching her.

Worse, Anne was completely smitten by his arrogance, dim-wits, and good looks. Yet, to be honest it was those same dim-wits, plus his ability not to take most things serious, that made him one of my best friends at the time. He was fair-skinned with a mop of curly brown hair, and defiant gray eyes that accompanied his constant smirk. Though I was taller than Argus, he was more muscular due to his constant years of football. Despite the jealousy I felt over Anne, part of me looked up to him because Argus was the type of person that was completely comfortable in his skin.

No matter. I was his friend and he was mine. So, even though I did not want to hang out that particular evening, I promised earlier that day I would show up to meet him. No one was home when I left my room, went down stairs, and exited through the front door. The sun was all but gone as I walked down the street towards the agreed upon place. The railroad tracks were a shortcut to the bridge. On hot summer days those dusty, rocky passages would bake beneath the sun and then regurgitate that heat back into the evening air.

Argus was nowhere to be found when I reached the bridge so I learned over the railing and stared down into the waters of the creek. I noticed my boots were slightly dusty and scuffed from the walk, so I made a mental note to wipe them off later. While waiting I listened to the impromptu choir of crickets and frogs against the distant sounds of children playing somewhere amongst the quiet suburb.

"My boy, Walt." Argus called out as he reached the start of the bridge. He seemed genuinely happy we were hanging out. Such made me smile a little despite my earlier feelings.

"What’s up?" I looked up from the water towards him.

"Nothing much." Argus replied. He seemed almost sad and that confused me. "What’s been up with you today?"

"Nothing really. I have been asleep most of the day because I had a really bad headache." I stood up straight from the railing and slipped my hands into my pockets. "Did you stay home all day too?"

"No. I went and hung out with Anne for a little while." He shrugged.

"Is everything alright?" I asked with some internal hesitation. I really did not want to get on the subject but I did not want to leave him hanging if something was wrong.

"Yeah, I guess. Just-" Argus shook his head and that time I definitely could tell something was bothering him. "But fuck it, you know?"

"Fighting again?" I asked curiously.

"Yeah, something like that." Argus looked around once before sliding his hands into the pockets of his oversized, gray jeans. "She was being a stupid so things happened, but fuck her, I don’t feel like talking about it right now."

"Cool." I shrugged not wanting to force the issues. "Want to walk or something? You look pretty bummed about it."



"Yeah," Argus nodded then motioned for me to follow him down the tracks. "I was thinking about going to the store to grab a soda or something. You up for it?"

"Sounds like a plan to me." I turned in the direction that would lead towards the liquor store.

"I didn’t mean that store, Walt. Besides, they charge way too much for, like, everything. Trying to buy a pack of gum from them would probably cost $2." Argus shook his head.

"Then where?" I asked with some confusion.

"Let’s walk to that supermarket over near the Drive-In. They have all sorts of cheap shit." Argus said before taking a step back.

"Sure, if you want to." I said as I began following him. "Not like there is much else to do. It might be kind of nice to walk a little further anyway."

"Oh yeah?" Argus asked curiously while we walked down the tracks.

"Yeah, haven’t been out and about in about two days. To be honest it feels good to be out right now." I explained.

"Dude, you should get out more." He replied simply.

"Says you." I quipped.

"Pft, that is good enough. I’m like some sort of expert on this sort of stuff." Argus said with a brief laugh.

Our conversation jumped several topics as we made our way towards our destination. We talked about college, the future, movies, video games, music, clothes, etc. Finally leaving the hot, dusty trail of the railroad tracks, we crossed a lush green landscape newly created by the city for a beautifying effort. Admittedly, all the flowers and trees were really working. After jay-walking the rather busy street, Argus and I crossed the big asphalt parking lot and walked through the doors of the supermarket.

The pale lights of the store were an artificial afternoon stuffed inside of a building. To say I found it uncomfortable would be an understatement. We did not immediately go for the goal that brought us to the store. We wandered about looking at whatever caught our attention for a brief moment. At some point we arrived at the magazine aisle where we killed time by flipping through the pages concerning video games or music.

"Goddamn Mace and Puffy." Argus fumed about an article featuring both artists with a shake of his head. "Why do people listen to this fake shit?"

"Not a clue." A shrugged while flipping through a copy of the same magazine to find what article he was annoyed with. "Can’t say I’m a fan."

"Isn’t it enough they keep playing his crap on the radio and TV?" Argus glanced up from the magazine. "And what’s up with dudes dressing like him and those other ass clowns on his label? They look stupid as hell wearing all that shiny, bright, foil looking shit."

"They can’t help themselves. Their idiots." I replied causing Argus to laugh.

"Don’t lie, Walt. You know you hide a couple of his CD’s in your room." Argus joked while sitting the magazine down.

"You are only saying that to see how I feel about your dreams of becoming one of his back up dancers." I did the same with my magazine as we laughed and began moving towards what we had walked all that way for. Eventually we found our way out and wandered back towards are neighborhood. Despite his occasionally laughter Argus still seemed morose during the walk back. We eventually arrived at the bridge. He finished most of his soda before tossing the bottle into the waters below.

"Hey, don’t litter, asshole." I joked from where I stood on the opposite side. "Hasn’t the wisdom of Captain Planet taught you anything?"

"Dude, there are three shopping carts down there already." Argus replied with a smirk.

"Don’t mean you have to add to it." I countered. "Thanks to you an entire family dolphins are going to die in about 10 minutes from now."

"You’re right, Walt." Argus added with mock sincerity and lowered his head in shame. "I don’t think I can live with myself."

"Right." I laughed causing him to do the same.

"And yeah, I went to Anne’s house today." Argus suddenly said as he glanced over at me then turned back to the water.

"Oh." I was not really sure how to respond because I had forgotten about the earlier topic and it seemed odd he would bring it up again so suddenly. "Is everything alright? Did something happen?"

"We were fuckin around, you know? Just kissing, touching, and that sort of stuff." Argus explained while still staring down into the water.

"And that bothered you?" There was a small pang of jealousy but such did not out weight my concern to why he seemed so sad and distant.

"No. No." Argus hesitated for a moment and glanced over at me.

"Dude, seriously, what’s wrong?" I asked with building concern.

"Nothing." Argus turned his eyes back to the water appearing more distressed. "Just, well, I got her shirt and bra off, you know? So we kept kissing. Then she started acting all funny and shit. I had unzipped her jeans and slid my hand down into her pants-

"Whoa," I stopped Argus with a nervous laugh. "I’m not sure she would want me hearing the details to all this, besides-

"Walt, just—just listen." Argus tone suddenly became irritated as he looked over at me.

"Yeah, ok. Sorry…" I rubbed the back of my neck becoming concerned again.

"No, it’s cool. Just," Argus shook his head and concentrated on the water again. ", she kept grabbing all over my dick, and stuff. You know? But when I got her pants off she started acting all funny, Walt, like she suddenly didn’t want to anymore." He shook his head. "She was just playing goddamn games like always."

"Ah, so that is what the argument was about I take it?" I asked curiously. "Look, maybe you should call her and-

"We didn’t have a fight, Walt. She just kept fucking with me." Argus said angrily as he turned his eyes to me again and stood up straight from the railing. "I got tired of that shit finally. Know what I mean?"

"Don’t tell me the two of you broke up?" I asked in disbelief. I was not totally innocent in that situation. Yes, I sincerely wanted Argus and Anne to be happy, but that jealousy poisoned some of my intentions. The moment I felt that small spark of hope I instantly regretted it. I desperately wanted to be a better person than that.

"Yeah, we kind of broke up I guess or something." Argus glanced down and found a rock on the bridge. Picking it up, he easily chucked it to the water below.

"Do you want me to talk to her for you?" I asked surprising even myself. "Maybe there was some sort of misunderstanding, you know?"

" Like I said, I got tired of her fucking with me, man. She thinks just because she looks good, I have to take her shit all the time." Argus chucked another rock into the water below. "So, I was like fuck it."

"Wait, I don’t understand. What happened?" I asked in confusion.

"I pulled her fucking panties off anyway." Argus began again with noticeable agitation. "So she started whining and telling me to stop. I told her she shouldn’t been grabbing all over my dick all afternoon like a cock tease."

"Argus?" I asked with a voice quieted by a sudden dread that slithered from the back of my skull, down my neck, and over my spine, thick and icy. The end of the story already seemed apparent but I was in denial.

"She was a cock tease, right?" Argus continued on angrily but still was not looking at me. "Anne, that bitch, just kept playing with me every day. Acting like she wanted to go all the way, I show up and she changes her mind. What kind of shit is that? How is that right?" He finally looked over at me seeming to search my face. What was he searching for? To this day I am not really sure. "So, I took off those panties and got what I wanted."

"Argus?" I asked once more without being sure exactly what it was I was questioning.

Things went quiet between us for a while. That tense silence was filled by the flowing water and a train passing in the distance. Argus kept staring down at the creek, concentrating, and focusing on it far too hard. I was surprised by a sudden and bitter laugh of seeming contempt that that rose from him.

"Anne screamed but I didn’t give a shit. I just kept fucking her even when she told me it hurt without lubrication." Argus was still laughing but it was a sound without any humor. "I was fucking pissed by then so I told her ‘oh, here comes your lube.’ And I busted a nut in her and just kept going. Fucking cock tease started crying, dude. Started to say some shit about how she loved me and wouldn’t tell if I stopped. I told her stupid ass I would stop when I wanted to."

"Wait." I laughed as I suddenly caught on and some small relief washed over me. "You’re just fuckin with me, right?"

"Nope." Argus said flatly as he looked me in the face once more. "I fucked her right there in her living room, on the floor, by the couch. She got what was coming to her. After we finished she started blubbering about how she felt like she couldn’t walk or some bullshit like that. Whatever, she enjoyed that shit and just didn’t want to say it."

"Dude, seriously, enough now. Stop playing." I wanted to hear him suddenly burst out in laughter at me for having believed him. Deep down I was praying he would. I needed him to laugh. I knew it was coming at any moment and I was waiting for it with all my heart. I stared at him waiting for it. "Argus-

"I’m not fucking playing!" Argus nearly yelled at me in sudden anger that caught me by surprise. "I told you I fucked her and that is what happened. It’s not my fault. She wanted it anyway." He stood up from the railing again and turned to face me as he grew more irate. "What the fuck you trippin so hard for? I don’t give a shit so why do you?"

"What did you do?" I asked a question that had already been answered. I stared at him in continued disbelief. The full understanding of what he had said was slowly dawning on me, and I just could not believe Argus, careless, funny Argus, who I looked up to, would do something to Anne. That he would do anything so horrible to anyone. I saw this kid return a wallet full of money. I heard the ugly words clearly but they just made absolutely no sense coming from him. "You raped, Anne…" I trailed off as the words touched the air between us for the first time.

"What are you talking about? I didn’t rape anyone!" Argus snapped angrily. "Anne wanted it. Why the fuck else would she let me take all her clothes off? Huh?" The question seemed to be aimed at both of us as there was a look of confusion added with his anger.

"Dude, she was crying. You even fuckin said she told you to stop. You raped her!" The words were an incantation that razed and salted our friendship with a curse that could never be broken. "What the hell is wrong with you? You raped, Anne!"

"Shut up!" Argus ordered furiously as he took a step towards me. "I didn’t rape goddamn, Anne. Why are you going ballistic over this? I’m supposed to be your boy, remember?"

"You don’t get it. You raped Anne. What the fuck is wrong with you?" I looked him over trying to understand what the hell had just happened to my friend. "What are you going to do? How could you do that to Anne? She’s our friend. She trusted you." I wanted an answer and at the same time I felt selfish for some reason. Argus stared at me for a while as if he did not quite get what I was saying. It was the look of a deer trapped by the oncoming glare of headlights. For the briefest moment of time I felt sorry for him.

"Fuck you, Walt." Argus suddenly said viciously with a mixture of anger and hurt. "You can go and kiss her ass if you want then. Maybe you just have a hard on hearing about Anne getting fucked? Is that it? You liked hearing about that cock tease getting what she wanted!" He laughed bitterly and the sound was hideous to my ears. It managed to both hurt and repulse me at the same time. I did like Anne. I had feelings for her that tittered between that uncomfortable place of friendship and romance.

I am not completely sure what happened during those few seconds. The sudden explosion of hatred and anger took me across the short distance between us with an uncontrolled scream, before I snatched him by the throat and threw Argus with as much strength as I could gather. He tumbled hard when he hit the ground several feet away.

Scooting backwards when I took a few steps towards him, he watched me with disbelieving, wide eyes. I caught myself somehow. For a moment, for a split second in time I truly understood the urge to kill. I thought about wrapping my hands around Argus throat, and just squeezing until the life was milked from his lungs.

"Fuck you!" I yelled furiously at Argus while trying hard to restrain all the dark, ugly things suddenly poisoning my every thought. "I should kill you!" I took a step towards him as my fist tightened, begging relentlessly to be introduced into the equation. "I should kill you where you are sitting you worthless, fuckin bastard! Anne was our fuckin friend! She trusted you!"

I felt enraged and saddened at the same time. I was not sure what else to do. Part of me wanted to continue the fight but another part of me was yelling not to. I looked between Argus and the way home. I hated him for hurting Anne and for ruining our friendship. Those were the last words I ever spoke to Argus. I turned walking away as quickly as I could.

I was some distance away from the track when I suddenly felt nauseated. Maybe it was all the strong emotions exploding inside of me or maybe it was the thought of Anne being violated. Whatever it was it caused me to stop and become sick near the track wall when my stomach lurched forward. It might have lasted less than a minute but I felt as if I was throwing up for an hour. By the time it was done I needed to lean on the wall to remain standing.

Raising my face to the sky, I closed my eyes and began trying to control my breathing. I still felt so much hatred and anger. Reason ignited and burned under the mixture, and suddenly I was angry at both Anne and Argus. There was a vicious stab of jealousy lodged in my heart, green and fiery, spurting and churning like an insane lime fissure.

"Anne should have choose me!" I suddenly reasoned inside of my head. If she had been with me none of this would have happened. I respected her. I supported her. I looked out for her and that clearly made me the better choice. Anne went with someone more popular and such was her undoing. It was a poor goddamn decision and she was paying dearly for it.

Then as suddenly as it had begun the pure hatred that corrupted my thoughts were gone, and the green-eyed monster won a definitive victory. Though no one was there to judge me for those private thoughts, I felt terribly guilty and partially sickened with myself. Who was I to be hurt in all this? How could I think that way about someone I loved?

It was dark on the tracks and nothing but a few distant, orange-yellow lights stood as sentinels against the night. Some belonged to the isolated factory across the field and others surrounded an expensive, gated community across the creek. I decided to walk to the corner store Argus did not want to go to earlier. There is no poetic way to describe how I felt while walking to my new destination. I felt like a monster.

It seemed like I was floating as I left the railway and began down the silent street. My thoughts kept drifting back to Anne. I wanted to go see her. To tell her I was sorry for everything that happened. The thoughts constantly repeated themselves over, and over even as I arrived at the liquor store. I stepped through the entrance and out of the night.

I found a lime soda.

I paid the man.

Then walked back out into darkness.

I washed my mouth out with the drink, spitting into the grass beside the store before beginning the walk home. I thought about going down the street to visit my cousins or back across the creek to see my friend Brandon. Then I decided I wanted to be alone so I walked back down the tracks and hopped the fence leading to my backyard.

For the first time ever that brick wall felt like a challenge but I still managed. I stepped onto the cement of the basketball court and stared ahead at my own home. Most of the lights were out except for the upstairs light in my mother’s room. It pitched a faint, pale glow into the backyard like a weak spotlight to an opening play. Instead I went over to the Gazebo and walked inside before sitting on one of the large white wood chairs.

Leaning my head on the back, I closed my eyes, feeling guilty, bitter and lonely. I seriously contemplated calling the cops to report what happened but I wondered if that would have been what Anne wanted. What if she denied the whole thing? What if it made the situation worse somehow? I did not want to try and carry the weight of that decision. So out of fear and uncertainty I remained inactive. It stayed that way until the dawn began chasing away the darkness of the night.

I ended my staring into nothing and silently slipped into the house through the side entrance. It was early but I already knew I was going to spend the day alone. After entering my room, closing and locking the door, I fell onto the bed. While lying there my thoughts eventually drifted to Anne again. I still wished I could tell her I was sorry. I wanted to hug her and let her cry into my shoulder if it helped any. I wanted to make everything better. I wanted nothing more than to make everything right.

However this was not a situation from a story book or sitcom. There would be no final dramatic moment. No quick resolve to clear up the entire problem before the next adventure. There was nothing but pain and suffering with no real resolution.

My room always felt like a haven from the world but it was no sanctuary from my thoughts and conscience. I lie there until the thin black veil of sleep fell over my face and a monster far worse than the green beast arrived to make sleep a nightmare.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Curious Artifact

Note: An excerpt from the upcoming book of short non-fiction, "Restless Dreams".
Growing up in the late 80s and early 90s in East Oakland, I did not hear or know of much music outside of R&B, Rap, Motown, and Gospel. I knew other music existed. It was a genre called, “White Music”, and I heard very little if ever any. The most Rock I came close to was Run-DMC's and Aerosmith's “Walk this Way”.

For me the soundtrack of the late 80's to early 90's was composed of artists and groups like NWA, Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest, Eric B & Rakim, Prince, MC Lyte, Too Short, Slick Rick, Das EFX, TLC, EPMD, Kid n Play, Heavy D, Keith Sweat, Jodeci, En Vogue, and Boys 2 Men.
 
This is not to claim I lived in a complete genre-deprivation tank of some sort. Sometimes, while flipping through the channels with my older siblings, we would occasionally pause at MTV (when Yo MTV Raps were not playing) or VH1. Back then those rock, alternative and grunge performers/bands all seemed all at once curious and alien. It was much like catching glimpses into an entirely different world that seemed so far, far away from my own.

There are three rock videos I still remember having a really vivid impression on me the first time I saw them by coincidence. The first was, “You Could Be Mine” by Gun & Roses, had clips of the Terminator 2 film in it. I recall thinking it was pretty cool and humorous that the Terminator actually encountered the band at the end of the concert just as they were leaving the stadium.
 
The second was “Creep” by Stone Temple Pilots. My second-oldest brother and I sitting on the couch one afternoon. Somehow we caught the song as it was beginning and decided not to change the channel. I recall feeling it sounded like an extremely sad song. When we heard the line, “Everybody run! Bobby's got a gun”, my brother started laughing as he said, “Yeah. That's a damned good reason to start running.”

The third that left the most lasting, and powerful impression was “Sober” by Tool. I was 12 or 13, sitting on the floor in the living room with both my older brothers. They were waiting for “Yo MTV Raps” to begin, so they begrudgingly left the channel there because it was about 10 minutes to go. The video, with its bizarre, stop animation, and dark, seething music began, instantly catching our attention.

“What in hell is this?” My oldest brother inquired curiously.

“I don't know.” The second-oldest replied. “But it looks pretty fuckin crazy.”

I remember instantly being both fascinated and puzzled by “Sober”. I loved the imagery, that raw sound, and just the power it seemed to have. I use to draw monsters all the time so the actual video ignited my imagination to no end. I wanted to know who the faceless man was, what sort of world he lived in, why was there flesh moving through a pipe in the wall, and perhaps most of all, what the hell was in that box he kept peaking into? I occasionally checked MTV from time to time in hopes of seeing that video again, but I would not see such again until years later.

Once, while walking home from my 5th grade class, I came across CD lying on the sidewalk. Cassettes were still mostly my realm of experiences back then, so finding a random CD was strange in itself. So, I picked it up, of course, and if I recall correctly, it read “Whitesnake”. What a strange name. Was there a rapper or R&B group named “Whitesnake”?

I was so puzzled by the title and CD, that I brought it home to my second-oldest brother with all the urgency of an archeologist accidentally discovering alien technology. I found him in his bedroom, and handed the album to him while explaining where I found it.

“I think its rock...or metal...or some shit.” He said while casually looking it over. “Want to see what's on it?” He asked with a mixture of curiosity and trepidation.

I eagerly agreed as he placed the CD on the tray, and then pushed play. Almost immediately such a terrible, unfamiliar noise came from those speakers. To this day I am not completely certain if the CD was perhaps scratched, or if that particular band was just that horrible. Either way we threw it in the trash.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Baby Coffee

When daughter Eturnitee was about four or five, we used to go to Barnes & Nobles often. She absolutely loved browsing the children’s aisles in search of new books, and playing with the toy trains they sat out for play…and pretty much a hand’s on commercial. As always, on the way in, we would stop at the adjacent Starbucks where I would order some sort of coffee. Of course, children want to do exactly as you at that age, and Eturnitee wanted to order a coffee as well.

Not wanting to give her the whole spiel about not being old enough for coffee, I decided there was no harm in buying her a small hot chocolate, and telling her that it was a ‘baby coffee’. This made her incredibly happy because it meant we were doing the exact same thing together. One day Eturnitee asked if she could ask for the coffee and give the order. I saw no harm in such so I gave her the money, and watched her approach the counter proudly with one of the biggest smiles I ever seen.

“Hi.” She said to the cashier she had to crane her neck upwards to look in the face.

“Hello. How can I help you, young lady?” The cashier asked with a small laugh.

“Yes, my daddy would like a white coffee. And I want a baby coffee.” Eturnitee replied before holding out the money. “Here. This is our moneys for them.”

“I'm sorry. A baby coffee?” The Cashier asked with evident confusion before looking up at me.

Not wanting to ruin it for Eturnitee, I remained behind her mouthing the words “HOT CHOCOLATE” to the cashier several times while trying to subtly point at the same on the menu. It took several times until cashier finally understand what I was trying to do. She then smiled down at Eturnitee, who was still patiently holding out the money.

“Ohhh. A baby coffee! I’m sorry I didn’t understand for a minute.” The Cashier took the offered cash.

“Thank you.” Eturnitee replied.

“They will be ready shortly.” The Cashier said.

“Daddy, she said they will be ready soon.” Eturnitee repeated as she walked back over to me.

“Ah. Thank you, sweetheart.” I took her hand in mine again.

“I ordered coffee just like you, huh?” Eturnitee asked proudly.

“Yep. You sure did.” I nodded in agreement.