life imitates life…

It just happened one day recently. I think that I was trying to come up with a new Password for some website because I had entered the wrong one too many times. Boom. I realized that I don’t have much of an imagination. I don’t suppose I ever did. I was very into recreating things but I didn’t step much farther out of my comfort zone. I was probably most expressive when I was playing with my Matchbox cars, which I spent most of my time doing. Even with mountains of Trademark Orange track and a huge box of cars to work with in my room, I didn’t build empires. I stuck to what I knew. And outdoors, under my beloved pine tree, I limited my construction endeavors mostly to what I already knew. I built roads with Tonka Trucks, I used my car hauler, I used real mud in my Concrete mixers, and I pushed them around. Like they were real. I think Calvin and Hobbes used more imagination in one strip about playing in the dirt than I did in my entire life.

Despite not being an imaginative kid, I wasn’t without my skills. For example, at a very early age my mother identified me as a people watcher. Or “rude staring”, in my mother’s words. If someone or something caught my attention I was fixated on it.  I never meant to be rude, I just liked to take it all in. And I had a terrible habit of speaking without a filter. It has been both a curse and a blessing, depending on who was on the other side of it.

My Grandmother was a constant presence at my house when I was little. I really enjoyed having her over and she kept my mother company. There is so much to say about her, and I will as the story progresses, but for the sake of this entry let’s focus on one critical factor about her.
She was a terrible driver. The worst. Even at a young age I was reticent about being in the car with her. She had a heavy foot, a reluctance to brake, and Stop Signs were, well, they were for other people.  I suppose my Matchbox stories were a good example of it even at an early age.


One day she came in the house, her mouth going a million miles per hour as she told my mother about the incident she had with the “dang Po-lice” on the way over. Through the histrionics and across the many rooms of the first floor of my house I could hear her tell my mother her tale of injustice and overreach. The officer had the nerve to give her a speeding ticket. That day was one of the few times that I didn’t run into the kitchen to greet my Grandmother, it just seemed safer and smarter to stay in my room with my Matchbox cars. History and my limited experience at a young age suggested that I let her come to me this time.
Apparently I had dug through my big box of cars and had found a clunky red sedan that looked like the boat of a car Grandma drove, a big ol’ Lincoln that the front end arrived ten minutes before the rest of you did. I had also found one of my old beat up police cars. The stage was set for some hilarity. I began to act out the scenario I had heard playing out in the kitchen. Red car, pulled over by police car. I simulated an argument between the two parties, culminated by the officer telling the driver to get out of the car. I was having a blast when I looked up at the door to my room, occupied by my Grandmother. She had come to at last to say hello and there I was acting out her earlier humiliation.
When she realized what I was doing she wasn’t amused. My mother was of course amused enough for the both of them.
It was then that I realized how selective my Grandmother’s sense of humor really was.

The aftermath

“I don’t belong here”, I said. As I spoke I scanned the group assembled at the long table. Looks like 2 Head Shrinkers and an intern. They looked like reasonable people. I could work with them.
“Sir, won’t you agree that most everyone here would say that?” said the Benjamin Bratt lookalike, young and sharp Psychiatrist.
“Maybe. And with no disrespect to those who are here, this is different.”
“How?”, the very cute Intern chimed in.
“Because I tried to force my Doctor’s hand and they called my bluff.”
“Could you give us a little more?”
I explained to them that I was struggling with my dialysis treatments. I was having itching and cramping and spasms that made being in a chair unbearable. That I couldn’t get relief day or night and the insomnia was beating me down. When I couldn’t take it anymore I demanded that my Dr. admit me to find out what was going on. That I was going to hurt myself if I couldn’t find relief.
“That was a mistake that I regret deeply,” I said.

I explained that I wasn’t aware of the steps they would take after my threat. The room without sharp objects that I spent almost a full day. That I would be roomed with a bunch of twitchy, clearly disturbed people. God love them but I’m not one of them. That it just wasn’t what I wanted to accomplish. I was very clear to apologize for wasting their time. But I was clear…I am here for medical care because nothing has been resolved yet.

The next 20 minutes was a back and forth about the seriousness of threats and the callousness of ignoring them, taking an opportunity to partake in some group therapy, digging down to see if I really wanted to harm myself. I had to think about that one long and hard with chin in hand.
I had had some dark-ass thoughts while in the booby -hatch room. Cold, alone, sleep-deprived and ravaged by the lack of dialysis treatments is not a good combination for me. I fought thoughts of slashing my wrists and watching myself bleed out. I imagined putting my .38 Special against my temple, or should I put it to my chest to make a better open-casket? I fantasized about swilling a bottle of Ambien and floating off to peace at last.
“And your children?” I came out of my fog.
“What about my children”? I asked.
“Says here you have 4 children. Are you concerned about how they would feel if you harmed yourself?”
Hell of a question. Should be filed under “no-brainer” but it had to be asked. My children would be fucking crushed if I did that. My children and I have an amazing relationship that I cherish. They have been the biggest reason for me to fight all along. “Yes, I’m very concerned. That realization did come to me. I have a great support network all around…friends, family, my Mason brothers. What made me clear my head between my admission 2 days ago and now is one recurring and terrifying thought.” I paused to sip my coffee. “What if there is a hell and my penance is to watch my children grieve for me, to struggle in life and I’m forced to scratch and scream at a window but they can’t hear me?”
“That’s a rather specific scenario…” Benjamin Bratt said.
“It’s happened before in my dreams…”

It’s not you

Three powerful words from my daughter.
“It’s not you.”
I added another creamer to my coffee, took a sip and let it sink in. She’s right, it’s not a good look for me. Cheater. Adulterer. No thanks. It was then that I made the decision to end it. My daughter always keeps me on the straight and narrow. I trust her for the truth. And there I had it.

She’s known about my relationship from the beginning and knows all of the details. She kept quiet at the beginning because she wanted me to be happy. But she had an opinion waiting for me. When I told her that I was feeling conflicted and was thinking about ending it she put it right in my lap by calling me out on my character. In a way only she could. Blunt and to the point. And also correct. That’s not who I am.

I ended it, whatever it was, yesterday. It was heart-breaking. We had spent some really special times together. We had real potential as a couple, if not for one minor detail.
Her husband.

I did it by text. Texting is all we have had lately. She works full time and isn’t around for me to see her on weekends. Those rendezvouses we had, fleeting and precious, were few and far between. While I didn’t use the words “break up” she knew where I was going with my words. As if she was expecting it. Just like that, it’s over. We wanted it to work, we really did. But there was just no way. At least not now.

I can’t believe what I just threw away in the name of “doing the right thing”.

A person who thinks and acts along Grey lines may have been able to pull this off. I tried to be that guy. The Grey lines guy. Who practices “relative morality”. It was a perfect situation for that. They were unhappily married. He was horrible and controlling in everything he did to her. Grey lines guy could rationalize all of it. I can’t.

I’m not black and white in everything that I think and do. But I have a firm grasp on right and wrong. I believe in codes. The Guy Code, for example, which clearly states that you do not fuck another man’s wife. I may not know him personally but I respect him enough to honor the code. It’s tragic that he is too ignorant to see what he has before him.

She’s amazing. If I actually thought I had a chance with her I’d fight with the strength of 20 men to get her. She always deflected but I think she’s beautiful. We were wildly attracted to each other, when allowed we couldn’t keep our hands off of each other. We shared so many interests and activities. We liked the same music and movies. We waxed poetic about the things we wanted to do.
Be seen together in public. Go for walks. Socialize as a couple. Snuggle on the sofa. Watch silly movies. And of course see each other whenever we wanted to.

None of it could ever happen and I began to realize that unless I saw some serious signs that she was actually able (she was willing, we talked about it) to leave her husband then it was just unfair to all involved to continue. She needs her husband right now for what he can provide. Things that I can’t.

So it has to be this way. Love is just not enough…

The price of war

I was raised by a Vietnam Veteran and a WW2 Veteran. It didn’t take me long to learn that their experiences impacted them profoundly and that most vets didn’t talk about it. I once worked for a guy that would wake some nights finding himself on top of his wife attempting to strangle her. I asked my Dad about it and he said flatly “he saw and did some shit.”

Just take a moment to let the fact that 22 Veteran’s a DAY commit suicide in this country sink in.

Last week I was watching Forrest Gump with my mother’s BF. We were hanging out, drinking a beer and chatting back and forth. All of a sudden we came to the scene where Gump and his platoon came under heavy fire in the Vietnam sequence. Dave suddenly raised his voice and said loudly “turn it off, turn it off! I hate this shit!.” I quickly changed the station and I asked no questions. I knew that the scene had touched a nerve with him. We never spoke of it.

In the current news there is a lot of talk about Syria. There is controversy about pulling out. Many think we should stay, many think like our President, that enough is enough with foreign wars.

I agree. To be honest, we’re not over Vietnam yet. If you don’t believe me, please watch Ken Burns’ documentary.

Then you see kids, good kids from good families, kids that back home would help little old ladies across the street and go to Bible study, do these horrible things. They’re in country for a little bit and it’s like the veneer of civilization peels right off of them

The above quote was from a Vietnam Veteran as interviewed for the 10 part documentary The Vietnam War by Ken Burns. He was talking about “acts of war”. In particular, the acts of savagery committed by some American soldiers while serving in Vietnam.

At an average of 90 minutes per episode, completing the series was challenging. But I did and I have a lot of takeaways. Hours of battle footage, commentary, and interviews with all the players; politicians, soldiers from South and North (the enemy) Vietnam and all of the geopolitics involved in Cold War Southeast Asia. Per usual Burns provides an honest, balanced and unflinching look at one of the darkest chapters in recent history.

The veterans interviewed did the unusual. They talked openly about their experience. They ranged from the reluctant draftee; to the wide-eyed eager recruit seeking the honor and glory his father achieved; to the everyday guy from Anytown, USA that felt the call of Patriotism. They all went to the same place but all came back very different. It wasn’t like the last war, their Dad’s war. And glory was not in the cards.

A lot of men did and saw things that would haunt them. When villages were razed, livestock slaughtered, suspected enemies gunned down and food supplies destroyed were part of “following orders” a lot of soldiers found their moral compass in danger. Some made “deals with the devil” to rationalize their acts. One soldier said “I will never kill another human, but there’s no limit to how many Vietcong I will waste.” His compromise was to not see the VIetcong as people. If they are no longer people then it becomes easier. They are the enemy they do not matter.

Then there were those who stretched the thin red line even further. Rapes, mass killings of civilians and excess brutality sometimes occurred. As it says above, it was if the veneer of civilization had worn off of them.”

At home, the war had changed people as well. The escalating campaign was enormously controversial. Young people broke rank with their parents’ beliefs. Students took to the street and challenged authority figures. Peaceful protest morphed into violence as frustration with a growing conflict grew. Pictures of bombing campaigns and burned children were finding their way into American living rooms and people were outraged. Some activists decided that violence was justified and riots and bombings occurred. It culminated when the National Guard opened fire on a crowd at Kent State and killed four. One veteran lamented “It has gotten so bad we are killing our own at home”. By the time of the Saigon airlift of ’73 this country was divided and forever damaged.

When the soldiers returned, there was no ticker tape parade. The hostility towards the war had been directed towards those who had been charged with fighting it. The brave men and women who fought the unpopular war emerged from planes and boats to be called “baby killers” and were spit upon. These people are still owed the Welcome Home they deserved. But as I have said. Everyone changed.

What are the rules of civilization? Are they inherent? Are we born to act rational and be decent to each other? Is it the job of parents to instill the concept of society in us? Is the veneer of civilization so thin that it can be easily worn down to the point that we are easily capable of barbarism and savagery?

If you don’t know what it was like to see the political climate of the late 60’s and early 70’s it isn’t too late to see it. Just turn on your TV. Riots, Nazi flags, death threats, mass shootings, people just being ugly to each other.

So I have to ask…how thin is your veneer?