Grief: Pick and Choose Your Rocks

One time, my son, Spencer, and I walked on the beach in Pajero Dunes, near Monterey, CA. My son must have been about five years old at the time, and he had a plastic bag he was using to collect shells and rocks as we walked. After about two miles, we turned around and headed back. By this point, the plastic bag was full and heavy. The bag was so heavy, Spencer couldn’t carry it and was dragging it along the beach, which caused the bag to tear open, rocks and shells spilling out, so we stopped.

I sat down on the beach with him, and we looked through the bag together. He was visibly upset and near tears that he was losing some of the treasures. I reached into the bag and pulled out a rock.

“OK. Why did you pick up this rock?”

“It’s shaped like a turtle,” he said, and so it was.

“OK, that’s special. Let’s keep it. What about this one?”

“Because it is a pretty white with sparkles in it,” he replied.

“But you have lots of white rocks with sparkles in them, here. Do you think you can let some of them go?”

“I like the sparkles.”

“Right. And what about this one?”

We went through the bag, selecting which rocks to keep and which to leave. When finished, the bag only had shells and sand dollars. I tied off the hole in the bag and gave it back to my son.

“How heavy is the bag, now?”

“It’s super light!” He said, swinging the bag around in such a way I thought it might tear open again, so I stopped him.

“That’s because the shells and sand dollars are much lighter than the rocks. Now, pick which rocks you want.”

Spencer chose seven of the more than fifty he had initially picked up; two white with sparkles, one turtle-shaped rock, two black, oblong rocks, and two nearly round rocks. He put them gently into his bag, and we carried on back to the beach house. I noticed that he only rarely stopped to pick anything up on the return trip, and he often put it back down.

We still have some of those shells and rocks he collected on that day. Some are even framed and hanging on the wall.

Now, I told you that story so I can tell you this one.

It’s an understatement to say I was grief-stricken when I lost my wife of thirty-one years to cancer last year. I had some very dark nights in the first few months of the loss where the only reason I saw daylight was because I had dependents counting on me. I was living entirely as an obligation to others.

The thing about grief is that it’s something we do to and for ourselves, even though it might feel like it’s for the lost loved one. I had to think about it, but my grief benefitted my deceased wife in no way whatsoever. It was merely me, processing the loss and coming to terms with what my life looked like without her. Neither does my grieving benefit anyone around me; in fact, it makes me a burden to them. Yes, it’s painful, like lancing a boil, but adapting to the loss and getting better is the goal. Grief and mourning are not places I could dwell in for a long time without it consuming my soul.

It’s said that time heals all wounds. It does take time, that is true, but it doesn’t just take time. You don’t just suffer, and then it magically gets better one day.  It was around five months after my wife passed that I realized I was the only one who controlled my grief. I was the only one who could make it better, and it wasn’t just going to happen without effort on my part. This does not mean you have to do it alone! I certainly didn’t – I leveraged close friends and a grief counselor, who helped me greatly. But when it came down to it, I was the one who could make it better and no one else.

The thing about this new enlightenment that I was the only one who could control my grief was that I didn’t know how to control it. If anything, I felt like it controlled me. I floundered with this for weeks, and then I realized something else: While grief is entirely a self-centered act, remembering our lost loved ones is a way to honor them. They live on through our memories of them.

So, I focused on my memories of over thirty-two years I had known my wife. I remember when I proposed and she said yes. I remember when we agreed to adopt our son, I remember hundreds of small, special, wonderful moments I enjoyed with her.

 As you might imagine, in that amount of time, not every memory is a treasure. I have chosen to let those memories fade. Like the heavy rocks in my son’s bag that were not notable, I dropped them, lightening my load in the process. It wasn’t easy at all; doing an emotional inventory of my memories was draining, and some days, I couldn’t face it, but I felt better afterward when I did. I slowly reached a place where I could appreciate all the memories without mourning the loss. Yes, I still miss her, and I always will, but I no longer mourn the loss.

Since then, I have even remarried a wonderful, loving woman, and I’m truly happy again. I’ll have my moments where I feel bittersweet when an old memory surfaces, but it doesn’t rob me of the enjoyment of life like it once did.

We all do this in our way, at our speed, but if you are grieving, I wish you to find your way through it as quickly and painlessly as possible because I know it’s a miserable existence. Grief does not have to be a chronic condition, and life is short. Please, do not misguidedly think, as I initially did, that it honors your lost loved ones by continuing to mourn them any longer than you need to get to a state of peace. They have moved on, and we have to do so as well. When you’re ready, drop your rocks.

Until then, KFG.

When It Got Better – Grieving the Loss of a Spouse

If you’re grieving the loss of a spouse, I’m so sorry. There is no grief, no emptiness, no pain I have ever felt like it. All through the grieving process, I was looking for some relief, something to make it better. What I learned was, for me, the only way out of it was through it. While everyone does this differently, I’m going to relate the process where I turned the corner and finally started living again, with the hope that it may offer you some insight, or hope, or a sense of not being alone. I’m not saying this is the way you should do it – it’s just what I did.

It took me a while to come to terms with the fact that Lynn was gone and was never coming back. She lost her fight with cancer on March 6, 2020. For months after that, I was overcome with grief and depression that left me incapacitated and barely able to function. I was surrounded by constant reminders that she was gone.

I don’t believe in an afterlife –heaven or hell or anything in-between, but I don’t know that for a fact. No one does. That’s why religion can get away with proposing these things exist – no one can say for sure, and those that believe it do so on faith. What I do know is that if there is an afterlife, and Lynn is in that place, I don’t want her hanging around because she thinks she needs to look after me, or worse, wants to be with me but can’t. That would be profoundly sad. If she is in some unlikely afterlife, I sincerely want her to move on with her new existence, knowing that I loved her dearly. And I need to do the same. So, that was a strange conversation I had with a dark, empty room one weird, inebriated night, but it gave me peace when I was done.

Then, about six months after Lynn died, I got an offer from my Sister-in-Law and her husband to help me clear out Lynn’s belongings. This is something I had not been able to face alone. It was three months before I could even pick up her shoes left beside the bed, much less clean out drawers or closets. I gratefully accepted the offer, and as it turned out, they did all the real work, and I just pointed at things that needed to go, and they took care of it. Still, I was reduced to tears several times a day during the process, and it was emotionally exhausting. I felt like I was throwing away what I had left of Lynn, but then I would remind myself, rightly, that these are just things, and Lynn is already gone. I can’t throw away what is already gone.

When it was over, the closet, bedroom, and bathroom had been cleaned out, and most of Lynn’s belongings were gone. It was a huge load lifted from my shoulders, and it felt good not to have this unpleasant task hanging over my head, waiting for me to address it. I couldn’t do it alone, and I’m very grateful to Joe and Karla for the help.

For me, cleaning out Lynn’s belongings was a seminal event. It was when I began to accept what was. I even started looking forward to what might be, and this was when I began to regain my love of life again. I could relish the memories rather than mourn the loss, and for the first time in a very long time, I could see the possibilities for my future.

Over the next month or so, the loneliness began to take hold. I had emotionally released myself from my previous marriage, but I missed having someone special to share life’s moments. That’s when life is the richest – when it is shared. So I began actively seeking someone, but it turned out that I was not quite ready, and I backed off. I let myself grow into being single for a while. That was when I really found myself and became determined to enjoy my life again.

When I was ready, I began dating. In the age of Covid, that meant lots of phone and video calls. It was pretty surreal at times, not only the virtual aspect of meeting new people, but dating at my age was just odd. Eventually, I met Kathy, fell in love, and I am going to marry her. We’re really good together.

So that’s where I am, now, over ten months later. It may take you more or less time. It just takes as long as it takes. Your seminal moment may be from something completely different. Whatever it is, whenever it is, whatever it takes, just get through it and hang on until you do. That’s the tough part. Just get there.

KFG.

When Doug Calls – Ch 5 – Life and Times of a Brain Crab

This is chapter five of an unpublished story I’m working on. I thought it would be fun to post a short chapter every week or so. I’d like to know what you think.

The guy leaned back in his chair, crossed his legs, and continued, “As I told you earlier, I’m a video technician at Boiler Hospital in Dallas.  My job is to digitally record the operations that take place in the hospital.  They are used as teaching aids or as evidence if a malpractice lawsuit comes up.  Of course, this evidence is only disclosed if the video shows the operation was performed competently.  If any asshattery was caught on video, it is destroyed.  Some of my best footage has been lost this way. 

So about ten months ago, I was recording the video of an operation to remove a brain tumor. It’s a kid who looks like he’s maybe 15 years old.  Sometimes, brain surgery is laparoscopic but not this time.  They sawed all the way around his head – so the top would come off.

And when the top did come off, the tumor wasn’t a tumor at all.  It was a very pissed-off brain crab.  Everyone in the surgery room died horribly.  Me?  I wasn’t in the room.  Hell no.  I was in the video control room, on a different floor.  The cameras are all operated remotely.  This keeps me from possibly contaminating something or getting in the way of the surgeons.

Once all the screams and chaos subsided, I panned the cameras around the room, looking for the crab.  I saw it hop the length of the room so it could be anywhere.  By the way, the inside of the kid’s head was almost completely empty.  The crab had eaten most of the kid’s brain.

Before the operation, I took a handheld cam and shot a few minutes of video with the parents and kid.  They wanted it, you know.  The kid was functioning normally – talking and moving around normally.  He even told me a joke.

Did you hear about the crab that went to the seafood disco? He pulled a muscle.

I didn’t say it was a good joke but in that 20/20 hindsight sort of way, it’s really funny, now.  The brain crab was making an inside joke.  What I do wonder is, if the brain crab was in control – and it had to be because the kid had almost no brain left – why didn’t it try to stop the operation?  The only thing I can think of is – I guess it wanted out.  Do you think he wanted to kill everyone in the operating room?  A psychopathic, serial killer, brain crab – who would have seen that coming?  Or maybe after the boy’s brain was gone, it was still hungry and this was the only way to get out to get more brains?  Who knows?

So anyway, the hospital went into emergency lockdown.  The brain crab destroyed the lights and two of the three cameras that were in the room.  The camera that remained was recessed in the ceiling and had a fisheye lens.  It didn’t look like a camera – more like a light that wasn’t turned on and I guess that why the crab left it.  Still, with no lights in the room, it was completely dark and I couldn’t see anything, though I could hear it scuttling around and what sounded like someone chewing wet food. 

When two policemen arrived, they opened the door to the operating room with big flashlights on and guns drawn.  The flashlight beams danced around the room and settled on a nurse in scrubs, standing among the bodies of other nurses and doctors.  She had the mask and protective eyewear on. Her gloved hands and outfit were bloodied but it was a surgery room, so that’s not unusual.

“Freeze!” The police yelled, both training their shaky lights on her and probably their guns, too.

The nurse didn’t move, except her head.  She looked up and said, “It’s on the ceiling!”

The flashlights swung upwards and around the room, and then there was pandemonium—the sound of rapid movement, grunts, and gunfire. Something was knocked over and clattered across the floor.  The flashlight beams swung erratically around the room and, within a few seconds, lay on the floor – pointing towards the closed door.  The two policemen were dead.

The nurse walked slowly to the door, illuminated by the crossed flashlights, and just before she opened it to let light spill in from the outside hallway, you could see the back of her head and the brain crab, clamped to her neck, manipulating her like a puppet.

I switched to viewing the security camera in the hallway, following her out of the room and past people, pressed against walls, or standing in doorways looking out.  As she passed, thin, translucent tentacles shot from her open mouth, striking each person and then quickly retracting.  Each victim reacted as if they were stung by a bee but promptly fell to the ground, motionless.

Finally, a doctor pulled a gun from a holster under his scrubs and fired, blowing the crab on the back of the nurse’s neck to bits.  The nurse fell to the ground, and the doctor who was packing saved countless lives that day.  He was later arrested for carrying a concealed weapon in a hospital.”

The guy casually stopped talking to take a sip from his coffee cup.

Doug was transfixed.  I think he was buying it, but this sounded fake to me, and I had to say something, so I did. 

“Why wasn’t this on the news?”

The guy lowered the coffee cup and said, “Shortly after this incident, two black helicopters landed on the helipads on the hospital roof, and four men in black suits came out.  They took the video I recorded and the bodies in the operating room.  In fact, they took all the videos recorded anywhere in the hospital, parking lot, or from surrounding businesses near the hospital.

They also took everyone on the second floor away to be inspected.  Black vans pulled up, and men in hazmat suits took them away.  I was on a different floor, so they didn’t take me.”

The guy leaned back in the plaid chair back again, not relaxed but still reclined.

He said, “The thing is – no one said, don’t talk about it.  I mean, they took all the video and the bodies and stuff but didn’t say to keep quiet.  So, people called news shows and were interviewed. Each story differed a little from the others, and most people only had seen a small part of what happened. They haven’t watched everything unfold via video cameras as I did.   Most of what they said involved the Men in Black from the helicopters and vans more than anything supernatural or… crabby, and this is why you didn’t hear about it on the news – because most of it wasn’t about crabs, and none of the crabby stuff was credible.

I didn’t want to get involved in the circus, so I kept quiet, sort of.  Instead, I posted it online.  Disinformation.org picked it up and ran with it, but it’s all the conspiracy theorists and nut-jobs that keyed in on it, forming their theories and extrapolating the facts to a great extent.”

The guy seemed to notice my nano-reaction to his comments and looked directly at me, over my tented fingertips.

“See?  You do remember the news stories about the black helicopters at the hospital, don’t you?”

The guy put his hands behind his head, fully reclined in his chair, but he kept talking.

“There’s a lot more to tell, but this is usually enough.  Either you will acknowledge the brain crabs, or you won’t.  So let’s make it easy. If you don’t believe me, leave.  I’ve got the check.  If you do believe me, then stay, and I’ll give you what you paid for.”

Check? We waited. Apparently. Doug said nothing.

“OK.  My name is Benson Doyd.  That’s my real name.  No convictions. I’ll tell you why I’m telling you anything.”

Good to know.  Boyd pulled the recliner forward, put his head in his hands, and rubbed them over his face as he looked up.

“So here it is – it’s because of my dog.

Buddy, my dog – he was a sensitive animal.  I don’t mean that he is a wuss or anything, but he is a sensitive dog and can tell when I’m sad or upset. He’s a Rat Terrier, and they are thoughtful, independent sages.

The thing about Buddy is he’s a good judge of character, but he gives everyone a chance.  He’s a thinker, wise in a canine sort of way.  Yes, he drinks from the toilet, but he knows when someone has an alien brain crab up in their noggin, steering the ship, you know?  He knows, and he won’t have anything to do with them.  You might remember – he didn’t like you at all, Doug.

That’s when I asked you to leave, said I didn’t feel right – I would call you later.  And didn’t.  Of course, I wasn’t going to have sex with you.  You have crabs!”

That made me do a double-take.  It was one of those, looking back and forth between Doug and the guy over and over until I blurted out, “What?!  No!” Like Homer Simpson, seeing the last donut eaten.  Neither Doug nor the guy seemed phased by my cartoonish reaction.

“I know,” Benson said, glancing up at me but down at the floor, quickly. “How do I know Buddy didn’t have a brain crab too?  I’ve had other experiences outside of that day at the hospital.  I don’t think the crabs like dogs or cats.  Not sure about monkeys or chimpanzees – but they prefer people.”

He looked solemnly at Doug.  “Don’t look so sad.  You knew it couldn’t work out.  Me, a big city dork with commitment issues and you, a scaly brain-eating crab. Star-crossed from the beginning. You are from another dimension, after all.”

My Homer Simpson impression of, “Ahhhhhhhh!” continued with little notice.  Boyd, however, kept talking.

“Where was I?  Oh, yes.  You’re from another dimension.  I found your portal – the one in the back of the Starbuck’s on McArthur Blvd.  The one behind the bags of espresso beans. I shut it down.  I have no idea why a double-tall caramel latte can sever the connection, but it did.  If coffee defeats you, it’s a real bummer that you opened the portal in a coffee shop.  Anyway, that portal is gone, but I bet you have others, eh?

I also stomped four of your little cousins who had just popped through. They squish easily when they are small.  I’m guessing everyone who works at that Starbucks is crabbed.  I got out.  That was this morning, right before I came home, to meet your crabby self.

I’m not saying you have a brain crab, Doug.  I think the crab has fully taken over, eaten the entire brain, and everything that made you Doug is gone forever.  I think you are all crab, looking at me with little crabby eyes, thinking little crabby thoughts, right now.

I have dominated the conversation, haven’t I? Why don’t you talk for a while?”

Drool plopped quietly onto the table as my mouth hung open, witnessing this exchange. Doug took a deep breath and then spoke.

—–

Kindness vs. 2020

Is there anyone who would disagree that 2020 has been one of the worst years of their life, if not the worst year? I don’t think so. Here’s the thing – while we’re all going through 2020 and the constant hell it pitches at us, it’s not the same for us all.

It’s like we’re all in the same storm, but some of us have yachts, some have canoes, and some are just trying to tread water. Yes, and you know which one you are. I certainly know which one I am, and I would have gone down if it was not for others’ love and kindness.

Sometimes, this empathy came from close friends and family. My sister-in-law and her family were fantastic support during Lynn’s illness and treatment. A friend threw me a line when I looked down a long dark tunnel that was my lonely future without Lynn, and I saw no light at the end, whatsoever. I’m so glad I have people like this in my life. But I was helped by other people. People that may not even know they helped me.

I have Facebook friends that continued to bolster me through bad days with a few words of encouragement. I belong to a closed Facebook group for those who have lost loved ones to cancer, and we help each other through the horrible days and nights as we transition into being widows and widowers, sharing experiences and sympathizing in ways no one else could.

I bet when these kind folks wrote the replies, they thought nothing of it, but it helped me. When you are drowning, you will grasp at anything that floats.

That’s what I want to emphasize here: In such shitty times, being kind where and when you can will make a difference in someone’s life. You may not know what or how much, but it helps. I know your life is probably no bed of roses, no pleasure cruise (a nod to Freddie), which makes your effort to be kind all the more thoughtful.

Even as I was barely keeping my head above water, I would see someone else floundering as I was, and I’d reach out to them, and somehow, we were able to help buoy each other, comfort each other, if for only a little bit.

Now, I have personally come through the worst 2020 could hurl at me, and I’m still standing, but that is thanks to others’ kindness and support. I couldn’t have done it alone. But this pandemic will extend into the next year until most of us get vaccinated. The political divisiveness and hatred that troubles America now will continue beyond the current administration, possibly for a long time. The unemployment and businesses that didn’t make it and will take a long time to recover. And people we love will continue to die. None of that stops because of the year incrementing. We must keep being kind to each other.

People, 2020 was no good for any of us. It was worse for some, and still much worse for others, and for that, I’m sorry. I know what it’s like to be entirely overwhelmed by daily responsibilities. I know what it’s like to wake up and not be able to think of a single reason to get out of bed. I know what it’s like to look into the future and see nothing but pain and loneliness. If this is you, I say this specifically for you:

Keep Fucking Going.

You won’t see why you should, and that’s okay. Just keep fucking going.

You won’t think it matters, and that’s okay. Just keep fucking going.

You might think the pain is too much or the love in the world is too little, and it’s not worth it, and that’s okay. Just keep fucking going.

Just keep fucking going, because one day, when it’s time, you’ll turn a corner, and you will see things differently. You don’t have to believe me; just keep fucking going. Just hang on. Please.

Keep fucking going, and be kind to yourself.

When Doug Calls – CH 4 – The Day Doug Called

This is chapter four of an unpublished story I’m working on. I thought it would be fun to post a short chapter every week or so. I’d like to know what you think.

———-

Let me back up and fill you in because, you know, you don’t know how I wound up in Toledo, do you?

On the day Doug called and told me to stay out of the dumpster in Toledo, which I fell into two days later, I woke up.  Since it was around one in the afternoon, I ate some Fruit Loops on toast – a proper brunch if brunch was ordered by an eight-year-old.  Then, I put on pants (very important) and went over to Doug’s to play Scythe. Scythe is this cool board game with plastic miniatures of badass robots that roam a map of the countryside, fighting for resources.  Anyway, Doug had other plans and we didn’t play at all.

We wound up driving forty miles to Fort Worth, to the Spanish Meadows Apartments, which looked neither Spanish nor like a meadow.  In fact, it looked every bit like a dozen or so tan cinderblock buildings with brown roofs amidst a tarmac and mostly dirt landscape.  Picturesque, I think, is the word I would use if I didn’t know what picturesque meant.

Anyway, Doug knew a guy here he wanted to talk to.  We climbed the cracked, concrete stairs to the second-floor apartment and knocked firmly on the door of 41B.  The door swung inward and we were greeted by a man with uncombed hair, wearing a t-shirt with the slogan, “Sworn to fun, loyal to none,” in a gothic font. Classy. He urged us to enter and hurriedly closed the door and locked it.

Once inside, the stench of cat box caused a slight, involuntary gag reflex in the back of my throat but I fought the bile back down and began breathing through my mouth.  Then I looked around at the awful, dark brown carpet and saw the lines where something had been poured and faded the color to off-white.  I think it was ammonia or bleach. It made a circle in the living room area where a plaid recliner sat, facing an old Sony rear projection TV.  It was the kind of TV they haven’t made in over 20 years.

“Douglas Newborn!  Thank-you-thank-you-thank-you for coming!  Who is this?” 

He looked at me like I would look at a dung beetle sandwich.

Doug said, “He’s cool. He drove me over here.”

And there it was – I’m Doug’s chauffeur.

Doug said to the man, “You had something important to tell me?”

I’m not introduced.  After all, I’m only the driver. I’ll wait here by the door while you gentlemen have your important discussion.

The guy had more manners than I gave him credit for and he asked me to join Doug on the couch, outside the ring on the carpet, I noticed.  Still, we sat. The guy sat in the plaid chair in the middle of the room, hit the lever and kicked it back into a full reclining posture. I’d hate for him to not be comfortable in this almost toxic atmosphere we were invited into, er… Doug was invited into and I came along because… I don’t know why.

Doug sat on the couch, put his elbows on his knees and tented his fingertips. I’ve never seen Doug do this in his entire life.  Then, Doug says, “Start from wherever you like.  Please don’t leave anything out, even though Ed is here.”

Nice to be included.

The guy, fully reclined in the plaid chair, changed his gaze from Doug to the ceiling and then closed his eyes.  He took a deep breath and started talking.

“Have you ever been talking to someone and knew exactly what you wanted to say, but couldn’t seem to find the word?  The more you try to remember it, the more it seems just beyond your reach.  Hours later, the word suddenly comes to you but it’s too late.  That happen to you?”  

Doug and I nodded.

“That’s the alien brain parasite adjusting itself inside your skull, somewhere near the temporal lobe.”

The guy smiled, glancing at me and back to Doug.

“Now, I see the look on your faces and I know what you are thinking. ‘I don’t have an alien brain parasite,’ you will say. 

Let me ask you this:  How do you know?  Have you seen a CT scan or MRI of your head, recently?  No?  Yet you are sure, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that you do not have an alien brain parasite residing in your cranium.”

The guy leaned the plaid recliner forward, looking at Doug, then to me, then back to Doug as he spoke.

“You see, once an alien brain parasite takes up residence, initially around the back of the head – in the area of the cerebellum and occipital lobe, it spreads its tentacles to the other areas of the brain.  Using a powerful neurotoxin it produces in a small sack that hangs below its pincher-jaws, it stimulates the part of the brain that controls skepticism.”

The guy put his elbows on his knees, his fingers templed, and said, “My point is, the surer you are that you do not have an alien brain parasite but have no solid evidence to support that conclusion, the more likely it is that you actually do have one.”

Doug didn’t move, he just took it all in.  I squirmed a bit though I’m sure it wasn’t noticeable.

The guy continued, “You aren’t alone, and I don’t mean that in the, me and my alien brain parasite, we go everywhere together kind of way, though that is kind of funny.  I mean there are a lot of people who are partnered. So… misery loves company?  I don’t know.  I thought you might find that, you know – comforting.”

I did not.  He continued.

“They look a lot like crabs if you were wondering, except they have jellyfish-like tentacles.  They have a mouth on the underside with multiple rows of wire-like teeth.  The shell is pretty soft when they are little but once they get inside someone and start eating their brain, they grow and the shell hardens. 

The thing is, they grow, even if they don’t eat brains.  I had one in an aquarium and I swear, it went from the size of a pinhead to the size of a deflated football in two months, and I never fed it anything. This thing was smart. I mean, he was like The Professor on Gilligan’s Island smart. I named him Jeff.  He broke the aquarium and ran off. Haven’t seen him since.

Anyway, I expect you are wondering how someone who has an alien brain parasite gets rid of it.”

“Wait!  Jeff is loose?  How long ago?  Could he still be in here?” I said, peering around the room.  Doug didn’t seem concerned.

The guy said, “Relax, friend. Jeff is long gone and probably found a host by now. By the way, ‘alien brain parasite’ is quite a mouthful, which is why I named him Jeff.  From here on, I’m just going to call them crabs, OK?  So once you have a crab, how do you get rid of it? It’s a logical question.”

Now, I found myself putting my elbows on my knees, tenting my fingers.

The guy continued, “There are several solutions.  Icepick to the temple or a bullet fired from a gun placed in your mouth but pointed up usually works.  And I do mean pointed up, towards the brain.  Not straight back, where you’ll blow out your medulla and spinal cord, but leave the crab.  I also heard of one guy who jumped head first into a wood chipper, but it has to be a really big wood chipper, and most people don’t have access to such a thing.”

He noticed the alarmed look on my face and perhaps, my jaw hanging open like I was the mask from the movie, Scream.

“How do you get rid of a brain crab and live?  Oh.  Well, you don’t.  No, there isn’t an operation you can have to remove it.  That does remind me of a story.  Look, I’ll tell you how I learned about brain crabs, OK?”

When Doug Calls – CH 3 – Anti-Popular

This is chapter three of an unpublished story I’m working on. I thought it would be fun to post a short chapter every week or so. I’d like to know what you think.

CH 3 – Anti-Popular

Another thing I’ll tell you about Doug that’s less amazing but still freaky is that he loves the crap out of the Soundtrack to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, a glam-rock version of Beatles music from a subpar, 70’s movie starring the talented but miscast Bee Gees.   Before Doug died, he only listened to Kiss, AC/DC, and Alice Cooper (and there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that), but after TMI, it was the Sgt. Pepper’s Soundtrack, every time, all of the time, on an endless loop.  I don’t know why, it just was.

People began to think Doug was, you know, weird. I think it was the Sgt. Pepper’s Soundtrack that did him in, in the public’s opinion, I mean.  Truth be told, Doug was strange before TMI, like me.

Take a look back to before TMI, and before people were interested in him – Doug had a tough go of things.  I knew Doug in high school.  He wasn’t a popular kid, but neither was I, so… so what?  Right?  So what. Yeah. Anyway, we would walk home from school together because our houses were on the same block, not because bullies on ten-speeds would beat us up if they caught us alone.  Neither of us had girlfriends, but we could have if we wanted to.  We weren’t athletes or on a team because sports are dumb.  We did play a lot of D&D and Xbox. My Drunken Ranger, Zekedt (pronounced with no silent letters, “Zekedt”), was level 17 and a force to be reckoned with. Zekedt had many girlfriends all over the Four Realms, so I had that action going on.

Even now, I’m 31 years old, and Doug and I still live on the same block, except that Doug is in an apartment over his parent’s garage, and I’m in an apartment behind my parent’s home so, you know, we’ve grown in that way.  Matured.

This dumpster, though.  This dumpster. Doug should have told me more about it.

I curled up into a fetal position as I fell, bracing for an impact as the blackness of the open dumpster raced up to meet me.  I don’t remember feeling the impact but do recall a loud, “KA-BONG!” noise and then nothing.

*******

I Read a Book

Have you ever read a book that you so thoroughly enjoyed, you were sad when you finished it? You so loved it; you just wanted it to go on and on, endlessly.

I read a book like that. I was enthralled with it. Every day, I woke up and would immerse myself in it, and the story was so rich. The prose was immaculate. Sometimes, the story took an unexpected turn and challenged the protagonists. I dearly loved that book. All too soon, it ended, and I was unbelievably sad. So that book, as cherished and loved as it is, is done.

That book I so dearly loved was my marriage to Lynn. It was amazing and fulfilling, and it ended heartbreakingly when she died earlier this year.

I always thought I knew what depression was. I thought I had had times in my life where I was depressed. Then Lynn died, and I realized I was wrong, and I have never been depressed before. That was just sadness. This feeling, this – this is depression, and it is soul-crushing. Slowly, throughout seven months, I began to heal and regain my love of life. It was hard fought, but I learned to relish the memories rather than mourn the loss.

So now, I’m lonely. I have love to give and no one to give it to, and I know Lynn would want me to be happy. I have no book to read, and I haven’t opened the cover of another book for 32 years. Before Lynn, I had read some awful books. Crazy, even. I dreaded starting another book, but I had to.

I tried starting a couple of books but they weren’t right for me. Then I found Kathy. Or she found me, or whatever.

Turns out, Kathy is a wonderful book. Yes, of course, it was the cover that first attracted me, but the depth of the story sucked me in. Every page I turn, I’m enchanted by what I learn. It’s as if this book was written just for me. I adore the prose, and I can see myself settling in and losing myself between these beautiful pages for a long, long read with her. Yes, I love her.

When Doug Calls – CH 2 – Both Sides

This is chapter two of an unpublished story I’m working on. I thought it would be fun to post a short chapter every week or so. I’d like to know what you think.

CH 2 – Both Sides

Once, Doug and I were in his garage apartment, and I put the bong down to ask him how he could tell the future.

“Dude, you know what’s going to happen before it happens.  How?  And do you have any Doritos?”

“I ate all the Nacho Cheese Doritos.  I think I might have Funyuns.”

“I hate Funyuns!”

Then we watched Cartoon Network.

Another time when I was a little less high, I asked him again.  Here is what he said:

“There once was this guy with a mental disorder that only allowed him to remember things he saw on the right side, but anything he might have seen on the left side, he was oblivious and couldn’t recall. 

He went to a psychiatrist, and the psychiatrist said, ‘Close your eyes.  Imagine you are standing at the South end of Main Street, a street you know well.  Tell me all the shops on the right side and then tell me all the shops on the left side.’

The guy listed off the names of each shop on the right side, one after the other, but when it came to the left side, he couldn’t remember any of them.

Then the psychologist said, ‘Imagine you are standing at the other end of Main Street, the North end, facing back at the same rows of shops.  Now, tell me the shops on your right and then the shops on your left.’

The guy banged out the shops on the right side, what was the left side the first time, and couldn’t recall any of the shops on the left side, which was the side he previously remembered.”

“Well, that’s messed up.  Obviously, the guy has a memory of both sides of the street.  He just can’t access both sides of the memories at the same time.” I felt brilliant.

Doug leaned back, reached for the bong and lighter, and said, “I don’t know what happened to that guy, but the point is that, well, it’s like everyone has a mental disorder when it comes to seeing the whole picture, everything that’s around them.  Everyone except me.  I can see both sides of the street.”

“Yeah, man, but, like, how?” I eloquently asked.

“Oh, I don’t know. Probably the whole thing when I became unalive.”
Unalive is the word Doug uses for his state of not actually having a heartbeat but still being like alive.  He doesn’t like the word “undead.” That’s for zombies and vampires, and he’s not either of those. I don’t think he is, anyway.

© 2020, Mitch Lavender

When Doug Calls – CH 1 – Dumpster Diving

This is an unpublished story I’m working on. I thought it would be fun to post a short chapter every week or so. I’d like to know what you think.

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CH 1 – Dumpster Diving

It’s 3:14 in the morning when my phone rings.  I wake, curse, fumble for my mobile, and raise it to my head.

 “Hello, Doug,” I mutter.

See, when my phone rings in the early morning hours, at a time all the normal people are asleep, I know it’s Doug. It’s always Doug, and getting these calls is just one of the many benefits I endure as Doug’s best friend.

“Do not get into a dumpster behind the Toledo Taco Bell on Miramar Street!” Doug paused and then added, “I mean it, Ed. Don’t do it, no matter what.”

“OK, Doug. I won’t.”

Being that I lived in Dallas, had never been to Toledo, didn’t even know anyone in Toledo, and while I love Taco Bell, I could not fathom dumpster-diving for stale nachos, I was pretty sure I could keep this promise.

It’s is not as unusual a phone call as it might seem.  Calls from Doug are always… peculiar.  One time, he called me and told me not to eat a live, poisonous snake, but if I do, be sure to swallow it tail first.  Another time he told me not to read any Russian books aloud.  I don’t read or understand Russian, but Doug wasn’t interested in that. 

You might ask why I put up with Doug’s insomniac-induced rants, and the answer is complicated. I suppose I should tell you a little bit about Doug Newborn to ease you into it.

 First and I think, foremost, you should know that Doug died.  He choked on a McRib Sandwich at McDonald’s and died.  Paramedics cleared the blockage from his throat and revived him, but he never had a heartbeat after that. No pulse.  No respiration. Because Doug’s blood pressure was 0/0, the Coroner declared him deceased, but Doug argued with him about it until he finally recanted, with the understanding that while Doug Newborn was not dead, he also was not alive in the sense that was recognized by medical science.  Doug chose to view that as a fault of medical science.  It certainly wasn’t his.

The second thing you should know about Doug Newborn is that, not long after The McRib Incident (TMRI) of 2013, Doug disappeared for 22 days.  He was last seen playing a Joust arcade game at 7-eleven, a block from his garage apartment, and then, on level nineteen with eight lives to spare, *poof*. He disappeared. Missing person flyers were posted, and the local news covered his disappearance.  Police had no leads.  Twenty-two days later, Doug’s back in the 7-eleven, wondering why his high score wasn’t on the Joust machine.  When the clerk told Doug he unplugged the machines every week to sweep behind them, thus wiping the high scores, Doug nearly went ape shit.  He insisted his score was easily 700,000, and he had been there the whole time.  Since no apparent kidnapping or wrongdoing was involved, the police dropped it.

So, two nights after Doug’s warning about the dumpster, I find myself running through the dark parking lot of Taco Bell on Miramar Street in Toledo, chased by a shadowy, bat-winged, dildo-shaped monstrosity with claws that hang down at the back of the nut sack and a shark-toothed dickhead, and I DO NOT jump into the dumpster behind the Taco Bell for cover. The thing caws at me from a black sky, a shrill version of the sound Pac-Man makes when caught by a ghost if he were screaming from hell.  Doug tells me about the dumpster, but he couldn’t tell me about shark-toothed, flying dildos? 

I leaped over the hood of a rusty Camaro like Bo Duke and bolted to the dumpster in the adjacent Wendy’s parking lot. The cawing Pac-Man-screaming-in-hell keeps my adrenalin up, and I leap into the Wendy’s dumpster and bury myself under the cardboard and… other stuff. 

I lay still, trying not to breathe hard, mostly because it smelled terrible but also because I was trying to hide.  Of course, Bat-Winged Dildo Thing saw me jump in the Wendy’s dumpster, so it was no surprise that my ninja-like moves had not thrown it off.  The lid on top of the dumpster swung open with violent squeal and clang. Six-inch talon claws closed around my leg and lifted me jerkily out of the dumpster, up and up with each massive wing flap.  I looked down and saw the black asphalt of the unlit parking lot reeling past me, and I saw Doug standing there, holding something small out in front of him, maybe a flashlight.

A bluish flash shot from the object Doug was holding, hitting Bat-Winged Dildo Thing, and its grasp on my leg released. I was falling, and I was going to die.  All that, “My life flashed before my eyes,” crap didn’t happen, but I didn’t die, either.  Anyway, I fell into the dumpster.  The dumpster behind the Taco Bell on Miramar Street.  In Toledo.  Remember the dumpster Doug said not to get into, no matter what?  That one.

Another thing about Doug is that he has premonitions that have never been wrong.  Some haven’t come true yet, but none that I know of have ever been proven to be false.  Many are queerly accurate. That’s also a thing to know about Doug.  Maybe I should have led with that?

© 2020, Mitch Lavender

Entertainment and Angst in 2020

I don’t know about you but rage and angst fill up my social media feeds lately. People are so at odds over the pandemic is a hoax, or face masks will kill you,  or defunding the police, or Trump – the vitriol on Facebook is palpable. People post the most absurd things masquerading as truth, throwing another tire on the dumpster fire that is the year 2020.

In my opinion, protesting on social media is the laziest, most impotent form of protesting. It is precisely a tiny little bit more than doing absolutely nothing at all. People who think the same as you will agree. People who don’t will either scroll on by or argue with you with complete disregard for tact because, you know, acting like a crude little tough guy is easy on social media. Some people get so mean when there is no risk of them getting punched out.

If you find yourself typing out “FUCK YOU” in a post, step back. Is that how you represent yourself? My friends, please, stop being THAT person. And putting in asterisk for some letters doesn’t make it okay, it only makes you look uncommitted. You might as well cuss in symbols – $#!+@$$.

Anyway, nobody is having a good year. We are all just trying to get to the other side of this thing. I think our way of life will never again be the same as before Covid-19, even when we have a vaccine, but let me stop myself before I start going down the rabbit hole of doom, gloom, and despair, and get to the point of what I wanted to share with you, and it’s this:

My choices of entertainment have changed. Right now, with so much death and unhappiness in the news, I need something vacuous and goofy. It needs to be brilliantly stupid. It needs to be… YouTube and, to a much less extent, TikTok.

I have found Rhett and Link, and the Holderness Family, and the How Ridiculous guys. These internet entertainers have become the core of my entertainment since the quarantine began.

Rhett and Link have been friends since childhood, and they produce three main shows on their YouTube channels: Good Mythical Morning, Good Mythical More, and Ear Biscuits, with 16.5 million subscribers. The chemistry they share is what makes the show for me, these guys play the most bizarre games and eat some truly disgusting things. They also have some original songs that are pretty funny. I love it.

Penn and Kim Holderness have a video production company and churn out several videos a week. The Holderness Family creates original music, parodies, and Vlogs to poke fun of themselves and celebrate the absurdity in circumstances most families face. Some of the parody songs are enlightened and always make me laugh. They also come across as extremely likable people.

How Rediculous is a show with infectiously over-enthusiastic Australian guys who drop stuff off of things onto other things. Do you want to see what happens if you drop a bowling ball off a 45-meter tower onto a trampoline? You do. You know you do.

TikTok videos are so short, they often finish before I can scroll past them. I watch lots of cute animal videos here, and of course, Sarah Cooper. Her “How to” series is funny as hell.

Sure, there is intellectual content out there, too, but I need stuff that’s inoffensive and lighter than air. I need to not think about how bad 2020 sucks for a little while. I think we could all lighten up a bit. Take a step back, and watch two guys eat French toast made from things that should not be in French toast. Watch a song parody of Antibacterial Girl to the music for Madonna’s Material Girl. Watch really excited guys throw paper airplanes off the top of a dam.  Look at puppy videos. Everyone loves puppies. And let’s try to lighten up. Please?

Moritorium – In Memory of John Douglas Martin, August 22, 1971 – February 24, 2012

“Can you moratorium a cubicle?  You know, put it in a state where no one could occupy it?”

It was a stupid thought, and I was grateful that I didn’t say it out loud.  A moratorium on Doug’s cubicle wouldn’t bring him back.  Doug would still be dead, no matter what.  The cubicle was just the place he worked.  It was not him, nor was he the sort of person that he let his work define him.  Sure, personal items decorated the space, but it was still, just a cubicle.

As the admin dutifully boxed up Doug’s possessions to clear out the cube, sadness took me, and tears tried to rise.  I fought them down – not the time or the place or the situation.  These moments have been sneaking up on me ever since the funeral.  In these moments, I realize, really realize Doug is gone, and I will not see him again.  And that sucks.

Doug was the sort that would do almost anything for anyone. 

Doug, I need a ride to the other side of town at midnight. 

Doug, I need $300, and I don’t know when I can pay you back. 

Doug, I was stung by jellyfish, and I need you to piss on the wound to neutralize the poison

I never asked him any of those things, but I know if I had, he would have complied.  He also would have thought the pissing on me thing was hysterical, too. 

Doug was a guy I worked with, but he was a guy I worked with that really, truly touched my heart.  He wasn’t average, and that always seems to be the way these things go.  The jackass you work with that you sometimes wished would die, he doesn’t.  The good-natured, funny guy that everyone likes, he dies needlessly.  I look for balance in the universe, and I swear I cannot find it in this situation.  It isn’t fair.

 “Good Morning, JOHN.”  He would call me John because I let it slip once that I don’t like going by my first name, John.  This, of course, ensured that Doug would call me John at every possible opportunity.  It was always with a smirk and in fun, but only because he knew it got to me.  Though it was annoying, it was also funny.  An inside joke that everyone was in on.

More than once, Doug invited me to go with him to Mexia and shoot guns or just get smashed on the weekend.  I always declined.  Need to get home… things to do… going to wash my hair, etc.  And I did have other things to do, but I also thought there would be another time.  I ran the clock out, and the opportunity is no more.  Hindsight is 20/20, so they say.  Hindsight sucks.

And that is what I remember about Doug.  Most of it is what I know he would be like, not really what I know he was like.  And I think that is what I mourn most and why I suddenly am given over to tears at the oddest times – I had the opportunity to spend time with a very cool person, and I didn’t, and now that opportunity is gone.

Cool people are rare.  No, really, they are rare.  Honestly, think about how many truly cool people you know.  I bet it is just a few.  Don’t miss the opportunities to be around them while you can.

In memory of John Douglas Martin,  August 22, 1971 – February 24, 2012

© 2012, 2020, Mitch Lavender

Solo Board Gamer, Me?

One of the things that I like about analog gaming is that you get together and interact with real people, face to face. While the video game medium has come a long way in adding a social aspect to the gaming, it simply does not compare to the richness of a real-life experience with friends, sitting around the table and gaming together, albeit competitively.

Now, there are solo board games or, more commonly, multiplayer board games that have a solo play mode. Viticulture, Scythe, and Terraforming Mars are popular games in the hobby that can be played solo. In the past, I considered sitting at a table, playing a board game by oneself the equivalent of gaming masturbation. It just seemed sad to me and I didn’t see the point, particularly when many of my favorite games absolutely thrive on the interaction of the players.

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Thank You, Murphy

Murphy was a Rat Terrier we got as a puppy. He died in October of 2017 when he was 10 years old.

murphy 3

Thank you, Murphy.  Thanks for protecting the backyard from squirrels, birds, and neighbors doing things on the other side of the fence.  You would bark and protect us all.  Never once did a squirrel, bird, neighbor or delivery person harm us.  Thank you.

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This is Your Mind as a Writer. Any Questions?

It seemed innocent enough.   A few words on the page; what harm could it do?

A flash-fiction piece here, a poem there – it didn’t take much time.  Before long, I stepped up to doing short stories.  It was only one a week, at first.  Then I was doing it more.  I would lie to my family so I could sneak out and write.  They thought I was going to the store for bread, but I was at Starbucks with my fingers on the keyboard, typing furiously, or sitting in the car, scribbling in a Moleskine notebook.

person typing on typewriter

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

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GEEK AM I

As a card-carrying GEEK, it is my right… nay, it is my RESPONSIBILITY to complain about the most insignificant and trivial of details when it comes to movies, books, comics, video games, and particularly in my case, board games.

Look at the most passionate geeks out there and that’s what they do – criticize and complain and nit-pick.  I can only surmise that any geek worth his salt would do the same, right?

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