Saturday, June 30, 2007

who the hell knew?

I had to look it up: meme. It seems there's a lot to being a meme. Not to be confused with being a mime, of course, though I suppose there's a lot to being one of those, too. Freaks.

I digress.

GN tagged me for a meme. I'm grateful; I'm still new to this whole thing, this blog-community... who the hell knew? (I believe I've been very lucky. The bloggers whose work I regularly read have both inspired and touched me on countless occasions these last few months. I can't wait to get home -- perhaps one day I'll meet these beautiful, wonderful people at one of those bloody HHs.)

Here we go.

The rules:
1. Post the rules, then list eight things about yourself.
2. At the end of the post, tag and link to eight other people.
3. Leave a comment at those sites, letting them know they've been tagged, and asking them to come read the post so they know what to do.

1. I shamelessly dog-ear the pages of my books. And the books I've borrowed. But I don't stop there -- the dog-earing at the top is for keeping my place, the dog-earing at the bottom is for marking a passage that I want to have handy for later... I started doing this in college, and it has since become ritual de rigeur. In fact, the quote from Liberated Bride in my last post was brought back from literary obscurity precisely because I had dog-eared it. This practice is my kind of pack-ratting. Who knows? Maybe one day, that interesting quote from Fountainhead will support my argument in a thesis. Or maybe I'll use that couplet from Sufi Masters in a love-letter.

2. Sixth graders back in my district in California are (were?) afforded the opportunity to attend "Outdoor Education." It involved a long bus ride from the Valley to the mountains near Tahoe and being eaten alive by decidedly unsympathetic insects and forced marches through "demonstration forests" and learning that you can drink from the Manzanita tree and insufferable crushes on the girls in Spruce Dorm. It was my first away-from-the-parents experience. A couple days before we were slated to leave, the school sent home a list of necessary items to be packed. Being a big boy, I insisted on helping my mom gather the Implements of My Emancipation. Scanning the list, I came across this: sanitary napkins. Having never seen the two words paired, but being otherwise worldly as only a sixth grader can, I deduced that sanitary napkins was just a fancy way of saying "things into which to blow your nose." I told mom, "I need sanitary napkins for Outdoor Ed. Can you buy some?" I recall her asking me in a straight face, "Why?" "You know I have bad allergies, mom, come on." I replied. Having departed the bus, I joined my classmates in the dorm in which we were told we'd sleep. Time to unpack. Out from my luggage spilled forth an enormous plastic bag, straining at its contents. A bag that bore not a manufacturer's label, or pretty coloring, or a snazzy catch-line. Just big, black sans-serif words stenciled across a nondescript, generic white background: Maxi Pads (Heavy Flow). My mom retains the same sense of off-kilter humor exercised at my expense, and I retain the same sense of smug brilliance despite her lessons.

3. Recently, I have become deeply afraid that my daughter, nearly seven, will grow to resent me as she reaches adolescence. Because though I know I can come home from this nearly seven-month deployment and she will run towards me the instant she spots my car and hug me and scream, "Daddy!" and forgive and forget that I'd ever been gone... I suspect that as she grows old enough to understand a bit more about her world -- that world I irreversibly and dramatically changed when I left her mom -- she will see my here-again/gone-again presence as less a father's loving commitment to do as much as he can and more her "real daddy's" neglect. I am afraid that Mommy's boyfriend will become more of a Dad than I am because he is there.

4. I miss my house in Georgia, because I had two acres and I tended every square foot of it with love and pride. I planted beautiful rows of crepe myrtles, I transplanted Bradford pears, I coaxed to life delicate honeysuckle and morning glory and climbing tea roses, I mowed and edged and spread decorative bark, I laid flagstone walkways and set up a soccer field for my daughter and her friends, I built giant window boxes and trellises and everything just looked and smelled so good, and I did it myself. It wasn't a matter of being Hank Hill and insisting on having the best yard in the neighborhood, it was the case of me wanting my home to be my home, and it was. I've lived itinerantly for nearly three years now.

5. My sister, three years my junior, fell apart when I joined the Navy fourteen years ago. She hasn't really recovered since. Once, she wrote me in a letter filled with angry, illegible scrawl that it was my fault -- that I abandoned her. In recent years, she never lets the chance pass to tell me how proud of me she is, but her life remains a struggle in so many ways. I don't understand how it happened; I don't know how to help.

6. I am affable and social and inviting, but my circle is exclusive. I can count on one hand the number of true friends I have and have ever had, but I consider them such because we've each, on our on part, earned the title. I can recall all of them: in elementary and junior high, it was Clinton. In high school, it was JJ. In the Navy, it is Scott and Doug and Adam. FreckledK wrote about "worrying about the fair-weather friends" all the while "risking the positive connections that (she has) with the true-blue." Her reflections ring true; I encourage her to live them.

7. I will always match my belt to my shoes, and they will have shine, and their edges will be dressed... my ties will always fall at that precise point 1/4 the way down my buckle, and they will neither be skinny nor fat and their knots will be appropriate to the collar... my shirts will always fit just right and never billow... my Navy uniforms will always be impeccable, even the impossibly white ones.

8. I am between houses. And lives. I'm coming back to the States to a storage facility full of dusty furniture and not-so-dusty memories. It's scary and exciting and I'm pretty sure there's been a country song or two written about just such an experience.

There's little sense in tagging anyone -- everyone I read has already been tagged.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

in advance, I knew nothing about it

I used to wear glasses. In fact, I used to like wearing glasses. In many ways, they defined me. I permitted (and often encouraged) this condition.

Some years ago, I got tired of the headaches from squinting at the computer screen and finally relented. But, ever the eccentric, I insisted on being different. Mind you, they were different when I first gave birth to the idea: some sort of cross between Lisa Loeb and Drew Carey and Buddy Holiday. Clean, simple, classic. Different.

I couldn’t find them anywhere. And by anywhere, I mean the ubiquitous Lens Crafters, America’s Best and so on. Mall places. I subsequently deployed, crestfallen at my lack of success.

Of all places, I found them in Bahrain. Yes, Bahrain. (After all, it’s a bit more European than Augusta, Georgia. For that matter, I suppose Birmingham is more European than Augusta.)

I wore them religiously for the next several years, transcending eyewear style.

“Justin, I want you to meet someone. Come on,” said FM, a fellow teacher in the Persian department.


“You’ll see. A student. She’s Baha’i, too. You can be hypocritical together,” dryly joked the Muslim who worked part-time as a liquor-store attendant. And tipped himself in fifths.

“Aieeeeeee! I’m so glad to meet you. You’re going to join me the day after tomorrow at Feast, okay?” She wrapped me in an intensely personal hug. I hadn’t felt such warmth for years.

“Umm… okay,” I sheepishly replied. She was gorgeous. And she wanted to spend time with me? Already?

S later told me that one of the first things that she found attractive in me was my glasses. She thought they were so cute… like a cute dork (a badge I proudly claim.) From that day on, I wore them for her. I never left the house without them; I religiously placed them in a wooden valet each night before I prepared for bed.

As I said, I don’t wear glasses anymore. As I was packing for this deployment, I realized that I didn’t want to fuck with the constant on-glasses, off-glasses, on-sunglasses, off-sunglasses routine anymore. Not here. And really, I can see just fine. Since I wasn’t going on det with the hopes of attracting anyone, why pack them? That S loved them didn’t even enter my mind.

It has been over three months. No headaches. Yet I feel good about myself. Attractive, even.

I don’t think I’ll wear glasses again. I don’t need them. Even in the short time I had at home after S left, I continued wearing them. For some reason, I clung to them as though they were a life preserver. I physically felt naked without them. They simultaneously served as something behind which I could hide, and as the one thing I thought I knew was still attractive about me.

But when I looked at myself in the bathroom’s mirror today, I realized that I look just fine. And I didn’t miss them.

Funny what we do for others. Like a woman wearing a skirt someone once convincingly complimented though she herself is tired of it, I wore those glasses because S loved me for it. Today, I’m taking back my eyes.

There’s first love and there’s second love. The experts can distinguish between them, even if sometimes they’re hard to tell apart, because each has a logic of its own. They can exist side-by-side, not without conflict, until something comes along to turn them against each other. And then it’s goodbye.

First love preserves throughout a marriage the bright, living kernel of falling-in-love that engendered it, that outgoing of the heart by which the lover recognizes, sometimes instantly and sometimes by progressive stages, the human being who can soothe or satisfy his deepest desires… And though, when he falls in love, the lover may know little about the beloved, whose soul may be a mystery and whose body may hide beneath its clothes… a scar yet to be uncovered by his desire, still he is bonded to his beloved blindly and trustingly and is ready to die for her even before he has seen her nakedness. This is the meaning of the expression “falling in love,” found in so many languages, for the lover has as it were fallen into a deep pit (at the bottom of which may lurk a snake or scorpion), and there must build love for himself.

And even after the outward signs have yielded their inner promise in all its glory or poverty, its undreamed-of heights or insufferable depths, the glow of the first falling-in-love continues everywhere and all the time. Yes, even when the beloved is in a wheelchair in an old-age home, diapered and connected to tubes, even then the flash of a smile in moldering eyes, the ancient movement of a veiny hand, the heard-again lilt of a dear voice, even a single sentence containing the right words, can resurrect the first falling-in-love in a twinkling – that love that unconditionally and in advance forgives every weakness and failing, if only for the reason that in advance it knew nothing about them.

Such was my love for you. This is why I am still stranded in it, waiting for another falling-in-love to set me free…

And yet… her conception of love is of the other variety. And this is why what happened to us was inevitable.

And that’s precisely what I need: to understand calmly the necessity of our separation, so that I can say good-bye for good, graciously and with a light heart.

It seems that your kind of love has to do with choice. That’s the great difference. Perhaps yours is the more developed variety, skipping love’s primitive and dangerous “fall” for what is deliberately and courageously chosen – not because it is the best choice, since there is always a better one, but because it has potential. Rather than marriage as a first flowering of feeling that lasts only until the next falling-in-love, the love of choice offers something less passionate but more stable: responsibility. In a moment of crisis the first kind of lover declares emotionally, “What’s done is done – I fell in love with you, and so I forgive you,” but whereas the second kind says coolly, “Yes, what’s done is done – I chose you, and I am responsible for my choice.” But – and here’s the rub – while love of the first kind can by its nature overlook what it doesn’t like, love of the second kind is incapable of such evasions. And so when something bad shakes the foundations, “responsible love” is too weak to support it – and at that point the whole structure collapses, and all that’s left to say is, “You’d better pack your things, and go to your grandmother’s.”

Once, some two years ago, a month or two after I arrived in France, in a moment of deep sadness but also of intermittent hope, I decided to write an itemized account of the horribly quick parting that you subjected me to after forty-two days of struggle. I bought a big yellow notebook, which went well with the yellow light gray Paris in August ’93, where I found myself after my expulsion from the Paradise in which you lived with your father, mother and sister.

Anyway, you and your family were cloaked by my imagination in the late-summer light that I remembered from the brambly little hill near the gazebo under which we were married. That’s how I had imagined Paradise back in Bible class in grade school, perhaps so as to give it a Middle Eastern touch: a lush green oasis fed by springs and surrounded by soft, friendly desert.

And so I began to write the story of our separation, from the first moment: thoughts, conversations, facts, things we did, the weather, the political situation, even a dream or two that I remembered, such as one in which I forced your father to let me shave him with an old electric razor found in a room of the hotel.

I wrote from the heart. The result was an indictment, a defense plea, perhaps even a proposal for an out-of-court settlement – but only on the left-hand page, because the right-hand page was for your use, so you could add your story to mine. I still hoped against hope that setting down our two versions in the same notebook might help us reach a new understanding…

It was exciting to put everything down clearly on paper and give my suffering a form

The Liberated Bride

A. B. Yehoshua

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Synchronicity of Lydia

The focus of INPY's post today is synchronicity.

I discovered it only after I'd already read the more personal account of Last Stop Suburbia.

There is certainly some sort of cosmic validation thing going on here.

I, too, couldn't have been much older than eight or nine. I remember, vividly, sitting in my usual seat on the bright-yellow-brand-new-for -the-privileged-snotty-kids-who -lived-in-suburbia-and -attended-the-"gifted"- school bus next to my friends. I don't, however, remember their names.

But I remember Lydia.

She suddenly appeared out of nowhere, in the middle of the school year. Perhaps later; it was warm and sunny -- maybe Spring? She sheepishly climbed in and slid into the front seat -- the one nearest the driver, and reserved for troublemakers or suck-ups (remember?), obviously trying to avoid attention.

Lydia smelled. Different, and pungent. This circumstance, of course, attracted the ire of all the other kids on the bus, myself included. We mercilessly teased her; she didn't say anything in reply. "You stink!"

"She's a terrorist," another boy shouted. I didn't understand what that meant.

By the time we'd arrived at our destination, Lydia was crying. She fled from the bus as quickly as she could manage with her backpack and lunchbox.

Looking back, I'll bet that lunchbox was lovingly prepared by her mom. And that it contained chicken, some rice, maybe some eggplant.

S and her sisters once related to me in one of those laugh-about-our-childhood-and-being-crazy-immigrants moments that they discovered from the White Kids that PB&J sandwiches were the only acceptable (and American) lunch fare. Wanting nothing more than to assimilate, they asked Mommy to make them, in place of things decidedly less American, like kebab. Mommy, stranger to baseball and apple pie, asked what these PB&J sandwiches were made of. The girls told her: peanut butter, jelly and bread. That's it!

The next day, they opened their boxes -- ecstatic at taking another intrepid step to being normal -- and discovered their "sandwiches." Not on Wonderbread, mind you. Not even on Sara Lee whole wheat. Inside neatly folded bits of noon-lavash (a sort of Perso-Arab pita) were smears of peanut butter and jam. As far as Mommy knew, bread is bread!

Lydia remained the butt of many jokes and the center of bullies' attention for the rest of the year. She was a classmate. I remember, once, she left her desk at the bell ringing for recess, and in the hollow of the hard plastic seat she'd vacated was a puddle of urine.

Her life was made miserable.

This story occurred almost twenty five years ago. Say, around 1983 or 1984.

Lydia's last name was Farhadian. I recognize it, now. She was (surely, is) Iranian. Likely, her family had recently escaped the brutal terror that gripped her nation in the tumultuous years shortly after Khomeini's return. Maybe, even, they were Baha'i. In any case, I imagine they came to this country to escape hell, in whatever form it took. Persecution. Rape. Murder.

And certainly, at that time, it was even less easy to be Iranian in the U.S. The hostage crisis had only recently been put behind, certainly not forgotten.

And Lydia's welcome? Like the girl with a cleft palate, she wasn't made to feel a part of anything. She was made a target. She had escaped nothing.

I hope -- in my heart of hearts, I swear it -- that she grew up to be a happy Iranian-American. That the taunts and teases and miseries I and other kids visited upon her ended in short order. That she forgave, and forgives.

I feel guilty, still. I would like nothing more than the opportunity to sincerely apologize. I was not immune, mind you, to being teased. Who among us was? It is part of growing up, I suspect. Nonetheless, now that I am (considerably) older, I understand that our words and our ignorance and our bigotry and our lack of empathy cut deep. And they make an already impossible-to-imagine circumstance -- coming to another country and trying, trying to fit in -- exponentially harder. I genuinely hate that I did those things to her.

The irony of this has not escaped me -- that I have since, in the long years intervening, become an amateur Persianist. That I have fallen in love with Lydia's history, her culture, her language.

Consequently, it has been (and will remain) a decidedly conscious effort on my part to imbue in my daughter a genuine empathy for others as well as an appreciation for and an interest in what is different. Oh, that little turd loves her macaroni & cheese. But she's also developed an insatiable appetite for sekanjebin.

Monday, June 18, 2007

a watch, a dream, and a man

1. It was 112 degrees today. It was too hot to wear a watch.

2. Another dream. Though my conscious self reflects on S evermore infrequently, apparently my subconscious yet wrestles with the task of stuffing her into my mind's "For Reference Only" file. Here we are:

I found myself seated in the back of a nondescript minivan. I glanced to my right and noted my daughter relaxing in her booster-seat. In front of us, an enormous man sat in the driver's seat. He was equal parts obese and brute-huge. His hair was shaved to the scalp, and his neck made an ungainly, fleshy transition from head to shoulders. Seated adjacent to him was an unattractive woman, chubby in her own right. Unkempt, dirty blonde hair framed eyes recessed after long years of smoking.

They were... hardscrabble. I knew them. I knew them as the only people in the world I could count on. With my daughter in the back seat, we four together were my family. It resonated through me, this realization, though it was oddly tainted. I felt unsafe.

The van came to a stop in the gravel parking lot of a convenience store. The man pushed his door open with a grunt and half pulled, half launched himself free of the driver's seat. At the departure of his significant weight, the minivan undulated and quickly resettled. The woman stared straight ahead, her face empty of expression.

I turned to see my daughter similarly apathetic. I noticed a breath mint on the edge of her seat. I casually took it and opened it's individual wrapping. I popped the mint into my mouth and bit into it, breaking it into half to expose the sweet center.

At the very instant I'd chewed it, the giant, flabby man reappeared. He sat down, angrily, and said, "Who did it?" The woman to his right -- I then realized she was his wife -- was completely unaffected by her husband's question and continued staring ahead.

My heart skipped a beat, and I turned to look at Madison. She, too, was oblivious.

Both of them had heard him, I was sure, but neither cared.

After a moment of silence had passed, the man turned his glare towards the back seat. Only he couldn't -- the girth of his neck wouldn't permit it. Turning as far as he could, his vision only reached the woman in the passenger seat. But I knew he was directing his interrogation to me and my daughter.

He repeated himself. Only, this time, his deep voice became threatening. "Alright, who the fuck did it?"

Again, neither the woman nor my daughter reacted. Another moment passed, and at its empty conclusion he flung his door open and propelled himself outside.

I turned my attention again, this time towards the woman in front. Fear instantly blossomed inside me; a blind panic erupted. Just as I was about to ask the woman what in the fuck was going on, my door flung open and a meaty fist grabbed my left shoulder, bunching my shirt. I was violently yanked from my seat.

I tried to gather my footing, but just as I put my right foot down, I was swung around and slammed into the side of the van. His other hand was now occupied with my right shoulder, and he pinned me against the thin sheet metal.

In a flash, he loosed the grip of his right hand, brought it back, and unleashed it, slamming against my face. I felt my nose break and my blood paint his knuckles. I knew that no skill or confidence or speed would help me; he outweighed my by two hundred pounds. I was going to be killed.

The man again grabbed at my shirt and spun me around, intending to slam my face into the still-open door. I managed to push out with my arms and brace myself in the frame. The woman inside, amazingly, still sat emotionless, staring emptily ahead. I screamed, "How can you let my baby see her Daddy....."

Something inside me took root. The unfinished sentence didn't hang in my mouth or my mind; it was discarded. It's beginning was never uttered. Erased. It never happened. A force I never knew existed suddenly blossomed inside me, spreading through my chest and limbs, setting me afire. I pushed against the frame, sending the man back a step, his concrete footing momentarily lost.

I spun around, freeing my shirt of his grip. An opening. I swung, hard, and met his face. His fleshy pink cheek compressed and spread and didn't resist, and my fist pounded against his cheekbone. He staggered.

I took him by the shoulders and threw him into the side of the van -- the same spot against which he'd spun me just seconds before. He didn't get his hands up in time, and his forehead took the brunt of the impact. I did not waste the opportunity -- I reset my grip and pushed him, pulled him, pushed him, pulled him, his forehead slamming over and over again on the same spot. I turned him around; he was in danger of passing out. I reversed the action and flung him in the same fashion a dozen times, never taking my eyes off the small bloody hole that had sprouted on his forehead. A mirror image quickly appeared on the back of his head. Two perfect holes on opposite sides, as though an arrow had pierced him.

He buckled at the knees and his weight brought him crashing to the ground, breaking free of my grip. He landed on his face in the gravel, unconscious.

I raced back to the minivan's door. Looking inside, I found a length of cheap yellow nylon rope, its ends frayed. As soon as I'd grabbed it, the woman in front opened her door and ran away. Silently. Not a word.

I returned to the man to find him regaining consciousness. He moaned and his arms stirred, though meekly. I planted my knee on the small of his back, and like a policeman would, I wrenched his wrists together and began tying them. As I was making the action, I glanced over to the open door again, and I spotted my daughter. She was still staring forward, but this time, she was crying. Silently crying.


... I think the man is S. Out of nowhere, she hurt me, deeply. And she hurt my daughter, too. But I have no clear idea on who the woman is. Of course, I haven't fought back, really... I didn't end the misery, it ended on me. Is my mind trying to tell me that I need to do something before I'll be at peace? That I need to fight? *shrug*

3. Fathers' Day has passed. It was my first Fathers' Day without a father. Though I still have him, he is gone.

My father died August 21st last year. On my mom's birthday. He was 61 years old. The day before, he was fine. Fit as a fiddle, as he might have said. The next -- he was gone.

He died ignominously. Which is the greatest crime. Because, if anyone on this planet has ever had dignity, it was my father. He was stoic. He was strong. He was a hero.

At his passing, he and my mother had been married for 35 years. In that span of nearly four decades, they had never spent a single day apart. Not one.

He worked all his life. He worked hard all his life. The day after he died, union reps came over and revealed that, at his passing, he had an entire year of unused sick time. This after having worked only every-other-day for the previous six months; he was tired of the grind, finally, and his retirement day was just over a month away.

My father was a Correctional Officer. He worked "the toughest beat in the state." For twenty seven years. In the worst two prisons California has to offer. To get there, the bad guys have to be even badder at other prisons. And every morning before you and I and most everyone else has even woken, he pulled on his uniform, strapped on his boots, filled his Thermos full of coffee, stowed a pack of Camel non-filters in his pocket, fired-up his old Chevy pickup and drove to Hell On Earth In A Metal Box In Which The Most Horrible People Ever Unleashed On This Earth Live And Fight And Kill.

Before he became a CO, he was a deputy sheriff for half a dozen years. Before that, he was a member of the world's finest Navy.

I remember as a child sitting at the dinner table and wondering what had happened to earn my dad those scabs on his hands and arms and face. He never said anything bad about "work." Never once a horror story. Always had an innocent diversion to explain the injuries.

Sometimes, Dad would get dark and angry and distant. When it happened, he'd just retreat to the garage, where he had his Smoking Chair. He'd grab his rancher's coat and his smokes and a novel and he'd sit out there in the freezing goddamned cold and deal with the demons all by himself. And then he'd come back -- on his own time -- and everything would be right again.

My father was a hero. The unheralded kind that weepy pop songs and melodramatic Lifetime movies are made of.

He taught me discipline. Self-respect. Courtesy. Dignity. Honor. Courage. Fortitude. Stamina. How to change the water pump on an old Blazer. How to raise a barn. How to lay carpet and strip paint. How to rewire a lamp. How to glue together the impossibly small pieces of model airplanes. How to curse like a sailor. How to pay attention to the small things, especially when it came to women. How to fuck up and take responsibility for it. How to fish. How to laugh, and how to get really pissed off. How to think very, very critically. Especially about religion. And politics. How to pull-off the King's Minion in chess.

He was a man. When I'd try to describe him to friends before he passed, I always imagined some sort of cross between Sam Elliot and Clint Eastwood. I picture him now: he was tall. He had a five o'clock shadow. His hands were huge, and wise. He was squinting.

I recall that maybe a month after he'd died, I was driving my old Suburban in Maryland, and I was killing myself trying to solve the puzzle of that damned truck's habit of throwing serpentine belts. I mindlessly grabbed my cell phone as the thought entered my head, "I know, I'll call Dad. If anyone'll know, it'll be him." I returned the cell phone to its cupholder-home slowly, deliberately. "He's gone."

As I was struggling through the throes of adolescent idiocy, namely, shortly before and after I joined the Navy, I thought that the last person I wanted to be like was my Dad. Kinda works that way, I think, for a lot of us. Turns out, though, he's exactly the kind of guy I want to be. It just took time...

I remember how much I hated -- hated -- hearing his tired Okie aphorisms when I was younger. "Don't make a mountain out of a mole hill." "You'll catch more flies with sugar than with vinegar." "It's the small things that'll kill 'ya." Countless, countless others. And I find myself saying them now. And it makes me smile.

My mom recently sent me an email thanking me for "taking care of business" so others don't have to. She said that Dad would be proud.

I know that he is -- I know it. I wish she hadn't said it, though. I have a long way to go before I can fill Dad's shoes. He took care of business 'til his last breath. I'm proud of him, and even prouder to be his son.

Rest in peace, old man.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Everyday: From June 11, 2007

I was recently asked what a normal day for me is like.

Groundhog Day, that's what. Seriously.

Objectively, I do cool things, almost everyday. It is, frankly, easy for me and everyone else in my position to "romanticize" our responsibilities, our tasks. Yet we take it for granted. We cannot remain objective. If we did, we'd lose our minds.

In the span of just a few seconds, I might go from just-short-of-comatose to just-short-of-shitting-my-pants. But the expectation going in is, of course, that the shitting-of-pants won't happen. We bank on it (again, lest we lose our minds worrying.)

Nonetheless. I'll just recount today, as it's really no different from any other day. (Groundhog Day, as I said.)

Given that we had double-pumped yesterday (meaning that we had performed two back-to-back nine-hour missions), I was very tired. Exhausted. On our way back to camp, I was feeling oddly energized, and thought I might go for a run once I'd returned, but this feeling of elation quickly subsided. I chose not to visit the chow hall, as I didn't expect the fare to be any better than the cold-cut sandwich I'd eaten while away.

Instead, I went straight to my tent and undressed to my underwear. Though our tent is air conditioned, it is stiflingly hot in the afternoons, as the African sun beats down on the green canvas and overwhelms the sad, under-performing, cheap plastic-y Asian imported cooler. I'd be naked if not for the omnipresent threat of being "racked out" (woken) at any time for an alert mission. Furthermore, the mosquito netting I have pinned to the high corners of my bed, coupled with the ghetto-fabulous sheet that I have strung across my hooch on 550-cord is an effective but unwelcome barrier to what little cool air does manage to make its way into the tent.

Right. So I was lying near-naked, sticking to my sheet, with my feet itching from their contact with the standard-issue-since-1812 GI wool blanket mashed up into a mound at the foot of my bed. I would otherwise discard it, or at least remove it from my bed entirely, if not for the fact that at some later point in my sleep, I will need it. I will need it because after the sun has fallen, the air conditioning will suddenly and vigorously catch-up, and I will wake from my slumber freezing my ass off. I am not entirely sure whether this is a specific result of the conditioned air's suddenly arctic temperature, or my general acclimatization to the surface-of-the-sun African heat (and my body's subsequent rejection of any temperature less than 85.)

I was bored with the book I found in the "library tent", so I powered-up my laptop (creating more heat, natch) and watched a DVD I'd found in an unoccupied rack, it certainly being left by the hooch's previous inhabitant because it was shit. The movie, that is. I nonetheless watched it to the end.

Afterwards, I fell asleep, still sweating. As I predicted, I awoke some time later (the sun now being absent -- and I know this because the tent wall against which my head rests is no longer afire) and pulled the itchy-scratchy wool blanket up over my body, swiftly creating a cocoon into which I immediately fell asleep again.

I awoke to one of my coworkers meekly calling out to me. "Chief? Are you there?" Of course, I was. I replied in the affirmative, and he said that it was time to get up. Groggily, I asked when the mission brief would be held. He replied, "Umm... now."

"Holy shit! What time is it?" It's midnight.

Damn. I'd slept thirteen hours, straight. I didn't bother setting my alarm, as I just knew that I'd wake before the brief. 'Guess I was tired. (I digress: those extra hours are but drops in The Bucket of Need.)

I quickly rose and slipped my Tevas (favorite of lesbians and citizens of the NW!) and grabbed my toiletries bag and towel and shuffled out of the tent over to the shower trailer. I plodded over the gravel in the pitch darkness and realized that there was no way in hell I was going to make the brief, so I might as well take my time and just show up for the Go Time.

I shaved with cream I'd received as a parting gift from the Officer in Charge of the last crew (as the goddamned "Exchange" here is out of everything important) in water that -- no shit -- contains more chlorine than a DC public pool. I have long since ignored the warning placards pasted haphazardly throughout the facility: "This water is NOT potable. Do NOT drink it. Do not use it to brush your teeth. Use bottled water ONLY."

Having sufficiently scraped my face and throat, I moved over to the shower where hot water is Nuclear Reactor Discharge Hot and cold water is Standing in the African Sun All Day hot. Cold water only, then. I shampooed with a tiny travel-sized bottle of Aussie that I'd fortuitously found only two days after I'd run out of my own stock, as (you guessed it) the Exchange is also out of shampoo. (Yet I can buy four copies of Dance, Dance Revolution. WTF? I hate the Exchange.)

Finished, I returned to my hooch where I donned my uniform and prepared my mission bag. Next, I rushed over to the dining facility, where the "sandwich side" is open 24-hours and made myself two meals: 1) PB&J and 2) Turkey and Cheese. Grabbing Gatorade, Red Bull and water on my way out, I then made my way back to the tent where I could stuff it all into my sack. (There is a strictly-enforced Don't Leave Bags Anywhere or Carry Them Into "Public" Facilities rule here, what with the threat of me and other crewmates mistakenly packing IEDs rather than PB&J sandwiches.)

Leaving my food-booty in my hooch, I then trudged the long trail to the top of the camp where there is my favorite Vestige of Home, a pseudo-coffee shop, "Green Beans ("Deployed Everywhere You Are.") An quick exchange of pleasantries with the staff girl who knows me by face, and I left, freshly armed with my requisite big-ass cup of tea.

I then retraced my steps back to the hooch, where I grabbed all my crap (and despite the hour, now sweating profusely from all the walking willy-nilly here, there and back) and headed to the Operations Tent where I grabbed gear necessary for my mission.

Ten hours later, I returned from the mission, again feeling fresh despite the long workday. I was relatively sure that I'd play some basketball (and since it's only 11AM, there'll be plenty of sun) and perhaps hit the gym. Little did I know, but having my "morning constitutional" drained me. Seriously. I was fine until I took a crap. Finished, I had to try really hard to resist returning to my hooch and sleeping.

Grudgingly, I changed from my uniform into clothes suitable for an ungodly sweat-drenching, and found my way over the basketball court. Damn if a bunch of Army kids weren't using the court as a drilling field. I spread out over a row in the bleachers, and used my Camelbak as a pillow. I'm certain I would have fallen asleep were it not for the "Orrrrrrder Ahms!" and "Mahk Time..... Maaaach!"

They left thirty minutes later, and I played one-on-none for an hour, hoping that someone would come by for a pickup game. No joy. Irritated, I went into the gym and did a basic body-weight exercise routine. Afterwards, I left, intent on going for a run on the Death Trail (7 miles long), despite the sun's ascendancy and its consequent effect on skin (and life).

I barely squeaked that run out -- it was murderous -- and made my way back to (you guessed it) my hooch. I showered and changed back into my uniform (required unless exercising or sleeping or perhaps dying) and went to lunch at the chow hall, where I was (as expected) grossly disappointed at the fare. I cobbled together a grilled turkey and cheese, took a spoonful of succotash and drowned it all down with a Pepsi.

I then went straight to the barber shop where an Indian man of dubious sexuality massacred my hair (alas, I have no one to impress, anyway) and thoughtfully gave my temples a finger-massage. Now, I'm not sure if women experience this, but men will understand instantly: they don't wash hair at the camp's barber shop. Nor do they FlowBee your melon. This, of course, results in a thousand little snips of hair down your shirt, where (especially when coupled with oppressive heat) they become a thousand little angry fire ants. This sucks.

I then marched (now angrily) to the laundry shop, where an African woman of not-dubious-sexuality, swaddled in yards and yards of the most colorful tie-dyed rayon, returned my giant sack of laundry I'd turned in two days before. Now clean and fresh-y, of course. (I take great excitement in Fresh Uniform Day.)

From there, a drop-off of the sack (remember! Don't leave it anywhere!) in my hooch, and then a trip to the "Morale, Welfare and Recreation Tent" where I have internet access for my laptop and the Consequent Blogginess.

And here I am. I'm "half-staff" with my uniform -- meaning, I've taken the top part down and wrapped it around my waist, leaving me dressed topside in only my brown-dirt-brown-poo-brown undershirt.

I think its funny that I've just looked down and seen salt rings tracing the outline of my pecs. Does this mean I'm huge? Must be all that working out.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007


An admired blogger recently pondered the wonders of the unexpected. And her desire for it.

She waxed quite poetic about how love is non-linear. That it sweeps us along unexpected currents and twists and turns us in ways that we'd never have imagined possible. Though for us ENTJ -types accustomed to arranging everything in life just so, the ride can be frightening as we hopelessly struggle to orient everything according to how we think things should be.

I posted a comment in reply, and I'll share it here to preface my intended writing.

Your post reminded me of a lesson I learned nearly seven years ago. I have had the habit, recently, of forgetting it. The lesson, that is.

My then-wife and I were (and are) very career-oriented. Which is not to say that we sacrifice normal-me/us-time for the sixty-hour workweek so we could angle-in on the corner cubicle, but we nonetheless both had (and have) hopes. Great, fantastic hopes.

We are driven.

I fully expect that we would never have gotten around to it, always saying, "not ready just yet, I/we have this one more thing to accomplish, then we'll be set."

But then there was that day. You don't know it, yet. Maybe it'll never come. But there's not a day that has passed in nearly seven years that I haven't thanked God for mine.

"Justin, I'm pregnant."

Having just returned from a deployment, we are only left to imagine that something overseas made me, umm... *cough* extra-fertile-y. My dear daughter was just going to be conceived, damn any form of contraception.

Not more than a week before that momentous day -- and I remember it clearly -- someone at work asked me if I had any intention of soon having children.

My reply? "If I wanted to hear the pitter-patter of little feet, I'd put little leather boots on my dog."

My point is this: non-linear is the best. If I hadn't been just floored in surprise that day, perhaps I'd have missed out on the greatest thing to have ever happened to me.

Can't wait to see what else the Mystery has in store for me. Maybe her name is Sophie, even. *grin*

1) I came home from work tired, but satisfied. I looked forward to taking Madison out for what had become a daily ritual: I'd walk the dogs around our neighborhood, while she did her best to clip my ankles in her Giant Pink Barbie Motorized Jeep, drunkenly crisscrossing the street with an as-yet unlearned skill in steering.

Once I'd crossed into the living room from the kitchen, I noticed that Madison was conspicuously absent. My "nanny" (for lack of a better word; she was a junior college student that took Maddie to school and picked her up, entertaining her for the hour or so it took me to get home) sat on the couch, folding laundry. (I gotta get another one of those, really. I mean, my laundry was being folded. I digress.)

I asked her how Maddie had been. "Fine, really. She's been good. But she's drying her hair now."

"Drying her hair? Did she take a bath?"

"No, she washed her hair. In the toilet bowl."

2) Another bathroom story. I'm sitting in the living room, comfortably occupied on the couch with a well-earned end-of-day beer and armed with the remote control. Madison is taking a bath, her just-before-bed ritual. It is a glimpse of the peace I will soon be enjoying once she's fallen asleep.

A good time, that bath, when they're so young.

Madison is perhaps four.


So, I'm on the couch, watching a re-run of Everyone Loves Raymond. Suddenly, from just within earshot, I hear Madison yell out, "Stop standing on my vagina!"

Intrigued, I swiftly mashed the mute button. Turning my head towards the hall that lead to her bathroom, I arched an eyebrow and focused my attention. Silent, I waited for more.

Again, this time somewhat louder: "Stop standing on my vagina!"

Clearly, this had become a situation that warrants Daddy's investigation. I crept into the hall, and held short just of her bathroom's door. I peeked inside, and spied my daughter playing in the tepid water with nary a care in the world.

She saw me, and exclaimed, "Hi, Daddy!"

"Hi, baby! Whatcha doin'?"


"Whatcha playin'?

"Barbie and Ken."

I looked closer, and observed Naked Barbie laying across the edge of the tub, helpless. Ken was, in fact, standing on her vagina.

It occurred to me that Ken could have been standing on Barbie's ear. Or her arm. Or her hair. He just happened to be standing on Barbie's vagina. Since a vagina is like an ear or an arm or hair, it wasn't anything special to Madison.

"Okay, baby. Let me know when you're ready to get out of the bathtub."

"Okay, Daddy."

Of course, I've always insisted on teaching my daughter the proper names of her anatomy. She neither has a hoo-ha nor a pee-pee nor any of the other silly words I've heard magically conjured by otherwise intelligent parents.

Madison has a vagina. So does Barbie (ostensibly.)

Funny addendum to this story: I once shared it on an electronic bulletin board for parents on my work intranet, and I received perhaps a dozen replies.

The first?

"This is clear evidence of child abuse. You need to call Child Protective Services."

Asshat. Clearly written by someone who doesn't have children.

Friday, June 1, 2007


I'm running short of reading material out here. Recently, though, I found a tattered 1961 copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Its celebrated preface:

Notice: Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot."

After I'd read it last night, I chuckled at remembering an episode of
Cheers. In it, Woody Harrelson comes into the bar dressed as Samuel Clements and recites those lines dead-on, puffing on an old corncob pipe.

I loved Cheers. Isn't it funny how our minds work? (More on that to follow.)

I have recently discovered that there are few greater tortures than being forced to listen to
other peoples' iPods. Really. A rule of thumb: for every song you recognize and appreciate, there will be dozens more that will make you cringe.

Of course,
some music is better than none. Right? Nah... silence is often preferred.

We have flown missions for seven consecutive days. This is in violation of
all kinds of safety rules, but much like anything else in the military, there are the ever-ubiquitous waivers. And oh, how we've been waived of late. Of course, we're doing good things, but man alive! we are tired.

A story, though, to illustrate life out here: having returned from a
ten-hour mission yesterday (or was it today?) we all raced to our tents and crashed. Just crashed. Before doing so, of course, we "understood" that we'd not have to depart again for at least another twenty-four hours (as crew-rest issues, the non-waiverable, waiverable rules of which I've just spoken were interfering.) Giddy, we were, with the thought of being able to catch up on sleep, to do laundry, to check email, to eat warm meals, to just chill. A short five hours after falling asleep, though, I was shocked awake by Joey, our crew chief, peering over my Deliverance-inspired bedsheet "privacy curtain" and saying, "Justin, we gotta go. No mission brief. Just get your shit together and get out to the plane."

There was good reason for us being
totally screwed (again), but my emotional response was made worse for the fact that I was having a dream.

A vivid dream. Lurid, even.
Oh. My. God.
It was
that good.

I almost never remember my dreams. (Regardless of the circumstance of my waking.) I almost wish I didn't remember my dream today (or was it yesterday?).

She didn't have a name in my dream... well, of course she
had a name, I just don't know what it was. (In the interval, I've since decided to name her Sophie.)

Warning! The recounting of my dream, to follow, is of perhaps graphic detail. You will likely learn more about me than you had ever intended.

Sophie was at the mirror, and I approached her from behind. Perhaps she was preparing to wash her face -- I don't know. Her auburn hair spilled over the collar of her crisp white button-down shirt and fell to the small of her back, and she smelled clean and happy and like the Sun, even from a distance.

She was barefoot, and the skin of her legs was taut, flawless. Her panties were barely visible below the hem of her shirt, and I could see from the mirror that her bra was absent; the shirt was unbuttoned, and its sleeves were rolled up to her elbows.

She was small, very feminine. Perhaps a size 2, or even a zero. In a hug, the top of her head would have rested easily beneath my chin, and her nose in the warm hollow below my throat.

I approached her from behind, and lightly placed my hands on her hips. I raised them slowly from her waist and brought them together at her abdomen. I reached between her arms to lightly cup each breast. They fit perfectly in my palms, and I could feel her nipples grow against them. I drew deep, contented breaths from my nose perched at the nape of her neck, and I felt her push against me. She was warm, and delighted.


I had just climaxed, and I rested atop her, prone, my elbows supporting me. Our legs still snaked around one another, and I could feel the top of one her feet against the bottom of one of mine. A swelling of emotion rose inside me, and I took her face in my hands, sweeping away her hair. I stared as forcefully and as deeply into her eyes as I could -- it was with purpose, I wanted her to feel me seeing her -- and I told her, "You are the most beautiful person I have ever known. I love you more than I ever thought I could love another person. More than I ever knew was possible."

Silently, she turned her head to the side, and a tear erupted from her eye and traced its path along that perfect nose, spilling onto her cheek.


And then I woke up.

Who is she? Why is she crying?