judgement (& absolution)

When they first put on the blindfold, they ask me, How do you see?

Not well.

I shake, though I’m in my own home.  I can hear them rummaging through the dresser my grandfather had made for his new bride decades ago.  Furniture falls to the floor.  Breakable things are broken in a horrific cacophony of loss. There is no music here.  Only discordance.

I can’t see at all.  The darkness stifles me, and I whip my head around to wherever I can hear noise clattering, and it clatters all around me.

They laugh.

I become dizzy, like an ever-spinning top, and stagger with my hands outstretched in a hopeless attempt to catch myself before I fall.

A foot catches my leg and helps me crash to the ground.

A hand tourniquets my arm and brings me to my feet.

Silence.

The silence is worse than the noise.  It’s flat and endlessly deep at the same time. Silence is the kind of landscape in which you become lost, in which you can forget you ever were at all.

Out of the nothing, a fingertip touches my cheek, barely pressing on the skin, it could be a fly or my imagination.  And I flinch.

Other hands emerge from the ether to grab at mine and cinch them together with a wild and biting wire.

They remove me from my home, bound like this, like a criminal. 

I trip and stumble on my stairs as a newly born blindman. We— I presume there is still a we though I only know them as the detached hands touching me and the footsteps indicating there are feet and legs and bodies attached to them, though unproven in this dark space—we descend to the front entrance at the street level. 

Inside the confines of my home the relative quiet gets bigger.  It sits on me with a long face full of judgement. 

Outside, chaos reigns. 

I am shoved onto a surface, which is alternating hard and soft, and the soft parts breathe.  An engine roars.  Exhaust peppers the air with greasy smoke. I jerk against the other men who presumably share the bed of the pick-up truck with me, and thus share my fate, as the truck stutters into motion. 

I’m not even sure the men closed my front door.

There is shouting.  There is screaming.  There is angry, terminal dissent, and righteous indignation.

When we stop, it is like we are propelled into another time and space.  This is not my country.  These are not my people.

We are extracted and lined up and stripped of our blindness.

The square is full of people with angry faces.  Mob, this is what a mob looks like.  They are boiling with rage and hungry for violence.  That is the only way to pacify them, to bring about some kind of resolution. Give them violence.

Men in military fatigues, men carrying guns grab me by the shoulders and force me to my knees.  Pain explodes in me as I make contact with the stone.  They proclaim I am impure. They boast how they will save others by getting rid of me, as if a human being was a piece of trash to be crumpled and thrown into a landfill.

The children in the crowd launch stones at me.  They bludgeon my head, and peel with laughter at each precise strike.  Women scurry up to spit on me. 

You are judged, I am told. By God and by his good and righteous People.

I am aching rot.  I am prostrate.  I am humbled.  I am shaking so badly I only see the world around me in strobed blurred images.  And then she appears.  She walks away from me, away from this tableau of endings, and she is the clearest thing in my world. Even though she walks away, she quells my shaking. 

Just before they blind me again to take me away to wherever the impure infidels are kept (if we are kept), she turns and gazes at me.  Her almond-shaped eyes, the color of obsidian, hold kindness.  They hold grace and strength and hundred other things that can’t be named, but felt.  She rotates her arm so her palm faces me, and she uncurls her fingers in one graceful movement.  The beautiful arches, swirls and patterns of words lay hidden there in her palm.  I alone see them.  I alone read them.   

the incongruous spoon

It’s not just a spoon

People are interesting creatures.  We encode meaning and memory into objects, and frequently project our psyches into tangible things. There are some objects, which elicit the most pure and concentrated memories, laced — like an oatmeal cookie — with nostalgia.  A. and I came upon one such object on a Spring afternoon when we were running errands on foot.

The heat of the day was swelling, but it was still mild enough.  We cut through a shopping center driveway, next to Taco Bell, to get to the crosswalk.  We discussed art, the goings on of the world, and what was next on our list.  In the midst of all our chatter, a shiny object caught my gaze.

There, in the grass median between vast swathes of blacktop, rested a spoon.  It wasn’t just any spoon.  It was one of the ones you buy in airports or curio shops, the kind never meant to touch food.  The edges of it folded into a delicate scalloped edge.  A braid of metal made the handle, and atop the braid stood a keyhole, from which a trolley dangled.  San Francisco scrawled across the top, and also in its concave surface.

Meme.

That was the first thought I had upon seeing this bobble.  You see, my grandmother, being the practical woman she was, collected spoons from the places she visited.  Other people also collected them for her, as folks are wont to do when someone curates a blessed collection of curios and whatnots. What to get Mabel?  Of course, a spoon!

She displayed the spoons in a specially crafted shelf.  They would dangle from their hand-carved notches and behind them rested porcelain creamers from a less manufactured era.  They weren’t her prized possession, but they warmed her heart nonetheless.

I hadn’t thought about Meme’s spoons in years, and now I was on the verge of recalling when I had picked out one for her.  I shared all this with A. as I turned the spoon over in my hands.

“This one’s had a hard life,” I told him as I puzzled over the blemishes in the metal.  “That’s so strange.  I wonder…?”

an aberration

My mind was on the verge of teasing out exactly what had happened to this little kickshaw when A. found the next item in our macabre set.  Perhaps those of you who are more savvy have already conjured all of the possible uses of a spoon, including the sinister ones.  Alas, it took locating the hypodermic needle to fully elucidate its recent history.

This was a heroin spoon.  As in some had used it to cook drugs and shoot up.  Maybe even right there in the parking lot, or as they were driving into the shopping center, chucking it out the window when they were done.

Needy.  Addicted.  Selfish.  Dirty.  Sick.  Disposable.

Was that black tar on my hands? How much residue was left on the surface of the spoon I had just been fondling with all the genial fuzziness of my childhood and shiny goodness of sweet family memories?

“I think you should put that down,” A. calmly instructed me, as if instead of dropping a spoon he was saving me from a rattlesnake.

“Jesus Christ.  Seriously?”  A decorative, commemorative spoon?  Who in the hell does heroin with a trinket like that?  I held my hands away from my body until we could get to the nearest bathroom.  I felt robbed. The world had intersected with the memories of my grandmother in a way I could not have anticipated.  I had a very specific emotional and intellectual meaning wrapped up in “spoon”.  And here was this cruddy little shlock. Scorched from a lighter and pot-marked from a caustic heavy-duty drug.

It was aberrant.  Not only did it not fit, it was incongruent with my reality, and because we intersected, it became part of my experience.  Now “spoon” not only means Meme, summer visits, travel, and gifts, it also means addiction, desperation, disease, and decay.

The Cookie Cutter Life

Confession: This is going to be a bit of a rant. 

I have been reprimanded. Quite soundly. I prefer not to go into detail in this all-comers medium, however I am really bothered by the whole incident. It has occupied more of my conscious life than I have the patience for, and has left me pondering this problem: does human life fit with a systems-based approach?  Turning the crystal another way, does the human tendency to construct rigid order (like micromanaging people, implementing draconian laws, etc.) stifle our creativity, our ingenuity, and some of the other more nebulous and subjective elements which help us feel happy and satisfied in life?

In design theory, constraints often serve to help designers. To take a over-simplified example, think of the last time you tried to coordinate a dinner, or plan an outing.  Big vague questions tend to yield big diffuse answers.

Consider this:
“What do you want to do this weekend?”
“Oh, I don’t know.  Maybe go out.”
Versus this:
“I’d really like to get outside this weekend.  What do you think?”
“We haven’t been to the beach in a while. Or we could go hiking.”

Here “get outside” acts as the constraint.  The response is still a little wishy washy, but it’s far more concrete than the other scenario.

In another example, the order and constraints imposed by roads is constructive in a lot of obvious ways.  Roads help prevent accidents (although poor design can foil this benefit).  They expedite travel, foster good will among people who would otherwise run each other over, protect the land outside of the roads from being trambled and eroded by the heavy-footed falls of thousands of human beings.  But… roads also tell us where we can go, and where we can’t.  The building of them can damage just as much as they protect, and irrevocably alter a landscape, a community, a planet.

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Edinburgh ©JL Colomb

In contrast, the fractal patterns of nature, the order derived from natural processes rather than human imposed structure, soothes and inspires us. To be outside of earshot of cars, alarms, sirens, to be out of artificial lighting and false days restores us.  It refreshes us, and makes us more sensitive to ourselves and the world around us.  At least, that’s what it does for me.

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Order and Chaos ©JL Colomb

But these are lofty considerations of order and chaos.  The real meat of my angst is the imposition of micromanagement in the name of attaining order to adjudicate a perceived problem, and the impacts that tack has on morale, productivity, and creativity.

Creativity and innovation are often touted as among the most important qualities of an individual or business environment; however, organizations often stifle, thwart and otherwise crush them through absurd policies, rigid thinking and other constraints. Business management and organizational change consultants, like Torben Rick, cite “internal process focus” and micromanagement among other obstacles to creativity.

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Stacks ©JL Colomb

Not only is it a barrier, but articles on micromanagement detail its deleterious effects, such as demotivation, loss of trust, decreased confidence, and related emotional and economic stressors.

You know what?  They’re right.  It’s been quite some time since I’ve felt this demoralized and humiliated by another’s control over me.  I realize rules and structure have a purpose, however for people who care, who work hard and pour some of themselves into everything they do, dogmatic environments are insulting.

I like routine, I like structure, but not when it’s dictated to me without a cogent, rationale dialogue and mutual agreement.

And the impact on creativity?  We’ll have to see in the longterm. In general I think it’s responsive to constraints, however not to an engineered, and overly fabricated and regulated mode of existence.  I’m a wait-and-see kind of person.  Often problems resolve themselves, but if they don’t I am the architect of my own life, and change is always an answer.

[blink] you missed it (a life in vignettes)

[one second i’m connected feet on the ground and racing across the road there’s a little taco shop on the other side a florist and a drug store.]

She sweeps my hair back from my face, and presses her lips to my forehead. “Be a good boy,” she tells me.  Her breath stings my eyes.  “And don’t you go outside.”  She shakes me as she says it.  “Don’t tell anyone, either.”

But I thought we were going to play tonight—I want to say the words, but they’re too big and my throat is too small.  She promised.  She promises a lot of things when sunrise lights the windows and trails dusty fingers into the room.  When all she wants to do is sleep away the night before.

“You hear me?” Her voice is hawkish and I shrug.

A knock rattles the door.  She goes.

[i don’t hear it I don’t see it it just happens one second i’m connected and the next i’m suspended looking up and wondering when the sky will turn blue]

The florescent lights flicker overhead, and rows of desks look like an industrial landscape of fake lacquered wood.  An assembly line whose product is molded brains and good citizens.  I bounce my pencil against the desk, spin it and bounce it off the lead.  Tiny dots soon cover the desk.  A constellation of graphite and boredom.

The door opens, and in steps the TA.  Her red eyes shine.  “I’m so sorry.” She sounds like rain on glass.  “There was an accident, and— Anyways, welcome to poetry.  Let’s start with Dylan Thomas.”

I didn’t want to be here before.  And now, I don’t want to be anywhere else.

[i’m leaping through a million years of evolution my body hurtles through space and i swear i know i’m flying and for a moment it’s magic]

Trash trucks roar down the alley, spearing garbage cans with metal arms.  You sink under the covers with me, block out the light with the long thin veil of your hair.  Your cheeks plump with gravity as you smile down at me, trace your finger across my chest.  Birds whistle their announcements outside.  Floorboards creak above.  I try to drown it out because I want to be here.  With you.  Your lips follow the path your fingertip took.  A phone rings, and an unheard conversation plays in my head.

“Tell me what you like,” you say, pulling me back to you.

“You already know what I like.”  When I smile it comes out as sadness, because the other thing distracting me is the calculus of when you’re going to leave me.

[until i come down to earth hit slam into it]

The grass wets my feet.  She said to not go outside.  To never go outside by myself.  When she’s gone.  But she’s always gone, and I’m always looking through the living room window at this world on the outside and never touching it.  So I strip down to my underwear, ease the door open, then shut, and tiptoe into the shadows.  Crickets fill the night air with chirps.  Something hoots from the treetops.  Plates clank in sinks.  I slink across lawns, hide behind rough sturdy trunks.  There’s a swimming hole nearby.  All the kids at school talk about the old tire hanging from a tree limb, about how they harness momentum and launch into the air to fly even for a second, with the water to catch them when they fall.

it hangs, listless.  The new moon sliver glints against the still surface of the water.  I wait for it to breathe, but everything stays the same.  For the first time since stepping out the door, a shiver shakes me.  The water is black and still.

I rub my hands over my arms, feel the rough peaks of gooseflesh there.  The world presses on me.  Somewhere overhead, and beneath my feet bugs are doing what bugs do.  People hide behind walls.  Things linger in shadows.

Scaredy ghost.  That’s what they call me in school because I’m so pale.

The rubber of the tire is cold and stiff beneath my hands.

[meredith]

You sit up.  Morning light paints your skin.  “You’re nothing like her.”  I’ve said it a hundred times.  Your lips press into a certain smile when I say it.  As if you already know I’m trying to convince myself.  Hoping this time I finally do.

[breathing is torture when your lungs are full of bone shards]

I shove the tire.  The rope creaks against the tree limb as it swings away from me, and sails back. I wanted to push it again, instead my feet shuffled and I latch on.

[…]

I soared high above the black pond, into the night sky where the stars outshone the moon and the dark wings of an owl cut out the light.  And then I hovered, suspended above the world.


a note regarding this story

about a month ago, I was running errands with my boyfriend.  A perfectly banal task for a perfectly banal day.  Coming to a stoplight, I glanced to the left to check for oncoming traffic. Lights from cop cars flashed, but weren’t moving. In the lane near the median, a BMW was parked, its driver outside next to a cop.  There was a person beneath the car.

We surmised the following: someone had been jaywalking, was struck by and trapped beneath the car.

Sirens sounded in the distance.  I figured the best thing I could do for the situation was stay out of the way and move on to leave room for the paramedics, and the professionals already on the scene.  This next point is contentious in our home.  My boyfriend thinks the victim perished, saw the cop pull a blanket over his head.  I’m still unwilling to accept it, but the possible death, witnessed by us, stays with me.

I know nothing about the victim, except that he had a life. Comprised of vignettes and relationships.  He was a person with a past full of moments.  Some people leave a legacy, but everyone takes with them their unique compilation of experiences, the impact of those pieces of life, and the perceptions surrounding them.

hangry in Antigua

As my boyfriend and I walked down the cobblestone streets and alleys of the ancient capitol of Guatemala, a dusty, colorful and quaint remnant of Spanish colonialism, I grew quiet.  Everything around me faded as if the world beyond a five-foot diameter was an undefined white miasma.

Then I blurted out: “Just to let you know, I’m going to need to eat in the next five minutes.”

The ‘oh-shit’ look transformed his features as we embarked on a not so pleasant adventure to find the closest eatery that had: 1) food; 2) vegetarian options that wouldn’t cause vomiting or severe intestinal cramping; and 3) had a chance of being delicious and heathly.

Here’s the confession:  I am one of those people. You know the kind. The ones who go from 0 to scary in five minutes if they don’t receive immediate nourishment.

It’s embarassing, and causes its share of problems. As my boyfriend has pointed out, food is the source of 95% of our arguments.  Considering we don’t fight often, that’s  significant.

So what is it that drives me to become the explosive ice queen whenever I get hungry?  Or ‘hangry’ as some people call it.

As it turns out, there’s a science-backed answer in the giant morass of the great intergalactic library called the Internet.

That’s right … Science is on my side.  (And my physiology is to blame.)

Hungry is an emotion

Some things are happening in your body when you get hungry.  The concentration of glucose in your blood is depleting. Once it achieves a certain level (from 3.8 to 2.8 mmol/L), your brain, which survives on glucose, initiates a desparate cry for help.  A progressive SOS goes out to the pituitary gland, pancreas, and adrenal glands who in turn respond by releasing growth hormone, glucagon, and adrenaline and cortisol, respectively.  The body releases these hormones in stages.  Early stages are supposed to trigger glucogenesis, a process whereby the body converts amino acids into glucose so that your greedy, gluttonous brain doesn’t have to stop bingeing.  Adrenaline and cortisol come into play when the glucose levels further drop.

Being low on glucose is a bit like being drunk.  Muddled thoughts, slurred speech, and difficulty concentrating are some typical symptoms.  Being really low on glucose is dangerous, and can lead to seizures, coma and death.  Seriously.

The link between adrenal, cortisol and anger seems obvious, however it’s not the only thing driving this irrational behavioral response.  You know how genes provide the basis for our programming.  Well, the one controlling hunger also controls anger. Neuropeptide Y (benign name for such an implement of destruction) is found to be significantly elevated in the cerebral spinal fluid of some lucky individuals, together with a higher incidence of the Y1 receptor. [ASIDE: Neuropeptide Y, like many things in the body, has  different functions, and can induce various responses to diverse stimuli.  For example, it plays a role in obesity, aids in dealing with PTSD, enhances performance under stress, and may provide protection against alcoholism.]

Is anger ever a good thing? 

Evolutionarily speaking (because who doesn’t like gazing back on those knuckle dragging days with misty-eyed nostalgia) increased aggression while hungry probably served a very important biological function… like making sure you beat out the competition and didn’t die of starvation.

As it turns out, my irritating habit of losing my rationale mind when I get hungry may have been beneficial in some kind of yesteryear.  I imagine my ancient self racing across a muddy savannah, flecks of earth sailing through the air like miniature bombs against the smoke-filled sky.  Spear in hand.  Prey trying to escape me, but turning its sharp tusks at me once I finally corner it.

*sigh*

It’s no excuse, nor is it fair to my amazing friends and family to become she-hulk when my blood sugar drops.  How do I combat evolutionary biology?  I haven’t quite figured that out yet.  Some basic tricks are always having a healthy snack on hand, no matter where on the planet I am.  Maintaining blood sugar levels requires a bit of vigilence, as well as a deeper knowledge of our own internal bio-rhythms.

Perhaps the main thing is to remember a moment of hanger is temporary, and to stay grateful for my boyfriend, who is so patience with me, and keeps an internal map of all the closest eateries.

30 degrees from normal

I’ve been waitin’ for a day and an age for you to say sumpin’ to me, but all there is is static and a growing pile of dead batteries.  The ones to the bottom have burst open, spilled their corrosive guts all over the damned place, and now even the air tastes like metal.

I should probably stop.  Give up, you know, and just stop this damn game.  ‘Cept I’m not sure where that would leave me.  Who the hell am I an’ what the hell am I doing here without you ta talk to?  Even if you just a ghost, and you ain’t never comin’ back.But that’s too personal, i’n’t it? I’m only s’posed to give the news.  Talk data.  Things what could be useful for whoever’s on the outside and lookin’ in on this.  The sense makers.  If they even there.

Well, here it is, then.  The report.  I take the measurements like I’m s’pose ta. Every hour of every damned day.  Down to my last pencil, if ya care to know.  I’ve been saving the coals from the fire, when I’m feelin’ brave enuf and cold enuf and lonely enuf ta do it.  Make that big bold signal that near anyone with eyes ta see it can.  You can smell it, too.  Wood char and dung roasting in the air like some kind of delicacy when it first gets goin’.  But then it hangs.  It lingers and sinks inta things and stays and stays.  But the coals, those will be my writing implements when the other supplies are gone.  And when the papers done too, I figured I just pick up a sharp rock and scratch my recordings into whatever will bear the mark.

Don’t even feel strange to have that kind of thought now.  I’m not sure when I crossed over that point.  I am sure I don’t care to know it.  I’m here now.  There ain’t no other place I can be but here.  Now that may change in time, but there ain’t no goin’ back, that’s for sure.

I guess that may still be to damned personal for you.  Whoever you are, what’s actually pickin’ up this signal.  You want the report?  Well here it is.  The measurements haven’t changed for going on 36 months now.  This is still a dead zone. And I think there ain’t no amount of tinkering what can fix it.  Put that in your cap.

***

I was out to the south station just 20 minutes ago, recalibratin’ the instruments.  Barometer. Anemometer. Vanes and gauges.  It was really hard to concentrate on those bodies of plastic and steel, though.  And I didn’t care much about getting anythin’ right.

See, the one mile an hour wind that’s been plaguin’ us for the past three years just died.  It’s still as a dead horse around here.  If ever I did complain ’bout the nothingness of this place, I reckon I ought naught have.  I had no right, because this, right now—I can feel it in places I didn’t know I still had to lose.

You know how from south station, you can see the north station vane.  Instead of it’s gentle whirrin’, it stood useless.  Across that landscape where rock, wind, water and time have converged for millennia, there was no wind, and I remember you a hell of a lot better than I remember water.

I’m sitting hear now, wasting away my lead drawing trees and birds and clouds cuz even if they’re fakes, I need to see something else besides the gold hued rocks against the relentless sky.

I even opened up the bottle of scotch I been savin’ for your return.

Remember when the wind would turn, an age ago?  South winds carryin’ rain in it’s mouth an’ all.  There ain’t no wind no more.  Nothing to carry in omens. There’s no truth sayers on the horizon in any direction, and that means there ain’t nothing comin’.  There ain’t nothing more to be said.  Which means listening is just as obsolete.  The data logs.  They pointless.  All of it.

I think about packin’ up what’s left and headin’ off in the same direction you did, but then I fear comin’ upon ya.  Or what’s left of ya, and I ain’t ready to give that up, too.  Not now.  Not yet.  And the other direction’s been a dead zone for longer’n I’ve been alive.  There ain’t just two ways ta go.  I know it.  But it’s hard sitting’ here and lookin’ out in 360 degrees of nothin and tryin’ to imagine something.  Anythin’.
Bottoms up, darlin’.  Wherever the hell you are.

***

No wind. Got three quarter’s a bottle left and half a pencil.  I think I’ll harvest the skeletons of the cacti, make somethin’ of them.

***

No wind.  No scotch.

***

No wind.

***

No wind.

***

I’m hearing voices. Nondescript little voices whispering through the slats of this old shack.  They’re whisperin’ ’bout the ocean.  I can’t recall a genuine ocean.  I just have this idea of what it should be.  More endless, like the sky is here, ‘cept more inhospitable.  Mile wide and miles deep of salty water that’s both life bearing and life taking in the same damned moment.  It ain’t nothing you can drink.  The salt near kill ya and it’s just as much of a wasteland as this place is here.  It sounds purty, though.  Idyllic an’ something what soothes a tattered soul.  If it don’t bring sustenance, it brings the promise of other places better’n than one you in.

The voices even smell like salt.  When we first married we had fish n’ chips at the reception.  Everyone thought we damned crazy for doin’ such a thing in such a place, but that was how we met; on the sea at a shack what served the most succulent and crunchy fish ‘n chips.  They only know we went away.  They didn’t know we experienced, that we changed.  We saw somethin’ of the world that was.  Glimmers of what it could be.

We came back to this place, though.  Came back and stayed when everyone else left.  Maybe them voices are askin’ me why we stayed, and why, when it came time, I stayed and you left.

It’s dark out. I never broadcast at this time, but the scotch is gone and the voices are callin’ me, and when I first heard them, I thought this damned thing might actually be working.  I ran over here, tripped on the dining bench and landed head-first on the corner of the table.  Got a good gash in my head, if ya care ta know.  Bled, too.  You know what I thought when I saw that bright splash of red? I am still beautiful.  I’m still capable of beauty.  And pain.

I ain’t dead yet.  Maybe I ought ta be, but I ain’t.  And that has ta count for something.

***

I am hunkered.  The steady recording’s I been making are gone ta shit.  I feel a loss now there ain’t no routine.  I’m sittin’ here surrounded by my stacks of notebooks, and what do they mean?  These are the markers of my life for the past three years.  Dutiful recordings of outside, but there’s an inside, too.  And all that is drifting away from me during these transmissions. There’s no tangible evidence that this person’s innards ever was.  Only measurements of barometric pressure, wind direction and speed, temperature and humidity.  Five senses of the earth.  Maybe. But five senses of a human being, my emotional landscape that’s completely different than what’s skulking around out there.  The pathetic crush of time turning behemoths into sand particles.  Well that ain’t me.

‘Cept maybe it is.  I used ta be gardens. I used to be the fat blooms on yucca.  Coneflower and elderberry.  Your prairie rose.

Them voices won’t stop.  They go so fierce, they even move the air.  Act like breath in my hair.  This place has been my own sensory depravation tank until now.  Incessant whispers pinpoint all my nerve endin’s and blow fire into them.

Ya know how I know you never comin’ back?  My mind made up voices.  My mind basks in the glow of my spilled blood and calls that beautiful.  And my landscape is full of sand.  That’s how I know.

***

I went outside today, and damn near got blown sideways.  Not cuz I was drunk or hungered.  Not cuz it was so bright outside, the sun tried to sear my eyes useless.  It was because of the wind.

That’s right, ya heard me.  Wind.  Blowin’ at 30 miles an hour and suspendin’ the desert in the air.

I stripped done ta nothin’ and stood with my arms spread, embracing the feeling of the earth breathing all over me, dustin’ me with the smell of salt, fried onions, and swamp water.

This means somethin’, doesn’t it?  Something’s comin’.

***

Wheels screech to a halt outside.

Wheels?

I get up ta see, but the door opens and you’re—he’s standin’ there, lookin’ around the inside of my shack, fixin’ he gaze on them batteries, the blood I ain’t bothered to clean up, and maybe the worn nobs on the transmitter.

“What in the hell, woman?  What you been doin’?”

I should know his voice.  I should know the feel of his hands, what side of the bed he sleeps on, but fact is he’s like a stranger, a myth materializin’ in my doorway. “Transmittin’,” I tell ‘im. “Just like you told me to, every day mornin’ and night from the time you left until this moment.”

He wraps his arms around me.  They’re fleshier and more muscled than when he left.  His skin is nice and pale, and some of his lines ain’t quite so obvious no more.  “Damn fool,” he says. “There ain’t been no working receiver for years.”

I know as much.  I know my reasons for doin’ what I did, but I can’t tell ‘im that.  “There’s someone been listenin’ to my prattle. It made a difference somewhere.”

He kisses my temple, and I can feel him grimace from the grit on my skin.  “Come on.  Transport’s waiting.  We’ll get you clean and fed.  And you and I can get on with things.”

My drawings are tacked up on the wall with old barbed wire.  My bed’s neatly made, and stacks of chronologically ordered notebooks form half walls around the little room.

He’s frownin’ at me, wonderin’ what’s taking so long, no doubt.  “Come on,” he says.  And what can I say to him.  That I ain’t goin’ cuz he’s not you?

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I had big plans for the weekend, and so much enthusiasm for the day that I practically leapt out of bed and started tending to the items on my list. By midmorning, I was facedown on the living room floor, unable to move, let alone proofread my manuscript or drive to the property management office for our appointed meeting.

Each time I tried to do anything, all the muscles in my back would tighten in a vise-grip around my spine and render me immobile. Simple tasks became arduous endeavors, something akin to scaling the slopes of Denali.

This episode of debilitating back pain reminded me of a man I had scene in the waiting room of a medical office almost ten years ago. He was a giant of a man, maybe 6’7″ tall, weighing 300 lbs. Under normal circumstances, he seemed to be the type who would have been jovial, laughing from his belly and enticing everyone to join him. When I encountered him that day, he was rigid with pain. Every movement left him gasping, and near crying.  He looked at me, eyes glazed yet sharp at the same time.  “I just want it to stop,” he said.

That man has been in my thoughts since Saturday.  I feel like I understand him and that moment in his life so much better now that I have the slightest taste of what he was going through.

It brings me to this question: can we be truly empathic to what someone else is going through without having analogous experiences?


/ˈɛmpəθɪ/ (noun)
1. the power of understanding and imaginatively entering into another person’s feelings
2. the attribution to an object, such as a work of art, of one’s own emotional or intellectual
feelings about it
Derived Forms: empathist, noun
Word Origin: from Greek empatheia affection, passion, intended as a rendering of German
Einfühlung, literally: a feeling in; see en- ², -pathy
     -from dictionary.com

VS.

/ˈsɪmpəθɪ/  (noun) (pl-thies
1. the sharing of another’s emotions, esp of sorrow or anguish; pity;compassion
2. an affinity or harmony, usually of feelings or interests, between persons or things: to be in
sympathy with someone
3. mutual affection or understanding arising from such a relationship; congeniality
Word Origin:  1570s, “affinity between certain things,” from Middle French sympathiefrom Late Latin
sympathia “community of feeling, sympathy,” from Greek sympatheiafrom sympathes
“having a fellow feeling, affected by like-feelings,” from syn- “together” (see syn- )
pathos “feeling” (see pathos).
      In English, almost a magical notion at first; e.g. in reference to medicines that heal wounds
when applied to a cloth stained with blood from the wound.
Meaning “conformity of feelings” is from 1590s; sense of
“fellow feeling” is first attested 1660s. An Old English loan-translation
 of sympathy was efensargung.
     -from dictionary.com


I realize the concept of empathy is a rather modern one, not yet celebrating its sesquicentennial.  For me, it is distinct from sympathy in that the observer tries to step inside the skin of the observed, and understand that person’s / entity’s experience from the inside out. In this life where our cities work to anonymize us, and some of our relationships are disconnected and superficial, being empathic maybe makes us a little more human, and a little less animal or viral meme.

Right now, as I try to imagine sitting up straight without doubling over, I have a much different perspective on that man in the waiting room and other people who are suffering from chronic pain.

For a wee more on empathy:
–  Stanford Encyclopedia on Philosophy
–  The Introduction of the Word “Empathy’ into English

(sent from the healing waters of my bathtub.  thank you wordpress app)

A word on ɛmpəθɪ