A River Runs Through It

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I always declare on forms that I’m American Indian or Alaskan Native

Now I realize, better than others, that I’m only half Mohawk. Only.

I don’t know if I do this to increase my chances of getting hired or to warn

I know I don’t look like your stereotypical idea of what an “Indian” should look like

This white guy you see, who can hold a tan through winter, is accessible with his wavy hair

The collector of the forms gets the best of both worlds…white-looking and diversity

A straight of the Rez, long-haired, stoic, traditional Native told me I was an apple

I am a product of the government’s relocation policy. Get them off the Rez.

That’ll assimilate them

So I don’t speak Mohawk, just as my mother doesn’t, but my grandparents did

No ceremony to get a traditional name, like most of my cousins have

I’ve never been to a sweat-lodge

So his remark was meant to hurt me. There are layers. On the surface it stung

It stung because I thought we were friends. So why would he intentionally hurt me?

I knew I didn’t choose where I was borne…off the reservation. Not my fault

However, I was in my mid-twenties, so I could’ve regained what was never given to me. I could’ve returned home again

But remember…the camera might add weight, but the mirror doesn’t lie

Try to fit in

Next layer…I’m ecstatic that he thinks I even look Native, as being an apple implies

I always wished I looked more Native

He tells me a couple weeks later that the guy behind the counter at the campus gym was racist towards him

He called him, “Chief.”  He looked at him with disgust. Told him there are townie gyms he would be better off at and told him TO MAKE SURE he wiped his sweat off the machines

Did this make me feel better that I pass as Caucasian? That I somehow dodged a bullet?  No.

I was a rage filled apple. I wanted to cave this ignorant lunk’s head in with a dumbbell

I was his brother, even if he didn’t think so

You see, generational pain exists in your DNA, right down to your marrow

These sublimated rivers of tears, that hollow out the ground beneath us, thrum beneath our feet

Like elephants and house pets, we feel the earthquake coming days in advance

The caverns created beneath us are filled with the stalactites and stalagmites made of our ancestor’s calcium. They’re bones.

Every step is precarious if the ground is hollow beneath you. For native Americans all ground is hollowed and hallowed

I look at my son and wonder if I should raise him to check that box, or not

Only a quarter. Try to fit in. Only.

Step carefully my son.

 

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Stepping Stones

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These stepping stones that I jump to

Throughout the span of my life

Form an outline of a part of me

Balancing on one foot I look back

This set of stones is the story

Of me and women:

 

 

Her name was Patty

We met at the instruments closet

She told me I was her boyfriend

I obeyed and met her behind the curtain

Timing my days in kindergarten 

By these rendezvous 

 

 

I ran home from the neighbors’

My friend’s sister who was much older

French kissed me when I was like eight

I couldn’t wait to tell my mother 

 

 

At school a girl I did’t know

Who acted as though she knew me

Asked if I was drinking my chocolate milk 

I was going to, but I gladly handed it over

 

 

My first “girlfriend” 

I spent hours talking to her on the phone

I felt a connection

Then I told her about the changes

Of how my body was maturing

She broke it off

 

 

I went to a party

They played Spin the bottle 

A girl I liked spun the bottle to me

We went in the closet

The idea she might’ve actually wanted

To kiss me was so nonexistent 

That I thought I did her a favor

By making kissy noises through the door

So she wouldn’t have to

 

 

I sat out in the cold for hours

Scoring two tickets to Beastie Boys

I asked my crush if she’d like to go

I told her I’d score some weed

She agreed to go

After the concert she made up an excuse

Of why she needed to go

Taking the joint with her

Like a chocolate milk 

 

 

My first was with a girl who transferred 

Into our school to get away her reputation 

I later heard that she had taken on

The entire football team

I loved her enough to be so broken by her

When she dumped me for a guy with a car

That I blocked her name from memory

 

 

I made out with a girl

Who was really good at it

Her dad had taught her

After her mom had passed

I still wonder about how she finally

Made her escape

 

 

I had a one night stand with a girl

Who resembled the girl from the concert

That was all the reason I had needed

 

 

I was in a relationship with a woman

Who was old enough to be my mother

I was just happy to feel wanted

 

 

I married a woman who is strong

Who I’d gladly give my chocolate milk to

Who I’d meet behind the curtain with

Each and every day

Who loves reality tv, 

Is an extrovert, that drags me out…

Out of my head

Who doesn’t like public affection 

Who rarely likes private affection 

Who is very critical of me

But beneath all the hard exterior 

She loves me

She needs me

And I am happy

There are no stones to jump to from here

Hope for the Best

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She went to the store with a hope-filled heart. Each step her optimism grew. She smiled and nodded to people she didn’t know on her way to aisle 12. There she spent the better part of fifteen minutes looking for just the right card. A card for the birthday of a beautiful young lady, the vision of which her minds eye kept from years ago. Only positivity. With the perfect card found, she made her way to the bouquets of flowers. She wanted to remind her of the beauty in the world. The natural, pure, unadulterated world. She sat in her car, after checking out, and penned a note in the card through tear-filled eyes. Still smiling all the same. She drove the few short blocks to her house, knowing nobody would be awake at that early hour and simply propped the card and flowers against the front door. She hopped into the car and drove home. Walking in I could tell that she had been crying, but before I could ask why…she hugged me, stronger and longer than she had in a while. Smiling, she asked how the baby was, and I smiled back and said, “Fine.”  She picked her up and held her tightly in her arms. Her eyes welled but her beautiful smile never wavered. 

“It’s gonna be okay, baby girl,” she whispered. 

[My wife and I have custody of her niece’s 6-month-old daughter, while her niece deals with her demons. On the surface we wish her niece and the father of this beautiful little girl will get their shit together, as this perfect bundle-of-joy deserves to have her family. But, on a much deeper level, we are falling in love with her. I know how much my wife has wanted a little girl, us having two boys, and see the glee with which she dresses her up in cute little girlie outfits. So, I’m afraid, that my fear of losing this little girl, of seeing the loss on my wife’s face, that I’m becoming a wretched person with each passing day…hoping the demons never lose their grip.]

“V”

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I don’t know where to start. She was the first girl to really make out with me and she was really good at it. Us, just a couple freshmen in the inner city. She took me from zero to 90 in four-point-three-seconds. Just when we were rounding the final turn she pumped the brakes. I was breathless. Confused. So unbelievably grateful that she chose me, but devastated that she’d brought me to heaven’s door, and said she just wanted to be held. I figured she was making sure I was the right guy, so I held her until she said she had to go home. I walked her home, holding hands, and I finally felt like I had worth. She had seen something in me, something even I couldn’t see. The next time we hung out my childhood friend was over and she was different. She looked at me like a flavor of ice cream she had enough of…too much butter pecan and in desperate need of a palate cleanse. And just like that…she moved on. Lying in bed I could hear the familiar wet smacking sounds of her, working her magic. This was the beginning of my Pink Floyd, The Wall, stage…everyday, all day on auto-reverse. To this day, The Wall can transport me back to the frailty of my teenage years and I feel an unnameable loss, a hole, that remains. I quickly learned that she pumped the brakes with my friend, as well. Somehow that made me feel better. It became a theme, though. Her showing up at gatherings of me my friends. Choosing her next victim. It got so, those of us she used, would put up two fingers, almost a peace sign, but with the back of the hand. It was a sign of camaraderie, like soldiers who’d fought in the same war and came out the other side, but far from unscathed. It was, also, the first letter of her name…V. Somehow Mikey, the best looking of our group, got to walk her home more than once. He had that all American look, with feathered hair and a shit-eating-grin. He had somehow found the magic key, but as long as they were together he never made it across the finish line. I moved away, while they were still an item. Years later, after they had long gone their separate ways, he told me during a phone conversation, that she had been such a great make-out-artist, because she had been taught, for years…by her father. Her older sister had got engaged and was making her escape, but V had worried that their father might turn to her younger sister to fill the void, and none of them wanted that. Like THAT was where they wanted to draw the line. The girls’ aunt cornered Mikey, at one point, and made him swear to never say a word. He carries…we all carry, that shit with us. The thought of this monster and his three daughters. I tried finding them. Facebook. Classmates. It’s like they simply disappeared. I no longer feel bad about how our time went, but can only hope that she felt safe and maybe normal, if such a thing exists, for that little while, when I was just holding her.

Winter break

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Burning cheeks

And Smokey breath

Little clumps

Stuck to mittens

Bread bags between

Socks and shoes

The air burning

Our noses

Tunnels dug

Into snow banks

Toboggan rides

Down park hills

Neighborhood friends

Charging the hillside

To take my crown

Hand-me-down

Snowsuits

Grandma reminding me

To put on a toque

Walking along

We would pretend

Our heads are

The Millennium Falcon

The fat snowflakes

An asteroid belt

Exhausted

We lay on our backs

Making snow angels

Watching the flakes

Fall from perpetually

White skies

Entire lifetimes lived

During a school break

Take

Me

Back

All in

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Going to the casino for the first time?

Make your way to the buffet and indulge

Fill your belly with comfort food and carbs

And in that warm, contented afterglow

Give your money to the next stranger you see

This is the surest wager you’ll ever make

I guarantee it

You’ll feel good having made someone happy

And you’ll have saved yourself great torment

The worst thing that could’ve happened to you

Believe it or not

Would’ve been for you to win

The surge of adrenaline

The release of endorphins

You will be chasing that feeling

For the rest of your life

Let me be your cautionary tale

Here is the twist

My first casino

Was a writing contest in 4th grade

My essay on why a kid shouldn’t be president

Beat out the whole school

5th and 6th graders included

To this day I remember how to spell

The word ‘assassin’ because of it

I was paid in pens, pencils and erasers

I was led into a room, as best I can remember

That had a mountain of textbooks

I was king of the hill

A landslide of knowledge shifting beneath me

I slid my hands along the cool, hard surfaces

Looking for something

Something special

To commemorate my victory

I climbed down that mountain

An astronomy text tucked under my arm

My head in the clouds

The loudspeaker announcement

My name echoing down the locker-lined hall

I have been chasing that dragon ever since

Looking for the next mountain to climb

With my eyes towards the stars

The Abyss

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“…And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.” Nietzsche

The names have been changed to protect the innocent.

In the matter of a week and a half two friends, former coworkers, had taken their lives; a ripple of sadness passed through what used to be a close-knit family, one that has been cast to the four winds, nomads, since they closed the plant a couple years ago; Facebook is all a flutter, as everyone is trying to make sense of this tragedy and offering to be a sympathetic ear for those in need; and I’m just crying; when “Bob” committed suicide about two weeks ago there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to it; as he had recently gotten a better job and appeared to be happy; well…he always appeared to be happy; he was the guy that you never felt the urge to avoid, that you always had a nice conversation with, as he was soft-spoken and was rarely ever without his smile; though rumor has it he has fought periodic depression for quite some time; he has been in an on-again-off-again relationship with another friend/former coworker that he has a daughter with, but whatever the reason(s) he had he found it necessary to hang himself with copper wire in his garage; and I found myself wanting, no needing to know what was going through his mind as he stood at the abyss’ edge; I don’t know if this need stems from morbid curiosity, the writer and student of human behavior that resides within or because I have been near the abyss’ edge before and needed to know just how far down this rabbit-hole goes–how much worse can it get before one takes action; whatever the reason the idea was always lurking there like the shadow behind every sunny-day thought; then a few days later my wife called me while I was on the return trip from North Carolina and told me that “Mark” had killed himself; as I was with my father-in-law and sister-in-law I bottled and buried all reaction to this news; but once I was home it started to hit me harder and harder in waves and I began going back over all of Mark’s Facebook posts; it was as if each one was a scream for help; the most recent post had seemed darkly poetic, as it spoke of the woman he lost; she held him in her arms; his cheek against her chest; lips pressed together; his need to be with her is paramount; his eyes grow heavy; he is sorry; I had lumped this post in with all of the other dark/depressing/vengeful/lamenting/antagonistic posts he had made forever, but with 20/20 hindsight it couldn’t have been any clearer to me; a captioned picture of him laying with his dog on the couch, “at least someone cares about me,” and another post asking all of his contacts to tell him something good about him; a one sentence response to Bob after his passing, “I feel you but you could’ve called me bro,” and the more I read and re-read these posts the more I despised myself for not seeing the signs before it was too late; where I once needed to know what Bob had been thinking, I found myself overcome with the raw pain of hopelessness and loneliness I knew Mark must have felt at the end; I was there at the abyss’ edge with the ghost of a friend and the familiarity of the abyss washed over me; I had to shake it but I couldn’t; we had babysat his now four fatherless children; I had given him rides when his car was broke down; I had told him in an IM when he looked for validation on Facebook that he was a good man and that I had a great amount of respect for him; it took me two days to get to the point where I wouldn’t just break down crying at the mere thought of him or at the latest Facebook posts; I had gotten closer to the abyss’ edge than I ever had before, but I learned a valuable lesson, that I remain unbroken…perhaps even stronger having faced those demons; the deep lows and the amazing highs give me the breadth of reference that not only makes me who I am, but allows me to bleed upon these pages unabashedly; life goes on;

Immortality

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Most of us, if not all, are afraid of what comes next…the big next.  Now, I’m not going to get mired down in a philosophical treatise on the afterworld or reincarnation, rather I am going to center on the simple act of leaving the life you know behind.  Death waits for us all, whether we want it to or not.  We worry about the state of our affairs, “who’s gonna support my loved ones, who’s gonna take out the garbage on Monday night,” and so forth.  The question that burns the deepest is, “how long before I am completely forgotten?”  At least if I am remembered, in some way, then I live on.

Those of us that blog, do so for certain reasons, like catharsis, or sharing beautiful moments, or introspection and trying to understand what it is to be human…reaching out with this to say that we are not alone.  We read the words of others to experience their human condition and to see not only what makes us different, but what unifies us as well.  Beneath all that, I think, that we yearn for immortality through our words.  Many of the bloggers I see have already published books, and in that alone deserve our respect and gratitude for adding to the chronicles, while some of us (yes me) are still finding our voice with hopes of one day writing the next Great American Novel.  Is that too much to ask?  If I can string the right words together, in the right sequence, I can live forever.  It’s wizardry.  We are trying to cast a spell, but if we do it wrong we could find ourselves lost in the oblivion.

This carries a lot of weight.  I have always allowed fear, more specifically the fear of failure, to paralyze me into inaction.  If I do nothing then I haven’t failed yet and the possibility of success is still there, but if I try and fail then the dream dies.  Now with age comes wisdom and I have learned at the intellectual level that this is false, that we learn from our failures and can always try again, but at the subconscious level I am still scared shitless.  A prime example of this fear induced paralysis was, for me, going to college.  I didn’t go right out of high school.  I went to work through temp agencies, at warehouses and factories and found myself having nervous breakdowns that bubbled up when I would think, “is this my life, am I stuck?”  I had always wanted to go to college, but the fear told me that if I go and I flunk out, then factories and warehouses will be all that’s left for me.  It took every ounce of my resolve to fill out the paperwork, but in the end…I flourished.  I loved it.  I wish I could be a career student to this day.  Now I won’t get into the irony that I am now employed at a factory in a managerial position, as it would change the tone of this entirely.  Rather, I am going to talk about hope.

As most of you know, I am now the proud father of a beautiful almost-five-month-old son.  Now, as much as he can serve as a wondrous distraction, he has also given me my immortality (at least that’s how I see it).  He looks so much like me that it’s like having a window into my own infancy.  I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of my future self sending my current self a letter that not only explains what’s coming, but the right decisions to make to get there…perhaps this’ll be a future post.  Now I know this concept seemed a fantasy, but it will happen…not for me, but for my son.  I am the letter from his future and hopefully with my help he can make the right decisions and avoid certain pitfalls.  Okay end of tangent.  This newfound immortality means that it isn’t all riding on me becoming the next Stephen King.  I can begin to write with a sense of insouciance.  The weight has been lifted, by the hands of a 17 pound, almost-five-month-old mini-me.

So, watch out world…here I come!  Right after I change his diaper and I figure out a new way to  make him smile and laugh.

Ch-ch-ch-changes

I started a new job about a month ago and I’m really enjoying the change of pace, the learning/growth opportunities and having moved out of the food manufacturing sector and into electrical component manufacturing sector. I’m on 1st shift, which is great, but would be better if my wife wasn’t working 2nd, as I don’t see her all week. 

Today I erased a handful of social media apps off my phone, including Facebook. I truly feel giddy with liberation or, perhaps, it’s low level anxiety at losing that outlet/connection. I’m not entirely sure. 

I quit those apps to be more present when spending time with my son and to hopefully spur more creativity. The only social apps I kept are writing/creativity related. I’m keeping this short, so raise your glasses for a toast to change and to creativity! 

If anyone has done the same or similar…don’t hesitate to comment on how it went!

I’m radioactive!

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Standing in the back aisle of the local Kmart, I came across a test kit for determining if your microwave is leaking.  My first thought was, holy crap…my microwave could be irradiating my beautiful single-wide trailer, with me and my miniature schnauzer included!  My second thought was, I wonder if I concentrate really hard if I can get this little tester to light right up.  Stay with me…this is how my mind works.

I picked the tester up, it had a shiny black surface, like vinyl.  The packaging showed an ominous radioactive symbol, a bright red, right in the middle of the area that now appeared black.  Apparently the tester detects the microwaves and the symbol appears, like magic…like finding a pure white, wooly caterpillar–foretelling of a long hard winter, but in this case sterility and bleeding gums.  Again, the idea of concentrating my mental energies on this tester, to bring the symbol out of the black depths had goose bumps running up my neck.

I clutched the tester in both hands, pinched between thumbs and pointer fingers, like someone reading a winning lottery ticket for the fifth time.  I concentrated on the area where the symbol should be, my eyes almost crossing.  I held it about six inches from my face.  Five seconds in and I swear I could see a ghost image of the symbol, like the lady of the lake rising from the depths–the sword represented my newfound psychic abilities. My pulse quickened.

If such a thing is possible…I concentrated harder, spurred on by the ghost image.  My eyes were slits and perspiration beaded on my forehead.  The faintest pink pulsed within the specter and what was once faint began to take form and showed clearly distinct lines.  My eyes widened as the symbol took full form–a phoenix from the ashes.  My heart pounded.  I glanced around to see if there was a witness.  I stood alone.  I frantically flipped the package over and read the small print.  What were the repercussions?

My eyes quickly scanning the fine print.  A bowl.  A bowl of water is placed in the microwave.  The water boils.  The boiling water creates heat.  Heat.  The tester measures heat.  Heat?!?  My fingers pinching the tester right where it’s affected by heat.  My shoulders slumped.  I was once again a normal citizen.  No longer a member of the mutant brotherhood.  I chuckled nervously to myself, wondering where this placed me on the MMPI.