Category Archives: grief

To The Men Running the U.S. Government

So, this should probably be a slam poem and maybe one day I’ll be brave enough to record it as such. For now, I’m sharing it as the written word. After learning about the House panel voting to make women sign up for the draft, my rage and fear needed somewhere soft to land, to untangle itself. That place for me is here:

Vincent_van_Gogh_-_Sorrow

Vincent Van Gogh Public Domain PD-old-100

To the men running the U.S. government, the ones on the House panel who’ve voted to force our daughters to sign up for the draft…here’s the thing: Yes, I’ve known women who’ve been raped. I’ve known women who’ve locked themselves in a bathroom on a date and slept there to keep from being raped. I’ve even personally known a woman who was abducted by a serial killer, raped and strangled with her own underwear.  I know a woman who clutches her mace and her anxiety as she walks to work, as she pumps gas, as she maneuvers any parking lot with trepidation because she’s been accosted by more than one man over the years who just wants to chat or wants five dollars for gas or possibly wants to stab her and tuck her into his trunk because she watches the news and this is a possibility. She’s learned to duck the bullets of hey baby and you fine girl and you too good to talk to me?  I know this woman because she is all of us. The woman living with a flight or fight system on high alert. A twitching ear. A body poised to run. The mothers who send their daughters off to college with pink mace and pleas to text us when she gets home safely; the young girls who are beginning to understand the leers, the danger the entitlement lurking behind them…women are already veterans of a silent war at home, one that has us on edge behind our polite smiles, one that you in your place of patriarchal safety will never understand.  So, yes, by all means…send them to the front lines of a different kind of war you created for the purpose of power and money and greed and invisible lines where they don’t even have the protection of a “civilized society” or of murder being an actual crime. Send them to be captured by the enemy and raped and put their fellow male soldiers in danger because they will lose their shit and most likely their own lives trying to save them because that’s what the good ones do. Bring home your warped idea of equality in a body bag and lay it next to all the other dead things you refused to understand.

(“Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.” -Margaret Atwood)

 

 

 

Terrorism: The World Is On Fire

Dear readers,

I try to keep this blog light and only talk about things that pertain to my cozy mysteries. But I am a writer, which means words are the way I work things out for my own sanity. Today–in the aftermath of yet another act of terrorism and senseless loss of lives–I feel the need to write about this, to make some sense of it, because my heart is heavy and the world is on fire:

How do we fight terrorism?

match flame

First, I feel like we have to acknowledge this particular pathology is a part of us all and stop thinking it’s “us” against “them”.  It’s not.  We are all vulnerable to becoming “them” because the problem is inherent to human nature. What is this problem, this disease…this fire that’s spreading and consuming our peace, our humanity and our future? It’s this:

A willingness to embrace a particular idea or ideology at all costs. To let an idea, a religion,  a deep emotional/psychological wound or even fear separate us from one another while we stand with unyielding conviction on that idea, condemning those around us who don’t embrace it. This common human condition is  what terrorists are suffering from, they’re just acting on it with extreme violence. It’s the underlying ideology of separation and condemnation which spreads fear and hatred and must be stopped.

Sure, once this violent ideology is embraced, a  terrorist, with no value for life, is born and they become the threat…because how do you fight someone who doesn’t want to live? How do you fight the already dead?

I know it would be ideal to bring them back to life. To lead them back to the land of the living by rooting out whatever weaponized belief system they hold from their clenched fists and closed minds. I also know that’s probably not possible. And it’s tragic… It’s tragic that so many of our fellow human beings are choking on the ashes of their charred humanity.  If I could make a wish for them–and for us–it would be that they could once again taste the sweet innocence of childhood; jump start their dead hearts with an act of charity instead of violence; hear a kind word; fall in love instead of commit rape; see the ray of sun through the black clouds instead of the storm behind it… heal from whatever festering wound their starved hearts are suffering from.

If only…

I have no answers. I don’t think anyone does. But I know that feeding their hatred with returned violence is not the answer. But neither is silence. We must all speak up, come together and leave our own ideology at the door.

Because the only thing I do know for sure is there cannot be peace until we learn to accept each other’s beliefs and ideas without trying to change them with violence, control and containment. In other words…letting ideas and beliefs start wars.

We have to care for each other, love each other. If we don’t, we are them. We are dead already.

 

Elephants Take the Stage

I wrote a post awhile back, about elephants, after taking our boys to the circus and having a very unexpected emotional reaction. I left there with a heavy heart and a promise to educate myself about the elephants’ life in captivity. This is a follow-up post to what I’ve learned.

One of the questions that came up in the comments was whether the elephants are better off in captivity because the wild has become an inhospitable place with an  ever-shrinking habitat and resources and poachers thinning herds yearly by the thousands. Plus, they’re intelligent creatures, maybe they enjoy learning tricks and performing for us?

I’ve watched some horrifying videos of elephants being abused by circus workers “training” them to perform, and I’ve also read the opinions of people defending such practices of using chains, ropes and bull-hooks. But, last night I stumbled upon a HBO documentary called “An Apology to the Elephants” and it was the nail in the coffin for me. Elephants have been shown to experience grief, trauma and depression. Living in chains, being intimidated into entertaining us and having their calves separated from them forcefully causes them pain. There’s no doubt left in my mind. We are harming these majestic creatures.

Here are some facts from the documentary:

• Roughly 38,000 elephants a year are killed for their tusks. At this rate, we will have wiped out their entire species in the wild in ten years. TEN YEARS.

• Over 50% of elephants in captivity will die of foot-related disease. These are creatures built to roam, not stand on hard surfaces for hours.

• It is still legal to keep an elephant chained for up to 19 hours a day.

• In the wild, they spend 16 hours a day roaming and foraging for food. Their bodies are built for this, and the swaying motion you see in zoos and circuses is from the anxiety of not being able to act on this natural instinct.

Believe me, I know there are issues in the world closer to home than making sure elephants don’t go extinct and aren’t abused and suffering in our hands. And I know that there’s only so much one person can do. But, this is my personal burden now.

So, here are some simple ways you can help:

• Don’t buy ivory

• Don’t support circuses

• Do support elephant sanctuaries and zoos that give them room to roam, like the Oakland Zoo

• If you’d like to get more involved, support PAWS Elephant Sanctuary

• Pass this knowledge on!

On a positive note, Britain has recently banned wild animals from being used in circuses. It will take effect in 2015. We need to follow their lead! As the documentary stated, “Zoos can be fixed, circuses cannot.”

Thanks for reading this far. Stepping off my soapbox now. If you have a cause you’re passionate about, please talk to me about it!

♥This post is dedicated to the memory of Topsy♥  (Warning, this is a very disturbing story)

 

 

 

 

 

A Night at the Circus

We took our twins to the circus for their seventh birthday. It was all of our first time at a real Barnum and Bailey “Greatest Show on Earth” experience. I was excited. We were going to introduce the boys to the magic and mystery of humans conquering gravity, fear and doing the impossible. They were going to gain a love and awareness of animals. They were going to giggle at these animals doing tricks. Tigers sitting on chairs, waiting to amaze us with how domesticated they could be. Poodles dancing with each other. Horses twirling in sync. Elephants…

Yeah. The elephants.

Here’s where the spell was broken for me.

As the dozen or so large gray bodies filled the arena, a wave of sadness hit me. It hit me so hard, I was suddenly blinking back tears. Sorrow. That’s what I was feeling and then panic, because I had no idea where it was coming from or how I was going to keep from scaring the kids around me by breaking down. I held my breath and concentrated on the steel scaffolding and lights above me. When I got the tears under control, I worked on breathing through the suffocating, oppressive emotion. I told myself to feel it and let it go because this is what I’ve been practicing.

It helped. It helped me look at the elephants again. We were in the front, so I could see right into one big brown eye. I made myself keep looking. Made myself see. See the gentle soul within that massive body. My heart broke for him. I promised him and myself that I would research their living conditions. That if there was something I could do to change their lot in life, I would do it.

I enjoyed other parts of the circus. Watching the humans, who had a choice, perform mind-boggling acts of strength and grace. I enjoyed the boys’ wide-eyed innocence as they watched the daring tight-rope walkers, the clown on ten foot stilts, a girl shot out of a cannon and the acrobatics that rivaled the Olympics.

Girl being shot from a cannon

And I’m glad that I experienced something else. I’m not quite sure what it was, really. I’m not even saying the elephants don’t live a great life full of peanuts and massages. But the pain was real and it wasn’t mine. Until that night.

“Having no idea is the doorway to realization.” Karen Maezen Miller 

I’ve only begun to look into their story so I can’t claim to know any facts. But if this is something that speaks to you and you’d like to help you can sign this petition. I don’t know if it will make any difference but it’s a step through the door.

How do you feel about animals in the circus? Have you ever experienced anything like this? Please share.

 

 

Friday Flash: A Change of Heart

“Helen…”

It is only a whisper, but the room explodes into pandemonium. The word is a hurricane. It sweeps a nurse out the door, blows another out of the corner, clutching a chart and her chest.

He opens his eyes suddenly, memories caught between fog and pain.  There is a beep and a click in the sterilized space, the suddenly silent space…and then his mind explodes. Click BOOM!

He clutches his heart, his bearded mouth a cave full of unearthly groans and escalating screams. He watches them  in slow motion: Helen’s eyes crinkle at the corners as a mother-smile ignites, brightens her face. Emma bathes in the love; cooing, waving chubby fingers, bubbling at the world.

Rage bubbles now, builds, escapes from the cave and threatens to burst his eardrums. Beyond the nurses hands with straps and needles, he sees them. He sees Helen’s throat open up with the first bullet, then her chest. Crimson flowers bloom and splatter his shirt.  Her hand reaches for Emma as she falls backwards; falling, falling. “Emma!” Emma’s soft head blooms as he lifts himself from the chair, his heart shattering because he knows he is one second too late.

His next bout of awareness comes two days later. Men in suits and grim, sleep deprived faces file in to stare at him.

Questions begin slowly, carefully as if the words are probing his wounds. Do you know where you are? Do you remember anything from Friday, October 1st? Do you know your name?

His answer is a blank stare. His mind is simply white noise.

“That’s enough for now, Gentlemen,” a sympathetic voice breaks in.

“What is my name, please?”

The raspy voice startles the nurse checking his fluid bag. She trips backwards and then stoically pushes her fists into her pockets. “You don’t remember your name?”

“No.”

Sighing, she glances back at the door. “It’s David. David Farah.” Her arms now cross. “Ring a bell?”

“No.” He runs a shaky hand over the sore flesh under a thin gown. “What happened to me?”

“What happened to you?” Her eyes round, then blink at the ceiling. Her mouth tightens. “You were shot. The bullet damaged your cardiac valve and your heart wall. We had to do emergency surgery. You have a new heart, Mr. Farah.” She bows her head and leaves.  The men in suits file back in.

Now their eyes burn fiercely. Shock has crumbled under the weight of anger and injustice.

“So, names, Mr. Farah. We want names.” One of the angry men moves to stand over him. He smells like cloves and fear. “We know you weren’t acting alone in this. Thirty seven people died in that restaurant, you son of a bitch. Thirty seven people that included a…baby.” This last word is spit into his eye. Venom. He doesn’t blink because he is focusing on steadying the images and feelings rushing at him. An old fire, from another lifetime is nudging its way to the front. It is hate and faith and fear all rolled up into a singular, seething wound that is wearing the mask of a human soul. His silence is taken as being uncooperative. The angry man slams a hand down on his stitched up chest. The pain feeds the fire.

“They should have let you die. I would have let you die! The only reason they didn’t was because of god damned politics and lawsuits. They should have given you a pig’s heart you piece of shit.” One of the other suits pulls him away. Takes him outside.

“You mentioned the name Helen.” The third man’s jaw twitches.

“My wife, isn’t she my wife? She’s dead, isn’t she? Oh…and Emma.”

His eyes narrow. He pinches his nose between his eyes then motions for the others to follow him out.  He comes back in alone, with a folder.

“Helen Brennan, along with her husband, Michael and their baby Emma were victims in the attack.” He folds his arms. “How were you acquainted? Was this a targeted attack on them?”

“I don’t understand,” he stutters. The line between lifetimes is blurring. The space that separates souls is disappearing. They stand facing each other as one. One body, two lifetimes. Grief swirls as a black storm within and around them.

Nurses, doctors and agents share the view, peering at the man signing his confession through the window, struggling with their own grief and confusion.

“Maybe we should tell him,” a nurse glances at an agent.

“Tell him what?”

“That he has Michael Brennan’s heart.”

“What good would that do?”

“Most people don’t know that the heart sends more signals to the brain than the brain sends to the heart. Some people believe our soul is in our heart.”

David Farah turns to the window full of faces, lifts his hand in a thumbs-up salute and plunges the pen deep into his new heart.

Friday Flash: Her Migration

monarch2

“Are you going to tell me what’s wrong?”

“It’s a ripped wing.”

“No, not the damn butterfly, Gracie. You. What’s wrong with you.”

A faint rustle in the shoe box moves Gracie’s attention from the computer screen. She peers in.  One burnt orange wing beats frantically against the side.

“No, no, pretty girl. Shhhh,” she whispers into the box. Then to her husband, “You’ve startled her. She needs a calm environment.” She hums until its wings settle down into a slow, rhythmic pulse. It crawls onto the mushy pear she’s given it to eat. Satisfied, she goes back to the screen.

Hal throws up his hands and leaves her.

Dusk arrives behind the closed bedroom blinds. Gracie has amassed the needed supplies and begins the operation. Leaving the lights dim and Clair de Lune playing in the background, she pinches the wings together, lifts the creature from the box and pins her down on a towel with a looped wire hanger around her head, thorax and abdomen.

“Comfy dear?” She carefully fans out the ripped forewing. “Don’t worry, this won’t hurt a bit. Scary, though. I know. You don’t know what’s happening, what I’m doing to your body. Sometimes I wonder if that’s better…ignorance.” Clipping a tiny rectangle from cardstock, she measures it against the tear, trims it a bit smaller. “There, that should do it.” With a toothpick, she carefully spreads adhesive on the makeshift bandage. While she waits for it to dry, she watches the tiny legs twitch, the antennae swim in the air.

“Fascinating creature, you are. Filled with poison and yet fragile, fragile as the ones who come to eat you and die.” Gracie squeezes her eyes closed so as not to flood her patient. “Okay,” she wipes at her cheeks and straightens her back. “Ready for phase two.”

Making sure the black veins line up, she pinches the tiny rectangle with tweezers and positions it over the tear. This takes a few attempts and she has to hold her breath to keep her hand from shaking.

“I believe you will survive,” she whispers. Her attention wanders to her own hand; skin as thin as the butterfly’s wing, puffy blue veins like ropes running its length. “Such a short journey. We must…,” she takes in a breath. “Yes! That’s it. You must finish your journey! No reason for you to sit around this house. Oh, but it’s probably too cold for you now.” She lifts the wire hanger and encourages the monarch to turn over. “Well, go on. They should work now.” The wings shutter once, sweep up and down. Once. Then twice. Then she is airborne.

“Yes!” Gracie claps, gray eyes glistening. She watches the creature flutter around the room for a few minutes, landing on her pink rose bed spread. “Haldon!”

Hal rushes into the room, one hand on his chest, wide eyes darting about.

“What’s wrong?” Gracie asks, when she sees his face.

“What’s wrong?” he drops his hand to his hip. “What do you mean what’s wrong? You’re the one who yelled for me.”

“Oh,” She ignores his tone. Behind the anger is fear, she knows. She also knows it is better he doesn’t know exactly what he has to fear. Like the butterfly. Ignorance is a gift.

“Will you drive me to that truck stop on Central Avenue?”

“Plaza 23?”

“Yeah, that’s the one.”

His shoulders slump. He looks for a moment like he is going to ask her why, but then he just shakes his head. “Yes, Grace. If it will make you happy, I’ll drive you to the truck stop.”

Three days later, she gets the call.

“Hi, is this Miss Grace Adams?”

“Yes.”

“Hey, this is Mac Barnes…the truckdriver?” He pauses.  He can’t see the hope welling up in her swollen eyes, the Kleenex clutched to her mouth. “Well, I ah, just called to give you the good news.”

Gracie exhales. Her lungs ache like she’s been holding her breath for three days.

“She made it to Florida?”

“Yep. Dropped her off in a place with lots of wild flowers near Ocala. I watched her fly off. She’s good. Should be able to migrate with the rest of ‘em. That’s something, huh?”

“Oh, thank you, Mac. Thank you for giving her a ride.”

“No problem. You take care now.”

Gracie hangs up and looks over at her husband of thirty years. It’s time.  She can face it now. Now that she remembers how to hope for the impossible.

“Hal,” she slips her hand into his and braces herself for the flood of his grief. She holds onto the image of the broken butterfly now hundreds of miles away, continuing on her journey. “Dr. Brennan has given me three months. It’s cancer.”

(based on a true tale of butterfly heroes)

Friday Flash: Flight from the Battlefield

angel

As my knife sinks into the apple, I hear my neighbor screaming. His pain vibrates the sheetrock between us. I lean against the counter with a sigh.

He has only been home two weeks and already his wife has dropped ten pounds, forgot to wash her hair, formed bruises under her eyes and hefted a landfill load of worry and sorrow onto her narrow shoulders.

They have a child; a blue-eyed waif of a little girl, who seems to be disappearing into the background of their lives, pushed aside by the ghosts he has brought home with him.

I saw her yesterday. Her eyes have grown round with shock. My heart shattered, splintering right there in the hallway, in front of her silence and her headless doll.

“Where is her head?” I asked.

“I didn’t want her to get headaches like daddy,” she whispered back.

A box came through the door, followed by two people with tight faces and wide eyes. Haunted, I thought. The ghosts were busy. Peeking in the box as they passed with unsmiling faces, I caught a glimpse of a paint ball gun on top of rope and kitchen knifes. A black stick with a trigger was clutched in the tall, crumpled man’s hand. His knuckles were white.

I send over an apple pie and a note to call me if they need anything. I feel helpless.

The knock comes at three in the morning. A frantic pound pound pound. A wild noise pushed from her throat, a scream forming words, “Call 911”. The pale, wide-eyed child in a dirty nightgown is pushed into my leg by her mother, Karen. “Please,” she chokes, then turning away, she barrels down the stairs.

I know what has happened, I just don’t know how. Tentatively, I step into their apartment with the child clinging to my arm. The place smells like Lysol and old grease. Moonlight is pouring through the open window along with a light mist of rain. A lone white curtain billows from a gust of wind. I see it as a thinly veiled flag of surrender.

Their worn leather couch is turned on its back, pillows stacked neatly in rows across it. Evidently, something the maddening ghosts built. The people carrying out the box didn’t realize they were leaving the most deadly arsenal behind. I shake my head and look down at their victim, stroking her pale face. She is staring at her doll.

“Where are her arms?” I ask, a bit shocked her doll is disappearing piece by piece.

“She doesn’t need arms anymore,” she whispers, dropping the broken doll to the wood floor.

     No, I think, as sirens scream below the open window. Wings. She needed wings.

Collapsing onto the floor, I pull her down into my arms and begin to sing quietly to her.

Her tears finally fall and I think about gravity. The ground’s pull must be infinitely stronger than human will. It is, after all, the place where we all end up.

FridayFlash: Birth of an Idol

candles

My Mama says our new neighbor, Mr. Charles, lives alone because his wife died, but today I am having lunch with Mr. Charles and his dead wife.

Her eyes are glass, cat’s eye marbles with sweeping blue waves and tiny bubbles. Cluster pearls are clipped onto her walnut ears. Dust motes and steam, from the Hungarian goulash, create a mist around her. I try not to stare; it’s rude.

“Best you’ll ever have, Henry. Eat up, Son.”

“Yes, Mr. Charles.” I dip my spoon into the empty bowl and bring it to my lips.

“She makes it with tomatoes fresh from the garden; that’s her secret.” He reaches over and pats her hand, meticulously recreated from sardine bones, being careful not to disturb the thin gold band. I nod, glancing through the window at the yawning square of cracked ground and petrified vines beyond the porch.  I dip my spoon again and shove air into my dry mouth. It’s only polite.

We sit like this for a long time and I begin to wonder if he’s forgotten I’m here. I steal a glance at the stained glass hearts clinging to the window. They glow like fresh blood in the sunlight.

“Tea?”

“Okay.” I stop holding my breath.

He stands wearily, removes both our bowls from the table. The steam clears and I glimpse the painful cracks around her wax lips. Still, she smiles. This must be why he loves her. He lowers a yellowing doily in front of her, places a white ceramic cup gently on the doily. Steam rises once again and moisture accumulates on her eyes. He baptizes the teabag in the boiling water, scoops out some honey from a half-full jar and stirs it into the cup. A series of high pitched dings follow. My cup remains empty, but I don’t bring it up.

“Her dad used to raise honey bees, bring raw buckwheat honey in for their tea. Why she’s so sweet,” he chuckles.

The air is thick around us and I sit very still so I don’t disturb anything. I am becoming aware of the numbness in my bottom, but I don’t dare squirm. I can almost feel her approval at this, at my stillness. We drink our tea like this. In silence.

“You’re a good boy. We’re glad to have you in the neighborhood.” He shakes my hand and I feel the dry trembling.

As I slide awkwardly out of the chair, I am possessed by a sudden urge to give her something. I remember the four leaf clover I found in our own yard and reach deep into my pocket. It’s a bit wilted and ripped in one corner, but it did take me almost a whole hour on my knees to find. Still a worthy sacrifice. I place it by her fish bone hand and whisper into the tiny caverns of the walnut. I whisper that if she can hear me I would like to taste a bit of the soup and tea and honey for myself next time. Then I think maybe I am being ungrateful and add “sorry” and “thank you”.

“We’ll see you next Sunday then?” he calls.