About BoyAtLarge

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Love in a Box

(written in October 2006)

They say that when you wake someone up from a night terror, you’re liable to hurt yourself just as much as you can hurt the person you are trying to wake up. Night terrors are usually mistaken for dreams — nightmares. Often times, when a person who suffers from one of these episodes is confronted by someone not familiar with the infliction, to that someone, the sufferer appears to be wide awake when in fact they are actually still asleep. The outsider, mistaking the sufferer for being awake and having woken up from a nightmare, will try to talk to the sleeper so that she can reassure him that everything will be okay. In actuality, everything is not okay. Far from it. And because all is not well, when suddenly ripped from the state of deep emotional distress, he who has night terrors, once awoken, may react violently towards anyone within arm’s reach of him. This includes those that he may love dearly. With all this in mind, one has to wonder what happens to the man who has night terrors but has no one to wake him up.

It usually takes me about a week or two to recall the images that invade my mind during one of these attacks. Some say it’s because a night terror can be so intense that most sufferers subconsciously shut off that part of their mind, once awoken. The part of the mind that houses childhood fears, traumatic memories, and anything else that could possibly fuck up your already screwed up existence in this world. That’s not me, though. Call me narcissistic but at the age of 45 and not getting any younger, I always try to revisit the visions. Doing everything my feeble mind can do to conjure up the hot sweat and tears that coat every second of one of those attacks. I tell myself that the day I can completely recall every minute detail of one of my attacks is the day I will be able to conquer them. Of course, that was nearly 20 years ago and, well, like I said, I’m not getting any younger.

I see black. A lot of black. Black so dark I swear a lump of coal would look like it’s blushing next to the black. But the black doesn’t keep me from seeing the boulders. What they represent isn’t important. The thing that gets me is that they’re there and they just won’t go the fuck away.

I’m flat on my back. And the boulders just hover over me. I can feel them floating there in the black air just inches away from my face, never making contact. I can taste the blackness of the air and the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, reaching down towards the thick muck that covers the ground beneath me. The muck reaches back up at my neck and past my face as if trying to help me keep the boulders from crushing my body into oblivion. But I know that the boulders won’t hurt me. They never do. And then that’s it. The black world around me disappears between blinks and I’m back in my bed. Alone.

Lately, I’ve gotten used to the idea that a guy like me would never be able to find a girl who would be willing to share a bed with him. Private dick by day, public dick the remaining sixteen hours. What girl could live with that? Or more precisely, what girl could die with that? Even now, as my dry plaster-like tongue desperately tries to remember what the mouth of a woman tastes like, I can only remember the last girl I had any kind of intimate relationship with. Of course, being stalked by a desperate girl who is as lonely as she is homely is not any kind of relationship in my book.

Melanie Rose Clupea never meant anyone any harm. She just needed attention. I remember getting her call on a Thursday. I remember it was Thursday because Thursday was the day that I picked up my prescriptions from the Doc. I was just about to head out the door when the nagging of the phone stopped me in my tracks. I could have ignored its ear-splitting ring — I should have ignored it — but Old Lady Lordland had been hounding me all morning for the last three months’ rent and I couldn’t pass up the possible chance that the voice on the other end of the line could have been the sweet, soothing voice of a hefty paycheck for a job done half-assed.

Her voice was scratchy and weak, with a bit of a squeaking at the end of each sentence. I could tell by the desperation in her voice that she wasn’t so sure she should have been calling me at all. I told her that I was just on the way out the door and that I could meet her in a couple of hours. Melanie Rose agreed. As I hung up the phone, I heard Lady Lordland’s cackle in the hallway by the stairwell as she was coming to the punchline of another bad joke that she was sharing with Mitzie, the stripper that lived down in room 269. I decided to take a detour down the fire escape. As I leapt from the last metal ladder onto the ground floor, I was reminded that I owed Mitzie a couple of Benjamin Franklins, so I had better hurry over to Docs and get my medicine, then make my way over to the motel on the outskirts of town to meet with Melanie Rose.

The drive out to the Nonsequitur Inn was the usual boring drive that I had gotten accustomed to over my years as a private dick, here in the Presage Coast area, just outside of Shady Junction. If you had ever wondered how long it would take to get to the middle of nowhere, I give you my word as a detective and a gentleman that it takes an hour and twenty-three minutes. And that’s coming from any part of somewhere, somehow, and somewhy. This out-of-the-way motel was where I met all of my clients. Nonsequitur was just the right place to be if you wanted no connection to anyone else who could become a roadblock on your journey from A to B, even if that meant having to detour out to C, D, E and F’n nowhere to get there. The thing that made my meeting with Melanie Rose odd was that this time, with Melanie Rose, it was the client that suggested the locale. I prefer to be the one leading anytime I go dancing with fate but I was willing to let little Melanie Rose Clupea make one minute suggestion, since it wasn’t about to affect my life in any drastic way. And, heck, with my mind as distracted as it has been over the previous three months, it was kind of refreshing to let someone else command the dance floor.

When I got to room 175, where Melanie Rose had told me she would be, I found no Melanie Rose. But instead I found a note, carefully taped to the door. The letters were hurriedly written and smudged by what appeared to be a young girl’s right hand that had rested on the paper while writing, leaving behind the scent of coconut oil with a hint of balsam powder. The note read:

Taking a swim. Meet you at the pool. xoxo Mel

I walked cautiously down the cement steps towards the motel pool. Right outside the pool area was a hot tub left on. Its current beckoned the bubbles to float towards the center where they were swallowed under with little to no chance of staying intact, merely bursting into thin air and becoming one with the surrounding foam. I saw what looked like the remainder of wet footprints on the surface of the pavement, about six to seven inches in length. The way the prints had mostly dried up made one of the feet appear to be missing its middle toe. Then I noticed all of the left footprints were missing this toe. As I walked up to the gate of the swimming area, I wondered if this was a big mistake and maybe I should have turned heel right then and there and had gotten back to my afternoon of doing nothing and earning no money, just like I had done for the last three months.

When I opened the gate, Melanie Rose, who was doing laps around the edge of the pool, greeted me enthusiastically. The way she was waving you’d’ve thunk we were old friends. She continued to wave at me from the water, her front two teeth, which dominated her extreme overbite, glistening as the droplets ran down each tooth and back into the sparkling water. It was at that moment, as she made her way to the shallow end of the pool, that I noticed her skin-toned swimsuit. Sans the swimsuit part, that is. And as she climbed out of the water, her bony little naked body glowed bright under the hot desert sun. Something about this scenario wasn’t right to me. Don’t get me wrong. It was not part of my nature to run away from a naked girl climbing out of a swimming pool on a hot Thursday afternoon. Not at all. In fact, running was the last thing on my mind the previous time this had happened to me and not a day has gone by since then that I didn’t wonder what ever happened to the Ecstasis Triplets. But with Melanie Rose, I could only thank the Lord that she didn’t come in a three-pack.

Her skin was pale white covered in pink freckles that gathered themselves into clumps all over her body in the shapes of various dinosaurs or food stuffs. Her arms trembled as she pulled herself up out of the water and onto the pavement. As she turned and faced me a la full frontal style, I noticed a little limp in her walk with every other step, her body shifting to keep the weight off her four-toed foot. I was frozen, not sure if I should turn and run or stand ground and wait for the beast to swallow me alive. I winced as Melanie Rose pressed her wet, boyishly thin frame up against mine. She then gently grasped her soft fingers, wrinkled from being waterlogged, around my hand and placed it on her mosquito bite of a breast, tightly embracing herself into the palm as if asking me to hold tight to keep her life from slipping away into oblivion. Instead of appeasing her desires, I turned and sprinted across the motel yard and jumped into my car, leaving a cloud of dust behind. My 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 clunked and clacked as I pressed the pedal to the floorboard and refused to turn around in fear that if I looked back, I would be turned into a pillar of salt. The absurd image of an awkward naked beanpole of a girl actually catching up to my speeding car made me realize that I could slow down and take the rest of the drive back to my apartment more cautiously.

And cautious was exactly what my attitude towards Melanie Rose became over the following weeks as I continued to dodge her in the streets, cut her off on the phone, and in the end, going all out ballistic on her verbally the last time we met.

“Mel,” I had seen it quite a few times when I had said her name in the past: a thin strip of tears would form just below her deep brown eyes. The first few times when this happened, I buckled and allowed her a few more fleeting minutes to speak her mind. In doing so, I gave her just what she needed to fuel her infatuation with me — a few more minutes of intimate time with the man she thought she loved. This last time, though, I had grown numb to this manipulation, impatient with her constant barrage of flirtations and proposals for a lifelong engagement. More so because this last time she almost got herself and yours truly killed.

“Mel, you need help. You’re young. You’re smart. You’re beau –” I knew I couldn’t say the words convincingly. So, I didn’t. “Well, you’re young and smart. You deserve better and more importantly, you know better.” She wanted to stop me before I could say more but her desperate pleas dissipated on unhearing ears.

“Who do you think you are? Who do you think I am? Do you really think a guy could fall in love with a girl like you?” It wasn’t like I didn’t feel something for her. Much to my surprise, I had developed an odd liking for her company, even when that company was not unlike being stuck on a deserted island with a five and a half foot tall leech that could actually carry on a decent conversation if the mood was right.

“Besides, Mel, after what we just went through — cripes, woman! You’re meddling almost got us killed. And if the Howard Brothers had had better aim, we would have bought the farm. And if that were the case, there is no way in hell I would share my six foot hole with you!” I’ve gotten used to the idea that a guy like me would never be able to find a girl who would be willing to share a bed with him, let alone a grave. And even if Melanie Rose Clupea wanted to voluntarily join me there, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

That was the last I heard from Melanie Rose. Whether or not my words meant anything to her didn’t matter. The important thing was that she had finally left me alone and even when the night terrors come back and I am suddenly wishing that someone could be there to wake me up from my deep-sleep brain scrambling, I knew it’s better not to be awakened to protect myself from being hurt, but more importantly, protecting someone else from being hurt by me.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

            There is a thin line between someone who has narcolepsy and someone who just isn’t getting enough sleep at night. The two share similar symptoms:

  1. The inability to stay awake in almost any situation, whether in conversation with someone you love dearly or when you are in the corner of a dark alleyway, dodging bullets from the Howard Brothers, who had just hired the aide of Lawrence Fine to take you out.
  2. Seeing images that aren’t really there, from large, shapeless black globs floating in front of your face to people from your past that you wish you could forget.
  3. The sudden desire to laugh hysterically or break out in angry fits in response to not being able to control your sleep habits, or simply yelling out at someone who could have been beneficial in your life but now has left you due to your erratic behavior.

The only difference between someone who is suffering from narcolepsy and someone who just isn’t getting enough sleep is that one of them can be cured by getting more sleep. As for me, with no clients (or ex-girlfriends) helping me keep the dust off of my phone, I have been getting enough sleep (probably more than most people) but the sleeping fits keep hitting me and at the most inopportune times, hence another Thursday goes by and another trip to the Doc awaits.

The Doc has been a friend of mine for some years now. I use the word “friend” because when you have no one else in your life, anyone who will even spend more than fifteen minutes with you without asking you to leave or throwing daggers at you can technically be just that, and someone like me needs anyone he can get.

When I pull up to the Doc’s warehouse, I see his old brown 1965 Ford Galaxie parked out front, over 50% of it covered in mud. And not just your everyday one part water, three parts dirt type of mud. The glop that is covering his Galaxie 500 is a thick dark mud, almost black in color. It’s the kind of mud you can only get on your car from driving through the Supplantation Swamps south of the Doc’s warehouse. As a detective, this should raise a red flag for me. I should probably investigate it more. But as a narcoleptic private dick who suffers from night terrors, I am more concerned about getting the drugs that can keep me sane for at least another week. Besides, I would much rather have a mixture of thick black dirt and swamp water covering my car right now, rather than being dirt poor.

“Calvin! Right on schedule.” The Doc sets down his notebook and takes off his reading glasses. As he walks around from behind his lab table, I see that he has the same black mud on his shoes. He must notice me glancing down at them because he immediately starts up the usual inquisition about my love life. Or lack thereof.

“You know, Calvin, one of the great things about having a mate is that when you wake up in the morning and you’re feeling all dirty from the previous night’s brushes with the underbelly of society, you can wash it all off in the shower next to that loved one, your naked bodies being the only two things putting any pressure on each other.”

“Well, Doc, having just heard that coming from you, I’m feeling pretty dirty right now and I wish you’d quit putting pressure on me.” The Doc has always had this weird obsession with getting me hooked up with someone. Anyone who didn’t know the Doc could say he seriously cares for me and wants me to be able to live my life with someone who loves me, to have someone to go home to each night. But that would come from someone who didn’t know the Doc. For the rest of us who know better, it’s no surprise what comes up next.

“I’m just saying, Calvin. Anytime you feel like you’re just getting nowhere with the kind of riff raff you call women and want to actually settle down with someone who would love you without expecting a wad of cash on the bedside table the next morning, well, I’ve still got that niece I have been wanting to introduce you to.” That niece he has been wanting to introduce me to. I swear, each week he brings her up. Maybe if I had the smarts of the Doc I could figure out how to stop him from doing that.

“You know, Doc, for the last time, I’m not about to get hooked up with one of your relatives. For all I know, this niece of yours is just as kooky and twisted as you are and believe you me, having to deal with you each week is more than enough for any sane man.”

“Sane? Well, Mr. I’m-sleeping-with-a-stripper-for-intimacy-and-pillow-talk, kooky and twisted is about the only type of girl that would want to shack up with you. And besides, I can vouch for my niece. She’s a good girl. Been going through a lot lately but everything’s wrapping up and soon she will be looking for someone again, and with all of your problems, Calvin, I know you’re still a good person and I think you would be good for each other.”

“You know, Doc, it’s a good thing you are a doc and not a marketing guru because, well, heck, your little pitch just now sure as heck didn’t sell me on your niece.” I look at my watch and realize that I needed to follow-up with a former client about getting a bit of work. Anything to help get Lady Lordland off my back. “Look, Doc, it’s going to be another month before I can pay you for the –”

“Go on. Get the hell out of here. I know you’re good for the money. Besides, if I decided to quit giving you the drugs just because you can’t pay me, you wouldn’t be coming down to my side of town and I couldn’t badger you about my niece.”

“Thanks, Doc. I’ll see you next week.”

“Sure thing, Calvin. Now try and get some sleep, okay?”

“Ha, ha. If only you were as funny a comedian as you are as a doc.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

            The things in the mind during a night terror aren’t always coherent. Unlike dreams or nightmares, night terror victims are haunted by objects, sometimes related to their life in some way such as a favorite toy or any other object of special value. Other times, it can be something completely random, such as a hole in the ground or a large rock. For me, it has always been large black rocks. Usually four or five of them, hovering over me for no particular reason. These rocks are never threatening because something in my head tells me they won’t crush me or hurt me. I just know they won’t. But at the same time, they scare the shit out of me and I can’t help but want them to just go away and quit visiting me in my sleep.

When the visits subside, I usually fall back asleep and forget about them. Then I start the next day covered in sweat and feeling like I just spent the night under an elephant’s ass. But there are times when I don’t forget. When I wake up and realize I just had the episode and those times are the ones that make my being alone seem so much more depressing and it almost kills me to be by myself. Tonight’s episode isn’t any different. Well, not entirely. Even though I still feel like shit after waking up, there was something different. This time, the images seemed different. More fluid. Organic. Almost as if they were changing, growing. The boulders were still there. I was still lying on my back and the boulders still hovered over me, taunting me. This time they will crush me. I can feel it. This time the boulders will put me out of my misery. I see myself staring up at the boulders and my dormant self begins to wince, anticipating that this was the end. But the end never comes and instead, I inch upwards closer to the boulders. My nose nearly touching the cold flat surface of the bottom of the boulder over me. The thick, black muck beneath me reaching past my limp body until I am almost completely covered by its dark essence. I feel the weight of the boulder push down on me but somehow know that it had not moved. Something inside me turns and I no longer recognize myself. And then I wake up. I wake up and I feel like shit and it almost kills me to be by myself. But this time, tonight, I am not alone.

Mitzie is used to these episodes and has been able to train herself to sleep through them. Or at least not be surprised by them, if awakened.

“The boulders are gone now, Calvin. Wait right here. I’ll get you some water.”

Tonight I found that instead of going back to sleep and letting the rocks fade out of my consciousness on their own, I somehow told myself, while still in my trance, that I was having the attack and talked myself awake. And oddly enough, my own doing so did not hurt me or anyone around me.

“Here you go, sweetie. Drink this down and we’ll try to get you back to sleep.” I can’t tell what Mitzie is to me. In the past, when I had money, all of her visits were very professional and I made sure to remind myself of that by having her exact fee ready for her in the morning, plus a generous tip for her being there when I woke up. When the money stopped coming in, Mitzie stopped coming by. But lately, she has been voluntarily coming over to my place more and even though I know that she is secretly doing it because she has run into some trouble and is afraid of sleeping alone at night in her own apartment, I don’t mind the company. And something tells me she doesn’t either. No matter what the Doc thinks of her, a guy like me can’t really ask for too much and for the moment, Mitzie is good enough.

“Mitz,” As I speak her name, I can tell that she is extra tired tonight and that she would probably prefer to go back to bed. But behind the deep, dark eye lashes, smeared with mascara that has mostly rubbed off in her sleep, are two genuinely concerned eyes and she decides to sit up and comfort me.

“What is it, sweetie?” Her breath is stale but comforting. I respond in an almost deathlike whisper.

“What are we, Mitz?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, what are we? I like you, Mitz. I really enjoy your company and I like having you here in the morning. The mornings that you are here. But something tells me this isn’t permanent and that what we have is different from what this should  be.” I can feel her discomfort in my dead seriousness.

“Honey, I’m not so sure I understand what you mean.” The once concerned look in her eyes becomes panicked and desperate and I can almost hear her mind scrambling in her search of the right words. “I can say that having you in my life these last few weeks has been good for me and I can’t see it ending anytime soon.” Her eyes seem more awake now. Her hand gently glides onto my inner thigh and when I feel her squeeze, I know — I just know — that this is just what it appears to be and that although she is here with me now, Mitzie isn’t going to be the one pressing down on my gut-wound, praying for dear God to help hold the blood in, the day I die.

“Yeah.” It’s cold in the room and as my words come out my breath carves a path into the air in front of me and I know that I have to get out. “Yeah, alright, Mitz. But there’s something out there. Something waiting for me and lately I have been feeling it calling me. Calling me in my sleep.” Mitzie’s hand slides higher up my thigh. I shift towards the edge of the bed and she pulls away.

“Something? You mean like an animal or something?”

“No, I don’t mean something  in its most literal sense but, well, something. Someone. Whatever it is, it’s big and it’s coming and I’m the one it’s waiting for.”

“You mean the boulders? Are you talking about the boulders? Honey, you’ve lost me.”

“I’m afraid that’s inevitable, Mitz.” I can tell by Mitzie’s expression that she has no clue what I am getting at, and come to think of it, how can I blame her? I’m not so sure I know what the heck I’m talking about either.

I get out of bed and put my pants on. As I reach for my holster, I turn and face Mitzie, who is now crying. This is only the second time I have ever seen her cry. The first being when I caught Moses Howard slapping her around in the alley behind our complex. After the beating I gave Moses that night, it makes total sense why he and his brothers have not let me set foot on their side of town without a good helping of colorful metaphors with some not so friendly gunfire as a garnish. I saved Mitzie’s life that night and even though I had written the deed off as just one less token on my inevitable train ride to hell, it meant more to her than anything ever meant in her life. And the idea of me possibly walking out on her tonight seemed more than she could handle.

“Darling, come back to bed. Please.” Her lip quivers as she starts to crawl over to my side of the bed. Her hand reaching out for my shirttail, just barely out of reach, then dropping to the floor. “I know you want something more. We all do. I just don’t know if I have that to give.” Her head turns up and I see that the remaining mascara under her eyes has made a path down her cheeks and under her chin, two deep, dark black trails of tears lining her broken cheekbones. “Please come back, Cal.”

“I’m not going anywhere, Mitz. I just need to be alone right now.” I sit back down next to her and run my index finger across the scar on her forehead. Last I remember, she said that she got the scar from falling off of a table where she works. Said that the table was rickety and should have been fixed. But the handyman who had worked there had gotten himself fired the week before and it was all her rotten luck that when she was expecting to be on solid ground, the table was yanked out from under her feet and left her there on the cold hard floor. And all because some irresponsible man couldn’t be there to fix things for her when she needed fixing. She said the most humiliating part of the whole ordeal was that while she laid there on the floor, blood trickling from her forehead, everyone in the room — patrons and dancers —  stood around laughing and throwing dollar bills down at her. It was the most money she had ever made in one night but she would give it all back to forget that night ever happened. Mitzie didn’t need any more pain in her life. She definitely didn’t need any more lies. Unfortunately, she would have to settle for just one more.

“I’ll be back, Mitz. I just need to be alone right now.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The drive back out to the Doc’s was quiet. There wasn’t much that the Doc could do for me in the middle of the night but I was desperate and I needed someone to talk to that didn’t have some kind of physical attraction to me. Help me sort out all of this. Sure, there was Mitzie but she was a woman and any man who has ever tried to talk to a woman knows that women all share the same inherent flaw when it comes to conversing: they listen too much. They listen to every word you have to say and they try to analyze each word, to the point that there is so much analyzing going on that they can’t really see the big picture that is right there in front of their faces — the simplicity behind the words coming out. Sometimes all it takes is just words to clean this mess up. My mind is a complicated pile of crap right now and the only type of conversing that can really help me is to find another man to shoot some shit with.

As I pull up to the Doc’s warehouse, I see something that I had never seen there before. She is about six feet tall, strong shoulders and curvaceous hips. The way the glow of the moon is coming down on her makes the light carve out each individual slant and curve on her body. Her breasts so firm that the moonlight practically bounces off of her bosom like pennies shot out of an uzi sub-machine gun pointed at a newly erected brick wall. Definitely something I have never seen before at the Doc’s.

As she draws nearer, I can see in her eyes that she’d been crying. If I were a living menu at this moment, the top two specials of the day would be Girls  and Crying. Her eyes are a sharp green color with such a penetrating stare that I can feel the green on my face as she steps out into the light. Her lips so brilliant that only the elixir of God himself could formulate the saliva that must exist on her tongue. I’d almost forgotten why I was even here and it isn’t until she speaks that I am reminded.

“Doc.” The last time I had ever heard those three letters put together and enunciated in such a way that made my naughty bits tingle was when Bugs Bunny put on a wig and a dress to trick Elmer Fudd into thinking he was a girl rabbit. But that’s juvenile and now I’m a man. A man in desperate need of the woman in front of him. Once again, it takes her seductive voice to bring me back into the real world.

“Doc, he’s…he’s…gone…” I pull my brain from out of my pants and listen to what she is saying, because apparently she knows the Doc and, um, something about him gone missing. I think. “He’s just gone…you’ve got to help me.”

“Now hold it right there, toots. You’re going to have to start from the beginning. What’s the Doc got to do with you?” I assume she’s got to be a client or a patient or something. I mean, who else could  she be? Not likely she would be that niece of his that he keeps trying to set me up with.

“I’m his niece.” Open pants, drop brain back down into them. “We were just talking and he, well, he just got mad and started yelling and throwing things. I’ve never seem him act this way before. It’s really scaring me. I don’t know what’s gotten into him.”

“Hold up! Hold up! Let me make sure I’ve got this straight. You say you’re his niece?” I realize that my fixation on the Doc’s niece has gotten me distracted but when I see those captivating green eyes of hers go narrow, I realize I had better fixate on the Doc. “Yes, yes, you’ve already told me that. Now, what’s this about the Doc being gone? You said he was gone.”

“No, not that he’s gone missing but that he’s gone mad. Please, you’ve got to help him. I’m afraid to go back inside. I’m afraid he’s going to hurt me.” Although this may sound completely impossible, something about the Doc’s niece rubs me the wrong way. Granted, I believe she  believes everything she is saying so I don’t think that she’s lying to me, but something about her overall being  feels…innocent. Too  innocent. Almost as if she didn’t fit in this world or somehow managed to go through her whole life without ever being touched by the infected hand of cruel humanity. But if the Doc is truly in trouble, I will have to follow-up on this misgiving later. For now, I’d better get our young guest here to somewhere safe.

“Look, I need you to sit in my car. It’s unlocked. Just sit tight and I will go inside and see what’s up with the Doc.” I walk her over to the car and open the passenger side door. I get a glimpse of her smooth, shiny legs as she leans back into the car and just as her perfectly shaped toes disappear into the shadows of the old Delta 88, I slam the door shut and lean in for one final inquiry. “The name’s Calvin. What’s yours, kid? I don’t recall ever getting it.”

A look of surprise comes across her face. Understandable, really. With everything that she’s going through, it’s only natural for her to forget to introduce herself. In a fit of embarrassment and frustration, she squeaks out, “My name is Melanie.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Inside the Doc’s warehouse, there is nothing but black. I reach into my jacket pocket and pull out my lighter. My fingers run across the engraving on the front, an engraving I now have memorized by heart and only need to feel with my fingertips:

Always look ahead. Leave everything behind.

It takes three flicks to get the Zippo to ignite but only giving birth to a small flame due to lack of fluid. I had been meaning to refuel the lighter but any extra money that came my way in the last three months ended up being used to refuel my intoxicated state. Regretting those useless hangovers, I pray that my pathetic flame stays lit long enough to make my way to the other side of the room where I see a sliver of light under the Doc’s lab door. If I make it, I will need to call up Gillian and thank her for the lighter.

On the other side of the door, I hear mumbling. I recognize the Doc’s voice immediately but as to what he’s saying, I’ve no clue. As I cautiously open the door, I see the Doc on the floor, curled up in fetal position next to his filing cabinets. His bloodshot red eyes are wide open and his lower lip equally as red from apparently biting down too deeply, dripping blood onto his powder grey beard. I hesitate approaching him, not sure what type of condition he may be in. Instead I opt to just call out to him to get his attention.

“Doc? You alright?” I get no reaction. Fortunately, his constant mutterings are a bit clearer from inside the room. With his voice being the only noise within earshot, I am able to concentrate on what he’s saying, but even then, I can only make out one word:

Thing.

I decide to stop pussyfooting around and jump headfirst into the madness. I step out in front of the Doc but even that doesn’t break his stare. Of course, at this point and where I am standing, I no longer need the Doc’s attention to realize that he and I aren’t the only ones in the room. Reflected in the Doc’s glasses is what appears to be a black blob, possibly about seven to eight feet behind me. I can tell by its motions it isn’t advancing on me so I decide to turn and face our guest.

A massive heap of who knows what sits on the floor, opposite the Doc, humming quietly. About three to four feet in length and roughly the size of a storage trunk, the Thing is covered in black finger-like hairs, waving around as if it was catching a cool breeze. Of course, there is no breeze in the air and there isn’t anything cool about the black box. I lean in a bit closer and realize that whatever it is, it’s breathing, Or at least that is what it appears to be doing. Like a big, box-shaped dog (with no head, legs, or tail) sleeping on the porch on a hot summer’s day, the Thing pulsates in and out steadily, apparently paying no attention to me.

I look back at the Doc in hopes that he may have snapped out of his crazed state since I notice that the mumbling had stopped. He is sitting up now, facing the Thing — focused on it — but not saying another word.

“This is pretty fucked up, Doc. If you aren’t going to tell me what’s going on here, I guess I’m just going to have to do a bit of detective work, eh?” My bad attempt at displaying some sort of sense of humor doesn’t seem to phase the Doc, who continues to stare at the Thing, jaw hanging open, more blood spattering on his beard. Fed up with the Doc’s being about as useful as a vegetable can be, I turn back to the Thing and decide to get even closer.

As I draw nearer, the Thing’s breathing appears to speed up and its humming gets louder. Funny, what I’m doing. If this were any other situation where, let’s say I’m at a zoo and am confronting an escaped crocodile, the last thing I would want to do is stick my face into its jaws. But I know what a crocodile can do to my ugly mug. This…this Thing, I’ve never seen anything like it before so I pretty much convince myself that it is just as likely to take off my face as it is likely to pour me a cup of Earl grey tea. But just about the moment when I am close enough to hear the Thing’s breathing and smell its strong odor of burned hair with a hint of balsam powder, I realize it’s not the Thing that I need to be worried about.

My head rings and my eyes see white as I feel my body being thrown over the Doc’s lab table. The beakers and test tubes smash in melodic unison as they hit the ground and then follow up their act with the soft squishing sound of my hands taking in all the broken glass as I try to break my fall. I want so badly to leap out at my assailant, but the Doc is going to have to wait. I frantically wrap my hands in cloth to stop the burning of whatever solutions the Doc had in those test tubes, now coursing through my veins via the open cuts in my hands.

“You don’t know what you’re dealing with here, Calvin!” A lot less mumble and a lot more grumble, the Doc’s eyes glare a burning red as the wild hair jutting out from the back of his head waves in mock imitation of the Thing. I make my way back onto my feet and tie the last knot on the blood-soaked cloth wrapped around my hands, my teeth clenching to make the knot tight, tasting what could be some sort of methyl trichloride, I think, but who has any time to worry about what the technical name for this stuff is right now? The Doc reaches into his lab coat and pulls out a handgun. The Walther P-38 looks to be old and a bit rusty but I don’t wager that the gun can’t still put a nice clean hole in me. “Just leave us alone, Calvin!”

“Now look, Doc. You’re sick right now and I think it’d be best if you put down that gun and let me get you some help.”

“You’re the sick one, you fuck! Now back off or I’ll shoot!”

“Believe you me, Doc, I don’t doubt the very least that you are capable of shooting me, but that’s not what we need to focus on right now, okay?” What little time I have, I try to figure out what exactly I should be focusing on. Obviously the Doc is very worked up and is definitely out of his mind. His niece was smart to run from him. But what about the box? The Thing? Only a world class dipshit would not be able to put two and two together and know that it equals forget about the gun and let’s figure out what that Thing has done to the Doc. “Now why don’t you step away from that Thing and come over here with me?”

“You’re not listening, Calvin! The Thing is all I’ve got! It’s all you’ve got! We have to let it finish its course! For our sake! For Melanie’s sake!”

“Melanie? You’re niece? Look, Doc. I ran into your niece outside and she’s concerned about you. But she’s alright. She’s in my car and if you would just put down that gun and come with me, we can all talk to her.”

“I’ll talk to her right here! I don’t need you to tell me where to talk to my own niece! I’ll talk to her when I please! This is not your Thing and I don’t need you anymore!”

The bullet burns deep into my shoulder and the salty taste of blood fills my mouth as I bite my tongue in reaction to the bullet wound. The spark from the gunshot throws up a wave of flames from the nearby chemicals on the lab table, engulfing the Doc. His mad cries fill the room as he staggers frantically across the floor looking for any escape from his fiery fate. He falls to the floor, skin blackened and eyes covered in boils. I tell myself I’ll regret doing it as I grab an apron from the floor, wrapping it around the Doc, putting out the flames.

I fall back onto a nearby stool and breathe in deeply, even though each breath causes the broken flesh on my shoulder to burn hotter as it spits out more blood. The Doc begins to mumble again, as if whatever demon possessed him to go ballistic and pull the trigger has left him. Now he is back to his old muttering self.

“Calvin.” The Doc’s voice is weak. I can barely make out what he’s saying so I kneel down on the floor, my right hand pressed up against the bullet wound, and lean in closer in hopes that the Doc will give me something — anything — to clear up this madness. “Calvin, the Thing…”

“Go ahead, Doc. I’m here.”

“The Thing…”

 

 

 

 

“The Thing…”

 

 

 

 

“…CAN’T DIE!!” The outer layer of flesh from the Doc’s hand clings to my face as I rip his fingers off of my scalp. A trail of blood from where his fingernails dug into my eyebrow pours into my eyes and I fall back once again. I wipe the red from my eyes only to see that no matter how many more gratuitous gashes, tears, rips, and gores that are inflicted on me, I end up better off than what happens to the Doc.

Through blood filtered pupils, I see the Thing wrap its hair-like follicles around the Doc’s legs and arms, pulling the Doc in towards its pulsating box-like body. The Doc squirms to get free but the Thing seems to have quite the grip on the Doc’s limbs. The smell of burnt hair and balsam becomes even stronger but this time with the added scent of burned human flesh. I rub my eyes to make sure that what I think I am seeing is really what I am seeing. The tips of the follicles begin emitting a thick mucous-like fluid that burns onto the Doc’s skin and immediately eats away at any remaining flesh the Doc has on him. The Doc squeals an unholy squeal similar to what one would most likely hear if he took an aardvark, a flamingo, four porcupines, two armadillos, and three badgers, crammed them into an economy-sized blender and hit frappe. The only thing making the painful cries of the Doc more bearable is the loud humming now coming from the Thing, which nearly drowns out the Doc.

Whether what happens next is in reaction to the Thing’s acidic ooze making contact with the Doc’s skin or because the Doc is so desperate to get free that he would do something as crazy as this, I’ll never know. All I can say is if you’ve ever wondered what someone would look like throwing up his own stomach, intestines, and any other organs that he can vomit out, come to me and we’ll talk about it over coffee or something. In the end, the Doc’s final attempt to get free proves to make it easier for the Thing to suck him inside itself. Which doesn’t mean that the Doc’s internal organs are going to waste, because shortly after the last bit of the Doc’s head disappears into the Thing’s dark massive self, it sluggishly crawls over all of the Doc’s leftover organs and proceeds to absorb each lung, kidney, and intestine that it can find. After it swallows up the last juicy piece of Doc guts, it slows down and the humming gets softer. It is at this point I decide it best that I leave before the Thing decides to go looking for dessert in the form of a Calvin crème brulèe.

Outside, I see the Doc’s niece still sitting in my car. I move like a drunken Neanderthal competing for first place in the “Walk Like Frankenstein Imitating Egor” contest, but that doesn’t stop me from trying to run like hell to the car. Melanie sees the blood nearly covering my face and chest.

“Calvin, oh my gawd! What happened? Are you alright?” I don’t take the time to answer and instead fumble in my pockets to find my car keys. My bandaged hands decide that today isn’t going to be the day they will want to cooperate with the rest of my body in any way. I nearly drop the keys into the river as I stumble from the edge of the dock to get to my car. Apparently Melanie must have been born yesterday because I think the last thing I would do when I see a guy covered in blood, nursing two cut up hands, a gashed forehead and a bullet wound in his shoulder, is get impatient with him and continue to ask him stupid questions.

“Calvin, what’s wrong? Where’s Doc?”

“It’s like you said in the first place, toots. The Doc’s gone.” I toss my limp body into the driver seat and cram the key into the ignition. The old Delta 88 refuses to start. “Son of a bitch!”

“Calvin, I don’t like this. Why won’t you tell me what’s happened inside?” Melanie’s eyes grow puffy and I can feel the waterworks coming back on. If I never see another girl cry…

“Look here, kid. I want  to tell you about what’s happened but right now we just have  to get out of here. Once I get us somewhere safe, I’ll give you the whole kitten kaboodle, okay? So, let’s say you cross your pretty little fingers and say a prayer or two and let’s hope the Classic here starts right up this time, eh?” Melanie tries to choke back the tears and then nods. Of course, I was metaphorically speaking when I asked her to cross her fingers, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t cute as pie when she goes ahead and does it anyway.

Taking Melanie’s lead, I close my eyes and pray to myself, Okay, Big Guy. You’ve pulled me out of worst messes than this, right? Just one more for old time’s sake?  I open my eyes and turn the key sideways.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

            Melanie climbs out of the passenger seat while I storm off the pain coursing through my left foot. That’ll teach me to go kicking the Classic. Stupid car. How many times have I gone out of my way to make sure the thing stays running instead of driving it into a ravine like I probably should have done in the first place, to put it out of its own misery years ago? Now what the heck am I supposed to do? I’ve got the lovely young Miss Melanie here and that…that Thing…in there, which could possibly make its way out here any minute. I guess if we at least begin walking, we’ll be able to put some distance between us. I caress my sore foot one last time and begin to walk. Miss Melanie has another idea.

The roar of the Doc’s Galaxie 500 sends the slightest bit of hope back into my head. I see Melanie climbing out of the driver’s side and look at me like a cat who just proudly dropped a mauled field mouse at my feet. Remind me to make sure she gets plenty of scratches behind the ears later for this.

“Miss Melanie, you are a doll. Now let’s get the heck out of here.” I get inside the Doc’s car and notice that some of the black muck lining the body of the Galaxie 500 has also made its way into the car. Whatever the Doc has been doing in the Supplantation Swamps must’ve taken him days because from the looks of the layers of black muck in the car, he had been going out there several times a week, the top layer still moist and fresh, while three to four layers down has already dried and hardened onto the automobile floor. I start to lean in to get a closer look at the bit of muck that has gotten onto the side of my shoe when I suddenly realize Melanie isn’t getting into the car with me. I wipe the steam off of the windshield and see that Melanie is walking back towards the warehouse.

“Melanie, what on earth are you doing? You don’t want to go back in there!” That’s when I realize that she is in fact not  going back inside. I have to do a triple take before I realize what she is really doing.

She stops in front of one of the large garage doors on the side of the warehouse. As she leans down to grab the door handle, her soft supple bum curves outward beckoning for anyone who wishes to do so to approach it and shower it with kisses. The lines of light wrapping themselves across each cheek nearly has me forgetting the psychotic night I’ve just been through but before I can let my mind drift away into the sweet fantasies of what a night with the sweet Melanie might be like, I realize what Melanie is doing. And what comes of it completely brings me back to the present.

As Melanie brings herself upright and throws the garage door wide open, I see the massive box-shaped hair Thing lumbering itself out from the shadows of the warehouse. It stops momentarily and pulsates next to Melanie, who looks down at it then back up at me. Completely flabbergasted, I get out of the car.

“What the hell are you doing? Do you know what that Thing is?! What it can do?!” As if to get back at me, Melanie does not answer my questions and merely walks over to the car. Like a loyal basset hound gone fugly, the Thing follows behind her, humming all the way to the car. Normally, I would yell out and ask again what the heck Melanie thinks she is doing but the site of the voluptuous Melanie holding the back door open for the Thing to climb inside is as creepy as all out but oddly hypnotic. Once the Thing, now twice the size it was before, has made itself comfortable in the back seat of the car, Melanie climbs into the front passenger seat and closes her door. Not being able to conjure up any kind of exclamation in reaction to the surreal image of what just happened, I get back into the driver seat, silent. Not one word, whimper, or wisecrack to make about the whole ordeal.

“Drive.” Melanie’s voice is calm. Her eyes glow a neon-like green under the early morning moonlight. I shake my head just to make sure I haven’t fallen asleep in some car or back at the apartment. The pain burning in my shoulder reminds me that I am indeed awake. The engine grinds as I try to start the car, forgetting that Melanie has already started it. I see the Thing in the rearview mirror shudder at the sound of the grinding, then go back to merely pulsating. I look one last time at Melanie, whose expression hasn’t changed. I back the Galaxie out and begin driving, seeing the Doc’s warehouse get smaller and smaller and fading into the black darkness behind us for the last time.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

            Sometimes the large rocks will visit me in the middle of the day. It usually happens when I am sitting in my office, trying to make up some work, so I feel like I actually have work to do. Often times, those kinds of monotonous tasks are an open invitation for my narcolepsy to kick in and before I know it, a whole afternoon goes by without accomplishing anything. Not that I would have had any work, otherwise, since my sleeping fits are the very reason I haven’t been able to secure work these last three months, but I keep telling myself that if I just stay awake, accomplish anything, no matter how menial the task is, as long as I am doing something, I can mentally overcome the sleeping episodes, thus leaving fewer chances for the rocks to come back into my brain. But it hasn’t worked. It was three months ago that I stopped taking my medication, when I asked the Doc to start giving me the placebos so that I could try and trick my body into thinking that I am  taking the medicine. But it isn’t the body that needs the tricking. It’s the mind. And if the mind is the one coming up with the manipulation, how can one manipulate it? More importantly, why, after three months of no success, did I not ask the Doc to get me back on the real medicine? And now, with the Doc being hair glob food, what the heck am I going to do about my episodes?

I feel my head getting heavy as I watch the broken yellow lines on the highway march past the Doc’s car, one after the other, in the opposite direction I am going and I start to wonder if I am heading the wrong way. At this point, I may technically be in the driver’s seat but the Doc’s niece is leading the way. If only she knew how to drive  the car, then I could sit back and let my sleeping fit take over and whatever night terrors that wish to overcome me take me all the way. Anything in the sleep world would be better than the real-life night terror that I am going through right now.

“Doc loved you, Calvin.” She speaks. The tall, sexy silent one finally speaks. We’ve been driving for nearly an hour and whatever cryptic reason Melanie has decided to speak now is good enough for me because another few minutes of driving like this and I probably would have driven us off the road. “He loved you very much.”

“Yeah, I know that.” Of course, I know that. The guy has always been there for me and even though he was the one to put a bullet into my shoulder, he wasn’t the one to make the command. Something was wrong with him and that something is pulsating and humming back there in the back seat of his car. “I really dug the ol’ guy, too. What about you? You don’t seem to be so concerned about him now. What’s your story, toots?”

Melanie looks back at the Thing. It stops pulsating and humming long enough for Melanie to look it over, one hairy end back to the other. It starts up again as Melanie turns back to me.

“I loved him, too. I still love him. He was like a father to me.”

“You and me both, kid.”

“But he didn’t have faith in me. Thought that I needed growing up. Improving. I hated him for that. But maybe he was right. I questioned myself all the years that he told me that I would have to change in order for me to fully be a beautiful person.” I can sense the Thing getting bigger behind us. I want to turn my attention to it and change the subject. Get Melanie to tell me what she knows about it. But I have been slapped in the face enough times to know that when a woman is talking about personal, emotional details, you don’t turn your attention to any kind of box.

“Yeah, that sounds like a pretty dickey thing to do, kid.”

“Yes. Yes! And now look what’s become of me! Damn you, Doc! Why couldn’t you just let me be? Why couldn’t you just listen to me and talk to me? Instead of changing me!” I reach into my pocket and hand Melanie a blood-soaked handkerchief. She doesn’t seem to mind the blood. After she dries her tears and wipes her nose, she composes herself and continues. “I just needed his support. Just needed him to have faith in me. Maybe then, maybe when he could fully believe in me, I could have found love. I could have gotten your love.” The sleeping fit must be hitting. For a second, I thought she was referring to me. I shake my head and blink repeatedly to clear the sand out of my eyes. Good. Now maybe I can get her to repeat herself because what I thought she said would have made no sense at all.

“Whose love are you looking for, kid?”

“Yours, dammit! Calvin, why can’t you love me?”

“Now look here, kid. You’re very pretty, I have to say. Much prettier than I expected, being a blood relative of the Doc’s, and all. My apologies, but I’m sure you can understand why I would say that, right? The Doc was never any kind of looker, you know.” Melanie’s eyes are wide but the tears stop. She doesn’t say a word. I figure I best keep going. “But, you and I. We just met, kid.”

“Just met?! How can you say that? We’ve known each other for years!” I slow down the car to pull over. The Thing continues to grow and pulsate even more. The humming gets so loud that I can hardly concentrate on what Melanie is saying.

“Years? Look, I’ve known of you for years. All the years the Doc kept trying to introduce me to you. Heck, if he would’ve been a bit more straight forward and shown me a picture of you or at least told me a bit more about you –”

“Calvin, you prick! I gave you my life! I would’ve given you anything. Anything you have ever wanted. But you didn’t give me a chance!”

“Come on, now. I said that if the Doc would have told me more about you –” but the Thing doesn’t let me finish. As I try to complete my thought, I feel the hair-like follicles wrap around my face. The Galaxie swerves back and forth until it runs itself into the gravel on the side of the road. I pull the hairs off of my face before they can get a firm grip on me and jump out of the car. I look back and the Thing continues to pulsate and hum. Melanie glares at me as if she is trying to bore a hole into my heart with her stare.

“That does it! You obviously know something about that Thing in the backseat there! That Thing that ate YOUR uncle and now is trying to kill me! What the hell is  that Thing and why the fuck are you not getting away from it!”

“Fuck you, Calvin! This Thing?! This Thing that you are so infatuated with?! Well, you can have it!”

“What?!” My head races as I try to sort out the last fifteen minutes and wonder what the heck is going on. Come on, Calvin. You’re a detective. Think about the words. Think about what they all mean.  But before I get the chance to listen to my own advice, Melanie throws me for a loop.

“You see, Calvin. It’s this Thing that you want. You’ve wanted it all along but you didn’t know it. And now that it’s here, in its purest form, you can’t keep your mind off of it. Take it, Calvin. It’s all yours.” And those are the last words I hear from Melanie. The last words to ever come out of her supple mouth before she jumps head first into the massive box-like hair pile.

“Melanie, no!”

The Thing wraps its follicles around Melanie’s body and begins to pull her inside. I see the curves and lines of her body become like liquid and dissolve into the Thing. The pulsating gets more rapid and frenetic, Melanie’s legs kicking as the Thing continues to pull her inside. Just as her feet begin to melt and become one with the Thing, I see Melanie’s perfectly shaped toes fall off and land on the seat in front of the Thing, one falling onto the floorboard and disappearing underneath the seat. The Thing reaches up to the front and gathers up the remaining toes as if it were collecting rocks from a creek bank and swallows them up. Then it stops. The Thing sits quietly in the backseat for a moment, then begins pulsating slowly again, humming. And growing very still.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

            My father used to tell me that the night terrors started after my mother left when I was seven. He said that I never really cared for him the way I cared for her. She loved me very much. She made sure that I had any comfort that I needed as a growing boy. But something in her heart was greater than her love for me. Whatever it was, I never learned, but it was great enough to override any decision to stay with me. My father told me that it was because she had a cold, black heart. That she could only truly love one person at a time and although she loved me dearly, she loved herself more and when I got in the way of her dreams and needs, she left before she could have second thoughts. I never really believed that. I always figured it was because Dad was a dick and that he drove her away and wanted to point the blame on me. I told myself that she would come back one day. One day to get me and rescue me from being alone. But until the day that she would come back, I had the rocks to keep me company.

I’ve gotten used to the idea that a guy like me would never be able to find a girl who would be willing to share a bed with him. But I’m never going to be able to get used to the idea that the only thing that I would be able to have by my side from now until my dying day is a huge pulsating black box of hair. A box of hair that just ate my best friend and his confused sex-bomb of a niece. I watch the desert moon slowly dropping in the sky as I wonder what I’m to do now.

The Thing doesn’t seem to be doing much. Just pulsating and humming. Humming and pulsating. Not much else. I tried prodding it with a stick. Threw a couple of rocks at it and it just sat there. Pulsating and humming. It’ll be morning soon and maybe by then someone will have driven by and I can get a ride back home. I’m not about to get back into the car with that Thing sitting there. But until that ride comes, it’s going to be just me and the Thing.

“You know, Thing…” I can feel the sleeping fit coming on again. It must be. That would explain why I begin talking to the Thing. “It must be pretty easy being a big glob of muck and hair. Boy, do I envy your existence.”

The Thing just sits there. I half expect it talk back, being all drowsy and what not. Heck, even if I were dead on alert and not suffering from any kind of sleep disorders, it wouldn’t seem completely crazy for the Thing to talk back to me right now, would it? Crazier things have happened. But not this time. Doesn’t matter. I continue talking to myself. And the Thing.

“Yup, what it would be like to be you? If I could wake up everyday without a care in the world and just sit there and pulsate and bubble and do whatever the hell it is you’re doing right now. And not have to wonder if big stupid rocks were hovering over me in my sleep each morning or whether or not I have hurt someone else dear to me. Man, how does one get a job like that and where do I sign up?”

The Thing stops pulsating for a moment. I only half notice it, though. Then I shrug it off. It can do whatever the heck it wants to do, for all I care.

“You see, Thing. You’ve got an excuse. You’re this big, fat blob of a toupee so no one’s ever going to expect much out of you. Hell, I ain’t asking much of you. I ain’t asking much of myself. But the thing is, Thing, I don’t get to make the decisions here. Here in this world. You see, me saying I don’t need to be much of anything in this world is only a fraction of the levels of command that need to sign off on my life in order for me to be happy.” Funny, the Thing stops humming. Wait. There it goes again.

“But the cool thing about this world is as with any fallen world (and there’s got to be two or three of them out there, right? Silly for us to think that we’re the only ones that God created, huh?) it’s full of loopholes. Full of little itty-bitty legal flaws that if one knows how to read the fine print, one can really manipulate it.” I lean up against the car because I can feel my body going limp from exhaustion.

“And, you see, the way one can manipulate the order of command is by limiting how many people have a stake in one’s life. Let’s say you’re a people-pleaser. Well, if that’s the case, you’re royally fucked because there are about a gazillion people in this world and by the time you get around to pleasing all of them, you’re dead. And what do you have to show for it, eh? A bunch of semi-satisfied people who’ll forget about you when the next bloke comes along to please ‘em.” I start to feel dizzy.

“Fuck! Crap, shit, fuck!” I have to stay awake. I can’t fall asleep and have someone drive by and not know I’m here. I have to get back home.

“But what’s at home? I mean, what if you are one of the other kinds. The kind that doesn’t want to please people. The kind who wants to be left alone so that only he needs himself to sign off on his work.” The Thing stops humming again. This time, it doesn’t start back up. I had gotten so used to the humming that with it gone now, it’s too quiet out here. Quiet like the dead. I reach into the driver side window and turn on the radio. I hear a whole slew of radio DJs spouting off about their ignorant political views and attacks on bureaucracy but right now I just can’t handle that kind of noise. I find a station with just static and turn it up.

Yes, that’s better.

“But who can live like that? Live alone. Even those who want to limit how many people they have in their lives to make it easier to keep their circle happy, they need at least one someone. Just one other person to validate their efforts. I mean, if you create art and you are the only one that sees it and you believe it’s art but no one else sees it and feels like it’s art, too, do you really, truly believe for yourself that it’s art? Huh, does that make any sense to you, Thing?” The Thing doesn’t answer. It just pulsates more slowly. Slower.

I decide that if I keep standing out here, I’m going to be out cold before anyone shows up and just the thought of myself falling asleep in the middle of the highway for some semi-truck to run over my head, as tempting as it may sound, isn’t how I would like to go. I get back into the car and turn the key while the engine is already running. The engine grinds again and the Thing shudders. I pull back onto the highway and head back towards town.

“You see, Thing. I wasn’t always alone. Got married once. To a dame in Vegas. She was a cutie, I tell you. Had the hottest little body a twenty-two year old could have and a brain to match. Damn, she was smart. Alas, even the smart ones have a brain fart on occasion. For Gillian, her brain fart was getting involved with me. She quit college to marry me. Of course, I’d convinced myself that it was because of love. Why would someone as smart as she was want to be with a guy like me? Love sees through all sorts of shit, right? Even a bombshell like Gillian could be with a nutcase like myself if she loved me, right?” I hear something behind me so I turn off the radio static. It appears our old friend, the Thing, is humming again. Softly, but humming still.

“Well, it was all butterflies and bluebirds for the first few years, but then she couldn’t deal with my symptoms. I embarrassed her many a time with my sleeping fits. But she could handle that. She wasn’t ashamed of my narcolepsy. But it was the night terrors that got her. She couldn’t handle the night terrors.” I honk the horn a few times and slap the back of my head. Wake up, you stupid ass! Wake the hell up or you’re going to die!  There still isn’t another soul in sight. Just me, the Galaxie 500, and the Thing. If I do fall asleep, at least with no one else out here, I’ll only be killing myself. And the Thing, if it can die, that is.

“I tried to overcome the episodes. I tried seeking professional help, but they would just prescribe me the drugs. But, once again, I get a hand in what happens in this world. I can get the prescription and I can pick up the drugs. Heck, I can even open the bottles and put the pills in my hand. But I can also choose to flush them down the toilet or throw them out the window at the last minute, if I choose.”

“But that’s what I shouldn’t have done. They said I needed the drugs and I said I would take them. I promised Gill that I would  take them. And she believed me. She believed me each night. Up until the night I nearly strangled her to death when she tried to get my attention during one of my episodes. I don’t even remember it happening. I woke up the next day, in bed, by myself. I didn’t get to say sorry to her, to her face. I didn’t get to see the bruises on her neck. Everything was communicated to me through officers of the law and her bloodsucking lawyers.” I look back into the rear view mirror and see that the Thing had gotten smaller. Still pulsating and humming. The smell of burned hair and balsam powder gets stronger once more and actually helps keep me awake.

“A few years after the divorce, I learned that prior to my having nearly killed my wife, we had conceived a child. Two of them. I heard that the twins were staying with Gill’s grandmother just outside of Vegas. I wanted to meet them. I wanted to see the only two things in my life that I did right.”

“But when I got to the casino where Gill was working, she called security on me. She wasn’t mad at me anymore and she really didn’t want to not  see me. But the boys. She had been working double shifts to make enough money to ensure that the boys get to go to and finish college. She said that she couldn’t let anyone — not even their father — get in the way of that education.”

I smell gas. I assume that it’s coming from the Galaxie since it was such an old car but being a detective, I figure it out pretty quickly. It’s coming from the backseat. From what I can see in the rearview mirror, the Thing appeared to be getting even smaller and was emitting some kind of smoke. But the humming keeps getting louder.

“I found out that Gill had named the twins Calvin  and Maximilian. Pretty cruel joke, eh? The two names I had to see each day as I went back to my office and read the black print on the glass of the door. She wouldn’t talk to me that day. The day the security guards dragged me out of the casino. As they carried me out the back door, I told her she could keep the names. I really wasn’t doing any good with them. It wasn’t until she came outside to stop them from kicking me anymore in the back alley that she finally said a few words to me:

“I believe in the names, Cal.” As I spit blood onto the asphalt, I looked up at her for the last time. “I just don’t believe in the man behind the names.”

“So you see, Thing. No one can make it alone in this world. Not even a pulsating hairy Thing like you. But that’s the one thing I cannot manipulate. I can desire to at least have one someone in my life but I cannot make that one someone be  in my life. So where does that leave me? With no one wanting to be with me. No one but Melanie Rose.”

There is a hissing noise accompanying the humming as the smoke fills the backseat of the car. I jerk suddenly at the steering wheel when I realize my dozing off is distracting me from my driving.

“Since Gill, the only person who would even give me the time of day was a desperate young girl who stalked me because I wouldn’t agree to spend time with her. But the crazy thing is, looking back, as sick as it may sound, having her stalking me was the most attention I have ever gotten and I found myself not minding it. In fact, the last time she approached me, before I blew up in her face, I felt something drop out of my life. I thought a weight had been lifted knowing that I would not hear from her again but now I realize that was not a weight lifted from my shoulders but a large part of my heart ripped out of where it belonged. And now all that’s left is just me and you. The last person I am going to fall asleep with is a big, black hairy, humming box-like Thing.”

Suddenly, the humming becomes louder than ever. I feel the sleeping fit overcoming me and before I completely blank out, I see the Thing oozing its way over the passenger side seat. Only a fraction of its original size remains. My eyes become narrow and as the Thing begins to wrap itself over my right arm and then onto my face, the hum at a deafening level straight into my ears, I find myself only recalling a stupid joke that seems fitting for the moment.

“You know why hummingbirds hum, huh, Thing?” The follicles run down my arm then across my hands onto the steering wheel. My face is completely masked by the Thing’s embrace. I mumble my final words, “Because they don’t know the words. The little fuckers don’t know the words.” And with those words, everything goes black.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I turn the key in the ignition and hear the engine grinding once more to remind me that it is already on. I wedge the crowbar under the seat and against the gas pedal and pull the stick shift to DRIVE  and jump out of the old 1965 Ford Galaxie 500. I turn over on the desert floor just in time to see the numbers 175-MRC  on the license plate of the Doc’s car as it disappears over the edge of the cliff and into the ravine below. The explosion is loud and if it weren’t out in the middle of nowhere, I’m sure someone would be calling the cops. I try to pick myself up from the ground but the bullet wound in my shoulder keeps me from being able to prop myself up onto my feet.

“Here, let me help you.” Her hands are smooth and soft as she lifts me up off the desert floor and brushes the dirt off of my back. I see the last of the remaining black-hair-like follicles fall from her fingertips as she turns me around and places her hand on my face. I use my good hand (the better of the two, that is) to gently slide her limp red hair out of her face and let it blow in the morning breeze behind her. Her prominent two front teeth reflect the morning sunlight back into my eyes. I wince to get a better look at her. Her body long and slender. She moves gracefully in an awkward sort of way as she pulls me closer to her. The smell of balsam powder helps wake me up and I smile at her.

“Are you sure about this?” I ask her. She takes my hand and guides me to the edge of the cliff. The Galaxie spits out flames and smoke and one final explosion shakes the earth, causing the side of the ravine to collapse and avalanche down on top of the old car. Four large boulders break away a mere hundred feet or so from where we’re standing and fall on top of the Doc’s car and puts out the last of its flames, engulfing the car and the large rocks in dark, grey smoke. As the fire dies down, the darkness of the ravine swallows what’s left of the Galaxie. I ask her once again, “Are you sure about this?”

Melanie Rose looks back at me and smiles.

“Yeah, sure. This is good enough.”

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Uvula

When it comes to Latin, I can say it’s all Greek to me.
All except for when I’m saying, musculus uvulae.
The root form of Uvula distinctly calls out its shape.
No matter how much you whine, Uva does mean grape.

Nasal sounds abound from the absence of the Uvula
And when this is the case, it can cause a case of apnea.
Breathing alongside eating can be harmful in its pairing
Without the help of Uvula to block off the nasopharynx.

At the Hollywood soirees, all the divas call upon it
To be their after dinner mint, to help inducing vomit.
Whether you are a Hebrew, Ubykh, French or Hmong,
Guttural sounds are found between the Uvula and tongue.

You can cut out your tonsils if they ever give you issue.
(Does anyone really need those mucous-covered tissues?)
Every artist cleans his palate when showing off his wares.
And when celebrating Uvula, they shout as if they had a pair.

So when you sleep and count those sheep with a deep, deep “Baaa”
Know that your snoring would be very, very boring
Without your Uvula.

Faith

(written February 4, 2008)

Let’s talk about Faith. This is a subject matter that I have had to deal with a lot lately and not only in my own ability to have faith but in being exposed to other people’s own challenges with having true, unconditional, open-minded faith. Merriam Webster defines faith as:

(1): belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2): belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion b (1): firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2): complete trust

Although Merriam Webster is far from Gospel (in the very literal sense, that is), I do believe they have a point here: firm belief in something for which there is no proof. No proof. If you have actual, solid “earthly” proof and that is what you need to have Faith, then you really are not having any Faith at all. In fact, the very idea that some of us will claim Faith in something and then seek out proof of that thing already cancels out the claim that there is Faith in that thing. When someone seeks out an answer – a definite right-before-your-eyes answer – you are not practicing Faith. You are practicing your own earthly ability to try and control Faith.

Ideally, we as humans – we as Christians – should be able to ask God for answers, ask God for help, ask God to show you the way, then move on. Move on and continue living your life in the pursuit of being closer to God. That pursuit is a path and if you truly believe in God, you have no reason to get off of the path and revisit that prayer just to make sure God has answered it. Granted, you should continue praying and continue asking God for help but the quest for control should stop at that point. When you ask God for something, God WILL give you an answer and the last thing God needs is for you to micromanage his work and to make sure that he follows through on it. I think that is the greatest roadblock for us as Christians when it comes to our Faith. We tell ourselves we have Faith, we testify to others we have Faith, we declare to God we have Faith, but then we feel the need to remind God that we have given ourselves to him and, well, just in case he got busy and didn’t catch it the first time, we want to check back in and see what God is doing and if he has had the chance to get to your request. Is that the kind of Faith God really wants from us?

My current career revolves around everyone and their dog asking me or my team to complete tasks for them. All requests for projects come to me and I manage whether or not a project request is really what the requester needs and if it meets that requirement, I schedule it to be completed. If a project is deemed as unreasonable or not at all the solution to the challenge, I offer an alternative – sometimes more than one alternative – and once the requestor understands how the alternative is actually a better solution to their challenge, I see that it is completed. There are two types of requestors that I have to deal with on a daily basis: 1) Those who know what I can do and what my team does and simply request the projects and get on with their own businesses, knowing that by the date promised (often times sooner), that project will get completed without them ever having to check in on my team or stop by my desk every hour to check on the progress. 2) Then there are those who ask for a request, send emails all day long to me seeing where my team is on the request, calling my desk to make sure my team hasn’t forgotten about the request, pulling me out of meetings to make sure I have everything I need to complete the request, coming by my desk to make changes to the request, and sometimes, in the end, realizing the request was not what they needed after all and cancelling the request after dragging the timeline well past the original completion date and exhausting everyone else’s time, while asking for a new request to make up for their unsatisfied state with the previous request. Which one of those types do you think has gotten more 100% satisfaction from my team?

There was a time where I would ask God, after having prayed for something multiple times, why he hasn’t answered my prayer or what am I doing wrong that may be preventing the answer from coming to me. Those were not productive times for me. I made a lot of mistakes. I caused others to stumble from my own misinterpretation of what I thought was the truth. I did not have Faith. Although I am still no where near where I need to be, I have grown a lot since that time. I have realized that those times when I would challenge God and call him out to be accountable for where he did not help me, that all along, as I wasted his time with my inability to see the truth, that he did answer my prayers and he did give me what I needed. But just in a way that I was not expecting. And that was the problem, I made a request to God and I made an expectation of God and in doing so, if God did not answer my prayer the way I wanted it answered, then I assumed that he did not listen and was being unreasonable. How foolish I was? Granted, I know I am still only a foolish human being now but one that has a better idea of what Faith is and of what God expects from me, not vice versa.

Control. The ironic thing about “control” is that if you put control in the hands of a child, your car will steer off the road and possibly kill you and everyone else in the car. You cannot allow an immature being to be in total control of any complex machine because that being will not know what to do if that machine goes awry and not function the way the being expects it to. Life is the most complex machine we as humans will ever know in our mortal state. You may be able to train yourself to better drive that car straighter on the highway or better guide that paint brush more smoothly onto the canvas but not a single one of us will ever be able to fully control Life. Even with the ability to steer a car perfectly between the broken white lines on the highway, all it takes is another car with less control to cause the both of you to go careening over the edge of the cliff into a fiery explosion of pure chaos. You can control aspects of your life but do you really have total control of it? And if not, how you can you even pretend to think you can control others’? And do you really want to? How many “others” would you have to control in order to make sure that this life goes the way you think it is supposed to? And what happens if someone else’s idea of “supposed to” contradicts yours? The only real control that we can perfect that will guarantee perfect results every time is Faith. If we can completely, entirely put our Faith in God and at that point, let go of “control”, things will be running a lot smoother than they have ever run in the past.

Human beings from day one have always had the wonderful ability to be unpredictable. The awesome power of freewill has always been a blessing but because we are humans and we are not God, that very blessing has given us the ability to make it into a curse. When God created Man, he created a beautiful thing. Far more beautiful than any other creature or object that he had ever created. Here is a being that not only eats and sleeps like any other animal, and loves and pleases like other animals…this being can choose not to do any of those things. God could have made us where we would merely exist and go through our routines like fish do or dogs or deer but he had already done that. He already made cats, he already made trees. Would it really have been that spectacular for God, after creating hermit crabs and dolphins and rabbits and moray eels to have created Man if he merely existed on this Earth as a reactive creature? Well, yes, because God would have created it and it would have been good. But God, the almighty Creator, is a creative person. After creating the duck-billed platypus, it was time to create something even more awesome. And the one element that made Man so much more awesome than a mammal that lays eggs was to create a creature that could think for itself and have the freewill to decide not to do the things God created him to do. Man was a perfect creation. Man was not perfect.

And being not perfect, any idea that Man creates can be flawed. This does not mean that we cannot come up with great ideas. We have. It was through the use of Man’s mind that we were able to utilize electricity to power whole nations. It was through Man’s use of his fleshly brain that we are able to fly from one country to another. It was through Man’s ingenuity that we can pinpoint the exact point when a single strand of DNA can determine what color our eyes will be. But it was this same Man that was able to use the same mind that created all of these wonderful advances in science that we were able to create an atom bomb and make the decision to drop it on Hiroshima. With this knowledge, does this not seem logical that any idea that Man comes up with can be questioned? Asking this question, does it not dispel any reason to have faith in Man and put us in a depressing state of how can I trust anyone? Not really. It is true. Man and Man alone cannot be trusted. You cannot have faith in Man because Man is flawed and Man at his own devices will fail you every time. So, yes, one cannot trust Man. But one can trust God. One can definitely have Faith in God. So when we question ourselves or others in our lives, we do not need to ask ourselves, “Can I trust him to do right?” or “Can I have faith in her to be true?” but ask, “Is God in his life” and, “Is she listening to God?” because although we cannot have faith in Man alone, we can have Faith in Man with God.

My wife recently told me about how her science professor made it quite clear in class that God had no place in science. I respect that. I recently heard the phrase, “Where science ends, God begins.” This makes sense. Science has never been (shall I go as far as to say) an exact science. But God has always been an exact God. You cannot switch the phrases around: Where God ends, science begins. This cannot be true because God does not end but science does. Where would we be today if we merely accepted the “science” that the earth was flat? Or if we accepted the “science” that removing “bad blood” from the sick can heal them? Yes, compared to today’s standards, those claims seem ridiculous but isn’t just as likely that the “science” that we believe in today can be just as ridiculous 100 years from now? Heck, it is most likely some of the reports we read in highly recognized science journals today will be completely ludicrous a week from now. Science is also a creation of Man and because Man is flawed, so is science. Having said that, how can I have faith in science? I cannot. But I can have Faith in God because you cannot disprove God.

These days I have been more at peace with myself. More than I have been in a long time. And I understand why. For years I have been trying to be in complete control of my life and in complete control of the world around me but I realize now that I am Man and Man is not perfect. It takes a perfect person to be able to control this world and the only one that fits that bill is God. I am not God. I am no where near being God. And because of that, I cannot, at my own devices, make myself right. I cannot, in my own control, help make others right. I am in no place, on my own, to justify my actions or judge others’. But I can, with the help of God – a lot of help, desire to be perfect. And because I know that I am Man and that Man cannot be perfect, the only way I can get as close as I possibly can be to being what cannot be physically accomplished on this earth is to have Faith.

Not to be Forgotten

(written April 26, 2007)

“The bodies of the dead were thrown into the ravine like bags of sand.” My mother’s eyes are still and distant as those words escaped through her dry, quivering lips. I wasn’t born until 1974 – one year prior to the end of the Vietnamese/American War – but through my mother’s recounts of the events that she lived through prior to the fall of Saigon and even more through the heavy silence that she emotes with each long breath between each word she speaks, I am able to live those moments as if they were my own heart wrenching memories.

A lot like the way the sky can grow very grey and dark prior to a storm; sometimes it builds up quietly and stirs up malevolently, on occasion ending with nothing more than a disappointing drizzle, but more often times ending with a downpour that not only frightens your senses into staying indoors to wait out the electricity and wind, it can also chill you straight to the bone, so much that no matter how tightly you wrap yourself up in your comfort blanket, you can’t help feeling the spine tingling effects of each clap of thunder. That is my mother to a tee. You never really know when one of those moments will come up, when she will feel the need to revisit a tragic memory, partially to share her grief with another person in hopes of relieving some of the weight the memory may hold, but more so to remind her of how good she has it now.

“The soldiers did not make any effort to keep this horrific sight from the civilians. I was only twelve years old when I saw my first dead body.” My mother had taken the same road to school every day. Her thin, rope laced sandals made a soft patting sound as each step made contact with the dry dirt, followed by an even softer clap as her feet left the ground and her heel reconnected with the top of the sandal. The soft sound of her walking accompanied the whisper of the flowing river next to the road; dark muddy water carrying the sounds of nearby farmers conversing and singing as they tended to their abundant rice crops. The walk to school was about three to four miles from her mother’s shack in Sa Dec and would take my mother about an hour to get to the neighboring village where her desire to learn could be met.

At the end of the day, my mother would have a light dinner, rice and fried fish, at an aunt’s house about a mile down the road from the school. Here she would tell stories of the new bits and pieces of knowledge that she had obtained during the day and assist her aunt and cousins in some daily chores. Family is important to the Vietnamese people and my mother is as traditional as they come.

As the sun begins to drop below the green and orange skyline, my mother says goodbye to her aunt and cousins and begins the walk back home.

This particular day – what should have been just like any other day – changed my mother’s life permanently and left a deep, deep scar in her heart that still causes her to grow silent and remorseful as she rethinks the events that took place on that walk home from school. The river no longer told tales of a rich crop or a full constructive work day for the farmers. It now roared details of a heated gunfight and mimicked the screams of the fallen soldiers who fought aggressively to take over the surrounding villages, only to end up as part of the land that they shed so much blood to obtain. The trees that once provided shade for my mother on this daily walk now barricaded the road as their shredded trunks smoked signals of destruction and horror, the dry dirt now moist from blood, sweat and tears.

“The smell was so horrible,” my mother recalled. “The smell of the dead is like no other smell.” Her twelve year old senses went into overload as she cried and ran every happy thought she could think of through her head to force out the sights, smells, and sounds that she experienced that day but it was all too overwhelming. Where a child would normally need a father or mother figure to hold her – embrace her in the safest place a child could be at a time like this – she only had the cold hand of a soldier, gripping the still warm metal of his rifle which just contributed to the obliteration of so many lives. A cold hand that simply told her to turn around and encouraged her to forget what she had seen that day.

My mother did not forget. My mother could not forget. That day, as the soldiers dumped the bodies of the dead on the side of the road; as their limp carcasses slid down the riverbank, some falling into the river, my mother was told to forget. My mother has not forgotten that that was the day she stopped going to school. My mother has not forgotten how many hours she cried, how many tears she shed at her aunt’s house as she told her about the terrible things she had seen. My mother has not forgotten that her children cannot go through the rest of their lives not knowing what sacrifices had to be made in order for us to be living when and where we are now. Because of this and so many other reminders from my mother’s past, I will never forget.

Newbie.

(written on March 1, 2007)

Newbie. Up until that moment, I had never been referred to as a “newbie” and didn’t quite know if I liked the connotation the word had for the situation I was in.


I was only about a year old when the American soldiers pulled out of Saigon in 1975, leaving the South Vietnamese to fend for themselves against the Vietcong soldiers, who were quickly making their way down towards the once-powerful capital city. Being as young as I was, my still developing mind merely took in the sensations and stimuli of the events unfolding before me, storing them in my subconscious with the possibility of never resurfacing again. At the age of 23, my consciousness never knew that those infant eyes once watched as grown men ran crying out of their homes and into the streets in search of their wives and children; American soldiers pushing past Vietnamese citizens to get to their helicopters or ships that were quickly abandoning the city; mothers grasping their young ones and what little possessions they could carry in hopes that some way, somehow, they would safely get out of the city before the Communist North arrived. My mother was one of those women and as I innocently sat in my mother’s arms, I did not know that what I was looking at was the scene of great terror and turmoil that would overcome the city — and eventually the whole country — for twenty-plus years to come.

In 1997, my mother asked me if I wanted to go with her back to Vietnam to see our family again. She had gone back once prior to that moment but the city of Saigon (now renamed Ho Chi Minh City) was still a poor struggling country and the experience was very difficult for her at that time, having been away for so long. This time though, with news that the country of Vietnam had been slowly evolving into a more civilized economy, with hopes of becoming more advanced and connected to the rest of the world, my mother wanted her closest child to return with her in this time of growth for the country.

newbieI had not considered going back to Vietnam up until that point. I never had any desire to do so. I grew up in America and having been raised by American television and radio, I only knew how to be cool like Fonzie and to talk like Mork from Orc. What could a struggling third world country ever offer me? But each time my mother asked about going, I could see in her face the deep, deep emotional scarring that had affected her through her journey from Vietnam to America. Those dark pupils held the remorse of a woman who was left to care for herself and two young children while waiting to learn of her family’s uncertain future in a Korean refugee camp. Each line on her forehead marked the torments that went through her mind when we were transferred to America to live once more in yet another refugee camp. The frown that had become a permanent part of her everyday expression reflected how she felt about her new life in America, after leaving the camp, knowing that she had an old life back in Vietnam that she may never get to see again. More important than my own selfish fears of going back to a country I never knew was the very fact that my going back may not only help prevent any more lines from breaking my mother’s gentle face, but there was a chance that this trip would also open areas of my mind that I had never bothered to explore before.

The city of Saigon was dark when our plane arrived. It was nearly midnight and having never been in an airplane for more than three to four hours at the most, the thirteen-plus hour flight had made me restless and anxious to get back on the solid ground. My already squinty eyes narrowed more as I tried to shake the sand from my eyelids and focus on anything that could be seen out the window from where I was sitting. The moonlight twisted and coiled as it reflected off of the barbed wire that lined the tops of the thick concrete walls that surrounded the landing grounds of the Ho Chi Minh City airport. The occasional flash of a military truck peeked out of the blackness, just barely under the sporadically spaced lamp posts, reminded me that this was a country that was once living day-by-day under the oppression of war and conflict and even now, was considered not entirely safe.

My fingers caressed the buckle of my seatbelt, as I patiently waited for the seatbelt light to go off. My mother’s face was the same intense, serious face that I had grown accustomed to over the years. It was only when she looked over at me when I was able to see that warm smile that was often hidden away, along with most of her pains and memories of the time past.

“You are back home.” Her voice was quiet, soft. Barely audible over the hustling of anxious passengers rummaging through the overhead compartments, frantically grabbing suitcases and bags, ignoring the fact that the plane had not completely come to a full stop, the flight attendants did not notice, though, due to their own anxiousness to get off of the plane themselves.

“Yes,” I hesitated. “I’m back home.”

The ping of the seatbelt light going off told me that it was time to step out into the Vietnamese air and take in the hot, humid breath that was only last taken twenty-two years prior to that trip. A nervousness overcame me and I recall getting up then sitting back down, hoping that the seatbelt light would come back on and the plane would turn itself around and go back to the States. Fortunately, the sea of black hair and almond-shaped eyes that filled the cabin of the plane reminded my stubborn self that I was not in Kansas anymore and the very fact that my skin color did not stand out in this crowd reminded me that this was something that I needed to do.

Once out into the open air, something in the back of my mind awoke. I can’t entirely say what it was and what went through my mind at that very moment, but I can say that it was a good feeling. What was once fear and nervousness became comfort and calm. Whether that was simply a reaction to actually being on the ground after the long flight or something deeper, like the lost memories that were last explored at the age of one and a half coming back to the foreground, I will never know. Alas, my stubborn self pushed its way back to the inside of my forehead where my consciousness dwelled, and that feeling of calm and contentment, just as quickly as it had come, began to fade as I was reminded of where I was and how little I knew of that place.

The box-shaped bus that arrived to shuttle us to the terminal brought to mind the image of a laboratory cage. The kind that scientists kept mice in just before performing insidious experiments on the poor rodents. I became anxious and played back in my head all the stories of the Jewish prisoners during World War II and the gas chambers that killed so many of them. I looked to the reflection on the large glass windows of the bus and suddenly the anxiousness once again subsided. This time, it wasn’t just the inkling of a possible childhood memory that calmed me but the image of my own self in the glass, dark shadows in place of eyes, strongly mirroring that of my mother’s face. I saw for the first time an expression that I had always had in me but it wasn’t until I came back to my place of birth that I would realize what that expression meant. There was a piece of my soul missing, buried deep with the memories of a baby, now resurfacing and bringing me back to that day when my mother said goodbye to her closest sister, making my aunt swear not to tell their parents and other siblings that she and her two young children were leaving Vietnam. It was that feeling that made climbing onto the bus a little less scary.

Once inside, my mother stood quietly next to me. She smiled once again and the tightness of her lips told me that she was proud of me for taking that journey with her. Something in her eyes told me that having me walking next to her back into Saigon was the perfect compliment of the memory of her carrying me out of Saigon in 1975.

I looked around me as the bus stammered forward and everyone’s arms tensed up to keep from falling back onto each other. I saw many older Vietnamese men and women, who, just like my mother, had a strong desire to be back home and was relieved to be living at that moment. Just a mere three to four feet away from me were two teenagers, about twelve and thirteen in age. I hadn’t really spoken to anyone besides my mother during the whole trip but seeing the highlighted streaks of red in the girl’s hair and the Green Day logo on the boy’s shirt gave me the slightest feeling of still being in touch with America, and so I awkwardly tried to break the serious silence that was enveloping the bus inside.

“First time in Vietnam?” I had forgotten that being the age that I was, even trying to talk to teenagers was like when an old uncle or your grandfather is trying to rap. As my words reflected off the humid atmosphere and ricocheted back into my own ear canals, I realized how incredibly dorky I must have sounded to those teenagers. Alas, they were kind enough to spare me any humiliation and actually responded.

“Nope. My sister and I have been back twice now.”

“Wow. Twice? So this is your third time?” And it was at that point when I realized that it only seemed like the teenagers were trying to spare me any embarrassment but in all actuality, they were really just patronizing me. “Third time to go back.”

“Yeah. That would make three.”

The girl was a bit nicer. “Is this your first time?”

“Ha. Is it that obvious?”

The boy, not so nice. “Very.”

“You’re a newbie,” rounded off the conversation, the girl’s calm voice echoing in the back of my mind. Her tone was very confident, as if she had just discovered a new species of butterfly or unearthed a new type of dinosaur bone.

Up until that moment, I had never been referred to as a “newbie” and didn’t quite know if I liked the connotation the word had for the situation I was in. But as I choked down the last bit of pride that was lodged in my throat and realized that the bus was slowing down to let us off at the terminal, the word began to make sense. And not just because this was my first time back in Vietnam but because this was my first time fully realizing that part of me that I had forgotten about — or had chosen not to think about — was coming to light. But being in the humid Vietnam air with its dark starless sky above me and the contrast of the people-filled terminal ahead of me, lined with military police and airport officials, a voice in my head was telling me that this was the right thing to do and that after the next three weeks, the word “newbie” would no longer apply to me.

The Busy Streets of Saigon

*(originally posted at boyatlarge.com in 1997)

…in Saigon, the main form of transportation is two-wheeled vehicles such as scooters, motorcycles, and bicycles. There were cars and military trucks but these vehicles had a harder time maneuvering in and out through traffic. There are street lines and lights and signs but nary did I notice them being used.  People would swerve in and out between each other. It was pure chaos but in an organized way. These people have been at it for years and knew how to do it with little to no accidents at all. As for us foreigners, well, one day of this would prob kill us…


streets1 …one of the few accidents that I did see involved a young girl on her bicycle. We had stopped at an intersection (I was on the back of my uncle’s motorcycle) and I noticed a girl in her teens waiting on her bike along with all the scooters and motorcycles. Suddenly, this man on a scooter came up behind her a little too fast that he was not able to stop on time. His front tire rubbed up against her back tire causing her bike to flip forward and throwing her off her bike. It looked quite painful and I winced at the sight of the accident but she, apparently too angry to care about pain, just picked herself and her bike up and turned and began scolding the man — of course, she did it in Vietnamese, so, I didn’t understand most of it because she spoke too fast but I did catch a few choice swear words that I knew really well…streets2

…one of the main forms of transportation for me was the xich lo which was basically a carriage (usually able to carry two to three people depending on your size — three average-sized Vietnamese or one average-sized Vietnamese with the uncommonly tall Vietnamese/Korean that I was) on a bike. The xich lo drivers would usually ask for about 10,000 to 15,000 dong (which is the Vietnamese dollar) for a ride depending on how far and how many were riding — this is equivalent to about $1.00 to $1.50 in American dollars. Anyway, sometimes, they would have to take you across town in rough traffic. Sometimes, they would not be able to make it up a hill and would have to get off and push it up (there were many times I would want to jump off and help them push the bikes up the hills but my mom advised me against it because “it was their job”). In other cases, it would rain (I visited Saigon near the rainy season) and the riders would have shelter from the rain but the drivers would just get soaked. Countless times, I would try to give them more money in these unsavory situations but, once again, I was advised not to do it — these people work hard and are very appreciative of what they are paid but if you tip them they will grow accumstomed to it and expect it (tipping is notconsidered proper in Vietnam), thus, making tourists target for price hikes and what not, so, I decided, when in Rome, do as the Vietnamese do…

streets4…I wanted to video tape the experience of being in Saigon traffic on the back of my uncle’s motorcycle so my friends back home could experience at best what it was like to ride in traffic there but, as always, my plans were shot down due to Vietnamese culture. I was told the moment we got into traffic, my camcorder would be snatched right out of my hand — either instantly without warning or someone clubbing me and grabbing it. The only way I was able to do it was to take a taxi, which didn’t give the full effect because the taxi couldn’t weave in and out through traffic as a motorcycle could but the shots weren’t bad. I still would’ve rather tried it out in the open but seeing how I just heard that one of my other uncle’s had his motorcycle stolen right out in front of a shoe store, in broad daylight, in front of hundreds of witnesses, without the keys in it, and there was nothing he could do about it, I guess it was good I followed that advice…streets3

…I wish I had taken pictures of the streets of Saigon at night. This was my favorite time to be out because people would just take to the streets and “cruise” Saigon. The image of all the lights from the scooters and motorcycles rushing past each other in front of all the brightly lit parks and restaurants and hotels and karaoke bars and pool halls and ice- cream parlors just got my adrenaline running. The night life is so beautiful and was one of my favorite times to be out.

Welcome to the Jungle

*(originally posted at boyatlarge.com in 1997)

…while visiting Vietnam, I took a trip out to the country where my grandparents lived in a city called Sa Dec. They had come up to Saigon to see my mom and me into the city but after a week, it was time for them to return home and see to their farm. This gave me the chance to meet the rest of my family (who, all but 25% of them, lived in the country) and a more natural part of Vietnam…


landscp…it took about three hours to get to my grandparents’ place from the city. We had to rent a van and a driver to take us out there. As we drove, I noticed that there was a lot of construction going on, thus, the streets were of very poor quality, so, the three hours seemed to take even longer through all the bumps and holes. The city almost instantly vanished at the end of the city limits and suddenly (after passing the military posts on the outside of the city) the landscape became beautiful countryside. Occasionally, there would be strips of shopping centers that sold mostly fruit and vegetables and rice. We would stop on many occasions to pick up bags of lychees (a sweet tree fruit) and sau rieng (also a sweet tree fruit known as durian in America. This comes in a spiney shell covering but once opened, emits a horrific odor resembling that of sweaty old gym socks. Not a terrible tasting fruit if one can get past the smell) and lots of fresh coconuts, which I drank a lot of the juice (straight out of the fruit) because the water in Vietnam is highly advised against for foreigners whose bodies haven’t been adjusted to their nontreated waters. Even the native Vietnamese rarely drank it (bottled water is the preferred drink)…grpahous

…my grandparents’ house is a modest home — nothing fancy — but a bit more high standard compared to most country homes (the majority of the homes out there consisted of wooden walls and straw roofings. There was no floor in a lot of the homes — just dirt). Their house is made of brick and wood and some straw. The floors are concrete. No shoes were allowed to be worn into the house. There was a water basin out by the front that you washed your feet with upon entering. There isn’t any electricity in the country (unless you live closer to the villagecenters) — they had a battery that they used at night to run lamps around the main entrance of the house. There isn’t any running water. They kept huge water barrels outside the house and when it rained, the barrels would collect the water and it would be saved for later use. There weren’t any roads that led out to my folks’ place. We had to park the van at the nearest village center and take a boat out to the house…

boatwman…the boats used to get out to people’s homes were long, narrow, and almost flat. I, not being used to riding in one, almost lost my balance many times trying to get in and out of the boats. The rest of my family had no problem at all. In fact, they walked on and off of them as if they were just as steady as walking on the ground. I never got the hang of it but I know that these things were safe seeing how they could easily transport our group of nine back and forth numerous times…boattr_1

…these boats could even transport tilling tractors back and forth. Actually, the boats to do this were wider but almost just as flat…speaking of tractors, one moment, while I was in the country, one of my uncles said he had a surprise for me. I went with him and one of my cousins out to his home, where I helped him load his tractor onto his boat and we took it out to one of our rice fields. We then pushed the tractor out onto the rice field and he gave me a ride around in the field on the tractor. It didn’t go very fast and it was flinging mud all over everything (including me). I wasn’t very happy about the experience at the time (because of my impulsive hate for mud) but now that I can reflect back on it, I am glad I did it…

girlwlk…most of my family (aunts and uncles and cousins) live out in the country. While I was there, I was able to meet practically all of them (on my mother’s side). I think I counted about 10 aunts and uncles and two to three times as many cousins. It was funny because, customarily, the oldest cousin is to give money to all the younger ones as gifts upon meeting them. I, being the oldest of them (next to my older brother who didn’t come with me), had that responsibility. I gave out 50,000 Vietnamese dollars to each of them (which is equivalent to about five American dollars). I felt like I was giving out a fortune but in actuality, I only gave out about $200 (that would be 2,000,000 Vietnamese dollars)…

ducks…as I was riding the boat out to my grandparents’ place for the first time, one of the most peculiar things I had ever seen was my uncle’s herd of ducks. I saw this huge crowd of ducks swimming along the edge of the river and on the shore was a man walking alongside them. My mom told me he was my uncle and those were his ducks. Every morning and evening, he would take the ducks out for a “walk” and then they would return to their “bin” which was a small pond off to the side of his house connected to the river. I was told that the ducks were like dogs and cats in the fact that they knew who their owner was and they never tried to escape. Unfortunately, these ducks were being raised for sale at the markets for food but it was still quite a sight to see them swimming along next to my uncle…

umbrel_1…anytime we went out on the boats, my family would bring umbrellas with them — even when it was bright and sunny and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. It proved handy because, on occasion, it would start to rain without warning but more frequently, the umbrellas protected them from the sun. I refused to use one because I wanted to experience the full effect of the Vietnam countryside — sunburns and all. Even when it rained, I enjoyed feeling the rain on my face and watching the strong winds blowing on the trees and tall grasses of the river…

…the river would be at its fullest level in the afternoon and evening but at night and early morning, it sank down to a very low level. I noticed one morning that it looked almost completely drained and all that was left of the river was numerous, muddy puddles. But as the day went by, the river would fill itself up again. Many of the villagers bathed in the river (I saw many a topless old lady or naked children splashing in the water). treerootMy grandparents, on the other hand, had a makeshift bath house, which was about the size of an outhouse and made of concrete. It had a basin in it which you filled with water from the water barrels and you would use a bowl to pour water on yourself while you bathed. I wasn’t too fond of bathing in it at first because I was a lot taller than most of my family and the bath house was built for their average sizes, so, I had to crouch a bit while bathing but I got used to it.