Have Antlers Will Travel

“Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt, use it-don’t cheat with it”

~ Ernest Hemingway

 

And then one morning, I knew that it was time to just get on with things.

For those of you that have enjoyed, taken some comfort, laughter even from my writings here, I thank you for your readership, companionship of sorts.

The time has come for me to step out the door onto the unfamiliar ground of another adventure. I have enjoyed blogging, Tweeting and Facebooking, but all things end. I have the luxury of choosing to end them on my terms, begin a new direction, catch the warm winds of change to set my course towards the horizon of the unwritten.

With over twenty short stories in draft, two books to be written lodged in my mind, a new Editor who thinks my writing has some salt, I’m bringing this blog site, social media excursions to an end.

I’m reminded of Helena Bonham-Carter’s words in “The Theory of Flight,” in which she simply states, “Maybe it’s time to just get on with it.” With that, I’ll just hop along now.

 

If you wish to follow my writing, then please drop a note to encouragingthem@gmail.com, and I will endeavor to provide you with fresh new short stories, word of upcoming publications. Warmly, tlj

The Elevator Man

This is the tale of two men and part of a larger story of how one old elevator became a raft they rode together on the river of their lives.

The Lakeside Shores apartments—the Lakes as most of the locals called them— were now in a quiet renaissance bloom. The building itself was an architectural gem, tastefully decorated in the lobby, and with tastefully decorated common areas. On the walls, carefully selected artwork matched the polished hardwood flooring that slept beneath. The exterior building stonework was visually remarkable as well, all of it seeming to belong to another place, to some other more graceful time. The accouterments were a nice balance in aesthetics, welcoming to older generations, while still alluring to the young, to those with artistic spirits.

It was a chilly, damp late fall in 1978 when both men—Tony Bertram and Steven Keller—moved into residence at the Lakes, located at the intersection of 10th Street and Delaware Crossing. Neither man knew each other; in fact, they had no reason to know each other. But that would change soon enough, for they would both travel hundreds of miles together in the years ahead, without ever leaving the confines of their apartment building. Most of those miles would be marked within the space of a particular old elevator, in a dark shaft maintained by H.L. Mercury Industrial.

Tony Bertram was, by trade, a clothier. He was a learned man with an old-fashioned civility, a gentleman of taste, hewn with a fascination for life and for living with style. He had retired from the iconic Mabry’s Department store, situated up on 24th Street after an industry employment record of 42 years. Tony had started work as a back-room stock boy, working his way up over the course of the years, until he ran the entire men’s clothing wing at the department store. Certainly, the last six years of his career were more of an honorary position, one in which “Mr. Tony,” as he was affectionately known, advised and coached a younger cadre of men and women in order to keep the department moving along as the top selling, most attractive floor of the operation. Undeniably, he was a legend in the industry, but as these things go, even legends must eventually take their sweetly deserved rest.

As times changed, life moved to a new department. Following a modest retirement party at the store on a particularly stormy Friday night, Mr. Tony prepared to move into the Lakeside apartments by himself the following week. His beloved wife Betty had left him alone to carry on in the clothing business after 47 years of marriage. Mr. Tony had no children, and carried a quiet grief for the fast-moving cancer that had taken his lovely wife during that short and horrific six-month period.

As he prepared to leave his past behind, Mr. Tony himself did not change. Even as he oversaw the stout young men who moved his furniture, his beloved Steinway piano, and his handsome wardrobe, Mr. Tony was dressed tastefully in a crisp, blue blazer with a brilliant, sharply printed paisley bow tie, and neatly pressed slacks. The rough movers with their calloused hands delivered his fine possessions to his new apartment. Mr. Tony thought it the perfect place for his retirement, a tidy apartment on the fourth floor at the Lakes, with a view of the waterfront.

Two weeks later, a big-hearted, curly-headed young graduate student named Steven, thanks to the help of a sizable down payment gift from his parents, moved into the Lakes alone, save for his dreams of a future as a teacher. In contrast to Mr. Tony’s fine hardwood furnishings, Steven’s place sported only a couple of hand-me-down dressers, one slightly decrepit bean-bag chair, and an old comfy futon couch where he would sleep for the first two years of his life at the Lakes. Steven liked to joke that his decorating style was “Early, want this?”

Steven’s eighth floor apartment, though quite spacious with three bedrooms and a study, faced away from the lake and looked down across a busy city intersection, a small and lively coffee shop, and a used bookstore. Steven considered his view and vista perfect, while Mr. Tony wouldn’t have chosen any such arrangement himself. For Mr. Tony, in all things there was a subtle order, one that had to be met, or the placing would be a time of second-guessing, a living with less than what should or might have been.

If—as Anaïs Nin would have it—each friend is a world that is born when first meeting, then the new world of discovery for Steven and Mr. Tony was birthed in an old elevator ride one crisp December morning. Steven entered the elevator in the lobby and saw Mr. Tony, sharply dressed in his tailored blue blazer, standing with his back against the rear of the elevator.

As Steven would discover, standing with his back to the wall was to be a trademark position for Mr. Tony. The elder gentleman deeply enjoyed other people, so it was not in any loathing that he stood clear of them, but out of a wish to give them as much room as possible in the small space of an elevator. Steven nodded quickly at Mr. Tony, unwittingly shaking off a few droplets of mushy, melting snow on Mr. Tony’s carefully polished day slippers. Mr. Tony didn’t flinch, he simply returned the greeting with a slight grin and a friendly “Good morning to you.” Steven turned his back to Mr. Tony, reached out with a cold, wet finger from underneath the tattered sleeve of his old coat, and pressed the brass-encased button for the eighth floor. It escaped Steven’s notice that morning, as it would for several more trips, there were no other floor selection buttons glowing. Mr. Tony was simply there, now journeying toward his new role as the beloved saint of the Lakes.

At some point, Mr. Tony simply began forgoing the act of selecting a floor when he rode the elevator. He preferred what was the rather odd, lonesome routine of engaging elevator travelers in dialogue, rather than simply traveling to the floor of his own residence. The Lakes was a busy place and Mr. Tony seldom had to wait more than a minute or two before the next vertical traveler or group came aboard. His gentle exchanges and pleasantries soon became something that apartment residents enjoyed. People at the Lakes unwittingly found a refuge for themselves, an encouragement during their brief daily elevator rides with Mr. Tony. Those who didn’t know him, those who didn’t live at the Lakes, simply knew him as the elevator man. He wasn’t always there, but when he was “in residence” in the elevator, he exuded such a warm personal presence that it seemed to envelop anyone who entered the compartment. Mr. Tony carried some otherworldly ability, some empathy that could permeate through the cheap veneer that masked so many people, of those lonely souls who were so desperate to be noticed. He was an emotional chameleon of sorts, someone who could disarmingly connect with the gruff, the angry and the broken, and all with a childlike ease.

As Steven and his girlfriend, Laura, stepped off the elevator, they again thanked Mr. Tony for his warm congratulations. Steven had enjoyed his four years of living at the Lakes and his daily elevator rides with Mr. Tony.

Steven was now a graduate, soon to start a teaching job at a school just a few miles from the Lakes. His friend, Mr. Tony had never failed to offer daily encouragement, never failed to share his thoughts or ask timely questions. When Mr. Tony had sensed the need for Steven (or anyone for that matter) to engage in further conversation, he quietly stepped off the elevator with them, speaking to them in the hallway or the lobby.

Steven and Laura would have enjoyed having Mr. Tony visit them in their apartment, but Mr. Tony had politely excused himself until another time. The large box, resting at an angle outside apartment door, caught Steven’s notice immediately.

“Where you expecting something?” Laura asked. “No, nothing,” Steven replied.

Carefully lifting the brown paper parchment box, Steven couldn’t help but notice that it bore none of the usual scuffing or marks typically seen on delivery boxes. This one was clean, expertly wrapped with crisp corners, and pristine. Only the name, Steven Keller, was printed in neat blue ink letters across the front of the package. Steven picked up the box and took it into their apartment.

Once inside, Laura found her curiosity rising up within her like slowly climbing mercury. She gently pulled gently away from Steven’s lips, his embrace, and murmured showing him her best pouty face. “Well, are you going to open the mystery package or not?” “Actually, I’d just like to open you up, first,” Steven whispered huskily. Laura playfully slapped at him. “Later, I want to know what’s in that box!” He sighed, reluctantly releasing her warm body. “Okay, let’s see what’s so important that you’d turn down more of my kisses.” Laura grinned and pulled the package across the tiles of the kitchen island top towards him.

Steven carefully unwrapped the box, trying to gently peel back the paper on the meticulously sealed box. It seemed such a gentlemanly looking package; he didn’t want to be a brute about ripping it open.

“Wow, look at that,” Laura said softly. She lifted her eyes and took in Steven’s silent appreciative face. Steven, still quiet, fingered the edges of the crisply folded great overcoat, ran his fingers across the soft, supple leather of the gloves, and touched the fine fabric of the men’s scarf. They were very fine things, exquisitely made, seemingly from some other more genteel age, some place where men made an effort to be well-groomed and nattily dressed.

“It’s a gift from Mr. Tony, isn’t it?” Laura asked. “Yes, yes it is,” Steven replied, still speechless at the meaning of this deeply personal gift. “These are really nice. Amazingly nice, and expensive too,” she said, her eyes glowing with a warm appreciation. “We should go thank him right away.” Steven paused. “No, no, I’ll write him a handwritten note. It may sound funny, but that’s exactly what he would appreciate the most.”

There was a proper way to go about these things, and it seemed some of Mr. Tony’s impeccable and old-fashioned manners had rubbed off on Steven. They were the result of a quiet, gentle tutelage molded over the years. Yes, he would write a handwritten note from his heart about a coat he would wear into the future, into the chill of winters yet to come.

The cold snow of that winter, and of many following, would drape the warmth of Steven’s fine coat, not touching the man beneath. He became a fine teacher, one beloved by his students, their parents, and, of course, by the quiet old man who guided him through the many vertical miles in the elevator at the Lakes.

The family all broke into grins upon seeing Mr. Tony. It had been a busy day of Christmas shopping, and now Steven, Laura and the girls crowded noisily into the elevator, giggling, juggling packages, dripping with the wet cold, but untouched in their silliness. It was a shared and intimate merriment, one larger than the season. Mr. Tony’s smile was larger and brighter than all of theirs combined, but today he neglected to hug the girls, choosing instead simply to pat their damp little hats with his big, warm old hands. He stood rather stiffly against the back of the elevator, perhaps crowded by the crush of the happy family sharing the small space with him. Mr. Tony’s eyes, older now, still held the warmth of their fireplace glow.

His bright and tasteful paisley tie matched the bright banter of the girls and yet a slightly pained expression passed his face like the coming and going of some quiet ghost in night. The big old elevator lurched unexpectedly. It was the first time Steven ever remembered something like that happening. The lights flickered for a second, heralding some unwelcome change in the steadiness of the big machine. A moment later, the soft bell rung, the doors opened, and the rolling bundle of the Keller family spilled out into the hallway and were gone. As the burnished brass doors closed, Mr. Tony watched them briefly; his warm, dancing crinkly eyes highlighted in the cool bask of the hallway lamps. He stood very stiffly against the back of the elevator. In this light, it appeared he was almost a part of the old elevator interior.

“Seriously, he wouldn’t just come by for a few minutes?” Laura asked. “No, he just begged off, and you know what it’s like trying to get him to change his mind, you know?” Steven said. Laura took a thoughtful sip of her hot tea, then carefully placed the small blue cup next to the kitchen sink.

“Look, he always comes by to spend a few minutes with the girls at Christmas, to open his gift. Remember, the girls got him some nice, warm slippers. Just tell him that his toes are going to freeze if he doesn’t stop by.” Steven grinned, agreed to take one of the girls to see if they could tempt Mr. Tony into sharing some Christmas cheer with them.

A short time later, Steven returned to the family apartment. He’d spoken with Jennifer at the front desk—with her bright youthful smile and oversized Christmas bow fastened to her blazer lapel by Mr. Tony himself— but she hadn’t seen him in hours. She even rang his room to no avail. Maybe he had gone out, off to help another resident as he often did.

No one had seen the gracious elderly man. No one ever saw Mr. Tony Bertram again.

Laura placed her hands on Steven’s back, rubbing his shoulders gently. “Worried about the Board dinner tonight?” No, he told her, gruffly complaining about some small matter in the governance of the city. Laura didn’t buy it. She knew this wasn’t about school or municipal matters. Laura knew down deep that her husband was missing the old man, the bright-hearted man who had quietly coached Steven in that old elevator during the course of so many years. She brightened, told him that since the girls were in school, and he had a rare day off, they should go out for coffee. With a weary grin, he agreed and they rode down to the lobby together.

As the elevator doors opened to the lobby, Laura stepped off. Behind her, Steven froze as if suddenly facing some gigantic invisible presence and a sudden realization welled up in him like a never-before-noticed volcano. As Laura watched, he spun around inside the elevator, placed his bare hands against the back of the elevator wall, bent his head forward to touch the wall and wept softly, his body racked with sobs and shaking like a small child buffeted by a heavy wind.

Laura stood there, blinking back her own tears, blocking the closing of the doors, unspeaking, letting Steven’s tears have their moment with her husband. And then, in the light of the sun streaming into the lobby, the knowing came to Laura like a sudden rush of warm spring wind. She realized, as Steven suddenly had, that their friend, the kind and gentle Mr. Tony, had never left the elevator that day.

Waiting for Supergirl

Years later, it would make sense why I kept thick curtains closed over the windows in the living room where my oldest son bounced happily in his little blue bouncy baby chair. At the time it was only a subconscious reaction to his crying when too much afternoon light streamed into the room. It was always the same: too much light, too much noise, too much of just about anything always sent him over the edge, crying as if in pain. In fact, the sound of his own crying seemed to overwhelm him as well. But that was years ago, long before someone handed me a book, then innocently asked if I’d ever heard about a condition called Autism.

Autism is a strange animal and a cruel master. My wife and other children are all highly intelligent from a “book smart” perspective. In fact, I often joke that they are walking encyclopedias. Yet, despite their startling capacity to memorize facts and recall distant memories, they cannot navigate the sea of social cues. They become snared on the reefs of most who cannot understand them, relate to them. Then there’s me, with my off the charts emotional IQ, reading the most miniscule social cues from a hundred paces. My eldest hears whispers from across the room, but is clueless to innuendo and intent. Yet he must navigate the real world.

Last Halloween, my son was walking stiffly down the sidewalk, dressed as “Master Chief” from his favorite video game, Halo. He was beefy—pushing six feet—a fourteen-year-old man/boy. He looked out of place among so many young children dressed in their own Halloween costumes. Still, blessedly, my son probably felt no social discomfort. In fact, socially, he probably felt right at home with most of those young kids. The world flowed around him, sounds of running feet, noisy and excited children, and conversations hanging in the dark night air.

Three teenage girls dressed in black costumes breezed by us on the sidewalk. They chattered excitedly, noisily, in those subversive conspiratorial tones teen girls seem to master. My son probably heard them coming well before I did; his hearing is remarkable, all due to Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).

In fact, his hearing has become something of a party trick with our friends and family. For fun, we put him on the other side of a large room, turn our backs on him, and then speak in low tones asking him questions. He answers them all. That night, perhaps he heard the conversation of the teenage girls. Maybe teen boys have some kind of built-in radar for teen girls in their proximity. Anyway, he took notice of them and engaged them in a brief awkward conversation at the next doorstop candy-filling station.

During the next half hour, my son continued to engage the three girls in clumsy conversation, at one point leaving his younger brother and me behind. Moments later, he circled back, informing me that the girls had asked him to go with them trick-or-treating. Instinctively I hesitated. A few houses later we caught up with the girls and my suspicions were sadly confirmed.

Perhaps there is no more subtlety cruel creature than a teenage girl. Perhaps there is some ancient instinct woven into them, one that sorts out potential mates: those to be pursued and those to be ignored. At the next doorstop, I watched my son laboriously explaining to a homeowner that he was Master Chief from Halo. Leaving him behind, the girls walked by me, while laughing softly, mouths open and dripping with the sweet venom of mockery. I made certain that we did not cross paths with them again that night.

I was not shocked by our encounter with the girls. I’ve grown accustomed to the hidden sharp edges of a culture that seeks gratification and ignores what it cannot understand, people like my Autistic family. Often I wonder what cosmic action or hard twist of fate placed me in their midst, as both husband and father to four Autistic persons. They are bright, warm, big-hearted people. Yet they live adrift in a sea of mystery, unable to neatly fit inside cultural norms. They bump along; baffled and puzzled by the hum of social connectivity that surrounds them.

When I think about the internal trauma my son feels in a blindingly mysterious world, I grieve for the maddening frustration he faces when trying to connect with others. Of course, this is a both a blessing and a curse. Yes, while my son cannot read social cues, he is blissfully unaware of the emotional weapons some use to inflict emotional pain.

Despite our wondrous cultural advancements, we humans have not learned the importance of kindness. In fact, the anonymity of the Internet—coupled with the daily cultural blurring that surrounds and permeates us—has given us a sharp shank to wound and rend hearts both around and beyond us. We live with daily doses of bitter discouragement and subtle hurts that would not have been tolerated in earlier generations. So it comes as a blessing that my son does not feel the pain that so many would willfully inflict on him. His heart is giant, his emotional well is gloriously deep, and he lives mostly unpolluted by the poisoned world in which the rest of us must live and breathe.

When I think of the “her” that must find my son, I know she must be Supergirl. For someone to share her life with him, she must be like me. She will be able to read the social cues of others for my son, while joyfully laughing off the emotional projectiles of hurt that will surely be thrown her way. She will intimately know the bitter, yet beautiful, cost for loving my son. I can see her so clearly.

I can also see a future man, my son, who will be loyal to her until his dying breath, encouraging in dark hours, hardworking, and diligent to a fault. He will be a true friend to her come hell or high water. Only Supergirl will know the beauty of my son’s heart, for her vision will penetrate deeply through his flesh and bone, clearly seeing the beauty beneath. With an encouraging smile, she will take him into her arms and fly with him, showing him the clouds, pointing out the stars that rest sparklingly high above a world that cannot fly, that cannot know the courage that courses through his veins.

Supergirl, I await your appearance. I promise to ready him before you spirit him away to your Fortress of Encouragement. I will hide the Kryptonite of this world that would like to destroy him, enclosing it in the armor of my own heart each day so that he may dream of your coming. Hurry now, Supergirl, grow up strong and true; become the real woman I know you must be. Hurry now, woman of steel, we’re watching the sky for you. Fly safe, fly true.

WFSG

 “It’s not the men in your life that matters, it’s the life in your men.

~ Mae West

Last Dance in the Chapel of Love

The speedometer edged past eighty-seven miles per hour as he drove south on the high-speed tollway, the car’s velocity carrying him towards the old Texas city of San Antonio at 9:35 on a Monday morning. The openness, the cutting bareness of the green-brown South Texas landscape bordering the tollway road mirrored the painfully empty expanse of his own mind, the miles rolling by like some circling, hungry thing, waiting for an opening to some still unordained moment. At some point his mind flashed the question before him; just what the hell was he doing, why would he allow his heart to give speed to a destination that would probably only gift pain to an already deeply troubled heart?

Daniel drove on in silence, taking the San Antonio downtown exit an hour and a half later, passing the old edifice of the Alamo as he made his way through the tourist choked downtown cobbles stone streets to the little artesian village of La Vita. On a side street, he found a parking place, making his way on foot to the little church of La Vita, the little church building that had played host to his quiet, lovely, wedding sixteen years before.

A cold front coming in out of the north had done it’s work, the typical September day on the old streets of San Antonio felt brisk. Daniel walked down the cobblestone street without a sweat, only to find himself before the doors to the little church just before noon that day. The big, wooden sanctuary doors were unlocked, he found the chapel empty, dim, quiet and cool. He walked in, sat himself on the far end of the aisle on the right side of the chapel, just behind the front row. The soft glow of the sunlight streamed in through the somber stained glass portraits, making the saints glow with a happy aura, their pious saint’s faces aglow with subtle assurances of goodness, mercy.

Daniel shifted in his seat on the well-worn cushion of the pew, looking now at the steps where he had stood with his former bride those long years ago. In the quiet of his mind he saw her there, her lovely lace wedding dress, the glow of her smile as she released her grip from her Father’s hands, her soft hands finding his own in that time honored transition from Father to husband. From his vantage there in the aisle seat, Daniel took in the sight of his hands finding her hands in release from the hands of her Father. His weathered hands. Liars hands. Hands who had betrayed her young body. Daniel secretly hated those hands of his, his own eagerly grasping hers, wanting to be a better protector than her Father had been, Daniel wanted to be a hearts true companion in this life ahead.

Shifting in his seat, the hard bench granting him no leniency in his lonely thoughts, he drifted now to the moment when he walked forward towards her glowing smile, her soft lace gown there glowing off-white beneath the lights. Just off to her left was a guitar player, one that they had found to be a soothing balance to the tension both felt in the oncoming rush of expectations. Hopes, dreams, fantasy. All made for a glorious rush at the intersection of this slice of American fairy princess dreams. The guitarist played a soft, engaging melody as each one of them stepped forward down the aisle into the future of dreams.

Daniel saw her there, in her lovely lace gown as she stood with him before Father Flores, bereft of any real preparation for the hard, grinding road that lay ahead of them together. In the vision, Daniel watched her hold his hands, then fading, transitioning now as another man held her in his arms, his hand sliding down into her panties as she stood there on the steps, bereft of her lovely gown, as he took her nipples into his mouth. Those breasts that had nursed all three of their beautiful, tangled up children. Did the stranger know that? Would he even have cared? The blank look on his wife’s face telling it’s own private narrative, mostly to those who would not listen, care to understand. Daniel looked away.

What had he expected? Every thing stood against them, and now as the roil of parenting three Autistic children played its savage discordant game, how had he really believed that it could lead to anything short of tragedy? He had been such a fool, to believe that love would be enough to weather the tsunami of brutal cultural demands that would come to visit the two of them in the years ahead.

Daniel glanced around the chapel,  seeing all of them, to the left and to the right; bride’s side and groom’s side, all of those who had been there that day to see him wed. Each of them with their own fairy tales, their own realities of marriage, each calculating for the race of endurance, for validation in the persons that they needed to be in order to win this pretty little life game.  Their bridal exit march was playing now, and he exited with the dreamlike shadows of guests of his now long past wedding.

At the door he paused. Now he felt the weight of the years, of missed opportunities, but nonetheless he felt, knew that she stood with him, if only in the hope of what might be, and together Daniel and his wife walked out of the doors of the little chapel, passing a giggling, happy young couple on their way in to marry. There in the crossing of the moment, Daniel felt a soft nudge of hope, knew that even in the darkest of moments that light may still find it’s way. As he made his way home, he imagined lifting that soft, lace veil, finding those warm lips against his and dancing in the elusive firelight of hope that love could perhaps know his name.

Open Pit in the Sheets

“Open Pit in the Sheets” by T. L. Loper

The night would no longer believe his lie, his pretending to sleep. The night was wiser, far older. The dark of the night had seen many frauds come and go before.

Daniel lay quietly on his side, facing away from his sleeping wife. His wife, nearly sixteen years of marriage, three children and now she slept fitfully on her side of the bed. She was a mess, listless, nerves abuzz. He figured she suspected that he knew what she had done, was doing with another man. He planned to gently confront her with that knowledge late that night. But for now, she slept, he pretended.

“I know what you were just thinking.”

The voice was unfamiliar, or was it? It was close, closer than the bed and she went on sleeping. It was in his head. Wonderful, he thought, now I’m finally cracking up. His writer’s brain kicked in gear, mused that he thought it was supposed to be bells that he heard, not voices. “Do you want to know what it was?” Daniel answered in the quiet hallway of his mind, “Sure, annoying voice in my head, what was I just thinking?” A slight smirk crossed his face as he fancied enjoying this close circuit conversation. What would he say to himself? “You were just wondering if she has orgasms with the other man, if her face bunches up with pleasure? If she ever thinks of you when they are having sex?” The smirk left his face instantly, he spoke back to the shadow voice, “Really? That’s what you know? Just who in the hell are you to hurt me, to hurt me even more than I’m already hurting inside?” A quiet sob, like some unexpected sneeze, racked his body gently. It came once then it went silently back to the place where weeping hides its messengers.

“Who are you?” Daniel whispered, not sure if it was out loud or only within the box of his mind. “Me? A representative of sorts. You know the village of characters, of imaginings that live in that active writer’s mind of yours? Well, I kind of work for them, we all work for you, even the ones who don’t know they do. It’s your village, we’re kind of like your employees, waiting for a chance to be useful in one of your stories.” Daniel fired back, “Fine. You’re fired. Now get out of my god damn head.”

The voice replied, ” Of course, that’s your progative. Still, maybe you should know that doing that never works out very well for writers. Also, you might want to know that none of us means you any harm. You are in a sense, our Creator. You made all of us – some with some pretty serious issues – and we think pretty highly of you. You happen to be in a bad way at the moment, but not all is lost. Anyway, I drew short straw on this and I’m here to see if you want to talk about it.” Daniel paused for moment, then said, “I don’t know that I do. Thanks anyway.” The voice said, ” Again, I understand but then again I’m in your mind, and we’re all linked to what you decide to do – which we all hope is not anything foolish.” “What do  you mean, like kill myself?” Daniel whispered harshly.

“Well, it’s certainly been known to happen. You are a writer, often lonely, haunted by a search for truth, justice, misunderstood. It’s all part of the game. Besides, you are about to tell your wife that you know she’s getting into bed with somebody else.” “Shut up.” Daniel snapped hoarsely. “Look,” the voice replied, “I don’t mean to cause offense, I know, we all know you’re in pain. Hell, I got an ear full for the last two days from Mr. Tony over at the Lakeside Shores. By the way, he says you’ll get through this, your marriage is salvagable if you wife is willing to work at it.” “Daniel blinked in the darkness, replying more calmly, inside his own mind, “Mr. Tony? From the short story, The Elevator Man? I haven’t even fininshed writing that story. It’s still in draft.” “So? It doesn’t mean he’s not fully written. Maybe he is but you just have to discover him more fully,” the Voice calmly replied. “Look, I don’t need a writing critic, I already have my Editor, my readers. I get my ass chewed on plenty enough,” he said. “No, you don’t. Everybody is pretty gentle on you. They think you have the makings of a great writer. You just haven’t bled enough yet.” “Well, I’m bleeding now, you know?” said Daniel. “My wife is screwing somebody else. My heart feels like it’s breaking.”

“It is, Daniel. What you don’t see is that once it’s broken, it’s going to come back together again. It’ll be better than it was before, but you have to walk this hard path that’s ahead of you. So, you’re still going to tell her tonight that you know?” the Voice asked. “How did you know that? Oh right, you’re in my head, you know this stuff.” Daniel whispered. “Right, it’s a gift we all have. You should see what it does to that guy you wrote about in the office building last year. To say you make him nervous is an understatement.” Daniel almost smiled at that one. He was quiet for a moment, when the Voice said, “Look, we all think that you need to say something. This can’t continue. You’re a wreck, man. You’re in pretty bad shape, though you may not look it. People who love you know, even if you don’t want to admit it. You were always a little overwrought, but since your son was hurt you’ve tried to hide in this really dark corner of you mind. Lots of hidden sharp edges in there, not a good place to stay. Daniel cut in suddenly, “What the hell do you know about it? You’re a god damn piece of my imagination. What do you know about my son, the pain I’ve felt over his abuse? You don’t have any right to say anything!”

The voice waited a moment, then said softly, “Daniel, we are the children of your mind, we come in all shapes and sizes, from every different piece and part of your life. You wrote us, will write some more of us. We love you, we want you to be healed. You have a lot of writing, a lot of living to do ahead of you. Do what you need to do, then come out of the dark and dance with us again in the light.” With that, the Voice was gone.

Daniel wept into his pillow, the sobs gently racking his body while his wife slept near him. Moments past. He slipped into the arms of the night, into sleep. And in his dreams, he stepped into the lovely polished lobby of the Lake Shores apartment building, waved to Jennifer at the front desk who smiled back at him, then around the corner where he was surprised to find all the residents, their kids waiting in the dining room for him. They stood, applauded him, then with loving arms took him into their warm embraces.

NTS

Stop Pretending to Care: How to Avoid Killing Somebody with Kindness

Stop Pretending to Care: How to Avoid Killing Somebody with Kindness” by T.L. Loper, August 2014

 

Unless you’ve been living under the proverbial rock this week, perhaps in one of those “off the grid” houses tucked into the trees on a mountainside, you know the score; the comedic genius, Robin Williams has died by his own hand, and across the world, talk of the dangers of depression runs wild. As much as I’d like to sit this one out, just sip my whiskey in my quiet corner of the world, I simply cannot. Why? Because some very well meaning people are going to actually kill others with kindness.  Tragically, they won’t even know they’re doing it.

This year, my physician and my therapist both diagnosed me with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). I was moving in a high velocity downward tailspin, throwing off friends, a job and nearly my life as I went. To put it mildly, I was in pretty bad shape. Am I cured? I’m not sure I even know what cured means in the context of depression. I’m not sure that depression can be cured. Those who know it, know that it is a relentless, merciless beast, one that hunts you in the dark places of your soul. The best you can do is shake it off your trail, hoping it doesn’t pick up your scent again. So, I’m speaking from experience when I tell you that your kindness may be lethal to a depressed person. What I’m going to say now may unfortunately strike many as counterintuitive. It’s probably going to run against what we’ve been instructed, coached to do when being helpful to someone struggling with depression. So be it. Do you want to actually help save a life or just look the damn part? You choose, but here’s my advice.

Know Thy Enemy. Depression means business, the killing kind of business. Everybody gets the “blues” from time to time, but the “blues” are like a common cold compared to Ebola when it comes to clinical depression. There’s a reason I’m coming in with this one at the top, because if you take depression lightly in others or in yourself, the sufferer will never see it coming when it comes to finish them off, and it will come in for the kill if it can. If you are serious about helping someone, then pack your gear bag for big game hunting, because this one is a scary lion.

You Can’t Fix Them. What nobody is going to tell you is that it doesn’t matter if you are the best friend, best psychologist, best listener in the world, you can’t fix someone struggling with true depression. I know this is where I start to pet the kitty’s fur in the wrong direction. All of your good advice is going to feel to the depressed person like you are handing them a weight, a set of barbells to them as they are drowning. Maybe that hurts your feelings, your pride, your sense of expertise but I’m trying to save lives right now, so I don’t really care if you don’t like to hear that. The best word picture I can give you to describe depression is that it is a figuratively a huge, wet tarp completely covering you up. All of your good intentions, acted out on your own intuition, is going to feel to the depressed person like laying down on top of them while they are under the tarp of depression. Trust me, your help is going to be perceived as a horrible weight. If you really want to make a difference, then you are going to have to crawl under there with them. Which brings me to my final point.

Either Jump Into the Ring or Stay the Hell Out of the Fight. Do you really want to help someone fighting for their life with depression? Do you really? If you seriously mean it, then you better be prepared to be in the fight for real. Clint Eastwood, in the film “The Outlaw Josey Wales” (1976), tells frightened homesteaders that when all looks lost, that’s when you have to get mean, fighting mean. What does that look like in the harsh, murky reality of helping someone battling depression? It means this, and only this; you have to show up in their world, be sacrificial in spirit and be ready for anything. Years ago, a friend of mine interceded for a severely depressed friend. Here’s what he did: he and several other friends forced their way into the depressed friends house, then sat around him in a circle for several long hours silently. How the hell they pulled off not giving advice or something is beyond me, but they did it. Finally, the afflicted person wept, sought human touch, and began to stagger back into the light of being loved. Loved hard, no quarter given, without mercy. Nobody offered any magic bullets, no words of advice, they just showed up. This is going to be a challenge in a overly connected, disconnected world but no matter, it’s the only way through the storm of the mind known as depression. You have to walk into someone else’s storm, knowing there may not be a lovely rainbow at the end.

I hope this helps somebody. If you know me, my writing, then you know I don’t give a damn about glory, fame. Sometimes though, we just have to say something if it might save lives. Now, please be a friend today. A real friend, one who goes into the dark places of life, brings a candle of hope when all other lights have faded away.

T.L. Loper

T.L. is a Texas based freelance writer. BA, M.Div., veteran blogger, published author of social commentary and short fiction. He is currently working on a new book based on the hardships and humor of raising an Autistic family.

Patch Adams, (1999) Sometimes you just have to wear the nose.

Patch Adams, (1999)
Sometimes you just have to wear the nose.

 

Being a Better Puppeteer

“I know what I look like – a weird, sad clown puppet. I’m fine with that.”  

~ Rainn Wilson

While there are plenty of articles about the condition of Autism (ASD – Autism Spectrum Disorder), resources galore, almost none of them deal with the rock hard reality of needing to look oneself in the mirror, lock eyes with the person you find there, then saying what needs to be said right out loud: you are so screwed. Followed by laughing like a lunatic before getting back to the business of living.

Very recently I read of a fellow parent of an Autistic child who apparently succumbed to the wretchedness of her difficult parental condition, seeking to end her pain by ending her own life, even that of her own child. Listen, I refuse to cast any stones in her direction, or dish out any holier-than-thou-art crap. Still, reading of her travails impacted me in a deep way, leaving me to want to write down a few of my own thoughts. Just so you’re aware, I don’t have any profound resources for dealing with the all-too harsh reality of raising Autistic persons, pro-tips or any swell products, supplements you should buy, other than good booze. Actually sunshine, make that really great booze.

What I will do, is throw out a few suggestions for your survival. Whether you are raising an ASD child or just know someone who is. I have three I’m raising, throw in an often exasperating ASD wife. Regardless of your situation, you need to read this. Folks, I have five points to make, I’ll try my best to keep it pithy, then everybody can get back to line dancing.

 If you truly believe it’s not all about you then live that way. What I’m about to posit here is going to sound like it’s contradicting my fourth point, but it’s not – you just have to try a little harder to wrap your head around this one, that’s all. Before I can tell you that I judge people by their actions, and I certainly do – I need you to understand that we are all judgmental beings. I’m sorry if you don’t like the sound of that remark but you’re going to have to live with it. Folks, being judgmental is what keeps us humans from getting eaten by bears, or wolves, sociopaths, whatever you wish to name your predator. Judging things is a built in survival instinct.

Having said that, you have to know that I sometimes talk a lot of crap, but my friends know that I will fight to the death for the innocents, the helpless, beautiful things of this life. I’ve often said, will say many more times before my own curtain closes, there are only two kinds of life views people possess; either you see other people as unique, individual human persons worthy of honor, your respect or you see them just as things, instruments to get you what you want out of life. This morning, I spoke with a dear friend about this. We determined that even though we both “talk a good game,” at the end of the day, we both still operatively protect the vulnerable people in our lives, even in the face of our hearts running for the beach, for say, the next forty or fifty years or so. Boat drinks, please!

If you are of the noble view that people are human persons, then please do not betray your own heart – stay with your kids,  as hard as it may be, fight the good fight for the their sake. Look, I’ll “cut you some slack” if you’re kids are neuro-typical, but if they are ASD, then your leaving them will completely gut their carefully scripted world. Live for them, even die for them if you must. Oh, lovely advice, you say! I’m already insufferably miserable. Don’t fret then, because it only gets harder from here.

You’re alone, now deal with it. There is no nice, warm, winsome way to put this; nobody is going to come to your rescue. If you live in an ASD family situation, then as the saying goes; you live in a box, within a box. What are the boxes? In a nutshell, by necessity you live within a protected social sphere. Outside of your family, other ASD families, those who should most understand you, could come alongside, can’t, they won’t. They are usually overwhelmed, isolated, trying to survive in a culture that has no clue as to what these families are dealing with. Sadly, even if it did understand them it would probably reject them. Look, being isolated, alone is no picnic but if you are going to do any damn good for yourself, for anybody at all then you’d better realize that that’s what you’ve got to work with. Personally, I’m an extrovert, I draw energy from relationships, companionship. By all rights, I should have gone completely off the deep end by now. With four Aspies within my walls, I’m like Captain Kirk stuck on the planet Vulcan©. The people I’m surrounded with are logical, cold, precise, don’t do humor. Lecturing incessantly, they are vibrantly book smart little professors. I have to make do with calling for Scotty on the Communicator for a beam-up to the Starship Enterprise every damn day.

You need to set this in your mind: you may be alone but you are not defeated. Alone, but not necessarily forever. If there is any encouragement I can hand out to you in being alone it is this; you may be wise, but my friend, you cannot see the end of your story. One day, you may find yourself surprised with unexpected joy. It can happen but you have to hold your ground, you have to wait for it, baby. Oh, you’ve earned it, but the payday can be grindingly slow.

Victimhood is really overrated. I make a conscious effort to not vest much time telling people about my Autistic family. It doesn’t gain anybody much of anything. I don’t particularly make any effort to hide the fact, either. I soundly reject the notion of victimhood in my circumstances. My life situation is certainly a bitch, but I’m no victim. I’ve made it clear before, and will continue to do so – the real tension for me is that I’d have run for my life if I knew what Autism was – but on the other end, now looking into my daughter’s eyes, that sweet warrior-poet, I’m the one who is privileged to know her, experience her gifts.  Look, if you are going to embrace martyrdom – in whatever your life situation – then know that you are robbing your own heart, cheating yourself and ultimately ruining any chance of finding healthy friendships. 

You call it selfish, I’ll just call it survival. I drink booze. I often get loud. I’ll dance in the street with you if you have the legs for it. I don’t care – I’m desperate to survive. Do I strive to provide, care for my family? Yes of course, but I know that if I burn myself out too badly then I’m no good for anybody. I’ve been there, and it’s not a pleasant place to visit. When my oldest was assaulted in a residential care facility, I got low, I got murderously angry, depressed, finding in my heart cold dungeons deep under the house of despair. In the end, I had to let it all go or risk losing everything. If you are in a situation like mine, then please do what you have to do to take care of yourself. Scream in the shower, drink good whiskey, sing to the stars above, whatever it takes to keep you from caregiver burn-out. Which brings me to my final point: going crazy – with verve!

Crazy comes in lots of Fantastic Flavors – Just Pick One! Humor, extra witty chips with a nice nutty finish is my favorite. Being a writer, one with an imaginary, antlered, mutant mythical side kick is not something I do to impress women, gain friends and admirers. Surprising as that may be, I’ve discovered the deep and abiding joy of craziness. Madness has been a refreshing place for me to operate out of. Having stated that, please understand that my personal flavor of crazy comes with it not losing control, hurting loved ones, living in the street pushing a shiny grocery cart. It’s a freedom to be cuttingly funny, smart and make people giggle, possibly even wet their underpants while laughing. When the world refuses to make sense, to play by the rules, then perhaps it’s time to take a leaf blower to Life’s game board, blow all those pretty pieces into a crazy plume of flittering nuttiness.

If you are reading this and feel like you are in a damn snow blind blizzard of helplessness then I’ll weep with you. Then I’ll grab your hand and lift you up into my nutty world. There we’ll find freedom, a dance to a tune that only we can hear. See you on the street, my friend.

BethePuppeteer

Meeting the Wife

“The thing nobody warns you of is that if you are a writer, if you stop writing then something begins to writhe, to leach venom into your bloodstream. It starts in the mind, in the basket of your imagination and it’s poisonous tendrils begin to reach for your heart. If it grasps you there, then something terrible will surely happen. It’s your own damn fault, but regardless, you can’t let the beast be free. Write, write anything – no matter what it is, type out the god damn cookbook if you must, but don’t let it be free to feast its horror on the world.”  ~ tlj

 

There was certainly no part of him that wanted to be at the dinner party that night. Or any other, in fact. He was there only because she wanted to be, he would thus side step the accusation of being anti-social, boorish, only wishing to write in his study, to be left alone.

The others there were so pretty, handsome all of them in their dresses, sports coats, wine glasses held in their hands. He imagined them grinning broadly, each carrying a wicked looking straight dagger, rather than a crystal wineglass. It was his wife’s company gathering, he was but the sidekick, the one there to complete the image of the happy corporate couple. He didn’t have a wine glass in his hand, prefering to spare himself that liquid accesory until he could return to his whiskey glass in the silence of his study.

They moved with slow precision through the room, chatting loosely, without really engaging interest with anyone. At some point during the measured conversations, he began to drift into an empty room, one where no other party goer was present, deep in the recesses of his own mind. His stories began to find him there, to dance with the fringes of his imagination, rapid nerve impulses went out from their neuron masters to his fingers with instructions to write. Denied they were, but the impulses came to them nonetheless. At some point his wife tugged at his shirtsleeve, directing him to focus on the commanding looking CEO, there in the small group semi-circled around them. His wife glanced hard at him, her look messaging that he needed to say something warm, witty, at the least courteous to the man. The CEO flashed a practiced grin, his words came calmly,  winsomely in a sing-song tone, “So, tell me how you met your lovely bride.”

It was only a simple question, he could have easily answered it, smiled and moved on. His throat quivered, a mournful sound began to rise from the pit of his chest, a low moan growing suddenly, sharply into a high pitched wail. Then in an instant, the wail amplified into a horrifying sonic battering ram emanating from his mouth. He watched helplessly, as the sound struck the handsome CEO mid-chest with such force that it sheared his torso away from the rest of his body like a golf ball struck away from the pin. The man toppled backwards loosely, his body torn asunder.

The sound solidified now into a terrible cutting weapon, unbidden it sliced a half dozen people apart as he shook his head maddeningly from side to side to rid himself of it. Now walls, floors began to collapse amidst the screams of terror, people throwing themselves, eardrums burst in their heads, out of the maelstrom of destruction.  He watched helplessly as a woman in a blue cocktail dress threw herself over the balcony, bouncing off the pavement below like some child’s rag doll.  

Everywhere he looked now were massive plumes of dust, ash, fire and death. Wholesale destruction. The sound coming from his mouth then became the end of all things, as he witnessed it burn into the Earth’s core, felt the Earth heave like a wild, drunken thing trying to buck him off its skin, before splitting into pieces, exploding in a mammoth concussive wave.

After what felt to be an eternity of silence, he opened his eyes, taking in the  vast expanse of space around him. The world, his home, everything and everyone was gone. Atomized, vaporized by the violent heat of his anger. His anger towards her. If anyone had been left alive then he would have explained it to them. Why had he never just told her the truth? There would be no explaining now. He hung there, alone in the vacuum of space, the empty, airless void that had extinguished his furious voice. Closing his eyes again, he floated alone in the icy cold, awaiting eternity.

A noise sprang into the void. He blinked hard, opened his eyes to the light of his own front porch. His wife fumbled noisily with the keys, opened the front door then said to him, “Why the hell didn’t you answer my boss? You just stared at him. What kind of dumb ass thing were you thinking? God, that was embarrassing.”

Her voice faded again into the void. The dark void that owned him, swallowing him and the voice of fear, of anger that would not be heard.

fear