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, 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