Stories From My Life #1: Blind Luck

I have a lot of little stories about my life. Some of them are funny, some of them are less funny, and some of them are downright surprisingly rotten. I thought today I would tell a little story from my life instead of using a fiction.

It was about three or four years ago. I was at a campout with a bunch of friends. One day I’ll explain more about those campouts. Suffice it to say, for now, we were watching a bardic. The first place winner took home a throwing axe.

Very few of these people, but there were some, knew how to use a throwing axe. Me personally, I did not have experience with this sort of thing, technically. I do however know a lot about the theory. So, I followed the new owner of this axe back to their campsite. Naturally, they would want to try it out immediately.

They failed horribly. I don’t mean that as a form of nasty criticism. Each and every one of them were trying to lob this beautiful piece of thinly shaped metal as if it were a baseball. Rather than just watch this keep happening, I did decide to step up and try my hand at it.

A little known fact about me: my conscious aim is terrible. The key word there is conscious. So if I don’t aim… Well, you’ll see in a second.

I stepped up to the group and played the simple and easy card of “guys you’re doing it wrong”. This required a bit of bravado, but nobody questioned me. I was well-known enough for that. They handed over the throwing axe and I explained a little bit. You have to throw from the shoulder directly into the wrist; it’s all in the flick of the wrist.

Somehow, I managed to perfectly land that axe. Not only that, but the tree in question had a split straight up it. My shot landed perfectly vertical and slitted directly into that slot. Needless to say, I had not aimed and, unfortunately, I will never be able to do that again. The whole group around me collectively gasped. Mostly men, a lot of them covered their groin (politely termed their “junk”in these circles).

Me, in a blouse, corset, and skirt, complete with belt wrapped to frame my hips, had just upstaged the ten minutes these guys had spent trying. In one throw. Doing the only intelligent thing at that point, I smiled, winked, and walked away, leaving them in a suitable state of awe.

That was actually the highlight of a relatively frustrating weekend of eventing at a camp site, in garb and a tent. I loved it though.

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Writing Prompt #13: At Death’s Door

The various monitors populated the room with the stereotypical digital noises that came with any hospital room. Maybe the television shows had exaggerated a bit, but it was pretty damn close. Janis laid there, still trying to work through the psychological blow of the most recent round of medical tests. The diagnostician had just been through. The news was actually quite terrible.

Someone knocked politely at the door and Janis looked up. “Brennon – it’s good to see you!”

He stepped into the room. As always, Janis felt the rest of the world fall away, quelled by the almost preternatural peace that seemed to fold out from Brennon. The sensation of calm reached out almost tangibly to take over the space.

“Is that your excited face?” Brennon quipped with a smirk and a quick peck on the forehead. “How are you feeling, love?”

Janis hesitated.

“Just said it. Please – don’t think any of this can possibly scare me away.”

Janis felt the tears welling up. “The doctor says the tumors are pressing up against things. He called it a trifecta he had never encountered before…”

Brennon was already embracing Janis as the sobs began. So many deaths across the world, but this was the only one he cared about right now. The situation made him angry in a way it never had, despite all of his experiences. For the first time in his entire existence, Brennon was furious at God.

Perhaps it was just hearing that term, trifecta, and knowing in the core of his being that it was God calling Brennon out for failing in love. Then again, it might just have been coincidental. He had never liked those very much.

Brennon whispered to Janis, “I am not going to let you die.”

Sniffling, Janis started to chuckle. “I really don’t think that is how this works, but I love you for the thought.”

When he replied, something changed in Brennon. “I am Death, my love. I get to decide these things.”

Janis would normally have laughed until it made him incontinent. The expression on Brennon’s face brought that reaction up short. “That’s impossible. You wear almost exclusively polo shirts.”

Now, it was Brennon who laughed. Somehow, though, it did not tease the shadows away. “Would you have preferred the stereotypical monk get-up and scythe?”

“I guess I never assumed that Death would get to choose anything.”

“Normally, you would be right…”

Slowly, deliberately, Brennon seemed to unfold into an upright position. The seething fuel of indignation threatened to push him to do something rash. He exhaled in a huff, entirely unaware of the ethereal smoke that puffed from his nostrils. When Brennon looked down at his lover, the expression of awe and confusion dampened his flame a little.

“…this time, however, I will do whatever it takes to keep you with me.”

“Brennon, what is going on?” Janis could not muster up any fear of him, but this was all so unexpected.

“I told you,” Death replied in a hollow voice, “I am not going to let you die. Janis…”

The way Brennon said the name would have been ominous from anyone else. “Yes…?”

“If I do not come back to you, then I want you to know what we have had together has been the most significant experience of my entire existence.”

The being standing next to the hospital bed looked less and less human as the seconds passed. Janis knew he was crying again, but it was difficult to know whether it was being awestruck or the thought of losing Brennon. Tears dropped heavily, rolling down Janis’s cheeks.

“You had better come back, God damn it…”

Death laughed. It was an empty, echoing sound that made the blood run like ice. “I believe He already did. I do my best to return. Until then, farewell.”

The room was suddenly the normal, dreary hospital space. The beeping that Janis had not even paid attention to had returned. Color they had not missed flooded back into his senses. Janis, though, felt as hollow as the voice of Death minutes before.

It took three days. The first twenty four hours passed uneventfully. Janis felt more and more tired, the anxiety eating away at hope. The second day, when the nurses came to deliver medications, they could not wake Janis up. That night, after a series of tiny strokes, Janis was put onto life support.

Then…all the sound stopped.

“Hey, love.”

Janis turned. “Brennon! You’re – um, you.”

He chuckled. “Yeah, but only for a little while. I – well, I failed.”

Suddenly, Janis realized that his beloved was crying. He had never seen Brennon cry, despite being together for almost fifteen years. It pulled at his heart. “What do you mean? ”

Brennon tried to speak around the lump in his throat. His eyes burned and blurred as he tried to blink those tears away. “I’m so sorry, Jan. I could not convince Him to let you continue on Earth.”

Janis blinked. “I’m dead.”

It was both a question and a statement. Janis did not feel dead, but maybe that was normal. Brennon nodded mournfully.

“I tried speak on your behalf, to get you more time. You were too young!” Brennon felt like he was reliving that awesomely frightening conversation. “I’m sorry,” he whispered finally.

Janis pulled Brennon into a hug. It felt good to have his strength back after having fought the tumors these past five years. Brennon had been his partner and confidant through every moment. “I am not sorry.”

They were quiet for a time. Janis took a few moments and realized he could not identify anything about the space they were in. When Brennon had calmed down again, Janis pulled him up face-to-face.

“Now, listen,” Janis smiled, “these years with you have been the happiest of my life and I regret nothing about being with you. That will be true, no matter what, even if this is where it ends.”

Tears welled up fresh in Brennon’s eyes, but he held his composure. “There’s more,” he croaked. “He will not let me stay with you, because I am Death and there is no place in Heaven for me until the Revelation…”

“What about the other way around? Maybe Death could use a housekeeper?”

That’s made Brennon smile a little. He shook his head. “The first home I have ever had was your house. There is one way, but I think you should move on to Heaven, Jan. It isn’t right to ask you to stay with me.”

“No,” Janis replied without hesitation. “I don’t care if you put my soul in a box and keep me in your pocket until the end of time. It would make me happy to know you carry me with you.”

“Stop that! You don’t know what you’re saying. Eternity in limbo is a terrible existence.” Brennon pulled his sleeve across his face with an ugly sniffle. “I could not do that to you anyway. It would not work.”

“Alright, then, what is my other option?”

“Let me take your soul, cross you over, and withhold your soul from passing the gates. As long as you never, ever approach the gates, then I can be with youfor several hours each day there. Got would experience those hours, though, as a excruciating urge to enter Heaven.” Brennon’s expression obviously showed his internal struggle.

Janis considered that in silence. Enter Heaven willingly or suffer the agonizing and eternal temptation to enter Heaven willingly through a very nearby gate… Hours each days with Brennon and more hours each day waiting through the temptation for his love to return. Janis sighed.

“I can see your dilemma. Are you sure I cannot just live as a little ghost in your pocket?”

Brennon rolled his eyes playfully. “Everybody up here gets in an uproar about loose spirits. There are times when they try to blame me, but you free-willed mortals are slippery like that.”

“There you go. I demand to live in your pocket.”

Brennon looked shocked, then confused. “That cannot work…”

“Why not? Free will means I can tell God ‘no’, right?”

“Well, not exactly.” Brennon suddenly looked uncomfortable. “He is not pleased with this at all. Why do you want to live in my pocket like that?”

Janis really felt like it should be obvious. “Being with you was never about our physical relationship, Bren. I love you and that is why I would still be happy as long as you and I can be together one day.”

Brennon started sobbing. Janis immediately came to comfort him again. He thought warmth of Brennon’s embrace, the pleasant timbre of his voice, and his scent, pleasantly earthy and mysterious. Those things were more important to Janis than any of the parties, dinner dates, and intimate nights.

“What’s wrong, love?” Janis rocked gently with Brennon in his arms. “Tell me what hurts your heart so much that I am able to make the Angel of Death cry.”

“I would gladly sacrifice myself, everything about what I am, to give you a life on Earth. I offered that to Him and he refused.” He shook his head, seemingly incredulous. “I should have realized that He knows you would sacrifice yourself for me, as well.”

“So, what do we do? Whatever it is, we do it together.”

Brennon froze suddenly. Despite the lack of any distinct direction here, Death turned his head as if he was listening to some inaudible instructions. When Janis closed his eyes and strained, he could almost discern a whisper.

“Stop that,” Brennon muttered. “His voice can and will destroy you.”

Janis pulled back, a little startled. There had never really been a big religious presence in the family’s daily life. None of them had ever read the Bible, though they claimed to be practicing Catholics. That had caused all sorts of problems when Janis finally left home and openly declared himself as homosexual.

It had been a difficult and painful transition. But it had been absolutely necessary for Janis to live openly. Now, trying to understand where they were and what was being discussed, Janis felt like the rest of the class had gotten a head start.

Brennon, or Death, gasped. Janis could feel him tense and felt himself go on alert in response. It took several seconds for him to turn back to Janis.

“Would you be with me, even if it meant we would cease to be?”

“Are you asking if I would die with you?”

“You are already dead and I was never alive… But, I guess?”

“Well, in that case, of course!” Janis teased him, but he meant it down to his very essence. “Really, Brennon. I don’t know how I ended up falling in love with someone so amazing and so – well, angelic? – but you fell in love with me, too. I don’t care what anyone thinks. Our bond cannot be broken by something as simple as…”

“God?” Brennon supplied.

“That does sound quite anthrocentric.” Janis frowned. “Nope, I still don’t care. Nothing will sever the union we have cultivated.”

“I cannot choose to cease, because I do not have that ability within me. It has to do with having never been properly ‘alive’. You, however, can ask Him for that… If He speaks to you, Jan – ”

He nodded. “Yeah. You said before that it would destroy me. What about you?”

“Only if my angelic status is ripped from my being.”

“That sounds excruciating.”

Brennon shrugged. “It would be well worth it to cease existence WITH you.”

Everything went white. The pocket of space-time ceased to exist as if it had never really been there in the first place. Nothing was there; the two entities erased in a combined moment of ecstatic destruction.

Thus God spake and gave the gift of life to Death itself. In time, the combined entity would finish its melding process and a single entity would emerge on Earth below. An angel cannot be alive and a human cannot remain in death, but combined they created a message of love and sacrifice. This would be the next speaker on His behalf and that pleased Him greatly.

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Update Ramble: Things are Chaotic

No one is likely to have noticed I missed last Friday, because virtually no one reads the Friday shit; it is the writing that really interests people and not usually the author. I am ignoring that whole thought process, because it is unpleasant to realize your art will always overshadow you, the artist. Going forward, I will probably skip these little personal blurbs entirely. The projects I had planned are going to be on hold until further notice. Since I know what people want is stories, I might just move those to Friday and pretend it was always that way.

So – trigger warning for domestic violence – my former partner and I had a huge falling out where he tried to do something rather unfortunately. To say the least, I am still breathing, so he did not take that from me. Instead, he took something much more precious and I do not know how to get it back. Hell, I did not even know that I had it to begin with. I never thought of myself as a victim before. Now, I do. This is why I missed last week. Eventually, I will come back again, but it might be a while before I can really prioritize putting myself into the cyber ether for no real benefit to myself or others.

I know the difference between healthy and correct. For me, they are definitely not the same thing right now. My energies are being turned to keeping house for the most confusing mother a person could ask for, her overly loud and somewhat obnoxious husband, their two semi-annoying dogs, and their overweight cat. He is losing weight, because I convinced them to reduce his food intake and they are switching off of a bargain brand. As a Buddhist, these people are wasteful, materialistic sloths and largely by choice-turned-training. They are a difficult test for me.

The only real thing that has kept me going beyond the busy work around the house (an actual house!!) is the yard (an actual yard!!). While I am not able to replace the lawn with something more pleasant and ecosystem friendly, there is a whole slanted section they have never really done anything with themselves. I have always wanted to work the earth with my own two hands, as I feel we are best served as a species. They just up and gave that whole area to me, along with the materials for the defunct pond they gave up on (for not creating something the local wildlife would not treat as a larder).

I have a couple years of day-to-day labor ahead of me. It is everything I have ever wanted, but I can only hope that I will actually be able to follow through with it. I want to create a beautiful, largely natural space with a small pond. Instead of bright, flashy fish, I picture using naturally occurring species to build an ecosystem with phyto-plankton, mosses, and various plants for hiding spaces. In the pond, there will have to be bottom-feeders and top-feeders, mosses and plants for hiding, and an overall predation cycle. I think some sort of frog or toad species that is native to the area.

Above and around the pond, which will have a small waterfall and pump to keep oxygen going, I want to create a nectar haven. Flowering flora and some filter-root shrubs, all carefully planned out to work with the clay soil we already have. To keep things inexpensive, I want to avoid adding soil or sand as much as I can. Again, it is all about that ever-elusive consistency. I can only hope for the best.

If I succeed, there will even be a nice space for some humans to get the view from over the house itself, which is beautiful.

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Writing Prompt #12: I Took Her Hand In Mine

Writing prompt: Using a phrase/sentence to start the writing in a light context, use the same phrase/sentence in a dark context to finish the writing. Trigger warning: morbid content

I took her hand in mine, gently and lovingly. The soft, delicate skin that I so admired; the tender flesh of my own true love. Memories of our years together, warm days of laughter and cold days of frustration, wash through me each time. The way she would smile at me when I brought out some precious new bauble to entertain her. I even love her stormy moods, despite her refusals to speak to me for sometimes days at a time.

Her eyes cast aspersions upon me, but I always forgive her those suspicions. There were instances when I felt like she simply was not listening to me. It has often been a trial to keep her interest. Really, though, I cannot fault her anymore. These days, it is simply impossible to have a meal with her. Her appetite has been a bit peckish of late. Again, I love her too much to complain anymore.

Still, as I crave the closeness and her sweet scent, I have to be content with a little smile to myself. That sweetness, much as any other bloom, soured as it died. The gently motions of her body as she slept was a subtle blessing I tend to forget about entirely, consumed as I generally am in my own affairs. Missing that now, it causes a pang of regret and nostalgia. There was no way to keep everything intact, so sacrifices had to be made.

It is important to be gentle with my love, because she grows more and more delicate by the day. I would have kept her heart, although it is still with me, yet that did not work right when I tried. Her eyes, though, still stare down at me with that last accusation. That would be her right, I suppose, because truly I should not have gotten so angry with her then. I knew that I must save her gaze for myself, no matter the cost or the means. With a heavy sigh, I listen to the night outside.

Eventually, someone will ask about our relationship. They will want to know what happened to us. And rightfully so, I guess. Perhaps, there were others who loved her as much as I love her now. In the end, in the moment, I am just waiting for the eventuality of the authorities intervening upon my last devotions to my love. After all, how long can this really last? There must come a time when I finally bury my love, just as I must smother the embers of my emotions.

The ever-present hum in my ears, after so many days, is merely a background ambiance now. To preserve her gaze, it was immediately necessary to secure a jar and some ethanol. It was silly of me, if I am honest with myself, because nothing lasts forever. She will even refuse to look at me before very long. As much as I regret it myself, there is a tinge of lingering anger in those eyes. It may just be my mind playing tricks on me.

With the buzz and hum, however, also comes that smell. Who would have thought that a young woman could create such gas! Naturally, there was no need to be over-modest with me, but this was beyond her control anyway. It would not be long, though, before the neighbors downstairs would start to wonder about things. Maybe the old crone would even call the authorities over the whole thing. Then again…

With another sigh, I felt the regret wash over me. I should not have killed her, but there was no going back on what had been done. Her accusing eyes gloating in the jar on the counter above me, I held her hand in mine, gently and lovingly.

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Writing Prompt #11: The Weight of Humanity

Prompt: One evening, a portal to hell opens at the foot of your bed. A demon strides through, rips off the covers, and begins to drag you through the portal by your ankles saying, “You’re going to help me settle a bet”.

Weight of Humanity

She had been mid-snooze. Just having a bit of a doze, really. It had been an ugly day, toward the tail end of summer. The storms rolling through overhead were oppressively omnipresent. Andrea had to leave the shop late the previous day, thanks to a clerical error. Dealing with paperwork for “misfiling” the entirety of the vehicle left there for repairs… Well, Andrea was grateful tomorrow was her day off.

Maybe she should have woken up when the shop owner’s dog whined, but it did not fully register until the scent of brimstone washed over her. Andrea’s eyes flew open as the full weight of her body was yanked from the chair. The shop ceiling was abruptly cut off by an angry reddish black scar. Above it was the infrastructure Andrea had stared up into for a few years now. Before that wriggling gash, the world had been constructed in the negative, complementary colors any human being would call normal. The change assaulted not just her eyes, but all of her senses at once.

Andrea felt her back scrape over the barrier; it must cut across of the floor, as well. As painful as that might have been to her flesh, the voice that spoke scratched deeply across her mind. She cried out, almost unable to hear what was said.

“You will settle a bet for me, human.”

Naturally, she struggled against the discomfort and confusion. The panic kept Andrea from paying further attention to her surroundings, or else she would have noticed the slowly changing scenery. The way sound reached into her cochlea was different. The “photo negative” effect on the world remained disturbingly unaltered by how the shapes and textures seemed to shift around without regard to their origin. The original smell of sulfur had become an acrid, burning sensation that had taken over her entire mouth and nose.

Finally, after an eternity of lashings from the ground, Andrea was unceremoniously dumped onto the floor. To her shock and disgust, it was warm and slightly soft. She sat up as best she could, certain her clothing must be torn and ripped to shreds… Her heart split horizontally as she looked up. One piece jumped into her throat and the other dropped hard into the gutter of her stomach.

Two beings – it was either that or demons – were staring down at her. There was no way for Andrea to identify which of them had abruptly pulled her across some sort of portal. Was it minutes ago? Seconds? Their faces were leering masks of hatred and greed, looming over her from the darkness. There were no eyes, just floating points of vicious light staring down. It was no exaggeration to say an oily presence and a dirty smoke emanated from them.

“You promised you would warn it first,” one voice said. She could not identify which one was speaking by listening, because the sound was not a sound. Instead, it was made obvious by one angry mask turning to glance at the other. The other, however…

The way this thing looked at Andrea made her skin want to independently remove itself from the premises. The orbs seemed to bore into her very essence, as if she had somehow violated a cardinal taboo and the punishment was imminent. She could feel the tears rolling down her cheeks.

“Human,” it growled. One clawed hand raised ominously toward her. “Look at this and answer me.”

Andrea glanced at the digits it was using as a hand, but she could not focus there. Her hind-brain knew these creatures were going to be digesting her flesh raw well before this was done. The calmer of the two sighed, launching a smoky puff from his single nostril, forcing Andrea to glance at that one.

“Human,” Andrea’s captor growled at her again. It pushed its hand closer, forcing her to realize just how large these creatures really were. She recoiled, but her eyes locked onto the hand in front of her.

“Well done,” the voice grated over her brain, “now answer me: what color is this object?”

Her jaw dropped in surprise. Her panic broke and her brows furrowed. Andrea braved a closer look and could not believe her eyes. Everything felt surreal. “It’s the damn dress,” she muttered to herself.

“What?”

The effect of loud ‘sound’ shocked her again. Despite that, Andrea tried to repeat herself. “The object is a dress,” she stuttered. “The color depends entirely on the lighting?”

The reaction was confusion, so she tried again. “This image has been made to make you question the color. The original dress was blue and black. It’s possible to change the lighting to make it look white and gold…”

As she spoke, her captor seemed to grow more and more agitated. The other being, however, simply waited stock still and watching. She edged back with trepidation. Was this where they started to eat her…? Glancing between the two, Andrea accidentally locked eyes with the quiet being. The orbs were almost hypnotic. It exhaled slowly, the smoke seeming to engulf her.

Coughing, Andrea doubled over. Her body was convulsing so hard that she could not see or hear anything for a few seconds. When it finally passed, she tried to look back up at the demon-things, but nearly had a heart attack in pure shock. Andrea was back in the repair shop, right in front of her chair. It had been pushed back by the force of her being pulled away. Colors, shapes, textures, sounds; everything was back to normal…

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Rotating Interests and Randomness

Welcome back again to the Hermit’s hideaway! This week’s “but I gotta do this” topic is a slapdash of vocal training, listening to men sing baritone, and a whirlwind of trying to keep focused on literally anything. If I have not already mentioned it, then here is the elephant in my room: I cannot help it. As much as I have labored and pushed myself to retain any sustained activity for more than a few days to week… No real progress. No idea if it is an executive processing issue, a result of childhood head trauma, just good old ADD/ADHD, or any combination three, but that is what it is for now.

I wish I had the ability to stick with a single subject, see it through, and maybe even remember it later. My partner tells me that it is a damned good thing I cannot, because the knowledge I have amassed through my life (and the bits I remember) are more naturalist than optimist. Oh, and I used to have a nastier temper than I do now as a practicing Buddhist-type person.

On to the most recent stuff. I was listening YouTube, because that is absolutely what I am doing as often as possible (listen a LOT more than watch). Having been a fan of Pentatonix, a video with a vocal coach reacting to their cover of Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” ran across my feed. I am not entirely sure what made me decide to watch it. I have seen that particular music video more than once. No big deal, except I have never listened to anyone talk about an a capella group from a professional perspective.

This was amazing all by itself. Listening to this lovely gent ‘oooh’ and ‘aaah’ over the beautiful voices and their individual characteristics was delightful for my knowledge-hungry mind. I am a bit tone deaf, according to a previous partner with a pitch perfect ear and a classical music background. My voice is – to put it lightly – a smidgeon worse for the wear from previous years of smoking and even more of singing without much thought about it. The polite wander through the details made me realize that I am probably not tone deaf so much as I am untrained in how to produce the sounds I hear correctly.

This led me down a shallow rabbit hole hovering around one particular facet of any good a capella ensemble: the baritone. Specifically, formerly a member of Pentatonix, Avi Kaplan has a vocal range that goes from “vibrates the room” to “wooing maidens” quite fluidly. Another node in the journey, right? So, I watched a few videos demonstrating vocal ranges, as well as a few people have made concerning this artist. What did I discover? I am a fucking countertenor/contralto.

Apparently, this is uncommon and yet I find myself able to sustain some fairly low notes. I tapped out around G2 on the low end (it was a bit ugly) and E6 on the high side (equally as ugly) before continuing on to work out my prima voce. That still placed me firmly into the contralto category. How cool is that? It took me about ten minutes to come to the distinct conclusion that my Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome is probably at the root of this neat little fact about me. Being hypermobile in just about every other part of my body, there is no reason that should not apply to the vocal cords.

I cannot reach all the way down into the baritone/bass ranges and I cannot reach all the way up into the soprano range, though I can falsetto a little bit. It was finding another vocal coach, who happened to have a relatively quick “find your range” video, that I realized these bits about myself. I have the learning playlist from that channel saved, because this is something I have found fascinating since I can remember. I mean, this goes way back to my earliest (and vaguest) memories of me singing my heart out to “The Little Mermaid” at four or five years old.

As an adult, though, it had come to my notice that I could only sing so long before my voice was raw, not tired. Some of the musculature would ache horribly, but only if I sang specific ranges. Then I finally got a real-life shot of the vocal cords and BOOM I start to distinguish the tension and movement in my throat. Oddly, it was a truly full sensation. Unfortunately, now, I cannot stop feeling my vocal cords, but that is not an uncommon type of experience.

More and more, I have been accepting how sensitive I am to vibrations, in general, and very low tones, in particular. I had known both love and hate for such sounds, but it really slapped me in the face with a violin once. I was holding a violin which was extremely out of tune and drew the bow across the low string (G, if memory serves) for the very first time. The surprisingly pure tone it created was very deep, vibrating my body from the core. Cue me nearly dropping the brand new instrument in – ahem – surprise. This would have been quite the problem, because I could not afford to replace the violin.

As I sit here, writing this blog post, there is a nebulous montage playing through my mind of those times when I had been consumed by a type of sound or a particular section of a musical piece. It blows me away how often I have gravitated toward sounds that I can physically feel when produced by a voice, but felt complete aversion when it was an electronic sound. I can only think of one instant of feeling a natural bass sound, when Mount Rainier burped a few times about ten years back (I feel so old now). When dealing with noise pollution, specifically from neighbors, has always been something I am more sensitive to than anyone else I know. For a long time, I thought I was crazy somehow. Hyperacusis, folks; it is a real thing.

The previous paragraph took about ten minutes and was completed about twenty to thirty minutes before starting this one… I got sucked into finding contralto pieces for practice. But, yeah, sometimes the manic rabbit hole teaches you a lot. More often, though, it results in stuff you do not remember until someone else needs it.

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Short Story #1: Realizations in a Lake

The sack dropped over the side and followed its stone weights into the darkness, but I will spare you the uglier details of the first few minutes. Really, I panicked quite a bit longer than that. By then, though, reality had to set in. The water was freezing cold until I got used to it. It felt frightening and foreign as it entered essentially every part of me. That actually sounds a lot worse than it was in truth. It was not until I noticed myself taking a deep breath to sob more when my circumstances started to dawn on me.

Perhaps, I must grant you, I should have understood my situation a bit more readily. This was not the first time something similar to this had happened to me. Maybe being only thirteen years old had something to do with it, or maybe I just could not bring myself to believe a second village would try to kill me in just three years or so… The first time, though, it had been the less common tactic of burning. When I had survived from the blaze, it had taken nearly everything I had to escape the torrent of angry stones that followed.

That is not to say that I was entirely unscathed by the fire, which is part of what made the stones hurt so much. My skin was raw for days after that; not blistered or open wounds, just distinctly oversensitive. I had to hide in the forest near the community where I had spent my entire ten years. At that point, unfortunately, my mother sneaked out and passed me only one small parcel. It contained clothing, a covering for my bald head, a little food, and a long lock of her hair. To say that I cried at being given the traditional release from the brood so abruptly upon my near-death experience would be an understatement.

Being dumped into the lake now forced me to reflect further on some of the things my mother had done when I was very little. It had always frustrated me to spend so much of my time hidden away from even my siblings of the village brood. When I began understanding language, she explained it away as illness. As I grew older and was obviously not ill, my mother had no choice but to let me outside more. At dawn and dusk, when others of the brood were in their own homes, I was allowed time in our little garden. My blood siblings, however, were kept in the house.

It had never really occurred to me that my mother hid me for my own safety, because I did not know I needed safekeeping. Children are like that, I guess. When I did start making mistakes, they were little acts that went largely unnoticed for a while, because even I did not know I was doing it. No one called attention to what I ate seeming to be other than what I had been given or my one bowl of milk being almost perpetually full. Until they did; it was my brood mates who exposed me as something rather than someone.

Looking back, they were probably jealous of me having tastier treats than they did. Had any of them asked me to make their treats taste better, I would have gladly given to them the same that I had given myself. A pair of girls confronted me when my mother was busy corralling my siblings one afternoon. I had tiptoed out the kitchen doorway before dusk, because I wanted to feel the sunlight before it was gone. They demanded to know what made me so special that I was kept home and away from field work.

That was the first time someone had called me special to my face. Every child imagines rumors, surely, but I was very confused each time I overheard it in the days leading up to that peculiar incident. My mother had been allowing me to go to market with her, buying me a small sweet bun to keep me quiet while we were there. I would wager she knew my foods were changing, yet pointing it out would have caused more problems. Unfortunately, this seemed to cascade when I could not answer those girls on that day.

Once I had calmed down from the experience of “drowning”, I simply laid there for a long time in the darkness. Panic is exhausting and the experience tends to leave the mind numb for a bit afterward. Given that I was obviously not dead (again), there was no longer that fierce fire of fear forcing its way into my blood. Lying there, however, got me thinking about how I was going to get out of the sack. There was no help at the surface, so did I even want to escape anymore?

Strangely enough, when you cannot die at the hands of others, it follows that you cannot die at your own hands from any of the same methods. I could have spent an eternity feeling the fabric ripple almost imperceptibly around me as creatures of the water passed or the tide turned. It was a big lake and they probably went out close to the middle. Not surprisingly, that was exceptionally boring and one cannot sleep forever… I am not even sure that I needed to sleep at that point in my life.

There was little way for me to tell time from inside a bag at the bottom of a lake. I suppose I could have, had I known how, but that is irrelevant. It would take a lot of work many years later to discover I was underwater for nearly two decades. I did not move, eat, or – technically – drink during that time, not to mention breathing air. Eventually, I felt emotionally capable of dragging myself from the water. I want to put some emphasis onto the fact I was fully capable of physically leaving the water as soon as I stopped panicking.

I did not think I had been in hibernation so long, but I knew better than to go back to the village that put me there. I had not changed at all; still fourteen in body, if not in mind. It was no stretch to assume they would recognize me and try again. Coming out of the water, though, I did not go unnoticed. Rather than going straight up and swimming to the shoreline, it seemed more logical to cross the distance beneath the water to just walk up the beach. The odds of there being fishermen bringing in their boat at roughly the same spot were astronomically against happening. Oh, well.

It took me a few minutes to readjust to the thin, under-saturated air. This gave those men plenty of time to approached the algae-covered, mollusk-laden creature which I presented. I must have made quite the frightening sight, vomiting water and who knows what else and crying out from the pain as my body changed to maintain itself. Instead of running away, however, these last-moment-heroes decided it would be better to try to beat the monster down with the oars from their little boat. Still a product of the water in that moment, I reflexively drag it toward me to wash both men out into the frigid waves. I spent several minutes trying to get further from the shoreline, slowed to staggering by the changes from wet lichen-lump to dry bipedal creature.

That night, I took refuge in the trees. It would be reasonable to assume I was cold, hungry, thirsty, and such things. Maybe I was and did not remember the sensation, I do not know, yet I felt nothing of the sort. My skin – I cannot easily describe the strange texture which my body took on during the night. Suffice it to say that I watched my first dawn in almost twenty years distinctly blended into my environment. I was a surprising rainbow of earthen colors and textures, a chaotic arrangement of greens, browns, and grays. There is no description for my physical shape; it might help to say that I did not have legs, per se…

That was it. This changed my perspective, quite obviously, but also my perception entirely. There were myriad sights I had never seen before as I moved almost invisibly over the underbrush through the trees. The natural dusk of the deeper forest would have been impenetrable to my eyes in my original form. Attuned to what I had spent the night in direct contact with left me yearning to find just the right spot and go right back to sleep. Moss waits for its spring.

I wanted to ignore that urge, mind you, because there was still a small, smoldering ember of revenge in my heart. No amount of altering my corporeal form was going to remove the memories of what had happened to me. There was no amount of sleep that could wash away my desire to pay them back for their violence, their blind ignorance and fear. Instead, though, I sat down slowly with a strange, painful feeling blossoming like a flower of fire inside my chest.

Fear, just as I had felt. Ignorant to the truth, just as I had been. There was no easy way for me to immediately feel compassion for the farmers and fishermen who had tried to destroy me. They believed I was an evil thing and they were risking their own corporeal and incorporeal lives to remove me away from their loved ones. Setting aside the mental crisis I went through about possibly being an embodiment of evil – would I have done any different if something was a threat to all I thought was good?

They did not have the right to drown me as a witch, of course. Still, I tried to decipher some way those people could reasonably have known better than to follow the choices and traditions of their fathers. Suddenly I was not so sure that this was an offense for which I could rightly enact a punishment. What made me so special?

The moss waits…
To be continued

Posted in Short Stories/Prompts, Writing

Conspiracies!!

No, I am not generally a conspiracy theorist myself. I do spend a good percentage of my time watching scientists opine their way through debunks. Thankfully, they do their research through scholastic, peer reviewed means and they are generally willing to list that. I have found a few of these gents that are American, but the majority are English. Each of them has completed a university education in their field. It is nice.

I do not, in contrast, have a university education. My two year degree in general studies is outdated and I cannot remember enough of those years to matter. Similar to the men referenced above, however, much of my time has been spent in educating myself. I would be hard pressed to find a subject for which I have not, at the very least, spent the effort to get a reasonable definition. That probably sounds rather haughty… I promise I am not the asshole version of a know-it-all. Instead, I experience a nasty compulsion to encourage people to correct of things that I perceive as needful of correction, regardless of whether I am the person in question or not. Fun stuff, right? One reason I am a hermit, right here.

Back to the subject at hand, conspiracy theories often seem silly, easily dismissed, and the realm of quacks or morons. Individuals tend to quickly judge others as being wrong; conspiracy theories are no exception. It does not automatically make them maliciously ignorant. These are still human beings. We have to accept that something within them has led them to this point. Rather than condemnation, with a little thought, we can look upon them as misled fellows in our communities.

The theories themselves are a bit of a different matter. Again, in context, we cannot automatically dismiss these ideas as maliciously ignorant. There was some sort of stimuli that led people to come to these ideas, faulty or not. You might begin to notice my anthropology background. This was a heavy slice of my professional education from a decade ago. Since then, the views informed by those concepts have only been bolstered by the teachings of Buddhism concerning the underpinnings of expressing compassion. Conspiracy theories, according to anthropology, would likely fill a gap created by some distressing unknown.

A brief aside: expressing compassion is not quite the same as feeling it, though former follows from the latter by nature. That does not mean the act of expression is automatically natural in human societies. We try to legislate fairness and compassion, but it does not always work out that way.

Having given the individuals the right they are due as human beings to feel internally and emote externally, there is still a limit. As a species, we prefer to group with others sharing views similar to our own. It takes more cognitive effort to breach those comfortable, established tribes than to sit in the echo chamber. That is an almost diagnostic feature of a conspiracy theorist. One could even stretch that idea a bit and say this is a diagnostic symptom of the conspiracy theories themselves.

When one peruses the internet for websites, videos, and blogs, the results are similar to tsunami of stupid. That emotional statement aside, there are an overwhelming number of sites devoted to this topic. There is a dramatis personae of talking heads that seem to function as the mouthpiece of their particular echo chamber. I realize that sounds peculiar after the previous paragraphs. If you can accept that echo chambers exist, then you can likely accept an individual acts as the source. As that source, they perpetuate and defend their special knowledge.

In the vast majority of cases, these people are not trying to hurt anyone. Often, they feel persecuted, oppressed, or controlled. They view their reactions as appropriate to their situation; it is an artificially created “us versus them”. Still, the ignorance demonstrated by damn near all of those who live out these conspiracy-based lives is rife. It it hard to say anything when discussing theories where there is scant documentation, willful dishonesty, and financial exchanges all thrown into the mix. You might be asking whether or not I can justify any of these accusations (beyond “I saw it in a documentary!”).

The generic justification comes down to human nature. Man will absolutely lie, cheat, and steal to maintain the quality of life that is ‘normal’. A lot of people are better than that, excepting white lies and the like, but just as many are only interested in attaining that feeling of comfort. It is my personal, entirely unrelated, opinion the drive to attain psychological comfort is slowly replacing the drive to reproduce in a portion of the human population. That is just me though.

There are obvious conspiracy theories, such as calling NASA and its work one gigantic hoax/cover-up. The American government seems to be a favored mark for theorists. Perhaps the isolationist culture of the United States has something to do with that… As an American, it is somewhat natural for me to know mostly US government based conspiracies, but they love to claim a global scope. There are also much less common conspiracies, keeping to the USA theme for now. My favorite example right now is the Statue of Liberty was actually designed by the French Freemasons to represent Lucifer. Much of this is just harmless woo; these people are not likely to hurt anyone due to their belief in some of these ideas.

If someone takes their emotional attachment to their beliefs far enough, then things become much more volatile. That psychological investment is very real and transforms an idea into a core belief. Disagreeing with the core beliefs of someone else has started countless wars, resulting in genocide, invention of frightening weapons of warfare, and just plain old murder. We are standing on the precipice of that limit mentioned before. It gets more and more difficult to perform compassion for people who are willfully ignorant, condescending, and frustratingly arrogant. Even with context, these sorts will perform violent acts and that cannot be tolerated.

Buddha taught that one should suffer rather than choose to harm another life. Buddhism teaches that each individual is at their own point on the path. I have chosen to interpret the latter as the leeway that loosely allows for using violence in self defense and defense of others. My basis comes from the idea that being attacked removed the choice to harm them. That does not extend to hurting the attacker beyond the means of disabling them. The intent is to escape and/or call the appropriate authorities. Personally, I have a hard time finding a rational reason to read this as choosing to harm another life.

Really, though, the best way to work through these uncomfortable exchanges is getting your fellows to think. There is so much to unpack about trying to get someone to examine their beliefs. It is not impossible, but it can take quite a bit of careful, patient discussion. You cannot tell someone they are lack knowledge/wrong; you must give them enough information to entice them to gain knowledge for themselves. Otherwise, all you are likely to encourage is a debate that ends in your fellow becoming an intellectual opponent digging in their heels.

There are definitely ways to work through that with other people, gently leading them to a mental space where they will question why they believe things. After that, it is entirely up to them. You have to walk away from the non-violent ones (and escape the violent ones…). In the United States, this is a peculiarly difficult issue, because we seem to have embedded ourselves in individualistic isolationism – or something like that. There is a specific stripe of American, or as I prefer to call them “Muricans”, who are absolutely determined that no one will help them do anything they cannot already do for themselves. This is spectacularly true for psychological growth, at least from my experience.

At the end of the day, we all subscribe to some of the plethora of ideas about the world around us. We are trying to explain away the unknown with as little effort as possible. I do not care if you believe it is to use that effort in more “important” aspects of life or, hopefully, you believe it is a form of evolutionary shortcut useful to optimize energy use. As a proponent of the latter, I am liable to put up with the frustration and headache to understand (sometimes, necessarily, later in private). It is a hard learning curve trying to figure out why the majority of ostensibly intelligent people in the United States do not feel the same way. The echo chamber that heaps its own plate with morbid portions of confirmation bias, reinforced by the need to explain new hardships in the same old ways.

Change is difficult, particularly for the emotional mind. Conspiracies are generally based in the feelings of failure to know easily and success at explaining things with existing biases. I hesitate to suggest that ‘begging all the questions’ is a benchmark to a conspiracy theorist, but circular reasoning will always appeal to the emotions. Linear reasoning (i.e. logic) tends to appeal more readily to the intellect. It is probably no surprise that these two aspects of the human mind tend to conflict with each other. A lot of metaphor centers around the war between ‘heart and mind’. Fortunately, mankind is fully capable, with effort, to affect real change and learn to broker peace.n

No, I am not generally a conspiracy theorist myself. I do spend a good percentage of my time watching scientists opine their way through debunks. Thankfully, they do their research through scholastic, peer reviewed means and they are generally willing to list that. I have found a few of these gents that are American, but the majority are English. Each of them has completed a university education in their field. It is nice.

I do not, in contrast, have a university education. My two year degree in general studies is outdated and I cannot remember enough of those years to matter. Similar to the men referenced above, however, much of my time has been spent in educating myself. I would be hard pressed to find a subject for which I have not, at the very least, spent the effort to get a reasonable definition. That probably sounds rather haughty… I promise I am not the asshole version of a know-it-all. Instead, I experience a nasty compulsion to encourage people to correct of things that I perceive as needful of correction, regardless of whether I am the person in question or not. Fun stuff, right? One reason I am a hermit, right here.

Back to the subject at hand, conspiracy theories often seem silly, easily dismissed, and the realm of quacks or morons. Individuals tend to quickly judge others as being wrong; conspiracy theories are no exception. It does not automatically make them maliciously ignorant. These are still human beings. We have to accept that something within them has led them to this point. Rather than condemnation, with a little thought, we can look upon them as misled fellows in our communities.

The theories themselves are a bit of a different matter. Again, in context, we cannot automatically dismiss these ideas as maliciously ignorant. There was some sort of stimuli that led people to come to these ideas, faulty or not. You might begin to notice my anthropology background. This was a heavy slice of my professional education from a decade ago. Since then, the views informed by those concepts have only been bolstered by the teachings of Buddhism concerning the underpinnings of expressing compassion. Conspiracy theories, according to anthropology, would likely fill a gap created by some distressing unknown.

A brief aside: expressing compassion is not quite the same as feeling it, though former follows from the latter by nature. That does not mean the act of expression is automatically natural in human societies. We try to legislate fairness and compassion, but it does not always work out that way.

Having given the individuals the right they are due as human beings to feel internally and emote externally, there is still a limit. As a species, we prefer to group with others sharing views similar to our own. It takes more cognitive effort to breach those comfortable, established tribes than to sit in the echo chamber. That is an almost diagnostic feature of a conspiracy theorist. One could even stretch that idea a bit and say this is a diagnostic symptom of the conspiracy theories themselves.

When one peruses the internet for websites, videos, and blogs, the results are similar to tsunami of stupid. That emotional statement aside, there are an overwhelming number of sites devoted to this topic. There is a dramatis personae of talking heads that seem to function as the mouthpiece of their particular echo chamber. I realize that sounds peculiar after the previous paragraphs. If you can accept that echo chambers exist, then you can likely accept an individual acts as the source. As that source, they perpetuate and defend their special knowledge.

In the vast majority of cases, these people are not trying to hurt anyone. Often, they feel persecuted, oppressed, or controlled. They view their reactions as appropriate to their situation; it is an artificially created “us versus them”. Still, the ignorance demonstrated by damn near all of those who live out these conspiracy-based lives is rife. It it hard to say anything when discussing theories where there is scant documentation, willful dishonesty, and financial exchanges all thrown into the mix. You might be asking whether or not I can justify any of these accusations (beyond “I saw it in a documentary!”).

The generic justification comes down to human nature. Man will absolutely lie, cheat, and steal to maintain the quality of life that is ‘normal’. A lot of people are better than that, excepting white lies and the like, but just as many are only interested in attaining that feeling of comfort. It is my personal, entirely unrelated, opinion the drive to attain psychological comfort is slowly replacing the drive to reproduce in a portion of the human population. That is just me though.

There are obvious conspiracy theories, such as calling NASA and its work one gigantic hoax/cover-up. The American government seems to be a favored mark for theorists. Perhaps the isolationist culture of the United States has something to do with that… As an American, it is somewhat natural for me to know mostly US government based conspiracies, but they love to claim a global scope. There are also much less common conspiracies, keeping to the USA theme for now. My favorite example right now is the Statue of Liberty was actually designed by the French Freemasons to represent Lucifer. Much of this is just harmless woo; these people are not likely to hurt anyone due to their belief in some of these ideas.

If someone takes their emotional attachment to their beliefs far enough, then things become much more volatile. That psychological investment is very real and transforms an idea into a core belief. Disagreeing with the core beliefs of someone else has started countless wars, resulting in genocide, invention of frightening weapons of warfare, and just plain old murder. We are standing on the precipice of that limit mentioned before. It gets more and more difficult to perform compassion for people who are willfully ignorant, condescending, and frustratingly arrogant. Even with context, these sorts will perform violent acts and that cannot be tolerated.

Buddha taught that one should suffer rather than choose to harm another life. Buddhism teaches that each individual is at their own point on the path. I have chosen to interpret the latter as the leeway that loosely allows for using violence in self defense and defense of others. My basis comes from the idea that being attacked removed the choice to harm them. That does not extend to hurting the attacker beyond the means of disabling them. The intent is to escape and/or call the appropriate authorities. Personally, I have a hard time finding a rational reason to read this as choosing to harm another life.

Really, though, the best way to work through these uncomfortable exchanges is getting your fellows to think. There is so much to unpack about trying to get someone to examine their beliefs. It is not impossible, but it can take quite a bit of careful, patient discussion. You cannot tell someone they are lack knowledge/wrong; you must give them enough information to entice them to gain knowledge for themselves. Otherwise, all you are likely to encourage is a debate that ends in your fellow becoming an intellectual opponent digging in their heels.

There are definitely ways to work through that with other people, gently leading them to a mental space where they will question why they believe things. After that, it is entirely up to them. You have to walk away from the non-violent ones (and escape the violent ones…). In the United States, this is a peculiarly difficult issue, because we seem to have embedded ourselves in individualistic isolationism – or something like that. There is a specific stripe of American, or as I prefer to call them “Muricans”, who are absolutely determined that no one will help them do anything they cannot already do for themselves. This is spectacularly true for psychological growth, at least from my experience.

At the end of the day, we all subscribe to some of the plethora of ideas about the world around us. We are trying to explain away the unknown with as little effort as possible. I do not care if you believe it is to use that effort in more “important” aspects of life or, hopefully, you believe it is a form of evolutionary shortcut useful to optimize energy use. As a proponent of the latter, I am liable to put up with the frustration and headache to understand (sometimes, necessarily, later in private). It is a hard learning curve trying to figure out why the majority of ostensibly intelligent people in the United States do not feel the same way. The echo chamber that heaps its own plate with morbid portions of confirmation bias, reinforced by the need to explain new hardships in the same old ways.

Change is difficult, particularly for the emotional mind. Conspiracies are generally based in the feelings of failure to know easily and success at explaining things with existing biases. I hesitate to suggest that ‘begging all the questions’ is a benchmark to a conspiracy theorist, but circular reasoning will always appeal to the emotions. Linear reasoning (i.e. logic) tends to appeal more readily to the intellect. It is probably no surprise that these two aspects of the human mind tend to conflict with each other. A lot of metaphor centers around the war between ‘heart and mind’. Fortunately, mankind is fully capable, with effort, to affect real change and learn to broker peace.

Posted in Personal, Ramble

My Little Robin

Writing Prompt #10: “That is not a happy story.”/“Well, I did not live a happy life.”
Trigger Warning: forced adoption, death of a young child

He stared at Rhonda as she sipped her whiskey casually. Daniel was trying to process the information she had just given him. Over the years of working as caretaker for Rhonda, he had heard a lot of little tidbits about her life. When she had been diagnosed with cancer two years ago, their arrangement had become around the clock. Daniel had moved into the spare bedroom (thankfully, surprisingly spacious) and things had changed. It was not a bad change, but he was often left reeling as he listened to the extended versions of stories Daniel had thought he knew.

“What happened next? Did you let her leave or – ?” He hesitated.

“Oh, she left, but it was on the paddy wagon, yeah? Of course, I was at the other end of the same bench. Not the point though.”

Daniel scoffed, incredulous and suddenly skeptical. “Wait – you are trying to tell me the police actually arrested her after you assaulted her?”

“Did I say that? Did I say that?” Her eyes sparkled. “I walloped her good, but I earned my licks in the process. I had gash on my face that made it look like I had been put through a window.”

“I feel like you have to be putting me on, Rhonda.”

She waved off his comment and reached down to one side of her chair. “You drink with me and then you will see, yeah? Come on, then, Danny.”

Daniel had always demurred in the past, because he was working whenever he was here. Realistically, he was always on the job and that required sobriety. Now, as Rhonda produced a whiskey glass with two fingers of the amber liquid, he just sighed. “No one can hear about this, you realize…”

“I have kept more secrets than a monk and his vow of silence, Danny,” Rhonda said with a wink. She dropped a single ice cube into the glass before handing it over to him. “Try not to drink this too fast, yeah? It is some of my favorite stuff; real strong and sneaks up on you.”

He sniffed the drink while Rhonda pretended not to be watching him. The night was pleasantly warm with a gentle breeze. Her porch had long since been enclosed with insect netting, so sitting out here at night was like a scene out of a movie. Carefully, Daniel tipped the glass to let the cool liquid just touch his tongue. He looked at her, surprised.

“This is surprisingly sweet.”

Rhonda nodded. “When we got to the jail, my sister decided it was easier to apologize than to persuade me to agree with her. Our mum would have been embarrassed at how we fought during those years.”

Daniel could only shake his head with a smile. “You are crazy, Rhonda. I have wanted to say that for years now, but it is horribly unprofessional.”

For some reason, this made her start to cackle. Confused, Daniel commented, “I assumed you would be offended, I guess.”

“Oh, Danny, you have to know by now that I am not so fragile.” Rhonda settled back into her chair with a happy sigh. “I am a bit loony, yes, I am. When you get to be eighty-seven, I would think you will be, too, yeah?”

He nodded. “Probably. So, what exactly started that fight with your sister? You never really said, except that it was a disagreement.”

“Oh, just material things, it was. That time, at any rate. Brenda was trying to get the dancing shoes our mum had worn in her prime. Naturally, I wanted them, too.”

“And how old were you, again?” Daniel sipped his drink.

Rhonda made a thoughtful sound and stared up at the ceiling in thought. Daniel had seen her do this many time in his time with her. Sometimes, it would take her a few minutes to come back out of the almost trance-like state. The first time she had done this in front of a doctor, it had been a hilariously difficult explanation.

Rhonda seemed to have a kind of eidetic memory and this was simply her way of removing outside distractions while she searched through it. Of course, the doctor had assumed there was something medically significant going on. Rhonda had made a stink about the tests he wanted to perform to be sure it was not a seizure or something.

“Brenda was just a few months short of her eighteenth birthday. That was to happen four months later.” She swirled the whiskey in her glass, the tiny clattering of the melting ice almost inaudible. “I was almost sixteen. Mum had already promised them to me for my upcoming birthday. It was only three weeks away when we were trucked into the jailhouse that day.”

His jaw dropped, but he quickly recovered. “How long were the two of you in there?”

“Not long, of course, not long. Our father was quick to retrieve us after we had gotten cleaned up by the jail physician. He was quite stern with us when we got home.”

The breeze kicked up and danced through the leaves of the maple just fifteen feet from the porch. Dusk was fading into darkness. The not-so-distant sound of the wildlife of the nearby creek was steadily raising into a glorious cacophony of reproductive calls.

Daniel glanced at Rhonda before staring down into his whiskey. “Do you have any happy stories? I am trying, but I cannot remember if I have heard you tell a story that was genuinely upbeat.”

“I am sure that I have, Daniel,” Rhonda replied with a hurt undertone. “Let me tell you now, then.”

“You do not have to perform on demand, you know.”

“No, no, you wanted happy and I will provide it to you,” she told him with a sniff. “When I was in my thirties, I met a lovely young man. Of course, we got to know each other in the biblical sense. We went out for a while, going steady as we called it.”

“Alright…”

“Ah, he was a glorious, young stallion,” she said as she smiled at her memories. Daniel just hoped Rhonda did not intend that to be her happy story for him. “Well, there was a particular day where I woke up quite sick. It took me a few days to realize what was happening to me and it was hell to hide it from my mother…”

“You were pregnant?” Daniel was more taken aback than he should have been, he realized. This was Rhonda, after all. She nodded with a conspiratorial nod.

“I did eventually get found out, of course,” she chuckled. “My mother sobbed about how disgraceful it was to be pregnant at my age and all that. I ignored her. My young man, however, was ecstatic!”

Somehow, despite knowing better, Daniel had been worried the young woman he envisioned had been cast aside. He did not realize it until the relief washed over him and his shoulders relaxed.

“We discussed all sorts of things, like what name we would choose, where we would live with the baby, and so on. Never you mind that we were completely dependent on our respective parents. If his parents found out before we got married – well, we figured it would cause a lot of issues.”

“What did your parents do? Were you kicked out as a teenage mother?”

Rhonda was halfway through a drink of whiskey. “Hmm?” She shook her head. “Kicked out? No, but they did try to forbid me to see my young man. Obviously, that did not work out well for them at all.”

“Okay, but – ”

“Young man, you wanted a happy story, so let me tell it.” Rhonda eyed him sternly without any real heat behind it. “Now, where was I? Oh, yes, working up to the birth.”

Daniel was about to ask another question, but only just caught himself. He realized the drink was getting to him a bit and resolved to ignore the glass in his hand.

Rhonda seemed to be lost in thought for a long moment. The darkness had settled nicely around the house. The last of the birds were fussing among themselves before sleep. Longer, lonelier sounds would gradually take over as the warmth of daylight faded from the soil. She sighed, almost a content sound.

“To say that the pregnancy was easy would be a lie,” she said flatly. “I was always vomiting or sleeping too much. I spent a lot of it at home, trying to keep hydrated. When the doctor would come to see me – well, at first, my mum thought to lie to him about my being with child.”

Daniel felt his jaw drop in surprise. “That seems like a terrible idea…”

“Exactly,” Rhonda agreed with a quick nod. “When he figured it out, the doctor ushered her out of the room to talk to me about it. He was a good man, that doctor, but he quite happily advised me to abort my child.”

“That is horrible,” Daniel muttered.

“As I would not hear of it, nor would my parents, it became a case of trying to keep me healthy long enough to give birth. Oh, that was no easy feat, but my mum – she was a champion. And my young man, true to form, was right next to her the whole way. They eventually came to something like a friendship, if you look at it in the dim light of a back alley.”

Daniel was trying to understand why Rhonda had not been taken to a hospital. She was not so old as to have lived in the period where hospitals were strictly for things like operations and heavy therapies. In fact, during her formative years, she had told about being in there for a splinter removal from her foot. Her mother was among the first generation to hold jobs and drive cars on their own as a regular part of their day.

“Robin was born five weeks early, a little girl at only five pounds and thirteen inches. We were quite worried about her for the first few months, but she lived. Trying to feed her and give her baths would be nerve racking, not to mention feeding the darling little thing.” Rhonda hit her whiskey hard and refilled her portion. “She met her father, who later died after being drafted into the military. The one thing I begged for, when the nurse took her, was to keep her name as Robin. For a number of years, I did not know if they had kept by my request or not.”

His entire body had dropped as Daniel realized what Rhonda was obviously implying. It was easy to hear how happy the idea of a baby had made her in the way she was speaking now. The relief at not being kicked out, the relief of finding the father wanting to participate, and her parents supporting her decisions… Then to find out she had not been allowed to keep the baby. Was it a choice she had made or had her parents chosen for her? The silence edged on.

“Did they,” he asked finally. “Keep her name, I mean.”

Rhonda gave him the most beatific smile Daniel had ever seen on her face. For some reason, it was the most strangely uplifting thing he had experienced in a long time. She nodded once before continuing.

“Some years later, I was able to get in contact with the family that had taken her. It was not a guarantee, mind you, yet it was worth a chance. I spoke to them, asked if I could meet the daughter they had raised in my stead. Of course, I did not phrase it that way to them; that would have been crazy.” They both laughed, but it was maybe a little more hollow than usual. “When I saw her, it was like a slap to the face. My young man had already been killed by some communist in Asia, but this little girl was just his spitting image. And then I heard him call her over to introduce me.”

Daniel watched Rhonda transform in that moment. Her eyes closed and she seemed to surrender to the joy of the memory of meeting her daughter for the first time. He could not imagine what it would have been like to have a child ripped away like that. “Her name was Robin,” Daniel said with a smile after a long pause to allow his friend to enjoy the moment.

“Yeah,” Rhonda sighed happily. “We spent time together every weekend for those three years before the accident that took our baby away.”

Color drained from his face. “What?”

“Robin died in a car accident with a drunk driver, dear. She was a few months passed eight years old. It happens to the best of us.”

Daniel was still in shock. They had gone from describing a pleasant scene of familial love to the disturbing reality of death. His heart ached for Rhonda. “I am so sorry.”

Rhonda shook her head. “I got to have a daughter for a few years and we were happy. She was not the only casualty in the car and I, personally, barely managed to survive.”

Again, Daniel was reeling. He suddenly remembered the surgeries listed in her medical files. She had been twenty one at the time of that particular accident. He tried to search his fuzzy memories, but failed. He asked, “Have you had any other surgeries besides those from that accident?”

“No, I have been quite lucky beyond that one heartbreaking day.”

Daniel did some mental math and gasped. “You had Robin at fourteen!”

This made Rhonda laugh hard. “Well, what did you expect?”

“That is not a happy story!”

“Well, Danny Boy, I have not lived a happy life.”

Posted in Short Stories/Prompts, Writing

Personal Update/Friday Ramble

Welcome to another ramble and the 100th post on this blog, although I am hoping to be a bit more personally informative and so on. You can think of it as a quick update about what I have been up to in real life (something I do not actually do much here, whether it seems so or not) and what I will hopefully be doing in the coming months with this blog. As any other writer can attest, nothing is quite so difficult as consistency. Planning is a good way to work through that category of issues; accountability is just a good thing.

I am currently house-sitting for my mother and step-father. They have two small dogs (min-pin and corgi mix) and an enormously fat cat. Since they are finally getting to take a much needed vacation together, I was asked to step in and watch the house. Watching the animals, while necessary for their welfare, is a huge fucking bonus for me. Not only do I really like dogs in general, these two are very cuddly and surprisingly well behaved. The residence is actually a house, with a little, enclosed backyard, and an excellent view of the train yard below. This makes things pretty loud and occasionally disgustingly smelly, but this is somewhat mitigated by the gorgeous view of the Cascade Mountains from the living room picture window.

The weather up here is surprisingly different from the edge of the valley where I live. Here, the barometric changes seem to be much more frequent (especially after talking to the neighbor). I find this to be … quite unpleasant, to say the least. That brings me to my health… I know I have mentioned a lot of things here, like having Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and mental health issues. In general, my personal feelings about my health have always been relatively positive. Maybe?

On the one hand, it is really difficult to assess my mental state and, to some extent, my physical state in a truly objective fashion. That is what doctors are for, after all. Being that I am unusually conscious of both of those things, I get a bit more access to the subconscious stuff than the average person. That consciousness does cross over to self-awareness of my physical body. Unfortunately, only some of that breaches from conscious to subconscious or unconscious behavior. Mostly, this manifests in an inability to lay down in a relaxed state and being hyper-aware of my own body mechanics. Translating that into useful knowledge is where I rely on the bastard child of my own experience, scholastic research, some professional education, and talking to my physician.

Setting aside how much I adore the suite of medical professionals I have dealt with so far, my health is something I have been taking for granted for a long time. That would seem pretty damn contradictory to most people. I watched my friend, as well as my uncle, do slowly run their bodies down, however, and that started the process of having it chip away at my awareness in the background. I have really had no choice but to confront this issue in the past few months.

I knew there would be a diagnostic curve when I started talking to doctors. I knew there would be a game of musical chairs with medications, where nothing would work perfectly by itself and everything would stop working eventually. I knew that I would never really stop being in pain. …but that was a nebulous sort of discomfort that would really suck only a few times month. Intellectually, I recognized the interplay between treatment and reinforcing the symptom.

This was the exact reason I stopped taking anti-inflammatory medications: coming off the dose was more painful, as the inflammation returned, than the day-to-day experience of living with it. I was in a mild to moderate amount of pain all the time, but it was infinitely better than the experience of coming off of ibuprofen. Somehow, it never really occurred to me to continue to take the medication. – probably due to being too poor to guarantee I could retain access over time. Now, though, it is an entirely other issue, or definitely feels that way.

The treatments I have received to date include both therapy and medications. Strictly on the physical side of things, my medication regimen right now includes seven or eight different prescriptions (depending on where I am in any transition). I take these in various combinations throughout the day, a couple of them as needed. This is pretty tame compared to what I expect for my future. In particular, I have requested that my treatment options preferentially avoid narcotics until/unless absolutely necessary. It is a bit depressing to realize that I will likely be living on that sort of thing to get by around my sixties and seventies. This is especially frustrating, because a common treatment (cortisone steroid injections) is completely off the table for me.

These days, it has been the bigger challenge to decide if it is my body getting worse or the treatments needing to be changed out already. Since beginning treatments in earnest, after a glorious period of respite, I have only found my body weakening in ways that relate back to the EDS. That might not sound like a problem at first, yet the nature of EDS plays on that kind of weakness. Even slight injuries to any sort of connective tissues (tendons, skin, etc.) result in that tissue remaining slightly stretched compared to its original state. Sometimes that is merely a longitudinal stretch, which results in generic loose limbs. Occasionally, though, these changes to the tissue are not symmetric. Enjoy slight changes to the orientation of any joint, tendons dancing out of their assigned chorus line, and recurrent pinching of nerves galore! Does this not sound just SO amazing?!

So, yeah, that is my body in about a page and a half. Moving on, Horace was alive last time I was able to shoo him up above the soil line. There is a mild problem with mold in his containment, but he does not seem to mind yet. I am working on killing it with selective hydration and increasing air circulation. Again, I really do not think Horace cares. Further, I have not yet been able to sit down to finish the Ant Project page. The research phase will finally end with that going live on the blog, but then begins the actual design phase of things. That will be fun, too.

I have been debating on whether it is ethical and economically viable to keep another pet. It seems to play into my idea to make a self-sustaining habitat for feeder insects that presents everything, including predation, to ensure a healthy population. The idea of feeding insects an amazing last meal just to feed them to a captive predator is abhorrent to me, despite understanding how it is necessary in that context. So, my mind has been tossing images of tarantula habitats and cuddling ball pythons at me. I am still resisting on the basis of economics and lack of experience.

As anyone who has read even just the previous entry has noticed, I am a writer of some skill. I suck at some styles, but whatever. In that vein, I have been working on editing a finished manuscript and writing out some outlines for a newer idea that is kicking around in my head. I really like using outlines to establish the sequence of events, because it gives me a space to add pertinent details, call back to specific items, and – uh – well, I love making lists like this. Being that these are cognitive projects, they are slow going thanks to my very short attention span. Regardless, they are on the list of ongoing must-do projects.

I have recently acquired a taste for digital drawing as a way to meditate, create, and expand on my previous skills with drawing. When I sketch with graphite now, I really miss ctrl-z a lot. By a happy coincidence, my step-father spontaneously offered me a laptop he paid too much for (as in more than double retail) which is a 2-in-1 that opens 360º for drawing and such. His reasoning was rather simple and, to be honest, stupid: he could not figure out to remove the “virus popups that kept happening”. There was virtually nothing on the system, so I cannot understand why he bought a Chromebook instead of just resetting the computer… My gain, I guess, and I am grateful.

One of the most difficult topics recently is that of my son. I was working hard to see him twice a week, instead of just the once, but the sheer disappointment I experience whenever I so much as spoke to his father depressed me too much. To add to that, my son is a misbehaved, manipulative, self-absorbed, volatile, aggression, over-strong, autistic going-on-nine year old. Try to get over the knee-jerk reaction to assume I am expecting too much from the boy, because his ability to use his emotional outbursts to get his way and his semantic, literal mind to manipulate situations are all very deliberate. All children do this to some extent, yes, but getting away with hitting a teacher when he did not want to go to lunch… No. He also prefers to ignore consent, unless it is his consent, quite aggressively and has repeatedly explain how he prefers to have everything (he was totally okay with this being the same as greedy).

I know I did not personally fail my son, because I cannot envision my care to be any better physically than his father is doing psychologically. One of the reasons my quality of life is as good as it is, despite anxiety, depression, EDS, et cetera, owes to the fact that I steadfastly avoid people, places, and possibly explosive situations. Buddhist or not, I have a violent temper that progresses from calm to loud to violent way too quickly to be safe for a child. It only took once for me to learn that I was not going to be able to correct this behavior issue in myself while in continued combat with my kid. Between this fact and when his father openly admitted to preferring abuse to being without me, I recognized that was not a life in which I could morally participate. I will not allow continual abuse to be a part of my life, either from me or upon me. So, I had to exit. I both do and do not regret not being able to play a larger role in the life of my son, because he obviously needed someone else there to counterbalance what his father was allowing.

As I get better psychologically, or at least numb out the anxiety, I hope to correct a lot of circumstances that have been features in my life for far too long. It is very much an uphill battle, as I will have to apply for disability if I cannot get my quality of life under control enough to get a job. I desperately need to find a way to finance myself independently of my partner. There are a lot of reasons for that, realistically, but a lot of it is to exit a space of more abuse. I am already better than I was a year ago, depending on which gauge you choose. I have been trying to make healthier choices for myself, stand up for myself more, and put more of myself back into hobbies and socializing. It has been a mixed back of success and failure, yet you cannot truly appreciate the value of success without the jarring reality of tasting failure.

Posted in A Bit About Me, Personal, Ramble