Last Generation: The Book of Zane

Prologue

A Brief History for the Unaware

Chapter 1

Things changed about ten years ago.  Just when we thought we’d all adapted to that change, things changed again.

I’m talking about the zombies.

Unlike we’d all read about in books or seen in movies, there was no mutant virus, no clumsy lab worker, no toxic spills, nothing like any of that.  It was as simple as a rock from outer space entering our atmosphere and landing in the Atlantic Ocean.  The astromoners told us the meteor was coming, and the governments prepared for it.  If there had been devastating floods, cities laid to ruin, or anything else out of a movie, the human population would have been well prepared.  Civilization would have been saved with little effort, and life would have gone on as normal.

Instead, a collision in space with a second rogue rock destroyed the meteor, with most of the debris managing to end up somewhere other than on Earth.  Unfortunately, one rock about the size of a compact car ended up at the bottom of the ocean, almost exactly halfway between the Statue of Liberty and the Canary Islands.  I realize that calling it a rock is an understatement, but that’s how it’s been referred to since the day it splashed down.  It’s called “the rock.”  No capital letters.  You can go anywhere in the world and mention “the rock” and people will know what you’re talking about.

Nobody noticed the zombies at first.  It took a week or so before any Z’s were reported.  Z’s.  That’s what people call zombies.  Lame, I know, but I didn’t name them.  See, real zombies aren’t like fictional zombies.  Those zombies are mindless, wandering, braindead, rotting corpses that are simply reanimated dead people.  In the movies and books, there were slow, clumsy versions and there were fast, agile versions, but they were all just that- versions.

Actually, I guess zombies aren’t really real.  I mean, we have zombies everywhere, but people just took a word previously used only in fictional works and applied it to what came as a result of the rock.  The Z’s we have today.  Z’s aren’t anything like the ones from tales of horror.  No rotting flesh, no blind eyes, no stumbling around looking for “braaaaaainssss.”  No, none of that.  Z’s look and act just like you and everyone you know, but I’ll get to that soon enough.  For now, let’s go back to how Z’s are…made, for lack of a better word.

The first reported Z was a woman with terminal cancer.    A few days before the rock came, she’d been sent home to die because there was nothing else they could do for her in the hospital.  Home was a beach house in West Virginia.

One afternoon, she closed her eyes and stopped breathing.  Her son, a widower, was sitting with her.  He sighed, torn between relief that his mother was out of pain and grief over his loss, along with a just a little bit of happiness that he wouldn’t have to take care of her anymore.  He left the room to call his sister, to let her know that their mother was gone.  No sooner had he said the words to her than he heard his mother’s voice behind him asking if there was anything to eat, because she was starving.  What he saw when he turned around killed him.

Standing in the door to the kitchen was his mother.  Not only was she alive, but her skin had a healthy pink glow to it, her eyes were bright, and for a brief second, he noticed she was almost bouncing where she stood. Which was surprising since, for months, she’d been unable to stand on her own, much less walk (or bounce).  He noticed all of these things for just a brief moment before he died.  Some readers might assume that, since this is a tale of zombies, his mother attacked him.  I’m happy to say that isn’t the case.  The shock of seeing his dead mother alive and well was just too much for his heart, and the poor man died of a massive coronary event.

His once dead mother promptly dialed 9-1-1.

He stayed dead for about fifteen minutes before he opened his eyes and asked for something to eat, which shocked the hell out of the paramedic who had just told his partner “this guy’s worm food” a second before.  A quick once over by the emergency room doctor revealed that both mother and son were as healthy as could be.  A few early tests revealed a healthy heart in the son, and no cancer cells present in the mother.  Many more advanced tests later, it was revealed that large parts of their brains had no activity present.

Stories like this started popping up slowly around the country.  Within a month, thousands upon thousands of these miracles were reported world wide.  It took almost a year before medical experts discovered that the moment people died, something in a small part of the brain caused the body to immediately start repairing itself.  As the body healed, the brain stopped.  And, even though the brain stopped, the body continued functioning normally.  Almost normally, anyway.

Three noticeable things happen when a person dies, then un-dies.  First, they stop aging.  Hair and nails stop growing, as does height.  The second thing noticed is that pregnant women who die, then un-die, gave birth to live children.  No explanation for that has ever been discovered.

The third thing that happens is that a person who has un-died is overcome with a nearly insatiable hunger.  Now, this is one thing our Z’s have in common with make believe zombies.  Our Z’s crave flesh.  Not brains, necessarily.  Just flesh.  Any kind of flesh, other than the flesh of another Z.  Most will admit that there is a stronger craving for human flesh, but it’s easily overcome simply by eating a meaty meal.  A rare hamburger, a juicy steak, a fried chicken leg, a hot dog.  Anything made of flesh of any once living being.  Once the hunger is sated, the desire for human flesh disappears.

It just…disappears.

Any Z will tell you that.

Chapter 2

In the beginning of all of this, no one put the rock and the Z’s together. They had no reason to.  Most research done wasn’t to find a cure, as there was really nothing to cure.  It was mostly done to find a cause, because with a cause there would be understanding.

A couple years later, the population stopped growing.  Just like the rock is called “the rock,” and just like the Z’s are lamely called “Z’s,” the very creative people in charge started calling this point in time “the end of births.”

The change was noted in the oceans at first.  When the idea of Z’s was still new, it was believed that only humans were affected.  At first, no animals showed any signs of being affected by whatever was causing it. There were no animal Z’s.  Then, fishermen around the world started reporting a disturbing drop in the numbers of fish in the waters.  As it turned out, marine animals were affected the same way humans were, after all.  For some reason, it just took longer for it to hit them.

Marine animals in the oceans, lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water started dying, then un-dying.  As they un-died, they had the same hunger for flesh that human Z’s had.  However, unlike a human Z that was able to order a hamburger, these animals gave in to their cravings and turned on their own kind.  Numbers dwindled and never rose again.  It was discovered that the closer in proximity to the rock, the more drastic the drop in marine population.  It was at this point that two and two were put together to make four.

Just as scientists discovered that fish were no long giving birth, pregnant women worldwide stopped giving birth.  For those fortunate enough to have their babies delivered through surgery, their children became known as “last generation.”  For the rest, their fetuses died, then un-died, inside of them.  Many women lived the rest of their lives with these unborn, un-died babies inside of them.  Many others couldn’t live with the pain and ended their own lives…only to un-die.

And that was what we now call the end of births.

Chapter 3

Dying and un-dying can happen more than once.  Someone who has un-died can un-die again if something happens to him.  In order for Z’s to die, the body has to be burned or the head removed.  This is similar to the death of movie zombies.  And vampires.  But, vampires don’t really exist.  Z’s do.

For a period of time, as you can imagine, there was chaos.  We had no words for this new type of human.  Did laws apply to someone once he died?  Once you die, then un-die, do you still have to pay taxes? (This was an actual question posed before Congress, believe it or not.)  What about inmates on death row?  Once they un-died, did they have to remain incarcerated?  After all, they had been sentenced to death, and they had died, thus carrying out their sentence.

New laws were made concerning Z’s, and smartly, all of the governments of the world decided to uniformly place these laws into effect.  Yes, human laws did still apply.  Yes, Z’s did still have to pay taxes.  As far as death row inmates, they were still to be executed.  However, once they un-died, they were transferred to a special prison. Alcatraz Island was reopened for the purpose of housing these types of inmates.

As I mentioned earlier, there is a craving for human flesh once you un-die.  It took some time to get it all figured out.  Sadly, there were some Z’s who turned on those close to them to satisfy that craving.  They claimed it was their nature and that denying them their nature was cruel and unusual punishment.  This was an argument that ended up before the Supreme Court of the United States.  The Court ruled, unanimously, that live humans health and safety took priority over that of the Z’s.  As a result, a universal law was passed worldwide that stated any Z that consumed human flesh would be decapitated without trial.

There was unease for quite a few years.  Z’s felt that they were being denied their rights, that they were being treated as second class citizens.  Protests, uprisings, and riots became common place.  It wasn’t just Z’s fighting for their rights, either.  Many live humans fought alongside them.

For a long time, there was something that neither side considered.  It was a simple question asked by a child that stopped the fighting.  She asked “What would happen if the President died and became a Z?”  During those fighting years, there were lawmakers who died and un-died, and it was kept secret.  The simple question that little girl asked made people realize that Z’s were a part of the government, and even though things were difficult, the government managed to continue functioning reasonably well.  At that point in our history, things settled down.  Humans and Z’s lived side by side and worked out the problems that arose now and then.

Since then, life has pretty much returned to normal, almost as though nothing has changed from pre-Z times.

Chapter 4

Since then, life has pretty much returned to normal, almost as though nothing has ever changed from the time pre-Z.

That’s what they want you to believe.  They don’t want to acknowledge that there are sides, both human and Z, that are so full of hate that they can’t live in peace.  There are humans that want all Z’s destroyed.  They want to make it law that the moment a live human dies, the head is removed so that no more Z’s will un-die.

On the other side, there are Z’s who are tired of being treated the way they are.  These are the ones who think they should not be denied their hunger for flesh.  If these Z’s had their way, humans would be rounded up and kept like cattle.

Kept as slaves.

Kept as food.

Chapter 5

My name is Zane and I am last generation.

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Behind Schedule

Three people sat inside the otherwise empty train depot. The ticket agent had gone home half an hour earlier. The space was large, and the three people were sitting as far from each other as possible. Whether their positioning was intentional or just a matter of the subconscious wasn’t important. It wasn’t something that any of them were giving thought to at the moment. Each was absorbed in their own thoughts, the only sound the whistle of the wind through the crack under the double doors that lead out of the building.

In the corner nearest the door was Eloise Harker. She was wearing a long trench coat and had it tied tightly around her. Her bright red hair, almost orange, lay just over the collar of her coat, almost touching her shoulders. Most people would guess her to be in her late thirties, and very few would believe that she was almost forty five years old. She held an open book between her hands, her light green eyes glancing up over the page every now and then to look at the clock on the wall. She didn’t wear a watch, and as evidenced by the actual paperback book in her hand (as opposed to one of those fancy new electronic books her only sister kept trying to get her to buy), she wasn’t real concerned with keeping up with technology. Growing up below poverty level with a single father, practically raising her sister, she never had time for such things.

She cleared her throat and turned the page of her book. It was a decent book. Not as good as anything she’d ever written herself, but still pretty good. She looked up at a flickering light, letting her mind wander a bit, and wondered how a book like this was able to be published, yet no one would even look at any of her works.

On the far wall, directly opposite the entrance of the building, a small bench ran along side each side of a pair of restrooms– “his” and “hers.” On the bench next to the sign marked “his” sat a younger man, probably four or five years younger than Eloise. Despite the chill in the room, carried in on the wind under those doors, this man wore no coat. In fact, he was dressed only in threadbare jeans, a lightweight t-shirt, and a pair of hiking boots. With his black hair hanging over his eyes, almost touching his nose, it was hard to tell if he was awake or not. Judging by his posture, he was more likely than not to be sleeping. His head was leaned back against the wall, his mouth opened slightly, and his body leaning to one side.

Conner (not Connor with an ‘O,’ but Conner with an ‘E’) Doogan was aware of how he looked. He was wide awake, staring at the ceiling. He had learned early on that if people thought you were asleep, they wouldn’t bother you for things like the time or to ask if you knew when the next train was scheduled to arrive. So, he sat there, the ceiling above him not doing anything to particularly hold his attention, yet staring at the ceiling anyway. He was waiting for the last train to arrive and depart, leaving him alone in the building so that he could use the restroom to wash himself.

He hated living like this. He really was alone in the world, and he had no one to turn to for help. Ever since he’d returned from Afghanistan, he’d been struggling, holding on to the will to live. His disability checks were enough to live on, barely enough to feed himself, much less pay rent somewhere. He’d tried selling his body a few times, but he couldn’t bring himself to do that anymore. It wasn’t that the experience itself was horrible, he just didn’t like feeling like some kind of whore. Just some piece of meat. Besides, with his limp and the speech impediment caused by the trauma he’d suffered overseas, finding guys willing to pay for sex proved to be harder than it should. So, for now, he’d go on using public restrooms to bathe, continue sleeping on whatever bench he didn’t get kicked off of, and keep on spending his little bit of income on food.

In the corner opposite Eloise was the ticket counter. It was designed so that three ticket agents could work behind it during busy times. Tonight wasn’t busy, so instead of three, there were none. Next to that counter was an empty newsstand. At one time, it had been a place to buy the morning paper, but now it was just an empty space with a stool behind it. On this night, that stool was occupied by Harris Long. It was a convenient spot for him because it allowed him to set his laptop computer on the counter in front of him and use it with some comfort. Where Conner was a few years younger than Eloise, Harris was about that much older than she was.

Harris Long. Everyone knew his name, no one knew his face. Well, those who worked with him knew his face, obviously, but the general public wouldn’t recognize him if he were sitting in the same room with them. The lack of interest by both Conner and Eloise proved that fact. At almost fifty years old, he was one of the wealthiest men in the state. He’d come from being an orphan on the street- literally- to someone who owned those same streets now. In a heavy pea coat that had cost him nearly $400, he was snug and warm in his little spot in the station. The only part of him that was feeling the cold in the air was his bald head, and that was only because he’d left his hat at home that morning. The temperature didn’t bother him, though. He was too busy reading a manuscript that was on the screen in front of him to really notice anything at all.

This was good. These words in front of him had him hooked. From across the room, if anyone were looking at him, they would easily see his dark brown eyes darting back and forth as he read. No one was looking at him, though, and he read undisturbed.

Minutes passed and more minutes passed. The only person who took any notice of the absence of the long overdue train was Conner. He’d stopped staring at the ceiling and was watching the clock on the wall. The train, he realized, should have come and gone well over twenty minutes earlier. With this realization also came the realization that he had to pee. Looking around, he took notice of the other two people in the room and sighed. The interruption of the silence caused Eloise to look at the younger man. He looked back at her and gave her a half smile. He didn’t really feel like smiling, but he’d learned that scowling usually led to trouble. A scowl drew attention, attention meant police were called, and police meant being run off because there was no loitering allowed here, wherever “here” might be. He slowly drew himself up.

He grasped the arm of the bench and pushed himself up. Once standing, he carefully stretched his right leg out behind him, then straight out in front of him before placing his foot back on the ground and putting his weight on it. It was on cold days like this one that he wished he had a cane to lean on. He’d had one at one time, right after coming back to the states, but some street thugs had decided one night that it would look better in their hands than in his.  Carefully, he took a step to test the strength of the leg before letting go of the bench. The leg held, and he made his way into the restroom. As he entered the bright white room, it surprised him how much warmer it was in here than in the waiting area. The maintenance guy must have finally fixed the heater in here, he thought to himself.

He stepped up to a urinal and reached up to hold on to the dividing wall with one hand while freeing himself from behind his zipper with the other. His leg was starting to feel weak, and the last thing he needed was to fall to the ground while he was draining his bladder. He tried to hurry the process, and managed to finish his business and get everything tucked back in and zipped away before his leg gave out. Now, sitting on the tiled floor, he shook his head. That was close. At least I’m still dry. He was now faced with a decision. He could call out for help, which is the last thing he’d ever do. He could reach up and use the lip of the urinal to pull himself up, but who knew the last time that thing had been actually been cleaned?

And then there was his third option.He looked over at the sink area and decided shame was the least of his worries since there was no one to see him embarrass himself. He groaned a little as he made his way into a crawling position, then slowly crawled over to the sinks. He reached up with both hands and pulled his good leg underneath him, and made his way back to a standing position. He then turned around and gave a small hop so that he was sitting on the sink counter. “I might as well sit here and keep warm until those other folks are gone,” he muttered to himself. “I wonder where that train is.” He leaned back, reached across his body, and turned on the sink to wash his hands, then dried them on his pants.

In the waiting area, Eloise had just finished her book. She looked up at the clock and was surprised to see how late it was. Surely that wasn’t the right time. She looked over at a well dressed man who was busy on one of those portable computers. “Excuse me,” she said a little louder than she’d intended. The man took no notice. Eloise cleared her throat and tried again. “I said excuse me, sir. You. On the computer.”

Harris looked up to see Eloise looking at him with a disapproving look on her face. “Oh, I’m sorry! I didn’t hear you. I’m afraid I let my work get the better of me. What was it you needed?”

Just as Eloise opened her mouth to ask him if he had the time, just so she could confirm what was on the wall clock, someone threw open the door, letting in a big gust of freezing air. Eloise was just about to complain when she noticed that the person was holding a gun in his hand.

From across the room, Harris noticed the gun before he noticed the cold. He looked at the face of the person holding the gun and was actually startled to see that it was the face of a child. A teenager, really, but a child none the less. A boy, about fifteen years old. “A caucasian male, not much older than Huck Finn,” Eloise would write later.

“Son, you don’t need that gun in here. Whatever you need, we can-”

The boy pulled the trigger of the gun.

From the restroom, Conner was suddenly felt a sense of hyper-awareness. He forgot all about his leg pain and jumped off the counter, rushing for the bathroom door.

In the distance, a train whistle sounded. It was clearly still far off, but it was only a matter of time before it arrived.

Eloise clasped her hands over her mouth, determined not to scream. Harris calmly closed his laptop. The kid with the gun lowered it before speaking.

“I ain’t afraid to shoot none of you. Wouldn’t be the first time. Here’s what we’re gonna do right now. I ain’t got no time to be messing around. That train’s coming and I’m gonna be gone before it gets here, cool? Now, you,” he said, lifting his chin in Harris’ direction, “you bring me that laptop. Take out your wallet while you’re at it. A suit like that, you gotta have some cash on you.”

He looked over at Eloise. “What are you, some kind of nun? What you dressed like that for? Damn, you’d be looking kind of good if you wore some real clothes! Why don’t you take that long ass coat off and let us see what you look like under there?”

Before Eloise could protest, Conner’s voice came from across the room. “Hey kid, you should leave.” He was leaning against the door frame of the restroom, looking like he didn’t have a care in the world. He didn’t even look at the kid. Instead, he was looking at his fingernails, like he was trying to find that hangnail that he could feel, but couldn’t quite see.

“The hell?” the kid said. “Where’d you come from?”

Conner looked up and smiled. “I came out of my mother’s womb, fool. Where’d you come from?”

“Dude, you crazy or something? I got a gun. Don’t you see I got a gun? You want me to shoot you? Shut the hell up and sit down over there.”

Still smiling, Conner spoke again with ice in his voice. His eyes said that his mindset didn’t match the smile on his face. “Shoot me? Go for it. Been shot before, you punk assed bitch. More than once. If a sniper rifle couldn’t take me down, you think that baby gun you got there’s gonna do it?”

The boy in the doorway paused before opening his mouth again. “What you talking about? Where you see snipers?”

Conner laughed. “I never saw any snipers. If I’d seen them, they wouldn’t have shot me. But they did. They shot me. But you know what? After they shot me, I got up and walked away. That’s what Marines do. We get shot, we walk away. You shoot me, I’m going to walk over there, then I’ll take that toy away from you and shove it so far up your ass, you’ll have to use a toothbrush to pull the trigger the next time you decide to shoot someone.”

The gunman didn’t say anything. He moved the gun to his other hand.

“Now see,” said Conner, “you’re playing with it. Someone who shoots people doesn’t play with their gun. They hold it firm in one hand, kind of like you hold your pecker at night, and they show people that they know what to do with it, again, kind of like you and your pecker at night. The truth is that you’ve never shot anyone before, and you’re not going to shoot anyone today. Now, I might be wrong. You might shoot someone today just to prove to me how wrong I am. But, kid, I’m telling you, you pull that trigger again, you’re not walking out of this building on your own.”

Before Conner finished his last statement, the kid with the gun turned and ran out of the building.

The doors weren’t even fully shut before Conner slumped to the ground in pain. He hadn’t even felt the pain when faced with the scene that had just unfolded, but now that it was gone, the pain was back. He looked up at the man and woman who were standing next to him. “So, uh…care to give a guy a hand?”

As the two helped lift the Marine off the ground, they could hear the train much closer now. They both had the same thought running through their heads. They both thought Conner was a hero, and if what he’d just said was true, he was a hero in more ways than one. They both wanted to know his story, and they both thought it could be a story that others would want to hear.

“Dear Lord,” said Eloise, “you’re not hurt are you?”

“No ma’am, not by what just happened. I won’t lie and say I’m not in pain, because, well, you can see that I am. But no, I’m fine for the most part.”

Harris took off the coat he was wearing and put it around Conner’s shoulders. Conner protested. “Sir, I appreciate it, but you don’t want to do that. I don’t exactly smell spring fresh right now. Truth is, I was waiting for you folks to leave so I could go in there and give myself a sponge bath,” he said, pointing to the restroom he’d come out of moments before.

The older man smiled and shrugged. “Friend, I don’t care if you smell like a fresh pile of horse manure, the coat is yours, and I won’t hear another word about it. How is it that you’re a Marine, yet here you are, dressed like that, in this weather?” He was aware enough not to mention Conner’s dirty hair, his foul breath, or his filthy jeans.

“Sir, that’s a long story,” he said quietly, as the train pulled into the station.

Harris held out his hand. “It’s a story I’d love to hear.”

Eloise interrupted. “Oh, yes! So would I! If you don’t mind, I’d like to take notes, too!” She hadn’t been so excited to write something since the last time she’d written something, two days ago.

Conner shook his head. “You folks don’t understand. I’m kind of what you’d call a loner. I don’t accept pity or charity or anything of that sort. I didn’t do anything just now that any other-”

Harris was the one to interrupt this time. “Shut up.”

“Excuse me?”

“I said shut up. You obviously have a story to tell. This young lady obviously wants to write about it. And if it’s anything like I’m picturing it in my head, it’s probably something I’d be interested in publishing. So, shut up. The three of us are going to get on that train, go into the city, and I’m going to buy you both dinner while you tell us about these snipers you never saw.”

A sly grin crossed Conner’s face. “Well, actually, I did see them. I mean, after they shot me, I couldn’t just let them get away with it, could I?”

Eloise pursed her lips. “You shot them back.”

Before Conner could reply, the train conductor walked in to the station. “You folks headed to town? We’re behind schedule and need to get going.”

Harris held out his hand and helped Conner stand up. He put his arm around the other man’s waist to help support his waist. “Friend, I have a feeling you don’t really have any plans for tonight, so after we’ve eaten, you’re coming home with me. You’ll shower, get a good night’s sleep, and tomorrow I’m taking you to see my doctor about that leg.”

Conner shook his head. Hadn’t he just told them he didn’t accept charity? “No sir, I can’t let you do that. I can go to the V.A. hospital just as soon as I get my next check.”

“Bullshit. I know the V.A. hospitals. If they did their job, you wouldn’t be in this much pain right now. Don’t argue with me. I know you don’t know who I am, but I’m not a man to be argued with.”

Eloise cleared her throat. I do that a lot, she thought to herself. “I think we’d better hurry. The conductor just climbed back on the train.”

Together, the three of them headed for the exit. One by one, they climbed aboard the train, Harris helping Conner up the steps of the passenger car. In the end, things happened just as Harris had said they would. They had dinner and Conner told his story. It took a couple of hours, and Eloise wrote everything by hand in her notepad. When Harris offered her the use of his laptop, she waved him away. After dinner, she went her own way, and the two men went back to Harris’ home, a penthouse with a view of the city.

The next morning, clean and well rested, dressed in clean clothes from the closet in a guest room, Conner visited Harris’ doctor.

Seven months later, Conner sat by Eloise’s side as she signed copies of her book. The book about Conner’s life and his time in the war. In a chair off to the side, Harris smiled at his new best selling author. The woman could write, there was no doubt about it. He looked at Conner and the smile grew. The two had become more than friends. He supposed a discreet person might say they were companions. Whatever they were, Harris was thankful to the young guy with the gun for bringing Conner Doogan into his life.

A week later, the train depot was closed permanently with no fanfare or mention.

Author’s note: I realize the ending is rather trite, but it was supposed to be a short story and I was on the verge of starting a novel.

Josh

I didn’t know who the dark haired kid was when I first saw him, but I’d get to know him very well before we finished high school. I still remember the first time he caught my eye. I was closing my locker and saw him staring at me. When he realized that I’d noticed him looking at me, he turned red, quickly slammed his locker, and hurried off down the hall.

I got to school early the next day, hoping to see him again, but it was a wasted effort. It wasn’t until lunch on the third day that I did see him again. He was sitting with some guys from the football team. Now, I was never exactly bold in high school, and there was no way I was going to go up and start talking to him. What I did do, though, was sit in his line of sight just a few tables away. I watched him until he looked up and met my eye, and when he did, I smiled at him, then looked away. I’ll spare you the details of the repetitive back and forth game of eye tag that this started. Let’s just say it went on for almost two more weeks.

A few days before the homecoming game, I was on my way to drama class, running a few minutes late, and as I hurried around a corner, I ran into a wall. A wall with black hair and dark green eyes. I mean, I literally ran into him. I mentioned earlier that he was sitting with the football players at lunch. Turns out it’s because he was a football player himself. As I unintentionally threw myself at him, he remained firmly planted in place, and I bounced off of him and onto the floor.

He offered me his hand to help me up and apologized for knocking me down. I tried to tell him it was my fault, but everything in my brain was focused on his hand. His hand holding my hand. I opened my mouth, but nothing came out.

“Are you ok? Seriously? Say something,” he said, sounding worried.

“Wow, your eyes are really green.”

I wanted to slap myself. Back then, I never really gave much thought as to why I wasn’t interested in girls, but the last thing I wanted to do was sound like I was into guys. I was a drama and band nerd. The last thing I needed was people going around saying I was gay…although, I later found out that they’d been saying it long before any of this ever happened.

He shrugged. “Yeah, they are. Thank for noticing, I guess?”

Before I could respond, the bell rang. Having just made a fool of myself, I didn’t say anything else and just ran off to class without looking back. I spent the entire class period going over in my head what had just happened. Why did I say that about his eyes? Why couldn’t I have just thanked him for his help or apologized for running into him? Why did I have to run into him like that in the first place? Why did his hand feel so warm and strong? Why did I notice that his pants were-

Stop, I told myself. Just stop.

I didn’t stop, though. I was so caught up in thinking about this kid that I didn’t hear the bell ring. I was still sitting at my desk when my best friend, Erin, walked in.

“Hey, what are you doing here?”
“Huh?”
“Here. What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be going to gym right now. What are you still doing here?”
“Oh. Yeah. Nothing. I just…yeah. Nothing. Gotta go, I guess. Gym class and all that.”

I grabbed my bag from the floor next to me and hurried out of class. What was with me that day? I was never late, and there I was about to be late for the second class in a row. I stopped at my locker to throw my bag in, rushed out the door of the main building, and started running towards the gym. If I was late, Coach would make me run laps. I don’t run. Well, I mean I don’t run unless I’m late to class. Anyway, I noticed that my shoe was untied and slowed down a bit, thinking I should tie it, but then told myself that I was just going to be taking the shoe off when I got to the locker room, so I let it go and picked up speed. I reached the gym and ran around the corner towards the locker room entrance. Just as I made the turn, I tripped over that goddamned shoelace and fell face first into a wall.

A wall with black hair and dark green eyes.

I guess I should have been thankful that I hadn’t landed on the ground this time. The reason I didn’t end up on the ground, though, was because the wall caught me in his arms and kept me from hitting the ground.

In his big, thick arms. Strong arms.

When I looked at his dark green eye- I mean his face, he was grinning and what he said next had to have come straight out of the cheesiest movie of all time.

“Hey, we have to quit running into each other like this.”

And me, being the self confident, quick and witty guy that I am, I mumbled something like “your hair’s wet” and scurried (yes, scurried, as in a rat or a weasel) off to the locker room. I was late, naturally, since I was in those strong arms when the bell rang, so I spent most of the period running laps. Usually, when gym was over, I didn’t bother showering since it was my last class of the day. I normally just drove home and showered there before doing my homework. I had a doctor’s appointment today, though, so I took my time getting undressed, waiting for most of the guys to leave before I headed for the showers. I’m not shy about my body. Never have been. I just wasn’t comfortable being around a bunch of naked guys back then, mostly because I never knew how my body would react. I figured it was just teenage hormones at the time, but looking back I guess it should have been obvious that there was a better reason for it.

When the locker room was empty, I took off the last of my clothes and wrapped a towel around my waist, then headed to the shower. Now, here’s something I’ve never understood. The showers in so many boys’ locker rooms are communal. The shower heads are either mounted on the wall in a straight line (sometimes along two or three walls) or they’re around a pole that stands in the center of the floor. Either way, you end up with a shower full of naked teenaged boys with no privacy. This is the time in a kid’s life when sexuality is constantly at the forefront of his mind. It’s also the time of his life other guys are mercilessly cruel. I could never understand how a bunch of sex crazed fifteen and sixteen year olds could shower together, jostling each other, slapping each others asses, trying to hit each other in the groin and not see anything “gay” about it. Yet at the same time, they single out the kid in the corner, the kid minding his own business, trying to go unnoticed, and call him a fag. It didn’t make sense then and it doesn’t make sense now.

Anyway, our showers were set up with one large doorway, and then shower heads lining the left and right walls, as well as the far wall facing the entrance. On the rare occasion that I did have to shower with the other guys, I tried to get the first or last shower in the room, off in a corner. Since I was the only one in there this day, I took one in the center, facing the entrance, since they had the best water pressure. I suppose I could go off on a descriptive tangent, telling you how I soaped myself up and got turned on at the thought of the dark haired boy I couldn’t get off my mind, and then go into detail about how I relieved myself. The truth is, though, I didn’t do any of that. Sorry if that’s what you were expecting. I was running late (which seemed to be the theme of the day) for my appointment since I’d waited for everyone to clear out of the locker room before I got undressed. So I hurried with my shower, dried off, and rushed to my locker. I wasn’t really thinking about what I was doing, so I didn’t wrap the towel around my waist like I had earlier. I just threw it over my shoulder and headed for my clothes. Just as I was bending over to put my underwear on, I heard a voice.

“Oh, hey. I didn’t think anyone would still be here. Do you always hang around the guys’ locker room after school, or did you know I’d be here?”

I looked up and saw him standing on the other side of the room, his locker wide open. I wanted to explain why I was in there so late. I mean it was a legitimate reason, right? Instead, I said “How would I know you’d be here. I wanted to be alone.”

His left eyebrow raised. “Alone? In the shower? In the locker room?”

There wasn’t much I could say to that. I was afraid I’d just put my foot further in my mouth, so I just shrugged and finished pulling up my underwear, just then realizing that I’d been on display for him while he was talking to me. I immediately turned all shades of red.

“Hey, don’t blush on my account.”

“I’m not blushing! I just-  Um. Well. The water. It was hot.”

“Dude, relax, I’m just messing with you.”

I don’t know why I that frustrated me, but it did. It really did. “Oh yeah? Well, why are you in here after school? You had gym last period. What, were you hoping to find me in here?” As soon as the words left my mouth, I wished I could take them back. Great. He’s going to think I’m hitting on him. Shit.

He laughed. “As much fun as I’ve had running into you today, I’m afraid to tell you that you were the last thing on my mind when I came in.” He reached into the locker and pulled out a bag. “Laundry day. This shit’s getting ripe. Forgot it earlier, so here I am. Just had to pick up my drawers so my mom can wash them. Sorry to disappoint you.”

It didn’t dawn on me until later that I actually was a little disappointed. “I’m not disappointed. I’m annoyed. Every time I turn around today, there you are making me look foolish.”

“What? You think I’m enjoying having you throw yourself at me all day long?”

“I’M NOT THROWING MYSELF AT YOU!”

And as I said this, while pulling up my jeans, I fell over, in his direction. He was across the room, though, so I didn’t fall into him this time. I swear to God I’m not a clumsy person. I’m not. Still, for the third time in one day, I was tripping over myself. In front of this guy. This really good looking guy. This guy who was… Ugh. His back was to me, but he was clearly laughing.

“Oh my god. Stop laughing at me. Please.”

He turned back around. His face was red, but he wasn’t laughing. “I’m not laughing.”

I sighed, stood up, pulled my pants up, grabbed my shirt and pulled it over my head.

“Sorry,” he said. “I can’t help it. All this time you’ve been staring at me in the cafeteria, I thought you were trying to be smooth. Now I see you’re not smooth at all. Just out of curiosity, why have you been staring at me at lunch?”

I instantly denied it. I told him I look at everyone during lunch, that I was a people watcher. If he saw me looking at him now and then, it’s just because…just because…

“Just because you were staring at me?”

“No!”

He shrugged. “Ok. Whatever. No big deal if you were. I’ve got to get out of here before I’m late for work.” He slammed his locker door and headed for the exit. Just before the door closed behind him, he stuck his head back in. “Oh, by the way, your shirt’s on backwards. And inside out.” With that, he was gone, and the door clicked shut.

I looked down. He was right about my shirt. I was thankful that he’d at least been kind enough not to mention the fact that my pants zipper was wide open. I shook my head and groaned. Could today get any worse? I gathered up all my stuff, then thought about his dirty underwear. I mean, about what he’d said about his drawers being ripe. It made me think about my own gym clothes, so I decided I might as well take them home to be washed. I grabbed them out of my locker, then locked it, and headed for the parking lot.

I was lucky. I was one of the few sophomores to have my own car. My birthday was late in the school year, so I was a little older than most of the kids in my grade. One of the upsides to that was being able to drive myself to school. What wasn’t so lucky was that my car was a POS. Piece of shit. The front seat passenger side door didn’t latch, so it had to be held shut with a piece of rope. If I was driving alone, I could just tied the rope to the steering column. If someone was in the front seat with me, they had to hold the rope.

My car had no seatbelts.

I threw my bag and my books into the back seat and climbed behind the wheel. When I turned the key in the ignition, my eardrums almost exploded. When I got to school that morning, Billy Idol was on the radio and I had cranked up the volume all the way. I forgot to turn it off before getting out of the car, so when I started it, I was blasted with some Toto song.

I made my way across the parking lot and around the building to the student exit. Just before pulling out into the road, I noticed a beat up old pick up in the far corner of the parking lot with the hood up. I knew I was going to be late for my doctor appointment, but I felt like I should see if the owner of the truck needed any help. It’s what my grandmother would have done. I hesitated just a few second before putting my car in reverse and heading over to the truck.

When the owner come out from under the hood, I cussed out loud. Of course. It was him. Of course. Of course it was. Who else would be it today? I thought about just driving away, but it was too late. He’d already seen me and a grin replaced the scowl on his face. I exhaled loudly before turning off my car and climbing out.

“Hey,” he said, “I don’t know what-”

I shook my head, held up my hand, and interrupted him. “I don’t care. I don’t know what’s going on today, but I’ve about had it with you. I don’t want you to talk to me. I don’t want to know what’s wrong with your truck. I’m going to give you a ride to wherever it is you work, and then I’m going to go to the doctor. He probably won’t see me because I’m already late thanks to you, but whatever. You’re going to have to find your own ride home from work because I’m not going to go pick you up. My car is a piece of shit, the passenger door doesn’t close, and you’re going to have to hold it shut with a piece of rope. You’re not going to say one word to me. You aren’t going to smirk. You aren’t going to laugh or grin. Nothing. If so much as a corner of your mouth perks up, I’m kicking your ass out and you can walk. Now get in the fucking car.”

I have no idea where any of that came from, and it certainly wasn’t typical of me. I’d just had enough for the day. I wasn’t comfortable with the feelings I got when he was around me, and he was around me far too much today. I watched as he walked around the car and got in. I waited until he closed the door and had the rope in his hand before I got in. I started my engine and pulled out into the road. I drove half a block before I realized I didn’t know where I was taking him.

“Where do you work?”

He looked at me, but didn’t say anything.

“Oh, bullshit. Haha, I get it. I told you not to talk to me, so now you’re not going to tell me where you’re going, right?”

He nodded.

“Fine, you’re going to the doctor’s with me.” I assumed that when he heard that, he’d stop being stupid and tell me where he needed to go. He didn’t, though. I wasn’t about to let him win, so I turned my radio back on and drove right to the doctor’s office. When we got there, he let go of the rope, watched the door swing open on its own, and got out of the car. He looked back at me, smiled, nodded his head, and walked across the street to a small chinese food place. I watched him go in. I waited for him to come back out. After a few minutes, I looked at the building I was parked in front of and then looked at my watch. I was twenty five minutes late for my appointment. Screw it, I thought to myself, then headed across the street. I figured he was in there using their phone, and I felt kind of bad for the way I’d talked to him. If he wasn’t able to get a ride, I’d offer to drop him off at his home or his work.

When I walked in the front door, there was no one in sight. I stood there for a couple of minutes before he came out of the back. “Oh, sorry, the hostess is on the phone.” I looked at him. He was wearing a white apron. “Are you dining in or is it a to-go order?”

“What?”

“Dine in or carry out?”

“I’m not eating here.”

“So, to go, then?”

“No, I don’t want to order any food.”

“A drink?”

“What?”

He looked at me like I had two heads. “You know, I never got the impression that you were slow before. Now I’m wondering if that might explain how weird you are.”

“I’m not slow!”

“You’re in a chinese restaurant. You don’t want to order anything. You keep saying ‘what’ to me. What else am I supposed to think?”

“You’re an ass. Do you know that? Because if you didn’t know before, you know now. You are an ass.”

Before he could reply, I walked back out the way I’d come in. I crossed the street, got in my car, and drove home.

To hell with him. I hoped I’d never see him again.

 

C’est la vie

(This was written in 2009, but the gist remains pretty much the same.)

I don’t want to get old.

I would never end my own life, nor would I give up fighting if my life were in danger, so don’t go getting any ideas from this post, ok? But I don’t want to get old. I dread it. It’s something I never really gave much thought to. I joke about being dead by the time I’m 50, and if I’m not, I’ll take pills and booze, and just go. Like I said, I wouldn’t really do that, but I just can’t imagine being older than that.

I grew up in and around nursing homes. I know about quality of life. I’ve seen the old, frail folks, and I’ve seen the young, spry old folk. I’ve seen wives in the home who’s 90 year old husband comes to see them and just bounds up the steps with a spring in his step. But it doesn’t matter. Because they’re old. They can’t do things they used to do. I really don’t want to hear the crap about “You can do anything you want!”   None of that “it’s all in your head, a 90 year old can do what a 50 year old can do!” It’s just not true. And I don’t want to get old.

I can’t say that I’m scared, really. I’m not. I’m a little put off by not knowing what the future holds, though. Most people start getting ready for retirement when they’re half my age. Me? I got nothing. No savings. No IRAs. No CDs or bonds. Nothing. Hell, I’ll be lucky to get $100 a month in social security. I’m not going to let Kellen take care of me. I assume we’ll be together, but I don’t want him to support me. It’s bad enough now that he supports me, but to let him do it when I’m old will just be…I don’t know. Bad.

A lot of it is that I look back and realize I’ve done nothing in life. No, this isn’t one of those woe is me stories. I know I’ve touched people. I’ve probably even saved lives. I’m sure there are people who’s lives are better for knowing me. But I haven’t done anything. I toyed with the idea of a bucket list. A cruise, rock climbing, etc. The truth is, though, that I won’t do anything like that. Why not? Because it’s not the kind of person I am. I’m the kind of person who sits and watches, and then wishes I’d done it. So why not change? Again, because that’s just the kind of person I am. I can’t say it makes me happy, exactly, but I have a feeling that being unsettled in life is what I feel most comfortable with, if that makes any sense. It does in my head, but not logically… So I’ll sit and watch old age approach. No diet, no change in physical activity, no monetary security is going to change it. And I’ll dread every minute of it while doing nothing to change it. Because that’s just who I am.

And again, not to be woe is me, but it’s times like this that I…well, I really don’t like myself much. Yes, I’m a nice guy, a good person, have a great heart, and all that crap. But it doesn’t change me.

You know what brought all this on? Nip/Tuck. The 40 year old ex-wife on the show is thinking about going to med school. I sit and wonder if I should go back to school. I won’t qualify for financial aid, I have no job, and I won’t let Kellen pay for it. I like school, but I hate studying. And while I think about maybe going back to school, I think back on my unsuccessful attempts at education. I graduated high school at 20. I didn’t start college until I was in my mid-30s. I never finished. I have enough credits for at least an associates, but I’m missing a credit or two that are required for any type of paper. In four years, I could be a teacher. In two years, I could be a nurse. In one year, I could be a paramedic. Teacher is what has been on my mind the most lately. But you know what? I’m 42 years old and I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up.

Crazy, isn’t it?

The really sucky thing is that, through fault that is only my own, I have such a shitty job history that even if I do go and finish whatever type of schooling, no one will hire me, because I’d be almost 50, have had held at least 25 jobs in my life, and only two or three of them for more than a year, but none for even two years. That  is because I have a short temper, very little patience for idiots, and don’t like being told what to do. I have the hardest time keeping my mouth shut when I should, and I gossip even when I don’t mean to. I’m a 42 year old with the mentality of a 12 year old. So…yeah.

I don’t think this is even a midlife crisis. I think it’s just me finally facing life and reality. I don’t want to grow old. I don’t want to be old. I regret so much in life. Most of all, I regret that I set such a bad example for my kids. They have my short temper, my little patience, and my inability to keep their mouth shut. When they get angry or frustrated, they say things they regret, just like I do.

I never took care of them financially, depending on Eileen to be the bread winner. I barely pay child support, paying it here and there when I’m able. Granted, when I’m working, she gets almost my entire paycheck, just because I want to catch up, but still. Even when I was there full time, I was still a dead beat dad.  I never took care of them like I should. I’m not proud of it.  I’m ashamed of it, actually.  I just finally accept, too late, that I’m the one responsible for my failures.  And my kids, they look at me and see the dad who just wants to have fun, who doesn’t keep a job. And now…it’s just too late to change that.  I know they love me.  I know they will say I’ve been a good dad, but when they’re in their 30s, they’ll look back and realize the truth.

Maybe that’s why I don’t want to be old.  In fact, reading back on this, what I said up there towards the beginning isn’t quite true.  I’m pretty sure what the future holds.  I see myself growing old alone.  I’l have driven Kellen away because he shouldn’t be 45 taking care of a 65 year old, and my kids – although they love me and will love me – will be the kind of family to me that I was to them as they grew up.  And I’ll be that old person in the nursing home with a nurse aid sitting next to me during the kitchen cooked Christmas dinner because she had to work the holiday, trying to keep me in good cheer.

And that’s what scares me.  I just realized that, after writing all of the rest of this.

Life is what it is.  I just wish I’d realized all of this 25 years ago.

Thoughts on God and Religion

Church really messed me up. I grew up hating myself, miserable, because of a church. Because I let men tell me what to believe.

I love God. I really, really do. There are times when I see beauty – be it a rainstorm, pristine white snow, Lake Tahoe, a newborn baby sleeping peacefully, two people in love, a stranger lending a hand – and I’m overwhelmed with love for Him.

The thing is that my hatred of church and religion tends to keep me from trying to be close to God. I personally believe that everyone worships the same God. Some may call him Buddha, some may call him God, some may call him Mother Nature, some may worship him as thousands of separate gods, but in the end, I think it’s all the same being. I choose to call him God. When we die, I think that this being, my God, takes those who truly love to the place they want to be. Whatever form heaven is to you, I think that’s where your God will take you when you die.

I love God. I thank Him every day for putting me in a spot where my eyes were open to just how hateful a religion I’d grown up in. I thank him for showing me that the only thing that matters is a good, kind, loving heart. I don’t think God really cares what we do as long as we love our fellow man and as long as we aren’t hurting anyone else. I think all he wants from us is for us to love each other, to help each other when it’s needed, to encourage and support each other. And for this reason, I believe that, in spite of my being a grand ol’ whore, in spite of my love of dirty words, in spite of my awful, sick, twisted sense of humor, in spite of anything bad I see in myself…I believe that because I love people, because I want to help other people, because I’m miserable if I see someone else miserable, because I can’t stand to see someone in need and refuse to sit by and not help, I believe that, when I die, God will reward me with whatever vision of a paradise I hold in my heart.

This means that when I die, I’ll spend an eternity living by a lake, sitting with my grandmother (who I miss so much right now that it has me in tears) and my kids, just enjoying the view, swimming, fishing, listening to good old country music, and feeling the love.

I don’t really have a point to all this, other than to say that sometimes I really miss going to church. I know people will say that there are churches out there that don’t preach hate. There are churches that teach only love. Churches that accept people for who they are, that don’t condemn others. But I just don’t believe that. I believe that no matter how loving and innocent a church appears, how truly Christ-like it seems to be, ALL churches have their own ulterior motives. I don’t miss being around other churchies. I don’t miss the preaching. What I miss is the music. The songs. The hymns. I have all kinds of spiritual music that I listen to, and sometimes it just moves me to the point where I just want to stand up and wrap my arms around God and never let go.

I guess where I’m going with this is that I think the only way I’ll ever find a church that truly gives me what I need is when I die. At that time, I’ll have all the music I want, surrounded by real love, with people who aren’t expecting anything, and with God literally by my side.

This whole post may sound moody or sad, but it’s really not. I just…I feel the urge to proudly say that I love my God. A lot of people in my life say they can’t understand how I’ve gotten so far from Him, but the truth is that I’m closer to Him than I’ve ever been, and I don’t understand how THEY can be so FAR from Him and not realize it, how they can think they’re actually CLOSE to him. They don’t believe me when I say I love Him and that I’m close to Him. So, I’m here, now, telling you, my friends, that I love God with all that I’m capable of loving Him with.

Yes, I’m a filthy minded, foul mouthed, lazy bum, but you know what? God loves me, and I love Him.

Who Are You?

Once, in high school, oh so many years ago, I was standing and talking to a couple of girls who I must have considered to be somewhat friendly with. I mean, why else would I be standing and talking to them? They were wearing cheer uniforms. I can’t remember if they were cheerleaders or Raiderettes, but I remember the uniforms. Anyway, we were standing right under the second floor walkway. We were laughing about something, and all of a sudden a huge gob of spit/phlegm landed on my shoulder from above. There was laughter, but the offender was nowhere to be seen. I remember one of the girls laughing, and the other saying “Gross!”

I recently asked on Facebook how long was too long to carry a grudge. I asked if it is better to mention a hurtful incident to a perpetrator now after so long, or to let it go. The majority said to let it go and not mention it.

I just finished reading a book about a high school shooting. Things festered and finally boiled over into gunfire. The final straw was someone having their headphones jerked out of their ears. The book was about the long lasting effects the shooting had on everyone, even those who weren’t shot. And how more than the shooting, it was the little things before the shooting that haunted these people so much. People wondering if maybe they’d stood up for a bullied victim just once, would the shooting have been avoided. If that one girl had apologized for tripping another, would they have avoided the nightmare that eventually happened.

It got me to thinking. I think even the nicest among us had that someone that we weren’t so nice to. I can think of one guy who everyone thought was so great. Such a nice guy, always smiling, always friendly. A guy who would never make anyone else uncomfortable. They never saw him picking at that one poor kid who never looked at anyone wrong. They never saw him making lewd sexual taunts to the kid. Or the cheerleader who was known the complete opposite of what most cheerleaders were perceived to be. Would her image have been tarnished if people heard her calling another girl fat behind her back? Or would that cheerleader have felt bad had she known that the overweight girl actually did hear the comment?

This goes the other way, too. A good many kids were seen as bullies. Most of them deserved the reputation. But what about that one who, when by himself, saw another kid ready to jump off of a bridge, and stopped to talk to him, to get him to sit down, and think about things? How would that act of kindness altered the bully’s life?

We think that after 25 years, we should be over these things. We think they should be forgotten. After all, we’ve grown, and we’re not those people anymore. But is it true? Have we changed that much? I see some of the bullies from high school are now on Facebook. I read some of the comments they make or look at some of their pictures, and I think “She’s still as much of a bitch as she ever was.”

The truth is that a lot of people carry that pain with them for a lifetime. One or two incidents, sure, maybe we can forget those. But when you go through your entire high school career facing that crap every day, it’s kind of hard to forget it, even 25 years later.

There is a Facebook friend who I adore. She was one of a very small few who I never, ever saw belittle anyone, and who actually stood up for the bullied more than once. Sadly, I think this type of person is far too few to be found. Then, there’s the second type. The bully who apologizes years later, and turns out to be a very decent chap, one who is actually enjoyable to relate to, even if it is on the internet.

But there are also those who will probably never be forgotten or forgiven. The ones who probably still don’t see anything wrong with what they did. The ones who, if told that their child was bullying someone, would grin and say “Kids will be kids,” and then laugh about it with the child.

There are three names from Stroman and one from Bandera who will always be that bully to me. People who, if they were to apologize to me today, I’d turn my back on them. Because I think they fall in to that last category. Which makes it all moot, because since they fall in to the last category, they’d never actually apologize.

Anyway, my point to this is that you never know when something you’ve said or done is going to come back at you. You have no way of knowing how something you say now will still have a negative impact on someone’s self esteem 25 years later. Because, yes, I’m still haunted by that spit. If I go someplace where people are standing at a higher level, I’m unable to enjoy myself because I’m watching for spitters or looking for another place to stand.

But it’s about more than high school. It’s about now. Think before you speak. Think before you act. The only time it’s too late to take it back is after you’ve done it. Shootings don’t just happen in high school. They happen in college. They happen in the work place. They happen in nursing homes.

Words hurt. Actions hurt.

Even 25 years later.

So, to anyone that I’ve ever said a hurtful word to or done something mean to, I apologize. Sincerely. I’m still bothered by a few words said years ago, so I can imagine that something I’ve done can still bother someone. So, again, whether you’re a real life friend, an old friend, or just an internet acquaintance, I’m sorry if I’ve ever hurt you.

Now let’s get this party started!

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Nostalgia

35 years ago, my grandmother took me to JC Penney. We parked on the street in front of the store, walked down the street to look in the store window of another store at something, then walked back up the street and into JC Penney. From the sales counter, almost an island of sorts, a lady looked over, smiled sincerely, and said “Hey, how are you? Let me know if I can help you. Would you like a cup of coffee or something while you shop?” My grandmother told me I could have a soda, and the lady gave me a can of Dr Pepper. 

The store was small. You could see everything in it from the front door.

The lady was genuinely friendly.

As we were leaving, she said “Y’all come back and see us again. I’ll have a Dr Pepper waiting for you.”

I can still recall the atmosphere of that store, the smell…the comfort.

This was a JC Penney. It wasn’t in a mall. It wasn’t a giant department store with escalators and grumpy floor clerks. 

I feel sorry for the generations younger than mine. They’ll never get to experience something like that. Genuine, friendly hospitality offered from the heart, not with a profit as the reason behind it.

We’d go to the bank, and the manager would come out to chat. My grandmother would hand him her deposit, and we’d leave. No need to see the teller, no need for a receipt.

One hot afternoon, we stepped inside of a hardware store. An old man hurried over to see how he could help us. My grandmother told him “Oh, I’m sorry, we really just came in to get out of the heat for a minute.” The man smiled and told her to take all the time she needed, and brought over a folding chair for her to sit on. A few minutes later, he brought her some ice water, and brought me a popsicle. We didn’t buy anything, but when we left, he told us thank you for coming in and to come back anytime.

What’s happened to our society? It makes me so sad that it literally brings tears to my eyes.

I blame technology.

When I was a kid, if I wanted to hang out with a friend, I’d walk over to his house to see if he could come out and play. If he did, we’d spend out day roaming around. If he couldn’t, I’d walk back home and play outside by myself, until another friend would come by to see if I could go wandering. 

Today, it’s not like that. The ten year old will take out a cell phone and call his friend. if his friend can’t do anything, the ten year old will go inside and turn on the Wii.

I don’t get it at all. My generation had it the best as kids. I’d give anything to have that again. And it really frustrates me to think that it’s my generation, the one that had it the best, that has let its kids turn into a generation that would scoff at having what we had as kids. A kid today would rather go to the mall or WalMart than to step in to an old family owned shop.

I just… I don’t know. Time and progress aren’t always a good thing, I guess.

Boy Meets World Again

“I do love you,” he said.  He couldn’t stop the tears from falling.  “I hope you believe that.”

“I do.  I know you do.  I love you, too.  This is for the best, though.  You know it is.  I want you to be happy.  You can’t be happy like this.”

“I can be.  I know I can.  Don’t do this.  I can’t stand it.”

“You’ll be fine.  I promise.”

“I’m not talking about me.  I’m talking about you.  I know this is killing you.  Let me stay.  I want to do it.  For you.”

“That’s the problem.  I don’t want you to do it for me, I want you to do it for you, and you can never do it for you because it’s not who you are.”

He couldn’t argue that.  There’d been enough lies and he wasn’t going to add to them by denying that what she said was the truth.  He took her in his arms and held her.  He could smell her shampoo and that thought that he’d never smell that smell again broke him.  He let her go, told her again that he was always going to love her, picked up his bags, and walked out the door.  Forty five minutes later he was at the airport, standing in front of a payphone.

“Hi.  It’s me.  Yeah.  No.  I’m not ok at all.  Listen, I’ll be at PHL in about three hours.  Can you pick me up?  Thanks.  I’ll see you then.”

*

“Cory!”  Eric Matthews jumped in the air, trying to get his brother’s attention.  “Cory!  Over here!  Hey!”  

“Eric?”

Turning around, he saw Cory standing behind.  “Cory!  How’d?  You?  I mean, I just saw you over there,” he said, pointing at the baggage claim.

Cory looked at where his brother was pointing.  “You mean that guy?  The one in the red shirt?  Eric, he’s Latino.”

“Oh.  I thought maybe you’d gotten a great tan.”

“And straightened my hair?  And grown six inches?”

Eric didn’t pay attention to the sarcasm.  “It’s good to see you, little bro!  What are you doing here?  You sounded upset on the phone.”

“Yeah.  I’ve just got some things I need to do here.  And I’m not feeling so hot.”

“Things?  What kind of things?  Fun things?  Cool things?  Or bad things?  Like money stuff.  Because money stuff isn’t fun.  Unless it’s winning and spending money, but usually money stuff means-”

“Hey, Eric, do me a favor?

“Yeah?”

“Don’t tell Mom and Dad I’m here yet.  Can I crash at your place?”

“Sure.  But lie to Mom and Dad?  Why?”

“I don’t want to talk about it right now.  You’ll know soon enough.”

“Ok”  The older Matthews pulled a cell phone out of his pocket.  “Let me call home and make sure it’s ok.  It shouldn’t be a problem, though.”

“Huh?  You have a roommate?  I thought you were on your own.”

“No one told you?  Yeah, I have a roommate.  You know-”

“Never mind.  Let’s just go.  I kind of just want to take a shower and crash right now.  Do you mind?”

“Mind?  Nah.”  Eric’s mind came up with a lot of silly things to say, but some part of him knew that now wasn’t the time to be the brainless dolt he had the reputation for being.  “It’s good to see you Cory.  Whatever’s going on, it’ll work itself out.  You’ll see.  Come on.”  He picked up Cory’s bag and threw his other arm around his brother’s shoulders, walking him to the car in silence.

*

Cory stretched out on Eric’s bed.  “Are you sure about this?”

“Yeah.  I stay up late when I’m home, but I’m usually working late shifts, so I’ll just stay on the couch.  I can move into here whenever you get up.  It’s all good.”

“Thanks Eric.  I appreciate it.”  He saw the worry on his brother’s face.  “I’m fine, Eric.  I’ll tell you about it later.  Right now, I just need to sort it all out in my own mind.  We’ll talk, ok?”

“I’ll be ready when you are.  I need to go do some things, but if you need to talk, you have my cell number, ok?”  He waited for a reply, then closed the door behind him on his way out of the room.  A moment later, Cory heard the front door open and close.  It wasn’t long before he was asleep.

When he woke up, he saw that it was dark outside.  He looked for a clock, but didn’t see one.  He got up and walked in to the living room.  “Eric?  Hello?  Anyone?”  Apparently, he was the only one in the place.  Eric wasn’t home yet, and the roommate, who’s name he didn’t know, wasn’t there either.  He walked into the small kitchen area and opened the door to the refrigerator.  All he found was some beer and an empty pizza box.  It figures, he thought to himself.  Taking a bottle of beer, he closed the door and walked over to the couch.

The thoughts started running through his head and trying to shake them away didn’t do any good.  He opened his beer and took a long drink.  “Ugh.  Why did open this?  I hate beer!”  He took another drink.  He felt lost.  What was he going to do now?  He felt like such a loser.  He should have just kept his mouth shut that night.  But no.  Not Cory Matthews.  Once again, because of his mouth, he was in a mess.

He knew he wouldn’t be going back to New York.  He’d never liked it there.  He’d only gone for Topanga.  But he didn’t think he’d be able to stay in Philly, either.  He had no idea what was going to happen to him or where he’d go from here.

What he did know was that he needed a shower.

He got up from the couch and took another gulp of the beer before setting it on the coffee table.  There were a few doors in the place, and he figured one of them was the door to the bathroom.  He walked to the one closest to him and found a closet.  The second door revealed the same.  He opened the third door and saw the other bedroom.  Seeing someone else’s stuff in Eric’s apartment reminded him that he needed to call Eric and make sure that this guy – assuming it was a guy – knew he was there.  He closed the door and moved on to the next one and was glad to see it was what he was looking for.  It may have been Eric’s place, but he felt like he was snooping, opening all those doors.  

He walked in and closed and locked the door behind him.  A pile of dirty laundry confirmed that Eric’s roomie was, indeed, a guy.  Eric has always been a boxers kind of guy.  Still was, from what Cory’d seen on the bedroom floor.   The pile on this floor had a couple of pairs of tighty whities.  Without thinking, he picked a pair up and looked at them.  Medium.  Interesting.  Same size Cory himself wore.  He put them back down and stripped naked.  He climbed in the shower and turned on the water, closing the curtain as an afterthought.

As he was lathering his hair, he heard a knock at the door and a voice saying something.  “Shit.  Sorry Eric!  I’ll be right out.”  At least, that’s what he meant to say, but facing the shower head, he ended up gargling warm water.  He heard the door open and figured Eric had one of those little pokie-thingies that you put in the tiny hole to unlock the door from the outside.  He heard the faucet on the sink turn on and the medicine cabinet door open and close.  He quickly rinsed off and turned off the water, then opened the curtain to reach for a towel.  He wasn’t concerned about being naked.  He and Eric had seen each other naked plenty of times and never thought anything of it.

Only, it wasn’t Eric he saw standing there with a toothbrush in his mouth.

“Shawn!”

“Grrrory!”  Shawn Hunter about choked on the toothbrush in his mouth.  Cory Matthews was the last person he expected to see standing in the shower.  His eyes dropped, then quickly looked away.

Cory saw the look and looked down, realizing for the first time that he was standing in front of his old friend in his birthday suit.  “Oh shit!”  He closed the curtain so fast that he almost ripped it off the hooks.  He stuck his head back out.  “Shawn!  What are you doing-  Oh, no way.  YOU’RE Eric’s roommate?”

Shawn spit in the sink and wiped his face.  “Yeah.  What are you doing here?” he asked, still kind of shocked.  Shocked both by the fact that Cory was there and that he’d just seen Cory naked.  In all the many years they’d been friends, they’d never seen each other in anything less than underwear.

Cory heard the question and it brought back to mind the reason he was back in Philadelphia.  Hearing it from Shawn, his old best friend, made something snap inside.  The tears started again and he groaned, before slumping to the floor of the tub, pulling the curtain down and around him.  He sat there sobbing for a moment before Shawn dropped to his knees and grabbed him in an awkward hug and held on to him.  

“Cory?  What is it?  Are your parents ok?  Morgan?”

Cory kept crying and Shawn held on, waiting until his friend was able to pull himself together a bit.  Cory finally stopped crying and looked up at Shawn.  Shawn.  His buddy.  His pal.  The only person he-  Shawn.

“Topanga’s divorcing me.”

Throwing out the beer bottle Cory’d left on the coffee table, Shawn grabbed a fresh one from the fridge.  He walked back to the couch and sat next to his friend.  He leaned forward and grabbed a slice of pizza out of the box he’d brought home from work.  Delivering pizzas wasn’t a glamorous job, but for now it paid some bills.  It would do until he figured out what he wanted to do next in life.  

He leaned back and looked at Cory.  He was a little worried.  Cory hadn’t said anything since blurting out the news that his marriage was over.  Shawn figured the guy would talk when he was ready.  Until then, he’d just sit with him and be there for him.

Finally, Cory leaned forward and helped himself to some pizza, then settled back on the couch and looked at Shawn.

“Yeah.  Divorce.  How the hell am I supposed to tell my parents that Topanga wants a divorce?”

“That’s kind of heavy, Cory.  I don’t understand.  You guys love each other.  You’re right together.  What happened?”

“What happened?  What didn’t happen?  Stuff happened.  Money stuff, to start with.  Money stuff’s never good stuff.  Unless you’re winning the money and then spending the money, but who wins money?  No one.  That’s who.  Sure, we paid our bills, but it wasn’t enough.  But you know what?  We managed.  We got past it.  Like always.  Why?  Because we’re Cory and Topanga.  We’re the couple that gets tv shows made based on our lives.”

“Ok,” Shawn interrupted.  “You got past it.  So-”

“And don’t even get me started on kids.  I told her…TOLD her that it didn’t matter.  We could adopt.  And we could have.  Kids.  Kids are kids, right?  They’re little, they’re messy, and they’re loud.  Why not adopt?  But no.  That wasn’t an answer.”

“Kids?  Adopt?  Why-”

“Oh yeah.  Adopt.  Apparently, ‘little Cory’ can’t do his part in the making babies department.  How’s that for a slap in the face?  I finally grow up, but my balls decide they want to stay in their childhood.”

“You’re-”

“Yep.  Infertile.  Or whatever a guy is.  I make the little suckers, but not enough for them to reach their destination.  They stop for a layover and never get back on the plane.  Make their home in the What’s-It-To-Ya canal!  Shit.  What’s the point in having sex if the end result is a bunch of lazy sperm?”

Shawn put a piece of pizza in Cory’s mouth and spoke quickly, while he had a chance.  “So, Topanga’s divorcing you because you can’t make babies?  Come on, Cory, that doesn’t sound like Topanga.”

Cory grabbed the beer from Shawn’s hand and took a drink, then thrust it back into the hand from where it came.  “Damn it.  I hate beer.  Why do I keep doing that?”  He stood up and walked into the bathroom, then came back out.  “I need to fix that curtain.  No.  That’s not why she’s ending it.  I could understand that.  But no.  You know what?  I think I’m kind of drunk.  How do I get kind of drunk from three drinks of a beer?”

Shawn tried not to laugh.  “Um, Cory?  Are you forgetting the four beers you had after the shower?  Getting dressed, not liking the shirt, and changing three times?  Those beers? You know, while you single handedly ate that whole other pizza?”

Cory stopped in place, turned around three hundred sixty degrees, and looked at Shawn.  “I did?  Shit.  Next time, remind me that I don’t like beer, ok?”

He walked back into the bathroom and came out holding Shawn’s dirty underwear.

“Hey.  These are medium.  And.  And.  And they’re Fruit of the Loom.  I wear medium Fruit of the Loom, Shawn!  What are the odds of that?”

Still trying not to laugh, half out of concern over the news of Cory and Topanga, and half out of common decency, he decided not to mention that there were probably millions of guys in the United States that wore medium Fruit of the Loom underwear.  He also thought it best not to mention that they’d had this same conversation in junior high.

“Shawn?”

“Yeah, Cory?”

“I’m holding your dirty underwear.”

“Yeah.  I know.”

“That’s gross.”

“Is it?”

“I think it is.  Don’t I?”

“Do you?”

“What are you?  A fucking psychiatrist?  Stop answering me with questions!”

Shawn was stunned into silence for a split second.  But just for a split second.  “Cory!”

Cory jumped, startled by the tone of voice, and looked over his shoulder.  “What?  Me?”

“Yes, you!  You said fuck!”

“I did?”

“Yes!”

“Oh.  I did.  Well.  Well.  Ok.”  With the pronouncement of it being ok, he sat on the floor.  “I said fuck.  I don’t say fuck, Shawn.  I don’t sayanything more than shit.  Why’d I say fuck?”

“Because you’re drunk.”

“I’m fucking wasted, I think.”

“Yeah, I think so, too.”  Cory felt really tired all of a sudden and closed his eyes to think about what to say next.  He was about to tell Shawn something important.  But he couldn’t remember what it was.  He did know that he said fuck, though, and it felt good.  With his eyes closed, and the words slurred, he tried talking to Shawn again.  “Hey, Shawn?”

“Yeah, buddy?”

“Is passing out like sleeping?”

“Kind of.  Why?”

“I think I’m passing out.”

“You do that.  It’ll be good for you.”

“No dreams?”

“No dreams.”

Cory started to snore, but picked his head up to say something else.  “Good.  No dreams.  Hey, Shawn?”

“Yeah, Cor?”

“I love…um…”

 “Topanga?”

“Yeah.  No.  I love you.”

Shawn didn’t reply.  There was no need.  Cory was out.  Shawn set his beer bottle down and walked over to his friend.  He squatted down and pulled Cory up, picked him up, and carried him to his own bedroom.  He thought about Eric’s room, but he wasn’t sure of the sleeping arrangements, so he figured it was for the best.  He laid Cory on his bed, then went to get a wet wash cloth.  Coming back, he carefully undressed the boy.  No, he thought to himself, he’s not a boy anymore.  He undressed the other man, stripped him down to his underwear, then stopped to laugh.  Cory wasn’t wearing medium Fruit of the Looms.  He was wearing blue Hanes.   Trying not to jostle Cory too much, he managed to maneuver him under the sheets.

Standing up, Shawn walked to the door and turned off the lights.  He looked back at the sleeping form and couldn’t help himself.  He gave into the urge, walked back over to Cory, bent down, brushed the curls from his forehead, and gave him a gentle kiss where the curls had been.  

“I love you, too, Cor,” he whispered.  “Don’t worry.  We’ll get you through this.  Together.  That’s what friends are for.  Right?”

With that, he walked quietly out of the room.  He folded out the couch and made himself comfortable.  Finishing the beer he’d started and eating another slice of pizza, he went over what Cory’d told him.

Money problems.  Fertility problems.  But Cory had told him those weren’t the reasons for the divorce.  He thought about calling Topanga.  Not tonight, though.  I’ll call her in a couple of days if he doesn’t get any better.   He finished the beer in one swallow and set the bottle on the little table at the end of the couch.  Turning on the television, he laid back and faded off to sleep.  

It wasn’t long before he was nudged awake.

“Shawn.”

“Huh?”

“Shawn!”

“Eric?”

“Of course it’s me!  What are you doing out here?”

“Sleeping?”

“I see that.  Why aren’t you in your room?”

“Cory’s in my bed.”

“I thought he was in my bed.”

“I didn’t know where he was sleeping, so I put him in my bed.  I was being nice.”

“Oh.  Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Well.  I’m going to bed.”

“Gee.  Sounds like a good idea.”

“So, um…”

“No, Eric.”

“Come on.”

“No, Eric.  I told you.  It was a one time deal.”

“Fine.  Be that way.  One of these days, I’m going to bring a girl home, then you’ll be sorry.”

“I’m sure I will.  Until then, you’ll just have to look forward to telling me you told me so.”

Eric gave a disgruntled grunt.  “Fine.  Good night.” 

“Good night, Eric.”

 He waited for the bedroom door to close, listening for the familiar click of the lock.  When he heard the bed squeak under Eric’s weight, he laid back and, once again, welcomed sleep.

*

 

Home Intruder

I went to bed about 5:00 this morning. Our windows were open and there was a nice breeze going through. From my side of the bed, I can lay on my left side and look out the window through a space between the window and the curtain. I was thinking about zombie attacks and how we’d be safe in our apartment, up here on the third floor.

 I do that often, think about zombie attacks and the things we’d do. Like breaking through the wall to the adjoining apartment, or through the floor to the apartment beneath us, just so we’d have access to more supplies. I’d totally survive a zombie attack. A real zombie attack, I mean, with slow, stupid zombies, not super zombies that can run and climb and think.

Anyway, that has nothing to do with this story, so I’ll move on.

My thought process changed to wondering how well hidden I was behind the curtain, since it’s dark up here, and the sidewalk is brightly lit. I started thinking about seeing a robbery, and how I’d be able to see the bad guy from here and identify him without his being able to see me.

 At that moment, I thought I heard a door close INSIDE THE APARTMENT! I started trying to remember if I’d locked the door behind me when I came in from my middle of the night trip to WalMart. I had to go buy some peaches because I was craving them badly and the ones I have are mutated, so I needed fresh ones. And again, that has nothing to do with this story…

So, I lifted my head, trying to see in the dark and figure out if I had actually heard someone in the apartment. Our bedroom has a short “hallway” between the room and the doorway. I could see the faint glow of the light from the wii-mote charger in the other room in the hallway, so I knew the bedroom door was open, and I was watching for shadows. After a minute, I figured the wind had knocked something over, and I went back to looking out the window, resuming my zombie train of thought.

A few seconds later, I heard a door close INSIDE THE APARTMENT! I knew for a fact that I hadn’t imagined it. I looked towards the hallway, and THE LIGHT FROM THE CHARGER WAS GONE! My mind went into overdrive. The wind had died down, so it was impossible that the wind had blown it shut! I strained to hear anything, and started debating whether I should wake Kellen up. Then I noticed that I could still see some faint light coming in, so I knew the door must have still been open. Which meant that something OR SOMEONE had unplugged the charger for the wii-mote!

I stared at the hallway, scared to death, not knowing what to do. I love Kellen, but in the case of a home intruder, we’d pretty much be screwed because Kellen would be as useful as I would be.

 So, I’m watching the doorway, praying that if someone is in the apartment, they won’t come in here, and how will I protect Kellen. I desperately wanted to wake him up, but at the same time, I desperately wanted him to sleep through this home invasion.

And then a tall man quickly walked into the room!

SCARED THE SHIT OUT OF ME!

I’ve always imagined that if someone breaks in, I’ll pretend to be asleep until they get close to me, and then I’ll quietly and stealthily attack them.

Now I know differently.

If someone ever breaks in, the first thing I’m going to do when they enter the room is lift my head and shout in fear “JESUS CHRIST!” 

Fortunately for me, the intruder was just Kellen. While I was staring out the window, he got out of bed to go to the bathroom and I didn’t notice. Yes, he’s that quiet and lightweight that he can get out of bed without me feeling it. The door I’d heard was the bathroom door, and the light I thought was the wii-mote charger was actually the bathroom light under the door.

I still have no doubt that I’ll totally kick ass in a zombie attack, but if someone ever breaks into the apartment in the middle of the night, I’m dead meat.

Anger

What’s the point in being angry? Think about it. You’re given x amount of time to live your life. It’s like a lottery in reverse. Instead of hitting a jackpot, you’re about to hit empty. The thing is, you have no gauge to see how much time you have left.

So, why bother with anger? Yeah, it’s a natural reaction. Deal with it. Get angry, recognize, and step down. Life may be too short, it may not, but it’s life. It’s for living. Anger contributes to dying. So, stop being angry. Live instead. Find out what forgiveness means to you and practice it.

What if the person you love most in this world makes you angry tonight? You let them know. And what if he or she dies before you make up? The last moment you will have had with him or her is an angry one. Why risk it?

Get angry, breathe, then laugh it off. It’s a good philosophy. The world would be a better place if people would realize it. Guess what, I’m pissed off. Let me buy you a drink and tell you a joke. See? No more war. Just eating, drinking, and being merry.

So…get pissed! See red! Be furious! Now suck it up, be glad you’re alive, and tell someone you love them. The best person to tell is that person that you’re angry with right now.