Tuesday, March 30, 2010

pray for us now, and at the hour of our death

There is no sound with the memory this time. It starts with looking at my hand pushing the half-open door the rest of the way. My eyes scan over the grey colored tile on the wall, and there is a dull, rushing, pulsating roar that builds and fades away over intermittent cycles. I see feet on the floor, and Dr. Spedden with her hand over her mouth. I go up the feet and see legs in jeans, small jeans, and the rest of a body. There is puke on the floor nearby, and then I can’t help myself. I look into her huge saucer eyes and see nothing and truth there. A huge squeezing overtakes me and I bolt upright in bed, blinking into the darkness.


I remember wearing that cobalt blue t-shirt my grandmother gave me, the one that said “Feelin’ Groovy” on it, and had a small embroidered red Volkswagen beetle in the center at the top. It was spring, mid-March; I was wearing a jacket, but not now in class. It was the second semester of World Masterpieces, taught by W. Todd Martin, a man with tendencies towards throat-clearing and utilizing his excellent French pronunciations. He was married to a French woman, named Brigitte, and they had two little French girls. This W. Todd, however, was an American, and obviously proud of the fact that he got to bed a Frenchwoman every night. It was obvious in the way he said Flaubert.

I drew a peacock on the edge of my notebook, with a word bubble coming out of the side of its mouth. The peacock was saying, “BOVARY!” and had the desired effect on the student sitting next to me, which was a stifled cough/grunt, with a painful facial expression. W. Todd cleared his throat directly at us and kept steamrolling on into the oblivion of French Literature. I turned to a fresh page in my notebook and wrote a poem about holding hands; I was planning on giving it to a girl I was having a nonsexual fling with, whom I would see in my next class, which was Spanish 212. I always date my work, but for some reason I felt the need to put the time on this one as well. I looked up at the ominous red-on-black digital clock at the front of the classroom, which read 2:38. I put my initials on the bottom along with the date and time, folded the note up, and put it in my back pocket for safekeeping.

There were no bells in college, so the professor could keep us over time by his own whim, if he so desired. The only thing that announced the passing of time was the old bell tower that looked over the campus, tolling off each fifteen minute mark from 8am to 8pm, daily. There were no real bells in it, but huge speakers and a CD player with bells discs, announcing not only the time but also playing long selections of various hymns, and at Christmastime, carols. These musical selections were only played at 8am, noon, and five, and the bells were always about a minute and a half late; you knew if you heard them while you were walking to class, you could count on a tardy. Some students I knew always talked about high-jacking the speaker system to blare out continuous AC/DC, but as long as I knew them it remained only talk.

On my way to my next class, I saw a variety of people that I knew, and many more that I didn’t know, who somehow miraculously knew my name. In all actuality, there was no miracle- I was the editor for the college newspaper at the time, so everyone knew my face as well as my opinions, or so they thought. People would smile at me as I passed on the sidewalk, casually say hello and my name, as nonchalantly as they might talk about what fast food restaurant they were going to. To this I would usually respond with, “How’s it going?” or “What have you been up to?” or the ever popular, “Hey hey!” never revealing, that of course, I knew none of them. To the friends I knew, I would stop and toss the latest around in rapid conversation, leaving with two fingers upraised and a goodbye along the lines of “Peace in the Middle East”.

I only had to walk a short distance to the building that my next class was in- the oldest building on campus, non-air conditioned, with temperamental radiator heating in winter. There were huge windows at desk level, left open in moderate and hot weather, that were deliciously inviting for stray balls of paper to find their way out of. There was a wonderful urban legend about a professor that had one time leaned on an overhead projector, which had been resting on a table next to one of these open windows, and promptly pushed it out into the cool air, from the third story. I had, in one of my classes in the same building during the previous year, been witness to a stray bat which flew into the room. Gallant young bible scholars quickly stunned the mammal, trapped it in a trash can, and threw the whole business out the window, after quickly checking for pedestrians some twenty feet below.

I was now in a classroom across the hall from the bat-toss adventure, rocking back in my chair, trying to balance it on its rear legs, all the while trying to balance the understanding of the preterite tense in my mind. Brought back to earth by the gentle but reprimanding, “Cecilia” from Señora, the legs of the chair hit the floor, followed by my own. I tried to converse vaguely in Spanish, but to no avail. I amused the class by being able to debase myself in another language, and so was able to divert attention from my inability to properly communicate. The instructor moved on, and I took the opportunity to slip the pocketed poem from the previous class over to the blonde girl sitting behind me and to my right. She smiled eagerly at me as she flipped the paper open and slipped it into her notebook, where it could be read unobtrusively. I gave a glance back at the clock as long as I was turned around; it read 3:27.

The girl I had just gone back in time to junior high with was named Kate; she was fabulous and I was in love with being around her. It was that wonderful stage of the friendship where everything about her is exciting. She made me feel more creative, at times smarter, and at times dumber. She was older than I by two years, and ahead of me in school by one. She was a music major, French horn to be precise, and was taking Spanish largely because I was. Besides playing horn, she played keyboard and sang; I myself was a guitarist and songwriter, and we enjoyed jamming around together as well as booking occasional gigs at local coffeehouses. She also lived across from me in the dorm, a decision she made after learning I lived there, which was possible because I was an RA and got my room assignment first. Everything about her was flattering to me, and I enjoyed the fact that people knew we were friends.
She smiled at me, and mouthed “thank you,” my indication that she had read my small paper offering. In my excitement I pushed off from the table again and resumed my teetering, sticking my left hand out the window for balance. She and I would leave class in about ten minutes, earlier than everyone else. We would literally run across campus to the arts building, where choir had begun at three o’clock, to sing for the last half of the 90 minute class. This was my favorite part of the day. At 3:39 I put on my jacket and stuffed el libro de español into my satchel, and throwing an adios over my shoulder, began to jump down the stairs, two at a time. Kate was a gangly, six foot tall girl with the lower four feet of her body being legs. Though she had left the class behind me, she quickly caught up and we cantered along, the thoroughbred and the carthorse, laughing that our differences in gait and breeding mattered so little.

We got to the arts building and made ourselves walk once inside the set of double doors, trying to catch our breath before we had to sing. It was easy to hear the ensemble from the hallway approaching- we would be up on risers today, I thought. I grabbed a drink as I passed the bathrooms and fountains, a mere 15 feet away from the room the choir was singing in. Kate opened the door for me, and we scooped up our music folders from the cabinet near the door, swinging our bags down and to the floor before finding our place amongst the ensemble. The choir would leave for tour in a mere five days, and we would be gone for about nine days total. This is why we were practicing on the risers, and also why the director was auditioning soloists for all the numbers on that day; we had to get things like placement and featured singers nailed down during these last couple of rehearsals before we left.


My memory fails me on who was singing when we came in. Kate later said she remembered it was Katie, a good friend who lived on the same floor that she and I did. Though some things about that day remain clear to me, what was happening when we entered the room is a blur. I remember looking at the clock later, at about 4:05, so the ball must have got rolling at about 4:00. I remember being aware of a spot open on the riser next to me, where someone should have been standing. I remember this because I shifted over, to have a better “window,” a better place to see the director’s face and hands from in between my classmates.

I never consciously wondered about the absence of the person next to me, or made a realization at the moment that they left. I do remember the riser to my left was open to the end of the row, and that it felt vaguely wrong. We were doing the same couple of songs several times in a row, with people auditioning for the solos, taking short turns by themselves against the accompaniment of the piano and the rest of the choir. We were singing at a place where there was no solo, and it was the entire choir fortissimo-ing along at full gusto, the diminuitive accompanist pounding her frame into the piano for the crescendo of the phrase. The conductor had a smile on his lips and a look in his eye that was asking us for more, as his hands inched further up towards the ceiling.

It was that moment, that freeze-frame second of time, where things suddenly become piercingly clear to me. Everything is stopped, yet still in motion; his hands are still going up, and up… The phrase swells, everything is silence. Back it up, play it again; cut to where the conductor’s hands are in the air, reaching up. He is wearing a bright blue shirt with a collar. It has a pocket on the chest, with a button in the middle of it. Something is written on the board at the front of the room, something with times on it, most likely about the upcoming tour. I can see my jacket and my bag lying on the floor, near the piano; Kate’s things are near mine. The pianist is wearing sandals, a first time for her this year, as the weather is just now warming up. I feel like something is naked next to me, something is not right about this space off to my left. I shouldn’t have this big of a window. Something is not right about this space. I feel like I should look to my left.
My attention is suddenly focused on the conductor’s hands reaching up, always reaching up, and everything slams into fast forward. One of the double doors leading into the room we are in swings open rapidly. There is a woman, wearing a dress, with gray hair- she is saying something. We have no idea what she is saying; those merciless hands continue to reach up, then cut off as we all notice the interruption. He doesn’t see her; his back is to her. We see her, and our faces change, and he sees us see her. We all stop, in a clumsy, pinched sort of way, and we realize she is screaming. This comes like a thief in the night, this screaming, we were just singing and standing on the risers and I was feeling vaguely uncomfortable and then this woman, who is the Music department secretary, comes in and I realize she is screaming that she needs someone who knows CPR.

The conductor’s hands still hang suspended, his head turned as he looks over his left shoulder. Everything is stopped in time, everyone is immobile. The woman blinks- the eyelid slides down and moistens the eye, the eyelashes brush the air all around. Inside the chests of the singers, each to their own rhythm, the great cardiac muscles contract and relax, sending the double-beat of blood to the bodies of each. The sustain pedal is lifted, and the decay of the piano is abruptly cut short; the silence is deafening. A riser squeaks as someone catches their balance. Time resumes again when I see movement out of the corner of my eye; a soprano is moving. She is running down off of the riser. I realize I’m not breathing, and then I discover why; I know CPR. I was certified through RA training. A tenor moves out from the crowd and follows the soprano. They are both running towards the door, towards the secretary, toward what is beyond. I rock back for a split second. My hands come up to meet one another, in front of my chest. I force them back down and rock forward again, and step off the riser.


We are directed by the screaming secretary the few steps down the hallway to the girls’ restroom; the door is still gaping open for me when I get there, pushed back by those who had gone ahead of me. It’s Julie, I realize, and my friend Dan, who left before I did. This gives me some confidence as I remember Julie is a lifeguard. She’ll know what she’s doing, whatever that may be. My body, moving so slowly, comes into full view of the bathroom. I am immediately arrested where I stand. Lying on her side, eyes big as saucers, is Katie from my floor, staring at me with a look I still can’t get out of my mind. She looked so small and foreign to me, and I couldn’t move. I saw Julie rushing to her, and Dan hovering behind her, trying to see if he could help. I couldn’t move out of her gaze; the power of her eyes was terrifying to me.

I couldn’t go to her. I just stood there, in the doorway, caught between eternity and seconds. My body quavered beneath me; I wanted to run back to the room where the singers would still be singing under suspended hands. I wanted to go to Katie, to help her, just lying there like a de-hooked fish. From the time I was in sixth grade, I had thought about a moment like this, where I could help someone. It was at that point in my life that I first started watching “Rescue 911” and became captivated with emergency response. I remember being glued to the television for an hour every night at nine when the program would come on. Somebody would find a kid in a pool, or a schoolbus would run somebody over, and somebody else would step out of the crowd and save their life. I always got angry while I watched at those people who just stood around the periphery of the accident scene like gaping animals. I had taken CPR in high school, and had recently been re-certified as part of my RA training. I remember joking with other trainees that night we had those plastic torsos with us for practicing. I told them to get out of the way so I could blow on the doll.

I just continued to stand there, not really thinking about anything, just staring at her eyes. I remember feeling like I was trapped- her eyes staring at me wouldn’t let me run away, like I longed to so badly. I’m sure I looked terrified to her; the way she was looking at me, though, I couldn’t really tell if she saw me. I couldn’t look at anything else, and she just bored right through me with those huge eyes, with that expression I had never seen before on anyone’s face. And she was moaning. Not the type of moan that people make; something else indescribable. The closest thing I had ever heard to that was when a guy had a seizure in one of my classes the previous semester. He had just laid there, after convulsing for several minutes, and made this moaning sound, with each breath, and spewed saliva and blood from where he’d bitten his tongue. Back then, I had held an I.V. drip for one of the EMTs that responded to the scene.

Julie moved in front of Katie’s face, breaking the gaze that had just held me transfixed for what seemed like years. I took a quick look around the rest of the bathroom, where Katie was lying on the floor. Her feet were near one of the stalls, with the rest of her body coming out into the middle of the room. She looked so small. There was vomit on the floor near her, a small, pinkish amount. I don’t remember being at all disgusted by it. It was just there, like the mirror and the sinks and the toilet and this girl lying on the floor. I looked beyond Julie and Katie and saw Maria, a freshman music major who was also in choir. She didn’t run out with us; I realized she must have been here before. Dan was over with her, with his arms around her, they were both just staring, too. I looked to my left, there was Mrs. Barnes, the secretary, along with the very frail and constantly unstrung Dr. Neddeps, who was the faculty for piano performance majors. She looked like the sort of woman who could (and might) snap at half at any moment of her own accord. Dr. Neddeps appeared like she might have a nervous breakdown at any moment. I feel like she was crying, although I don’t have clear memories of tears from her, just a gaping mouth and a look of horror on her face.

There was a movement just behind me and to my right, and I saw another alto, a girl who usually was way above my annoyance threshold. She was a very charismatic-pentacostal person, always talking dreamily of the Holy Spirit and doing weird praise dances on choir trips in parking lots, earphones clapped to her head. I vaguely wondered what she was doing here, but I was just glad to have more people in this small room. I wanted a lot more people to be here, people that could do something, because nobody could really do anything. I had a wild thought flash through my mind, that I was watching somebody die right in front of me, and there wasn’t going to be a damn thing I could do to stop it.

. . .

I thought back to the point in time when I had been watching TV on the morning of Sept. 11th, 2001, almost a year and a half ago. I had been on my way out for a morning run, with headphones in hand and legs freshly stretched, when I had been stopped by a cleaning lady in my dormitory. She had been standing still, running vacuum cleaner in hand, staring at a television for the entire time that I approached her and walked past her. I looked at her with slight puzzlement, but proceeded; I was almost out the door when I felt her tug at the back of my shirt. I turned around, she was saying something that I couldn’t hear over the sound of the vacuum. I looked at her stupidly and shook my head, pointing to the vacuum. She turned it off and shouted, forgetting that I could now hear, that somebody had bombed the pentagon. Thinking she was crazy, I went to the TV and saw smoke and fire indeed coming from CIA headquarters. I went back up to my own floor and turned on the TV and watched the second plane hit the World Trade Center, and the events that followed.

I remembered that same feeling of helplessness, watching one tower fall, and then another. The reporter was just talking into the camera about nothing and all of the sudden the first tower started to crumble behind her. The angle they had the camera at showed the whole building, in order to show the plane in the upper part, so I just watched it start to come down. I was all alone in the student lounge that morning, watching it happen, but I still jumped up and pointed at the screen, shouting out “There it goes!,” and the reporter didn’t notice until after I did. It just started to come down and she was talking about nothing and then she turned and saw it. And then they started running, the reporter and the camera and then these huge clouds of dust engulfed everything. People were jumping out of those buildings and everyone knew what was going to happen to the second tower after the first fell, but there was nothing anyone could do. People were dying all around and there was nothing anyone could do. I remember the feeling of defeat later that day as hundreds of kids were jammed into the student union building, watching Peter Jennings say to us, with shirt collar open and sleeves rolled up, that we were all trying to figure out what the hell had happened.

The infallibility of death changed me that day, and now I was staring it in the face, staring at Katie’s face, and I knew I was watching someone die. Inside me there was a girl jumping up in ratty jogging clothes and pointing, “There it goes!” and even though I knew it, as I knew anything, knowing it did nothing. I did nothing. I stood there stupidly and stared, and listened to Julie asking Katie to open her mouth. Julie had her hands on Katie’s face, and was trying to get her mouth open. Her jaw was locked, and the pink edges of her tongue stuck out between her teeth. I felt like her mouth wasn’t big for her tongue, and that it was swelling down the inside of her throat and filling up her body. I wanted to tell someone that she wasn’t getting air, I wanted to make sure they understood. There wasn’t anybody to tell.

I continued to stand there, until Dr. Neddeps, who had gone to the pile of vomit, yelled at me to get her some paper toweling. I remember her yelling, because I didn’t hear her the first time, because I wasn’t listening to anything but Julie asking Katie to open her mouth. Grateful for a task after the excruciating 30 seconds that had just passed, I grabbed handfuls of the white loose-leaf towel from the dispensers near the sinks. The thin woman deftly cleaned up the mess, and I have no idea what she did with it after that, as I started staring at Katie again. The same girl, Emily, was hovering over my shoulder still. I wheeled around to face her and commanded, “Pray. Out loud.” I grabbed her hands and kept my eyes open, staring at her face as she started off with the customary “Holy Spirit….” If Katie could still hear us, I wanted her to hear prayer. I felt like it would calm her, maybe her body would relax. Maybe Julie would be able to get her mouth open. Julie had started doing CPR anyway, trying to get any air in her she could. I heard her say at one point that initially she had a pulse, but not any longer.


The paramedics came up from behind me. The prayer just broke off when they showed up- I dropped Emily’s hands quickly and looked at them with searching eyes. I remember feeling so relieved that someone was there that could do something- anything. I quickly got out of the bathroom, and felt grateful to be surrounded by the walls of a different space. I thought about what I should do next. I wanted to start over. I went back to the choir room- everyone there was praying, sitting down silently on the risers. I went in and sat down on the bottom step. I remember feeling like everything was shaking, but on further reflection I noticed that it was myself. The threads hanging down from my worn green pants were vibrating in the air. I looked around at those surrounding me with darting eyes; they were all earnestly seeking God. Eyes closed, they had arms about one another, comforting each other. In the middle of my friends, I felt isolated- I was the only one watching this unfold. I was the only one paying attention to what was going on around me.

I felt smothered by the choir room and the soft mumbling in my ears. I got back up and went out into the hallway. Thinking that there must be something I could do, I went to the phone and called the Resident Director of our buildings, Jesse Brown. I notified him of the situation, and he told me he would be right there. I walked back over to the choir room and looked in through the now propped-open door, and saw Kate pacing around in the background. I motioned to her to come to me. I wanted to feel someone next to me, someone that wasn’t dying; I wanted to feel like I wasn’t alone. She just looked back at me with a blank expression and kept pacing; I left her alone, knowing I couldn’t go back into that room. I heard someone asking from the bathroom if Katie took any medication. I tried to call her room, but the line was busy- her roommate, Colleen, was a computer major and I knew that she was probably connected to the internet. I shouted that I was going to go find out about the medication, and took off through the downstairs doors of the MCA, glad to be running away from the building for whatever reason.

After running to my dorm and up three flights of stairs, I reached Colleen and Katie’s room, to find Colleen connected to the internet and happily chatting on the phone. No wonder I hadn’t been able to get through. She quickly hung up as I explained to her that something was wrong, and told me there wasn’t anything that Katie was taking except multivitamins. The concern on her face grew as she learned Katie was still unconscious in the MCA bathroom; she grabbed a jacket and followed me out of the room. Perhaps ten or twelve minutes had gone by since Katie had left the choir room; Colleen and I ran back across the campus and up the hill towards the arts building.

We went around to the front of the building this time, and entered through the top level, not being sure if they were putting her on the ambulance out front yet. It was sitting there, silent and empty. I was beginning to lose steam, and had to slow to a trot as we went through the front doors. As we went through the lobby and down the stairs to where the women’s bathroom was, we passed a handful of people who stared at us, unmoving and unspeaking. I couldn’t get over how impotent everyone was. On the stairs I brushed shoulders with a girl I knew and didn’t get along with. As I stared into her eyes, even as she didn’t realize what was happening, I wished there could be some kind of connection.

I was past her now, and rounding the corner to see Jesse Brown there, holding the door open for the paramedics to have as much room as possible in the cramped space. I peered in. They were leaning over Katie, and had a pump with a face mask over her mouth. There was an I.V. running, and they had removed her shirt. She was so tiny, so very small- her little stomach and bra looked as though they might belong to an adolescent, not a college senior. The paramedics weren’t talking to her, or each other. It seemed too quiet to me, and I realized that Katie was no longer moaning, but laying quite still. Jesse looked at me from the doorway with impassive eyes, and seemed to resist the questioning look on my face.

I turned back to Colleen, who had her hand over her mouth, trying to suppress the squealing noises that came out anyway. I tried to talk to her, to get her to focus on something else; I asked her how we could get in touch with Katie’s mom. I realized as I was asking Colleen that Katie’s mom lived in Connecticut. I also suddenly remembered that Katie’s dad had died, almost a year ago. I knew I didn’t want to be the one who made the call. It was at that moment that I saw Mrs. Barnes, the secretary, coming around the corner from the stairwell. She told us that she had been trying to reach Nancy, Katie’s mom, but that she couldn’t get through. Colleen seemed glad to be involved in something else, and suggested that we try to use Katie’s cell phone, which was in her backpack. She said she thought that Nancy had caller ID so she probably woudldn’t answer an unexpected call unless it was from her daughter’s cell phone. Colleen went into the choir room to get Katie’s bag.
I followed behind her, and caught up with Kate for the first time since everything had happened; I got her off by myself and told her that it didn’t look good. The reality of the situation overtook me and I started to feel the iron fist in my chest, squeezing my heart painfully. I looked up at the clock as Kate turned away from me to go sit down with the others. Almost 4:30. I turned around and found my choir director sitting on the piano bench, arms folded and head down upon the instrument. I put my hand on his shoulder but did not say anything. He did not respond to me.
I went back out of the room; people were now milling about in the choir room and in the hallway. Small clumps of students talked to one another in hushed voices, occasionally turning to glance at the now closed bathroom door. I walked over to the phone yet again, to call Katie’s best friend, Emmy Lou. I liked Emmy a lot, and had her number memorized from frequent calls. She and Katie were to be roommates next year, and were hoping to go to Africa together for the fall semester. I called her room, but she wasn’t there. I left a message, and told her to come to the MCA as soon as she got in. I made a mental note of her cell phone number, and hung up in time to hear commotion by the elevator.

One of the paramedics emerged with a stretcher on wheels. I walked behind him back towards the restroom. Jesse was once again holding the door open, and I avoided looking inside, afraid of what kind of condition Katie was in by now. The paramedic called for us all to clear the hallway, to give Katie privacy. They would use the elevator to get the stretcher back up, as well, as the stairs were narrow and twisted several times. They were finally going to take her to the hospital. I ran back inside the choir room, and told Kate and a few others that we were going. I stuffed my jacket into my bag and handed her the bundle, telling her I was going to get my car and she could find three more people to ride with us. Others in the room started to catch on, and I soon discovered that we would have a caravan traveling over, almost everyone wanted to go. I bolted up the stairs, taking Colleen with me. We stood in the front lobby, watching the paramedics wheel by us with the stretcher. Mrs. Barnes and Dr. Neddeps stood opposite us, near the doors of the music department offices. I looked at Colleen, and noticed that she was wearing a white knit cap, in a sort of beanie style. I knew that Katie’s mom had made it for her for Christmas that year, when Colleen’s mom had failed to send any presents to school. She looked back at me, near hysterics.

“They’re breathing for her,” she said. I didn’t say anything back to her. “She hasn’t been doing anything for herself this whole time. They’re the ones breathing for her and pumping her heart. She can’t do it herself. She can’t even do it!”

I was cold but I didn’t care. It wasn’t like I was numb, I could definitely feel the cold, but I liked it. I wanted something rough to be happening to me physically that could eclipse this April nightmare. I popped the Neon into drive and pulled a sharp turn out of the parking lot, up towards the MCA where the ambulance still sat. Slamming the transmission into park, I left the engine running and opened all four doors. I grabbed a couple of loose papers and a shirt from the backseat and quickly threw them in the trunk. It was a small car, but we would want to be close anyway. I saw Kate coming through the main doors of the arts building, with several girls with her. One of them, I noticed, was Dana, a freshman with whom Katie had spent a lot of time recently.

“Get in,” I said softly, to all of them. I held Kate’s gaze a second longer than everyone else’s. She got in the back, and Dana rode up front with me. I stood there a second, looking at the gray day, looking at the ambulance in front of us. The sirens were turned off, but the lights were going. I looked at their reflection in the double glass doors and paneling on the front of the MCA. I looked at myself, standing next to my small, red car, with my blue t-shirt and green pants on. I opened the door to my car, dropped down, and shut the door behind me.
We sat there for a few moments before the ambulance took off. I had that post-adrenaline rush going on, where you feel clumsy and coordinated and strong and flushed all at once. Back in drive, I followed the ambulance over to the hospital. I knew the drive well, I drove past the hospital all the time. It was on the way to the main drag from the college. It seemed to take forever, though. I don’t remember if we talked in the car on the way over or not, but it doesn’t seem like we did. That same dull rushing sat in the back of my brain, threatening to take me over if I let it. My stomach churned. I knew in my heart that Katie was dead. We were pulling up to the hospital, and I was looking at the red “Emergency” sign at the top of the hospital directory at the entrance, and I knew she was dead.

I dropped everyone off at the main entrance and then went out to park my car and try and get my hands to stop shaking. There were a lot of other cars from the college pulling up. I left my jacket in the car on purpose and pinched my face up a little against the cold. I was going to get no good news, of this I was sure. I didn’t want to face anyone else, for fear that they would see in my eyes what I was trying to hide. I don’t know what was more frightening to me, the knowledge that she was gone, or coming to grips with my own cowardice. I was going to walk in there and pretend to be a comforter, let people think whatever they wanted about my dash to the bathroom, and I knew what I was underneath. I was a person that watched other people die.


Not long after we got to the hospital, I went into a small room off of the main waiting area where there were a couple of courtesy phones. I tried to call Emmy again, this time on her cell, but only got voicemail again. Then a sudden urge gripped me, and I called my mom. I wanted to hear a voice I had heard all my life. I wanted someone to lie to me and tell me everything was going to be all right. She filled one of my desires at least, and told me she would be praying. She had met Katie at various choir functions and merely by visiting the college. I thought about Katie’s mom again. I wondered if anyone had gotten in touch with her yet. Reluctantly, I got off the phone and went back out to the waiting room, trying my best to take long, deep breaths and figure out what to do.

Emmy was in the waiting area when I came back out. I went to her and hugged her, and felt the peace come right out of her and into me. We pulled back from one another, and though her eyes were quite serious, there was a slight smile on her face that was totally genuine. I hugged her again, just to feel that peace once more. Then I let go of her to survey the scene. Though I was only twenty, younger than most around me, my various campus leadership positions made me a sort of natural authority figure. I turned to see that Bill Fisher, the campus pastor, had arrived on the scene. He caught my gaze and came over to me, with sadness in his eyes and a slight smile- though his was forced, unlike Emmy’s.

“Elizabeth,” he said, laying a hand on my shoulder. The finality with which he said my name, like it was a question and a statement all at the same time, proved to me that my fears were well founded. “Do you think you could round up everybody and head down the hall? There is a small chapel down there that we can wait in for news without disturbing anyone.”

“Bill,” I said candidly, leaving out any sort of formal address. “What do you know?”
He merely smiled that same smile and shook his head and said, “Nothing,” I took in a deep breath and turned to the approximately 50 students that now were gathered in the small area, spilling off of couches, sitting on the floor, milling around distractedly.

“Ok, everybody,” I said vaguely, addressing everyone at once. All movement ceased, and I looked at them for what they were, just sheep looking to anyone with a voice, anyone that would tell them what to do or where to go so they wouldn’t feel so lost. I knew I was just like them, but propped up here, pretending to be a shepherd. I bleated in my mind, echoing what I saw before me. “Let’s go down to this chapel at the end of the hall to wait.”

I gesticulated in the general direction that I thought was right, and everyone immediately and efficiently started moving in that direction. I scanned the faces of my fellow students, finding everything there. There were the sobbers, the mumblers, those who were clinging to each other, those who were ignoring everything around them, staring straight ahead with a sort of frightening, unshakable intensity. Some had backpacks, most had jackets, many held hands. They moved down the hallway in small groups, like a slow motion stampede with numbness ahead of them and death at their heels. I held behind momentarily and saw the dean of students come in and join Jesse and Bill at the front desk. I went over to the three men.

“Really,” I said, “what do you know?” A glance over my shoulder showed that most students were already a good ways down the hallway.

“Elizabeth,” Jesse began, but he was interrupted by Bill, who still had Katie’s cell phone and had finally reached her mother. All he got out was that we were at the hospital and Katie had collapsed, and there was such shrieking coming out of the phone that I could hear it from across the span of the room. I looked back at Jesse and he merely shook his head. He told me that nothing definitive had been said yet, but that something should have been by now. I looked at my watch, 5 p.m. I looked Jesse in the eyes again and turned to follow the others down the hallway, gazing at the finely stuffed chairs in the waiting area and the huge windows and the squeaky clean floor tile along the way. I found myself shaking my head without even realizing it; it all seemed so ridiculous in the face of what I could feel creeping up on me, creeping up on us all. Death was upon us.

Monday, March 8, 2010

night flight

(originally posted Wednesday, December 10, 2008 at 8:39am. but I love this one.)

I FEEL like a techno-flapper.

My ridiculous hair is what caused it- think old lady 'do only in dark brown instead of white, and you're tracking with me. My fro' is a perfect imitation, close curls exploding from my scalp in all directions. And I know what awaits- this mess doesn't grow out, just down. Sorry, Navy. I'm gonna look like a clown for a while.

So the partner in crime for this jazz-era throwback is the Energizer head lantern I'm sporting, cascading a tunnel of red light down onto my binder as I record Hobbs and Tach times, check my fuel tanks, and sump the front line. December in the panhandle is like perfect fall weather, all the time. I'm hustling around the wingspan checking Nav lights in one of my favorite sweaters, a thick butternut squash number from J. Crew that I undoubtedly found at some thrift store in Colorado. The leaves are at full turn now. Driving to the midwest in a mere ten days is going to be a seasonal shock to the system, but one that I'm looking forward to.

I made a pumpkin pie last week because I enjoy making them; I brought a healthy slice of it to my instructor because he enjoys eating them. In return, tonight out on the tarmac by the light of the beacon and the hangar lights and the moon, he payed me back with a backflip. Dawn and I showed him a few OCS RPT exercises in return, doing six-90's in perfect unison, heads off the deck. My adrenaline was already primed, and the exercise (haha... I can hear in my head, a very familiar voice.... all too-geh-ther, EXERCISE!) pushed it through my system.

I've been up on a couple of night flights before with Dave, another ensign who was in our ground school, but got ahead of me because of a ridiculous medical hold for allergies. (Honestly. I'm sure clearing your ears isn't THAT important.) I already know I love being up there in the dark, the lights spread off to the north like some great Christmas tree, knocked to its side, rope after rope of twinkles glistening. We take runway 14 and glide up and out, over condos cast in weird relief by gaudy, colored illumination. It's impossible to tell where the sky meets the water as we head south of the coastline. The gulf stretches out in front of us like a soft dark mouth opened wide enough to swallow the whole world.

We get to Panama City quickly, and the runway I'm supposed to use dumps directly out into the bay. I'm serious, the threshold starts and before that it is just water, reflecting the markers back at me like a blackened mirror. Not to mention, I'm on a three-mile final per the tower's instruction. You always feel like you're low at night anyway, and that doesn't help particularly. My right hand, pinky and butt-of-the-palm slung over the throttle, and thumb and forefinger on the trim, never gets a break. Aileron, aileron, rudder, rudder, pitch speed power ground effect flare dip TOUCH and I keep the elevator back and dump the carb heat because you know, this is supposed to be a soft field landing. We stop on the runway completely and flaps go to ten, brakes are in and full power, rotate at fifty for short field.

Long after we've left the pattern at PFN, when we're tracking Destin on the Garmin and toying with the edge of the shining skirt-hem of the emerald coast, it comes to me. I'm sitting slightly on my left hip, weight cocked over to that elbow, left hand held by relaxed fingertips on the yoke. My right hand never leaves sentry, but it too is near-limp, familiar with what it holds. Dane and Dawn are both quiet, the air is a near-perfect headwind, the engine hums and we admire Mars and Venus out the port window. I find myself comfortable. Like being in a car at night, fingers entwined loosely with a sleeping passenger's, lightly beating the rhythm of the soft background music on the back of their hand. Knowing there's just the journey ahead of you, and the stars above you, and the wheels and the road... only now it's the wings and the air. But the feeling is just the same. Just the same.

We land short-field, Dane asks me where my aiming point was again and I say, "Back there." We laugh together as we taxi. I know I won't be up again at night for months, and I can't even find it in myself to be resentful at the old bucket-of-bolts that I'm attempting to steer with burnt-out taxi lights. Later, when I'm out with the old girl on my own again, replacing the pitot-heat cover and tying down the wings and tail with snug hitches, I can't stop thinking about how lucky I am. This is my job. I switch my head lantern to white and leave the Cessna behind.

(apologies for lack of tense-agreement. it's sort of on purpose, mostly by design.)


I never realized how much I would miss hearing you say my name with excitement in your voice.

The sustain pedal is lifted, and the decay of the piano is abruptly cut short; the silence is deafening.

It felt right to be with her, walking along in silence.

Once again, in the middle of everything else distracting, life breaks through.

The first time you hear it, you’re never prepared.

you don’t understand—
i get tired so easy
just waiting around

There’s something about tapered-leg jeans that serves as a kind of unspoken warning sign.

I wanted that balance, between books and people, knowledge and experience.

I keep waking up and it’s still today.

I can’t stop thinking about Nick Berg.

She would not disappoint.

It’s like you’re gone when we’re talking.

weren’t talking to talk, really-
we were just talking to be talking
to be talking.

Nothing but this
No words but this
No sound
No sound
No sound

I don’t generally like to wake up.

“Dirty,” he says, nodding his head backward.

I got a lot of questions starting out.

You just keep moving on and it becomes a part of you.

I am not afraid of hard work.

Perspective, a great and cruel teacher, has taught me that the world won’t stop if I don’t join in the fun and games.

We’ve still got some leftover Halloween stuff, and I was eating you know those “Fun Size” butterfingers the other day. Fun Size. What is that, really? When does eating candy ever evolve into the “not fun” realm? I’ll tell you what is fun size, is like a butterfinger the size of my thigh. The little ones, they are like, joke size. Fun would be eating candy the size of your head.

“You know,” I commented to Becky as we stepped across the rubberized pad, “it’s kind of like a rollercoaster.”

I think I stand a chance of getting something. Besides a letter that says, “You suck.”

The Officer is always, whether knowingly or no, an ambassador for the Navy and the United States. This may be considered part of the burden of taking up the role of “Officer,” but the rewards, in my opinion, render this weight negligible.

Fortunately, she was already grinning, so her amusement was easy to hide.

It was, after all, March in Rhode Island.

Everything was still.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Colorado Haiku

Kerouac at dusk
-spit cherry pits off the porch-
the west is calling

Pick up zucchini,
yellow squash and romas, please
while getting oil changed.

Dogs bark in the night.
Cool, dry blackness stealing down
over darker peaks

Heat in the kitchen.
Sweat, slithering down my back
smile: we are busy

leftover nachos
make for excellent noon snacks-
Thank you, table nine.

We all compare our
Ideal ways to get killed.
Crushed by breasts wins.

Frog tells a joke.
Why only 239 beans?
One more: too farty.

old stuff

I haven't been posting.

Here's some old stuff, found recently.

late June. (written June 2001)

summer sweat makes my shirt stick to my back
Actually, it's not my shirt.
it's yours.
the secret of you makes me smile---

I go on sweating for the sheer pleasure of it
letting your loose cotton drift about me
in this summer's midnight dream

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

morning memory haiku

I read morning news,
arm snaked around your back as
you dream against me

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

the measure of time

I told two people today about my former life as a barista.

I can remember clearly standing on those rubber mats behind the counter, swinging gallon jugs of milk, flipping cans of whipped cream up and around in a lazy arc, the toes of my black earth shoes perpetually glazed in glossy lactose. I remember drinking a soy chai every morning for breakfast. Eating ramen quick-cooked under the scalding hot water for the tea, prepared in a for-here cup every day for my lunch. Taking the New York Times for my lunchtime reading material. Looking out the window at the drive through scenery- the immense, hulking snow-capped Pike's Peak. Watching the grey streaked view of Speedway for my boss' car to pull in, which it inevitably did, even when she took the day off.

It seems like a different life altogether. The memories themselves wholly apart to me, as if I read them somewhere and misappropriated them. Or perhaps they are nothing more than the vestiges of a particularly vivid dream.

I talked to my dad last week on the phone, and he told me my old manager from Starbucks stopped in at his GFS store, looking for a job. Which would make him her boss. I told her she is an absolutely kick-ass worker, if you can get over the constant swearing and verbal abuse. But she'll work herself to death. I guess certain skills are always marketable.

I hope to find diversity in what I do, not disconnection. I'll tell you, though, the thought of Kelly at the cash register, answering to my father of all people, has my internal record player skipping. As warped as the song is, I do not find that I mind.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

continued roll in

I remember this kind of skinny kid leaning in the doorway as we ran, past the white sheet hanging down from the ceiling to hide H class off from the rest of the 3rd deck. Everybody was dressed comfortably, warm and clean looking in PT gear: blue sweatpants and long-sleeved white t-shirts. I ran with my seabag in front of me, carrying it upside down with a deathlike bear-hug grip. Knife hands. The kid was pale, and called after me as I threw my stuff down in Preston’s room, where I’d been assigned, “Be loud.”

We followed the Master Gunnery Sergeant downstairs to the first level of the building to where his office was located. Everything was fast. Everything was going to hell, I could barely keep up with him and he appeared to be only walking. I hated this.

We followed the small man outside, the New England twilight choking the sky with a heavy gray stranglehold. It was spitting again, neither ice nor rain, just a cold, miserable wet. We went to a sand pit, the “rose garden.” And oh, the irony of this misnomer.

I will take a moment here to say that this, technically my first “beating” in the accepted nomenclature of the environment, I learned one of the most important principles of survival in military training: the meatshield. The meatshield (or heatshield, if you prefer something less verbally bloody) is essential for survival. I cannot stress this enough. The purpose of the meatshield is to provide a buffer zone between yourself and the Marines, who are looking for any weakness. They like to eradicate this weakness at the source. It is best to never be this source. As callous as it is, you get a fatter, dumber, slower person, and you keep them between you and the salivating devil dogs at all times. At all times. And you just melt into the background- another worthless candidate with BCGs and stupid tall socks and hideous running shorts. But you do not become the source.

Amy and Preston quickly proved to be invaluable meatshields in the Rose Garden. I lay on my back, doing 6/90s next to Amy, feeling like my legs were on fire. The Smokey Bear hat that the Drill Instructors all wore jutted out like a knife from the Master Gunnery Sergeant’s forehead, pointing directly at Amy’s face. We were supposed to be keeping our heads off the deck, chins on chests while we lifted our legs into the air over and over again—“Six, aye sir! Ninety, aye sir!”—and I suppose it was because she was tired, but whatever the reason her head kept nestling itself down in the damp sand. He was yelling at her to keep it up, and she would pull it forward weakly on her short neck, and then it would flop back… I was resolved not to be screamed at like that. I kept my head up.

Preston was worse, she kept collapsing into a whimpering heap when we had to bear crawl. Steele looked like the four horsemen of the apocalypse were clambering at the edges of his mind. Tim caught my eye once, briefly, a mix of chagrin and sadness clouding his face. I wanted to quit so badly. The next time we were on our backs, I stared out across the muscular, flinty water, churning in the bay. I thought of how Dan had hugged me so hard the night before I left to start this cursed journey. How he just held me, for moments that turned into whole minutes, and spoke so softly and comfortingly into my ear. Dan knew I was tough- that episode hadn’t been a lack of confidence in me, but simply a knowledge of what was coming. Dan is my brother, and he’s never defended me to anybody, because, as he once told me, he’s never had to. He knows I can take care of myself. And at that moment, that ten-minute-long hug in the narrow hallway of my parents’ house was the only thing keeping me from a plane ticket and the kind of regret that turns into a nursed heartache.

We got on our knees, after what seemed like hours but had probably only been about fifteen mintues. We were instructed to fill up our pockets with sand, so we did. All of them. We were told to get back into the building. It was coming up on full dark, and people were so tired they were forgetting things. I was the last one out of the pit, carrying three canteens and two chrome domes. The people I gave them back to were too exhausted to care.

We got back in the building and dumped all the sand from our pockets out onto the carpeted hallway. Tim had been in front of me, and as I stepped over his pile I saw his driver’s license poking out of the top of his little mound. We all carried our ID in our left breast pockets. I quickly bent down and retrieved the card, sticking it in my poopy suit. We stood in a semi-circle, sweating, clotted rivulets of snot hanging down out of our nostrils and encrusted with darkened sand. Our poopy suits were wet and stank. We were asked to give a sort of basic account of ourselves, answering questions the Master Gunnery Sergeant might ask us. He asked several candidates what their college majors were, and I dreaded the moment he might discover I had spent four years with Shelley, Coleridge, Gilgamesh and Woolf. The moment never came; when it was my turn, he asked me the fewest inquiries of anyone. And, oddly enough, he asked if I had siblings, and what they did for a living.

chow two

Chow procedures were clearly delineated in the cumbersome OCR, or Officer Candidate’s Regulations. One of these large, plastic covered books was issued to each room in the barracks to share between the two occupants therein. Even though I immediately went to H, and therefore had nothing to do all day except go to chow, there was still a steep learning curve. Candidates who remained with their original class just had to pick it up as they went along. This meant lots of mistakes. Lots of mistakes means lots of corrections, and lots of corrections means very little time to eat. Desperation and hunger are excellent teachers.

Frequently in the first week, and sometimes even beyond for punitive measures, a class would be fed personally by the numbers, all lifting their war spoon in unison, chewing in unison, zombie-arming their cups in unison. It is very easy to see when someone is jacking up this way. A remarkable number of things, first of them being dignity, fall by the wayside. Looking out over the sea of sweaty, concentrating, fear-filled faces facing your direction, and the number of shaved heads facing away, there is at a minimum the comfort that you are not alone. Not alone with eggs or sauce smeared all over your face, because you will not earn napkins for weeks or perhaps months. Not alone with rice dribbled all over your tray, water spilled down your front, hip joints straining in their sockets. Sometimes it would be far better if you were.

Nakanaela was short. He had an excellent sense of humor, a great laid-back island outlook that was a breath of fresh air when he rolled into H. One of the best things about him was the fact that he didn’t speak unless he needed to. All day, all night in one hallway with the same 40 people can get old.

It had been about a week, I guess, since Nakanaela rolled in. We were at chow, senior H-ers seated strategically throughout the new kids on the block to keep an eye on potential disasters and try to surreptitiously answer questions. Eating literally everything with only a spoon could have its pitfalls. Nakaneala was across from me, and fortunately I’d gotten a good table-leg spot, so I was fairly relaxed. H did have a few perks, especially in the area of food. We were allowed salads, though dressing was taboo. We were also afforded napkins, something regular classes didn’t enjoy until they were at least midway through the program. Though I was uncomfortable and injured, I could still have a clean mouth.

I snapped my head down, going for the salad on this trip through the numbers. A juicy, ripe looking cherry tomato sat on top. I shoveled it in, replacing my war spoon to the right side of the plate and returning my hand to my lap. My head snapped up, lips slightly pursed around the tomato. Nakaneala blinked owlishly at me from across the table, eyes magnified by the freakishly large, navy issued BCG’s. I bit down, and the tomato exploded.

The force of the fruit forced my lips open and shot across the table, splattering his tanned face and the lenses of his glasses with thick, red juice interspersed with seeds. In my shock, I almost laughed, remembered where I was, then nearly choked. Nakanaela didn’t flinch. He brought his hand up out of his lap and shot it out towards me, the white square of napkin coming into sharp relief between the two of us. Then, in one precise, military stroke, he brought the paper to his eyes, wiping across the BCG’s like a large windshield wiper. His hand shot out towards me again, then down into his lap.

Across the table, I grunted and shook, and then got stuck for a while on step five.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


(a brief excerpt, again...)


Chow was easily the best part of the day before taps. Besides eating, which was one of the few pleasurable things you could do at OCS, you got to see everybody. And everyone got to see you, which could be good or bad or both. More often than not, chow was comedy hour, especially where H class was concerned.

Now, let me amend: I previously said chow was pleasurable. It was, in the barest of senses; you could fill your stomach and thereby not be hungry anymore, which is typically not pleasurable. You could physically taste the food. Marines have not yet figured out how to deactivate taste buds. I believe if they could have, it would have happened a long time ago. Other than that, chow was not pleasurable.

First of all, the candidate would be seated uncomfortably. This would involve sitting on the front third of the seat (This, I heard, was a throwback to days when Drill Instructors would walk along the back of the seats, shoving candidates’ heads into food. Like much of the rumor mill at OCS, this was completely unverified and therefore believed wholeheartedly). Legs together, feet at a 45 and to the left of the table legs. This meant every other man or woman at the table would have a disclocated pelvis by the time the meal was finished. Backs, of course, were straight, and eyes, of course, were staring 1000 yards away. We ate on an eight-count, numbered system. On the first count, the head snaps down. The second count, the left hand comes up from the lap (forget about your right hand completely during any type of activity where it might be useful) and comes to the right side of the plate, where the only utensil permitted was waiting: the mighty war spoon. Three, grasp huge spoon, four, shovel it full of chow. Five, put in mouth. Six, put spoon back and so help you baby Jesus don’t chew or it will be all over. Seven, bring head back up and hand to lap. Eight, chew chew chew. Repeat.

Drinking was much the same, shooting the left hand straight out like a zombie lurching towards brains. Except these brains were two large, large cups of blue powerade and water. (As an aside, approximately 60 ounces of blue powerade consumed daily does interesting things to the old GI tract. More on this later.) You drank as awkwardly as a person could drink, a sad awkward distance-staring robot, finishing all your liquid. So help you baby Jesus if you didn’t.

There were tricks to eating chow, stuff I worked out over long periods of time. The glasses would sweat and scoot, ghostlike across the table once they were empty. I would take the single napkin we were allowed, folded into an inch square, and move the cup, then wipe the table underneath. Precise wiping. Precise movement. I would use my thumb to shove bits of food onto the spoon when staff was distracted. I would keep the fish on my plate longer so I could use it to scoop rice against. If I was sitting in the middle of the table, where nobody could see, I would move my legs wherever I wanted. If a person started laughing uncontrollably, it was best to just keep your head down, as if you were stuck on step 5. And I got stuck on step 5 a lot. Remember, despite all this, chow was the best part of the day before taps. Chow was comedy hour.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

zee zay zoe zay zah

choral warmups are invariably the same.

last night I had a sort of impromptu-audition before my first rehearsal with the Jacksonville Symphony Chorus. it was more than I expected, and less than it should have been. surprisingly enough, they told me I was in, and here I am, in my third Symphonic Choir in 12 years. Michigan, Indiana, Florida: perhaps I should have a goal to sing in all 50. I sat on the front row in the seat that my friends Anne and Jean held for me. they drove me to rehearsal. Jean dropped a not-so-subtle hint that she'd like to attend my winging. despite everything, it seems that everywhere I go people are determined to like me. I frequently stand amazed.

I sit, in the afternoon afterwards, drinking a dubbel, listening to WTTS online and thinking about everything from the price of apartments in Anacortes, WA to the recent destruction in Haiti. I listened to Wyclef Jean last night on CNN talk about his home. it seems despite the distances, the money, the fame, the heart lingers on.

last night my mother warmed up in Indianapolis with the ISC as I sat, transitioning a half-step over sixteen counts just as I used to do with her in the north. the internet brings these sounds of bloomington and the circle streaming to me. location seems to have less and less to do with place.

in so much, I am blessed. present in this present with a skype-fly-on-the-wall to NOLA, texting to Denver, planning to rock the Casbah with friends that in a year will be a thousand miles from me.

under it all, the beat rolls on.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

the best kind of day

I'm tired, so this is going to be brief. However:

it is more than nice to lay on a couch and not say anything. Just listen to the soft sounds of another human, a human you trust and love, do something they enjoy. And be totally at ease.

a night luftpause

Will I ever rest this year? - JP Hoe

I'm with Joe this weekend. I'd had enough and had to come see him.

We went and saw "Up in the Air" shortly after I got here, and both loved it. Loved that it didn't end in a prepackaged fashion, that there was just enough real life in the script to keep it messy. The actress who played Natalie was perfect at portraying the bitch you love to hate. The actress who played Alex, Vera somebody-or-other who was also recently in that otherwise horrible film "The Orphan," was deliciously relaxed, down to earth: the quintessential man's woman. And George Clooney was... well, George Clooney. What is there not to like?

At one point in the film, Alex says to Ryan (Clooney's character) "Think of me as you, just with a vagina." Joe and I both laughed, because despite the plumbing and a couple of other minor differences, we are essentially the same.

In the car on the way, he showed me gifts his s/o had gotten him for Christmas, the s/o who's not an s/o. She'd sent stickers from XKCD and a Darwin fish for his car. I laughed with him about how when we got our house together in Washington State, I'd have to put a Jesus fish on the back of mine and that way when we pulled them in side-by-side in the garage, it would be like our own little peace house, differences of belief nestled safely side-by-side. He told me the last time he had a Darwin fish on his car, it was vandalized. Yes, that makes a lot of sense with the example Jesus set up. I told him probably a lot of people wouldn't even think I was a Christian these days, and just the idea cuts me to the quick. Sometimes a life lived outside the presorted and prelabled and prepaid envelope is one filled with more belief, not less; but I digress.

The standard Pensacola booty call was apparently at BW3's just before we got there, probably pulling out of the parking lot as we pulled in. He texted my phone repeatedly with regret, talking about boredom and alcohol. I was polite but not encouraging. My booty is going straight to voicemail these days.


It is 0450, local time. I fell asleep about 5 hours ago, and have been up now at least a half an hour. I doubt I slept for more than 20 minutes at a stretch on the couch... I got too hot, my skin was too dry, the couch is too short for my long frame, etc. Mostly, I'm just restless. Or, I should say, I'm still restless. This moment in which I slink around, getting water and pottying and emptying my brain publicly of yesterday-detrius, is an in-between day. A night luftpause. Hopefully there will be more sleep when I am finished, but I'm not counting on it. There's very little I count on. Differences, and mess, and missed connections are pretty much, however, guarantees.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

some new work

talked to Dave and Rachel tonight about a new thing I'm going to start working on. below is a very small excerpt: the names are changed to protect the innocent (or, as Dave said, the guilty). thoughts?


We lost our first shipmate to D.O.R. Sunday night. Scott Dannon, the kid who was going to be a SEAL and had no bearing whatsoever was supposed to be standing across from me. Every time we would stand and look at each other with a thousand yard stare, his face would slowly contort and then screw up into a clownish smile. I knew he was going to be my undoing. But, suddenly he wasn't there, and his name wasn't scrawled on masking tape, sticking to the wall, either. Dudley stood alone next to the other side of the doorjam. A candio came by and asked him what his roommate's name was, and he stuttered for a moment and finally said, "Drawer."

After taps Monday night, before the subsequent PFA Tuesday morning, the wind was already howling. It came in off Narragansett Bay with a weird moan, scuffling along the screens just outside our latched windows. Amy and I had to use the head, and we decided to see if maybe Dawn or O’Shea might as well. There were six fifis in all. We crept out into the p-way, the door nearly slamming behind us with the draft. As we slunk along towards the nearby hatches, the floors illuminated in dim shafts of directional lighting, I turned to Amy, ready to ask about the loud gusts. Instead, in my near-sleep, I tossed out: "Hey, can you smell that wind?" Yikes.

I held out some kind of futile dream that they weren't going to roll us at first. We did the PFA first thing, before five, and then they just kept us with the rest of the class- breakfast chow, then all these briefs... the only one I really remember was the Chaplain. My chest felt heavy. This was ridiculous. I was ridiculous. I was tired. We whispered in between presentations, trying to figure out who made it and who hadn't. Almost everyone I'd personally made a connection with was rolling. Steel (my ride), Dawn, Amy, Post, Rolls, another girl Preston, Pete Ivers, and Tim. He'd failed pushups, too, and we'd kept a near-even pace on the run. My roommate Amy had collapsed at the end of the run after failing by one second. At least I'd have companions.

Late in the afternoon we were in the Killzone and prepped to meet Chief Drill Instructor Master Gunnery Sergeant Foster USMC for the first time. He came out, and though I topped him height wise, was immediately dwarfed as I have never been. When he announced that he was in charge of the PFA failures, and then called our names out, I honestly thought I was going to Hell. It's just shortened to H.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

epiphany and the firecat

today I found out this sickness I've been fighting is an upper respiratory infection. I came home after frequenting the clinic and the hospital, carrying yet more pills in a brown paper bag. I chugged five and nasally sprayed myself (and let me tell you, isn't THAT nice) before brunch. I passed out rather quickly after eating and enjoying a particularly spectacular stomachache. I am on SIQ, or doctor's orders to remain "sick in quarters" for 48 hours.

the cat is ignoring me. and I... I am bored. tonight as she sat, perched on the back of the couch and looking all cozy in front of the fire, I snuck stealthily up behind her. like a great, sweatshirt-clad coughing ninja. she was sleeping, a little mass of humped-up grey fur. I poked. she yowled. I was the teaser, she the firecat.

the thing that makes me the most grumbly about today is that today is Epiphany. nobody really pays attention to Epiphany anymore, but COGS does, and I was supposed to sing tonight in honor of those great eastern sages, plodding along on dromedary to find a very small boy in a rather small town underneath a blazing, astrological phenomena. instead, tonight found me laying by the fire, looking at the tree a few more times mournfully, and occasionally sneezing at the cat. she didn't stir. yes, and I said looking at the tree- it will come down tomorrow. or whenever I next feel up to it. Christmastide is now officially past. but only barely; we have twelve days, and then a bit of discovery, you know.

happy realization of hope day. happy completion of journey day. happy light of the world day. tomorrow: the flight to egypt. tonight: gifts, and the recognizance of the wildest dream ever born.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

clear miracle citrus

the ferret is in the dining room. I can hear it out there, clattering about. our bungalow is delightful in many ways, not least in the tendency for the ground floor to be chilly and the upstairs (the ferret's normal home) to be a furnace. apparently, it was near death from heat exhaustion... so, the ferret is in the dining room.

this evening, when it was already near dark, the doorbell rang. bella went ballistic, barking and growling at what turned out to be a rather short, older african american man on our front porch. I stepped out and shut the door behind me so "pooch," as lindsay frequently calls her, wouldn't escape.

the man was selling cleaning fluid, stuff that would power away mildew from grout and permanent marker from a towel he carried in his pocket. he used the word "agitate" as normally in a sentence as it can ever be used, and I was impressed. he was a formerly homeless man from Atlanta, he told me, and this was part of a program he was working with, going door to door to work on his communication skills, and provide him with a job in sales to transition to being a productive member of society. he was working on getting points for a certain number of units sold, which were available of course for the modest price of $47.50 each. he pulled out a brand new bottle of the stuff, called "clear miracle citrus." I politely declined, and told him I would ask my roommate if she was interested. she declined less politely. I came back in the house, leaving him somewhat dejectedly repacking his bag on the front porch.

I try not to shut those guys down. if part of what they are doing is truly to work on communication skills, then go right ahead. if they are in fact savvy business people, they will not be able to savv me, and I will keep them longer on my porch, unable to savv others who might be ripe for the savving. plus, I don't like to be rude and slam the door in someone's face. or slam the phone down in someone's ear. I'm not much for slamming in general.

about an hour later, Linds took Bella outside for potty, and she came back in weilding the brand new bottle of clear miracle citrus. apparently in his dejection he forgot to leave our porch the way he found it. apparently I do get to clean my grout and my marker-stained washcloths, after all.

so sorry, homeless solicitor. and thanks.

Monday, January 4, 2010

the fornication tarp

today I got sick. it started off with the drippy nose last night, where I was just sniffling over and over. I remember when dad used to do that when I was growing up, and I would want to drown him, the sound drove me so crazy. last night, I pretty much wanted to drown myself.

I ended up falling asleep on my back, Olive laying close by on the body pillow like usual. this was a conscious choice, because then I didn't have to wake up in a puddle of my own drainage. the bad news was that said drainage went all into my eustachian tubes and my ears were close to explosive level when I awoke. I went on base for a couple of hours mid-day, but otherwise today was lay around the house, watch The Discovery Channel and TLC (back to back episodes of Overhaulin', Mythbusters, Little People, Big World, and Cake Boss), wear old sweats and nap fitfully. Linds was a darling and went to the grocery, bringing me back chicken and stars and some airborne. I took a handful of assorted pills from the medicine cabinet.

I can't remember when I've watched this much TV in one day. The really prime moment of the evening was when I got a call from what very nearly amounts to a long lost friend from college. we talked about TV (naturally, as it was my only activity today) and how we'd both loved the show "The Sing Off" a couple of weeks ago. Seriously, that Ben Folds. I could just eat him up. and we started talking about modern lyricism, and how nobody really wants to make love up in this club. or make love nah nah nah nah. nobody wants to make love on the dance floor. firstly, they want to f***, not make love. and secondly, i highly doubt that even the thuggiest gangsta would whip it out right then and there. maybe in the VIP room. maybe in the bathroom stall. but in the middle of everyone? I'm doubtful.

we came up with the idea of the fornication tarp, or f*** tarp, if you don't mind using all the words in the king's english. You could put it out in the middle of the dance floor. It would provide some privacy if interested parties wanted to wrap up in it, or get under it. It could be easily hosed off. It could be marketed in neon colors, which might augment the ambience with the usage of blacklights. perhaps the fornication tarp could be featured in autotuned, overproduced hip hop videos, endorsed by rappers with icy grills and t-shirts that hang past their knees.

only one question remains: if they would be able to sacrifice their romantic lyricism for the capitalistic powerplay of the moneymaking tarp. after all, not much rhymes with f***.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

poor old Michael Finnigan

A friend asked me yesterday if I was still writing. Basically, not really.

There was a time I couldn't stop. The internal monologue became external, and I would provide narrative to the spoken word. Actual events became rife with literary symbolism, shadows of books that hadn't been written, echoed on the cave wall of my mind.

I have previously vowed not to let certain, very changeful things change me. And now, with a bit of crow in my mouth, I look back and see that the times, they have been a changin'. Some good, yes. more than just some- a lot good. but some of me has been left by the roadside, and I suppose I just want to make sure that the creative outlet isn't one of those things. The guitar has sat in its case in the livingroom since I got to JAX in October. I'm singing a lot, but writing only sporadically and certainly not uploading it. I guess I've just been burned too much. so this... I don't know what this is going to be yet. perhaps just a horse of a different color.

It's the third of January, but it's not too late. Not too late to say a few things about 2010. To say that though I feel strong enough for anger, I also can't think about anything that's worth getting angry over. To say that I'm going to embrace patience and vegetables. Peace and long walks. Introspection and saying words that are unsafe when it feels safer to be safe: words that have meaning and carry weight further than their own conversation.

To say yes to writing, and no to fear.