SENDING A LETTER HOME – RICH PASCHALL

Not so long ago in A Glance Backward. I wrote about The Letter Q and the letters it contained from authors who wrote to their younger selves.   Below is a letter I wrote and put up here over a year ago following the inspiration given by that book.  I must confess that it was much harder to read now than it was to write it then.  Following the inspiration from another blog, I offer it again.

Letter to my younger self: Taking a tough look back

Dear Rich (at 14),

I know you are going through a tough time right now and you have learned to clam up about it.  You don’t know who to tell or even who to trust so you build walls of defense around your personal life.  These walls will not serve you well over time, I am sorry to tell you.  I can say it is good you did not run away, although you probably did not have the courage to do that anyway.  Your parents are going through an ugly time.  When they sold the house and got an apartment, you and your brother both knew it was a mistake.  The worst part about it is they made that mistake, they thought, for you.  It was to see you through grade school, but it should have ended when it was over.

The good thing about the apartment was the large bedroom and large walk-in closet.  It was an actual closet you could go hide in when necessary.  Too bad you only lived there for a year.  In this time you will take refuge frequently at a Boys Club where you have been a member and played sports, even though you were not real good at sports.  You are further away from the club now so school, a few friends and the Club will keep you away from home most of the time.

Soon you will learn that the first person interested in you sexually is another boy.  He is a year behind you in school, but not very much younger in reality.  He seemed quite experienced next to your naiveté.  The brief friendship will weigh heavily on your Catholic, guilt ridden conscience.  You will come to terms with this, although it will take you years to do so.  Many years later you will learn from your mother that this boy married (a girl) and still lives in the old neighborhood.  You will have moved to another area and stayed put for years.  I write to you from there and I can tell you that we found employment at the Club for a while and spent many years playing in that same park you found as a kid.  These will be good memories.

While you attend high school proms and college dances with girl friends, you will discover there are other boys who find you “cute.”  You never thought of yourself as cute or handsome so these attentions may seem a bit confusing.  When you get hit on by the younger brother of a close friend, you fear that the world will soon know all about it.  Don’t worry, no one knows.  At least, I think no one knows.  Other boys travel through your life, but none stay.  I think that is largely due to your stubborn attitude about most things.  I guess it is less so from where I am at now.

You will come to believe, perhaps rightly so, that your various groups of friends, and various lifestyles, will not mix well so you make sure they don’t mix at all.  This is a talent you picked up when you were very young.  Within these several groups, people only see one side of you and may believe that is all there is.  It is a defense mechanism on your part and I must tell you that in the long run, it is not beneficial.  You are solidly convinced right now that you are doing the right thing, but people will leave your life not knowing who you really are.  That will make you sad.  It is a hard time to be open, but I am convinced your friends will stand beside you, even as they do now.  Would you be surprised to learn that your closest friends after college and for many more years to come are mostly from your high school days, both from your class and a few that followed?  When you finally let them get to know you, they remain your close friends.  You will also make new and younger friends right about now.  They will be great friendships, perhaps because they really know you.  I guess I am not sure about that, however.

I would like to warn you that after high school and college you will make a lot of stupid mistakes.  You will invest times in meaningless friendships and all for the wrong reasons.  Dare I tell you of the beating you will take for who you are and the scars it will leave on your face and your spirit?  You were not going to have your class portrait taken for graduating from NEIU because it was soon after, but they convince you to come.  Your face will be bruised and battered from what they would now call a hate crime.  The photographer tells you that you can reject all the pictures and you are convinced you will.  I am glad to tell you they come out OK.  We would call it photo shopping now but you will know that they did a great job of air brushing the pictures.  I still don’t know exactly what that process is but it worked well.  I do not think my words of caution will do much good since I know you so well.  Would you steer a better course if I showed you the way?  I fear not, since you remain stubborn.

Despite the mistakes and the down times that will follow, I need to tell you one very important thing.  It gets better.  Those three words will almost be a cliché by the time you get to where I am now, but it is true.  You will find many around you who will say the same.  It is the only thing I can tell you that matters.  I can not alter your course, but I swear to you that it gets better.  Please believe me.

Your future friend,

Rich

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I AM HOME – By Rich Paschall

A piece of home alone fiction by Rich Paschall

The alarm went off at 6 am as usual.  Instead of hitting the snooze bar, George turned off the alarm and got up.  It was Wednesday, trash collection day in the small Florida town.  He no longer had Ethel to push him out of bed so he had to muster the resolve to get up and take care of the chores.  Jack, the faithful terrier, got up as well and was running around George’s feet as he tried to go through his morning routine.  Terriers do not lack morning energy.

96-Rockers-NKAfter he got dressed and made his way to the kitchen, he started the coffee.  Ethel used to take care of this while George took care of the hyper active dog, but his wife of 40 years was gone now.  George had to make his own coffee.  George had to do all the chores.  George had to eat his meals alone.  This is not the retirement George had envisioned.

A little over two years earlier, George retired and moved from a big Midwestern city to a small town in a warm climate.  This was the retirement George always wanted.  He was no longer going to cut the grass.  There was an association for that.  He was not going to do major repairs because there was an association for that too.  And he certainly was never going to shovel snow again.  Before he moved south, he sold his snow blower, gave away his shovels and winter coats and vowed never to return north in the winter, if at all.

As the coffee was brewing, George set down a fresh bowl of water for a disinterested terrier.  Then he went to the kitchen door that led into the garage.  As he started down the two steps to garage level, he reached for the button that opened the garage door.  At that Jack came racing out the kitchen door and when the garage door was open just enough, he ran under it and onto the front lawn.  There he ran around in a circle for a couple of minutes before looking to see what George was doing.

George was busy dragging the plastic trash can down the driveway to the street where he parked it right next to his old-fashioned mail box.  After that he walked back to get the recycle bins.  One bin held old newspapers and magazines and the other had some cans and bottles.  He put one on top of the other and then maneuvered them on to a two-wheel “hand truck.”  They were too low and too heavy for George to drag down the drive way.  When this task was complete, George went back inside to get his American flag, which he promptly took down to the post that held his mail box.  On the side of the post he had affixed a flag pole holder so his flag could be seen as he came down the street.  George would never admit that it was a reminder of where his driveway began so he could find it easily when he returned from a drive, but that is why it was there.

“Come on, Jack,” George called and the dog raced half way to George and stopped.  It was a game and Jack expected George to play.  George was well aware of this game, every time George would move, the dog would race around in a circle and stop.  There he would wait for George to make another move and the race was on again.  George was too old for the game today and went into the garage and headed toward the kitchen door.  Jack watched carefully from the driveway.  When George hit the button to close the garage door, Jack raced inside.

On their return to the pale yellow kitchen, George put down a bowl of food for Jack.  Then he fixed some toast and took that, a cup of coffee and a newspaper he collected from the front porch and went to sit on the screened-in patio.  Jack came and laid down at his feet.  George liked reading the local news each morning.  Everything about small town America seemed exciting to him.  He read about civic improvements, about events at the library and about meetings at the town hall.  He read about the plans for the upcoming year and even the New Year’s party at a local hall.  George survived Christmas on his own and guessed he would not even be up at midnight on New Year’s Eve.  Without dear Ethel, he had no desire to stay up late.  While ringing in the New Year at a party might help bring back fond memories, they would also recall his dear wife who was gone too soon.  He was not sure he could bear that.

When the news had been devoured, George got up slowly and took his plate and coffee cup to the kitchen sink and placed them there.  He looked all around the room and could not decide on another thing to do so he thought he would go lay down awhile.  It was 10 am.  At that moment, the phone rang.

“Hello,” George said with a hint of surprise that anyone would call him.

“Hello George,” Ethel said softly.

Soon after George and Ethel moved to Florida, Ethel’s father had passed away.  He left her the big family house in rural Iowa.  It was the sort of house Ethel always wanted.  It had a big front porch where she could rock away the summer hours in her own rocking chair and a nice fireplace where she could get warm and read good books all winter.  George had no idea this is what Ethel had wanted for years, just as she had no idea he would take them to Florida on his retirement.  When she got the big Iowa house she announced to George she was moving there without him, and soon thereafter she was gone along with virtually every personal effect she could take.

Once every few months she called to see if George was OK, nothing more.

“Please come home, Ethel,” George said with a heavy dose of sadness in his voice.

“I am home,” she said and quietly hung up the phone.

IS THERE AN APP FOR THAT?

Back when I was very much younger and hornier … like really horny most of the time … there was lots of discussion about The Spot. You know. That critical yet somehow elusive spot on the female anatomy? I assumed I knew what everyone was talking about though I was never sure because we can’t call anything by its proper name. Despite there being nothing dirty, offensive or immoral about correct names, we are still prissy about sex.

This produces some truly bizarre communication problems between the sexes. It’s akin to taking a vacation but not being allowed to say the name of the hotel. You can only identify it as The Resort. You are also forbidden to give the street number. Just Somewhere On Main Street. Good luck finding your destination.

It’s not only men who can’t find The Spot on wives or girl friends. It’s also persons of the female persuasion who (apparently) can’t find it on themselves. Say what? A friend of mind commented that even if the finger can’t figure out which bulge or lump does what, the spot itself should immediately contact the brain with the information — DING, DING, DING, THIS IS THE SPOT!

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So what’s with all these girls growing up who can’t find it? I’ll bet every little boy in the world knows where his Spot is. He didn’t have to take a seminar. His brain said “Right here!”

More relationships have been destroyed by a woman’s inability to say “About half an inch to the left, please” than by adultery. The same people who fight, argue, email, text and post the most intimate details of their lives on Facebook are unable to tell a partner that he (she?) is missing The Spot. Oh puleeze.

I thought we got squared away on this 50 years ago. Or more. Apparently not. What are all the people who can’t find The Spot doing in bed? Playing canasta?

The time has come for technology to take a hand (no pun intended) in the matter. We need an app for that. How about one for the ubiquitous iPhone? Grab your phone and like a Geiger counter, it tells you when you’re hot — and when you’re not. As you zero in, the Hot Spot Finder App says “YOU HAVE REACHED YOUR DESTINATION!” in stentorian tones. The Hallelujah Chorus starts playing.

Everyone uses a mobile phone for everything, so let’s solve this problem once and for all. Give us an APP for that!

Weekly Writing Challenge: Dialogue – Land Mine

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“Good morning,” I said. It was going to be a hot, sticky day. I noticed the top of the Dutch door was open. I closed it.

“How are you feeling?” I ask.

“Okay.” He doesn’t sound okay. He sounds angry. I sigh. Our emotional landscape is strewn with land mines.

“Got anything planned today?” I phrase my question carefully, presenting it in my most dulcet tones … almost flutey.

“Not really.”

He continues to putter at the sink. The anger seems to come from nowhere, settling solidly between us, heavy and sodden.

“I hate to bother you, but could you keep the doors closed when the air conditioning is on? You know, electric bill and stuff.”

Our electric bill the previous month had exceeded our car payment. I didn’t say it, but I must have thought it too loudly. And stepped right on that land mine. Boom. Blew my foot right off.

“All you ever do is criticize me. You don’t appreciate the stuff I do!”

Whatever I might say would just make it worse. He isn’t angry with me. He’s angry with an irrational universe which has saddled him with me. He’s poorly equipped to play the supporting role in a medical melodrama. No natural aptitude for care-giving. Unhappy playing sensitive helpmate to a sickly wife. Nor am I good at being a sickly wife. It’s a boring role.

We wind up locked together in the angry dance. We don’t know the steps and are forever treading on each others’ toes. We don’t care for the melody either, but we have to keep dancing. Tough assignment.

This must be why they put that insidious “for better and worse, in sickness and in health” clause in marriage vows. The “better and health” parts are easy, but the “worse and sickness” section can prove a serious test of a relationship. Life plays cruel jokes.

Pity we never get to see our future until it’s too late to do anything about it. If ever there was such a time.

Fall will come. And cooler weather.

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Daily Prompt: I Want to Know What Love Is — LOVE IS

Together

– – –

Love is.

Love wants not to be defined.

Love defies explanations.

 – – –

Do you breathe? Live under God’s light?

Then you know love.

It’s in your bones, your blood, your soul.

– – –

Love is feeling.

The more you try to imprison love in walls of words,

The faster it will run from you.

– – –

Trust is the food of love.

Trust love, that you know when you give it, know when you get it.

Mated Swans

Embrace it when it comes.

Share it.

Bestow it freely, in joyous abundance.

Love given away never diminishes the love you have.

– – –

Love is for sharing, not saving.

Is it love when unshared?

Then it is, I think, an idea only.

Love thrives in light, withers in dark.

– – –

There is but one kind of love.

Its expressions and objects vary, but love is, of all things, the simplest.

Love is.

Love Is

Love is.

Love wants not to be defined.

Love defies explanations.

Love is feeling, knowing without interpretation nor clarification.

The more you try to imprison love in walls of words, the faster it will run away from you.

Trust is the food of love.

Trust! You will know love when you have it, will know when it is given to you.

Acknowledge it when it comes to you, then share it. Bestow it freely, in joyous abundance.

Love given away will never deplete  the love you have.

Love grows when you give it away.

Love is sharing, not saving.

Love thrives in light, withers in darkness.

There is but one kind of love. Its expressions vary, but love itself does not.

Vote for the Brains

The Thinking Man sculpture at Musée Rodin in Paris

Someone asked me to write about whether or not I wish I’d acted less from my brain and more from my heart in relationships.

Au contraire, my friends. I fervently wish I’d used more brain and less of everything else.When I look at the big picture, I’m not sure there was any difference between “thinking with my heart” and not thinking at all.

Men are accused of being in thrall  to lust, but women are no less irrational when chemistry takes over. Women’s behavior may be more subtle (or not), but sexual attraction — old-fashioned lust — remains the root of many of our most horrible choices. I suspect women are somewhat more inclined to marry their mistakes which doesn’t improve anything and usually sets the stage for lots of drama in the future. Maybe that is changing, but cultural conditioning goes deep. It’s a lot harder to escape your conditioning than you imagine. Just when you think you’re free, you discover you’re doing exactly what you swore you’d never do.

Through a combination of a lust, loneliness and more than a little hubris, I achieved a hormonally induced prefrontal lobotomy. Staying determinedly stupid,  I wound up married to the wrongest possible person in a country where women can’t initiate divorce. Good show Marilyn!

It took years and a lot of blood under the bridge to get my life back. It was ugly, expensive and painful — and completely avoidable. I made a moronic decision against all advice. Even many years later, I have trouble believing I did that.

Some people need to loosen up. Others need to tighten up. I’ve been on both sides at different times in my life … and my conclusion? There is a very good reason our heads are at the top of our bodies. The brain is supposed to be the boss.

You’re going to get in a lot less trouble with your brain at the helm. If your head is saying “Whoa, pal … don’t do that!” you really should listen.

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