Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Sorrow, borne of regret and sundry emotional pains I shall not specify, infects my soul like the cruelest poison that slowly seeps into the marrow and core of my body, destabilizing me to such an extent that walking, talking, and engaging in the other basic activities that social animals perform on a daily basis are monumental achievements for me. Would that I could function like most people seem to do. I find the Self, weighted with the blackest of bile and nowhere to turn for solace, a veritable prison cell. Dark secrets are locked inside and I must carry them in my heart every single day.

I had a dream that I was walking through a pond in the wee hours of the night. The water was murky, the air crisp, the surrounding trees menacing. The sludge underneath made it increasingly difficult to cross to the sidewalk on the other side. Initially, I sloshed through the slimy, viscous water with little effort, but soon thereafter, I was in the thick of it. I thought I'd get stuck there in the middle of wet darkness. It painfully occurred to me that wherever I was going, I was going alone. Wherever I'd end up, I'd end up there alone. I suppose this is not a new revelation to me, not even in waking hours, but for some reason this dark epiphany frightened me so.

This dream was one of those rare instances when I became aware in the course of the dream that it was in fact a dream. You'd think this mental awareness would have helped the situation, no? I mean, why did I continue to feel such fear and isolation if I knew it was merely a dream? When I was kid and had one of these self-cognizant dreams, I'd just close my eyes and wake up. It usually happened during a nightmare, and I had plenty of those as a kid. For instance, I'd be walking down a dark hallway expecting something to leap out at me at any second, and just as it did so I’d close my eyes and wake up in my bed. I didn't avail myself of this escape route, however. I just stood there in the water. The eerie mise-en-scène, like something from a Poe story or a Tim Burton movie, was surrounding me, closing in on me.  Before I eventually awoke, I felt alone and afraid in an unbearable sea of black.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Coastal Drive (4/8)

To outside observers, Maryanne returned to work seemingly without a hitch.  If you were to ignore the slight limp in her gait, it was as if nothing had happened two weeks prior.  And when I write to outside observers I mean of course everyone except Maryanne, including myself.  I had no clue whatsoever that Maryanne’s “accident” was a suicide attempt.  In retrospect, I should have read the runes.  I knew she had been having family difficulties and the poor woman seemed to blame herself for everything that was going wrong in her life.  And John Eilers, the real estate agent she swore was her soulmate?  I knew he wasn’t good for her from the outset, but I’ll come back to him in a moment.

Maryanne resolved to go on with her life.  How could she not?  Perhaps Mark Denison and his van at the vista point were divine intervention.  She didn’t know for sure.  Sitting in a hospital bed for three days and staying at home for nearly two weeks of leave gave her precious time to think.  The respite did her good.  Working in her flower garden, a chore long overdue, worked wonders for her, even if she was beset by an indefinable emotional numbness.  The thought of suicide at least was no longer at the forefront of her mind.

Kirsten's presence at home and overall concern for her mother were additional solace, never mind that Jenny had to encourage her niece to be helpful.  Though Maryanne still didn't approve of the decisions that Scott had been making and was continuing to make, all seemed to be forgiven.  For what it's worth, her Ex, Chuck, had called a few days after the fateful day from Arizona or wherever the hell he happened to find a woman he could leech off.  Of course the louse called when she was already discharged from the hospital.

As an act of sheer willpower, she opted to be her cheerful self at work; some members of the hospital staff—and I’m talking about Siebeck Veterans Hospital where she works as a nurse—couldn’t believe Maryanne had been in such an accident.  What was going through her mind after a failed attempt at suicide is difficult to say.  I mean, it's not as if all of her problems went away.  Still, her attempt to kill herself was an act of passion, a hasty decision from a woman who saw no way out at the time.  Clearly, those anti-depressants had also an ill-effect on her.

When people come close to death and live to tell about it, they often have a feeling of redemption, a sense that they’ve been given a second chance in life.  Those who try to take their life and don’t succeed, however, don’t have this same outlook.  Despite the comfort of family during her convalescence, Maryanne felt that aforementioned  emotional numbness.  Everything around her seemed surreal.  One thing she knew for sure: she would take her secret with her.  There was only one problem: Mark Denison.

Leave me alone and let me die!  Maryanne mulled over these words.  Did she really say this?  She didn’t remember saying these words, but surely this guy Mark would not lie about it.  Why would he?  And the more she thought about it, the more she wondered why he wanted to tell her what she had said.

Eventually Maryanne shared with me what had happened, but I'm getting ahead of the story.  I’m not much of an omniscient narrator.  No, I’m a nurse assistant and had known Maryanne for about two years prior to the incident.  Truth be told, I also have aspirations of being a writer some day.  I hope to write a novel about my experiences at the Veterans Hospital.  Believe me, those hospital shows on cable TV don’t really give the half of it.  But I thought Maryanne’s situation, which I hope to unravel for you in due course, demanded a narrative.

Henceforth I shall refer to myself in the third person to avoid confusing the role of omniscient narrator with a periphery character such as myself.  But let me first clarify something about Maryanne, at the risk of showing my bias.  She’s one of the kindest people I’ve ever met.  When I found out she was in the hospital, let alone finding out almost a year later that her accident being the result of a suicide attempt, I was heartbroken.

I get along well with the hospital staff, and I wouldn’t consider any of my colleagues “homophobic,” with the possible exception of Neil Stafford,  the head pharmacist, who’s otherwise “old school” and not very talkative.  Still, when my long-term relationship fell apart after I caught Dan cheating on me, I was devastated and didn’t feel comfortable sharing my grief with anyone at work.  Frankly, I felt so alone in the world and withdrew into myself.  Then came Maryanne, with her hugs, good cheer, and infectious smile.

She listened to my lament and saw my tears.  She went out of her way to spend time with me in those initial weeks when I was struggling to put my life back together.  Hurting from my own situation and knowing something about Maryanne's search for love, I had hoped she had truly found her soulmate.

In perhaps an unguarded moment, Maryanne once described John as the “love of her life.”  John Eilers had much to recommend himself, and it’s not a mystery that Maryanne fell for him.  He is handsome, charming, and the kind of guy you wanted to hang out with at a pub.  No doubt these qualities made him one of the most successful real estate agents in Oregon.

He called Jenny, once he heard about the accident, a few hours after she was admitted to the hospital.

Maryanne’s sister knew that the relationship had been going through some hardship, but she was unaware that John had called it off.  He arrived at the hospital with flowers in hand.

“Hi, Maryanne,” he said softly as he entered her hospital room.  With Maryanne unresponsive to John’s arrival, Jenny took the flowers and thanked him.

“I would have come earlier, but I was…well, it doesn’t matter.  What happened, Maryanne?”

Maryanne slowly looked up at John with different eyes than those before the day of her accident.

“I don't know,” she responded without emotion.

John looked at her with a mixture of suspicion and guilt.

“I was looking for some papers in the passenger seat and wasn't paying attention to the road.”

“Uh.”  John looked at Jenny.  “Do you mind if we have some time?”

After Jenny closed the door behind her, John turned to Maryanne.  “I am so sorry.”

“For what?”

“For what?  For this.”  John gestured toward Maryanne's bandaged arms.  “All of this.  I mean, for wanting to end our relationship and...  I could have handled things differently...”

“What are you talking about?”  Maryanne knew very well what he was insinuating.

“An accident?”  John shook his head slightly and wore a skeptical face.

Conflicting emotions were swirling inside Maryanne's bandaged head ever since John entered the room.  She realized deep down that if he told her at that very moment that he reconsidered and was a fool for breaking off the relationship so abruptly, she would take him in her arms, cling to him and never let him go.  Why not?  That’s what she had wanted.  Yes, if he were to express his desire to get married and spent the rest of his life with her, she would succumb.  But of course no such words were forthcoming.  Despite her strong feelings for the man who stole her heart, for the man she was convinced was were soulmate, at the same time she hated herself for wanting to regain “paradise lost” so readily.  After the accident, things were different.  Did she want to be with John again?  Before she rammed her SUV into a white van on the edge of a precipice, the answer to this question was clear as day.  Now, she was emerging out of a haze, not quite the same as before, about to embark on a journey to heal body and soul.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


I just spent two weeks in hot, humid Kentucky for my annual military training as an Army Reservist.  I have few memorable and interesting experiences from this trip, a couple of exceptions being a daylong train ride with a train crew from my transportation company and a visit during off hours to a few Civil War sites.  The Battle of Richmond occurred here in August of 1862.  The Confederacy won the battle, but—spoiler alert!—Johnny Reb lost the war.  On one day a soldier injured his ankle playing basketball, so his platoon sergeant and I took him to the hospital.  On this and other occasions I had an opportunity to drive into Richmond, which is located about fifteen minutes up the road from the Blue Grass Army Deport, the site of our training exercise.   I had a pleasant experience.  Richmond houses Eastern Kentucky University and offers a decent number of stores and food joints.  The people are friendly as could be, especially toward the military.  I went to a Hardee's one day and a Starbucks another; someone insisted on paying for my meal on both occasions.  Senior citizens came up to me and either expressed appreciation for my service or talked about their sons’ experience in Vietnam.  Kentucky seems like an okay place to live.  Years ago I applied for a position at the university in Louisville.  If I lived there, I'd probably just drink bourbon whiskey all the time.

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Coastal Drive (3/8)

A week later Maryanne met Mark, her rescuer, for the first time at a Perkins Restaurant.  The aforementioned meeting at the hospital that was supposed to occur the next day fell through the cracks for various reasons.  Gavin had taken a flight back to San Jose without following up with Mark.  Jenny, who works as a bank teller supervisor, managed to get time off for another week in order to help her sister get back on her own two feet.

Finally, Jenny arranged for a time her sister and Mark could talk.  She herself was a bit curious about this strange, lone man who saved her sister from plunging to her death and yet had “been through worse.”  At the same time she thought it a bit odd that he would wait around at the hospital throughout the day to check up on his sister.  For all these reasons, Jenny accompanied Maryanne to Perkins.  It was a sunny Wednesday morning.

“There he is, Annie.” Jenny motioned toward Mark as he was pulling into the parking lot in a company van, J&D Heating and Cooling written in blue on the side.  They waited for him at the entrance of the restaurant.  Maryanne spotted the vehicle before Jenny said anything.  She couldn't mistake the van she  rammed into it on that vista point.

Maryanne was slightly nervous.  What do you say to someone who saved your life, especially a complete stranger?  But her instinct as a warm-hearted person took over as Mark approached.  She hugged him.  “Thank you so much for saving my life.”  Mark visibly looked uneasy with the physical contact.

Maryanne noticed his discomfort.  "Oh, I'm sorry, I just...”

“No, I’m fine,” he smiled.  “I’m just glad I can meet you…you know, under better circumstances.”

“This meeting is long overdue,” said Maryanne.  “Thank you.”

“Truth is, Miss...”

“Call me Maryanne, please!”

“The truth is, Maryanne, that your car airbag had more to saving your life than I did.”  While the airbags did save Maryanne from receiving great injury upon impact, Mark took a risk to his own life in pulling her out of the SUV as it, and his van, teetered on the edge of the vista.  Maryanne knew he was being modest about his role, so did Jenny.

“That may be, Mr. Denison,” came Jenny quick with a response.  “But the Lord works in mysterious ways, as they say, and you were the one who delivered my sister from that wreck.  God was watching over my sister and you were a heaven-sent angel...”

“I...”  Mark searched for a proper response.

“My sister can get religious and preachy sometimes.”

“I'm not preaching, Annie!  I'm just...

“I know, I know, Jenny.”

“No offense taken,” interrupted Mark.  “I might not be a religious person, but I do believe in God, a God that looks after us from time to time.”

“You always wear that thing?” Jenny asked playfully, changing the subject, as she wont to do.  She was referring to the Seatle Seahawk visor cap on his head.

Mark seemed to shrug off the comment.  “I’m a big fan.”

“Well, let’s get some food.  I’m starved!” said Jenny.

“Don’t mind my sister,” quipped Maryanne.  "She can get quite bossy at times.  She was born about 10 minutes before mewe're fraternal twins.  And so she tries to act like a big sister.”

Jenny rolled her eyes.  “What?  Me?  Well I never!”

Mark politely laughed at this playful sibling rivalry.

They found a table, checked the menu, and ordered their food.  Mark didn't speak much, though Maryanne somehow sensed he was a man of few words, unlike John or her ex-husband, as opposed to being shy or socially inept.  The sisters also had an inkling that he had something he wanted to say.

Maryanne broke the awkward silence.  “So tell me something about yourself, Mr. Denison.”

“You can call me Mark.”

“Okay, Mark.”  Maryanne smiled.

“I guarantee you I’ll bore you to death.  I’m not an interesting person, trust me!”

“Somehow I don’t think so, Mr. Denison…I mean Mark.”  Jenny kept an eye on her sister’s demeanor after this exuberant response.  Is she flirting?

“Well, let’s see. I install and repair air conditioning units.  I’ve been doing this for…uh…a while now.  It’s my brother’s business, J&D.”

“Do you live here in Flaherty?” asked Jenny.

“Actually I'm up in Eugene.  We go all over the place.”

“You say for a while.  What did you do before this job?” asked Maryanne.

“You have a good ear.  I retired from the military about five years ago.”

“I knew it!  I knew you were in the military.”

“What gave it away?” he asked Maryanne.

“I dunno.  You just have a bearing about you.”

“A bearing?”

“A military bearing.”

“Hmm. Well, I’ll have to work on that.”

“No, it’s fine.  Our uncle Dennis and Gavin’s brother Tom were Marinesor should I say are Marines, Once a Marine always a Marineso we know something about military types.”

“So I’m a type, am I?”  Mark chuckled.

“Oh, I didn’t mean…”

“I know, I know.  I’m just kidding.”

“So were you in the Marines?” asked Jenny.

“Actually, I started out as a Marine when I was a stupid, snot-nosed eighteen-year-old looking for adventure and an opportunity to prove my mettle, I guess, but I ended up in the Army.  I retired as a major.  I was stationed at Fort Lewis with an armored battalion.”

“Did you go to Iraq or Afghanistan?” asked Jenny.

“Both.  Fun times.  Just sittin' in a tent in the desert.”  He paused, sat back, and rubbed the back of his neck.  “These days I’m just a heating and cooling guy.  Not the sexist job in the world, I suppose, but it pays the bills and gives me an opportunity to get out on the road.”

Mark took a swig of his black coffee.  “So how’s the healing process going?” He gestured toward Maryanne’s bandage on her arm.  “I saw you were limping a bit.”

Maryanne and Jenny noted Mark’s changing of the topic.  Once the meeting was over and they were in the car, they would talk about it.  He seemed to change the topic when we asked about his army career.  What's up with that?

“I’m doing okay.  I’ve been able to rest this past week…”

“Yes, well, we had to make you rest,” Jenny clarified, wielding a cup of coffee as she spoke.


“Listen to this, Mark.  Annie wanted to fix the house, fly to Florida, visit our mom in Ohio—you name it.”

“Hey now, it’s not often that I get an entire week off work.  I was going stir crazy at home, though, let me tell ya.”

And so the conversation continued in this vein until they finished eating.  Maryanne saw a bemused look on Mark’s face from time to time that both embarrassed her and made her smile inside.  What does he think of these crazy sisters?  What does he think of this woman who crashed into his van?  She couldn't help but detect darkness in Mark, not evil or malice, but a sad darkness.  Somehow this darkness was comforting and involved her own fate.

After the meal, the three of them went to the cashier.  Mark finally relented and let Maryanne pay for his breakfast.  What?  Are you saying saving my life isn’t worth at least a breakfast?

When Jenny excused herself to go to the restroom, leaving Maryanne and Mark in the foyer, Mark knew it was an opportunity to ask Maryanne something that had been on his mind since the “accident” at the vista point.



“Do you remember what you said when I reached for you?”


“You said something as I tried to pull you out of your car.  You remember?”

Maryanne’s mind was racing.  “No, I….”

Mark didn’t waste time in informing her, as Jenny would be back soon.  “I won’t forget it.  You said, Leave me alone and let me die!  Mark read Maryanne’s face.  “Do you remember saying that?  I wasn’t sure then, and I’m not sure now, whether you were conscious of what you were saying.”

Maryanne was searching for an answer.  “No, I wasn’t.  I said that?”

Mark nodded, just as Jenny was coming out of the restroom.  Though Maryanne always saw her sister as nosy and suspicious about everything, especially when it came to Maryanne's life, Jenny rightfully sense that Mark and her sister just had a serious discussion of some kind.

“Did I miss something?” she said.

“No, I was just…thanking Mark again for everything he did.”

“Oh, okay.”  Jenny didn’t believe it.

“Well, perhaps we’ll see each other again some time,” said Maryanne.  Even as she spoke these words, she had a feeling that she would see Mark again.  His disclosure of what she said at the vista point needed clarification or resolution.  She felt uneasy and vulnerable, yet she felt the comfort of not being alone.

“Take care,” said Mark.

On the drive home, Jenny pressed her sister.  “So what were you guys talking about when I was in the restroom, huh?”

“It’s nothing, Jenny.  Nothing.  Really!”  Maryanne knew this answer would not satisfy Jenny, especially when the latter glared at her with a look of incredulity.  “He was just saying how he was supposed to take off work on the day of the accident...By chance his brother asked him to deliver an air-conditioning unit...and...”  Maryanne hated lying to her sister.

“Yeah, I think God was protecting you that day, Annie.”

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Coastal Drive (2/8)

Upon consciousness Maryanne found herself lying in a hospital bed with bandages on her head, arms and left leg, an oxygen tube up her nose, and an IV stuck to her arm.  She could barely make out her sister’s voice just outside the door.  She eyed the place, trying to make sense of what had happened to her.  Judging from the blue tile floor, she figured she was probably at the county medical center where she had completed her nurse practicum years ago—but she couldn’t be sure.

Jenny and her husband, Maryanne’s brother-in-law Gavin, entered the room.  “Thank you so much,” Jenny said to a nurse brandishing a clipboard and walking out the door toward the hallway.

As the couple approached the bed, they did their best to disguise their worried faces with warm smiles.  “Annie?”  Only Jenny and their mom called Maryanne by this name.  “How are you?  You okay?”

Maryanne didn't respond right away, for she was still taking everything in, coming to terms with what happened, what she did or at least try to do.  Though she was a bit hazy from medication and injuries, she had no doubt why or how she had come to this state of affairs.  And of course she wasn’t about to volunteer this information, not even to her sister Jenny.

“We’re here for you, hon.”

“What happened?”  Even as Maryanne asked the question, things came into focus.  She remembered hitting a van parked at the vista point.

“You had a terrible accident, honey.”

“You don’t remember what happened?” asked Gavin.

“We wanted to see you earlier, but the doctor said…”

“That’s okay,” Maryanne interrupted Jenny.  “You drove up here from San Jose?”

“We flew in, but don’t worry about that…”

“Is Kirsten and Scott okay?”

“Kirsten is on her way, Annie.  And Scott?  Well, we’re still trying to contact him.  But he’s okay.  He wasn’t involved in your accident, if that’s what you mean.  Thank God you’re alive.  The police said that you hit a truck or something, huh?  If that truck hadn’t been there…”

“A van.”


“I hit a white van.  I remember now.”

“What happened?” asked Jenny.  “Can you talk about it?”

“I…How long have I been here?”

“Almost twenty-four hours,” responded Gavin.  “They brought you here yesterday afternoon, around 5pm.”

"We got here this morning, Annie," said Jenny.

Maryanne was intent, at least for the moment, on answering her sister's question about the accident.  “I was reaching for some papers from work on the passenger seat," she lied.  “I guess I wasn’t paying attention and lost control of the wheel.”

Gavin wore an incredulous face.  “Maryanne,” he started in a gentle tone, “the doctor said that you had some drugs in your system?”

“Gavin!” Jenny scolded her husband.

“I’m just asking?” he responded sheepishly.

Gavin’s comment reminded Maryanne of a penchant for insensitivity, a trait that did not endear the software designer to her—as well as his red hair—when Jenny started dating him. Only about two years into her sister’s marriage did she warm to Gavin; what she perceived as arrogance was really just an awkward outer shell that hid a kind and sincere person. Gavin, she came to realize, served as a steady anchor in Jenny’s life.

“Yes, I’ve been taking some meds for my headaches…”

At this moment Kirsten and Scott, Maryanne’s children, entered the room.

“Annie, look who’s here,” Jenny said, smiling and motioning toward her niece and nephew.

“Hi mom,” said Kirsten.  “I love you.”  Scott said nothing.

“I love you too, both of you.  I’m sorry this happened.”

“Mom, don’t be dumb.  It’s not your fault.”

“I wasn’t paying attention to the road…”

“It doesn’t matter, mom.”

“Yeah, it doesn’t matter,” Scott chimed in.  He was trying to maintain a cool exterior, as eighteen-year-old boys sometimes do.

“You’re going to be okay, mom,” reassured Kirsten.  “Carla wanted me to tell you that she's praying for you...the Brentons too.”  Maryanne's daughter was referring to good friends, whom you'll meet soon enough.

Maryanne had never seen her daughter in this “nurturing” role, and indeed found solace in her words.  Suddenly, the problems that they had in the past couple of years–the pregnancy, the boyfriend, going out every nightseemed petty and a waste of precious time.

Jenny proceeded to explain to her sister that she would probably be able to leave tomorrow morning, but that she or Gavin would stay with her, if not in the room then at least downstairs.  If she needed anything, anything at all...

“Oh, I almost forgot, mom,” Kirsten interrupted.  “There’s someone in the waiting area.”

“What?  Who?”

“A man…”

“John?”  Maryanne paradoxically had a mingling of hope and resignation in her voice.

“No, not John, mom.”

“Cal?”  As a side note, Cal is my name, and I’m touched she thought of me, for I am just a friend from work.  I wish I could have been there for her, but I was with my mother in Minnesota at the time.  I’ll tell you something about myself later.

“No.  I don’t know his name.  I think he’s the guy that you hit—his car I mean.  He’s okay, it seems.”

Gavin spoke up.  “A baseball cap, right?  Seattle Seahawk hat?”

Kirsten and Scott nodded.

“Yeah, his name is, um, Mark, the guy who pulled you out of the car.”

“Oh.”  Maryanne seemed to drift away, startling her daughter.

“Mom?”  Maryanne didn’t respond to her daughter.

Jenny stuck her head out into the hallway.  “Nurse?  Anyone?”

“I’m okay…”  Maryanne came back to consciousness.

The doctor and a nurse rushed into the room and checked her vitals.  “What happened?”

“I’m okay, really,” responded Maryanne in a faint voice.

“She seemed to lose consciousness for a moment,” explained Jenny.

“I was just tired.  I’m really okay,” insisted Maryanne.

“Still, you should be getting some rest,” said the doctor, a 40ish Chinese-American woman with a thick accent.

“She’s right,” said Gavin.  “She’ll be fine.”

Jenny whispered to Gavin that they should leave her sister to have a few moments with her children.  She knew that the presence of Kirsten and Scott together with their mother was a rare occurrence these days and figured that some good could come out of Maryanne’s accident.  Gavin nodded in agreement.  She took the doctor aside and requested a bit more time for mom to be with her kids.  She agreed.

As Jenny and Gavin made their way to the waiting room, they saw a lone figure wearing a Seattle Seahawk visor.  He was in his late forties, of a medium build and height, and had a full head of sandy blond hair greying at the edges. 

“Mark, right?” called out Gavin.

“Hello again!”

“Oh I’m sorry. Are you wanting to speak to my sister? You’ve been waiting here a while, haven’t you?”

“I want to make sure she’s okay.”

“We can’t thank you enough for pulling Maryanne out and staying with her until the EMTs arrived,” said Gavin. He had met Mark earlier, after the police informed him and Jenny of Mark’s efforts in saving her life. “I shudder to think if her car went over the edge. I’m sure that crossed your mind, no?”

“Yes, well, I assure you that I’m not here because I need recognition. I just…”

“Oh, I know that,” responded Jenny, perceiving that Mark felt slighted by such a suggestion. “But I’m sure my sister wants to talk to you. She’s with her kids right now and needs her rest, but tomorrow perhaps.”

“I’m sure the insurance will take care of the damages…” started Gavin.

“I’m not worried about that. It’s a company van.”

“I think Maryanne would love to see you tomorrow,” continued Jenny. “Late morning, say?”

“That’s fine. I can get the morning off.”

“You okay, Mark?” asked Gavin. “What was your last name?”


“After what you’ve been through, poor guy, I’m surprised you can go back to work.”

“Well, I still gotta pay the bills,” Mark said with a wry face. “Besides,” he added in a quieter voice, “I’ve been through worse.”

I've been through worse.  Gavin and Jenny only briefly registered this odd response.

The two men exchanged numbers and walked to their cars.

Mark Denison knew something about Maryanne’s accident, something that haunted him.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Death by PowerPoint

Ever hear of "death by PowerPoint"?  Well, I evidently died today, and by divine providence or perhaps a cruel twist of fate my wraith lives on to tell the sad tale.  Army superiors subjected me and some other hapless, uniformed primates to the worst and most useless block of instruction known to man.  The instructors read the slides verbatim, spoke in monotone, and expounded upon such basic information that even a baboon would take offense.  There's nothing like seeing the waste of tax dollars through ineptitude, ill-preparation, and an uncanny ability to make straightforward information an excruciating experience.  Oh well.  At least I could sit in an air-conditioned room throughout the day.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Coastal Drive (1/8)

Part I
Picture the scene, if you can, for in a moment you’ll duly note the incongruity of the physical landscape and the emotional state of our heroine.  It’s a sunny day, with an unblemished azure sky that mirrors the glistening ocean below.  If you look carefully, you might see a dolphin or two bobbing up and down in the sparkling water.  So far, everything is fine.  Maryanne is taking a stretch of the Oregon Coast Highway from her workplace, the Siebeck Memorial Veteran’s Hospital, to her humble ranch house in a sleepy village of horse properties and vineyards about sixteen miles south.

On her right, sand dunes and succulent ground cover separate the two-lane road from the grey pebble beach.  June brings out a handful of determined surfers who otherwise avoid the chilly waters this far north; the surf is disappointing today, despite a promising forecast on last night’s local news that brought them here this morning.  The young, bleached-blond men have parked their vehicles at the side of the highway, and Maryanne, not paying attention to anything but her imminent fate and the sad set of circumstances that will have led to it, nearly hits one of them, a polka dot Volkswagen van.

On her left, a small mountain range covered in thick coastal vegetation, featuring arresting patches of bright yellow and vermillion flowers, reaches upward toward a rock facing that serves as a launching pad for daring sky glider enthusiasts on more windy days than this one.  Another mile or two up the road, on the inland side, the green hillsides will briefly give way to marshlands and a lagoon where fat and drunken urbanites noisily enjoy their summer vacation.  I say briefly, for Maryanne has her foot heavy on the pedal.

If you were to pull to the side of the road, trudge your way through the dunes, and take the well-trod path along a promontory all the way to the end, you would reach a bridge-like crag overlooking a cove.  There you would find unspeakable serenity in the spray of mist during high tide, the familiar sound of seagulls above, and the scent of wildflowers that carpet this rocky terrain.  By contrast, inside Maryanne’s blue Jeep Cherokee sits an agitated 41-year-old woman at the steering wheel, tears streaming down her cheeks, as she struggles with—if not surrenders to—dark thoughts.

She’s zipping along at a healthy speed, unmindful of the signposts as well as stray surfer vans.  The vast blue horizon and the sounds of the breaking waves, I might note, have always been a source of contentment for Maryanne, ever since she arrived in the area from the Midwest some twenty years ago, with a wayward husband and two small children in tow.  The coastal magic that everyone talks about has evidently lost its charm with her—at least today.  The ocean no longer speaks to her, for she has had enough with living.

Only a few miles from Maryanne’s left turn off the highway is an unmarked, gravel turn-out.  A short walk leads to a vista point.  Here nature lovers take the time to gawk at the rocky shoreline and take in the sea air.  Maryanne will be coming upon it in a few minutes.  It’s the only spot along the road without the steel guard rail.  At the vista itself, a knee-length stonewall keeps people from meandering to the edge with their digital camera, unmindful of a vertical 300-feet drop-off, and falling headlong toward their death onto the unforgiving shoreline below.

Maryanne has been to this site twice before.  The last time, about two months ago, she stood arm and arm with John, a prosperous real estate agent from Eugene.  John was not just any guy; he was her world, the first person she fell in love with since her divorce, if not the only person she every truly loved.  Maryanne hadn’t been looking for love, not consciously anyway.  In his arms she felt content and knew she had found her soulmate.  Or so it seemed.  Unfortunately, John was not interested in a long-term relationship and told her so only hours ago.  This news couldn’t come at a worse time for Maryanne.

Perhaps a little background information is in order here.  Maryanne has been a nurse for some seventeen years.  She’s raised two children by herself after her divorce from her husband Chuck in 2003.  She managed to complete her BS degree in nursing through long nights and hard-earned dollars, but her career opportunities have not improved and now she's saddled with even more debt than Chuck had left with her.  Her daughter Kirsten got pregnant barely into her first year of college in Portland.  The conditions surrounding her pregnancy, and regretful words exchanged after the miscarriage, made their relationship, to say the least, difficult.  The unfortunate meddling of the boyfriend's parents certainly didn't help.  Kirsten lived with her father for a time, but now she's renting a room near the university.

Maryanne's estranged son Scott, having graduated from high school last year, is living at his girlfriend’s house, smoking pot, and cheating on his girlfriend.  He was her baby and she still can't figure out what went wrong.  Only in the past few months did she come to the painful observation that the boy, not long after puberty, took after his father.

Maryanne has been taking antidepressants, though she knows better.  Her sister Jenny, a fraternal twin who understands her better than anyone, noticed this gradual descent into the abyss, as she phrases it, but took hope in Maryanne’s relationship with John.  Things seemed to get better for Maryanne after meeting him, and Jenny has been cautiously optimistic.  But now John’s change of heart has Maryanne spinning out of control on a collision course.

She’s coming upon the vista point.  She wants an end to her pain and misery.  Maryanne closes her eyes.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

We Are Who We Are

Some people take issue with same-sex marriage.  They want the Constitution to specify that the institution of marriage, in accordance with their biblical viewpoint, is strictly a relationship between a man and a woman.   I really don’t want to get into this debate, yet I find myself perplexed by the whole thing.  As many of my readers know, my lesbian moms raised me since I was two years old and I definitely turned out okay.  Am I gay?  No.  And it wouldn’t matter if I were.  The point I’m making is that we are who we are, mostly a product of genetics.  The fact that my moms were bonobos to boot, well, that didn't make me want to go around and have sex with non-human primates.  Why can't we just accept each other?  Geesh.