There’s a box in the bottom of a closet. I found myself digging through it on Friday, searching for a poem about a scarf that I had written a year ago. It was a good poem, I thought, and made me think I might try to write more. That’s when I thought about starting this blog. Because of the quality of that poem about a scarf.
I couldn’t find the poem, but looking through that box, reading the words she wrote for me. Love poems and letters and… A jar of thoughts. So much more. She wrote them for me. And now this blog, almost entirely for her. Some beautiful thoughts of love and desire. I’ve now opened all the previous posts on this blog. Read it and weep. Beautiful thoughts of love and longing and desire.
Or was it limerence? What was it? What was it all for? Depression? Really? I swear, I thought, I believed, I wished, I hoped, in every moment, every word, every touch, every glance, I felt this was more.
The decision. The difficult decision. The dissolution of the family unit. My parents divorced when I was just about to turn ten. I don’t think much about the psychological effects it had on me, except to acknowledge that it had psychological effects on me. I don’t want to blame my behaviour on my parents, but I can’t help it. My behaviour is so fucked up, it’s hard to take responsibility for it. It’s not my fault, it’s my parents, it’s my wifes, it’s my kids, it’s the other woman, it’s the alcohol. None of that is true, of course. It’s me. It’s all my fault, and I’m very sorry.
I’ve known my wife for twenty years. It was twenty years ago on December 1, 2001 that we first went out and stayed up all night dancing and talking about the Beatles. Twenty years is a long time, but it feels like yesterday sometimes. I went home for Christmas that year, but came back early to be with her on New Year’s Eve. We wore red underwear, as is the tradition here. For good luck.
My marriage proposal in 2004 was a surprise to us both. We were in the United States, visiting New York City with my sister and her husband. We went to the top of the Empire State Building, and it suddenly seemed to me to be the moment. We bought a flat together in 2005 and I spent a year painting and remodeling things before our wedding in June of 2006. We went to Paris for our honeymoon. Then across the United States, all the way to Hawaii to see U2 and Pearl Jam in concert together in Honalulu. I feel like I’m talking about different people. I guess I am. We were different then.
Our son came in 2007. The daughter in 2009. And then the third, another daughter, the Christmas surprise, in 2011. She turns ten the day after Christmas. The reason why we tried to stay together in these last few years is in some ways the reason we are breaking up. So, this isn’t my parents’ fault, it’s my kids’ fault. Three children in 4 years is a massive task. When I congratulate friends on their second child, I tell them, Stop there. The third one killed us. Just thinking about the amount of time, work, care, effort, parenting…everything, that went into having a 1, 3 and 5 year old. Or a 5, 7 and 9 year old. A 9, 11 and 13 year old. The endless parenting. And we lost each other in there somewhere. We would fight about it, quite often…the lack of intimacy (we had one child or another sleeping in our bed for over 5 years). The division of labor. The decision making. The stress. In 2012, with the small one not yet one year old, I started to wake up in the morning, around 5am, thinking I was having a heart attack. One evening, I went to the emergency room thinking I was having a heart attack. One afternoon, just before the end of the school day, I left to go to the emergency room again. I had tests done, and was told I was having anxiety attacks. The stress of the morning routine, getting the kids up and fed and dressed and to school. And then the anxiety about the coming evening. I started going swimming at lunch time, trying to get more exercise. Taking this personal time just made my wife resentful and led to more stress. I would wake up at 6 am on Sundays to go running and be home before the kids woke up. But we were still arguing alot…we’ve always argued alot…right now it feels like that’s all we did, but certainly, there were happy moments. Family moments and memories. My wife has this way of arguing, though, that not only overwhelms in its ferocity, but undercuts and destroys any positive thing that an agreement might be built upon. She is the type to use “always” and “never” all the time. You NEVER do this or that. Things would just explode sometimes. And our terrible sex life was a big part of it.
Then, in 2018, I had an affair. A deeply emotional one. So, if I had been distant BEFORE, imagine. This coincided with a year of setbacks, both professionally and personally for my wife, which she now never fails to remind me about, exagerrating there severity and my lack of support. Twisting the actual events to fit her narrative. But, she is essentially right, of course. I was having an affair. I spent more time WhatsApping the other woman than I did helping my children with their homework, for example. That sounds bad enough, but to hear my wife say it, over and over…it just gets worse everytime. I won’t go into the details of the affair, or the other woman. There have been enough of that in this blog. I fell in love with her, hopelessly, but couldn’t bring myself to admit it. I was a coward and a fool. When she needed me, I couldn’t go. And when I wanted her, it was too late.
The first time I kissed her, we were at the beach, in the water, and when we got out, her husband called. This is within minutes of our first kiss, and she immediately got very scared and we gathered our things and left, and I clearly remember that drive back to the city, even where I was on the highway when it occured to me that my marriage breaking up for an affair is one thing, but breaking up someone else’s marriage is quite another. She eventually got caught, many many months later, but that didn’t stop the affair. And at one point in June of 2019, there was a phone conversation and she asked what we were going to do. I should have, could have told my wife and she, maybe, we’ll never know, could have left her husband. But I didn’t. We didn’t have a plan. By some cosmic connection, or divine intervention, we crossed paths, with our families, in a shopping mall, and this way reconnected in July 2019 for some days at the beach. In the meantime, my marriage had deteriorated to the point that we separated at the end of August in 2019, but she still didn’t know about the affair. Finally, a couple weeks later, after a phone call from the other woman’s husband, I stayed up all night contemplating how I had damaged two marriages. The next day I confessed to the relationship with the other woman.
It’s strange to think about life before 2018. The last three years have been just out of hand. The anxiety attacks returned during 2018, from the guilt and fear of the affair. Insomnia like I never had, waking up at 4:30 each morning. I stopped exercising and started drinking and smoking a lot more. Then, in September 2019, when I confessed, and we separated, I stopped drinking and smoking. I figured if I started I wouldn’t stop. This is when I hoped the other woman and I could start a new life together. I asked, but it was too late. We were so close to a new life together, but it couldn’t happen. We had serious talks about it as our relationship continued. Not physically, but ever more deeper emotionally as the repurcussions of our relationship rolled over us and our families and we still felt that connection, but it was too late. And my mom became ill and my wife said at Christmas that we would start again for the new year and moved back home. Instead of starting again, the first thing I did when I returned to school was meet the other woman in a bar, get very sexy with her in the bathroom, stay up all night thinking about what the hell I was doing and then ask her, again, the next day, to consider leaving her husband. But it couldn’t be. And this wouldn’t be the last time I’d ask her. It would be the last time we touched each other like that, though. Our phones could no longer be used to communicate, so we exchanged notebooks. At one point, my daughter saw one of them. This would be relevant later. It’s now March 13, and the city and school is going into Covid-19 lockdown. We kissed goodbye and have not kissed since.
We would steal some moments during the lockdown. Continue to share songs and messages. I was showing my wife something on my phone when a Teams notification arrived from her. During lockdown, there was no where to go. Being in that house under those circumstances was unbearable. All these details are not really necessary or even relevant. It’s sufficient to say that I had an affair that grew into a deep and important relationship, on the verge of a new soul, that I simply could not stop wanting. I still do! And I know how crazy that is, because as time passes, our connection is less and less and less and…well, almost nothing. Maybe it’s not crazy, maybe it was love. I know that she had a similar experience in lockdown, her husband seeing some email, or message I may have written and deleted, I’m not sure. They had a big fight. So we both, to a certain extent, were still sharing experiences, betraying our spouses, still seeking some connection, still paying the terrible price of getting caught. Why, at any point we didn’t just agree to go forward together…well, it doesn’t matter…we didn’t. I wonder how she feels about this now.
I’m sorry that this has drifted into a summary of the intense love affair and relationship that led to the end of my marriage, when really, I just meant to talk about the end of my marriage. We bought a second house about a year ago. It was at this time that I again returned to the other woman to know, for sure, that there was no future. She said so in those very words. I bought the house with my wife. As distant and broken together as ever, but it was about to get much worse. The house purchase was very stressful. We both had so many doubts and problems and, then of course, there’s paperwork and money and….it was during this time that we were having a shouting match, again, about my affair, we would fight so much, they all seem to meld together, but some were worse than others, with bags packed, suicide threatened and then physical violence…but this one terrible fight, the children were there and heard everything…and my wife said, “Go ahead…tell them why were fighting!” I said, “Daddy had a girlfriend…” And my oldest daughter said, “Was it Ms. X?” and suddenly all these stories about rumors around school start coming out. And my daughter had read one of our notebooks and had kept it a secret. Teachers and students had been talking about us, and even spoken to me about it, and I was worried someone would say something to one of my children, but I should never had told them, especially like that. Soon, more and more students didn’t just suspect, but knew, because my children would tell them. It made an impossible situation even more difficult. My wife now insisted that she never teach my children. My children didn’t want her as her teacher. I tried to prevent it, but couldn’t…and my failure to prevent it caused unimaginable conflict…a downward spiral as each week, each mention of school just caused tension. It was also the most difficult school year of my life, for many varied reasons, from Covid to staff shortages to extra work…the stress. I was drinking every evening. Not coping with any of the stress and tension and…AND, the loss of the relationship, as now, I had become a very pathetic ex-lover, who wouldn’t stop trying to reconnect. And towards the end of the school year, as I again pleaded with administration to prevent her from teaching my children the next year (this year), I just felt rejected, bitter, hurt, crazy, depressed and, powerless, knowing that my wife would never get over it. Knowing that my kids will always know why mommy and daddy are fighting and daddy is sleeping on the sofa again, and the next day they go to school, and see her, maybe even have her in class. Would it be so bad if my relationship with my wife were better? Of course, but my relationship with my wife was bad, and just kept getting worse.
With the remodeling and buying things for the house to occupy our lives, and then getting new pets and new friends, there were genuine moments of normal family happiness during the past year. Too much drinking, for sure, but I was able to get control of that over the summer, and my mom came for a visit. The first night she was there, my wife disappeared, and I found her in the basement, with a candle and a bottle of wine….crying about how much things had changed, how different she felt since the last time she had seen my mom in May of 2018. My affair started in June, but my wife thinks it was September. She thinks the other woman and I had sex twice in December and twice in June, but it was more. It wasn’t a full confession. I continued to lie about not seeing her or speaking with her. Twice last year, my daughter saw us talking in school, and I told my wife, and we would fight for four days about it. It just kept going in circles. Because I kept lieing. And couldn’t stop, ever, thinking about the other woman.
The other woman was more successful than me at letting it go and staying away. She could see how messed up I was. How messed up I made her when I spoke to her about “this”. This year, we have had very very little contact. Then when we do, I mess it up somehow, or feel bad about it after for upsetting her. So we don’t talk anymore. But my marriage is ending anyway because of the ghost of her that haunts me. I wrote a Scary Story about this at Halloween. Which brings me to this blog.
I don’t remember how much it cost, but I bought it in December last year, during Christmas vacation, I think, in large part inspired by the other woman, who also has a blog about books. But I didn’t start writing until March. The first poem was about her, called Butterfly. And I showed her the blog. And then, another downward spiral and I ended up writing things directly to her…rather than about her. I know she saw some of these things because she said I was cruel in some posts in June which I wrote as if I was writing to her, when I was bitter and out of my mind with stress and mental health problems and about her teaching my children again this year. But make no mistake. This whole blog is about her. In the three previous years, I wrote documents, like long journals, recounting the events. In 2021 I’ve used this blog that way, as like a journal of what’s happening. Of what’s happening INSIDE. And…well, if you look at past posts…it’s clearly obvious, if this is what has been happening inside me, than it’s not surprising that what’s happening outside, in my marriage, has occured. I am more emotionally invested in writing here than I am to my wife. I showed my wife this blog when I first created it, and she never looked at it. Not once. So, I don’t know who looks at it. No one, I suspect, but sometimes I see that someone has liked something, or started following. Well, to whoever is out there…I’m going to stop.
I need to stop posting for awhile, to get my head together. I’m getting a divorce, in large part because I’ve been in love with someone (who doesn’t want to talk to me!), and also because I put the feelings I can’t share with my wife into this blog, in the hope that another might read it and come talk to me, knowing that if she DOES read it, she’d be crazy to come talk to me. I’m obviously crazy. It doesn’t make any sense.
So, we’ll see where the blog goes. I enjoy writing, and think I’m actually getting better. There are some strong, emotive posts here. Here’s what I have to say about the end of the marriage. On Halloween, just like in the Scary Story, we had a party. At one point, I left the party, and went upstairs in our house where I consumed two beers and two cigarettes, went to the bathroom for not a short time, and chatted with my sister, sending photos of the party and decorations I had made. When I came back to the party, it was 40 minutes later and I got a very angry look from my wife. Again, what might seem like normal problems in a marriage are not normal in dysfuncional marriages and only fuel the dysfuncion. But, as I’ve tried to make clear above, I feel I’m the main reason for the dysfuncion. I’m still thinking about this ghost and poems and songs for a ghost. Anyway, we fought going to bed. Actually, I think that was the last night we slept together. Halloween. We have fought, to the point of physical violence, all month. I was going to leave once. I was getting kicked out another time. And then another. I stopped exercising and took up drinking and smoking everynight again. When not arguing, there is just a cold tension and…well, it’s terrible. Last weekend, I was either drunk or drinking the entire time, and for some reason, my wife said, “I was going to propose having sex, but I can see you’re blind drunk.” And I agreed. The next morning I apologized, but said I was really surprised as well, I’m drinking because I’m sad and depressed with the situation, and didn’t expect that to happen since we don’t even talk or look at each other. But it was too late. Fitting that the last of it was about me not wanting to have sex.
She spoke with lawyers and has everything all figured out. All I have figured out is that I’m going to stop drinking and smoking and writing this blog for awhile. I’ve written too much. I’ve got work to do. The rest of my life is happening. Divorce is forever. Forever never be the same. What am I going to do? And what about the children? I tried to hold on to a future that is now not going to happen. I have no idea what’s going to happen. I’m getting a divorce, and will spend the rest of my life trying to understand what happened. I had an affair… A love affair… Not lunchtime entertainment… A relationship that changed the course of my entire life and thst of my family. And I see that woman at school every day.
I didn’t mean to write so much here in this post about the relationship with the other woman, even though most of this blog is about my relationship with the other woman and even though there is no relationship with the other woman besides what I’m not letting go of in my own screwed up head. There were other factors. Staying together for the kids never works. Also, my wife had told me when we separated three years ago that she had been with another man, but for some reason, during some fight this month, she revealed that, in fact, she had not been with another man. She was making it up to…make me jealous, I guess. I don’t know. So, there’s a lot more dysfunction and difficulties than just my own emotional distance because of my love and desire for a ghost. My wife and I had problems before that affair. That’s why affairs happen. That and my own insecurities and self-destructive behaviour. Would we be getting divorced if I hadn’t had the affair? Who knows. Would we be getting divorce if I didn’t leave the party for 40 minutes? If we didn’t have that third child? If we stuck with the counseling? If…if…if….I don’t know. My marriage of 15 years and relationship with a strong, beautiful woman with whom I have shared the last 20 years, through thick and thin, richer or poorer, better or worse…until death or divorce do us part is ending for so many reasons, it’s difficult to pick one, but an affair, and the emotional connection to another woman certainly applifies all the rest. Sadly, besides the children, and not wanting to disappoint the families and not being with the children and…god, I don’t want to not be with my children… and being afraid of being old and alone and missing my children and not having a big house or enough money for my children and their children, we couldn’t find any other reasons to stay together.
The children. I speak to my father maybe twice a year. Is this because of the divorce? Is this my future relationship with my children? I fear it is. I fear it is. The fear of losing their trust and respect. They heard those fights. It was all my fault. And I’m very sorry.
To love and be loved. The desire to unite. To be with someone to talk, touch, feel, share, be. Give and receive. Come talk to me. Cuppiodisolivi. Dissolve in decadence and destruction. Self-destruct. But, God, the consequence. The destruction caused by desire. Was the desire to destruct? The deepest dive into my desire for the forbidden, unobtainable, unrequited love, leads to no other end but that I am disturbed and self-destructive, destructing all desire, desiring what I can’t have. Expulsed from the kingdom of heaven, the garden of eden. For forbidden fruit.
Like a magnet and all other forces of nature. A chemical connection. All five senses. There was a Celebration of the Senses, a gift. There was a Celebration of Desire, dancing in the dark, the last time we made love. We tried. It didn’t work. That’s it. If only. The feelings. The desire. The waves and tides and the undertow of this ocean inside, an ocean in disguise, undone by desire.
The delicate construct of who we are. The desire to be better, happier, fulfilled, knowing we never will. We tried. It didn’t work. That’s it and life goes on. Time waits for no one. It’s gone. Whoever you were pretending to be. Gone. Whoever you wanted to be. Gone. Whoever you desired. Gone. The smell of your perfume. The tilt of your head. The nape of your neck. The swerve of your smile. The shape of your shoulders. The flower in your hair. The sound of your voice whispering my name. The scarf I slept with on the train. The truth you found inside. The love we made.
Gone. But the desire. Different than hope. Deeper than want. Oblivious to needs. This connection. This self-destruction. This desire. You say you want diamonds on a ring of gold. Our story to remain untold. Your love not to grow cold. You taught me desire, but I didn’t learn. You left it to die, while mine still burned. Deception and destruction I know all too well. My desire for you has sent me to hell.
The clock ticks too loudly in this lonesome house that used to be a home. But it ticks away, time. While the value, usefulness and normal functioning of everything around it, everything that thinks about these things, me, is dimished and lost to the point of no return. That ticking clock. The damage done. How long can it go on? When is enough enough? When is the detrimental effect of the damage greater than the memories and wishes of better days? It’s now. Now. That’s what the clicking clock says. It’s now. The damage is happening now. Where did it come from? That’s before. Where will it lead? That’s the future. But now, the clock ticks, the damage is here, right now. Listen to it. A bomb has gone off. A bell has tolled. Tick tick tick tick…boom.
It’s some time after that original post, attempted poem, but it got me thinking, as I listen to the rainfall like the ticking of the clock, about some music I heard many years ago that was probably in my subconscious as I wrote it. I liked this band. Listened to them a lot. No idea what ever happened to them. And they could say the same about me. Tick tick tick tick tick… Boom.
In any case. The damage of having your head in the sand…it’s too late. It’s too soon. It’s too late. It’s now. It’s raining like crazy. Erosion and or cleansing of lives happening now. Tick tick tick tick tick tick…and then it’s too late. Nothing but sorries and sorrows and pouring rain. And damage. Boom.
I took a drive today. Wow, that was a big fight. It seems I’m incapable of speaking to people without making them mad. It’s a sad situation. So, I get in my car and drive. Fast. Then I saw the plane and things seemed ok . Just ok.
Here’s a random song about driving fast away from a bad situation. It sounds so much better on the highway at 130 km/h in the rain:
And here is Eddie Vedder’s new song. This is the third time of probably 10,000 that I’ll listen to it. Right now, though, I’m not sure what it’s about, except that it sounds nice on a rainy car drive:
And here’s another song that I love that I heard on my drive away from everything. I only recorded a part of it because it’s dangerous to drive, drink, smoke, sing and record a video all at the same time. As you can see, I was almost hit by a plane:
Here’s me singing that song sometime a long time ago, but it’s still the same:
And, well, I could go on and on, but I tend to say too much, so I’ll leave it there. Enjoy the random music. It’s good music. I drove around for a couple hours and felt better, but I wish talking to me didn’t make people crazy mad, because I would really like to talk to someone.
In 1990, outside the cafeteria of my college, I saw a job posted on a bulletin board full of similar notices about bikes lost or for sale or roomates wanted or whatever. Remember bulletin boards? It was a long, long time ago, but I remember the notice had a heart shaped symbol with an M inside of it, and said MainSpring House was looking for someone to answer the phone and help out in the kitchen on Saturdays. I had never heard of MainSpring House, but was interested in a job, so I called and was asked to come that same afternoon. I met Bill. I filled out an application form and got a tour of the place. It’s an old, very, very big house, there’s no other way to describe it. Brockton had once been a booming industrial town, known for shoe factories, and this must have been built by a shoe factory owner.
One half of the house was for families and the other was for single men who had to leave each day and come back at 4:30 to have a shower, supper and spend the night in a big dorm room with 50 beds. Homelessness had exploded in the 1980s, as Reaganomics shrank the middle class, cut social service programs and closed hospitals for mentally ill patients. Many of the people most hurt by these policies were minorities and Vietnam vetrans. I met alot of Vietnam veterans in my work with the homeless. I was studying history at university, and, because of my experience at MainSpring, I dedicated my senior thesis to homelessness. The Reagan years were brutal. Homelessness and Vietnam veterans were in the news all the time, (remember Rambo?) and presented serious economic and social issues that I was in the right place and time to study and get personally involved with. It changed my life.
I would work from 4 to midnight, first screening the guys who came through the door, getting a name and assigning a bed and a towel. Then I would go upstairs to the dorm and help the volunteers who had come to assist with the meal that evening. Then it was a lot of babysitting, checking guys in and out for their Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, maybe setting out some leftover food, intervening in any conflicts, breaking up fights, and mostly, getting to know hundreds of homeless men. Brockton is a famously “rough” town. These were men who were living HARD fucking lives with no money and no place to go. I heard some crazy, incredible stories about how people end up on the street and how they survive. Also, as my time working there went on, I began working with the families on the other side, mostly young women and their children. Like with the men, I would mostly babysit, but also help cook and fold laundry and just hang around and watch t.v. and laugh at In Living Color.
I worked there for over three years. I would usually work three days a week from 4 to 12 and then on Saturday in the family unit from 9 to 3. I don’t know how to explain how unique this experience was. I was in university, but spending most of my time at MainSpring. None of my friends or roomates in the priviledged, protected bubble of campus university life had any clue about this hard core underside of the city. I became particularly close with one man named Dani, a very stereotypical Boston Irish, who had a very short temper and could get very violent, very quickly. And he hated black people. Think of the cultural moment, with rap starting to get popular, the Rodney King riots…etc…we met one Saturday as I was on the way home and he was coming to wait in the intake line, and we went for a walk around the railroad tracks and we talked about university and having some dignity. That was a big thing to him. Dignity. And respect. And we agreed that we respected each other, and became good friends, lots of interesting conversation and salty Irish jokes.
I became a bit of a leader at MainSpring. I was young and strong and thought I could do anything. I hadn’t really failed at anything in life, yet. Funny to think back on that now. I was so young, but I would organize all the volunteers and really was a leader on the staff. There were some weekends, especially during the summer, when other staff would go on vacation, when I would work almost the entire weekend. I would work from 4pm on Friday to 8am Saturday morning, sleep there, and then do the same the next night….and then the next night…and then go back to my dorm on campus at 8 am monday morning. I would work 48 hours between 4 on Friday afternoon to 8 am Monday morning. I was making about 8 dollars an hour. I was 20. I was also a full time student, doing my student teaching, playing ice hockey, student government, even working other jobs in the summer.
It was on one of those double shift nights when a woman came to the shelter in the middle of the night. We didn’t have a place for her. I let her sit in the chair in the waiting room all night. When I left at midnight, I told her I’d take her to the train station…the “T”. On the way there, she said she couldn’t go back to the shelter she had been staying in in Boston. They had kicked her out for drugs. “So why are we going to the T station?” She had no idea what to do or where to go. I ended up calling my father. Remember it’s after midnight, and he lived an hour away. We slept at my Dad’s apartment and the next day I drove her, and my Dad (it was Father’s Day) back up to Boston and to the shelter she had been kicked out of to see if we could help. They let her back in. My Dad still talks about that Father’s Day, bringing this young black woman back to the shelter for battered women and convincing them to let her stay.
When I did my student teaching in the fall of ’91, I had the realization that maybe I should explore the world a bit before getting a teaching job. The grind of student teaching, and a generous and caring professor and advisor, convinced me to put teaching on the back burner and to continue with the social work experience. I was set to start working full time at MainSpring, but I still remember being in this advisor’s office, talking about my experience and my future and he said, “Wait a second, I was talking with a professor the other night about this….volunteer program…” and right then he picked up the phone and called the other professor and ten minutes later I was learning about the Holy Cross Associates, and this prof said that, based on my experience in MainSpring, he would certainly recommend me to the program, and was very confident I would be selected. I was. And I said goodbye to MainSpring. They hired Dani to take my place.
The Holy Cross Associates https://catholicvolunteernetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/DomesticBrochure-HCA.pdf sent me to Manitou Springs, Colorado. https://manitousprings.org/ I worked in a residental school for children who had been taken out of their home due to abuse, neglect or parents going to jail. Mostly abuse. It was a very sad, difficult place to work, but we tried to make it as much of a “school” as possible. The kids were really emotionally damaged. There were lots of therapy sessions and other interventions and training on how to restrain kids and all that stuff. I did whatever I could do to help, but I mostly kept my distance from everything and everybody. I was quite overwhelmed by the whole thing, and also, I was discovering the mountains, which occupied my thinking most of the time. The spiritual experience, discovering a new world. It was a year that changed my life, and it would not have been possible if I hadn’t answered that job notice on the bulletin board. Crazy.
It was the year in Colorado that directly led to my second year of volunteer service with Andre House in Berkeley/Oakland, California. It was an amazing opportunity to return to working with the homeless, while continuing my age of discovery. Andre House, fittingly, was a place where homeless men who had spent time at shelters like MainSpring, could live rent free while we helped them get clean and find a job and save some money. There were only six beds. Myself and a guy named Mike, who had been in the Navy and seemed so much older and mature than me (He was 27! He joined the FBI!). We lived there and apart from helping our six guests and taking care of the house, we would spend our days organizing other programs, like Project Housewarming, which was picking up donated furniture and food and delivering it to people who needed it. Or Night in the Streets, which, just like it says, meant bringing food and clothes out into the Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco streets to find the homeless people who preferred to live rough than go to a shelter. And on another night of the week we would have Surprise Night, picking up children from poor households, usually in East Oakland, and bringing them someplace for a meal and a surprise….like a movie, or McDonalds, or a picnic in the park, or the circus, or…one time, the airport, which was very, very fun. It was a full on, full time, 24 hour a day job. I got one day a week off, and would usually go camping. I was paid 120 dollars a month.
At Andre House, obviously, the contact and connection with the guys was much deeper. I lived with them. And often, if they didn’t have their own job, they would help us with those projects, so we were working together. And they could stay for as long as they needed to, but had to really be working on their recovery. One guy had been there for 8 or 9 months when I started, and 3 months later we decided he had to find another situation. When we told him, he disappeared. We cleaned out his closet and the boxes under his bed. You won’t believe it, but we found over $8,000 in his belongings. He was receiving disability checks for a nervous breakdown he had gone through that led to his homelessness. It seems he would cash the check and, I don’t know….just stuff the money in his pockets and in envelopes and forget about it. We put the money into an account, but never heard from him again, then one day delivering a box of food, we saw him in the Tenderloin, in San Francisco, and when he saw us he quickly took off and got lost in the crowd.
San Francisco is FULL of homeless people. It is quite striking when you actually see it and dig deeper into it. The Bay Area is a mild climate and has a lot of social services, due in part to more liberal politics, I guess. But more than the homelessness, it was the stark poverty of East Oakland that I remember. We would deliver food and furniture to people, and see their situation. The gangs, guns, drugs. I knew a disabled boy named Blue, disabled because his mom was addicted to crack, who could do little more than shout, he couldn’t really walk or sit up by himself, but he would make a gun with his fingers and shoot anyone in his sights, shouting BANG BANG!
San Francisco is also famous for being the gay capital of the U. S. I got involved with organizations that would ask for our help to reach gay men to pass out condoms and try to get clean needles to heroin addicts. Remember how huge AIDS was in 1993? I watched Philadelphia in the cinema with a group of homeless gay men… And cried at the end. That brutal end.
I got pulled over by the police when I was delivering furniture one morning because, the cop said, “The only white people we see in East Oakland are here buying drugs. And you don’t have your seatbelt on.” I did have my seatbelt on. I was handcuffed and put in the back of the police car while they searched for the drugs and checked my paperwork. I certainly looked like I might have bought drugs. I hadn’t had a hair cut for two years. The height of grunge in the biggest gangsta paradise outside of South Central L.A….
At some point during my year at Andre House, we applied for and received a grant to purchase a new, bigger house that we could remodel. Most of my last two months there was spent building the new Andre House. Building a house for the homeless. I wish I could go back in a time machine, just for one of those days. To see all those people again. There was one guest at Andre House, let’s call him Charles, who was a writer. He wrote poems and stories of his days on the street. He was probably close to 60 when I knew him. Maybe older. He would type at night at the dining room table, on a typewriter, and drive everyone crazy with the noise. Then during the day, he would go to the library and write in his notebook. He was such a friendly, thoughtful soul. And he was able, through some program at the library, get his work printed into small books with soft covers. I had three of his books, and wish I knew where they are now. As with most of my roomates at Andre House, we became good friends. (I just remembered New Years Eve, when all of Oakland shoots their guns into the sky, and Charles said, quoting Bob Dylan, “It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.”) (I’m remembering another night when one of the guests relapsed, came home drunk on beer, packed his things and left, and Charles said we should go find him, so we did, and found him outside a bar, but couldn’t get him to come back, and Charles gave the man a hug, and said, “Please come on home to bed, son.” and the man started crying…but didn’t come.) (I’m remembering another time when we had a bed available, and we were interviewing a man who said that he had a job, but couldn’t save any money, and we asked why and he said, “Do you know how much crack costs?” And I said “no” and he said, “Well it ain’t free.” and I said, “Are you high right now?” And he said, “What the fuck you think?” I started to get a bit nervous. Charles had overheard the conversation, and he came in and said, “I think it’s time for you to get out and get your act together, that’s what the fuck I think.”) Thank you for those moments, Charles.
Well, at some point during this year at Andre House, as I started to think of what to do next, it seemed my experience would qualify me for social work, so I started looking at social work programs, and discovered that the University of Denver had a joint Social Work and Law program…four years, and you have a law degree and masters degree in social work. I took at course at University of California, Berkeley to pass the LSATs. I applied for this program, and was accepted. And THEN, I received a letter from a profesor there who said that my application had come to their attention because of my experience and that I should consider applying for the Chancelor’s Scholarship, which the law school awards to selected applicants who have demonstrated a committment to social causes, and working in public interest law. It’s a full tuition scholarship. Free law school. I often think about this professor who had taken the time to send this letter inviting me to apply for the scholarship. A letter, not an email. The man wrote a letter.
Well, I applied for the scholarship. I asked Charles to write a recommendation, which, since the professor mentioned it in the interview, I think made the difference in my acceptance. It was a beautiful letter of recommendation. It was real and true and heartfelt and Charles was a beautiful writer and I’m forever thankful for that letter and for having known him. I was one of six people chosen to receive the full tuition scholarship, and bid a sad farewell to Andre House of California. I sincerely, strangely, don’t know what happened, but Andre House of California is no longer active. It continues in Phoenix, however. https://andrehouse.org/
So, answering that job notice to work at MainSpring started a chain of events that led to me helping a whole lot of people, and, me getting a free ride through law school. I was immediately amazed and impressed with everyone I met there. Some real big brains, and even some bigger hearts. All the Chancelor’s Scholars, about 15 of us, in a school of about 1,000 students, met early in the year, and met the Chancelor and were told about the true need for public interest lawyers to protect and defend and even fight for people’s rights. The balance of power is so unbalanced. So, I did. The first year of law school is an insane amount of work and stress, but once I got through that, the next two years were really amazing and allowed me to do some really important work for the homeless in Denver.
With other Chancellor’s Scholars, I helped start a Public Interest Law Group in the school, which worked with the Poverty Law teacher and the National Association of Public Interest Lawyers (now called Equal Justice Works https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equal_Justice_Works) to create some real community outreach programs and legal representation. We got sent to Washington D.C. for training, and then to San Francisco for a regional conference, and I was able to visit the newly relocated and renovated Andre House that I helped build!
Through the work and support of those groups, and as part of the Poverty Law class in my second year of law school, I secured an internship with the Legal Aid Foundation https://www.legalaidfoundation.org/ and, found myself becoming a leader across the city in defending and helping the homeless, meeting with community leaders, and of course, the homeless themselves, to identify where and when and how we could help them, and not just with adminstrative tasks like securing health care, housing and disability support, but addressing the systemic obstacles to…and here I think of Dani from MainSpring…basic human Dignity.
The American Civil Liberties Union is perhaps the country’s most well-known defender of civil rights. https://www.aclu.org/ In my work with the homeless of Denver through my internship at Legal Aid, I discovered one particularly obscure, yet problematic, recurring problem. It was a coincidence really, that three men I met had been given a citation, and fined, for “loiterning for the purpose of begging”. In other words, they were standing outside a store asking people for change, or maybe on a street corner, holding a sign, and then would receive a ticket for loitering for the purpose of begging. Having by coincidence met three men who had been cited for this, I started looking for more. I found alot. None of them, of course, had paid the fine, which would lead to even greater penalties. A lawyer at Legal Aid put me in contact with Mark Silverstein at the ACLU of Colorado. I went to meet him, and brought the three homeless men who had been cited for loitering for the purpose of begging with me, and explained what else I had found through my research into the law. Mark was a small, slight, energetic, brilliant man, with bushy hair and mustache. He was immediately on board, and told me to write up the brief, find as many homeless people as possible who had been cited, and the ACLU would support the case. Sometimes, I think back to that meeting and can’t believe it was me.
Without getting too much into the legalese of the case – we won. The law was declared unconstitutional. Basically, it was too vague about what constitutes “begging”. Here’s a summary:
Jones v. City of Denver, No. 96-WY-1751 (D. Colo. 1996). “Four homeless individuals, along with two non-homeless individuals with an interest in the information communicated by those who beg, brought an action against the City and County of Denver, Denver Chief of Police, and two police officers challenging the constitutionality Colorado’s state law making it a crime to “loiter… for the purpose of begging.” The parties reached a settlement agreement in which defendants stipulated that the law violates the Due Process Clause, and have agreed to a declaratory judgment and injunction prohibiting enforcement of the law in the City of Denver. The court approved the proposed settlement agreement and the state legislature subsequently repealed the suspect language.” https://www.nationalhomeless.org/publications/crimreport/casesummaries_2.html
This was an important victory for the homeless of Denver, and the community of public interest lawyers and other organizations that helped the homeless considered it a landmark case across the country, setting precedent to fight similarly discriminatory laws in other jurisdictions. Mark argued in court because I hadn’t passed the bar exam, yet. I was still in my third year of law school, but it was my case and I was part of the case as one of the “two non-homeless individuals with an interest in the information communicated by those who beg.” I love that sentence. A few years ago, Mark, still the director of the ACLU in Colorado, sent letters to cities across the state who had similar laws, now being increasingly enforced as the economic crisis of recent years has sent more and more people into the streets. https://www.coloradoindependent.com/2016/08/31/aclu-puts-34-colorado-cities-and-towns-on-notice-repeal-your-loitering-laws/ The letter was essentially based on the research and brief I had prepared for the Jones case, which he refers to on page 3 of the letter. http://static.aclu-co.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/2016-08-31-La-Junta-ACLU.pdf
That case is the foundation of the whole thing. That was my case. I did that. For the homeless.
I’ve moved very far away from the people living rough on the streets and under the bridges and in the bushes. You see people sleeping in cardboard boxes or subway stairs or doorways. People with everything they own in a backpack and a shopping carriage. People with no shelter from the hard rain. No where to go. Nothing to look forward to. Lost souls. It’s so sad. And that’s all I have to say about the homeless. I met and knew so many decent, strong people of dignity and hope during those years, and thinking about all of them now, that’s all I can say…it’s so sad.
Freezin', rests his head on a pillow made of concrete, again
Oh, feelin' maybe he'll see a little better, set a days, ooh yeah
Oh, hand out, faces that he sees time again ain't that familiar,
Oh, dark grin, he can't help, when he's happy looks insane, oh yeah
Even flow, thoughts arrive like butterflies
Oh, he don't know, so he chases them away
Someday yet, he'll begin his life again
Life again, life again...
Kneelin', looking through the paper though he doesn't know to read, ooh yeah
Oh, prayin', now to something that has never showed him anything
Oh, feelin', understands the weather of the winter's on its way
Oh, ceilings, few and far between all the legal halls of shame, yeah
Even flow, thoughts arrive like butterflies
Oh, he don't know, so he chases them away
Someday yet, he'll begin his life again
Whispering hands, gently lead him away
Him away, him away...
Woo...ah yeah...fuck it up...
Even flow, thoughts arrive like butterflies
Oh, he don't know, so he chases them away
Someday yet, he'll begin his life again, yeah
Oh, whispering hands, gently lead him away
Him away, him away...
Woo...uh huh...yeah, yeah, fuck em up again...
…upon a time, I didn’t have a guitar. In 2017, my class gave me a guitar for Christmas. I had never played a guitar and had no idea where to begin. I ended up watching YouTube videos for beginner guitar players. I found a guy named Andy Guitar, who has a whole set of lessons, and I started learning a little bit. But not very much. I found out very quickly that playing the guitar is difficult and takes a lot of time and practice, and I didn’t really have the time or patience, and I also discovered that I’m just not very good. Even now, almost four years later, I’m genuinely very terrible at playing the guitar.
But I do believe in the beauty and power in the art of music. So, I keep banging away at it. Making noise. Riding the vibrations. Feeling the words. Some of it starts to approach music, sometimes.
Roald Dahl wrote a lot of stories. Some of them were good. Some of them were less good. Some may have been bad, but of course, I’m not enough of a writer or critic of writers to say such a thing. I just know what I like. I may not be much of a writer, but I am enough of a writer to recognize the strength in Roald Dahl’s style of writing. Straight forward, linear sentences and strongly structured stories, simply stated. It’s the story, really, more than the writing that makes the story. Dahl has great stories. Interesting ideas, clearly presented. Intriguing, creative, deceptive, often disturbing stories, told very simply. Not one wasted word. Many of them in this volume of Dahl’s earliest stories are about his experience in the RAF during World War II. I very much enjoy World War II stories. I can’t get enough. And the perspective, tension and detail that Dahl provides in his WWII stories is intoxicating. Again, I’m no book blogger or critic of any kind…far from an expert, but I might dare to compare the style of writing to Ernest Hemingway. I can’t be the first to make that connection. (Gonna check Google now). But the straight ahead style; no nonsense, straight talk, here’s the story, nothing fancy, just a good story, and well told, reminds me of Hemingway, (and both my grandfathers), and for some reason, I’ve read alot of Hemingway.
“Baby shoes for sale, never used,” is Hemingway’s famous six word story. Dahl writes similar straightforward, simple but clearly detailed sentences with so much meaning behind the words. From The Soldier: “Yesterday, lying in bed in the early morning when the noise of the gunfire was just beginning far away down in the valley, he had reached out with his left hand and touched her body for a little comfort. ‘What on earth are you doing?’ Nothing, dear. ‘You woke me up.’ I’m sorry. It would be a help if she would only let him lie closer to her in the early mornings when he began to hear the noise of gunfire.”
If the reader may indulge, I’d like to add a short story alongside these literary giants, but I should say at the outset, should anyone wish to publish this story, I didn’t write it. An anonymous someone told me this story. Here it is: “We tried. It didn’t work. That’s it.”
Of course, in all these stories, there is so much left unsaid. There’s much moreto it than that. And much more that to it, as well. But in some stories, words just get in the way. Dahl, Hemingway and Anonymous made an art of using only the absolutely necessary and essential words to capture and convey hearts and souls and stories. My own writing tends to be more dramatic, poetic, romantic, ambiguous and, admittedly, as these three legendary short story authors would surely agree, pathetic. It seems the more I write, the further I get from finishing the story.
In the spirit of disturbing and unexpected things, I’m putting this here because Dahl and Hemingway, and others I hope, can appreciate the direct clarity and unambiguous stoicism of the writing. It just is what it is:
“You are so beautiful like this.” His voice was a smoky whisper. “Lost in sensation, your lovely skin flushed. You make me need you. I need to touch you. Taste you.”
“Yes,” she murmured, the sponge moving over her sex, his words making her shudder, desire sharp and pure dancing into her. She felt desperate suddenly, needed him, all of him: his hands, his mouth, his lovely hard cock.
“God, what you do to me.” His tone was strangled as he dropped the sponge into the water and pulled her close, crushing her breasts against the hard plane of his chest. His cock was a rigid shaft against her belly. The energy between them shifted, intensified, a deep primal lust burning. And all she wanted was him inside her body.
……………………………………And so on.
This was all really unexpected, wasn’t it? It says “expect the unexpected” right in the title, so, as Radiohead sings in another song, “no alarms, no surprises, please.”