A starless sky

I have no idea what possessed me to stick my hand into the bowl, little white pebbles were sitting next to a candle, luminescent, perfect and drawing me in.

“Are those edible?” I asked, then stuck my hand in. Too late I realized it was a water candle. I’m glad the apartment was dimly lit as I felt the blood rush to my face.

The patient thought it was the funniest thing he had seen all day, so did his roommate and the three firefighters from Engine 15. So much for my grand entrance. What can I say, it had been a long day.

“Robert” had been having trouble breathing for about a week, suffered from COPD and was also HIV+. He was thin, and frail, and not at all well.

“Can I go to Miriam?” he asked.

Miriam Hospital was the furthest hospital of the city’s five, but was also the most appropriate facility, considering his history. Considering I had just stuck my ham sized hand into his water candle, it was the least we could do.

“Of course.”

He lived with a roommate in one of the public hi-rises in the city. Their space was dignified, graceful and perfectly suited for them. It was comfortable, tastefully decorated and serene. We loaded him up and started the fifteen minute journey toward the ER. He told me that my hand in the water trick was the first thing to make him laugh in a long, long time. He had a dignified air about him. Born in South Carolina he had never lost his Southern charm, even though the job he had in his previous life took him all over the world. He lived in San Diego, Texas, Chicago, Jamaica and his favorite by far, Malta. A friend of his still owned an oceanfront villa there, and he planned on visiting soon.

The HIV medications that saved his life also cost him the things in life he thought most precious. His homes-he had two, one on each coast and a few timeshares scattered around the globe; he sold his Mercedes, his stocks and bonds, his “things.” His once vast accumulation of possessions now fit into a three room apartment in a run down facility filled mostly with people scraping by on social security checks. Yet he seemed happy.

“What good is a big house when you can only sit in one room at a time?” he asked. “Who needs a Mercedes when there are gardens, and woods, and city streets, and the stars with their infinite possibilities.  What more can I ask from this life than what I have at this moment, which is a nice conversation with another person who is not afraid to stick his hand into a stranger’s water candle?”

We talked about life, and what it means, and how to handle loss, and failing health. I did something that I seldom, if ever do. I told him a little about myself, and my life, and the big home we used to live in, but could no longer keep because of my wife’s illness. I let him know about the heartache we felt when we lost the pool, the cabana, the gardens and friends, then the dogs, then the second house that turned out to be all wrong, and the rental, and how each move chipped a little bit of our soul, and tested the very fabric of our marriage.

As we backed into the ER bay, we agreed that through loss much is gained. That what is essential is invisible to the eye. What matters cannot be bought, we all need to live and find happiness with what we have, because through it all, we have a lot to be thankful for.

He asked me to put his coat over him before we wheeled him out of the back. It was cold outside, and an icy mix rained down from the starless sky. I picked up his coat, and grinned.

“Mink,” he said as we rolled him out of the truck. “I didn’t give up everything.” He looked to the starless sky, felt the cold, freezing rain fall on his face and smiled.

And so did I.

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Other People’s Lights

It’s a lonely time for the cops, firefighters, dispatchers and medics. Our homes and families are miles away, the Christmas lights we spent our days off perfecting shining for everybody but us.

The people behind the lights are the reason we find ourselves out in the cold, patroling the streets, answering the bell and keeping the neighborhood as safe as we can.

It’s Christmas time, and even though we had to leave our homes behind we bring some lights with us. We ride through neighborhoods not our own, our lights illumitating the way, flashes of red and blue bouncing back at us, reflections from darkened windows, crisp sirens piercing the silent night.

I love Christmas lights. I love the way they look. I love the way they make me feel when I look at them. I love leaving my house at four in the afternoon and turning them on, knowing full well I won’t be home till long after the timer turns them off.

I used to only turn them on when I was home to enjoy them. Then I realized the lights aren’t about me, or even for me. The lights are for everybody, just like everybody else’s lights are for me.

I’m glad I realized that, it makes me like the lights even more.

Schnoodle Love!

People without Schnoodles probably think people with them are a little nuts. I know I’m a lot nuttier since Mr. Wilson made our house a home. Thanks for considering ordering a copy of my book this Christmas, it’s a great gift for yourself or somebody you know who could use a little Schnoodle love!

Seven things you need to know when you marry a Fire/medic:

by Michael Morse

7. Your spouse will change.Then change again. Just when you think you know who you are married to, once again they change. And sometimes the person they become is not the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. But don’t despair, before long they will change into a person you love again. The fire service has the potential to creep into a good person’s mind, turn optimism into dread, fun into drudgery, compassion into stone and a job into a way of seeing and reacting to life. But just as this profession takes, it also has the ability to give. Learning how to properly cope with sickness, and pain, suffering and abandonment, and ultimately death makes a person a little more alive than they once were, more in tune with themselves, and with time and patience better partners well suited for the long haul that a marriage is.

6. Your spouse will probably not react “properly” to injuries. You sliced the palm of your hand open while opening a can of tuna. Blood is everywhere, the tuna is ruined, lunch is ruined, and everything is ruined! Your spouse is on the couch in the living room. All you need is a little love, a caring person to sooth you, and an adept medic to clean your wound, dress it, give it a little kiss and let you know everything will be alright. What you get is this; “Put pressure on it.” And that is it. There will be no rapid couch extrication, no hurried response to your crisis, and no horror in the eyes of your spouse as they cringe at the sight of blood, boil water and cut up the sheets to make bandages. If you are lucky they might hand you a box of band-aids, but don’t count on it!

5. You will spend a lot of time alone. Firefighting never takes a break, never has a day off and definitely does not take a holiday. And speaking of holidays, forget about spending those together. If your spouse manages to get Christmas off it is very likely that most of the day will be spent sleeping due to all the overtime they worked to help provide for the big day. New Years Eve? Ha! If they are working, they are working. If they are not, they are working in their minds, thinking of the mayhem that is happening outside the safety of your home, reticent to go out and join the party because they have seen far too many repercussions from the people whose partying spun out of control. Even Easter and Thanksgiving bring with it vivid recollections of burned homes, car wrecks, Congestive Heart Failure, abdominal pain, lonely old people with mystery illnesses, and crummy young people doing the Granny Drop for the holidays.

4. You will never have to wait at the ER. One of the greatest gifts of being married to a Fire/medic is getting the royal treatment whenever you have to go to the ER. Unless, of course, you are married to one of THOSE medics. Being one of THOSE medics makes going to an emergency room worse than dying from whatever it is that made you need to go to the ER in the first place! Most medics are not THOSE medics, and even the ones who are will likely have a few friends of like mindset who will help them through the morass of knuckleheads, drug seekers, nitwits, deadbeats…wait a minute, have I become one of THOSE medics?

3. Laundry becomes an adventure. In a normal household we have dark clothes, white clothes, and maybe a mixed bundle every now and then. In a medic’s home we have dark clothes, white clothes, potentially contaminated clothes, definitely contaminated clothes, DECON clothes, Haz Mat clothes, DEFCON 5 clothes and Biohazard clothes. As time progresses, you will find that your stringent adherence to separating the “ordinary” pile from the “what is that smell” clothes becomes less and less diligent, and the thought of a mixed load less horrifying. One day, you realize that you have mixed Little Johnnie’s Underoos with Big Mommy’s cargo pants, trauma shears and all. And you see it through, fold and put it all away like nothing ever happened.

2. Travelling becomes a battle of wills. It matters not if your spouse is driving, or in the Front Right Seat, either position spells a miserable ride for everybody else in the car. While driving, your firefighter speeds up when they hear sirens, goes through red lights, tries to answer the FM radio with an imaginary mic and backs into the garage. If you are determined, you can take control of the wheel, only to be stuck with the ultimate back seat driver sitting next to you. “Speed up, slow down, turn here, stop there,” it never ends until the trip is over, and even when it is over for you, your spouse is busy sizing up the “scene” even though you have been to your parent’s house a thousand times.

1. You will find true happiness. Your Fire/medic knows how to treat people, understands how precious life is, is willing to work long hours to provide for the family, and accepts that things never go as planned. Life as a Fire/medic’s sidekick will never be dull, or easy, or without hardship. Life with a Fire/medic by your side is exactly what you let it become, and as time moves relentlessly forward, the firefightet recedes and the person returns, loaded with valuable skill and knowledge, a million stories to tell the grandkids and an appreciation for the person by their side who has grown up right beside them.

Mr. Wilson’s Christmas Carol

 

Mr. Wilson Ebenezer Scrooge

Stave One

“I am no longer Mr. Wilson!” declared the former Mr. Wilson. “From this day forward; Christmas Eve, until the end of time, I shall be known to all as Mr. Ebenezer Wilson Scrooge!”

“Is that so,” I asked my companion. “And why, pray tell the sudden change of heart? You have been a most agreeable fellow these last years.”

“Every year, year after year, all five of my years in fact, I have been forced to endure the nuttiness that envelops this house this time of year. And all for what I ask?”

“Well, it is Christmas after all.”

“Christmas, Shmistmas, just another day to eat too much, sing too much, drink too much and ignore poor old Mr. Wilson too much! Humbug, I say!”

“Surely you don’t mean that, Mr. Wilson!” I implored. “This is the best time of year! Summer is through, fall has passed, winter is upon us, and with the cold comes a chance to rest a little, reflect a lot, enjoy the warmth of a hearty fire and the taste of your mother’s delicious stew!”

“Ha! A taste of Mother’s stew he says! Humbug! If I get a teaspoon of that stuff it will truly be a Christmas miracle!”

“You have a point my kind young friend, but you do have a bowlful of food two times a day, and fresh water at all times, surely you must be happy with that?”

“The same thing day in, day out, it’s a wonder I don’t die from boredom.”

“But what of those poor dogs without a home and little to eat? Cannot you find some compassion in that heart of yours to wish them goodwill, especially on a night such as this?”

“Are there no dog pounds or shelters?”

“Oh, there are indeed, kill shelters where unwanted animals live out their lives waiting for rescue, and many, I am sorry to say, never know the love and warmth you now enjoy.”

“Humbug,” said cranky old Scrooge Wilson, then stomped his paws in a most disagreeable fashion and stormed out of the room, but only after nipping his former good friend Luna the Cat on the ear.

“What’s up with him?” she asked as she made herself comfortable on my lap.

“I think he needs a little alone time,” I said to my cat as we both prepared for a late-afternoon snooze. “Perhaps he’ll return to his usual self tomorrow. I hope when I return from work he is back to his usual merry self.”

Mr. Wilson Ebenezer Scrooge retreated to his new favorite spot; a dimly lit corner where an old chair sat against a wall, a forgotten place in an otherwise happy home.

“Humbug,” he said miserably, lifted his leg and peed on the floor.

Stave Two

“Another Humbug,” said the former Mr. Wilson as he circled the cushion on his new favorite spot. “I can see it already, those little creatures called grandchildren will have the run of my house, tipping this over, wrecking that, eating my food and pulling my ears!”

Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge Wilson then collapsed into the smelly old chair with a huff, closed his eyes and fell sound asleep. He wasn’t asleep for long.

“Wilson Scrooooge!” He twitched a little.

“Wilson Scroooooge!!” He twitched some more.

“Mr. Wilson Ebenezer Scrooge!!!”

He twitched no more and opened his eyes, ready to bark the intruder directly into next year. He looked to his left, then to his right but could see no intruder. More troubling still, he did not pick up a scent.

“My sniffer sniffs better than the nosiest of noses,” he grumbled. “Where is that annoying voice coming from, and how do I stop it!”

Ebenezer Wilson shivered then, a mighty shake the likes of which he had never experienced. The cold went all the way to his bones, rested there and decided to stay. He scanned the room with his superb vision, saw nothing amiss at first, but on second glance he noticed movement from his very own dog crate!

“You there, what are you doing in my crate!” he demanded of the furry thing that had managed to get locked into the tiny enclosure. “And why can’t I smell you, from the look of you I should be able to detect you from a mile away!”

The furry thing that was trapped in the crate turned toward Ebenezer slowly, revealing himself one whisker at a time.

“Cooper you old dog!” exclaimed Scrooge. “Well met my friend, what are you doing in there?”

“The same as you will be doing when your time on earth is through, wishing you had not wasted your time on earth complaining!”

“Humbug! I only complain a little; normally I’m the perfect gentleman. It’s this thing they call Christmas that makes me crazy!”

“It is this thing called Christmas that should fill you with hope and joy!”

“It does. I hope it ends so I can find some joy!”

“You are a loathsome creature Scrooge! What happened to the fellow I used to run with, before we were caught? Where has that fun-loving, mischievous pup gone to?”

“I put him away for the season, Cooper, again, what are you doing here?”

“I am here to herald the arrival of three spirits. They have been given the unenviable task of restoring some sense to you. The first will arrive at the hour of one. The second at two. The third shall appear as the clock strikes three. Heed them well Wilson Scrooge, or you will end up like me, a tired old dog spirit forced to remain in captivity never knowing the joy that comes from belonging with a family who cares for me.”

“You never found a human?”

“I did, a lovely man who lived alone and wanted nothing more than my companionship. But I wanted more, and would escape every time I had the chance, always looking for better food, a warmer bed and some children of my own.”

“Did you not find what you were looking for?”

“I did not, I found a world most cruel, and was captured by the animal control people, placed in a cage and sat there, alone and miserable until I was nothing but spirit.”

“But it is your right to look for a better life!” said Wilson Scrooge indignantly.

“You fooool,” groaned the spirit of Cooper, who already was fading from sight. Mr. Wilson Ebenezer Scrooge closed his eyes for the briefest of moments, opened them and saw that his crate was empty. He shook his head, then his body, all but his tail, growled a little, barked a little, let out an exasperated sigh and returned to his slumbering position.

“Humbug,” he exclaimed once more before nodding off. “Just my imagination, likely caused by the gruel these people feed me!”

Stave Three

Mr. Wilson Ebenezer Scrooge woke with a start just as the clock struck one. He sniffed the room, looked about, saw nothing amiss and decided the spirit of Cooper was nothing more than his imagination. Nonetheless, he looked about his surroundings with great care once more before allowing himself the luxury of a good rest of the night’s sleep. Something moved!

“You there!” he said when a shadow passed his nose. “Show yourself!”

And just as he demanded the Spirit of Christmas Past slowly materialized. Little more than mist and haze the apparition nevertheless took form, resembling a kindred soul.

“Who. Are You?” demanded Scrooge when the fog had cleared and a kindly elderly husky stood before him.

“I am the Ghost of Christmas Past,” she said with elegance.”

“Long past?” asked Scrooge.

“Your past!” exclaimed the Ghost.

“What do you want with me?” asked Scrooge.

“To come with me,” she said, holding out her paw.

“I’d rather not,” said Scrooge, shrinking into the cushion of his chair.

The Ghost of Christmas Past opened her jaw, put her teeth into the scruff of Scrooge’s neck and carried him through the wall and into the snow.

“What madness is this?” Wilson Scrooge demanded.

“This is madness,” said the kindly Husky as the pair descended from the heavens and landed next to a deserted truck trailer surrounded by pine trees.

“What is inside?” asked Scrooge. The Ghost brushed the side of the trailer with her paw, and the inside of the truck was revealed. Row upon row of cages filled the cramped space, each cage holding either a sickly Schnauzer or a tired Poodle. The smell of the place nearly knocked Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge Wilson over, and the sight filled him with dread.

“See that one, in the corner, struggling to feed her pups?”

“Yes, said Scrooge.” “But what does that have to do with me?”

“Everything. That is your mother, forced to produce litter after litter of puppies so the public’s insatiable hunger for pets can be met.”

“My mother?” asked Scrooge, looking more closely at the poor dog struggling to feed her brood. The resemblance was remarkable and he felt an overwhelming desire to run to her.

“They cannot see you, or feel you, or even know you are here,” said the Ghost. “These are merely memories of things that passed. But know this my little friend; places like this exist in abundance. Puppy Mills they are called, and dogs like us are produced for profit, and our parents treated like crops, disposed of like rotting lettuce when they are no longer able to make money for the people who own them.”

“Surely you are mistaken,” said Wilson Scrooge.

“Sadly, I am not,” said the Ghost as she closed her jaw around Wilson’s neck, and as quickly as they had appeared, they were gone.

“I know this place!” said Wilson. “This is my favorite place on earth. Oh, how happy I was! Look there’s Tippy! and Cheri!”

Wilson, Tippy and Cheri inhabited the cozy one room home adorned with festive lights and pretty wreaths, ribbons and bows. Seated at the table was Cheri, wrapping gifts. Tippy and Wilson chased each other around the table as Cheri laughed, and lively music filled the space.

“Alright you two rascals, it’s time for the Fezziwig Ball!” said Cheri, and her dogs stopped their chase and waited. Cookies from above scattered on the floor, and a lively tune from centuries ago filled the warm space. Cheri led the dance, and Wilson and Tippy followed her every move, eventually falling exhausted onto the floor.

“Can’t I join?” asked Wilson Scrooge,

“They cannot see us,” said the Ghost, “or even know we are here. It is your past we watch and your happiness that needs to be witnessed.”

“Why have you shown me these things?” asked Mr. Wilson as the Husky picked Mr. Wilson up again.

“Because the past is the place we feed our soul, and find hope for the future while helping us to survive the present.”

“Present?” huffed Mr. Wilson. “Maybe for everybody else, but never for Poor Old Mr. Wilson!” He waited for a reply, but found himself alone, back on the smelly old chair where he had decided to spend his Christmas. Shaking the bugs from his ears, he collapsed in a huff.

“Humbug.”

Stave 4

“What an odd creature!”

The booming voice woke Mr. Ebenezer Wilson from his fretful slumber.

“Half one breed, and half another, part of one and some of the other!”

“Well, aren’t you the clever one. Tell me Spirit, are you the one Cooper spoke of, the one that is scheduled to arrive as the clock strikes two?”

“I am indeed; I am the Spirit of Christmas Present!”

“Well, if you are who you say you are, where is my present?”

“You are surrounded by your presents you silly creature, look around you! This home is the greatest of all gifts, the envy of many and your reality!”

“It is this very reality I would prefer to skip. Come on; let’s get it over with so I can get some much needed rest!”

The Spirit of Christmas Present laughed then, a sound so infectious even crabby old Mr. Wilson Scrooge felt lighter of heart. The room swirled, slow at first, picking up speed as the laughter continued. Just when it seemed he could take no more the spinning stopped, and lo and behold the two stood outside of an old building nestled in the heart of the city.

“What is this place?” asked Scrooge.

“This is the place your owner disappears to five times a week. This is the place he goes to make the money needed to provide you with food and shelter, toys and treats.”

“Humbug, it’s the same dog food day in and day out, same treats every night, I sleep at the foot of the bed, not under the covers like a dog like me should, and have to pee outside. It’s barbaric!”

“Come with me you silly little fellow, and see for yourself what goes on outside your safe little world.”

Suddenly, bells shattered the silence, bright light filled the firehouse, loud voices filled the air and the doors opened, followed by a fire engine and a ladder truck, their shrill sirens causing old Scrooge to howl with them.

“What is happening?” he demanded.

“There is an emergency; a home is on fire, your owner responding to help.”

“Is that what he does?” asked Scrooge.

“It is. Open your eyes man, not everything comes easy!”
Mr. Ebenezer Wilson Scrooge sat on a snow bank with the Spirit, watching. People were trapped in a house that was burning. He heard a dog in there too, but his barks were quieting, and then they were gone. The truck carrying his dad arrived, and three firefighters ran toward the house, chopped the door down and went inside. Other people arrived and before long water was being sprayed everywhere and people in small groups went into the burning home.

“Can we help?” asked Wilson Scrooge. “I’m sure I heard a dog in there, crying for help.”

“That dog you speak of was not crying for help, he was alerting his masters of the danger they faced! He risked his life to save theirs.”

“Will he be okay?” asked Wilson, shrinking into the snow, wanting to disappear.

From the flames appeared one, then two, then three firefighters, each carrying a person. They brought the rescued family to a waiting ambulance and then did the most remarkable thing; they went back into the burning house!

“Where is my Dad?” asked Wilson anxiously. “Is he okay? And what of the pup that saved the family? Will he get out alive?”

“I am only the Spirit of Christmas Present my little friend. I only know what is happening, not what will.”

Just as Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge Wilson decided to run into the home to look for his master and the heroic dog, everything began spinning, and in a swirl of light and color he was gone, this time inside a lovely home festooned with lights and music. Three dogs lived there, and were happily playing with the people of the house, eating mini hot dogs wrapped in pastry and bits of cheese.

“Wait, what?” said Scrooge.

“This is your neighbor’s home. See the merriment taking place? You could be involved if you were not such a crab!”

“What do you mean? I know these dogs, and like them not at all! I bark at them every time they congregate in front of my house, and protect everybody from imminent danger!”

“There is no danger, only some dogs out for a walk with their people, and you, you buffoon of a creature, cannot stop barking at them.”

“I’m only doing what dogs do.”

“Yes my little friend, this is true, but cannot you find in your heart the ability to overlook what you think to be true and give these fine young fellows a chance? Perhaps a friendship could be found, and you could play with them rather than scaring them away?”

“I don’t know, I never tried, I just don’t like them, but I think I might…”

“Ignorance and want does not a happy dog make, Mr. Wilson Scrooge. Come now my time on earth is nearly through, I have 2016 brothers and sisters waiting for me, hoping that I was able to spread some goodwill and cheer in this most dreary place, and especially in that sour little heart of yours!”

“Sour? How dare you, I am a dog of the most impeccable character!”

But Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge Wilson was talking to himself, back on his smelly old chair, looking at the clock as it approached the hour of three.

“Humbug,” he said, but without much conviction.

Stave 5

The first chime woke him, the second one worried him, and the third filled him with dread. Something was in front of him, something, or someone, he was not quite sure.

“Are you the third of the spirits that haunt me this night?” he asked the shape that appeared before him. “Cannot you show yourself so I can see with whom I am to spend my time with?”

The spirit spoke not a word. He lifted his paw, a thin and bony thing, barely covered with fur, and Ebenezer Scrooge Wilson took it without delay.

“I fear you most of all, Spirit,” he said, surrendering to the fate that was in store. Wilson closed his eyes for just a moment, and when they opened they witnessed a most dreadful sight.

“This place!” he said. Where is everybody, there’s nothing but empty crates in an abandoned truck, hidden in the woods!” He looked everywhere his eyes could see, but nothing moved, there was no life, only an unrelenting cold. The spirit moved, and Wilson Scrooge moved with him, to the other side of the trailer and a most unwelcome sight.

“What is this?” he asked, filled with dread. A pile of something, some six feet high and twelve feet round stood before him, and the pile moved in spots, and whimpered. “Surely this is my imagination!” he whimpered, and tried to hide his eyes with his paws, but the spirit of Christmas Yet to Come would have none of it, and moved closer to the pile.

“I can stand no more!” cried Wilson. Please, Spirit, if you have any humanity inside of you take me away from this place.”

A cold northerly wind whisked them away, and where they went was no warmer. Bright sunshine filled the air, its very presence mocking the earth, which was enveloped with unrelenting cold. People lined the street near Wilson’s home, somber, dressed in their finest woolen coats, hats and mittens.

“What is this?” Mr. Wilson asked. “Is it a parade? I love a parade!”

The Spirit of Christmas yet to Come raised his paw, and pointed at a procession which crept closer. The sound of bagpipes filled the crisp air, people in uniform atop horses escorted a wagon decorated not at all for the season, but beautiful nonetheless.
“Well, this is more like it!” said an excited Mr. Wilson. A Parade in my honor!”

The Spirit raised his arm once more as the pipers marched past. The horse drawn wagon slowly marched forward. The Spirit took Mr. Wilson by the scruff of the neck, picked him up and carried him closer, and closer, until he was in the wagon.
“I know what this is!” said Mr. Wilson. This is a casket, and inside is…”

Images flashed through poor Mr. Wilson’s mind as faint traces of the scent he loved most in the world filled his nostrils. The house that was on fire…his Dad rushing in…the people being rescued…the dog that saved them hiding under a bed…his Dad looking, looking…the dog choking…his dad running out of air…the dog…his Dad…

“Spirit! I implore you! Is this what is to be, or what might come to be?” said Mr. Wilson, but the ghost was relentless. He placed Mr. Wilson on top of the casket, and the bagpipes grew louder, and louder until the racket became unbearable! The cacophony filled every ounce of Mr. Wilson’s being, and when he could take it no longer, it stopped, and silence filled the air, and Mr. Wilson found himself alone, sitting on a smelly old chair at sunrise on Christmas morning.

Stave 6

“What, where, how?” he shook his head, then his body, rose from his seat feeling lighter than he had in days.

“You there,” he said to the cat that sauntered past him.

“What day is this?”

The cat ignored him.

“A wonderful cat, an intelligent cat!” he said out loud, and approached the lovely creature. “Can you please tell me what day this is?” he asked again.

“It’s Christmas Day you knucklehead,” she said, and kept on walking.

“Christmas Day!” said Mr. Wilson, and he scurried around the house, ran under the Christmas Tree, rang bells and jumped on the furniture. Sitting atop the sofa, he gazed outside, into a world most bright and cheery. Three dogs walked past with their owners, quickly, so as not to disturb the barking thing that inhabited the window most days.

“Hello my friends!” barked Mr. Wilson, and the three looked as one, and barked a hello in reply.”

“The Spirits did it all in one night!” Wilson exclaimed as he jumped onto the bed that his Mom and Dad slept in. “I’m as light as a feather,” he declared to nobody in particular, “as giddy as a drunken man!”

“Wake up everybody! It’s Christmas Day!”

And that moment was the end of Mr. Ebenezer Wilson Scrooge. Never again did he allow his spirit to diminish, no matter how difficult his existence became. He kept Christmas in his heart that day, and every day, and dedicated his life to being the happiest, most agreeable fellow he could, and by doing so touched the lives of every person who met him. Some say that his very presence in the world made such an impact that more and more people adopted homeless pets, and brought them to their homes and made them part of their families.

Mr. Wilson and his family spent their day surrounded with love and good cheer. They ate, and drank, and danced and sang, exchanged presents and told stories of times past, enjoyed the present and looked forward to a bright future.

When the festivities were through, and the house was silent once more, Mr. Wilson looked around at the home he called his own, thought of the spirits that guided him, placed his tired little head on his paws, and said, “God bless us, every one.”

Talking to Myself

I used to worry about an atom bomb ruining everything. I honestly believed atom bombthat “The Russians” would some day figure out how to obliterate us, and we them, and everything we knew would end. In school we would hold end of the world drills, where we would crawl under our desks, put our heads between our knees and wait for the ceiling to collapse.

Then we had lunch, and even better, recess.

I grew older, and wiser, and as my awareness of world events grew I knew without a doubt that my life would end in a rice paddy in Cambodia. How could I think otherwise? Every night the Nightly News would report from Viet Nam, and give the day’s body count. American soldiers were dying by the thousands, and there was no doubt in my twelve year old mind that I would be an American soldier. I just hoped that I died well, preferable flat on my back, full of bullets with a smoking, empty gun in my hands.

Eventually I came to the understanding that I would, in all likelihood survive the world’s madness. It was then that I created my own. I’m not really sure if the culture of the seventies propelled my drug and alcohol use into the stratosphere, or if my fatalistic world view developed by the events of the sixties did it, but something in my adolescent brain clicked on – or off, and into the world of escape went I. It was a full fledged assault on my life, and there was nothing I wouldn’t try. Hallucinogens, opiates, beer, uppers, downers and all a rounders, it didn’t really matter as long as what I put into my body allowed me the escape from myself that I craved.

Turns out, there was no escape. I’m stuck with me. Some days it’s hard to get out of bed. Others I can’t stay in it. I’ve been searching for the middle ground for fifty-three years now, and am no closer to finding it now than I was when I crawled under my desk in kindergarten. All I crave is peace and serenity, but that inner peace, when found is fleeting. Try as I might it never lasts more than a few minutes, and then it’s back to the mind’s rat race.

The closest I have come to being at peace with myself is when I am caring for another. My career in the fire service allowed me to become a lifesaver, and in the process save my own. It is said that the things we see, and the ghosts of those we didn’t save drive us to drink, drug, and pull the plug. I don’t see it that way. I was damaged goods long before I put on the uniform. It was the very things I saw, and the ghosts of those that got away that saved me. Without purpose I had nothing. Without the satisfaction of being a difference maker in somebody else’s life I was lost. Without the opportunity to do something great I would have sank lower into myself, and the bottom would have introduced itself before I was able to make sense of  who I feared, who I was, and who I wanted to become.

Life is hard. Living is something that we all know will end, one way or another. Living well is a choice. For me, learning how to do it it well is taking a lifetime. Some days the answers I seek are so close I can feel them, and almost touch them, and know I’m almost there. Most days I’m lost in a world of conflict, trying to stay positive while surrounded with negativity. It is those days that I cling to my sobriety with everything I have, and remind myself just how fragile my perception of reality is.

I’ve run long enough. Now, I stand still, and face my life, the people in it and the events I cannot control without hiding under a desk, or dying in a field, or numbing myself with substances that offer little more than temporary asylum. Now, I understand that I will never understand. And now, that is okay.

Thanks for listening.

 

Dissapointment

I watch her struggle, hiding my impatience as she closes the door behind her. She’s angry.castles I’m tired, it’s been a long day. She had looked forward to the me getting home from the city, hoping for a nice night, some conversation, maybe more. One look at my face was all it took. My expression reflected on hers, I saw the disappointment from the driveway. I’m done, and she knows it. The person who needs me most has to wait.

The once graceful form that flew through life without a thought has deteriorated, one leg is burdened by a brace, the other in constant pain from doing the work of two.

To the outside world it’s just an inconvenience, a limp, some fatigue, but, “she looks so good!” Inside she affords herself the luxury of showing some pain. Never all, but some.

People offer encouragement, never fully understanding. “It could be worse… everybody has some cross to bear… at least you have Michael… you’re lucky to live in a nice home…”

I spend my days carrying people down three flights of filthy stairs that she would crawl down, sweeping the dust from the steps as she went, because they refuse to walk, their belly hurts, or they are too emotional, or their family says they can’t.

If they only knew.

Multiple Sclerosis is an unrelenting disease.

Sleep now, maybe more later. Tomorrow is another day.

“…She drew her wheelchair to the edge of the shore
And to her legs she smiled you wont hurt me no more…” ~
JIMI HENDRIX from Castles Made of Sand

April Snowstorm

It’s cold outside, the ice clings to my window, hoping for break, perhaps a late winter heat wave, or a ray of sunshine to melt it away. For now, it obscures my view, leaving us a smaller glimpse of the world outside. The birds flutter about, grateful for the seed I leave them, their frantic assault on the feeders indicative of the harsh reality of the frozen landscape. Squirrels scurry around the bottom of the pole, their attempts at breaching the squirrel-proof feeders over for the day. Tonight they will return to their nest high above me, sticks and twigs exposed now that the leaves have withered and died, and plan another assault.

Mr. Wilson sits on the bed near the window and watches the struggle for food and survival. Does he remember that the frozen landscape will soon give way to budding trees, crocus flowers pushing through thawing earth and warmth? Or is he content to sit inside, surrounded by warmth of a different kind and live for the moment?

Icicles as long as I am tall hang from the roof, somehow getting bigger every day. The temperature has not seen twenty in weeks, I wonder how they do it. What little heat the late winter sun provides must be enough to begin the thaw that I know is coming. I sit next to my pal, and see the palate of white and crystal, snow sparkling on the surface, two feet below grass beginning to consider turning green, and take it all in, knowing that before long we will be back outside in the little world we have created.

There is a lot of life in a quarter acre lot in the middle of suburbia. Watching it unfold from inside is sweet when the subtle aroma of short ribs flows from the slow-cooker, there is food in the dish and people and pets to share it with. Spring is just around the corner, but right here, right now, everything is exactly where it is supposed to be.

Blueberry Picking

Live in the moment they tell me. But what if the moment I’m living in sucks? It’s seven-thirty at night, I’m hungry, dinner is my job tonight, Cheryl is working, and I’m just now getting to the supermarket. I just need a couple of sweet potatoes to go with the steaks and spinach I bought yesterday, easy in, easy out. My mind is spinning a million miles an hour; get home, put the taters in the oven, feed the cats, switch the laundry, make a few phone calls, return a few, clean the grill, check the mail…what the hell, I’m not even home yet and I think my head is going to explode.

blueberries

First thing I see when I walk in the market is strawberries and blueberries, on sale. My mind slows down enough to squeeze in the thought of some fresh fruit on top of a mountain of vanilla ice cream, maybe a little granola to top it off. I grab the packages of strawberries, two of course, because they are two for five dollars, and put a container of blueberries on top.

I’m going to need some ice cream and granola to go with the fruit and potatoes, better get a basket. I manipulate the stuff in my hands so I can lift one of them from the stack and start filling it up. The basket sticks, my cat-like reflexes are slowed by the overload in my brain and the blueberries tumble onto the floor, rolling all over the place.

A quick look left, then right confirms what I thought, it’s an unwitnessed spill. My instinct tells me move on, leave the mess for somebody else to clean up- too busy, too much to do, time is ticking…

My conscious slows things down, and before I know it, I’m on my hands and knees picking blueberries from the supermarket floor. I barely notice people passing, they are none of my concern as they dodge the little blue blobs and move on, lost in their own overwhelming thoughts.

Two little hands appear in my peripheral vision, and they are picking blueberries with me. I glance over, it’s a stranger, a girl, maybe twelve or thirteen focused on the task at hand.

“Do you want them back in the container?” she asks.

“That’s really nice of you, thank you,” I reply, and reach toward her with the half full blueberry container. Another girl joins her friend, and I’m completely lost in the moment, picking blueberries with two gracious kids, their hands busy picking up the mess I created, filling my pint container, making sure every one was accounted for.

When we’re done, they get up, give me a smile and walk out the door.

A few hours later I sat contentedly eating the best fresh picked blueberries I’d ever had, each one better than the one before it. I ate them slowly, savoring each and every instant.

Ten Step Commandments

We spoke quietly, nearly whispering, arms clasped together. Friends and family watched us as the second most important man in her life waited. We took our time, this being a walk to cherish forever, sharing…

We spoke quietly, nearly whispering, arms clasped together. Friends and family watched us as the second most important man in her life waited. We took our time, this being a walk to cherish forever, sharing words of encouragement as we made our way down the aisle. I stood tall and remained steady as we walked, she leaned on me. At the altar, I kissed her cheek. The room became blurry; I didn’t want to let go.

In the blink of an eye she was gone, evolved from my girlfriend’s fiercely independent and aloof 7-year-old into the beautiful daughter that I gave away on her wedding day. A few years later, I did it again, this time with her sister. It didn’t happen overnight and it wasn’t easy. What began as an uneasy truce with my new friends slowly grew into what I have today; a beautiful, happy “ready-made family.”

I was warned:

“Don’t get involved with a woman with kids!” my friends advised.

“You can’t even take care of yourself!” claimed my parents.

“You’re too young to have a family!” from my subconscious mind.

The smartest thing I did was to ignore their advice. I had found the woman I planned to spend the rest of my life with and haven’t looked back.

When I first met her two girls, I could not picture myself as their father. As my relationship with their mother progressed, my role transformed from somebody they were unsure of and shy around to somebody to be trusted. We started as friends and spent countless hours getting to know each other. As time rolled on, I realized I had fallen in love with all of them. My life changed from a simple pursuit of my own pleasure to that of a proud and protective father. I was shocked to realize I wanted them around as much as possible.

With no idea what I was getting into, I immersed myself fully into their lives, married their mother and marched blindly into fatherhood. Along the way, I learned a great deal. Mistakes were made, but ultimately I found what it takes to raise healthy, successful children, even if they started out as somebody else’s.

There are infinite ways to be a parent. I found these 10 to be the most important for us:

1. Love their mother (or father). It all begins here; without the love, the rest is impossible.

2. Be honest. Kids are perceptive. You don’t have to tell them everything about your life, but what you choose to tell, tell the truth. At times, a colorful story about your past (we all have plenty of those!) doesn’t hurt; kids find it easy to bond with somebody willing to laugh at their previous mistakes. It makes us more human.

3. Be fun. It’s not hard. Remember how it feels to be a kid. Time spent with a child is a gift; there aren’t many second chances. Seize the opportunity, play a game, go for a walk, find something interesting to do that you all enjoy. It doesn’t have to cost anything. Kids are fascinated with anything if a caring adult who is giving them the attention they crave presents it to them.

4. Be fair. They will get over the fact that you made them go to bed at 8:30 p.m. if it happens every night and their siblings get the same treatment. (An occasional breaking of the rules feels all the sweeter when it is an aberration from the norm.)

5. Avoid power struggles. In most cases, let the biological parent rule. Be supportive. Occasionally you have to “put your foot down.” Try not to stomp too hard, they never forget.

6. Know your place. You are the step-parent. They have two biological parents, and you are not one of them. In time, you may become accepted as their parent, but there is no guarantee. My youngest daughter calls me Michael. One day, I overheard a friend ask her why she didn’t call me “Dad.” She answered, “Because to me, Dad and Michael mean the same thing.” That day came 10 years into our relationship when she was 15 years old. I thought she had forgotten I existed. How wrong I was.

7. Be productive. Kids share enormous pride in your accomplishments. Your standing in the community reflects on them. They are embarrassed to be associated with somebody who shows little or no pride in their appearance, home or work. Whatever it is you do, do it well; the kids will benefit.

8. Love them. To love them, you must understand them, be a part of their lives. Love builds trust. It is OK to not unconditionally love your spouse’s children. If the kids are truly obnoxious, rip wings off butterflies, eat ants and are mean to your dog, try to find qualities in them that are worthy of love and build on that. Love must be earned for it to be real. Look for traits you admire and feed off them. Encourage the positive.

9. Listen. It seems simple, but listening is a skill that is sorely lacking. It is hard to hear when you are talking. Actively listen. Show interest and ask questions. Be an ally, not the enemy.

10. Listen! Just in case you weren’t listening.

Families are a challenge under the best circumstances. A stepfamily takes it to another level. I am fortunate. As with most things in life, the bigger the challenge, the greater the reward. I met and married the woman of my dreams. Because she came with two kids, my happiness tripled. I never imagined that what I thought might be a burden would become my greatest joy.