Simple Witness

The man slowly slouches into the room; he is distracted and distraught. His jeans are thin and faded with a rip across his left thigh.  He wears yellowed tennis shoes, each with a cracking sole that threatens to separate from the rest of the shoe.  I want to give him a tube of superglue, help him to put things back together.  It’s clear what is going to happen, sooner or later.

Then I remember, they aren’t my shoes and it isn’t my walk. This isn’t what he wants.

He begins to speak and I am a thousand miles away, considering the distance between us. We are the same age, babies of the 80’s.  Yet, we are so different.

At his hip, he carries a Bowie knife. I carry a tube of chapstick.

At night, he dreams about a noose made out of razor blades. I dream about an early retirement.

Tears well and begin to slide down his face. His voice cracks as he tries to explain what is inside of his head. He is haunted and I am a simple witness to his suffering, helpless to ease his pain.

Simply a witness.

Simple

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The Cat’s Meow

tear

Tears squeezed out from one eye.

Big, round, wet drops slid down the woman’s left cheek.
She called out in anguish and rubbed the crying eye.

The other eye remained dry, unconcerned with the activities of its sister.

My heart squeezed tight. I was responsible for this lopsided show of emotion.
Her pain had grown too great; it sought escape through the easiest portal, the left eye.

Then I realized, she wasn’t crying. Something was in her eye.

Almost certainly, the irritant’s source sat next to the woman, lazily looking around the room with crusty eyes. The cat yawned and blinked. It was big and lumpy, like an old pillow with cheap stuffing.

She patted its misshapen little head, not minding the lumps of matted, greasy fur.

“Just like mama, you’re old and fat.”

She forgot to mention hairy.

The woman laughed and lost her breath. Instantly, her face grew grim. She waited for the oxygen flowing into her nostrils to saturate her blood again.

Just like the respiratory therapist told her, she huffed and puffed and damn near blew the house down.

cat

Reaching through the pine needles/Easter Egg Hunting

pine

For the past few years, I have been part of a highly specialized Easter egg hiding task force. We are a lean crew of three, capable of covering a large area with limited time. It must be admitted that we each experience some degree of joy in possibly hiding the eggs too well. Watching the Littles waddle past a cleverly obscured egg is delight above delights on Easter Sunday and I’m not above admitting it.

I like to hide my share of the eggs with the use of camouflage, a white egg in the end of a drain pipe, a green egg in the grass, a dark purple egg on top of a car tire. It’s all too much fun when they throw their little hands up with a sigh of exasperation. The task force laughs in unison at this point in the hunt and the parents of the Littles start to get upset. We mollify the situation by yelling supportive statements like, “Keep at it,” and “Think like an egg” just so they know we are on the same team.

We don’t give in and help them find the eggs because we are helping in a much bigger way. By making them really search, we boost their endurance and work ethic. Their problem solving and creative thinking skills are tested. We like to think we are cultivating the egg hunters into better people.

This Easter, a key member of our trio took things to the next level. He set a Hunger Games type of challenge for only the bravest of the Littles to try. I didn’t realize the trap was set until I heard the oldest girl cry out in pain. She was on her hands and knees in her Easter dress, slowly making her way under an old pine tree with low branches. I could see her goal, three neon eggs, holding treasures of unimaginable deliciousness.

Each egg rested in its own nest of dried pine needles and was protected by low growing branches. The girl crawled as far as she could go until the branches stopped her.

The taskforce members whispered behind me, “She needs to make a tool.”

This quickly brought to mind a tv special on PBS about chimps using sticks to fish out ants from an anthill for dinner, another good use of a tool.

It didn’t take long before the girl took off her sunglasses and used them as an extension of her arm to catch an egg and roll it towards her. Success! She had it in her hand and dropped it into the bucket that she dragged with her under the tree.
She crawled out from under the tree, backwards over the dried pine needles. The rest of the small-person-gang ran carrying their quickly filling buckets, shrieking like wild animals just released from captivity. They pounced on eggs and each other while the oldest plotted out her approach on the remaining two eggs.

Shuffling around the tree, she moved in for another attempt. She cried out as she crawled over the dry, dead pine needles and reached forward through the sharp, living green needles.

The task force yelled out, “Work through the pain!” excited by her determination and tenacity.

The girl stretched as far as her arm would go and then with her glasses like before – she was learning. Suddenly, she had the two eggs and was standing victorious beside the trees, upright like a human again.

She sat down on the porch steps without looking for anymore eggs which was good as they were mostly found by her siblings.

When they all sat down and started opening the eggs, the oldest girl popped one of the three open to find a piece of chocolate, the next one revealed a quarter, and the last one caused a horrific murder-movie type of scream.

She screamed in the agony of injustice and deflated expectations, “It’s empty!”

The taskforce giggled with delight, “Another life lesson well taught. Two out of three ain’t bad.”

Links on animals using tools:
http://www.pigeon.psy.tufts.edu/psych26/primates.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tool_use_by_animals
http://www.livescience.com/13138-blond-capuchin-monkey-tools-110308.html

Links on Easter egg hunting:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egg_hunt
http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/greedy-parents-battle-kids-easter-egg-hunt-sacramento-article-1.2174533

Breaking up is hard to do

Mental Anguish Digital Art

Bad news has never been an easy thing for me to deliver.  Just thinking about it makes my palms sweat and heart beat irregularly.  The stress from facing conflict and/or disappointment crushes me and instantly releases something toxic into my bloodstream.  It leaves me with a swollen tongue and deaf in my left ear filled with only the sound of fluttering wings.

The bad news doesn’t even have to be particularly bad; it can be merely unpleasant or unfortunate.  For example, I might be tasked with telling someone that their home delivered meals will be delayed just a few hours and suddenly I’m feeling a little nauseous.  Someone once told me that it was just anxiety and meds might help.  I laughed, just anxiety?  This is a full blown condition that is bigger than meds or seeing someone to get a diagnosis.  I call it exaggerated living.

Fortunately, no one reacts in the crazy and over-the-top way that I expect which helps me to emotionally recover to a normal level pretty quickly.  Let me clarify, people usually don’t react in the way that justifies my fears.  Today, my reluctance at being the bearer of bad tidings was validated a hundred times over when someone reacted exactly how I expected to eventually happen, with the full wave of emotions.  Her day was darkened and her course was invariable changed.  I couldn’t help but to feel her pain in an untouchable way as she cried and I watched, like a bystander to a terrible accident.

I realized that my problem with bad news wasn’t about me- it was about the recipient of the news and how they would feel.  I avoid stepping on cracks when walking on the sidewalk to avoid smashing an ant with my clumsy feet, I swerve for squirrels, and can’t pull a band-aide off the arm of a friend because I don’t want to cause pain.  When my brother and I used to get spanked for using curse words or carving our names into wooden furniture, my dad always said with a grimace, “Trust me, this hurts me than it hurts you.”

I get it.  It has to be done, but it’s going to hurt.

cover image: Mental Anguish from fineartamerica.com

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