Her Stripper Name would be Mirage (1)

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PROLOGUE

The following creative literary piece begins the first series inspired by the popular “Lorraine has Fallen” series that began on August 11, 2020. This chapter & eventual future chapter are in no way autobiographical & the scenarios discussed simply create a backdrop for reflection on general topics like processing grief & remaining motivated through adversity.

chapter 1: almost 20/20

Image borrowed for not-for-profit use but for creative effect. Image is property of FirstEyeCareDFW.com

When my eyes & her majestic form first met, I swear I caught a glimpse of Heaven. Think what you may about male to female attraction, but there was nothing raunchy or unclean about the emerging feelings I experienced that day. We were folding linens at the hospital before end of shift. We worked at a small hospital where everyone who didn’t serve a clinical role had to pull double duty which almost always involved folding linens. I was new & only knew a handful of staffers. I was dutifully focused on the task, knowing there should be another staff member coming in soon to help. Then, from the corner of my right eye, I saw her approach with silently smooth feminine ease. Her lengthy, slender, & slightly sun-kissed body glided towards me. At first, I noticed her mostly from the waist area with her features above & below appearing vague since I was looking down at the table where the linens were. I turned my head to acknowledge her. So stunned by the radiance of her beautiful face, I immediately turned away. She maintained an emotionally neutral facade, neither smiling nor frowning. Without a word, she took her place close beside me & began folding her share of linens. She was aloof! I couldn’t yet decide whether or not it was shyness or arrogance that fueled her demeanor. I had to take another look.

“Hi,” I managed. “This is my first weekend shift. I don’t think I’ve met you before. I’m (name confidential).”

“Oh . . . I’m Lorraine,” she said in a slow, soft melodious tone. The elegance of her voice matched the brilliance of her impossibly beautiful face, flanked with long straight hair that straddled the boundary between light brown & dark blond–my favorite color for girls’ hair!

“Great. Well–Lorraine–thanks for helping,” I responded as normally as I could.

“You’re welcome,” she spoke effortlessly, in a tone mildly cheerful yet not too inviting. It was clear to me; it was bashfulness, not conceit, that fueled her demeanor. Lorraine just wanted to appear proper. She just wanted to remain lady-like. I instantly fell in love.

Ancient Sumerians, resident of a city along the Fertile Crescent often credited as being the birthplace for civilization, worshiped a deity known as the Anunnaki–a word loosely translated to “Those who from the Heavens came.” From that moment on, that’s what Lorraine was to me. She was “The ONE who from the Heavens came.” I had completely fallen under her spell. We all have a type– a set of qualities that we seek out in a potential romantic partner. In practice, I’m happy to see even a fraction of these qualities present. But somehow, Lorraine not only met my every ideal, but re-defined them! She was the visible manifestation of everything I’d ever hoped to find in a girl. It didn’t take me long to conclude that this girl I had been waiting my whole life for. The Fertile Crescent–the birthplace for civilization–and looking back to that night, the spot where I met Lorraine became something of a new birthplace for me. Her introduction into my life sparked an ascension into an era of enhanced feeling. The closest thing I can relate it to is getting glasses as a child.

I didn’t want to look like a four-eyed freak in middle school so I hid my compromised vision for as long as I could until the teachers figured it out & told my parents. I even tried to cheat on the exam; when the optometrist left the room I ran up to the chart in an attempt to memorize the letters in sequence. It almost worked,until he walked in & caught me. I was almost on the 20/20 line.

Like a true warrior, I fought against my need for glasses until the very end. But then, I walked outside & saw a world with clear detail; and I realized what I had been missing that entire time. I saw beauty in almost everything around me; a view rich with minute details. We lived in the country. Our house was surrounded by tall grass that looked almost like wheat. I could see the minute buds at the top of each strand of grass as they swayed back & forth like a sea of crops; a sea made up of individual blades congregating into individual small groups. Not every group of blades would sway in the same direction even. Instead of seeing one vast ocean out there, I could discern a series of small, turbulent seas unifying to compose a single ocean. I was amazed! I felt as though I was seeing the world for the first time. Everything around me suddenly became a masterpiece! And that’s the word that stuck in my head after that night of folding linens with the goddess. Masterpiece. Lorraine was a masterpiece; one that I had waited my entire life to see just as I had spent an entire school year waiting for my resolve to finally break so that I could receive my first set of glasses then finally bear witness to the world around me.

I’ve heard that “Hindsight is 20/20.” I’ve also heard that “Love is blind.” And now that I’m scarred with years of calloused life experience, I can say that both statements are true. Well . . . almost.

EPILOGUE

Hey there. Are you enjoying what you’ve seen so far in “Her Stripper Name would be Mirage”? Well, why not go back to the chapter that started it all. Clink the highlighted area to link back to The Genesis behind this “brave new world” inspired by the mystery girl Lorraine: And then the Rain came Down.

So many Candles, So many Heartbreaks

I recently celebrated a birthday. Hold old am I, you ask? Well, I’d love to tell you. But on one condition. Let’s not measure my age by the number of candles on the cake; because there would be so many too count yet the number would say so little about me. Last summer, I began a series of fictional short stories under the theme “Lorraine has Fallen.” I’d like to demonstrate my journey to improved emotional maturity in the most fitting way possible: by sharing the FINAL CHAPTER of the series.

LORRAINE HAS FALLEN: THE FINAL CHAPTER

There was no point in placing the proper number of candles on my birthday cake. There would be too many to fit anyway, & prove too difficult to blow out to boot. Plus, with the Covid-19 global pandemic, who would want to eat cake that the birthday boy just blew out the candles on? No. Given the circumstances, it seemed best to celebrate my number of years on earth with representative symbolism. I placed a single candle on a single piece of cake placed in front of me & blew it out. That lone act provided the metaphor behind our celebration. In doing so, I acknowledged another chapter of my life, promising to never forget it; while also turning to the next unread page. Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. At least, that’s how the lyrics to a song I heard in my young adulthood went. Those lyrics stuck with me, although at the time, I didn’t really know why. But now, after so many candles, so many heartbreaks . . . I truly understood.

When Lorraine broke my heart by failing to uphold this standard of purity that I had thrust upon her several months ago, my sky came crashing down. I know it didn’t for everyone else. The world didn’t end; but something almost as big had ended for me. Lorraine was Purity’s Last Stand to me. I never intended to date her, but just knowing who she was & how she was validated how I had lived my life. My friends would admonish me for acting too passively, my family for being too picky; even my female friends for being unrealistic & remaining needlessly loyal to a person or ideal when such commitment was unwarranted. I was faithful to a flaw. But I couldn’t change; even when I felt out of place in time . . . a old-fashioned soul trapped in a modern world that scorned tradition, choosing instead to celebrate every single act as a “celebration of liberated thought”.” I was an artifact from another time in the dating world; a figure better suited for an epic poem from literature class than a legitimate suitor in this Brave New World. But when I met Lorraine, & watched how she behaved for several years; how a girl that beautiful could remain so modest & willing to go extended periods without needing a relationship–she reminded me why I am the way I am. There are people who are worth it; there are people who understand. Lorraine validated my choice to live life as a nice guy & still believe I wasn’t doomed to finish last. She was the last remnant of Eden on earth; a metaphor for my vindication. I had been right all along; everyone else had been wrong.

When Lorraine broke my heart, in large part unbeknownst to her, she sucked the color out of my world. All I saw was black, white, & grey. Every time I looked up at the sky, it seemed to be raining. It wasn’t quite Hell, but an emotional version of Seattle inside a black & white TV set at least; and that’s bad enough! And that’s where I was. All the while, as I pined for freedom from this oppressive disappointment, I’d tell myself that I’d live to see the day the rain would stop. Even when it seemed it would never end; even when I thought a thousand forevers would pass before the day would finally arrive–I told myself, even LIED to myself, that I’d see the sun again. And when I did, that day would be one of dramatic triumph.

Everyone told me I would “find someone” again–someone “better.” Well, if those same people only bothered to count the candles on my cake, they’d realize how disingenuous their pep talks sounded. If they had known Lorraine for themselves, they’d realize how insulting their assessment of finding “someone better” was. Lorraine was special. On her worst day, she was still one in a million; & I don’t know if I will have spoken to a million girls in the span of an entire lifetime. Find someone else? Sure, maybe. But someone better? How ignorant. And then, my birthday came.

By the time I blew out that single candle on that single slice of cake placed in front of me, I had actually met someone new. She’s more of a friend, really. I had known her for a couple of years already. But just recently, we started talking outside of our normal circle of acquaintance. The way she reacts to me now is different from anything I’ve experienced in recent memory. It’s something about the way she looks at me when I talk to her; her eyes seem some attentive, as if what I’m saying is actually important. I’m accustomed to feeling unimportant. There’s also something about the way I don’t seem able to do anything wrong in her presence, even while I’m not striving to be perfect in front of her. I remember when I first noticed it, I paused. My alarm bells went off. That moment had a hint of connection that felt only remotely familiar, like a pleasant scent from a holiday dinner in my mother’s kitchen as a child . . . in a past life. It actually felt uncomfortable at first; mostly foreign, but faintly familiar too.

I don’t mean to get ahead of things; she’s not my girlfriend, for sure. But she has gradually begun replacing all the blocks of time that have for so long been the exclusive domain of Lorraine. I questioned what it is that I feel for her; at first. I was convinced that it couldn’t POSSIBLE be ROMANCE. Although she always cheered me up when I saw her, our interactions didn’t stun me into inaction–didn’t render immobile—didn’t rob me of the talent of speech. I didn’t yearn to kiss the ground she walked on–and, for those of you who have endured my incessant discussions about Lorraine, this yearning isn’t THAT MUCH of an EXAGGERATION!

I was born on Valentine’s day. I had always been a bit melodramatic, especially when it came to romance. While my interactions with my new friend feel positive & wholesome, they lack that sensation of “God placing all of existence on pause for a moment” when I see her. I don’t feel “newly born” when I see her like it felt with Lorraine; it’s more the feeling of your blanket when you wake up cold in the middle of the night, or your favorite hoodie when you’re sick on the couch–comforting. It feels less like a movie–or, more befitting, “an epic poem;” & more “every day”. While my interactions with Lorraine has always carried a greater deal of drama with them, they also proved utterly exhausting. It was as if every little thing she did, every little chance encounter, would either hype me up until I’d exhaust myself on the excitement, or drain me of my energy when she disappointed me. While less “epic” than my interactions with Lorraine, my interactions with my new friend seem more sustainable. If this isn’t attraction, isn’t romance . . . then WHAT is it?

By the time I was to blow out the candle on that single flickering flame before me, I had the answer. My whole ordeal with Lorraine, while intoxicating, was all fantasy. What I was experiencing in the moment with my new friend–that was real life. I’ve never used drugs; but the one time I got high was as a patient in the hospital. I had been admitted for severe dizziness & nausea. The nurses injected something into my arm. I could feel the cool fluid ease into my vein at first, then quickly disseminate. Inside of two seconds, they had me transferred to another dimension. At 00:1, I was lying in bed, groggy with pain, vaguely aware of three nurses standing to one side of my bed. At 00:6, I couldn’t stop laughing, still vaguely aware of the three nurses standing by my bed. At 00:9, I was traveling through a tunnel of fast moving flashing lights, similar to the sensation of riding Space Mountain at Disney World. At 1.9, I was aware of my sleepiness despite laughing hysterically. And in my next sentient moment, it was morning. I won’t lie about this–it was FUN! But I wouldn’t want to remain permanently in that state, much less make important decisions while in that state. It’s horrifying to think that, during this entire Lorraine ordeal, that’s essentially what I had been doing. I had been at the wheel of my own life while intoxicated, making decisions about my employment status, my reputation, & other matters of far-reaching import while intoxicated by an emotional high, at best–and a deep emotional low, at worst. I had told myself this before; but sometimes, we even have to remind ourselves of the lessons we’ve already learned. “If every day is a holiday, then there are NO holidays.”

Whatever is happening between me & my new friend, whether it’s romance or whether it fizzles off into nothing–it’s real world, not fantasy. If this isn’t romance, then what is it? Well, I guess this is “growing up.”

Having thus concluded, I blew out the single candle on my slice of cake. I watched as the flame as it initially resisted, then conceded defeat. I saw the plumes of smoke, dark & fierce at first, lighten & then dissipate into nothing until what was left was just a candle that once carried a flame. I looked out the window & could see in the fading daylight that the rain had finally stopped. Come to think of it, it hadn’t rained all day & I hadn’t even noticed. Huh. “I knew this day would come,” I thought to myself. I just always believed it would feel different.” The greatest measure of emotional maturity is self-awareness.

“This was the best birthday gift ever (aside from life itself, of course),” I mused. “Freedom from the rain.” I had always expected that this day would arrive with an air of dramatic triumph; but felt just like an ordinary day. Ordinary by my new standards, at least; probably better this way.

How old am I? you wondered earlier. Well . . . old enough to have grown up, at least. Finally.

Maybe I was still right regarding Lorraine. Maybe I wouldn’t find someone “better ” than she is. But that’s asking the wrong question anyway. I just want to find someone “better for me.” And, in terms of everything else, outside of relationships . . . that should be my focus moving forward. I need to forget about achieving “better” & focus on achieving “better for me.” A better fit, a better attitude–just better for me.

After so many candles, so many heartbreaks—I finally understood.

Farewell, Lorraine. No hard feelings; just . . . farewell.

THE END . . . and yet, THE BEGINNING

Inspired, in part, by the lyrics of a twenty-year-old alternative rock song by Blink182. See lyrics below.

But everybody's gone
And I've been here for too long
To face this on my own
Well, I guess this is growing up
Well, I guess this is growing up.

Darkness Falls

Skin against skin–blood & bone. You’re all by yourself but you’re not alone. You wanted in & now you’re here… Driven by HATE but consumed by FEAR.

—Lyrics by Drowning Pool, circa 2001

NOTICE: The following piece is a creative exercise; a work of fiction.

I Idecided to stop going to church. This is a significant life development because this wasn’t the church that I grew up in. This wasn’t my parent’s church. This was the church that, after a long absence from formal religion, I sought & found myself two years ago. For the first time since I left home for college, my discovery of this church made be feel anchored into a community. I finally belonged somewhere. I finally found a “home” that was independent of my parent’s home. While I’m grateful for the home my parent’s shared with me, I was anxious to establish a life of my own. And discovering this church made me feel as though I had finally done so. But I’ve decided to stop going–at least for now. This church preaches messages like forgiveness & compassion, even for our most wicked enemies! This church, while it has granted me incredible peaceful insight, has rendered me soft & weak.

It’s an evil world out there; a dark one. If I embark on a journey into that lawlessness with a heart full of compassion, then I’m setting myself up to be some predator’s next meal. I won’t let that happen. I need to be strong. I’m not that gullible anymore. I won’t be lulled into complacency by this promise of peace & harmony. Liturgy like this ensures that nice guys keep finishing last & the big bad wolf gets away with anything he wants —consequences, wreckage, carnage left for everyone involved except for the wolf. Well how many more lives have to be wrecked? How many more hearts broken? How many honorable women desecrated . . . just so the wolf can reign supreme atop the food chain? Hell no. You fight Alpha with Alpha. You don’t tame a wolf with an olive branch–that shit will get you EATEN! You tame a wolf with a weapon that’s bigger & meaner than the wolf.

NOTICE: The following piece is a creative exercise; a work of fiction.

I used to believe in that garbage. I used to live for love & peace & community. But then the Alpha Wolf showed up at the gate. And the people I cared about, the same people who were normally so cautious, let the predator right into our midst where he destroyed everything . After I saw ‘The Most Virtuous Lorraine” corrupted, I knew that there is nothing under the sky that can’t be violated. Everything can be turned to the darkness. I used to want to live for love; but now I realize that love is so difficult to find yet so easy to lose. No. I want to put the percentages in my favor. I need TO WIN!

My decision to forgo church for the foreseeable future is not one I made lightly. I went back & forth multiple times a day for many consecutive days. I’ve wrestled with this choice on some sleepless nights, a handful of angry karaoke sessions, & with the influence of several incarnations of alcohol. The struggle made me think back to the “Star Wars” movies. Over & over again, you’d hear about the “seduction of the Dark Side of the Force.” It seemed to be a shortcut to power. Darth Vader once pleaded with his son Luke: “If only you knew the power of the Dark Side.” However, the Dark side’s gift are not without their consequences. Jedi Master Yoda once warned, “If once you start down The Dark Path, forever it will dominate your destiny.”

Discussion over The Dark Side often questions its morality. I think it was Obiwan Kenobi who once cautioned Luke, “Don’t give in to your hate. That leads to The Dark Side.”

But in my own life experience, I realize that my anger–& eventually, my hate–has always made me strong, at least temporarily. I’m normally extremely considerate of others & deliberate with my actions. But when I’m overcome with rage, I disregard everything except for the target of my rage. I lose all inhibition & become brave. My aggression fuels my physical strength. I fear no consequences because, in that moment, nothing matters but the conquest. It’s liberating to feel unencumbered by the myriad of constraints we place on our every actions in this so-called “polite society” we share. But the problem is, invariably, some less than polite Wolf shows up & rides away with the spoils of our work, disregarding everything we learn to hold sacred. That’s why there can be nothing more sacred than winning. Because winning means we hold on to what we have, even if that means exterminating the wolf.

All the same, even the strength that accompanies hatred is questionable. When Anikan Skywalker turned to The Dark Side, one of his companions stated: “The fear of loss is a path to The Dark Side.” That’s true in the movies & it’s true in life. Even the lyrics that I opened my reflection with today states, “Driven by hate (but) consumed by fear.”

NOTICE: The following piece is a creative exercise; a work of fiction.

It’s true. I’m consumed by fear. I don’t want the monster that stole Lorraine away from the world of the righteous to plunder any other irreplaceable treasures. I turned to God for help in her case, but God turned His back on me. He allowed the Wolf to go free, unpunished. I asked my pastor how a just God could allow such an unjust conclusion to occur: he told me that I had to learn to forgive even the predator that devoured Lorraine. That’s when I knew that this church would yield no further answers for me. If even this MONSTER is not yet Hellbound, then what’s the purpose of Hell at all? No. Just as Lorraine is now removed from the world of the righteous, I must remove myself from that world, if only temporarily.

By turning away from the church, I’m not turning away from God. Nor am I turning to The Dark One for power. I’m not seeking strength from any outside source–I’m not seeking darkness from any external source. I, like everyone, have plenty of dark content within myself. Going to church & reflecting & praying helps us subdue our own dark selves. But now that all that hokus pokus has betrayed me, I seek to bring out my own inner-strength for a while; even if that strength comes from my dark side. There is no “Dark Side” that I’m giving myself to; there is no “Deal with the Devil.” This is a deal with myself. An evil predator has committed an unforgivable act in my presence, & I’m obligated to respond. My pastor tells me that God is the ultimate judge; that His hand is the only true hand of justice. Well, here’s my answer to that. Maybe so, but God’s justice is too slow. The man who raped Lorraine needs to be brought to account right now.

It’s time for the Alpha Wolf to recognize: he’s not the only carnivore at the table anymore. Darkness has fallen. I’ve arrived & I have my sights set on Alpha Status. It’s okay, Boy. You’ve had your time. But the sun has set on your reign. It’s only fair. If Lorraine can fall, then so can you. You took her away from me; so now, I’ll take your top spot away from you. The rain falls. Darkness falls. Lorraine falls. And soon, Alpha Wolf– so will you.

How do you vanquish a predator like the Big Bad Monster? Be becoming an even Bigger, Badder Monster . . . by giving in to your inner dark side.

NOTICE: The following piece is a creative exercise; a work of fiction.

SER VS ESTAR

Take a trip back into the past with me as we re-visit our introductory Spanish class. In English, we have one form of the verb “to be.” I am; You are; She is; They are– should cover the verb in all its present tense forms. Spanish takes things a step further in featuring two forms of the verb “to be.” These verbs are ser & estar. He’s the difference in a nutshell: we use “ser” to convey a permanent characteristic or familial relation. We use “estar” for conditions that are more transient states like location, mood, & health. For example, we should use “ser” to describe an adult’s height or gender. In contrast, we would use “estar” to describe a person’s well-being (are they feeling sick or healthy) or emotional state. As a fourteen-year-old studying Spanish for the first time, I found it odd to need two verb to represent the idea of being. We either are, or we aren’t–right? Remember Hamlet? To be, or not to be. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realize that we can achieve what we consider a permanent state–like the state of forgiveness–only to revert to resentment or even hatred only a short time down the road.

This idea brings to mind the Biblical account of the Pharaoh & Moses. Beleaguered by the plagues sent by Almighty God, the Pharaoh grants Moses & the refugees safe passage from Egypt. But even before the refugees can even wade into the Red Sea, the Egyptian monarch rescinds his peace offering & sends chariots of soldiers to eradicate Moses & his followers. The idea of God splitting the Red Sea in order to create a path for the refugees wasn’t what puzzled me as a child; after all, nothing is impossible for God! What did seem unrealistic was that someone could grant forgiveness one moment only to rain down fire & destruction upon the forgiven party shortly after. People tend to make their mind up & stick with it, right? Wrong.

Awh, things are simpler as a child. We see everything as black & white–straight forward. But as we get older, we become conditioned to consider so many other factors. Many are external, like social pressures & precedent. What would my neighbor do, for example? What do upstanding people typically do in this situation? But others are internal, & much more personal. Sometimes, it depends on how hardened our hearts are from the scar tissue of disappointments from experiences past. When Lorraine broke my heart, I erupted in anger. I was angry at her as well as the man who had, in my opinion, defiled her. I hated them both. I couldn’t get that disturbing image of the two of them sneaking around together, laughing deviously. I felt robbed of the comfortable image of warmth, peace, & security that I’d retreat to in my mind when I started to think the world was more bad than good. I had that comforting image–that image of Lorraine’s sweet innocence & enduring loyalty replaced with this disgusting image–this carnage of fidelity, this upside down cross! I couldn’t get the image out of my head; it haunted me in my sleep. Every time I closed my eyes, the image awaited me, as if burned onto the insides of my eyelids!

But with time away from that unsightly vision, I was able to rediscover all of Lorraine’s positive qualities. I started to recall all the times she made my day with a smile or brief conversation. I began to yearn for her closeness again even after she had brought me so much pain. I had forgiven her, so it seemed.

But now, after I saw her again & experienced the chill from her contrived lack of recognition as she passed me by, all the ill feelings resurfaced. I hated her again.

I know that I’m supposed to be above this. I believe that God has placed this challenge before me in order for me to break the cycle & evolve into a superior emotional state. But the pain is too great. The indignation, too great. The disappointment, too great. The hatred–still ready to flare up at a moment’s notice.

For the first three years I knew Lorraine, she awakened an enthusiasm for life within me. Just her presence, or even, the idea of her presence, would prompt inside me a hunger for life that overpowered fear, fatigue, despondence. But now, after that disgusting picture that she left burned into my eyes, I feel as though her presence in my life was nothing short of a Biblical plague.

I still don’t forgive her.

Ser & estar; I used to think it redundant to require two words to convey the single verb “to be.” But after Lorraine, I realize that my own life is less ser & more estar.

Right now, I still hate her.

Today’s post marks a bonus chapter in my “Lorraine has Fallen”series of posts centering around a fictional character in a contrived scenario while he tries to cope with life’s disappointments. The following post & eventual future posts are in no way autobiographical & the scenarios discussed simply create a backdrop for reflection on general topics like processing grief & remaining motivated through adversity.

Green on the Vine

Today’s post marks a bonus chapter in my “Lorraine has Fallen”series of posts centering around a fictional character in a contrived scenario while he tries to cope with life’s disappointments. The following post & eventual future posts are in no way autobiographical & the scenarios discussed simply create a backdrop for reflection on general topics like processing grief & remaining motivated through adversity.

As I was speaking to Chelsea, a fellow congregant at my church after service, her toddler took a sudden interest in me. Her name is Haley, like the comet. She’s not quite three & seems tall for her age but is still very quiet, especially around strangers. Typically, she appears lost in her own world while she plays with her toys around the vicinity of her mother’s knees while her sociable mother engages in the joyous banter of her ever-expanding Sunday social circle. Haley looks like a doll; not a Barbie doll, mind you, but the kind of doll made to look & feel like a baby so that young children who, barely beyond toddler status themselves, can pretend to play parent with a child of their very own. Haley’s hair is incredibly long & manageable, almost too perfect to belong to anything but a toy. She also boasts all the typical traits of “cuteness” like over-sized eyes & a head nearly as wide as her shoulders. And then there’s that pout; no matter what she’s doing, whether she appears agitated or pacified, her face always seems to be frozen in a perennial pout. It’s not a sign of sadness for her; more a sign of an unshakable demeanor–as if, no matter what, this gal will always be a cool customer who will remain at peace with her environment, even if that means staying non-reactive with said environment. But today was different. She approached me with a handful of goodies like a toy, a ziploc bag of cookies, & a bottled water. Out of nowhere, she sauntered out from beyond the shadows of her mother’s legs towards me & upon meeting me, promptly handed me her bottled water.

I was touched by her gesture & began talking to her in soft, simple sentences. I don’t think she understood me but she seemed comforted by my kind tone, if nothing else. I knelt down on one knee to greet her & she promptly climbed up onto my opposite thigh. Her mother looked pleasantly surprised that the toddler, who had only seen me once or twice before & at brief intervals, had taken such bold action to befriend me. Not having any kids of my own but having had plenty of time to ponder my parent’s relationship with me, I decided to impart some of my worldly wisdom on the child; the kind of wisdom that doesn’t come through books, but only through blood & tears. I’d figure I’d save her that trouble.

“Wow, Haley” I began. “You’re so sweet! I wish you could stay like this forever! But I know you can’t, so at least let me tell you a story. Once I knew a girl who was as sweet & innocent & as un-corrupted by the world as you are now,” I stated as my mind began to drift backwards to an era when my heart had one less scar than it had presently. “Any what made this girl even more special was that she wasn’t a little girl like you, but a big one! She was almost a grown-up in many ways, but in others, still like a child.” The precursor to tears began to pool up in my eyes & the pace of my speech slowed as I took care not to succumb to emotion.

“I worked with her & she was much younger than I was, so I had to be cautious about what I said to her & how I said it,” I explained. “Still, I tried to befriend her–slowly, so as not to alarm her. But I wanted to befriend her so that, little by little, I could help her understand how special she was. And I came close to telling her the big secret,” I sighed & took a moment to rejoin the present, making eye contact with the toddler to determine whether or not she had been following along. Haley’s eyes seemed intently locked on mine. She giggled & then reached her hand towards my face then smiled. “Yeah,” I thought. “She’s listening. I guess I can continue.”

After a deep breath, I resumed: “All I wanted to tell her is that I hoped she’d never change. But before I could . . . ” overwhelmed by the reminder of a painful memory, I found myself unable to complete the sentence. After a pause, I concluded “But I was too late. By the time I was ready to tell her, The Serpent had already gotten to her & had changed her forever.”

A moment of silence passed as my mind flashed back to a passage I recorded previously in “Stained Glass.”

“Haley,” I resumed again. “I know you can’t stay this way forever. I know you will have many friends. But no one will ever love you as much as your mother loves you. When you grow up, you may feel embarrassed about this; but once you really grow up, you’ll realize that it’s okay.” By this time, the child had climbed up onto my shoulder & I pat her on the back while I finished my story. I looked up at her mother & nodded that I was in the process of handing the sleepy toddler back to her. “And a beautiful girl like you will have many suitors. But make sure you choose one who appreciates how sweet you are inside & not just how pretty you are on the outside,” I concluded as I handed the toddler back to her mother. Haley immediately swung her head back to look at me as I started to back away, prompting me to add: “But don’t be disappointed if you discover that no man ever loves you as much as your daddy loves you. That’s okay too. It just means that you were loved in all the ways you should have been loved.” Haley smiled at me & waved as her mother made her way towards her husband & the rest of their family. And then, more to myself than anyone, I whispered: “Just don’t be in a hurry to grow up. Hold on to your innocence as long as you can.”

A deep sense of regret sank in. Despite the successful interaction I had just shared with a member of our near future, I couldn’t help but mourn a failure of the recent past. “L-O-R-R-A-I-N-E,” I lamented as I looked down at the ground. “All this time, I’ve blamed her for failing me. But, as much as anything else, I failed her. I didn’t tell her what I wanted to say in time. And he (the serpent) beat me to it. And now, the quality that had made her so special for so long is gone forever.”

Growing up, I never liked country music. The youth in my area wrote it off as the entertainment option for old folks & rednecks. But today’s reflection brought to mind the lyrics from an old Deanna Carter song:

Oh, bittersweet . . . Green on the vine.

Like strawberry wine.

I always kind of liked that song. When I was in high school, admitting even the faintest appreciation for country music served as a social status kiss of death. Or at least, it guaranteed your demotion to the status of old folk or redneck.

Oh well. I guess I’m a little bit of both: old folk & redneck.

And then I said to no one in particular, “The green on the vine. Like strawberry wine. Hold on to your innocence as long as you can, Haley. Because once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. And what you’ll receive in place of your innocence will be both good & bad . . . .

Bittersweet. Just like my memories of L-O-R-R-A-I-N-E.”

Strawberry Wine.

Arch-Angel Michael spoke in Parable

Today’s post marks a bonus chapter in my series of posts centering around a fictional character in a contrived scenario while he tries to cope with the reality of life’s disappointments. The following post & eventual future posts are in no way autobiographical & the scenarios discussed simply create a backdrop for reflection on general topics like processing grief & remaining motivated through adversity.

This past Sunday, I was supposed to meet with a casual female friend at Sunday service. Although I am a social person & enjoy meeting & greeting before & after service, I prefer to sit through the service alone. However, I ran into a casual friend from the same church while working out at our local gym earlier in the week. She hadn’t been to service in a while. I told her that she had been missing out because the sermons have been dead on & then mentioned where I normally sit. She volunteered that she would come sit with me. At first, I wasn’t sure how I felt about bringing someone else—even a friend–into my sacred square. Once I get my mind to “guard” something, I really hunker down like a German Shepherd. But soon I warmed up to the idea of having someone to share the message with on this day.

That morning, I had a difficult time getting out of bed. I was in danger of sleeping through Sunday service which, if nothing else, throws my entire Sunday–my only day off during the week–into a tailspin & I end up trying to play catch-up all day. Seriously, there’s no reason anyone should need that much sleep! Plus, I knew there would be someone waiting for me & that she would be disappointed if I didn’t show. So dutifully, I soldiered up, hopped out of bed, & made my hasty preparations for departure.

Well, we were already into the sermon & there was still no sign of her. It was no big deal. I wasn’t angry with her; she was just a casual friend who had a husband & family but expected to attend service alone on this particular morning. The gesture was more akin to inviting a co-worker or neighbor to Thanksgiving dinner when they had no one to share the holiday with. I wasn’t disappointed with my friend; but I was disappointed. My lips mouthed in silence the private lament that had already formed in my head: “L-O-R-R-A-I-N-E!” It was my friend who had stood me up, but it was Lorraine who I missed. It was Lorraine’s tall, slender form & long flowing hair that I scanned the congregation in vain to catch a glimpse of. It was Lorraine who had discarded me; who had discredited me; who deserted me. It was Lorraine who had ABANDONED me. And so, it was her name that I spoke meekly in my mind, like a haunting echo pleading for help lost amid a cloudy sky of expansive nothing. It was Lorraine’s absence that made me suddenly feel so isolated.

All the same, the service was stellar as usual. The message from the sermon was difficult to hear but necessary to receive. The preacher asked us what it was that we treasured the most in our lives? Then he challenged us to assess whether or not that thing that we treasured so greatly meant more to us than our commitment to God? He inquired, “What is it that you’re holding onto–that you’re clinging to so obsessively as to reduce your commitment to God?” Before he even asked the question, my answer had already formed silently in my mind. “Lorraine.”

No matter who disappointed me or who let me down, the blame would always fall on Lorraine. No matter who stood me up or broke a promise, so long as she were female, my mind would register it as yet another failure of Lorraine to recognize my value. It probably sounds unfair, but understand this: No female on earth has ever made me feel such enthusiasm for even the simplest moments in life. But by the same token, no other female on earth has ever disappointed me in so devastating a manner. After service, I walked over to my fellow congregant & close confidant, Michael. He had known about my fascination with Lorraine from the beginning. I told him what happened & that I blamed Lorraine. He chuckled. But then I asked him in earnest, “How long will it be like this?” And then, this long-time Protestant & true student of the Bible answered me in an almost parable-like fashion: “Well, that’s up to you. How long are you going to hold on to your disappointment?”

I mourned an inescapable awareness that the chains of heartbreak that I carried over Lorraine would burden me indefinitely. I looked up to the morning sky, searching for answers; but all I saw was that rain from a sudden storm had begun to come down.

Every time it rains, I always seem to think of her.

Stained Glass

Today’s post marks the fifth in a series of posts centering around a fictional character in a contrived scenario while he tries to cope with the reality of life’s disappointments. The following post & eventual future posts are in no way autobiographical & the scenarios discussed simply create a backdrop for reflection on general topics like processing grief & remaining motivated through adversity.

Stained
Picture borrowed from online source.

I read somewhere that Canterbury Cathedral in England features over 3,600 square ft of stained glass. Stained glass had intrigued me from the time I learned about the topic during a childhood summer  camp. We were putting on a production of “The Pirates of Penzance” & every segment of the camp, even the art class, attempting to incorporate era appropriate themes into the daily activities. As a young boy growing up in the American Southeast, I was enthralled. “Wow!” I thought. “Pirates, sword fighting, cannons, &  now–treasure! What beautiful works of art!” I loved how a handful of basic colors like red, blue, white, & green could come together to create almost any image imaginable. I liked how the windows were like a jigsaw puzzle; with each piece representing a precious treasure all by itself. When they all came together, it was like a culmination of miniature jewels combining to create the ultimate MASTERPIECE! And when the sun shone through the other side of the glass, the entire structure would light up in an array of spectacular colors. In a time before electricity, a stained glass window with the sun’s rays behind it must have been the Medieval version of Times Square! Such a sight must have seemed like magic, or even better–a MASTERPIECE.

When I first saw Lorraine, I was dumbfounded by her physical beauty. I was a deer in the headlights; so unprepared to process the astounding scene of beauty before me that my entire body simply shut down. I’ve heard some religious texts describe this exact same state when a mortal finds himself in the presence of the divine. As I’ve made clear previously, (see“Breathless”), Lorraine is the most beautiful girl I have ever seen. But what really blew me away about her was her demeanor. She was the sweetest girl I will ever meet.

Lorraine worked in an environment where she was surrounded by young, fit-bodied peers, including over-confident young men. I observed a great deal of fraternization, which is to be expected in any college-aged coed group. When Lorraine wasn’t studying or playing beach volleyball, she worked as a front desk attendant at the health club where I got my first job following my major surgery. And believe me–the “fraternization” wasn’t limited to similarly aged individuals. The managers were the worst–openly gawking & engaging female employees half their age while ignoring the male employees and frequently, even their responsibilities! But Lorraine somehow managed to remain coy in the midst of it all. She was so bashful, it was adorable! Somehow, she was able to keep all of the salivating wolves at bay & do so gracefully. And I say “bashful,” not “conceited” because she was amazingly modest. When she worked out, she always used the cardio equipment backed up against the wall so that people wouldn’t look at her backside while she got in her steps. When she worked on her abs or stretched, she’d always sneak off into one of the unoccupied yoga studios because she didn’t want the general public to catch her in a compromised position. And the greatest proof of her modest shyness emerged when she talked to any male co-workers. Lorraine never initiated a conversation; but if someone approached her, she would listen attentively & then respond cordially but briefly. She somehow managed to be polite without encouraging further interaction. The first time I actually talked to her, I must have looked like an imbecile! I was unprepared to receive her voice: how soft & feminine it was, but effortlessly confident. My mother had a jewelry box on her dresser when I was a child. It was crafted in the shape of a miniature chest of drawers. On top, it featured a bird cage with a fake parakeet perched on a swing. You could wind it up & the parakeet would swing back & forth while singing a calm music box melody. When I heard Lorraine’s voice for the first time, I thought of that music box. “Oh my gosh!” I remember thinking. “Even her VOICE is beautiful!” I probably looked like an imbecile because while I could think clearly in my head, I couldn’t say a word out loud.

Someway, somehow, I was able to get her to warm up to me. Lorraine behaved politely but cautiously around me for the first year-and-a-half or so, but eventually she started waving at me in the hallways or would stop to talk to me unsolicited. This was a big deal because Lorraine never waved to any guys much less stop & talk to them. She never caused problems for anyone & everyone who brought her up in conversation would describe her as “sweet” even if they had never spoken to her. She just exuded a peaceful, modest, non-judging persona that everyone seemed to appreciate from afar. But somehow, for a while at least, I got to the point where she would actually smile when she saw me! This was HUGE because Lorraine never smiled at ANYBODY! As I said earlier, (See“The Rain”) we were almost friends.

I even heard from a co-worker who had gone to high school with her that she had never even had a boyfriend. Despite her good looks, good grades, & aptitude in sports, she mostly kept to herself & a handful of close girl friends. I heard it was even a big deal when a group of her classmates observed her slow dancing with her date at her senior prom. This all matched up with what I had observed in my own experiences with her. Even at twenty-years old, Lorraine’s best friend was still her own mother, with whom she’d often work out. Lorraine was an absolute MASTERPIECE–to good to be true!

So you can imagine my shock when I happened on her rendezvous with that sinful manager. By this time, she was a nursing student & I was a security officer at our local hospital. There was a wing of the facility that was off limits to anyone but management & duty specific personnel. There were turbines & water heaters & electrical wires & such–big time OSHA hazards to leave opened to the general workforce. All doors in & out were locked. I was on patrol one afternoon. I know the schedule of everything that goes on at this hospital because it’s my job to know. The nursing students come in at 2 pm & they report to the 3rd Floor Conference Room before they do anything else. It was 2:10 when I came across those double doors for SECTOR A. To my shock, it came opened. I heard laughter & the voice of that idiot, meat-head manager from just inside the ajar door. And then, to my shock, I saw Lorraine emerge from behind the door–smiling, laughing, carrying on. When she saw that I was there, she stopped & when our eyes met, she had a horrified look on her face. I turned away & continued down the hallway to finish my patrol.

It felt like a normal day on my drive home. I wasn’t particularly agitated despite what I had witnessed earlier. But when I came into my kitchen wanting something to drink, it hit me. I flung my coat across the room & yelled some obscenity at that meat-head boss. Then I collapsed onto the floor & cried. I didn’t cry for long. My sense of duty soon kicked in. I couldn’t work for a man who I didn’t respect. I got drunk on Jack & Coke & then wrote my resignation letter that night. Fuck the job. Fuck the boss. Fuck everything. If Lorraine can’t stay pure, nothing on this God-forsaken earth is pure. Everything if polluted. We live in filth. Before the liquor took too strong a hold on me, I remember trying to visualize her face–the same beautiful face that had appeared so often to me even during my deepest slumber–but tonight, all I could see was debauchery. “I can’t even LOOK at you ANYMORE!” I yelled into my glass of Jack Daniels, thinking I was talking to her. I know it sounds unfair. I know it sounds insensitive. I know she didn’t owe me so much as an explanation much less any loyalty. But I’m still allowed to mourn. I’m still allowed to hurt. All I hear about is that I need to be sensitive to everyone else’s feelings. I need to go out of my way not to offend anyone. But what, I’m not allowed to feel offended myself? Everyone else’s feelings & sentiments & world views matter except for mine, is that how it works? Is that how this SHIT works? Tonight, I was going to mourn the loss of something that I had held sacred so so long & I didn’t care if that was selfish of me or not!

For three years, when I’d look at Lorraine, I’d see God’s earthly MASTERPIECE. But now, every time I see her, even if it’s just in my mind, all I see is . . . .

Shattered, stained glass.

Secret Santa

Today’s post marks the fourth in a series of posts centering around a fictional character in a contrived scenario while he tries to cope with the harsh reality of life’s disappointments. The following post & eventual future posts are in no way autobiographical & the scenarios discussed simply create a backdrop for reflection on general topics like processing grief & remaining motivated through adversity.

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I grew up in a close knit family, complete with a foundation of traditional values. Holidays were a particularly special time to revel in our unity within the household as well as our community. My parents would always throw a huge Christmas Eve party & every relative & close family friend & community member would make an appearance. This would go on from about 3pm till about 11pm at which time we would all abide by the Catholic tradition of attending Midnight Mass. Once we all grew up & moved away, however, these holiday gatherings became less frequent. During one such holiday season, however, my siblings & I were all able to secure time off at the same time & we somehow managed to spend Christmas eve under our parent’s roof just like old times. It should have been a happy time, but for me, it had occurred after the Fall of Lorraine & I was off in a corner by myself moping. My sister, without even looking up from her book, suddenly stated: “She’s just a girl.”

I questioned her & she clarified. “Lorraine is just a girl. No matter what else you think of her. She’s young & her world view isn’t even developed yet; it’s not even based on real world experience, just her parent’s ideas more than anything.” I didn’t respond. I disagreed entirely with my sister’s assessment but I didn’t feel like engaging in a conflict on Christmas Eve especially over a topic I had already made by mind up about. No one had to understand why she mattered so much to me. No one had to approve of the pain I felt; it was real regardless. And it didn’t matter why she mattered so much; just that she did. I sunk deeper into my reflective shell. The crackling of the logs in the fireplace made it easier to escape into the deep recesses of my memories. I would take a trip into the past in order to understand the present.

When I was a kid, Christmas was such a special season of joy & anticipation. School was about to be out. Family would be visiting from out of town. We would decorate the house & presents with my name on them would appear daily underneath the Christmas tree. Yes, this sounds a bit selfish but this is a childhood memory, after all. Even if my sentiments aren’t exactly philanthropic, they are at least–pure. I used to spend my evenings after school, back in the days when I didn’t have any homework to do yet, placing all my gifts in one area & then examining the boxes. I’d usually use a Goldilocks technique–pick the ones not too small or not too big & that were neatly wrapped in a tight square or rectangle. I’d filter two or three of these “just right” sized gifts & play the guessing game. What could it be? I’d pick them up & assess the weight. I’d shake them & listen for any excessive roll internally. I’d hold them close to my ear to see if the gift would whisper a hint to ease my childish curiosity. I loved the smell of the wrapping paper & Scotch tape especially after the gifts had been under the tree for a few days because the tape would often have pine needles stuck to it, adding an additional dimension to the holiday-themed sensory euphoria. On Christmas morning, when I finally opened the gift, I found myself bewildered to discover that the excitement of owning that highly sought after toy failed to linger as long as the anticipation of yearning for it. By the time night fell over Christmas day, although I was happy to have the toy I wanted–I was sad to see the gift boxes & wrapping paper thrown away. It was as if the presentation of a gift from someone who cared about me mattered more than the gift itself.

Well, one Christmas when I was older, we did a Secret Santa gift exchange at work. This quiet, brown-eyed girl from Accounting who I had always admired drew my name. I know the point of a Secret Santa is to conceal the identity of the gift giver, but I tend to be resourceful at solving puzzles. I asked around, made some inferences, caught some breaks, & boom! I discovered who drew my name. She placed a beautiful package under our company tree. It was long with a silver base color but covered with a pattern of green Christmas trees all over. In certain areas, you’d see prominent red ribbons available; & sitting atop the box, as if a crown, rested a beautiful red ribbon. For 12 days (You know, like “The 12 Days of Christmas”?) I wondered what hidden treasure lay inside. When I finally opened it up, I was stunned to find it empty except for a small piece of paper containing a short note that read: “I didn’t know what to get you, so I decided on the gift of excitement.” And you know what? Because of who this note came from, I wasn’t disappointed. I had been excited leading up to the moment I opened the box & peered inside. And for some strange reason, the excitement of receiving that special toy that would often wear off so quickly during my childhood seemed to linger longer this time around. All she gave me was a stupid piece of paper; but my reaction to that gift is what made it stick for so long.

When I tell people close to me the story of Lorraine & how I was almost friends with this girl–the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen, the sweetest girl I will ever meet–they laugh. “Why are you still thinking about her?” they’d ask. “You two were never even together. How could you love someone you were never even really friends with?” They’d chide & ridicule relentlessly, trying to change my mind about how I should feel about my experience. I used to try to convince them that they were the ones who were blind not to see it, but I stopped. I don’t have to convince anyone else that she’s worth pining over or that the pain is real or that the feelings I had for her before The Fall were real. All I have to do is think back to the gift of my Secret Santa. It doesn’t matter that my story with Lorraine didn’t end the way it was supposed to. It doesn’t matter that all anyone remembers about my Secret Santa is that I received an empty box. Lorraine gave me the gift of excitement. She made waking up on cold, winter mornings fun for this life-long night owl. She gave me a reason to smile while I forced myself into a cold shower, half-asleep or as I sat in a cold snow-covered car waiting for it to thaw out. She made the painful ritual of awakening on a cold, cheerless workday happy because I burned with the anticipation of seeing her again, even for a few minutes. Lorraine, like my Secret Santa, gave me the gift of excitement . . . and she never even had to wrap it. I don’t care if no one else will ever understand it; but Lorraine’s gift to me never faded away into darkness the way Christmas Day would fade into Christmas Night. Even now, when I think of her, my heart leaps. The excitement she brought to my life remains in it, even if she herself is gone from it. I wish I could tell her “Thank you, Lorraine; my lifelong Secret Santa.”

She rendered me Breathless

Today’s post marks the third in a series of posts centering around a fictional character in a contrived scenario while he tries to cope with the harsh reality of life’s disappointments. The following post & eventual future posts are in no way autobiographical & the scenarios discussed simply create a backdrop for reflection on general topics like processing grief & remaining motivated through adversity.

Breathe

BACK to REALITY: I remember the first time I laid eyes on her. I was working a closing shift at the gym. I was new & this was my first job in a long time so I was really putting forth extraordinary effort; more than was necessary. I was dripping with sweat, my shoes were wet from having mopped the floor upstairs, & I felt gross. I remember it was noisy. The room was so full of people running on treadmills, lifting weights, playing basketball . . . it was plain chaos. And then I saw her; and the world around her ceased to exist. All I saw was her impossibly perfect female form. She stood a solid 5’6″ easily—a height effortlessly accentuated by the length & proportion of her graceful limbs. I don’t mean to sound profane, but numerous patrons at this health club would stop & ask me about this majestic co-worker of mine, frequently commenting that she, “had the most perfectly shaped legs” they had ever seen. And while I don’t disagree with their assessment, I was always more astonished by the overall symmetry of her entire body–from her narrow but athletic torso to the lengthy & slender arms that sloped down from her strong but solid shoulders, culminating in soft feminine hands with long fingers. And her skin looked flawless–all over–soft & smooth; they seemed to capture just enough of the ambient light to make her glow all over. And then her long, straight hair which she often left down or pulled back into a ponytail or in a single long braid while she exercised. I studied a bit of Greek philosophy in college. The concept of the Golden Mean stuck in my mind: Nothing I in excess; everything in proportion. Lorraine was the Golden Mean in practice. I was so bewildered by her beauty that I literally had to remind myself to breathe!

FLASHBACK: Oh my gosh. My throat hurts! It feels like I’m choking to death. Fuck me! The anesthesia’s worn off & they don’t realize it! I survived the damn surgery just to choke to death from this stupid tube down my throat!

I was aware of my  surroundings. The room was extremely bright. I could tell that I was laying on a gurney. I could make out a group of 4 or 5 medical professionals in the room. There was a young blonde with short hair just down to her neck who seemed the most in tune with me. She wore a blue gown. Too bad she wasn’t in charge because the knuckle-head who was seemed disinterested in anything she had to say. Everyone looked so young; maybe mid-twenties to early thirties at the oldest. Was this really the best group to entrust my life to? The “big man” in charge had his back turned to me. He appeared more concerned with some paperwork in front of him then he was with me or the cute blonde who kept trying to intervene for me. Even back then, I got the feeling that he was playing coy to assert his authority & experience level with the team. “Oh great,” I thought. “Another meat-head trying to establish his Alpha Dog status in front of the pretty girls at my expense! Will this nightmare never end?”

I started to get pissed at this know-it-all. But all that did was hasten my breathing & oxygen was already hard to come by. Besides, I felt so weak all over; as if the blood wasn’t even flowing. It hurt to even try to move. Pumping more oxygen through my weakened body wouldn’t have given me any more  strength anyway. I was essentially a conscious brain trapped inside a useless body. It reminded me of an old episode of Tales from the Crypt that revolved around a similar scenario but I quickly ushered it away when my heart began to race from panic. I was just going to have to wait this thing out. I was just going to have to make do with nominal oxygen, even if that meant learning to breathe all over again.

BACK to REALITY: It was early summer. Lorraine was a beach volleyball player & nursing student. I would learn these details later but I bring them up now because her involvement in sports explained that clean, lightly bronzed tan. To be certain, she was sexy–an absolute bombshell. But my thoughts weren’t on sex at all at the moment–more astonishment. I was speechless; even in my mind, I was lost in complete admiration for her. And then I saw her eyes–those large, expressive brown eyes . . . and I was done. I knew that I was in the process of witnessing one of my life’s top five or six visions–like watching your first Christmas parade or seeing the aurora borealis after a lifetime of reading about it. I hope this doesn’t sound sinful, but just 9 months prior to that moment, I had almost bled my life out–unseen in a post-surgical recovery room. By the slimmest of chances, a nurse who wasn’t even assigned to me just happened to peek in on me & then sound the alarm. (Thanks pretty brunette nurse. Sorry I never sent a thank you card). But those of us who are religious believe that there are no chance occurrences when it comes to life & death matters. God brought me back to life because He wants me to complete a mission that He’s assigned to me. And over the last 9 months, I had focused only on the simplest of matters like breathing, going to the bathroom by myself, & figuring out how I could re-pay God for my second chance. I hadn’t dared to ponder more indulgent ideas as simple as Christmas presents or vacations, much less falling in love–for fear of appearing ungrateful, if nothing else. I was just happy to see a new day, to be able to walk around a grocery store unsupervised–just happy to take another step & breathe another breath. But when I saw her, the only thing I thought was: “Wow. I almost didn’t live long enough to meet the most beautiful girl I would ever see.”

FLASHBACK: “Okay, he’s moving his finger! I think he’s waking up!” the pretty blonde nurse exclaimed.

Somehow, I had managed to fall back asleep despite being unable to breathe earlier. I guess all those years of sleeping through my alarms & coming in late for class or work paid off; because apparently, I could fall asleep through anything! I wasn’t quite as weak anymore & the response I was getting from the surgical team had worked me up into a frenzy.

“No he’s not! Look at his eyes,” the know-it-all big shot had to assert his authority again.

“They’re moving!” someone exclaimed.

“Okay. If you’re awake & you can understand me, move your eyes side-to-side–follow my finger,” the smart guy demanded of me. When I did so, his colleagues starting to gang up on him & implore him to take out the tube. (Thanks, by the way–all of you who choose to stand up to this authoritarian on my behalf).

“Wait,” he says in one final attempt to establish his dominance. He held out his right hand & gently placed it inside my left hand. By now, his subordinates had gathered around him & were awaiting anxiously to pull out that stupid tube. “If you’re really awake, squeeze my hand,” he demanded yet again.

“Another test?” I thought. “What’s this IDIOT’s problem? Now I know what I dog must feel like when his owners force him to perform a dazzling array of tricks just to get one doggie biscuit. Hell, all I wanted to do was BREATHE! What’s next? Do I have to say “Open Sesame” or something? Next time I see a dog begging for a biscuit, I’m just giving him the damn biscuit!

While the team started the process of easing the tube out of my throat, a bevvy of profane retorts bubbled up into my mind, driven by hours of helpless frustration. I was about to unload on Mr. Smarty Pants with several statements containing words that my Pastor would call, “unfit for Church.” But when they finally pulled out the tube & I could breathe again, I felt too weak & could only muster a faint “Thank you.” Oh well. It was no time to curse & fight or hold grudges. For the next few days, I’d just have to fight through each moment motivated only by the dream of arriving at a point where I didn’t hurt anymore. I just had to get to where I could breathe without having to remind myself to do so.

BACK to REALITY: I was afraid to blink, believing that the beautiful girl fifteen yards in front of me would disappear. And when she walked away with that slow, graceful gait, I swear that her celestial form burned an image in the air where she had so recently stood. I was AMAZED!

Up to this point, my motivation in life was to get to a point where it didn’t hurt anymore. Survival was an escape from constant pain. Living was a reclamation of basic abilities that I once had. But now, after having laid eyes on Lorraine, life meant something so much more. That’s what she meant to me. That’s how much of an impact she had on me from day one, before we even spoke a word to one another. Maybe now, you can understand how this hurts me so much. Maybe you can accept why I took such a big risk to save her. Everyone said inaction was the best action, but they also said to put it out of my mind. The only problem was, I couldn’t put it out of my mind without taking some action! To quote Rick Grimes in Season 5 of “The Walking Dead:”

Things just don’t get better because you want them to!

This is L-O-R-R-A-I-N-E we’re talking about here! Absolute female purity!

Oooops. There I go again. Forgot to breathe.