To George on What Would Have Been His 62nd Birthday

Today is my brother George’s birthday. My brother who died eight years ago. My brother who was three years older than me and was my closest friend from birth. The first person I adored with all of my heart. When I was little he would ask me to go upstairs and get his shoes and I’d say to myself as I scurried away, “George wants me to get his shoes!” As if that was the very best thing ever. I remember sitting on our back staircase and looking out the little round window, waiting for George to come home from school. I must have been five and he was eight. Oh, what happiness when I saw him ride up on his bicycle. Down the stairs I ran and out the back door to see my big brother. And he always seemed happy to see me, too. At least until he got to be a teenager and his little sister was still trying to hang around with him and his friends. At that point, he pulled me aside and said, “Len, I’m bigger now. You need to go play with friends your age.” I was crushed. What? My big brother didn’t want me around? How could that happen? He was my best friend!

As we grew older, George and I grew apart. He started drinking more and more and alcohol got in the way of our being close. Twenty years passed and though I loved him and I knew he loved me, I was aware that his heart and mind were somewhere else. Until the day he stopped drinking and there he was again. My big brother, looking at me as if not one day had passed since we’d jumped on our bikes and ridden down 9th Street together to go play at Fort Inglish.

George never drank again once he gave alcohol up. And he never again was far away from me in mind and spirit. He was my cohort, my comrade, my best and dearest friend. And I am not the only person who felt that way about him. In fact, I can think of two or three people without much effort who felt he was their best friend, too. And he was. He had a way of giving that made it possible for you to feel extra special. That’s a wonderful quality to have.

When he received his terminal cancer diagnosis, he called to tell me.  After I hung up the phone, I curled up in my bed and sobbed and sobbed. How, oh how, would I ever make it through life without my brother there to guide me? How could I face everyday without my rock – my George – to count on? I believe that was one of the loneliest feelings I’ve ever had. Knowing in that moment that we had a limited amount of time together and then he’d be gone.

He died 17 months later and during that time I communicated with him almost every day either by email or phone. I saw him as much as I could given that I was in California and he was in Texas. And then the night came when he called and said, “This is good-bye.” I stood in my kitchen and heard his weak voice. “Wait for me,” I said. “I’ll be there in the morning.” My husband had me on a red-eye to Texas within hours and I rented a car in the pre-dawn hours and drove through the Texas countryside as the sun came up. I arrived in time to see George – very frail – sitting on the side of his bed with his wife Sandra sitting beside him, her arm around his shoulders. He smiled when I walked in. “Len, is that you?”

George died later that day, but he did wait for me. I knew he would and he did. I think he’ll be the first to greet me in heaven one of these days, if all goes well…

I’m lucky to have had a brother like George. Such a good man. So solid. So real. So genuinely kind.

Happy birthday, brother. I carry you with me every day. And for that, I’m grateful and glad.

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Last Night in Texas

It’s been a good long trip and we are here for our final evening. I just heard the cat hop off of the chair upstairs – his domain – and he is now eating. Amazing how sound can travel down the stairwell. I am sitting in the staircase room in one of the yellow wing back chairs, my feet up on a stool. This is a favorite spot to sit for me since I have the view of the beautiful woodwork all around me: the banister and railing of the staircase, the paneling, the mantle. This house is like a still life painting – look in any direction and there are fascinating details to take in.

Three hours later.

We have had two set of visitors this evening: family first and then out-of-town friends. It’s lovely to be here and to entertain. This is definitely a home meant for lots of people. The house seems to smile when there’s a knock on the door.

Time for bed. Tomorrow we’ll leave mid-afternoon and see how far we can drive before finding a place for the night. A long day ahead full of desert vistas.

Prompt: A Halibun Poem: Twenty Years After

The day came when she could no longer contain her anger. She picked up a crowbar and began chasing him around the back yard.

The cardinal stared

The wind blew hot from the west

The sun bore down hard

She cursed while she ran. He rushed into the house and slammed the door. She thought of breaking the windows, but recognized the folly in that. After all, they would have to be replaced.

The grass was dark green

Its blades tickled her ankles

She bellowed her rage

He peeked out the window and smiled. Her fury matched the baby 8 months in her belly, big and full. She challenged him to come out and take his medicine. She swung the crowbar and watched his eyes grow big.

She heaved the bar down

Over and over again

Green changed to dirt brown

She felt the strength of her fury. She liked the fear in his eyes. She knew he was not the culprit, only the safe outlet. Still, she felt power surge.

The birds twittered loud

Clouds softened the sun’s dry heat

A coolness moved in

She sat on the steps and cried. Released all that pent-up hate. Let him come and wrap his arms around her. Knew that she had shifted inside. Finally.

Halibun Poetry:

Using a form that combines the descriptive qualities of prose with the concise punctuation of the haiku, the haibun presents a picture, scene or moment to the reader. While the haibun form depends on precision and brevity, it is still considered to fall into the category of informal verse. While the haibun was first popularized by Japanese poet Basho in the seventeenth century, it still remains a respected form choice for modern poets.

Prompt: Take a Traumatic Event and Write How You Would Change How You Acted

When I was nineteen, I was sexually assaulted. A boyfriend turned mean and perverted what had been a loving sexual relationship. I spent three days locked in his apartment with him terrorizing me. I will turn 59 in a few weeks. I have spent the last 40 years carrying those three days with me. I do not see myself as a victim. I don’t live like a victim. But I do recognize it’s healing for me to look critically at what I wish I had done differently at the time.

If I could go back and change the way I acted during that time, this is what I would do:

I would have not ignored the event before all of this happened when he bent my arm behind my back when I said I’d rather go for a walk first and then have sex.

I would have never gotten on a plane without anyone’s knowledge except my college roommate’s and flown to visit him for three days when I was at a different school for the summer.

I would have gotten out of the car right after leaving the airport when he said that I had gotten “too big for my britches” and “needed to be put down a notch.”

I would have gotten up and left the Indian movie we went to on the UT campus when all of the audience laughed after a man on screen hit a young woman who was “misbehaving.”

I would have left quietly and quickly the first opportunity I had after he showed the first display of anger in his apartment.

I would have recognized early on that my boyfriend’s roommate could not be counted on to help me.

I would have broken the second story window in the bedroom where I was locked in and dropped down to the empty alley below – even if I hurt myself escaping.

I would have gone straight to the police and reported what was clearly a crime: sex against my will, physical assault and hostage holding.

I would have stood up in court and testified against this man.

I would know that I had looked clearly at the situation, taken the appropriate action, and he had received the appropriate punishment: prison time.

I would know that I had kept any other innocent victim from experiencing my same fate.

I would know that I had broken through my fear and acted in a responsible manner.

I would know that I had the support of law enforcement and the judicial system.

I would know that I was safe from future harm.

I would know that there was justice for a crime that should never have gone unreported.

I would feel empowered by these actions and aware that no one could assume they could physically hurt me with impunity.

I would know that I was surrounded with people who recognized the severity of this event.

I would recognize the ramifications of such a profound violation and get myself adequate therapy.

I would know that just because my perpetrator was a “respectable” man, I still found justice.

I would be healed from this hurt.

My body would be healed from this hurt.

My spirit would be healed from this hurt.

I would not be afraid anymore of too quick movements or a rough touch.

I would forgive myself for being too passive.

I would forgive myself for not fighting harder even though fighting dramatically increased his anger.

I would understand that this was a terrible event and openly acknowledge that fact.

I would recognize that despite this unfortunate event, I can be whole, healed, open, and receptive to love.

My “boyfriend” let me go after three days because my college roommate had begun calling incessantly when I did not return on time. She also threatened to call my parents.

The year was 1972 and when I told my family after the fact, not one person – educated people – suggested reporting this incident to the police. They knew that I would likely become a victim to the system. After all, he had been my “boyfriend.” Instead, my mother said to my brothers, “Go beat that boy up.” They did not.

This is definitely a healing exercise – my willingness to openly acknowledge this event to others and also to myself. Alas, I am not alone. Read the statistics below:

SEXUAL ASSAULT STATISTICS

How Often Does Rape Happen to Women?
• One in Four college women report surviving rape (15 percent) or attempted rape (12 percent) since their fourteenth birthday. (1)
• In a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease control of 5,000 college students at over 100 colleges, 20% of women answered “yes” to the question “In your lifetime have you been forced to submit to sexual intercourse against your will?” Thus, one in five college women has been raped at some point in her lifetime. (2)
• In a typical academic year, 3% of college women report surviving rape or attempted rape. This does not include the summer, when many more rapes occur. (3)
• In the year 2000, 246,000 women survived rape and sexual assault. This computes to 28 women every hour. (4)
• A survey of high school students found that one in five had experienced forced sex (rape). Half of these girls told no one about the incident. (5)
• Rape is common worldwide, with relatively similar rates of incidence across countries, with 19%-28% of college women reporting rape or attempted rape in several countries. In many countries, survivors are treated far worse than in the U.S. (6)
Are Men Raped?
• 3% of college men report surviving rape or attempted rape as a child or adult. (3)
• In a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control of 5,000 college students at over 100 colleges, 4% of men answered “yes” to the question “In your lifetime have you been forced to submit to sexual intercourse against your will?” (2)
Who are the Perpatrators?
• 99% of people who rape are men, 60% are Caucasian. (7)
• Between 62% (4) and 84% (1) of survivors knew their attacker.
• 8% of men admit committing acts that meet the legal definition of rape or attempted rape. Of these men who committed rape, 84% said that what they did was definitely not rape. (1)
• More than one in five men report “becoming so sexually aroused that they could not stop themselves from having sex, even though the woman did not consent.” (8)
• 35% of men report at least some degree of likelihood of raping if they could be assured they wouldn’t be caught or punished. (9)
• One out of every 500 college students is infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. (10)
• First-year students in college tend to believe more rape myths than seniors. (11)
• Sexual assault offenders were substantially more likely than any other category of violent criminal to report experiencing physical or sexual abuse as children. (7)
• In one study, 98% of men who raped boys reported that they were heterosexual. (12)
Who are the Survivors?
• 41% of college women who are raped were virgins at the time. (1)
• 42% of rape survivors told no one about the rape. (1)
• False reports of rape are rare, according to the FBI, occurring only 8% of the time. (13)
Circumstances of Rape
• 57% of rapes happen on dates. (1)
• 75% of the men and 55% of the women involved in acquaintance rapes were drinking or taking drugs just before the attack. (1)
• About 70% of sexual assault survivors reported that they took some form of self-protective action during the crime. The most common technique was to resist by struggling or chase and try to hold the attacker. Of those survivors who took protective action, over half believed it helped the situation, about 1/5 believed that it made the situation worse or simultaneously worse and better. (7)
• 84% of rape survivors tried unsuccessfully to reason with the man who raped her. (1)
• 55% of gang rapes on college campuses are committed by fraternities, 40% by sports teams, and 5% by others. (15)
• Approximately 40% of sexual assaults take place in the survivor’s home. About 20% occur in the home of a friend, neighbor, or relative. 10% occur outside, away from home. About 8% take place in parking garages. (7)
• More than half of all rape and sexual assault incidents occurred within one mile of the survivor’s home or in her home. (7)
What Happens After the Rape?
• In a study done in the 1980s, 5% of rape survivors went to the police. (1)
• Throughout the last 10 years, the National Crime Victimization Survey has reported that approximately 30% of rape survivors report the incident to the police. (4)
• Of those rapes reported to the police (which is 1/3 or less to begin with), only 16% result in prison sentences. Therefore, approximately 5% of the time, a man who rapes ends up in prison, 95% of the time he does not. (4)
• 42% of rape survivors had sex again with the rapist. (1)
• 30% of rape survivors contemplate suicide after the rape. (1)
• 82% of rape survivors say the rape permanently changed them. (1)
• The adult pregnancy rate associated with rape is estimated to be 4.7%. (17)

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Prompt: The Value of Writing or Not…

Blankness. That’s where I am now with this writing thing. Pure blank. Why is that? I can look around and see prompts I could start with: a chair, a lamp, a staircase, a corgi, a clock, folded clothes, a mirror and yet…I am not finding myself jumping in with any of these. Why? Because I am now asking myself what possible relevance does any of this have? Why do I have this blog in the first place? Shouldn’t I have an agenda that I am promoting? Or a product? Do people reading want to read some drivel about my life or some bad flash fiction story that I pound out? Honestly, is this the best use of my time or my writing skills? Shouldn’t I be doing something with all of this?

If you want to know the truth, I have no idea what I’m doing with my writing. I love writing. I feel better when I’m connected to people through my writing, but in the big picture the real question is so what? So what I feel better? What purpose is it serving? So what if I like being connected to people? How long will I be connected through this medium and is it a real connection or me just pounding away at the keys?

Let me make this clear: this is not some sad effort to get reassurance. That’s not the goal of this current pounding on the keys. These are the real questions that are plaguing me at the moment and they have to be answered by me in order to make sense out of what I’m doing. Not that I would mind a little guidance if anybody out there faces this same kind of self-doubt and has come up with some wisdom. I would dearly appreciate that.

I know that writers often question what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. “What’s the point?” is a common discussion if you’re around writers very long since the odds of publication from a bona fide publisher are so damn remote. And even with a blog where some people actually do read your work, there is also the question of what are you writing for? After all, I don’t want to waste people’s time with some self-indulgent b.s. At the moment, I’m not sure what I want to do.

I have always been a helping sort of person – you know, the one with the towel to wipe off your mouth when you’ve just thrown up or who takes care of your dog when you’re away on vacation. Reliable. Dependable. Purposeful. I am not used to forcing people to endure my endless ramblings on whatever comes to mind. How self-absorbed that is and I do really mean that. I loathe self-absorbed people. Okay, loathe may be too strong a word, but let’s just say, I’m not interested or attracted to people of that ilk. So, here I am acting like someone with something to say when I know very well I have nothing to add to the general knowledge pool that others don’t already know. So, here we are back to why am I writing this blog? What purpose does it serve?

I don’t know is the truth. I started it so that I could have an experience to point to when I conduct my workshop at the Story Circle Network Memoir conference in April in Austin. “See,” I could say to my attendees, “I wrote on my blog for a minimum of 20 minutes a day for the past four months, and here’s what I learned from doing it.” All right, that is a reasonable thing to do, I believe, and may be part of what happens to most people who blog – except for those who are either ego-maniacs or have some platform they are promoting (which doesn’t mean they are not also the former). Maybe this is one of the legitimate concerns that bloggers and writers in general have, which is basically, “Why should I bother to write?” So, what is the answer to that very legitimate question?

I don’t have a clue. I truly don’t. On a better day, I’d have all sorts of platitudes to offer – you know – the “Do what you love no matter the outcome” sort of crap, but dog-gone-it, I am not in the mood for that tonight. I mean really why should I or anybody else take the time to put their thoughts down on paper whether they make it public or private? Is there value in that action? Does it really make you a better person? Wouldn’t it be better to be doing something more worthwhile with your time? Just how many people’s thoughts/opinions does the world need? And I mean that really, truly with all sincerity.

I am not going to suddenly offer answers to these questions. If I had them, I wouldn’t be posing them on here. I would instead know why I am writing and just write. So, here we are, back where we started.

Okay, I am going to at least try to salvage this time I’ve spent with a few basic truths as they relate to me. Hmmm. What are those? I have no idea. Okay, here goes…

1) I have no idea what value my writing has to anyone, including myself. I am aware that writing is a way for me to express what I think – however under-developed many of my ideas may be – and maybe that is a decent reason for me to write words/ thoughts down = to see that I actually do think about a thing or two.

2) I am good with people, I know this. I love people and their stories. So why am I not an active psychotherapist at the moment? Wouldn’t that be the way to hear those stories and do something positive with my time? The truth is that I have been resistant to going back to work as a therapist mainly because I want to write instead. But there we are back to the original question: why? What purpose is that writing serving?

3) I have always read that people who have “a purpose in life” are happier. They have goals related to that purpose and they form plans to make those goals happen. But how do you make really realistic goals in a field where you can work on a book for ten years (yes, that’s how long my first memoir turned novel took) and then still not publish it? What kind of crazy person are you (am I?) for continuing in a field where the odds are so against the average Joe making it? And yet, I know plenty of famous authors whose first books (or second or third) were rejected and they still kept on going and eventually hit on that one or two or three books that made their reputation. So, I know it’s not personal that my first book has not been published. Still, it sucks. Period.

4) So, you can see I’m discouraged. Or since there is probably not a soul who has read this far, I can say to myself, so I can see you’re discouraged. Yes, I am. Yes, I am.

5) What to do when you’re discouraged? When the truth is that the odds are not in your favor? When the truth is that for your whole life you may never have that big break? What do you do with that truth looking you straight in the face? I don’t know, just like I said. I do know that I will feel like crap giving up. That will feel bad. I guess you could ask, “Who is it hurting to keep on plugging? Nobody is forced to read this blog. I am not hurting anybody with my dream. I don’t take important time or attention away from those who really need me. But am I just fooling myself? Acting a fool?

6) I get annoyed with the whole line of thinking related to acting a fool. That makes me mad to even think about. Why do I care if I’m acting a fool? Isn’t that better than being a stick-in-the-mud no-nothing with nothing interesting to show? Doesn’t writing bring interesting people into your life? Don’t you have a whole slew of writing friends that you wouldn’t have if you played it extra safe? And besides, what else would you be doing at 7:45 in the evening? Watching tv? Eating? Crocheting? (You don’t crochet, remember?) Don’t forget, the kids have grown up. You need a hobby, for God’s sake or you’re going to drive everybody crazy.

7) Speaking of crazy, now it seems that one side of me is lecturing the other side of me. Well, that is for damn sure, girlfriend. You need a good lecture. The truth is that nobody cares what you do and that’s a good thing. Nobody needs for you to write except you and you’re important enough on your own to do it for no other reason than just that: you. You get to do what you damn well please and it doesn’t matter one tick of the clock what “worthwhile” comes of it. Life is about living everyday the best you can and if writing helps you to do that, then just get it done and stop whining about it.

8) I guess that is the bottom line: Get it done and stop whining about it. But…

9) No buts. Just get it done and realize that everybody that’s ever written more than a few lines has felt the same way you’re feeling and if they haven’t, then maybe they’re the ones who are writing crap.

10) So, I can just sit down and write whatever and make that good enough? That is all you can do and don’t ever forget it. What you think is nothing might hit someone right between the eyes, and something you think is great might be the very thing that never gets the reaction you hoped for. You can’t write for that. You can write for you. Period.

All right, so I have answered my own questions with that other part of my brain and that is just fine by me. I will write and let it be what it is, good or bad, and just keep moving forward. Step after step after step. That will be good enough. That is good enough. Good is as good as it needs to be. Nothing more. Okay, that’s is fine and now I can stop.

P.S. I have to laugh. That other part of my brain sounds like a big black woman with her hand on her hips. My sweet childhood housekeeper Lorene shifted around inside my head to be my cheerleader, my coach, my “get off your lazy rear-end and get moving” mentor. I am not schizophrenic, I promise. Though it might be hard to prove with that little interchange!

New Year’s Day Haiku

The dictionary defines haiku |ˈhīˌkoō; ˌhīˈkoō| as a Japanese poem of seventeen syllables, in three lines of five, seven, and five, traditionally evoking images of the natural world. I don’t have much in me today so I think I’ll write a haiku or two. That way I can feel as if I’m doing my 20 minutes but in a form that doesn’t feel forced. So here goes.

Texas: January 1, 2012

The blue Texas sky
Hovers dome-like and protects
The flat endless plains

The wind whips and blows
Texas flags flutter and snap
Leaves rustle in trees

The lawnmower’s whir
Signals the cutting of grass
New Year’s smells like spring

Flash Fiction, Memoir and Essay

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