Blood Across My Screen

Albrecht_Dürer_Oswolt_Krel

 

Until the day I die, I’ll never forget those glassy unblinking eyes. Deep and haunting. Surrounded by the blood pouring down her forehead.  Her left hand reaching for my forearm as I work feverishly to undo her seat belt.  Her breathing is laboring, a gargling sound with each heave of her chest.  My mind races with the endless possibilities I am currently facing. I find myself in this perilous situation alone on a long stretch of south Louisiana country road in near total darkness. Her phone, still in her right hand, provides me with the only light inside the car.  It lights up with every text received from someone who is a total stranger to me.  “911!” I think as I pull myself from inside her window and reach in my pocket for my phone.  I run my finger across the screen to unlock it.  The light now reveals my home screen streaked with her blood and the zero coverage sign on the top bar.  “Shit, what do I do?” I say out loud.  I look both directions on the highway and see the beautiful stars among the large oak trees towering above us.  “The heavens” I think briefly.  The sound of movement inside the car reminds me of the grave situation I find myself in. I stick my body inside and feel her chest rise against my ear as I reach for the seat belt a second time. I hear that deep gargle sound again and a faint “I don’t want to die.” She she is aware of the situation.  “How do the hell I help her?” I think as I wrestle with the seat belt.   I am just a 16 year old farm boy returning home from my grandmothers house when I stumbled into this awful situation. Now, in what seems like only seconds since I arrived, a life before me is slipping away in front my very eyes.  I take a deep breath as the seat belt finally unfastens.  My brain finally registers the smell of burned rubber, gasoline and alcohol.  “What do I do?” I yell as I again pull myself from inside the window.  I attempt to open the door to the car to no avail.  “Miss!  Miss!” I say in a panicked voice.  “Can you hear me?”  The only response I receive is yet another laboring breath.  My mind goes blank. Suddenly I hear a man telling me to get in my car and drive to the next house for help.  I oblige and race to a farm house about two miles south of the accident.  I quickly exit my car and run to the front door.  I knock vigorously.  “I need help!” I yell into the door.  I hear footsteps between my gasping breath.  I look at my feet as the door opens and the light from within shines upon me.  As my eyes slowly work their way from my feet to my shirt and dangling arms I notice I am covered in blood.  I hurriedly tell the man of the situation as he hurriedly pulls me inside the foyer.  He yells to his wife, still out of sight to me, to call 911 while he quickly puts his boots on.  “You stay here with my wife while I head to the scene.”  My body trembles as I notice the injured lady’s handprint on my blood covered forearm.  The farmer’s wife calls me into the living room where she ask for the number to call my parents.  I stood in silence waiting for their arrival.

Now, two days later I stand next to this painting in the hallway of the town funeral home. I am staring at it intensely oblivious to my current surroundings.  I am here at the request of the parents of Shelia Dowling, the young lady I tried to assist on that dark country road. The funeral home employee has gone to tell them of my arrival.  I am scared beyond belief. I don’t know anything about her injuries or eventual passing.  I didn’t read about the accident though my mother told me it was on page two of the daily paper and the internet.  I feel just as helpless as I did that night.  If I leave these men in the painting and walk down the hallway I will certainly see the body of the lady I struggled alone to help.  I have never seen a dead body before.  “What do I say to them?” I think to myself. I was absolutely NO help to their daughter. And I know no one here. I am alone.  My mind not able to erase the vision Shelia’s eyes accompanied by the sounds of her struggling for air.  I am shaking as the parents approach me. The employee quietly introduces us.  “Micheal, meet Evelyn and Sterling Dowling. They are Shelia’s parents and are very happy that you came today.”

Mr. Dowling is the first to extend his hand for mine.  As we shake hands I look at the face of Mrs. Evelyn and notice the red cheeks and swollen eyes.  After my hand is freed, I reach out and hug her.  In a trembling voice I say “I am so sorry.”  I then let out a river of tears accompanied  by my loud wailing as if it was my own family member loss that evening.  I feel the father’s hand on my back and here his words “We are so proud how brave you were to offer help to our daughter.  I am sure your presence gave her much comfort and for that we are forever grateful.” Mrs. Eveyln held me tightly and stroked my back. “Wipe your tears Michael,” she says calmly. “You are a wonderful young man and I wish you nothing but the best in your future.  You will forever be in our thoughts and prayers.”  I wiped my face with a kleenex offered by the funeral home worker.  The visit is brief. The mother kisses me on the cheek and says thank you once again.  I promptly turn around and  walk out into the hot and humid Louisiana air.  As i walk to my car, I understand that I was forever changed.  I will be forever connected to Sheila Dowling though we only came into contact for five minutes of my sixteen plus years on this planet. I will never forget her. I hope to meet her again.

 

This work of fiction was written for The Speak Easy #162 at Yeah Write

I Am

There are many others like me.

In different shapes and views.

All with a common goal.

To make our country a better place.

I am:

A teacher

A learner

A provider

A protector

A CEO

A builder

A mender

A reader

A writer

A singer

A counselor

A comic

A Dreamer

A disciplinarian

A friend

An enemy

My job is complex

with inherent risks and dangers.

Yet I thrive

’cause I love and nurture,

as only I can.

I am the backbone of America.

An unknown hero.

I am humble

I sacrifice.

My reward not measured in dollars

but in love.

I am simple but complicated.

As only I can be.

I give all as many have before me.

For country

For family.

For self.

For I am

A Parent.

This was written for Yeah Write #100

Moonshine Grid

 

Selfish Act

I was selfish. I am not ashamed to admit. However, I am ashamed and disappointed in my actions.

It started on 07 February 1983 when I stepped onto the footprints at Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego.  I went on to give four years to the Marines.  I served during peace time and had an uneventful but successful tour.  I came out a different man than when I entered.  For that I will always be grateful.

Fast forward to 20 Jan 1995.  My son was born.  

Now move forward to 19 March 2001.  The United States invades Iraq. Even though my son was only six at the time, I thought there was potential that the conflict would still be active when he became of age to serve.  I was scared for my son. I consciously made a decision not mention my military service.  I also made a decision to tuck the war in the corner and not make note of it in our home. I kept a distance from any coverage and news reports.  I made sure I put no faces to those Americans fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In our home, I made as if the war didn’t exist.

My son is now 18.

A few weeks ago I wrote a fictional story about a mother receiving the journal of her son who was killed in Iraq.  In my mind, the story didn’t end with that particular post. It only began. I researched the battles in Iraq in order to add historical accuracy to my story.  That research lead me to You Tube where I watched countless clips of returning fallen Americans and their journey from Dover AFB to their respective hometowns.  Hundreds to thousands of people lined city streets and rural road to pay tribute to these men and women. I listened to servicemen honored with the highest awards given by our country for valor.  I was deeply affected by all I have learned about this generation of our military. 

As a kid, I remember watching Walter Cronkite end his nightly newscast with how many had died in Viet Nam that day along the total dead.  It had a profound affect on me and was a big reason I joined the military those many years later.  However, I didn’t want my son to follow the same path. I selfishly decided that our family had given enough to this country.  Not only hadI had served but so did my father in WW II.  I didn’t bring this war into our home.  I didn’t want any seed planted. I didn’t want my son to serve.  I did what I thought was right for my family.

I accomplished my mission. Regardless of my reasons, I am ashamed of myself. I don’t know if what I did was unpatriotic.  I don’t know if it’s right or wrong.  Actually, I don’t know what to think or say other than I am sorry not to have acknowledged the sacrifice of so many serving our country in this war.

I was selfish.

This was written for Yeah Write #100.  Limit 500 words.

 

 

 

 

The Kite

my_house

I grew up in a small town in the heart of Cajun country of south Louisiana.  I was an only child on a sugar cane farm with an alcoholic father, a loving mother and a chaotic household.  My mother, a seventh grade drop-out, did everything she could to keep things normal for me and most likely for herself as well.  My father drank daily.  And yelled daily.  We lived in an old farm-house that we rented for twenty dollars a month. This is in the seventies mind you, not the early 1930s.  The house had no heating or cooling. The roaches pranced around like they owned the place while the rats danced in the attic. Often I heard them fighting. At times they would fall down the walls of my room.  Not exactly a place you wanted to invite friends.  My days were spent alone, in my own world.  I played with toy tractors and football by myself in the pasture. Our closest neighbors were an old and kind black couple. Behind my house were acres and acres of sugar cane fields.  They were my escape from the chaos of my home.  My favorite time of the year was spring. The cane had grown to three feet in height at this stage of their growth. That is just a bit shorter than I was at eight years old.  The winds would blow swiftly yet silently across the fields.  Often in the spring I would walk into the cane fields and fly my kite. The vast expanses of openness along with the spring winds were ideal for this activity.

One particular spring I purchased a baby blue paper kite from the local Ben Franklin. This was a departure from the more cool plastic bat kites of the time.  Owning a paper kite would surely bring ridicule at school had my classmates found out.  My father helped me construct the simple kite. Four light pieces of grooved wood and the paper itself was all that was needed for assembly. He added a long strip of a worn bed sheet, yellowish in color, as a tail. One spring Saturday morning in 1973, at age of nine, I was ready to launch my kite on its maiden voyage.

I left the house late that particular morning.  My mother had prepared a lunch for me and placed it in a small brown paper bag. In the bag was a ham sandwich with mayonnaise, a bag of lays chips and a cold Winn Dixie brand of grape soda.  Off I went across our pasture behind our house.  Over the ditch and into the cane field I marched till I found the perfect location. I was alone.  The wind blowing briskly across the tops of the sugar cane.  The long leaves made a slight hissing sound as they danced in the breeze.  Armed with two reels of kite string spun around an old broomstick handle, I flung my kite in the air.  Up it went into the sky, the breeze lifting it skyward. Quickly it reached the end of the string. There it flew above me, its tail waiving in the wind.  I pushed the broomstick handle into the ground to free my hands. I looked into the clear sky, dotted with fluffy white clouds, at my kite flying so majestically. It was simply beautiful.

I don’t remember the amount of time I spent in the field that day.  It felt like an eternity.  I spread my small body between two rows of sugar cane with my feet just barely touching the infant stalks of cane.  The ground below me was cool against my back.  It was slightly hard from the drizzle of rain the day before. The cool ground was a sharp contrast the warm sun shining  from above onto the front of my body.  I ate my lunch there, carefully placing the trash back into the bag.  My dog Flag visited me at one point.  I even napped.  All the time, my kite just flew above me. When the wind picked up I could hear the rustling against the paper. I felt so free. So at peace. I felt my house of chaos was a million miles away when in reality, it was only a few hundred yards south of me.

I remember that day vividly, even to this day.  The memory is a short film captured for my mind to play whenever I want to revisit. I can still feel the cold ground below me.  I can still hear the kite rustling in the breeze.  I remember the cold can of check soda, the outside of the can covered in beads of water caused by condensation.  When I want to relax I just hit the start button and play this moment in time.  It soothes me even these many years later. I often hope that when I pass on that I can revisit that day. Perhaps I can hover above that scene and see the happiness, if just for that day, in my eyes. It was for me, at that time, a heavenly day.  

It was the best day of my life. 

This was written for Yeah Write Week #99.

The Journal of PFC Patterson

Everyone knew.  As Cpl. Anthony Sullivan looked around at the faces of his fellow Marines it was clear.  He knelt next to the Marine laying in the sand.  The face looked normal despite being severely wounded.  Sullivan tapped the Marine’s helmet and said “Wat kind of mess did you get yourself into Patterson?”

Patterson smiled at him.  His eyes showed he knew his time was limited.  “You know me Sullivan, gotta have some type of  fuckin’ drama,” he responded.

“We’re going to get you the fuck outta’ here man. It’s all good, Marine, ya’know,” Sullivan said.  “You were brave! You should have seen yourself.  Look at me!  Look me in the eyes fucker!

Patterson’s head turned slowly towards him, his eyes glaring into Sullivan’s.  “What’s up Sullivan?”

“You saved lives mother fucker!  Know this!” Sullivan explained emphatically while he pointed to the Marines around him. “Please understand what you just did man. Look at these guys around you.  They are here only ’cause of you.  You hear me Patterson!” He nodded while Sullivan continued, “because of you!  You are everything a Marine wants next to him in battle.  You fuckin’ delivered man. Thank you.  Semper Fi.”

The kid-faced Patterson gave him a little smile before pain flashed across his face.  He reached for Sullivan’s hand and looked directly at him,  “You know what to do Sullivan, right man?”

“Yea’ I know, man.  Consider it mission accomplished brother.”

Patterson smiled again.

“Hey Sullivan, you need to move back man, we need more room ok?” Corpsman Joseph sternly requested.

“No problem, Doc.”  He stood up and stepped back, looking one last time at Patterson and said, “see ya’, man.”

Patterson’s eyes glanced upward at him. He lifted his bloody hand and waved while mouthing the words “thank you.”  He died the next day, Nov.11, 2004.

Sullivan was awakened from his day-dream by a loud horn honking continuously. He looked into the rearview mirror to see a lady behind waving her hands and her mouthing, not a song, but a few select swear words in his direction.  He turned left onto a small residential street and stopped at the curb in front of 3219.  He put the rental car in park.  He took a deep breath and turned right to look at the old white house.  “I am here,” he whispered to himself.  He sighed, then reached over to the passenger seat and grabbed his book bag.  He stepped out of the car and placed the bag on the roof and adjusted his shirt. He glanced at the house again.  She was standing in the doorway. He reached to the roof and grabbed the bag and slung it on his left shoulder. He walked up the walkway leading to the front door.  As he got closer the lump in his throat grew.  He tried to maintain composure. He was here. Here in New Orleans –  443 miles from his home in Huntsville, 7100 miles from Fullujah, Iraq – where his journey started 268 days ago.

“Mrs. Bernard, I presume,” Sullivan said, extending his right hand to hers.  “Nice to meet you I am Anthony Sullivan.”

“The pleasure is mine, Anthony, I am Arlene Bernard, Michael’s mama.  Welcome to New Orleans. Come inside please.”

“Thank you ma’am,” he said as he followed her into the front living room.

“Have a seat, Anthony, please,” she said. “Can I get you anything to drink?”

“No thanks ma’am, I am fine.  Thank you.”

Sullivan stood in front of a cushioned chair and took a deep breath.  After she sat down on the couch, he seated himself. They were only feet apart.  He placed the book bag next to a statue of a woman holding her baby, on the coffee table in front of them. They sat in silence for a few seconds. Then he said, “Thank you for taking my call yesterday and for inviting me here today, I appreciate it.  I am sure this must a be difficult time for you.”

“I’m glad you are here.  Everything has been difficult since my son died.  It’s tough seeing you because I know you were there with him at the time.  You saw him as he …”

Sullivan reached out and took her hand.  She couldn’t muster any more words.  She reached for a kleenex next to her and wiped her tears.  She extended the box to him, “You want one?” she asked.

He cleared his throat, “Thank you ma’am.”  He looked around the room and saw pictures of her son in various stages of his life.  His eyes stopped two larger ones hanging side-by-side.  One was his high school graduation picture, the other his boot camp picture.  It was the first time he saw Patterson as a civilian.  He only knew Patterson the Marine, not the son.

The room was emotionally charged.  Sullivan’s mind was spinning with flashes of Patterson on the sand those many months ago. To know his mother was a few feet away was difficult to comprehend.  “Mrs. Bernard, I spent countless hours on what I would say at this very moment,” he said. “Truth be told,  I don’t know where to begin.  As you know, I am here at the request of your son.  He asked me on many occasions to do this favor for him.  I gave him my word.  He detailed how he wanted it done and I have followed it to a tee. I don’t know what your reaction will be. I have something in the bag for you from him.  Before I pull it out I want to tell you that he was a great American.  Without going into the details, I watched him save lives. Including mine that day.  Perhaps in time you will want to know more. But for now, please know he was a hero to many of his Marine brothers.  Their lives extended because of his bravery.  You raised a great young man, Mrs. Bernard.”

Sullivan reached for his bag on the coffee table.  He placed it on the floor at his feet.  Then he reached inside and pulled out a large, dirty, plastic-ziplock bag, wrapped with a rubber band.  He stood up and slowly placed it on the coffee table. “It is my honor to present to you with the journal of PFC Patterson.  I am proud that it made it back to you as he requested.  It is home.”

Read more of The Journal of PFC Patterson

This is a work of fiction.  Written for yeah write the speakeasy #98.

Story must begin with the sentence “Everyone knew. It must include a reference to this photo.

click to embiggen "Everyone knew." First line provided by speakeasy #97 winner Erica Mullenix

The Chickadee Sings

The bottle was nearly empty.  Craig lifted it over his head and poured the remaining water onto himself in order to cool from the blistering Yellowstone sun.  Today’s hike from the trailhead to the southern end of Shoshone Lake will take him four hours.  The heat may add more time as the weight of his pack along with his guitar make it tougher on him physically.  The well-worn trail leading to the country’s largest lake not reachable by roads is a wildlife photographer’s dream. Elk, bison and even a porcupine have watched the solo hiker with caution as he walks past. A Clark’s Nutcracker sat high in a lodgepole as if he was a sentry. His echoing call a warning for his fellow feathered friends of the impending intruder.  The mosquito population grows as he reaches the northern end of the lake.  Half way to camp.

Craig makes a quick stop for water and to rest his weary legs before returning to the trail.  This is not unfamiliar territory to him.  He spent his summers while in college working the restaurants at Old Faithful.  He was, prior to arriving in the park, a heavy drinker and drug user.  A television junkie and struggling college student on his last dime.  A chance conversation with a female in a creative writing class planted the seed for him to work his summers there.  So in May of 1985 he shot his last dose of heroin into his arm and boarded a Greyhound bound for Livingston, Montana.  Forty something hours later, as his feet touched the beautiful Yellowstone soil, he knew that nature would be his cure.  There was no explanation of the power those surroundings were to him. The breathing taking peaks and scenic cold streams did what rehab and alcoholic anonymous never could.  The back-country and his fellow summer seasonal employees became his rehab. The park was his sponser.  The park gave him life.  A week after his arrival he journeyed to this very lake with a group of employees he barely knew.  In truth, that was his first taste of nature sober.  He hid the physical withdrawals he was suffering from his fellow campers and relished life in the now.  Craig realized he was a changed soul.

So twenty-five years later he closes in on the same campsite he visited those many years before.  Still single he sold his home of fifteen years and emptied his savings.  He traded in his new Camry Hybrid for a ’64 Beattle and resigned his job at the nuclear power plant.  All these years the powers of Yellowstone beckoned him.  With his car loaded with only a small backpack, his guitar inside its stickered carrying case he returned to the land that once cured him.  He was to change his profession to writer.    

He reaches the campsite physically exhausted but exuberant. His body was not adept to the strenuous hike as it was those years ago.  Yet he had satisfaction in knowing that on this trip his physical suffering was fatigue and not withdrawing from demons that once controlled his life.  He reached into his backpack and pulled out a six-pack of coke and placed it into a mesh bag.  He strolled to the edge of the cold lake and place his drinks in natures very own cooler. His shoulders hurt from the straps holding the weight of his pack. The sweat on his back was cold as a small breeze blew across the lake.  He spent the afternoon setting up the his home for the next week.  He set up his tent, gathered wood and hung his food on the bear pole nearby.  After a quick nap he returned to the edge of the lake with pen and paper in one hand and guitar in the other. He sat comfortably on the beach using a log as his back rest and tuned his guitar. Alone, he played and sang a beautiful rendition of The Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil” as if the lake was his audience. Afterwards a mountain chickadee sang his song. Perhaps a response to the music still echoing through the forest.  

For Craig, nature was around him.  As he listened to the chickadee singing, he knew this was his new beginning.  Just as it was for him years before. This time it’s a life of creativity and words on paper to share with the world.

This is fiction written for the speak easy at yeah write #97.

Their Sacrifice

Photo courtesy of fallenheroproject.org

They know no fear

They fear no challenge.

They challenge one another.

Another day of surviving.

They survive the elements.

The elements are demanding.

They demand your all.

Your all for a friend.

A friend now for life.

A life they defend.

They defend our freedom.

The freedom we cherish.

Let us cherish them.

They are our armed services.

Serving our nation.

Nation, please remember their sacrifice.

This was written for yeah write #96 Moonshine Grid