Suspicious Counterparts

Rain pounded like nails into rooftops and wind whipped a typical day into a tattered mess. Fallen trees and a swollen Cascade River blocked the only route out of town into the lower valley. The mountain pass had already closed for the winter from too much snow. Several residents that remained all gathered at the local watering hole to numb their anxieties that blew in off the Sound.

According to weather reports picked up on the satalite radio, the region was slapped with a Pineapple Express that brought hurricane force winds and about a half a foot of rain which forced many of the rivers to crest nearly 25 feet above flood stage, leaving the area devastated. Tens of thousands are expected to be without power and clean water as evacuation missions are underway. Governor Thompson has declared a state of emergency and his teams are working very hard to get ahead of the situation.

An old brown box with an antenna and wires tacked to the wall was only a disguise for the real receiver placed on a shelf below the bar. Speakers were hidden throughout the old rustic room and like everything else, the original exterior was mostly for show as the entire place underwent complete restoration when Bill bought it several years back. Anyway, he liked his sound system and spent pretty money on having it all wired and properly installed with a satelite uplink that fed both his stereo and widescreen. It came in handy at times like this when most everything else was shut down. The old lodge had become a sort of refuge during harsh storms and the deep of winter. The few patrons just sat quietly listening to the weather report.

“The good news for many is that there is a strong high pressure system pushing in from Alaska that will give the area a short break as the winds from the south die down overnight. However, this is a massive system moving in from the north and temperatures are expected to drop below freezing by Wednesday night and keep sliding down into the teens through the weekend. This is going to bring a deep freeze to the rescue and clean up operations as we are expecting to see snow begin to fall by Thursday night.  This is not good news for the Red Cross as thousands have already been forced into over crowded shelters.”

A brief break of static as an invisible anchor interupts. “We will have complete coverage from our news team and the status of the rescue operations coming right up. But Sam, it sounds like we should expect snow.”

“Yes, that’s right. With temperatures hanging around 20 degrees, most of the region should expect about 4-8″ of snowfall at sea level and, get this, we are going to see around 5 feet of snow dump in the Cascades over the next few days. Folks, we are not expecting the mercury to bump above freezing through our forecast for next week. Talk about a turn around. This weather script reads like two mighty titans battling for winter; the Pineapple Express and the Alaskan Gulf Stream. We are witnessing a rare series of storm activity that only few old timers could recall stories of a similar nature. I will continue to monitor this storm and have updates throughout the day as this thing starts to take shape over the next few days.”  Sam Smith reporting with the weather channel.

“These guys bug the hell out of me! Just look out yer window and you’ll get yer weather report.” Jasper slumped against the far wall fingering a cigarette and another beer. He moved into town a few years back as a transient – one of the last real loggers moving around the mountains looking for work, according to him anyway. But Jasper was harmless enough and Bill the bartender let him clean up an old shack behind the lodge where he first landed and would likely stay no matter what anyone said anyway. So Bill helped him rather than attempt to run him off and it worked out pretty good in the end. Jasper was a good hand to have around and was reliable when we wasn’t drinking too much. Frank just tolerated him.

“Hey Bill, I’m glad you decided to stick around this season. I think we would’ve had to break in the door otherwise.” Bill was a husky man with large broad shoulders and a gnarled red beard who stood just about six feet with a presence who would make the largest of men take a second thought on anything improper.

“Thanks Frank. Yeah I never did mind the winters around here, but it looks like we’re off to a pretty wild start – early in the season, too. Anyway, what can I getcha?” Bill glances up to the exposed rafters and silently hopes that the old lodge will hold up as another gust pounds like a sledge hammer trying to gain entrance.

“For sure. Yup – let’s have a bottle of the Black Label. We can pretend we’re in Flagstaff with Jim and Betty for the season.” Frank smiles as he says this remembering how his neighbors tried to convince him to spend the winter with him down there. They went every year, and since Frank’s wife had died, asked him to come along. But he knew that they counted on him to watch over their place while they were gone.

“Oh yeah – those two are loving it about now, I’m sure. Too hot for me though.” Bill lets out a low rumbling noise of displeasure at the thought of being stuck in the hot desert then pours himself a glass and sits back against a barrel behind the bar. “I’d rather shovel the five feet of snow for the winter.”

“What would I have to do then?” Jasper slurs from the corner.

“What you always do Jbird, drink and keep the fire going.” Frank poked back. Jbird was his nickname for Jasper because his guess was that Jasper had done some time before landing in Cedar Point.

“Actually, we had better all make sure wood is stocked because it sounds like we are in for a long winter. Someone should check on Lucy over on Timberline also. She is going to be alone over there this season.” Bill said pointing to Frank.

“No problem – I live closest to her anyway and I have to look in on Jim and Betty’s place also. I’ll need to shut the water down so nothing breaks over there. In fact, maybe Lucy can look after their dog Tumor? At least she would have company and something to do. Tumor is a good dog.” Frank replies

“That’s actually a pretty good idea, Frank.” Bill pours himself another shot of Black Label and looks for the receiver. The satelite helps them feel like they are not as isolated as they really are and offers some perspective on the rest of the world. But their reality is remote and can be treacherous, even in a modern world with some of the technology available to them. Wood is still the most reliable source for heat and they still need to split it with an axe and many of the houses up in the high country are still on the grid, which can become very unstable at times. Of course, one of the renovation projects that Bill made when he bought the old lodge was to take it completely off grid using solar, hydro and other sustainable tricks to keep all the modern luxuries available and functional throughout the year. He figured it was how the place would pay for itself and it did. More than once someone from the lower valley had come up to profile the lodge in some magazine or newspaper. Of course, no one was going to get up there for several weeks at this point. Too many people from other parts were in trouble and Cedar Point was not going to be in the radar.

Drunken Discourse

“How is it that you can be such a loser?” Her breath is a hot stench of rotten yeast that permeates from her pores like sweaty shit. 

“I am not a loser.”  He says quietly in simple terms as he cycles his thoughts for different words, hoping to diffuse any prolonged onslaught. 

“Oh really?” She says disdainfully. 

“Yeah really, I am not a loser. I have not made the best decisions always, but that does not make me a loser.” 

“Nothing you do works out. You have put the kids and I through hell. We deserve better.” 

“I understand.” 

“God I could do much better! What the fuck am I thinking? You are such a piece of shit!” She rolls over in confrontation, becoming louder and more volatile. 

“That is not necessary and please lower your voice – I do not want the kids to hear this.” 

“Oh as if they are not already aware of it? Are you delusional? Do you think the kids are happy? You are so self absorbed that you do not even see it.  It is over for you – you had your chance.” 

“What are you talking about?” He says on the last comment in hopes that she does not drag the subject of the kids into this, which is unlikely since they can be used like daggers to stab guilt and shame. 

“What are you talking about? Are you delusional? We have nothing! You are 40 YEARS OLD and you have nothing to show for it! What are you going to do – run back to your mommy? She doesn’t want anything to do with you! Nobody does! Where does that leave the kids and I? What do they have to look forward to?” 

He becomes tangled in the spin and feels his frustration burning into anger and takes a deep breath and says nothing. In this moment he realizes that she is changed and is lost to the alcohol that continues to rage and boil out of her pores with antagonism. 

“Are you gonna answer me? You can’t can you – you have nothing to say? Are you stupid?” She knows the buttons to push and keeps working and twisting them in deeper. 

“What do you want me to say? You are right – I have made some bad decisions but I am not without hope. I do not see things in the same way as you and I believe things will work out fine. But if all the kids hear is how shitty things are then they will relate themselves to only that – it is not about money here – it is about how we live our life and the message we convey.” 

“Oh so we can just will it away and pretend to be happy – meanwhile we find ourselves living on the streets?” 

“No body is going to live on the streets! What the hell is your problem?” He takes an offensive as logic and perspective finally start to catch up with this round of drunken discourse. “Believe me, I wish some things would have worked out differently, but it does not mean that we have to live in a hopeless bubble.” 

“Oh so what are you going to do?” 

“Well it would be great if your question was what are ‘WE” going to do, but whatever. The fact is I am making really good money right now and going to school. I can’t do anything about the creditors though and need to try and get bankruptcy filed. That will put us on a clean slate and eventually we can save and move on and maybe buy a house and make some investments and work with the kids on their education and – shit I don’t know – whatever life is at that point. I can’t map out a life of guarantees – who really knows what next year will be like? This whole system could crash and everybody could be out of work – but there are alternatives.” 

“Oh – so now you are absolved. You cannot do anything wrong and do not have to take any responsibility because you have an excuse for everything.” 

“Are you kidding? I live with and am reminded everyday why I should feel guilt and I am trying really hard to forgive myself for bad decisions that I have made. Of course, I wonder if things would have worked differently had there been an ounce of support from my wife. But whatever, I had to try. I could not live knowing that I did not even try.” 

“You lost our house!” 

“Ok. I did not want to go there – but let me tell you something!” Old memories boil to the surface and the pain and anger that he had tried to let go of has once again been pressed. “I was looking for work! I came home and discovered that you were fucking other people and partying with your friends! I told you at that time that our marriage was over as we know it! That is why I sold the house. It was at that time I realized that I had to do for myself and embrace my dreams and try to move past this. You cheated on me! And you call me delusional! No! Life is much more than a house or a car or other material possessions. Those things are nice and can be achieved – but not like this.” 

“So it is all my fault now! It is always my fault! I knew you were going to turn it around on me – you always do that to me! I hate you! I do not trust you and never want you to touch me again. Just stay away from me and leave me alone.” She rolls away from him – rejecting him and shuts down – resigning to drunken slurs and mumbles. 

“I am not saying it is your fault. We all make decisions. I was really hurt – that’s all. It does not mean that I don’t wish I would have reacted differently in hindsight. But you know the important thing is that we talk about these things and learn forgiveness. That is key and one of the best examples we can set for the kids. That’s why I said before, no matter the circumstances, we can give the kids a great life regardless of how wealthy or poor we are. It is a matter of values and I am and have always been a hopeful man. Things come and go – the world is always changing and wealth flows in just as quickly as it flows out – but we have to work together.” He softens at this point glad that she has backed down and prays that she understands him on some level. 

“It is my fault and now my children are going to die. Do you think you are going to the paradise?” 

He softens his voice and whispers. “You know that I do not believe in exactly the same terms. I do pray daily and am confident in my relationship with GOD. But I do not totally think of it in the same terms.” 

“You know we have already killed our children! We will not be resurrected. What about when this system is destroyed? What about when the torture starts? What will you do then when you have to make a decision to denounce your faith or lose your son? Are you ready to watch your children be slaughtered? It says right in the bible that the children of non-believers will also perish.” 

“I do have faith and an understanding, I simply do not think of it in the same terms. Besides, I am not worried that the children and I will be faced with torture. The only torture I see is what you are doing to yourself with alcohol.” He knew that last comment stung. 

“Fuck you!” 

“Well.. what? Am I supposed to just ignore it? Do you think that we all should just ignore it? And you call me delusional? Sorry if I am not totally accommodating to your tirades. I love you deeply and always have and committed to go through life for good or bad – but this is fucking ridiculous. I have compromised many things that I believe important – like holidays and other traditions – in order to find some middle ground to have a life with you, but to get cornered into hopelessness and misery and fear that our lives are constantly at stake and that death and torture are eminent and that Jehovah GOD is going to destroy us is over the top.” He realizes that his voice is starting to boom and retreats to take a deep breath. 

“You do not know what you are talking about. You never go to meetings with us. We have nothing in common and you have NEVER supported me.” She emphasizes ‘NEVER’ and is resigned and steeped in her own self loathing and drunken depression. 

“Are you kidding? I have studied with witnesses over the years. I do go to meetings – maybe not all the time – but I do go. There are people in the kingdom hall that I care about very much. But I do not think in the same terms and our children will not be raised to believe in something out of fear! How can Jehovah be a loving GOD that teaches FOREGIVENESS only to come down and DESTROY the children because I do not see things in the exact terms of what MEN have told me to believe based on THEIR interpretation of what my faith should be?” 

“Go to meeting and read the bible! I cannot explain every detail of it – these men have studied the bible their entire lives and are chosen. We are going to die.” Her voice trails off into mutters and quiet tainted whispers. 

“Someday, perhaps. This is why we need to keep things in the moment and try to celebrate life everyday. There are very important things that the children can learn from us – but fear and hopelessness are not in the line up and I will continue to do everything I can to teach them about love and kindness and respect for others and hopefully they will be true to their inner voice and make the right decisions for their lives.” 

“I will never trust you. I hate you with every ounce of my being.” It is all that could be heard as her slurs lashed out with a final stab. 

“Maybe you should move then. Maybe you just need to leave and the kids and I will move on because this is not working and I do not want to live this way and do not want the kids living with fear and hopelessness.” He felt empathy and a pang of uncertainty because he truly felt a love for his wife but knew that an end was eminent if the bottle was to continue to taint the relationship and distort reality. Sun break was only a few hours off and he could hear her snoring. He could smell the sweaty alcohol slowly leaving her body. He thought he needed to quit smoking in that moment and needed to lift weights or something physical to be stronger so he could endure another session on some other unforeseen day. He thought about taking the kids and leaving her behind.  What would be her fate? Where would she go and who would she meet? She would be promiscuous, he was sure. Too often on other occasions she had told him in her drunk talk of other men that she wanted. She was always so vivid in her description of her desires. In a weird way it made him want to save her and he knew that was a big part of the problem – they both knew it. In other ways, he wanted to prove himself, but those feelings were more like backwash that only made him cringe and confirm that one day he would leave. But for now, he held on tight to hope and told himself that he loved her and married her for better or worse. The only question that finally went to sleep was how to share his love with her bottle and expect nothing.  

A Winter Crossroad

A blanket of soft snow covered everything, stopping most people in their daily track. It was the first of December and a successful slow journey to the lower valley took place around noon to swap children with other family and friends. One went there and another came here. In both directions, abandoned cars piled alongside in ditches and run-offs. No one was hurt; mostly just bent metal and broken headlights.  

I slipped around and through the potentially dangerous conditions. Fortunately, I had grown up in the snow and so driving in these conditions were not threatening other than the occasional inexperienced driver that slid by recklessly. I thought about the time of year and the economy. “No one is hiring this time of year.” I could still hear the lady’s voice speak candidly about the true nature of job prospects in the area. Her stare peered over thin black rims as she sat there. 

It could be a long winter, I thought, and realized that I needed to take a deep breath and get creative. I was doing everything I knew how to do. A profile was slowly taking shape online that I could direct potential employers to. I was downloading and learning some of the latest software applications that would help me sell my capacity to do good work. My resume was taking on various forms and I was targeting companies from all over the country blasting them with cover letters and word documents touting my excellent work experience. But so far nothing came but the silent blanket of snow and a calm grey cloak of winter cold.

My friend, a writer in the lower valley, is near completion of her book. She works from home mostly leaning on her background in journalism as a freelance writer to help from month to month. For me, this is a dangerous time. I could very easily slip into bohemia and embrace another stab at making it as a writer and finally finish one of those books started long ago. But there has never been support for this endeavor and no patience remains for this dream to have a chance. But how else should I spend my time when looking for proper employment seems futile and hopeless? Should I use my skills in graphic design to make a really cool sign for the onramps?

Where do I go from here?

I realize, as I make my way back up the road I was told not to take, traction is actually pretty good. The girls are giggling in the backseat and the icy waters of the Puget Sound blend into the sky line. A black raven glides from somewhere out of the woods above the road and swoops down over the cliff edge to someplace else below where humans do not go. Another one pops up into view out over the water from somewhere below. It could be the same bird.

My speed is marginal and I am cautious. I know that I could easily be happy living someplace remote and focused on nothing but my writing and my health. It makes me think about what is considered responsible these days. It makes me think about true intent and where we must go in order to please. Who is the judge of such things? What should decisions be based on? How would my family survive it? Could I afford to support and maintain two ideals simultaneously? At what point am I able to embrace and celebrate who I am and the needs I have to be human? Should I not be celebrating my family instead? If only my family accepted celebration.

As I continue north, the road becomes thicker and more treacherous, but I am careful. The car in my rearview has slowed considerably and shrinks into the landscape. Unemployment represents much more than a job and financial capacity of the monthly demands. The trial presents a cross road, a time to choose and decide based on a set of circumstances that resemble some aspect of our value systems and a balance of our dreams as we look out onto the canvas of our life. There is freedom that comes with it also. But what would it be?

I have been told many times that I am nothing and there is no hope for us because I am forty years of age and have nothing. Despite my feeling insult by these drunken accusations, it is true that I have destroyed credit with ‘failed’ attempts at self-employment and with it those closest to me have no faith left, no hope.

While I understand this and continue to yield to other perspectives than my own, I find myself safeguarding my esteem with various levels of rationale, clearly designed as measures of self preservation.  Thoughts go back and forth between heroic confidence and self loathing. But then it is surmised that this is simply part of the trials of this life and it is my job to document them. With that, I am brought back to my core instincts as a human and what I need for myself – beyond anyone else – beyond perceptions of what employment is or isn’t and how wealth and poverty play into identity and how classes are forged in this society. At times, the only things abundant are the reminders of the failings  and those efforts, which paralyze hope like a pinched nerve.   

Today, I am an artist. This is a safe place because it dwells across class lines and is not judged so much on factors of wealth. But this, too, is a dangerous place whereas the idea of it contradicts the opinion and beliefs of those closest to me. Though, I have to wonder, if so close, then how can life be so misunderstood?

It is a strange trick that plays out in many relationships all over the world. It is a dichotomy between people regardless of their race or social standing or gender or anything else. Values exist no matter what they are and so goes the search for the thread to identify appropriate action to move from unemployment and back into the midstream of life – or at least that which we perceive as being midstream and our interpretation of life.

Hanging with my friend reminds me that there are many streams.Tree branches become heavier and the road is slick with anxiety as people white knuckle their cars through the twisting curves of the road. I have been here before. I have always made it through just fine and hear my thoughts hang on tight to that internal voice as I make my way. It is a tricky thing keeping balance for each passenger involved in the journey. But at some point, the passengers will take up their own path and I pray that they do so without compromise of who they are and that they can celebrate themselves and those around them with love and compassion and without judgment.

I can see the final turn a little ways beyond two cars that got parked in the ditch. I think about continuing on past and heading into town for a few things. But it occurs to me that the day is early and that perhaps I should save it for later. So I make the turn and head up the hill where I wrestle with time as the light wanes into another winter storm.