Chris Writes

My life in real time

On The Road

 

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Childhood = climbing rock

I have these memories of nature.  The precious few times.  How my body ached from sleeping on the ground. Waking up to cool air, matted hair stuck to my face. The light so brilliant outside that I had to check my watch.  We were meant to wake up early.  I got lost in the woods and the adults didn’t seem to care so much.  An entire day was devoted to building a dam across a creek.  I decided to dam a river and the water swept me a half mile downriver.  My body never recovered from the shock of cold glacier water.  I could hear thousands of crickets in the darkness.

The campfires were centers of my religion. The flame and the crackle, buffered by a chorus of sound from the night creatures.  It gets in you and never leaves.

We told scary stories and funny stories.We made our own jokes.  It was amazing the things we could come up with. I looked down at my uniform, bright yellow patches reflecting the light. I was 10 years old. It was my birthday. My daughter leaned over and asked me to make her another S’More. We ate many.

The next day my mother made a surprise appearance. She had a large white and blue cake, enough to feed the entire troop. I had this horrible migraine headache. It was from spinning around in circles and making myself dizzy, over and over again.  We never thought about consequences.

I boiled some water and started pouring it into the coffee filter. Heat tendrils drifted into my nose. My daughter came out of the tent in her brightly colored house robe. I told her ten minutes and she quickly disappeared amongst the rock formations up the hill.

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The Feathers in the back

She reappeared from behind a rock and waved at me. I waved back. Then she went a little further, looked back, and waved again. Just a little further away she goes.

Me and some of the other boys started climbing a tree. We were so high that the thin trunk swung with the breeze. I could see tents spread out below. A boy below waited for me to come down, but I didn’t. So he left. I straddled the trunk, closed my eyes, and put my arms out. The breeze felt so good on my face.

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Tents far below

We scrambled to the top of a rock formation and looked down on the campgrounds. She carefully picked a small bouquet of wildflowers and handed me the most beautiful one’s. I told her not to step into bushes. There were rattlesnakes out here. We downclimbed carefully back down a steep gully. A fall here would be serious.

 

She walked over to the boy in the other tent and said goodbye.  Soon we were back on the highway. She leaned over to me and said, “I already miss it.”

Me too.

Eyes of My Father

I like to think I am just like her.  That I can turn it on. The joy of being here now.  The acceptance of just doing this simple thing. Tomorrow doesn’t exist.  The next moment doesn’t.  Life plays like a VHS tape, only picking up the tape that runs between the reader.  Wedged and bottlenecked and with no foresight.

I am only frustrated.  Worried about the world.  My job.  It is raining now and we should be climbing dry rock.  We walk from shop to shop.  What i’ve done hundreds of times.  The space lived in her only now.

What else should I be doing?  I check the weather report, but I know it already.

Then we climb, but she is too distracted.  There is too much happening now to climb, to be driven up broken granite by dissatisfaction.  It fuels my limbs, reminding me when I am hampered by my range of motion.  42 year old body willing the spirit of a teenager.

She moves like the child that she is, I was.  We move to a different song.  We move together, sharing this day in different ways.

The climbing is not important.  It symbolizes the passing of knowledge, of passion, of finding barriers, of passing ourselves existing only seconds ago.  She is so much like her mother.  There is a desperation to leave something of myself in the dirt here.  This pile of rope.  Our clasping of chalked hands.

The climbing.  The looking down to see it far below.  The fear in us resonates in our belly, our jelly arms.  It makes us numb.

Five times she says let me down daddy.  Five times we speak of it.  She carries it, in this moment.  Five times she says I release you.  Only one time does she stand at the top of the climb.  It is only then that I see something in her.  I see the eyes of her father.

I release you father.

I release you.
I release you.
I release you.

 

Strikes

There’s a room in my basement.  It’s the best place to hear the raindrops fall.  I lay down on the small guest bed and look up at the high window.  I can hear every pitter, like in a tent. A thousand little strikes. Every second.  The water lurches down from the gutter system, draining into the soil.  I see beautiful purple flowers swaying, absorbing the shock of each droplet.  They were made to do this.

Yet if I dumped a bucket filled with water over top they get washed away.  They don’t bounce back.  The petals are flattened against concrete.  They are violently pulled away by sheer force.  Washed away.

They are no longer beautiful.  No longer even one living thing, but many little dead things.

They are strong and fragile.  They rely on Sun, air, soil, and rain.  All in moderation.

I look up through my basement window.  Their stems are firm.  The flowers are upright and proud.  They brace themselves against the wind, then settle to their former place.

How does one find it’s way back to it’s former place?  Are there former places or just new one’s?  Washed away.  Eventually coming to a halt.  In a new field.  With new soil.  Waiting for thousands of little strikes to make us whole.

Old Relics

Capture

I find a coffee shop because I need people around me.  I need movement, talking, and indirect interaction.  Then I put on my headphones and go back inward.  I look over to the other tables and see at least 10 other people playing the same game as me.

From as long as I can remember I have felt my loneliness in a room full of people.  I’ve been in remote areas of Alaska, 10 miles from the nearest road and probably 20 miles from the nearest human being, and felt so alive.

Isolation has nothing to do with the proximity of people.

I logged into Gmail and pulled up an old piece of writing.  It felt familiar and distant.  Before love or fatherhood.  Who was that person?  Why was he always so sad?

“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”                                       – Stephen King

I pulled up 50 old essays, clicked on Select All, and the finger hovered over Delete.  My body had this tingling feeling, as if I had already done it.

Then I see the emails.  I still have our entire interaction.  This long email.  It was the end of our relationship.  It was horrific.  You wheeling your luggage down one of those steep Seattle hills.  I got in front of you, trying to reason,  trying to stop gravity from taking you away.  I didn’t succeed that day.  This one stays in the archive.  A reminder that all could’ve been lost.  Can still be.

I’ve been sick for the past few days.  This is must how my father feels.  I saved this attachment, a picture.  It was the moment I left him.  He cried.  He never cries.  The death of boyhood.  Now he cries again, for real deaths.  They are all real though.

I haven’t cried yet.  Maybe I will later.

I found this old email from a guy named Joe.  He was abused throughout his childhood.  This was decades ago.  This was the first time he told anyone about it.  I see that I started to reply to him, but I never sent it.  It was too difficult to tread those muddy waters again and again.

I hope Joe found peace, good health, and someone worthy to receive his darkest secret.  His imeasurable moment.

I take the email, place it into the stream and it drifts away.  I release you.

 

 

 

What We Carry

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I was supposed to be in the mountains today.

It may seem odd to say, but snow scares me.  I had an accident many years ago that has stayed with me.  I fell down a steep snowy embankment, picking up speed.  Like a rolling pin, I impacted a ledge which hurtled me into the air.  My body went across an exposed slope of loose rock, like a banana slide.  It was so quick.  I did not know if I was going to die but I had enough time to consider it.  I didn’t.  The worst part was left to the end.  I loosed a cascade of rocks high above me.  I lay there in shock as volleyball-sized rocks came down on me.

When rock falls the instinct is always to look up, which I did.  It was in that moment that a rock the size of a canteloupe struck me just above my right eye.  I got into a sitting position.  I looked down at this stream of blood dropping into my lap.  I reached up to the loose flap of skin of my eyebrow.  I couldn’t see.  I had lost my eyeglasses.  I really couldn’t see.

I was not alone that day.  Ed was waiting at the base of the long slope when he heard me, then saw me.  Later he told me it would take a long time for him to get that image out of his head.  My body hurtling down hard snow and ice.

Ed came up to me.  Asked me if I was alright.  All I could say was yeah, I think.  The adrenaline in my veins disguised any injury, at least for the moment.

He reached over for some webbing to bind my wound, then hesitated.  He pulled out his camera instead and told me, “You’re going to want a picture of this.”

I laughed.  Ed, always the photographer.  Always looking for the perfect picture.  He bound my head so tight my head throbbed.  Then he slowly led me down the mountain.  I was blind without my glasses.  Everything a blur.

Ed was one of my first climbing partners.  Many years later he disappeared off a ridge on Mt. Forbidden.  I was told he fell, just like me.

I told them that I wouldn’t be climbing the mountain today.  I made up an excuse.

It may seem ironic.  A climber who is too afraid to climb.  It happens.  Trauma is something we carry with us.  It doesn’t heal.  When we are strong we may not even remember that it is there.  Then it reminds us.

We are not always strong.  If I don’t think about it, my body remembers.  The feeling of helplessness right before the fall.  I remember looking down the slope at Ed right before I fell.  It was like he was in another universe and I couldn’t get there.  I knew I was going to fall.  I was too scared, too anxious, too panicky.  I had received no training for a moment like that.  I fell over 10 years ago, but I still remember.

I was not supposed to be in the mountains today.  So I didn’t go.

Do Not Disturb

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“Chris, you are very clear about what you want, but you are horrible about conveying it to others.”

I go to text messaging.  I click on “Do No Disturb”.  I do this three times.  Then I compose an email.

“Hey all, I won’t be seeing any future texts.  If you want to contact me call me on the phone or send an email.”

Then I turn my phone off.  I log off Facebook.  I begin organizing my emails.  Unsubscribe.  Unsubscribe.  Unsubscribe.  All newspapers are cancelled with the exception of New York Times and The Atlantic.

I take a few days off from work.  I contemplate my current social circle, residing largely online.  I wonder how I can rebuild my network in a more meaningful way.  An offline way.  Tethered in real-time, but in a physical world.  An existence curated for self-preservation.  Not opened up to any stray trending item in a feed.  Feeds are troughs filled with grain.  Pigs line up side-by-side to feed on it.  Are we all pigs lined up at the trough?  Feeding.

“So what you are saying is you are repulsed and disgusted and you have very little control.”

It hurts to see him in pain.  A father crying in front of son.  He never did.  He pleads with me for help.  I have very little influence.  Now I know that.  I am angry and filled with mixed-emotions, but I see that these words I speak can’t move the needle in the right direction.

I go back to texts and fingers hover over one last “Do Not Disturb.”  Mom.  All of these things converging at once.  Dying.  Grieving.  Old sibling discontent bleeding over for decades.  My own realization that I have given myself over to others, waiting for them to judge me, accept me, reject me, or ignore me.  I carry the weight and it is heavy.  My child and wife don’t see me because I am not there.  Squinting, shoulders compressed under it.  I look vacant.  I feel so exhaustibly tired and miserable without knowing why.

I press it.  Then I look my child in the eyes again.

 

One Is Enough

Sometimes I feel like a sick child being force fed my black soup.

I woke up this morning and opened up the laptop.  On Safari, I had a great article on how to eat in remote alpine environments.  There was three articles discussing today’s repeal and replace debacle.  Another article on Trump’s continued fascination with everything Putin.  Then there was my Facebook account, feeding me today’s trending articles at a rapid clip.  My last screen was an empty blog post on my WordPress account.  Just tempting me to write something.

My eyes glazed over the articles, reading a paragraph here and there.  I tossed the laptop in my bag and took the bus to work.  On the ride, I listened to an excellent Sam Harris podcast focused on how the rest of the world is perceiving this surreal reality that is America today.

At work, I pulled out the latest edition of The Atlantic and Harpers and set it aside for my lunch break.  The covers of both figured prominently many articles about Trump.

Meanwhile, all I could think about was that empty blog post waiting for me.  Then I thought about Thoreau.

“And I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper. If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter, – we need never read of another. One is enough. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications?”

-HR

Our world is so drastically faster.  Our hungers too.  Yet, we want to move backward to a simpler time.  A time, not too long ago, where we didn’t have instant access devices.  We could disconnect and we would.

How few opportunities we have to just be present.  I met my wife over the internet.  One of the funny things we do is sit together in front of our laptops making snide comments about each other on Facebook.  We are so wired in.  I am so wired in and sometimes I can barely move.

It isn’t how I want my daughter to experience her childhood.  I got a chance to run around in wild places, to get lost, and imagine my own worlds.  There was no visuals guiding me.  There was no Lord of The Rings movies.  We only had the books and what we imagined each character to be.  We exercised our creativity always.

On an ordinary day, I spend at least 7 hours at work on the computer.  I go home and burn a few more on my laptop or watching television.  Yet, all I ever want to do is drive to Yosemite and stay there for a month.  I have these guidebooks to places like the Bugaboos.  Otherworldly places I have yet to visit.  Beautiful places I have been meaning to come back to.  The Cordillera Blanca in Peru.  The High Sierra.  I see pictures on Facebook from my favorite climbers.  They are in these places now.  These places feel so far away from a laptop screen in Seattle.

We are always forgetting to let fresh air in.  To save our capacities for the meaningful things.  There is so much going on in this world and we try so hard to keep up.  I guess I don’t ask myself what is it all for?  Why do I need to know so much about what’s going on in the world?  How is all of it contributing positively to my life?  If I am unable to filter the information, should I just turn my back on it completely?

I feel that I am well acquainted with the principle.  Is that not enough?

 

 

 

 

 

Men Who Were Violated

In another life I used to write and speak about child abuse.  It was hard work.  I worked for a nonprofit which required me to go there with audiences.  In public venues, I shared details of my life I thought would remain buried forever.  I was often attacked by victims just like me.  Men who were violated.  Men who hadn’t come to terms with their abuse.  I shared something that gave them hope but raised an intense anger within them.

They questioned my story of abuse.  I was labeled a liar or gay or a coward smearing his family without giving them the opportunity to defend themselves.  I was impossible to many.  Boys and men can’t be victims of abuse, especially those abused by a woman.  If they are, they probably let it happen.  They must have wanted it.  It is this dark psychological soup we are churning in.  Us invisible men.  Every man learns to hide their weaknesses, all of them.  We hide it through denial, overcompensation, or hypermasculinity.  A male survivor talking about his abuse gives up the game.  It’s a betrayal.

It was a difficult period.  I needed it to survive.  To be a good father.  To acknowledge and grieve my own devastating losses.  The loss of a relationship with a parent.  The death of the child I had once been.  A sudden, ripping death without reason or explanation.  I had to make my own reasons for what happened, and they all came to the same conclusion.  He chose me because there was something wrong with me.  I was a disgusting and rotten apple.

In every other way he was the typical dad.  Working hard.  Sacrificing personal goals.  Sacrificing everything to make sure his family was fed.  There was just this one tiny thing and it only had to do with me.  They say that we carry the voices of our mothers and fathers with us everywhere.  It is in our superego, lecturing us, judging us, incriminating us, and destroying us.  I can’t rid myself of this voice on my shoulder that scrutinizes everything I do.  That tells me that I am nothing and there is nothing consequential about my life.  This voice explains away every victory.  It refuses to take credit for anything I should be proud of.  It is my father’s voice.  My mother’s too.  She couldn’t protect me, and maybe she always knew.  Those lingering questions stretch off into infinite and there is no satisfactory answer.  No way to recover all those essential things that were stripped away.

I’ve come a long way.  I have shared my experiences with many family members and received their reactions, and sometimes forgiven them for the damage they continue to cause. This was not the man they knew.  So I have taken something from them.  An ideal.  I didn’t ask for this burden, but it is mine to bear.

The irony of all of this is that I have become an advocate for this man who abused me.  I am making the preparations for a respectful departure.  He is so weak, as I was when he took away everything, and I want to rage.  I want to scream in his face.  I want to let him know that I hate him for what he did.  I just can’t do it though.  The vulnerable should be protected.  I know what happens when they aren’t and no one deserves that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dying To Give Life

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She has a hard exterior, perhaps too hard.  She can lull one into thinking that she can deal with any setback.  That she will bounce back.  She is fearfully anxious of being judged, being found out.  Being abandoned.  The loss of a friend can be catastrophic.  Whether that friend was good for her or not doesn’t always matter.  She is incredibly capable and at the same time incredibly vulnerable.

Her greatest moment was the birth of her child.  I was there when it happened.  I saw it.  The locks of hair protruding then receding back in.  Then an incredible physical push and out came this tiny little cabeza and face to match.  This was my greatest moment too.

You don’t really understand what this little thing will become.  They become you.  Reflections of you and her.  I still look into her eyes, like a pool of water, and ask is that me in there?  Is that who I am?

The other day my daughter said,” Badges?!  We don’t need no stinking’ badges!” then she farted on my leg.  Confirmation.  No DNA test needed.

Her mother was sick for 8 long months.  It’s a condition that debilitates expectant mothers.  You are sick every day.  You can’t eat.  You are too weak to walk or sit.  You take intravenous fluids 5 times a week to maintain.  It’s visually indistinguishable from those who are dying.  She suffered through it and I was her caretaker.

Our daughter was the result.

Only the love of a mother would make any woman want to go through that again.  It is in these times when I understand that women are built differently.  They possess a drive that feels impossible or incomprehensible.  It goes largely unacknowledged and under appreciated.  Some call these things instincts.  To me, pregnancy and birthing are miracles of sacrifice.  I will cede that there is no other earthly feat that compares.  To willingly do this with hyperemesis gravidarum is something else entirely.

Yet, she was built to survive.  She only needed me to say yes, let’s do it again.  All that pain and suffering ahead of us felt like a gift from the highest power, to her.  Me too.

 

 

 

 

 

Mother

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Am I allowed to be angry with you?  I keep asking myself that question.  Dad is dying, so why am I so angry with how you are handling it?  We’ve all seen the movies.  Dad is dying.  His wife never leaves his bedside.  Her concern is only for him.  Every decision she makes is for that purpose.  That’s what I believed.

We are losing our father.  You are losing your life partner.  Your only real relationship.  He’s provided stability for you your entire adult life.  He was the calming yin to your serially anxious yang.  Now he is a confused old man whose body is shutting down.

I see him in that bed, his stomach ballooning from all the trapped liquid in his system.  His small face, wracked with anxious glances, hovers above this wasted shell.  I want to take that small face and spirit it off to a healthier place.

I realize that little of this is in my control.  Not even you, mother.  You spend all this time complaining about how much work it is taking care of dad.  A record player that keeps skipping endlessly into his ear.  He just looks at you, feeling like a burden, wanting to go away to ease your hardship.

We spend all of our time trying to figure out how to ease your hardship.  There is very little left to focus on our dad.  On giving him some peace.

This is real dying I guess.  It scares me.  I am not religious or superstitious but there is something about dying in the middle of chaos and turmoil that lingers on in the earth.  Will we not give this man his moment of reflection?  Of comfort?  The moments are less and less and we are squandering them.  I just want a moment.

That’s all I want.