Dad Tries to Care

– From “The Mourning After”, a novel by Edward Fahey:
I played like this many a long gray afternoon, thirsting for the world beyond windows. Neighbors shuffled by but didn’t wave back. Some guarded their children when they saw me, as though congenital defects and loneliness were contagious, even at a distance and through glass. Those were gentler years when folks went out of their ways to not notice, but I spent a lot of time yearning through the shades; I watched them pointing without pointing, shaking their heads, cupping their secrets into each other’s ears.
Hours stretched longer when I was a kid. I knew I might not make it through to adulthood, but hadn’t grasped the full implications of that. Something had gone horribly wrong at my birth, so my father would never have his little soldier, Mom would never have her home filled with tiny scampering joy, and we each clutched our guilt very privately.
I’d been walled in since birth. Over-protected to the point of emotional crippling. I’m just now discovering that along with home schooling me in math, history, and language skills, my mom slipped in lessons on the torturous enrichment of loving too much; lessons I’m sure she hadn’t intended….

… “Honey, your father could be home any minute,” Mom told me; startling me out of my distraction. “You can leave your animals where they are for now. Just clear off the ones near the table where your father will see them.”
After another pause, “Denis. – Honey. – Please?”
I got ready, but “Sergeant Carl” didn’t come home for a while. I washed up and changed to “fresh clothes for your father.” They were warm and smelled of ironing. I caressed them softly to my cheek as I turned back toward my mother, who was scurrying around at the other end of the hallway. Folding the ironing board up with a hoarse, friendly skraaack! Hiding baskets of folded clothes quickly in the closet. Smoothing the wrinkles out of her apron but then taking it off anyway, folding it neatly, and placing it in its drawer….

… Suddenly I felt as much as saw Mom snap to attention, slap on her best smile, and launch into a flurry of activity. Out in the driveway, Dad was belting out a robustly cadenced song about caissons rolling and field artillery. No longing for loved ones left behind; no reverence for the nation or its deity; just stampeding over the enemy with arrogant pride.
We heard the war song and knew where he’d been. We knew he’d come in smelling of cigarettes and beer. He marched to the vestibule, into the house, and slammed up against our alternate reality. I didn’t need to look up to watch his face and spirit sag, forced to once again acknowledge the son who would never be a hero. I knew he’d be staring at me as he greeted my Mom. Checking his disappointment at the door, stuffing his sense of loss into private pockets he thought we couldn’t poke into.
After a long moment of readjustment, of just standing there, putting World War II buddies back onto his own inner shelves, he stepped the rest of the way into our home and, as much as he could, into our lives. He turned away, eased his sample case down onto the floor of the closet so slowly that it didn’t make a sound. I heard the metallic scrape and clinkling as he dropped his coat onto a hanger. With his back to us both, he asked Mom, “How’s the boy?”
“Denis is fine,” Mom reminded him of my name. I knew she’d then offer me a wink and a smile. I tried to smile back, but my chin was too deeply buried in my neck. “We went to Africa today. We helped fight a war to free the slaves. Then our little man helped me make dinner.”
I really hadn’t. I’d only wanted to.
“That’s good, good,” Dad said. “I need to wash up.”
He stood there a moment after turning back around; a moment that felt long and heavy, like a gray rainy day. He was wearing his special salesman shoes. Orangeish brown wingtips. “Twenty-five-dollar Florsheims but worth every penny. A man’s gotta show he’s a man, that he’s got control of his world.” Looking down at them as we all stood unmoving, I could have spat out that long practiced defense, but it would only have left me feeling guilty and broken. I was holding him back.
There were dustings of peanut shell powder below his knees and two or three small spills or splashes, some crushed shell webbing in the cuffs Mom had ironed to perfect steak knife creases, but nothing really out of the ordinary.
Mom’s feet had changed from the stained tennis shoes that always reminded her she was “home with her favorite little fella,” to conservative, respectable pumps. Barely moving now, they shifted and rocked through their choppy, but timeworn, minimalist pas de none; like they wanted to run forward and pull back in the same instant.
Dad was home.
Caught up in moments like this, which lingered awkwardly, but passed all too quickly, I liked to imagine my father’s hand wavering, just above my head, almost ready to pat me.
But not quite.
After a time, I watched Mom’s knees buckle, felt her arm slipping around behind me, her hand hooking my far shoulder with a gentle Mom’s nudge, drawing me closer in to her. “Come on, Sweetie, get out of your father’s way. I’m sure he wants to go in and freshen up. He’s had a hard day.”
My father’s legs stood there, straight, strong and unyielding. He let out a sigh before he moved past us. I’m sure he never meant to make me feel small. He was a great man in his own way, a “pillar in our community,” The Levittown Times had called him. President of the local Kiwanis club, he led charity drives for other kids at Christmas. He was chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, of The American Cancer Society, founder of this and that. He was away most nights doing good work. He spent so much time helping others that he was rarely home, so you had to give him points for altruism anyway. Everybody loved Sergeant Carl. I’m sure at moments like this he must have felt if I didn’t actually look up and see him sigh, I probably wouldn’t hear it either. He really didn’t want to hurt me.
At least I hope he gave things like that a little thought.
For the next twenty minutes or so I stood on the edge, between dining area and living room, watching Mom scurry back and forth between kitchen and table. My father lingered on his “throne.” Then I listened to him gargling away hours of waving mugs with his war buddies down at Clancy’s; counting on a stinging penitential rinse to make things right. Now was the time to put all that away, anchor into that courage, and do the right thing as head of the family.
Mom busied herself nestling steaming bowls and dishes into position as I stood around the corner of the fireplace, watching. After Dad had changed his shirt, he walked as proudly as he could back down the hall, to take his time-honored position at the head of the table. I climbed up onto my chair next, and then it was Mom’s turn in our little dinner ritual. Her job was to check my fingernails; a warm, friendly, but unnecessary rite since we both knew all the dirt was outside where I couldn’t get near it.
She placed my hands back beside my plate and nodded a smile toward my father, who’d been watching. Only then did he tell us, “Let’s say grace.” We folded our hands, closed our eyes, bowed our heads, and eavesdropped, as he spat the words out as though they left a sour taste in his mouth and he couldn’t wait to unload them. “Bless us Oh Lord in these thy gifts which of thy bounty we are about to receive through Christ our Lord Amen. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost Amen.”
I waved my hands through the obligatory gestures, feeling there had to be more to God and spirit than that.

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Come clean at the end

“Spending time here is like movin’ in with Pandora. Maybe some stuff should just stay hidden, y’know?”
“Yup,” Charlie answered. “But comes a time when you just don’t want to screw around anymore. You can get real tired of playin’ hide-and-seek with yourself.
Getting toward the end, you wanna stop playing games. There’s no time left. You see how things have gone wrong and just want to make ’em right. At least one moment of honestly trying, before your soul rots away on ya….
… “I buried my whole life, every bit of it, in my own stinkin’ manure, and it’s high time I planted some seeds there.”
He told Harve, “But I don’t like being asked to swallow OTHER people’s shit.”
“Got you on that one, man.”
“Do you?” Charlie said. “Do you really?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You. Pretending you’re no hero. – Bull. – You don’t know what I wouldn’t have given for even a little bit of something I could feel good about.”
“You did okay for yourself, Charlie. You made the papers.”
“I made headlines; I wasn’t a star. I had a few fans, sure, but not the kind I’d ever want to meet in a dark alley.
“But that’s not what I mean. I’m talking about finding out who we are, what we’re here for, and truly steppin’ into it. I wasn’t put here to smash noses. You think you were put here to shoot ’em off?
“You save lives but then you get all ‘Gosh Golly Shucks’ about it. You step into who you are, but then you step back out of it again. That just doesn’t ring true to me is all. That’s all I’m sayin’.”
Then he had second thoughts. “Look,” he told Harvey, “I know you didn’t do it for the fame and being a star and shit, but still … I would like to have experienced what it was for people to know me and like me anyway. I’d love to have done at least a little something worth doing. It’s too late for some of that now, I know, but I just want the chance to do a little bit of good if I can. Somewhere. For somebody.
“And to do it just because it’s the right thing to do. Sometimes it’s as simple as that.”

  • From “The Gardens of Ailana”

Fighting for What’s Real

Ericka had thought of them as her glory days when she had wanted to march on every capitol; kick down the doors of the most powerfully entrenched; when she had wanted to right every wrong, and stomp out villainy everywhere. Gene had called her the “Rebel with too many causes”.
But that had been different. It was as if all that had just been a training period, mere preparation for the way she felt now. That had been student idealism. This was the pain of a grieving mom who couldn’t watch anyone else’s kid suffer.
In her short time on the planet, their sweet daughter Madie, their little Bitsie, had taught them so much. About priorities. About courage. About how they could truly love and treasure another single human life, not just hold some general, pro-active fondness for all of humanity everywhere.
In loving that tiny child; knowing all the while that they were losing her, Ericka and Gene had suffered immensely. But they had also grown. In tending to their frail, courageous little girl, Ericka had once again unleashed her inner need to help others; an essential part of her being, but now with renewed, and focused passion.
Once, when Ericka had broken down and wept as she’d had to hand her baby off for more tests, it had been little Madie who had comforted Mommy. She’d told Ericka she was glad she could do this so they could find out what was wrong with her, and then maybe other little kids wouldn’t have to hurt this way ever again.
One way or another, her mommy now would make that little life count for something.
Ericka wanted to; she needed to cram all her pain into something she could change. Someone somewhere she could actually help, but not lose in the end. She had to find causes she could pour her almost fierce, hard-charging nature into, and actually save somebody this time.
It didn’t have to be one particular disease; it could be hunger; it could be anything, but she had to get out there and do something.
Before she had fought for causes.
But now those causes would have little faces.
– A taste of my new book, “The Soul Hides in Shadows”

Still Carrying Pain from Childhood

Paulette awoke with an ache in her heart, a grinding in her gut. If there really was a God, why would He have let anyone put a child through that? …
She had survived, but at what cost? She was an itinerant professor, living in her head, not her heart. She had broken away, but abandoned her sister; hadn’t contacted her family in years.
Paulette wondered what she was looking for in these weekend workshops. Absolution wasn’t on the curriculum. What could she possibly hope to accomplish? To be a healer you need to connect with people. You need to touch, and let yourself be touched. And not just with your hands.
Watching these nurses, she envied them their friendships. Here were real buddies truly caring about each other, taking jabs, sharing private jokes and fears. She’d never had that. Even witnessing it from across a room, or a yard, only made her feel that much more lonely.
She got along with people well enough. Agreed with whatever they said, watched their pets, helped them move from one apartment to another. But no one really knew her.
Paulette had never been flush with self-confidence. People took that as humility, but humility isn’t painful and crippling. She hadn’t yet learned that humble and self-destructive aren’t the same thing at all. They’re not even on the same team.
And now here she was at a workshop for healers. Had she come here to heal; or to be healed?
It was one of those warm, charming days that write poems about themselves, and then settle these very softly into your mind. Paulette sensed what felt like a rain-laced breeze stirring her soul; sodden, and yet beautiful; laden with both the dismal, and the promising.
– From “The Gardens of Ailana”, a fiction largely based around adults still traumatized by having been abused as children, in the name of their parents’ religion.

Dark Night of the Soul

Harvey wanted to dive into his ugliness; he intentionally reached for those long hours of soul desolation. He waited. He paced, ready to face down whatever was to come.

Paulette’s, though, busted loose uninvited, catching her completely off guard when she was already hurting, feeling crumbled, and vulnerable. When all she really wanted was some quiet gentle feelings for a change. A few flowers. Some sunshine. A way out of all that inner torment for even just a moment.

Had she had brought only nastiness out of her childhood? Hadn’t there been anything sweet she could remember instead?

As she wandered back to her cabin, searching for even a single fond memory, light faded everywhere around her.

Aw, c’mon, she thought. Everyone had some happy childhood memories. She had to have at least a couple.

How about the coloring? Children enjoy coloring; how about that? She’d spent hours and days on her art. It was as close as she could remember to having her Mamma stand over her with anything even remotely resembling approval. Her books and comics could be tales of Jesus, but coloring books had to be Old Testament because “No child’s impure hand could touch a crayon to the sweet beautiful face of our beloved Lord and savior Christ Jesus.”

So the little girl had scrunched down over Daniel in the lion’s den. Samson screaming in rage, pain, and terror as they blinded him with daggers and torches. The redder she made the flowing wounds of a man of God shot full of arrows, the richer the flames around those three men being burned in an iron box, the longer Mamma let her stay out of that closet.

– From “The Gardens of Ailana”

God or no God; life still has meaning

The Gardens of Ailana” will be controversial and many will hate it.
But in reading it some have already come to new terms with their lives and a God they see as either non-existent or cruel.
In this story, adults crippled by memories from childhood; two them suffered at the hands of evil and twisted men from southern fundamentalist churches; have to come clear with every ugliness within them before they can find any meaning and purpose for their lives. In the process they learn that if there is a Heaven at all, it would not be what their churches had told them to believe, and that forgiveness may not always be the healthiest option.
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Hidden spots of Mysticism and magic.

There are places on this planet not confined to the logic of men or limitations of science. Something inside a few special people draws them to these centers when they are ready.
Early man may have erected strange mounds, or circles of giant stones there. Early religions may have inspired great cathedrals or temples there. Legends may have spread about miracles and healing wonders, and for centuries pilgrims may flock in from all lands.
Or they may just have been left alone, unknown but to the few; tended by very special beings.
In our story, four deeply caring souls have been broken by their childhoods. As adults now they secretly yearn for forgiveness; their own, or to find the clarity of heart to forgive those who have hurt them so badly. They yearn, but don’t pray. If life has taught them anything it’s that no loving, caring God could have let tiny vulnerable children be treated so cruelly.
But what if all things really do have a reason?
What if everything does serve some purpose?
And what if there are places and people one is drawn to when she has finally found the courage, or the depths of desperation, to face herself down and be free?
“The Gardens of Ailana” is a tale of redemption. Of what lies beyond; what is deeper than suffering and more real than life itself. It is about finding one’s deepest truth and dearest peace. It is a story of returning to innocence.
– My next novel; due out probably in late February.