Leslie Burke was my first love

Leslie Burke was my first love.

It was grade school. I had a teacher named Mrs. Ruby. Before her there were none like her. None since. She was older. Maybe in her 50′s. She was tall and thin. Probably in her younger years, a very pretty woman. Plain, but always a lady, smiling and kind. I knew that she was special. She enjoyed her job and enjoyed children. Maybe it was easier back then. I cannot say, but she seemed to like us. She would invite musicians and artists and other interesting people to visit our class. I remember more art projects than I do almost anything else. But what I remember most, was her reading to us. It would happen every day after lunch recess.

After we ate, we were allowed 35 minutes playtime. Tag. Football. Kickball. Whatever it was, we went at it full speed. When we came back to class we would be charged full of energy. Mrs. Ruby would have us rest our heads on our desks for 5 minutes. Then, she would bring us to the front of the class forming a semi-circle, all facing her, her facing us. She would open the book in her lap and read to us.

Perfect stories. I never wanted to leave the worlds that she would take us to in those wonderful stories. I cannot remember them all, but there was, A Wrinkle in Time. Of course, Where the Red Fern Grows. And my favorite, A Bridge to Terabithia. My beautiful Leslie Burke. Even now, thinking of her breaks my heart.

Sometimes during, sometimes after reading, Mrs. Ruby would open discussions with the class. Most times we would talk about the story, different characters or how we might handle being in their shoes. I cannot recall how the subject came up, but one afternoon she told us about her husband. She told us that he died.

She did not say where her was coming back from, but she was picking him up from the airport. It was out on the tarmac. Like in the movies, she explained. The day was bright. He was wearing his light blue cotton suit, her favorite. He was tall and handsome. He had exited the plane and just stepped away from the rolling stairway. She was happy to see him and he was looking forward to coming home. He was smiling at her. Their eyes had just met when his expression fell away from his face and then he crumpled to the ground. She ran for him, but he was already gone.

Mrs. Ruby had been trying to stifle her tears as she was finishing the story of her husband dying before her eyes, but she could no longer hold back. She pulled a tissue from her dress pocket and wept. Through the tears, she choked out the words, “I loved him so much…” I wanted to run to her and put my head in her lap and tell her not to cry. I wanted to tell her that I loved her, even if I really had not. But I could not do any of those things, I just sat in my seat and watched her. She did not say why he fell that day, or how long it had been. I guess that did not matter. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath and composed herself. She apologized to us, but none of us saw anything to be sorry for and she sent us back to our desks.

All the years since then, I was never much of a good student. I barely made it through high school. Had dumb job after dumb job. Years later, one of those jobs was delivering flowers. I was in my late 20′s. Each morning I was given a list of names and addresses. I loaded my van and went out to do my deliveries. One morning, there was a Ruby on my list. Of course the name made me think of her, but my van was full and it would be a long day. I did not give it much thought that early in the morning.

Almost finished with my route, Ruby was my next drop. The address was a secured building. I had to be buzzed in. Took an elevator to the 3rd floor. Rang the bell. It was her, Mrs. Ruby.

She was much older and did not recognize me. People are usually happy to get flowers and so was she. It was amazing to see that smile again. She would have no idea how it affected me. She signed for the delivery, thanked me and started to close the door. I gently raised my hand to stop her. I told her that I knew that she would not remember me and I told her that I was a former student of hers. I told her that I did not want to take up too much of her time, but I wanted her to know how much she meant to me and that I would never forget her. I told her how much the reading meant. And I told her that she was my favorite teacher.

She did it again. Mrs. Ruby began to cry. She set the flowers on the floor between us. I was a stranger to her, but she hugged me. She was very thin and felt fragile. I stood in the hall and she just inside her apartment door. Then, she stepped back again, wiped her tears and thanked me. I thanked her. We said to good bye to each other and I headed back to the van and I felt grateful. I finished that day’s route and turned in the van and my clipboard. The dispatcher, the floral designers nor the other drivers had ever heard Mrs. Ruby read to them. But I have and that dumb job was the best dumb job I ever had.

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Holding on

Holding on.

I could not sleep. The whole week has been a struggle. But last night was the worst. I was up at 2am. I sat up because my heart was throbbing in my ears and neck. The sheets and my back were soaked with sweat. The night was a dark pit. Even though I’d told myself to ease up, I drank from early that day and into the night. I got up and wandered through my apartment looking for an escape. All the windows and doors were shut tight. I peeked through the curtains and realized that it was for the best. At least I know the darkness on this side of the door. So I made up the couch and huddled there like a runaway or an unexpected cousin from out of town. I also took a pill to calm my heart. I waited and worried that the morning may never come. The room was empty and so was I. My mind drifted back to a memory of when I was a young boy. I was having trouble sleeping even back then. My parents were splitting up and one night neither of them were home. I lay on their bed waiting and listening to music on the clock radio. I watched the minutes go by and it hurt with each number that flipped over to the next. Back on the couch, I got up for a drink of water from the fridge. It was after 5 now and I was relieved that the sun was on its way. I’d made it and now it’s night again as I am writing this. I hadn’t a drink all day. The couch is still made and doesn’t look so bad, but you better wish me luck anyway.

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Never enough

Never enough.

I’d fallen in love with you. I knocked on your apartment door. Your roommate answered. She was barefoot and in shorts and her tits and nipples shown though the t-shirt that was too small for her. She smiled at me like she was laughing at me. She could see on my face that I couldn’t wait another second before I saw you. She probably also knew that you’d been in your room sulking and had no idea I’d come for you. The living room was empty. The t.v. was blank faced. The couches and carpet seemed as lonely as I felt, as lonely as your roommate, as lonely as you and everyone else in the world. She took me to your room and called out, “Your boyfriend is here!” The hollow door yanked open and I saw you there in your pajamas and ankle socks. I wanted to cry and take you into my arms. I wanted to drag away from there. I wanted to carry you away to some perfect place where we’d live happily ever after, but I did not do that. Instead, I walked into your room. It was kept neat and clean. You’d just got a new bed. Your dad helped you put it together. Now we crawled into it. It was cold outside. I put my arms around you and pulled you close. Your nose and mouth were cold too. That was the first time I’d told you that I love you. You told me that you’d been waiting for so long to hear me say it. We kissed and I brushed your hair from your face with my bare hand. And I had never loved anyone more than I loved you.

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It’s April again and the day was cold. There were clouds drifting here and there, but there was still plenty of blue and sun. It had started out to be a bit of a hard day. I have a cough and I felt weak from too much drinking from the night and day before. That day, I was already feeling down. I hadn’t showered for two days and I pulled the bottle from the shelf early, just before 2 that afternoon. There was 1/4 left when I started and I emptied it and fell asleep in my chair. When I woke up my feet felt swollen in my sneakers so I left them untied as I walked to the store for a fresh bottle and more beer. My mouth tasted bad and my teeth felt thick and filmy. The girl that serves me fried chicken, who is normally spiritful, appeared sad to me. I asked no questions and only pointed out the pieces of bird for her to put in the bag. After the deli counter I did not meander, but went straight for the booze and beer then back out to my apartment again. The whole day was unpleasant for me. So, as soon as I got in the door, I got into the bottle and cracked a beer. It was sometime after midnight when I noticed I nearly emptied half that bottle. I drank a lot that night, but didn’t feel drunk. At least not drunk enough. That’s the way it is sometimes. The booze gets less and less effective. Just enough to do its damage one way or another. It would be a fitful night. The cough. The cold coming through the thin glass of the old windows. I could probably use some new pillows and the sheets are pretty tired too. I first checked the time it was 522. I rolled over, slept for a while. Shifted again, slept for a while more. This was endless. Checked the time again, 547. Two hours later I gave up and went out to the couch. I was not hungover, but I still wasn’t right. I was trembly and weezed short shallow breaths. I turned on the t.v. and folded the blanket around myself. It felt like hours had gone by, but it was only a little after 9. Eventually, hours had passed and I showered and went for a walk. There were lots of people out walking like me. The cool air and sun did me good. Much better day than the day before. As I smiled or gave a nod to the people I saw, I wondered if there was a half empty bottle on their shelf. Were their sheets tired too and did their beds ever get as cold and lonely as mine. I hoped not, but I also hoped so.

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The Tumbler

The Tumbler.

I bought a used car today. It’s more than half my age. I got it cheap. Found it in an ad in the paper. I wanted to get up and out early enough not to lose the car to another buyer. My alarm was set for 8am, but I was shifted awake by an earthquake a little after 6. Used to be that sort of thing would shoot me from my sheets. This morning I just stared at the crack in the open window, waiting to see if the rumble would be still or would the two story apartment be torn in half. Apparently, the couple in the apartments across the way were waiting too. Once we all decided that we’d live to our next cup of coffee, the couple continued with what they had going on while I’d been asleep. Her moans made me lonely and wish that the earthquake had crumbled one of our buildings down. Preferably, theirs. Later, I had that cup of coffee and wondered if she ever had hers. The old car seemed to disappoint those whom I shared its news with. The paint is faded, the windshield wipers are dry and cracked, the hood doesn’t close without slamming it hard and the fuel gauge is busted. I’ll have to get it repaired or I’ll always be counting my miles as I go. Wouldn’t matter too much, I’m used to counting my miles, as I count my lies and regrets. The old thing is resting in my driveway now. I intend to see it through, if it’ll do the same for me. It’s the least I can do for something so undeserving of a more sensible person’s love. The least I can do considering someone once loved me, much further than I deserved.

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Six days was enough

Six days was enough.

I can’t tell if there was really someone in my backyard last night or was it only a dream. I was back there earlier. I lit a fire and sat watching it as I drank. Tequila and beer. Smoked marijuana too. I listened to the radio. The music was sad. And I thought about how many others that had listened to those songs. They probably thought that those sad songs were about them too. Young ladies’ hearts torn to pieces by asshole men like myself. I drank more and I changed the station. I thought about how I am a no one and I could hear the train a block up and across the freeway. It whirls away from the station and it sounds like a spaceship taking off. The fire began to die and I had enough to drink and smoke. I let it die and finished my last beer. I watched the embers breath hot red and I felt so alone. Later, as I lay in bed, another thought came to me. I knew that I never want to die. Love wouldn’t hurt so much if I could live forever. But, someday, I am going to die, and so will whoever is wandering through my yard while I sleep. And love will always hurt, if it was a good one.

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I can’t tell for sure, but I think I may be starting to lose my mind.

It used to be that during the daylight hours things would be ok. And only at night is when things would appear to become unraveled.

Most times, I wouldn’t drink during the day. I’d go about life as most. Perhaps a little reading. A trip to the grocery. The gym. Maybe an afternoon coffee.

Then, I’d be home for supper. And that’s when the cracks in the walls began to show.

A fancy dinner at home meant a frozen burrito that came with its own packet of guacamole.

Meanwhile, I’ve been out of work for two months. Laid off from a job that I hated, yet missed, like a wounded soldier sent home to rest and recover. I was working that job for over seven years. Seen bosses come and go. Some mad, some assholes and some surprisingly competent. ‘Till they’d all gone and left only me to push onward.

Years go by, shell shocked and drunk on another lonely Friday night, the microwave beeps for my attention. I eat the burrito, squeezing on the thawed guacamole, bite by bite.

One shot. Two shots. And soon I’d lose count. Tonight, same as too many others, I crack open beer after beer.  There is laughter and tears. Somewhere in between, the madness sneaks in.

I hear someone. I hold my jaws from chewing at my dinner. What was it that I heard? No, not what I think they said. Who is “they” anyway?

Then I heard it again.

Build a robot friend. Build him from empty beer cans, alkaline batteries and love.

I had a shopping bag always full of cans. Some dented, others fully in tact. I robbed the various remote control devices from around the apartment of their batteries and began to build.

I used packing tape, hot glue, permanent markers, the batteries, beer cans and, of course, love.

I won’t be able to convince you, I’m sure, but I did it. I built a robot friend.

Until now, I’ve kept this a secret, close to my heart. I was afraid that if the world became aware of my new little friend, the world would come and take him from me. Now I pray that that comes true. The little robot proved to be no friend at all.

At first he was great. Told me funny stories and listened to mine. Offered mind blowing facts of the world and of the cosmos. Helped to repair virtually any and every emotional bump, scrape or bruise I would bring to him. The robot of beer cans and batteries fed my hungered soul.

However, little by little, after he’d won my faith, he continued to push and push me toward greater and greater risk and danger.

One day, not too long ago, he talked me into climbing the big avocado tree in the back yard. He convinced me that’s where the raccoons that steal my cat’s food sleep during the day.

I was to climb up and surprise the slumbering beasts with a lit pack of leftover firecrackers I had from my last visit to Chinatown.

The climb up was brutal. I went up and up. I was damned drunk. The sweat burned my eyes. My hands, arms and inner thighs were raw from the tough and flakey bark.

I made it near to the top of the tree, and the robot was right, the raccoons were sleeping there.

I held the tree with one hand while pulling the firecrackers and lighter with the other. The noises from my heavy breathing and struggle didn’t wake the animals, but stirred them nonetheless.

I tore open the Blackcat firecrackers with my teeth. I held the firecrackers in my mouth as I lit the fuse with my one free hand.

The fuse went incredibly fast. Much faster than I’d expected.

I tried to spit the lit pack of firecrackers onto the huddle of sleeping nocturnal beasts, but the paper stuck to my dry and chapped lips. The mini explosives fell down my t-shirt.

The popping, sizzle and snapping wasn’t my biggest problem. It was being face to face with four large and terrified carnivorous wild creatures, hissing and cursing at me.

I fell 20 feet to the ground, or at least it felt like it. Luckily, the landlord had covered the base of the tree, thick with redwood chips. I broke no bones, but all the air in my lungs had been forced out with a snap and I struggled and gasped for life. All the while the firecrackers continued to pop in my shirt.

I dragged myself back inside my apartment. Dismantled the robot. I poured and shot back three shots, back to back before chasing them with another beer.

I dropped into my chair and checked my cell phone for the time. 231pm.

Still over five hours before the next sunset. And plenty left in the bottle. Should I be worried? I guess if only the bottle runs dry before the dawn.

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Sweaty pillow

Sweaty pillow.

I hope that I sleep through the night. I don’t know how many more days of wandering through the dull ringing and blur of fatigue I can stand. My eyes are constantly heavy and fall at every sliver of opportunity.

Even the booze has become ineffective. I shot plenty of it down so far, but it only makes my heart sick when it should be wringing out a little of its pain.

No TV. No radio. No books. Damn it, it all only reminds me of what is lost. Wasted so disturbingly. I cannot shut my eyes tight enough to keep from seeing how the Mad Fool has burned his life down once again.

Rain is coming. A heavy down pour is expected. The neighbors, my barber and the girl at the deli who sells me fried chicken are all talking about it like it’s a monster returned to the village.

I am waiting too. Except, I know that the monster has never left the village. He only hides till the rain comes. Waits till it falls relentless in the night. The monster slips through the streets and their dreams, looking for a way to kill the Mad Fool for good. And keep him from fucking things up ever again.

I hope that this time the monster finds the Fool and bites his head off. I will be there with them both, in the dark and the rain. Maybe then the monster and I will finally get some rest and enjoy the day after what a good rain brings.

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Golden Gate

Golden Gate.

My pockets are empty, as there is nothing left for me to steal. My hands and mouth are empty too, except for my few and frail words.

I fell asleep on the floor. My shoulder and head ache. My tongue and throat are dry.

I’d lost track of the days and the drinks. So, I laid here, and I remember watching a spider crawl across the ceiling. It was out of my reach, therefore, out of harm. It needed nothing from me, nor nothing to give.

I wonder who might have been be watching me here on the floor. But I already know. And I would not evade peril this time. My heart and bones were due a good crushing underfoot.

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La Verne

La Verne.

It’s nearly bedtime. I enjoy the night. The quiet out in the backyard. The occasional car on the street. I like to try and guess if it’s a car or truck. Motorcycles are easiest to call. I wonder how many nights must I drink enough to be willing to climb into bed without her. A friend is teaching me guitar. He lent me one of his. Tonight I held it on my lap. My arms and fingers grip and strum at it. I work at mastering the G Major Scale. The last time I took lessons was to learn a song well enough to sway the last woman who’d had enough of my shit and turned her back on us. Now, I strum the same strings. What you hope changes, sometimes, never really does. I’ve left the door open. And I can hear a baby cry in the apartments across the way. I’ve been here longer than most on this block. I’ve seen young couples move in with the woman’s belly bulging with their first child. I’ve seen those babies stumble and stomp past my driveway. A few have stayed around long enough for me to see them peddle their first without training wheels. My phone doesn’t ring. No one at my door. My cold feet under the sheets are no longer any one else’s concern but mine. How long will I have to wait for the morning. When will I see a new day. And will I have stopped loving her by then.

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