Thankful

Colorado got smacked by the icy hand of Winter this week.  Well, most of Colorado anyway, the town where I live got just enough snow to suck.  But I did have a snowday from work on what is perhaps the most pointless week of the year.  Thanksgiving.

At a University, which is where I work my day job, Thanksgiving is a week with two days of classes and the majority of offices being down to a skeleton crew because everyone just doubles down with the time off so they can get a whole week off where nobody actually does any work anyway.

Why didn’t I take off any time?  Because I had pneumonia all through September, and I’m running low on days off.  It’s not a bad week to be at my desk.  Like I said, it’s usually pretty quiet anyway, unless other bored workers come in to visit with anyone who happens to be in the office.  Granted, today, I have been working my butt off.  This is a busy time of year for me, but eventually you hit a choke point where the other people you need to work with to get jobs completed are out on vacation.

So I’m off on vacation. Involuntarily. And sitting at my desk.  Also involuntarily.

This week, I’m driving up to visit my parents in the cold and frozen Rocky Mountains.  I don’t relish my visits there in the Wintertime. The scenery is strikingly beautiful, with mountains newly glazed in crisp, stark, white ice and snow.  And not much else to do up there.  I’ll probably be helping my dad replace the fuel pump in my stupid jeep.  Just the other day, I rolled down the window to order some coffee and the button crumbled when I tried to roll it back up again.  $150 later, I wondered what price would be too high to pay to make sure the windows went back up when a 6-10″ blizzard was on its way.  Apparently $150 wasn’t the limit.

It’s cold up there, and I don’t miss it.  The winter generally starts in October and often holds on until late May.  This year, it finally stopped snowing at the end of June.  The town has changed and hardly anyone I knew up there remains, or we have lost touch.  Seeing my folks and letting my son get to know them is important, but generally once the snows start I don’t want to be up there.  Too many winters of being snowed in for days on end with only a tiny grocery store full of overpriced food to supply the town.  The bitter cold wind coming out of the North, howling like some demonic wolf from Hell, sculpting miles of snow in all directions into non-euclidean forms.  A town at the nexus of highways that lead to other places.

But I am trying to be Thankful.  It’s a time of year we are supposed to count our blessings, but today, I’ve been in a funk and I’m not feeling it.  I think of next year and about how I would love to switch it up.  I want to fly somewhere and spend Thanksgiving on a beach, watching the waves roll in one after the other, messing with sea creatures in tide pools, fruity beverages at poolside.

Work has been difficult this year.  There were layoffs in March and now there is grumbling that “we need to do more, because cuts are coming.”  The economy is the best it has been in decades, except at my University, where upper administrators used this place as their personal piggybank and rampant overspending left us lifers with “doing more” to fix the problem.

I don’t know if I’ll be on that beach next Thanksgiving.  Honestly, I don’t know where I’ll be.  I do know that I have both of my parents, and my son is getting to know them and love them.  I’ll take the cold and miserable wind and snow as long as he gets that.  My mom’s gallbladder was gangrenous back in August.  A few more days of shitty doctor diagnoses and “wait and see” and she might not be here this year.  Last year, I was losing sleep, feeling lonely and rejected, poor, overwhelmed.  I was getting sick from exhaustion, which went into my lungs.  Depression.  This year, I just don’t like snow.

I’m thankful for that too.

I met a wonderful woman in June, (1945ish) who really, truly gets me and most days I hope I get her.  She has reminded me of how good things can be and what it feels like to really be appreciated; I can only hope I return the favor.  I get to spend the afternoon playing video games with my son, high-fiving or taunting each other, I get coffee regularly and visit with the kids who work there who always brighten my day.  I have my health.  I have hope.  I have my faith.  I am much better off today than I’ve been in years.  I have traveled on my own and learned so much about myself.  I have reached a point where I have become comfortable in my own skin, met challenges with aplomb and did exactly what I said I was going to do, though it might have been twenty years too late.  I have hit rock bottom and lived to tell the tale.

I have been writing.  Lots.  I have smoked cigars, enjoyed good whiskey, and laughed until my ribs have hurt and my jaw ached from smiling. I have taken the waters at Bath and soaked my bones in Glenwood Springs.  I have lost some people along the way. Some of them might be back, and others are probably gone for good. Some of them thankfully so. I try not to get too worked up about any of it.  Good boundaries allow good people to come into your life and bad ones to show themselves out.  I’ve read a lot of books on  Boundaries too.  I’ve done a lot of healing and a lot of reflection.

If the most irritating thing in my life right now is some snow and a car that insists on new parts every time I turn around, things aren’t too bad.  They’ve been much worse.  I’m thankful I don’t have much to complain about, and grateful that I still get to complain and people will listen. I’m thankful my dad is willing to help keep my Jeep on the road with his mechanical expertise.

I’m thankful my son still sleeps with his stuffed animals and doesn’t ask for too much from Santa.  He’s a good kid with more kindness and compassion in his heart than most people will ever know.   I learn things from him every day.

It’s things like that which will warm your heart more than a summer afternoon, and brighten your day more than a sunset on the beach.  Winter sucks, but I have faced worse.  There have been perfect days that fell flat and left me feeling hollow and alone, and there are miserable days with snow flying in the air where I have laughed about silly things until I had tears in my eyes.

These are the things I am thankful for.

 

Long, Pale Fingers

Here is an excerpt of my current novel in progress. I hope you enjoy!

Long, Pale Fingers

by Clinton A. Harris

The old tree stood alone on the riverbank.  If not for the tresses of moss which hung down from its branches, the tree would have been lifeless.  Except for the moss, the wood was bare, the bark having long ago fallen off of it.  Not in Genevieve’s fourteen years and not in her parents lifetime either.

She walked with long, determined strides through the marshy grasses of the floodplain, the fetid water making squashing sounds in her boots as she pulled them out of the water and put them down again, scattering pollywogs and minnows, skating waterbugs, and flushing out the occasional killdeer.

The other children followed behind, some older, some younger.  Her little sister, Hannah, tagging along with her silly orange cat, Corella.  The tabby hung limp in her arms, glowering, long ago having given up any protest to wearing the calico dress which matched her own. The older boy with the untamable cowlick and the overalls that had been his fathers.  Last were her friends, her cohorts in any kind of mischief they could drum up.  This time, she had been dared and she aimed to make good on her word.  It was less a matter of bravery and more of a matter of winning.  Lena had yet to lose a footrace with anyone her age, and only a few of the the older boys had beaten her out.

The other children in their pack followed, yammering on and on, taunting her, daring her, telling her she was too afraid to do it.  But as they got closer to the tree, some of them fell behind.  They threw out excuses.  They heard their mothers calling them. Or it was going to rain. Soon it was only Lena, Hannah, Jacob the boy with the unruly mop of hair, and the Friessler twins, Johan and Klaus.  The twins were new to the Charter and didn’t know any better.

“You don’t have to do this, you know,”  Jacob had been saying.  He tried to push that luxurious hair back and out of his face, but it just fell back into place, like a big sheep dog.

“No one has to do anything,” she answered.

“Lee-nee,” Hannah said, “I’m cold and want to go home.” Lee-nee was the name that had stuck, even though Hannah could have pronounced Lena now if she put in any effort.

“Then go home,” she answered.  “Nobody is stopping you.”

“I’m scared.”

Lena didn’t answer her sister.  The tree was getting closer.  The long white trunk, the moss which hung from the branches.

Some said it was a hanging tree.

Then there were the stories about how it was a ritual site from when the Others used to live in these parts.  They would bring the children they had taken from their beds at night to this place and hang them by their heels.  Let the blood run from slashed throats into hungry, open maws.  Lena didn’t believe the stories.  Just myths to frighten children from playing too close to the river.  It was swift with dangerous currents.  The tree on the other side was the only one worth climbing for miles, and on the other side of the river, it was irresistible to any little girl or boy from the Charter who wanted to climb it.

The Manitou River was low at this time of the year.  The surface of the river itself was a good two feet below the riverbank.  She looked up and down the banks to see any indication of a shallow, or somewhere she could walk without the water going much higher than her knees.  The riverweed swayed gently in the current.  Red-winged blackbirds argued in the branches of the tree she had been dared to climb in front of the boy she liked.  She was here and in spite of getting a little bit more wet than she already was, she wasn’t about to go home now.  The Friessler brothers stood on the bank in silence.  Jacob stuffed his hands into his pockets and eyed the tree, shaking his head.

It wasn’t just the allure of a tree to climb and a river to cross.  On the other side of the river, their town charter ended.  The land on the other side of the river belonged to the Americans and was not part of their lease.  Hannah clutched Corella to her chest.  The fabric of her calico dress dark and soaked all the way up to her chest.  Her usual ringlets of blonde hair which usually bounced in a cascade of springs were now plastered to her face by sweat and damp.  An unuttered whine was perched on her lower lip, just about to be set loose upon her older sister.

“Stay there,” Lena ordered.  Even Jacob took a step back.  Hannah was good at listening most of the time.  She had to suppress a smile when she noticed that Jacob wasn’t half bad at listening either.

“But you can’t swim!”

“Shush or go home, Hannah! You have a choice.”

The Friessler boys were tossing big stones into the water, and watching the splashes they made.  She stripped down to her long white shirt and left her dress on the banks.  Lena missed her buckskin breeches she had to give up for dresses not long ago.

She eased herself down into the water, feeling the riverbed beneath her feet just as the water reached up to the middle of her chest.  It was cold, but not much colder than the water they had slogged through on the way across the swamp.  She felt the pull of the current as she tried to work her way across. It was impossible to ford the river straight across, so she found it easier to let herself drift and walk.  She would have to make up the distance on the other side of the river and walk back to the tree.  In one hand, she carried a bright red handkerchief. A flag that she had promised to tie onto the topmost branch to prove she had done it to anyone who doubted her.

Then she he heard something big hit the water and wondered what the Friessler twins could have thrown in to make that kind of splash.  It was the scream that made her turn to look.  Hardly a scream.  More of a yelp and then nothing.  She looked back and saw the Friessler boys standing as though frozen, Jacob running towards the bank and the mud and earth that had slid away and fallen into the river.  Hannah.  Where was Hannah?

Jacob was already on his knees, spearing a long, lanky arm into the water, his hair flopped over his face.  He was shouting Hannah’s name.  Lena fought the current and saw the flash of blonde hair.  The current was dragging her straight across the river!  One little hand appeared from the water and then the cat which she still clutched in her tiny fist by the scruff.  Over and over in a struggling, stubborn stroke.  She was dog-paddling.  Lena fought against the current, fear rushing through her veins, urging her forward.  The water forming a wake behind her as she pushed one foot ahead of the other.  The branches of the Wight Tree loomed overhead.  Its mossy tendrils dragging across the surface of the water, chilling her as they touched her face.  Her shoulders.  She pushed on until she was within arm’s reach of Hannah.  The water got deeper, and soon she was up to her neck.  She didn’t know what would happen if Hannah fought her.  She decided to think about that later.  Her sister hadn’t been above the surface yet and her arms were no longer windmilling like they had before.  Another half-hearted lunge and the little girl was still.  The cat was clutching her back, with only its head visible above the surface. Something continued to drag Hannah towards the tree.

Lena reached her and held her up and out of the water, using all the strength in her arms she could muster.  She carried her sister to the bank and pushed her up to dry land.  Hannah was coughing and crying now, lying on her side, sputtering.  The cat sprinted off as though it had caught fire, only towards the river!  It hit the water with a wet plunk and the dress pulled it under. Lena reached under the surface to catch it before the current could pull it away.  A simple orange smudge quickly disappearing beneath the murky surface of the muddy river.

Something long and pale, like a fish turning its belly towards the sun and betraying its natural camouflage passed between Lena and Corella as she caught hold of the cat’s dress.  At the end of that long shape was something that looked like a hand.  It came at Lena and latched onto her arm.

With a grip like a bear trap, the fingers dug into her flesh and jerked her down to her knees.  The clear blue sky overhead turned to rust as her head went below the surface.  The world was upside down.  A murky world of swirling sand and sediment.  Reeking of fish and low creatures living among the rot.  The hands had long, pale fingers, slick and shiny like the belly of a salamander.  Powerful and strong.  They pulled her under the embankment, knocking the wind out of her from the force, dragging her through tree roots and deep into the darkness of the undercut where no light could reach.  The sound of water was replaced by the sound of her own heartbeat.  She felt the loops of treeroot being looped around her neck and body, quickly, efficiently, like the time she and Hannah had watched a spider wrap up a fly that had fallen into its web.  She felt her body convulse.  She needed to take a breath.

Hannah she thought.  And then she could no longer fight the reflex.  The water rushing into her lungs felt like a ten pound hammer hitting her in the chest.  She coughed.  Then there was only darkness.

She heard the sound of a woman weeping.

Looking up, she could see only blue sky and the nodding heads of tall haygrass.  The bark of a dog.  The commotion of people bickering.  Then she pulled herself up to her elbows and looked around.  Her shirt clung to her skin and she could see the flesh beneath.  On her forearms, ten purple bruises spotted her.  She looked around and saw the heads of men wearing straw hats, rising just above the grasses.  In the distance, she could see the reflection of sunlight against the glass windows and rooftops of town.  Her teeth chattered and she clutched herself out of reflex against the cold air. The sun hung low in the sky now.  When she sat upright, a flock of blackbirds were startled out of the grasses.  The heads turned towards her.  Shouts of excitement and alarm followed.  The world swam before her.  The men emerged from the water, their shirtsleeves rolled up past their elbows, their overalls dark and heavy with water.  She turned and saw the tree about a hundred yards off.  Something was hanging from it.  Like a big pale fish, only bigger than any fish she had ever seen.  It had arms and legs, which dangled.

She recognized a mop of unkempt hair on a tall, lean man chasing after a little girl in calico with ringlets of golden hair.

They were on the same side of the river she was.  The same side of the river as the tree.  The little girl had been crying.  She knew that face.  The way her eyes would get red and her nose would run.  But she wasn’t one of the weeping ones.  She was holding it together, just as she had been told.  The boy ran quickly, those long legs eating the distance with each long stride, big clunky workboots pulling him ahead.

“Lee-nee!” the girl was shouting.  The boy said nothing. He had caught the girl and was holding her back.  His eyes were wide with fear.

“How in tarnation did she get up here?” someone was saying.  “You kids said that thing pulled her under!”

“She must have gotten out somehow when we ran to town to get help,” one of the Friessler brothers was saying when they approached. But they didn’t get too near.

“It just pulled Hannah right off the bank!  Then it went for the cat!” the other said.

The townspeople circled around her, yet kept their distance.

“We aren’t supposed to be here,” was all Lena could manage to say.  “We aren’t allowed on this side.”

After that, Lena and her family had to leave the Charter.  There was talk among the townspeople about how she smelled of the river.  They talked at length about how the bog man had taken her under and there was no way anyone could come back from that.  Jacob would no longer speak with her.  He could barely bring himself to look directly at her and when he did, the fear she could see in his eyes was almost worse. The tree had been cut down and sent down the river, the corpse of whatever had been in the water lashed to it with leather cords, nailed to the wood with long iron spikes.

The bruises from where it had grabbed her healed in time.  Papa and Mama would harshly reprimand Hannah at any mention of it.  Lena, on the other hand, never spoke of it.

That old orange cat showed up a few days after the accident, but it never let Lena near it again.  It would rise up in the corner and hiss and spit whenever she came near.

 

Also posted at Gettingoutmore.org.

 

 

Okay, Boomer

This phrase has been going around a lot lately, and boy, I wish it wouldn’t.  I find it ironic that a generation which prides itself so much on the weight of words and the way language constructs influence out society and make a physical impact on others do this in many of the same ways that oppressors have used language in the past.

Ask any marginalized group what simple words have done to dismiss their accomplishments throughout history.  You don’t get a pass using a word to do this to a group with a perceived dominance either. In using the generational label to negate anything they say you are no better than they are.  It’s about equality, it’s not about paybacks.

As a GenXer, I spent the last 20-30 years with the media calling my generation nothing but a bunch of unmotivated slackers.  But like our Baby Boomer generational predecessors, we were raised in the shadow of the Greatest Generation.  The same people who survived the Great Depression and fought World War II were also the same people we looked up to when it came to work ethic, values, morality, and all that shit that doesn’t matter today.  Chances are, well into their 70s, a lot of us are still at the bottom rung of the ladder while the Baby Boomer generation is still tenaciously clinging to the top, unwilling and unable to retire to let us make more than base pay.

Now that I’ve laid the groundwork, let me give you the anecdote.  Today, not an hour ago, a woman came into the office, asking for a first aid kit.  Or some band-aids.  A young lady had been skateboarding close to the office and had fallen.  She had fallen and hurt herself pretty bad, but not badly enough for an ambulance.  So, I grabbed the office first aid kit and walked across the quad to the adjacent parking lot where she was, accompanied by two young men.

She sat on the ground with her legs outstretched in front of her, like she was watching a TV show on the living room floor. The boys hovering over her.  Her boyfriend was one of them, and he had brought his car.  I assessed her vitals, talked to her, asked for consent to help.  Once given, I gloved up and ripped the hole even bigger around her knee, telling her that her pants were going to be more stylish.  Her boyfriend marveled at how easy it had been to tear the fabric, as he had been trying before me.

The cut was deep, but there was no fat or bone visible.  She even said it didn’t hurt much.  I let her know I was going to clean the wound and then put on a gauze bandage, which I would tape in place over her jeans.  I went through the steps just like I said, and her wound was barely bleeding and not very deep.  The gauze bandage wicked up the blood pretty quickly but didn’t soak through.  She stood with help and was able to move her knee and her wrists.  The scuffs on her forearms were much worse and stung when I cleaned them.

I gave her a handful of band-aids, a cold compress, and told her to go home and clean the wound really well with warm soapy water. Also, I told her about the signs of shock (since she was shaky and a little disociative from the adrenaline) and to call the doctor if she blacked out. I also recommended some Motrin for pain and swelling.  Also a better skateboard.

From what I could gather, she had never hurt herself like this in 18 years of life and this was her first roadrash.  Yes, you read that right.  First. Roadrash.  I’m confident she would have still been sitting on the ground until either an ambulance or someone else came along.  I can’t remember the number of times I had walked myself home after a bike wreck or some jackassery my friends and I were up to.  Has the world gotten so nerfed that someone exists who is old enough to have a boyfriend they can call on their cell phone to come drive to pick them up from their first roadrash?

When I started working on the wound, she asked if I had any medical experience.  I had to think and said, “I was a Boy Scout, does that count?”  She said very meekly, “Yes.”  I could have also mentioned that I’m a father of three and this is not my first rodeo when it comes to scrapes and bruises.  But that’s just the thing too, I was sorta the medic for my Boy Scout troop.  I patched my friends (and myself) together after all sorts of shenanigans.  Burns.  Cuts.  Break. Sprains.  Concussions.  Hypothermia.  Sunburns.  Heatstroke. Etc.

We were not sheltered.

We went into this world with wild abandon while our Boomer parents were working their asses off or extending their childhood a few more decades.  We took care of ourselves.  We got hurt and got right back up again. Our parents didn’t always give a fuck either.

So whenever I hear “Okay Boomer,” I used to chuckle because everyone gets sick of “Back in my day…snow uphill both ways” stories.  But kids, THIS is the reason the Boomers are being as critical as they are.  Your world is nerfed and safe.  The scariest thing you have had to face is pronouns.  Cigarettes are bad, but weed should be legal and you are very adamant about this.  Trump is literally worse than Hitler! (TM)–I’ve met people with Holocaust tattoos–sorry, but you are wrong.

You are out of your element, and as annoying as the Boomers are, they are sorta right.  You are as Green as a June melon.

Schools suspend and expel kids for making fake guns to play with at recess out of sticks, but by the time they are 18, they are joining the military to fight forever wars.  They are encouraged to protest and lay down in traffic for a cause, but they aren’t able to read a document in the cursive it was written in which protects their rights to do so.  They are taught to simultaneously fear the police and depend on them as the only people who can protect them.

In my Generation, we stand at the border between these two generational groups and we just shake our heads.  We were the ones told what fuck ups we were growing up, but now have to take care of the generation ahead of us, while tolerating the ones who came after.  Talk about middle kid syndrome.

So, let your kids get roughed up a little bit by life.  It’s good for them.  And this “Okay, Boomer”shit? You’re better than that.