Here, There and Everywhere

Archive for March, 2011

Favorite Books of All Time

What are your 10 favorite books of fiction written so far (not including Buddha’s Wife, written by yours truly)?

Mine are (in no specific order):

Beach Music by Pat Conroy

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Feral by Deena Metzger

Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

The Street by Ann Petry

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Crossing To Safety by Wallace Stegner

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Stories of Eva Luna by Isabel Allende

On the other hand…

The 10 best books for living with loss are (nonfiction) CLICK HERE

Ashita (Tomorrow) – Part 3

Excerpt from children’s story collection Solar Girl and Lunar Boy.

Ashita (Tomorrow) – Part 3 (Conclusion)

Whether it had been divine providence, coincidence or random luck, I’ll never know; but my faith in Buddha and the precepts were instantly restored. I attended the temple weekly and diligently started reciting my sutras. I even entertained the idea of becoming a nun, until a wonderfully romantic dream convinced me I’d never make it as a recluse.

Reverend Tsukiyama brought the application later that week, as well as some phone numbers of other families who had daughters in the program. Haha knew one or two and called them that evening. I walked into the kitchen as she was finishing her last call.
She hung up solemnly and said we’d talk about it in the morning.

“OK,” I replied, acting as if it didn’t concern me in the least. “I think I’ll call it a day. Goodnight Haha.”

I figured the sooner I went to bed, the earlier the sun would rise. I brushed my teeth, put on my nightclothes and snuggled in for the hopefully brief darkness, but the night crawled by like a sleepwalking sloth.

Sleep deprived and blurry eyed, I was waiting anxiously at the breakfast table when Haha, Chichi and Soba (grandmother) straggled into the kitchen.

“Well?” I exclaimed, almost lifting off my seat.

“Well what?” Haha replied.

“You know what!”

“Oh, that,” she said.

They sat and stared down at the table. Haha was the first to break. She glanced my way with a brilliant grin.

“I can! I can!” I jumped up and down and kissed them all. “You won’t be sorry! I’ll make you proud! Thank you. Thank you. I love you all!” I bowed so many times I thought I’d surely broken my back!

Chichi turned away and went outside without saying a word.

Haha and Soba were crying. “I’ll be all right. Don’t cry,” I said.

Chichi left for work without speaking to me.

That night Haha followed me to bed and sat on the side as I got under the covers.

“I’m sorry Hon, I didn’t mean to bring a cloud on your head.”

“What do you mean?”

“We weren’t crying because we were sad. Well, we are sad to see you go, but it’s more than that.”

“You don’t have to say anything,” I cautioned, feeling a bit uneasy.

She continued as if she hadn’t heard me. “Soba and I are happier for you than you’ll ever know. We’re so proud of you.” She smiled and started crying again.

“Haha.” I put my arms around her. “What’s wrong?”

She wiped her wet cheek on the sleeve of her silk kimono; the one Soba had given her back in the fifties. “Nothing’s wrong,” she sighed. “Everything’s right. You’re doing something Soba and I never had the chance to do.” Her eyes watered again. “I think we’re feeling a little sorry for ourselves. I didn’t want to be a nurse, but I did want to write and play music.” She paused, gently caressing the blanket with her callused fingers. “Who knows, I might have been pretty good at it too.”

“What stopped you?”

“It just wasn’t something women were ‘supposed to do’. Our duty was to home and family, but I can’t blame it all on that.” She looked away. “I was scared. I’d never lived apart from my family. I knew what to do at home. I’d seen it done all my life. It was safe. I did what was expected.”

I started feeling guilty. “If only we hadn’t come along,” I thought.

Seeming to have read my mind she quickly added, “It’s not your fault! I couldn’t imagine life without you. When you’re a mother you’ll know how much I love you. No, I don’t regret having children.” She smiled and shook her head. “It’s hard sometimes and tiring as hell . . .”

“Haha!” I exclaimed. I’d never heard her swear before.

“There’s something special about each and every one of you.” She stopped, as if she’d just realized something profound. “I wish I wasn’t such a scared-y-cat.”

“Well?” I asked.

“Well what?”

“Why don’t you do something about it?”

She blushed. “It’s too late for that.”

“Too late?!” I exclaimed. “Remember that poem you wrote a couple years ago about the farm?” She nodded bashfully. “It was great! Everyone said so. Why don’t you start writing again?”

“I wish there was time, between chores and kids I barely get any sleep as is,” she said justifiably.

“Make time,” I insisted. “Basho and Yutaka are old enough to help out. You could practice your music too.”

“You’re so sweet.” She gave me a big hug. “I’ll think about it.”

“I love you Haha.”

“And I you.” Our necks were damp with tears. “I miss you already,” she cried.

I sat back smiling. “I’m only going to be two hours away.”

“I know.” She laughed.

“Chichi acts like I stuck a knife in his back,” I said sadly, looking at the floor. “It’s not like I’m going to Europe or something.”

Haha brushed the hair from my forehead. “He’ll come around. You are like the rising sun to him. He can’t imagine not having you here.”

“You don’t understand,” I said, feeling my cheeks getting wet once again. “He had me promise . . . I promised that I’d never leave Hamatombetsu.” I hid my shame behind my hands.

“Yuki,” Haha whispered. “Yuki. Look at me.”

I looked through blurry eyes.

“He never told me about that and you know why?” Haha asked. I shook my head. “Because he knows it was a foolish thing to ask a little girl to promise. How old were you . . . nine, ten?”

I stopped crying. “I was nine. It was on our way back from visiting Shogi in Sapporo.”

Haha shook her head. “He had no right to have you make such a promise.” Haha looked out the window. “He knows you can’t hold on to joy or try to put it in a chicken pen. You have to find your own way Musume, with your own heart.” She held my hand. “I’ll speak with him. He only wants your happiness.”

In less than a month I was informed of my acceptance, but it wasn’t until my crying Chichi and I got in his old beat up truck, waved goodbye and drove down the familiar, pot-marked dirt road, that it seemed real.

Haha had been right. Chichi came back to me the morning after they’d given me their blessing to go. He told me they would visit as often as they could. He helped me pack, gave me what little money they had and said he’d always be my “Number one fan.”

I wondered if my prayers had helped push my wish to the top of the karmic pile or the Bodhisattva’s had just taken a nap and knocked it off by accident. Then again, perhaps Sapporo wasn’t the land of honey and happiness after all. I looked back at my shrinking family and sobbing friend Kiri, who were waving in the distance. Through my bittersweet tears I realized that my ashita had become imadoki (today).

THE END

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Ashita (Tomorrow) – Part 2

Excerpt from children’s story collection Solar Girl and Lunar Boy.

Ashita (Tomorrow) – Part 2

Now I was being pulled, like an obsessive magnet, towards Sapporo’s alluring illusion of happiness. I was infected with a virulent virus known as TRISSES (The Rice Is Sweeter Somewhere Else Syndrome).
I wasn’t sure how to make my break – work, elope, runaway or hijack a bus? My teenage desire contradicted all financial logic. Our family had no savings account, wealthy relatives or hidden cash to save me from the purgatory in which I wallowed. My parents had no inkling of my nightly anguish and I wasn’t about to let them in on the secret. If they discovered my desire to go to Sapporo, their fears about “that depraved city of immorality” would descend upon me like a swarm of locusts. I had never forgotten the promise I’d made my father and neither had he.

When times were tough, I’d always been harangued into attending the local temple and praying for understanding and humility. After awhile I discovered that the prayers and priests divination’s often coincided with the will of my parents, teachers, and other illustrious icons of the community, but I figured I might as well give it one last try.

On a sunny Saturday in July, I decided to attend temple on a personal quest. I was turning eighteen in two weeks and could see the tiny grains of sand falling through the hourglass at the speed of light.
I wasn’t the kind of girl to stay home and play house or get married. Having grown up with six younger siblings, I was certain I’d rather be tortured and hanged then ever marry and have children! I didn’t mind if other women want to live that life, but it wasn’t my cup of tea or so I thought at the time.

I entertained the thought, rather briefly, about being a teacher. There were a few teachers I admired, respected and even fell in love with. Mr. Sato was my favorite. He had the nicest smile and always complimented my papers. Simple comments like, “Nice work.” would send Kiri and I into spasms of joy and late night talks about how one of us would make Mr. Sato our boyfriend. The fact that he was married, with children and twenty years our senior, seemed irrelevant at the time. Why should that matter when he was “so nice and cute”?
With somewhat more mature reflection, I doubted I could stand in front of thirty pairs of beady little eyes to impart any semblance of knowledge or words of wisdom. I’d surely wilt on the spot from fright.

Then the thought of working as a nurse embedded its tentacles in my skimming mind. That was something I knew absolutely nothing about. What could be so hard about that, I reasoned, handing doctors instruments, putting on bandages and saving people’s lives? I didn’t know about the ugly stuff, the pictures you don’t see on television – people throwing up on your newly washed uniform; exhausted interns screaming obscenities at your “incompetence”; wiping the bottom of a smelly old drunk dying from liver disease.

Haha (Mother) couldn’t believe how anxious I was to go to temple that day. “What’s gotten into you? I’ve never seen you so fired up.”

“Nothing special, I just want to recite sutras and pray for Buddha’s compassion.”

She looked me up and down, smiling with a look that said, “Yeah, sure.”

We arrived ten minutes early, dressed in our finest attire. I didn’t even mind wearing the totally embarrassing dress Haha had made for me to wear on special occasions. She had hand-stitched it from some strange fabric my aunt had given her. She gave it to me on my sixteenth birthday. You could see the pride she had felt when she handed me the package and bowed. Internally I had moaned. “I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing that old-fashioned fake-flower monstrosity!” But all she heard was my dutiful reply, “Thank you Haha. It’s beautiful.”

I rushed inside and sat on the mat. The rest of my bewildered family soon caught up and joined me, looking around nervously, ill at ease to be sitting so close to the altars.

Reverend Tsukiyama recited his ancient incantations, the followers paraded there off key voices with theatrical vengeance and everyone responded with stifled coughs and yawns. Silently, I plunged the depths of my imagination and begged the Ancestors and Buddha’s to reward me for all my good karma. “Please, please!” I begged. “Take me away from these endless fields of wheat, barley and chickens and deliver me to the Pure Land – Sapporo!”

“Get up child,” Haha whispered. “Service is over.”

The priests were shuffling down the corridor towards the hall entrance.

“Over?” I said in shock. “It can’t be! Nothing happened!”

“What are you talking about?” She felt my head. “You feeling OK Musume (daughter)?”

“I’m fine,” I mumbled, as we formally bowed and headed out. Haha kept eyeing me like a suspicious inspector.

What went wrong? I’d done everything! I helped take care of my brothers and sisters, seldom argued with my parents and never even thought about sex or drugs – well, not about taking drugs anyway. I said my nightly prayers and didn’t even hit Sashi Mutsui when she called me a “stupid little pig”.

I was a good girl. Why was I being singled out for punishment? Who were these dead priests and Bodhisattvas anyway . . . the farmers of suffering . . . the divine bean keepers? “This one’s good. That one’s bad. You deserve pleasure. You deserve pain. And you, Yuki, you have to live in Hamatombetsu until you shrivel up and die!”

I swore I’d never set foot on temple grounds again. “You call this a temple?” I admonished, looking at the empty space between the high, engraved ceiling and polished floor. “If I’m going to be stuck here the rest of my life, I might as well jump into the funeral pyre now and let my ashes blow away with the wind!”

As we reached the entrance, Reverend Tsukiyama motioned our family aside. The Reverend was somewhat of a village icon. In his forty years of service he had initiated, married and/or buried almost everyone in town. He’d known me since I was a wailing little bundle of flesh. He was a creaky, robust, silver-haired representative of communal devotion and tradition. Seeing his face reminded me of the day he caught Kiri and I orange-handed, sort of speak, on these very grounds.

We had snuck into the temple courtyard one day after school, like teenage fruit-stealing ninjas and devoured some delicious temple persimmons. They had been hanging invitingly on the lowest branch when we’d first eyed them after service the previous week. We had gleefully conspired then and their to stop by, when we thought the reverend was out making house calls and help ourselves to one of our favorite treats. Everything had gone according to plan, until we’d turned to leave and Reverend Tsukiyama entered the courtyard.
What could we say? We had orange persimmon juice all over our hands and faces. At first, it looked like he was about to laugh, but then his face turned very stern and he admonished us severely, naming every hideous realm of suffering we would end up in if we continued our lives of crime. We hadn’t known that after we’d gone running home that it had taken every ounce of control he had to not break out laughing when he’d discovered our shocked, setting-sun colored faces.

“Yuki,” the Reverend whispered. “Have you thought about your future?”

“What?” I said, still in a belligerent, melancholy daze.

“Your future. Have you thought about your future?”

“My future? It’s all I think about.”

“Well,” he chuckled mischievously. “If you don’t want to be a teacher or politician, I heard about a hospital in Sapporo that trains young girls to be nurses” his eyes sparkled, “and it doesn’t cost a single yen.”

I was stunned. He smiled a rapturous grin, then put on his stern, fatherly face. “Of course, it’s not entirely free. There is a catch.” My eyes were as big as saucers. “Once you finish their two-year program you have to work at their hospital for another two years. They provide room and board.”

I felt like I’d just been hit in the head with a large rock. “I thought you knew about this,” he said. “I’ve been telling all the girls about it.” My mouth hung open like a hungry carp.

I managed a few syllables, “No. I never . . .”

“If your parents don’t mind,” he continued, “I’d be glad to stop by later this week with the application and phone num . . .”

My shouting drowned out the good reverend before he finished his sentence.

“Yes, yes, yes! How do I apply? When does it start?”

He didn’t have time to answer. I turned to Haha and Chichi and pleaded shamelessly, “Please, please say yes!” I was jumping up and down like a kid who wanted a sweetened dumpling.

They hesitated, then Haha anxiously asked, “You want to be a nurse?”

“Yes!” I shouted. “With all my heart.”

“You never mentioned this before.”

“I thought it was impossible.”

Chichi turned stoically towards my black-robed savior and stated calmly, “We’ll think about it Reverend. It’s most kind of you to consider Yuki worthy of such a program. You know you are always welcome in our home.”

“They’d think about it?!” I screamed in my head. The answer to my prayers had just been delivered like a divine telegram and all they could say was, “they’d think about it!” I took a deep breath, put on my best face and managed a feeble semblance of control. At least they were considering it. In my vocabulary, that was as good as a yes!

At that moment my little girls promise to my Chichi to never leave our village had been washed away in a flood of excitement, but he hadn’t forgotten. Caught up in the moment, I didn’t allow myself to see the pain and sense of betrayal that was boiling under my father’s skin.

CONTINUED TOMORROW

PART 1

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Ashita (Tomorrow) – Part 1

Excerpt from Solar Girl and Lunar Boy.

Ashita (Tomorrow)

Toward the end of my academic studies I began to obediently panic about my future. “Where would I go? What would I do? Who was I? What would become of me? Would anybody care?”

They were never-ending questions of my age, without any answers except for one. I knew, without any doubt, that I had to leave Hamatombetsu, our coastal town of farmers and fields, where life revolved around chores, children, worship and gossip. Our small enclave of tradition was squeezing me like a bamboo noose. I wanted to explore, expand, walk unfamiliar streets, smell unknown scents and meet people I hadn’t known since pre-school! Except, of course, my dearest friend Kiri.

Kiri and I were inseparable. Our mothers said that they often saw us go to a corner of the playground when we were little, immediately squat down and talk or play together for hours on end. They said it seemed like we were in our own little world. And they were right. There is nothing about my life I haven’t shared with Kiri or she with me. We know each other like our favorite children’s books. She was the only other person who knew of my desire to leave.

At nine years of age I’d gone with my Chichi (father) to Sapporo and seen the sights of the grandest city on Hokkaido. We saw the parks, the baseball stadium and the buildings that were taller than any trees I had ever seen. Chichi had gone to see an old friend named Shogi, who lived in the suburbs. Shogi had treated me like a princess and taken us out for ice cream and treats every day we were there. He’d told my father how lucky he was to have such a beautiful little girl and I’d soaked it in, all the time feigning humility and giggling behind my hands.

Shogi worked downtown and had taken Chichi and I with him one day to see his office. I had never been on an elevator. When it first lifted, I’d felt my stomach fall and grabbed Chichi’s hand, but after the starting moments, was soon asking if we could up and down again and again.

The view from Shogi’s office was unbelievable! My mouth dropped unceremoniously open when he ushered us into his small office with a floor to ceiling window. I remember being careful to not stand to close, afraid that I’d surely fall off the side. The window was so clean I couldn’t see it.

One night Shogi took us to a place called a Karioke Bar. At first Chichi and I watched dumbfounded as people got on stage and sang along with the music. Some of them were so serious and so bad that we couldn’t stop from laughing. Shogi and Chichi must have drank a lot of sake, because it wasn’t long before they were up their grinning from ear to ear and singing like pop stars. They pulled me up to join them for a song. I was mortified at first and hid between their legs, but after some people started applauding I came out and joined them for a few versus. I don’t recall ever seeing my Chichi as happy as he’d been that night.

On our way home the next day my Chichi said, “Shogi is a lot of fun isn’t he?” I smiled. “And you liked the city, right?” I nodded emphatically and looked out the bus at the passing countryside. Then he said, “But don’t you EVER even THINK of us moving there.”
I looked at him in disbelief, asking “why” with my wide-eyed expression.

Without daring to look me in the eye he explained, “It is no place to raise a family. Many in the city are lost. They don’t follow the Buddha’s ways. They’ve made life complex and crave material goods.” He took my hand in his. “Promise me you will NEVER leave Hamatombetsu, OK?”

What could I say? I was a little girl who loved her Chichi and didn’t understand what he was saying.

“I promise.”

CONTINUED TOMORROW

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Is This The One?

My brief contribution to the book The Real Meaning of Life. Edited by David Seaman. (New World Library, 2005).

Some folks search for love all their lives and never find it. Some run into it in their teens and others when they’re seventy. Some strike it rich with their first love, and others with their second marriage. For me, the third time around was the lucky charm.

The younger my age, the more certain I was about the mystery of relationships. When I was a teenager, I used to think I knew everything about love and what it means. I thought I was wise to love’s ways. I believed that “when we fell in love we just knew it.” If it didn’t work out, then it wasn’t “meant to be.” Such were the awe-inspiring depths of my young perceptions. As I’ve aged and traveled the many roads of partnership, my previous certainties and simplifications have been blown away by the winds of experience. Now I know that I know very little, if anything at all.

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What novel is this from?

Following, is a brief excerpt from one of the greatest books EVER written. Do you know the title and the author? Read a slice, before going to the bottom to find the answer.

***

The years took all the fight out of Janie’s face. For a while she thought it was gone from her soul. No matter what Jody did, she said nothing. She had learned how to talk some and leave some. She was a rut in the road. Plenty of life beneath the surface but it was kept beaten down by the wheels. Sometimes she stuck out into the future, imagining her life different from what it was. But mostly she lived between her hat and her heels, with her emotional disturbances like shade patterns in the woods – come and gone with the sun. She got nothing from Jody except what money could buy, and she was giving away what she didn’t value.

Now and again she thought of a country road at sun-up and considered flight. To where? To what? Then too she considered thirty-five is twice seventeen and nothing was the same at all.

“Maybe he ain’t nothin’,” she cautioned herself, “but he is someting in my mouth. He’s got tuh be else Ah ain’t got nothin’ tuh live for. Ah’ll lie and say he is. If Ah don’t, life won’t be nothin’ but uh store and uh house.”

She didn’t read books so she didn’t know that she was the world and the heavens boiled down to a drop. Man attempting to climb to painless heights from his dung hill.

Then one day she sat and watched the shadow of herself going about tending store and prostrating itself before Jody, while all the time she herself sat under a shady tree with the wind blowing through her hair and her clothes. Somebody near about making summertime out of lonesomeness.

This was the first time it happened, but after a while it got so common she ceased to be surprised. It was like a drug. In a way it was good because it reconciled her to things. She got so she received all things with the solidness of the earth which soaks up urine and perfume with the same indifference.

THE ANSWER IS:

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (Copyright 1937)

Nane Alejandrez

Excerpt from Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call.

In photo: Nane holding photos of brother Tavo and Leo’s headstones.

Nane Alejandrez

One by one they died . . . from drugs . . . from violence . . . from pain, hate and revenge. Nane’s oldest brother got wiped out when he was intentionally hit from behind on his motorcycle; his younger brother died from a heroin overdose; his uncle Pancheo was stabbed to death; numerous cousins succumbed to drugs or were murdered; and his father died from an accumulation of life-long exposure to pesticides, alcoholism and a blow to the head with a baseball bat during a gang fight. That Nane survived to tell his story is a miracle in and of it’s self. He crashed and burned many times, but never gave up. His struggle continues, for his own life and that of the young men and women caught in the madness.

Mr. Alejandrez is now director of Barrios Unidos (Communities United), was instrumental in convening a national gang summit for peace and has received countless awards and recognition for his work in teaching and living non-violence. Barrios Unidos is a multi-cultural program whose mission is to prevent and curtail violence among youth, by providing alternatives such as the Cesar E. Chavez School For Social Change; outreach to youth clubs, parent groups, juvenile hall and kids on the street; and community economic development by operating a full service, custom silk screening business called BU Productions, where youth learn production, sales, marketing, design and administration skills.

NANE:

I’ve seen so many families get torn apart and so many men, especially men, go into hate and revenge and take somebody else’s life. Not thinking about what it’s going to do to the rest of the family. All the violence and anger . . . and a lot of us being brought up to not show any pain . . . to not let people know . . . so we act out, even at times when we don’t want to.

When I acted out I didn’t really want to, but I did it to show that I was looking out for the neighborhood; for the honor of my family. It felt like I wasn’t punking out. If you didn’t do nothing then someone else would think, “Oh well, kill one of those family members and nobody will do anything about it.” So the family would look at each other and say, “Who’s going to do something about it?” – That whole system of payback; trying to keep an image that causes a lot of pain. It’s easier to do that then to deal with your pain.

One thing I’ve learned throughout the years, is I wish somebody would have talked to me about pain and how to deal with it; how to not inflict pain. I learned how to numb it by using drugs and violence, which removed me from feeling it and kept my feelings busy on something else. That worked for a while, but what began to happen was the addiction started taking over. No longer was it about feelings; it was just being well. Surviving and the excitement of breaking the law and running with the home boys . . . you know . . . rebelling, not conforming. I didn’t know anybody that was dealing with it.

People would say, “It’s OK, everything’s going to be all right.” I’d say, “How do you know everything’s going to be all right, when I’m feeling like shit?! You tell me everything’s going to be all right, but that guy over there’s laughing at what he did to my family. Why shouldn’t I go do it to his family?” And then other people would just say, “Go out and take care of it.” They think, “Why isn’t he doing anything? Why doesn’t he take one of their people out?”

There’s that whole thing of not believing in a higher power. I said, “How can this God take my loved ones away? How can He allow it to happen . . . to take my heroes?” The heroes in my life were taken away in a short period of time. The heroes to me were my father, my Uncle Frank and my oldest brother.

After losing all these relatives I was still using drugs a lot of the time. When my father had his operation I was strung out and unemployed. Here I was having graduated from the university with honors and I was really down. When I went to see him in the hospital I was loaded. I went into intensive care. My aunt was there and we went into see him. There were five individuals in intensive care and you know a lot of people that go in there don’t come out. They told me he was all bandaged up and swollen and it would be hard to recognize him. I go in there and start to talk to my father and tell him how much I love him, how much I care about him, my aunts at the end of the bed rubbing his feet. I’m saying, “You’re going to be OK. I love you Dad.” Then my other aunt comes in and says, “Alejandrez is over here.” I look and say, “Wow man!” I was talking to the wrong man. (laughs) I was talking to another man two beds down from my father. My aunt let go of his feet and yelled! I could hear the rest of my family laughing, even in a situation like that, they were laughing. They were going, “Nane’s over there talking to another man.” I swear to God I felt like disappearing. If my father could talk he would have said, “I’m over here stupid!” or “Pendejo en estoy!” So I had to move from that bed to my Dad’s bed and repeat everything. That’s how fucked up I was. That’s an example of the madness. It took me about a year after my father died to really let go of that.

After all these deaths, when I really wanted to clean myself up, I was able to see a friend of mine who was clean. He’s now one of my best friends. We had used together in the past, so when I saw him clean I saw the possibility. He was looking good. I’d gotten busted and was going to court and he would show up in the courts. Every time I had a court date he’d be there supporting me.

Finally I just couldn’t do it no more. My family . . . my children . . . I wasn’t doing anymore talks. I couldn’t hide it anymore. I’d gotten so deep I couldn’t maintain. And I didn’t want to be doing stuff when I was loaded. I hid my addiction a lot. When it got to the point were I couldn’t do that anymore I asked for help. When I asked him for support he was there. Once I got clean and got the drugs out of my system I started to feel a lot of the pain.

I think I was always a spiritual person but I got side tracked. I got more involved in my traditional ways . . . my indigenous background . . . knowing that it was OK to pray. I’d go around with a lot of Native American teachers and prayer was always there. So I started to pray and go to NA (narcotics anonymous) and they always ended the meeting with a prayer. I began to feel different. My work started coming out again and I was really happy. I was seeing the faces of children and I told myself, “If I’m going to do this I need to do it right.” I need to be clean and I can’t be backsliding. I got more involved in my work and my self. It took a long time to do that again.

I’ve been gifted, you know, in certain situations where things were going to happen . . . by me being there . . . and the respect they have for me. Because I have been through a lot and they could sense it, it stopped it from happening again. People know that this is what I’ve been talking about for the last twenty years. “Stop the violence! Stop the violence!” Even through my madness I’ve stuck with it. People my age always tell me that that’s what they admire about me . . . that I’ve always stuck with it. It’s been hard. There’s been a lot of pain. People ask, “Why would you want to stay in a situation where you’re dealing with so much pain?” But at the same time there’s so much hope . . . the smiles on the kids. They’ve got this place, they’ve got a job, people that look like themselves running it. They got inspiration that maybe someday they’ll be doing it.

CONTINUED

Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call.

How to Help Japan

Here are some ways you can help the people of Japan recover from the worst earthquake and tsunami in their recorded history.

The Red Cross has already launched efforts in Japan. Go to Redcross.org or text REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10 from your phone.

Save the Children has responded. Donations can be made to its
Children’s Emergency Fund.

To donate or learn about additional ways to contribute to the medical response, go to Internationalmedicalcorps.org. You can also text MED to 80888 from your mobile phone to give $10.00.

GlobalGiving.org is gathering funds to be given to a variety of relief organizations helping quake victims. It’s already raised over $100,000, most notably from concerned Twitter users around the world. Visit them at: The Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund.

Please don’t forget about all the other people around the world who have been rebuilding and recovering from earthquakes, floods, tsunamis and other disasters (Haiti, Pakistan, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Southern India, China, Peru and more).

Lend a hand, provide support and visit:

Mercy Corps.

Red Cross.

Green Crescent.

The Goods: Help Send Relief To Haiti.

The Clinton Bush Haiti Fund.

Shelter Box.

CARE International.

Falling On High – Part 2

Excerpt from short story collection Saint Catherine’s Baby.

Falling On High – Part 2 – Conclusion

“Hey! Tony! Can you give me a hand?”

Tony put down the leveler, straightened and heard his knees crack, as he trudged once again up to the peak and looked over. Mike was on the edge of the roof trying to hammer in a piece of plywood that appeared warped.

“Can you hold that side down?” Mike asked.

Tony slowly worked his way to the edge and looked more closely. “You can’t use this,” he said, as Mike reached for a nail.

“Why not?” Mike questioned. “If you just hold that end I can get it to stay down.”

Tony shook his head. “It’s warped.”

“Just a little,” Mike insisted, flicking his hair behind his broad shoulders.

“Just a little?” Tony shouted, trying to calm his surging rage. He lifted up the piece of plywood, put it on its end and pointed. “It’s as warped as a politician! You can’t put this kind of crap on a roof.”

“I can do it,” Mike puffed up.

“That’s not the point, damn it!” Tony yelled. “You can’t use junk like that and be proud of your work.”

Mike shrugged. “Hey. It’s just a job.”

Tony felt his ears burn. He thought about grabbing the hammer and hitting Mike up side the head but remembered what George had said. He stood. His knees shook. It’s not just a job to me,” he said. “I’ll cut you another piece.” He growled, taking the warped plywood towards the ladder leaning against the front of the house.

As Tony placed his foot on the aluminum rung, holding the plywood in one hand and placing his other on the roof, the ladder slid sideways and crashed to the ground. The warped plywood followed, as Tony hung onto the gutter by his fingertips.

“Help! Mike! Help!”

He heard footsteps running on the rough gravely shingles and saw Mike’s young face peer over the side.

“Hold on,” he instructed. “I got ya.”

Mike grabbed Tony by the forearm, dug his heels into an exposed rafter nearby and pulled Tony up with a swift burst of youthful invincibility.

Tony crawled to his knees and looked away, hoping Mike hadn’t seen the terror in his eyes, but knowing he had.

Instead of saying thank you, Tony exploded with shame. “You stupid . . .” His voice trailed off as he got his bearings. “Number one rule,” he continued, “always, always make sure the ladder’s secure.”

“I just saved your butt,” Mike sneered, starting to walk away. Tony got up and followed.

“It shouldn’t have happened!” Tony yelled. “That ladder wasn’t secure!”

Mike waved Tony off and shrugged his shoulders. Tony grabbed Mike by the arm and turned him around. “Listen, you . . .”

“Don’t touch me old man,” Mike said sharply.

Tony pushed Mike on the chest. “Not too old to take you out.”

Mike turned and tried to walk away, but Tony grabbed him again by the shoulder.

Tony felt the wind leave his body as he crumbled to the roof, his gut contracting with pain from Mike’s sudden blow.

“I said, ‘don’t touch me’,” Mike leaned over and whispered.

Lying sideways, Tony watched Mike grab his Hawaiian shirt, go to the tar- covered roof and disappear down the back ladder.

Tony gasped and caught his breath. He put his hand on his stinging cheek and felt a bloody abrasion from landing on the shingles. He heard a door slam an engine rev and saw the top of Mike’s truck as it drove off.

“Stupid kid,” he said out loud. “Try to show him the ropes and look what you get.”

Curled up on top of the house, the sun sinking in the Tucson sky; Tony thought about Jake. Drops fell on his cheeks. It wasn’t sweat and it wasn’t rain; it was a foreign substance Tony had heard of called tears. Jake was the last person on earth he’d ever considered a true friend. Now he had nobody.

He sat up slowly, his back throbbing like a gigantic toothache and wiped his nose on his forearm. Out of nowhere his ex-wife’s parting words pounded in his head. “I actually feel for you. You’re the sorriest, loneliest man I’ve ever known. I don’t see how anyone could stand living with you!”

By the time his feet touched the ground night had descended. Walking gingerly to his truck Tony paused and looked up at the first stars out alone in the night. “Ah hell,” he whispered. “Maybe I was too hard on the guy.” It was then and there, in the silence, that he decided to find Mike first thing in the morning.

Tony saw Mike talking with George through the office window when he pulled up early the next day, just after sunrise. George was grinning and Mike didn’t seem too upset about anything. “What’s so funny?” Tony wondered, as he headed towards the front door.

George saw him first. He didn’t stop grinning. Mike, on the other hand, stopped talking and silently looked out the window as Tony closed the door behind him.

“Heard you had a little ‘disagreement’,” says George.

“Yeah,” Tony replied quickly, before he lost his nerve. “That’s why I’m here and not out working yet. I was wondering if I could talk to you a minute Mike . . . privately like.”

George tried to square up Tony’s intentions, then glanced at Mike. “OK with me. How about you?” he asked Mike.

Mike glanced sideways at Tony, who didn’t seem angry or pissed off and said, “Sure. Why not?”

“I’ll be right here if you need me,” George said to both men as Mike followed Tony out the door.

Tony wasn’t sure what he was going to say or how; he just knew that for some reason he didn’t want anyone else in this world to hate him. If there was some way to set the record straight and start over, he was going to give it his best shot.

Mike turned and leaned against the side of the corrugated building. He folded his arms, making his biceps more menacing than normal and kicked at the dirt with the toe of his work boot.

“Listen Mike.” Tony moved a little closer. He wasn’t sure what to do with his hands so he tucked them in his front pockets. “I’ve never told anybody this before and I don’t know why I’m telling you now, but if its worth anything, I’m sorry for the way I acted up there.”

Mike stopped kicking at the dirt and looked at Tony out of the corner of his eye. Tony took up where Mike left off by looking down at the ground and kicking at the dirt.

It seemed to George, who had quietly stepped outside and was watching carefully; that there was nothing to worry about. “At least nobody’s thrown a punch,” he observed.

Mike didn’t know Tony from a hole in the ground and had no idea what a monumental and life-changing event it was for this man to apologize. But he could see that the old man was serious and he wasn’t one to hold grudges.

It took Tony a minute to raise his eyes and see Mike’s outstretched hand. Surprising himself, Tony smiled and gripped the offered hand with both of his own. “Thank you son,” Tony said, sending another shock wave through his system. He never even called his own boy “son”. “If there’s anything you need up their today, just give a holler.”

“You got it,” Mike agreed.

As the two men started walking back towards the office laughing and playfully punching one another in the arm, George looked up at the sky and said, “Dad. Now I’ve seen everything.”

THE END

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Falling On High – Part 1

Excerpt from short story collection Saint Catherine’s Baby.

Falling on High – Part 1

“Tony! I need the hammer!”

“What?!” Tony yelled back, as he poured another bucket of hot tar on the smoldering flat roof.

The hammer!” Mike shouted, from the other side of the remodeled two-story home. “It’s on the edge, by the gutter!”

Tony looked behind him and saw the tool lying on its side. He put down the tar-bucket and grabbed the compression hammer. “Lazy jerk,” he exclaimed quietly, coughing up a mouthful of mucous and spitting into the top of a nearby magnolia tree.

He walked over the roof’s crest and saw Mike holding a pile of shingles with his knees and a pack of nails in his hand. “Idiot,” he thought. “Why didn’t he get it before he started?”

Tony handed Mike the hot-handled hammer.

“Thanks man,” Mike said, his long sun-bleached ponytail sticking to his shirtless, tanned, muscle-infested chest.

With his cheeks ablaze, Tony nodded imperceptibly and turned back towards the bubbling tar. “Stupid kid,” he hissed.

Tony Mendoza, creeping up on fifty-three years of age, had been a roofer for over three decades. A short, quick-tempered shot of a man, Tony was unable and unwilling to acknowledge his graying sideburns and an aching back that felt like it was carrying a hundred-pound bag of cement.

Because of the skyrocketing demand for new housing and a shortage of skilled labor, contractors were scrambling for help.

Tony had been informed by George, the foreman, to break in the new guys slowly. “Show them the ropes,” George had insisted.

“I’m running out of rope with this guy,” he’d told George that morning. “Might as well be up there by myself.”

“Give him a chance,” George had replied. “Remember when you started out with my dad? You didn’t know a beam from a chimney.”

Tony had grinned, in spite of his agitation, muttered some silent obscenities and climbed back up the ladder with another bucket of tar. He retrieved his blue-rimmed cap from his back pocket, slipped it on his balding head and let his eyes drift across the rooftops and swimming pools.

The heat from the scorching Tucson sun raised his body’s thermostat to fever pitch, as memories drifted before him like a mirage.

George’s dad, Lesley “Jake” Simpson, a full-blooded Cherokee, had started Simpson’s Roofing in the seventies. He and Tony were both raised in Arizona and had been stationed with the armed forces in Germany.

“When I’m done serving Uncle Sam,” Jake had droned daily, “I’m going to start up a roofing business. Doesn’t look like it now, but I got a feeling a lot of people will be moving to Arizona and they’re going to need a roof over their heads.”

Tony had listened to Jake’s dreams, while they were bundled in heavy wool coats, gazing out on a snow covered military compound in Stuttgart.

“Jake,” Tony recalled fondly. “He was an upright guy.”

He remembered the incident in a Stuttgart bar when he and Jake, who was the size of an adult grizzly, had gotten into it with some drunken German bigots who’d called Tony a “brown monkey”.

Tony, who’d had a few too many drinks, knocked the beer out of one of his blond-haired antagonist’s hands and punched another in the face. Before he realized he’d bitten off more than he could chew, he felt fists and boots slamming into his mouth and side. He kept swinging hopelessly as he hit the ground. Fearing for his life, he rolled up and protected his head from the next blow. He heard thuds and shouts and looked up in time to see Jake throwing two men out the door and another lying on the floor yelling that his leg was broken.

He felt a hand under his arm and was suddenly standing. Jake whispered, “Come on Sitting Bull. Let’s split before these cowboys call for reinforcements.”

Not sure how they made it back to the barracks that night in one piece, Tony never forgot Jake’s kindness and considered himself forever in his debt.

After they’d been discharged, Jake had taken his savings, obtained a loan and started the business he’d talked about. Tony was his first employee. It had been slow going at first. A few men, mostly vets, all working on a house or two, then taking a couple of months off and holing up with what little they’d made.

Times had changed. Now they were backed up for months on end with contract after contract. More people had moved to Tucson than Jake had ever imagined.

Except for George, who’d grown up on rooftops with his dad, all the originals had left or passed on. Jake had died in 94 from cancer and handed everything over to George. Fred “Fingers” Johnson, called it quits and moved to California to work in an oil refinery. Hank “Honk” Perez had moved to Flagstaff and gone into plumbing with his brother. And Barry Mendelson had immigrated to Israel and helped build a Jewish settlement in something called the Gaza.

Tony had a family, sort of. He’d wed Jamie Herrera in 76. They’d met at a cousin’s birthday celebration and he’d dogged her for four months until she gave in and agreed to marry. She wasn’t any “Jennifer Lopez” he’d say; but she was a good mother to their kids and they’d had some fun times.

They divorced in 88 after she’d gone on and on about him not “communicating” and “spending time with her and the kids.” He’d made an ill attempt or two at listening and speaking his mind, but it never seemed to be enough. No matter what he said or did it was the wrong thing. Hell, he’d even gone with her to a shrink, but the guy was such a pansy he wouldn’t have trusted him with a quarter, let alone his feelings. And to top it off, the guy had charged almost a days pay for fifty minutes of nonsense.

His kids, Fresia and Alberto, were grown and on their own. He had three grandchildren. He visited them all at Christmas, Thanksgiving and other holidays. His children and their families had moved out of state long ago, leaving him alone with no friends and no relations. He sent them money but they rarely called. He wasn’t one to gab on the phone.

CONTINUED TOMORROW

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