The Mind’s Eye

The Mind’s Eye

Kathy turned the eye of the stove on, its blood red coil searing the events of the evening into her mind, dulling her disturbed emotions. Hands shaking, she poured the peeled tomatoes into a saucepan, and added the dried noodles. These are Teddy’s favorites, Kathy thought glancing into the living room as she walked to the rubbish bin, Kathy could just see the edge of Ted’s slippers resting on the floor in front of the couch. God, he would watch that idiot box all day and night if he could, Kathy thought.

Outside, a storm that earlier had moved in with a shrug was now growing restless. Flickers of lightning cast shadows through the kitchen window. A brilliant flash startled Kathy.

“Teddy darling, you really should turn that TV off. The lightning is going to burn it out.”

 Oh Teddy, I’m always taking care of you, and Lord knows you need it. Kathy’s mind wandered down familiar paths. You and your fanciful dreams Teddy, you have no idea how many times I’ve saved you from hurt. Kathy remembered so many times when Ted would bound up the stairs with some new – foolish in her mind – idea. The camper for instance, seriously Teddy, don’t you think things through?

“Kathy! What if we bought a camper! We could take some of our friends and tour the campgrounds in the state. I’ve got some brochures here; let’s take a look at them!” Ted said. The excitement lighting his typically dull eyes.

“Well Teddy that is quite an idea. How much do campers cost?”

“Well, we have a few options. I could rig up a hitch on our station wagon and get a little camper to pull behind it. I asked a fellow at the auto parts store, and he said our wagon could handle a nice little airstream.”

“Do you really feel comfortable putting all these people in danger with your ‘rigging’ of a hitch?” Kathy warned icily. “And this sounds awfully expensive, remember we have to prepare for our retirement, you know how these politicians are, they are already spending our social security money.”

“Oh I know that Kathy,” Ted countered. “And I know we have to take care of ourselves, no one else will! But I feel like I need to live a little now, not just put it all off until I retire. I sometimes wonder if I’ll make it that long.”

“Oh don’t be silly Teddy, I take good care of you, and if you will listen to me, you will stay healthy as a horse.”

“I’ve seen some sick old nags.” Ted said as he grumbled back to the stairs. “And don’t call me Teddy.”

“What was that Teddy?” Kathy said without even a glance in Ted’s direction.

“Nothing dear.”

Kathy’s attention was drawn back to the present. Like little pulsing hearts, the veined-tomatoes began to writhe in the heat. With this movement, Kathy gave the concoction another stir, placed the lid on the pot and began the simmer. At the same time as the lid clinked onto the pan, a single dark red drop formed on the fabric of the couch behind Ted’s head. The drop coalesced and dropped to the floor deepening the stain on the carpet.

Kathy busied herself around the kitchen. Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today, was Kathy’s motto. Kathy had a never-ending supply of mottos to apply to those around her… and occasionally even to herself. Just take the time Teddy got it into his head that he should get a job with the National Park Service. Oh there had been quite a row with that one! Teddy had really gotten himself worked up until he finally the merits of staying with the company he had been with for fifteen years already. 

“You’re building equity in yourself.” Kathy had asserted.

“Actually I’m building equity in a company and group of executives who don’t care about anything other than their bottom line!” Ted said bordering on insolence. “They certainly don’t care about my bottom line.”

That was so like my Teddy, really just a boy at heart, and he does so need a mum, my little Teddy boy.

Ted continued, “My equity is in myself, and my abilities, and in my heart. Kathy honey, nothing makes my heart beat stronger than to be out in the boundless beauty of nature!”

“Oh Teddy darling, I know you think that’s what you want, and I’m sure you’ve convinced yourself of that. You are very convincing you know, and I love it when you stand up for what you think you believe in. But, you know how valuable you are to your company. You know how much they need you. You do have an obligation to them and honestly to me to be a faithful employee, and a faithful provider. “

Ted winced when Kathy uttered the word ‘but’, then turned and walked away calling over his shoulder, “Don’t call me Teddy.” Kathy just smiled; this was how she knew that he was seeing reason.

The storm outside blew tiny raindrops against the window causing a subtle ‘swish’ like a broom brushing against the pane. Kathy glanced into the living room, her eyes slowly moving to the television, its warm glow framing the scene. Ted sitting on the couch, his head lolled to the side, the shadowy trail of blood from the hole in his temple gleamed in the ethereal light. A car commercial ended, and the local news came on with a recap of an earlier silly story about another company filing bankruptcy. Oh big news, Kathy thought. She had told Ted that this would pass. Kathy had even considered calling down there to the news station and giving them a piece of her mind. “This is just fear-mongering,” Kathy would tell them flatly! Kathy’s reverie was interrupted by the dancing ‘tink’ of the lid on the pan. The smell of the torrent of tomatoes writhing among the pasta made Kathy feel grounded. A quick stir with a wooden spoon, and then Kathy’s favorite part: Popping the fleshy veined hearts, halving them so the pasta could soak up all that good juice. Oh Teddy will just love this.

Lonnie Stokes

“You ripped my scab you shithead.”

Lonnie held his arm up to my face, “I ought to make you eat it Harmon.”

“You did it L-Lonnie.” I said. “You di- did it trying to take my lunch box.” My voice hitching as I barely held back the tears.

“Only a queer would have a Scooby-Do lunch box Harmon. And you’re a damned queer if I ever saw one.”

It was an understatement that Lonnie Stokes was the bane of my existence on my bus rides home. I watched as Lonnie picked at the scab — one of three perfect little circles on his left arm. His hair stuck out every which way; especially the hair around his ears, swooping up to the skies, making his John Deere hat look like a bird about to take flight. His t-shirt had a rip under the right sleeve, and I could see a purplish bruise with yellow edges.

“What are you lookin’ at Harmon? You got some kind of problem?”

“I ain’t looking at nothin’ Lonnie.” I said as I looked away quickly. I remember what he did to Randy Stanley, and it made that bruise look pleasant.

“Nothin’?” Lonnie twisted in his seat facing me directly, his farm-hardened body indenting the torn t-shirt. “You callin’ me nothin’?  I’m gonna give you what you’ve been asking for you queer son of a bitch. “

They say that in times of great stress time slows down. Now that I’m a neuroscientist I know that isn’t actually true, but I remember clearly seeing the minute details of that incoming fist; little white scars from hay bailers on a weathered canvas. The calluses on the knuckles were the last I remember though.

Lonnie got kicked off the bus for a week after that little incident. He didn’t come to school during that week. I heard his folks didn’t have a car, just their farm truck, and even there in East Tennessee it wasn’t street legal. The next time I saw Lonnie we were getting on the bus for the ride home, and I was a scared boy. He stared at me with a hatred I could feel. Palpable. I didn’t look long at him, but I did notice that his bruise now had a little brother, the purple hugging his eye and reaching across for his ear. For the rest of the year I made sure to get in the front of the line and take a seat at the front of the bus.

Those bus rides were a microcosm of the human experience, distilled down to its most visceral elements. I remember some good times talking and sharing football cards with the one or two friends who rode my route. But mostly I remember Lonnie. He dropped out his junior year, and I never heard from him again. Though he still foments fear in me, I think of him often, and I recognize now those little cigarette-sized circular scars as crop circles of perpetuated violence, and think about how sometimes our society does indeed eat its young.

Michael Park’s Summer Vacation

Michael jumped at the knock on the door; almost knocking the paint can off the stepladder.

“Coming.” Michael said as he wiped a little paint residue off his hands.

“Are you Mister Michael Parks?” The policeman said.

“Yes, I’m Michael Parks, my dad was the mister part though.” Michael said. smiling as he opened the door.

“Mister Parks, were you at Elm Springs Elementary School yesterday?”

“Yes I was, I was there with a couple of other teachers. We were finishing up the class records and archiving them to the county’s servers.”

“Mister Parks, I’m going to need you to come down to the station with me. We have a few questions for you.”

“Do we have to do this now? I’ve just started painting the kitchen and my wife will kill me if I don’t get it done today. My wife. Don’t make her angry, you wouldn’t like here when she’s angry.” Michael said trying hard to keep his hands from shaking.

“I’m afraid this can’t wait sir.” The policeman said.

Michael saw the serious look on the policeman’s face and decided to forego his next joke.

“I’ll be right with you, let me change shirts and wash my hands.”

Michael fumbled with the buttons on his shirt, anticipating what was in store. It was just a joke, just a bit of fun, and no one got hurt. Michael thought.

Michael had never ridden in the back of a police car before. He stared at the smooth plastic cover where a door handle would normally be. I guess it’s pretty obvious that they’d not want you to roll the windows down. Michael thought. Walking into the police station Michael saw the reason for his delightful ride; what comic books would call his arch nemesis: Dolores Wagner. Michael had taken no more than three steps into the station when Dolores stood and stabbed her finger in his direction.

“That’s him! He’s the one that vandalized the school. He’s the one who defaced and destroyed government property. He’s a terrorist and should be locked up.” Little flecks of foam stood in the corners of Dolores’ mouth as she spat each word at Michael.

“Oh come on Dolores. A few styrofoam peanuts in one of the teacher’s file cabinets, and some hand lotion on door knobs doth not terrorism make.”

“Again with the wise cracks. Hmmm Mister Parks?” Dolores face assumed it’s smug shape. Where Michael was concerned Dolores typically had only two looks: twisted with rage, or smug when those she pressured into action would come down on Michael.

“I suppose you have forgotten about car theft haven’t you Mister Parks?” The vein on the side of her neck throbbed in rhythm with her speech.”

“Oh Jesus Dolores, I just shuffled peoples cars around in the parking lot. It’s just a bit of fun to kick off the summer. I mean, you remember what it’s like to have fun don’t you Dolores? You just put your lips together and… well, you know the rest.” Michael said, not able to keep from bouncing his eyebrows a bit at the last part.

“You see officers. He can’t even take his crimes seriously.”

“Mister Parks, I would advise you to hold up until we have time to discuss the situation with you.” Sergeant Overton said, lightly placing his hand on Michael’s shoulder. A subtle glance in Dolores’ direction, and Overton’s face dropped with resignation. “I believe Ms. Wagner, as the director of Water County Schools is going to press charges. And Mister Parks, with this happening on government property this could be quite serious.” This does actually fall within the law.

“Are you serious?” Michael said, the surprise lifting his eyebrows as much as Overton’s had dropped.

“Serious Mister Parks. Deadly serious.” Dolores said coldly.

“Serious sir. Sadly.” Overton sighed.

And so began a most interesting summer vacation for Michael Parks, the former math and science teacher at Elm Springs Elementary School.

Things That Make Me Say Grrrrr

What do I hate? Let me tell you. I hate “foot flushers.” To be more specific, it’s the urinal foot flushers that I hate the most. For those of the female persuasion, or who for any other reason don’t understand what this means, allow me to elaborate. As you may or may not know, the urinal is a wall-mounted device to collect the liquid waste from a man type creature, a bipedal man type creature that is. Being a wall-mounted receptacle, the flushing handle is then located at about chest level. Now since the biological mechanism that a man uses to relieve himself is what could be described as an “outie” it should be obvious that in order to complete the bathroom process, a typical man has to, in some form or fashion, hold his “outie”. So, the obvious question is begged… How does one most sanitarily flush the urinal? At least one, but possibly both, hands are now contaminated. If you care about those coming after you, you can flush with an elbow, or possibly a forearm. But generally we can all just flush with a part of our hand that is least likely contaminated. All well and good, we can all go about our day happy and whistling. Oh but now the “foot flusher” enters the picture. There’s those guys who I suppose can’t stomach the mere thought of having a part of their body coming contact with anything that may have touched another guy’s “outie.” So the obvious answer is to muster up their best Bruce Lee and lift a foot and whack that flush handle.

Before I continue, allow me to digress a little about boys (and sadly men as well). Any of you out there who happen to have that Y chromosome, or have lived with someone who does will know of the poor aim many men have. Many factors can play into this: age (young and then old), animated conversation, and of course alcohol consumption. The British use the phrase “pissed” to describe drunk, and that is an apropos word here. Sadly, men tend to aim poorly and dribble.

It should be obvious, to even the most casual of observers, what the floors around a urinal are like. That foot. Lifted in preparation for a foot flush. Oh the unspeakable horror of disgust clinging to the sole of the shoe, just waiting to be deposited on the flushing handle… The flushing handle that is waiting for me, singing to me; like a Siren call: “come flush me”. I shiver with revulsion just knowing that “foot flushers” exist in this world. And they compel me to eye every manual-flushing urinal with suspicion and loathing.

Oh “foot flusher” how I despise you. And peaches. I hate peaches too.

Worlds Apart

My name is Michelle. I believe in the sanctity of life. It’s a baby not a choice. These are God’s words, and these are my words. This is my world, if these words aren’t yours, you are not welcome.

My name is Terrence. I speak for the earth, because most cannot hear her voice. I feel her hurts as they were my own. This is my world, if you do not feel these hurts, you are not welcome.

My name is Michael. Big business and conservative politicians have stolen the dignity, vibrancy, and health of this nation. The common people are oppressed, and are crying out for true freedom. I hear these cries, and feel their pain. This is my world, if you do not hear their cries, you are not welcome.

My name is Theresa. I believe in love and compassion. There are no natural restrictions on love, only man-made societal restrictions. All expressions of love should be freely allowed and accepted. I sense the tears of those who are bound by society’s chains. This is my world, if you do not sense these tears, you are not welcome.

My name is Jehovah, Buddha, Elohim, Christ, Allah, and many others. My heart is open to one and all. There are no limitations to my compassion. I accept all. This is my creation, you are all welcome.

My name is entropy, the arrow of time. There is nothing but me. All that occurs, both natural and temporal is subject to me. This is my universe, and there is no escape.

The Boy on the Bubble

The Boy on the Bubble


Just what is it that defines a man? What makes him what and who he is? And even more, what is it that we perceive in a man? I suppose body language, quirks and traits can be quite revealing. Some people purport to be human lie detectors, able to discern the essence of a person at most any time. I know I don’t have that ability. When it comes to sensory perception, I definitely fall within the bell curve of normalcy, nothing extra here. But yet even I can sense things about certain people. And one case in particular is Steven Whiting. When Steven walked down the street, you just inherently wanted to edge slightly away. One didn’t sense anything tangible, just that little something, that little je ne sais quoi.  
Me, I’ve known Steven since elementary school. And no nicer friend could I have had but him. It was in third grade that Steven’s life started on the wrong tack, and such being the unfairness of life, not because of him.

“Hey Stevie-wevie, gimme some money, I’m hungry.” Charlie Mangrove said. Charlie was a fine young boy of twelve in the fourth grade. I suppose Charlie wanted to get his money’s worth out of his free public education. Steven noticeably shrank, hoping to become as invisible as possible, but it was too late. This drama had already begun, and as with any good drama would have to play to its inevitable end. Charlie wouldn’t debate, Charlie wouldn’t negotiate. Charlie wanted. And if you were smaller than Charlie, as every student in school was, you simply gave in. Steven dug his lunch money out of his pocket and silently handed it over. “Yeah that’s right Stevie-wevie, you’d better act fast. You know what you are Stevie-wevie? You’re just a damn booger eater!” Charlie sneered. But then everything Charlie said came out as a sneer. As the curtain came down on this particular drama all of Charlie’s cronies laughed; a standing, pointing, humiliating ovation. Gathered with faces defiant, yet slightly behind their benefactor,  boys with vulture-like faces staring gloatingly at any and all that Charlie deemed deserve it. Charlie had his cronies, not for physical protection as there were very few people in the school, including teachers, who offered Charlie a viable threat. Whatever it was Charlie lacked, some hormone in his brain, or lack of oxygen at birth, he needed his audience to uplift him as much as he needed to breathe. Charlie and his entourage played their Oscar worthy parts to a tee.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, Steven also played his appointed part in this drama, and even sans screenplay, Steven instinctively knew to humbly hand over his parent’s cash with no remarks or questions. On this day, a cloudless day with Windex-blue skies, a precedent had been set, and two lives had been set on a trajectory into the future; into oblivion.

On a day like so many others in our wind-swept landscape, a spring day brought Steven and me out to the playground. I had pinched some magazines from my Dad’s closet, and I wanted to show them to Steven. Steven instinctively veered me away from the unofficial smoking area, and we wound up sitting on the bar that the see-saw’s balanced on. Two of the see-saws had rotted away, one breaking under Theresa Hine’s pre-pubescent weight. We all laughed, save Steven. His disconnection had already started. But sitting on the cold steel bar with the warm spring sun shining on our backs, I pulled the magazines out of my pants leg, no backpacks in that era. Steven and I both ogled the girls with their Sasquatch crotches puzzled at how it all worked, of course not letting the other know that. I felt the stirring that every young man would get, and I’m sure Steven did too. We were just starting to read the forum letters when a hulking shadow brought our attention around. Another sort of Sasquatch had appeared behind us. I could smell the reek of cigarette smoke on his yellowed teeth as Charlie opened his mouth. The curtain was now rising. Steven’s face dropped as everyone else’s turned to watch the excitement. “Whatcha got there Stevie-wevie?” Charlie spoke in his taunting sing-song voice. “Ooooooo a girlie mag huh?!  I thought you like boys Stevie-wevie”

“Why don’t you guys just take these magazines” I said to Charlie, hoping a subtle intervention would draw him away from Steven.

“Why don’t you shut your face, you stupid puke” Charlie said with barely a glance. Fixated on Steven, Charlie continued “Is your boyfriend trying to protect you Stevie-wevie? Well it’s not going to help!”

“Where do you think you’re going girlie boy” Blake Monroe, the bravest of Charlie’s cronies, spat at me as I edged away to get a teacher. “You just stay right here and enjoy the show. I think your girlfriend might just get what he deserves here.”

“Hey Stevie tell you what, I’ll let you and your boyfriend get back to lickin’ each other’s butts if you’ll just do one little thing.” Charlie said with sadistic glee. “You’ve been looking at these girl’s cootchies, why I think you need to be fair and show all the girls here your cootchie.”

“Ohhhhhhh” a low moan escaped Steven’s slack mouth. “Please Charlie, no.” Steven begged.

“Well Stevie, that’s the way it is. Maybe you can get one of the girls to kiss it too. Or… maybe your boyfriend will” Charlie said as his demeanor somehow got darker. Blake Monroe and the rest of Charlie’s cronies held Steven down and were proceeding to pull his pants off when, thank God, a teacher came out to the playground.

“What’s going on here?” Mr. Simpkins said.

“This little pervert Steven here was trying to show his dirty book to all the girls Mr. Simpkins.”One thing about Charlie, he was quick on his feet. “He was even taking his pants down, but me and the boys put him on the ground before he could show them his wiener.” 

“Thank you for the graphic description Charlie. Now let Steven up.” Pointing at Steven and I, Mr. Simpkins added “You two in my office now. And bring those magazines too; both of them Charlie.” You could see Charlie’s little win-win plan in hoping to keep one of the magazines and getting Steven in trouble had not completely worked. Deflated Charlie gave Mr. Simpkins both of the magazines, but I could tell that Blake had torn out a few of the more savory pages. Charlie made ‘throat cutting’ gestures to Steven as we walked away. I wonder how it is that everyone in this damned world just went along with the darkness brooding in people like Charlie.

As soon as we got in the office, I spilled it all. I told Mr. Simpkins that the magazines were mine, and how I had stolen them from my Dad’s closet, and had taken them to the playground to show Steven. I let him know that none of this was Steven’s fault, and that Charlie Mangrove started all the fighting. I told him how it was Charlie and his friends that pushed Steven to the ground and I even told him what they were going to make Steven do. Mr. Simpkins took his glasses off and rubbed his forehead sighing. “I know how Charlie is, and his friends too. I just hope that they’ll someday grow out of this foolish behavior.”  Mr. Simpkins said. “But you know stuff like this,” gesturing to the magazines, “only incites and provokes them.” Mr. Johnson would probably want me to paddle you two, but I’m not going to do that. What we are going to do is take these magazines and put them in the incinerator.” Pointing at me Mr. Simpkins added. “And you young man will have to explain to your Dad where his missing magazines went.”  Turning to Steven Mr. Simpkins features softened a bit, “Steven, don’t be discouraged. This kind of behavior happens all over. Charlie doesn’t really want to hurt you; he’s just trying to make himself look better.” In one of the best pieces of advice, unheeded as it would be, Mr. Simpkins added. “Just don’t let this get to you. You’re a good kid, and everything will turn out alright. Eventually.”

But it didn’t turn out alright. Not then, not later, not eventually. Steven’s face would drop every time we went into the schoolyard. His eyes would dart looking for the predators he knew were there, lurking, and waiting for an opportune moment to pull his pants down in front of the girls, or tie him to the monkey bars with his belt. This predator-prey relationship fed Charlie, but drained the life from Steven.   For some unknown reason, Steven had become a marked boy. Like the lioness focuses on the small and weak in the herd, I suppose it might be for the same reason that Charlie, and all the Charlies of the world focused on all the Stevens. For the gazelle that was brought down to feed the pride, it was over, and over quickly. But with Steven, the torment went on and on.

 In human history wars haven’t gotten more civilized, just more technical, with more sophisticated toys to deal the death with. And so it was with Charlie. As we all grew older, two things happened: First, Charlie failed yet another grade, so now we’d get to enjoy him forever it seemed like; and Second, the weapons and techniques at Charlie’s disposal grew more various and more hurtful. And as Charlie flourished in his part, so Steven retreated into his part. I saw Steven become more separated from the rest of the class. His ability to become invisible had dwindled to just becoming pathetic. I really hated what had happened to him. I was at a loss as to what to say or do. I still am really. My only hope was that Steven would go to a university somewhere and maybe his life could finally start. But I had underestimated Fraternities.

I never did see Charlie again. And I honestly don’t know what has happened to him. As a grown man, I know that Charlie’s childhood home left a lot to be desired I’m sure, and in that time, child abuse was most assuredly heard of, and often promoted. Hell as I mentioned earlier, we had paddling in school! The old spare the rod and spoil the child ideology was quite prevalent. I have stayed over at Steven’s house several times, and while not perfect, Steven’ home life was nurturing and loving. A few times Steven’s Mom asked me if things were alright with Steven. I knew that nothing good would come of telling them about what was happening. Am I the one that caused all this then? That thought still quickens me at times.

Steven and I drifted apart after high school. I saw him only a handful of times when I’d come home to visit. He only lasted two semesters, and he had dropped out and was working at a local electronics boutique. He would barely speak to me, and I saw that though the light was slowly flickering out in his eyes, there was still a heat coming from his gaze that frightened me. It was seven years ago today that I saw Steven last, we sat in the food court at the mall where he worked. In between bites of greasy chili cheese fries, he opened up to me in a way that I don’t think he ever had. “Vic, I just don’t know what to do. I can’t get into anything.”  Still focusing on his pressed meat burger, Steven added. “Nothing works for me. Never really has. I feel so detached from my life; from everything.” An exasperating sigh worked its way past the con carne. “I feel like I’m floating on a bubble, the world and my entire life are running their course beneath me. Close enough to smell but an eternity away. Inaccessible. Unreachable. “

“When did this start?” I asked, instantly realizing the foolishness of the question.

Steven just rolled his eyes. “Do you know what it feels like to be a stranger even in your own mind? No you don’t. I wish you knew me Vic, But I know that just like I can’t know you, you can never really know me. I hate everything. I hate this damned burger, I hate my life. I hate it all.”

“Steven, it can be alright.” I managed to eke out the words. “You know you can always make up your mind today to make the rest of your life work.”

“Yeah. You’re right.” Steven said dejectedly. I knew I’d just reiterated the same useless advice that so many people had. His parents I know had tried to help him. But Steven was right. We just couldn’t know what was happening with him; In him. I hated it. I hated the existence that Steven had come to know. Like a well worn coat that he wrapped around himself so tightly that it wouldn’t come off yet yielded no comfort at all, so his life was. And so it was. “You know Vic, you’ve always been a good friend to me. Through it all you never left me or let me down. And the one thing that I wish in this entire damned world is that I could feel the comfort of that. That I could shake your hand and feel the warmth creep up into my heart. I just can’t fucking do it. I do appreciate you Vic, and I’ll never forget you.” As we parted I knew I’d never see him again. He knew it too. He looked me in the eyes and said goodbye as we shook hands. Tears choked me as we parted. But I was due to report to flight school in the Navy in two days, and my girlfriend was very jealous of my time.

I had just returned from a sortie in northern Afghanistan when my CO told me I had an urgent call. One benefit of being a squadron leader was having private quarter with a phone. My wife Michelle was on the other end, and told me the whole story. It appears that Steven had finally cracked. While talking to her, I went on the internet and looked at the breaking news, and there it was. Local man kills 7 then turns gun on self. Oh God how I hated that. Raw information that completely stripped the life and essence from what Steven was, his thirty-two years of existence on this spinning orb reduced down to a few terse words. My gut wrenched as I said goodbye to my wife. Our unit still had another month before our scheduled R&R, but I was able to pull a few strings and get a quick trip back. Steven’s mother asked me to speak at his funeral. But what the hell do I say? How can tell all these people what Steven was, or what Steven could have been?! How can I tell them that he was probably just trying to pop that damned bubble. To get inside and be a part of what he so dearly wanted but could never have. Yet he did, he popped that bubble and fell into the abyss, leaving a void in so few of us. Was Steven what he was with or without Charlie? I don’t know. I can’t answer that question. A part of me would love to wring Charlie’s neck, but that won’t bring Steven back. For all I know it would start a new trajectory of lives leading to oblivion. Nothing happens in a vacuum. Nothing.