The Smoking Section (November 11, 2013)

The family went over to your sister’s house on Sunday for a Veteran’s Day BBQ. We played Cornhole and devoured ample amounts of high-calories southern food. I had a cheeseburger (all of the fixins), some baked beans, and potato casserole. The casserole was always my favorite, remember? People complained it was too dry. I took the leftovers home.

I expected you to walk through the side door to join us. I imaged you in your faded,  blue-gray Local 80 Union sweatshirt and shorts. You wore shorts year-round. I saw you as a weary traveler that found solace and peace in a local family diner. You didn’t say much when you wandered in. You never had to. The smoking section was out back.

I made my way outside to sit with you and talk about work and life. I didn’t drink or smoke anymore, so I felt slightly out of place. You knew how horrible my anxiety was. I was able to push through it and explained to you the necessity of maintaining a positive outlook.

I rinsed off my plate and placed it in the dishwasher. I glanced outside to see if you were still there, still smoking those damn cigarettes. You were gone. You were never there.

The ashes were still smoldering.


Capitalists Behave (July 8, 2013)

Growing income inequality
Built with Monopoly money
The wealthy are lacking
Working class backing. They’re packing

Most do not want wealth redistribution
Eager for a new playing field solution
Where citizens exhibit pride
In a country that has withered and died

Politicians cannot hear your voice
Big business purchased the illusion of choice
Real wages are in decline
Every child is left behind by lying swine

Roads and infrastructure deteriorate
A CEO demands you compensate
Every dollar that we earn
Is fuel that churns the burn

Trickle-down economics
More rhetoric. Word vomit
Policies and programs are suggested
Media moguls have thoughts redirected

Focus on the class below
Another government worker is furloughed
I do not dislike the rich
I am tired of the bullshit sales pitch

Are your fortunes dwindling?
Will your soul be used for Satan’s kindling?
When greed is what you live for
Know the reaper knocks on every door

Dance With Me (June 21, 2013)

She sings in harmony to me
The composition of sweet symphony
Headphones on. Playing a love song
Standing tall as the great Redwood tree

We dance in unifying embrace
Locked eyes. We’re face to face
A great moan. We are not alone
Hearts racing at a blurred pace

Pink lips taste of fresh cream
Seeing no end to this beautiful dream
Pay a toll to relinquish your soul
Whisper confessions and come clean

Time is absent meaning
Surrendering to an unknown feeling
Unfettered love. Broken-winged doves
Exorcism eyes roll back to the ceiling

Is this moment real?
Are our hearts each others to steal?
Light-headed as we are bedded
Savoring her as if she was my last meal

We lie beside each other. Spent
Contemplating what it all meant
To be together and storm any weather
I left because my mind was bent

The .38 at 3:00 A.M. (June 19, 2013)

It is difficult to describe
The pain and fatigue I feel
A life full of show and disguised
To mull the sorrow behind the wheel

Wailing demons haunt my dreams
My mind will not shut down
I stare at the chamber. The black handle gleams
A frown that always comes back around

In this moment life has changed
Impossible to force a smile
An act the locals will view as strange
My phone will no longer dial

I consider myself a burden to whom I love
Irreconcilable harm done to my boys
No Devil below or God above
Take comfort in finality and rejoice

To spend last year making amends
In preparation for a solitary moment
Final thoughts of family and friends
I relinquish myself from torment

It is early in the day
I am out of smokes
A fitting way to end May
The black handle is how I cope.

How She Ames (May 4, 2013)

I wrote you a letter
To make me feel better
About the love we lost
My anger and hatred
A sorrow of ill-fated
We cannot afford its cost
Bright and lively ways
Yet dark on the brightest days
I see you and want to speak
Will we know again
How to be more than friends
Thoughts of you make knees weak
I pushed you away
Because happiness is not meant to stay
A fire burns white hot
Do you know what you want?
Does it change from month to month?
Cease, halt, STOP
To learn from the past
Life moves much too fast
Help me slow it down
Flying through my head
Thoughts of you and me in bed
Your smile removes my frown
I want to meet you again
In a place we have never been
Do not give up on me
How fucked up our lives are
With distance not too far
I bury you to set love free

Remembering a Different Memorial Day

I want to share a personal account of what I experienced four years ago. This article was originally submitted and published to The Good Men Project and can be found here:

It was Spring of 2013 and changes were blooming. My binge drinking and marijuana use had spanned over the past 15 years, adversely impacting my physical and emotional health. I was crying myself to sleep multiple times a week and no longer had the courage to look at myself in the mirror when I brushed my teeth in the morning. I was 32 when I decided to cork the bottle and snuff out the pipe for the first time. It was painful. It was, brutal. I had tremors, shakes, sweats, day hallucinations, and nightmares of unspeakable proportions. I was determined to purge my demons; it was my commitment to a healthier and hopefully happier life. No more vomiting at work the next day near the docks of a military base. No more rushing to the grocery store to get another 12-pack or bottle of wine at 4 pm to quell my impending tremors. I feared I would die young if I didn’t make the change.

I had lived with my younger brother for nearly a year and we both agreed it was time for me to have my own place. I found this small two bedroom, one bath home not too far from our old apartment. It was 700 square feet of immaculate single living. I didn’t have much furniture, but my father was willing to help me out. He had some furniture that came bundled with the manufactured home that he was finishing. My parents had separated after 30 years of marriage and the house we grew up in would be sold as part of the division of assets.

My father was a hardworking man that was raised in poverty in Florence, SC and later Camden, NC when my grandmother remarried. He was driven to acquire nice things and provide the best for his children, presumably because of my alcoholic grandfather’s capacity to hemorrhage every precious dollar that his family earned on booze and extramarital affairs. There were times when my grandmother and her five children did not have money to purchase food. The generosity of neighbors’ gardens would sustain them as my grandfather disappeared for weeks on his benders. My grandfather would return after his benders and beat my grandmother in front of the children. He terrorized my grandmother by firing his pistol at the floor near her feet, all while my dad and his siblings watched. Were these actions a result of a guilty conscience?

My father was the second oldest of five children from my grandmother’s first marriage, but later became the oldest when his brother, my Uncle Dale, died in a car accident at 23. He was a skilled tradesman; a Master Electrician and Welder for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) union. My mother also worked very hard. She was a Social Worker for a nursing home for 14 years and a receptionist for a doctor’s office for 8 years. She did her best to take care of me and my brother while my father worked the lucrative jobs in the Northeast. She retired early due to a hip disability that she endured since she was 12. My father always talked about taking care of her and pushed for her early retirement.

I recall the negativity and lack of positive self-image I felt growing up around my father. He rarely smiled and always looked tired. Words of encouragement were scant or forced. His cigarette smoking had permanently stained his hands yellow by the time he was 40 and our garage smelled like a wet ashtray. The amber glass ashtray rested on top of the deep freezer year round, butts piled to the brim. I witnessed three or four half burned cigarettes scattered outside of that ashtray onto the deep freezer when I visited my father in the year prior to my parents’ divorce finalization. His prescription opiate addiction had escalated since his knee replacement in the early 2000’s resulting from a job site injury.

My mother was living with her sister in Pennsylvania leading up to the divorce. She would later confess to me that she wanted to leave my father years ago, but did not know how she would take care of my brother and me. She made a sacrifice to stay with my father to keep our family intact. My father’s mother, my grandmother, made the same decision many years prior.

We suffered emotional abuse and neglect living under my father’s rule. He would often discourage my mother, brother, and me from being the best versions of ourselves. I remember watching Jeopardy with my parents and my mother would make an error in her response to a question and his routine response while eloquently perched from the sectional couch was “dumbass…just kidding.” My mother would force a half-smile or chuckle. Her eyes would well-up a few minutes later and she would go into a numb trance. I saw no joy in her eyes. She was a broken, empty shell.

I was always eager to make my father happy and whenever I brought home a good grade in school or did something that appeased his ego he would say something like “Good job, Chris. You have integrity and not many people have it. Always remember that. Your brother doesn’t have that, you know.” I have always excelled at video games. I have been a gamer since I fell in love with Nintendo at five years old. However, my father was the real gamer. He was the final boss of mind games. He had no cheat codes and you couldn’t beat him.

I planned to go with my father to pick up a water pump and my lawn mower that was in storage Memorial Day weekend of 2013. He picked me up at my new place in his panel truck and we drove toward Hertford, NC to his aircraft hangar/storage unit. We stopped at a Hardees to get a steak biscuit. Dad hobbled inside and I walked across the parking lot to a convenience store to get him a pack of cigarettes and a couple of drinks for us both.

The back-country roads were quiet and the air was crisp. Rays of sunshine beamed down on lavender fields and cigarette smoke permeated the cab even though the windows were down. We listened to a classic rock station and did not speak to one another. We arrived at the hangar and loaded up the water pump and lawn mower rather quickly. My father had to sit down and rest a couple of times prior to reentering the cab and making the trek back to my place.

We unloaded the lawn mower upon arriving at my place and thanked each other for the help. I said that I would come visit him next weekend. He said, “I’ll see you later, Chris.”

On June 1st, 2013 my father’s sister and brother came to visit my new place at 7 am. My aunt said with a broken voice and teary eyes “We’ve come to see the house.” My father had committed suicide by gunshot to the head at the age of 58. It was the one year anniversary of the divorce finalization.

It was Spring of 2013 and changes were blooming.