My House

November 11, 2010

Three months ago the last of my doctors finally turned me loose. Workman’s Comp finally settled on the amount of a schedule award for loss of sight in one eye. So the bulk of the bureaucracies associated with being injured in Iraq have come to a satisfactory conclusion. I’m feeling free and new.

Time to buy a house of my own!

Most people live where they work. I can live anywhere now, without worrying about finding a job to support myself. I intend to work – besides the psychic energy readings that I provide people, I intend to start my own custom funerary urn business. But that work doesn’t dictate where I can live. I’m able to do phone readings and set up a clay studio anywhere I choose.

In the past thirty years I’ve lived many places: Minnesota, South Dakota, Montana, eastern Oregon, western Oregon, Wyoming, Florida, Maryland, and Iraq … I’ve camped for a month or more at a time in Arizona and New Mexico, Mississippi and Louisiana. Each of these places has its own unique beauty and spirit of place that tempts me to return. Minnesota has abundant water and a lovely, bucolic landscape. South Dakota has the rugged Badlands, the beautiful canyons of the Black Hills, and wide prairie spaces. Montana will always feel like my heart home, there where the prairie meets the Absarokas and Gallatins, clear rivers and spring creeks tumbling out of the canyons. Eastern Oregon has the best friends on earth. Western Oregon has the quiet serenity of forests and the rich and rocky coasts. Wyoming is a lost land of secret beauties, red dunes and private mountains, immense rocks and the widest skies. Florida has empty sugar sand beaches and lazy rivers; Maryland rolling green hills with stately old stone houses tucked between.

In trying to decide where to live, I went around in circles with the temptations of each. And with the drawbacks of each. Minnesota has epic winters, long and cold, and is perhaps too close to family. South Dakota and Montana have long winters as well, and the real estate prices haven’t dropped as far as they have in some other places. Much as I love my friends in eastern Oregon, the foggy winters are a horror to me. Western Oregon winter clouds make me want to point a gun at my head by February. Florida and Maryland are fatally over-crowded to my western mind. Mississippi and Louisiana are muggy bug breeders.

Figuring out how to assign measurable weights to these positive and negative qualities, as well as other more practical criteria, became a burden to me over the past two years as I worked toward the decision of where to live. I made lists of pros and cons, and spreadsheets with geographical qualities weighted appropriate to my interests and desires. I spent hours on realtor.com and trulia.com and spent afternoons on the phone boring friends with my circular fretting. I added states I’d never lived in, then crossed them back off the list. One week I settled on Rapid City and the next I knew that was simply wrong and I should concentrate on Nebraska or Oklahoma. Two days later I was convinced that I should live in Minnesota. Friends and family hunted houses in their areas of the country, urging me to move near them. I felt like a fine mist scattered across the continent.

If you could live anywhere, where would you choose? How would you choose? How would you weight qualities like weather, arts and cultural outlets, sports, politics, taxes, friends, family, topography, water, and demographics? It took me two years of head spins to begin to sort these things out for myself.

Making matters worse, I’d never owned a house before. As The First House, the decision felt huge and dire. What if I bought a house and six months later hated living in that town or area? I wouldn’t be able to just give 30 days notice to the landlord, pack my truck and move on. This house ownership business would require a leap up in the level of commitment that I was accustomed to taking on. I longed to look into the future offered by each place, then choose knowing I’d chosen safely, wisely and well. Perhaps my spirit, my soul, was doing just that, but none of that information was coming through in meditation, dreams or other forms of communication…

In the end I simply became sick of thinking, of trying to reason my way to an answer. Action felt necessary. I packed my truck and hit the road, hoping that by visiting some of these places I’d either find the perfect house for me, or eliminate some of the choices. Desperately watching for signs from my higher self or the All That Is, I nervously tiptoed around the country trying to feel my way to a decision, catching many eddies and hiking up quite a few side canyons. 

 It took two months and over 8,000 miles of driving, but it worked.

My new home is in Arizona.

I should close on the house before Thanksgiving. Wouldn’t it carry some strange symmetry if I closed on November 24, 2010 … three years, to the day, after being blown up in Iraq.

Counting My Blessings In No Particular Order – 5

November 5, 2010

 

  1. art deco
  2. felted wool
  3. anticipation
  4. camping on Lake Michigan
  5. The Grand Canyon
  6. Texas Canyon
  7. oreos
  8. bank balances that keep going up
  9. pale green
  10. moonlight
  11. the number 7
  12. narrowboats in England
  13. intricate mosaics
  14. velvety black
  15. matte glazes
  16. fire dancers
  17. huge animal sculptures atop buildings in small towns
  18. finger puppets
  19. pit fires
  20. gentle loveliness

Counting My Blessings In No Particular Order 4

August 13, 2010
  1. Meteor showers
  2. The sound of rain on leaves
  3. A good book
  4. All the Sue’s that I know
  5. Pigs
  6. Tree frogs singing at night
  7. Cobblestone streets
  8. Cathedrals
  9. Bonfires
  10. Singing with friends
  11. Puppies and the word “puppies” which is fun to say
  12. Three year old children
  13. Elegant shapes
  14. Unconscious graceful movements
  15. Small acts of kindness done for strangers
  16. Baseball games
  17. Potato chips! (ruffles!)
  18. iPod
  19. Jack o’lanterns
  20. York, England

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Heartbreak 01

August 9, 2010

March-April 2007

One of the nurses who took good care of me while I was laid out on the fifth floor for a month has recognized me. She sits down to share a smoke.

 I’m perched on a park bench on the quad in front of Walter Reed. I’m between my three appointments for the day, killing time. A tree shades me from the weak spring sun, which I would do something about but I’m still poling along on a cane. I’d like to stand in the sun, but my balance is poor and my wrist, shoulder and ankle are stiff. With only one working eye, I never feel as if I’m seeing all there is to see. I’m anxious moving about in the world, though no longer fearful. So here I sit, cautious in the shade on the bench nearest the door, tentatively enjoying the small speckles of sun passing through new leaves.

 “I’m having a bad week,” my nurse admits heavily when her cigarette is lit. “A lot of kids have come in. We’re full.”

 A lot of kids from Iraq and Afghanistan. Soldiers. Wounded young men and women. I know what she’s talking about. The wounded are the only ones who “come in” to our world. I came in four months ago. I make a neutral sound, remember lying in my room studying the ceiling with one eye wondering if one eye was the shape of my world to come.

 “A boy came in yesterday,” the nurse tells me. She pauses for a puff off the cigarette, her other hand lying dead on her lap, looking abandoned and exhausted. “He’s blind. They didn’t tell him. They kept him drugged until he got here, so he didn’t know it.”

 I suck in my breath with fear. I hold it, paralyzed with horror. I want her to stop talking now. Now. I stare at air in front of my face, willing her to stop talking.

 “When he woke up in the ward and realized he was blind,” she tells me, ignoring my mental plea, “he went crazy. He was throwing everything he could get his hands on, beating on walls … “

Overwhelmed with the horror of the moment that boy discovered he was blind, I want to scream. On the bench in front of Walter Reed, I hold my breath. I can see the ward the boy is in, the shape of the room, the placement of bed, the color of the chair, the wood grain on the cupboards, the metal trays, the plastic bag drips, the colors and feel the shape of every detail of every loose object that boy can’t see and so is throwing around the room in his unfathomable fear.

I sit still as a stone to keep from disintegrating, while my mind screams, Don’t tell me this. Don’t! Don’t tell me this right now! Oh someone, help that boy!

 I want to disappear. If I could, I would die to avoid this boy’s fear. If I could, I would die right now in trade for this boy to have his sight back. 

I’m still raw. I’m still new at this, still avoiding thinking about the possibilities of somehow losing sight in my other eye. I’m still raw, still worrying about the driver of our truck, whom I haven’t seen since the air evac and don’t know … I don’t know if he’s alright. I’m still raw, still melting with sadness – what is the word strong enough for gut-dissolving grief and frustration? I’m still disintegrating with grief for the handsome, angry boy in a wheelchair in physical therapy, for the boy in the bed in the elevator whose jaw was missing. Now I’m disintegrating with grief for this boy who woke blind.

I’m still raw, pumped full of Percocet, emotions flowing like spring water, no wellhead, no catchment, no filter. Oh please, don’t tell me this right now, this strong boy who is blind and all his friends are in the desert and all he can stand to do is throw things around his room. I don’t know what to do with this terrible love and horror that I feel for this boy! Stop talking to me!

 I look up at the sky, out onto the quad that I can’t see at all for the tears standing in my one good eye, my one blessed eye, refusing to fall. “I can’t stand it …” I whisper, frightened to death for this boy, this poor boy, oh god … my body bends forward, hands holding my stomach. Sit up! I scream to myself. Don’t think! I sit up, try to breathe.

 The nurse puts her cigarette out and forces a smile for me. “I’m so glad to see you walking around, honey,” she says to me as she stands to leave. She pats my arm.

 All I can do is shake my head and whisper, “Thank you.”

 I mean, thank you for taking care of the boy. Please take care of that boy. Please. Please take care of that boy.

I don’t know how to help these people. I don’t know how to help, and it feels shameful and shoddy and mean.

The Hurt Locker (spoilers, so beware)

March 8, 2010

I wanted to like this movie. Kathryn Bigelow got enough things right that I wanted the wrong things to be overwhelmed by them. Unfortunately, while I watched the film I felt that the wrong things were too much. It’s hard to overlook the majority of scenes being ludicrously implausible, and a main character who’s a walking Article 15.

I’ll overlook the wrong desert and the wrong uniforms … they had to shoot it somewhere, and they probably got a deal on the uniforms. But a one-Hummer EOD team wandering around alone, and rather randomly at that? They would travel in, at the very least, a two-vehicle convoy. 

Showing up on-site to find a deserted Humvee, its team cowering around the corner? Where are the f’ing radios – not just in this scene, but throughout the movie?

One lone Brit bounty hunter/merc truck on the desert? What was one little ol’ Humvee with one little ol’ 3-man EOD team doing alone out on a desert track anyway? Shooting each other up like that? No Brit team is waiting that long to be ID’ed. Then they couldn’t change a tire because one of these Brits threw the tire iron? 

Huh?? 

A sniper rifle in either of those vehicles? Pinned down all afternoon? And if I’m required to swallow all that, then at least provide them with enough water because I can pretty well guarantee that no merc or mil team is out without enough water.

The CO slobbering all over James? Aside from this weird and useless fiction, where are the officers in all the random wanderings of this lone EOD team?

Running through the streets of Baghdad in fatigues – or, frankly, even making off base in the first place? (Ok, I wasn’t there in 2004. Any vets out there, help me out with this one if I’m wrong.)

A 3-man EOD team taking off through the night to chase down a bomber? By this time, all I could do was roll my eyes and giggle.

James was junk. I was rooting hard for Sanborne to go for the malfunctioning detonator, hoping his action might help propel us all toward some more credible lead character. Sanborne’s initial reaction to him, and Eldridge’s telling him off as he was being evac’ed were – praise the lord – realistic snapshots. 

***

For all that, I made it through the entire movie without actually throwing anything heavy at the screen, and now I find myself developing a retroactive affection for the film. My strong desire for the movie to be better than it is stems, I think, from a sense of ownership in the content: this is my war.

This is my war, so I need you to get it right. Tell our story authentically.

Finding this thought and emotion surprises me, since I don’t think there’s any one story that would encompass the war authentically. I don’t mean that there are as many stories from Iraq as there are individuals who have been there – of course that’s true, but it doesn’t interest me. I’m thinking more broadly, in the sense that I don’t know the soldier story, really, and soldiers don’t know the DoD civilian story. Neither of us knows the contractor’s story. The journalists probably think that they know everyone’s story, yet many of us would sense they know nothing but their own stories. I know some of the PSD story, but not all of it.

If the soldiers’ story is told authentically, will I feel satisfied that my own has been done right? I wonder. I doubt it.

But it would be satisfying anyway. Because the soldiers are part of my story.

***

According to my affection, then, what Bigelow got right retroactively begins to forgive the things that she got insultingly wrong.

The dusty tan streets decorated with colorful trash were true. That’s close enough to how it looks, and it’s how the reality feels. I felt homesick for our mad dashes through towns, sirens whooping occasionally as we wheeled around a corner, dust billowing. I could smell the sharp twist of diesel and earthy dust, the fetid garbage, feel the smothering hot air.

When the camera lens filled up with the bag left behind by the men with the donkey, I whispered boom. Thank you, Kathryn, for that.  To illustrate how far my trust in this film had been eroded by then, as I whispered I wondered if it really would explode. I’d have given up on the movie entirely had it not.

My stomach clenched all over again under the squirrelly weight of all the eyes watching, watching, the men while they worked and I wanted to scream at the team myself: get the fuck out of there! Every moment is seared into slow motion on a good day, like you already know the next moment, the next action, the next reality. If you’re on, you’re on it. On a bad day, your brain starts spinning like a crazed rat and there’s absolutely nothing you can do yourself to stop the raging panic; you only contain it.

James walking into the shower all geared up made me laugh out loud. I’ve been there. And standing in the cereal aisle staring at all the choices was poetry in its silent summation of a reality so thickly layered with contrasts that it freezes itself and devolves into profound absurdity. Been there and Bigelow nailed it.

And perhaps most importantly, the foundation of the movie was authentic: war is a drug. It shifts perception into a heightened symphony of sensation. Good or bad, comfortable or not, that intensity is profoundly, achingly beautiful. For some, like James, that razor’s edge of living fully in the present is addicting. Anything else pales to a dream.

I guess I’d recommend The Hurt Locker, but with serious reservations. So far it’s probably the best Iraq movie I’ve seen, unfortunately. If nothing else, maybe Bigelow has raised the bar so the next Iraq war movie will not only get the environment and emotions right, but will give us a plausible plot, plausible scenes, and a plausible lead character.

Congratulations on the Oscars, I guess.

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