Reflections on 44

Today I turn 44.

As usual, I am keeping my birthday low key.  Work.  Dinner with the fam.  No drunken debauchery or morning-after hangover.

But last year at this time I posted on Facebook about all the changes in my life that I wanted to make.  I have forgotten most of them but the one I remember is this.  To write.

Writing has been the one gift from God and the Universe that I have not fully realized and utilized, but lingers in my mind.  Every. Single. Day.

Subconsciously, I fulfilled this promise to myself, just under the wire, by starting this blog a few weeks ago.  I am glad for all the readership (but tell me this, how do people in Romania/Brazil find this blog?  WordPress has stats that show me how many people look at the blog and what country they are from.  But no indentifiers – so no worries for all of you who read and re-read last Friday’s spicy offering 😉 but the last few days my readers have all been from South America/ Eastern Europe)

Just curious.

Anyway, I am keeping with my self-imposed requirement of twice-weekly postings.  To honor this gift that I have been given, on a day when I celebrate and thank who/whatever is responsible for my very existence on this planet.

And for the life experiences that I’ve had lo these 44 years.  Fortunately, the life that I have led lends itself to writing.  I’ve needed my imagination very little.  The vignettes that I have posted here are all based on experiences that I have had on my journey.

This journey of life.  Stephen King once said that your first love is like a roller coaster, a series of wild ups and downs.  The best ride.  The ride you only get to ride once.

To me, that’s a better metaphor about life in general.  Wild ups and downs.  Only get one ride.

And as my other writer/mentor Hunter S. Thompson said;

“Buy the ticket.  Take the ride.”

That’s what I am doing with my life.  Taking the ride.  And that’s my birthday wish for all of you.  Take your ride.  Hold on tight.

As far as my next story post, I want your input.  I am going to give you the opening.  You tell me where it should go from there.

 

Picture in your mind a dirty, smoky biker bar.  A man is sitting at a battered table, holding a cigarette and fiddling with a bottle of beer.  He is staring intently at the chair across from him.  That chair is empty as far as everyone else in the bar can see.  Only he can see the individual in front of him.  An angel.

Not the winged, bathed in the Glorious Light Hollywood angel.  Just a very normal appearing being, who has revealed a special task for the man.  A task sent from the Almighty himself.  A task for this man only to do.  A task he cannot refuse.

What is the task?

What does the angel look like to you?

Is the angel male or female?
If any of you are inclined to give me a birthday present, here is a free one you can give that I would appreciate more than anything.

Answer those questions for me.  The answers that I receive that click will become part of the story.

Thanks for reading.  Now be off to take the Ride of the Day.

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Leaving Helena

Our bodies strained in rhythm with the brassy voice coming from the radio.  Not sex yet, not yet, but very close.  So close.  Sweaty, bare skin warmed by the flames just a few feet away.  Her chambray shirt had worked its way off her shoulders and she wriggled free of it to place her slim fingers on my chest.  She lay back on the green carpet with flinty eyes searching mine for a sign of giving in…or giving up.  She had teased me before like this, getting me worked up into hormonal frenzy and then hitting the brakes, saying no, she just couldn’t do this.  Months of smoldering looks, whispered taunts, her fingers seeking out the electric buttons of my nipples, a few wondrous seconds of unfulfilled oral sex…all had turned me into a walking volcano.

It was her last chance.  And mine.  Was this just another tease…the mother of all blue-balls?  My heart jack-hammered my ribcage and my body shook from fear and desire.  The ring on her finger wasn’t mine.  He was at work, not due back for several hours but known for occasionally popping in when he was in the area.   Would he reach for the gun on his hip if he walked in now?  Shouldn’t I stop this and leave here with a somewhat clean conscience?  I can’t stop…not unless she says no.  If she says no, I’ll just extract myself from the tangle of arms and legs and run for the shower…just like I always had done before.

I kissed my way down the fuzzy little valley between her breasts towards something I had never done before.  I knew she’d halt me like she always had with a gentle grab, a giggle and a headshake but this time she didn’t.  Her hands rested lightly on top of my nodding head, her fingers laced through my hair.  I hoped that what I lacked in experience was compensated for with pure searing lust.  Her back arched slightly.  Was it desire, or discomfort?  I’d better check.  A quick look up and her gaze locked onto mine.  I saw something different in her eyes that night.  The normal stone grey was gone, replaced by indescribable dark electricity that went beyond color.

She was tiny, barely 5’4” and I was a foot taller but she pulled my body to her as if our sizes were reversed.  I was still mesmerized by her eyes but the question running through my brain must have been in my eyes because she shook her head yes.  Sweet yes.  I fumbled.  She guided.

I should have been lost in the sensations.  Reba McEntire admonished us with one song, and serenaded with the next.  The fire was perfect, the carpet soft and October’s chill was blunted by logs and stone of the lodge.  The exquisite feel of  her skin, the indescribable warmth that I felt where only my hand had been before and the hypersensitivity of each grazing touch of her hands on my chest and back.  And all I could think about was “Oh my god, I’m actually having sex” or “I hope she’s enjoying this.  I hope I’m good.”

The sudden rush and explosion came as I was debating on whether to pull out or not, rendering it moot.  She was cool about it though.  She wasn’t finished with me yet, locking her legs around my hips keeping me firmly in place and guiding my hand to her until a shudder and limp legs told me that we were done.

I lay next her, tracing the landscape curves of her body with my index finger, waiting for commentary about what had just happened.  There was silence that went on just a little too long to suit me.  I started to try and say something witty but she spoke a millisecond before me.

“You are the most affectionate man I’ve ever known.”

“Yeah.”  It was the best I could muster. Sex induced stupidity.

“I don’t want you to regret this.”  The flint in her eyes had returned, albeit slightly softer.

Regret hadn’t even entered my head yet.  Disbelief still had the floor and wasn’t budging.

“You neither.”  Me talk not so good.

Alas, regret came almost as quickly as I did.  My F-150 was packed and both gas tanks were full, ready to trek eastward in the morning.  My life was ending and I was headed back to suburban drudgery and life with my parents.  Now I was completely in love with a woman, a love that was as difficult as the mountain range that surrounded us, with just as many peaks and valleys.  And I was leaving in the morning.  What the hell should I do?  I can’t go on like this with her…too much on again, off again has left me a chain-smoking wreck.  And there was the small matter of her husband, who happened to be my boss.  And a gun lover.  He was one of the softest guys I knew, but probably wouldn’t take kindly to finding me on top of his wife on his living room floor.  He’d already been cheated on by his first wife…twice.

“What’s going on in that head of yours?”  She raised herself up, resting on her elbow and appraised me with a stare.

“I just don’t know what to do.”  Disbelief had left the building, and regret just bum-rushed the stage.

Her voice soothed and smoothed, fat with the lies I needed to hear.  She was okay.  I should go back and get on with my life.  I could be a writer, maybe even write about her someday (with a wink and a smile).  She’d be fine.  We’d always have this night as a memory.  She’d just had the best sex of her life, she needed to get some sleep and she’d see me in the morning.  I had a long drive ahead of me and I should get some sleep, too.  Soothe. Smooth.  She was fine.  OK.  See you in the morning.

Our parting in the morning was quiet and awkward, with her husband sitting there across from me and next to her.  As I smoked my post-breakfast cigarette, I almost threw in the towel and told her I was staying.  But I couldn’t.  An emotionless A-frame hug and polite peck on my cheek from her and a hearty slap on my back from him and some fatherly advice to drive safely sent me on my way.  I thanked them both and strolled to my truck with fake nonchalance.  I attempted a jaunty wave as I pulled away to begin the journey of a thousand miles.

Before they were even out of sight, I drove like mad to try and outrun the pounding compulsion to turn around and go back.  I cleared mountain passes that normally petrified me in record time.  I didn’t stop until I made it to the state line.  The late afternoon sun cast my shadow halfway across the rest area’s parking lot.  I smoked, drained a Coke, and smoked some more.  I don’t remember how long I stayed there, but it was close to dark when the final flick of my lighter lit my last smoke and a heavy sigh forced me back into the truck with my headlight beams pulling me eastward into Kansas.

Awkward Fridays…

Yes, you’re all sick of Throwback Thursday, as am I.  So I am substituting my own version, which henceforth will be known as Awkward Friday for me to publish whatever I feel like on this blog.  It may be a work of faction (as I’m sure someone has called it) but it might just be some cranial doggerel ramblings with no direction or point whatsoever.

Consider yourself forewarned.

My life seems to be filled with awkwardness.  Some of it is inherent in just being me, some of it is self-inflicted.

Case in point:  this morning.  I was sitting on the front porch, enjoying the quiet, cool air with a cup of coffee and a cigarette whilst reading a superior blog (very worthy for anyone – especially you and written by one of the most naturally funny people I have ever met.  Check it out at donofalltrades.com.)

Anyway, my solitude was interrupted by my 10 year old (who I thought was sleeping) coming out to see me. 

Awkward. 

I tried to hide my cigarette but somehow I’m sure the cloud of blue smoke that I just exhaled gave me away.

Now my kids know I smoke but I try to avoid smoking around them.  It’s a feeble attempt to hide reality from them.  Anytime they catch me smoking I have this automatic guilty response… not unlike when you think your wife is gone for work but she comes back for some ridiculously unimportant thing and interrupts you during “happy time.”  Same thing.  She knows that it happens but I don’t like to advertise it regularly.

Anyway, I owe the two or three of you that read this some words. Without fanfare or further ado, my next post (a bonus post, if you will) is on the heels of this one.

Happy Awkward Friday, and I hope you enjoy.

A dark place…

You never know where the muse will take you when you write.

Sometimes you have to follow her into the dark.

This little outlet of mine is part blog, part fiction, part confessional, so it’s only fair that I tell you:

it’s so dark where she’s going, I can barely see.

I used to think that crazy behaviors on the parts of writers/actors/artists was just some cop out that they used to excuse their excess.

After trying to create some worthwhile reading for you out of the words in my head, I can now understand much better why some quit and walk away.

I can also see why some go off the deep end.

You see, the two stories that I have written here are true.  The ghostly visitor and the murderer – both real and actual occurrences in my life.  I made some minor tweaks to disguise the identity of the murderer, but it was indeed a real person.

And after all the years I have spent in the funeral business, I have so much more to draw upon.

Some of it scares me.  A lot.  I have to try and worm my way into the brain of some very messed up people.  And it’s not a place that I like to go to.

A dark place.  THE dark place.

And as for my absence here of late, I want you to know that I was working through another one of these life stories in my brain with every intent to post something last Thursday.

Until I get hit by the biggest, baddest Mama Jama of a panic/anxiety attack that I have ever had.  It took me a place that I have never been before.

Never. Ever.

And it scares the crap out of me that it spun so far out of control.

It almost took me to a dark place.

I pulled the reins and got the wagon back under control.  Thank goodness.

But for a while, the horses were running free and I was like Kevin Costner in the opening scene of “Dances With Wolves” – arms outstretched, eyes closed, awaiting the fates and not caring where I landed.

I can’t say if this is all because of writing, because the ghosts and skeletons were already stuffed in the mental closets…

But writing unlocks the doors and jiggles the doorknobs of the doors already creaking under the strain and ready bust open.

Bear with me friends.  It might be a bumpy ride.

 

Face to face with a murderer

I was sitting across the desk from a murderer.  Alone.  No guards.  No guns.  No bars.  No plexiglas wall with breathing holes a la Hannibal Lecter.

Just me.  And her.

I slid an envelope across the table to her.  She had been waiting for this moment.  She called me almost every day for three weeks straight to get these.

Her ticket out.  Large money.  Scot free.  She could hold her head high in society as an innocent widow.  Newly-minted rich innocent widow just barely 40.

Instead of doing the walk of shame in an orange prison jumpsuit, where she belonged.

I had met her when her husband died mysteriously.  She “found” him on the floor of their West County condo, barely breathing.  She followed every protocol.  Called 911.  Acted distraught.  Followed the ambulance dutifully to the hospital.  Held his hand somberly after an ER doctor called the time of death.  Wept.

Officially, it was a mystery.  The medical examiner would do an autopsy.  Toxicology screens were ordered.  There were no outward signs of harm.  No needle tracks on the arms to suggest an overdose.  No bumps, bruises or so much as a shaving nick on his chiseled chin.  Nothing immediately detectable in his blood that might have caused it.

There were no tears when I met with her to plan his funeral.

“Mrs. Geoffries?”

“Yes, I’m DOCTOR Geoffries.”

“Oh.  Forgive me.  Dr. Geoffries, I’m Dan.  I’m the funeral director that’s going to help you.”

“Very good.  Shall we get started?”  All business.

And so began the planning of the large dog-and-pony show that the wealthy and socially connected like to have.  Lots of flash.  Solid mahogany casket.  Thousands of dollars worth of flowers.  The big church where They all like to go when their image calls for a presence in a house of worship.  A lengthy obituary in the newspaper extolling the saintliness of the dearly departed.  Etc.

When we spoke of the financial handling of the funerals she plopped a life insurance policy worth 250k on the desk.

“I have a few more of these.  I will need an appropriate amount of death certificates.  And I want to notified immediately when they are available.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“And I need the name of a good photographer.”

“Ma’am?”  This was a first.

“A photographer.  You know, a person who takes pictures?”

“Yes, I know what a photographer does.  What exactly shall I tell him as to the subject of his work?”

“My husband.  In the casket.  The flowers.  The procession.  Church interior shots.”

So I called my friend Lou.  His response was similar to mine.  “What in the hell, Dan?”

“I know, Lou.  But you are the best.  And she has the dollars to pay for the best.  You want the gig or not?”

Of course, he took it.  He’d be a damn fool not to.

The first night of visitation was to be a private family affair.  I had been given explicit instructions on the minutiae of his grooming habits.  He gelled his hair with a wet look.  Armani suit was dry cleaned and pressed.  French-cuffed dress shirt with the first two buttons undone.  Precise placement of jewelry worth more than what I earned last year.

I saw him on the embalming table downstairs.  It was clear that his job was to be a trophy husband/boy toy.  Although this was years before “Jersey Shore,” this gentleman would have gotten along famously with the Gym, Tan, Laundry crew. Pierced ears.  Tattoos on his biceps, back and belly button (When did guys start get tattoos there?) Obviously working hard to stay sexy for his incredibly average-looking anesthesiologist wife.

One problem.  While the embalming fluid was being injected in the carotid artery, it went in smoothly but soon there was a reaction of some kind.

Boy Toy puffed up like a dead porpoise.

The embalmer Whit called me at home that evening in a panic.  I raced back to work to see the damage.

“In 25 years I’ve never seen something like this.  It’s crazy. There was some sort of reaction with whatever is in his system.”

“What could it have been, Whit?  Any clue?”

“Not me.   It’s just the damnedest thing.”

“She’s gonna be pissed at me.  To the extreme.”

“Sorry man.”

I wasn’t looking forward to having this conversation with her.

Whit dressed Boy Toy carefully.  The hair was impeccably gelled.  Jewelry was placed with microscopic attention. The belt buckle gleamed.  Expertly applied cosmetics gave him an admirable, just-off-the-beach glow.  Whit gently lowered him into the casket and BT’s puffy body rubbed against the sides of the casket.  Had he been his normal size, he could have been the model in a Gucci Casket ad.  If Gucci made caskets, that is.

Instead he looked like a caricature of dead Elvis with better hair.

My stomach knotted.  There was a shit storm in my future.  I was certain of it.  I paced the corridors like a restless animal.  Finally, headlights flashed through the west entry doorway as Dr. Geoffries pulled in.

I helped her with her coat.  I could tell that the more servile I was, the better she would like me.

I escorted her into the stateroom.  Lou waited in a side room fiddling nervously with his camera equipment.  Her arm slipped from mine as she walked purposefully up to the casket, the way she might have walked up to a shiny burgundy Mercedes on the showroom floor.

“OhmyGodWHATHAVEYOUDONETOHIM?”  There were no pauses between the words as the pitch of her voice hit the roof.

“Dr. Geoffries, there was some sort of a chemical reaction to something that was in his system.  When the fluid circulated with his blood, be began to puff up uncontrollably.”

Her eyes were little slits when she cranked her head around to glare at me.

“What sort of chemical reaction might that be?”  She almost whispered the words, like she was daring me to answer.

“I have no idea.  Nor does the embalmer, who has embalmed thousands of bodies in his career and never seen anything like this.”

“I want to speak with HIM.”

Sorry Whit.  Time for you to join me under the bus.

Whit came up, rumpled and just hastily having thrown on his tie and jacket.

“Yes, Dr. Geoffries?”  Whit always had that genuine, good ol’ boy charm that most people loved.  Dr Geoffries was not one of those people.

“Care to explain this?”  She jerked her head in the direction of the casket.

“Ma’am, my best guess is that there was something in his system that caused this.”

“Oh really?  What might that something be?”

“Ma’am, I haven’t the foggiest.  But there must be something for this to have happened.  This is no ordinary embalming reaction.  This is like nothing I’ve ever seen before.  Maybe drugs.  Prescription drugs that is. I don’t mean to…”

She got up in his face, nose to nose.  She added index finger thumps to Whit’s chest to punctuate her point.

“Unless you are a coroner or some sort of forensic expert, I don’t care to hear your theories.  I suggest you keep your countrified ‘wisdom’ to yourself,” she snarled.

The color drained out of Whit’s face.  He had never had a family speak to him like that.  Wordlessly, he left the room.

Dr. Geoffries walked over to the bookcase, pretending to study the titles.

Without turning around, she drew a deep breath and said, “bring the photographer.”

Later, Whit grilled me as we headed to our cars.

“What’s the deal with her?  Why’d she go off on me like that?  She asked for an explanation and I was trying to give her one.”

“Dude, this whole thing is one fucked up mess.  What’s with the photographer?  What’s with all this show?”

“She’s not acting like any widow I’ve ever seen, Dan.  She is cold-blooded.  Clinical.”

“Well, she’s a doctor, Whit.  Maybe the clinical act is some sort of defense mechanism.”

“Nope.  I’m a lot older than you.  There is something else going on here.  I can feel it, but I don’t know what it is.”

The next couple of days were a whirlwind of gingerly tiptoeing around any conversation with her during the very public visitation and funeral.

Boy toy was buried with a flourish.  Dr. Geoffries left town.  And then the phone calls started.

“Dan, this is Dr. Geoffries.  Has the medical examiner ruled on the cause of death yet?”

“We haven’t heard, Doctor.  Shall I call you when we hear from them?”

“No, I will YOU.  I’m not there anyway.  I needed a break after the funeral.  I’m in the Grand Caymans.”

The Grand Caymans.  Probably a good place to hop off the radar screen.

But whose radar screen?

Then it hit me.  She planned on island hopping for the next few weeks until she got a preliminary report from the medical examiner.  If it came back how she had hoped (ie death unknown causes) she’d catch the next flight back to the States, gather up her pile of insurance cash and carry on with her merry widowhood.

If she got back any indication that the death was suspicious and eyes were turning to her, she’d hop the first flight to one of those faraway islands with no extradition to the United States.

It all started to make sense.

For nearly three weeks she called almost daily.  For three weeks she hopped from this island to that island.

Finally, the medical examiner’s preliminary report came back.

Death – unknown causes.

Yes, sometimes even in this day and age of advanced science, they have to fall back on those three words.

Maybe it was my imagination, but I almost heard relief in her voice when she made the final call the day after we got the ME report.

And after all, who but a trained medical professional like say, an anesthesiologist would know what chemical to give someone in a precise enough dose to kill them…

but not be detectable in toxicology screening blood work.

She was in my office the afternoon following our last phone call to get the death certificates.  They were in the envelope I slid to her across the table.  I was barely able to hold myself together to have a conversation with her, suspecting what I did.  She murdered him for money, plain and simple.  And she was going to get away with it.  Damn I was mad.  I had no proof, nothing to go to the police with.  Just hearsay and suspicion.

But she didn’t get away with it.  Not for long.

About six months afterwards, Whit came up to me with a big silly ass smile on his face, with a death notification call sheet, which we use when someone calls the funeral home to report a death.

The name on the death call sheet:  Dr. Geoffries.

Under notes:  possible heart attack.

I looked at Whit.  He looked at me.  We both smiled and he said and I thought the exact same thing.

“He came back and haunted her ass to death.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“splain it to us, Danny!”

What you read yesterday, and are reading now, are my attempts to start placing all of the vignettes that have been floating around the ol’ cortex in print.

The title of my outlet here is Bloggerel STL.  Doggerel is writing with little or no redeeming literary value.  My Blog promises to achieve the same standing.

And the STL on the end?  It’s only there because some enlightened, rapturous creature like myself actually beat me to the title of Bloggerel.  I added the STL to allow stalkers from other countries to zone in on the source of these etheric words.

My promise to you is to give you my very best words.  Not of it will be great. (Hey, even Shakespeare wrote some crap!)  It may be funny.  It may be brooding.  It might be real.  It might be bullshit.

But I won’t tell you… you’re gonna have to figure that out on your own.

My target is 3 writings a week.  Feel free to call me out if I start slacking.

If you want to keep reading this stuff, that is.

And finally, the freebie theme that I picked from WordPress is called Hemingway Rewritten.

Ha!  Poor Papa.  Hopefully he doesn’t know that a writer of my caliber is now linked with his name.  If he does find out somehow, he’ll start looking for all the pieces of his face just so he can shotgun them off again.

And I will finish this little intro with the words of Artist Ze Frank.  Ladies and gentlemen:  An Invocation for Beginnings.

I’m scared. I’m scared that my abilities are gone. I’m scared that I’m going to fuck this up. And I’m scared of you.

I don’t want to start, but I will. This is an invocation for anyone who hasn’t begun, who’s stuck in a terrible place between zero and one.

Let me realize that my past failures at follow-through are no indication of my future performance. They’re just healthy little fires that are going to warm up my ass.

Let me not hit up my Facebook like it’s a crack pipe Keep the browser closed.

If I catch myself wearing a too-too (too fat, too late, too old) let me shake it off like a donkey would shake off something it doesn’t like.

And when I get that feeling in my stomach you know the feeling when all of a sudden you get a ball of energy and it shoots down into your legs and up into your arms and tells you to get up and stand up and go to the refrigerator and get a cheese sandwich, that’s my cheese monster talking. And my cheese monster will never be satisfied by cheddar, only the cheese of accomplishment.

Let me think about the people who I care about the most, and how when they fail or disappoint me… I still love them, I still give them chances, and I still see the best in them. Let me extend that generosity to myself.

Let me find and use metaphors to help me understand the world around me and give me the strength to get rid of them when it’s apparent they no longer work.

Let me thank the parts of me that I don’t understand or are outside of my rational control like my creativity and my courage. And let me remember that my courage is a wild dog. It won’t just come when I call it, I have to chase it down and hold on as tight as I can.

Let me not be so vain to think that I’m the sole author of my victories and a victim of my defeats.

Let me remember that the unintended meaning that people project onto what I do is neither my fault or something I can take credit for.

Perfectionism may look good in his shiny shoes but he’s a little bit of an asshole and no one invites him to their pool parties.

Let me remember that the impact of criticism is often not the intent of the critic, but when the intent is evil, that’s what the block button’s for. And when I eat my critique, let me be able to separate out the good advice from the bitter herbs.

There are few people who won’t be disarmed by a genuine smile. A big impact on a few can be worth more than a small impact

Let me not think of my work only as a stepping stoneto something else, and if it is, let me become fascinated with the shape of the stone.

Let me take the idea that has gotten me this far and put it to bed. What I am about to do will not be that, but it will be something.

There is no need to sharpen my pencils anymore. My pencils are sharp enough. Even the dull ones will make a mark. Warts and all. Let’s start this shit up.

The ghost of a friend

I wasn’t afraid when I woke and saw the ghost standing in the doorway of my bedroom.

I daresay I was expecting it.  Perhaps even hoping for it.

No Dickensian chains or banshee wailing…but a good-looking guy with a smile and a mustache, dressed in jeans and a denim shirt.

Exactly as he was dressed the last time I saw him alive.

Rick.

We weren’t close friends.  I doubt Rick had let anyone beyond arm’s reach into his life.  I don’t know if he’d been hurt, or what his deal was.  He kept me at the same distance as everyone else.  He had nobody in this world other than an elderly mom and a teenage son that he hadn’t seen or heard from with any regularity.

He was becoming a funeral director, like me.  I was learning as he was learning.  I saw the toll that the pressure was taking on him:  the bickering client families-already carving up the estate before the body is even in a casket and the corporate management that demanded allegiance and sales performance from their employee numbers.  I know.  I was employee 466510013.

The pressure was more than he could bear.  I could tell that purely from the number of cigarettes that he smoked.

I saw him slide away to a nervous breakdown in 1997.

And in May of 1998, I found myself sitting in his mother’s kitchen, holding her hand across the coffee-stained and cigarette-scarred table.  We had each gotten a call that Rick had jumped off a bridge when the burdens of life finally outweighed the fear of death.

She wanted very little to do with it, other than to make small payments as her senior citizen’s fixed lower income allowed.  To her credit, she paid every red cent she owed.

I caught some hell from management by giving her a steep employee discount.  “He didn’t work here anymore.”

But I knew she couldn’t afford even the discounted price.  Let them ink a black mark against me for that.  I didn’t really give a shit at that point.

I identified his body and made the arrangements to have him cremated.  Fortunately, he had spent a little time in the military which got him a burial space at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.  The day I delivered the cheap plastic urn to the cemetery, the VA rep looked at me and said “where’s the family?”

“You’re looking at it” I replied.

The rep and I talked what to put on the headstone.  I decided on “Our son and father” in the off-chance that either his mother or his son made their way to the cemetery.  We went to the gravesite to place the urn in its little earth pocket.  I played the role of mourner/minister/funeral director.  The one and only time in 20 years that all three have fallen on my shoulders.  I left the cemetery feeling worse than when I drove in.

A year or so later, I woke to find Rick standing in the doorway of my bedroom.  Amazingly, I wasn’t at all frightened (I always imagined that I would most likely piss myself if I ever happened across a real ghost).

He smiled.  The soft, familiar smile.

“Thanks for being so good to my mom” he said.

All I could reply with was the question that had been stewing for over a year.

“Rick, why’d you do it?”

Another smile.

“I just had to get out from under some things.”  He turned and started to walk away.

I rolled over to wake my wife so she could see him.  “You’re dreaming” she said, dismissing me with a wave of her hand.  I don’t think that she even opened her eyes. By the time I turned back, he was gone.

I still visit his grave when I have burials at Jefferson Barracks.  Sometimes I leave an unsmoked cigarette on top of the headstone for him.

Sometimes I just think about his last visit.