Because The Road to Nowhere Leads to Me

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Blue on Black — My First Customized Sports Car

After buying my first car, a Ford Mustang, I held onto the dream for years of making it a custom muscle car but a lack of finances, a shortage of time and a thief robbed me of that dream and left it on the side of the road abandoned.

It was just over a year after the high performance parts had been stolen when the Dodge Ram hit my family head on and totaled the Ford Escort I was driving. The insurance cut us a small check for our personal injuries and $500.00 for the Escort after labeling it as “basic transportation”.

I had been riding around in basic transportation for nearly a decade and I was ready to get something better. As always, I wanted the Corvette but knew that I didn’t have enough money from the settlement for that. I also knew that the insurance check was my family’s best chance of getting two cars; one for Madison and one for me.

I was driving through town when I passed a used car lot with a blue Mazda Rx-7 parked on the front line. I can’t really explain why but something drew me to the car. I had been elbow deep, covered in grease from working on 4, 6 and 8 cylinder engines and never really thought about the Rx-7 knowing virtually nothing about the rotary engine it held under the hood. But there I was pulling into the parking lot to take a closer look at the car and the salesman, an older white haired gentleman that had seen his fair share of southern buffets, came out to greet me.

I can’t remember the exact words that were spoken between us but was promised a good deal after suggesting that I might be interested in buying two cars. I soon found myself behind the wheel of the Rx-7 headed to a small family owned glass company to show the car to Madison and get her opinion of it.

The car felt good in my hands. It was quick, responsive and handled beautifully as I shifted through the 5-speed manual transmission. I’m not sure if Mazda was still using the “Passion for the road” or had already switched to “Zoom Zoom” commercials but in that moment, I felt both.

I gave Madison the details and told her that there was a good selection of cars there for her to choose from so after she got off work, the two of us went back to the lot where I picked up the Rx-7 and she picked out a silver Honda Prelude. We agreed that the Prelude would be the family car and the Rx-7 would be for those rare occasions when it was just the two of us.

The salesman was true to his word and slashed the prices on both vehicles allowing us to drive off as satisfied customers in two cars that were both huge improvements over the Escort. But I didn’t stop there; I still wanted a custom car and using the money I saved, I could afford it.

I had some engine work done on the car where I paid professional mechanics to install upgraded performance parts and a stainless steel dual exhaust that was supposed to boost the horsepower another 15 – 20%. The car sounded like an angry bee but it was a very fast angry bee.

I had planned on painting my Mustang a two-tone candy red and black with a silver pinstripe separating the two colors and carried through with that theme on the Rx-7 using blue instead of red. I had the interior customized to match with the bucket seats having black and blue angled pinstripes surrounding a black centerpiece with black carpeting installed and began planning my sound system.

I didn’t know it before buying the car but some Rx-7s were equipped with rear seats. Most weren’t however and the area where the rear seat would have been was covered by a contoured box that proved to be the perfect enclosure for a pair of 12” Rockford Fosgate Subwoofers mounted flush against its surface. I matched the bass of the subwoofers with a set of four Alpine speakers and connected all of it to an Alpine receiver complete with a 6-discs CD changer and a 500 watt amplifier. The sound was flawless filled with clear highs and mids complemented by pounding bass.

In addition to the new stereo, I asked the guys at Roadmusic to install a Viper security system and a Whistler remote radar detector that I could hide discretely in the ashtray with the sensor being mounted behind the front grill of the car. I remember that the remote radar detectors drew some criticism for having a limited forward facing range but I really wasn’t worried about anyone behind me.

After that, I only needed to get the windows tinted and have something that made a statement. It seemed that everyone was riding around with “No Fear” plastered somewhere on their vehicles but I wanted something better than a cheap catch phrase that could be bought from any automotive store. I decided to take my car to a custom sign shop where I had them print out “Beat You Black & Blue” in silver vinyl letters and apply them to the windshield.

Mazda2Mazda3Mazda5

I finally had my first custom sports car and one of my favorite pastimes was to go out late at night and cruise through the abandoned city streets listening to my music. I had enough respect not to blast the stereo during those late night drives and found them to be very therapeutic and calming. Sometimes after a stressful day, I would hear the road calling, go out, get some fresh air and come back home to talk to Madison about whatever had been bothering me. I can’t even begin to describe everything that I enjoyed listening to but I do remember playing a lot of Kenny Wayne Shepperd’s Blue on Black, Linkin Park’s Crawling, Limp Bizkit’s Rollin’, Kid Rock’s Cowboy, Van Halen’s Dreams and Clubbed to Death from The Matrix movie soundtrack. There was just something about being alone in my car on the open road when the rest of the world was quiet with absolutely no direction or destination that I found very alluring.

Headed for Destruction — My Most Terrifying Moment

Skull

It was a sunny summer afternoon when Madison and I decided to take a trip to the mall with our 1-year old daughter. We had stopped for gas and snacks at one of the local convenience stores and pulled back onto the four lane highway that ran through the center of town with numerous businesses lining each side of it; everything from office suites to grocery stores and many of the most popular fast food chains.

The highway led to a traffic circle that had seven roads connected to it including the one we were on and as usual, the outside lane was backed up with traffic congestion because so many people don’t know how to properly navigate a circle.

A traffic circle consists of two lanes; an inner circle and an outer circle. The only drivers that should enter it from the outer lane are those that are getting off at the first exit. Everyone else should enter the circle using the inner lane and move to the outer lane just before they reach their exit; in this case, the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th or 6th exit off the circle. But so many drivers fail to comprehend the basic mechanics of the circle and long lines of vehicles are formed as people wait to drive around most of it in the outer lane before reaching their exit point often leaving the inner lane of the circle completely empty and easily accessible in the process.

As my family and I approached the circle, I kept the Ford Escort on the inside lane because we would be getting off at the 5th exit from it that led to the mall we wanted to visit. The congestion in the outer lane was typical of a Saturday afternoon and the line of vehicles stretched back for several miles. I could see the frustration on each driver’s face while I cruised past all of them with an open entrance to the circle directly in front of me.

I wasn’t moving very fast with the speed limit within the town limits being set at 35 mph. We had the windows down and were enjoying the breeze while singing along to the radio with our daughter happily playing in her car seat behind us. We passed the row of vehicles on our right and as I approached the circle, a red Dodge Ram pickup appeared out of nowhere and hit us head on.

The Escort came to a sudden jarring stop as the front end folded like an accordion and was crushed under the impact. My head struck the windshield and cracked it leaving a bloody web of broken glass behind. I bounced back into my seat and felt the burning sting of a newly formed gash on the right side of my face, looked over to Madison who had went into shock and fallen over in her seat unconscious while her body jerked with violent uncontrollable convulsions and heard the sound of my baby girl screaming in the back seat.

I remember reaching over to shake Madison and screaming her name two or three times but there was no response before I got out of the car to find all of the gawkers staring at us. I could taste the blood in my mouth and felt the wet stickiness of it running down my face, matting my hair and soaking into my clothes as I pounded on the dented rooftop of the car screaming, “Somebody call a fucking ambulance!” It was the first of only two times that I had ever cursed in front of my daughter.

The police and E.M.S. arrived on the scene and I was strapped down to a gurney while they loaded me into the back of the ambulance and began applying ointment and gauze to the cut on my face. I demanded to know where my wife and daughter were and was told that they were being taken to the hospital in a separate ambulance. Not being able to be with them in that moment was one of the most terrifying experiences I have ever felt.

We arrived at the hospital and were all examined separately. Madison found me first and she was holding our daughter in her arms. She told me that they were both fine with Madison having a few scrapes and bruises and my daughter just being bruised from the strap of her car seat. I began crying with relief but the doctor asked me to sit still while she removed my gauze and put eleven stitches in my face.

It turned out that someone in the long line of cars waiting to get on the traffic circle waved the Dodge Ram out from one of the businesses on the side of the road. When he drove onto the highway, he forgot about the inside lane that we were in and thought he was turning into the median when he actually turned into our lane. He was a teenager, looking across the highway for an opening and had accelerated before hitting us.

We were provided with a subcompact rental car and I had to go back to the hospital the following week to have the stitches removed to minimalize scarring. I honestly thought they were removed too soon because the sore opened up into a crescent shaped cut that gapped nearly 1/8th of an inch and was over an inch in length. It was an open pocket filled with fresh blood and deep enough to put a large coin into. I remember my face swelling and hurting after the stitches were removed and made my way to the bathroom mirror to press on it hoping to relieve some of the pressure. I got more than I expected however when a large blood clot popped out of the facial gash and fell into the sink. I stared at it, that dark brown marble sized mass sitting in the sink with spatters of fresh bright red blood surrounding it and remembered the crash with vivid clarity like a film being played back to me in slow motion. I broke down into tears again and used my arms to hold myself over the sink when my legs went numb.

The other driver didn’t even know we were there. The Dodge Ram dwarfed the Ford Escort that we were in and for all the damage and injuries we had suffered, he had a busted turn signal on the massive truck. I felt a rage swell up inside of me as I thought about his carelessness but calmed myself realizing that the outcome could have been even worse. I turned on the faucet and splashed cold water across my face before using my hand to push the clot down the drain and wipe the blood from the basin.

After I returned to college, one of my instructors asked me to stop by his office. He wanted to talk to me about the accident or more specifically about the open wound on my face. I could tell he was choosing his words very carefully not wanting to offend or hurt my feelings but at the same time he requested that I cover it up with something because some of my fellow classmates found it too disturbing to look at. I did as he asked and when the bright red gash turned into a black scab, I removed the bandages and waited for it to finish healing while carrying a new attitude that dared anyone to say anything to me about it. None of them were there to listen to the sound of the metal being crushed or the crack of glass when my head struck the windshield. They weren’t there to see my wife lying unconscious or to hear my daughter screaming. They weren’t there for any of it and somehow felt the need to put our teacher in the uncomfortable position of confronting me about it. I grew agitated by their cowardly passive aggressive actions but never heard another word about it and my anger eventually subsided as I continued to heal and life returned to normal.

I never hired an attorney and the insurance company settled with a small check. I probably could have gotten much more with legal representation but the money wasn’t nearly as important as knowing that my wife and daughter were safe and still with me.

 

My Own Worst Enemy — Suspicions of a Twisted Mind

Clue PNG

It’s no surprise to me
I am my own worst enemy
‘Cause every now and then
I kick the living shit out of me
The smoke alarm is going off
When there’s a cigarette
Still burning
- Lit, “My Own Worst Enemy”

Brad, Shane, Johnny, Damion and I became as brothers and shared in the one for all, all for one philosophy. We were there for each other to celebrate the highs and support each other during the lows of our lives together.

Brad had very recently gotten engaged to be married to June and it was my other adopted brothers talking about his sudden absence from the pack that prompted me to speak with him.

I called Brad and asked if I could come over and hang out with him for a while. When I got to his apartment, I sat quietly on the couch between the small talk contemplating my first words to explain why I was really there and after a deep sigh, I told him that I wanted to talk to him about something and there really was no easy way to say it.

He sat down in one of the chairs across the room from me and said, “Okay… shoot.” There was a long pause in between those two words with a questioning tone and I knew that Brad had just set himself on the defensive in preparation for whatever it was I was about to say.

I started by telling him how the guys were worried about him, how we missed his being around and how we didn’t want to see him disappear. I told him about my past problems with Gina and how my friendship with Seth disintegrated after he got married to Lindsey hoping to offer some more insight from where I was coming from.

Brad admitted that he knew how much time he had been spending with June and how it had cut into his time with the guys but assured me that none of us had anything to worry about; he wasn’t going anywhere.

I believed his words were sincere and left feeling better about what I had done. I had spoken my mind and our friendship seemed stronger because of it but my victory was short lived. Brad decided to tell June about my visit and she proceeded to blast Shane and Johnny for sending me over there as some kind of ambassador intent on ending their engagement even though I never suggested that the two of them break it off.

Absolutely nobody had any prior knowledge of my plans to speak with Brad and after bitching at the other guys, June wasted no time confronting me. “Who are you to be telling him how to spend his time?!”

It was a good question. I had taken advice from people in the past that almost always came back to bite me in the ass and my life was far from perfect so who was I to try and tell Brad how to live his? I had already stopped taking the advice of others but it was in that moment that I realized I was using a double standard that demanded I be allowed to make my own decisions and live my life as I wanted without question while having the right to speak my mind and tell others how to live theirs.

It was my intent to spare Brad the Sethe mistakes that Seth and I had made and protect Shane, Johnny and Damion from the pain of losing a close friend but in my efforts to do what I felt was right, I found that I was no better than the controlling, overbearing women that I had crossed paths with.

The manipulative nature of Gina and the wedge that Lindsey had driven between Seth and I carried even more weight than I realized. Where I had once viewed women as beautiful beings, I had begun approaching them as fierce creatures tainted by my own suspicions that many were out to change mankind and bend the world to their will.

With that realization, I began to question how much of my conversation with Brad had been prompted by actual threat and how much of it had been prompted by a perceived threat that had been conjured in my mind by ghosts of the past.

Yes, Brad was spending more time with June. But it was his choice. It was what he wanted to do. And I had not noticed any changes in his personality or heard of any ridiculous demands made by his fiancée. I come to understand that Brad had to think for himself and shoulder the responsibility of the choices he made while everyone that was close to him had to accept and adapt to his decisions.

Recognizing the mistake that I had made and the fallout of my actions, apologies were made to everyone involved. Shane and Johnny told me that I had nothing to apologize for because I thought I was doing the right thing but June was not as forgiving. She told me that I needed to learn to mind my own business and I responded with, “I already have.”

Brad slowly disappeared from our game nights but kept in touch with all of us through small social gatherings. June soon forgave me and after her marriage to Brad, the couple invited Madison and me over to their apartment on a number of occasions for dinner and more conventional board games like Monopoly and Clue.

Truth be told, I never cared for the game of Clue and after playing it numerous times, I came to loathe it, cringing at the mention of its name. But both Brad and June enjoyed it so we would play it almost every time Madison and I went over to their place. Sometimes my mind would drift off remembering days of real parties, doing nude body shots, playing Quarters or Beer Pong but I would be snapped back into reality whenever somebody shouted, “Colonel Mustard in the library with the candlestick!” It always seemed to be the Sethe answer no matter how the cards were shuffled. Maybe if it could have been Mistress Blackstrap in the bathtub with the dildo, the board game would have been less of a bored game but thankfully the company of my wife and friends improved the experience enough to keep me from pouring gasoline over the Parker Brothers box and setting it ablaze. I even went as far as imagining their dining room table where we played the game burning once but I had already put out one fire that I started and knew better than to ignite another one.

 

 

 

Pretty Fly for a White Guy — My New College Friends

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After my return to college, I immediately began making new friends. I really didn’t have any left after dating Gina and Seth had all but disappeared after marrying and agreeing to Lindsey’s rules.

It was easy for me to talk to others no matter what their status or background but after the parties and time spent with the beautiful people, I was looking for real friendship.

The first person that I really connected with was Brad. Both of us were majoring in architectural design and he was in my Algebra class. He was close to my age and we shared a lot of the same interests including our tastes in music and role playing games like Dungeons & Dragons and Vampire the Masquerade.

The two of us started hanging out and he took me to meet his family and other friends. Brad was closest to his grandmother and she would offer us sandwiches or maybe some leftovers from the night before when we stopped by her house between classes.

His mother took an immediate liking to me as well but it was her 1982 Corvette that caught my attention. It was a beautiful candy apple red having pearlescent paint with a black leather interior, T-tops and tinted windows. Brad’s mother had the engine chromed and a powerful custom stereo complete with subwoofers installed that offered outstanding sound quality with crisp, clear bass; not that trunk rattling junk you hear from amateur installations. Owning a red Corvette had been a dream of mine for as long as I could remember and to me, hers was a work of art.

1982 Corvette

Brad also introduced me to his closest friends; Shane, Johnny and Damion. All four of them lived in the same apartment complex and they would take turns visiting each other’s respective homes to play Dungeons & Dragons or some other role playing game, collectible cards, miniature strategy or one of the latest video games for the Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis.

When I first met Shane, Johnny and Damion, they were playing Spellfire in Damion’s apartment. Spellfire was a card game based on Dungeons & Dragons but was quickly engulfed in the shadow of Magic the Gathering and largely forgotten. I remember meeting Shane for the first time and he was extremely pissed off after accusing Damion of cheating at the game before throwing his cards across the table and onto the floor. It didn’t take long to realize that Shane had a temper as I witnessed him spout profanities and bash the Nintendo and Sega controllers after suffering repeated defeats. He always left his anger with the game however and his outbursts were easily forgiven.

Damion was the Game Master of all things geek. He had grown up with Dungeons & Dragons and was the biggest fan of Star Wars I had ever met able to quote the entire movie word for word. We were foolish enough to play Star Wars Trivial Pursuit with him once and he filled up his pie before we even got a turn. If a new role playing, card or miniature game came out, it was usually Damion that found it first and introduced it to the rest of us. He was very soft spoken except when he got excited over the latest and greatest piece of geek paraphernalia. His little brother and sister were following very closely in his footsteps and even at their youngest, I saw a glimmer of the next generation of geeks in their eyes. Damion’s mother had a kind and gentle heart but his father was a mean drunk and abusive ass that had been prescribed medication to help temper his violent mood swings. Despite his being sedated, he always seemed to be pissed off and bitching about something. He hated that his oldest son spent his time rolling dice and reading comics but luckily for all of us, he never stayed around long.

And finally there was Johnny. He was the most laid back of all of us and found humor in almost everything. We used to try and make him laugh just so he would shoot Pepsi through his nose and then laugh along with him as he detailed how it burned. Johnny was also our instructor. Where Damion would detail the rules for all the RPG and strategy games, Johnny would read the rules for the video games we played. Brad, Shane and I were more interested in pressing the button on the controller to see what happened but Johnny almost always reached for the instruction manual first.

Everyone except for Damion had a girlfriend and I of course had Madison and our daughter. The women got along well for the most part and we would soon find ourselves hanging out together whether it was a trip to the mall or dinner at one of our homes.

These four guys would eventually become as brothers to me. It was them that first got me involved with street hockey and musical performers like Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park and Kid Rock though I still held onto my hair metal roots and we continued to listen to those bands as well. I have to smile remembering how fascinated Damion was with Gwar but a band of thrash metal aliens singing about their anal cave was just a little too far out there for my tastes.

Gwar

 

 

Higher Ground — My Eventual Return to College

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People keep on learnin’
Soldiers keep on warrin’
World keep on turnin’
Powers keep on lyin’
While your people keep on dyin’
Teachers keep on teachin’
Preachers keep on preachin’
Lovers keep on lovin’
Believers keep on believin’
‘Cause it won’t be too long
‘Cause my last time on earth I lived a whole world of sin
I’m so glad that I know more than I knew then
Gonna keep on tryin’ ’til I reach the highest ground
- Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Higher Ground”

Shortly after the loss of vision in my right eye, I scheduled a meeting with the South Carolina J.T.P.A. (Job Training and Placement Association) believing that with my new visual restrictions, the agency may have been able to help me go back to school in order to further my education in a new field of study.

I was correct in my assumption and the J.T.P.A. agreed to pay for my return to the local community college; the very same college that I had been coerced into going to four years prior and summarily flunked out of. But this time would be different; I wanted to be there to improve myself and be able to support while simultaneously being supported by my family. Falling back to my artistic background, I was interested in studying Graphic Design but the closest major that the college had to offer was Architectural Design so I chose that instead.

I was 24 at the time and going back to school six years after my high school graduation wasn’t as easy as I expected. In high school, I had always excelled in math, science and English but constantly struggled with history, finding it to be incredibly boring and tried desperately to hold onto my “C” average in the class.

When I went back to college for the second time, I felt relieved that I didn’t have to take any history classes but it was Algebra that kicked my ass. I tried to focus on what the teacher was saying, kept studious notes and even stayed after class to discuss my problem areas with the course. But after everything, I eventually dropped the class when my grade average continued to hover in the upper 40s.

I went back to the same Algebra class during the second semester with a different teacher and everything seemed to make sense suddenly. I aced the course and went on to do the same with Geometry, Trigonometry and Calculus. I scored an “A” in all but Calculus, missing the grade by a few points and landing with a high “B”; a result of skipping one too many classes with Brad to go shoot pool, drink Pepsi and eat hot dogs at one of the local bars. Remember I had already survived alcoholism once and I wasn’t about to open that door again.

I also purchased a Word Processor and took a creative writing course where the teacher asked the class to write a number of short stories and one of my most memorable involved a poverty stricken plumber and his abusive wife. The couple lived in a shithole of a trailer and the wife was resentful and relentless with her constant badgering and insults. The plumber was driving home one day in the pouring rain and I went into great detail of the wipers scraping across the windshield of his car and the squeal of the brakes every time he slowed down. I wish I still had an original copy of the story but my final sentence in one of the paragraphs read somewhere along the line of, “With the scrapes of worn metal across scarred glass and the sound of his tires rolling across the mud soaked gravel of his driveway, John sighed knowing the hell that awaited him before the car came to a stop with the squeal of that one final break.”

I intentionally misspelled the word “brake” because that final squeal wasn’t from the car but from John’s sanity. He went into the trailer where his wife was waiting just as he expected, dressed in a robe, wearing curlers and holding a beer in her hand. He had already suffered a long day with a pipe that refused to give and the wife immediately began belittling him and complaining of his getting the floor wet as he walked through the screen door.

Without thinking, he pulled the large red pipe wrench from his tool belt and swung it cracking her head open. She fell to the floor and uttered his name but he continued swinging with the spatters of blood coating the room, covering the floor and seeping into his rain soaked clothes until there was nothing left of her face but a pulpy mass consisting of bloodied flesh and crushed bones.

After realizing what he had done, John dropped the wrench to the floor and began sobbing. He wasn’t crying because he killed his wife but because he had allowed his life to get to that point. Having her lay quiet before him gave John a newfound peace and he realized that he needed to get rid of the evidence.

He very methodically chopped her body up as if butchering a deer, placed it into some black garbage bags and drove to a lakeside cabin where he and his buddies would sometimes retreat for hunting and fishing. He then carried the bags into the kitchen and put on a large pot of water to boil before placing the body parts inside of it.

John proceeded to make a B.L.T. sandwich and watched Andy Griffith while the meat in the rapidly boiling water separated from bone. After draining the water, he tossed the skeletal remains into a metal barrel that had been used for burning trash. He lit a fire and blackened the bones, drying them completely before throwing them into a wood chipper and collecting the fragments which would be taken out to the middle of the lake and scattered across the water.

With the meat fully cooked, tenderized and cooled, John seasoned it with salt. I used salt as a reference to pouring salt in the wounds; something that John had experienced many times through his wife’s abuse. And after flavoring the meat, John tossed it into the yard where a pack of wild dogs were waiting. He watched as the dogs choked down their dinner and gained a certain sense of satisfaction knowing that his wife was actually going to be the piece of shit that she insisted he had been for all their years together.

On the drive back home, the skies had cleared up and the sun came out. I finished the story by detailing how peaceful John felt and mentioned that the squeal of the brakes was gone. I left it up to the reader to decide whether the squeal was ever actually there or if the sounds that John had heard were all in his head the whole time.

It is also worth mentioning that the story was significantly more graphic than what I have written above and as with any of our short stories in that class, copies had to be made and passed out to all the other students for them to read and critique. Some of the people in my class felt it was too graphic saying that they had to skip over some of the more visceral parts or were unable to finish reading it. Others, including my teacher, said that they loved the amount of detail I poured into the story. I accepted both reactions and responses as a compliment but one opinion that I wanted to hear most was that of a local preacher that attended the class. I suspected that he wasn’t accustomed to reading such violent content but his only real statement was to say that, “It was very interesting.”

Now interesting… That is an interesting word! It could have meant that he thoroughly enjoyed my story having something new to experience. Or giving him a glimpse into my psyche made him question how mentally deranged I, or for that matter, all mankind could really be.

In the end, I was very pleased with myself and the story I had written. I felt that Clive Barker, John Carpenter or Stephen King would have enjoyed the work as well. Now that I have written this entry, I am curious as to where the original printed copy might be stored. I may eventually look for it or rewrite an updated version just to have a copy on hand since the Word Processor only accepted 3.5” diskettes.

Between Angels and Insects — Our First Apartment

Cockroach

Madison’s mother and father began having problems with their marriage and the two of us decided to move into our own place despite the recent loss of vision in my right eye and my being unemployed. We took our daughter and moved into a low rent apartment using Madison’s Administrative Assistant income to escape her family members who were choosing sides and becoming increasingly antagonistic and argumentative with each other.

The apartment really didn’t have much to offer being a two-story design with linoleum covering the floors throughout. The lower floor consisted of the living room, a half bath, kitchen and dining area. The upper floor had two bedrooms and a full bath. It certainly wasn’t much to look at but it gave me some memories that I would carry with me for a lifetime. What follows are a collection of those memories from different points in time while living in the apartment.

One of the worst aspects of the apartment was the cockroaches. They were everywhere despite our keeping a clean house and filling it with roach traps, we couldn’t get rid of them. In the daytime we would see a handful around the apartment but at night, when we turned on the light, we would see them all over the floors and walls, scrambling to get back into the darkness. The apartment manager contracted an extermination company that would come in every six months and fog the entire complex in an attempt to kill the pests. We would have to make sure that we had all of our dinnerware and cookware covered in plastic bags with the cabinet doors left open before the exterminator arrived. We were then ordered to leave the apartment and not return for at least eight hours. After waiting out the time and returning home, we would open the door to still find the fog lingering in the air and the roaches walking through it seemingly unfazed by its presence. We caught the exterminator on his way out once and he complimented us on keeping the place so tidy but warned that as long as we lived next to “that man” pointing at our neighbor’s apartment, we would never get rid of the roaches.

Another memory I have is from a cookout I hosted. It wasn’t anything fancy, just some burgers and hot dogs on a rear patio grill with a few friends. I was cooking and talking with two of the guys outside when we were approached by a group of five children roughly ranging from 8 to 12-years in age. I had never seen the kids before and had no prior acquaintances with any of them but they were there because they smelled the grill and wanted something to eat. Madison and I had six friends at the gathering and I might have been able to stretch the 8-pack of hot dogs and the pound of hamburger meat to give the kids something but I instead instructed them to go home and tell their parents they were hungry. It wasn’t one of my better moments but I’ll never forget the look on those kids faces when I refused their request and sent them on their way.

And then there are the memories of our pets, which we weren’t supposed to have in the apartment to begin with. Madison brought home three kittens from work one night; two sisters and a brother that were found on one of the shipping trucks from Mexico. They were just a little bigger than the palm of my hand and their eyes were open. One of the sisters was a short haired calico and the other was black with long hair. The brother was orange with pale striping. I noticed that the black kitten was having some trouble breathing but I thought it was just my imagination and we went to bed. When we got up the next morning, the black kitten was soaked in sweat and the fur was matted to it. We rushed it to the veterinarian who told us that it had inhaled some fibers that had become embedded in its lungs and our only option was to put it to sleep. I hated that option and protested the decision but when all was said and done, we were left with just the two kittens. We named the calico Callie and the orange kitten Turd; more of an informal nickname for him actually because Madison was always calling him a Turd when he got into something that he wasn’t supposed to like shimmying up the drapes and hanging from the curtain rod.

Madison also had another cat that I met the first time I went to her house. He was also an orange tabby and we just called him Friend because I was sitting on Madison’s front porch when he approached for some petting and she said something along the lines of, “Looks like you’ve found a new friend.” When we moved to the apartment, we left Friend at her parent’s house and later found him there severely malnourished and sick with diarrhea. As it turned out, Friend had contracted the mange and Madison’s father, with all of his redneck wisdom decided to treat the poor animal by pouring motor oil over its skin and rubbing it in to kill the mites. What the idiot failed to realize was that motor oil contains both arsenic and lead and subsequently poisoned the cat. We brought Friend to the apartment and bathed him, washing away as much of the oil stain as I could using a pet shampoo. I sat on the bathroom floor with Friend until I couldn’t stay awake any longer and went to bed. We found him dead the next morning and I my dislike of rednecks grew even deeper. I wanted to rip Madison’s father apart with the outrage ignited by his ignorance.

Not all the memories from the apartment were bad however.

I had just woken up one Saturday morning and Madison handed me our daughter while I was still in bed. I sat up holding my daughter in front of me and began playing patty cake with her. She was only a year old at the time and didn’t know how the game was played so I held her hands in mine and sang the song while she laughed at her silly daddy. I was so focused on my daughter that I didn’t notice Madison walk out of the room until she came back in and said, “Say cheese” while pointing the VHS video camera at us.

At one point, I bought my daughter a Bumble Ball and she was absolutely terrified of it. Every time we turned it on and it began bouncing around, my daughter would start screaming until we turned it off and calmed her down. Eventually the toy was donated to charity with the hope that another child would gain more enjoyment from it.

After my daughter turned two, she went through a phase of never wanting to sleep. We had never had any problems with her sleeping before but it suddenly became a chore to get her in bed. One night I had the brilliant idea of allowing her to stay up as late as she wanted in hopes of her tiring herself out but when I got up around 4:00am, I found her in her room still wide awake. She had pulled every single toy she had out of her toy box and was lying inside of it with her feet poking out over the edge. I very quietly entered the room and peered over the edge of the toy box to find her staring back at me, wide eyed and sipping on a milk bottle completely content with the situation. I could swear she had a mischievous grin on her face when she realized that she had been caught.

I had forgotten all about that night when I wrote The Cats in the Cradle entry but I am getting ahead of myself again because there was a lot going on outside of the apartment as well. I will have to backtrack again when I write about that next time.

 

Blurry — The Loss of Vision in My Right Eye

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It was 1987 when I first experienced problems with my vision. It started as floaters in my left eye and then my right followed by a multitude of laser surgeries in both eyes to cauterize the broken blood vessels. It is a condition known as Diabetic Retinopathy and by 1994, my surgical expenses had surpassed six figures.

It was fairly early in 1994 when I noticed a change of vision in my right eye. It was different from before where instead of having droplets of blood suspended in the vitreous, there was a wavering that made still objects appear to move slightly.

My Ophthalmologist informed me that I had a partially detached retina and recommended Pneumatic Retinopexy, a new surgery where a dissolving gas bubble would be placed into my eye and hold the retina in place while it healed.

I would be required to keep my head down for a month after the surgery. This included sleeping on my stomach with my head placed inside of a foam donut and staring at the floor whenever I walked anywhere. My right eye would be covered in gauze that had a perforated metal shield over it and everything would be held in place by medical tape that stretched from the side of my face onto my forehead. With Madison’s help, I was to change the bandages out daily, wash the eyelid and area around it with a washcloth soaked in warm water making sure to keep my eye closed at all times.

I agreed to the procedure, gave up my position at Goody’s and followed the strict instructions as ordered. Unfortunately after the month had passed and the bubble dissolved, it was discovered that the retina did not heal properly due to scar tissue pulling it out of shape, creating a buckle beneath it where it was supposed to lay flat. Having the buckle distorted everything that I attempted to look at and disrupted the filtration of light around the edges of my field of view that made objects not only appear distorted but shadowed and blurred as well. I have modified the image above to simulate the effect.

The Ophthalmologist said that he could try and repair the damage by removing the excess scar tissue but it was extremely risky due to its close proximity to the retina. In attempting to do so, there was a high percentage chance of creating more scar tissue or blinding me completely in that eye.

I still had my left eye which had been stable for at least two years with near 20/20 vision and opted against the second surgery. The only letters I could read on the chart were the large “E” at the top and with some effort, the two slightly smaller letters just beneath it scoring marginally better than a 20/200 on the vision chart.

I was informed that this was the best I could ever hope for in the right eye from that point forward. The Ophthalmologist shifted his focus from repairing the eye to simply keeping it from getting worse. He would fail in his endeavor and for all intents and purposes, the vision in my right eye was gone.

 

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