Thursday, May 23, 2013

Eleventh Summer Loss

“Tell me Mark”, the doctor interrupted.  “You say that you wonder if John will turn out like all of the male friends in your life that always left.  Tell us about those friends.”

I looked around the room at the nine men sitting in a large circle in the small room on the second floor of an office park on the west edge of the city.  The faces had become familiar over the past couple of months as we met here each Thursday as a part of a court mandated treatment program.   My eyes turned to my right where the doctor sat, holding his yellow legal pad, occasionally writing something down.

As I reflected on his question, I could feel my chest start to tighten.   Friends?  Had I really ever had any?  I’d had a lot of professional acquaintances over the past 30 years, but none that I would call “friend”.  My mind started to search the deeper recesses of my memory.  I could feel the heat of the tears even before I could feel them start to leak from the corner of my eyes.

“I guess I could say that I some guys that I would say were friends when I was in grade school.”  The vision of my two first real friends came to my mind.  Mike and Dennis.  We had started grade school together and had the same teachers from first through fourth grade.  I’m not sure what made us such close friends. 

We had very little in common.  Mike was a little kid, smaller than the rest of us.  Dennis was tall and lanky.  We did everything together at the Old Farmin Elementary School.    None of us was exceptionally athletic or gifted at playing the ball games going on out on the play fields and would walk around the field just talking or laughing.  Sometimes, we’d go chase the girls and I’d laugh even more because Mike and Dennis were so slow.  I remembered those days fondly as I sat there reminiscing.  But things change.

“I was really close to a couple of boys when I was in grade school, but it didn’t last”, I continued.  “We did everything together for four years, but Mike’s family moved between our fourth and fifth grade year.”

The new school.  More tears leaking from my eyes.  Change and loss.   The summer after the best school year of my life with Mrs. Walters became the worst summer of my life.  Mike’s dad got a job in a Montana.  I had spent a day fishing with him and his dad that summer.  He was a quiet kid with a big round face and a smile that was infectious.  I don’t remember even getting to say “good-bye”.  He just wasn’t there when school started in the fall.

It was the summer that started with my first ever “birthday party” for a school mate.  And it was a girl.  A girl that I really liked.  One of the girls we chased in grade school. My first crush.  An awkward, painful afternoon.  A movie date at a matinee at the Panida Theater.  More awkwardness.  Embarrassment.  Fear.  Rejection.    

It was the summer that I did “those” things for the neighbor boy for a handful of candy.  Redhots.  Under the big Cedar tree out in the woods.  Others watching.  Shame.  Pleasure?  Confusion.  Definitely changed.

“We moved to a new school for the fifth grade and all of the classes were mixed up.  Mike was gone and Dennis wasn’t in any of my classes.  At the first of the year, we tried to get together at recess but our lunches were at different times.  He got new friends and I guess I didn’t.  I kind of pulled into a shell.  Nothing seemed to be the same and I think I was just kind of lost.  I just felt different and didn’t fit in with any of the other groups.”

I paused and looked around the room.   Eighteen eyes watching me.  Eyes of compassion?  Eyes of men who had a shared experience? 

“Were Mike and Dennis the only ones?” the doctor asked.

The tears started flowing.  “No.  There was Cliff.”

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Final Walk

I could feel her moving while I was in that comfort-place between sleep and wakefulness.  She made her way over the top of the comforter and lay on the pillow beside my head.  Her warm breath and moist tongue were soon working on my ear.  It had become her way of saying, “hey you…human person.  I gotta go pee”.

I opened my eyes and reached up and took Suzie in my arms and laid her on my belly.  Her eyes sparkled and her tongue reached out and licked my forehead.  I lay there, watching her for a few moments before getting out of bed and putting some clothes.  I put her leash on and walked to the door as I wiped the sleep out of my eyes.  She was on her hind legs, waving at the door with her paws by the time I opened it and I walked her to the back yard so she could take care of her business.

Suzie started up the concrete walk and when she reached the end of her leash, she turned and looked at me…and then back up to the gate that led to the street.  I usually just allowed her to go to the bathroom in the back yard unless I was planning on taking her for a walk, which wasn’t my plan when I left the house.  She gave a gentle pull on the leash and looked at me again.  If her eyes could talk, she definitely would have been saying something like, “come on, let’s go for a real walk…please!!!”  I looked to the sky as she turned back and stared at the gate.

With a smile on my face, I started walking and headed for the gate by the garage with Suzie at a quick trot in front of me.  She was already pushing on the gate with her front paws by the time I reached it.  I opened it and we headed out on to the street for a morning walk…our LAST morning walk.  Mary and Adam had been offered a job in Las Vegas and they were leaving first thing in the morning so this would be our last day together. 

We started walking north up the quiet street…Suzie taking off at a run until she reached the end of the leash held by someone who was out for a leisurely walk.  Then it would be her walking on her hind legs pulling on the taut leash line.  I’d give a gentle tug and she would fall back to all fours and continue her adventure, stopping every now and then to sniff at the marks of the dogs and cats who had gone before her.  She would occasionally turn and run back my direction but she rarely made it that far.  Some sound, or color or smell would grab her attention and off she would pull in a different direction.

The half-mile loop had become a regular walking route for us during our time together.  What had originally been planned as a 3 month dog-sitting adventure for my niece and her husband had turned into 7 months while they looked for a new job.  The extension hadn’t bothered me much…Suzie was pretty easy to fall in love with (most of the time). 

We took our walk around the loop with a half dozen stops so Suzie could leave her mark on top of those that she found.  She zig-zagged back and forth, going from one side of the street to the other.  An early riser getting the newspaper out of her paper box brought a few sharp barks from her and a smile from the 50-something lady in her long terry cloth robe. 

As we rounded the last corner, Suzie stopped to get a quick drink from a small puddle that had accumulated some rain from over night.  A quick tug pulled her away and we started down the last stretch toward the house.  We approached the driveway and she instinctively turned and walked down toward the gate and waited, her little tongue hanging out.  As I turned to close the gate as we walked through, I looked  back at the street and smiled…thankful for one final walk with Suzie. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013


The parking lot is empty as it often is when I arrive.  Unlocking the door, the silence is broken by the beeping of the alarm system.  Number punched into the keypad and entered, I walk down the hallway and make the right turn down to my office.  I’m the first one here…it seems I always am.  I go to my desk and turn on the computer.  It’s become the ritual.  The computer always comes first.

I walk down the short hallway to the little kitchen and start the coffee.  My shoes echo off the tiled floor as I turn and hurriedly walk back to my office.  Sitting down, I click the icon for Explorer and wait for the window to open.  The machine working too slow.  Turning in my swivel office chair...waiting.  Finally it opens and I move the cursor to the navigation pane and quickly  type the url for my Yahoo account.  It’s there!  A message from John.

I can feel my heart rate quicken.  My hands are almost shaking as I open the message.  It had only been a day since I’d spent so many hours in his little chat room, just the two of us.  I’d attended the final half-day of the conference.  It has been a quick wrap up and very little of what had been discussed culminating round tables had been absorbed into my memory banks.  My mind was still in that room talking in a way I’d never experienced before.  Talking with a freedom…talking without fear of condemnation for the secrets thoughts I’d kept in the closets of my mind for so many years.

A smile crosses my face as I read his short message. 

hey dude
was awesome chatting last nite, we gotta do it again soon.  seems like we have so much in common  i’ll be on later tonite, hope we can hook up  the room will be called the same

love ya bro

I stared at the words on the screen, reading them over and over.  He enjoyed talking to me as much as I did.  My mind wonders what it is that he thinks we have so much in common about.  Remembering our chat, he had been so easy to talk to.  That was uncommon for me.   While very comfortable speaking publicly or to larger groups, talking one-on-one has always been difficult.  I’d become a great listener but never shared a great deal about me.  My small  talk strategy was to use questions to keep them talking and reply to questions with short answers.  But that night was different.  The words seemed to be able to flow endlessly off my fingertips. 

As I kept reading again, my heart began racing when I realized that he wanted to chat again tonight.  But wait, his “tonite” was actually my “last night”.  He’d written me the email yesterday afternoon while I was driving home from the conference with my wife Paula.  We’d spent the hour and half talking about her family and the wheat harvest that was taking place in the central desert.  She asked about the conference and I told her how good it was…how great the speakers were and how much our district team had accomplished.  It was late afternoon by the time we got home and unloaded the Jeep so I didn’t go back to the office. 

I started to panic!  He had wanted to chat last night…expected to chat last night.  I wasn’t there.  I could feel the knot growing in my stomach.  I’d let him down, this new friend that seemed to like me.  Me.  How long had he waited?  Would he be there next time?  Should I go and check right now to see if the chat room is there?  No…it’s almost 7:00.  What would I tell him?  Will John turn out like all of the other guys that have been friends in my life that always left?

I hit the reply button and wrote him a short message back.


I’m sorry I wasn’t able to get to your chat room last night.  I REALLY wanted to, but I was kind of in a little trouble at home.  Actually, it’s probably not going to be very easy for me to chat that much.  I really want to keep talking to you though.

I’ll try to look for you later.


The sound of voices in the kitchen interrupted my thoughts.  My day was about to get started.  I hit the sent button and closed the Yahoo account…and began to wait.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


I closed the top of the laptop and rubbed my eyes.  Rays of sunlight were peeking through the crease in the heavy fabric drapes that covered the windows.  I could hear the sound of water as it cascaded through the pipes on the walls from the room upstairs as some unknown face was taking a shower.  The faintly familiar sounds of a TV in the next room invaded my thoughts.  A glance at the night stand and my heart skipped a beat.  6:47.  Could it be right?  I reached over and picked up the watch that my wife had bought for me earlier that summer on a weekend get away to Spokane.  A gift to congratulate me for my new job.  The big hand moving toward the number ten.  Where had the time gone?

I got up off the bed, my back sore from the awkward position that I’d spent the night in.  Looking at the bed, the pillows propped against the headboard so I could see the screen on the computer as my fingers had danced on the keyboard for…how long had it been?  Eight hours? Nine?  Ten?  I rolled my neck to break down the kinks as I slowly walked to the bathroom.  The razor scratched across the day’s growth as I went through the morning ritual.  The blade gliding across skin, carried by a hand moving only by memory.  Eyes looking in the mirror, but not seeing.  A mind remembering, not the contours of my face but of three hours that had passed by far too quickly.

Awkward introductions.

yea, i live in ga…it kinda sucks here
I’ve never been to the Southeast.  I think it would be cool to live there.
lol?  What does that mean?
ur kiddin, rite?  laugh out loud  it means ur funny
Oh, ok.  I’m sorry.  This is just all new to me. You’re the first person I’ve ever chatted with.
its kewl  so where u from
I live inwhat do I tell him? Where I really live…or can I?  The words hanging on my screen.  Seattle, in Washington State.  A small lie.  I do live in Washington State.
kewl…with that space needle, rite?
Yeah, I’ve been up in it a few times.  You can see forever.
damm id probly puke  I don’t like hights
I’m kind of afraid of heights, too.  It’s true, but it’s not something that I’ve ever admitted before.  It was so easy to tell this boy that I’d never met…actually didn’t even know existed an hour ago.
yea when I was little my older asshole brother dared me clim up on the roof of the house with him an when I was up there he grabbed my arm and pretended to push me off but held me.  i thought i was gonna die its like i coudnt even breath for a few minutes  i h8d him for at least a week  lol
Dude, you’re kidding?  Dude?  Did I actually just call him that? That’s terrible.  He could have accidently let go.  Did you scream or cry or anything?
lol yea  i thought  was gonna pee my pants tbh
Lol.  Yeah, I bet.  I probably would have too?   Tbh?  My mind scrambled.  What could it mean?  I hated feeling ignorant…of not understanding what he was saying. 
yea dude?
I feel kind of stupid for asking, but what does tbh mean?
rofl  ur kiddin rite?
I could feel my face flush, the heat from the blood rushing to the skin.  I’d felt that same heat many times before.  The embarrassment of feeling stupid or different.  A part of me…a huge part of me wanted to slam the laptop closed and throw it across the room.  But there was something in the way the words hung on the screen.  Maybe because I couldn’t hear them…I couldn’t hear an intonation, the heat receded.
I’m sorry, John.  I’m not kidding.  I’ve never seen “tbh” before, or “rofl” either. 
its kewl rofl means roll on the floor laughing.  its like its super funny
OK, that makes sense.
tbh means to be honest
Thanks.  Looks like I’ve got a lot to learn.
lol, but its kewl.  Ill teach u J
hey dude, i gtg  its almost 10 here
lol got to go do u have email so we can chat some more
He wants my e-mail address.  He wants to talk to me again.  I couldn’t give him my AOL e-mail address.  I quickly opened a new webpage and went to Yahoo.  I filled in the text boxes, making up the person as I went.  Name: Josh Tyler  Date of Birth:  March 6, 1985.  I created a password and I had an account.
Yeah, do you have one?
We exchanged e-mails and suddenly his name disappeared from the chat room.  I was alone.  A sadness washed over me.  I felt alone. 

I reached out and turned off the water.  The spray from the shower subsided…water dripping off my hand as I reached for the towel, my mind still thinking about the night in the chat room with John.  Three letters rolling over and over.  “tbh”.   What had I done?

Thursday, May 2, 2013


The green glare of the laptop monitor illuminated my features in the dark room, my hand moving the cursor to the next link…and then the next and then the next.  It was my last night alone in the hotel room.  A deep panic seemed to be welling up inside me driving me on, but everywhere the next link took seemed to be as empty as the webpage I’d just left.  More emptiness.  More images.  Time passing…the night dark night hours slipping away.  An inner voice screaming that it’s there, keep searching.

I don’t know when the voices started…in fact I’m pretty sure that even though they were there, I don’t think that I audibly heard them until only recently.  Before that, I would have simply defined them as a desire, or a want…or in some cases, a strong need that I couldn’t explain.  For years, the voices led me down a dark, twisted road.  I didn’t really think about where it was leading me because the voices wouldn’t let me look up or forward.  They would just keep drawing me to the places where they wanted me.  It was a place of blindness and self-centeredness.  The voices were like the blinders on a yoke of oxen or a team of workhorses…only allowing me to see where I was being led.  There would be too much danger to the author of the voice if I looked around to see where I was.

There was another voice too.  Always there, never screaming.  Always there, at times in soft and gentle whispers.  Always there, even in my deafness.   Always there, often not heard…only felt intuitively.  Always there…always there.

I was ready to give up.  I had to be up at 6:30 and the red glow of the hotel alarm clock numbers was getting ready to push into the 2:00 hour.  I clicked one more link and suddenly my laptop froze.  I laid on my bed waiting, fighting the need to see what was on the page that seemed frozen in time and an inner awareness that it wasn’t what I was looking for…that it wasn’t going bring satiation.

I pressed the power button for five seconds until I could hear the laptop turn off, the screen giving me a faint wink.  I started to fold the top down but suddenly had an urge to try just one more time.  I rubbed my eyes and once again pressed the power button and waited.  Subconsciously,  I moved the cursor to the AOL icon and waited for the phone line modem to engage and entered my password, waiting for the home page to appear.

As I got ready to enter a familiar URL into the navigation bar that would take me back to the images, a banner on the AOL seemed to jump out at me.  “Find New Friends With The Click Of Your Mouse!  Explore AOL Chat.”  I’d never been to a chat room and didn’t really know what could be there.  Earlier in the summer while spending a couple of weeks at my brother’s beach house, our teenage son had spent hours chatting with girls he’d somehow met in these chat rooms. 

I wasn’t looking for girls, I was married to the most incredible woman I had ever known.  A voice screaming, “let’s go there!”  I clicked the mouse on the banner and the screen filled with lists of rooms…every topic you could think of.  I scanned the list, wondering why I was here.  Sports. Cars. Food. Religion. Relationships. Politics.  The list seemed endless.  I kept moving down the list and one seemed to call out to me.  “Teens”.  I clicked the link and the page filled with more lists, these with names that were more descriptive.  “Holly’s gf’s”, “the boys room”, “gamers”, “bff”, “gurls who like gurls”, “14yo”.  The list seemed endless, almost in a foreign language.  I would randomly click one and another list would appear with even stranger language…most of them a series of numbers and letters.  I clicked on that read “15m/ga”.  

A small window opened asking for my screen name.  Screen name?  I began to type my name into the small rectangle…and then stopped.  “I” can’t be here, I thought.  My mind started to scramble…thinking.  After a few seconds,  I entered “Josh” into the small window and a different type of window opened on the laptop screen. 

The window seemed to have three parts.  On the right was a vertical box with a couple of entries.  “15m/ga” and “txboy”.  To the left was a larger square with lines of text appearing, and apparent conversation between these two.  At the bottom, a long, slender rectangle with the cursor bar blinking. 

I lay there for a few moments, watching the chat between the two teen boys.  A line caught my attention.  “hey josh, asl?”  I stared at the words.  Someone had sent me a message.  My fingers moved to the keyboard. Tap tap tap. “Hey”.  I watched the screen and once again the same question “josh, asl?”   ASL?  What’s that supposed to mean?  My mind searched for something in my memory that could answer the question.  Suddenly, a message popped on the screen.  “You have been booted by 15m/ga” and the text window disappeared. 

I found myself back at the top of the previous screen of descriptive names…at the top.   I started to search back down the list.  “What was the name of the room?” the voice screamed!  My fatigued mind tried to work, the time bar at the bottom of the page reading 3:24 AM.  I clicked on a couple of rooms that sounded familiar, but it wasn’t the same.  I finally found it.  "15m/ga".  I clicked and entered the room.  The same two names on the side bar.  “Hi”.  Once again the message popped on my screen, “You have been booted by 15m/ga”. 

I could feel something building inside me.  A mixture of anger and pain.  "What had I done wrong?  Why does this teen keep kicking me out."  Once again I scrolled down the page until I found his chat room.  They didn’t seem to pay any attention to me as they entered their chat conversation.  Finally, I asked the question.  “Why do you keep booting me?”  No answer.  Was I being ignored?  Finally, the one called 15m/ga typed,

“whats your asl?” 
“What’s asl?” I typed back.
 “age sex location”

I lay there, thinking.  How do I answer this?  This is a teen room.  I’m 44 years old.  I looked at his name.

“15m/Washington state”   The words came off my fingers more easily than they should.
“kewl josh.  welcome to my room.  im john”

For the next several minutes I watched the screen, mesmerized by the conversation taking place between the John and “txboy”.  They didn’t send me any messages and I didn’t know what to say so I just watched.  Words on a page.  No images.  The minutes passed.  After a while, “txboy” disappeared from the sidebar.

“hey josh”
“Hi.  I’ve never been in a chat room before.  Sorry, this is all kind of new to me.”
“that’s kewl  newbies are welcom”
“so do you like guys too?”

I sat there, staring at the screen.  My mind suddenly numb.  I’d never heard that question…at least not audibly.  My fingers went back to the keyboard.  Poised but not moving.  The room seemed to close in on me.  Suddenly, it felt as if my veins were being filled with ice water, my body shaking as I lay on the bed…my fingers moving.  Tap tap tap.

“Yea, I think about them sometimes.”
“kewl josh, so do I”