A Den of Secrets and Lost Family

A morning making lunch for someone.  Well, technically it’s breakfast food, but why not?  French toast is a perfectly good food for lunch.  Especially when I wrap it around maple breakfast sausage links.  Not healthy, but we had just come back from a run.  My young companion’s time was terrible, but she’s just starting.  While she has taken to swimming and is even starting to keep pace with me when I take my own turns and challenge her to a race (kiddo can’t resist it.  Too easy, and I push her to her limits), running was much harder for her.  Steps toward improving her health, and subsequently making her ready if she still has this idea of becoming a pilot when she graduates.  I’m still skeptical, but she is so eager to learn about the Navy that I can’t help but think at least part of her is on the level.
“Can we finish the tree today?”
Looking up from my stove, I nodded.  “Aye.  Might as well.  Don’t like leaving a task half-done.”
“Definitely!”  All warmth and sunshine, this one.  At least she was now.  As I understood it from John, over the years she’s gotten progressively more depressed.  He tried to help, but she wouldn’t talk to him and he had his own obligations.  Ever since we started hanging out, her mood had gotten progressively better.  The obvious assumption was that she was lonely and now she had a friend that she could hang with regularly.  However, I couldn’t help but notice that things have really been improving with all the training.  Perhaps she also needed something to work toward.  It’s a great motivator.  Whatever the case, I was glad that my time with her was helping.  Purpose for me too.
Which led to the Christmas tree.  Had kind of left things in shambles because of the fight with Bethke, but that was fine.  It was salvageable.  Rain was pouring outside, so this was kind of a cozy little Christmas decorating party.  It was fun.  I haven’t enjoyed decorating a tree since I was a little kid.  Two lifetimes ago, it felt like.

“Awww, come on mom!  We can get the boxes out at least.  Then it’ll be ready for when we do want to put the Christmas stuff up!”
Mom just rolled her eyes.  “Oh, I know you better than that.  We get those boxes out, and then it’ll be ‘why don’t we put up the Nativity?  That’s easy, right?’  Then it’ll be.  ‘Well, we did that, so let’s do this box!  What’s one more?’  Then, a few hours later, you’ll be wanting to do the tree.”
I pouted.  “I will not!”
Big sis looked over, shaking her head.  “Yeah, you will, QQ.  We know you better than that.”
Sitting down in my chair, I crossed my arms.  “You all are Grinches…”
Daddy always played that he didn’t love Christmas as much as the rest of us, but we all knew he did.  It was his favorite time of year, and when the tree was up, he would sit in his chair and watch the lights for hours, or while he was watching the evening news.  I looked over at him and could see him already cracking.
“Oh honey, I don’t see the problem with getting out a few boxes.  Will save us time later.”
Mom gave me a mean look, then sighed.  “You two are in cahoots, I swear.”
Couldn’t quit the smile from my face.  “Dad says it’s fine, so can we?!”
“Fine!  I swear, today is just gonna be about decorating the tree.  You two are awful.”
We gave each other a look.  Mission accomplished!  Wouldn’t let these Grinches keep us from getting into the Christmas spirit.

After getting the rest of the garland up, we decided to turn on the lights.  As good a time as any, right?  It was gorgeous!  I had gone a little overboard, because I remembered how much I loved the lights.  It was my favorite part.  So glad we had a fake tree.  Kept us from having to worry about watering it if I was on contract.  And we didn’t get a pre-lit one so I could put actual ornaments on it.  You’re not supposed to put them on the pre-lit ones.  Couldn’t have a tree without ornaments and garland.  Just not right.
My selection of ornaments was lots of shiny things.  I like shiny things because they reflect the lights.  Adds to the effect of the rest of the ensemble.  I could stare at this thing forever.  My companion snuggled up next to me.  Decided it was a good idea to make hot cocoa.  Not that powdered mix garbage.  No, this had milk chocolate melted in milk and heavy cream.  Added a little peppermint vodka to mine.  Just a hint.  Don’t want to get drunk, just get that nice little edge.
Kiddo asked if I could do that for her.
“Hell no!  You’re way too young to be drinking.”
“Oh come on!  It’s not like I haven’t done it before.  Snuck in some wine with my friend Maddie when we were 11.  We spilled it all over her mom’s carpet, tried to hide it with the rug when we couldn’t scrub it out.  We got SO busted.”
I chuckled.  “Well, that should’ve learned you.”
“Whatever.  I refuse to believe you weren’t drinking when you were a teenager.”
More memories came flooding in.

We sat there, leaning against the giant cross at the apse.
“Me first!” she said.
“No fair!  I was the one who had to sneak into Father Michael’s office to get it!” I shot back, grabbing at the bottle.
“But it was my idea, so I drink first!”
I scowled at her.  “You just made that up.”
Winking at me.  “Maybe, but I got the bottle, so-” She stuck out her tongue at me, taking a long drink.
“You gonna finish the whole damn bottle or am I gonna get some too?”
Wiping some that had gone down her chin, she handed it over.   I tipped it back, letting the liquid run down my throat.  I always hated this stuff.  It tasted so bad.  But this was about doing something because we could.  And I might as well get wasted in the process, right?  This was a big bottle, after all.  Plenty for both of us.
Back and forth it went.  She started feeling the effect sooner than I did.  A lot sooner.  But once we were almost done, there was this warm feeling in my head.  A floaty, funny feeling.  Was this getting buzzed?  I could get behind this.
“You were so awesome!” Sara giggled.  “I can’t believe you did this with me!”
Felt good getting praised by Big Sis.  Of course, anywhere she went, I followed.  Had been that way since we were little.  Way I saw it, always would be.
“Thanks.”
Then, a noise!  It was the door to the Father’s office!
“Oh shit!” Sis looked over at me.
“Who’s out there?!  I know somebody’s in here!  Come out now and I won’t call the cops!”
There was nowhere to go.  He was between us and the door.  We were so screwed.  I thought he had gone home!
“What do we do?!” I asked, my hands shaking.
“I don’t know.  I don’t think there’s any way out of this.”
“Dad is gonna be so pissed…”

“Maybe.  But that’s no reason for you to.  God knows, there is enough shit for teenagers to deal with these days.  Not gonna add to that list.”
She pouted, but took the cocoa I gave her.  It was nice to just get to sit here and savor the moment.  Don’t know how much time had passed as we stared at our handiwork.  Enough that we finished our big mugs of cocoa.  Today was an alright day.
“Hey Quinn?”
“What’s up?” I replied, absentmindedly.
“What was Christmas like with your family?  Did you enjoy this with them too?”
Figured we’d get back to the personal stuff eventually.  “Aye.  For a long time, it was.  Every December I would always push mom to do it.  She’d always say it’s too early, but then I’d get Dad to come to my side.  Worked like a charm, every time.  And Big Sis was always in it too.  When we were teenagers, she’d play like she’s too cool to get into Christmas like when were were little, but I knew she’d come around.  It was loads of fun.”
“How did they find out that you were gay?”
Clever girl.  She’d been sitting on that for a while, and now found a family question to segway into it.  Not bad.
“I was outed when I was 15.  Not far from my 16th birthday.  Sweet 16, yeah.  For some girls, maybe.”
My companion laid her head against me.  “Who outed you?”
Was I ready for this?  Part of me didn’t want to, but then I remember opening up to my new friend last time.  How good it felt.  Would it be that way this time?  Might as well find out.
“When I realized that I was gay, there was this girl that I was really into.  She was beautiful, on the volleyball team, so nice.  We got really close and I decided to make the first move.  My bravery was nowhere near the levels it is today.  Nearly threw up on her.  It didn’t go well.  She was totally repulsed and didn’t talk to me again after that.  Then the rumors started.  That I had tried to kiss her and that I was a dyke.  It spread like wildfire.  Everybody was talking about it soon enough.”
She snuggled even closer.  “That’s awful.  How did your parents find out?”
“When the swimming team cut me.  I was so excommunicated among the other girls.  They all kept their distance.  People who had been my friends up til then were now afraid to even look at me.  Guess they thought that my gayness is communicable.  Like a disease.  Might as well have been.  Eventually, the coach came and told me he was cutting me from the team.  I argued with him, but he told me to get out.  That he didn’t want a pervert on his team.  That none of the girls did.  I left crying so hard.  Turns out, he had called my parents too and told them that I was cut from the team, explaining why.  A coach, who I had trusted, violated that to tell my parents all about the rumors.”
“Oh god.  How did they react?”
“I remember the look on Sara’s face when they confronted me…”

“Is this true?!” Mom demanded, looking right at me.
I didn’t say a word.  This was too much for one day.  Way too much.
“I asked you a question!  Is it true?!  Are you a lesbian?!”
Looked over at Sara.  She wouldn’t look at me.  It was just like the rest of the swim team.  Just like every girl at school.  Mom being angry at me was nothing different than always, but Sara not even being able to look at me.  My heart was smashed and crushed and destroyed.  Tears were flowing down my face.
“I asked you a fucking question, young lady!  Is this true?!”  She was nearly screaming.
“Honey, please, you’re scaring her!”  Dad was trying to be on my side, but I could tell he was unnerved too.
“I will not have a sodomite living in my house, Michael!  I won’t!”
“Now sweetie, that’s too far.”  He came over to me and put his hand on my shoulder.  “Honey, you can talk to us.  It’s natural to question things when you’re young.  But it’s just a phase you’re going through.”
I looked right at him.  I suddenly had a burning anger inside of me.  “It’s not a phase!  It’s who I am!”
He shook his head.  “You think that now, but trust me, everybody has moments when you’re growing up and you think about that.  It’ll pass.”
Pulled back from his hand on my shoulder.  “What the hell would you know about it?!  You like boys, growing up?!”
Letting out a sigh, he shook his head.  “No.”  A slight pause.  Odd.  Was there more to this story?  “But we all wonder things as we are young.  Everyone’s gone through it, but I promise, you’ll come to see that it was just part of who you are.  I mean, you’ve had a boyfriend, haven’t you?”
It was true.  He’d take my virginity, and I his.  I loved him with all my heart, but it wasn’t the same.  He’s how I realized that I was gay.  Because I knew that as much as I felt for him, it wasn’t the kind of longing I did for Alicia.  He was the first person I told.  We never kept secrets from each other.  I remember how scared I was to tell him the truth, afraid of how he would react.  But he was so nice and supportive.  It was so wonderful.   Told me he wouldn’t tell anyone, because of how the school is, and I believed him.  I know he tried to fight the rumors that were started about me.  Wished he was here now.  I need to be held so much.
“Lulu and I broke up, a few months ago.”
Dad shook his head.  “I see.  Did he know, about this phase you’re going through?”
So much anger inside.  “Stop calling it a fucking phase!  I know who I am!  I’m gay, alright!  Can’t bear to say it?!”
“Language, young lady!” Dad got more stern.  I could tell that I was turning him against me too.
Mom stepped back over.  “Now you listen here.  You’re just a confused girl who is taken in by all this liberal Hollywood.  You’re not gay, and I won’t hear another word about it!  Not if you’re gonna be in my house!  Do you understand?!”
I looked over to where Sara was supposed to be.  She had left.  So she was abandoning me too.  Wanted to break down sobbing.  So much anger and rage and pain and all sorts of negative emotions.  What were my options?  If I let myself be who I am, then I’d be kicked out.  If that happened, where was I supposed to go?  I’d have to lie.  Just suck it up and deal with it for as long as I could.  Until I was 18, and I could get out on my own.  I couldn’t believe that my sister had turned on me too.  What happened to always being together, forever?  When we promised that no matter what, we’d never leave each other?  That happened to that?  More lies, like everything everyone says.
“Whatever.”  That was all I could manage, walking out of the room.  Mom started after me, but Dad stopped her.  More talking about how I just needed time, how the phase would pass.  I hated both of them so much in that moment.  More than I’ve ever hated anybody.

“That’s just awful.  Did any of them come around?”
I shook my head.  “Oh no.  It got so much worse.  Big Sis wouldn’t even look at me.  Ever.  Anytime she was coming out of the shower or something, because we shared the same bathroom, and I was around, she’d immediately move to get as far away from me as she could.  It hurt me so much.  Part of me was like – does she think I’m going to rape her or something?  It was so strange.  She’s my sister.  Just because I’m gay doesn’t mean that I’m gonna try and have sex with every girl there is.  I didn’t understand this at all.”
“What about your parents?”
“Oh boy.  Mom kept setting me up with boy after boy from the church we went to.  Kept saying she’d put the straight back into me.  It was awful.  So many miserable ‘dates’ that I was forced to go on.  Dad would just not talk about it, hoping it would go away.”
“It all must have ended somehow.  You said at Thanksgiving how they disowned you.  What happened?”
As I thought, the more I talked about this and got everything out, the better I felt.
“Their ‘date our daughter until she’s straight’ plan didn’t work, so they figured they would try another approach.  Something very extreme.  And that’s when it all fell apart.”

I looked at the pamphlets in front of me.  Straight camp.  That’s what this had come to.
“Since you won’t repent of your sinful ways, we decided that we have to do something more.  I won’t see our daughter in Hell because you are a sodomite.  So, if you want to keep living in this home, you have to go to this retreat, to help you find yourself with the help of God.”  The look on Mom’s face as she spoke.
I looked at Dad.  “I haven’t said anything about this in months!  You all are the ones making a big deal out of it!  Why do I have to do this?!”
He sighed, but the look on his face showed solidarity.  “Honey, this is for the best.  I know it looks bad now, but trust me, you will thank us for this later.”
The rational part of my brain screamed that what I was about to say was a bad idea, but that part just fell by the wayside.  It was time to end this, permanently.
“I’m not going to this fucking camp!  Okay?  I don’t even believe in your stupid God, so why would I go somewhere that his fake ass is supposed to help me be straight?!  I’ve always thought your religion is bullshit, and I’m not gonna let you all do this to me!”
You know those moments where you knew that you crossed a line?  I could see I had blazed right past it.
“Excuse me?” Dad said.  “You’re not only a dyke, but an atheist?!”
Mom stood up, her face a mask of pure rage.  “Get out!  Get the hell out of our home!  I won’t have a sodomite and a heathen in this home!  Do you hear me?!  I won’t have it!  Get the hell out!”
I stood up.  “Oh, I’ll go.  Just let me grab my shit and you’ll never see me again.”
“It’s our things, young lady!” Dad yelled.  I guess he got past whatever love for family he had.  I remembered how it was the strength of their religious beliefs that brought mom and dad together.  Guess it was coming to bear on me now.
“That’s right, we bought them for you!  You don’t own shit!  Get the hell out of our home!  I never want to see you again!”  By this point Mom was downright hysterical.
Standing there, anger now directing me, it was a moment I would always remember.
“Fuck you!  Fuck you and fuck your fake deity.  Fuck this family and everyone in this shithole house!  I fucking hate you people.”
“Don’t you say another word!” Dad growled.  “Speak one more word about this family and I’ll give you a reason to believe in Jesus.  Maybe some wrath of God would teach you respect, you ungrateful brat.”
Both fingers blazing, I flipped them off.  They were yelling and screaming after me, but I wasn’t even listening.  My ears were ringing.  My head was pounding.  Flaming rage burned inside me.  So that’s how my wonderful family life ends?  So be it.
When I got out the door, I slammed it so hard that I could hear things fall and smash inside.  More screaming from Mom.  Sounded like she had lost her mind.  Tears were running down my face.  I had lost everything, and now I had no idea what to do.

“I can’t believe someone could be that way to their own daughter.  What kind of parent can treat their kid like that?!”  Now she was angry.
“The kind who have Jesus as the steerman on their ship.”  So much residual bitterness, bubbling up to the surface.
“What did you do afterwards?”
“Well, I went to Lulu’s.  Only place I could go.  His parents were super cool.  Told me I could stay there as long as I liked.  Felt so guilty about that.  Living on my best friend’s couch for months.  Eventually I couldn’t do that.  School was falling apart too, so I ditched that.  I dropped out, got my GED, went to work.  Got this tiny apartment from a gay couple who was super cool.  I met them through what small gay community there was in that town.  They made me a rad deal and were understanding of my situation.  Those two guys were the best.  Saw how bad the community treated them too.  Eventually I tried out college, but like I said before, that didn’t take.  Then I joined the Navy.  Made those guys proud when I told them.”
“Jesus Christ.  That’s so horrible.  I’m so sorry, Quinn.”  Another hug from her.  I hugged her back.  As before, it felt really good.
“Thanks, Emily.”
We sat there in silence for a long time.  It was kind of awkward, kind of soft.  A weird feeling, to be sure.
“Did you ever hear anything about your parents again?”
Now it was back into territory I didn’t want to talk about.  “I…kind of did.”
She gave me a look.  “What aren’t you telling me?”
More words I had heard before.

Walked into my home, taking off my boots.  It was late.  Jean had already gone to bed.  Wished I had gotten home sooner.  After all that happened, I needed her.
Went upstairs, stripping off my uniform.  Normally I don’t just throw it around, but today I didn’t care about wrinkles.  Not one damn bit.  Opened the bedroom door and saw her there, soft skin shining in the light.  The two of us always slept naked.  Even when it was cold in the winter, it was a habit.  Fine by me.  Both of us were cuddle-bunnies.  Her back was to me.   Shut the door softly, stripping off the rest of my layers.
Got in bed, putting my arms around her.  Soft skin, soft hair.  I needed this so much right now.
“Mmmm, you’re home.”
“Yeah…”
“How was your day?”
“I’d rather not talk about it.”
She wiggled and turned herself around.  “Why not?  What happened?”
“I really don’t want to get into it right now.”
“No secrets, remember?  We keep enough because of work, so we promised we wouldn’t from each other.  What are you not telling me?”
Tears were running down my face.  “I got a call today, from my sister.”
“One of the girls from Alpha Team?”
“No.  They wouldn’t have to call me.  From back home.  Sara.”
“Oh god.  Wait, how did she get your number?”
“Damned if I know.  But she called, said she wanted to talk to me.”
“About what?”
“Dad’s dying.”
Her grip around me tightened.  “Oh sweetie.  I’m so sorry.”
“She said he wanted me to come home, to see me.”
“What did you say to her?”
The old anger, years passed, bubbling away as if it had never ended.  “I told her to have Jesus talk to him, because he chose his fairytale over me, and that I hope he dies painfully and slowly.  That I hate him and I will never speak to him again.”
No words from her.  Just a gentle kiss, pulling me into her.  Now the tears really started to fall.  Pretty soon, I was that same teenager again, bawling into the arms of my fiance.  Harder and harder, with her just holding me.  I loved this woman so much.

“Not a thing, kiddo.  I’m not hiding anything.”  That was a part of the story that I was content to leave where it lay.  Too much other anger wrapped up inside it.
“Alright.”  She lay back and snuggled with me.  Watching the lights on the tree.  Something inside myself wanted there to be pain, but getting so much out, I knew that I would make this a new Christmas.  At least, I wanted to.  Maybe it would work.  I hope it would.

Until next time, a quote,

“Some old wounds never truly heal, and bleed again at the slightest word.” – George R.R. Martin

Peace out,

Maverick

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Lost Sisters, Old Wounds

Winter saw things decidedly getting quieter in my business.  After being paid a king’s ransom by commoners in Puerto Rico in order to get rid of a cartel boss (those poor saps.  They didn’t seem to realize another one would replace him within days), I had been having a very quiet beginning to December.  As such, my home life was able to resume a very quiet pace.
The cartel job was pretty great.  Most jobs, I have to plan everything down to the smallest detail.  I have to ponder about political fallout, make sure I use weapons that leave no trace, if the goal is to have this be seen as an accident, or to have weapons from an enemy nation if it’s to be seen as a political assassination.  Same deal with poisons.  Use ones that are known to specific regions, so as to confuse investigators.  But cartels are no fuss, no muss.  Sure, it’s a sticky job.  Jungles in Puerto Rico are hot as hell, and humid to no end.  Good way to clean out your pores.  Not even kidding.  Spend some time in a rain forest and your pores will be clean as a whistle.  All the gunk will be sweated out.
Sneaking in through the jungle to their estate.  The guards are so unprofessional.  They all seem to be operating under the assumption whoever is a threat will be coming through the front gate.  They probably aren’t entirely wrong.  Given the rival cartel business, it’s who I would be most worried about.  Face painted and in striped fatigues like the undergrowth.  Thick jungle doesn’t have as much undergrowth as you’d think.  The canopy blocks all light.
Once I got close, climbed the canopy to get a good angle.  Found the perfect one.  Wrapped a rope on the branch.  Since it could support my weight, it would be perfect to rappel down.  Always make sure to have your escape route ready before taking your shot.  The angle was on the guy’s office.  He was in there now, arguing with some of his men.  Looked to be very heated.  Decided to wait.  Had a hunch that it would be better.  I could take him now, but the alarm would be tripped, and I’d rather have a quiet escape.
After a bit, and a green boa constrictor coming to say hello (I like snakes, so that was cool.  Got a pic on my phone), the argument ended and his men left.  The boss was alone in there.
Time to get to work!  Raised my rifle, checked my suppressor, and took aim.  The sunlight was behind me, so I didn’t have to worry about my scope reflecting light.  This was almost too easy.  Guy pulled out a cigar and lit it, sitting back at his desk.  Another day in the life of drug kingpin.  He was bent over his desk, so his head was a small target, but with his back to me, there was lots of room to pick how to kill him.  Wind factor was negligible.  Wind getting through thick jungle is a joke.  It doesn’t happen, period.
Took a deep breath, held it.  The suppressed snap of the gunshot.  I had a specially designed capturing device on the outside of the ejector port to make sure the casing didn’t fall.  I didn’t like to leave a trace.  The rope, I would, but it was the kind you could get at any hardware store.  Not chance of anything being traced back to me.
The bullet zipped through the air, busted through the window.  It blasted right through his backside, ripping it open.  I aimed for where his heart would be.  Hit my mark, too.  He crashed to his desk in an instant, never to rise from it again.  Another person dead, in the endless war of drugs that America keeps going by keeping it illegal.
Sent the text to the person who made the contract, made sure the payment cleared, went home.  Would have sucked if I would have had to make violent retribution on some poor people because they didn’t pay, but they knew the cost of doing business with my company.  Most who make that leap do.  Stories of clients who jewed me on my payments suddenly having misfortunes of their own were whispered among those who wanted to do business with us.

Now, as December began, I was with Emily helping to put up my fake Christmas tree.  I normally wouldn’t have bothered, but she was so adamant about doing so.  Apparently she is all about this holiday.  For me it’s just memories I’m trying to escape, but her optimism was rather infectious.  I couldn’t help but find myself just rolling with it.  If nothing else, it was something to pass the time.  There’s only so long I can stare out at the ocean and think about whether I should do some PT or just take a nap.  Naps are the greatest thing in the world.  So weird how I hated them as a kid, but as an adult I can just do that.  The perks of age.
“You don’t have a star for the top of your tree?”
I shrugged.  “You’re lucky I have lights and ornaments.  Hell, that I have a tree at all.”
She rolled her eyes.  “Well, we are so getting one!  One of those shiny ones with the lights!  Those are pretty.”
I shook my head.  “Sure thing, kiddo.”
“Trust me, it’ll be awesome!  Well, at least you have lights.  And garland!  It’s in pretty blue!  Why’d you pick blue?”
Look down for a moment.  “It’s my favorite color.”
“That makes sense.”  As she was getting out stuff from the box, she looked up.  “Was that the color of the engagement ring?”
Perceptive little one.  “Yeah.  It was a sapphire.”
Her eyes widened.  “A real sapphire?!”
“Aye.  A pretty penny, but worth every cent.”
“Wow.  So, does that mean you were the one who proposed?”
I nodded.  “Aye.”
There was this knowing smile on her face.  “How did that go?”
“As well as I could have hoped…”

It had finally arrived.  I knew it would fit.  Had found out her ring size and made sure the jeweler had gotten it right.  Looking at the ring, it was so incredible.  A sapphire ring, in white gold, with leaf designs around it that had smaller white stones in it.  The stone wasn’t huge, but that was fine.  I was content to just have it be what it was.  Everything inside me told me the time was right.  We’d been living together for a year.  Bought our first house.  My sisters were wondering why she or I hadn’t popped the question by now.  It was just so different.  Looked up all the things about how to propose.
For the first time in forever, my hands were shaking.  I was going to do it this morning, at breakfast.  We both had the weekend off.  Drill weekend for her was last week, so we had all the time in the world.  She talked about us going out to Seward for a couple days, as Monday was a federal holiday.  Told her that sounded awesome.  If this went well, it really would.  Of course, she’d probably nuke the plans after people get told and everyone has to see her.
Getting posted at JBER had been good for her, because her parents and big sister live up here.  For me, it made little difference.  The STARS teams are told to go about their lives until we get a call about a mission.  At least when our team is active, which Alpha was right now.  Things had been quiet.
Told her I’d make us some breakfast.  Waffles sounded nice.  With maple syrup.  None of that weird American syrup that has the consistency of snot.  I don’t get who can like that stuff.  It tastes like sugar.  Raw sugar.  As I made them, I would sometimes put my hand in my Navy hoodie and play with the box the ring came in.  I would do it as we were eating.  That would work, right?
Jean looked up at me, seeing my expression.
“Everything alright, love?”
“Yeah.  Just got some stuff on my mind.”
“Wanna tell me about it?”
“I will, when breakfast is ready.”
Her little smile as she nodded.  I could look at that forever.  “Okay.”

After I got the waffles on a plate, I grabbed the cinnamon butter I made (found a knock-off recipe of the kind that Texas Roadhouse makes.  That shit is delicious!) and syrup, bringing it to the table.
“Oh, thank God.  I’m starving!  That smells so good!”
We dished up and dug in.  Girl was like the wolf.  I was just happy to be here, in this moment.  Stomach going fucking crazy.  Just do it!  Do it now!
“Hey, J?”
“Hm?” she answered distantly, still eating.
Hands shaking uncontrollably.  “So, this is good, right?  Where we are right now?”
She gave me a look.  “Yeah.  Why do you ask?”
Reached into my pocket.  “Well, I was kinda thinking about something.  Been thinking about it for a while now.”
She stopped eating.
“Any chance that you’d like to do this forever?  By being my wife?”
My hands were so out of control I dropped the box on the table.
“Shit!”
Her own hands shook as she grabbed it, slowly opening it.  Eyes were getting misty fast.  When she saw the ring, her hand went over her mouth.
“Oh my god, Quinn.  It’s beautiful.”
“Thanks.  But, I mean…will you marry me?”
Tears were going down her face as she looked over at me.
“Of course I will!  Oh Quinn…”  She was immediately in my arms, holding me, then kissing me.  Both of us started crying and laughing.  It was such a confused, joyful emotion.  I’d never experienced it before in my life.  Still kinda felt like throwing up, but right now I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

Emily had those big doe eyes that women get when they hear stories like this.
“That is so sweet!”
I snorted.  “I was such a nervous wreck for days leading up to that.  Good thing there wasn’t a mission.  I would have been fucked.”
“Screw that.  So, who wore the gown?”
I gave her a look.  “And what makes you think that both of us weren’t in uniform?”
That hard look that only a woman can give.  “One of you did.  I don’t buy for a second that neither of you did.  Not one!”
Letting out a sigh.  “Yeah, she did.  I mean, with how fast her mother was up our ass to plan this out and to make sure her daughter had a beautiful dress, it couldn’t be any other way.”
“What about you?”
“Oh, you won’t catch me DEAD in a dress.  Not today or ever!  Even as a little kid, I hated them.  Made mom mad when I would be wearing jeans and a t-shirt to Mass on Sunday.”
“So you were in uniform?”
“That’s a big affirmative.”
“Did you get one of those cool officer uniforms?”
“Aye.  By that point I was a CW03, so yeah, I got to be looking fly as fuck in a ceremonial dress uniform.”
“Cool.  You have a picture?”
“How did I know you were going to ask.  Yeah, wait one.”  I got up and headed into my bedroom.  The picture was on the dresser.  Looking at it, I smiled.  Felt good to have these muscles working again.
Walking back in, I handed it to her.  There was me in uniform, full dress blue, as it was autumn.  To my left were four of my sisters.  Thinking back to how angry the process of picking them had been, since I knew the others would be pissed.  Right next to me was Rodriguez.  She was my closest hermana, and Best Woman.  Then there was Bethke.  The runt of the litter, I was always a big sister to her.  Then there was Crow, our Blackfoot tribe member.  A woman of few words, but when she spoke you knew she meant it.  Finally, there was Beacham.  Kind of the Mother Hen of our group, I knew I’d have to have her with me as my groomswomen.
“Oh my god.  Her dress is beautiful!” Emily whispered.
“Aye.  It belonged to her mother.  They had some tailoring done to it, and then it became hers.”
It wasn’t extravagant.  White and simple.
“Who’s next to her?”
“Her Maid of Honor, Karen.  That’s her big sis.  Then there was Petty Officer Montgomery.  Those two were close friends on base.  Her friends Nicole and Samantha.”
“I didn’t know she had a sister.  She’s pretty too.”
A little chuckle.  “Oh yeah.  Jean always went on about how her sister was prettier than her.  Not in this jealous sorta way, but always super serious.  She genuinely believed it.  Made me laugh every time.”  Warm memories.

I laughed.  “You keep saying it, but that doesn’t make it true!”
Her indignant face was so adorable.  “But it’s true!  She has always been prettier than me.  Look at this picture of us when we were babies!  Tell me I’m wrong!”
Laughed harder at this.  “You are so ridiculous.”  Leaned in close and kissed her.  “I love that about you.”
Gave me the mean face, but kissed me back.  “You’re just saying that ’cause you’re biased.”
“Well, I mean, if I thought she was gay too, maybe I’d have to reconsider…”  Had that faux-whimsical look on my face.
“Oh that does it!”  And we started wrestling again.  These little moments were great.

Kiddo looked right at me.  “Were you tight with her family?”
The gripping feeling was back, holding tight and not letting go this time.
“That’s one of those things for another day, kiddo.”
She frowned, but nodded.  “Okay.  Promise?”
“Yeah, I promise.”
Looking at me in uniform, she asked who was next to me.  I told her their names and who they were to me.  Crow was always someone I felt I could talk to.  She was the one who helped me pick out the ring.  So few words, but that woman was dead serious, and I always felt like she could balance out my more cocky moments.  When she said something was a bad idea, we listened.  Said she could hear voices in the wind telling her when a course of action was a bad idea.  Given how her gut instinct was always on the money, I never doubted.
“You all look so cool.  I think I would be in uniform too if I was getting married.”
“What if he wants you in the dress?”
“He’ll know that I’m gonna be rocking it in uniform.  He has a problem with it, Navy forever, biotch!”
Both of us laughed.
There was a knock at the door.  We both looked up.
“Hm, wonder who that could be.  Be right back.”
Kiddo got back to the tree as I left.  Guess Christmas was back in the driver’s seat again of today’s interaction.
When I got to the door, I opened it and went pale.
“Bethke!”  Her ginger face hadn’t changed.  Still that same youthful appearance.
In a flash, she took a swing at me.  Training immediately kicked in.  I stepped back, taking proper stance.  CQC with someone who knows what they’re doing.  This could get ugly.  But then I remembered, we had done this before.

Full-contact sparring.  Now this is what we’re talking about!  I loved that they just let us do this.  It’s all highly supervised, of course.  Lt would never let us risk an injury that would jeopardize the mission, but we were allowed to fight it out in a full-contact ring.  Given how tight we get run, Command knew that on a ship, it was good to give space to let us work out stress.  Not to mention, this was a great way to work out grudges amicably.  Something about fucking someone up helped you come to terms with whatever their transgression was.
Which was where Bethke and myself found ourselves now.  Two gingers on a team meant that there was going to be some dust that got kicked up.  We’re too hot-headed for there not to be.  And the runt had been grinding my gears for a while now.  She had youthful anger, but I had stamina.  My shit-kicking years were behind me after I joined the Navy.  She was still working shit out.
I kept my distance, just countering her blows.  Kiddo was trying to use aggressive tactics to overwhelm me.  For a lesser combatant, that would be smart, but I know what I’m doing.  She’d wear herself out quick.  Blocking, deflecting, getting in a couple hits when she left obvious openings.  Soon, she left a big one, and I took it.  Grabbed her arm and used it as leverage to get behind her.  Threw her to the mat and held her there.  Judge called it.  Chief Warrant Officer Beryl was cheering as I stood up.  Since when is she on my side?  Weird.
I helped Bethke up, and we shook hands.  She was breathing hard, but clearly had worked some shit out of her system.  Smiled at me.
“Damn, Pierce, I thought I had you there for a second.”
“Not a day will go by that you’re ever gonna have a leg up on me, Bethke.”
She gave me that rueful look, but it was in good fun.  Bonding between sisters, what better way than kicking each other’s ass?

Our fight took us through the entry way into the kitchen.  Bethke was far more reserved.  She learned from our last bout.  Emily stood up, looking scared.  Had to keep this in the kitchen.  Wasn’t going to risk getting her involved in this.
“Why are you here, Bethke?”
“Lt told us he found you!  Didn’t take me long to track you down when he told us what you said to him.  You’re gonna pay for ditching us!”
“I’m not apologizing for what happened.  I know the choice I made.”
“Fuck you!”  Now she was on me.  This kind of fight was easier.  A fury of trained attacks, trying to get inside my defense.  Reach was what I had on her, since I was a fair bit taller.  If she could get close, it wasn’t great.  Anyone who’s ever seen two people who know how to fight go at it, you can testify that it is impressive to watch.  Most fights are short, since people have limited energy and hitting someone hurts.  But we knew how to be smart, deflect blows carefully and not rely on our fists.
“I’m not the girl you fought last time!  I’ve grown since then!”
Blocking her and pushing her back, I nodded.  “I believe it, Bethke.”
“I don’t need your approval anymore!”
Now the blows were coming really fast.  She knew what the gambit was, and now was going all-or-nothing.  It was hard to keep her back.  I was being pushed out of the kitchen, and this was not good.
“Stop-it!” Emily screamed.  “Stop trying to hurt Quinn!”
Bethke’s attention was diverted for just one second, and that was all I needed.  I locked my leg around hers, bringing her down.  In a flash, I was on her.  Grabbed her arm and twisted it around her back, burying my knee in to hold her down.
“Are you done?!”
“Fuck you, Pierce!  Go to Hell!”
“I ain’t letting you up until I know you’re gonna chill.  So are you fucking done?!”
She struggled for a minute, trying to break free, but it was clear she was pinned.  Tears started flowing down her face, with her roaring like a wild animal.  After another minute, she lay still and cried into the floor.  It was a sad cry, with genuine pain mixed with shame for having to be seen like this by someone she was trying to hate.  Someone she used to respect.
“I’m gonna let you up now.” I said with the authority of a superior officer.  I might not be anymore, but it was a tone I still could do.
Rising, Bethke sat up and stayed there on the floor.
I looked over at Emily.
“Go home, kiddo.  We’ll pick this up later.”
“I’m not leaving you alone with this crazy bitch!”
Breathing hard, I looked at her.  “It’ll be okay.  Trust me.  Go on home.  I’ll call you later.”
She gave Bethke an ugly look, then headed for the door.  Shutting it behind her, the house was strangely still, save for the Johnny Mathis Christmas music in the background.  Walking into the kitchen, I grabbed a towel, wetting it a bit.  She nailed me good one and it broke skin on my face.  Wiping the blood off, I tossed it to her.
“Here.”
Catching it, she wiped her face.  My former little STARS sister stood up, walking over to the counter where there were stools and having a seat.
“You okay?” I asked.
She shook her head.  “No.”
Nodding, I went into the fridge.  Pulled out a bottle of Kahlua, vodka, and cream.  A White Russian sounded pretty good right about now.  Pouring the drinks, I slid one over to her, being careful not to get too close.  I had just given her a potential weapon.  She look at it, then took a drink.
“Still can make a good drink, I see.”
“Yeah.”
We awkwardly sat there, drinking and looking down.
“Why did you come here, B?” I asked finally.  “Was it just to pick a fight?”
She shook her head.  “No.  I wanted answers.  Figured if I kicked your ass, you’d be more likely to give them to me.”
I sighed, sitting down on the counter.  “You didn’t have to fight me to get answers, Bethke.  I would have told you what you wanted to know.”
A saddened grin.  “Okay, maybe I partially came here just to fight.  You had it coming.”
Taking another drink.  “Well, I can’t argue with that.”
Finishing it, my former sister looked at me directly.  Her eyes all puffy from crying, with dirt on her face from the floor.
“Why did you leave us, Pierce?”
Thought for a moment, then finished off my drink.  “Because I couldn’t get you all involved in what I was planning to do.  I knew that it was almost certain that I would go down in flames for this. I couldn’t do that to you and the rest of Alpha Team.”
“We would have gone into Hell for you!  After when they did to J, we all wanted revenge.”
“I know that!  Don’t think for a second that I didn’t.  But I wasn’t going to let you all have to bear that weight for me.  This was my burden, and I was going to have to pay for it.”
“But you didn’t!  That’s what pissed us off.  You got off scot-free.”
Shaking my head.  “I got lucky, Bethke.  Damn lucky.  The person who gave me the intel I needed was willing to make a deal.  So I did.  I was prepared for this to end with me being tarred and feathered at court-martial.  Dishonorably discharged and being spit on by the Navy forever.  Dumb, stupid chance saved me.”
Her eyes were wide.  “Who gave you your intel?!”
“I can’t tell you that.  I guarantee that everything that happened with me and them is locked away in a black ops file that is redacted to beat the dog in some secured vault of IS.  I’d be putting you at risk by telling you.”
“It goes that high?!”
“Aye, it does.  I knew who would have the intel I needed and I went to get it.  Part of me figured I would be killed getting that far.  Was the hardest mission I’ve ever done.  Things just played out the way they did.”
The fire in her eyes had faded, now replaced by trying to comprehend what she was told.
“Why didn’t you come back to tell us that?  Everyone was so angry when we heard the news about your court martial.  If you had told us…”
“If I had gone back in there after that, there would be a whole bunch of other women trying to kick my ass.  And I couldn’t take all of you.  You can’t know how hard it was to think about my sisters hating me.  But that was the price I paid for going as far as I did.”
Standing up, brushing herself off, she set down her glass.  She started walking toward me.  I tensed up, but she stopped there and held out her arms.  Set down my drink as well, letting her approach.  We hugged gently.  Just like my little sister all over again, with her burying her face in my chest.
“I’m sorry, Bethke.  I’m so sorry.”
We held each other for a while.  Finally, she stepped back.
I looked at her.  “Can you tell the others?  Let them know why I did it?”
She shook her head.  “No.  You can.  They need to hear it from you.”
Looking down again.  “I…I don’t think I can face them.”
“Let me make the call!  Alpha Team isn’t active right now.  They would come if you called.  Let me gather them, and you can tell them what really happened.”
My hands were shaking again.  I nodded.  “Alright.  Make the call.  Tell me when they can gather, and I’ll go.”
“Aye-aye!”  The youthful smile was back.  That look she had when she made big sister happy.
I walked her to the door.  Offered to make dinner for her, but she wasn’t interested.  Needed time to process everything.  I got that.  Gave her my number to call after she had gotten the others together.  She said that it would take some time to get everyone in the same place, as they could be doing who knows what, and Pennyfeather was on her honeymoon with that guy she had just started dating before I left.  Guess they are going strong all these years later.
As she was walking out, she turned around.  “I’m…sorry, for hitting you.”
I smiled at her.  “Don’t be.  Like you said, I had it coming.”
That moment had us standing there, just looking at each other, and the bonds we made in combat spoke.  We understood.  Time to call Emily and tell her things were okay.

Until next time, a quote,

“From stranger, to  battle buddy, to family.” – Anonymous

Peace out,

Maverick

A Thanksgiving to Live For

I was lying in bed the day that I got the call for this particular mission.  It was unlike anything I had gotten before, and to be completely honest, I wasn’t prepared for what came next.  The amount of variables were absolutely out of control.  Nobody had informed me of what could potentially happen.  At no point will I go into something blind.  That is not a negotiable issue.  Not contract that I receive will not be vetted rigidly, to make sure there aren’t any irregularities that warrant termination or revision.  That’s part of the negotiation process.
However, when the person giving you the contract is your newfound friend and they just woke you up, that’s another story altogether.  When I heard my phone buzzing, I was immediately alert.  Nobody calls this early.  Period.  What could this be?  What could it be about?!  If it wasn’t a text, then it was legitimately serious.  Better pick up.
“Hello…?” I answered, unable to hide being a little groggy.  Was still coming back from jet-lag.  Worst part about contracts that take you halfway across the world.
“…Hey Quinn.”
What?  “Emily?  What’s going on?  Has something happened?”
“No, nothing like that.  My dad and I were just wondering – would you like to come to Thanksgiving?  It’s not a huge affair.  We always have Betty and her family over.  It’s just them here, and since we have such a big house, Dad likes to have them here to eat good food with us.  She always says it’s just so we can get her to cook, but it’s always fun.  Our family never comes.  They live in New York, and Daddy isn’t conservative enough for them, so they don’t want to make the trip.  He does offer, but whatever.”
Kid was drawing this out.  Sounded awkward.  I could tell why.  We had had the preliminary to this conversation a few days ago.

It was a cooler that usual evening coming out of the locker room at the pool.  Emily’s regiment was going well.  She’d gone from flopping around and was actually getting form now.  Her progress had impressed me.  I figured that she would abandon her mission to train with me shortly after finding out the demands.  Part of why I started with swimming was because of her injury, but it took.  Girl’s a fucking fish.  I remembered how miserable she was in a one-piece suit because it wasn’t flattering at all, but now I could see her rocking it.  Kid earned that.
Was kinda nice to be back in the pool myself.  My regiment hadn’t involved this in ages, but I could feel some of the weaker muscles I hadn’t been as studiously maintaining being worked here.  Doing this at the school pool that was open to the public in the evenings was also bringing back memories of my time in the swim team.  So long ago.
In the car on the way back, I could tell that Emily wanted to ask me something, but she was doing the fidgeting thing where she would just fiddle with something aimlessly.  It was slightly annoying.
“What’s up, kiddo?”
“Thanksgiving’s coming up.  Got me to thinking – you’re not gonna be in that house all alone, are you?”
I shrugged.  “Yeah.  Not much for the holiday, if we’re being perfectly honest.  What do I have to be thankful for this year?  Nothing.  So it’s just another day of the week for me.  But hopefully you don’t go too nuts with your plans.  Remember, you’ll have to work off that food when we hit the pool next.”
She stuck out her tongue at me and rolled her eyes.  Thanksgiving.  Hadn’t even thought about it, aside from my “contractors” all having the day off and doing their own stuff.  A mission to leave for in the morning.  None of it mattered to me.

“I appreciate the offer, kiddo, but no.”
“Come on, Quinn!  You’re our new family hero, and I don’t like thinking about you just being there by yourself all the time when there’s a perfectly good reason for you not to be.  Besides, Betty’s cooking is the best.  And Dad is actually getting good at helping.  It’s loads of fun to watch him try and do normal shit.  Will you come?  Please?  For me?”
Letting out a sigh.  Then something hit me – her friends were all busy.  This I knew.  We’d talked about her small social network.  A guy friend who she thought was kinda in to her, and she wasn’t totally against the idea of seeing where that could go.  Then there was an equally shy bookworm with big glasses who went out of her way to seem unattractive to anyone.  Just didn’t want to deal with any of it.  Was kind of jealous.  Not having the itch must be nice.  Worst part about pining for my dead wife, made me feel like a piece of shit every time I rubbed one because it felt like cheapening what she meant to me.  Didn’t like to think of her as someone who I made into a fantasy.
So was she inviting me to get company that she could talk with too?  Hm, a reasonable conclusion.  But then it hit me – what if she’s genuine?  What if she genuinely wants to help me?  Thought back to that night when I told her about the STARS and my relationship with my sisters there.  Was this an attempt to look after me?  It was a warm feeling.  Something nice to think about.  I did care about her, and was doing my part to look after her.
“Alright, I’ll be there.”
“Yay!  That’s great.  Oh, and don’t worry about bringing anything.  Betty goes all out.  You’ll love it.”
I nodded, smiling as much as I could bring myself to.  “Sounds like a plan.  When should I report?”
“We usually have dinner at 2 or 3.  Oh, sorry, around 1400.”
“Alright, see you then!”
Lying back down and staring at the ceiling, I felt a little bit warmer inside than I had earlier.  Over the last few months that Emily and I had known one-another, I felt something nibbling at me.  This little feeling that I couldn’t quite explain.  A soft warmth that I didn’t want to fight.  A couple years of just living the way I did, not attaching myself to anything or anyone.  Keep things simple, never allow yourself to get tied down.  Always have to be prepared to drop everything and disappear.  But now I was legit, with a company to do my business through.  Could write things off as deductible expenses on my taxes.  Had a tax person who was able to work with my company’s situation flawlessly.
Had I reached a point in my life where things could be comfortable?  Was I no longer having to worry about the worst?  Was all I had to do about surviving?  These were hard questions.  Ones that I didn’t like to think about for especially long, but which were coming at me more and more over the last few months, now that I had these new people in my life that made me feel like I could start over.  The life I lead wasn’t an anchor drowning me in Davy Jones’ Locker.  Was I allowed to live again?  Looking at the picture of Jean, tears started running down my life.  If I lived, did that mean leaving her behind?  Looked away, out to the ocean.  My room has this great double-door that opens onto a patio overlooking the cliff and the ocean beyond.
That ocean called to me, saying to leave all the time.  But now, there was another voice.  One saying that this was where I belonged, and that was alright.  Who am I?

I texted Emily later and asked if I had to dress up for this.  She told me no, that this was supposed to be a chill thing with her and her housekeeper’s family.  Decided I would take her at her word, putting on some slacks and my Navy hoodie.  That thing and I had done so much traveling, and it was still my ultimate comfort top.  Felt so cozy in it.  So familiar.  Plus, it felt like I was keeping Jean close to me in it.
Raining outside, naturally, so I had my umbrella.  It was hard enough to warrant that.  No reason to drive.  They were just a decent walk down the way.  Got to her door and knocked.
It opened with Emily standing there in a jersey and jeans.
“You’re here!  Hey.”  Kiddo gave me a hug.  I hugged her back.  Girl was trying to be all serious for my Navy training, but she really was the sweetest person.  She might not have the stuff for being military.  It kicks the sweet out of you pretty quick.  You harden up.  But then, it was something she’d have to experience for herself.  You find out what you’re made of in boot camp.
“Hey, kiddo.”
“Come on in.  Dinner’s close to being ready.  Betty really went all-out this year, since she knew we’d have a guest.  Southern hospitality and all.”
Ain’t that the truth.  Coming in, I saw her and another black woman with her.  Looked to be about the same age.  They were bickering about stuff in a way that could only mean they’re family.  Sisters?  Made sense, given the good-nature of it.
When she saw me, she immediately grinned.  “Hey there, Ms. Quinn.”  Her Georgia accent was all over this.  As such, I knew the response.
“Howdy, Ms. Betty.”
“Glad to see ya.  This is my sister.  She came up for the holidays.”
Shook hands.  “Nice to meet you.”
“Come on in, honey.  Sit yaself down and enjoy some good eatings.  Got some crab cakes to munch on.  Turkey will be done soon.  Trust me, will be worth the wait.”
Didn’t doubt that for a second.  The smell of it was absolutely overpowering.  This wonderful mix of Cajun spices.  My mouth was already watering.  So much indulgence today will be, but whatever.  You only live once.  And unlike your average American, I actually will be working it off.  I remembered being on deployment, always having to do PT, we had appetites like hyenas.  Nobody knew where we put it, but yeah.
I grabbed one and oh yeah, it was good stuff.  I was in great hands today.  Heading into the living room, I saw John sitting in his chair, talking with Betty’s husband.  I had heard about him, but never met.  On TV was the dog show that comes on after the parade.  The two seemed to be talking about college basketball.  A topic for which I knew absolutely nothing.  Emily was watching the dog show, bidding me to sit down next to her.
As I approached, John looked up and smiled.  “Ah, you’re here!  I’m glad you came.  Quinn, this is Phillip.”
The man looked over.  A whitening beard with age, he was a chubby fellow.  My quick analysis showed he was a man who worked with his hands.  Calluses that were older than me, but age was catching up with him.  Into his early 50’s, I could tell.  I knew Betty was coming up on 50.
“Hey there!” he said in an accent that was much more Midwest.
“Hi.  Nice to meet you.”
Dude had a nice, firm handshake.  “I’ve heard Betty talk all about you.  Heard what you did for our little Emily.  I’m glad you were there.  I’d hate to think what would have happened if you hadn’t shown up.”
A pit in my stomach.  “Aye, same.  It was a rough day for her.”
“Well, all’s well that ends well.  Good Lord sent an angel to look out for her that day.”
I nodded.  It was just chance, but he believes as he does and I am not looking to step on anyone’s toes.
Sitting down, Emily snuggled up to me.  Sweet kid.
“So, I see your Navy sweater.  You served?”
“Aye.  For eight years.”
“Well, thanks for your service.  My boys are currently out.  Oldest is on deployment for the Air Force, and my youngest just got out of boot for the Marines.”
Decided to see if I could jab a little.  “Well, not everyone can be in the cool part of the military.”
The man chuckled.  “Still got that Navy pride, eh?”
“Hooyah!”
“Well, don’t hold it against them.  Joshua wanted to be a pilot, and now he’s flying some kinda big plane.  Can’t say too much about it.  Apparently it’s all hush-hush.”
An AWACS?  A logical assumption.  Interesting.
“But he’s happy, and that’s what matters.  And safe too.  Worry sick about my youngest.  Being in the Marines, he’s probably gonna get mixed up in the Middle East.”
John nodded.  “Yeah, it’s scary stuff.  Especially now, all the rumors of war with Iran.”
“I hear that.  Pray every night that when he gets out in the field, the Lord will keep him safe.”
“Definitely.”
“So what about you, Quinn?  What did they have you doing in the Navy?”
Emily looked up at me.  I just gave her a little shrug.  This wouldn’t be a hard deflection.
“I was on deployment with IS.  Lots of reconnaissance, intel gathering, on the ground stuff.  Wasn’t super exciting, but I got to see lots of places.”
“I bet.  My brother was serving in the Gulf War, and he told me all about what he saw in the Middle East.  I’d love to see some other places, but I figure that’s a dangerous way to do it.”
He had no idea.  “Yeah, it is.”
“Anyway, thanks for your service, Quinn.  Why’d you leave?”
A story I could never tell him.
“Things kinda ran their course with the military, and I was ready to be done.  So yeah.”
He kinda picked up that I was holding back, but didn’t pursue it.

It was nice to have people that I could talk to.  John and Phillip went back to talking about their sports stuff, while Emily and I were watching the dog show.  So many hairy rats.  The only kinds of dogs that I think are respectable are big dogs.  The kind that you can respect.  Little yappy bastards have no place in the life of decent people.  And I will never understand why people think that pugs are cute.  Their weird, creepy eyeballs are the scariest thing in the world to me.  Not to mention that they can barely breathe because of the genetic mutations we forced on them.  Poor mutts.
Then we get into the sporting dogs, and my interest grew.  Sporting dogs, hound dogs, non-sporting dogs, and working dogs.  Now these are respectable animals!  Emily could tell I perked up when I saw the dalmatian.  It’s so cute!  I love those.  If it wasn’t for the fact that there are a TON of health problems associated with them, I would have wanted to get one.  Pure-bred dogs are more trouble than they’re worth.  Better to have a good mutt.  Less chance of problems.  My family had two pure-bred labs, and neither of them lived past the age of 10.  It was sad for me, as a kid.
“Did Jean ever want a dog?” Emily asked.
“Oh yeah, she loved dogs.  Every time we saw a dog going anywhere, she would make a big deal about it.  One place we didn’t click.  I’m a cat person.”
“Did she ever bring up buying a dog?”
“Oh yeah…”

“Come on!  Beagles are so cute!”
I rolled my eyes.  “For the last time, no!  Those things are yappy and annoying.  That bark of theirs drives me up the wall.”
She sat back and pouted.
I looked over and rolled my eyes.  “Are we fighting right now?”
Looking away.  “No.”
I wiggled in closer.  “I think we are.”
“We are not!”
“It really looks like we are.”
She gave me a faux-angry look.  “You’ll know when we’re fighting.”
I moved up next to her face.  “You can’t stay mad at me.”
She squirmed against me.  “Yes I can.  Just watch me!”
Gently kissing her neck.  “You’re gonna give in.  Just accept it now.”
“Never!  I can totally stay mad at you.”  Her voice was cracking.  I had broken through.  We kissed for a bit, settling down into the couch.
“We’ll get a dog, eventually.  But not while you’re still active duty.  I don’t wanna leave it home alone all the time.  Between when you and I are deployed, it would be without it’s mamas a lot.”
That got her mellowed out.  “I know.  It’s just another year until my enlistment is up.  I’ll go reservist and get a billet that’ll let me stay home more.”
“Good.  Because if you’re getting a dog, I want a cat.”
She rolled her eyes.  “Cat people.”
“Dog people.”  That got us wrestling again.  It was a good night.

Betty and her sister Annie came in and sat with us.  Like Phillip, they had questions about my time in the Navy. I was good at avoiding sensitive subjects.  Such nice people.  It was great to be out of the house and just visiting with people.  It happened so rarely.
As was inevitable to happen, somebody finally asked, “So Quinn, why aren’t you at your family’s for Thanksgiving?”
This question was inevitable, and yet it still bothered me.  “Well…my family wouldn’t want me there.  They disowned me a long time ago.”
Emily looked down.  She still hadn’t asked about that when I told her to leave it alone.  Looked like now I couldn’t escape.
“That’s awful,” Betty said, finally.  “Well, you got a family here today, and that’s what matters.”
It was getting easier to look more positive.  “Your lips to God’s ears, Ms. Betty.”
There was a knock at the door, and everyone looked up.
“Who could that be?” John said.  Not looking genuinely concerned, more surprised.  He got up and went to the door.
When it opened, standing there was woman with long, flowing hair that was dyed blonde, but the roots were so dark brown that it almost looked black.  She had a big smile on her face.
“Uncle John!”
“Ashley!  What brings you here?!  You should have told me you were coming.  I would have gotten the guest room ready.”
Removing her big coat, a sign she comes form warmer climates, she came in.  This woman was all smiles.  Late in her 20’s, clearly.  Maybe early 30’s, but likely nipping at the heels of that.  She was gorgeous.  Gently tanned skin, a little bit of chub in her stomach to show that she does hit the gym regularly but still like a good burger.  And that ass.  My stomach suddenly bit at me.  I was checking her out.  Suddenly felt so guilty that it was crushing.  I couldn’t do that to Jean.
“I want it to be a surprise!  I couldn’t deal with Uncle Dick’s nonsense anymore.  If I have to hear about how we need to just blow up the Middle East one more time, I was gonna lose it.  Besides, Ms. Betty’s cooking is the best, and I won’t miss a chance to have it with my favorite uncle.”
Ms. Betty gave her a look.  “Flattery will get you nowhere, young lady.”
“Yes ma’am!”
This felt like a real family.  A happy family.  And I was here, a part of this.  The warmth inside was spreading.  My stomach was knotting, but it was still there.  Such a weird juxtaposition of good and bad feelings.
“Well, make yourself comfortable, Ash.  I’ll get the guest room set up later.  Oh, and this is Quinn.  The one I was telling you about.”
She came over and held out her hand.  “Feels like I already know you.  Emily won’t stop talking about how cool you are.”
I shook it, shrugging.  “Well, I’m just glad I was in the right place at the right time.”
We held that grip for a bit.  The look in her eyes.  It was this sassy kinda look.  Was she sizing me up the way I was her?  Biting stomach feeling.  Such a beautiful woman.  Had this kind of bubbly personality, but could tell that without coffee in the morning she was not functioning.  Definitely could respect that.
“Me too.”
Emily could see the reaction between us, even if the rest were oblivious.  I could almost see her smiling.

Dinner was almost done, and the dog show was concluded.  I sat in the kitchen, watching the two southern black women work.  Talked with them about some of my favorite cooking escapades.  Was nice to have some commonality.  Emily sat with me, and Ashley was on the other side of the counter.  It had a nice seating arrangement.  This kitchen was much larger than mine, more beautiful.  All this talk, I really did feel like I had known these people all my life.  Ashley was a caseworker at child support in her home state.  Everybody had some thoughts on that, but not me.  Not something I had to worry about.  At least not anymore.  The things that could have been.
Then everything was ready, we all helped set the table, and then gathered around.  The turkey looked incredible.  There was no doubt in my mind that it was going to be moist and perfectly delicious.  Twice-baked potatoes instead of mashed ones.  Crescent rolls fresh from the oven.  Sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top.  Green beans, minus the casserole.  Fine by me.  Not a huge fan of that stuff anyway.  Fresh cranberry sauce, not that canned garbage.  And some salad, of course.
As we sat down, Betty told everyone to take hands.  A Georgia woman, naturally there was a table grace.  Emily was next to me, and John on the other side.  We all grabbed hands.
“Lord, we come to you today to give thanks for the meal we’re about to receive, and for all the blessings we had this year.  And for our new friend Quinn, who you sent to save our dear little Emily’s life.  Thank you for letting her come here and be with all of us.  May you watch over us in the year to come.”
“Amen,” I whispered.  As everyone looked up, I suddenly noticed there was a tear going down my face.  Wiping it away, I suddenly looked really awkward.  Ms. Betty then held out her hand.
“Let me load you up on some turkey, Ms. Quinn.”
Everyone started laughing.  Nice way to break the tension.  Then something happened.  I caught myself laughing along with them!  I was smiling!
Emily clapped a hand over her mouth.  “Oh my god!  You’re smiling!”
John nodded.  “I can’t think of a time when I’ve seen that.”
Betty just nodded.  “That’s what family does.  We bring out the best in each other.”
“Amen to that,” Annie replied.

Dinner was incredible.  Emily wasn’t kidding in the caliber of food that Betty was making.  Everyone fawned and gushed, but for me it was all about being in this place, this moment, with these people.  After it was done, John and Phillip went to the living room to watch the game.  Oklahoma State v Memphis, if I heard right.  Whatever.
I helped the ladies clean up, while we all talked about food and life and the things that they were bothered by.  As the evening was winding down, we watched movies.  Betty and hers went home.  I got a hug goodbye from the ladies, and a firm handshake from Phillip.  We decided to watch Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.  A classic Thanksgiving movie, after all.
Not long into it, Emily and John fell asleep.  It was just Ashley and I, with some clear tension in the room.
“So, Em tells me that you’re on my side of the fence.”
Taking a drink of some cider, I snorted a bit.
“Well, you don’t waste any time.”
She gave me a wink.  “Who knows when I’ll see you again.  Gotta strike while the iron’s hot, right?”
Butterflies, the kind I knew.  Pit in the stomach.  Fighting emotions.  She’s sexy.  She’s interested.
“I suppose.”
“So, you have a girlfriend?”
Shaking hands.  Hadn’t had these for years.
“No.  Not for a long time.”
Moving a little closer.
“Wanna go and do something sometime?  I’m in town for a week or so.  Got lots of time…”
Heartbeat quickening.  This all felt so wrong, but I didn’t want it to.
“I…I can’t.”  Tears biting at me.
She caught my expression and backed off.  “I’m sorry.”
“No.  You didn’t do anything wrong.  I just…can’t do that right now.  I’m not ready.”
Nodding a little, she smiled at me.  “Okay.  Well, you’re pretty cool, so if you’re ever interested, hit me up.  I’d love to get coffee or something.”
I looked over at her and smiled.  “Alright.  Thanks.”
A potential new avenue for my life was opening up, but old wounds never really closed.  Maybe it was time to do something about that?  I didn’t know.  But now I could feel the potential there.  Not just to be alive, but to live.  Today was the first day in forever that I felt like that.  Jean, is it wrong to want this?  I wish she was here, to tell me the answer to that.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Until next time, a quote,

“Do you see that, Odie?  Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  The day when people celebrate food by eating as much of it as possible.  Yes, that’s the day when people try to eat ever turkey, pumpkin, and cranberry on the face of the Earth.  It’s a tradition!  And you know how I LOVE tradition.” – Garfield, Garfield’s Thanksgiving

Peace out,

Maverick

What I’m Thankful For This Year

Normally I do this post on the day or day before Thanksgiving, but I gots me an idea for an actual Thanksgiving post this year, and I do have some stuff to talk about with this post, so I figured I’d break tradition a little.  It’s been a long year.  A lot of things have happened, making my adult life that much more complicated.  My Year in Review post will be pretty interesting.  But there are a number of things that I want to give thanks for.  Despite what corporate America believes, I think that this holiday is about giving thanks for what you have, so let’s get down to it.  Here are the thing that I want to give thanks for in 2018.

Getting a New Job

I cannot tell you how hard it has been making just enough to scrape by.  With new expenses coming into my life now that I fully own a car of my own, and had some serious shit go wrong with said car (and still have to get my shocks replaced in the spring), along with Uncle Sam fucking me over because I am single and don’t own property (seriously, this world is so rigged against single people.  It’s infuriating), my finances took a massive, massive hit.  It nearly crippled me.  For so long, I was desperate to get a new job, that paid better.

I’ve been fighting against going up the ladder in my own office because for the longest time I didn’t want a caseload of my own.  However, since all my efforts to escape have been in vain, I decided it was time to nut up and just do it.  I mean, if I’m gonna be stuck here, might as well be earning that sweet cheddar, right?  With that in mind, and since every supervisor has been begging me to do this because I am that good at what I do, I finally applied.

The wait was interminable, but I finally got the job!  Almost to the point of seeing the first paycheck with partial caseworker cheddar infusion along with my old wages.  Not to mention overtime pay, because every time there is overtime, I am on that like stink on cheese.  A half day on a Saturday at my office and now I can’t imagine what I will be bringing home.  Signed up for more next month.  Christmas might come a little later, but I’ll take it.  Man did I digress.

Getting this job is a massive bump in pay, and with my plans to go back to college to get my CPC for medical coding for when I leave this state, this pay raise is going to get me so very far.  It’s a great thing, trust and believe.  I couldn’t be more thankful.  If I hadn’t have gotten this job, I honestly was scared of what was going to happen.  My finances were in the tank.

My Parents

This one is almost obligatory.  Given how much they have done for me over the years, to not include it on the list would be kinda heresy.  I acknowledge that there were some bad years, especially with my mother, but now we have hit a stride where we are more like chill friends than parent and kid, and it works.  In my family, it’s all about sticking together.  Who else will support you if they won’t?  Granted, there are limits, as an extended family member found out after suing me.  You don’t do family that way, not in this lot.

While I have been financially independent for two years, even when my finances were in trouble, I didn’t ask for money, they still do a lot for me, and I have to be very vocal of my thankfulness that I have parents who are like that.  I have friends who don’t, like a girly-mate whose family disowned her after she was outed as being gay when she was a teenager.

Both my folks are getting older, and the reality is that there comes a point that you have to start looking at the inevitable.  I’ve always known that between my sibling and myself, the one who will have to do the heavy lifting looking after them is me.  I’m together, moving up in the world, and can manage my own life.  Common sense isn’t as common as you’d think.  I’m glad for all the time I have with my folks, even if we talk to each other like we’re always bickering.  It comes from a place of love.

My Navy Girly-mate

If you had told me the day we met, at the office where we worked together before she shipped off to basic, that I was meeting someone who was going to change my life in so many ways, I don’t know if I would have believed you.  Her and I have had our ups and downs.  There was even something that happened that nearly nuked our friendship entirely.  Took me having to seriously work to set things right.  But here we are, two years later, and she’s one of the best friends I’ve ever had.

There is so much about her life in the Navy I could learn about.  I have hung on every word when she talks about it.  I always wanted to serve myself, but after a head injury that killed me and the back of my head having to be replaced with government plastic, that’s out, along with contact sports and fisticuffs.  So I will admit that I am partly living through her experiences as I hear of them, but it’s been something so engaging.

Plus, we get one-another.  Our antics together are just the best.  We are perfectly on one-another’s wavelengths, I can give her shit and she can give it to me, we just work as a duo.  This friendship is new in my life, but so long as there isn’t some kind of major disaster in the future, it could become a defining relationship in my life.

Other Friends, Old and New

There are some new people in my life.  New employees who started out in customer service at the agency I work for, just like I did.  I’ve become something of a mentor to all of them.  There is a reason I can walk into that room like a rock star and have them coming to me regularly for advice.  I take some pride in that.  These friends are different kinds of people, and some of them mesh with me better than others, but so far it’s proving to be an interesting experience.

Meanwhile, there are some old friends who I have been able to keep in my life who are so important to me.  One friend who occasionally comes to dinner.  Some people think that men and women can’t be just friends, and she is living proof that that is not true.  We are 100% platonic and perfectly fine with that.  It’s great to have someone who I can talk to, and who is comfortable talking to me.

Then there is a friend who is very far away, and I miss them every day.  The adventures we had, the times we spent together, and our nights together seem like a distant memory now, but we keep in touch and there are some genuinely touching exchanges between the two of us.  I wear the bracelet she got me every day.

My Site

This website is almost 10 years old.  It will be in August of next year.  I’ve had this place going for 10 years.  That’s just baffling, to me.  To think that I’d be some nobody with his own website that people continue to read after 10 years.  I have almost 900 subs on WordPress alone, and it grows all the time.  That many people have chosen to keep what I write open to their viewing, and some comment regularly.  Don’t think for one second that I take that for granted.  You all and the reactions I get to my work are what keep me wanting to write on here.  Plus, it’s a great outlet.

Going back and looking at my early work, I do cringe a bit.  But that’s the great thing about a site – you can grow and evolve.  And if more people come and fewer leave, that means you’re doing something right.  You’re putting out content that people think is worth their time.  Plus, with so many WordPress blogs out there, to be this popular, minuscule as it is, is a real privilege.  Thank you all so much.

What about you?  What things are you thankful for this year?  Let me know in the Comments.

Until next time, a quote,

“I love fall.” – Hobbes, Calvin and Hobbes

Peace out,

Maverick

In Memory of Lizzy

If you would have asked me today if I would be doing this post right now, I’d have told you fuck no.  No way.  Because I know that I wouldn’t be here when this would be happening.  I’d be out with her and I would know that it was coming.  But an unbelievably selfish individual decided to take it upon themselves to make this decision for me, and now I am here, writing a post that I have been thinking about for weeks.  And I can finally get something out of my head that has been nipping away at me for weeks.  I don’t think I’ll ever forgive the person who decided to make that decision for me.  Ever.  My best and most loyal friend died tonight.  She was kind, sweet, lovable, had four legs and was covered in fur.  It was my cat.  Her name is Lizzy.

19 years ago, I was there when we went to the pet store and picked her out.  They had kittens for sale, and I went with my mother to pick one out.  My parents had a policy about not getting boy cats.  They tended to have bad bathroom habits and are little shits.  The last cat we owned had the moniker “shitty kitty” for the fact that it shit all over the place.  Thank Groj it wasn’t an indoor cat.  It lived in my old man’s garage.  Before you say that’s cruel, he kept it warm in there for the vehicles.  We had a large property, so kitty had never known an indoor life.  Peanut Butter was his name, even though he was orange and white.  Never did ask where the rationale for that name came from.  It was my sister’s cat, in name alone.

When we got to the pet store, there was a cage with all the little kittens inside, and they were all cute as fuck.  But there was one that stuck out above all the rest.  See, it was climbing the cage wall, with a look on its face of – get me out of here!  From that very moment, I knew that this kitty and I were going to be best friends.  As luck would have it, that kitty was a girl.  So we picked her out and headed home.  My kitty has NEVER liked confined spaces, so on the car ride home she was miserable.  But I was eating chicken strips, and gave her some of the chicken.  That made for a happy kitten.  Every time she has been in a vehicle since, she has been a VERY unhappy camper.

From there began a relationship that was the most loyal and true that I have ever had.  See, while she was around everyone, there was no denying that Lizzy was MY cat.  Everywhere I went, she followed.  If she was outside and I tried to go places, back in the first house I lived at in memory, she would try and follow me.  So I’d have to put her inside.  I named her Lizzy, after my grandmother on my old man’s side.  Her first name was Mary, but her middle name was Elizabeth.  So I shortened that down to Lizzy.  But over the years that wasn’t what I would call call her.  Lizzy got shortened to Liz.  Then to Wiz.  Then to Wiz-Biz. Or Wiz Cat.  Or sometimes “you’re being annoying.”  Silly kitty.

After leaving the first house we lived in with her, we moved into my grandparent’s on my mum’s side’s old house.  It was a home that they homesteaded in, ages ago.  There is so much history in this house.  Part of me is glad that it’s still in the family.  At this new house, Lizzy had so much more area to explore.  A huge property, a lakefront, and all the voles a kitty can eat.  Oh yeah, there was a serious vole problem when we first moved in.  Lizzy took it upon herself to help deal with that problem.  Using kitty violence.

During the summer, Lizzy hated to spend time inside.  She would spend hours upon hours on end outside.  Sometimes we would let her out late in the evening, only for her to be out all night and come in the next morning.  Part of me wonders how she was never attacked by an owl.  But she did have the right fur color to blend in with the undergrowth.  So many funny memories.  Like, seeing her shimmy up a wall.  See, my parents had a balcony into their bedroom from the third floor.  On nights where she would be out and want in at 4 in the morning, she would shimmy up the wall and then go onto their balcony and whine until someone let her in.  Or she’d whine outside my window.

But the thing that I loved most was how she would spend her evenings and winters with me.  Since she hates the snow, kitty would spend all of her time in the winter cooped up indoors with me.  I had this amazing blue chair.  It had these really tall arms, and my kitty’s favorite place to rest was there.  See, I moved around too much for her to be comfy on me.  I’m not one of these people who says that if the cat is comfortable I can’t get up.  Pussy can move.  But she knew I gave her tons of love, so she would rest on the arm of my chair, watching movies with me and watching me play games, then judging when I made mistakes harshly.

So many little memories that I can chain together.  Like on Christmas, where she would attack the wrapping paper and get all wrapped up in it.  Or when we put garland on her and had her indignant face.  I would give my last 10 years to be able to go back and get a picture of that.  Alas, when I was a teenager we didn’t have camera phones that took really sweet pictures.  Think that was before my head injury.  She would always watch us set up decorations and judge us harshly, but she loved getting attention.  Wish I had been better about getting her Christmas gifts.

Thing is, she didn’t want lots of toys.  She got to go outside and wander around and have fun.  Plus, something I did that nobody else did – fight with her.  See, sometimes she would want to get into a fight.  I ever had a special glove for it.  It was a work glove with a leather exterior.  She’s wrap around that and claw the living shit out of it for a few minutes when I’d go at her belly when she is in a fighting mood.  My cousin would fight with her too, except he was an idiot who did not wear a glove, and she would fuck up his hand.  He would joke that she loved it, and part of me does wonder if there is some validity to that.

Another adorable thing about her is the fact that she had both of the dogs my parents owned scared to death of her, even though both of them were big enough to bite her in half.  The first was Zoey, then her puppy, Riley.  In both cases, it’s because she was so mean to them as puppies.  Like any puppy, they went over to her and wanted to be best fwiends.  But she wasn’t having that.  They would know who the top dog in the house was, so to speak.  After slashing their puppy faces up, both of them knew that love from her came at her pace, not theirs.  It is so cute having both of these dogs being so much bigger than her yet scared to death of her.  Poor Riley.  As the much more friendly of the two, he kept on trying to get love out of her, but she was always a bitch to him.  But eventually the dogs and her found a happy equilibrium and all was well in the world.

Moving in to the last house I have lived in, my parent’s sunset home, things changed.  See, Lizzy has been getting old.  The years don’t show on her because of how small she is, but for a while she was fine.  But then things started to happen.  See, her hearing was getting worse and worse.  Eventually, she went totally deaf.  It was a bummer.  And for her, I genuinely believe it made her scared to death, all the time.  I also contend that her vision was going too.  At night, she would make this really ugly noise that sounded like she was in pain, but I think it was her being scared and not being able to hear or see where she was or where she was going.  This led the parents to believe that she was losing her mind, and while I joked it off, part of me wondered.

Months went by, and she was sleeping more and more.  Eventually it got to the point where she was sleeping almost every second of the day, only to wake up and cry.  The parents were not enjoying it.  As I was living in a place that didn’t allow pets, I tried to make excuses for it.  Then one day, I get told the my parents are wanting to take her to the vet.  The idea is that we need to get an answer on this, and if there is no cure, and her quality of life is just going to get worse, to put her down.  I made very clear that I was going to be there for that.  We went to the vet and they said that her kidneys are indeed shutting down.  But it can be prolonged.  With some diet change, she can get many more months of life.  Maybe it should have ended there.  I don’t know.  But it didn’t.  Which leads me to the last four days.

I went out last weekend because the parents said that her problems are getting worse, it’s clear that her mental state is not well, and it’s time to say our goodbyes and be done.  I was going out more to tell them I had damn well better be there when it ends.  I was there when we picked her out.  I was owed that.  It ties in to that thing I haven’t been able to get out of my mind.  We’ll get there.  However, the mum was unable to bring herself to say that we’re going that far.  So I went home thinking that I this could go on for much longer.

And that brings us to tonight.  I got a call from the mum saying that my kitty had “died in her sleep.”  She could have let it stay there, but she decided complete honesty was a good policy and told me that that was a euphemism for she had indeed been fast asleep, and my old man had put her down himself.  Believe it or not, I do buy that she was asleep.  My girl couldn’t hear.  Sneaking up on her was very easy.  I’d seen first-hand how she can sleep if you are right in front of her.  I don’t doubt that she never woke up before he ended it.  With one bullet.

Before you go saying how disgusting and horrible that is, I’ll head you off.  I don’t hate the method.  It’s quick, and if she’s asleep and doesn’t know what’s coming then it’s painless.  Here’s where I take insane levels of umbrage.  I was there when we picked her out.  I was there when we brought her home.  I was there from the very beginning, and I fucking deserved to be there at the end!  Though, I would have asked to do the more typical euthanizing, because I don’t want to think about the mess.  That’s kind of horrible.  My girl died alone.  She died without me there.  It hurts me more than you can know.  The old man decided that since the mum and I couldn’t bring ourselves to do the deed, he’d do it for us.  I had a right to be there with her at the end, and that selfish person took that right away from me.  When I was rightly upset by this, it is then me who is turned into the villain, as is always the case.  My family has never valued my opinion and is quick to throw any transgressions I have ever committed squarely in my face the moment I am upset with the parental authority figures.  I got a clear lesson in how little they respect me.

My companion, my confidant, my dearest friend.  Someone who stood with me during all the worst parts of my life.  When I lost friendship after friendship because the significant others of those people didn’t like me.  When other “friends” turned their back on me because I’m weird or I have feelings they don’t like.  When my cousin/brother I never had stabbed me in the back.  When I lost relationships, one in a bummer way and one in a way that did irreparable damage to me because of how it ended.  She was there for all of that.  And I wasn’t there with her to say goodbye.  It hurts me more than you can possibly know.  Someone took it upon themselves to do that and I am quite upset with them right now.  Given what happened between us afterwards, I don’t know if our relationship will be able to mend.  We’ll see what happens.

I normally try and close these things out with something that the person I am doing this post for told me, but since this particular friend was a cat, I decided I would close this out another way.  See, I’ve had this song rattling around inside my head for the last few weeks.  At every funeral I’ve been to, there is a hymn that has been sung.  It holds a lot of resonance with me because of how much I have grown up with it.  I’m not a spiritual person.  I think people who believe in the magic sky wizard are childish beyond the capacity for rational thought.  But since there will never be a funeral for my kitty, I thought I’d close out with this lyric.  Those of you who know what the melody to this is without looking it up are pretty alright in my book.

Until next time, a quote,

“I was there to hear your borning cry,
I’ll be there when you are old.
I rejoiced the day you were baptized,
to see your life unfold.”

Peace out,

Maverick

Living with Depression

Today I had a very unpleasant interaction with a family member who decided that they are going to add their name to the list of people who have decided to tell me that my depression is a choice and if I just believe hard enough and think happy thoughts, it will go away.  I call these people idiots.  These are people, typically of an older generation, who have this weird idea about the nature of mental illness, and I now suddenly feel very bad for their child who is currently dealing with the affliction and wondering if they are telling him the same thing.  That is most unfortunate.  Hopefully he can surround himself with better people when dealing with this.

It’s no surprise to me that the family member in question is very, very religious.  The idea that if you just believe hard enough and think happy thoughts and your ailment will magically go away is an article of faith.  A horrible, horrible article of faith by people who either have never had to deal with this, or who have been indoctrinated by a society that really treats those with mental illness so badly.  Most recently saying that only mentally ill people do school shootings or other violent attacks.  Timothy McVeigh was many things, a lot of them bad, but if you watch the interviews with him after the Oklahoma City Bombing, he shows that he had a very clear rationale for what he did.  He believes the government was evil for what they did in Waco, Texas, and he was fighting back against that injustice.  There are plenty of people who have rationalized evil actions with a clear motivation.  Say how wrong it is, and you are right, but it shows that they thought it out and weren’t just some crack-addicted hobo.

Depression is an illness that is so misunderstood in society.  It kills me inside how so many people are so horribly stigmatized by it and treated so badly by their peers because of it.  I live with this every day, and I will be getting into it.  My goal here is to help those who are either suffering, or those who know those afflicted and are either unclear about what this feels like or are among the ill-informed people like the aforementioned family member.

I’ve had depression ever since I smashed my head open when I was 14.  My head met a rock going down a hill on my bike.  The person who found me was very reticent to call the cops, and I think that they might have hit me with their truck, but that’s a conspiracy theory that will never be solved.  I don’t even know where the bike I was one is anymore.  My depression is caused by brain damage.  I’ve had my neurosurgeon and a neuropsychologist do the due diligence and test to see if this is the case, and that’s where all evidence points to.  Because of that, this affliction is something I am going to have to deal with for the rest of my life.

Not all depression is like this, but that’s just my case.  For those who want to go into detail about all the various causes, there are plenty of quality resources to look into that I would recommend looking into.  Here’s a link to one, but there are lots of others and I suggest doing your research.

How can I describe what it’s like to live with depression?  Imagine, for a moment, that your brain is turned against you.  It is actively fighting back against every happy moment or good thought you have ever had.  That’s what it has been like for me.  The family member I spoke of said that I can choose to be happy, and that just pissed me off so much.  They do not understand what it’s like to be having a perfectly fine day and then to just have your brain do the thing where it makes you feel like shit and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.  It can come out of nowhere.  Or I’m having a very good day and then something comes out of nowhere that throws a wrench in it.  Even if it’s something small, there the tumbling down the rabbit hole goes.  Alice in Miserable Wonderland.

I don’t remember what it’s like to feel legitimately good.  Many months back, when I tried edibles for the first time, and it was really high in CBD, feeling the elation and actual happiness in my brain again, it was so joyful.  I cried.  It felt so good, that when the feeling disappeared back into this awful nightmare that is my day-to-day, it hurt me inside.  Alas, I’m too fucking financially conscious to go crazy and load up on the stuff.  That’s the thing about living in poverty.  It’s the same reason that I don’t actively go see a therapist or get on a drug regiment.  I already have to take meds for a condition I have.  Adding more to the mix is money I don’t have.  Not to mention time off work.  I wish there were shrinks around who were open when I get off.  But those visits are also money I don’t have.

When I have someone tell me that I am choosing to be sad, I want to beat them upside their stupid fucking head.  They have no idea how crushing this feeling is.  What it’s like to live with it.  But the aforementioned family member isn’t alone.  I cannot tell you how many friendships I have lost because of this.  I can’t.  How many people who I used to be so close to that now keep me at such a distance because of it.  I suppose I could lie a lot.  Be really peppy and happy and fake being well-adjusted.  I know that most of them would just turn a blind to the problem and enjoy that because as a species we would rather have happy things around than not happy ones.  It’s easier to lie to yourself about a problem than have to deal with it.  Speaking from experience.

My relationships across the board have suffered.  Friendships that dried up when they couldn’t take the negativity anymore.  No matter how loyal I was, that loyalty was NOT returned in kind.  Now matter how much I would go out of my way to help anyone who asked and is a friend, they would treat me like it’s too much to have the way I am around.  Then there are the romantic or sexual connections.  The people in my life who found that even though I was very happy to be around them and be in their lives, my depression snuck in and made my bad days very bad for them.  Once-again, I suppose I could have lied to them, hid it deep under everything and told no one.  Would make me a very popular guy.  But if I didn’t have the release valve, I probably would have killed myself when I was 17.

Which is another thing – thoughts of suicide.  Suicidal ideation is always in the back of my mind.  No matter how good a day it is, there’s always that little thought deep in the recesses of my brain that says that life isn’t worth living anymore and I should end it.  I’ve been fighting this for so long that I sometimes think about that line from Garrus in Mass Effect 3

But how long before the fight’s kicked out of us?

It’s such a struggle.  If I had a social network that was more eager to help, maybe that would make it easier.  Alas, I am born into a generation that will do anything and everything to avoid sad or negative things.  Everyone wants butterflies and rainbows, and the second that they don’t have that, they get very, very angry.

Maybe I should post on depression forums or something.  Find like-minded people.  I think that’s part of the problem.  People who don’t have to deal with this ailment just do NOT understand what it’s like to live with it.  They all just think that you’re not trying hard enough or that if you wanted to be better, you would be.  That societal misconception led to one of my favorite memes that I’ve come across.

People who don’t have this ailment don’t realize what it’s like.  To have your brain constantly fighting against you.  To be your worst enemy.  To hate yourself and think that everyone hates you at ALL TIMES.  To be trapped in your own head creating your own reality that has everyone not caring if you live or die.  No joke, I have that thought a lot.  Thinking that if I died tomorrow, virtually no one would miss me.  On a conscious level, I know that isn’t true.  I have truly amazing parents who have done more for me than they have any reason to, and I wish that I wasn’t drowning in poverty because of a job that I am woefully underpaid for so I could keep my word on paying them back.  As it stands, I doubt I will ever have a life that is financially stable enough to do so.

I know that I have extended family that while I am not close with almost any of them, they would be saddened by my passing.  I know that I have a few very close friends who would be devastated.  There are a couple of people that I have loved or been very close to that even though one of them hates me now for reasons that have something to do with depression, infidelity (not on my part), and the cost of being the rock upon which I stand.  I am sorry she hates me, but I understand the reason.  Even though she hates me, I know that she would still feel sad.  But this disease makes all that go away and those thoughts creep in like a cancer.

Depression sucks the life out of you.  It takes the things you enjoy doing and tells you that they aren’t fun anymore.  It has you desperately wanting to feel good and not being able to.  It’s an iron ball around your ankle dragging you down into an ocean of despair and you have fucking idiots telling you that you can just believe and choose to feel better and that will fix it.  I seriously wanted to scream at this person.  I wanted to tell them that I think they’re stupid and how I wish that I could subject them to how this feels for a week so they could understand what an absolute nightmare this is.

It doesn’t help that my crushing financial poverty has me not being able to actually seek help that I truly do want.  I don’t have the money, or the leave time, or the assistance.  I don’t have any of that, and I wish that I did.  I don’t have a social network that is supportive because I am part of the millennial generation that wants sunshine blown up its ass.  Worst of all, I’m having to fight back the urge to die even though I genuinely don’t feel like I am living for anything.  That is EVERY. SINGLE. Day.

What bugs me the most is that there are people like this family member who have this baffling idea that I want to feel like this.  That I am choosing to be this way and that I somehow want it.  I would give my last 40 years to have this go away.  I’d grab a hacksaw and go all Dr. Gordon on it with my foot if I could make the brain damage go away.  There is no price that I would not pay if it would mean making this horrible affliction leave me alone.  But that’s not how this works.  Not that anyone else would know that.

For those who suffer from this ailment, know that I’m here.  Go onto any of my social media or even leave a comment on here and I’ll talk with you.  Granted, that is opening the floodgates to be fucked with my trolls.  The Internet world we live in. Hopefully this can help some of you know that there are those out there who know what it feels like.  And for those who are stupid enough to actually buy the logic that if you choose to you can be happy, you are woefully ignorant and I am saddened that there are people who may look to you for guidance and you give them that bullshit.

Until next time, a quote,

“Because humans are complicated beasts. You believe comforting lies while knowing full-well the painful truth that make those lies necessary. In the end, Connor, it is not important what you think. It is important what you do.” – The Monster, A Monster Calls

Peace out,

Maverick

For Love of Tiger, and Family

Taking aim was easy.  The red hull of her target was easy to spot in the darkness.  The enemy was close enough to see.  Her copilot was taking care of their defense.  Now it was up to her to win the fight.  It was a challenge she was up to.  Precise aim.  A maneuverable enemy.  The flashing lights all around.  Such a fierce battle.  The Protectorate was putting up a good fight.  But the Directorate was pushing hard, and cracks were starting to appear in the armor of the enemy.  A defense line of countless battleships, fighters, bombers, armors, and even the asteroid that they were fighting at being turned into a fortress.  The sole base of a planet that was central the Protectorate’s ability to continue their war machine.  If they lost here, it was all over.
Focusing on her target, the red armor danced around with everything it had.  This pilot had skill.  But whoever it was, they knew that their time was running short.  She was right on them, and there was nowhere to run.  Sending out lances of particle beams, a smile grew on her face.
“Stop running and fight, you coward!”
One last particle beam, right into the leg of the enemy.  It blasted it open, sending the armor spiraling out of control.  Now she had it!  Aiming her cannon at the machine desperately trying to right itself, she changed firing mode.  Switching over to the physical ammunition, she send rounds right at the body.  Ripping open the synthetic muscle and machinery, it was a twisted mesh of red and black metal, with red circulator fluid flowing out like blood.  Then it struck the cockpit, and the enemy stopped moving.  A round straight through the cockpit, whoever the pilot was had to have been blown to bits.  Nothing but red chunks inside.
“Too bad he didn’t fight,” her copilot said.  “Maybe he would have lasted longer.”
She shook her head.  “He was dead before this started.  Just didn’t know it.”
On to find a new target.  That red color, with the black metal, it brought memories back.  Of speed, and who she used to be.  The memories were a harsh feeling.

The danger was unbelievable.  The track was suspended 200 stories up.  It was built on the most elaborate skyscraper of all time.  A palace for the opulent, who came to bet on the most dangerous race that has ever been.  If you fell from this place, you died.  It wasn’t a question of if.  It was a mathematical certainty.  There was no way to survive an impact from this height.  Fear was in the air with all the people with any sense.
To her, it made her feel alive.  When the light went green, and she slammed on the accelerator, this was everything she had dreamed of for so long.  The racers all blasted forward at speed that made you barely able to comprehend what you were saying.  A beautiful, sunny evening.  So much ambiance.  It was amazing.  Setting sunlight shimmered on the red paint on top of her racer.  Tiger was its name.  A racer that had passed down through her family for three generations.  Listening to her father talk about it with her and her brother, it was her legacy.  A legacy which stood with her now, as the machine blasted forward.
There was no guard rail.  Just gravity plating that kept them suspended and on the track.  Blasting forward, it was tight.  Every racer knew the score.  Whoever took this race took home the Platinum Cup.  The last race in the season.
Flying forward, she banked through turns.  This course was tight, and with no guard system, any onboard navigation assistance was good as useless.  She never turned that on anyway.  It was her racing skills that were going to carry this!  A voice in her ear, telling her about the track and the position of other racers.  Her crew.  Every racer had one.
A purple racer came up beside her.  It smashed into her side.  So that’s how this is!  She snarled and took the hit.  A turn was coming up.  It was trying to edge her out to get close to the edge and keep it tight on the inside.  Or push her off and kill her.
It made another move to edge her out, when she did the unthinkable.  Suddenly hitting the brakes, it aimed over, flying right off the edge.  That’s one piece of competition out.  Whoever that pilot was, he had a good 30 seconds to really think about how dumb that was.  Smashing the accelerator again, the g-forces hit her like a load of bricks.  A couple racers had pulled ahead, but no matter.  These guys were amateurs.  Hence why she had gotten ahead of them before.
Second lap, and now it was tighter.  The lead racer was a black and green machine.  It got into a bad battle with a very robust blue machine.  A muscle racer.  Not at all like hers.  Made for handling and speed, it wasn’t made to fight it out.  This could be trouble.  The green machine was made exclusively for handling, and had some muscle.  Enough that the two of them were fighting it out at the front.  Coming up behind them, she looked for an opening to make a pass.  Don’t play your hand yet.  Let them fight.  Let them damage one-another.  Her time would come.
That’s when it happened.  A yellow racer was taking the same approach as her.  It had an opening!  Right as she was going to pull ahead, the racer swung on the inside.  Not even made for handling, this tiny thing was built for speed alone.  A glass vehicle.  Taking a clear lead, she swore.  Now her chances were down.  Second place?  The second place purse was no slouch.
No!  This wasn’t how the legacy of the Tiger and her family was going to go down!  Third lap.  One more after this.  Green racer couldn’t handle the pressure anymore and decided to drop back and let the blue racer pull ahead.  Smart move.  The blue vehicle was a monster.  This track had so many turns, though.  Muscle vehicle had to sacrifice speed during the dangerous curves.  Got her closer.  But too close and it would turn its eyes on her.
Meanwhile, the yellow racer was losing some lead.  It didn’t have the handling to take these insane corners and risk falling off the edge.  This pilot was good, but not brave enough to go the distance.  Blue racer was much moreso.  These two were a risk.  At the top of the track again, now a winding way down for the final lap.  She knew this had to be it.  Either she would do something daring, or fail.
Seeing a curve ahead, with a path right below.  She knew what she had to do.  In a flash, she disengaged the gravity controls.  Her pit crew was screaming at her, but that didn’t matter.  This was it!  She steered right at the edge!  Able to hear the crew screaming, she began a swift descent almost straight down.  Seeing the endless abyss below, if she hadn’t timed this right, it was a fact that she’d be dead in 50 seconds.
“Fuck it!” she swore.  Hitting the accelerator, her boosters kicked on.  Just a little further!  Down further and further, then hit the gravity controls.  The machine damn-near smashed into the track, but she made it!  Dropping a Naseel Crystal into the engine, the machine roared back to life and took off with a mind of its own.  This was it!  No one even close to behind.  But that wasn’t enough.  Not just to win, but to fly through that finish line and have the entire Directorate seeing what a master she was at this race.
This level of g-force was crushing her chest.  It was blazing through her entire body.  If it wasn’t for the g-suit, this would surely be killing her.  Keeping the blood flowing.  The Tiger was barely able to be controlled.  It had a mind of its own!  The speed was beyond the ability of the cameras recording and broadcasting the race to keep up with.  Her pit crew was pissed at her.  Who gives a fuck?!  In that moment, she didn’t just feel alive.  She knew she was.
Last leg.  Blue fire coming out the back as the Crystal made its way through the engine liquid.  The final segment was the blaze down the last wall of the skyscraper.  A straight shot down.  So freaky to see the ground coming up at her so fast, but the gravity plating guided her up at the last second.  Through the finish line, blazing through in a way that blasted over all of the spectators and announcers there.  It was chaos!  Sliding in to the winner’s circle, her racer came to a stop.  Smoke and steam was pouring out of every single linking compartment.  The Crystal had done so much damage.  Pushed the machine well past what it was capable of handling.  She didn’t care.
Breathing so hard, the yellow and blue racer tied for second.  It was a perfect tie.  The judges couldn’t call it for either, so both had to be given the second place purse.  But the trophy and Champion’s purse went to her.  Opening the cockpit, she stumbled out and hit the plating, unable to stand.  Her pit crew ran to her side, helping her up.  Taking off the helmet, her ears were greeted to the thunderous applause of the crowd.  Everyone was in awe of what they had just seen.  Announcers could be heard saying this would go down in race history for both the most dramatic finish, and the most insane stunt ever pulled.  The name of the racer was being shouted into screens everywhere – Tiger.
In that moment, her father and brother could be put to rest.  It made her smile.

At the awards ceremony, the pilot of the yellow racer went over, eager to meet who had won.  This girl was so cute.  Naturally blonde hair, a product of genetic engineering.  Hadn’t been a natural blonde in three generations.  The girl gave her her number and told her to call.  Sounded like a good idea.  Why not celebrate with a gracious loser?  No point letting that perfect body go to waste.
At the end of the day, the pit crew was taking Tiger back to their base to begin repairs.  Everyone was talking about how after this they’d enjoy some time off.  No other races for months.  Heading up to the apartment above the garage, a voice called after her.
“Can we talk?” her chief mechanic said.
Looking over, she let out a sigh.  “Sure.”
Heading into the office, he poured her a cup of coffee.
“What the fuck was that today?”  It was clear there was barely-contained rage.
“What was what?”
“You know what I mean!  That stunt you pulled on the track!  What the fuck was that?!  Were you trying to get yourself killed?!”
She shrugged.  “It was the best way to get ahead.”
“Bullshit!  You could easily have waited and then used the Crystal to get a last boost on the final leg.  At that speed, you easily would have passed the two from where you were.”
“Maybe.  And maybe that muscle racer would have smashed me to bits as I tried it.”
“No way!  Nobody is that crazy.  Not at the speed you’d be going.  It would have fucked up both of your vehicles beyond repair.”
Another shrug.  “I guess we’ll never know, will we?”
“Spirits, woman!  If you’re looking for a way to die, there are much easier ones than this!”
Looking him right in the eye.  “I was looking for a way to win.  I just didn’t care that I was risking my life.”
“Yeah, and that scares the hell out of me!  There are a lot easier ways to kill yourself than this.  What if you had died?  What would happen to the Tiger?  It’s legacy would be the last racer in your family destroying it in a foolhardy stunt!”
A cold look.  “But it wasn’t!  Its legacy is to go down as the racer the won the Platinum Cup from a pilot who has no sponsors.  Tiger will go down in history!  So will I!  I should have died doing that.  Now, dozens of pilots are going to get themselves killed trying to outdo me.”
He walked away, shaking his head.  “And what will it be next time?  When the next race comes up, what insane stunt will you try?!”
Looking out the window.  “There won’t be another race.”
Genuine shock.  “What?!”
“I’m done.  Me and the Tiger are retiring.  I just did something that should have gotten me killed.  There’s nowhere else to go from this.  I can retire easy on the Champion’s purse, even after paying for repairs for Tiger.”  A little smile on her face.  “You gotta know when to bow out.  I’m gonna go out on top.  Forever have the respect my dad always wanted.  That’s fine by me.”
The mechanic thought for a moment.  “So it was go out on top or die?”
She nodded.  “Yeah, pretty much.”
“You’re insane, you know that?”
A little chuckle.  “I’d rather be known as insane than weak.”

Breaking the news to her crew wasn’t easy, but they took it better than she expected.  A lot of them liked the idea she had.  They would be known as the pit crew for the greatest racer who had ever been, on the best racer ever built.  That was a phenomenal thing to put on a resume.  They’d have no trouble finding jobs after this.
There was a fairly epic party planned to go out on.  Retirement for the now-legendary Tiger.  A call to the cute blonde who had given her her number.  Time for some fun?  Heading over, she took that woman and did things to her that she’d remember forever.  All fun and games.  Getting back home was hard.  Would she see her again?  Why not.  An offer was made for next time she was on this planet to come have some fun.
Saying goodnight to Tiger, it was a slog up the stairs.  The tiredness hit all at once.  Her head hit her pillow at what she assumed was mach five.

What woke her was the blast that sent her and her bed careening toward the wall.  The impact brought her to her senses in a millisecond.  What had happened?!  Getting to her feet on wobbly legs, she looked out the window to see impacts happening everywhere.  An attack?!  Who would attack the Directorate on a core world?!  It was madness!  Then the thought came to her – the Tiger!
Not even putting on pants, she went running toward the garage.  Slamming the sensor to open the door, she was greeted with flame pouring in.  Inside was a twisted mess of burning metal and destroyed parts.  No!  Peering through the burning metal, she saw Tiger.  Or at least what was left of it.  The last legacy of her father and brother.  All that remained of them now.  Tiger was torn up and burning.  It hurt her.  Charging into the fire to reach the last remnant of her family, using her jacket to try and wipe the flames away, she desperately ran to her machine.
The torn parts, broken glass, and hot oil on the floor was murder on her feet, but the pain didn’t register.  It was all about getting to the machine.  There had to be a way to save it!  Coming out of the fire, it was a clear path to it!  Like a demon possessed, she charged toward the cockpit.  The damaged was all on one side.  The one facing the exit that was blasted open.  Could it be saved?!  A dream.  The only dream that mattered.
Hitting the sensor, she brought her regular vehicle online.  All she had to do was hitch Tiger to it and get the hell out of here!  The seconds that the car came over were the longest in her life.  It came in, stopping right in front of her.  Grabbing the gravity tether from the back, she attached it to Tiger’s cockpit block.  Once it was secured to the back of the car, it was time to go!  Running for the entrance, time suddenly stopped.
She registered the rocket right as it impacted at the entrance.  The force hit her like bricks.  Lifting her off her feet, it was blind, stupid luck that she just happened to be right in front of the office door, which opened as soon as it detected her coming.  Sliding along the floor and smashing into the desk, her crumpled, broken body went unconscious.

Her eyes opened in a white room.  She looked over to see flowers on the table by the bed.  Were these real?  That sure was nice of whoever it was who bought them.  There was a screen playing the news.  It talked about something, but she couldn’t focus.  Mobilizing?  A call to action?  That was all so distant.  Black again.
When she woke up this time, there was a voice.  “The whole crew got this.  We had to dig through the rubble of the garage, but we got it.  Figured you’d want it here.”
Her eyes saw metal.  It was the Tiger’s insignia!  Why was that here?!  Where was Tiger?!  That’s when she realized, they had to dig through the rubble to get it.  Tiger was destroyed.  The legacy of her family, destroyed.  Pain gripped her heart, agonizing.  Then she was out.  In her mind, there was a little voice – the people who did this are going to pay!  Oh yes, they would pay.

Three weeks later, she stood at the entrance to the Directorate Naval Enlistment Office.  Still with a limp from the work they had done to fix her legs, she walked inside.
A young man in uniform sat there.
“May I help you?”
“I’d like to know who I talk to about signing up.”
“That would be me.”  His eyes went wide.  “I know you!  You’re-”
“So it’s you I need to talk to.  Good.  I’d like to enlist.  Figure you need pilots.”  The anger was a dull, burning rage.  On her arm, there was a tattoo.  It was the Tiger’s insignia, with a line underneath.

Kill Everyone Now

Until next time, a quote,

“Kill everyone now!  Condone first degree murder!” – Divine, Pink Flamingos

Peace out,

Maverick