Sunday, September 25, 2011

Missing In Action

A week ago this past Friday, I wrote on Facebook that I would be scarce for the weekend to work on a story. I had an idea for a submission call that finally began to gel, only it might have be too late. I can’t say anything about the piece because I’m not done with it yet. Frankly, I’m not even sure if I’ll make the submission deadline but at this point I almost have to keep working on it. It’s not even a long story; the maximum word count is 5,000. I’ve done half that in one day. Hell, when I'm truly inspired, I can do that in one sitting! But that’s a rarity.

The problem with the way the short was working itself out in my head was that I wasn’t sure about the details. I didn’t think the scenario was plausible in reality though in my mind I could see it perfectly. Still, something wasn’t jiving. So, since I’m the type of person that must have some accurate details before I could suspend reality and bend it to suit my needs, I went off in search of…whatever I thought I needed. And can I just say? Research is a bitch when you don’t know what you’re looking for. Especially when it’s a period piece.

Still, I was determined.

Armed with the Ken Burns boxed DVD set that I borrowed from a friend, I sat down to start watching “The War.” Two discs and many hours later I was a sopping mess from the atrocities, the injustices, the prejudice. I felt, and this is no joke, like Lilu Dallas at the end of “The Fifth Element” -- overwhelmed, discouraged, and hopeless. The things we humans do to one another is nothing short of revolting and makes me wonder how we ever managed to crawl out of our infancy from caveman days.

I didn’t find what I was looking for in the documentary. Based on the details and the events that unfolded, as they were described, my hunch turned out to be correct. I couldn’t establish the scenario for my story because there was no physical way for it to occur at that time. But I’m holding on to the premise and changing a few things for when I do sit down to work on it.

I started writing a slightly different story than I had originally intended. Whether I finish it or not, will be a different story. I have one week left in which to do it. It’s a tall order. I guess we’ll see.

As the week progressed, I couldn’t stop thinking about the bombing of Pearl Harbor and American reactions. It wasn’t that much different from when the Towers were struck. The names and places have been changed in order to protect the not-so-innocent but, even in the aftermath of both events, I’m appalled by the similarities and the events happening within our own country now.

On top of what I was mentally processing, we started learning a bit more detail about a friend of ours in the UK who was diagnosed with mesothelioma. I’m not even sure if I spelled it right but, from what we’ve read, it’s a horrifying thing no matter how you spell it. My thoughts are with him and his partner.

While my mind was occupied with these things, as well as catching up on a backlog of freelance work, we started babysitting for an apricot pug and her newborn pups; seven tiny bundles of wiggles and squeals. One of them passed away, before we ever get to see him. Unfortunately, two remained that neither the owner, nor my partner, were sure would make it. I was determined that they would.

I held each of them in the palm of my hand and whispered encouraging words to them. I told them it was a beautiful world out there, though I didn’t believe, and that they’d find wonderful homes with lots of room for them to run around.

I fed them from a tiny bottle when they couldn’t nurse from their mom and told them they were going to grow up just as big and strong as their four brothers and sisters, already far larger, with features coming in.

On Tuesday, both little ones seemed to have stabilized. By Wednesday, however, only one of the two seemed to have heard anything I said. The other still didn’t quite grasp the concept of latching on to mom’s teat and suckling for sustenance. By Thursday, he no longer seemed interested in anything but sleeping.

It was truly heart breaking to watch his little body trampled on by the others as they crawled their way to mom. He looked like a wounded baby bird and I wanted him so badly to pull through. I held him for close to an hour that day, whispering things, holding him to my forehead, my heart. I wanted to transfer some of my energy to him. I even asked the Universe to shave enough time from my own life in order to give it to him so he could pull through.

Then, on Friday, no longer opening his mouth for even the bottle, his tiny body cold in my hands, the owner, my partner, and I all knew for sure he had to be put down.

Now I know what some of you might say; he was a dog, not a human. It’s nature's way. Only the strong survive. I heard all that and then some. It got to the point where all I heard was the voices of the adults in the Charlie Brown cartoons. The only things that entered was the fact that this little tiny creature passed before my very eyes and there was nothing I could do to help him.

I felt small and insignificant. I was angry. I was sad. I was frustrated and hurt. Which in turn made me realize that was exactly how I felt when watching “The War” and how I felt when reading what our friend has been writing concerning his partner and what they’re going through.

I broke down Friday night, after the work was done, and cried. I cried for the tiny little pup pug who never got to open his eyes, walk or crawl, let alone have his first taste of bacon. I cried for Bryan and his partner because I can’t help them with what they’re going through. But mostly I cried for all the people in the world that have endured lifetimes of prejudice and injustice and for all the people yet to come that would still experience bigotry and hate.

Even as I write this, I must confess that I’m disgusted by this weakness, this ability to empathize with other individuals or groups of people. I saw myself, at the time, as Bella -- a character I dislike because all she ever did was cry, and the reason why I won’t watch any more of those melodramatic and sexless movies.

The other image that came to mind was that of Counselor Troi, on Star Trek: Next Generation. I used to think she was pathetic in her woebegone looks and the semi sci-fi gothesque appearance. But at least she was pretty with her curly hair and tight jumpsuit.

Looking back, as I conclude this post, it feels like so much more time has elapsed than just one week. I feel like I've been "Missing In Action" for much longer. I think it’s because when things like this happen, when my mind and heart go down the path of introspection, I retreat from friends, acquaintances, and the rest of the world. It’s the only way for me to process the events and emotions and absorb them into my psyche.

But I’ll tell you this. Now, more than ever, it’s important to take a moment and stop what we’re doing. Listen to the heart. Take the people we love by the hand and tell them how much they mean to us, how much we love them. It’s okay if some of them think we’re strange. They will anyway, so, what the fuck? We might as well express ourselves. Life, after all, is extremely precious.

And all we have is now.

P.S. The other doubtful one pulled through just fine. She's terrifically tiny but feisty, wiggly and demanding. And today, they're one week old!


  1. I'm so glad one of the puppies pulled through, Johnny. So much has happened to you since you were last around. So much to process. You may have been MIA in action in the past when the world threatened to get you down, but I have no doubt that you will bounce back better this time. I hope so at any rate. It's good to get reminders every now and then to, as you say: "take a moment and stop what we’re doing. Listen to the heart. Take the people we love by the hand and tell them how much they mean to us, how much we love them."
    So, think of me taking you metaphorically by the hand and saying how much I care.

  2. I admire your courage to share these intimate emotions and details of your life. I celebrate you.

  3. @A.B.Gayle: Thank you. Yes, out of the two that were questionable, 1 will definitely pull through. She still worries me because she's so tiny but has the gumption to move on and knows what to do.

    And yes, it was a lot to process. The good thing is that I didn't hit bottom as I've done in the past. This was more of an introspective thing.

    Thank you so much for extending your hand and telling me how much you care. That means so much more than people will ever realize.

  4. @Margie: Thank you so much Margie. I celebrate you as well and drink a toast to your life.