We all have messages to share, each inspired or driven by something. Desire, passion, fear, angst, experience, belief, love. Soulful words whisk through you like salty wind in your hair. They sift out the sand, reveal truths, unleash everything. Let life stick to you. Put it in print.
photography by www.bohemefox.com
Take me to the place I don't know
Where I live without me
On the mountain's breathless top
Where our life grows
Sing to me the song I can't alone bellow
That sounds for us
Amid the forest's bounty
Where our life grows
Sink me into the deep blue shadows
Where freedom breathes
Inside the sea's pregnant belly
Where our life grows
On a whim I'd go
On your wings
Unveil my eyes and fly me home
Where you are waiting
So I can live
Where our life grows
Or carve for me a place to stow
Without these jagged edges
And bury me there in the dunes' quiet sands
Until I can live
Where our life grows
art by www.rashellestetman.com
There's a fire in your love. And a calm. It shows in the way you embrace each other, as if you are at once experiencing something new and making up for something old. You have a togetherness worth everything. After all, anyone who'd fall from the sky for true love must surely leap so in acknowledgment of the times they'd tumble, in hopes of the places they'd fly.
There was a plane and a ring and a winter wedding with nothing but nature to decorate it. And as nature would have it, the bride wore a perfect veil of snowflakes in her hair, and the groom wore humble eyes frozen on her lovely face until their kiss brought cheer from family.
Your promises were made in a winter wonderland. And now a summer celebration with so many fans of your union took place with the Front Range in the background. How stunning and symbolic.
Moises and Elise, may your life together be vast and abundant like Colorado's open, blue skies, and may you traverse the hills and valleys together, always mindful and in celebration of the fire in your love. And the calm.
Yesterday, as I was on my way to work, I spotted my neighbor, Barb, in her snazzy new cop magnet red convertible, top down (the car, not Barb). It's hard to miss Barb. The gel she uses in her short, platinum hair makes it spike in the front. Against her tanned skin, it strikes you like the high noon sun. Tattoos adorn her body here and there, one decorating the circumference of her neck. I wish I knew its significance.
She has an aura so glowing it's the only one I've ever been able to see. She burns incense at sunset and plays funky music. And even though the smell makes me sneeze and I'd rather enjoy the sunset listening to the sound of the surf, her homage makes me feel at home in a place that really isn't. I am only a visitor here, I know that. Barb says the universe will work with me on the length of my stay.
So there she was, in the left turn lane at Walsingham and Indian Rocks Road. Her blinker wasn't on, but her right arm pointed straight to the sky, her hand proudly signaling the peace sign. She left it there. I waited at the red light. She left it and I waited. Surely she would conclude her message once the green arrow forced the flow of traffic, I thought. Idling there, I admired the mostly pink tie-dye shirt fitted over the passenger seat and contemplated her singular, idealistic bumper sticker that made me wish. When the light finally changed, Barb cleared the intersection and headed on her way, wherever that was, her arm statuesque, her message solid and undying...
If I make it to my seventies, I hope to be like Barb - unabashedly exposed and shouting.
On a busy Denver street, a man and woman rest on a worn city bench. Behind them, Market Street traffic rushes by. All around, business suits and briefcases maneuver with purpose. Like clockwork, suburb dinner bells ring, happy hour cocktail glasses rise and clink, car horns sound with frustration. Late afternoon begins to fade bringing to reign the cold, relentless night. Amid the chaos, the man and woman remain quiet, motionless, timeless. No one notices.
The woman sits huddled against the man, her legs folded to her body for warmth. Her arms, crossed tightly to her body, ensure ownership of the blanket wrapped around her torso. Her hands put to test in the frigid air, with her left she grips the blanket, with her right she clutches the man’s weathered coat. Her head relaxed on his shoulder, she closes her tired eyes. His head bows to touch hers. His eyes, marked by a heavy brow, speak unspoken words of joy and despair immersed until they, too, hibernate from weariness.
The man sits easily, his worn leather jacket falling open to expose the thin, brown, collarless shirt he wears underneath. His body finds comfort in a slouched position, his legs, clothed in stained denim and stretching outward, are spaced to brace the random burdens of night. His left arm rests on an old, beaten bag, while the other he relies upon to steadily hold the woman to him. Atop his head sits naturally a dark, broken-in hat giving him a look of refinement that once he must have known.
As the night passes, their statuesque form remains. The woman clings to her refuge, the man to his pride. The air is perfumed with love, with hope, with struggle. The reality this night, their survival; how it binds them, their beauty. If only their sculptured form were real.
Driving along the easy stretch before the steep incline of the Sunshine Skyway is not exactly the ideal place to realize you have an intense fear of tall bridges. There is no “Panic Here” sign with a giant, blinking arrow to guide you to refuge. Once you’ve passed Exit 16, there is no turning back. Your only option is to drive. Up and up and up it seems, to the apex where you are surely going to catch air like Thelma and Louise. Cars race by you in the outside lane at 80mph, numb to the sense of danger paralyzing you, ignorant of your desperate need for the anxiety to subside so you don’t pass out and become fodder for the headline of a grisly read.
So you press on in your real life Little Engine That Could moment, telling yourself “everything’s ok,” “it will pass,” “you can do it.” Sure enough, you finally find yourself descending, your heart no longer in jeopardy, beating once again inside your chest. You pull over to puke the first chance you get. So what? You still have a pulse and now another embarrassing story to tell. Your perspective on life just changed a little. It wasn’t pleasant, but you gained a new experience. You were exposed and learned something about yourself. You found new insight, even if finding it terrified you. There must be some reason it happened.
Life is one big tall, scary bridge. Like most of you, there was a woman in my life who I watched intently, involuntarily, to learn about it. She encouraged me to rise to meet challenges, helped me through difficult times, held my hair when I threw up, rubbed my back and told me time and again, “everything’s ok,” “it will pass,” “you can do it.” Maybe it was your first piano recital, an art contest, a school play, your first date or better yet, the second one when you had already fallen in love. Prom, your wedding day, your baby’s birthday. Your first job, your first paycheck, your catastrophic first jury trial. The heartaches, the defeats, the ridicule you endured after she gave you a horrific home perm that lasted a lot longer than the box said it would. Your successes, your achievements, your everyday insignificant nothings she somehow recognized as small victories. That pedestal she put you on. And knocked you off.
Our moms are our biggest fans, though sometimes the pompoms sting when they smack us in the face – usually for good reason. They are our exclusive life host, our first teacher, our role model, and most likely for us daughters, the person we are becoming to some extent whether we like it or not. Foremost though, our moms are our greatest shelter – generally speaking, from the tall, scary bridges. If you have the luxury of picking up the phone and calling yours, or, better yet, hugging her, today’s the day. Every day is the day, but today especially. Call it a Hallmark holiday if you will, but for those of us who do not have that luxury, it is a day of reflection and introspection and longing. To hear once again, no matter our age, those precious, comforting words... Everything’s ok. It will pass. You can do it.
I juggle my unorganized laptop bag and daily grind gotta-haves and a grocery bag or two while trying to unlock the door. I gripe, but the quiet on the other side makes the jingle of my keys sting my insides, and I pause. I open the door and pretend not to notice. I wipe away tears or swallow them. Maybe there are some things time can’t mend. When that happens, all we can do is remember, and wait for the tales to come.
If you’ve ever hosted a yard sale, you know folks start following unwritten rules before the chickens get up. You know the flashlights will be shining at the edge of your driveway when you hit the garage door button. You yawn and stand there in your skivvies feeling hopeless. Long before the coffee has brewed (because you forgot to set the timer last night, you idiot), you recall the ad you ran in the local paper, and online, and placed at every intersection within a two-mile radius via posters – the same ads you carefully worded in a moment of fleeting enthusiasm to entice people to show up and dig through your discards.
Well, you better wake up because all of your ridiculous crap is still waiting to be dragged out into the yard. You meant to get up a few hours earlier, but when the alarm sounded, you slept through your regret. You pretended O’Dark-Thirty is not a sacred time in the realm of yard sale yahoo. So, like Wile E. Coyote, you stand there in the doorway, dumbfounded and paralyzed, a victim of your own foolish logic, just waiting for the anvil to fall from the sky.
To my great fortune, every time I attempted to clean house and garage, I had a yard sale wing man. I had Scout – the greatest yard sale dog in yard sale history. His method was simple but genius and guaranteed the sale of everything coated in mothball delight. That and boxes of dead batteries and computer cords and other questionable remains, and clothes that belonged in a 1980’s fashion vault, used bedding and towels, books that still smelled of my mom’s cigarettes, gaudy “what were you thinking” knickknacks, and always, at the end of the day, that one bin full of “please just take it.”
Once, Scout even sold another dog. My dear friend, Linda, witnessed it. She always knew when to pop the first cork because I would say, “Linda, pop a damn cork.” That’s how it started – the dog sale, I mean. We toasted to the littered yard and sat in our ratty lawn chairs situated in front of the fan in the garage. I barely had a chance to start whining about the heat when a shadow darted from my ugly hedges.
“Did you see that? What the heck was that?”
“I’m goin’ in,” Linda said and hopped up like we hadn’t just sat down for the last time before the chaos started.
“Wait, it’s a dog!” I assured her. “Hey, it’s comin’ back this way!”
The dreaded Hedge Monster kept her distance. And then came around, and then kept her distance. She hovered at the end of the thick, boring shrubbery lining my long, misshapen driveway, her tail wagging but legs poised to run. I stood up to go toward her, and she put them in motion. She had the spirited gait of a pup and was lean like she wasn’t being offered a bowl or two a day. I went inside and filled one with some of Scout’s kibble. I walked to the end of the hedges and put it down along with a water bowl. I noticed the sun coming up and, like clockwork, my neighbor Donald Daniel “No, you can’t borrow that Don Danny” Duncan, coming up the street.
“Scout!” I yelled. “You’re on, buddy!”
He was so busy investigating the rancid smells strewn about the yard, he hadn’t noticed the pup or our first customer. Scout trotted over to greet Don Danny who kindly returned the gesture. And so commenced the yard sale. I put on my sales hat and followed, wondering which of Don Danny’s woes our small talk would encompass. Anything but the government ones involving uranium, I hoped.
“Mornin’ darlin’,” he said. “Got a bad back today, so can’t take nothin’ heavy. You got any mulch? Some fertilizer maybe? I got my nephew comin’ over to spruce up my plants ‘round the porch.”
I wrapped my arm around his like a prom date as I escorted him up the driveway. I glanced to my left and noticed the bowl I’d left for the pup was empty. While Don Danny treasure hunted, I refilled it and moved it up the driveway a bit, toward the garage.
Cars and vans and pick-ups came in and out, finding makeshift parking spots. Neighbor Sandra stopped by to remind us all about the Lord and neighbor Cindy snuck around the back and offered me weed. I declined all around, but I think Scout got the best of both worlds, which, in hindsight, only makes sense.
And that’s about how it went, except at the point I looked to Linda for a dose of sanity and saw the pup – the mysterious pup who had wandered so whimsically upon my yard sale – flat on her back reveling in belly rubs while Scout encouraged visitors to line right up for belly rub therapy. I could have stayed a bit longer in that moment than reality allowed.
“You got any extra rope?” “I’m lookin’ for ceramic pots.” “How much is this set of corncob holders?” “What size are these kitchen towels?” “Is this real plywood?” “I love the smell of turpentine.” “You got any firearms?” “I just like to talk to strangers.”
Scout and the pup took turns lapping water from the hose a young boy had ventured to turn on. Scout didn’t shut up about it and the pup rolled around in the pools that formed in the grass. The young boy played for a while as his mom carefully looked through boxes and his dad milled about. The dad struck up a jovial conversation with another visitor. They spoke in Spanish, and for the camaraderie they shared, I sure wish I’d learned their language. The young boy’s mom eyed him and the pup along with an “antique” shelf I had for sale. She spent an extra long time picking out simple household items, paid for them, and motioned to the boy it was time to go. Reluctantly, he turned off the spigot.
Visitors waned after the noon hour. Scout had collected ten phone numbers and me and Linda were ready for ten martinis. By three o’clock, traffic finally subsided to familiar neighborhood cars, and I sat with Linda in front of the fan, sweaty and far too tired to care about sales. All that was left to do was pray for whatever was left in the yard to magically disappear or catch on fire. Scout and the pup rested side by side, trying to benefit from any breeze that came their way. I had about given in to the idea that she would be staying when the young boy’s car pulled up to the curb again.
The pup perked up like she recognized the sound of the engine’s idle and headed right down toward the car. She stopped a ways before it and sat as if at attention. Scout trotted down to join her. The back seat door opened wide and a loud whistle sounded from inside – the kind like when you put two fingers in your mouth and bite down so the air pushes over your tongue allowing you to make a loud beckoning sound. The pup sprang into the backseat of the young boy’s car, and Scout settled to a resting position on the ground. He opened his mouth to gently pant, expressing a look of content. Linda and I watched from our front row seats in the garage.
The car idled for a minute more, the door still open. The young boy climbed out and walked up my yard toward me. I got up to meet him. He looked at the ground as he walked, and I saw he wore a serious face. We stood silent before one another. The young boy clearly had no time to spare. He pulled his right hand from his pocket and held it out to me, upward with his fingers curled, holding tight to something. I opened my eyes wide and gave him a little smile of encouragement and held my hand out in return. His round, boyish eyes watered to their brink, and he turned his hand over and placed it atop mine. Two quarters he let go in my hand and hurried off.
“Pop a damn cork, Linda!” I called out. She always knew when it was time.
photography by www.bohemefox.com
It began with extraordinary entrance. The carport door flung open and Sister's grand silhouette posed in the doorway, structured and tense in a way I'd never seen. She called to me and her voice froze me. Not because I was afraid, but because I could tell from the tone of it that she was, and that terrified me more than anything. Sister called to me like a concerned mother, with that unmistakable tone, the one that knows and questions at the same time, the one that at once shows no mercy while begging for that it summons.
"Caroline!" was all she shouted.
The force of it stole my breath. The hose I twirled about to whimsically decorate the space above me with pretty water designs fell from my limp hand as I looked up to recognize the source of Sister's concern. Behind the cheery parade of sun-laced clouds I'd come to trust, a line of darkness swarmed. I did not expect the fixed picture that met my glance, for my focus was on fleeting water drops and the relief their cool temperature brought my skin. A black wall stared back at me, one that painted its own changing shapes and swerves as if to mock the elementary nature of my attempt at art. The wind picked up speed I didn't know it was capable of, and I looked around only to realize I was alone in the yard against a force that seemed as powerful as
any Pastor Lawrence had mentioned during Sunday sermon.
I could tell by Sister's out-reached arms that I shouldn't waste any time at the spigot turning off the water. Normally, such activity would earn me an hour of weed pulling and a lecture about the hardships of drought, but in that moment I understood the immediacy of shelter to be paramount. My feet engaged themselves seemingly without instruction, but moved me along as though plagued by their own state of disbelief. I fled, but time stood still. With every stride the carport grew farther away and the sky marched closer. Determined to be reckoned with, it moved deliberately, unlike its stealthy approach. The wind worked to impede my progress at first, pushing against my chest, then tagged me from behind as if playing a game, thrusting me toward my goal
Tears blurred my image of Sister in the doorway, and I wiped them away as I escaped toward the refuge of her arms. Clearer vision revealed a circling sky, colored with swirls of grey and eerie, green hues like shades of paint mixing together. As they blended, blackness soaked into the sky like an angry sponge. A short distance behind Nana’s house, a remorseless arm reached down from the storm's swollen belly. I could only imagine it intended to steal trinkets made of oak trees and homes to keep as souvenirs. Fear enveloped me and encouraged me to reach Sister.
I can recall the events of the next several minutes only like those of a dream – in bits and pieces that don’t seem to flow, but somehow maintain order enough to make sense. I remember the concrete floor of the carport under my feet, then Sister's firm grip just beneath my shoulders as she scurried me inside and down the back stairs. The electricity flickered and was gone. I remember a corner and how Sister covered me. Her mass hid me from what natural light would have allowed me to see until her back tired and her weight shifted, exposing me to seldom seen looks on familiar faces. Like snapshots they appeared out of darkness in the patches of light that flashed through the ground level window above us and vanished only to appear again in varied form. The strobe-like effect made me dizzy, but, mesmerized, I could not avert my eyes. I strained them to make sense of the chaos outside. Nana's lawn furniture danced in the sky. Tree branches and shingles whisked by as if they had somewhere to go. Pieces of everything speckled the view. The wind made such noise it became something other than wind. It carried on like an obnoxious machine I wanted desperately to unplug, but couldn't. Its power was unstoppable. There was no cord to trace, no switch to manipulate, no closet to shove it in.
Sister had talked about this kind of storm. She called them wind monsters and said they lived inside thunderstorms but didn't come out very often. I think she fibbed about that part because she was always watching the sky and telling us to mind the weather. I figured she had a sense about these kinds of things and recognized presence before any witnessing ever took place. This time Sister was right about her intuition because it moved past the front porch and roared in lieu of ringing the bell.
For a few frozen seconds silence blanketed the room now thick with darkness. In this paralyzing
quiet we waited for it to choose between devastation and deliverance. There in Sister's arms, the trauma overcame me and I surrendered the stress of it all to an unconscious state. In the morning I would wake to find we endured both sacrifice and preservation. In the crisp dawn hours I would emerge from my pleasant state of blissful ignorance to hear words uglier and crueler than any joke I'd imagined one of nature's beasts could play.
Sister patted my cheeks with a bit of sting, slipped her hearty arm underneath the back of my neck and raised me to her, rocking me gently.
"Wake up, child" she repeatedly muttered, waiting patiently for my eyes to abandon their hibernation and accomplish the duty of focus.
"Your brother, he is missing," she explained.
Though barely roused, the pain of Sister's words penetrated me like a knife. I could think only of her funny phrase "wind monster," which suddenly became not only an indelible part of my vocabulary, but one whose otherwise cryptic, dormant meaning instantly sprouted to life.
Now that I have your attention, the first thing I'm going to do is disappoint you. Next, I'll shock you, then I'll inform you, and perhaps I'll even implore you. And, finally, I hope to inspire you. By now you've gathered that I'm not about to explore anything that will spark your prurient interest. Enough said about disappointment. Regarding shock, well, let me just say that the topic of my conversation is going to be children. And whenever that topic is used in conjunction with those subject to censorship, the unthinkable inevitably follows. In Florida, that all adds up to one word – dependency. The word alone conjures up visions of need, which suits so many of Florida's youth just fine because that's what kids who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned are in. Need. Need of somebody to care for them, support them, nurture them, parent them. Often what they get is the state of Florida to call Mom and Dad. Unfortunately, Florida is too often a poor parent, itself careless with its children.
What brings Florida youths to the dependency system is any number of events, each marked by suffering. A five-year-old boy is burned repeatedly with an iron by his mom and wears fresh bruises down his already scarred back. A ten-year-old girl is raped and sodomized over a four-year period by her father. Her mother doesn't believe her. A thirteen-year-old girl is held at gunpoint by her uncle while in his care and learns the hard way about incest while her sister plays in the next room. Three young siblings are left alone in a filthy home while their parents are out smoking crack. When they come home, they'll smoke it in the house. A premature newborn fights for his life. He is his mother's seventh cocaine baby. He has no name. These are dependent children, adjudicated so on a staggeringly regular basis throughout Florida. Their stories are common and without exaggeration; their beginnings, middles and ends too often tragic.
The goal of the dependency system, theoretically, is to rehabilitate and reunite the family. In Florida, children have the right to a caring, nurturing home, free from abuse and neglect. It's the state's job to help the family provide such an environment for its children. What it usually means is that dependent children linger in foster care for years waiting for permanency. Shortage of funding, human resources, and common sense are the culprits.
Although Florida is not a poor state, its leaders fail to allocate adequate funding, which, in turn, breeds a shortage of people available to handle the overburdened juvenile system and results in kids falling through the cracks. And although Florida is not an unintelligent state, its leaders fail to recognize the need for a system that gives the child top priority, which, in turn, saddles the child with the weight of the system and results in kids never rising from the depths.
Children in dependency proceedings face months and even years away from their families, being shuffled from placement to placement, and an overwhelming sense of loneliness.
Who is there for them? Who watches out for them? Not an attorney! In the vast majority of cases, children in dependency proceedings aren't entitled to an attorney, but their parents are. If they get lucky, some kids will be appointed an attorney by the court, but most are swept up in a current of authority and become involuntary participants in proceedings they cannot begin to understand, much less tread.
For the time being, the lay Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) is Florida's remedy. The GAL is a trained volunteer who represents the best interest of children who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned. The GAL gathers information, visits the children, talks to doctors, teachers, and counselors, and assesses first-hand what the decision maker cannot. The GAL then makes reports to the court regarding the best interests of the child. In effect, the GAL becomes the eyes and ears of the court. It is not an easy job, but it is rewarding. If you can stomach the harsh nature of the cases, I highly recommend it. The job comes with plenty of benefits that make up for the lousy pay-- courtroom experience, speaking in front of a judge, community involvement, and the opportunity to help a child's life improve by leaps and bounds.
The GAL undergoes intensive training focusing on the dependency process and the history and issues surrounding child abuse. Upon completion, the trainee is sworn in by a judge as a Guardian Ad Litem. Then come the faces. Suddenly, children are no longer names on a piece of paper or subjects of news stories. Now, they stand before you asking why they can't go home, what they did wrong, and wonder why they can’t see their parents. They want to go home. Abuse is better than not having a family, they reason. The GAL can report the child's desires to the court, but the GAL must always consider the best interest of the child, which is rarely to return to an abusive home, no matter how miserable the child appears. The risk must be removed from the home before the child can return. It can take months, years, or may never happen at all.
Florida's juvenile system is often criticized for its "best interest" model. In Florida, because children are not entitled to attorneys in dependency proceedings, the child's "expressed interests" are not zealously advocated, effectively drowning out the child’s voice. While the best interests of the child will be brought to the court's attention, there is no guarantee that the child's own wishes will be heard. Moreover, because the two don't always coincide, this means that a crucial voice is missing from the courtroom. It is hard, then, to imagine justice prevailing.
The same is true of an "expressed interest" model on its own. A child's age and maturity can be vital in determining whether to grant the child's wishes. Conflicts often arise for attorneys representing children, but it is the attorney's obligation to advocate for what the client wants, regardless of "best interests." But is a ten-year-old child capable of making life-altering decisions and determining what is in his or her own best interest? Emotions run high in dependency cases. Making rational choices and remaining objective can be extremely difficult. Here, the GAL is essential.
Ideally, every child in the system should have an attorney and a paid GAL. This would ensure that the child, who ought to be the focus of and most important party to the proceedings, receives both a partisan advocate for his voice and an impartial, motivated, well-trained advocate for his best interests. But, the legislators aren't listening. It's amazing what children will adapt to, and they know it. By setting the standard for an acceptable dependency system at ground zero, Florida takes advantage of that naivete. Our children deserve better. What the state will tolerate is unacceptable when the bottom line is so simple. Bel Kaufman said it best: "Children are the true connoisseurs. What's precious to them has no price, only value."
Shapes that cut you
Edges that define you
Hills that build you
Valleys that save you
Run your fingers along their lines
Moments that change you
Challenges that strike you
Truths that expose you
Friends who cherish you
Find yourself amid their shine
Times that throw you
Curves that try you
Regrets that haunt you
Self that doubts you
Keep whittling with your knife