Monthly Archives: February 2016

February 29th, 2016

Rough night I had,
I hardly sleeped.
Climbed out of bed,
But found I leaped.
Jumped in the shower,
Flew into my pants,
I tried to walk,
But only pranced.


And then recalled,
To my chagrin,
It’s still last month,
Not March I’m in!

Happy Leap Day Everyone!

Never say never

They don’t come home after work, buy you gifts, give you a kiss, or cuddle at night.
They never tell you nice things, take you exotic places, to dinner, or hold your hand in the movie.
They can’t say they love you, hug you, help when you need it or stand by your side in a crowd. They’re not much of a lover, poet, looker or dreamer and you’re left invisible, alone on your own.

And though you’ve become accustomed to being without all these years, you may one day find yourself glancing up at a stranger for the first time who sees within and mustered the courage to come say hello when you could not. And at that moment, your crumbling coupled imagination of how it’s been better to be alone and unhurt says you just might have been mistaken too long.

So you fumble a returned hello, an awkward smile, and feel that ancient hope awakening from when you left it years ago where it first said hello and last said goodbye. And perhaps you’ve been wrong about love all these years.

Love always began with hello, so never say never, because you never know.

A divine call from the Unknown.

“Unknown.”

That’s what it read on the first ring and, as always, it would read the same until it went to voice mail.

After all, I was in the tenth frame of a high game with two strikes, preparing for another and a solo celebration of my personal best at a game I haven’t played in years, but from the looks of things, I should probably resume.

I haven’t answered an Unknown caller since September 4, 2011. That was the day I made a pivotal life decision, ending 8 years of a hellish crystal methamphetamine habit which had taken everything I own, and then some, including a squeaky clean criminal record. Feel free to read my backstory at http://www.lifemeanssomuch.com/my-9-1-1/ now or later to get the ugly truth of the darkened life I lead for so many years and would again be reminded of today.

Yet, at the top of my game in a noisy bowling hall, a still small voice instructed me to answer this divine call.

“Hello?”

It was Siri.

Well, the Federal Board of Prisons Siri giving me the option of accepting or rejecting the incoming call from a John _______, a name I either didn’t recognize from her automated pronunciation or the ambient noise of the bowling hall.

I accepted the call.

“Hello?”

“Don? This is John, remember me?”

He’d said his last name the way I’d remembered it at least six years ago.

I dropped the ball and collapsed into the chair.

Had it been one of my three kids, I might have been less shocked.  But I’d spoken to all of them this week and they were doing fine at work and relationships and unlike their dad, were mostly not criminally inclined as I had once been, and still very squeaky clean. At least to a father’s knowledge.

“How are you?” is probably the most useless opening question in any conversation, especially one with this inmate who’d been incarcerated 21 months to date. I’d heard stories about prison and they’re not just true, they’re much worse.

“I’ve been trying to find your number for years to reach you,” he continued on a call that was being timed and recorded at the Lompoc, California Federal Correctional Facility.

“Well, here I am,” is probably the second most useless thing to say, but I was speechless as to the nature of the call from this dear friend who, like me, had once immersed himself in the drug trade as deep as the Mexican cartel, but apparently, from the call, hadn’t escaped the consequences.

For about six years, we both knew our endings in the business wouldn’t be pretty. Either we’d end up in prison or very, very dead.  The world of crystal meth and upline suppliers are unforgiving, unpredictable and outright crazy. Several times, I narrowly escaped being murdered either by a skinny crackhead for a $20 bag or in negotiations on bulk purchases from Mexican men who, not surprisingly, all went by Jose or Freddy.

I had been arrested in the city’s biggest drug bust of the month several years ago in a sting where they confiscated tens of thousands in a variety of drugs and tens of thousands in cash I’d amassed from the business I began purely by accident.  I faced 25 years of a mandatory prison sentence for high level trafficking but for the grace of God, subsequent immediate life changes, and even more grace, I’d escaped.  And not in the El Chapo way.  It was a profession I never wanted in the first place.  John had not been so lucky.  He’d left the country to avoid prosecution but years later had apparently been apprehended in a surprise visit by US marshals who brought him home to face his crimes and penalties which had landed him a cold cell in a federal penitentiary for the past two years.

I learned of these things in this short conversation which surely wouldn’t be our last on the topic.

You see, despite the fact we both were addicts and dealers, we genuinely liked each other.  We “worked” together often and even spent social time talking about the good men we used to be and not finding answers to why we were doing what we were doing nor how we ended up in the business.  Both of us were secretly ashamed of our habits and our livelihood which depended on keeping people high enough to lose everything, including their families and jobs, and low enough to often lose their dignity.

By now, we were well into the important topics of the quickly elapsing conversation.  He was to be released at the end of March and wondered if he could count on me for a ride to wherever home and a new clean life might be found. I said of course to all his requests, for he was a man who had my back countless times I don’t even dare detail here for lack of time and words to explain the loyalty, brotherly love and support I experienced at the hands and rescue of this man at pivotal moments of my drug-dealing days. Suffice to say, It was the kind of unwavering support I hadn’t even experienced from a brother in church after a lifetime of serving God which, for many years, I’d placed on hold.

Having time for our histories later on, we’d made the necessary connections of his information and my commitment to be there for him upon release as he had been so many times for me.

If I hadn’t answered the divine call that morning in a loud bowling alley at the peak of my final game, I’d have missed forever the chance to fix something that has haunted me for years and was part of a Fourth Step I never did. And not because I didn’t want to.

“It’s really good to hear your voice, Don.”

I reciprocated as we hung up, knowing that this was to be one of those nodal, memorable events in my continuing life of recovery and promised a sober opportunity for both of us to reunite, unenhanced, to re-experience those virtues in one another that we’d only seen through the obscurity of a methamphetamine haze for so many years.

Ball in hand, I stared down the lane like a villain, armed with 14 pounds and a rather large smile. I rolled my third strike, a perfect final frame, and my day’s personal best.

Funny thing, nowadays, when my life seems at its lowest, the most comforting statement I can make to myself is:

“Don, you could be in prison.”

Such was the situation today, when I answered a divine call from the Unknown.

You got a card.

“You got a card,” said my boss on her rounds about the office as she tossed a small pink envelope with no return address on my desk at lunchtime. Busy working through the hour on a frustrating case, I could have easily lost it amid the tsunami of scattered papers I call my desk.
By the time I was finished, I’d added another wave of debris to the stack but the little pink corner peeked out among the mess as if it had climbed itself to the top not to go unnoticed. I grabbed it with my left and gulped a sip of cold coffee with my right.
Nobody sends me cards here. A pink one at that.
It being just a few days from Valentine’s Day, I sniffed it for perfume but it smelled just like a card, so tossed it back and went to lunch.
The day had been merciless at our little non-profit that helps people stay housed, fed and plugged in to utilities at critical times of their lives when nobody else cares. Much of my morning had been spent on such a case, but I returned from the sandwich shop with a ham and cheese and what I thought might be a solution.
As usual, a dozen more urgent memos had made their way onto my desk during that half hour away but the corner of that same pink envelope had again risen up like a phoenix as if begging to be opened. I notice things like that. My desk is always a fire hazard but I keep snapshots of it in my mind for times like this and I knew the card was no longer buried where I had left it just 30 minutes earlier.
No return address, I opened it, finding a note inscribed:
“I just want to thank you for all that you do for me. I don’t seem to find the time to say it enough but I will always remember this day.”
That was it. No salutation. No signature. No return address. Nothing.
I held the card and eased back in my chair like Sherlock Holmes, attempting to recognize the penmanship or some other mark that might reveal the sender’s identity, but no cigar.
It was at that moment I became infected.
So many names, cases and contacts I have made in this job over the years. I suppose it could have come from any one of them, or all of them for that matter. I let my mind sort through the rolodex of memories and in doing so, I smiled, realizing the absolute brilliance of this one anonymous pink author.
He or she wasn’t satisfied with just paying it forward as so many are noticed these days. Buying someone’s coffee or meal, pitching in a buck when someone comes up short at the checkout…all wonderful displays of a caring humanity, but the power held in this tiny, pink, anonymous card trumped them all.
Its anonymity had the power to change the world, or at least one person’s perspective of it.
For the remainder of the day, while doing my work, I calculated so many names and faces of possible senders and individual reasons for their thankfulness. It could have been pretty much any one of them. By 6pm when I walked out of my office for home, the experience had changed me.
The cluelessness of that little lunchtime mystery had put a smile on my face that stayed there in the background all afternoon.
That brilliant anonymous author of the pink envelope never meant to be known.
They meant to be Anyone or Everyone.
I tucked the pink card from Anyone in the corner of my bulletin board, turned out my light, and said goodbye to everyone.
It was a lovely ending to a difficult week.
And I started the weekend with a smile and a stop at the store to pick up my own blank little pink card and a postage stamp.

A fortunate lunch.

“I can be very frugal, you’ll see,” she muttered with shaking lips and swollen eyes, like I’d asked her to perform some miraculous feat for my own well-being.

She’d failed to grasp this morning’s grave news.

Each of her 84 years sat across from me with sticky, cataracted  eyes that began welling last evening  in anticipation of our early morning meeting.  Though her dignity is intact, by April or sooner she will be another statistic in a sad, lonely and forgotten column.  I did the math several times, either because she didn’t believe me that she wasn’t going to make it, or perhaps because I didn’t want to believe it myself.

Each time was the same. A budget difference of -$123 a month, with nothing left to cut out but food.

Breaking the news to a poor old woman who’d worked 60 years of a hard life that she will soon be homeless because her meager income and more meager expenses will outpace each other within a few short months was heartbreaking.

I packed up my things at the site where, twice weekly, I am their savior.

I try to help fixed income seniors in crisis make it to the next day, the next week, the next month, and into the next birthday if they can last that long.

I overshot the right turn to my office to go somewhere to be with my thoughts and worries for this widowed woman long since abandoned in this desert by her family to “retire.”

“I’ll have the lemon chicken with steamed rice,” ordering from Jone, the tiny Asian waitress at my favorite Chinese hole in the wall on Water Street. I couldn’t return to work just yet with a wet, puffy-eyed face like this and a story like that, so this was my safe house for 30 minutes or so.

She knows me. I’m there a few times a month at least. She asked if I was okay. I said yes.  She asked how my mom was doing and I said she was good, too. She brought my won ton soup and crunchy noodles and a Sprite and thought it best to leave me alone in my unusual condition.

I wondered if it is easier for a doctor to break the news to someone with a catastrophic illness that would eventually take their life than to break the news to someone that they won’t actually die, but will soon be spending their remaining years somewhere cold in the winter, hot in the summer and without an address.

Lunch arrived, saving me from the next blubbering wave of awareness that sometimes, I’m no savior at all.  I can only do so much, and sometimes, in a rare instance, it’s not enough.

I re-lived her pleading face across the table as I picked at lunch, wiped my face and mouth, and composed myself to get back to the office to staff this situation with my bosses in hopes that together we could arrive at some solution, if not at least temporarily.

The $8.60 check was $13 with a generous tip to Jone for letting me be for the half-hour lunch. I laid the cash on the check and unwrapped the fortune cookie:

“You will be happy with the results of your work today.”

It could have easily read:

“There is a Savior, Don, and it’s not you.”