“Oh, it is not thus—not thus,” 1 interrupted the being. “Yet such must be the impression conveyed to you by what appears to be the purport of my actions. Yet 2I seek not a fellow feeling in my misery. No sympathy may I ever find3. When I first sought it, it was the love of virtue, the feelings of happiness and affection with which my whole being overflowed4, that I wished to be participated. But now that virtue has become to me a shadow, and that happiness and affection are turned into bitter and loathing despair, in what should I seek for sympathy? I am content to suffer alone while my sufferings shall endure; when I die, I am well satisfied that abhorrence and opprobrium should load my memory5. Once6 my fancy was soothed with dreams of virtue, of fame, and of enjoyment. Once I falsely hoped to meet with beings who, pardoning my outward form, would love me for the excellent qualities which I was capable of unfolding. I was nourished with high thoughts of honour and devotion. But 7now crime has degraded me beneath the meanest animal. No guilt, no mischief, no malignity, no misery,8 can be found comparable to mine. When I run over the frightful catalogue of my sins, I cannot believe that I am the same creature whose thoughts were once filled with sublime and transcendent visions of the beauty and the majesty of goodness. But it is even so; the fallen angel becomes a malignant devil9. Yet 10even that enemy of God and man had friends and associates in his desolation; I am alone.”11
August is the Sun.12 Me and Mom and Dad2 are planets orbiting the Sun.3 The rest of our family and friends are asteroids and comets floating around the planets orbiting the Sun. The only celestial body that doesn’t orbit August the Sun is Daisy the dog, and that’s only because to her little doggy eyes, Augusts face doesn’t look very different from any other humans face. 4To Daisy, all our faces look a like, as flat and pale as the moon.
I’m used to the way this universe works. I’ve never minded it because it’s all I’ve ever known. I’ve always understood that August is special and has special needs. If I was playing too loudly and he was trying to take a nap, I knew I would have to play something else because he needed his rest after some procedure or other had left him weak and in pain. If I wanted Mom and Dad to watch me play soccer, I knew that nine out of ten times they’d miss it because they were busy shuttling August to speech therapy or physical therapy or a new specialist or a surgery.
Mom and Dad would always say I was the most understanding little girl in the world. I don’t know about that, just that I understood there was no point in complaining. I’ve seen August after his surgeries:5 his little face bandaged up and swollen, his tiny body full of IVs and tubes to keep him alive.6 After you’ve seen someone else going through that, it feels kind of crazy to complain over not getting the toy you had asked for, or your mom missing a school play. I knew this even when I was six years old. No one ever told it to me. I just knew it.7
He began his new life standing up, surrounded by cold darkness and stale, dusty air. 8
Metal ground against metal; 2a lurching shudder shook the floor beneath him. He fell down at the sudden movement and shuffled backward on his hands and feet, drops of sweat beading on his forehead despite the cool air.3 His back struck a hard metal wall; 4 he slid along it until he hit the corner of the room. Sinking to the floor, he pulled his legs up tight against his body, hoping his eyes would soon adjust to the darkness. 5
With another jolt,6the room jerked upward like an old lift in a mine shaft.
Harsh sounds of chains and pulleys, like the workings of an ancient steel factory, echoed through the room, bouncing off the walls with a hollow, tinny whine.7 The lightless elevator swayed back and forth as it ascended, turning the boy’s stomach sour with nausea; a smell like burnt oil invaded his senses, making him feel worse. He wanted to cry, but8 no tears came; he could only sit there, alone, waiting. 9
My name is Thomas, he thought.
That… that was the only thing he could remember about his life.
He didn’t understand how this could be possible. His mind functioned without flaw, trying to calculate his surroundings and predicament. Knowledge flooded his thoughts, facts and images, memories and details of the world and how it works. He pictured snow on trees, running down a leaf-strewn road, eating a hamburger, the moon casting a pale glow on a grassy meadow, swimming in a lake, a busy city square with hundreds of people bustling about their business.10
And yet he didn’t know where he came from, or how he’d gotten inside the dark lift, or who his parents were. 11 He didn’t even know his last name. 12 Images of people flashed across his mind, but there was no recognition, their faces replaced with haunted smears of color. 13 He couldn’t think of one person he knew, or recall a single conversation.
The room continued its ascent, swaying; Thomas grew immune to the ceaseless rattling of the chains that pulled him upward.14A long time passed. Minutes stretched into hours, although it was impossible to know for sure because every second seemed an eternity. 15 No. He was smarter than that. Trusting his instincts, he knew he’d been moving for roughly half an hour.
I have this fear. It causes my legs to shake. I break out in a cold sweat. I start jabbering to anyone who is nearby. 16 As thoughts of certain death run through my mind, the world appears a precious, treasured place. 2 I imagine my own funeral, then shrink back at the implications of where my thoughts are taking me. My stomach feels strange. My palms are clammy. 3
I am terrified of heights. 4
Of course, it’s not really a fear of being in a high place. Rather, it is the view of a long way to fall, of rocks far below me and no firm wall between me and the edge. My sense of security is screamingly absent. There are no guardrails, flimsy though I picture them, or other safety devices. I can rely only on my own surefootedness—5 or lack thereof.
Despite my fear, 6 two summers ago I somehow found myself climbing to a high place, while quaking inside and out. Most of our high school had come along on a day trip to the Boquerón, a gorgeous, lush spot in the foothills of Peru. Its prime attraction is the main waterfall, about 100 feet high, that thunders into a crystal clear pool feeding the Aguaytia River. All around the pool and on down to the rushing river are boulders large and small. The beach is strewn with rocks. On both sides of the fall, the jungle stretches to meet it, rising parallel to it on a gentler slope.
After eating our sack lunches within sight and sound of the fall, many of us wanted to make the climb to an area above it. 7 We knew others had done so on previous trips. A few guys went first to make sure they were on the right path. But after they left, my group of seven decided to go ahead without waiting for them to return. I suspected we were going the wrong way, but I kept silent, figuring that the others knew better. We went along the base of the hill until we reached the climb. It stopped me in my tracks. 8
In the long summers of my childhood, games flared up suddenly, burned to brightness, and vanished forever. The summers were so long that they gradually grew longer than the whole year,9 they stretched out slowly beyond the edges of our lives, but at every moment of their vastness they were drawing to an end, for that’s what summers mostly did: they taunted us with endings, marched always into the long shadow thrown backward by the end of vacation.2And because our summers were always ending in games, we sought new and more intense ones; and as the crickets of August grew louder, and a single red leaf appeared on branches green with summer,3 we threw ourselves as if desperately into new adventures, while the long days, never changing,4 grew heavy with boredom and longing.
I first saw the carpets in the back yards of other neighborhoods.5 Glimpses of them came to me from behind garages, flickers of color at the corners of two-family houses where clotheslines on pulleys stretched from upper porches to high gray poles, and old Italian men in straw hats stood hoeing between rows of tomatoes and waist-high corn. I saw one once at the far end of a narrow strip of grass between two stucco houses, skimming lightly over the ground at the level of the garbage cans.6 Although I took note of them, they were of no more interest to me than games of jump rope I idly watched on the school playground, or dangerous games with jackknives I saw the older boys playing at the back of the candy store. One morning I noticed one in a back yard in my neighborhood; four boys stood tensely watching. I was not surprised a few days later when my father came home from work with a long package under his arm, wrapped in heavy brown paper, tied with straw-colored twine from which little prickly hairs stuck up.7
Millhauser, Steven. “Flying Carpets.” The Knife Thrower and Other Stories.” Crown Publishers Inc., 1998.
When I was thirteen I spent a weekend at the beach in Wildwood, New Jersey, with my teenage cousins Janet and Lori. 8 In the space of thirty-six hours, they taught me everything I know about womanhood. 2 They knew how to “lay out” 3 in the sun wearing tanning oil instead of sunscreen. They taught me that you could make a reverse tattoo in your tan 4 if you cut a shape out of a Band-Aid and stuck it on your leg. 5 They taught me you could listen to General Hospital on the radio 6 if you turned the FM dial way down to the bottom.
Wildwood is a huge wide beach—the distance from your towel to the water was often equal to the distance from your motel to your towel. 7 And “back in the day” the place was packed exclusively with very, very tan Italian Americans and very, very burned Irish Americans. 8 As a little kid, I almost always got separated from my parents and 9 would panic trying to find them among dozens and dozens of similar umbrellas. 10 One afternoon a girl walked by in a bikini and my cousin Janet scoffed, 11 “Look at the hips on her.” I panicked. What about the hips? Were they too big? Too small? What were my hips? I didn’t know hips could be a problem. I thought there was just fat or skinny.
This was how I found out that there are an infinite number of things that can be “incorrect” on a woman’s body. 12
Fey, Tina (2011-04-05). Bossypants (pp. 19-20). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.
To begin with, it was a simple story: 13 I had gone into the hospital to have my appendix out. After two days they gave me food, but I couldn’t keep it down. And then a fever arrived. No one could isolate any bacteria or figure out what had gone wrong. No one ever did. I took fluids through one IV, and antibiotics came through another. They were attached to a metal pole on wobbly wheels that I pushed around with me, but I got tired easily. Toward the beginning of July, 2 whatever problem had taken hold of me went away. But until then, I was in a very strange state—a literally feverish waiting—and I really agonized. 3 I had a husband and two small daughters at home; I missed my girls terribly and I worried about them so much I was afraid it was making me sicker. When my doctor, to whom I felt a deep attachment—he was a jowly-faced Jewish man who wore such a gentle sadness on his shoulders, whose grandparents and three aunts, I heard him tell a nurse, had been killed in the camps, and who had a wife and four grown children here in New York City—this lovely man, I think, felt sorry for me, and saw to it that my girls—they were five and six—could visit me if hey had no illnesses. 4They were brought into my room by a family friend, and I saw how their little faces were dirty, and so was their hair, and I pushed back my IV apparatus into the shower with them,5 but they cried out, “Mommy, you’re so skinny!”6
First, we grieve. 7
Two young boys, friends just 13, died here this week, days apart. They enjoyed their skateboards and dirt bikes and stuff newly teenage boys enjoy. They did not die from a car crash or a fire or a terminal illness. They died from bad judgement. From making a bad decision they thought they could outlive. There is no indication they meant to die from experimenting with a dangerous substance that they did not know was highly lethal.
There will be time enough for the conversations about drugs in our schools/our community/the times we live. Brutal, tough conversations, perhaps finally now, about the number of deaths in the past two years in our town, of young people under the age of 30, that were all opiate related. Deaths whose cause have been whispered about but not discussed. Because make no mistake — 2 these two boys were part of an epidemic here of massive drug abuse in our town among young people.
And there might even be blame to be dealt to who supplied the drugs to those children. We all carry a piece of the burden for not paying closer attention to the neighbor’s kid. Not asking questions when we understood there to be changes in their friends and lifestyle choices. There will be time for all those questions to be asked.
But for now, just for this week, we grieve. With one heart we mourn the dead child that could have been ours, because they all make questionable choices — even bad choices — and by some measure of grace most survive. We open our hearts to those moms and dads who will spend the rest of their lives grieving their sons, their boys who will not grow into men.
We need to stop talking about what makes a community and be a community. Nobody needs another casserole — they need compassion. A handwritten note. A single flower, hand delivered. A full-bodied hug. And what each of the families needs is that you not forget them — three weeks from now, three months, three years — after all the attention and stories have faded from the news cycle. 3
Every day the school is trying to educate students in the basic subjects and in basic living skills to keep them safe. The teachers work impossibly hard — Bob and Julie and Nancy — to provide them with educational tools and basic living tools, even, often, personal hygiene products. The superintendent, Ember, takes her tender heart to work each day and tries to find where fair intersects with fear. And how to help the students and teachers and parents navigate the choppy waters of adolescence. Our police chief, Wade, and fire chief, Paul, and our sheriff, Justin — and their staff — try to holster emotions and wrangle the real bad guys and redirect the real dumb guys. The delicate balance in a resort community is a complicated dance between law and leisure.
Mistakes kill us. And dumb decisions kill us. And ill winds kill us. And fate kills us. And old age. And disease. Adolescence wasn’t meant to kill us. Maim us a little, yes. Toughen us. Define us. Bruise us. Inform us. But never actually kill us. 4
And the platitudes….” You’ll feel better in time.” “God’s will.” “ Better place.” 5 Stop! 6 Just be sad with these families. Cry with each other. Acknowledge this is rare and abnormal and out of the order of the universe. Hold each other. Touch is good. Let your children see you sad. Let them see how it would break you to have them gone. Let them know they can talk to you about the messy stuff. Or they can talk to another adult. There are bunches in town — at school, at various organizations and churches and charities and the neighborhood — who are ready with a hug and a beverage and a conversation. Everything is fixable if you share the problem. It is the bottled up stuff that creates the pressure that seeks release.
We can’t heal if we can’t grieve. Hearts filled with heavy sorrow are painful but not empty. Young boys who lived among us just days ago are forever gone now and we need to grieve them — and grieve with — each other.
The boys were friends. Grant and Ryan. They belonged to us here in Park City. They grew up here. Played on our streets, rode bikes on the jumps, skateboarded uptown. They were floppy-haired boys in sweatshirts that last week looked like all the other floppy-haired boys in sweatshirts.
And now they are dead. 7
To everything there is a season, the Bible tells us. “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn …” This week we should allow sadness to cloud our conversations. We should acknowledge there are apparent mysteries that cannot be understood by a forensics report. Layers of mystery and decisions and judgements and perhaps eventually somewhere, grace. The grace that will lead us home. Together. Not yet, not today, but somewhere down a mountain road….some Sunday in our Park… 8
The wind blew gently through the sparse trees, rustling the dry air and dusty landscape. 9
It carried stale scents of the watering hole, a desolate desert oasis, 2 with only a few skinny dry trees. The earth here was rock and arid.
Al opened one eye, glancing around the dusty land below, the empty watering hole. 3 He grumbled, raising his head to sniff. 4
He was a loner. Abandoned, 5 he would never reach adult size, but for now he was surviving well, however empty his stomach was, and with every day the ache in his shrunken belly hurt less.
The male stood letting out a gurgling grumble, stretching his legs, The watering hole was a lonely empty place, but he had gotten used to that feeling by now. 6
He lifted his beautifully teardrop-marked face to gaze around the land. His land. 7 His single shade tree up on the hill, the one under which he had spent his first night on his own when he was just a few weeks old. The day that changed – or more so ruined – his entire life. 8 A chill ran down his spine and his skin shivered, Al shook his head and rearranged his jaw. Horribly deformed, it had set him apart. The jaw was the one reminder he had, a promise for vengeance in the Tail-whip creature that had torn his life apart. 9 He ran a tongue across the scar tissue and malformed bones, narrowing his small eyes. But for now, vengeance could wait.
He trotted back along the lonely hot shore under the blistering sun, plopping down under the sheltering shade of his precious tree with a grunt, the coolness instantly making him close his eyes. His hungry gut quieted, and his mind slipped into the cool dark sea of dreams, away from the blistering lonely watering hole.
He was a young hatchling again. 10 But not a comfortable child-hood memory of playing or snuggling with his fellow siblings like it should have been. 11 No, Al’s opportunity to that had been ripped away. Instead he lay there on the hard hot earth, pain making his vision blinding white. And the stench of fresh iron-smelling blood filled his nose, mouth, and pooled around his head in a dizzying amount. 12 Searing pain left his pupils just constricted dots. But soon his vision began to clear, the white light of pain faded only slightly. And who should be standing there but the towering shadow of his mother! His eyes brightened and for a second he forgot his pain, and cried out for her. The large female Allosaur looked down at her offspring, at how crooked and loose his bottom jaw, almost severed, hung. 13 She stood still, staring at what had become of her hatchling, the bloodied half dead mess he was. Her small eyes met his wide agony-filled ones that stared at her in anticipation of the comfort of her presence.
She turned away.
And left. 14
Maternal instinct only goes so far. 15