SpadeI pulled as they pushed. We were both so involved in our own little worlds we almost ran into each other. I let the door go, stepping back with a tipsy giggle as they rushed past me.

It happened so fast.

The sound cracked out like snap of a B.B. Gun.

She stumbled past me onto the sidewalk, gasping for freedom. Something felt wrong about her movement. It was as if her surreal moment leached into reality. Everything slowed around her. Her unease seeped into the air. She started to step away from the restaurant. Hand to her temple; you could see she was wrestling with herself.

Her hair was cropped short in excellent taste that even the most polished hipster would be jealous of. Fashioned after a man from the 20’s, her hair was long on the flat top of her head and buzzed with marine precision elsewhere. The back of her T-shirt had the same logo as the restaurant.

She turned back to the door at the sound.

I stood deer-in-head-lights, trying to figure out what caused the sound and her pain.

Her eyes were edged in charcoal, and her delicate features lined with make up detailing her femininity. She was beautiful. Fairly-like as she looked up at the hand she had to her temple.

–Oh, it was my bracelet.

I looked at the ground. I couldn’t see anything anywhere. The beads had dispersed themselves too well to be found.

–I. I’m. Um.

I stuttered. I would help her look if she wanted. She felt upset to me. She felt like everything had gone wrong and if that bracelet was going to make her feel better, I was okay trying to gather all the tigers eye beads.

She sighed, noticing me for the first time. Her worry relaxed into a smile. She placed the hand with the missing bracelet into a pocket. She nodded, easing back into life.

–You know what? It’s okay. This is fated to be.

She then turned and walked away, more at peace then I ever think I could feel when walking out of a job.

Old Love New Heart

Red HeartWhen I first saw my wife I knew right then I’d marry her. There was never a doubt. There was never any other option. It didn’t matter that I was fourteen years old and that she was twelve. We both knew. It was how it was supposed to be.

Now, kids these days. . . I don’t know what the hell’s wrong with ‘em. Fuck. I mean fuck it all to hell. You all don’t know what you feel or think. You don’t know how to commit or what commitment even is. You are all or nothing. You’re with me or against me, my way or the high way. That’s now how love works. Not Love love, anyway.

I remember when I was about sixteen years old. Maybe I was seventeen. Hell. I could have been eighteen. Fuck. No. That’s not right. I was sixteen when I told her. I told my wife that I was going into the army. There was just no way around it. My dad was in the army. My granddad was in the army. My great granddad was in the army back in Ireland. I’m from a military family. So I was going into the military. I am the Army’s man, I said.

Now, there is something to be said about Irish women. Fuck. They are something else. Fire in the soul and more stubborn than an ass. Ha! Fuck me. That woman, she is. She was. . . She looked right back at me. She told me she was going to go to college. She was going to be a professor. Now, this didn’t happen yesterday. This was back when it was “unnatural” and all that fucking god damned bullshit. Fuck. What is wrong with people, anyway, huh? Fucking “unnatural”. Unnatural, what does it even fucking mean? Hell if I know. Hell if I give a rat’s ass.

That was it. I went into the army. I married her when she was out’a high school. She went to college. I served. She schooled. We had a family and all that shit. We were all about family planning. I mean, fuck. Do I look like I give a damn about what a church, thinks? You think I am going to let a church tell me what I can and cannot do with my wife? Fuck. Do you think, she would? My wife. She’s a woman who knows what she wants, wanted.

You know, she became a professor at George Washington University. Fuck. She was published and everything. She knows, knew, everything about books. Never read and of that shit I read. I’m so proud of her. Not that what I thought would have changed her mind. Ha! Fuck no. She would have just kept on workin’ and paid me no mind. She is, was, a damn fine woman. Damn fine.

Why is it that kids these days don’t do things separately, together? Why do you all fuck yourselves? Love and Loving, isn’t hard. You just do it. You just commit the same way you commit to all your new-fangled shit. You know, that media socializing and work. You love all the wrong fucking things. These days one person isn’t as important as everyone else. They are either more important or less important. Nothing’s equal. Nothing is the way it is. It’s always more than, less than, better than, the best, the worst, the most. Fuck. I mean really. . .  Fuck. That’s not even counting all of the should have’s, could have’s, and would have’s you all have out there.

Just do it. Just fucking love someone. Damn it. It’s really not all that hard if you have a heart.

Never Just: A Life In The Quiet Corner

Red Heart

Written in Loving memory of Donald Spaeth; teacher, mentor, and friend.

We had Freshman English in the closet classroom. It was absolutely stifling. No windows. No space. We lived in a box. Caging ourselves at our desks, we were prepared to dissect and destroy some of the worlds’ greatest pieces of literature. We averaged fifteen years of age and believed we knew everything about the world. Our heads were so big with our thoughts; we were more sophomoric than sophomores.

He stood at the front of the classroom. Wearing a Hawaiian t-shirt and cargo khaki shorts, he was not your standard Woodstock Academy teacher. Pushing his spectacles up his nose he looked around at all of us. Taking us in slowly. He absorbed us. He took his time in this first meeting.

Who knows what he was thinking in that moment while we looked dully back at him. To us, it was just another day. Simply another class. We were counting down the minutes till we could move onto the next scheduled torture in the day.

He took a breath and paused. Was this how he wanted to begin? Yes. He committed.

–What do you believe in?

He asked us. Taking in our dumbfounded looks, he spoke again. He gestured with his hands to emphasize the words. Not a single movement wasted. He worked with purpose in communication.

–I said, what do you believe in. What do you stand for? Come on!

Some of us looked at each other, confused on how to answer the question. There was silence.

The first day of class does not start like this. Everyone knew that. We were supposed to play name games and the teacher would calmly explain the expectations for the class. They would drone on about how this was going to be a hard class. That it would challenge us more than middle school did because we were far more capable than what middle school gave us credit for. Blah. Blah. Blah.

None of that was happening here. We didn’t even know his name. He hadn’t even bothered to write it on the board.

I stared wide eyed at him. A deer in headlights. The teacher stretched his fingers at his side. Waiting for us to volunteer, feverish and excited.

What did I believe in? It would have been easier if he had asked what did I not believe in. I would stand for anything if it sounded reasonable. If a cause needed a champion; if a campaign needed a poster child, I was it. I was so good at standing, I didn’t even remember what it was like to sit down. This was an impossible question.

He strode over to his desk. With drama he snatched a book from on top of it and held it up. This was supposed to be a clue. An obvious clue. He realized he had asked a difficult question, and instead of backtracking he wanted us to reach for it. Even if we needed training wheels he was going to push us to our limits. He saw us as capable.

A classmate in the front row could offering an educated guess.


It wasn’t quite an answer since it was stated questioningly but our teacher accepted it with spirit. He dramatically clutched at his heart and took several steps backwards. Struck with the force of the answer.

He paused again. He leaned forward peering at all of us mischievously. He saw us, all. He knew us before we knew ourselves; and we didn’t realize it.

He slammed the book down on the desk of an unsuspecting student. We all jumped from the force of it.

–Yes! But . . .

He held up his hand to us. With relished he forced us to wait. We sat in unsettling silence.

–Would you die for it?

That was our introduction to Romeo and Juliet.

This was our introduction to Mr. Speath.

You could never just read a poem, or glance through a book. Nope. Never. Everything had a purpose; an intent. It wasn’t enough to read. We were demanded to a different standard. He assumed we could read critically and excelled at reading comprehension. He asked us to look at the practical application of literature. Was its relatable to the world at large? Does this show us how to live, or how not to live? You were asked to live it.

English Literature was never to be a chore. It was to be a guide. A lamp against the dark of the world. The key to all our problems and questions. It would cure your heartache. Give you drive and passion. Help you live a life worth living.

He was determined and joyful to give us the tools we would need to succeed in life. Mr. Spaeth knew we could write essays and how little meaning an AP exam would have ultimately in our universe. He sought more and in turn he taught us to seek more. As passionately he lived; he wished for us to live more fiercely. To conquer the world and make it our own. To be present and joyous; mournful and supportive; empathetic and of service. To love and let live.

He looked at us as equals. People with enough knowledge and pain to understand adult responsibility. Only once did I ever see him look at us as a parent.

We were standing in line at the wake of friend. It was the first death of our peers. An accident. An untimely death of the best of us. Shaken, we trembled waiting in line. He came over and stood before us. He twisted his wrist uncomfortably at his side.

–Oh God, my children.

He said. We stared dumbly back at him. We were beyond words. Nothing could ease the pain of this loss.

–How old are you?

He asked. It had been years since we had set foot into his classroom. We had up and left; moved onto the next journey. We answered.

–Twenty. We are twenty years old.

He covered his mouth and tears streamed down his face. He tried to stifle his sobs.

–You are just children. You are too young for this. My God. How could this have happened?

His grief was surreal. It cemented the world. Gave root to pain. Showed us the finality of death. The horror of it. His suffering was raw and cut deeply into the soul.

He took off his glasses and wiped at his tears with his wrist. He walked away from us. He was too overwhelmed to do anything else. Say anything more. Death stole all words. Death consumed all.

Death takes away life, but it leaves us with so much more. It gives light to the shadows of our hearts. It empties us and makes us full again. It weighs us down; drowning us in memory. Still, death gives us more than what it takes. In its darkness, it reveals the light. Gives way to a new path, a renewed way of being; a stronger sense of self. It gives strength for a new day. Having known the best of us. Having learned the greatest of lessons. Having been taught the heart of life.