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Dean Koontz, Marry Poppins, and My Strange Fear

My life is strange.  Not strange like in a Dean Koontz book where a man and a woman team up to fight some bizarre techno-creature that’s about to hit civilization like a Japanese monster.  Usually when that happens in his books it’s because post-modernist progressives have run amok in government or are engaged in some well-financed secret scheme to bring their darkest utopian designs to fruition.

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No.  My life’s not strange like that.

Not at all.

Though I wish it was.

His heroic characters are usually exemplars of human decency.  There are times in my life when I haven’t been.  They constantly choose to do the right thing in a modern world in perpetual moral disarray—one seducing us to do what is easy over what is right or good, to flee from responsibility for instant gratification.

I went for the gratification.

In Koontz’s books the characters have endearingly memorable quirks and engage in a constant back and forth barrage of witty banter.  Best of all, more often than not, there are golden retrievers in his books.

I don’t have a golden retriever.  The closet thing I have is a cat, and much as I hate to say it, when some creature slithers out of the darkness into the house to eat me, my cat’s going to show it where the silverware is kept.

That’s why I’m thinking about switching to plastic forks and knives, or maybe even economizing and just doing sporks. The other day when a neighbor unexpectedly rang the doorbell at midnight because he needed a set of jumper cables, the cat shot off into  bedroom closet faster than Adam Lambert came out of the closet.

By the way, thanks a lot Patches, you’re a real stand up pet you stupid fur ball.

Thankfully there are no manmade monstrosities stalking me either.  If there were, I might beat my cat into the bedroom closet and call the SWAT team, or in the least, Terminix to take care of the threat.

Or maybe not.

I used to sell pest control and it can be pretty damn expensive.  Especially if the guy from Terminix tries to get me to buy protection against things I don’t really need, like termites.

I’ll get an aardvark for that.

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I really do whish I could be more like one of Koontz’s characters.  Like Odd Thomas.  He’s an awesome guy.  Think Peter Parker played by Toby McGuire, but even snarkier.  By the way, if you haven’t read the series about him, stop what you’re doing, even if it’s driving.  You shouldn’t be reading this behind the wheel, anyway.  Go as quickly as you can to Barnes and Noble or Amazon and buy the books.

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Oddie is not your typical hero.  He’s an out of work fry cook who finds himself in the wrong place at the right time to do some really good deeds.  He’s average.  An Everyman responding to extraordinary events with ordinary decency, which means that all too often, he is an out of the ordinary guy.

And that’s a sad commentary on the world we live in.

The one thing my life does have in common with a Dean Koontz novel is the romantic and amazingly wonderful way it unfolded this year.  After torpedoing my first marriage and causing an immense amount of pain to a number of people, I never believed I could have been fortunate enough to meet my future wife, Carrie.  Nor did I believe that I would know . . . just know after only 48 hours that I was destined to marry her.

Yet here I am.  Totally in love and living with someone who I am dead certain I am not good enough for.  It’s a miracle that she loves me.  But here’s the problem.  You’d think I would be extremely happy that I have blundered into finding a girl like that in my life.  I actually am.  Honest to God.  But how many people find someone who has a smile that can shine bright enough to cause retinal injury, is incredibly patient, gentle, smart, and always warmly encouraging.

Considering my life, that amounts to a freaking miracle.

I’ve never met anyone like her before.  And that’s when I began to realize either God made a mistake, or Carrie is some on some kind of special mission.  I’d say she’s like a real life Marry Poppins, but I don’t think Marry Poppins would ever have had sex with me and Carrie is willing to do things I’m not totally sure I’m comfortable discussing in public.

Thing is, when you realize that you have a truly genuine girl in your life, the kind of person the universe only spins out rarely, It dawns on you that you don’t deserve what you’ve got.  Then you start expecting that once things are going really well, the umbrella pops out.

I’m honestly afraid Carrie’s going to float away one day.  The secret, I guess, is not to be too good.  Mary Poppins always stayed around until everyone became better than they were before she arrived.  Maybe I’ll take up a vice, like running a drug ring or lighting paper bags filled with dog doo-doo on preachers’ front porches . . . or something like that.

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And look at what happened to all the truly amazing people that have walked this earth.  Socrates?  He became the first person to join the Hemlock Society.  Gandhi?  He got shot before he ever had a chance to put on any weight.  And Dean Koontz’s own Odd Thomas lost his girlfriend to a shooting spree by a very bad bunch of people.

Maybe I’m weird, but I was reflecting the other day how strange it was to find the girl of my dreams and suddenly start going into conniptions over it.  I do hope to the core of my being that God grants undeserved graces without cruelly pulling them away just as you start trying to live up to them.  Until I know for sure, I’m going to try to be a much better person than I was before I met Carrie, but I think I’ll go throw her umbrellas away, just in case.

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The Price of Adultery: Part 1

My ex-wife Julie and I met one night at college as we each walked alone along separate paths.  I was lonely, and she told me later that she had been drawn out onto a lonely walk because of another guy.  She liked him, but her feelings had gone unrequited.  That night she walked to let go of the idea of him and reconcile herself to the fact that something she had hoped for would never be.

By that time of my life I have discovered that I was already in a lifelong battle with depression.  As I passed groves of mountain evergreens lining the walking paths that skirted the campus, I remember the faint emotional sirens singing insidiously to me the same song that seems to tug at people with depression.

I felt like I was not “good enough” to be a part of the company of other students I admired.  My life was always the life of the outsider standing in the cold night looking into a window spilling out warmth, light, and laughter of people within . . . groups of people, the voice within me chided, that I could never possibly belong to.

I always watched from the other side of that window, pretending to smile, hoping that the grin on my face showed those inside that I too was one of them, one of the blessed elect, and that except for my solitary errand, I would doubtless be elsewhere enjoying the same mirth and happiness they reveled in.

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But I knew inside that I was really one of H.G. Wells’ Morlocks, a collegiate J. Alfred Prufrock not fit to share a smile or a laugh with a pretty girl or a close friend.  I knew in truth that it was time for me to go, always time for me to go.  Only the ghost of me remained.  If all I left in others was the believable pretense of a smile and the veneer of acceptability, then I felt like I broke even.

That night we both secretly carried our own baggage of disappointments and letdowns.  We met and walked together, and at some point I held her hand.  Neither of us suspected how far things would go, or how far things would fall.  I sensed from the beginning that we weren’t the best fit, but two months later I discovered I had MS and Julie was the one person there for me.  6 months after that she was pregnant and 10 months after that we were married.

Julie was a wonderful girl.  Gentle.  Sweet.  Thoughtful.  Considerate.  Unsure of herself and full of her own self-doubts.  And why shouldn’t she have been?  When Ju was born, the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck, choking her.  The resulting brief reduction of blood flow to her brain left her with a number of learning disabilities.

Growing up, she attended a prestigious and expensive private Catholic school, and it was hell for her.  All of the kids came from families with money and they possessed the kind of self-confident arrogance that sometimes accompanies children born among the Eloi, or the elect.

Julie attended special ed. classes to help her learn to work with her learning disabilities.  But you can imagine what it looks like to snooty school kids when one of their classmates has to leave regular class in order to attend “special” classes taught by the same teachers who were also working with mentally retarded children.

Julie knew that almost everyone looked askance at her as far as perceived academics went.  The boys liked her because she was thin and cute and more jock than preppy diva.  Julie has always been extraordinarily modest.  Any nascent arrogance got beaten out of her by a father that walked out on her when she was young.  And then there were the cruel remarks children made behind her back because she obviously wasn’t like them.  More, Julie never knew how pretty she was when she was younger.  The girls did, though, and they had their ways of making her feel ostracized . . . like a Morlock.

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Our marriage was full of trouble from the beginning.  I was always impatient with Julie.  Despite her learning disabilities, Ju was bright and just as capable as any other girl.  She just took longer to process and sift through things she read and heard.  I was book smart and grasped literary and philosophical things easily—the kind of guy who never opened a book and hardly went to class but still pulled a B effortlessly.

Julie worked and fought for every academic accomplishment she earned.  I had little respect for her at times because I constantly had to stop in mid-conversation and explain things to her I found self-evident.  She frequently became passive-aggressive and defensive whenever issues arose.  On top of that she suffered from what was at times a severe social anxiety.

Despite all of this, Julie loved me wholeheartedly and with the kind of devotion many people would shave years off of their lives to experience from another.  For all her love and fidelity, I returned her affection with an affair that left her shattered and devastated.

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Julie spent most of her life unsure of herself and afraid to live, to step out and take a chance.  Most of the time she got by with just existing.  This took its toll on me over the years.  That’s about the only thing I can offer up as an explanation as to why I cheated on her.  For a long time I clung to it as a life raft, excusing me from the deep and damning waters of my betrayal.

One day I finally let go of the raft and allowed myself to sink into the depths of that pitiless and self-recriminating sea.  Not a day goes by now when I do not in some way or another pay for the emotional toll I exacted on her.  I know that we weren’t good for each other.  Intellectually we had very different needs.  But this knowledge doesn’t do a bit of good to buoy up so my head remains above water.  It’s all I can do to hold on and tread.  Guilt is such a thinner thing than water that when we let go of the defenses we cling to in order to keep it at bay, we sink.  And down below, where the water is deepest, the guilt exerts a pressure that is unbearable.

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Julie has the kind of tenacity and spirit that will allow her to remain afloat in even the worst storms.  I am not so strong or resilient.  But rarely are the souls of the damned made of such durable stuff.  She sails in better and safer waters.  I live at the bottom of a sea floor littered with the wrecks of torpedoed relationships, walking and stumbling blindly among other lost souls in the dark, hoping for a redemption that remains ever elusive and forbidden.

A Regret

I’ve been thinking about taking up fishing lately.  The last time I went fishing was with my grandfather.  I was never into it because I was a teenager and teenagers are rude.  A kid of the 80s, my biggest concerns were whether to get the Run DMC album or go for the latest Michael Jackson release.  It says a lot about my age that Michael Jackson was still cool when I was in middle and high school.

One of my biggest regrets is that I took my grandfather’s fishing trips as little more than necessary inconveniences.  While he fished I stayed in his car and listened to the radio.

Now my grandfather is dead and I miss him more than ever.

Since I’ve gotten older, my fishing trips have consisted of whatever is on sale at the Harris Teeter seafood section.  I ‘ve made way too many bad mistakes in my life, and I think fishing has become a way for me to dig back into the past and maybe find some of the innocence I possessed as a child . . . at least before I grew too old and too cool to be burdened by Papaw’s fishing-tales of life in the Appalachians when he was a boy.

And now here I am.  So far from grace and youth that everything I took for granted is dirt and dust.  I cannot bring my grandfather back, no matter how well I manage to cast my line into the water.  It just won’t reach that far.

Nothing this side of the grave ever will.

Living here in Wilmington, North Carolina, something in the salty ocean air has grabbed ahold of me.  I live four miles from the water’s edge.  And that salt . . . that clean, refreshing salt makes me feel pleasantly unsettled.  Salt has always been a key alchemical element, and there is alchemy and magic in the crash of the Atlantic’s waters on the nearby shore.  I can hear its mysterious voice beckoning—a sub-vocal beckoning to something paradoxically inchoate yet antediluvian.

A need to find some kind of communion linking me to a past that I once shrugged my shoulders to and now mourn because it is beyond my grasp.

I watched the sun rise over the sea this morning.  Its first touch on the horizon fired the low clouds on the horizon a brilliant bright red, where dawn gave birth to the earth that is newborn every morning.  Behind me the moon was at its full and setting as clouds passing in front of it broke and were haloed in its silvery sheen.  Both were at opposite poles, and rarely have I had a chance to see something so beautiful and poignant.

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I will look forward to getting out onto the pier, but I know it will be a lonely pilgrimage.  Maybe I will catch a bit of those moments I let slip through my fingers so long ago.  Yet time only allows us a finite amount of moments with those we love.  I grieve over the loss of mine.

On being the chick in this relationship

The girl I love and I are in the perfect relationship so far.  She’s a teacher and I’m a complainer.  She’s also a bit sadistic, which plays into her hands very well, because she loves making me complain so much.  The other day she nearly crossed a line.

Carrie told me I was the chick in this relationship.

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I swear to God I nearly took my apron off and threw it at her, but the oven timer went off and I had to take the muffins out to let them cool.  So I just stomped my foot on the floor and was passive-aggressive the rest of the day.

That night she kept pushing me to talk, but I had my avocado facemask on and damn if talking doesn’t interfere with its ability to exfoliate properly.  I mean, Jeeeezus Christ, you’d think that when a guy has a bubble bath running and candles lit a girl would get the hint that I’ve gone into “me time.”

But she never does.

We’re just not into the same things, you see.

She likes Nascar.

I like poetry.

She likes the Celtics.

I like Celtic jewelry.  Especially those crosses with the intricate vine filigree and knot-work wrought all across the things.

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And she doesn’t get how disturbing it can be to a guy to claim he’s the chick in the relationship.

Can you believe that shit?

Just to think, I wanted to make her one of my famous French toast casseroles.  Ha!  And to make matters worse, she told me that I needed to change my wardrobe for her.  This was after she said something about getting my hair done so I could look nice for our next date.  It took me forever and a day to find the proper stylist to give me just the right look.  Does she even have one iota of what a guy goes through to look good for his girl?

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I think not!
First he has to find the right color combination for his dating ensemble.  I’ve been loosing weight and want something slimming . . . which of course means something dark.  And then a guy has to find shoes that don’t lift too much and interfere with his stride, especially if he’s babysitting for her.

Chasing a four-year-old can be murder on the feet.  So can shopping for candles and hair conditioner.

Oh hell.

I just read what I wrote.

Maybe I am the chick in this relationship after all.

But damn it, I’ve got an apron that says “Men do it in the kitchen, too!” so that’s got to count for something.

Anyway, I’ve got to go for now.  I’ve got a mud mask mix on the stove and think it’d starting to dry out.

Hmmmm….

I wonder if I should put a bit of chamomile in it.  They say it works wonders on crow’s feet.

When the lady of the house is sick

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Carrie, my fiancé, is sick.  I don’t mean sick like a girl named Ali I once dated in college.  That was an interesting experience, because she was a binge kleptomaniac. I found that out one day when we were exploring the beautiful country roads surrounding Western Carolina University.  She suddenly screeched, “Stop!  Stop the car!”

I hit the breaks so hard they actually hit back.

To my surprise, she bolted out of the car and dashed across the lawn next to us.  Before I had time to wonder what she was up to, my girlfriend grabbed an old wagon containing several potted plants and sprinted back to where I waited, staring dumbfounded.

When she got back in the car, she breathlessly told me to punch it.  I was rather reluctant to do that because the VW I drove at the time wasn’t very fond of sudden movements.  I think it suffered from some kind of stress induced seizures because the poor thing made all kinds of wheezy, pistony, ratchety noises whenever I needed it to speed up.

And that was before I pressed down on the accelerator.

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To get the thing moving I usually had to put a paper bag over its exhaust and tell it to breathe slowly.  As Ali screamed about getting the hell out of there, I was trying to reassure my car that everything was going to be okay, but I suddenly realized that it wasn’t.

A big, bearded guy with a florid face and a countenance that indicated he ate college students for fun stepped out on the porch.  I could tell he was angry by the way he carried his shotgun.

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That was when I put the paper bag over my own mouth and started breathing slowly.  I was about ready to carry my girlfriend and my car to get out of there when it dawned on me that the combined weight of the two of them was going to be too much to carry.  Instead, I wised up and realized that the smarter course of action was to carry the VW and leave Ali to fend for herself.  I was sure the things she stole were enough to weigh her down so that my VW and I could make it beyond buckshot range.

Luckily, my car was the only one that had in real sense.  It turns out that it was feeling its oats that day, because with a wheeze, a cough, and a backfire, we were off at a dangerously reckless twenty-five miles per hour.

Sadly, the whole thing was too much for the poor thing, though.  When we made it back to campus, it refused to budge once I got it parked.  My car must have suffered what passes for a vehicular psychotic break after that.  I know because the VW thought it was an athlete instead of an automobile.  That was the only thing I could think because my mechanic told me it had thrown a rod.

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Last night I woke up to my fiancé hacking, wheezing, and backfiring.  In a waking moment of sleep induced confusion I thought I was in my old VW once more.  As soon as I was fully awake, I realized that Carrie sounded worse.  I took her to the doctor’s office where she was diagnosed with bronchitis and a sinus infection.  I would say that’s kind of like adding insult to injury, only it’s a lot worse.  When you throw a sinus infection on top of bronchitis, every time you cough, you feel like your head’s going to explode.

For a while there I was afraid Carrie was going to throw a rod, but what she did was actually worse.  She made me take care of the kids.

And those damn things have to be washed and fed!

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When I tried sharing one of my hard apple ciders with the four-year-old, Carrie nearly threw a hissy fit.  How was supposed to know hard cider was no acceptable substitute for applesauce?  Jesus Christ.  And when the eight-year-old got ahold of axel grease in the garage, let me tell you, oven degreaser DOES NOT work well on preadolescents.  That shit works best when you can heat it up in the oven, and if I’d have tried putting the eight-year-old in there I’ve got a feeling I never would have heard the end of it.

I did learn one important lesson.  If one day you run out of clothes washing detergent, never, EVER substitute it with a cup of dishwashing soap.

There were enough bubbles in the hallway to throw a women’s bikini wrestling contest.  Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

What did happen was that Carrie caught the girls using the hallway floor as a slip-n-slide while I watched and laughed.  When I told her to look on the bright side, that she didn’t have to worry about mopping, my lovely, sweet angel kicked the girls and me out of the house.  I’m still looking for the water hose.  Maybe if I knock the suds off of the kids she’ll let me back in.

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Look guys, seriously . . . if your wife, girlfriend, or fiance is sick, make sure you take some time to clean the house and take care of the kids if she has any.  Most likely she doesn’t ask a lot of you in that department.  Relationships honestly are about give and take, and I know of too many girls who have men in their lives that don’t do anything when they are sick.  The moral of all of this is that people make relationships harder than they need to be.  When I dated Ali (yes, she was a real person), she didn’t have enough sense to realize that compulsively stealing other people’s things could be a serious impediment to a relationship.  When I was married the first time around, I didn’t do enough to help my ex-wife.  So not only did I screw her over by cheating on her, I made her life needlessly difficult by not stepping up to the plate and giving her a hand when she was down.

Again, we make things too hard sometimes.

And Carrie, as soon as I’m done with my blog, I promise I’ll do the dishes and clean the kitchen counters.  The laundry is already in the washer.

I love you sweetie

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