Are You Fatting Kidding Me?

Sierra looks over the KFC "Mega Jug"
Sierra looks over the KFC “Mega Jug”

My wife drove through KFC the other day on her way home from work. She just wanted a piece of chicken, a little bowl of mashed potatoes, and a small drink, which she ordered. When she got to the window, the clerk handed her a bucket of chicken, a tub of mashed potatoes, and a jug, literally a jug, of Pepsi. It was some kind of “mega meal deal” like those so popular with restaurants now. The Pepsi, stamped with the moniker “Mega Jug,” was a half gallon of soda. A half gallon. Do the math: according to Pepsi’s web site, their regular soda contains 100 calories per 8-ounce serving, so Abby’s drink was an 800-calorie serving. Are you kidding me? According to WebMD, that’s half of her daily calorie requirements. There’s no way she could drink all of that. When she got home, she shared it with me, and we still couldn’t drink it all.

The moral of my story: don’t be surprised every time you look around and more than half the people you see are obese. This isn’t good for us as individuals, and it isn’t good for us as a society or a nation.

Sidebar: “Mega” literally means “million”, not large or superior.


A Vegan in the Wood Pile

A September Harvest
A September Harvest

Some of you who know me well know I have been a vegetarian since 1989, and a dietary vegan since 1994. Over the years, the choice to devote my energies to these pursuits has been one of the best I have ever made. Why? All the right reasons…

  1. It’s physically good for me in every way, and has no down side for my health whatsoever. Simply put, I feel great.
  2. It lends itself to the slogan, “Eat to live, don’t live to eat.”
  3. It contributes more to conserve our fragile planet than many more popular efforts, when you consider the vast resources devoted to production of meat, dairy and eggs.
  4. It respects the lives of animals. I believe that we have as much right to exist as any other creature on the planet, and that we have as much right to its resources. I do not believe it is our right to squander the world around us to feed our decadent luxury, which in the process makes us fat and weak.
  5. I take immense pride and joy in the foods I grow and eat on our happy little patch of land.

Now that you have read this, go have a peach!


The Death of Our Aunt Carol

Carol and Wes Peterson, our Aunt and Uncle on Dad's side, February 2005
Carol and Wes Peterson, our Aunt and Uncle on Dad’s side, February 2005

08-27-06: Aunt Carol Peterson (Dad’s sister) is dying. She experienced many co-morbidities and quality-of-life issues toward the end of her life, including Crohn’s Disease and type II diabetes.

Abby and Uncle Wes reminisce as they look at family photos.
Abby and Uncle Wes reminisce as they look at family photos.

We drove to the Blue Springs, Missouri area to join the family. The drive up was smooth. The dogs traveled well and Abby had a long nap.

08-30-06: Carol died at 12:45 pm at age 66.

09-02-06: This evening in Blue Springs feels like late October in Oklahoma.

Uncle Wes and Cousin Lori seem okay.

09-05-06: Funeral at the same chapel where Dad and Carol’s mother’s funeral was in early 1996.

Our time with the family was good. Abby was the goodwill ambassador. “Abby is very easy to be around.” ~Lori

The family gathers at Bill and Lori Wade's house in Platt City, Missouri. From left are me, my wife Abby, my mother Sarah Jo, my cousin Lori, my sister Nicole, her dog Griffin, Abby's nephew Mitchell, and our uncle Wes.
The family gathers at Bill and Lori Wade’s house in Platt City, Missouri. From left are me, my wife Abby, my mother Sarah Jo, my cousin Lori, my sister Nicole, her dog Griffin, Abby’s nephew Mitchell, and Uncle Wes.

Trail of Tears

Abby and Nicole walk Flagler Beach near Palm Coast, Florida in 2003, very near where Mom lives and Nicole is headed.
Abby and Nicole walk Flagler Beach near Palm Coast, Florida in 2003, very near where Mom lives and Nicole is headed.

There was a short call from my sister Nicole, who lives in New Orleans, saying she is alive and fine, waiting for Hurricane Katrina to pass so she can to get out of Hattiesburg, Mississippi and push on to Mom’s in Palm Coast, Florida.

Abby went to Wal Mart and bought summer closeout items for her, since Nicole was able to bring very little with her. She also bought a suitcase with wheels and put all the clothes inside it, and I mailed it to Mom’s in Florida.

Abby is intensely stressed. A friend of mine called and expressed similar stress about the devastation from the hurricane, including difficulty concentrating and sleeping.

Oddly, Nicole doesn’t seem as upset. She was more distressed today by the fact that the hard drive on her laptop crashed.


Email from Nicole: “Oh. God.”

Ny sister Nicole Barron in 2001
Ny sister Nicole Barron in 2001

My sister Nicole has fled New Orleans to Hattiesburg, Mississippi in advance of Hurricane Katrina.

(Hear the Katrina and the Waves hit “Walking on Sunshine” in the background.)

She has her dog Griffin, her laptop, and high hopes. Worst case: New Orleans is f*cked.

National Weather Service Notice
1011 AM CDT SUN AUG 28 2005










The Poem Every Day Project

In February 2005, David Martin decided to write a poem every day for 100 days. When I learned about it, I decided to make a photo each of those days and include it with David’s poem.

 * * *

poem 001 02/07/05

Day 1
day 001 02/07/05

I find it perplexing,
this corn god
How can it be so clever?
it makes us think we have progressed so far
but really we are just like its favorite Aztecs
our sacrifices are less transparent
we still rip out the
hearts of our enemie


day 002 02/08/05
day 002 02/08/05

poem 002 02/08/05

Today my shoes complain
as I walk
they voice their
skwoosh skwoosh
against the carpeted
floors as a protest
against me—
dragging their souls about
my soul is smack
against the ground too
you won’t hear me complain!



day 003 02/09/05

day 003 02/09/05
day 003 02/09/05

a fast hold
an attempted return
climbing up the incline
slipping on small pebbles
the goal recedes
smash face into rock
(maybe on purpose)



poem 004 02/10/05

day 004 02/10/05
day 004 02/10/05

This morning
my imagination led me
to the year of the rooster.
and eggs.
and the spark-of-life angel.





poem 005 02/11/05

day 005 02/11/05
day 005 02/11/05

yes, me
trudging against the format
yes, me
associating the punks
yes, me
ankles ablaze, rings of fire
yes, me
with the neck bolts
yes, me
in the success, complex
yes, me



poem 006 02/12/05

day 006 02/12/05
day 006 02/12/05

Mr. Harm-Free
doesn’t eat meat
he doesn’t use milk or eggs
he doesn’t wear leather, wool, or silk
he doesn’t walk for fear of stepping
on a bug
or a crack
he doesn’t have an immune system
–“Invading bacteria are alive and worthwhile!”
he decided one day to stop
existing for he was
taking up space
that a giraffe
or a slime mold
might need


poem 007 02/13/05

day 007 02/13/05
day 007 02/13/05

a circus too colorful
a funeral too gray
weaving to and fro
pegging the needle
on each end
the middle parts of the spectrum
only an interesting
countryside to pass through
with its cows
and old men
on tractors
slowing my rush to the cities


day 008 02/14/05

day 008 02/14/05
day 008 02/14/05

the pores of earth, wide
soaking—the warmth of sunshine
drops, given to sky





poem 009 02/15/05

day 009 02/15/05
day 009 02/15/05

it was a box of books
in my garage
and it included the coolest

I had never seen these books before
though I somehow always knew
they were mine

the smile on my face
and my super-hard dick
as I awoke
from that one

poem 010 02/16/05

day 010 02/16/05
day 010 02/16/05

a brain system fails

and leaves
all the healthy minds
reeling in its wake
like a marauding
bear’s paw
swiping in a bee hive




day 011 02/17/05

day 011 02/17/05
day 011 02/17/05

and then the wind died down
I took that little walk
and said “no” to the right guy

when the wind whipped up again
and blew the dust from my folds
I was in the clear time
the bright time




poem 012 02/18/05

poem 012 02/18/05
poem 012 02/18/05

in the glade of vegetarian
I pursue you
chocolate tofu pudding
will be mine




poem 013 02/19/05

poem 013 02/19/05
poem 013 02/19/05

in sibilant respect
a scrutiny
an honor
against the rushing
against the keening



poem 014 02/20/05
poem 014 02/20/05

poem 014 02/20/05

waste-of-space boy
understands so little
of what makes the
world turn
an idealist, yes
but even his ideal
is flaccid,


poem 015 02/21/05=PRESIDENT’S DAY

poem 015 02/21/05=PRESIDENT’S DAY
poem 015 02/21/05=PRESIDENT’S DAY


the manhood of our nation
sliced off by a petty grudge
where is the Malcolm of today?
would it be better
to make him bulletproof—
or are we still mired
in the necessity of martyrs?




poem 016 02/22/05

poem 016 02/22/05
poem 016 02/22/05

under the code
we are swept
at our feet—
the shells
of all previous lives
however hot
the pyre burns
couplets never die



poem 017 02/23/05

poem 017 02/23/05
poem 017 02/23/05

in a final push
to victory
we self-immolate
because, after all,
we are
the very breeding ground
for all the filth



poem 018 02/24/05

poem 018 2/24/05
poem 018 02/24/05

most of it is under water
the shadow thoughts
fleeting tinge of emotion
the master of the house
never leaves the living room
the muses conspire in the kitchen
and horrors cackle in the attic



poem 019 02/25/05
poem 019 02/25/05

poem 019 02/25/05

Cryptic Notes to a Brother Who Never Existed:

panic scrawl
the cost of resistance
even better than pad thai
pulling back the sheath
a hole in every t-shirt
and annihilate my tongue
with the bluntest of dentition

poem 020 02/26/05

poem 020 02/26/05
poem 020 02/26/05

Rasaan Roland Kirk
annihilating Marklars
a human H-bomb





poem 021 02/27/05

poem 021 02/27/05
poem 021 02/27/05

I opened up the archives
not really remembering
what to find
insight? inspiration?
in the end,
they brought me to
a tough room
(in Dallas, no less)


poem 022 02/28/05

poem 022 02/28/05
poem 022 02/28/05

cradled by a butterfly
my hopes arrived
on a wisp
of sweet wind
and were adroitly
on the doorstep
of my most malicious


poem 023 03/01/05

poem 023 03/01/05
poem 023 03/01/05

upon verifying the square
I burst through the doors
sunshine through
the miniscule gaps
in my outdated armor

the crowd’s uproar
slowly diminished
and I savored a moment, until
blasting unbidden
from my mouth
the words:
“It is accomplished!!!”


poem 024 03/02/05

poem 024 03/02/05
poem 024 03/02/05

green fingers explode
plant shrapnel pierces my foot
hey, Spring! is that you?






poem 025 03/03/05

poem 025 03/03/05
poem 025 03/03/05

my first whiff of Spring
brashly sliding through in-breath
Winter’s chill, banished





poem 026 03/04/05

poem 026 03/04/05
poem 026 03/04/05

I remember my kicks
Chuck Taylor All Stars
even the rubber parts
were black
even the inside
was black
(like my soul?)
coolest fucking shoes ever


poem 027 03/05/05

poem 027 03/05/05
poem 027 03/05/05

lithe, yet erect
moving, yet solid
every living being
reaching for the sun
while spreading along the earth



poem 028 03/06/05

poem 028 03/06/05
poem 028 03/06/05

rectified, I sit
with my mouth shut
eyes open
listening for
the fates to come along
and smack me across
the head again
with aluminum
baseball bat




poem 029 03/07/05

poem 029 03/07/05
poem 029 03/07/05

the wedge issue
rolls through us
and we titter and clap
because, after all,
gives us something
to do





poem 030 03/08/05

poem 030 03/08/05
poem 030 03/08/05

in the big scheme
what difference
fight or flee?







poem 031 03/09/05

poem 031 03/09/05
poem 031 03/09/05

open the door to annihilation
just by being born
a life—
like a bubble rising to the surface
only to POP!






poem 032 03/10/05

poem 032 03/10/05
poem 032 03/10/05

I lacked it today
first with the toothpicks
then with the paper clips
but I was effective
with the furnace
in a very
1950’s DAD sort of way





poem 033 03/11/05

poem 033 03/11/05
poem 033 03/11/05

and then, the sun
and curves
the brightness
toothy smiles




poem 034 03/12/05

poem 034 03/12/05
poem 034 03/12/05

hanging, as if to dry
our lives suspended
within the big blue now
the moisture of birth
finally evaporated at the end
(only to start all over again)



poem 035 03/13/05

poem 035 03/13/05
poem 035 03/13/05

all children
equally special
in their smiling
and milling about
cruelly interrupted
by the process
of maturing



poem 036 03/14/05

poem 036 03/14/05
poem 036 03/14/05

even now he tries to destroy me
that dark fucker of my mind
his latest trick:
smiting me in the knee
with a tire iron
from his cherry red
1968 Chevy Impala





poem 037 03/15/05

poem 037 03/15/05
poem 037 03/15/05

it’s dusty and crooked
and it will become dusty and crooked
but in the interim
I will straighten and clean
straighten and clean…



poem 038 03/16/05

poem 038 03/16/05
poem 038 03/16/05

I see you redbuds!
old-man jointy limbs
and pink/maroon pubescent
nippling buds of grace
can you say Spring?
can you say Oklahoma?






poem 039 03/17/05

poem 039 03/17/05
poem 039 03/17/05

in our little
community of secrets
a livid sun blooms







poem 040 03/18/05

poem 040 03/18/05
poem 040 03/18/05

in a friction-free world
all settles to
boring efficiency
and the supremacy
of bland surfaces






poem 041 03/19/05

poem 041 03/19/05
poem 041 03/19/05

making fun of ninnies
is so easy
but that doesn’t
diminish the fun!







poem 042 03/20/05

poem 042 03/20/05
poem 042 03/20/05

what is to be done
when the last poem
sucked so hugely?
write one that is
even worse
thus taking focus
off of the previous—
Mr. Self-Referential!


poem 043 03/21/05

poem 043 03/21/05
poem 043 03/21/05

a tornado’s instrument of fear
and God’s rebar
smash together
inside a bony chamber
this is my brain




poem 044 03/22/05

poem 044 03/22/05
poem 044 03/22/05

spreading peanut butter
on the exam table
so that my patients
have a tasty snack
as they are face down,
butt up



poem 045 03/23/05
poem 045 03/23/05

poem 045 03/23/05

in a tenuous sort of way
proffering a weak smile
and coming to the faintest of decisions
“maybe it will be OK after all”



poem 046 03/24/05

poem 046 03/24/05
poem 046 03/24/05

I miss the non-adherents
-the way they would
bubble up through my
neck to explode past my teeth
-the way they would
electrify my fingers
Don’t be shy, friends, muses!
Come out and play!


poem 047 03/25/05

poem 047 03/25/05
poem 047 03/25/05

a clean city
with Spanish words
and no-bother bums
San Diego

a town where people shiver
at sixty degrees
and the flowers of March
are just so
mountains meet sea




poem 048 03/26/05

poem 048 03/26/05
poem 048 03/26/05

beautiful dojo
trustworthy and honest friends
happy birthday, me





poem 049 03/27/05

poem 049 03/27/05
poem 049 03/27/05

eggplant town—
population 15,000
a clash
of Italy and China



poem 050 03/28/05

poem 050 03/28/05
poem 050 03/28/05

a homecoming not as sweet
as my imaginings
try again tomorrow







poem 051 03/29/05

poem 051 03/29/05
poem 051 03/29/05

let us have
a conversation with no force
only flow
and sweet gestures
of forgiveness
ripened by the expectation
of extended time





poem 052 03/30/05

poem 052 03/30/05
poem 052 03/30/05

abundant flesh
crawling upon
granular earth
impelling the cycles
and forward






poem 053 03/31/05

poem 053 03/31/05
poem 053 03/31/05

don’t show me on TV
when I’m mindless
and drooling
don’t drag my carcass to court
when I’m done eating
and I am done with your shit
down my throat
don’t stand outside my door
with taped mouths
and strident words

I know you won’t do any of this
because I am a man
and men don’t need that kind
of tumorous love

poem 054 04/01/05

poem 054 04/01/05
poem 054 04/01/05

rinse me clean
of daily anger
and see me emerge
from my holy shower
shining like an idiot




poem 055 04/02/05

poem 055 04/02/05
poem 055 04/02/05

I like it
when the people
start shimmering
and popping
in and out of existence
until the universal
vacuum tubes
get nice and warm



poem 056 04/03/05

poem 056 04/03/05
poem 056 04/03/05

slippery like snot
inconstant as dreams
a net in need of repair




poem 057 04/04/05

poem 057 04/04/05
poem 057 04/04/05

it was a clean parlor
so I decided to go ahead
and get a brain piercing
the technician was expert
and I have been happy since






poem 058 04/05/05

poem 058 04/05/05
poem 058 04/05/05

I love my daughter
especially the way
she gets so pissed
when a two-bit clown
calls her “cheater”






poem 059 04/06/05

poem 059 04/06/05
poem 059 04/06/05

I took no walk today
I had no truck with the sun
the fluorescent lights
baked me to a nice
shade of puke






poem 060 04/07/05

poem 060 04/07/05
poem 060 04/07/05

rolling over my shoulders
sheets of liquid electricity
directly from the sun
but no superpowers yet







poem 061 04/08/05

poem 061 04/08/05
poem 061 04/08/05

no attitude
no tension
slipping into
a pink
puddle of goo




poem 062 04/09/05

poem 062 04/09/05
poem 062 04/09/05

when god appeared to me
he said
“disable all safety protocols”
I think he’s tired
of us all being
such a bunch
of whining pussies





poem 063 04/10/05

poem 063 04/10/05
poem 063 04/10/05

in velvet leather lace
by the denizens
of a new rocky realm
by pangs of hard-pew guilt



poem 064 04/11/05

poem 064 04/11/05
poem 064 04/11/05

nature’s confetti
slicing silently the wind
as it spirals down
from high woody perches
celebrating a party
that Mama has yet to throw






poem 065 04/12/05

poem 065 04/12/05
poem 065 04/12/05

retrofit human minds
so that we are
not so mindless
enhanced by the spirit!
our neurons alight!




poem 066 04/13/05

poem 066 04/13/05
poem 066 04/13/05

every day a new test
fingers on triggers?
smiles on faces?
when to get
finally fed up
and vomit



poem 067 04/14/05

poem 067 04/14/05
poem 067 04/14/05

the youthful dead
always shine brighter
in our sanctioned memory
they just didn’t have the time
to fuck it all irretrievably—up




poem 068 04/15/05

poem 068 04/15/05
poem 068 04/15/05

the ides of April
manicured lawns of death
and Corinthian columns
waving the green flag
and imbibing vegetable spirit
expanding today—
filling with blood
and breath


poem 069 04/16/05

poem 069 04/16/05
poem 069 04/16/05

the Nazca Lines
the Great Wall
the Coliseum
all built to impress chicks







poem 070 04/17/05

poem 070 04/17/05
poem 070 04/17/05

through humid swirl
of dense dreamtime
I emerge
with a message
of mucous-y joy




poem 071 04/18/05

poem 071 04/18/05
poem 071 04/18/05

at exactly the same pace
as the in and out
pulsing of creation
during the rhythmic chanting
of the saints
I blow my nose





poem 072 04/19/05

poem 072 04/19/05
poem 072 04/19/05

I’m just waiting around
kicking the litter
and spraying my graffiti
until this whole façade
(America, reality, ego?)
crashes to earth
in a final orgasm
of self-immolation
(which is the best kind, after all)




poem 073 04/20/05

poem 073 04/20/05
poem 073 04/20/05

and then the pope
of my dreams
ascended to ground level
with cricket bat at the ready
a sacrament of horror
just for me


poem 074 04/21/05

poem 074 04/21/05
poem 074 04/21/05

in Hawaii
a spectacular living
sand and snow mixed
at the border of
sea and sky
and always
(like a drunk cosmonaut)
the looming volcano behind me


poem 075 04/22/05

poem 075 04/22/05
poem 075 04/22/05

in just a minute
my two hemispheres
will fit together
with an



poem 076 04/23/05

poem 076 04/23/05
poem 076 04/23/05

The Golden Nonsense Buddha
strode into the diner
took the barstool on the left
ordered the Mama Mc Muffin
and calculated the best way
to get under Alice’s apron



poem 077 04/24/05

poem 077 04/24/05
poem 077 04/24/05

heaven concept
human slavery
But Also:
a worthy obstacle
to overcome



poem 078 04/25/05

poem 078 04/25/05
poem 078 04/25/05

a puritanical distrust
of the spine
has led us to this
a deserted glade
where mouths are sealed
and hands are encased
in cement


poem 079 04/26/05

poem 079 04/26/05
poem 079 04/26/05

ambient focus
acquire target
one skin cell deep
falling like sheets of water
spiraling back to life

poem 080 04/27/05

poem 080 04/27/05
poem 080 04/27/05

“tired” is the operative
word of the star
crossed lovers spent
their passion into
the murky
cave of language




poem 081 04/28/05

poem 081 04/28/05
poem 081 04/28/05

pull the lanyard
cull the rolling stock
lull the roiling stream
bull the sweaty conglomerate
dull all criticisms



poem 082 04/29/05

poem 082 04/29/05
poem 082 04/29/05

and with his arms spread
feet wide
the skin on the front
of his torso
flipped up
like a rolling shade
a moment’s pause
then his internal
plopped to the ground
one by one
(slipping and slimy)

poem 083 04/30/05

poem 083 04/30/05
poem 083 04/30/05

Oh Dark Fucker!
you plugged my memory hole
the backlog made me refuse
that one nugget of importance




poem 084 05/01/05

poem 084 05/01/05
poem 084 05/01/05

a May Day of the mind
with variously-sized
telekinetically motioned
down Main Street
as the multi-hued masters
look on smugly
from an imaginary Kremlin


poem 085 05/02/05

poem 085 05/02/05
poem 085 05/02/05

it was a wet dream
-the fluid being blood-
Usama Bin Laden’s severed head
wrapped in linens,
shoved up a hog’s rectum
and walked from
radiologist to radiologist
so that each American
can confirm that yes,
we really did get
that donkey-fucking
(but, since he lives
our weakness is nakedly

poem 086 05/03/05

poem 086 05/03/05
poem 086 05/03/05

swirling adjustments
into a matrix
of effort and thought
slowly I transform




poem 087 05/04/05

poem 087 05/04/05
poem 087 05/04/05

it’s a graphic representation
of the Spring God
taking me roughly
by the shoulders
and yelling
“There is not a fucking
thing wrong
with a dandelion, boy!”


poem 088 05/05/05

poem 088 05/05/05
poem 088 05/05/05

let’s align ourselves
with the grand
of idiocy
shut brain off
charge forward


poem 089 05/06/05

poem 089 05/06/05
poem 089 05/06/05

Welcome to Cookietown!
the place where all desires
blend into one yearning now
and the pleasant denizens
psychically implant
pure bliss
into every whining visitors



poem 091 05/08/05

poem 091 05/08/05
poem 091 05/08/05

the mess
is the theme of the day
apartment squalor
a feudal boss
a nation gone wrong
when to sit inside
the mess to think
when to approach
the mess with fire
(lots of fire)



poem 092 05/09/05

poem 092 05/09/05
poem 092 05/09/05

if I had Jesus in my pocket
I wouldn’t feel so odd
if I had Jesus in my pocket
I could wear a coat and tie
(but never sweat)
if I had Jesus in my pocket
I could breathe underwater
if I had Jesus in my pocket
he would hand me a $100 bill
every time I stuck my hand
down there

poem 093 05/10/05

poem 093 05/10/05
poem 093 05/10/05

it’s an opening
and if we refuse to enter
it may never open again
scorched sky
the end of rain






poem 094 05/11/05

poem 094 05/11/05
poem 094 05/11/05

-temples of filth-
today a sudden
and shocking
realization about
what most


poem 095 05/12/05

poem 095 05/12/05
poem 095 05/12/05

drops fall silently
and gauze billows
egrets fly against the wind







poem 096 05/13/05

poem 096 05/13/05
poem 096 05/13/05

put in the stop
to quit the noise
of pure unadulterated
thought control
as decades wear on
stop wiggles out
we’re controlling
each other again

poem 097 05/14/05

poem 097 05/14/05
poem 097 05/14/05

in the tangled wood
she wanders
searching for a dropped
lusting for the spirit
she once called home
my lost little muse



poem 098 05/15/05

poem 098 05/15/05
poem 098 05/15/05

if this is the future
(our new way of being)
I will treat it just like
the other temporal entanglements
and ignore





poem 099 05/16/05

poem 099 05/16/05
poem 099 05/16/05

only as my slime pit fills
will I float to the top
and thus, escape




poem 100 05/17/05

as a chain-link fence
captures garbage
my neural-link mind
catches ideas
consumed by:
that prick of pain behind my knee
skipping rope
and the fact that
any round surface is flat
if you make yourself
sufficiently small

poem 100 05/17/05
poem 100 05/17/05

Our Father Joseph L. Barron’s Death

Dad, Mom and I pose in front of their Palm Coast, Florida, orange trees at Christmas 2002. The fruit trees were Christmas presents from years earlier, and over the years produced many oranges suitable for juicing.
Dad, Mom and I pose in front of their Palm Coast, Florida, orange trees at Christmas 2002. The fruit trees were Christmas presents from years earlier, and over the years produced many oranges suitable for juicing.

Caution: graphic descriptions

Joe and Sarah Jo Barron, 1993
Joe and Sarah Jo Barron, 1993

Friday, February 18, 2005

My sister Nicole called this morning to say that Dad is near death. He had been vomiting when the emesis turned bloody. EMS took him to the hospital in Ormond Beach (where he had a bypass in 1996), where he coded at least once and his kidneys shut down. We are waiting for another call but have arranged to go to Florida tomorrow.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

My wife Abby and I are flying to Florida right now. I have a bad cold and the cabin altitude has rendered me deaf in one ear.

Reports indicate that Dad is not dead, though the cardiologist and the gastroenterologist can’t agree on a diagnosis. Everybody seems more upset that I am about this. Maybe I’ve been preparing myself for many years due to Dad’s very poor health.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Joseph Lloyd Barron, dead, 9:51am.

This is Florida Hospital Flagler, where Dad died.
This is Florida Hospital Flagler, where Dad died.

Mom, Sarah Jo Barron, describe his onset: Woke at 5 am Thursday to Dad’s calls. He had uncontrolled, continuous diarrhea. She took him to the bathroom where it continued. He insisted on lying on the floor where he vomited, then vomited blood. She called 911. According to her, he “filled the floor” with bloody vomit and diarrhea until EMS arrived. At the emergency room while giving a medical history, he coded and did not regain consciousness. They stabilized him in critical condition. By Saturday night, his organs and vitals crashed. The hospital called saying come immediately. When we arrived, his pupils were fixed, his temp was 105ºF, vitals fluctuating. He was given huge doses of insulin to keep him alive. He received last rights of the Episcopal Church. We requested that he be removed from life support, but he died before that could be done.

Monday, February 21, 2005

I feel good that Dad got to know and love my wife, and see me happily married, before he died.

Along with Nicole, Abby and me, Dad’s sister Carol and her husband, our Uncle Wes, are here, as is Mom’s sister Margie.

The family gathered around our mother, Sarah Jo Barron, from left to right, seated, are Mom and her sister Margaret "Margie" Skinner; standing behind them are Nicole, her guest Stuart, Dad's sister Carol, Carol's husband Wes, my wife Abby, and me.
The family gathered around our mother, Sarah Jo Barron, from left to right, seated, are Mom and her sister Margaret “Margie” Skinner; standing behind them are Nicole, her guest Stuart, Dad’s sister Carol, Carol’s husband Wes, my wife Abby, and me.
Joe and Sarah Jo pose for a picture at their first home in Columbia, Missouri, where I was born, in about 1957.
Joe and Sarah Jo pose for a picture at their first home in Columbia, Missouri, where I was born, in about 1957.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Funeral. It’s nice to see that Mom is in good health. She is able to care for herself, which Dad almost certainly could not have done. Mom’s only real crying jag came when getting out blankets to pack something, she came across the “death blanket,” the one on which Dad had his episode.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Mom told us that several weeks ago, Dad was weeping and depressed, saying he need to go shopping because he, “Didn’t have a decent suit to be buried in.” Mom reminded him that he was going to be cremated.

Dad devoted most of his lifetime emotional energy to depression and fear.

Abby and I are heading home to Oklahoma.

My sister Nicole, mother Sarah Jo, and father Joseph pose in front of the Saint Thomas Episcopal Church in Palm Coach, Christmas 2000.
My sister Nicole, mother Sarah Jo, and father Joseph pose in front of the Saint Thomas Episcopal Church in Palm Coach, Christmas 2000.

Here is a short video clip, with no sound. From left to right in Mom and Dad’s Palm Coast den are Nicole, Joe, Sarah Jo, Abby, and me.


Abby and Richard Get Married

Abby and I pose under Delicate Arch, in Utah's majestic Arches National Park, just minutes after getting married there.
Abby and I pose under Delicate Arch, in Utah’s majestic Arches National Park, just minutes after getting married there.
Abby and I beam as we exchange wedding vows.
Abby and I beam as we exchange wedding vows.

Abby and I got married at the amazingly beautiful and iconic Delicate Arch in Arches National Park near Moab, Utah, October 12, 2004.

I had hiked to Delicate Arch on two previous occasions, but until the day we actually got married, Abby had only seen my photographs of it.

Abby’s daughter Dawna Michele “Chele” Milligan traveled from her home in Baltimore in a trip fraught with so much annoyance that she swore she would never visit Utah again. My sister Nicole came from her home in New Orleans with a guest. My friends Michael and his wife Thea , and David, traveled in convoy with us from Oklahoma. Our surprise guest was Robert , whose church helped him travel from Boston for the event. He arrived late, and caught up to us on the trail to Delicate Arch.

The weather was perfect the day we got married, but the next day, when we planned to hike the Primitive Loop at Arches National Park, was insanely windy and cold, but despite that, we had a great time. The next day, on our two-day drive home, we stopped and hiked at Canyon de Chelly in Arizona.

Abby and I both agree that it was an excellent way for us to get married, and could not have been more perfect.

An additional narrative and many more photos are posted on our travel blog, The Traveller, here (link).

David, center, makes video of the event. which combined with Thea's second camera work created an excellent two-camera coverage setup.
David, center, makes video of the event. which combined with Thea’s second camera work created an excellent two-camera coverage setup.

First Date with Abby

Abby and I met at our office and had dinner at Papa Gjorgjo next door.

I invited her to see the house I am considering buying from Ann Kelley. When trying to get into my car, the door wouldn’t open – probably since it was very cold and I washed the car earlier in the day – so she climbed over the center console to get in.

We then drove to the house on 17th Street. We talked about fixing it up; she even pulled up a corner of carpet to see if it had wood floors. We held each other by the gas fireplace, mostly holding hands and talking.

Back at my apartment, we curled up on my futon, held each other close and talked more. She purred. I held her hands and touched her hair and nestled closer and closer. We traded back rubs. It turned into kissing, so much kissing.

We were happy to be together. She likes me. She likes my beard. She likes the way she feels when I hold her.

Now, I can still taste her goodnight kiss. We had a great time.

Abby Milligan
Abby Milligan

Short Story: Love Letters

Love Letters

by Richard R. Barron

I stood in the same spot in the wind for what seemed like 30 minutes.

It was very cold.

Maybe it was the wind and the cold that kept me from moving. That was my excuse, anyway.

I had those six letters in my hand, six identical white envelopes, all with my name in her handwriting. They were held together by two old, cracked rubber bands. I thought they’d break any time. I pulled the first letter out and stuck the others under my arm.

Her picture was inside. I looked at it as it whipped in that wind. She looked great. It was like she was looking at me again with those eyes that seemed to see right through me.

I opened up the letter, written on pink lined notepaper. It was the first one she had sent me since she went away. She thanked me for the flowers.

“My letter may not be cheery,” she apologized. “The first day I got here I spent wondering how I got here and why I’m here.”

I folded it up carefully. How absurd. I put it back in the envelope.

The next letter, which she’d sent the next day, was on white filler paper, torn out of her notebook. I scanned down the paragraphs and felt an odd mixture of anger and disinterest. I shook my head. “What a bunch of crap,” I thought.

“There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.” ~Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey
“There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.” ~Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey

“I am trapped and I cannot escape,” she told me.

“Thank you again for the flowers, your love, your support,” she added. It seemed so hollow and pointless reading it in the wind, in the desert, on that bridge.

The Rio Grande flowed silently by 800 feet below.

“I look at sunsets here and I think, ‘Richard could make a good picture of that.’ ” she said. She couldn’t have known that I would return, summer and winter, to where she was, long after she was gone. She couldn’t have known I would be there now, on the Rio Grande gorge bridge at sunset in the cold wind reading her letters.

“I just re-read this and I know it makes no sense,” she explained at the end. It made sense then. And in some way it made sense when I stood there.

I folded it up carefully too. How ridiculous.

Her third letter was just business, urging me to book my hotel as soon as I could when I come to visit. But I kept it, and I folded it up and put it back in its envelope.

Letter number four read like a confession. “Confusion is giving way to intense pain,” she told me. Later she admitted, “I miss you and think of you often.”

I know it was pointless, but I was as careful to fold it and put it away as I was with the others.

Letter number five was newsy. She told me all about what was going on, and all about how she felt about it. She thanked me for the letters and cards.

I wondered as I folded this one up if she ever really thought of me as her lover. Were these even love letters?

Letter number five got to the meat of her feelings. She explained to me that, “anger and sorrow frighten me because I fear losing control and becoming a raging maniac.”

I had to take a deep breath to read that fifth letter. It was the last civil conversation between us in writing. It was last time she showed any real affection for me.

“Richard, you mean a great deal to me. I need you in my life and love you.”

I felt shaken after I read that. I felt that way every time I read it, from the day I got it in my mailbox, to the day I read it in the wind on that bridge. Maybe in the moment she wrote that, she really did love me. Maybe.

I took out that sixth letter and read the first few lines, and remembered how judgmental it was, and how angry I felt every time I read it. If she loved me in the fifth letter, it was all erased by the sixth. I couldn’t read any further. I couldn’t read it at all.

I bundled it up into its white envelope and slipped it under the rubber bands that held them all together. It was time. The sun was down. The cold was making me shake. I looked at the bundle of letters in my shaking hand against the darkening backdrop of that 800-foot gorge, leaned forward, and let them go.


List: Funny Allegedly Real Names

Arizona Zipper
Anil G. Shitole
Dr. Beaver, Obstetrician
Betty Burp
The Boring School
Aurora Borealis Belsky
Pupo Shytti
Lotta Crap
Mole Funeral Home
Sir Edward Pinecoffin
Cheatham & Steele, Bankers
Buster Hymen
Cashmere Tango Obedience
Cardiac Arrest Silva
Cherri Pancake
Christ T. Seraphim
Golden Pancake
C. Matthews Dick
Comfort & Satisfy Bottom
Constant Agony
Bump & Twinkle Quick
C. Sharp Minor
Dr. & Dr. Doctor
Earless Romero
Easter & Halloween Buggage
Ecstacy Goon
Evan Keel
Fair Hooker
Marmalade P. Vestibule
Needa Climax
Never Fail
Noble Puffer
Noway Near White
Oofty Goofty Bowman
Vaseline Love
Oscar Asparagus
Pafia Pefia Pifia Pofia Pufia DeCosta
Pink Gash
Rasey & Dewey Butt
Steven Weewee
Dr. Safety First
Commander Sink, USN
General Error
Sue Yu
Spence Kidney
Booper Thompson
Shingle Honaker
Brackenridge Brandenburg
Drew Rutz
Erple J. Dinkins
Fickey Bluford
Johnnie Warrior
Vertis Castacka
Fanny Hunnybun
Female Jones
Legitimate Jones
Fortunate Tarte
Rev. Fountain Wetmore Rainwater
Dr. Gargle, Dentist
Garnish Lurch
Ginger Screws Casanova
Hedda Hare
Henry Ford Carr
Iona Ford
Henry Will Burst
Hilarius Fuchs
Hogjaw Twaddle
Honor Roll
Wong Bong Fong of Hong Kong
Barebones Immaculate Conception Finkelstein
I.M. Zamost
Ivan Odor
J. Fido Spot
Kuhl Brieze
LeGrunt E. Crapper
Loch Ness Hontas
Lo Fat
Memory Leake
Toppie Smellie
Urban Shocker
Urine McZeal
Ima Hogg
Bacon Chow
Father O’Pray
Professor Verbal Snook
Love Kisses Love
Void Null
Pearl Harbor
Radical Love
Philander Philpot Pettibone
Roosevelt Cabbagestalk
Sara Struggles Nicely
Serious Misconduct
Shlomo Turtlelove
T. Fud Pucker Tucker
Tvstvnekke Woodward
Pebble Brimley
Wandell “Firpo” Black
Esther Glover Peeler
David L. Surprise
Luster Sluss
Hildreth Overcash
Rev. Dick Virtue
Cedar Yandell
Ferris Wapp
Osie Tuggle
Hercomer McBoingboing
Noisy Quiett
Ron Muddlemog
Winnie Turnipseed
Joan Stone
Ura Fox
Rube Orphan
Clay Potter
Crickett Prickett
Hyman Glickman
Treasure Fincher
Storm Duty
Oldmouse Waltz
Eucalyptus Yoho
Odious Champagne
Fairy Clutter
Humperdink Fangboner
Katz Meow
E. Z. Filler, Dentist
Vernal Equinox Grossnickle
Human & Pitt Funeral Service
Clarence O. Bedience
Cistern Brothers
Knighton Day
Herman Sherman Berman
Ignatz Dangle
John Wellborn Wallop
John Hodge Opera House
Centennial Gargling
Oil Samuel J. Tilden
Ten Brook
Lee Bum Suck
Lobelia Rugtwit Hildebiddle
Cassandra Nookiesnach
Peter Beter
Roman Pretzel
Rose Rump
Solomon Gemorah
Vile Albert
Forest Woods
Orange Weldon
Runt Short
Larry Tefertiller
Harry Situations
Toby Clankenbeard
Jewel Glass
Rusty Nails
Forest Brooks
Velvette Biggerstaff
Topher Owens
Rhoda Dendron
Stormy Veal
Debbie Key, Music teacher
Narcissus Frett
Dr. Dick, Urologist
Adora Cox
Agonia Heimerdinger
Cupid Rash
Halibut Justa Fish
Dr. Toothaker, Dentist
Dr. Pull, Dentist
Dr. Bridges, Dentist
Heide Yum Yum Gluck
Hubert Boobert
Hilarious Conception
Vivian Vanevenhaven
Udo Pooch
J. C. Beaglehole
Judge Judge
Pepsi Cola Atom-Bomb Washington
Lavender Hankey
Lacey Pantti
Lovey Nookie Good
Mignon Hamburger
Birdie Peacock
Love Newlove
Barbara Fatt Heine
Tarantula Turner
Zilpher Spittle


List: Dog and Cat Names

Pinky Slim
Strontium 90
Petal Soft
Po ins



When I was in high school and college, I created these complicated, somewhat psychedelic doodles. Odd about them is an underlying drug theme, particularly the presence of a syringe, despite the fact that I had never used any drugs or even alcohol. I think part of why I drew the syringe is that it was easy to draw (with a straight edge) and added a sense of rebellion to the page.

As you can see, I have exactly zero drawing talent.

Alter Ego, 1982
Alter Ego, 1982
The Art Gallery, 1981
The Art Gallery, 1981
"Bullshit" Stamp Maze (actual, workable maze), 1980
“Bullshit” Stamp Maze (actual, workable maze), 1980
Society, 1981
Society, 1981
The Twilight Zone, 1980
The Twilight Zone, 1980
The Victim, 1984
The Victim, 1984

The Collected Poetry

Growing up in a literate environment, I was encouraged to write. In some ways I was expected to write, and in other I demanded it of myself. In either case, it turns out that I am a terrible poet.

These thoughts go as far back as high school, and are presented here non-chronologically.


25 months
and I can’t remember
our last kiss

Last Kiss

they kissed
and he drove away
to make a new life
(suddenly I don’t feel like telling you more
you know how it ends, anyway)


We walked
over frosted ground
in the dark
just the two of us

railroad tracks
pursued the night
forever and ever
away from us

“I guess”
he said
“I’ve always been

“always” he said
a long time
to listen to

at the place
where the tracks
met the road
we parted


Outside a breeze caressed the trees with its cool fingertips as the grey night drifted along in peace. Amber and silver shone on the clouds above, giving light and life to the street below. Branches cast shivering shadows on walls that held dull pain inside.

In one room, lit by one lamp, two people sat in subtle silence, their eyes staring into their own private distances.

“I’m lonely,” he said.

“I know,” she answered.

Hope Street

Hope Street
where hope
turns to home
where rain
turns to glass
where my future
meets my past

Hope Street
dimly lit
with dark promises

Nobody Home

ring ring
nobody home
I’ll just let it
ring ring
there’s gotta be
something better
that listening to that
ring ring
it’s gotta be
the loneliest sound
everybody busy
too busy to answer that
ring ring
come on
I’m hurting here
just say anything

I place the handset
on the hook click
and try my hardest
not to feel hurt
they didn’t know
it was me
did they?

17 Years after Rolling ‘Touch/Love’ in a High School Writing Class Exercise

The small and soft
Charming and disarming
Married friend of a coworker
With her ludicrously crooked smile
Padded over to me on her sexy brown bare feet

Holding myself close
Thinking no one else would
I looked at her glowing allure
As if I could make her an unmarried woman
Merely with the yearning in my eyes
And the desire in my heart

Her fourth beer in her left hand
She tilted her head
Said something I didn’t hear
Smiled a flirtation
Reached out her right hand
And brushed my hair out of my eyes


Excited like a kid
I had a crush
walked up to

sat down beside

she was warm
smelled so
brown eyes
couldn’t see me

“Am I” I am

“Being a pest?”
wanting her

“Yes,” she said


“Scalpel,” the doctor said calmly, and received the rusty saw. She carefully made her incision in my chest, top to bottom, so there was plenty of room.

I didn’t know if she was a good doctor or not. All I knew is that she was operating on me.

“Bone saw,” she requested, and began the real work of getting inside me. White spray flew and covered her glasses.

“Ah, there it is,” she said finally. “Rib spreader,” she demanded. She dug and poked for a few moments, cutting what needed to be cut.

At last, she lifted out my heart.

“I’ll take that,” she said, smiling.

“I’ll give it,” I said.

Her Hands

These pale ghosts
Meet me
With their little imaginations
On this night kissed
In the midst of this mist

I lean forward slightly, lightly
To taste their gracious insight
Through my tears
And to me they
Taste of the sea

With a deep and perfect breath
I borrow from their marrow
The end of tomorrow’s sorrow
These graceful, tasteful
Pillows of comfort

Wanting to find the soul
Of these fine willows of life
I look up to find
Your presence has not

If She Were Here

If she were here, I would wait patiently until every nuance of the moment breathed life into her eyes, until the shadows cast by the dim hallway light struck her face with the most subtle touch.

I would take her hands in mine, pulling her ever-so-slowly toward me. My eyes would see her thoughts and feelings.

My hand would move her hair as it tumbles playfully down her shoulder. My fingers would glide gently down the curve of her cheek as it glows softly in the dim cascade of incandescence.

I would wrap my arms around her, surround her. I would hold her close to my heart, feeling her heart beating, feeling her feel me.

I would whisper almost too quiet for her to hear, “I love you.”

If she were here.

Missing You

Missing you is
Closing my eyes
tender thoughts
that place
the sky at night
the moon alone
and waiting
need and want
quiet and sound
rusty nails
sea shells
hard and soft
hands and heart
stark and sad
far away
another day
a million miles
and home

Pictures of You

I look for your
elusive self
and I can’t see
my pictures of you

surrounded by this
dark tempest
of slate and auburn sky

It’s bigger than I am
bigger than we were
it’s funny that with this rage above
I stand beneath and think of you

I’ve trained my paradox
to protect me
and my delicate
dark illusions

Full of hurt
dazzling and fading
shaking my visions
and trying still to picture you

But for reasons I won’t admit
I can’t summon my
pictures of you
to save my life

It’s just me and the sky
and an empty space
but not your hazel eyes
in those pictures of you


I drift
with my God-given talent
in one hand
and my
hell-bent heart in the other

under the obviously arrogant assumption
that I have the right
to be here

the RIGHT!
have you ever heard such gall
in all your
miserable little
black-and-blue life?


Neon lights in the trees
Giant old brick church
Old chair for the trash
Power lines
Bold old tree
Yellow LTD
Windows windows windows
(every one is lit; somebody’s home)
White houses
Grey street
(a power line of its own)
Warm south wind
Faraway windows
Light in my own windows
(where you are welcome)
Wind chimes (in my wind chimes)
My front door (always open)
Stranger walking by
(he knocks, no answer)
Those same neon lights
(in those same trees)
Where did he go?
No answer
Passing cars
The night itself
And me


Man say
(and this is just “them” talking)
no, not sleep with me
in smoky bars
at one a.m.
to high heels
and leather skirts
and thick thick eyelashes
because she watched
too many commercials
men say it will snow tonight

Streetlight Life

Thinking about
those wild white horses
with the wind at my back
and your scent in my lungs

And you
at the threshold of
the depths of
my shallow existence

I feel myself tremble
rock back and forth
finding what I need
without you

It’s too cold in this place
and far warmer than I deserve
with the night wrapped around me
like a blanket

My hair combed
and my mind made up
and my life in order
and you far away

The streetlight life
flies like my nights
between this dull ache
and your distant handshake

More dust than stanza
more wish than answer
less sound and less fury
than the taste of your light

The Word of God

Who is this woman in blue
Who likes the sound of my voice
When I pray?

“Blessed be God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

And here’s the part that kills me.
The people say, “Blessed is His kingdom,
Now and forever. Amen.”

How do you like that? Amen.
Like they understand it. like they mean it.
Like praying for it will make it happen.

And while they pray
She slides her slender brown
Soft hand in mine

How do you like that?
Like she understands it. Like she means it.
Like holding my hand will make it all better.

“We acknowledge and bewail our manifold
sins and wickedness…”
I always liked that part.

Yeah. This one, too…
“We are not worthy so much as to
Gather up the crumbs under Thy table.”

So I no longer look puzzled
When I think of her self-esteem
Instead, I get a laugh out of it.


then it didn’t ring again
must have been
that all-important wrong number
instead of a death in the family

“hello” she said
almost unintelligibly
“is Paul there?”
came the half-drunk voice
“you must have the wrong”
people get so mad when they’re wrong

then for no reason
I was driving north
and feeling lost
and alone
and wanting to be home


Don’t say
It’s unfair
Don’t say
It’s not right
Just say
It’s ten ’til ten

And time to say

Opium Blonde

She hears my steps from behind her
As she sorts the mail
She lifts her head slightly
Knowing what was next

The slight movement
Tells me that even though
I couldn’t see it
She was starting to smile

I reach her and reach out
She tilts her head
And knows who and what
I want

Arms around her in slow motion
My face in her hair
Mmm the sea of hair

I breathe in that sea
An ocean of intoxication
A world of pleasure
And peace


Short Story: Walking Away

Walking Away

by Richard R. Barron

Goodbye is a good cry.

There is something about the turn of autumn that hurts us inside. It’s an insane time, when anyone with any artistic or poetic heart feels a sense of loss, or remembrance, or hunger. The hunger is this: when the primary weave of our lives becomes the cold, we hunger for what warms us inside and out, the affections of another.

I spent the autumns and winters of my youth hungering for her, wanting to be in that place, the physical place of being wrapped around her, holding her, smelling her hair that is soft and cool in the evening air, touching her hands. And all the while the moments in that place are only made meaningful by her hunger to be in that place with me.

That night I felt it again. I was walking away. Just moments before, standing behind Michelle, I put my arms around her shoulders, around all of her. She raised her arms and put her soft, white hands in mine. I squeezed them a little, and at the same time laid my head on hers.

“What are you thinking about?” she asked.

I paused, and thought, “I love you.”

“I like this,” I said, and started to sway back and forth.

“I never liked being rocked as a baby,” she said, so I stopped rocking her.

Now I was fifteen steps out of her door, walking away from love, since, it occurred to me suddenly, it was walking away from me again. I resisted the urge to look in her window, but felt almost certain that she was looking at me, and as I felt watched and onstage, it seemed as if I had forgotten how to walk and was trying it for the first time.

I got to the street, looked both ways, and crossed, trying to look as casual as I could. Somehow I had to save the face of the embarrassment of failing again at love. I couldn’t let her see how much I wanted to run away from the pain swelling inside me. I took a deep, deep breath. Was I shaking?

It’s funny. Five years earlier, ten years earlier, fifteen years earlier, it was the same walk. It feels like my body isn’t even along with me. Everything seems completely different suddenly. Even if I was expecting it, even if I saw it coming, the reality of walking away was not of me, not of my routine.

On a summer evening five years before this night, after a hard, bitter cry in Pam’s arms, that moment came again. Full of hurt and hunger, in this moment I was about to go from the touch of her hands to the lonely warm air of another night. I stepped back and let her willowy arms slide out of my hands, then turned around and looked at the stairs to my apartment, no different than the first or last time I climbed them.

Two years before that found me outside a dorm room at a college not far from my home. Lisa was moving back to the east coast. I’d never even bothered to confess my feelings to her. I knew it wouldn’t have helped.

She stood before me in the parking lot at just after six o’clock. It was a still December night, and the early sunset was a cold blue. She wore a red cotton sweater that was mine until I decided it didn’t fit.

I don’t remember what we said. Goodbye, I guess. She didn’t like to be hugged, but I broke her of that just in time for her to leave. She hugged me, then I her, then I knew it was time to turn around and walk away. I’d gotten pretty good at walking backwards for a few steps, giving her the chance to turn around first, and this time it worked. I got to watch her walk awkwardly away before I turned around and walked awkwardly away in the opposite direction. It wasn’t a long walk, but it was long enough.

In 1994 it was another walk. She was there to stay; we had just buried Kathy after she shot herself to death. The walk away from the grave on that sunny winter day was different than the others, but it was still a walk away, still awkward, still taking me away from love.

I never thought of turning around, though.

She loved me.

When I was sixteen, I was visiting Melissa at her home in Missouri after her family moved her away a year earlier. She wasn’t my girlfriend, but I wanted her to be. I was feeling very sad that she and I were parting, and she was feeling very homesick.

“Can I go with you?” she half-joked, and the thought stirred her to tears.

“Sure,” I said, and held out my arms. The sensation of having her so close to me was as pure a feeling as I’d ever had, and in ten seconds it was over. Nothing was even remotely the same after that. My only thought was desire to be close to her again, to be in that moment of perfect peace and freedom, wordless and unlonely.

Yet there she was, walking away with tears in her eyes, and for me was only the task of getting in my car and driving away, which seemed to take forever and felt totally alien in every way.

When Tina and I said goodbye, I was nineteen. In her darkened room, we sat on the edge of her dormitory bed.

“What is it?” I asked her once, then again in the consuming quiet of her room.

She lowered her head, and tears spilled down her cheeks. “Here,” she whispered, “is your promise ring.”

“Why don’t you keep it,” I told her, followed by, “I’m going to go,” after another awkward silence. I turned and walked to her door, opened it with wooden gracelessness, and slipped into the even darker hallway and down the stairs. Finally at the bottom of the stairs appeared the night, and I let it swallow me up. Even under the cover of darkness, I felt certain her eyes were still on me somehow.

Last night it was the same, walking away in the occult gloom of night, and suddenly I knew, just as Michelle’s apartment slipped out of view, why this walk away from love surrendered all of it’s grace and left me so desperately, pathetically awkward: I was carrying the weight of the loss squarely on my back. It was a weight I wanted no one to see me carrying, a weight that held defeat at its core. At last she could no longer see me, and I slowed, no longer hurrying to disappear into the blackness. I breathed out, looked down. The weight was suddenly lifted, and replaced by a much more familiar emptiness.

I smiled.


Kathy’s Journal

In 1992, 1993 and 1994, I dated a woman named Kathy, who was a critical care nurse at an Oklahoma City hospital. Kathy suffered from various emotional difficulties, including depression.

In February 1994, she killed herself at her home in Norman, Oklahoma. After her death, her parents were kind enough to give me a copy of her short journal, which I only then learned was in the form of letters to me.


22 Nov 92 (in my journal)

Sometimes it scares me when I realize that I have allowed you to see how vulnerable I am. It is much safer to keep the strong, clinical mask on. I am frequently (heck, nearly always) more comfortable listening to the cares of others than I am admitting that I have needs. It is hard for me to remember that it is okay to be needy sometimes. You are impossible to be dishonest with. Is that an advantage or not? You are also fun. I am glad you are my friend. I care about you. K

8 Dec 92

Dear Richard – well, I have to address my thoughts to someone and I am definitely past the age when one invents imaginary playmates. So I write this as if it were a letter to you. You will probably never read it, but it helps to have a focus. So. Enough. This is Tues. night/Wed. morning. It is 0120 but I have not yet unwound enough to fall asleep.

Monday (7th Dec.) I went back to J. G. for a massage. He seems to also have a gift for T.A. type counseling, which is interesting. I told him to coddle me instead of using all deep [illegible] stuff & for once, he was happy to do that. He gave a very nice massage and asked some interesting questions.

“What makes you so angry and tense?” “Well, fear, of course.” “Fear of what?” And I said, “I’m afraid no one will ever love me again, and I will be alone all my life.” And I started to cry. Why was I talking about THAT in front of a relative stranger? I guess I am just desperate. I’ll give life one more year before I hang it up. (I say this every year.) I know no single men who want a relationship with me and too many married ones who do.

I am pushing 40 (God, is that scary.) I will probably never be able a child. Why? God made me pretty, really smart and reasonably talented. Should this not be passed on? (Who cares. I want a baby. That’s all.)

Why is it that those of us that long for death, and pray nightly for it, live so long? I don’t want to grow old alone.

Let me die, early morning
Oh bitter tears
Don’t believe any more
Don’t believe – no one hurries home
To call me baby – lonely woman
Everybody knows, everybody knows –
But no one knows.

I just can’t listen to Laura Nero [sic] any more. It hurts too much.

LET ME DIE. IN MY SLEEP IF POSSIBLE. THANK YOU. AMEN. (tomorrow would be okay.)

He never listens to me.

10 Dec 92

Dear Richard,

You called me earlier (well, actually, it was still 9th Dec when you called.) How nice of you. You are doubtless one of the nicer people I have ever known. I do object to the term “dour” though. Sad, depressed, unhappy, despairing all work, but dour indicates someone who is incapable of feeling or expressing affection and that is just not me. I played your tape today and it doesn’t suck. Thank you.

I will make a list now.

Attributes of a potential life partner. (These are not necessarily in order)

1. Ability to show affection
2. Good self esteem
3. Intelligent
4. Sense of humor
5. Not fat or impotent
6. Tolerance
7. Must think I’m beautiful (at least sometimes)
8. Must be beautiful to me ( at least sometimes )
9 . Honest re: feelings able to communicate same
10. Belief in God (not necessary for beliefs to coincide with mine exactly)
11. Taller than me (this one’s a cinch)
12. Has own teeth (absolute must)
13. Has hair on head (decided preference but perhaps negotiable if many other qualities present)
14. Must be cuddly
15. Not too squeamish
16. Not less than 10 years or more than 5 years of my age (I will live a long time)
17. Wants kids, but won’t hate me if I can’t produce same
18. No tobacco or drugs (mild ETOH on social level ok )
19. Must love me

Well, God, I think that’s about it. (Don’ t want too much, do I?)

Persons with some of these qualities: (also must be single now)
JM (not a candidate, but does fit on list) G’night.

14 Dec 92 (in my journal)

I slept better last night than I have all week, dreams notwithstanding. You are very comfortable to be with. I woke up hungry this morning. Is that of any significance? Jesus, those cookies look good. The last time I ate lunch at Misal I rode in the back of M.A.’s rental car, and, unbeknownst to M. A., someone had been sick on the floorboard of the car in back. It looked very like dal. I didn’t especially enjoy my lunch that day. KG.

25 Dec 92

1230 a.m. (or 0030)

Just home from work, have to get up at 0500. No family, no Christmas dinner, no church, no nuthin (sp on purpose.) Worst Christmas of my life but I am handling it better than last REALLY yucky Christmas. Still – sad, teary, guilty (after all, could be worse my unit is full examples.) No presents for me till later [illegible] gorgeous creche figure. One doctor asked me today are you always in charge. Smiled & said no, it only seems that way. More later.

31 Dec 92 (in my journal)

This new year will be much better than the one we are finishing up tonight. I am glad to think that, so I refuse to believe that it might not be. I wish I didn’t have to work tomorrow. K

7 Feb 93 (in my journal)

I had really hoped we could get together tonight. I have missed you. This new schedule is great in some ways, but I have become a real wimp for late night frolics. Even not-so-late night frolics. One of the reasons I agreed to work today was in hope of seeing you tonight. I am really glad you are here. K 1055 p.m.

P. S. You look very nice in that tawny gold plaid flannel shirt. And thank you for putting up with my early music. K

22 Sep 93 0200

Well, much later – hah. Hi, Richard – glad you got my card & like same. New house (since last entry) new job, same old angst. Oh, well. Pretty good day got new CABG/AUR & after a few bobbles (why don’ t they warm these guys more?) got him pretty well tuned by 2200. Good. I like it when my critical patients get better. Nice guy, too.

Hope my car is well by tomorrow. I feel like I’m driving a blue colored aluminum beer can – silly rental car with no solidity to it ugh. I am thinking of you, wishing you were here.

New list of potential life partners: (Can’t even think now of who some of these people were obviously they were merely flash-in-the-pan, unmemorable, etc.)

R. Barron
S. Blasengame
S. Nickel (sp?)
R. Rogers (sort of)

OnIy singles I can think of that I’d consider.

Now how about what I have to offer

nice looking
great (at least real good) body
easy to be with
terrific cook
good in a crisis
good listener
accepting of other POV than my own

Gee, I sound like a real find. Notice I ignored all my character deficits.

We’ll get to the deficit side later.

Who do I love:

My family (all 15 or 20 of ’em)
Michael & Thea
Michael & Mary
Mike B, Kim & offspring /oh, yeah! Joe G.

Too late to write, too early to sleep. Will try anyway. Kiss yourself & know it’s from me.

18 oct 93 0200

I am just not a good journal keeper. Life is rather difficult for me now, Richard. Food is difficult, sleep is very difficult, energy low, no hope for future. (this, of course probable cause for above problems – the no hope thing.) If I live to be forty and am still alone, I think I will interfere with my destiny. That’ s a nice way to put it, isn’ t it? [Editor’s note: she was 43 when she wrote this.]

“Let me die, early mornin’ – oh, bitter tears.”

9 Nov 93

OK! All you supercilious, condescending, holier-than-thou, se€lf-helpers, you speakers of platitudes (“Get a life, get a grip, don’t let yourself be affected by externals, let go and let God, find a direction,” etc etc etc.) You have no idea of my life. You know NOT ONE IOTA of the pain I live with daily. You are NOT forced to live my life. So LAY OFF. If God wants me to be alone and miserable the rest of my life, so be it. Duration is one variable I can control, if I choose.


Short Story: Bolt


by Richard R. Barron

I sat on a folding chair on my balcony, waiting. The black sky all around me was momentarily quiet. A few seconds before, a flash of lightning hit the ground to the south, tripping the breaker on my air conditioner, silencing it as well.

Full of Sound and Fury
Full of Sound and Fury

I relaxed in the momentary lull. My camera pointed to the sky southeast of town, where there had been a heavy concentration of thunderstorms. I looked at it, then decided it was time to reset the shutter. I reached up to the cable release and closed the shutter, then wound the film and opened the shutter again.

Trying to photograph lightning is a waiting game. It requires patience and voluminous amounts of film. The camera and I stared at the sky. Occasionally we would see a dim flash that would brighten the clouds for a moment. Then as I watched, there was a blinding crack in the heavens right in front of the lens. Quickly, I closed the shutter, and knew I had the picture I wanted.

A few seconds later came the report of the miracle of heat and light, high pitched at first, then rumbling lower and deeper. I paused for a breath of the rainy air and to admire the depth of this sound. It was then that seeming all around there was a flood of blinding white light, and at the same time a punishing explosion of thunder, deeper and broader and harder than any before. The sound rattled the balcony, the chair, my heart, my world.

Though startled, I immediately closed my eyes and felt the energy pound through me like the rewards or punishments from God. I listened to the echoes strike the city’s buildings around me.

I listened to the voice of the storm speak directly to me. It said, “You are alive.”


Short Story: Sangre de Christo

Sangre de Christo

by Richard R. Barron


As usual, her hands smelled like gasoline. It was unavoidable. To her, though, it was a good smell. It meant that soon she’d be flying again.

Standing before her bright white and blue Cessna Skyhawk 172, she pulled on the center of the propeller and the airplane rolled slowly into the October sun. The sky was deep blue. She looked up into the morning sun, thinking how perfect the day was for flying.

The preflight walkaround complete, she got in, and adjusted her seat. She looked at the silent interior of her beloved airplane for a moment. She’d spent so many hours having so much fun in this airplane, just her and the machine and the sky.

The sky was her favorite place.

Now, though, she paused. She was going on a trip she didn’t want to take.

She thought again about the preflight. Did she check everything? It was going to be a long ride, nearly five hours, and she wanted everything to be perfect. Yes, she thought, I’m ready. She smelled the avgas on her hand again. Checking the fuel for contamination always got it on her hands. The smell was comforting.

“Clear!” she yelled, knowing no one was around, but keeping the practice anyway. She turned the key and the prop turned, groaned, caught, stalled, and finally the engine roared to life. A quick look at the engine gauges, and she started to taxi the eager airplane toward the runway.

Roses. She thought, suddenly, about the roses she sent him only a week before. Sadly. A lot had gone wrong all at once, and now those roses seemed wrong somehow.

Flying, she reminded herself. Think about flying the airplane. Usually when she flew, flying was all she took into the sky with her. But he was intruding, and she felt angry. She pushed a little more right rudder to center the plane on the taxiway, and thought about the letter…mmm…she gritted her teeth. That damned letter. And he had some nerve calling her answering machine and reading it to her while he knew she was away.

At the end of the taxiway, she swung the plane hard around into the wind and stopped. She was so mad at him. Madder, she though, than she’d ever been at anyone.

Throttle to 1700 RPM, gauges good, carb heat OK, mags check, flight controls check. Time to fly. She pushed the button on the control yoke and spoke into the black microphone suspended from her headset. “Hays traffic, Skyhawk 1270 Lima is departing one-seven, Hays.”

She taxied onto the runway, and felt the sensation of flight start to come over her. She pushed the throttle to the firewall, and in a great burst of rushing air, Cessna N1270L was about to fly. 50 knots, 60 knots. She pulled back on the yoke and the ground drifted away beneath her. She was flying again.

She smiled, felt relieved, free, relaxed. She was in her sky again, where she belonged. And Eric never came with her.

But as the ground fell away, 2000 feet, 3000 feet, 4000 feet below, thoughts of Eric began to intrude on the serenity of the cloudless sky. Angry thoughts, alone thoughts, sad thoughts.

Four months earlier, Kristi and Eric met, her persistent smile and a bottle of Perrier charming her way in the door. Before long that night flew by, and she drove home thinking of nothing but him. She thought of his dark hair that tumbled down his shoulders.

The night before that, Kristi and Eric had gathered at the house of a friend, Hank. Along with Hank’s wife Sara, the four of them formed a kind of club. Every other Friday, they met to trade short stories, poems, and artistic ramblings.

Kristi looked behind her over the empennage. Twenty miles back and a mile below she saw her home, Hays, Kansas. In that little town she fell in love with him, easily, deeply, fearlessly. In the short time they were together, the intimacy they found was intoxicating.

The little town now twenty-five miles away, she thought about how far away he was.

Spring Glen, Utah lay 546 nautical miles in the distance. Somehow it seemed further. He’d been there for three weeks, isolated from the rest of the world, isolated from her. Just outside the dusty mining town was the Castle Gate Treatment Center.

Eric was an alcoholic.

One Friday night, Hank and Sara, each through a six pack of imported beer, started arguing about Hank’s story. Sara thought the plot, about a man committing a series of gruesome murders, was absurd. As they shouted across the table at each other, Kristi and Eric looked at each other and smiled.

During a momentary lull in the argument, Kristi held up Eric’s latest literary attempt and caught his eye in an uncomfortably intimate moment for him.

“You. You’re the one who has something to say in this group.”

The story in her hand was about a small boy being beaten by his alcoholic father.

Alcoholic. She thought about the word for a moment as she scanned the sky. She tossed it around in her head. The word was completely alien to her. No one in her family, none of her friends were alcoholics. Kristi never even drank.

Something was wrong, somehow, suddenly with the idea that she was so in love with someone with so much of a problem.

She tensed for a long moment, then let out a long breath. It was time to conduct more of the business of flying. She reached up to her comm 1 radio, dialed in 122.3. Squeezing the microphone button, she spoke calmly, professionally, “Wichita Radio, Skyhawk 1270 Lima on 122.3.”

“November 1270-Lirna, Wichita Radio.”

“Good morning, sir,” she cheerfully said. His voice was just a bit familiar. Maybe she had talked to him before. “1270 Lima would like to open my VFR flight plan at this time.”

“Roger 70-Lima, flight plan activated at 1330 Zulu.”

She smiled. Her talents were many, not the least of which was her radio voice. It was strong and commanding, yet still human and engaging. It was too bad for the man in the darkened room at the Wichita Flight Service Station that he could only hear her voice. Kristi was a strikingly, powerfully beautiful woman.

Her smooth, tanned face and soft sandy hair bracketed her giant, shining blue eyes. Tall and slender, she carried herself with grace and confidence. And her perfect smile was always the brightest light in any room.

At 8500 feet, she leveled off, but didn’t have much reason to smile. She thought of his face, his eyes. She missed him. And at the same time she didn’t really want to see him. For a long moment she pictured herself slowly turning the airplane around, landing on the broad 6300-foot runway at the Hays airport, parking the plane, driving horne. It was Sunday, and there was still time to have lunch with her mom.

Instead, she reached up to the Nav 2 radio and twisted the black knob to 112.2. She turned the volume up and listened. Through static she could hear the familiar, “Dot dot dot dot, dash dash dot, dash dash dash.” H-G-O. The Hugo VOR was 175 miles away.

She turned the Omni Bearing Selector to center the VOR needle.

She was on her way.

Five days earlier, she sat in the small, bright office of her counselor, one she saw exclusively to help her deal with Eric, with fists clenched in rage at the message from Eric.

“Instead of calling me, he called my answering machine,” she explained, almost in tears. She unfolded a piece on paper on which she’d written the words he’d read over the phone to the machine, and read.

“I need you to look at your own issues of codependency and control and work on your own pain. This gives me the chance to work on mine. I am not willing to remain in a codependent relationship at all. I know you talk to my friends. I also think you should listen to what they say, too, because I know they have brought up the codependency subject, and you have not accepted its presence in our relationship. One of my boundaries is now that I will not be with anyone who isn’t committed to a serious program of recovery. The longer you concentrate on me and my pain, the less time you have to look at your own. You cannot protect me or care for me enough to keep me out of pain I have denied for 20 years. I am in a place to take care of me, and while I am here, I need the space to do that.”

What a bunch of crap, she thought. She looked up at her counselor. “Paul, I think this is a bunch of crap,” she said angrily. “His ‘friends’ are a bunch of alcoholics just like he is. Why should I listen to them? And why should I be in a recovery program? I’m not an alcoholic at all.”

“But you’re in a relationship with someone who is,” he answered.

Kristi paused for a moment. “For now. We’ll see.”

“One thing you might keep in mind, Kristi. A truly codependent person would have fought tooth and nail to keep him from going to the treatment center in the first place.”

Kristi liked herself. She liked her work, and she liked her life. She liked the way she expressed herself. And she loved to fly.

Once when Kristi was brushing her hair in the bathroom, Eric sneaked up behind her and hugged her. Instantly they were transfixed on the reflections of each other. A moment passed, and he looked away.

“Kristi, when you look at yourself in the mirror, do you like what you see?”

Without a pause, she said, “Yes, I do.”

He frowned silently for a long moment, as though he was surprised by her answer. “Sometimes,” he said shyly, “I feel like I don’t deserve to be loved.”

The sky was deep blue at 9500 feet.

Why should I be in a recovery program indeed, she thought. It’s not for my problems. He wants me to be in the same kind of program as he is because he feels so bad about himself. He needs me to be as sick as he is.

The tiny indicator on the VOR lazily started to rotate from the “TO” indication, first to “OFF”, then to “FROM”, telling her she had passed over the Hugo VOR, and that she was more than a third of the way there. The idea of being closer to him made her heart jump a little, made her tense.

At the start, going to Castle Gate seemed like a good idea to Kristi. Eric would check in to a 30-day treatment program, and she would, at his invitation, join him in the third week of his treatment. The center held a “Family Program” for spouses, family, and friends. Exactly as he promised, a few days after he disappeared into seclusion deep in the mountains, she received the notice of when to be where.

Comm radio to 124.0. “Colorado Springs approach, Skyhawk 1270-Lima. 20 east, 10,500 climbing. VFR Direct Blue Mesa VOR.”

“Roger 70-Lima. Squawk 5204 and ident.”

“5204 and ident. 70-Lima,” she answered.

She turned the knobs on the transponder from 1200, the normal VFR code, to 5204, and pushed the lighted blue ident button. A moment later, the controller, a non-pilot sitting in a dark room 5000 feet below, spoke again. “Skyhawk 70-Lima, radar contact 19 east. Traffic at your two o’clock, four miles. Boeing 727 descending out of niner thousand.”

Kristi looked off her right wing and below, and saw the shimmering wings of the jet. “70-Lima has the traffic,” she answered.

Almost at 11,000 feet, she set the mixture nearly as lean as it would go, attempting to get another 2000 feet out of the already hypoxic airplane. The Skyhawk lumbered in the climb.

Kristi’s father had taught her to fly, and how to fly in the mountains. At 12,500 feet, the airplane could climb no more, so she leveled off again, and looked at the majesty that lay before her. Below her, Colorado Springs. Ahead and to the right, Pike’s Peak. Beyond that, more huge, imposing towers of rock and snow and pines.

In the week since receiving his letter, she felt so angry and betrayed. It seemed almost like there was no reason even to be with him.

There was always doubt. That uncertainty had grown when, early in their relationship, Eric revealed that he was an alcoholic.

“Part of the reason I’m going to Castle Gate is so I can be in this relationship with you,” he told her once.

“I want to fall in love with you,” he explained. She believed he meant it, too. She wouldn’t marry a man with that kind of problem, though. They both hoped the treatment center would help him, and they could be together.

“70-Lima,” came the controller’s voice, “radar service terminated one zero west of Colorado Springs. Squawk VFR. Good day.”

“Good day,” she responded, and set the transponder back to 1200.

Alone again. The mountains now firmly below and around her, she began the complicated task of real mountain flying. Although flight service hadn’t issued any flight precautions, she respected mountain flying.

Nav radio to 114.9. Direct Blue Mesa VOR, then direct Grand Junction VOR, then direct Carbon VOR, her destination. Her Skyhawk had extended range fuel tanks, so this long mountain flight was possible without stopping.

Some of the times they had together were magnificent, she thought, relaxing a bit. She remembered some of the good times.

Once, during a quiet moment as they sat together on the couch in his apartment, he took her hand and drew her close, quietly, gently folding his arms around her. They held each other close for a few incredibly peaceful moments, feeling each other’s warmth, and then looked up into each other’s eyes.

“Thank you for letting me hold you,” Kristi said.

“We held each other,” he added, smiling.

She thought of another time when they each dressed to the nines and drove over 70 miles to Salina just to have dinner. When she opened her door to greet him, there he stood, the perfect gentleman in his black tuxedo. And she was radiant in her black taffeta dress. The evening was as a dream for both of them, completely romantic, completely wonderful.

Kristi wondered if they would ever share another night like that again. She looked all around at the spectacular mountains which surrounded her. Far off to her right, The Mount of the Holy Cross and Mount Elbert, parts of the Sawatch Range. Below her, Cottonwood Pass and Tincup Pass. To her left, the La Garita mountains, and beyond that, the Sangre De Christo mountains of her youth. For a long moment she scanned her old haunt 100 miles to the south, dim and soft in the light haze. She imagined herself pointing the Skyhawk south for another hour and landing in Taos, New Mexico. She could visit her best friend again, climb the Rio Grande gorge like they did when she was seventeen.

The Sange de Christo – Blood of Christ – mountains, her home, her favorite place on earth, were only an hour away. Somehow, though, the airplane stayed unwavering at 280°.

My pain dims in comparison to his, she thought. His father beat him up until he was sixteen. By the time he was eighteen, he had a six pack in him by noon every day, and had attempted suicide four times.

Only two days before reading the letter over the phone, Eric had composed a much kinder note. But since he mailed it, Kristi actually recieved it after the message on her machine.

“As far as my pain goes, you are doing what I need you to do. You validate my feelings. You offer me comfort and positive strokes. You share my sorrow. You are willing to walk my journey with me. Last night we had a relationship seminar. You and I are on target with the way we have conducted our relationship.

“We are building something very solid. Kristi, you mean a great deal to me. I need you in my life and I love you.”

Kristi thought of the two letters and felt mystified. How could he go from such an extreme to another in such a short time? Even more mystifying for her was why she loved him in the first place. They were two very different people, and Kristi often didn’t understand, and in some cases didn’t even respect, Eric’s views. He believed in God; she was an athiest. He smoked; she was a vegetarian non-smoker. He loved television; she thought it was puerile. He believed in astrology, which she…well, she thought it was complete crap. Eric also based most of his beliefs on a psychology-as-truth genre, which Kristi was coming to doubt most of all. The more she contemplated the concepts of the “inner child” and the 12-step idea, the more she began to understand that she and Eric were in different worlds.

She thought of this as she crossed the last range of mountains that stood between them. In the hazy valley fifteen miles ahead, she spotted the Carbon County airport. Seeing the town sent a shot of adrenaline through her, making her heart race. She felt dangerously near him, and near his problems.

She took a deep breath. Time to land the airplane, she thought. She pulled the throttle back to 2000 RPM, and the bright white craft started to descend into the valley.

Why indeed had she fallen in love with him? She thought of his face for a moment, narrowed her eyes. There he stood before her, smiling sweetly. It dawned on her in that instant why she loved him. His face. He was a strikingly handsome man. It was the only reason that came to her mind. For the same reason she loved the mountains, for the same reason she loved her photography, for the same reason she loved flying itself, she loved him. They were all things beautiful to her eyes.

Now these beautiful, sharp blue eyes began setting up the landing approach. The checklist was simple in the Skyhawk: turn on the landing light. Five miles out, she pushed the button on the yoke and spoke.

“Carbon County traffic, Skyhawk 1270-Lima is five east, inbound, full stop, runway one eight.”.

When the aircraft had settled to 7000 feet, about 1000 feet above the ground, she applied full power to stop the descent. At a mile and a half, she turned parallel to the main runway and spoke again into the microphone on her headset. “Carbon County traffic, 70-Lima is left downwind for one eight, full stop.”

The airport clearly visible below her left wing, she searched every inch of ground and sky, remembering what her father taught her from her first flying lesson when she was fourteen: “Cover your butt.” The airport, like most she used, was uncontrolled, so there was no control tower, and no radio requirement. Kristi self-announced her intentions for her own protection; there was no guarantee other pilots would.

At the approach end of the runway, she pulled the power back to 1500 RPM, and she and the Skyhawk sank toward the ground.

“Carbon County, 70-Lima is turning left base.” She put down ten degrees of flaps, and the plane slowed to 80 knots.

“Carbon County, 70-Lima is turning half-mile final for one eight, full stop.” Twenty degrees of flap, throttle off, she centered on the runway. A bit of left rudder compensated for a slight right crosswind. Ten feet off the runway, she rounded out her descent, and two feet above, she flared the nose high, and heard the familiar barking sound as the wheels touched the pavement.

She had arrived.


Dark clouds hung low over the tops of the mountains to the east. Patchy fog dipped in and out of the valley, in and around the Carbon County airport. She sat under the left wing of her beautiful airplane in the soft grass next to the tiny red brick terminal building.

She looked at the turbulent sky. To her shining blue eyes, it was a blur. She was crying.

His words rang in her head over and over. “I just don’t think I can love you the way you love me.”

And that damned sky wouldn’t let her leave, wouldn’t let her go home. The Cedar City Flight Service Station was calling for, “Low clouds and fog in mountain areas until 1800 Zulu, VFR not recommended until then.” Kristi looked at her watch. 11:15 a.m., 1715 Zulu. She would have at least 45 more minutes to sit and think about the last four days.

The moment she arrived at the treatment center, her anger with Eric melted away. She was so glad to see him, she actually ran to him, melting into his arms and holding him tight for a long, long time. The rest of the visit the first day went much the same way. They sat in the sun under a tall grove of aspens on the grounds of the center, quietly making eyes at each other and discussing the turmoil of the previous three and a half weeks.

It was obvious to her that he was still in a lot of pain, despite all the treatment he’d been given.

“Kristi,” he said in a whisper barely louder than the wind rushing through the trees, “what do we have?” The wind rose a bit and caught the leaves in the tops of the trees. The aspens gently sang their songs of sweet seclusion as they cast spots of sun and shadow on the quiet couple.

“We have mutual respect. We have physical affection. We’re both intelligent. We love each other. We listen to each other. We have fun together.”

“Do we have intimacy?” he asked, shrinking from her as though the answer would hurt him.

“Yes,” she reassured, “we have intimacy.”

Intimacy. She thought about the word as the first spot of sunlight pierced the rolling grey and shone on the north end of the 7300-foot long runway. Didn’t he understand…love, respect, affection, fun… that was all intimacy?

She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and stood. She stepped over to the pay phone and dialed 1-800-WX-BRIEF to get another weather briefing from Cedar City. One ring, and a professional voice clicked on. “Pre-flight,” he announced.

Immediately, she felt better. Instead of talking to the tormented families of chemical dependants, she was suddenly in contact with someone like herself, someone who knew about flying, someone who, to her, made sense.

“This is Skyhawk 1270-Lima. Cessna Skyhawk, private pilot. Papa Uniform Charlie VFR to Hotel Yankee Sierra. Departing within the hour. I’d like a standard briefing please.”

She smiled suddenly. It felt so good to speak the language of a pilot again, instead of the words of someone whose “significant other” was on the edge of self-destruction.

She thought of the people with whom she spent the last four days. Dianne, who was sexually abused for four years as a young teenager, had come to support the recovery efforts of her husband, who three months earlier drank himself into a coma.

Edward, a chronic chain-smoker, came to see his chronic chain-smoking wife, who also drank to excess. Sondra was visiting her fiance, whose drinking had cost him his job and his driver’s license. Guido, the gangster, attended on behalf of his sister, a problem drinker since she was 14.

None of these people were anything like Kristi, and Kristi never faced their kinds of problems, in her childhood, or in her adult life. As the week progressed and they all attended workshops and group therapy meetings, it became clearer and clearer to her that the “swirling toilet of despair”, as one family member put it, was not for her.

The briefing complete, and filled with good news about the weather, she hung up the phone, and walked back to her airplane. Removing the fuel tester from its holder in the cockpit, she began the pre-flight. Left wing tank first, she drained several ounces of 100-octane low-lead aviation fuel. At the bottom of the tester was nearly two ounces of water, probably formed in the tanks when they got cold at night over the last four days.

She drained again, until the tester came up with nothing but fuel.

Around to the tail section, she checked as she went. Then to the right wing tank, she followed the same proceedure. She carefully inspected every inch of her craft.

It came as no surprise to her when, on Wednesday morning at the “one-on-one” meeting with Eric, he announced that their relationship would be ending.

What surprised her was how much both of them cried. For 45 minutes, gathered in a small upstairs room, Eric explained why he couldn’t love her. The reasons he gave to her seemed to be unconnected, thinly-contrived excuses, she thought, for him simply being too afraid to be with her. He said he needed her to be in “recovery” too, but never told her from what he wanted her to recover.

When the one-on-one meeting was finished and the counselors had left the room, Kristi and Eric held each other and cried and cried.

It had become very clear in the sessions that she attended in the two days before that she was an emotionally healthy person. Every time a counselor would ask for a show of hands, or ask Kristi directly, she could only shrug and feel more and more like she was in the wrong place.

On the last day, Wednesday, the family members sat in the circle that had become a familiar home for their pain, their tears.

One by one, each told the group of their feelings, and what they thought would happen next. Finally, when everyone else had spoken, Joan, the group therapist and alcoholic herself, looked over at Kristi, who had remained silent throughout.

“Kristi, we haven’t heard from you yet.”

She paused, looking at everyone looking at her. In four days she came to know these people as friends, despite their desparation and sorrow. In the circle of couches and chairs in the small white clapboard building in the high mountain air of eastern Utah, they had all opened their hearts to each other as they never had before. They arrived as strangers from Maine and Wisconsin and Georgia and Kansas, and departed as friends who had all cried together in a small mining town far away from everything.

Now, at the end, it was finally Kristi’s turn to cry with them.

“I feel left out. Everyone here is going home to be with their partners. It’ll be hard, but you will be with them…” she looked down and closed her eyes tightly, but was unable to keep the tears from spilling down her cheeks. “…I have to let Eric go.”

After another long silence, Joan spoke. “Kristi, what are you going to do to take care of yourself?”

“I’m going home,” she answered, “to my friends, to my family. I love them. I love my job. I like the way I live. I love my life. I like myself. And I’m going to keep flying.”

“That sounds very healthy,” Joan added.

Far to the south, a thunderhead had been growing for an hour, and it finally opened in a great grey cloudburst. She watched it, but saw that it was moving west, away from her intended route of flight. She thought about the rain so far away, how it was so much like the tears she was crying.

Nothing can grow without rain, she thought.

At ten after twelve, she decided she had waited long enough. It was time to fly. She dried her eyes for the last time and climbed into the silent bird. With checklist in hand, she quickly completed the start-up. A rush from the propeller dragged the Cessna from its grassy parking place onto the taxiway toward the waiting runway. At the end of the runway, she turned into the wind and followed the run-up procedure as she had hundreds of times before.

She looked around at the airport, the valley, the mountains, the town in the distance, the treatment center beyond that. It was all about to be a part of her past, below her, shrinking and far away.

A rush of engine noise and she was on the runway, then full power. 40 knots, 50 knots, 60 knots, and she pulled the nose of the airplane off the tarmac.

As the runway fell below her, she smiled brightly, and tears filled her eyes again. Now, they were tears of joy. The treatment center, the family members, the dusty town, Eric … none of that mattered any more.

She was flying again.