Friday, April 10, 2015

Touching Spirits, Chapter 2

This is Chapter 2 of Touching Spirits, my new novel that will soon be released.  I hope you like and enjoy it.

            CHAPTER 2
When I was a boy my bed shook at night.  I thought everyone’s bed shook so I didn’t mention it.  Often I found myself trapped between sleep and waking, a strange animal perched on my chest.  I stroked its wiry hair and watched it suck in my breath as strands of smoke.
     But life was full of things to keep my mind off that which couldn’t be explained.  I discovered girls, and then travel.  My penis became the compass of my life, pointing the direction I should go.  It guided me through dozens of countries and into the arms of countless women.  For years I was a playboy with a back pack, enjoying women in Spain, France and Germany.  Even then I was running from the things that came to me at night. Michelle changed my life and I moved to Amsterdam. Having her beside me kept the touching away.  Her energy changed my own.  I wanted to build a future for us, a life together, and joined the police academy.
     The airport shuttle let me out at the curb.  Huge umbrella trees made a tunnel of the street, blanketed lawns and gutters with purple seed pods that crunched under my feet.  Every few steps one popped under my shoe like a tiny balloon.
     Maybe it was me being paranoid and fresh out of police work, but I noticed a foreign coupe coast to a stop at the far end of the street.  As I rounded up my bags and paid the shuttle driver while chatting, the guy in the coupe did not get out.  He sat and stared as though on duty. 
     A wave of painful memories washed over me when I picked up my bags and turned toward the suburban house.  Inside was Grandma’s world.  She became my single parent when an auto accident took my mother and father.  This house still contained my childhood.
     If I could choose one object as the house logo, to sum up what it was like inside, it would be her rusty, yellowed gas refrigerator that I saw in a 1938 Cary Grant film.  Food had to be placed in one corner of the refrigerator to get cold.  The handle hung down as if it was about to fall off.  While cooking Grandma often rushed to the rusty old thing, wiping her hands on a homemade print dress, and stood wiggling the handle, trying to get it to latch into place and open.
     As a child, when no one was around, I’d shake the handle and repeat her words: “Shit fire, piss ass dung,” as though they were part of the magic ceremony that opened the refrigerator.
     If I mentioned buying a new refrigerator she pointed out that running on gas saved money,  and that was the mega rule.  Everything she did, from lining drawers with newspaper, to using yogurt tops as coasters, tossing the dish scrubber to the concrete outside the back door to dry in the sun, to washing tuna cans and putting them under her bed posts to protect the wooden floor, shouted depression.
     I wanted to run but needed answers and Granny was the keeper of family history.  If anyone knew what was happening it was her.  My plan was to get the information I needed and get out.  I didn’t want her involved.  If I was going insane I didn’t want her to worry or change her life to care for me. 
My fears of returning home popped like the seed pods in the street when she hugged me and I smelled the vinegar rinse in her hair, felt her soft belly pressing against me,.  She was a wave of warm love that washed over me. 
     Memories of glorious summer days with shaggy, sun-bleached hair, sore spots worn into my feet by the plaster of my favorite swimming pool, and sun-warmed nectarines tossed from tree to pool, brought laughter. 
     While we hugged Grandma spoke with a beautiful Southern accent resurrected for such moments.  On and on she went about the neighbor and the vegetable garden and the lack of rain as she carried a bag through the front door.
     The room she put me in was illuminated with a 25 watt bulb.  It was depression era lighting and I felt my spirit, my joy for life, dwindle to the same low wattage. 
     I set down my bags and remembered the guy watching the house and searched through the closet for my old .38.  I found my baby in the cigar box where I left her, beneath a pair of hiking boots.  This old school revolver certainly wasn’t my nine millimeter service weapon, but it still felt good in my hand.  I didn’t know what I brought with me from Amsterdam, but the revolver would supply home protection to keep whatever it was away from Granny.
     It took several days to sort out the financial details with the Amsterdam Police Department and my new bank so my disability checks would find me.  Between calls I tortured myself by imagining a man and woman using my favorite sex toys on Michelle.  Each time images of that three-some came into my mind I silently said: ‘I love you and forgive you and release you,’ and went about my day.
I mentioned the boredom to Charley, my police department shrink, during a Skype session.  He suggested I write a blog about the shooting, about being a cop, the changes I was going through, how it felt to shift from one country to another, to be pulled sexually to a woman on the other side of the world. 
     I called the blog ‘Into the Light,’ and described the blood and the pain of the shooting, how something had protected me, surrounded me, and how the light, the love in that nurse’s eyes called me back.  I wrote for hours while Grandma slept.  There was so much I needed to shout about. 
My words came out in Dutch, without punctuation.  All that time, that part of my life, the pain and my service on the Amsterdam police department, was filed in my mind in a Dutch file.  Pulling it out of my mind was physical labor.  My hands shook.  I was typing as fast as I ever had.  Sentences erupted in heaps, bursts of thought and emotion, all the pain I felt during that time, the isolation and endless questions from department superiors.  It leapt out of me.  Charley had been right.  I clicked publish, added a few Dutch journalists to my online circles, and went to bed.
      The next day I started washing windows and mopping floors.  The last thing I needed was to sit and think about Michelle being slutty, or why the marriage crumbled, or why I was a loser, or my ever present chubby.  The divorce made me look at myself and realize there were things inside me, aspects of my personality I needed to change. Again and again I released that energy to the Light. 
A few days later I visited the blog and was surprised to find 614 comments from people around the world. Many were from angry church members who quoted scripture and called my experience a lie. An attractive Dutch reporter posted a video of her broadcast about my case, and left a note saying she wanted an interview. 
     In the evenings I tried to get close to Grandma, hoping to get answers.  I sat on the old sofa beside her, afraid to touch the soiled arm rests, listening to stories, the ‘who was out to get who’ of family history.  She thrived on the old hatreds and plots and gnashed her teeth and pushed her pink glasses up by crunching her nose, and drank mountain burgundy as she narrated, her voice changing with the start of each tale, as if she were walking onto a stage.  A trail of spilt wine and cracker crumbs stretched from her feet, across the dirty oak living room floor, to the kitchen counter where she often refilled her glass and grabbed crackers from the box.  Every so often a crumbs flew from her mouth as she spoke, and when her glass was empty she’d mark the level she needed it filled to by pointing with a finger.  And dropping out of her stage voice, she’d say, “If you don’t mind, darling.”
     Weeks later she told me about her breakdown.  Tears came to Grandma’s wrinkled cheeks as she remembered jumping from a third story window with flames at her back.  Her voice changed to one of reverence as she described how she heard a voice and felt hands supporting and lowering her, protecting her.  From a tattered plastic bag in the bottom of her closet she dug out newspaper clipping that detailed how she fell through a tree and onto the hood of a car and received only scratches. 
     She went on about how she fought to control her mind; hands touching her while she slept.  I didn’t probe too much because I knew about her being institutionalized.  I would never make her return to that place in memory where demons screamed her name as they climbed up from Hell to take her. 
     Something had touched her too.  I was getting close.
     Days later she turned as we sat at the kitchen table, crookneck squash on crumpled newspaper by our plates, gnats circling ripe nectarines, and said:  “I don’t know what it means, Cody, but it’s passed to you.  Shit fire.” 
     She stepped to the counter and wiped it with a rag.
     I saw the counter was dry.
     “How did you—“
     “You didn’t need to tell me, child.  I can see it in your eyes.”  
     “What do you know about it?”
     “I’ll tell you what my mama told me:  As far back as she could remember there’s been something calling, touching family members.  They tried to fight and some were stout country men, but it pulled them into madness.  My brother Milton took a butcher knife to the family dog.”
     It wasn’t the information I was hoping for.  I wanted to fix something, take it apart with tools and replace a broken part.
     Grandma’s stories were about fighting and losing.  I too wanted to fight.  I wanted to smash whatever the hell it was that was touching me.  But there was nothing to grab, and that was the frustrating part.  But then I realized something:  Every family member had tried to fight the touching.  Was Grandma’s fall into insanity caused by resistance?  Was that the key?
     I didn’t want to be strapped to a bed and pumped full of drugs until I couldn’t fight.  I thought about what helped me in Amsterdam:  The White Light.  My books all spoke of surrender and faith, and that reminded me of a trick I learned as a boy while body surfing.  Once in a while, as I treaded water in the surf, waiting for the next wave to arrive, a riptide pulled me from shore.  The trick was to relax.  If a swimmer panicked and fought they soon became exhausted and could no longer tread water.  So when a riptide grabbed me and I found myself drifting from shore I just stretched out on my back happy as could be, floating with the current until it dissipated. When it released me I’d swim to shore. That was what I’d do with the touching. The next time something came I’d be ready.
     I didn’t learn what was touching me, but I had a plan of how to deal with it and that was why I came.  Now I could go on with my life.  It was time to move out.  But the thought of leaving Grandma troubled me.  She was my halfway house, my refuge between cultures and countries, between married life and a life of finding a job and starting over.  I spoke with the Light about it after my morning meditation.  
     Every time I asked for direction projects around the house came to mind.  I wondered if seeing new projects was a message.  Was I supposed to stay longer?  Was there something I needed to learn? 
     Two or three times a week I walked around the block and searched for someone watching the house.  If I was under surveillance I needed to know if Grandma was in danger.  So I’d do little tricks like pull Granny’s shopping cart around the corner as though I was on my way to the market, and as soon as I got around the corner I’d stash it in the bushes and jog around the block, hoping to sneak up behind the guy in the car. 
     But they were too good.  I never got close.  As soon as they saw me coming their car rolled away and accelerated out of reach.  All I ever saw to identify the vehicle was a dirty spot where the license plate had once hung.  I was left in the street searching for a tossed cigarette butt or a bottle top or some sign they had been there.  But there was nothing.  They were clean and careful and that meant professional.  Was it the same guy who followed me in Amsterdam?
     After repairing the kitchen drawers, gluing and screwing them back together, I tackled the front yard, thinking the neighbors probably didn’t care for Granny’s lawn of opium poppies.  On a suburban street in California, where the houses were cookie cutter copies, Grandma’s stood out with a flair only she could pull off.  She loved plants so much she couldn’t pull weeds, thinking, ‘oh, the poor little plant has fought so hard to push through the pavement I just don’t have the heart to pull it.’
She loved Asian poppies and it didn’t matter they were illegal and produced opium.  They also created beautiful blooms and she wanted them in her yard.  When the sprinklers stopped working and the grass died, she sprinkled poppy seeds over the lawn, squirted water on the ground, and lo and behold, in a couple of months she had a four foot high field of poppies any drug lord would envy.  As I cut them down I wondered if the old woman was harvesting a bit for herself. 
     When I finished her front yard with an automated sprinkler system so she wouldn’t have to risk journeying into the real world to turn them on, I started rebuilding the back fence, setting posts in concrete. 
     I needed these projects.  While working I didn’t have time to think about how to begin my life anew, about Michelle’s perverted couple, how long my disability checks would continue or whether to go into police work again.  I was in Grandma’s bubble of love and wanted it to last forever. 
That night I was sitting on the floor of my bedroom, slowing down my breaths with my eyes closed, sinking into meditation when I heard a noise at the window.  Through the one inch opening I saw a tiny red light.  That meant one thing:  a camera. 
     The shock jump started the cop in me.  I was so pissed I didn’t even think about grabbing the .38.  I was going to tear the intruder apart with my hands.  I would not allow anything to touch Grandma.  I ran to the back door.  Pebbles on the asphalt driveway hurt my feet as I ran.  I turned the corner of the garage and saw a man climb over the neighbor’s fence like it was nothing. He was light and nimble as a cat.  As I walked back to the house I thought it had to be the guy in the car.  They had violated sacred ground by intruding on family. The game they were playing just got serious.     
     While I drank coffee the following morning I understood that a camera meant documentation, evidence to present.  It had to be related to a case in Amsterdam but I couldn’t be certain without access to department files.  The only thing I did know was that I was putting Grandma in danger.  I had to finish the work and leave as quickly as possible.  After breakfast I walked into the yard and continued repairing the back fence, mixing concrete for the posts.
     During the work Granny stayed in the back bedroom with classical music blocking the noise, sitting at her easel, mixing acrylics on an old palette, dropping bits of paint on the hardwood floor to be tracked around the house.  She was living her dream.  In her mind she was on the other side of the world.  All her life she wanted to be a painter, to roam the left bank of Paris and paint, pouring out the love reserved for plants.  She was living that dream without having to travel.  I hoped it was being lived without opium. 
     She spent hours in that room and came out exhausted, set her canvas against the bookshelf in the living room and stumbled into the kitchen wearing a paint-stained smock, tracking paint through the house, adding color to her wine-and-cracker trail. 
     I don’t think she saw the filthy floor, the knife scars making an artistic pattern in the kitchen counter top.  No, she’d pull open the door of the rusting fridge, after throwing out her finest curse words, grab a chunk of smoked salmon, plop it onto a cracker, pour herself a whopping glass of burgundy and walk to the sofa.  From there she’d eat and stare at the new painting as though it were speaking, leaning her head to the side to better hear.  She loved the dirty house, the dust balls rolling around the floor, the old yogurt containers that I called clutter buckets, filled with pens and keys and paper clips and rubber bands.  The squalor made her feel good, took her back to Texas where she grew up.  That was where she felt most comfortable so she had recreated it.
     It was a lesson.  Using her life as a starting point I began looking at my own.
     As weeks passed Charley and I skyped often and progressed from superficiality to him stirring up the muck of my childhood, as he called it. 
     “If you want to change your life you have to change the four-year-old who controls you.  That’s how you make life better.  I can teach you.”
     “Look Charley, teach me how to stop the night visits.  Something comes and touches me at night.  Teach me how to stop that.”
      “This has been haunting you since you were a boy.  You tried to escape it with sex and women and travel—for how many years? You buried something that is causing all this.  My guess is that if you go inside and make changes this haunting will stop.  Your assignment is to create a master list of the things you want to change about yourself.”
     “This is crap.”
     “We all have a four-year-old driving the car of our life.”
     “Do I have to do this?”
     “Do you want to keep getting checks?”
     “Then have that list the next time we speak.  I’ll teach you hypnosis so you can go back to your four-year-old and make changes.  Oh, by the way, your story is all over the news.  I’ve seen your blog quoted three times on--”
      I turned off the computer.
     The next morning I entered the kitchen and stepped in water.  That woke me fully.  A quick look around revealed water dripping from the ceiling.  I tore a hole in the drywall and found the problem.  The old galvanized pipes were clogged with mineral deposits.  The joints were crusty and sweating.  It was time to change the pipes.  As soon as I mentioned the problem Grandma told me she had to fill a yogurt container and pour it over herself to take a shower.  I thought about how it probably reminded her of farm life in Texas or a student apartment on the left bank of Paris.  
     The Light had given me a new project.  For the next couple of weeks I tore open walls and cut out old pipes, forcing my body into tight spaces in the attic while installing new copper pipes. 
     After Granny went to sleep and I turned out the lights, I changed into black clothes and slipped out the back door.  With my back against the gritty stucco wall I squatted on my haunches as my eyes adjusted, then trotted through the yard and hopped the neighbor’s fence and came out onto the sidewalk on the other side of the block.  I had to know who was watching the house.  If they were insurance investigators it’d make a good story for the blog.  But if it was related to a case I had to protect Granny.  Retribution against a cop’s family was never pretty.  It wasn’t going to happen here.
     Grandma came through the plumbing like a trooper.  I don’t think she noticed.  As long as she had plenty of wine all was good and I was buying it by the case.  For a hundred bucks I rented a plastic outhouse, and in the evening I’d take her to a local gym where I bought a cheap membership so we could shower.  It was good and I was happy.  I was staying so busy I didn’t have time to be bothered by my perpetual chubby.  Is it possible I didn’t miss sex?
      One night after our trip to the gym to shower I found I was out of bottled water and walked to the market to get some.  As I walked in front of shops I saw a car pull into a parking space across the lot and a guy got out.  That was their first mistake.  Maybe he didn’t expect me to be watching, but when he stood up the guy looked across the lot and made eye contact with me.  It wasn’t such a big deal, but it caught him off guard and he walked into the market ahead of me. 
     I smiled because it was time to play.  They had gotten too close to family and by doing so had violated the boundaries of decency.  As I walked I undid my belt and wrapped it tightly around the knuckles of my right hand, the buckle tight to the heel like brass knuckles.
     In the market I walked up and down several aisles as music played.  I was just a shopper ambling along.  When I knew the guy from the parking lot was coming I turned and walked into the next aisle and waited.  I didn’t know if he had a weapon or if there was more than one guy.  I had one shot and had to make it count.
     As he came around the corner I hit him with a right jab.  That buckle on the chin staggered him and before he could respond I hit him again.  He dropped and I pulled him by the lapels across the floor and out of the main aisle.  Now he was mine. 
     I went through his pockets and wallet and found only cash, no credit cards, no identification.   
     He looked up and smiled.
     “My family’s from Texas.  Never mess with a Texan’s family.”  I wrapped the belt around his neck and jerked it tight and was about to drag him around the supermarket.  “You got one chance.  Who do you work for?”
     “We are helping you.”  He turned his head and spit blood onto the shiny floor and swore in Spanish.  
     “No identification, that means you’re not a journalist or insurance investigator.”  I jerked the
belt and pulled him across the floor, swinging him from side to side as he choked and fought. 
     “Who sent you?” I shouted.
      Before I had gone more than a few yards a woman screamed.  I thought that my cue and dropped the belt and walked out of the market.
     You can tell a lot from cursing.  When a person is pissed off they revert to their mother tongue, because in that language they can effortlessly sling the filth.  And this guy cursed in Spanish. 
I didn’t know if he’d still be following me, but I got the water and hurried across the parking lot and into side streets.  If he was there, or had called in back up, I was going to pick where the confrontation would take place.  These were my streets.  I had been a teenage boy here.  No one knew this neighborhood better than I did.
     At my teenage cigarette stop, where me and the boys used to meet during our morning walk to school, a grassy strip between two garages, I slipped out of sight and picked up a trash can and dug a brick out of the dirt, pulled it from the strands of Bermuda grass that surrounded it.  I needed answers.  This was going to stop here.  With my back to the wall I waited and let the car get close. 
     Yes, he was coming.  ‘Let it come a bit closer,’ I told myself, peaking around the corner of the garage. 
     Just as it was about to pass I ran out and hurled the trash can.  It hit the grill and blocked the alley and the car screeched to a stop.  I ran to the driver’s window and smashed it with the brick and tried to pull the driver from the vehicle. 
     As he fought he managed to shove the stick into reverse and smoked the tires down the alley. 
The car bounced from the alley onto the street and drove away. 
     My hands shook as I picked up the water bottles. 
     Walking gave me time to think.  They weren’t cops, nor investigators.  The lack of identification meant military or a criminal organization.  I knew it wasn’t military, so it had to be a case from Amsterdam.  I noted the make and model of the car.  I did the same for the driver, remembered his race, age, hair and eye color.  And then something came to mind.  He wore a collar pen that seemed familiar.  I tried to remember where I had seen it.  As I turned up the walk to Grandma’s door, I thought over past cases, convicts who had called me out, defendants who rushed at me across a crowded courtroom, and the silent, effeminate child killer with the demented smile. Then I remembered the pen.  The guy who followed me to the park in Amsterdam had something on his collar.  A man on my flight wore a gold pen on his lapel.  All three were Latinos. 
     As the plumbing continued I found myself climbing into the attic, into positions that even a yogi would find uncomfortable.  Working in the baking heat of the attic, and going up and down a ladder for every little thing made progress stall.  I needed help.  After a few days of getting nowhere I decided to hire a helper from the home improvement center’s parking lot. We spoke for about five minutes before I agreed to his pay rate.  It was not his words I was listening to.  I watched how he moved his eyes, how he held himself. That told me more than his words.  There was nothing hidden or secretive about him.  I felt he was a good man.
     When I saw how much work Gustavo completed the first day I knew my decision to hire him had been the correct one.  For more than a week we cut copper pipe, cleaned the ends and applied flux so the solder would hold the joints together.  My hands ached with a web of tiny cuts from the sharp pipe ends. 
     As days passed Gustavo told stories of his home in Yucatan.  I learned about the jungle and the Caribbean, and his stories aroused my curiosity.  I was being led.  Inwardly I smiled and thanked the Light.
     The tales made me barrow books and I began reading about ‘Mexico’s troublesome little brother,’ as one of the books described the region.  I felt a longing to be there, to walk among the Mayan pyramids, to wear sandals and shorts all day, to laugh about a region called ‘I do not understand.’  For that is what the word Yucatan means. When the Spanish arrived and asked the name of the place, the indigenous people did not understand their language, and answered, ‘Yucatan,’ which means: I do not understand.  The more I read about Yucatan, and prayed about going abroad to meditate and make peace with the touching, the more peace I felt.
     To free myself of the unseen, whatever was touching me at night, free myself of the visitations, to search for sanity, I was going to do something that made everyone think I was crazy.  I was going to move to Yucatan and meditate and pray.  I had been running from this my entire life.  I needed to identify and heal it.  Using techniques from my spiritual books and incorporating them with Charley’s hypnosis, I was going to go into my past and change it.  How could I put that on a resume?
     Before I left Amsterdam I recognized signs that preceded a visitation.  Headaches became common.  Usually they were accompanied by a ringing in my ears.  On the final day of the plumbing work the ringing began, as though my brain did not know how to process what it was hearing.  
That night it came.
     When I felt something sit on my bed and take hold of my arm, I was ready.  I was so full of love and happiness from prayers that I sat up without opening my eyes, and in my mind’s eye saw a light of love surrounding me, protecting me, my own private bubble of light.  When fear rushed through my mind I surrendered and loved it, loved everything as if it were my own sweet child, as Jesus did on the cross.  And then I was pulled into a place of only light and my inward vision, my thought, shattered into a million fragments of joyous color, like an orgasm of the mind.   

     Grandma woke me the next morning. 
     “Sweet Lord Jesus!” She plopped down onto the bed, steam rising from her cup of tea. “Child, something happened last night.  I felt it coming like before, but there was a light that blocked out everything and covered me.” 
     That old woman wept, tears flowing down her face as she placed a hand on my leg. “It’s happening to you what happened to Uncle Milton and me.  But somehow you’re shining through it like a sunny day that hurts your eyes.”
     I felt the pain in her voice and imagined the horrors she had gone through trying to fight something no one thought real.  At that moment our roles reversed.  I became the adult comforting a crying, frightened child of eighty years. The visitations were affecting her and I couldn’t let that happen.  It was time to leave.