Police Are Friends Not Food

I understand at its outset that an article that seeks to defend police written by someone who is closely related to a police officer can only be seen as biased. ButI used to be one of you. I was inherently afraid of police, I thought they were bullies, fighters, foe. Even though I had been helped by some police officers at harrowing points in my life they were the exceptions to the profession and not the rule. In my years growing up with a cop, I have had to ask my fair share of questions, and the answers were often surprising and always enlightening. What I’ve learned, and what I hope to relate, is that good, helpful police officers are more often the rule.

Why are you writing this

I hope to answer specific questions and address common misunderstandings about this oft-scrutinized profession from a non-cop point of view. I will not seek to defend specific incidents or individuals, although I will comment briefly on media portrayals. One police officer shouldn’t have to represent everyone in their profession, just like one CEO shouldn’t have to represent the actions of all CEOs, or one individual shouldn’t have to represent everyone in their entire race.

I should also say, however, that I am not a police officer, and while this was read and fact checked by one, it is not necessarily endorsed by police officers everywhere. Cops are a diverse group that police a wide range of locale in the United States and what’s true for one department or individual may not be true for another. 

Without further caveat, I invite you to dive into a few common questions, that I and many cops have had to address more than once.

What are cops like?

Think about your workplace for a moment, imagine your high school or a college classroom and think about the people who end up there. If you have worked in multiple places you will begin to notice a pattern in the types of people you find. There are extremely hard workers and lazy do-nothings, there are incompetent bosses and excellent managers, there are aging employees who reject new technology and wizened genius who’s worked in the same place for thirty years. The list goes on. These may be tropes but in broad terms, these types of people found in a variety of professions. A police department has the same colorful smattering of people as your workplace. 

Bureaucracies are largely the same across the board, and the same struggles you run into at your job, are often the same struggles police departments have to face. In the end, it’s a job that you have to clock into and out of. Sometimes you have friends on your shift, sometimes you have annoying coworkers, sometimes your boss is a pain. It’s a job. They’re just people. That’s the reality. 

I thought all cops were bullies, but you seem so nice!

When you say this I want you to remove the word “cops” and just pop in any race you can think of. Doesn’t sound good, does it? There are roughly 900,000 sworn police officers in the United States (according to the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund http://www.nleomf.org/facts/enforcement/), and as a liberal and equal rights activist myself, it makes me a little queasy to put any group of people in one box.

Pretend for a moment you’re tasked with hiring a police officer. You have to train this person which is an investment in classes, training staff, and time (if they’re brand new, the department has to pay a lot of money (100k in California) to vet them and send them to the police academy - depending on the state, all states hire cops differently) so you will want to pick carefully. You have to work along side this person, which means you want someone who is smart and trustworthy, responsible and easy to work with. Consider, as well, the type of person who would best serve society — this is the person who might have to pull a child out of a car after a crash, the person a young woman may have to talk to after she’s raped, the person who has to talk a suicidal man down from a literal ledge. 

You would also want to hire someone who won’t cower away from gangsters, someone who will stand up for weak, someone who won’t crumble under pressure or the sight of a dead body (count me out). You’re basically looking for the kindest, strongest, gentlest, bravest person you can find. I’m not saying every cop is Prince or Princess Charming, but that’s basically your high bar. 

Let’s just say there aren’t a lot of bullies that fit into that box.

Are all cops racist?

See the above note about statements like all “blanks” are “blank.” 

Regardless, let’s address racism briefly. None of us are unaffected by racism. Everyone has assumptions about groups of people based on the media and past experiences. Whether those assumptions are overt or remain internal is up to the individual and what is seen as Okay in their community. 

There’s no arguing the sordid history of racist policing in America. But my guess is that police officers are exactly as racist as their surrounding community and the time period they live in, i.e. the percentage of racist cops in 1950’s Alabama is probably equal to the percentage of racist people in 1950’s Alabama. I personally don’t believe that cops are inherently more racist than the average person just because they’re cops.

Perhaps that simply because police have to interact with a more diverse group of people than the rest of us on a daily basis, and have the power to pass explicit judgment on individuals, the public perceives a higher percentage of racism in cops. Cops have more opportunity to act on racism more, and racist acts by someone with power are more obvious and more detrimental.

That said, cops are still bound by law to deal with the facts. They have to justify every action they take, and those actions need to hold up against defense attorneys and the written law. They also have a ton of training about racism because they understand that we all have biases - and biases plus power is a dangerous combination. I don’t think I’ve ever spent eight hours talking about my latent biases and micro-aggressions. Cops do.

What is it like being a cop every day?

Lot’s of paperwork. Really. Most shifts at most police departments are twelve hours long so beat officers will usually work 3-4 days (or nights) a week. If they arrest someone they’re looking at two to four hours of paperwork. Maybe more if the arrest is complicated. This is precisely why they can’t fit a days work into a standard eight hours.

The type of work is completely dependent on the department. At busier departments, you get in your car and go to call after call. At smaller departments, you drive around and try to find crime until dispatch tells you to respond to an incident that was just reported. In both cases you’ll go to calls and talk to people dealing with a smattering of the following - domestic violence, mental health issues that may require hospitalization, theft and robbery, missing persons, suicides, attempted suicides, rape victims, murders, kidnappings, bomb threats, active shooters, person with a gun, among so many others. These are all events reported by citizens concerned enough to call the police, and these are all possible scenarios that every police officer has to be trained for. 

Sometimes the domestic violence was just a woman heard screaming, sometimes the missing person was just a guy on a bender, sometimes the gunshot was just a firework. But sometimes it’s real, and every call you go to you have to be prepared for anything. 

What about tickets?

Police can only pull someone over if they have violated a law. That means if you run a red light and almost hit a group of pedestrians, you’ll get pulled over. If you have expired registration, you’ll also get pulled over. The more heinous the violation the more likely you’ll get pulled over, but it depends completely on the officer’s discretion. The officer may be on their way to a call that requires their attention more than a red light violation, but, if they’re not, they’ll flip on those lights and sirens. A cops primary concern is keeping the community safe, and sometimes that means giving mild-mannered-you a ticket.

While traffic citations are the primary way that law abiding citizens are going to deal with the police it is not the primary thing that police are doing. Tickets are, for most officers, an ancillary duty that pops up while they’re on the road.

It is annoying for normal people like you and me to get pulled over for rolling through an empty intersection when people are on the road talking on their cell phones and throwing trash out of their window. But remember, those people get tickets too. Wouldn’t it be satisfying to see someone throw trash out of their window, and you flip on your lights and sirens and give them a ticket? Yeah, cops get the same rush.

Remember: Cops trying to keep everyone safe, and sometimes your actions are putting other members of our community at risk.

How do I get out of a ticket?

Cops won’t tell you this as a rule, but I think it's better for everyone to stay on the same page. First, don’t try any of the dumb tricks you read online. Cops know about them and it’s annoying. Your best bet to get out of a ticket is to STAY HUMBLE. Remember: It’s a lot easier to talk yourself into a ticket than out of one. 

Acknowledge that you did something wrong (you probably did) even if you’ve done it a thousand times before and never got a ticket (definitely don’t tell the cop that). Be nice, be remorseful and do exactly what they say. Just because you know you’re unarmed and harmless doesn’t mean the cop knows you are (remember they have to be prepared for anything to go down). If you do get a ticket just accept it, sign it, and show up to court. The judge may reduce your fine, or if the officer doesn’t show up then your ticket will be expunged. 

The way I see it, I probably commit hundreds of traffic violations a year. I may not stop completely at some stop signs, Every time I go to Target I make an illegal left turn, and I have done my fair share of checking my phone while driving and sending that one quick text. Getting a ticket is a good reminder for me to stay safe, to slow down, and stay off my phone. Plus, for all those violations it’s a small price to pay every five to ten years.

Why are cops always at protests, looking so scary? 

Protest organizers often coordinate protests with the police in advance. That’s right, you heard me, cops are asked to be at protests to keep the peace. And since there are usually more protesters than police, they come prepared with helmets and gear in case there’s a mob or a riot.

Sometimes organizers will assemble a number of protesters that would like to be arrested before the events, and discuss this number with the police liaison. More arrests for the protesters mean they get more news coverage. 

Protests are a very political and often organized display, the police are there to protect the community as well as the protesters, and play their role in the political process. Sometimes protests are more organic and simply spring up. In that case, the police show up for the same reasons — To protect the protesters and their right to free speech and to protect the community’s right to enjoy a peaceful public place.

After certain elements are met (depending on location, crowd size, and unruliness), crowds are asked to disperse for the safety of the community, to not block the road, or to free up the park/doorway/lobby for the rest of the community members. If protesters don’t disperse in a timely manner they will get arrested for not obeying a police dispersal order, but usually, protesters are given ample opportunity to leave so that only the people who originally wanted to get arrested will get arrested. That just means they’re put into handcuffs, booked at station, cited and released. 

They won’t even smell a flower, or accept a hug from protesters who are trying to make peace!

Not only is it unprofessional for a cop to interact with protesters in that way, it’s also dangerous. They don’t know if that person wants to grab their gun or put them in a headlock. There could be a sinister substance on the flower, or they could be trying to distract the cops. If there are two sides of the protest, it would be uncouth to show favoritism to one side. When a cop is in a skirmish line like that, interacting with a protester could put them, all their coworkers and the rest of the community in danger. 

I know it feels like they’re dehumanized when you’re all hanging out in a park and a cop won’t interact with you, but understand that this is not the time or place to show police officers your appreciation. It would be like someone shoving a flower in your face while you’re on the diving blocks at a swim meet. You’re focused, you’re vigilant, you’re prepared, and in comes a dangerous distraction. 

If you want to interact with a police officer you can flag them down on the street, or bring something delicious to their department to show your appreciation. A lot of departments have community meet ups where you can go have coffee with officers that patrol your area. Part of a cops job is to connect with community members, so feel free to interact with them. Just not while they’re in a skirmish line, or in the middle of a traffic stop for that matter.

But I saw on TV that video of the cop who…

When these videos of police shootings and use of force incidents go viral usually the video is cut so you only see the action moments. This is understandable, people don’t want to see the boring lead up. But this practice can take the video out of context, and you may not be seeing exactly what the police officer was seeing in that situation. 

Also, consider that sometimes police have to and legally can use force on someone (including shooting them). It’s awful to watch, and way worse to be in that situation, but sometimes the law justifies the actions of the officer if their life is in danger.

If you want to learn more about an incident from a cop’s perspective you can google the name of the incident with the words Tactical Breakdown. These are usually videos made by cops for cops so they can learn from other officers’ experiences. It might help you understand what the police officer was seeing, what they might have been thinking, or how training might affect their decision making. In the end, though, you weren’t there, and there’s no way for anyone to know for certain exactly what happened. 

 Imagine you’re driving your car, and in a split second you see a semi truck careening toward you. In that moment you turn the car left. It’s not really a decision it’s an instinct, a moment you won’t remember even fifteen minutes later. You survive and the truck driver dies, if you had turned right, he would have lived, and your fate is unknown. Now imagine three people are filming this from the side of the road with their cell phones. They go back through your every turn of your wheel, they view every second in slow motion, they make suggestions “If you had just changed lanes a while back you could have avoided the crash altogether.” You’re alive, someone else is dead, and it’s really hard to compile a list of decisions that you made that got you to that point.

Police are well trained to make accurate gut decisions, but the adrenaline, the careening truck, the decision that’s not a decision, the fact that one wrong move could kill you, it’s all the same.

Take police videos with a big grain of salt.

How do I talk to a police officer about important issues?

Be respectful. Don’t use the phrase “Why are all cops blank.” Ask broad questions, and be receptive to what they have to say. Don’t assume anything. If you can help it, try not to ask them about specific incidences with other cops and other departments. You can ask questions related to the incident if you wish to understand it and try to remain open to the answers. Remember cops do so much more than what you see on the news every day. They will show up on your very worst scariest day, and no matter how you feel about police officers, they will be there to help you. Try to be respectful, and understand how painful it must be knowing that you’re putting your life on the line every day to protect a community that thinks you’re the enemy.

Anything else I should know?

If you know a police officer in real life try to understand that you know very little about what they do. If they had to perform CPR on someone who just committed suicide by jumping from building that afternoon, they’re probably not going to bring it up in polite conversation that night at a restaurant with friends. If they were attacked during a traffic stop and had to wrestle someone onto the pavement while trying to keep them from grabbing the knife from their pocket, they’re probably not going to share that anecdote at Christmas dinner. 

Police officers deal with victims more often than criminals, and more problems with the world than solutions. They see the poverty gap first hand, and they see what mental illness can do to those who don’t receive adequate help. They are our first line of defense against bad people, but in the end, they’re not actual superheroes, they’re just people. They’re sworn and trained maybe, but they’re just humans, like you and me, trying their very best to protect other humans.

Abraham's Arc - Part Four

“Nǐ de zuòbiāo shì shénme? Zuòbiāo?”

“What?” Abraham tried to type any of their words into his translator but what came out was gibberish. 

“I.S.S.” Broken english came through the radio.

“Yes. ISS!” he shouted.

“Nǐ de zuòbiāo shì shénme?” Abraham clicked on a link in the app that promised key phrases.

“Màn diǎn” he hurled imperfect Mandarin in their direction ““Màn… Diǎn” He said again more intently, urging them to speak slower.

“Zuò” They spoke each syllable forcefully, Abraham typed it in. “biāo?” He spelled it out phonetically in the dictionary. Nothing came back. He tried a different iteration. 

So byou

Zo biau

Zuo Biao

Then finally without the space

Zuòbiāo pinged -

“Coordinates” Abraham shouted “Zuobiao?” He repeated to confirm.

“Zuobiao.” They verified.

Abraham lunged to the flight deck and searched frantically for the few little numbers that indicated the ISS’s specific location in relation to earth. An impossible feat in space. One that NASA had mastered years before with the invention of the J2000 system. 

“Ten point six two five and forty one point two” Abraham shouted and repeated himself slowly. "Ten… dot… six… two… five… and… four… one… dot… two.” He hoped they knew English numbers, or this would take forever. 

It was an hour before their ship docked with the ISS and three Chinese cosmonauts emerged from the airlock.

One man pulled off his thick white helmet revealing a matte of sweaty hair beneath. He smiled. 

“Abraham.” He pointed at Abraham. “Kang.” He pointed at himself. 

Abraham clasped his hand and shook. “Very nice to meet you” He gushed and proceeded to the other two astronauts with the same enthusiasm as Kang introduced the two women: An and Chun. “I didn’t think I would ever see another human again.”

The three astronauts smiled and nodded politely, but without comprehension. 

Abraham looked around as they hung there, clinging to the walls of the ISS so they wouldn’t float into one another. 

There were just enough berths for all of them, but his food rations were just cut in quarters. Abraham began to count the months they had left. Perhaps even weeks. He considered the eventual nastiness of expelling each of them separately into space as they starved to death. The underlying complications of living the final weeks of your life with three people who didn’t share a common language and did not have enough time to learn it.

“Food?” He asked and indicated eating, opening his mouth and pointing inside it like a child. He was asking if they wanted to eat, but Tong turned into his ship and waved for Abraham to follow. Years of food packets lined the walls of the capsule. It was clear that the Chinese had stuffed as many people and as much food as they could in that capsule as a last ditch effort to save humanity from annihilation. If rationed they might have a decade, maybe more. That was long enough to learn Mandarin. That was long enough for them to learn English. 

    He pulled himself out of the craft and moved back to his computer. He typed into the translator and returned with a grin.

    “So,” he said in Chinese, floating in the center of the space capsule. “What do we do now?”

The End 

Abraham's Arc - Part Three

It was the eighth day, and there was nothing left. 

His food would last him a while, maybe a year or two if he rationed it. But then what? Unless some benevolent alien came along (which didn’t seem likely) he was stuck. Stuck in the tiny ISS until he starved to death. Or worse, was pummeled with space garbage and he and the crickets and kale suffocated in the vacuum of space.

He began to don his space suit. He had decided a few days before that it would be the perfect self-contained casket inside his unholy tomb. He didn’t want to be eaten by crickets in death, and he certainly didn’t want his body to float around endlessly knocking into god-knew-what in the hull of the ship, damaging potential history. If aliens ever did find him, he would be like a mummy. Perfectly preserved. Placed in their museums as a great discovery. MAN. He would have to leave them some sort of note so they would know what to call him. The word NASA on his chest would be their first guess certainly. He pulled off a piece of masking tape and wrote MAN in big sharp letters before sticking it over the red N-A-S-A. He fingered the capsule again and removed it from its packaging before clicking his gloves into place.

He held it up to his mouth and inhaled, one last deep abiding breath.

*     *     *

“Let me tell her.” Abraham had insisted to Alvin once they determined the irrevocable truth of the thing. “I don’t want her to hear from the government. She’ll think something’s wrong.”

“There is something wrong.” Alvin joked wryly. Abraham just nodded.

When he spoke to Abbey later that day he wished he had just let Alvin tell her. He didn’t have the politicians words to say, “You will die, soon. And I will probably live, at least for a bit.” Or better yet the language of the newscasters later that night who could say with certainty and camaraderie that, “we are all in this together. Humanity will die without a breath in the universe, without a fleeting goodbye.” 

“We have achieved great things,” The newscaster would go on to say, “And that, folks, is something to be proud of. We conquered the seas, the stars, we have explored every inch of this planet, and though there is still much to know and much left to achieve, we can be satisfied that we, Humanity, achieved a legacy to be proud of. Take solace in your families, pray to your gods, and be at peace. Now stay tuned for A & E’s presentation of the twenty greatest movies of all time — excluding Armageddon for obvious reasons. Please enjoy this and our display of NASA’s Impact countdown, as we and our entire staff go home to be with our families.”

Abraham didn’t know what the best movie of all time was. He couldn’t soothe his wife with companionship or words of the Dali Lama, or even the solace of a mutual fate. He could only sit there, thousands of miles away and try not to cry.

*     *     *

“Ni hao?” a voice crackled into his helmet. “Zài rènhé rén ma?”

Abraham’s heart leapt. “Ni Hao” he shouted into the radio in his helmet and flung himself toward the cupola to look out the window. He saw nothing. 

 “Hello Hello! This is NASA - Captain Abraham on the ISS.”

Chinese poured out of the radio and Abraham sped back to his computer and began typing text into the translator.

“Nǐ huì shuō yīngyǔ ma?” He shouted the phrase as quick as he could tumbling over the phonetic Mandarin asking a question with an obvious answer. If the recipients of the message could speak English. A long pause met him. A crackle arrived like a spark in the dark, and then nothing. He muddled through the memory of the ancient tongue, one he only knew enough of to get him through Shanghai in his twenties. “Where is the toilet?” - “nǎlǐ yǒu xǐshǒujiān,” “How Much?” - duōshǎo qián, and “which bus should I take” - “Wǒ yīnggāi zuò jǐ lù chē.” Literally nothing that could help him now.

*     *     *

“I can’t believe you won’t be here,” Abbey said when she finally calmed down.

“I wanted to come back, but it’s not safe enough.”

“No, it’s better my love. Better you survive.” She smiled. “I’ll be the only wife who’s mourned. I’ll know the only surviving human in existence.” Then she tucked her chin in her hands and looked up at the screen. “I just won’t have anyone to brag to.” She smiled at the pettiness of it.

“Think you’ll be able to haunt me all the way up here?”

“I’m certainly going to try!” She laughed, and moments later they fell into lugubrious silence. 

“How are you going to tell Jordan? Should we tell her together?” Abraham asked dreading the thought of telling his daughter that she would die.

“Maybe we shouldn’t.” Abbey exhaled heavily and furrowed her brow. “No fear, no anticipation. Maybe that would have been better for all of us.”

“Sorry,” Abraham winced.

“No, I’m glad I heard it from you. I just wonder. Now I have what - thirty hours to anticipate death.”

“Twenty-eight.” Abbey shrugged and pressed her lips together. “Don’t you think she deserves to know?” Abraham asked unsure if he knew the answer himself. 

“She’s two, Abe. She doesn’t deserve any of this.”

They were silent for a moment.

“Will you stay on the line with me? When it happens?”

“Of course.” He said. After that, they hung up. There was nothing else to say. They would save their goodbyes for later.

Abraham's Arc - Part Two

Part Two of Abraham's Arc. For part one click here.


Abraham thought about killing himself right as Earth was hit — trying to time his demise with the rest of civilizations'. But even though Abraham had himself seen NASA’s myriad of simulations using his own data that depicted time and time again the utter annihilation of all things living, and even though Abraham knew that humanity wouldn’t be able to survive even a tenth of the fire and radiation that they would have to endure upon impact, he still felt an impending duty to stick around and just see. The future was a vast uncertainty, and even if the inevitable occurred (he would always say if until the moment of impact) then he would be the only one left to mourn his entire species. And mourn he would.

He sat Shiva for all seven days after the asteroid hit even though he wasn’t raised religious. Always a devotee of science, he now felt compelled to turn to religion for answers in the aftermath. God created the earth in seven days, he recalled, and he would mourn it for that long. He didn’t bathe, he hardly ate, he decided a million times to ingest the cyanide capsule on the eighth day, but then changed his mind a million more.

He spent his days trying to achieve perfect equilibrium floating in the hull of the space station, surrounded by wires and nodules, and closing his eyes. When hours of that became tiresome, Abraham would hover in the observation deck of the Cupola and stare out of its seven windows at what used to be his home.

The blue and green marble swirled with white was now a spherical ashy storm cloud. He could only imagine the devastation beneath it. Even if anyone had survived the initial hit (there was the possibility that boats positioned in the Indian ocean would be far enough away from the blast to survive) they would surely suffocate hours later once the smoke and ash overcame them. In decades, when the dust finally settled anyone who was still around would emerge to a scorched earth. A barren land without vegetation or drinkable water, and it would certainly be centuries more if not millennia before the earth produced a viable habitat again. The reality was that humanity - unless it had a bunker full of generations of food and water and waste disposal - would never make it. And that meant he, humanity’s lone ambassador, would suffer the same fate.

On the eighth day, Abraham returned to his logs. He tapped on the cricket tank and touched the tender cotyledon of the just sprouted Kale. He considered that he might be the Noah’s Arc of this end of days but then smiled to himself. Repopulating the earth with crickets and Kale would be the seven plagues all over again. He tucked himself into his bunk and watched an episode of Law and Order next to a creased picture of Abbey and Jordan. He savored every minute.

If he wasn’t a modern Noah then the ISS was at least a time capsule floating around the dead planet like an omen. One day it would be his tomb and any unlucky life form that became curious about the metal space ship orbiting a dead planet would surely find an over population of crickets, a crop of badly eaten kale, a decomposing human body (perhaps also partially consumed by crickets) and a smattering of humanity’s greatest artistic achievements: Several downloaded language dictionaries that translated any number of International languages to others, one hundred and three episodes of Law and Order: SVU, all the seasons of Lost, The Lethal Weapon series, Ms. Congeniality, The Best of Kenny G, Now! Three, and the entire discography of Ke$ha. 

These were the people who would accompany him through the end of his life - Olivia and John solving serious crimes in a serious city. He wondered if they ever dreamed while filming episode ten season thirteen that this would be the final record of New York. That it would remain the only proof that Manhattan ever existed, that earth ever existed.

He packaged the movie file and beamed it into space. He felt meaningful doing it like he was sending out earth’s obituary. He felt the cyanide capsule in his pocket took it out and considered it.


Stay tuned next week for more of our astronaut's adventures!

 

C. L. Brenton

Abraham's Arc - Part One

Since the past few weeks have been fraught with disaster I thought a little end of the world saga might be of interest. Enjoy, and try not to let it stress you out!


Watching the world end wasn’t the most important moment in Abraham’s life, but it wasn’t the least significant either. There was the day he met Abbey, the moment he left the atmosphere for the first time, the feeling of holding a person, a brand new person, moments old, and christening them with a name. It was every moment after that when he and Abbey would watch Jordan finger Cheerios and revel at the thought that they together could create the very fingernails and nerve endings needed for such a complex task.

Then there was this. A static video call. Abbey sobbing while Jordan sat in her lap her brow furrowed glancing between Mom and Dad. Tears spilled out of Abraham’s eyes and he wiped them away with his sleeve before they could form bright wayward orbs of saltwater that floated athwart the ISS. He spat I love you’s through the static.

“I love…” Abbey sobbed clutching Jordan harder than ever. And with a flash of white yellow light came the eerie sound of an entire civilization destroyed. Then black. Abraham cried for days.

*  *  *

“We can’t bring you back,” Alvin had told him days earlier after they finalized humanity’s fate. “It’s just too dangerous.” He shook his head and Abraham was unsure if he’d rather be on Alvin’s side of the conversation or his own. At least Alvin would be able to go back to his family and face mortality with them. “We can’t predict your trajectory…” He trailed off. “It’s safer up there. If all our models are accurate.” Alvin tried to smile a comforting smile, but he was unsure if he would rather be in Abrahams place instead of his own.

“I want to come back.” Abraham spoke softly. 

Alvin inhaled and said the only two words that made any sense to him. “I know.” 

Abraham steadied himself and tried to remember his training. Every emergency procedure they had practiced trained him to stay alive in space. What if the aircraft loses pressure? What if a crew member gets sick? What if you have to spend six days in a space suit? His training had provided him tools to survive infinite scenarios, none of which had included the complete annihilation of life on earth.

“We’re going to send up some more supplies, but listen,” Alvin said thoughtfully and knotted his arms across his chest. “If we don’t see you on the other side of this you have permission to use protocol 9022A.”

The if they both knew was almost certainly a when, but there was something comforting about painting the inevitable eludible like if they were strong enough, or patient enough, or smart enough earth could narrowly avoid disaster. But the die had been cast, and though men and women worked tirelessly on grand solutions none of them had worked, and none of them would. 

Now the end held this - Protocol 9022A. Abraham traced the outline of the cyanide capsule in his pocket. One that had been issued on the day he got his space suit. One that had been with him on missions and ISS stays and launches and reentries. One he had never considered ingesting.

“Captains orders?” He asked and Alvin nodded stoic, his lips pursed in a permanent frown.

So Trump won. Now what?

So, Trump was elected. It hurts my heart to even write those words. Trump was elected and now we, the healthcare loving, equal rights touting, environment protecting people are the ones left grossly underrepresented in our government.

We protested. Hell, we’re still protesting. He’s still the president-elect. We have promised not to tolerate legislation that undermines our belief system, but none of that legislation has presented. Besides, our governors and congressmen and women will tackle that for us when the time comes, right?

So what do we do right now?

This is the question I have been struggling with ever since that awful Tuesday. And now that I've finally stopped grieving I think I’ve formulated an answer. 

First: Turn off the news. Just try it for a day it will make you feel better. In the time you save not watching the world burn you can —

Second: Amass a list of the things you most believe in — Do you cherish the environment? Are you a proponent of racial equality? Want women to finally have equal pay? 

Decide what you’re most afraid that a Trump presidency will condone. Then FIGHT IT. 

Environmentalism Starts with You

If you’re afraid Trump is going to reverse legislation that combats climate change, then stop buying individually packaged water bottles. Recycle (it seems like a no-brainer but a lot of people don’t do it). Compost. Reduce your waste (don’t buy tomatoes that come in plastic packaging, return your egg cartons to the farmers market for reuse, use tupperware instead of ziplock bags and wash and reuse the ziplock bags you do consume. Use reusable bags for your produce — those thin plastic bags you get at the farmer’s market are harmful too) landfills produce 30-70 million tons of methane every year and most of that comes from our country. Talk to people about conserving and recycling. Enact change in your neighborhood, volunteer in your local parks, help reforest our country by donating to the Arbor Day foundation, plant a tree in your yard. Any and all of these actions will help. I promise.

Learn more about how you can help the environment every day here. 

Racial Equality

If you’re afraid Trump is going to divide the country by racial lines then stop making racist jokes. You claim to be tolerant but a joke just pops out, everyone thinks it’s funny, right? Wrong. Fight it. Even if you think you’re being facetious (no one would believe that you’re serious right?) Humor like that is racist and it divides us. Stop. And help your racist grandma or uncle or cousin stop too. Check out this Wiki How about how to talk to racist family members. There are a ton of other ways to combat racism that you can enact in your daily life. The main way we can break past division is to embrace each other and to show one another that we’re not that different. 

Women's Rights are Human Rights

If you’re anxious about women’s rights, you can help here too. Not only should you ensure that women in your workplace are receiving equal pay, but you can volunteer at women’s shelters, donate to women’s education funds, buy from organizations that support women, or better yet buy used or American made products since most clothes manufacturing is done by women in third world countries. Donate to Planned Parenthood. Volunteer as an escort at planned parenthood. Stop referring to grown women as girls. Support organizations that are female focused, donate to Women investing in Women foundations, tutor young girls in your community, and be a good role model for the women in your life. This article enumerates the ways we can stop marginalizing women every day.

Say No To Bullying

If you are concerned about the disparagement of anyone or bullying of any kind check out this graphic. Memorize it. It's ostensibly about Islamaphobia, but it could be useful in any situation. It is so easy to do nothing in the face of bullying because we're scared. Now you don’t have to. And you don't even have to confront the attacker.

Am I seeing things or does the bully in the third frame look a LOT like Donald Trump?

Am I seeing things or does the bully in the third frame look a LOT like Donald Trump?

 

Be the change you wish to see in the world

Pick any one thing that you’re most worried about and google “What can I do to help __________” Schools or prison reform or homelessness or undocumented immigrants. You don’t have to do everything, just one thing, that’s all. In your day-to-day life try to enact change that supports one thing you believe in, one thing you’re worried about, one thing.

Put sticky notes around your house so you don’t forget, sign up for e-mail newsletters, donate, volunteer, change your habits to positively change the world. You don’t have to be the next Mother Theresa or Gandhi, you just need to take the things that you believe in and vote for and want for your children, and figure out how to live them.

If you don't do this, you have no reason to protest when Trump passes damaging legislation.

We can no longer sit by, watch the news and wait for someone else to enact change. We have to live it.

It was Lily Tomlin who said

“I always wondered why somebody didn’t do something about that, then I realized I am somebody.”

If you are afraid what a Trump presidency might do to our country, Good. Be afraid. Now do something. 

The government is a reflection of the American people. They're not going to change the world for us. We have to fight for it first.

If I am lucky enough to have a daughter

If I am lucky enough to have a daughter I will teach her what my mother did not. I will tell her that pretty, smart, and kind are not mutually exclusive. I will tell her that being a woman has its flaws.

If I have a daughter, I will teach her to be strong. I will tell her that kindness is an invitation, that if you are kind to men they will bring you balloons to class, or ask you on dates, or make you feel uncomfortable when they corner you at parties. Be kind anyway.

I will tell her that perfection is not always perfect and that a relationship has its ups and downs but that it should mostly make you feel good. If it doesn’t, you need to reassess why you’re in love. If he tells you you’re too fat, or he’d rather date one of your friends, or he disparages you when his mother visits, or he doesn’t care whether you move away, or if you're happy or if you're sad, then this man has taught you something - he is not worth the time you save on your commute by sleeping over at his house, he is not worth the brief collage of compliments that kept you enamored, he is not worth the dinners he cooks, or the presents he gives. He is not worth you.

When you’re in college and your soccer coach walks you down to your car after a game and tries to kiss you on the lips, turn your head and let it land on your cheek. Be kind, you are both adults after all, and then get in your car and leave. Don’t quit playing soccer. Don’t never go back. He only mistook your kindness and respect for love. 

This will happen a lot when you are kind. A man will write you a love letter, maybe two men you thought were friends. And if they break up with a woman for you, that’s their problem, not yours. Friends will try to be more than friends, and you will lose them. Be kind anyway. 

And when someone says you’re too fat, or too skinny, or your hair is the wrong length or color, or even when your TA says things like “If you weren’t my student…” Try not to give them the power to topple you. Because though they may make existing uncomfortable, though they may make you feel self conscious whenever you see them, and even when you don’t, their superficial jibes cannot insult your intelligence, or your kindness, or your freedom.

That’s why we have to be strong, my love. We can’t fall into their self-loathing trap.

When your professor thinks you can’t hear him and refers to you as the “exceptionally beautiful one,” in a class you’re excelling in. Don’t start cutting class because of him, my sweet. Don’t abandon the entire major. Don’t write it off because it seemed like a compliment, don’t forgive him because it felt harmless enough, and don’t let it slide. Compliments from a teacher sound like this: “Great effort,” “How smart you are!” “You have a lot of talent/potential/chutzpah.” There will be millions of compliments in your life, but they won’t all feel like that. Like someone stripped you naked in a crowded room.

This is when you should stop being kind for kindness sake. This is when you should begin to fight.

When you spend a rare evening in a club, and you faint outside after the first few gulps of a beer that didn’t “taste-quite-right” and the club manager tells you you’re fine — It must have been the music that got to you, it must have been something you ate. Don’t refuse to be seen by a paramedic. Don’t brush it off and go back to the boy who sent you outside by yourself. Do you know how hard it is to tell if a person’s been drugged? The blood tests, the drink samples a lab has to take? The club manager just looked at your tongue, and pronounced you un-roofied. When later you vomit completely sober in the club’s bathroom, don’t blame it on the Ikea meatballs you ate for dinner, or the electronica pounding in the back of your brain. Don’t sign away your right to medical attention, or you will question that night for years after. How hands are supposed to look when they pass you a beer, how friends are supposed to act when you faint (and you never faint) or vomit in the bathroom for fifteen minutes. You’ll think about the long drive home by yourself fuzzy and shaking, you’ll always wonder what could have happened if... if...

I remember once, speaking to someone I considered a mentor about the most lewd thing anyone has ever said to me (let alone at work). He was a friend (do you see the pattern, my sweet?) who made an inappropriate pun about my “box” and what he’d like to put in it.

How should I deal with this, I asked her, how do I respond to these sexist and abusive words. She sort of grinned and asked if I wanted her to speak with him. No, I said.

I wanted an answer, I wanted strength. 

If I were her, my feminist hat would have been on fire. I wouldn’t say, “let’s not make a big deal of this,” I would yell, “that’s unacceptable!” I would reel in righteous and wear a big F on my chest for FEMINISM, and FEMALES, and FUCK YOU.

But I wasn’t a child, and she wasn’t really the hero I was looking for, so we did nothing. She wanted to be liked by men, she thought the big F on her chest would make them lose respect. Maybe it would.

That’s the delicate balance right there, isn’t it, child, we are at war with man but we want men, and we want to be wanted. But when you don’t fight the unacceptable, when you ignore that crunching sound in your chest when their words crumple you, you are condoning it. So you have to fight.

You have to fight for the inside you, the smart, kind, generous you that’s beat to hell every time you’re seen as just a body and breasts. We must fight for other women too, my love, because we know all too well it’s hard enough to fight for ourselves. 

I will tell her all of this so she knows she is not alone, so it won’t turn her stomach when it happens to her. I will tell her this so she won’t recoil, or slink away ashamed. I will tell her so that she might be stronger than us, braver than us, fight back harder than us, so that she might shout "this is not okay!" without feeling embarrassed that it happened to her. Like she invited it, like she's just doing it for the attention.

And if I am lucky enough to have a son, I will tell him this too. Because if we all tell our sons and daughters about the atrocities of living in a world where sex is a commodity, then maybe one day, if they are lucky enough to have daughters they won’t have to worry about being sexual prey. 

Until then, we have to fight, and we have to tell our daughters these stories so they can learn to fight too.

A series about water: #2 of 3

It wasn't always like this

Chalk rings marking years when it was good and we were bad

White like the streaks of cloud across an August sky

Tick mark scars count every abuse on growing red walls 

A scorched blue puddle at their feet.

It wasn’t always like this.

 

We were young once and powerful too

I swam through you as you ran through me, 

Green scoured your shore,

Luck lined mine

And damn anyone who tried to tame us.

 

Now your skin is parched gold

Lined and flaking off like scales

You bake in unrelenting sun

While concrete sentries hold you captive

Streaks of opalescent oil fester like a thin veneer

You were fast once,

but now you beat slow,

It wasn’t always like this.

 

C. L. Brenton

 

A series about water: #1 of 3

If I were the sea and you were the land, I think we might meet here. Here the fish are all jumpy, and the sun would set beyond your thin frame instead of mine.

And if I were the sea and you were the land we would press into each other, secede and recede and then take it all back. There would be never ending compromise, giving and taking, pushing and pressing, and we would always be touching like lovers, or boxers, entangled in that broken way that people become too entangled. 

Bits of you would tear off into me, sink into me, and bits of me would flood into you. Flow between the islands of your toes, curve into the sheltered bay of your stomach, cover you with a thin film of salt.

Until you couldn’t tell which was actually which. You couldn’t tell mountains from islands or fish soaring through me from pelicans gliding through your sky or valleys from caverns that go deep deep deep into me. 

If I were the sea and you were the land we would always be touching like lovers do and when it rained, I would be the deepest darkest of blues, and you would be wet out of empathy. 

Your quiet would meet my bustling loud. Your stasis moved by my constant change. And if the wind blew over us, you would just shiver but I would roar.

If I were the sea and you were the land, I think we might meet here, where I’m always calm, and you’re always warm, and the fish like to jump as the sun breaks below your thin frame.

And though we are a thousand other creatures on a thousand other days, here we are only two bodies completely entangled.

To my love on our wedding day

I woke up early, too early and I couldn’t get back to sleep because I was so excited to marry him. Sleepless and puffy eyed I crawled out of our bed, careful not to wake him, and boiled water for tea in the kitchen. It was barely dusk, the sun hadn’t turned anything that soft shade of yellow and orange. We were still in the gray hours and when I stepped outside, hot cup of tea and notebook in hand, it was brisk, but not windy. I sat on a swinging bench, my feet curled under my knees and began to write, this is what came out.

One of my socks is inside out and I’m sitting on this bench crying, unprovoked, because I love you so much. And in this moment, despite how tired I am, despite how few hours I’ve had to metabolize last nights beer, I am so happy. An osprey soars overhead and I smile at him, geese honk and I smile at them. The trees are green, the sky and lake are reflecting endless iterations of the same color blue. There is literally no place I would rather be in this moment, wearing my pajamas while you snooze upstairs, watching the world wake up on our wedding day.

I wish I had written more, in fact, in my notebook the last sentence was left unfinished. This is because Justin had woken up, seen me out the window, and ran down to join me on the bench. We took this picture right as the sun was starting to hit the trees.

Though this wasn’t one of my more brilliant pieces, it captures a moment that I’ll always return to when thinking about our wedding. For me, writing moments down creates a stronger more visceral memory than pictures. That’s probably why I’m doing this work. I’m excited to begin again, after a brief vacation, to the job that I love. Thank you, as always for reading.

Motel Room on Route 66

He twitches beside me on the burgundy motel bedspread. We are on the move pressing through time like lovers. Only we are cold and it is dark and it doesn’t feel much warmer with him curled up beside me — his paws running his mind away from something, his muffled barks splashing through his dreams. 

It feels like years ago when I was caught between housewife and house arrest. When my cold body was intertwined with yours, when the ring on my left hand made rainbows on the wall, constantly quantifying your love.

Sometimes at night when we lay in bed studying the glow- in-the-dark stars on the ceiling left by the last people who shared a life in this 1960’s quick build stucco box, I wondered if we were thinking the same thing. Were we heroes for staying? Martyrs? Barreling through fights about curtains that aren’t really about curtains, fights about how to fight, fights about nothing and everything all in the same divisive words. Wasn’t that how every marriage was? One american family, unhappy but stuck together in spite of everything? 

But now we’re not stuck. Now who’s the hero? Which one of us is the martyr? 

Freedom is mauve motel rooms backlit by saccharine street lamps. Freedom is abortions and wide black asphalt, and a double yellow line streaking the space between right and wrong.

Bo’s whiskers flinch as he lies next to me dreaming. Held up in his own mind, trapped inside that body that moves and huffs and regurgitates. He reminds me of someone. The girl we never met. The little tuft of hair, the ball of cells, maybe just a tail and fingernails. But I love her anyways. Even though she has your almond eyes and my unbuttoned nose, even though she’s the epitome of everything thats wrong with us, I stare at the bright dots of tv power buttons and red LED clocks. I pretend they’re glow-in-the-dark stars and I think of her. 

We have been everywhere and still haven’t found it, that’s the problem. We have hiked through tall fat redwoods that teeter stoically above us, we have stood on cliff faces that sway above valleys and we’ve felt nothing. We have slept in cities and townships, and places with no post office. But we still haven’t found it. That life or happiness, or whatever it is we’re looking for. I don’t even know if it’s out here. 

So we let ourselves into motel room after motel room. We look for the ones that say vacancy on the side, we look for the bright lights that scream low low prices. I sneak Bo in, down the same dim halls. I open the same creaky doors into the same musty smell of cigarettes and sex and humanity, and I sit on the bed, I open the window and light one. Not because I’m hooked again, believe me, but because I just want to be a part of this — Those forbidden trysts, those midnight escapes, those endangered loves that once clinked glasses across this queen bed divide. And I think about a life I once had, and a future still so vivid it’s impossible to believe those one-days were wasted for all of this. This nomadic impotence, this rigid sameness that you’re still paying for.

We were like something out of a TV show you and I. We called our love passionate, but ours was a learned romance. We knew how to jab and dodge like Mohammads and Rockies, though we didn’t leave bruises, most of the time. But like our parents we drank ourselves stupid, like our parents we didn’t understand who our real enemy was.

The real shitty part is, I’ve ran thousands of miles away from you, and I still don’t know where we’re going. How do I up and leave this life. How do I run away from running away?

I put out my cigarette and close the window to the dark November night. It’s cold enough here everything freezes. In the morning I’ll have to scrape ice off the windshield of the truck, I’ll have to pray even harder that she starts up. I’ll have to sit there in three layers of jackets waiting for the heat to come on. 

The window thunks closed and Bo stirs, big brown eyes blink sleepy at me.

“What?” I say, but he thumps his tail once and closes his eyes again. I hardly recognize the sound of my voice. It’s old and stale like my mother’s was. Years of cigarette smoke coats consonants with grit. 

I curl up beside him and close my eyes. His breathing reminds me of yours at night, open mouthed and heavy. His heart beat sets the time, a slow dance rhythm, the echo of a base drum. 

Tomorrow we’ll keep running away. We’ll press through time, two souls caught together like lovers. Though we’re not lovers, and it’s still cold even when I curl up next to him and try to fall asleep.

An Argument For Marriage

Throughout our engagement Justin and I have encountered a lot of opinions about the institution of marriage. Beyond the many congratulations and excited praise, hover a surprising number of admonitions that we just can’t seem to shake. “Why would anyone get married?” “Are you ready to give her half?” “Is it too late to talk you out of it?” Judgements and bile stem from the bubble of our happiness and we have found ourselves opening e-mails to off color comments, subject to blows at work, and taken aback by disdain from family members. Even a prospective stationer asked if he could talk us out of our nuptials before he provided a quote for our invitations. I knew that weddings would always be a subject of derision, but marriage? Marriage?

Why you will marry the wrong person

I didn’t think that getting engaged would pit us against every backwoods clod who has ever had a marital opinion, but as we’re already here, a scant seventy days from tying the knot ourselves, I feel I should at least try to defend it.

Marriage, all the naysayers agree, just doesn’t work. It’s a naive, expensive, antiquated institution that should be as hard to get into as it is to get out of. Marriage is unnatural, they say, infidelity to be expected, ex-husbands and wives will ruin you in all possible ways.

We were even sent an article published in the New York Times entitled Why You Will Marry The Wrong Person, and as Justin and I read its overly specific complaints about wedlock we had to make a decision. Sure some marriages fail, we decided, but ours wouldn’t. These cautionary tales just didn’t apply to us. How could anyone on the cusp of a lifetime together believe for a second that this isn’t as good as it gets? That this won’t get exponentially better? That this isn’t the person they’re meant to be with for the rest of their god given days? 

The Fallacy of Marriage

There is something, perhaps, viciously naive about marriage, something that we as a society flagrantly ignore at the outset of wedlock. Young adults, nay, children, fall into three year relationships, and without even knowing themselves decide to make a lifetime commitment to another human being. 

The victims of matrimony, the divorcees, the headstrong need to warn the credulous of the drudgery of marriage! They must write articles upending the institution, dissuade the youth via e-mail, they must banter with unsuspecting fiancés on sales calls. And I don’t blame them! They’ve been burned by the whole concept of marriage, they’re offended by its very existence. But what would cautionary tales have done to prevent their own unwitting mistakes? The newly engaged are doe-eyed and hopeful, naive and bull headed, and why not? It’s wonderful. They’re in love. They know their partner inside and out, and they won’t make the same dumb mistakes as everyone else.

Perhaps, what all those veterans want to impart is the incredible fallacy of marriage. That we could ever know a person completely, that we could know how their themness will hold up to the millions of possibilities in life. The more grievous fallacy is that we could ever really know ourselves, that we can predict our own actions across the multitude of future experience, from gut exploding joy to the soul wringing catacombs of grief and every nuanced vacillation in between. How could we know beyond a figment of a doubt that we’ll survive every behemoth that crosses our paths? The truth is, we don’t.

The Biggest Bet

The way I see it, though, none of that really matters. The romance in marriage is not in the idea that true love lasts a lifetime (though I hope that it does), it’s not even in the promise of love. It’s in the biggest bet you’ll ever make.

Marriage is saying I see the odds, I know this is a long shot, and I know we’ll be disasters if this fails, but I will still risk everything for a chance at eternal friendship with you.

 

It is still the ultimate romantic gesture, the ultimate sacrifice, the ultimate partnership and the ultimate risk. To be entwined emotionally, financially, physically, and familially is euphoria if it works, but devastating if it doesn’t. There are no contingencies in marriage. Get it right, this thing you’ve never done before and know nothing about, or literally lose everything.

So you bet on your partner, for better or for worse. You try to get it right, and sometimes you don’t.

But it's the gamble that's important. You trust your gut, you imagine the jackpot, the lifetime of possibilities, of adventure, of friendship, and when it all feels right, when your gut tells you to dive in, you do. And what’s the harm in that, anyways? What’s life if you never take those odds? What’s the game if you never decide to play?

One Giant Leap Into the Unknown

So I leave you with this, haters of marriage, the burned, the skeptical, the cynics of the world (but mostly our immediate lives). Maybe marriage is a long shot. Maybe it’s unpredictable on its best days, chaotic on its worst. But maybe if you can keep around that feeling that you two can outsmart this thing, that you were born better than the rest, and you’ll work harder than all of them, then maybe marriage won’t be the death of you.

Once all the paperwork’s signed, you still won’t know where you’ll be in ten, twenty, fifty years — cold bones, maybe, miserable with ten kids, caring for an invalid child or parent or pet. But you have to bet that even through all of the mystery and tragedy and joy of life, that your marriage will endure, and that your partner will make you strong enough to conquer anything. It’s an impossible bet to make, a completely outside shot, a finger’s crossed leap into the abyss.

But that’s the really beautiful thing about marriage, that you’ve found someone you want to risk it all for, and, against all odds, they decide they want to bet on you too.

So rings on, sweaty palms entwined, you leap. You defend marriage because all you can do is believe in it. You give it your best shot and you hope against hope that your partner’s going to give it their best shot too.

Getting Back to Being Bored

Parenting experts say that letting your child be bored challenges their young brains to be creative. It is in difficult silence that they discover exactly who they are, what they want, and what they love. Kids need to explore, discover, and use their brains to experience the adventure inside themselves. 

In my blazing hot summer of planning, creating, and getting back to writing I’ve discovered something marvelous — Grownups need boredom too.

Actually, grownups need a lot of things that we prescribe our children. Over the course of our longer and longer lives we change and grow, discover and rediscover ourselves almost as much as we did as kids. Even though we bask in the glory of having reached thirty, forty, sixty, eighty, and reflect on how much we’ve changed, in the same breath we disparage the prospect of ever changing again. 

I was a child back then, we say over and over of every possible age, But now I am grown. Now, I have arrived. 

With all this growth, perhaps we need to take our own parenting advice. We should encourage ourselves to play. Be curious. Explore. But most of all — Be Bored.

Sometimes, for grownups, we call this mediation. Free your mind, experts advocate, focus on your breath. But meditation can feel abstract and out of reach for those who have never tried it. In Judaism they call their day of boredom Shabbat, in Christianity, the Sabbath. For some people it’s called backpacking, for others it’s a morning sipping tea alone on the porch.

There is a constant influx of information in our lives. With e-mails on our phone, radio in our cars, podcasts or jams while we’re working out, books or movies in our down time, we rarely spend a moment taking in absolutely nothing. And how could we? We’re busy! Children and partners and pets demand us, chores distract us, the chicken needs precise ingredients and monitored cooking. But doing nothing is exactly the sort of thing we’ve been missing.

Boredom scares us. It’s that kingdom trapped in our perpetual inner selves, the parts we hate, the stress, the fears you would never verbalize or even dare to think. What if the stress seeps in? What if dissatisfaction plagues our thoughts? We imagine the paralyzing disaster of what we would dare to think if we only had a moment. 

Creativity lives in the folds of boredom. In long summer drives through the nothing of the country, in a steamy shower staring at the dripping white tiles, in patient hours waiting for something to begin. It is freedom at its best and its worst, it is torture, and luxury, and peace and ingenuity.

I am finding as wedding planning is dying down and I’m settling back into the day to day writing life, I have to remind myself to be bored again. If I remove stimulation and practice being with just myself, inspiration always comes.

Occasionally we instigate a tech-free day at our house. No tv or computers, no phones or internet, no online recipes or googling the difference between it’s and its. Tech free day is a day where we only have paper and each other, a day where everything turns off, so our brains can turn back on. It’s not often we can partake in such a luxury, but when we do, creative juices flow, long talks are inspired, unique and inventive dishes are made. 

Boredom is refreshing. It is youth, and elongated time, and experience. It is the seed of passion, and the place where we grow. It is a practice and a necessity. And it’s time we all had a little taste.

Force yourself to be bored. I implore you. You’ll never know what might be buried inside until you dare, for a moment, to look.

 

C. L. Brenton

Albert and The Brain - Finale

The world was dark, and fuzzy blobs wooshed past them at incredible speeds, Bright white blobs, incandescent yellow blobs, fuzzy red blobs that flashed yellow and then green were all just beyond Albert’s perception as they chugged down the road.

“Do you think I’m crazy?” Albert turned to the brain in the front seat of the car, anticipating an answer, yet hoping there wouldn’t be one.

“I don’t know.” Helen sounded exhausted, and Albert tried to determine if her voice was reflecting off the car like it used to from the passengers seat, if her voice was carried up to his ears from her place on the rough leather, or if it was merely echoing off the inside of his own thick skull.

Albert tapped on the brakes, and blinked at the passing signs and lights. He couldn’t make out anything, but he turned anyways. Someone honked, but the road seemed clear. Fuzzy but clear. 

“Do you think I’m real?” The brain asked Albert hesitantly as they sailed toward somewhere.

Albert shifted the car into fourth. If the brain had asked him that just hours before the answer would have been obvious. 

“I don’t know.” Albert said, and exhaled. He took another right.

They arrived at a bridge either by fate or by muscle memory, Albert did not know. It was a long bridge, an ancient bridge, one flanked by bright yellow street lamps arcing into the black sky, peeling into the scattered flickering starlight of a million homes pressed into the hillside across the bay.

He pulled the car over and lifted the parking brake gently. 

“What are we doing?”

“Remember when we were just kids, and we came out here on cold nights.” Albert thought back on it, it had been fifty years since they stopped on that bridge. “We stared at the bay and we wondered what life would be like.”

“Is this the bridge? I thought we went to the eastern bridge…”

“Remember what you promised me?” Albert cut her off.

“That we’d only have two kids instead of three?” She chuckled.

Albert shook his head. “Helen, I’m trying to be serious.”

“Okay, be serious then.” 

“You promised me…” Albert stared out the car window past the bright lights of the bridge to the moonlit bay. Light played with the water, gleaming silver across the windswept waves. “That you wouldn’t die before me.”

The brain was silent, but Albert went on. “I always thought I would go first,” He said. “I was supposed to go first. But it was you.” He unbuckled his seat belt and glanced at the brain. “I’ll never get over that.”

It was just a mushy brain then. Just a gray mass, bobbing there, a little more worse for wear than the day he brought it home. Flecks of flesh peeled off it’s membrane like the whole thing was disintegrating. It looked dustier, browner yet Albert knew every curve, every wrinkle, every discoloration on every lobe. He knew the brain like he used to know Helen’s body, her scars, her folds, the exact location thick black hairs would emerge from her chin. 

This brain didn’t have a mouth, it didn’t have ears or eyes, it was sitting so low in the seat that it couldn’t see out the window even if it wanted to. How did Helen know which bridge they were on, how did she know anything?

A semi rushed past them, rumbling the car, and the disintegrating flaps of brain swayed like the thin transparent cilia of a jellyfish until long after it had gone.

Albert opened his car door and got out.

“What are you doing?” the brain called from the front seat. 

He ran a hand through this thin gray hair as he rounded the car and opened the passenger door. He leaned across the brain and unbuckled her seatbelt, he pulled her into his arms and ambled to the edge of the bridge.

“It’s a beautiful night, isn’t it.” The brain continued in Albert’s embrace. Albert didn’t respond. It was a beautiful night. 

“Helen.” Albert set the brain on the thick stone railing and peered over the edge. Frigid wind whipped him in the face and made him gasp. He looked at the water, deep, dark, black, and so far away it almost looked soft. “I don’t know what’s real anymore.”

“Sure you do.” Helen said, “I’m real, you’re real, this is real.” There was fear in her voice now, a waver of concern that palpitated her words.

“I don’t know.” Albert looked over the edge again. “I think I’m crazy. I think you’re crazy. I think all of this is crazy.”

“You’re not crazy, this is just us, it’s just us!”

“I can’t speak to a brain forever.” Albert pressed his toes between the balusters of the railing and held tightly to a thick suspension wire above him as he leaned over the edge again. The waves and the wind made him want to vomit, and he pulled himself back.

“Sure you can.”

“I can’t.” Albert stroked the glass of the brain and furrowed his brow, “I don’t know what’s real.” He said again.

“This is real!” Helen’s voice was getting higher, more concerned.

“I don’t want to do this.” Albert shook his head. The wind was so strong he could barely hear her. 

“Then don’t.”

“Forgive me Helen.”

He leaned over the edge.

“Albert. Don’t.”

And he thrust the brain off the railing and into the cold night. He watched it tumble for a moment, catching sharp light on it’s shiny metal lid. Then it stopped spinning, it hung in the air like it was flying, and for a moment Albert thought it would fly back to him. 

He could barely hear the splash over the wind, and he certainly couldn’t see it, but Albert knew it was over. He stared over the edge, and tried to catch a glimpse of Helen floating along the bay, but there was nothing, and if there was Albert wouldn’t be able to make it out anyways.

Guilt filled him like a soreness, then mourning, then fear. Helen was gone from his life again, and Albert had killed her, murdered her with his own two hands. Her company, her voice, her breath was gone. And Albert would never be able to forgive himself for that.

He tucked himself back in the car and let himself cry. He let himself cry for the Helen he had lost a year ago, and he let himself cry for the Helen he lost today. He let himself cry out of relief that he abolished the voice, that he wasn’t crazy, and he let himself cry out of fear that maybe he still was. Albert was alone again.

He started the car and wiped his eyes.

“Sure glad we got rid of that thing.” Helen’s voice came out of no where. “It was really starting to cramp our style.”

 

Tell me what you thought of Albert and the Brain at facebook.com/clbrenton

 

C. L. Brenton

Albert and The Brain - Part 5

“Dad,” Annie said “The brain isn’t talking to you.” 

“Sure she is.”

“Dad,” Annie paused counting her words, budgeting them like precious coins. “The brain isn’t Mom.”

“Her names right on the side here.” He turned a finger around the rim of the jar.

“Mom’s dead.” Annie inhaled. She didn’t like saying the words either, they cut her as much as they cut him. Smearing salt into their communal wound.

Albert sunk into the couch and pressed his palms on his forehead. “She talks to me, Annie.” He said to the carpet his shadow darkening the stains on it’s blush oriental flowers. “She keeps me company.” 

“Dad, are you sure that her voice isn’t just… in your head?” He looked up at her, poor sweet Annie, her brow knit so tightly the letter T was chiseled between her eyes.

“No, no sweetheart,” Albert was questioning everything. Why hadn’t he before? He just took it for granted that his dead wife was speaking to him through the brain. He just knew, somehow intrinsically knew that it was true. And now Annie derailed him he wasn’t sure what to believe. “She tells me things I don’t even know about.” He remembered slowly all his reasoning all the logical leaps he made. “Like remember when she went to Turkey? And she brought us back all those evil eye bracelets to ward away spirits. She was telling me where she bought those, the exact bazaar, I could even take you there.”

“Dad.” Tears welled in Annie’s red stained eyes, and she didn’t brush them away. Albert’s heart buckled. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen Annie cry. She was sixteen, maybe, still living at home. She usually let the tears flow with Helen. Helen knew about all the boys, Annie’s mean friends, and the constant battle of growing up, but one night, when Helen and Annie got into a fight, she came crying to Albert, in his workshop. He had never felt more like a father than he had that night. More than on nights throwing the baseball with his sons in the fading light of the street outside their house. More than walking her down the aisle at her wedding. These were requirements, necessities of fatherhood, but that night he was a father in the way that TV fathers are. A friend, a companion, a pal. He let her sip from his beer as they talked, comfortable as old friends, hesitant as new lovers. Now Albert was the one who was making her cry, and there was no Helen here to back him up. 

No Helen. 

The thought pounded into him.

“I’m here sweetheart,” the brain cooed, and Albert wrapped his arm around Annie’s shoulders.

“What’s wrong, honey?” He tried to pretend that it wasn’t his fault, that she was crying for some other reason, some other outside occurrence.

“It was you.” She sniffed, her words quiet and insecure. “You took that trip to turkey with Mom.” She wouldn’t look at him, but Albert stared at her averted eyes. “You bought all the evil eye bracelets and brought them home.”

“That was your mother, I distinctly remember it.” But he didn’t remember it. With the vividness he pictured it could have been him. And all this time he thought…

“The brain is not speaking to you.”

“She is, honey, I’m sure of it.”

“Sure I am.” The brain piped in. Helen’s voice calmed Albert suddenly she was there, and she had been there all along.

“Look, I thought the brain would help you in the beginning, it even helped me grieve, to know there was a little bit of mom left in the world. But this has gone too far.”

What was Annie asking? That he get rid of the brain? The brain that still spoke to him, even if it was in his head, she still spoke to him. Albert still felt something when she did.

“Who cares how she’s speaking to me, she is! I can hear her, she’s the only thing that makes me happy anymore! Isn’t that worth something?”

“Not if you’re hearing voices, Dad, not if you’re going mad. You have to see someone. You have to get rid of the brain!”

“I will not!” And he wouldn’t. Even if he was going mad, why couldn’t he just let her go mad in peace? Blissfully naive, happily married, wonderfully codependent on a brain.

“He will not!” Helen called from the jar, “Just listen to her, you spend years raising someone and then just like that you die and they want to get rid of your brain.”

“I know, sweetheart.” He said it out of instinct, calming his lifelong partner next to him. Annie cocked her head and stared at him her face crumbling.

“This is insane.” She said her voice breaking under the weight of her tears “I’m going to call Dr. Aurelias.” Annie crawled over to the phone and waited for a dialtone. Annie was calling Helen’s doctor from when she started to lose it. A doctor of the mind, an expert on brinks and sanity. If Albert was going crazy, he wanted to be the last to know. If this was insanity than he didn’t know what saneness was. A lifetime on pills and lying on smelly leather couches was not what he had planned. Flying on the edge of death for years was not the sort of life he wanted. He would go out with dignity, not like Helen, not like disintegrating veiny bedridden Helen. 

“Hello may I speak with Dr. Aurelias’ on call nurse?”

Albert scooped up the brain and scurried into the garage hoping the old Chevy would start without a lot of fanfare. Annie rushed after him, dragging the cord from the telephone behind her. The engine turned over and sparked quickly. Albert threw the car in reverse and careened down the driveway.

“Dad where are you going?” Annie had dropped the phone on the stairs and chased after him. “Dad! Stop!” She pounded on the hood sobbing. “Daddy! Where are you going?!” 

Albert didn’t know where he was going, but he knew he would be going there with Helen. Albert stared behind him, concentrating on not hitting the neighbor’s fence, or Helens petunias. Helen reminded him of this from the passenger seat, buckled in with great but hurried care.

 “Dad!” Annie screamed and ran after him. Albert waved instinctually as he flicked the car in first and puttered down the street.

Albert and the Brain - Part 4

Once the brain started talking it was hard to get her to shut up. She was in constant conversation with Albert, and, though Albert loved the company, he found it hard to get much else done. Sometimes he would prop a book in front of her to read, but he would have to return every few minutes to turn the page, which wasn’t much of a break if he really thought about it. Sometimes he would play a record on the old phonograph for Helen and he’d come back moments later to her crying, wishing she could dance again. Then Albert would pick her up tenderly and waltz her around the room just like they used to after the kids went to sleep and their song came on the radio. 

It was during this act of tenderness that Annie burst through the front door without knocking. It was early evening, likely not a Sunday, although Albert couldn’t keep track of the days anymore, and Annie was neither expected nor particularly welcome. Albert clutched the brain to his chest and stared at her.

“Dad, thank God you’re okay!” Albert furrowed his brow and tried to calm the pounding in his chest.

“What are you talking about?”

“I’ve been trying to call you for days!”

“No she has not,” Helen’s voice was muffled. Albert pulled her away from his chest and propped her up on the back of the couch.

“The phone never rang.” 

“Well I’ve been calling.” Annie tossed her purse on the console table in the front hallway and made her way through the house mumbling “Where is it… where is it?”

Albert looked at Helen. “We should have never given her a key.”

“She’s our daughter Albie.”

“Funny how children start to turn into your parents.”

“Don’t I know it.” Helen said, but instead of taking comfort in her words, Albert suddenly ached to see her smile.

 

“Dad?!” Albert followed her voice into the family room. 

“What?” He asked from the doorway.

“First of all, your place is a mess.” Albert entered the room and placed the brain on a stack of magazines that covered the coffee table. 

“I’ll clean it up.”

“Second, your phone was unplugged.”

“It was?” Annie pointed at the cable dislodged from the jack in the wall by a fallen book. “Huh, fancy that.”

“Didn’t you notice something was wrong when you hadn’t talked to me in a week? Or… or anyone for that matter?”

“No.”

“Don’t you get lonely?”

“No, he has me!” Helen interjected

“Honey, you’re fine company but it’s not really all that satisfying.”

“Well that’s not very nice…” Annie began, flummoxed at her Father’s brazenness. Then she looked at him. Albert was staring intently at the brain.

“Not Satisfying?” the brain scoffed, “Aren’t you happy I’m back?” Albert rolled his eyes.

“Of course I’m happy, It was just different when I could hug you, when we were a team. Now it’s like we’re on a constant phone call.”

“Dad, who are you talking to?”

Albert glanced back to his daughter. She was looking at him with a look no parent ever wants to see on their child’s face. It was a confounded look, a mix of concern and annoyance, worry and exasperation. 

“Dad? Did you hear me?”

“Yes.” He hesitated filing through all the possible answers. “Your mother.” He said finally, definitively. 

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about your mother, Helen.” Albert looked at Annie sternly. Was she losing it? He couldn’t handle another family member losing their minds.

“Are you talking about the brain? Dad?”

“Yes, I’m talking about the brain. Your mother.” He was starting to get agitated now. Annie comes barging into his life just to judge and annoy?

“What is she going on about?” Helen piped in from the coffee table, “Annie I’m right here.”

“Did you hear that? Annie you have to listen.”

Albert wrapped an arm around Annie’s shoulder’s, pulled her toward the brain and pressed a finger to his lips.

“Annie I’m right here.” Helen shouted. “Annie listen to me, can’t you hear me?”

Albert raised his eyebrows at Annie as if to say see? See what I told you. But Annie just looked dumbfounded. Struck in a way all children are struck when they discover their parents are fallible, squishy human beings who may or may not be going insane.


More next week on Albert and the Braaaaiiiin!!!

Albert and the Brain - Part 3

Albert found himself spending much more time in the living room as the days went on. He would read the paper, fold the laundry, eat his lunch, all in the presence of the brain. He couldn’t quite explain how it made him feel less lonely, how it made him feel like he was leaving Helen out if he didn’t spend his leisure time where she could watch. The brain started to feel to Albert more like his wife reincarnate than an inanimate organ, so when he said “Good morning” to her that Wednesday, he didn’t feel like that much of a fool.

That single good morning led to a nightly goodnight. Which led to an I love you before he went to sleep, which led to Albert carrying the brain up the stairs to his bedroom and placing Helen on the bedside table. He couldn’t bear to think of her spending her nights all alone in that eerie room with the streetlight casting a saccharin orange in the cool dark. Instead she spent the night, near him, the suspension gel refracting the tiny green light on Albert’s radio into waves of aurora borealis on his wall. 

When Albert spoke to the brain, he was sure the brain listened. He had seen it move of it’s own volition so many times now that it neither surprised nor worried him. For Albert, the brain had a personality, for Albert, that personality was Helen. Even when she was alive Albert could predict her reactions before she could think them, and it wasn’t much different in death. 

Albert would sit on the living room floor balling socks and then, after a moment say, “I know, I know you don’t have to say anything.” 

Then, he’d unball the socks, and fold them together like Helen liked. The brain always seemed to nod in approval.

When Annie came by with the kids the next Sunday, she sent them out back and spoke to the brain while Albert fixed them all tuna fish sandwiches. He could hear her from the kitchen, whispering updates and worries that she’d never dare tell him. They were almost like prayers the way she murmured them, running her fingers along the edge of the jar like a rosary.

“We just got Marcus tested, I hope he doesn’t have ADD but at the same time, it would be nice to medicate his behavior once and for all…”

Albert felt himself smile, a sensation he was not at all used to, and a feeling that hadn’t struck him in years became suddenly overwhelming. At that moment, while he made tuna fish sandwiches in the kitchen, watched his grandchildren playing in the yard, and listened to his daughter speaking to her mom in the other room, Albert felt a warm ball of happiness grow in his chest. After that, it was hard to shake.

Albert had a companion in Helen’s brain that he’d never had before. A friend who satisfied all of his needs, and needed very few of her own. He would sit with her for hours and not once would she nag him about the length of his beard, or her need to go shopping to buy a new hat. For Albert, it was the best of marriage without the compromise. For Albert, the arrival of Helen’s brain was the best thing that had happened to him since meeting Helen herself.

When the brain actually started speaking to Albert, it didn’t come as a shock. Helen’s voice just rippled back into his life as if it had always been there, as if she had always been speaking to him, but now Albert finally took the time to listen. She would recount long detailed stories about their past, trips Albert never took with her and could not have remembered on his own. She told him she loved him, she complimented his pasta dinners, she suggested he make a side of broccoli. Albert’s very best friend had returned. The woman he knew before illness and Alzheimers, the girl who rode on the handlebars of his bike to the ice-cream parlor, the woman who plucked errant hairs from his eyebrows when they were getting too shaggy.

Here she was, still bearing witness to his life, just as they had promised all those years before. In front of people most of whom were long since dead. What had happened to their brains? Albert wondered as he shelled peanuts on the lawn, his bowl of shells set on the jar’s cool flat top. How permanent was death if you could just exist in a jar full of gelatin?

“Not permanent at all.” Helen said slowly. “I wonder how long I’ll live this time.”

“Maybe forever.” Albert slurped a peanut out of it’s shell “Maybe when I die I can be a brain too, and we can gather dust on a shelf next to each other.”

“Just like life,” Helen said and Albert smiled.

Albert and the Brain - Part 2

Albert and the Brain - Part 2! If you missed part one click here.


The first few days after bringing it home, the brain remained in the front seat of Albert’s car in the garage. Frankly he’d forgotten it was there until he spotted a wedding picture of his wife, and hurried to the garage to pull it out of the big Apex bag. The jar was a little warm, but the brain seemed to be in fine enough shape. As much as a floating brain could be, anyway.

Albert placed the brain on his kitchen table, amidst the piles of bills and coupons, sympathy cards, and old receipts. A catch-all for his life, a sieve for information that constantly got clogged. When Sunday rolled around and the grandchildren were just hours from their weekly visit Albert shoved the whole mess of letters and cards and bills and magazines into the trash and stared at the brain. 

It was a nice brain with deep grooves, and coils of gray almost slightly peach colored rope twisted along the sides. It looked, Albert supposed, like most brains did. Like his brain did. Except this one seemed bigger than normal. He pulled the jar toward him and pressed his nose to the glass. The curve of the jar didn’t seem to be augmenting the brain, either. Albert smiled and he let it linger for a moment more than he normally did.

Helen was small but fierce, dainty but wildly intelligent, so it pleased Albert that her brain was quite a bit bigger than he had imagined. 

He picked the jar up, a heavy sloshy thing, and carried it around the house. He could put it on the television, but it seemed too dangerous for both the TV and the brain. Perhaps the hall table? Too cluttered. By the bathroom sink? Helen always placed freshly cut flowers there, so she must have liked it, sort of. Maybe in the kitchen? Too cannibalistic. He shuffled to the middle of the living room carpet and looked around. His eyes landed on the mantle above the fireplace. Home to other forgotten well loved things, once precious objects, abandoned treasures, Dusty wedding photos, the ashes of his mother and hers, the brass rooster she’d purchased on a long ago trip to Egypt. Albert pushed the urns aside and heaved the jar onto the mantel.  He turned it gently so the brass plate bearing Helen’s name shone front and center. 

He wiped a thick finger across the plate and muttered, “There we go.” He surprised himself with the sound, a voice that hadn’t penetrated the house in days. Was he talking to himself now? They said widowers had a hard time dealing with loneliness, but Albert had been lonely ever since Helen got sick. He didn’t go crazy because of it. He coughed out the lingering tickle in his throat and stomped back into the kitchen.


“Dad!” mirth filled the house, giggles and warm sunlight pushed through the front door. Did anyone bother to knock anymore? Alfred was reading the paper in the living room. Well, pretending to read. The paper was pulled across his lap but he hadn’t read a word in fifteen minutes. He was staring at her, he was staring at the brain floating in goo. He could have sworn he saw it move a half hour ago, he could have sworn it swiveled twenty degrees of it’s own volition, and now it pointed right at him. He’d been staring at it ever since.

“There you are!” Albert folded his paper and placed it next to him on the couch. He heaved himself up and embraced his oldest daughter, Annie. Her kids wrapped themselves around his waist and squeezed.

“Hey Dad, how are you?”

Albert looked up at the brain. Going crazy, probably. “Fine.”

Annie matched his gaze. “What’s that?”

“More like who’s that.”

“Okay.” She said it slowly. Was craziness hereditary?

“Mommy why’s there a brain in a jar up there?”

“Is it halloween?”

Alberts grandchildren approached the fireplace with curiosity.

“No it’s not halloween…” Annie said for lack of a proper explanation.

“That’s your grandmother’s brain.” Albert said as tactfully as possible.

“That’s Nana’s brain?” The older child, Marcus, his white shirt already stained in three spots, balked at it.

“Ew! Why did Nana keep a brain around!” Stacy clung to the trim of her pink skirt and recoiled.

“No honey, that brain was in her head.” Albert tried to explain it gently.

“Dad, could we maybe…”

“No it wasn’t.”

“You have a brain right, sweetheart? And I have a brain?” Stacy nodded. 

“Dad.”

“What? I’m just trying to explain it.” Albert knelt next to Stacy. “You see, when your Nana passed on they took her brain out of her skull to do some studies on it, and then they gave it to me, so I could have a little piece of her here on earth.” Stacy screwed her face into a ball.

“Doesn’t she need her brain in heaven?”

Marcus piped in quickly, “Nana didn’t go to heaven.” He sneered. “She went to that place with double hockey sticks. That’s what Aunt Martha says.”

“Marcus!” Annie finally piped in. “Will both of you go play in the backyard for a few minutes.”

“Mom I’m not done looking at the brain!”

“You can see it later, Stacy, I need to speak to your grandfather.”

The children disappeared from the room, the warmth and the sunlight went with them.

“Am I in trouble?” Albert hunched his shoulders again, a life long pose he took comfort in.

“Dad what is… how did you end up with this? Why would you keep Mom’s brain?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t want the damn thing… They were going to throw it away.”

“What?”

“They said they were going to throw it out with all the other medical waste.”

“So you kept it.”

Albert ran a hand through is thin gray hair. “I guess.”

“This is weird.” Annie took a step toward the brain curiosity overcoming her wariness.

“I know.”

“Well could you put it somewhere the kids won’t see it?”

“They already saw it.” Annie turned toward her father. He had never been a weirdo, just a quiet, introverted, curmudgeon. A lovable one, but still a curmudgeon none-the-less. To keep a brain on the mantle was so unlike him, but grief was a powerful thing. It could unhinge a person.

Albert exhaled and stared at the carpet his hunched shoulders like big gray orbs in his sweater. Annie turned back to the gray mass on the mantle. 

“Kind of big isn’t it?” She ran a single finger over the brass plaque on the jar.

“Helen was smart.” Albert shrugged and tore his gaze away from the carpet. He watched her then, his oldest daughter, thirty-three and the spitting image of Helen when she was that age. Though Helen was still teaching and she had three kids by then. Their two sons took after Albert, but Annie, she was Helen through and through. He tried to picture Helen after her mother died, staring at the yellow urn on that same fireplace mantel. It was so many years ago, but it came back to him in a single snapshot. Her hair curled behind her ear, her eyes red from crying, Albert’s hanky balled up in her left hand, she was the picture of youth then, even in her most trying times, she was always an infallible beauty.

“Hey Mom,” Annie stroked a finger along the glass and in that moment Albert saw the brain give Annie an almost imperceptible nod.

 

C. L. Brenton