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Happy Aaron Rodgers Day!!!

December 12, 2012

Get it?  Because it's 12-12-12?

Happy Saint Othmar Day!

November 16, 2012

This seems a perfect follow-up to the Saint Gall Day post (what?  you can't really have a follow up a month after the original?  Tough.) 

Saint Othmar was a monk born in Raetia (think modern-day Switzerland) sometime in the late 7th century AD.  Even though Rome had fallen on difficult times, the area kept the name Raetia well into the reign of the Franks; Charlemagne appointed a duke to watch over Raetia and its glorious, beautiful, well-shaped mountains. 

Othmar, whose name means "happy fame", rebuilt the hermitage where Saint Gall lived and is generally credited with founding the monastery on that same site.  He was also very active in improving the conditions for the local area, which had fallen on hard times as the western half of the Roman Empire fell.  Controlling one of the main routes over the Alps down to the Italian peninsula can either be a great benefit in times of trade, or a bit of a detraction as every barbarian horde seeks to plunder the riches of the world's most famous Empire.  Some of his works led to the building of a library connected with the monastery, an almshouse to help provide for the impoverished of the area, a hospital for treating the sick and diseased, and a leprosarium, which is a fancy name for a hospital that treated people with leprosy.

Unfortunately, as mentioned in the write-up on Saint Gall, the area was an important stretch of land, with lakes that bordered what is now Austria and Germany, which also provided access to the Rhine river and the shipping lanes of said waterway.  As such, Othmar became embroiled in a land-ownership spat with a couple of local nobles.  Both Count Warin and Count Ruodhart tried to lay claim to the land already owned by the abbey over which Othmar was now presiding.  Refusing to hand over the land, Othmar was arrested and then imprisoned, eventually being exiled onto the Island of Werd in Lake Constance where he eventually died. 

Othmar's body remained on the island for ten years until a couple of ne'er-do-wells snuck onto the island and recovered his remains.  They knew it was him because his body had reportedly not decomposed despite a decade of exposure to the elements.  That's impressive stuff.  What's even more impressive is that they made the recovery on a hot day and, as they rowed their boat back to shore, the two men were overcome with a powerful thirst.  These boy scouts arrived for the recovery ever-prepared:  they had a barrel of wine with them on the boat.  As they rowed, they cracked open the cask and drank heartily (but not lustfully).  No matter how much they drank, however, the barrel never went empty.  It was a true miracle.  Overcome with joy at their bottomless wine barrel, the men took two weeks to make it back to shore.

Once finally returned to dry land, they took Othmar's body to the town of St. Gallen (named for our buddy, Gall) and buried him in secret there.  No word on where the body and his relics are today, or whether they've decayed at all.  For his part in providing the men with a never-ending supply of wine, Saint Othmar is represented by a wine barrel and is one of the Patron Saints of Saint Gallen along with...Saint Gall(en). 

Werd, happy fame, indeed.

Happy Saint Gall Day!

October 16, 2012

I keep thinking about trying to breathe some life back into this thing, but I really can't settle on what I want to do with it.  I've spun around a half dozen topics in my day, from writing to sports to stories about my genitalia to the ancient world, with a healthy dose of science and religious history tossed in for good measure.  Do people still even read blogs?  I don't know.  I'm so out of the loop.

Yet, here I am, rolling back to one of those topics that I've embraced before.  I guess if it works (sort of), why mess with it, right?

So, today we gather to celebrate the life of a man named Gall.  Or Gallus or Gallen or something like that.  Gall was an Irishman born sometime in the middle of the sixth century (that's around 550 to you and me) and who fell in with a rowdy group of hooligans known as the "Gang of Twelve" or the "Twelve Companions", headed up by this cat named Saint Columbanus.  Columbanus (whose name means "the white dove") was famous for taking the Gospel from Ireland where it had settled in the aftermath of the fall of the Roman Empire and bringing it back to the Continent.  He, along with his twelve disciples, built several monasteries and churches in the Frankish kingdoms that existed across what is now France and Germany, Switzerland and Austria after Rome's power vacated the premises.

As an aside, I'm glad we've stopped giving people names that end in "anus".  Coriolanus, Columbanus, Uranus, Myanus...this is a trend that had to stop.  Thankfully, we as a people came to our senses.

Butt humor aside, Gall himself accompanied Columbanus up the Rhine river to the city of Bregenz, which is about as far west as you can go and still be in Austria.  There Gall fell ill (probably some sort of bladder ailment...okay, sorry, I'll stop) and Columbanus left to go to Italy to found more churches.  Gall asked him to wait up, but Columbanus said "LOL, no, F U sir" and left him to recover.  Gall never left the region.

He was nursed back to health at a place called Arbon in Switzerland, which is basically Bregenz's neighbor across the lake.  After feeling better, Gall decided to wander around in the woods there.  He lived the remainder of his life as a hermit in the region, hanging out in the forest.  The area, as mentioned earlier, was part of the Frankish kingdom, and when a young woman named Fridiburga, who just happened to be engaged to marry the Frankish king Sigebert II, started climbing the walls and spitting up pea soup, Gall was enlisted to drive the demons from her body.  Once that tiny issue was resolved, Sigebert was so happy that he was no longer going to stick his dick in crazy that he gifted a large swath of land to Gall in order to build a monastery.  Gall never got around to it, because he was busy wandering aimlessly through the woods.

One of those nights when Gall had set up camp in the woods and was having a bit of a fireside chat with his followers, the fire began to get low.  Perhaps his feet hurt or he was just so into the stories he was spinning about foiling the local demon population, but Gall decided that, rather than gather wood for the fire himself, he enlisted the aid of a bear to bring him the wood.  Gentle Ben's great, great, great-grandpappy offered no argument but instead showed up with logs thrown across his shoulder.  The fire was fed and the stories kept on spinning.  Despite the fact that Gall had a ready source of trees and a gigantic assistant who could easily bring him ever log he'd ever need, Gall did not get around to finishing (or starting) that church and monastery.  He ended up dying in Arbon in 646 at the ripe old age of nearly 100.  No mention of how the bear took it, although he was heard to chuff "The gall of some people..."


Eventually, a church was built in the area to honor the saint, and the region became known as Saint Gallen in his honor.  Thanks to his friendly forest helper, Saint Gall is symbolized by a bear (sometimes with a load of lumber thrown over a shoulder), but he is curiously the Patron Saint of geese, birds, poultry and...Sweden--a land which he never visited as far as I can tell.  He is also not a Patron of France, which was known as Gaul long before the Franks hung their name on it.  Geography fail.  Saint Gall is also the Patron Saint of shitty Chicago sports teams and insane, British survivalists.  For reasons that should be obvious, however, most of the sports teams from the Canton of Saint Gallen are known as the Bears, although the Stones also seems an apt moniker.

Friday Morning Latin Lesson, Vol. CIV

August 24, 2012

August 23rd was not a good day in the history of the Roman Empire.

In a positive light, August 23rd was the day the Romans celebrated Vulcanalia, which honored the God Vulcan (associated with Hephaestus in Greek) because late August was the height of the hot and dry season.  Ask someone in the American west about fire risk or in the American Midwest about drought and you can understand why the Romans associated August with a deity who worked a forge and was generally symbolized by fire.  Though Vulcan was associated with Hephaestus, he was more of a fire god and was generally invoked--especially during this time of year--to prevent destructive fires from ruining crops, destroying forests and ravaging cities.

In the year 476, Rome was failing horribly.  On the throne was a sixteen-year-old boy who had been propped up by his father and seated as Emperor, an ineffectual lad named Romulus Augustulus (or just Romulus Augustus).  You might notice that his name is awfully precious:  Romulus being the twin brother who beat Remus over the head with a shovel and staked his claim as "founder" of Rome and Augustus (Augustulus means "least Augustus") being the first Emperor of Rome.  This kid was fated to do great things with a name like that!

Except, no.  Rome had already split at the time into East and West, the East thriving rather well in Byzantium/Constantinople/Istanbul.  The West had already seen the Franks, Vandals and various Goths sweep through and carve up large chunks of its territory for their petty kingdoms (all of this because they were running from the terror of the Huns, which forced all of the other "germanic" peoples west).  By the time Little Romulus' pappy had rebelled against the "rightful" western emperor--a bloke named Julius Nepos who fled to the East to save his skin--the Western Empire was in tatters.

Nepos was considered the proper Emperor by the rulers of the East--generals Zeno and Basiliscus who were fighting for the Eastern throne--but that didn't phase Little Romulus nor his father, Orestes.  However, neither Zeno nor Basiliscus were willing to commit any resources to ousting Romulus since they were busy fighting each other.  This left Nepos with no army to support his claim, and in Rome, when you had no army backing you, you really had no power.

Which is why the head of the foederati (soldiers who were not Roman citizens but who fought for Rome) decided to make his move.  Odoacer was a clever man and, seeing that the Eastern troops were busy, moved against the callow youth sitting on the Western throne.  His troops moved down into Italy and, as they began to capture more territory and exert more influence on the locals, his soldiers declared Odoacer Rex Italiae on August 23rd, 476.  This essentially sapped all of Romulus Augustulus' power as he no longer had the backing of any army, plus his now chief political rival did have troops willing to fight and die for him.

As the King of Italy, Odoacer moved to unite the disjointed bands of tribes living on the peninsula and, as a sign of his newfound power, began laying siege to the city of Ravenna.  Rome the city had been abandoned for some time by the rulers, who in stead had set up shop in Ravenna.  When the city fell, Romulus Augustulus was captured and the ruling power in the West all but collapsed.

At this same time Zeno was wrapping up conquest of the East.  After having fought a civil war in order to be named Emperor, Zeno was loathe to send troops into the West, especially not the save the hide of a child whom he did not particularly like, anyway.  With no army and no aid coming, Romulus Augustulus had no choice but to give up.

He did have one thing going for him:  youth and beauty.  Odoacer felt something akin to sorrow for the lad and must have liked his spunk enough because, rather than simply beheading him and being done with the whole ordeal, Odoacer allowed Romulus Augustulus to abdicate the throne.  As he did so, Romulus named Odoacer King of Italy.  Ever the polite politician, Odoacer allowed Romulus Augustulus to retire to the countryside with a hefty pension where Romulus Augustulus sort of...disappeared.  It's assumed that he lived at least another twenty five years or so since his name pops up on a legal document sometime around 500, but generally nothing else is ever heard from him since.  Hell, he could still be kicking around the hills of Campania for all we know.

The other thing that popped up on August 23rd--and this one is almost too coincidental to be anything other than ironic--is that Mount Vesuvius began its earthly rumbling and grumbling on August 23rd, 79 AD.  The people of Rome, who were in the midst of celebrating Vulcanalia to appease the god Vulcan who lived in a volcano (feel free to draw the connecting dots there) thought that Vulcan either wanted more lusty celebrations in his name or that he had decided to get in on the act himself.

And party hardy he did, too.  A day later, August 24th, 79 AD, Vesuvius erupted, destroying Pompeii and Herculaneum as it did so.  Noble, fat Pliny the Elder watched the whole thing and then died while trying to save people from the eruption.  If you want more story on that, feel free to read about it here.

I can't help but think that, during the orgy of wine and ass-sex that would have gone on in the depths of Vulcanalia, the forbidding orange glow of the volcano lighting the night, someone would have had some misgivings about the fiery mountain rumbling away in the background.  Pompeii was, at the time, the Roman equivalent of Las Vegas:  a place for the rich to go to fuck and party it up without guilt.  The brothels of Pompeii were some of the best-known in the Empire, and Pompeii was also one of the chief ports for the Italian peninsula, bringing in drink, whores and other narcotics from around the known world.  Despite all this, you'd think that someone would have looked up while they were plowing one of the choicest lupae (the Romans had lots of words for whore; "she-wolf" was one of them), seen the ominous fires of Vesuvius and thought to themselves, "that isn't right."

Or perhaps they'd turn to her and ask:

Sicut calidum est, neque hic est?
Pronounced:  "See-coot cah-lee-doom est, nay-kway hic est?"
Extremely hot translation in the hovertext
Fortunately for us in this part of the country, things haven't been as hot as it has been over the other parts of the summer.  In fact, they are forecasting that the Carolinas will be colder and snowier (dare to dream, fellaz) over the coming months.  I'm giddy with anticipation.  
Not so for other parts of the country, including the rain-starved midwest and the western regions which are mostly ablaze.  Take heart in one thing, friends, at least it's a dry heat.

Friday Morning Latin Lesson, Vol CIII

July 13, 2012

We've celebrated a lot of things around here on Fridays.  For instance, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween, various and sundry minor Roman holidays.  Lief Ericson Day.  Even the Ides of March.  Plus various birthdays:  mine, Hugh Hefner's and Elvis.  I think we should combine a couple of special days and throw them all together here.  What say you?  Good.  Let's go.

Today is Friday, of course, but it's also Friday the Thirteenth!  Gasp and swoon.  It's also July 13th.  The significance?  Traditionally, it's been accepted that July 13th was the birth date of one Gaius Iulius Caesar, that wee little man that brought most of the world around the Mediterranean into Roman control.

Let's start with the dispelling of rumors, shall we?

Caesar was not cut from his mother's womb.  Gaius was a popular Roman name and Iulius was his family's name, tracing their ancestry back to Aeneas (one of the founders of Rome) who was the son of Venus.  Handsome.  The name "Caesar" reflects, maybe, one of his ancestors being born by caesarean, but it could also refer to the thick head of hair that the babies were born with, their blue-grey eyes or maybe that someone down the line had slain an elephant in battle.  For reference, Julius' father was named Gaius Julius Caesar (the Elder) and his father was named Gaius Julius Caesar (the really elder), so the Caesar part had been around the family for a long time.

Ceasar also did not utter his famous words "vini, vidi, vici" upon conquest of the Gauls.  The area around the Black Sea, a place known in Roman times as "Pontus", had been a troubling spot for a while.  Previously, a man named Mithridates (read about him here) had vexed Roman dictator Pompey, who also happened to be one of Caesar's main political enemies.  It took a while for Pompey to deal with Mithridates--he was really charismatic, ambitious, owned a brilliant strategic mind, and was fucking insanely paranoid--so when Caesar arrived to put down a different rebellion, he did not mess around.  Pretty much as soon as Caesar arrived in Pontus from Egypt--where he was diddling a certain Egyptian woman--the uprising was over.  Caesar's report of "I came, I saw, I was victorious" was mostly a school yard taunt at Pompey's inability to take care of that shit effectively.

Lastly, Caesar was not the first Emperor.  At least not this Caesar.  That would be his nephew and adopted heir, Octavian who later became Augustus Caesar (and who is not a very good leader in Civilization IV, at least not in the early part where you have to fight everyone to survive).  He did set himself up to be Dictator for Life, however.  Despite the Republic still chugging along, whenever there was a crisis, political and military leaders could set aside the rule of the Senate and make themselves the Dictator, who then guided the Roman people/lands/government/military through whatever terrible thing was happening.

One interesting thing was that, after his conquest of Gaul, Caesar became more popular with the soldiers he commanded than with the rulers of the Senate--for good reason:  he was powerful and powerfully charismatic, but even better, he had the backing of one of the best fighting forces on Earth.  Caesar was warned to leave his army in the field and return to Rome.  Instead, he crossed the Rubicon (a river demarcating the boundaries of Italy at the time) with a single legion, and Civil War erupted.  When Caesar emerged victorious, he then declared that he was Dictator for Life...which he was, until March 15th, 44 BC.  That's, of course, the date when Brutus, Cassius and company decided they would try to re-establish the rule of the Republic by ending Caesar.  Unfortunately for their plans, they sparked a series of Civil Wars in which Augustus emerged as the winner and was then seated upon the throne as the first emperor.

Now, here's an interesting notion.  It's been kicked around for a while that Caesar's death on the floor of the theatre of the Curia of Pompey was not as clear cut as some would have us think.  Several people, who were not part of the conspiracy to kill Caesar, were aware of the plot, including Marcus Antonius (not the singer) who was one of Caesar's triumvirate (rule by three men).  Anthony then tried to warn Caesar, but Julius sort of...ignored him.  Caesar then went into the place where the Senate was meeting and was stabbed those infamous 23 times (though only one was deep enough to kill him).

Apparently, Caesar's health was beginning to fail--and he knew it.  While his body was beginning to decline, his mind was not; he knew that, if he were to seat himself upon a throne, he would not last long, either by being too weak to control the power or by being too sick to survive.  With that in mind, he willingly walked into the place where the Senate was meeting, knowing that he was about to be murdered.  This would go along with the notion that Caesar did not fight back much and so willingly gave up when he saw Brutus among the conspirators/assassins.

That all makes for a rather grim story to tell, especially on someone's birthday.  In lieu of the grisly--albeit, potentially altruistic--outcome, let's just get to the Latin translation, shall we?

Dies meus natalis est.  Iacite mihi dona.

Pronounced "Dee-ace may-oose nah-tah-leese est.  Ee-yah-kee-tay mee-hee doh-nah."

View the hovertext for the translation presently.

Et non obliviscere femellas.

Pronounced:  "Et noan oh-blee-wee-scare-aye fay-may-lahs.

Youthful translation in the hovertext.

As with most historical figures (for reference, see Christ, Jesus), there is some debate as to when the actual date of Caesar's birth was.  July 13th has been the traditional date for, well, a really long time.  We know that he was born somewhere near the middle of the month of July--hence the name of the month.  His heir, Augustus, gave us the name for "August".  Clever, no?  Despite there being debate and some confusion as to the date of Caesar's birth, we'll go ahead and recognize the 13th as his birthday.  If April 23rd can still be Shakespeare's birthday, then the 13th of July can belong to Caesar!

A note on the translation (aside from the caveat that I'm still learning and might not have the word order and the declensions perfectly correct...I couldn't decide on whether we should "shower him with presents" or "shower the presents upon him"), I used the term femella for "women".  It is, roughly, the word that the Romans would use for young women, as opposed to puella, which means girl, or femina which means "wife" or "woman".  I figured Caesar was probably a lech and would have approved of the younger stock.

Totally Blowing Shit Up Tuesdays: The Watermelon's Revenge

July 10, 2012

Remember this little feature?  Of course you do.  I get on here, blow my own scientifically-laced trumpet, and then you tell me how much more fun I would have made your science class if I was your teacher.  We all laugh, I get a swollen head (not that one...unless YOU'RE making the know who you are...), and then we move on to bigger and better things:  namely, for you, life.  For me?  Booze.

Anyway, remember that fantastic little featurette I brought you a while ago where some cat filled a bottle with liquid nitrogen and then shoved that mother up into a watermelon?  Comedy quickly ensued?  Surely you remember it!  If not, here's the link for a refresher course.

Caught up?  Better?  Let's go.

So long, watermelon; we barely knew ye.  Except that there are thousands of your brethren lying in fields all over the country, just waiting to have all sorts of disturbing escapades involving detonations and swiftly expanding pockets of gas.  Or perhaps other fates await you.  We shall see, won't we?

That brings us to this week's episode--as if these things have been can't go several years between installments and keep it a series, right?  What the hell kind of person would do that?

Point taken.

I stumbled upon this video yesterday and, well, I'll admit...I have no idea what's going on here.  What is their motivation?  I can't read or understand Japanese, but my main guess is that their motivation is that they are "guys" and the watermelon was just sitting there begging to be wrapped in rubber bands.  And, oh, the results are magnificent.

Oh, thank you, internet.  Only here could I see a watermelon wrapped in rubber bands give a money shot to a bunch of bored--yet creative--kids.  Awesome.  It's kind of like the watermelon, accepting its fate, decided to exact one last bit of revenge on the way out.  I hear that stuff burns--even coming from a watermelon!

There's not much science-y going on here.  The combined pressure of the 500 rubber bands wanting to get back to their non-stretched forms was greater than what the cellulose of the watermelon's rind could withstand.  With the inelastic fruit rind quickly collapsing, all that pulp on the inside needs to go somewhere.  And go it does!  Boom.  Fruit salad for everyone!

Well, except for you, Sisyphus-cat.  You keep rolling that bitch up the hill.

The Photograph - Part Eleven

July 5, 2012

Well...remember when I said I would try to get everything put together and published before I left for vacation?  Clearly, I failed.  I even thought I could get it done before the Fourth of July and...well, failure on that one, too.
But, here I am putting the last installment in place.  Overall, I'm pretty happy with the story.  I'm sure it could have been improved here or there along the way.  However, the person for whom I was writing this has been pretty happy with the tale.  I hope the last part is as well-received and the previous ten pieces.
Speaking of the previous ten case you missed them, here are the links to the rest of the story: Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five Part Six Part Seven Part Eight Part Nine Part Ten
Grab yourself a cup of coffee and a bagel and enjoy.  Thanks again for reading!!!

A steady orange light pressed in around the edges of the curtains hanging heavy and black against the windows; from under the door, a yellow, illuminated bar glowed against the dark slab of the door.  As people would pass up and down the hall, the light would flicker and change.  A strange, otherworldly luminescence glowed from the face of the clock that was pointed toward the bed.  Everything else was dark.
Enough light filtered into the room that I could see the sweeping, smooth arc of Tori's hip, her thigh thrown over mine, her body pressed next to mine almost exactly as it had so often so many years ago.  I watched as her side rose and fell in an even, orderly pattern.  Her presence was reassuring, and for the first time in recent memory, I felt content.
Even though I knew it was wrong, I knew it was a selfish act, I had made love to Tori.  Years of heartache and longing and emotion poured out through my actions, and when we were finished the first time I collapsed next to her, swimming in a sea of memories.  After a brief rest, we were in each other's arms again, our bodies still aching for one another.  Spent, we collapsed to the bed, but soon she was pressed against my side, her arm draped across my chest, her legs wrapped around mine.  She dozed.  I savored the time spent with the woman I loved.
Though I knew that a series of stupid actions had led me here, I did not regret it.  Not now, not that I had Tori in my arms, in my bed, simply with me again.  I knew that it was all an illusion, that she would wake and I would have to return her to Drew.  I'm sure I would get pummeled again.  Truthfully, I did not blame him.  I would do the same thing in his situation.  I might not regret what I did, but I knew that I should have handled myself differently.  I would have to pay the price later.
Sliding my hand down Tori's back, I felt her muscles spasm involuntarily beneath my fingertips.  I cupped her ass, giving it a soft squeeze before leaning over and kissing her forehead.  The movement was enough to rouse her.  She lifted her head from my shoulder and blinked, the light pressing in around the vinyl curtains over the window reflected in her eyes.
"I need to get you back," I said softly.
"What time is it?" she asked, sitting up and stretching.  I stared longingly at her breasts as she shifted and moved and they with her.  I desperately wanted to reach out and take her once more, but instead I rolled over to the side of the bed and sat up.
"It's about two thirty," I said over my shoulder before rising and turning on a light.  Our clothes were thrown randomly around the room, but I soon had enough of them together that I could dress.  Tori was still sitting on the bed adjusting her clothing as I finally buckled my belt and looked at her.
"You always were faster than me," she said, teasing me with a smile as she did so.
"Not tonight," I shot back, grinning.
"No, well, it's...been a while," she said, looking away.  I knew her well enough to know that I should not pursue the subject.  I silently turned and began putting my wallet and keys back in my pocket.  I found my phone and sat on the other side of the bed, looking to see if anyone had called.
"Sometimes," Tori said, softly, her voice so light I almost did not hear her.  "There were nights when I would close my eyes and pretend it was you still."  I did not say anything, but let I let her talk.  "Only when it was dark, because I didn't want Drew to know I was doing it.  One night I think I might have sighed your name during sex."  Again, she was quiet for a few moments.  "We haven't been intimate much since then.  It's probably why he flew into a rage when he found me looking you up on the internet."
"I'm...I'm sorry, Tori," I said, turning to look over my shoulder at her.  I had no idea what else I could say.
"I'm not."  She smiled wickedly.  "You were good those nights."
I could feel the blood rushing to my cheeks, and I looked away.  When she laughed, I felt myself smile.  "You always could make me blush," I said, laughing as I looked back at her.
"You always could make me cum," she smiled, her eyes inviting me to throw her onto the mattress once more.  I felt the blush grow more serious; my cheeks must have been scarlet by now.  Looking at the clock, I decided against her invitation, no matter how much I would regret it later.  I knew she had to get home.
"I wish I could stay here with you all night," I admitted.  For a moment, I could not find any words that could relate to the emotions swirling within my head.  Tori looked at me expectantly, almost eagerly.  Her eyes sparkled.  After staring into them, losing myself in them, I looked away.
"I'm sorry, Tori," I murmured, "I should not have brought you here."
I did not see her rise from the bed or hear her, but suddenly she was in front of me, half-dressed.  She took both of my hands in hers.  "Don't be," she said softly.  "It was consensual...about as consensual as it can get."  She looked up at me, the emerald glint of her eyes augmented with tears that stood unshed.  "It's been a while since anyone has made me feel like that."  She stood on her tiptoes and kissed me, softly, lovingly, familiarly.  It was an action that she had done hundreds of times a decade and a half earlier.  Worries about getting her home or about the future melted away; the sense of contentment returned.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
She squeezed my fingers in hers.  "Wanted," she said softly, looking at my neck, my shoulders, my chest--anywhere but my eyes.  "Loved."
"I do l--"
"I know."  She said.  With another squeeze, she was off, gathering the remainder of her clothes and pulling them on.  A few moments later, she was stepping into her shoes.  With nothing more than a silent cue, we left.  As we walked down the hallway, her fingers intertwined with mine and she leaned against my arm as we walked.  By the time we were in the parking lot and walking toward my car, we were separated, once again two friends who had spent the evening catching up and not secret lovers rekindling a forbidden flame between the sheets of a nearby hotel.
Silence reigned in the car as we drove back.  Halfway to her house, she reached forward and pulled the photograph from the dashboard where I slid it when we drove to the diner.  For a few moments, she stared at it, a smile gradually spreading across her face.
"God, we were so young then," she said, the edge of a laugh shading her words.
"Our lives and the world lay at our feet," I said.
"It seems a lifetime ago."
"It was."
She placed the photograph back on the dashboard as I pulled onto her long, silent street.  The light of her porch still glowed, though where it had once been a welcoming beacon it now seemed like a glowing, angry eye watching the street and waiting.
I pulled up in front of her house; most of the lights inside were still lit.  The shadowy silhouette of her husband stood near the front windows and then stalked away.  For a second or two, I watched him pacing inside the house.
"Oh, Robbie," Tori sighed, dragging me back to the present.  As I looked over at her, features cast in a mixture of bronze and shadow, I tried to replay every moment of the past few hours over in my mind.  I never wanted to forget this night; it might be the last time I ever saw her.
My lips moved, half spasmodically as I searched for words to share with her.  Finding none, I looked down at the steering wheel and sighed.  I tried to hide the gesture with a laugh, though it was not very convincing. 
"What are you going to do next?" she asked, reaching over and gripping the back of my hand where it rested on the gear shift. 
"Well, the clinical trial doesn't start until August, so I have some time," I said, staring through the windshield but seeing nothing.  "I was thinking about heading out west.  I've never seen the Pacific.  I've seen the first sunrise.  I was thinking about seeing the last sunset."  I turned to look at her.  Tears ran down her face, their trails shimmering in the dim light.
"Oh, Robbie," she said again, and leaned over and hugged me.
Whatever reserves I had finally crumbled.  Tears flowed unabated down my face.  I sobbed into the top of her head, holding onto her.  At that moment, she was my strength, my everything.  I wanted desperately to ask her--to beg her--to come with me.  It was selfish, I knew, but I wanted nothing more than to spend whatever time I had left with her.  Instead, I held my tongue and simply cried while I held onto her.  For a few moments, we simply sat together, crying.  Finally, I loosened my grip on her and she sat back in the passenger seat.
"Whatever you do," she said, "please don't forget about me.  Call me.  Write me.  Email.  Text.  I don't care."  Another big, fat tear rolled down her cheek; instinctively I reached over and wiped it away.  Despite everything that had happened, everything we had done, the touch of my thumb against the apple of her cheek was still electric.  My insides lurched as we connected once more, one final time.
"I won't ever forget you, Tori," I said, mustering a smile.
"I know.  Just...let me know how you are."
"I will."
For another few seconds we sat together.  There was nothing to say.  There was everything to say.
"I had better go."  Her voice was soft, barely a whisper.
"I know."  I sighed again.  "Thank you, Tori."
"For what?"  Her eyebrows arched together, questioning me as much as her words.
"Thank you.  For everything."
She opened the door and turned to get out of the car.  She hesitated before standing, then turned to look at me over her shoulder.
"I love you, Robbie."
"I love you, too.  I always have.  I always will."
Another tear ran down her face.  This time she wiped it away herself.  "That means everything to me."  Standing, she got out of the car and closed the door.  The finality of the act crushed me.  I wanted to run after her, to gather her up in my arms for one more embrace, to steal one more kiss from her.  I wanted to beg her to come with me, even for a few weeks, a few days.  Even a few more hours.
I watched until she got to the porch.  Drew was standing at the door when she opened it and I watched her walk out of my life once more as the door was shut.  The light winked out a moment later.
"Good-bye, Tori," I said softly and started the car.  I checked, knowing that there would be no one on the street as I pulled into it.  The length of the avenue was dark as I slowly picked my way down toward the end where a pair of glowing red orbs awaited me.  Driving as slowly as I could, I tried to linger as near her as I possibly could.  Finally, I came to the intersection and stared at the red lights above me.
There was a flicker in my rearview mirror and a pair of car lights slowly came down the street.  It was the first time I had seen any other cars on this road.  I watched as they slowly approached my car, daring to dream for only a second that I knew who was driving the car.
The light switched to green and I turned left, following a sign pointing me toward the interstate.  The reflection of the photograph on the windshield came with me, dancing once again beneath the orange glow of the sodium lamps lining the street.
Behind me, a pair of white, glowing lights followed...

The Photograph - Part Ten

June 20, 2012

Sorry. I had to go out of town last weekend, and I'm also trying to wrap up a bunch of stuff before I go on vacation this week. I hope to have the next part up tomorrow, whether I'm traveling or not. It will probably be the last section of the story, or at least the next-to-last (penultimate, if you're dorkly like me and like to use big words).

Anyway, in case you've forgotten what's been going on, here's a refresher course: Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five Part Six Part Seven Part Eight Part Nine

The moment I spoke them, I wanted the words back.

From the moment I had decided that I was going to visit Tori--that she was going to be the first person that I talked to about the grim news--I had formulated the best way to tell her. The words and the conversations and the discussion had tumbled through my head since I had left Bar Harbor. Whenever I doubted myself, the reflection on the windshield--or the image of the two of us together, younger, happier--had driven me forward.

The emotional roller coaster that I had subjected myself to over the past few hours, however, had forced me to blurt out the comment rather than break into the news gently.


For a second, Tori sat with a look that hovered somewhere between annoyance and amusement. The corner of one side of her mouth was lifted in a disbelieving smile, while the other side was painted with a mixture of grief and shock. The amused side was winning when I felt everything inside of me--every reserve I had, every bit of emotional integrity that I clung to preventing the breakdown that I knew was coming--crumbled. A single tear fell from my eye, streaking down my cheek and landing on the table.

"Oh, Jesus," she said, raising a hand to her mouth to hide her shock.

"I'm sorry, Tori," I said, the tears--now unleashed--flowing freely.

"What the hell?" she said, leaning back from me. I felt my lower lip tremble. Closing my eyes, I felt them leak down the sides of my face. The tears splattered on the table. Despite all that, I forced myself to keep my emotions in check.

"I'm sorry, Tori," I repeated, my voice barely above a whisper. "That came out all wrong. I'm just...I'm scared and I'm sad and I thought I could do this and put a brave face on it all..." I opened my eyes and looked at her, shaking my head. "I didn't mean to dump it on you like that. It's just..."

"Rob," she said, her voice calm and soothing. "Tell me what's wrong."

I paused for a second, collecting my thoughts and taking a deep breath. "About a month ago, I went in for a check-up. I had been having trouble breathing, a tightness in my chest, and this cough I couldn't shake. I figured the doctor would give me the same talk I always get: stop smoking, lose some weight, eat more oatmeal. You know, the same old shit.

"Then, last week, I went in for my follow up. The doctor told me he had some bad news, that the cigarettes were catching up with me." I looked away because I did not want her to see the tears in my eyes. "He said it was aggressive, but if I had come in earlier, they might have caught it and helped slow it down. They took some chest x-rays and saw a couple of spots, and he said the outlook was 'not so good.'

"I went home wondering what 'not so good' meant. When I checked out lung cancer survival numbers on the American Cancer Society's website, 'not so good' suddenly became 'you're going to die.'" I shook my head; a tear rolled down my cheek. Tori held a hand over her mouth; tears ran down her cheeks.

"The doctor told me I should try to relax, cut some stress out of my life. He said to take it easy, but I couldn't stay at my townhome any longer. I needed to get out, to get away somewhere that I could clear my mind. Stupidly, I kept smoking..."

"Rob--" Tori said, but I pushed forward, not letting her bother me.

"I figured I didn't have much time left, anyway, I might as well go out enjoying myself. So, I ended up driving up to Maine, just for the hell of it. I always wanted to go, I figured I should go while I still could.

"While I was up there, something happened. I don't know what it was or why, but something shifted inside of me, and I stopped smoking. I was going to just roll over and die, and then suddenly my mind changed. I decided to quit with the smokes and to try and fight this, no matter how futile it might be."

Though her eyes were now drier, the emeralds in them shone brighter. I remembered as I looked over at her why I fell in love with her in the first place. I wanted nothing more than to grab her up in my arms and hold her and feel the safety and comfort of my body in her grasp once more.

"The doctor offered me a chance to get in on some clinical trial, so I called him from the road and said I'd do it. The problem is, the trial doesn't start until August, so I have some time to kill. When I was digging through some papers and such, that's when I found that picture of us from my graduation." I let my voice trail off as I struggled to find the right words. "You are the first person I've talked to about this," I admitted. "When I saw that picture, all the memories of you I had been trying to bury suddenly came back. I knew then that you were the person I should talk to. You would at least understand what was wrong with me, and you know me the best of anyone around, even though it's been so long."

"Robbie, I...I don't know what to say," she said, trying to force a smile onto features wracked with sadness and empathy. "I'm...I'm honored,'s just so much."

"I know. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to dump it all on you like this."

"No, that's what friends are for," she said. Carefully, she reached out her hand and laid it on top of mine. Her fingers were cool, but the warmth that flowed through them energized me. My insides jumped alive at her touch. I closed my eyes to try and stop the flow of tears, and then I did something stupid.

I moved my hand and took hers in mine, interlacing our fingers like we had done when we were still together. She did not resist me, and I squeezed her hand softly while it was locked with mine. For the first time in weeks, I felt content.

"So..." I finally said after we sat in silence for a time, "why were you looking me up online?"

"I missed you," she said plainly, waiting for the waitress to come and refill our coffee cups before she responded. "I've looked you up several times over the years, I've just..."

"Never sent me an email or called." I offered a half smile. "I know. I've done the same." I pressed my lips together into a sort of frowning grimace. "I just did not know what to say."

"I did send Christmas cards," she said, smiling.

"I know. That's how I knew your address." We both laughed for a moment.

"You're such a good stalker," she said.

"Except when I'm getting punched in the face by my target's significant other," I said, working my jaw back and forth. We laughed again.

"Yeah, Drew has some anger and jealousy issues," she said, her voice quieter than it had been. "I thought he would mellow with age and the more time we spent together."

"But it hasn't?"

She shook her head.

"He takes it out--"

"I don't want to talk about it," she said flatly.

I hesitated before nodding. I squeezed her hand; she squeezed back. A tear rolled down her cheek. "He's still a good man," she said softly. "Despite everything, I still love him. I just wish that I knew that he loved me."

I wanted to pull her into my arms again, but this time it was a selfless desire. I wanted to let her know that I was there for her, that she could count on me as much as she needed or that I could provide. Instead, I squeezed her hand. She pulled her fingers away from mine and wiped her eyes. My heart deflated until she reached for me once more.

"I'm sure he does, Tori," I said. "He'd be an idiot not to."

She looked up at me, sad, sparkling green eyes locking with mine. She looked so vulnerable, so beautiful. I tried to hide my feelings, but I could sense her probing me, seeing into me. My emotions were not simply on my sleeve; they were displayed around me, glowing like a neon sign. Though I wanted to keep them in check, I knew that I could not. Frankly, at this point, I did not care.

"At least I know someone still does," she said softly and squeezed my hand. My throat tightened, yet my lips curled involuntarily into a smile.

"I should probably get you home," I said. I wanted to sit with her there forever, but I knew it was getting late. I had already been pummeled once that evening; I was not looking forward to another beating.

"I'm in no rush. I want to spend time with you."

"Maybe we should go for a walk," I said. I had been moving too much over the past few days. Despite the company and my personal desires, I did not feel completely comfortable sitting in one place too long.

"At ten thirty at night? Here? You're insane!" She laughed. She grabbed the check and slid out of the booth. "But, if you want to get out of here that quickly, then let's go. We can talk in the car."

We ducked outside into the night where the air was close and hot. Despite the summer temperatures, she pressed up next to me slipping her arm through mine. Everything felt right and whole once more. We walked through the parking lot slowly; I savored the feel of her on my arm again while she seemed content to lean her head against my shoulder. When we got to the car, she broke away as I reached to open her door. Before my fingers could pull back on the handle, she stepped in front of me. Her cheeks were wet with fresh tears.

"I'm so sorry, Robbie," she said. "Thank you for finding me. Thank you for telling me." She wrapped her arms around my chest, burying her face in my shirt. My hands instinctively embraced her. The weight of her in my arms once more was reassuring, calming. Suddenly, I felt like I could make it through whatever journey lay ahead of me...if only she would be there with me. I knew it was too much to ask.

I did not care, however. I wanted to remember this moment for the rest of my life. I needed this, to be reminded what it felt like to be with her. It was almost better than feeling alive.

"I don't know what else I can do for you, Robbie," she said. "Just know that I'm here for you. I know it's tough. I wish I could help more." She looked up into my eyes, and for a moment we hung as if on a precipice. And then I did something else very stupid.

I kissed her.

At first, there was the slightest hint of resistance. When my lips met hers, I could feel that she wanted to pull away, but suddenly she flowed into the kiss, pressing her mouth back against mine. My arms suddenly held her tighter, and she gripped my shirt front. My heart hammered within my chest as I kissed her again and again and again. I felt her fingers tangle within the fabric of my shirt, her other hand running up my back to the nape of my neck. Her fingernails scratched my scalp as her fingers went through my hair. One of my hands slid down her back to cup her ass. I felt twenty years younger suddenly. My entire body burned and pulsed with desire.

Finally, she pulled away from me, holding my face with both of her hands so that she could stare into my eyes.

"There's a hotel down the street. Let's go before I change my mind," she instructed.

My keys were already in my hand.

The Photograph - Part Nine

June 14, 2012

"Just put the kids to bed, Drew. You're a big boy. I'm pretty sure you can handle it." I heard her yelling into the house while I sat in my car with the windows rolled down. Hearing her angry tore at my heart, but I sat silently, staring through the windshield down the long, straight, silent street. No one else drove through the neighborhood, save for a few cars I could see flickering into view at the intersection at the end of the street.

"I'll be back in a little bit. We can talk about it then." A second later, Tori was sliding into the passenger side of my car.

"Ready?" I asked, raising my eyebrows. "You know, if it's a problem, we don't have to--"

"No, he's got his panties in a twist. He saw me looking you up the other day online." She shook her head as I started the car and pulled away from the curb. "He's jealous of everything."

"Do you blame him? You're quite a catch."

She smiled at my awkward compliment. We drove on in silence, punctuated only by her pointing and giving directions. An emotional wall was slowly erected in the space between us in the car.

"You still smoke?" she asked as we drove down a wide avenue lined with strip malls and shopping plazas. The glaring, bright lights were blinding compared to the dim, quiet street on which Tori lived.

"No," I said, coughing as I did so. "I quit a few days ago."

She shot me a look but said nothing more. We continued on in silence before she directed me into a plaza. A sleepy restaurant sat at the junction of two rows of shops. The inside hummed with fluorescent lights and a the scent of decades of fried food laid a heavy pall of different aromas throughout the restaurant, varying from the freshly delicious to the agedly rancid scent of old grease.

"It's not the finest dining," Tori said, sliding into a booth opposite me and setting her purse down beside her, "but the coffee's good and the waitresses do a good job of not letting your cup go empty."

"You do know how much I love coffee," I said with a half smile. My stomach growled as I inspected the menu. "Excuse me," I said, "I haven't eaten anything today. Are you hungry? My treat, for, you know, not going to your wedding."

There was a moment of silence and I felt her eyes upon me. The years that stretched between us far outweighed the years we were together, and despite that, I could tell that something heavy was on her mind. With so many things left unsaid, I simply continued thumbing through the menu until the waitress came to take our orders. A moment later, we both had full cups of coffee before us.

"Here's to old times," I said, raising the cup up before us in a mock salute. Tori watched me over the brim of my cup while I took a sip. Her eyes, which always carried at least a hint of smile, were the saddest I had ever seen them. I lowered the cup and set it on the table.

"Why didn't you ever call?" she asked, her voice soft and distant. "Or send an email or write a letter or something?"

It was difficult to look at her, so I didn't. I looked everywhere but at those sad, crystalline green eyes. If she started crying, I knew I would lose it. I was halfway there already.

"I drove home that night," I said, still not looking at her. My fingers twitched and twiddled with the flatware on the table. I desperately wanted a smoke. Quitting cold turkey might have been the dumbest thing I had ever attempted. "I drove straight through. I stopped for gas and snacks and smokes. I fell into my bed exhausted, but I could only think of you and how happy you must have been and how happy I was for you--truthfully, I was simply happy that you were happy.

"And yet, I was fucking miserable, Tori." I closed my eyes and tried to compose myself for a moment. "I'm pretty sure you can guess why. As tired as I was, I just could not stop thinking about you. I wanted to. I wanted to sleep, but my mind wouldn't shut down.

"It was like this for the next...twelve years." I finally looked at her. Unshed tears stood in her eyes. I kept quiet while the waitress set our orders down on the table and checked our coffees. She sauntered away and I began to retell my story. "Rob..." she offered, but my name died on her lips.

"You were my everything, Tori," I said softly. "You were my life and the reason for living it."

She lowered her eyes and pushed some food around on her plate with a fork. I took another swallow of coffee. "Surely, there were other girls."

I laughed, a sardonic, bitter note. "Of course there were other girls. Bunches of them. Hundreds of them. But, they all shared one thing in common, Tori: they weren't you."

"Rob, it's been, what, fourteen years? You can't keep waiting for me. We're not in college anymore. I've moved on. I'm married...I have three great kids. And even though Drew's a jackass sometimes, deep down, buried in there somewhere is the man that I love."

My emotions were beginning to turn. Instead of allowing myself to get mad at her for lecturing me on how I should have been over her--as if I had not been trying for nearly fourteen years--I picked up the coffee and stared into the bowl of the mug for a long time before drinking it. I pretended like I was deeply in thought, but I was buying time to let the emotion drain from my voice.

"You were my everything, Tori," I stated as flatly as I could. An edge of anger crept into my voice along with a hint of the love and desire that flooded back into me when I saw her once more. "When I was with you, nothing else mattered. I've never been as happy as I was when we were together." I hesitated, unsure of how to put the next parts.

"Rob..." she said, and my throat seized up. The way she shook her head, I knew she was preparing to lecture me some more. "You're acting kind of like a child."

"Yeah," I said, setting the coffee cup back down and pushing some food around on my plate. "Maybe I am. Probably I am." I looked at her and gave her a half smile. "When you broke up with me over the phone, though, I never had the closure, never had the chance to say good-bye." I sighed, feeling a tightening in my chest. "I...was up in Maine. When I was up there, I was trying to find myself, and that's when I found that picture from graduation. It was in with a bunch of papers and such that I had grabbed on my way out the door. That's when I realized, in order to fill what was missing inside of me, I needed to come and see you. I needed to talk with you once more, face to face. So, I got in the car and drove."

"You could have called ahead."

"And say what? 'Hey, Tori, I'm on my way. I've come to finally get over you breaking my heart so many years ago?'"

"That was unfair."

I shrugged. "Exactly. So, I pulled up in front of your house and decided to wing it."

"Yeah, how'd that work out for you?"

I rubbed my jaw where Drew had punched me. "Not so well." I smiled at her. Suddenly her demeanor broke and the smile I had come to love so much finally curled the corners of her mouth.

She laughed and the tension between us faded a little bit. We both picked up our coffee cups and drank simultaneously. Setting hers down, Tori looked up at me and smiled.

"So, that's why you came out here? For a little bit of closure?"

"I thought it was time to see you again," I said, sipping the coffee.

"It's good to see you, Rob. I really have missed you."

"Thanks," I said. "I've missed you, too." I felt my chest tighten again as I stared at her. For a moment, in the low, heavy light of the diner, the years melted away and we were sitting at a truck stop near Saint Alban's again. Some nights, when we'd been up drinking too late, we'd hit the twenty-four-hour eateries that clung to the interstates where we could laugh, talk, joke, smoke and watch the people rolling in and out of the joint. One night, over coffee and omelets, a man bearing an uncanny likeness to all the pictures of William Shakespeare we had ever seen walked into the truck stop, which elicited an impromptu recital of Hamlet's "To Be or Not To Be" soliloquy. While we laughed through the end of it, the man was not half as impressed and I had to pay quickly before he could make good on the threats he shouted at us.

"There's something else, isn't there?" She could see through me, no matter how many years we had been apart. Despite whatever face I tried to show her, Tori knew me well enough that it was impossible to hide secrets from her.

"Yeah," I said softly, "I wanted to say good-bye."

"Isn't that what closure is, Robbie?"

"No, Tori," I said, tears involuntarily standing in my eyes. "I'm dying."

The Photograph - Part Eight

June 13, 2012

Wow, midweek, already? Humpday and whatnot. Except, yeah, no humping here.

Anyway, we're pushing along now. This is the next installment of the story. I had some other things to get done this evening...we won't go into that. Maybe later, but for now, let's get back to our friends as they try to sort some stuff out, shall we? It's another shorter one, just because shit's been hectic 'round about Casa del Jenks today.

In case you missed the other installments in this series, you can get your fix here:
Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five Part Six Part Seven

"Drew, what the hell?"

I gradually realized there were two figures standing over me as my vision began to clear. If I had been knocked out, it was only for a second or two; I did not remember hitting the sidewalk in front of the house, but my body ached as if I had just been slammed to the grown and half my face felt tender and sore at the same time.

"What the fuck is your ex-boyfriend doing here?"

There was an extended pause, then I heard the scuffle of a bare foot on the stone walkway. Someone was crouching over me, but the porch light was behind her head, hiding her features in shadow. Even though I could not see her, I knew who it was the knelt next to me.

"Tori, what the hell--"

"Drew, just go back inside. Sarah needs her bath and Emmy's probably ready for bed." I had not spoken to her for years, and though she was snapping orders, the familiar sound of her voice carried me back at least two decades.


"Drew! Just go! Take care of the kids. I'll clean your mess up out here."

For a moment he loomed over both of us, a thunderhead ready to crackle lightning down up on us. I watched him, fearful of whom he would go for first. Finally, shaking his head, Drew turned and retreated into the house, slamming the door behind him so hard I thought sure the glass would shatter.

"Robbie," Tori sighed into my ear, her fingers touching the spot where her husband's fist has crushed my face, "Robbie, is it really you?"

"In the flesh," I said, sitting up more. Her arm slipped around my shoulders to support me; my heart skipped a beat within my chest. "The bruised and slightly spongy flesh, but in the flesh."

She gave an abbreviated giggle at my joke and shook her head. "It really is you, isn't it?" Her face was suddenly next to mine, and there was an urge to grab her and kiss her as if the past twelve years had not happened. The ache in my jaw reminded me that it would not be a good idea to follow through on my urges.

"What are you doing here?" she asked, her voice carrying a familiar lilt of both amusement and annoyance. It was a tone I had heard often during our relationship.

"Well, you know," I said, forcing myself to my feet. I grabbed her hand and helped her up, as well. The touch of her skin against mine was electric. Though I was invested in the visit now, part of me was screaming that I should leave, that I had made a mistake coming here. Instead of following that instinct, I offered a half smile and a shrug. "I was in the neighborhood, thought I'd swing by, see how things were, maybe borrow a cup of sugar."

"You are such a smartass," Tori said, lightly slapping me in the chest with the back of her hand. She folded her arms under her breasts and set her jaw, though the barest of smiles still brightened her features. "Come on, Rob. You live in D.C. What's the real reason you're here?"

I tried my best to come up with an answer that was not an answer. Seeing my internal struggle playing out on my features, Tori raised her eyebrows, expecting an answer. Finally I frowned at myself and looked at her. "It's been twelve years," I said plainly. "I thought it was time to clear the air between us."

For the first time, I saw the defiant, friendly smile disappear. She looked at me and then looked down before sighing audibly. "Twelve years is a long time, Robbie." Her voice was soft and quiet, yet the words seemed to echo between us.

"You know why I couldn't be there, right?"

She nodded, avoiding eye contact with me. I never wanted to take her up in my arms so badly I did at that moment. She sighed softly, a sob mostly hidden beneath the heavy breath. "I saw you, you know. At the chapel. I saw you walking away." She looked up at me and I could see in the light from the front porch that tears stood in her eyes. "I called out to you, but you did not stop." She took another heavy breath, her shoulders shaking softly as she did so. "I knew what I did to you then. I knew that I was being selfish and a bitch and everything. I was so blind until I saw you walking away.

"But the thing that broke my heart most was when I found that picture from your graduation weekend at the grotto. I nearly burst into tears when I realized what I had done to you, someone that I cared for so deeply, someone that I really, truly loved. It broke my heart to see it there on the ground, so I picked it up and I was going to keep it. I was going to use it to remind myself what I had done to you. That's when Drew and I had our first fight."

She paused for a moment and I could think of nothing to say in the silence that fell between us. She shook her head and I thought I saw the glittering reflection of a teardrop on her cheek.

"This isn't the place to have this conversation," she said, shaking her head. Looking at me, unshed tears glimmering in her eyes, she asked, "Do you want to get a cup of coffee?"

The Photograph - Part Seven

June 12, 2012

We're getting there, I swear. But, I'm also getting lazy.

"Getting", he says. As if I didn't just go how many months between posts? And that last post really was just an attempt to get someone to buy me a shirt? And now I'm claiming to be just "getting" lazy?

I know, I know...

Anyway, my laziness knows no bounds. Still, I've finished most of the rest of the story, but I'm still going to break it into what I feel are easily-digestible pieces of prose for your perusal.

Damn, I love alliteration.

So, if you need to catch up or anything, here are the links to the previous installments in the story:

Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five Part Six

We're building toward an ending, I swear. Just bear with. Thanks again for the reading, and I really do enjoy the comments and appreciate them. I'm know...too lazy to respond.

Even though it was late, the front light still shone. For a few moments, I sat in my car, steeling myself. I checked and double-checked the address one more time; the GPS chip in my phone was telling me I was where I wanted to be. Despite this, I took my time checking my hair in the mirror and smiling several times to make sure none of my last meal stuck with me. I grabbed a stick of gum and began chewing it ferociously as I finally forced myself out of the car. For a few seconds, I stood on the sidewalk, staring across the street tow where the porch light burned unwaveringly, a welcoming beacon to drag me toward it. With a sigh, I stepped into the road.

I tucked the photograph in my front pocket, a shield and a charm all in one.

The street was quiet. There were no cars moving along the long, straight avenue. Cars lined the road in either direction, shielded from the night by endless lines of ancient, giant trees. Shaking my head, I focused on the front light and walked across the street.

My heart hammered in my chest and my pulse rang in my ears. I could feel my legs getting weak as I climbed the steps up onto the porch and my hand shook ever so slightly as I reached out to ring the doorbell. The chime sounded, but no one immediately came to the door.

"This is fucking stupid," I told myself, preparing to go when I heard voices squealing inside and the heavy footfalls of someone approaching the door. Instead of running, I straightened myself, trying to fix a smile on my face that I hoped would be charming and friendly all at the same time.

My heart sank when a man answered the door. For a second, he stood behind the storm door before pushing it open quickly.

"Hey," I said, extending my hand, "you must be Drew."

His fist smashed into my face and I remembered falling backward off the porch, but I do not remember landing.

∞ ∞ ∞

I walked over to the student section where the ballroom was located; Tori and her new husband had reserved it for their reception. As I walked up the stairs leading to the second floor landing, a young man--probably a student staying for the summer session or just to work around the college for a summer job--was setting up the bar under the watchful gaze of a college employee. I nodded to both of them as they watched me walking past.

"Is there something I can help you with?" the official asked as I walked over to one of the doors and tried to open it, finding it locked. I frowned at the door that would not open for a moment before turning to them.

"I just wanted to drop off a gift for the new couple," I said, showing him the envelope holding the card. I originally had thought to put the photograph in with the card, as a way of showing Tori that our relationship, friendship and all, was finished. For the merest second, I thought to go back to the grotto and retrieve it, but the desire passed and I was left looking at a surly college employee fold his arms across his chest.

"The wedding should be going now," he stated flatly.

"I didn't want to walk into the church late," I said. "I thought I'd drop the gift and hang out, waiting for the reception to start." I did not recognize the man from my time at the school, but it had been a few years.

"Fine," the man said after a few seconds of me staring at him, "I'll let you in, but you better not be causing trouble."

"I'm dropping a card. It's not like there's much trouble to cause."

"Fine." It seemed to be the man's favorite word. "Just put the card on the table with the other gifts and get out." He unlocked the door and held it open for me.

I shook my head incomprehensively for a moment before walking into the ballroom and finding a table with pastel-colored packages covering it. I wanted to swear at the guy, but instead I tucked the card in between a couple of boxes and slipped back out, nodding to the guy. "Thanks. I guess I'll see you in an hour?"

"Fine." He stared at me with a look that said he would be watching me later.

"Joke's on you, jackass," I said to myself as I left the student center and made for my car. I heard the bells of the chapel ringing as I pulled the door closed. I started toward the main entrance of the campus, but decided to take one of the back ways out so that I could avoid the chapel area altogether.

I tried not to think about Tori's wedding and the reception I was avoiding as I drove home that afternoon. I stopped over somewhere south of Philadelphia for dinner. Checking my messages, I saw that I had one from Tori. Not wanting to listen to her voice right now, I deleted the message and continued driving, arriving home late at night. Too tired to care, I threw myself into my bed and my misery at the same time. Though exhausted, sleep would not come. The glow of my clock had suddenly become the unceasing blaze of the sun's face; the light glowing in the bathroom had transformed into a blue inferno that refused to let me sleep. Together, they colluded to display a tableau on which I could project my memories. As I lay in my bed, trying desperately to sleep--if only to ignore the phantasmagoria flashing before me--my mind continued to churn faster and faster, sifting through every memory of Tori that it could dredge up. I set my mp3-player in the docking station and hit random, hoping that the music would be enough to soothe me to sleep. Instead, every song that it played reminded me of her.

The light outside my window had shifted from black to a pale gray by the time exhaustion won out, and I slept fitfully through a large portion of the morning until I was awakened by the phone.

"Hey," said a familiar voice when I groggily answered it, forgetting for a moment that I was ignoring the phone. "You back from the wedding?"

"Never really went," I croaked.

"I told you it was a bad idea. Anyway, you need to get out and get your mind of her," Steve told me. "How about we hit the town tonight, do an old-fashioned pub crawl. Start around five and make sure that Happy Hour never dies."

"Yeah," I said and hung up, falling back into my pillows and my shattered, jagged dreams. A few hours later I threw myself into my misery again, drinking and smoking until my mind was clouded enough to let me think that I was happy, that I was over losing Tori. Whenever I would sober up briefly, I would throw myself back into the bottom of a bottle, hoping that when I emerged the next time I would be blissfully unaware of what I had could never have again.

A few weeks after I had strapped the lies on like armor, a card arrived in the mail. It was a thank you card from Tori and her husband. Inside, she had written a form thank you, but there was also a folded piece of paper. On it was written in her flowing, looping handwriting:

"I found this at the grotto when we went to get our pictures taken there. I thought you might want it. I'm sorry that I did not see you at the wedding. I was really looking forward to talking to you again. Drew and I are moving to Saint Louis in the fall. Give me a call in a couple of weeks and I can give you my contact information."

Inside the folded note was the picture from my graduation weekend that I had thrown on the ground.

The memories came rushing back along with the feelings of sadness and despair. I reached for a smoke from the table at the side of me bed, and as I closed my eyes I knew that I would never be able to drown the memories from my mind. I picked up the phone, dialed half of her number but before I could punch the last few buttons, I set the phone back down on the base. Someday I would talk to her again, but it would not be today.

I got up and walked out of the bedroom, out of my townhouse and went out into the night, hoping that some fresh air would do a better job of clearing my head than the alcohol had done. I suspected that it would not, but at that point, I needed any reason to get away...

The Photograph - Part Six

June 11, 2012

Here we are again at the beginning of another week. So little to look forward to, especially while we're still trying to piece together the weekend, huh?

With that in mind, I thought I'd go easy on you today and give you a shorter piece of the story; it's only one section, but I think it's a good one. I don't normally get too emotional when I'm writing things, but I did choke up a little here.

Grab your coffee, nurse your hangovers, curl up in your breakfast nooks. If you need to refamiliarize yourself with the previous parts of the story, you can read them through the following links:
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five

Even though I was expecting it, I was still surprised when the invitation showed up in my mail box.

Despite having my heart broken, I tried to remain friends with Tori. We would still chat at least once or twice a week, and even call one another at least once a month. In truth, we spoke more often after our relationship fell apart than we had in the last few months of our relationship. That was the problem. We fell back into friendship so easily that it almost seemed as if we had not stopped being a couple.

About eighteen months after we broke up, she told me that Drew had asked her to marry him. I had to pretend that I was happy for her, which was easy enough to do over the phone. While the news crushed my heart and brought tears to my eyes, the unbridled joy and happiness in her voice was enough to make at least attempt to be happy for her. I loved her. Despite everything, I loved her. I wanted her to be happy, and she clearly was. Maybe she was happier than she ever could be with me. While I tried not to dwell on that fact, it was difficult not feeling the bitter pangs of jealousy as she described the wedding planning she and Drew were putting together.

After I finished up at Notre Dame, I took a job in D.C. doing the kind of deskwork that sit-coms are made of. It might not have been the most rewarding job in the world, but the pay was good, the benefits great, and the hours were long enough that I could throw myself into the job and almost forget the fact that the woman I loved was lying in the arms of another man. I worked upwards of ten hours a day, breaking long enough to hit the pub with a co-worker named Steve who shared some of my same interests: getting shit-faced drunk and forgetting about the world for a while.

I was not sure which was more shocking: that Tori sent me an invite to her wedding, or that I quickly RSVP'd, saying I was looking forward to celebrating her impending nuptials and that it would be nice to finally meet Drew. As soon as I dropped it into the mailbox, I regretted my answer. I wanted desperately to somehow fish the envelope from the slot where I had just dropped it, but I knew that my answer had been sent and that I was now forced to follow through.

The wedding was being held in the chapel at Saint Alban's about a month after classes let out for the summer. I drove up and got a hotel room in town. I arrived on campus early, but I tried to avoid anywhere that the wedding guests would be. I wandered around, visiting my old dorm and walking over to the fieldhouse sitting next to the football field. Saint Alban's was a small enough campus that they never locked the gate in the chain link fence around the football stadium. I pushed my way in and sat on the aluminum bleachers warmed by the midday sun. An indeterminate amount of time passed while I sat there staring blankly over the field. I had so many memories here, of sitting in the stands and watching my friends and classmates play. We were never any good, but I there were times over the past year and a half that I would have given almost anything in order to be back here in those halcyon days of college life. I would have given anything in order to be with her again.

The bells of the chapel were ringing. With a certain dreadful resignation, I pulled myself off the bleachers and headed back across campus toward the chapel. I watched as people streamed into the church. There were several familiar faces--friends from college, some of her family I had met--and I waited for them to enter the chapel. I did not want to sit with anyone I knew and deal with their questions--both spoken and the unasked--during the ceremony. I was certain that the reception would be awkward and painful enough.

I could hear organ music playing as I approached the wide limestone steps of the chapel. As I began to mount them, I stopped. No matter how hard I tried, I could not force myself to walk into the church; I did not want to see Tori get married, at least not to someone else. For a few seconds I stared into the all-too-familiar church before shaking my head and walking away.

I kept my head down, listening to my own shrieking, screeching emotions and thoughts duel with one another in my head while I walked away from the chapel. I thought I heard someone call my name, but I ignored it. The music coming from the church was too loud; it was a catalyst for the chaos and turmoil spinning in my head. I needed to get away.

Eventually I found myself at the grotto. I stopped, taking in the peaceful serenity. The wind whispered through the trees, the water trickled from one artificial pool to the next. Birds sang. Squirrels chased each other through the trees. I stood and stared at the grotto for a long time before I reached into my pocket and pulled out the photograph that I had carried with me these long years. It was the picture of Tori and me at the grotto, given to me by her mother and which had been my constant companion on all the trips to see her.

A lump formed in my throat as I looked down at the picture. I refused to cry, but my body was not cooperating, despite how many times I scrubbed at my eyes with the back of my hand. I had meant to ask her to marry me that day, before I left for graduation, before we had to go our separate ways for a while. I had meant to get down on one knee, here in a place that was meant for quiet reflection of God's love and proclaim my love for her, forever. Instead, her parents had accompanied us, and I had become too nervous, afraid that I would ruin everything for her.

I meant to do it the following year, as well, when I returned for her graduation. I would give anything to have those two days back--those two moments back, to relive them and to correct what I had done wrongly. I would give anything to tell her one more time how I felt, to whisper the words in her ear and to feel her lips curl into a smile against my neck as I had so many times before, so many years ago.

I looked down at the picture one more time, the memories so close and so vivid they could have swirled into life. Her smile was still electric, her eyes were still beautiful.

"I love you," I choked softly, the words catching in my throat. "I always will."

I dropped the photograph on the ground and walked away.