A Time To Fail

As the month of May is about promoting discussion on Mental Health I’ve been itching to write my own thoughts on recent experiences with my own mental health.


To give you a bit of background my undergraduate degree was in human development across the life span, as well as dabbling in communications and family violence/dynamics. I’ve also studied anatomy/physiology/neuroanatomy, psychology, interpersonal communication, anthropology, and paleontology (I also have my own collection of plastic dinosaurs). I’ve worked with individuals who are recovering from substance abuse, homelessness, addiction, oncology, and incarceration. I’ve interacted with individuals who have autism, mental disorders, physical disorders, sensory disorders, and developmental delay. In my personal life, I grew up with a grandmother who suffered from schizophrenia.  Having eight years of formal education as well as five years of practical experience in the field, I consider myself a complete novice in a lot of things and am in no way an actual expert in any one thing.

That being said I have a story to tell, and a viewpoint that I am somewhat terrified to share.

Rewind seven years ago. I was loosing some of my freshman shine in my second semester of college. Having been recently married and pretending to be a responsible adult I found myself in a Psychology 1010 class. On that day my professor stood up in front of the class and said, “Each and every one of you will fail in their life at one point or another.”

The lecture hall filled with uneasy laughter as our professor paused for a minute.

“No, ” he said, his smile having fled the scene, “this isn’t a joke. You all will fail.”

I remember thinking, ‘Well that’s kind of bleak, don’t you think? Where is he going with this?”

He continued, “Failure is a natural part of life. Each one of us has experienced it, and will continue to experience it at some point in our life.”

The hall grew quiet as all of our attention zeroed in on this professor. I could feel tension rising from every body in in the room, including my own.

“It may not happen to you today, or tomorrow but at the end of the day you will fail, you will screw up and it will be big.”

As a student in a somewhat ‘high-brow’ university, paying out the nose to attend over-populated classes, you don’t want to hear that you will fail. Having been conditioned from an early age to always look to success, each student paused. At that given moment our collective blood pressures  could have shot the roof off of the building. We were in this race to win it, we were in this Hunger Games style arena aptly referred to as, ‘college.’

Pins could have been dropped a millimeter from the carpeted ground and you still would have heard them. My professor pushed onwards, “But you know what? That’s okay. It’s okay to fail. That’s how we naturally learn as human beings. We make mistakes, we make poor judgements, and in the end we find ourselves with the wrong answer. And it’s okay.”


I wasn’t feeling okay with this line of thinking.

“We learn by goofing up, failing papers, and getting the wrong answer on the first try. That’s because we are programed and designed to learn step by step, pace by pace.”

The words of his lecture fade from my mind even as I type this, but I remember feeling a vast unease swallowing my mind. I left the lecture hall thinking, ‘Pssh, that won’t happen to me. I’d rather be buried alive than fail.”

Now fast forward to May 2016. I was half way through a master’s program I’d already dedicated 5 years of my life to getting into and completing. I gave up a career in oncology work, disappeared from my friends’ and family’s lives. I was a ghost of a father and husband staying up to obscene hours of the night, every night.

I was a shell, a husk of a man. My wife would look at me every night before going to sleep, as if to say, “Who are you?”

And I found myself not knowing the answer.

It was finals week and I had finished my last final of the Spring semester. It had been a challenging semester. My brain was beyond mush. So when my phone buzzed notifying me of an email it took quite some time before I understood what as going on. It was an email from the chair of my program, never a good thing in my book.

I had had my struggles with the program. Having had to sit out for an entire academic year to retake a course, I constantly found myself on the back-burner of the faculty’s “what-do-we-do-with-him” list. I knew my grades were suffering, and that I wasn’t doing the best in some of my class, but I wasn’t doing the worst. Or so I thought.

“Please meet with me at the end of this week. Thank you.” was all that the Chair wrote to me. What little emotions I had left inside my brain stirred with unease. The meeting was scheduled for the last Friday of the semester. And I watched everyday before hand as my grades dropped lower, and lower, and lower. Feedback from my professors grew more and more negative, and I found myself balking at the bluntness of their responses to me.

“What’s going to happen?” My wife asked, in a small voice as we laid in our bed staring at the ceiling one night.

“I’m going to be kicked out.” I said. Feeling what little of me remained crumble to dust. The morning of the meeting I called back my old job and asked if they had a position for me. And with an air of dehydrated anticipation we left for the meeting.

The building was low and ugly as we walked towards it, arm in arm. Windows stared at us, black frames foreboding in their place. The walls were gray, blending into lifeless carpet. As we took proffered seat, the Chair’s desk before me lay piled high with a disarray of paper. A  stern face held a look of bored resolve as the Chair fingered an envelope.

“I’m sorry we have to meet like this, but your grades have slipped below the line. Your teachers tell me you don’t listen to feedback, you don’t make changes, and you don’t demonstrate the ability to function within this line of work. So you are hereby dismissed from this program.”

It was so abrupt, so devoid of human emotion. They could have slapped me in the face and I would have preferred it. I wanted to scream. ‘I have a family you know?’ I wanted to throw all the messy piles of paper off the desk in front of me. ‘I have children that don’t see me for weeks on end.’ I wanted to blame it on the lack of investment I had seen withdrawn from me.‘I have a wife that was hoping to stay home with the kids next year until they grew up.’ I wanted to blame the department, the not-to-code architecture of the building. ‘We wanted to move away and buy a house.’ I wanted to blame the utter lack of empathy and understanding that one who had already experience this program should give to a student. ‘I wanted a meaningful career.’

Never mind the life-altering experiences I’d been a part of with countless patients and clients. Never mind to those working professionals that all but begged me to contact them the minute I graduated for a job.

“You are hereby dismissed.”

I failed. I failed big. Even with my wife at my side, I found myself alone and with no one to blame but myself.

What happened in the intervening months is almost too hard to put into words. I quickly fell into a depression as everyone I knew and loved asked me what happened. Not a day went by when someone would ask, “How is school going?” “Oh dear, whatever happened?” and “That’s just too bad.”

For the first time in my life I felt the sliding arms of a dark depression wrap around my mind. It was almost like that feeling you get when you knock the wind from  your lungs, and try as you might you just can’t fill them fast enough with air. I couldn’t feel the happiness of having two beautiful children vie for my attention. Nor could I feel the anguish and fear that had made my wife’s radiant smile dim.

Books no longer held any pull to me, and I would often realize, mid bite, that I was eating something. Work was work and I performed it robotically. I was depressed and I didn’t want to do a damn thing about it.

There were only two constants through this period. My wife and kids, and writing. My wife is a saving grace. She knows what it’s like, feeling the darkness, the sliding sensation of a pathetic apathy towards life. It’s almost like you are a tiny muppet, trying to control a huge mechanical body. You know how it’s suppose to go, you know the body is functioning at peak capacity, but you lack the energy and understanding of working the controls. She knew what I was feeling and did her utmost to be understanding, and not angry with me, although I beat myself up everyday about it.

I didn’t keep a journal, like you’re always suppose as a writer. Instead I found myself typing down stories in the dead of night. Some of them were horrific. Some of them sad. Other’s contained hope, joy, and laughter. Some came straight from my life. I found a part of myself, separate from the pain, depression, anger, and sorrow that was my mind. And I nurtured it.

“Maybe you should start a blog.” My wife said one night. She was no stranger to my writing habits of the previous six years. I had started a blog and stopped it with the intention of never returning to it ever again. She knew of my obsession with reading and dreams to be a published author. She had heard some of the hundreds of stories that waited to be released through my finger tips.

“Really?” I replied, quelling the spark of hope I felt in my chest. I had shared the thought with her some time back, but had immediately stopped any and all efforts towards it.

“Yes, try it.” She looked at me. For the first time in months I was able to look her in the eye. “Maybe you should stop doing all your other social media stuff while you’re at it too.”

And thus this blog was born. It’s been one of the most challenging years of my life. No, I have no diagnosis of depression, nor have I formed any disorders. I haven’t suffered from chronic depression my entire life. But over the past year I have felt my mental health crumble, and rebuild.


I am me. Incredibly imperfect and awkward in so many ways. I still feel the fingers of depression press in on me when more of life’s challenges come. I find myself in a trough of life, stuck between two waves as I watch friends and acquaintances move forward to the dreams I once thought I needed to be me.

I “failed big,” this last year. And now I have picked up the pieces of my life and am learning how to live. In this span of time I’ve come to some realizations about life and myself:

  1. I can no longer judge someone by the mistakes they make in their life.
  2. Depression deserves understanding, no matter what.
  3. Failure promotes growth.
  4. I cannot afford to waste time on being negative towards others, especially to those who fail. Everyone deserves to be understood.
  5. Why judge someone when you can learn from them?


Now, a year later I find myself satisfied as I watch my boys play knights and Star Wars with each other. I relish those moments when they pause and say, “I love you daddy.” I’ve never been as close to my wife as I am now. We’ve known one another for more than twelve years and now I feel like we finally understand each other. I’ve never been happier with my work as I help patients with their recovery. I write daily, well I should say nightly. And with this blog I’ve posted over 100 pieces. These pieces have in turn, reached over 50 different countries world wide.  I’m entering pieces of work into global and international competitions. There have been many kind and constructive words passed on to me by wonderful followers. In short, I’ve never felt more triumphant with my life than now.

There are times where I feel a darkness pass over my eyes, and my mind grow heavy with remorse. Memories from the past still haunt me, and may continue to do so for a while. It’s part of this experience we call life.

So if I can impart any kind of wisdom to you after writing all of these words, it’s this:

In this day and age, I feel our society doesn’t necessarily acknowledge that we have to struggle and fail. It is when we break down and make mistakes that we actually grow. With modern advances of social media and our ability to be constantly observed and in contact seems to demand perfection in our every day lives. But real life doesn’t work like that. We have to fail to become better.

Right now I find myself in a good area. I know hard times will always come and go. Life will present me with more challenges that may bring my depression back. I can’t say I know exactly what someone else with mental health challenges is going through, but I can say that my experience has taught me to have more compassion, respect, and understanding for those people who do.

When you come across another person, remember they are struggling through this day as well. We are all failures of one sort or another, imperfect and not without our blemishes. It does no one good to further that tarnishing. Just as we ourselves deserve kindness and light in our lives, so does everyone else.

And to finish, here’s a song I’ve adopted a while back as my theme song. Happy listening.
-M.E. Inkowl

Fatherhood


Born through a thunderstorm.

I heard your bawling voice call,

My heart left its cage of blood and bone.

It fell into your grasp as you reached,

Reached for comfort, identity, substance and meaning.

I held you close and kissed your face.

Forever a changed man.

A Phoenix of Spring


I have a hard time with Spring. There is so much struggle as the world extricates its living self from the frost covered hands of winter. I feel most raw in this season of extreme change. I find myself being ripped open, filled with the ice and despair of my winter. But then, when hope seems to flee into the waiting dark, my soul buds forth. And like a great living Phoenix rising from whitewashed ashes, I emerge, a lone shoot in the dregs of the world.

Rebirth. Renewal. Resurgence.

Thus is Spring.

Piper at Sunset

img_1255It was warm tonight, unusual for these parts to feel like the month of May. The sky was alive with great puffs and wisps of cloud that transected one another in a lazy fashion.

“Daddy come on! We’ve got to get to the park!” Ira said, pushing his plastic pedals as fast as they could go. I smiled as he sped away up the sidewalk. Before him the local elementary school stood reflecting the evening light.

“Park! Park!” Pipped in George, his little hands waving after his brother. I pushed his bike faster and he giggled with mad delight. It was an evening ritual we performed in our evenings, especially when the weather was good. There was a time right after dinner and just before bath time where the mosquitos were kept at bay for a time, and the little ones could romp insect free.

“Ira slow down bud!” I yelled, but he was already rounding the corner of the baseball fields and onto the jungle gym. A warm breeze kissed my face, and pulled at George’s white blond hair.

“Go, go!” He said, slapping his hand on the handle bar. I noticed with a pang of what could only be parental sorrow that the pudge around his wrists was receding. My little baby was growing up, too fast.

We cut across the soccer field, laughing as the bike jumped and bounced over uneven grass. Exiting the far side of the field we cut Ira off in his joy ride to the jungle gym. Unbuckling George I set him on his two feet and he was off running between the jungle gym bars and ropes.

Watching the two balls of energy rocket off around the area I breathed fresh air. Before me a range of sunlit mountains glowed purple. Snow topped each peak like glittering crowns.

It was beautiful. I found myself lost in thought and looked around for the kids. Ira was halfway to a smaller playground and George had found a banana shaped seat to sit on. He looked at me with a mixture of pride and satisfaction on his face. His bottom lip stuck out in triumph.

Behind us the setting sun dipped into the horizon, setting the sky aflame. For a moment I stood there, drinking in the world around me, and then an discordant noise cut through the calm.

“Is that a duck?” I asked George, tilting my head.

“Duck! Duck!” Echoed George, looking into the sky. But the sound shifted, more notes appearing in the air.

“No it can’t be a duck, maybe some geese.”

“Goose! Gooose!”

Turning round I noticed some children standing by the edge of the playground, next to the building. They were watching something with intent, their basketballs rolling away down the black top.

“Ira where are you?” I called. He was running a hundred meter dash, his little legs pumping with all their might. The sounds continued to come from over by the school building, so I grabbed George and headed in that direction.

About half way over to them, clear discernible notes reach my ears. They cut through the evening and made my heart jump.

Bagpipes!

I’ve always been fond of bagpipes, even as a small kid. Grabbing both kids I all but ran to the gathering crowd.

Nutmeg in the Kitchen

IMG_1252Flour spilled onto the counter top as I watched my mother rotate her thrashed electric egg beater in a massive plastic cookie dough bowl. They whirred and vibrated against the plastic edge. She was always so methodical  as she created. Her hands moving with precision as they reached through the maze of prepared ingredients.

“Michael, I forgot a spice, could you go grab it for me?” She said without a smile, her brow furrowed in concentration.

“Yes mom.” I said, noticing the front of her shirt speckled with brown sugar, butter, and eggs.

“Just grab the Nutmeg, it’s in one of the small containers.”  She turned back to her dough, pulling a slightly battered flour tin to the bowl. I walked through our small hallway kitchen and opened the spice cupboard. A dozen or so spices looked back at me.

On the other side of the stove mom started to hum a tune. I smiled. My favorite thing was to hear her sing as she baked. She’d always move the egg beaters and bowl in time with the melody.

“Found it yet?” Mom asked between breaths.

I knocked over a box of assorted herbal teas. From the depths of the cupboard I all but yelled, “Not yet.”

“Well it’s in there.” She said, now measuring baking powder, salt, and cinnamon into the batter.

Confident that I was now reaching further into the cupboard than should have been possible, my hand brushed against a small container.

“I got it!” I said with a smile. Mom waved me over and snatched the spice from my hands.

Still humming to herself, (it was Moonshadow by Cat Stevens). She opened the container, and shook in the spice.

For an moment I stopped and watched my mom there in her element. She had switched to using a spatula as oats and chocolate chips found there way into the mixing bow. Her elbows worked side to side as the bowl rotated around.  All the while a smell of nutmeg pervaded the kitchen as she created.

-M.E. Inkowl

Multi-Use Cookie Dough

I am a cookie-holic. I love baking them. In fact I love it so much, I’ve had to set boundaries and rules for myself so that I don’t bake twice a day. There’s something therapeutic in the process. More often than not I find myself asking others what kind of cookie I can make them (mainly my wife, kids, and family members). More often than not they’re all different and usually not what I want to bake. I’m a selfish baker too.

So I think I’ve come up with a solution for my selfish-baking-problems: Versatile Cookie Dough! This past Sunday while everyone was sick, I decided to try out this idea. Using my cooking/baking bible (Cook’s Illustrated THE NEW BEST RECIPE Revised Edition) I found a generic recipe for a thick and gooey chocolate chip cookie and started to work the magic.


It’s really not that complex. I made a full batch of the cookie dough sans chocolate chips. Then dividing it in half I placed both in separate containers. Realizing I wanted to make more than just two cookies I decided to make more. After mixing up a half batch I placed it in a bowl and then added the defining ingredients for White Chocolate Macadamia Nut, Classic Chocolate Chip, and Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookies.

***ATTENTION!! The oatmeal chocolate chip cookies did take a bit more effort on my part as I did add sour cream, spices, oats, and way too much flour causing them to end up looking like cake bites rather than cookies. I’ll probably elaborate later on this.***

Pretty much just make the following recipe as a 1.5 batch. (Or double if you want to make four kinds of cookies. I don’t know, you may be feeling spicy!)

 

The Generic Recipe:

Ingredients

3 Cups       all-purpose flour

3/4 tsp       baking soda

3/4 tsp        salt

18 tbsp        unsalted (or salted) butter – 2 1/4 sticks worth

1 1/2 cups    packed brown sugar

3/4 cups      granulated sugar

2 large         eggs and a yolk (If you can divide an egg perfectly in half, be my guest.)

3 tsp             vanilla ( I splash a bit more than I should in the dough every time.)

Add-Ins

For Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup             semi-sweet/milk chocolate chips

For White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies

1 cup             white chocolate chips

1/4 cup         macadamia nuts crushed

1 tbsp            lime zest (be generous with this to get some fun flavors into the cookie)

For Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 1/2 cup       dry quick oats

1 1/2 tsp        cinnamon

1/2 tsp         nutmeg

1 cup  semi-sweet/milk chocolate chips

Instructions

Pre-heat your oven to 325 degrees and prepare your 9×13 cookie pans. I usually use our Silpat, or parchment paper, less mess.

Mix melted butter, sugars, vanilla, and eggs together in large mixing bowl. Mix until incorporated, you don’t have to cream the butter. Next add dry ingredients. I’ve been told multiple times to use separate bowls, but come on do I have to use every dish in my house?No. After adding the flour, salt, and baking soda mix them all together until dough pulls away from the sides and forms a rough ball. Divide the dough into three separate balls.

Now the fun begins with adding your specific ingredients. For Classic Chocolate Chip cookies add desired chocolate chips in (about a cup, don’t skimp) and mix with a fork, or your fingers. For Macadamia Nut mix white chocolate chips, nuts, and lime zest and mix with a fork, or your fingers.

For Oatmeal cookies you have to do things a bit different. I found that the finished cookie dough was too dry to add the oats. I added about a tablespoon of sour cream, and played around with the amount of flour  until I came out with a good consistency. Well it wasn’t that good. From what I learned you probably want to only add maybe 1/3 cup of flour to the sour cream. Make sure the dough is more sticky and wet when compared to the other two. That way when they cook, your cookie will end up a nice oatmeal cookie consistency, instead of a weird cake-bite-thingy. After all that, don’t forget to add cinnamon, nutmeg, and chocolate chips.

Roll dough into balls 2-3 inches in diameter, maybe a bit larger than a golf ball. Then break each ball in half and place on pan. This will give your cookies that beautiful bakery texture that you’ve always been envious of with each bakery you visit. I usually fit 13 cookies to a pan.

Now bake your cookies! The book advises you to cook each batch for 12-14 minutes. However, I never follow cooking times. Instead I set my timer for 9 minutes and then for 3 minutes more. It depends on how you like your cookies. I like mine gooey and under-baked. If you like them more crisp, go ahead and try for 13 minutes. But I don’t dare you.

Wait one or two minutes after pulling out the tray to allow for cookies to rest. Then place on cooling rack, or plate. You should make about two dozen cookies with each unique batch. (For those of you trying to figure out the numbers like I always do that’s about 72 cookies.)

Now share the love or hoard it! It’s up to you! Feel free to post pictures of your creations here when you do! Happy baking.

-M.E. Inkowl

Under a Gibbous Moon

img_1185“Click.” Went the locks in my car as I walked away into the growing dark.

At last, alone.

I felt my body shake off the day’s grime as I stepped confidently out of the parking lot and onto the darkened pathway.

Not long now.

Before me stretched deep hues of twilight. Cobalt lines mixed with deeper ribbons of midnight blue and black. Reeds moved in the wind, whispering in the night. Their woolly tips shifting and dipping in and out of placid water.

I walked along the edge of a gently rippling mirror, framed in broken rocks and earth. Completely alone. Wind touch my hair, brushing against my skin as I walked around a bend.

Closer. It will happen at the close.

I alone watched the world succumb to night. City lights blinked and glowed, scattered like stars in the depths of the universe. Above me the moon wreathed itself in bruised clouds, dampening its ethereal light.

So much to change. I thought as memories overran my senses. The world. The stars in their heavens, all will change in a matter of moments. Because of me.

My feet stepped over aged asphalt, crackling with sound in the near silence. There was no feeling of impending doom, nor drowning in a sea of human sorrow. Just an individual, the nature of a living planet, and the void miles beyond.

When IT comes, will they know? Will they understand what is happening? Will I feel guilt finally? Will the future call me a Destroyer? A Savior? Or will these actions fuel an eternity of nonexistence?

I knew the path too well, like a childhood room. I closed my eyes knowing the placement of each pebble and roll. Their imperfections laid bare to my unseeing eyes. it was coming soon, the bridge. There it would be, at the close, when all would end. My senses communed with the physical world, touching and interacting as only a familiar could.

Now, without hesitation, plunge the knife, break the bone, bring awe to the universe once more. IT could wait no more. I am the gateway for the unleashed, for the inevitable.

My feet pressed against metal, cool reassurance for what must come. Taking of my shoes I felt my naked feet press into those unnatural grooves. Metal shaped by an imperfect hand drew me to the water’s edge.

I do this for the greater good. It must be done for a more perfect cause than what transpires before me.

Pulling off my cloak I tossed it to the ground, stepping further onto the bridge. My weight caused the structure to dip, sending rings throughout the pond. Shedding each layer of spun cloth, I felt the night kiss my mortal flesh, welcoming the proffered gift of my essence.

What I enact here, must be done as it has for infinity.

Opening my eyes I saw the edge before me. My pale skin shimmered in the liquid undulating before me, bare to the elements.

Speak the words you must. End this, now.

Skin prickling in waves I open my mouth and speak the unutterable. At once all is still. The air, water, flora and fauna, all pause as if to listen.

Now the submission.

Bowing my head I looked into transfixed water, and see all. A mortal husk, in the depths of immortality.

I yield my flesh.

With that final thought my body falls from its perch. For an eternity I hovered over fate, and then was consumed.

So I end, and IT begins.

-M.E. Inkowl

 

 

A Writer’s Block

IMG_20140805_163608

I shut the book, put down my pen, close the laptop and step out into the world.

Serenity.

Quietude.

Tranquillity.

My heart stirs under smooth bones, agitating calm waters.

Unsure.

Disquiet.

Perturbation.

A bird lifts from rippling glass, scattering framed images of the clouds.

Get you up.

Move you away.

Be you provoked.

I throw my hands to the sky and scream into the silence.

Urged to seek.

Reaching to discover.

Unbound to create.

Dragging a pen across paper, pressing finger tips to keys, I fracture a writer’s block.

-M.E. InkOwl

 

On the Edge of Wilderlands

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My bare feet pressed into stone slate floor as I stepped closer to the sliding glass door. Cool night air blew through an aged screen as the outside world grew in shades of darkness.
 
I paused, listening as my siblings crawled into their beds. My parents murmured goodnight and dimmed the lamps.  Before me the open world waited.
 
Wrapping an afghan tight around my body I lifted my hand to the screen latch and pulled. Aged plastic wheels rolled and bumped over pebbles and dust in it’s tracks. Wind came pouring in coursing around me.
 
A voice spoke in the twilight. “Michael Donis is that you?”
 
I felt both feet leave the floor at my grandfather’s voice.
 
“Grampa! I didn’t know you were out here!” I hissed, seeing his glasses flash with the last rays of daylight.
 
We stood there for a moment, staring one another. Grandpa smiled and looked up into the night sky, “Well boy, come sit down and look at the stars with me.”
 
“Yes sir.” I said, closing the door and stepping over to the porch swing. Before me the porch rail melted into shadow, merging into a vast stretch of black earth. Miles away the lights of a small city glowed, outlining the edge of mountains that ranged around us. As a seven year old I already felt small next to many of the adults in my life. But comparing that to the vast stretches of darkened rock I felt as a spec of dust on the wind. I sat down next to grandpa, wrapped in his favorite woven blanket.
 
Above us the sky filled with a thousand pin-pricks of light. My eyes open wider, trying to take in all the dancing stars
 
Grandpa leaned over, his voice quiet in my ear, “Makes you feel small, don’t it?”
 
I nodded, not taking my eyes from the sky. “Uh huh.”
 
He put an arm around me, tucking me into his side. Being a small child had it’s advantages, and I snuggled in close. His arm was warm and comforting there in the darkness. It was a solid presence in the shifting evening. Part of me wanted to be afraid, but the thump of his heart and even breathing calmed my nerves.
 
“There’s so many of them up there, Grampa.” I whispered, stretching my arm skyward, reaching for the heavens.
 
“Mmm-hmm.” Thrummed grandpa. He was a man of few words, and I loved it. Every word spoken by him was what he felt and meant.
 
Curiosity gripped my young mind and looked up at the outline of his face. “Grampa, do you ever feel small?”
 
He thought for a moment, staring up into the wheeling arm of the milky way. His arm squeezed me. For a moment we sat there with each other, looking on as the cosmos passed into infinity.
 
His voice fell on my ears with a gentleness that could only come from an understanding heart.
 
“I do, Michael, I do.”
 
 
 
 
 
 

-M.E. InkOwl

 

A Flower For My Love

I waited, deliberating over the explosion of flowers that lay before me. Overwhelmed isn’t a strong enough word to begin to describe the situation.
Hmmmmm. I thought, looking from plant to plant to plant. Reds, pinks, purples, yellows, every color shouted, “Pick me! I’m the one!”
But they weren’t. Not a single one.
“Errrrrrmmmmm . . .” I felt my eyes widen as my mind ground to a halt. All around me others moved around me, busy on their pre-Valentine’s day shopping spree.
“Can I help you sweetie?” Someone called from within the depths of the flowers. I hadn’t been called sweetie by a stranger since elementary school. All the teachers just called everyone that.
“Um . . . yes, I’m here to buy flowers.” Yeah it was lame. I was lame. It was the day before Valentine’s day and I was blanking on what kind of flowers to get the love of my life.
Stupid, come on. Think!
A woman popped up from behind a clump of green filler. She smiled at me and wove her way between the piles of flora.
“Well, I think you came to the right spot than mister.” She turned away from me and gestured at a gigantic cold room with freezer doors.  “Can I interest you in some of our pre-made arrangements?”
They were beautiful, placed perfectly every way you looked at it.
It’s too easy.
I shook my head and took a step closer to the mess of colors. “Naah, can I build a custom bouquet?”
The woman paused, lingering by the cold room door, as if to say, “Are you sure?”
Oh I was sure. I was going to be a man and build my own custom bouquet, just for my Valentine. I nodded.
“Okay what would you like to start with?” She began pointing out different flowers. Then the different filler. And then the different colors you needed to make to help the bouquet fill out.
My jaw dropped open. “Uuuuuhh”
What are you a caveman? I yelled in my head. Pick something already!
There was a pause.
“Let’s try those pink roses there, and then maybe some spider mums, some of those button thingies.”
The woman picked out each flower, fingers moving through the assorted field. All the while she kept up a running commentary. She told me how much I was spending, how the colors matched, and how much my true love was going to enjoy this bouquet.
I looked at the bouquet, and felt my heart drop.
“What? What is it?” She asked, noticing my crest-fallen face.
“It’s not right.”
She nodded her head and then obliged me.
“Don’t worry we’ll get it.” She said with a smile.
Three bouquets later I was in a bind.
“I’m so sorry. I am so so so sorry. I just can’t get this.” I shook my head and stepped back from the numerous displays. I could tell she was on the brink of exasperation. It was embarrassing.
“H-How, how am I suppose to pick out a bouquet for a woman I’ve been married seven years to, who’s given me two beautiful kids, and pushed me through heaven’s knows what?” I said it more for myself than the employee. It was one of those all too often moments of opening my mouth and speaking what I was thinking.
Something changed within the woman. She stepped closer to the flowers, looking intently at each container. “Well what does she really like? What kind of flower would she be if she was one?”
I looked at her, dumbfounded.
Duh! Think!
I scoured the flowers, mind trying to race. My eyes settled on bright yellow pedals. “She’d . . . she’d be a Lily. She isn’t like any other woman out there.”
The woman nodded, pulling out a glowing cluster of lilies.
“And she hates roses, no offense, but she think’s they’re cliche.”
The woman held her hands up, “Not offended at all, they’re always overpriced.”
Really?” I said, eye a bunch of long stemmed roses.
“Yes, but that’s besides the point. Go on.”
Blue caught my eyes as I settled on narrow looking flowers, “She loves irises. She’s always telling me about how she wants a clump to put in our yard, just to have them bloom for her under the window.”
A few Irises found their way into her hand.
Encouraged I continued to think out loud. “In our wedding bouquet she had some of those small white flowers. Are those Dahlias?”
“Nope, button mums, those will work perfectly. Keep going.” She was really getting into it. Her eyes almost picking out the flowers before I did. Her fingers positions each flower, filling her hand with a textured mix of beauty.
“How about throwing in this nice purple Stock?” Flowers were shoved under my nose and a complex aroma filled my nose. It was almost delicious.
“Yes, put it in. And maybe some of that pink filler . . .  stuff?”
She smiled at me, “You got it sweetie. I think that brings it to your price right?”
“Yup it does.” I said with a nod of relief, it was done.
“Good, we’ll see you tomorrow then.”
Unfortunately for them they would, “Yes. I’ll be by to pick them up. Thank you so much.
“You’re welcome. You know, she’s got a pretty good man by her side.”
Her words weren’t flirtatious, just observant. I smiled and said, “Well I can’t rightly say that I’m pretty good, but I do know I don’t deserve her.”
With a modest smile the woman shook her head. “Sounds like you both got lucky finding each other.”
I couldn’t help my grinning from ear to ear. “You have no idea. She is my life.”
She appraised me for a moment, looking from the flowers on her table to me. “Good. Get home and make sure you tell her that.”
“Will do.” I said paying for the flowers. I stepped out of the shop thinking about my wife and smiled.
-M.E. Inkowl