Welcome Home

I’m woefully delayed on this post, but I figure better late than never. Made it back to the United States a few days ago, and Wow. What a trip. If you read my post earlier on how the voyage over went, I can tell you that this one went a lot smoother. No terrible illnesses. No deadly silent drivers taking me through some of the seediest places in India on my way to who-knows-where. Just a straight-up trip back. Watched some movies (Star Wars, Deadpool, Kung Fu Panda 3), avoided eating, and then got the great joy of hugging my wife and kids in the airport.

Some closing thoughts:

1) We truly take for granted the luxuries we have in the United States, and we’ve somehow lost some qualities of compassion along the way. Example: I went out to eat with some of the co-workers… I had way too much food. It was delicious, but I was stuffed. I planned to pitch it. One of my co-workers grabbed it and had it boxed. He said he’d give it to somebody, and I thought he meant take it back to the office. Instead, he handed it to an elderly lady (either homeless or at least jobless) on the steps outside the restaurant. It really makes me think back to the “What We Throw Away” post I put up on the Perfect-The-Days blog. Over here, we’d pitch it to the trash. This is just one example, but there were so many more. Children digging through the endless piles of garbage along the streets. Even the idea of government assistance for those who cannot provide for themselves. The man who drove me around had a monthly salary of less than what it cost me to stay in my hotel for two days… And he was the primary income for his family. And yet, when I tried to tip him, he was embarrassed and a few days in started turning it down (truly insisting, even saying “Please, no more tip.”). I continued to offer each day, and he eventually accepted… But the difference is staggering.

So many luxuries that we don’t think about… I won’t say if it’s right or wrong, but I do think it’s important for us to think about them.

2) I did in fact find something to eat. I’ll have a whole post up later about food. But I surprisingly didn’t lose the kind of weight I thought I would. I guess enough rice and chicken to keep me “healthy.” More than just the food, the attitude towards eating. In the US, eating is often a chore we fit around other things. The idea of drive-thru’s came about because we are always hurrying from one place to the next, and it was convenient to grab and go. In Hyderabad, there were only two places with Drive-thru’s at all, and both were American restaurants.

The difference comes from how they perceive a meal. Some is immediately noticeable in the way the dinner menu works: You have soups. You have starters (which seemed pretty granted that you’d be getting). You have a main course. And you often don’t order each until you’ve finished the prior. This is because conversation is the most important part of every meal. You eat as a way to connect with your colleagues. Even breakfasts and lunches were communal gatherings where a dozen people from the office (and often mixings of different group members) gather and go off for a while together to eat.

Another difference here would be the hours people eat. In the US, breakfast is typically around 7-8, lunch somewhere inside 11-1, and dinner (supper) is almost always over by 7 except in weird “working late” situations. In India, the breakfast might start around 9/9:30, lunch didn’t usually start until 1, and supper isn’t until 8 or 9. Restaurants won’t even open until 7 in most cases. Bizarre!

3) Traffic. I mentioned this when I first arrived, but I wanted to add to it. A friend of mine in India told me that there’s one big difference between US drivers and Indian drivers. In the US, we drive watching to make sure we don’t hit anybody else. In India, you drive watching to make sure nothing else hits you. The difference sounds funny, but is a huge distinction. For example, in three weeks, I didn’t see a single accident. In the US, I often see 3-5 accidents a week, and I drive a lot less here than we did there. This is because in India, people are constantly aware of things going on around them. You never know, somebody could come burrowing up from the Earth, and as a driver, you want to watch for it (and check to see if this new tunnel gets you around the giant congestion just ahead). In the US, you can put the car on autopilot… Check your phone. Read your email. Text you girlfriend… Get into a wreck.

Additionally, the roads in India did not have the same kind of planning around them. Religious structures are protected, so roads often zigzag around structures declared to be a temple (for any number of the many faiths present in India). Drainage is a huge problem. Lakes formed on common roads because the water had nowhere to go. This certainly made drives interesting.

4) I had never truly felt homesick until this trip. I’m a home-body by nature. I don’t like going out. If you read my first India post, I’ve never had much interest in seeing the world. My home is my castle, etc, etc. I write this just to say that I’m almost always ready to go home as soon as I get out. But even with this being the truth, I had no idea what homesickness truly felt like. Everything I had felt before was just an annoyance. After around the two week mark, I learned this truth. True homesickness is when you can’t stand everything around you… from the smell of the laundry, to the view out your window, to the taste of the air. I was fed up with the politeness and courtesy. All of the meals had begun to taste exactly the same (which is really just not true!). I didn’t want to leave my hotel, and I hated staying in it. It was really bad.

Overall it was a great trip. Eye-opening and an exceptional opportunity that I wouldn’t trade.

And yes… It was hot.

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Almost Regret

My mother hasn’t met either of her grandchildren. She also hasn’t met my wife, or seen the house we built after getting married. She didn’t come to my graduation from college, and didn’t call me to congratulate me on my rapid climb through corporate America. She hasn’t done any of these things because she died at age 42 while I was a junior in college.

Losing my mom so young definitely changed the way I think about life, and it certainly made a big impact on me… A very special bond existed between my mother and I. We were kindred spirits in many ways… from the books we read to the way we dealt with conflict. Her death probably damaged my psyche in a way that led me to some pretty self-destructive decisions in college (that I ultimately recovered from)… More on that later.

It could have been so much worse.

A bit of backstory.  I grew up fairly poor. My dad fell apart from over-work and eventually harder and harder drugs, which meant that life got stretched pretty thin. My mom did the best she could with the money he chose to give us. She was a stay-at-home mom, and I’m grateful for that, but there were plenty of weeks when my sister and I were walking a couple miles down the road to the grocery store because cans of tunafish and macaroni were a better purchase than gas.

That said, right around middle school, I stopped being able to get all the things my friends could. I couldn’t go on field trips that carried a parent out-of-pocket expense. I couldn’t get the cassettes (woah, dated) or later CD’s that they did. I didn’t have cool toys or the latest games on the Super Nintendo. It left me a little bitter.

College was a breakout for me. My mother was fairly disappointed because she had wanted me to live at home and commute the way my sister did… But that wasn’t going to be my life. I wanted to get away and learn who I was… not continue in the crap I had been going through. Scholarships and student loans let me escape poverty and pretend I was just another student. I lived on campus and it was great. The beginning of each school year flushed me with a bunch of money for books and living expenses that I would inevitably blow within the first month of the semester starting. The only hiccup was a process that happened every year called “Verification.”

Normally, this wasn’t a big deal. We (my sister and I) were somehow ALWAYS “randomly” selected to submit additional documentation to verify our income was in fact as low as we reported. No biggie. Mom didn’t work, so not a whole lot of paperwork to turn in.

For some reason, my junior year, it didn’t go smooth. I had to go meet with the some people in the financial aid department to discuss my situation. I waited in a really long line the weekend before classes started and finally got to talk to my representative, some gray-haired old man that wasn’t really interested in going off-script for anything. I arrive, and he tells me:

“I’m sorry, but we just don’t understand how a family of 5 could survive on this little income.”

I try to explain my situation to him. He’s not hearing it. I’m more flabbergasted because the federal government has already agreed to give me the money. The documents I sent to them were enough. This was just some secondary thing my university was doing.

Unfortunately, despite my best efforts to explain, he waves me off and tells me he doesn’t have time to go into it with me. Then he offers me the golden ticket: The university will grant me what they call an “Emergency Loan” that will cover tuition and get me through the first month while I sort out my issues. It’s a no interest loan due exactly one month after issue… If not paid in full at that time, the interest defaults up to some astronomical number (25% or something like that) compounded as often as they legally can.

Shouldn’t be an issue, gray-hair tells me… Once my student loan money clears up, that pays off the loan and we don’t skip a beat. They can even pump it up a bit to cover books.

This sounds like exactly the thing I need.

My golden ticket has a catch though. It needs a co-signer.

At this point, my world screeches to a halt. I did what any self-respecting college student does in situations like these… I called family for help.

And was denied. By my grandmother. By my aunt. By my uncles.

By my mother.

Ouch. I can look back now and realize that my mom co-signing probably wouldn’t have been enough to approve the loan and it’s possible she tried to tell me that, but all I heard at the time was “I’m not going to help you.” We argued a bit about it, and she basically said that if I had to drop out, I could move back home. I was fairly irritated since it felt like this was some nefarious plan she had concocted the day I had left home. The last words spoken on the call were mine:

“Fine, that’s okay. I’m used to not getting any help from you on anything.”

She hung up on me.

The school thing sorted itself out. I worked for the department of housing, and had made a really good impact there. They were able to expedite several things for me (perhaps more than even I knew). Maybe I’ll throw some memories on that later. Regardless, my schooling was paid for and I launched in with no issues, except one. The landmine that had been dropped between me and my mom.

Months went by, I refused to call her and she refused to call me. I didn’t go home on weekends. I had effectively cut myself off from my family, with my sister being my only real connection. My sister called me multiple times and told me that Mom constantly cried over the fact that I avoided her. My sister pleaded that I just call mom and talk to her. I wouldn’t do it.

“She hung up on me. If she wants to talk, she can call me back.”

Pride. Stubborn, terrible pride. The tragedy was, I missed talking to her too, but I wasn’t going to be the one to yield.

Until one day I finally decided to swallow that terrible pride and call. We didn’t really touch on the whole emergency loan thing, but we caught up on everything else. I talked about how school was going. She did the same (she was in classes to try and build a career for herself). We talked about my little brothers, TV shows we both watched, books we had recently read. That call ended with “I love you.”

She died a week after that call. Sudden heart-attack.

I remember my aunt picking me up at college to drive me to the hospital, ominous and speechless in the car. She hadn’t told me that my mother had died, just that she fallen and gone to the hospital. I think I worked it out on the way there, my sister’s pale face and lack of words on the drive may have been the clue. Regardless, she was gone… So young, and so many conversations between us that would never be had.

I am sad she didn’t get to meet my family or see the man I’ve grown to be. I regret the anger I held for her for months before her death. But I would have regretted them a lot more if I hadn’t swallowed pride and picked up the phone to talk. I’ve learned in the long run, fault doesn’t really matter. It could be her fault, my fault, nobody’s fault… But holding onto that just leaves regrets. And just may cost you a chance to connect with somebody important to you. How much is that worth? Should we cut off noses to spite our faces? I’m glad I didn’t, because it’s a very thin line (but an extremely painful one!) between a life-time of regret, and a life-time of almost regret.

Welcome to India

I’ve now been in India a day. I really would like to share a bit of this journey. Skyline

Skyline from view from 25th floor lounge

I promise some of the later blogs will have more pictures of things, but I wanted to get this post out. Today’s post will focus on my trip.  First things first:

Business Class Rocks.

My company is paying for my trip so they sent me Business class, and I’m not going to lie… It’s awesome. Lots of leg space. Roomy seat. Personal movies programmed into the TV in front of me, fully reclining seats (turn into beds). Table-cloth treatment at meal times. Lots of overhead bin space. A care package. Real white glove treatment.

That was one of the only two highlights of the trip. Everything else about the trip ranks in the bottom 10 experiences of my life.

Back to the trip. It begins where life got complicated because of a friend of mine in India wanted me to bring a toy for his boy’s birthday. It was purchasable on Amazon in the US, but he couldn’t get it in India. I agreed to transport. I didn’t realize the luggage allowance for an international flight was lower. US Standard linear size is 62 inches… International flights (at least Emirates) cuts that to 59. That means my large luggage is oversized, and work isn’t going to pay the $175 (each way) for the oversize. So I had to take two smaller suitcases, one of which contained only the toy for my friend.

Next problem came with my luggage locks. Something weird happened and the combinations changed after I locked them (I promise I didn’t just forget them!). I had to get two cut off at the airport, in a miserable wait at security because I couldn’t get my laptop out of the bag.  Even after getting here, I had to go through one combination at a time until I found the right one (Only took 185 tries… Literally). Annoying, but bearable.

Got on the flight, and it had all the amazing-ness above. That was a 16 hour flight from Chicago to Dubai, which brings me to the second highlight. Dubai has an amazing airport. I think it’s the largest airport in the world, and it really is incredible. It’s like a mall… more than a mall inside an airport. Amazing.

Everything went downhill from there.

I wanted to eat in Dubai, but my work was covering via American Express, and none of the shops accepted it. So I’m stuck eating a bag of snacks I bought in Chicago. Miserable dinner. And things got worse.

I think I must have gotten food poisoning from the airplane food… I was worried about food/water problems (brought Pepto bismul tablets and immodium), but I expected that to start after I got to Hyderabad. This hit me right after Dubai… So about 16 hours into my journey. Nausea overwhelmed me, cold sweat, dizziness. Horrible Diarrhea. I won’t disgust you with the details, but if you can imagine it, I probably dealt with it. Terrible.

Got into Hyderabad at 2:45 in the morning. After some quality time in the bathroom, the trip through security had turned into enormous lines. Got through those, and found out I need to fill out a form. Filled that out, and then had to go through again.

Oi. Got out of the airport, reclaimed my bags, and then went to find my driver. After ignoring the throngs of people trying to sell trinkets or services, I made it to the exit, where a dude with a piece of paper with (I think) my name on it was waiting. I wave him, he wadded up the paper and shook my hand. Then he grabbed my bag and ran. Not in a thieving way… Just set a wicked pace. With each step, I worried whether or not I had the right guy.

Even worse, as he begins to drive, we take some of the seediest, darkest roads in India (I extrapolate this; I don’t have those facts… But man it looked pretty scary). Got to the hotel. Next post: I’ll share my first five impressions of the differences I’m seeing.

What’s the worst trip you’ve taken?

Sleeping through the Night

I find myself recently reflecting on my children.  I have two daughters.  At the time of writing this, my oldest is four, and my youngest is two.  I’m constantly amazed at how physically resilient they are.  I keep expecting them to be more fragile than they are.

Today’s memory goes back to the birth of my first daughter.  She actually started sleeping through the night at 6 weeks.  Great, right?  How that came about was a little more scary.

I thought I killed my six week old daughter.

My wife had needed an emergency cesarean to deliver our baby.  It was a pretty scary night and next few days, but ultimately both mother and daughter came home.  Once they had, we ended up moving into the basement.  It’s a finished basement, so it wasn’t like we were living industrial.

We moved down there because I had awesome bachelor couches.

Once we bought the house, I had to move all my old furniture to my man-cave basement, as my wife replaced them with prettier couches upstairs.  My couches were a sort of dark mud brown color, but what made them great was that they had high backs and could be turned into recliners.  I guess I found them more endearing than my wife.  But as it turned out, the recliner was a lot better for her sleep.

One of the other problems with these couches was that bachelor days had abused them.  I often sprawled over the arms of the couch, and as such, they had slowly been coming away from the rest of the couch over the years.  This meant a pocket had opened between the seat and the arm… A pocket that often claimed loose change, wallets, cell phones, etc.

Oh yeah, And my kid.

So during those early weeks, mom and dad are waking up every two hours to handle feedings and carry the baby around the room singing so she’ll go back to sleep… All that good new parent stuff.  We had our wakeup schedule on an alarm on my phone.  Usually my daughter slept in her rocker/crib, but sometimes we’d fall asleep holding her.

In this case, she was tucked in my left arm like a football, and that’s how I fell asleep.  around midnight or one.  The alarm was set to go off at 3.  I silenced it in my sleep, and the wife and I slept right through it.

Sometime during that sleep, baby Jessica slides down from my arm into the mechanical gears of this recliner couch.  The rays of the sun wake me up around 6 am.

No baby.

My first thought is panic.  Where’s the kid?  I look over; wife doesn’t have her.  She’s still sleeping away.  I look around.  Thankfully, I didn’t close the recliner; this might have been a different story.  Instead I look down and see the top of her head poking up from the space between the seat and the arm.

I want to throw up.  I’m confident I’ve killed our child.  How do I wake up my wife and tell her I killed our 6 week old baby girl?

I pull Jessica up out of the couch and hold her, sickness settled into me.  She’s missed two feedings and has been cramped inside the couch for who-knows-how-long.  What kind of crap father am I?  Do you go to jail for this kind of thing?  Despair is pretty overwhelming as I look over and start to reach out to my wife to wake her.  Then I notice Jessica breathing.

She opens her eyes and smiles.

First thought here is relief.  Then panic again… Why is she smiling (they all say it’s gas… but no… Couldn’t be gas, could it)?  I guess I brain-damaged her.

She turned out okay.  Wife panicked when I woke her, and while Jessica was hungry, she was no worse for wear from her experience.  A slightly larger than average feeding later, and Jessica was settling back into to go to sleep again.  I changed the diaper and bundled her back up into some swaddling cloth and then set her down to sleep.

In her rocker this time.

She pretty much slept 5-6 hours a night after that, and even now, she tends to be a good sleeper.   How long before your kids slept through the night?  Any new parent stories you’d like to share?

Fire

Here’s the second entry in my memory series.

I’m reasonably confident that fire is out to get me.  Maybe I shouldn’t be… since I haven’t been “gotten” yet, but I’ve had enough run-ins.  I’m going to review a few of those here.

Burning down the House

I was terrified of Thunderstorms for a long time.  In fact, whenever I heard thunder, I would go into the pantry and grab one of those black yard trash bags and load up all my favorites toys and clothes in it so that I wouldn’t lose them.

In 1986, my family took a trip to a creek that was about an hour away from the house.  This was a pretty routine occurrence in my childhood.  My dad and lots of his friends would back some trucks up and play rock and roll while getting drunk and rowdy and pretending like they were fishing.  Through this, the kids would swim at the old watering hole with the tire swing hanging from the tree over the creek.

Away from the vegetation of the creek, there was an expanse of exposed granite, giant white and gray and blue rocks that got so hot you couldn’t stand on them without hopping around.  My sister and I used to pretend that we were on the moon.

That day in 1986, the moonrock wasn’t that hot because it was pouring rain.  In general, we didn’t mind it.  The creek was a little more fun to splash in, and you weren’t diving into a cold river… since you were already cold from the rain.  However, when thunder started all the kids were kicked out of the creek and loaded back up into the cars to head home.

I don’t remember when this happened, but I remember a family friend told us our house was on fire, and my dad laughed him off.  He insisted and we hurried on.

We were passed by several fire trucks on the way home.

The house was an orange and yellow beacon reaching into the sky, accented with black ghosts of studs and supports.  I didn’t really smell the fire as we approached, but it filled my nostrils as we got out of the car.  That bitter, acrid smell of melting plastic combined with the rich wood smell you might get out of a fireplace.

Lightning had struck the tree out on the cliff and burned a hole right through it.  The tree directed the blast to my bedroom and torched it.  I don’t know if that was true, or just what people told me and I happened to hang onto.  I was told my dog had hidden under my blue metal framed bed, its paint peeled and rusted (She lived!)

Not a whole lot survived that fire.  There was a box of photographs in an old red tin; I think my sister still has it.  Some of them survived, but most are filled with people I no longer remember, or at best, people I have memories of remembering.  Most are warped or stained with tan or black seers.  There was also a small stuffed frog; the only toy I had from before the fire.  His name was Serinski, and he was actually the password a stranger was supposed to know if he was being honest with us.  No one ever used it.

The last thing to survive was our pets.  The dog and the cat (along with her kittens) were all outside the house.  I never learned who rescued them, but at the time I remember being profoundly grateful for it.

Laundry Room

We didn’t have a deck.  Well, scratch that.  We had a small landing.  It had rotted somewhat so my dad tore it down and replaced with with this massive deck he built himself over the course of the week.  My dad worked for a telephone pole company and brought home a lot of materials that he used to build this thing, including 3 telephone poles.

Don’t get me wrong… The thing was pretty redneck looking.  The wood wasn’t measured or even the same color in places.  Odd bits jutted out here and there, and he had multiple layers of plywood covering the top of it.  It was awesome.  He used to joke that we could have a party and the house could fall down, but that deck wouldn’t go anywhere.

I still believe that.

The county didn’t feel that way, however.  He got a notice that he built a deck without a permit, and had to tear the whole thing down.  It was a real shame.

So what does this have to do with fire?  Our laundry room was the room connected to the back door, where the deck had once been.  Now it was sort of a giant drop off once you went out the door.  One day, I opened the door to the drier, and flames shot out at me.

This could have been House Burning 2 – The Revenge.  My dad was faster than that.  He was in the kitchen (connected to the laundry room) and saw the flames.  He shoved me out of the way, diving over 15 foot high piles of clothes to reach the drier.  He opened the back door and physically launched this thing from the house.

The only thing I can say about this… I know I had put a scoop of laundry soap into the drier by mistake.  Just got into weird habits.  I carried this secret with me for a long time, thinking I’m the one that cost us our $50 previously owned drier.  I’ve since googled this, and learned that it probably had nothing to do with it… But I still felt bad.

Only you can Prevent Forest Fires

This one is a bit shorter, and a little less meaningful.  We had neighbors move in next door during my last year or two in that house.  I guess they wanted to reclaim their yard, so they set the forest beside it on fire.  I remember going out there and watching horrified as it burned.

I also remember seeing my then best-friend Jesse walking among the burning embers trying to dig some ruts to prevent additional spread.  Of course, I think the authorities thought he did it… But then, he was sort of a pyro.

Night Fires

After we had moved out of that house and away from my father, I lived in the basement of my grandmother’s house.  She had this little office with wall mounted bookshelves lined with (ironically) books on writing – She was an English professor.  I wish I had spent some time reading those… Instead, they simply blanketed every wall of this office, nearly floor to ceiling, and grew moldy.  The whole place stank of mildew, a disgusting wet odor that I’m sure has filled my lungs with some kind of growing black crap that will never leave.

I didn’t have a bed initially… Well, scratch that.  I did.  It was this little rickety cot that had half the springs popped… which then decided to all point upwards.  Instead of a mattress, it had something comparable to packing foam.  I woke up every morning covered in scratches where the metal had ripped into me while I slept.  It was miserable.  After about 3 months, I opted to sleep on the floor.

I had a few bedspreads and quilts spread on the floor beneath one of the bookshelves that gave me about 1/4 inch of elevation off the ground.  I had no dresser or chest of drawers (which were the same thing to me until I met my wife after college and learned how uncouth I was).  My clothes were folded in a pile next to my “bed” and directly underneath one of the mounted bookshelves.  On top of that pile, I kept my reading lamp.

It was one of those black snake lamps, capable of being twisted in all kinds of weird angles.  It was meant to hold a 15 watt bulb or something like that, but Grandmother didn’t stock them so I had a nice bright 90 watter in there.  I fell asleep reading one night.

I continued to wake up with a scratchy through… And my nose was assaulted with this nasty sulfur smell.  I didn’t think much of it… I wanted to sleep.  In those days, I was up too late working at the Taco Bell, or playing video games… So nasty smells and throat pain wasn’t going to get me up.  I tried to ignore it until I no longer could.  Finally, I got up.  The room was hot, and I needed a glass of water.  It was dark.  I staggered over to the lightswitch and flipped it on.

The light in the room didn’t change.  I think “what the hell,” bulb’s burned out.  So I open the door to the hall.  That’s when I notice the huge cloud of smoke go rolling out.  I look back into the room and see thin orange wires of fire half-obscured by the smoldering black remains of my laundry.  My sleep-clouded mind decides the most important thing is to stop the source.  I go unplug the lamp by yanking the plug from the wall.

Bad idea.  It sends up a spark that sets the whole wall of moldy books on fire.

My mom’s door was next to mine.  I opened it and casually told her I’d set the house on fire…. But not to worry, I was handling it.

Ironically, the bathroom was across the hall from me, and we had one of those hose things fastened into it so that you could bathe your dog.  It was enough to stretch into the bedroom, and I was able to spray enough to prevent any spread, and a few pitchers of water later, things were completely out.

The house stank for months.  I haven’t been back there in a while, but I’d be willing to bet that basement still smells like fire and smoke.

College Flames

I didn’t really have money to afford campus housing, and I refused to live at home with the family (that caused some issues… Another memory on that later).  One of the ways I offset this was by working for the housing department.  I was an RA (we called them Peer Leaders; same thing except we got to have a freshman roommate).

My first year as a Peer Leader, I was scheduled to be in a condemned building.  It wasn’t exactly condemned, but they were closing it midway through the semester and gutting it.  I got to learn why.

The power ran in stripes stapled to the outside of the walls.  The power outlets were likewise boxes attached outside the wall.  One of these was under my desk, which was fastened to the wall as well.

There was a lot going on with this building.  I remember going into the bathroom and turning on one of the faucets and watched them all come on.  Great stuff.

Anyways, we got there before all the residents did and spent some time along in our building.  One night, I was at my desk, lots of paperwork spread out related to the new year, and my new role.

I’m one of those people that fidget a lot.  I bite my fingers til they bleed.  I bounce my knee like its vibrating.  I also kicked my feet.  I accidentally kicked one of those converter boxes under my desk.  The outlet above my desk began to spray sparks at me.  I pulled away quickly, but not before some of the paperwork on the desk caught fire.  At this point, I was an old pro at resisting the impending fires, so it was an easy feat to splot it out with one of my towels.

—-

There are a few honorable mentions as well that were caused by me, but I’ll leave those for another time.  Hope you enjoyed these memories.

Memories – The Cliff

The first slice of my life I’d like to share goes back to my childhood.

We lived on about 3/4 an acre in a town just outside Atlanta. Although we technically only owned a small slice of land, that land backed up to a massive forest, completely with its own creek and and wildlife and log bridge. It had all the good stuff kids need for a spending all day outside.

You just had to go down the cliff to get there.

Our property ended at a cliff. I don’t mean some little dropoff or a step down. I mean a multi-story fall that reasonable people would have put a fence up to block (and one of our neighbors ultimately did). As a kid, I would have sworn the thing was a hundred feet, although looking back as an adult, it probably wasn’t much more than thirty. The cliff was a soft gray-green color. You could look back and see the house from the top of the cliff, but more than that you could see down into the playground of my childhood.

Directly below the cliff ran a small creek that in some parts you’d do little more than get your feet and ankles wet, but in others it opened up into a full-on swimming hole.

The base of the cliff held the former. There were lots of jagged rocks with the water flowing around them. Ten or twenty feet away was a giant smooth round rock with a mossy green hide that we used to call “Turtle Rock.” The water pooled around it and we used to catch horny head fish with bread there as a means of wasting long summer days. I never ate the fish, but it was something to do.

There were four ways to get down the cliff.

The first way took you to the right, and far away from Turtle Rock and the fishing hole. It led you down a relatively cleared forest trail to the backyards of the subdivision with what I considered the rich kids. You went that way when you were heading out to the swimming area with the log bridge.

To the left was another long, cleared path down to a quartet of large angular rocks that would wobble when you stepped on them. The fourth created a sort of slide down into the water that we used to sit on and dangle our feet into the cold stream, knee-deep stream.

The next two paths are the ones of more interest. The most direct way up and down the cliff was to scale it. The area was generally a thick pine forest dotted with your occasional oaks or other deciduous life and small bramble bushes, but the top of the cliff in our backyard was cleared away save for a single tree. Some of the older kids, used to climb up in that tree (I want to say it was a beech tree) with its branches reaching out over the steep and sudden drop. There was a giant black ring probably fifteen feet up put there by a bolt of lightning (the same that burned my house to the ground – Another story). The truly brave (or foolish) would climb up to that spot and see the entire world.

This tree had roots that wove in and out of the cliff face going down about half the way. A strong climber could grab these roots. Below the roots, the climber had to make do with the myriad of rocks jutting out of the side. My sister, being older and in better shape, was able to climb up and down this route long before I was able to, but eventually I was scaling like an old hand.

Before I could use it, however, I had to make do with the fourth path. This one was somewhere between the one on the left and the direct scaling. It began at the four rocks, but rather than going up a lengthy trail through the woods to the top, it went up a narrow walkway along the side of the cliff. This walkway was maybe a foot or two wide and constantly covered in pine straw. This often made your footing unsure, so you would hold onto one of the many roots and rocks popping out of the cliff face for balance. Even at the end of this path, you had to do climbing, but it was probably less than ten feet, all highly supported by the tangle of roots from the beech tree.

When I was 10 or 11, I thought it was time to have a new path up and down this cliff. My sister and I had been going up the narrow path along the cliff and I decided to make a direct climb about halfway along it. I was shoeless for this endeavor; we had often shucked our shoes at the top of the cliff to prevent them from getting wet or muddy. My sister continued up the path normally, but I was going to make the climb somewhere long before the standard.

This was going to be our new path.

I began my ascent. There were probably fifteen feet above me and fifteen below; maybe more. I had never had a problem with heights, but the climb was pretty nerve-wracking. Everything I grabbed seemed to pull right out of the wall. And the wall wasn’t a thick, hard rock. It was a combination of soil and rock, and often crumbled away as you worked on it. And that wasn’t considering the pine straw clinging to the side like a shirt. So I cleared straw and leaves, and tested rocks and roots to find just what would support me.
And up I went.

My sister reached the top long before I did. She stood at the top and watched me climb one grip at a time until I had very nearly reached the end. I had devised a plan, and we now had a new way up and down this cliff.
Until my plan failed. The last thing I grabbed was a small bush, some undergrowth standing on its own at the edge of the precipice. I grabbed it and immediately wished I hadn’t. It was some kind of thorny bush. My right hand jerked free of the cliff side and my feet fell out from under me. I was dangling over a massive cliff holding only to a thorn bush for life.

I don’t know how long I hung there. I was screaming, but no one would hear. It was the middle of the day in the middle of summer. My mom might have heard if she was paying attention, but if she had windows shut, she’d never know. My sister was paralyzed. She stood watching me in horror. I remember staring at my thumb, watching the nail turn black as blood flowed under it. I’d never make it.

Then a miracle happened. My dad came home from work early that day. He normally turned the truck around in the backyard before parking and heard me screaming. He dove from his truck and raced to the top of the cliff where he saw my sister staring at my shrieking form. He reached down and grabbed my free hand, pulling me to safety and life.

I don’t remember if I got in trouble for this or not. We certainly weren’t barred from the creek and the cliff… But I never tried finding a new path again.