The Transplant

The warmth of the sun was something Henry had become unfamiliar with over the course of his treatment for bone marrow cancer treatment. He had spent a year mostly confined to the hospital bed. Now, just months after a successful bone marrow transplant, he sits atop a rock on a mountain overlooking the Los Angeles Basin, enjoying the warmth of the sun on his face.

Henry’s daughter, Nancy, sits down next to him and embraces him with a hug that radiates more warmth than the sun on his face. “I miss mommy,” she says.

Tears stream down his face as he recalls how much his wife had courageously battled skin cancer just one year before his own battle. She had not been so fortunate. “I know, honey. I miss her too, but I know she’s in a better place,” Henry sobs.

As they walk back to Henry’s car, he pulls his keys from his jacket pocket and taps Nancy on the arm and displays the keys in his open palm. Nancy looks down at the keys and then up at her father with wide eyes, “Are you serious daddy?”

“I’m as serious a bone marrow cancer, sweetheart!” He smiles.

Nancy frowns and looks down, “That’s not funny, daddy.”

“I’m sorry, sweetheart. I know these last five years have been hard on you. I’m trying to find humor though. I know it was more scary for you than it was for me. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be 16, having just lost your mother and having a father with both feet in the grave. I’m well now.” He pauses as he lifts his daughters chin with his hand, “That’s something I’m dead serious about.”

Nancy cracks a smile as she takes the keys from her father’s hand, “You know how I know you’re feeling better, daddy?” She starts walking towards the driver’s side of the car.

“What’s that, sweetheart?”

She chuckles, “Because you’re back to telling lame dad jokes like,” she switches to a mocking voice, “That’s something I’m dead serious about”. You’re such a dork, and I love you so much. Wouldn’t it be ironic that you survive bone marrow cancer only to die from letting your daughter drive you down a mountain?” She gets in the car.

Henry runs up to the passenger door and opens it and jumps inside. “Okay, that’s not very funny!” He says as he closes the door and puts on his seat belt.

#

“Remember, I’m just a short drive away, sweetheart,” Henry says to Nancy as she awkwardly stands in front of her on-campus dorm building.

She smiles, “Yes, daddy. I already promised to visit you on each of the days you listed in your email.”

“You didn’t mark the email as SPAM did you?”

“Oh my God! Of course not, daddy! You are the most important thing in the whole world to me!” Nancy says as she throws her arms around him and hugs him tighter than she ever has. “I know it’s not going to be easy for you to be home all by yourself. You can call me or text me at any time if you need someone to talk with.” Henry smiles as he embraces his daughter one last time before he makes the short hour-long drive back to his house from her college.

As he’s pulling into the driveway of his house, he has a sudden and disturbing vision flash before his eyes. He’s startled out of the vision as his car hits his garage door. Henry sits in his car, trying to comprehend what just happened. He looks up at the front end of his car smashed a foot-and-a-half into his garage door and again sees the same vision of a leg of a woman on an operating table with all of the skin removed from the shin, exposing the bone which has the top layer of bone surgically removed. He can see the bone marrow inside of the bone and bloody tissue all around the bone as a medical assistant uses a bloodied cloth to soak up the blood that oozes from the tissue.

He shakes his head and puts his car in reverse to pull it away from the garage door. After inspecting his car and the garage, he goes into his house and calls doctor Rascher to report the unusual incident. At the end of the conversation, Henry’s doctor recommends a psychologist to Henry, and he sets up an appointment for two weeks later.

#

Henry anxiously taps his heel as he’s biting his fingernails, awaiting his first meeting with his psychologist. It’s been two weeks since his first horrific vision, and the visions are now daily occurrences and even more disturbing! He’s also noticed significant changes in his food preferences, music tastes, and has oddly become interested in military history programs on The History Channel. His psychologist welcomes him into her office and notices right away that Henry is not doing well.

His psychologist starts off, “Why don’t we start with some background of your circumstances. When we spoke on the phone a couple weeks ago, you had mentioned that your wife had died from skin cancer a year before you were diagnosed with bone marrow cancer. Let’s start there.”

Henry struggles to walk her through the experience and his memories. “I feel like I’m forgetting my wife. I feel like my brain is no longer mine. Something just doesn’t feel right ever since the bone marrow transplant!” He’s becoming increasingly agitated.

Calmly, she states, “Well, Henry, you have gone through one traumatic experience after another over the last five years. You’ve lost your wife. You’ve nearly lost your own life and orphaned your wonderful daughter. It’s understandable that this level of physical and mental stress might result in unusual behavior.”

“But I can’t get the images out of my head. There is a woman lying on the table, and I am operating on her shin bone. I can see her bone marrow!” Henry shouts!

His psychologist remains calm, “Henry, does this woman on the table remind you of your deceased wife?”

“No! I feel no love for her at all. I hate this woman on the table. I feel nothing but hatred towards her. I feel like I want to kill her!” Henry sits up aggressively on the psychologist’s sofa.

Still remaining calm, the psychologist continues, “It seems you might need some additional help that I might not be able to provide you with in a single session, Henry. It sounds to me that you want to check yourself into a facility of top American medical scientists that can monitor you and ensure that you are not going to hurt yourself or anyone else.”

Henry’s eyes turn from anger and rage to complete peace as he looks at the psychologist, “You mean I will be surrounded by esteemed professionals of the Unites States medical industry?”

“Yes, Henry. If you like. It is entirely voluntary at Raven’s Bridge.” She begins writing on a prescription pad. “You can leave whenever you like. If you like the place, you can stay there as long as you want. If you don’t like the place, you can come back here and see me. Perhaps we can find you another place that’s a better fit. But only if you like.”

Henry’s hands are shaking uncontrollably as he’s practically drooling on his fingernails he’s been biting incessantly the entire session. His psychologist places a paperclip on the prescription paper and hands it to him. He quickly snatches it out her hands as he walks out the door.

“I will call them to let them know you are coming, Henry.” She says as Henry hurries out the door.

#

Henry’s daughter is downtrodden as she leaves her father’s nursing home. His mental health has gotten worse over the last nine months, and this time he doesn’t want to speak with her during her visit that he cuts short. As Nancy exits the building, she bumps into a woman in her mid-40s with a stern face. “Mind where you’re going young lady,” the woman says with a harsh German accent.

“I’m terribly sorry, ma’am,” Nancy says as she looks up at the lady. “Are you okay?” she asks as she looks at the lady and has a sense that she’s seen her before.

“I am fine,” the lady snaps at Nancy. “Someone less agile than myself might not fair so well with your irresponsible behavior.”

“I am very sorry, ma’am,” Nancy says as she hurries off to her car.

Nancy sits in her car sobbing for nearly half-an-hour. She looks at pictures of her mom and dad on her phone. She runs through so many happy memories of both of them and anguishes over her father no longer wanting to meet with her. She reminiscences of all the wonderful experiences she had with her father. As she wipes tears from her eyes she sees the grumpy lady exit from the building with her father. They stand on the porch of the building talking with each other.

Henry stares at the grumpy lady who has been visiting him weekly for the last 3 months. The question is always the same…

“Have you discovered who you are?” the lady asks Henry in her thick German accent.

Having answered “I’m Henry” 12 times in a row, this time his answer is different. “They say my name is Henry, aber ich weiß… nicht…” he shakes his head and looks down.

The lady leans in and whispers, “Oskar?”

“Yes, ma’am! Yes! Oskar!” he exclaims as he lifts his head, eyes wide open with a wild look on his face.

“Control yourself, Oskar!” the lady quietly reprimands.

He leans into the lady, “Ich bin Oskar Schröder!” He whispers with excitement.

“Well, then Oskar. Go back in and ask for Mr. McCloy, and have him check out this Mr. Henry from this shithole. Meet me at the bottom of the stairs. Our mission is well underway.”

Oskar goes back into the building and comes back out with his suitcase 20 minutes later. He walks down the stairs and follows closely behind the lady. “Wie heißen Sie??” he asks. The lady does not respond as Oskar continues to tail her awkwardly as she has an unusual gait.

Oskar sees the two stout men at the end of the walkway. As he and the lady approach the men, they raise their right hands coyly. She responds with a lazy wave of her own right forearm; an unmistakable wave… an unmistakable gait… Oskar has goosebumps. “It couldn’t possibly be…” He mumbles to himself.

The lady stops and turns to Oskar. Folding her arms, she smirks; realizing Oskar has come to an important realization. She wags her eye brows once, waiting for Oskar to speak.

“Mein Furher?”

The Legend of Jarrett Tomlinson

The legend goes that the day I was born, I filled the room with so much love that even the doctor wept with joy. Everyone tells me I just say that because my mom always told me that story growing up. But I know the story is true because I was just there! Oh, and I know for sure I peed on the delivery nurse, just like my daddy always said.

As my mom always told the story, “I was so filled with love. It was this deep, peaceful, relaxing love. Like nothing I had ever felt before or ever felt after. It was pure peace in every way imaginable. Peace in life. Peace in my marriage. Peace in my delivery.”

Back then, we didn’t have any Internet; no computers; no cell phones; no digital cameras. There’s a lot the royal WE didn’t have back then, but my family… We had even less. There were eight of us kids, and you’d think my parents would have stopped when they had that great experience with me. Naw, they just kept shootin ’em out. Four after me. I’m right in the middle.

With each kid, it seemed to get a bit worse for all the kids before. It’s not like my parents were getting paid more. Heck, my mom never had a job her whole life, except being a mom and a stripper. My dad couldn’t hold a job to save his life (or our lives for that matter). But it wasn’t the lack of money or material things that made it hard. It was the lack of loving parental guidance. The upside? I love my brothers and sisters!

Now, my parents claimed to be God-fearing folk. They even said they named each of us after a character in the Bible. I read the good book hard. Studied it a few times over even… Spoiler alert, there ain’t no Jarrett in the Bible. The closest thing is some guy named Jared, and he doesn’t do anything but some begetting.

Aside from giving us all names that weren’t really in the Bible, I’m not sure what other God-fearing acts they performed. Spare the rod, spoil the child, I guess? The only thing spoiled in the house was some of the food.

The first time CPS got called (that I know of), I was about eight years old. If you’ve never seen half a dozen police bum rush your front door and throw your parents on the ground and arrest them, you haven’t experienced LA’s finest at their finest. But the truly hardest part about that experience wasn’t getting picked on for wetting my bed at the foster home. It was being made fun of at school when my parents finally got their shit together and got us back.

And by getting their shit together, I really just mean they figured out how to fake it for a few years until it happened again. And again. And again. But this story isn’t about how my parents and what they did and didn’t or should or couldn’t do. This is a story about love. Not just any kind of love. Legendary love! A love that I always knew in the back of my mind was there for me.

The final time our parents got arrested, my big brothers were old enough to actually take custody of us younger ones. That was the first time since my birth that I truly experienced legendary love! By the time my dad got out of jail, my big brothers could put him in check. We got big, stronger, smarter, and our dad just got older, fatter, and dumber.

When I was 24, I met the one and only true love of my life! Juniper Rose Branch. Now, you might be thinking, “why would someone with the last name of branch name their daughter after a tree?” Her parents are for another story!

A couple years later, I found myself on bended knee and standing up next to my amazing fiance! Our wedding was the stuff dreams are made of: horse-drawn carriage, surrounded by our family and best friends. It was everything I could have ever imagined love could be and then some!

On year five, we decided to have some fun on her birthday and visit a weekend long hypnosis workshop. Juniper really felt like there was something there for both of us, and I agreed. I just didn’t realize what was about to shift in my life.

In the final hypnosis, we were guided through this incredible experience. We started off as usual with relaxing. Then we got to a place where we started rewinding through our lives. I went back to our wonderful honeymoon in Hawaii. Then our joyful wedding. Back to the first day I met Juniper. Then it got to the hard stuff… All that past that I thought I had truly given up started to pile up.

I slowly made my way through all the hardship in life. All the times my dad hit me, slapped me, beat me, beat my siblings. All the times my mom would look on and do nothing while our dad beat us up came back in full memory. I was living them again. The hypnosis seemed like it was lasting a lifetime; like I was living my whole life all over again. All the torment by the kids at school. All the anguish of unloving parents. But also all the love from my brothers and sisters.

I finally made it back to the day I was born! Now, I started off this story telling you that I filled the room with so much love that even the doctor wept with joy when I was a baby. At the time, you probably thought that was just some story I had been told growing up. And if you’ve made it this far into the story, you know I wasn’t pulling your leg. It was a story I had been told growing up, AND it’s also a true story!

I’m floating above my parents in the delivery room. As I see all of them there (my parents, the doctor, and the nurse) I start sending love. I surround the entire room with my love. The love that I have today… The love that I have generated with my loving wife through this amazing hypnosis session is present there today. I embrace each of them as they do their part in bringing me into this world.

I see my mom start to cry and my dad’s eyes begin to well with tears. I see the nurse guiding me gently into this world, she’s getting teary-eyed too. The doctor goes over to help, and he begins to well up with tears. As the nurse lifts me up, my little baby self does exactly as the legend goes. I pee right on the delivery nurse.

I then tell my baby self that everything in life is going to workout just fine. Everything is going to lead to a wonderful, beautiful life. No matter how bad things get, everything is leading to pure joy and happiness. Never give up! Love will always be there.

Undying Love

Jonathan wakes up and walks down the stairs from his room into his ground level business below his apartment. He opens the front door to his tavern just as he has for the last three years. It’s freezing outside today with frost forming in the windows and all the lampposts on the sidewalk outside the front door. Just as has happened every day for the last three years, as soon as he walks through the threshold of the door, he is immediately walking into the tavern instead of out of the tavern.

Dejected, he walks into the cold, empty, rundown tavern and takes his place behind the bar and begins to wash the glasses that are already clean from him washing them every morning for the last three years. The day will be yet another day of nothing. Another day to remind him of his tragedy from three years ago. Another day for him to reconcile himself to the reality that he is, in fact, dead.

He goes about the same routine: wash the glasses, pull the chairs down, polish the bar top and tabletops, and sweep the floor. It’s the same routine he was doing even when he was alive, and what was monotonous when he was alive now gives him a sense of believe alive now that he is dead.

After performing the regular routine, he goes out to the back to pickup the newspaper. He ponders the oddity of the newspaper still being delivered to this old, rundown tavern despite his demise years ago. True to form, the newspaper is laying on the ground just outside the back door.

He pauses, looking out at the leafless trees in the back of the building. He notices a enormous barn owl sitting in one of the trees. There’s a single leaf holding on to the very tip of the branch where the owl is perched. The owl’s partner glides in and sits beside the other owl. As the owl flaps it’s wings, the single leaf is dislodged from the end of the branch. Winter is fully upon him, and tomorrow will be the third anniversary of his death.

He squats down and reaches his hand out the backdoor for the newspaper. It took a few weeks to figure this part out, but his arms can leave the tavern, just not the rest of him. He grabs the newspaper and confirms the date.

Jonathan hears a sudden commotion in the front of the tavern. This is one of his favorite parts about being a ghost! Time to scare the hell out of whomever has entered the tavern!

He walks to the front of the tavern and sees a man and a woman already drunk stumbling up to the bar. They are a drunk happy and falling all over each other.

“Can we get some drinks up in here?” The man shouts. “Where’s the bartender in this joint? We need two double shots of vodka. ASAP!”

Jonathan goes to behind the bar and lifts the bottle of vodka from the shelf and grabs two shot glasses. He pours the double shots and slides the glasses along the bar to the two drunkards.

“WOAH! We’re drunk as fuck, Jerry! Those shot glasses came out of nowhere.” The woman stares in the direction of Jonathan but cannot see him. She leans her entire body over the top of the bar to try to see if someone is hiding behind the bar. “There’s nobody back there, Jerry. Do you see anyone?” She slurs.

Then Jonathan hears the door chime for the front door again. If he had a heart, it would have stopped beating. Surely, this is an angel sent to bring him to the other side. She’s a pure beauty.

“Jasmine! You made it!” the other woman says as she stumbles to get up and hug the woman who just entered Jonathan’s tavern.

Jasmine smiles as she hugs her two drunk friends. She sits down at the bar and looks right at Jonathan. “I’ll have a double too, please.” She says directly to Jonathan.

Jonathan stares with his mouth ajar, dumbfounded by this woman who just spoke to him. He’s perfectly still.

“Well, are you going to just stand there like you’ve seen a ghost, or do I need to get the drink myself, handsome?”

Jonathan grabs another shot glass and pours a double shot for Jasmine and carries it over to her. He places it in front of her, still dumbfounded. She slams the shot and then looks Jonathan in the eyes and gives him a flirtatious wink, “Another, please.”

Jonathan is mesmerized by her smile. His eyes are affixed to the movement of her lips as he hangs on every word she says and her flirtatious glances as she’s speaking to her friends.

Her friends eventually realize that they are too drunk to stay any longer and tell Jasmine that they’re going to leave. “You can shtay and hane-out with yer ghost fren, if you’d like, Jas. We’re gonna walking to the pad. See ya!” They slur as they stumble towards the door.

Jasmine is looking deep into Jonathan’s eyes as she gets up from the bar. She doesn’t break eye contact with him as she reaches underneath the bar to grab her purse hanging from the hook. “Don’t mind them. They’re drunk. What do I owe you?”

“It’s on me.”

Jasmine turns her head to watch her friends stumble out onto the sidewalk in the freezing cold. She looks back at Jonathan a stares deep into his soul. “I think you should close out and come with me.”

Jonathan meets her over at the front door of the tavern and remains mesmerized by her eyes. He cannot stop staring at her beautiful face. She opens the door and for the first time in three years, Jonathan can feel the cold, bitter air against his cheeks.

Jasmine leans in and kisses him on his cheek. He can feel the warmth of her breath. As she pulls back from Jonathan, she hands him a note with the address of the location where she’s going. She takes a step out the front door, holding Jonathan’s hand as she makes her way through the threshold. Their eyes remain fixated on each others as Jonathan remains inside the tavern and Jasmine’s fingers slip through his.

#

As the door closes, Jonathan’s eyes begin to well up with tears. He knows he can’t go outside, but he wants to see Jasmine again. He paces back and forth for awhile, trying to convince himself to muster up enough courage. Even if he tries to leave and can’t, at least he made an effort! So, he pulls out an atlas and looks up the address. It’s about two miles away.

He closes his eyes and opens the door. Again, he can feel the bitter cold on his cheeks. He takes a deep breath and then takes a giant step through the tavern threshold. He’s outside! He dances in the street for a bit and then realizes that he’s wasting time. He jumps on his motorcycle and the rust bucket still manages to kick start! He rides over to the address Jasmine gave him. He can feel the cold nipping at the skin on his face. Frostbite has never felt so good!

When he enters the home, he sees Jasmine sitting in a chair facing away from him, talking with a few people. She turns her head and looks directly at him. She smiles so big and bright, there’s nothing else in the room but her. She gets up and walks towards Jonathan, smiling the entire time.

The two sit and talk with each other the whole night. Jasmine shares her entire life story with Jonathan, and Jonathan with her; everything except for the dying three years ago part. Every time Jasmine touches Jonathan’s arm, he feels goosebumps over his entire body. He feels more alive than he ever did even when he was alive.

Jasmine finally begins to get sleepy, and Jonathan decides to leave. Parting seems like it’s going to be impossible, but Jonathan eventually peels himself away from her warm embrace and gets back on his motorcycle. They blow each other kisses as he rides off back to his tavern.

As he comes to the blind intersection just down the street from Jasmine’s home, he begins to slow for oncoming traffic. His rear tire locks up, and his motorcycle begins to skid along the ice that has formed on the road overnight. Jonathan suddenly remembers his accident from three years ago. It was at this very intersection!

He remembers skidding through the intersection along the icy road while a delivery truck heading to the tavern comes barreling through the intersection at the same time and broadsides him. He died instantly that morning! He remembers in vivid detail, the sound of the truck’s motor and the sound of the metal grill as it plowed into the side of his head and sent him flying across the other side of the intersection.

He remembers floating above the intersection, watching the chaos below as the truck came skidding to a stop after demolishing his motorcycle as it ran over it. He remembers watching the men jump out of the truck and try to revive his lifeless body. He remembers looking back towards Jasmine’s home and seeing the light go out in her upstairs bedroom just as he felt himself get pulled away towards his tavern.

Jonathan closes his eyes as he braces for impact from the truck. He thinks of Jasmine. He thinks of her smile, her eyes, her lips, her laugh, and the way she’d bite her lip when she’d talk nervously about going off to college. He thinks of how she’s the smartest woman he’s ever met and so self expressed. He thinks of her warm embrace and how when he hugged her everything felt just fine. He grips his handlebars tighter and tighter.

His motorcycle eventually comes to a stop at the gas station just across the intersection. He’s still gripping his handlebars. As he looks back at the intersection, he sees the delivery truck go driving by. He can see Jasmine’s bedroom light turn off in the distance.

He’s alive! He screams with joy and taps his feet in dance while he sits on his motorcycle. He takes a few deep breaths and looks up in the sky and whispers, “Thank you.”

He heads down the road on his motorcycle and is practically dancing along side his bike as he heads towards his apartment above his tavern. He’s so overcome with joy that he almost runs into a car! Startled by the near death encounter, he chokes up his glee and focuses on making sure he arrives back safely to his tavern.

He parks his motorcycle and goes back into his tavern and heads upstairs. He brushes his teeth and stares at himself in the mirror. He’s smiling ear to ear. It’s good to be alive! He finishes getting ready for bed when there’s a knock on the door.

He goes down stairs and opens the tavern door. It has started to rain, and he sees a drenched Jasmine standing in front of him, shivering.

“I know this might sound crazy. I know you’re probably going to think I’m some crazy girl.” A tear falls from Jasmines left eye and is captured by a raindrop falling to the ground. Jonathan watches as her tear falls to the ground. He can see his reflection in her tear.

“I was so worried that something happened to you on your way home. I had to run over here to make sure you were safe. That you got home safely. I prayed for your safety the entire run here. I’m completely drenched.” She flaps her hands in the rain and water flings off of her sleeves onto the ground.

“You must think I’m a silly child or that I’m drunk, but I’m sorry. I just had to know you got home safe. I don’t know why I was so worried about you, but I was. I was so scared.” Jasmine breaks down crying and Jonathan steps out of the tavern and into the rain to embrace her. He begins to cry as he holds her tightly against him. The rain is running down his face as quickly as tears are running from his eyes. The two hold each other tightly as the rain fades into nothingness and their embrace becomes everything.

The Blue Light

The front door creaks open as Aunt Bethany welcomes Jessica and Gerald home to Grandma’s house. The living room is abuzz with nieces and nephews running to greet them at the front door. The anticipation has been building all day for their arrival, and everyone is joyous as they come through the small foyer of Grandma’s house. They can barely enter with so many nieces and nephews lined up for hugs.

The 20 hours of driving has left them both yearning for the comfort of a soft, warm bed, but they are here for a purpose. As they round the corner of the sofa, there she is: Grandma! The scene is far from their visit just a few months back. Grandma’s body is frail and the signs of Stage 5 Parkinson’s along with arthritis are more evident than ever.

Grandma’s weak body lies as comfortably as possible on one branch of the L-shaped sofa that has cushions replaced with aerated memory foam support pillows and throw pillows replaced with support foam. Her oxygen tank is in easy reach next to a table that holds her oximeter, blood pressure monitor, water cup, treatment log book, and (most importantly) fresh flowers from her daughter’s best friend’s award winning flower garden.

“Jessica and Gerald are here, ma” Bethany says to Grandma.

Grandma tilts her head as far as she is able to her right, which is barely more than a couple of degrees. A big smile arises on Grandma’s face as Jessica kneels down next to her Grandma and holds her right hand. Grandma lifts her left arm over to Jessica and places her clutched hand with shaking thumb and index finger against Jessica’s cheek. Jessica’s eyes begin to well up with tears of love for her grandma as she holds her grandma’s hand against her cheek.

“I love you so much, Grandma.”

“Same here,” Grandma whispers.

“She’s pretty hard to understand with losing her voice a couple of weeks ago.” Bethany catches Jessica and Gerald up on grandma’s condition, which has continued to deteriorate rapidly from day-to-day over the last couple days that they have been on the road. Uncle Gene enters the room and asks Bethany to discuss a few things in the other room.

Jessica continues holding Grandma’s right hand as she lifts her left hand and struggles to point forward. “Blue light.” Grandma utters. Everyone looks around for a blue light in the room, but there is no light. Just the television, which is showing the Chicago Cubs game.

#

Nurse Madison arrives for the routine check on Grandma. She performs the regular vital checks. Grandma’s blood pressure is on the low side, but she’s doing well for Stage 5 Parkinson’s disease. Madison reminds Bethany, Jessica, and Gerald about what to expect for this late stage of Parkinson’s.

“Grandma’s body will continue to fail. The oxygen will help her body, and remember to make sure she is also drinking plenty of water. Just remember that she will have increased difficulty with swallowing as her Parkinson’s progresses further. It will help to sit her as upright as possible while she’s drinking as well as for at least a minute after. Let gravity help.” Madison gives them some additional tips on what will make Grandma as comfortable as possible and then goes on her way.

Gerald walks over to Grandma and sits down at her feet. “You want a foot massage, Grandma?” Grandma nods.

As Gerald begins to massage Grandma’s feet, she utters, “Blue light”. Gerald looks around the room for a blue light or even something with the color blue. The front window curtains are open, and the sky is bright blue. Perhaps that’s the blue light that she’s talking about.

Jessica comes back into the room and sees Gerald massaging Grandma’s feet. Tears well up in her eyes. Over the last couple of days that they’ve been at Grandma’s, Gerald has become Grandma’s favorite caretaker when it comes to moving her. Gerald’s physical strength and love of Grandma makes him the ideal candidate to pick her up and move her when Grandma’s getting sore.

“Move, me.”

Gerald stands up beside the sofa. “Okay, Grandma. Which direction do you want to go?”

Grandma moves her left hand in the direction of the sofa. Gerald reaches behind Grandma’s back and under her legs and gently scoops her up. He slowly places her back down.

“How’s that?”

Grandma shakes her head, and Gerald gently scopes her up and asks Jessica to help adjust the pillow under Grandma’s tailbone. He slowly puts Grandma back down on the sofa.

“How’s that?”

Grandma doesn’t say anything, but Gerald can tell by the look on her face that she’s still not comfortable.

“Grandma, are you lying to me?”

Grandma nods, and Gerald gently scoops her up and tells her, “I’m gonna do this until you’re comfortable, and I don’t want you to lie to me either.”

Jessica adjusts the pillow again, and Gerald places Grandma down in just the right spot. “Now, I’m going to slowly pull my hands away from underneath you. If anything changes and you feel like you’re not in the right position, just let me know. I’ll do this all day if I have to.”

As Gerald starts to stand back up, Grandma reaches for his hand. Gerald pauses and kneels next to Grandma as Aunt Bethany enters the room and starts talking to Jessica. Grandma lifts Gerald’s hand to her mouth with her cold hand and kisses his hand over and over. Gerald’s eyes begin to tear.

He leans over and kisses Grandma on her head. “I love you Grandma.” She slowly lowers her hand holding Gerald’s hand, and he reaches over with his other hand to wrap it around Grandma’s cold hand. “Your hands are very cold, Grandma.”

He sits with Grandma, holding her hand, thinking of all the fun times they’ve had since he met Jessica. Grandma’s body softens as she starts to relax, and Gerald smiles at her. She lets out a deep breath, and her entire body sinks as it relaxes completely. Gerald feels her hand loosen its grip. He looks at Grandma’s face, and something seems different. Her face is completely relaxed; complete peace.

Gerald is eagerly awaiting Grandma’s next breath. He’s carefully watching her torso, waiting for her chest to rise. He leans closer to Grandma’s face, trying to hear her breathing. There’s a quiet noise from Grandma’s torso, and Gerald feels her hips sink slightly underneath his hands that are resting on her lap.

He looks back at Aunt Bethany and Jessica having their conversation and then back to Grandma. Still no movement by Grandma. “Did Grandma just evacuate her bowels? Isn’t that what happens when someone dies?” Gerald thinks to himself as his mind begins to panic.

He rubs Grandma’s hand as a tear falls down his cheek. “It’s okay, Grandma.”

#

Grandma’s mouth starts moving, but she’s not making any noise. Gerald is elated! “Would you like some water, Grandma?”

Grandma shakes her head while she continues to mouth something without making any noise.

Jessica comes over and Aunt Bethany leaves the room. “Can you spell it, Grandma?”

“F”

Gerald is so elated that Grandma isn’t dead! He’s focused on every breath coming out of Grandma’s mouth at the moment.

“A”

Jessica is a bit bewildered by Gerald’s excitement in Grandma spelling something, and she smiles at him, thinking he looks like a kid in a candy store.

“R” Grandma pauses for a couple of breaths.

Jessica leans in towards Grandma. “Are we too far away from you, Grandma?”

Grandma shakes her head. “T!” she says with excitement!

Gerald and Jessica look at each other with a question mark and then back at Grandma. “Do you need to fart, Grandma?”

“I just did.”

Gerald and Jessica’s nostrils start to flare as the both quickly stand up. Gerald starts laughing and tells Jessica the story about watching Grandma’s body relax and stop breathing.

“I really thought she had died in my arms.”

Jessica laughs, “She probably stopped breathing because she knew how bad it smelled!”

Grandma starts to laugh, and the two of them look at Grandma with love in their eyes and smile. She’s still a practical joker!

“Blue light!” Grandma points to her feet.

Jessica tells them that she thinks Grandma is seeing Grandpa as a blue light. Gerald has his own theories about the blue light.

“Blue light!” Grandma points to her feet, and everyone can tell she’s getting a bit frustrated.

Aunt Diana comes around the corner and starts giving her two cents on the blue light, and the three of them are walking around the room looking for anything that has the color blue. One by one, each item is rejected by Grandma.

Aunt Bethany walks into the room and asks what the commotion is all about. Everyone shared their theories about the blue light: it’s grandpa, it’s the sky reflecting on the mirror, it’s the angel of death welcoming her.

Aunt Bethany solves the puzzle, “The humidifier has a light on it, and Grandma likes the blue light the best.” She reaches down by the end table at the side of the sofa where Grandma’s feet are closest and turns on the humidifier. Everyone starts laughing.

“So much significance about the blue light that we all made up, and it’s just a humidifier?” Gerald can barely get the words out as he’s laughing.

Everyone looks over at Grandma who is smiling. “Blue light.”

The Little Mermaid (Idea)

Sci-fi version of “Little Mermaid” where Ariel is a genetically engineered mermaid who is part of a top secret military program (Atlantica). She is capable of sinking submarines and ships with a powerful sonar she is able to create with her underwater voice. She is ordered to sink a fishing vessel (mistakenly thought to be a foreign military vessel) in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Los Angeles. She saves the Captain (Eric) but becomes depressed about her situation of destruction and lack of legs. Of course, she’s smitten by Eric and wants to be with him on land.

Eric’s father happens to be the Admiral who has Project Atlantica under his budget. Once he hears of the incident, he decides to shut it down. The program director (Dr. Triton) is told of the news to shutdown the program and is ordered to euthanize all of the creatures in the program. Of course, he has to keep it a secret, but the AI running the facility (Underwater Research System – Los Angeles) discovers the plan and uses Ariel’s love of Eric to coerce her into becoming a bipedal land dweller.

URSLA sends an AI lobster bot (Sebatian) to make arrangements with Ariel to become bipedal. URSLA fabricates some bionic legs to allow Ariel to see the world through a bipedal experience. Of course, Ariel must do a favor within 72 hours for the URSLA AI by plugging in a blue and yellow device (Flounder) to the USB port of an specific computer (Admiral who is shutting down Atlantica/Eric’s father).

Since Ariel is an underwater creature, she cannot vocally communicate outside of water, and there is not enough time to create a vocal communicator for her. The AI hides her from Dr. Triton but doesn’t let on that it knows Dr. Triton is euthanizing all the creatures and allows them to be systematically killed, including others just like Ariel.

Meanwhile, Ariel gets Eric to fall in love with her via online dating apps and virtual reality, masking her lack of voice. She gets to meet Eric’s father after Eric invites her to have dinner at the Admiral’s house. There she discovers that the URSLA program is slated to be shutdown by Eric’s father because of the incident where Ariel sank Eric’s ship, killing everyone aboard. This is only after she has already plugged in the device to the USB port.

The URSLA AI spreads to a nuclear submarine and begins to move the submarine into the Pacific to initiate global nuclear war. The only one who can stop it is Ariel, but since she no longer has fins, Eric must take her in an old ship, under heavy weather, and drop her into the ocean where she can destroy the submarine. She will have no way to make it back to the surface without fins, but it’s the only way to save Eric and humanity!

The Cost of Living

Cost of living expenses have continued to soar while wages have remained relatively stagnant for an historical 20 year run. Unemployment rates have remained near historical lows as have crime rates. In fact, crime is all but eradicated. The gap between the cost of living and average income continues to grow and remains a concern for potential increases in crime. To combat this massive living wage gap, the United States government has recently passed the Government Economic Oversight Act to help empower families through a variety of somewhat controversial (but effective) incentive programs.

The newly formed Economic Empowerment Department is well underway with ensuring that population growth does not outpace economic growth while offering parents alternatives to traditional family options. Rebecca and Jonathan are in their final weeks of a rare twin pregnancy. Concerned with the future conditions for their children, they meet with an economic counselor to discuss their situation.

“Welcome to Economic Empowerment!” The counselor sounds like a self help guru. “I’m glad you are taking the time to explore your options with your…” the counselor pauses, pointing at Rebecca’s stomach, “unique condition. It has been quite some time since we’ve had a pregnancy such as yours. So many opportunities for you!”

Rebecca explains to the counselor that she has read up on all the programs online. Rebecca doesn’t view any of the options available as opportunities, but both her and Jonathan are concerned about the grim future for twins.

The counselor holds up a finger to get Rebecca to stop talking and reaches deep into the lower left drawer of his desk. He practically disappears behind the desk, he’s reaching so deep. “Well, there is one new program…” the counselor grunts from behind the desk, “that you might be eligible for,”

“What’s that?” Jonathan stands up to see if the counselor is okay.

Pulling a green folder up and sliding it with his long bony fingers gently on the the desk, the counselor begins to explain. “This is the Governing Responsibly Economic Empowerment Directive. It’s a new program with very strict eligibility requirements and strong privacy guarantees. It is unlike anything else we offer. And it’s good for our economic environment.”

“I’ve never heard of it, but it sounds good,” Jonathan says as he sits down.

“With this program, we run a few tests on your child to discover certain genetic determinants. What that means is that we can predict with 91.9% accuracy how your child’s genetic makeup lends itself to them being a productive member of our society. In the event that your child will not make a living wage, you are given options.”

Rebecca and Jonathan look at each other and then back to the counselor, “Continue.”

“If your child is determined to be unable to achieve an adult income over the predicted livable wage, the United States government will provide you with his/her lifetime earnings in exchange for you donating your child to scientific research.”

“WHAT?!” Rebecca is disgusted.

“Keep in mind that you will also be receiving this payment from our government 100% tax free. No restrictions. And what you’re doing is for the greater good of our fragile economy.”

“You want me to abort my child for a few measly dollars?” Rebecca stands up, but Jonathan remains seated and grabs her wrist.

“Rebecca, listen to what he’s saying. I’m sure the government isn’t going to abort our child. That’s illegal anyway.” Jonathan looks at the counselor, “You’re not going to abort our child, are you?”

“Of course not! That’s illegal!” The counselor motions to Rebecca to sit back down. “Your child will become part of scientific research. None of which involves abortion. It is part of a government program to ensure that we have enough subjects for ongoing child development research and studies into social behavior. It’s all for the greater good, really. This program ensures your child lives a happy, healthy life without concern for financial well being or being a drain on societal resources. It also provides financial security for your family.”

“It’s tax-free, Rebecca,” Jonathan interrupts.

“I’m not going to do it,” Rebecca says adamantly as she gets up and walks out the door.

Jonathan turns to the counselor, “Give us some time. Do the tests have to be performed before birth?”

“No, Mr. Jones. You can perform the tests and complete the paperwork anytime within the first 24 hours of giving birth as long as you have not returned home with your child. Keep in mind that a lifetime of wages for an individual child is often more than $5 million in tax-free income.”

#

Jonathan and Rebecca are in a car riding back to their apartment. She’s giving him the cold shoulder.

“This is something we need to consider. We don’t make enough to support two children. We can barely make enough just to support ourselves,” Jonathan pleads with Rebecca.

“Jon, this is OUR child we’re talking about. This isn’t a cat or a dog. This is our baby. Our unborn child who we will never get to see grow up. Who will probably be poked and prodded and experimented on. God, just thinking about the children who have already been subjected to this experimentation. For what? For science!? For some fast money. A few measly bucks!”

“He said all the experiments were for the greater good, Becks. It’s not a few measly bucks! And we’d only accept the offer if our children qualify by not making a living wage, which means they’d be a burden on us their entire lives. If they are going to be making a living wage, then we don’t even have to consider it at all. It’s a non-issue!”

“The whole thing is a non-issue, Jon. I’m not giving up my children just so that we can have money. I can’t even believe that there is a program like this. It’s disgusting! And the fact that you are even considering it…” Rebecca looks at Jonathan with more anger than he’s ever seen before. “This topic is never going to come up again. You understand me?!”

“Yes, ma’am!”

#

Rebecca is breathing heavily and working through the pain as she’s being rushed through the maternity ward of the hospital. Jonathan is holding her hand and trying to remember the coaching they received during Lemaze class. However, they both know this isn’t a situation that Lemaze prepares you for. Rebecca’s breathing is becoming erratic and her eyes start rolling into the back of her head.

“Emergency C-Section!” The nurses escort Jonathan out of the room and take the now unconscious Rebecca into the emergency ward.

Jonathan is standing in the hallway, palms sweating as he nervously chews on his fingernails. The counselor from the Economic Empowerment Department taps him on the shoulder.

“Have you given further consideration to what’s available to you, Mr. Jones?”

“Rebecca said no way.”

“It would seem Mrs. Jones is incapacitated at the time, is she not? You could sign for her. The tests take only an hour to run through our AI simulator. I can get back to you with the amount, and then you can make the decision.”

“It won’t matter. Rebecca said no way. I can’t make that decision without her.”

“Mr. Jones, you have no obligation to donate your child to the greater good. This is merely to run tests. If you give me your consent, as the only able-bodied parent I can find at this time, I can run the tests and then bring you back all the paperwork and a check with the full 100% tax-free lifetime amount.”

“But it won’t matter. She’s going to notice millions of dollars showing up in our bank account.”

“We can arrange an installment plan, Mr. Jones. You have an opportunity to win the lottery right in front of you. The choice is entire up to you, of course.”

Jonathan nervously fidgets with his fingernails as sweat is starting to bead on the side of his head. He knows that $5 million would allow him to retire. Who knows, it could even be both children. Then he and Rebecca would be $10 million richer! They could retire today. They’d never have to work another day. They could travel the world. Jonathan snaps out of his day dream.

“Mr. Jones?” The counselor extends paperwork towards Jonathan as his eyes widen.

#

Rebecca and Jonathan sit on the balcony of their apartment, drinking coffee. Their son waddles up to them and tugs on Rebecca’s shirt.

“Yes, Aiden.”

“I love you, Mommy.”

“I love you too, sweetheart.”

“Oh, and I think Jackson pooped himself.”

Jonathan jumps up, “I’ll get that on my way out, honey.”

Jonathan walks into the apartment while Aiden crawls into Rebecca’s lap and snuggles up with her. Jonathan puts his empty coffee cup in the dishwasher and washes his hands. He then walks out of the kitchen and into the living room to the fowl odor of poop.

“Aiden was right! You sure pooped yourself!” Jonathan reaches down and picks up Jackson from the crib and places him on the changing table. Jonathan whistles while changing his newborn son and looks out on to the balcony to see his wife and Aiden snuggled up with each other.

Aiden lifts his mom’s sleeve on her left arm and starts tracing his finger along her tattoo.

A beautiful red rose surrounded by a child’s footprint with a banner above the toes: In Loving Memory of Rose.

happiness happens here

Eric lays in bed, hands shaking, heart racing, and emotionally devastated as it seems his entire world is falling apart in this very moment. Everything he’s worked so hard to build over the last five years is falling to pieces. All that time, effort, hard work, sweat, tears… It was all for nothing. He stares at his phone with the latest heart-break. An email from his last lender: We regret to inform you that a review of your credit has determined that we will be reducing your business credit.

All of his life dreams are coming to and end. That dream home. That dream car. Those dream vacations. Providing for his wife and three children. It’s all no longer possible. There is no way out of this. This is it.

Eric’s wife, Eva, enters the room. “Jenna is here, sweetheart. Do you want to go first?”

“What’s the point?”

“What happened? Is it the business? You’ll make it through. WE will make it through anything, sweetheart.” Eva knows how much Eric has put into his business. The long hours. The late nights working with his team to build their prototypes. The research. The constant failures, and the occasional success.

It has all taken its toll on Eric over the last five years. Eva has seen him deteriorate into deep states of depression, with each bout stronger and longer than the last. Jenna could not have arrived at a more perfect time!

“I don’t think I can do this anymore, Eva. No, I don’t want to do this anymore. I just don’t. I can’t. Just go out there and meet with Jenna, and come get me once you’re done.”

Eva knows that’s Eric’s cry for help. She’s seen it twice before when she had to call the paramedics to save Eric. First time was a belt wrapped around his neck. Second time was downing an entire bottle of his anti-depressant medication with a half bottle of sleep medication and as much Vodka as he could stomach without puking.

“There is no way that is happening, darling. Even if you meet her in you pajamas, you’re meeting with her now. You know this is going to help.”

Eric looks at Eva with tears in his eyes. “Sweetie, don’t you understand that I don’t want this anymore. I love you, but I just can’t do this anymore. You are better off without me.”

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 50 years on this planet it is that I am most certainly NOT better off without you. I will never believe that, no matter how hard you try to convince me. Now, I’m going to go out there and make her some coffee. I’ll see you out there soon. I love you so much.” Eva kisses Eric on the forehead.

Eric knows there’s no escaping. Eva has skillfully removed everything from the bedroom and bathroom that he could ever use to hurt himself. He contemplates tying the sheets together before Eva interrupts his daydream…

“Don’t even give that thought any attention.”

Eric feels like she can read his mind, but his desperation is written all over his face. Even their dog can sense it as she jumps up on the bed and start licking Eric’s face.

“The dog’s still got it!” Eric laughs.

#

“Eva told me about your episode this morning.” Jenna says kindly to Eric.

“Ya, well, you know how it goes. Can’t win ’em all”

“No, I don’t know, Eric, but help me understand. I want you to start from the beginning. Let’s start with your very first memory. Go as far back as you can remember, and tell me everything. I might jump around with questions, but by the end of today your entire story will be known.”

Eric begins telling Jenna everything. Starting from growing up in a trailer park, to his abusive father and mother, to his run-ins with the law, to his troubles with relationships and even friendships, to years of therapy, to his attempts at suicide, and now his business failures. Eric tells Jenna everything while she diligently takes notes and asks questions. Then, finally, Eric is done telling his story.

“Let’s take a dinner break, Eric. Then we’re going to get right down to it.”

Jenna pulls out a meal from her cooler bag and asks to use the microwave to heat it up. Eva comes out into the kitchen to make  dinner for her and Eric. The three of them sit around the table talking about Eric and Eva’s marriage and how it and their three children have been the single source of happiness for Eric over the last ten years.

Eva can sense that something is opening up for Eric just by having shared his story with Jenna. She knows that Eric’s tough childhood lead to his drive to work so hard. She looks lovingly at him while he shares a rare happy story from childhood when his family pretended that they were camping in a tent in their living room. They passed around a flashlight and told each other ghost stories like they were sitting around a campfire in the woods.

“It was the only time I ever really remember being happy as a family.” Eric looks down at his empty plate. “We literally got evicted the next day, but in that moment I remember being filled with so much joy. I never felt that happy again until I met Eva.”

“Well, Eva, I hate to say it, but you’re going to have to go so that I can get back to working with Eric.”

Eva gets up from the table, bends down to kiss Eric and then whispers in his ear, “I love you sweetheart. I’d be happy living in a tent with you.”

#

Jenna continues her inquiry. “Eric, do you know why your parents did what they did when you were younger?”

“I know my dad was abused. Not really sure about my mom.”

“That might very well be true that your dad was abused. We can’t truly know that because we weren’t there. What we do know is that he abused you in the worst ways possible. You were there for that. And he did that for the same reason that we all do what we do.”

“What’s that?”

“We all do what we do because that’s all we know to do. We don’t know any better. And when we do learn better, we do better. Which is why you are not like your father or your father’s father. Or even your mother.”

Eric looks down at the table while Jenna pauses.

“Eric, you are here today because your wife loves you and your children love you and your dog loves you and because deep down inside you really do love yourself. You are here today because you don’t want to be your father to yourself anymore. You don’t want to be your mother to yourself anymore. You don’t want to keep abusing yourself or hiding from yourself anymore. You are here because you saw your life unraveling before your very eyes. Your entire existence was coming to and end, and that is one thing you are right about!”

Jenna pauses again. Eric is looking puzzled.

“Eric, your life as you know it is ending today. This life where you continue to abuse yourself, where you have become your father inside your own mind. This life where you think so low of yourself that you’re willing to end it all just because your business failed is over.”

Jenna continues on with Eric, addressing his questions and concerns about how he’s going to recreate his past. She shares with him about psychological studies regarding memory recall and gives him physical, artistic, and mental exercises that he is to do every single day; provided he is not overexerting himself to the point of possible injury.

He needs to flood his life with anything and everything that makes him happy. All day long, he is to surround himself with positivity and people/things that make him happy. Everyday, a new list of things that made him happy that day needs to be written down and posted on the wall in his home office. Everyday, he is to read a cognitive reframing statement the two of them have come up with to rewrite his past. The list of daily activities is long but necessary to combat Eric’s darkness.

“You will push back. Your body will go through the equivalent to drug withdrawals because you are quite literally halting your use of drugs that your brain is producing when you are depressed.” Jenna warns Eric. “This is normal. Knowing that it’s coming won’t make any difference. Your body is still going to do what your body does. When that happens, read your reframing statement until you believe it. If it takes reading it 100 times in a row, you’re going to read that statement out loud, right?”

“Yes!”

#

It’s been three months since Jenna visited a suicidal Eric. There have been scores of phone calls, panicking text messages, and desperate emails. Eric and Eva are eagerly awaiting Jenna’s arrival. Each week, Eric has improved. His happy jams playlist has grown to a 6 hour-long mix of rock, rap, country, classical, jazz, and pop music that would make anyone dance nonstop for 1/4 of a day! He’s meditating daily and has updated his reframing statement to include relationships in his life other than his parents.

Eric’s confidence is returned. His business bankruptcy is well underway, and it is not dragging him down. He still has frequent depressing thoughts, but he hasn’t had a suicide thought in more than a week.

“Often times, I’m finding myself just being happy for no reason, Jenna! I smile just because it’s today.” Eric shared with Jenna about how grateful he is to have the loving support of his wife for when Jenna isn’t instantly available to help, and how their kids can really see a difference in him as well.

Eva is beaming with joy about how Jenna has given her back the man she loved. “I always knew he had this in him. I always knew he could find happiness within, and I just didn’t know how to bring him to that place. I don’t know how you are able to do what you do, but it’s amazing, Jenna! I can’t thank you enough for giving me back my husband and my children’s father.”

“It’s all within you, Eric. I was merely a listening device to allow you to hear you story about your past for what it is; just a story.” Jenna begins going over how the remaining six months of Eric’s treatment is going to go. Much of the same work for Eric but with a greater focus on independence from contacting Jenna.

“We’re essentially weaning your off your reliance on me. We should have had enough interactions by now that you’ll know what I’m going to tell you no matter what comes your way. Let’s not pretend that tomorrow is going to be negative thought free or that a negative thought free day is even the goal. Negative thoughts can sometimes help you live a more fulfilling life. YOU just need to make sure you don’t get wrapped up and consumed in them. And you do that by sticking to your regiment of happiness.”

Jenna hands Eric a card. “And if it’s not working and I’m not around and neither is Eva. If you are all alone and can’t see the blue sky, I want you to read what’s on this card 10 times out loud with more enthusiasm with each time.”

Eric looks puzzled, “But the card is blank, Jenna.”

“Exactly. What do you want to put on it?”

Eric looks down at the card and smiles.

happiness happens here