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Thursday, March 31, 2011

(”Until I fall away I won't keep you waiting long. Until I fall away...")...Gin Blossoms…New Miserable Experience

(Semper Fi Jordan...Tôi yêu con gái KaSandra...anh yêu em Tuyet)

Gabriel's Promise
a novel by nicholas sheridan Stanton

Chapter Four

San Pedro, California, November 26, 2004

Bits of molten steel spattered, spurt, and rained down all around me as I worked repairing some minor hull damage to the “The Lavender Mist." Registered out of Singapore, the massive vessel was an aging rattrap of a freighter, at least five years past its date with the scrap yard. The cold autumn water temperatures cooled the sporadically swimming debris almost instantly and turned the brilliant light show into a dull cascade of falling gray pellets, sinking slowly and erratically to the shallow bottom of the harbor, some eighty or ninety feet below the ship's keel. I ignored the light show and concentrated on finishing the task at hand which consisted mainly of welding the last seam of this hull patch into place and then getting the hell out of the cold spooky water! I didn't have a case of the heebie geebies or anything like that, I was just exhausted from being up all night with Gabriel, the poor little guy came down with a bad case of the flu. It was probably going around school, grade schools are just little germ factories.

Dealing with his bellyaching and non stop vomiting didn't bother me as much as the knot in my own stomach that was telling me forebodingly I should be more concerned than I was. Why this healthy child suddenly so sick anyway? The poor kid was miserable, up all night, a peaceful sleep waiting until the wee hours of the morning to arrive. Monica and I talked for an hour afterwards, racking our brains trying to self diagnosis our son. Gabriel had always been healthy, fit as a fiddle, but lately he seemed to be coming down with one bug after another. It was beginning to get on my nerves. I had even called my Dad around 3am to pick his brain. But all my sleepy father could offer was 'growing pains'. "Leave him be son, he’ll be fine in a few days.” I was so fatigued that I eagerly accepted that as plausible and went to bed hoping to grab at least a couple hours sleep before going to work.

It wasn’t even noon and I was already physically, mentally, and emotionally drained, not a good thing given the type of work I do. I'd learned this craft during two hitches with the United States Navy. It was a vocation I'd been prepped for from an early age by my father the merchant seaman. Papa started planning my path after catching his six-year old son driving sixteen-penny nails into Mama's dining room table with a hammer in each hand, or so the story goes anyway. I should mention that while this feat of natural ambidexterity had impressed him to no end, Mama was not quite as pleased with my abilities. In fact, that little stunt nearly cost me my chances to see the age of seven! Suffice to say I learned some colorful new French words that day, the kind of words that would earn me several soap sandwiches during my formative years.

My eyes followed the halo surrounding the brilliant blue tip of the torch, as I put the finishing touches on the seam attaching the half-inch thick steel patch to the freighter's rusting hull. Patching this beast was like putting lipstick on a pig, but that wasn't my call, so long as long as their check cleared. As soon as I reached the end I gently pushed away from the mammoth vessel and closed the valve on the torch head, shutting off the flow of oxyacetylene. The spattering debris and cloud of bubbles disappeared quickly, and I was once again silently treading water beneath the big freighter. I kicked at the water surrounding me, my legs scissoring slowly and surveyed my handiwork with the critical eye of a master craftsman, and then prepared to return to the surface. I reattached the torch to my weight belt and reached up just below the faceplate of my dive helmet depressing the squelch button on the communicator to contact my support crew topside.

“Hey Sandy, I’m all done down here…over,” I said, releasing the squelch button and running my gloved hand over the hull patch, inspecting the quality of the weld. I rapped on the vessel approvingly and waited for a reply. Sandy’s crackly voice suddenly echoed inside my helmet, making my ears to ring a little bit.

“Dude, it’s about time, I was getting ready to send Roundy down to check on ya…over,” came the reply.

“Now why would you send ‘bulkhead’ down here man?”

“Would check on Michelangelo just because he worked through lunch…over?”

Har-dee-har-har, very funny Rembrandt, I take it you welded yourself another masterpiece…over.”

“Roger that! I really should autograph this stuff…over.”

“You’re a piece of work Patzoid!”

“Come on, haul your gear and your ass topside before the old man starts giving me shit cause you’re not here to give it to…over!”

“Don’t get your panties in a bunch Nancy, I’m on my way…over.”

“No foolin Patrick, we got a rudder to fix before quitting time.”

“And if I’m late for supper one more time this week Laura will divorce me…over!”

“Alas, poor Yorick…”

“Shakespeare wasted on me fool, I never read that crap! Just start making your way to the surface before I give the oxygen reel a spin and yank you up here myself, and I ain’t kidding Pat, so move it…over!”

“Oh, one more thing, stop calling Roundy ‘bulkhead’, you know that just sets him off…over.”

“Alright already, I’m coming, I’m coming!”

“I’ll lay off Roundy too, happy…over?”

“Roger that goofball, I’m freaking ecstatic, now shake a leg…over!”

“Seriously though, Roundy's head the size of a small planet, the thing should have its own moon, for real's…over!”

“Cut the comedy and make like a squid and jet dude…over and out!” I didn’t bother with a snappy reply, chuckling as I leisurely made for the surface.

Sandy Lucci was not someone to push too far into a corner, a lesson I'd learned the hard way several years earlier. The two of us had met in Honolulu where I had been stationed during my first hitch, working the dry docks in Pearl Harbor. Sandy’s ship, the guided missile cruiser, Spruance, named for the WWII Admiral who had saved the day at Midway, was in port for some minor repairs. A late night mishap (collision in official brass-speak) with a Dallas class submarine landed him in Hawaii for an unexpected vacation. It was during the Spruance’s unscheduled stay in port when Sandy and I had become acquainted. More precisely, it was Sandy’s stone like fists that had become acquainted with the chiseled features of my movie star handsome face. Two things you never want to give a land-locked sailor are alcohol and free time!

It was a good thing that my mom was 1200 miles and half an ocean away or Sandy might have wound up sleeping with the fishes which is exactly where Sandy would have ended up if he had put that beating on me in San Pedro instead of a strip club in Honolulu. I had planned to unwind, toss back a couple beers, and flirt with one or two of the local dancers. Instead, I walked right into the middle of a ruckus between a few Sailors and a few more Marines. Those donnybrooks seemed to always start the same way, the two branches arguing over who were fighters and who were helpers. I should have walked out but instead I tried to blend in with the spectators and bumped into Sandy. And when I tried explaining this wasn’t my fight but instead learned what the old adage ‘if you ain’t with us, you’re agin us’ really meant! Sandy turned my summer whites to red via a split lip and a broken nose. It was a painful memory to this day. With that in mind I kicked a little harder toward the surface. No sense tempting fate! At least the fatigue was gone. I was relieved to have my mind occupied with something other than worrying about whatever was ailing Gabriel. For the time being I decided to accept my Dad’s sleepy diagnosis, growing pains. Yeah, I'm sure that’s all it is, just growing pains.

County Trauma Center… Los Angels, California, November 26, 2004…10am

Rounds generally sucked whenever Dr. Wilhelm Doenitz, also known not so affectionately as Dr. Willie or just the Commandant, was presiding. Trying to stay in the middle of the pack and remain as invisible a possible, Lizzie Andrews clutched her notebook close to her chest and avoided making eye contact with the pontificating internist. It would have worked too if she had not already established herself as his favorite whipping girl. Somehow, in only two short weeks, she had managed to discover every raw nerve the poor man had, and then proceeded to stomp each them at every opportunity.

“Dr. Andrews?”

“Yes sir.”

“Please come forward young lady, I can hardly see you hunkering down like that,” Dr. Doenitz requested tiredly.

“Yes sir, sorry sir,” Lizzie replied as the small pack separated to let her pass through to the front of the group. She glanced at the others as she made her way forward, giving them the stink eye in retaliation for the grins on their faces.
“Miss Andrews, excuse me, Dr. Andrews, reluctantly, I am required to address you thusly since you managed to graduate from that social club the State of California insists on calling a University,” began her tormentor.

“So, DOCTOR Andrews, as we can all plainly see, this unfortunate young man has compound fractures of the tibia and fibula bones of his left leg.”

“Of course our crack team paramedics, or EMT’s, emergency mayhem technicians as I like to refer to them, have done their usual bang up job, managing to exacerbate this poor lad’s woes by immobilizing the limb with a crude field splint, thereby adding undue stress to the wound, and inhibiting a healing blood flow!”

“In addition, an apparent over generous dose of morphine has rendered our patient unable to be of much assistance in ascertaining what other injuries he may have suffered in the process of breaking two of his favorite bones,” ranted the Commandant.

Doctor Doenitz flipped back the sheet that covered the patient and pointed to the ghastly injury, taking keen notice of those who swooned and those that stepped closer for a closer look. The curious ones would be the ones that he would give the most attention to on future rounds. He was not surprised to see Elizabeth Andrews among the curious. He had a feeling about her that was why he rode her harder than the others. Lizzie studied the protruding bones; she wasn’t affected much by the graphic display of the meaty carnage. After all, she had made her bones so to speak in the ER. This was nothing new, she had seen as much and worse. Lizzie was more affected by her disgust with herself, for letting this bald headed toad of a man continually get the best of her. She was confident she knew the correct response to any question he was likely to ask, but she also knew that the rat bastard would never give her the opportunity to show him up in front of the group either! He'd cut her off in mid-sentence, dismiss her nonchalantly, and call upon someone else. That just mashed Lizzie’s beans every time! And each time it happened she'd swear it was the last time. She was unconsciously daydreaming of marching to Human Resources and the Head of the Department to file a formal complaint.

“That would fix your wagon,” she muttered, as he prepared to cut her off.

“Dr. Andrews, what could the paramedics have done in the field that would have left us in a better position to treat this man?” Dr. Doenitz asked, peering over the top of his spectacles.

“Well sir, if I had been out there I would have…”

“Miss Andrews, I did not ask for a fairy tale, just the facts if you please!”

“Yes sir, I was just saying that if…” Dr. Doenitz sighed heavily and raised his arm to look at his wristwatch.

“Nice try Miss Andrews, but we’re running late.”

“For the sake of expediency why don’t we ask someone who has an actual clue, shall we?” he said sarcastically, surveying the group for a suitable suck-up to complete today’s humiliation of Dr. “Wimpy” Andrews, would-be-physician at large.
Lizzie bit her tongue as Dr. So & So rattled off a textbook response to the Commandant's question, covering operational field procedure, diagnosis, and even suggested meds. Dr. Doenitz finished it off with a classic retort.

“Well done Dr. So & So, perhaps you can spare a few moments to tutor our less prepared young doctors? I’m certain Dr. Andrews would appreciate the support.”
That was the cherry on the cake of Lizzie’s day! For a split second she wrestles with either socking Doenitz in the beezer or running to the bathroom to cry! She knew which solution her Dad would suggest, but she still had a year on this rotation and she had to keep her eyes on the prize. Instead she resolved to just let it roll like water on a ducks back. She was going to have a good day, she'd promised herself that earlier this morning. If neighbor Bill, couldn’t send her to ‘tears-ville’ than neither would this jackass! Lizzie just stared him down until he flinched, caught off guard by her sudden moxie. Dr. Doenitz cleared his throat then pushed through the small group heading to the next victim/patient. Lizzie smiled as he walked by her, shamefully proud of herself, and enjoyed her little victory in the battle of wills, then followed after him. She glanced at the clock over the nurse's station, it read 12:30pm, and rounds were nearly over. She would relax; maybe grab a sandwich with Yvonne and Denise from the ‘preemie’ unit. That’s where she wanted to end up after her third year.

She had spent some time there as an RN and was hooked the first time she held one of the little ‘joeys’. That was the term everyone on the ward used for the tiny prematurely born infants, because they just reminded you of kangaroo babies. Not that the preemie’s looked like kangaroos, but because they seemed to exhibit the same strength, spirit, and determination to survive, so small in a world so big. The row of incubators sort of protected the preemies from the big bad world much like mother kangaroo did with her pouch. Lizzie marveled at the way the mothers watched over their babies, cooing and humming to them, reading to them, talking to them as if they could understand each and every word.

“Alright ladies and gentlemen, that’s all I can take for today. Let’s break for lunch and get on with the rest of the day,” announced Dr. Doenitz as he dismissed the group and returned his brand new Parker ballpoint pen to his smock pocket. The small group disbanded as quickly as a jailbreak, everyone headed in different directions.

“Hey Lizzie, want to run over to Olvera St. and grab a couple tacos with me and Jeff?” asked Danielle, a pretty Persian first year intern from Boston College.

Lizzie looked over at her and Jeff Collins, another first year intern from USD, University of San Diego. It was a tempting offer, Jeff was kind of cute, and he had been showing some interest in her beyond work lately. But she also knew that Danielle was hot for him and Lizzie didn’t like being in the middle of anything, least of all office romances. As her father had once crudely advised one night when she was fetching him home from last call at ‘Malone’s’ in Brooklyn, “Elizabeth darling girl, never get your meat where you get your bread. Remember that girl, you’ll be thanking me for that advice someday, and it’ll save you some heartache it will!” Lizzie smiled recalling that moment. Her Dad had a million of those homespun witticisms. All of the sudden she was homesick.

“Thanks guys, but I’m going to stay in and study, maybe eat my sandwich in the cafeteria,” Lizzie replied apologetically.

“Suit yourself! I hope we don’t wind up reading your chart on tomorrow’s rounds!” Danielle hollered from over her shoulder as she took Jeff’s arm and walked down the hall toward the exit. Lizzie waved as they disappeared down the corridor and turned to head for the hospital cafeteria. She nearly collided with a woman rushing into the ER carrying a whimpering child. There was blood all over the front of the woman’s blouse; the child’s face was buried in her bosom.

“WHOA!” Lizzie yelped, side stepping the hard charging woman, nearly tripping over her own big feet in the process. Recovering quickly, she grabbed onto the woman’s arm as she attempted to pass her and gave it a gentle tug.

“Hold on a minute, what seems to be the problem?” she asked calmly, trying to make eye contact with the woman and reduce the level of panic on her face. The young woman lifted the child slightly, readjusting her grip. As she did so, the child’s face rolled away from her chest and Lizzie could see that the little boy had quite a nosebleed going.

“My son’s nose won’t stop bleeding! I’ve tried everything, direct pressure, ice, I even held him upside down for a while, none of that helped, it wouldn’t stop! What’s wrong with him? Help me!” the woman pleaded hysterically.

“Take it easy, take it easy, you’re in the right place, we’ll fix him up, just calm down, OK?” Lizzie replied, trying her best to sound confidently reassuring.

“Ernesto, bring that gurney over here and help me get this kid onto it. Then take them to trauma 3, rapido dude, rapido!” Lizzie shouted to a nearby orderly. The young man hustled over with the bed on wheels and helped Lizzie and the mother place the little boy onto it. Lizzie slid up the rail on one side while Ernesto did likewise with the other and then the two of them wheeled the gurney swiftly into trauma 3, closing the curtain around them. The curtain slid open again immediately as an ER nurse popped in to see what was happening.

“You’ll need an attending before you do anything Lizzie, you know that right?” Nurse Haley asked rhetorically, unsure of Lizzie’s intent.

“Yeah, yeah, I know Marjorie, who hasn’t gone to lunch already?”

“Umm, Dr. Wallace right next door looking over that compound fracture in 1, I think he’s waiting for the new orthopedic guy, what’s his name, Phillips I think, to come down stairs,” Marjorie replied quickly. There was a short pregnant pause and then, “You want me to go get him?” she added.


“I’ll just go and get Dr. Wallace now,” Marjorie said meekly, slowly backing away, closing the curtain behind her.

“Thanks Marjorie, you’re a peach!” Lizzie shouted after her.

Placing her hand underneath the boy’s neck, Lizzie gently rolled his head back forcing the chin up in an effort to slow the rate at which the blood was flowing. She reached over to the cart beside the gurney and grabbed a sterile towel from the top drawer and pressed it to the boy’s face, pinching his nostrils shut and applying pressure as gently as possible. “It’s OK honey, I won’t hurt you,” she said softly and soothingly to the frightened child.

“I told you I already tried that,” the mother said in frustration.

“I know you did ma’am, we’re just getting started here. Okay, listen; tell me how long he has been bleeding like this?”

“You mean just this time or when did he start having nose bleed all together?”

“Let’s keep it manageable for now. How long has he been bleeding at this rate today?” Lizzie asked rolling her eyes, grateful that her back was to the woman.

“It was only a little drip about an hour ago, just a drop or two really. I sat him at the kitchen table with a warm washcloth while I made him a peanut butter and banana sandwich, his favorite. It stopped for a few minutes while he ate, but when he went to take a drink of cold milk he choked and then there was blood everywhere!” the mother exclaimed, her voice rising sharply as she finished her sentence.

“What do you mean he choked? Did the blood come from his mouth or his nose? Lizzie asked.

BOTH! He coughed up a big thick glob of blood and then his nose started to run like a river!”

“Has that ever happened before?” Lizzie pressed.

“Not the coughing up blood part, but yes, he’s had problem nose bleeds before.”

“How many time, roughly?”

“I don’t know, ten, maybe twelve in the last month or so.”

“Why, is that important?”

”Has he been seen by a doctor?”

“Of course he has!” the mother replied defensively.

“No offense ma’am, I was only asking,” Lizzie replied apologetically. She looked over her shoulder, partly to see if Dr. Wallace was coming and partly to make sure Dr. Willie wasn’t within earshot to witness her botching the bedside manner drill.

“What exactly did the doctor say when he treated your son for the other nose bleeds? I mean did he give you any sort of diagnosis?” Lizzie asked, changing hands on the towel to relieve the cramping in her fingers.

“He said it could be a number of things, that’s why they took so much blood and ran so many tests. He said it would be a few days before we knew anything specific,” the mother answered, chewing on her thumbnail as she watched Lizzie work. Elizabeth didn’t speak right away, mulling over what the woman had said so far.

“Actually, my husband and I were up with Gabriel most of the night. He was complaining his tummy hurt, as well as his legs and eyes? We were kind of hoping that Patrick’s father was right about it just being growing pains,” she added with a weak smile.

She hoped that Lizzie might agree and send them home with a sucker and nothing to worry about. She watched Lizzie gently examine her son, and she was grateful that she had run into a female doctor this time. The male doctors Gabriel had seen so far were all too clinical, they made Gabriel nervous, and he cried with each of them. Monica noticed that Gabriel held onto this doctor’s hand as she pressed the towel to his face. She actually felt this young woman’s concentration and calmness. There were no tears running down Gabby's cheeks, he was quiet as a church mouse. His breathing was slow and even, he might just as well have been resting in her own arms, Monica was very grateful for that. Lizzie was about to speak when the curtain slid open again and Dr. Adam Wallace walked in briskly. The tall, dark haired attending resident looked on for a moment before speaking, respecting Lizzie’s position as having arrived on the scene first.

“So, what have we here?” he asked politely, his tone firm, yet soft and soothing at the same time.

“Male, age…ummm…” Lizzie started, stalling when she realized that she had failed to collect all of the pertinent data, mistake number two for the day.

“He’s six, Gabriel turned six years-old July 27th,” the mother offered up, sensing that Lizzie could use a little help.

“Right, uh, thank you,” Lizzie replied, giving Monica a thank you smile.
“OK, male, age six years,” said Dr. Wallace.

“Arrived approximately fifteen minutes ago, bleeding profusely from each nostril.”
“The mother says that he has been bleeding at this rate for approximately forty to forty-five minutes.”

“I was about to order CBC, match type and cross match when you walked in, this kid is definitely a quart or two low,” Lizzie said, rattling off the facts like she had been taught, except for the harmless quip at the end of course.

“Seems like you’ve got things under control here doctor, good call, Dr. Andrews, isn’t it?" asked Dr. Wallace.

“Yes sir, Elizabeth Andrews, first year.”

“Nice to meet you Liz, here, let’s have a look,” said Dr. Wallace, stepping in to join the exam from the opposite side of the gurney.

“How ya doin champ?” he asked softly, gently wiping a new tear from the boy’s face.

“You must be a baseball player, right? You look like a baseball player to me. Bet you want to be a Dodger when you grow up!” Dr. Wallace said, making small talk while he moved Gabriel’s hair away from his face and shined a pen light back and forth across his eyes, checking the pupil’s reaction and dilation.

“No way, I wanna be a Yankee,” Gabriel said weakly, speaking for the first time since arriving at the hospital.

“Really, like Derek Jeter I bet!” Dr. Wallace replied, returning the pen light to his coat pocket. He observed the pallor of the child’s skin while an RN prepared to draw blood for the tests Lizzie had ordered.

“Yes sir, Derek Jeter, he’s the captain and he’s my Daddy’s favorite player too!” Gabriel added, a grin spreading across his blood stained face.

“I KNOW, ME TOO!” DR. Wallace said, smiling and winking down at Gabriel.

“OK sport, nurse Marjorie here is going to get a little blood from your arm so we can test it and see what’s going on with all of these nose bleeds you’ve been getting."

"Don’t worry though, I’m going to stand right here beside you and make sure she does it right! Here, you can go ahead and pinch me as hard as you want if she hurts you at all, OK? But I know a big guy like you isn’t afraid of any old needle, right!”

Gabriel nodded, his grin fading slightly at the prospect of a needle prick. But Dr. Wallace had happened upon just the right tactic to gain his confidence, the very same approach that his Dad used at home. As nurse Marjorie inserted the needle Gabriel pinched down on the good doctor’s forearm as hard as he could. Dr. Wallace winced slightly and looked over at the little boy’s mother.

“Quite a grip on the little guy,” he said, winking at everyone around the gurney. Lizzie put her hand up to her mouth, stifling a giggle.

“There, all done!” Nurse Marjorie said sweetly, gently patting the top of Gabriel’s head.

Doctor Wallace slapped a cold pack onto the counter behind him and the wrapped it in a clean sterile towel from the top drawer from the cart beside him. He leaned over and placed it across the bridge of Gabriel’s nose, looking down at the boy as he spoke.

“OK Gabe, just keep your head back and breathe through your mouth while this ice pack does its job, OK?”


“Try not to sniffle or breathe through your nose at all.”

“If you feel some fluid gather in your throat just swallow.”

“This will be over in a just few minutes, I promise.”

“I’m going to go talk to your Mom for a couple of minutes, okay? Dr. Andrews will stay here with you, won't you doctor?”

“Of course, Gabriel and me are pals now,” answered Lizzie.

Dr. Wallace took the mother by the arm and led her a few feet away, just out of hearing range. Lizzie took Gabriel’s hand in hers and gently stroked the back of it. She looked down at the little boy, only his eyes and chin were visible from under the big towel resting on his face, but the gleam in his eyes indicated to her that he was smiling. She was glad for that, because she sensed this was only the beginning of a long ordeal. Gabriel's symptoms supported a small list of possible diagnosis, and none of them were trivial. She peered over at Monica and Dr. Wallace. The woman’s back was to her, but Lizzie could see that Dr. Wallace was likely telling her exactly what Lizzie was thinking, and by the mother’s sudden change in posture it was registering. She knew it for sure when Dr. Wallace glanced her way, it was written all over his face.

Lizzie looked away; suddenly sorry she had passed on that taco lunch with Danielle and Jeff. Sometimes this job puffed you up like a helium balloon, especially when you dealt with life’s high water marks, like the birth of a baby, or rescuing someone from death’s door. And sometimes it left you empty, especially when you dealt with life’s disappointments, this being one of them. By her count in her short career, the lows are leading the highs. Sometimes she wondered what led her down this road. She looked down at Gabriel who he staring up at her, his eyes full of trust and hope.

“This is why,” she muttered, combing the boy’s damp hair with her fingers.

“This is why…”

Monday, March 28, 2011

(”Don’t it always seem to go, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. They pave paradise, put up a parking lot…")…Joni Mitchell 1970

(Semper Fi Jordan...Tôi yêu con gái KaSandra)

Gabriel's Promise
a novel by nicholas sheridan Stanton

Chapter Three

San Pedro, California, November 25, 2002

“Come on light, change already!” muttered Elizabeth Emily Andrews, already stressing out and here it was only eight o’clock in the morning. She gripped the steering wheel tightly, sideways glancing at her wristwatch. Yeppers, it was official, she was going to be late to work for the third time this week. “CRAP!” she exclaimed, pushing herself back into the seat, and gruffly folding her arms in front of her to pout. She glared through the windshield at the lazy red traffic signal and tried willing it to change. "Fat chance," she muttered, giving the object of her frustration a nice loud raspberry, “PHFFFFT!"

That seemed to delight a toddler sitting in the back of a large SUV along side of her. The little girl or boy, it was hard to tell which from her vantage point, was pointing at her accusingly, and laughing hysterically at the funny face Elizabeth was making. She noticed that the happy little kid was strapped securely in one of those car seats equipped with a pretend steering wheel in front of the kid. The child punched at a big red button in the center of the little wheel, which Elizabeth quickly deduced to be a squeaky horn. That had to be annoying for whoever was driving if not a down right dangerous distraction.

“That’s it baby!” hollered Lizzie.

“Give em what for!” she added enthusiastically, laying on her own horn in solidarity with the happy baby, just what the doctor ordered to keep her day from turning into one of those days.

“Ahhhhhh,” she sighed, grinning and feeling a little bit better.

It really wasn’t all her fault you know, interns get all the crappy shifts she reasoned. She kept telling herself, "couple more years Lizzie, just a couple more years." Then she’d be a resident, and move up the hospital pecking order, far enough at least to earn a semi normal work day and a decent nights sleep! She lingered on that thought, enjoying the moment, when the light changed from red to green. A polite little toot from the VW behind her jolted her back to reality, and she made her way quickly across the intersection, heading toward the on ramp for the 110 freeway. Thus began the twenty-five minute drive from foggy San Pedro to smoggy Los Angeles where she worked.

Fresh out of med school, Elizabeth was a first year intern at the infamous LA County Trauma Center, deep in the heart of the city, where she dealt daily with all the ER action that the ‘City of Angels’ had to offer. As difficult and scary as that could be at times, she really did love her work. It made her feel as though she were making a difference, where it counted, in people’s lives. She especially enjoyed the people she worked with every day, they had become a second family to her. Oh sure, some might mistake the whining, bellyaching, and sarcasm as disharmony, but they would be way wrong! All that griping was just how they got through the day, how they supported each other. Sarcasm was a handy tool when dealing with the day-to-day bullshit she and her coworkers stepped over, around, and sometimes through. Little distractions went a long way to keep from falling into the ‘misery pit’ that surrounded the place. Elizabeth pondered that term 'misery pit,' it seemed about right; it was a trauma center after all.

Wriggling into a more comfortable position in the driver’s seat, she shifted her left leg, and set her stocking foot down on the armrest beside her. It’s a maneuver ONLY a woman can pull off. You see them all the time sitting in or driving through traffic as comfortably as if they were lounging in the Lazy Boy at home. It's a feat that every man is jealous of by the way. On the really bad days she'd wonder how she ended up in this life. But she never had to think about it long, she knew exactly what led down this path. Her mother had served in the Marine Corps as a surgical nurse during the Vietnam War in the late 1960’s. Elizabeth loved listening to her mom reminisce about those times, even though they usually brought tears.

“Were you scared mommy?” she would ask. And her mom would always answer the same way.

“No baby, I wasn’t scared too much, I had a guardian angel. As long as your Uncle Ethan was nearby I knew that nothing bad would happen to me,” she would say.

Then she would tell her all about how she'd met her Dad, and how Uncle Ethan was even a part of that too. “You see baby, God puts certain people into your life for a reason, a good reason, always a good reason, whether you understand it or not,” she would say cryptically. Apparently that was her mom's take on Uncle Ethan coming into her life. He wasn’t really Lizzie's Uncle, at least not by blood, only by love. Ethan Kelly was her dad’s best friend at University, and, as fate would have it, wound up serving in the same outfit as her mom. Elizabeth's favorite part of that story was when Mom told how she and Dad brought Uncle Ethan and Aunt Brenda together. It was the kind of romance every young girl dreams of. As she grew older, Elizabeth came to understand that her Mom’s frequent reminiscing was her way of avoiding the misery pit in her past, those dark places filled with terrible nightmares and bittersweet memories.

Elizabeth was all grown up now, earning her stripes as an ER nurse, working five long years while simultaneously attending UCLA and earning her degree in biology. Like mother like daughter, a fiercely driven and extremely intelligent young lady, she aced the MCATS and continued on to Medical School at UCLA where she graduated with honors, walking with the class of 2001 decked out in her powder blue cap and gown. She accepted her neatly rolled degree signifying her as a doctor of medicine from the Chancellor himself. Elizabeth recalled scanning the crowd at that moment, squinting in the bright sunlight as she looked for her parents and family. She didn't see them at first, but she didn't need to, she knew that Mom would find her. An instant later she heard the shrill whistle from her crazy mother, Carla, who had caught the attention of one and all with her war cry. As Elizabeth left the stage clutching her diploma, she heard her Mom's cheer, in typical Andrews fashion;


Elizabeth sighed as she merged onto the freeway, sort of checking over her shoulder as she sped across four lanes of traffic into the number one. She always had been a lead foot, a trait she attributed to her father, Sean Michael Andrews, the devil-may-care, thrill-seeking workaholic/playaholic that he was. She guessed that to a certain extent the old adage was true; ‘the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree.’ She was only 28, born on the fourth of July in 1975, but she was an 'old soul' her Uncle Ethan would say. To which her dad would answer back 'too much grindstone and not enough blarney'.

The only child of an Irish father and Italian mother, a volatile gene pool to say the least, it was a miracle she had made it past her teens. Life was never dull around the Andrew’s house, that she could tell you. What with Dad’s need to conquer the world by day, and reap the spoils by night, one pub at a time, and Mom’s compulsion to fix everything and everyone, offering up her opinions two cents at a time, solicited or not, the Andrews household was to put it mildly, lively! Some of her parent’s ‘discussions’ were legendary in the neighborhood, but you know what, it didn't seem like fighting or bickering, it was more like enthusiastically agreeing to disagree!

One thing that she always amazed her was that no matter how hot the discussion may have been the two of them never went to bed angry, and they ALWAYS started the next day anew. They fought fair, with love, does that make sense? She was proud to a fault of her family, together they were really something. Lizzie (a nickname courtesy Uncle Ethan) was taller than most of the kids she had grown up with, standing in at five feet nine inches by the time she was thirteen years old. She had a head full of curly auburn hair, and her complexion was fair and freckled. Her eyes were speckled green and brown, some people refer to that mixture as hazel. And she was skinny like her Dad, although she had just enough of her Mother’s Italian curves to round out her figure rather nicely. The breast fairy had been kind as well, so all together; she was quite a dish as Uncle Ethan would say. He liked to tease her by saying things to her Dad whenever she was within earshot. Things like, “Ach Sean, this one is gonna break some hearts, I can tell you that!” And whenever he teased her, her Auntie Brenda would come to her defense and sock him playfully, telling him to behave.

The green freeway sign indicated that the 6th street exit was just ahead. Lizzie clicked on her signal and then bullied her way back across traffic into the number 4 lane to catch the exit a quarter mile ahead. She reckoned she'd be to work in 10 minutes barring any traffic issues in the city. The exit came up quickly and she followed the winding ramp up to the stop light and waited to turn left. The old Pantry restaurant was right next to her and she was enveloped in the wonderful aroma of breakfast, it was Heavenly and it was cruel. She was starving, but there was no time for a decent meal, not even a cup of coffee, she was SO LATE! Sometimes she wondered what it was that had ever possessed her to choose such a demanding life over the life of privilege that her family’s wealth offered. From what mental deficiency did she suffer to arrive at such a decision? Willingly leaving behind an exciting, posh, and cushy life in beautiful San Francisco provided by the fruits of her Father’s success? But then there it was, wasn’t it, the fruits of his successes.

The common thread within her Celtic and Roman heritage was pride, and it was that pride that propelled her to seek her own way, the hard way of course. The only help she accepted from her parents was for tuition and books. Everything else that she needed, like shelter, and food, etcetera, she provided all by herself, working long hours at the very hospital to which she was driving this morning. This was her life in a nutshell, the last ten years of it a blur of red blood, red lights and shrill sirens, and red entries in the ledger of her chronically overdrawn checkbook. Two more years, just two more years and she would be a resident, the 8-hour dream would be a reality, and she would prove to her folks, and all of those socialite brats she grew up with, that she could make it all on her own. It really wasn’t something that Sean and Carla Andrews needed to see because they never doubted her resolve or her ability. After all, she was their child, right! No, it was something that Lizzie needed to do for them, a respectful acknowledgement for believing in her, for letting her find her own way.

Lizzie stood on the brakes just before the entrance of the parking structure across from the hospital, and gently rolled up the drive to take the ticket from the machine. She waited patiently as the mechanical arm rose, allowing her access to the employee spaces on the right near the elevator. She glanced down at her watch and smirked, happy to see that she had managed to make up about 30 seconds of the time she lost sitting at that lazy stop light. She eased her little Honda Civic into an open space and killed the engine. The day had started on a sour note. She had overslept after pulling a double shift the day before, and had been rudely awakened around 6am by the pounding fist of neighbor Bill, the tall semi-handsome law student/plumbers apprentice next door. It was bad enough that he was always hitting on her, but now he was hitting on the common wall that separated their apartments.

Apparently Billy-boy had left his sense of humor at whatever bar he had closed the night before, and didn’t appreciate the gusto with which her cute but powerful Bose radio alarm clock boomed out an AC/DC classic. She could understand that, but did he really have to bang on the wall like Fred Flintstone, and shout at her through the thin layer of sheet rock, “HEY LIZZIE, TRYING TO SLEEP OVER HERE!”
NO he did not! And on that note, she decided that she'd blame every thing that went wrong on this shift on her sleepy and thoughtless neighbor, William Armstrong Monroe, a.k.a. TURDMAN!

Lizzie turned the key in the ignition and killed the engine. Sighing she said a quick prayer that she'd make rounds on time, and got out of the car. Aiming her keychain at the car door she pressed the button two or three times before she remembered the darn thing had stopped working a week ago. Must be the battery or something she thought using the key to lock her door the old fashioned way. Then turning on her heel quickly she sprinted off toward the elevator, her lunch in one hand (a tuna sandwich and a baggie full of veggies) and a stack of manila case folders in the other. Huffing and puffing she zipped into the elevator and leaned up against the back panel as the doors closed. She took a deep cleansing breath and blew it out with puffy cheeks. Showtime! Dr. Elizabeth Andrews was going to have good day, one way or another, no matter whose pecker she had to step on in the process!

“One day closer to the 8 hour dream,” she muttered.

Friday, March 25, 2011

(“Photographs and memories, all the love you gave to me, somehow it just can't be true, that's all I've left of you”) …Jim Croce 1974

(Semper Fi Jordan...Tôi yêu con gái KaSandra)

Gabriel's Promise
a novel by nicholas sheridan stanton

Chapter Two

San Pedro, California, November 25, 2002

The two large brass bells perched atop an old round faced alarm clock waited patiently for their cue. As the hands aligned north and south to read 6am the dutiful timepiece clanged to life with the subtlety of a wrecking ball. It vibrated wildly on the nightstand, the hammer striking the large brass bells relentlessly, vibrating so ferociously that it actually began to ‘walk’ toward the edge of its perch. Slowly, very slowly, a large hand, calloused from a lifetime of hard labor, rose from underneath a rumpled mound of blankets on the bed beside the nightstand. Thick fingers wrapped carefully around the blaring instrument, and ever so gently depressed the small lever in back, silencing the old clock a split second before it fell from the stand to the hardwood floor below.

François Bouchard, my old man, turned lazily onto his back and stretched, rubbing the crust from his ice blue eyes. Out of habit he reached over beside him, feeling around for where my mother's sleeping form should have been. He stroked the cold empty space beside him, sighing deeply, and caressed the sheet as if she were still there. Turning his head on a old, weathered feather pillow he stared at the undisturbed linen beside him. This was Papa's routine, every morning he reminded himself that she was gone, each and every morning for a couple of years now. Giselle Bouchard died the summer of 1999 from complications with an acute case of emphysema. Her death wasn't pretty and it wasn't quick, it was a bitter, bitter memory, one he wished he could just forget. Whoever coined the phrase "absence makes the heart grow fonder" clearly had never had their heart broken. Sometimes absence just makes the heart grow harder.

It takes a special kind of courage to forgive without being vindictive. To be able to see past the bitterness that blinds you to the purity of the love you push deep into a vault where it can no longer be shared. My mom never meant to hurt my father, in fact I doubt she realized that she did. But I tell you this much, were the roles reversed she would never abandon her love for him, no matter what passed between them. My mother believed in love and she lived like she did, every day that I can remember.

“Goddamn cigarettes!” François muttered.

Papa had pleaded with her to stop smoking their entire life together; it was really the only thing they ever bickered about. And when she was officially diagnosed with her dire condition in January of 1995 his pleas turned to demands, which naturally disintegrated into bitter arguments, followed by days of silence and weeks of frustration. François prayed daily for Divine intervention, he was convinced that if Giselle humbled herself and stop poisoning her body, that God would show mercy. She didn’t, and neither did God, and so François was forced to suffer the agony of witnessing her slow, horrible death. At the very end my mother suffocated while she was attached to a full tank of oxygen. Her lung capacity had deteriorated so much, that she could no longer draw breath enough to sustain her life.

It had been like watching a candle flame die out, the red glow fading to orange, then yellow, then blue, and then eventually to black, cold and final. He was bitter and felt he had the right to be. Only his faith kept him from mourning himself into rash decisions after her passing. He was grateful that her suffering was over, but secretly cursed her stubborn pride. Were it not for that she might still be with him.

“Je vous aime mon Cher,” (I love you my dear)he whispered.

Tenderly he caressed the space beside him where she lay for forty-seven years. He imagined it was still warm to the touch, his memories defying the laws of physics. Papa glanced over to the nightstand on her side of the bed and noticed a gaudy, gold framed photograph of the two of them in happier times. It was a picture taken on their last real holiday together, before they were aware of the hell yet to come. François vividly remembered that day. They had been walking all morning, window shopping and visiting some old friends of Giselle’s, when they decided to stop for a quick lunch at one of her favorite cafés on the Boulevard Malesherbes. It was a quaint little place in the financial district, not far from the Madeleine Church and the Metro station. He had uncharacteristically asked the waiter to take their photo. The two of them posed like a pair of silly teenagers, all kissy faced and grinning from ear to ear.

Papa took in a deep breath and sighed, imagining he could still catch the faint scent of her skin in the cooling blankets. Paris was her city; she had been born and raised there. And Giselle had remained every bit a Parisian, even after moving to the United States with him at the tender age of nineteen. Ten years her senior, François had met Giselle shortly after mustering out of the French Navy in the winter of 1948. He had gone to Paris to reunite with his own family, only to discover that they had not survived the German occupation. And after a night of feeling sorry for himself and drinking beyond his limitations, he awoke early the next morning, face down in the tall grass of a local schoolyard. A pretty young girl kicked at his feet, and tried to rouse him.

“Excuser moi Monsieur?”(Excuse me sir) a sweet voice had asked him gently.

“Excuser moi! Vous sont bien monsieur?” (Excuse me, are you alright sir) the voice asked again more insistently, inquiring if he was OK.

François recalled squinting in the glare of the morning sun, his head aching from the wine the night before, and seeing the face of an angel. He fell in love the instant he saw her. Or perhaps he fell in love with the notion of being in love, who could say for sure. All he knew for certain was that his heart had been touched, and the light in this girl’s eyes had somehow dulled the pain of his family's fate. He recalled her puzzled and amused expression. She was totally unaware of the wheels she had set in motion by her random act of kindness. In that moment, without really understanding why, he unconsciously began his campaign to win her heart. As it turned out, Giselle needed little coaxing, as she had been equally smitten, as hungry as he was for life to return to normal.

Four years after that chance meeting they were wed, it was the winter of 1952. Shortly afterward, François and his child bride immigrated to the United States of America, to begin their new life together. Like so many immigrants before them, they settled at first in New York City. Their first home together was a tiny apartment at the top of a six-floor walkup located on the Lower East Side of the city. There was barely enough room for the two of them, but Giselle was young and anxious to start a family. She begged and pleaded with him to promise that they would try as soon as they were settled. He had tried to reason with her, attempting to explain that they needed to prepare a little nest egg before incurring such responsibility. But Giselle was still a girl in many respects, and had an enormous faith in the unwritten proverb that ‘good things happened to good people’ so as far as she was concerned, there was no reason for worry, they would be blessed, she was certain of it.

François remembered thinking many times after these discussions, how could one argue with such optimism? After countless such talks she wore him down and they reached an amicable compromise. Mother agreed to wait until Papa found a decent paying job, and they set aside at least enough to cover the expense of bringing a new life into their new world. With that as inspiration, François ventured out amongst the throng of post war job hunters and searched for a place to hang his tool belt, and seek his fortune. And wouldn’t you know it, just as Giselle had predicted, good fortune smiled upon them and within a week he had found the perfect job. A diesel mechanic by trade, François had managed to find work in the vast expanse of the New York shipyards, at a thriving marine dry dock located right on the East River. It was a natural fit for him, given his years of service in the French Navy where he tended to the maintenance and repair of the huge diesel engines propelling the destroyer he had served aboard during the war, Defiant.

Papa had spent five years aboard that vessel, patrolling the icy cold Atlantic Ocean hunting devil fish, a term commonly used to describe the deadly German U-boats that lurked along the coast of his homeland. The experience had molded him into a fine craftsman in his own right, and thus into a valuable commodity in this post war industry. Outwardly he credited his steadfast perseverance for their good fortune, but inwardly and secretly he acknowledged Giselle's mantra that 'good things come to good people'. He started that new job on the first Monday in May, just before the real heat of summer arrived in the Big Apple. And in no time he and Giselle had squirreled away a tidy little sum. Not a fortune mind you, but enough for him to keep his promise, and they began trying in earnest to start their family.

Their luck continued when in March of 1954 Giselle beamingly announced that she was with child. She was of course, ecstatic, but for some unknown reason François felt uneasy, perhaps it was just the pre-papa jitters or maybe it was the significance of the news; that their lives would change forever. He did his best to hide that from Giselle, the terror and pressure he felt, but she was far too sensitive to miss such obvious clues, his quietness, his pensiveness, his far away stares. She suspected that he was just doing what all men do, making mountains out of molehills; creating all sorts of havoc within their minds about futures that were yet to be realized. Why couldn't he just trust in God as she did? After all, hadn't he provided this moment exactly as he had promised?

François frowned as he recalled that time of his life. How he had wallowed in a blue funk he created with his brooding. It didn't take long for his bad attitude to start chipping away Giselle’s initial enthusiasm, but to her credit she never threw that back at him. Mother never let Papa's lack of faith reduce her own. Her mother had raised her well, and taught her that in marriage nothing was unforgivable, that when one of you is weak the other must be strong, that is your bond, and that is your duty unto God. Papa had pouted and moped right up to the day mother went into labor, two weeks early mind you! And with little fanfare, she gave birth to a daughter, stillborn, the day after Christmas, December 26, 1954. They named the baby Marie, and buried her quietly in a brief ceremony at St. Paul’s Cathedral. It was just the two of them in attendance. They would never speak of her again.

Papa blamed himself for the tragedy, and tried his best to keep from sinking into a deeper depression with his guilt. He didn't have to try too hard as mother would have none of that! Her faith was tremendous and she knew that God worked in his own time. When the time was right, if she was faithful, he would grant her heart's desire, just as he promised in the Psalms. Her husband was easy to forgive; he was merely acting like a child, but forgiving herself would be harder, in her mind she had somehow failed her child. That never made sense to Papa, but he knew that she believed it, and she prayed to St. Gerard, the patron saint of expectant mothers, for strength the next go around. As fate would have it though, the path to the next conception would prove to be a difficult one. They tried earnestly but fruitlessly, year after year, for the family that she so passionately yearned for, there seemed to be no hope. But isn't that when God's gifts are the most glorious?

Giselle stubbornly refused to surrender her spirit to self pity or misery, never losing faith or her joyful spirit. And in the last days of the infamous summer of love, in early September, 1969, they were once again with child. Mother was convinced that it was a reward for her unwavering faith. And so, nine uneventful months later I arrived, a son, Patrick Henry Bouchard. I came screaming into the world without incident in the wee hours of June 7th, 1970. I would be their only child in this life. Mother had actually gone into labor as she and Papa stood in a hot crowded room downtown waiting to take their oath of citizenship.

As the large group of new citizens finished their pledge with, "so help me God," mother frantically announced that her water had broken. François sat up in bed and chuckled as he recalled the mayhem and confusion that had ensued. Dozens of fawning would be midwives from the old country scrambled in mass, coming to the aid of his blushing wife. After a few moments of general confusion, mother and an older Russian woman named Tanya, who actually was a registered nurse, were whisked away by INS authorities to an empty office where five and one half-hours later I was born, delivered expertly by their wonderful new friend Tanya.

François remembered someone asking if they had a name for the child. He remembered looking to Giselle for help, but she was in another world. He recalled asking Tanya what her favorite boys names were, since they couldn't name their son after her. She looked at him proudly and in her thick Russian accent answered, “give boy American name, call him Patrick Henry,"give me liberty, or give me death!” she said adamantly. François had loved the sound of it the minute he heard it, the name had a ring to it. And after mother nodded her approval, he introduced to the room to their son, Patrick Henry Bouchard.

François yawned and stretched once more then kicked off the covers and swung his legs over the edge of the bed, feeling for his slippers with his feet. He recoiled slightly when his they touched the cold wooden floor. Finding his slippers he eased his feet into his soft and warm flannel lining, got up and walked out into the hall toward the bathroom, scratching his head and backside along the way. He had lollygagged longer than usual this morning, getting out of bed twenty minutes later than he actually should have. There wasn't time to shave, only enough to shower and brush his teeth before I arrived to pick him up for work. Luckily his lunch was in the fridge, prepared and packed the night before, as was his normal routine. This was the part of the day he looked forward to most of all, getting out of the empty house and away from his memories.

After mother’s passing he'd been restless, and prone to bouts of depression. Were it not for my insistence that he either go back to work, or find a hobby to keep himself busy, he would have probably followed mother to Heaven and missed out on the birth of his grandson Gabriel. Papa wished that mother could have seen Gabriel once before she died. My boy had her eyes, and her smile, and her impish grin which he displayed coyly whenever he was up to something, just like Grandma. So, taking his my advice, Papa offered to help out around the house, doing chores and babysitting Gabriel whenever Monica needed a break or had to run errands.

That suited him, it was better than taking a real nine to five job. He didn’t need one anyway; he had retired fairly well off long ago thanks to the Pipefitters Union and some sound investment tips from a former shipmate from the Defiant days, Jean Michel Tondreau. Besides, here he was his own boss and could come and go as he pleased. François smiled as he thought about his family and reached in beyond the drawn shower curtain to spin the faucet handles and start the flow of hot water. He stood in front of the large mirror above a porcelain basin while he waited for the water to heat up and wiggled out of his pajamas. Puffimg out his chest, he sucked in his small gut, and raised his arms to flex his taut biceps. Then, twisting his closed fists back and forth, he watched with pride as the rounded muscles rose and fell impressively.

“Fine figure of a man,” he said proudly to the guy in the mirror, admiring himself, thankful that the years had been kind to him. To be honest, at his age, most people were extremely limited physically. But at the tender age of 81, he was in remarkable shape, easily passing for a man 20 to 25 years his junior. He attributed that in part to a lifetime of hard work, but mostly to the wonderful care that mother had taken in making sure that he lived healthily. He put his arms down and waved dismissively at his image in the mirror, “bahhhh,” he muttered, as he stepped into the shower.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

("and it's our God-forsaken right to be loved loved loved")Jason Mraz…I'm Yours

I spent today at the beach in Torrey Pines with my memories of KaSandra (KK), reminiscing and recharging my heart and spirit. Losing someone that you love is like losing a piece of yourself. Lately, I feel like a jigsaw puzzle that’s missing all four corners. A beautiful picture, but incomplete. Today was good though, bittersweet, but good. I left the beach before sunset and rolled into Del Mar, to the Starbucks where I write from time to time and sat down to write this post.

Today I found one of those missing pieces. She was gliding on the cool ocean breeze and she brought me a gift; a warm, vivid, wonderful memory of her little voice whispering in my ear "I love you more" just like she did whenever she hugged me hello or goodbye. There isn't a word for how that feels, there's only a look. If you could see my face right now you would understand. I can't stop smiling. True love has no boundries…in this life or the next…

Gabriel's Promise
a novel by nicholas sheridan Stanton

(”Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God”…Matthew 5: 3-12)

Chapter One

Long Beach, California, November 24, 2002

Old man Schuler tugged firmly on the leash, letting Winston, his twelve-year old English Bulldog know that he was through being dragged around the neighborhood on their evening constitutional. Winston gagged slightly, stopping obediently but reluctantly. The squat, muscular little beastie turned his fat head and gave his master the stink eye. Carl Schuler ignored the dog's little rebellion and came to a stop himself, grateful that the mutt had decided to take pity on him and cooperate.
“Good boy Winston!” he exclaimed, overtly praising his pet in hopes the animal would stay still long enough for him to catch his breath. Carl wiped at the sweat beaded on his brow with the sleeve of his windbreaker. He exhaled long and deep, and drew back in an equally deep lung full of cool, crisp oxygen.

“Doggie detail is a helluva way to treat a veteran!” he muttered to the empty sidewalk.

On the plus side, these little walks did get him out of the house daily. Which, short of the sweet release of death, was pretty much his only chance of escaping the shrill sound of Edith’s constant chattering. Only in death, his or hers, at this point in his life he no longer cared which, would he again know peace and quiet he sarcastically imagined. Lord above, how that woman loved the sound of her own voice! Of course he had stopped paying attention years ago, but goddamn this healthy body, he was still cursed with having to listen!

The day had been warm, typical for Southern California. Nobody knew what a real winter felt like around here. Hell, the people in this State bundled up like Eskimos as soon as the mercury leveled off below sixty degrees. Secretly Carl missed the east coast lifestyle. The older he got the more he longed for the snow and cold of his youth. But it was nearing 5PM and the cool ocean breeze brought a familiar chill. Edith would never leave this place; he'd surrendered to that fact many, many, many years ago. California born and raised, she and Carl had made a life together in the ‘Golden State’ raising five sons and four daughters.

They had met during WWII while he recovered at the VA Hospital in Long Beach from wounds he received at Guadalcanal. Edith Laurel Harper was the cutest nurse on the whole second floor, and after a solid year of corny jokes and even cornier love notes he won her heart. He would bemoan that accomplishment daily later in life. But hey, life’s ‘a crap shoot at best’ he always said. People either grow together or grow apart, it was that simple as far as his secular self was concerned. His spiritual self, the one he hid from everyone but his Edith believed that love never fails, just like the scriptures promise. It's people who fail to love. Goddamn free will poppycock! He imagined life would be pretty sweet if the Almighty would take that little gift back.

Carl zipped up his lightweight jacket with one hand and stuck the other into the fleece-lined pocket. He started to tug at Winston when a sudden movement from the house they were standing outside of distracted him. He looked over quickly at the row of houses on his left and fixed his eyes on the large bay window of his neighbor’s home. The long drapes fell closed, but not before Carl spotted a small boy duck down beneath the windowsill. Not much of a hider though, the kid’s little fingers were still visible holding onto the drapes. Carl could clearly see his pointed little head covered with thick brown hair through the freakishly clean glass. The child’s mother, Monica Bouchard was a pleasant young woman and real neat freak. An endearing trait that Carl wished would rub off on Edith. She and Patrick, her husband were a very nice couple, and their son Gabriel was a wonderfully precocious five-year old.

The Bouchard’s had moved in next door to the Schuler family only a couple years ago, when Monica was pregnant with their second child. Carl remembered fondly how she and Edith had bonded, which wasn’t hard to understand given Edith’s vast experience at childbirth. This pregnancy had been more difficult than Gabriel's, and Monica was constantly running to and from the OBGYN. He and Edith had stepped up and helped the young couple, providing meals, babysitting, and taxi services, right up to the night that Patrick dropped off a soundly sleeping Gabriel in the wee hours while he rushed Monica off to deliver his little sister. Carl sighed, recalling the next day when Patrick phoned to tell them that there had been complications. The baby girl had been stillborn, and Monica ended up having an emergency hysterectomy as well.

Carl wasn't fond of remembering that night; it had been tough on everyone, especially Edith. You would have thought that Monica was her own with by river of tears that flowed. He shuddered, thinking of it and shook off the memory by clearing his throat loudly. Carl waived to the boy in the window and instantly five little fingers appeared, wiggling like tiny snakes in response to his gesture. The old neighbor smiled and tugged at Winston’s leash. “Let’s go old boy,” he said sternly. “Let’s see what mother has for supper tonight!”

Gabriel Bouchard jumped up from his crouch beneath the windowsill and rapped at the glass with his tiny knuckles. “Goodbye!” he shouted in his little voice, waiving at Carl and Winston as they walked up their drive next door, but they didn’t hear him. The boy took one more look up and down the street to see if he could spot his Daddy’s car coming, and then scurried off to the kitchen where his mommy was busy preparing supper. He could hear her voice, she was humming a familiar tune; she was always humming or singing a tune. Hitting the ceramic tiled floor at full speed he skated over to her, sliding effortlessly across the floor in his stocking feet.

“GABRIEL LUC BOUCHARD!” his startled mother shouted.

Monica turned quickly to face him, her hand over her heart as if to keep it from flying out of her chest. She picked up the ever-handy wooden spoon, the pow-pow spoon she called it, and unconvincingly threatened him gloom and doom. Gabriel froze like a statue, as if he were playing freeze tag out in the yard. Monica tried her best to remain stern, but the goofy look on her son's face and his ridiculous pose, forced her to look away before he saw her smile. It was her intention to scold him but first she had to swallow her giggles.

“Listen here young man! You know better than to scare me like that, don’t you?"

"What if I had something hot in my hand, I might have burned you honey! Please be more careful, OK?” she said to him as she turned to look at him, her stern warning erasing the smile on her face.

Gabriel didn’t answer her because he was still playing freeze tag. Monica shook her head slowly and walked over to where he stood frozen and touched him on the shoulder, instantly unfreezing him as per the rules, and ending the game. The little boy hugged her hard, wrapping his short little arms around her leg and burying his head between her knees like children do. From this vantage point he could see the stove and the kitchen counter behind her, as well as Newton. Sir Isaac Newton was the family’s crazy, terrorist cat who was currently curled up near the sink waiting for mommy to hand him a piece of cheese or whatever she might be cutting up for supper. Monica wriggled her way out of Gabriel’s embrace and turned him back toward the hall.

“You go and wash up for supper; daddy will be home any minute. Go on now, scoot!" she said, giving him a little push on his tushie with her foot.

“OK Mommy,” replied Gabriel, as he sprinted off to the bathroom down the hall.

“NO RUNNING IN THE HOUSE,” she hollered belatedly, squinting at the sound of the slamming bathroom door.

“I swear, I don’t know who listens least, Gabriel or Patrick,” she muttered as she resumed preparing the evening meal.

Monica picked up a large knife and started cutting a pile of red rose potatoes that had been soaking in a mixing bowl in the sink. She thought about Gabriel versus Patrick for a moment and then grinned, muttering to Newton, “well, at least Gabriel remembers to leave the seat down." She softly hummed a tune as she ran a stream of tap water over the freshly cut spuds. Rubbing her nose with the back of her wet hand she looked up at the clock above the stove. It was just after five, and I would be home any minute. Monica frowned; she hadn’t even started boiling the potatoes. Oh well it had been a trying day, what with Gabriel being home sick and all. He had complained about being tired and achy this morning. Actually, he had been complaining about being tired a lot, and he'd had several bloody noses lately as well. Doctor Phillips said that he was probably just going through a growth spurt, and suggested that she watch him closely for a few days to make sure he wasn’t just picking at his nose like kids do.

She wasn’t exactly crazy about his diagnosis, but he was the doctor after all, and Gabriel did seem to be feeling better today. So she decided to accept his explanation and recommendation not to worry. She was relieved when he prescribed some Children’s Tylenol and a day of rest, assuring her that her son would be up to his old tricks in no time. He was probably right, but still, Monica was always nervous whenever Gabriel seemed out of sorts. It was probably just a mild case of a mother’s paranoia, she knew that, but ever since the miscarriage she had become a tad over protective of the only child she would ever give birth to. That was an occasional issue between her and I, mostly because I just didn’t get it she would say. I probably didn't, after all, I wasn’t a mother and a man can never really understand what it means to be one, to be so thoroughly connected with another human being.

Monica looked down at a mewing Newton and took pity on the sad little thing. She wasn't much of a cat person, but the little dickens had grown on her during the year since they rescued him from the pound. She reached over and cut a small wedge of cheese from the block she was preparing to grate. Newton had this drill down pat and was already standing on his hind legs, reaching up with an orange marmalade colored paw to take delivery of his snack.

“There you go you little beggar,” Monica said sweetly, reaching down and scratching the top of his furry head while he chomped at the cheese with his sharp little teeth.
“HEY, how does a workin’ man get some attention around here?” I shouted from the living room.

“IN HERE HONEY!” she replied, drying her hands with the dishtowel on the counter.

I walked in through the dining room doorway and scooped up my wife in my usual bear hug, twirling her around a full 360 degrees before putting her down gently. I kissed her on the end of her pointed Roman nose and then jumped up onto the counter and sat beside the stove. Leaning over the burner, I lifted the lid of the stewpot and took a deep whiff of the meal she was preparing. She hated when I did that, and always scolded me about teaching Gabriel my bad habits!

OH MAN, I’m starving babe, this really smells great though! What is it?” I asked enthusiastically.

GET DOWN FROM THERE PATRICK! How many times do I have to tell you that Gabriel copies everything you do? You don’t want me to have to take him to the Emergency Room again, do you? Once is good enough for today, thank you very much!” Monica said, scolding me. I hopped down quickly, doing as I was told. “Sorry honey, my bad,” I apologized.

“Yeah, well…”

“So what’s in the pot?”

“It’s Mulligan Stew,” she answered.

“Do I like that?”

“You will. Why don’t you go wash up and I’ll call you and Gabriel when it’s ready, OK?”

”Sure. Hey, why did he have to go to the doctor today?" I asked.

Monica tensed up visibly and I could sense that she didn't want to have another ‘discussion’ about the frequent doctor visits. I tried to keep it light but I was worried that she was overreacting every time the little guy had the sniffles. I assumed it was because of our stillborn daughter, Rebecca. I really didn't want to upset her any more, but damn it this had to stop. It wasn't healthy for anyone, her, me, Gabriel, anyone. I really wanted us to see someone, maybe through the church, and get some help, but she was pretty stubborn, especially when she got her Irish up.

“Oh, he just had trouble getting up this morning, that's all. And he had another bad nose bleed too. I wanted to check that out. Besides, we have good insurance honey, and everyone at the HMO is really nice. I just wanted to make sure, OK?"

I swallowed the response that had already formed in my brain and was had perched itself on the tip of my tongue. There was no real reason to make a mountain out of a molehill. Mothers will be mothers. And she was right, we did have good insurance. So it wasn't a money issue for me. I was worried we were giving Gabriel the impression he wasn't normal. None of his friends spent so much time in doctor's offices? My face must have given away what I was thinking in the few seconds it was taking me to form a reply.

"Please don’t make a big thing about it Patrick, let’s have a pleasant evening and enjoy each other’s company, I really don't want to bicker tonight, OK babe?” she pleaded softly, studying my face for a clue as to where this talk might be heading.

What could I say? When the one you love is hurting it's easy to capitulate. So, I sighed and looked down at the floor, put my hands on my hips, and assumed my usual surrender posture. I knew that Monica had prepared herself for a fight, but it I didn't let it start. The high road is usually the best path according to Father Michael, so I took it I placed my hands behind me and jammed them into the back pockets of my jeans.

“It’s alright babe, better safe than sorry, right,” I said, gently biting on the flesh inside my mouth. “It’s alright, really,” I reiterated.

Monica exhaled deeply and jogged over to where I stood. She knew I was lying but she was grateful for the loving gesture and hugged the stuffing out of me, kissing me repeatedly all over my face. I pushed away from her to escape the flurry of butterfly kisses.

OK, OK, enough already! I’m gonna go wash up and see what the little monster is up to,” I said snickering, as I broke free.

She chased me for a step or two, pinching at my butt as I made my escape. I can't think straight when she does that, no fair! Then, turning on her heels she went back to the stew that was simmering on the stovetop. I paused to watch her a moment as she tossed the red rose potatoes into the stewpot. She looked back suddenly and caught me staring and picked up the pow-pow spoon. I met her mock warning with a grin and left the room. Before I cleared the doorway I heard her whisper, “God I love that man.”

Sunday, March 20, 2011

(Impossible is just a word for not trying…)

Okay, it's time to get back on the horse so to speak. With the one year anniversary of KaSandra's passing just around the corner I wanted to share my novel, Gabriel's Promise with one and all. Originally planned for release in 2008, it has been rewritten to incorporate insights and emotions gained and experienced, respectively, during KK's eleven month battle with cancer, from April 2009 through March of 2010.

That was a time when I learned about true love, what that really means, what that really requires. What it means is beyond words but can be recognized in various forms like in the innocent eyes of a child, in the beaming gaze of a mother upon her newborn, or in the tears of that same mother saying goodbye to her child far too soon. What it requires is humility, humility enough to understand the power of the words, humility enough to recognize that you are forever changed when you receive it and when you give it.

Gabriel's Promise is the story of a father pushed beyond his limits in the face of unbearable loss and unfair circumstance. It tracks the emotional spectrum from cool blue to white hot. Devastated by the death of his five year-old son, Patrick Bouchard reinvents himself, dedicating his life to finding a way to keep his promise to his only child, Gabriel. From the coastline of Southern California to Gibraltar and the Mediterranean, Patrick takes you on an adventure of retribution that could be in the fantasy closet of anyone that has been affected by injustice.

Gabriel's Promise
a novel by nicholas sheridan stanton


(”Trust in the Lord and do good......and he will give you the desires of your heart")…Psalm 37

Messina, Sicily, July 27, 2005

We'd been so close to the escape route. The Messina Strait was dead ahead, close enough to see without field glasses. We had good weather and the seas of Mediterranean were relatively calm last night. It would have been smooth sailing through the narrow strait into the deep waters of the Ionian Sea and then onto the Gulf where we would have put in at Taranto, at the arch of Italy's famous geography. It really should have been easy, but it wasn't. Do you know when you ought to be the most uneasy? When you think you've thought of everything!

Beads of sweat dripped steadily onto the old wooden table where I sat uncomfortably shackled to one of two splintered benches arranged on either side. My head hung low, my posture was poor, I was exhausted, weary and defeated, waiting for whatever fate had in store. The rivers of perspiration that ran the length of my forearms dripped steadily through the gaps on the tabletop. Cradling my aching skull in my two callused hands, I let it sink to the rough planks below me and lay there motionless as I composed myself. Sighing audibly I rose up enough to survey the room. Cold sweat stung me as it seeped into the corners of my eyes while I panned the room slowly, taking inventory of every voice, every door, and every window, searching for a way out of this mess. It may have been an act of desperation but what the hell, I was desperate. A frustrating moment later I closed my eyes, lowering my head and surrendering to the fact that I was caught, that the jig was up. There weren't any escape routes; at least there were none that wouldn’t require far more strength than I had left in me. I was played out, physically, mentally, and emotionally. I knew it, and so did my captors.

I’d been in this stinking cellar for hours now with the hot July sun beating down on me from a lone window perched high above. Squinting, I rolled my eyes away from the harsh glare and admired my profile in shadow on the wall across from me. For no apparent reason I considered the simplicity of shadows. They reveal so few details and yet there is no mistaking their origin. The shadow you cast is yours and yours alone. It begins and ends with you. I read somewhere that in some cultures the shadow is thought to be a glimpse of the Holy Spirit, who knows, maybe so? I lifted my head slowly and pushed myself up from the hard surface of the table, and reached high toward the ceiling with both arms, as I stretched my aching back. That turned out to be a mistake because as soon as I moved two men in wrinkled un-pressed uniforms burst through the iron door and rushed to where I stood; taking up positions on either side me. One of them jabbed at my ribcage sharply with a black baton, hard enough to force me to gasp audibly. The harsh blow broke one of my short ribs and I doubled over, quickly lowering an arm to shield myself from further attack.

Penso che voglia dire qualcosa, (I think he wants to say something),” said the smaller of the two men, snickering at the unarmed man whom he had just struck.

He sneered wickedly at his partner and pointed at me, painfully struggling to compose myself. The other guy, a whole head taller than the little shit with the nightstick, leaned forward and studied me. His breath reeked of whatever fish he had just eaten, and he chuckled gleefully at my predicament.

Non so Carlo, somiglia a egli piangerebbe piuttosto (I don’t know Carlo, he looks like he would rather cry like a child),” the larger jailer replied, laughing boisterously, revealing a face full of rotting teeth. Thoroughly pissed at this point, I straightened up and looked over at the open door, ignoring their insults and provocations.

Vous sont les singes par jouer? (Are you monkeys through playing around),” I asked sarcastically, replying in French out of habit. The smaller jailer placed the baton under my chin. He pulled it up slowly but firmly, letting me know who was in charge. I looked up, careful not to antagonize the little bully.

Non la capisco. Che lei ha detto? (I don’t understand you. What did you say?),” the small man asked me dryly.

I raised my hand, intending only to wipe away a small trickle of blood that oozed from my nose. The larger jailer reacted swiftly, and came up behind me, yanking my arms roughly behind my back. I writhed in pain, my broken rib stretched beyond its limit to flex. Drawing in several short, shallow breaths I tried to relax as best as I could. I needed to convince these two bastards that I had no intention of trying anything stupid.

“Hey, hey, wait a minute, wait a minute!” I shouted, switching to English. Neither responded; they just stared at me with blank expressions, no surprise.

“OK, OK, do either of you guys speak any English,” I asked hopefully.

The bigger jailer removed his knee my back and relaxed his hold on me a little. He looked over at his buddy and frowned, and then nodded in my direction, as if to say 'well, what do you know’. The smaller jailer pulled the baton out from under my chin, easing the tension for a moment while he contemplated this new development, allowing me to relax.

“Yeah, I pretty good speak English. What your name is, huh?” he asked, staring at me smugly.

“ name is Patrick Bouchard,” I answered, deciding that hiding my identity was useless, especially since I had already been betrayed, which by the way was how I ended up here in the first place.

But I’m getting ahead of myself; suffice to say that avoiding the long arm of the law had proved to be way harder in this new age of forensic sciences then we had bargained for. With the advances in fields like DNA and spectrographic whosie-whats-it shit and whatnot, we could only stay on the run for so long. Getting caught was inevitable, we knew that going in. It's just that we were still way ahead of the law dogs. We were only caught because I fucked up! Like I said earlier, just when you think you have it all figured out, right?

“You are French, no?” the small guy asked impatiently.

“No, I only speak French, I’m an American,” I replied quietly, thankful for the break.

“Your papers, where they are?” he demanded suddenly, swatting my arm with the baton, hard enough to raise a welt (so much for the break in the action).


“You little shit! They’re under water man, maybe a thousand meters, at the bottom of the freaking Mediterranean!” I shouted, trying to rub away the pain from my bruised bicep! I really wanted punch this little prick’s lights out.

“You not fisherman,” the small man observed, sneering at me as he admired my Ralph Lauren polo shirt. He felt the soft fabric, questioning my manhood with his smug expression.

I stared up at the man; “Did I say I was a fisherman Guido?” I snarled as sarcastically as I could. The little jailer stared back at me blankly, tapping his chin with the end on the baton.

“Your boat, it sinks, no?” he asked, pressing for details.

“What do you think Einstein,” I replied sarcastically.

The room became silent for an uncomfortable moment. The small jailer seemed to be thinking hard about what to do next, and looked agitated. He stepped toward me, raising his baton, as if preparing to strike me good and hard.

Fermata! (Stop)!” shouted a loud voice from just behind the little bastard. The small jailer tripped over his own feet as he halted in mid-swing, his momentum nearly causing him to tip over.

Ahh, il capitano spiacente, non l'ho sentito entra! (Sorry captain, I didn’t hear you enter),” the little man said, stammering a quick apology, quickly doffing his cap toward his superior.

Lasciare andare di lui stupido! (Let go of him stupid),” the captain shouted harshly at the larger jailer.

The big man reluctantly released his hold on me, kicking at the chair as he did so. I watched my tormentor walk slowly across the room to stand beside his partner, glaring back at his boss the whole way. The police captain wasn’t in uniform like the other two. He was in fact, dressed rather stylishly in a finely tailored suit, purchased perhaps in Rome or Milan, from any number of fine haberdasheries. Fashion is a passion in Italy. I shifted my eyes to the slender, well-dressed newcomer as he walked over to where I was shackled. The man stopped beside me and dropped a manila file onto the table, then walked around to seat himself across from me. He studied me intensely for a moment before speaking.

“I am Captain Gianetto,” he said, sniffing loudly with an overt air of self-importance.

“You are a very popular man Mr. Bouchard,” he said in perfect English, his native accent softly in the background but still noticeable.

“A lot of important people are anxious to meet you in person Senori, according to Interpol that is,” he continued, studying my face for a weakness or tell as my poker playing buddies would say. I allowed myself to relax somewhat, and stared back at my new pal.

“Is that right,” I replied, clearing my throat audibly.

He spoke to the two jailers without turning toward them, “Do you know who we have here my friends,” he asked, standing and waving his arms dramatically in my direction?

“Look at him!” he ordered gruffly.

“Do you not recognize such a celebrity?” he continued, shaking his head and snickering.

The two buffoons stepped a little closer and looked at me curiously, as if they were buying livestock. They shook their heads and shrugged, looking back at their captain with blank expressions.

Il mio Dio, sono circondato dagli imbecilli! (My God, I am surrounded by imbeciles),” the captain lamented, dramatically looking to the heavens above. He walked briskly out of the room and returned just as quickly with a small poster clutched in his fist. He unrolled it on the table in front of me.

“It is you, no?” the captain asked, holding the poster close to my face. I leaned back as much as my broken rib would allow, inhaling deeply and painfully.

“Could be? Looks a little like me, I suppose,” I muttered.

“Please, don’t be modest!” Captain Gianetto pleaded sarcastically.

“The Jack of Broken Hearts!” he loudly announced to the small room, his words bouncing off of the stone walls surrounding us with an unexpected volume.

“Oh, si, Senori, si!” the small jailer exclaimed, excitedly pantomiming as if he were dealing a deck of cards.

The two jailers smiled stupidly at one another then looked back at Capitano Gianetto. Their superior smiled broadly, revealing two freakishly large gold incisors, the kind that would have made Count Dracula himself jealous. He gestured toward me, stamping his left foot hard on the ground.


“You see what I must put up with Senori, do you see?” lamented the police captain apologetically as he sat back down across from me.

“Forgive us, we are, how do you Americans say, star struck, no,” he explained with just a trace of sarcasm. I nodded, and remained silent, looking down at the tabletop trying to think.

“Oh dear me, my manners, you are uncomfortable, yes?” asked Captain Gianetto, genuinely concerned.

“Mama Mia! Such hosts we are!”

“Carlo, bring Senori Bouchard some water at once!” he shouted to the small jailer, motioning with a snap of his fingers for the man to make haste.

“Bring a towel as well Carlo, the poor man is sweating like a pig,” Captain Gianetto added, shouting over his shoulder as he continued to study me. His tone and his demeanor had changed, and I had to fight the urge to relax. For all I knew the 'bad cop' would walk in any minute and pummel me.

“You are not what I expected,” he said, leaning in close, his chin perched on his folded hands.

“You’re not exactly catching me at my best,” I replied looking up and holding the man’s stare.

“Touché, I appreciate the humor in that statement,” he replied, leaning back quickly and gently placing his hands to his lips as if in prayer.

“The playing cards, I must ask you. Why do you leave one behind at each of your, forgive me, crimes?” he asked genuinely curious. I remained silent.

“The Jack of Hearts, with a jagged line through the heart at the corners, what does it mean?” he persisted, watching me struggle with whether or not to answer.

He seemed to be good, and I don’t mean good as in skilled interrogator good, but good, as in a good man. I sensed it right away, and the good angel on my shoulder kept whispering in my ear that I could trust him. I studied him for what seemed like a long time. I could feel the tears welling. Anyone who's been on the run for as long as I have will tell you that there are nights you dream about the sweet relief of confession. Captain Gianetto watched me study him. I had the impression that he was trying his hand at mind reading.

“A woman perhaps?” he asked.

I looked directly into his brown eyes, they were amber colored actually, and I wiped at a tear before it fell onto my cheek, hoping that it went un-noticed, but of course it didn't.

“No, not a woman, not exactly,” I replied.

“Well then, what does it mean?” he implored.

“Please, Senori, enlighten us, there is plenty of time before the authorities arrive, I assure you.”

“Until then you are my guest. No harm will come to you, I swear to you on the Madonna. Come now, confession is good for the soul is it not?”

“There really isn’t much to tell,” I muttered, stalling to consider my options.

“Don't be modest Senori Bouchard, I'm certain that is not true! The Jack of Broken Hearts is a legend in the Mediterranean! My own children pretend to be you when they play with their friends in the streets.”

“Please, please, indulge me,” he pleaded!

“Oh, but wait, you must be starving, let me arrange for some food while we talk, like old friends, no?”

I shrugged, what did I have to lose, the time for secrecy had passed. My only hope for protecting the good things accomplished with all of this piracy rested in shielding myself with the truth. It was time to come clean, repent, and rely on God’s grace to help them see things as I did.

“It’s a long story Captain, are you sure you want to sit through it?”
Carlo returned just as he was about to reply.

“Here it is, the water il Capitano,” he announced, gently setting the pitcher and glass on the table. He tossed a fresh dry towel to me; actually he threw it at me and then quickly looked back at his Captain to see if he noticed.

“Grazie Carlo, grazie,” Captain Gianetto replied, smiling reassuringly.

“Ah, and now the food!” he exclaimed.

“Roberto, go and see my wife. Tell her to send over my supper, and make sure that she sends enough for everyone.”

“Go on now, velocemente (quickly)!” he said excitedly, shooing the man off with a nonchalant wave of his hand.

“Si Senori! Andiamo Carlo, andiamo (let’s go),” Roberto replied, dragging his small partner along as he rushed out of the room.

I watched the two comedians exit, and stifled a laugh. I took one more look around the room an contemplated for a split second overpowering my new fan, but the thought passed quickly. It was time to live in the light again.

“Ah, what the hell,” I muttered.

“Perdonarme (pardon me)?” Captain Gianetto asked.

“Sorry, it was nothing,” I replied apologetically.

“Where would you like me to begin?”

“At the beginning, of course!” he replied, smiling broadly, his gold teeth glistening in the beam of sunlight coming from the window above us.

"At the beginning…"

Thursday, March 17, 2011

(to love another person is to see the face of God...)...Les Miserables

There are so many emotions coarsing through me today, I am overwhelmed. I littered the floor beneath me with failed efforts to convert my feelings into words, and in the end I found solace in another's effort and personalized it for this post. I hope she forgives me...

Oh we never know where life will take us
I know it's just a ride on the wheel
And we never know when death will shake us
And we wonder how it will feel
So goodbye my friend
Will I ever see you again
Still the time together through all the years
Will take away these tears
It's okay now
Goodbye my friend
I've seen a lot things that made me crazy
And I guess I held on to you
I could've run away and left well maybe
But it wasn't right and we both knew
So goodbye my friend
Will I never see you again
The love you gave me through all the years
Will take away these tears
I'm okay now
Goodbye my friend
Life's so fragile and love's so pure
We can't hold on but we try
We watch how quickly it disappears
And we never know why
But I'm okay now
Goodbye my friend
You can go now
Goodbye my friend

Friday, March 4, 2011

(”Save a place for me save some grace for me I'll be there soon I'll be there soon”)…Matthew West…2008

California…March 4, 2011

Tonight all I want to do is say goodbye to my brave and gallant nephew, Cpl. Jordan Stanton, who this very day courageously gave his life for our country while serving thousands of miles from home in a far away place. You might think that given the many words I've scribbled on this blog and in the stories that I write that I could find the right ones to express the depth of my sadness. You would be wrong, I cannot. Frankly I don't believe those words have even been dreamed of yet.

Some say life oscillates; that happy and sad come in sets, just like waves. Well, if that's true then I'm riding a sadness tsunami. Everyone grieves for something or someone sooner or later, it's a human axiom. When a heart breaks we either circle the wagons of compassion or flee to protect our own. That is also a human axiom. There is no middle of the road where grief is concerned, we either love enough to care and care enough to comfort, and comfort enough to heal or we don't. True love stays the course, that's a spiritual axiom, like the scripture promises, love never fails.

I miss you Jordan, and can't stop asking why, as if there could ever be an answer that would make sense. I am proud of the depth of your character and hope that I will be able to learn from the examples you offered in life, that of true spirit, true commitment, and true courage, these examples defined your life. You set the bar high for all of us. I hope we can measure up and make you proud as well.

I realize that you never met her, but when you get to Heaven look up your little cousin KaSandra, I know that she'll happily show you the ropes up there. You'll love her Jordan; she's the little sister that your Mom always wanted for you and your brothers. She'll crack you up with her knock-knock jokes and you'll fall in love with her smile, her giggle, even her whine. Do me a favor and look after her for me, and if you don't mind, check in on your Uncle Nick from time to time and make sure that I'm towing the line and walking the straight and narrow. I'm sort of on a personal mission of my own right now, and I'm sure KaSandra could use some help keeping me focused and encouraged.

I love you Jordan, please tell KK that I love her too and give her a big hug for me. Thank you for your service, for your sacrifice, for your infectious smile, and most of all for your love. You're in all of our hearts, and it's in there where you will live forever. God bless you nephew, now and through eternity…

Thursday, March 3, 2011

( ”Nothing you confess can make me love you less I'll stand by you Won't let nobody hurt you I'll stand by you”)…Chrissie Hynde...1994


Los Angeles, California, June 7, 2009

They say that every poker player has a 'tell' an idiosyncrasy if you will, that gives away the hand they're playing. When I have a pat hand I inadvertently set my cards down in front of me, always horizontal with relation to my body and then lace my hands together, placing them under my nose to cover the shit eating grin spreading across my face. It drives all the players at the table to fold every time; which explains why I never seem to win a decent pot in these games! Since I had bupkis for hole cards in this current hand of Texas Hold-em I had folded in the first round of betting, earning the usual round of catcalls and expletive ridden remarks about my family tree. I looked around the table and suppressed a sigh so as not to invite anymore slurs from the rank and file. There were too many faces missing from our regular game. Too many friends, family really, had been taken from us by that jack-hole Jai Lai. What a clever bastard, may he rot in hell.

"You're not going to get into Heaven with that potty mouth Whitey," whispered the voice in my head.

"Shut up, the big boss in the sky is probably thinking the same thing," I muttered softly so as not to draw any attention to myself.

"Shame on you Whitey Roode, you'd better be careful you know. He hears everything and He keeps a list," cautioned the voice.

"Right, just like Santa Clause," I chuckled.

"Okay, it's your ass Whitey," the voice replied, capitulating to my bad attitude.

"Can it Ronnie, if he's really listening that'll be one demerit for you and your potty mouth," I snapped a little louder than I meant to.

"Who are you talking to Roode," Wally asked gruffly?

"Didn't I tell you back in Vegas to see a shrink about that trance shit?"

He did too, I remember that day. It was the day all of our lives changed. I still had trouble seeing Wally Price as the new Oscar Celaya? But, as fate would have it, acting "Chief of Police Oscar Celaya" had the pick of the litter after he moved up the ladder, skipping over the rank of Captain and going straight on to acting Chief, a feat only possible when you have the Mayor over the proverbial barrel, which he did. That little microchip was still opening doors for a lot of people, some going out because of it and some getting in because of it. I'm glad I never saw the whole list. And even more glad that Hassan turned out to be a stand up sort of assassin, a hired gun with a heart if you will, because he never did tell his Russian masters about Judy and I, go figure?

People will surprise you, I guess you never know, sometimes good people are sent down rocky paths in life for reasons known only to the Big Boss in the clouds. As for the rest of the crowd that were getting their just desserts, well, I get no pleasure watching others suffer. I think I would rather buy in to what the preachers quote, to error is human, to forgive Devine. I suppose that you could say that the older I get, the sappier I get, and I'll plead guilty to that, happily.

"Did I hear you say Ronnie," asked Judy as she folded her hand, tossing her cards into the pot?

"I think it's the corned beef he's been eating. I told him to stay outta the Jew's deli; it's gone down hill without Lu. Why you go there anyway when me and Angelo always got a table for you, huh," Fat Johnny said, tossing in his two cents as well as his crummy cards?

"Well I guess that just leaves you and me Rebecca," Iggie said gleefully as he drummed his fingers on his hole cards. That was his 'tell' apparently he had pocket aces!

"Fabulous," Becca said sarcastically, watching him drum his fingers for a nanosecond longer before tossing her own cards into the pot.

"Take it Iggie, I hope you choke on it," she quipped, leaning back in her chair and taking a long drink from her bottle of Chimay Blue, an upscale Belgian beer with 9% alcohol. The girl kept surprising me. She could fit in with our crowd without letting go of who she was. Meaning she could mix it up with the best of us losers and still go home the class act that she is, a true chameleon. That'll come in handy in her job.

The whole table was eyeballing me while Iggie raked in his winnings. They were waiting for an explanation. What was I supposed tell them, the truth? Negative, as soon as they heard me claim to be haunted by the spirit of my ex wife who also happens to be an ex female, it'll be off to Cedar's Sinai Psych Ward for good old Uncle Whitey! Nope, I think I'll keep that genie in the bottle for now. To be honest, I'm not sure I believe it myself completely, she's my first trans-sexual ghost. Wally was giving me a tongue in cheek look and Judy looked like she was getting misty so I needed to say something to throw the dogs off of the scent.

"I was just thinking about her is all, sometimes it seems like she's still around, you know," I said finally, opting for a partial truth versus a complete lie. Living in the light as the preachers also say is something I'm working on.

Anyway, it seemed to do the trick for now. Judy smiled with glassy eyes, and Wally waived me off like aircraft carrier LSO (landing signal officer) as he reached into his igloo for another cold one. Rebecca Tran smiled at me as well and clinked her beer bottle with Fat Johnny's glass of house wine. Iggie ignored us all, busily re-stacking and re-counting his chips, what a wiener! We weren't the same old gang, but we were healing nicely together, a nice mix of old and new faces. A flash of light suddenly came through the window from the street causing us all to get up and investigate. It was a little fender bender between a Mini-Cooper and bobtail truck that I had noticed cruising the neighborhood all week. It belonged to a movie production company that was filming around the corner. Maybe I'd walk over and check out what they had going on tomorrow? Everybody likes to see how they do things in Holly-Weird, I'm no exception.

"HEY GUYS, come on, are we playing cards or what," whined Iggie from behind his enormous stack of chips!

The ragtag gaggle of friends walked back to the table, giving him the business as they rejoined the game. I took one more peek out the window and noticed a small crowd of young people across the street. They were following after a man in a black windbreaker and a Dodger's baseball cap. It seemed normal enough until the fella turned for a moment to say something to one of the kids behind him. The man was wearing a collar, like a priest or preacher or something like that. What would a priest be doing out at this time of night, and in this neighborhood, leading a crowd of teenagers on a stroll like the Piped freaking Piper of Hamlin? I made a mental note of everything and tucked it away in my melon for later. Once a gumshoe always a gumshoe I guess…

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