Journeyman's Row
         Discovering tomorrow's future starts by discussing yesterday & today.
***  October 11, 2016  -  June 30, 2021  ***

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Latest update

Posted on March 12, 2017 at 12:05 AM Comments comments (0)

Thankfully, no more colds to speak of and I have already been able to finish the third short story, "... And Back Again". Just before I wrapped it up, thanks to several inspirations I was able to create a fourth story concept that will involve several factors I've wanted to portray in general. Allow me to share some interesting information about this latest story with all of you, but without spoiling it before the final work is published.

The story is appropriately entitled, "Legs of an Angel"©.

A US combat veteran in his late twenties struggles to deal with PTSD and life after being permanently paralyzed below the waist during an attack on his unit. In an effort to remain strong, Skobee Keynes (no I did not come up with the first name from Scooby Doo) has decided to actively promote health and wellness awareness through public speaking and classes, but it has not been easy to adjust. Before his injury Skobee excelled with the help of military training and had become a decorated hero on the ground to his fellow troops and civilians. This gave him a confident sense of purpose that inspired him on the front lines.

Now, Skobee finds himself at war with his physical and mental health in ways he never imagined, while trying desperately to regain a purpose in life. Fairly frequent flashbacks haunt his attempts to recover from the trauma that has scarred him. Nearly being killed in combat, seeing several of his troops lose their lives just out of arm's reach in front of him, suffering the injury that crippled his ability to be the hero he had always strived to be, and trying to adjust to life afterwards made the physical and mental strain challenging to handle sometimes on a daily basis. What few family members he has and close friends have done their absolute best to support him, but Skobee is still slowly taking on water.

The story continues with Skobee thinking back over the last three days as he sits in his wheelchair, silently staring out of one of his third floor apartment's living room windows. What he recalls having taken place has thrown his delicate life out of balance, and threatens to bring him down for good. Suddenly, he is faced with a perilous trial by fire which will test his faith and force him to confront his will to live. What Skobee does, and the most unlikely young hero who comes to his aid, could change Skobee's outlook on life forever.

This story concept first and foremost is inspired by a best friend of mine and his girlfriend, whom both have served in the US military with dedication, distinction, and honor. Their sacrifices and service has for a long time been something I have really wanted to express my appreciation and respect for in general, of past, present, and future US servicemen and women. Our country would not be what it is or where it is, neither would our freedoms still exist, if not for generations of blood, sweat, and tears from our military's Army, Air Force, Navy, Army and Air National Guards, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Reserves.

What's heartbreaking have been the struggles particularly faced in modern times from physical and mental health concerns, particularly Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and physical disabilities. My desire to positively portray these elements with an inspiring conclusion culminated about a week ago, after I had gone to see the film "Logan". Also known as Wolverine, for years I have idolized how emotionally intense this character has been portrayed on the big screen, and in the current film his relentless desire to help others resonated with the theme of writing about military service. I thought of the title afterwards on opening night, when I went to see it, because angels are often referred to by their wings, their halo, their divinity, but I wanted something no one has really used before. Writing about a character who will come to embody a different part of a person and an angel, through symbolizing Skobee's paralyzed legs, gave way to the entire story taking shape just a couple days later.

Despite being sick for an entire week in mid-February, I have found it more difficult than I'd hoped to write these stories because of the tense anxiety in my life right now. I have been holding off on some career research and opportunities because I really want to publish "Just Before the Dawn"© not just for profit to continue my advocacy, but to share these inspiring stories sooner not later. Though, I have not yet decided whether I will just write five by April 20th, the date of the "Find Your Voice" central Pennsylvania conference, or otherwise. So for anyone who is closely following along with my progress and wondering when I will return to content blogging for my next run, if not by the end of April I will surely resume in May. Like I said, I really want to finish a total of at least six short stories so that I have a minimum of one hundred total pages for the final composition.

What else do I have to share with the content blogging? Plenty, trust me. More focusing on suicide topics, advocating in several blog posts for PTSD and military personnel who have suffered from mental illness, as well as the final plunge into my past to talk about the major experiences with mental illness such as my weak overdose attempt in 2003. For the first one hundred twenty eight days I took my time to cover a lot of different topics and doing my best to persuade as many people to invest in my advocacy as I could. This deepest layer of detail about my past and present experiences will shed the most light on the topics I've already introduced, and accomplishing this will conclude focusing on my experiences.

By mid-summer and this fall I expect to be done with the short story writing, by then have found some form of employment in the mental health field or otherwise, to have finished the in-depth discussions of my past experiences with mental illness, and to see from here on how I can continue to promote my advocacy website to more and more people. At the April 20th conference I intend to spread the word about my blogging efforts as I expect to shoulder more responsibility for the otherwise sensitive details about my life that I have already shared. I am ready and I have been ready to speak out on behalf of everyone involved with mental illness. Continuing to challenge myself to take on more responsibility will only continue from here.

So, once again I want to thank everyone for their support and for taking time out of your busy lives to read what I have shared here and intend to continue sharing. Remember, the journey is not over. It has only just begun. Tune in on the 26th when I post my next update. Hopefully by then I will be nearly finished with "Legs of an Angel"©.

So far, so good

Posted on February 27, 2017 at 1:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Well, it's been about a week and a half since my last blog post so I wanted to keep all of you up to date on my progress with the short story writing and other goings on. I was fortunate to time ending the blogging streak when I did, on the 15th, because for that entire week I was sick with a head cold and sore throat. The symptoms didn't abate until this past Monday the 20th, and set me back about a week with progress on my third short story, "... And Back Again". But as soon as I got past a tricky part of the story to write in the early going, I am now working on the fifth of seven chapters at full speed ahead.

Speaking of updates, on the 20th I took the NAMI sponsored QPR Suicide Prevention Gatekeeper Program training in what I hope is the beginning of picking up trainings for mental health intervention and resume building. QPR, or Question Persuade Refer, can be best described when compared to CPR for medical emergencies when a person is unconscious for example from a heart attack. This prevention training is meant to be an important tool not just for mental health professionals, but particularly from capable people of the general public who can provide intervention more quickly when friends or family members need the help. I would like to thank Mr. Mark DeRubeis LPC, BSL, BCBA, a certified QPR Gatekeeper Instructor, for taking time out of his busy schedule to provide this helpful training and NAMI PA Blair County as well.

My how time flies when I stop and think of there being just under two months until the NAMI sponsored "Find Your Voice" Recovery Conference. The energy and anticipation is already peaking, as local NAMI members are getting very excited for the event. I hope by April to be done with most or all of the short story writing I'd expected to accomplish, because I am far from being done with my regular content blogging. I feel after covering a wide range of mental health and inspirational topics that it was time to begin talking about specific experiences from my past, in greatest detail than before. In order to prepare for this second round of frequent blogging, I of course want to get as much story writing done as I can. Publishing a body of fictional work, and selling it to people whom I hope will find much inspiration from what I've written, has been an important goal of mine for a number of years.

Being able to achieve that endeavor after believing for so long that I was not a capable or good enough writer will undoubtedly be a major boost of confidence and inspiration for the future. Having realized that dream at the same time I began blogging for mental health awareness is not a difficult task. For one, I love the chance multi-task and challenging myself to do more; to push beyond barriers and keep raising the bar. I see these two goals as a challenge to pour everything of myself into this writing and community volunteering work, to give the cause of mental health awareness everything that I can. I haven't felt this much positive drive at any time in recent memory so I have to believe I have found my calling, after seventeen plus years. If there is a chance to craft a living out of this advocacy, then I don't intend to let go of this bull.

Thank you all again for your patience, respect, fellowship, and support. I hope what I've shared of my life and experiences with mental illness have so far inspired the same positive turn around in your lives as I have been. Just don't forget or lose hope, because this is only the beginning of a new tomorrow. By discussing yesterday and today, we all can discover a better tomorrow for each and every one of us. Expect the next update to be posted on March 12th. Thank you.

An important announcement

Posted on February 15, 2017 at 1:00 AM Comments comments (0)

This is not the end.

Not by a long shot.

This is just the beginning...

This is only the first one hundred twenty eight days in a row of putting our worst aside and giving each other the very best. This is my gut checking effort to turn against the tide of despair, the odds stacked against me, and to try my hardest to make something out of nothing. This is my way to show how much respect I have for all of you, how much I care about you, and how much your wellbeing means to me whether I know you or not. This is me learning to be a better role model and more effective mental health advocate for the next one hundred twenty eight days, and beyond. Whatever it takes. However long it lasts. No matter what happens to me. This is just the beginning. Don't let anything stand in your way to find that spark inside of you. Grab hold of it and shine bright.

Now that I've had the opportunity to demonstrate my strength and determination to advocate for mental health over the last one hundred twenty eight days straight, to immerse as many of you as I could into my personal experiences with mental illness so you have a firsthand look at what it can be like, as well as sharing dozens of sources for inspiration to keep this a positive experience, I have decided to shift my focus from content blogging to short story writing. So, today will be my last blog post for two weeks to a month as I concentrate my efforts to work on the future mental health themed collection of short stories, "Memoirs of a Kind Man".

Yes, this means I will be breaking the streak. 128-1. Oh, I know. It's just terrible. :P It wasn't easy though, to break the habit. I had so much energy, pent up positive encouragement, four years before October when I was soul searching for a way to find my voice. Not to mention the increasing desperation and urgency to share what I've learned before too long. But before I manage to raise the bar from talking too much to blogging too often, I did need to take a break. If I didn't have the writing project in mind, I would still blog every other day. By posting blog entries covering such a massive range of mental health and inspirational discussion topics, everyone following along with me on this journey and anyone yet to dig in will have plenty of material to tide you over until I resume regular content blogging.

I encourage everyone to reread what I've already posted, submit comments, contact me with feedback and don't be shy to let me know what you think. Hearing from anyone who has been inspired by my writing will be something I will save to remember years from now. When I look back on these troublesome times I will not forget these moments when I gathered the courage to be strong in the face of adversity, and to do it for all of you. I will probably take a day or two of a break, depending on how long I can sit still which isn't very long, and then I'll resume working on my third mental health themed short story, entitled "... And Back Again". What this story deals with will be the focus of attention when I resume blogging since I will not be posting it publicly. Until then, I will post an update here every week to two weeks keeping you all updated on my progress.

Most important of all, I want to thank each and every one of you for taking time out of your busy days to lend an ear and learn what I've had to share so far. I'm looking forward to the Pennsylvania NAMI sponsored "Find Your Voice" Recovery Conference Event, to be held here locally at the Altoona Grand Hotel on Thursday April 20th, from 10am to 3pm. Something for anyone in the area to mark down on your calendars and keep an eye out for.

In the meantime, don't read more than I can write because I'll be back. Schwarzenegger shades and all. Count on it.


An update for "Just Before"

Posted on January 29, 2017 at 1:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Alright. What a week of discussion this has been. To some people talking about suicide may be controversial, and for others a taboo, but this is what an advocate like me can do for you. Advocates for mental health can face the tough topics and confront the hard choices which many of you cannot or are stigmatized by to keep you in silence. It has been a long road so far, which while I have an opportunity in between topics I want to use this time to update all of you first on the short story writing. My ambitions for the story writing haven't changed, but I've been considering what to do with my writing priorities in general. This post will keep you informed of the potential change I am thinking of doing in the coming weeks.

When I first started in mid-October, the first and foremost goal on my mind was to share my experiences with mental illness, and all the positive topics such as sharing sources of inspiration and my public outreach & volunteering background. This is still my top priority, but I've seriously been considering ending the daily blogging after Valentine's Day. This way I would have blogged every day for over one third of a year, which is more than one hundred twenty two days. I seriously would prefer to blog every day for an entire year, but that just isn't realistic nor will anyone want to read that much. I have a lot to share, plenty of ideas, and a massive number of people to advocate for.

While I won't decide until the beginning of February, what I would do is blog possibly once every several days or once a week rather than just stopping blogging for two weeks. I am considering taking up to two weeks to work on writing more mental health themed short stories. I've already found I find it very difficult to write content material for blogging and short story writing at the same time. Blog writing is informal, but the story writing is formal and needs to be focused to convey the characters and details I want to reflect mental health. On average, it takes me a minimum of two to three days in a row to write a single eight paragraph short story part. Proofreading, revisions, more proofreading, etc., requires more focused effort than content blogging has.

I didn't think of the short story writing until very late October and early November, off the cuff. I want to do both, but clearly I can't. Greedy, I know. I love all of you and especially want to give my all for helping anyone with mental health conditions. I just figured if I blog for one third of a year's time every day, that should show my commitment to this cause and share a lot of what I want to cover first. I am still holding off on going into maximum detail about my personal experiences with depression, suicide, and anxiety disorders. This won't be the last stuff I share about myself, but I will be blogging about specific incidents for several days at a time to share as much as I can.

For example, I still intend to carefully share what my weak overdose attempt was like. That requires a lot of context, explanation, and discussing different points of view all in itself. So, if you wondered why I seem to jump around a lot from what happened in my past, this is because I'm just providing the top layer and superficial details. Nothing too in-depth. By mid-year, I fully expect to share in greater detail the specific events of my past that I have already mentioned. But by taking a potential break in mid-February, I hope to get ahead on the short story writing because I really would love to pursue publishing the collective work containing all these short stories, "Just Before the Dawn", by year's end and early next year.

I will be around to share the content blogging and advocate for mental health and wellness. I want to get the short story writing done sooner than later so I can more quickly pursue publishing. Once I get published, I will be able to sell the book and donate proceeds to either the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention here locally and/or the National Alliance on Mental Illness initiatives.

This brings me to the final point about the blog category "Just Before the Dawn" itself. I have officially decided not to post any more of the short stories I write publicly on my website, because that would defeat the purpose of the published book. If everyone read it online in blog form, there would be no point for the book. I feel by posting the first two short stories I have given enough preview for what the book will be about, while reserving the remaining stories for the book. So, until further notice, blog posts using this category will be about updates with my short story writing and progress later on with the book publishing.

Once a month or so, I feel is good to blog about my short story writing for anyone who is interested to know what my progress is. I feel so empowered sharing my experiences through content blogging, but blogging again for every day over too long a time period is too much to expect anyone to read. Even for those voracious readers amongst you. :) During the next several weeks I am also pursuing mental health trainings which I will probably blog about on here as well.

Thank you for reading this far and joining me on this journey. Just a change of plans but the advocacy will continue to go on strong.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you and bless you all.

"To Have Loved & Lost"© Author's Note

Posted on December 15, 2016 at 1:10 AM Comments comments (0)

In less than one month and a total of two weeks' worth of work, I have already written two short stories with mental health themes. To continue my tradition of challenge since I first started writing theater scripts three years ago, with this short story I had two surprises to reveal. This was the first time I have ever written a female lead character and the first time I had ever written a story using the noir style. While it was not without fair difficulties, I really liked the way this story turned out.

It all started about three years ago when I was inspired by the true story of a young woman who went through a similar ordeal as in this story. Her real life journey to face her grief was so uplifting; I hoped someday to write a story showcasing the same events with the intention to inspire many other people. The sheer value of the truth behind this inspirational fiction has the potential to be so compelling, especially for women of all ages, that I clung to this story idea ever since. Though, it is obvious this wasn't my first mental health themed story written since that trend began with "Lost & Found"© last month.

Once I started to blog again in mid-October, one thing simply led to another. After I hadn't made any progress in almost two years with my theater script writing, all it would have taken was the right timing, the right push, to get me to resume writing stories. With the confidence as well as positive enthusiasm I gained from writing "Lost & Found"©, this story was not going to be far behind. But the genesis for the style actually is what sparked the renewed interest to write it. That, I owe to acclaimed director Christopher Nolan.

In Nolan's film, "Memento", which I had watched as part of a Penn State Altoona Integrative Arts class back in 2001-02, I was exposed to the concept of the noir style in movie making at an impressionable time of my life. Noir was unique, challenging, creative, and as I realized with "To Have Loved & Lost"©, this style also afforded two endings instead of one. Of course the old adage two are better than one applies. Being able to write two endings that stick with a reader is better for everyone. One type of noir style starts chronologically at the end of what takes place, and each scene progresses back to what happened at the beginning. However, if I had written the story from beginning to end in a typical fashion I risked ending on a weaker point.

The secondary point of this story was that the character Diana had succeeded in coping with her grief for her fiancé Tom. When you think about what ultimately happened, this successful recovery can easily be taken for granted and therefore was weaker to finish with. Given that I am writing with more emphasis on mental health, illness, and wellness, I tried to think of a different way to write. So, the thought occurred to me, randomly as usual at 5 AM in the morning while half asleep, that I could do what Christopher Nolan did in "Memento". Yes, potential readers would not be used to the noir style, but stories can be reread same as a film can be rewatched to further absorb what happened.

By reversing the story's events I thus made the strongest importance occur at the end, which was how Diana had chosen to face her grief despite a slew of influences not to. I also retained the fact that Diana also did successfully overcome her grief to improve her mental health. Two endings are better than one. Though, I hadn't written a noir story before but I welcomed the challenge. As a result, throughout the entire plot readers see the coping process unfold completely before the ending with Diana's decision to face it falling squarely into place. For the real person involved in the story's events or me for writing the inspired story, both of us could see at least some ease with which she got through the ordeal. But that triumph paled in comparison for having decided to trek west to confront the grief. The noir style turned out to suit this story perfectly.

I also had never written a female lead character in anything I have ever attempted before, though I had made efforts to include plenty of women in what I've written more recently. Since I was not writing a story characterizing a specific person's exact nature, writing a female lead character was challenging but for reasons I'm sure might make some people chuckle to themselves. While I was not ever going to include so much detail that certain feminine issues would need to be included for realism (thank goodness), I was still daunted by the fact that with me being a guy I might not write a realistic or convincing female character as a lead. Well, from my creative writing in recent years that issue is not as much of a concern as it used to be. And given who the character of Diana is inspired by, I can think of no more deserving of a person who can have the distinction of being my first female lead character written than she herself.

So, first noir style story, first female lead character, and I hope a very compelling story that can inspire women of all ages to idolize Diana for her courage and bravery to face her fears of a loving beau taken well before his time. I have also decided to continue the narration style and excluding monologue or dialogue, because these would make my stories way too complex and long for posting publicly on a daily basis. One of the mental health elements I wrote into "To Have Loved & Lost"© will actually be the center piece for my next story, tentatively planned for January or February of 2017.

Again, I want to thank everyone for their moral support, their continued interest in my blog and story writing as well. I hope you will join me again next year for the next installment of "Just Before the Dawn"© as I work closer to publishing this collective work perhaps as soon as late next year.

"To Have Loved & Lost"© Part Six - Conclusion

Posted on December 14, 2016 at 1:05 AM Comments comments (0)

Two agonizingly long months had passed since Diana's beloved fiancé, Tom Caplain, died in a tragic freak car accident out west. What made it worse was the fact that he was alone, with no one at his side, and for Diana what felt like the distance to the moon away from her. One particularly sorrowful month had also passed since she and Tom were planning to get married. Now, it was September and Diana still struggled to cope with the terrible void in her life. She refused to show most of it outwardly in part because she was a woman, and from a firm upbringing. Otherwise, Diana thought of herself as the type of person who she hoped people would look up to for guidance. Even though, after weeks on end, she had none whatsoever to give. What was she to do? Putting on smiley face, pretending she was over her profound grief that few people around her seemed to understand, for Diana would not last for much longer.

The distance from where Tom had died felt too far away for Diana to resolve her emotional torment. There was a longing, a subliminal pull urging her to travel out west and face this current of sorrow directly. A few friends and relatives expressed concern for her well-being. However, Diana also felt something else. It was as if she had taken too long to grieve and felt guilty for some reason. It started only a couple weeks after Tom's death and steadily increased as the weeks went on up till now. A couple people had insisted that Diana should move on. In time she would find someone else to love, though this was not meant in an insensitive way. An unspoken social pressure seemed to urge Diana to hurry up without ever having come from one single person who told her so. From whom she could not figure out, but the guilt versus love conflict within her had nearly reached a tipping point.

In an effort to clear her mind, from her parent's home Diana ventured out on foot to a nearby wooded area that she had not been to since before Tom's death. There was a secluded spot here in the wilderness where they had come to several times during the first year they were together. As she approached on the thickly overgrown path, Diana was uncertain whether being there would bring out feelings of sadness or not. Thankfully, when the path broadened out to a twelve by eleven foot circular clearing, she found herself at relative peace instead. Diana spent the next half hour or so wandering around and remembering the times she and Tom had spent there. Camping overnight, hiking here and further to a trail just past the ridge, and several picnics including one where they got drenched by rain. Although this reminiscing was a welcomed relief, she did manage to reach a conclusion about her emotional conflict.

Diana knew that she had a genuine love for Tom. No one could tell her otherwise. The few pictures she could muster the strength to look at of the accident scene had quickly overwhelmed her with sadness and fear. Diana desperately wanted her loving beau back to hold her, and be all the charming passion that he had been in their lives. Though, a small part of her felt rather defiant to think that anyone could understand how devastated she honestly felt or to assume to know what she should do about it. Diana did not want to be disrespectful of her family or friends, but when it came down to the deep passionate connection she had with Tom it was very hard to let that love go. Finally, Diana admitted to herself that she needed to make a decision. Otherwise, she might have a mental or nervous breakdown. She could make the drive out west even if on her own. So, why not consider it then?

Diana returned to her parent's home and had a sit down talk with them about her decision. She was going to travel on her own out west, to Tom's crash site, so she could mourn him there and finally get the closure she needed. While she had not always seen eye to eye with them, her parents were still a source of wisdom and guidance that Diana respected and at times did need. Her mother felt that the emotional pursuit of this absolution was a bit foolish and an unnecessary time away from pursuing a career. Her father agreed, but added that she should follow her heart. Being so far from her, Tom had likely been the source of her emotional unrest because of the distance between them when he had passed on. Diana was strong willed like her maternal grandmother and mother. She needed to do what felt right. No one could decide that for her. And so, after much thought and counsel, Diana finally made up her mind.

She would travel from her hometown here, along the eastern Midwest, through no fewer than ten states out west. There was no doubt that such a trip would test Diana's strength of will and ability to make it on her own. There was also nothing to change her mind either. Diana happened to be in between jobs for enough time to pull off the trip and just enough extra money saved to cover expenses. Her trusty and rugged old station wagon, the first car Diana ever had, was in good enough shape to handle the long journey. At least she hoped it was. When her maternal grandmother heard about everything, even she graciously came over to visit and help to pack. She herself was an independent and a leap before looking kind of woman during her own youth. As it turned out, Diana's grandmother gave her a most valuable confidence she could have ever hoped for before embarking on such a daunting pilgrimage by herself.

But Diana was not intimidated at all by the challenges she set before her, besides this being a chance to choose to do what felt right in her heart. When she finally got her car fully packed and having triple checked that she did not forget anything, Diana even made one last check just to be sure. In a moment of inspiration, she remembered an old Overland Stagecoach bumper sticker she found a couple years ago at some random yard sale. There was no better time than now to use it. So, Diana placed the sticker squarely on the bumper of her car. As she departed, she waved to her parents and grandmother all watching from the front porch and waving goodbye to her. Boldly, Diana set out to head west like the frontiersmen of old. She traveled up to six hour stretches of driving, punctuated by spending six stays overnight in different cities. The sights she beheld along the way were wondrous, indeed.

After one o'clock in the afternoon on the sixth day, Diana set out upon the final leg of her journey into the western mountain ranges. Her destination would soon be within sight at last. Save for having to stop a couple times from cattle being herded across the lonely two-lane road. Plus one skunk too many that forced her to keep her windows up and miss out on experiencing some of the fresh mountain air. As Diana approached the town limits, a rather surreal scene unfolded before her across the mountainous horizon. A light misting rain began to fall, and darker clouds gathered overhead to create a foreboding sight of an approaching storm; a storm that marked Diana's poetic arrival. Just as a solemn sunset barely shined through the building clouds, repressed emotions started to rise up from within her. With a stern grip on the wheel and her trembling, anxious nerves, Diana thought about her decision to be there.

The sorrow of having lost someone she honestly loved so dearly and had hoped to have a charming and happy life with. Diana knew now more than ever that there was nothing wrong with the strength of the love she had for Tom. It was not her fault he had been taken away, and she acknowledged that most people would not have driven nearly this far to confront their grief. Or perhaps more people would have. Why was she even there to begin with? Why had she really come all this way? Diana knew it was because she had to do this. She needed to be here, even though part of her was afraid of handling the release of her strained emotions. She was a brave woman who had the strength to cope with such a tragic loss by embarking on this incredible journey on her own. To be a mature person who would make everyone proud. She was Diana Kuhn, after all. Regardless of the anxiety gnawing at her heels, she would do this.

Diana knew in her heart that Tom would be proud of her too.

"To Have Loved & Lost"© Part Five

Posted on December 13, 2016 at 1:00 AM Comments comments (0)

At around eight o'clock in the evening Diana finally reached her mountainous destination; a bustling city-sized town that reminded her a lot of where she grew up back home. It did not take too long to find lodging for two nights. Once checked in at the front desk, Diana parked her station wagon as close to the room as she could and wasted no time unpacking her stuff. She was bushed. As she slumped back onto her room's cozy bed, Diana thought back to her bold decision to come here on her own. This was on the evening of her sixth straight day of traveling westward. It had actually turned out to be quite a personal feat for her with just the driving. Unfortunately, no sooner than that encouraging sentiment left her mind were the tendrils of sadness waiting. Diana's thoughts turned to missing her fiancé Tom. She did not want to experience life's joys for herself. She wanted to live them with him.

Diana’s previously patient appetite grumbled a reminder too of the last time she ate anything, and that the meal was hardly a full course either. To finish her unpacking, she brought in Tom’s favorite worn leather jacket from her car. She absently placed it over the seatback of the hotel room’s second chair rather than putting it on before heading back out. Diana sat in the other chair to browse through the hotel’s guest registry for places nearby to eat. There were an appealing number of choices. She found one on the same road as the hotel, about a half mile away, which seemed interesting and unique to the town. Better to respect and appreciate local talents than some restaurant chain, Diana thought to herself. With her mind made up she locked her room, pepped up her car, and drove down to the address. She found the quaint place to be a tavern with a nice, humble atmosphere and an appealing interior design.

Upon stepping inside, wondrously delicious aromas assaulted Diana's senses and made it clear she chose the right place. She ordered something modest, instead of pricey, as she needed to watch her pocket book. The meal turned out to be more scrumptious than expected with what she thought was such a frugal choice. Good enough that the half hour it took to eat caught Diana a bit off guard. She left a good tip, paid the bill, and drove the short distance back to the hotel. Despite a warm refreshing shower, she still could not shake the restlessness aching her from head to toe. So Diana decided to dress for the night and reclined on the bed without drawing back the covers. Her mind all the while taunted by lingering unpleasantness. With the food in her system making her feel increasingly sleepy, Diana put up little resistance to how on the bed she laid when finally drifting off to sleep.

As it turned out, Diana should have done more to calm her nerves before giving in to sleepiness. No sooner had she closed her eyes than a tormentful night of sleeplessness began. The built up emotions from Tom's death busied themselves all night pecking at her mind, desperately trying to find a way out. The same forces which brought her life, and her future, to a painful halt. The tossing and turning alone would have left her speechless. When Diana awoke, it took forever to see the alarm clock time was just after ten in the morning. She was startled to find her room lights still on. The same simple sense of order could not be compared to the covers, which were strewn all around the bed itself. Fortunately though, Diana was not expected at the University campus until one in the afternoon. Before leaving home, she had been invited to meet with Tom's former colleagues plus a respective campus tour.

Diana did try her honest best to straighten the bed for housekeeping, before getting dressed and making her way out to her car. Except that she had not thought any further ahead than the driver's seat. She needed something to qualify as caloric intake, which was taken care of thanks to a fast food drive-thru. As she sat in the parking lot, Diana checked over the directions to the campus again but felt uneasy about the meet and greet with Tom's colleagues. They knew him. She did not know them. To take her mind off of the extra couple hours she still had before the meeting, Diana bided her time by driving around town to see what it was like. An occasional wandering thought of what Tom would have been doing still crossed her mind while she drove. The curiosity soon dissipated. Unexpectedly, Diana lost track of time and made a hasty beeline to the campus hoping she would not be too tardy.

She could not help but feel sheepish to be even a little bit late, Diana thought to herself. She quickly parked and made her way to the campus Foundation & Alumni Center. Upon her approach she was greeted by a stout and warmly welcoming tall guy who eagerly extended his hand in greeting. His name was Avis, a friend and mutual colleague of Tom's geological studies for the surrounding region. Despite the unfortunate circumstances of her reason to be there, Diana felt grateful for Avis’ outgoing nature. His boldness to welcome her eased some of the tension she had felt. They went inside the building and were met by two other colleagues, Everett and Zoë, who both collectively offered their sincerest condolences for Diana’s loss. Their kindhearted descriptions of how wonderful Tom had been as a person to befriend, and work with, made her appreciate having decided to attend this meeting.

In unison, the four of them began the campus tour which inadvertently led them around more of the campus students than Diana had anticipated. She could feel her unsettled anxiety slowly simmer and it put her more on edge than she would have liked in such a public setting. In an attempt to hide her feelings, Diana shifted her attention more on what the outspoken Avis was explaining about the University system. But she was not sure if her outward appearance was also composed. Just then, Zoë unexpectedly spoke up to suggest curbing the tour short and discreetly insisted that this was a stressful time for Diana. Zoë must have picked up on her body language, actually much to her relief. It was not that Diana disliked being here; she was just under a lot of stress. The two shared mutual eye contact as a gesture of gratitude and thankfulness for Zoë's cool handling of the unfortunately awkward situation.

Before Diana made her departure from the pleasant company, Everett spoke up and offered her to join them and a few other colleagues for a get-together in town later that night. Zoë and Avis also whole heartedly insisted. It was their way for to share the best of Tom, and pay their respects to her for having come such a long way to be here. Brushing aside a brief flush of anxiety, Diana accepted their gracious invitation. She was also surprised to find out that the chosen location was the stylish tavern she had been to the night before. So there was no quandary about how to get there. The group settled on between three and four o'clock, which gave Diana plenty of time to be by herself at the crash site. Although, to get there she did require directions so she modestly asked the group. Avis was more than happy to oblige as he knew the route past the site rather well, for which Diana was very thankful.

"To Have Loved & Lost"© Part Four

Posted on December 12, 2016 at 1:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Thankful for directions to Tom's crash site by his former colleague, Avis, Diana left from the bustling college campus to make her way there. Though, she was not exactly in a hurry to arrive so quickly. Her apprehension began to increase the further she drove, as if to defend against the emotional showdown that lurked only a few miles away. Diana felt every bit of the unrest punctuated by even the slightest bumps in the road she was traveling. It was as if the crash site had become a sort of beacon. In an attempt to stall the anxiety she reassured herself of the strength of will and resilient woman that she was. Despite this effort, it was not as effective to keep her nerves calmed as she hoped. Diana was so distracted she passed the crash site. So she circled back around, and parked her trusty station wagon where it would be safest off of the road. Now, it was time to face her fears.

So quickly had Diana stepped out of her car that as soon as she heard the abrupt sound of the car door closing, it made her jump. Instinct immediately took over. On one hand, very slowly and methodically she tried to absorb the scene of the crash site. However, her mind feverishly attempted to visualize the accident itself. How had Tom died here? Where had he drawn his last breath? Did he have any regrets about them? Why him? Why had he been taken at such a vulnerable moment in her life? Dozens of questions clouded Diana's thoughts as the sights, sounds, and smells bombarded her senses. Her perception was enhanced by this, but made it more difficult to process everything. A trickle of breeze-swept sweat slipped down her temple without her even having left the side of her car. Diana dug deep within herself for what courage she had, and slowly made her way down the embankment.

A spot set perilously alongside a right curve of the road above, beset by a twenty foot steep drop down this embankment covered with large stones, errant branches, and a maze of small broken trees. Although any remains of Tom's car had been long since picked up, the disturbed woodlands around her told the story clearly enough. As she followed this rugged path, Diana was so focused on a particular tree below that she felt as if she was floating towards it. The rocky terrain beneath her feet hardly registered in her mind. This tree had been topped unevenly, with the base being what Tom had collided with. Due to the sideways skid over the road's edge and rolling several times, the vehicle hit the tree at the same time when it came to a halt. Reaching her hands out in front of her, Diana unsteadily approached the suspect tree trunk as her emotions rattled in their cage desperate to break free.

Diana touched the tree with her fingertips, grasped it with her hands and hugged it firmly in her arms before she slowly knelt down in pain at its scarred base. She remained just as silent and wholly unmoved for how long she could not know. Diana was afraid of what would happen if she let go of the tree, but her Pandora's Box began to open anyway despite her fears. What started out as a flood of tears streaming down her face from the sorrow and sheer emptiness she had held inside, in mere minutes took a sudden turn for the intense. Anger, fear, frustration, and frightful desperation at Tom being taken from her exploded from within. Diana pounded her fists into the dirt. She worked her way up higher and lobbed a dozen punches to the tree trunk itself. Finally throwing her arms out, Diana reared her head back and screamed in agony at the top of her lungs. Her battle cry carried only one painful word: Why?

After an immeasurable amount of time, Diana slowly descended from her furious outburst. The bulk of her repressed emotions left her momentarily numb from being so powerful and overwhelming. So, she leaned back on her knees and offered a silent tearful prayer of good will in memory of Tom. Finally, with labored effort, sore limbs, scraped and bruised knuckles, Diana picked herself up from the burdened ground. Wiping her face free of the dried tears and brushing away any mud and dirt from her pants, she looked around once more to absorb as much as she could remember. Then, Diana made the laborious climb back up to the roadside parking spot. Once at the top, she turned to take one last memorable glance at the crash site's landscape. Committing it to memory, she slipped into her station wagon and started the return trip back to town. She hoped that the worst was now finally over.

Her anxiety, however, had other plans. No more than a couple minutes into the drive Diana suddenly experienced a frightfully sharp flash of a vision. Lasting only an instant, her instincts and fear quickly identified what it was. At the same time, she struggled to keep from losing control of her car. A few passing car horns sounding off made her realize how close she nearly followed Tom to the same fate. Diana hastily pulled off the road and put her car quickly into park. Drawing both hands through her hair and leaning against the steering wheel for support, Diana tried to recover from what she could not believe just happened. The sharp fear of death, a cruel, clear sound of fiberglass and metal colliding, filled with the smell of fumes made it all too obvious what the brief vision was. She felt lucky not to have crashed. Diana had not experienced a flare up of anxiety this severe for several years.

As her white knuckled grip on the steering wheel weakened, Diana regained her senses and thought to understand why such anxiety had returned when it had. In years past, there was some depression she kept solely to herself, and a few close friends. It had never been anything more than what she could muster through on her own. Rather than letting the negative energy get the best of her, Diana confidently brushed aside her fears and calmed herself. She was Diana Kuhn; a strong young woman who had come this far to face her demons and grief. For the first time since Tom's passing, she felt surprised for having kept the upper hand over her emotions instead of reeling at their will. She seemed to have it in her to get through this difficult ordeal after all. Although, in a modest and mindful way. Giving herself one last breadth of focus, Diana turned back onto the road and resumed her trip back to town.

The town limits, streets, and sign posts graciously welcomed her return. But Diana's head had been nothing short of spinning when she finally parked her car back at the hotel. Memories of the crash site, mixed with memories of the last months she had seen Tom, still flickered through her mind. Her outburst had been uncharacteristic to say the least, but not entirely a surprise. Her love for Tom really was that strong. Luckily, Diana reminded herself, she had not crashed on the drive back. Instead, the reward for her courage had been the chance to find renewed strength right where she needed it to be. She faced her grief, and weathered the storm of how it unfolded. For now, Diana needed to focus on quelling her inner turmoil to keep it from resurfacing at the tavern get-together she was invited to by Tom's colleagues. So she took a shower, got cleaned up, and readied herself to face the friendly crowd.

"To Have Loved & Lost"© Part Three

Posted on December 11, 2016 at 1:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Once she finally gathered her strength and composure, Diana ushered herself to exit from her hotel room. Although the hotel was a distance away, she felt the four or five block walk down the road to the tavern would bide time to smooth over her rugged emotional exterior. Diana never truly expected nor knew how much tension had pent up since Tom's death, neither had she been prepared to release it. She did what she felt was best to face her grief sooner, not later, and reminded herself of the honest love for Tom that was the reason why she chose to come here. As she finally approached the tavern's rustic entrance, Diana's anxiety tried to assert discomfort about feeling unprepared for socializing with Tom's unfamiliar colleagues. She was just a stranger to them, after all. He was the one they knew. Though, their willingness to be here for her was something she still felt compelled to honor and respect.

Despite her self-encouragement, Diana's nerves still reared back expecting some kind of tense surprise moment as she turned the doorknob to enter. What she found was an instantly comforting waft of aromas from delicious foods and a group of all smiles. Diana was relieved to find a small and casual gathering of people that she assumed were the welcoming party. Behind the bar stood a tall redheaded woman of maybe no more than ten years older than her, plus the group of seven people who looked like they were from diverse walks of life. Diana immediately recognized Avis, Zoë, and Everett from the campus introduction earlier. Avis, being the most outspoken of the group, introduced the newcomers in a round robin: Sara Jo, Brandon, Mystic, and Abdullah. The tavern owner, Madison, gave her own delightful but brief welcome speech. Everyone offered their kindest of greetings and sincerest condolences.

Words could not express pretty much fit the bill, so Diana did her best to thank them as she held back several tears and mild shyness. Speaking of the bill, Madison spoke up to let everyone know that the tab was on the house. Just as long as they did not eat or drink her out of house and home, she sarcastically joked. Unexpectedly, Diana felt her casual smile falter from the anxiety of trying to keep her emotional vulnerability hidden. Zoë noticed this amongst the commotion and came over to help Diana relax without drawing any undue attention. Simply from a firm hand on her forearm and reassuring eye contact gave Diana the ease with which to continue, and she discreetly thanked Zoë. This was the second time she had been so observant and it made her wonder whether she had similar experiences of tragedy in her own life. Zoë's comforting presence was a quality that Diana appreciated.

Before ordering their food, Avis offered to say a few words of his own out of respect for Diana and in honor of their absent companion, Tom Caplain. Minus Madison's participation, the crew drank an honorary shot of liquor before they proceeded to order their meals. On her round back to the kitchen, Madison stopped to her own personal comfort to Diana as a show of mindfulness and moral support. She found the kindness helped take the place of anxiety and apprehension that would have preferred a hasty exit. Shortly afterwards, Everett ushered Diana over to a gathered set of tables where everyone sat around, as he pulled out a chair for her in a gentlemanly manner. She thanked him kindly for the gesture before sitting down. Even now, Diana was rightfully still somewhat shy and reserved. Though, the more she embraced and joined in on the positive socializing the more her stress quietly mellowed out.

Over the next several hours each person offered their best memories of Tom. They mixed in interesting discussions about their recent studies of the regional geology. Zoë, Avis, and Everett shared where out of state they each hailed from and their aspirations for being here. Gradually, a lively group of personalities and topics of conversation made these perfect strangers really blend together quite well, Diana thought to herself. For minutes at a time, she lost track of her sorrow and despair over losing Tom thanks to feeling and being more socially involved. Everyone also repeatedly thanked Madison, and her staff, for the deliciously cooked food that helped pass the time after the main course was served. Eventually, due to the modest rounds of alcohol, the group broke out into fits of laughter from jokes that left no dry eyes in the tavern. The comedic relief definitely made for a welcomed change of mood.

She really felt grateful for being a part of this remarkable camaraderie rather than shying away. Though, seeing that it was getting close to ten o’clock Diana gathered everyone’s attention being that she was the guest of honor and on limited time to be there. She focused herself to express her immense gratitude to be there with them after all that had happened. For having been so welcomed when she had never been this far on such a spur of the moment, destined trip on her own. The campus introduction, and this very comforting evening, had ended up really meaning a lot to Diana particularly for being essentially an outsider to them. Mystic, and then Brandon, both spoke up to quash her modesty and shared their own gracious appreciation for getting to know her despite the circumstances. This inspired everyone, including Madison, to offer resounding gratitude to have Diana there with them too.

Diana then made her way to each person for a hug and to thank them individually. At the last minute Everett, whom had been more of a traveling friend with Tom than the others, approached her with some unexpected but intriguing information. During the first few weeks he had spent in the region, Tom had apparently become very fond of a remote overlook spot about fifteen minutes outside of town. The location was surprisingly ideal for both a grand view of the majestic mountain ranges, and for either a sunset or sunrise according to Tom. Everett insisted that Diana check it out before leaving town the next morning, and hoped it would give her a lasting moment of closure as well. So, she grabbed a convenient nearby napkin, a pen lying on top of the bar, and jotted down the best shorthand notes she could of Everett's directions to the spot.

After she gave one last wave to the cheerful group, Diana gathered her belongs and made her way out through the entrance door. Its hinges creaked with an odd sound and startled her for a moment. As soon as she stepped off from the door's threshold her repressed emotions tried to resurface. To her surprise, they were not as intense as they had been earlier. The anger, frustration, and confusion from her crash site outburst changed into a more mild restlessness. This, Diana realized, must have been from the positive socializing with Tom's colleagues that helped her to recuperate. Although, not entirely. She still felt a modest amount of unrest, plus exhaustion. So, she made a beeline straight to the hotel. Once faced with her room's door, Diana fumbled briefly with the key card. Her hands were just a tad shaky from her frayed nerves, but in moments she managed to insert it into place.

"To Have Loved & Lost"© Part Two

Posted on December 10, 2016 at 4:00 AM Comments comments (0)

With a slightly shaken pull of her wrist Diana unlocked the door to her hotel room, and willed herself inside before closing the door behind her. Immediately, she felt an unwelcomed sense of unrest interrupting her train of thought. She chose to travel to the very spot where Tom had faced his death alone. The experience released a flood of emotion churning deep within that still kept Diana from relaxing. She visited the crash site a couple hours ago. Though, she was relieved that the remainder of her emotional outburst had lost much its intensity thanks to the positive socializing with Tom's colleagues at the tavern. Knowing there was also still a mild amount of alcohol in her system, Diana figured she would not be able to sleep right away and resigned to stay awake. So, she slumped down into her hotel room chair and mentally thumbed through ideas of what to do to bide the time.

Moments later Diana sat upright when a flurry of curiosity struck her mind. On the half mile walk back from the tavern, she noticed a quaint rustic gazebo at the edge of the hotel's parking lot. Even in the pitch darkness, it seemed to be for hotel guests to congregate since it was not very far from the front office. So, Diana boldly stood up but her gaze fell upon Tom’s favorite worn leather jacket still lying across the seatback of the second hotel room chair. Suddenly she remembered placing it there the previous night when she first arrived. Diana curiously wondered why she had forgotten to wear it. Though now emboldened, she grabbed the jacket, put it on, and left the hotel room. This time she decided to make each step purposeful. With every footfall on the damp gravel and dirt beneath her shoes, Diana took her time and hoped to finally unravel the compressed emotions still lingering within.

When she reached the gazebo, unexpectedly Diana hesitated and stopped in her tracks. Uncertain for this involuntary moment of pause, she felt her restlessness assert itself again. To keep the anxiety from flaring up, she began to walk slowly around the gazebo's interior to calm her nerves. Gradually Diana started to feel something else; something somewhat vague yet familiar. Instinctively, she clutched Tom's jacket around herself as if to mimic his embrace. When she did this, soothing warmth flowed softly across her upper back and through the tension wound tightly within her shoulders. Diana found herself losing track of any physical movements and paces about. There had not been enough alcohol in her system to induce this euphoric of a sensation of levity. Yet, there was no mistaking the sense of calm and comfort that she was now experiencing.

In her heart, Diana knew it had to be the spirit of her fiancé, Tom. Perhaps she had not been receptive enough at the accident site earlier, for her raging emotions could have been enough to scare away the fiercest grizzly bear. All at once the pains throughout her body and mind seemed to drift away, leaving her feeling comforted enough to finally relax. When she came to, Diana's arms were outstretched before her as if she had ambiguously danced with someone. She suppressed a most charming giggle to herself and leaned on one of the wooden gazebo posts to memorize the mystical experience in her heart. Then, Diana made her way slowly back to her hotel room. While she walked, the warmth from her guardian angel remained with her comfortingly. Setting an alarm for an hour before sunrise, at least initially Diana managed to fall sound asleep after a most emotionally exhausting day.

Next thing she knew, Diana had startled partially awake from her rather fitful tossing and turning. The alarm clock had already begun its best rooster impression in spite of her desire to lob it across the room. Once it was silenced, Diana rolled onto her back and tried to gather herself; grasping for the energy to keep from slipping back into weary sleeplessness. Today was the day to bid her final farewell to Tom. It was an important personal duty she did not intend to retreat from not even in the slightest. As she got dressed and readied to leave the hotel, Diana nearly forgot to square the charge for her room. She took a few moments to arrange her best expression of composure then walked over to the hotel lobby. However, what she found was a most heartwarming surprise.

Diana strode up to the front desk, was half way from pulling the credit card out of her wallet when the clerk politely said it would not be necessary. Seeing her puzzled expression, the clerk then admitted what she meant with no less than a modest grin of admiration. Reading from a note, the clerk recited that as a parting gift for the courage to venture here all the way from her home state to face her grief, a young man named Everett had paid her bill. He slipped in about an hour before to pay the full cost of her stay there. Diana could feel an instinctive smile blossom across her face from the gratitude. Thanking the clerk she then walked back to her room, and packed up the rest of her stuff into her car. She drove off towards the scenic overlook where Everett had suggested she check out before leaving town. Despite the dark unfamiliarity of the area, Diana was guided by her passion through the night.

With the hotel well out of sight from her rear view mirror, Diana focused her senses to find the remote overlook spot that Tom apparently frequented several times before the tragic accident. She knew being anywhere near the crash site would still be too emotional for her tender heart, but she longed to say goodbye to him in her own peaceful way somehow. A way that she had hoped no one would be around her to spoil; a hint of selfish time alone was nothing she felt ashamed of. Diana needed this in order to heal her wounds and move on. She had the good fortune of having met Everett, Zoë, Avis, and the other colleagues to thank for also helping her cope with the heart breaking loss. She made a mental note to return someday and thank them again for welcoming her so kindly, and for being there for her even as strangers when she needed the comfort.

In no time it seemed the scenic location was within reach thanks to Everett's directions. Diana deftly parked her car and set out in search of the overlook spot. After several minutes of following her senses to roam through the rugged terrain, she found a smooth-surfaced rock outcropping that seemed ideal for the best view of the sunrise. It strangely felt as if Tom would have found it preferable as well with a beautiful array of mountain peaks off in the distance. Perhaps his spirit was right there with her, and had guided her by the love they once shared. First clearing her mind and finding a comfortable seat upon the rocky surface, Diana sat down and prepared herself. For the emotion riddled thrust back upon everything that had led up to this moment was very personal, and also required great care to navigate. Slowly, she closed her eyes as the first few rays of warmth washed over her.