A Son of San Antonio: A True Story

I’ve debated over a month whether I would write this particular blog post. Ultimately, my decision to do so feels selfish, because I want to know I am not alone in how lost I am about how to feel. To protect my family, I am withholding many details and being purposefully vague.

Full Header

The Incident

It’s night time, dusk an hour gone. The kids are in bed. I am playing a videogame at my computer. Another quiet evening with the sounds of swords clanging and ambient music in my headphones.

My lady of the house touches my shoulder. She saw something strange outside while smoking a cigarette. Several sounds, which to her sounded like small fireworks, just went off, and then a person sprinted like hell through our apartment complex and disappeared. Weird right? I agree, but then, sometimes people do stupid things.

She asks me to come check it out with her. A short squabble about minding our own business later, I am following her outside into the rain and darkness. She stops, giving me a look that says “please don’t make me go first,” so I take the lead.

The minute we get downstairs, we know something isn’t right. A vehicle is running, lights dimmed, and the passenger door is open. The indoor light isn’t working, but we can see a person is inside. We approach, and hear the person snoring. I ask if he’s okay, but he only responds with a snort.

I turn to my lady, shrug, and start heading back to the house. Sorry, but dealing with you being drunk in public is not in my job description. The lady gives me one of her oh-no-you-don’t looks, and tells me to go check on him.

I didn’t bring my phone. It’s raining and I’m expecting a couple of kids set off some fireworks, not an open car. Worried about touching anything, I bring out my own lighter, reach inside the vehicle, and flick it on.

Now I can see the man is leaning against his window. I’ve seen this before. He’s drunk. Passed out before he can even turn off the ignition. Maybe the lady heard him running into the wall in front of him, albeit slowly. Nothing else looks wrong, and my lighter isn’t going to get any brighter, so I let it die and pull my arm out of the vehicle. We head back to our place.

 

The Weirdest Police Call

During that walk back, we discuss what we should do. Ultimately, the lady is not convinced that it’s just some drunk guy that hit the wall while trying to stop. The other guy, the runner, wanted to get away fast. So, she makes one of the weirdest calls to police I’ve ever heard, much less been a part of. Weird because she starts the call off with “I don’t know if this is an emergency or not, but something happened…”

She calls the police station, not 911, because we decided that might be bad if it turned out not to be an emergency and was, after all, just a drunk guy snoring. The lady on the other side of the line seems to understand, and indeed sounds interested in the sprinting man, and says my lady made the right decision calling them. They come out and look at the vehicle, but when they get here, the vehicle was closed up and the lights off. There’s nothing they can do.

Full Header Reversed

The Aftermath/Following Morning

The police ended coming back in the early morning. A woman had called 911. Her son hadn’t come home that night. Using a phone tracking app, she found him in the vehicle the lady and I had checked out the night before. He’d been shot, and by the time she got there, he was long since dead. The lady and I had to make statement to a detective, who let us know that he knew about our call the night before, and that honestly, the victim was too far gone even then for us to have saved him- even if we’d called 911 and gotten an ambulance there. I know this was supposed to settle us but…

 

I am Unsettled

You need to understand one thing: I really believed the man in this vehicle was snoring, sleeping off a night of excessive drinking. Or a drug-high. Whatever. What I absolutely did not think was possible is that I could miss the blood of a man shot twice. That I could mistake a man’s last breaths with snoring. That I could not recognize death less than a foot from my own body. Yet that’s exactly what happened. I don’t blame myself for the boy’s death. I mourn for him, but I don’t think I am in any way responsible for what happened to him.

I do think that I should have been able to see the situation for what it was. I’m worried that I was so scared of the reality, I made up hearing snoring. I’m worried that I didn’t see any blood in the flame of my lighter for the same reason. Fear.

In a world where this violence can happen, I cannot afford to disengage with reality and make up things in my head to better cope with it. I need to see things as they are. And on this particular night, I can’t be sure whether I truly didn’t see the blood, and truly didn’t recognize the sound of sobbing, inhaling last breaths for what they were- or if I made up an alternate reality so I didn’t have to look at it.

And if the latter is true, I do feel unsettled, and guilty, for not being strong enough to face reality.

#PhotoStoryPrompt: Army in the Dust

Every Thursday, Radina Valova (@RadinaValova on Twitter) posts a photograph from her amazing collection. Along with the photo, she gives one or two rules, and sets anybody to write a story based on both the photograph and said rules. It’s really fun, and helps keep the creative juices flowing. If you’re interested, just search #PhotoStoryPrompt on Thursdays to join in, or just read the stories put up by authors.

Today’s photo immediately sparked a side story for my current Work in Progress: Mjolnir. Please enjoy!

Radina's Photo
Radina Valova’s photo

Stepping into the cool morning, the first thing that catches Mateus’ eye is the beauty of the mountains behind his home. Ever there, part of his heart. The second thing to catch his eye is the un-solid wall wafting across the entirety of the plains in front of the mountain. The dust reaches taller than a titan’s ass cheek and just as noisy. Mateus grimaces. The courier had not been wrong. War is coming.

He can hear the multitudes marching behind the dust. Mechanical steps hitting the ground in unison. Unwavering. Quaking against the earth with gods only know what intentions. Would they stomp his home to the ground? Burn it? Him? He steps inside and looks at his wife and two boys. The boys look back up at him, questions burning in their eyes. He doesn’t have the answers, and he can tell they see that too. His wife, Ayna, hands him his sword.

“We will protect our land,” she says.

“Yes, but we will fall doing so.”

“Then kiss me before we step outside.”

Mateus grabs Ayna with his free arm, pulling her close, and kisses her hard. A tinge of guilt passes through him as he realizes how little attention he’s paid this amazing woman. So he kisses her longer, deeper, with all his love and passion. She would not die before knowing she consumes his heart.

When their lips slip from contact, Mateus turns straight around and heads outside. The boys follow him, Ayna bringing up the back. Mateus watches her take one last look inside. He’d wanted to do the same, but couldn’t bear to think about all they were about to lose. It isn’t much insofar as materials, but the memories here are strong. Just like Ayna. Just like their boys.

The sky is clear and even the clouds run from the coming army. Mateus’ faith is faltering. He wants to run. He wants his boys to live. They’re still miles ahead of the army. He looks at Ayna. She looks at the boys, then back at him. He nods. Placing his sword against his shoulder, Mateus begins walking down the dirt road.

Two steps in, a deafening shriek of thunder falls over his ears, physically knocking him to the ground. The sound sweeps over the land, bending blades of grass and even halting the mechanical steps of the army beyond the great dust wall. Mateus’ heart fills with boldness, steeling him for the fight to come. Clouds sweep into view from nowhere. Rain pours over Mateus as though baptizing him. Lightning crashes across the sky, creating a wave heading towards the army. When it passes through the dust wall, screams interrupt the blast of thunder.

Could it be? Ragnarok passed ages ago. Thor died in that mighty final battle. Midgard was born anew. Who could possibly wield his hammer now?

“Back to the house! We will protect our home regardless of the outcome. Come boys! Come Ayna!” Mateus hollers across howling wind and rain.

Photo-Story Challenge: Alice’s Revenge

 

Alice leans against the wall, pain sprouting from her elbow where she smacked against the wall. Looking down, she sees a whelp turning black and blue just below her elbow. Maybe it’s just a shadow, she tells herself. Fighting back tears and a curse, she stares back into the living room where Dwayne is already playing some stupid game. How can he do that? Ignore the loud impact and put on that headset that takes him away from her?

Looking at the back of his head, Alice can still see his face in her mind. His not quite even mustache, hazel eyes, grizzled beard…and anger squelching all of his beautiful features into a tight knot which never loosens. She sees the near empty beer bottle on his computer desk and remembers when it was a bottle of soda, before the accident.

She remembers falling in love. Like so many girls, she used her heart instead of her head when Dwayne asked her out. A nerdy boy, his glasses made his eyes look huge as he stuttered through his proposal to take her to a movie. Nancy, her bestie at the time, laughed at him. The two girls would never have so heated a fight than that day, all because of a boy. This boy. Dwayne. Alice accepted his proposal, and delighted in the grin which took up his entire face. Before the movie ended, Alice would kiss this cute, nerdy boy. She enjoyed forcing him to endure an intimate moment in a public, though dark, space. Surprising herself, she found the taste of his lips intoxicating. She wanted to kiss those lips forever; and so Alice and Dwayne became “a thing.”

Photo-Story Challenge, Alice's Revenge, jamesnealbooks, james neal,

All this came before the anger. Alice and Dwayne only got three years together before the accident that shattered his left leg and the lower half of his right one. Alice thought she’d lost him when she got the call from the hospital. When she arrived, she got the news that he survived, but might never walk again.

Worse, he’d just gotten a promotion as a head architect, with his own team, a week prior. A week later, his company let him go, saying the decision was regrettable, but necessary.

Dwayne spent a long time in recovery and rehabilitation. When he got to come home, the two of them had to get used to living with each other again. Dwayne’s sodas became beers, and that ugly knot of anger soon settled permanently into his face. Life is supposed to get better after the hospital. It didn’t.

The two of them argue, a lot. Sometimes, things fly. Once, fists. Alice let Dwayne know that if that ever happened again, even once, he’d never see her again. He’d be alone. It’s the meanest thing she’s ever said to him; but she meant it. Since then, he spends his time on the computer, headset on, lost in whatever world lets him escape his personal hell. Alice goes to work, makes dinner, and sleeps. There is no romance. No intimacy. At least, not with each other. He romances his games, and she romances the relationships on her TV shows.

When they do talk, the conversation is short and curt. Like strangers side-stepping on the street, they both move past each other with as little friction as possible. She’s terrified of making a wrong move.

Today, she made the wrong move.

Standing up, light hits her arm and she can see there’s no shadow on her elbow. This bruise is gonna need ice. Looking towards Dwayne, she decides he’s due for an apology. Of sorts. Wincing at the throbbing in her arm, she steps up to his chair and taps him on the shoulder.

“What?” he asks with dismissiveness.

“That hurt.”

“What did?”

“Slamming into the wall, jerk!”

Dwayne turns away from the screen. It feels like the first time in ages he’s looked at her with anything but disdain.

“Why did you slam into the wall?”

“Does it matter? I want you to get me some ice. Sit with me on the couch. Make it better.”

She puts on her best pout, and thinks just maybe that knot of anger in his face loosens a bit.

“Is that all? Lemme see that.”

Dwayne is careful not to let his wheelchair smack her legs as he turns to face her. Gentle hands cradle her arm as he looks over the damage. A whistle escapes his pursed lips, making his beard wiggle. Gingerly, he kisses her bruise.

“How?” he asks.

“I was trying not to smack your chair on my way to the bathroom, and somehow managed to trip on one of your cords. It’s so stupid, but I couldn’t get my balance back and flew all the way through the doorway into the other wall.”

He laughs. A full, hearty laugh that contains no hint of meanness. Alice giggles back at him, enjoying the various movements of his body and the metallic clicks of his wheelchair complaining. Dwayne puts his arms around her, and she lets him. He’s so warm. So loveable. Her cute nerdy boy is happy, and so is she.

“I tell you what. If I go get stuff to make that feel better, are you willing to help me onto the couch? That’s still really hard on me, even with the metal poles in my legs. We’ll chill there for the night. You can even make me watch one of those silly shows you like.”

“Yes. I can get your bony butt on the couch.”

“Hey honey?”

“What my love?”

“Next time, just ask. You shouldn’t have to fly into walls to get my attention. I’m sorry I let myself get caught up in my stupid crap.”

“I know it’s a process, but I hate feeling we’re avoiding each other. It gets lonely.”

“You shouldn’t ever be lonely.”

“No, I shouldn’t mister. You’d best be remembering that from now on.”

She smiles wider, no longer fighting back her tears. She lets them spill, and leans into Dwayne’s palms to make sure he can catch them.

On Dwayne’s computer screen, red flashes demand his agency. Ignored, his character falls over, dead.

Bullying, WriteFightGifClub, and Letting Children Flounder

Social media is supposed to be a place where you create a network and keep in contact with friends and/or like-minded people. Sometimes I worry I’m one of those people who spends too much time on various platforms. The events of last Wednesday didn’t absolve me of that worry; but it did show me that, on Twitter, I’ve found my tribe.

Bullying WriteFightGifClub and Letting Children Flounder, jamesnealbooks, james neal,The Setup:

It’s Wednesday night, and my eight year old son is supposed to be going to bed. To be fair, he tries. Unfortunately, he’s upset and wailing and I can’t get him to tell me what is going on. I’m thinking he stubbed his toe until he says this:

“I don’t want to go to school anymore. I just know my class is going to bully me all day again, every day, for the rest of the year.”

If you’re a parent, you already know how chilling and desperate that sounds. My son is only in second grade and loves to socialize. How could he not want to go to school? Who is bullying him? Why?

Oh fuck. The whys. Why didn’t I know this is happening? Why isn’t his teacher doing something about this? Why did these other kids choose mine? Why am I so useless?Bullying WriteFightGifClub and Letting Children Flounder

Why am I so fucking useless right now?

His crying lessens with lots of big hugs and telling him he’s just the coolest. He doesn’t believe he’s the coolest. If he is the coolest, why is he the one getting picked on? Pretty deep thinking for an eight year old.

I don’t know how to deal with bullying. I was bullied, my self-esteem is still affected by being bullied. How am I supposed to tell my son everything is going to be okay?

WriteFightGifClub

Yeah, I wish this was something I came up with to help my son. The reality is it’s a hashtag I came across a couple months back on Twitter. It’s a group of writers, started by two people who were slogging through Nanowrimo last November and needed a place to blow off steam. It’s still a fairly tight-knit group, but growing thanks to the founders’ creativity and the sheer number of gifs posted daily. In #WriteFightGifClub, it’s not a surprise when a thread is thousands of posts long.

If you have no idea what Nanowrimo is, that’s okay. The point here is that WriteFightGifClub is my tribe. A group of people I’ve been creating relationships with for the past two months. When I didn’t know what to do, I turned to them for help. That may sound like a strange place to go, but I needed help. NOW. And I knew somebody would be there.

Schooled By a Teacher

Lucky for me, one of the members that is online at this moment is a teacher in New Zealand. Clementine sees my post about my son being bullied, and immediately jumps into the conversation with not only practical advice, but also book recommendations for my son to read. How cool is this lady? She’s awesome. The coolest.

Clementine is telling me to visit the principal and make sure they are aware of what’s happening. It turns out a principal cares a lot about school reputation, and if you’re going to make it public that they won’t help your child, well, that’s not good in the community’s eye. Generally speaking, they don’t want a negative public view.

She also tells me to keep giving my son love and reassurance despite him not accepting it at the moment. Right now, it all hurts too much, but when he’s at school or lying in bed he’ll remember me saying those words and know I meant them.

Several other members are present for the conversation. If they don’t have anything to add to the conversation per se, they still give condolences, one even offers to kick the bullies’ asses. That makes my boy smile.

This is my tribe. The type of people I want around me. The type of person I want to be. None of them had to respond to my tweet. Not one. But so many did, and they helped me help my son. Those are real friends in my book (author pun intended).

The Takeaway

Bullying is hard on the victims. It forces them to question their worth. It forces their loved ones to question if they love well enough. I’m not an expert. I don’t have a happy ending. My boy is still going to school; and he’ll likely be called names again today. When I pick him up, I’m going to give him a big hug and tell him he’s the coolest. I’ll do it every day until he doesn’t need me to anymore.

If you’re a parent, that’s about all you can do. The bottom line is, your child has to find their own way through it. Life sucks that way. Just make sure they know you love them, especially when they flounder through the dark places.

 

Thanks for reading.

Interested in my stories? Links can be found here.

 

My Social Media:

JamesNealWrites: Twitter

James Neal:            LinkedIn

jamesnealwrites: Instagram

What’s It All About?

Banner IMan, starting a blog feels like one big exercise in narcissism. Hi, my name is, I like this stuff, my plan is, my goal is, my life is like, I’m involved in…rinse and repeat about 100 times all in the hopes that you garner some amount of attention from readers and Google alike.

Attention that most writers really don’t want; but we have to cover our bases or there’s no hope at all of getting out there.

So…what’s this blog about?

HUMOR

I want to have fun on this blog. It’s the last one I’m gonna create, and I’ll tweak it as time goes on. But here is my little spot on the internet, and I’d like my little spot to brighten folks’ day at least 90% of the time. You can expect me to make fun of pop culture, comment on popular entertainment, and maybe even put on a written comedy show, if you ask real nice sometime in the future.

BOOKS

Yes, I’m an author so it makes sense I’ll end up writing about books. But it might be in a format you’re not used to…I’ve certainly never seen authors do it this way. Let me know if you enjoy it when you see it!

POLITICS

Not regularly, I just killed my last blog which turned into a political blog so fast I barely realized it happened. However, I’m a big proponent for the “if you stay silent you’re guilty” idea, and I don’t want to be guilty of saying nothing when I could have. I WILL NOT post about Every. Single. Little. Thing. But the big stuff, you can bet your ass I’ll be putting my thoughts out there.

HOBBIES

I have a few, including gaming and martial arts. Don’t be surprised if I hit you with an off-the-wall thought about my hobbies here and there. If you enjoy them too, please, engage me and let’s talk about it!

BOOK NEWS

Yeah, that’s right. I’m gonna publish my stories, and hope you click the link and at least think about buying them. However, I don’t write fast enough to spam you with offers, deals, or even new stuff every month. When I do publish, expect a good week of HOLY SHIT GUYS I DID IT AND IT’S OUT GO LOOK GO LOOK GO LOOK! Okay, not like this, but believe me- I’ll be excited.

Thanks for reading about what the Tempered Wordsmith will be covering. If you enjoyed it, please follow my blog here on WordPress, or you can follow me on social media:

JamesNealWrites: Twitter

James Neal:            LinkedIn

jamesnealwrites: Instagram