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Bobbie Jo Morrell is a mountain woman, poet, writer, leather crafter, rustic furniture builder, cat owner, technical writer, website designer. She says, “Colorado’s Front Range, with the smell of pine trees in the cool air of morning, is my home.” Her blog address: http://soulscompass.blogspot.com/.

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The Morning After

My eyes opened to the dull February dawn, and I knew that something had happened. Yes, margaritas and nachos at Lost and Found. I looked over the edge of the loft and saw the garnet cross glittering blood-red on my desk down below.

Christian. Follower of Jesus. How odd.

A memory of the previous night’s sense of peace washed over me, the friendly smiles of  Trina and the other women, Chris’ exuberant bear hug and rich laughter over margaritas. I flipped over again and gazed at the cracked white ceiling.

“Now what?” a small voice seemed to whisper in the back of my mind. “Now what are you going to do?”

“What do you mean?” the front of my mind asked back, with a nervous tremor.

“What are you going to do now? Now that you’ve actually become a follower of Christ? All that peace and love stuff is nice, isn’t it? But now you have to get out of bed and go out to classes and face Christine and your other friends. What are you going to tell your drinking buddies? Are you gonna just go on as you have been?”

“Shit,” I muttered, my forehead creasing.

“Remember a few weeks ago, when Christine broke her ankle?”

“What about that?” I squirmed around under the blankets uncomfortably.

“When she came home in pain and wearing a cast, you were drunk off your ass. You wanted to be there for her, to help her, right?”

“And I couldn’t even see straight.”

My head sagged in the remembered sense of failure. That image of the hogback ridge arose in my mind’s eye, the cold at the top, the darkness at either side.

Last night I had chosen the darkness of hope and seen it fade away in light as fog dissolves in the sun. Now I saw that I was free to choose again: a rocky path that led on beyond my ability to see towards more hope, or a shortcut back over to the old familiar darkness again.

What might be asked of me on that rocky path? What painfully difficult things might I have to do?

The whisper came again. “So. Now what? Are you going to follow this Jesus guy and see where he can take you? Or do you just want to go back to sleep in the darkness?”

What the hell did I have to lose, anyway?

I flung off the blankets and slid down the ladder of the loft.

“Let’s go, Jesus, and see what happens.”

*************

On Saint Patrick’s day I gathered with Christine and a handful of friends, including Tom and his girlfriend, and Pastor Manske baptized me in the large stone dimness of Memorial Lutheran Church. He had me lean over the little bowl of water on a stand, and three times he dipped his hand into it and  drew a cross on my forehead with his finger.

“…in the Name of the Father…and the Son…and the Holy Spirit…”

Amen.

I felt like the cross glowed with light from my forehead. Our small group shared hugs all round, then went to Great Plains Sauce and Dough for pizza. Five hours later, after pizza, after hanging out joyfully with Christine, when I was alone in my room, I could still feel the cool burn of the cross drawn on my forehead. I was marked—invisibly, indelibly, irrevocably.

story by bobbie jo morrell, all rights reserved

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Bobbie Jo Morrell is a mountain woman, poet, writer, leathercrafter, rustic furniture builder, cat owner, technical writer, website designer. She says, “Colorado’s Front Range, with the smell of pine trees in the cool air of morning, is my home.” Her blog address: http://soulscompass.blogspot.com/.

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deeper warrior 7Deeper Warrior Chapter 7: Escape from New York

Four days I floated up and down Manhattan, a solitary bright blue ski jacket awash in a sea of dark wool trench coats. So many people, so serious, and so good at ignoring one another. I tried to control my bumpkin-like gaping at the immensely tall walls of the concrete and steel skyscraper canyons, the weirdness of elevators that only went to certain floors.

Christine was still working at her temp job on the 42nd floor of a building on Lexington Avenue. She was up and away before I stirred in the morning, so when I got up I walked alone to the station to take the train with other commuters down Long Island, under East River and up into Penn Station. There I would pick up the subway that went where I wanted to start my day, anxiously watch for the right station to get off and keep a sharp eye on the multitudes of people around me.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art and an entire day of gazing at famous paintings, sculptures, and other works. Midday I took a nap while sitting on a bench surrounded by Greek statues. Another day at the Museum of Natural History. Another day to the Empire State Building, where I saw a purse snatcher, then Wall Street, then the World Trade Towers, then the Staten Island Ferry past Lady Liberty.

I always ate lunch on the street, from carts and little trucks selling pretzels, souvlaki (Greek meat on a stick), crispy eggrolls, or knish with mustard, accompanied by a can of soda, sipped through a straw.

Then, thoroughly saturated with city sights and ethnic food, I flowed with commuters to Penn Station to meet Chris and ride the rails with her back to her parents’ home.

On Thursday night the weather forecast forced a change of traveling plans. A big snowstorm was plowing across the midwest and our original departure time would have set us against it in the mountains of Pennsylvania. Deeming it wiser to hit the snow in the plains of Ohio, we got up and packed into the Pinto at 2 o’clock Friday morning.

We decided to drive straight through—about 24 hours—trading off driving duty and stuffing ourselves full of caffeine in various forms. As predicted, heavy snow in Ohio kept traffic down to a tiresome 25 miles an hour on the interstate and we didn’t reach the Chicago area until night had fallen.

My nerves jangled as I sped down the highway through the southern suburbs of Chicago. The roads were clear, a relief after the snow, but suddenly we fishtailed then spun donuts across three lanes, finally coming to an abrupt halt in the median. A guardrail stood about twenty yard behind the car, and I instantly realized that if the Pinto had smashed into it rear end first, there could have easily been an explosion. But amazingly we were alive, unhurt and right-side up.

Adrenaline on top of the caffeine made my head buzz almost audibly and I tried immediately to start the car again. Chris grabbed my arm. “Let’s wait a few minutes till we calm down.”

I took a deep breath, very glad I was with Christine. After all, she was a christian and God takes care of his own. I probably would have been toast otherwise.

Well, the Pinto started right up and we drove out of the median. But we decided to seek shelter for the night rather than continue in our fried state.

Chris’ aunt and uncle lived on a farm not far from our little accident, so we dropped in on them at about 11 at night. They gladly took us in. I was completely exhausted, fried by caffeine overdose, and hallucinating: a fully lit nuclear power plant was glowing across their cornfields. Well, I thought I was hallucinating—the nuclear power plant was still there next morning.

More kind hospitality, good rest and good food, then Christine and I finally made it back to Ash House.

I settled into my new, strange room with a head full of new, strange thoughts, images, questions, feelings—all whirling around like a Pinto on ice.

I quickly resumed my habit of heavy drinking.

story by bobbie jo morrell, all rights reserved

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Bobbie Jo Morrell is a mountain woman, poet, writer, leathercrafter, rustic furniture builder, cat owner, technical writer, website designer. She says, “Colorado’s Front Range, with the smell of pine trees in the cool air of morning, is my home.” Her blog address: http://soulscompass.blogspot.com/.

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Deeper Warrior Chapter 6: Something Grows in Brooklyn

winter beachStanding stock still on the sand, dry beach grasses brushing at my knees, I stared, open-mouthed. I stared at the restless motion that reached all the way to Europe. Not everyone is enchanted by the North Atlantic in January, but even in pale winter the weight, the depth, the energy of the grey-green waves filled me. I  felt its power and hugeness in my body, the patient restlessness that no photo or movie could possibly convey.

It beat upon my senses with the rhythm of the incoming waves, the salt smell, the endless horizon; faced with something far larger and more dangerous than any dark rest area or width of concrete bridge (did it not swallow the Titanic—and countless other ships—with hardly a burp?), I felt glad. Small, yes, but as though my smallness before the vast ocean were a secret to be treasured with joy.

Chris had grown up in Queens and was old friends with the Atlantic. She quickly wandered off in search of seashells as I stood gaping. After a time I joined her, and we filled our coat pockets with purple wampum shells, crispy sponges and lots of inadvertent beach sand, while she told me of all the childhood games she and her siblings had played on this beach. We chased each other in imitation of those games, running up grassy hillocks and sliding or tumbling down the sand on the other side. But I kept my eyes on the ocean. How could I ever be quite the same again? And why would I want to be?

The next morning, Sunday morning, we plunged deeper into the urban tangle. I glued myself to the window the whole way down through Queens to the heart of Brooklyn.

Queens looked exactly like what I remembered from many episodes of All in the Family: rows and rows of little houses on little lots stretching away into the distance along a perfectly squared grid pattern of streets.

Brooklyn appeared as a drab, almost alien landscape of  cube-like buildings—some looked like victims of an air raid: falling roughly down into a pile of rubble. The streets were nearly devoid of people. A weight of oppression and fear fell on me—more even than my usual state. Every window was covered with bars.

Including the windows of the Lutheran church, where Chris’ father was substitute pastor. It was housed in an unremarkable brick building and possessed a plain and unexciting white interior.

The African American congregation was quite lively and vocal—singing hymns that I’d never heard before with real joy, and punctuating Dr. Oltmann’s sermon with many a “Hallelujah!” and “Amen.” Definitely not the staid German Lutheran service one typically encountered in the midwest.

Christine chuckled and whispered in my ear, “Dad used to just stand behind the pulpit and preach—now he walks up and down, waving his arms for emphasis!” And so he did.

At Sunday school after the service, everyone stood in a circle holding hands for prayer. I tried to back out—not being a christian or particularly religious person. And, to be perfectly honest, unused to being in a racial minority. I knew history; I’d watched those mod ’70s TV shows—I expected to be hated for being white. And in my mind, justifiably so.

But they wouldn’t let me back out. They took me by the hand and pulled me into their circle. They prayed for me, and hugged me. They accepted me, a stranger in a strange land.

story by Bobbie Jo Morrell, all rights reserved

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Bobbie Jo Morrell is a mountain woman, poet, writer, leathercrafter, rustic furniture builder, cat owner, technical writer, website designer. She says, “Colorado’s Front Range, with the smell of pine trees in the cool air of morning, is my home.” Her blog address: http://soulscompass.blogspot.com/.

___________________________________________________________________________________________Deeper deeper warrior 5

Deeper Warrior Chapter 5: New York, New York

Tomorrow morning I would get in my Pinto and drive to New York City. Wanted to get an early start,  went to bed early. Never been east of Illinois before, never been to a city bigger than Des Moines. Flopped over to my left side, looking over the edge of the loft to the room down below. New room, boxes still unpacked, stuff strewn on chairs. And a duffel bag full of all that I should need for my week in the big city.

Christine was brave, inviting me to start the new year by moving into the empty room across the hall from her in Ash House. I didn’t have a great track record for roommate situations, really. And she invited me to come out to her parents’ home on Long Island for the last week of Christmas break; she would ride back to Iowa with me. She was working in Manhattan over break. Insane.

I flopped onto the other side, facing the wall. Exciting to think of seeing the sights. Images of the Big Apple, gleaned from years of watching television, ran through my head. Crowds of people, tall buildings blocking out the sky, subway cars covered in graffiti. Gangs, murders—why were so many of the tv shows in New York cop shows?

Sitting up, I looked at my clock. 10:30. No way was I going to get any sleep. Hell! I might as well get up and leave now. I slid down the ladder, got dressed, grabbed my duffel, climbed into my orange Pinto, and drove off into the long winter night.

Interstate all the way. Just go. I drank soda, stopped at rest areas. Got out in the cold dark wind, cursed those newspaper clippings my mother sent in the mail about people being murdered at rest areas, ran to the bathroom and back.

Who knew that northern Illinois was flatter than Nebraska? And Indiana much the same, with lots more city lights as I skimmed south of Chicago and the Lakes. Finally, with dawn greying the sky before me, I hit the Ohio border, and fatigue took its toll. Holiday City had an old fashioned motor hotel—the manager was surprised at someone checking in at sunrise for half a day. I slept alone in a motel for the first time in my life.

Four hours across Ohio plains, then up into the hills of Pennsylvania for a few more hours. Darkness fell, and suddenly the Pinto’s alternator warning light flashed on. Shit! Out in the middle of nowhere! The next truck stop possessed a helpful mechanic type person, thankfully.

“Nothin’ wrong with the alternator. Must be a short in your light.”

I drove on to Stroudsburg, at the eastern edge of Pennsylvania. It was Friday night, and the Oltmanns weren’t expecting me until Saturday afternoon. And I didn’t want to drive through New Jersey in the dark.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, television on, a thousand miles from home, I felt some lifeline stretching, ravelling. With the tv for white noise, I slept fully clothed across the foot of the bed.

Awake at dawn, I geared up for the plunge into the really big city. Topped off the Pinto at Parsippany; didn’t want to get low on gas in the middle of that vast urban wasteland.

First check, George Washington Bridge. I knew it was a toll bridge, but nothing had prepared me for this mile-wide concrete monster, with its big baskets hungry for change—and change only. I sat for a while staring, reading the signs, holding a dollar bill in my hand.

Then a denim-clad apparition emerged from nowhere, shouting, “What’s the problem?”

“No change!” I shouted back, waving my dollar bill. He grabbed the bill, dropped four quarters into my hand, and vanished, ghostlike. I threw coins in the basket and drove on.

Through the concrete canyons of the Bronx, across Throgs Neck Bridge, onto Long Island. OK, here’s the main drag, and here’s Garden City. Where’s that turn? Dammit! It was back there. OK, now I’m in Franklin Square. What’s with these cities crammed up against each other without a break?

I turned around, found the correct turn, and pulled up in front of a comfortingly ordinary suburban house to be welcomed by the Oltmanns. I’d hazarded the foreign land alone and reached a haven of security. For now.

story by bobbie jo morrell, all rights reserved

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Bobbie Jo Morrell is a mountain woman, poet, writer, leathercrafter, rustic furniture builder, cat owner, technical writer, website designer. She says, “Colorado’s Front Range, with the smell of pine trees in the cool air of morning, is my home.” Her blog address: http://soulscompass.blogspot.com/.

Read earlier chapters of Deeper Warrior

___________________________________________________________________________________________Deeper the police

Warrior Chapter 3: The Police

Alex had been a serious punk rocker before her family moved to Iowa, so when she learned that her  friends, the English Beat, were opening for Sting and The Police at the Five Seasons Center, she encouraged us to spend $12.50 for tickets and all drive there together.

So we loaded up in Gina’s Toyota and drove two hours to Cedar Rapids. There was no reserved seating—it was general admission to the floor. You know, like The Who concert a couple of years before in Cincinnati, where 11 people were trampled to death.

Gina and Rustam retreated to the balcony to sit down in safety. Alex and Cindy decided to try to get as close to the stage as possible. I followed Alex and Cindy. God forbid anyone should think I’m a coward.

Before the show started people were milling around, handing out illicit substances of various sorts. Dodging around those huddles, we moved toward the stage.

The crowd tightened up when the English Beat began to play, but we were able to stay together close to the front. Cindy and I grinned at each other as Alex shouted until she was hoarse.

Then Sting and The Police took the stage. In a sudden massive push I was separated from Alex and Cindy and wedged tightly in front of the huge main speakers, with no more than five rows of people in front of me.

The mass of humanity shifted and heaved periodically, but there was no escape. Deafened by the speakers, drenched in sweat—my own and that of the strangers packed around me—I focused intently on not falling down. If I had passed out, though, I would have been held upright by the crowd. For awhile anyway.

The Police rocked the house. I barely listened, concentrated on breathing and not falling down. At every tiny opportunity I tried to shift toward the edge of the crowd. Concentration became difficult though, because breathing meant inhaling the heavy cloud of pot smoke that covered us all.

My sense of time became distorted, ethereal. Did they play for two hours, or two days? My whole world shrank down to the boundary of my skin, a tiny piece of floorspace, and the pounding in my ears. Then, somehow, it was over. The music stopped—though my ears rang for three days after—the crowd loosened up, and I found myself staring stupidly at Alex while she chatted up members of the English Beat at the side of the stage.

Muddled by my first experience of spliff, I slept on the way home—until a most vivid, sexually explicit dream woke me up. What the hell? I looked around, re-oriented. Alex’s head was bouncing on my right shoulder, Cindy’s on my left, both asleep. Rustam and Gina were conversing quietly in the front seat.

What the hell?

***
A few weeks later, John, one of the blue belts, was getting married. Gina had made him a cake, one appropriate for a bachelor party. On top of the usual rectangle of chocolate reclined a voluptuous female nude with the proportions of a Barbie doll—fashioned in frosting by her talented hands.

Gina was unable to deliver it in person so the task of crashing the bachelor party with a nudie cake fell to Alex and me.

We were greeted at the door by the groom himself. One of his groomsmen was passed out on the floor in front of the TV, where an X-rated video was playing. The others gathered around to appreciate the artistry of the cake.

Bottles of beer blossomed everywhere and we raised a toast to the groom while he partook of the cake in a manner appropriate to the occasion—without benefit of knife, fork, or even hands. We roared with laughter, drank more beer. Then someone got the idea that it would be fun to go swimming. In the middle of the night. Without swimsuits. In a public pool. You know, trespassing.

We piled into two cars, Alex and me in hers, John and the conscious groomsmen in the other, and we drove to the county pool.

“It’s closed,” I kept saying, and Alex kept laughing at me.

The pool was lit by a single mercury vapor lamp, buzzing alone in the sultry midnight air. We parked in shadow, and the others ran laughing toward the fence.

“It’s trespassing,” I said weakly, apparently to myself. I followed them, and with some coaxing, climbed the seven foot chain link and dropped to the other side. They quickly shed their clothing and jumped into the pool. I stripped more slowly, slipping nervously into the water. God forbid anyone should think I’m a coward.

There was a lot of laughing and splashing in the forbidden waters. Then floating there, I looked up at the naked man standing at the side of the pool—a man who was getting married the next day. If the police came—trespassing, indecent exposure, public intoxication—what would his bride say if he was caught cavorting unclothed with two other women?

When it was time to leave, I followed without hesitation. The others decided to bust into another pool, belonging to a set of apartment buildings, for another round of skinny-dipping. This time I said to Alex, “I can’t.”

“OK,” she replied, running to join the guys. She might coax, but never coerce or condemn.

While they enjoyed another fence-climbing forbidden dip, I sat in the car banging my head against the back of the high bucket seat. I thought, “I only had two beers tonight, I’m not even drunk.”  Usually when I did something risky and insane, it was because I was blotto.

After avoiding alcohol all through high school, I discovered and embraced its anesthetic qualities my freshman year in college. A glass of wine here and there, then sharing three-liter bottles of Rhine wine with Carol or mixing up rum and Coke by the quart.

And that one time when I went home with Carol—we met up with one of her high school friends and went to the only bar in her little home town. We chatted up the bartender amid the Friday night crowd, and he got us started on one of his special drinks. It involved lemonade and God knows what else, and after several of these I apparently found the bartender’s dark blond hair and bushy mustache irrestistible. Carol told me later that he and I indulged in quite an impressive kissing-fest.

The rest of the night is a drunken blur: Carol and I wobbling our way back to her parents house and upstairs to her room. I passed out—and came to in the middle of falling down the stairs. Carol’s mom appeared at the bottom, concern on her face and amusement in her voice.

I regained my feet, collected what little dignity there was to be had, and said, “I’m fine—going to the bathroom. Shorry to dishturb you…”

Drinking excessively and finding men, strange or known, to kiss became a regular and unfortunate habit. The martial arts provided plenty of opportunities for this. Very often the groups would go dancing at Grandaddy’s; I would drink rum and coke or amaretto sours until the inhibitions were greased up and sliding all over.

Like walking around in a famous Iowa midnight thunderstorm with that one guy—what was his name?—lightning flashing all round, downpour soaking us as we stopped every few steps to indulge in public displays of affection. Or Mitch, always taking magnums of Bolla Valpolicella to the back shelter at Brookside Park during thunderstorms. They seemed terribly romantic times; I wish I could remember them better.

Martial artists, international students, random bartenders—alcohol opened the door to a shadow of intimacy for me, so otherwise isolated. But fear drew a boundary: the clothes always stayed on—if a drunken revel seemed headed towards nakedness, ingrained dark-closet-terror took over—no matter how blotto I was.

Like that night when I passed out and the next thing I knew my friends had gone and I was alone with an unknown man, who was trying to guide me into his bedroom. Probably he just wanted to put me to bed to sleep it off—but I refused to pass the threshold. It was snowing outside, but somehow I navigated my Pinto across town without obvious incident. Except that when I woke up next day, I couldn’t find my glasses. I panicked, because I couldn’t remember what the guy’s name was, or exactly where he lived. Fortunately I found my glasses on the passenger seat of the car. I guess I was having trouble seeing on the way home and thought taking them off would help.

That Greek fellow almost made it through my defenses, with his suave kindness and bottles of special brandy from Cyprus. But still terror wouldn’t let me go there.

Even at that party just a few weeks ago, at the apartment of some of the men from the International Students group. After consuming a vast quantity of self mixed screwdrivers, I burst into uncontollable weeping and they put me to bed in another room—fully clothed. Thankfully Gina was there, and she and Rustam sat with me all night, concerned that I might do something drastic as I alternately slept it off and cried out my woe. The next day she told me that I’d kissed every man in the room before breaking down.

The male stripper night had freaked me out because of watching men become naked. But my clothes always stayed on—until tonight. Tonight I’d crossed that boundary.

I went to the wedding next day at Memorial Lutheran Church, unable to meet the eyes of anyone. The groom looked like he had a bad hangover.

story by bobbie jo morrell, all rights reserved

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