Love Is Love

My girlfriend faced a terrible tragedy. She lost her son due to an ‘accident’ with a loaded gun. There were only two present at the scene at the time; him, who obviously can’t tell anyone what happened as he died and her, who refuses to talk to the police.

My girlfriend has been grieving for over a year. She posts really sad comments on Facebook sometimes; like the grief comes in waves and you never know when it’s going to hit. And sometimes she’s angry. Neither her nor I knew that one can refuse to talk to the police but according to my police officer friends, apparently, you can do that. The police don’t like it much but there’s nothing they can do to force one to talk if they don’t want to.

Part of my friend’s madness is wrapped around the fact she doesn’t know what happened to her beloved son. And the one who can tell her, isn’t talking.

Those of us who love my friend, want to say something comforting; something that will ease the godawful pain that she has to live with day after day. Personally, I love my friend very much but I hadn’t encountered the death of one of my children and prayed to God I never will. So I didn’t pretend to know what is the ‘right thing to say’ that can help heal her broken heart. So I didn’t try. Instead I hugged her with my prayers and prayed that time will heal this wound as it inevitably does all others.

Then. . .it happened to me.

Suddenly I understood everything she’s feeling because now, I’m feeling it myself. I understand having to live with the guilt, that maybe you could have done something to prevent it. If only I coulda, woulda, shoulda. And the godawful pain does come in waves.

I have cried so much the past few days, I’m almost afraid my face is going to rust. My eyes are swollen into slits from all the tears I’ve cried. Even now, as I’m writing this, the tears come. I can’t stop them. And I’ve tried.

My situation is quite a bit different from hers. The scenarios are not alike but the pain is exactly the same in both cases.

We both suffered a sudden death in our families. Someone we loved beyond measure has now been taken from us and we didn’t even know they were going. We didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. We blinked and they were gone. That fast. No warning. And now we have to somehow figure out how we’re going to live without them when we can’t even imagine living without them. We rage at the injustice of having to live without them. It just doesn’t seem fair.

I know my friend has screamed at God a few times. I’m screaming at Him myself.

I’ve been mourning so much, I feel almost guilty for mourning so much.

As I said, the scenarios are not the same. She lost her son. I lost my cat. Part of me understands that I don’t have the right to even compare the two. She lost a human being. I lost a pet. That’s like comparing apples to oranges. By rights, she should be grieving more than me. Or should she?

In my grief, I learned something profound. It doesn’t matter if it was a human being, a cat or a dog or even a goldfish. Love is Love. One doesn’t really love one more than the other. The love is the same. The loss is the same. The grief over losing someone you love so deeply is the same. The tears are the same. There is no distinction.

So, what now? I look over at the chair where she curled herself so many times. The same chair that she unexpectedly died in. And I cry.

I keep looking down at the floor, expecting to hear her meow because she’s hungry or wanted attention and though I considered it a huge annoyance at the time, I miss her meow like crazy. I miss her rubbing up against me and jumping up on my lap and sleeping with me at the end of my bed like she sometimes did. All the things that I took for granted on a daily basis are gone now. Never to return. And I cry.

On a whim, I posted ‘Little One’s’ death on Facebook. My friends tried to comfort me as well with their words. ‘Sorry for your loss’ is the most common response. It was said by well-meaning friends but it didn’t help with the pain. It didn’t help stop the tears or the emptiness I feel inside now that she’s no longer with me.

One of my friends did say something that helped. Her comment stood apart from all the rest. She said “I think you should live with the memories of all the love you gave her while she was alive. Let yourself get through it till you can simply smile at the thought of her and not cry…though that might take a long time.”

What she said is very wise.

I know the day will come when the tears dry up. When the huge hole in my heart won’t bleed so much and it won’t hurt so much and I won’t be doubled over with grief.

And I know eventually the day will come when I’ll remember all the love we gave each other. I will remember all the good times we had together. I will smile at the thought of her and not cry. . .

That day is not today but I have hope now for better days.

And now, I know exactly what to say to my friend who’s grieving. . .
















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The Nightmare Begins

           I was shocked, sickened, disgusted and horrified. Every negative emotion one can feel, I felt when I saw these pictures. 


           I’m one of those people who are safe, warm and comfortable in my own life. I didn’t realize how shielded I had become from reality until these pictures were right in front of my face via a friends’ post on Facebook.

           As I read the articles, one after another in my quest for truth, I learned Olympic Animal Sanctuary was supposed to be a dog haven, a ‘sanctuary’ for dogs, but was really a hell on earth for those poor souls who were forced to live in such conditions. I learned these dogs—over 100 of them—had been imprisoned for years in those crates; crates too small to stand up or even turn around. The crates were stacked on top of each other, with urine and feces sliding down from the top crate onto the one below. The dogs were not allowed outside those crates, for a breath of fresh air or potty breaks. The warehouse was unheated. They’d had to survive the cold day after day, night after night, year after year with no sunlight to at least warm their bones. To add insult to injury, they were fed only once or twice a week, raw food—unrefrigerated neck bones–that were covered in maggots. They had no access to water. It was reported that many died.

           How can this be? I wondered. Who’s responsible for this? Why aren’t these animals being properly taken care of?

           Oh, I see. Protesters are standing outside the sanctuary. They’re bringing attention to these poor dogs. Calling attention to a problem usually solves it. They’ll change things. 


            I just couldn’t get those awful pictures out of my mind. Every morning before I went to work, I’d check Facebook—primarily the OAS and Seattle Dogspot websites—for the latest update. The moment I came home from work, I ran to the computer to check the websites, hoping things had changed.

            Day after day, I checked FB and nothing had changed. Despite the protest, the dogs were still in that awful pink warehouse, still being neglected and still stuck 24/7 in those small crates.

            What surprised me the most is, I’m familiar with Forks, Washington. My then husband grew up there and we spent a lot of time in that small town. I found the people to be warm and friendly. Forks is about an hour drive away from practically everywhere and I imagined the seclusion helped make the town close knit. These were for most part down to earth, caring people. I just couldn’t imagine that the locals would turn a blind eye to what was going on in their town. They’d had positive publicity from the ‘Twilight’ movies which boosted badly needed sales/tourism. Surely, this negative publicity is something they didn’t want or need. And knowing Forks as I do, I thought they’d put a stop to this sanctuary, pronto.

            It didn’t happen. Nothing happened. No one rescued those poor dogs..

            I’m a bit of an activist. In the past, I’ve fought long and hard for some causes that I strongly believed in. Some battles I won, some I lost. All took up a great deal of my time and energy. I didn’t really want to get involved in this one. I made every excuse in the book. I’m too old now. I’m too tired. I’m too busy. I just want to pretend this isn’t happening. I just want this to go away. I want to go back to my nice, warm, safe, comfortable life and pretend I don’t know anything about this. Because honestly, I DON’T want to get involved.

            I was a Bail Bondsman for over twenty-five years. I’m familiar with the law and how it works.

            I knew the first step to putting an end to all this is for someone to file a police report. The police will have to investigate. The dogs will be found in that hell hole and ASPCA will step in to rescue the dogs. Problem solved.

            As I researched further, I learned a police report HAD been filed. The police came out to the sanctuary, noted the abuse with a 420 page report including pictures. But nothing happened. No charges were filed. No one was arrested. The dogs weren’t rescued. WTF?

            Then I read the owner of the sanctuary, Steve Markwell, kicked a protester’s car, causing significant damage. The Forks police came out and arrested Markwell and then released him on his own recognizance. But the police did not go into the warehouse and did not investigate the allegations of abuse/neglect.  

            Ever have that moment when a light bulb goes off in your head and you know something is terribly wrong in Denmark? I had that moment.

            Ok. Time for me to get involved and see what’s what.

            I started making phone calls. First, I called the Prosecuting Attorney in Forks to see why charges hadn’t been filed against Markwell for the abuse/neglect. Then I contacted the Forks Police Chief to ask the same question. My calls weren’t returned though I left detailed messages and my emails weren’t answered.

            Ok. Time to bring in outsiders and see if they’ll intervene.

            I contacted the Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney, the Police Department and everybody else I could think of. All said it was a Forks problem and they did not have jurisdiction to get involved. If any action were to be taken, it was up to the Forks Police Department—who for some god knows reason, was not doing their job.

            I turned to the internet again. I quickly learned that I was not the only one to be concerned with the welfare of these dogs. Over 11,000 people were up in arms over the conditions at the sanctuary and all vowed to get involved to do something about it.

            We started working together. All of us strangers from across the world. Both OAS and Seattle Dogspot allowed comments from readers. Our posts flew back and forth. One would think of something we could do, another would have another idea and we tossed ideas for days and weeks. We were united in our cause to rescue these dogs. We were not going to allow the abuse to continue any longer.

            I emailed Patty Murray, Maria Cantwell, my local legislators, GET JESSE, signed a petition to Governor Inslee and President Obama. I contacted all the Humane Societies I could think of. I called all the television stations, Channel 4, 5, 7 and 13 to publicize the plight of these dogs.

            Then, the Washington Federation of Animal Care and Control Agencies released a statement, stating they were aware of the situation in Forks and had contacted the appropriate authorities. 

            Immediately after, Jeff Burnside, a reporter with KOMO news, channel 4, entered the picture. He did an awesome story on Markwell and OAS that was publicized on air. The newscast went national.

            Finally, after weeks of work, we were getting the attention of some bigwigs who had the authority to change things. This craziness in Forks was going to come to an end!

            Probably due to increasing pressure coming at him from all sides, Markwell agreed to close the sanctuary. He would voluntarily give up all the dogs.

            We waited. For days we waited. That didn’t happen. Markwell did nothing at all to end the dogs’ plight.

            We got busy again. We contacted even more officials by telephone and email.

            Just when I believed the warehouse was going to be raided by ASPCA and Markwell arrested, we were informed the warehouse was empty. Markwell had disappeared to godknowswhere with all 124 dogs.


            After I did a lot of screaming and a bit of crying (truthfully, it was the other way around), now we had to get busy and find Markwell and those dogs, before, and we didn’t want to think about that, it was too late for any of them to be saved.

            At this point, the internet blew up with posts both pro and con on OAS, Markass (as I called him and sometimes Mark not-so-well), and the dogs disappearance.

            Supporters of the Olympic Animal Sanctuary said the owner disappeared because his life was threatened as was those of the dogs. It was OUR fault he had to leave.

            Others said Markwell was a good man, he was doing his best and he should be left alone.

            One of my best friends told me OAS was no worse than any other animal shelter. There were only allegations against Markwell, not proof. I had become fixated on this OAS thing. He implied I was mentally losing it and it was time for me to stop.

            I couldn’t stop. I didn’t want to stop. I was certain I could help find those dogs.

           Then Guardians of Rescue released a statement. Their Founder/President Robert Misseri had contacted Markwell while he was on the road and spoke to him at length. Markwell agreed to surrender the dogs to GOR within the next few days.

            We waited.

            We prayed and waited some more.

            Markwell didn’t show up as agreed.

            He had called and promised to show up the following day, Christmas Eve.

            We waited some more.

            I had to work. I went to work and then rushed home to see if Markwell did what he said he was going to do.

            He still hadn’t shown up.

            I believe that Christmas Eve was the worst Christmas Eve I’ve ever had. The waiting was unbearable. By now, Markwell had them crated for four days, probably without food and water that entire time in an enclosed semi-trailer. After all the hell they’d gone through, could any of them still be alive?

            I was so fixated on the OAS situation; I couldn’t enjoy Christmas carols, programs on TV. Or even spend quality time with my family. Now, it was all about the dogs. 

             I did a lot of crying that night. I was secretly afraid mentally unstable Markwell had offed the dogs and then himself, in order to save face.

             It was late Christmas Eve when the news hit the internet. Markwell had shown up at the appointed ‘secret’ site, met up with GOR and all the dogs were still alive!

            WE DID IT!

            The dogs are going to be okay now.

            They’re in the safe hands of a legitimate, highly respected rescue group who had a vet standing by, along with 10×10 kennels with plenty of food and water.

            The website headlined:

             “While Forks Authorities Played Pass the Buck, Dog Activists Passed the Baton”.

            We high fived each other on the internet. Over 11,000 of us laughed together for the first time in weeks, and cried together and shared the moment when we learned the dogs were rescued.

             That was the best moment of my life.


             I wish I could say this was over now. We can all pack our bags and go home. But it’s not over. Not yet.

             Now that the dogs are safe, we are concentrating on the officials in Forks, Washington. Those elected officials who are paid to do their job and didn’t.

             A lot of eyeballs are looking at Forks right now.

             We’re not done until we expose what’s rotten in Denmark.

             Kinda surprising what 11,000 people can do when we work together toward the same goal.

             Stay tuned. . .



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My Legacy

Okay. It’s official. My family actually considers me to be a writer.

That should come as no surprise. It’s in my genes. My grandmother wrote a full length novel entitled, ‘Go West’. My brother wrote, printed on mimeograph and distributed a monthly Christian publication that went around the world in its day. He had thousands of subscribers. I remember my mother typing on her old portable machine, a series of short stories that alas, are gone now. At least I never found them in her things after she passed. That was a huge disappointment to me. A great loss.

My point being: writing is my legacy. I was born to write. Nothing else satisfies me quite like writing a good story—and particularly one that sells.

Because my family now considers me the family ‘writer’ (which I understand is a great honor), I was just given boxes and boxes of single-sheet loose-leaf papers that were found godknowswhere.

When my sister gave me these boxes months ago, I was too busy to look through them at that time. I do what I always do. I stacked them neatly in my bedroom closet until I got ‘around-to-it’.

This morning, I rolled up my sleeves, intending to at least look through the boxes and see what kind of golden nuggets I could find within its borders.

These boxes are crammed with snippets of handwritten notes, a collection of poems, story ideas, personal correspondence to family and friends and a few hard-to-read-with-faded-handwriting-on-brittle-paper short stories written by my grandmother, my brother and most shocking of all, my father who to my knowledge struggled to write a one page letter let alone a story.

As I leafed through the material, I had to make the hard decision on what to keep and what to throw away.

Which got me to wondering.

Which was important to them?

For instance, I have an autobiography that I sweated over. It’s a personal memoir. A few years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer and given only a few weeks to live. At that time, I started writing down notes I wanted to leave for my children. I wanted to leave them with a sense of who I was and what I believed in. Having only two weeks to write before I fell into a coma as I was told would happen, I chose my words carefully. When I found out weeks later that I had been misdiagnosed and was going to live after all, I joyously continued writing until my autobiography was complete.

I bled and sweated bullets as I told my children of my personal triumphs and of my failures. I wouldn’t want anyone coming across that book after I pass, and say, “Hey, this is boring. Throw it out!”

Having such information in my hands from my now-deceased relatives, I felt a sense of wonder I’ve never felt before.

I have the snippets that they probably bled and sweated over.

I understand the enormous task of figuring out what’s important and what isn’t.

I don’t wish that responsibility on anybody. Not even my worst enemy.

Nevertheless, I am going to go through those boxes and handle each sheet of paper like gold.

This is their lives that I have in my hands.

It is my duty as a fellow writer to respect and honor all that they wanted to say and needed to say before they crossed over.

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Who is Clifford Stone?

Chances are, you haven’t heard of him. I hadn’t either.

While doing research for my Bizarre, Strange, Mysterious and Unexplained column, I ran into an interesting article written by him and a few others written about him. The content of said articles, creeped me out. And I’m not generally squimish.  

Clifford Stone claims he was purposely singled out by the military for what would become his life’s work. He states as a young boy, he had weekly visits from an Air Force Captain who encouraged him to pursue an interest in UFO’s and to join the military—both of which Stone did. Stone joined the US Army and received training at a Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Warfare facility at Fort Lee, VA and was given regular assignments—until he was recruited by an elite crash retrieval team. Military records state Stone was a clerical worker, specifically a typist. Stone claims that was only his ‘cover’ as his true vocation was UFO crash/Extraterrestrial Biological Entity (EBE) retrieval.     

An Army Sergeant who worked at NATO until his retirement after a 22 year career (1968 – 1990), Clifford Stone reports that the US Government has purposely misled the public regarding the existence of alien beings. Stone relates, “I was involved in situations where we actually did recoveries of crashed saucers. There were bodies that were involved with some of these crashes, some of these were alive. While we were doing this, we were telling the American public there was nothing to it. We were telling the world there was nothing to it.” Stone remarked, “You have individuals that look very much like you and myself that could walk among us and you wouldn’t even notice the difference.”

Now, what Stone has disclosed, isn’t new. Many credible witnesses have proclaimed the existence of aliens. Probably the most well-known is the Disclosure Project which featured over 500 military and other key personnel who stated at a Press Conference in 2001, that UFO’s are real and EBE’s do exist.

What is new, at least to me, is that Stone claims that while on these recovery operations, he was given a 3 inch government manual that has catalogued over 57 different alien species known to the military at that time. Sgt. Stone was given the guidebook in 1979 which outlined each group of EBE’s in terms of their physiology, food requirements and medical information. While serving on the retrieval team (until 1989) Stone says he used the manual for first aid treatment in the event some EBE’s were injured at the crash site but still alive.

Skeptics have wondered if Clifford Stone’s testimony is factual. Some say his Army records don’t back up his claims of being on any team other than perhaps the typing pool. 

Others say he’s not ‘in this’ for the money or fame. He’s just a regular guy who wants the World to know the truth about UFO’s and EBE’s. To back up his claims, he does have direct knowledge of some government programs such as the Snowbird project which he should know nothing about.

If you want to make up your own mind and want to know more on this subject—(and really want to be creeped out) read the following links.

The bottom line is: according to Stone, there are over 57 different alien species known to man—and creepiest of all, not all of them are friendly.

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Bizarre, Strange, Mysterious and Unexplained

When I decided to write about the Bizarre, Strange, Mysterious and Unexplained, I didn’t want to rehash the stories we’ve all heard of–like the Loch Ness Monster, Big Foot, the Bermuda Triangle, Area 51 and so on. I wanted to explore stories I’ve never heard of before and more than likely, you haven’t heard either.

Since, for my own entertainment, I’ve explored the bizarre, strange, mysterious and unexplained for over two decades, finding something I hadn’t heard before was going to be a challenge.

Enter 23 year old Grandson, Jordan.

When I told him of my idea for a new column, his eyes perked up and he admitted he too, was interested in the bizarre. He proceeded to tell me the true story of the ‘Forest of Lost Souls’.


 Aokigahara (also known as the ‘Sea of Trees’) is a 14 square mile densely wooded forest situated at the Northwest base of Mt. Fugi in Japan.

Listed as one of the 6 creepiest places on earth by, the forest is known for its rocky, icy caverns. The forest floor consists of volcanic rock and is difficult to penetrate even with picks and shovels. The trees are so thick, some places have never seen sunlight and remain in total darkness. Despite being a forest, it is said to be devoid of all animal life and is extraordinarily quiet.

In the 19th century, it is believed that the infirm and elderly were carried to the forest and left to die there, either by dehydration, starvation, or exposure. The practice occurred during times of drought and famine. Though it does not seem to have been a common practice, it is the subject of legend in Japanese folklore. The forest is reputedly haunted by the Yūrei (angry spirits) of those left to die.

The site’s popularity has been attributed to the 1960 novel “Tower of Waves” by Seichō Matsumoto where two of his main characters—lovers—commit suicide in the dense forest.

Whether anyone has been swayed by the novel to enter the forest and commit suicide is debatable.

What isn’t debatable is that over 500 people have been found hanging from the trees in the dense woods since 1950. Current estimates are over 100 people continue to die by self-inflicted hanging in Aokigahara every year.

The site is so popular for suicides, the forest is littered with signs in Japanese and English to reconsider the decision to take one’s life. “Life is a precious thing. Please reconsider,” says one sign. “Think of your family,” says another.

No one knows how many people have entered the dark woods, forged trails or followed some of the trails already present on their journey to death only to change their mind. Some have strung tape in order to find their way back ‘just in case’ they choose to leave the area—alive.

What is well known is that some bodies haven’t been found for years in the woods. And some are undoubtedly never found.

Once a year, locals and other volunteers enter the woods to remove the bodies.

Others are paid to enter the woods and loot the bodies found hanging.

What attributes to the high rate of suicide?

No one knows for sure.

Some blame the introduction of the Internet. Because so many are content to stay home instead of socializing, extreme loneliness is an epidemic and is at least in part to blame for so many who chose to take this drastic action.

In this writer’s opinion, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem and should never be attempted by anyone for any reason.

 Suicide in Japan however, has become a significant national social issue. The Japanese government reported the rate for 2006 as being the ninth highest in the world. It is the leading cause of death in men aged 20–44.

In recent years, the Japanese government has increased funding to treat the causes of suicide and those recovering from suicide attempts.

Perhaps that will help curb this horrifying trend.   



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Going Home

This is the story I wrote for Chicken Soup of the Soul for their new upcoming book, “Messages from Heaven.” Crossing my fingers it gets selected.

Going Home

I got the call about 4pm. I was told by my mother, “Your brother has had a stroke and is in the hospital in Portland. The doctor wants to see the family right away. Your sisters and I are packing the car right now to leave. Can you meet us at the hospital?”

I was on the interstate within minutes.

During the long two hour drive from my home in Tacoma, Washington to Portland, Oregon, I had plenty of time to think about my brother.

The oldest of six children, six years older than me, I never knew my brother Ron when we were growing up. Like a movie that played in my mind, I pictured the moment I came home from school only to find my brother and all his belongings gone.

My mother told me matter of factly that she sent Ron to live with relatives on the eastern side of the state. They had a large farm and needed an extra farm hand. She volunteered my brother. Ron disappeared from my life when I was seven years old. I wouldn’t see him again for nearly two decades.

Fast forwarding through my mind movie, I remembered the moment when Ron called me. By that time, I had grown up, married and had three small children. When he called out of the blue, I was shocked but delighted to hear his voice. We spent hours on the phone ‘catching up’. From that moment on, we called each other regularly—at least once a week. After so many years of being estranged, it was like my brother ‘came home’.

From our conversations, I learned Ron grew up on that farm, got sick of pushing dirt and supported himself through college. He graduated with a degree in Communication and moved to Oregon. When he contacted me, I learned he was currently a minister and was pastoring a small church in Portland.

“You ought to come down and hear my sermon one Sunday,” my brother said proudly. “I think I’m pretty good.”

I loved my brother but was definitely not religious. My father forced me to go to church when I was little and I hated it. The minister continually preached fire and damnation from the pulpit. It seemed like we were all going to hell to burn in some fire forever and ever.

Well, I decided very young, that if that’s what God’s really like, then I’m not going to worship that mean God. From then on, I became agnostic.

When Ron invited me down to hear his sermon on Sunday, I wrinkled my nose in disgust. The LAST thing I needed was to be preached to. However, loving my brother as I do, after several requests from him, I eventually went.

The God my brother preached from the pulpit was totally foreign to me. I never knew about a God who loved me; who cared about me; who wanted only the best for me; one who knows me personally inside and out and loves me unconditionally.

After church was over, I had many questions. My brother kindly and lovingly spent the rest of the day and most of that night, answering them all.

That night, I became a Christian.

I decided I wanted to worship the God that my brother believed in.

From that moment on, my brother was not only my brother but my friend and my minister.

When I arrived at the hospital, I quickly hurried to my brother’s hospital room.

Mom was at his bedside along with two of my sisters. The doctor began to speak.

“Ron has had a stroke,” the doctor said seriously. “While we were investigating why he had the stroke, we discovered a large cancerous tumor in his brain. Unfortunately, it’s inoperable.”

“What are you saying?” I said more like a statement than a question.

“What I’m saying is, Ron is terminal. There’s nothing we can do. I’m going to discharge him today with a few prescriptions he needs to take. But bottom line is, he needs to get his affairs in order. He doesn’t have much time.”

“How much time does he have?” I asked in shock.

“Two weeks to two months.”

“And there’s nothing you can do?” My mother asked quietly.

The doctor shook his head no.

While Ron was being discharged from the hospital, my mother, sisters and I had a quick family conference at the nearby coffee vending machine.

It was decided that Ron would move back to Washington to live with Mom while we made arrangements for his final days. That is, if Ron agreed.

Two weeks later, Ron moved into the spare bedroom at Mom’s.

Understandably, I spent as much time as possible with my brother.

My mind movie pictured the night when I asked Ron how he felt about dying. I didn’t put it in those words exactly but my brother knew what I meant.

“Well,” he replied. “I didn’t exactly plan on going home this soon but if God believes that my mission is over and He wants me home, then I’ll go. I prayed about it and God promised me there won’t be any pain. I’ll just go to sleep. It’s going to be okay. I’m not afraid.”

And he wasn’t.

Never once in the six weeks he was at Mom’s, did I ever hear him complain. Or get angry. Or pity himself.

I, on the other hand, did plenty of all.

Ronald A. Whitbeck died peacefully in his sleep February 8, 1994.

When he died, I lost my brother, my best friend, my minister and, my hero.

I was inconsolable.

For weeks after his death, I kept looking at my brother’s favorite possession now parked idly in my parents’ driveway; his yellow Toyota pickup. It was old and beat up and had lots of mileage on it but I didn’t care. I missed him so much, I wanted to keep a part of my brother with me. I figured owning his truck would somehow help me heal.

My mind movie fast forwarded to the moment when I handed my mother $1500; money I had carefully saved over the years for emergencies. She handed me the keys to the pickup.

I slowly walked over to the vehicle.

I gently opened and closed the back tailgate just to make sure it still worked.

I checked all the lights to make certain they were intact.

Lovingly, I ran my hand along the side of the body frame.

Gingerly, I opened the driver’s door and slipped inside.

I had fond memories of riding with my brother in that truck. And now it was mine.

It took me only a moment to notice it.

There was a small sign in my brother’s handwriting taped to the dash above the speedometer.

It read simply, “I am with you always. . .”

And at that moment, I knew that he was.

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Mr. Stranger (Continued)

When I got home from work night before last, Mr. Stranger was at my house with a roaring campfire going in the backyard and a nice hot cup of coffee and a cigarette waiting for me. When I woke up the next morning, I hadn’t been awake five minutes when he showed up at the door to share my first cup of coffee with me.

Even though Mr. Stranger is good looking, smart, polite, intelligent, personable and seems incredibly attracted to me (which hasn’t happened in a very long time), as my good friend Mike would say, my gut was talking to me. Since my gut instinct is never wrong, I listened to it. Bells were going off in my head and the ringing was getting louder and louder.

I’d already done a little checking. I already knew the answer when I asked the question. I wanted to see if he’d lie to me. To his credit, he didn’t.

I expected the same old same old. “My wife doesn’t understand me” or maybe even “she gave up sex a long time ago” or any/all the other excuses straying men use to cheat on their wives. To my surprise, he has the ultimate respect for his partner of 20 years. He said nothing but good things about her.

After listening for a while, I told him what I always say in these situations. I’ve been cheated on before and it hurts. I won’t be the other woman. I won’t do that to another woman. I won’t put myself in the position of him sleeping with me only to crawl into bed next to his wife that night. I won’t/can’t do that to me or her. I don’t want to get tangled up in that web. If and when he decides to leave her, then look me up. We can stay friends for now but that’s all it’ll be.

“I’ll leave her in the spring,” he said seriously.

“Then look me up in the spring,” I replied just as seriously.

When I got home from work last night, he wasn’t here. When I woke up this morning, he wasn’t here. My gut is telling me he won’t be back.

I know I did the right thing.

I also know that doing the right thing is always the hardest thing to do.

I don’t regret getting to know Mr. Stranger. I still had those wonderful feelings for a minute of being twelve years old again. And it felt good.

So, back to me trekking down my own road and doing my own thing.

This time however, I’m walking with a smile.

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