At Twilight

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Location: Midwest, United States

Monday, December 26, 2005

Three Faces

About two decades ago or so, I heard someone say that the Japanese believe we all have three faces: our public face…our private face…and our true face. Now, I don’t know if this is a strongly held cultural belief or not. I’m embarrassed by my ignorance of Japanese culture. Regardless, the three faces thing just kind of got stuck inside my head and I’ve been thinking about it, on and off, ever since.

It rings true to me. I have a public persona quite different from my private persona. Publicly, I appear to most people as highly extroverted. I wasn’t that way at all as a boy, but time and experience led to profound changes in my public persona. I gave lots of public speeches, became very involved in all aspects of hazardous site cleanups, lived a very public life. That led me to talk and interact with a great many people. I always acted calmly, courteously, respectfully and thoughtfully. In all my years of work, my peers only saw two momentary flashes of anger. I was always upbeat and energetic…always on the go.

My private face is that of an introvert. I seek solitude in order to recover and, at times, heal. My private face reveals a great many more emotions…anger, despair, frustration, whimsy, love, grief, sensitivity, frivolity, capriciousness, passion and loneliness.

Now, the true face is a bit of a mystery, no? One needs to meditate in some way or another to find that face. Here is where art comes into play. I rely on all manner of art to discover the dimensions of my true face. I learn what resonates inside, what doesn’t. Music plays a vital role in this, as does art. For many years I kept a small, spiral-bound blue notebook. I would copy passages from poetry, literature and drama that struck chords deep inside. This collection of sayings pointed me in directions I felt my heart must go. My true face has always longed to be good, pious, true and loving.

* * *

What do we do with this awareness of our triad of faces? For many years, I considered the three faces in a negative sort of way. We can interpret the paradigm of the three faces to mean that we can easily appear to be “good” people to others. The private face may turn out to be one of a verbal-abuser, a physical-abuser, a hypocrite, or a thing of evil…it happens. The true face, then, would be filled with wounds and secrets…a scary face…a face of darkness…a face that must remain hidden. I’m sure Freud saw a lot of people to be this way.

I would rather embrace a different interpretation. I believe that my public persona is generally an agreeable one. I also believe my private face is far richer, far more interesting, demonstrative, and reflective. I often wished I could reveal more of my private face to my employees. The business world requires a certain decorum, a certain distance. I wish it weren’t so, but I understand why that is.

Without a doubt, my private face has its ugly facets. I wage a constant battle to overcome traits that diminish…or harm…others. It isn’t easy being human. Still, the goal remains to live a private life such that I’m willing to reveal all to anyone remotely interested in knowing me. To date, I’ve failed in this regard (I will say, though, that my closest friends know all, so it’s not as if I absolutely won’t reveal my personal face. It’s just that I’m not particularly proud of the way I look). That’s just a sad fact. But, hey, better late than never! Tomorrow’s another day, another chance to do better. My private face will always be a work in progress, but I do not shy away from bringing that face into the light of day.

I see my true face as essentially good. I’ve probed the dark recesses of my heart and have found nothing that truly scares me. Disturbs me, at times? Yes. Despite that, my true face is mostly benign…the face of a young, earnest boy filled with awe, curiosity, piety and an enormous thirst for love. I yearn to reveal my true face to others. I believe this desire serves as the root for my dreams of achieving true intimacy someday.

To me, the paradigm of the three faces is an exhortation to have three faces that appear richer and more beautiful as others come to witness them. I wish to lead a private life that is more beautiful than my public one. I yearn, with all my heart, to reveal my true face to the one I love.

* * *

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Some Letters

Some letters arrive like a clap of thunder so immense and violent that your whole life quakes. You hear your crystalline soul shatter with the jarring sound of breaking glass.

Some letters leave you writhing…with words that choke and strangle. Words that leave you gasping, wondering if you will ever breathe again.

Some letters leave you prostrate…dazed and waiting for the ambulance siren’s piercing wail. Can this life be saved? Has there ever been a surgeon adept enough to save such a gruesomely mangled heart?

Some letters sound like vault doors creaking closed, a massive iron gate slamming down, the clang of bolts rammed into hasps, and the rattling of unbreakable locks and chains.

Some letters read like a death sentence, eliciting moans and wails. The heart screams a never-ending silent scream, with haunting echoes doubling…ever doubling.

Some letters sound like a roaring winter wind, with the thrumming of hopes hopelessly distraught and fleeing…disappearing into the darkness of the night.

Some letters leave you orphaned…exiled…damned. The only sound is the mocking tick-tocking of your life’s cursed clock.

Some letters sound like nails pounded into flesh…love’s sorrowful crucifixion.

* * *

Some letters sound like all of that and more.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Thoughts at Christmas

I am a young boy. My shoes are polished, my pants are pressed, I’m feeling slightly constricted within my starched shirt and tie. My sister sits beside me in her Sunday best. There will be no galumphing, shrieking or tussling this evening. We have declared a truce. We sway slowly from side to side, shoulder to shoulder, softly singing “Silent Night” as we wait for the sun to set. It is Christmas Eve…the most profound night of the year in this boy’s heart.

According to Lithuanian tradition, dinner begins once the first star appears. My sister and I expectantly wait…singing carols as we wait. The house is redolent with a unique scent, a perfume of clove, herring, onions and evergreen. We watch the light slowly fade from the snow-covered earth. The silence and our excitement grow. The night will bring magic. It will be filled with grace. Finally! A star appears and we announce its coming breathlessly.

Christmas Eve is the last day of Advent. According to Old Catholic tradition it is still a day of fasting. Therefore, there will be no meat tonight, no sweets, or candy or wine. The dinner has its own special name: “Kucios.” This will be an intimate family meal, just parents and children. We begin by sharing a blessed, unleavened communion wafer. We break the wafer into four pieces and share each piece with one another. As one breaks a small portion of another’s piece, a wish is proffered…”Do well in school, my son” “May you live to be 100.” Round the table we go, solemnly sharing kisses, heartfelt blessings and dreams.

The table is set with a woven linen tablecloth laid atop a bed of fresh hay. There are twelve dishes. There is a beet broth infused with a unique mushroom (baravykas) found in the sandy forest soil of Lithuania. The baravykas has a unique fragrance and a strong flavor. It tastes of earth. There is herring in all manner of preparation. Herring in cream sauce, herring in a tomato sauce with onions, herring in vinegar with carrots and onions. There are smoked eel and chubs, button mushrooms in sour cream. There’s a simple potato salad, and a unique salad of beets, beans and pickles (vinigretas). There is gefilte pike. The bread is a dark, coarse rye. For dessert, we have a tart cranberry pudding (kiselius), sweetened with poppy seed milk. I suspect these dishes may seem rather odd to you, but this is the simple fare of a Baltic people drawing modest sustenance from the earth and sea. To my parents, it tastes of home. To me, it tastes of my heritage. We do not eat these foods at any other time of year…only at Kucios…and that is what makes the food so very special.

The meal proceeds at a leisurely pace. There is quiet talk; the room hums with love and grace and longing. It is a solemn night. My parents describe the country they left behind (it seems like a Baltic Camelot to me). They speak of parents left and lost, of sacrifice and suffering. They speak of tradition, of Christ’s coming, and all that God’s love means. They will remind me that on this blessed, magic night the animals will speak.

We open presents after the dinner ends and we’ve had a chance to rest. My sister and I can barely contain our excitement. The presents are always modest…a box of watercolors, a book or two, perhaps a sketchpad and colored pencils. Invariably, there are new clothes for each of us that my mother sewed while we were at school. These are simple gifts, for we are a family of meager means, but they are precious and bring great satisfaction.

We always venture forth for midnight Mass. Christmas was never about Santa or reindeer or baubles and tinsel. Christmas meant walking to Church through the crunching snow; hand in hand in the dark of the night, to welcome the Savior. We leave the cold and dark as we open the door to the parish Church. We are greeted by a multitude of worshippers, the aroma of incense, and an altar overflowing with poinsettias. It is a high mass, conducted in Latin. As we sing Adeste Fidelis, I feel hope and peace and good will towards all. My heart soars to the heavens.

* * *

Christmas in the year 2005 A.D. is at hand. I want to flee from the gaudy lights, the crowded malls, the incessant bastardized carols, the plastic Santa’s, the scenes of people being trampled at the entrance of some soulless Wal-Mart. I seek silence and solitude, not the prattle about the “War on Christmas,” the strife and the stress of today’s America. I want to walk through the snow and the cold and the dark…to venture deep into the forest. I want to walk and walk and walk until I can once again find the heart of that young boy. I want to gaze at the stars and feel hope and peace and good will towards all. I want my soul to soar to the heavens, to once again feel only piety and grace. I want to walk as far as my tired legs will take me, until there is just this little boy surrounded by the denizens of the forest. I hope and pray that, just this once, I will be deemed humble enough and worthy enough to hear the animals speak...

Merry Christmas

* * *

* * *

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Living With Shame

I have experienced great joy and happiness in life. Sublime memories bubble into my consciousness often. I hope to relive and share these moments, all of them, with my friends in the days still left me. But they are best left for warm summer evenings when fireflies dance beneath a canopy of stars, when laughter and sighs are free to echo in the peaceful night.

I went for a long walk last night. The wind was fierce and whipped my legs and face mercilessly. I felt winter’s icy grip on my throat while my lips and fingers froze. I walked on. I felt the need to do penance. It was time, once again, to confront my curse.

* * *

I was nineteen. It was a Saturday night, and my friends and I were looking for something to do. A friend of a friend of a friend had mentioned that some girl, unknown to any of us, was throwing a party. We found her house and came sauntering in, trying to appear as insouciant and insolent as possible. You see, we were college men, and the house was filled with high schoolers.

It was obvious that our entrance caused a stir. We were engulfed by giggles and hushed whispers. Elbows nudged ribs. Girls excitedly ran off to other rooms, only to return with fresh make-up and fresh drinks for all of us.

We knew we would make an impression on the impressionable. Our hair was long, our faces gaunt, our jeans hung low on protruding hipbones. There was something vaguely menacing about us. We rode motorcycles; we had been in bloody fights. As stupid as all that seems today, in those days…in the eyes of certain girls…we were alluring. We sprawled out on the living room floor. We felt like roosters in a hen house and we were going to rule the roost. We eyed the girls and ignored the boys. We laughed at private jokes, exhaled pure testosterone, and set about to amuse ourselves.

I saw her sitting on the couch across from me. Between us stood a coffee table. She was not beautiful, but she was thin and somewhat pretty, and I admired her long legs. She was trapped in that awkward stage…no longer a girl…not yet a woman. She stared at me with obvious curiosity, a vague smile dancing on her lips. I can’t say I was all that attracted to her, but I enjoyed the thought of making her heart flutter. It was sport.

Close beside her sat a boy. He looked to be about fourteen, perhaps younger. He seemed shy and uncomfortable. He looked about aimlessly with a vacuously goofy grin. I muttered something to my friends about the “retard.” We laughed. I looked up at the girl and noticed (with a certain dark glee) that she had taken a keen interest in me. I mocked the boy again, and several of my friends joined in.

I had turned away to share another quip or two when I heard an anguished animal cry. I swiveled back and saw that the girl had risen to her feet. She was doubled over in pain and fury. Her fists were tightly clenched. With crazed eyes open wide and face distorted with rage she screamed: “DAMN YOU! DAMN YOU TO HELL!”

She was staring directly into my eyes.

She ran wailing from the room, her friends rushing to her side. I stood up dazed and confused. I could hear her plaintive sobs from some distant room. Our young hostess rushed to me and said “Don’t worry…she’s a bit crazy. Her brother is retarded and she is really sensitive. Please stay.” I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t breathe. I mumbled some inadequate apology. My friends and I left the house with heads hung low. We weren’t laughing any more. I went home alone. I didn’t eat or sleep for days.

* * *

This may come as a shock to those who know the particulars of my life’s story, but this “incident” represents my greatest, deepest shame. Without a doubt, I’ve done much worse since…with far greater consequences. But this remains my most painful memory, a source of never-ending personal anguish.

Although I’ve failed often, there was always some attendant moral ambiguity …a tug-of-war between my angels and my demons. I have failed myself, and others, in many ways and for many reasons. I have been weak at times. I may have been moved by pain, fear, stupidity or cowardice, deep need, or love, or human frailty…and, as a result, I have hurt others. But the hurts were the inadvertent, sometimes unforeseen, consequences of my all-too-human heart. I can draw at least a bit of solace from the fact that I had never intended to hurt another.

There is no moral ambiguity about what I did that Saturday night. I mocked another human being for no reason other than to indulge my own ego, my own loathsome narcissism. To my undying shame, I hurt an innocent boy and girl.

* * *

I wrote earlier that I hear voices. I hear this girl’s voice often. She has haunted me for thirty-five years. Her anguished scream rips through my conscious mind unexpectedly and often. A few years ago, I was driving in heavy traffic when her ghost appeared again. I was filled with abject sorrow and, for the first time, I cried. The tears came in torrents. I wish she could know how sorry I am. I wish she could draw comfort from knowing that my Promethean heart has been forever chained to a mountain of shame.

* * *

* * *

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Hair Today Gone Tomorrow

I have a pronounced fondness for long hair.

I didn’t start out in life that way. As a child, I was barely aware of hair, and thought nothing of it one way or the other. In my early years, hair was simply hair.

It all began to change with my first heartthrob. She had long auburn hair and I loved to drown in it. I loved the way it flowed and draped and seduced. I discovered the inherent sensuality of hair, and have loved long hair ever since.

Viet Nam added another dimension. Hair became a political statement. As friends shipped off to fight and die, hair became a form of visible protest. It wasn’t enough to quietly disagree with my government’s policies. Hair became an in-your-face statement of rebellion against all that was happening. Hair became a symbol (and a means to identify other kindred spirits). It wasn’t just the war, either. There was the whole question of civil rights, a resounding renunciation of the status quo. Of course, making my political persuasions obvious invited other citizens to express their displeasure with my displeasure. I paid dearly for having long hair. Those were turbulent, frenetic and sometimes frightening years. I found myself filled with anger. Still, I would not shear my locks. I loved the way it felt on my shoulders and back (it grew half way down to my waist). I loved feeling the wind in my hair. I loved running with hair pulsating…flashing sunbeams. I loved the fact that it turned some women on (I was never all that handsome, so I was immensely grateful for this bit of follicular assistance).

It all changed for me the day a saw the 12-year old brother of an acquaintance of mine shooting heroin. I was shocked…absolutely mortified by what I saw. I asked him “why?” He said he wanted to be a hippie like all of us. I cut my hair short the next day. Rebellion had morphed into something sad, something unwholesome.

Fast-forward thirty-five years. My hair is long again. I’ve grown gaunt this summer and my hair extends about half a foot beyond my shoulders. Everything is so very different now. Today, I’m just a curiosity. People see me and smile. I smile back. There is something non-threatening about a graying geezer with long hair. People instinctively understand that I’m veering off the grid. There is no anger in me. I elicit no anger in others. There is just this air of silliness. I enjoy roaming about with humor and kindness and a sense of whimsy. I joke with strangers. I feel free to be myself, because I sense that others see me as an innocent eccentric…a peaceful goof who doesn’t fire people, rob pensions or indulge in corporate warfare. Having long hair today feels liberating somehow.

There’s another curious side-benefit to sporting long hair: my mother recognizes me a bit more often. Alzheimer’s steals memories in reverse order…last to first. I vaguely resemble the boy she knew decades ago (although I could never be as gaunt as I was then). She has uttered my name a bit more often lately. I am grateful for these simple blessings.

I cringed yesterday when a client told me that I would have to fly to Los Angeles next month for a deposition. The hair will have to go. Sigh. I have enough now to donate my gray hairs to Locks of Love. I will do that. I will then don a suit and tie and testify as a high-priced consultant, with closely cropped hair and neatly trimmed and buffed nails…and I will die just a little bit inside (the only thing that keeps me from falling into complete despair is knowing that, beneath my silk dress shirt, I will still sport a tattoo). I’ve enjoyed this bit of frivolity in an otherwise bleak world. I will miss it.

* * *

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Savory Morsels

I’ve become a voracious reader of late. I’ve read about two dozen books over the course of the last few months, and I’ve enjoyed them all immensely. I tried to be judicious in my selections, opting for books that offer bits of wisdom, insight, solace, poetry, remembrance, instruction or understanding…with an occasional foray into pure entertainment. I have a decided preference for the more lyrical authors. I’ve taken to reading with a Hi-Liter close at hand to mark a sentence or a phrase that makes me pause and catch my breath. I delight in bits of imagery, or feelings expressed with far greater art than I could ever hope to possess. I enjoy revisiting these thoughts or images often. I like to roll the words on my tongue, ponder their meaning or their beauty, ingesting the art and the truth vibrating within. I won’t bore you, my dear reader, with book reviews or critiques. I am no critic. I will simply offer up a few savory morsels from my last read, The Confessions of Max Tivoli by Andrew Sean Greer to illustrate my point:

We are each the love of someone’s life.”
I loved her because she was my only companion and because we grow to love the ones beside us.”
Childhood is remembered in the marrow, not the mind.”
All of a sudden, life was gorgeous broken glass.”
You turned and writhed in your cloud and I turned and writhed in mine.”
“…and every night I had to rid the world of you just to sleep, just to survive another day.”
“…think of me in bed, staring at my memory like a French postcard, watching the starlight trickle into the darkness of your clothes.”
I wish every night was just starlight and candles and nothing to do.”
I saw how the moon had dropped into her cup of coffee. It struggled there like a moth. Then I saw her lean forward, her mouth in a silent kiss, and as she blew on the furrowed surface to cool it, I saw the moon explode.”
Some things are so impossible, so fantastic, that when they happen, you are not at all surprised.”
I was unraveling from one end everything I wove from another.”
“…I, like her, was baffled by tangled human emotions like ours.”
I became the widow to my own hopes.”
We waste so much time within ourselves.”
The heart plans nothing, does it?”
You leaned back your head and laughed, every bell within you ringing.”
I pity everyone who has not known you.”
What do we abandon to claim our heart’s desire? What do we become?”
Tell me: What is the proper wine for rapture? What is the proper fork?”
These are what a father hoards – secrets his son shared only with him.”
What do our lovers see when they close their eyes? What comes to them in daydreams? Only those who love artists will ever know, though it breaks our hearts to find it’s never us.”
“…the heart has more chambers than we can see…”
You are the whole point of my life.”
She was like no one you will ever meet. Strong, independent. I never took her for granted for a moment, or pretended I understood her, and when she wanted to go I let her go, because she was art and she was music.”
We each have an awful bargain in our lives.”
Life is short and full of sorrows, and I loved it. Who can say why?”
Remember this always: there was no moment in my life I didn’t love you.”
Perhaps all of us reach an age when we come to the end of our imagination.”
It is a brave and stupid thing, a beautiful thing, to waste one’s life for love.”

* * *

Thursday, December 08, 2005


I want for nothing in life except intimacy.

I have been blessed in so many ways. There is food on my table and a roof over my head. I am financially secure. I have traveled extensively and have benefited from a wealth of varied and valued experiences and explorations. I have great friends and the freedom to pursue my heart’s desires.

But I yearn for intimacy.

Intimacy is hard to define, but unmistakable when it is experienced. Intimacy pertains to a close familiarity; it’s the expression of our innermost emotions. It is the private sharing of our most personal and essential natures. That is the key…it is a shared experience.

It’s not that I have never experienced intimacy. I have…and still do.

My father and I shared many intimate moments. Intimacy came easily to him. His heart was always open to mine. He and I would sit for hours in leaky rowboats. Ostensibly, we were fishing. In truth, we were basking in each other’s warmth, reveling in the unspoken exchanges of love and fidelity. Year after year, we fished together because we both craved those intimate moments. I have not picked up a rod and reel since his death. I find that I cannot.

My friends and I grow more intimate in direct proportion to the graying of our hair. My friends and I go way back, forty years or more in most cases. A few years ago, my best friend came to visit. We spoke quietly for hours before he revealed that his cancer had returned. He collapsed in my arms, crying, “I am so afraid.” I never loved him more than at that moment. My friends and I keep no secrets from each other. None. We grew up together, molded each other, suffered and celebrated together. We know each other’s faults and failings, no matter how embarrassing or repellant…and we love each other all the more for all that. We have grown truly intimate.

My mother and I were never close, never intimate, until she slipped into the dense fog of Alzheimer’s. Today we sit for hours, hands clasping hands, comforting each other in silence. We have grown intimate, and it is that newly found intimacy that keeps me from screaming at the horror of her drawn-out disintegration.

I have had moments of true intimacy with several women. I remember each instance vividly. It is the intimacy between a man and a woman that I now crave so desperately. To me, the shared love and true intimacy between a man and a woman is as essential as food, water and air. I yearn to share my essential nature, my deepest love, with a woman. I ache to brush her hair, to bathe her when she’s feeling ill, to sit quietly in her presence basking in the glow of complete and unconditional acceptance. To have no secrets, heart and soul open completely to each other, wrapping body into body, sharing breath and warmth, and knowing there will never be another…THAT is my greatest yearning, my deepest ache. I’m not sure I want to…or could…live without it.

* * *

Friday, December 02, 2005

What Remains

Although I’ve touched on a number of subjects these past three months, there is a decidedly melancholy tone to many of my entries. I am not as morose as I appear to be, but there is grieving to be done. How can one not mourn when love burns to ash? Losing the love of one’s life hurts with indescribable pain. I am, unfortunately, somewhat experienced in this regard. I have had four grand passions in my life and I have lost them all. I’ve now lost the most amazing woman I have ever known. So I grieve…and I’ll be grieving for a long time to come.

I experienced my first heartbreak when I was very young. I thought the pain would surely kill me. It was touch-and-go for a while…a long while…but I survived. I am not proud of the fact that I’m getting to be an experienced hand in all of this. One heartbreak per lifetime is more than enough, but my life is what it is, and I must accept the consequences (self-inflicted for the most part).

I’ve learned a few things along the way. My wounds run deep, and I’ve learned that they never quite heal. Blood continues to seep from the fissures in my heart. That is not altogether a bad thing. The lingering pain serves to remind me that love comes at a price. The ache provides incentive to love steadfastly, courageously, and with utter devotion. There may even come a time when I finally get it right…

I’ve learned that the pain subsides with time. What remains is the love itself. That’s right, I’ve learned that love never truly dies. It morphs into memories and reveries. Although my loves lead different lives today, I still love them all…quietly and at a distance. I’ve learned that there always comes a time when that love comforts them as they struggle with their own heartaches. I’ve learned that I could never forsake them in times of need. They, in turn, have learned that my heart, as incredibly confused as it is, still beats for them.

A few years ago, I compiled a mix of songs to give as a gift to those I hold most dear. I sent a copy to every woman who once held me close (there weren’t that many). I wanted them to understand that they once meant the world to me, and always will. These were songs of remembrance, hope, joy, and gratitude. It was a labor of love.

Several nights ago I found myself reaching for that mix. I’ve been listening to it ever since. It comforts me. It reminds me that love is worth every tear…every drop of blood. It reminds me that the women I held so dear changed me in so many ways, and always for the better. It reminds me that love appears when we least expect it, and that it is precious. I listen to this mix and I know that I will heal. I know I will, someday, become a better, happier and more loving human being.

I’m not saying these are the greatest songs ever written, but they resonate deeply within me. I thought I’d provide the play list here. If you, gentle reader, are so inclined you may wish to find these songs and give them a listen. You may be disappointed, I don’t know, but these songs reflect my hopes and dreams, what love has meant to me, and how I feel about all who once loved me.

Cat Stevens How Can I Tell You
Van Morrison Crazy Love
Van Morrison Into The Mystic
Cowboy Junkies White Sail
Nick Drake Northern Sky
Kathy Mattea Asking Us To Dance
Linda Ronstadt/Aaron Neville Don’t Know Much
Tara MacLean More
Eva Cassidy Fields Of Gold (live)”
Richard Shindell My Love Will Follow You
Jenny Bruce Music To My Ears
Marc Cohn Healing Hands
Lucy Kaplansky Broken Things
Mary Chapin Carpenter This Is Love
Aaron Neville I Owe You One
Natalie Merchant Kind & Generous
Joan Osborne How Sweet It Is
Joan OsborneThese Arms of Mine

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