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A Rock Called Parker (Part 1)

I love Parker. Let me say that again; I LOVE Parker. His full name is really Matthew Robinson Parker, but I’ve always called him Parker. We met for the first time at the age of four; it was a play date. Apparently, I loved the sound of his last name and would sing Parker, Parker, Parker until I drove everyone crazy. He is hands down the best friend I’ve ever had or ever will have. He’s the only person who knows exactly who I am and loves me in spite of it. He lived through every minute of the bad years with me, and was the one constant I could cling to in the middle of the storm. I tied myself to him and trusted that the rope would allow me to find my way home through the blizzard of emotions separating me from reality, sometimes for weeks on end. He even did my homework for me during the dark days that always followed the visits to my grandfather’s house. He did it because he didn’t want me to fall behind in school. He made sure my life looked as normal as possible from the outside, so that when I was ready, I could step back into it with barely a ripple. I don’t know how I could have made it through those years without him. There are so many blank spots in my memory during that time, but no matter how big the gap, his face is always there, my own personal Gibraltar. He’s my hero, but I think of him as my brother.

I couldn’t be who I am or do what I do without Parker. I’m 25 years old, and he’s still watching my back and keeping me out of trouble. It doesn’t matter where he is, what he’s doing, or who he’s with. If I call or send a text saying I need his help right away, he responds immediately. How many friends or family members can you say that about? Not many I’d venture. He lives in Palm Springs and owns a business there, and yes, he’s gay. The fact that he’s gay makes our relationship even stronger, because there has never been and never will be any of that awkward boy/girl sexual tension between us. It reinforces the feeling that we’re siblings.

From the stories he tells, and I’ve heard a lot of them, he is quite the fixture in the Palm Springs nightlife scene. That probably has something to do with his sparkling personality, boyish good looks, tanned, fit physique, and financial stability (because nobody likes a deadbeat who can’t pay for his own drinks). He’s a regular at the Toucans Tiki Lounge because it’s only two blocks from his house in one direction, and three blocks from his place of business in the other. If he gets too drunk, he can always walk home, and retrieving his car in the morning is a snap because it’s on the way to work. Everybody knows him there…seriously. I can call the bar and ask for Parker, and they’ll have him on the line in about 30 seconds, unless he’s on the dance floor. If he’s on the dance floor, forget it.  You’ll have to hold until the song is over. If there is one thing that boy loves to do, it’s dance. He takes Gloria Estefan’s urging to shake your body very seriously. He’s won the go-go competition twice, and is the reigning Jungle Boogie queen. He keeps the trophy in a place of honor in the foyer of his house. It sits on a pedestal in a pink spot-lighted niche. He shines it so often, I can’t believe the finish hasn’t worn off.

He also knows the routine of every drag queen act on the bill. He loves to stand at the back of the bar, facing the stage, and mimic every move, every swish of the performing act, but in a ridiculously exaggerated manner. (And yes, I know that the very nature of a drag queen is to do everything in an exaggerated manner, but Parker takes it to a whole new level.) His goal is to make the performers crack up and break character. He has a running bet with each of them. The loser must buy drinks all night for the winner. So far, he has about a 50/50 success rate.

It’s difficult for most people to reconcile what Parker does for a living with the passionately enthusiastic party boy they all know and love. You see, Parker is the owner of the most successful mortuary and crematorium in the Palm Springs/Cathedral City area. The day-time Parker and the night-time Parker are polar opposites. If you met him in his place of business, you would never suspect what lies beneath his professional, somber and gracious exterior.  Unless, of course, you noticed the finely tailored suit he wears with such style. There’s not many morticians who strut their stuff in a $1,000 suit, let alone one with a tie color chosen expressly for its ability to draw attention to the blue in his eyes.

As much as I love and enjoy the party boy version of Parker, it’s the professional Parker I turn to most often these days. Having a brother who owns a cremation business is very handy when you have trash you need to dispose of. He keeps an old beat up station wagon in a storage garage at the back of his property. I paid cash for it, and he called in a few favors with a hacker ex-boyfriend of his to wipe the registration clean and re-register it under a false name and address. We don’t take it out on the road very often, but when we do, we can’t have any problems. Things could spin out of control very quickly if we were ever pulled over. I don’t want to give the police any reason to look at it twice, so it always has current tags. Hiding in plain sight is something I’ve gotten very good at.

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Hey Mick, Sometimes You Can Get Satisfaction

It’s a beautiful evening, and as far as I’m concerned, flying down the highway while blasting some of my favorite classic rock is the perfect way to spend it. Damn, the Stones made some really great music in their heyday. I believe that the only way to listen to this kind of music is to turn it up and sing along at the top of your lungs. If this isn’t normally your style, give it a shot, I dare you. I guarantee it will instantly lift your spirits.

I’m not driving around for no reason, burning copious amounts of fossil fuel without a destination. I’m on my way to what I affectionately refer to as the armpit of the Inland Empire, otherwise known as Fontana. Also referred to as Fontucky by the crew in my department. Fontana is a city that looks like it could be a backdrop for a post-apocalyptic zombie movie. Almost all the houses and apartments, with windows accessible from the ground, are covered in metal bars or metal screens. The illusion of catastrophe is further supported by an abundance of high block walls and fences, or at the very least, 6-foot wrought iron fencing topped with rusty spikes. A lot of abandoned cars, or cars that look like they probably should be abandoned, can be found crowding the neighborhoods and back streets. The rate of violent crime in Fontana exceeded the national average for many years, and for a couple of years, exceeded it by more than half. It’s dropped a little in the past couple of years, but it’s still about even with the national average, though compared to San Bernardino, it’s a haven of peace and tranquility. San Bernardino’s rate is three times that of Fontana. I try to stay out of San Bernardino because I don’t fit in, so people tend to notice me.

I’m always carrying when I venture into this area, and by carrying, I mean my weapon is fully loaded, hot, and I have at least one back up magazine, though two is better. I’m not paranoid, or unstable, and I am not on any psychotropic drugs, so don’t get all righteous and start bitching about mass shootings and gun control. This is a dangerous area, and I’m a very petite woman who has potential victim stamped all over her. I have absolutely no intention of being on the losing end of Fontana’s newest crime statistic. I carry a Springfield XD9. It’s a sweet little 9mm with a magazine that holds 10 rounds. It’s small enough to fit in my shoulder bag, or an in-pants holster, yet has enough punch to do plenty of damage and scare the crap out of anyone looking to hurt me. I’ve done a lot of training with this weapon, and am fully-certified through the department. I did all that for a couple of reasons, the first is because being trained is an absolute must when it comes to owning and handling firearms. The second is because I wanted a concealed carry license. For gun owners, a CCW in the State of California is like grabbing the golden ring on the carousel. I was a very happy girl the day I signed for that coveted piece of plastic; a very happy girl.

Tonight’s excursion is simply a fact-finding trip, so I’m prepared and ready to go when the time is right. I always plan ahead and never act rashly or without doing my homework, and I try to be as thorough as possible. Rash behavior is for people who either aren’t afraid of prison or are too stupid to understand the consequences of their actions. I am not either one of those. Too many people are depending on me to keep them safe, even if they don’t know it. The note on my passenger seat has the address of the halfway house Donald Corbin is assigned to. I also have the address of the Wal-Mart distribution center where he works.  I googled the two addresses before leaving home, and wasn’t surprised to find that there is a bus line which runs directly between the two points. I’m certain the parole department did that intentionally. They like to line up employment for the parolees prior to placing them in a house. Because Corbin is a sex offender, and in particular, a child molester, they made certain that he found work in a place where there is very little chance of him coming into contact with children. They can’t control what he does with his free time, but they do everything they can to make it difficult for him to slip back into his old habits and patterns.

His Static-99R score is 7. This identifies him as high-risk for re-offense. Because of this score, he had very specific requirements he had to agree to before he was granted parole. One of those requirements is that he be in counseling for treatment of the sexual appetites that landed him in prison. This is Tuesday, and he has his court-ordered mandatory counseling session on Tuesday nights. He meets with the counselor at an office on the other side of Fontana. It’s an office provided by the City for therapists to use when their counseling services are being utilized by the City. I did my research about this guy before driving over here. I found that he does get paid by the City for his services, it’s just at a much lower hourly fee than he charges in his private practice; that’s standard operating procedure. I know Corbin has to travel by bus for almost an hour to get here from his house. I made an educated guess about which bus stop he’ll get off at, and, I assume, depart from after his session is over. I found the perfect parking spot on a shadowy street where I can see the bus stop without having to leave my car. He won’t be able to see me, but I’ll have the perfect line of sight to spot him. And there it is; I can see the headlights of the bus as it’s coming around the corner. It looks like I guessed correctly.

The doors open and Corbin steps down looking confident and a little bored. He checks his shirt and pants presumably to ensure that he is neat and presentable, then turns south and walks in the direction of the counselor’s office. I cruised up and down this street several times before he arrived. I have a fairly good idea of what lies between here and his destination. Once he enters the building, I can hit the sidewalk and walk his route to see if there are any locations I can use. If not, I’m certain I can find an acceptable spot on his route to the NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meetings he is also required to attend. Those meetings are local to the house he’s living in, so I’d prefer to find a usable site in this area, far away from anyone who will remember seeing him.

I lock the car without setting the alarm, because I don’t want it to beep and draw attention to me. I won’t be gone long, probably only a few minutes, and I don’t think it likely that my car will get broken into in that short period of time. I pull up the hood of my black sweat jacket and tug it down as far on my forehead as it will go. It’s better if I look like a skinny little tweaker, because no one will give me a second glance. I quickly walk the route and confirm what I saw on my drive-by; this location may not be a viable option. The street is populated by gas stations, mini-marts, liquor stores, smoke shops and even one medical marijuana clinic, all businesses likely to still be open when he’s making his way back to the bus stop. There’s nowhere to go where we won’t be seen, especially with the medical marijuana clinic in this neighborhood. If you see a green cross, you can count on security cameras being everywhere. It’s the nature of the beast. I’ll do one last drive-by after he’s gone, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t going to work. The drive back to Corona won’t be as much fun as the drive to Fontana. I know it’s not the end of the world; I’ll work it out. I always do. I was just hoping to catch a break.

I’ll walk his route to the NA meeting tonight. I know he won’t be doing a meeting, so I don’t have to worry about running into him. I think there’s a small park less than half a block east from the street he’ll be walking, It’s at about the mid-way point of his trip. If I’m lucky, the lights in the park go dark at around 10:00. That should work out perfectly. I’ll need to verify what kind of schedule Fontana PD keeps in that neighborhood, but I think we may have a winner.

By the time I reached the other end of town, it was completely dark. I sit in my car until 7:45, which is about the time he’d be walking this way. This is great news; the street is almost completely empty all the way to the church where the meetings are held. And just as I remembered, there’s a small park with nothing but three benches, a short walking path, and a swing set which once held three swings, but is now only a group of six rusty chains hanging above a weedy patch of dirt. It doesn’t appear to get a lot of traffic. The sign above my head is faded and tagged, but it plainly states that the lights in this park are extinguished promptly at 10:00. Bingo. I love it when a plan comes together.

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Riding the Couch and Other Unpleasant Pastimes (Part 2)

I finally decided there was no point in delaying the inevitable, and forced myself to spit it out, “When I was ten years old he molested me. There wasn’t penetration or anything like that, but there was a lot of rubbing and touching, and he said things to me; made promises about visiting me during the night. That’s when my relationship with him ended. I’ve dreamed about him periodically throughout the years, but it seems like I dream more these days than I ever have before. I hate that he’s wormed his way into my dreams, but I can’t seem to stop him. My dreams should belong to me, not to him. It’s bad enough that he destroyed my childhood, but now he’s managed to creep back into my life and steal any hope for a good night’s sleep.” I paused, and took a couple of big breaths so I could calm down; I didn’t want to get emotional. “Nothing bad has happened in the dreams yet, but I know it will eventually. Every night it’s like I can feel the pressure building, and the anticipation twists up my insides like a rubber band. It hurts; I feel actual pain in my sleep. All he’s done so far is to invite me into his room. I’m at one end of the hall, and he’s at the other, standing in his bedroom doorway beckoning to me. I don’t want to go to him, but it’s like my feet have a mind of their own, and they take me down the hall no matter how hard I try to stop. I always wake up right before I’m close enough for him to reach out and touch me. I wake up sweating, and my skin is crawling because I can’t help imagining the feel of those dry brownish claws touching my skin.”

Angela was watching me; evaluating me. I could feel it even though I wasn’t looking at her. I could feel her eyes on me. When I finally worked up the nerve to look at her, she gave me an encouraging smile. There was no judgement in her gaze, only understanding and compassion. It gave me the courage to continue.

“I woke up around 3:00 this morning, with my heart pounding and I remembered something I hadn’t thought about in years. On the day of my high school graduation, my dad insisted that we go by my grandfather’s house, so he could see me in my cap and gown. Apparently, he was too “sick,”’ I gave her the air quotes sign, “to attend the ceremony. I knew perfectly well that “sick” meant he was either too drunk or too hungover, or had the shakes so badly that he wasn’t fit to be seen in public. Honestly, I was relieved he wouldn’t be coming to see me walk. The last thing I wanted was for my friends to see him and I sure as hell didn’t want his face to be a permanent part of my graduation memory. So, being asked to go to his house for a few minutes was a compromise I was willing to make. I hadn’t set foot in that man’s house since I was fifteen, and the only reason I agreed to go then was because it was Christmas and the whole family would be there. My dad would have wanted an explanation if I backed out. But I stuck to my dad’s side like glue that day; I made sure I was never alone with my grandfather.” I stopped. “I’m sorry, that’s probably more information than you really need. I’ll try not to go off on any more tangents.”

Angela waved her hand, “No, no it’s fine, just tell your story in whatever way works best for you. Let me worry about what’s important and what isn’t. The truth is, this early in your analysis, everything is important. I want to get to know you; please continue with your dream.”

I shrugged, if she wanted to hear it all, then so be it. “The minute we crossed the doorstep I was bombarded by a flood of ugly memories. My chest felt like there was a steel band across it and someone was tightening it. The air had a poisonous kind of smell; I was struggling to breathe. My dad smiled at me, completely oblivious to the turmoil going on inside my body. I could see he was excited to share my special day with his father. The small hallway stretched into eternity as we made our way to his bedroom. It was like looking down the hallway in the Queen Mary.”

I smiled in apology, “Sorry, another tangent. But the hallways in the Queen Mary go on forever. They look like they stretch on and on until they get smaller. That’s what the hallway in my dream felt like. My dad went right in, but I stayed at the threshold, my feet practically rooted to the floor. The odor was the first thing to hit me. The smell of his booze and cigarettes, and his unwashed body overwhelmed me. The room started swimming when I took my first step. I’m amazed I didn’t fall down. I could hear the thud of horses’ hooves pounding in my ears, and even though I knew it wasn’t real, I was still fighting to keep a grip on reality. It seemed to take forever, but I finally reached my father’s side. My grandfather reached out with one of his crippled hands and touched me. He had these long, brown nails, and they brushed against the back of my hand. It sent a chill across my shoulders and down my back. It felt like I was being caressed by a rattlesnake.”

Something primal had awakened in the back of my brain, uncurling its dark scaly body and causing an almost uncontrollable fight or flight response. Bile rose in the back of my throat and threatened to spill into my mouth as I struggled to remain calm. A constant trembling coursed through my body, my knees almost knocking together. But I had no idea how to articulate those feelings to her.

“My dad did all the talking for the few minutes we were there. It’s a good thing he didn’t expect me to make a big speech about the hopes and dreams I had for my future. I don’t think I could have formed a coherent sentence if you paid me a million dollars. He had me sit on the bed next to his father, so he could take a picture of the two of us together. Me in my royal blue cap and gown, and him in his saggy, old white undershirt with the stains on the front. Yeah, that was a keeper alright.” I couldn’t help the sarcasm that practically dripped off my words.

“Every inch of my skin crawled when he put his arm around me and pulled me up against his side for the picture. I could smell a faint odor of urine coming off him and it made my stomach do somersaults. My dad had to have known there was something wrong with me; that there was something wrong with him. I’ve seen that picture, and the expression on my face is not a happy one.”

I was losing the battle to control my emotions, and turned away from her, instead directing my question to the birds living in blissful ignorance on the other side of the glass, “How could he not have noticed that I’d suddenly become a mute. Couldn’t he see…” I stopped, swallowed the emotion, then looked directly at Angela before repeating my question, “How could he not have known?” I swiped angry tears from my cheeks; surprised to find them there. I hadn’t been aware I was crying. No wonder she kept the Kleenex right next to the couch. I pulled a couple of tissues from the handy box and wiped my eyes and nose. Apparently, I was pretty pissed at my dad. I hadn’t realized it until that moment. I stared down at my lap and watched my fingers as they tore the tissues into tiny pieces.

Angela rose from her chair and made two cups of tea while she gave me time to regain my composure. She handed a mug to me before taking her seat. She blew across the top of her cup to cool it, “As I’m sure you know, the sense of smell is a formidable memory trigger. It has the power to unearth the memories we convince ourselves are dead and buried. It’s obvious that for you, the smells ignited a firestorm of terror in your mind. Your body had a visceral reaction to a situation which was out of your control. It’s a very common occurrence, especially for children in cases of sexual abuse. I know it doesn’t make your experiences feel any less painful, but your body’s response is typical of what I would expect to see in any young person dealing with this type of situation.”

“I want you to understand that just because you’re physically an adult, it doesn’t mean those emotional scars are gone. You have done an admirable job of not letting it stop you from becoming a responsible, contributing member of society. That’s wonderful; good for you. But that wounded little girl still lives inside of you. She’s the one you’re here for. She’s the one having the nightmares and the one we need to help. By doing so, you’ll be helped as well. Does that make sense?”

I nodded; it made perfect sense to me. I wrapped my chilled fingers around the mug of tea, welcoming the warmth bleeding through the ceramic. I blew on it, then took a cautious sip, immediately recognizing the taste of chamomile, and spearmint, but there was something else I couldn’t identify. I held the cup up and lifted a questioning eyebrow.

“It’s Sleepytime. It has chamomile, spearmint, lemongrass, blackberry leaves, orange blossoms and a few other ingredients I can’t remember off the top of my head. It’s one of my favorites because it has a natural calming effect. You might want to pick some up at the grocery store on your way home. Get the Sleepytime extra; it also has valerian in it, so it will help you sleep.”

“I will, thank you.” I leaned back into the couch cushions and closed my eyes, holding the steaming cup under my nose and inhaling the earthy fragrance. It really did have a calming effect. But then again, maybe I was just super sleepy, and I was simply enjoying the feeling of closing my eyes. Either way, it was nice. We finished our tea in silence.

Angela set her empty cup on the side table and picked up her pad and pencil again. “I think I can help you Chelle. You’re carrying around a tremendous amount of emotional pain. I believe you would get a great deal of benefit from regular sessions. I’d like to see you for an hour once a week if you think that will work for you. Are you open to scheduling another appointment?”

I thought about it briefly, then agreed. It was a good decision on my part. Angela and I eventually became very good friends. She understands me.