Monday, February 29, 2016

San Francisco, March 1976 - Free Chapter from "Traveling Without A Passport"

San Francisco, March 1976

...following is free chapter from Traveling Without A Passport

On the morning after I moved into my apartment on Ashbury, wet snow dropped over parts of San Francisco, mostly on Portrero Hill, the boyhood neighborhood of O. J. Simpson. It was an event I was not alone in believing could never take place. Waiting for a phone company installer to arrive and hook me up, I looked out at the giant, disappearing flakes mixed with rain as they fell between branches, and I imagined portents. Was I entering a channel marked by strangeness and inexplicable experiences?

While the installer from Pacific Bell wandered around, extending and crimping wires with connectors, my standard issue, olive green phone jutting awkwardly and inertly out of its box on the table, he talked about the political crisis in his home country, El Salvador. People generally seemed to enjoy political crises, I’d noticed. This tended to dishearten me, because I had little interest in them myself. And the farther away they got, the less interest I had. If they didn’t have a crisis, most people would like to stir one up or find someone else’s to get excited about.

After they killed Bobby Kennedy, my interest in politics had eroded like sand off a watershed, save my unquenchable, visceral dislike for Nixon who I assumed would one day be unmasked as Satan. Politics looked like a big, impoverished game with intrenched facets, and that included the peoples’ revolt in El Salvador.

Within a week of the day I watched snow falling out of that rich gray sky in San Francisco, I received the biggest royalty check I’d ever earned as a writer. It was buried in my first forwarded mail, stuffed into a tan, eight and a half by eleven envelope among a collection of other things from Alex who’d also inserted his own cryptic note on a slip of scrap paper:

 ...many people asking for you... 

It was written boldly in felt tip, his style, and clipped to an unrelated envelope. I took it as an advisory to continue laying low or, maybe, a hint that, as expected, I’d gotten out just in time. I hadn’t yet been awarded the disgrace of being completely forgotten in Buffalo.

But, then, even after pauper-like scrimping and having started out with more cash than expected, I’d quickly run out of resources as well as wonder. No more snow had fallen. No more checks had arrived, and, Goddamn it, I was losing Marcie. Things happened fast in California, faster than I’d imagined. 

I’ve become a spectator, I wrote in a letter to Alex. It never feels like I’ve got my hands on the wheel.

What, he wrote back, have you got your hands on? What happened with the girl?

“The girl? Use her fucking name” was my unhappy, gut response. 

“She has one,” I added aloud to the walls in my non-objecting studio apartment.

Alex had been too lazy to get out my last letter and be reminded, I concluded. The girl was too abstract for her in any context. Marcie was flesh and bone, a hectic mind, an athletic ass wrapped in perfectly tight jeans, angular expressions, beautiful hair and, for me, an exercise in emotional turbulence. 

What the hell went wrong between me and Marcie? Her family, dominated by proper women, hated me the minute they heard our story, was my first guess. They’d probably been warned by the intrusive Sausalito guardian of the female anatomy. I knew I lacked obvious promise and never made any bones about it. My lack of stature was right out there, like a physical feature. Equals gigolo to them, I suspected. Imagine, me?

“He writes what?” at least one of Marcie’s sisters, a grim panel of lookalike judges, must have asked.  “And he went to San Francisco with no job and no money either? What’s he running away from?”

Plenty, really, but Marcie didn’t know about any of that, but by the time she came back, distrust had been firmly planted in her head.

We’d been like lab rats, thrown by coincidence into an intimate cage, was how I described it the first (and only, as it turned out) time we went on a date in San Francisco. I worded it more nicely, of course. We’d been free, solo passengers on a not full bus and could as easily have disliked each other and moved away. We did the opposite. Voluntarily. I engaged her in conversation while we were waiting, lining up to get off at a rest stop, and she asked to join me after we returned to our seats a half-hour later.

“Maybe we were both just horny,” she kidded, and we laughed then because there was still some life in our connection.

“I know some of you girls are that way,” I responded, “but I’m more into relationships. No shit, honest.”

I flashed on, but kept to myself, my old friend Dan’s lament: “I wanted to make love, but all she wanted to do was fuck.”

I thought women’s not infrequent habit of referencing things back to sexual basics was a form of evasion and most men played the game out of ignorance of what was happening. We were supposed to be blissfully incapable of intimacy, a treasured female trait.

Now, just a month later, Marcie and I were lab rats again, evicted from our cage, made stupid and overconfident by happiness under conditions impossible to repeat. We were talking quietly in a darkened park near her apartment, a valley congested with streetlights below us. She was on a swing, and I was pushing. Every time she glided back, I spread my fingers across the curl of her ribs and guided her in a steady rhythm. I touched the upper construction of her pelvic bones. This was the only time in San Francisco when we were able to return to the vicinity of that shared, comfortable trance we’d found on the bus. I didn’t understand how we got there the first time anymore than I now knew how we’d gotten back. There was a chemistry that surged when we mixed it a certain way. It seemed like there was a space close-by, a membrane to penetrate, where we had a choice to step in or step aside.

“I don’t think we can ever be like we were again, Peter,” Marcie whispered.

I wanted to shake her, to disagree and sensed that she was braced for an argument, but everything that mattered about us was too abstract for a successful discussion, too ineffable to be reconstructed with verbs and nouns. If I couldn’t explain it to my alter ego back in Buffalo while sitting at my table with a pen and paper and all the time in the world, then what were my chances under the gun of so much intensity? Besides, what she seemed to be preparing to do was to dump me. Gently. It was breaking my heart, I can tell you that, and it was very immediate.

“Maybe we can just be in it temporarily and see how it feels,” I suggested.

We kept swinging and didn’t say much more. Once you get to the point where you have to debate the details, it’s poisoned anyway, and you’re just doing an early autopsy. 

She later sent me home with no option for a sleepover, and by morning, all of it was gone again.

...from Traveling Without A Passport

David Stone
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Monday, February 22, 2016

"Is It Always a Love Story?" Free Chapter One

Is It Always a Love Story?

...following is Chapter One from Is It Always a Love Story?

On the day I came home from the war — a phrase still tossed around like iceberg lettuce in the cultural salad, in spite of its saturation — the shock was not unexpected. Both the country that sent me and a million others into battle across the Pacific and the warrior lucky enough to live through it had changed clothes. I’d been at least as dizzied when I tumbled head-last into boot camp and, again, when I struggled to get my bearings on the ground in Southeast Asia.

This was 1970, a new decade in a country rubbed so raw by the last one you couldn’t drag it in front of a mirror and expect to see the same image twice. What once was bright and sure scrambled into confused and angry. 

I never saw any of the disrespect people now say peace activists chucked at returning vets. I saw more of the opposite, really. When they noticed your close to shaved bare head and your upright posture, even strangers seemed deferential, sadness in the mix too. Every American silently seemed to see that we’d lost so much. Nobody spit at me or anyone else that I knew. Unlike The Best Years of Our Lives, the world had not passed me by on its cheery jaunt to the future, and I did not indulge in public regrets. Yes, there was a universal wariness, but coming home from the equivalent of centuries away on a distant planet, you need time to feel your way around until the lights come up again.

It wasn’t the angrier, disillusioned America I saw when I returned or changes in Binghamton, my hometown tucked between hills in upstate New York, that demanded adjusting. It was me. I may have returned to a place that froze in time, unchanged myself, but I’d never again walk down the street with my hands in my pockets, idly whistling, feeling sun on my neck. Awareness had rushed in with lumps of spiritual gluttony, an appetite impossible to satisfy. Maybe exploded is a better word for what happened when I digested the extremes any war forces on its fighters.

We pull on uniforms assigned us as young guys, kids really, plastic, molded into shapes and colors that are completely new. Our heads are shaved, our bodies toughened. But nothing prepares you for slaughter or the relentless stew of fear, guilt, dread, anger and anxiety from which there is no escape until you are killed or maimed or someone leafing through a stack of papers finally reaches yours and stamps “Discharged” on it.

You come back to, roughly, the same world, if you survive, but everything you piece together as you put on your pants, comb what hair has returned and step out the door slants toward strange in your eyes.I expected that, the alienation, before I landed in San Francisco and knocked off a couple of days before catching connecting flights on to New York. First day in America, again, I took a city bus that rattled up to The Haight and got off before it crossed Stanyan Street into Golden Gate Park. Hippies hanging out under ancient trees like musty clouds of unnecessary humanity seemed to know my story. I was in street clothes, but my hair…and probably my expression…

One of the dudes, a guy propped up on one elbow, his beard, streaked with gray, sent strands onto the middle of his chest, raised a rolled cigarette in my direction. He might’ve been lifting a funky salute, but I assumed he was offering me a hit. I smiled, shaking my head enough to decline gently and kept walking under the trees and into the meadows. My mind wasn’t ready to let down its guard the way it had when Jon and I knocked off lunch hours at school with a joint and bottle of Thunderbird. Maybe it never would be, this planet more fearsome than we knew then.

During the Summer of Love and the next where I tried to grab strands of freedom and Selective Service geared up to escort me down the road to Southeast Asia, I read as much as I could about the counterculture’s hopes for changing the world. We had some spirit but were far from the mainstream in Binghamton. I agreed that things should be changed but not necessarily to what. Hippie daydreams contrasted the depressing mechanism of physicals and interviews and dread about what was inevitable on the bloody horizon. Thanksgiving break, the year before, Jon and I drove down through the Catskills to wander around Greenwich Village, once we found the jumble of unnumbered streets under the towering city. Hippie culture had been overwhelmed by invaders. The music clubs were too loud, the head shops on Bleecker too obvious, the girls from Long Island panhandling for bus fare in Washington Square Park too young and uninteresting. The movement hadn't held its ground very well in the big city.

But all I read about Haight-Ashbury implied that some legitimacy lasted. Peace might prevail, hope defying the reality of what I was going through on my way to induction. Two years later, on the ground in The Haight, all I saw in the free clinics, hippie shops and lost souls standing on corners were relics of a burned out hallucination. The best of hippie culture, the passions for peace, freedom and expanding awareness, had gone political, meaning mainstream, gobbled up by process. It probably had to. How long could you survive inside the bubble, outside the endless parade? Kicked back lifestyles retreated into tiny urban pockets, communes and hopeful, subdued retreats. I hoped to find something else in the park.

No historical markers with funky logos had been erected where the first love-in took place or where Jerry Garcia sat under a tree and strummed a banjo, singing Zen songs about the universe. The park was as it had been when my one-time idol, Rod McKuen, wrote about his troubles on Stanyan. The meadows rolled and old growth trees held their breath on a sunny afternoon. Sooner than expected, I walked by the surprising Dutch Windmill, wondering what the hell it was doing there and, before any good idea came to me, crossing over onto the beach, the Pacific, pretending to be endless, stretching in front of me.

I hadn’t talked to anyone since handing over my key at the Y where I woke up to the Bay Bridge rumbling with traffic out my transient window, and I didn’t know what I was going to do. 

Rolling, washing waves brought a soothing pulse along the mostly empty beach, certain and consistent. I walked toward the Golden Gate, Tamalpais hazy across the bay, focused roughly on a building up on a cliff, certain I wasn’t going to walk that far.

It was confusing to feel so divided about continuing my travel home. I’d expected no such uncertainty. But I kept thinking I could stay right here or veer off to some interesting sounding place, like Denver or Chicago, and settle without ever crossing the Mississippi again. Binghamton was not for sure. As much as I loved the place, all my life so far, being there now, being me, felt hard.

And it wasn’t just the standard veteran returning home reluctance about being lost in an invisible sea of change, as the world kept turning, the chemistries mingling, in your absence, or the unavoidable conversations that got one and all off the hook. Relationships I’d deferred resolving had not melted away. As the years passed, I’d learn that they never do. Loose ends stay loose ended. But now, as I was just beginning to tangle with any of some consequence, I accepted the truth reluctantly. 

Finding a place to live and work in the valleys and flatland carved by the Susquehanna and the Chenango meant dealing with things mishandled when I was much more able. Hardened emotions offered less effective tools. 

Maureen wrote me when she knew I was close to being discharged. Probably, she’d probed my family for details. Everyone liked her. They thought she was “the one,” as the saying goes.

“Well, you don’t have to deal with her being so fucked up though, now do you?” I said to the imagined crowd in my mind, each individual looking at me with suspicion and curiosity.

My family, assembled like a jury in my mind’s eye, huddled together as the first persons I talked to in hours, however virtual. Now, they shrank back, partly in disappointment, partly disliking the casual profanity.

“Jesus,” I hissed out loud, and they vanished like vapor. After two years of war, they could still get up my ass.

Here I was, back in America, and I realized I could laugh with some innocence again. That settled one immediate doubt. I might as well go on home as long as there was still enough of me left to tango.

I found a pay phone at the house up on the cliff that I thought I’d never walk to and called my brother’s number.


It was Tim’s wife, Margaret, Marge, Margie. I liked every one of her incarnations.

“Hi, Marge. It’s me, Pete.”

“Peter! Oh my gosh, we were wondering when we’d hear from you. Where are you? Are you in town? Are you okay?”

Pete, I whispered, turning away from the phone to look out at the sea.

Too much to answer in a single phrase, I picked the easiest piece.

“I’m in San Francisco. Just flew in last night. Still adjusting to the time zones,” I added, filling up the empty space. “What’s it, late afternoon there?”

“Actually, I’m just starting supper. Your brother will be home in a little while. He’ll be so happy you called.”

As I’d so often been reminded, I talked too much, didn’t know when to stop. Actually, I dreaded a wobbly silence more than I loved the sound of my own voice.

“San Francisco? So, you’re back. When will we see you in this neck of the woods?”

Neck of the woods? There was a gentle phrase that would never be the same for me again.

“I need to check on the flights, but if I can get on a plane tomorrow, I think I will. No reason to stay here all by myself.”

And who was that message for? Me? Or them? Did I want my family to believe I was hankering for a reunion, an anecdotal sit-down where I’d give in to telling war stories that left the blood and mud behind at the door?

I’d already decided on the ones I would never tell, not in full at least.

“We can’t wait to see you. You won’t believe how much we worked about you.”

“I think I might have some idea.” 

“This call must be costing you a fortune, and I’ve go food on the stove. We better say, ‘Goodbye,’ for now, but let us know when you’re coming, and we’ll come out to the airport to get you. But call collect, next time. You won’t have to fill your pockets with coins.”

Marge laughed at the picture of me jiggling dimes, quarters and nickels in a phone booth.

To be honest, the nickels, dimes and quarters I needed to pay for the call were not in my pockets, and the lingering juvenile delinquent in me laughed again when I heard the public telephone protesting to an empty booth as I walked back toward Golden Gate Park.

“You fucking owe me,” I said to Ma Bell and added to myself, “You may be coming around.”

Walking back past the inexplicable windmill, I thought that coming around was not something I necessarily wanted to do, if coming around meant getting back to normal, back to neutral. That would not be possible. I had so much more than a duffel to carry through the rest of my life, normal would never do.

Easy enough to remind myself: If I knew then what I know now… But nothing could be more futile. The meaning of life is in the journey, right? Why hanker to land when you’ve barely taken off?

It wasn’t the next day, but the one after that, when I caught my first flight east. Because my hometown was not considered of any consequence in the American march toward world domination, it took two connections in pinball game directions to get me to the little airport parked alone on a hilltop.

I’d spent my last day in California on a trek through hippie places that still had resonance, nostalgia not completely washed away. I walked all the way up Columbus to North Beach where I ate pizza for lunch before spending an hour in City Lights, hoping Ferlinghetti would show up and strike a conversation. Maybe Brautigan? Then, I wandered through the Embarcadero and on to Fishermen’s Wharf. Out in the bay, Alcatraz was defiantly soaking up sun. And up on one of the hills, I spotted Coit Tower, saluting firemen. I wasn’t going to bunk there either. Finally, I clung to the rail on a cable car along Powell all the way to Union Square. Then, I was done with it. 

That was enough of being alone in an unfamiliar city. It was time to be alone in one more familiar.

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Friday, February 19, 2016

November 22, 1963 - Free Chapter from The Garden of What Was and Was Not

November 22, 1963

...following is an excerpt from The Garden of What Was and Was Not

I generally enjoyed Miss Izak’s class, brightened as it was by her effervescence, even though I was failing, just as I’d previously failed Latin. Gene, a born smart ass, and Billy, his frequent target, were involved in something silly in front of me, and I was tuning out Miss Izak’s instruction to watch. This memory may be misplaced in time, but I believe that, out of nowhere, Gene reached across the aisle to hold hands with Billy. Billy reacted in three distinct phases: first, pleased with the touch; an instant later in homophobic shock; then, finally, in panicked, comical withdrawal. This stuff eased the monotonous days of high school repetition. You might say Miss Izak didn't have her class properly tamped down and under control. Tiny, inclined to dress young in short tight skirts that cheered me with a view of her legs, only a few years older than some of us, she sometimes laughed along. 

A few years after this and while I still lived in Binghamton, the local newspaper headlined a story about her body being found in some underbrush at the bottom of a ravine along the Adirondack Northway. Her car had been abandoned on the side of the road above. An investigation showed that a New York State Trooper had stopped her for speeding along the Interstate on her way to Montreal. He took her down the embankment before raping and strangling her. 

As we sat in her classroom now, however, nothing predicted that killing. She was still short and cute and bubbly and hopeful that guys like me might still learn the language of love. We all still took for granted, then, a certain assurance about the benignity of the future. Bad things, in the world we’d been shown, actually didn’t happen to good people until after November 22nd, 1963. This was Camelot, and scripted. We believed in King Arthur, George Washington and Jesus Christ. Things turned out okay. 

At my high school on the East Side, the public address system had never called us to attention in the middle of a day. I don’t recall even being aware that we had a working speaker. The wooden box with its fabric cover, mounted on a wall behind our teacher’s desk, tilted forward and painted the usual institutional green, crackled to life. I'm not sure anyone really knew what it was at first, brittle sounds popping out from the anonymous wall. The first recognizable voice came up midstream in a radio broadcast. Miss Izak froze and the rest of us with her. No one prepared us. 

Downstairs, in the Principal’s Office along the main corridor, the staff, usually occupied with papers, typing and files, reacted mechanically to an event raining down unlike anything before it. In a shock that hobbled rational thinking, they defaulted, hooking a radio up to the public address system and letting the details flow like gravel down a calamitous mountainside. 

Gradually, the message came across that someone shot President Kennedy. In Dallas. There was a motorcade. Bullets ripped over the crowd. Limousines sped toward a hospital. Others were wounded, but there was confusion over who and how many, the Governor of Texas, for sure. In class, a few looked around the room for some sort of confirmation as facts tumbled out, raking reality. Most, including Ms. Izak, sat looking straight ahead, listening. Our teacher had a blank, almost puffy look. Even the goof-offs, like Gene and Billy and me, shut up. 

As the live newscast kept coming, my skin tingled. I felt fear, cold and amorphous, like in a horror show just before the danger identifies itself. 

Then, I think it was Cronkite: “Our beloved President, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, is dead...”  

The impossible had happened. In ways we seldom recognize, the profound and comprehensive damage, healed only along the edges, endures to this day.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Holy Shit - Free Chapter from "The Witch Next Door"

Holy Shit 

following is a free chapter from The Witch Next Door

Christmas Eve, snow finally fell from an infinitely gray overcast, hovering since dawn and hanging motionless into the afternoon. Still coming down hard after dark, it resolved the village below us in a pinkish haze, a fog-shrouded pool with fuzzy streetlights struggling to pierce through. There was probably a foot on the ground by now. Fluffy, it kicked easily away from our shoes as we tramped away from Val’s house.

Val spread her long coat to help keep my ass dry. The one I’d wrapped myself in for the trip to Endicott wasn’t long enough for sitting on the ground, watching the snow, which we decided to do almost as soon as I got there. 

We picked a bank on what might one day be a lawn in a vacant corner lot on the hill where she lived. 

Heavy, drifting flakes forced a misty silence. Our heads were topped with white.

“I should’ve worn a hat. It’s melting and running down my face.” 

“I don’t remember ever seeing you with a hat,” Val said.


She nodded in the dark.

“It’s really beautiful.” 

She drew her hood closer to her face. Strands of wavy hair leaked out around the contours of her cheeks and alongside her neck.

Streets congesting with snow, edges rounded or eliminated like romantic poetry, Endicott looked as soft and gentle as the flakes showering it, make-believe in the valley below us. 

“Like a dream,” Val added. She looked at me with a smile. “I’m glad you came out to see me.”

“Maybe I’m crazy, hitchhiking all the way out here in this weather.”

“Crazy about me?”


“I appreciate it. Most boys would never come all the way out here in this weather.”

“Love will do that to you,” I said.

“I know.”

Traffic thinned with the holiday, I’d been lucky to make it across the cities fast. I might need to spend the whole night walking back home. Cars might disappear as the darkness swarmed toward Christmas morning. I still hadn’t inhibited my routines with any habit for planning. Life would come, and I’d grab whatever events I saw skating by. 

“Maybe I’ll freeze to death before I get home again,” I added, “but I wanted to see you. What else was I going to do, sit home and wait for Santa Claus? Nothing, absolutely nothing was going on. I was bouncing off the walls.”

On an impulse, after calling her to say, “Merry Christmas,” I decided to ignore the storm for a chance to see her. She was willing, and there was time.

“Do you still believe in Santa Claus?”

“I never stopped. What else have we got? God?”

“Me, too. I don’t know what we have to believe in now.”

In the year gone by, an emotional scrub brush scraped away my faith in the positive direction of the world. Eighteen years old felt like balancing on a pivot without any specific gravity or momentum in any direction, like my beliefs had been racked and a cueball struck them, scattering them in a chaos so wild only a magic physicist could yank them back into order.

“I think we need to figure it all out from scratch. I don’t even know where to begin.”

“At the beginning, one step at a time, that’s the only way…”

I had a feeling her remark was off the cuff, something she said without having thought about it before and may not agree with tomorrow.

“No shortcuts,” I added, “like ‘All you need is love,’ that kind of thing.”

“Yeah, but how do we find them?”

 “I know I love you,” I said. “That’s always there. It’s a start when you have one thing you know is true.”

“I love you too, but what have we ever been able to do about it? Together, I mean. We’re such a mismatch.”

“Are we too loose?”

“When we’re together, we are, yeah,” Val agreed. “There’s no place for us. We have different lives in different places, and then, every once in a while, we have this time together when we connect, but then, it’s gone again so fast.”

She gestured at the snow softened cityscape below us, as if she created it.

“I wish you’d let me change that.”

The intensity of the snow, the cold air, the fluffed fantasy, dreaming in unison.

“How? What are you going to do? Carry me off somewhere?”

“I wish. I can hardly carry myself, as you know.” 

“I think we should just stay like we are,” Val suggested, sweeping a dark, mittened hand through the falling snow. “You’re different for me. You make me look at myself in a different way. Maybe you keep me honest. Maybe we’d lose that, if we aren’t careful.”

Her voice lifted into a laugh. 

“Maybe we’re in-betweeners, Val. We meet in the seams between the rest of our lives.”

“I’m not sure what that means,” she said.

“I hope you’re not counting on me to explain it.”

“Never have”

“You always knew,” Val reminded me now, “whether you wanted to know or not. It was all there.” 

“Sure, in a foreign language, it was all there. Really, I didn’t know what I knew. We were so different. There wasn't any other couple like us, you know, as much as we were friends. I didn’t know what was happening between us or what, if anything, I could do about it. I didn’t have any examples. 

You were just always there, the continuum, you know?”



“That brings us to the point,” Val changed the subject. “You asked a question I think I can answer. 

'"You want a bigger picture. You want to understand how you got here, where you are now, from way back where we were or before, right?”

With an exaggerated gesture, she added a wisp of comedy to the mix.

“Always, I do. I’m kind of a mystery to myself. There are things I can’t explain. Maybe I don’t remember enough.”

“You can start with Ginny, but that’ll just make you feel guilty. Why not go back to where your parents turned you into an emotional gymnast. That’s what happens if you want to survive after your parents kick you into the gutter before you’re old enough to tie your own shoes. You learned to lean on yourself, to be alone and self-reliant. Didn’t it seem odd when Emerson got your attention, even when everything he wrote was way over your head? You kept looking at Self-Reliance like it was Chinese algebra. That’s been your style ever since. You absorb before you know.”

My brother let me ride along and hang out at the university library when he drove to Vestal to study on Saturdays. I always treated libraries the same way, like I was on a treasure hunt without much of a map, and I remember pulling Emerson’s essays off a shelf and getting scrambled trying to weed my way through his paragraphs.

“I have a style, Val?”

“Well, you left everybody, didn’t you — I mean, up to that point? To you, self-reliance meant independence. You took what you wanted out of Emerson, but that wasn’t what he meant. Emerson believed in community. You believed in staying out of it. When you tell your story, you make yourself out heroic, but let’s be honest. We’re friends. You weren’t heroic. A gambler, sure, but sometimes, you were a hurtful person to know. When mothers warned their daughters about you, they were right. You were dangerous.”

“Mothers usually liked me, at least a first.”

“Yeah because you were so cute and sweet. They didn’t get the whole picture right away.”

Got a pile of sins to pay for and I ain't got time to hide, Bob Dylan wrote. 


“For example…?”

For Val, pictures were not hard to paint. 

“Let’s forget for a minute that you were so careless with the girls’ feelings that you played around with Ginny’s little sister, the one time she was too sick to keep an eye on you, but what did you do when the big moment came, when you had a chance to be strong for her? You loved her, right? But you found it easy to cut her loose, didn’t you? Bing! You were gone.”

In a sharply pitched moment, Ginny ran across the room and disappeared into my arms, tears streaming down her cheeks, afraid, shattering. 

“Take me with you,” she pleaded.

“‘I can’t.’ That’s what you said,” Val reminded me.

“I couldn’t take her with me. That was true. She was underage. I’d go to jail.”

“Cover story,” Val waved me off. “You made that up for the book. You were underage, too. You didn’t really know anything about statutory rape, and you sure weren’t worried about it when you took her pants off. If you told the whole story, you’d talk about waiting at your apartment, hoping she’d make it there on her own, but you knew she wouldn’t, didn’t you? Of course. Besides, who but you and Ginny knew you had sex? Anyone?”

I shrugged, not remembering for sure, embarrassingly confident that I probably told at least my best friend, Bruce, but he’d already shipped out.

“Her parents didn’t know,” Val insisted. “What would they get you for? Trespassing? All they knew is you were sneaking around with their daughter, and they wanted to protect her. From you. Imagine that. But you didn’t stand up for her or even for your own good intentions. You ran. If you stayed and confronted them, it might’ve changed both your lives forever. As you already know, things didn’t go great for her after you left her, not for a long, long time, I mean, decades.”

“I can’t be responsible for what happened to her after we broke up.”

“Really? Are you sure? Because if you’d figured out a way to stick with her and made good on your promises, you’d sure take credit for that, wouldn’t you?”

“Well, we can’t undo the past, can we? But I paid for what I did, as you also know, in a way I never imagined.”

My architecture fell apart pretty quickly without Ginny floating the joists. An emptiness washed in like some barren dam broke. It lasted long enough, I wondered if feeling so little was going to be permanent. Fate finally lent a hand, one late winter day, sending a pair of rescuers named Doug and Boyd to pull me out. I’d been stunned.

“I knew I loved her, but you don’t have to remind me I held something back. I always had one foot out the door, but I didn’t realize my heart didn’t come along with me. My heart was still fused with hers. It’s a funny thing to say, and it was a discovery that nothing I’d ever seen or heard prepared me for. Our hearts plug in, hard and deep, no matter what our boots do.”

Val leaned away to pull me off the subject. 

“What the hell? I can’t fix it now, anyway.” 

“You remember how you learned to hold so much back, don’t you?” she asked.

Was she pulling strings to surface memories or was it my own psyche?

In my earliest memories from my life as an escape artist, we were, all five of us, waiting like refugees on heavy wooden benches outside the office into which a social worker lead Mom and Dad. Two days on the train from Florida left us dirty, tired and smelly. Set aside Mom’s radical violation of visitation rights, our appearances alone might been enough to bury her claim to competent parenting. 

Mom was, as I saw her later, a child raising children, a grown up who never grew up. That’s why we loved her so much and also why she failed. She was our great big sibling with keys to the car.

The door with the frosted glass opened. Mom ran out ahead of the others, a handkerchief pressed to her reddened face and, just like that, escaped down the stairs without a word. She didn’t, as she usually did, sweep us up with, “Let’s get going, kids.”

All five of us turned to look at Dad and the social worker, now a temporary couple. The only detail I remember about the social worker, besides her gender, was how explicitly she, not Dad, explained the realities ahead of us. Toward Dad, my feelings had improved from resentment when I saw him waiting on the railroad platform to indifferent.

“You’re going to stay with your grandmother for a week or so until we can straighten things out with your parents.”

Mom was gone, down the stairs. What was she going to straighten out?

I noticed my brothers and my sister crying beside me.

“I saw that, Val, and I remember thinking, I better cry too. So, I did.”

“You faked it?”

“I faked it.”

“You see now? You were already out. It wasn’t that incident that did it. You were already detached, at that age, more like broken off, damaged goods, adapted for survival.”

“I wish I knew how I got there…”

“Does it really matter?” Val interrupted. “The thing is, if you think about it, you stopped opening your heart to anyone, not completely, right there, when your mother ran down the stairs and left you by yourself, disconnected. You can’t ever have another mother.”

“Holy shit.”

“How did you miss that?”

“I don’t know. I wasn’t even seven, and I sure as hell hadn’t heard of Freud. I must not have wanted to see it. Even knowing it now feels horrible.”

“The thing you have to remember is, your loving people never stopped, just your willingness to open up to it. You buried that core instead, for safety. You couldn’t trust anyone with it. You loved your father, your mother, especially your older brothers you relied on for so long, your sister, of course, and others, but it was risky. You buried it. Survival first.”

“Those were some cold, fucking years, Val…”

“And what ended it? What happened?”

“Ginny happened.”

“By then, you were good at surviving, with a lot of help you didn’t know about, but you’re were a real mess with love. You hadn’t stretched those muscles enough. Your heart was a wreck.”

“Wait a minute, Val. What help I didn’t know about?”

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Sunday, February 7, 2016

Going There - Free Chapter from "What If You Died, Right Now...?"

Past Life Regressions

Going There is a free excerpt from What If You Died Right Now And Went To...?

Advanced meditators and others who believe they’ve had out of body experiences give us useful insights into the spiritual side of being alive on Earth, but while what they share is intriguing, the insights are neither complete nor sure to inform us about life after death. 

Past life and life between life regressions show us what may lie beyond the tunnels or inside the light. What’s more, they are evidence, lots of it.

Past life regression therapy is controversial. As therapy, it can ease discomfort or resolve emotional struggles by taking a hypnotized subject back to a previous life where he or she discovers a source of troubles and becomes better able to deal with them. But the past lives might be imaginary, dreamed up constructions that facilitate healing. They may be well managed dreams that need not be real to be effective.

Patients can benefit from the therapy without believing fantastic implications.

Well enough, but then, what if past lives are confirmed in public records from information gathered during regression? Now, you’ve got fantastic rattling reality.

Dr. Michael Newton, now retired, included work as a hypnotherapist in his practice. His life changed when a patient came to his office complaining of sharp pains in his side. He had already seen medical doctors who had been unable to relieve his symptoms or even find a cause. Hypnosis might help by uncovering something hidden in his subconscious, maybe a psychosomatic condition. 

Newton found that his patient hypnotized easily, going into a deep trance quickly. Asked about the source of his pain, the patient agonizingly recalled being a soldier, bayoneted to death in the Battle of the Somme in World War I, a half-century earlier. This man had done something the doctor had never seen before, making a leap into a past life as an individual who died fifty years before.

A history buff, Newton got as many details, including name, rank and military unit as the man under hypnosis could give him. His patient’s mysterious pains subsided after this session, but more important in the long run, Newton was able to confirm the details gathered in the regression.

Believers in reincarnation wouldn’t be surprised by what he found, but a direct past life encounter is not normal or accepted in western medical science. For Newton, it proved there was more to life than the surface dimension with which we are all familiar. Another unplanned patient event took him even deeper.

A woman, troubled by isolation and friendlessness, came to him, hoping hypnosis might help her find the source of her extreme sadness. Practicing past life regression therapy regularly by now, Newton helped her find her way into earlier incarnations in search of connections and insight. Nothing came up until, abruptly, the woman brightened, declaring that she was now with her friends.


She gestured across the room where a crowd invisible to Newton had gathered.
What past life was she in?

None of them, she explained. She’d been joined by her soul cluster, a spiritual family that had been with her during and between all of her many lives. 

Was it her imagination? Maybe. But if not, who could prove any of what she claimed? 

Seven thousand recorded case histories later, Dr. Michael Newton was certain that he could. His book, Journey of Souls, detailed a strange universe exposed by hypnotic regressions and spurred broader interest in the study of life between lives. 

Taking our understanding so far beyond Moody’s near-death experiences and with implications far greater, Newton and his followers’ startling findings have been about as widely accepted and understood as those of the pioneering quantum physicists. That is, hardly at all.

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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Binghamton, New York, March, 1966 - Free Chapter from "The Garden of What Was and Was Not"

Binghamton, March 1966

Here is what finally became of Ginny or, I should say, the parallel paths we once shared, then separated.

In America, the social landslide began to move like an iceberg accelerating as the ground below turned to grease. Things lost certainty. Change felt inevitable. A wave hovered, throwing an intense shadow, ready to crash over everything on the human shore.

Penetrating a medium congested with romantic longing and simmering desire, Paul Simon’s Sounds of Silence hit the airwaves like a message, foreboding in a time of overt prosperity, and was taken up, making lyrical something ominous we already knew. Oscillating in space, the world where Rob and Laura existed as a pleasant diversion, where Barney and Andy amused the complacent, where Sinatra ruled, was pending demolition. 

Not long after I’d watched Joyce’s pale ass disappear into the bathroom darkness, led by Bruce, I circled back to Ginny. Out walking in the after midnight isolation of the city, unmoored, I thought my way through the confusion that had blown up around me. 

Ice crystals drifted like sparking dust passed the streetlights. The weightless accumulation swirling away from every footstep would be banished with dawn. I sat on a stool in the Queen Elizabeth Diner, sipping coffee from a badly stained cup with all the losers and rejects and wondering if this was it, not even sure I’d ever go back to the apartment where I was a spare part and my best buddy and alienated girlfriend slept in the bathtub. My buffer against calamity was as thin as sheet ice. 

Gradually, a brightening sky spilled pale light down the streets, casting the morning shadows again, even as the cold deepened. I got dressed and went to work wide awake and crazy from exhaustion and managed to fake my way through the day. Before it all disintegrated into sleep again, I brought pen and paper to the kitchen table where Joyce and I cooked spaghetti 24 hours before, and I wrote Ginny a letter that, more or less, posed us as You and Me Against the World–an appeal I hoped she'd accept as a call to arms, a return to rebel love. Her answer came back fast, so fast she must’ve written it before my letter cooled on the bed in front of her. Her letter, like mine, had been written on three-ring notebook paper, the grid of lines keeping the declarations straight and apparently organized.

I Love You, too!!!” she’d added in big, scrawly letters below where she’d already signed off, as if her message craved needed reenforcing.

“Love isn’t a big enough word,” I’d told her, months before, in the first rush of excitement between us.

“No, it’s not,” she’d agreed.

“There should be something else.”


Ginny waited for my invention.

“Like, like…” I stammered, clowning, “like I’ll think of something!”

What we all then called love stood out in a crowd. That mix of desire, special intimacy and gratification went unchallenged in any milieu of which I was aware. It was a blessing, a gift that happened, a thing intangible and special, like God. Later, as with other religious doctrines, it would be diluted in secularism and logic, but for now, it kept an immunity of magic. Not her parents, not my asinine family, not distance or time could stop us if we stuck with each other. Love pierced walls. 

That was my position, and I held it tenaciously. I believed in love, as most of the popular songs proclaimed, in a field of ideals that still included the ineffable.

On the next Saturday night, with spring edging up the hillsides, I hiked that familiar four miles along the curve of interweaving valleys to her house. For me, everything else had changed. No longer a malcontent stuck in the routine of school and family home, I’d rushed from work to the apartment I shared with Bruce and Don, took a hot bath and dressed in fresh clothes, a young man sprucing up for his date. 

“Where’re you going, playboy?” Bruce asked me as I hurried to get out the door.

“Back to Ginny,” I declared.

“Too bad,” Bruce shrugged. “Dan and me are going out hunting for pussy. There might be a little something out there waiting for you.”

Bruce and his flashy buddy, Dan, went on pussy hunts as often as they could, including some weeknights. Occasionally, they’d engage me in debates.

“No thanks,” I said. “I’ve got everything I want.”

“Still got the love bug, huh? You’ll get over it,” Bruce assured me with the casual cynicism he’d picked up from Dan, although it had less of an edge when it was just the two of us. “See you later. Good luck out in the wilderness!”

Bruce and I were in different places regarding girls. His interests were more general; mine specific, serial. Both of us argued that the other was making a mistake and, consequently, missing out. Still grounded in an age of conformity, it never seemed to occur to either of us that, maybe, we were just different.

“We’re too young to get married,” he reminded me on a regular basis. “Plenty of time to be chained up later on.”

“Love isn’t something you decide about,” I came back. “It happens. I’m just trying to keep it. I sure as shit don’t feel chained.”

That wasn’t exactly true, but I meant to buzz off the harsh edges of it.

The hours daylight owned had expanded; winter had been pushed back. Dusk lingered in thick, intermingled shadows. The rolling woods blended into a bluish pool, their borders with the fields blurring. 

Walking along the hilly road, I noticed buildings and features that had not shown themselves in the deep dark of late autumn and early winter. Snow no longer froze into rugged borders along driveways, pushed back by hand shovels, yielding muddy, soft shoulders. Creeks gurgled under bridges, their fluid, private rhythms no longer encased under ice. The last half-mile flattened out past a couple of farms, sagging strings of barbed wire in front of trampled down pasture paralleling the road. A tower searchlight from the county airport on the next hill swept overhead. 

“I’m back,” I announced out loud to the fields and farms. 

In the humid air, my voice had no carry. My declaration dissolved into infinity. 

“That’s as alone as you can get, talking into the wind,” I added, a note to myself.

As I came up close to Ginny’s, I was reminiscing about how I'd learned to occupy myself with my own internal radio station during the hikes I’d made out here and how, alone in the dark, suspended between my life and Ginny, Nowhere Man had kept coming up like a theme. I knew lots of songs end to end, but Paul McCartney’s music always seemed to catch the tone of the night. I even tried to invoke it again, but it wasn’t in me in the same way anymore.

I paused at a safe distance from the house, willing to stand still in this moment, partly to assure myself that Ginny’s parents were definitely away, but also to get oriented, to settle back in a little. 

I was feeling around for my old groove.

This shabby, two-story shingle house, so small for the eight people who occupied it, looked much worse than it had in the dead of winter when it stood out as a harbor of warmth. The weather-beaten garage up close to the road seemed ready to collapse if an elf leaned on it. Whatever paint might once have protected it was gone. Holes had been blown and eroded out of weak spots in the wood, enough so that children could peak through in a game of Hide and Seek. The foot traffic bared strip across the front lawn, over which everyone trooped for school buses or cars, leading from the concrete slab porch to the road, looked like a representative image out of an Appalachian photo essay in Life

This unadorned front stoop witnesses every day the passage of many youngsters hopeful for a better future...” I imagined an Edward R. Murrow voice narrating a special on rural poverty....

...from The Garden of What Was and Was Not

David Stone
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