16 October 1989, 8:57 p.m.
And so begins my sojourn into the world of writing stories on the Apple Macintosh computer. The first stories will be classically composed, with the stereotypical climax, conflict, and other elements mentioned by Aristotle several thousand years ago.
Story ideas 1
A heartbeat. A simple heartbeat. Thuthump, thuthump. The rhythm and mystery mesmerizes us all in the quiet moments when we’re alone like a metronome or the hypnotist’s watch swinging back and forth. I remember my life not by the sweet memories and hard lessons but by how fast my heart pumped and the adrenaline flowed. Occasionally, the heart beats faster and faster until the rhythm changes. Thuthuthump, thump. Then silence, like death, creeps in. As if connected to some internal clock, however, the heart starts back up again. Thuthump, thuthump. The rates slows and all is quiet once more.
They say crack, a form of cocaine, is a killer, but like using a loaded gun, the killer is the person who takes the crack. So what does this say? The bumper sticker says, “Hugs are betters than drugs.” The need for more communication, for a clear direction – in that lies the answer to our drug problem. Why do they call it a drug problem? They should call it the drug symptom. Plants dying along a river filled with dead fish is not a problem, it is a symptom of something poisoning the water. Whoever poisoned the river is the problem. In our society, whoever poisoned the mind of the crack user is the problem. We do not want to see this, though. We want to pretend that our society, although not perfect, is not fully to blame for the drug abuse prevalent in our lives. Woe be it to us when all our rivers, lakes, streams and oceans are polluted beyond usability. Whom shall we blame? The water?
Just thinking about the sickness already spread across the land makes my heart race. Are we humans so absorbed with the comforts we’ve grown accustomed to (through exposure to mass media and the diversity of human condition in the world that we become numb to starving children and stare blank‑faced and awestruck at shows like “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”) that we choose to ignore the obvious signs of how shortlived our comforts have become? Today’s clean, strong plastic trash bag becomes tomorrow’s useless waste dump.
Look at me, all talk and no action. Instead of writing this on a piece of paper with a graphite pencil I choose to express my thoughts on a piece of equipment that absorbs/wastes more energy than is necessary to record these words. Oh well, I have already resigned myself to an early death, whether by my own hands or the hands of this destructive society. To add to this morbid view, my wife and I are facing the death of our three cats by feline leukemia, not a pretty sight to say the least.
[An aside: I must overcome the fear that someone will read the words I have yet to put on paper. No matter what happens, the truth must be recorded. Past actions make better stories than fantastic tales.]
the other one
7 November 1989, 8:31 p.m.
I remember one scene everytime I file my fingernails. Back when I was first seeing MJ, she introduced me to one of her friends, someone she said I would feel was one of us. This woman, named Frances Miller, was “a product of the 60s.” She believed there is more to life than what we see but she did not delve into philosophy like I did. She was more interested in what‑ifs ‑ possibilities beyond the present but assuming that what we see exists. Well, when Mj did not meet me for lunch I would meet Frances at the college cafeteria. We had pleasant conversations about age, dating older women, children, and other subjects that I’m trying to remember through a fog over three years old.
Anyway, one day MJ, Frances, and I decided to go out for lunch and ate at a Chinese restaurant in Morristown. At this time, Frances was unaware of my relationship with MJ. MJ nor I were ready to go public with our extramarital affair. Too many of her friends lived, worked, and shopped in the area in which we cavorted. Besides, the secrecy added to the romance. I remember Frances wore either a neat shirt/blouse or earrings at the restaurant that day because MJ was upset that I complimented Frances on her taste in clothing accessories. After we had ordered and while I was pouring hot tea for the women, Frances looked down at my hands and said, “It looks like you chew your nails and then file them.” I laughed and said yeah in the way I had learned to brush people off when I was a youth (and very self‑conscious about people seeing inside me. Even now I come to grips with sharing my inner self. I’ve learned, however, that sharing helps one survive.). I knew after laughing off my short nails that MJ and Frances did not believe that I chewed and filed my nails. I didn’t lie but I didn’t tell the truth, a fact that would weigh heavily against me later on. The funny thing was it wasn’t until months later that MJ realized that I did chew my nails and filed them afterward. Her discovery was like looking at a beautiful house only to find the owners sweep their crumbs under their Persian rug.
18 December 1989, 8:30 p.m.
She laughed without guilt. Her smile, her homely glasses, her shoulder‑length hair – vestiges of an earthly life though now she rests in heaven – all she did and said spoke of her childhood innocence. How could we know what effect one life would have on the rest of us? We were just children, still malleable, ready to face whatever came along.
Perhaps I should start at the beginning, before the pain and the tears, the weeks of crying oneself to sleep, of blaming one’s parents for the torture of losing love (for we did love her).
When young, we see the world around us without the bias of experience. Everything is new and exciting, not coated with sarcasm or doubt, and we go on to the next adventure with enthusiasm, rarely stopping to question what we see. Some of us, though, wonder. Why is 2+2 important when we see the bee at the flower? What good is a vocabulary when we don’t know what we’re saying? Who cares about history when you’re in love?
Psychologists often like to find the answer to our problems by categorizing our reactions (our “behavior,” since no one can read our thoughts) with words like schizophrenia, Oedipal complex, Type A, and utopian. Before psychologists came along we trusted our inner selves to others, perhaps a priest, a doctor, even God. To be sure, we still trust ourselves to others but mainstream America leads us to believe that psychologists can help us out of troublesome times.
My first few years of life were influenced by the fact that my father changed jobs many times thus necessitating our moving to another town. I got used to the act of my parents coming to school to pick me up and tell the teacher we were ready to move. By the time I reached third grade I had lived in four different places. I was used to making new friends and losing them quickly (some people had it rougher but this is my story after all). Kids are adaptable – they heal quickly.
When we moved to Kingsport, I was ready for third grade. Though my marks had suffered because of my tendency to stare out the window, I knew I would do better at the new school. The school was like most public schools with red brick walls, large classroom windows, slick concrete hallways, and a big playground to send kids so the teachers could take turns resting. Like most kids, I enjoyed playing on the swings, monkey bars and merry‑go‑rounds. In fact, everything about me was as normal as an 8‑year old could be. As the months progressed, I made new school friends, going to their birthday parties and playing at their houses as my parents saw fit to let me.
Growing up, I knew my parents were my friends and not just the ones who spanked me and sent me to my room without supper. I trusted to tell them about all my daily activities, telling them about what I’d done, who I’d seen and played with. I still enjoy telling them these things though I don’t talk to them as often as I used to. My parents were my psychologists, listening when appropriate and interjecting when an authoritative opinion was required.
As my third year of school passed, I met dozens of schoolmates. To this day, I try to keep up with those elementary schoolfriends who came and went through the years. Some are doctors, school teachers, spouses, and parents. One I know is an excellent artist. If we knew then what we are now, would we be the same? The luxury of foresight we don’t have and little did we know what we’d be doing the next day, let alone 20 or more years from then. Of all those schoolmates, one of them stands out, my girlfriend of three years, Rene_ Dobbs.
I owe much of what I am today to that little girl. My gift for writing began with the love notes she and I passed in class. The women I like remind me of her. My underlying melancholy comes from the last part of our relationship, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Rene_ was my first true love. “How can you know love at that age,” I have heard many times. I cannot explain what we had with words. Even our 4th grade teacher recognized that our relationship was years ahead of our age. We shared everything with each other but unlike our other schoolmates we never saw each other outside of school. Somehow, we knew not to tell our parents too much about the other. They knew we had a special friend at school but not why or how much. Ours was a once‑in‑a‑lifetime friendship, a bond between a boy and a girl that married couples have never known.
I remember our standing in line after lunch, waiting to go back to class (“Quiet, children. Walk in single file.” Our teacher was a misplaced drill sergeant.). I had been talking to another boy about his lunchbox and turned to comment to Rene_ about how long we had been waiting when she mouthed some words to me. I didn’t know what she’d said because I didn’t recognize the words. They weren’t words a third grade boy expects to hear from a third grade girl. I asked her to repeat herself and again she mouthed these strange words. We had known each other for several months and had begun to pass notes in class. Nothing we had said to each other had prepared me for what she was about to say. I asked her to repeat herself one more time and she whispered the words in my ear, “I love you.” No more honestly, sincerely, and graceful have those words been spoken. Like an angel from heaven, my angel on earth had blessed me in the best way she knew – “I love you.” Yes, armies have fallen and palaces built in the name of those three words. Of course, I answered her, “I love you, too,” like a peasant answers his lord, or a pilgrim to God. The moment shone with purity.
Well, fourth grade passed and fifth grade came along and Rene_, Rita (another close friend of Rene_), and I played together at school as much as we could. Recess period and lunch were never too soon or long enough.
Fall passed into winter and Rene_ began to miss school because she was sick. We still played together but she couldn’t run around like she used to do. She was thinner than before but still as bright and cheerful as ever. As spring approached, we planned to go to the annual sock hop on April 15th, the “Spring Fling,” where all kids from grades 5 to 9 could dance together in the gymnasium. March came and Rene_ only came for a few days of school. She said she had some sort of disease that the doctors said they could cure. Toward the end of March Rene_ entered the hospital. Our class took up money to send her flowers. I prayed at night for her to get better.
Then came April. The grass started growing and we could play outside at home after school. There was talk at school of Rene_ getting out of the hospital. Rita and I were excited about seeing Rene_ again. The days seemed like years. On April 8th, my homeroom teacher announced that Rene_ had gotten worse. A cruel classmate of mine who knew how close I was to her told me his mother, a nurse at the hospital, told him Rene_ only had a 40 percent chance to live. I was devastated and cried myself to sleep that night, not wanting to tell my parents whom I loved and trusted, that I was letting them down by feeling so wretched, that my head ached and my stomach was tied into an excruciating knot. The next day the cruel boy told me Rene_ only had a 25 percent chance to live. That night was worse. I never went to sleep. I had to hold a pillow over my face to drown out my sobbing.
Rene_ held at 25 percent for three more days. On the next day she dropped to a 10 percent chance. Rita and I still talked of the hope of Rene_ making it back to school and I still told everyone Rene_ and I were going to the sock hop together.
By the time I got to school on the 14th, the news had already spread. Rene_ had died early that morning. I don’t remember the rest of the day. My parents had to come pick me up, literally, because I had fallen on the floor crying and would not let anyone touch me. I cried nonstop for the next two days as Mom and Dad tended to me and helped me go to the wake. At the funeral home, Rene_’s mother mentioned how Rene_ had talked about me but she never knew how close Rene_ and I were. Mom and Dad agreed.
For the next two weeks, I barely slept. I did my best to keep a straight face during the day but could not hang on at night. I cried and cried and cried. It was at that time that I starting blaming my parents. Couldn’t they see how I suffered? Didn’t they know I needed their love despite my telling them that yes, I was doing all right?
From sheer exhaustion I began to sleep at night. I still cried throughout the night for the pain and anguish were still there but I was beginning to learn how to channel that pain. I started to pray at night that I could join Rene_. I asked God to do whatever it took to take me to her. I continued to pray this way for several months until one of my parents heard me say this out loud. Then Mom and Dad sat down with me and explained that we all suffer the loss of loved ones, that life can still be wonderful with the loved ones we have left.
I vowed that from that day forward I would devote my life to the name of Rene_ Dobbs. I told myself that one day someone would suffer like I had and would need the comfort and understanding of a like sufferer. Through the years I have helped other people through painful crises in their life. Now, I believe I have found someone who suffered like I have. I want you to know that for two years I cried over the loss of Rene_ but through prayer and talking to my parents I was able to overcome the pain and turn it toward good. Occasionally I get melancholy and wonder what it would be like to be with Rene_ again but know that the people here on Earth need me more.
16 January, 1990, 11:05 p.m.
Who am I to argue with the authorities when our democratic society has no authorities, only those who hold authoritative positions, experts in their fields of specialty? They know what they’re talking about. They may not make sense or come to logical conclusions but they get the job done. – RLH, words of my time
Tonight, I establish this goal:
RUN! BEAT DEATH TO THE DOOR OF MORTALITY AND SHUT IT FAST.
While many of you out there have invested in the species‑preservation goal of children, my wife and I have opted not to have children. The genetic pool has turned to froth for me. The immortality option to children I have chosen transformed itself into recycling; that is, I weighed the possibilities for myself and those around me. [I’m tired and somewhat incoherent] The first possibility raised its ugly head when I was a child. I dreamed of being a hermit, living a resource‑wise life, taking from the land only what I needed and returning what I could. Even as a child of six, I did not sing out loud. Instead, I mouthed the words to preserve what I thought was the limited number of breaths with which a person had to live. The second possibility hit me like a brick while I was in my early 20s. I realized that life is an exercise in futility. As the saying goes, “Don’t take life seriously ’cause you can’t get out alive.” I contemplated suicide, made a few halfhearted attempts to test my theory that a body is a group of cells with a collective will to live, and finally succombed to the fact that death is the challenge to life. Death is the devil incarnate. No god or image of hell is more startling than the bare image of the transformation of a living human being into bacterial fodder. Then it came to me like a thousand warmed‑over clich_s – immortality is not just a glamorous word for species‑preservation but also represents the latest in democratic trends: recycling. What we did not or cannot use today can be recycled for tomorrow’s use (or loosely translated as what we did not or cannot do can be attempted tomorrow in our children).
Glory, glory! Life is mine once more! No one can stop me but me on the path toward more vigorous recycling efforts. Janeil and I have already had our first “child” – the Huntsville Christmas Tree Recycling Project. The child lives and breathes and looks like it will live for years to come. The next child will be a doozy – the coalition called Huntsville Volunteers for Recycling Program composed of volunteer, non‑profit, service, etc. organizations that coordinate their recycling programs with the Solid Waste Disposal Authority of the City of Huntsville; thus, waste is eliminated in the effort to clean up waste.
21 February, 1990, 7:45 p.m.
I have read of those who had a vision, a dream, that lived as much as those who had the vision. Religious people like Jesus of Nazareth and Buddha left their families to pursue their visions. I understand the reasons for their leaving. As anyone knows who has had a vision or quest, only you can see what your vision entails. Others may believe the validity of your vision but don’t have the insight to the strength, vitality, or scope of this wonderful thing you carry inside your head. Depending on your personality, you may wish to control the implementation of your vision or let everyone know what you see and let them carry out their version of your vision. In my case, I am a controller. Oh, there are the psychological symptoms for this controlling desire – insecurity, paranoia et al – but this person known as Rick Hill is composed of these psychological elements and has learned to operate upon the strengths of these elements rather than their weaknesses.
Therefore, I want to encourage people to follow my lead, not slow me down with tedious suggestions or interpretations. Of course, when necessity/courtesy dictate that I stop to listen, I do so with patience to let each person know I have time to listen except in times of boring repetition. Then, I muster up as much consideration as I can and let that person know I see the point but must go on. Life is too short to smell dead roses.
Recently, I have let my wife represent me and my vision of the recycling efforts of the Huntsville–Madison County Botanical Garden. She doesn’t yet have the authority and respect I garnered because of my instant thrust of the importance of a Christmas tree recycling program in mid‑December of last year. She so wants to be a part of this that I have given her the task of putting together the folding “billboard” to be used for several exhibitions this spring. I do not doubt her ability to organize (why else would I trust her to arrange our finances) but I don’t believe she has a full grasp on what I envision for the Botanical Garden. Yes, I know, life can be described in three words – compromise, compromise, compromise. I only hope she has that burning desire critical to fulfill one’s dream.
As I stood outside the house in which my wife and I reside, I pondered the humor in what we humans have done to the so‑called natural order of things. For instance, we took what initially was intended to be a place of shelter and created a vast network of hardware stores, drapery shops, interior decorator centers, and a housing industry to support the necessity for a roof over our heads. Hmmph…aren’t we a sight for sore eyes?
Ah well, life goes on with or without our meager existence. Somewhere in between the mysteries of birth and death we try to realize something concrete. I just want to preserve some wilderness (definition: not man‑made) in my life. How about you?
28 February, 1990, 8:48 p.m.
The cycle that I once wrote about in my youth, GETBORNGOTOSCHOOL‑ MARRYHAVECHILDRENTHENDIE, plagues me still. Will I never learn to take it easy and enjoy life rather than fight with myself each day just for the right to live? After all, were we not born with the right to live? Life, they say, is a precious thing, and we should cherish each day as our last. I just want to know which day is my last day so I can sit back, relax, and wait for it to come. Life in the ‘burbs is no life at all, simply a definition of homogenous humans hugging half‑baked ideas of homelife.
I still feel I cannot put down on “paper” my true thoughts and feelings. For one thing, I know I get real depressed after reading my former writings. For another, I fear someone will label me in a derogatory manner for the words I have arranged. Also, I don’t want to offend anyone ( the ol’ Thumper syndrome). Quite frankly, I don’t expect anyone to deliberately read what I have written, not in my lifetime. I am too protective of my writings. I did not have the initiative early on to share my writings with those who would reward my creative . . . yes, I question the use of that word, too . . . my ability to arrange words in groupings intelligible to an average person. I scoff at the ready acceptance of those who have read my writing the drivel which pours forth from this depraved mind. If they only knew the ridiculous thoughts of lust, prejudice, hatred, and laziness that course through my daily stream of consciousness . . . of course, there is the flip side – what if I knew of theirs?
Does any of this really matter?
No, I suppose it doesn’t but what am I really but an observer? I dislike being the observed. Besides, how else am I going to convince my wife that I am studying for an exam.
27 March, 1990, 9:14 p.m.
The following story will consist of chapters to be composed over the next three months . . .
I didn’t want to write a story in the first person ‑ writing in this manner always gives me the impression that the writer has a self‑love problem. I have found, however, that we all tend to think more about ourselves than we’re taught to accept personally. Then again, writing in the third person makes me feel aloof, as if the person in the story is me and yet not me. To be sure, some part of me becomes a story but I . . . well, I’m not here to tell you my feelings about writing . . . I just find beginnings so hard to write.
Oh gosh, I don’t know how to tell you this. Let’s see, I remember when I first realized she was different. We were young then, much too young for real love but too mature for puppy love. We had been acquaintainces for a few years and had always enjoyed each other’s company but in each other’s eyes we were just another friend. Funny how some things don’t change. Reflecting on my thoughts of her, she is still just another friend. Even so, I can think of no other person with whom I can instantly bond mentally.
We did just about everything together in those days. We rode the bus together, ate lunch together, shared band class (in which we passed notes), and sang in a group called Sing Out Kingsport. In fact, I could think of no other existence but spending my pleasure hours with Helen. I would have had classes with her but we were one school grade apart with I being the senior student. Such was our fate and probably a good one, too, for we were like two peas from the same pod ‑ everyone expected to see Lee and Helen together ‑ had we had the same classes we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to expand our horizons.
Throughout my friendship with Helen, I noticed one thing: she was female and I was male. Ah, you say, what is the big deal about that? Well, I agree with you that two people, regardless of gender, can be good friends but somehow, be it peer pressure or hormones I found myself attracted to Helen. Publicly and privately, I spoke of my desire for her, that one day I would kiss her to prove once and for all the minute characteristic of our sexual relationship. In any case, that story will wait.
Helen, sweet Helen. How can I describe a woman that to me is the most understanding person in the world but to everyone else except her husband she is the wicked witch of East Tennessee? I don’t know how to explain this curiosity. She and I don’t talk to each other very much. Oh, I send her letters occasionally and we exchange the usual birthday and Christmas cards but we don’t communicate (in the normal social channels) like we used to do before we found our spouses. Helen defies all description by me. I see her as I see myself – I can insult myself and hurt myself but I could never really kill myself – thus, I could never give up my friendship with Helen. Despite the hurt and lies we have shared, we are the only ones who really understand each other’s mental paths.
Helen and I, we have seen more together than we could ever tell our spouses with any clarity or sanity. I have tried to tell my wife about my relationship with Helen but my wife had been hurt by Helen and has little patience to hear how close I am or have been with her.
We still keep in touch. A few days ago, I called Helen to congratulate her on her husband’s new job and their move from Kosciusko, MS to Jacksonville, FL. We talked about the usual stories – her pregnancy in the eighth month, family, and local gossip – but at the end of the conversation, as we decided to bid farewell, Helen said, “Well, have a good day,” and we laughed because we both knew without saying a word that we always wonder what to say at the end of a phone conversation because we are not family or lovers. At this moment, I can’t describe this ability to carry on a conversation without speaking. Actually, I could recite events where this has occurred but I cannot hand you a physical object and say, “Here is what our relationship looks like.” In this way only have I found life to be a mystery.
08 April, 1990, 1:22 a.m.
And so I must be honest with myself. I am a married man, a happily married man with a wife who provides all that I could ask of her. Karen cleans the house and washes the clothes most of the time; that is, I chip in one‑tenth of one percent of the housework. We have a wonderful sex life and participate in several mind games a week, have our usual emotionally‑packed arguments and help each other as best we can through depressive slumps yet . . . Helen lingers in my mind like the guest that will not leave.
Helen, well, we know that Helen is not the name she goes by but we must protect the characters we writers create. After all, one does not go around destroying the few friendships available without destroying the material for the next story.
Helen . . . when my mind slows down and stops to rest I hear the echoes of Helen in the same way that others describe God. When I am under stress or feel the need to be loved I call out Karen’s name which in the work environment I presently occupy is quite often.
How do I describe this sharing of my soul with two different women? Do I use the metaphor of wife and mistress? Since I am married to Karen then Helen would be the mistress but what is a mistress but “a woman with whom a man frequently fornicates?” By no means have Helen and I fornicated. We hesitate to hug as it is. Do I attest to the plausibility of two “wives?” I am only married to one woman according to social rules. Excluding the issue of Helen being another woman then I simply have a relationship with Helen that is based on close mental contact. My relationship with Karen entails emotional and physical trust and respect.
A college literature teacher once told me that the three basic conflicts in stories are only a reflection of the conflicts in life – man vs. God, man vs. nature, and man vs. man – all other conflicts are variations on a theme including man vs. self which represents a form of man vs. man. I disagreed then and I disagree now. Man vs. self combines the three basic forms because God/nature/man is only what we see through our senses. Therefore, because our senses are part of our selves then all conflicts boil down to man vs. self. We must determine what senses we use to resolve our conflicts.
At this moment in my life, I see my relationships with Helen and Karen through my rationale and my heart, in that order. Helen exists in that part of me that reasons out all that matters in my universe. Karen owns that part of me that belongs to family and Earth.
In the midst of my constant battle between Karen and Helen lies the problem of religion. I was raised in a Christian household. Although my parents did not attend church on a regular basis they still insisted that we learn the basics of the Bible and practice the teachings of the New Testament.
Now, as an adult, I have the ability to choose for myself the resting place of my soul. At first I denied the existence of an omniscient God. Now I have found myself leaning toward the existence of ancestral influence not just through our genetic makeup but through the ephemeral influence of past souls, especially from those of our nearest dead relatives. I understand that this really stems from my simplistic remembrance of ideal relatives but we all must establish a system of beliefs and I now rest my beliefs on this system of ancestral worship. I have to understand the social implications of allowing others to follow the worship practices of their cultures before I can fully accept the cultural practices of my WASP (white Anglo‑Saxon Protestant) upbringing.
On an aside, I find that I write best when I can prevent my brain from occupying itself with common daily interruptions by flooding my body with substances like alcohol that impair my physical abilities. At one point in time I relied on the means of illegal drugs to record my writings but find those practices too expensive monetarily and physically to justify the ends.
17 April, 1990, 7:52 a.m.
On the verge of a nervous breakdown I sit to write the following words in hopes of preventing the mental disruption of my life as a member of the corporate world as well as a friend and lover to my wife.
Last night I lay in bed as I did most of the day yesterday battling with myself over the worth of spending the daytime hours in an environment which drains my energy and life of the creativity and talents/gifts with which I was born and have been nurtured throughout my life. Battle: “Do I use my physical looks and middle‑class upbringing to live in the corporate world?” versus “Do I devote myself to the development of the inner self which flows with stories and insights to provide others in exchange for labor credits (i.e., money)?”
On the way home Sunday from our parents’ homes in East Tennessee, I told my wife that I have finally come to the realization that I have to let my inner self have some breathing space or else I see my choices in life as death vs. the corporate world (and we know that the “vs.” can easily be substituted with “=”).
So last night I decided to consult with my ancestors/God/Allah/personal gods to discover how they might help me with this predicament. I told them that I wished to die because my life, other than that with my wife, offered me no other alternative than death of self. They told me I have the choice to make, that if I choose death I must be willing to face the circumstances. They then revealed to me that in the end, we all choose to die, although there are extreme circumstances in which we are asked to let go (such as gruesome car accidents where our bodies are mangled beyond present day medical care). I was given the opportunity to see the barrier placed between life here on Earth as living flesh and the life with physical bodies. This barrier I saw as a semipermeable membrane that allows those who have completed their lives and do not carry excess baggage to pass through freely. The barrier looked thick, felt soft, and gave way or flexed quite easily because its composition, though pleasant to the touch, consisted of closely packed, fibrous material. I was told that if I chose to leave now that I will not have completed my journey on Earth and will still have baggage to get rid of – suicide carries with it the emotional heartaches of those whom I love. I was not told how I would get rid of this emotional baggage if I chose suicide but I believe I would have to return to Earth with no guarantees of the difficulty or ease with which I would have to rid myself of the baggage nor whether I would be burdened with more baggage.
I can but imagine what life without an earthly physical body would be like. I would no longer have the worries and concerns associated with this body that I occupy; that is not to say that I would not have new problems to resolve but who of us human beings is ready to learn of new worlds when we have sufficient problems on Earth to last a lifetime? The religion with which I was raised promises a heaven, a place of utmost happiness, to those who accept the divine rule of Jesus Christ/God/the Holy Spirit in their lives, even if the acceptance occurs at the last moment of life on Earth. To many, the promise of heaven provides a cushion of comfort in rough times and a light at the end of the tunnel in dark times. I believe this heaven to be the same type of existence that I saw last night. The new existence does not require one to be intelligent or gifted in any way only that you understand, have faith in, if you will, the permanence of the universe and your place in it.
21 April, 1990, 3:25 p.m.
Now I know that faith is not something that happens gradually. One moment you are a nonbeliever and the next moment you believe – thus those who believe see what the wellphrased “leap of faith” means. Those in the Christian religion in which I was raised come to believe in Christ as the Saviour and God as the Creator whereas I believe in the immortality of a living universe where life begets life and acts of kindness – that is, acts of helping another living thing – are acts of life.
Tuesday, 24 April, 1990, 8:36 p.m.
Some people say that if we could travel through time then we could not travel into the future because it does not exist. Well, a couple of days ago, while watching a movie called “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” I realized we can travel into the future because our future is someone else’s past.
I often wonder about my sanity. After reading the past couple of entries and remembering much of the writing I threw away several years ago, I know that I am not normal (“Normality is only a statistical mean to which none of us wholly belongs.” – John Weightman). On the other hand, my lifestyle reveals that I am esssentially an individual who likes to think what he will but succombs to the peer pressure that puts him in a statistically safe place in society – in other words, a normal, middle‑class American.
Tuesday, 22 May, 1990, 12:44 a.m.
A month has passed since my last entry, a month that holds few events worth making the history books but worthy of a journalist’s/diarist’s recordkeeping.
First, I have been toying with the idea that the antidepressants I am taking may be killing the creative person within me by smoothing out the peaks and valleys of the personality called Rick Hill. I had no way to prove this theory except through intuitive knowledge of my present (extrapolated into the future) lack of desire to write. I reached into the well of my self and pulled out the definition of me that I understand – “the person who sees and records that which others live” – some call such a person a writer but I am not “one who writes” but one “who sees and records.” There is a difference, you know.
Second, I have been fighting the yin/yang argument of city versus suburban living, wondering why I feel drawn to the city life with its inherent contradictions and superfluous/ubiquitous crime yet I know that my roots and the ultimate purpose of the human species belongs to the relative calm and serenity of a suburban lifestyle for families to have children who grow up in an environment of strong, consistent social values that allow the children to discover themselves without inhibitions or ultraviolent pressures. Perhaps we don’t realize the utopia we have in suburban living?
In any case, I have my destiny. I must have chaos to write or why write? I want to know why my grandfather, Horace Capps, abandoned my grandmother and her son (my father).
Monica had her baby on May 19. The baby’s name is Christina Helen Prewitt, weighed 7 lbs, 12 ounces at birth and was 20‑1/2 long. She has blond and brown hair and favors her mother’s (the Guinn) family.
Joey is in France, has been for over three months and his boyfriend/husband will be glad to have him home in a few weeks.
I offered to have a baby with Janeil and she has initially resisted.
Wednesday, 4 September, 1990, 6:50 p.m.
I have been to the psychiatric unit of a local hospital for two periods of two weeks each. The first began 3 July and lasted until 16 July; the second lasted from 20 August until 4 September. I entered the unit because of depression and suicidal ideation. Now I am cured. I no longer have to think about death to justify my life. However much I want to deny it, the only reason I have to live is my wife. I have no other raison d’etre (sp?). Comprendez vous? Je ne sais pas mais oui, life is tres ennui. What am I to do? I fancy myself a bit crazy although everyone wonders why a “together” guy like me has any problems. I suppose that is my problem, n’est pas? I have lost my lust for life. Instead, I wallow in the mud of mundane living. I want excitement but all I get is potatoes with gravy and cranberry sauce to go with my turkey.
I do not return to work until Friday so tomorrow leaves me a chance to be myself although I have an appointment with a psychiatrist to determine if I should attend group therapy. What shall I do? I don’t want to do anything that would upset my wife but I want to do something for myself. [Just between me and you, I think I would not be as concerned about my wife if I knew I didn’t have to see her everyday. However, I can’t see a way out of this predicament so I continue to hold on to my love for her since she’s the only human left that I love.]
Sunday, 9 September, 1990, 12:45 p.m.
I know what bothers me most, as has been seen throughout my references to wanting to be a nonentity, hermit, etc. I see too much the injustices of the world, how humans treat other humans as machines to be wound up and sent to march in step with the beat of the Official Drum. I do not want to call myself human. I want to wash off the dirt and filth of ten thousand years of human progress. We humans strive to be better, that is, to put ourselves in a better position for survival, but all we end up doing is building a bigger machine that one day will consume not only the earth but even us humans, the Creators. If I am to be responsible for my life, then I want all humans to be responsible for this tiny planet on which we live and not concern ourselves with trying to support the useless device we call society. Instead, I too support the United States frame of reference (i.e., society) because I am too weak to get others to see the reality of our situation; I have been supported by this society for 28 years and fear what would happen if I let go. I have no God to support me in this, only the realization that if I am to live on this planet then I want to live life my way and not the way that is offered by any given society. I am not an anarchist but I cannot find a way of life currently in existence that meets my criteria for ultimate human survival. Yes, I am looking for Utopia but I will settle for much less before I die.
Also, I need not dislike other humans for belonging to the U.S. society. As one famous person in history once was quoted as saying, “They know not what they are doing.”
Monday, 15 July, 1991, 9:00 p.m.
I have allowed myself the luxury of joining the throngs of male humans who desire and purchase a motorized transportation vehicle which has been designed for the pleasure and not the utility of driving. In other words, I bought a car for the sport of driving. In other words, I bought a sports car. In fact, I bought a red 1984 Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce with leather seats and polished wood steering wheel.
Why an Alfa Romeo? Why, indeed? Let me take you back a moment to the turn of the century. The horse and the train were no longer the sole means of transportation so men had the opportunity to design transportation vehicles that took advantage of the comfort of trains and the transportability of horses. In 1909, a group of Italian industrialists bought an auto factory on the old Portello road near Milan “to build automobiles of sporting performance.” They named their new company Anomina Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili – ALFA. Several years later, Nicola Romeo brought the company into the forefront of auto racing history. Thus, Alfa Romeo was born.
Although I was not born until 1962, decades after the automobile was born, I grew up hearing about the early days of Model As, Model Ts but most importantly about the joy of driving any car along a country road with the wind whistling, the engine puttering, and the smell of musty leather and gearbox oil in the air. When I was four years old, my father bought a 1959 Triumph TR3. He loved that car more than his family, just about. I remember the car and its shape like an ocean wave that started at the front bumper, smoothly crested midway across the hood and reached bottom near the back of the front seats, then rose again toward the rear tires and crashed into the rear bumper. To me, the curves of that car pointed toward heaven like a cross in a Christian church. I knew when I was a grownup I was going to have a car just like Dad’s.
As I have grown up, I have watched the years pass by without my owning a piece of heaven. Many times, I have struggled with the thought that perhaps I didn’t deserve a fine sports car. I would look at the car I was driving and say I was unworthy. In the early 1980s, I set my sights on a Karmann Ghia convertible, knowing I wanted more but settling for less. A few years passed during which my life was spent struggling with ideas and philosophies not founded in the reality of sports cars or normal, everyday living.
About five years ago, I found my path to heaven. I don’t remember the exact day but hope sprang eternal when I saw an Alfa Romeo Spider gliding effortlessly along the road like an angel. At that moment, I knew my materialistic mission in life: to buy, own, and thoroughly enjoy an Alfa Romeo Spider. I checked the classified ads in the local newspaper for several months but no one seemed to be selling Alfa Romeos, Spiders or otherwise. I told several people about my goal and most people told me how impractical I was since there was no Alfa dealership in Huntsville, Alabama, Alfas were known for their mechanical problems, the nearest dealerships were in Birmingham and Nashville and how could I possibly expect to take care of a car when I hardly knew where the air filter was. I think I heard every negative comment possible about owning an Alfa except no one could deny that owning an Alfa is a dream attained only by the truly inspired.
A year passed and finally my dream seemed about to come true. My wife and I found a Spider for sale in a sell‑your‑own lot. The owner was a man in his early 60s who had bought the car because his doctor told him he was going blind and he wanted to own a sports car before he could no longer drive – not quite the “little ol’ lady who only drives the car to church on Sunday” story but close enough. The man wanted to sell the car to an Alfa enthusiast like me but my money was tied up for a down payment on a house. Rationally, I knew I should wait but emotionally I was torn up. Realizing I was not getting the car felt like someone had just nailed one of my feet into a coffin.
My wife and I bought a house and settled in, spending money on wallpapering the bathrooms, landscaping the yard, a computer, a china cabinet, two Toyotas . . . everyday passed and I seemed destined to follow a road that led away from an Alfa. A few months ago we discussed replacing the little yellow Nissan Sentra I had been driving for three or four years. We decided we needed a truck to haul the landscaping mulch we seemed to use so much of in the yard. My father started looking for a truck in East Tennessee. I emphasized that I wanted a cheap truck, less than $2000, if possible, all along feeling that the truck was going to nail my other foot in the coffin.
A few weeks ago, I went with my wife to see her brother and his family for dinner. We ate a satisfying meal and I sat down in the living room to read the classified ads. I thumbed over to the truck section, marking the prospects with a pencil. I found a promising Isuzu truck for $1850 but only got an answering machine when I called. I called about another truck and got no answer at all.
I decided to scan the column marked “Other/Foreign” in hopes of finding some more trucks (though I was secretly wishing for something else). Suddenly, my heart stopped and I couldn’t breathe. There, in front of me, – or was it really there, I wasn’t sure – was an ad for a late model Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce. I called the number and asked for Phil like the ad said.
“This is Phil,” he responded cheerfully.
“I was wondering . . .” I hesitated, “do you still have that Alfa Romeo Spider?”
“Yes, it’s red and has leather interior. It’s in pretty good shape.”
“How much do you want for it?” I asked as I froze, waiting to hear his answer.
“Well, I’m asking sixty‑five hundred but I’ll take six‑thousand and I’ll bargain if you have cash.”
I quizzed him about other details of the car but I could tell by the conversation that he was the kind of person who took good care of his car. By the time I hung up the phone, I had pulled both my feet out of my imaginary coffin and was ready to find my way back to heaven.
My wife and I discussed the price of the car and decided we would make an offer after I had seen the car. I drove out to Phil’s place the next day, looked the car over and took it for a spin with Phil giving commentary from the passenger’s seat. The following day, I took Janeil to see the car. We spent several hours at Phil’s house looking at the car and talking with Phil and his wife. We worked our way to the living room and I fumbled through a conversation trying to postpone the inevitable. I felt like a guy about to kiss a girl for the first time. A rejection could be a serious blow to my wellbeing. Finally, I could hardly look Phil in the eye because of what I was about to say.
“I can, can offer you $5000,” I stuttered, managing to look him in the eye with a strained smile.
How do I describe the look in Phil’s eyes as the sound waves that left my mouth hit Phil’s ears? He looked like he had taken to heart the worst insult he had ever heard. As a fellow male human, I felt like I had betrayed him but my wife and I had agreed we needed to offer him a low price to leave us some bargaining room.
He cleared his throat. “I don’t believe I can take that low a price. I’ve invested $2100 in the car and would be taking a loss.”
I felt like walking out of the room but I wanted to save both our egos as much as possible before I left. “Well, the credit union says the loan value is $5375. In fact,” I looked at my watch and saw it was 8:15 p.m., “I can call the credit union to check and make sure.”
“Yeah,” he said in a more uplifting voice, “I’d like to do that cause I was told the loan value was more like $5800. I believe the girl’s name was Leslie.”
Our wives interrupted us to say the credit union closed at 8:00 pm. but Phil and I were determined to see this quest to the end. Of course, Phil called and no one answered.
“Why don’t you guys go home and think this over. You can drive the car all you want while you’re trying to make up your mind. I don’t believe that other family is going to buy the car real soon but I’ll let you know if they make an offer.” [Phil had informed me the day before that one other family had made serious inquiries about the car but they had to sell one of their cars before they could buy this one. From the conversation, I had gathered that the person in that family that would be driving the car was not a connoisseur of fine automobiles like Phil had gotten the impression I was.] As we left the house, Phil and his wife said they wanted to put some trees in brand‑new bare yard. My wife and I offered them some trees from our yard whenever they wanted them.
On the way home, my wife commented that she felt I had never clearly made my offer of $5375.
I talked to Phil on the phone a few days later and he said that after “going over the figures,” he could offer me the car for $5750. I thanked him. Meanwhile, he had expressed an interest in working for ADS where I worked because he was fluent in French and ADS was beginning to expand into France. He brought his resum_ by work a day or so later and I gave it to one of the company founders who was handling the French project.
A week or so passed and Phil called me one morning at work. He asked if I was still interested because the other family was. I told him my wife and I had decided we couldn’t afford the car. I repeated the conversation to my wife later in the day and she reminded me that I had never officially offered him $5375. I called Phil’s office and left a message that if the other family lost interest, I could offer $5375.
By chance, the Nissan died on the way home. Driving back and forth to work during the past two weeks, I had had problems with the Nissan sputtering, dying, and starting back up while at highway speeds. I got my wife to pick me up. As we drove home, I told her I made an offer of $5375. She shocked me by stating that she thought we had discussed going up to $5500. As soon as we got home I called Phil’s house and left a message on his answering machine offering him the $5500.
They say you know the moment when the light from heaven shines down on you and blesses your life for eternity. Well, the light came on after I anxiously grabbed up the phone after only one ring.
“Rick, this is Phil. I accept your offer.”
Millions of slot machines in my head hit jackpot at the same time. Giant boulders fell off my shoulder. I looked over at my wife and excitedly whispered, “It’s Phil. He accepts the offer.”
Needless to say, I have my piece of heaven now. If tomorrow someone took the car away from me, it wouldn’t matter. I have physically been able to get my hands on my dream and make it 100% reality.
Wednesday, 24 July, 1991, 10:00 p.m.
It always starts out innocently – at least, that’s what they say. You begin with a simple “Hello, my name is Bob,” then shake hands or nod, as local customs allow. Perhaps later you bump into each other coming around a corner or you recognize one another at the grocery store. The first meeting is awkward because you sense the unusual tension between you and that woman who was only a stranger a little while ago. You meet again, only this time getting up the courage to strike up a light conversation before you part.
The hours and days stack up like firewood, ready for you to stoke the embers from previous loves forlorn and lost. In the meantime, you forget her name although you occasionally see her face in a dream.
One day, you get to work early and see her kissing a guy goodbye. You stare in amazement as you realize the guy she’s kissing is a coworker with an office not far from yours. You watch her step off the curb, walk three or four steps to her car, and step in. As she drives past you, she takes a double look and then waves. All you can remember is the look of recognition beaming from her face.
Wednesday, 4 September, 1991, 1:06 a.m.
Many interesting events have occurred worth recording ‑ if only I wasn’t tired I would go into more detail. My family put together a surprise 35th anniversary reception for my parents on Sunday, 1 September, 1991. Somewhere between 70 to 100 people attended, including members of the wedding party: the maid of honor, Audrey Ferguson Blevins, the best man, Philip Bradfute, a groomsman, Ralph Teffeteller, the minister, Gordon Teffeteller, a flower girl, Cindy Teffeteller Davidson, and at least two women who served at the reception, Polly Pollard Teffeteller and Jo Malone(?).
On Tuesday, 3 September, 1991, my father, Richard Lee Hill, formerly Richard Horace Capps, was diagnosed with cancer in the prostate gland. He must decide whether to have the cancerous growth removed surgically or reduced with radiation. He will have a bone scan performed later this week to determine if the cancer has spread beyond the prostate gland. My grandmother, Thelma Eldridge Capps Hill Hirth (she has been married three times), who has been visiting with me since Thursday, cried intensely for approximately 30 minutes after she got off the phone with my father. I called my sister afterward and learned she had done the same. I received the news with a sickening feeling of dread in my stomach and after a moment of imagining that my father will die one day which may be sooner than I think, I decided not to dwell on the negative aspect of death and dying and concentrate instead on positive, realistic thoughts that I accept the cycle of life/death despite my reservations of the possibilities of an afterlife.
On a similar note, I have been pondering the afterlife to better understand my mortality and my place in this world. I may have mentioned that I have had two experiences which I attribute to a contact with the afterworld, if I accept the afterworld being an existence that extends beyond the physical plane (that is, my being a living example of Homo sapiens) in which I place myself at this time. If I have not, the first experience occurred in the fall of 1981 while I was an employee of Montgomery Ward. I was stacking notebooks on a shelf when a voice that sounded like my grandmother (my mother’s mother) said, “Don’t do anything that you would regret or would upset me.” The second experience occurred in the summer of 1990 when I was thinking about trying to kill myself by not breathing. Suddenly, I was shown that the wall between life on Earth and the next life (or death, as we call it on Earth) is like a two‑foot thick pillow. Those who have lived a good life, a life that has perpetuated life, will pass through the pillow as if through air. Those who carry a burden or who have lived a bad life, a life that has caused unnecessary pain, suffering and death, will pass through the pillow with difficulty or not at all. The ones who were showing me this image told me that I could choose to give up living at any time but I must be willing to face the consequences of carrying the burden of the emotions of those who I have hurt by killing myself. I was given hints or cloudy images of the other side of the wall but did not completely understand them at that time.
Ever since those two experiences occurred, I have given much thought to the way I act in life. I have wondered what the next stage of my existence, if any, will be. After watching my grandmother (my father’s mother), I have understood. Now I will try to explain.
In the Christian religion under which I was raised, followers learn to accept by faith the existence of two places people’s souls go after death according to their sins (sins being the desire for earthly things), heaven (where sinners are forgiven) and hell (where sinners are punished). In Hinduism, followers learn to accept life as a series of incarnations to prepare the soul for the passage to nirvana, where souls go that have no earthly desires. In my understanding of the afterlife, we all pass into the afterlife where our souls are bared for all to see. Some of us cannot stand for others to see what our souls are made of and are tormented by our lack of ability to completely share our previous lives’ experiences that make up our souls ‑ this is the Christian hell and perhaps these people are given the ability to bare their souls by occupying or overseeing a body on Earth. For those who can open their souls for all to see, the transition from life on Earth to the next life is accepted with open arms and souls. My understanding comes not from original thought but through the influence of my experiences which include readings of the Christian Bible, the Islamic Koran, the Bhagavad Gita of Hinduism, “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” by Richard Bach and my afterlife experiences. I accept my understanding of an afterlife with the leap of faith that my knowledge of scientific study cannot explain.
Friday, 6 September, 1991, 8:07 p.m.
I shall remember to record the life of my grandmother’s third husband, Clarence Hirth. Ah, what the hell, I might as well do it now.
My grandmother and her husband Clarence came to visit my wife and me. During their visit, I got to sit down and learn more about Clarence. I had previously only thought he liked to watch major league baseball and was a Notre Dame fan.
Clarence Hirth was born in 1912 and grew up in Connecticut, not too far from Hartford. He was the fourth of eleven children in the Hirth household; therefore, his father made him quit school when he was 14 years old like the three children before him and go to work at the post office for 44 hours per week, having to work half a day on Saturday. He made about $11 per week, not bad considering his father made $25 per week. Clarence worked in the main office selling stamps at the window. He was considered quite good and was sent to a branch office located in the building of a company that distributed advertising pamphlets and mailers nationwide. Clarence’s job was to price the “piece mail” by weighing 50 representative copies of the mailings and determining a bulk rate. The company had its own idea of what the bulk rate should be and would often ask Clarence to reweigh the mailings. He could not bring the price down if the weight was the same because, “of course, the post office cannot change its bulk rate prices.” Instead, the company would try to find another printer in the city that could print on thinner paper. “Sometimes,” Clarence stated with pride in the retelling of this history, “these companies would even hafta go outside of the city to find a printer who would print on thin enough paper,” dropping the “r” in many of the words he spoke.
Clarence was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1941. He spent 13 weeks in basic training and another 6 weeks in clerk school. He was sent to the Pacific Theater during World War II and spent 28 months overseas. He fought on Guadalcanal, the Solomon Islands, and several other islands I can’t recall at this time. The soldiers were not allowed to fire their guns at night because the jungle was too thick – often, U.S. soldiers could see the Japanese soldiers walking within 20 feet of their position but could do nothing.
Being in the infantry, Clarence saw front line action. For this, he earned the Bronze Star. On the not so gutsy side, Clarence’s infantry troop was forced to march 30 miles through the jungle. “We could drop out at any time. But if the medic came up and found you were still able to march, they just left you there.” He emphasized, “And we were carrying our full gear, packs and everything.” Clarence made the full trek. During the march his boots would expand and contract by getting soaking wet in the mud and then drying out in the sun. By the time he finished the march, his right foot looked four times its normal size. “It was all black and blue. The doctor said I had jungle rot and because the humidity and all was so bad I could lose my foot.” Clarence was sent to New Caledonia to recover.
Clarence left the Army in 1945 and went to work at a typewriter factory. He spent the next couple of years taking a nighttime correspondence course to prepare for three exams to qualify him to work for the post office. The first two exams had to be passed before the third one could be taken. The first time Clarence took the two tests, he figures he failed one because they would not let him take the third. On the second try, he passed the two tests and got a 75 on the third. His brother, who was head of the local post office, told him the score was too low. Clarence took the tests one last time and got an 89. He was hired and worked for the U.S. Postal Service until his retirement in 1977.
Clarence married his first wife in 1947. They had four children.
In 1971, Clarence bought two piece of property in a subdivision in Florida, a corner lot and an adjacent lot, for $2500 and $2800, respectively. He paid off the property in 1979. During this time, his wife began working for Pratt and Whitney as a factory worker. She told Clarence she had to start working on Saturdays. “‘Look,’ I told her, ‘why are you working on Saturdays. It ain’t like you’re that important. You just work on the assembly line.’ I knew she wasn’t workin’ but I didn’t know she was seein’ a guy, either.”
A few months after he and wife moved to Florida, Clarence got a summons in the mail. He looked at it. “Go and ahead and open it,” his wife plodded. Clarence opened the paper and stared in amazement.
“What is this?”
“I’m filing for divorce.”
Both lawyers told Clarence to go ahead with everything his wife demanded. Clarence decided instead to let the judge decide and by doing so he got $4000 more than he expected. And just in the nick of time – his doctor told him he needed cataract surgery with a $2500 payment up front.
Although he knew it was coming, one day he came home and found the house empty. “They had taken everything.” His ex‑wife took the last of her belongings and then some. “I didn’t care,” Clarence said waving his arm as if throwing something to the ground, “I didn’t want to see any more of that stuff.” Clarence took the remaining $1500 and went bargain hunting for furniture. He found a bed at one place and strapped it to the top of his car.
“Do you think it’s secure?” he asked one of the salesmen.
“If it falls off, you’ll be the first one it happened to.”
“Do you think the police’ll cause me any trouble?”
“Just stay to the right side of the road, take it slow and they’ll leave you alone.”
Clarence told an amusing story about another find. He often scanned the newspaper for good buys. Checking out one of these ads, he came to a house where a lady had a “chester drawers” painted an ugly green. “The lady told me she wanted $40. I said that was too much and offered her $20. ‘Where’s your car,’ she said.” We both laughed as he finished the story.
Clarence told me more details about the financial dealings surrounding the divorce and some problems with one of his sons which I may record one day. Unfortunately, I didn’t take notes and can’t remember the details accurately.
He married my grandmother in 1983 and seems to maintain a joyful marriage.
An active bowler since his teens, Clarence was senior state champion of Connecticut for the year 1979‑80. He continues to bowl to this day and also keeps in shape by getting up at 6:00 a.m. each day and walking three miles.