Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I have been weighed on the scales and found wanting

Today on my way to work I came across a dead man.

I take the FrontRunner train to work in the mornings, get off at the Salt Lake Central Station and usually take the Trax commuter rail in to my office that sits on 2nd South and Main, but some days I walk. Today I walked. About a block past the Gateway Shopping Center on 2nd South I saw a body lying motionless. My first impression was that it might be some sort of mannequin or dummy. It’s early for Halloween decorations, but thoughts of the scarecrows my dad used to make and place on our front porch for trick-or-treaters came to mind. As I drew closer I realized it definitely was not a decoration. It was a man, late sixties, unshaven, in a black t-shirt and red flannel shirt, jeans, and tennis shoes.

I wanted to keep walking.

I’m not proud of it, quite frankly I’m ashamed of it, but it was my first impulse.

I didn’t keep walking. I stopped; spoke to him to see if he would respond. I felt his hand; it was still warm. I felt briefly for a pulse but didn’t find one. I called 911.
Police showed up about the time I got off the phone with 911. He first tried to get a response from the man. When he didn’t get one he put on his gloves and started checking pockets for medical information and identification. He found an inhaler in the man’s right shirt pocket and cigarettes in the left. Found a large wallet in his rear pant pocket full of cards but no cash.
The first responders then arrived and hooked up what I assume to be an EKG to his chest. They asked how long I’d been there, which by this time had been about ten minutes, and then took out a sheet to cover the man.

I don’t know CPR. I learned it when I was 14 and again when I was 16, but I haven’t been refreshed since. Had it been someone I knew and loved I probably would have tried, but given the circumstances I felt afraid, confused, and mostly just totally powerless. What shames me is the fact that when I realized the man was dead, I was relieved I didn’t know CPR. I should have at least wanted to be able to help the man, but instead I was relieved I didn’t have that responsibility. Now that I’ve had time to reflect, I’m sickened by this.
I don’t know what the proper protocol should be in that situation. The man had been there for at least five minutes or I would have seen him fall. He probably hadn’t been there for more than 15, I assume, because someone else probably would have spotted him. Also he still felt rather warm when I checked his pulse. I don’t really know if it would have been advisable to perform CPR even if I were competent, but that’s not really the point. What scares me is that I found out this morning that when it comes down to it my fear is greater than my desire to help. I think of myself as someone who wants to help those around him, but when it came down to it I didn’t only lack the ability to help but also the desire. I'm not exactly a hurried Levite, but I also don't qualify as a Good Samaritan.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

When do we become irrelevant?

A couple months ago I was listening to Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes, the newest album from 1980s Punk band Social Distortion. I loved the sound. Mike Ness did what I had imagined impossible: make an album that is a good fusion of folk/country with punk.
Of course it’s not exactly as if this were the first time Ness has done this. It’s kind of what he does. It just amazes me every time that it can be done.
At any rate, I really enjoyed the album. It is an album that is very easy to listen from beginning to end – an attribute that I appreciate. It has sounds reminiscent of older Rolling Stones, especially the tracks that feature female backup singers. It is fun and it feels real.
--------------------------------------------------

I attended High School in rural northern Utah. It was a backwards place, where in the end years of the 90s it was still common to hear people listening to Guns n’ Roses, Bon Jovi, Metallica, Def Leppard, and even Poison. Sometimes I was one of those people.
In 1996 Def Leppard came out with a new sound album – Slang. It was awful. It had no heart, it had no soul. It was full of trite lyrics and heavier bass lines. The band tried to repent and in 1999 they came out with an album that was a return to form – Euphoria. It was worse: More trite lyrics on top of guitar riffs that were 10 years out of place. It was completely and helplessly irrelevant.
In 1997 Metallica released Reload (I actually like Load . . . I know, I know . . . but I’m going to leave it alone just the same). It wasn’t their old music and it wasn’t good – weaker guitar riffs, less screaming, more guttural non-singing. Then in 2003 they came out with their newer sound – St. Anger. Oh my hell how did that abomination happen? It is completely un-listen-to-able: Light on the bass drum, heavy on the cowbell . . . even more useless guttural non-singing, songs that drift from one idea to the next without definition and completely without reason. Irrelevant.
---------------------------------------------------

Today on my way to work I streamed Foo Fighters new album Wasting Light. It’s good. I have only listened to the first handful of tracks, but it starts like a Foo Fighters’ album should – heavy and loud. It then drifts between hard rock anthems and rock ballads. It is heavy but optimistic.
The horrific thought occurs to me. There were die-hard fans of Def Leppard that loved Slang and Euphoria. There existed aficionados of anything-Metallica that would actually claim St. Anger was good – and hold a straight face while they said it.
Have my musical tastes become helplessly irrelevant?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Our Engagement Story

About six months before I came home from my mission I got a letter from A (my previous girlfriend, at the time of my mission "friend", and now and forever wife). It informed me that her mother was hoping I would extend. She wasn't ready for me to come home yet. This here is what we accomplished writers refer to as "foreshadowing".

Before my mission I dated A. That in itself is a long epic journey that will be told another time. We had some great stories. We went skydiving in Vegas for her birthday. We went to Malibu a couple weeks before I left. We were skiing/snowboarding and wakeboarding buddies.
As I was leaving I told her that I wanted her to date other guys. I didn't want her waiting for me (and I knew she probably wouldn't exactly "wait" for me anyway). But I did want to date her again if she were still single when I got home. Turns out she pretty much had the same idea in mind.
We wrote the whole time I was gone. She even drove to my parent’s house to say hi to me on the telephone on Mother's Day and Christmas.

I hadn't told A when I would be coming home. She obviously knew more or less the month, but I wanted to surprise her. I got released, took a shower, threw on some cologne, borrowed my parent's Expedition, and drove over to Logan. I stopped by Chili's where she was waitressing, and luckily for both of us she wasn't working that night. I called her mom to get her address and headed to her house. I knocked on the door, heard some talking and some giggling, and C (A's sister/roommate) opened the door, screams, and slams the door. Three seconds later the door burst open to more screaming, and A pretty much tackled me.

Things moved quickly for A and me. We were in love and we loved being together. Both of us had imagined we would be at least 25, if not older, before we ever thought about marriage. We were both independent people, and very much enjoyed being single. But conversations quickly turned to marriage, and then things got ugly fast.
C was the first to turn to "the dark side" writing A a five page letter about how she thought A was spending too much time with me, and how she wasn't the same person she used to be (three months can really change a person). She doesn't "have a good feeling" about me.
Her family started forming a united front against me. This was particularly difficult since I was living in Los Angeles going to school, and sometimes distance does not, in fact, make the heart grow stronger.
Rumors started to circulate. A's sisters got word that my best friend D had made the comment "If Brandon ever tried to marry my sister, there is no way I would let him." She, being proactive, decided to verify this with D, and got the response "Are you kidding me, I love B. I'd be thrilled if he wanted to marry my sister." A's sisters got word that my own sister said that she thought that A was too good for me and deserved better. Again she decided to verify, and found out that my sister had said nothing like that and thought I was indeed a good person. I didn’t know about any of this at the time.

In the meantime, I moved back to Utah for the summer. I started looking at diamonds and setting some money aside. We had already spent some time looking at rings months before, and I had a pretty good idea what she wanted. I wanted to do something more personal, so when I found the right diamond at the right price (in the ugliest setting I'd ever seen), I had my uncle the jeweler cut it out of the setting. And we went to work designing a more appropriate setting. I drew pictures and he molded wax. After it was cast, he spent a day hammering the diamond into place (he was much more experienced with opal than diamond, but he learned as he went). It turned out, in my opinion, perfect.

It started to become more and more apparent to me that A’s family didn’t like me. She talked about it, and sometimes cried about it. I decided to talk to her mom to try and get a pulse of the situation. During our conversation she informed me that she had prayed about us being together, and didn’t feel it was right.
Being a recently returned missionary, this baffled me. I was a good person. A was a good person. We were very much in love, and had known each other by this point for over five years. We felt good about marriage and it didn’t seem like we were rushing into anything. I even felt I had received spiritual confirmation. Sadly, family approval was a very important factor for A. She loved her family and felt that their input should be seriously considered. So we slowed down and I tried to give her time to think about it.
Weeks passed, even a couple months, and we were still inseparable. We not only loved being together, we loved doing things together. I decided it was time to go for it.

At the time I was very traditional. I still am a conservative person to some degree, but much less so than I was the first year after my mission. I felt it was important, as a show of respect, to ask her father’s blessing before proposing. I had a proposal all figured out. We were going to go on a drive to the top of Willard Peak, eat a picnic dinner, and I would propose as the sun set, looking down from Inspiration Point. It was a Saturday and I ran into her father at the gym that we both went to. I asked if I could come by his house and talk to him. He said yes.
I stopped by around noon and we sat in the front room of their house, no one else was home. I explained that I was very much in love with his daughter and wanted to propose to her. He said no. I was very taken aback. I tried to ask why he disapproved of us being together. I was going to college (a fairly well respected one, at that). I was rather independent, a hard worker, religious, a returned missionary, and I treated his daughter with love and respect. . .
I came to find out that afternoon, over the course of an hour and amid a heated monologue laced with expletives, that I was in fact a disrespectful, wild, arrogant, oversexed jerk. That when he came to my homecoming a year earlier that he at no time felt the spirit while I spoke. He told me that their family didn’t like me at all and he couldn’t understand why I would want to be part of a family that didn’t want me. He told me that his 22 year old daughter was far too young to be married, and that we were immature and na├»ve. He told me that A was not the same person she used to be, and that I was manipulative and I was changing A, and the family didn’t like that. Somewhere near an hour into this “discussion” A came home to find us talking. Quickly realized what was happening and that it was not going well, and ran out of the house crying. Her dad looked at me and said something to the effect “see what you did?”
I left angry, hurt, and devastated. I knew they didn’t really like me, but it hadn’t occurred to me until this point just how much they hated me. Looking back I realize that it was mostly fear. A being the oldest daughter, and in many ways the glue that held the family together, was something they weren’t ready to lose. I being a strong willed, intelligent, dry-humored person was not who they expected to lose her to, either. But I didn’t see this at the time; I just felt the rejection and the anger. I went home and my dad could easily read the emotions on my face. I said “can we go shoot something?” He grabbed his Kimber 1911, a couple magazines, and some cans and we headed up Rocky Dugway to a clearing. I was too angry to even put in earplugs and I shot through some hundred rounds while I explained everything to my dad. I couldn’t hear very well for a week after due to the ringing in my ears, but I was calmed down. We drove home. Soon A showed up at my house, still looking distressed. We went downstairs and started to talk when my dad came in and said they wanted to discuss some things with us. My parents sat us down and explained how much they loved A, how they thought we were great together, and how they would support us no matter what we chose to do. They took us out to dinner and we talked for a couple more hours. Then we went back to my parents house and A and I went down to my bedroom, sat down on the bed, and both passed out from emotional exhaustion. We woke back up around 2 am, I got out the flowers I had bought for her, got down on one knee, and proposed. Looking back I probably should have waited. Neither of us were in the right mindset and we were both confused and exhausted. She said yes. We were engaged. The next morning my parents congratulated us and I got ready for work while A went home.

That engagement lasted 3 days. She never told her parents she was engaged, and she broke up with me and gave the ring back with tears streaming down her face. I bought a motorcycle I had passed up (trying to be more responsible, preparing for marriage) the next day and felt a little better.

Two weeks passed and we didn’t see each other or even talk to each other. I was mostly miserable, and spent a lot of time sleeping and watching TV.
Finally July 1st, I had to talk to her. It’d been too long. I called her to see how she was doing. She’d been pretty depressed herself. I asked if she had any plans for the fourth, she said she was going to the fireworks with her family at USU on the second. I was going with my friends as well. I asked if she wanted to meet up afterword. She very much wanted to.
After the fireworks I found her and we walked to the parking lot. I introduced her to my new two-wheeled best friend. She wanted to go for a ride. I gave her my helmet and we headed to Bear Lake.
July tends to be a warm month in Utah. That is until you reach altitudes around 6000 feet after midnight. Then it can be a little frigid when you’re traveling 70 mph, even with leathers on. We were cold by the time we got to Bear Lake. We sat on the shore, watched the moon, and just talked. We laughed a lot that night, it was the first time either of us felt like laughing in two weeks. We were friends again.
In some ways that motorcycle ride saved our relationship. In some ways it was the smartest thing I ever did and it is a treasured memory.
In other ways, it was probably the stupidest thing I’ve ever done. By the time we decided that we either needed to find a place to stay or head home it was freezing and all the hotels were closed. We should have waited until the sun came up, but we started heading back. I being on front, and having given my leather jacket to A, was colder than I’ve ever been in my life. I was also pretty tired from the cold, and being about 5 am, it is possible that I dozed off once or twice on the drive home. That isn’t very safe while operating a motorcycle. I pulled over at least once to do jumping jacks.

Two days later I headed up Willard Peak with some friends to watch the fireworks in the valley below, and A came along. From that point you can see every firework show from Salt Lake to Brigham City. They aren’t incredibly impressive, but it is worth seeing once in your life. A and I discussed some things that desperately needed to be said. She wanted to start dating again. I explained that up until we broke up I had carried the weight of the relationship. I had been the one trying to make things work, and maybe to an extent I was trying to force something to happen. I had understood the pressure from her family, and how stressful it was to like me while her family, who she respected, hated me. I had been fine carrying the relationship, but I couldn’t do it any longer. It wasn’t fair to her, and it really wasn’t fair to me. I was fine if she wanted to start actually dating again, but it was going to have to be her that made it work this time. She agreed.

The next month and a half flew by, and frankly I don’t remember much of it. I’d like to say that A’s family started liking me, and approved of our dating, but they didn’t. On the other hand A wasn’t affected by it. She decided that she no longer cared what her family thought of us. She had thought about it, and she wanted to be with me, and she felt good about our relationship and our future. That was enough.

My friends and I planned a trip to Lake Powell. We were all going down for a week. We were about 6 couples, a couple singles, and my dad (the captain), a houseboat, two ski boats, two sit-down PWCs, and a stand-up JetSki. It was a blast. I was a little stressed and probably more irritable than I should have been, but that was probably because I had a diamond ring in my duffel bag. I was so gun shy I didn’t know if I could bring it out again.
Friday I asked A if she wanted to go on a hike. She said she was down, and we decided that the evening was the best time to hike because it was too hot during the day. As the sun was starting to set we took a PWC across the channel, parked it in a small cove, and hiked up the slickrock. We didn’t hike very far, but stopped at a spot that overlooks Halls Creek Bay and Halls Crossing Marina. We just sat there while I tried to work up the courage to possibly get rejected again. Finally after about an hour I reached into my sock, put the ring on my pinky, and shifted onto my knee. I looked her in the eyes, told her she was my best friend, that I loved her, and that I wanted to spend eternity with her. She told me I was her best friend and that she would love to.

Credits.

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

Epilogue: Her family approves of me now. Some of her sisters even love me. Her mom and I have never had the strongest relationship, but we are respectful toward each other. C doesn’t particularly like me personally, but she does like the way I treat her sister and admits that we have a great marriage. A’s dad, about two years after our wedding, told me that he was sorry for the way he acted before we were married. He told me that he thought I was a good guy, I treated A well, and that he was wrong. That apology meant the world to me.