The Bridge of Popcorn Balls.

Halloween was my favorite holiday as a child.  My brother, Jeffrey, and I couldn’t wait to dress up and join the other neighborhood kids in trick-or-treating.  Jeffrey had an affinity for vampires long before the Twilight franchise, and every year he dressed as one (sans sparkle)  he got the most candy; further proof vampires are sexier.  We would come home from our door-to-door begging and dump our pumpkin pails out on the brown-looped living room carpet.  We shuffled through our candy throwing the wins back into our pails and leaving the losses on the floor.  Like traders on the floor of the stock market, the frenzy began.

“I’ve got a popcorn ball.”  Jeffrey started the trade.  “It’s an Alexander’s special, so I’ll take that Tootsie roll log and jawbreaker.”

“No way!”  I shook my head.  “The jaw breaker for the popcorn ball take it or leave it!”

“Fine.”  He threw the popcorn ball at me and I reared back to return the favor.

“No, no, Sissy, okay don’t throw it.”  He prematurely flinched.

I laughed and placed it in his hand.  “You should be the one answering to sissy.”

“Whatever.”

I eyed his stash and picked up the Tootsie roll log.  “What d’ya say this for the candy cigarettes?”

“No deal.”  He placed them in his pumpkin pail.

“C’mon!”

“Not for trade.”  He held up a small bag of M&M’s.  “For your Tootsie roll log.”

“Hmmm.”  I strategized out loud.  “Seems to me that this Tootsie roll log is in demand.”

“Whatever I don’t want it anymore.”  He put the M&M’s back in his stash.

“Liar.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Well then if you don’t want it then I think I’ll eat it now.”

“Whatever.”  He rolled his big brown eyes.  “I don’t care.”

I pretended to open it.

“Okay!  Don’t eat it.”  He pulled it from me.  “I’ll take this and give you M&M’s and whatever else you want you name it.”

I ran my hands over his stash.  “I’ll take the M&M’s and the candy cigarettes then.”

“Deal.”  He smiled unaware that he had been hosed.

I smiled completely aware. “I hate candy corn.”  I separated them from my pile.  “You want them?”

“For free?”

“Yeah but you have to give me something for free too.”

“Okay, I hate butterscotch.”  He slid three over one-after-another on the carpet.  “It tastes like butter.  I don’t like butter.”

“You nut job, it’s not made out of real butter!”

“Yes it is.”

I rolled my eyes.  “Whatever.”

We would spend half-an-hour trading candy before the real competition began.

“I bet I can eat all my candy before you can.”  He challenged.

I sized up his weight in candy.  “Okay, but we have to make it even.”

“Okay, let’s take out the big candy and eat the same amount of little candy.”  He emptied his pumpkin.

I followed his lead.  We counted out twenty pieces of smaller and equal candy and excluded the larger pieces.

“Okay, you ready?”  I asked.

He shook his head yes.

“Wait.  We have to make it interesting.”

“Like how?”  He asked.

“How about the winner gets all the candy?”

He squinted his eyes.  “Okay but then we have to switch piles to make it innersting.”

“Interesting!”

“Whatever.”  He smiled mischievously.

“No deal.”  I shook my head.

“Chicken.”  He held his hands behind him.

“Am not.”  I knew I could beat him.  “Fine, here.”

He pushed his toward me.

“Okay, ready?” I asked.

He shook his head and laughed.

“What’s so funny?”

He brought his hands in front of him and dropped the candy corn into the pile.  “You forgot to add these!”

“I hate candy corn!”

He smiled, big.  “I know but you have to do it or you lose.  On your mark.”

I was about to disagree.

“Set, go.”  He said before I had a chance.

I couldn’t lose my candy.  I stuffed my mouth in the candy-off, and we went head to head until the very last few pieces; candy corn.  He chewed them down as I nibbled on the morsel of overused corn syrup and sugar unable to swallow it down.

Jeffrey sprung to his feet and jumped around me screaming, “I won!  I won!  You lose!  You lose!  I’m getting all the candy!  I win!  I win!”

His tiny hand gripped the handle of my pumpkin pail, but I quickly gripped it  unwilling to let go.

“Hey, no fair.”  He sat down.  “We had a deal and you lost fair and square.”

“So what!”

“You’re a sore loser!”

“Am not.”

“Sore loser!”  He jumped up and started yelling.  “Sore loser!  Sore loser!”

“Fine!  Shut up!”  I rolled the plastic pumpkin pail across the floor as the candy fell out.

He ran over and picked them up one-by-one and placed them into his pail; combining the candy.

I walked over to the couch to pout, and he followed, sat beside me, and held out the popcorn ball.

“Lucky for you I’m a sore winner.”

 

 

 

Dear Jeffrey, 3 days until you’re 28…

I’ve learned that choices define you and (in more ways than even I can understand) others are contingent upon who I am to define parts of them.  Like you, Jeffrey, the choices you made while you were walking this earth presented choices that may not have been presented to me otherwise.  Some choices are poor and you can never take back, but at least they’re yours.  Though, a choice that takes away the choice of another is – in a lot of ways – a mortal sin that destroys the grace of not just the one left without choice but all those contingent upon. This becomes a domino effect of freewill genocide.

I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, and sometimes I knew good-and-well I was making them (I file these under the ‘mistakes I knew I was making’). However, today my soul rings of the voices and experiences in my life that moved me…changed me in one way or another…leading me closer to my truth.  I’m no longer in a goose hunt for truth searching frantically for instant gratification at the expense of others.  Truth journeyed into my heart.  It’s within me already and so many others contribute to it.  In so long as I am honest with myself, I’m honest with the world and putting forth energy that builds meaning.  I admire you, Jeffrey.  The energy you put forth into the world had such unequivocal grace, and that choice defines me and has become my only weapon.

Eternally grateful,

Sissy

How to save a life…

There comes a certain point in life when your life is less about ‘you’ and more about others. 

Welcome, Alisa.  Please stow your carry-on baggage under the seat in front of you or in an overhead bin.  Please take your seat and fasten your seat belt, and make sure your seat is in the upright position.  If you are seated next to an emergency exit, please read carefully the special instructions card located by your seat. If you do not wish to perform the functions described in the event of an emergency, please ask a flight attendant to reseat you.   (Looks around)  “Um, flight attendant?”

Kind of amazing to me, now, that my baggage can fit into an overhead bin or under the seat in front of me; reduced to carry-on size.  I suppose that leaves more room for another’s baggage. 

My sixteen-year old brother is visiting for the summer.  When I told a co-worker this last week his reply was, “Wow, you’re gutsy.  Did someone give you that experience when you were his age?”  It occurred to me…yes, someone did but I was eighteen and though lost I at least had a compass.  I’ve got one summer to help my brother locate a navigation system or else he’ll likely never find his way.

Step 1:  I pull out my baggage, stowed under the seat in front of me, and rummage through the contents that are left inside – the neatly folded and organized life that took a lot of work to keep the things I like and accept that which I could not change – to show him my own compass.  Maybe he won’t be impressed, but at least he’ll see that the overwhelmed is truly the most underwhelmed – unorganized and rattled beings that can’t see the path for the trees. 

Step 2: I’ll let him hold it – try it on for size – and see if that glimpse of security prompts him to find one of his own, or if he’s too far down the unbridled road.  I suspect, like most people his age, he’s got a taste of the adrenaline from entering a one way the wrong way to test his foolish theories.  The stakes are high and to control that is power in an otherwise powerless world; gotta take control of something so might as well own your own demise. 

Step 3: The millennials just don’t understand the value of a compass, do they?  C’mon gen-x’ers take a break from your innovating in the modern world and buy ’em a GPS (afterall, you likely invented it).  At every wrong turn you’ll know that it will ‘calculate back on track’ and they’ll truly never be lost in unfamiliar territory.  But, remember the one important thing…even in the deepest of places a GPS falls off-the-grid, so I hope you’ve at least passed the importance of your compass onto them for safe keeping in these times of need.

Morbid Compassion.

A designer at work passed away this morning.  Lung Cancer.  I never spoke to the lady, much, but there was something about her that told me had I talked to her it would have been welcomed.  I never did. 

I know what you’re thinking, another post about death.  It occurred to me, today, that perhaps it’s not a mild obsession with death that affects me but the experience in which it changed me.  After my brother died, I gained this spiritual connection to humanity that I never had before; compassion. 

Today when I heard about my co-worker and the gathering we were having to ‘share stories,’ I wanted to attend.  Not because I knew her well enough to have a story, per se, but because within me was this compassion for those that knew her well and loved her.  I want be there simply to pay my respects to the lady that I never spoke to and to those that thought very fondly of her.

It took three valium for me to attend my brother’s funeral. I sat there, marinating in the calm before the storm, and turned my head around to search the room.  I like to stare.  I stare and most people don’t even know, but when your loved one is the focus of the gathering it is different.  You’re the one being stared out.  I stare at people because I find them beautiful.  Sometimes not physically, but somthing about them fills in the holes in life for me; the description of my stories.  The woman I stared at for nearly an hour in the coffee shop that tried her damndest to sit with herself but was interrupted by the devices of technology.  The man that had no chivalry that I saw during my early morning train and then again in the evening – where did this man come from that has total disregard for politeness to women?  Naturally, I develop his character by assuming his mother left him and his father at a young age.  Sometimes I feel I am placed there to trigger this by tapping on his shoulder and asking how come he felt such little compassion for the old lady trying to get on the train that he would cut her off, but I never involve myself that directly into his story.  No, I just watch.  But, my brother’s funeral was different; I was the one being watched.  I turned around in my seat to stare like I was accustomed to, but I saw eyes looking at me, not judging but welcoming.  Eyes that said “I’m here when you need me.” 

My whole life I have struggled with being judgmental.  I think about my pain and the funeral and all the support I could see around me, and I wonder if this feeling I learned – compassion – could be used in more than death.  That way, if we regard each other every single day with compassion, we would initiate hello’s before it’s too late and we would show up just out of regard.  Now, I didn’t know everyone at my brother’s funeral but I did know they had a story to share and it involved my brother – regardless or not of if they actually shared it with me.

Maybe I won’t have a detailed story tomorrow at the gathering to trade stories about our coworker, but I can certainly relate to changes that death brings in people and a hope that it actually does change someone.  I find this change the most endearing change of life, but I still hope it’s not just found in death.  This I try to achieve, so I’ll go be just another eye in which someone lost was seen.

Rest in Peace Periel Tunaligil from mtv.com design.  I was the one that never said hello while you were here, but Godspeed.

What If Monster (2 of Hearts)

This morning I cried in the shower.  I felt in coming on while I was downstairs in the kitchen when the what if monster entered my mind.  Specifically, I was perusing the photos of my late brother’s ex fiancee and it was photos of her children that really caught me off guard.  It was truly like a bus landed on me.

“What if these little girls were my nieces?”

That simple question sawed me to the bone as I looked deeply into the photos for any semblance of my brother, but these were not his children.  This was not his life, and this world no longer belonged to him.  After I crawled from under the bus, I took a shower.

There are a million what if’s in the day, but when one like this latches on it really makes your world spin.  Like a domino effect, my unsettled soul lashed out at my dog that had dragged cat litter onto my freshly-made bed and then onward to work I went.  You see where this is going, right?

Now that I’ve swallowed the permanent lump in my throat named Jeffrey, at least for today, I felt another sadness for his ex fiancee.  Within the same year (2001) she lost her first love in January and her birthday celebration forever changed on September 11th.  That particular year was a tough one for us, and it lasted for five years.

It was strange to accept her Facebook request and see she had grown up, but Jeffrey will be forever young.  Time, disproportionate as it seemed, had moved on without him in more ways than one.  What if he could see it now?

I found another 2 of hearts playing card in the bustling Penn Station, a commuter hub, and as I picked it up below a man’s rushed step I knew Jeffrey was sending me love.  I guess disproportionate time is a reminder of what my finite existence here in this life cannot understand; the infinite.

My brother’s love is infinite, and I don’t expect the what if monster to leave but I suspect he showers me from above when my tears become words the heart can’t express.

2-of-hearts

Dignity

As I pack, yet again, to move to another place to put my stuff, I pack my brother’s urn into his green-velvet box with the words ‘Dignity’ written inside.  I suppose it’s the name of the boxmaker, or the company in which the funeral home orders from.  The words I only see as my little brother travels from place-to-place with me.

Dignity; an oxymoron that his few bones in that pewter urn, which were scattered over the Oklahoma mountain after decomposition from one (or two) that threw his dead body out like a sack of rotten potatoes, rests in such a capsule being that he was 6″3.

I think about that scene in Face Off where the kid, so innocent and unaware, is amidst the gunfire and chaos as Over The Rainbow” blares through his headphones.  That’s how I imagine my brother spent his last moments; innocent of the pollution around him.

Although at times I think about one of the most famous Shakespearen quotes, “Et tu, Brute?” I wonder if my brother felt the ultimate betrayal like Caesar when he realized that someone (or two) he deeply cared about was the hand that took his life, and LET ME ASSURE YOU IT WAS SOMEONE (OR TWO) THAT HE ADORED.  The moment he realized he was going to die, he also realized he was betrayed.  Can you imagine leaving the world with that knowledge?  You die alone, this much is true, but it probably feels less scary to see those you love around as you make the transition into the afterlife.  The last look of this world my innocent brother got was deception.   It makes it hard for me to not betray my opposition to capital punishment, I’ll tell you that!

It won’t be long until I unpack by brother, yet again, and read “Dignity” on his green-velvet box as I place him on my desk where he belongs; beside me as we write his story.

Soul Thinker

When I was younger I used to think the Great Thinkers of Greece had the best life setup. As my ego overcompensated for the latent insecurity, I fully resolved that truly ‘making it’ in life was to have light bulbs illuminating you to the world. After the resentment of the non-famous trickled into realization, I wallowed in self-pity and I was pretty sure life sucked.

Once I got over the fact that fame wouldn’t come and knock on my door, I gazed long enough into the abyss to understand Nietzsche. I might have believed all of his philosophy but unlike him, my search for something great was inescapable.   It wasn’t until my brother left my life that I let go of all the above, picked myself up, and looked through new eyes.  The colors came back to life and I realized that sometimes you’re not meant to think so much, rather let your mind sit shotgun to your soul.

enlightenment

Trumped!

My little brother Mark called me to tell me about his Snow Cone Stand that he was thinking of opening this summer.  I was impressed that my eleven year-old brother had done his research.  He told me if he used his dad’s camping canopy and put a table under it that he would have the stand for free.  His thriftiness caught my attention, but while I was marveling at his comprehension of overhead he pulled out the big guns and told me that he had already secured the location (in front of mom’s office) closer to the four-way stop in town and across from the busy grocery store.  The bullets just kept coming with snow cone machine price comparisons, sponsorship ideas (yes, he asked if MTV would sponsor him), and the best flavor package by price. 

What did he need me for?  I silently reminisced of being eleven but back then I didn’t even know what a sponsorship was so far be it for to interject any nostalgic ‘when I was your age’ speak.  He was hell bent on MTV sponsoring his snow cone stand.

“Sissy, you think MTV will give me any money?”

How do I delicately let him down while at the same time encouraging him?

“Hmm, I don’t think so bubby.”  I replied on beat.  “We’re pretty tapped out with the economy and all.”

“Well can you get  MTV to give me any cool music to play at Jamrok Sno Cones?” His tenacity amused me.

“I’ll get you some music,” I thought about the promo bins on our floor.

“Too bad MTV can’t give us any money, but we’ll get other sponsors.”

I couldn’t deny his ambition, “I’ll get MTV to give you some money.  How about I send you $50 to get you started.”

Essentially a check from me is from the (WO)MAN—referring to Judy McGrath, CEO MTV Networks–so in theory it was from MTV before it made it’s way to my hard-working hands.

“The check will be from me, but it comes from MTV,” I explained.

Bear in mind, he’s not your typical eleven year-old kid.  Nope, my brother is a true life genius—we’re talking MENSA.

“Sissy, I know it’s from you,” I could tell by his little voice that his eyes were rolling.  “Just send me $20.”

“$20!”  I shouted.  “That’s not how to do business.”

“I’ll send you $25,” I negotiated.

“Okay, thanks Sissy.”

One day I do know he will realize that his sister took advantage of his age, but by then I’m sure he’ll surpass me in income anyway.

marky-brad

My brother’s Missing Person Poster circa 2001

My second book is a biography based on the case of Jeffrey Ben (my brother), which I will begin interviewing, researching, recollecting, and writing about on the anniversary of what I presume was his untimely death (January 29th). In the meantime, feel free to Google his name or visit the links to the left of here and support our efforts to help find the missing.

missing-poster2

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