Diversity in Books (Radio Show)

I am the host of a Saturday Afternoon Radio Show for Beaten Track Radio. This is last week’s show, “Funk with Freddie.” The subject was over Diversity in books.

Listen here:

Join us this week at 12 noon CST (5 p.m. GST) as we delve more into the subject of books and music.

www.beatentrackradio.com

((The opinions are not necessarily those of the radio station))

radioshow pic

 

#OwnVoices need publishers to focus on them (LGBT)

caitlyn-wilson-230614-unsplash

 

unsplash-logoCaitlyn Wilson

With the recent fallout concerning the publisher Riptide as well as the fallout around Santino Hassell, there has been an exposure of underlying issues in the m/m romance genre.

These issues include racism, misandry, bi-erasure, trans-erasure, and oddly enough, homophobia inside these books.

Furthermore, there are issues that gay men deal with specifically such as conversion therapy and other such things that authors use as a plot device. Due mostly to the rules of romance combined with privilege, these serious issues are often overlooked or oversimplified.

This is detrimental to the subject matter because it gives the reader the wrong ideas about many aspects and it’s detrimental to the LGBT person who reads this and wonders just how so much could be so wrong in the world.

There are those out there who have no problem participating in the creation of work that perpetuates stereotypes, whitewashes homosexual relationships to make them more palatable, ignores People of Color in gay relationships, writes subjects without doing their due diligence in regards to what gay men experience (The Preacher’s Son), and this idea that fantasy has any business overriding the reality of many.

These issues, including others, are deeply rooted in the genre of m/m romance. They’ve caused widespread arguments before, there have been flare-ups before this, but nothing quite this bad or widespread.

Yet, the problem hasn’t gone away.

Nor will it go away.

Mostly, because like a festering boil, or like a bad tooth, the pain won’t go away until the root cause of the problem is dealt with.

I used to think that this is an issue that could be solved with simple conscientiousness. Yet, I think I may have changed my mind on this. I don’t think that’s enough.

We need publishers or a publisher to focus on LGBT stories from LGBT people – specifically. Whether that is an imprint or a publisher whose sole purpose is to produce this or publishing houses who have a diverse staff prepared to deal with these stories, specifically.

#Ourvoices

Our stories from people who are inside the spectrum of LGBT be they romantic stories or otherwise.

While I think people from all walks of life have a right to write what they want, we need our place to write what we know. What we’ve lived. What we’ve gone through. What we’re still going through. How we see the world.

We need a place to gather specifically for the creation of LGBT work by LGBT individuals.

Right now gay people and gay people’s lives are being used to profit everyone but gay people. That isn’t fair.

#Ourvoices need to be heard. #Ourvoices are important, too. #Ourvoices ought to have a place of their own to grow and flourish.

 

The Santino Hassell of it all

hell no

 

I feel the need to explain some stuff and express some opinion in regards of this most recent fallout. I also want to point out a glaring elephant in the room.  A conversation, not a debate, not a flame war, not anything but a calm conversation needs to happen in regard to what’s happening inside the genre and how to go forward.

There are no men in m/m romance who make that kind of money but 1 or 2.
That’s it.
This isn’t us.
We didn’t do this.
This isn’t somehow related to us other than us being used to excuse bad behavior from those who are ultimately responsible.
Josh Lanyon wasn’t a man.
Hassel, come to find out, wasn’t a man.
I’ve read trans male work – their work is masculine in tone. You can read it in their work.
Gay men aren’t out here deceiving you. We’re not out here making boat tons of money or asking for donations for make-believe illnesses.
We’re not so caught up in the small amount of fame that m/m brings that we need to get a street team together to shut down inquiring minds or boycott authors.
Why?
Because we’re not that popular.
This isn’t us.
This was about sales.
This was about deception.
This was about cruelty.
This was about infidelity to the readers.
This was about throwing gay men under the bus.

This isn’t about misogyny internalized or otherwise.
This was women being shitty to women and there’s no excuse. This is was someone, a woman, who catfished – the worst being a young gay man named Noah who Hassel got close to, pretended a relationship with, only to turn around and write about his experiences without telling him which is sexually manipulative and abusive.  Apparently, he wasn’t the only one.

And the hassell of it all, is, that this was about turf. At the end of the day, that’s what this was about. This was a turf war. It was about money.

They’d made a brand. They sold the brand. Then they made damn sure that the brand couldn’t be brought down by being a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Y’all gotta stop following these authors like they’re God and you’re their disciple.
This a person.
Sure he/she may be a talented author.
Sure, they write stuff that makes your heart feel things.
Yet at the end of the day, this is a person and these cults of personality spring up around a person and it becomes crazy to see when so said person falls from grace. 
And it happens EVERY. FREAKING. TIME.
Read a book, enjoy the book, review the book, and move on.
There are popular people who act shitty and do bad things and then they do good things.
There are unknown people who do good things and fuck up once…
mostly, there are just people being people.
I get having to write under a pen name.
Some people can’t expose who they are or what they do for a living because of conflicts of interest or personal issues.
That being said, always take a person online with some measure of suspicion unless you know that person personally.
I feel bad for anyone who got hurt. I feel bad for people who may have sent people money in a catfish scam.
There are some really tender hearted folks out there who mean to do the best.
Then again there are people out there who prey on this very thing.
They make the reader/ fan feel special and so the reader/ fan wants to do something special or important for them.
Yet you do. You read their books, you review their books, and share with friends.
That’s a lot, already.
If someone requests money for a certain thing or asks help with a certain thing, they doggone better be able to validate who they are to ensure people that they’re not into scamming others out of their hard-earned money.
IF what is being said is true, it’s pretty despicable yet not all the fault can be laid at this person’s feet.
This has happened way too many times for people to be shocked.
Stop falling for it.

 

Book Sale for Closer

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/775332
 
Available in Ebook and Paperback. Audio coming soon!
 
“Gripping, creepy, and plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing.”
 
“An incredibly well-devised page turner. “
 
“If you like your love stories with a supernatural element, you should like this one.”
 
My new novel, Closer, is on sale for 3.00 at Smashwords. Follow this link and the code is RAE50 before you check out.
 
WATCH THE TRAILER: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1DrBTMHs0o

Coming To (poem)

Coming To

An F.e.Feeley Jr / Dan Stone poem

Him:

I’m giving back the ring.
It’s the last “no” to the questions
we could never answer,
the ones we never asked.
The last step outside
the circle we could
never really manage
to complete.
It’s our fade to black,
our exit stage left and right.
Consider it a token
of regret, a not so
fond farewell,
my “J’ai fini.”

Me:

How were we strangers?
When I know you down
to the scar on your hip
and your cool gray eyes
when i got down on one knee
I tasted the salt on your mouth
and now this ring, a token not of
regret but all that was broken
between two men
How did this happen?
This Au Revior
but there is no good in goodbye
J’en ai fini avec toi

Him:

You would go there,
bring your lips to my ear
and whisper what I’ll miss,
make this ache even more,
remembering how you kissed
that scar, convinced me
it would heal
when all we did
was tear the tender pieces
of our faith apart,
demonstrate how much
we both misunderstood.
I can’t forget your hand
resting on my heart,
your sighs in your sleep,
your feet warming mine,
but I’ll still make that claim
and wish I could.

Me:

I see,
I saw what you did there,
took what I said what I felt
and made it into war
this isn’t about disunity
this is about fear
of letting go of what you were
before we met
of what that braided claddah white gold ring meant
we joined more than nethers to nethers
we became a consecrated union of souls
where I must die and you must die
to birth something new and you now
circumspect, suspicious, and beautiful
still
blame me if you must and lie to yourself
but there is no forgetting as there is no unloving,
no unwinding of what we’ve done

Him:

What would you have me do?
If our scaffolding
still stands,
our bridges haven’t burned
why are you just
standing there,
me over here
both lobbing
weightless words
and turning phrases,
talking what we
cannot hear
or find a way
to wander through?
Where was your certainty
when I needed you
to hold it—me—close,
to bend so we don’t break?
Could it be
we only comprehend
the fear, the grip
and gasp of death
the mess we make
and not the labor,
not the long deep breath
needed after birth?

Me:

put my ring on
is what I’d have you do
as the bow has broken
and the cradle has shattered
on the floor
our masks are stripped away
leaving us more naked
in each other’s eyes than
the bed we’ve shared
I do hold you
as I’ve held you
as I’ll always hold you
I know no certainty, no vow,
no prayer
and without you no pride of place
except for the burning in my gut
and the wretched wraiths of loneliness
howling between my ears , now
I know. I know!
Curse you and damn you!
What would I have you do?
Love me and live and die for me
and kiss and cry and bleed for me
and let us breathe only the air
that exists between us
And the mess we’ve made

Him:

Is this the truth
we’ve wrung from
both our hands,
dug up from our
trench of frowns
our balled up fists?
Could we just now
be coming to?
Are you just now
seeing me unclothed,
unarmed, unbound
by all I hoped
you’d never see,
and are you telling me
it’s what you’ve waited for?
I never knew.
I never even dreamed
this nakedness
could be enough.
I hope this hope,
this match we’ve struck
is all it seems, more
than everything
I’ve been afraid to want,
the blood the sweat
the sweet the salt
the flesh and bone,
a love that rockets
through the midnight sky,
this sun and moon
rising, setting
in our eyes,
this ring back on,
this making up.

Me:

Yes

You don’t identify as a gay man

gay bash

Unless you identify with this

this

have dealt with this

angry_christian_right

had to put up with this

bullied

or this

kids kicked out

or dealt with this

gay men

you don’t have a right to claim you’re this

download

no matter how much of this you write

butt sex

or this you watch.

queer history

We have a long history. It’s our history. Our sexuality belongs to us. We’re proud of it. And just because we’re queer men – don’t change that.

hell no

Any questions?

 

The election (Now what m/m?)

Words fail me to disribe the way I’m feeling right now.

I, like many of you, am completely stunned by this outcome.

So many of us were looking to break another glass ceiling in this country by electing the first woman into the office of President.

But that isn’t going to happen, this time.

America – for better or worse – has spoken.

And while I know many of us are sore, right now. And are going to be sore for the foreseeable future, I believe it is imparative that we recover quickly.

We knew this was a possiblity.

So, now what?

We have a STRONG country and a STRONG system of government.

We have a strong media – which is the fourth estate.

But to all my poets, singers, writers, authors, publishers, movie makers out there. To all those who walk the way of the bard, we have a job too.

The sun will come up tomorrow. The issues we face as LGBT or those in minority classes aren’t going away any time soon.

And now is our time to do what we do best.

Write.

The world has been changed often times with books. With media. With stories of the everyman. Now isn’t the time to retreat.

We’re in the same boat together, now. Our fates are intertwined. We can no longer afford division in our little corner of the literary world.

With that sunrise – for a lot of people – hope is going to be a bit hard to come by. But we can do our damnedest to try and deliver as much hope as possible.

We have a job. A big one.

Just like in any other time of crisis, people are going to be looking for a way out.

We can deliver on that.

Just some thoughts. Authors, lets get to work.

yes

Tired of being angry.

I used to get so bent out of shape at the writers in this genre. Several months ago, I was fueled with a lot of anger and a lot of jealousy.
The books I wrote – were solid. The reviews, great.
But I wasn’t selling.
And then I would read something that was sort of what someone would refer to as ‘brain candy’ and I would get angry that they were a huge seller.
I was bitter.
I kept asking myself, how is that happening?
I mean, here I am giving people depth and great stories filled with powerful subject matter which was being lauded by those who took the time to read it.
And then I would make 24 dollars a quarter. Twenty-four bucks.
My worth was tied into the money and not the art.
And in that moment I started reading reviews of other people’s work. But only the negative ones.
I danced on other people’s pain when their book got skull dragged through the mud because I was jealous of their success.

And it doesn’t mean that some of my anger wasn’t justified. It was. I had asked a question about the way gay men were depicted in this genre and immediately was set upon by people who instantly accused me of misogyny and told me I should be quiet because I’m privileged – as a man. They completely dismissed and disregarded the fact that I am a queer man and because of that fall under a totally new set of circumstances. And because I am a queer man – when I accepted that label and in turn accepted that lifestyle – what privilege I did have went up in smoke.

Because the truth is – when you come out as gay – even to women – you’re feminized immediately and can sometimes become the butt of some white liberal’s jokes.

I had been summarily dismissed.

I couldn’t write. I couldn’t read it. And for a writer unable to write – that’s agony.

There’s a problem when you toss out words such as privilege and accuse people of things like cultural appropriation and bigotry. Those things are boomerang terms. And eventually, because all things are NOT equal, they’re going to find their way back to you. I watched it happen to an author who accused me of misogyny. He put out a book and got slammed for it, himself.

Because someone, somewhere is always waiting for someone to make a misstep. Someone somewhere who probably couldn’t write their way out of a wet paper bag is always waiting in the wings to take someone down. And Romance – a genre this is set upon anyway – is always a soft target. And so are it’s writers. There are those who do, and there are those who talk about those who do. We call them, critics.

But here’s the thing. The writer/ critic dynamic is not set apart. We are symbiotic. One cannot exist without the other. And when you have toxic writers or toxic critics – all is left is a total mess that everyone else will go out of their way to avoid. And from the outside looking in, I can see why people would avoid us, or make fun of us. Because, of course, this would happen in this genre.

And social media has made it possible to sit behind the computer in the safety of your own home and say some of the most vile things a person can say to another with anonymity. Things no one would DARE say to another person’s face.

So here’s the thing – you can please some people all of the time or you can please all of the people some of the time. But you will NEVER be able to please all the people all of the time.

So don’t try.

The pressure isn’t worth it.

Write your stories. Do your best. Because in reality, the dream of being the next New York Times bestseller is as much a pipe dream as a gay guy being able to convert his straight best friend into domestic loving bliss.

It’s a fantasy. All of it.

And at the end of the day, some people need a way out of their reality. If this election has taught me ANYTHING – it’s that some people don’t want the seriousness or the heaviness of Queer literature. They don’t to read about someone’s past, or their pain, or the road they’ve traveled. It reminds them too much of what they’ve lived through even if they’re not queer.

People are hurting – and sometimes it’s not the responsibility of artists to reflect the world around them. Sometimes it’s our responsibility to ease the tormented soul. And if werepenguin shifters, MPREG, and GFY is the way out ……I’d rather they take that road that to sit in their misery.

Straight people will NEVER know what it’s like to be gay. Ever. Just like I will never know what it’s like to be a lesbian or a bisexual or an African American. And asking me to know, 100 percent, on point, all the time these nuances of people and personality and background – is the height of privilege, ironically. And we know the difference between someone who tries and those who are in it to make money.

But at the end of the day – so does everyone else .

I’m just tired of being angry. I’ll write the world I see, how I see it, and the things that I’ve experienced. And I’ll publish it. And I’ll be waiting for those who want something more – even if that doesn’t make me a bajillionaire.

But i am done perpetuating hurt. I’m not going to junk punch everyone who wanders over the minefield of wounds this life has given me by mistake.

I’ll just be an artist. And I am totally okay with that. Maybe I’ll be famous when I’m dead. I don’t write m/m Romance. I write queer lit. And that’s cool, too.

To those, I’ve offended in the past. I am sorry.

The Tree – (A ghost story Part 3)

ghost

 

Welcome back to part 3 of The Tree. I  hope you are liking the story so far. You may have noticed that there are some errors and misspellings around but that’s only because this is as raw a manuscript as it gets. All the editing, formatting etc. will all come later on. But I do hope you are enjoying the story thus far. So, without further ado – The Tree – Part 3 .

 

Chapter 3

 

The house was relatively quiet at two fifty-two in the morning. The large hallways of the colonial house sat dark, save for the green light from the microwave and the tick tock of an old clock above the entry way to the kitchen. Moon glow filtered in through the windows. The only noise that could be heard was Mr. Rhodes deep snoring that echoed through the entire first floor. Upstairs, one bare leg out of the covers, one arm tossed over his head, snoring just like his father- just not as loud- was Erik. In his room, decorated with pictures of him as he grew up, his pennants in sports, his high school diploma, and school banners. His mother hadn’t had the heart to come in and redo the room. Every time she’d made up her mind, she made it into the room hell bent on making it a sewing room , ended up waxing nostalgic, turning back, and shutting the door. Before his father had gone to bed, he poked his head out on the back porch to tell Erik that Grandpa’s old radio was in his room in case he had a hard time going to sleep.

“I haven’t slept with a radio on in a couple of year’s dad. But thank you.” He said grinning from ear to ear and blushing a bit given Jason and Erin were still there.

After kissing his sister goodbye and hugging Jason, he wandered upstairs, stripped down to his skivvies and fell into a liquor induced deep sleep. A warm wind blew into the bedroom from an unseen place ruffling the bed clothes briefly. It lingered over his sleeping form before darting right, fluttering the pennants on the walls, before settling in front of his grandfather’s old radio. The dial clicked on lighting the front of machine with a pale-yellow light. Immediately music poured out broken by static. However, the dial slowly began to turn to the left. The orange bar in the center moving over to the lower end of the radio frequency until it reached the bottom. The room was now filled with static, white noise before a voice whispered out. It was male.

“Erik?” It said piercing out into the dark room.

“Erik?”

In the bed, across from it, bathed in yellow light, Erik mumbled in his sleep and turned his head his brow furrowing.

“Erik?”

“What grandpa?” he asked in his sleep.

“Be strong, son.  Stay by your tree. Use your gift. Don’t be afraid of it,” the voice said.

“Use it by the tree. ‘Kay.”

“I love you. Your grandma says hello.”

“mhmmm, ‘kay. I love you. ‘llo G’ma.” he said and began to snore. The radio cackled for a second longer before the dial turned and it went off. The warm wind backed away from the unplugged machine, back to the sleeping form and lingered for a moment before leaving the room and down into the house. The entire event took seven minutes to play out. Downstairs the kitchen clock read, three a.m. The only sound in the house now was the deep snoring of his father.

 

 

The next morning dawned bright and early. As Erik surfaced from a fitful sleep after having dreams that were splintered like a broken mirror, with images that were disjointed, he felt a little disoriented. There were images of the woman he’d defended in court, the sound of music playing, a black woman with gold coins in her hair, his grandfather, and several other things he couldn’t quite remember as he opened his eyes. Doing so, didn’t help the disjointed feeling either, instead of staring at the white walls of his apartment in Houston, he was staring at a window and the little dust particles that rained down like fairies dancing in the morning sun. He could hear birds singing and the distant buzz of a weed eater beyond as the smell of bacon frying.

I don’t live with anyone he thought to himself and immediately sat up his heart racing in his chest. He looked around the room quickly and the events of the day before came racing back. And although it looked to be a glorious morning, his heart sank a little in his chest. He was back in his room, back in his parents’ house, jobless, over the age of thirty, and a woman was going to die because of his ineptitude. Erik slumped a little as his shoulders drooped as he began to make a mental list of the things he’d have to take care of today.

A knock on the door sounded twice before the handle was turned and opened. Erik, before he could speak, was able to pull the covers over himself as his mom poked her head in.

“Good morning sunshine.” She said with a grin. Susan Rhode’s hair, perfectly cut and brushed out in public was standing straight up on her head in spots and flat in others. It must have been early.

“Hey, good morning. What time is it?” He asked.

“Seven a.m. I figured you’d still be asleep.” she said stepping in. She was still in her bathrobe.

“No, I’ve got some things I need to get done today. Some phone calls and stuff.” he said running a hand through his hair. His mom came in and sat down on the edge of his bed with a smile on her face.

“What?”

“Oh, nothin’ just that your father said you’d told him that you didn’t sleep with a radio on anymore. I guess grandpa’s old radio came in handy.”

“I didn’t have a radio on last night, mom. And by the way, how can you hear anything with the symphonic range that is dad’s snoring?”

“Honey, I’m a mother. Your father’s snoring has been going on like that since we’ve been married. But when you kids were little, I could hear you or Erin calling my name when you’d had a nightmare or when you were up and about when you shouldn’t have been. Your momma ain’t lost her touch.” she said and Erik couldn’t help but grin.

“Your breakfasts still amazing?”

“Your damn right. But next time don’t play the radio so loud you’ll wake the dead.” she said as she stood up. Erik was still confused and after she left, he tossed the blankets aside and stood up. He walked over to where his father had placed the radio and picked it up. It was an old thing, barely held together with duct tape. It also had a tightly bound piece of Reynolds Wrap tin foil shoved into a hole where the antenna had been years ago. The dial was turned off, and the frequency was turned all the way to the right. He reached down absently for the chord and picked up the other end of it.

“The damn thing wasn’t even plugged in mom.” He said to her absent form. Shrugging his shoulders, he set the antique back down on his desk and looked out of the window. He first caught sight of his tree and the river that gently made its way beneath it and felt his heart stir a little. He thought of the things he had to do, again, and felt his heart kick start.

“They may be shitty, but they won’t be so bad in the shade.” he said quoting his grandfather and then, biting his lower lip he felt a giggle escape as he turned to his dresser for summer clothes he’d left behind when he visited. You know, just in case.

Ten minutes later and clad in a pair of swim trunks and an old t-shirt, he made his way down the stairs and into the kitchen where his mom and dad were eating breakfast. He greeted them with a smile as he made his way over to the coffee pot and poured himself a cup. His cell phone beeped at him and he barely gave it a glance when his father told him it’d been ringing off the hook all morning.

“I’m sorry, I should have turned it off last night.” he said making his way to the table where they sat.

“What are your plans for this morning?” his mother asked handing him a bowl of fried potatoes. He took it happily.

“Honestly? I am going to be on that damn thing most of the morning, I suppose. I have to get a lot taken care of.” he said as he placed the bowl down and reached for the scrambled eggs and sausage that was on a platter.

“Can’t it wait for another day?” his mom asked.

“I guess it could. But I guess it’s probably better to rip it quick. I have to call the apartment complex and tell them I am breaking the lease and will have to authorize a payment for that. Call a moving company and set up a time for them to come and get my stuff and pay to have it shipped here along with my car. I need to call the office and let them know I’m alive and maybe deal with some last minute things for them. So, it’s going to be a busy morning.” he said as he diced up the meal in front of him and heaped it all together. He took a mouthful of food and almost moaned in pleasure it was so good. His impulse was to eat fast. To shovel it down like he did when he was working. But he mentally forced himself to stop, to chew, and to appreciate where he was.

“Do you have enough money?” David asked leaning over the table.

Startled by the question, Erik stared at him for a moment. He had quite a bit of money, actually. The years had been good to him. A natural, his bosses called him as they’d worked on several cases. He’d lived cheap, especially in the last several months with the murder case. Texas lawyers all signed up for defense attorney work if they wanted it, it was a way to get their name out there in larger circles.  But after this last case, he’d be damned if he went back to represent some high dollar divorcee who wanted to keep their millions safe or the other party who wanted half of what the other person had. It all seemed so laughably insane.

His mother and father stared at him as he stared back. He shook his head. “I’m good, dad. Thanks.”

“Okay, let me know if you need a little help.” he responded and it made his heart melt. His father had retired a couple of years ago and mom followed a couple of years later from her banking job. They’d done well, even managed to skirt the 08 collapse mostly intact and what they’d lost was made up again with good investments and a rebounding economy. But there was no way Erik would ask them for money.

“Okay.” he replied. He didn’t need their money. time and home and company…. well, he’d take as much of that as he could get.

A couple hours later, out under the shade of his tree, he went through the text messages that were left since his departure from Houston as he sat under the shade of his favorite tree. There were messages from his former co-workers from the majority of the people he liked. There There were even a couple from people who’d just started at the firm and were hoping to be kept in the loop of what had happened. He didn’t respond to any of those. The one he did respond to was from Erin who flat out told him he’d be attending a barbecue over at her boyfriend’s house tonight and to wear something cute, Noah was going to be there.

Erik rolled his eyes and typed back a message: I’ll go, but I’m not looking to hook up. What time?

Erin: Five thirty. I’ll come get you.

Erik: Ok. I’ll be ready.

With a grin on his face, and the sweet summer morning breeze around him, he settled in and started the unpleasant task of unwinding the ball of razor wire that had become his life. As he sat there, with his back to the trunk of his old tree, he hung one foot over the little cliff above the river and felt an attachment to the earth he’d not felt in a long time.

Minutes turned to hours. Brief phone calls turned into extended ones filled with pleasantries and platitudes, a couple of times he had to fish out his wallet to authorize payments, and give detailed instructions how he wanted his things shipped. He took time in between calls to relax, to remember to breathe, and not to get worked up.  After confirming with his former employer- who at one point raised his voice- that he wasn’t coming back, they relented and asked if he wanted to be kept abreast of the case he’d been handling. And to also warn him that it was likely to garner national attention.

“Well, if I am going to see it on Joe Scarborough in the morning, I think I’ll be alright.” Erik said.

“Man, but you were our star. Two more years and you would have made partner. You had a GIFT!” Roger said, his Texas twang making the word sound like gfyt.  

            Use your gift.

            A chill cascaded down Erik’s back. He turned his head to look up at the solid oak he lay back on and something rattled around in his head. What? A memory?

“By the tree.” He muttered.

“What was that?” Roger asked.

“I said working for you all been the gift, a real blessing. I just, I know I shouldn’t have walked out, not like that. But, I had to. Sometimes you just know when it’s time to go.” He said, partially placating his boss’s feelings and partially trying not to sound like the weirdo he suddenly felt like. A few minutes later, after telling his former boss where to send his final check, he hung up and set the phone down by his side.  Leaning back on the trunk of the tree, he stared out over the creek.  It was high and the water was quickly moving. There had been stories about people drowning in the undertow. Some Kayakers who tipped over when they paddled the creek after heavy rains. But right now, it’s clear water looked so inviting that Erik stripped off his shirt and stood up on the bank of the river.

It was deep in some parts, shallow in others, and just to be careful he slid down on his butt until the drop wouldn’t hurt him and he launched himself with a triumphant whoop into the water. It was cool, so cool in fact that it sort of took his breath away. But as he surfaced, he exhaled happily and swam a couple of times between the shores. HE felt the water ripple pass him, wanting to take him further downstream, and it sluiced over his body like a gentle lover welcoming his beloved back home.

Erik found a shallow spot and stood up, wiping his face. He could taste the mineral of the water on his lips. It tasted the same as it always had. And the water felt as it always did even though more years had passed since he’d been there than he’d like to count. In his mind, he could still hear the laughter of he and his friends, or see his grandfather and grandmother as they talked to his parents on the bank of the river as he and Erin swam safety in their eyeshot on fourth of July picnics and Memorial Day. Dad would barbeque and by the end of the day their faces would be sticky with butter from corn on the cob and sauce from ribs, their bellies would be full, and the walk from the bank to the house would feel like miles. He remembered being swooped up in his parent’s arms or his grandfather’s before being carried into the house and the next thing he knew; it would be morning.

Erin and he spent almost every single day together. They were unalike a lot of their friends and their siblings. There seemed to be no competition between the two. They didn’t vie for their parent’s affections or attention; she’d been Erik’s body guard and he’d been hers all through their lives.  When one got in trouble, the other usually got into trouble for getting mouthy with their parents.  When their friends came over, it was the two of them, or neither of them. All through grade school, middle, and high school they were together. Only when they became adults did she go on her way to be an engineer and he a lawyer.  They only thing they didn’t share was his love for that old tree.

He waded through the water to where a portion of the root system had burst through the sloping wall and he pressed a hand on it. “It’s okay. Not everyone has to understand.”

When he was a boy, he’d had his friend Jeremy over while Erin had the flu and the two boys were playing on the ice. They’d spent the day sliding on their shoes and falling, building forts of snow, and played generals as they lobbed snowballs over at each other. He remembers Jeremy’s mom stopped by to pick him up and after the boy had walked up the embankment and had been long gone, Erik had decided he was too cold to be out here alone. He’d crossed the ice one final time to pick up an errant hockey stick that served as the flag post for his snow fort and on his way back, he’d stepped into the center of river when he heard a deafening crack.

As he passed from the surface into the water, it felt like his whole body was being stabbed by a thousand needles. In pain and in shock, he accidentally exhaled his breath as he was pushed by the quick undercurrent. He tried to surface but all his fists found was the sheet of ice on top of him. In sheer terror, he inhaled a lungful of water as he pounded away at the barrier between him and the much-needed oxygen just a few inches above his submersed head.  As black dots began to form in his vision and he began to drift asleep, he felt a whoosh and a massive displacement of water as the ice next to him exploded.  With what little strength eh had left he pushed himself over and surfaced gasping for breath. He expected a hand to haul him out but once his vision swum back into focus there was no one there. He dragged himself to the short and saw that a massive tear width wise had been placed in the ice.

Erik remembered looking up and seeing the tree above his head that had been covered in snow and ice, was now barren. And as he ran up the embankment into his house to warm up, he could have sworn he saw water running down the trunk when he ran passed.  Shivering almost uncontrollably, he was forced to stop his inspection and book it back into the house. When his mother saw him she screamed out in horror, and swept him into the house, and toward the bathroom screaming at her husband that he wasn’t to go back out on to the ice ever again. Of course, he did. But he never went nor stayed out there alone again.

“Why did I forget that?” He murmured as he stood waist deep in the water.  A way off in the distance, he heard  cheerful voices making their way closer. He knew that revelers often traversed the length of the river getting in at one point and drinking all day before being picked up further downriver. To avoid having to speak to them and to avoid getting too much sun on his pale skin, he slugged up the side of the embankment using the tree as a banister as he made his way up. He patted his friend on it’s flank before bending over and grabbing his cell phone and deposited shirt before making his way back into the house.  He glanced back over one more time before he went inside to see the tree standing as it always had, leaning gently out over the river and toward the sun.