I have been silent about something that has turned me on my head. Silent about something I would normally be very vocal about. Silent because the words would not come through the fog of shock, and, yes, silent because I hoped I'd heard wrong, hoped there'd been a mistake. But I feel wrong being silent any longer. And I do not want my silence to be misconstrued as victim blaming or disbelief. I hear you, victims. Your voices are important. You are heard and believed. It was brave of you to speak.
For a long time proponent of lifting the victims of sexual assault up, helping them in their voices and supporting them when they do not feel heard... as an author whose stories and poems against sexual abuse and discrimination are at least somewhat known...as a survivor of harassment and abuse myself, I feel it is no longer acceptable to not talk about what happens when a friend is identified as an abuser.
Not long ago, I felt a sense of betrayal when a person I long revered for his writing ended up being an abuser. Sherman Alexie disappointed and disgusted me with his actions. His works were the bedrock of much of my teaching and I was shocked and appalled by his abuse. I felt somewhat lied to, but mostly disappointed.
But what happens when the abuser is a friend? I've had to deal with this occurrence in the past, sadly. Just last week I had to deal with it again. I've had the unlucky shock and immediate revulsion of a friend turned abuser three times in my life. It's such a difficult set of emotions that hit when something like this happens, that it's hard to explain.
However, as a proponent for lifting victims up, I think it's necessary to try to wade through what it's like to know an abuser, or to feel you knew someone who was, in your estimation, a "good person" only to be understand that he was not safe, not, in fact, the person you thought he was. An acquaintance of mine, who knew the abuser in much the same way I did, who counted the abuser as a friend said, "It's like I'm mourning the person I thought he was."
What a perfect way of describing what is happening in my mind, right now. I feel like I'm in deep mourning. That friend I loved is no longer alive. He was replaced with a man I do not know, and that man is a child abuser. The friend I thought I had is dead to me, then, because the two pictures cannot coincide. They just can't exist together. So, I'm left feeling so much that my stomach is in pains:
Shock: There must be some mistake, but, no, that's not right. I know what it's like to not be believed or heard in my abuse, and it was wrong then. If the child said he did it, he did. He did. He did. He did. He did it. He touched a child.
Anger: How in the fuck does someone touch a child? How did he trick me into caring for him? How dare he steal my confidence, the confidence of so many, and use it to hurt others! What kind of sick person does that shit? How did I trust someone so sick? Enough to bring my children to his house! I would have ended his existence if the victim were my daughter. I would have tried to kill him. My anger is so volatile, when I think about what I would have done in the mother's place, that it scares me. I know I am capable of murder when it comes people harming my children, and that is terrifying.
Guilt: I encouraged my students to take his classes. I talked him up and told people they could not go wrong with him in their corner. I trusted him and asked others to do the same. I did not protect my students like I should have. I know it's not my fault. The actions of others are never my fault, but...should I have known? It's stupid. Futile, to blame oneself for not knowing other people's demons, but it's inevitable, that guilt.
Nauseating Confusion: Why? Was there any part of the person I thought was my friend that actually existed? Were all of his actions a preparation for the pain he would inflict on others? Was he really selfless or did he just want to make his way into the homes of the vulnerable? Was there any part of him who was not the sick man who preyed on little girls? Was the man who cried after losing his wife, shaking with grief, eating the food I prepared for him in his time of need, sitting across from me and regaling me with the beauty of the wife who left too soon the same man who harmed a child, maybe many children? Was the man who seemed to care so much for others that he'd give his last dollar ever real? Was it a veneer?
Mourning: The man I considered a friend is dead to me. The man I thought I knew never was. He couldn't be. It doesn't match up. Tears stream down my face. I don't make friends easily. The loss of them shatters me.
Anxiety: Why does this always happen? Will women ever be safe? Are my children doomed to be the victims of sick people and their whims? How do I protect them? How can I possibly protect my kids when I cannot trust even my friends? I can never leave them alone. Never. How will I let them experience life without the anxiety that now eats at me? How will I let go enough to let them live, but to also see that they're safe? I pray. I pray. I pray.
Dear God, I pray that you'll help the spinning in my head slow, the pain in my gut to abate, the anger to dissipate. How can I love a world full of people who will knowingly hurt the most vulnerable? It tears at me. Please give me peace. More importantly, comfort those who need it like I needed it. Those who will need to find strength when their innocence is stolen, when their stay is ripped from their lips.
My chest aches. My eyes hurt from trying to keep tears in. It's not fair to mourn the man who is a disgrace, so I tell myself I mourn the picture in my head, of a man I loved as a friend. Not the man who, given the right circumstances and excuses, would abuse a child. I cannot and will not explain away, excuse or tolerate any suggestion that his doing so was anything other than a sick crime of a sick mind, even when doing so brings tears to my eyes.
If you're feeling even a little of this right now, those who have been let down, I'm sorry you're hurting. To those who have had the unwanted touch of a hand they thought they could trust, that's what hurts the most. Your pain is valid. Your pain is what matters. I'm sorry for you. Your trust in others is forever shaken. It was not your fault.
No matter what I feel it is nothing, insignificant, compared to the tidal wave of confusion and pain that poor child had to go through. Because she lost a friend and gained an abuser, too. I don't have to keep the abuser. He did not scar me like he did her. He is just somebody that I used to know. A person I can't call a friend, even when it's the friend I mourn.
Eminem, Nike and Mike Pence all walk into the bar and immediately steal your support, empathy, vote, time, money. Fill in the blank. Not a very funny joke, is it? I don’t think so either. The point is, no matter the side these entities (because I’m loathe to call them people) are on, they are selling you something. And you’re buying it.
My facebook feed is awash this week with sympathy or hate for Nike. They chose a politically charged athlete for two reasons, and not one of them was “freedom of choice.” One: they knew it would get people talking, up in arms. Two: they knew that it would get people who already supported and could afford their brand to buy more, and those who support them but don’t wear Nike stuff in a show of democratic support.
Eminem’s feud? Same. Maybe you like his music and know it’s ploy, but are okay will a friendly “marketing-based” competition, but from my newsfeed, my guess is most of my friends didn’t know. And that bothered me. I don’t like to see people I respect treated like pawns. I don’t listen to much Eminem, but it wasn’t hard for me to guess that Eminem was probably going to release an album soon, and a trip to Google told me I was correct. So, this fakey feud sat ill to me. It was a meatloaf pretending to be a steak.
So how does Pence fit into this? An anonymous piece written by a disgruntled, anonymous Trump staff member who just so happens to use a phrase Mike Pence often uses (and almost no one else with a better vocabulary and/or shame will use) assures the public that some good samaritans in the White House are just trying to make less of a mess for America to clean up later by reigning Trump in.. Oh, really? So, Trump is the sort of person who allows himself to be reigned in by his inferiors or partners? Who benefits from the idea that jumping onto that train wreck of a human being’s team was simply in America’s benefit, so that he didn’t trash the country? Possibly someone who is positioned for a future Republican nomination for Presidency? Give me a break. If you’ve jumped onto this sideshow, you didn’t do so for selfless reasons. Stop selling it. I won’t buy it.
Look, I teach rhetoric to my basic college classes. That doesn’t make me an expert, but it does help me to distinguish when I’m being “sold” on something. Sometimes that doesn’t matter to me. I often can tell when I’m being sold Harry Potter stuff, for instance, but overlook it, as it’s a book that brought be enjoyment in a more than temporal way. It helped me understand myself as a kid and as a growing young adult. So, once in a while, I will allow myself to be sold to in that manner. But I know when it’s happening, so it’s less likely to inspire me allow myself to be marketed to when I don’t want to be.
Buying stuff is big in the U.S. We are a capitalist country. I know that. I know a lot of the reason we do well in this country is because we can sell our goods (or rather, poorer country’s goods), our image, and our rhetoric to others. I just get really tired of being inundated by it on all sides. It’s frustrating for me to see my kids so trained in “wanting” the latest thing, persuaded into liking athletes our country treats like gods, and tricked into caring about things that aren’t important.
I don’t have a funny joke in this blog. I don’t have a lighter anecdote. The reality is that what happens to us everyday, mostly online, but pretty much everywhere, is an inundation of marketing. I guess that’s why I’m not great at it with my own endeavors. Do or don’t buy my writing has always been the way I’ve marketed, and I’m smart enough to know that’s not the right way to do it. But I am too uncomfortable with selling even the things I truly care about because I just feel like we are all too swamped with it. And I also know that most people won’t ever care if they read my books, whereas they will be pissed if Eminem is dissed. I don’t know what to think about that. I just know it’s not funny.
*This work is not to be reproduced or used without consent of author. Copyright H.M. Jones, 2018.*
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H.M. might be a little late for her acceptance to the best school of witchcraft and wizardry in Europe, but, then, she feels that some things are worth waiting for. When most people think of the happiest place on earth, they think Disneyland/word. I get it. Disney is pretty cool.
I also understand that there are some of you who hate Disney, etc. I even understand why, but I suspend that sort of thinking, as I have two small children who really wanted to go to Disney to meet some of their favorite characters. I don't hate it. I think that there's a lot of imagination that goes into such an endeavor, and I appreciate imagination, as a true believer in creating fictions that awe people. That said, it's certainly a trip that I'd not take too often, as the crowds get to me.
However, H.M. here has been waiting for 5 years to go to Harry Potter world. I wanted my kids to be old enough to at least have listened to three of the books. I've been reading the books for the last year to them, and we are on number 5 (The Order of the Phoenix). We took the kids to Disneyland for two days. It was great to see my kids so thrilled to be in a place where their imaginations are active and happy. It allowed them a place to see dreams walk, and I think that was important.
But I have to say no one was more enchanted by anything as I was with Harry Potter world in Universal Studios. Most people have asked me since coming home how it was to finally get to walk into one of the books that made captured me so completely as a youth and hold me still today, and, cliche as it is, all I can manage so far is, "Magical."
However, having had time to rest my feet and my mind, I think I can manage a little more than that, as a supposed writer. For those who have waited to go to Universal Studios and Hogsmeade/Hogwarts for whatever reason, allow me to drool over my screen for you.
Part of the magic of walking into Hogsmeade for the first time is the entrance that perfectly frames Hogwarts in the background. The eyes are immediately and ingeniously called upward, to a school that most of us in our mid-twenties/early thirties have wanted to attend since we were in Jr. high school. I don't know properly how to express the sense of joy that happened when I finally made it to the entrance of Hogwarts. But I think these pictures, might express some of that for me:
My heart felt so light, I think it may have caught in my throat. I am not a person who is easily excited. My answer to most people, when I've been asked, "Aren't you excited?!" is to feign excitement, as the sensation has literally only hit me about four times in life. But I can genuinely say that the sense of excitement that washed over me when I stepped under the giant wrought iron and stone entrance was an almost new sensation. For a person whose imagination was formed through books like Harry Potter, the snow capped, stone buildings, peeked in Gothic-style lines and splashed with whimsical, old fashioned colors and displays made me shiver with excitement. Tears sprang to my eyes. Quite embarrassed by just how emotional I was over this "child's" story come to fruition, I quickly drew a shaking hand over my eyes and steered my smiling, almost as excited children to Honeydukes. HONEYDUKES!
Oh, readers, the shops! You're lucky H.M. came back with any money. I am exactly the market for all of the shops. I wanted all the things! I did fairly well, however, and mostly splurged on the kids, living vicariously through them by taking them through Olivander's wand experience (which, is, indeed, an experience, not just a shop). The preview of Olivander's was so special. My daughter's eyes glowed with a curious light as "Olivander" helped a young wizard find the wand that was meant for him. When we made it into the wand shop, my little girl said, upon swishing and flicking several wands, "I feel that this wand chose me, mom." The wand that chose her was a bendable vine wand, with a grip that she described as, "Made for my hand." My son, being a big fan of Harry, went directly for the character wands, but my daughter, wanting the full experience of the choosing took her time and, in that way, made it impossible for me not to spend the money on a wand that chose her. Both of the kids having been chosen by a wand, we were delighted by a Butterbeer stand outside. The smooth, buttery and slightly fizzy taste of butterbeer is far beyond what my imagination could have concocted. Like a dessert all it's own, my cup of Butterbeer was light and sweet upon my tongue and cooled and filled me on the inside. My son did not care for his mug, but I think he must have a broken tongue.
Each shop was like drifting into the pages of the books I've loved for much of my life. The detail, from the drinks, to the cobblestones, to the Gilderoy Lockhart books winking at me from the bookstore front, to the way my children could practice spells with their new wands in the front of the stores all over Hogsmeade, to the hearty, dark, stark interior of The Three Broomsticks and Hogshead bar was so fantastically done that I felt almost completely transported. I felt as though I was given permission to visit Hogsmeade for the day and that I'd lost complete restraint. Having lost said restraint, I may have purchased two school robes, unused, for my little Ravenclaw and Gryffindor. I may need to work late hours this week, all, but we Con a lot, so they will be well used. Having grown up quite in the same way the Weasley family grew up, I felt blessing of my ability to take my kid to this magical place and splurge on things that will help us remember the journey for years to come. I felt like Ron when he got to visit the pyramids with the rest of the Weasley family, and I'm sure my friends and family will feel quite like Ron's family about my talking about it constantly for weeks after.
Universal Studios did something very smart with Harry Potter world. I understood that my emotions and my connection to this place were being manipulated in a way that would make someone very rich richer. I completely understand where my buttons were pushed and why. I usually care about things like that. It was dangerous how much I didn't care in this case, but I realized that it was okay. It was okay to be surrounded by things that brought me joy, to splurge for the experience of it, and to not worry about the motives of others for a few, out-of-this-world hours. So I did. And I loved it. If I never do it again, I will always remember our trip to Hogwarts as one of the treasured times in my life, and that, dear readers, is so important that the motivation of the creators of this fantasy land meant very little to me. I have to think, however, despite the clearly monetary gain of such an endeavor, that those behind Harry Potter World created this place out of of the same place of affection I hold for the books. Every detail bespeaks a desire to create Hogwarts and Hogsmeade correctly, to draw people into the world (not create an unbelievable facsimile), and that, to me, was comforting. Those who re-created the world I fell in love with all over again, put so much artistry and care into it that I very much believe they loved it, too. And I thank them for that care and will pay for the experience. I won't pay for many things: a fancy house, ridiculously expensive cars, marble counter tops, etc. But life is about experiences, and I'll happily save and splurge for those.
If you're wondering whether you should, I can't give you advice there. Or I won't. I can only say it was worth it to me.
Shadow might not be the perfect word for the grief that creeps in when the reminder of loss rears its head, but its near perfect. Lately, I've felt that dark specter follow my footsteps--to work, home, around the corner you used to roam. I feel the loss that you've left, leaving us behind. I feel that you're happy, but that cannot quiet the tinge of sadness that darkens my doorstep. I miss you. I miss you. I miss you. How many times, how many ties will be severed to death? So many. So many more to come, and I feel heavier with the reminder of every one.
But I know you don't. I feel your peace. I remember you. I remember you. I remember you. I remember you all to the children who won't know you. They won't know you were the first to meals and the last to leave, too many friends to greet. They won't remember that you had a gentle hand for babies, even if you were rough around the edges. They won't recall the way your ear turned up to greet the bird's call and how you answered back. They won't remember the joy that lit your face when you held them. But I do. I have such a power in my memories. Did you know your memories are powerful. Did you know they can stop history from repeating, can change grief to laughter, can magic away tears?
I try to remember that, with the stories I tell my kids, the pictures I paint of you. of you. of you. of you. of you. Of all I've lost. Of the ever growing souls that graced my life. When I walk the lavender fields I remind them that that scent, the honey sweetness of the purple petals means their grandfather once walked this earth, knew the plants by name and befriended the birds. I try to remind them that the smack of a ball connected to the wood of a bat means that their uncle Jim hit one over the fence and looked very pleased with himself about it all. I try to remind them that silly, made-up songs and smuggled chocolate means their Grandma Bo is in them always. I try to remind them that the pull of paddle through water, the song that aches in their chest until it comes out is their Grandpa Jones reminding them of their love of water. I try to remind them that the scent of cinnamon rolls and dried flowers and hours spent with puzzles and board games is their Grandma Root making sure they are spending time well. I try to remind them that a strong voice over the heads of well-dressed ladies and men, the sturdy arm of a baptism is their Grandpa Bo leading the way for where they will go. I try to remind them that a penchant for mischief and a good joke is their Grandpa Springer asking them to smile, to not take life too serious. I try to remind them that the best pie crust and most delicious noodles are Grandma Springer's way of telling them they must serve the people they love.
And these reminders get to shape the beauty they will never know in this life. But they also cast away dark shadows. They try to remind me of the blessings I've known. And I try not to cry.
It’s not the hardest thing, but that feels wrong to say. Because it feels like the hardest thing—this loss, though it’s not. After all, I held my father’s hand as he died. I watched the light fall from his eyes, heard the breath rattle-whoosh from his lungs, felt his soul pass me, not lingering, not waiting for my tears to dry. I lived past those moments, even when I thought my heart fell through my feet and crumbled at his leaving.
Maybe the memories your leaving brings is why the tears won’t dry, why they sting my tired eyes, break my tired heart. Maybe you reminded me of what it was like to be helpless and holding my daddy’s hand as he left me. Holding your body, feeling what made you you be swept away, maybe it was like that other terrible day…
Or not. Maybe it’s because you were my friend. My front seat passenger, tongue drooping, window-open boy. My morning, afternoon, evening companion—the first to my office at lunch, waiting by my car after work, snoring on the floors of our rooms at night, following me even into the bathroom. My too big lap dog, always fit right in my arms, acting the baby. My greeting committee, looking first, constantly searching, for mommy. My forgiveness—never remembering my grumpy days, laying your toys, ropes, treats on my legs, only wanting to play, desiring my praise. And I should have played. Played more. Patted my lap in invitation more. Shuttled you around in your favorite seat more. I can’t now. I can only cry, and cling to wishes that will change nothing.
Still…I wish. I wish I would have been ten minutes earlier to our lunch date. I wish…I’d chased you down this morning when you, like you were want to do, ignored my call and ran off with your soggy doggy friends. I wish…that you were luckier than this insurmountable pain. I wish…that my sinuses weren’t so clogged with grief when I cradled your head in those last moments. I wish I could’ve smelled you, alive, one last time.
Because I loved your smell, the way wet earth and musty mutt clung to you even after a bath. I loved to kiss your fuzzy muzzle and rub the arch of your nose in the way that made your eyes close in contentment. Instead, I rubbed your nose that one last time and watched the light slowly leave your eyes, like it left his, and I cried too hard to breathe, much like then. And felt the pain of loss all over again, same but not the same. Loss and grief are strange things, fast partners for compiling pain.
So maybe it’s not the hardest thing, even if it reminds me of that same grief...even though the ache of loss is what I’ve always known. Or…it’s the hardest thing in this precious moment. These precious moments count. That last moment, our first moment, all moments with you counted, and compiled and blessed my days.
It’s hard not to talk to you, my silly mutt, at night in my Cookie-love voice, getting you treats you never worked for—never had to, with eyes so full that you always got spoils unasked for. I already miss the steady breathing of your doggy dreams. I will miss you constantly searching for me. I will catch myself searching the rooms, the roads, the sand of the beach for your imprint, as though you only got lost with your rez buddies, went astray.
Maybe, like my children sweetly said, you got to greet the ones who’ve moved on, dearly beloved and temporarily gone. I hope they know to rub that spot on your nose. I hope they know to let you lay your chin on their knees, to pat their laps and invite you to sit, even if you’re too big. I hope…I wish…I grieve, for you, my sweet rez doggy.
*Copyright H.M. Jones, 2017. All rights reserved. No reproduction without consent of author.
Jay & Silent Bob’s Tattoo Parlor
February 28th 2016
Mel flinched as the needle stabbed quickly in and out of the sensitive, thin skin around her wrist but gave no other sign that she was in pain. Jay noticed the nearly indiscernible tilt of her eye, however, and smiled.
“Dude, I think that’s the first time you’ve ever looked like you were a little uncomfortable. You know the reason I have you in the chair up front is because it tricks our clients into thinking this shit doesn’t hurt.” Hay laughed and shook his head. “Seriously, I thought you were made of steal.”
Mel laughed. “Jay, I’m a woman. I’ve had a human fall out from inside of me without any medication. Women have to be tougher than men, or the world would be sorely lacking in people.”
“No way. I’ve had plenty men and women tear up under the gun. You just lack basic nerve endings.”
They both laughed. But Mel shook her head. “Or I’ve just known real pain.”
She immediately wished she hadn’t said it. Suddenly, her usually rigid exterior started to crumble, water she hated to shed sat just inside her lids. Her throat was thick with grief. She closed her eyes and swallowed hard, pushing it away.
No, you can’t cry right now, Mel. Not in front of the guys. You can cry at home.
The buzz of the gun, the pinpricks of pain stopped momentarily. “You wanna talk about it?”
Jay motioned with a hand covered in black, smiling skulls towards the tattoo he was outlining. It was a sky full of stars cut by a baseball with a meteor’s tail. The baseball was inked with her brother’s baseball number, unlucky 13. And he had been unlucky, in the end.
She couldn’t trust her voice, so she just shook her head.
Jay continued tattooing, but quietly murmured, “Why number 13, if you don’t mind me asking?”
Mel closed her eyes and lay her head against the medical paper covering the soft leather of the tattoo chair. It felt strange against her newly buzzed head. She’d always had much more hair when she visited before—black, thick strands falling in soft cascades around her waist. All gone now. She rubbed her free hand through the soft spikes of her grief made tangible.
“It was my brother’s baseball number. He loved baseball, and he was great at it.”
Baseball was the one thing he never seemed to tire of. He tired of her, especially her “judgements” about his addiction. He tired of going to work, paying his bills. But he never tired of baseball. If he was healthy, he was playing baseball.
She hated putting his life, her words about him, in past tense. But it was easier than saying the words she couldn’t bring herself to utter aloud—that he was forever gone.
“Shit, I’m sorry, Mel. It was recent then? You were just talking about having dinner with him last month.”
Mel nodded, her eyes still closed. “We had dinner. He wanted money, like usual. He said it was for rent. I knew it was for drugs. I gave it to him, anyway.”
Was it my fault? Was he killed buying dope with the money I gave him? Was he killed for the money another addict wanted?
She’d always wonder, and would probably never know the answer.
Mel shook her head, but didn’t explain further. The buzz of the gun resumed.
“Sorry, you said you didn’t want to talk about it. I can respect that.”
He put his head down to his work, and she let out a broken sigh before replying. “It’s okay. It’s just still too much.”
Jay nodded over her arm, his forehead wrinkled in worry. The fact that he was obviously worried about her was one of the reasons she came back, time and again, to this shop. The guys could say some idiotic things, but she liked them anyway. They were rough around the edges, but they cared about doing their jobs right and Jay was a good friend.
She leaned back and closed her eyes as Jay made progress on her arm. She’d never say it out loud, but the in and out of the needle was one of her favorite feelings. She realized that probably made her sound like a sicko, but she often felt like she didn’t experience sensation the way others did.
She didn’t process pain like others, she was sure of that. Was it because she’d suffered so much at such a young age—assault, the loss of both of her parents, the loss of her brother—that this kind of pain was almost pleasant? Relaxing, even? One thing was for sure, this feeling didn’t hold a candle to what was bottled up inside her, the volcano of emotion that was almost at the bursting point.
She didn’t know what to do with it all, so she took a few deep breaths, closed her eyes and focused on the way the needles felt as they danced across her skin. She pictured herself as a canvas and the needles as a brush. She imagined them remaking her entirely. She knew to others, the ink probably made her look more worn, unapproachable, dingy. But ink made her feel beautiful.
Hours later, the sun outside the shop window had fallen and the buzz of Jay’s gun was silent. He scrubbed her arm with a blue shop towel soaked in the sweet aroma of witch hazel. He slathered a layer of Vaseline that smelled like hazelnut latte over the raw skin on her arm, working it into the pores.
“You know the drill. Keep it clean. Keep it moisturized. Don’t scratch it. You’re like fucking wolverine, so it’ll probably heal up in a couple days.” Jay smiled out of the corner of his mouth and Mel laughed. Her skin did heal freakishly fast. Probably because it was used to the process.
“You got it. What do I owe you?” She opened her Star Wars pocket book and felt a twinge of grief stab at her heart. James bought it for her last Christmas.
Jay watched her carefully. “Three hundred.”
“Bull. What do I really owe you? I’ve been here for five hours.” She raised a suspicious eyebrow at him.
He sighed. “Just let me be fucking nice. I know you’ll be back. I feel like I get most of your money, eventually, so just let me be nice. Consider it a donation. I know you probably have shit to take care of, what with all that’s happened.”
Mel crossed her arms, “Yet I still came in here and spent money, so I must have enough for both. Don’t worry about what I have to take care of. You have a family to care for, too.”
“Three hundred.” The snake on Jay’s left bicep flexed as he crossed his arms in stubborn determination.
She rolled her eyes and gave him four-fifty. He never counted what she gave him anyway, so he wouldn’t know until it was too late.
“Thanks, Mel. I’ll see you soon, okay? You said I could do a phoenix on your back and you know I’m up for that.”
Jay wrapped Mel in a hug that was more fervent than his usual lazy, half-armed embrace. He towered over her long frame by a good five inches, so that his hug felt like it enveloped her entirely. It was nice. He stretched his long arms in the air, after she broke their embrace. His back cracked so loudly it startled her.
“Jeez, man, you need to go to a chiropractor.”
Jay patted his pocket, “And now I can. Or I can buy some new ink for myself.”
She shook her head and turned to go, just as the red shop door opened. The bell above the door clanged, and a stocky man walked in. She stared open-mouthed at the person framed in the peeling red paint of the shop door. She drank in the familiar bushy brows, the muddy-water eyes, the dark, full lips with a small mole just above them on the right side.
Her heart raced, and her head swam in a feeling so foreign to her she couldn’t place it. Elation? Is this what pure elation feels like?
“James!” Her exclamation was half-awed whisper and half-shout.
James looked confused and embarrassed, though she didn’t understand why. Why was he acting so strangely around his own sister? It hit her like a baseball to the brain.
James is dead. He died last week. He was shot in the heart by a man who didn’t have one, so it couldn’t be beating. He can’t be moving and breathing without that beat, can’t be whole and standing in front of you. This is not James.
“I’m sorry,” James’ doppleganger mouthed, his eyes wide, “I think you have the wrong person.”
Mel’s hard shell fell apart. It was almost palpable, the way she crumbled. It started with her face—crunched in despair—and ended at her fingertips which trembled so badly she dropped her wallet. Money and cards spilled onto the tiled floor.
The young man who was not James bent down and gathered the handful of twenties off the floor, while Mel shook and stared at her brother’s double. He looked so much like him that her body ached to hold him to her, to protect him from a fate she could not protect him from before. She didn’t even bend to retrieve the wallet he offered her from his position on the floor.
The way his right brow lifted just slightly, the way James’ did when he was anxious, sent her into hysterics. Tears streamed down her face, which she covered with both hands.
Jay put his arm around Mel. “Mel, what’s wrong?! Here, come sit down.” He guided her to the worn-down, puke green love seat in the waiting area of the shop.
He took her wallet from the man with his free hand, thanking him. The young man’s face was crinkled in concern, wrinkling above his nose just the way James’ did.
Mel tried to speak, attempted to stop the cascade of tears running down her face, but it was all in vain. Once the volcano erupted, it had to run its course.
The young man grew more and more concerned with every sob that wracked her body. “I’m sorry, miss. I counted the money. Two-hundred and fifty. It’s all there. You can count. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.”
But his voice was what finally calmed her. It was not the cocky tenor she grew up with. It didn’t have the lilt of self-confidence James’ had. It was a bit higher, shy and uncertain.
And, anyway, James would’ve pocketed at least sixty of those twenties and this guy didn’t even try. It’s not James, Mel. Get ahold of yourself.
“No, I’m sorry. I am just not myself.” She stood, swiping her face with an impatient sleeve. “I’m sorry, Jay, for making such a scene. I’m sorry to you, too. It’s not your fault.”
She ran from the shop before Jay could stop her. A paper clipping escaped the wallet she snatched from his hands. It hung in the air for a moment before drifting on the chilled breeze from the door right into Jay’s path. He plucked it from the air and gazed into a picture that looked exactly like the young man frowning out the window at Mel’s fleeing back. The only difference was that the man before him was alive.
Jay read the obituary to himself, but he could see the young man turn slightly, listening:
James A. Patterson was killed Feb. 2nd 2016. He is survived by his sister Melany B. Patterson. He is preceded in death by his father James Sr. and mother Edna. He was the best baseball player in Clinton county. He will be missed by many a fan, coach and player in the Titan league.
“Dude, you look exactly like him. Like, to the T. It’s uncanny.” Jay offered the young man the picture of Mel’s brother, but he shied away from it, as if it might burn.
“I know,” was all he said before turning on his heels and ducking out of the tattoo shop, his shoulders hunched and guilty.
Teevia Rex’s Loft
February 29th 2016
Teevia closed the blinds to the blinding Chicago morning sun. His loft looked out over the Sear’s tower, which shone the sun’s rays directly into his windows first thing in the morning. He knew that most humans would think him spoiled by the fancy loft apartment with bamboo flooring, a wall of windows and modern granite counter tops, so he tried not to take it for granted.
His home planet had provided him with a very luxurious human life, by hacking into their feeble systems and creating him from nothing, with the all the necessary numbers, bank accounts and credentials attached.
He usually found his human life pleasant, his view tremendous, but was in a foul mood after last night’s run-in with the woman who was his double’s sister.
He had other reasons for closing his blinds to the sun this morning. The glare on his log box would make it hard for him to see Professor Finalog. It was time to make his weekly report home. Professor Finalog demanded weekly speaking sessions for his intergalactic students, especially when they were on travel assignments.
He clicked open his log box. It was similar enough to a human laptop that it was inconspicuous to carry around. He pushed the video com button on his log box and waited two minutes, watching the glowing “wait” orb on his screen while the lightwave connection responded. After a couple minutes, Professor Finalog’s drooping white face popped up on the screen.
“Hello in Chicago, Teevia Rex. We will speak in English, to acclimate you to using it daily. I would hate for you to slip into our language accidentally and frighten some easily spooked humans.”
The professor guffawed at his own speciest joke. Teevia wasn’t so sure all humans were easily frightened, though many of them seemed to be.
“Hello, professor. It is Feburary 28th, 2016 on the earth calendar. I am reporting to you at 6:00 a.m., Midwestern time.” Teevia rubbed the stiff stubble on his human chin, while reciting the standard log introduction.
The professor nodded as Teevia went through the motions. “Good, good. Now please tell me about anything of consequence you’ve discovered in your travels. Remember, I am most interested in hearing about advances in technologies and politics. You are entirely too interested in recounting the mundane for my taste.”
What professor Finalog thought mundane was what most of his species thought mundane—human relationships, their volatile passions. Teevia used to feel the same way. He’d come to earth to finish the work study portion of his thesis—Repetitive Animalistic Tendencies in the Human Species: The Reason Humans Have Failed to Evolve for Centuries.
Conducting research on his home planet—scouring through journals, books and papers written on humans over the span of their small existence—had confirmed his primary thesis. But his work study brought with it conflicting ideas.
Overhearing chatter in the local shops, cafes and stores often confirmed his thesis that humans failed to evolve because they couldn’t battle the instinct to praise bravado, beauty and brawn over intellect.
“Technology is fairly stagnant, though the elderly humans seem to think it moves too quickly. The bookstores and cafes are filled with elderly men and women who complain about ‘kids’ and ‘technology,’” Teevia chuckled, “It’s rather humorous, actually.”
Professor Finalog’s drooping countenance didn’t alter. “You must be careful not to get caught up in their humors, Teevia Rex. Their humors are the reason they war so often, killing each other like animals.”
Teevia stopped smiling, though inside he was still thinking about the curly, white-haired couple he’d overheard toying with their new cell phones. They grumbled, pushed the wrong buttons, then giggled when the male one accidentally took a picture up his nose.
They didn’t seem to mind all that much that they were failing to comprehend the simple technology. Instead, they played with the zoom feature of the camera, trying to see if the man’s nose hair was as white as the hair on his head. Teevia’s people would think it all a silly inferior display of animal behavior, but the way the couple had laughed, kissed, then giggled again…
“As I was saying, technology is comparatively stagnant. Most technology seems to be used for the sole purpose of vanity—taking better pictures, lying to themselves about how they look through filters that make them look younger, skinnier. Or they play games. The new fad is hunting for invisible creatures, or, rather, creatures that show up only on their phones. There doesn’t seem to be a reason for it, apart from amusement, which is the other purpose most of the created technology serves. There are a short supply of scientists and engineers who are concerned with serious problems that most of humanity seems unconcerned about—global warming, new energies, disease.”
Teevia paused for a moment, considering his words. “I would say, in this part of the world, that capitalism reigns and technology serves the frivolous. This is also an election season, and the favorite candidate on one side is…”
Teevia didn’t know what to say about the man. He searched himself for the most correct description. “He seems a lot like men of other human pasts—selfish, primarily concerned with obtaining wealth, single-minded, and angry about so many things. He is angry and frightened all the time. It’s hard to see why, as it often is. It feels like a video on repeat, like he is something that has happened to humans before.”
Teevia waited for professor Finalog to comment, but he just rubbed his jowls for a moment before saying, “But none of this interests you, Teevia?”
Teevia turned his human hand over, amazed at the lines showing his ‘age.’ “I met the sister of my body’s double, the young man whose make-up we copied. The meeting was…fraught.”
Professor Finalog’s face didn’t change. Emotional displays did not rate high with his people. They prized themselves on logic. Teevia was considered hot headed, but he was young and it was expected that he would mature.
Finally, he spoke, “It is strange that that occurred, Teevia. We placed you in Chicago because it is far enough from your DNA partner’s hometown that this would not be a problem. Perhaps our research team made a mistake. I will do some delving, and get back to you.”
Teevia was anxious to hear anything about the woman he ran into, but he didn’t want to seem eager. “It was easily rectified. She was emotional, but quickly dismissed my appearance. I’m only a ‘doppleganger’ to her.”
Professor Finalog nodded. “Yes, humans like easy explanations. Avoid the place where you met her. If that is all, I must be going. I have a conference with Melton in five minutes. Interestingly enough, he wants to discuss a similar occurrence. He claims to have met his DNA partner’s daughter yesterday. There must be a problem with our system. Meetings like this so rarely happen. I shall get back to you soon.”
Teevia promised to avoid the tattoo parlor again. His people didn’t tend to feel guilty, but he did feel a little guilty for lying to Professor Finalog.
Mt. Vernon, WA
Feb. 27th, 2016
Melton glanced over his shoulder, past the yellow bricks of processed macaroni and giant cans of chili. He couldn’t remember how he got into the heartburn aisle, or what he’d been looking for when he came into this swarming mega-store.
From the moment he’d exited his vehicle he’d been trailed by a short woman with worried eyes. He couldn’t mistake her intent. She didn’t hide the anxiety sitting just under the surface, didn’t pretend to shop. Her cart rambled behind him, its emptiness echoing as she shuffled after him, straining on tiptoe to see his face.
He didn’t know what to do. Everything about her told him that she would not give up until he acknowledged her presence, turned and faced her. His training, however, made it clear that he should do no such thing. Humans like this one—in the heat of some sort of passion—were to be avoided at all costs.
So he rambled on and threw things into his too large cart that he didn’t need—a fifty pack of baby diapers, a tub of some sort of powdered drink, enough batteries to power the entire city of Mt. Vernon—and he ignored the young woman with a determination he hoped would deter her.
It did not.
She looked around desperately, noticed an oversized bag of popcorn just out of her reach and made a show of reaching for it before sighing in an exaggerated manner.
She turned her blonde head towards Melton. “Hey, I’m sorry, but can you help me get something from this shelf here? It’s just a little too high up for me to reach.” Her voice was tense and choked, but she attempted to keep it even.
Melton saw the way she strained to see his face, as he half-turned to her. He searched his training, confused about what to do. On one hand, he thought he understood why the woman was agitated and wanted to assure her that he was not who she thought he was. On the other hand, his training suggested that he should avoid such a confrontation.
The woman craned her neck and waited for an answer, lifting herself onto the balls of her toes and falling back down, rapidly. Her entire body was a mass of anxiety. Melton turned to her, hanging his head and avoiding her eyes.
The way recognition turned to hope, and hope filled her entire face to bursting was nothing short of magnificent.
Humans are the most feeling of all beings.
The word fell uncertain and heavy around them.
This was a traveler’s worst fear, meeting his or her double’s lifemates, but Melton prided himself on his composure.
“I’m sorry. I think you’ve mistaken me for someone else.” He extended his hand, “I’m Mike Brown.”
She stared at his hand in disbelief. The hope that filled her face seconds ago visibly leaked from her, as if she were a punctured balloon. Her blue eyes began to glisten, her pink bottom lip trembled.
“Oh, gosh. I’m…uh, I…” She shied away from his outstretched hand, and he dropped it to his side. “I was just so sure you were him, but that’s stupid. Of course you’re not. I mean…he’s…” She didn’t say what he was, but Melton knew.
He’s dead. I’m not him because he’s dead.
The distraught woman raked her hands through her short hair and turned from him, leaving her cart in the aisle. Her shoulders shook as she pushed past harried shoppers. Her passion almost overcame his sensible side. She let out a high, chocked wail, and his feet moved forward automatically. Despite his years of training, his cool temperament, there was nothing more he wanted to do than apologize to the young woman, explain to her that she was not crazy, hold her as she cried.
But he remembered himself, and stayed put as she ran, trembling and sobbing, from the mega-store. He knew he was doing right by staying put. Professor Finalog would not approve of him getting tangled in human problems.
But watching her suffer and doing nothing felt wrong.
Jay & Silent Bob’s Tattoo Parlor
January 20th, 2016
It was immature of Teevia to study the appointment card the sad woman dropped from her wallet a couple weeks back. It was even more childish to come to the tattoo parlor he was supposed to be avoiding. He wanted to see the sad woman again, though it was hard to say why. Their meeting felt unfinished.
Professor Finalog found the glitch—an error in assignment programming had caused four travelers to be placed in the hometowns of their body’s doubles. It was quickly patched up. Apologies were made to the travelers, who were being moved immediately to new locations, so that they could continue their studies unhindered by awkward meetings with their DNA-double’s friends and family.
But what about the friends and family? Who would apologize to them? Were they not the ones truly suffering after such encounters? Teevia couldn’t help but wonder.
It hadn’t been awkward to meet his double’s loved one, as it had been for Melton and the other two travelers. Awkward was not the right word. Teevia didn’t know what to call the sensation that sat heavily upon his shoulders every time he remembered the way the woman’s eyes had soaked him in—as though he were everything to her—then darkened and filled when she realized that he was nothing to her.
The way her shoulder’s shook and her face crumbled played over and over in his mind. He didn’t know how to lighten the burden of that meeting, but he knew leaving wouldn’t do it.
She was walking towards him now, her spikey black head down, her eyes on her red cloth high-tops. She didn’t notice him at the corner of her favorite tattoo shop until he cleared his throat.
She looked up, and covered her mouth, horrified. “What?...”
He backed away, his hands held up. “I’m sorry. I know seeing me brought you grief last time. I don’t mean to bring you further grief. That is the last thing I want.”
Teevia was frustrated that he hadn’t better planned what to say to the woman, who was trying to locate her voice. Her mouth was moving, but no sound came out.
Finally, she found it. “It’s not your fault. You just look like somebody I lost. I don’t know how you figured out I’d be here, but you shouldn’t have bothered coming back to apologize. You didn’t do anything wrong.”
Anxiety pulled uncomfortably upon Teevia. He was not used to such a powerful emotion. It made it hard to think, to speak. “I looked at your appointment card. I apologize for prying. But I do think I did something wrong. You are sad because I look like your brother. I do look exactly like him, or almost exactly. Therefore, I caused you pain. I am sorry for that. I want you to know I am sorry for looking like him, and for making you sad.”
The woman frowned and smiled at the same time. It was the most perplexing expression Teevia’d ever witnessed. “Well, I accept your apology for the snooping. Jay told me I dropped my brother’s obituary on the way out, so you must have figured out why I lost my head. I think it’s sweet that you were concerned, but you can’t help how you look. So, please…just…just don’t worry about it, okay? I’m going to be fine. I’ll be even better if we can pretend it never happened, alright? It was more embarrassing than anything. I don’t like crying like that, and you caught me off guard…”
She studied him, her eyes narrowed and a little glassy, as though she might be overcome again. “Honestly, it’s hard to see you. It’s not your fault, but seeing his face on you makes it hard for me to get over all this.”
Teevia frowned. “I see. I shouldn’t have come. It was the wrong decision. I wanted to apologize, to make you feel better, but seeing me makes you feel worse. I…I am not always good at saying and doing the right things.”
Teevia’s head spun and his heart sank. Disappointment was a terrible feeling. He’d hoped he would make her feel better but had done the opposite.
The woman shook her head, and studied him as though he were a puzzle. “You’re nothing like James. That helps a little.”
Teevia tilted his head to the side. “What do you mean?”
“Well, first, James never was much for apologizing, even when he did wrong. Second, and no offense, you’re pretty stiff and formal. James was confident as hell, cocky even. He wasn’t stiff about anything, except maybe his drinks.” She laughed a little.
Teevia liked the sound of her laugh, so he smiled even though he didn’t understand the joke. “I suppose I am tense. I’m not good with people, I’m sorry to say. I…I guess that’s why I miscalculated and came here again. It is hard to know what to do in a situation like this. Only, I didn’t want to leave Chicago knowing that I had caused a person grief and not tried to assuage it.”
“Wait, you’re leaving? Do you not live here?” Her black eyebrows rose in alarm.
Teevia rocked from one foot to the other, anxiety causing his body to fidget. “Uh, no. That is, I was here studying, but my studies here have ended. I have research to do in another state.”
The woman’s eyes lost a little of their sparkle.
Why? Why does she look upset about me leaving? She just said it is best that she doesn’t see me.
“Oh,” she stated. “Well, this is going to sound backwards, but that’s kind of a bummer. I mean, it is hard to see someone who looks so much like James, but I can see now that you’re a very different person, and, well…I don’t know. It’s stupid.”
“What is stupid?” Teevia urged her to continue, wanting to understand the emotions that volleyed over her countenance.
“It’s hard to see you, but…it’s also really nice. I don’t know why, but just after James died, I couldn’t picture his face clearly. I’d close my eyes to see him, but his face was blurry, like a picture out of focus. After seeing you, it was different. I could see him in my mind’s eye again. I just…I was wondering if I was already forgetting him. Seeing you makes me remember the little things I don’t want to forget. Grief does weird things to your mind.”
Teevia wasn’t sure how to respond, so he just said the first thing that came to him. “I’m sorry for having the face I have and for taking it from you.”
She laughed, her brown eyes sparkling. “I am being ridiculous, aren’t I?”
Teevia knew Professor Finalog would think the woman was ridiculous, emotional, unstable, but he didn’t. Despite his upbringing and training, he was different from other beings on his planet. His insides twisted uncomfortably with a feeling he was having a hard time naming.
“I don’t think you are ridiculous. I certainly wasn’t implying that. The way you speak of your brother makes me feel…” he grasped for the perfect word. English had so many words. Which one was most correct? What was this feeling? “I guess it makes me feel a little envious.”
The woman smiled. “You don’t have any siblings?”
Teevia shook his head, “No, nor do I know anyone of whom I would speak with such admiration.”
“I don’t know if I’d say I admired him. Maybe sometimes I did, like when he was playing ball. But I loved him even when he was being awful. I don’t think you can help but love your siblings, no matter how flawed they are. I definitely can’t help but mourn him. He was all I had left.”
Her smiled failed. Teevia couldn’t help but wonder how a human could feel so many different emotions in such a short time. He shuffled from foot to foot, not knowing what a human usually did when words or silence got uncomfortable.
The woman exhaled heavily, pulled her phone from her pocket and pursed her lips, as if thinking. “I should go into the shop, or I’ll be late to my appointment. Thank you for coming back. I’ll admit that this wasn’t how I hoped my day would go, but I feel more at peace now. It was nice meeting you…uh…” she laughed, “I guess I don’t know your name. This is the most backward meeting I’ve ever had, and not just because you have my brother’s body.”
He cleared his throat uncomfortably, knowing that she couldn’t guess how close she was at the truth. He wasn’t in her brother’s body, but it was a nearly exact replica of it.
I wonder if she suspects anything. She seems bright, for a human.
“My name is Tim Ryan.”
He took her accepted hand and studied her face, but it held no suspicion. It was cheerful and kind. Smile lines showed around the corners of her mouth and eyes. She shook his hand with a grasp both confident and strong.
“I’m Melody. It’s nice and very weird to meet you, Tim.”
Teevia smiled. He couldn’t help it. Melody amused him.
Her smile faltered and her eyes held a hint of pain. “You have dimples. James did, too. It’s just…it’s uncanny, you know?”
He nodded, “Yes, I do know. Goodbye, Melody Patterson. You have an appointment to make and I have a train to catch. I hope the remainder of your days are more happy than sad.”
He turned from her, noticing how her mouth fell open, but not wanting to engage further. He’d already done and said more than he should. Professor Finalog might even cut his travel study short after this.
It was worth it. I don’t understand why, but I think this meeting was worth whatever punishment comes my way.
Mel watched as the strange, formal young man walked away, her head dizzy with questions unanswered.
I never told him my last name. How did he know it?
She soon shook the suspicion off when she remembered how he gathered her wallet from the floor of the tattoo parlor. He probably saw her ID then. She watched her brother’s doppleganger until he sulked out of view. James used to strut wherever he went, his arms wide and his head high.
Not Tim. He pushed his shoulders forward as if he were drawing in on himself. He dropped his head, as if apologizing for walking the earth. It was strange that the man who looked exactly like James could act so drastically different.
The hundreds of emotions that ping-ponged against her skull were interrupted by a familiar arm flung around her shoulder.
“You coming in or am I going to have to dock your deposit?”
Mel rolled her eyes at Jay. “Yeah right. This is a touch-up appointment. I don’t owe you shit.”
“We can change that. Let’s get in out of the cold and set you up an appointment for that phoenix.” He waggled his pierced eyebrows at her.
She chuckled and pushed Jay’s lanky frame towards the tattoo parlor’s red door. “You know what, I feel like a fucking phoenix today—like I was burned to ashes and rose from them, stronger than before.”
Jay held the shop door open for her. “I’m glad to hear it. But I hope you’re not much stronger. You already make me feel like a pussy.”
Mel’s laughter filled the shop.
Listen to this short story on Redshift Radio's Fancy Pants Gangster Sci-fi stories: HERE.
H.M. Jones is the author of three novels, two novellas and many short stories and poems. She writes for the love of it, and hopes you enjoy her work. Visit her books in the tabs above.
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I recently wrote another book (Al Ravien's Night) released it to the world, then fell flat on my face into my pillow, and wondered why I did it again. Why create a story, push myself into characters and the world, put it into the world, just to have it be ignored?
Why the endless cycle of eager inspiration, deep involvement, countless hours pouring over the page and laptop? Why the editing sessions, marketing, money into promos and spreading of what I've done, only to be met with the sound of silence? Why do I invest myself into creation? What does it do?
If I thought my friends to be readers, I might say, "To amuse those I love." Only a handful have read my work, though, so that would be a lie. To be sure, those who do are fans, are dear to me, and I thank them. But is it enough when so many others don't read beyond a facebook post? When those who do read are swamped with a deluge of books they simply cannot wade through, is it enough?
I don't know. I don't know if it's enough to create another story, maybe read by a handful, maybe read by none. But I think I do know why I do it, despite the inevitable depression it births: I love my characters, the worlds they live in, and the things that come about in their lives. I live their ups and downs with them and I treasure our time together. In other words, I am crazy. I'm not saying that facetiously. I am, in fact, not sane.I do not know what normal people feel like, why they do the things they do or why the don't do others. I only know my characters, people whose motives and lives I know from the start. Them, I understand.
And I only know me, and creating stories makes up a large part of who I am, and who I will always be. I will threaten to throw the habit away, when my anger over the silence feels to heavy, but I will be lying.
I will start awake with a plot point for that book that hit a brick wall. I will talk to my characters, animatedly, in the car, scaring the people I pass with the passion of an argument seemingly with myself. I will delve my heart into lives not real, but important to me in a way I cannot explain. And I will throw myself against my pillow, when I meet the shrugs, and wonder why I did it again.
Weeks later, I will re-meet a character, an old friend, and I will be consumed. We love the things we love. We will often act stupidly or impetuously for them. Whether we draw, paint, sing, celebrate...it is something we do not for the sense of it. The sensibility is what counts, what draws us in. It's what keeps me going. I have to remember that, every time.
I am not writing to be heard by millions, to make money or even to make friends. I am writing for the love of it. For me, that love has no end. And so, I pick up my head, my laptop and begin all over again.
H.M. Jones is the author of the NIEA finalist, B.R.A.G medallion dark fantasy, Monochrome, and its prequel, Fade to Blue. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, kids, cat, dog and chickens. She spends most of her spare time writing, reading, running or getting tattooed. You can visit her website at www.hmjones.net. Al Ravien's Night is her newest release, and she had too much fun writing it.
I am blessed to live in a community with many talented artists. One of the artists this community can and should boast about is Marvel, IDW, and Valiant comic book artist Jeffrey Veregge. Thankfully, we are both geeks, so we've gotten on well since we first met. Even more thankfully, Jeffrey is a wonderful guy who did me the great favor of speaking at Northwest Indian College (where I teach) for my Pacific Northwest Native Art History class.
We are on the modern art portion of class, right now, because I know many talented Native people currently practicing art, and I don't want my students to think of Native art all in terms of the past. Absolutely, the history of art is a huge part of the inspiration to create for members of this tribe--that cultural, ancestral tie--but it's not the only inspiration. Native art is alive and well. It is not history; though it has a long history. It is not stagnant, but varied. Jeffrey Veregee is an example of an artist who has strong ties to home, but whose art is a very real expression of his complex personhood.
The Early Stages
Jeffrey began his journey as a young geek, wearing Spock ears around the rez, even being teased for his geeky obsessions. At 23, he was thinking about a job with the FBI; he went through the arduous background checks and extensive questioning. The FBI told him that, if he was serious about a position in their ranks, college had to be in his horizon. This opened the door for Jeffrey to think about what he wanted to pursue in college. When he went over it in his head, though, the same thing kept coming up: art.
He started off at the Art Institute wanting to get into special effects or action figure design (which he did pursue for a short time), but his path took him somewhere else. Design called to him, and he had a knack for it.
"Breaking the Rules the Right Way"
Jeffrey grew up around many local artists who had a knack for design. He mentioned local elder Jake Jones (recently deceased) as someone who he looked up to. He thought about those people whose art he grew up seeing. He didn't want them to think he took shortcuts, that he didn't understand Native art. But he also wanted to break the rules a little, have his own style.
He approached Tsimshian artist David Boxley to learn more about Native design. "I wanted to break the rules the right way," he told those assembled at his talk. He combined what he learned from Boxley on Tsimshian formline and design with what he learned at the Art Institute. He refers to his work as a hybrid of graphic design and Pacific Northwest Native design elements, or "Salish Geek."
After school, he worked for 12 years at Market Works, where he was able to learn about branding and marketing. He worked his way from an intern to studio design manager, but he wasn't completely happy.
He started painting again, gave up his steady job and paycheck and took the plunge into full-time artistry. His work didn't come into the limelight over night, but through much hard work he was able to start getting it out to the world. His art was featured in sets for the Twilight movie. He won a few art contests with his mesh of Native-influenced themes and Matisse/Picasso style graphics, but he hadn't quite found his style yet.
Finding Himself in Art
Jeffrey approached a pop-art gallery in Seattle, selling his idea of "Coast Salish Star Wars." He was disappointed when his first approach to Lucas Films was passed up, but not long after he created his now extremely popular Batman and Spiderman graphics (featured, not long after, at the Seattle Art Museum).
In these designs, Jeffrey found something that spoke to his heritage and his own unique design-style. He played with formline shapes, feathers and negative and positive spaces, while also integrating stances, colors and movement that represented the nature of the heroes and stories he was designing. And the designs didn't just speak to his roots; they spoke to the world of geekdom.
Jeffrey has now done at least 100 comic book graphics/covers (IDW, Valiant and Marvel among them). He's done murals, graphics for major companies, and special designs for many a convention.
He's been chosen for several major projects this year, which I will not spoil for him in this blog post. His design for Ironman was shared and appreciated (and later worn) by Robert Downey Jr. (something that brought his proud wife to tears). He's worked with George Takei, and the daughter of Nemoy.
Currently, Veregge is working on his own comic book hero, who will be the first ever S'Klallam comic book hero to hit the world. As someone who has been privileged enough to read the early stages of this book, I have to say that I cannot wait for him to be able to bring his own book (front to back, words, design and all) to fruition. As a mother of S'Klallam children, I can only thank Jeffrey for giving them a S'Klallam hero to read.
The Roots of His Passion
Jeffrey's love of his tribe, his family and life is a big source of pride and passion. He teared up a bit when he spoke about his tribe. He said, choked up, "I'm so proud of where I'm from. I try to always say I'm Port Gamble S'Klallam. You all are the best part of what I do."
Finishing his talk, Jeffrey hit home the importance of persistence. He iterated that he only became famous when he stopped caring more about the paycheck than about doing something that brought him joy. He also cautioned those present about focusing on failure. "Don't be afraid of failure [...] We get one shot on this earth, so don't waste it. [...] Failure is a stepping stone to success," Veregge reassured the gathered students.
At the end of his talk, he joked that he wished he could tell that young, geeky kid with Spock ears, who was often teased, that he'd one day have a beautiful wife who would sit with him and watch Star Trek, that he'd be getting paid to recreate the characters he loved. Over and over again, he reiterated how blessed he felt he was, both by God and by the love of his wife, family and children, who support and cheer him on.
Veregge is certainly a talented artist, but he's also just a great human being. His work speaks for itself, but hearing his story was a joy for all those gathered, and an inspiration to those with dreams as big and obtainable as those Veregge has achieved.
Build a Whole New World
One of the most asked questions I get from both readers and fellow writers is about world building. Readers love to hate the world of Monochrome (my dark fantasy), and that truly fills my black heart with pride. But even as a writing instructor, it took time to generate an answer that was better than “Well, it just came to me.” That’s partly true, but it’s mostly a lame answer. So, eager world builders, here’s some actually helpful and honest world creation advice.
Be a Thief, Like Tamora Pierce
I’ve been stuck in the land of Tortall since I was seven. Even as an adult reading Pierce’s books to my children, I’m in awe of how real her world is. I know its corners, its people, its pitfalls. So when I met Pierce at one of her readings my first question as an aspiring writer was: “How did you make Tortall so real?”
And in her cheeky manner she retorted, “I steal a lot.” She laughed it off with everyone else and specified that she spent a lot of her time reading other good world builders and seeing what they did best. But she said it was more than that. It was about stealing from reality. She traveled a lot, experienced places outside of her own sphere, and researched the places she couldn’t travel to. So her world is tangible because it’s not far from our historical or current reality.
That made me think of my favorite world builders: Tolkien, Rowling, Lemony Snicket, George R.R. Martin. They all have that thievery in common. George R.R. Martin’s work is very Middle Ages, gritty old world. Tolkien is all mountains and wild, untamed New Zealand hillsides. Rowling’s Hogwarts is, for all it’s magic, just like middle school and high school was for so many of us, albeit with more ghosts and wand waving. Any young woman who read the Hermione yule ball scene feels me on this one. That’s high school in a nutshell—put tons of effort into looking stunning and have some young dude completely take you for granted. Lemony Snicket takes places we think we know—fishing villages plucked right out of a Dicken’s novel—and makes it his own. We can place ourselves in these worlds because they are linked to a reality we already know, even if in an offhand way.
Make it Moody
Think about the worlds that stick to the back of your mind. They have a feeling, don’t they? Labyrinth has a dark, fantastical, confounding feeling. Orwell’s Oceania feels stark, grey and heavy. It feels like the pounding of militant feet. Tatooine feels isolated, hard and hopeless. If you’re nodding along with me it’s because the writers of these places had a feeling they wanted conveyed in their world. They had emotional qualities tied up in that area and they used that mood to help guide the landscape. I’m assuming all this, of course, having never interviewed these people. But I’m also not.
When I went about creating Monochrome, I knew what I wanted people to feel when they stepped into it: afraid, uncertain, morose, desperate, and mind numbingly gloomy. I wanted to make the emotional state of depression so tangible that readers could walk through it. The authors I love gave me those feelings each time their characters stepped into a new place. When I creep into Borgin & Burkes I feel frightened and unsettled, just like Harry. But only a few blocks away I can hop into Weasleys Wizard Weezes, where hilarity and joy reign. Choose your colors, your landscape, your clothing, your lighting, and your smells based on the mood you want to convey in that place.
Map Your World
My last piece of advice is simple. Map your world out physically, even if you have no hand for artistry. Mapping out my own worlds with rough tree-like things, city-like things and little descriptions, swatches of clothing, and splashes of color, makes it more real to me.
Many of us rely on our tactile and visual senses, so play to those. If you’re handy with a computer, graph it. If you’re an artist, paint, draw or charcoal your world out. For complex worlds where clothing, housing and weaponry all need to be thought up, look up different fabrics, shoes, and textures good for certain climates. Create a collage of what your people would wear, what they’d use to hunt with (if they’d hunt at all), the colors that would be logical for their station/city/rural outpost.
Just close your eyes and settle yourself in a sturdy but comfortable chair in the Shire. Picture its lush foliage, neat gardens, sprinkled hobbit holes, pipes, vegetable fields, and full larders. It is the color of spring grass or cherry wood trimmings, is it not? It is the smell of baked ham, eggs, and apple pie for first breakfast. It is the sound of quiet merriment, the pleasant baa of sheep. Touch the heavy cotton, simply dyed. Tolkien knew his world, truly thought about the comfort of a hobbit, the hard-as-steel home for a dwarf, the graceful greenery of an elf, the heat and fire of an orc. Each place has its own colors, textures, customs, culture and personality.
Martin’s worlds are so tactile that the authors of the Feast of Ice and Fire cookbook were able to show us what the different areas would taste like. When I first took a bite of Bowls of Brown I felt like my mouth had been transported to flea bottom. Martin clearly put a great deal of precision into his mapping out, an awful lot of research and a good deal of description.
World creation is not just a few descriptors neatly placed. Good worlds reach into reality, engage your emotions and become a truly tactile experience. History, and literature can get you started, but only your own full characters and their emotional, physical and spiritual needs can complete your world.
Now, off with you. Go create!
H.M. Jones can't build much with her hands, apart from a chicken coup and bookshelves. She's not sure if this machine she's in is a backhoe or some other piece of equipment. She'll do the research if she ever needs to write about it. Visit her website at www.hmjones.net to get lost in her worlds. She's also on Twitter and Facebook. Peace out.
H.M Jones is the author of B.R.A.G Medallion Honor and NIEA finalist book Monochrome, its prequel Fade to Blue, the Adela Darken Graphic Novellas, Al Ravien's Night, The Immortals series, and several short stories.