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my open heart

My Open Heart


Many of the wealthy are happy. Most are breathing a big sigh of relief. It’s all over the country. The trend is upward. These are people who live in bubbles. High walls often form a barrier between rich and poor. They were sipping flavored waters. From that height the shantytown crawling through the hills became sparkling jewels. It was like an oyster waiting to be opened. 

She was 21, single and the mother of four kids all younger than five. She recently lost her job at a hamburger place. She had to care for her sick child. The money disappeared on bills and diapers. It was a devastating feeling to wake up and think you didn’t have enough food to carry on. You don’t know what to do or where to turn. Many people lived in poverty in the cool, hip city. For people who are hungry, the phrase “food insecurity” is a bit mild. It’s a symptom of poverty. 

They were married but had grown apart. She was angry at how he disciplined their son. The boy holds tight to small memories of his father. They went to get donuts before the sun came up. They’re doing everything they can to give those boys a safe and happy home. 

He grabbed her and threatened to kill her. She shot him with a gun hid in the closet. He was a good man, a family man, and they loved him. 

It happened so quickly. An airplane fell from the sky. The crash killed one. He just looked up and then it was going down. It missed the school and nearby homes. It plunged into a wooded area. No one on the ground was injured. The purpose of the trip was unknown. He jumped into his truck and rushed to the scene. There was a homeless encampment in the wooded area. They were looking for items stolen in a burglary when the plane crashed. They were hospitalized for over-exertion. They were saddened by the crash but relieved it happened in a wooded area. She thought no one could survive it. She saw the airplane plunging and a large plume of dust. She was sitting when she heard the plane. It sounded like a missile hit the ground. Her house shook from the impact. 

She’s either a saint or a fool. They came into her life one Saturday. She had been consumed by health and financial problems. But they filled her house with love and laughter in a split-second. She decided to take them and provide for their needs. Her load seemed lighter, all the daily crap we sweat over. (It’s the real things we need to focus on and forget the others.) They were only three days out of the hospital when the storm hit. She knows where she wants to raise them and how she’s going to do it, far from the pandemonium she sees in her town. She sees them and talks to them everyday. She resigned herself to a future of house cleaning and child rearing. The wind battered their home. She found herself wading through waters. They spent several days waiting for rescue. Finally a bus spirited them away. 

She discovered a mysterious and painful breast condition. It was a form of cancer that was benign but still a mystery. She was struggling. She was driving downtown when she discovered teeming crowds. She was crying hard. God took her steering and turned her around. A massive hurricane had just hit. She set out to build a solid foundation for her family. She remains torn. She is “emotionally preparing” herself. She can find a better paying job. She’ll always be in her life. She put that fear to rest. She couldn’t take that from them. “I’ve never seen them so happy.” 

They were left without a home. She wouldn’t come to the door. The neighbors were worried about her. She was talking to herself loudly. They called for her safety. She was alone inside. She didn’t seem dangerous to herself or to anyone else. They were just glad they all got out. 

They remind her of her brother. Do donkeys keep coyotes away? He hadn’t seen his mother since he was two years old. He didn’t know he had a sister. She searched the Internet for her brother’s name. She pointed at a photo: “That’s my son.” He lived in a styrofoam igloo outside of town. He slept on a pallet. He preferred the peace and quiet to the crowded shelters of the city. He started writing a play. They promised free food. He hadn’t heard his name since he was a toddler. He had lived on the streets most of his life. They wrote letters and made phone calls. She’d longed for the moment since she was a teenager. Things did not go well. 

She tried to support herself as a waitress. He didn’t talk to his uncle and doesn’t know where he is. He took her children. He was old enough to be curious. He asked what really happened. He said he was beaten. He had enough. Her husband drove the family apart. She was always a couple of months behind. He always moved on, no one knew where. She feared the worst. She got out the message. She drove up in a pickup to meet her family. Representatives are coming to talk to her. She wants to be with her children. She hadn’t cried for years. She thought she’d run out of tears. She hasn’t yet. 

She was asleep in a filthy apartment. Cars and trucks swerved to avoid the two year old playing in the highway. His sister was eating spaghetti off the floor. They took care of the boy until the police arrived. 

They struggled to stay alive in the hours that followed. 

He protested his innocence. He looked tense. He said he didn’t do anything. 

They tried to close a chapter but ended up making everybody angry. He was heavy-set. Passing the camera in a blur, the body came to rest on its chest a few yards away. He died as expected. The scene was not repeated. He wondered – where were the people who cry out for human rights? He had cancer. They kept him alive to kill him. Even if it took years, they vowed to take revenge. In grief and frustration they said to hell with democracy. They want still more bloodshed. Many were firing guns in the air. Others were weeping or cursing. 

Two young children died. Blood samples from the babies’ heels were analyzed. The adult victims were deaf. The cause was unknown. Someone left a memorial outside the home. 

He smashed him in the head with a hatchet and confessed to a nearby clerk. Lawyers took care of some final issues. The fire began about 4 AM and the house was engulfed in flames by the time firefighters arrived. She left her home to visit a friend but never arrived. She left necessary medication at home. It was a white or yellow pickup with large tires and rollbars. 

Now he was the prey. He holstered a pistol to his hip and set out over the scrub brush to hunt, an act that’s often chronicled by the media. They were bringing their wives, their families, their kids. They didn’t need them. He harassed and imprisoned people he confronted. He threatened and insulted them with epithets. They are going after their money. He is ubiquitous and an inspiration. They kept boasting. We have really, truly breached their defense. Come in and sue him whenever he does some wrong to people. He denied threatening anyone. Accusations of abuse seem to be on the wane. They sympathized with his rationale. They would not resolve the problems the crossers caused. The man had it. He took up a campaign against the people. They maintained no formal relationship. If they see something we ask them to call us, just like any group. He acted out of a right to protect his property. He pointed guns at them. They began collecting testimony from others. 

What you remember in times of panic is strange. She was less than a block from her home. Many are just taken out and stuck in a hole. There was no place for survivors to gather. She remembers the day. A friend remembers his beautiful, sad smile. Everything went wrong at the worst possible time. There are a few things that rattle around in your head about the possibilities of things happening to you. Her black cat was curled in her lap. It left her ears ringing at the side of the road. He said sorry but he didn’t sound sincere. Some days are harder than others. She sees her life as a chance to influence children. “I just hope my friends will be there. There’s no question in my mind what Jesus would do.” Fate started the wheels turning in his mind. It’s a community stopping to shine the light on the need. It’s like the final gift you can give. Don’t you find that a bummer? How can you hear that kind of thing and not believe in angels? Now he has a window of opportunity. He’s just so lucky. He will continue to give light to their eyes. It has shaken the community. 

It was but one of many violent outbursts. The radio flashed the news across the snow-covered prairies. He killed himself on a lonely road near his home. They lost their land, cattle and credit rating. They went on a rampage of killing, shooting three people to death. His health had failed. Numerous other potentially violent incidents were defused by family, friends and mediators. He shot his wife when she tried to stop him. He looked up from his office chair. He fired one shot. He greeted his visitor by some hog-feeding pens. A muffled blast signaled his suicide. 

It was bound to happen and it will happen again too. The hammer is coming down. They keep it all inside but now it’s breaking out. This is the beginning of what’s to come. They can almost predict from experience: a hard-working man about 35, a husband, a father, typically well-liked but quiet, the son and grandson of families with a good reputation. 

She had confided her concerns, mounting financial and emotional pressure, to friends. They professed shock and support. 

He seemed relieved about something. He was always willing to chat but left after a few moments. He always seems on the way somewhere. His main social activity was a card club. They found out and sought the money immediately. He was eulogized as a fine family man. It ended a season of despair. 

He was in there doing some business. Everybody started running. They shut the doors. They thought it was a robbery. He was certainly distraught. They met to discuss the incident. “People are waking up and seeing the doors locked. I can assure you, it has nothing to do with the bank’s financial condition,” he said. 

Somebody passed by and saw the flames up in the trees. They thought it was a grass fire. The house sits well off the road. It burned down to the ground. He was found inside the charred remains after firefighters put out the blaze. No one else was in the residence. 

They made a dramatic entrance. He had a round mirror on his forehead. “Don’t be concerned by the appearance of the office or the décor,” he said. They looked at each other and grinned. “You treat us like German shepherds,” she barked. They call from around the world frantic for a cure. He grows bustling and occasionally loony at this time of year. There are all sorts of bizarre curatives. He held his handkerchief in front of his nose. He rarely sits down. Rather than the bright and airy look of today, he thought he could save a few bucks. 

They look like you and me. The national trends were reflected. She feared for her life there. Recurring images filled her dreams. They were mystified at the decision. They didn’t have the authority to use harsh techniques. They were very cautious but were taken by surprise. The general had extensive contacts with right-wing militias. The crew of the cargo plane died. The United States said it was pleased. It was a blatant act of aggression. “He’s always been straight forward and honest with me,” he said. “He had no reason to lie or misrepresent.” Changes swirled. There was no way to support the allegation. He planned to use the money to pay off his previous violations. 

Many were detained seeking asylum. They say changes have been made. They had no clear intention of breaking the law, the records show. He didn’t like the current practice of individual cases coming forward and having to re-invent the wheel. They were afraid the list might be growing too fast. Everything happens in an arbitrary way. They were designed to dissolve after doing their job. Everyone thought he was an extreme oddity in a time-starved world. Older folks were sticking with it longer. It was drawing a dark curtain on her dreams. It left the program in limbo as officials struggled over where to set boundaries. An explosive-laden truck carrying new shoes blew up, violently shaking the building. He died while being treated. They were trying to force a change in actions and behaviors. “They should refrain from putting the blame on others,” he said. They were surrounded and escorted away at gunpoint. It was an area that was out of control. 

He has participated in no discussions. He could have done things he couldn’t remember. There was such a cozy relationship between them. That is such a huge sin. The clean up could take months. They were troubled by the treatment of the children. Are there better alternatives than locking people up? Everything began to symbolize a dangerous gap. It had become an essential part of the preparations. They have become a source of irritation. Yet, key questions remain and more study is needed. Permanent, metal foreign objects can interfere. A whole industry has sprung up to serve them. Folks who are physical basket-cases can accomplish remarkable things. They were clogged in the chutes, they were breaking down. 

“I never dreamed I would be in jail,” he said. Dozens more were killed. They await word. They can suggest but not require. The process can lead to horror stories. It would be a welcome alternative. “We were overwhelmed. It was just chaos. The facts keep coming to light. I think what’s happened is a travesty. People are often fleeing persecution and violence.” They described it in stark terms. He began vomiting and losing weight. She serenely reflected on her stay. 

Their expanded powers began to be debated. They think more slowly but they were able to focus more. The tasks involved responding to sound and images. The controversy raises questions. He was arrested for starting a brawl and spent the night in prison. They started a showdown that could end in collapse. It was devised to do no more than simply punish and reign in. “Now we must be prepared to pay the price for our peace and dignity,” he said. “Don’t disrupt the momentum by imposing costs. It will no doubt benefit the residents because they don’t drain services to blunt the opposition on top of that in some cases which can help earn good will putting it toward a broader spectrum. It’s a win-win.” 

She blurted out a word. Everything blurred as she told them she was going to leave. She hung herself in the kitchen of her apartment. They saw bones instead of ashes. She loved music and dancing and having a good time. It was a normal spring day. She had slept late. She waved her hands when she talked. She never hesitated and always spoke her mind. She was happy to hear from them. She was almost wishing she had never made it. Their pain doubled. She was stunning. They all took a dip in the river. She clutched it to her chest all the way. She almost froze and broke down again. The days trickled by. This was the beginning of the madness that was to come. She was saying things she didn’t even believe herself. She had a drink and a cigarette and oozed confidence. 

“You’ve become so close to one person that you went away from everyone else,” she said. She was the apple of their eye. It sounded like a prayer. It would bring peace to her soul. People clapped and cheered as she spun over the floor. A man made her feel like she wasn’t worth loving. She got enraged. It was no accident. It was bloody intentional. 

It proved surreal. She was the strongest person they knew. Maybe too strong. “It holds a treasured place in my heart” was the last thing she ever said to them. “Just know that I love you.” They had never contacted her before but on that day they did. 

She wanted to change her fate. Her father’s death slips by. When she was little she didn’t have any dreams for her life “but now my life has taken a new turn and I can dream.” It was a woman’s horror story that spread light. Growing female, she did not know happiness. Different fates aren’t unusual. All her life people hurt her. Her mother watched in horror. Even as a child there was the disappointment of high expectations never met. The sight causes terrible flashbacks. The story is extraordinary for the way it turned. She was raised with the world at her feet. She was free to travel and marry the man that she loved. Others walk anonymously behind their husbands, silent until permitted to speak. “It’s a constant struggle for justice. Again, I find myself wishing for my father’s death. But I never could tell how I felt,” she said. There was no way out. She told them the terrible thing that happened. She didn’t want her life to turn out like that. 

He seemed to remember her enough to remember her main role in his life. She pointed out all the times he forced his help on her. The mother was stressed to the breaking point. He looked so much smaller. Their yearnings were quashed by religion. She could have squashed him if she wanted to but she didn’t. The hulking beast of her memories, she didn’t need help from anyone, isolated by fear and stubbornness, promising to hang-on till the end. She achieved everything but the struggle was hard. They were too close for comfort. It was a reframing device. She even managed to start to forgive him. The odds are against her. He said a woman’s brain is not developed enough. It’s a monopoly of power. She was languishing in prison, emaciated, catatonic, without basic sanitary items. They were completely written off by the government. 

She still has trouble talking about it. “It left us all in shock. Maybe we needed counseling. They never gave us any. We couldn’t console each other. Maybe that’s why we’ve been traumatized so long.” They feel the pain as though it happened yesterday. They experienced something so horrible it is difficult to explain. She still cries thinking of the magnitude of the human loss. Everyone huddled in the basement of the multi-purpose center. Painful reminders still exist. A small statue stands out as a beacon of hope. You try to move on. Most people just don’t want to remember. She wishes it were winter all year long. He still declines to talk about the experience. 

It played out against sobs, shrieks, wails and moans. She wakes up every morning with the understanding in her heart. If that doesn’t teach her a lesson, nothing will. Yet, everybody makes a mistake. She was loving and caring. She took painful medication. She was walking while staring. “Our community needs to be safe. Everybody just kicks each other when they’re down. They clothe themselves in the robes of righteousness,” she said. 

They tried to kidnap him but they were foiled when bystanders intervened. “They’re killing me!” he cried. He resisted being shoved into a car. It happened on a broad, tree-lined boulevard. He may have had delicate intellectual information. He waved a pistol. “You can’t walk around her on the streets brandishing a pistol, “ said someone. A crowd had gathered. Their methods were unorthodox. They were nervous and shaking. He was clutching the briefcase when he was seized. Until now they had maintained cordial relations. 

He became familiar with the area’s landmarks. He beheld the ruddy faces, with their Western twangs and Southern accents. Everybody talked money. History clarified the details of which he was vaguely aware. The future appeared brilliant. They had the best material prospects of anyone in the world. A bearded, white-robed prophet preached on the street corner. He couldn’t recall what they discussed. He could imagine a glimmer of recognition in his glowing eyes. 

He entered homes at night, often through unlocked doors or windows. A young woman collapsed into sobs. The arrest eight months later raised his mental capacity as an issue. She went to the child’s room. She saw a tall man with a gun enter. She heard her son crying. Her husband was killed. Two women were sexually assaulted. They had difficulty in testifying in English. She was tied up. He drank apple juice. She heard a shot. She could not help her son. He pointed the gun at her head. “Shut up, bitch,” he said. He pulled her hair. He stared at the woman and grinned. “Your husband is dead, you see.” They were appalled by the apparent randomness. He ripped her nightgown off. At that point she broke down. She could hear the front door banging. She remembers him everywhere. She sees him everywhere. After the meeting they refused to say what happened. 

He valued his land more than his life. He’d been there with him. He saw him sit on a rock wall and put his head in his hands and cry. They get it turned around in their minds. They were worshipping idols, so to speak. The family doesn’t want to hear this. They were grieving so hard and feeling so bad about the whole thing, it sent a shudder of concern throughout the whole emotional tangle. She knew there was nothing she could do for him amid dramatic and isolated reports of violence. Hard data on the phenomenon seem impossible to procure. First they experienced a series of droughts. Independent, self-reliant, that way of life seems to be collapsing. It’s because of the pressures. It was a scene seared into her memory. That was why he couldn’t face it, because there was no way. He was so excited. They were about to make it. They never came back. It was destroying the traditional hope. On occasion she would break off and pray with folks who visited her. Embraced by the rhythms of the seasons, that’s all there was. They were caught in a spiral beyond their control. “I can’t make people understand what’s happening,” he said. “It was not a loud blast. It was a soft blast. I knew immediately what he had done.” They came back to the living room where they had always sat together. 

They stormed the house and burnt it down. They weren’t listening to their leaders. “They are leading us to death and destruction. They don’t care about us. We must make them ashamed of themselves. They have destroyed all hope. They have destroyed the future,” he said. It turned into something larger and more organized. 

It was the closest she had got to knowing him. She used to cry when she watched the tape. That led to the inevitable question: How do you know it’s a sign? He tumbled into a ditch at the side of the road. She was mature enough to appreciate its sentimental value. It was among her most prized possessions. She was looking at his flesh and blood, she was actually seeing him moving. She noticed a dark object in the bushes. She knows that everything happens for a reason but she’d like to know that reason. They are alike in many ways. Tears filled her ocean-blue eyes and her smile began to quiver. The time was right. He enjoyed outdoor activities. She loves his tales. The pain has subsided with time. She would invite him to dinner if she had the opportunity. Let’s just say, she’d ask him some questions. It would be nice to have some answers. But it still wouldn’t fill the hole left behind. They didn’t hardly have anyone else. She was his backbone and he was her spine. 

It was unthinkable reality. It would forever be linked with tragedy. They had put a fence around the pool. He made breakfast while everybody cleaned up. Guilt over who was responsible traumatized the family. They were immobilized by grief with no answers to their questions. The precious little girl whose blonde tresses resembled her mother’s was gone. They were comatose for months after the accident. His anguish is still raw. He felt everybody was looking at him, pointing fingers at him. It’s a horrible feeling. She appeared broken and frail. He couldn’t walk down the street. Don’t say anything, just let them talk. 

She was dying, homeless. “It’s like my own little dollhouse. This is unreal,” she said. They told her not to light any more cigarettes before the blast. A violent explosion ripped a hole through the roof. She hopes relatives will visit her now. A house can help transform the way a person feels. She was meant to do something more. They washed downstream. He attempted to navigate the engorged and dangerous river. The water pressure tore them out of his arms. It was dark when he drove into the river. 

The suicide note was lengthy. She was a stay-at-home mom. They never heard any yelling or screaming She fatally severed her ten-month old daughter’s arms with a kitchen knife. She drowned two daughters in a bathtub. They were shot sometime during the night. They were unaware of any problems between the couple. She hanged herself and her four daughters in a closet. She beat her two young sons to death. They saw no signs of violent behavior. They were found in their beds. They were still just blown away by what happened, because it didn’t make a lot of sense. 

Many children, still in swim-suits, sang songs and played patty-cake. All of a sudden, things were in the air. They were shocked, but their shock was mixed with joy. He heard the children screaming from inside the bus. His heart began pounding, he remembers time congealing. It happened in a split second. He gasped as it gave way. The music from the radio competed with the whoosh of the air conditioner. It was a hazy, languid day. ”I think a miracle happened,” he said. Dust filled the bus, blotting out its passengers. “It’s a blur.” They heard the screaming. Then came the cries for help. She pushed on knowing it would cost her a few extra minutes. The doctors at the emergency room removed small pieces of glass from his fingers. Her view tumbled around her. Nobody could see anything. It was always there, a looming shadow, a silent sentry. His brain said, “This is not supposed to happen.” They were the lucky ones. His feet were moving. His body was just following. They tried to take stock of where they found themselves. A river of water curls, all but ignored by the drivers above. She dug out her cell phone and called her husband. It’s about the same thing as hitting a brick wall, turning this most ordinary of events into a determination of survival. He shook off his stupor. They were alive and full of energy. It was very quiet and eerie. Then something broke the spell. It happened so fast you don’t even think about it. He was grabbing his back and falling to his knees. It’s one of those things. There was little he could do. It was a horrible sound. Almost as soon it started it was over. 

It broke his home into little pieces but not his spirit. “How an you think about songs when you’re dying?” he thought. An accident put her in a wheelchair for years. Little shreds of rain soaked hope survived. It kind of just hit him, like “Wow!” Stress induced a heart attack. The doctors prepped him for surgery. “I’m just putting it in God’s hands,"  he said. 

They woke up to the dull ache of hunger. The two women did not make enough money to feed their five children. They made repeated attempts to run away. They have different cultural values. Officials turned a blind eye. “For us it just means suffering and pain,” she said. If they are ill, they must treat themselves. So many people were dying that the family would have become extinct. 

She has forgiven her family. She has scars from the beatings. They are believed cursed, suffering disease, famine and death. It can go on for generations. The practice is deeply rooted. She considers herself lucky. She struggles to provide by selling foodstuff at the roadside. The trauma will never leave them and they will never be able to forgive anybody. They were purposely kept hazy. She was old when she was released. She herself is bitter after hearing the stories. The suffering does not end with liberation. Escape is difficult. She savored the word like a tasty dish. 

They essentially lived like widows. The end of their struggle is a long story of love, devotion and survival. Every week she traveled two hours each way to visit her husband. Their bonds kept them together. It was hardly the life they had planned. They relied on the charity of families and friends. Nothing got better. If anything it got worse. She sank into a deep depression. He could see them in their white silk dresses. “I didn’t blame him for something he didn’t do,” she said. She spent the rest of the time with the children. He excoriated them. It was so cruel. It should never have happened. 

The cancer spread through her body. One day they will explain how we grow old and die. Not all of her was buried that day. 

They are among the nation’s poorest, living in hopeless slums in battered trailers patched with plywood, and self-constructed dwellings, tarpaper shacks, half-finished concrete block rooms. Families are transforming hovels through frugality and hard work. They are not suffused with deep resignation evident in blighted urban centers. 

Desperate residents pleaded for help. They blamed the authorities for leaving them helpless. No signs of life were revealed. The families were not thrilled to hear this. But there could be no signs of life under such conditions. The first thing they saw was a bloodied woman holding a toddler. Then a man emerged from around a corner holding a knife. She motioned with her eyes. He was clad only in blue jeans and blood trickled from his mouth. It eased the mind of some who feared they could be next. 

She was planning to visit with them. She was reported missing by her father and found dead. She was still in shock from the night. It drew strong criticism and set off suspicions and finger-pointing. They had an explosive mixture not seen for years combined with wild winds. He charged out of her house in a furor. His head hit the concrete. “I don’t think he suffered. It was fast,” she said. “He was part of us.” 

He had just got out of a relationship and needed a place to stay. He was a wonderful person. He was a carpenter and a Harley-Davidson enthusiast with a criminal record. Several websites included scantily clad women and lewd photos. She was able to escape unharmed. He fired several shots in her home. He was screaming as he held a gun to her head. That wasn’t what he wanted to hear. She talked him down and they sat on the couch together. They were afraid he was headed home to do them harm. He was so spooked he stayed up all night. He carried a bible in his pocket everywhere he went. He told her how much he was looking forward to the season. He emphasized his down-to-earth personality. The violence was hard to fathom. “I couldn’t believe he shot someone in a bar. But this other crime has so many other levels of terrible,” he said. 

He entered in a furious rage. Fearing for their lives, they had no other choice. They’d had a romantic relationship but he was not the father of the child. Hopefully at least they'd saved the mothers' lives. 

— from news reports, Summer 2007