Biting Love

Biting Love

Born and raised in the heart of the Pentecostal church, William Berkely did not believe in creatures of the night. Any such dark creatures, be they witches, warlocks, vampires, or fairies, were merely apparitions of the Devil’s angels. Certainly nothing one would call “wifey” material.

The whole ordeal started when Berkely, then 73, had signed up for a cantwait2date.com account under the encouragement of his three kids. His late wife, Debbie, had died several years earlier during a tragic snowstorm that pulled her car off the road. Debbie had been ideal: she led out in two Bible studies, actively volunteered at the local food pantry, spent her free evenings knitting blankets for kids in need, and could make a killer casserole. People had often referred to Will and Debbie as the local church’s mom and dad. They had gladly lived up to the title.

Single life did not fit Berkely well, so he caved and began using cantwait2date. He filled his profile out with all the needless details. Favorite food? Toaster Strudels. (Debbie hated these, but she wasn’t here to stop him from indulging anymore!) Favorite musical group? The Gaither Vocal Band. Favorite day of the week? Sunday, of course. After days of entering his information, William Berkely sent off his profile and waited.

Three days later after returning from a prayer retreat up north, Berkely had three matches. Not bad, he thought. The first match, Shelly, was a short blond woman with a bust much too perky to be natural. Nope. Berkely preferred the natural type. The way God made them to be. The second woman, Sharon, was another blond with large eyes that piqued his interest, and he clicked on her profile to see that she had already sent him a message.

“Hey William, I am stuck Mexico City and need help. You seem very nice, can you transfer $2,000 to my Western Union account to help me? I am greatly thankful for this help that you have give me.”

She seemed nice, but something about the message smelled fishy, so Berkely gave his youngest son a quick call. The short conversation ended with Berkely blocking the big-eyed woman from viewing his profile. Golly, women certainly have changed since I last tried to do this!

His mind flashed back to meeting Debbie in a small church near the college he had been attending. He had been in the theology program there, with dreams of starting his own youth ministry. Debbie was studying to be a teacher, and the two hit it off immediately. “A match made in heaven!” his mother had said.

With a sigh, Berkely shifted back to reality and clicked on his third and final match. His attention was immediately pulled to her profile picture. Bright blue eyes peered deep into the camera, almost jumping out of the screen. Jet-black hair split at her shoulders and ran almost all the way to her thin waist. She was not his normal type, but something about her gaze told him that he needed to give it a try. He clicked a second link that opened her more detailed profile.

Lorraine Blackfield was 71, but only by number. Her skin was tight and free of blemish, a haunting shade of white. Her hair remained blackest of black and her eyes held on to an eerie youthfulness. Under hobbies she had listed things such as moonlit walks and bird watching. As if under a spell, Berkely moved his mouse over the Send Message button and clicked without so much as a second thought.

Hi Lorraine, you look beautiful. I’m recently single and looking to get back into the dating world. I noticed you like bird watching. Would you like to meet at the park for a bird watching walk next week? Let me know if this works and what time is best for you.

If any of his children had been watching, they would have said that this was not normal behavior for Berkely, and indeed, it wasn’t. By now, a dark magic had taken hold of William and his normal timidity was overwhelmed by a strong desire to meet this woman of mysterious charm. He did not believe in chance, and this was far from it.

Within two hours, Lorraine had replied: Yes, I’d love that. Does Tuesday work for you? Widow’s Pond?

Berkely’s computer ping’d with the new message, and after checking the weather forecast he replied: Tuesday works, but is predicted to be overcast. Perhaps we could try Wednesday instead?

Her reply took less than five minutes. Tuesday will be perfect.

 

Tuesday arrived gray and wet, but this did not dampen Berkely’s spirit. Ever since setting up the meeting with Lorraine he had been busily cleaning up the house, sweeping corners previously ignored, organizing shelves of food and trinkets, and even rearranging some furniture. His whole body was aglow with a new energy – not warmth, but a cool dark surge that can only be felt when one is under the influence of the most powerful witchcraft.

Just before leaving the house, Berkely grabbed Jude, Debbie’s cat, and put him in the car. Debbie had always taken Jude on walks but Berkely had found it hard to keep the cat active after her passing. The walk was a much-needed chance of exercise for both of them.

He arrived at Widow’s Pond twenty minutes ahead of schedule. Lorraine had texted him earlier to tell him to meet her at the green bench to the left of the main entrance. Entranced. That was the perfect word to describe how Berkely had felt over the last several days. He was not foreign to the experience of the supernatural, having attended his fair share of revival meetings complete with spiritual outpourings galore. Yet now he was in a completely different league. It had come in unannounced but was not entirely unwelcome.

Before long, Lorraine arrived at the park and joined Berkely at the bench. She seemed undeterred by meeting a complete stranger for the first time, and quickly introduced herself with a soft but firm voice that projected complete confidence.

“Hi, I’m Lorraine. Shall we begin walking?” She didn’t even bother asking his name. He stood up and followed behind her, absentmindedly pulling the cat behind him on its leash.

Ask her a question, dimwit! he thought to himself. What did she like… bird watching! Yes, ask about that.

“Buh… buh… bird watching.” was all that came out. She didn’t miss a beat.

“Yes, I like it quite a bit. I usually spend my time watching crows and ravens. I find their movements intriguing. What about you?” Her eyes fastened on him as his newly disabled tongue struggled to form sounds that held any meaning.

“Me? Oh, yes. Birds, yes. I uh, I like uh, blue jays? Yes, blue jays. I like their, uh, their blue, uh… feathers.”

She didn’t seem to notice his lack of charm but instead acted as if each word was exactly what she wanted to hear.

“Fascinating. We have a large collection of birds at my house. The women of my family have always had a fascination with taxidermy. I believe we even have a couple blue jays. Perhaps you’d like to see them?” Taxidermy had never interested Berkely more. He mumbled a reply before being invited to ride with her to see the bird collection, and the two turned around and headed back towards the parking lot.

 

The bird collection proved to be just as excited as bird collections are. Somewhere along the journey the cat went missing, but this did not alarm Berkely. He was head over heels for Lorraine. The two had close to nothing in common, yet now he felt himself professing a new belief: “Opposites attract.” Maybe there was some wisdom to this, after all? He and Debbie had been happily married for over forty years, but now he realized that there was more to life than casserole and prayer retreats.

That evening, Lorraine revealed she’d prepared a dinner that neither had previously discussed. They started with small hors d’oeuvres of clams that Berkely had never tried before but found surprisingly tasty. Lorraine poured him a large glass of what she called the “house wine,” that smelled to Berkely of everything he ever wished for in life. After a couple sips, the whole evening seemed to melt together in a magical bliss.

 

Lily, Gina, and Tom Berkely never saw their father again. Gina was the last to hear from him on a gray and damp Tuesday in early March. When the local police detective unit searched William Berkely’s house, the results were inconclusive. Much of Berkely’s wardrobe was missing and many of the valuables were also unaccounted for. His bank account had been transferred to an offshore account that could not be traced. The only clue was his laptop which had been left open on the kitchen table. The computer’s browser had been left open to the profile of a woman named Lorraine on the cantwait2date website. Despite a search warrant and complete access to the website’s database, the police were never able to ascertain the real identity of Lorraine.

The Day My Dog Died

The Day My Dog Died

When I was thirteen, I had four friends. There was Ben, the only other kid my age who attended the church my family went to. After him there was Yvonne. Every Tuesday my mom drove me to Yvonne’s house to play the piano with her. I guess my mom paid her to do this, but I still considered her my friend. When you live in Maine and only interact with a handful of people each day, your definition of who is and isn’t your friend begins to broaden. I also had Wesley, the one other kid in my grade who attended the one-room school that was run by our church. We knew each other quite well since each day we spent seven hours in the same room with just six other people, including our teacher. Finally, I had my dog. His name was Baxter.

The day we got Baxter dad drove us to the pound where they kept dogs that no one wanted. We lived in North Carolina, and it was hot and humid out. Dad always told me later that Baxter was going to be put down that day, and that we had rescued him. I was young and I didn’t understand what that meant, but it was obvious why people did not want Baxter. He had green slime coming out his nose and no one wants a dog with green slime coming out his nose. But dad worked at the hospital so he had some white pills that he gave the dog and the next day he was fine.

At first Baxter was not my friend. He would get really excited about being alive again and would run as fast as he could in every direction, sometimes running right over me. I didn’t really appreciate this but I suppose I wasn’t that nice in return. Dad brought home scrubs from the hospital and I cut a hole in the pants for his tail. I pretended he was a nurse. He didn’t really save any lives, but he provided joy for mine. Sometimes I would grab his two front paws and put them on my shoulders and dance with him.

Baxter didn’t have a breed. Dad called him a mutt, or sometimes a soup bone. He said that’s a term poor people used for a bone they put in soup to make it taste like butter. I still don’t understand why he would call a dog a soup bone. My grandma called him a 30-watt bulb. She thought he was dumb. He and I both knew that she was just mad that I had a better dog than her. She had Claribelle. No one liked Claribelle, not even her.

When we moved to Maine we let Baxter’s hair get really long until you couldn’t see his face anymore. Then we would take him to get a haircut and he would come out looking naked with a handsome red handkerchief tied around his neck. But they would always leave the hair on his ears extra long. I liked this because petting his ears was my favorite part of having a dog. I’ve never liked shorthaired dogs.

After school I would walk through the woods and make tiny fortresses with my sister if she was in a good mood or sometimes I’d walk on the beach of the river and collect cool rocks and pieces of pottery that washed up. Baxter would walk with me. We didn’t have to keep him in a fence or tied to a leash. I’d like to think he didn’t run away because he liked me, but I think it’s just because he was lazy.

If I wasn’t in the woods I would read or experiment in the kitchen or bother my sister or maybe build something with my Legos. We had a television with an antenna that picked up five channels. It didn’t have any of the cool channels that other kids would talk about, but that didn’t matter, since I was only allowed to watch half an hour of television each week.

January was the hardest month in Maine. The snow is two months old and has lost it’s original sparkle. The days are short. There are no holidays. My sister was at boarding school so I only had Baxter to talk to after school. The previous fall my friend Ben moved to New York for his dad’s job. A month after that, my piano teacher decided to move to Las Vegas. That left Wesley and Baxter.

During January sometimes my mom would let me watch two episodes of TV per week. It’s hard to keep an energetic kid occupied during the New England winter. It was Tuesday, and my show was on. Before I climbed up the stairs to the dark third floor where the TV was, I let Baxter outside to relieve himself. Normally he lived in the kitchen where his fur wouldn’t get on the carpet, but I had to let him out to use the restroom. In the window we had a thermometer with a cardinal on it. We brought the thermometer with us from North Carolina, and some days it would get too cold and the thermometer would give up. This day the thermometer had given up.

I put Baxter outside and then went to watch my show. After it finished, I returned and walked back into the kitchen to deliver a synopsis to my mom and Baxter. Mom didn’t like it when I talked about movies or TV. She said it filled up my brain with nonsense. But I liked to share things with my friends, and in this case Baxter and my mom were some of my only friends, so I liked to share my favorite TV shows with them.

When I walked into the kitchen, Baxter was not there. Normally Baxter could spend hours outside on his own, but today the thermometer had given up, and that meant Baxter had to be inside. I opened our big red door and Baxter was lying on the doorstep. He didn’t look up to greet me. When I called his name he shifted, and began to stand up. His movement was slow, like when my sister and I would hold on to large rocks in the river and try to walk under the water. We would never get very far. Baxter walked several feet into the house then layed down on the carpet. He wasn’t usually allowed to lie on the carpet but I felt now was not usual.

I got a space heater from my sister’s room and placed it near his body. His fur was cool, and beneath it his skin felt like ice. He didn’t like the heater. Maybe it was the sound or the hot dry air that came out of it, but several times he got up and moved over a couple steps. It looked like he was getting better.

Dad said Baxter had heart problems. Baxter was six years old, which didn’t seam like the right time to get heart problems, but dad was a doctor so he probably knew what he was talking about. Earlier during Christmas, I made taffy on the stove and gave some un-pulled taffy to Baxter. He chewed it for several minutes. It looked funny at the time, but now I imagined the taffy stuck in his heart and preventing his blood from moving through his veins. If I’d known it would do this, I wouldn’t have given him taffy.

Soon it was nine and I had to go to bed. Together my mom and I helped Baxter move to the green shag carpet in our laundry room that he slept in. Our laundry room had bright orange counters with the large green shag carpet. The room was in the basement so no one saw it and we didn’t need to remodel it. There was a billiards calendar on the wall from 1986. One time I found an unopened Coke bottle from the Atlanta summer Olympics. Dad kept it in his office. Since he owned the house the bottle belonged to him, but I secretly felt it belonged to me.

I went to bed after helping Baxter lay on the carpet. He looked very tired. Mom told me to get to sleep because I had school the next day. I don’t know when I fell asleep, but I know I did because in the middle of the night mom woke me up and told me to come downstairs.

I walked down the cold wooden stairs to the basement, listening to the familiar creak of each step. I had to go up and down these steps twice a day to put Baxter to bed and to get him up in the morning. Sometimes mom would get him up for me and bring him into my room to wake me up. I loved mornings when Baxter would poke his wet nose in my bed and tell me to wake up. Most people think dog noses are gross. Dogs use their noses to ask questions like “Why are you still sleeping?” so I like them.

Baxter was lying in the same position on the green shag carpet. I knelt down next to him, putting my head next to his. Now his skin felt cool and stiff. His eyes were shut, and I knew that they would not open. I pushed my face into his neck. I had already begun crying. Maybe I was already crying when I woke up. His long winter fur absorbed my hot tears, but nothing could warm him up now. I cried for a long time.

At some point I looked up to realize my mom had left me alone. My sister’s cat came walking over from his home under the stairs. He always lived in the basement during the winter, but he wasn’t allowed in the rest of the house because he made dad sneeze. Baxter liked the cat but the cat hated Baxter. I hated him back. Somewhere between my sobs I managed to yell, “Go away!” I felt embarrassed. I didn’t want the cat to see me crying. I waited for him to scratch the dog or offer one last assault on his outlived enemy. Instead he slowly walked over and placed his head on Baxter’s side. His purring said I’ll miss you, you bastard.

The cat’s acknowledgement confirmed what I was trying to deny.

I had one friend left.

Stockholm, Introspection, and Lessons Revisited

Stockholm, Introspection, and Lessons Revisited

For the last two days I’ve been walking around Stockholm by myself and it has been absolute bliss. Scandinavia has successfully captured my heart and I promise this will not be my last visit.

I first came this far North just two weeks ago when I went through Oslo and Bergen. The majestic landscape of Norway is full of contrast, with lakes and fjords carved out by glaciers long before the presence of man. The stark region boasts a challenge; it dares humanity to survive, and the people have thrived. This is no easy feat considering the sky is dark by 4:30 and the only fresh food available is fish. I loved it so much I knew I had to return, and so two weeks later I find myself in Stockholm.

I planned the trip as a solo endeavor. I’m no stranger to being alone, and I find travelling by myself to be quite enjoyable. Four days alone in Paris are some of my best memories. Besides being a great opportunity for introspection, I’ve also found it to be much cheaper. There’s no need to cater to the needs of other people, and I can happily survive on the cheapest food available. I’m not very touristy and prefer walking the streets for a day instead of paying for tours and attractions.

The round trip ticket from Geneva to Stockholm was $100 and my housing cost $50 a night. (I splurged here, justified by the fact that my ticket was substantially cheaper than normal since I flew on Friday the 13th.)

I’m now beginning my third decade of life, and reflecting on the last two has occupied much of my thoughts over the last several weeks. The normal questions have all made their impression: Who am I?, What do I believe?, What do I want to do with my life?, etc. But the most revealing has been How has what I’ve been through shaped who I am? Most of my life I’ve been an easily identifiable extrovert. I thrive off of people. I love customer service. Seeing you smile makes my day. Yet more and more I find myself preferring my own company instead of making plans and going out. This transformation does not worry me, but it begs the question: Why?

I see my introversion beginning in high school. (I still label myself an extrovert, but with limitations.) At the age of 14 I had no reason to not trust people. I had not experienced betrayal, didn’t understand prejudice, and couldn’t comprehend those whom I trusted deliberately lying to me. High school managed to expose me to all of these experiences. I came out with a strong distrust of leaders and a bitterness towards a group I had previously considered family.

More happened during my freshman year of college to further convince me that people are not as they appear. I was quickly learning to remain silent when previously I had opened up, to not express what I felt inside, and to rely on myself.

These lessons are distinct outcomes from several life events, but are they singular to me? Is life not one long lesson in avoiding pain? Everyone starts as an innocent child with everything to loose. Sure, you can shelter yourself from what will come your way, but for what benefit—remaining delusional about reality?

I don’t doubt that I’m coming off as cold and bitter. I assure you I’m not. Here’s the crux of what I’ve learned lately: though I may not trust people like I did as a young child, though I may not want to surround myself with as many people, though I may choose more and more to remain alone, I shall remain warm. I can still be congenial and accepting, offering open arms to anyone who asks. I will not let life turn me into a hard person who then goes on to hurt others. I will be sensitive.

I am happy alone. I like myself. What hasn’t stopped me before will not stop me now.