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The innerverse 'tis the tiny world, The inverted globe of the inside This tiny world the womb of being, Is hurled, Whirled, From the inside, It's like Queen Mab's birthplace, Shiny, Tiny, Forced to be free, The souland of love and emotion A feeling of charge, empathetic passion like the twinkle in her eyes, The heaven in her universe, Like watching her inner self contained in the spirit of her verse Capturing my daughter's fairyland For the first time in my mind c. 1999 Jeff Kozlowski
Riding Frozen Spirit I. My earliest memories begin with the wave of terror creeping into my thoughts around Christmas break during my sixth year. It was early evening and mom had just made us a giant pot of buttery popcorn; the three of us were sitting around the fire talking about our Christmas wish lists when my mind began to sing with the tiny voices. Familiar voices, eloquent voices, haunting voices, murmuring in their eerie language of the soul. Angelic utterances invading with such intensity that I couldn’t take them all in; clear insights surrounding me with such dread that I couldn’t turn them off. I threw my heaping bowl into a shadowy corner of the living room and ran screaming down the hall. For some minutes I did little more than sit alone in my cubby of a room, staring into the whispering darkness, listening, scared out of my mind, but always listening, wondering what they were saying, or when they were going to take me all the way. Their white-hot melody singed messages into my inner mind, speaking in divine tongues, forcing me under my bed. I couldn’t understand what they were saying but knew they were there for me. Curled around the inner bedpost facing the wall, I began to make out their surging forms. It was like I was witnessing a film-lab negative of the spiritual world as blurred outlines approached, begging me to hear. No six year old deserves to face an imprint of heaven and hell, a raw translation of the eternal connection. The nub of my thumbnail began to drip with blood as I gnawed too close to the soft meat. Breath escaped my lungs in short, shallow bursts; I could no longer keep from hyperventilating. I began to give into the fear and just listen. It felt as if I were about to join them, about to connect with their realm, when they disappeared. They left as quickly as they came. Seconds later, Jonny broke the lock off of my door and burst into my room. I didn’t speak to anyone for three days and when I did, I pretended that nothing had happened. December has been a rough month on me ever since. The mean-guys, as I began to call them, have made their annual visit for the past thirty-one years. Some years they come only one time. Other years they make two, three, or four visits. One winter they came six nights in a row. But each time, the intrusion lasts exactly twenty-six minutes. For most of my life, I wasn’t able to figure out why this ritual arose each winter season. Regardless of the cause, I was damn scared come September through January. Waiting for, and dealing with, those twenty-six minutes of terror was an absolute nightmare. And believe me, I wasn’t receiving a whole lot of support during those early years. My parents denied the problem, neighbors chattered behind closed doors, and doctors treated me like a leper. Most shrinks claimed I suffered from the holiday blues, you know, winter depression. One or two concluded that I was a schizo. I spent some time in the nut house up in Harbor Springs. But there was one person who was always there for me. My brother took care of me during those early times. Jonny made me believe he knew something the others didn’t know; he would look into my eyes and make it all go away. Through my teens and early twenties I tried to block out the voices and the anticipation of their annual appearance. For a long time, Yukon Jack and Southern Comfort helped me forget the whole thing. But as I got older there was no denying my special place in this world. Gradually, after decades of the unresolved chirping and murmuring, comprehension became my secret obsession. Over the last four or five years, the voices drove me away from everyone and everything. I first shut out my parents and friends. Then one day I walked out on Renee for no apparent reason. Each year, I spent more and more time quietly preparing for those chilling moments in purgatory. I even lost touch with Jonny as both of our lives spiraled out of control. Then, just about two years ago, I bought one of the last remaining plots of unspoiled land in the area and built this little cottage on the lake. That winter I began spending my lonely evenings gazing out the dusk-filled window over the frozen water as the breeze blew in interpretations of the silent voices. I believe I’ve been on the edge of what most would call insanity ever since. And then one dark evening a few weeks back it all began to make sense. A chill ran up my neck as the truth of my past walked up to me and tapped me on the shoulder. In that moment I realized how young children block out traumatic experiences and store them somewhere beneath the subconscious. At once, the circumstances of my gift came to me with precise clarity. And now, when I choose to, I can go all the way back to those few infinite moments when it all began… II. “You take it easy with him on ba-” Mommy’s mild voice faded into the brisk chill as the back door slammed behind me. Immediately, a chapped oval of my face, the only part of my body escaping layers of jackets, scarves, hoods, and hats, became exposed to the biting cold. I noticed that my sleeve, (from a snowmobile suit that would fit for the next three years until my growth spurt of ’77), was caught in the door crease. I yanked and pulled until a new rip allowed layers of white stuffing the freedom of the wind. It had been unseasonably warm up until mid December when an early winter blizzard dumped its load, as two feet of snow cozied us into our little home just South of Traverse City, Michigan. Dad was on one of his month long ‘business trips’ out West so mom made us barricade in for the long haul. She was worried that the heater would go out again, terrified that the roof would collapse under the weight of the snow, and too afraid to drive on the icy streets to do anything about her concerns. Thinking back, I guess she was quite anxious before the divorce and the calming affects of those lil’ yellow pills. In fact, she hadn’t even let Jonny and I out of the house for three straight days. According to her, we’d ‘catch our deaths in cold’. We tried to sneak out more than once, but our plans were quickly dashed with the might of her strongest authority: hot cocoa and warm cookies. She did all she could to keep us in her snug little womb, anything from making forts to reenacting World War II battles. But mom couldn’t keep us entertained forever. Dad had called on that Saturday morning, reminding her that everything was gonna be fine, reassuring her of his long anticipated return home. She insisted that she had a bad feeling and dad insisted right back that she stop being emotional. We knew then that she was vulnerable to buckling under to the possibility of fun. When she got off the phone we asked her about four hundred thousand times and she finally caved in and let us out to play. She wasn’t thrilled, and I saw a glimpse at that freaky motherly instinct as we scurried out of sight. I remember seeing her fragile, expressionless face stare at us from behind the frosted glass as we passed the side window. She wiped a clear circle amid the crystal patterns and held up a rosary and a tiny picture of Jesus. Glazed eyes stared through me as silent lips moved, “Be careful.” It’s funny how this day was so long vacant from my mind while all of our other times out back are permanently etched in my memory system. I was five years old, but remember it now like yesterday. The images of that cold December morn have lingered just under the surface of my memory for the past 30 years, whispering their realities. Gusts of fine snow sprayed my eyes and a chill hit my bones as I followed my beloved brother out behind the barn. Trying to keep just behind, I looked down to my miniature moon boots plopping through the powdery white, tracing his every step. Jon led us to the back shed, excited to finally get a chance at starting the old machine. I remember him making some sort of wisecrack about mom’s newly found savior in Jesus as we pulled the cover from our ’67 Skidoo. My brother was seven years my elder and treated me as a sorta mascot. For much of our early lives, he helped get me in and out of situations that Tom and Huck would have found precarious. From burned up fields to broken windshields, from blown up mailboxes to burying dead foxes, from hanging on a fence by my throat, to baling out a stolen, sinking boat, I was in the middle of it all while my brother searched for a way to get me out of it. But, early in the winter of 1974, our antics crossed the line of childhood tomfoolery. I stood at the ready, waiting to please. Jon spent a good twenty minutes working on the old hunk’a’junk. He’d monkey with this, screw with that, give the pull chord a rip, and after a sputtering bog, it’d fall just short of sparking the engine. I was always in his shadow, unsure what to do, unable to help in any way other than crossing my fingers and praying that the next yank would magically start the machine a’screamin’. For some reason I remember him licking a spark plug before reasserting it under the cracked yellow hood. Then he looked up at me and smiled, “Scotty, have you seen the 1/8 inch socket?” Finally, my cue. Nervously relieved to be needed, I handed him the vice grips. “Is this it?” “No. No. The 1/8 inch socket bro.” He pointed towards the tool chest. I scrambled to meet his request. It was then that I slipped on the ice and started to go down. I reached for the tool bench to catch myself, whirling around the metal legs before falling on my ass. With impact, the top tray of the chest, overflowing with bits, ratchets, and screws, flew straight up into the air. With it went its metal contents, flying in every conceivable direction. That’s when I should have known something strange was about us, because I swear to god, the 1/8 inch bit whizzed past Jon’s face and he snatched it out of the air. As I struggled to clean up my mess, Jon made a few twists and with another yank our Skidoo was humming. III. We went out that morning the same way we went out every morning, hell bent on getting dangerous and having fun. We headed straight for Sheppard’s field just south of our ultimate destination, Death Hill. Death Hill. How the memories of youth come flooding back when I think of that name. The entire area behind our house was bulldozed in 1978: the hills leveled, the woods clear cut, the fields paved. There’s a low income apartment complex sitting on top of my childhood now. But back then, it was the center of our world, the apex of our thrills. And we thought the fun would never end. Oh, to be young, dumb, and carefree... Upon reaching the last field before Ole’ Briar’s Woods, we noticed other snowmobiles in the distance. There were three machines lined next to each other, each a newer, quicker model than ours. The James brothers and their freaky little sister Kim were huddled around a tiny bon fire. Chris Watters was in the distance pulling his stepsister Farty on a sled. And of course there was our nemesis, the long neck brothers. Todd and Robbie Pankin were motioning us over with their awkward gestures. As Jon pulled up, I could feel the fire in his eyes. His presence was a threat to any established pecking order. He spoke into the eyes of the oldest boy, “Ya up fer a lil’ fun, Toddy?” Todd quickly flashed a smile, “Let’s go, ya little girl.” “What’s it gonna be, Death Hill or chicken races on the lake?” Todd had always been all talk. He leaked out a worried look while turning to his brother. Seven-year-old Robbie was a master of protecting his family’s ego. A flash of insecurity unleashed its wrath onto me, “Hey, mumma’s boy, are ya scared? You’s holdin’ onto yer brovver like he’s yer mumma.” Jonny tried to put a stop to the nonsense, “Yea, he’d probably kick yer ass, though.” “Bring it on, mumma’s boy!” was Robbie’s automatic reply. I jumped off the machine and quickened toward long-neck Robbie. But Todd stepped in my way and offered a bit of advice. “Get back on your Skidoo, little man, before I let my bro stomp ya.” This riled me up even more and I made a charge towards both Long-necks. Jonny held me back by the belt loop in my suit before offering his solution. “We’ll see who’s a mumma’s boy. Robbie, Scotty, you two are first up for a lil’ game a’ chicken.” Of course Robbie balked, “No. I can’t. You’re lucky I don’t have my glasses on though. You’re lucky at that.” Jonny was getting bored with their bluffs, so he asked, “So what’cha’ pussies out here fer anyhow?” Todd regained his nerve, “To kick your ass in the main event of course.” With this exchange, a serious of races commenced. Some were around a makeshift track, some were along the outer rim of the trails, some were straight shots in the fields. Different riders tested their nerve. Young ego’s skirmishing for position. There was quite a bit of bumping around the corners, kicking along the whole shots, and more than one wipeout. This was, after all, serious business. Sometimes I was allowed to hold onto my brother for dear life, other times I had to get off and be the line judge. Either way, I tell ya, I was having the time of my life. But soon it became apparent that Jonny was winning every race. He even found a way to win the drag races with his much slower machine. After two hours of riding, I could see that the rest of the group had had enough, and the competition waned. The older boys drove off to meet in Sheppard’s field to discuss what to do next. But Jon was not done with his daredevil riding. He pulled back about two hundred yards behind the group and gunned it, aiming straight for the Pankin machine. Seconds before impact he jammed a hard right, and with a sideways spin, blew whitewash into everyone’s faces. With sly smile and rosy cheeks he asked, “Who’s up fer some more Evil Kenevil stunts?” No one was game, but everyone wanted to see how wild Jonny would get. So we spent the early afternoon watching him test his nerve on the various jumps and steep hills. At one point, he decided he’d show me off. Of course, I did anything he asked. So when he told me to lie down behind the machine and hold on tight, I did just that. Off we went to the top of our Everest. One of the last things I remember is Jon dragging me over the dreaded backside of Death Hill and hitting the tabletop going 45 mph. I held on like superman in a windstorm as the machine was launched twenty feet down the slope. Upon impact my head crashed into the back treads of the snowmobile and that was it for a while. When Jonny woke me up the first thing I saw was the black tread marks stamped across the visor of my purple biker helmet. We both looked at each other and couldn’t help but laugh while the rest of the crew stared in eerie silence. The reason I include this fiasco in my little tale is because of what Robbie said after I came to. Staring straight into my eyes only five inches from my face he stated, “Yer lookin’ fer it. Death, I’s mean. Yep, he’s really looking for it.” This was the third omen that I overlooked that day. Was I looking for it? Maybe I was. Maybe I was. IV. We’d been riding for more than three hours when Jonny got his ultimate idea. Without another word, he flipped off the others and sped away towards our house. As the wind cut through my layers of warmth, I thought we were heading back for the evening. But about a hundred yards from home he cut the engine so mom wouldn’t hear us coming. He had me sneak into our backyard in search of an old sled that Gramps had found in the dump the previous summer. Ten minutes later, I uncovered a mass of rusty metal frozen to the side of the shed in the corner of our lot. The thing was modeled after a 1933 one-man bobsled, but it looked more like a miniature version of a rudimentary snowmobile. An iron hood curved around its wooden frame. Rusty handlebars attached to two iron skis created a basic steering system. A shredded, but padded, seat allowed you to sit upright. I was giggling with anticipation as I dragged it to Jonny and watched him tie it to the back of our machine. I tightened my chinstrap and hopped on, excited to get a chance at the reckless freedom of my brother’s world. We set out again by looping back behind our property, the two of us now separated by twenty feet of slippery slack. I held on to the faint idea that Jonny was still watching over me, because he was after all, in control of our speed and destination. I only had to worry about avoiding the on-coming objects in my path. The route, raised ten to fifteen feet above the forest floor, had always been my favorite. Those trails remain engraved in my mind to this day. Every turn challenging me to keep the track. Every bump sending butterflies through my air. Every tree brushing my chrome fenders and wooden side-panels. Every burm hanging onto my skis with hot friction. Each moment engraved in my mind. Coming out the other end of the tunnel of forested fun, we emerged at a hidden lake in the woods. This was our best kept secret as very few people accessed the area in the winter. The ½ mile of rolling hills surrounding the water line lie undisturbed with fresh snowfall. Over the past seventy-two hours a shiver of crystal clear ice had thickened to two inches, creating a glass-like radiance over the lake. Jonny came to a stop at the north shoreline and looked back at me with that crazed look in his eyes. Sometimes I wonder if we have a little Kennedy blood in our veins because all I could think to say was, “Hit it.” The rush was immediate. It’s the closest I ever felt to feeling limitless as they say. The cracking ice below seemed to heighten the speed and exhilaration. A few times I felt myself skimming across water left open by the weight of Jonny’s machine. Icy slush became caked on the upper half of my body, blurring my vision, but I could almost feel his next move. About half way across, he looked back and I just made out that wild grin. I guess that’s when he noticed the beaming fear in my expression because in the next moment the snowmobile bogged and my sled became submerged a quarter way under the water. The ice was cracking all around us. As Jonny leaned his weight forward and slapped the hood of the machine, my skis caught an edge and I was boomeranged forward, briefly becoming parallel with Jonny. I waved at him and he just shook his head, sensing that enough was enough. This was the first time in my life I saw a twitch of uneasiness in my brother’s demeanor. As we raced for the shoreline, Jonny held the throttle tighter than a hand full of pissed off bumblebees. Upon reaching the south shore Jonny skidded to a sloppy stop and hopped off the snowmobile. He hinted to me just last week that he was about to kiss the ground for having made it. That’s when he glanced back and saw the frayed rope lying motionless on the powdery white trail. V. The first sensation is the blistering cold, like ten thousand icy needles being thrust through my body. Eyes wide open staring through to the other side of my existence, I catch the sun’s rays bending around my prism-like barrier. Time becomes a slide show of focused images dragging together the reflections of my fate. Suspended in the crystal clear water, I watch the iron sled sink to the lake bottom. I am paralyzed with icy terror, but struggle to find an opening, gasping for breath. A roaring engine fades in my ears. Desperation sets in. The shock of cold has been replaced by claustrophobic mania as I claw and pound on my polar coffin. I realize I’m dying. Instinctual madness escapes through muffled screams. Frigid liquid pours into my throat and lungs. As I drink, the blurry sun begins to merge with light. I can do nothing but drink. The more I struggle, the sooner it comes. At some point the water ceases to rush in as I give up on trying to find a breath. I’m dying. Reality has become a glimmer, replaced by thin memories of my five brief years in this body. That trip up to the lighthouse last summer. The time when we rented the speed boat on Torch Lake. The water fight we had over the Thanksgiving holidays. Too few memories. I’m not ready to let them go. I can almost hear my brother’s voice calling helplessly in the distance. A last gasp of spasmodic energy tears at the razor-like shards above me. Floating face up, all but motionless, I stare through the ice into the heightened beauty of the woods, hanging onto the one thing that is still alive, the relationship with my brother. My arms and legs are becoming stiff, hands clenched frozen above my face. I can do nothing more than tap softly overhead, begging for Jonny to come to my rescue. Silence envelops me. Stillness is settling me for transition. I’m no longer breathing, yet remain conscious. I feel myself letting go. I hold onto a picture in my mind, an image of Jonny trying to tell mommy what’s happened. I just can’t leave him with that guilt. She wouldn’t understand that it was always my choice. Tears freeze in my wide open eyes. Vital signs have passed. But there is an internal struggle from way down deep between mind, soul, and spirit. Mind fighting for physical survival. Soul longing release to the fundamental realm. Spirit grasping a passionate longing for the frozen body, yet yearning to return to its source. I am an entity divided. This, I understand, is the choice between acceptance and denial. Heaven and purgatory. Transformation and ghost. I do not wish to be a lost soul. I pray for resolution, for an end to the terror. Body, brain, and emotions have settled into the abyss of true reality; those forces that dig humanity away from spirituality have fulfilled their natural process. Waves of fear begin to blend with channels of calming. The moment is upon me. I realize myself shedding physical traits, giving up the mindset of human being, abandoning the boundaries of matter. There is a deep twinge of nirvana unlocking my soul, a rhythm towards perpetual freedom. Yet something is missing. My being begins to enter the light, yet something is missing. As the energy encircles me, I understand. It’s guidance. Shouldn’t I unite with a semblance of lost family members, those spiritual guides whom have already passed? I long for the comfort of my lineage. I realize I’m alone in a magnificently boundless universe, longing for that connection with ever after. But when the brain shuts down its remaining synapses and nerve endings, my spirit is frozen in its tracks. And my soul is released. Spirit confined in body, soul exploring the internal universe. The essence of hope passes on, finding tranquillity, splendor, oneness. Glamorous forms of celestial beauty, ultimate feelings of infantile security. These passions transcend into a dark angelic frame surrounded by light. I, me, this tiny pin-prick of divine energy, now calling on an indistinct figure to share my inner core with the spiritual universe. Arms extending towards me, I feel sweeping acceptance, triggering a curtain of faith, opening, opening, opening...to the limitless energy that consume me. The light of connection settles my soul for change. Physical senses are granted unknown perception, expanding with familiar music, luscious fragrances, amazing views. I understand the world of physical life at a fundamental level, seeing the inside of matter like no scientist could ever imagine. Billions of points of light create images of an infinite sky, flowering falls, elegant gardens; a realm where each mind’s internal experiences deepen multidimensional existence. Angelic voices sound the song of creation. The depth and clarity of this insight draws close my soul members; they encircle me within spheres of energy, unleashing their understanding. I realize heaven is nothing more than the combination of all life forms, together searching for channels of growth. I am becoming a part of increased reality…settling…into generations of existence. Oh, that immaculate light blends me one with creation, evolving me with the wholeness of being. Infinite layers of soul-group share ancestral memory; enlightening, interconnecting, interpreting the way of our meaning. Sphere after sphere of collective soul-traits, becoming fuel for future’s physics, adding experience to the past of life. I am the universe yet remain a unified force, looming face to face with God. On the summit of pure acceptance, Elysian beauty, universal wisdom… VI. And then it happens. Evaporation from heaven. My eyes open wide, glaring at the white light as it transforms into the yellow rays of the sun. Rapture is nothing more than a distant dream. I feel myself rise through the ice, but notice that my tiny shell remains submerged. I am out of body, yet continue in this world. My spirit has taken a fateful chance, leaving its soul-essence in a final effort to contact my brother’s subconscious. I walk, invisible, through the silent snow. I call out to Jonny in a spectral, distant voice. Jonny is halfway home, tears streaming down his frostbitten face, pondering a good excuse to save his ass, trying to escape the fact that he’s just killed his best friend, his only little brother. He knows deep down that he panicked back there and is acting like a coward; but it feels so good to loose all thought in this final run from truth. He’s trying to convince his twelve year-old mind that it wasn’t his fault when he hears a faint call. Nothing audible, but a voice from within. He doesn’t know why, but feels the need to turn the snowmobile around and head back to the lake. Yet he continues forward, too scared to face a past that is so desperately calling his name. His mind races, begging God for another chance. Then he remembers having seen a story on the news of a girl who was frozen in a stream for over half an hour and lived. He wonders if his little brother can be brought back to life. The snowmobile comes to a rest in a sunken stream bed, idling in its low rhythm, surrounding Jonny with its intoxicating fumes. His head sinks to his lap as he realizes himself as nothing more than a guilt-ridden little boy lost in private misery. You Coward. You Pussy. You Killer. There will never be another time of such loneliness, such suffering. He can no longer see through the tearful sobs as he howls, “Scotty, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry my brother. Oh, my little brother. How can you forgive me? How can you forgive me my little brother?” A thin voice whispers back, “Jonny…Help…Jonnnny...” His head rises slowly from the handlebars, eyes searching through each trunk, stem, and branch as they stare back at him in deathly silence. In this moment he gives up his wariness of creation and allows in, just for a second, the possibility of the supernatural. A patch of snow falls from a distant tree just as he sees a thin silhouette wave at him from a shaded gully. He promises that he won’t go home until he has fished his brother from the lake. A body slumbers beneath in a dark state of hibernation, barely detecting a distant rumbling. Spirit fades. My spirit fades. I envision myself roaming the deep waters of Back Creek Lake for all eternity. It’s in this instant that I realize precisely what it’s like to be a ghost, forever wandering the physical world, forever calling from the spiritual plane, forever trapped in the final moments of life and death. But the purring hum keeps me holding on just a few seconds longer. I see a yellow speck approaching on the horizon. Moments later, the machine comes to rest again at the North shoreline and Jonny slips his way onto the ice. I call silently to him as he scampers in my direction. When he slides to the edge of the thinnest layers, he falls through, sinking to his waist. As he struggles and squirms to pull himself out, he realizes that nothing, not even the prospect of cold death, will stop him from finding me. He inches his way forward on hands and knees, then spots a blurred-purple globe blending beneath the frozen floor. He crawls towards a human-like form. The lifeless body is directly below him, staring up from behind the bluish ice. (I realize today that it was my ridiculously large snowmobile suit that allowed me to float face up in the icy water.) He has found me. As he chisels a hole with his buck knife, I hear his desperate groans of prayer. “Please, Scotty, please be in there. Please…be alive in there my little brother.” My spirit prepares for its return to body, with hope upon hope that my brother can revive me. I feel my essence pass right through him and join the body once more. Mute darkness returns to my only reality. Dim, distant, loneliness. Cold Death. It seems like I’ve been out for an eternity when I feel a dull twinge of warmth grasp from a distant plane. His hand has gripped mine. He begins to drag me out, struggling, fumbling, slipping, then finally gets a hold of my belt loop and yanks me out of the hole. I sense him over me, shaking me, pounding on me, then talking to me in an elated tone. I sink into a warm blanket of coma. I feel life returning to my body as Jonny lies on top of me, smothering me with his heated touch. The next sensation is an irritating voice ringing clearly in my ear, “See, I told’ja you wers askin’ fer it.” Consciousness thaws around me and I realize I’m lying in the Pankin’s room, covered with five thick blankets. I open my eyes to see Robbie looking dumbly at me, holding a tray of ice cubes in my face just to fuck with me. I hear Jonny talking to mom in the next room, pleading with her to let us spend the night. Then I hear Todd get on the phone and imitate his dad’s deep voice, assuring her that the boys have been at the house for hours, and that they’re in the middle of a game of Risk. Surprisingly, she takes the bait without asking to talk to me and I hear a collective sigh of relief. When Jonny comes back he smacks Robbie upside the head just as I fade back into a dreamless stupor. VII. Jonny never did let on to mom or dad what happened on that fateful day. I got deathly sick two days later and had to be rushed to the hospital in my one and only ride in an ambulance. But within three weeks I was healthy again and put the whole experience so far behind me that I lost it somewhere in the daily process of living. But it never completely left me. They never completely left me. At least one time a year, the universe of the other side reminded me of my dual place in this world. My brother found some rough times through the next thirty years of his life. He lived hard. He worked hard. He played hard. For over two years in the mid 90’s, he even scavenged the streets of Miami Beach. He’d call maybe once a year, asking for money or a ride home from somewhere crazy. I never had the energy to help him though; I was too consumed with my own shit. And like I said, we gradually all but lost touch. But he came back into my life four months ago, as he called one evening out of the blue. It’s funny because he phoned while I was staring out the window at the autumn leaves, thinking about some of our adventures for the first time in years. Although our conversation was strained at first, it was so nice to hear his voice. He told me he was doing better, living somewhere on the outskirts of Gary, Indiana, holding himself together quite well. He explained that a big-time painting company that specialized in high-rises had taken him on full time. He then asked how I was doing. I was getting all shaky and sentimental, barely able to control the built up emotion. I told him how I was dreading the approaching month of December. He laughed and simply said, “I’ve missed your weird ways, Scott.” His words calmed me down just like when we were kids, making me feel safe in spite of my misery. When we started in on our childhood years everything made sense again for a few precious hours. We talked well into the night. Times and places that had faded clear out of memory came rushing back to life. Like the evening we built an entire snow fortress and bombarded each other until after ten o’clock at night. Or the time we ‘borrowed’ Farmer Ted’s snowplow (a ’65 Dodge Pickup) and plowed the streets before the old man even noticed his truck was gone. God, did we have a laugh at that. There was so much to share. Yet, although we covered most of the memorable events of our youth, not once did the topic of my near death experience enter our conversation. I guess it remained buried somewhere in our collective mind, waiting for its chance to bring us back together. By around three o’clock in the morning we were both getting tired. Before letting me go, Jon promised that he’d hop on his Harley and head up north too see me in a few weeks; and by the sound of his voice I knew he meant it. I began to ramble on about the two of us taking my boat fishing but he interrupted me. “I can hardly keep my eyes open man, so before I hang up I want to tell you something.” He hesitated and then let it out, “I love you brother, and I’m sorry for anything I’ve done to hurt you.” And in that moment, we felt like kids again. I can’t describe how good it felt to have my brother back in my life. The surrounding loneliness seemed to disappear in the security of our voices. I only wish I could have found it within myself to let down my guard and shed a few tears a last time. One night no more two weeks later I was glad to hear the phone ring, hoping that Jonny was following through with his plan to come see me. When I picked up, Veronica was on the line, a girl he’d been seeing off and on for years. At first I couldn’t understand what the hell she was talking about as she carried on and on. I thought she was trying to tell me that I could expect Jonny to be pulling up at my house any minute. But I soon realized she was talking about something entirely different. She explained how she’d told him not to go to work on such a stormy day. She was sobbing as she relived the way he turned to her before walking out the door, and I could almost see him flash his wild grin as he asked, “And miss all the fun?” She then told me how the wind had caught an old framed window he was trying to replace. The glass shattered, slicing his harness, and he fell fourteen stories to his death. I sat on the phone in complete silence. My last remaining connection to the better part of life was gone. As overdue tears began to stream from my eyes, the emotion was too much. Buried affection convulsed into deep tremors, shaking me at my core. I wept long into the night. I cried for my dead brother. I cried for our lost memories and found love. But most of all, I cried because I had no one left to protect me from that other side. I guess Veronica must have eventually hung up because I woke up the next morning on the kitchen floor, the phone still lying next to me. The following months have been a blur. The fear crept in as it did when I was a child, sending me spiraling into dark terror. As time slipped by and December approached, I thought about taking my own life. I kept my mind off things by practicing my suicide note, trying to tell Renee in just the right way. Sometimes, I would play with my .38, putting the empty gun to my temple and pulling the trigger over and over again. Then last week, Friday, December 13th to be exact, I was sitting here alone reading the book of our Lord in the candlelight when the voices began to approach from the distant corners of my soul. I put a single bullet in the chamber, ready to end the misery once and for all. But as I held the gun to my head a strange feeling came over me, a indescribable calming sensation that allowed the voices clarity. I turned to look behind me at the same instant that he tapped me on the shoulder. There he was, his glowing face staring through my eyes into our childhood years. And at last I understood. I understood the voices, I understood my place, I understood my destiny. Most importantly, I finally remembered what happened on that winter day of ’74. You see, a tiny piece of me, the part of me that came from the same soul-group as my brother, has remained all these years on the other side. That’s why they, eternal elements of my soul, have been able to communicate with me around the anniversary of my ‘death’. There’s another thing that I figured out recently. Now that Jonny’s dead, and the part of me that remains in heaven is able to connect with him, I realize that he has always been my soul guide. That’s why I was so afraid to go in, why I felt so alone within that realm, and why I fought so hard to get back. It needed to be like this so we could shake the world up a little bit. It’s like his death completed our triangle of mind, soul, and spirit. And slowly, with Jonny’s guidance, I begin to comprehend the voices of the other side and fulfill my purpose in this world. They come to me more often now, and I write down my interpretation of their layers of wisdom. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll write one of those ‘spiritual books’ with my brother taking on the leading role. In any case, it’s great to have my life back, to want to share my gift with others. I may start by giving Renee a call, see if she’ll give our marriage another go. I don’t know, we’ll see. We’ll see. I can’t say that I’ve actually seen Jonny again after that first instant of recognition. Shit, I’d hate to hear what the shrinks would say about me now if they saw me slumbering in this trance, mumbling to thin air. But it’s what I got so I go with it. It’s three o’clock in the morning and the house is still and quiet. He’s here with me now, talking with me about those golden childhood years. We’ve been reflecting on what happened on that winter evening of 1974. When I asked him why he came back for me that evening I recognized those intense eyes and that wild smile on the other side of thin air. Jonny answered me in simple terms with his clear, vacant voice, “I was riding your frozen spirit, Scotty, I was riding your frozen spirit.” Written by: Jeff Kozlowski Story from Fading Stars of Dawn, A Collection of Shorts
My wife is currently reading the The Way Of The Peaceful Warrior series and I look forward to reading the series myself when she is done. Last night she completed The Journeys of Socrates by Dan Millman and introduced me to this entry that was so moving I thought I would share it with all of you. "When I was young, I believed that life might unfold in an orderly way, according to my hopes and expectations. But now I understand that the Way winds like a river, always changing, ever onward, following God's gravity toward the Great Sea of Being. My journeys revealed that the Way itself creates the warrior; that every path leads to peace, every choice to wisdom. And that life has always been, and always will be, arising in mystery." From Socrates' Journal
A Bold New Dream, America By Jeff Kozlowski The traditional ideal of the American dream resides in the stars and stripes of my earliest memories. This was especially true on the Fourth of July, when colorful blasts filling the sky brought to mind hopes of my future as a war hero, astronaut, or professional ball player. I remember one year when I was four or five, sitting on the back of my uncle’s boat holding a mini American flag, watching the fireworks show late at night. My uncle was a wild one back then, and had decided to entertain the five kids on board by shooting M-80’s with a wrist rocket, causing deafening explosions in the choppy water surrounding us. Being the youngest on board, I was nervous and scared, but excited to be included in the action with my brother and cousins. But time seemed to stand still when my uncle shot one that ricocheted off the base of the slingshot and landed on the engine compartment at the back of the boat. I’ll never forget the terror I felt as everyone on board charged to the front cabin, waiting for the explosion. My mom was screaming in terror and cursing out her brother for putting her babies’ lives in danger. I could do nothing but whimper, wait, and brace for impact. I prepared myself for an early death, but felt comforted that I was with my family. Then I remember seeing the orange fuse fade in the darkness. There was no BOOM because the wick had burned itself out. As I uncovered my head and got up from my hiding spot, my childish dreams were restored. And for the next twenty-five years, I attempted to achieve my maturing American dream through hard work, dedication, and hope for a better future. I went into teaching with the desire to change the world one mind at a time. I chose to dedicate my free time to my family rather than the need for position, with the hope that I could give my children a sense of security and belonging. And although there have been many personal struggles along the way, the memories we share are more meaningful than any amount of money could bring. But that M-80 finally exploded in my childhood soul on the morning of September 11th, 2001 when I watched on TV as the Twin Towers came crashing down. Now I don’t pretend to imply that the impact on me was a fraction of what it was for those who were there. But since that morning, a part of me has become that desperate little boy, waiting for the next BOOM. I believe most of us can admit that that single event obliterated our collective American dream. The terrorists certainly brought to light our primeval sense of insecurity and animal-like contempt for humankind. We began to question our confidence within our culture and it has shown through in almost every aspect of society. Those who deny this reality continue to live in their cracked shells, going through the motions for coveted status, material possession, and false fronts. Personally, after pouring out the raw emotion of that time in my journal, I tried to deny the consequences and move on. As political decisions and world policy became increasingly controversial and unpopular, my boyhood respect and love for this country waned. Over time, I stopped voting, watching the news, or trying to make a difference in people’s lives, as I was secretly bitter with the whole ideal. Gradually, I began to ask myself, “What do I do with this negative energy, this fear?” When I recently went back and read my first thoughts from that day, a fresh hope filled my mind. With sickening emotion pulsating through my body, I had written, “The first day of the rest of our experience. I sit in my car and stare at the kid’s toys, clothes, and trinkets and my whole life pauses before me. But to stop and see it as it can be, to allow our country to come together and gut our values from the inside out. We can turn the corner and begin leading by example. We will come to grips with an alternative way of life, a Nation which extends itself to all without imposing its values on the rest of the world.” Of course, after living through the reality of how the Nation closed in on itself since the event, no wonder we’ve grown so disheartened. But lately, I’ve been thinking about the possibilities of the world my children will one day inherit. With that as my driving motivator, I begin to dust off my emotions and remember the idea of an evolving state of society that has sat dormant in my dreams for five years. The shock is over and the healing process has opened us to many new ideas. With nowhere else to turn, I choose optimism over fear. Yet, I can do little alone. So I ask if you’re ready for the recovery of the American spirit, the advancement of the human essence? I ask if together we can take the next step, the path towards reform? I believe there are seven universal insights that we can practice in order to help recreate our collective standard of living. Together, we can improve our existence and reinvent the American dream on a personal, emotional, mental, philosophical, social, collective, and spiritual level. I share these amendments with you, not to criticize the state of our society, but to propose the possibilities of cooperative reason. Amendment One: Individualize your American dream. Redefining the spirit that drives the Nation may seem incredibly complicated and overwhelming. Yet the answer is so simple: You. Yes, this is a highly personal process and the first step is to rediscover your individual priorities, goals, and commitments. Make them yours rather than dictated by outside forces. Refocus on positive choices and core values that fulfill you, your loved ones, and society as a whole. Verbalize who you are, what you want, and how you’re going to get there. Then, follow through with your plan of action. Enjoy the process by focusing on your daily progress, whether the day was a breeze or a struggle. We’ve been searching far and wide for the next hero, but we’re just beginning to realize that the hero is within each of us. Amendment Two: Seek the power to understand and regulate your will. It really comes down to two choices, give up your fear or give up what you want in life. We all have long-standing insecurities, unhealthy habits, and secret dependencies, all of which are born out of a million excuses, each laden with fear. But when we begin to work through our personal issues in honest, constructive, and consistent ways, we open to unlimited possibilities. When we seek help through our darkest struggles, exposing our fractured core, we make life-altering connections with others. And when we increase our willingness to become a complete person, we begin to care more about the well being of the whole. Whether it’s making amends with our family or delving into an addiction, we become a little more complete when we use our will to let go rather than hold on. Amendment Three: Search for education on an individual, local, cultural, and global scale. On the surface, most people believe in the importance of education as the foundation for keeping the systems of the present moving forward for a stable future. But drilling our youth with basic skills and uninspiring curriculum often hurts their love for learning in the long run. True educators know that teaching is more than passing on facts, data, and strategies to ignorant minds. In order to foster life-long learners, information must be synthesized and transformed into practical application, emotional knowledge, multi-layered understanding, and divine wisdom. Therefore, in order for our youth to flourish, students of every age (from every walk of life) need to dig for truth in the universe of possibility. A key is developing the child in you, finding the wonder, passion, awe, excitement, curiosity, discovery, compassion, and emotion that makes life worth living. As an evolving teacher, you will learn how to pass that knowledge on to others in creative, fascinating, dynamic ways while adding your own unique perspective to the world. And when the masses begin to understand education as a joyous, fulfilling, life-long process, the opportunities for individuals will increase exponentially. Amendment Four: Open to the idea of altering your way of life. We are stuck in incessant patterns of social structure, as money and power are the keys to the long-standing view of success. Status, wealth, and celebrity are some of the motivators that drive us to maintain this way of thinking. These desires often force us into patterns of greed, jealousy, and competition at any cost. We want it. We need it. We yearn for it. And, we get it. But in my mind, the question is, “Are we really following the principles that our forefathers fought for?” I believe the only way to overcome our internal stagnation is to recommit to the nature of our original dream, “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But internally, we must infuse the modern day concerns and realities into this age-old quest for long-term change. Tiny brush strokes of transformation, subtle acts of faith, combined to paint a new ‘Big Picture.’ And the next American dream will feature less lost souls cogging up the rusty Machine and offer more individuals the opportunity to soar with self-actualization. So empower yourself to create small changes in your life despite the system, and feel free to challenge the old order. When enough people have had enough, new philosophies, social structures, opportunities, careers, art forms, media outlets, technologies, and past-times will emerge. These possibilities are in there waiting for us, sitting on the tip of our collective imagination. Amendment Five: Focus on social awareness rather than social standing. So many people walk through life with their eyes closed to the important things, ignoring not only the large-scale issues surrounding the world, but also the fragile state of balance surrounding our existence. Many would like to believe our problems will somehow go away if we just believe things will turn out all right. For years, the childlike dreamer in me secretly had faith that the human condition would continue to evolve and that our world would increasingly grow into the place of my dreams. But I’ve discovered that believing is no longer enough. There’s another side of me now, less naive and more aware, a sharp-eyed eagle with talons. The modern American must find that eagle within their child, that child within the eagle. We must perfect the art of reading people’s personal qualities, body language, and motives, in order to ensure safety on a personal, local, national, and global scale. We must show diligence in protecting the way of life that we work so hard to obtain. Like concerned parents protecting their young from a predator, we need to collectively keep one eye on the potential invader. And most importantly, we can’t grow overly hardened in our commitment to security, because a good parent remembers to see through their child’s eyes. Amendment Six: Give up our cultural ego. Some parts of the world at large loathe American ideals for our reputation of hypocrisy, arrogance, and conceit. We often blame our institutions for these tendencies, but the truth is they come from humans at the most basic level. I believe we can no longer give unjust cause to our haters through egocentric, excessive, and overly indulgent patterns of life. Socially, we debate our paths based on our right to the freedom of speech. But we often abuse this precious gift because of our refusal to use another important privilege, our right to listen. What we haven’t come to terms with is that much of our political, social, and spiritual bias is based on our ego. We don’t accept another’s point of view because we simply won’t look at life from a different perspective. We can’t see the other side of the coin or empathize with a divergent position because we have a deep seeded need to be right. But when we let go of that ego, we have an idea of how things should be. We are more similar than we think in our ultimate goal, yet have many opinions and ideas on how to get there. I’m not advocating for a middle of the road position on all issues, but a personal commitment to openly understand and respect opposing opinions. If we think from the heart and soul of others, we may find that each side is valid in its own perspective. And once we understand each other, we can cross current racial, religious, political, economic, and social barriers. It’s time we begin believing power can be found by other means. Amendment Seven: Understand that everything is sacred. Religion, at its fundamental level, is the philosophy of creation, morality, and mortality. Lessons in morals enter our belief systems before we even learn to talk. The Holy Scriptures are the long word of the ages, the hook to our ancestors, offering us the way it has always been. There is comfort in these messages, wonderful lessons, but often little truth. And the more we apply our engrained beliefs to the modern world, the easier it is to see the flaws in every doctrine. The more we are forced to coexist with other systems, the clearer it becomes that we have to reinvent our faith. Our grasp of truth is still at its infant stages, a pinprick of light in the dark universe above. Only when we obtain an awareness and acceptance of the differences in faith, beliefs, and values, will we begin to open the next door to the realities of creation. When we begin to redefine the idea of life, perceive the living universe of matter and spirit in its natural state, will we again build on the depths of universal values. This doesn’t mean we should give up our core beliefs, but expand them to see more clearly. Ultimately, we can become a Nation of one despite our inherent differences. Now imagine if a majority of Americans from all ages, races, political backgrounds, social circles, and religious denominations act to redefine their own American dreams. Consider what it will be like if we work together in the recovery of the American spirit. Certainly, the old ways will die hard, but the minds of the future can create change one individual, one moment, at a time. Truly, that horrific autumn day was the first day of the rest of our existence. Now, it is our right, our obligation, to lead the children of our future into a successful, peaceful, substantial existence. For me, it begins with writing this article. It includes loving my wife, my children, and my family. It includes trying to make things a bit better for the small part of the world in which I interact. Sometimes, late at night, I imagine my children sitting on my uncle’s boat, watching the fireworks without a care in the world. I see them acting out their futures, playing out their bold new dreams, without fear that one day a BOOM will make it all come crashing down. And I ask each of you, are you ready to come out of hiding and make sure the wick is out?
"It was in this moment that I fell in love with Daisy, surrendering completely, whole-heartedly, and without conditions. No longer was it about self-confidence, or status, or even sex for me, but rather the tenderness of her soul. Can you remember the first time that feeling stirred you, uninhibited love? The phrase may seem a bit childish now that we're all grown up, drained of our youthful desires, dissillusioned and pounded into the mature consumers that society asks us to be. But if you're able to stroll down memory lane and look back at that shelf of stored-up (lost) passion, then maybe you'll be able to peel away the apathy and catch a glimpse of that untarnished ideal, because there can be no better high than the first time it takes you in." Excerpt from Jeff Kozlowski's novel "The One"
Without question, millions of Americans have grown disillusioned and dissatisfied with the state of our complex society. Sour faces, bitter complaints, dividing debates, and frustrated hopes have become commonplace in the streets, towns, and media outlets across this Nation. But underneath the anger, confusion, and pain, undeterred individuals continue to press on, strive for their dreams, and perform courageous deeds every day. It is in this gleaming center of faith that the The American Review Literary Journal will focus. The purpose of the journal is to redefine America from the eyes of its extraordinary citizens, to reach into the heart of individuals and expose their self worth. Creator Bryant McGill speaks of Tomorrow's Promise as an opportunity to turn the corner in recovery and change, to help provide future generations a sense of hope, confidence, and fulfillment. (Please visit www.ARLJ.com to review his complete mission statement for the project.) We all come from different cultures, locations, backgrounds, upbringings, experiences, fears, beliefs, goals, and challenges. We strive to maintain our standard of living, to survive the pressures placed upon us by natural selection and social institutions. Each has faced and overcome many struggles to preserve personal dreams, although some have had to let go in order to survive. But whatever the situation, it is my belief that you have it in you to do your part. Therefore, my challenge is for each of you to take the time to look around and seek out the elements of life that will help make a difference. And then, I ask you to share these experiences with the world. So how do we do this? It is my mission to gauge the pulse of the Nation, to share honest, sincere, real, and powerful stories of life and passion in America. I'm looking for raw talent at the fundamental level, striking, contagious, and reverberating material that speaks to us all. Allow your creativity, insight, and stirring emotions to shine through, for I'm seeking out individuals who are interested in creating a movement of positive change, those who are willing to foster the cutting edge of American hope. What format am I looking for? I'm considering many types of submissions including, but not limited to, articles, biographical pieces, editorials, essays, journal entries, letters, poems, and short stories. The Journal will also consider artwork, photography, and other visually stimulating media. And what kind of topics should you focus on? Generally speaking, I'm looking for the American experience revealed, pieces demonstrating the spirit to overcome, those who are beaten but not lost, those who achieve the wonders of self-discovery or who realized the true nature of freedom. I would like you to think about how you have built a better life, become something more, overcome disabilities, or survived the unimaginable. My goal is to bring hope to the children of our future, honor to our everyday heroes, recognition to undiscovered talent, respect for our seasoned citizens, and a plan for change for the unjust institutions. I want you to get into the root of reality, because without struggle and pain, there can be no solution. Specifically, I'm looking for the following in no particular order: 1. A showcase for the talent of our youth. Children and teen works depicting their hopes, dreams, and perspectives. Or their interpretation of the changing American aspirations, goals and values. 2. Edgy or controversial pieces with a beam of hope or a positive twist. 3. Biographical pieces on secret heroes, unknown heroes, silent heroes. 4. Stories of people who changed your life (inspirational teachers, mentors, leaders) 5. A focus on ordinary people doing ordinary things in extraordinary ways. 6. Creative essays, stories, or poems depicting a bigger, brighter, and better future. What can we leave to future generations to ensure a greater society? 7. Philosophical pieces on the nature of values, goals, inspiration, passion, fear, and discovery. 8. Stories or poems that demonstrate the power of love or compassion. How was it nurtured, expanded, or extended? 9. Editorials proposing ideas on how to improve community structures, social institutions, or the treatment of human beings. 10. Stories of self-sacrifice for the sake of children, family, or the common good. 11. Foreign contributions that are compatible with the human values that we embrace and wish to promote as Americans. Despite my wish list, I give you the freedom to take risks, to write from your heart, to go where you need to go to find your American dream. We are in a critical time in this world, and we have the opportunity to help define history. So I ask you, when do you run away and when do you stand tall? What will make us smile? What will help us to change as a whole? Where do we find our confidence, courage, pride? Together, we can reach inside, test ourselves from within, and stretch our limits. I look forward to working with you in creating a revolution of the creative mind. Happy Writing, Jeff Kozlowski Submission Guidelines: 1. Please submit your material to my email address at submissionsarlj@yahoo.com or directly through my email link on my Myspace profile page. 2. You will not be notified unless your entry is published in the journal. 3. You may submit as many pieces (within reason) as you wish. Please include your name, address, phone number and email address on each submission you send in so that we can contact you if we need to. 4. There are no deadlines, but we are hoping for a steady influx of material. 5. We will be accepting material from writers outside the US and are looking for foreign perspectives. There will be an International Perspectives Editor. We will also accept works from foreign contributors when that work is compatible with the human values that we embrace and wish to promote as Americans. 6. On Copyright/First Rights: First rights are not necessary. Copyrights are non-exclusive. We place no restrictions on your work at all. Our non-exclusive rights only allow us use of the material 7. There is no monetary compensation but each published work will receive wide spread exposure. 8. In order to have your work seriously considered, please refine and edit your work before submitting it to The American Review site or its Editors.
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