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08 June 2010

The Mystic Alley

I have few memories that seem iconic for me.  I refer to them, often, in my mind as I think things through.  These historical events deal with odd happenings associated with a particular place.

All except the first story, but it will lead, thematically, into the “Alley Series.”  Much of my Mission City series comes very near to the location mentioned in the Alley recollections.  The structure of what I write is not intentional, but “evocative” letting the story tell itself, because I think each story wants to tell itself in relation to the next.  I know I lose chronological order, but what is evoked is what is evoked and that is more important.


One fourth of July, I was over at a parishioner’s house in Alvarado, Texas.  There was going to be a barbecue, but we never made it that far.  Outside, we heard people shouting “Fire!”  Our host went out the front door and then yelled back at me to come help.  Once out the door, I saw the smoke coming from the front bedroom window, closest to my friend’s house, of the house next door.

He and another were running the garden hose from the burning house to reach the window of the bedroom which was on fire.  I grabbed the hose from my friend’s house and did the same.  We met at the window and someone had already broken out the glass and so we began directing the water to the bed which was the primary source of the fire at the time.  Meanwhile, another neighbor was running around beating on all of the windows around the house to insure no one was asleep inside.

In fact, there was at least one person inside, and the woman came out the front door.  She was embarrassed at having no shirt on, and obviously groggy from a deep sleep.  I was still working hard to extinguish the bed and making progress, and was dousing the walls and ceiling as best I could to prevent the fire from burning through the sheet-rock which was still protecting the rest of the house.  She was asked if there was anyone else inside.  “The kids.  I think they are in the back bedroom.”

I dropped the hose and stepped in the front door.  All of the power was already off—I seem to recall that someone had pulled the main breaker so we would not get shocked using all of that water.  Anyway, the house was dark and filled with smoke except for about the lowest two feet.  I was breathing so hard from the adrenaline that I found I could not hold my breath long enough to attempt getting through the house.  Someone else observed, "There is no way any of us are going to make it from inside."

I took off in a sprint around the house to try to gain entry to the room she pointed at through the back window.

The house was on a slope and the back bedroom window was at least five feet from the ground.  I slammed the window with the side of my fist in an attempt to crack the glass.  I hit it several times, but although I hit it as hard as I could, I was pounding above my head and so not getting much leverage.  I took several steps back and ran at the house, leaping on the last bound, and punched with the side of my fist at the window when I was in the air.  I tried this several times, more than once managing to hit the glass in the center with my shoulder.  That damned window did not so much as crack.

I was awed that using all of my strength, I could not break the glass.  It flexed, but would not crack.  The smoke was thick against the glass when I first got there, but it was roiling against the glass by the time I had exhausted myself running, jumping and punching—again and again.  This went on for maybe two or three minutes and I yelled throughout for someone to find a ladder or something I could use to break the glass.  The last three attempts were utterly useless, I could no longer jump high enough, and my arm strength was gone.  I saw the orange of flame and it replaced the smoke.  For a few moments I thought my failure to break the glass had cost two children their lives.

I knelt where I landed after the last futile attempt and my breath caught with a sob.  As I tried to smooth my breathing and get my emotions under control, my ex-wife came around the corner of the house into the back yard where I was alone.  The only person who had joined me back there had run off to find a ladder almost as soon as I started trying to break out the window.  My ex-wfe looked at me kneeling in the grass, drenched from the water when I had been fighting the fire out front, and she laughed at me.
“What are you doing?”
“The kids.”  I gestured at the window.  “I couldn’t get the damned window to break.”
“They found the kids—they were next door.”
She laughed again at me.

I returned to the front of the house and my friend’s arms were giving out.  By this time he had been spraying the water, using his thumb over the hose opening to reach the back of the room, and his forearms, like mine, ached.  I took one of the hoses from him and went back to work fighting the fire.  He asked me, “What happened to you back there?  You look like hell.”
“I thought the kids were in that back room and I couldn’t get through the damned window.”
“They’re alright.  They were next door—the Mom just didn’t know where they were.  Someone should have come and told you.”
“Yes.  I thought they must have died while I tried with everything I had to break the glass.  It felt so… Evil.”
My friend understood and "accidentally" sprayed my face to wash away the tears so no one would notice I had been crying.

The fire truck had been stuck in a parade in the next town over.  They eventually showed up, but we had defeated the flames by then.  We kept the fire from spreading but the smoke damage ruined pretty much everything they owned.  I later learned that children had started the fire in the middle of the bedroom floor, and then shoved it under the bed before running away and hiding at the house next door.< It is, of course, the odd climax of that story—the interrupting climax which makes it most notable to me.  I think of it this way.  I have trodden far more paths into dangerous situations, life and death struggles and drama—even trauma-- than the vast majority of persons I know.  Fear doesn’t do to me what it should, and I suspect there is at least some connection between that and my being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  I don’t like the “disorder” word, because what I do as a result of that, the behavior which diagnosis it, is not disordered, it is merely rare.  I am hyper-vigilant.  That means I am not only looking for anything going wrong, I am also constantly attempting to be ready to deal with whatever goes wrong.

But it is the juxtaposition of my experience of trauma in failing to save two children with being laughed at for doing so.

That scene is iconic for me, because it repeated, in spiritual parallel a few years later.  [But that story will be written later.  It is too intimate—too painful—to close, and its consequences too hurtful to share just yet, with more than a few.  I still write and tell that story and fall into the present tense—a sign that I am reliving the trauma, not merely remembering it—it is spiritually with me, happening, now; and it is because of that traumatic transcending of time—it will not become past for me, that my brokenness remains broken—I am not (yet?) scarred].  Yet, two children I desperately try to save and one laughing woman—the same woman, different children—and my failure to save despite my best efforts, serves here to foreshadow what will be.

Foreshadowing is a literary technique, but this is foreshadowing in real life—as if the Author wanted me to be prepared for the greater and more tragic event.  Perhaps, and I hope it is so, for me to keep in mind the tragedy I assumed had taken place with the knowledge that the two children I sought to save were safe none-the-less.  God, please let it be so.

Fire in the Alley!

I was in college and going to my parents' house after work at IBM where I worked that summer.  I smelled smoke as I drove in front of the house and began honking and yelling “Fire!” as I went around the corner and into the alley.  I saw the flames against the fence in our side yard, parked my car in the grass to leave room for fire trucks to come into the driveway, opened the garage door with the remote and continued to yell, “Fire!  Fire!  Fire!”

The next-door neighbors had a hose draped over the fence in seconds, and my father came out with one from our back yard moments after.  I was dragging the gasoline cans for the lawnmower out of the garage, and all chemical containers which happened to be on the other side of the wall from the fire.  The breaker box was in the garage and an outlet was near where the blaze was so I pulled the main breaker so I could use the water hose.  The side of the garage was shingled, and someone had stacked fire logs against it, and set the stack ablaze.

The fire department came very quickly, and I had the small fire out and was pulling the few burned shingles off the house and squirting water up inside the wall.  No other damage was done.  While I was busy doing all of these things, some kid had come up and was watching.  The fire department asked me what I knew and were very curious about the gas cans.  I explained that I had thought of those as soon as I saw where the fire was—knew they were just on the other side of the wall.  Meanwhile, that stranger kid was talking to one of the other firefighters.

A few minutes later, the head fireman came up and asked me if I knew that kid.  I had never seen him before.  He said, “He set the fire.  One of my men thought the boy was too interested, and too helpful.  The kid reached into the pile of wood, there, and found a book of matches.  He knew they were there even though they were under the wood.  We asked him a few questions and he even knew that the logs had been placed there from the larger stack against the fence.  He has admitted it and the chief is over at his house talking to his parents."

There was no doubt.  A few days later, I was informed that the kid had taken a book of matches from a jar of matches the parents had collected from their vacations.  One book was missing and the book used to start the fire was the one.  The family did not know mine—it was just a troubled, emotionally disturbed kid.  The parents indicated they knew he had issues.  The Fire Department pressed charges against him, and the judge was requiring him to go to the poorly named, “Arson School” for juvenile arsonists.  The parents paid for the damages—nothing more than a few shingles.

Of interest is the timing— that I just happened to be driving up.  Then, that I thought of the gas cans and the electricity.  Also that my neighbors had two hoses over the fence almost before I had gotten out of my car.  It was all almost surreal.

I remember thinking that my actions might have the fire department suspecting me—too many coincidences.  I was just reading on Friday how just such concerns are typical for persons who have some experience with mystical intuition.  They seem too quick to know things about others—pick up on the slightest details, things no one else notices, and assembles an accurate picture of the details.

That then leads me into two other stories of that place, the back yard driveway of the house and the alley behind that house on Chattington where that fire was.

I At Your Cat Today!

The oddest is where I did get blamed for something I did not do and for exactly the reason I just explained.  I was in first grade.  There was this cute girl, about four years older than me, and I thought she was very pretty because, well, she was very pretty.  Moreover, she intrigued me.  Not really the point, but perhaps worth mentioning, is that she had recently had me come over and play in the big playroom they had in their house.

She had a brother my age, but I did not know him well even though they lived only a few doors down.  The boy was "not right," as they say.  I was too young to put it together, but I can make a pretty good guess now.  Anyway, her brother was probably autistic, but I do not have enough memories of him to have much certainty of exactly what was wrong.  His sister was damaged in some way, too.  She was smart, and bright and pretty as she could be.  I was honored to be asked to come over and play, especially because she was ten and I was six—I felt grown up, just like I saw my big brother to be.

They had a really neat playroom.  A lot of the house in my neighborhood had “playrooms” for the kids.  This one was special.  It was huge and it had a climbing structure complete with tunnels and monkey bars –all inside the house.  I remember hard linoleum floors, white with black specks, and the tunnels and climbing structure of bright colors.

The girl started by apologizing for her brother’s behavior when I had been over not long before.  Essentially, I think she was telling me he was retarded, but I think I took that to be nothing but a sibling insult.  Once in the playroom, she got very quiet, asked me to be very quiet, and began acting strangely— in the eyes of six year old.  She kept climbing up ahead of me, wearing a skirt and intentionally teasing me.  You get the idea.

When I was thirteen and adventurous, my father started driving me to the Junior High dances— and I never missed one.  It became a regular routine and when I was about fourteen going on fifteen, I remember his smiling and saying, as he drove me home from yet another, “Your dog loves to chase cars, you know.  I sometimes wonder if he would know what to do if he ever caught one.”  I laughed, and my Dad continued smiling and added, “I’m wondering the same about you.  You chase the girls.  I am wondering if you would know what to do if you caught one.”
“Nope.  Not yet, but I’m figuring it out.”
He nodded.  “I think that girl we just took home will know what to do with you.”
“I think so, too.”
“You’re a mess!”
“But I’m a fun mess.”

My Dad was cool.

But back to the girl down the street.  She knew what to do with boys she caught way too early.

I got my little naive self out of there.  She was disappointed, but stayed friendly to me.

One day, soon after all of that, I saw her in the alley, behind my house.  I said, “I ate your cat today.”
What a strange thing to say.  I have no idea why I said it—I know I wanted to tease her, but it made no sense to me.  It came from somewhere else.  I never made that mistake again-- giving voice to "somewhere else." I don't mean me-- as you will see...

This odd kid a year older than me, something of a bully, had been playing with one of my best friends earlier in the day, and said something to me about being down at her house and hating her cat, but that is only the connection between the words, but not behind the odd idea.  I had said those odd words while my heart desired some intended humor, and she seemed to take my heart's intent and not my words.

The words came to me as magic, as a relief being given to me in my timidity. I heard some brief tangential discussion about children believing in magic, and being right, but being taught otherwise.  Peter Pan.  Well, some magic is not to be trifled with.

That night my parents called me down from my room and ask me why I had said that.  I had no good answer; I did not know why I had said it.  The interrogation continued when there was a knock on the door.  The bully kid I had avoided earlier in the day had been “fingered” by other neighbors.  He had smothered the cat belonging to the girl.  He had killed several pets in the neighborhood that day.  Her parents were apologizing for suspecting me.

What was going on with me that I knew something about her cat?  I wondered of my strange statement and the coincidence of her cat being tortured to death by the psychopath bully kid.  There had to be a connection.

Buried Alive!  Odd, It Is Not That Bad.

Within fifty feet of the above two occurrences is yet a third mystical event from my youth.  This time I was about eleven.  Our next-door neighbors were putting in a pool.  Three brothers along with my best friend across the street and his brother and I were all playing in the full-dump-truck load of sand that had been left in their back yard a few days before.

The younger ones were driving Matchbox Cars around the sand mountain on roads they had created with tunnels and switchbacks. The oldest brother ran water down the little roads to help wet the sand for better cohesion.  More tunnels were built and then deeper into the sand mound they were dug.  One tunnel eventually went from one side to the other—about half way up—an impressive engineering feat.

One thing led to another and the oldest three of us began trying to tunnel all the way across at ground level.  We were using shovels at one point and had managed to touch fingertips in the center.  Being the thinnest, I wanted to try to crawl all the way through.  I made it half-way when the tons of sand collapsed on me.

The weight was incomprehensible.  The air was shoved out of my lungs and my arms, head, torso and legs above the knees were utterly immobilized.  My feet were exposed to the air, but that was all.  You cannot yell for help.  So unable to move at all, it was like being paralyzed.  Inhaling was out of the question—and I was suffocating.  It was oddly peaceful.  The futility of any attempt to do anything was so obvious to me that acceptance of my situation came quickly.  I simply lay there wondering what the few seconds ahead of me would be like as I died.

I had never been in a situation where I knew that I could do nothing—have no options no matter what the consequences.  This was the ultimate in overwhelming-ness.  I had no hope of surviving. I was eleven years old and  knew I was doomed to die in only seconds from the instant I realized my situation.  I didn’t spend those few seconds in wonder at the peacefulness in which I found myself in my doom.  Later, I would wonder about it and think that being paralyzed allowed no outward expression and it was that, perhaps, which had allowed such calm.  If you can’t behave frantically, you do not feel frantic?  I don’t know, but I was not frantic.

I could hear my friends yelling and I could hear the shovels slicing into the sand above me, but I felt no relief.  It was a race upon which my life depended and I was but a spectator, by hearing only.  No out-of-body experience, I just lay there wondering how much longer I would remain conscious and listening to my friends outrage at what was happening to me.

The act of my death has never frightened me since that time—when I go, I’m just fine with it—I was then, and I am now.  I wanted to live, but was certain that there was no hope of that—my friends were not going to dig me out before I was gone.

I would have been right about that except for the unforeseen—a miracle, and I was not praying for a miracle— I was not praying at all.

Large powerful hands grabbed my ankles and yanked with such force that my vertebrae made cracking noises like knuckles.  If those hands had pulled upward, by back would have broken, but they pulled mostly back but my chest and head did not move.  My hips must have moved at least an inch.  I was an inch taller, for a few seconds, than I had ever been.  The hands pulled again and the digging continued.  I heard one friend caution that the blade of the shovel would hit my head, and they argued while continuing to dig.  The hands yanked again and my arms stayed put but my torso and head moved a little.  At the same time, I felt the weight of the sand lessen.

A few more yanks, and I was suddenly out in the sunlight, and two rough “men” stood there looking at me -- with disgust.  They had been the ones to pull me out.  Yes, I had been stupid and thoughtless, but why disgust?  I had the feeling that as filthy as they appeared to have been before showing up, they really wanted to wash any part of me off of them, as if they had condescended to save my life.

I thanked them as my friends were checking me over.  They nodded, but said nothing, looked at each other and got in the early sixties, blue and  beat-up pick-up truck and drove off down the alley, turning the corner and driving out of sight as they did so.  They did not even look back.

Those two men showed no joy in what they had done.  They wanted no thanks.  They acted as if it were a job-- a regular, every-day occurrence with no special meaning.  I am pretty sure that is exactly what it was for them.  I am pretty sure that there was no truck, there were no men, and the did not merely disappear from our view when they went around the corner, but had become, again, invisible—their natural state.

I wonder, today, forty years later.  I wonder that the next time I see them, it will not be joyous either—not yet.  I want to believe that this event ties in with another, one that forty years ago had them view me with disdain, but maybe not so much now.  I want to believe that those two, more than I, have come to terms with what will be— perhaps with at least a little less disdain for the concept now, then back then.

I don’t want to “Rest in Peace” when I go.  I want to fight the Evil which has paralyzed me with such overwhelmingness so many times—my soul crushed under the weight.  More about that when I write about my Sword.

Threats From Above!

Also when I was about six and also right there beside the alley, I spent a summer terribly afraid of that place at night.  Phobicly afraid.  Monsters in the closet?  Never.  I had unseen entities in the alley which I knew were there, and which I knew I had not seen.  For some reason, UFO talk was big in those days, and I remember wondering of it was aliens that were above that alley.

Angels or Demons?  Hard to tell.  Humans encountering Holy Angels do so with fear and trembling, not peace and joy.  My father wanted me to take the trash out there one night after dark.  Doing it in the day was not a problem, but after dark forced me to go against my intuition that something terrifying was above the alley—not in it, but came down from above it.  He kept askimg me why I did not want to go out there.  I remember being unable to explain the sense that I had of something terrible out there.  I think it was my brother who said, teasingly, that perhaps I was afraid of aliens.  I offered that as a possible explanation.  I had to go read up on them later— wondering if perhaps my brother had unintentionally suggested the real threat.  He hadn’t.  My Dad went with me until I got over it, standing there looking up at the sky and helping me become familiar with the night stars and identify airplanes.

Now the connection is more interesting to me.  Many psychotherapist have written about the connection between spiritual trauma and persons who report encounters with UFO's and aliens.  The principle thrust of speculation seems to be that spiritual events sometimes get explained to the person by their own experience as being alien beings and alien craft-- something along the lines of an attempt to define the spiritual as none-the-less a physical albeit alien (in both definitions of the word) event.

The Alley's Touch

Before we even had the back yard fence put in, still unpacking from our move from Fort Worth, and I think when I was first beginning to suffer from a months long chronic streptococcus infection.  It was a Spring day and I was out in the back yard alone, playing with Tonka Trucks.  Something happened inside of me then.  Probably related to a high fever, but the whole world seemed to become very bright, very different, very new and very lonely.

Looking back on that day, having studied theology and read clinical research about such experiences addressed in this blog, I suspect (only suspect) that whatever I sensed above that alley and which came down from above it— that in the daylight, just that beautiful Spring Day, it entered our existed there into my world, touching me inside as it did.

I don’t know if that section of back yards and including the alley connecting them was a holy place, but it was (perhaps is) a spiritual place—a place where mystical occurrences take place.

But odd, the mystical things which took place in that small part of the alley behind Chattington.  One of those places—like the story of Jacob’s Ladder.  Congress & 2nd in downtown Austin appears to be another such place.  There seems to be no explanation for either.  No temporal reason for there to be anything special about those places.  Hmmm.

Panic at Spring Creek!

(I'm having fun with these section titles!)

And since I mentioned UFO’s, I will tell a story of which I remember nothing, but as a close friend of mine told me, apparently amazed that I did not remember any bit of what he told me.  This was at Spring Creek Elementary.

“That time when the teachers all made us come inside from recess—they were all scared.  At first they thought it was an airplane flying very low.  They thought it was going to crash, but then when it came over, it wasn’t an airplane and several little silver things came out of it and spread out over the playground.  The teachers were all scared and made us come in, and we just wanted to watch.  You got in trouble for refusing to come in.  How can you not remember that?”

Well, I don’t.  But I did suspect my friend as someone like me— someone who knew things that no one else seemed to recognize— seeing with another set of eyes and hearing with another set of ears.  He seemed less aware than I was that not everybody saw and heard.  He did not doubt himself, but found it frustrating that no one else had any recollection of what he remembered so vividly.  He added that I and some others went straight to the playground after school looking for the little silver things— that maybe we thought we had seen one crash into the ground— something like the size of a coin, he said.

Yet, I have this vivid memory of no great importance— the first entry written specifically for this blog.  It does have some similarity, but happened a few hundred yards south of where my friend told me it happened.  About sitting in the back yard beside the alley watching a crop duster and having little red pellets fall on me after it passed overhead. 

It dawns on me that every time I sit down to write about one such childhood event, at least half a dozen more come to mind.  With that dawning is the apparent truth that my life is filled, or at least heavily spotted, with encounters with the extra-temporal.  All of these that I am telling have stuck in my memory not altogether unlike when a song gets stuck in your head—a “brain worm.”  What I mean is that they are vivid memories that seem to have little purpose, and if it were not for their persistence over the years, I would dismiss them.  But I cannot seem to do that—my intuition, instinct and simply something about these stories call me to consider them— promising meaning and useful knowledge and understanding to come from contemplating them.

I do not believe in aliens from other planets and yet I have read quite a bit of material—more than most.  My gut tells me that UFO’s have nothing to do with the UFO stories.  My mind concurs with my gut— the more I read, the more easily that explanation is to reject.  To the contrary, I am in agreement with those who submit that, perhaps, alien abduction stories and the like are really spiritual events being described in familiar terms.  The Creation story is an excellent example of that to bring up for consideration, and I will write about it next in an entry entitled, “Let Us Start Here.”

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