A Grain of Sand

Nothing more than a grain of sand

one among a cast of millions

arose and accepted the burdensome

yoke of humanity, the drudgery of life,

the pains, torments, tears, and fears

until love entered his heart.


Nothing but a tiny grain of sand

now filled with a woman’s love

beaming broader than the sun,

wider than the Milky Way

standing tall, strong, proud, and fearless

with her vision in his mind.


Nothing but a proud grain of sand

knelt by her side, making his

wishes known, the dreams of his soul,

the secrets of his heart,

the projects, plans, ideas, and thoughts

searing his vision.


Nothing but an exultant grain of sand

stood with his love at the altar

pledging faithful love, devotion,

a lifetime of togetherness,

trials, tribulation, joys, tears

traveling the path of marriage.


Nothing but two grains of sand

forged through the world

casting aside the millions to

focus on the other, the others that

they create, the little ones, children,

loins of our loins and loves of our love,

for now and forever. Amen.

Spring Shooting

Spring had finally come. Storms had pelted the area, turning the hills a verdant green. Flowers were in bloom and grasses were growing ever taller by the day. The air was crisp, albeit somewhat cool, and the sky was deep blue with a scattering of wispy clouds.

Perfect weather for taking pictures, so Mara picked up her camera bag and purse. “I’m leaving,” she said. “I probably won’t be back until late afternoon.”

Her husband Mark waved his right hand, holding it high over his shoulder, never turning his head from the baseball game on the television. “Have fun. Get lots of good shots.”

“You don’t want to come along?” Mara asked. “I’d love the company.”

“No,” he said. “I’m going to run over to my mom’s house in a bit to make sure the roof didn’t leak in that last storm.”

“Okay. Then I guess I’ll leave.”

“See you later.”

“Oh, I should tell you where I’m going. Up Niles Canyon and into the hills. Maybe go to Sunol and then wind my way over to Clayton Valley.”

With that Mara left. She loved Niles Canyon. It was a two-lane narrow road that would its way along a small river, which was a dry creek bed in late summer, but a roiling mass of water in spring and fall. Both sides of the river were lined with trees. In spring they were covered with buds of leaves that would soon burst forth, and in fall they showcased a variety of colors, ranging from yellows to burgundy reds.

There were no formal parking areas, but dirt pull offs left plenty to room to leave her car. As she drove along, Mara looked for such a place. Within a mile she found one, pulled over and parked. She picked up her camera bag and hiked down to the water’s edge. It was picture-perfect, just as she hoped it would be.

Mara took out her camera, removed the lens cover and snapped a series of shots from the hillside and along the river bank. Satisfied, she returned to her car and headed off to the next available spot.

It didn’t take long to find one. This one offered a fantastic view of a railroad bridge that crossed the river. On both sides stood tall trees, and with the blue sky as a backdrop, the image was striking.

Two miles later she pulled over again. There was one car already there and so Mara almost didn’t get out. What if these people were up to no good? What if they were down there smoking pot or doing drugs? This area was known to be a haven for the homeless and ne’er-do-wells. She didn’t want to stumble upon a scene that might cause her harm, so she would donw her window and listened.

Sounds of children’s voices floated in the air. High-pitched screams and giggles resounded off the canyon walls. Mara nodded, smiled and got out. If it was safe enough for families, then it was safe enough for her.

She followed a dirt trail through the thick trees that took her down to the river. To her right, children splashed in the water while a couple of moms sat on a log that ran parallel to the ground. Nothing unsavory going on there, so Mara turned and headed east, slowly moving away from the families.

She found wildflowers in bloom, so got down on one knee to get a close up of the petals. Golds contrasted with the deep greens of the forest grass. Beautiful.

Mara moved along, stopping to capture anything that interested her. Crows cawing as they circled high overhead. A bird’s nest in the crook of a branch. A log floating down the river. Leaves nestled around wild mushrooms.

Snapping away, Mara soon lost track of time and place. Immersed in her art, in the pictures she was composing with her lens, she forgot to keep an ear tuned to the sounds around her. She forgot to pay attention to where she was and how far she had strayed from her parking place.

After kneeling along the bank of the river to focus closely on a tiny bud breaking through, Mara heard a noise that sounded out of place. It wasn’t a whistle or a screech of a bird. It wasn’t a train chugging along the tracks. It was a crackling. A rustling. And it frightened her.

Mara stood and looked about. There was nothing in her field of vision that stood out as being foreign. Nothing that screamed of danger, yet she could not deny the hairs standing up, full attention, on the back of her neck and along her arms.

She capped her lens and shoved her camera in the bag. Just as it clicked shut, she saw them. Two roughly dressed men sliding down the hill behind her. One had long messy hair that looked like at hadn’t seen a comb in days. The other wore jeans with huge holes in the knees and a flannel shirt that was clearly way too big. Both were staring at her.

Mara took off. She scrambled up the hillside, grabbing a hold of bushes to help her move faster. The men were moving too. It seemed as if their footsteps were getting closer, so Mara bent over and dug her hands into the dirt, trying to find purchase. But instead of moving faster, it slowed her down.

“Hey, pretty lady,” one of the men called. “Where ya going?” His voice was high-pitched and a bit squeaky, out of sorts with his size.

Mara ducked behind a tree, hoping it hid her from their view.

“I saw your hair. It’s pretty. And your clothes. You look like a nice lady.”

To Mara, it seemed as if the voice was getting closer and clearer. She looked about, hoping to find a friendly soul coming down the hill, but there was no one but her and the men.

“Come out and talk to me,” a man called. This voice was different. A bass with a bit of a rumble. It gave her chills. There was something about it that seemed ominous.

Steps moved closer as the men came up the hill. Mara dared a peak and jumped when she saw that one of the men was touching the tree right below where she was hiding.

“I see you, pretty lady,” he said. He giggled like a school girl, an unexpected sound from someone so large.

Mara turned to her right and saw the other man’s hand reaching for her arm. She screamed, “Leave me alone,” and bending over as far as she could, scrambled further up the hill.

Footsteps followed. Grunts and wheezes told Mara how close they were to her. The sounds also let her know that both men were out of shape and that the climb was wearing them out. So Mara moved faster and faster, relying on her strength and youth to get to the top of the hill.

When she stepped into the clearing, she knew she wasn’t safe. She had to get to her car and lock herself inside before the men could get her. But her car was nowhere to be seen. She guessed that it was to her left, and so she took off in that direction, all the while praying for a friend to rescue her. A passing motorist maybe, or the families finished with their play. But she saw no one.

The footsteps followed her. The men yelled and taunted her. They laughed and offered her money, drugs, booze, good times. Mara did not turn back, did not respond, but kept running.

Finally, after going around a bend in the road, she saw her car. Her keys were buried in her jeans’ pocket. She stuck her hand down inside and used her fingers to pull them out. The effort slowed her down, causing her to stumble in the loose gravel of the parking area.

When she fell, her first thought was that now the men could catch her. That her husband would never know where she was and that her body would never be found.

The realization energized her. Just as fingers ran down her hair, Mara pushed off the ground and ran to her car. She beeped it unlocked and fell inside, and just as one of the men grabbed the door handle, Mara locked it shut.

She put the key in the ignition despite the protest of the men. They continued to call her pretty lady, to offer her a good time, all the while pounding on her windows and leaning against the side of her car.

As soon as the ignition engaged, Mara turned the steering wheel away from the men and stepped on the gas. She felt the car slide to the left and so turned into the spin. Then the wheels found purchase and the car flew away. Mara pulled onto the road without stopping to look for oncoming traffic. Thankfully there was none.

She drove east, constantly checking her rearview mirror to see if she was being followed, but there was no one there. Eventually she came to the freeway, hopped on heading north, then worked her way west and home.

When she saw Mark, she walked up to him and hugged him.

“What’s this for?” he asked.

“For being who you are. My rock.”

He stroked her hair and pulled her even tighter to his chest. “Tell me what happened.”

Mara spared no words in describing her joy when she first arrived in Niles Canyon, her abandonment of caution, her fear when she was being hunted. “I’ll never go back,” she said.

“You will,” her husband replied, “but with me. From now on I go with you. Nothing bad will happen as long as we’re together.”

Mara sighed. She knew it was true and that was all that mattered.

Childhood Joys

well-loved children with sparkling eyes,

rosy cheeks, and happy smiles

glittering with unbounded joy

freely bestowing generous hugs and

warm kisses that leave cheeks glistening

with reminders of their passing.


laughter peels from hallway rooms,

giggles rising to the gloriously blue sky,

caressing souls, nourishing hearts

better than steak and potatoes

or a well-read book.

warm arms, tickling fingers

and conversations uninhibited by age.


playground games fairly played

indoors under the watchful eyes

of guardian parents, checking safety,

guarding friendships from the

ills of sibling rivalry.

growing up together in love.


meals broken and shared.

prayers offered with heartfelt sincerity.

special times protecting doors

to teenage rebellion, that tears

families apart, breaking hearts

and erasing the good times shared.


for now, though, life is good.

quiet times of reflection broken only

by stories told and songs sung.

well-love children with sparkling eyes,

rosy cheeks, and happy smiles

glittering with unbounded joy.

Second Chances

On Sunday I tried to put on earrings. The post went through the left lobe without too much difficulty, but it would not go through the right. The hole in the back had healed over.

So today I had my ears pierced a second time.

It got me to thinking about all the second chances we get in life. For example, when we’re learning to ride a bike, we’re not expected to have mastery the first time the training wheels are removed and we take off on our own. There’s an attitude that failure is okay. That we’ll learn from our mistakes and eventually be able to pedal, maintain balance and stop and turn.

School is not nearly as forgiving. You are expected to do certain things at a specific time, and if you’re a little bit slow or a tad too fast, you don’t fit in the mold. I was slow to read and learn math. My teachers didn’t know what to do with me except stick me in the slow groups. I had no extra help or encouragement. No one told me that it was okay. Instead I was consistently bullied and humiliated. But eventually I did master those skills. In fact, I went to college as a math major.

When you start dating, it’s expected that you’ll shop around. That you’ll choose poorly and learn, culling down those things that you hate and those that you admire, so that when you finally find your one and only, you’ll know that you’ve made the right choice. It’s an expected process, the ogling and drooling over and the break up.

Then there are the medical miracles. The diseases overcome. Surgeries. Allergies. Things like asthma that steal your breath away and make you think of death. Each time you survive, you become more and more grateful for those second chances.

I certainly am. I’ve got titanium knees that work and an arm that is held together with a metal plate and nine bolts. I’ve got inhalers that keep my lungs open and medication that helps me sleep.

I often think back to the times before, when such medical treatments weren’t available. Lives were short then. Forty was considered ancient. Now it’s not uncommon for a person to live to 100. For people to survive some forms of cancer. For athletes to come back from major reconstruction and compete again.

In this time of turmoil, we need to keep in mind that all of us have benefited from second chances, often many times over.



Somebody to Love Me (Please, not for children to read!)

Nikki hated Los Angeles in the summer. Hot and stinky, the smells of car exhaust, cooking food and steam from street vents far below filled the air with an unmistakable stench.

Her apartment was not air-conditioned, so she sweltered in the never-ending heat, drinking glass after glass of ice-cold cola and eating ice cream by the gallon. No other food held her interest. Nothing hot, certainly, even though a plethora of ethnic restaurants lined the streets far below her tenth floor flat. Her appetite killed by the combination of stench and heat, Nikki invariably lost weight every summer, to be put back on once the temperature cooled enough to make it desirable to eat.

Her job was boring. Every afternoon she walked a few blocks to one of the university’s residence halls, clocked in, then took her seat behind the desk.  She watched familiar, but unnamed students come and go as they met up with friends for an evening out or to study in the quiet of the massive library. Some of them stopped to chat, but mostly they ignored her as if she were invisible.

The best part of the job was the air-conditioning. Heaven forbid that students should swelter or feel uncomfortable, so the building was kept cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Just the way Nikki liked it.

There was one student, a rather awkward-looking boy, who stopped by and chatted with her every time he stepped through the double-glass doors. Joe. His name was Joe. Nikki never knew his last name, but she had learned that he was wealthy, came from a land-owning family in the Central Valley, he had one older sister who was attending Princeton and a younger brother who was an all-star high school athlete being courted by a vast array of colleges.

Nikki did not like Joe, but she listened to him because he was the most interesting thing in her nights. There was something a bit off about him. His face was not put together all that well. His ears a bit low and large. His forehead bulging and shiny as if he polished it before he went out in the mornings. His eyes, his best feature, were a deep brown, but too far apart and separated by an overly large nose. There was even a problem with his hair. It seemed to have a mind of its own. Despite the oiled appearance, the strands poked out in random directions, creating a spikey halo that gave him a devilish air.

Joe was engaged. Nikki had never met the girl for she attended a university somewhere in the Midwest. Joe had told her the name, but Nikki wasn’t interested so never remembered. Joe and the girl were high school sweethearts. Their parents were best friends. They played tennis and went to dances at a private country club. They went boating on a nearby lake and rented a cabin up in Lake Tahoe every summer.

Normally Joe would be gone by now, off living his fancy dream life far from LA, but not this year. He had not done well in one of his required classes and was forced to repeat it before he could move on. So here he was, bored and lonely.

He turned his attention on Nikki, which she did not encourage, but tolerated.

“Hey,” he said as he approached the desk. “Want to go out for a beer after you get off work?”

“Not really.”

“Aw, come on. You deserve a night out. I’ll treat you.”

“No, thanks. I’m meeting someone.”

“Then how about tomorrow? You can’t have plans for tomorrow already.”

Nikki was saved when a noisy group of girls entered, all of them obviously drunk. Not all of them residents. “I need to see your IDs,” she said as she waved the girls over. She noticed that Joe slithered away, and sighed with relief. These girls were just the distraction she needed.

One by one the girls pulled out their cards. Three of them lived upstairs. Two in the residence hall next door. “Okay,” Nikki said. “Remember that no guests after eleven, so you two have to be gone by then.”

“We will,” one of them said, and then the group took off, staggering and giggling toward the elevators.

Nikki’s shift ended at eight in the morning. By that time she was exhausted, and since she had no classes this summer, she could go home and sleep. When she finally left the building, she had an uncomfortable feeling that she was being followed, but whenever she turned around, there was no one there.

All the way home the hairs on the back of her neck stood up. She felt nervous and agitated, and so as she neared her building, she got out her key and quickly let herself in. She pulled the door closed and then stood there, peering through the opaque glass. Nikki thought she saw a shadow pass approach, stand still for a few minutes, and then slowly turn away.

It spooked her enough That she didn’t wait for the elevator, but instead practically ran up the four flights to her apartment. The first thing she did was close the curtains. Then she turned on the television and scanned channels looking for news. There had been a series of break-ins lately, all clustered around the university. In all cases the victims were single women. All lived alone. All attacks happened during the early morning hours or late at night. None had been solved.

When Nikki found no new stories, she went into her bathroom to shower. But thoughts of being caught there, naked, were too much. So she crawled into bed, hoping to push away the spooky image long enough to get some sleep. It didn’t happen. The shadow approached the door, over and over in Nikki’s mind.

Eventually she got up and poured herself a tall, cold soda. Then she opened her psychology textbook and tried to study. She couldn’t get passed the deviant behaviors described in the required chapter. Obsession. Narcissism. Compulsive, repeated actions. Inflated egos. Sexual perverts.

Nikki fixed herself a bowl of strawberry ice cream topped with whipped cream for lunch. It felt cool on her tongue, and when she closed her eyes, she pictured the patches of strawberry plants that her mom grew in the backyard. The bright red of the ripened berries. The sweet taste, almost like pure sugar.

After washing out her bowl, Nikki was calm enough to shower. She lingered under the cool spray, relishing in the temporary respite from the heat. She dressed in denim shorts and a light blue tank top, packed up her books, and walked to campus.

As she crossed Main Street, that sense of being followed returned, but there was nothing Nikki could do about it. She had to move on, get to class without stopping and looking over her shoulder or she’d be late, and her professor humiliated anyone who wasn’t seated when he passed through the door.

When class ended, Joe was there. “Want to get a pizza?” he asked.

Nikki pushed past him, pretending not to hear.

He grabbed her by the arm and pulled her toward him. “I asked if you wanted to get a pizza.”

“Let go.”

He wrapped his arms around her, bringing her close to his chest. He placed his chin on the top of her head. “Come on, Nikki. You know you want me. You’re such a tease.”

Nikki planted her hands and pushed. She managed to create a bit of space between them, but then Joe trapped her against a door, bent down and kissed her. “See how much you like it. Next time, we’ll take it further.” Joe released her, waved, blew her a kiss and strolled away.

Nikki was shaken. This was sexual assault, her first. She knew she should go to the counselors’ office and report it, but it would be Joe’s word against hers. He came from wealth, she from a working family. He didn’t need money to go there; she was on full scholarship. When it came down to it, Nikki knew she’d lose. So she went to work.

Thankfully nothing exciting happened. No clusters of drunken students, no rambunctious athletes, no giggly girls. And especially, no Joe.

In the morning Nikki walked home, alert in case she was being followed, but after crossing Main and not feeling the least bit perturbed, Nikki relaxed. When she entered her building, no shadows appeared. She collected her mail, called for the elevator, and rode up feeling good about the day.

When she unlocked her door, she knew something was wrong. She stood in the open doorway, ready to leave in case of attack, but as she looked about she quickly saw that there was nothing out of place. No weird smells or writing on the walls. No dead pigeons or strangled cats. But there was something. Something that Nikki could not see or smell or define. It was there as surely as that shadow had been in the glass.

She gently closed the door behind her. An arm went around her neck and pulled her back into a burly chest. “Nikki, my love,” Joe’s voice said. “I didn’t think you’d ever come home.”

“Let me go,” she said as she heard the deadbolt turn.

Joe kissed her on the neck. “You smell so good.” He turned her around and kissed her neck.

“Stop it. I want you to go.”

“You want me, yes,” he said as he pushed her into the bedroom. He placed one hand on her right breast, the other went under the waistband of her shorts.

Nikki struggled, but her arms were pinned to her sides. She tried kneeing him, but couldn’t get enough force behind it to hurt him. “Stop. Please, stop.”

His lips found hers. He tasted like whiskey and cigarettes. Marijuana. His hair smelled so bad she gagged. And his body odor, beyond foul. He was so disgusting that Nikki thought that he probably  hadn’t washed or brushed in days. It made no difference.

Joe pushed and shoved until he had her on the bed. The unmade bed, which shocked Nikki as she never left without everything being neat and tidy.

He forced Nikki’s hands above her head, trapped them with one of his much larger hands, then unbuttoned her shorts with the other. Nikki wiggled and squirmed and tried biting Joe’s arm, but couldn’t get enough of his skin in her mouth to hurt him.

“Getting feisty. I like that in a woman.” Joe pulled away and looked in Nikki’s eyes.

“Don’t rape me, please. Don’t hurt me. Leave,” she said, “and I won’t report this.”

“Rape? This isn’t rape.” Joe smiled. “This is consensual. You’ve been begging me to do this for months now.”

“No, Joe. It isn’t true. You’re lying. I never teased you,” Nikki said as tears poured down her cheeks. When he let go of her hands she scooted away until she was off the bed and against the far wall. “You’re engaged,” she said. “Your girlfriend loves you. Imagine how she’d feel if she knew you were a rapist.”

Joe stood up and glowered at her. “I’m no rapist.” He stepped toward her, his hands clenched. “Don’t go spreading rumors about me. It you say one word, I’ll get you fired. In fact, I can do worse. I’ll get you kicked out of the university.”

“Just go. Now.” Nikki moved toward the bathroom door, stepped into the room, slammed the door shut and locked it. Joe pounded on the door, screamed additional threats, and then finally walked away.

Nikki stayed in the room, sitting on the toilet lid for what felt like hours.  Her entire body trembled, her teeth chattered, and despite the intolerable heat, she felt frozen. Only after convincing herself that he was gone, did she feel brave enough to open the door.

She went into the front room. No sign of Joe. Nikki quickly crossed the room and bolted the door. She sank to the floor and dropped her head into her arms. She breathed deeply, telling herself that she had escaped. She had survived.

And she knew that she couldn’t report it. Joe’s family was wealthy enough that he could lie his way through the accusations and live to rape another girl. Which made Nikki wonder, was there any possibility that Joe was the neighborhood rapist? Could he be the one terrifying single women?

Nikki packed up as many of her belongings as she could in the two suitcases she owned. She wrote two letters: one to administration claiming a family emergency that required her at home and the other to the apartment manager. She put stamps on the envelopes, and carrying everything squeezed into the elevator. She dropped the letters into the mail slot in the lobby along with her key.

She walked briskly to the nearest bus stop and waited nervously until it arrived. After several transfers, she arrived at the bus depot, where she bought a ticket to San Francisco. It was not until she was seated on the bus that she was able to breathe without panicking.  As the bus pulled out, Nikki saw a figure that she thought was Joe leaning against the wall.

It couldn’t be. He wouldn’t dare. Would he?