My True Calling

It’s always a question. You’re a little kid and people say, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” This is a drastically irresponsible. What does a kid know about being grown up? I think I even said, “I don’t know,” a time or two. I don’t know if I ever had an answer to that question. And why should anyone “be” something? Maybe the kid just wants to go skiing…

A friend of mine has been having a hard time at his job. I told him to write down a list of stuff he liked about his job and stuff he didn’t like. He thought I meant pros and cons. I didn’t mean pros and cons at all. A “pro” can be something we don’t even like but we have the idea it’s beneficial to us in some way — like he had a private office which sounds good and he called it a “pro” but he didn’t like it. It took me a long time to figure out the difference myself, and it was impossible for me to illuminate it for him.

The thing is, now I know.

The happiest I have ever been in  my entire life was on skis. I was not a very good skier and not very clear about my skiing goals or direction other than down the hill, or across the mountain, depending, but I loved it.

So now I’m 65 and arthritic and stuff. I have to use a famous ski technique just to get down a hill; I side-step. I can’t blame skiing for my arthritis because the knee I hurt skiing isn’t that bad, and the leg it bends is still mostly straight. It’s the OTHER one. So every other day, I ride an Airdyne, a total-body-workout kind of stationary bike made by Schwinn. It drastically improved my ability to walk so I keep at it. Recently, I discovered beautiful videos of bike rides in Europe that I have been watching while I ride. They’r nice, but kind of tranquil, now somewhat boring. I imagine my “skill level” on the Airdyne has surpassed them.

Sunday I put in a DVD I bought a long time ago in a set of “Classic Ski Films.” It’s “The Last of the Ski Bums,” made in 1969. I’d seen it once and loved it. In it the main character and his pals bum around the Alps and ski. The storyline is cute and funny, the skiing is beautiful, the mountains more beautiful, the underlying philosophy is harmonious with mine. As I watched the first half I realized that I would really like to be a ski bum.

“It’s kind of late, Martha,” I said. “All that’s left for you is ‘stationary bike bum.’ I think you’re doing that pretty well, in spite of the inherent stability of your lifestyle.”

“Yeah, but maybe next time?”

“You mean your next life?”

“Yeah, my next life. Riding the Airdyne is great for developing quads, glutes and even calf muscles.”

Now I’m training for my next life in which I will be a ski-bum, maybe even a pro skier for a while so someone else pays me to travel. I’m already training, and maybe the head-start will help. I hope I remember the intrinsic futility of striving for success on my next pass and can jump right into my new life of chasing powder around the world.

 

Good Prompt from Long Ago

Two years ago there was a thing here on WordPress that was called the “Weekly Prompt” which were often quite sophisticated writing projects. I just re-read one of the stories I wrote for one of them (two years ago today) and I liked it a lot. I’m sharing it 🙂

Weekly Writing Challenge: Three Ways to Go Gonzo: You’re in a street-side café in San Diego, California. The couple seated at the next table is breaking up.

“What?”
“If you’re going to ‘Go Gonzo’ like your dumb blogging site instructs, you have to find some novel you like and type it over a gazillion times until you find your own style. God forbid it’s War and Peace.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” I said. “If I type someone elses’ novel over and over, I’m going to be really good at writing that novel.”
“I agree. It doesn’t. Still, I don’t think Capote would’ve called Hunter Thompson a typist.”
“He was definitely a writer, though he did have a typewriter.” I thought I was funny, but Peter didn’t.
“People make a lot of noise about his drug use, don’t they?”
“So dumb. It was the times. Remember your frantic phone searches back in the day for ‘Vitamin Q’?”
“You’re one to talk, Mr. Amyl Nitrate.”
“Oh yeah.” I laughed at the memory of us in a cavernous black-walled disco passing around a bottle of RUSH. “Oh and the movies!”
“Yeah, I think a lot of young people know Hunter Thompson through Johnny Depp and maybe some English teacher.”
“That’s a laugh, isn’t it? English teachers?”
“Fuck you.” We were, both of us, English teachers.
“Hey, there’s an Edith Wharton novel in progress. Look at those two.” The couple beside us was clearly in the throes of a late morning break up.
“Oh man, I’d never go back to that, would you?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“Not a chance in hell.” Peter shuddered. Our young love had had enough drama for twenty people.
“Yeah, and they’re always saying, ‘You’d like to be young again, wouldn’t you?’”
“A lot of people would. You sure as hell would prefer walking without a cane, but…”
“Shhh. This is good.”

“Why?”
“If I have to explain it, you’ll never understand it.”
“Right. Yeah, I get that. If I understood you and all your deep and meaningful ideas and your precious fucking soul, we wouldn’t be breaking up right now, right? This is all because I don’t understand you. Look, I fucking understand you. I fucking understand that this is only scene one in this stupid ass drama you’re always staging. Once a month, at least. I could schedule it. Well, you know what?”
“What?”
“I do understand you, and you’re just NOT all that interesting. Hot, yes. Interesting? No.”

Brakes squealed. Glass shattered against a light post. A woman screamed. The white-noise of predictable urban traffic came literally to a screeching halt. Only one car was in motion and it was the one that should not have been. A white Nissan.

“Did you see that?”
“Can’t you pay attention to me for once?”
“I think that guy’s been killed.” Mark dug around in his back pocket and pulled out a Bic pen. He spread his left hand, palm flat, scribbled for a second or two, then wrote.
“What are you doing?”

Peter was already running to the corner. I called 911. “Yeah. A cyclist. Hit. No. The driver left. Backed away from the light post he hit and took off down 6th. No I don’t know if it was a he. It could’ve been a she. We need an ambulance here, sweet-cheeks. Not some PC gender awareness interrogation. White Nissan. I didn’t get the plate number. Vanity plates, but no, I didn’t see it completely. There’s a heart.”

Passersby formed a circle around the body, each person hoping that what they saw on the street between head and helmet was not brains, but it was brains. Peter returned to our table, clearly shaken. “My god,” he said. “Is it so difficult to look out your car window and see a cyclist about to make a LEGAL turn? Did you get the plate number?” I shook my head.
“Vanity plates. A heart. That’s all I saw.”

Sirens screamed all around. The ambulance finally arrived. EMTs pushed the circle of protectors away from the body and lifted it onto a stretcher. Some of the spectators were so shaken they had to be helped back to the sidewalk, safe from the random horror show of life. The ambulance pulled away, no sirens, no lights. Death was no one’s emergency. Fire fighters attached a hose to the hydrant and blasted the brains down the storm drain below the painted a blue dolphin and the words “We live downstream.”

“That’s what you don’t understand,” Mark said, sighing, looking at his hand. “Any minute, any day, any time that could be me or you with our brains splattered on 6th and University, circled by strangers, and some old fag calling 911.”
“It’s not nice to call people fags, Mark.”
“OK look, honey. I was making a point. That guy’s dead. He got up this morning, god knows what happened between here and then — maybe he had a fight with his girlfriend, too, or given the neighborhood…”
“There you go again, gay-bashing.”
“I’m NOT fucking gay-bashing. Why do you keep changing the subject? Wait, I get it. You can’t handle the truth. That’s it.” Mark — the young man — turned around to us and said, “You guys are gay, right? You’re a couple, right?”
“Yes,” said Peter. “Going on — what? Thirty-five years.”
“There, Jessica. They are fags.”
“That’s right, sweetie,” I called out over Peter’s now bald head. “We’re fags.” I looked at Peter. God he’d been a beautiful young man, this great love of my life.

When the police came by asking questions, the young man — Mark — showed his hand. “This is the license plate.”
“Seriously? Do Me <3?”
“Yeah.”
“What was the make and model of the car?”
“Nissan. Sentra. Maybe two years old. White.”
“Anything else you remember?”
As the police talked to her boyfriend, the events seemed to finally register in Jessica’s self-absorbed little brain and she began to cry. Mark reached for her hand, leaned forward and whispered in her ear. They stood and prepared to go.
“Sorry for bashing on you guys,” said Mark. “She can be hard to talk to sometimes.” He shook our hands.

“No worries,” said Peter.

pants1As they walked away I wondered how this smart young guy could take that girl seriously. She was wearing sweatpants with the word “Juicy” silk-screened in glitter across her ass. Peter and I sat together for a few more hours then decided it was time to go to Whole Foods. Peter helped me up from my chair.
“C’mon, cowboy,” he said.

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/now-you-see-me/

Hawk Dream

A response to Bumblepuppies’ Blacklight Candelabra weekly challenge:  “…look at the image and ask yourself what it says about you or what message it might convey.  Analyze.  Be sure to look at individual pieces (for example, the purple corners in my picture) and think about what they might represent.  Then, create a post that includes your image as well as the explanation of what you’ve discovered about that image.”

hawk

This picture is every bit as subtle and inscrutable as my dreams. The symbolism in my dreams is so obvious that I often wonder what came first; the metaphor? the reality? In this picture I’m hiking, I see a hawk and there is the night sky. I’m an artist so it’s pretty difficult for me NOT to conceptualize as I go along and while I may like some abstract painting, I see no point in doing it myself. Anyway, I ended up liking this picture a lot and maybe it will become a painting someday. I think it is a painting of my death, my dreams, my past life and a spirit guide I had once upon a time who helped me learn to see. It’s significant that the hawk is perfect and my image is flawed. I believe that is accurate to life. The red tail IS perfect and I have a long ways to go…

https://blacklightcandelabra.wordpress.com/2015/04/06/subconscious-dreamscapes/

Avalanche, Schmavalanche…

Daily Prompt Under the Snow You were caught in an avalanche. To be rescued, you need to make it through the night. What thought(s) would give you the strength to go through such a scary, dangerous situation?

“Ha, ha, ha ha, OH MY GOD that’s hilarious, ha ha…”

“Lamont? Daily Prompt again?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, it’s kind of interesting.”

“I guess, but the only useful thought in a time like that is ‘have I created a large enough air cave around myself in this mess that I’ll be able to breathe until daybreak?’ coupled with ‘I hope my body heat doesn’t bring this mess in on me’. I’d probably be concerned about which way is ‘up.’ It would be difficult to know that buried in an avalanche and it would matter.”

“You’re supposed to think inspiring thoughts about your children who love you, your job that needs you, you religion that will save you and bring you through for the sake of your loved ones.”

“I know, I know. But Dude, I grew up in a mountain state and there were times in my life that avalanches were a mildly present danger. In any case, to X-country ski in the backcountry — which I’ve done a little bit — you have to KNOW where and where not to ski. People who knew about this taught me. You HOPE avalanches remain a hypothetical threat, but they are not imaginary dangers.”

“You’ve never been in an avalanche, Lamont. Don’t go getting people thinking you’re Reinhold Messner or someone.”

“No, thank goodness I’ve never been in an avalanche. I was driving through the mountains outside of Seattle right AFTER an avalanche reached the end of its ride on the freeway. That was an experience. It also took an hour or more to get down that mountain. Heavy spring snow had fallen for several days on top of old frozen winter snow and ‘schloop!’ down it came.”

“Did I know you then?”

“Do you know me now? At Arapahoe Basin — my favorite place to ski back in the day — there were a couple of runs (not that I would ever take since I was a skimand not a skimet if you get my point0 that avalanched often. If you got there early enough you could sometimes hear the canons.”

“Skimet? Skimand?”

“Yeah, I was never a great skier with elite preferences for moguls or tricks or speed or whatever and awesome technique and different skiis for different conditions — that’s a Skimet. I was a life-time intermediate skier who just had fun anywhere on borrowed skis — a Skimand. I might have gotten better if I hadn’t moved to California but that’s snow-melt under the bridge.”

“Back to the avalanche prompt…”

“Oh yeah, that. Well, I wonder what I was doing that I ended up caught in an avalanche? Am I alone? Am I climbing? Am I roped in with my team or am I a 19th century pioneer who never saw a big mountain before? All these things matter if I’m going to think good thoughts under the snow, you know. That would affect everything. The pioneer? I don’t know. Rescue is unlikely. The roped in climber? There might be a bit of rope on the surface. I might have been intelligent enough to carry an avalanche beacon. I would know to make a cave under there for air. Chances are, too, that though I am alone under the snow, I was not alone when I started out. All that improves the odds of rescue. In either case I would be thinking, ‘I don’t want to die.’ What else is there to think, buried under the snow? That and freezing to death is not the worst way to go.”

abasintrailmap_2013-14

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/under-the-snow/

Big Victorian House

November 2 is my brother’s birthday. I’ve been thinking about him a lot because his friend from long ago is my real estate agent here in Colorado. The year my brother died (2010), his friends here in Colorado held a “wake” for him. It was video-streamed to the Facebook page I created for friends of my brother and that way I could “attend” from California. I saw “S” (to protect her privacy) in the video. She was the only one at the party who cried over the loss of my brother. Everyone had something to say, a case to make, a theory about “why” and though S may have, that night she wasn’t theorizing or making any statements other than that she was sad and wished my brother’s life hadn’t turned out as it had. I knew right then that I would like her and that I wanted to know her.

About two weeks ago S and I were standing in front of my new house following the property inspection. I was very happy because I love the house, and I was finally sure the deal would happen. We both said things about how strange it is that something random can bring people together and form friendships. I was thinking ONLY about the house in Monte Vista I’d fallen in love with online (not the house I live in). She was thinking of my brother, that my brother brought us together. In that sense, my brother helped me with this deal. When they were teenagers — my brother a little older than S — S went through some awful stuff at home. I don’t know the details, but my brother was friend and counselor to her. This is not impossible to believe. As fucked up as he was even then, he was wise in his way and certainly had his own home-life crap to contend with. He inspired S to believe in herself. She credits him with her not being a fucked up loser at this point in time (forty years later!). Over the years, Kirk lived, off-and-on, with S and each of her two husbands, both of whom were my brother’s long-time friends. So throughout the years — until the end of the 90s — S knew him well, in bad times as well as good. S is nobody’s fool, and knew my brother’s con, still, that night, she was simply sad and simply missed him.

So, that evening standing in front of what is now my house, we talked about him. I told her how I’d felt seeing her in the video and that I knew right then I wanted to know her, “I could see that, of all the people there, you just loved my brother.”

“I did. Do,” she said.

“Me too,” I said. “After all the shit he put me through and everyone else, all that remains for me now is the love I felt for him.”

“Yes,” she said. ” The other stuff isn’t really important. I don’t think it was really him, anyway.”

Our dream as kids, my brother and I, was to live together FOREVER in a HUGE Victorian house. We would have families (they would live in the middle two stories) and he would draw cartoons in the basement while I wrote novels in the attic. We talked about this dream a lot for years. It was unimaginable for both of us that it would not happen — but we grew up. Last week I saw this house in my town. It is THE house we always imagined, its condition an all-too-palpable metaphor for our childhood dream.

House

Poem for My Mom

The process of sorting and packing uncovers many surprises. I found this poem (I hardly ever write poetry) I wrote in 1996 when my mom was in the hospital about a month from death. Our relationship was difficult — she was difficult and very messed up, much more than I knew when I wrote this poem. I spent as much time as I could with her in the hospital. Otherwise I was driving or slogging through the snowy and icy streets of Billings, MT, looking for a nursing home where she could live after she was discharged. I loved my mom — but, as with many loves, it was not unalloyed with sadness and even hatred.

Helen

Winter light fades,
Short days shorten, then are gone
The last beam of a dogged sun
Bends ’round the pines
And drops.
You press my hand against your lips
And drift into sleep.
The afternoon slips away.
Tulips on the windowsill and get-well cards can’t stop
Anything.

Kindness of the Gods

Writing Challenge Honey versus Vinegar Small moments of kindness peaek through our everyday lives, from your neighbors’ “Good morning!” to a surprise “I’ll take care of that for you” at the office. This week, we want you to explore what that kindness means to you, and share it with others. 

 

In 2010 my brother — a hardcore alcoholic — died. None of his friends or family knew about it until five months afterward. I was devastated, naturally. I’d “cut off” my brother six years earlier when his constant demands for money and his absolute lack of awareness about anything in my life or his daughter’s life was too much. I always hoped that he would want us enough after a while to stop drinking. I have known people who made that choice — family vs. booze. My brother chose booze. And, right now I do not want to hear anything about “it’s a disease; they can’t choose” because the reality is that yes, addiction is a disease BUT the only cure lies in the hands/mind/heart of the addict. There is NO OTHER cure. Simple cure, horrendously difficult to accomplish. If you believe otherwise, you’ve bought into the addict’s con and my prayers go out to you.

When I learned of his death, I contacted one of his friends. We did work to confirm it. I was left, then with finding his body. After some effort it was delivered to me — ashes — by my sweet, friendly and dog-loving postal worker. She had no idea what she was handing me over the fence, but there was my brother.

My brother was my best friend. I loved him with all my heart and soul. So, as it happened, did many others. When the news got out I made a Facebook group for his friends. My brother was an artist and soon photos of his works began to appear on the page. Memories and stories appeared, also. Then, one of his friends from high school held a wake for him. I couldn’t go (it was in Colorado and I’m in California). They filmed it as it was going on and I watched it on Facebook and commented — as if, almost, I was there. I saw my brother’s friends, all of whom were from his teens and twenties. I felt I had met them and knew them and loved them.

Three years later I went to Colorado to give a paper. By then I’d made Facebook relationships with some of my brother’s friends. We planned a small “service” for him and a dispersal of some of his ashes which I shipped ahead in case TSA didn’t like the stuff that looked exactly like gunpowder. I met some of these people for the first time. Others for the first time in more than 40 years. My friend, LM, and her husband cooked a brunch for everyone who would be coming. We sat in her living room and talked about my brother and about addiction and about each other and where life had brought us all. When the time was right, we took my brother’s ashes up to a place we had all loved as young people, to rocks on which my brother and I used to climb. I put some ashes between a cedar tree and a juniper tree, and one of my brother’s friends tossed some of my brother into the air.

I did not know these people. Many had not seen my brother in decades. ALL of them — all of us — had had some terrible experience with him. They were there to memorialize my brother, but they were also there for me. Never in my life have I experienced anything like that. I felt as if my brother — now in some place where he’s no longer tormented by the demons that pursued him — brought me to his friends. Perhaps he was finally able to see how golden they are. Perhaps  he knew I would love them. In any case, out of it and their kindness, have come friendships that I treasure with all my heart. I almost cannot believe my good fortune awakening from the sorrow and darkness of my brother’s life and my life with him into such a circle of kindness.

 

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_writing_challenge/honey-versus-vinegar/

Goulash

Jun 13, 2014 Writing 101, Day Ten: Happy (Insert Special Occasion Here)! Today, be inspired by a favorite childhood meal. For the twist, focus on infusing the post with your unique voice — even if that makes you a little nervous.

I hold her hand.
“Have you been out to mothers?” she asks.
She is looking at me but it is not me she sees. She sees her sister, Martha, one year older, her best friend all her life, but now, in real time, and in her warped mind, her enemy.
“Yes,” I say without even pretending to be my aunt. I’d spent the night at “mother’s” house, my mother’s house, this woman’s house.
“Did you see Jo?” (Another aunt)
I nod. I had, in fact, seen Jo that morning. She’d sat with me outside in the hospital floor waiting room while the nurse gave my mom a sponge bath. “You shouldn’t have to do this alone, honey. You shouldn’t have to carry this all on those little shoulders. Your brother should be here.”
“I don’t WANT him here. He’s a mess. He’s the reason she’s HERE.”
For the past few weeks my brother has been harassing my mom to let him come back and live with her. He’s an incorrigible alcoholic. When he moved out from her house last time, he left 90 vodka bottles in the crawlspace. These weeks have been the only interlude in our lives in which my mom has called me on the phone, desperately and often, “Don’t let him come here! It will kill me!”

Mom drifts into sleep and the snow outside drifts higher and my imagination wanders to the moments in the past she must have been reliving, when my grandmother was alive and my Aunt Martha was younger, and she and my mom were speaking (my mom stopped speaking to my aunt, not the other way around). I hold my mom’s hand and watch her. Well, here I am and there she is and she doesn’t know I am me and that is, sadly, all to the good.

She doesn’t like me. Not at all. Not one bit. Probably never did. The day before I’d had to compel her to sign herself into a nursing home. She’d never done the paperwork to make it possible for me to do that for her, peacefully, easily, tranquilly. I’d brought the paper work while she was seated in the hospital reclining chair, holding court with the young H’mong woman who cleaned house for her twice a month. “Mom,” I said, “I need to talk to you alone.”
“Why? These are my friends.” The H’mong woman held my mom’s hand. Her boyfriend sat on the edge of the bed.
“I think it would be better, mom.” My Aunt Jo waited outside with a getaway car. She knew this would be ugly.
“No. Say what you have to say.”
“Sorry, guys. You really should go.” I was terrified. I was no longer 44. I was 14 and in trouble for something, but I didn’t know what and I didn’t know what my mom would do.
They looked at me and decided to make a quiet exit.
“See you soon, Mrs. Kennedy,” the pretty H’mong girl kissed my mom good bye.
“I wish you could stay longer,” said my mom, laying on the guilt.
“I’ll come back,” said the girl, looking back at me reproachfully.
“Nice work, Mom,” I thought. “You’re still the master.” “Mom,” I said, “the hospital says that you need to move into a different kind of care facility. I found one for you (I’d driven the icy streets of winter Billings, Montana for three days looking for a nursing home that had room for her; the doctor had told me that my mom would need more care than a home-care nurse could give, more than I could give if I chose to move up here to care for her, something I would rather die than undertake). You may not have to stay there for long, but for now, you can’t stay here. The hospital needs your bed for sick people and you’re a lot better now.”
“Judas! I knew it. I knew all along you’d be the one to do this to me,” she screamed. “You are no daughter of mine! You’ve always been like this, deceitful, you never loved me, here, give me the paper. If that’s where you want me, fine. You have all the power. I’ll go.” She scrawled an angry — but legally viable — signature and I got out of there as fast as I could.

I look at her sleeping peacefully, the yellow hospital blanket tucked neatly around her. I make the very conscious decision to remember this moment. To let it — if it has the power — erase other moments. On this calm and silent very wintry day, the storm between us is over, over for good. A part of me knows I will never see her again. Three weeks later when I return to arrange the funeral, I hold this moment against anger and grief.

“Martha Ann!” I hear a loud whisper and look up and see my Aunt Martha at the door to my mom’s room. “Jo sent me to get you. She has supper waiting.” I’m returning to California tomorrow. I need to get back to my regular life, I cannot bear this any more. I know I’ll return soon, but for now, I need to get away. The streets are snowy but not icy. It’s not bad driving. We pull up in my Aunt Jo’s driveway and go in the front door.

“How did it go, honey?”
“She didn’t know me. She thought I was Martha.”
“Sit down beside Uncle Hank. Supper’s ready.”
On the table there is “goulash” — not really goulash, but macaroni, tomatoes and hamburger. There is “White House Salad” — pistachio pudding, Cool Whip, marshmallows, pineapple and walnuts. There is a tossed salad. There is bread, butter and chokecherry jelly.

When I was a little girl — 7 years old — I spent three months living with my Aunt Jo and Uncle Hank while my dad and mom were in Hawaii where my dad was working. Of all the meals my aunt prepared back in those days, “goulash” was my favorite.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_assignment/writing-101-day-ten/

Nobody Walks in LA (Worst II) or How I Killed My Friend (again)

— Your stragedy worked?

Yes, by the grace of, grace of, I don’t know what. I veered quickly right. I felt a splash of water and tar on my rear left leg. I turned and saw Lamont lunge into the pool. He fought, of course, and the more he fought the more firmly stuck he became. He called out, in tiger, of course. I trumpeted my apologies and said I hoped I’d see him later when we weren’t in this miserable predator-prey connection. Soon bubbles rose to the surface.

— Wow.

Next time I saw Lamont, we were both trees. But that’s LA for you. If it’s not traffic it’s tar pits.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/saved-by-the-bell/

yichinglin.wordpress.com/2014/05/04/when-we-finally/
nenskeifacestheworld.wordpress.com/2014/05/04/aw-man-phew/
wangsgard.com/post/psychiatric-hospital-experience-24026/
knowledgeaddiction.wordpress.com/2014/05/04/how-i-was-saved-by-the-bell/
jitterygt.wordpress.com/2014/05/04/no-bell-for-me/
agent909.wordpress.com/2014/05/04/saved-by-the-bell-whats-the-use-of-worrying/
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derekalanwilkinson.wordpress.com/2014/05/04/suicide-no-54-the-last-signal/
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cxianliu.wordpress.com/2014/05/03/looking-back/
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alreadyhavingfun.wordpress.com/2014/05/04/thankfully-i-had-an-extremely-lucky-escape/