It’s called ‘marching in the streets’ for a reason

Orderly protest is an oxymoron.

I attended the real Pro-Life march in Petaluma Saturday, a protest against racism and child abuse, against Fascism and gleeful cruelty.

The people there,  from wide-eyed children to fierce elders who I suspect weren’t at their first rodeo, showed up to express outrage on behalf of people they don’t know. For these people, families ripped apart by Republican-sanctioned ICE is a wound that could prove fatal to our democracy. The truest test of character is how you treat the stranger, how generous you are in easing the suffering of others, even to the detriment of your own creature comforts and interests.  This was a march of character.

But something gnawed at me. The whole thing was just too damn polite.

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The Children’s March in 1963 Birmingham

From the start, planners herded marchers into a sanctioned space. Anyone who drifted into the adjacent parking lot of the NAPA Auto Parts store were gently reprimanded while NAPA employees ventured out to take mealy mouthed pot shots at protesters. Once the march began, chants arose to abolish ICE, free children from cages and unite families. But the loudest, most jarring voice, was a an organizer on a bullhorn exhorting  marchers to move off the street, to process in an orderly fashion on sidewalks. For our safety. But I learned the real reason from the bullhorn wielder who warned that if I didn’t leave the street “they” will shut us down.

I replied incredulously, “That’s the best thing that ould happen.”

A protest is an act of civil disobedience. Disobeying civil authority is kind of the point. So is interrupting the status quo. Holding up traffic, annoying business owners, disrupting commerce, going to jail and pissing off a lot of people are steps toward progress.

Martin Luther King and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee (SNCC)  strived to be “shut down,” the more brutally the better.

Civil Rights activists meticulously planned to make sure they disrupted entire communities. They plunged into Woolworth for sit-ins that drew sputtering retribution. They so enraged whites with their Freedom Rides that their buses were firebombed.

Martin Luther King’s gentle saintly image is a bald deception. He was not polite. His non-violence was a weapon not pacifism. Weeks before his death, in a high school gymnasium in Detroit, King refused to condemn rioting, acknowledging that rebellion is sometimes necessary.

“Rioting is the language of the unheard,” he said. “[America] has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”

King roared about the complacency of black pastors  not about black people blocking traffic.

Marchers wrote wills before leaving for a protest. They were subversives challenging dangerous people and they never knew if they were coming back. The aim of the Civil Rights movement was to fill jails, and respond non-violently to the brutality of police and locals.

King and other Civil Rights leaders chose Selma because Dallas County Sheriff Jim Clarke promised violence. Like Bull Connors before him, Clarke played into King’s hands. Bloody Sunday, the vicious attack on protesters by Clarke’s thugs, was one of the most polarizing moments in the Civil Rights Movement.

Rep. John Lewis, who suffered a fractured skull at Selma, said this weekend, “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week , a month or a year. It is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”

A Republican strategist said that protests today are less civil than in King’s times or during the Vietnam War. I’m afraid he has been reading alternative history. Protests today are too civil.

The protesters who rose up and stopped a war in Vietnam, were not polite. They burned draft cards and swarmed into public places relishing in the discomfort they caused polite society, who saw them as unwashed radicals who hated America. Their relentlessness intrusion into the daily life of Americans, their utter disregard for civility, forced our government to end the war.

LGBTQ activists didn’t gain rights through courtesy. They rioted at Stonewall and they gave homophobes the heebie-jeebies with their brazen, beautiful, sexually liberated Pride parades. They raged when the country disregarded the AIDS crisis and raged again each time one of their friends or family members were beaten or killed in alleys or on frozen fence lines. I’m Here and I’m Queer was not an expression chosen for its diplomacy.

A legitimate question is whether we  protest so politely and orderly because we are afraid. Afraid of making a scene, afraid of getting in trouble, afraid of where our own anger can drag us. These are truly legitimate fears. The challenge is to explore whether what is happening is worth the risk.

In Spring 1963, Martin Luther King’s movement in Birmingham, Ala., was floundering. The numbers for his mass meetings were dwindling and local blacks were turning against him. He didn’t have enough protesters to continue filling the jails and movement leaders were trying to plan a dignified exit from the city. However, the eccentric preacher James Bevel was devising a radical plan. Send in the children.

At King’s meetings, children outnumbered adults and they were demanding to do what their parents wouldn’t. King said no. The Birmingham jail was no place for children.

When the doors of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church opened at midday May 2, a line of 50 teenagers emerged two-abreast, singing. Police hauled them to jail. A second line of children emerged followed by many more. Children as young as 6 years old stood their ground until they were arrested. Confused police called in school buses to haul the children away and chased stray lines that slipped past them and headed for downtown business establishments. That day a thousand children marched into the jails. Black parents in the nearby park were dismayed to see their disobedient offspring going to jail, but some gave way.

One elderly woman ran alongside the arrest line, shouting, “Sing, children, sing!”

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The Children’s March of 1963

The next day Bull Connor instructed his officers to subdue and intimidate protesters instead of arresting them.  When more than a thousand new children turned out in disciplined, non-violent lines–unintimidated– Connor erupted. Police dogs tore into the lines of children and fire hoses knocked them along the pavement like tumbleweeds. The principal of the black high school locked the doors preserve order, but students trampled chain-link fences to join the protest.

Photos of the violence appeared on front pages across the country, opening the nation’s eyes to the crisis.

Renewed by the children, adults returned to the protest lines. Protesters swamped the jail and downtown streets. By Monday May 6 more than 2,500 adults and children filled the jails, and four times that number showed up to King’s mass meeting that night. From that moment King threw caution to the wind. He took more risks, he became more radical.

There are startling similarities between the Southern whites of that time and today’s Republicans. They hate to be called racist, but they hate minorities even more–or at best have no problem with racists.

The difference is in what people will do to resist them.

I heard a flutter of that old spirit today. An elderly woman told her friend, “I don’t want to die before I go to jail.”

She won’t get there without stepping off the sidewalk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction

I will not be ruled by fear

My morning mantra, walking from the parking lot to the shelter

I will not be ruled by fear, I mumble. I will not be ruled by fear…

…I will not be ruled by fearcourage-man-jump-through-the-gap-between-hill-business-concept-idea_1323-262

My fear is not the person who lives on the street, the woman fleeing domestic violence or her abuser

Not the drug addict, nor the person hearing voices

I hear voices of my own…

…who unleash swarms of worries, mock confidence, whisper self-doubt

I talk too much, I don’t speak up; I reveal too much, I keep too many secrets

I am chaos and perfectionism, forgetful, and obsessive

ADD and OCD

Mindful and distracted

I offer no comfort, then give too much advice

I read minds and make up answers

Oversensitive, and insensitive

I am dependent, I am controlling

I am timid and arrogant

I am lonely and loved

Oh, but sometimes the voices are drowned out by a mumble

I surrender and they submit

Sometimes I accept the contradictions

Today, I am not ruled by fear

Maybe dynamite is a good idea

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Midnight and Hunter is wearing sunglasses

Leaning against his forty-foot red Cadillac convertible

He shoots imaginary jack rabbits in the silver desert

Cactus Ed checks the radio

A road trip without music is intolerableEdward-Abbey-Still-Frame

He tosses a crushed beer can to the side of the road

Only forty-eight more of those until next water

Ed measures miles by beers and litters highways freely

It’s not nature’s highway after all, it’s man’s

Goddamn jackrabbits! Hunter throws his gun in the back seat

Cranks the radio knob hard to the right

A bursts of organ chords level out his mescaline jitters. The Tambourine Man strips menace from the air

A trunk full of Budweiser, cocaine, Wild Turkey, and ammunition

Cactus Ed, loading one last box, jokes about dynamite

An arrest warrant for Ed, the billboard pyromaniac, bulldozer saboteur

Hunter says the Hell’s Angels are On his trail

Maybe the dynamite is a good idea

Ed squeezes in, I’m crushed between the anarchist and the GonzoDwight_conver

 

 

 

 

A whiff of beer and weed, sweat and gunpowder, sagebrush and dust from the darkness

Cadillac piston’s scream alive, Dylan sings wearily

Hunter scoffs at the the Texaco across the road

We have fuel, he grins, cigarette smoke slithering

With the right music, blasting loud enough

Over woof of wind

Scream of mescaline,

Buzz of whiskey

And thunder of gunfire

(Goddamn jackrabbits!)

With the right music, we can drive 50 miles after the needle hits empty

My Nemesis

My nemesis is always near, aware of my weaknesses

I am sleepless and lonely; he comes with such cunning it seems he was in the room before me

D399981D-A4FB-4F50-A571-5E0CA6A5E688-718-000000BAA56AC705At first he is the flicker at the edge of my vision, then surrounding me like a prize fighter

Fleeing is not the answer;  he rides my shadow, amused by my haste, as if it gives him credibility

He mocks me if I hide, aggressively exploiting my self-pity with hypnotic voices in my head

I am most most vulnerable to his persuasion when mind and body feel neglected, starved, resentful, exhausted

I slip into his deceptively powerful arms until it’s too late; my lungs feel a reflux burn and my lips go numb with panic

He whispers in my ear words that stir an evolutionary urge

Fight! Conquer Me!

But I have been trained, disciplined to persevere

I surrender.

My nemesis sighs, releases his grip and is gone

 

 

 

Little orange secrets

Alan opens his eyes to the floral print of  the comforter covering his head, reminding him of childhood and bunk-bed tents.  His breath, hot and sour, fills the small space. He tugs the covers from his face. The sudden cold will stay all day. She is gone. Fear slithers around his ribs and constricts his breath. She’s only at work, he reminds himself. The Voice says, she’s working while you lie here. Alan presses his hand against the tightness in his chest and rolls out of bed. He psychosisphotoplants his feet on the floor. They’re prickly as blood returns. He slows his breathing, stands and walks to the dresser where she set out his pill bottles like little orange secrets. He picks up a full bottle of Klonopin and shakes it. Untouched Prozac rests by the Lithium he has ignored for over a month. His sudden anger at her surprises him. He opens his underwear drawer and sweeps the bottles in with his arm. With evidence of his frailty out of sight, his temper melts into sorrow.

Alan shuffles to the window and parts the blinds. He is surrounded. The nearby ocean has kicked up a fog like Dust Bowl topsoil. At the edge of his vision, he wonders if he’s seeing Susan’s long blonde hair as she walks away into the fog. He blinks the sleep out of his eyes and stares again; nothing is there. The lovely hills and valleys that curve like her body are flattened by impenetrable white. The restful bench under the large oak across the field is hidden behind swirling mists.

In the kitchen he opens the fridge, stares, and swipes a Diet Coke. Breakfast. The Aspartame, one more thing to worry over.

Falling on the couch, he knows he should look for a job, but the Voice tells him, what’s the point? It’s been a year, it reminds him. Something will come up, Alan answers without conviction. Susan works overtime every day and comes home and takes care of him. She has since the breakdown last Christmas. She soothes his guilt. She holds his face in her hands and says don’t worry about anything but getting well. But the Voice wonders what she’s really thinking. The Voice is cruel about the men who came before. They had taken her around the world, to Paris, Africa, Cabo. They had fucked her in exotic places. They had money. They could take care of her. What can you do, the Voice asks with a sneer. Alan buries his head in his hands. He paces around the house, trying to escape the Voice. He runs back to the dark bedroom, slams the door and freezes, listens. Light the color of a tarnished coin waits patiently at the window. He spots himself in the mirror above her vanity. Gray stubble too heavy for his drooping face. Puffed, purple crescents under his eyes like a boxer the day after a fight. He hasn’t showered since Tuesday. What will the Voice say? He slumps in the corner behind the bed. His eyes dart around the ceiling looking for composure.

Alan comes to with an apneaic gag. He’s not sure how long he’s been asleep. He tries to get up but the pain in his back, knees and ribs is too much. He sags back to the floor. He grabs the bed and the nightstand and forces himself through the talons of pain. A framed photograph of Susan and him teeters on the nightstand. He reaches to steady it, but too late. It falls face down.

He lurches down the hall to the kitchen. A note from her on the table asks him to put the garbage cans out. His exhaustion borders on dread. But the fear of disappointing her overcomes his fatigue. He retrieves his favorite sweatshirt from the living room floor and musters the energy to go outside. He trips over a basket in the shadows of the laundry room and is startled by a rhythmic clicking from the back yard. Eventually he opens the door enough to see the clothes line rattling against the house. Relieved, he stumbles blindly into the fog. Finding the garbage cans he tries to wheel them out of the garage. He stumbles and drops the larger can, spilling rancid garbage across the concrete. He looks around to see if anyone is watching, even though he knows no one is there. Except for the Voice. Alan does his best to ignore the laughter and scrapes up most of the trash and wipes his hands in the wet grass.

Towing the cans behind him down the wandering lane he descends beneath the fog. The Voice is gone. The smell of wild grass and pine trees draws the anxiety from his chest like poison. Wild turkeys along his path watch his progress. A playful calico teases him and then slips like smoke through a blackberry patch. At the busy highway he wrestles the cans into place.

As he climbs back to the house, his wind defeats him. Out of breath, he recalls when he could take this hill at a dead sprint. He tries to run, but only lasts a few strides. The Voice returns to taunt him. You’re a piece of shit. What does she see in you? You’re out of your league. She said I’m the love of her life, Alan responds. The fog starts to wrap around him like gauze. The turkeys have gone. The calico, oblivious, is hunting mice in the neighbor’s hayfield.

He arrives at the front porch in the mist and reaches with his toe to find the steps. The Voice laughs and says, Watch out, that first step’s a bitch.  Alan, knocking droplets of fog from his hair, opens the front door and hopes to find refuge. The Voice follows. He can’t remember when the Voice wasn’t with him. He loathes it, but in a nauseating way he is drawn to it. The Voice is persuasive. It makes sense.  Soon the ocean will roll the fog back into its bosom. He hopes, as he has so many times before, that it will take the Voice with it and drown it deep in its gray waters.

I’m not going anywhere, the Voice whispers. There is no hope. Alan enters the bedroom and draws a heart in the heavy layer of dust on Susan’s vanity.  He sits on the bed and prays for silence.

He walks to his dresser, opens the top drawer, and stares down at the orange bottles. He hears the Voice coming from every room of the house. He picks up a bottle and unscrews the cap.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons alive or dead is purely coincidental.

Surrender is my superpower

There’s a certain surrender to a criminal background check. Even if I know they won’t find any sexual offenses or violent crimes, I hold my breath when the woman takes my fingerprints. I guess that feeling will never go away.images (1).jpgsurr

The woman smiles and says, “That’s it.” I joke about the high-tech way they do it now days,  like a mini-copy machine. No ink to wipe off my finger tips. I smile slightly as I reach my car. It’s nice to go free this time, clean fingers and a clean conscience.

The late great comedian George Carlin said, “I get a nice safe feeling when I see a police car and I realize I’m not driving around with a trunk full of cocaine.” 

That’s sort of the way I feel these days. When I see a police car, I enjoy the way my heartbeat remains steady.  The DUI is too old to be a concern on background checks. No beer cans to hold below the line of sight, no bottles under my seat.

Six and a half years ago, I really had no choice but to surrender. The highway patrolmen, his face about three inches from mine, demanded, “How much have you had to drink, Sir!” I think he already knew the answer well enough for his purposes. When you’re drinking out of a Big Gulp cup, you really don’t know how  to answer that one. I replied, “I don’t know.”

A few weeks later a group of people listened as I said those words in a different context.

“I don’t know how I  got here.”

“I don’t know how to stop drinking.”

It would take a while longer, but they nodded and smiled when I admitted “I don’t seem to know anything.”

I grew up in a culture of self-control. When I failed, I was told to work harder. My teachers, at every parent-teacher conference,  said I simply needed to apply myself. I tried and too often failed to “win” the pretty girl. My church told me to suppress my urges. I used to wonder if my good deeds would outweigh the impure thoughts and “self-abuse” when it came to the question of hell. When I developed “nervous tics” in junior high (not until my 30’s would I learn it was Tourette’s), a neurologist told me I was high-strung. Mind over matter. I could will myself to stop.

Surrender, quitting, giving in, was a sign of weakness.

I am not complaining. My childhood was like most. However, there are times in life when self-control, will power, hard work or mind over matter are not the answer.

For me it was drinking. I worked hard, didn’t show up late at the office. I didn’t even get hangovers. I told family and friends I could control it. I think people who are not alcoholics have a superpower. They might as well be able to leap a tall building in a single bound. They don’t have to say, “I can control it” anymore than they would insist that they can control themselves at a water fountain.

I could drink in moderation. Of course my idea of that was four drinks a night. I would stop at four each night until one night I didn’t.  I plowed on through to eight, or nine or maybe even 12. I gave it up for periods to show others that I could. Once I gave it up for Lent. It was pretty easy. But on Easter I embarrassed myself. I had willpower. Actually most alcoholics do. Problem was, for the stretches that I wasn’t drinking, all I could think about was that I wasn’t drinking.

I wrestled with this cunning, baffling chemical like Jacob and the angel. It’s been said that alcoholism is a low-level search for God. I believe that. Once in a while I would find that perfect buzz for a few precarious moments.  There was a longing in my drinking that felt sacred and traditional.

“If I had to offer up a one sentence definition of addiction,” said author Ann Marlowe, “I’d call it a form of mourning for the irrecoverable glories of the first time…addiction can show us what is deeply suspect about nostalgia. That drive to return to the past isn’t an innocent one. It’s about stopping your passage to the future, it’s a symptom of fear of death, and the love of predictable experience. And the love of predictable experience, not the drug itself, is the major damage done to users.”

Toward the end of my drinking, I feared I might have ruined a good thing. But I refused to give up. I knew when the time came I would be able to stop.

I grew up understanding surrender as weakness, and I don’t believe I’m alone in that. However, nowhere in the dictionary definition is weakness mentioned.

Merriam-Webster: “to agree to stop fighting, hiding, resisting, etc., because you know that you will not win or succeed.”

Jonathan Franzen said, “It’s healthy to say uncle when your bone’s about to break.”

The second definition: “to give the control or use of (something) to someone else.” Alcoholism is a lonely condition. For that matter many of life’s travails are. Rugged individualism is overrated.

An Alcoholic is often described as a person with a huge ego and a tiny self-esteem. The ego said I have this under control. The self esteem said I can’t go on without it. Surrender said, I’m defeated, please help.

Surrender is a great relief in a world that demands that we hold onto life tightly with both hands. Surrender gives us permission to let go. It says we don’t always have to win. Today I can surrender the last word in an argument. Surrender allows me to slow down and let the aggressive driver have his waysurrender on the road. Surrender gives me patience. Surrender provides the humility to make amends. Surrender is the wisdom to go through grief rather than around it. Surrender is falling in love.

Perhaps its greatest gift is the ability to acknowledge fears and failure without dwelling on them.

It’s OK to look at the past, but it’s not polite to stare.

Surrender is the willingness to be rigorously honest.

Walt Whitman rejoices at the scientific spirit, “the holding off, the being sure but not too sure, the willingness to surrender ideas when the evidence is against them: this is ultimately fine—it always keeps the way beyond open—always gives life, thought, affection, the whole man, a chance to try over again after a mistake—after a wrong guess.”

My background check hasn’t come back yet. There will be a six-year-old DUI on there which could cost me the job.

But on the bright side, I don’t have any cocaine in my trunk.

Insomnia: madness in the night

images.jpginI tell my daughter that nothing good happens after 2 a.m. But honestly that has more to do with drunk driving, pissing on dumpsters and predatory men. When I apply it to myself it is a manic insomnia that drags me to the cliffs of  Dante’s Inferno.

Brilliant ideas that inspire me at 3 a.m. would abruptly end a job interview the next morning. Escorting me out of his office, the interviewer, holding his breath, might roll his eyes and sarcastically mouth the word “Wow” to a nearby co-worker.

Has anyone else awakened suddenly from a deep sleep feeling suicidal, only to have the darkest of thoughts pass in moments? What the hell was that, I wonder.

Nighttime is the strangest of contradictions. There really is no time like it for listening to Patsy Cline music, preferably in a car sitting alone on a gravel road, her voice pulling emotion from deep in your bones.  Braving mosquitoes while lying in a pasture and watching a meteor shower may be one of the most beautiful experiences to be had.

Yet, as  D.D. Barant wrote, it is also a time for a bad case of the 3:00 am guilts –“you know, when you lie in bed awake and replay all those things you didn’t do right? Because, as we all know, nothing solves insomnia like a nice warm glass of regret, depression and self-loathing.”

Author Karen Russell notes that “It is a special kind of homelessness to be evicted from your dreams.”

And there is nothing quite so terror-inducing as the loss of sleep, says author Charlie Huston. “It creates phantoms and doubts, causes one to questions one’s own abilities and judgement, and, over time, dismantles, from within, the body.”

Cathie Linz, in her book Bad Girls Don’t, says when she can’t sleep she counts the buckles on her straightjacket.

For me, when I have toiled in a hated job, or gone for stretches of unemployment, insomnia was a welcome torture. Sleep was a time warp transporting me in a snap to an unwelcome morning. A sleepless night stretched the time until an ugly dawn when I commenced a stumbling cycle of exhaustion and bleariness.

Paradoxically, nighttime also offers brief moments, when some of my best ideas come to me. Alas, in my drowsiness, they are often forgotten by morning. It has been said that The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Heyde came to Robert Louis Stevens in the depth of night. He scribbled the idea on a notepad at his bedside.

We are not insomniacs,  Leslie Dean Brown encourages, just nighttime philosophers.

 Whether philosophical, a font of good ideas or a setting for lilting country music, nighttime is not a good time to be awake. It is literally a path to madness. As a bipolar person, deep, long sleep is best way to prevent an episode of madness. Chronic insomnia causes depression, affects memory,  leads to weight gain, impairs judgment (especially about the need for sleep), raises blood pressure, causes cardiovascular disease, and even ages skin.

The most common solution is medical attention. Sleep clinics and psychiatric help can search for the cause and sometimes find answers. Meditation, more exercise and even sex can improve sleep. I don’t know who came up with idea of counting sheep, but those fucking things drive me crazy and the last thing I need in the middle of the night is math. Warm milk is kind of gross.  And they’re proving the whole tryptophan Insomnia_by_svghnsydn(turkey) thing is a myth. Don’t get me started on alcohol. I tried that one for years. I even won a writing award by writing an article after coming home from a bar in the middle of the night drunk and then editing it the next morning sober (the sober editing was KEY). But as a sleep aid you will fall asleep quickly and wake up later unrefreshed. And sleep doctors told me that I wasn’t getting the deep REM sleep I needed with recreational drugs and alcohol.

If one needs any more incentive, I’m sure I’m not the only one who typically wakes up at 3 a.m. Some believe this harkens back to our ancient ancestors who had to wake up early to avoid predators. I call shenanigans on this. I prefer the occult version. Tradition says that Jesus died at 3 p.m, so in mockery of his death, evil spirits are most active and more violent at 3 a.m. It is also supposed that 3 a.m. is the time that God is furthest from our realm. I can’t speak for my fellow insomniacs, but this is a time that I’m trying to find a way to sleep through. There are other demons in those wee hours. On TV I have watched Psycho IV (three sequels too many). I’ve seen an infomercial talk show with porn actors, hosted by Ron Jeremy. And I’ve kicked back on my couch groovin’ to Air Supply’s Greatest Hits. Pass the Trazodone, please.

What madness are these sleepless nights?

Even the words we use to describe the darkness bid a question, says award-winning author Margaret Atwood: “Night falls. Or has fallen. Why is it that night falls, instead of rising, like the dawn? Yet if you look east, at sunset, you can see night rising, not falling; darkness lifting into the sky, up from the horizon, like a black sun behind cloud cover. Like smoke from an unseen fire, a line of fire just below the horizon, brushfire or a burning city. Maybe night falls because it’s heavy, a thick curtain pulled up over the eyes. Wool Blanket.”

My wife always drifts off to sleep quickly. I wait a while holding her hand, and then slip out of  bed and walk to the living room with a blanket to protect me from the night’s chill.

Demons are waiting in the shadows.