When Leaving Mass Early Felt Like the Right Thing to do

I walked out of church today before Mass had ended. It was about halfway finished when I left. For context, I don’t always go. The reasons are my own, and I believe the details of my faith are between me and God. I don’t tell others what to do with their lives and only ask the same respect in turn.

But I had to walk out today, because I didn’t want to take Communion when I felt no connection to the church, or even to my own understanding of faith. The disconnect occurred when the priest made some political statements during his sermon. It bothered me on two levels: my general, idealistic vision of what Mass should be, and the specific statements that he made relative to my specific, personal experiences.

Per the former, I don’t want to hear political discussions in church. It seems there is a tendency for places of worship to delve into contemporary political issues, and I know it’s been that way for a long, long time. Fine. But, personal preference – I don’t want to hear it. That’s not why I’m there. That’s me.

The latter level of disturbance deals with the specific statement that was made. Now, I should back up and explain that we go to church in a college town, and this particular parish is the “official” home for those university students who are Catholic. So, the congregation in attendance was primarily young 20-somethings. Millennial-types, you know?

So anyway, the priest is talking about healing and restoring the soul through celebrating the Eucharist, and then out of nowhere he jumps into political statements about abortion and immigration. I’ve heard all this before and knew where he stood on those issues. But, today he also said this:

“You know all those people who went to Iraq? They were lied to. They were told they were doing that for us, but they weren’t.”

And I hear the crowd humming in approval. And I see heads nodding along.

And I’m a little pissed about it. For one, I’ve always held priests in high esteem because (obvious reasons aside) I could trust them to see different sides of an argument. The ones I’ve known have always been very tolerant, open-minded and forgiving. I trust them to guide me in my faith. But when they begin to take sides in contemporary political matters I begin to walk back that trust. I don’t want to hear them sounding like every other idiot in the world, making judgments and announcing proclamations on the issues of the day. To me, the divine transcends all of this inconsequential Earthly stuff. Maybe I don’t understand the ethos behind “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s…” Maybe it’s only supposed to be a literal interpretation of taxation by secular governments.

But more specifically to what the priest said about Iraq, it bothered me because I couldn’t believe how closed-minded it was. Maybe it sounded like a nice springboard statement to make a political point when he heard himself say it. I found it cheap and pandering, especially given that the audience was made up of kids who don’t have a clue what Iraq was like for those who went… nor do they understand what Iraq is like for people who live there. And apparently, that priest doesn’t understand either.

Those “people who went to Iraq” didn’t go because they were lied to. Maybe they were lied to. Maybe they weren’t. But that’s not why they went.

They went because they volunteered. Not one of those people made the decision to invade another country. The people who make those kinds of decisions never risk their own lives. This ain’t Braveheart. But there we were, invading another country, and while some people were sleeping in late between college courses or meeting up on street corners to protest something by telling other people what to do with their lives (which, by my estimation amounts to practice for the “one day” when the rah-rah sign holders get elected to office and finally have the power to tell everyone else what to do), those “people who went to Iraq” stood up and said, “I will – I’ll go; I’ll do.”

And they went for all kinds of reasons. Don’t cheapen the value of their individual choices by making a political point on their shoulders. Don’t summarily dismiss them all as those poor, wretched creatures who were tricked into sacrificing for nothing. Those “people who went to Iraq” aren’t the noble savages you’re looking for. The reason that each man or woman volunteered to serve is inconsequential. The fact that they did serve while others did not should be the litmus for judging their resolve.

Are they just dumber than all the others who didn’t volunteer? Like, did everyone who stayed at home and bitched about the “war” they saw on TV know something we “people who went to Iraq” didn’t? Aren’t they happy with themselves for knowing it was “all for nothing?”

Was it all for nothing? Before you blurt out your answer that last question, please write it down and with it explain the discriminating criteria you used to determine your answer. Explain how you measure whether anything in this world was all for nothing or something or everything.

Is there a cool matrix or pie chart somewhere that explains that? Maybe even just a “pro v. con” list you jotted down on a napkin? But, even then, isn’t it all just your opinion?

And don’t talk to me about the WMD’s. Hopefully, you realize (or remember) that we were sending American citizens over there to war regardless. Some Americans volunteered to go. Others, I guess, already knew it was “all for nothing.”

Ask a veteran if it was “all for nothing.”

Those “people who went to Iraq” didn’t tell anybody else to go. They didn’t stand on a street corner with signs that read, “You should go to war!” or “College students must be forced to deploy!” or “Deployment Equality!”

They simply stood up, raised a hand, swore an oath, and volunteered themselves. And, unless you’ve met every veteran who went there and asked them specifically, you don’t have a damn clue why they volunteered. And that’s okay. Just don’t act like you know when you don’t.

Because you don’t.

That’s my soapbox. And I left without taking Communion because all these thoughts were floating around upstairs, and it just felt wrong to go through the ritual at the time. I suppose being pissed off isn’t a mortal sin that would preclude me from receiving Communion, but I went with my intuition there. I thought about it for almost ten minutes before making the decision to go. I was upset and couldn’t tell if I was being prideful or if there was something legitimate to the discontent. So I left. And I still don’t really know. So I wrote this.

I’ll go back, of course, and I don’t consider this a big enough deal to warrant any more attention than I’ve already given it. But as the day wore on and my thoughts settled down and coalesced into something cogent I realized that maybe this was a good discussion to share. Thanks for reading.


- Erich

Through another windshield

Through Windshields


“All of this,” he said as he swirled the air between us with his hand, a cigarette bracketed between two fingers, “is a matter of perspective.” He brought the cigarette to his mouth after that and pulled on it as he looked back at me. The ember glowed. He blew out the smoke and continued watching me, proud of what he had said but waiting for my validation nonetheless.

“Sure,” I replied.

“You over there, looking this way, and me over here,” he went on, pausing there for effect, “watching you.”

I wasn’t listening, though. Well, not really. I was too busy thinking to myself that he looked like me and talked like I talked.

There he was, smiling, looking back at me, still smoking.

“I’m you, but I’m not,” he said. “A passing reflection in window glass, that’s all.”


I watched as he looked himself over, running gloved hands over the ballistic vest and over all the pouches attached to it. Tan, brown, olive green. He opened his mouth and stretched his jaw, cocking it to the side and then closing it again. That dirty chin strap, once black and clean, now frosted with white ribbons of dried sweat. The helmet on his head, just a few centimeters off center. Enough for me to notice from where I stood.

He patted his shirt sleeves with a smile and his fingers over the embroidered brown stripes. “They don’t even wear these anymore.”

I smiled back. “DCU’s.”

“Fuckin’ DCU’s.” He caught me looking at his boots. “The shit they’ve stepped in, huh?”


I barely even remember him, but he’s always there. I mean, I remember him, but usually in still-frame photographs. There aren’t many pictures of him over there, though. He wasn’t big on pictures then. I remember him telling his troops that, “This ain’t a damn vacation” whenever they took out their cameras and snapped off a few.

I can still hear him say that.

Then I remember that I’m hearing myself.

No, there aren’t two people in my head – no multiple personalities or anything like that. It’s a part of me I had to kill, or at least try to neglect to death. Not sure I did a good job anymore, though, because he’s back now.

I’ve tried to write this a hundred times over the past few months and have failed time and again, barely getting a sentence typed before muttering, “Aw, fuggit!” and moving on to something else. But like I, or rather a part of me, said, this is about perspective.

I’ve only been able to see the world through my own eyes; only able to filter stimuli through my own prejudices. But the world I’ve seen has been filtered before it even got that far. The best way I’ve thought to articulate this is to say that, for me, the world has been filtered through two windshields.

One for home.

One for over there.

CONUS and OCONUS. In some sick way, they both feel like home.

Home and… other home.

I drive down the road now and take note of the roadside trash. I used to ignore it, long before any deployments. “Meh, more litter,” I would say. “People suck.”

But that other part of me learned that litter can kill you. “No, people REALLY FUCKIN’ SUCK,” he’d say. Over there, litter isn’t just litter; it’s a place to hide things. You have to examine it as best you can from behind the glass of a moving vehicle. They hid bombs in the roadside trash. You remember your training, though. You know what to look for.

But your training didn’t really prepare you for a world where there was so much trash it obscured the curb. And, speaking of curbs, you had to check those, too. They would make false sections of concrete to hide their IEDs.

Or they buried them.

Or hid them in dead animals.

Or broken down cars.

Or moving cars.

Or on people.

I remember the first few months after I came home, while that other part was still in the majority, and he made driving a pain in the ass. He kept pointing shit out everywhere we went. Overpasses, cars that rode low on their suspensions… everything on the shoulders.

Then he would say, “It’s only a matter of time before it happens here.”

I don’t have the same mindset when driving anymore. That was a long time ago now. But I haven’t forgotten it, either.

When he went over there for the first time he sat in towers on base and rotted away for four months. He called it a “waste” of what he thought was a finely tuned killing machine. He got to go drive around outside the wire for the last six weeks of that trip, but it wasn’t enough. Just an appetizer. The kiddie ride. He wanted the roller coas– no.

He wanted the fucking base jump without a parachute.

Or so he thought.

A year later he went to Baghdad, and that’s when he killed me. I’m too sentimental, too much of a hopeless romantic and too idealistic to be combat effective. See, I was there for all the other stuff. Base jumping sounded fun to me. I liked the idea of going over there and “making a difference” or whatever. But that wasn’t the reality. It was kill or be killed; kill or get your team killed. No room for dreamers. I needed to die for a while. So, he shut me out.

We wouldn’t have survived without that.

And he would keep saying that it wasn’t a big deal. He’d say, “I didn’t send us here, but I heard they were sending somebody so I volunteered.” This was a true statement. It was black and white for him. For me, I kept trying to read between the lines and find something gray, as if the gray matter was somehow prophetic. As if the gray stuff would Magic 8-Ball me into a calmer state of mind.

“Fuck all that,” he’d say. “You gotta be a stone.”

“I don’t even know what that means.”

“Fine. Let me pretend for a while then,” he’d say.

These weren’t real conversations that some guy had with two voices in his head while sitting in traffic with his pants around the ankles or whatever. This was me, afraid, trying to rationalize the ambiguity of “tomorrow” in a world which contradicted nearly everything I thought I knew about human beings.

I had to kill the part of me that couldn’t handle the realities over there. And when I came home, I had to kill the frigid, calculating, darker personality that had become such a comfortable skin for such a short but immensely impactful time.

I can only speak for myself and testify to the explosions I’ve seen, the rockets I’ve heard whirring past overhead, the dead bodies, the pieces of bodies, the coagulated puddles of dark goo that spill out of the body when it’s ripped apart, the smell of burning metals, fabrics, blood, flesh and hair all melding into one fragrance… I hardly saw anything compared to what many others saw. My experiences pale in comparison.

This is about perspective.

My perspective – the perspective of that person who looked and talked like me and saw some of the horrors of the world through another windshield – is why I feel sick to my stomach when I watch the news. It’s why I’m pissed at hearing some things and why I couldn’t give two shits about others.

It’s why I feel sick to my stomach when I read or watch news stories about Iraq’s deterioration. Are we just going to sit back and watch a genocide unfold as if it has nothing to do with us?

It’s why I don’t give a flying fuck about your “microaggressions.” Grow up.

It’s why I have no respect for any politician who talks about war but isn’t willing to get his or her own fucking hands dirty, or do the politically unpopular thing, no matter if it’s the right thing to do or not. You can’t stop psychopaths from butchering women and children by playing the blame game, you sorry sacks.

It’s why I struggled to sleep after coming back. I couldn’t close my eyes without playing highlight reels from nightmares.

It’s why I still can’t write this so that it communicates what I want it to say.

It’s why I don’t care what you think.

It’s why I want to go back.

But it’s also why I can’t…

I guess.

It’s why I don’t know which part of me is saying those last three lines.

It’s why I see everything through one windshield today,

and why I know that if no one does it now, then someone will have to later.




Is Keeping a Blog Alive Really That Hard?

For me? Yup.

Don’t know what it is, but the idea of getting on here every day and blabbering on about things as if I knew enough about anything to blabber endlessly is incredibly boring. Also, blogging often feels like I’m writing into an abyss. Just a big hole of nothingness. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a depressing thought. It’s the reality. It would probably be depressing if I thought people wanted to read about my daily activities, and then realized that no one reads about my daily activities. But I don’t do that here, anyway. This is a place to hold a presence, offer information for those few curious souls, and ultimately it works as a backup storage for some of my short stories and poems that I’m not trying to sell to publishers.

But damn if I didn’t let it go for… what, two months (??) without posting something new. The why of this is simple: I didn’t post because I didn’t post. None of this is that hard. Blogging is not hard to do, but you have to want to do it.

Anyway, the stuff I’m working on now is all novel length prose or short stories that I’m inclined to shop around. So, there’s that. A short story of mine was featured on a new website called Liberty Island Magazine. It’s a supernatural – slash -western called Coyote Skull. Check it out if you don’t mind, and check out the rest of LI, if you feel so inclined. Yes, it’s a politically partisan site. I like to keep my personal blog neutral, as most of my work (including Coyote Skull) attempts to tap in to themes that transcend contemporary political narratives.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time writing fiction about contemporary politics. There’s enough of a soap opera with the real thing as it is already. I tend to hate no one and make fun of everything. This is easily misunderstood in written communication online, especially when it’s so easy to type away and send, delivering your rushed comments to an audience in real time.

You ever watch some comment threads just flat-out degenerate and then spiral out of control. Holy shit. Look – I’m big into sports, mostly football, baseball and soccer… but I frequent sports sites and read the articles. Then I read the comments. People will actually argue with each other about games that haven’t happened yet. Online. For everyone to see how good they are with grammar. Get it?

Blabbity-blah, I’m going to congratulate myself for keeping my blog alive for July (albeit on the very last day), and to celebrate I think I’ll go play with my buddy here. He’s the O-D-B, Old Dirty Bruce. Keepin’ the pimp paw strawng, sun!




That’s a University of Georgia Bulldogs shirt he’s wearing, by the way. Go Dawgs!

lords of vapor

Lord of Vapor

She rides the air beside me as we drive in straight lines.

A knee up high and the seat reclined,

she looks away along the outstretched hand that moves against the tide.

We end at each horizon and then begin again the same,

riding endless waves of earth and forgetting both our names.


“You should buy me a drink,” she says at the bar.

I was staring off again and thinking of the car.

“Wouldn’t be the first time,” I replied.

We never really say any of these things.


Wicker chairs and bamboo shades; wares that creak and knock in the steady blow.

We sit under shadow surrounded by the grey candescence of a deserted beach.

I at the bar, and she, well, she’s there, too,

but just out of reach.


She pulls the hair back on one side and leans in closer to squint at me,

the seat creaking below her exposed, crossed legs.

I imagine skin touching skin,

and eight-bit illustrations of holes hosting pegs.


“What?” she says without moving her lips.

I smile and watch her fingertips.

I like the way her fingernails play snare upon the lacquer surface as she waits.

I like the way she holds her cigarette between fingers and lips,

and the way it makes me think of life between her hips.


“It keeps the wasps away,” she says of the smoke.

Not that I cared to begin with anyway.

I’m less concerned with the cause of her disease than I am the treatment of the symptoms.


We don’t need to know the names.


She turns to look over her shoulder,

turns to look out across the acreage of darkened, liquid suede.

Rain, misting and steady and cold, coming down all around.


I turn and look where she’s looking,

and there at the edge of the rising tide lies the half-dissolved face of a fish,

with a pair of birds on either side.


Neither the birds nor the fish head move,

as if frozen in time and tide and there perpetual in the grey candescence.

Even the tide seems stuck in its lines.


I turn to tell her what I really want to say then,

only to see that I’m alone at the bar and dry -

no keeper, no bottles, nothing but wind and creaking, knocking mockery.




fish head

Poor Fish Head



The lonely, decomposing fish head on the beach. No one ever loved you. They used you, then threw you away.

Or perhaps you escaped, achieving in death, and without a tail, what you could not achieve whole and alive.

And now you rot. There, on the beach. With the kids coming close to look and the parents shouting “Don’t touch!”

2:44 A.M.

Old, gray dreams.

Concrete feet,

sinking dark between oceans.

Colors but shades;

similar but different.



Darker down,

absorbing sound

in cold indigo pressure

where neither sight, nor smell, nor taste, nor sound can reach.


Darker down,

hands fighting stiff, liquid blankets, tightly wrapped and anchored deeper in the black.

There visions emerge,

bright but only halfway whole,

like broken memories;

interrupted signals;

scratches in the disk, jumping, lurching, never closer.

Never really there.


Blackest depths,

feet and hands still bound and mouth still muffled.

Punches thrown and never landed,

curses of the deepest deep,

where nothing lives but that which died

and in subconscious sleeps.

Muted Sounds

We float.

Or perhaps we sink.

I suppose it all feels the same.

In dreams we are immune from these sensations,

at once cemented to our hidden fears yet free to be ourselves.

And my eyes open to yours,

looking back and forth from the pillow to where the fingers thatch themselves in permanence.