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James R. Stout

The Chain

            When I was a freshman in high school, we were required to take a semester of “health” classes. Some of the topics included how our bodies work, sex education, diseases, and a full six-weeks of anti-drug classes with films and so forth to reinforce the ill-effects of taking either illegal drugs or abusing prescription drugs. I remember one of the films we watched was a docudrama about a guy who had taken LSD just one time a couple of years before the present-day events of the film. He never took it or did any other drugs again. But a couple of years later he was working as a forklift operator on the docks in Los Angeles and he had a “flashback”. Well, things didn’t go well at all during his flashback. First, he crashed into a bunch of crates destroying property. Then he ran over a co-worker’s foot, crushing it with vivid bloody shoes and screams of pain, and finally he drove the forklift off the dock into the water where he promptly drowned. Well, that film did its job on me. It scared me like not much else could scare me. Not that I ever took drugs because I didn’t. I was more concerned with some of my classmates wreaking havoc while having a flashback. I sure didn’t want my size 11 foot to be crushed.

            The truth is I had been through six-weeks of anti-drug abuse class in 8th grade too and I made my mind up then that I would never do drugs. I never have. That was 50 years ago. I was a teenager smack in the middle of a time when doing drugs was the “cool” thing to do. I guess I wasn’t cool. I certainly had my chances to do drugs. It seemed that everyone had marijuana, Quaaludes, speed, and other drugs in great quantities. The harder stuff hadn’t quite made it to middle class America yet, but it wouldn’t be long before I knew people who sniffed cocaine and even a few that were addicted to heroin. It’s not that I hung out with a bad crowd. It was simply that pervasive in the 70’s. I am thankful that I had the positive reinforcement of my parents and church. Sadly, I have no doubt that even some of my fellow youth members at the church tried drugs.

            But that’s not what this blog entry is really all about. It took me 400 words to set-up my point. Remember that word “flashback”? Well, I’ve been having a different type of flashbacks lately. I’m reminded of how that forklift operator was just going along and working one day and “BAM!” he’s hit by a flashback. Mine aren’t that dramatic though. I find myself sometimes sitting in the recliner watching TV, driving down the road listening to the radio, or trying to fall to sleep at night when suddenly I have a flashback. I refer to them as “memory flashbacks”. For no apparent reason, a random memory that I haven’t thought of or about in years just crashes out of my memory banks and the truly odd thing is that it feels so darned real. I have the emotions, smell the smells, see the events vividly in my mind’s eye, hear the sounds, and feel the physical sensations that were somehow or other recorded along with the memory itself and stuffed into my brain in some forgotten chamber so many years ago. Well, it’s very disconcerting.

            Not all of these memory flashbacks are pleasant or unpleasant in a singular fashion. They are truly random and can be either sweet or sour. I don’t mind the sweet ones too much, but those sour ones can really bring back painful moments from my life. Examples? You must have known there would be!

  1. Sitting on the couch at a friend’s house in early 1970. I was wearing brand new pair of green denim jeans. They were too tight and very uncomfortable. We were listening to records and “Venus” by The Shocking Blue was playing. My friend’s sister, a year younger than us, came in the room and started to dance to the music. I wanted to dance too, but those jeans were so darned tight and uncomfortable that when I stood up to dance, I felt like I was wearing an old rusty suit of armor. Now, why would I suddenly remember that minor event while I was trying to watch “NCIS”?

  2. I was 17 and sitting in my mother’s car that she let me use to drive to and from work at a theater. It was a bit on the cold side. I was wearing a red and white striped shirt that we were required to wear at work. I was going to give a co-worker a ride home. It was late, after midnight, and we had decided to get some Jack-in-the-Box tacos after we left the theater. We bought the tacos and then pulled into a parking lot near the theater. We were sitting there munching out on tacos when a patrol car pulls into the parking lot, chirps its siren, flashes its lights, and blocks my car from moving. Two police officers get out of the car with a spotlight shining in our eyes and the approach the car with guns drawn. Well, the tacos were having a hard time staying put about then. We were ordered out of the car and searched. Finally, they asked what we were doing, and I explained. I think the only thing that convinced them was our matching red and white striped shirts. Six months later that co-worker got mad about something that my best buddy said and she started a war. She trenched my parent’s lawn. I let the air out of her tires. She threw a coke in my friend’s face and he said something that wasn’t nice. It was stupid kids’ stuff. I quit that job not long after that just to get away from the nonsense.

  3. I was laying the bed of my 1991 Ford Lariat F-150. It was past midnight. My kids were already asleep in bed (they were about 16 and 17 at the time), my wife was supposed to have been home from a “girl’s night out” an hour before. The truth is I knew she wasn’t out with girlfriends. She was out with another man. I say I knew this, well, I didn’t know it for a fact, but all the signs were there. It hurt to think that she would be cheating after 26 years of marriage. I laid in that truck bed waiting for her to get home. I finally gave up around 2 o’clock and went to bed. It would be a few months later when we finally had the talk that resulted in the decision to divorce. I hated that truck. Why would I remember this while driving down the road? Nothing had happened to bring the memory up. I sure didn’t enjoy remembering it.

  4. I was recording a song in my home studio in 1980. We were living in Irving, Texas at the time and it was before we had kids. I had just finished singing the lead vocals and was waiting for the track to fade out when I heard a loud crash in my headphones. My wife was out shopping, so I was home alone. I took the headphones off and walked through the house to see if something had fallen off a wall or something of that nature. Nope. I opened the front door and there was an old Chevrolet El Camino imbedded in the live oak tree in our front yard. A guy was standing outside the car with a bloody nose. He didn’t speak English and when I walked outside to see if I could help, he panicked, got back in the El Camino, backed-up and drove over the curb and then sped away down the street. I haven’t listened to that recording in many years and I don’t even have the song on a subsequent recording. Yet the whole thing flashbacked in my head when I opened the refrigerator door to see what might be there to see.

              I take it you get the idea of this posting. We can’t possibly remember everything that we go through in life. Yet, I guess it’s possible that it’s all there in our memory cells whether we access them or not. My old buddy said that I live too much in the past. That’s partially true, I suppose, but it’s hard not to think about past events when they suddenly just flash into your head. The flashbacks only bring back the one memory, but then sometimes it becomes a chain of memories. The Eagles once sang, “We all live our lives in chains and never know we have the key.” Oddly enough, in a totally different way of looking at it, we do live our lives with a chain. Not the kind of chain that binds us though. It’s more like a very long chain of gold or silver, perhaps like a piece of jewelry. The first link is made sometime around birth and the last link is forged with our dying breath. In the end, it’s up to us to make that long chain a good or bad thing. I choose to make it a good thing. A metaphor of life. The chain is unbroken even if we forget a link or two along the way. It has to be unbroken so that our lives are unbroken. Even when one link is not pleasant to think about it may be what ties two beautiful links together. It may be the link that holds together the good links in our chain. That’s what I choose to believe. Oh, and remember that the heavy anchor that keeps a ship from drifting off where it doesn’t need to go? It is held fast by the chain it is attached to. Without that chain the ship is set adrift. Without our chain we too can be adrift.

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