Babies behind bars?

Babies behind bars?

According to a recent article in Cosmopolitan, the potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act means that a flood of poor women will be going to jail – deliberately – to get prenatal care.   The author claims that prior to the implementation of the ACA, for many women, prison was their main provider of prenatal care, and should the ACA be repealed, it will be so again. http://www.cosmopolitan.com/politics/a8672870/obamacare-repeal-will-send-poor-pregnant-women-jail-prenatal/  

Of course, the ACA does not really mean all women have access to prenatal care.  It simply means that they have insurance. Insurance does not always equate to health care.  Health care, for most people, carries additional costs and fees beyond the amount insurance covers.  The amount of money I had to pay out of pocket for my pregnancy and birth in 2009 vs. my pregnancy and birth in 2012 more than doubled in only 3 years.  Our insurance paid a lower percentage of my prenatal care post-ACA. Since the price we paid for our monthly insurance also went up significantly at the same time, it certainly didn’t translate to affordable care for us, anyway.  If we hadn’t been able to afford the money for the co-pay, our insured status would not have equated to prenatal care for me. But I digress.

The author of the Cosmo piece never exactly proves that because the women received prenatal care in prison, that it was really their REASON for being in prison, nor does she establish that the women in question tried very hard to get prenatal care outside of prison, either.  And even before the implementation of the ACA, there were social programs that offered free health care to people below a certain income available for the taking – no need for poor women to go to jail to get prenatal care. But let’s take the claim at face value. For the sake of argument, we’ll agree that at least some women are willing to deliberately subject themselves to prison to access prenatal care.  Some would argue that adequate prenatal care is so important to the good of the country that so we should provide it for free to everyone. Let’s accept that as a given, too. As a caring, empathetic society, we should ensure that everyone has access to some basic level of food, water, air, and prenatal care. But what adequate prenatal care should entail is hard to pin down, exactly.   “Adequate” is a pretty amorphous term. What does it really mean?

Women’s magazines and medical experts universally agree that adequate prenatal care is very important for the health of women and their unborn babies.  Without adequate prenatal care, terrible things can happen. But as most women who have had a baby will testify, the bulk of prenatal care involves an afternoon taken off work, finding a sitter for your other children or dragging them along if you can’t, a stressful drive into heavy traffic, paying for parking in a crowded parking garage, waddling into a building full of sick and possibly contagious people, waiting an interminable length of time for a nurse to check your pee sample/take your blood pressure/measure your stomach/weigh you and scold you for the amount you’ve gained, be it too much or too little, and then waiting another interminable length of time for the doctor to show up.  The doctor shakes your hand and glances at your paperwork and tells you to return in a month, 2 weeks, a week, or a few days, depending on how far along you are. Sometimes you get to listen to your baby’s heartbeat on the Doppler, which is fun.

Quite frankly, a good percentage of prenatal care is bullshit.  You lose an entire afternoon, if not a full day, to see a nurse for a few minutes and a doctor for fewer.  Somebody behind the scenes dips a test strip into your pee. It’s basically an excuse to listen to your baby’s heartbeat.  Lots of appointments, lots of ultrasounds, lots of tests, lots of weighing and measuring and poking and prodding, but most of it is only window dressing.    

If you have concerns about aches or pains they are usually played off as inconsequential.  If you have minor pregnancy complaints, they are easily fixed. If you have heartburn, take Tums.  If you are constipated, take a stool softener. Varicose veins, put your feet up. If you’re nauseous, try soda crackers.  But adequate prenatal care should not mean going to the doctor for advice about soda crackers and footstools and reassurance over cramps.  It should mean that which is minimally adequate for a healthy pregnancy. Adequate means good enough, not best of the best. Yet women are sold a bill of goods where if they don’t have it done exactly as the OBGYN suggests, their uterus will implode, taking out everyone within a 5 yard radius.  

Things can and do go wrong in pregnancy.  But most of what pregnant women receive when they get prenatal care is useless.  It isn’t preventative, it’s a placebo. A lot of hassle for a lot of nothing. Most of the patients OBGYNs see in the office are not having emergencies and most who are having emergencies are well aware they are having them.  In fact, developing emergencies are sometimes missed during prenatal visits when doctors and nurses write off concerning symptoms as minor complaints, lulling women into a false sense of security that everything is ok when it actually isn’t.

Most serious problems in pregnancy (that are able to be corrected by doctors, that is) show up towards at the end of pregnancy.  Gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia rarely develop before the 5th month and usually much later. Problems during the first trimester of pregnancy are almost always terminal.   If you’re losing a pregnancy before 26 weeks (more realistically, 32 weeks) there is usually little they can do to save your baby. Despite this, some doctors will have women come in every 2-3 days day at the beginning of a pregnancy for something called “betas”.  Betas are blood tests to check the level of pregnancy hormones in a woman’s blood. They’re done repeatedly to see how fast they’re rising. Slow rises can mean a pregnancy is not developing normally. But fast rises, while encouraging, do not guarantee a pregnancy is developing normally.  Betas are largely pointless, but women love them anyway. They will obsess over their betas. Women whose doctors won’t do betas lament over not having their beta numbers. But betas are totally useless because if the pregnancy is ending at the earliest stage of gestation, there is nothing doctors can do about it anyway.   Betas are a huge waste of valuable medical dollars that could be spent more wisely on about a million other things.

Some other things that doctors like to do in early pregnancy:

Prescribe really expensive prenatal vitamins, but prenatals are readily available over the counter for a much lower price and prenatals have never been shown to do anything to help a pregnancy anyway.  https://www.statnews.com/2016/07/11/prenatal-supplement-unnecessary/  Folic acid has, but most foods are fortified with folic acid now, and it’s also readily available over the counter at a fraction of the price as the prescription brand.  Vitamin D may also be a good idea, but again it’s available in fortified foods and also over the counter.

Prescribe progesterone supplements which data indicates are no better than placebos and do not help maintain any pregnancy that isn’t developing normally http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/9829-201606229829

Pressure women over 35 into having amniocentesis or CVS tests that carry a risk of miscarriage even though there are now non-invasive blood tests that do the same thing for a much, much lower cost and without risk to the pregnancy http://www.whattoexpect.com/pregnancy/pregnancy-health/noninvasive-prenatal-testing

Send women for “dating ultrasounds” which involve something called a transvaginal ultrasound wand (just as pleasant as it sounds) to verify when the woman got pregnant.   Even when the woman knows exactly when she got pregnant, many doctors insist upon the “dating ultrasound” even though it is of no proven medical benefit. They are also very unreliable and many times women end up highly stressed out when a technician can’t see a baby on the screen because they are not far enough along.

Insist upon doing Pap smears and other preventative vaginal exams “because they won’t be able to do them later in pregnancy.”  But Pap smears only need to be done every 3-5 years https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cervical-cancer/prevention-and-early-detection/cervical-cancer-screening-guidelines.html

Put women on bed rest or pelvic rest even though these things have never been shown to help sustain pregnancy and bed rest even make matters worse by causing blood clots in the legs.  https://www.fitpregnancy.com/pregnancy/pregnancy-news/experts-call-bed-rest-be-discontinued

Things that doctors DON’T like to do in early pregnancy:

Check thyroid levels of women with a history of thyroid problems.  Thyroid problems are known to cause or contribute to miscarriage and yet some women have to fight tooth and nail for their doctors to do these tests and adjust their medication even when they’re experiencing troubling symptoms.  https://www.endocrineweb.com/news/reproductionsexuality/15793-untreated-low-thyroid-function-during-pregnancy-can-lead-trouble

Properly investigate severe cramping and spotting.   One true medical emergency that does occur in early pregnancy is a pregnancy that occurs in the Fallopian tubes (ectopic pregnancy).  The tubes can rupture and cause potentially fatal internal bleeding. It’s rare, but worthy of a thorough investigation, not only to be sure an ectopic pregnancy has not occurred, but also to avoid medical mismanagement where a viable pregnancy is terminated.  There is a strange dichotomy wherein ectopic pregnancies are both frequently missed http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1479-828X.1996.tb03282.x/full but at the same time viable pregnancies are terminated wrongfully http://commonhealth.legacy.wbur.org/2013/10/ectopic-pregnancy-misdiagnosed-methotrexate

Investigate unexplained fevers.  Women occasionally go into their doctor with an unexplained fever during pregnancy.  Yes, usually it’s viral. But occasionally a woman develops a bladder or kidney infection during pregnancy or even an infection in the uterus.  Because doctors often assume fevers are benign in cause, infections may be left untreated until a woman is very ill. If the infection is in the uterus, the pregnancy cannot withstand it.  Invasive procedures like Pap smears and transvaginal ultrasounds (as in, those things that some doctors like to do without cause in early pregnancy) during pregnancy may raise the risks of uterine infections, due to a lack of sanitization of equipment, the medical provider, or contamination of the gel products used during the procedure when technicians reuse the same container of gel again and again rather than opening a new sterile package for each patient.   https://www.cdc.gov/hicpac/Disinfection_Sterilization/3_1deLaparoArthro.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3973690/

http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/Safety/AlertsandNotices/ucm299409.htm

The argument for Mercedes-level prenatal care is that “If it saves one life, it’s all worth it”.  But the problem is, when every patient is treated as a ticking time bomb in need of intense scrutiny, it makes it much more likely the minority who really ARE developing a complication will be missed.   It’s like a reverse form of the needle in a haystack. Doctors and nurses are so busy dealing with all the pieces of straw, they can’t spot the needle even though it’s shiny. If a doctor’s office is so busy doing “dating ultrasounds” that it doesn’t have the capability to quickly and thoroughly investigate a woman who is actually having symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy, then they’re doing it wrong.  And if they’re so busy doing those “dating ultrasounds” that employees can’t even clean their equipment properly, wash their hands, or even open a sterile container of ultrasound goo, then they’re making even more needles to lose in the stack.

Some doctor’s office do early pregnancy right.  They refuse to see patients (without cause) until the start of the second trimester.  This allows them to better focus on their patients who are experiencing real problems and those later along in pregnancy and at higher risk of developing complications.  It also prevents temptation for doctors to cave in to their patients, who often demand interventions like dating ultrasounds, beta testing, and progesterone supplements when they are not medically indicated.  Unfortunately these non-interventionist doctors have to compete with the offices that are willing to do unnecessary intervention, so the pressure is on everyone to provide more and earlier care.

Prenatal care is likely even being overused even into the second trimester.  Most serious, life threatening pregnancy complications do not start to occur until the 5th month of pregnancy, and even then it’s only a tiny percentage which gradually grows to a still-small percentage by the 9th month.  So why do ALL women have to come in for numerous appointments even when their risk of complications is miniscule? Is this the best of use of our medical time and dollars? It probably isn’t, and any woman who is experiencing weird symptoms and is terrified and wants to come in right away only to be told “we can squeeze you in next Tuesday at 3” wants to tear her hair out knowing that most of the people in the doctor’s office are only there to listen to their baby’s heartbeat on the Doppler.  

Did I mention how fun that is?   It’s pretty fun. Fun enough to justify wildly inflated medical bills?  Nah. Fun enough to justify having to wait days for true medical emergencies?  Definitely not.

There are some very clear markers for gestational diabetes and preeclampsia that are easy to spot.  Increasing blood pressure, sugar and protein in urine, and excessive weight gain are early signs. Why not allow pregnant women to take their own blood pressure, check their own urine with dip sticks to check for sugar and protein, weigh themselves, and call for an immediate appointment if anything seems off?  Maybe come to the lab a couple times for a blood test at the start of the second trimester and the start of the 3rd to rule out anemia, gestational diabetes and a few other rare complications? A woman wouldn’t even need to see the doctor for that, if everything came out ok. It would give doctors and nurses more time to answer the mundane questions about heartburn and support stockings via email.

Some women won’t do those things, of course.  But I’ll wager that most if not all of the women who aren’t willing to take their own blood pressure and check their urine for glucose and protein once a month are also the ones who weren’t going to prenatal exams anyway.  And that’s not meant as a slam on them. If you don’t have reliable transportation and someone to watch your children, it becomes a massive ordeal to go to the doctor’s office once every 2 weeks or even once a month. If you work a non-professional job, and are expected to work 9-5 M-F, it’s undoable.   And knowing that you’ll face judgement from the nurses and receptionists if you miss an appointment or two makes it that much harder to show up at the visits you can. Who can blame them for wanting to stay away? I actually suspect we’d see better compliance with a do-it-yourself approach than with traditional prenatal exams.

Articles about women going to jail to get adequate prenatal care are nonsensical because no one is even questioning what that even means.  No one is calling for “good enough, get the job done” prenatal care. They’re calling for an unnecessary amount of prenatal care that most do not need, which puts huge burdens onto the backs of poor and working-class women (whether or not they have insurance).   Prenatal care as it exists here and now, America 2018 is NOT adequate. It’s a fun and reassuring life experience for women who can afford it and have the luxury of being able to get to the appointments. But a lot of women don’t want a fun and reassuring life experience, they want adequate prenatal care.  Truly adequate. They want a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby and I believe we can do that with far fewer visits.

No one needs to go to jail for “adequate” prenatal care.  We need to start giving women the option of a basic level of care.  This isn’t harming women, it’s helping them. If doctors weren’t stretched so thin, they’d be better able to serve all their customers.  They may even be better able to help the women and babies who truly require medical intervention by decluttering the doctor’s schedules and making it easier to spot the needle in the haystack.  It would very likely be more affordable as well – an important consideration given the recent debates over health care. And nobody would have to go to jail to get it.

 

   

 

Supernatural: Manic Pixie God Girl Part 10 – With Friends Like These

Supernatural: Manic Pixie God Girl Part 10 – With Friends Like These

And that was how Dean Winchester, the artist currently known as God (he had just thought of that one and it cracked him up every time it popped into his head) came to find himself on the top of a mountain in the Alps in the middle of a lightning storm accompanied by a very small, very cute deity with a meat cleaver in her hands.  “What’s that for?”  He wasn’t sure he really wanted to know.

“You probably don’t want to know.” Ah, crap.

Jovi had known where they were going and was wearing jeans and hiking boots and a puffy black coat trimmed with pink fake fur.  Her hair was up in braids like a milkmaid.  Dean hadn’t, and was dressed in his normal clothes.  His vessel was freezing its ass off.  He still felt sick and awful and weak and now he was gonna catch a chill on top of it. Luckily, it wasn’t far to where they were going, which was some kind of an old temple that hadn’t been attended to for a very long time by the looks of things.  Unluckily, it was up a steep narrow mountain path and his heart beat hard and fast from the exertion and he saw spots before his eyes.  He breathed hard because he needed to breathe to sustain himself, that’s how bad off he was.  He needed to breathe.

The ornately carved marble of the temple looked like it was melting; the faces of the statues that had once adorned it were worn away to featureless nubbins.  Jovi looked at them in dismay as they passed.  She clucked her tongue disapprovingly.  “It’s the acid rain that does that.”

“What?”  It wasn’t that he’d not been paying attention, he just literally felt like he was about to keel over dead at any moment and had been focusing all his energy on maintaining consciousness.

“The pollution.  This world used to be so nice, Dean.  I wish you could have seen it when.”  She didn’t wait for a response.   She just walked off, left him there desperately trying to catch his breath, and descended a set of steps to the center of the temple.  Looking at it from above Dean could see it had at one time been a clock, the floor of the temple had; a clock with no hands.  The numbers were worn away but there were faint indentations where they had once been.  In the center was a pillar with an oxidized copper bowl on top.  Jovi stopped and looked down inside it.  

His curiosity piqued and his breath at least somewhat restored, Dean stumbled down the steps to peer down inside the bowl.  It was filled with some kind of opaque, oily liquid.  It seemed to be both colorless and all colors at the same time which he knew was a trite and overused sort of description but it was the most apt.  He knew who they had come to call upon for help, but he didn’t know how they would do it, since Jovi hadn’t exactly revealed that part of the plan.  Sam had said that she needed part of his energy, which was more than a little worrying since Dean felt like he had absolutely none to spare.

The meat cleaver worried him even more though.  How did one extract energy, anyway?   Gabriel had said something about…chopping….

“I need your pinky, Dean.”

My what?  “My what?”

“Your pinky.  I am SO sorry?”  While Dean was digesting this tidbit of information, Jovi slid a very large hunting knife out from her coat pocket and slapped it into Dean’s palm.  He pulled out the blade with his thumbnail and contemplated it.  The blade was 7 inches long and sharp – wicked sharp.  The metal gleamed as lighting flashed above.  Before he could think about it too much, he lopped off the pinky on his left hand.  The knife slid right through the bone, no problem.  The digit dropped down into the liquid in the bowl with a plurp and the liquid started to bubble.  It barely even hurt…oh wait, yes, yes it did.  Took a second to kick in was all.  Phew, boy, did it ever hurt.  Hurt like a bitch.  Hurt more than you would even think it did.  Considerably.  He grunted without meaning to and his knees, which were already like jelly, nearly crumpled.  Jovi’s eyes were wide, scared.  “Wow you did that really super fast.  I thought maybe you’d have to work up to it or something.”

“Nah.  I figured it was better not to think about it too much.”  His voice shook and he flushed with embarrassment, but to his relief Jovi didn’t even notice.

“Oh.  You’re smart.”  Jovi slipped out of her coat and tied it around her waist.  Then she gulped and fidgeted and blew out some air from her cheeks, trying to get psyched up for whatever it was that she had to do.  The cleaver was for her, he realized with a chill, as she raised it in her fist.   And she was scared.  She set her left hand on the edge of the bowl.  Her hand.  He got off with a pinky, he had got off light, but she had to give up her entire hand.   He thought she was going to do it, but then she stopped.  Definitely scared.  “Should I go up, or down, do you think?”

“What?”

She demonstrated with the cleaver to indicate her meaning.  “Should I strike up, or down?”

“Oh.  Down, definitely.  If you went up, you might end up hitting yourself in the face.”

“Oh, of course.  Ok.  Down it is.”  But she still waited.  He could see her lips move…one, two, three…and then she hesitated.  She did it several times and the knot in Dean’s stomach relaxed a little bit thinking maybe she wouldn’t go through with it after all, but then she did it all of a sudden unexpectedly without counting and he cried out without meaning to.  She did too though.  The hand fell into the basin along with a river of blood and the liquid swirled and roiled but nothing more happened.  “Oh, that wasn’t enough, I guess.  Oh.”

“I can…I can…” He didn’t wanna he didn’t wanna he didn’t wanna…

“No…” She breathed the word so faintly he could barely hear it.  She moved the stump of her arm forward so the bloody edge rested on the rim of the basin and with all her might brought the cleaver down again, just below her elbow, and her forearm fell into the turbulent liquid.

This time, the spell took.  They were thrown back by a gushing gust of power and Dean even slid a ways across the frigid marble, the chill soaking through his jeans like he had sat in a puddle of water. The bowl cracked down the middle and two halves fell to the temple floor, but the liquid remained, still swirling, wilder than ever.  It began to solidify to the consistency of Silly Putty, less liquid, more elastic, and Dean watched in amazement as it rose into a column and then the column took on the shape of a man.  The goo stretched out and down from the pillar, depositing the man on the floor of the temple and then the rest of it absorbed into him with a slurp.  “Hey, Mom.”

“Chronos, I’ve told you like a jillion times, I am not your mom.  You’re like my toenail clipping.”  Dean was dismayed to see a spreading crimson pool forming around her as blood gushed from her severed arm.

“Looks like you need a hand.”

“Ha, ha.”   Chronos tilted his head and Jovi held up what was left of her arm.  A smooth flap of skin had grown over the stump.  “Tch!  Is that the best you can do?”

“On short notice.”  And then, with meaning.  “I’m hungry.”

“Of course you are.”  Jovi climbed to her feet and the pool of blood around her disappeared.  She held a goblet in her hand.  “Will this do?”  

Chronos took the goblet and raised it.  “Cheers.”  Down the hatch it went.  Dean managed to fend off a surge of nausea and climbed back to his feet.   The activity attracted the demigod’s attention.  “You?”  He cast an eye at Jovi.  “What is wrong with you?”

“I don’t even know any more.”

“All those times you told me to leave the sexy humans alone and now look at you.”

“We’re just friends.  Not even that, really, I don’t think.”

“We’ll see what I see in the future.  What do you want, Mother, because I know you want something.  You wouldn’t have resurrected me without some horrible request.”

“We need you to hunt Lucifer for us.”

“Lucifer?  Oh, heh.  Sure.  I’ll get right on that.”

“He’s loose in time.  It’s kind of your area of expertise, I figured?  Go with a pro!”

“And what would I do if I found him?”

“You’d come get me, and I would deal with him.”  Dean was cold and exhausted and he had no pinky and the place where his pinky had been was throbbing and bleeding.  He wanted to just cut through the crap, get Chronos on board, get healed, and sleep for another 3 weeks.

“Because you were so effective against him the last time?”  Chronos snorted.

“Things are different now, Chronos.”  Upon hearing Jovi speak, Chronos peered at Dean through narrowed eyes as if trying to discern his nature.  

Chronos burst into laughter when he realized.  “You have got to be freaking kidding me.”

“No joke.”

“Thanks, but no.  I will fix the damage he causes in time, inasmuch as I can, no promises, no guarantees, but Lucifer and I are two ships, passing in the night.  As are we.  Farewell, Mom.  And thanks for my existence back.”  And with that, he vanished.

“Well, I guess that didn’t exactly work out.”

Jovi sighed and looked defeated.  “We used to have a thing.  It’s complicated.”

Dean felt the rage flare up again and he almost called her a whore before he stopped himself.  Jealous, so jealous.  “He was your ace in the hole, Jovi.  So now what?”  

“We can bind him.  We can make him.  But not tonight.   I need rest, and so do you.”

Before Dean could protest, before he could mention anything about trying again or pizza, he had been dropped off unceremoniously like a package outside the bunker and Jovi was nowhere to be found.

**********************

Oriphiel had nearly worn a hole in the carpeting from pacing.  He had wanted to go, asked to go, begged and pleaded to go but she wouldn’t have him.  Said he’d be a distraction and ordered him, ordered HIM to stay behind.   The only one that was on her side.  When she appeared the feeling of relief was so great that he felt tears pepper his eyes.  No crying, not now.  Not again.  She needed for him to be strong.  She was so sick and weak and fragile.  He swallowed hard, twice, and was infinitely thankful when his emotions fell into line with his intentions.

Her arm was gone.  She had warned him that she might be missing a piece when she came back but she’d made it sound like nothing, like the tip of a finger, her eyelashes perhaps.  But her arm was GONE.  Oriphiel knew that Dean Winchester, given the state he was in, could not have sacrificed so much, that it hadn’t been 50-50 like Sam had promised.  And as he drew her a bath and made her warm milk flavored with vanilla beans and cinnamon and just a hint of orange peel, he fantasized about all the different ways he could kill Dean.  

Today had been a missed opportunity.  Dean had been so weak, if Oriphiel had only been left alone with him for a mere moment, a pillow to the face could have done, but he knew that if he committed the murder in anything less than the most final and magical way, that Jovi would simply resurrect Dean once again and be made even weaker for having done so.  He needed a way to kill a god and a way to make it permanent.  

Patience, patience.

She came to him then, wrapped in a fluffy crimson robe, her hair damp and curling.  She looked beautiful, she always looked beautiful.   He thought for the seven-millionth time that Dean was a fool.  He took her arm, her upper arm, since that was all that was left, and gazed at it.  He thought for a long moment about what it had looked like, the rest of it, freckles and pores and a faint layer of soft fuzz.  A hand with five slim fingers attached.  He imagined what it felt like to wrap his own fingers around her delicate wrist.  He knew as if it was his own arm by then; even better, for what sort of tosser sat around gazing at their own arm well enough to memorize the bloody thing?  

It took him a great effort but he managed to regrow that lovely arm once again and when he had, she laid the warm palm against his cheek in appreciation and he asked a very stupid question.  “Do you love me?”

As the words escaped his lips he knew he’d made a mistake and longed to call the words back or perhaps to douse himself with gasoline and light a match before she could respond.  “I love everything I ever created, silly.”  His guts twisted and his heart ached as if she had squeezed it like it was a damp sponge, as if she had wrung it entirely dry.    He willed his face to stay still and not move, not one little bit, other than a faint smile about his lips, pretending as if that terrible reply had been in any way enough to satisfy him.

Dean had to die.  It was just that simple.  

*********************

Once the object was safely hidden away under Sam’s bed in the bunker he had Castiel help him cast a spell that would hide it interdimensionally as well so no one would sense it was there.  All good.  But then after the spell was done, Castiel got weird about it.  “But…but Sam…I don’t want to kill Dean.”

Sam sighed.   Sometimes it was as if Castiel was being deliberately dense instead of just his normal level of accidental denseness.  Some of the angels could understand things like schemes and gambits and ploys – Gabriel was a master of the art – but Castiel seemed to have a giant black hole where his conspiracy center was located.  The plan was necessary.  The plan was obvious.  The plan should not need to be explained.  We hold this plan to be self-evident.  It was like, super annoying, because the more they talked about it, the likelier it was that Dean would overhear them and then all would be lost.  Or that Jovi would overhear them and then all would be awkward.  Sam needed Castiel to just understand something intuitively for once and get on board without having to have it explained to him repeatedly in exhausting detail as if he was a retarded squirrel that spoke only Japanese.

Dean having been out of commission for the past few weeks had been, for lack of a better term, a Godsend as far as Sam was concerned.  He’d been worried out of his skull, of course, so worried, but the upside was that he’d had a lot of free time unsupervised by either God to track down one of the ancient weapons rumored to kill deities.  During Dean’s absence and Jovi’s distraction over Dean’s absence, he and Cas had procured a certain mystical device without ever talking openly about it, operating almost as if they were connected psychically.  As if, had either one of them spoken the words, the magic would have dissipated, their silent pact would have been shattered, they’d have gotten cold feet and refused to consider what felt more and more to Sam to be inevitable.

Or so Sam had thought, but Castiel was blinking that confused vacant blink of his.  Really.  Really?  Now that both Gods were back in the game and ostensibly paying attention, apparently now he wanted to debate the necessity?   Loudly?  Sam sometimes wondered whose side Castiel was really on.  “It’s just a backup plan, Cas, that’s all.”

“But I don’t WANT to kill Dean, Sam.”

Sam gave Castiel a look, the kind of look that any human would have immediately comprehended.  It was the kind of look that was meant to communicate volumes without speaking.   He willed Castiel to fall into line without any further discussion that Dean or Jovi might overhear and tried to keep his own words as cryptic as he possibly could just in case any holy ears were tipped his way.  “That’s not…that’s not what we’re doing here, Cas.  Right?  You understand that, right?  That is not.  What we are doing.  We aren’t…Dean?  No. This is just…worst case scenario, that’s all.  Nuclear option.  If all other options have been exhausted, there’s this.  In the one in a million chance…one in a trillion chance it comes down to it, we’ll have this in our back pocket.”

But Castiel was apparently unable to understand the intent behind Sam’s expression.  “I won’t kill Dean, Sam.  I will not do it.”

Agh, he would not stop saying it!  Sam sighed and figured it was too late anyway.  The words had been uttered and anyone who had been listening already knew.  He stared at the ceiling a moment before meeting his friend’s eyes.  “Who says it’s meant for Dean?”

“Oh…OH!”  Castiel’s eyes went wide.  Finally he got it.   Geez.  It was so obvious – they simply had to be prepared to kill Jovi if need be.  Not like he wanted to, he didn’t, but maybe they needed to.  To Sam’s way of thinking, Jovi was the problem, so killing her very well may be the solution at some point.  At least having the ability, if they needed to.  It was like a check and balance, that was all.

“It’s just a backup plan, Cas, that’s all.  Just in case.”  Sam sucked in a breath, preparing for an argument, readying the list of indisputable, anti-Jovi facts and figures he had ever ready on the tip of his brain.  “I mean, we’d be stupid not to be prepared, all things considered.  Knowing what we know…about history, and in light of, the dangles, and everything…I mean, things just aren’t right, Cas, you know it and I know it.  Making angels out of demons is not right.  Things as they are, are not RIGHT.”

“You’re right, things aren’t right, but…but…Sam…”

“Now maybe they can go on this way, and maybe things will be ok, and maybe everything will work out in the end, happily ever after just like we all want here, and of course we all hope for that, of course we do, but knowing what we know, given her mysterious ways and everything, we’d be stupid not to be, you know, I don’t know, prepared.”  Sam had the vague impression he was talking too much and too fast and was repeating himself in a pretty unconvincing manner but couldn’t stop himself, he had to make Castiel see reason.  “I mean, it’s entirely possible that she could be working with Lucifer, Cas, entirely possible!  And even if she’s not, I mean, come on, she’s not exactly the most balanced entity we know, and Dean…well, we can’t rely on Dean to do what needs to be done, if it comes down to that.”

Much to Sam’s relief, Castiel didn’t put up a fight.  He simply nodded solemnly.  “Only if we need to.  Only if we absolutely NEED to.”

“We will probably never need to though.  For reals.”

“Probably never.  Of course probably never.”

“Just a backup plan.  That’s all.”

“A backup plan.”  Sam willed Castiel to stop talking about it.  “I have to think for a while.”  The angel blinked a few more times and disappeared, and while Sam didn’t think it had gone entirely well, it could have been worse.  Castiel could have refused outright and Sam could be in it alone, trying to save his brother singlehandedly yet again.

************************

After another few days in bed eating anything that wasn’t nailed down, Dean started feeling better.   He was sort of surprised that Jovi hadn’t called, or swung by to check on him, to make sure his pinky had grown back again the right way.  The more he thought about it, the more outrageous it seemed that she hadn’t even bothered to check up on him, to see if he needed to be healed, to see if he needed any help learning to use his powers, since Lucifer was on the loose and all.  It was like she didn’t even care about him.  Well, screw her, and so he decided to get out of the bunker and get some fresh air.

Dean didn’t sneak.  So he wasn’t sneaking.  He was just walking, strolling, meandering, really, on the totally public lands that just so happened to lie just outside of the grounds of Jovi’s castle.  He wished she didn’t have a castle; it seemed so silly for her to live in a castle, juvenile and all that. God shouldn’t live in a house, of course, it was beneath the dignity of the title – “Oh I’m going over to God’s house to borrow a cup of sugar”, that just didn’t work – but a castle just seemed so over the top.  Now, he thought he might want some sort of a castle-ish-structure of his own eventually, but a more tasteful one. More like, a compound, or, or, a fortress. Maybe a lodge.  Jovi’s castle was a castle castle, all froufrou and princessy.  It was made of pink marble and looked like something Barbie or Strawberry Shortcake might live in.   Dean’s fortress would be solemn and Germanic and dark and respectable, like the castle of a guy who could get some crap done.

Extending out from Jovi’s castle ran an elaborate system of landscaped grounds, and Dean felt annoyance to see that she had been wasting time and energy on gardening when she should have been helping him, or else resting.  Being God seemed way too much about her sometimes. Yeah, sure, ok, when he had first gotten his powers he had effed around with them and screwed off with the gambling and stuff but that was understandable, anybody would’ve needed to to play around with that kind of thing at first, to get it out of their system.  But she’d been God for like, ever, since the very beginning, you’d think she would have been used to it by that point and known that defeating Lucifer was more important than having a nice yard.

Dean felt a pop, like when you yawn on a plane and the pressure in your ears releases, only this feeling wasn’t just in his ears, it was in his whole body.  A tension outside of him formed suddenly and released. And it wasn’t a good feeling or a relief, this was a pop of badness. Something that hadn’t been there before, was there, and it was an unpleasant something.   A demon, maybe or, or…Actually Dean realized with a start that he knew exactly what it was, or who. Lucifer was there, somewhere nearby, he must’ve come in from whereever in history he’d been hiding out in. And where had he come, but here, to Jovi.  Of course. Dean hesitated, knowing he didn’t have but a fraction of his strength back, knowing that what he really ought to do was run away, but he simply had to know what was going on. Because it was obvious they were plotting against him, Lucifer and Jovi were, meeting up to talk and plan and scheme and God only knows what else, only God didn’t know what else.  Talking, talking about him no doubt, laughing behind his back and making plans on how best to wipe him off the map.

That was the original assumption, anyway, but much to his surprise, he came upon Lucifer doing pretty much the same thing he had just been doing.   Lurking. Well, Dean hadn’t been lurking, but that’s what Lucifer was doing. Lurking in the bushes like the snake he was. Apparently even though Dean really tried to keep quiet like an Indian scout Lucifer already knew he was there the whole time.  Because as Dean crept up behind him, he spoke without even looking Dean’s way, just kept staring at Jovi’s castle the entire time. “You know, there are flowers in that garden that are unseen by the human eye, that no human has ever seen or ever will see.  There are fruits no one will taste and fragrances that none shall ever smell.”

“You don’t say.”

“Some of her creations only last for a day, an hour…she tries them to see if she likes them, and if she doesn’t, she destroys them.  It seems a little unfair, doesn’t it?”

“How so?”

“Why does she get to decide what things live and what things die?  Why does she get to decide that there should be beauty in the world that no eyes shall ever get see but her own?”

Dean thought about his dodo project with irritation.  Why did she, anyway?  “Somebody has to, right?  I mean, doesn’t there have to be some kind of…vetting process?”

“You haven’t even walked with her in the garden.  You haven’t seen what I’ve seen.”

“Maybe not, but I guess she has a good reason why she does things the way she does them.”  Dean certainly hoped that this was the case.

“She doesn’t though.  That’s the thing. She just gets off on it.  She creates beauty, she creates love and light, she gets you hooked on it, and then she takes it away.  She’s like a drug dealer. She gets you addicted to her gifts but it’s all just to control you. If you don’t toe the line, she’ll take it away.  It happened to me and it will happen to you, too, mark my words.”

“You know how I can tell you’re lying, Lucifer?  Your lips are moving.”

“I used to be her favorite, don’t forget that.  And look where it got me.”

“Things are different now.”

“I know, and…heh.  I must admit that was a twist I did not see coming.   But there’s a failsafe somewhere, I assure you. A back door.  An escape hatch. She can destroy you. She wouldn’t have created you if she didn’t have a way to destroy you.”

“She doesn’t have a way to destroy you.”

“Are you sure?  I’m not.”

“What do you…what do you mean?”

“Haven’t you ever wondered, Dean?  Why does God simply not destroy Lucifer?  The humans have been wondering that for ages.  I’ve been wondering, for ages. And the answer is, the only possible answer is, she doesn’t wanna.  I still serve some purpose for her, so she allows me to live, to plot and scheme and feel like I’m even making some progress sometimes, but all along she has her finger on the button that could end me. Have no doubt of that. I exist because she allows me to.”

Even though Dean knew that Lucifer was a master manipulator, THE Master Manipulator, he could feel those words buzzing hot as they entered his ears, echoing inside the arched, empty halls of his already troubled mind.  “Maybe she created me to destroy you.” Take THAT.

“Maybe she allows me to live to destroy YOU.”

“That doesn’t even make any sense.”

“Doesn’t it?”  Dean turned it around in his head and it didn’t make sense, naturally it didn’t, since Lucifer had been around for thousands of years and Dean had just been created but the whole thing with Lucifer was, even when you knew what he was saying was 100% pure unadulterated BS it still gave you second thoughts, and third ones too sometimes.  ‘“Time paradoxes can be a real bitch sometimes, can’t they?” Dean pondered the implications of that cryptic statement while Lucifer peered at him with his hooded eyes. “I couldn’t help but notice you’re looking a little…worn out, Dad. Frayed around the edges. Have you been burning the candle at both ends?” Lucifer grinned and Dean had the chilling thought that since Lucifer had been traveling through time, for all Dean knew he had been gone a hundred million years and eaten all the lesser gods and that the only reason why they were even having this conversation was because Lucifer was toying with him before he ate him, too, like a cat with a mouse.

“Yeah, I been working too hard.  But it doesn’t mean I don’t have enough left in me to end you.”

“Augh, that’s so tempting.   Even if I don’t win this time, and I’ll admit I probably won’t, not yet, I’d so love to take a nice juicy bite out of you.”

Dean grinned challengingly but the hackles on his neck were standing at full attention.  He had brought an angel blade, of course, he wasn’t a complete moron, but Lucifer could only be killed by an archangel blade.  Dean hadn’t trusted himself to bring one of those in case he ran into Crowley and his borderline uncontrollable jealousy issue flared up again.  He had enough of his glory back to finish off a darkangel, he was pretty sure; the darkangels didn’t seem to have quite as much oomph as the archangels and they had practically nothing compared to the massive power of Lucifer.  But if he did it, if he fed Crowley an archangel blade point first down his fat freaking face, then Jovi would get all pissy and it would be this big freaking thing.  So he had left the archangel blade back at home in a trunk under his bed because stabbing Crowley seemed like a crime he would enjoy committing in a moment of weakness. “The feeling is mutual.” He’d only be able to fight Lucifer using whatever scraps of power he could scrounge up and his limited skill with the angel blade.  But what could he do, back down now? That would only encourage Lucifer; would send a message that it was possible to psych him out, to bully him. Then it would never stop till one of them was dead. “Ok.”

“Are you saying we should try this?”

“Sure, why not?”

“Because I’m gonna beat you like I beat you the last time.”

“Well, I’m gonna make you wish you were still a snake.”

“That’s actually a common misconception.  I was never a snake. The snake worked for me.  As an employee. And it wasn’t an apple, either, by the way, it was a pomegranate.  Haven’t you ever read a book? Are you illiterate or simply slow witted?”

Dean punched him in the face, his fist imbued with glory, and was greatly satisfied to feel a crunch of cartilage as the fallen angel’s nose broke.  They exchanged a few blows and Dean was pleased to see he was at least holding his own or maybe even better, the way Lucifer’s head snapped back hard when he made contact.  He was stronger yet. But fatigue was already settling in, he could feel it, the way his bones shook every time Lucifer hit him. And not even the bones where Lucifer was hitting him, all his bones right down to his little baby toes reverberated with every strike.  Sometimes he had dreams where he’d have to jump from a cliff or a really tall building and when he’d land his whole body would vibrate with the impact and that was exactly the feeling he was getting right now from Lucifer’s fists. Only way, way realer.

Lucifer managed to get in a couple body shots to his flank and then an uppercut that really rang his bell and Dean went from feeling ok with the way things were going to realizing that he better get his ass out of Dodge sooner rather than later.  But how? Lucifer would just follow him wherever he went and then whoever was where he fled to would be in danger too. Sam, or Jovi. Jovi, or Sam. Where to go? Jovi, at least, had a chance of defending herself, but Dean had a sneaking suspicion that Lucifer would enjoy hurting Jovi even more than he enjoyed hurting Sam.  Then there was the whole “former vessel” thing and Lucifer might be able to worm his way back into Sam’s head again if he got too close.

He was just about ready to flip a damn coin when Chronos, of all the unexpected saviors, appeared behind Lucifer and grabbed him in a headlock.  Dean saw a red glow come from the godlet and realized that Chronos was draining time itself away from Lucifer, attempting to give Dean a head start. He hesitated because he knew that it was probably a death sentence to leave the poor guy there locked up with Lucifer and just like with most of the lesser gods Dean had encountered, he hadn’t been entirely bad, at least, not pure evil like Lucifer was.  He was just a morally ambivalent predator born to hunt humans and he couldn’t help that. Plus, he’d been made out of Dean’s pinky and all, so he felt a little protective. But Chronos urged him on. “If you don’t go right now, you’re not gonna like the future!”

And that was all the encouragement Dean needed.  He was gone like a shot back to the bunker and while he felt terrible since he was abandoning the demigod to certain death and an unpleasant stint inside of Lucifer’s belly he didn’t want the sacrifice to have been for nothing.

 

 

 

    

 

    

 

Don’t have a mob, man!

Don’t have a mob, man!

I haven’t watched The Simpsons in years, but it used to be among my fave shows ever.  One of the things I like best about the show is how it perfectly illustrates out the madness of crowds.  From Snake Whacking Day to Homer being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, I’d go so far as to call that one of the overarching themes of the show.  Irrational mobs form at the power plant, on the playground, at church. Groupthink infests the police department and the Mafia alike. The crazed populace calls both for the saving of Timmy O’Toole from an old well at any cost and the firing of Principal Skinner at Timmy’s behest, and later the abandonment of Bart down the same well when it turned out that Timmy didn’t actually exist.

These episodes take one of two forms.  Somebody – usually Bart or Homer – does something stupid and even though they’ve learned their lesson, the reaction that follows is so heavy-handed and/or ridiculous that in the end the townsfolk themselves become the bad guys.  Or, succumbing to mob-fueled hysteria, the majority makes an idiotic short-sighted decision leaving everyone living with legalized gambling or a Monorail or no television violence or a bear tax or a mass deportation of immigrants to justify the expense of the bear tax.

Even more than Mr. Burns, torch-bearing mobs are the archnemesis of the people of Springfield.

No one is immune from the temptation.  While often Marge is the sole voice of reason in the crowd, other times she’s carrying the biggest torch of all.  Lisa is usually sensible, but even she can fall under the mob’s spell, putting her personal politics and philosophy above her normal reticence to join the feeding frenzy.   In their finest episodes, The Simpsons perfectly demonstrates how sometimes the mob may be right, but they’re still a freaking mob, and that everyone is vulnerable to become not only victim but villain, because we all feel so darn justified.

The Simpsons as it was, would have been the ideal show to tackle the issue of Apu and political correctness thoughtfully.  https://newrepublic.com/article/147980/epiphany-problem-apu-simpsons  

But The Simpsons hasn’t been “The Simpsons” for ages.  So when it comes to Apu, they basically shrugged their shoulders and said “It is what it is”, an approach that satisfied no one.  I can’t really even blame them since I suspect the reason they did things that way was because they were scared to make an attempt at being thoughtful and risk missing the mark completely.

Because mobs are scary.  There’s probably something innate in us that fears a mob and rightfully so.  Most of the evil that humanity has done was at the hands of a big group of people utterly convinced they were doing the right thing.  The mob is justified, surely; if it wasn’t, would there be so many people in it?  No one ever rode out into the dark of night on a mission to destroy thinking that they were wrong and the person they were going out to get was an innocent victim.  They rode out thinking “These people are bad people, sinners, rule-breakers, criminals, degenerates, possibly inhuman, and we have to GET the bad people.” Mobs are willing to punish transgressors at any cost.  Any cost to the transgressors, not to the mob, of course. Mobs are willing to sacrifice anyone and anything to achieve their desired result, as long as it is the other guys.   

And just like Lisa and Marge, even though we’re mostly noble, mostly good-hearted, we remain forever susceptible to getting sucked up into the torch and pitchfork mentality, especially when the people who are the “bad people” are those we actually think ARE the bad people.  

I don’t like it that the character of Apu has ever made anyone feel upset, offended, hurt, or angry.   I understand completely why people feel that way. I even remember the first time I noticed Apu and I was uncomfortable from minute one with the way he was portrayed.  But nowadays I mostly feel like Lisa, looking at an awful lot of people and thinking, “yes, you’re right, these people made a stupid mistake, they’re wrong and you’re right, but you guys are a freaking mob here”.  Yet it feels safer to say nothing, to let the mob do what they’re gonna do, as long as it isn’t me. It’s easier to just stay a face in the crowd. I mean, it’s just a dumb cartoon, is it really that big a deal?

But people burn books, don’t they – and for far less noble reasons.  “As long as it isn’t me” and “is it really that big a deal” is what gives the mob its power. It the nature of the mob to force complicity on us all, to silence our consciences, to make us hold our tongues over the small things and then when the big things start happening, it’s too late.   

When the torches and pitchforks come out, the mob-ers become worse than the mob-ees and it doesn’t matter how stupid or wrong someone was to begin with.   The mob is worse. It doesn’t matter if Bart cut off the head of Jebediah Springfield, it doesn’t matter if there is child-harming violence on the Itchy and Scratchy show, and it doesn’t matter that Apu started off as a terrible stereotype and is voiced by a white actor.  All the foibles and failings that humans have, the shitty things that people do to each other and say to each other – the mob is ALWAYS worse. Because the mob thinks like a mob and acts like a mob and mobs are irrational and insane and they always go too far and yet the people within them still have all the same foibles and failings and willingness to do shitty things to one another that they had to begin with.  

You can’t reason with a mob because when you try, they turn on you, and each other, and everyone in their line of sight. And it’s so easy for even the very best of us to get caught up in them, let alone the very worst of us, who often seem to find their natural homes in the center of a large and angry horde.  Mobs are like a force of nature, an avalanche or a wildfire or or a mudslide.  Once they get going, they destroy everything in their paths until a rainstorm or a flat piece of land eventually stops them.  Only inertia + time stops a mob, so it’s better to never create one. I can think of no other show but The Simpsons that has portrayed this truth so accurately.  

It feels both ironic and inevitable that The Simpsons was attacked by a PC mob.  Well meaning, well-intentioned, thinking, no doubt, of the children. And they’re totally right. The mob is right. The people who created the character of Apu were stupid and wrong. Full stop.  There’s no defense. But I don’t like this world we’re creating where idiots (and we are ALL idiots on occasion) no longer have a little wiggle room to be mistaken without risking having the mob grab them by the scruff of the neck and rub their nose in their transgression like they’re a naughty puppy, then punish them for it in perpetuity.

Our world these days is looking an awful lot like Springfield; every day someone new is in the hot seat and the mob already has their pitchforks sharpened.  I don’t like this world. In the words of Stephen Hawking voicing himself on The Simpsons “This utopia you’re creating is a lot more like a Fruitopia”.

Paradise on earth is not an option; no matter how many folks get strung up, we will always have to negotiate a world in which people are idiots and do and say the wrong thing.  We can’t control that. All we can ever control is our response to that. We can form a mob or we can choose tolerance and understanding, if for no better reason than that next time, it could be us.  It’s time to put our torches and pitchforks away because even when the mob is right, it’s wrong.

  

 

   

Toys don’t make the girl

Toys don’t make the girl

Came across this article of in my online journeys yesterday.  http://www.womenyoushouldknow.net/how-ive-failed-my-daughter-and-how-you-may-be-failing-yours/

Short version – a guy mansplains to women about how he’s failed his 2 year old daughter by giving her too many pink girly toys and how she’ll probably never excel at STEM because of it, or something, and extols women not to make the same irrevocable mistake he did.  He describes the toys he and his brothers played with – blocks, planes, trains, dinosaurs, and so forth, as superior to the princess and home economics toys that his daughter’s been playing with.

I will set aside the extremely sexist aspect of portraying traditional female endeavors as being in some way of less value than men stuff for the purposes of this piece (but yuk).

Dude, she’s TWO.  The idea that children are somehow ruined forever by toy availability at age two has no basis in reality.  Truth – kids used to have few toys of any type, and yet somehow they grew up and found employment in the world despite having not played with the junior trainer version of their future career.  And the idea that if a child haven’t been exposed to computer science prior to potty training they’ll never excel at it is nonsensical. If that were true, please explain Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.  Explain James Watt and Alexander Graham Bell and Marie Curie and any other person who came of age prior to a technology being invented, who then later went on to invent or develop that technology. Consider Albert Einstein – my God, he was never allowed to play with tiny replicas of energy, mass, and the speed of light as a boy!  The deprivation!

But let’s set that glaring logical error aside to focus solely on the author’s claim – that his daughter gravitates towards things like baby strollers and toy vacuums simply because they’re there and if only she’d been given an Erector Set instead she’d be making scale replicas of the Eiffel Tower instead (dude, seriously, she’s TWO!)

I have been given a unique opportunity to run a real life experiment that could prove or debunk the author’s claims.  I raised sons for 21 years before finally having a daughter. Our home is full of blocks and Legos and dinosaurs and Nerf guns and Millennium Falcons accumulated over 2 decades of boys.  We own roughly 700 toy swords and at least that many balls of various shapes and sizes and bounceability. And because we had so many toys already, we did not buy our daughter many toys until very recently (she’s almost 6 now).  So up until the age of three, she had access to primarily boy toys with only few exceptions. Since she’s our 5th child, we are pretty set in our ways as parents, so very little has changed with our parenting style.  She doesn’t go to preschool and plays almost exclusively with boys. Oh, and we also don’t have subscription television so she sees very few toy-themed commercials and watches mostly boy shows since that’s what her brothers like.

In short, if environment makes girly-girls, we’re going all in towards making a tomboy.

At first, we saw little difference between our daughter and our boys.  She roughhoused enthusiastically with the boys and drove Tonkas and learned to ride a very small boys’ bike with maniacal daring.  My husband spent hours showing her girls playing sports and drums and building robots on YouTube. We sometimes watch women’s MMA together as a family (yes, we’re those people). The only difference that we noticed at first was that she was really, really interested in animals.   But we chalked that up to an individual quirk, not gender related. All kids like animals. She did talk earlier, but of course that’s something proven by science and she was also surrounded by people talking to her all day, so we attributed that as having been expected.

Somewhere along the way, I had a acquired a boy doll that my sons had mostly used to club each other over the head.    One day, she brought it to me and said “Look Mommy, look at my baby! Isn’t he cute! Look at his bright smile!” And I paused for a moment, because never in all my parenting years have any of my sons used the expression “bright smile” and it was just downright weird hearing it coming from a 3 year old.  

Thus began The Baby Phase.  My daughter is quite frankly obsessed with babies.  I don’t use the term lightly. She can spot a baby’s head the size of a postage stamp a football field away.  Just like animals, all kids like babies, but my daughter is obsessed with babies. She talks about babies 20 times a day.  It doesn’t come from us. I never talked about babies with her any more than I did with my sons. If anything, my husband has been discouraging about the babycession – he’s not negative or unkind, but he’ll tell her “I’m not interested in babies right now” and try to redirect her to something else.  But it just keeps going and going. It’s coming entirely from her.

But that’s just one thing, right?  Wait, there’s more.

For her 4th birthday, she received a purse and some chapstick.  She immediately put the chapstick into the purse and insists on carrying the purse everywhere we go.  I don’t even own a purse. Therefore, she has never seen me put chapstick IN a purse. How did she know how to do that??  I have no idea.

She is constantly complimenting my appearance and my husband’s appearance.  None of my boys ever did that. She will ask my husband to compliment her appearance –  “Don’t I look pretty today, Daddy?” We don’t encourage this and try to stay very neutral about it (I actually had to force my husband to validate her against his will out of fear that his lack of enthusiasm would harm her self-esteem) but nevertheless, she persists.  None of my sons has ever complimented my appearance, certainly not my husband’s, and have never once asked me if they looked attractive – despite the fact that I lavished them with remarks about how cute they are just the same as I do with her.

She will also make envious remarks about clothing she sees me wearing and outfits that are on television.  She assumes that I am equally jealous of her and will occasionally ask me if I’m jealous of her shirt or dress.  She notices things like matching shirts and pants and will deliberately pick shoes or a barrette that is the same color as her clothing.  The first time she saw a pair of high heels (in an ad on Facebook and without feet of either gender in them) she gasped with delight – and I don’t wear high heels.  It’s all very peculiar.  I recall an event that occurred when I worked as an assistant in a day care when my oldest sons were small. I had two similar shirts that were different colors, and I walked in to work one day wearing one of them, when I’d worn the other the day before.  One of the little girls gave me a puzzled look and said “You just wore that shirt yesterday!!” I laughed at the time because I doubted my sons would notice if I wore the same outfit for a month straight. My daughter would totally spot that fashion faux pas.

She also used to take my pots and pans and filled them with Legos to make soup (I’m sure she still would, but my husband got her a kitchen set for her very own).  She takes my broom and sweeps the floor and pretends to do the laundry as well. Now, in this case, my boys did stuff like that too. Maybe not as often or as emphatically, but they did it, despite not having a kitchen set or a glittering pink and purple broom set for their very own.  The point is not that this type of play is a girl thing per se, but that kids play like this regardless of whether or not they have access to toy versions of stereotypical women’s work toys.

I’m not saying that chapstick, purses, and heels are genetic, not at all.  But for some reason I feel that my daughter has an affinity for those things that cannot be explained by her environment.  I don’t carry a purse, I don’t wear heels, my husband is a mechanic and there are tools lying around everywhere, she has 4 brothers, she doesn’t watch girly TV or have girly toys.  Why is she attracted to things like that? Who knows, but I can assure the author of this piece that whatever toys he’s providing to his daughter, she is who she is, her interests lie where they lie, and I suggest that parents simply enjoy the ride because it all goes by too darn fast as it is.

We need to talk about Kevin

We need to talk about Kevin

I have a dark confession to make.  I like Kevin D. Williamson.

Dude is like Wolverine, he’s the best there is at what he does.  I don’t always agree with him or even close to it, but I have never clicked away from one of his essays without thinking about something in a brand new way, entertaining notions that are foreign and even a little bit painful to contemplate.   Even when he’s dead wrong, even when I disagree with him to the verge of coronary thrombosis, my brain is forced to assume positions it would never take on its own – and I love it. Thinking about things I think I have all figured out from a new angle feels like working out to me.  It may hurt when my carefully-considered beliefs are shredded, but when I put it all back together again, I’m stronger for the experience.

Sometimes (many times) Williamson’s compulsion to prod vigorously at the forbidden buttons manifests itself in an unpleasant, offensive way, and we’ve seen several examples https://newrepublic.com/article/147667/conservative-columnist-conundrum of that recently.  But the role of iconoclast requires the tearing down of things that other people prefer intact. It requires a willingness to challenge conclusions that other people consider foregone. If Kevin Williamson always toed the line and simply retyped that old script we’ve read 1000 times before, he wouldn’t be nearly as effective at provoking thought.

He may be gross and wrong (some times) but least he’s putting it out there, lumps and all, without equivocation, without pulling his punches and mincing his words.  I admire him for that. Kevin Williamson embodies something very rare – the person willing to lay it on the line and say with complete honesty “this is what I think, take it or leave it.”   

Well, the Atlantic has apparently decided to leave it, instead.  He’s been fired after one piece https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/04/defused/556934/

I think it’s a shame.  I find it an unfortunate reflection upon us as a culture, that some find it acceptable for gangs of roving online busybodies to intimidate independent organizations into firing people.  I find it a discouraging statement upon the condition of liberalism – having a man fired for his political opinions is utterly illiberal and it’s even more utterlier illiberal when the man in question is a journalist.  And I find it downright disheartening because of what it says about overall health of journalism itself, that any self-described journalist like Jessica Valenti (who led the charge against Williamson) and other writers would form a mob to go after one of their fellows.  

The worst part of it is, it’s all just so pointless.  There is no valid reason to get Kevin Williamson fired.  He said some reprehensible things. Yep indeedy-do.

So?  

If the Jessica Valentis of the world are correct and Kevin Williamson is little more than a troll and a troglodyte, then what?  Worst case scenario? If he keeps his job, where’s the threat? If he’s just a neckbearded creep (his neck IS rather spectacularly bearded) who has nothing of value to add to the debate, why go after him so hard?  Why betray the fundamental principles that underlie both liberalism and journalism over a guy who is no more than a pot-stirrer? Why not bide your time and let him fall flat on his face?

Because he will screw up eventually, they always do.  Let him make an Eichenwaldian ass of himself on social media, let him write unsavory pieces full of hyperbole that no one takes seriously until he is fired for cause, actual cause, and is replaced with someone more palatable.  It makes far more sense to simply get out of the way and let him fail spectacularly all on his own, than to churn up this huge brouhaha that garners Mr. Kevin D. Williamson more media exposure than he’s ever had in his life while simultaneously proving the worst stereotypes about the “liberal” media true.   

I suspect what is really going on is a little more like this – Kevin Williamson is an excellent writer.   Even Ta-Nahesi Coates said so http://thefederalist.com/2018/03/28/ta-nehisi-coates-gives-atlantic-hire-kevin-williamson-props-for-writing/  Maybe he’s just a little TOO good.  A little too persuasive. A little too thoughtful.  I think Williamson is the type of conservative that many on the left hate – a smart one.  They’re much more comfortable with conservatives as old fuddyduddy bow-tie-wearers out of touch with the modern world, or monosyllabic neo-Nazis slithering out from under some slime-covered rock.  These foes are easily defeatable because they’re already marginalized and irrelevant. But a guy who can turn a phrase and make a reasonable case may not be so easy to disregard, even if he does use inflammatory rhetoric now and again.  A guy like that could change some minds. So maybe he’s gotta go before he can.

If you’re in charge of the world – cause honestly it’s not looking good for the kind of conservolibertarianism that Kevin Williamson espouses; Jessicavalentiism is much more likely to be our future – if you and the people like you are already in charge of the whole wide world then why would you be so scared of some bald douche?  Why would professional journalists sit around wasting their time plotting to get him and his little dog, too? That doesn’t seem like a position of strength to me. If Kevin’s ideas are so beyond the pale, well take him on, chica.

Writer vs. writer.  Philosophy vs. philosophy.  Come on, bring the heat! Knock him out of the ballpark.  Take that rage and turn it into a kickass thinkpiece. I may only be an amateur journo, but I thought that was how the whole “writing to persuade” thing kinda worked.  Ya study the facts, ya build a case, ya publish it. If somebody else does the same and takes an opposite tack, then you write another piece refuting it. As many pieces as it takes, because you are writing not for your own gratification but to persuade your readers.  Persuasion involves circumventing every possible objection, slapping away every counterargument, hunting down every angle and beating it bloody to make your case. You do not persuade readers by sticking your fingers in your ears and saying “la, la, la I can’t hear you.”  Journalism is not about YOU, the writer, it is not about you having happy happy joy joy in your place of employ without having to ever hear or read anything you disagree with. It’s about your readers and persuading them, and disqualifying other writers from doing the same, on a technicality, is cheating.   

Having to rise to the occasion and respond to what someone who completely disagrees with you wrote is an important part of improving as a writer (and every truly dedicated writer knows that they desperately need improvement).  One of the best pieces I ever did https://atomicfeminist.com/2017/10/25/hit-the-road-joad/ was in large part because I was super pissed at Kevin Williamson.   It made me better because I disagreed with him so strongly. Hearing arguments that made me furious inspired me to want to destroy those arguments.  (not the man, the argument.) I cannot imagine even WANTING to avoid hearing contrary opinions, for “OMG Trump, amiright?????” “I know, totally!” to be the only two acceptable editorial opinions of every news source in America.    

Spending the day Tweeting and fuming https://medium.com/@jessicavalenti/on-the-atlantic-jeffrey-goldberg-and-hiring-men-who-want-women-dead-179254321340 and then going home and crying before deciding to use the bully pulpit of social media to obliterate a political opponent?  Really? Personally, I’d be too humiliated to admit that. I would write 1000 thinkpieces before I’d publicly admit that I launched an online campaign that got a fellow journalist fired.  Do Valenti and Friends fear going head to head with Williamson because they’re afraid they’re going to lose? Have they been writing in an echo chamber so long they’re not really sure they have what it takes to go head to head with someone who disagrees?  Maybe if he had been allowed to write more than one piece, the readers might start to realize, hmm, this guy is somebody I want to read more from, and that could not be allowed. I don’t know.

But I do know this – I don’t respect the way Kevin Williamson got fired from the Atlantic, I don’t respect the people who got him fired, and I don’t respect the people who fired him.

 

   

 

     

Post Dump!

Post Dump!

Haven’t been writing much – at least not publicly; I always write, just wasn’t posting.  To get a post to the point at which I feel it’s worthy to publish takes a lot of time and I haven’t had it to spare.  So I’ve got several posts to put up over the next few days/weeks.

I’ve upgraded the format to hopefully be easier to navigate and I’ll be adding some categories so I can continue to add my musings on various topics without gumming up the works with silly fiction projects like I have been for a while now.   (I will still continue to add silly fiction projects, but that’s not why I started this blog and I don’t want to get sidetracked with things like that.)

Please forgive as some of these will be topics that are a little less than fresh, dating back a few months and aren’t cutting edge current any longer.

 

Supernatural: Manic Pixie God Girl Part 9 – Miracles

Supernatural: Manic Pixie God Girl Part 9 – Miracles

Crowley invited Dean out for a drink that night and Dean, being Dean, said yes.  He would have never admitted it to a blessed soul, but he missed Crowley sometimes.  

What he hadn’t known, when he said yes, was that Jovi was coming too.  Sam, who also hadn’t known that Jovi would be there either since if he had he would have never trusted Dean go it alone, begged off.  He and Castiel had decided to warn as many of the lesser gods as they could track down, that Lucifer was on the hunt.  Or that’s what they said, anyway.  Dean figured that it was most likely all part of their not-so-secret plan to de-God-ify him so he let them alone to pretend like they were accomplishing something.  So he and Bobby found themselves accompanying their frenemies to a dive bar in a place called East Wenatchee that looked as if it hadn’t seen rain for 400 days and 400 nights.  Everything was coated with a thick layer of beige dust and Dean’s beer tasted gritty.  But after the first few drinks he didn’t much care.  

Jovi had done the librarian transformation, taken off the eyeglasses, let her hair down, and was wearing a dress that stopped just above her knee.  It was coral and made of some sort of silky clingy stuff that didn’t leave much to the imagination.  He hated her for that.  It was easy to hate her after learning that Lucifer, who she had created AND freed for some nefarious purpose, had found a way to gain strength and would possibly get strong enough to destroy either or both of them eventually.  He was really regretting the energy he’d expended on resurrections.  Even though he knew he would probably be recovered by the time Lucifer was strong enough to move against him, it was still energy Dean wished he had in reserve.  He was primarily worried about Jovi, now that he fully understood just how much the act of creating him had to have taken out of her.  The idea that someday Lucifer might be strong enough to harm her caused a lump to rise in his throat.  One that was hard to swallow away.   But maybe that was just the grit in his beer.

Instead of enjoying his drink or joining Bobby and Crowley in the game of pool they’d begun to play, he found himself making contingency plans.  He wondered what would happen if he himself started eating the lesser gods – an altogether unappetizing notion – or if he and Jovi just killed them all in one fell swoop to prevent Lucifer from sinking his teeth into them.  But then he thought of the decent lesser gods he had met and calculated the energy it would require for the two of them to do that…probably more than they even had between them…and realized what a stupid idea that was.  Even if she agreed to it, which was unlikely, they’d be very much weakened by the endeavor and Lucifer was already more powerful than ever.  He’d just have to find some other way to get stronger. And more importantly, for Jovi to get her strength back.

She must have known what he was thinking, or at least that he was fretting, she seemed to have the knack of reading people that way.  He didn’t.  Here he was, God, supposed to be like, omniscient and everything, and he still didn’t have a clue what anyone was thinking, her least of all.  “How are you holding up?”  She shimmied her way onto the barstool beside him and her skirt slid up a little.  She had on what his mom had always called panty hose but modern women seemed to refer to as tights.  They were ever so slightly sparkly.  He tried to hang onto his hate but it dissipated.

“Ok.”

“Did you have any questions, maybe, or anything?”  

“Yeah.  Wouldn’t you rather have wine?”  Her little hands were wrapped around a bottle of beer.  Her nails were the exact same shade as her dress.  Dean wondered if she actually had to paint them or if she could just will them to be whatever color she wanted.  Then he wondered if her toenails were painted the same coral color, or a different color, or not at all; her shoes were closed at the toe and didn’t reveal any secrets.  “Seems more Biblical.”

She laughed.  “This vessel isn’t super into wine.  Kind of gives me a headache?”

“It’s the sulfites.”

“Yeah.”  She took a sip of beer.  “But the sulfites are what keep it fresh.  So much of creation is necessary evil.”  During the course of his experiments, Dean had drawn the same conclusion.  A lot of things he had always believed to be universally bad, like mosquitoes and cancer and monogamy, were simply necessities that had to be tolerated for the whole ball of wax to work as well as it did.  He tilted his glass to acknowledge her point.  “I meant, questions about the job, you know.”

He had a thousand questions like are you avoiding me and if so why and why are you making angels out of demons and how do you cut pieces of yourself off to make stuff with does it hurt and how come you never told me we could do that but he tucked them away for another time.  “Why can’t I make things like you do?”

“It’s cause you’re trying to jump in in the middle, Dean.  Not even in the middle.  Hm.  It’s like you’re trying to do professional brain surgery on your first day of medical school.  You might be the most talented surgeon in the whole wide world eventually, after your education and an internship and a residency and 20 years of practice, but you aren’t going to be able to do that on your first day of school.”  

“I know, I know, it took you millions of years to learn to do all this.”

“Trillions, actually.  But don’t be so hard on yourself.  You’re going to outpace me in no time.  I honestly can’t even get over how well you’ve already done.  And all on your own.” 

Dean felt a swell of pride in spite of himself.  “I could go faster if you helped.”

“You probably could, but I didn’t think you were interested in my help.”

“I’m not interested in being your companion.  I’d love your help.”  She looked hurt, then covered it up with a fidget and a smile.  He played it back in his head and realized it sounded too much like a rejection.  It was a rejection, of course, but, but maybe he could have sugar coated it better.  “Hey, uh, look.  Jovi, look, ok?  That’s not…that wasn’t exactly what I meant to say, there.”

“Hey, no, no.  I knew it was a longshot going in.”

God damn it.  Of course she had to be nice about it.  He was such an ass sometimes.  “So am I supposed to be like, answering prayers, or anything?  I been ignoring them up till now, I figured you were handling that part.”

“Prayers are…prayers are tricky, Dean.  Let’s not worry about prayers till we get this whole Lucifer thing sorted out, ok??”

“How come?”

“Well, because it’s not like Publisher’s Clearing House.  There are a lot of things that have to come together where prayers are concerned.  A lot of variables have to be taken into consideration.  You can’t just give everybody 10 million dollars and make all their dreams come true.  Some people will be completely destroyed if their prayer is answered, sometimes when you give one person what they want it makes someone else worse off.  The world is a place of limited resources, and some people have too much already, more than their fair share, and it’s ok to maybe…dial things back for them a little, let somebody else win for a change?  And that’s not even taking into account that every prayer you answer is a piece of your energy that you may need to do something else, something more important, for someone more deserving, the next day.   And even when you think you get it right, it’s all just a drop in the ocean, there’s like a bajillion more prayers the very next day to weed through, and most of them are junk prayers, like about algebra tests and stuff like that.  Why can’t they just study, lazy little jerks?  To be honest with you, I hardly ever answer prayers any more, it’s just too depressing.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Just saying, I done a lot of praying over the years and it doesn’t feel like any of them ever got heard, let alone answered.”

She snorted.  “See, this is exactly what I was talking about with the prayers thing, Dean. People always want more.  And then even when you give it to them they’re all like, ‘Well what about that time in 1982 when I didn’t get the GI Joe under the Christmas tree?’”

“What about that time in 1982 when I didn’t get a GI Joe under the Christmas tree?”

“I made you God, Dean, try to be satisfied with that, would you?”

Crowley showed up then and boy howdy, was Dean ever glad to see him.  “My Lady, wouldst thou favor me with a dance?”

“With pleasure.”  And just like that she was gone.  The conversation he had hoped for, for months, was over, and he didn’t feel it had gone well at all.  Not at all.  He had hurt Jovi’s feelings without even meaning to, and he hadn’t learned a freaking thing.   Dammit.  Dean drained his beer and motioned to the barkeep for another.   Once he got it, he turned around to see what was going on behind him and he very nearly crushed the bottle in his hand.  He actually felt the glass start to flex beneath his fingertips before he stopped himself.  Super strength, dude.  Don’t forget.

Jovi and Crowley were dancing.  It was a slow song.  Love Hurts.  A song he normally liked.  But it was a real slow dance.  Not a polite, keep-your-distance dance between friends or coworkers.  Intimate.  It was a dance that meant something.  Her arms were twined around his neck, her head was resting on his barrel chest, his disgusting British sausage fingers were down there pret-ty darn low on the small of her back and she was leaving the offending hand there and not slapping at it and kneeing him in the nuts like Dean thought that by all rights she ought to be.  And while Dean couldn’t see her face, the look on his, Good God, the expression on that punchable, punchable face was not in any way shape or form angelic.

Of course.  It was obvious.  When women are slumming, going dumpster diving, they don’t do what men do.  They don’t go out to bars and go home with strangers.  She would have never done to herself what Dean was doing for himself.   Women don’t do that.  Women like Jovi didn’t, at any rate.  Women like that find the nearest cockroach they can pick up from the gutter and pretend like they’re having a real relationship with the insect.  And Crowley certainly fit the description.  A cockroach.  An insect.  Dean watched them a little while longer and then he realized he had learned something after all.      

He was a jealous God too.

********************

The first time, Oriphiel had cried afterwards.  He couldn’t help himself.   He cried and begged for her forgiveness for all the wicked things he’d done.  And it wasn’t like the shedding of a manly tear or two, oh no, it was full-on sobbing, blubbering like a blithering idiot, crimson-faced with shuddery breaths and a perfectly terrible amount of snot.  It had happened after the second and third times as well.  She assured him sweetly, gently, repeatedly that he had already been forgiven, long ago he had been forgiven, his sins had been laid bare before her, and he was washed clean, but he still cried.  

It took him 4 times!!  FOUR!! before he recovered a modicum of self-control, and by that point he had humiliated himself so fully it didn’t seem there was even a fragment of his carefully constructed Crowley persona left to hide behind.  It was infuriating.  She had destroyed him and remade him; he was Crowley no more.  He had played at being Crowley for hundreds of years and perfected the routine, but Crowley had been burnt away.  She knew him, the real him, to his very marrow, and he couldn’t even slither back into his comfortable old skin and pretend otherwise because of all the bloody crying.  She knew he wasn’t Crowley really, she knew that he never had been, and he knew that she knew.  He hated it, the vulnerability, the need, the good burbling up inside of him, and most of all he hated the unbearable sense of gratitude he felt that she let him, of all beings, touch her, after the dank and dirty places he had been.

She was very nice about it all.  Naturally that only made it worse.  She never lost patience, she assured and reassured him, she forgave him 10,000 times.  She forgave him in all the languages of the world.  She forgave him in languages that hadn’t been spoken for thousands of years.  She forgave him in every demon tongue.  She laughed at his jokes and made him cups of tea and ironed his shirts for him.  She brought him breakfast in bed and changed the sheets when he got crumbs all over the place and rubbed his back when his newly-formed wing muscles ached.  She told him that she wanted him because he had been so long in the dark, not in spite of it.   She wanted him because he wasn’t an angel, not really, not an old school angel.  He was a new kind of angel, a better kind.  She told him the old angels bored her and she told him that he was perfect the way he was because she never made anything that wasn’t perfect.  And then she washed his feet and he cried again.   She told him that she would forgive him until even he believed it.  

He felt both the luckiest and the most cursed being that had ever lived.

All along he knew that she was for Dean.  Eventually.  He knew that it would happen someday as surely as the sun rose and set, that eventually Dean would claim her.  And he wanted that for her.  He loved her so that he wanted it because he knew how she wanted it, and he wanted her to have everything.  He felt such a great pity for her, knowing for how long she had been alone, how much love she had to give that she was literally overflowing with it, how badly she needed someone, anyone, even a wretch like him, to cleave to.  Heartbreaking was what it was.  Utterly heartbreaking.  The fact that she had settled upon him, Oriphiel, of all creatures, as a tolerable replacement for what she had expected to have been true love only proved to him how desperately lonely she must be.  And so with one side of his heart he hoped and prayed most fervently that Dean would come soon to end her suffering.

The other side of his heart was a bit black around the edges yet, it seemed, and it was that side that decided perhaps he would kill Dean, instead.  There simply had to be a way. There was always a way.  

And once Dean was gone, she would forgive her faithful Oriphiel one last time and turn him into God instead.  He would be a proper God, very just, very hands-on, all business, no drinking and carousing as Dean had done, squandering her exquisite gift upon dalliances and self-indulgences.  After all, he had management experience, he had been the King of Hell.  If anything he was overqualified for the position.  It may take time but she would realize that and forgive him.  And then she would love him the way she loved Dean and they could live happily ever after, forever and ever, amen.

********************

When Bobby looked back on it, as he did many times over the weeks to come, it was that night that things took a turn for the worse, and he blamed himself for not seeing it right away.  It was Jefferson Starship, that’s what he should have seen.  Dean was listening to Jefferson Starship.

Bobby had thought they’d a decent enough time at the bar.  He surprised himself by actually enjoying doing some reminiscing with Crowley, laughing about all the times they’d screwed each other over and talking about all the crazy-ass things that had happened while Bobby had been away – the first all-demon presidential election, for example; nobody won – and having some laughs about how ridiculous it was that they were both angels now.  He wouldn’t have took that bet, for damn sure.  Never in a million lifetimes.   Crowley said the same, only not in a billion.  And he was a critter who knew how to win a bet, so.

But Dean was pissy afterwards.  Surly.  When Bobby asked him what his damn problem was, he blurted out, “Silk pajamas.  That’s what my problem is.  Silk, frickin, pajamas.”

“Ok, princess.”  The jibe didn’t even seem to register.  Whatever beef Dean had against silk frickin pajamas, apparently it ran deep.

They had drove to the bar.  They didn’t have to, but Dean still liked driving the Impala and Bobby hated poofing around from place to place like some kinda airy fairy.  So they drove, and so they had to drive back again.  And on the car radio came a song Bobby hadn’t heard for a while that he remembered kinda liking cause the 45 of it had been playing on repeat this one time while he was getting laid.  Maria Cerno.  “Miracles.”  Good times.  But he figured since it was Jefferson Starship and Dean hated Jefferson Starship, he’d insist on changing the station.  He didn’t though, just sat there listening to the words and then he looked over at Bobby with a disturbingly intense look on his face.  “This is actually a pretty good song.”  It was embarrassing though because it was, well, kind of racy, that was why Maria Cerno had liked it and why he had liked Maria Cerno liking it.   And Dean, who despite his best efforts, Bobby could never quite think of as anything other than an overgrown kid, was listening to it so hard he had the feeling the boy was about to start taking notes or something.   Bobby rolled down the window and waited for the moment to pass.

It was downright weird was what it was.  Jefferson Starship.  But Dean was older now, you mellow out when you get older.   At least it wasn’t Barry Manilow.

But then he listened to it again when they got back to that bunker place where Sam and Dean lived now.  Like 20 times in a row.  The kid went in a room and closed the door and listened to that damn song 20 times in a row and Bobby didn’t even want to know what was going on in there.

And that was it.  That was when it all started.  He was sure of it.

********************

Dean got to thinking that maybe the whole companion thing might be worth a second look.  Like maybe it was something a guy could do for a day or two or a week, before fully committing to the endeavor.  Like maybe it was something he could try on for size.

He could feel her pulling at him.  It was like quicksand.  The more he struggled, the harder she sucked.  That sounded funny.  Heh.  He remembered the thing he had always heard about quicksand was that if you stopped fighting it you could float right on top of it, and it couldn’t pull you under, so he tried that.  He just tried to float atop the sensation like a blob, not moving, not thinking, not breathing.  Somewhere along the way Dean had realized he didn’t always have to breathe;  sometimes he did, but other times he’d realize 10 minutes had gone by and he hadn’t inhaled once.

When he lay still like that, he could hear the prayers.  They were always there a little bit in the background but sometimes when he lay still and quiet he could really hear them.  He thought about what Jovi had said, that prayers were too much for him to handle yet.  Well, screw her, maybe he hadn’t managed to make a dodo yet but surely he could handle a little prayer or two.  So he opened up to them and started listening.  Damn, there were so many.  She hadn’t been kidding about that.  There were so many of them and a pretty high percentage of them were, like she had said, junk prayers.  People praying to pass drug tests or win the lottery or get into someone’s pants.  Idiots.  It was hard to find the legit prayers because of all the junk prayers in the way gumming up the works.  But eventually he found one, a family with a dying child, and he found he could extend himself out from his body, like letting out a fishing line, little by little, till he could be where they were, a part of him anyway, his consciousness maybe, while the rest of himself was still in his vessel.  

When he went in for a closer look he was nearly blown away by the pain that they were feeling, the family and the child.  It stunned him how sharp it was and intense it was, not like something in a movie, not at all.  Their pain was guttural, fundamental, devastating, they emitted pain with every breath they took, and then he was blown away again by the relief he felt that he could fix it for them.  So he did.  He willed that the cells in that little body would grow normally again…not too fast, he didn’t want to be too obvious about it, but he fixed it so that very slowly over time the child would get better and better and the doctors would scratch their heads and have no explanation.  

The joy he felt was as big as the ocean.  He had wasted all that time on dodo birds when he could have been answering prayers.

He pulled himself along like a kite on a string, moving from place to place, following the prayers.  Somewhere in the back of his mind he recalled Jovi had told him not to do much, that it would sap his strength, and he further recalled he needed all his strength to defeat Lucifer, but he didn’t want to stop.  Stopping meant that he would be letting a kid die, that his actions or his inaction would cause a child’s death, and he couldn’t do that.  He fixed child after child after child, and then he realized it was kinda racist that he was just fixing up the American kids and so he pulled himself across the ocean to Asia and Africa and there he came to a crashing halt because the suffering was so huge it overwhelmed him.  

There was so much grief and pain and sickness and suffering in those places that he felt it would take him forever to get through it one child at a time, and it wasn’t like a child in America that had cancer or had got hit by a car where he could patch them up and they’d most likely stay fixed.   He could fix up these poor kids but they wouldn’t stay that way, most of them.  Something else would happen to them tomorrow…they’d starve or get sick or be shot by a warlord or pressed into slavery and there were just so many of them, how could he get through them all only to have to start again the next day fixing whatever new problem they had in the meantime?

Humans sucked.  They really sucked.  Dean had generally attributed human misery primarily to the actions of demons in the past, but nope.  Most of it was really just themselves.  He wondered why Jovi even liked them so much.  I mean, why not let Lucifer have some fun, thin out the herd a little?  Give him a “scumbags only” rule and let him go hunting?  But Jovi would not approve.

Dean snuffed a couple warlords just for fun, made one of them choke on a hunk of meat and gave another one a heart attack, and then he gave some customers in Thai brothels various types of crotch rot to maybe teach them a lesson, but he knew it was pointless.  There would just be another warlord the next day.  More customers at the brothel.  Why did people have to be like that?  So selfish and greedy, so willing to hurt others so they could have a little bit bigger piece of pie or cross another experience off their sexual bucket lists?  He didn’t know, couldn’t wrap his brain around it, and considered how to possibly improve the species via a careful program of selective breeding coupled with a little bit of genetic manipulation.  Manipulation had too many negative connotations, Dean thought, so he decided to call it genetic engineering instead.  Engineering.   That was a clean, modern, efficient-sounding word.  Less invasive than manipulation.

Then from around the world he felt a matched set of prayers come in, special delivery.  Urgent.  He flew back across the world to Schenectady, New York where a clueless teenage boy running late for work backed out of his garage headed straight towards a toddler who had wandered into his driveway after a ball.  He didn’t even see her.  The girl’s whole entire family stood there watching.   Someone screamed.  Dean realized he wouldn’t make it in time, he couldn’t get there fast enough, and he severed the kite string that tied him to his body so his consciousness could move quicker.  He was still too late.  The car hit the little girl, went right over her with a gruesome grinding thump, and when the teenager saw what he hit he shrieked and it made Dean ache with sympathy.

Dean willed the little girl to sit up and start crying, so she did.  He fixed her injuries and gave her a big ol’ goose egg and the girl’s family rushed over to scoop her up and take her to the ER for a very thorough examination during which absolutely nothing would be found wrong with her other than some scrapes and bumps and bruises.  Satisfied, he moved off to find more miracles to work.

When Dean woke up from his adventures, back in his body, back in his bed, back in the bunker, Jovi was there.  She was sitting forward with her elbows resting on her knees breathing hard like she had just run a marathon or something.  She peered at him through her eyeglasses but didn’t speak.  He mulled over what he ought to say to her, if it would be strange if he asked her to maybe go get a pizza or something.  It seemed so right and natural that she be there, that it didn’t even occur to him to wonder why she was.  “We need to talk about Africa.”

She laughed and seemed very relieved.  He peered at her and realized beneath the eyeglasses there were dark bags under the eyes of her vessel and her skin was sallow.  She looked like she needed some sunshine and a Flintstones with Iron and a strong cup of coffee or two.  “You scared me.”

“Why?”

“You don’t even know how long you’ve been out, do you?”

“I don’t know, an hour?”

“Three weeks, Dean.  A little shy of three weeks.  You left your vessel.  You aren’t ready to leave your vessel, not yet.  I can’t even believe you figured out how to do it.  That’s like, some upper level God stuff there.  I’d say good job, but.”  

“Oh.  Whoops.”

“Whoops, he says.”  Dean sensed she was more than a little bit mad at him and hoped he hadn’t given her reason to be.  “You just had to stick it to me, huh?  Had to show me who was boss.  I say, don’t answer prayers just yet, and what do you do?”  She ran a tired hand over her forehead and he noticed that her hands were trembling and for the first time, her fingernails weren’t painted.  She had bitten them to the quick.  “It took me a lot to cram you back into yourself again, Dean.  A lot.”   He swallowed, guessing that the reason she looked so worn out was because she’d been sitting there at his side for a little shy of 3 weeks trying to bring him back to himself.  And then it all came rushing back, not off in the distance somewhere like it had been when he was busy answering prayers, but with a real world urgency and he realized just how badly he had screwed up.  Lucifer.  He had made her wear herself out even more.  “Get it now?”

“If Lucifer comes, he’ll kill you.”  

“No, Dean, he’ll kill YOU.  I think he has other things in store for me.”

“Don’t worry, he can’t.”  Dean decided to get up then, and he swung his legs around and realized with a chill that he was very, very tired.  He had been tired before, after the resurrections he did, but this tired was a different thing entirely.  This tiredness felt positively interdimensional, as if he was exhausted right down to his bones in multiple universes.  “I’d never let that happen.”  He tried to stand up and all of a sudden he wasn’t so sure what would transpire if Lucifer popped in right then.  He felt like he’d gone 25 rounds with Apollo Creed on one side of him and the Incredible Hulk on the other.  His legs gave out and he sat right back down again like an invalid or an old man.

“You’ve been performing miracles 24-7 for 3 weeks straight, Dean.  There’s not a lot of gas left in your tank.  How else do you think I was finally able to get you back here again?  You’re so weak right now that even I was able to beat you.  Not that it was easy.”

“Where is he, Jovi?”  Dean would have prayed for enough time to get his strength back before Lucifer returned but who would he have even prayed to?

“It’s kind of a funny story.”  That was all she would say.  He tried again to get up, and managed it the second time through.   She didn’t help him, she didn’t let him lean on her, and he had the distinct impression she didn’t want him to touch her at all.  He was curious about why that might be, but had to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other without collapsing so he couldn’t ask.  He expended what little remained of his strength just to limp his way out of the room and down the corridor with his hand against the wall the entire way.  He had to stop and rest twice.

Sam and Crowley were playing X-Box, exchanging witty insults and laughing.  Dean remembered about Jovi, remembered what Crowley had done and was probably still doing and up swelled a surge of white hot jealousy in his throat and chest and scalp and behind his eyes.  He ground his teeth and felt power crackle in his fingertips, desperately wanting to obliterate the demonic angel for daring to rise above his station, for borrowing without permission what belonged to Dean just because Dean didn’t happen to be using it right that minute.   He was greatly dismayed when the power fizzled and wouldn’t come back when he called it.  

It was only then he realized just how bad things really were.  He had nothing.   Nothing left.

********************

Sam gasped when Dean came in.  He couldn’t even help himself.  Sam had seen Dean looking like Hell lots of times, sick, injured, old, dead, in chunks, but nothing compared to this.  Dean was stooped and skeletal and gray and the whites of his eyes were nearly pure red with broken blood vessels.  His hair was greasy and he stank.  Crowley must have thought the same because he shouted.  “Bloody Hell!”

“What happened?”  Because Dean hadn’t looked like that before Jovi had insisted, no, demanded that she be left alone with him.  Well, maybe the greasy hair and stink part, but he’d been lying in bed for 3 weeks, what could you expect?

“It took a lot to get him back in his body.  Took a lot from both of us.”

Dean grabbed at a dark-screened cell phone lying on a nearby table and used it to look at his reflection.  “Holy crap.”  He half-fell into the nearest chair and held out his hands to look at them.  His fingers were like skin-covered bones and his fingernails were blue.  “Sammy, am I dying?”

Sam ignored the question because he honestly didn’t know the answer.  “Jovi, you have to wait.”   She couldn’t go through with her plan, not with Dean in that condition.  They had to postpone.  “He can’t do it, not like that.  Look at him!”

“Sammy, what’s going on?”  Dean looked beseechingly at Sam and then at Jovi.

She ignored him.  “We can’t wait, Sam.  We can’t wait any longer.  Time, is UP.”

“You HAVE to, you have no choice!  If you go through with this, it’ll kill him.”

Crowley stood up then, rising to his mistress’ defense.  “Perhaps he should have thought of that before he decided to take a holiday from his body.  And his responsibilities.”

Jovi sighed.  “Oriphiel, come on, be a team player.”  Then she turned back to Sam and he felt his throat getting tight with rage.  Dean could NOT be allowed to go through with this insanity.  “It’s ok, Sam, for reals.  I’ll just, I’ll just, like, take more from me than from him.”

“I am being a team player, my lady, I am the only one who is being a team player, and you most certainly will not.  50-50.  It’s only fair.  Half from you and half from him.  That was the deal.  And they will abide by the deal.   You’ve done enough for him.  More.”

“Look at him, Crowley.  He can’t even stand up!”  

At Sam’s urging, Crowley inspected Dean.  “He’s looked worse.”

“Somebody better tell me what’s going on here, right now, or…”

“Or?  Or what, Dean?  The state you’re in?  You couldn’t manage to smite a baby!  Have at me, Winchester, do your worst.”  Dean did nothing and Crowley snickered.  “You’re utterly impotent!”  Crowley rolled the word “impotent” around on his tongue as he said it to make it seem even more insulting.  Dean still did nothing, and Sam realized how weak his brother truly was.  “That was the bargain you made with me, Sam Winchester, don’t you recall?.  That was the agreement, that they would go into it 50-50.  I’m not going to let you destroy her, for him, when it’s his fault things have gone pear shaped to begin with!”

“What. Deal?”  Dean, as ever, absolutely hated being out of the loop.

“Oriphiel.  Enough.”  Jovi and Crowley exchanged a look and Sam realized that even though he would always despise Jovi and could never trust her in any other arena, that come what may, she would keep Dean safe, at all costs to herself.  “Don’t make me fight you, too.”  Crowley squirmed and clucked his tongue and rolled his eyes and sighed noisily and then once he’d made his displeasure known, gave in with a gesture.  “Fill in the gaps, would you, Sam?  Oriphiel and I have some preparations to make.”    Sam nodded.  “You have the coordinates.  In an hour.”  She looked at Dean.  “Eat something.  It will help.”  She and Crowley vanished and Dean stared blankly at Sam.

“So we think that Lucifer…”

“Are they involved?  Do you think?”

“Involved?”

“You know.  Like THAT.  Like in a hoo-hoo haha kind of way?”

Gawd.  “I have no idea Dean, would you like to hear about Lucifer now?  Think you can pencil that into your schedule, because it’s slightly important!”

“Yeah, I guess.”  Dean toddled over on his withered polio victim/unwrapped mummy legs and started eating pretty much anything he could get his hands on.

“We think Lucifer and Michael have gone back in time.”

“Oh.  So?”  Dean spoke through a mouthful of Cheetos.

“I don’t think she meant eat Cheetos, Dean!  Eat some real food!”

“I will!  This is an appetizer.”

“So, we think the reason why Lucifer and Michael went back in time, probably, is so Lucifer can eat the lesser gods back then, you know, when there were more of them, and they were at the height of their following, you know, the most worshipers?  And so they were at their strongest.”

“And you guys are all worried about that?  Geez.”

“You aren’t?”

“No, because time travel, Sammy, time travel.”

“What about it?”

“Because time travel ain’t easy.  We know that Michael has been de-archangelized, he’s just an plain old angel now, and just like Cas, well, old Cas anyway, he can travel through time, but it’s hard.  It wears him out.  So that means Lucifer gotta be taking himself, and Michael, through time.  And even for Lucifer, that takes some energy.  So he has to expend energy on traveling, and then on killing a demigod, and then absorbing their power, and then he has to do that all over again.   And again.  We got all the time in the world to defeat Lucifer, Sam.  It’ll take him forever at that pace.”

“Well, I’m sorry to tell you, Dean, but that isn’t true.”

“Why not?”

“Because Lucifer found some way to make Michael back into an archangel again.”

Dean chewed slightly slower for a second in consideration and then swallowed.  “Oh, well.  Huh.  It’ll still take him a good long while, though.”

God, he was so dense sometimes.  “You realize, Dean, that the lesser gods have had…kind of a lot of impact on human history, right?  The religions they inspired, they were, they were pretty big deals, for thousands of years.  You get that, right?  In all those books you read, there had to be something about all those primitive religions, didn’t there?”

“I guess.”  Sam actually thought Dean might be looking a little bit better around the edges.  Less green-gray, more pink-gray.  The Cheetos were helping.  “Honestly, Sammy, I kinda skimmed all that, didn’t seem that germane to my unique situation.”

“Well, Dean, you see, if someone goes around killing all those gods and goddesses that those ancient religions worshiped, it has a little bit of a ripple effect on humanity.”

“A ripple effect, huh?”

Sam had to take a moment to press his lips together very firmly before speaking.  “Yeah.  Dean.   It matters.  So.  We can’t exactly just let Lucifer go around doing that, even if it doesn’t happen to affect you, personally, directly, within the next 10 minutes, it’s still bad, ok?  Undesirable?  I mean like, in an altering the course of human history completely kind of way?”

“Well you don’t have to be a jerk about it.”

“Sorry!”  Sam wasn’t sorry.  Not even a little.

“So what’s the plan then?  What’s all the 50-50 about?”

“Dean, this is going to be another one of those things that you don’t like.”

“It’s ok, Sammy, I’m downright getting used to it by this point.”