Chapter 1: The Endangered Earthling
At this moment, I’m standing on the edge of a dirt cliff created when a developer cleared 100 acres of Florida rainforest to build human habitats. I’m looking down at the tiny finger of trees allowed to stand because they protect Little Black Creek natural springs. As I climb down the dirt mountain and over plastic fencing, there to keep the boundaries between humans and nature, the first being I encounter is a young maple tree. It has been broken in half by a bull dozer, not cut, just pushed half-way out of existence
As though a single cell of a virus became conscious of the life it was extinguishing, I became aware of my own human condition. I find myself loathing my own species, as a disease annihilating thousands of other innocent species for no other reason than ego. I believe it is possible to live within nature without destroying it, but that doesn’t create conditions easily controlled by luxuries or municipalities. For this reason, over-grown, natural yards are not allowed. Where do I belong? Am I no longer a natural being or is there some place where I can find my natural essence? Am I destined to live in opposition with the entire natural world because I am human? Perhaps I must forgive my own human-ness in order to help our species heal and awaken to our tremendous potential to love and to help life to survive us.
If there was one thing I could say to you to hold you here with me while I show you my mind, what would it be? Shall I entertain you? Shall I attempt to arouse your curiosity with tears and pounding fists? If we were face to face, I could use my secret weapon usually reserved for that moment in a conversation when the other person is so mad trying to prove their point that you actually see flames rising from the top of their heads. If the individual is all hopped up on ego and hate, I gradually...slowly...ever-so-gently slip my finger right up a nostril, wipe it on their chest and say, “It’s okay, I got it.” The reactions range from utter fury to humiliation to hilarity, always ending with a snicker…my original intent.
It’s my Columbo finger. “What a remarkable tie...just one more thing, sir.” Yes, it's disgusting, but what wouldn’t I do in the name of comedy? Very little. I’ll have you know, the index finger of my right hand has been around, son. My victims: Sidney Ponson (then lead pitcher for the Orioles), an Italian mafia boss, and once, a Middle-Eastern royal whose bodyguard had to look away for laughing. Let’s face it; comedy is one of the few things humans got right here. Where were we? Ah yes, me getting your attention.
My loves, me and my greasy finger are just gonna sit here, hold your hand (after I wash mine) and ask about your day. In turn, I want you to stay with me while I stand on the table, shout, "Look at this shit!" and dump out the contents of my brain. Of course, when I am finished, I will sit quietly and listen to your response with a freshly opened mind. (Hunt me down on social media and let's talk.)
I'll dump it on these pages and hope to meet you on some common ground that hasn't been polluted, washed away by rising tides or covered over with plastic.
But this is not just my story, nor could I tell you what I want you to know, alone. We, Endangered Earthlings Inc,. are a team. Although this began as my personal ministry, it has grown into a collective of brilliant and like-minds. I am going to share a great deal about what brought me to you, to become your Pamela. But I am only a part of this collective voice. Please meet our team:
Pamela Dawn, Founder – Environmental Evangelist, Pamela considers herself a philosopher and a warrior for Gaia. But her defining characteristics are her magnetic personality and her unselfish ability to bring out the best in people. There are over seven billion of us wandering the Earth searching for purpose. She has given herself the mandate to bring us together, person to person, people to people, as one indomitable force to save the ground we inhabit as human beings. She’s a superhero because that’s what superheroes do; they save the world.
Paul Hollis, Executive Director – Retired IBM, Paul is now an American author of fictional terrorism and espionage. His #1 bestselling books in The Hollow Man Series follow a U.S. government analyst in a trilogy of suspense across Europe. He is humble, brilliant and a helluva guy.
Steven Sutherland, M.S., R.G., P.G., C.E.M., EE Science Officer – Hazardous Materials Manager/Geologist, Steve has multiple degrees and over 20 years of experience in the environmental and water resources fields, and currently works as Hazardous Materials Manager and Geologist. As Geologists go, Steve's a BAMF!
John Hedgecoth, Creative Director – TV/Film Actor, John is an American actor known for his roles in “Knight of Quixote” and “Murder Comes to Town”. Although John is known primarily as a character actor of dark, villainous types, he has shown his versatility in such roles as Bobby Bennet, a fast-talking TV pitchman, a Shaman in the NatGeo series “Origins”, and as God in the indie short film “Endgame”.
Cisco Coleman, Entertainment Manager – ex NYPD officer, currently Cisco opens doors and windows for anyone with a voice and a message so they can be heard. Cisco Coleman (AKA) DJ Cisco is a 35-year DJ, Music Producer, remixer and Engineer and a Music Promoter. He has a degree in Recording Arts/ Engineering from the Center for The Media Arts. He owns The DJ Cisco Radio Network LLC. Under the DJ Cisco Radio Network LLC, is his record label: DJC Radio Records Global and DJC Radio Global an internet radio network/show and founder of the Project Unity Tour: a movement to feed the homeless and give artists a platform to perform, to be seen and heard and to win industry prizes.
As individual members of a team or unit, we don’t always agree. I believe this gives us a unique position from which to reach average human beings. Just as each individual opinion and contribution is what makes up this lovely world of people, each of us Endangered Earthlings have a perspective that is valid, relevant and necessary. Admittedly, I am a reluctant humanist. But if I fail to believe in our ability to find a common ground on which to stand as a species, then all is lost. Humans are that single thing which must change in order to save our planet. Our message to you is to speak, think and move as a community and so this is our collective minds in just that form.
Although you will hear the most personal and intimate details from me, about my life and why I have devoted it to our planet; the experts on our team will fill in some of the most relevant facts about the science of our dying planet, as well as what we agree are our best solutions. You will have me at a disadvantage, as I will show you my most sacred self: the memories which created me. Please be kind and gentle with them. Nothing has ever wounded me so badly as a betrayal. I want you to trust me, so I am taking this huge risk; making what is a tremendous effort for me to instill trust inside these words. I intend to carve off pieces of self and hand them to you. Why? Because I believe we just don’t have the time to fuddle with egos, labels or politics. Yes. There are things I won’t talk about. If the telling of my story injures someone else, then it is not my story to tell. And I’m not going to tell the whole feckin’ blah blah blah, just the parts that are important to my relationship with you.
Nor will I tell you about how; when I was 16 my father began the descent into death of Agent Orange poisoning. Ugh. I guess that I must tell you as it brought me to you. (Grabs another glass of wine and box of tissue)
My parents had divorced and Mom remarried his best friend when I was 12, but my father’s impending demise was devastating. I flew to Ohio where he had been working for NASA on the first Space Shuttle launch and said my goodbyes at his bedside. As I held the hand of this tiny stranger; not the mountain of a father who raised me into my preteen years, I remembered all the things that make us cry with sentimentality in our old age. I reminisced on him taking me to work with him now and again. He was a Tech Sargent in the Air Force who served as a radar tech in Vietnam’s DMZ. After he came home, on the weekends he worked as a mechanic for the Thunderbirds. We had magical weekends camping out in hangars, having exciting adventures in flying machines. I will never forget when my sister CayDee and I got to fly in an open cockpit plane. He did gut dropping negative g’s and loopty loops. I’m sure my mother was having a coronary but I was hopelessly addicted. Every time I got the chance, I would go to work with my dad on the trainer; a mobile simulator unit on a train that moved from base to base for training. The last time he took me, I was nine and I got to fly through a storm in the B52 simulator. It was the coolest thing I’d ever seen.
As I held the hand of my dying father and listened to him groan in pain, I thought of the many times as a toddler that I would awaken in the night and find him stretched out in the dark in his easy chair. I would climb up in his lap, burrow my face and tiny fingers into the mats of hair on his chest and listen to the same stories along with the click, click, click of the slides from Vietnam. “This little boy’s name was Ben, (Binh) and this was the school we built for his village. This is what it looked like after they blew it up. See all those white things in the field? That’s toilet paper. We built them toilets but people got blown up in them so they were afraid to use them. See that building? That was our barracks. Your Daddy’s a coward you know. I got up in the middle of the night and headed to the bunker when it got too loud. Took a piece of shrapnel right up the center of my bunk. I lost all my good friends that night. Shoulda been me.” I still smell the mix of beer and roasted peanuts on his breath and the sweat that was now pouring off his head running down dark brown curls and I would give anything to smell them again. Those terrible, wonderful things would prepare me for all the Vietnam vets who would become my Dads later.
I left that broken image of my dying Daddy and I returned to my beloved California. I met an older man on the beach and three months later, married him. I had a great stepfather but my Mom kept him at an arm’s length from us. I say us, but my sister was married the same year my Mom remarried, so it was just me. I’m sure she had her reasons. But I guess I was desperate for someone to watch over me, like the song says. Unbeknownst to me, I had married into one of the most feared crime families in the country. A week after we were married my father in law handed me a very weathered paperback book and said, “This is your bible now.” Honestly and regrettably, all I remember now is the word Mafia written in red. Read it I did. He was right. It changed what I knew about the world. It was the rich cultural beginnings of an army of outlaws, forced into crime to protect homes and family. But what changed me the most was my life with his son. His son was nothing like the wise and gentle man who created him. Even when I heard the father speaking in hushed tones in the living room to his partner about things I imagined only happened in movies; I found nothing but love, adoration and respect for him. Okay, FBI guys, no I never heard anything that will help you solve a crime. Everything I overheard began with, “So did you hear that…?” and I can’t recall a single story that makes any sense today.
His son, however, was something from a horror film. Now this is where I will pause. I can feel my chest tighten, my stomach turn and I am a powerless child, held in torturous captivity again. Maybe I can tell you more tomorrow…
Okay, it’s the next day and I’ve got my sea legs back. Here we go: two years into a life of abuse no human should ever endure, let alone daily for 28 months, I found the courage that only becoming a mother inspires and I ran for our lives. Luckily, the man I married fell out of favor with the family, so we were allowed to drift in the breeze and begin life again. She saved my life...my little baby girl. But I was so very, very damaged and broken. Over many years, previously untreated injuries were identified, mostly by the improper healing of bones. Each time I heard, “We noticed a previous fracture…” I remembered and relived each of the horrifying injuries. It’s remarkable the way our super cool brains have a way of tucking things neatly in corners of our unconscious until we are ready to digest them. An operation to fix my permanently stuffy nose should have taken two hours, but the severity of the previous injuries caused it to take six. There were seven breaks I could recall by the pop and momentary blindness. Then, there were two busted ribs, a fractured pelvis and a place in my brain indicative of multiple concussions. He loved to hit me on the back of the head because it didn’t leave marks. There were almost daily sexual assaults, especially through my pregnancy. I was isolated from friends and family but the worst of it all was the demoralizing, “No one will ever love you...want you...care about you…you’re fat and ugly.” Those voices still pop up in my daily life. You’d think half a century of life would have me further along in this healing process but as the lovely song says, “You Can’t Rush Your Healing.” Maybe the open wounds keep me just strong enough to keep my fists up when I need them. Okay, enough of that. I can’t move forward looking back.
The only place my little savior and I could go when we were free was home. My Papa, the designation for my stepdad, had retired as a Master Sergeant from the Air Force and was working his way up the ranks with Honeywell in Reston, Virginia as a Project Manager on the FA-18 flight simulator. I spent my 18th year tucking in my wee one and heading to the plant to fly the Hornet in a $3 million simulator. It was all I wanted to do. I called a Marine recruiter who met me at the pet store where I worked part-time and we started the paperwork. We got to a designation, I said, “I’m gonna fly the Hornet.” He laughed until he realized I was dead serious. My guts fell out when he told me women couldn’t fly combat.
Around that same time, my parents took us to the ‘wall’ for the first time: The Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. Walking the Wall changed the course of my life.
As I descended the ominous black granite cliff, I couldn’t help but reach out to the first names I saw. My fingers could feel them as my brain processed the letters that were once beloved sons and fathers. Immediately, I realize two of the names were related; father and son. My heart was already screaming for that lonely woman left with only half a soul to wander the Earth. That black mirror began as a tiny triangle, fit for just a finger then it grew like a shadow, foretelling all the death still to come in front of me. It was physically oppressive; as if the spirits of soldiers pressed out of the shadow to touch the life they were denied. By the time my head was fully submerged in the black reality of war, I was sobbing. I was swirling in a dark whirlpool, realizing that the profound experience of having my father ripped away from my life for some political maneuvering was not just my untimely loss; it was suffered by innumerable fellow Americans. I hurt for them. I hurt for the young boys who never fell in love or conquered middle age. I hurt for the ones who lead valiant battles, knowing full-well there would be no victory no matter the outcome. I suffered to the core of my soul for all of us. I passed by grown men with grey beards, crumpled onto one knee, touching a single name and wailing in silence. I passed by teddy bears, challenge coins and letters written by tiny hands. There was no light or hope or oxygen and I felt as though I was dying with them. I wanted to look away and walk swiftly to the end of my own suffering but how could I? Each name demanded that I look at it with respect, reverence and gratitude. I looked, but with shame. Somehow, my species did this to them all. I looked. I sobbed. I walked reverently as though my feet were passing through deep chasms of Dante’s world and finally, an end to it. I emerged completely drained; exhausted by the battle and defeated. I didn’t look into eyes. I didn’t greet the passers-by with my self-imposed duty to smile at the world. I skulked up the walkway like a gangplank to certain doom. I heard a deep voice from far away…the table I had grabbed to hold my soul inside my trembling body. “Did you know they are still there?” The man who spoke was Michael Hagen, a returned vet who sold his business, bought a motorhome and devoted his life to bringing home his forgotten brothers: 2,646 to be exact. I will fast forward here, as this is not a biography. Michael became my father. He taught me that the only thing which kept him fighting was the man next to him. This made all the soldiers his brothers, including my dad. So, to him, in a very real sense, I was his child too. That was the day my healing began.