A Brother’s Farewell

November 10, 2016 — 1 Comment

The plan is to have a Celebration of Life event for Matthew. Since I’m far away, the extended family is point for the arrangements. Hopefully, they do what’s right and respect the wishes of the entire family. Anything short of that dishonors Matt – as a former Marine, honor is fundamental to my worldview.  But I have to say I’m not encouraged by their efforts. So, as I’m sitting here, it’s highly unlikely that I’ll be able to eulogize my brother, at least in the traditional sense.

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But I’m writing one anyway … warming up in the bullpen just in case I’m called in to deliver. If not, at least it will be out in the cosmos.

You see, there’s nothing else I can do for Matt other than share memories for those that loved him – or would have had they met him. In the scheme of my life, it is a very important job and I want to do it.

As I begin this, it’s been two weeks exactly since that dreadful bike ride in Ojai. The healing process has sputtered along, but I’ve been startled by those quiet and alone moments in my otherwise busy days. Matt crashes through the normalcy, I see his face, grief pours over me as if from a cloudburst, and I cry. And then the sorrow quickly retreats as though my subconscious – or God’s grace – yanks it back to spare me the pain. I’m left with red swollen eyes as a searing reminder that my brother is gone.

I remember 1991 when our mother died. The Steele boys managed to get through that first week dealing with her affairs, concerned friends and the logistics of death. We laughed, reminisced, cried, took pills, drank beer and playfully split up her treasures – not the material stuff like lamps and couches, but the cherished things in her life; family pictures, letters from Dad, her sons’ baby shoes and report cards, her silly tools, her favorite ice breaker. In fairness, the pill popping, beer drinking and wailing like a newborn may have been all me but those seven days were an absolute blur.

The brothers didn’t argue that week, but we might have been tempted when it came to the expense for Mom’s funeral. We were sitting around a conference table, the typecast funeral director mumbling something quasi consoling, he looked like Lurch, and he placed the invoice on the table. As an aside, for you young mortuary entrepreneurs, hire grief counselors that look like Hooters waitresses; you’ll have bodies stacked like books in the prep room as the bereaved jockey for facetime.  Continue Reading…

I have been asked to write the obituary for my younger brother Matthew. I just checked my bucket list and confirmed that this particular item was not in the top 42,000. But, I can’t punt this away. I have to do this for Matt.

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The usual obit methodology – or death notice to be precise – is a placement in the local newspaper, and we’ll do that. That will be the formal one. In that case, the writer is on a mission with limited time, a broken heart, pure motives and a checklist of obituary do’s and don’ts. One might be inclined to write a biography but buying a Tesla would be cheaper (death notices cost money).

But I think we also need an informal, unpretentious one. A similar mission but with a bit of a twist, and less constraint. One that mirrors Matthew’s personae and one he would encourage me to write.

And I might as well combine both here.

Matthew Raymond Steele, 59, died unexpectedly on October 22, 2016 while riding his cherished mountain bike near Ojai, California with a friend. Not far from his home in Ventura, he was able to spend his last moments experiencing two of his great passions, the splendor of nature and the exhilaration of working out.

Obit mistake #1 – Writing about the loss rather than writing about the deceased. Well, Miss Manners, your point is well taken but maybe we shouldn’t be so strict. Matt is absolutely my focus here but acknowledging our broken hearts is not just stating the obvious. I just wrote “MATTHEW…DIED…UNEXPECTEDLY.” Three words that are usually harmless but taken together are devastating. Continue Reading…

My brother Matthew is the kid in the middle – it was his wedding day. He’s younger than me so he’s my kid brother whether he likes it or not. Our oldest brother is Greg so I guess I’m a little brother as well.

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I once coerced Matt to get on a sled when he was six and dared him to make it to the bottom of the hill without falling off. Of course, the challenge lay in the path we had selected. We had pounded down the snow, created little snow banks to help maneuver in and around the minefield of trees, and it was definitely going to be a speedy run. He climbed on, looked at me, trusting as always, and away he went. A little dude in a puffy winter coat screaming down the hill.

He did a great job on the first turn, a real pro, probably a thirty degree change of direction to the left. I was really impressed as I ran and skidded after him to see how he would manage the next corner. Yep, you heard it right. Corner. I think it’s safe to say I did not do a good job in setting up the course. I was twelve for god’s sake! Ninety degrees to the right was a bit much – okay, impossible. But how did I know he would be breaking the land speed record as he hit that next turn.

So, since the laws of motion are what they are, he and the sled parted company. The sled did okay as it turned out, but my baby brother slammed into a rather large tree trunk. He was definitely airborne when he hit and as I got to him, his little burrhead exposed, his snow cap beanie ten feet away, he was holding his arm.

I told him he was fine, you can’t just walk away after a crash, you gotta stare that demon right in the face and get back on the horse. Even a pained six-year-old can roll his eyes at trite clichés, so back up the hill he trudged. Two hours later he’s wearing a cast.

Mom and Dad were not happy.

About fifteen or sixteen years ago, for no real reason that I can remember, we spent a weekend together. We went hiking and as the endorphins kicked in, Matthew asked me if I was proud of him, again trusting me in what I might say. I won’t share why he felt compelled to ask me that. But none of our lives are straight tranquil lines; events and choices – good and bad – that characterize the human experience always create a succession of peaks and valleys unique to every one of us.

Here’s what I didn’t say, but I should have.

Matthew, of all the people I’ve known in my life, no one has a more magnificent heart. A soul is our greatest treasure and God blessed you with a remarkable one. Unfortunately, like so many blessings – and you are a cherished one – they get lost in the fog of life, such as mine I’m disheartened to say. But please know that I’m not only proud of you, I’m in awe. You’re a very good man.

Lord help me. Our Matthew died today. No warning, he was mountain biking. His glorious heart gave out – mine is broken.

Mom and Dad, he’s yours now. He’s going to need all your comfort. Brother, I know you’re watching. We love you.

The Checkerboard Wars

February 28, 2015 — Leave a comment

T H E    C H E C K E R B O A R D    W A R S

Screenplay by Marcus Allen Steele

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Kids’ VOICES, LAUGHING and JOKING. Drawers and cupboards OPENING and CLOSING, the CLINK of a knife in peanut butter and jelly jars. Bread EMANCIPATED from cellophane, PLOPPED in a toaster. Plates and glasses SET on the table. A refrigerator door exuberantly SLAMMED shut.

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FADE IN:

INT. PACER HOUSE – KITCHEN – SAN LUIS OBISPO – 1990 – DAY

A whirlwind of movement. Three children prepare their lunch. SARAH and SAM PACER, 13 and 12, are sister and brother who actually get a kick out of one another. They’re white. KATE, 13, the last of the fearsome threesome, is Sarah’s best friend. She’s black. They all sit down.

SARAH

Sammy, let Kate grab the first one.

Sam is reaching, but stops short.

SAM

I’m starving.

KATE
(to Sam)

You must have worms.

(pause)

It’s okay Sarah, you go first.

SARAH

Awright already. Where’s the juice?

SAM
(enthusiastically)

I got it.

Sam heads for the refrigerator…

FATHER (O.S. – off screen)

Sam! Get your butt in here.

Continue Reading…

The End of Man

April 6, 2014 — Leave a comment

T H E  E N D  O F  M A N

Screenplay by Marcus Allen Steele

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When I decided to post my screenplay The End of Man for this blog, I was asked if I had any experience writing screenplays.

For a short time I lived in Hollywood living the life of a starving artist. During that period, I wrote my first screenplay. Ultimately, that effort landed me representation by the head literary agent at one of the top agencies in the world. And in time, we had an Academy-award winning producer attached to make my movie. But it never got made–typical–and I needed to get back to work. Therein the tale of many who try to make a go in a brutal business.

But I have to admit I miss those creative moments of linking scenes to ultimately tell a story.

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So what is The End of Man about? Within the context of a murder mystery, I touch upon important issues of our time–geopolitical intrigue, fanaticism, space exploration, war,  and Middle Eastern oil dependency among others.

But most importantly, this is one man’s journey. Our hero, who’s spiritually bankrupt in the beginning, develops a spiritual awareness as the plot progresses. As events unfold and he encounters the genius of God, he ultimately becomes a man of faith.

How long does it take to read a screenplay? It’s actually equivalent to watching the movie itself–less than two hours.

A few administrative notes. A screenplay is a succession of scenes. The scenes are either exterior (EXT.) or interior (INT.) and they identify a location. Every now and then you’ll see an abbreviation in the scene, when first presented I’ll define it. Within the scene there’s narrative and dialogue. The narrative has its own concise way of furthering the story but the character dialogue is the driver.

So stick with me on this experiment–this movie wrapped in a blog–you might be surprised.

I hope you enjoy THE END OF MAN

FADE IN:

EXT. SOMEWHERE IN ANTARCTICA – DAY

A rock formation rises up two hundred feet from the barren white ice. An accumulation of snow over the ages has nestled against one side creating a gentle slope. At the top of the slope are two men. One is carefully pointing a sled downhill.

The other man isn’t helping. He’s sitting on a snowmobile adjusting the hood on his jacket. Although it’s sunny, he’s cold, the temperature a minus 10 degrees F.

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Out of control–in stormy instrument flight conditions with broken navigation gear, overwhelmed by vertigo not knowing up from down and plummeting toward the concrete ocean–Diamond knew how this was going to end.

AV8 Aerial Refueling - USMCIt was an impossible situation. He would crash into the Pacific 1,500 miles away from family and home. In the best situation, his “tombstone” would be scattered debris from a Harrier jet; flotsam for a bar-tailed godwit to perch and rest on his own transpacific journey from New Zealand to Alaska.

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To a rookie naval aviator, Diamond seemed larger than life. I have one standout memory. My squadron had participated in a major air combat exercise near Las Vegas and a group of us Marines decided to feast on the garish temptations along the Vegas strip. Later on that evening, we ran into Diamond at Caesar’s Palace.

He was a distinguished combat veteran, the squadron’s operations officer and was loudly exhorting the dice as they tumbled across the green felt of the craps table. Wearing a silk shirt, drinking his fair share, sweating the yet to be revealed number and chatting up the blonde to his side, he was a piece of work. A terrific fighter pilot but a wild man nonetheless. I didn’t know him well but he could have been a character out of The Great Santini.

He was complex, no doubt, and driven by what, who knows, but it wasn’t God.

Continue Reading…

Radical Surrender

August 11, 2013 — 3 Comments

Yep, I’m guilty of staring into space. Why? Because I spend a lot of time wandering around the maze of my mind picking up relics of memories.

CumulusI blow the dust off, feel their weight in my hands and try to imagine the emotions, smells and circumstances that might have accompanied their placement in my archives. In many cases, it can be quite fun–this daydreaming.

My God, those moments playing hide and seek at 25,000 feet in the billows of cumulus were other worldly. But then, under a stack of pleasantness, I occasionally find recollections that are just plain bad. Truly awful. And I’m reminded of how trying life can be.

It really is a test.

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Dead Baby Talking

July 5, 2013 — 10 Comments

A poem. A song. A scream toward heaven. Anything, something. A way for me to communicate the sorrow and shame I feel for the monumental regret of my life.

Dear child, if only I could sacrifice the god of I to the God of Mercy who is blessedly with you, comforting you. To bring you back. On behalf of all those who killed innocence in the womb.

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You are my father and you abandoned me. Why?

“You weren’t important. I had other priorities. Hell, you weren’t even a ‘you’.”

But I am, you know. We all are. It’s undeniable.

“That, dear love, was an inconvenient truth that I couldn’t handle.”

I was inconvenient?

“You were responsibility, commitment, disruption, expensive, awkward, burdensome, enslaving. Unwanted things.”

And my mother felt the same way?

Silence.

Father?

“I don’t know what your mother was thinking. I’m only assuming. I barely knew her.”

I don’t understand.

Continue Reading…