1. Still Haunted

Not that long ago, but back when we all took for granted that we did not live in a river, Daniel Forte stole a long leg bone out of the bluff at the bottom of Bells Bend.

He had been fishing off of the end of the boat ramp, when he decided that the small shore, just downstream, littered in white shells, was a better prospect, since there was a large upended tree in the shallow water there.

He had to wade through the river to get there, but the Cumberland was so calm he barely felt it tug on the legs of his jeans, as he skirted along the bottom of bluff to the tiny beach. Maybe twenty steps, maybe fewer.

He found the bone almost immediately. He was grabbing onto bare roots for balance and, as he stepped onto the shore, he put his hand out to steady himself and, when he touched the bluff, he touched bone.

Maybe it had already been raining that spring, and we just thought nothing of it. Maybe, when something wants to be found, you can’t escape the misfortune of finding it. Either way, he pressed his fingers into the mud, grabbed hold of it, gave it a slight yank and out it popped, with surprisingly little effort. A whole thigh bone.

He squatted down, washed it in the river so clear, watching as the mud slowly swirled away and off down stream.

When he went to go home, he tossed it in the passenger side of his truck. He wasn’t even as far as the Ashland City Highway when he thought he saw a man out of the corner of his eye, sitting shotgun. Forte almost died right then, swerving off the road like he did.

A few days later, he asked his girlfriend what she’d done with the bone from his truck. He was going to take it down to the bar, show it to a few of the guys, see what they thought.

“I gave it to the dog,” she said.

Before he could even think to be mad, he was running through the house and out the back door. The bone sat under the catalpa tree. The dog stood nearby, its chain stretched taunt, staring at something.

“Come on, boy,” Forte said, but the dog would not take its eyes off of the spot under the tree where the bone sat. Forte walked over and grabbed the bone. The dog, his dog, lunged at him, barking and growling and snapping.

“What’s going on?” his girlfriend asked.

“Dog’s fucked up, I guess,” he shrugged.

During the flood, Daniel Forte was out of town. He was over in Missouri helping his cousin move. He called home a couple times, but his girlfriend never answered. He didn’t think much of it.

I don’t know what he thought about on the drive home, as he passed swollen creeks now the size of rivers, as he was detoured around washed-out roads. I do know that, by the time he got to Nashville, he was afraid.

He couldn’t get to his house. He parked at the end of the street and walked to the police tape and watched, along with a small crowd, as rescuers launched boats off the low point in the road.

“The dog’s dead,” was the first thing his girlfriend told him, when he finally found her. “Water rose so fast, and I couldn’t get out to him.” He waited for her to say what she always said, that he shouldn’t leave the dog tied up out back. But she seemed uninterested in blaming him.

“How did you get out?” he asked.

“I heard something,” she said, “a voice or a laugh or…” again, she lost interest in trying to explain. “I just got out. I waited on the roof. They came and got me.” After a long while, she said, “Here.” and handed him the bone.

“Do you think this was it? Do you think I did this?” He asked, but she said nothing.

For the next few weeks, she was like a ghost, walking around the hotel room like she had lost track of what anchored her here. Forte wondered if she might fade completely away.

One Sunday, he took the bone and went back down to the end of Old Hickory Boulevard, deep in Bells Bend. The water in the Cumberland was still high, and brown and fast moving. He slipped going down the boatramp, but righted himself. The shore was smaller, mostly under water, and so it was further, thirty steps, certainly, maybe more. And from the moment he stepped into the river, it pulled at him, swirled around him, and brushed brown mud and sticks against him.

When he stepped onto the shore, it sucked him in and, without thinking, he pulled back, trying to get his foot out of the mire. He struggled to regain his balance and, at the last second, pitched himself forward. He fell in the mud. The bone rolled out of his grasp, towards the water. He grabbed after it, stopping it before it went into the river.

He stood, with some difficulty, in the shin-deep mire. The driest spot was nearest the bluff, so he struggled over to a small patch of firm ground.  He dug into the side of the bluff as best he could, and put the bone back.

He waited to see if something would shift, if he would feel that something had been righted.

He felt nothing.

He ended up having to scramble up the bluff, just to get out. And I’ll be damned if he was barely to the Ashland City highway, when he saw, out of the corner of his eye, a man riding shotgun.

Sure, It Sounds Good

State Senator Doug Jackson wants to end welfare benefits to drug addicts. This is one of those things that sounds good, except for that drug addicts are, by definition, addicted to drugs. If their own desire to quit using drugs, their knowledge of the hurt their addiction is bringing their loved ones, and their own fear of getting caught is not enough to keep them from using, the threat of getting kicked off welfare if they get caught and convicted of a drug offense isn’t going to be enough to keep them off of drugs either.

And what happens to their kids?

And do you think Jackson has looked into how many partners of drug addicts end up in trouble with the law, because there are drugs which they don’t use, in the house?

This is awesome grandstanding, but it will have some devastating effects on families in Tennessee.

The Butcher Tells Me

So, this morning, the Butcher tells me that last night’s episode was basically James O’Keefe’s plot to take down CNN through use of a boat.

I would just like to point out that delightful confluence.

Edited to add: Yes, oops. Last night’s episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which is a hilarious show about a bunch of really vile assholes.

Burning Bridges

Newscoma often says that, in politics, there are activists and politicos. The politicos focus on doing whatever it takes to win and the activists focus on our ideals. So, for instance, I want a state in which gay and lesbians aren’t made to feel like deviants, regardless of whether that’s popular. A Democratic politician might say gay people shouldn’t be allowed to adopt, because he thinks that will win him votes.

I’m not an activist, though. But I am more of an idealist than a pragmatist. I wish people in this state had a firm idea of what being a Tennessee Democrat meant and that they were proud to be it. And I wish that meant we were less repugnant than the Republicans, that we didn’t set up our friends in jobs through a rigged system, for instance.

I wish women in the party didn’t feel relegated to running the equivalent of the Junior League.

But most of all, I wish that Democratic folks in this state–tied to the party or politicians–really understood that people’s well-being is at stake. Not whether your feelings are hurt because someone is mean, but whether that family of four has even one income.

Anyway, who fucking cares? I get to talking about this stuff and it just makes me so frustrated.

People in this state need help.

And we’re still playing games.

It’s true that people in Tennessee are more conservative than they are in other parts of the country. But Democrats in this state are more conservative than they are in other parts of the country.

A lot of Democrats are going to lose next month not because of their political stances, but because of their political shenanigans.

And that’s a lesson the Republicans would be wise to take to heart.