Monster Behind The Masks

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Chapter 4

CARYSSA


It was late February, a warm day with snow like mashed potatoes. We skied for a few hours, before hiking to a picturesque backdrop.

The knowledge that Tyler was enjoying fresh air and exercise rather than his mind indoctrinated by sinister souls in Washington D.C. made me breathe a little easier.

The sun-drenched, panoramic views of Lake Tahoe sparkled, jagged mountains surrounded us. A few butterflies flitted among plants, retreating back to the pine trees for shelter. The snow patches and ice sent me sliding as I lost my footing. I walloped the ground, landing on my rump, laughing. After grabbing my balance by the horns, I stopped to take pictures as George and Tyler forged ahead on the trail.

The air boasted pure freshness, rife with the smell of the great outdoors. You can’t beat it. Fluffy white clouds sailed across the baby-blue sky. I breathed deeply. Man, Life is good!

My conversation with Anna before leaving for Squaw Valley pecked at my mind, insistent on drilling its way into my consciousness. I wasn’t going to let it ruin the moment.

But learning about the second dead dove and murder had undeniably rattled me. I battled these thoughts regularly now, attempting to veer this unpleasant news off course, propelling it from my mind. But it was difficult. Especially knowing how it rubbed salt in old wounds for Anna, nightmares of her daughters rushing back to haunt her.

And then there was the part about Ava Ramírez’s dad working within our invisible government. Whether it’s the CIA or NSA, both conceal unscrupulous activities. I swatted the thoughts away. Politics will not plague my thoughts. Politics will not flow from my mouth. Politics will not interfere with my Zen. Politics suck!

But it was not to happen, as the bleak political reality we live in stalked me to the peaks of paradise, casting its ominous shadow on this tranquil setting. My failure to escape from reality for the day presented itself in the form of a delightful twenty-something couple we met while hiking.

“What a day, huh?” I smiled at the young lovebirds, sitting on a bench overlooking the glistening lake, as I glanced ahead and saw Tyler perched high up on a rock.

“Shalom! Yes, it’s amazing! Ey, we hate to ask but could you please take a photo of us?” Asked the girl. “It’s our one-year anniversary and I suck at selfies.” She sat at the edge of the bench primping. She scrunched her hair in an attempt to rub volume into it.

“Sure, happy to!” She handed me a real camera— a nice Nikon, not some stupid smartphone like myself and most people use for pictures. “Ah . . . how do I—” I stared at an abundance of buttons, feeling technophobic.

“Oh em. Sorry. It’s all set up. Press the shutter button here.” She wagged a finger at the confusing buttons on the side of the camera. I hoped not to make an ass out of myself.

As I positioned the camera and brought the viewfinder to my eye, the girl’s companion asked: “ey, Maya, did we remember to pack sendwichs?”

“Do I detect a German accent?” I asked while positioning myself at what I hoped would be the best spot to take their picture, not wanting to appear to be a total novice with the camera.

“It’s a Hebrew accent, we are from Israel. My name is Maya, and tis is Ariel.” Long glossy chocolate-brown hair flowed from Maya. Big brown eyes glimmered on a canvas of pure, pale skin. She reminded me of the Ivory soap girl ads. Ariel was all tan, toned and wiry, with jet black hair framing grey eyes with the longest lashes I’ve ever laid eyes on. Each was remarkably fit.

“Caryssa.” I offered them each a handshake, which they accepted. “Ok, one, two three . . . smile, you are on candid camera!” I suggested two poses.

We struck up a conversation, as the three of us caught up with George and Tyler. They still stood at the lookout on a cliff high above Lake Tahoe. “These are my new hiking buddies, Maya and Ariel.”

A shalom and hello were issued all around. From there, we easily fell into step together, traveling the trail as a group for the next couple hours.

As the hike progressed, obstacles became more difficult. Tree trunks and huge rocks stood in the way, requiring us to climb over them.

Treacherous mountain slopes and loose gravel gave cause for hesitation. In sections of the trail, the icy terrain was carefully negotiated. Tyler, forever ahead, stopped to climb another huge jagged boulder.

As we ascended, fields of lupine, mule ears, bright red and orange paintbrush, penstemon and California snow flowers seemingly bloomed with gratitude, providing a fairytale-like path.

While hiking the steep trail, Maya casually brought up the alliance the USA has with her home country. Oh no, politics! My stomach tensed. This can’t go anywhere good.

I attempted to resist the pull of the conversation. It would tug me away from the Zen moment. “I prefer not to discuss geopolitics; my heart rate is high enough with the altitude and this steep hike. And check out the holy-mackerel views!” I threw her a smile before looking over at Heavenly Ski Resort across the smooth turquoise- blue water. Its lower base resembling an upside-down Y.

Wearing my yogi om on my sleeve, I openly commenced chanting the mantra: ooohhhmmmm . . . ooohhhmmmm . . . I had set my intention, pressing the bases of my palms together lightly. I won’t think politics, I won’t talk politics. This family hike is my politics-free zone. It is my haven from the harassment of political dialogue and heated debates.

But Maya insisted, to my chagrin. “Well, em, I tink da relationship is important. All dat military aid does not protect my homeland as Americans tink, as been a waste of your tax monies—” She revealed, shocking my senses.

This stole my attention—the type of politics I don’t mind, more calming and refreshing than the angry flag waving supremacy freedom act. I took a breath and allowed the conversation to flow freely, prepared to listen. “I could not agree more, and think it rather jeopardizes both our nations.” I was all ears now.

“I tink America’s ‘stand with Israel’ ting is the worst policy ever.” Maya’s lips curled upwards slightly while declaring this, straightening her shoulders. She looked directly into my eyes, yet still toyed nervously with her lustrous mane.

How shocking, yet enlightening to hear this young woman speak from the other dark side of our foreign policy. “Again, I agree, and would love to hear more about your stance on this.” I urged her to continue. “My take is it’s only about money, what do you think?”

Ariel took the wheel. “Em, Maya and I were raised within the Israeli society with deep tensions between religious and secular beings. We’ve both been to war, our government expects all youth to serve their time. Yes, we believe it’s all about da money, religion, and elitist power. It’s time we stop the occupation of Palestine.”

I cringed. It sounds increasingly like USA’s invasions—this same exploitive philosophy—with repressive ROTC programs permitted on school campuses across our nation simply because the public schools get federal aid.

“At least Israel terminated its horrific occupation of Gaza.” I offered, maintaining the calm.

No! I mean, truthfully? I tink da Palestinian-Israeli conflict is sensationalized speech-make. I tink my home state of Israel is and always was the occupier and oppressor. The land was never bequeathed to us Jews by the Almighty----as if God is in the real estate business! Palestinians were never ‘terrorist.’ Israel and USA share the same spin and gloss!” Insisted Maya firmly, seriousness nailed into every word. “It’s all Western/U.S./Israeli propaganda lies.”

“We do need to stop our illegal money and weapons flow to Israel.” Added George, who hiked beside us. “It’s disturbing world peace—”

Maya surprised me, blurting out “both nations dehumanize their population, dese top secret nuke deals are betraying our own—”

Shadow government? Oh, fuck the Zen moment! “Seriously! If I were to take a choice between being raped or my only child joining the war effort,’ I’d take the former in a flash.” I announced sternly.

The serene rush of a waterfall and nearby creek blended with the topic, making it a healthy release rather than negative energy. Turned out, my inner peace not only remained, it thrived. This was good to hear. A relief that others in this crazy world are capable of rationalization.

“Ow! Earing that kills me, exclaimed Maya, her stunning mahogany eyes near tears. “I work at an RCC---a Rape Crisis Center. My job is to help people with da emotional part of rape. But I can understand what you mean.” She glanced at Tyler as he approached a bend in the trail, a bunch of wildflowers gathered in his hand. “I am frightened to bring children into the world, after what I went through. I had PTSD big time from war.”

“Did you feel like your soul…your moral conscience was attacked with war?” I questioned while glancing at both she and Ariel. Gorgeous people. The same deep empathy clenched my heart when I see youth across warlike America in their army fatigues at airports, clutching at their pillows on the way to their “stations,” completely oblivious.

Maya’s eyes glazed over while she glanced at the Mediterranean-like water below. “Em . . . I was put into minimal combat. But I saw and heard enough to cause trauma. Dat is what got me into my career path. I vant to help people.” Her words wavered with unresolved turmoil. I could only imagine what horror she’d witnessed. It no doubt ravaged her dreams and fought for dominion over her day-to-day conscious thoughts.

The others went ahead, nowhere to be seen, while Maya and I held back among a succulent garden. Although I had vowed not to talk politics, this conversation remained therapeutic. I often wondered how any Israeli’s could accept the USA-Israel treacherous buddy system. Just like Americans. A blind apathy.

I shared my deepest concern, confiding in this worldly stranger. “It pains me that Silicon Valley---where my most lucrative career years were spent, is married to Israel’s military market. Silicon Valley sold its sexy high-tech soul to Israel’s defense sector.”

“Em, yes. We ‘ave our own Silicon Wadi. Both focused on ’security’ and ’defense’. I tink both tech areas do lots of good tings for humanity, but I try to seek Yahweh and his truths by stepping out of a box of mind control—” she explained.

“I read that Israel was not supposed to have a standing army according to ‘God’s words’ in any bible. There were no foreign alliances, no taxes to fund a permanent military—”

“Em, yes—both our people wrongly relate the biblical text to modern Israel.” Maya piped in. “Dere’s no relation, as that covenant forbids militarization. Dere was no true order from Yahweh to conscript anyone into military service. Militarization is a sin, a form of idolatry,” She answered.

“We are high-tech war pals going on high-speed invasions!” I responded light-heartedly. “I went to Tel-Aviv on business back in late ’99, to pitch my company’s technology over a competitor’s in a bid to acquire a computer networking start-up with a military-missioned customer base. I understand where you are coming from.”

“Ow is it dat so many don’t see it’s all about da money, politics, and religion?” Maya questioned as she plucked a lupine and tucked it behind her ear. “Dey don’t see the connection to terrorism,” she shrugged, befuddled.

Maya and I hugged like long-time friends and even exchanged cards. “You ave redeemed any negative sensitivities I ad about western military intervention. You are a beautiful woman on da inside and da outside!” She grinned, restoring my faith in humanity.

There are like-minded individuals out there. People are switching on, little by little. More folk are yanking their heads from the sand and taking a good look around, leaving behind ignorant bliss.


My new Israeli friends Maya and Ariel veered off, taking a separate trail down, while I joined George and Tyler. We went to a rustic-chic restaurant in Tahoe City, sitting outside on a deck by the Lake’s shore. Colorful umbrellas adorned the setting as we ate al fresco. Pleasant chit-chat and a gentle breeze was music to our ears.

“Can I go to the beach? I’m not interested in eating those bugs.” Tyler didn’t wait for an answer. He snatched his cell phone and flew down the stairs, headed towards the water.

Teens! While sipping wine and enjoying grilled prawns— or “bugs” with basil, I turned to George. “Meeting people from all over the world and hearing their perspectives intrigues me.”

George swallowed, dabbing his mouth with a napkin. “That was a surprise to me, what the Israeli couple said.” He scooped up his glass, the scotch sloshing with the ice ranging from pale gold to robust amber. Staring into the glass, as if pondering the shifting shades of color, he continued: “America remains in the grip of complacency of its disastrous war economy. That is what haunts me the most. We are our own worst enemy.”

A delicious combination of sage, thyme, and onion blended with the scent of fresh pines complimenting the scenery. There was a light stirring breeze, joined with the sounds of children laughing gleefully, uninhibited from the stresses of adulthood they’re yet to experience. I glanced at the shoreline and surreal snow-powdered mountains.

As opposed to plunging into frigid Lake Tahoe, Tyler hung out with other kids skimming rocks off the lake. A couple of boys argued who skimmed the longest distance. You’d think they’re in an Olympic competition, their voices amplified over the water. Concentration stitched their features together as they each took turns competing for the furthest rock skimmer.

“You’re stupid dude! Use flat rocks, not those boulders. Oh man, you toss like a girl! Spin it! And three skips, not one. You lost, you didn’t win!” And on and on their banter went.

Whatever, as long as they’re not skimming rocks off each other’s heads. I raised a glass of Screaming Eagle ---the quintessential cabernet of Napa, and swirled it around, examining the ruby liquid washing the base of the glass, arousing its flavor. I slotted my nose deep into the glass and inhaled its wonder.

“Will you finally take a sip? You’re not in Wine County!” George rested between irritation but amusement. “We paid more for a damn glass than we typically spend on a bottle. Or a case!” He huffed.

“Not to worry, one glass of this vintage—some Screaming Eagle can cost up to seven hundred bucks a bottle! I was surprised to see it by the glass at such a reasonable price. Consider this a splurge for my serenity!” I raised the glass to my lips and sipped.

The bunch of wildflowers Tyler picked stood in a glass of water beside me, to be treasured in every corner of my heart long after they withered and died. One moment he shows the typical growing pains of adolescence, while still being that sweet boy I knew and loved.

Kool & the Gang played in the background. The deck was brimming with people, some waiting in line to be seated. I figured it’s happy hour, time for a happy dance. I didn’t care what anyone thought or how many eyes were on me, heavy with judgment. I stood and let the rhythm take hold.

Get down, get down, get down. Ahhhhhhhh! Jungle Boogie! Get it on!

Someone in the corner smirked to the waitress, “I want what she’s having.” Mimicking a flash mob, a group of about twenty people joined in to feel the funk. The entire deck transformed into a dance floor, with a couple little girls performing cartwheels.

Jungle boogie, let me jump in. bruhuhuhu…….

Halfway through the song, I found myself dancing on a table like a wild thing, my body a slave to the music. How did I get up here? Must have been some exceptional Screaming Eagle! From this level, I saw further out into the lake. Tyler had braved the chilly bite of the water and was lounged on a flotation device. Surrounded by the deep blue of the lake, snow-sprinkled mountains, and sailboats—he looked up at his crazy parents dancing like fools. We were likely traumatizing him with embarrassment.

We drove the scenic route around Lake Tahoe before heading back to the Bay Area. The runoff from the snowmelt was high, making the glacial views all the more spectacular. The transition from snow skiing to beach destination reflected within the shorelines. Gotta love Lake Tahoe, people skiing, kayaking and sailing on the same day in late February, a wetsuit haven.

Finally, home. I said goodnight to Tyler as my eyes fell upon a book he had chosen nearly six years ago in third grade. There was a tiny part of my Catholic brain that had thought how sweet he chose a Bible as a book!

“Oh, look, the book you chose when you made your Holy Communion. I didn’t even know we still had it.” I delicately picked it up and started turning the pages of disturbingly violent biblical stories depicted with Legos. It sent shivers stomping down my spine.

It was titled The Brick Bible, a new spin on the Old Testament. All heart-wrenchingly designed with kid’s love of Legos. Luring young souls into sinful warrior mode, glorifying it all as an “act of God.” Shameful. America’s relationship with religion is unhealthy, to say the least. Some can’t see logic through the haze of petulant beliefs.

“Why wouldn’t we have it? I still read it.” Tyler seemed almost hurt through his defensive fragile tone. “I picked both those books as a gift to myself after suffering through nine months of religious education, remember?”

Smart ass. “Really? But you’ve outgrown Legos.” I couldn’t decide if that was a question or statement, neither could my tone.

“No, I still like Legos. Just don’t have time for . . . well, I kinda outgrew them but it’s fun reading that book. Both of them—”

Ah, now I remembered. He had selected two books, the other a gentler version of the New Testament—the story of Jesus. Both twisted tales of violence, beheadings, and hate, with Lego massacres galore splashed across the pages.

“It’s okay Tyler, you don’t have to justify anything. It’s kind of bittersweet. Good night.” I took both books from his bedroom, as I recalled mixed feelings about them from the start.

I slumped on the living room couch and cracked open the Old Testament version. There, with dreamy-childlike Lego pictures and written like the Holy Bible, were the extremist words:

“Then Samuel said to Saul ’Yahweh says, go attack the Amalekites. Put them under the curse of destruction. Kill the men, women, children and babies, cattle sheep, camels, and donkeys. Spare no one.”

Enough. Maybe if I turn to another page—I flipped randomly and read. “And the Israelites took possession of their land.”

The visuals and text went from bad to worse as my eyes reluctantly skimmed over pages. “Moses called all the Israelites together and said ’When Yahweh your God brings you into the land which you possess, many nations must be cleared away. You must put them all under the curse of destruction.”

A children’s book. How dare they? This is appalling! I had to admit the author’s Lego artwork illustrations of blood, death and wreaking havoc on humanity was magnificently rendered. Still, the context was hugely inappropriate for anyone, most of all children with young impressionable minds.

I slapped the book shut. Somewhat miffed. Meeting the young couple from the Holy Land on the same day as coming across these violent children’s Bible books seemed too much of a coincidence. I wondered if Tyler had pulled them out of his bookshelf after overhearing our conversation on the hiking trail?

Something clicked in my head. What was that Maya had said? “Religion, politics and money are the cause of terrorism.”

Or war. Fallouts? Who is this elusive enemy? This mystery entwined my consciousness.

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