From one day…so many years ago….
“The sun’s light has faded and gone with its setting more than two hours ago. The star of stars ended its daily cycle behind our valley’s western mountains as it has done every evening now for what must be the past several million years. Now, left in the twilight created by the nearly concealed bathroom light around the corner from where I sit, my eyes perceive this bedroom-world in hues of light and dark. Only gray, black, and lighter gray can be divined by my night-adjusted eyes. In focusing upon the slowly closing eyes of my little loved-one, they disappear with my concentration, but if I look to either side, I can see them clearly, rather, as clearly as the suffused light will allow. My baby’s purple dinosaur pajamas are only a darker gray than the blackened, navy sweat-shorts that I am wearing. She is singing ‘I love you’ in her fifteen-month-old’s dialect as she fights the valiant efforts of the Sandman. Holding her on my lap, I can smell the fragrance of her baby-shampooed hair, just as she, maybe, can smell the scent of ground weeds and back-yard vegetation that lingers on my hands as I caress her ever soft cheeks and jaw line. The contest is finished, and that enchanter of sleep, Mr. Sandman, is victor yet again. His wooings are too much for the protestations of my little one. She has succumbed to the calling of sleep, where, hopefully, she will rest the night through – so that my bride and I can do the same. Good night, Fair One. Sleep well and know that you are loved.”
And from another….
“The Angel sleeps in the lighted room, peacefully unaware that the sun is as bright here as it was in the out-of-doors where she spent the afternoon playing. Looking at her sleep, I am captured by the essence of a baby completely at rest. The tiny curls at the back of her neck are slightly wet and somewhat darker than the rest of her not so long crowning glory. Lying on her belly with the two middle fingers of her left hand motionless now, still from their suckling, she is oblivious to my presence and adoring eyes. Her feet are bare, thanks to her own playfulness; you know she is proud that she removed the socks, smiling with her eyes almost closed to slits…she sleeps. Tousled hair and tiny ears adorn her face and perfectly shaped head. Her right arm is thrown forward and up where it rests on her favorite blanket; miniature lungs cause her little back to rise and fall with sustaining breath; sleep my Little One. Rest safely for another day. Sleep at your ease. When she is gone, my chest will be empty where my heart now beats. I never knew I could love like this. I never cherished holding a tiny form as I do now when I hold her. I was reborn too late. My soul is miserable for not knowing how to love my own then, as I do her, now. Those ticks of the clock have ceased even their echoing. I hope they will forgive me.”
This is a Favorite re-post from March, 2010.
The man stood in the doorway for a moment before grabbing the elongated brass handle to open the door. He was looking at the house to the west of his and noticed how the image of the lowering sun was about to touch the roofline. The slate roof seemed to dip in the moment of the sun’s contact, causing the illusion that the weight of the sun was bearing down on the roof, or maybe the roof was molding itself to the shape of the sun to give it a more comfortable resting place at the end of its long day. The sun was bright, of course, but softened somehow in the closer atmosphere and haze of industry and pollen and life that existed above the horizon’s curving line, so the man stood there with unshielded eyes and continued to watch the sun’s dip into and below the roof line. He turned away and the golden glow remained in his eyes as he looked through the door’s glass to find his son. It was time for dinner and the boy was somewhere outside.
The door handle lowered without a sound and the door swung open quietly as the man pushed against it and walked out onto the back patio of the house. As he passed the mustard-colored and rectangular-shaped charcoal grill, he noticed that it still smelled of burnt sugar from the last time he barbequed ribs. It had been a couple weeks or more, but the scent still lingered. The man was barefoot and noticed, too, that the cement of the patio was still warm from the day’s sun, but the grass was cool as he stepped into it and began his search for his son. The man turned to the left from the patio and looked into the back-yard proper, gazing at the rock-fronted embankments that supported the tiered lawn that rose from the yard up to the street that ran behind his house. As he walked toward the front of the house that faced the town’s park, he craned his neck to look further into the yard to where the boy liked to play around the young, conical pine trees that resembled miniature Christmas trees when they were dusted or coated with December’s snow.
The evening was peaceful, now that the neighborhood kids had left the park and gone home or wherever after playing soccer for most of the afternoon. Looking toward the east and over the hills that fronted that side of the town, the man noticed the swallows darting over the park for their evening feeding and play-time. Overhead, the clouds were pink and orange and white and darkening gray with the falling sun and approaching night. Further north, he could still see the white line of a plane’s contrail that was still intact even though the plane had been gone for hours…just the singular, lined cloud was left in its passing. The man didn’t see his son anywhere, not in this side of the yard and not out in the park. He thought about calling-out for him, but didn’t want to break the quiet by raising his voice or yelling. Instead, he retraced his steps around the house, passed the back-door patio, and toward the other end of the yard, the side that fronted their street. The man walked along the low hedge that separated his yard from the neighbor’s and then past the gooseberry bushes and toward the side of the house where he could peek around the corner to see if his son was playing under the cherry trees. His step was quiet in the cool grass and the moss that grew thinly among the grass where he was, but was thicker under the trees.
Because the sun had completely lowered itself beneath the roofline of the neighbor’s house by now, there was no chance of the man’s son seeing his father’s shadow intrude into his quiet play. When the man slowly moved his head around the corner, he saw that his son was sitting cross-legged, facing away from him, and leaning forward with his hands busy at some task. The boy had his tan and green army-men positioned in loose rows and partially hidden in the moss, or situated behind various military vehicles and broken sticks from the trees above him. He occasionally leaned back or to the right or left to straighten a fallen man or to move a truck closer to the grouped men, enacting some strategy or maneuver of protection or attack. The boy even rolled a golf-ball or lightly tossed a shiny, black cherry in the direction of the men, imagining that they were rockets or some other projectile, sometimes knocking over one of the men or coming to rest next to or on top of one of the vehicles, and sometimes not. With the impact of the cherries or golf ball, the boy made his eleven year-old’s version of a soft explosion…a hushed “pkshew!” that he thought only he could hear.
The man smiled to himself as he watched and listened to his son. He saw the purplish-pink stains on the boy’s white t-shirt and imagined the cherry-fight that he had had with his friends earlier in the afternoon…the cherry-fight that he wasn’t supposed to have had. As the man attempted to kneel down into the moss and grass next to the house, his shorts scraped on the prickly stucco finish on the house and startled his son. The boy was in mid-reach across his battlefield and gasped and dropped one of his army men as he jerked and turned around to face his father.
The boy’s heart was pounding and his mouth was suddenly dry. “I didn’t know you were there,” he said. His mind was racing back through his day, wondering at what he might have done wrong, wondering what little or grand sin had been revealed and was now set to ruin what he thought was an otherwise good day, and wondering why, if he hadn’t done anything wrong, his father was there on the side of the yard looking for him…and getting ready to sit down like he was planning to stay for a while.
“Well, I wasn’t here for very long. What are you doing?”
The boy tried to swallow. “Just playing…Army.”
“Weren’t your friends out here earlier?”
“Yes Sir, but they had to leave.”
“Which friends were here?”
“You said your friends were here earlier. Which ones were here?”
The boy looked across the gravel and grass driveway and out into the park where the swallows were still darting around. He saw a couple boys at the water fountain at the far side of the park. “I…don’t know,” he stammered. “I don’t remember.”
“But they were just here,” the man said, “who were they? You’re not in trouble, Stephan, I’m just asking which friends were here.”
“Hansi and Martin.”
“Isn’t Hansi’s father the butcher?”
“I don’t know. I think so…maybe.”
“Isn’t he one of those older boys that you were playing with in the spring and got into trouble with?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t remember,” the father said, “when you guys stole the bratwurst and then went off into the woods and cooked it? You don’t remember that?”
“Yes Sir…I…think I remember.”
“Wasn’t Hansi one of those older boys?”
The boys had moved from the water fountain and were now kicking a soccer ball out on the field at the park. “I don’t know.”
The man sat down in the grass and moss and leaned against the house. “Stephan…look at me. You’re not in trouble…we’re just talking…ok? You can answer me,” said the man. “Look…here,” he said, pointing to his eyes. “You’re ok.”
The boy turned his head from watching the boys with the soccer ball and met his father’s eyes. He didn’t answer him immediately, but just looked at him. This was unusual for him; the boy…he felt odd, bold somehow…maybe even brave. His father’s manner and voice were unsettling. There was none of the harshness or sarcasm that he was used to…and his eyes didn’t look angry. It looked like his father was really just asking him a question…not investigating an offense.
“Augie’s father is the butcher,” said the boy, “but Hansi was part of the group that did that, yes Sir.”
“Is that Hansi out there playing soccer?”
The boy looked at the two other boys out on the field for a couple seconds and then turned again to his father. “No Sir. Hansi had to go home. He said it was almost getting dark and he had to go in for dinner.”
“Why what?” said the man.
“Why’d you want to know if that’s Hansi out there playing soccer?”
“Nothing, Stephan. I was just asking…nothing. Relax, would you? And stop calling me ‘Sir.’”
The boy looked at his father’s hands for a couple seconds and then moved up to meet his eyes. The eyes were still dark brown and still set deep into his father’s head, but the prominent brow-ridge seemed less severe as his eye-brows were raised in a gentle and almost inquisitive arch.
“What? Just call me ‘Dad’ now. Say ‘Yes Dad,’ not ‘Yes Sir.’ That seems wrong somehow.”
“Can I ask you something and not get in trouble?”
“Yes…ask or say anything you want.”
The boy just looked at him.
“I’m serious…really…anything…you won’t get in trouble.”
“What happened to you in the wreck? I know you broke a couple ribs, but what happened…you know…inside your head? Mom said it went through the front window, right?”
The man looked at his son…intently, gently…and picked a tuft of moss from the ground. He moved his eyes to the moss and then asked, “What do you mean, ‘What happened in my head?’”
“You’re not like you used to be,” said the boy, looking past his father, but still watching him, trying to sense if he was going too far. “You’re different.”
“Almost dying in the wreck like that made me think about my life; it made me think about how I was treating people…how I treated you and your mom…and I decided that I needed to be different.”
The boy looked out into the park again. He didn’t want his father to see the tears that were starting to spill from his eyes. “Just like that…you ‘decided’ that you needed to be different?”
The man looked down and watched his fingers as they slowly tore the moss apart and let it drop back into the grass. “I guess so. When I was laying there in the hospital with my neck in that brace and my face all bandaged-up and tubes sticking out of my lungs, I thought about how lucky I was that my heart was still beating and that I wasn’t hurt as bad as I could have been considering what I had been through. It almost seemed like I was being given a second chance or something, you know…somehow…maybe…to do things right…if that’s possible.”
The boy turned back and looked toward his father, not meeting his eyes exactly, but looking through him at some point directly behind his head. “If you could just decide that you needed to be different when you were laying there in the hospital, why couldn’t you have decided a long time ago that you would be different…why didn’t you decide when I was a littler kid that you weren’t going to be so mean…that you could talk to me instead of hitting me, or that I could talk to you like you were just my dad and not some…kind…of…whatever you’ve been?”
“I don’t know, Stephan. I guess it took me almost dying to realize how much I love you…I don’t know.”
“Oh. Well, that’s when I figured out that I don’t love you,” said the boy, “when you were in the hospital almost dying. I always thought I did, or wanted to, maybe. I thought that if I loved you more you’d be nicer to me, but it didn’t work. So when Mom told me that you might die, I was hoping you would, because I knew I wouldn’t have to try to love you anymore. It would be ok that I didn’t…and now you’re not dead and I still don’t love you.”
The man turned his eyes to watch the neighbor drive past in his blue Saab. He followed the car until it stopped at the water fountain by the corner of the park and then turned down the hill where it disappeared behind the Vivo store on the opposite corner. Then he turned slightly in the other direction and watched the kids chasing each other and kicking the soccer ball for a few seconds. Finally, he looked back at his son and said, “Wow…I don’t know what to do with that, Stephan.”
“I don’t either,” said the boy as he reached for one of his army men.
“I guess I’ll have to work on that, won’t I? Give you a reason to love me?”
The boy pulled a handful of moss and began to gently tear it apart and lay the pieces across his army trucks, camouflaging them against the enemy that was lined-up behind the moss and grass berm that he had built close to the trunk of the nearest tree. He then absently grabbed a cherry from the ground and slipped it into his mouth. He bit down on the sweet flesh and then used his tongue to separate the seed as he slowly chewed and swallowed the tiny fruit.
“Stephan? I said I’ll have to work on that, won’t I?”
“I don’t know.”
The man slowly stood and then leaned over to stretch his legs that had been folded under him while he sat and talked with his son. He said “Ok,” and then turned to walk back around the corner of the house. After a couple steps, he turned around and leaned down so he could see his son better under the cherry trees. “You need to come in now. The streetlights are coming on and it’s time to eat.”
“I’m not hungry.”
The man raised his voice a little – “Stephan, I said you need to come in.”
This is a Favorite re-post from May, 2010.
I took an unplanned hike this morning, on an unplanned day off in the middle of the week. As chance would have it, I found myself on the trail that I first hiked when visiting the Salt Lake area in preparation for my move from Phoenix.
I have hiked sections of this particular trail about six or seven times in the past year, and only twice now from start to finish. Shortly after crossing one of the trail’s bridges, it dawned on me that I haven’t been to this specific section since I was up here locating the apartment where I would stay until my family arrived a few months later.
There was an odd recollection-quality to being there again, remembering my excitement (and fear) at the coming relocation, my physically being out in the woods and along a rushing stream again for the first time in decades with all my senses noting the sights and sounds and scents of being out there…and the notion of standing on the ledge of time and change and wondering what the next step would hold for me and my family.
The past year has, more than anything else (of course) been one of incredible change and adjustment and prioritizing of resources, time, and emotions. We’ve cried happy and bitter and sad tears, and mourned the losses of a familiar life and loved ones and have hoped incredibly for normalcy in all of the realms of our lives where we’ve missed it, both individually and collectively.
We have also longed to sit again among our entire family on the weekends like we used to do, and to spend our weekdays with and among our long-time and beloved friends and coworkers whose absence still aches in our hearts after all this time.
And yes, we have considered, too, what life would be like if we could roll back time and return to that old and familiar place, to have never left…or to even return to it now, afresh, after being gone for this single and elapsed year…we have wondered so, and have measured our past against our present and our still hoped-for future and we still wonder if it was the right thing to do, while telling ourselves that it was.
And so there I was again, walking under the familiar and green canopy of beautiful trees, smelling the natural and alluring perfumes of forest mulch and wild flowers and grasses riding the cool mountain breezes and listening to the accompanying and ever rumbling stream that was sometimes loud and close and other times quieter and removed, but ever-present, depending on the trail’s nearness to that peaceful and natural water-feature.
I was there, looking for distraction and peace and comfort after a crazy and sad month, hoping for a calm to return, hoping that what my senses experienced on the hike would remove images and texted sentiments and echoes of angry and sad words from my rambling and disjointed mind…hoping again for peace to be restored…and my hopes were answered, in this sense. Peace did come and quiet a portion of the unquiet things in my mind…it was a good hike.
I know I have posted similar pictures many times over the past year, but these images, these snapshots of our local and natural beauty are just too good not to share again, in my thinking anyway.
Yes, it’s been a year, and while I still miss my old friends incredibly, miss having them as constants in my every-day…I’m still loving it here. I hope you enjoy the pictures….
I wandered out of my neighborhood proper this evening for my regular walk, out of the familiar realm and into another, past the new-ish houses that line and dot the area and into the older parts, the more ancient, if that is not too exaggerated of a word for the homes and hearths that rest and belong in this other area. I walked past houses with fireplaces lit and burning and the myriad smells of different woods burned and smoking and was cast back into my childhood with the smoky meat and sausages of German towns and cobbled streets and gutters, wood-burning stoves lit and burning and casting their familiar aromas into those long-ago icy nights, snowflakes falling past slated roofs and through the beams of yellowed street lights. I was there in moments and out again as I beheld the gorgeous and modern houses that lined other streets, an elementary school with the shining SUVs and minivans leaving the parking lot with raised and lifted and monstrously-tired trucks as they left the evening conferences or whatever, pulled out of the parking lot and made their way and ways to their various houses…anyway, down those dimly lit roads that went to those other neighborhoods, not mine, but away.
I walked those miles and then, and came to the cemented ribbons of commerce and travel, that freeway beltway that circles the town and valley. On this side is the neighborhood, on the other are the stores and restaurants filled with people spending their time and money doing whatever it is they’re doing, shopping and eating and being and not wondering at what I was doing out there on the middle of the pedestrian-bridge those twenty-some and thirty feet above the freeway looking down at the passing cars and trucks and minivans, some of which might have just left the evening’s activities at a local elementary school, some of which might be passing homeward, so late, from their working days, or heading back, or to work as I stood there and looked at them passing so. My gloved hands slid their fingers through the chain link arched fence that covered the bridge and hung loosely there as those semi trucks and full and midsized pickup trucks and whatnot sped along.
I wondered at peace and how it could be found there, wondered if it was there, not just there to be found, but could it be there, suspended so high above those cemented passageways, four and six lanes heading their separate ways, four and six lanes times east and west, so eight and twelve lanes in their coming and going. Would it be possible to sit there above the traffic, suspended there above those passing vehicles and people, and have the hum of tires and motors become a relaxing and whitened noise that might calm a troubled soul? Standing there in that odd place, that suspended place that caused my steady soul to wonder at the fastness of the cement pillars and pilings, the metal rods that must be deep inside those cemented somethings, and the architectural skills and engineering genius that must have been utilized to allow for sway and movement and the natural jostling of wind and the shifting of potential liquefaction of the substrate and the contracting and expanding of freezing and warming concrete in their seasons and other things…it did wonder, my steady soul.
It wondered, too, at the darkness that must reside, I would say live, but that would seem to involve an effort to do so, to live, that is, but to reside could be equated to existing and that, it would seem, might not take too much effort…but I wondered, anyway, at the darkness that must reside in the hearts of other people, in their souls maybe, such seemingly impenetrable blackness that would cause them to join me on this midair walkway and look for ways to violate and pass-through the chain-link and then hurl themselves onto those concrete ribbons and under all of those passing vehicles that I mentioned and didn’t, just above in those earlier lines.
My mind wandered back, too, to an earlier life and an earlier occupation that was occupied, was occupied, indeed, so to speak, with concerns, with others’ concerns and our own concerns, mine and my co-workers, with those troubled souls and darkened hearts that found themselves up on those suspended places over the rushing traffic. I wondered how they could have come to that place in their lives, and so near their deaths, that they sought the heights so they could soar up and out from their own inner depths and fly and fall into a light that meant release from so many torments. I wondered what happened to that last loved one or friend, the last one of either, whose patience ran out, whose loving words finally failed that other one on the pedestrian-bridge. Were they scorned by lover or friend, by their oldest child or youngest child or their mate of one or two years, of two or three decades, or was it failing health or lost dreams or used-to-be’s? What did they lose…to find themselves there? It could be anything, I suppose…or everything, too. Their equilibrium, purpose, drive, meaning, orientation, world-view, or whatever…they might suddenly be in a place where nothing makes sense, where things aren’t where they used to be, where even the light is different than it’s supposed to be in their world, or in the place in their world that they used to occupy, maybe. Maybe if their shoes were on my feet, maybe, I might understand more than I do or can, maybe I would understand what it’s like to be them, if I could understand such a thing, but I don’t know. I didn’t walk in their steps, didn’t share their heartbeats, didn’t lay my head on a pillow next to theirs at night, maybe, or didn’t lose what they lost, or suffer the abuses from monsters’ hands like they did, or might have…I didn’t feel those things, maybe I didn’t, so I can only try to understand, as I might.
So, I wondered about all of that and some, and more, as I stood there and listened to those tires and motors speed away from beyond and beneath me as I looked eastward in the darkened night and beheld the lighted forms of the mountains sitting there and understood and knew that they offered perspective to some people’s lives, but not others, that some problems are bigger even than mountains, or seem to be, and therefore are, and that comfort and peace might only come to some at the end of a brief flight from a pedestrian-bridge. Not my personal choice, mind you, and nothing that I condone…but I do understand…in as much as I am able.
Years ago I found stories in the everyday lives of the people who populated mine, those from my workplace, especially, and sometimes, and still, with my family. In those years of the past, the situations and lives of my clients easily became the foundation or the substance of the stories and recollections that I put into stories and musings. Yes, I changed the names, always, but the things and events that I shared were straight from their lives. I would change some things, as is my license when I’m the writer; I would add to or delete from what they had told me, as sometimes the truth was too raw…other times I made the truth a touch stronger so that it would bite harder when it was read, so that it would cause us to think more, you and me both, about our own lives and the importance of the people we love and the things we take so for granted in our own little orbits around the sun.
I have recently returned to the first “former occupation” that lived so vividly in my earlier writings. When they say that you can never go home again, this seems to be true in this instance as well. Things are different than they used to be. The grass isn’t greener, by far, over here, but it is still good and the rewards are similar to what they were in the past. Some notable differences, though, come in the level to which I am able to participate in the lives of my clients and the other categories of people who used to fill my work life as I did what I did in the health department context. Most of my experiences and involvement with people are now over the phone, similar to when I worked with 9-1-1. I participated in the callers’ lives over the phone, I was witness to their tragedies as they played-out through the headset, I typed the facts as I obtained them, or as they were hurled at me through the technology of a cell phone or land-line that was so utilized to request our certain brand of help. And today, or now, again, with this health department, it’s back on the phone. Most of the interviews with my clients/patients are conducted on the phone. I do, occasionally, as much as I’m able, bring people to the clinic to speak with them face to face, the contacts anyway, if I can’t do so with the original patients, so that I can deal with and participate in the human exchange again. Yes, I enjoy it being a limited exchange, 20 to 30 minutes of their lives, but face to face, looking into their eyes, watching them try to find the right words to express their concern, or watching them react to the pointed and intimate questions that I must ask them in order to do my job…it’s so much more preferable than doing it over the phone. I can observe and then respond to the nuances of their half of the conversation, those non-verbal parts that can betray the spoken parts.
And then there are some occasions, very limited ones, thus far, in which I am actually out on and in the street again, traveling, driving the new old streets in this new town and home of mine, seeing people and places for the first time that my daily routines and even weekend wanderings don’t usually allow me to see. On those few times that I was able to get out there again, I felt an odd familiarity and excitement, almost, at being on strange doorsteps and knocking on those strangers’ doors again, watching and wondering at their reactions, or wondering if they’re going to answer the door in the middle of a late afternoon snowstorm for whoever might be knocking or ringing the bell after I’ve already seen them walk past the window or move the curtain after I parked in front of their house. I haven’t been out and walking up and down dusty alleyways or sitting at a picnic table in the park, watching a dominos game while asking about whoever knows whomever yet, but that day may be here again, someday…maybe…maybe not.
At any rate, I’m back inside the stories again, on a vastly different plane, but still there, listening sometimes to the confusion, marveling with them as the light comes on or as the blinds are pulled-up on what they had been told, and hearing that “Aha!” moment come through over the phone or in person as they’re learning the truth about how they got that particular infection, etc. Back inside the stories…not on the 9-1-1 phones again, not on the radio where the cop-talk became a way of life, but back inside the stories where intimacy got defiled, or germy, anyway, and sometimes watching the eyes as realization comes, or as truth is rearranged or lost in the speaking of a few words.
Another thing that’s different and a concern of mine/ours, in this recent time, this current working with the health department that I do, is that of confidentiality. Yes, the concern was there in the past, those 10 and 20 years ago in which I did this same work, but it seems that the emphasis then was upon medical information and names, not necessarily the stories and the content of those lives. At least that’s how I remember it anyway. And today, this day and yesterday and the literal tomorrows of my work here, all of that information is confidential, somehow, especially in print. Their step into the clinic and the color of their car and the big tree under which it was parked in their neighborhood home and the 20 weeks at which they lost their baby and the husband or wife or boyfriend who cheated on the patient and the other, and whatever, those things aren’t mine to share…as much as I’d like to in some of their various forms, their disguised forms, their interesting stories and then, they’re not mine, somehow. I can almost hear a voice inside myself saying “Don’t use that name. Don’t say it aloud. Don’t spell it while you’re doodling and sitting on hold. Don’t whisper it as you’re typing your notes. Don’t think it as you’re driving home, and don’t say it in the echoes of your imagination, not even in a conversation within your hidden self. It belongs to someone else in a different place, in a different life, and it ceases to exist in yours once you’re done doing what you do with it. If you remember it later, you had better forget it just as quickly. If your pen starts to write it down, you’d better put it away. When you dream at night or in the middle of the day, that beautiful name had better stay gone from your thoughts and reflections. In all of your remembering, remember that it’s not yours. When your heart cries with your mind in knowing why you know it, when that ache transcends reason and thought, your bones had better remember what will happen if you don’t forget it. It’s not your name, so leave it alone. Years might pass and places change and the context of your rotating around the sun might be different or the same…and you might start reflecting on life and your trod steps and the people you have known. You might remember the faces of those who peopled your earlier lives in those earlier places and those other worlds, but when you start to recall their names and the places and contexts in which you knew them, you’d better remember to forget some of them. If your self fails and your resolve dwindles or your heart still aches too much to ignore, you’d better change the frame, the context, the situation, the details, the heartbeats, the coursing blood, and the number of stairs that led to the place where you knew it. You’d best make it so different that nothing is the same, not even the smell or the taste of the memory that resides in your cells. Don’t use that name…it isn’t yours.”
Anyway, if I tell stories here, they aren’t true…but they’re not made-up either.
In contemplating this wondrous place, I thought of the many things that might be the same or different from the places I’ve been before, the places where I’ve lived and dreamed, stumbled into happiness or fought against raging rivers of sadness or woe, where I considered the options when evaluating mistakes and misfortunes, wrong turns and stupid decisions and thoughtless acts…I pondered those places of hearth and home, those comforting domiciles, living arrangements, quarters, and other stopping places along the way where my life has become what it was and is, those sundry places filled with memories of tender smiles and belly-laughs from little ones and big alike, where that first picture of that first three-month-old has become several walls and picture-walls of photos and portraits and captured moments of these and our many lives, where the echoes of celebrations and sounds of sadness mix and mingle like tasty and alluring aromas from the kitchens of our minds where peace and harmony become one with the rest of life and cause us to know that it’s going to be ok, whatever comes, because we have each other and we live and love and that’s what matters.
I also thought about the view on my way home from work yesterday as I looked eastward toward the mountains and couldn’t find them because of the foggy inversion substance that covered the sky, that blocked-out in its whiteness anything that might be beyond some hundreds of yards. I looked up and out to where the mountains used to be and found the blanket of white extending to the gone place, so I looked higher to where they could be and found them there, yes, above the mist of commerce and progress and upside-down air-streams. I found that the milky white yielded in the up-above to allow a vision from a different world where other planets exist just beyond our reach and where sister moons adorn the heavens in their orbit above us. These and my mountain tops were revealed in their peachy glow from the setting sun, through that vapor below; they were their own white and rocky selves sitting and suspended in the white nothingness, hanging there rich and immense and like little else that has existed in my life. Mountains have been there, yes, in childhood and young adulthood alike, but many years ago and rarely with the immediacy and full presence as these are in their heights and wonder.
This place has become a mix of many things and an absence of others. We are two families from one that now live together and see each other in a constant weekend visit and continuous marvel that it is so. There are many dishes in the sink and different foods in the fridge, four (or three) cars in the driveway and many pairs of shoes about. Tiny footsteps mix with older foot-stomps and dog toes and nails and slippered feet that slide and move about the dark wood floors and lead us and each other around the chilled and warmed and windowed house that is home with its ice-cold tap water and scalding hot, hot water that is there immediately to warm icy fingers and digs deep into the muscles and bones in a morning shower or “hot bath” that soothes a certain trembling soul. The holidays brought a pan or pot of desert cacti to bless the shared home office of a little one and his mom, calming a sad memory of a place that was and is in the used to be, a place that jumped onto the TV screen as we watched Forrest run-ning, that deserted and desert-ed place that somehow pulled on the heart-strings of that same cactus-loving little one, tarnishing an otherwise happy few hours…as life is life and sometimes sadly borne…but happy now on the following morning as he watches his cars racing through an animated image of the same place and then, his joy speaking loudly in the quiet house, full of glee and happiness, and that’s how it is right now.
I dreamed the other night of my return to that former place, plugged-in and along-side those who used to be in my charge. We laughed at how little I remembered and knew, marveled at how slow my fingers had become in typing into the screen those letters and numbers and words that would send help on its way. They thought it was funny that I had returned, funny that I was with them and there again, and funny that I was down from the pod, that elevated place where commands were given, where eyes watched and ears listened to the goings-on from the phones and radios and people who worked them and do. It was funny and light and strangely comforting, and when I awoke I wondered at what had happened to make it so. There was a big empty space between what happened and then, no indication as to what had caused the return from here to there, from this life to that life, from these mountains to that desert-place, and from now to then. It was a dream, of course, but from whence did it come, which part of my psyche spoke loudest in that sleeping place…hope or despair…longing and sadness, expectation of what might come…or simply missing that and those in the familiar? I know where my heart is, but it has many places within it, many places that are touched and can be touched by those other loved and loving ones who live in this tender place, this home in home, this wondrous surround that is marked by adjustment, realignment, compromise, the unknown, and hope.
That precious one, my precious one, told me the other day, that two times in that day, not once but twice, she felt that she was home. She felt that the rooms were hers and this place in its place was what she wanted and where she wanted to be; it was an emotion and sensation that was fleeting and strange, yet welcome to her mourning soul, her saddened spirit, that longing heart that wanted to return to that former place in that earlier time, that place where the place was comforting and dear, even in its discomfort and un-ease, simply and only because it was that home-place and familiar, that spot in her physical existence where she had been for so long that it was natural and right to belong and long to be there…even though she had wanted to leave for so many reasons, so many reasons that are still real and valid and real and important and immediate and then, yes, and conflicted in emotion and want, desiring the place and the time of the past for what it held, while wanting the place and time of the present and future for the hope that it holds, for the hope that it holds. She said that, then, my precious one.
So this new place called Home is and is becoming that sacred place and sanctuary, that harbor in the storm of life where we lash ourselves to the docks of security while we replenish our supplies of strength and endurance for what lies ahead, those things that come without our bidding and assail us so, and bind us tighter to those we know and love and with whom we weather those storms when back out on those seas and tempest tossed…and here we are…in this new place called Home.
Yesterday morning, on my drive home from the store where I had just purchased the week’s food and other household supplies, I was looking at the neighborhoods I passed and at the smoke and steam coming from roof-top chimneys and vent pipes. I also caught sight, through and beyond the clouds, of parts and pieces of the white and enormous mountains that line our eastern horizon. It was and is still amazing and weird and wonderful to find myself in this place in the middle hours of this last day of the year, in a place so new and strange and removed from where I was last year. As I drove those snow-lined streets back to our neighborhood proper, I happened to notice a mile-marker sign that was posted along the road. It said “Mile 11.” Now, I am familiar with state highways and roads that leave their freeway confines and become or pass along the same route as a city street, like US Highway 60 in Arizona that becomes or passes-along on Grand Avenue, bisecting the Valley of the Sun to take travelers on their way to Wickenburg or beyond, and I know of US Highway 89 that takes us from Flagstaff to Page, and to Kanab and Panguitch, and then marks a parallel course to I-15 as it leads north to Provo and Salt Lake, eventually becoming State Street that runs the central length of our city, but I was not familiar with any such state route or US highway that had turned into 700 East as it made its course through the city.
Seeing the sign made me wonder about the eleven miles that had passed on the other side of that mile marker and how many other miles existed in the opposite and other direction, whatever and whichever way that actually was. It struck me as odd, too, and maybe allegorical even, in the processing of what yesterday was and what today is in the marking of time in a year and this present time or era or segment of my life and my family’s lives in this time of crazy and dramatic change. We’ve come to this station and place in our lives, taken such drastic steps to find ourselves in a new state and locale, and work and living and natural environment and our heads and hearts and sometimes emotions are spinning and wondering and looking for something familiar to grasp and hold-on to as we attempt to regain our balance and direction. And here we are then, eleven miles from somewhere, remembering and thinking about the past and wondering about the future, holding-on to each other, leaning against one another in our little relocated family, awaiting the arrival of others and missing those who won’t or cannot join us…and our friends, of course, we remember and miss them too, those precious ones who, even from outside the circle of our family and intimates, loved us and brought us joy and companionship for the past twenty years and more.
So it’s not only us, but you, too, and then, who on this first day of a new year are eleven miles from somewhere. Where are you going, what are you doing, how are you, and we, too, going to measure this year when it’s gone, like we’ve done to the one that is just passed and passing?
As I sit here in this enchanted place that filled my dreams in my yesterdays and look around at what has become the reality of my everyday, at the white covered mountains and winter-bare trees, I reflect upon the things that I wrote in this season of the past year and marvel at what has changed and what has remained the same. I am thinking, too, of the friends that I spoke to in “Yes, I Spoke of You,” those noble and precious people who peopled my past and still live in my memories as I live in this new and present place.
When I read those writings from this time last year, I reflect on the workplace happenings of the holidays in “Postscript to a 9-1-1 Christmas.” It’s crazy, now, how my Christmas and this season are so different than they were last year. Instead of participating with my friends and co-workers in that Christmas morning banquet as we and they answered the call, I am sitting at home with part of my family, part only, as those friends are away from theirs for a bit, taking care of their citizen callers and officers for a shift of so many hours and then. They are writing more workplace holiday memories into the stories of their lives as I sit on the outside and remember what used to be.
There won’t be any or many Christmas cards sent from our house to yours this year. Life is still busy and crazy and boxes remain unpacked in their various places throughout the house as we’re trying to reassemble our uprooted lives and find places for those pictures and things that bring comfort to our hearts and souls when that need is real and upon us. Not many cards sent, but friendly faces and friendships remembered in this faraway place, those intangible tokens of an enjoyed and lived life.
So I wish you all happiness and peace in this holiday season, and I thank you again, as I have thanked you before, for creating those new worlds within me that are our paths walked together, the stories we’ve shared and lived in our workaday lives, and the experiences that have bound us together as friends. I thank you all.
The notes dropped softly into the quiet air of the darkened room, falling easily like thick snowflakes on a wintry and wood-smokey night. They slid sometimes in icy wonder up the scales and tinkled down again and pattered along the floor like a baby’s footsteps as he’s learning to walk, all wobbly-legged and unsure, patting his bare toes in sprinkled notes and laughs of fancy and then. They remind the man of a music box that used to sit on the shelf in other babies’ rooms in days and nights of a past that is thin and fleeting. Cars and cars pass and the furnace clicks on and a smell of warm dust and human dander swirls against the cold walls as another tune steps from the stereo and moves him further along and into the night. The muted lights from something moving on the quiet television that glow through his closed eyelids make him wonder for a second why it’s on, but then it doesn’t matter…as the notes keep rising and falling like a tiny heartbeat. A tiny heartbeat that is just below the other notes and endures with its tender strength and doesn’t go away even when the music ends, that one little note that lay underneath and within and kept on with its steady, un-fading ping ping ping ping, and then, that heartbeat. There is an Indian running swiftly in tinkling notes of raindrops and teardrops of gentle cadence, a rushing of golden tango-notes like freckles falling on a fair and tender face, and a person dining alone in a happy sadness that isn’t sad, with a movement and sway that comforts and soothes in its quietude. They are notes in their touching caress and the passing of the minutes and hours of a night that lure the man into a wakeful sleep where his heart beats slow and calm and there is nothing else, just the song.