A Life Less Blog

July 13, 2010, 8:52 pm
Filed under: Short Story | Tags:

I blinked my eyes and suddenly was waiting in a large line in a hallway with fluid looking walls.  I touched them and they seemed to suck me inside, briefly pulling my fingertips and showing me pictures and faces looking vaguely familiar.  My head felt like it was full of cotton and I struggled to make sense of where I was.  The only thought I seemed to have being a great need to tell someone, anyone why I was here.  Was this right?  My brain had a mind of its own and searched for something new to say, something they hadn’t heard already.  Who were they?   There had to be something; some loophole I was missing.  The line in front of me was shrinking rapidly and I was drawing a blank.  If I only could have heard what the others said, than at least I would know what to avoid when it was my turn.  I looked around me in line.  There were some interesting characters here.  Here, was a woman with jet-black hair, a piercing in her nose and colorful tattoos all down her arms that looked like she was wearing sleeves.  I wondered what great accomplishment or contribution she had made. “I made beautiful body art and helped people to express their innermost desires and passions through tattoos and piercings!” There, was a young man who couldn’t have looked more than 30 with horn-rimmed glasses and a slicked down hairdo.  “I invented Velcro and gave new hospital gowns to everyone at St. Michael’s Children’s Hospital.” A few feet away, an elderly woman was moving forward; “I made the prize-winning pie for the State Fair of 1948!  It was Strawberry Rhubarb, my husband’s favorite.  Is he here, I would very much like to see him…it’s been almost forty years since the war…” These were all stereotypes, but they were comforting.  I at least had an idea of what was expected of me, but what to say?  What to say?  I wonder if the question is the same for everyone or if they change it up a bit to add variety so they don’t get bored.  Only two more people ahead of me now, and I can just see the entrance from here.  Think, think, what could they possibly ask me?  I wonder if they can tell when I lie?

Glancing up I realized there was only one other person in front of me now.  I shuffled forward keeping my eyes fixed to the floor.  I could hear the person in front of me breathing.  It was calm and slow, relaxed and purposeful.  Here was a person who knew what he would say.   His body was stock straight; shoulders back, head up, and he carried himself with such confidence; it looked as if he could make a boulder rolling downhill at full speed, stop mid-roll; just to let him pass.  His eyes held a brightness that seemed to burn from within him and stare right through whatever he was looking at to something floating in the air only he could see and understand.  Here was a person who knew what he wanted and who wouldn’t stop until he had it.    Here was a man, who had his speech planned out with such clarity I could almost hear it in my own head.

I am a man with few accomplishments.  I am neither attached to, nor under the influence of anything.  My life was a means to an end.  The end stands before me and I neither fear, nor welcome it.  It is the next logical step.  It is where we all must go when we realize it is the next logical step.  In life, it is always about getting somewhere, doing something, finishing a task so another can happen.  Here, there is no sense of urgency, no need to complete anything, there just IS. Up until this point, I have felt rushed.  I have been searching for something and never finding it. I have been longing for a reason to continue and yet fearing the continuation.  Where was I going, what was I doing to get there and why do I want to make the journey in the first place?

The imagined conversation of the man in front of me was helping me to gather my own thoughts. How could this person in front of me be so sure of himself; so confident and poised, and yet so vulnerable and open all at the same time?  How come I could so clearly relate a speech from him in answer to whatever they would ask, yet when it came to me, I felt so awkward, out-of-place and mute?

I was lost to myself, seduced by the material things I possessed and thought mattered.  Do you see any of those things here with me now?  The car I saved two years salary for, eating top ramen noodles and stuffing the cash I received in a mason jar under the sink.  The suit I saw on a successful businessman on the train that screamed money and accomplishment; I bought it with the remaining jar money, only to be found by my mother stuffed in the back of a closet with the tissue paper still holding up the shoulders.  Even the model who smiled at me from the front cover of Vogue I met sitting by herself in a crowded café and finally worked up the nerve to talk to.  Our moments together seemed the highlight of bliss; the height of the crescendo I had worked all those years to create.

I stared at my own feet, sinking miserably into the floor, seeming to struggle under the weight of my legs, which looked as if they were trying to shy away from the weight of my hips and torso as my chest and arms gripped my sides trying to hold it all together.

As I stand here now, alone, with no car and no suit, it is only now I realize how completely ridiculous those things truly are.  In the end, there is just this, just the understanding of this, and just the complete release I feel as I stare into whatever is behind those doors.  I have been subconsciously searching for this release and this understanding my whole life and now that I stand so close to it, so near the possibility of actually achieving it, finally, the only thing I am apprehensive about is not being allowed to stay here and experience it.

Was this how I felt?  I never had a “model girlfriend” or a “fancy sports car,” but wasn’t I a man?  Wasn’t I supposed to have wanted these things?

I watched as he disappeared into the doorway a few feet ahead of us.  His swinging gait; a tiger ready to pounce, or a dog ready to roll over and lick your hand, knowing whatever they had in store he would be ready for.  What could I say?  I was still drawing a blank.  Maybe it would help if I made a list?  Would they understand then?   I had always liked lists and it calmed me down a little to think of my life in these terms now:

  • Five years old, I stood aside for Susan Simmons when she wanted to go down the slide even though I wanted to go down the slide first and I had been waiting all afternoon for the chance to go down the slide when the sun hadn’t turned it into a searing sheath of hot metal that would leave an angry red mark across the back of my thighs.
  • Ten years old, I defended Clare Cummings, a slightly overweight, bespectacled, clumsy girl during lunch at recess from the jeers of her kickball team as she tripped over the ball with her foot and ended up kicking it backwards and out-of-bounds, giving the opposing team an extra point.
  • Twelve years old, I was the only boy in class who didn’t look at the sweater that clung to Jaime Johnson’s newly developed breasts as she bounced slowly up to the blackboard in math class and started scribbling the answer to the problem on the board.
  • Fifteen years old, I purposely did not cry at my mother’s funeral as I gripped my baby brother’s hand and strode toward the coffin in the middle of the room.  As I looked down at the body in the bed of that pine box I couldn’t even recognize my mother.  It wasn’t her that lay with her arms folded in an unnatural pose of what the funeral director took to mean “serenity.”  It was not the color of her skin or the softness of her hair, it didn’t even smell like her as I leaned in to put a light kiss on the top of her forehead and lifted my brother up and tilted him in to do the same.
  • Nineteen; I didn’t take advantage of Jaime Johnson as she lay comatose after the party at our frat house.  Her breasts sagging in her sweater stretching across her body as she lay unceremoniously spread-eagle in her cheerleading outfit.  She looked like a moment frozen in time as if caught right in the middle of a cheer and deciding to fall asleep.  I cradled her head and laid her down more comfortably on the couch covering her bare legs with a blanket in the upstairs bedroom as I locked the door and settled into a chair to keep watch over her all night.
  • Twenty two; I walked hand in hand with Jaime Johnson; now Jaime Stratford; my wife, as we were first introduced to our friends and family as Mr. and Mrs. Stratford.
  • Twenty-four; I held open the elevator door for an elderly woman as she slowly made her way across the tiled floor carrying a single bag of groceries with both hands and slumped under the awkward weight of her purse on one shoulder.  It was the elevator of our first apartment and new life in the City.  I offered to help her with the groceries but she smiled at me sheepishly and asked if I would push the button for floor number five.
  • Twenty-six; I held my wife’s hand as our son Brandon was born, feeling her fingernails dig into my skin with each contraction and relax as they passed.  I stroked the hair back from her forehead and kissed her there, lightly, just as the Dr. said, “Sir, it’s a boy!”
  • Thirty-two; I held the hand of my son as we crossed the street, I held it firmly and made sure we could get across safely.  My wife tripped as we rushed across to make the light and the heel of her shoe broke.  I told my son to run the rest of the way to the corner and turned back to help my wife find her heel when I heard the sound of a car horn and saw flashing lights as I reached up and pushed my wife out-of-the-way.

As I stood there watching the doors open, I stepped into the brightly lit foyer; all other thoughts vanished from my mind, as the yellow light began to bathe me in its glow.  I blurted out the first words that came to me and hoped they were enough.

“I miss my wife and son, and want to go back.  I need to know they are ok.  I need to know they made it across the street and that they didn’t try to save me.  I am not ready to be here yet.  Please send me back.  I don’t have the understanding and self-assurance of the guy who came in before me.  I wasn’t ready for this, I wasn’t finished.  I want to see my son grow up and go to college, and meet a girl, and settle down.  I want to have the awkward conversations about sex with him and tell him that a woman needs to feel respected and cherished all at the same time.  I want to throw a football with my grandchildren.  I think you’ve made a mistake.”

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