Saturday, February 17, 2007

Intertwined, Part 3

When I woke again, it was light outside, and the storm had passed. The bed was empty, save me, so I got up to eat breakfast and look for him. I made my way into the kitchen and made some toast, then wondered out onto the porch to sit and enjoy the crisp air and beautiful scenery brought on by the morning. The air was damp, from the rains the night before, and cool. The ground was damp, too, and the rocks glistened with a slippery grin. The bark on the trees was dark, making the contrast between the brown of the trunk and the green of the canopy even more picturesque. A slight fog seemed to rise over the forest in the opposing side of the valley, and it seemed to tumble lazily into the valley below as if it was on a stroll to greet me good morning before the sun stepped out from behind the mountain and burned it away.

I had sat on the porch for maybe five minutes when I heard a familiar voice urgently calling my name. I casually walked down the narrow road, following the sound of his voice, and found him high up on the embankment. He was obviously excited about something, and as soon as he caught sight of me, he started saying something rather quickly that I couldn’t quite make out. Staying on the road below him, I walked over to where he stood so that we could talk, and as I did so the steep incline of the embankment and the narrowness of the road forced him to step closer to the edge to maintain eye contact with me. When I finally stopped walking and could concentrate on listening I could tell, despite his rushed speech, that he was talking about the waterfall, that the storm the night before had caused it to swell, and he wanted to know if I wanted to hike back with him to see it. Waiting for my reply, he stepped a little closer to the edge. I paused for a moment, trying to decide if I should go back and change clothes first, and in that brief second the ledge up on the embankment collapsed. My companion toppled, almost twenty feet straight down, and landed on his back in the rocks with an audible thud.

I am certain that my heart skipped a beat in the instant panic that seized me, and I rushed over to him as fast as I could. He was lying precariously off of the edge of the rocky cliff, with his right arm and leg dangling, and his left leg millimeters from slipping off. He was trying to pull himself back onto the road when I reached him, but something was wrong. He wasn’t moving right, and he couldn’t make his arms work to pull himself back onto the cliff. I grabbed his left arm with one hand and put the other under his shoulders to try to lift him back onto the road, but I was weak with fright, and his body was limp, like dead weight. I simply couldn’t do it. I decided instead to hold him there for a moment and stabilize him until I could run back into the cabin and call for help on the radio. I stopped and looked at him, and gazed into those eyes that were this time a flinty grey. He was bleeding from his ears and nose, and his breathing was hoarse and ragged. He blinked his eyes once or twice slowly, and each time he opened them, they were more glazed and flinty. I started to cry. “I’m going to the radio to call for help,” I told him. “I’ll be back as soon as I know someone is coming.” I tried to get up to leave, but his left arm held me tight, and I couldn’t pull myself free. I struggled and pulled and cried and begged him to let me go for help, but he would neither let go, nor could I pull him off of the ledge. I sat back down, drained, and held him in my arms. His breathing stopped and started, and then he caught my eye and attempted a weak smile. “I wanted you to have this,” he whispered, and he pushed his clenched right hand into my chest. I let go of his left arm and held his hand there. “I love you,” I murmured. He gave me a weak smile that I could barely make out through my tear filled eyes. He exhaled, and his eyes glazed over and lost their focus.

His body went limp and he started to slip off of the edge of the cliff. I moved to catch him, and as I did so I let go of his right hand that I had clutched to my chest. His arm swung downward, off the edge of the cliff, and his grip released, and all I saw was a brief glimpse of gold and a glitter before the contents of his hand spilled into the valley below. Somehow, I pulled most of his body back onto the ledge, my tears raining drops of sorrow onto his body all the while. I went to the radio and called for help, and after what seemed like an eternity a helicopter and a small truck arrived on the scene. They asked me questions and shined lights in my eyes and took my pulse and blood pressure. I was cold, shivering as a matter of fact, and they gave me a blanket and put me on the helicopter. As we were leaving I caught sight of them loading a stretcher blanketed with a shroud onto the truck.

I cried for days after that. Nothing seemed to fill my loneliness or ease my grief. I would sit in the rain and cry, and for those few minutes it seemed as if the whole world was mourning with me. I wondered in and out of our café, almost feeling like I was looking for something, but I could never bring myself to sit or to buy anything. Everything seemed so bland and grey and.....pointless.

I called and talked to the people who came up the mountain to help me, looking for some answers. They said that the rain from the night before must have loosened the rocks on the embankment. That is probably why it collapsed. Also, the doctors told me that he had sustained severe blunt trauma to the head, and had shattered several vertebra, so he was more than likely paralyzed for the last few minutes of his life. The trauma to his head was so severe, they said, that there was a large amount of bleeding into the brain, and that even if they could have gotten him to a hospital in five minutes, they still couldn’t have saved him. But even the answers to my questions didn’t quiet my grief, or help bridge the giant chasm ripped in my heart. Nothing but time did that.

It took a lot of time. Time to learn how to get out of bed every morning. Time to learn how to interact with people in public. Time to stand on my own without waves of grief striking me down. Time to learn how to be happy just with who I am. It took time to learn how to do all of this with a gorge through the softest part of me. But time wears down the sharp peaks and smoothes out the jagged edges until, eventually, the land is flat again. Different, but flat. And as I learned to be a whole person again, I realized that I kept a part of him with me. The parts that were subtle and rule bending and spontaneous and adventurous are part of me now; his enduring presents to me. I get to wear them, and while I may not be able to wear them as well as he did, they are mine, and they are all that is left of what he had.

Sometimes, now and again, I think that it is about time to start over. To begin again. To share some of these new things that I wear with someone else, in the same selfless way that he shared so many things with me. But I’m scared. My pain hasn’t killed me, but I’m not sure that it has made me stronger, either. I’m different than I was before. I enjoy my solitude, because I know that no one can hurt me that way. But what kind of life is that? What kind of life is it to sit here on a park bench with the pigeons on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon? One that I’m content to lead alone, I suppose. Maybe it is time to start over, to learn how to become intertwined again. Things will be different this time, as each time always has been, but the journey is part of the gift. Maybe it’s time to sit down in a café again and discuss coffee beans with someone, and find out just how far this human heart can go.

The End

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Intertwined, Part 2

I'm not sure much changed between us after that first kiss. I already spent every moment that I possibly could with him, and the topics we discussed had already spanned the spectrum: from sex to God to pharmaceuticals to international politics and how they inflated the price of coffee beans for the common laborer. Only now, however, I had access to his lips almost any time I wanted, and I partook of them liberally. Many an evening he let me venture close enough to those lips to touch them to mine, and more than a couple of times we fogged the windows of his car with our passion. Somewhere in this time something inside of me changed, and I no longer wanted the seclusion of my own life, but instead what I wanted was to pull close to him and lay in the security of his arms forever.

One Wednesday morning after a set particularly hot days, we were sitting in the café eating breakfast. I was having a muffin and a cup of coffee, and he was drinking a concoction of hot raspberry tea and munching on slices he cut off of a green apple with a paring knife. We were reading the newspaper, passing the sections to each other across the table, when, as he passed me the entertainment section, he asked me if I would like to go up to a cabin in the mountains for the weekend. I was rather stunned, because we had never done anything that was planned and non-spontaneous, and I am sure that I looked at him over the entertainment section with a blank stare and my mouth hanging open. I don't even remember what I said in response to his inquiry, but I know that it must have been somewhere in the ballpark of yes because on Friday I found myself sitting in an aisle seat of a jet liner, eagerly anticipating our flight into the mountains.

We had stayed up late the night before packing and laughing and watching old movies, and both of us were rather tired, so just after lift-off he leaned his head back against his chair in an effort to get some rest. The man beside him, however, had something different in mind, and I was fortunate enough to have a front-row seat to the event.

The man nudged my companion and asked if he would like to play a fun game. My companion looked up suddenly with a startled look and simply raised his eyebrows to the man, who I think was some kind of computer programmer, judging from the laptop computer and other paraphernalia he was toting. The man continued and explained: "I ask you a question, and if you don't know the answer, you pay me $5. Then you ask me a question, and if I don't know the answer, I'll pay you $5." My companion politely declined and tried to get to sleep. The Programmer, who was getting somewhat agitated, then said, "OK, if you don't know the answer you pay me $5, and if I don't know the answer, I'll pay you $50!" This catches his attention, and wearing a smile that was so faint I barely recognized it, he blinked twice, and agreed to the game. The Programmer asked the first question. "What's the distance from the earth to the moon?" My companion didn't say a word, but reached into his wallet, pulled out a five-dollar bill and handed it to the Programmer. Then, it was my companion’s turn. He asked the Programmer a riddle, which I regretfully I cannot remember. I think that it had to do with going up a hill with a certain number of legs and coming down the hill on another number, but it was not the same riddle as the sphinx gave Oedipus. This riddle, however it was phrased, was completely unique. The Programmer looked at him with a puzzled look. He took out his laptop computer and spent over an hour on it, frantically searching all of his sources and talking to co-workers over the chat lines, but all to no avail. After an hour, he woke my companion and handed him $50. My companion politely took the $50 and turned away to try to get back to sleep. The Programmer, however, was upset, and shook my companion and asked "Well, so what's the answer?" Without a word, he reached into his wallet, handed the Programmer $5, and turned to give me a wink before he went back to sleep. It was then that I knew I was with the sharpest man on the face of the earth.

A couple of hours later, the plane landed, and we rented a car for our half-hour road trek into the mountains. The drive up the mountain was rather narrow and treacherous, with many unpredictable twists, and a wrong turn, if ever one was made, would decidedly be the last one a person would ever make as they toppled off the mountain into the valley below. The most treacherous portion of the road was just as we approached the cabin. It narrowed drastically, with one side being a rocky embankment, going up perhaps twenty feet, and the other side being a sheer drop into nothingness. Despite the insidious drive, however, the cabin was wonderful, nestled into the side of the mountain with a breathtaking overlook of the deep green valley below. Inside the cabin were all of the things one would need for a stay in the mountains: a bathroom, two bedrooms, a fully furnished living area, a rather large two-way radio, and a kitchen, fully stocked. It was a little dusty when we got there, but after I swept away all of the cobwebs and opened the blinds, the light of the sun echoed off of the bright pine paneling, giving the cabin a cheerful and cozy air. I was glad to be there.

There were trails that laced all through the terrain surrounding that cabin, and with the invigorating air, gorgeous scenery, and engaging conversation I must have hiked twenty miles in that first day. My favorite trail was one that went up that rocky embankment, and then curved around the side of the mountain for about two miles until it arrived at a giant sheet of rock that jutted out from the side of the mountain. This point was a fantastic overlook of the dark valley below, and in sharp contrast, the brilliant white of an immense waterfall. We stayed up there almost all day on Saturday, talking and soaking up the peacefulness of our surroundings. The echo up there was also remarkable. We would yell things off of the side of the mountain, and listen to it bounce around us for what seemed like an hour. He would go off and pick me wildflower bouquets and bring me handfuls of wild berries, and he told me stories of ancient Indian folklore about these mountains until it was dusk, when we walked that rocky path back to the cabin. That night he tucked me in, and kissed my forehead, and told me to have sweet dreams about him. It was one of the most wonderful days of my life.

I woke to the sound of a thunderbolt so loud that the iron headboard on my bed hummed like a tuning fork that had just been thumped. Lighting lit up the night like a flickering street lamp, and the sound of the howling wind was made even eerier by the creeks and groans of the house as the squall exerted its mighty force upon the little cabin. From my window, and in between flashes of lightning, I could see the trees bend to an almost impossible degree, as if even the force of my breath would cause them to shatter into splinters. And then the rain came, splattering against my window in waves, streaking the glass, contorting my view of what was going on outside, and the bent trees suddenly became wraiths that danced in the tempest, lunging toward me then away again, taunting me.

Suddenly, I felt a hand slip around my waist. I jumped, and tried to twist away, but the grip was too tight. I craned my neck around to see who, or what, was holding me, and in the erratic bursts of lightning I saw that well-known, crisp jaw line and sandy brow hair. I stopped struggling, my heart pounding and my breathing heavy, and he pulled me close and whispered soothing words in my ear, and then took me to his bed, and wrapped his arms around me until I fell asleep.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Intertwined, Part 1

How is it that people fall into your life and you have no idea how they got there? It seems as if you wake up one morning and realize that they are in your life and you like them there. At least, that is the way it has occasioned to me.

Sitting on this park bench, I think of him, and for no particular reason. I haven’t thought about him for quite some time, not nearly as often as one should imagine. Pigeons randomly come and sit beside me and ask for breadcrumbs, some asking nicely and some not-so-nicely, but it doesn’t matter because I have no bread crumbs to give. Instead I focus on him: that guy across the park who is walking his dog. I have actually watched him for quite some time as he makes lap after lap around the winding sidewalks of the park. One lap he actually passed by my bench, and I got a good look at him. His features seemed familiar, and perhaps that is why I am remembering things.

His hair was sandy brown and curly, but smooth. Of the seemingly thousands of times I ran my fingers through that hair I never found a tangle, despite all the twists and turns and loops it took on its voyage to his neck. My hand rested there, too, on his neck. His jaw was much too triangular and sharp to touch, especially when it was clenched. That crisp jaw line bled upward into narrow cheekbones that were offset by his large, lavish eyes. His eyes are what took me the most. They were perfectly almond-shaped with long eyelashes and covered by full eyebrows that were golden brown. His eyes were always clear; never once do I remember a single red streak arcing across that ocean of white before it collided with the dynamic color of his iris. They changed color for any reason, his eyes, from the weather to his clothing to the mood he wore at the minute, and anywhere from a brilliant sea foam green to a brown so deep I would have drowned in its depths, if he would have let me.

He fell into my life when I had just come from an ugly place and bore more of its wounds than I did its scars. I have heard it said that you find your soul mate when you can finally live with yourself and be alone in the solitude of who you are. A nice thing to say, I suppose, provided you wish to live alone in the solitude of who you are. He fell into my life and I used him as a bandage until I healed, and in that time we grew together and became intertwined, he and I. Then one rainy day we were sitting in a café, and he was telling me about some cabin in the mountains that his parents owned. I remember blinking, watching him over a cup of coffee, trying to figure out how he made his way into my life, and ultimately realizing that I liked him there. Six months later all I could remember was him.

We spent hours together. Most of my waking hours and, come to think of it, most of my non-waking hours I sought him out. I didn’t spend time with him because he was endowed with good looks or money or anything so material. As a matter of fact he was not a particularly handsome or rich man, as some might call handsome and rich, but every day his traits wove a tapestry for me that was unimaginably gorgeous. I spent time with him because I enjoyed who I was when I was with him. I’m not quite sure why he spent time with me.

He taught me things that were amazing to me. Things about God and people and relationships and life in general. He saw things that no one else did, and he shared them selflessly. He was daring and subtle and knew how to break the rules without getting caught. (Now that I look back, though, he never really broke any rules, but just kind of bent them.) He knew how to be fun and crazy and wild, and walk away with no regrets because he had done nothing regrettable. He was mysterious that way, to be able to do so much and know so much without a hint of intimidation, and to be able to be almost animal in his passions while maintaining unblemished purity, and his dotty decisions were almost always proceeded by two blinks and the wrinkling of his brow. I grew to expect those two blinks just after his eyes changed color, or at certain times of the day, or when the crisp line of his jaw became even sharper.

The nature of our relationship was always something of an enigma to me. We spent a great deal of time together, and I grew to have a great infatuation with him. Indeed, more than a great infatuation, instead more of a quiet resolve to always have him around me. The time I spent with him was wonderful. We would go on long walks in the park, finding trails that no foot had trod in years, following them to the end before we would dare think about coming back again. We would sit on a bench in the pouring rain with limp cigarettes hanging out of our mouths, talking about the weather and complaining about the government; or we would lay on our backs in a field at night and count stars and talk about any topic that could possibly be dreamt up until the sun trumpeted its arrival at the horizon and scared all of our stars away. And when all of our fun was finished, and I could no longer keep my sagging eyelids apart, he would tuck me in, and kiss my forehead, and tell me to have sweet dreams about him. I loved him deeply.

In fact, I told him that I loved him. One day in the park, while the clouds were brimming with rain, we were walking briskly toward our café so as to avoid the deluge waiting to be unleashed from above, and talking about the stages normal relationships go through. Suddenly the urge welled up within me and I stopped him by the arm and pulled him close to me. I gently put my finger over his lips and told him softly, “I love you, you know.” He blinked his eyes several times slowly, and I watched as those eyes turned from grass green to a deep brown. He lightly brushed aside my finger that lay across his mouth, and then kissed me, full on the lips. It was the first time in all those hundreds of hours we had spent together that he had given me a real kiss. It was warm and wet and gentle, and his lips were soft and supple. One of his arms snaked around my waist, holding me close, while the other hand gently caressed my face. I never knew how long we stood there, or how long the clouds had loosed their torrent upon us, but rain had saturated us completely before our embrace was broken, when we walked slowly toward that café, hand in hand.

Friday, February 09, 2007

In an alternate reality....

In an alternate reality, I think I would be some sort of artist. I don't think I would be a painter because, quite frankly, I stink at painting. My Ritz painting is probably the limit of my skill.

I think instead I would maybe be an actor. I really love acting, and have even taken some acting classes at The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. For those of you who don't know, The Guthrie is the largest regional theater in the world. It's well-known in the acting community.

But the fact is that acting is a shifty business. In this reality, I'm not all that into shifty. Plus, I'm not good looking enough to be a motion-picture star. In an alternate reality, I would be Tom Hanks - good looking enough to be on film, talented enough to get almost any job he wants.

In this reality, writing is more my style of artistic outlet. I've written a couple of things over the years, most of which sits unfinished on my hard drive somewhere. Most of what I have actually completed is for grad school. The last completed piece I wrote for pleasure was in 1998. But in the last several months, I've been thinking more and more about writing again, with a determination I've never really felt before. This has caused me to dig up some of my older stuff to see if it was any good.

In the next few posts, I'll be putting up the short-story I wrote in 1998. It's called "Intertwined", and is a story I wrote for Melissa before we got married. Now, keep in mind that the story was written almost 10 years ago by an engineer with little writing experience, so the writing might seem a little pretentious, but the story-telling is good. Let me know what you think.


Saturday, February 03, 2007

Imaginary Friends

Not too long ago, one of my rapidly aging friends, Jessica, posted about a girl with a crush. Before reading more, you should go see her post here.

Jessica's post got me to thinking about a couple of things. Not the least of which is why people have such meaningful imaginary relationships that real relationships pale in comparison. What is it that makes the girl in Jessica's blog cling to this "distant acquaintance"? What is it that makes so many of us (including me) have imaginary friends that we turn to when we are lonely or hurt or tired or angry? Why do we look to a fantasy world for relationships that can sustain us and give us meaning instead of looking to real people and real relationships for encouragement? Why is flesh-and-blood less real to us than our imaginary friends?

Deep down, I think we all long for a face that will never turn away. We long for a face that will love us and accept us. We long for a face that will kiss our scars and hug us as we cry. We long for a face that will be crazy when we need some spontaneity. A face that will think we are beautiful, brilliant, and worth having around. We long for a face that intrigues us and stimulates us, and that face in turn is intrigued by us. We long to know, and be known.

But in our consumer-driven culture, friends like that seem impossible to find. I know I've never found one. Instead, friends seem like disposable cups - you use the same one until it's time to leave the party, and then you leave it on the coffee table for the host to sweep away with the rest of the garbage. Or, to put it a less depressing way, we become consumers shopping for the perfect friend just like we are shopping for the perfect pair of jeans. If they don't fit after they've been through the wash a few times, go find another pair.

Some single people think that marriage will solve this friend problem. Some married people think a different spouse will solve the friend problem. They're both wrong, because what they are really looking for are imaginary friends - instant gratification without the effort.

And this is where I think the imaginary friend problem comes from: We're scared. Because of something that has happened in our past, or something we saw on TV, or something we read in a book somewhere, we're afraid of what will happen if we let flesh-and-blood people face us in ways that mean they really know us. We fear being rejected and hurt by flesh-and-blood people whom are outside our control. We fear the work it will take to actually get to know someone else - warts and all. We fear being vulnerable because we are afraid that some how, some way it will come around and bite us.

So we chose our safe imaginary friends. They're no work - they don't disagree with us or disappoint us or challenge us. It is impossible for them to hurt us, so there is no risk. These imaginary friends are perfectly harmless, perfectly lovable, and maintenance-free. They are completely under our control at all times, with a 100% moneyback guarantee. We know that without a doubt that they will fit.

Real relationships are scary and hard and time-consuming. Of course they are - that's what makes them worth it! In the past couple of years since I have grown tired enough of my imaginary friends to actually risk getting hurt, I've noticed something interesting. This issue with imaginary friends isn't just a personal issue, it's also a spiritual one. The more I've been willing to risk myself for the sake of making meaningful relationships, the more I've realized how I treat my relationship with Jesus just like He is an imaginary friend - harmless and controllable. (Instead, I've realized Jesus is far more disturbing than we give him credit.)

Does anyone besides me wonder how on earth we ended up with such retarded relationship skills?