Hidden Clues

“Joseph will become the death of you.” JSM

-Revelation-

She must think I’m out of my mind. Talk about an awkward first impression.

“Joe? OK, Joe it is. What does Joe have to do with Saara? Why does Saara have two a’s?”

I leaned back in the office chair and crossed my arms. She’s asking an awful lot of questions. My shield raised slow around me, “They’re just dreams. I write down and sketch out what I remember. Saara had two a’s for some reason and I don’t know why. I can’t draw worth a shit. Doodling is the extent of it.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that. At least you try… That, Jeremy,” she pointed to Joe, “Is a real nice stick man. Well done.”

“Oh, no… let me see that.” I reached across the space and snatched a small blue notebook from her hand. A palm sized flip notebook used during the days of my sociology class at the university for taking notes. The kind police detectives use on the TV shows. I opened it up and turned the cover around.

Drawn on the inside with a black pen I doodled the “have a nice day” smiley face, with a buried chainsaw sticking half out of it’s skull.

“Well… that’s terrible.” She smiled and turned her attention back to the mess.

“Yeah. When I started getting bored, I found myself writing random thoughts, drawing silly pictures, anything to pass the time. Then I started recording my dreams not long into my first year. Just for the hell of it. Check it out. My English professor said he wrote in a dream journal his entire life. I figured I’d give it a whirl too.” I withdrew a thick leather book from the top shelf, hidden within my small collection of sci-fi and fantasy novels, and opened it to the bookmarked page.

“That was the last one I had.” I pointed to the short paragraph and allowed her to browse my chicken scratches; which I can barely read, therefore I didn’t expect her to understand my written ramblings.

“Joe. Hitchhiker. Dad’s a real asshole and was responsible for his parents death. Killed by smoking. Cigar caused car accident. Joe’s wife, Karen, dies in three days. I get to choose how. New start for Joe. Be gentle, he loves her very much.”

“Right? Messed up…”

“What does Joe look like?”

“White tee shirt. Suspenders. Jeans. He had a leather shoulder bag. Felt like casual 40’s garb?”

She adjusted on the hard wood floor and sat cross legged, “Interesting. What about Karen? What’s up with her?”

“I have no idea.” I chuckled and pondered why we were focusing our attention on the choppy details of an old dream journal. A book I write in, out of nothing more than sheer habit. “Just some weird dreams. Not much else to it.”

“What’s in the folder?”

I looked beside me on the desk’s surface and grinned, “I think it’s an old map. Some stupid project I started during the ice storm of ’98.” I pulled out the sheets one by one and snickered at my silly concepts from years before. Nameless places. Triangles for mountains and circles for bodies of water.

I turned the sheets around one by one, placed them on the desk like giant puzzle pieces trying to make sense of it all, when Nancy looked my way. “I found some printed emails stapled together. Is this important?”

“Probably not,” I removed it from her grasp. My eyes glanced over the contents then opened wide with surprise, and I peeled myself from the chair. My stomach dropped through the floor and I tried to blink it all away.

“Are you OK?”

“I… I don’t know. I remember writing this to a group of friends years ago. I had an idea, a spur of the moment, weird crazy flash of the imagination, and wanted to run it by the others. I printed it out because I didn’t want to forget about it, but I guess I did. Hold on. Let me reread it really quick.”

The contents of the email are not important at this time. The mailer was bounced back and forth among my close friends and I briefly, back in 2007. It was the final reply at the bottom I had my attention on.

‘If you don’t do this, Jere, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.’treasure-map

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Stick Man

“Beneath each pile of rubble is a foundation. Clean it off and begin again.” JSM

-One Big Mess-

Last weekend, I engaged in an activity which caused discomfort.

The reason for my discomfort, was so much time was initially spent building it up and molding it into everything I wanted it to be over the years. It’s terrifying to decimate something you love, or change it in some way.

The task was overwhelming, intimidating, a bit scary, and way too much thought was invested before hand. Do I really want to do this? What will I miss? Will I miss anything important? Oh no. What if you miss something… IMPORTANT?

I gave it some thought, shrugged and smiled, pressed the button, and initiated Operation Clean Sweep. Those involved in my past who happen to be reading this, will understand the comical personal reference.

I accessed the pages within my social media that shows liked and followed sites, and I spent a chunk of a day pondering their elimination(s); then following through. I believe within the first thirty minutes I ditched over forty followed sites.

The rest of the time spent was balancing the pros and cons of all the remaining options. Do you really need sixteen space and universe related sites? How many movie trailer venues do you  follow anyway? Nine ? You’re not involved in real estate, get rid of that. These humor sites do nothing for you.

At the end of the assignment, I felt relieved. My social media was customized to a better personal fit, and now when I happen to scroll and breeze through my time line, it’s less convoluted and seemingly endless. In the long run, a time saver. I’m not quite done yet, but getting close.

I go through spurts like that around the homestead. I call them Life Purges. Gutting out aspects of my existence that don’t appear to fit me anymore and cleaning house. Changing things up. A soul cleansing every few months. Out with the old and in with the new.

I do this because I undergo varying changes in my likes and dislikes, what I pay attention to, and what I look forward to. The transition happens fast, and at times I don’t even notice it until something triggers it to memory.

One week I may be engaged in a popular TV show, then the following week ignore it completely and eventually forget about it altogether. I don’t watch Game of Thrones anymore (perhaps someday I’ll climb back aboard the bandwagon), so what’s the point of seeing it on my news feed in seven different spots? It’s not that I don’t enjoy the show, far from it. I don’t watch a lot of TV anymore and the last thing I need to read up on, or see on my feed, is what’s happening in a current season when I’m so far behind.

I’ll be watching Westworld, therefore I added a couple of new sites centered around this new show, but my interests have hit a wall in the realm of television watching. I’ve stripped my interests down to bare bones.

I am excited for Designated Survivor and plan on giving that one a shot to completion. Cause, ya know… Keifer Sutherland.

I’ve also dabbled in social media silence. Another wonderful life purge. Ignoring all social media for days at a time. The obvious exceptions being personal messages, tags, notifications and invites.

It’s freeing.

I know it’s freeing because when I return to my media news feed, after a time of absence, it becomes an information and sensory overload. Over-the-top, in your face exposure to everything and everyone all at once. Headache inducing. Dizzying. I’m forced to turn it off and walk away.

If anything important happens, the good folks in my circle will fill me in if needed.

Life purges are vital to who I am. Because I’m accustomed to adaptation, I feel the pull to ditch facets of my ever changing life, now and again. Either through donations to charity or gifts to the folks around the circle.

Since my childhood home I’ve lived in eighteen different houses and apartments. From the age of seventeen to almost forty one. The math will break down to a little over a year in each location. From a family’s cold damp basement, to a loft above a garage. From paying a mortgage, to carrying boxes across the street, from one front door to another, less than one hundred feet away. Living with friends, to living alone. Crashing on a couch to being comfortable in my man cave.

The house, where I once paid a mortgage, was shy of five years in residence and November of this year will be five in my current. Taking all that into consideration, the math gets weird. Sometimes three apartment moves in a year and a half.

A chaotic roller coaster ride.

My experiences through that time instituted a preparedness mentality. Nothing surprises me anymore and my philosophies are geared towards, “Anything can happen, anytime, anywhere, so might as well be ready for it.”

Living in fear? I don’t believe so. Being guarded? Sure, let’s go with that. I’m guarded.

I can say with conviction, that my life has been one big mess. Good times? Yup. Bad times? I couldn’t fully explain the bad times without entering realms I dare not cross into. Does the lifetime of good outweigh the bad? For the time being, we’ll call it a draw. When I’ve always lived someone else’s life, how I can I say with confidence it was any good?

It wasn’t mine.

However, it’s the best it’s ever been in a short time, so I currently lean towards good. I’m seeking the light and pushing away the dark. Over the rough and testing years I’ve accomplished the clean slate. Tabula Rasa. A full reboot. A transformation into a life that suits me on a personal level. A life I anticipate when I wake from slumber and I no longer dread the upcoming day. Instead, I relish in the fact I can continue on and participate in some minor fashion.

I had to wade through the mess to get there though. I’ve never felt like I fit in. I have friends who share likes and interests, but fitting into society has always been a challenge. I don’t participate in the same social conventions as others. What may be fun for one is uncomfortable for me. What’s exciting for a group, may be a complete bore from my point of view.

I don’t know who’s popular in music, who holds what spot on the charts, or who won an award at whatever ceremony. I’m unfamiliar with the newest stand-out actor or actress. I don’t watch sports. The radio is silent in my car. The news is nauseating. Politics is confusing and scary as all Hell. I’m out of touch with new technology. I hear questions about an upcoming movie and at the time of the questioning, I’ve never heard of the flick before.

I look it up, watch the trailer and read into it, so I can relate and participate in the conversation.

It may be safe to say that some life purges have put me out of touch with reality. Yet, the necessity to clean up takes hold, and I continue my routine.

With a noticeable mess around me, comes my urge to clean. I can overlook clutter, but the big mess demands attention.

I was comfortable at the Island being myself, but all around me, the result of cleaning out the filing cabinet, was one big heaping mess.

*****

She removed the small box from the hand railing encircling the porch, and entered my home with a graceful stride. Only the table lamp in the far corner illuminated the space, and my living area was shrouded in darkness. Shelby circled the stranger, anxious, and ready to pounce.

“I’m so sorry for the mess.” I stammered, tripping over a book on the floor, while she placed the box on the kitchen counter in the dark. “Please don’t mind the clutter. Incense doesn’t bother you, does it? Hang on, the light switch is to your left. I’m sorry it’s so dark in here. Shelby won’t hurt you, I promise. We don’t get many visitors.” Rambling on like a nervous high school teen, I pulled a pair of sweatpants from the back of my chair and tossed it around the corner while her back was turned. Looking between my feet, a crumpled piece of paper sat on the floor and I kicked it under the couch with a tap of my toe, side arm tossed a pen onto my work desk while she glanced around the dimly lit room.

“This is nice.”

“Not bad,” I replied. “My oldest has a bedroom upstairs, my youngest is in a back room down the hall and I keep everything I own right here. I still have stuff in boxes I haven’t unpacked yet.”

“Simple.” She nodded her agreement and turned her attention to the kitchen. “Cake?”

“Sounds great.”

Her presence allowed me a moment to relax. Accompanied with a little slice of Heaven I felt my body slumping low in my chair, melting into the fabric, as opposed to sitting rigid and back straightened. I may have even allowed an “mmmmm” and a smile to escape my lips.

She gently removed the plate from my grip, rinsed all the dishes, and approached my filing cabinet. I leaned forward and watched with a careful eye.

“What’s going on over here?” She dropped to her haunches and opened a notebook sitting at the top of a pile.

“Just pieces of an old life. Nothing special. Drawings. Poems. Doodles.”

She wiped a thin film of dust with a forefinger and smiled at me, “Nothing special? You’ve had this long enough to gather dust. It must be important to you.”

“To be honest, Nancy, I just cleaned everything out tonight. Slowly going through it all. Finding homes for all that crap. I’d forgotten about most of it. I was looking for something specific, but I don’t think I have it anymore. I may just be lighting a fire in that fireplace tonight and getting rid of most of it.”

“What’s this?” She asked thumbing through a three ring binder.

“More of the same. Nothing special. Feel free to toss it in the fireplace if you want.”

“Can’t burn the plastic. Lets get the papers out first. I love a good fire.” She snapped open the book, pulled the pages out in stacks and set the binder to the side. “You sure you want to do this?”

I half shrugged my reply and waved her on. Just more of a cluttered past I had no desire to relive or revisit. Time to focus on an unknown scary future and not glimpse into a lifetime of old hoarded memories.

“Go for it.”

She tossed the stacks into the ashes like a Frisbee and from the center of one pile, a faded yellow manila folder slid away from the hearth and flopped onto the wooden floor spilling out it’s contents around her knees.

No way… Ice Storm of 98. No! Don’t throw that in.

“Nancy, can I see that please?” She handed me the folder and I tapped the pile back together.

She snatched up another thin stack and regarded the top page with a curious stare. I set the folder down on my work desk and she mouthed a series of silent words.

She pulled the papers away from her eyes and reread.

“What is that?” I asked leaning close and rolling my chair towards her.

She turned the pile around for me to visualize and at the lower left corner was a standard drawing of a stick figure and at the top of the page a sentence of faded words.

I squinted to read and she blurted it out, “Her name is Saara and she’s the queen of Havea.”

Holy shit. You found it.

“Not Havea… Heaven.”

She scrunched up her face and read it again. “Oh yeah. Heaven. Must have had a dyslexic moment. I like Havea. What is this anyway?”

“Something I wrote years ago after a dream.” A single tear welled to the surface and I blinked it away.

“Who’s this?” She pointed to the stick man.

I smiled my response and said, “For the moment, I’ll call him, Joe.”

stick-man

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Paranoia

“She brings out the best in you.” JSM

-Unexpected Company-

The challenge when dealing with paranoia, for myself exclusively (I dare not speak for others), is knowing whether or not the paranoia is justifiable. Should I be feeling this way? Do I have the right to feel this way? Wow… you do have the right to feel this way, and if you didn’t?

It would be inhuman.

But you shouldn’t be feeling this way. Everything happens for a reason, right? If this is happening for a specific reason, then your feelings and thinking on the matter, are flawed.

Look behind you and observe what you know. Remember it all. Every tiny detail. Soak it in like a sponge. Let it feed you. Remain angry and show everyone how you feel. Misery loves company, right?

No… Be rational. Understand to the best of your ability, a lot’s happened to you, and there’s not much you can do about it. Focus on attempting to pick up the pieces of a scattered puzzle and reconstruct life. Start with the edges and corners. The picture will appear later. 30,000 piece puzzles don’t come together all at once.

Big frigging deal! A lot happens to everyone. You know what you need to do? You need to stop putting yourself on a pedestal of suffrage and indignation. No one pities you. Stop pitying yourself.

You are the only one you can trust.

Was he just looking at you funny?… Divert eye contact. Don’t provoke. Keep your head low. Hands in pockets. Why is that police officer turning around? You didn’t do anything wrong. Holy shit, another email, another text, another voicemail. Who needs what now? What juicy gossip will I hear this time? Why is it, when I need help from others, the others always ask help from me instead? Why is everyone so self centered? I don’t recognize this number, not answering. Lock the car, check out the property, sift through the mail, sweat and cringe at all the bad news, lock all the doors, draw each curtain and close each blind, double check the interior, double check the oven burners after dinner, peek out the windows one more time, unplug everything unused, and now you can settle into the night life.

What has two thumbs, and lived a period of time in smothering paranoia? This guy.

It was horrible. I was scared of my own shadow. I believed for a time the world was out to get me and I was destined for nothing but trouble, for the remainder of my days.

The question, during that time of life was (my unending struggle) am I justified in my distrust and momentary psychosis? I still don’t have an answer. The frame of mind was temporary and lasted only a few months and I had to deal and overcome it. A passing phase. An experience needed for personal growth. Of this, I am convinced.

My father once told me, “You’re the only one I know that can keep getting flushed down a toilet and always come back out of it.”

I suppose my resilience and tenacity says a lot about me. Having an ability to adapt to the unexpected.

A key factor in the realm of paranoia, is dealing with the unexpected no matter what form it takes. When living a paranoid lifestyle, anything unexpected is potential for madness.

Anything out of routine, or extraordinary.

Like an unannounced knock at the door at nine at night.

*****

All the lights in the house had been shut off earlier that evening. Only a table lamp illuminated a corner of the living room where the contents of my filing cabinet were sprawled out across the floor.

Shelby barked at the front door as though the devil himself was trying to enter. She frothed and coated the blinds covering the glass, with foam and drool, and jumped up on her back legs to see the visitor eye to eye.

I leaned against the wall, hidden in the shadows outside the beam of light, and waited for whoever it was to leave.

The dog will make the visitor disappear.

The knock echoed through the house a second time. At this moment, I was curious. Is it a family member? Maybe someone really is coming by to visit? Maybe it’s an emergency. Who’d come over this time of night? No one… that’s who. Creep through the hall and get to the bedroom window. See if you can get a look at the vehicle. OK… No lights are on.

I crept inside the darkness from room to room, tip toeing across the old wood and Shelby continued her onslaught against the door.

The desire to rid my Island of company took precedence. I did not enjoy surprises and unexpected visits. My world, my rules.

Come on… see who it is. It may be important. What’s the worst that can happen?

You might get stabbed.

I reached for the doorknob then realized I had to wipe sweat from my palms. This is a bad idea.

light-through-door

I snapped on the porch light, peeked through the blinds, and walking down the stairs away from the door-returning to the vehicle, was Nancy. The mysterious woman from work. In her hand she held a small cardboard box.

I cracked open the door and said, “Hi.”

She stopped on the stairs and turned slow to apologize. Her eyes opened wide, “I’m so sorry if I woke you! I don’t want to impose. I saw the car and…”

“No. No. It’s fine.” I had to force the dog back with my knee to get beyond the door, and join her on the porch. Shelby continued her angry rant inside the home, thinking the stranger was about to hurt me.

Nancy set the box down on the railing, “I was going to text and see if you were up for company… but my phone died at work. I was passing through and thought I’d stop in.”

I had to think about it for a moment, before I spoke. Do I really want company?

Sure, why not. She seems cool.

“Come on in.” I waved her towards the house, “Don’t mind the dog. Her bark’s worse than her bite. She’s a big baby. Just let her walk around you.”

“I like dogs.”

“Yeah, she’s been awesome the last couple of months.”

“Do you like cake? Sarah’s mom boxed me up a big slice and there’s enough for two. You want some? It’s amazing.”

I stopped in my tracks and glanced over my shoulder, “Like a little slice of Heaven, right?”

When Nancy crossed the threshold into my home, and magically entered my universe, everything I knew, everything I understood, thought, felt and believed, changed forever.

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Sixty Seconds

“Forgetting what’s important should never be easy.” JSM

-Filed Away-

Each time I’m asked to attend an event, go out with friends or join a social activity, I need consistent reminders; and I feel terrible about it. Always have, always will.

I have to write details down in two different easily noticeable locations; be it a calendar hanging from the wall or a piece of scrap paper taped to my desk, and then as a fail safe I’ll set a digital reminder, alarm, or notification for a back up.

My hours, days, and weeks are a blur. A non-stop flow of time. One day bleeds into the next, to the next, to the next, routine, robotic (yes… I do have fun. My universe is anything but boring) and be as efficient as I can manage.

-Flashback-

When in a senior position at a facility I helped operate for a number of years, we once had a staff meeting. The topic of conversation, was time.

The statement from the General Manager was simple. “Close your eyes and I’ll let you know when sixty seconds is up.”

Each member of the group closed their eyes, the room silenced, and when the minute was finally clicked on the stopwatch, “Now open your eyes. Did it seem like a long time?”

The staff members blinked away the dark, smiled at one another around the table, and the cross dialogue started promptly.

“That took forever. Maddening. So boring. That was a really long time. I almost fell asleep. Wow, even counting in my head was super long. Uggg, the light hurts my eyes. Why the hell did we have to do this?”

The reply was work related and right to the point. If one minute seemed like an eternity, boring and bordering on the verge of madness, a full minute of monotonous tedium, imagine what can be completed during that time.

Sixty seconds.

I jumped on that theory and ran with it as hard as I could.

I timed each and every work related task I had at that facility. I timed how long it would take to vacuum each carpet in the building working at best possible speed, bagging up all the trash, driving to the bank for deposits and needed coins, counter cleaning, back room stocking, machinery usage, to mixing a Margarita. Everything was timed. I knew I only needed nine minutes to mop the building from front to back, eight minutes to cash out my drawer, three to assist a new customer…

My work life centered around minutes and usage of time.

The information garnished from that staff meeting was invaluable to me.

Because I understood the timing and the length of time to complete a task, delegating to the staff was simplified. “Please do this for me. It’ll take three minutes total, and shave time off for the other project(s).”

In sixty seconds I was able to preform a multitude of chores simultaneously. Stocking drinks, condiments and refilling the napkins–sixty seconds. Spinning the combination and opening the floor safe and making change–sixty seconds. Pouring the perfect pitcher of soda–less than sixty seconds.

Time became important to me, and in the here and now, my personal life isn’t any different.

I know I need two minutes to fill the washer and six minutes to fold the laundry–four if only towels and hand cloths. Five to seven minutes to take out my dog–depending on how finicky she’s feeling or if it’s raining outside she may take longer. Eight to eleven minutes to do the dishes–depending on what I find in my kid’s rooms after the fact, and nine minutes to vacuum the floors upstairs and down and sweep up the clumps of dog hair hiding in corners. I try to multitask and ensure all the food items in our meals are timed to be completed in unison, and tidy the kitchen up while I’m waiting.

I try. It’s not a perfect system or routine, but I try. Having variables, mostly unforeseen, will create situations where monkey wrenches are thrown into the works unexpectedly, but I adjust my time accordingly, assimilate the new information and continue.

Since re-adopting that mentality, I’ve come to appreciate time more, as I get older. The second I arrive at the homestead from work, the kids routine is managed and homework done, chow is cooked, I’ve completed all my requirements, chores are finished for the day and everything was accomplished in less than ninety minutes to include the grocery shopping, my free time becomes unlimited. Until the moment I can’t keep my eyes open any more, that is.

In essence, from five forty five (sometimes longer depending on the variables) in the afternoon, until just shy of midnight, is free time for me. Even more so when I have the house to myself. Weekends and holidays? The sky’s the limit.

It wasn’t always like that however. What I call “Capturing Time” is a re-adopted philosophy. Capturing Time was a way of life at work, because of it’s productivity value. The philosophy wasn’t ever brought into personal life.

At the house I once paid a mortgage, in the old life, I sat and rested during my time off. Less than productive. What needed to be done was all I wanted to do. Let’s call it the bare minimum.

Many years ago.

Today however, I work twelve hour days, every day, and I force myself to take time off. I work in the office at the job for eight hours, and I sit at the home computer for four. Those four hours are divvied up between a variety of subjects. A balance.

Depending on the mood, situation and variables, it’s been two or three hours sometimes when needed.

I’ve worked (almost) every day for five years. I haven’t had a “vacation” in almost six. I’ve had extended weekends here and there, personal days and sick time used, but no week long getaways in going on six long years. If I’m not working in the job office, I’m working at the home.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

A vacation will come someday and it will be glorious time.

triumph

Until that time though, I’ll keep on trucking.

I was asked many years ago, if I had sixty seconds to run inside my burning home and grab one item of importance, what would it be?

Only sixty seconds.

The answer is my filing cabinet. It may be constructed of heavy wood and weighs eighty pounds, but it’s on wheels and I could roll it to the door if needed. The two drawer filing cabinet holds my life: Memory sticks, class photos of the kiddos, their drawings from infancy, three ring binders from the early old life, family photos from the days of childhood, important documents, tax information and heaps more material. Unfortunately, the contents have never had an order or filing system applied. Everything within was just shoved inside and, if nothing else, merely considered safe.

In the third month on the Island, opening up the bottom drawer and sifting through the inside, I knew I was looking for something specific. I know I wrote it down. Where?… somewhere… that’s where. That old, raggity beaten up dream journal? Oh man, that’s probably long gone by now. Ten moves in fourteen years? Yeah… that’s long gone. Did you file the pages elsewhere? Is it in here? What’s in this?

I pulled out a binder from my stint of college English and filtered through the old pages. Paper clipped together, at the back of the pile was a bundle of torn papers and the ink seemed faded to the point of illegible.

I set the binder down and dug into the cabinet further.

Over the next hour I had the wheeled box emptied out, dusted and cleaned, and everything that was once inside, had been organized and spread across the floor in neat stacks.

Books discovered that demanded addition to my small library. Paycheck stubs long forgotten jammed in a back corner wrapped in a rubber band. Binders stuffed and crammed with wrinkled and ancient sketches, doodles, notations, quotes and substance induced poetry. Three beaten up, spiral bound, journal-like notebooks with the pens still attached, clipped to the cover, sat in a stack in their own corner, and I added to a separate individual pile all my tax filings and financial paperwork.

I stood up and surveyed the large diverse rainbow shape decorating my floor. I needed to prioritize.

Returning to my work desk I retrieved my manila folders. I labeled them accordingly and initiated the new and improved filing system.

The bliss I felt continued to expand, and I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face. Discovering ancient artifacts of an old existence. Items that should’ve never been forgotten.

At 8:57, a quick rap on the glass door, and Shelby went crazy.

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Treasure Chest

“You’ve spent a lifetime burning bridges, try building one.” JSM

-Riches-

“Just look at me! Don’t look down and stay close! Walk where I walk, and do everything I do!” Mike yelled his instructions in frequent intervals to keep us focused, and fearless.

The climb up the side of a gum drop mountain wasn’t an easy task. It was a never ending ladder to the sky. Sometimes we’d climb straight up, one rung after another and then pause, turn around, and follow a path now spread out like monkey bars; crawling between, and climbing over and under, then back around again to navigate a series of branches resembling a cargo net. The braided trees grew at a slight incline, curving skyward and wrapped the hillside like a bridge. It was an hour before we reached the top.

At the half way point, Mike stopped and straddled a tree. He scooted along the trunk till his back was flat against the hillside, and pushing through the earth beside him, knotted together, the trees formed natural chairs.

We rested against the hill, legs dangling between the spaces, sitting comfortably on a curvy bench formed by nature and Mike reached behind him into a carved out hole in the hill; which he had intentionally concealed from our view. He withdrew a wooden box, swiped the dirt from the cover, and turned the latch to open it.

Carved on the inside on the box lid were two words, “Treasure Chest.”

Inside were three Dixie cups and a glass bottle filled with pink liquid. Our friend smiled, “Best juice around.” He smelled the sealed rim, sighed and rolled his eyes. “Made by Madeline and Jesse. You met them at dinner last night. I could drink this stuff forever and a day and never get sick of it.” He poured the liquid into the three cups and placed the remainder in a pocket of his backpack and then set the bag between us. He slugged back the juice and urged us to do the same.

It was sweet elixir from Heaven.

I asked for another, and was chugging the drink down again the moment he halted his pouring.

I had never tasted anything like it before and I haven’t since.

He slid the box back into it’s compartment within the earth, then slapped both palms on his knees, “Well then. That was a nice treat. The juice is a real treasure around here. You ready to push on?”

I nodded my reply and followed him skyward.

As a mesa becomes flat at the top, so do the Gum Drop Mountains. The pitched hill became a table at the peak, and the trees naturally grow from horizontal, back to vertical. The table top we came to stand on was blanketed with growth, from tall thick trees to bushes and wildflowers, yet, the center of the flattened area caught my attention the moment we crested the edge.

A tall metallic tower with a spiral staircase punching through the canopy overhead.

I sprinted for the structure and raced up the circular stairs two at a time.

At that age, I hadn’t yet formulated my fear of heights. My abject fear of being in the sky, with the ground far, far away, arrived during a hot air balloon ride one year later.

The balloon was tethered to the Earth and soared at a maximum height of three hundred feet. The cold wind howled around us, I was surrounded by six others in a basket made of wicker material, and I was frozen with fear thinking the floor would break away beneath us; plunging us all to our doom.

Desperate to reduce the weight of the collective I clung to the edge of the basket as though my life depended on it. I’d use my strength to lift my feet off the paper-thin, wicker floor, and keep my body as high as possible without actually climbing out. I may have even shed a tear or two while in the sky. Perhaps through my efforts, I saved everyone’s life that day by reducing the basket’s interior weight. I jest of course. Regardless, my fear of heights came into existence during that terrifying excursion in the sky. I sobbed like a baby once we touched the ground again.

Hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail during my senior year in high school, killed my fear of heights in less than a week.

When I breached the top of the tower and found myself standing above the trees, I screamed and stumbled backwards. Elihu was sitting in a lawn chair with a tall glass of pink juice and a floppy, wide brimmed sun hat covering his head. The old man had sunglasses on and sandals covered his feet.

I grasped the metal handrail and covered my pounding heart. He snickered and waved his hand around, “What do you think of the view, young man?”

The butterflies in my stomach fluttered away and I was able to spin around and see it all.

We were enclosed in a metal box, among an endless sea of green.

When the summer wind blew, the trees responded and rippled beneath us, and all around. They undulated rhythmically and swayed side to side and created waves that traveled in every direction, then disappeared in the distance from view.

I came to look down at the sitting man when Mike joined us at the top. “Where’s the cane, Elihu?”

He smiled and looked off into the green ocean,”Oh, yes, the cane. I only need that thing at night. As the day ends, my body feels it’s age. In the morning and through the day, I feel just as young as you.”

“Mike,” I turned to the family friend, “Who put the juice in the box?”

Elihu answered in his place and chuckled, “My grandson. He climbed down earlier and put the treasure inside for you. It’s a little thing we do for visitors.”

“Where is he?”

“He’s sitting in the car at the parking lot over on the other side.” Elihu kept his stare to the horizon and pointed over his shoulder.

I looked back to Mike, “We could have drove up here?”

“We could have walked the footpath too. There’s a hike through three hills that eventually lead to this spot.” Mike dropped to his haunches, poured another cup of juice and said, “Yes, we could have driven or walked, but that’s not the point. We chose a different way. Wasn’t it fun? Something different for a change? Didn’t feel bored, did ya?”

I nodded, and Elihu interrupted, “These trees and hills were my playground when I was your age. We were playing out here as kids years ago. Climbing Jacob’s Ladder was what we did for fun.”

I glanced around the neon ocean a second time as the wind whipped through, and Mike offered more juice.

I drank the cup dry and asked, “Do we climb down the ladder?”

“Only if you want to.” Mike stood up and gripped the railing, “You see, Jeremy, we come up here when we welcome visitors into our home, to prove a point. Any number of paths lead to the same place. We climbed the hardest route to get here. We do it for the experience. Kids your age have a tough time in our community, at first, but once visiting something like this place,” he gestured broadly around the tower, “it becomes easier.

“If you could have something from home, something you never thought to bring with you, what would it be?”

I shrugged my shoulders, toys?  Books? comic books? Colored pencils and paper? Lego blocks? Holy cow… I have no idea. Something to occupy me for two weeks?

Then it came out. “My Hacky Sack.”

“Hacky Sack?”

“Yeah. You know that small bag of beads you kick around in the air with your feet and knees? Can’t use your hands? I play it with friends in the driveway and after school. The goal is to keep it off the ground. Pass it around the circle or kick it around by yourself. We’re trying fancy tricks and stuff.”

Mike smiled. “I’ve seen those. Seems like a good activity.”

Elihu nodded and drank from his glass.

We stood silent and still, watching and absorbing the scenery before Mike turned to me and asked, “So you’ve decided to spend some time with Mrs. Davis today? She starts with kitchen safety. She seems stern and mean, but she’s really not. What do you think, walk the trail and head back? Get this first day over with?”

We walked the footpath back to the car and had nice conversations about their way of life, and sometimes the path that needs blazing is challenging and difficult, and they live this way because of the reward. It was a subtle parable from the community and I appreciated it.

Back at my room, after lunch, I was asked to change my clothes for my time with Mrs. Davis.

On the floor of my storage box, standing out against the dark brown stain of the inside of my trunk, was a yellow and orange Hacky Sack. My clothes had been pushed to the side and stacked against the wall so the ball was visible and obvious upon opening the chest.

I removed the toy from the trunk and bounced it in my hand. My joy could only be described as pure elation. I couldn’t stop smiling. My body shuddered with excitement. The idea of boredom vanished from my young mind and I had something to now look forward to. I kicked it for ten minutes in my room before meeting up with the others.

I played the game with the community kids, facilitating and teaching some how to engage, spelling out the rules as I knew them, and the commune had become more tolerable. I made friends. We organized times to gather near the playground and kicked a bead filled foot bag for hours, until exhaustion consumed us or called inside for the night.

Every day for two weeks I participated in community activities with the other kids and felt as though I was helping others. Just by playing with a Hacky Sack.

I was saddened when it was time to go back home to Maine.

Opening that chest and seeing the small colorful object sitting there not only surprised me and caught me off guard but it generated pure happiness within. My soul beamed. My face had a permanent grin. I couldn’t be sad or upset about my situation anymore.

Opening the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet, in the third month on the Island, twenty five years after my stay at the commune, created that same feeling all over again.

Bliss.

Tresaure chest

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The Old Map

“An adventure is a journey. An arduous trek along a winding obstructive path. Create your own adventure.” JSM

The Commune

I have vivid memories from my youth of a gated community.

My family, being active in the church and having connections around New England, were invited by a friend to come and stay within the walls of a commune; nestled high up within the mountains of Pennsylvania. A little getaway. A place as far away from reality as one can possibly get. A place to stay and engage in a different lifestyle and see the world from another perspective. It was deemed a vacation.

For two weeks.

If I had to make an estimated guess on my age, I believe I was ten or eleven. Regardless, it was many moons ago and I was a young lad.

The walled off area was two miles square. It contained a small church for Sunday mornings and for those inclined to utilize it, one convenience store for beer, snacks and miscellaneous items, and a grocery store across the dirt road.

A hardware store, a post office, and scattered throughout were varied gardens, fruit trees and green houses. One police officer scoured the mean streets at night on his ten speed bicycle with a light attached to the handlebars.

At the northern end of the community, a block of living quarters and small homes where the commune took residence. Each home was built by the carpenters in the population, each building connected or close to one another, and the complex had a playground nearby for the children. A meeting hall was constructed along the fence at the south end for large engagements and gatherings, and a one room school house sat at the village center.

Once per month a driver would leave the village, in one of three community vehicles, and drive for hours for their needed supplies; to restock, or if unexpectedly struck by hard weather and forced to resupply.

One way in, one way out, and locked from the inside.

When the wooden doors opened to allow entry to what they named, “The Main Road,” the feeling of isolation was almost instantaneous.

gate

At the center of the village, a three hundred and sixty degree panorama of nature’s majesty and rocky mountains, as far as the eyes could venture. Literally sitting within the peaks of the middle of nowhere.

The residents trickled out of their homes. They crept around bushes, trees and porch corners to catch a glimpse of the new comers as we opened the doors to the car and stepped into their world.

Our friend was jogging down the dirt path toward the gate with a large smile on his thin face, waving his baseball hat in the air above his head. “Yes! I’m so glad you’re here!” He embraced each of us, accompanied with the standard pleasantries, and one of the residents helped with our luggage while another parked the car.

“Have I got an adventure planned for you guys. Let me show you where you’re staying.”

We were led to one of the larger homes at the center of the housing complex which had unused bedrooms on its second floor. I shared a room with my sister and we each had our own individual trunks at the foot of our cots for clothing storage.

The walls were barren and bright white.

In the lobby of the main house was a large room designated as the lounge. In the lounge were two couches, a rocking chair, a small black and white television permanently locked on one station with tin foil wrapping the antenna, and a magazine rack bolted to the wall for reading material.

We were given the tour. Each location of importance was within a brief walking distance from the housing complex and required little time to memorize. Once we traveled the inside of the community to completion, had some laughs with the locals and organized our plan, we were left to ourselves for a time for wandering and drinking it all in.

That first night we dined together in large groups in the meeting hall and our friend joined us towards the end, “Tomorrow, we take a quick road trip. Just me and the kiddos. Let your parents enjoy some adult time. A short ride. I have something I want to show you. Sound good?”

I nodded my head, still shy and confused within my surroundings, but I managed a grin.

My hair was ruffled by the smiling man, and he was back to mingling with the remaining attendees.

Later that night I took a walk around the complex and kept to myself. Realizing I’d exhausted my entertainment options outside, and the kids my age were off to bed, I stepped into the Main House and entered the communal lounge.

At least there’s a TV and reading stuff.

To my dismay, the television had only one available program. A 24-7 news channel discussing everything from the local weather and stories, to stocks and financial planning.

I turned the volume down, startled, as an elderly man joined me in the room. “What’s your name, son?”

“Jeremy.”

“I’m Elihu. Are you looking for something? Or just looking.” He lowered his fragile frame into the couch cushion and rested his cane beside him against the wall.

“I don’t know. Just looking for something to do I guess.”

“There’s plenty of reading material right there,” He waggled his finger toward the wall and lowered his gaze to the floor. “Help yourself.”

I reached for the rack and pulled out a National Geographic dated from three years earlier. I thumbed through the pages, dropped the book back into it’s slot and pulled out a newspaper dated from over a year ago. I continued to check the dates of printing on each magazine and paper, and each one was from years before; some upwards of ten or more.

I turned to my aging companion and asked, “Why is everything so old?”

He snickered at my expense, “We don’t pick up much reading anymore. Years ago, we bought newspapers and magazines and we just never threw them away. It’s old stuff, but if you’re bored, feel free to use them. You said you were looking for something to do. There you go.”

I found a crossword puzzle book at the bottom of a pile, and to my satisfaction, one page discovered without any scribbling or drawings. Unfortunately the puzzle was sports related and I didn’t know the answers, and felt like an idiot. I believe I managed to fill in Larry Bird when finding a Celtics clue.

This sucks. I thought, tossing the book on the couch beside me and sighing out-loud. There’s nothing to do. This place is the definition of boring.

I fell asleep that night confused and mad.

The next morning we gathered in small clans to plan out the afternoon and create a routine. As newcomers, we had the choice to decide what functions we played while inside the walls. We could learn and work with the gardeners and gatherers. We could attempt wood working and low level carpentry if desired, or help with meal preparation. The choices were varied and my field of study revolved around their variation of a Boy Scout troop. Tying knots and learning bird calls. Applying pleasantries and manners. How to properly set a table and serve guests. Chin up and make eye contact when speaking to others. Body language and non verbal communication.

I didn’t fully understand the purpose and meaning of the training, until the final night inside their community.

Before the training began, it was time for Mike’s big adventure with us kids.

We stood at the hood of a village vehicle while he reached into the glove box and withdrew and old and tattered road map. He splayed it out across the hood, instructed us to hold down the corners while he traced his finger along a route.

“I haven’t been there for awhile. Gotta make sure I get this right, ya know. Don’t wanna get us lost.”

Smiling his approval, he found what he was looking for, and with care to avoid more damage, he folded the old map slow and careful, and then drove us a half hour away from the commune.

The bulk of the scenery during the road trip was trees and pastures, until the moment he spoke again,”Keep your eyes to the left. We’re almost there.” I turned my focus toward the window while the car rounded a sharp corner. “Ahhh… There it is.”

Speechless, I stared through the glass. It was all I could do. Mouth agape, eyes wide and throat dry, I gawked at the limitless beauty beside us.

Sprawled out from east to west and up to the horizon line were the Gum Drop Mountains. Neon green and side by side, the landscape was peppered with short flat hills that resembled the candy from which they were named. Running parallel to the road we traveled, as far as the eye could see, was nothing but rolling hills and vibrant greenery.

Otherworldly.

Mike turned off onto a dirt road and we traversed an additional mile through the mountains to the base of the Gum Drop range.

The hike on foot was a short walk from the parked car, but at our destination within the woods he led us to a bench. “You feeling strong today?” He asked as we sat down to drink some water and catch our breath.

“Sure.”

“Got a lot of work ahead of us.” Mike stood up and grasped a thin tree growing from the side of the hill and gave it a shake. “You know where we’re going?”

I shook my head and he looked into the canopy above. He smiled back at me and pointed to the sky. “You climb trees at home, right?”

“Yeah.”

“We call this Jacob’s Ladder. The trees grow from the mountains horizontally and weave together. It’s natural growth creates a ladder to the top. Come, have a look.” I peeled myself from the bench and joined him.

I shot my eyes skyward and to my surprise, each tree protruding from the hillside was perfectly horizontal, some braided and fused together, and continued up and up to the point where it was too congested to see any further detail.

Mike approached the base and placed one boot on the lowest, thickest trunk. “Follow me,” he commanded as he started the ascent.

I stood below him and spoke low, “Isn’t this dangerous?”

Mike glanced down through the natural ladder and smiled, “Don’t worry, I won’t let anything happen to you.”

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Head Games

“In order to move forward sometimes you’re forced to look back. Don’t dwell on what you see. Only observe from afar.” JSM

-The Third Month-

I hate dreaming. My mind can’t process the dream world. I try to rationalize that realm and guess to their abstract meanings, and I’ve read books and articles on dream interpretation(s), and had lengthy conversations with others about dreams, but nonetheless, I do not enjoy them. Even the good dreams feel awkward and borderline uncomfortable.

I know I speak on dreams quite often, but I can’t help it. Like breathing, drinking, eating, sleeping, walking, bathing, working, loving, hating, and all components of living, we also dream. It’s a part of who we are. We are dreamers. Some just react to the dreams differently than others, or maybe not at all.

The funny thing about dreams, is the complex interpretation of them… or lack thereof. Often, a dream is dismissed without a second thought.

One can’t have a random and bizarre dream event without first thinking about it for awhile. At least I can’t (I believe I’ve made that blatantly obvious at this point. My dreams are deemed important to me; both literally and metaphorically. No matter what happens or what obstacles I’m forced to face, I will follow my dreams).

All I could ponder for the following seventy two hours, was a man who appeared as though he was yanked straight from the 1940’s, looking like a younger Ryan Gosling telling me I have to kill his wife, by my method of choice, and to be sure I did it gentle and as pain free as possible.

I believe a facepalm is in order.

picqard

The old life was now drifting away into the forgotten, and swallowed up in that abyss of disregard. I no longer cared what happened to me in my past. I cared, but I no longer festered. As far as I was concerned, it had become water under the bridge. My kids were safe, I was chatting with a friend again, I had a good job, the mutt was happy and I had a roof over my head.

Something else was pulling at my strings.

I found a new obsession and jumped from the frying pan, headfirst, right into the fire. The Online Archeology played it’s part and served it’s purpose for the time. Now I had to figure out who the hell this Joe person was, and I had no idea where to start.

shadowTherein lies the problem. Subjective interpretation of personal events. Through personal interpretation one can only speculate and postulate which naturally leads to guesswork and potentially more questions than answers.

For instance–See if this rings a bell, “I’m such a bad person. My spouse/significant other cheated, or my friend ended our friendship, and there’s something wrong with me. I’m worthless. It’s all my fault. They deserve so much better than me. If only I was a different person, they never would have left or cheated or quit the relationship. I’m such a loser. I can’t figure out what I did wrong. Where did I go wrong?! What did I do wrong?!?!”

Speculating on every possible angle. Driving ourselves crazy trying to figure it out. So deep in our own heads we can’t get out.

When in actuality, the one thing that’s never contemplated, is the idea that maybe the spouse is a selfish asshole who thinks their shit don’t stink, and the friend is a jerk who doesn’t deserve our friendship (pardon my potty mouth).

It’s never been anything other than that one simple fact, but it’s always overlooked. We attack our self-worth first, before ever considering potential alternates.

I use that strictly as a loose example. I’m thinking you get my drift.

Perhaps a reason why dreams are pushed to the wayside and left alone. We can’t make sense of it no matter how hard we try. Wandering aimlessly and lost in our head.

Someone can say Joe represents this part of me, or I’m dredging up something I can’t let go. Could it all still center around anger and spite? I don’t feel angry anymore. Fear of the unknown? Joe was assuredly an unknown element. The book will say picking up a hitchhiker will indicate x-y-z. The second dream could be indicative of a dream remnant, lingering in the subconscious. Who really knows? This is bullshit!

Despite my confusion it was all I could think about.

I can’t in good conscious honestly say I was up for seventy two hours straight time. I may have dozed at my desk and caught a cat nap or two, nodding off during a movie or a rerun, but I never slept for an extended period during that obsession. Joe’s visage haunted my mind.

On the fourth day of fighting sleep, the mysterious woman approached me again and stopped me dead in my tracks at the threshold of an office door. My face was back to pale and saggy and I was dragging my feet as I meandered through my day. Dark bags clung to the skin under my bloodshot eyes and I had a throbbing headache at the base of my neck, just under the skull. I kept my baseball hat pulled down and avoided eye contact. I looked like death and she called me out on it.

“You look terrible. Are you sick? Need a Tylenol or something?”

“No thanks. I took an Ibuprofen about half an hour ago. Just really tired. I haven’t slept well for a few days.”

“You look like you need a break. Anything you need help with around the house? You want some company later?”

Taken aback by her generosity and straightforwardness, I had difficulties responding. “Oh, I don’t know… My kids will be there… the place is a mess… and I’m not sure how I’ll be for company, to be honest. I don’t want to nod off and fall asleep while you’re visiting.” I attempted a weak smile.

She ripped a piece of paper from a tablet on a nearby desk and scribbled on it, “OK. Here’s my number. If you ever need anyone to talk to, or someone to vent to, or if you need help with something, feel free to call or text. Don’t hesitate. If I don’t answer, it’s because I’m at my night job and wasn’t near my phone. I’m not that far. I can hang out if you get bored.”

“That’s really cool of you, thanks.”

She was off to her responsibilities again and I plugged her number into my phone.

No. You don’t want to come over and visit. You saw what it looked like over there, right? It’s depressing. It’s like the bedroom of a lonely dark mage at the top of a castle tower. Dark and macabre. Everything black and sucking the light from the room. Gothic trinkets and strange books littering the empty spaces. Dragon shaped incense burners and long melted candles. My pad is weird… no, you don’t want nothing to do with that. Do yourself a favor.

When back at the Island, I cleaned up my living space and collected the debris from the kid’s rooms. Stop being such a slob. What if you do have company? What if someone stops by?

Shut up. You have no one to impress. This is you being yourself. You’re living the life you want to live.

I washed the few dishes in the sink, tossed my clutter where it belonged, ate some dinner, and looked at my phone.

You know what? Maybe some company would be nice. Might as well test the waters. Send a text.

I received the reply roughly an hour later, in two parts. “:(  I made plans with Sarah and told her I was free. Her moms bday 2day–

–It will be late. Can I contact u tomorrow?”

“Sure. I’ll be around. Snag me a piece of cake. LOL”

“Will do. From what I hear from the fundraiser, it’s a little slice of Heaven.”

“Cool. Text when free. Chat then.”

When I began my stroll across the room, I felt a short electrical shock wave travel from my lower back, up into my neck, and my eyes opened wide. The hairs on my arms tingled, I stopped in the center of the living room, ripped the phone from the desk beside me, and reread the words on the screen.

No… that’s not right. Hang on… no. That’s too weird. Don’t you dare add this to the list. It’s only two words. Just… two… words. Leave it alone.

I tossed the phone on the couch, looked to the corner of the room and nestled snug underneath a bookshelf built into the wall, sat my two drawer filing cabinet which had been crammed tight with everything from the days of my youth, to my youngster’s earliest drawings tucked away in their own compartment.

Folders with tax info, health care documents, Polaroids from the mid seventies, three ring binders bursting at the seams with old sketches, notations, poetry of the olden days and scattered through both drawers, outdated technology I never disposed. Work certifications behind wood and glass frames, college papers, and training manuals from recent employers.

The filing cabinet had been overlooked since arrival. I dropped to my knees and with a shaky hand, opened the bottom drawer first.

My mind said no, but the gut didn’t agree.

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