The seed

volunteer-stateAuthor’s Note: This is the third chapter of a six part story. If you would like to read the previous chapters, please visit Chapter 1 – The key and Chapter 2 – Plus one.

Gryffin, the loyal golden retriever belonging to Damon, couldn’t help but feel slighted. Now relegated to the makeshift back seat of the pickup truck, he didn’t have nearly as clear a view out the front windshield. Nor did he have the occasional scratch behind the ears from his master.

Nope, the front seat was now occupied by Damon and his new human companion. Jo, a waitress from the plantation house turned diner, joined the trek south towards the Smoky Mountains after the fortuitous revelation of her latest customer’s final destination on the previous evening.

Merging back on to the interstate, Gryffin got comfortable with his new surroundings, head resting on his two front paws. The flurry of chatter coming from the seats ahead of him was evidence of the budding rapport being established between his master and Jo. Damon shared the details of his adventure – as much as he knew anyway. He really wasn’t quite sure what he expected to find at his destination marked by a set of coordinates just off the Appalachian Trail.

Jo reciprocated the conversation by sharing some of the fascinating history in her family – the origins of their plantation from more than a century ago, the story about how her great grandfather fought as an advocate for the abolition of slavery even though it was against the mainstream way of thinking, and how it ultimately compromised his status in the community.

It was pleasant conversation, and perhaps necessary for two people who had known each other for less than sixteen hours. The topics provided a safe haven in which one person could become comfortable with the other, to feel each other out and begin to understand their way of thinking. They might as well do so since they would be spending the next ten hours or so together in a truck en route to the Volunteer State.

After about the first hour on the road, however, the conversation had begun to dry up. The silence was becoming more uncomfortable with every passing mile marker. Jo decided to take a courageous leap into slightly more tumultuous conversational waters.

“So, do you have a significant other in your life?” She attempted to catch herself from spewing this inquiry into the space between them, afraid that it would come off sounding like a pick-up line, but she failed miserably. It was now out there to be answered, even though the intent behind her question had a much different meaning than it may have initially sounded.

If Jo was worried that the question would be interpreted the wrong way, her fears were quickly assuaged when Damon responded with a chuckle, “Yeah, I have someone special in my life. He’s sitting right behind you. It’s always been Gryffin and I for as long as I can remember.”

Jo stared ahead, eagerly anticipating the question she expected would be returned to her. And just as she had given up hope that it would be asked, Damon replied, “How about you? With the significant other thing.”

Jo cracked open this door – on purpose – and now she was committed to pushing it wide open and inviting Damon inside, even if neither he nor Jo were quite ready. She had been desperately searching for an unbiased individual to share her story with, and she finally came to the realization that this may be her best opportunity.

true-friendshipAnd so began the story of Jo and her boyfriend – well, ex-boyfriend now, she presumed. It wasn’t a story that Damon was expecting to unfurl with a question as simple as “How about you?” But, each passing minute and empathetic exchange led the two passengers to become more than simply riding companions. They began to understand that they shared something in common, even if their situations were dramatically different.

Jo’s boyfriend had treated her quite well – initially. But, there had to be something extra going on behind the scenes. Excuses began to pile up when Jo proposed a getaway weekend together. And it probably wasn’t a coincidence, Jo realized, that the frequency of his visits decreased as her monetary contributions to his undisclosed business venture began to approach critical mass. It was a secret he had promised to share with her when the time was right. Apparently, that right time had never arrived. And it never would, for one morning when Jo worked up the courage to confront him at his apartment, she found it empty. She felt exploited, neglected, and abandoned. Jo reached out to several mutual friends. Each swore they were not privy to his business secrets. She had discovered, however, that there were rumors he had moved to precisely the location they were now headed. That was Jo’s personal business and ultimate reason for hitching a ride south – to discover the truth.

Despite the differing circumstances, Damon felt the same emotions inside – abandoned and taken advantage of in his professional endeavors. He didn’t feel it justified to compare the delicacy of these emotions in a relationship to his own situation, but he felt a connection to Jo’s emotions nonetheless.

welcome-to-gatlinburgThere are times when an individual gets into a flow state. Things begin to occur in a sort of surreal manner. Time both seems to stand still and speed by in an incomprehensible manner. That must have been what transpired between Damon and Jo, for they found themselves rolling into the outskirts of town just north of the Smoky Mountain National Park. More than four hours had passed since Jo initiated this conversation. Both were silent now with the same notion occupying their thoughts. Neither was prepared for the abrupt separation that would come to pass if Damon dropped Jo off in town, not after the conversation that had just materialized. The newly fashioned bond between these two riding companions turned friends was undeniable.

The ball was in Jo’s court, and she wasn’t quite ready yet to make a decision. So, she decided to stall.

“How about I help you find your … well, whatever it is you’re looking for,” offered Jo. Part of her was curious. Part of her wasn’t ready to confront the truth about her boyfriend. Perhaps the biggest part of her wasn’t prepared to sever ties with Damon at this point.

“You’re more than welcome to tag along. I really have no idea if and what I’ll find. It might very well be anti-climactic, but I do have a key,” he smiled as he grabbed hold of it and held it up in his left hand.

So, three riders remained in the vehicle, more than just disinterested passengers now. Each of them seemed to have some vested interest in the outcome of the situation in their own peculiar way. As they wound their way up the solitary park thoroughfare, the switchbacks and tight curves had Gryffin sliding to and fro in the back seat.

As their truck arrived at the summit of the pass bordering on the Tennessee and North Carolina state lines, the setting sun provided a stunning backdrop for the vista greeting them. It left them speechless with an awe-inspiring smile reflecting the beaming rendition provided by the landscape itself.

Opening the back door, Gryffin jumped out and began dashing along the path, as if he had the destination coordinates locked in his canine brain. Damon and Jo, for just a brief moment that seemed like forever, forgot about the coordinates. They stared out over the majestic landscape so eloquently painted by Mother Nature, and were held captive by her innate beauty in some unseen metaphysical world. Looking down, Damon and Jo both noticed the plaque that was serendipitously positioned directly in front of them:

Man has created some lovely dwellings – some soul-stirring literature. He has done much to alleviate physical pain. But he has not … created a substitute for a sunset, a grove of pines, the music of the winds, the dank smell of the deep forest, or the shy beauty of a wildflower. ~ Harvey Broome, Naturalist

Damon and Jo looked at each other, smiles still etched on their faces. No words were exchanged. None were needed. They had just shared a moment together. The wet feeling on Damon’s hand brought him back to the physical world. Gryffin was slobbering all over him, anxious to continue, almost understanding that something special was awaiting them.

appalachian-trail-newfound-gapDamon turned the dial on his watch to GPS mode and began to walk towards the trail head that he had seen depicted on his laptop screen less than forty-eight hours ago. It felt like so much more time had elapsed. So much had transpired in such a short period of time.

With the cooler weather and waning sunlight, Damon, Jo, and Gryffin found themselves alone on the mountain crest. The sun was descending below the horizon quickly. They would need to expedite their pursuit to have any chance of discovering whatever it was they were looking for before daylight escaped them.

Damon was assuredly happy that Jo was with him – to take part in whatever was to be discovered, and to help drive back down the mountain in darkness. He began to wonder what would happen when they returned to a lower elevation. Would Jo’s sense of adventure recede? Would she ask to be dropped off in town, never to be seen again?

While contemplating these questions in his own mind, Damon found himself navigating on autopilot to the exact coordinates indicated on the brass key around his neck. He looked at the inscription on the key again, then back at his watch to make sure they matched.

Looking around the area, nothing seemed to be out of place. Everything seemed to be undisturbed, to the human eye at least. Gryffin must have been a bloodhound in a previous life for he started to bark gruffly at a spot right behind the tree where Damon and Jo were standing.

“What’s up boy?” asked Damon.

Gryffin retreated back to his companions, and then turned around to return to his previous spot as if to say follow me. Both Damon and Jo picked up on the cue. At the base of the tree were a collection of leaves that had been displaced by Gryffin’s investigative efforts. What laid beneath those leaves was a large burrow. If anyone else had revealed this burrow, one would have thought it was the home of a wild critter. Everyone in its presence now suspected otherwise.

smoky-mountain-treeGetting down on his hands and knees, Damon reached his hand and arm – slowly – into the hole up to his elbow. “I feel something,” he said with a tinge of excitement in his voice. Pulling his arm back out brought with it a small container. It looked like an antique jewelry case. And on the front panel was a keyhole that looked to be just the right size.

He quickly, but carefully took the key around his neck and inserted it into the keyhole. Jo squatted down next to Damon, peering over his shoulder in anticipation. As he turned the key and opened the lid, he wasn’t sure what he would find. But, what he did find surprised him nonetheless.

Sitting in the box was an acorn and a rolled up parchment. Unrolling the leathery material, slightly yellowed with age, he found the following quote transcribed in beautiful penmanship:

Man is wise and constantly in quest of more wisdom; but the ultimate wisdom, which deals with beginnings, remains locked in a seed. There it lies, the simplest fact of the universe and at the same time the one which calls forth faith rather than reason. ~ Hal Borland

new-beginningsBelow the quote were three numbers. Two of them didn’t need decoding. The exact location denoted by the new set of coordinates was unknown, but Damon did know he would be next heading somewhere north and east of his present location. The third number was more mysterious and required mental contemplation. Damon was, however, becoming less concerned with the meaning of the number and more concerned with whether he would have a kindred spirit accompanying him on the next leg of his journey. Straddling the Tennessee/North Carolina state line, he was simultaneously straddling a state of mind. As he massaged the acorn between his fingertips, Damon reminded himself that new beginnings do indeed require faith. The metaphorical seed had been planted – the nurturing process had begun.

Author’s Note: This is the third part of a six part “not-so-short” short story about self-discovery. A new segment will be published each Wednesday in December with the closing chapter being posted on the first Wednesday of 2015. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment – best wishes for an inspired day and new year!

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Plus one

newfound-gap

Author’s Note: This is the second chapter of a six part story. If you would like to read the first chapter, please visit The key.

The numbers inscribed on the brass key filtered through Damon’s consciousness. As the initial adrenaline rush of the discovery diminished in magnitude, the gears began to turn in the dormant recesses of his mind. Initially searching for a pattern in the numbers that simply wasn’t there, he stumbled upon an idea. Racing back to his laptop sitting on the bed, his loyal golden retriever, Gryffin, was following closely behind.

Lifting the lid and opening a browser window, Damon typed furiously into the search engine box. Upon submitting his request, the results staring back at him confirmed that his suspicion was indeed correct. The map shown on the screen after typing in the numbers on the key – 35.6109, -83.4250 – displayed latitude and longitude coordinates. It pointed to a location just off the Appalachian Trail, a sixteen hour drive from his present location.

High in the Smoky Mountains on the North Carolina/Tennessee border resides a scenic overlook named Newfound Gap. Its name – Damon was researching – had originated from the newly found pass through the mountains in the year 1872. Even though more than a century had elapsed since this discovery, Damon felt as though this site held at least one more discovery waiting to be revealed.

As he rotated the key through his fingers, Damon came to a metaphorical fork in the road – remain on the safe path towards another record quarter of revenues in his admittedly unfulfilling position, or throw caution to the wind and embark upon a quest filled with uncertainty. Damon knew what he should do – he should stay exactly where he was and keep on the well-paved path. Whether it was the curiosity of his awoken mind, the feel of the cold brass against his skin, or the animated actions of his canine friend, the endorphins began to flow freely. Cutting a piece of the wet twine that was previously clogged in the drain, Damon looped the key on to it like a necklace and hung it around his neck.

Gryffin could sense what this meant. Whether it was his canine sixth sense, or simply a recognition of the aura emanating from his master, he began to wag his tail vigorously and jump upon Damon in anticipation. Truth be told, Damon felt the same way inside. He just wasn’t quite ready to release that excitement outside of his protective shell yet.

The first night in his new home left Damon sleepless. The drafty crevices exposing the cold exterior, the dripping sink, and the wind blowing untrimmed branches against the windows kept him awake for most of the night. His second night would also be sleepless, but for a different reason – anticipation. If he thought that a twenty-four hour period could change his perspective so abruptly, Damon wouldn’t have believed it. With plans to leave at daybreak and break up the sixteen hour journey over two days, he didn’t bother with any more than a cursory email to his boss requesting an undisclosed number of vacation days to take care of some personal business.

With the sun rising in the east, Gryffin darted out of the house, waiting by the pickup truck while Damon locked the front door. It was a crisp, fall morning – a perfect day for a road trip – similar to the ones that Damon recalled from his college days. Somewhere along the way since those carefree days, he had adopted a more conservative attitude towards life. Even this slight departure from the norm, taking the metaphorical road less traveled on this particular morning, left Damon filled with a healthy dose of euphoria that would carry him two hours farther on his journey than he expected on the first day.

virginia-welcomes-youWith daylight fading and his night blindness providing a high degree of anxiety towards attempting to drive after sunset, Damon exited the interstate and found himself on a county road running through rural Virginia. The road signs had indicated dining and lodging options available off this exit. He wasn’t buying it. After about a three mile drive down the road, Damon was ready to turn the truck around, return to the interstate, and try again one exit to the south. It was just then he saw a light on the side of the road up ahead. He muttered to Gryffin next to him, as if looking for validation, “We’ll turn around up there if we don’t find anything, okay buddy?”

The building coming into view resembled a diner. There was another structure behind it, a bit taller, that could pass for some sort of lodging option – in a horror movie, maybe. The venti sized cup of coffee he had consumed since his last pit stop was beckoning for attention. Talking to himself and not Gryffin this time, Damon offered up, “Well, at least I can see if they have a restroom.”

Walking through the front door of the establishment, Damon was surprised. The old adage – don’t judge a book by its cover – was certainly appropriate here. It wasn’t a highly sophisticated diner, but it was clean and had quite a few eclectic decorations scattered around the restaurant.

“Hi darling,” came a voice from behind the counter, “take a seat wherever you like.” The waitress offered up a greeting as if it was perfectly normal for guests to be coming through the front door. Based upon Damon’s experience, he was wondering how anyone ever found this place. Glancing at his truck parked outside, Gryffin was seated in the driver’s position, keeping watch through the windshield. With a cool breeze blowing through the rolled down windows, he would have been happy to remain parked there the entire night.

diner-boothDamon took a seat in the booth closest to the door, just in case he found the need to depart quickly. He’d seen enough movies to know how plots unfold on desolate rural roads. Approaching from behind the counter, ponytail bobbing back and forth, the waitress introduced herself with a smile, “Name is Jo, can I get you something to drink while you look over the menu?”

Damon replied, still uncertain as to the peculiar surroundings, “Um, how about a lemonade … and, um, do you have a restroom I can use?”

“Sure,” Jo replied, “just around the right side of the counter there, second door on the right.” His gait coming back from the bathroom was more relaxed, due to the relief in bladder pressure as well as his increasing acceptance of this odd location, seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

Sitting back down in the booth, Damon realized that his lemonade had already been delivered. As he perused the menu, he decided that he would just order a burger. That should be safe, he thought. As Jo returned, she inquired, “Ready, honey?”

“Yeah, I’ll have a burger, well done please, and an order of fries,” replied Damon.

“Lettuce, tomato, and onion?” asked Jo. “Yes on the lettuce and tomato, no on the onion,” retorted Damon. This was all pleasant, cordial, non-confrontational, and expected communication between waitress and customer.

Damon ventured a little beyond the expected into the unexpected, as much out of curiosity as it was to make sure his hamburger was going to be ground beef and not some variant of back-country squirrel. “So, what is this place? I mean, I know it’s a diner, but it doesn’t seem like it’s really along the main drag if you know what I mean.”

Jo’s shoulders drooped just a bit, a sort of resignation to her position here. “This place used to be a plantation long, long ago. It’s been in my family for generations. My great grandfather converted it into a diner and motel about forty years ago. My sister and I have kept it running for the past ten years. It’s not really on the map, per se, but it’s well known by a lot of the truckers that come through this area. All the artifacts you see laying around are from the original plantation.”

Damon was fascinated and now felt more comfortable about the safety of his burger. It was then that Jo responded with a question that would trigger an acceleration of his heartbeat.

“So, what’s the key around your neck?” asked Jo.

As if by protective instinct, Damon reached down and grasped the key to make sure that it was still, in fact, there. He rubbed it between his fingers before replying. The funny thing about Damon, he was never very forthcoming with people close to him. However, put him in a conversation with a complete stranger and he was ready to bare his soul. Perhaps it was the lack of scrutiny from a stranger’s eye that permitted him to be so open with his communication. Or, maybe it was Jo’s charming and homey personality that led Damon into a detailed account of the previous twenty-four hours.

“It’s funny you should ask that,” began Damon. The hamburger he ordered didn’t arrive until much later. As he began to tell his story – and that was something he was really good at – the words and emotions began to flow effortlessly. When he finished his tale and returned from the fantastical land of adventure in his mind, Damon gazed across the table. Jo, now seated in the booth directly across from him, was utterly captivated by his words.

entrance-sign-smoky-mountains“Really,” inquired Jo, “you are headed to the Smoky Mountains?”

Damon hadn’t even realized he had told the entire story. It was like some surreal experience recalling the events of the past day. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s where I am supposed to end up. I have no idea what, if anything, is waiting for me there.”

Jo, somewhat sheepishly, replied, “I know you’re gonna say these are coincidences that only happen in the perfectly plotted movie or novel, but this is the honest truth. I don’t own a car. I have been trying to find some way to get down to that area for the past six months.”

“Oh yeah, what for?” asked Damon.

Taking a moment to gather her thoughts – and composure – Jo responded, “Let’s just say it’s some personal business I need to take care of.” Damon could tell she would not provide any further information, so he let it rest.

Something inside tugged at Damon. And even though he didn’t formulate the words in his own consciousness, they nonetheless emerged from his mouth, “I have an extra seat in my truck if you don’t mind dogs.”

The response from Jo came quicker than either she or Damon expected, “I love dogs.”

friendship-horizonsAnd so it came to be, Damon without overtly asking, and Jo without explicitly answering, that the pickup truck continuing its journey south the next morning would carry Damon and Gryffin – plus one more – each with their own agenda, even if they didn’t yet realize that their intentions were all one and the same.

Author’s Note: This is the second part of a six part “not-so-short” short story about self-discovery. A new segment will be published each Wednesday in December with the closing chapter being posted on the first Wednesday of 2015. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment – best wishes for an inspired day and new year!

Take flight

bahamas

Author’s Note: This is the final chapter of a story previously published. If you would like to read the first part, please visit Sizzle.

It was the jarring memory from eleven years in the past that put Bryan on edge. It involved his sister and her disappearance in a single engine plane while en route to the Bahamas. The wreckage was never located, if there was any in the first place. There was no closure to a tormenting time in Bryan’s life. He was left with unanswered questions and a debilitating apprehension that required any separation of his feet from the earth below him.

“I appreciate the offer, but no thanks,” replied Bryan. He felt guilty turning down the opportunity to extend their relationship beyond the final fifteen minutes of his last cooking class, but this was too far out of his comfort zone. Way too far. Bryan didn’t know, however, that Ted was not only outgoing and personable, he was also quite persuasive.

“C’mon dude, it’d be a blast. Listen, you come with me and I’ll dress up to the nines to attend one of your fancy jazz concerts,” retorted Ted.

Bryan, feeling fidgety even allowing himself to consider the offer, attempted to voice his concern, “It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just …”

Ted sensed the body language being communicated by Bryan. He didn’t allow the silence to hang in the air for too long, “You scared?” he asked. Although it wasn’t part of his normal character, Ted didn’t look at Bryan as he said it so as not to appear too condescending.

“Yes … and no, I don’t know,” replied Bryan, who was confused himself by the response.

“Flip the shrimp, man, they’re gonna burn,” admonished Ted. Bryan had gotten so caught up in his emotions and repressed memories that he lost track of the prawns beginning to char in the skillet for the second time.

Returning to the methodical routine of stirring, listening to the sizzling oscillate in volume as the shrimp were moved from one side of the skillet to the other, Bryan suddenly felt an inviting calmness wash over him. He shared exactly why he rejected Ted’s offer, right down to the very last painful detail. It wasn’t something that Bryan ever felt comfortable doing, spilling his guts, but it felt good, and therapeutic.

Who knows whether it was Ted’s decision to be a sounding board in what he would usually consider an uncomfortable baring of the soul, or if it was a few teaspoons of compassion that he had intuitively added to the recipe of his own soul. Whatever it was, Ted’s compelling argument aimed at Bryan kicked into high gear.

“Hey, it’s safer than driving. There are less planes in the air than there are cars on a highway. And you can be sure as hell that there are plenty of drivers on the road that shouldn’t be behind the wheel of a car. Every pilot has to go through a flight review every two years.”

Sensing that Bryan was getting closer to favorable reception of his argument, but not quite there yet, he continued on, playing to the intellectual mind of his cooking partner, “These planes are awesome gliders. They have a five to one glide ratio. That means if we’re five thousand feet in the air and we lose the engine – highly unlikely mind you – we have a twenty five mile radius to find a place to put her down safely – in a field, on the beach, even on a back road. Hey, I’m that good, you know it,” he said with a devilish grin.

tux-with-bow-tieBryan was still quiet, but Ted could see he was on the cusp of winning over his friend’s allegiance. So, he went for the knockout punch. “Hey, you do this, and I’ll even wear a bow tie to the jazz concert.”

The smile that spread across Bryan’s face sealed the deal. It didn’t mean it was going to be easy, but Bryan could not pass up the opportunity to see Ted in a bow tie. He’d have his camera at the ready to preserve that moment, for sure.

It was a crisp, fall Saturday morning, uncharacteristic for this time of year in Florida. Ted was going through his pre-flight calculations when Bryan came through the hangar door. The look on Bryan’s face was as if he had just come face to face with a banshee preying on his soul to strip him of his very existence. He knew it was unreasonable, but he couldn’t help how he felt.

As Ted completed the walk-around of his aircraft, he explained everything that he was doing to assuage the fear radiating from Bryan’s skin – checking the oil and fuel level, confirming the operation of flaps, ailerons, and elevators, insuring proper inflation in the landing gear tires. Ted was extra vigilant to be sure that he was following every protocol, and to give Bryan time to warm up to what was coming next.

As Ted pushed the window open and yelled, “Clear prop!”, he started the engine and contacted the tower for clearance. He glanced over at Bryan and spoke to him through the headsets on their heads, “Hey, lighten up bro. Remember, this is supposed to be fun.” Bryan feigned a smile.

As they sat perched at the end of a runway, like a bird resting on a twig, they awaited clearance for takeoff. “November four-niner-one foxtrot tango, you are cleared for takeoff, departure to the south approved,” came the announcement from the tower controller.

“Here we go,” said Ted as he advanced the throttle slowly to full power. Everything began to escalate in intensity – the noise, the vibration, the heartbeat. Bryan’s entire body was tensing up in protest, holding on to the door handle, half thinking he could still open it and jump out without too much injury.

And then … his feet were no longer connected to the earth below him. The noise level diminished, the vibration levels receded, and it felt as if he was being carried gently into the heavens above him, ever so closer to his sister. Despite the reduced levels of noise and vibration, Bryan’s heartbeat did not follow suit.

It didn’t remain elevated out of fear. Rather, the feelings tugging at his heart transformed from ones of fear to ones of awe and inspiration. The landscape unfolding before him left Bryan breathless. The Atlantic Ocean looked like a sheet of glass, the rising sun just peeking over the tips of the cumulus clouds sitting on the horizon.

Inexplicably and uncontrollably, one word came from Bryan’s lips through the headset, “Wow.”

Ted peeked over and saw the more relaxed look on his passenger’s face, “Yeah, I think that’s what everyone says the first time they experience this. Let me tell you, it’s rather addictive, in a good way of course.”

sunrise-atlantic-oceanWe’re born alone, we live alone, and we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone. ~ Orson Welles

This was no illusion. Bryan was sure of it. And even if it was some deceptive imagery from an alternate universe, even if none of this was really real, he couldn’t possibly deny the presence of the emotions coursing through his veins. Yep, this was good enough for him. Well, almost good enough. He still couldn’t wait to see Ted in a bow tie. There was no way he was going to let him wriggle out of that one. It was another memory – in what appeared to be an unlikely friendship – that would make his life one worth remembering, alone or not.

Sizzle

skillet-shrimpThe subconscious mind works to protect us from perceived dangers, even when those beliefs are illusory. The challenge is to look beyond the veil of misconception and see the situation for what it is – an opportunity – for personal growth, and connection to kindred spirits.

The scent of fresh shrimp, just pulled off the local fishing boat, filled the air as the sizzle of several skillets was interrupted by a voice from the front of the room.

“Okay, everyone, now we add the garlic, two teaspoons precisely. And prepare to be delighted by the masterpiece that evolves. Let it dance through the air and tiptoe along the edge of your sensory perception. Court it as you would a young lady from across the ballroom. Welcome it slowly, but surely into your presence. Admire its beauty and treat it with a degree of reverence.”

The cooking instructor was a bit over the top for Bryan’s taste, but he was pretty sure that the taste of the shrimp scampi he and his partner were concocting would more than make up for it. Bryan found himself here as a result of good luck. He’d always been interested in consuming fine food, but he had never really perfected the art of creating it. The free cooking class that he had won as a part of his company’s holiday luncheon party carried him to his present position over the sizzling skillet – this was their tenth and final lesson.

His cooking partner, for they always worked in pairs, was Ted. One was responsible for ingredient prep, the other for managing the actual cooking process. If it were the goal of this instructor to pair two polar opposites together, his objective had been attained. Bryan was quiet, reserved, introspective, and unassuming. Ted was all that negated – boisterous, bold, extroverted, and somewhat pretentious.

While Bryan kept his thoughts to himself on the commentary of the instructor, Ted could not restrain himself.

“What a pile of crap. You know, if he put as much thought into his cooking as he did with his words, his scampi might actually come close to competing with mine.”

He spoke just loud enough for the redhead at the next cooking station to hear him. He smiled and threw her a flirting glance. It wasn’t Bryan’s modus operandi, but for some reason he found himself enjoying the hour each week he spent with Ted and his complimentary personality. Bryan was quiet, but it didn’t mean that he didn’t have a sense of humor, or sarcasm.

Being their final lesson, Bryan would most likely find himself slipping back into his normal routine of comforting activities – curling up in the corner of the bookstore with a book of poetry, listening to classical jazz on his headphones at work, completing the most difficult Sudoku puzzles he could get his hands on, and of course, cooking a few gourmet meals along the way.

Ted would do the same with his own set of diametrically opposed activities, but he wouldn’t be doing it alone if he had anything to say about it. His extroverted personality and appreciation for the unlikely camaraderie formed between he and his cooking partner brought about a suggestion – one that would challenge Bryan’s moxie to embrace the uncomfortable and unexpected.

“Hey, bro, you know this is the last lesson, right?” inquired Ted without looking up from the cutting board.

Well, of course both Bryan and Ted knew. Their instructor had been almost bawling over how far he thought they had all come. He continued to express, ad nauseam, how he was so proud to be sending new budding chefs out into the world, like a parent preparing his son or daughter for everything the world had to offer them. Yeah, he was just a wee bit overblown in his assessment of the situation.

“Yeah, it’s been fun. I might actually eat more than frozen pizzas and canned ravioli now. I might even need to kick Chef Boyardee out of the house to make room for my new culinary offerings.” Bryan tried his best to appear witty. He was getting better, being around Ted, but it still didn’t quite come off as planned.

piper-cherokeeFeigning a grin, Ted continued, “You know, I’m a private pilot. I just bought my own plane, a low wing Piper. It’d be cool if we could take a flight together, maybe to a small airfield down south. There’s a good restaurant just off the runway. I hear they got shrimp scampi on the menu. We can measure it up against our rendition.”

Ted elbowed Bryan in a relaxed manner, allowing just a bit of his flamboyant and pretentious personality to shine through. Bryan noticed none of it, however, because he was suddenly consumed with fear. He hadn’t been in an airplane for years. He had relegated all travel activity to car, bus, or train. He even once took a cruise to the Caribbean in order to meet up with friends who flew there. Herculean levels of mental strength and fortitude would be required to surmount this imposing hurdle. Caught in a tug of war between friendship and fear, the shrimp in the skillet before Bryan began to char, along with his sense of courage.

Digging deep

calligraphy-journal

Author’s Note: This is the final installment of a three part story. If you would like to read the first two sections, please feel free to read Submission and Rejuvenate.

Maybe Jess should have waited before opening the journal, but there was something tugging at her from inside – call it women’s intuition, or just plain old human curiosity – that had her soiled fingers easily creasing the spine, as it had evidently been done many times in the past. Etched in perfect penmanship on the first page were words that looked vaguely familiar.

Nous avons tous nos secrets. Meme les mieux caches seront decouverts, souvent quand ils ne sont pas etre recherches.

The high school level French class that she was required to take many years ago provided Jess with a rudimentary understanding of the text. Standing behind her, Claire was just as captivated by the exquisite handwriting. It was almost as if the curls on the letters, the accent marks absent from the English language, pulled the two women into the page despite the fact they didn’t completely understand its content.

“Is that French?” asked Claire in a whisper, as if they were sharing their own little secret together in the privacy of her backyard.

“Yep, I think so,” replied Jess in a monotonic voice. “I’m a little rusty, but I think I am getting the general gist of things,” she continued as she traced her index finger over the page, picking up the meaning of every second or third word. Sensing the feeling of suspense in Claire’s voice, Jess shared her makeshift interpretation of the story unfolding on these pages.

As it turns out, it was a story of love – and betrayal. As the pages turned, one after another, it was revealed that the author of this journal was being drawn into a vicious maelstrom by his own mind, unable to fight the urges formulated by the dark corners of his psyche. The business trip was just supposed to be business, but it turned out to be much more. All because of a woman – again. The scent of her perfume, the look in her eyes, it was just too much for him to resist. In a matter of days, he had fallen into a trance, spellbound by the charm she didn’t realize she was casting.

Page after page, the story continued, each page almost turning itself in anticipation of the next revelation. It slowly transitioned from a story filled with conflict and moral dilemma into one of rationalization and vindication. And that’s when Jess came to the confounding conclusion of this memoir. Turning to the final page, there were no words on the page, just a three by five inch photograph.

“Is that …” began Claire, but she didn’t want to complete the sentence for fear of knowing the answer.

eiffel-towerJess’ hands began to tremble, her eyes fixated on the image that didn’t make any sense – but made perfect sense all the same. Standing in front of the base of a metal structure, presumably the Eiffel Tower, was a couple, man and woman, smiling at one another, each holding an infant aged boy in their arms. The resemblance was unmistakable. The man was a younger version of her own husband. That’s the part that made sense, even though it didn’t. That’s how the mind operates when it is so utterly disoriented. One part is trying to analyze the facts while the other part is shielding the subconscious self from emotional trauma.

What didn’t make sense was the woman beside him, the children in their arms, and the silver band around his left ring finger. It was much different than the gold one he was presumably wearing at this very moment. A tsunami of emotions washed over Jess, her fingers reflexively releasing their grip on the journal along with the caustic energy held inside it.

The thoughts and questions began to formulate quicker than Jess could process. What did this mean? If this story was what she thought it was, why was it here? She thought back to the cover of the journal, My Secrets – Chapter 5. Chapter five? Jess was the other woman in chapter five. Did that imply there were four other journals before this? Did they share a similar story? Was chapter six being written right now? Jess found the weight of this information could not be supported by her physical being – not now. Falling to her knees, she could do nothing more than stare blankly at the ground in front of her.

Claire placed a hand on Jess’ shoulder as the tears rolling down her cheek caught up with her rational mind. Jess was going to need to dig deep – in a way that had absolutely nothing to do with her professional calling – in order to emerge from the dark hole she now found herself in. Her emotional resilience would be stretched to its limits. Jess was already beginning to understand that she didn’t want or need the white picket fence. She just wanted to find the gate. She needed to find her way out. Thank goodness she now had a sister who would help her every step along the way.

Superpower

superhero-superman

Perched on the ledge of indecision

My cape is absent

Watching other creatures of our species rise to the challenge

Herculean strength exerted against the throngs of evil

I take a step back from the precipice

I am not worthy of this inflated status

Reserved for the exceptional ones

I am but a mere mortal

With no extraordinary powers to differentiate me from the masses

But then a thought strikes

Like a lightning bolt filled with electricity

Energy coursing through my veins

My subconscious unveils a secret force

The courage, the tenacity, the unequivocal resolve

To leap into the chasm of darkness unknown

That is what sets me apart

And validates my worthiness

To enter into this otherworldly universe of possibility

Whether I fall into the abyss or learn to fly

It is in making this choice and accepting my fate

That a seed of superpower capability is born

Transforming far-fetched dreams

Into an undeniable reality

No cape required

 

 

 

Temptation

magic-potionI can’t do without it. Those were the words echoing through Gavin’s mind. Whether those mental words referred to the potion itself or the opportunities it presented was uncertain. Nonetheless, the sealed vial accompanied Gavin to his apartment that afternoon after the startling results of his latest experiment revealed an unanticipated discovery. The manner in which he was able to understand and read the thoughts of his test subject captivated his consciousness. From a scientific perspective, it was fascinating. From a psychological perspective it was enticing, tempting, and potentially very dangerous.

Like a strong painkiller, the effects were not addictive until you began to consume it steadily, the increasing doses building your dependency on its effects. To that end, Gavin rationalized the decision to save this mixture. He would simply place it on the spice shelf in his kitchen, right next to the oregano, thyme, and basil. It was harmless so long as it remained there untouched and unused, available to him in his back pocket if needed.

Although it did remain behind a closed cabinet door, physically invisible, Gavin continued to see it in his mind. Consumed by its power, it was as if the addiction had already taken hold despite its absence from his physical system. It had already permeated Gavin’s mental intellect which was perhaps more perilous than its physical effects. It had begun to affect the quality of his daily life, both personally and professionally. His research practices had become sloppy. His personal life had become distracted. Nothing he did could be taken at face value. It had to be analyzed as it really was as well as how it could be given the use of his mind-reading concoction.

It was on an otherwise ordinary Tuesday evening that the fulcrum shifted, tipping Gavin’s psychological scales toward physical action. It began with a knock on Gavin’s apartment door. Looking through the peephole, the fisheye lens depiction of the person on the other side was familiar. It was Alessandra, the attractive brunette from next door. Unlocking the deadbolt, Gavin turned the knob and greeted his smiling neighbor. “Hi Alessa, what’s up?”

The smile on her face was an imploring one. With the incessant ruminations running through his consciousness lately, Gavin couldn’t help but wonder what she was thinking, and he knew exactly how to find out. Alessa had both hands behind her back. While being greeted, she pulled them from behind her to reveal a plastic cup in her grasp. “I didn’t make it to the grocery store today, and I really need some milk. Do you happen to have a cup I can borrow,” pleaded Alessa.

Captivated by her beauty and charm, Alessa could have asked for the keys to his car and Gavin would have obliged. “Sure, he said, come on in, I’ll get you some from the kitchen.” Alessa stepped through the doorway and waited politely just inside the apartment entrance. As Gavin strolled into the kitchen with the plastic cup, he continued a conversation with her across the span of the two rooms, “So, what have you been up to lately?” From across the space, Alessa replied, “Not much, just a lot of extra hours at work getting ready for our new release.” She was a fashion designer working on one of the most anticipated and highly sought after clothing lines of the fall season. It had demanded a tremendous amount of her time over the past several weeks.

As Gavin pulled open the refrigerator door and retrieved the half gallon of milk, he echoed back across to Alessa, “Is 2% okay?”

“Sure,” she replied, “that would be perfect.” As he began to fill the plastic cup to the halfway point, his eyes instinctively rose to the cabinet at eye level. Behind those doors lay the forbidden fruit, one bite and he may not be able to turn back. The temptation was too much for Gavin to resist. The mental addiction had commandeered his physical being as he opened the cabinet door, grabbed the vial, unplugged it, and deposited half the contents into the cup of milk. Looking over his shoulder to insure he was not being watched, he swirled the cup so as to dissolve the mixture into its carrier. There was no physical evidence that the cup of milk was anything but a cup of milk.

Carrying the elixir, innocently concealed, he handed it back to Alessa with a smile. “Here you go. If you need any more, just let me know.”

“Thanks Gavin, I appreciate it. It’s been such a crazy day. I really didn’t want to have to head back out this evening,” replied Alessa with a gracious smile. “No problem,” offered Gavin as he opened the front door of his apartment once again, “Have a good evening,” he said. “You too,” smiled Alessa.

epinephrineAs he shut the door, Gavin felt as though he had just ingested a high dose of amphetamines. His heartbeat was racing. He was dizzy with some unfamiliar feeling. Was it adrenaline? Was it guilt? Was it anticipation? Whatever it was, it left him wanting more. Gavin had transmuted his mental addiction into the physical world. There was no turning back now.

Author’s Note: This post is the sequel to a story previously posted. To read the original installment, please take a look at Discovery. The conclusion of this story will be posted next week. Thanks for reading!

Discovery

36919406G-6RMsGavin stared at the blue flame stretching from the base of the Bunsen burner. The contents of the test tube above it began to bubble in protest. Leaving its solid state, his latest concoction was reluctantly transforming into its liquid state. Gavin remembered conducting simpler experiments as a young boy in his makeshift home laboratory. Chemicals were lined up along his shelf in alphabetical order awaiting the opportunity to react in a magical and mysterious way with its perfect complement.

Gavin’s love of chemistry had remained a mainstay in his life. He still wore a lab coat and safety goggles. They just happened to be a few sizes bigger than the ones he wore in his younger days. For the past three semesters, Gavin had been working with his graduate school professor on exploratory research into the workings of the human brain. The recurring nightmares that haunted his sleeping hours nudged Gavin to specialize his studies in the area of neuroscience.

The laboratory where he worked felt more like home than his shoebox apartment just off campus. He could walk from his desk to the lab table, from the supply cabinet to the sink with his eyes closed. The neural pathways in his brain had committed the necessary navigation steps to memory. The only physical steps which always seemed to fire negative cerebral indicators, without fail, were when he approached the live supply container.

The sacrificial mice continued to be a moral dilemma for Gavin. It was difficult for him to resolve the internal conflicts as he subjected these living creatures to the experiments formulated in his mind. The effects of his experiments were unknown, whether they be positive or negative. The fact that these whiskered mammals with a tail carried a terminal illness within made it slightly easier for him to proceed with his research. But still, it disheartened Gavin to potentially cut any life short in the name of scientific advancement.

Flipping the switch on the brainwave monitoring equipment, Gavin slid on his protective gloves and retrieved his latest subject from the metal cage. Placing the gray mouse in the controlled environment, he turned back to the now boiling mixture in his test tube. Removing it from the heat, he allowed it to cool to room temperature before placing the necessary amount into the syringe. There was a precise timing to the steps of each and every experiment.

This was always the most difficult part for Gavin. Up until this point in the experiment, everything was hypothetical and theoretical. No effects would materialize until the next step was taken when he injected the latest speculative drug into his subject. His hesitancy in following through on this process with conviction would produce a marked shift in the proceedings of Gavin’s day.

mouse-in-cageAs he reached into the cage, this particular mouse seemed to sense the ensuing consequences of the situation. Maybe it was the smaller dose of the same mixture he had received earlier. As if running from danger, the tiny body scurried around the cage to avoid the needle that was searching for its hindquarters. In a moment of weakness and carelessness, Gavin lunged towards the mouse to expedite the completion of this always unpleasant task. Grabbing the mouse with his left hand, he quickly moved to inject the mixture in the syringe with his right hand. With another furious lunge uncharacteristic of such a tiny animal, the needle missed its intended target. As the needle pierced the latex glove on his left hand, the small red discoloration that appeared thrust Gavin into panic mode.

As well as Gavin knew the surroundings of his own lab, the unexpected always confounded his logical and intuitive mind. Looking left and right with urgency, he located the wash basin. Moving with expediency, he removed his glove and began to flush the pin prick hole between his left thumb and index finger. Leaving it under the flow of water for thirty seconds, it looked as if he was rinsing his hands after washing them. There was no evidence that the outer shell of his skin had been compromised. He would find that evidence later.

Returning to the open cage in order to continue with his intended experiment, Gavin was surprised to find the tiny mouse cowering in the corner. Given the opportunity to escape the confines of this controlled environment, the mouse remained still in the cage, eyes locked on Gavin in fear, as if he understood exactly what would happen next.

As he reached for the syringe once more, the majority of its contents still preserved in the vial, Gavin felt a wave a nausea wash over him. He had never had a strong stomach, but this was a different type of feeling. The brief episode of dizziness required him to place both hands on the table to steady his feet beneath him. As the feeling subsided, Gavin gave a gentle shake to his head and refocused on the task at hand. Looking back to his subject in the corner of the cage, he heard a voice. It was not an audible voice, but more like the mental form of a voice, a thought.

It was a thought characterized by fear. As he caught a glimpse of the monitoring equipment wirelessly connected to his subject, Gavin realized that the brain activity of the animal staring back at him was wildly active. As he pulled back, increasing the distance between he and the mouse, those mental thoughts filled with fear diminished. The display on the monitoring equipment showed a corresponding decrease in activity. Back and forth, Gavin experimented with the distance between him and the mouse, syringe in hand, periodically marking the correlated findings in his notebook. Staring at the helpless mouse along with the results of his experiment helped Gavin realize that he would never be able to tell anyone what he’d just discovered.

mind-readerThe combination of elements reacting in that test tube had created an incomprehensible link between the psyches of its carriers. Gavin was able to sense the feelings and emotions of the mouse looking back at him, and the furry rodent could sense the same in Gavin. They could read each other’s minds. Controlling the ratio of this substance injected into each individual, Gavin deduced, provided one of the subjects with a certain degree of control over the other’s thoughts.

As ethical as Gavin’s persona had been up to this point in his life, he could not help but imagine the possibilities. The city water supply was a perfect carrier for this pharmaceutical wonder. Everyone would be exposed. It was easy to control the amounts in each subject. No one would know.

Were the smiles of the attractive brunette in the apartment across the hall just friendly, or maybe something more? Could this be used in secrecy by the police force to avert criminal activity before it was committed? Were the latest actions of the city mayor carried out with the most worthy of intentions? As he stared at the innocuous liquid in the test tube, he realized that the power was in his hands, quite literally.

Gavin was accustomed to resolving the scientific dilemmas that he encountered on a daily basis. It was well scripted process of hypothesis, experiment, and conclusion. The moral dilemma facing him in this very moment was more difficult to address. The human mind is capable of rationalization that is anything but rational.

Gavin remembered a situation from his childhood days. Walking into the corner drug store owned by his uncle, he pulled the ice cream sandwich from the freezer in the back of the store and headed towards the front counter to pay. On the way up the aisle, his eyes caught a glimpse of the baseball cards wrapped in clear plastic. The player’s card just visible through the exterior was one of the five remaining needed to complete his collection. As he slipped the thin pack into his right pocket, he justified his actions. It was under one dollar. It was his uncle’s store. It wasn’t really stealing if the store was owned by his family. As he departed the store, the seventy five cents Gavin had placed on the counter only covered the cost of the ice cream he was now eating. In his heart, he knew that his choices were misaligned. And yet, they had been justified.

sink-with-running-waterAs he continued to stare at the contents of the test tube in his left hand, he knew what he should do. As he walked towards the basin and turned the faucet on, the stream of water from the spigot invited him to do the right thing. Time to think is a good thing, sometimes. The longer Gavin stood over that sink, however, allowed him time to justify his final decision. As he poured the contents of the test tube into a sealed vial, he slipped it into his right pocket, just in case.

Sunrise

legal-tableSince his recent promotion, Patrick had been burning more than his share of midnight oil at the firm. Case upon case was piling up on the docket. If he was ever going to make partner status in this lifetime, he needed to buck up and deal with the luxury of getting four hours of sleep each night. The first several weeks of his new work regime carried on without incident. Adrenaline and carefully coordinate shots of caffeine provided by the firm’s espresso machine served him well. Like the sludgy oil in your car, however, you can only ignore it for so long before it revolts, the engine seizing up in protest. Patrick’s body did just that while seated at a conference table in an otherwise ordinary status meeting with his associates.

He was focusing on the details of a domestic violence case slated for prosecution the following week while simultaneously disseminating his planned strategy. In the next moment, Patrick opened his eyelids to the unexpected view of a much different environment: a white sanitized hospital room with his wife, Samantha, gazing out the window, an apprehensive look on her face.

“Hey beautiful,” he said to Samantha in a hoarse voice. The oxygen tube in his nose and the drugs dripping through the intravenous feed in his right hand were slowly bringing him back to this earthly world. Samantha quickly approached the bedside taking Patrick’s hand, “Pat, you had me so worried.” An impulsive tear ran down her cheek.

“What happened?” Patrick’s question arose from a confused mental state as he continued to absorb the details of his new surroundings.

“You had a heart attack,” stammered Samantha, the tears beginning to flow a bit more freely as she began to understand the gravity of the situation. “Honey, something has to change,” she pleaded. “This can’t go on. We can’t afford to have something happen to you.” By we, Samantha was referring to herself as well as the two young girls at home with grandma right now, ages four and seven.

Patrick had many redeeming and admirable qualities. The stubbornness that served him so well in his professional life did not do so in his personal and family life. It was this obstinance that left him lying horizontal in a hospital bed instead of sitting crisscross applesauce on the living room floor with his two daughters and their dolls. His body had provided a final warning, waving a white flag in surrender to the overwhelming stimuli of his self-induced professional responsibilities. The urgent message was signed, sealed, and delivered. Tossed into the trash like junk mail in the past, it was finally being read and received by Patrick.

“I know, I know,” said Patrick. “I need to change things. I promise I’ll go see the doctor when I get out of here.” And so it came to be that Patrick visited his doctor the following week for the first time in at least five years. Sitting in the exam room awaiting his family physician, Dr. Kreb, to enter, he couldn’t even remember if he was a she or vice versa. It had been so long, he knew that there would be no recognition between the two of them.

As the doctor knocked and entered the room, he (so it was a male after all) flipped through the pages of Patrick’s medical records while greeting his latest patient. “How’s it going today, what can I do for you?” Patrick was thinking that he should already know the answer to this question. He was admitted to the hospital but three days ago. Patrick’s emergency visit should have shown up in his file. Doesn’t everything end up in these files, he thought as he grasped for some release of internal tension and anxiety, recalling a Seinfeld episode from many years ago?

“Well, I guess the better phrasing is what I can do for myself,” retorted Patrick. As the doctor returned to the front page, he finally understood the reason for his visit. “Yes,” said the doctor. “I see we’ve been pushing our limits a bit too far, eh?” Although Patrick had a wry sense of humor, he didn’t appreciate any levity in this particular situation, at least not the kind doled out by his doctor.

wake-up-alarm-clock“I suppose you could say this is my wake-up call. I’ve hit the snooze button a few too many times and I know now that it’s time to finally get out of bed.” Patrick spoke in a self-deprecating tone as he began to sense how his cumulative actions over the previous year had led him to this present moment. He wished that he could simply take a pill and make this ill-fated situation disappear. Deep down, however, he knew this was impossible and was dreading the recommendations that would be forthcoming from the medical professional. It would be more invasive than the surgery that he didn’t need.

The doctor spoke in a very matter-of-fact tone, reading from the notes he had made, as if he was rattling off a list of items to pick up at the grocery store on the way home. “First, you need to cut back on the amount of stress you are creating in your life. That means no more eighty hour work weeks. You need to cut it back to forty hours like the rest of the human population.” Looking over the rims of his bifocals to be sure his patient was paying attention; he continued “Second, you need to find a way to manage the excessive amounts of stress that you have already invited into your life. Find an activity or a hobby that gives you some time for renewal and rejuvenation: set aside some time to listen to music you enjoy, meditate, or take a daily walk on the beach. Your choice, just be sure to find something.”

The first piece of his treatment was going to be difficult to embrace. His work had become an addiction for Patrick. Cutting back to half the hours would be akin to going cold turkey. It was not going to be pretty. In fact, he surmised that it would introduce even more stress in the short term. Despite his apprehension, however, he knew it was necessary. Besides, if he didn’t follow through with the doctor’s advice, he was either headed for another heart attack or a divorce, maybe both.

As difficult as the work schedule aspect of his treatment would be, the doctor had stumbled upon a perfect activity for Patrick to help alleviate some of his existing stress. This part would be much easier. He had moved from the Midwest after law school to be closer to the beach. And yet, here he was less than ten minutes from the Atlantic Ocean and he could count on his one hand the number of times he had been there in the past ten years.

atlantic-ocean-beachOne of those times, perhaps the most memorable of his life, occurred on his first date with Samantha. With the pale moonlight casting a glow over the endless sea, the two of them stood with their foreheads touching, gazing into each other’s eyes as the lapping waves tickled their toes, sinking their feet into the sand as if setting strong roots for their future together. Maybe that’s why he didn’t return as often. Maybe he never wanted to risk tainting the perfection of that fond memory. Patrick would be strolling on that same beach more often now because he relished the reminiscence of that first date. He planned to relieve stress by taking a daily walk on the beach each morning before commuting into the office.

He had walked on this beach and sat on these dunes dozens of times in the past several months. The most spectacular part of this new practice was watching the sun begin to peek above the horizon as night transitioned to dawn. Each sunrise was different. Every one portrayed a different mood and told a different story. Some narratives were filled with gray clouds and a dull light that cast a somber ambiance. Other renditions were characterized by brilliant hues of vibrant pink, blue, and orange that was manifested by the smile of encouragement and hope on Patrick’s face.

turtle trekThis Friday morning’s sunrise was neither melancholy nor effervescent. And yet, it was like none he had ever seen. As Patrick sat on the dunes, forearms resting on his knees, he eagerly awaited the story line beginning to unfold as the diluting darkness of night gave way to the refreshing light of day. From the corner of his eye, in his peripheral vision, Patrick noticed what looked like a shadow, a vague form of something meandering down the sand towards the water’s edge. As the rising sun began to cast more light on the scene, he spotted the trail of sea turtles trekking vigorously towards the safety of the deep ocean waters. This was only the first of many obstacles that they would need to surmount in their young lives, but it was the most pressing at the moment. They were devoting every ounce of energy and focus into the here and now, and Patrick was overfilled with gratitude, being able to witness this magical transformation, this beginning of a new life.

It led Patrick naturally to contemplate the direction of his own focus. Each and every morning, he would sit here on this beach and focus on what was out over the horizon, awaiting a grand spectacle to make its presence known from a distance. He wondered how many other things, like these fledgling turtles, that he missed right before his eyes.

His daily routine should have carried Patrick south towards his office and the final eight hours of his new forty hour work week. It was those eight hours, after all, that would help propel Patrick closer to becoming a partner, that vision looming just out over the horizon. Instead, he turned north, headed home to his own fledgling turtles, all the while planning a perfectly splendid party involving imaginary tea, pretend scones, and the three most important people in his life.

Spoon fed

fancy-restaurant-tableThe business dinner planned for later that evening left Aimee with a feeling of discontent. She wasn’t sure where this mysterious anxiety came from until she laid the linen napkin across her lap. As she looked down at the decorative porcelain plates sitting in front of her along with the assortment of eating utensils to the left, right, and above her plate, she felt like she was preparing for an archaeological dig instead of an enjoyable dinner with co-workers.

She was promptly reminded of her childhood days. Each evening, she was required to don her most frilly dress, have her hair perfectly set, and carry impeccable manners with her to the dinner table. This daily routine was just a microcosm of the life she was asked to lead as a young girl. Aimee was born a free-spirited individual, ready and willing to conquer the world. She had vivid dreams of running a neighborhood lemonade stand at the age of five. She wished more than anything to play shortstop for the boy’s baseball team at the age of ten. Through her high school sociology elective, she was drawn towards the opportunity to volunteer her time in a third world country to help impoverished youth.

Aimee had grand ambitions, lofty aspirations, and audacious goals. But, none of them were ever explored, becoming nothing more than figments of her imagination. In place of the lemonade stand were piano lessons. Instead of the baseball team, she was shuttled to tennis practice three times a week. That was what girls did. She was reminded of this whenever she instigated any semblance of resistance. The desire to travel abroad in the name of humanitarian efforts was shunned in the name of earning exemplary grades in the important classes so that the finest medical schools would court her in the coming years. The things most important to Aimee were buried deep inside. Try as they may to escape through an embryonic personality characterized by unfettered passion, it had instead become a natural habit to push each of these frivolous dreams back from whence it came. This had become the signature mark of Aimee’s tainted youth.

During one meal in the austere dining room of her childhood home, she was surrounded by her two sisters, three brothers, and an important client that her father had invited to their home for that evening’s dinner. Aimee was only eight years old. She never cared for the formality of a meal despite the unrelenting reminder of proper etiquette when she strayed from the accepted standards.

She always tried to remember the general rules, at least. Start from the outside and work towards the inside she mentally reminded herself. The spoon that she picked up for her soup was on the outside. It just happened to be alongside the top of her plate. Surely, she could be pardoned for picking up the dessert spoon instead of the soup spoon on the right side of her plate.

formal-place-settingConsidered by Aimee to be an innocent mistake, no one was hurt and no one was disrespected by this minor gaffe. Alas, in the eyes of her parents, this was apparently a reprehensible offense. Her mother viewed it as an intentional and rebellious sign of Aimee’s disrespect towards her elders. The insanity of these irrational reactions didn’t materialize until much later in her life. At this tender age, Aimee accepted that this was the way things were, the way things should be. And they slowly, but surely worked their way into the fabric of her being.

As retribution for her attempt at insubordination, Aimee was forced to eat without her spoon for the remainder of the meal. She spent the next ten minutes manipulating her fork, attempting to fish out the small vegetable pieces from her soup in the most dignified manner as possible. All the while, her mother held a smug grin of satisfaction on her face.

Ever since that distressing experience, she dreaded the presence of a formal place setting. The trigger of sitting down at that table with her colleagues whisked Aimee back to her upsetting childhood days. What should have been a pleasant and relaxing environment with her professional colleagues turned into the relapse of a memory that she had suppressed too many times to count. Instead of her co-workers and prospective clients around the table, she saw her family and the pompous grin on her mother’s face that she longed to wipe away in a not so dignified fashion.

That is how Aimee came to the odd habits she had cultivated over the past fifteen years. There was not a fork or knife in her apartment, only spoons. Her upbringing had denied her lemonade stands, baseball teams, and travels abroad. It would not deny her the one thing forbidden on that impactful day of her childhood. She would always have a spoon.

lobster-bisqueAs she perused the menu, exploring every delicious offering available, her dinner order consisting solely of lobster bisque brought suspicious glances from her associates around the table. Aimee continued to rationalize the supposed authority that she possessed over the events from her past. She was in control now, she repeated to herself. Left with a sad contentedness that would tide her over until the next trigger, Aimee reached for her spoon. At the same time, she pushed the other utensils and the metaphorical memories they held across the table. If not out of her mind, they were out of her sight, for now at least.