Glassy, bloodshot eyes scanned the lawn before me, scrupulously weighing pros and cons of each potential resting place.
In life, as in produce aisles, menus and thesauri, I never settle on the first available option. After careful debate, and often numerous wardrobe changes, I may very well come back to it
but I never settle on the first.
A patch of grass on the southwestern-most side of the park. In the sun. Far enough to escape awkward pleasantries, close enough to still feel like a part of something.
A perfect day. Friday. Sunny. Hot. And I had found the perfect spot.
My bag, far too heavy with things unneeded and books not read, fell to the ground with a clumsy thud.
I unbuckled tiny belts securing sandals to my feet, giving each a lazy shake.
Freed from the confinement of dainty black cages, I spread my toes wide. Little green blades poked their way through the spaces between. A deep, full breath. Warm dirt beneath bare feet. Sturdy, solid, stable.
I closed my eyes as my arms floated skyward, alternately stretching up and up with each breath…as if I could graze the clouds with my fingertips. If i could just…reach…
I like to stick my arm out of open car windows. I like to play with the wind. That resistance, the way it lifts…and drops…and lifts…and drops…the way my hand dances to an oscillating rhythm, spanning the length of my journey. That sensation. That’s what they feel like. The clou—
Reality came and yanked me half way out that window, rolling it up with his sneaky, snakelike trickery. Caught off guard, I find myself pinned
half in. half out.
My car is out of control and it’s heading toward the edge of a cliff.
A jolt of consciousness rushed through me, popping my eyelids open.
The clouds? I can’t feel them anymore.
I knelt on the grass and fished a lightweight sweater from deep within my bag. I held it up to the breeze, letting the air rush beneath, lifting it like an open parachute. Slowly, my makeshift sit-up-on floated to the ground. A perfect spot, a perfect day. Me and the perfect sun.
A perfect paradox.
At least…at last…
Solitude. My best friend. My worst enemy.
I peeled the sticker off a green apple and used my skirt to rub away invisible gook. A big, juicy bite. Kind of sweet, but mostly sour. It stung my tongue. Shit. Nothing tastes good anymore.
Chewing slowly, I flipped through pages of the latest read. Absorbing nothing, pretending everything. Going through the motions. Fake it til you make it! Mind blank. It’s all about attitude! Body aches. Smile!
The Bhagavad Gita. Bhagavad Bullshit. It had been on my list for a while and I had high expectations. I thought it would put things into perspective. Tell me something I hadn’t heard before. I thought it might enlighten me. Or maybe I just needed it to.
But it didn’t. It pissed me off. Women destroying order and corrupting society. Disease. Pain. Suffering. Justified by…karma. The solution to everything: meditation. Depressed? Go meditate. Go meditate? Go fuck yourself.
I used to eat this stuff up. It’s strange the way things change. In one instant…everything can change.
Maybe I just got a bogus translation. Maybe I am just a mean, nasty rotten little hag. Maybe this is karma. Maybe it’ll make more sense the next time around…
Maybe sometimes things just don’t make sense.
Completely absorbed in my own melancholy, annoyed with this idiot book. As close to content as I could muster.
Then I felt it. Something strange. An unexpected whisper in your ear. A noise in a dark room. That feeling. I knew you were standing there. I could feel you staring at me.
Careful not to move a hair, hoping the opacity of my shades concealed curiosity beneath…I took a peak.
Thin as a rail, black as night. A style that can only be described as beatnik biker hippy chic. There you were.
Overdressed for the weather. A white tee nearly covered the faded tattoo etched into shriveled triceps. Over it, a black leather vest, covered in patches. Coarse, salt and pepper curls peaked from beneath a matching pageboy cap. The flare of funky jeans over Harley boots. You were an odd juxtaposition of youthful fashion draped over a worn and weathered bag of bones.
Your whole world changed in 1966. And for the world, much had changed since then. But you…you were never able to escape that year. Frozen in time…eternally nineteen. Your body had aged, but your style and your state of mind most certainly had not.
Your knuckles nearly poked through a thin layer of skin as you gripped the top of that shiny, tortoise cane. Aviators over your eyes. A black canon hung around your neck.
Cool as a cucumber, there you were.
“I remember you,” you said.
I remember you, too.
We had met earlier that summer. An uncomfortably hot day. I was reading a book, kneeling beneath a tree. You approached me. You crouched down to my level. I worried your brittle bones might break.
“May I take your picture?”
Muscles, tense. Shoulders rolled in and down, a shield around my heart. I could feel the heat radiating. From the sticky summer air, no. But from my chest.
It never fails.
Embarrassed, upset, awkward or uncomfortable.
Beet red betrays stubborn pride, swallowing my entire body. Sweat practically drips from my brow. I can feel it happening. Instant, intense heat. I can’t fight it. I certainly can’t hide it.
Emotions seep through my pores.
It makes some people uncomfortable. I can tell. You can tell a lot of things about people if you pay close enough attention. The physical manifestation of my anxiety makes them uncomfortable. Maybe it scares them. I think they feel sorry for me.
You could tell what I was thinking.You paid attention.
“When you’re an old man, you need hobbies,” you said. “I like to take pictures, that’s all. It passes the time.”
I stared at you for a moment. You were wearing that same vest. I read your body language. You spelled tired, broken, sad. One of your patches spelled VIETNAM VETERAN in yellow stitching.
“Fine,” I sighed. “But I’m not posing for you.” I looked down again at my book.
You crouched down. Again, I feared you might break. You held out your camera so I could see.
And what I saw caught me off guard. “Nice,” was all I said.
But it wasn’t nice.
It was beautiful.
I don’t like having my picture taken. Normally, I would not have let you.
But let’s be honest. Things haven’t been normal for some time now. I haven’t had what most would consider a healthy sense of stranger apprehension or concern for my own wellbeing.
Depression has a way of stripping you of fear. Replacing it with a sort of flat-lined apathy. A sick, calm sense of indifference. You’re no longer phased. It’s not that you’re unaware. You just don’t give a shit. Que sera, sera.
Normally, I’d give a shit. I wouldn’t let strange old men take my picture. But I didn’t give a shit, so there I was in your camera.
“You take good care of yourself now.”
I nodded, not looking up from my book. The letters on the page started to bleedandblurintoeachotherformingonebigblobofunitelligiblemuck.
All I could see was that picture.
You had captured the shadows. The sadness. My dark. And in some bizarre, unexpected way, I saw that it was painfully beautiful. I didn’t fake a smile for you. I didn’t pretend. I just was. And good, bad or scary…being is beautiful.
I lifted up my head and watched you hobble off. Searching for the things only sadness can see.