Average Insanity.

stories from a displaced jersey girl

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Gemma and the Astronaut

“An astronaut. Definitely an astronaut.”

“That’s shooting a little high… literally. Get it? Cause they go up high…” The look on Wren’s face made it clear he got it, it just didn’t warrant a chuckle. I did, however, get an eye roll.

“Wow, Kate. So clever. With wits like that I don’t know how we couldn’t shoot high.”

“I’m just saying that everyone thinks their kid will be the next great thing. ‘Oh he can be president! He can cure cancer!’ Do you know how many people move along to do things like that? I’ll go with maybe .06%. Mainly because I picked a shitty example with the whole curing cancer thing since no one has accomplished that.”

“Well of course they want to believe the best from their children. People want to have faith in their genetics and if their child does something great like that, they get to leave behind a legacy.” I leaned over and pecked him on the cheek.

“Well you and I have fabulous genes, so I wouldn’t be too worried. Maybe he wouldn’t be an astronaut, but he’d damn sure leave behind some kind of legacy.”

“So it’s a ‘he’, huh?”

“Yup. Definitely a ‘he.’”

It was an uncharacteristic Texas morning, the roads were icy and slow moving. We had just began the six hour drive to the clinic and were running late from a hangover Wren had accumulated from eight IPA’s the night before. I had a theory he was scared shitless, but I wasn’t going to say anything. I was just going to be strong. I grabbed his hand and gave it a squeeze.

“Hey,” I said. “I love you.”

“I love you too.”

“You know this is okay, right?” I asked. He sighed heavily before he responded.

“I know it is. I just never thought this was something I’d be doing.”

“Yeah. Me neither.”

It wasn’t necessarily the ethics behind it - we were only twenty-five and didn’t have the incomes for a child - but the thought of health hazards weeded our brains. As two hypochondriacs, worry stitched in tight. I had done enough research and consulted enough friends who had once worn my shoes to know it would be fine. Wren was another story. The man loved me too much to feel comfortable with what was about to happen.

When we pulled in, the parking lot was half full. We looked at each other, nodded our heads and stepped into an outside so frozen our breath crystallized before we even parted our lips. We took the stairs side by side, arms laced around the others waist, and opened the door to an almost extinct waiting room.

“I’ll go check in,” I mumbled. When I approached the front desk, the receptionist didn’t look up. I stood awkwardly, watching her doodle a lion onto a post-it note.  

“Hi. I’m here to get an abortion.”

That got her attention.

“What, does no one employ honesty here?” I asked. “In that case, I’m here for my 11 o’clock appointment.” I had no idea why I was tormenting the woman with white eye-liner in this fashion. Maybe it was because inappropriate humor was an armor I had been forging since I was a teenager. Maybe with lack of anyone else to take it out on, my rage at how difficult and shameful this state made our choice was projected onto her. No matter what it was, it made one thing clear: I was scared shitless too. She took my name and insurance information then cast me to the sea of green chairs.

“Everything set?” Wren asked. I replayed the abortion comment in my head and imagined the look on his face if he had heard it.

“Yup. Now it’s just time to reset my uterus.”

“Jesus.” Despite himself, he laughed.

“Oh no,” I whispered. “Don’t do that! We can’t be those people who laugh at the abortion clinic.”

“Then don’t make jokes.”

“But if I don’t make jokes I’ll cry.” He put an arm around my shoulder and kissed the side of my temple.

“I know. Me too, babe.”  

The room was filled with a handful of couples. Tucked in a corner was a petite blonde curled onto the shoulder of a lanky man with glasses. He was stroking her hair. I assumed he was the rock while she was struggling internally with the decision even though she knew it was best. Why else would she be here? He looked too docile to be the enforcing type. I decided to name them Barbie and Robert. They would have had a bookish child whose smile was one for pageants, but her diffidence would have limited the actualization of her potential. Things would have came naturally, she’d never have strove. She would have been named Grace and her favorite color lavender. I was certain of it.

I briefly considered telling Wren their life story, but he was distracting himself with a Psychology Today article. That had always been a difference between us - he needed to ground himself in figures and definitions while I needed intangibles and fantasies.

I scanned to the next pair: A redhead crying softly while her burly mate sat straight ahead, staring at the floor. Since the man looked the type who would force the situation, I wondered pitifully if she was here against her will. I decided to name her Aurora. He would be Brutus. Their unborn child would be Darius, a name Brutus picked because he thought it sounded like a baseball-playing-wrestler’s name. Darius would be awful to Aurora because Brutus would inadvertently (not purposefully, he wasn’t smart enough for that) pit him against her. Since Aurora hadn’t wanted him, her disinterest in his attitude would build until Brutus was the only hands-on parent. Darius would end up getting away with everything except murder, until he was eventually locked up for that at the age of twenty-seven.

Poor Aurora. Even if that wasn’t her exact fate, I could tell by Brutus’s demeanor that whatever he currently offered wasn’t much better. I secretly hoped she would realize he wasn’t being kind and leave him for someone more sympathetic soon. I squeezed Wren’s knee and he leaned over for another temple-kiss.

“Find someone like this, Aurora,” I telepathically pleaded, though it wasn’t very likely. Women who gravitated towards men of such bearings rarely had the self-esteem to leave.

There were a few more pairs sitting close together, speaking in lowered voices or fanning through magazines. None of them looked particularly emotional. After a few minutes of nothing the front door opened in a bluster and a woman walked in. I kept expecting someone to come in after her. It never happened. In bubble boots and a bright orange peacoat she was a visually striking figure and everyone seemed to take a peek at the lone girl in a room of twosomes. I decided to name her Gemma. She must be here behind someones back, not wanting them to know there was a possible addition to their lineage. Or maybe it was a one-night stand from an indie-rock concert and she couldn’t remember his name let alone a way to contact him. I was shamefully stereotyping, but I didn’t care. I wanted her to have the most interesting story of us all. 

I felt a flurry of excitement when she sat two chairs away from us. She crossed her legs and started tapping her foot through the air impatiently. This was clearly a violation of her time. I looked over and weakly smiled. After a few sporadic eye contacts between us, she turned to me.

“So how long have you been waiting?” she asked.  

“Not too long. Maybe ten or fifteen minutes.”

“I guess it could be worse.”

“I waited for an hour at a dermatologist once, but I guess that’s a little different huh?”

“Yes, usually removing a mole is different than removing a fetus,” she said in a flat tone. The comment made Wren look up from his reading and I mouthed the words “I love her” to him. Despite my adoration I still didn’t know how to respond. I wondered if this was the way the receptionist had felt earlier.

“Ha,” was all I could muster.

“I’m sorry,” she replied. “I guess I’m feeling sardonic today.” Wren scoffed but never looked over when he replied.

“You sat next to the right people then.”

“Not exactly a happy place, is it?” Gemma surveyed the room and I wondered if her observations were similar to mine.

“I’d be concerned if it was,” I said.

“They can solve problems here. People should look a little more upbeat because of that.”

“Just because you’re relieved doesn’t mean you’re happy about it,” I retorted. She cocked her head and looked at me inquisitively, as if I had just become a real person and before I was simply a fixture.

“Well put.”

“Well thank you.”

Wren leaned over and looked at us both earnestly. “I think that couple over there can hear you,” he mumbled. I adjusted my gaze cautiously and saw Barbie and Robert eyeing us. Despite my sarcastic core, I felt guilty about being flippant in front of people whose lives could be altering beyond repair. Gemma became quiet. I thought she felt remorseful as well until it became clear she had been ruminating on what she was about to ask.

“Did you think about what it would have been like?” I felt Wren shift uncomfortably. She must of never talked about this and now it was up to me to field her inner monologue.

“A little,” I conceded. She looked down at clasped hands.

“I decided mine would have been mediocre at best. Probably work a cash register at Target or collect money in a toll booth.” After a pause she looked over at me. “It’s easier to think I’m not depriving the world of someone who could have made it better. The place is already fucked enough.”

Wren and I looked at each other and I knew he was thinking of our conversation from earlier. I smiled weakly and he rubbed my knee.

“It’s okay, babe. Remember that what we’re doing is okay.” He said this so only I could hear.

“I know it is…but he would have been a damn fine astronaut.”

“Yes. Yes he would have.”

We hadn’t had a mournful moment over the predicament and now here it was, five minutes before the procedure. I turned back to Gemma to escape it. I thought about her child and how it would have been anything but ordinary. Whether boy or girl, it would have been geared for inflection and brought new light to the perspectives of others. Perhaps it would have became a philosophy professor whose fresh interpretation of Nozick would have spurred debate and innovation in the academic world. Maybe it would have developed an obsession with the cosmos and unlocked the secret of how to use wormholes for giant leaps through space, or maybe it’s Concerto in D Minor would have made audiences weep.  

Next to me, Gemma shut her eyes and leaned her head back into the wall. She let out a quiet scoff and said in a chanting cadence, “It would be ordinary. It would have to be ordinary.”

As I listened I realized that despite what was about to happen, I was extremely lucky. I had someone next to me while Gemma was left to cope and rationalize alone. I knew where her improper comments were coming from: She was scared shitless.

“Wren thought ours would be an astronaut,” I said. He glared at me with the appropriate amount of gall for sharing something so personal. Gemma opened an eye and leered at him.

“Isn’t that presumptuous.”  

“He likes to think our genes would leave behind a legacy.” Wren continued to stare at me like I was extracting his soul and painting it on a billboard. “And I don’t blame him. This isn’t something we can do at this point in our lives, but who can say about later? And who can say you won’t later? If we have faith in ourselves now, in a time where it’s hard to find any, it will come easier when we truly need it.” In a moment of courage I reached over and put my hand on her shoulder. “You’re going to be okay, okay? What you’re doing is okay.” She kept her eyes shut but nodded her head.

“Thank you,” she whispered. A nurse appeared from the swinging doors in the back and called my name. I looked at Wren and emptied my lungs of all air I had consumed before that moment. His contempt was gone.  

“Well. I guess it’s time,” I said.  

“I guess it is. I love you. I’ll be right here when you get back.” I stood up only to lean back down and kiss him. After I pulled away I  whispered in his ear.

“Keep Gemma company, okay?”

Filed under Fiction Short Story Prose Spilled Ink

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The Postcard Project

Hello Followers. 

I barely post anymore - it’s quite a shame. I have things written it’s just they’ve mainly been cover letters for 9 to 5’s. How boring. 

I’m posting this however because I’m embarking on a project I want to tell you about called The Postcard Project. The gist is this: I send random addresses postcards asking them a question and hoping they email me with an answer. Prompts include: 

What scares you?

What would you change?

What will you never forget?

Who will you never forget?

Tell me a story. 

There are many more and I can’t wait to see the responses. 

Check out the informational account if you want more details. I’ll be posting updates. http://tellthepostcard.tumblr.com 

If anyone is intrigued and wants to participate, I welcome you to email the address on The Postcard Project’s page. 

I love you all. I miss you all. Keep it classy. 

Filed under projects non fiction postcards travel people

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Ginsberg to the Moon

I read the words of Ginsberg to find the rantings of a madman -  

a song I’ve heard and use to know - 

and when I saw the notes upon the page I realized I had stopped howling at the moon awhile ago. 

My ink ran dry and 

creativity dropped ribbons from wrists not slit, 

only stationary. 

//

When was the last time I teetered upon the stool, imagining the moons entity as reality’s rule?  

//

I would soak it in to get it out, 

but my hands have become hesitant;

my ideas complacent; 

my rush quelled. 

My Ginsberg has left to shout at a train already departed with the haste of thoughts he couldn’t contain. 

If only I could coax him back, 

ask him inside. 

He could inherit my fingers if I could borrow a sentence 

for the moon.  

Filed under Poetry Poems Spilled Ink Creativity

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Flight > Fight: pt. 13 

I one-eyed the road with my phone above my steering wheel, typing in a text and thinking about how horrible this multi-task could be for my health…but I needed to check into my next hostel. Priorities.

"Hi Nate!" I wrote. "I should be in Durango around four if that’s cool. I’ll let you know when I get into town." Nate was a high school buddy of one of my Austinites, and my "hostel" consisted of a couch in the bike shop he owned. The reason the couch wasn’t in the house is because he doesn’t have a house - he sleeps in an airstream behind the shop.

"Yup, sounds about right for Colorado," I had said when my friend had told me that information. My phone chimed a few minutes later.

"Sounds good. I’m going on a bike ride around noon and should be back right around then so that works out."

I had given myself an hour or so window. I knew it wasn’t going to be a straight shot as soon as Colorado began to unfold around me. “Welcome to Colorful Colorado!” a sign had told me as I crossed the New Mexican border. I had no idea that was their tag line, but from the first view I knew it was going to be true. Earlier, the landscape had changed with no warning. Sloppy dirt became grass that looked like smudged oil point; shrubs grew into limbering pines; red rocks desaturated to grey and plateaus sharpened to mountains. My sense of awe reminded me of the time I rode a train into Switzerland and couldn’t stop pressing my face against the glass, agape.

I made frequent stops for photos. I couldn’t help myself because a part of me was unsure if I could capture it with worthy enough words, and another couldn’t let it go un-commemorated. I also kept trying to find hiking areas, which had increasingly become more and more irritating.

 

"National Forest Entrance!" signs yelled, and I figured they had to have trails if they had signs. I pulled off and bumped down a dirt road, driving a few miles before I started talking to myself.

"How the fuck aren’t there trails in here?"

I turned around defeated and repeated the go-down-turn-around-keep-saying-“what the fuck”-process on three other roads. By the time I gave up, I was whimpering at the woods, “I just want to walk through you. Why do you hate me?” 

Another time, I supposed, and continued my charge…. a charge which was about to turn deadly. 

Filed under Prose Travel Non fiction Series Essay

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Flight > Fight: intermission.

It’s hard to believe it’s been a week since I’ve been back in Austin. It feels longer, almost as if I never left. If it wasn’t for photos and an overflowing bag I haven’t unpacked, I might think it was only a dream and I had simply slept two weeks. 

I haven’t written a new passage since I’ve been back. The intention is there, but distractions pull it from my bones each day. From messages, I know there were people keeping along. I apologize, and I may have even lost you. But this project will be finished, even if it has become harder to write. Out of my two regrets from the road, one was the night I spent in a shit-hole called Alamosa, where instead of writing I watched The Shawshank Redemption and felt bad for myself. 

As for my second regret, I’ll keep that to myself. 

I suppose this post is an intermission of sorts. It almost feels like an excuse. All I can say for now is I’ve found a different truth than I believed I would. When I left, several people told me they were “proud.” For the life of me I still don’t understand why - I ran from reality, and it seems more cowardly than brave. I didn’t take my situation head on, rather took winding highways where I could wave as it jumped from one rock-beast to another, keeping pace with the racing black dot of my car through valleys. 

Yet, there is something to be said about distance. The blunt details back away to a larger form, and the mass hurtling between mountains looked much different from afar. There was no avoidance, only observation from a different angle, forcing me to look from a new perspective. Running from problems doesn’t exist, but finding a new shape for them does. Now I just need to find my writing flow again. Apparently, I left it in Alamosa. 

Filed under Essay Non Fiction Prose Travel

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Flight > Fight: pt. 12

Through formations older than conceivable I swerved, breath taken away without notice. I was pressed in a pass when drops of blue and white became visible along the road up ahead. I wondered out loud.

 

"What the… are those people…?"

 

"Maybe they’re a mirage." Ghost was sucking down a phantom cigarette, the smoke as transparent as he.

 

"Like you are?"

 

"I’m not a mirage, babe. I’m a figment of your worst imagination."

 

"Tell me about it." As I approached, the colors formed into a group of open-air painters. Five cars sat on the shoulder with an easel to match, and boxes of paints littered the side of the highway. I pulled over and began to gather my camera.

 

"Remember the last time you pulled over for a stranger?" Ghost asked.

 

"They’re painters. What, are the five of them going to tie me down and tickle me with their brushes?"

 

"They could do something to you with those brushes…"

 

"Gross."

 

I ignored him and started across the slope of road. The group was in front of a spiraling tower of red rock nestled between foothills. A paunchy man with a grey, grizzled chin walked between the easels and looked over shoulders of those who swiped toned strokes. I walked up slow, not wanting to disturb any creative processing, and a leather-tanned woman with a yellow daisy in her hair smiled at my approach.

 

"Hi-ya," she said.

 

"Hi. You guys picked a beautiful spot."

 

"Isn’t it?" Her voice sounded twenty while her face looked sixty. "The curve in the road is just perfect."

 

"Do you mind if I take some photos?"

 

"Oh, no! Go right ahead!" I started focusing my lens on a man wearing a fishing hat and concentrated look.

 

"So is this just a really popular spot or did you all come together?" I asked Daisy.

 

"Well my fiancée, he teaches this class and this is one of the spots he uses for our inspiration! It’s so wonderful." The wandering grizzled man suddenly made more sense, and I heard him tell a student, "You need to stop while you’re ahead. It’s not going to get any better than that." Each student was working in a different medium; there were charcoals and pastels, oil paints and watercolors. Their smocks were streaked bright and a woman with a turquoise rosary bit her lip while she worked. The professor walked up to me.

 

"Such a lovely day." His voice softly scraped the landscape.

 

"Yes it is. You teach this class?"

 

"Yes. I have a little studio space, above the hotel in Abiquiu."

 

"How long have you been doing this?" 

 

"Oh, about… fifteen years now, I think. Are you from around here?" That question always seemed inevitable when you traveled with a Nikon around your neck.

 

"No," I half-laughed through the word. "I’m driving from Austin up to Denver."

 

He cocked his head at me. “This is a little out of your way, is it not?”

 

I shrugged. “Well I’ve never seen this part of the country, so I’m trying to take in as much as possible.”

 

"You’re taking a wonderful road. It only gets more beautiful." He suddenly jerked his head and turned to the student he had told to stop painting. "Steve! What did I say? Do not touch it!" Steve, a man in round spectacles, halted his hand as the echoing reprimand bounced in the air.

 

"…Sorry, Joaquin," he mumbled.

 

"Do not apologize to me! Apologize to the earth, for trying to make a mockery of what she has given you to gaze upon!" He stared at Steve while Steve stared at the ground. All of the others were paused and watching.

 

"Go ahead," professor Joaquin stated. "Apologize."

 

Steve sat quiet.

 

"Apologize, damnit!"

 

"…I’m sorry, Mother Earth," Steve whispered.

 

"For anyone else that would like to scar the beautiful face they are looking onto," Joaquin addressed the class, "do not bother to come back to the studio for your critique. Joaquin has no time for besmirchers! Now, pack it up, before Steve decides to go rogue again!"

 

I stood motionless, afraid Joaquin might turn his rage in my direction. Daisy sidled up next to me and muttered under her breath. “The genius within,” she said, “it can drive him mad.” I nodded my head and remembered a night Ghost had jumped out of our bed, frantically grabbed his hair and exclaimed, “I have to go write! I was fucking you and thinking about poetry. How fucked up is that? I have to go write!” I waved goodbye to the group and trotted back to the car where Ghost still sat.

 

"Good to see they didn’t need your blood for that perfect shade of rouge. I like that Joaquin fellow. The man has principles and to hell with everyone else. I respect that."

 

"Of course you do." I remembered another night, the night he left, and how he had told me women were just a distraction from his work. "To hell with everyone else, even the ones you love…" 

Filed under Prose Non Fiction Essay Travel Series

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Flight > Fight: pt. 11 

image

I was groggy when I left in the morning. Drinking away an ex wasn’t exactly a foolproof plan, though the memory of that textual embarrassment hadn’t been as hard as my morning chore - cleaning the bathroom.

 

"Oh, I know what you can do! Clean the bathroom!" the morning desk woman said excitedly.

 

"Oh, yippee!"

 

After scrubbing away community gunk, I was back on the road in a bleach-induced high. Durango, Colorado was my next stop and my first Rocky mountain town. But first up - another desolate stretch of highway.

 

Or, maybe desolate isn’t the right word.

 

Yards of auburn dirt unfurled around the two-lane highway, slashing through towers that could have been mountains or just rock formations. The colors cut each other all the way to the tops - red; orange; yellow; tan; white climbing lines to an end on the sky. The road sloped down and up, sweeping the horizon vertical in the windshield. My one bar of service was standing resilient, and it let a call come through.

 

"Well look who it is," was my open.

 

"Carls Barkley - how the hell are you?" The voice came from the source of as many fond memories as horrid: DoucheBag. Well, okay, that isn’t his real name. That was just his tag for a very long time.

 

"I’m good! I’m currently in the middle of nowhere in New Mexico."

 

"What? Why the fuck are you in New Mexico?" I took the next few minutes and caught him up on the lay off and the break up. As I recounted, I realized it was becoming less sharp; an eraser had been taken to some of the lines. 

 

"Well damn," he said. "That all really blows. It’s awesome that you’re doing what you’re doing, though. And fuck your ex. You don’t deserve that shit. You’re way too talented and interesting and creative and beautiful for all that." I resisted the temptation to respond, "So uh…than why did you treat me so bad?"

 

"Yeah…" I said instead. "Damn, I wish I could have you see what I’m seeing right now. It is fucking insane." A crag of burnt orange broke the sky directly ahead of me and it seemed I could drive right into it.

 

"I bet. Man, you are such a damn gypsy."

 

"That’s how I like it! Alright, I gotta go. I’m about to pull over and take some pictures. I’ll text you a couple so you can see what I mean."

 

"Yeah do it. And a picture of your tits. Landscapes are cool and all, but your tits are cooler."

 

"Uh huh. Go ahead and hold your breath for that one."

 

I’ve always had the best taste in men.

Filed under Prose Essay Non Fiction Travel Series

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Flight > Fight: pt. 10 

I sat at a local cantina later that night, dazed. The squat woman behind the bar handed me a four page menu of strictly margaritas. I tried to understand letters, but my mind was too scrambled. 

"Just pick any one that’s under 12 bucks," I told her, sliding the menu across the bar. 

"Any of them?" 

"Yeah. I’m from New Jersey - I don’t know shit about tequila so it will all taste the same." She laughed, and the man next to me swiveled his stool. 

"New Jersey? What are you doing all the way out here?" He had a dark mustache and thick arms.

"Just passing through on my way to Denver," I answered. 

"First time in town?" 

"Yessir." 

"How do you like it?" 

"It’s an awesome town." I was being short in hopes he would let me be. My run-in with the Motionless Man had me shook, and all I wanted was background noise to go with my liquor. 

"Yes it is. I’ve been here my whole life, isn’t that right Eva?" The woman behind the bar smiled. 

"You’re about as local as it gets," she winked.  

"So you’re a regular here, huh?" I asked the man.  

"I’ve been here a few times…"  

"Ha! Yeah! Just a  few!" Eva barked at the response. 

"Well good," I said. "I know I’ve picked a good spot when it has regulars." 

Eva crafted my drink and I closed myself from further conversation by forcibly staring into the bar top. I couldn’t shake the image of the Motionless Man stopped in action, recognizing me with a blank stare. How was it possible, and what did it mean if it even meant anything at all? I inhaled the tequila, letting it go to my head in hopes to feel comfort. Instead, I just felt worse. I was confused and lonely, and now possibly even being followed. Or maybe the man wasn’t even there. Maybe he was a manifestation of the problems I had fled from; a chimera reminder, like Ghost. 

Ghost. One more margarita and I was low enough to forget his tangible form didn’t deserve to hear from me.  

"Hi," I texted.  

"Hi. You okay?" he responded. 

"Yeah. Just miss you." 

"I miss you too." 

"Jesus. I’m pathetic." 

"Stop with that." 

"It’s true. Look at me, texting you." 

"This is hard for me too." 

"Doesn’t seem like it." I rolled my eyes at myself when I hit send.

"If you don’t think this is destroying me, you’re wrong. You made the wrong travel choice. Should’ve come East." I stared at the last phrase, bewildered. Before our stars misaligned, the plan had been for me to leave Austin and live with him in North Carolina.   

"You broke up with me. What would you have done?" I asked. 

"Shown my dedication. I’m done talking." I scowled at my phone and cursed myself for being so weak. Eva appeared in front of me.

"Want another margarita, hon?" she asked. 

"No. I’ll take a shot, please." 

Filed under Prose Non Fiction Travel Essay Series

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Flight > Fight: pt. 9 

The next morning I was reminded why I loved hostels. Even before I opened my door, I could hear the mingling sounds of strangers. I walked into the kitchen and found a family from Denmark making tea on a gas stove that could only be lit by a match.

"Good morning!" I said to the general population. A chorus of accents answered. I mapped out my itinerary for the day and then went to figure out my morning chore. There was a new face at the front desk and I idly wondered what time John had gone to sleep.

"Hi! I need a chore."

"Okay… let’s see… there isn’t much left to do…" She went over to the clipboard and scanned it, searching for a task.

"I mean if there’s nothing left to do I could just do something awesome tomorrow…" I tried.

"Everyone - everyone - does a chore every morning here." She had not been amused, and sternly asked me to do the dishes. I thanked god for the mild chore; earlier, I had watched the littlest girl of the Denmark family mop the kitchen.

The endeavor flew by, and twenty minutes later I rounded a corner into downtown Santa Fe. It immediately validated a thought I had the day before: “New Mexico really does love adobe.” Every building in sight had the same earth-orange tone, and varied only in height, rooftop and storefront. The streets were narrow and the shops sat close; hand-painted signs hung from distressed, chestnut rafters. The main road dead-ended on the steps of a Spanish gothic cathedral and a vibrant park full of people lounging, strolling, and listening to music sprawled to the left. My field of view was almost utopian.

"Heck yeah," I said to no one.

I parked near a square where vendors were selling turquoise, hand crafted clay pots, and painted canvases underneath white peaks. I strolled lazily, never going too close so temptation to buy stayed at bay. I was passing a jewelry stand when a confrontation distracted me. A woman in bright, bangle bracelets was yelling at a woman on the other side of her booth.

"Well you were just so rude!" 

"I most certainly was not! You are being ridiculous!"

"I most certainly am not. You were very rude! Get out of here, and don’t come back!”

"Oh, I won’t! And I won’t be sending anyone to you either!"

"Good!" The accused woman was barely out of earshot when the vendor shouted at the public, "God, some people are just so rude!"

I headed away from the center of conflict and into the painted alleyways and courtyards of the city’s core. The sidewalks streamed in front of storefronts, and sometimes would turn into gardens and hidden alcoves. Underneath the overhang of an oblong, stucco building, a strip of blankets colored the sidewalk with trinkets and clay sculptures. Tourists crouched and fingered the pieces and asked “how much?” to weathered Indians in folding chairs. I stopped on the outside corner to watch wanderers teem the streets, and there, in the midst of a group across from me, stood the Motionless Man.

"No way," I muttered under my breath.

The last time I had saw him was ten hours south in a place cell reception couldn’t find. He couldn’t possibly have made it to the Santa Fe corner across from mine. He looked exactly the same - sanded khaki shorts, sandals, and button down tee - and again gave the impression he had simply been dropped from the sky. He was also staring directly at me.

So I waved.

"This is where you don’t make a stupid decision. Walk away, Carly." Ghost stood next to me, watching the Motionless Man with crouched eyes.

"But what are the odds of this! I have to know how he got here."

The Motionless Man held his gaze for another moment and then began to move. I jogged across the intersection and milled through the herd; it was crowded, and all I could see of him was the pink bulb of his head. I kept repeating, “excuse me!” as I slid between elbows and chests. I was gaining ground, but I had no idea what I was going to do when I caught up to him. Tap him on the shoulder? Grab the back of his shirt? Introduce myself as that girl from the side of the road near Mexico?

"Hey! Excuse me!" There were only three people between us. He had to hear. He had to hear.

He turned around and stopped in a calculated way that made me halt. We stood there and gaped at each other for a moment. When I took a step forward, he ducked into an alleyway to the left.

"Wait!" I yelled.

When I turned the corner, he was gone.

Filed under Prose Non Fiction Essay Travel Series

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Flight > Fight: pt. 8

Sleep didn’t last long. 

I awoke soon after a "highway somewhere." Ghost was gone, and I didn’t feel the need to call for him again. It did nothing for my loneliness. Instead, I headed towards the kitchen for a glass of milk. For some reason I had decided this was a cure for insomnia. I entered the industrial size kitchen and opened glass sliding doors to the community refrigerator. It was filled with free food for tenants, and as I cradled my milk mug over the wooden island in the middle of the room, I began to hear something strange again. 

Except this time, it wasn’t spooky. It was beautiful. Someone was playing the ancient piano. I slipped through the dark towards it and found John, the awkward front desk man, curling his fingers through the keys. I asked the old cliché question.

"Can’t sleep either?" He didn’t look startled. 

"No… the wind… it’s strange tonight." 

"I know what you mean. Mind if I sit?" 

"Sure." I sat on the bench next to him, sitting silent as he played. 

"You play wonderfully," I remarked. 

"Thank you… I used to play… a lot… back when I taught… English in France." 

"That’s awesome. I imagine that was a great time." 

"It was rewarding." 

"How long did you do it for?" 

"About 12 years." 

"Why did you stop?" 

"I guess… I just…got tired." 

He continued to play; his music hauntingly slow. I observed him with a certain detachment. This man, he harbored a terrible sadness that seemed to be slipping from his hands into the notes. I excused myself, and gave him the slightest touch on the shoulder as I departed. 

Back in my room, I fell straight to sleep. Maybe it was the milk. 

Filed under Prose Non Fiction Essay Travel Series