I lay in bed, staring at the ceiling fan. I woke up five minutes before my alarm was scheduled to scream but still hadn’t crawled out of bed ten minutes later. I fully anticipated waking up to discover the heaviness had crept through the night and uncovered my hiding place, nestled between a comforter and a mattress. But I was wrong. When I opened my eyes I was just as free from the sadness as I had been when I crawled into bed the night before. But I was afraid to move. It felt so good and I didn’t want to disturb the veil just in case it could be unsettled. Was this relief permanent or was there a limited window and at any minute I would fold under the weight of the sadness again, struggling even more because I had tasted its absence?
The minute I entered my office at work I shut the door. I wanted to stay in bed all day, basking in my freedom, but my responsibilities at the office made that impossible. Stepping out and moving forward allowed me to test the stability of my new emotional state. Besides, I had to get out of bed eventually to pee.
All day I found myself racked with superstitious behavior, fearful that the next activity, the next corner, would end my independence. I parked in a different corner of the parking lot and I took the stairs, eschewing the elevator and its confined space. I thought twice before washing my hands with soap in the men’s bathroom plus I threw away my coffee cup, grabbing a brand new one from the supply closet. I stepped over cracks in the concrete and seams in the carpet. I shook up all of my routines and it worked on my nerves. Freedom had a price.
I emailed Wally after lunch and asked him to come see me when he had a chance. He was at my door within three minutes.
“Come in and shut the door.” I waited until the room was sealed and he was seated in front of me to continue. “I’m sorry I didn’t call last night. Things got a little weird…” I told him about the events of the evening, starting with arriving at the parking lot and ending at the concrete bench. I was so immersed in the story that I didn’t notice the look of shock on his face until I finished. “Are you okay?”
“Are you kidding me? That’s one of the coolest stories I’ve ever heard. I can see the difference, too. You look better, you’ve got a little sparkle back in your eyes and you aren’t quite as pasty.” Pasty?
“I’ll tell you, though, I’m not positive this is permanent. I’ve been walking around like a kid in a haunted house all day, convinced a ghost or spook is going to jump from behind a filing cabinet or plant and wipe it all out.”
He laughed and then realized I was serious. “Don’t worry about that. I’m sure it’s permanent.”
“Well, I hope so but I’m not taking any chances.”
“You’re sure you don’t know who or what was responsible?”
“Not a clue. It just happened. No flash of light. No thunderclap. I was just immediately better.”
“Earl, come on! With your background you can’t figure out who caused that?”
“No way, man. It is not God. Okay, it may be god in some version or iteration, but it’s not the one I used to worship.”
“How can you say that? What happened to you last night was a miracle! How come you can’t give credit where it’s due?”
“How come? I’ll tell you. What happened to me last night in a moment of barrel scraping pity never happened to me in 40 plus years of devoted worship to a certain God of the Christian persuasion. I’d never experienced anything close to what I experienced last night. And why not? I was a good soldier, a believer, following the party line and towing it as well as anyone. I deserved something supernatural like that at some point in my years of allegiance for a morale boost if for nothing else, a spiritual ‘atta boy.’ But I got nothing. So, no, I refuse to give the credit to that particular entity. It had to be something or someone else. It was personal and there were tangible results.” I hadn’t meant to say that much but it was too late to make a retraction. Wally sat staring at me, deflated and disappointed. My breakthrough had not attained his idea of success. “I can appreciate you proselytizing for your team but I’m not buying it.” I throttled my tone back to a civilized level hoping it would help relieve his angst. “Something was out there and it knew who I was. Who or what was it? I intend to find out.”
Wally continued to stare at me but eventually he forced a smile and said, “I’ll pray you find out the truth.” I nodded and as he stood up to leave I added, “Knock yourself out.”
I left work at 7 p.m., which was late for a Friday even by my intense standards. I was almost giddy with the knowledge I had dodged the return of the heaviness all day. Maybe it wasn’t coming back but I still wanted to continue juggling my routine, preparing for its unannounced and unscheduled return. The last place I wanted to be was the condo so I drove to a nearby Thai restaurant and ate dinner “in,” sitting in a chair at a table instead of spread out on the floor of my living room. I was lazily working my way through a plate of chicken covered in coconut milk and green curry when my cell phone started vibrating in my pants pocket. I hesitated, not wanting to interrupt a rare quiet moment enjoying good food, but eventually reached into my pocket and answered the call before the fourth ring was complete.
“Daddy?” It was D.J.
“Hey there, chickie! I haven’t talked to you in a long time. You are one busy girl.”
“I guess so. I have a cell phone, you know.” The less than subtle jab was deserved so I chose not to respond directly to it but offered a lame, generic apology instead.
“I’ve had a lot going on, you know, plus I was expecting to see you a couple of weeks ago so I—”
“—I really don’t want to talk about any of that, okay? I’m calling for another reason.” Her tone was testy, teetering toward hostile.
I heard her take a deep breath, hold it and then let it out slowly, a technique she had used and perfected to calm herself since she was five. Hearing the routine was a signal for me to get nervous. “I need to talk to you about mom.” Her voice was small, pushed through tight, pinched passages from her brain all the way to her voice box. I didn’t respond, assuming, since she brought it up, she had more to say. “Ever since Christmas this family has been screwed up. You’re in Atlanta, we’re here… it’s just not right. When you and I have had a chance to talk it’s been all weird and stuff, like we don’t even know each other anymore. That’s really screwed up and I hate that.” So far she was presenting facts and not introducing new problems, which I was oddly relieved about.
“I know, D.J. but, as we’ve talked about, it’s complicated.”
“I think that’s the biggest problem, actually.”
“It’s not that complicated, at least from where I’m sitting which is in my house south of where you’re sitting. As screwed up as we are, we aren’t that bad.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that mom isn’t as torn up about all of this as you might be thinking. I keep looking for cracks but she isn’t showing any. It’s almost like she’s decided to get on with her life with or without you, but she’s definitely acting like the ball is in your court, not hers.”
“Really?” I braced myself, fully expecting the sadness to return from the stomach blows I was taking. “She’s not acting sad or depressed? She’s just—”
“—normal. And I don’t get it.” D.J. was getting upset and I was not in a position to calm her down sitting in a restaurant. I was already dealing with more than a dollop of self-consciousness just being on the phone. I kept looking at my plate in order to ignore the looks of disgust I was sure were being sent my way from the other patrons. “Daddy?”
“I wasn’t sure if you were still there but it doesn’t matter, I need to go. I just wanted you to know what was going on.”
“Thanks. I’ll call you soon or maybe get down there to see you in the next couple of weeks.”
“Sure. Whatever… bye.” And she was gone, off to continue her life with or without me.
I stared at the chicken and wrinkled my nose; it was no longer appealing. I was amazed how one four-minute conversation had killed my appetite. I refilled my teacup and stared at the steam rolling off the top, taking a few minutes to assess the information I just heard. I was conflicted because I was glad Ellen had not endured what I had gone through, playing out some karmic “parallel universe” drama. I was also conflicted because the pain I suffered had, minimally, shown I cared. Did her apparent lack of problems adjusting to our situation reveal she didn’t? That thought was distressing. I was currently dealing with some cosmic, otherworldly revelation, finally making progress toward achieving normalcy but would it matter? Was it too late? D.J. said she didn’t get it and I had to say I didn’t either. I was sad but it was not the same tortuous sadness I carried all these weeks. It was tempered because I faced a new, negative blip in my journey and the heaviness had not returned. I was starting to believe the night before had been legitimate.
Driving home, the questions I could not answer kept repeating themselves over and over. I had no explanation for what happened in the garden and I was getting irritated at myself for continuing to ask. I wanted to shove all the mystery to a deep corner and just enjoy the results but the persistent gnawing would not take a break, continuing through the night and hindering a restful sleep.
This is an excerpt of a full length novel entitled “Back Again.” You can read it in it’s entirety by downloading it from here or you can keep coming back to this site and read it in chapter chunks over time. Your call but, either way, I hope you will read it and, most of all, enjoy it. And leave a comment or two. It lets me know you are out there…