The idea for this Story occurred during a nighttime November trip to Target. I wrote it to encourage readers to consider the “terrain” of their inner lives and what tools might be needed to reshape the visceral lands when once those lands become unhospitable. Written a genre the likes of which the writer has never before attempted, let the reader be gentle in his/her critique....
Sometimes Reality assaults in unforeseen places and at unforeseen times. When her invitation is to live freer it always comes at a cost: the path to liberation requires a multi-pronged approach that acknowledges the complexities of human nature. But I’m not thinking of Reality nor of freedom as I guide my car into the compact space in the Target parking lot on this November night. I’m musing on how it’s a Sacramento night tonight in Fishers, Indiana. As I step out of my car, my grey sweater hugs my hips above my jeans. My mind itemizes the wardrobe I wear: Tattered jeans. Mini-sweater. Blue Trader Joe’s tee. Haiti medallion necklace. Rubber-soled running shoes.
Closing the car door, my hands find their pockets. The sweater hugs all of me and, familiar to its camouflage, I hide beneath it. I hide from cold and from eyes which threaten. My second skin, this sweater. The jeans, the sweater, my Haiti medallion necklace, a blue Trader Joe’s tee, and the cool, damp weather evoke a sad happiness. I’m dressed exactly as I was after a shift at my Sacramento Trader Joe’s. Its black night, and alone in a public parking lot these many variables meet together for the first time in more than a year.
I remember Sacramento happiness. Black parking lots after closing shifts. Three jobs and living in my car, sleeping at my aunt’s. Adventuring alone in the foreign city at a break-neck pace. Exhaustion: deep-down fatigue I could not shake.
And I loved it. Even the parts that I hated were precious to me. Even the grief was wrapped in Welcome. Even the emotional chaos was an accepted Lover. Even the confused din of future decisions curled me into a hopeful smile. Because I wanted it, wanted Sacramento. and I accepted her in total.
It’s a Sacramento night tonight in Fishers. But Target’s damp blacktop tells me another story. The rain residue that meets my nose reminds me that in Sacramento there is no rain. Here, the rain is sweet, the November night unseasonably warm. The sweetness, the warmth surprises me
Gazing past the parking lot I quietly surrender to memory’s calm seduction. Like a cat kneading, my mind massages the memories with solemn silence. Memory becomes a harbinger to a low-grade grief. I might stand longer in this grief and watch it grow except for a violent interruption. Unexpectedly, a specter called Rationality pulses fast through my body, toes to head. She escapes out of me, taking on her own stately, intentional form. Her arrival and presence freak me out. We face off. wordless. I study her.
Rationality is willowy, her expression stern, aloof somehow. All her features except her diaphanous skin are dark: dark green eyes, thick, black hair. Her presence is commanding and nearly offensive. She steps forward and slowly, deliberate, Rationality grips my hands (or do I clutch hers?), elevating my arms above my head. My feet lift off the ground. She suspends me high above this soggy night, black Target parking lot. Higher, higher. My legs are swinging and I begin to see a division between fields far below: This isn’t Fishers anymore. This is my life at 30,000 feet.
At this height, and in this cold, all my senses are activated, acute. Rationality suspends me here to survey for a moment. Blood pools and my feet throb but I’m transfixed on the scene below. I see a gradient of grey-browns and greens that, like a color-wheel unwound, spread east to west. A map! I actually see words identifying the map's two regions: to the east is What Now Is; falling with the westward slope is What Will Be.
I twist and peer over my right shoulder to view the most easterly part of What Now Is. It resembles a June 7th Normandy: cement buildings look bombed out; there are no trees, blackened stubs only. But the pervasive impression is made by the unhappy mud. It colors everything (surprisingly) not in brown, but in grey.
A tiny canvas tent stands familiar in the mud terrain: it’s what I know, my own hovel home. I startle at the sight of it but continue scanning.
The mud carries on for a long distance as it descends past my tent, surrendering slowly to fledgling grass, apprehensive grass, yellowish grass that is as yet too timid to know whether it shall live or die. From the north an almost quietly cuts What Now Is; here begins a visible distinction between east and west: on the western banks under the branches of three delicate poplars healthy flora flourishes. A green carpet spreads rapidly westward towards a modest . Miles away the land, still gently descending and growing more brazenly verdant, becomes a forest. Thick, it appears impassable in places and strays into the western territory marked .
The horizon stretches too far westward for my human-girl eyes to discern the distinct details of What Will Be and Rationality prevents any further exploration. Beneath her I remain suspended, fixed, above this single spot. I turn to look eastward again. I’ve seen all I can.
I realize that my hostess’s hands are neither warm nor cold. My lungs suck in air but I will not sigh. I exhale hard and in slow motion extend each finger, palms open, and crash down onto the earth below me. I rise and stand once again beside my car. It takes me a minute to “come to” but once I do my mind flashes back to that eastern mud region I observed and to the muddied tent. I meditate. I’ve now seen the whole extent of What Now Is, my homeland, yet I’ve dug out a life in the lonely mud region. For the first time I see my home in contrast to more favorable lands. Do I love the greyscale terrain? the pit in which I shuffle? Can I defect, change zip codes, build a homestead west of the creek? Can Rationality neatly deposit me on the Other side?
Rationality, as if summoned, alights. Freedom flashes wild through my veins, a virulent burst of craving.
I look up questioningly into my Maybe-Rescuer’s eyes. She has heard my thoughts. Her response is deliberate but gentle: Rationality alone cannot repatriate me to the beautiful western region of What Now Is. It is not within her jurisdiction, solely.
Rationality leaves me alone but I sense her lingering presence. I’ll need it for decisions ahead.
Hands re-pocketed in the grey sweater, I’m walking into Super Target, the fractured Indiana night reflected from blacktop’s rain-mirrors. I inhale the rubber and rain. With each step I ponder the way forward.
This 30,000 foot survey of my life exposes within myself. I live in Fishers, IN, the land of What Now Is, but chose to make camp in its mud region. –Why? I begin to remember. When I moved back into town three months ago from Where I Wanted to Be and made a brief assessment of the land my realtor, , pointed out how this region was, geographically, closest to that former land. If I pitched my , here I could live closest to my happy memories of Where I Wanted to Be. Also: the mud region had been only recently annexed by What Now Is and by living here I could avoid the uncomfortable baptism of crossing Acceptance Creek and thereby avoid paying taxes for (and enjoying the benefits of, she failed to mention) residency in the western region. And, assured me, “The elevation here is highest” (surprisingly, though it is water-saturated, she is correct), although, I later discovered, there is no view.
So I signed my lease. I pitched my tent. I never surveyed the other side of the creek.
Target’s automatic doors invite my approach. It’s late on a week night and my entrance is noticed only by these doors and by Target’s enveloping white lights. The lights pierce me from every angle but cannot penetrate past my protective grey sweater. The lights, seeing and enshrouding me yet unable to read below my skin, parallel my own vision; I’ve seen high-level truth but cannot as yet distinguish its on-the-ground applications. Instinctively, I wander red aisles.
I signed a lease. But now that I’ve seen Now’s green lavish land west of my mud pit I MUST move. –Can I take up residence in the good land, break my lease? Can I ford Acceptance Creek with tent in hand, pitch it in new, greener, real estate? There are no bridges across, I recall. I shiver to think of swimming November creeks in Indiana and with a load on my back. No; , my tent home, cannot cross the Creek with me. I discard the thought as I scan the greeting card rack.
But the Need is deeper than crossing a creek. It’s more comprehensive than geography. It is really not about changing my address. It really is about hen I’m honest, I don’t want this land of What Now Is, any of it. I don’t want Acceptance Creek, or the green grass carpet, or the young trees. I don’t want the thick forest. I don’t want Fishers, Indiana! If I had cared for any of it I would have explored the neighborhood more, made more friends. Lights see me, and now I’m seeing deeper:
The mud is my rebellion. It is my carefully disguised two-year-old’s tantrum railing against What Now Is. I see a child’s stubbornness bleeding out from my dumb choice of real estate: 'I’ll live closest to Where I Wanted to Be. I’ll endure discomfort to camp in the temporary Self-Assertion tent. I’ll fight cold, and wet, grey, and mud. I’ll make friends with Isolation and make love to Autonomy. I’ll prove my point.' Because I crave the power to choose. Like I chose Sacramento.
I meander around the women’s athletic gear section, .
-Do I stay or do I move? I’m replaying the tape of my life these last three months in my foster home, seeing for the first time my chronic discontent for what it is: deceived me. She played upon my wants when she pitched the deal to me. It seemed smart to erect my impermanent tent in the mud since I was no longer free to live in Where I Wanted to Be nor to have any permanent home in What I Want. In this decision I was standing up for myself, asserting my will where I was unable to assert it in other ways. But following this puerile resistance strategy, I fell into trap. My home, my community is a dump. I remember now that Autonomy is my Lover and a kid named Dissatisfaction follows me close, calling me ‘Mama.’
Down the hairspray aisle, I’m choking with this panic. -I must get out of here! to the Good Land! Leave these life-sucking characters behind! I draw up a hasty escape plan, recruiting Rationality’s powers: I can choose to want Fishers now. A simple decision, ‘Be Happy with What you Have.’ Cross the Creek immediately, leave it all behind on the other side. Freedom!
I can feel the pull of my soul towards this Freedom, magnetic, instinctive, lusty. I’m poised to dive, swim, escape. But a thick tether, my memory, restrains me. And honesty rebukes me. I flush red with grief. I recount the times past that I’ve dutifully recruited the power of positive thinking as my Army escort on my Marches for the Good Land, Satisfaction. It’s a paper army. “Victories” feel cheap and, overall, the campaigns fail because the soldiers are not reinforced with holistic reality.
The woman behind the checkout aisle smiles at me from under her hijab. Her skin is richly dark against her red Target shirt, her smile cautious. We exchange remarks, I pay. Grasping my bags I reenter the dark and outside chill.
I’m driving now but imagine myself standing along Acceptance Creek’s shore. -What is comprehensively true? I repeat, What is Holistic reality? I ponder, toes shyly exploring the Creek's shoreline. I look up.
Unseen from my previous height, I now spot a modest gathering of young trees on my muddy side of the creek. Trees are friendly creatures and I approach them, subjecting my duress temporarily to curiosity. The trees are conferencing, and shiver at my approach. But at my hesitation, they wave their branches, extending to me their Welcome. I step. Standing among them I feel their gentle strength. Both hands reach. I steady myself on their starchy smooth, slender trunks and surrender to their secret.
But my hands, stroking, sliding, are surprised. I touch words. Branded on these young trees are words, one word dug deep into each trunk. My fingers trace, and my heart memorizes their odd assembly: Emotion, Will, Fear, Past, and Community. -What can these words mean?
The trees stir under my touch, excited. I draw back, their secret pregnant amongst themselves yet to me still intangible. They will not speak to me but I believe I may be closer to my question about holistic reality and how to reach The Good Land. Looking back at the creek, I move towards home, grey sweater shielding me from a gentle rain.
This Target trip has been. Weird.
I burrow into my soul to examine thoughts as I make my way home. -Am I... melancholy? ...cautiously hopeful? ...guilty or acquitted? ...nearer freedom or an eternal hostage? I feel the old grief wash over me, gentle. I arrive home. Autonomy, my roommate-turned boyfriend-turned Lover, greets me at the door. Disinterested, I refuse his kisses. He argues against my aloofness and as empty words fall from his lips I stare. I survey him, see him perhaps for the first time. He looks unhealthy. Tonight we sleep apart, although my night is spent sleepless. The child Dissatisfaction nests under our sheets. But it looks somehow diminished, smaller than I remember it.
My whole existence is in question. I’ve been asleep until now to how deep the depression assails me. But now the child Dissatisfaction touches me in its tangible form, kicks its tiny legs against my back, and I am awake. Now I know how I got here. And why. I feel Autonomy’s proximity, hear his breath on the other side of my bed. I smell the rain sliding off the roof of my tent.
And I remember and here is where I am stuck: When I am honest with myself about this sojourning home, What I Want, I feel trapped. The four canvas walls, the roof, the essence of this place represents my own desire. But living this Truth seems like discontent. Discontent- the seething rebellion. Shame colors me as I remember. My desire betrays me as an insurrectionist, yet it seems to be the realest part of me.
Questions now outnumber answers. Questions repeat themselves. How do I get to the other side of What Now Is? And what shall be my existence there? If ever I do get across the creek, do I sacrifice authenticity? Must I become hollow as my few friends on this side? as unwell as my Lover? Is freedom an exchange: substance for surrender? I consider the nature of my discontent, of my present state, of my self. Rationality woke me to at least a piece of reality in the parking lot. But I’m more complicated than this one piece alone. The incompleteness, impotence, of Rationality herself leads me towards a deeper truth. In the dark of my mind I grab with both fists and strain strong arms to separate my intimately woven strands of self: What is the “stuff” I’m made of?
I toss and Autonomy moans from his space but the child sleeps quiet. I rise to the edge of my bed, Give me peace. Let them both sleep. I finger the bed table, rubbing my hand instinctively against the wood. The texture reminds my fingers of trees, of words. Trees by the Creek! Words on their trunks! The separate pieces of their secret are joining together in a palpable answer. I start. What were those words? In the dark, they return to me.
Suddenly, I know what to do. My body flashes hot with emotion. Joy, perhaps? I slightly unzip the grey sweater, which has not left my skin. From the edge of my bed I jump, race to the other side and flat-palmed, rouse Autonomy, “I’m leaving, get up. You need to go. I’m taking the tent.” He does not wake, but mumbles. I persist, shaking him harder, “Get up. I’m breaking up with you. Take your things. I’m leaving.” Autonomy slowly comes to. Instinctively he wraps his hand strong around my arm, draws me. But I’ve practiced self-defense moves through watching YouTube tutorials and, angry, I break his grip, push away from him repeating, “You need to go. I’m leaving you.”
Now Autonomy sits up, gaining cognizance. I’m moving about the tent, excitedly throwing a few things into my yellow Nike backpack. He looks at me as I say, my voice trying to be brave, “Autonomy, I can’t be with you anymore. I” - choking, “I never meant for this to happen. We’re breaking up. I’m taking the tent. Well, not all of it. I just need the center pole.”
He is staring at me, his waking eyes mocking my quick movements, his face telling me what a fool I am, his body poised to assault me. Four words slip out of his scornful lips, “What about the kid?”
I laugh, a relieved explosion of realization, “That kid? Dissatisfaction? It’s not mine! You take it! Both of you- OUT!” And I am out. I unzip the door, push past the flap, reach up and seize the pole that holds up our roof. Fingering under the canvas enclosure, I’m sliding it out, pulling it away from the rest of the tent. As I pull, the tent slowly collapses in, my former “roommates” struggling underneath. They will be alright, but I will not if he gets his arms around me.
Like an Olympic pole vaulter –perhaps with more focus and resolve- backpack on and grasping my tent pole, I’m running towards Acceptance Creek. I reach the young trees and there throw down the pole, fumble for my pocket knife. I’m kneeling and the cold mud soaks through my jeans. I grasp each tree and saw frantically through five slender trunks. As I work I ponder each word and think:
Emotion. I am a creature outfitted with emotion.
Will. I have freedom to assert my own will.
Fear. Fear can rightly inform my will or wrongly cripple my emotions.
Past. I am not a blank slate; I am influenced by past experiences.
Community. I have the acutely human need for healthy community.
I bind these five trunks and their five words around my tent pole, Desire, thinking, To be wholly authentic, I must acknowledge desire.
Binding this unlikely assortment together with the three Target bags from tonight’s trip I realize THIS is holistic reality!
-I hope they hold.
Night’s darkness is surrendering to dawn. The rain clouds have dispersed and behind me I feel sun’s warmth rising, begin to vaguely see the other side of the creek. I mentally size up my makeshift “bridge” against the perceived distance across. Yes, I think it’s the right length and I heave the long end. It reaches the other side!
I’m on hands and knees. I crawl careful. EACH TRUTH IS A PLANK ACROSS THE CREEK bearing me to the other side. I’m moving into new real estate, into the unknown.
I remember how I got here and the planks that bear me across: Rationality woke me to my rebellion and my hovel existence, gave me a preview of the Good Land. Here, her work stopped short. I had to discover that I am a creature outfitted with emotions, desire, fears, and a will; I carry baggage; I have the acutely human need for community. Somehow, in my new home, I will learn how these complexities work together.
I will learn that in order to wage an effective campaign on Dissatisfaction, I’ll need to activate all aspects of me. I can’t just engage my rational brain, expect it to take over. This is not a single-front war, although I’d prefer it to be. Living fully on the verdant side of What Now Is will require a complex strategy that engages rationality and my will, gives credence to my emotions, and recruits the help of others.
On hands and knees I arrive on Acceptance Creek's western shore. Standing, bending, I grasp my bridge and drag it fully over, cutting my ties to the mud land from which I came. Freedom.
Hugged by my sweater, I sit and gaze on the November sun rising hopeful above what I have left behind. I breathe in cool freedom air.
One question remains with me:
-Can Desire fuse with Surrender?