It is with little joy I share this tale. Little joy, but some excitement, as it is more a confession than a tale. In fact, it was while speaking to a priest I became convinced of the necessity of telling it. I hesitate only now, not because I have changed my mind or become afraid of your response or have thought better of my commitment, but to search out the right words, the perfect words for such a thing as this and to avoid giving the wrong impression or leaving you confused as to my meaning.
Raised by folks with good hearts, influenced my view of the world. Firmly honest, and all true to their beliefs. All unwilling to violate commitments or shirk their duty whatever the cost to their well-being. Not one of them would keep such an experience secret. They all would tell, and tell in such detail, leaving nothing out, so you would know without a doubt that what was said, in fact, was all there was to say.
It occurred to me as I lay there still half sleeping, with eyes foggy, filled with the crusty glue of night, something had awakened me. Not entirely, as I could not recall the cause nor could I bring myself to full attention. Sitting up, I knew I needed to move, get up, rise from my bed and go outside as quickly as possible. Something needed doing or seeing or hearing. I could not discern which. In any case, I could not remain in my bed as this overwhelming persistence, this enveloping foreboding, was pushing me with great insistence through doors, down halls and stairs and out into the yard where strange sights met my eyes. I felt dizzy, unsteady and lacking orientation as if I had gotten up too quickly. I hesitated there, seeking explanation, seeking understanding and hoping recognition would return. I was desperate to understand, so I began walking.
There was an inordinate fear clutching at my chest. I don’t know for sure, but I imagine it was something like the fear one has when you realize you are having a heart attack. I don’t know if any of you have felt this kind of fear, a kind of fear that keeps you from moving. Not the kind that pushes you to move, eyes shifting about not knowing where to look, not knowing where you are, difficulty breathing. I consciously took deep breaths, deeper than usual. Almost painfully expanding your lungs with air and wondering if you can tell the difference.
I begin thinking about soldiers in a foreign land. They are not foreign. They are my companions! We have a goal! But right now we must hold still. Be quiet. The enemy is nearby. If we reveal ourselves, we may not live to complete our mission. There is nothing more important! Not life itself! The Sargent said. But it is safe again to move, and I force each foot to raise and place it carefully so as not to trip or fall. The doctor warned me to be careful, especially at night.
I would feel better if I knew where I was, and where I was going. I remember my Grandfather telling me always go downhill. Find a creek. Follow it in the direction of its flow. Most creeks will join a river. Follow the river. Eventually, you will find someone. But I have not had anyone for a long time, and I have known creeks and rivers so long you would perish before you reached their end. I think I see Church Street up ahead. I remember the family named “House.” How would such a name begin? But they were great fun when my mother would let me play. Was it their house? I know it was in the same neighborhood, where I fell from a ladder and bumped my head. I think I may have lost consciousness for a moment. The best part was I didn’t have to work anymore that day and maybe the next. I can’t remember being trusted around ladders after that. My dizziness may have started then.
My feet hurt. I keep stepping on gravel and other painful things. Looking at my feet, I realize I left the house without my shoes. I turn to go back to the house to fetch them, but soon realize I am no longer where I thought I was. There is no house. I can only stand there, baffled, confused. Why does this feel so unfamiliar? I have never felt this way before. I tell myself, I am a capable man . . . have been all my life. The world is full of options, and this should be easy to resolve.
Trees surround me. I love trees. I used to go for long treks in the woods by myself. It was peaceful. It was healing. I am not frightened of being alone in the woods. There is something that seems natural about the woods, or being in the woods, alone, but not alone. The squirrels are my friends. They were always at play. There were deer around, but you would hardly ever see them. In the woods of my youth, there was nothing to fear. Except, perhaps, a skunk. But I would never do anything to frighten them. I knew how to hold still when need be. The pines and the oaks gave shade and sanctuary. I loved climbing up into the pines. I would climb as far as possible. Stopping when the weight of my body would begin to bend the top of the tree. If I chose the right one to climb I could see for miles, get the lay of the land.
But, this was not the woods. I could tell because there was grass underfoot, not pine needles. And none of the trees had branches low enough for me to grab hold of to climb. The moon had risen and gave good light, not a full moon, like those you always think you can read by, but still good light. Waxing Gibbous, or near full. I learned this term, gibbous, meaning convex or protuberant when I started paying more attention to the night sky and the second full moon in a month is called a blue moon.
We met at a club, just north of Indianapolis. It was called the Blue Moon. It’s interesting how things seem to link together, how your mind can make these leaps from one thing to another. No rhyme or reason, as they say. The old guy . . .damn it! I almost had it, playing the piano and singing all our favorite songs . . . I know I will remember his name in the morning. We could have danced all night. His name was Winston. He has probably been dead for a while now. Old then and that was nearly thirty years ago. The tiniest of details seem important now. It would not be the same without them. It would be a different story.
What I felt is difficult to explain. The hardness of the wooden pews pressed against my hip bones and the muscles in my lower back were tight and felt like cables about to burst from the tension. The preacher seemed to be finishing his sermon but was looking, unwavering, directly into my eyes, as if there was some special meaning I was not quite getting. He kept repeating a nursery rhyme; Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard to give the poor dog a bone. I struggled to understand, as I knew it was significant and pointed to the solution to a problem I had been wrestling with for years.
My professor had set out this problem for me, part philosophical, part mathematical, but somehow, no matter how I put the pieces together there was always something missing. The puzzle had too many pieces. There were fifteen-hundred in all. I am looking forward to the potluck after the service. Corn on the cob, steaming hot casseroles, freshly baked bread still warm with butter melting into every crevice, and Grandma’s peach cobbler. The dog can’t stay inside when we are eating dinner. Is that a kettle whistling?
I could feel the pressure of a wrinkle in the sheet pressing into my side. Clearly, I had been in this position for quite some time, as it was almost painful. As I turned over to my back, I felt the crease in my skin where I had been laying on the wrinkle. I traced the crease with my fingers as I tried to remember the lines to a poem I had begun to compose in my sleep. It seemed like such a good poem. The similes and metaphors were exquisite. Every one of them, a perfect fit. But they were fast dissolving. No, they had already dissolved, vanished without a trace. The more I dug around for them; the more sand fell softly down to cover them deeper and deeper. I stopped digging.