Redux

Now look here, lonesome tree!
It’s quite alright to be on your own.
Even as the winds blow & fog sets in,
Nothing changes how deep your roots have grown.

Though your branches may get broken,
And your leaves may fly away,
Remember that it’s your unseen depth,
That makes all things new another day.

Though the ground be lain uneven,
Upon which you’ve made your stand,
It’s in your bones to grow towards heaven,
As if drawn up by God’s own hand.

Lonesome tree, you were built for this,
You’ll find loss of leaf, seed, & limb makes you stronger.
For the storm will water where they fall,
Then around you they’ll grow, leaving you lonesome not one minute longer.

So hold on, you pretty thing!
Fear not these uncertain hours.
Around you grows in silent a forest,
That will ever mimic you in strength unparalleled power.

Lothlórien

There’s a valley in the mountains,
It’s restored my soul from something tragic.
It’s where beauty flows just like a fountain,
And makes me whole with its quiet magic.

There’s a meadow bound by ageless pines,
Upon it my mind’s eye oft is set to wander.
When thought departs from this glory divine,
Every notion is toil & squander.

There’s a rushing river cut through the woods,
Hellbent towards its destiny.
My heart found new life on its bank as I stood,
Breathing deep of this pure reverie.

There’s a peak that’s befriended the stars & clouds,
Atop it I learned the meaning of wonder.
For here I strong endured on this summit so proud,
As one too capable to ever be blown asunder.

These places I’ve know forever & well,
To their splendor I’m eternally indebted,
Destined to be ever-enraptured by their spell,
Always deeper into this grandeur fate has me headed.

Gifts

Sorrow—sweet sorrow!
How you bring strong men down to their knees.
Courage—sweet courage!
How you raise the feeble up to their feet.

Misery—sweet misery!
How you’ve taught us to be grateful.
Kindness—sweet kindness!
How you change the hearts of even the most hateful.

Ambition—sweet ambition!
How you fasten unfocused sights onto the prize.
Discernment—sweet discernment!
How you cause good men flee from greed & lies.

Wanderlust—sweet wanderlust!
How you beg the meek to roam.
Comfort—sweet comfort!
How you hearken the wild ones home.

Life—sweet life!
How I delight in the unyielding grip of thee.
Death—sweet death!
How lucky you’ll feel if ever you manage to catch me.

”Oz, The Great & Powerful”

I met in the wild a white-haired gent,
Of a girl he once knew I reminded him.
“She was fair, she was pure, her ear always lent,
But one day her brightness went dim.”

“Go on! Go on!” of him I began to plead,
“Please tell me the rest of the tale,
What happened to her? Why does her heart bleed?
What wretch made her happiness fail?”

“Hear the truth, my dear girl,” he started to say,
“She was both hero & villain–her own enemy.
She ran wild & untamed, welcomed every new day,
But a creeping desire for more stole her ‘free.’

She traded joy for hunger & simplicity for thirst,
The greenest grass always just up ahead.
She abandoned humility & put herself first,
With the devil of greed & fortune she climbed into bed.

One day she woke to find,
She knew not the girl in the mirror.
Then with lightless eyes & dreamless mind,
She set out to the one place where she might see clearer.

She became honest & pure–made that devil a liar,
She no longer forgets in her travels afar,
That if what you seek is your heart’s great desire,
You ought check at home first, it might be in your own backyard.”

“Not Even Solomon”

She dreamt once that she was a rose,
Beautiful, fragrant & the most beloved of kings.
She woke once to find she was a daisy,
Whose loveliness unworthy of a song to sing.

Her heart grew heavy in her chest,
And her spirit fell downtrodden,
She swayed alone, unnoticed by any,
A simple truth she had forgotten.

The thing about pretty flowers is,
They get plucked from their roots & brought indoors.
And it’s there we ask they live out their lives,
Very quietly, very beautifully, & growing never more.

But the wildflower knows the sway of the wind,
And its petals the warmth of the sun.
It spends its days stretching up towards the light,
Roots deepening right up ’til its last day is done.

Now she dreams of being that daisy,
Living wild & free & young.
She worries not of those who might contain her,
And in the breeze she hears a new song of beauty sung.

“Idlewild”

The places I’ve come to fear the most,

Where purpose and futility meet,

My heart exhausted these places encountered,

My soul too weary finds defeat.

 

And succumb I must to the beauty of a flower,

Grown wild in a meadow so deep,

For what is “beauty” that extends not my days,

But draws me back into a moment I’m forbidden to keep?

 

Oh what a shame that my life’s great obsession,

Satisfies not physical hunger but that of adventure.

My thirst never quenched, and back never clothed,

Yet my spirit finds warmth in this indenture.

 

In this joy I’ll find my water.

In this serenity I’ll find my bread.

And to this idle, aimless siren,

My weary soul to be ever wed.

Chapter 3: I Might Be A Criminal Now

I pulled up to the house and as the garage door opened, I was met with a wave of devastation—the likes of which I had not experienced since the night I lost her 14 months ago. I pulled my car in and shut off the engine. Everything still looked the same. “Good,” I thought, “they haven’t changed anything yet.”

You see, when the house sold, all of its contents went with it. When I found that out it was like my most fear-inducing nightmare had been realized: Someone else was going to move into my home and live my life. I’d had the dream before, the one where I’m a ghost in my own home or maybe a I’m stuck in a parallel universe and everything is just as it is in my world except now different people are there. It’s not my Nonna walking down the hallway and it’s not the wheels of her buggy clicking against the cracks in the tile. It’s a different woman and a different man and different family using my kitchen sink, breakfast nook, TV, and backyard. It’s not my dog looking in through the window. And it’s not me reading at the counter.

In the dream, I’m standing in my kitchen and watching strangers go about their morning as if this is their life. But it’s not—its mine. They neither see me nor know me and I’m just trapped, watching it all happen. And now that dream has become a reality.

I got out of the car and closed the garage door behind me. I was about to unlock the door to go inside when I first noticed that something wasn’t quite right. There were paint cans on the work table and it was apparent that they’d been opened. The brushes looked to have been freshly cleaned and laid out as if to dry overnight in time for reuse in the morning. I figured it odd but continued into the house.

I had prepared myself to say goodbye to my grandmother’s house just as we had left it, with her paintings on the wall and dishes in the cabinet and big chair sitting in the middle of the room. But what I hadn’t prepared myself for was those paint cans and everything they brought with them.

Each room had been altered ever so slightly. The new owners, not set to officially be “owners” for another 24 hours, had already come in and begun to make themselves, well, at home. They had painted, moved furniture, and even brought in a few things of their own. The paint was all of one—maybe two—shades darker than the color currently on the walls and the furniture had been rearranged into a setting that we had tried a few years back and ultimately abandoned because it was absolutely ridiculous. And the items they had a brought in? There were three: A giant, horrendous painting of themselves (which now hung over the mantle in the great room), the ugliest recliner that I had ever seen (and I’ve seen a lot of ugly recliners… I lived in the Midwest for awhile, after all) and finally, the worst thing imaginable—a Tupperware container of gluten-free flour.

“Is this my Upside-Down,” I questioned as a chill ran down my spine and the tears welled up in my eyes. Why paint but not really paint? This middle aged couple whom I didn’t know and had only briefly met immediately became the enemy. I flew into a mad rage. Had I not been alone, I’m certain that whoever I was with would have gotten out of my way for fear of being pierced by the daggers that now flew from my eyes. Maniacally, I began pulling things off the wall, out of drawers, and from the cabinets. I imagined that I was rescuing the salt shakers from a cruel, totalitarian dictator whose most terrible exercise of power was in bad taste. These monsters didn’t deserve a malfunctioning tea kettle especially considering the fact that they were probably going to use it to warm up water for the atrocity that is instant coffee. And the cookie sheets… Oh, the cookie sheets. I had to keep them safe! How could I let such innocence be defiled by gluten-free baked goods?

It was well past midnight when my rampage finally ended. I must’ve looked crazy. How could I not with the hot tears of anger running down my cheeks as I occasionally muttered “Thanks, Obama” while stuffing large paintings of sailboats into the trunk of my Challenger in the middle of the night. This was clearly not Obama’s fault and I felt bad about dragging him into it but, you know, there we were.

Once my car had been sufficiently stuffed with my Nonna’s things, I returned to the house. “There,” I thought. “Now it doesn’t look like hers anymore. It doesn’t look like mine.” If I couldn’t leave it exactly as she did then the least I could do is leave it totally and completely void of her. So I did. I walked through each bedroom, including my own, for one last look around. I shut off the lights as I went and when I reached her bedroom, I walked over to where her bed used to sit; where she used to sleep and dream. They had begun painting that room as well and had thus moved everything out. I stood where I had stood a thousand times before, remembering how I used to help her into bed and kiss her on the head before saying goodnight. Sometimes, just as I would start to leave the room, she’d grab me by the hand and say, “I love you, kid. I don’t know what I’d do without you.” And I’d smile and assure her that she would never have to find out. And she never did.

For the last time, I walked away from her bedside and flipped off the light. “G’night, Non. Love you,” I said aloud. And standing there in that empty room, filled only with my imaginary life, I swear I heard her say it back.

Then I left. I made sure that all of the lights were off and the doors were locked and I told myself that time would take care of the feeling that was gutting me. I prayed not for relief or comfort or escape. No, I prayed for endurance. Because at that point, all that was left to do was endure and take the next thing that comes. So I grabbed a couple of wooden spoons that had been missed in my burglary, thought about how technically I might be a felon now (albeit a yet-to-be convicted felon) and I left.
With a car full of my grandmother’s things and the only regret I had ever felt regarding her being that I wasn’t able to take the area rugs, I left.

——————————–
“Where did all of this come from?” my dad asked. It was early in the morning and my father and I stood in front of the open trunk of my car, both donning house slippers with coffee cups in hand. Steam rose from his mug as he leaned in to get a better look at my car’s contents.
“Uh, I stopped by Non’s last night.” He paused and looked at me—very obviously trying to decide what to do. I waited, expecting him to tell me to take everything back because this all definitely belongs to those new savage people. Instead, he pointed and drew my attention back to the trunk.
He gestured to the pile of obscure objects to the right, “Is that a lone salt shaker? Where’s the pepper?”
“Yeah. Couldn’t find it,” I said without taking my eyes off the trunk.

Then he nodded to the left, “Isn’t that kettle broken?”

“Maybe.”

“That’s a lot of throw blankets.”

“I get cold.”

“How did you fit those end tables in there?”

“…Magic.”

“And shoving?”

“A lot of shoving,” I said, this time looking down at my feet.
“Well,” he started. He sipped his coffee and nodded his head, accepting the fact that he was now complicit to my larceny. Then he closed the trunk. “Do you want some waffles?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said. “I could eat.”

A Tail of Escape

The following is a true story. All people, events, and dog are real. The opinions expressed may or may not be partially assumed by a human on account of the fact that dogs don’t type.


I heard it before I saw it. There I was, lying in the sun in a yard that wasn’t my own but had recently become quite familiar, when I heard the unmistakable roar of Her car barreling down the street. I say unmistakable because I hear it at least twice a day, every day: in the morning, when she leaves for work, and in the evening, when she returns home. I like to sit by the door and listen for her; I’m proud of Her every time she goes out, even if she doesn’t always take me. Anyhow, I sat up, confused because it was way too early for her to be back… Usually the sun would be just dipping behind those trees to the left (I believe that’s what she and the others would call “west.” But I’m simple: I’ll call it left.) side of the yard when she gets home. But now, that sun was still hung well above the left-trees and something must be wrong for her to return so early. Then again, maybe I’m mixed up and today isn’t a normal day. All I know is that every seventh time the sun hits these other trees (right ones, to be specific) I find that gate open and for awhile, I live like her. But I guess it’s possible that I lost count of the days… I never was good at days. Here’s what I am good at: She left this morning, that gate was open, and I walked out like usual.

But now that I think about it, this might not be so usual, after all. Because she just slammed on her brakes, it looks like her eyes have been watering her face again, and she’s looking at me and the Old Man like she’s never seen a dog and his friend before.


I didn’t know that gate was open. Every week, the gardeners come and rarely do they close it so usually I do it when I get home from work. But it’s Sunday afternoon and I must’ve forgotten because when I left 3 hours ago, Mac was in the yard and now he’s not. I didn’t know that gate was open.

And I didn’t know that dog would run. After all, he never had before. Every Friday, I come home to an open gate and my dog still in the yard, as usual. But it’s not Friday; it’s Sunday. And this day apparently isn’t so usual.


I didn’t always go out when the gate was open. I mean, why would I need to? For as long as I can remember, I always had some one to bum around with. Even when She left for work, the Old Lady was still around. I’d peek at her through the windows and let her know that I was there; I liked to think that I’d protect her, should she ever need it. Luckily she never did, at least not in the way I thought she would. She always sat in the same chair in the same room on the left side of the house, the same side as the trees. Cold sun after warm sun after hot sun after gray sun, she sat in that chair and read books and watched TV and called Her and made plans. As time went on, I noticedthe Old Lady changing. She spent less time sitting up. She walked a lot slower. I kept thinking that if she’d just use all four of her legs like she should then she might move a little faster but, much like Her, they preferred to just use the two. Humans, right? Anyhow, every day I watched her change. It made me heavy inside. I don’t know what to call it. Look, when She brings out the leash to take me on a run, my insides feel light and all four of my feet can’t stay still. But seeing the changes in the Old Lady made me feel heavy inside.  And She didn’t seem to notice them, either. Every morning, She’d kiss the Old Lady on the head, like she does to me, and then She’d leave and come back awhile later.

As much as I love Her, I also loved being with the Old Lady because we had secrets. You know, the way friends do.

I remember the day that everyone else noticed the changes. The Old Lady was taken away and She came home alone, her eyes watering her face. I didn’t see much of Her for awhile until the day the Old Lady came back. And this time, there was no mistaking the changes. I watched all of them, Her and all of these humans I’d never seen before, sitting around the Old Lady. I remember it being very late and still very hot out when She came outside and sat down with me in the dark. She didn’t say anything but I heard every drop of water fall from her eyes and hit her face. I licked some of them but, to be honest, I think I might’ve just been thirsty. Look, it was really hot outside. But I also think I might’ve known that it was going to be just me and Her from then on.


I opened the garage door and dialed my dad. As I pulled out of the driveway, I cried to him, saying that Mac was gone and he needed to come over and help me start looking for him. The past 6 months have been hard enough and knowing that this dang dog was the linchpin in my sanity, my dad came running. 

Every night, I take Mac on the same running route, in hopes that he would become familiar with it and be able to find his way home in an event such as this. So as soon as my tires left the driveway and hit the pavement, I gunned it. Engine roaring, I took off down the street that we run every night, telling myself that I would find him.

I just didn’t anticipate who I might find him with.


She’s been lonely. I know this because that warm night that we sat in the dark together wasn’t the only time it’s happened. They say we haven’t gotten rain but I say they haven’t seen her when no one else but me is around. She’s started staying in, only leaving for work or the woods. She doesn’t talk much any more. She doesn’t write or read much either. She’s just sort of… there. Every now and then, I see Her walk by the Old Lady’s chair but she always speeds up her pace when she does. I wish she wouldn’t do that… It’s an awfully comfy chair. It isn’t hot outside any more. It isn’t gray out, either. It’s cold. It’s cold and she still won’t go in that room.

One morning, on a gray-cold day, I heard Her leave and that was when I noticed that open gate. I noticed the gate and I went and double checked the window, just to make sure that no one was there, and when I saw that no one was, I decided to see what She did all day. I stepped one foot out beyond the fence and I realized that it was the furthest I’d ever been from home on my own. And I loved it. I went right because that was where She always took me so I figured that must be where She also takes herself. I made another right, the way we usually do, and that was when I saw it: The Old Man. And he was smiling at me, just how the Old Lady used to.


Every night, Mac and I take two rights and a left to get out of the neighborhood and then we go west, south, east, north then west again until eventually we take a right and two lefts to get back home. I took the first right and thought about how stupid I was to forget to close the gate. I took the second right and wondered what I’m going to do about missing the dog and Nonna. I was about to take the left when I saw him laying there next to a seated old man, looking up at the sun above the westernmost trees in the yard. I slammed on my brakes and leaned over, opened the passenger door, and watched my best friend in the world nudge the old man with his nose and then trot over to my car and hop in like it was the most normal thing.

Apparently, it was more normal than I thought.


It all started about 8 open gates ago. I met the Old Man on my first outing. I didn’t stay long because I didn’t want to be gone when She got home so I left pretty quick. A couple open gates later, I went back. Then it became a regular thing. I always made it home before She did and I got to see the Old Man. They call that a win/win/win/win/win/win/win—that’s a “win/win” in dog years. That is, of course, until today because today she got home before me. I never figured out why but it didn’t matter. After all, I never was good at days. So I got in the car and was happy she left the window down because then I could hear what she and the Old Man were talking about. She’d stopped watering her face and had started smiling—But wait! Oh no. He just told her that I’ve been here before. But she’s still smiling! Only now, her eyes are watering again. Truthfully, I’m shocked that her cheeks haven’t sprouted weeds with the amount of water this girl has constantly trickling down her face.

But I’m glad She met the Old Man. I haven’t noticed any changes in him. But as for Her? Today, I’m starting to notice some changes in Her.


As I stood there, talking to the old man and looking back and forth between him and Mac, I found myself in a state of complete astonishment. I was dumbfounded when I apologized for the pup being a nuisance and the old man responded by saying, “Oh no, I love when he comes here!”

“I’m sorry,” I started, “when he comes here? You say that like this isn’t the first time.”

“Oh no, it’s not. He visits often. He’s been here for the past couple of hours, just sitting by me. Like I said, I love when he comes here.”

As the old man spoke, a teenage boy came walking out of the front door to greet me at the curb. I’d seen him before but I never knew where he lived. He was the old man’s grandson—and the two of them lived in the house directly behind mine. As the young man spoke, I got lost in my own thoughts for a second. Here, in the house right behind mine, was the mirror image of the life I’ve lived—the one that I had recently lost. And the tie between them was Mac.

I thanked them for looking out for MacArthur and promised to bring him back by sometime and Mac sat in the passenger seat of my car with his floppy-eared head sticking out the window, just waiting to go home. I liked to think that he was grinning about seeing me meet the old man. I loved to think that he knew what he had done.


We drove home in silence, silence but for the occasional sharp breath that came along with her eyes that were still running. Two lefts and we were home; I wondered if she knew that I was happy for her to meet the old man. I had been worried that she would think I’d forgotten the Old Lady in favor of my new friend but as I rode with her and looked at her face, damp with tears and her eyes familiarly heavy, I noticed the change that I mentioned before: This time, it wasn’t just heavy insides that I saw—there was something else. Something I hadn’t seen in Her in a long time.

We pulled into the garage and she shut off the car. I waited for Her to open the door and stayed still until she called me. Usually I would just hop over her as soon as her door opened but this time I thought she could do with the calm. So I waited. I don’t know what took so long but eventually she got out of the car and patted her stand-up leg with her strange front paw and I knew she was telling me to follow. So I followed. We walked in the house, side-by-side, and just as we were about to pass the Old Lady’s chair, she suddenly stopped.

She didn’t speed up like usual; she stopped. Like I said earlier, maybe this day wasn’t so usual, after all.


For several years, every day I would come home from work through the same door to find Nonna in the room on the west side of the house, reading in her chair. It’s a big, wing-backed, patterned chair that she’s had for as long as I can remember. It sits in the middle of the room with tables on either side of it, both overflowing with books, newspaper articles, and magnifying glasses so that she can read the books and newspaper articles. More often than not, she’d be waiting there for me with something that she wanted me to read. So I would come in and drop my work stuff, kick off my shoes, and read whatever it was while she decided where she wanted to go for dinner. Then, I’d go out and feed the dog, she’d tell me what a cute face he has, looking at her at her all day and what not, and then we’d go out.

Eventually, all of this became more difficult. She became more dependent on her oxygen and couldn’t go anywhere without it. It was ok though because she could breathe just fine with it. Looking back now, I can see how just not ok it really was. She was declining and just as you never see the flower blooming but you recognize it once it has, I didn’t see her deteriorating but I saw it once she did. August 15th was the last time I paused and looked at that chair.

I thought about how Mac saw Nonna more than all of us. He probably recognized her decline while we still couldn’t. Every time I came home, he was posted up outside of whatever room she was in. At night, he slept at her door. He had lost interest in his toys and didn’t care to chew on bones any more. For months, he just waited. Then, when we lost her that hot night in August, he turned all of his attention to me. I wondered if he knew that he had lost her, too.


While we stood there quietly, I thought about how badly I wished I could’ve told her what was coming. She loved the Old Lady like I loved Her and so naturally I, too, loved the Old Lady. I tried to tell Her—I really did! But of course she misinterpreted everything. She does it all the time. I mean, she thinks that when I lick her face while she’s watching TV it’s because I want her to play with me. She couldn’t be more wrong—I just really don’t get “New Girl” and I want watch something else. Anyways, She did the same thing every night that we ran by the Old Man’s house: I would go over there and start sniffing around and she wouldn’t get it and she’d pull me back to the course.

Look, I just wanted her to make a new friend like I had. I wanted her to talk more and laugh more the way she used to with the Old Lady; the way the Old Man still does with the Young Man. I wanted her to know that she isn’t alone. I wanted her to feel light on the inside.

And while we stood there, staring at an empty chair, I stopped looking at the chair and started looking at her. I hoped that she knew that I looked out for the Old Lady when she wasn’t there to do it; I hoped she knew that from now on I would be looking out for her. I don’t sleep outside the Old Lady’s door any more but I do sleep right next to Her. And she stays still all night now—I think that helps. She loved the Old Lady like I love Her and right now, I think she’s starting to see that.

Because she just started scratching me behind the ears.


I didn’t rush by her sitting room like I usually do. I don’t know why I did but I realized for the first time since losing her that this will get better. I realized that moving on doesn’t mean forgetting; letting go doesn’t mean losing out; and looking forward to the future doesn’t mean being ungrateful for the past.

And after the events of the day, losing him and then finding him and then finding that he had also found another, I was given the courage to do what I hadn’t been able to: Pause.

I knelt beside Mac and scratched his ears, thinking about how this dog maybe wasn’t a dog, at all. He seemed dang-near human, sometimes. After all, he seems pretty good at days if he’s been leaving and getting home before me for the past couple of months.

“That’s a nice thought,” I said to myself.


Honestly, I’m worried that she’s going to be more careful about closing that gate. She still doesn’t know about all of my other adventures.

And what’s a nice thought? She needs to quit mumbling stuff like that and not telling me more. I’m no mind-reader. I mean, I’m not even good at days.

Usually.

Infinity (And Other Thoughts to Bore You)

“The power of imagination makes us infinite.” –John Muir

It’s quite the revelation, you know, to find out that the downs are not the enemy of the ups. They’re the complement. And the infinity we experience is not found in one or the other; it’s found in the space between. The space where we exist most often—the spaces that we deem boring and mundane, the moments unaccounted for… THESE are our infinity. For here, anything is possible. It is from these moments that creativity is born and it is for these moments that we forget to be thankful. 

We ought never praise the highs for being high and dash the lows for being low while forgetting that the space between is whatever we make of it. Imagine what we could do if we fully realized the infinity that exists in those moments of stillness and quiet that we’ve mistaken for “boring.”

Remember: Just because our heads are in the clouds doesn’t mean that our feet can’t be planted firmly on the ground. For when we live like this, we exist in the infinity.