Ruminations of a Working Man, Pt. III

In an odd place… Somewhere far, far away from home.

… Or is it home, after all?

Embittered by all that surrounds me day after day, anywhere seems like home. Mayhaps it’s simply a sign that I’ve been home too long. The monotonous 30-minute drive to and from work Monday through Friday, and the eight hours of spent, occasionally wasted, existence in between. At this point, it feels as if all I have to leave behind is a carbon footprint.

But now, it feels like the first day the sun has truly shined in a week. But do I truly wish I were there, or am I increasingly infatuated with it because I am here and I may only go there in my mind?

If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then reminiscence is the essence of Love.

Substandard

Divide and Conquer, My Love

I swear I’m not a romantic simply because it feels good. In fact, it has hurt me more than it has helped. But I refuse to let go of it. Mayhaps it’s my youthful heart. Mayhaps it’s immaturity. But today, the hurt is so real, and so worth it.

Love is not a word to be taken lightly. It has been describes as a battlefield, hell, a struggle, bliss, blind, and even weakness. Now, I know one of those words doesn’t quite fit with the others, but ignorance is also called bliss… I’ll leave it up to you to decide if you think calling Love “bliss” is actually a positive thing. But, by God, I fell in Love. The worst and best thing about Love is that it is uncomfortable because it causes you to think about another person much more than you think about yourself. Say, for instance, you have a new relationship, but in a very short time, you’ve fallen in Love with that person.

What are the reasons you fell in Love? For me, it was that she treated me better than any other girl ever has. That’s because she’s not a girl, she’s a lady. It’s because she liked my silliness and laughed at my jokes. Some of it was pity, no doubt, but the other side is that she chose to enjoy me as I am instead of judge who I am. She and I could have intelligent conversations… Like, really intelligent. She would indulge my requirement of myself to be cerebral, to discover aspects of the universe I’m sure not many consider. This is not because we have god complexes, but because she knows I need more than silliness and physical affections. She desires to meet me half-way. She would also shower me with compliments, encouragement, and kind words. This is not because she thinks I’m insecure or need any puffery, but because she desires to make me feel Loved. To let me know I’m Loved. She would touch my hands, my sides, my neck. She pulled me close for passionate kisses and whispered words. This isn’t because she just wanted sex. It’s because she wanted me. It’s because she wanted me to smile in that goofy way you do when you’re dumbstruck by the kiss that comes with fireworks and speechless awe. She wanted to pull away and stare into my eyes and see that we make each other happy, just as we are.

She would stare into my eyes. This is not because she thinks my eyes are any prettier than the million other eyes that pass by every day. It’s because she saw me in a way I can’t fathom seeing myself. She hoped that, as I look into her eyes, the reflection of myself in her deep pupils would reflect her perspective of me, in all its shining glory. I stared because I desire the same thing for her. I held her close and told her she’s beautiful, but that’s never quite enough. She’s so much more than beauty, and if she could see herself through my eyes, she would know. I think she did see that at least on one or two occasions. I know I saw it.

When she stared deep into my eyes, smizing (smeyezing?)… I don’t know how to spell it. Smiling with your eyes (thank you, Tyra Banks)… I was reminded that this is how God looks at each and every one of us, every single moment of our lives. He vies for our attention against all other things. I would never feel unloved or unwanted again if I remembered that. Unfortunately, we are but momentary creatures of the Fall. We are so transient. That’s why He sends people like her into our lives, so they can be glimpses and reminders of Himself and His affections.

The sad thing is that not everyone shows that Love He wants us to display.

But she did.

“If you Love me, then let me go.” This is a popular line in a million cliché love songs. I get it now. Arizona is going to feel a bit more like a desert when she’s gone. London is going to win itself an angel.

Through all the tears and heartache, I rest assured that people on the other side of the ocean will be graced with her fire. And she will take in theirs, and with any luck at all, they will start an insatiable inferno, and infallible blaze. With any luck at all, at least one more will finally understand Love.

Before you say I should chase her, win her over, not give up… She’s not mine to cage. If you want more people in the world to understand something as deep and incalculable as Love, you let the bird share its song with all those willing and aware enough to listen.

The bird chooses the nest.

And life will move forward, and we will live lives. And because we part on bittersweet terms, the Love will live forever in the moments we had together, and it doesn’t have to be spoiled by strain. And if there comes a time when it may be reignited, it will be reignited. But what if’s and enslaving hope are a captor whose greed knows no bounds.

She is Love, as I am.

Maybe we were meant to divide and conquer.

Ruminations of a Working Man, Pt. II

I walk through these bleak, gray-infested corridors, with naught but the monotonous tapping of fingers slowly deteriorating keyboards, degrading one keystroke at a time. Whitewashed walls and ceilings, the typical carpet not good enough for hotel floors, but not yet tattered enough to be thrown into a trash can; it all just screams for release. Rushing through these halls desperate to escape, yet the winding labyrinth only serves as a brilliant façade designed to offer the promise of something more. Fresh air does not, in fact, lie just outside of the doorways, there are only more halls and doorways. There are no gardens nor fountains nor chirping birds. What I see… All that envelopes me… An ingenious cage of my own specification and design. I imagine my captor watching from a room filled with many monitors, policing the noir scene with a smug grin, satisfaction as he watches the skin beneath my eyes slowly sag lower and lower, jowls forming, creases from a furrowed brow defining my features. But the room is not somewhere inside the building, but rather, somewhere inside my head, tucked away in a seemingly infallible fortress, an office with no doors yet no roof. Yet he sits there, controlling the scene as it unfolds, making the walls tint an off-white, dimming the fluorescent lights, photoshopping a splash of melancholy and austerity to every surface.

Onward I move, briskly passing the rows and columns of cubicles, all the little ones and zeros like myself sitting there, churning out their workflow with a ravenous anti-glimmer in their eyes. The antithesis of wanderlust, these Boolean, sedentary lab rats crave another number, another report, another contract to anchor them carefully to their seats. They are the definition of success, but even I catch grammatical errors as I nearly sweep a stack of papers onto the floor in my haste. I turn sharply one corner after another, my shoulder brushing past doorframes and windows through which one may either see the Trojan horse or the city of Troy.

Finally, my destiny in sight, two more doorways and I am home captive… But as I nearly blast open my second to last doorway, I come face to face with a one, slightly smaller than me, perhaps he is a 0.82. Startled by the near-collision, his head thrusts upwards, my neck craning low to identify the obstacle. The one stares up at me, and for a moment, the entire universe shudders to a halt. His identification system scans its many lines of code until, at last, it can be seen in his eyes that there is a positive identity match. Then, the gears stop grinding and a fluidity comes about his furrow lines, the mathematics deconstruct until he looks at me and recognizes me. I am no longer simply an identifiable entity, I am known.

Deep in his eyes, down into the depths of his sea of knowledge and experiences, there is something almost humanlike. I daresay, something similar to myself lies in those cavernous pupils. The golden hazel halo, faded by years upon years of gazing at a screen, shines one candela brighter. Perhaps only 0.82, for consistency’s sake. But there is also something more, something undefinable, unidentifiable by the one’s standards.

Beneath the cavern, between the halo and deep space beyond, there is an ember. Faintly, it glows. It is there, but only just, as if it is only his source of surviving, yet life is no longer defined. Memories swim in  the nebulous darkness and ember-glow. He once was not too different from myself, I imagine. forty, perhaps fifty years earlier, he too longed to breathe and jump and have hope that one more doorway would lead to a creation garden rather than a cubicle farm.

He once held a wooden sword at a worthy adversary, as thin air often does make for a prime war scene. His chest puffed out, eyes wide, mouth agape as he screams guttural roars and hurls insults and battle cries, he swings his sword with utter surety, threatening to lop off the head of the dragon, thrust the iron deep into the chest of the lion, rent asunder the great belly of the serpent. Bloodlust and expedition once beckoned him; broken bones were of no concern nor hindrance. He once stood on the precipice overlooking his kingdom.

He once looked upon the kingdom and became dumbstruck by a fair maiden. Her flowing, chestnut locks whipped in the east wind, overtaking his cynosure. Becoming his cynosure. He once offered deeds of strength and great courage, gifts of high value and no small degree of consideration. He once offered his very self, his heart on his sleeve and chest to bear, stepping out upon the longest, thinnest limb, all for the sake of her hand. He once had a romance as passionate and scandalous as the meeting of the sea and the sky upon the horizon at sunset. And he was once the sea and she was once the sky, and they made the stars. Perhaps his every dream came true, and he offered himself up for her once more in order to offer stability and a relatively worry-free life. Perhaps he traded his wooden sword for a wooden measuring stick, and his valor was calculated in numbers instead of heads rolling on the floor.

He once believed in the impossible, throwing paper airplanes across the room and imagining himself in the cockpit. He once was destined for greatness, if not fame. The hair atop his head would prickle at the discussion of distant places and the limelights that shone there. Now, his loyalty to the Machine can be seen in his matted tonsure and his faithful, trembling fingers.

He comes back to himself and I to myself, the tire swings and boyish dreams fading back into the oblivion, reentering the buried cosmos, and the mechanical shifting of his eyes averts them from my sympathetic gaze back to the task at hand.

He shuffles past me, and I look upon the Final Door, my means of Escape, my Free. Nearly knocking the placard off the wall next to my final door, I feel my shoulders relax, my fingers steady and arms swing freely. I unzip my trousers to complete the initiation into the outside world.

Man, I really had to piss.

Maybe It’s Because You Said Please

Dear Bob,

I’m so so sorry. It’s been about a year since we last spoke, and though for close friends that’s no time at all, it’s a lifetime between you and me. And I still don’t know what to say to you. Part of me wants to tell you how pissed I am at you. How confused this entire situation makes me. The worst part is that I just don’t understand why it affects me so much still. Every time I think about it for too long or talk about it, I either become stiff as a board without a quiver in my lips or fingers, or I cry so much that I am unable to control the steadiness I am so accustomed to in my voice. In the company of others, I maintain some small composure, but alone, I weep bitterly, the sobs taking my breath for granted.

There is just so much I don’t understand. Maybe you were right to tell me I was in over my head. That I wouldn’t understand. That was the last conversation you and I had – the last words you spoke to me. Do you realize that? I don’t want you to feel any remorse or regret, it made me stronger. And weaker. More susceptible to introvertisms and less likely to break down my own walls. More likely to realize when I’m starting to open up, and as a result, freeze in place long enough to barricade my heart. Luckily I’ve always been pretty resilient, as required by my life’s circumstances, and open myself to complete strangers. Perhaps that’s how we got here in the first place. Ultimately, it is my fault that we don’t speak anymore. It was my fault that we started speaking, after all.

I have a few questions for you, Bob. I never expect to get an answer to any of these questions. In fact, I expect to die many years from now without any progress made or any deeper understanding of you or why. But I must ask anyways, if only to finally know I asked them.

What made you fall for Rose Ann? Was she so much to you that you’d find your exodus from Carol acceptable in any way? What is it that she said or did to you to hold you so tightly, so loyally? And when did you finally see how wrong you were? I know you knew you were wrong.

How were you even capable of walking away from all those who know and love you? I imagine I wasn’t terribly significant to you in your life, but that makes my intrusion and involvement that much more puzzling and damning. But how could you walk away from your son? Why didn’t you even attempt to make amends? At least enough to pacify the hatred I know he had. Did your hatred match his? And how could you hold your daughter at arm’s length?

When you spoke with my dad after ten years of absence, what gave you the audacity to ask him out to get drinks? What made you think that was not disgusting and rude, when you had no intention of seeing your word through again?

Fast forward an additional ten years… What went through your mind when you received that letter from me? I know you know that I shouldn’t have known your address. You probably assumed where I got it from, but you’re wrong. Your daughter had nothing to do with my acquisition of your personal information. Luckily, all information can be purchased for a price.

Why didn’t you come to my graduation? I thought you’d show up. You’ve been there before, and I know you’d be proud of me because you know how hard it is. In the end, it may have been for the best. It may very well have done in my broken relationship (though I’d count an early extermination of that a blessing), but I cannot say what my father’s reaction to your presence would have been. I thought that, at the very least, it would have given us both a spot of closure.

When I asked if you wanted to get drinks some time to help you keep at least some small portion of your word, why did you say it was even possible? We both know now it never could have happened. Rose Ann never would have allowed it, and we both know why. I am just so baffled… How did she keep you from us so successfully. Every story I hear about you, you were the badass lady’s man that could find his way around a car and a twelve pack as well as he could tenderness or other things that win women over so easily. Did you use this crap on Rose Ann, or did she use it on you? Did you know she would make you miss your grandson’s birth, countless birthdays, or wreck your princess’s heart? She’s doing fine, by the way. Her son is in the United States Army now. He ships out today. I know you’d have been proud. You’ve been there before, too. How many shots did you fire as a soldier? Did you have nightmares? Sometimes I have nightmares because I neglected that path in my life.

Bob… Robert… Mr. Cleland. I don’t even know how to address you. Perhaps sir is most fitting. It’s the last thing I called you, your final title from me. Do you remember that? Do you know I had utmost respect for you and your wishes? I’d have followed you into war. I knew I’d be able to rely on you… Well, I did believe that, once.

Sir, do you believe what you told me? Do you really believe I wouldn’t have understood? Is telling someone you love them grounds for dismissal? I don’t recall it being a damnable offense in any context, not the way I said it. And my intention was clear, I know that for certain.

Did you know you’d never see me again? Did you know I had an envelope prepared for you? A third piece of paper, a final attempt to reach out. Did you know that I’d regret not sending it to you? Did you know I’d blame myself for your death? Did you know I blamed myself for the deaths of two of my friends? I’m only 24. The only people I know my age that blame themselves for deaths are soldiers and some vein of terrorist. Maybe there is, in fact, no difference but a few blurred lines.

Did you know how much I wanted to meet you? Did you even have any inkling how much meeting you meant to me? I don’t even remember the last time I saw your face, though I hear you did. I was four, you were rolling around on the ground, entertaining me. I hear you loved me once, too. With such distant non-memories, I’m not sure I can see it. I’ll believe it if your daughter tells me you talked about me at all.

Uncle Bob, when you left my family twenty years ago, I know that must have been tumultuous hell for you. I know because everyone else in your family have hearts the size of Texas that cry at even the mention of bagpipes. I know you love your daughter, my cousin. I know because I saw the picture of you two together. One of the last photos of you. You both looked so happy together, despite the hospital bed. Thank God there’s photo evidence, otherwise I’m not sure I’d trust anyone if they told me, even if they all told the same exact story. I know your brother, my father, was strong once, and that he earned some of that strength through your presence in his life. I only hope I may inherit a fraction of your strength. A man with cancer that still has the strength to smile is an admirable and honorable sort of man.

Did you know it would take you before I ever got to see you in the span of my memory? I don’t remember you at four. I wish at twenty-three I’d have known you. Twenty-three was supposed to be a big year for me. Twenty-four so far is full of stumbling, reminiscing, regretting, and attempting to pick myself up enough to move forward one step at a time. That letter I was supposed to send to you before leaving the country for a month could have been a better final conversation between us. Do you remember our final conversation?

“Chris, we got your letter in the mail… You’re in way over your head. This is twenty-some years in the making, and you can’t possibly understand it. Please don’t try to contact me again, and don’t even think about seeing me in the hospital.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I don’t want to hear from you again. Goodbye.”

“Yes, sir. Bye.”

That wasn’t supposed to be our last conversation. I was bringing you back to the family in a way no one else could. I was supposed to see you. I earned my right to see you. I’m the reason you got to spend time with your brother, his wife and daughter, and your own daughter at the end of your life. I’m the reason you talked to your two sisters and second brother on the phone. I’m the reason you got to speak to your son in a civil way for the first time in ten years. I hear it was actually a good conversation, too. I’m the reason you had two days of freedom with your family at the end of your life. I hope you know I do love you. I’m just sorry I never sent that letter.

Maybe it’s because you said please.

Ruminations of a Working Man

My heart is pounding.

In some distant, echoing canyon, it reverberates against the walls like timpani drums at the crescendo of a symphony, announcing the grand entrance of the hero in a film. My head… my very being, is jarred. The poor quivering hair atop my head and along my arms, all standing at attention unceasingly, only taking a half-respite as I frenetically jump from one adventure to the next. My eyes, darting and dashing about every nook and cranny, searching for the esoteric truth, the depth of an austere rock face.

My intrepid fingers reach out into the open, the nebulous oblivion, the vivacious abyss, and they do not falter. They wrap around a bit of the swaddling blackness and tear, threatening to rip a hole and allow light to flood the cavern, ending the mystery.

A gentle mist tickles my nose while the relentless waterfall buffets my back, holding me fast against the indefinite yet infinite wall. Imperfections and jagged edges bloody my fingertips, the crimson in stark contrast with my white knuckles. I’ve never seen a deeper yet more vibrant shade of red. I plead to my knees to remain sturdy and vigilant lest I be swept away and cease to be. The closer I am to the edge of death, the more Life I become acquainted with.

And in an instant, I am thrown atop a 50-story skyscraper overlooking a vast concrete jungle. The skyline a mere illusion as the night sky only contrasts with the city lights, stars on both sides of the horizon. Silhouette against a pitch backdrop, each side holds immense mystery and untold tales. Each as hopelessly lonely as the other. Each offering the invitation of risk and discovery, gain and loss.

I look up and see a fluorescent green ribbon, throbbing. It casts angel rays into the Lake below, a Lake fraught with myths and legends of its ferocity. Edmond Fitzgerald possesses first-hand accounts of the terror; the mortified, steely fingers hold with an iron grip to secrets whispered in deafening gales. A scene so placid and serene in the daylight, it’s a wonder she be capable of such treachery.

Speaking of placid, there is nothing quite like the top of a mountain in Honduras on a foggy morning; the orchids dripping with dew, the song of a Mot Mot beckoning from somewhere in the distance. The smell of hot coffee wakes my consciousness, but my aching muscles won’t catch up for a couple hours.

Or something a bit closer to home: a back yard, resting in the shade of a mulberry tree, standing every few minutes to grab a few fistfuls of mulberries and eating them as I lazily breathe and sigh, letting the clouds pass me by, speaking their own form of lethargy into the air.

And then I look up at my computer screen at work. Heart palpitating, palms sweating, breathing heavily. If that is Living… What is this?

Full Time

Yesterday, I received the email that I waited six long years to receive. It reads,

“Dear Christopher Cleland,

CONGRATULATIONS!

Your Bachelor of Science in Engineering Degree has been posted to your Northern Arizona University academic record…”

At first, I was pretty excited. And I mean that in a way where I was, at best, only mildly thrilled to receive this notification. I was sitting at work, my first engineering job, when I got it, and thought, “That is the reason I am here now.”

Let me explain something: I know I am blessed by the opportunity to be here, the opportunity to go on to higher education and earn a degree in something people consider “prestigious,” and to have a job right out of college. But I will not pretend this is the happiest day of my life, nor the happiest I’ve ever been. Some people may think, at this point, I am ungrateful. I can assure you I am not, I know all of this is a privilege that some don’t have the opportunity to pursue.

I decided to look at my transcript to see how my employer will see me if they choose to look over this transcript, this glimpse at the nutshell that was my college career. As I looked it over, I couldn’t help but question what the devil it was that kept me going. First semester: and A, two B’s, a D, and an F. The only positive grade towards my major was a B in Calculus, and I remember my professor telling me that she gave it to me, that I had likely earned a D, if she was being honest.

Okay, no worries. First semester of college can be rough on some. Let’s look at semester two: Two B’s, two C’s, and an F. Okay… not so good. No matter, it usually takes a year to get into the swing of things. Year 2 of college was no better, most of my good grades achieved in media classes (that was my minor for awhile), and the poor grades were typically the math or engineering classes (but I’ll remind you, they start out quite simple). The overall GPA trend was rocky, at best. I have no shame admitting I ended on a 2.69.

So why am I even writing this? Because someone needs to hear this: I didn’t follow my heart, I didn’t follow my dreams, and it landed me exactly where it promised it would. In a cubicle at a job I don’t really like, doing work I cannot invest myself in because, as good as it is for the greater portion of society, it is not where my heart lies. I am getting paid more than I ever have (six times as much as I was making at Home Depot), and yet my lust for life and the skip in my happy-go-lucky gait is all but worn down.

Now, this job does afford me the opportunity to follow my dreams as I am recording new music, flying to other cities and states regularly to visit friends and record on other artists’ projects, but what’s the use if I wake up every day dragging my feet, and come home sapped of the little energy I started with and the will to move forward or to create?

The question remains: why am I still here? Well, I had to pay for that degree somehow, and seeing as I lost my scholarship after my first semester, I am paying full price for that schooling. So I’m here to pay off a debt for something I didn’t want to do by doing something else I don’t want to do, while looking for the silver linings in every 45-minute car ride to and from work. I’m afraid I’ll be comfortable even after the debt is paid, I’m afraid the energy I started with will be completely gone by the time I am done here, and my paycheck will be THE motivator (and trust me, it’s a very strong motivator).

I’m not bitter (well, maybe I am a little), but this is also just my life path. This is the direction I have been given to walk along; it is a culmination of conditioning, action, and reaction. I have learned a lot from it, and I’m sure I’ll appreciate it someday when I am much older, wiser, and more patient.

But this is here for you, not me. I lived this so you (and you know who you are) don’t have to. And I won’t say “you don’t have to make the mistakes I did” because it was no mistake and you’re going to make mistakes of your own. But don’t be afraid to shift the paradigm, to question those that “know better.” Don’t be afraid to upset mommy and daddy. This is YOUR life, and if you want to be a musician or a writer or a school teacher or an entomologist or a circus clown, you go write ahead, ya little weirdo. Be you. Let your heart do the talking for you. And know that it is never too late.

I mean look at me. I am sitting at an engineer’s desk, pretending to be a writer when no one is looking, pretending to be a musician when I get home, a coffee shop barista on the weekends, and a full time dreamer.

I guess I haven’t lost my spark yet, but I am afraid I will lose it. Something that will help me maintain the ember glow is encouragement, so please let me know if you got anything from my little rant here. And more importantly: make sure you encourage anyone you see with the same symptoms as me. The losing hopers and unsure man-childs. There are tons of us around, and we can usually be seen acing absurdly childish or giddy in the most commonplace, mundane situations, making the best of ordinary situations because the ordinary conversations are the ones that light up our world.

At the center of the brightest lights is a black force which threatens to absorb the light simply because it is easier to succumb than it is to fight. But if there’s a dream in which we can believe and other believers to water the seed, the darkness is extinguished, or at least  remains at bay, and life grows like a golden tree.

The Children – Rachel and Jonathan (to be continued)

A fire burns low in the hearth, emitting a deep, velvety red glow that swaddles the room in shadows and warmth. Across from the hearth sits an oversized but broken in dark brown leather couch, now appearing nearly black as a silhouette, guarded on either side by knotted wood side-tables topped with a glass of undoubtedly warm milk and a napkin displaying a few crumbs. Laying upon the couch, the most curious young lady I have ever beheld. Eyes crystalline blue as topaz now tightly shut, knotted golden hair strewn across every surface it can reach, flowing down her right shoulder like the cascading confusion that fills her mind. Breathing in steady, deep draughts, the serenity of the scene is a fine masquerade in comparison to her dreams. Her eyelids quiver as her eyes shift back and forth, desperately hoping beyond hope that they’d open to release her from the horrific scenes playing out behind them. To no avail, her night terror continues on with vigor.

“Go back from whence you came, you spiggity liggle jobbity!” This may seem quite humorous to you and I, but how often do terrors in the night actually make sense to those foolish enough to wake up? “I’ll globble your brigobrough with my nuffinty blumputs if it’s the las’ thing I do!” With that, the jobbity shot its fearsome gaze in her direction, threatening to petrify her arms and disintegrate her toes, but she blocked it with a happy thought of a knight in shining armor just in the nick of time. She lunged back with a sunflower and a cup of chai tea, aimed directly at its focal point. The jobbity dodged most of the attack, but a pedal and a few drops clipped its shumpty, knocking it slightly off-balance. This bought her enough time to get back to her feet and send a slurry of nostalgia that was sure to hit its mark. Her aim was straight and true, but her belief in herself wavered, causing the direct hit to weaken even as it approached the beast. With a gurgling chortle, the jobbity flobbed at the jib. This was it, she knew it. Why did she always always always have to have an explanation ready for why she can’t do it? She spent what seemed like an hour hopelessly watching the flob when it finally was mere millimeters away from her face. “I am ready,” she said. With that, the jobbity collapsed and imploded. Simultaneously, the scene melted into a canvas of watery chalk on a rainy day, and she slowly opened the lids of her eyes, finally free and yet tragically devastated that she could not have reveled of her victory for more than a moment.

“Rachel, sweetheart,” a hearty, merry voice whispered as a coarse yet tender hand lovingly smoothed her hair, gathering the bits that poured over the arm of the couch, “I made you some eggs and toast for breakfast. You fell asleep on the couch. Did you have bad dreams again?” “Don’t be silly, da. There’s no such thing as a bad dream. I started sleeping in my bed, but the jobbity threatened me… I knew I’d need the glow of the fire for this one. It warmed me up, and I think I got it in the end, but then it all melted.” With a chuckle, he helped her sit up and escorted her to the table, still trying to correct the rogue strands of hair. She hopped into the seat in front of the plate of sunny side up eggs and lightly toasted wheat bread, cinnamon sugar sprinkling onto the plate as she bit into it. He turned to ask if she wanted some coffee with her breakfast, but she was so contented by the toast that he didn’t bother to ask and poured her a tall, steaming mug, adding just a splash of cream. She smiled brightly and garbled, “Shanksh da.”

Some peoples smiles light up a room, but not Rachel’s. Hers could light up the whole of the night sky, even with a full moon and all the stars. They say smiles are contagious, but the epicenter and origin of that contagion is Rachel. I myself have been in such a foul mood that I literally couldn’t think of one decent thing to say about myself or anyone else, and so I stayed silent for the entire morning. (I’ve been told by several sources that if I have nothing nice to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all.) It was a miserable morning to be miserable on and there wasn’t a darn thing anybody could say to make me think differently. I hit my head in the shower, dropped my soap several times, bruising at least three of my toes, ripped my pants while trying to put them on in a hurry because I was running late, and discovered to my chagrin that I had not prepared my pantry for the next day, so I had nothing of substance to eat for lunch. So I gave up on the day and decided I’d at least do one thing I enjoy: sit at a coffee shop.

Head low and bobbing lazily, feet scraping the pavement with my shoulders hunched, I slumped over to a café called Cultured, and as I reached out to open the front door, who but Rachel should greet me with a big, toothy-grinned and squinty-eyed smile, and say, “Top ‘o the Monday mornin’ to ya, mister! It’s quite the lovely day we’re having!” Without a hesitation or second thought, I returned the greeting, “Sure is, kiddo!” and bounced my merry way over to the counter to order my coffee, whistling the happiest tune I think I may have made up on the spot, the hint of a skip filling my gait. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face! The cashier laughed at how goofy and wide my smile was. It wasn’t until I looked to find a table that I thought about what I was there to do. The goal was to improve my mood in some minute way, but that had been done for me already and in such a way that I could hardly believe I’d ever been unhappy before in my life.

I was perplexed. I had to think about what it was that turned my day around, and when I had finally figured it out, Rachel was already out the door and down the street, dragging her dad and brother along as she bounced and sang something about being a silly cherry tart, her father laughing and trying to hush her because she didn’t know what she was saying.

Back at the breakfast table, Rachel’s dad put the dishes in the sink and poured three more coffees- one for himself, one for his wife, and the third for Rachel’s brother, Jonathan. He beamed as he watched her hum, chewing her eggs and slurping her coffee. He was so proud of his little princess. “BRUCE! What’s my name again?!” Rachel’s mom called to her dad. “What the devil are you talking about?” He shouted back, knowing that this would be some sort of silly setup. “WHAT’S MY NAME?” she asked again “Uhh… Deborah?” With that, she slid into the kitchen, arms outstretched and theatrical, and said, “No! It’s Deboooooraaah!” She was dressed in electric blue sunglasses, a lime green, feathery boa, and a large yellow sunhat in addition to her pajamas. Humorously suave and sassy, as she called it, she strutted over to her place at the table, lifted her glasses to wink at Rachel, and blew a kiss to Bruce, both of them laughing from their stomachs, Rachel fell off her chair.