The Long Way Home

Lighthouse-Trail--by-Jacqueline-PenneyDave steadied himself and shook his head clean of the cobwebs that were still weaving their way through his membranes; the stubborn remnants of too many sleepless nights. And that’s when a flicker of recognition disrupted his blank stare, casting a preternatural shadow over the blank stretch of vanilla sky. Her motion was fluid as a Thelonius Monk song in the middle of the night as her lithe body orchestrated a list of wicked ideas. He tangled up inside her walk as she drew closer to him now, his desperate eyes sipping at her mad science.

Sam.

She was walking along with her head down, lost in the mysterious thoughts a beautiful woman gets to keep to herself. Her feet supplied the rhythm to the crazy rhyme of legs that swept the space between; they were deliberate and honest steps of a purpose to which Dave could wholeheartedly relate. Her hair had been loosed from its shackles and it was throwing itself at every part of his most insatiable curiosities. And then she looked up and met his eyes with hers, and then Dave felt his legs go weak and his heart go fast and his world go peaceful.

Her smile. It was a miracle of impossible wishes come to life, a crush of mayhem in its galavant. Her eyes were a plunge into the deep end of the universe, tearing apart the darkness in a magical ripple. And when they came together it was in that union where Dave understood what his life meant, what it was always going to mean.

They collapsed into each other, an embrace that filled them with the wanting of forever. Each time they touched, it brought Dave back to that kiss in the middle of the street with the heavens pouring down on top of them; the night when their love had introduced its plans to stick around.

“Oh baby, I missed you.” Dave said.

“I missed you more . .” Sam said, loosening their clench just enough to grab some face time with the man of her dreams. The kiss they shared went long and true, same as always.

“So, how was Alexandria?” Dave asked, as he stole Sam’s carry on bag from her and they moved through the Hartsfield terminal to the baggage claim area.

“Ugh, those people wouldn’t know how to figure out the square end of a box if they were sitting inside of it. And sometimes, I think they’re doing just that. They’re waiting for Godot . . I swear they are.”

“It couldn’t have been that bad.” Dave smiled.

“No Dave, it was worse. And don’t think I wasn’t feeling the irony, starving for an original thought . . . inside a think tank! And the hilarious part of it all was they talked down to me as I pitched the public disclosure options to them . . as if I’m a fucking hair stylist asking them how much they want me to take off or leave on!”

Sam had spent the week at a seminar in Virginia as part of a broad, intra-agency collective headed up by Governor Phillip Blake of Maryland. Blake was busy making enemies in high places- including the White House; criticizing Washington’s lackadaisical approach to a series of seemingly random attacks across the country and around the world- the latest of which involved a passenger biting an airline attendant on an Air France flight. Sam came to learn that piecemeal truths had been doled out by Presidents and Senators and Prime Minsters alike in order to quell mass panic. She wasn’t worried about what she knew. She was worried about what she wasn’t allowed to know.

Dave watched Sam ramble on for minutes at a time without coming up for air. Every now and again, she would stop in mid sentence and apologize, but he shushed her apologies and urged her to tell him more. He knew she had to release the poison that a week’s worth of bureaucratic arm wrestling had wrought. It was this part of the job to which Sam detested- playing chess with doctorates in cardigans whose best ideas conveniently ignored the realities of an ever changing world. Recently, she had begun talking herself out of a long term future of the same. She had brought up the idea of cutting back on her workload and maybe opening a bistro with Dave.

” . . .so, this woman looks me right in the eye and says We really don’t feel as if you appreciate the disruptive nature of a completely transparent approach to an as yet unclear threat . Dave, I wanted to punch her in her self indulgent face and go How’s that for nomenclature you stupid bitch!? 

“That wouldn’t have been good for business, babe.”

“It wouldn’t have been good for anyone . . . other than me.”

“Hey, is that yours?” Dave asked, as a black leather valise rounded the turn and came into view. And then he spotted the reggae peace sign luggage tag, “Yeah it is.” He grabbed it and they were off.

“So, what did you do while I was busy wasting my time on the taxpayer’s dollar?” Sam asked.

“Oh, you mean the strippers? We rented a hot tub and turned the washing machine into a still. I cleaned up after myself, no worries.”

“Strippers are the modern day Florence Nightingales, that’s what I say.” Sam laughed. “And as long as you cleaned up after yourself, because I don’t do glitter.”

“Are you kidding? That shit never goes away.”

“Hmm, neither does alimony.” She smiled.

“Well played, Catwoman.”

“Thanks Batman. Where you taking me for lunch? Make it good . .”

“Don’t I always? Okay .. don’t answer that.” Dave smiled.

Dave steered his silver Dodge Ram onto I-75 and moved due North as Sam began turning every billboard they passed into a song. They talked about anything and everything before Sam got around to asking Dave how he’d spent his week. He advanced a few piecemeal truths of his own while navigating through the Virginia Highlands neighborhood of Atlanta before nabbing a spot right in front of their destination.

“23rd and Stanley . . ooooh, this looks adorable.”

“I was thinking smart, sexy . . intelligent as all get out, but I’ll take adorable.”

They were seated at a table for two perched by the front window. A bright yellow sunflower swam across the space between them as they slinked their hands around it and crossed them in a lover’s clench. Sam did a cursory examination of the restaurant as the waitress handed them their menus and took their drink orders.

“Baby, where did you find this place?” Sam asked.

“You like?”

“Love. I love.” Sam said.

“On a scale of 5 Seconds of Summer doing an IKEA opening to Jim Morrison launching a comeback tour at Place de la Concorde?”

“I would say . . Al Green at the Apollo.”

“You’re giving it a nine without having taken a bite out of it?” Dave asked.

“When it’s right, I just know.”

“No argument there.”

The space was small but smartly used. Creme colored wainscoting wrapped the bottom half of the walls while the upper half was painted in soft marigold. Black and white pictures and paintings and framed album covers wrapped the rectangular shaped space in a warm, familiar hug. Bell shaped goblets hung upside down over each table, their amber tinge suffusing a personal warmth across them. The long stretch of hardwood floor worked in concert with the tin ceiling tiles to create a gumbo of music and laughter and shared conversations.

“Remember when we were sitting in that little Vietnamese restaurant over in Duluth?” Dave said.

“Saigon Cafe . . ”

“And you looked at me and said . . Someday, you’re going to run a restaurant.” 

“I knew you would, baby.”

“Well, you’re looking at it.” Dave said.

“I definitely want the Pimento cheese grits, and the . . . what did you just say?”

“You’re looking at the owner.” Dave smiled.

“No.” Sam said.

“Yeah.”

“Like . . you’re the owner, as in you own this place?” Sam said.

“By the power vested in me by Merriam Webster, I am.”

And then her eyes focused, and then she spotted her lighthouse painting, and the black and white photograph of the two of them running out of the church as newlyweds and their autographed copy of the Bill Withers classic Still Bill. Sam got up from her seat and moved into Dave’s lap and laid one on him. They settled into the perfect song and parked themselves there as the midday patrons pretended to look away and a rush of laughter and good feeling filled the place.

“Hmm hmmmm.”

The pair removed their lips from each other to find their waitress had returned, and she was busily extracting a pen from her bunched up dark chestnut locks.

“Umm, the owner told me to tell you this meal was on the house.” Sam giggled.

“There’s only one girl who gets the house special . . so I’m guessing you are the much talked about Sam.” The waitress said.

“Am I much talked about?” Sam asked shyly.

“Oh . . myGod. Dave talked about three things all week. Getting the place done on time so he could surprise you .. making sure we had fresh Twinkies on hand because a deep-fried Twinkie is your guilty pleasure, and of course, he talked about you . . when he wasn’t talking about you.”

Sam gave Dave a juicy kiss before standing up to shake hands with the pretty waitress, who was worth her weight in soul.

“Michelle.”

“Where you from Michelle?”

“Mm, everywhere. For the time being, we live right here in the Highlands.”

“What does your husband do?”

“He’s an NFL front office executive, which is why we have a rotating zip code. We’re all about the Falcons, for the time being.” Michelle laughed.

“The Falcons . . way cool.” Sam said.

“Mind you, last year it was the Cowboys. Three years ago it was the Raiders, and now the Bears are said to have him in their sights. I’m bracing myself for ten months of winter. On the bright side, I would be able to see my Royals every time they come to town.”

“Are you from Missouri originally?”

“I am. And I tell hubby all the time that he picked the wrong sport.” She laughed.

“He picked the right girl, that’s what counts.” Dave chimed in.

They placed their orders and then Sam had to know the details of the week her husband spent in stealth. He told her how his sister Mary had found the place a month ago when scoping out possible locations for an art gallery. When she took a closer look and found a working kitchen, she put in a call to Dave as she wrote the check.

“Mary is our not so silent partner and we’ve been getting the place ready for close to a month now.” Dave said.

“That explains all those late nights . . and here I thought Vera Farmiga had finally come to her senses and I was gonna have a fight on my hands.”

“The official grand opening is next week, Sam.”

“I have to call Jennie. She has to be here for it.”

“She already knows.”

Jennie was Sam’s friend. She had introduced her to Dave back in the day, which guaranteed her free meals for life and Godmother status should it ever come to that.

“I changed my mind about that rating.” Sam said.

“Oh?”

“This is Jimi at the Fillmore on the world’s last day.”

“Now that would be a beautiful fire.” Dave said.

“I do believe Imma have my way with you tonight, bossman.”

“I do believe you’re right, Scarlett. I do believe you’re right.”

Dave woke with a start. He allowed his brain a few moments of muster before opening his eyes and taking in his surroundings. He was tucked into the corner of the treehouse he had borrowed for shelter the night before. And then he heard them, the dead, rousting about below his perch. Their inhuman moans had most likely dislodged him from his sleep.

The reality of this cold and brutal world began to seep into his reality with each crackling synapse. Rebecca and the loss of every good thing . . the walk to Sam . . . the desire for some little sign of hope, a sliver of mercy to show itself.

He thought long and hard on the secrets to survival in this place, and he realized how similar it was to the world it had replaced. Back then, it was all about believing that the daily trudge possessed transcendent gains. Dave knew his walk wasn’t just to Sam, but to everything they had come to believe. Together.

He gathered his things and steadied himself until he was back on solid ground. There were two of them. A man and woman, both had been in their early twenties from what he could gather. She had been wearing an indigo blouse and jean shorts and he a dark brown t-shirt and slacks. Dave wondered if they had been a couple or if they had ‘met’ on this forgettable B side of things.

Once they saw Dave, they began making up the twenty five or so yards that separated them. Dave could see how so many of the living had gone victim to these creatures because their lumbering efforts were a deception to those who didn’t understand the danger they presented, or who didn’t take it seriously enough. For one thing, they probably walked faster than the average Walmart customer. And the fact it was easy to get caught up in their Frankenstein march didn’t help either. He took turns putting them down and then he wiped his blade on the grass and placed it back in its sheath.

As he made way for the treeline that stretched out in front of him, his eyes locked into a billboard playing scarecrow over a vacant parking lot. Billboard watching was a habit he’d picked up from Sam, one of the many things that became a part of his everyday thanks to her. The billboard had been left to die, just like the rest of the world. It had been a sell for West Pine Toyota. Most of the come on had been weathered badly and some of it had been completely disappeared by weather and time, but Dave was able to piece it together again from old memories of a road trip, with Sam.

Because life is one big road with lots of signs . . . you want to make sure you choose the right one! 

And then his eyes settled on how the sign read in its present state. It was so obvious, now that his eyes were no longer jaded to the piecemeal truths of a buttoned down existence.

life is one big road with lots of signs

Bob Marley’s Wake Up and Live coursed through his veins. What a thing, to be in the middle of nowhere and to know it was the somewhere he was meant to see. His brain contained a million different images of Sam, where that song had served as background music to a world they were busy making. There were the lazy mornings and the last call dances, the car rides and ski trips and the beach getaways. And to each one, his brain fixed itself on that smile of hers; the one that could light up the moon all by itself. The one that convinced him to pay attention to signs and to believe in magic and to never quit on love.

A million different images to a million different memories of the one true thing. As Dave started walking again, he knew there was no quitting that. Not now and not ever. If the lighthouse didn’t pan out, he was gonna turn the world upside down to find her. And if that didn’t work?

There was always Jimi at the Fillmore.

 

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Walking on a blood red moon

If you were expecting Sunday Morning Coffee Love, consider this the zombie apocalypse version. It follows on the heels of this electric piece of sexy goodness that brought us up to speed on Sam’s journey last weekend. My man Dave’s journal entries ended up running longer than a postseason baseball game, so don’t feel obliged to scroll for my sake. Tweet it, share it, let Bill Murray know about it? Sure, why not. 

While it would’ve been nice to throw a ‘read more’ tag into the mix, the ghosts in WP’s machine don’t much care for me.  Rather than apologize, I’ll just blame some other peeps instead.

I’ve gotta start with Jennie, who created an amazing character that helped bring mine to life. Without Sam, my Dave is just another guy who was watering his lawn at the end of the world. And then there’s Michelle, who can edit AND write! (It’s a literary endangered list). I can’t let Mary off the hook. Her words haunt and amuse me, and even more than that, they challenge me in ways I never see coming.

And finally to Christy. Girl, you made magic in that last post. I am honored by your company, strengthened by your support, inspired by your wild imagination. You convinced me to stop looking for an ending and to just get to stepping. You were right about the signs. 

Table for 2It may be that no life is found, which only to one engine bound. Falls off, but cycles always round. ~Alfred Tennyson, The Two Voices

 

1. Goin’ to a party where no one’s still alive . . .

The darkness of this place is relentless. Just when you think you’ve seen its worst, the latest shit for scenario lets you know there’s more where that came from. It gives nothing, it takes everything. So I’m either the dumbest sonofabitch that ever lived, or a genius on the level of Einstein’s overachieving brother, because I happen to believe I’m gonna make it. Because for all the darkness this world keeps throwing at me, I’ve got the music of the life I once knew and the one I want to live a thousand times over.

Two things keep me moving in the right direction. My turntable, and Sam. They are the sacred parts of the days and nights I want back, the only things I ever want to know again.

I’ve already made the decision. If this life reverts to work weeks and martini lunches and political debates and mass transit strikes and all the other shit that made up whatever it was we were busy holding onto? Me and Sam will pack up the turntable along with every last piece of vinyl in our possession, and we’re gonna get lost.

2. I know a place where we can carry on . . .

My newfound outlook is ironic, seeing as how I used to think Bob Marley was a hopeless dreamer. That was back when burnt toast and insurance premiums mattered. Before the planet got hijacked from six feet under. In the now? I understand the man on a level that isn’t tethered to the square root of our seven day existence.

It’s the kind of progress Sam’d be proud of. She always makes me feel like the smartest guy in the room. She’s the only sense my life has ever made. What I wouldn’t give to be able to walk into a crowded room with her on my arm again. Watch the women go red with envy while their men did a piss poor job of averting their eyes. God, the way she parted the tables in pursuit of a waiter who was doing his Steve McQueen best to look cool just for her. She could hush a dinner conversation with this amazing sweep of legs and curls. And then we’d get seated and I would look over at what can best be described as disco lemonade in fuck me pumps. Her hair would perform this crazy dance across her shoulders and then she would lift her head and those caramel eyes would lock into me . . . and it was like the cosmos had tapped me on the shoulder to let me have a look at all the secrets to all the things worth knowing.

It was during one of those meals inside one of those nights when Sam let me know I was going to open a restaurant. And she said it in such as a way, it was as if the concrete had already been poured and the designs finalized and the date set. And I knew, right then and there that it was so.

Before I met Sam, I was a sous chef who specialized in being a perpetual bachelor. I had dipped my toe in the pool of serious romantic entanglements a few times before Sam. All I ever got for it were a few lousy t-shirts and divorce papers, after which I became that guy. You know the one, he drinks well with others, has a kickass musical library and he has no blessed idea as to why he is so fucking miserable? Yeah.

Sam pulled me out of the limbo Jimmy Cliff once riffed about. She hailed from the same love gone wrong zip code, but she never used it as a copout. As cynical as she was, she was never going to make the next guy pay for the crimes of the last one. She answered fire with rain, and she never stopped believing in that fool thing called love. And then she went and showed me how.

She’s a Buddhist. Okay, she’s a fledgling student to the teachings of Siddhartha. But I’ll tell you what, the girl would snatch a grasshopper from the gates of Hell and she’d kiss the fiery pits with a Namaste out of Uma Thurman’s best sexy after doing so. It’s why I loved our ‘Buddhi calls’, and it’s why I did my best to keep up with the tenets.

3. We keep this love in a photograph . . . 

I had a one o’clock flight out of Hartsfield-Jackson on that Saturday afternoon when the shit hit the fan. I was gonna meet Sam, who was attending a conference in D.C. We were going to spend Saturday night restaurant hopping (The District inspires my culinary soul) and then take in a game at Fed Ex Field between the Redskins and Sam’s beloved Cowboys on Sunday afternoon.

Her government job in media relations came with enough intel to scare the shit out of us, but not nearly enough to make us skip town for the nearest archipelago. Until it was too late.

I was watering the lawn when my ringtone started chiming “House of the Rising Sun”. It was Sam, the plans had changed.

“Dave?  Please listen to me, I’m on way home. It’s bad . . it’s really bad. Remember the vaccine I was telling you about? Let’s just say it was another chapter out of the government’s criminally insane playbook!” 

“Baby, what the hell are you talking about?”

“Bird Flu . . . West Nile Virus . . . that genius fucking idea to develop a vaccine?! It didn’t work! There are outbreaks . .  like . . everywhere! They’re close to declaring martial law until they get a fix on how to contain this . . . IF they even can!”

“Sam . . where are you?”

“What? Bitch, fuck you!”

“Sam?!”

“Sorry baby, this fucking flight attendant is telling me I have to turn off my phone! Are you fucking kidding me?”

“Sam, where are you right now?”

“Dulles . . . we’re on the runway. I’m gonna try to get there baby, I love you . .”

“You probably won’t get to Atlanta if it’s bad. The photograph, Sam! Go to our photograph! Wait for me to come . . hold on! I’m coming! I promise I’m gonna get there baby . . I love you baby . . . Sam?”

The line went dead, leaving me to wonder how much she’d heard. Still . . she knows. As sketchy a contingency plan as it was, we both know where the middle is. After trying my phone several times with no luck, I ransacked our place and built a makeshift survival kit- my Ruger and my knives, flashlights and batteries, water, duct tape, power bars and granola, smokes and bourbon, socks and clean underwear, toothbrushes and pain relievers and a first aid kit. I added a few personal effects- the photograph of Bob, our chocolate lab, whose ghost was going to keep our place safe until we returned. The sketch Sam had made of the lighthouse near Borneo Runnings . . from the photograph. A few of our favorite albums, and a handful of Sam’s scarfs that still carried her intoxicating scent.

My Dodge didn’t get me far, after which my trek to that lighthouse began while hers began from somewhere else. Two lost souls in search of that same and wonderful thing that only happens inside spells and music. It’s the place where darkness has no corner and Twinkies reign supreme.

4. She’s an angel of the first degree . . .

I broke off from the group I was traveling with after the fire. I’m borrowing a shitload of subtext in order to keep my brain from punching its way out of me. Parsing my words used to be a matter of civility, a pruning device that helped the bad medicine go down easier. But speaking parenthetically is no longer a social nicety to be sipped on. Now? It’s more a personal inclination that salvages the reckonings of this place where the sidewalk ends and hell begins.

The ‘fire’ was our end.

There were five of us when we walked into a hornet’s nest of bikers and the dead, and there was no way out that didn’t include killing or being killed. We closed rank as the firefight with this gang called the “Untouchables” came in from the east as the dead brooked our exit strategy to the west and it’s when the voice in my head started telling me This is it, this is how it ends.

You never accept the end of your life, even when its screaming for you to get busy trying. So it was that we fought like hell, gaining a quadrant of breathing space at a grim, thankless pace until we had dissected ourselves from the compromised position entirely. It was when things looked most peach that we met with catastrophe.

It was me and Rebecca in full gallop, staring down this thicket of trees as the rest of our group implored us to run faster. We had maybe fifty yards to traverse and nothing to shield us other than prayers and dumb luck. Clusters of gunfire danced in murderous accompaniment with each step we leapt through, and yet, we managed to beat the living daylights out of the deathly odds. And then I was jumping across this mossy bank and clumsily fetching my breath and wiping away the moist, red clay and then I was searching for Rebecca.

“Rebecca!” I screamed.

I bridged the bank once again, plunging back into the bullet strewn field and finding Rebecca’s crumpled little body. I ran for it in spite of the group’s pleadings to stay put. And then James followed me over and then we were dodging bullets as I nested her on my shoulder and we made our escape for a second time. And that’s when I heard James let out out this horrible groan and I turned to find the right side of his head getting torn away by a bullet.

I clutched Rebecca’s limp body and booked for the river bank. And then I lay her down on the wet grass, and that’s when I saw the damage and that’s when I broke down. In that horrible moment, I just wanted the world to pack up its tent and get the fuck out of my face. It was me, Kevin and Alicia, huddled in this agonizing silence as we mourned a life gone much too soon while waiting on the perpetrators intent on finishing their evil deed.

Three of them came calling. Kevin took out the first as he breached the trees, Alicia shot the second right between the eyes and I wrestled the third one down the side of the bank, settling at the bottom where we began fighting in knee deep water. I would like to tell you things went black from there, but they didn’t. What I did to that man is the kind of darkness Bob Marley preached about stopping with his songs, and yet, I don’t regret my momentary lapse of all reason, even now. It brought me no solace and yet, it brings me no pain in the remembrance. It simply speaks to the delicate thread that binds the madness of a world with the peace we all aspire to having.

When I reached Rebecca, her angelic face was ashen and lost. I held her in my arms and I just kept saying Wake up Rebecca . . wake up and live! Before the contagion could take her hostage, I removed my blade from its sheath and with surgical precision I pressed until the handle was flush with the back of her neck. I  carried her from there, crying and swearing and wanting to take her place because it was absurd to believe that nineteen years was all she was going to get. She’d just turned nineteen.

Before long, Alicia and Kevin separated themselves from me and Rebecca. My plans to keep parallel to the shoreline by a few miles had changed. Now, I had to get there. They disagreed, they pleaded, they made all the sense in the world and it didn’t matter, because I knew that I had promises to keep, and that’s just the way it goes.

I reached the shore at dusk and I knew it wasn’t prudent to move ahead with her wishes to be buried by the ocean until first light. Instead, I read a few of her favorite passages from Keats and then I tucked the only blanket I had around her and then I checked off the day, November 1st, as if I never wanted to hear its name again.

At dawn, I began making a ditch along this beautiful treeline that overlooked the Atlantic Ocean. The dirt was merciful and I was able to gain the necessary depth without too much trouble, after which I moved her into her final resting place. I draped her with my blanket and flowers and the sketch Sam had made of the lighthouse near Borneo Runnings, and then I kissed her on the forehead before letting her go. And then I buried Rebecca inside the moist, red clay of a strange and distant world. I kept her journal, not to read but to carry, for her. She taught me that the world was only a prison cell to those who were looking to escape, but that if you threw away the keys you really could change everything. Her light had served to shine my way, and to my last breath I owe her the chance I take with me.

5. I’m gonna be the man who goes along with you . . . 

Memories of Sam whittle away at the darkness with the fight of a seedling in the spring. Today I re-enacted our third date inside the span of a few sweet and gentle hours I borrowed from under a lonesome cherry tree that was going full blush. I traveled my way back to a time when carnivals were everywhere and roses lived perfect deaths and music spun madly from the strong shoulders of a patriarchal moon.

Damn if it wasn’t the most glorious sight . . .to find her there again, in the doorway of her apartment, with a look on her face that was telling me to get lost. I presented my evidence in the form of a speeding ticket and then I used a clutch of sunflowers for my closing argument. She didn’t let go of the smirk or relent on the chill that easy, and I knew she wouldn’t. So I loosed the reservations I’d scored for us in the form of two tickets to Sanford Stadium to watch her Bulldogs play the Auburn Tigers that weekend. I figured it would buy me the time I needed to convince her I was worth keeping around. And then I put on some Gladys Knight and then we cooked up a mess of fried catfish and grits with pimento cheese and sweet potato casserole and we toasted with Prosecco.

The hours slipped into this silky mayhem as we ate too much and drank too much more. We talked on the architecture of Kennedy speeches and we argued on the politics of Frank Lloyd Wright’s angular creations and we agreed on the divinity of a Herschel Walker sermon on Saturday afternoons long since gone. We laughed until we cried and we borrowed movie lines to finish each other’s thoughts and we behaved this way until time lost its currency. Then Sam suggested we go for a midnight walk, and I guess the Prosecco was paying off because I thought it was the best Goddamn idea ever. The rains caught us on our way back and she started running as I watched her legs carve away at the puddles, and then she realized the steps weren’t rhyming and she stopped in the middle of the street and turned around and walked right up to me and we just moved into this kiss that I can still taste. Inside that moment, she introduced me to what forever was going to look like. She would become my every single thing of my every single day to my every single last breath. And then she snapped me back to the reality of a cold hard rain by whispering some better ideas that had Sunday morning written all over them. And that’s when my entire world opened, as if a fresh new book. I asked her to marry me over breakfast in bed and she said yes, a year later.

It was eight years of running crazy through a rain that couldn’t touch us, nights that couldn’t hold us and a future that knew everything about us. She was my force of nature and I was her sunflower delivery man, and we were every single Jimi Hendrix song that ever caught fire.

6. I didn’t make it sugar, playing by the rules . . .

I’m walking to Sam and I’m thinking on that turntable. Every step I take is both crooked and precise-as the yin of a tortured earth yields to the yang of a blood red moon. The modern empire has stolen back to the age of antiquity. We’re a science project, all over again. Satellite guided maps have given way to sun readings while laws have gone the way of Garibaldi. Our masters have come undone to the realization that when you fuck with nature? She’s gonna kick your ass in longhand.

7. Long as I can see the light . . .

It occurs to me that everything we love, everything that matters, is a world unto itself. It’s like an infinite string of pearls that wears us, so that when the darkness comes calling, we got the music to see us through.

8. It goes to show you never can tell . . .

I reach North Carolina before dark and I slink through the backyards of a residential neighborhood in search of shelter, when I come upon a treehouse. Its construction is primitive but durable enough and it stands about ten feet off the ground. High enough to keep the dead from finding me, low enough in the event I need a quick getaway. Once inside, I secure the perimeter of the eight by ten foot space (complete with four windows, which is a very good thing) and then I lay down on the rough hewn pine boards. Any other time, in any other life, sleep would be impossible, but not here. Sleep comes easy and dreams bleed into each other.

I’m sitting on the front porch of her mom’s house, it’s Saturday morning and the neighborhood is humming with the sweet anticipation of a Bulldogs/Gators showdown. The smell of bacon fills the air and I can hear Carly Simon on the radio. And then I’m being called to breakfast and I’m carrying this indigo vase with freshly cut sunflowers and then they’re crashing across the  hardwood floor, announcing their arrival like screaming babies.

Her mom Carol moves from the kitchen and pinches my cheek, and says “It’s okay sunshine.” And then Sam wraps me in this hug and starts laughing as we kiss. And then I’m chasing her through the rain and we’re having breakfast in bed, with french toast and the Sunday papers. And then we’re running together with Bob, our chocolate lab, before settling in at the top of this hill, slumped across each other. And then Sam asks me what I’m thinking and I tell her.

I choose this world, baby. All of them.