The Writer’s Day Off

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“Recounting the strange is like telling one’s dreams: one can communicate the events of a dream, but not the emotional content, the way that a dream can colour one’s entire day.” ~  Neil Gaiman

Tired after three days of hard work, I am exercising my prerogative here; choosing to post some old writing rather than try to wrangle my brain in any useful way. Hey, I may have posted this piece here before. Regardless, here it is. I wrote this piece right before going to work one day, after a couple of hours of cruising on bicycles with my friend, Cheryl. I could go on at length about Cheryl, but suffice it to say that she was one the most intelligent and sexiest women I have known. I’m sad that I lost touch with her.

Peace out, y’all. Goof gloriously.

Chances are my spirit still walks the woods along the Seven Mile River in rural Spencer, Massachusetts. I must chuckle at the image of some psychic sensitive seeing the apparition of this grinning stranger with a Florida tan wandering the trail along Browning Pond, stopping on occasion and muttering, “Oh, wow”. Or greeting some fellow creature, “Yo, dude!”. And the psychic sensitive is wondering … who is this spectral pilgrim and why doesn’t he look dead? That spirit still walks those woods and I am not dead. I am alive and well and living in a concrete cottage on Windley Key, in a place usually associated with Bogart, Buffet, Hemingway, pina coladas and hurricanes.

The Seven Mile River has become my inner sanctum, the place I go mentally when the stress is running high. There is a lot of that these days. This is South Florida, seven weeks after Hurricane Andrew.

I sob involuntarily as I write these words and my eyes become misted with tears. Stress is pandemic. There is no being flippant. You want to shout to the world, “Look! This is horrible!”. When disaster strikes this close to home you want to cry. Go ahead. It helps.

Meanwhile, the pilgrim is sitting on the rail of the bridge that allows Browning Pond to drain into the marsh where the Great Blue Herons nest. The river runs down from there and past St. Joseph’s Abbey, a Trappist monastery. The beavers have built a dam there at the foot of the hill on top of which rests the Abbey. Over the years this dam has caused the waters to rise in the valley where the herons nest high upon the dead pines which were killed by the burgeoning marsh.

The pilgrim is trancing out, thinking of Arthurian legend, and trying to summon the Lady of the Lake. He is cognizant to the fact that the Catholic Church holds deed to this land and he is wondering if the Spirit of Mary wanders this valley in her spare time.

It is late at night and a chill mist pervades the valley. The pilgrim finally sees what may be a vision of a lady in white. Contact is made. The man is beholding a vision, humming a Dire Straits tune, and – as James Taylor once wrote – “thinking about women and glasses of beer”. Far from the path of Andrew’s fury, he smiles. Then he rises and walks back to the house, the real world, and a cold beer.

The weird part of facing your mortality is that when the wind dies down you are left facing your life! Life looks awfully big at that point. The phrase “larger than life” becomes a paltry waste of breath. You sigh, raise the storm shutters, and get back to it. You whimper for a few days, before the electricity is restored when you finally get relief from the tropical thrust of the August sun. You trade stories with friends and neighbors. This is another weird thing: at first, everyone that you encounter feels like a friend. You are dazed and thankful. Your home was spared. The winds howled, the waters rose, and you spent several hours contemplating existence and whether or not your insurance policies were safely packed in plastic.

Monday morning comes and your world is still intact. Disappointment rides shotgun with joy. All of that fear, worry, and trembling was for naught? Meanwhile, thirty miles north, a million people have been slapped silly by the wrath of Nature’s own brillo-pad. Many have died. The sun is out. The day is calm in an eerie way. No birds sing.

The shock has set in. It will not depart for a long time. Andrew has spoken; “Get back to life”. We were all frightened children at that point, gazing at the brilliant blue sky and saying softly: “Oh, wow!”

My final human contact before Andrew showed its full force was a phone call from my best friend who lives on the banks of the Seven Mile River. The storm’s eye had hit landfall at Turkey Point. She told me that it was time to be scared. I laughed. I was already scared.

An airline ticket was safely packed in plastic and stuffed in my backpack. When the storm surge rolled through I would climb through the back window and swim for higher ground. I knew that I had to get to Massachusetts.

I never had to swim. But when she hung up the phone I knew two hours of sheer loneliness. Then I knew sleep. When I awoke and looked outside I knew it was okay. Three weeks later I knew that it was not okay.

The three weeks between Andrew and the Seven Mile River were hellish. We were, and still are, a little crazy. We were morbid, testy, and aggressive. We were damaged. And we were just not right.

The ride to Miami International Airport would be my road to sanctuary. That ride carried me through the “war zone”. That is what it looks like: a war zone. Only eyewitness contact can show you what happened in Andrew’s wake.

My breath took a hiatus. Tears came, as did a feeling of undeniable awe that left my lifelong, previous emotional output in the dust. I cried. I still cry sometimes.

The damage lessened, we arrived at MIA, and the plane took to flight. I hate to fly, hadn’t flown in seven years. Nature’s new version of South Dade County had squeezed me into near- catatonia and now I had to fly! It wasn’t right! I wasn’t right. That night on the banks of the Seven Mile River I found my first unblemished sleep in three weeks.

The pilgrim is again sitting on the bridge rail, regarding the night shrouded marsh. A beautiful woman is beside him on the rail. Florida is far away.

They talk. He is finally at ease. That afternoon they had been roaring through the Massachusetts countryside, singing along with the stereo, as the high-powered ’68 Mustang convertible carried them toward lunch. The day was beautiful. The tune on the stereo was Dire Straits’ “Walk of Life”.

The pilgrim is reminded – now, on the rail – of a story in which a man is sitting on a bridge with a beautiful and magical woman. She shows him the magic of the night then sends him home to his wife. She has taught him the lesson of trust.

He walks home whistling “Walk of Life”. He is thinking of the women that he loves. He goes home and, again, knows profound sleep. The ghost of John Lennon serenades him as he slides into a dream…”Imagine! All you need is love.”

Meanwhile, back in Florida, the day is calm. Autumn has brought its gracious cool nights. Seven weeks have passed and Andrew’s legacy is one of ruin. It is our minds that have been ravaged. The counseling work that psychologists, social workers, and bartenders will have to do is monumental in scope. We are all still a little crazy. It will take some time. It will take love to help us heal.

I missed my siesta while relating this tale. Tiredness has become a way of life these days. I know that I could feel much better but I feel fine. Meanwhile…

It is time for work. The pilgrim is home. The Seven Mile River will see him again. He will never forget what it is to feel like a frightened child. The frightened child is a kind of spiritual tattoo. He is smiling.

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