The Things I Will Miss

In the end, reality is as cliché as Hollywood. When little green men fly over in their souped-up Frisbees, I can’t muster up any surprise. All I can do is wonder if they ever go cruising for chicks in those things on a Saturday night. I drop my gaze from the sky and walk into the house. I just hope I’m not their type.

“It serves all of us right, I guess,” I say. My giggles echo off the empty walls. I can’t bring myself to regret that I have no one to say goodbye to. “But I have never been lonely,” I say out loud.

The air in front of me ripples; a man-shaped shadow materializes. “You have never been alone,” he whispers. I can’t discern his features, but I feel the resonance of his smile.

I sit for a long while, my hand in his, and listen to the pandemonium. Frantic shadows scurry by the windows. I am entitled to join them now; indiscriminate tragedy is always a good icebreaker. They are going to congregate in designated shelters. Safety in numbers, and all that nonsense. The masses have never made me feel safe.

“The sad fools,” I say with a sigh. Their panicked stampede is as predictable as a Bruce Willis blockbuster. It will be a bitter betrayal when he doesn’t show up to save them.

After nightfall, we wander the vacant streets. We watch the horizon, as the radiance from distant cities is extinguished one by one. My insignificance, something I’ve forever detested, isn’t such a bad thing after all. They will come for us loners last. The meek have inherited precious last moments.

The Shadow Man takes my hand and leads me uptown, to the mansions. Jubilation wells up in me like effervescent pearls. No place is forbidden now. The imposing iron gates are thrown open like welcoming arms.

A warm glow appears amid the blackness; rays of light rain down from an upstairs window.

I whisper, “How can a light still burn? There has been no electricity for hours.” I am more intrigued than afraid.

We enter the house. It is completely still, except for a diffuse luminosity. Golden light streams from a bedroom. I take a tentative step inside. A little girl emerges from behind a large doll house. A shimmer from within her opalescent flesh. She is the source of the light.

“We just want to look, honey,” I say.

She nods and leads us through the labyrinthine hallways. The Shadow Man disappears down a dark alley. The corridor opens into a cavernous bedroom. I gasp at its opulence. A chandelier shines rainbow prisms in my eyes. My head swoons with the rich scent of fresh roses.

“They have left me behind,” the Light Girl says; her voice is metallic indifference. “Will you take me with you?”

“We are going up to the mountains. It will be cold, dark, and dangerous. Why would you leave all of this?”

I look around at all of the feminine, superfluous things. The shoes of every style and color, the perfume and jewelry-littered dresser, the flamboyant evening gowns that were worn only once. Superficial, tactile things. The things I will miss. I finally understand that worn-out platitude — you can’t take it with you.

“Stay here with me,” says the Light Girl. She puts her small, warm hand in mine. “We can play dress up.”

I reach out and stroke a green silk gown. Such luxury has never touched my work-battered hands. They are going to come for me, eventually. I will not prolong the futile charade of survival in some dank cave.

The Shadow Man pokes his head in the closet. He’s wearing a black tuxedo two sizes too large. “I have something for you.” He holds out a corsage of pink orchids. “Get dressed, my darling, and let’s dance.”

The Light Girl giggles and claps her hands.

When they come for us, we will look smashing.

This little story was published over a decade ago in Bewildering Stories, which is one of the longest-running speculative fiction Ezines. It was reprinted a couple of years later in the now-defunct Atomjack. Before I began this blog, I had published in numerous places and much of it was fiction. It’s been years since I’ve sought publication. The blog now holds my heart. Many of these early stories have slipped far to the back of my memory. It’s almost as if I’ve forgotten the years when I was teaching myself how to write and searching for my voice. So many of the stories, like this one, were dictated to me in dreams. It came back to me last night in another dream. Remember these words. They came out of you. I know better than to ignore the Mothership.

So I present them here as a testament to perseverance. Over the past few weeks, I have been working on the memoir, which I began writing over a decade ago. It is so close to being done. A couple of days ago, I was overcome with discouragement. It was all I could do to not delete it all. I want so much for it to be finished, so that I can move on. It doesn’t matter if no one wants to publish it or read it. Thanks to the nocturnal nudge, the despair is shifting into discernment. The process of creation is part of the journey. It is our imprint upon this world, whether it reverberates far or not. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Songs Along the Way

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The Highlands Highway – Papua New Guinea

Certain songs remind us of the intense moments of our lives – past loves, especially. But what about the songs that conjure the sensations and emotions of past journeys? Whenever I hear them, I close my eyes and allow myself to be transported on the melody, along the serpentine road of remembrance.

Thailand – April 1992
My last night in Bangkok. A tiny jazz bar called Brown Sugar. Everything obscured by smoke. Blue smoke in the air, purple smoke in my brain. Magic smoke. The tendrils were losing their grip on the rising despair. Please don’t make me go “home”. One of my sister’s roommates brought me to the club. I can’t remember why Pebby didn’t come, but it doesn’t matter. I sat with Steve in that darkened room, pouring alcohol over the smoke. Watching it thicken. I think we probably didn’t say much, because I was unable to. He suddenly got up, walked over to the band, and requested “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers. He leaned over and squeezed my shoulders when they played it. The warmth seeped deep inside, where it still remains.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines – October 1992
Whenever I doubt the magic, that certain paths are just meant for us, I put on “Cool Change” and relive the glorious days of sailing the jewel-colored Caribbean. The opportunity had come out of nowhere. A phone call from a stranger. A risk taken on pure intuition. I was plucked out of the murk and thrust into daylight. The Dutch Captain and his wife had one CD: Little River Band Greatest Hits. It could have become annoying, but it didn’t. It was music to sail away with. I sat at the very front of the boat, my legs over the side, as we drifted. Soft warm waves reached up to tickle my feet. I lifted my face to the sun, oblivious to the fact that, in just a couple of days, when we reached Mustique, I would get news that my father had died. In less than two weeks, I’d be in the hospital. Swallowed up by the void.

Papua New Guinea – September 1995
That thick red line on the map – the Highlands Highway – turned out to be a washed-out road through the jungle and it was far too late to turn back. And neither Maya or I wanted to. Despite the threat of bandits, known as raskolls. I remember the feel of that steering wheel, trying to tear itself out of my grip. Phantom mist obscuring the way. Portishead’s Dummy album filled our heavy silence, and drowned out the jarring sound of wheels grinding along uneven ground. Leading us into our own personal heart of darkness.

When we tired of Portishead, we switched to Mad Season’s Above album. Beth Gibbons’ eerie melancholy was replaced by Layne Staley’s raw anguish. That voice. It tore right through my soul, especially on “Wake Up”.  The words snaked through my mind: Wake up, wake up, wake up.* Before it’s too late.

A few days later, we dropped the Land Rover off at the airport in Madang. Without a scratch. The rental agent shook his head and told us that we were the first people he knew of who had driven that highway with no problem.

The most dangerous part of the voyage was behind, but the music didn’t stop. I have already written about “Helplessly Hoping” by Crosby, Stills, and Nash in an earlier post.

Taiwan – November 1995/North Korea – April 2016
Some songs are so enduring that they make encores in our lives. Such is the case with “Wonderwall” by Oasis. First time I heard it, I was once again visiting my sister, this time in Taiwan. I flew up from Guam, just before Thanksgiving. It was her boyfriend, I think, who played the song. Words of longing and mystery. We all fell silent when it came on. Daydreaming of that one we never could bring ourselves to face.

I started writing this post last night, and just this morning I received news that one of my sister’s Taiwan roommates passed away last weekend. He was such a character and the trip to Taiwan will always be more memorable because of his presence. RIP, Tim.

More than twenty years later, in the karaoke room of the Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea, our group of travelers sang our hearts out to the tinny music emanating from the speakers. It was the last night of the tour and we were high on soju and discovery. None of us, no matter which country we came from, had to read the words on the screens. The Korean guides sat back and watched. Sunbeam smiles. Had they ever heard the original version?

North Korea – April 2016
Every evening, as we were driven back to the hotel, our tour bus turned into a lounge on wheels. People were nominated to come up and sing a song, preferably from his or her country. Our Korean guide, Miss Yu, got it started with “Arirang”. As the bus carried us through the dark streets of Pyongyang, her words were like a soft lullaby. I captured it on video:

Mr. Pak was the first to be nominated. His parents were diplomats, so he had lived overseas for much of his childhood. Fiercely patriotic, he chose a song – “Our Country” – that would stick in our heads for the entire trip. Someone would hum it, and we’d groan and roll our eyes. So, without further ado, here’s the lovely and talented Mr. Pak:

Then it was the travelers’ turn to be nominated. I cringed and slid down in the seat. The Polish guys bribed us with chocolate, so we wouldn’t nominate them. Latvia, Austria, Canada, Australia, and Germany all took their turns. When the British couple stood up and began to sing “Bohemian Rhapsody”, the whole bus joined in. “You guys lucked out,” I told them afterwards. I started to sweat. If called upon, I would insist on doing an interpretive dance instead. But I needn’t have worried. They didn’t want to hear from the Americans anyway.

Easter Island/Chile – October 2016
But how many corners do I have to turn.
How many times do I have to learn
All the love I have is in my mind
**

It’s funny how some songs disappear, and then reappear at the times we need to hear them. Just before I left for my incredible journey to Easter Island, I rediscovered “Lucky Man” by The Verve. I had loved the song when it came out in the 90’s, but it took on a much deeper significance. It is a song of gentle wonder at this strange new sensation called joy. The kind of happiness that can only be felt by someone who has wandered alone in the wilderness and has finally found the way home. Darkness dispelled. Nothing but sunshine and blue sky above. I added the song to the iPod and listened to it as I drove around that magical island, dodging wild horses. Reclaiming lost treasure.

Strange synchronicities occurred. After my flight from the Atacama Desert back to Santiago, I was the first to enter the baggage area. The room was empty and silent. Just as I walked in, this song came on. Then, as I wandered around Santiago, I saw posters for Richard Ashcroft’s upcoming concert. He was the lead singer of The Verve, and the person who wrote the song. His concert was on the night of my departure. My ticket didn’t allow any changes, or I would have stayed an extra day.

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Driving towards Rano Raraku – Easter Island

So, I would really love to know: which songs evoke your travels or a different place than where you are now? Please share in the comments.

*lyrics from Mad Season “Wake Up”
**lyrics from The Verve “Lucky Man”

The Evolution of Correspondence

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In January 2000, I accompanied my husband on a business trip to Paris. While he was in meetings, I wandered around the city. A bitter wind blew through the streets. I’d lived in the South Pacific for just a year, but my blood had already thinned. I took refuge in the Musée d’Orsay and the churches of St. Germain. One afternoon, I happened upon a postcard market at Les Halles. Thousands of hand-tinted vintage postcards were for sale. Despite my strong aversion to accumulation, I couldn’t resist buying a few. I chose them for the pictures. The words written upon them were simply an address or the words had faded into obscurity. Except for one.

Monday 30 December 1918

Dear Uncle,

I’m sending you this card to give you my news which is excellent at the moment and I hope it’s the same for you. I’m leaving for Etingers next Wednesday and from there I will go to visit Mom in Paris around January 15th. Because I have no more work in Beaupréau. The boss’ son where I work came back from the war, so I left because there isn’t enough work for everyone. Soon I will go to a neighboring village to see if they need anyone to work in a locksmith shop. If not, I’ll probably stay in Paris. I’ll take advantage of this card to wish you a Happy New Year and a speedy return to your loved ones and I hope I will soon have the pleasure of seeing you. Best wishes – Henri.

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So much history in so few words. These momentary tidings have survived for almost a hundred years.

I used to have a small collection of postcards. Most of them were from my wandering sister Pebby. Others were from friends I had met along the way, most of whom I had lost touch with. When I got married and moved overseas, most of the postcards fell victim to a ruthless purge. Sentimentality is a luxury that a nomad cannot afford. I kept only the most significant: my future husband’s tender dispatch from New Caledonia, which was sent after we first met; the last communication I would ever have from my friend Breezy in Guam. It reached me a few days after I had heard of her tragic death; and the wackiest of those from Pebby’s zany adventures. I saved some letters and cards from my mother, which had kept me going during the dark days in California. My father’s letters – filled with the unnerving poetry of schizophrenia – also remain. Everyone else is stored in the vault of memory. Their exact words have blurred with time, but their spirit lingers. Maybe they’ve forgotten, but I haven’t.

Once upon a time, I was an ardent letter writer. As a child, I wrote to my aunts and uncles who had moved across the country. Their rare replies brightened my lonely universe. It didn’t matter what they had written. The message had traveled from someplace else. This habit lasted into adulthood. Letters from family and friends in Michigan filled the California void. When I left California, letters and postcards from the friends I had met there followed me. Until faces and memories dimmed and vanished, and there was really no point, anymore.

For many years, I had a recurring dream about a lost letter. It was adrift in transit, or maybe I had misplaced it. The contents were something that I had been waiting to hear for a long time. Something that would make everything okay. I was always loved and never knew. In the dream, I wandered through a labyrinth of corridors and staircases and rooms. Resolute, but bewildered. In the process of searching, I lost myself. Have you seen it, I’d ask the faceless entities that drifted by. Where could it possibly be? I would tell myself that I must remember to search for it when I awaken. However, when the gauze of sleep wore off and consciousness solidified, it became clear that no such letter ever existed.

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Words sent on a journey. A connection between two people. Few things are more intimate and thoughtful. It doesn’t always matter what’s written. Even in the pre-internet days, people wrote about what they had eaten for dinner, the things they had bought, and the antics of the family cats. The banalities of daily life are more poetic when handwritten in a unique script. The inadvertent designs added to the narrative: coffee rings, cigarette ash smudges, and ink blots. Dried teardrops. Wisps of evaporated perfume or crushed flowers. The smooth texture of a wax seal. There was something personal in the act of moving a pen across stationery, looking up an address, placing it a mailbox, and raising the red flag.

The evolution of correspondence can be illustrated through Christmas greetings. In the past, an evening or weekend afternoon was set aside to write them out. For there were so many. Everyone deserved a short personal note inside. In the 1980s, people began to send photocopied letters that recapped the previous year’s news. When the internet appeared, these letters became one mass email. Nowadays, people post a general greeting on their own Facebook page and call it good.

Communication has become a broadcast. Messages are for an audience rather than an individual. Many articles have been written about the disappearance of true interaction. Studies have shown that those who aren’t on social media are literally forgotten. It would be easy to decry this shift. However, there were always those who never wrote back. People who forgot about you. Maybe social media has given those who wouldn’t have otherwise made an effort a way to stay in touch. Those of us who abstain need to accept the consequences. Surrender to oblivion.

Facebook. It reminded me of a boisterous party. Everyone talking over each other. I walked in, made a quick lap, and then slipped out the back door. Few people noticed. Out of about a hundred people who were on my friend list, I remain in touch with five. This includes only one of my four siblings. Instead of disappointment, however, there is a profound sense of liberation. It feels good to know where I stand and on whom to focus my energy. My words are no longer wasted.

Handwritten letters have all but vanished. With the rise of messaging apps and Instagram, is the age of the postcard also coming to an end? If there is hope for its survival, it lies with the collectors. When I travel, postcard racks still beckon. I spin them around and, if an image catches my eye, I’ll buy it for someone. I ponder every message. What might this person like to know about the location and my journey? It doesn’t matter where it ends up – tossed in the trash, tucked in a book, hung on a wall, displayed in a future marketplace. They are all sent forth on their voyage with love.

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**I would like to thank my readers for the support and respect I’ve received over the past four years. Those who’ve been with me from the beginning and those who’ve recently appeared. Those who take the time to share your thoughtful reflections and those who choose to not make your presence known. Everyone is welcome and appreciated. I wish you all a 2017 filled with magic and discovery.