Lighthouse: Day Tripping

date01

I realized things between Max and me had shifted when his gaze beamed my direction.

He wasn’t looking towards the floppy-haired guys anymore. He was looking towards me. And for once, I didn’t feel like running.

date02

His hello hugs changed, too.

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“Are your eyes closed?” I whispered when he wrapped his arms around me.

“Absolutely,” he whispered back.

date03

“Have you always closed your eyes when we’ve hugged?” I asked.

He thought for a moment. “I don’t think so,” he said.

“What changed?”

“Nothing,” he said. “Everything.”

date05

He walked me out.

“Whatcha got planned? How ’bout spending the day with me?” he asked.

“What’ll we do?”

“You ever been to the lighthouse?”

I hadn’t.

date06

We talked most of the ferry ride over. I told him about my idea of switching the narrative perspective of my novel, and he actually said he found the idea “brilliant.”

“How would you describe reality from the perspective of a single cell prokaryote?” he asked.

I wasn’t sure. I’d read that bacterial DNA floats free, which made me think that I might need to tell the story from the perspective of the twisted strand of DNA.

“It’s intelligence, isn’t it?” I asked. “Consciousness? And so couldn’t I somehow describe the processing of information from within the DNA?”

We fell into silence as we thought about it, walking off the ferry without a word, following the trail up to the lighthouse garden, sitting together silently as the shadows danced about us.

date07

“You could absolutely do it,” he said.

“But would anyone read a novel told from the point of view of a prokaryote’s DNA?”

“I would,” he said. “What’s the difference between, say, the DNA processing the information that propels the prokaryote to move its little flagella and your nervous system processing this?” He reached across and tickled me.

“Prokaryotes don’t scream!” I shrieked.

date09

“They might!” He jumped up after me and grabbed me in a hug again.

“I love you,” he said, only I didn’t hear it. Or if I did–if the words entered my ears, my auditory cortex could not process them. I was too busy enjoying the hug.

“Are your eyes closed again?” I asked.

“Of course,” he said.

date08

He stepped back and gazed my way.

“There’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a while,” he said. “Think I could?”

date10

I squeaked a tiny, “uh-huh,” and then his lips were on mine, and the world went dark and light and silent and roaring and my heart beat outside of me and my stomach flooded with warmth and sank into the earth and I know this description is not at all romantic and the moment was, but it was also so overwhelming and so catastrophic and so bursting with life and death and war and peace and the end of worlds and the birth of stars that at that exact moment I decided: Whatever the universe asked of me, I would do it. Just let me do it with him.

date11

And then, we opened our eyes.

“That was a really nice kiss!” I told him. I’d had, maybe, six kisses by that time in my life, from six different guys, eight, if you count Jimmy in kindergarten, who kissed me behind the big Sleeping Beauty picture book during reading time, and Carl, who kissed me in the hallway in fourth grade on a dare. “I guess you’ve had a lot of practice!” I said.

date12

“Actually, no!” he answered. “This was my first kiss! How’d I do?”

date13

“Really great!” I couldn’t believe it. “How’d you learn to do that thing with your tongue?”

“I just invented it,” he said. “Did you like it?”

date14

It was only the tongue-move-that-changed-the-course-of-my-life, inducting me into the secrets of creation, but I didn’t say anything. I had to remember to breathe.

Something strange happened next. It wasn’t the last time that it happened, but as the first, it pulled me into an otherworldly state.

Max closed his eyes, and I can only say that I felt him enter me entirely–that is, though there was a good twelve inches of physical distance between our bodies, our inside spaces merged. I was in him and he was in me and I had never, even during my most blissed-out moments, tasted such ecstasy. Being Max Culper felt awesome.

date15

He brought me back to myself gently.

“That was sweet,” he said. “You’re lovely, byu kiya.”

We went inside the lighthouse museum. I was looking for a place to sit where we could be alone, where I could start to connect what had been happening with who I was and with the rest of my life. I needed integration.

We found a small library upstairs.

“Hey, look!” Max said, looking over my shoulder. “There’s my pops!”

date16

I turned to see the man who’d been talking with Septemus in line at the romance festival.

“Pops, this is Mallory Kraft,” Max said, “my very special friend.”

I liked the sound of that.

“Hi, Mr. Culper,” I said. “It’s nice to meet you. I’ve got a huge crush on your son, by the way.”

date17

Max’s father smirked. “You’re kind of glowing, son,” he said. “You feeling it?”

Max simply laughed.

date18

“So, if she’s your very special friend,” his father said, “maybe you’ll bring her home to meet the rest of the family?”

“For sure, Pops,” Max said. “I’ve got a few things I need to disclose first, and then, you bet. If after that, Mallory agrees to the whole enchilada, we will absolutely come over.”

date19

He’s always been full of surprise and mystery, and he certainly was then. The surprise: that he was interested enough in me to have me meet his family. The mystery: that he could have something so significant to disclose that it might make me doubt choosing him.

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Lighthouse: All Pent Up

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My neighbor Khaled spotted me strolling along the waterfront.

“You always say no,” he said, “so I don’t even know why I bother to ask, but you want to join me for drink?”

This time, I did. I had so much sexual energy pent up inside me since I found out that Max wasn’t strictly gay, I didn’t know what to do with myself. My safety valve failed, and I careening into dangerous territory.

Maybe if I had another outlet, like Khaled, I could pull my feelings for Max back into the happily unrequited safety zone.

I’d known Khaled for a while. He was a regular at the Culpepper, so we saw each other almost daily. We were friendly. I knew he had a long string of girlfriends, so I felt secure that nothing serious would come from meeting him for drinks and whatever came after.

We went to the little bar near the docks.

“So, what’s been keeping you busy, sweet-pea?” he asked.

I told him about my novel.

“Woolly mammoths?” he asked.

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I detailed the challenges I was facing with the project. The main one: How do I express in words the perspective of a creature who is nonverbal?

“Are you telling me that your narrator is a woolly mammoth?” he asked.

“Well, not exactly the narrator, but I’m writing from limited third person, and the perspective is that of the woolly mammoth.”

“But didn’t they have people back then? Why not write from the perspective of a caveman? I’d read a caveman novel, especially if he had a hot cavewoman hunting at his side. Like a character based on the author. Strong. Athletic. Hot.

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I didn’t go into it then, I didn’t want to kill the mood, but I was thinking of switching up the narrative perspective. Only I wasn’t considering a human perspective; I was considering the perspective of anaerobic bacteria.

Somehow, after my recent experiences of “I am not…” and the ensuing sensations of connection, a bacterium’s perspective felt more accessible than a complex mammal facing genomic meltdown.

In my research, I’d stumbled upon the idea of bacteria cloning: Within a colony of what seemed to be multiple organisms might exist only one genetic individual. Each of the millions of bacteria within a single colony might represent a single genetic pattern–that is, until conjunction, when a newly introduced bacterium transfers its genetic material to another through direct contact. The idea thrilled me. What excited me even more was the notion that clones of some of the exact same bacteria that existed during the time of woolly mammoths might exist now, right alongside those which had, through the millennia developed into genetically distinct individuals.

I was, at the time, considering introducing a new thread to the novel which would explore this, extending the perspective into the modern day. The role of bacteria in the development of fossil fuels came into play in some way, too, but I wasn’t yet sure exactly how.

I thought of all this while Khaled chatted about the Paleo diet, waxing on about the advantages of meat-based diets, although he was, and had been all his life, a vegetarian.

People strolled in and out while Khaled compared the benefits of meat and vegetable proteins. I looked up when he asked me how I liked eggplant prepared–roasted or grilled–and that’s when I saw him.

“Look!” I whispered. “At that table! No! Don’t look! Is that him? I think that’s the author of a blog I follow over there.”

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He looked. “You mean Septemus? He’s an old friend of mine. You want me to introduce you?”

“No!” I said. I felt flushed. “Go on,” I said. “You were telling me about grilling eggplant.”

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“What are you doing tonight?” Khaled asked as we paid our tab and headed out into the street.

I told him I was thinking of riding the ferry across to San Myshuno. I’d read they were having a romance festival. I thought maybe he’d take the hint and ask if he could come, too.

When he didn’t, I still held out hope that maybe he would surprise me and show up. I was still looking for a way to release some of this pent up energy.

While I waited in line at the festival gates, I heard a high, echoing, flute-like voice. I turned to see who spoke like that. Septemus stood behind me, talking to a man I’d seen a few times in the Culpepper.

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I felt a moment of doubt. It couldn’t be him, here in San Myshuno, could it?

I checked his blog on my smart phone, looking at his author photo, for confirmation. Yes. it was definitely him.

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I ducked into the karaoke bar, flushed and excited. Maybe Khaled was here. He wasn’t. I checked out the vendor booths. No Khaled. I browsed the canvases of artists painting beneath the stars in the rose garden. I was showered with petals, I sipped sakura tea, I flirted with strangers, and all along, I kept half an eye out for Khaled, who never showed.

Shortly before the last ferry was scheduled to depart, I decided the best I could do was a last-ditch effort to ask the Love Guru to tell my romantic future.

I waited in line. Septemus was talking with her. He turned and broke into a wide smile when he saw me.

“Byu Kiya!” he said. “Badastaliyu.” He took my hands in his and kissed them, and all the while, the Love Guru looked on and chuckled.

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I felt flustered, overcome.

“I need to catch the ferry!” I blurted out, when he released my hands, and off I ran, out the plaza, down the alleys, all the way to the dock where the last ferry blew its horn as it pulled up to let on the passengers, eager to return home. Septemus Sevens had kissed my hands.

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Lighthouse: The Second Flat Upstairs

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In the next few weeks, I discovered I could return to that quiet connected state whenever I wanted, simply by remembering. Paying attention to what I was doing, doing it as well as I possibly could, that helped, too, bringing in an aspect of internal silence like I experienced that moment down by the seashore when I was nothing and everything.

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I continued reading 77 Truths. I aimed to stay with each one until it became tangible within me, though I admit, some had to germinate inside for decades.

The second truth: I am not my thoughts. That one was easy for me. No graduate from University of Windenburg College of Liberal Arts and Cultural Studies escaped with their thoughts intact: we’d all been deconstructed and reconstructed so many times in our search for the foundations of cultural constructs of gender and identity that we were lucky to ever find any thought we might latch onto and call our own, reflective of our true selves. In those days, especially, when I relished the feeling of stopping my thoughts at every opportunity, and, in doing so, found that I felt more and more alive, it was easy to accept that truth.

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The third truth posed deeper challenges: I am not my feelings or emotions. I’d always found something within me that I clung to when I felt lost or sad or lonely. It was a feeling of home, but not one that came from my actual home, one that I simply recognized as me. It consisted of one part love, one part joy, one part mirth, and two parts melancholy. Decades later, as my hormonal balance shifted with perimenopause, I lost touch with that feeling for close to seven years, until finally, coming out the other side, there it was, waiting for me, like the open door to Grandma’s kitchen when the aroma of oatmeal cookies rushes out in welcome. By then, I’d embodied this truth, and that helped the panic to lessen. By then, I’d learned to be curious about what was there when the glass of my familiar emotional cocktail sat empty. At any rate, that was decades later, and during those early weeks, I simply wondered, “If I am not these emotions that give me my sense of me, then what is me?”

The fourth truth presented an even more difficult riddle: I am not my conditioning. Everything I had learned in college was that, yes, I was my conditioning–as each of us were. Gender, politics, bias, musical preferences, prejudices, beliefs, as well as a significant proportion of personality, and nearly all social identity, derived from familial, social, cultural, and educational conditioning. Strip away that, and what is left? I couldn’t even begin to fathom.

Still, I found myself increasingly intrigued by the blog. Clicking around on the various tabs, I stumbled upon the author’s personal blog, Looking for Love. I laughed at the title–what purpose did an extraterrestrial have for love? Weren’t they all emotionless super-brains, like Mr. Spock?

I read several posts. The writing was sweet, sentimental, and endearing. One post, dated a few years back, reflected on the joys of little things, focusing on his baby brother and the brother’s new puppy. It was surprisingly ordinary and startlingly human.

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I began to realize that maybe I’d been wrong to think that someone not-from-this-planet would not be able to relate to me and the specific challenges I faced as a human. I began to realize that this might be the very person who could help me understand how I could be more fully human. That night, I became a fangirl of Septemus Sevens.

Throughout those weeks, my friendship with Max continued to grow closer. He was always there during my shifts, visiting with me, hanging out with the regulars, befriending Mojo, the neighborhood stray.

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Mojo adored him from the start, and when I watched them together, I could see why. I tried not to feel jealous.

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Max often leaned on the counter while I was filling orders, especially if it was one of those times when I was in the zone, watching me.

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“It’s a joy to watch you at work, byu,” he told me.

“Even when I’m like this?” I asked, giving him my biggest, meanest, toughest scowl. He cracked up, and his laughter made a good day better.

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One evening when I was hanging out there during my off hours, he told me he wanted to show me the flat upstairs, not the one he lived in, but the other one.

“Any day now,” he said, “people might be coming to stay here for a while, and if they come when I’m not around, I might need you to help them get settled in. Can you do that?”

“Sure,” I said. “How will I know who they are?”

“If they say they’ve just come from the cookie store,” he said, “then that’s them.”

The exposed brick walls and simple furnishings lent a cozy feel to the place, bringing back memories of college apartments.

He asked me to make myself at home, and maybe find something we could watch on TV, while he went next door to his flat to check his voice mail. I was flipping through the channels, and when he returned, I’d stopped on a sci-fi movie I remembered from childhood.

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“What on earth is this?” he asked.

I’d been feeling remorseful about the insensitive comments I’d made about extraterrestrials during our conversation a few weeks before and watching the film with him didn’t help.

“Quick! U-bot! Protect us before they freeze us all with death rays!” screamed the actors.

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“This is like every bad stereotype ever made against extraterrestrials,” Max observed.

“I know!” I exclaimed. “This is what I grew up with! Is it any wonder?”

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“Is what any wonder?” he asked.

I turned off the film.

“Is it any wonder that I’m so insensitive and prejudiced?” I asked quietly. He scooted closer and looked at me with half-closed eyes, the way he does when he’s really listening. I told him about my dad and his conspiracy theories. I told him about my mom, who wouldn’t let me go to certain parts of the city, “because they might be there, and you don’t want to mix with them.” I told him about how I always thought that I was open-minded, generous, and nonjudgmental, but that, recently, I’d discovered that prejudices loomed behind nearly every thought, waiting to pounce.

“Did you get to the fourth truth yet?” he asked. “That is, if you’re still reading that blog.”

I told him I had. “But I think I am my conditioning. All these judgments I have–and they don’t even come from me but they’re so tightly wound up inside of me that they’ve become me! I don’t know what to do, how to free myself.”

He smiled. “I’ve been watching and listening, byu. You’re doing a great job!”

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“Really?” I wasn’t sure. I went on to tell him that I’d found the author’s personal blog, Looking for Love, and that it was helping me to see common ground between us and extraterrestrials.

“Did you know that the author is gay?” I asked.

“Pan,” Max answered.

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Pan? I’d thought he was gay. I had a roommate in college who was a panromantic asexual. Every day, he fell in love in an “Aimless Love” sort of way. It made living with him an adventure.

“Panromantic or pansexual?” I asked.

“I’m both,” Max answered, shifting the focus to himself.

“I’m straight,” I replied, needlessly.

“I know,” he said.

“Cishet.”

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I reflected on the tall ladder of privilege I stood on: cishet, white, upper-middle-class background, educated.

Max looked at me with his earnest gaze. “You’re doing just fine, Mallory,” he said. “Don’t be hard on yourself. You’re my sunshine.”

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I took a long walk that evening along the beach. I felt so much. As I walked, I began to notice how I was not these feelings. These feelings stirred within me, threatening to overwhelm me, but I wasn’t these emotions. I wasn’t the guilt, I wasn’t the remorse, I wasn’t this strange giddiness that rose up every time I thought of Max’s gaze, every time I remembered his voice. I wasn’t my privilege. I wasn’t the prejudiced thoughts that battered me whenever the voice of my father spoke inside of me. I wasn’t the lies that movies told me.

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Maybe, I was the girl that looked at the photo of a little extraterrestrial boy holding a puppy and felt, inside of me, the opening of my heart.

Maybe I was the fangirl who was falling in love with the words of someone not-from-this-planet who happened to be able to see into mysteries that somehow beckoned me.

Maybe I was what it was that was seeing this, feeling this, thinking this, experiencing this–and then, it all fled, and I fell into that silence again, where no thoughts tread.

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As I walked back up the trail, a light shone from the window in the house on the bluff.

Someone sat at a computer desk.

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I recognized him from a photo on his personal blog. It was Septemus Sevens, this was where he lived, and my fangirl heart raced.

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Lighthouse: The First Truth

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Within a few weeks, Max and I fell into the type of close friendship that happens between two very different people who find themselves gliding on very similar currents.

At the beginning of each shift, he greeted me with a hug and a friendly word.

“This is how I make a good day great,” he’d say, or something just as sweet.

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I tried not to let on how that how much I savored these moment, though I’m sure, every now and then, he heard my unrestrainable sigh.

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I started hanging out at the Culpepper during my off hours. It felt good to be around someone who always acted happy to see me, and I came to crave being listened to the way only Max can listen.

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I’d been telling him about my novel. Writing it led me into dark places. “When tundra becomes forest, it spells doom,” I said. “We think of forests as vibrant places, full of songbirds and cute little mammals. But what of all the individuals that were displaced? Where do they go? What happens to the species? It’s genomic meltdown.”

I shared with him my theory that all the previous climate changes had laid the foundation for this one–I meant this literally. For what drove this current climate change? The burning of fossil fuels. And what created the vast deposits of petroleum? The mass extinctions of past climate change.

He didn’t laugh. He called my theory genius.

When he saw how mournful I became talking about this, he told me he had something he wanted me to read.

“I think you’ll find it useful,” he said, “and at the very least, it will make me happy if you read it.”

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He wrote down the URL: 77truths.wordpress.com.

I looked it up that evening.

The first truth:

I am not my body.

My body forms a container for me. It helps to establish the context of my experience. When cared for, it can provide a good home.

But my body is not me.

I wasn’t sure I agreed. I had always held that everything I am, everything I feel, results from my corporal existence. I have sensations: from the nerves in my body. I can act: when my body does what I ask. I think: because my brain, which is part of my body, fires specific synapses. I am happy, sad, attracted, pleased, upset, angry, embarrassed, anxious, nervous, worried, joyful, blissed out: because specific hormones and brain chemistry flood my body. Even consciousness, my dad had taught me, can be reduced to a function of the brain in my body.

When my body ceases to exist, I cease to exist.

That’s what I believed then.

Still, if Max felt that this was important enough to share with me, I would continue to consider it. I could keep the foundation of my own experience firm and solid while still considering this perspective. Just because I considered something didn’t mean I had to believe it.

If I were going to consider this, I’d better know who wrote it. I clicked the “About” tab and scrolled down to find the author’s name and photo: Septemus Sevens. An alien.

What could an alien know about what it means to be a human on this planet?

I confronted Max about it when I saw him the next day.

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“Hey, I checked out that website,” I said. “It’s written by an alien.”

“And that makes a difference how?” he asked.

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Did it make a difference? My father was a bigoted man, and he’d raised me. His current prejudiced ire landed smack on the aliens. We hadn’t had any in our neighborhood, but everyday, in the years when I lived at home, he’d pull out some newspaper article talking about some wild conspiracy theory that featured aliens as the culprits.

I let my dad’s prejudice roll right off me. It was obvious, and so it was easy to avoid. My mother’s bigotry was harder to evade. She would make subtle comments, and it was only later–even years and decades later–that I finally unpacked them and set them aside.

At the time of this conversation, I hadn’t even begun to explore the layers of sediment that my familial and societal conditioning had deposited within me.

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I’d decided early in my friendship with Max that I’d share my opinions freely. I didn’t want a conversational censor operating when we talked.

“OK,” I began. “One: the author is not from around here, not even remotely. Two: how does he even know what our bodies are like? He’s probably got like three lungs or something, and totally different hormones and synapses and all that. Three: just–if I’m going to take spiritual advice from somebody, I’m going to take it from somebody who knows what it’s like to be a person on this planet, with all our struggles and challenges. I’m not taking it from some blue alien.”

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“The preferred term is extraterrestrial,” Max said.

“OK, then! From some extraterrestrial.”

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“But what did you think of the words,” he asked softly, “before you knew who wrote them? Did you even consider them?”

I had to answer truthfully. “I’m still in the process of considering them,” I replied. “They go against everything I’ve studied, everything I’ve learned, and even all of my personal experiences. For example, if I didn’t have a body, how could I be here talking with you now?”

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He chuckled. “It doesn’t say, ‘My body isn’t valuable.’ Or ‘my body doesn’t make it possible for me to have a physical existence.’ It just says, ‘I am not my body.’ If I’m not my body–just consider it–then who am I?”

Just consider it. I felt remorseful for having used a term he didn’t like, and then for have dismissed the author outright, when Max was so sincere.

“OK,” I said. “I have been considering it, and I’ll continue to consider it. I’ll take all afternoon to consider it. How does that sound?”

He laughed. “All afternoon sounds ample to process a truth that probably took six months to formulate and sixteen years to germinate!”

At least he was laughing.

“No hard feelings?” I asked.

“None!” he replied. “Of course not!”

“Good!” I shouted. “I wouldn’t want some blue alie–extraterrestrial to come between us!”

He chuckled. “I don’t think that will happen!”

I started clowning. “Beep! Boop! I’m from Planet Tricksidome! Take me to your nearest coffee shop!”

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I decided to spend the afternoon walking. I’ve always done my best considering when walking under the sun.

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I followed Mojo, a stray that had befriended Max, towards the path that circled the pond.

If Mojo is not his body, then what is he?

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When Mojo’s body is gone, where will he be?

What of the calico cat? What of the man in the blue plaid? What of my coworker Anya?

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What of the woolly mammoths? Their bodies never actually stopped being. They simply transformed into and through bacteria, becoming broken down into soil, plants, trees. Nothing ever ends.

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I followed the low path along the cattails and took in the swamp smells.

What makes this scent? The sulfur and methane produced by the anaerobic bacteria that breakdown dead matter. This is the smell of bodies, plant and animal, transforming.

I’d always thought of it as the smell of death, but maybe it was also the smell of life.

I am not my body.

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Then what am I? And what will I become? The smell of sulfur? The continual process of breaking down, transforming, becoming something else?

I walked in silence along the creek towards the sea. Around one curve, I passed the carcass of a calf, half-eaten by wild coyote-dogs.

The calf isn’t his body: he is, by now, the bodies of the members of a pack of canines.

But there is something more.

What fuels transformation?

What is it that is behind this continuing cycle of change? What creates the movement?

Light sparkled through the grasses–not the sunlight, but something else, some other light that shone through each blade of grass.

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I sat on a log at the edge of the beach and listened to the waves. I looked towards the lighthouse.

I am not this cloud. I am not this flower. I am not these blades of grass, this spark of sunlight, this shine of wave, these shimmering birch trees. I am not the flock of sandpipers crossing the sands. I am not my body. I am everything.

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I didn’t have an answer, but in the not-having-an-answer, my mind became still as I sat on the log and the waves rolled, after, after, one and the other, and none of us were anything in that particular moment.

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Lighthouse: At the End of the World

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Max Culper ran the Culpepper Café, otherwise known as “The Café at the End of the World.” The name held no special distinction, for every place in this town, even the town itself, was referred to as being “at the end of the world.”

It felt like the end of the world here, partly because it sat on the coast, so, literally, at the edge of the continent.

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And partly because the borders not surrounded by sea were surrounded by pastures, which fell into forests,  which ran up to mountains, and so, tucked into this tiny town, we felt cut off from everything, everywhere, and everyone else.

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Mostly we felt we perched at the end of the world because, quite simply, most of the county would be underwater when the climate-change lottery rolled our number. The town stood a few feet, at most, above sea level, waiting like a culvert to be flooded by the predicted ten-to-fifteen foot rise in sea level that could happen anytime in the next one to five decades. Once Pine Island Glacier melted, the café, the town square, and the miles of boardwalk would be frequented by fish. Only the lighthouse would remain, shining its beam across the wide sea.

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This last-chance feel to the region attracted me. Once the insurance companies cancelled flood-hazard coverage to most of the property in the county, established families moved out and folks like me moved in. We trucked in a Bohemian jive to this isolated burg that, when I arrived, boasted more cats and dogs than people.

The exodus of regular-types also made it easy for me to get a job at the café.

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The position suited me fine. Fresh out of college, I was in no hurry to start a typical career. I had a novel I had to write. And if that took off, then maybe I’d never have to get the style of job my parents wanted for me, the kind where I had to wear a suit, stride in sensible shoes, and carry a briefcase. I liked my café apron and Che Guevara cap better.

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My schedule afforded long uninterrupted stretches for writing, and even during my shifts, while a wrinkle in my frontal lobe calculated the details of filling orders, the plot-lines of my novel freely grazed the vast plains of my parietal lobe. It was an intricate and highly problematic story, which had to do with woolly mammoths and the end of the ice age. Climate change and global extinctions fascinated me, and what better way to find the resilience needed to face head-on the looming catastrophes of the present than by spinning tales about the disasters of the past?

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For a writer, working at a café also delivered plenty of time for people-watching and plenty of quirky people to watch. We attracted an eclectic, offbeat group of regulars. Most of them lived in other towns, but thanks to low lodging rates, this was a favorite getaway destination.

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Of course, better than all those perks was working for Max.

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I correctly predicted the moment I met him that I’d fall for him. He was my type: mop-top hair; lean, graceful build; bedroom eyes; pouty lips; and so, so gay.

lighthouse118

It wasn’t just the mannerisms–I’d learned to watch the gaze. His never fell on me.

lighthouse114

Since high school, I’d made a practice of falling for gay guys. It was easier, frankly. Unrequited, I could enjoy the excitement of butterflies and giggles without ever venturing into the marshlands of reciprocity.

Max and I became instant friends, and what did it matter if one of us happened to get a rush off the other? I wasn’t using him. Or, OK, maybe I was. But I kept my habit to myself, so no harm done. At least, that’s how I rationalized it. To make up for it, I was the best employee I could be.

lighthouse103

Max lived above the café. I lived in the neighborhood, and most nights, my evening walk took me past the Culpepper Café. I used to stand at the edge of the plaza, looking up at the windows, trying to guess what rooms lay behind which and hoping for a glimpse of my employer standing before any.

lighthouse113

I tried to time my arrival to work to get there when he was returning from his early morning walk. I liked to watch him enter the building.

lighthouse120

If I was lucky, he’d stop to talk before heading back to the office nook. But even if he didn’t, if I craned my neck, I could catch him concentrating at the computer.

lighthouse116

I had no idea back then what made his brow furrow. I thought it was the stack of bills on his desk, the rising cost of coffee beans as more and more fair trade coffee farms succumbed to slash-and-burn economies, or the reliance on child labor in the chocolate industry.

lighthouse115

I wanted, even back in those early days, to get to know him well enough that he might confide his worries to me.

My coworker Anya knew him well. “Since he was a little tot,” she said. I pressed her for information, but she revealed nothing.

“There’s a reason he trusts me enough to let me work here,” she said, “and loose lips aren’t why.”

lighthouse117

When my shift was slow, I’d sometimes watch him glide through the café with his ballet-dancer’s long strides. As he approached my station, I’d think through a dozen things I might say to build trust between us. I could be a good confidant.

But in the end, every time, when I saw his enigmatic grin, words would flee and I’d smile dumbly back.

lighthouse106

After all, a good mystery was the best incentive of all to staying motivated at this job, and back then, keeping that job had become paramount to me.

Next >>

Author’s note: This is the first chapter of Lighthouse, the sequel to Septemus, My Son.

Septemus: Payato in’i Naatoui

wind01

wind, spirit, air
we fly without care

Shésti, situ, situki,
Baska xiipayukī.

Do you remember
where we came from?

wind03

wind, spirit, sea
we’re sailing free

Shésti, situ, vantni
xiipayukī doxni

Do you remember,
were we free?

wind04

wind, spirit, earth
dance after mirth

Shésti, situ, skouki
siisii situjipakī

Do you remember
where we came from?

wind02

wind, spirit, fire
rebels never tire

Shésti, situ, xirrakiya
doxnijoto yo yoxirra

Would you go back there,
back without me?

wind05

The Song for the 144

Gratefully dedicated to the collab team. O, squeegee!

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Septemus 77

last08

Dear Sept,

Tomorrow I’ll give you the box that contains all the letters I’ve written, including this one. I’ve been reading through them. Bittersweet.

Yesterday was your last day of school, and Monday morning, we’ll head to the agency office in Willow Springs to register you. You’ll be a “registered alien,” with all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities that entails. Our involvement in the program will be over. Believe me, I’ve got Geoffrey’s number on speed-dial, as well as the offices of our senator and local representatives, just in case we need them. I’m none-too-happy about this “registering” bit.

It felt odd looking at the first letter I wrote. I remember sitting at the kitchen table while you were sleeping, and I wanted to explain so much. I wanted to form some sort of connection between you and me, and I didn’t know how to go about it. All I could think of was to write, so that you wouldn’t have questions when you grew up.

I was such a solitary, lonely guy.

sept114

I didn’t have anybody. But then, neither did you. You were so tiny, I could have fit you in a tea-cup.

sept112

It took us a while to have each other.

There were days when I wondered if I’d ever understand you–if you’d ever understand me. Little did I know you understood me from the get-go!

Ah, this house is going to feel empty when you eventually move out on your own, son. I know that day is coming soon.

last07

You used to wake so angry! Do you remember that? That crooked frown of yours, those gangster eyes.

sept113

I never really considered you to be a child. You were never like Octy, speaking baby talk, seeking comfort and cuddles.

last06

You were speaking in complete sentences, in Vingihoplo and our shared tongue, and you had an opinion on everything.

Sometimes, when I look at you now, I see that same little man you used to be.

last05

You’ve got the same grin.

sept121

But then you start talking, explaining some esoteric insight you’ve gained, and I am overcome with your eloquence. You’re graceful, son, in gesture, word, and action.

last04

You used to feel so lonely.

I was helpless. I knew you were grieving for Situ, though I didn’t know her name then, nor even who she was nor her role in caring for you. I thought she was your mom.

You missed your pagotogo.

Even as a tiny thing, you’d taken it on yourself to be responsible for them. You wouldn’t rest, or let me rest, until we’d found them.

sept201

I read the letter where I wrote, “You won’t have to grow up a solitary kid, like I did, Sept. Not if I can help it.”

I guess you didn’t grow up solitary. These past few weeks, with all your gotogo visiting, we have been smack in the middle of family. You’ve never been happier.

last03

There was one night–you went out and looked at the stars. I think that might have been one of the first times I heard you singing to them. You slept out on the porch that night, Sept.

That was the first time it really sunk in to me how far you’d traveled to get here.

sept367

I remember the day I found the bizoopagoto forum. Did you know that Elliot, Emmanuel’s mom, was my first forum friend?

It was your first day of school. I had to bite my tongue not to blurt out the news. But after you told me all about your teacher, Ms. Care-a-lot Sweets, I told you we’d found them.

That was the biggest best smile I’d ever seen.

sept610

Since then, your smiles have become a daily thing.

That was all you’d been waiting for, wasn’t it?

last02

Son, do you remember all the hours we danced?

We danced while we waited to find your kin.

We danced when we didn’t know what else to do.

Many times, we simply danced to dance.

sept211

Septemus, my son, you’ve taught me to dance through life.

We dance with Octy now.

Soon your dance will lead you away, out into the world, and Octy and I will dance together, waiting on your return.

It’ll be different, but you’ll always be my son.

last01

Thank you for giving me family, for teaching me love, and for showing me something better to aspire to be.

Forever,

Your pops

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