Tuesday, August 11, 2009

FFC August: Light

As her thoughts slowly gathered, she felt an undefined panic rising. She tried to move but couldn’t. She tried to see but was surrounded by impenetrable darkness. She listened and the sounds were muffled and indistinguishable, and very far away. That was when the memories started slowly emerging…

Kate had been through possibly the worst week on the job in all the years that she’d been employed by the city. She was exhausted after dealing with people who put more effort into milking the system rather than legitimately earning a living. And she had NO respect for the women who continued to have baby after baby when they couldn’t afford to feed themselves. Escape was what she needed. Escape from dealing with other people’s irresponsibility… escape from dealing with unreasonable expectations… escape from humanity.

Telling her friends only that she’d be completely disengaged for the weekend, she headed for the family cabin. She knew her family’s typical schedule and hoped the cabin would be empty. She was in luck – nobody was there and even the air carried the fragrance of peacefulness. Breathing deeply, she smiled and threw her bag on the couch near the fireplace. Kate spent the next hour going through the prep steps learned from countless family retreats. She soaked in the silence like a soothing balm. The physical labor of bringing in firewood felt good and cleared her head. Everything about being there felt right.

One of her dad’s “rules” was that, whenever anyone visited the cabin, they were to sign in and make note of anything memorable from their stay. Kate grabbed the book to sign in and started reading back through previous entries. She was transported back to simpler days when she had the whole summer free from responsibility. She thought wistfully to herself that growing up wasn’t quite what she’d expected it to be.

Her reverie was interrupted when she heard – or felt – something change. Not sure of what she detected, she barely breathed as she focused more intently. The rumble grew under her feet and in her ears. Before she could even move to the window to see what was happening, the cabin came crashing down around her.

She wasn’t sure how long she’d lain under the debris before she regained consciousness. It had been early evening when she picked up the family log but she’d lost track of time reminiscing. Kate tried again to move and felt pain but couldn’t pinpoint where it was coming from. She mentally moved from her right shoulder to her elbow to her hand. In it, she believed she still held the family log she’d been reading when it happened… whatever “it” was. She released the book and moved her fingers to make sure she still could. She felt around and slowly maneuvered her hand up to her face. She was relieved to find no gashes or obvious injuries there. She did the same with her left arm, finding it twisted behind her. She moved her fingers and worked her arm out from behind her, back to a more normal position, wincing in pain as it was released from its unnatural contortions. She hoped she hadn’t dislocated her shoulder. She rested briefly and focused on listening. There were sounds of life coming from somewhere and she realized that the Ranger must be assessing the cabins for damage. Her first thought was that she’d be rescued but she quickly recalled that, distracted by her venture down memory lane, she’d neglected to let the Ranger know she was on the property. She redoubled her efforts to work herself free.

Kate searched for just a fragment of light that might give her direction but there was only darkness. She was able to move a few bits of debris around to create somewhat of a pocket for herself. She shifted into an almost-sitting position and determined that, aside from a few probable bruises, she was otherwise uninjured. Again, she tried to detect light coming from somewhere, anywhere, but there was nothing. She held her breath for a moment to listen for sounds of somebody searching. She hollered out and waited but couldn’t tell if there’d been any change in the noises outside. She moved a few more pieces of debris and discovered that only part of the cabin had collapsed, and part was miraculously still standing. She made her way over to where she knew the side door to be and pulled on it. The door resisted opening but eventually gave way, creaking in protest.

As she stepped outside, the moonlight was like a long lost friend. Within the darkness of the surrounding trees, the light from bobbing flashlights looked like beacons. Breathing a huge sigh of relief, she called out to her rescuers and started making her way toward those beautiful lights.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

FFC May: Eyes

Foggy memories of her mom’s face were about all that was left, and she clung desperately to those images. Her vision now came to her through her fingertips. Jessie was almost certain she’d recognize blue if she had the chance. She had a vague memory of it being her favorite color but the years had robbed her of the details.

Now, as she sat in the doctor’s office, she struggled to comprehend the fullness of what he was saying. Somebody else’s eyes could restore her sight. Her heart leapt and sank at the same time with the realization that the release from her prison of darkness could only be granted through another person’s loss… another family’s incredible grief. How could she want that?

“Jessie?” She felt her mom’s gentle touch on her arm as she spoke. She could hear the controlled hope in her mother’s voice as she asked, “Jessie, do you know what this means?”

“Yes, mom, I know. I have to hope somebody dies. I have to hope that somebody else’s family suffers just so I can make sure my shoes match without needing help.” She wasn’t prepared for the torrent of emotions that followed. Hope, fear and shame mingled together in her tears. She hoped somebody could free her from her darkness. She feared it wouldn’t happen, and the shame came from knowing her gain depended on somebody else’s death.

Dr. Jason’s voice pushed through Jessie’s emotional maelstrom and she allowed it to be her lifeline for a moment. “Jessie, you only get to hope that you’re a match for someone who’s already chosen to be a donor. In my experience, grieving families are actually comforted knowing that, even though their loved one is no longer with them, they’ve given new life to others.” He paused for a moment before adding, “Death doesn’t get the last word.”

Jessie sighed and suddenly felt very tired. “I… I don’t know, Dr. Jason. How can I even think about being happy when I know somebody else will be so sad?”

“I know it’s a lot to think about, so go on home and do that. Just think about it. All we’re doing at this point is getting your name on the list. And the most important thing to understand is that you’re not hoping to capitalize on another’s tragedy. You’re hoping to be the one who sees to it that another’s gift doesn’t go to waste.”

She barely nodded and reached for her mom. Her mom took her hand and told the doctor they’d be in touch. The walk to the car was bathed in silence. Jessie’s mind reeled with the thoughts of how her life could be changed. The only image she had left was her mom’s face and it was becoming more and more hazy as time marched on. They got to the car and as Jessie put her hand out to orient herself, she wondered if she’d recognize a car if she truly saw one. She smiled a little as she thought of the story of the blind men describing an elephant. She’d like to see a real elephant… In fact, there are a lot of animals that are just beyond imagining. More than anything else, though, she wanted to see her mom’s face again. The way he put it about not letting somebody’s gift go to waste made sense. She could be okay with that.


“Yes, baby?”

“Can you call Dr. Jason and tell him to put me on the list?”

Saturday, April 11, 2009

FFC: April Fool

“Day after day… alone on a hill… the man with foolish grin is keeping perfectly still…”

As he sat on the hillside, he hummed, picturing himself the subject of someone else’s lyrics. He vowed that this would be the last time he claimed the song as his own. This wasn’t where his life was meant to take him but he’d decided to make the best of it, however he chose to define what that best could be. He’d had much grander dreams for himself, but there were always unseen forces working against him. Life, it seems, didn’t intend to cause him harm, but something far worse… to render him insignificant.

He’d first heard the song playing at a party he wasn’t quite invited to attend. It was an oversight, of course, but he’d never walk across the street and risk having to face the potential of his conclusion being wrong. So he sat, ironically enough, on this very hillside watching the people and listening to the music as it wafted his way. He didn’t aspire to be the fool on the hill, but the lyrics searched for him and attached themselves to him. So he sat there absorbing them, allowing them to permeate the depths of his soul until he realized that he’d always been the one they described.

Looking back on his life, he seemed forever in the shadow of those around him. His brother was the all-star quarterback, his sister was a walking example of a variety of unpronounceable psychoses, and he was... well, he just wasn’t very remarkable. After awhile, he’d grown accustomed to his relative invisibility. He pondered what it meant to be the fool in everybody else’s eyes, if not his own. He saw the details they were too busy to notice. He felt the undercurrents they didn’t recognize. In his younger days, he tried to tell them and show them what they were missing. He couldn’t tell whether he was ignored or merely unnoticed, but he began to understand that his words fell short of being important to anyone but him.

It was then that he decided to challenge his apparent destiny and refuse to accept the insignificance that fate had foisted upon him. He began listening more intently, observing more acutely, and planning more specifically. In the waning light of the cool autumn day, he walked the path that had become so familiar, to the hill where he’d first heard his song. The party had long ago ended without anyone ever noticing him. As he crossed the distance that he couldn't before, the leaves crunching beneath his feet made the only music now. He made the pretense of pulling out an unopened pack of cigarettes even as he knew he had no intention of starting such a foolish habit. He lit a match, allowed them all to catch, and dropped the flame into the dry leaves. He felt a surge of power as he walked back toward the path and decided, perhaps, it was time for a new song to sing.