The gusts of autumn had already denuded the tall and stately aspen. They cast rows of shadows across the road. The pattern interrupted the sunlight on his face as he sped toward home; the stroboscopic effect mesmerized him. He ceased being aware of driving, he grew immersed in a trance that harkened him back to his childhood. Back to the time he held his old dog for hours until his father got home, ate dinner, and took her to the vet for the last time. To the time he lost his only friend and confidant. To the time when his loneliness knew no bounds.
His recent loss triggered that vision, that overwhelming sensation of pain and dread. He found reasons to live when he was eleven years old. He knew he’d probably find more now. He knew his present situation was not as profoundly devastating. But he also knew that even the shallowest of deepest pains can feel bottomless.
Medication ultimately controlled the epileptic seizures he suffered as a child. He remained cautious of recurring attacks. They frightened and embarrassed him in equal measure. Erratic flashes on television screens and fast-cut video clips still forced him to quickly turn away before triggering a seizure. He had never before driven home by this route, this time of year, this time of day. The seemingly innocuous shadows caught him by surprise and absconded with his free will.
As he drove further into the shadowed road, toward the sharp bend a mile away, his thoughts turned from petting his old friend to sifting sand through his fingers. He still spent late afternoons feeling the grains escape his grasp while gazing into the surf. It brought him peace. It brought him solace in his insignificance. As a child it passed the time. As an adult it reminded him of the folly of his ambitions, the same ambitions that financed his annual escapes to the sand and sea. He always returned home with a small stash of sand tucked away in his luggage, safely stored in one of his medicine bottles.
The stripes of light painted his face a vacant stare. He felt the flashes. He felt the darkness, the familiar darkness, the darkness of dusk. It felt of the luminous darkness of so many warm summer evenings, punctuated with fireflies, at the mouth of a well-concealed cave near campus. It felt of the descending nightfalls spent eating a sandwich, awaiting the awakening and takeoff of squadrons of bats.
His mind took charge of his thoughts. And it wished to reminisce. From visions of zig-zagging bats to the pangs of loneliness that birthed resentment and rage.
The rays of sunlight momentarily blinded him, he squinted to see the road. His mind’s eye saw the solar eclipse watched through the eyes of a six-year-old, through the black-painted glass. His fear of blindness paled against his insatiable curiosity about how the universe operated. No one answered his questions. Perhaps, this event would lead him on his path. He squinted to see.
His imagination saw her in the blinding light. Just a silhouette, defined by brightness, just enough to recognize her. But it was her scent that he remembered best. Not the perfume, not the toothpaste, not the skin lotion, not the hair conditioner. But her skin, her breath, her fingers, her hair, long after the artificial scents had dissipated. Not in daylight either, but in the dark of night, in the beams of moonlight that illuminated his greatest dreams of love.
When they met, he administered her a test of curiosity. He shared snippets of his feelings. She passed and raised the ante. They spoke with the confidence of long-time friends. They recognized themselves in each other. They understood. He trusted. This understanding bridged their diverging paths, paths they denied yet followed, paths defined by duty and dreams. He needed to care for his ailing father. She needed to choose between competing dreams. Reality took leave when they surrendered in each others’ embrace.
The streaks of light commanded him to address the questions he always dodged with more questions. But the light refused to fall prey to his avoidance, to his reluctance to test the depths of his doubts and the expanse of his denial. He began wondering why his luck betrayed him so often, why the fates turned their gaze from him, why were others, and not he, able to count his blessings. Shadow after shadow demanded to know. Each following one felt to prod harder and farther. They appeared in quicker succession. When did he lose his good fortune, he questioned. The steady shafts of darkness defeated his ploy. No questions they insisted, you never lost your good fortune they reminded.
They sparked an epiphany; they illuminated the key - his supposition of lost grace, his undeserved self-doubt. The spark grew more intense. He remembered.He never lost his grace, his confidence, his sense of self. He was told he had lost it. And like all obedient children seeking the approval of their elders, he believed what he did not know.
The right front wheel drifted into the cinders by the side of the road. He corrected his steering. He over-corrected. He neared the bend.
A specific instance took form in his memory. The voice was clear, the face was like so many others. The voice repeated its message of doubt and defeat. It resonated, louder and louder, in concert with the shadows growing larger and larger as he passed the older section of the wood.
The questions did not cease with that answer, rather they appeared as if written on leaves swirling in the wind. Yet the leaves of this journey were long gone, having long since disintegrated, becoming part of the soil that would nourish the trees come springtime.
The flashing oncoming headlights both startled and confused him.