Deep River

Posted in Fiction on November 8, 2007 by Michael George Daniel

Chapter 1 Fire

Sharp needles of smoke stung my face as my mind gripped the last tendrils of a melting dreamscape. I sat bolt upright in the soft bed. The odor was strong, but close enough to the reminiscent smell of a woodstove for me to believe that it was not coming from the apartment. No, it seemed to be coming from outside. There was a distant shout. The last remnants of the dream were still swirling in my head; it was hard to latch on to reality in the darkness.

Then another shout. Someone sounded alarmed. It propelled me out of bed. I switched on the nearby table lamp, but nothing happened. Now a faint orange glow was perceptible over the wall and floor of the room. I groped for some clothes and staggered toward the door, pulling on pants and a sweater. Knowing it was cold outside, I found a pair of heavy socks near my boots. The door stuck more than usual as I yanked on it, and tumbled outside onto the tiny landing overlooking the sidewalk a story below. It was clear there was more activity out here than I had realized. People were running and shouting in fear and excitement. The street was lit with a funny bright light different from the normal streetlights. It had a hard sharpness to it. People looked ghostly as they hurried around.

A made my way less than carefully down the wooden porch steps and out on to the street. The scene was horrifying. Half a block down, on my side of the street, a number of the older buildings were fully engulfed in flames. People were screaming, looking for loved ones, fleeing buildings, pleading with firemen about friends, family or pets inside. The yellow coats of the firemen were a blur as I started running toward the scene. It seemed like hundreds of those coats were frantically pulling fire hoses, maneuvering trucks and trying to keep the crowds back so they could work. Most of Deep River’s main street was ablaze.

It seemed like there were people lying on the ground further up the street. I guess I thought maybe I could help somehow. One person was gasping for breath, flat on their back. I asked him if he was okay and he nodded yes. A gaggle of EMTs were crouched around another supine form about ten yards further along. I could feel the heat of the blaze and retreated back toward a line of people watching the scene unfold just as a uniformed fire police came toward me, ostensibly to shoo me away.

I found a spot were I could watch. The flames seemed to be jumping from building to building. It became apparent that the fire was moving toward my building. There didn’t seem to be anything I could do, but watch its interminable progress.

Now finding myself here, in Deep River, I watched as another remnant – perhaps the last of it, but I really don’t know – of my self-construct, fall. Burning in the heat of the fire were all of the things I had accumulated, and managed to hold on to, that served to define who I was. My things, the place I lived. Gone, too, were ideas about who I am, what I do, why I’m here. This floating feeling is extremely disconcerting. Yet, strangely freeing. My mind wanders over the last few months. This feels like a shamanic death – death of the ego, the personas we hold on to, consisting of a series of ever more dramatic beliefs. They lead us away from the ground of being. The point to it with ever more clarity.

Someday, I thought, I’ll write a novel about this. A fictionalized account of this great catharsis. As I thought this, I realized, too, that this was not my story, but our story. As the world appears to spin out of control, it falls apart only to reincarnate. Impelled by its own life-force, Tao that it is, ever organizing even as the forces of randomness tear it down. What emerges is completely different, yet kin with that-which-came-before. Connected by a thread of universal pattern –that pattern of life.

The fire is now consuming my little apartment and the few things in there. I don’t know where I’ll go.

Chapter 2 Reverie

How scary it can be when we realize the impenetrability of the Universe’s secrets; how comforting to be one with them.

The rain is cold and the light is gray today. I’m holed up in a one-room office overlooking the village pretending to conduct business. Mostly I sit and think. Outside a siren is floating by. Eight thousand cars a day go by this place: an old blue, two story building situated across from a dilapidated theater that still operates from time to time. Down the block is a one hundred year old ‘swing bridge’.

In this part of town, the buildings tilt at subtle, weird angles. Their proportions speak of having been planned, constructed and inhabited by people that did not have abundance in their lives. Not far though are more elegant structures recalling a bustling commercial center.

The bridge is constructed with a metal mesh road deck so that it is light in weight. Each of those eight thousand vehicles sings its way across like the howl of creatures from another dimension – sweeping by – neither noticing me nor being completely unaware of me. I can feel the looks from inside of those cars, seeing my windows lit as they drive by.

As the day begins to wind down, the clouds break and the sun illuminates the stretch of horizon on the other side of the Connecticut River, orange purple light bouncing off the water and coloring the metal struts of the bridge superstructure. This light moves over everything. There is a peacefulness that seems to wrap me despite the stares of the drivers. Maybe the stay at the Institute House was doing me some good. I seemed to feel better.

Deeper down I sense the people in the cars know that I am not whole. That I’m as confused as the electric wires running across this intersection. Confused and alone and lonely. Lonely for touch, for connection, for support and nurturing. From a woman I suppose. But, no, that’s not quite right. I’ve always been compelled to obtain approval and support from anybody that would notice me. Why? Is it a need for nurturing to replace that connection I had lost with my mother so many years ago when my first sister was born? Or, when I was four and got sick. Was there remembered pain, abandonment or even guilt? What had my illness done? It must have been stressful. Did I feel guilt for frightening them? Did it scar them like I was scarred? What’s it matter now, today, anyway?

Sitting in the orange-purple light, I treasure the brief moment of solitude and peace, escaping temporarily into a place safe from the turmoil of mind, the result of all that has happened over the last thirteen months, all that has happened over a lifetime.

The sound of the phone startles me back awareness.

“Hello, Harlow Brown, Brown Services, may I help you?”

“Har, it’s me.” I recognize Mora’s voice on the other end of the line.

“Hi, how are you doing? How is Kendra?” Feelings of love and longing come up in my stomach. I think about lifting a three year old girl up in my arms and comforting her by dancing around our living room on our first day together. I had taken two weeks off of work without pay from The Corporation, taking advantage of the Family Leave Act to the extent that my conditioned mind thought we could afford. It seems silly, even stupid in retrospect. I had to fill out forms, ask permission to parent this child, to help her through this incredible transition. It is deeply ironic, even twisted, how we’ve been led to a sense of priority in which children and old people take a place several notches below SUVs and ski vacations.

The anger swells and I picture Mora talking on the phone in the living room, feet gliding over that oriental rug that takes up the length of the space – my former, formal living room in that plastered house up on the hill. For just a moment, the fear and anger and loneliness, and love and affection, are almost too much to bear. My eyes getting sappy wet.

“Kendra’s fine, but I didn’t get your last deposit and the mortgage is due. Can you please call the bank? I don’t want to bounce another check.” She doesn’t sound mad, only resigned to the situation, expenses just as high as ever trying to hang on to all of those things we accumulated together. Things that we thought we needed, things that don’t seem to matter so much any more.

“Why don’t we sell that house? It’s too big and too expensive.”

“We need a place to live. Where would we go? We can talk about his another time; I need to get to the gym.”

She needed to get to the gym and to Jim. That was the beginning of the end when Mora met him. Jim is a yoga instructor at Nel’s Gym, and for some reason, they hit if off. Funny. After awhile, in long term relationships, blocks come up, little emotional eddies in our own subconscious that we mistake for being pissed off at our mate, parents, sisters or brothers. Energetic distractions that blot out anything good. Then this little experiment, this tangent of single living during our trial separation; elements of an exciting fantasy. It seemed like a good idea at the time, until Jim came along. Suddenly the pain of the detachment – detachment that I had created – hit me full force.

My friend Byron saw the whole thing happening. He was right there when I started capitulating.

“Why don’t you go to the Institute House for a couple of weeks? I did that when I got sober – best thing I ever did.”

“How could checking into a mental ward do any good Byron? I am sober. What would hanging around with a bunch of whacko’s do for me?”

“Harlow, I know you’re not that dumb. You need some space, some time. Plus, you might be able to help someone there. It’ll take you out of yourself.”

Phone pressed to my ear, body stiff from emotional turmoil turning muscle to stone, the pause extends into a deeper now. Pain is present. I sit.

“Ok Mora, you get to the gym, I’ll talk with you another time. Take care”. I hang up and return to that safe place watching the darkness spread over the buildings up and down Main Street. It is after 5, so I move about the office turning off the computer and lights.

The office is on the second floor, in the back. I am a private investigator of sorts – investigating my own journey through life. My journey from material attachment to reluctant detachment. I don’t know what any of this means.

Locking the office and making my way down the narrow stairs, the worn gray carpet slips under my feet on each step, the cracked, dirty plaster walls offer a mixture of nostalgic ambience and images of poverty. Moving into the parking lot, I walk up to the car and find the driver’s door hanging off on one hinge. Someone has apparently broken in to it. Not only broken into it, but broken it. Broken the car.

I pull on the door and it falls off. I open the hatch up and manage to fit it into the back. Getting in the now naked front seat, I check to see if the car starts. It is a 1978 BMW station wagon that I call ‘Bear’. It starts and I roll down to the street, turn right and merge with the afternoon stream of cars going across the bridge. At the other end I pull up in front of Mac’s Auto Repair. Mac’s just locking up.

“What the hell happened there?” he says, astonished by the sight of me driving with no door.

“I have no idea – I came down from the office and it was like this. The door is in the back. Do you think you can fix it?” I can’t help but feel like the whole thing is a dream. In fact, I say to myself, “Am I dreaming?” Little did I know that the process of killing my ego was going along swimmingly. The less everything made sense, the more progress I made.

He pulls the door out from the back of the car and mulls the job over. “Can you leave it?” he says. Can you leave it, I ponder cynically. “Of course – what’d you think – never mind. Yes, thank you, I can leave it.” We make arrangements for me to check in with him the following day. He drops me at an auto rental place in Middletown, and I drive to the Institute for a ‘group’ session and some much needed sleep.

Chapter 3 The Institute

“Harlow, do you want to share?” Shelley the facilitator was tall and skinny, with dark brown hair. She had what appeared to be very firm breasts, and was perhaps all of 26 years old. Her Master’s in Sociology gave her enough information to be dangerous, but I liked her. I really liked her. I even tried to look at that. What did I like about her? What did I want from her? Even when I let my imagination run wild, I really wasn’t sure what I wanted. What was wrong with me that I couldn’t even let myself have a good, full-blown fantasy?

The Institute House is a temporary shelter for people in Middlesex County that are struggling with mental illness, addiction or abuse and feel they need a safe place to stay. The charges are sometimes covered by insurance, but mostly are applied on a sliding scale based on financial resources. For my part, I negotiated a 2 week stay for a reasonable lump sum.

It was the fall of 2005 and things in my life had fallen apart. I had fallen apart and finally, with the help of a friend, decided on a sabbatical of sorts here. I was at the end of the first week, working on myself. Trying to sort things out so I could move forward. Well, I would move forward either way. But, I started having this feeling that I wanted to move forward in concert with the flow of things. Whatever that is. Wanted to stop fighting, stop resisting, stop creating this abrasive situation that seemed present, looking back, for all of my life.

That and I needed a safe place. My wife had practically thrown me out of the house six months earlier, so I had rented an apartment in Deep River. But even that place started to feel crazy. I had been having bouts of wailing and sobbing; had no idea what it was all about.

I was also being harassed, and couldn’t put any of it together. Random acts of violence were showing up. On the one hand, I was living this life of deepening introspection. In fact, part of me understood that it was deeply buried subconscious issues that were literally making decisions for me. I was not in control, but rather, being swept along with the growing understanding of how life happens. That sometimes you don’t have too much to say about it.

On the other hand, this roller coast ride was becoming more surreal by the day. The changes in my circumstances, and my mental realms, were so swift and substantial that it seemed literally like a dream. And inside of these odd developments, comic book-like action scenes unfolded one after the other. And all I could do was sit and watch like Roger Ebert. Or maybe it was Siskel. You know, the one that died. For example, one night I found the window broken in the kitchen of the apartment, glass shards strewn all over the little porch outside the window and the alleyway below. Someone had broken the window from the inside! Another time there as garbage strewn on that same landing. And now, the car door. I didn’t know if an angry wife had something to do with all this, or someone else. It was all getting rather confusing.

“Harlow, earth to Harlow. Would you like to share?”

“Oh, yea Shelley. I would.” I paused and in my head decided to try to let go. I had been taught, and had been trying to just ‘get out of the way’ and let some higher power do the talking. So I took a moment to remember that idea.

“I was happily married. At least I thought I had been. And then something happened. I was going along pretty good. I, oh, wait a minute. Something weird happened earlier – I guess I can come back to it, but I can’t get it out of my head. Someone broke the door off my car.” I stopped, but nobody said anything. “Someone, or something just ripped the driver side door off. Can you figure that?” Still no one said anything, they just looked at me, not with malice or impatience, just with expectation. “Ok, so I’ll come back to that.” I paused and took another breath. “So I stopped drinking seven years ago, and that was a big change. I went to AA and pretty soon new realms were opening up to me. I mean, even in my first meeting, there were little awakenings. People talked about stuff I had no previous, conscious awareness of. Faith, prayer, God or higher power. I never needed any of that stuff in my life; had no place, no use for any of it. I thought I could do it all.”

“But really I was an egotist with an inferiority complex. Part of me thought I could do anything I put my mind to. That somehow I had a special gift of invincibility that others did not have. I even drank like that, as if it couldn’t hurt me. But it did, over time. It was an insidious force on me that ultimately kept me from knowing myself.”

We were in a room that was painted a soft, off-white color. Every surface seemed to be painted the same color, walls, ceiling, even the floor was the color of old vanilla ice cream. We were inside a regal old brick building straddling the corner of Washington and River Streets in Middletown. It was right next to Route 9 and even here in the basement of this massive building we could hear the rush of the highway.

It wasn’t always like that. When the building was built, there was no highway, just this corner – the hub of a growing town on the river known for its ship building and trade with Europe and the Far East. The Woolwoerth family built this place while they accumulated their fortune. A solid, sprawling example of late eighteenth century architecture, the rooms were surprisingly large and the ceilings unexpectedly high. The two front rooms were kept furnished with period pieces, but used little. Part of that older portion of the building was reserved for executive offices, providing the kind of image that put a good spin on the otherwise earthy work done here.

Further back in the building, where wings had been added on, the resident rooms and community areas spread out like the arms of an octopus. Originally built to be a house, the Woolwoerths had made such enormous sums of money they built a mansion on the west side of town and converted this building into a hospital. It has provided some sort of healing function ever since.

The florescent lights overhead were too bright. Even though someone had turned half of them off, I could feel the pulsation of the electricity in the tubes and it felt like a headache. I shifted in my seat as I talked and the metal legs of the chair scrapped the floor.

“Ah, oh sorry. Where was I? So anyway, that was then. I stopped drinking and started…changing. I started taking responsibility for how I felt, started being grateful for things in my life. At first my wife was good with this. She was proud of me. But during the first year, that pride was more like, ‘gee you’re doing so well, can we go out to dinner?’ And then at dinner, ‘gee, can we have a bottle of wine?’ It took me a year to really stop drinking and it was because I saw how powerful not taking a drink was in these other people’s lives and I wanted that too.”

It felt like I was getting lost in this story. Like it wasn’t good enough and I should stop. “Should I keep going?”

“Yes”, Shelley exclaimed. When she said this I saw her chest expand and her breasts rise up. I strained to see if her nipples were poking through the light blue shirt she had on. It looked like a man’s dress shirt. The top two buttons were undone drawing my attention to the warm, light tan skin and the shadow of cleavage there. I imagined that she found me attractive. That somehow my story was interesting to her and was creating a desire in her to know me better. To know me physically.

What is that I wanted from these women? These feelings for Shelley are not unique. Any beautiful, attractive, sort of pretty having a nice shape, or nice features or distinguishable breasts, or pretty much just being female brought up these feelings in me – especially if they paid attention to me. I can’t figure it out. I think about having casual sex with them, but that doesn’t even ring true. That doesn’t seem to be the thing that I am wanting, yet I don’t know what it is I’m wanting. There is a sense of longing, of incompleteness that is a real drag, an energy drain. Where does that energy go? How have I been acting to overcome this drag, or compensate for it? Clearly I’ve been motivated, compelled by the avoidance of this longing. And I’m tired of it, tired of not saying what I think, saying what I feel, being who I am.

“Shelley, can we talk more about this after the session?” I blurted it out. I thought about asking her for a date or for sex, but instead hid behind a professional excuse.

“Why don’t you go a little longer, Harlow, and then we’ll see about talking more”. She seemed to distance herself and suddenly my thoughts of her being attracted to me were replaced with thoughts that she didn’t see me any different from anyone else in the room.

I was surrounded by about eight other people, three women and five men. Actually, the more I spent time with this group, the more I became attracted to some of the other women too. These were not women that I would notice any other time, yet being here in the same room, talking intimately about ourselves brought out deep feelings in me. Even feelings of love for all of them. For the men too. But these feelings for the women were usually associated with something else. With this longing. Was it for sex? I felt confused, blocked. I felt anger rising up again, but quickly squelched it.

“Well ok, to make a long story short. So we were going along ok, we adopted Kendra and thought life was pretty good. So I decided to take care of myself and try to work on this back pain I had been having. So I went to a chiropractor, a woman. And what happened was, I had these feelings of falling in love with her.”

Several people seemed to shift in their seats uncomfortably. I started to go on, but one women, Janine, raised her hand.

“Hey this sounds more like a men’s meeting. Do I have to listen to this sex stuff?”

“Well, it’s not about sex”, I started to say, but Shelley interrupted.

“Janine, it’s ok, everyone has their own story. We need to be open to it. There might be something in it that can contribute to our growth or that we can learn from. Let’s try to go a little longer.”

“Ummm”, now I was feeling self-conscious. Who wants to hear about this crap anyway? It’s not like I killed someone driving drunk, or spent time in jail or institutionalized. Well, ok, maybe a little bit of that last one. But everyone else seemed to have these really heavy stories. Mine was like, well, like fluff – a bunch of sissy feelings that some short bald guy couldn’t deal with. Get a life. “I think I’m done Shelley.”

The process of opening to this stuff is iterative. You start. You peel away a layer. It is painful – you see stuff you really don’t want to see. But it’s there anyway. So you start to accept it. What else are you going to do? Suddenly this thing, which was largely unknown to you, is conscious and it no longer compels you unknowingly. Instead, choice is introduced, a very powerful new tool. But that’s all that has changed and it isn’t until the next time that these feelings come up that you have the opportunity to implement that choice. It might go better, it might not.

So here I am in a room full of virtual strangers. Peeling away, revealing, sharing and making myself vulnerable. And it’s a fine line between the adventure of doing the work with the discoveries that come – because it very much is just like being an explorer in an unknown territory – and the fear and pain of looking at some rather unpleasant stuff.

“Harlow, that was good. Thanks for sharing. We’ll come back to you.” She winked at me when she said this.

What was that all about?

Chapter 4 Punch Drunk

On Halloween night, 2004, I remember feeling ok. I finished up work at the home office and got in the car to ride down the hill to the chiropractor’s office. Life seemed pretty good. I had a good paying corporate job, had given up drinking about five years prior, and lived rather happily with my wife Mora and our soon-to-be-adopted daughter, Kendra. For me, I worked at accepting life; being open to the idea that everything was just as it needed to be, and that I was in exactly the place I was supposed to be. But there were undercurrents. Mora expressed a great deal of unhappiness. Our physical relationship was fairly non-existent. She often asked about this, complaining in my opinion. And I often felt to blame for our lack of intimacy. I really didn’t feel compelled to be closer physically. I tried to meditate and pray, go to work, exercise, and meet my responsibilities as a husband and father. This included regularly going to AA meetings.

On the one hand, life had expanded immeasurably. I was reaching out to our community in numerous ways, serving on local boards and commissions, attending a local church in the village, volunteering to help with events there. These things also kept us apart on many evenings. On top of that, we both worked. We made enough money – the house was nice in a nice neighbor hood, in a nice town. We drove fancy cars.

We never had children of our own, and this was a painful thing for me to accept. As with the feeling of wanting more and deeper community, I had also always thought I would someday be a dad. One time, at a retreat with other men, I discovered the depths of my sorrow. When I came home, I convinced Mora to look into being foster parents. She agreed with some reservations. We agreed we would approach the process as a way to learn and get more information. If at any point we didn’t like what was happening, we would stop.

But we didn’t stop. We went through the classes and got licensed and then the phone began to ring. ‘We’ve got a child we’d like you to consider having placed with you. Would you be willing to meet him? We’ve got a perfect little girl that needs a home, can we bring her to meet you?’

And so, the stork dropped Kendra off at our door. From the moment she walked up the steps of the back porch holding the hand of that social worker, I knew two things: we could never say no, and that she was never leaving.

The journey from foster parent to adoptive parent was filled with ups and downs, some frustrations, but mostly a strong commitment to live everyday in gratitude for the time we had to offer a safe and loving home. Kendra was adopted after three years of living with us in May of 2004. She was six years old at the time.

Despite the beauty and ultimate destiny of that process, Mora had trouble adjusting. She resisted fostering strongly, beginning the night before Kendra’s arrival.

“Please don’t make me do this! It will ruin my life. I was just starting to get to a point where I was feeling like we were going to make it and that life was good. Now we are going to have to turn everything upside down and commit the rest of our lives to raising a child. I don’t want to do it! Please don’t make me do it!”

“Mora”, I tried to stay calm, “we can’t call it off now. Why didn’t you say these things before we committed to taking her? You know I want to do this. It is just your fear talking, and I’m not backing out based on that!” I could feel my voice rising – this seemed too typical; our relationship was filled with examples of having agreed on something and then capitulation. “Look, you’ll thank me for this once things settle down. Really.”

“I’ll never thank you for this!” She had to have the last word, but we took Kendra and everything worked out fine. Well, sort of. Like I said, I was being Mr. Happy AA and life seemed to go along. I kept promising that things would get better between us if we just stayed the course. Mora was frustrated about how long we had seemed estranged. She said we were more like roommates. I tried to manage my emotions, but there was a lot of guilt. Feeling like, and being told, that I had ruined her life. At one point Mora made a point of telling me, “I’m not saying thank you yet, you know. I didn’t want this.” Meanwhile, Kendra and I bonded, and the little girl grew strong and beautiful.

There were signs of an underlying anger and resentment in me that came up frequently. I found my self short-tempered about stupid stuff like clutter in the house, and our inability to agree on what color to paint the walls. Mostly, I kept going to my meetings and praying to be accepting. In the mean time, I became aware of a growing back pain. I’d wake up in the morning incredibly stiff, barely able to bend over to pull my dick out of my pants to pee.

Ironically, it was not just anger and resentment that I was busy repressing. It was true that I was pretty unfulfilled at this time in my marriage. But I wasn’t exactly swimming in fulfillment in my work life either. So the un-fulfillment in the marriage stayed repressed and actually transferred to the work area. It got strong enough for me to quit the job, which actually created all kinds of other complications in the marriage. But it also was the driver for me to make some important life changes. Go figure.

The energy that drove this mess is complicated. The seeking on the personal side drove courage on the business side to break the safe bonds of salary and relatively reliable work for something wildly creative. That change, in turn, drove huge amounts of negative energy on the personal side, which pushed the need for fulfillment on the work side even higher, thus fueling the cycle. It wasn’t until I had settled somewhat into a new work life that it became clear the same personal issues remained and still needed to be dealt with.

~~~~~

Dr. Christy Donegal practiced on the other side of the river, so I rolled down and across the old swing bridge barely touching the gas until I coasted to a stop in front of the little purple colonial style building she used as an office. I had begun coming here about six months ago, finding my back pain diminished and my spirit unaccountably lifted from the visits. The office was small and personal. Outdoor magazines and a subscription to Body and Soul magazine provided an air of a progressive, earthy, spiritually-related healing environment. I hit it off with Kristen the receptionist. We would exchange small talk while I sat in the waiting room during my mid-afternoon visits. It got me out of a lonely home office. I felt a sense of connection. More importantly, the visits were grounded in my immediate community. Looking back, that grounded-ness had tremendous power over me as I struggled with my work responsibilities that included far-flung relationships across the country and working in a corporate environment that, even though I was told repeatedly was a strong, team-oriented group, never genuinely felt that way to me. Maybe I was blind – creating my own isolation from deep emotional resistance to more authentic relationships. But I’ll tell you this. There were plenty of other A-type, left-brain dominate vipers working there that would sooner beat you over the head with how much smarter they were than you, and why you were wrong about just about anything, than say good morning. But what do I know?

Tonight the road glistened just a bit from some rain early in the day that had not yet evaporated. There was a warm soft feel to the air. It was a little warmer than usual, and the humidity a little higher. Like the air inside of a festive balloon, it lifted everyone up with its soft warmth. People’s spirits were higher because of it.

I closed the door behind me. “Hello Kristen, how are you?”

“I’m ready to be out of here, I can tell you that”.

“Oh”, I breathed, “long day?”

“Yes”, she shook her head, “but not bad. It was beautiful, wasn’t it?”

Dr. Donegal walked in and smiled. “I’ll see you in there, Harlow”. I felt a twinge – more like I felt the smile than saw it. It did something to me, but I wasn’t even aware of it yet. I went in to examine room #1 and emptied my pockets. The air smelled faintly of the previous person. The smooth leather surface of the treatment table was clean and slippery when I sat on it. The Dr. came in and we made small talk while she pulled paper across the table and had me lie on my stomach. She worked the muscles in back, loosening them first. Then she cracked my spine and then my neck. I can’t remember what we talked about. It took about 15 minutes.

I remember the first ever appointment with her. She came in and said, “We were born on the same day!”

At first I thought she meant we shared a birthday – the day, but not the year. Then I noticed that she was about my age. Her blue eyes were particularly clear. Then it dawned on me that she wasn’t talking about just the same day, but the same year too. A cosmic awakening started to happen in me. But I really didn’t know it at time. Really. I was that balled up, that protected, that insulated. But I was intrigued.

“Really, you mean 1958?” Obviously she had read the initial information data sheet that had been filled out on becoming a new customer.

“Yes, I was born on October 29, 1958 too.”

“Wow”, I said, “that’s neat”. I didn’t know what to think. A weird sensation went through me when she said this. But I didn’t think much about it. It just created a kind of rapport that became a basis for feelings of connection. I’d come in every two weeks or so, especially early on when I was trying to make progress with my pain. We’d talk, she’d crack my back and that would be that. She would make notes in my chart. Afterwards we’d chat some more and I’d feel relaxed sitting there.

So everything seemed pretty much routine in the fall of 2004 on this particular visit. Like I said, it had been about six months and I had been feeling better. It was like there had been stuck energy back there and it was starting to move around. We exchanged the same sort of pleasantries toward the end of the appointment

“So how is your daughter”, I asked.

Dr. Donegal had a 6-year-old daughter and I had told her about Kendra, who was five at the time. This was another connection that I couldn’t get out of my mind. How strange that two people in their mid-forties would be in this place of having a single, young child. The Doctor’s kid must have been born when she was over forty.

“Oh she’s great. She’s holding up really well with everything that’s been happening”, she replied with out looking up.

“What’s been happening”, I asked.

“Well”, she looked at me briefly, “I’m getting a divorce. My husband and decided to split and its all starting to happen, moving and stuff. And Shannon is a wee bit confused.” She said the last part as if trying to be humorous, but it sounded painful to me. In fact, I had instantly become aware of a large, sharp object in my abdomen. It wasn’t a real object, yet I was acutely aware of this sensation. I felt foggy and dizzy and didn’t know what was happening. There was this incredible feeling of empathy. Empathy for the child, for just as I loved Kendra, I felt as if I loved Dr. Donegal’s child, Shannon. I felt empathy for the Doctor – to be in that position, loving a child and not having a partner to share it with. I felt like crying. I felt like wailing.

“Oh, I’m so…., sorry to hear that, so surprised. I had no idea. I, oh, well”

“Oh its nothing”, she seemed to make an effort to lighten the subject and steer us away from it. I was thankful, feeling the need to get away. Get away from these powerful feelings. I didn’t even know what they were.

On prior visits, I had always gone away feeling better. And I got addicted to that feeling. Going away feeling better, then having that aching back come back. Like a good tennis match, I bounced back and forth, coasting down the hill as that long, vibrant, colorful fall unrolled into winter.

And then this punch in the gut and everything changed. In the beginning I hibernated. But I couldn’t do it. I wailed, I sobbed. My face was contorted, all the time. Mora kept asking me, what’s wrong with you. Truthfully, I told her, “I don’t know”. Six months later, I was moving into the apartment in the village.

Chapter 5 Bonsai!

Jerry Samson woke at 4 am. He rose from the leather couch and pulled some clothes from a pile in the corner of the room. He quietly got dressed in the dark and went out to the garage of his Glastonbury mansion. Perched up in the hills south of Hartford, it was 6,000 square feet of neo-Italian plaster over foam board nestled among five other similar homes on 25 acres of what used to be miles and miles of pristine apple orchards. Lately the orchards were being sold off to developers and these ‘McMansions’ were cropping up on ridge after ridge. The trees would be cleared and chipboard, southern pine and Peruvian laborers shipped in to create a palace for another insurance company executive.

The styles of the houses did not stray much from one to the other. They typically had three car garages, double pane windows, condensing furnaces and natural-gas fired fireplaces so the owners didn’t have to deal with messy wood. Inside, black granite counters, Brazilian hardwoods and Martha Stewart colors completed the picture.

Jerry Samson was not an insurance company executive. His company had built the houses in this neighborhood, and somewhere in the neighborhood of 350 other, similar houses, spread across Connecticut. He had made a lot of money.

He lived well. His three car garage contained a 2002 Ferrari 550GS, a Mercedes SUV that his wife drove, and a Toyota Echo. Despite the faux-plush appearance of his home, he had a strong frugal streak. It was the Echo that he climbed into just before dawn on a fall Saturday morning.

Jerry’s wife, Maddie, lay asleep in bed in the upstairs bedroom. At 33, she was thirty years younger than Jerry, and just a little deprived of a true sensual experience in her current life. For the last eight months she had slept upstairs in the leopard skin covered king-sized bed while her husband had stayed each night in the den, sleeping on the couch in a sleeping bag.

As she lay asleep, her dreams brought her back to her latest visit into the den the previous night while Jerry had been away at some meeting. Inside she had been struck by the odor coming from the sleeping bag. Potato chips and cheese-doodles were spilled in several places on the floor and had fallen down the cracks between the cushions on the couch. Many had been crushed under foot and ground into the taupe colored carpeting. In one spot on the wall next to the desk it looked like coffee had been splashed against the maroon wall leaving a large spot and drip marks.

He would not allow Sienna the maid to clean in the room, and it was getting so dirty that it was hard for Maddie or Sienna to ignore the growing offensiveness on the other side of the closed door.

As she stepped carefully around the room, she saw piles of papers on the desk. Near the computer terminal, one piece of paper held an official looking seal – a town seal from the Deep River, a municipality just a few miles south of Glastonbury. It was a letter:

Dear Mr. Samsen:

Thank you for your recent interest expressed to this office with regard to the purchase of development rights for the currently municipality-owned land here in Deep River. As you know, we have been actively seeking a developer for the parcel adjacent to the river for some time. Despite the difficulty of the terrain, we are convinced of the economic viability of this piece, and are committed to its development in a manner that will serve the highest purpose for our Town.

Unfortunately we cannot currently entertain your offer to purchase this property because you have not filled out our developer’s information and registration form as required by the current bid process.

Please contact this office so that we can arrange a meeting to resolve this administrative detail. We look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Horace Peters

Mayor

Deep River, Connecticut

In her dream she could see writing on the margin of the letter where her husband had written in dark blue marker, ‘likes Italian food, Polish girls and Cuban cigars’.

Outside, Jerry started the car and quietly rolled down the driveway toward Hartford. He wound his way along Orchard Drive, down steep grades on the edge of a broad apple orchard that fell away toward the valley below. In places the road was cut into the side of the hill and the land dropped off precipitously to the left. He took the car quickly through the turns, at times sliding carelessly over the road surface.

He drove aggressively down to where his road met the Glastonbury Turnpike. Following the curving secondary north, it merged just south of the village with State Route 2. Further along, Jerry crossed the river using the Putnam Bridge and drove north on Interstate 91 into the south end of Hartford. He crossed into the rough dirt parking lot guarding the approach to a series of low slung buildings huddled against the chain link highway. Fat angular rocks skittered from under the wheels as he jammed the car into a spot between a dumpster and a sagging Sumac tree.

He squeezed out of the car and slowly walked toward the open air stands where a handful of farmers took turns slogging plastic bins of vegetables and pallets of yard plants.

It was now 5 AM and the light in the sky was spreading like Mazola haze over the toasted urban landscape. Jerry dragged his large frame through the rugged surface of the parking lot. At sixty-three he was not in good shape. His age and life style had taken its toll. Two years previously he had fought off throat cancer and now, having lived to tell about it, he was determined to indulge every ambition he had ever had. Life for Jerry Samsen had become a circus where he kept as many rings active as he possibly could, hawking any passerby with fabulous visions of the future that he exchanged like cash for the company of people and whatever energy he could suck from them.

Everyone wanted to believe the kinds of things that Samsen said. He seemed to know this intuitively and used this knowledge without restraint. Some, the less fortunate, did believe. But most people also had a strong, latent repulsion from the kind of insincerity espoused by Jerry Samsen. Any doubts, though, went right over Samsen’s head.

Two months ago his gardener and Bonsai man, Edward Tang, had brought him to a psychic healer. After talking with her for about five minutes she suddenly jumped up and announced matter-of-factly, “You must stop talking now! Too much untruth. You will become sick again.” She quickly left the room.

Samsen turned to Tang and said, “What the fuck is she talking about? I don’t have time for this crap Edward; we’ve got shit to do. Let’ go, I want to show you where we’re cutting those trees in Windsor. The friggin’ tree man was caught by a lady pissing on one of her cherry trees and now I’ve got all kinds of shit happening up there. If it isn’t the Mexicans screwing things up, it’s this tree guy with a bag of rocks for a brain.”

Now, as he stepped over a broken crate of tomatoes that had fallen off of some truck, Samsen was deep into his normal whirlwind of thoughts about how he would keep himself busy for the day. He was not aware of the compulsion to stay busy. He had been conditioned by it for so long that there was no reason to question it. Those infrequent moments of reflection that managed to slip through his busy-ness were just bothersome interruptions of his progress toward a richer future. Interestingly, this powerful drive substituted beautifully for truly being present with life. Jerry was fully present with his compulsions and felt comfortably well adjusted. The episode with the psychic was like trying to hold sand in a salad colander; there was nothing redeemable from Samsen’s perspective.

He was meeting Tang again this morning and they planned to travel to Paramus, New Jersey for a Bonsai show. Yet, as he made his way toward the vendors setting up at the Farmer’s market, something continued to pull at him. He reached up and stroked the paunch of chicken flesh hanging below his chin. A slight shudder went through his body as it recalled the ordeal with the cancer.

“Hey, boss, over here?” Edward Tang sang out. “You get some honey here for immunity.”

“Edward, what the fuck do I need honey for?” Samsen grumbled.

“Just come over her and talk with the bee lady. She has a lot of land down south of here, you might like her!” Edward smiled because he knew that he had information that Jerry needed. It was the only way he could ever get the man’s attention. Usually everything was about Jerry and Jerry’s way. But Edward needed to make the relationship work. His Bonsai business brought in very little cash and his wife was getting impatient with this experiment in his ‘passion’. He knew Jerry could be a very lucrative client. He had been working for him for about six weeks so far, but hadn’t been paid for any of it. Still, there was so much work, so much potential. So far he had provided about $5,000 of work, some of it plant materials that he had paid out of his pocket. But those bills soon would come due; he needed payment from Samsen. He did not want to believe that it was going to be a problem. Samsen had so many projects going. He made it clear Edward Tang would participate in a sequence of elegant business deals that would lead him to wealth.

Generally, Samsen relied on people getting impatient after a while and simply giving up on the bloated expectations he fed. It was like a pendulum that would swing wildly to the side of fantasy during which time Samsen picked their proverbial pocket, boosting his own self-image and energy. Then, inevitably, the pendulum would swing the other way and his protégés would bail. Then, Jerry just found someone new to fleece.

Clare Barr stood peacefully behind her table of honey. On it she had placed several jars of different sizes, each bearing the label for her farm, Clover Hills. The farm had been in her family for a long time – the Barr family had actually arrived on the Mayflower – and farmed a 600 acre piece of land continuously for the last 350 years. Slowly, over time, the 600 acres had been sold off, first to other farmers, and then some for an elementary school, some for homes for sons and daughters, their in-laws and children, and even some wetlands sold to a local developer twenty-five years ago when it was possible to fill in those areas and build on them. Now the 600 acres was down to 125, and expenses were piling up again. The farm revenues were never enough and eventually something would need to be done to pay off the accumulating debts.

“Hey Edward, you know why I come here. That’s what I do – talk with the farmers. They love me, and then they sell me their land. Let’s go see this bee lady.” As they approached the open end of Clare’s farm truck, she looked up from her crossword puzzle and observed the two men.

“Hey, what have you got here?” Jerry was always happy when talking with farmers. “Hey, I know you, you’re Peter Barr’s sister. We met a couple of years ago at that dance thing they have down in that two horse town of yours.”

“Oh hi, yea, you do look kind of familiar. You come here a lot on Saturday’s too, don’t you?”

“Yea, that’s me. I love you farmers. You’ve got the best stuff. I just got over throat cancer and need the good stuff, you know what I mean. What kind of honey is this?”

Clare paused. She could feel a pull, a drain that didn’t feel right to her. Something about this guy that seemed a little negative. Outwardly he was certainly friendly enough, and the two of them looked harmless. The oriental guy was short and skinny, and seemed meek. The older guy, with his shock of white hair, large frame and baggy jowls was clearly out of shape. His face was red and he was breathing heavily. His energy seemed to be buzzing at a high rate. Something about the way he looked away as he spoke seemed insincere. There was nervousness there despite the bravado in the voice.

“I brought my pumpkin honey in today. We have a forty-acre pumpkin patch, and keep the bees there. So they only use the pumpkin flower pollen to make this honey. It has a nice, spicy flavor.”

“Good, I’ll take this big jar. How much is it”. Jerry reached in his pocket and took out a large roll of dollars and took out a twenty, placing it on the table next to the largest jar there. “This is what I need, especially to sooth my throat. That cancer nearly got me – they had written me off, but I’m still here. They wanted to take everything – thought I was dead already, but I’m putting it back together – reconstituting thirty-one businesses.”

Clare Barr waited for a moment to interject. “The honey is $32 for that big jar.”

“Thirty-two. Holy shit. Yea, that’s a big jar, here.” Throwing down another twenty, he continued. “Hey, so I’m building out all of the projects I ever started. I was down near you the other day. Deep River. What do you know about that piece down in the village? Is your farm near there? I’m looking for some lots down there.”

He paused briefly and Clare thought he wanted an answer, but just as she was about to respond, he kept going.

“That Mayor is a pretty good guy, we had a good talk the other day. I’m going to develop that piece near the river into an office park and I want some land to build some houses on too. You know, the people need a place to live – the ones that’ll work there and at Starbucks and Border’s. I think I’ll put some retail in next to the offices, you know, so they can shop during their lunch hour. The Indians need office space too, and they got all kinds of white trash working for them for eight bucks an hour doing filing, counting the casino money, you know, mindless stuff that any bag of rocks can do. You got any land that you need to get rid of? Where is your farm anyway?”

“We’re over by the reservoir. You could come and talk with us sometime. Most of it is hard to build on these days, too much slope, too much wetlands. There some nice forest still left, but we’re trying to preserve them through conservation.”

“Shit, well let me look at it. We can still find ways around some of that crap. Don’t worry, if you need some money we can get you on the books while we’re working the deal out. That way, you and your relatives keep what’s yours, you know the good stuff, your houses and yards and stuff, and we can work around it. Don’t worry about it, I’ll call you, do you have a card? Edward and me are going down to that Bonsai show in New Jersey, we gotta go. Hey, you should come with us, you could sell Bonsai stuff on your farm, probably even use some of it around your estate there.”

Clare could feel the back of her neck aching as she tried to follow Samsen. “I, well, we don’t have any estate, and there’s a lot we want to hang on to and protect. But I guess it’d be ok to talk. I can’t go to New Jersey.”

“Yea, well too bad, it’s going to be a good trip. Let’s get moving Edward.” As Samsen and Edward Tang moved away, Clare exhaled and felt the tension in her shoulders. It occurred to her that maybe this feeling was telling her something she should be listening to.

Back at the Samsen mansion-on-the-hill, Maddie got up and wrapped herself in a silk, navy blue robe. She sat on the side of the bed and pulled a pair of heavy socks over her feet. On the dresser, she picked up a small ad she had seen the day before in a local advertising newspaper. It read, “ClearingWell Services – individual and group consulting services to bridge the gap between you and the highest expression of yourself!” When she had seen it, she felt it was something worth looking into and decided to call for an appointment. Lately she had been paying attention to her loneliness. She had been reading a lot too – Dyer, Williamson, and other new age spiritual books; new ideas about spirituality and life, intentionality and emotional blocks. She was beginning to realize that some of things she had thought were important, like the material things around her, were not filing the emptiness she felt inside. Emptiness that she had been feeling for perhaps a long time, but only now was she becoming able and willing to look at it. Yes, maybe she had been feeling this way since childhood, she couldn’t be sure.

Now something felt as if it needed to be done. Then there was this ad – for some reason it called to her. Maybe it was because of the term ‘consulting’ instead of counseling, maybe the idea of ‘clearing’ away and being ‘well’ resonated with her. She looked at the clock, 7:30, and decided she would call at nine.

As she slid across the hardwood floor toward the stairs the sun cast a glow along the hall floor at the stair landing. Up about seven feet an octagon shaped window faced east through which the sun now was beginning to shine. She felt the smooth handrail as she was walking down the wide stair. She was proud of this house – had helped design it, and knew the placement of the window throwing morning light down the stair was part of that design. She cherished another quiet morning here, aware that the craziness of her husband had followed him out earlier this morning. She had the feeling that maybe there wouldn’t be that many more quiet mornings in this house. She walked to the kitchen and made coffee.

At 9 o’clock she dialed the number on the advertisement and left a message. “Hi, this is Maddie Cooke-Samsen and I’m calling about the clearing services. Ahh, you know the wellness stuff you do. Can you call me back? I’d like to know more about it.”

Chapter 6 Truth

The truth of your experience cannot be denied. The act of creating tells the story of who you are by recreating the past, with all its attachments and conditions. It articulates a greater truth and an inner knowing that isn’t even conscious. If authentic, a story contributes new details that fit the shape of Truth so that others might relate to it and thereby see themselves better – like a collective dream.

Taking refuge in the Connecticut town of Deep River, surrounded by a collection of souls in the outskirts, the suburbs of the bigger cities and the whole rest of the state seem somehow disconnected from the little world down here near the river.

Deep River has a population of about 11,000, but only eight hundred or so are here, in the village. The rest are scattered to the hinterlands of the suburban sprawl that characterizes the rest of the landscape; an infrastructure of roads, cars, SUVs, trucks and gas stations; a network of fast food joints, convenience stores, centralized schools and distant corporate jobs.

But here in the village it is a different world of connection that was previously unfathomable to me. It is a different realm, a different reality.

At first, I resisted being known. Knowing others. At first, it was too much for me to realize that the egoistic mantle I carried was as transparent as glass, and that I may as well drop it. Let it shatter to pieces; you won’t be needing that anymore. Losing the mantle of persona came at a price. The price is never being able to go back. Like a frog with lungs, or a butterfly with wings, this new reality is the result of metamorphoses, and it can’t be reversed. Yet, still I must pass through this place of not knowing who I am, or at least, who I am pretending to be.

But the space has allowed me to write. Some gap – a gulf of connectedness, of belonging, of thinking I know who I am; this is space, a clear slate that gives me license and opens a trickle of thoughts. If I’m lucky, I capture them with little triggered electrical impulses through my fingers, connected to a keyboard, to a file of electronic bits; consciousness translated and memorialized.

There are calluses on my left hand fingers because I play the bass. Everyday I pick up a beat up, old stand-up bass and imagine what it would be like, what it was like, what it will be like again, to influence the music from the bottom up. I learned a long time ago that whatever anybody else played – the melodies, notes, rhythms – they could all be influenced, yes changed, by the context created by the bass. So, I guess, in a way that is what I struggle with now at this cross road in my life. I can’t hear the bass and it leaves me without context with which I might make sense of my recent experiences.

It is hard to step aside and just let it out, even though it is bursting in my heart. This story of catharsis, or whatever it was that happened to me. It turned me into something that I already was. I just can’t remember it yet.

But there is a block; this large, smooth, black block. In the way. Marble, or maybe granite. It is a rather specific image. Like the monolith in the movie 2001 A Space Odyssey, it fills the space between me and all that I attempt, blocking out light, vision, feeling, expression; absorbing energy. It creates confusion – the more I open to it, the more difficult it becomes to make sense of the world, and thus of myself. I need identity to bring order and meaning to these experiences, yet, in doing so, I constrain them to be only what I already know and have experienced. So, change comes slowly. There is resistance.

So, the story. I pray that each word will to come out of its own accord. Each individually articulated, full of love and reverence for the creation that it is. But that is not to be either. Instead it comes in gushes of foolish rambling, each word representing silly awakenings, self-absorbed emotional ranting. On the black marble surface I can see words emerging, etched by some unknown hand.

I find myself living in an Institute for drug addicts and mentally unstable people. How did this happen? How deeply do I dare swim in this river? What powerful forces were at work in and around me? Will telling this story lead to justice, completion, actualization? Does justice follow truth like a lap dog on a leash? Truth is pounding in another room. I need to go see it.

I woke from the dream and looked at the ceiling of the small room in which I was sleeping. The bed was really more of a cot with a single, thin mattress and thinner blankets that had the odor of dust. The sheets were transparent; I amused my self earlier by trying to read through them. Distantly, I thought I heard the sound of banging.

I had been sweating and rose from the damp covers, pulled on some pants and shuffled out into the hall toward the bathroom. The night-lights were on along the way, so it was easy to see in the dim light. I turned to push on the Men’s room door and out of the corner of my eye there was motion as if someone had crossed the hall up ahead, moving quickly from left to right down the adjacent corridor. Quietly I walked in bare feet the twenty or so feet to the corner and peered around it, but the area was clear. All of the doors appeared closed and there was no sign of anyone. Walking a little further down, I listened intently. From the distance I heard the banging again.

I walked down to the end of the hall and turned left into the main corridor of the building. Ahead, about fifty feet, was the front parlor, a sort of lobby area that many of the residents used as a lounge during the day. A staff member was usually found behind the small counter to the right during business hours, but currently that area was dark. The banging started again and I followed it to the front door.

Outside was a stringy haired young woman I recognized as Mona. We had been in a couple of group sessions together. She had been unusually quiet in those sessions, refusing to share or contribute in any manner. During the second session, Shelley, the facilitator, had implored her to talk about what was going on. Now, as I looked out on her, it was clear she was swaying slighting. Her eyes had a very strange, distant look, and I felt a bolt of fear go through me. Fear because I had spent many nights having drunk too much. Fear because I had seen and known others that did the same. Fear because the look that I could see in Mona was not a look of alcoholism, it was something far worse and it saddened and sickened me at the same time.

I opened the door and let her in. She passed by me quickly and murmured something. There was a strange sweet and pungent odor around her. It gave her a visible, dark aura.

“You ok?” I asked.

“Mmm, yea”, she mumbled, quickly shuffling away. I watched her fade down the hallway toward some room in another part of the building. Her sneakers left wet spots down the hall as she squished away. I felt sorry for her; wished I could do something. But she was in the right place. She just needed to become ready. Ready and willing.

The next morning the general alarm was sounded at five am as usual. Lately I had been waking just before that time feeling rested, but that wasn’t the case today after my early morning encounter with Mona. I got up, took a shower and went down to the lower meal room for some breakfast.

I left the Institute House at around 10 on Saturday morning. The strange shadow of the night before didn’t materialize again, even though I had wandered the halls for a good twenty minutes. I remembered the part about running into Mona banging on the front door at about 3:15. I had let her in and watched her wobble toward the other end of the building, apparently high on some substance. I had used the bathroom and returned to my room, laying down again, but finding myself staring at the ceiling for a long time. I tried to meditate, but a thousand thoughts kept running through my head. What was this journey that I am on? Why do I feel so confused? Is this really a spiritual pursuit? Most people didn’t buy that. If they happened to find out where I was staying, I could see an immediate shift in attitude. Their faces became less expressive, and their body leaned away from me.

What is this mysterious connection between emotions and spirit? Does God speak to us through our feelings? What about all those words, all that history in the bible, the Koran, and other, ancient religious texts? And why doesn’t religion ring true? I wondered what it meant to ring true. Lately I had a strong sensation – a willingness – to go with feelings I was getting about questions and decisions. I was thinking about giving intuition more of a role in my day-to-day operations. The logic and reason had only gotten me so far. And much of that journey was characterized by a great deal of worry, even misery.

So lately I had been allowing myself to be more intuitive and something else happened. I didn’t feel so afraid. Granted, it might be the heavy load of psychotherapy I was currently exposed to having been a resident at the Institute House now for four days. But there seemed to be something else. Even before I checked in, it had started. In fact, I never would have even sought this help if it weren’t for this sense that I was finally on the right path, a path of meaning and real progress. Almost as if this path coincided with a much greater path, one of evolution for the entire planet and not just my own journey of self-discovery.

As I piloted the rental car along Route 9, I watched the remaining color in the trees go by in a blur. I thought about wanting to be out there, with those trees. When do we spend time with trees? Certainly not in a car. In fact, maybe some of our problems as a society, our unease and disease can be traced to this unnatural motion. Our eyes see a constantly changing landscape, sometimes, often times, a very beautiful one at that. But yet, it is gone in an instant, only to be replaced by another vista. There’s no real connection established; and, thus, no sense of responsibility or accountability. But what about truly experiencing that beauty – feeling belonging and having a connection with it? How do you get that if the scene is constantly changing? Where do I belong?

On the radio a folk song came on the college station I had just tuned in. A singer I knew, Donna Martique. She sang ‘This Dream’ and tried to answer some of my questions as I asked them.

This was another thing. Using intuition meant also becoming willing to live by coincidence. Answers seemed, lately, to be coming along in all kinds of forms. I had fun with the idea that help and guidance was being provided by the Universe – direction at every turn, if I chose to be open to it.

Now, Donna told me that only a global awakening was going to give us a chance at sustainability. Only a global awakening one person at a time. And this meant a willingness to transcend each of our personal egos and literally become one with the rest of human consciousness, in order to reach a new consciousness. She sang about unleashing the real creative genius of capitalism in support of all of earth’s creatures.

“It’s not just us against them,

Not skate your way through and pretend

There’s no telling where we might go

There’s no guarantee that it’ll be so

Just a moment that you get

In this cosmic music set

Let it unwind, that absolute thing

That authentic self

Evolution wants to push you

From competition to

A more connected view

La la la la….la la la

This dream, this dream”

The Deep River exit came up quickly, and I slowed and made the wide turn off the highway and down the ramp. At the end of the ramp I turned left, cruising through some of the outlying neighborhoods. Soon the character of the streets reflected the tighter knit community of the village center and its connection to the river front. Here was a mix of lawyer’s offices, hardware stores, donut and breakfast joints, pizza and ice cream shops, artists and printers. There is a local grocery store across from an old municipal building that now houses a community theater along with essential town services and offices.

My office is off a small dead end side street that leads to the river. Main Street is half a block to the West. Lyme Street is half a block south where it crosses the river and continues east making it’s way through rocky outcroppings that form a sort of gateway into a more exclusive residential community. Then it continues on to New London to the south and east of here.

I turned down my street, View Street, and pulled into the lot next to the building. Despite the condition of the building, the location was ideal. Between the end of View Street and the river is an empty lot. The hottest piece of real estate in Connecticut. And the most absurdly used, currently. Right now the lot contained the remnants of an public works garage. Long since abandoned and unused, the lot is a stark reminder of something gone askew in the scheme of things. How a garage ever got situated on riverfront property, only to contaminate the land with oil and then be abandoned, is unfathomable.

I started to get out of the car and then I realized I hadn’t been to the post office in a couple of days, so I started it again and drove the couple of hundred yards up the street to check my box.

“What am I doing”, I thought as I got out of the car, leaving it running while I ran in. “It’s a beautiful day, why did I drive here? I coulda walked.” The air was still quite cold – the car’s thermometer had said 37 degrees, but the sky was a clear blue and the sun was getting high enough to warm things up a bit. Across the street, the old stone church had a lavender glow, its river rock facade facing east into the morning sunlight. A few golden orange leaves still clung to the branches, floating through the clear air here and there, catching my eye. A cardinal stuttered in a dogwood tree near the sidewalk.

I paused after climbing out of the rental car. “Center yourself”, I thought. “Slow down.”

Inside was the familiar odor of envelopes and stamps that seems universal to all post offices. As I walked to my box I spotted another person leaning over checking theirs. In the box I found an electric bill and a notice of pending insurance renewal, plus some advertising stuff. I closed the box and stopped at the recycling bin to throw away some of the excess paper. The other person had straightened up and turned, and I saw that it was Larry from Rivergood Tavern, which is across the street from my office.

“Hi Larry – how are you doin?” I asked.

“Not bad, how’re you?” He said in a friendly enough tone. “Haven’t seen you that much lately.”

I wondered if he had heard about my recent ‘changes’ in living arrangements, but decided I didn’t want to really know what he knew. “I’ve been busy, you know. I’ll stop in for lunch later.”

“Have you heard anything about the Town selling the land next to your office? I’d heard there was some developer who seemed to be spending a lot of time with Peters. Seems he wants to put in offices, a Starbucks, bookstore chain, you know, crap like that.”

“Oh, what’s Lindy going to think about that? She can’t get any traffic into her bookstore now. Why don’t we get the Economic Development Commission to go subsidize a Dunkin Donuts and Subway next to your place while were at it? Nothing like pushing out established local businesses so we can bring in the corporate cronies. And then our taxes will go up to pay back the economic incentives.” For some reason I felt some bitterness coming up in me as I said these words. I don’t even know where the thought came from, yet it wasn’t a surprise. I’d seen it happen in other towns too. Long established business, owned by local families that were forced out of business when local politicians funded so-called economic development plans that brought in corporate franchises. It was a very sad state.

And most people didn’t even realize what was happening. They were too busy struggling to get up every morning and make the long commute to their own bloated salaries in the name of paying the mortgage and car payments, saving for college so their kids could get a degree and the highest paying job they could find so they, too, could tether themselves to the industrial-material complex. Most of them would move out of this town, to cities in the west or new, more fashionable suburbs. As least that was the pattern for so long. It seemed like things were perhaps shifting. Maybe there was a wake up happening.

I thought back to my own decision to make a break. How I had given myself only so much time. ‘I’ll give my self a year, and if I don’t make any money, then, I’ll have to do something else.’ Always driven by the money. But that didn’t last long. I started to discover deeper meanings and more profound longings.

I remembered the dream. Of being in a sailboat on a broad, slow moving, brown river. Of needing to get out of that sailboat – out of the safety of that cocoon, and into that river. And I did, I jumped in. And then I swam to a raft and climbed aboard and on that raft was a shack. I went into the shack and met a woman there. She told me everything would be all right. I wanted to stay – she seemed like everything I always wanted in a woman, everything I had left behind over the course of my life, all the girlfriends I had dumped. I realized I had to leave and get back in the river. She told me I had to, but that it was all right. I was on the right track. I felt sad, but somehow grateful. I thanked her and left.

I was never the same after that dream. I met a guy that had a similar dream. He jumped in to try to save a woman and they went to the bottom and died there. She looked at him and he felt at peace. And he helped me see how these women help us get out of the safety of our boats and into the river. That guy and I, after exchanging these stories, looked at each other, like, wow, we’re so thankful that these women got us off the boat.

Now I am in the river, and in it, I flow. I don’t try to get out, I don’t try to swim upstream. But not always. Because anger and resentment, envy and pride, is all still there. And it comes up all the time. Even now, as I thought about the injustice and naïve manipulation of people driven by greed and fear, I felt the self-righteousness coming up, separating me from them. And I knew, somewhere inside, that I could pay attention to this feeling if I chose, because it was the key to the highway to reconnecting with everyone and everything. Sometimes it just seemed so damned hard to do.

“Harlow, you ok? What have you been up to lately?” Larry brought me back to our conversation.

“You know Larry, I went to church a few weeks ago and a funny thing happened to me sitting there. They were reading the list of soldiers killed overseas. It was a really long list. And when they went from reading the IraqAfghanistan losses, they referred to Operation Enduring Freedom. And you know what? Something happened to me. I felt like I was being fed shit. Those stupid names they give our war efforts to disguise the true nature of what is being done; to confuse us with carefully chosen, disingenuous words. And here we are in church having that same manipulation…

“And at the end of that list, they said, ‘pray for all those killed or captured.’ And you know what? You know what I thought? I thought, pray for all those that did the killing and the capturing too. Maybe more so, because they are still suffering and must be in incredible pain, to have done that stuff, and now, having done it. And more importantly, because if we keep praying just for our side, it perpetuates the same separateness and condoning of violence that started this stuff. And every one of us needs to wake up to this – even here, in town.”

I paused to take a breath. By this time Larry started looking a little anxious to leave. “I stopped going to that church. It’s the institutions that do this. But it’s our own psyche that lets it happen. ‘Operation Enduring Freedom? Gimme a break. How can we be fooled by these silly names? The craziest things happen and we don’t even seem to notice.” Larry shifted from one foot to the other.

“Even when it comes to developing the village area or a piece of land on the river. If it’s not developed, somehow natural land is considered to be not living up to its potential. Undeveloped they call it. The natural state of things is a lot more developed than anything we’ve been able to come up with in the end.” Larry smiled. Started to back away.

“Anyway Larry, that’s another story for another day I guess. Thanks for listening; I knew something was in there bothering me. Now I have an idea what it is.”

“Hey, glad I could help”, he said, shuffling backwards. “I’ve got to get going now, though. Maybe I’ll see you later? We could talk more about this if you want. I know where you’re coming from. Come by for lunch.”

I wasn’t sure if he just wanted a little more lunch revenue, or if he really meant it. But I felt better hearing his words. They felt supportive, and I felt pretty good going back to the office. When I got there, I unlocked the front door and headed up the stairs. It was getting close to 11 by now, and the sun was starting to warm things up.

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