Sunday, September 16, 2012

"You ruined my day"

Sunday morning carried on with our usual routine: coffee, a little 2-lap jog around the neighborhood, and now clean up to get ready for church. D approached me with a look of slight anxiety. He was having one of his “Luke dilemmas” and needed some affirmation to relieve his fatherly guilt. It was a packed Sunday with an evening booked up for church meeting and thus he was not able to do their long bike route across the river. It would incur an extra hour just from the car trip itself. Years of majoring in guilt for both children, I have developed a coping mechanism more skillfully than the father. I gave him a boost of assurance: “He will be fine – just do the biking somewhere close.” After another dose of lecture “you are not to live for his happiness alone” from me, He called out to Luke from the bottom of the stairs to the TV room and proposed the alternative in an optimistic tone as an effort we both knew to convince more himself than Luke. We heard him reply ok. I arched my eyebrow, “see?” in short for “how easy is that”.

So that was it. At least I thought. They left shortly after for Luke’s Sunday music rehearsal and I continued on with my usual routine to get ready for church. “Sabbath rest” does not apply to an old woman like me or I seem to be violating it every Sunday before I head out to the door. Then the phone rang. Usually it meant something has been forgotten: Luke’s music or our nursery duty reminder. This time was neither. D’s voice was one of those “you won’t believe what happened”. They were making their usual Sunday round, the sacred 7-11 stop for D’s coffee and Luke’s donuts, when the father noticed the son’s unusual dejection. Donuts did not do their trick – that itself was an alarming signal. What’s wrong? D asked, only to be replied with “Nothing”. Our perfect son who lives for our approval is no mystery to read – you may not know what bothers him, but you would always know when he is bothered. Another round of “what” and “nothing” went on. Finally upon D’s insistent inquiry the truth came out. Luke said in a melancholic tone: “you ruined my day”.

One of those impulsive sentences that we have reserved unless we are provoked to retort back, it surely is not anyone’s favorite for both the giver and receiver. Silence set in between D and me just like that. For a brief moment, we were lost in words. Quickly enough, I came back with an incredulous “Really?”, which both he and I understood why and where the curiosity came from. Yes, really. He affirmed. We ended our call finally with an unresolved mystery hung in the air.

He would turn 25 by October; a full grown adult to say the least. As perfect as he may be in our eyes, he still has his moments or room to err and sin. I have always thought of the nursery rhyme “There was a little girl who had a little curl… when she was good, she was very, very good; but when she was bad she was horrid”. That just about summed up Luke’s life – 99% of “very, very good” and 1% of “horrid” – in the form of tantrum, absurdity or even insanity when no words or actions can console or resolve. But that sentence surely does not fit in either end. It was in fact normal and, yes, so appropriate.

So why the puzzle? What could possibly confuse us after dealing with the worst of “horrid”? For one, it was not one of his sentences. Moreover, it wasn’t his usual pattern of handling disappointment. Emotional outbursts: yes; logical expressions: not for people like Luke. I could think of all the sentences he has spoken all his life – all of which have been learned or coached products with little room for exception. Even the tone itself at times comes formulated or robotic. Autistic people do that. they are the stereotyped imitators. I recall him at 2 years old when he started talking how simple and minimal his vocabulary was. For the longest time before we found out the final diagnosis our communication had always been one-directional: words, phrases, numbers went freely into that mysterious bank of brain and yet little came out in a functional or meaningful way. He talked very little; at best he echoed.

Over 20 years of schooling and coaching, words continue to be his tormentor. I believe he is afraid or terrified to express himself with the exception of his interests or fixations. We have had the hardest time with him telling us what bothers him when he is plainly distressed. His fear to disappoint us outweighs his own disappointment thus the only mean with which his predicament may be resolved is also his gravest evil. In his world, emotions contain a black-and-white happy or sad while words are perceived in 2 simple categories - approval and rejection. In a nutshell, approval makes him happy and rejection makes him sad. Thus our almost-perfect son perpetually struggles with his own and our imperfection in a world that is anything but perfect.

Back and forth from the past to present, I was thrown into another whirlwind of emotions while I pondered on the 4 most ordinary words in a most extraordinary disclosure. I thought I had this simple and innocent creature figured out, but “you ruined my day” thwarted out all my expectation. What overwhelmed both of us, confusion included, was this exquisite sensation –surprise, gratefulness, and joy… I was thinking how this little shadow of life could continue to tug my heart like that, but most of all I wonder if anyone ever begin to understand when he said “you ruined my day” he made my day?

Fly Away

The answering machine light blinked on – a rare thing for this family with limited social connections. Most of the time, we get hung-up calls on the machine with long, blazing beeping protesting over the detesting screening device. I curiously, for caution’s sake too, played the message. It was from the renter telling the college son that the apartment he applied for has been rented to someone.

Since the discovery of the betrayal, his roommates’ deserting him, he has had no choice but to look for lodging for the upcoming year. Of 3 prospects, this one ranked top in both location and accommodations. The phone message officially put a dead end to this quest. With 2 weeks left for his current lease, he is back to square one.

Another strike, or rejection, for him – how ironic and yet predictable, I thought to myself. My mind raced crazily with mixed emotions. I have wanted him to move back home, but somehow I did not feel like celebrating. The right answer, for me at least, when it’s not what he wants, does not feel good. As any mother with a built-in desire for her children’s happiness, I ached for his sake.

I thought of that evening barely a week ago when I ached yet for a totally different reason. He was leaving after the dinner. We had driven over the bridge to hunt for that “Diners, drive-ins and Dives” recommended fried chicken. The drive was long and the food turned out to be a let-down. Oddly, no one seemed to mind except me. Somewhere during that disappointing dinner the subject of his next year’s where-about was brought up. I motioned that he should move back home. It seemed like a perfect solution for a desperate situation – he has less than 2 weeks left on his current lease with no prospect for new housing. There would be no headache for another move and/or temporary furnishing for the new place. The arguments were sound, enthusiastic and yet not at all well received. My perfect solution was met with anything but perfect response: a stone-cold rejection without a word. Soon enough the contagious silence passed though the kitchen and I too became one of the afflicted – dejected and quiet. The disappointment was too intense that I turned about to clean the after-dinner mess. Behind me across the kitchen he stood with the persistent silence. He was ready to leave now. He managed to say good-bye. The strained “I am going to go” was met with not so much a muttered “ok” from the mother. I heard the door open and he was gone. The shameful realization of his wound, though incurred by his first wounding me, hit me straight through my core. My hurt, though grave, was not greater than my guilt. I dropped the dishes and ran after him before he made to his car door. “Give your mother a hug”, I called out. He turned and accepted my non-spoken apology by offering his hug. I could feel the slight softening through the stiffened back. He was returning his non-spoken “thank you”.

It has been almost 4 years since he moved out. Ironically the few miles of distance might as well be a half-world of separation between us. I can count how many times he has been back. He was no more typical son than I am any typical mother, and yet the maternal instinct inside would occasionally surface to haunt me when colleagues or friends’ children come back for the holidays and breaks and ours chooses to stay away despite of all beckoning. I remember the initial taste of liberation when he first moved out – it was a much needed relief for all of us after all the windstorm of his existence. When he finally moved to a 12-month leased apartment, our last remnant of him finally dwindled to Christmas, New years and maybe Easter. Even that, they are always limited to over-nighter visits.

How long does it take to forget 18 years of damage? Not long enough. The side effect of any absence is nostalgia – bitter sweet, subtle yet persistent remembrance of a past disguised in a veil that softens even the worst tormenting ghost. All that screaming, fighting and tears seem to have subsided to the background, and the buried glimpse of joy starts twinkling and teasing me in the form of the 2-year-old: content, curious and bright. Our most hopeful future of him ironically may well be my worst fear that he could be gone, forever. Pain does not feel good, but the absence of pain is worse. After all, can a mother ever stop her beating heart for her child? Even when that beating sometimes breaks her heart in pieces, it at least serves as the evidence of her love. For a mother, a painful existence is better than a faint memory.

And let’s not forget the past regret so haunting that she would trade anything for a do-over. If he’d come back to stay for yet a little while before he leaves, mayhap I could finally redeem myself from all this guilt? Unlike me, he has forgiven and forgotten and all ready to take on a brave new world. As much as I realize his lack of attachment is part of him, it hurts no less to see this fledgling so eager to fly away without even a second of hesitation while I look on with all the fear for the evil ahead of him. Awkward and ill-equipped, he is, after all, invincible in his mind only. Let-go is only bearable when it is not completely literal or devoid of prosperity. For us, it is both. I wonder if these burning tears are more for the physical alienation or the invisible one. Would I hurt less if I were sure he’d hurt a little bit from leaving me? Above all, is there ever a happy ending for these two extreme opposites: the unattached for the clinging, sensible for the sensitive and the forgetful for the nostalgic?

Pick me, Pick me!

7pm of Monday; the house was quiet and empty. D was still in the office, waiting for Luke to finish the orchestra rehearsal. My dinner done, lunch packed and kitchen all cleaned up, I was ready to resign for the day when the call came. The caller ID showed college son's number. I answered quickly out of a built-in habit, as instinctively as taking the air in and out without prompting. He rarely calls, and when he does, it is business. I prayed that it is one of those non-critical business (“can I buy a calculator”, “where is Dad” kind). The voice from the other end sounded muffled, and empty. My phone is bad. He said. That was easy, I thought, and quickly told him I would look for an old one to replace it. His response was mindless and hesitant. For someone who can't read people at all, he was a sad open book, easy to read. Something was wrong. My heart sank. “Everything ok?” Another quiet and evasive answer: It's nothing. Don't worry. I pressed on further and without much effort, the truth came. He just found out his roommates had sought for next year's apartment together, and he was not included. They lied to me. He added in a vacant tone, while a heart full – it was sorrow, rejection, a sense of failure.

What does any mother say or do in time like this? I wondered. I wished I had my mother then and there. She’d make everything ok, even my broken-hearted child less heart breaking – at least for me. But there were just he and I, but a few miles apart from each other, communing one of life’s saddest misery impossible to escape. They didn’t pick me. They don’t want me. For a brief second, I almost forgot time and space. I thought I was standing at that old kitchen, looking out of the big pane of window, and there my 5-year-old on the backyard screaming for a friend who was running away from him. It was déjà vu. I had been there, too many times. 
Are we built to forget when it comes to pain? It took only three and half years of his absence to bury 18 years of haunted nightmare. How willing I am to be deceived, even to believe that everything was fine, that my unwanted child was finally well, accepted by this world. But there he was again, at the other end of the phone line, much older but none the less lost and broken. If I were to go back to that wretched world, I thought to myself, I wish we were still at that old house and he was that helpless 5-year-old and I the mother lecturing him on how to play while I wiped away his tears. For some illogical reason, I’d freeze time, all suffering included, just to be a hopeful mother for her helpless child forever.

But the reality was a 15 minutes of pep talk over the phone to a son all grown in statue, a man exactly, who knows too much of rejection and too little of remediation. “I don’t know how to be with my friends” was his final admission. And they with you. I added silently. With faults not of his own, he is an equal impossibility to them. “My friends”, he has always called them this way, but little does he know what it means. 3 years ago, when they moved out of the dorm and invited him to share the apartment, it was a miracle of its own and yet these friends never came or called the house during the break or holidays. My head span in a whirlwind for wisdom or advice, all the while wondering if it were a lie – a lie for both of us to go back to that kitchen where future was a disguised dream. I was grateful too that he was at the other end of phone line or he might have seen through my hopeful words from my eyes that were almost at the brink of tears. My lie went on a few minutes more, and then there was no more to say.

And yet, too much left to say…. They would never pick you if they were given a choice; not for their new apartment, parties or anything. Could I blame them? In the game of life, would this world ever choose a player incapable to play by the rules? Would I even? The proper answer would go like this: Son, this world is not made for someone like you, but if I were to choose all over again for a game prepared for heaven, it would still be you. But the real answer is, knowing what I know, 22 years of toil and tears, I would not have picked him either. 
I thought of another mystery of life, another game in which I myself was among the choices - someone had picked me, knowing what He knew: poor in both potentials and performance. I couldn’t understand why or how. In fact, I would not even pick myself. Haven’t I doubted all my life if indeed I were chosen at all? In the grand scheme of life, any game under the sky lasts but a blink of eye. Still, it is a cruel game where the crowd wouldn’t cheer, players wouldn’t play fair, and the referees might not even make the right call. The most frustrating thing, above all, is that the end result is indefinitely undermined. As a fallen creature who is built for instant gratification, can I ever be content for just being picked in another game unseen? Could it be possible that my son, the last one picked, was selected first-handed for me? Maybe the unbearable waiting turns out to be a blessing – that it does not end here and the losers, or the never-picked, might just be the winners after all.

Kitchen Nightmare

Almost 2 months passed since the cooking party with M. No phone calls, email, text messages– the finality of an irreconcilable damage from the last encounter is officially in. I have done it, again, this time more drastic than ever.

Truth be told, it lasted longer than I had expected – 6 months to date - when all the elements for a healthy relationship were missing from the very beginning. In addition to the age difference (a good 2 decades), they were go-getters, fun loving and most importantly the idealistic parents that do all the right things. So how would this ever start? I would like to blame D for instigating the whole thing when he came home one October night with the invite: M, the Romanian professor in his department, had invited us to their football party. Feeling socialable and impulsive, I concurred on the motion, making me an equal guilty party in this whole crime. We went and had a surprisingly fun time at their small apartment right down the street from us.

So the party continued on: D’s birthday, Math Department Christmas party, followed by New Year’s eve. Our new-found friendship erupted in a whirlwind of frenzy. From our kitchen to their 2-bedroom apartment, we had shared many fun time eating and yes drinking together. The free-spirited, exciting M may be bossy, but she is also straight-forward with a big heart for both boys. Besides food and wine, we even exchanged tears and fears for our children.

It had been some time since I started this new page of my life, working full time with little room or energy left for anything else. “Relationship” would definitely fall on the bottom list of priorities for this social inept runaway. I have had hard time keeping the very few left, letting alone embarking on the new ones. Somehow, this one was an exception, or I thought.

The catastrophe started with a Friday grocery shopping – we went all over town for the ingredients we needed for the night’s cooking lesson. She had requested for some of my signature dishes. We invited Helen, Luke’s piano teacher, making it an international fair altogether (a Romanian, a Russian and an Asian). 6pm at my kitchen that same day, we started cooking up a storm, turning the kitchen upside down. The whole house smelled mighty festive with all that ginger, garlic and onion. The domineering Romanian and equally headstrong Taiwanese in the same kitchen made the whole affair at times almost comical as we collided on and off –in good humor still. The pattern went on like this – Romanian directed what to do (or not to do) while the Taiwanese objected and carried on. It wasn’t the first time we cooked together, so I had had plenty experience of her motherly imposition. It was after all my kitchen and my dishes, and I was within my right to stand my ground. 6 months into our relationship, I have learned enough that cultural difference plays only partially in my friend’s personality – 20 years of my junior, she quite often takes the senior role, scolding and correcting me whenever she saw fit.

At 7pm, Helen called to back out the party – she was having one of those mother-daughter drama back home. We managed to talk her into coming. After she arrived, we generously offered our listening ear and wise but less wanted counseling – that’s what girlfriends do for each other. While we sat about the kitchen island and engaged in this rescue mission, my eyes surveyed the mess of the kitchen and my hands started another much needed rescue, cleaning and putting things back to order. M, who clearly considered it bad manners, scolded me for the 2nd time of the night. Decades of habits die hard, I couldn’t sit tight with the dishes piling up in the sink and mess scattering all over the counter. I am after all my mother’s daughter; her kitchen is miraculously clean as the last dish finishes. I sneaked backed in putting away another dish while listening to M’s sound advice of parenting. This time, my friend stopped me good. She caught me by the shoulders and looked me in the eyes, rendering the ultimatum: “STOP, or we are leaving!”

The rebellious, prideful fallen creature we are! How hopeless and wretched we are! If there is anything this particular sinner is cursed with, among her many other faults, it would be the public humiliation of her crime. She could not bear being caught and, worst of all, told what she cannot do, because that’s exactly what she’d do. The alleged did stop, only to offer one of those “I am sorry, BUT”, not-so-sorry apology. In the courtroom, I delivered my defense: I had this hang-up (“just like you have your own”), AND I WAS listening despite of all, etc., etc.. Passionate and firm, the close argument was done and the defense rest. And just like that, the air that still smelled aromatic with spices and heat was suddenly chilled and dead – but not nearly as the judge’s eyes. The court adjourned - only without a fair trial. In less than half an hour, my party left. I was standing in the aftermath of a kitchen nightmare, abandoned and utterly unforgiven.

6 months of “bonding” – eating, drinking, laughing and sharing – and it took but 2 minutes to end it all. For someone with a track record of social disaster, I still marvel how quick and final this one went. Not a single word has returned, neither was there any effort for reconciliation. A repeated drop-out in relationship, I was expecting another one of those grieving cycle from denial, anger to the final self-tormenting lamentation. Strangely, it went straight to the acceptance without much sweat this time. Life has resumed its monotonous cycle with no plans, parties or fun outings. Week days or weekends, my calendar remains wide open and the house quiet and still. Cinderella is back to her rags from her before-midnight ball and somehow she feels nothing except for the shameful revelation of relief. I have to ask: Have I grown so accustomed to failures that I finally cease to care or feel? Maybe so, but the real truth is: I have not been honest all along. For months, I entertained the idea of being this fun-loving party animal, eating, drinking, going along with my new friend. While it lasted, it was exhausting. How does a self-absorbing scrooge morph into a socialite? She does not. In time the true color shows and she is ready to go home. In another courtroom for another trial, I am in fact guilty of many charges, the chief most being an imposter that forgets many ancient old principles: a trickling steam will outlast a stormy downpour; an early sun never yields a fair day, but most of all a kitchen with 2 mistresses always ends up a disaster.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Grinch and Christmas

3 more days before the grand Finale, Christmas, rolls in and then 2011 will grind to the halt. Soon after, even before, the ball drops, Christmas decorations would be back in the attic, trees packed away or on the curbs, and the stores start their ceremonial after-Christmas sale. This year, we managed to get into the spirit in time – the nearly 20-year-old, one-limb-short Christmas tree was standing next to Mr. and Mrs. Snowman a little after Thanksgiving. She was wearing a new set of after-Christmas sale bargain LED lights, looking oddly unusual or foreign. I couldn’t quite pin point why, but something was definitely amiss – and I am quite sure it wasn’t the 1 small box of ornaments that we decided not to bother.

Not just the tree, other things continued to contribute to the odd factors. My walk pal, iPod, went missing after 1.5 year of faithful service. I left it on my desk that day before heading home as I had done many times, but this time it was gone for good. My Christmas pin, a simple and cheap Christmas tree, was the next defector. It fell off my sweater 2 days ago on one of my shopping trips. I have to wonder, was my Christmas cursed, jinxed? Did it happen when my musical globe broke on the day when we put up the tree? I was then struggling painstakingly to drape that uncooperative garland on the mental when it fell off and its bottom smashed into pieces right in front of my eyes. It was an inexpensive, wind-up globe – all white and silver, with reindeer and a Christmas tree inside. When you turned it upside down, the glistening flakes would dance and flutter like a fairy land where dreams and hopes come true. I had loved that silly thing dearly and left it on the mental all year round. And now it was just a globe lying limb-less in the mass of destruction. The whole room went deadly quiet then and there except my hot tears and muffled sobs buried in the soulless Christmas carols from the radio.

I think my Christmas was taken away since then. Two Christmas parties and all that holiday goodie baking have not helped to pull me out of the gloom. All that is left is a world of craze with Wal-mart’s crowd, collapsed traffic and obligated burden of baking and cooking. Tuesday was one of those. It has been a long week. At 5pm, I was exhausted, but there was still more baking that I had sworn done with and the cooking for the next day’s lunch at work. The kitchen was a mess. I was scrambling to get everything done so I could take Luke to that pizza dinner I had promised him. I was feeling grumpy from not being able to exercise because there was simply no time. Then Luke’s piano teacher stopped by to give me a dinner box and dessert plate, but that short visit took away some precious time that I desperately needed. There was yet another stop I had planned to make after the pizza. Finally I realized I couldn’t accomplish all – not without sacrificing the pizza dinner. I called Luke and told him we’d go on Thursday. No complaints or sadness from him. He ate the salmon dinner from Helen gladly.

Kitchen nightmare done, we went back to Custom Car care to get the cell phone I had left it in the other car and headed straight to Miheila’s apartment. Luke played Silent Night for Maria – she was having trouble learning that piece. After that, those two (9 and 24) looked at Maria's summer vacation pictures from Romania while I had a drink wtih Miheila. From behind, they appeared to be of the same age. That was the only sane moment of the whole week – only because of Luke and his Silent Night.

Last night was the Christmas Service at church. I had fought all day with my downcast. We did make it – a short and simple 1-hour service with music and Christmas message. It was nicely done, and yet I struggled to keep my ears attuned to the words of the true Christmas essence so that my eyes would not stray to the empty spot where Luke usually stands with his violin. Several times I had to touch the body besides me to remind myself that he was not gone; he was right next to me. Off and on his baritone singing would sneak in my troubled thoughts and shame me to tears. We drove home quietly and right after we got out of the car, I saw the violin on the back seat. He had packed it, assuming he would be playing it in the service as he had done for the past 3 years. The pang hit me when he looked alarmed at my inquiring eyes, thinking he had done something wrong. I wondered in that untouchable world beyond those dark brown eyes if he was ever hurt for having been slighted. Even so, it ended as soon as he tuned to walk into the house with that violin case that had never been opened. Whatever injustice it might have been, it was forgiven and forgotten just like that. I wished mine could have too.

I know I don’t deserve Luke – I just need him. His innocence and simplicity is the only hope for me in this life so trifling and trying. And yet he is the shadow so easily overlooked – even by me who needs him most. How can I blame others for doing the same thing? I just wish time could go back when he was still young and I hopeful for a future still beautiful and possible. For this Christmas, the spell or curse of loss stubbornly drags on. I blame the Grinch -- the broken musical globe, the missing iPod, the lost Christmas pin and the empty spot on the podium. He may have spoiled it all, but never my Christmas gift: the 5’ 5” angel without wings.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Left Behind

3 weeks have passed since the young and beautiful defected to the greener pasture. Across the grey partition sits an empty desk. Gone is the once lively, gay pod, where people would drop by; gone are the daily phone calls or the IMs popping from her to commiserate about life in general. To be exact, she has tried to stop by a couple of times to say hi only to be received by me lightly and politely. Our relationship, or almost-friendship, for the past 3 years seems to have dwindled to the halt – by my choice apparently. As shrewd as she is, by now she has most definitely picked up the signals and moved on already.

Undoubtedly, my “rejection” could easily be interpreted as jealousy – as in jealous of her successful defection. After all, why would I write her off like that when the so-called big escape is merely at the other side of the same floor? Shouldn’t a true friend weep and rejoice with the others? Most of all, are we, or were we, ever been friends?

I thought of another defector, DS, whose escape led him to the new pasture not only greener but also farther – nearly 40 minutes away across the water. It has been over a year since he left. Comparing to Y&B and me, we shared way less in our conversation or outside of work extra curriculum activities. And yet we have managed to keep our communication, light but steadily, as of today. “Less (then) is more (now)” seems to be the right description of this relationship.

But wait, there is more (or less)! Another coworker after 25 years of service here left too just this past week to pursue happiness elsewhere. He happened to be among the very few here I have had some interaction with –respectful though mild. We have indeed shared both light jokes and heavy discussions. His empty desk across the other wall actually left a void here in this pod. Incidentally, just today I came across another team member all dressed up, getting ready for his interview for another position. Another soon-to-be-gone, another vacant pod?

In merely 3 and half years, 4 have come and gone. Some of them I have missed and some not. More will follow suit to jump ship as it is only natural in any work place. In a world so inconsistent, the only constant seems to be this left-behind, the occupant of cube 20. Ironically, the most trapped is also the forever restless with an absurd fear for changes. This jail with barely 6-foot partitions and no door to shut might as well be the Alcatraz, impossible to escape. How does a confusing contradiction like me serve her life sentence here with no chance of parole? Would I ever survive being the last one left behind with the rest of them chosen and taken to the better place and future? The biggest question, though, is: wherever they are going, is it really better?

I recall my last failed attempt to escape, the mourning afterwards when all reality set in and I back to my cell. My most unwavering support and friend, D, continued to point out that the green pasture outside might not be as green as I thought after all. Could it be possible as he pointed out that the Omniscient above might have meant to shut the gate to protect me from the danger outside? If He had thought it was safe and well there, wouldn’t He thwart the barrier, HR included, as He once did to bring me here? All this time my envious eyes have focused on those runaways instead of the hands that keep me. Left behind I may be, but never without a good reason. There will be one day when that final escape comes and this reject here is anything but left behind. For now then, maybe I am not at all left behind but, rather, saved for better.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Stary, Stary Night

D called on Thursday afternoon proposing an impromptu overnighter in Monterey with our long-time friends Dave and Beth Ann. Summer may still be lingering in the southern Virginia, but this trip would definitely make the last fun before school starts. Without a moment of hesitation, I seconded the motion – we are going to the mountains!

3:30pm Friday, all was packed and the 3 of us drove to the meeting spot to taxi together. The sky was overcastted with a hint of summer rain, threatening us to thwart our all anticipated dream of stars watching under the mountain sky. Sure enough, a few miles down the Interstate, the rain did come. Thankfully it tapered off as we drove on. The hope was high, so was our excitement and conversation. Over 22 years of friendship, this marked the first trip ever in the same car – our children are grown, except for the forever-child Luke, who was sitting at the back of the van with a quiet smile. Once we passed Richmond, I64 was lined with layers of blue mountains and green valleys. Like little kids, we could hardly suppress our excitement – the stars are calling, and we are coming!

We stopped by our favorite small pizza place in Fishersville for dinner. After the pit stop, we continued on for yet another one and half hour through the small towns and the winding mountains. By then nightfall had arrived and the visibility was reduced to the minimum. Our skilled driver, Dave, exhibited little anxiety over the seemingly treacherous roads. The 2 men in the front, one driving and another navigating, miraculously mastered the direction from the owner of the Bed and Breakfast – “Drive through 3 mountains, over the river and through the woods” and took us finally to the front of the inn at the top of the mountain.

Our lodging is owned by a gracious couple, Jim and Loraine. It sat alone at the top of the mountains and blinked with porch lights to welcome these 5 tired yet all excited tourists from afar. We walked in to a cozy cottage, furnished with antiques and simple, tasteful décor. From the wood burning fireplace, pine flooring to the country kitchen, all charmed us with her homey comfort. But, our affair was with the stars! Without a second of wait, we went outside to the deck – and there they were, our dates, twinkling bright and high at us on that August sky, welcoming us with equal excitement. At 9:30, the night was pouring in fully at this other end of Virginia. On the pitch dark canvas, all was lost but the vague outlines of the mountains from afar and a few lights down below the valley. Life inside was getting ready to rest, but not outside; it was just about to commence: The wind was picking up and whispering in our ears, critters chanting everywhere and yes, those stars - the guests of honor, the crown jewels and the leading roles of the night. 5 of us sat there, our heads leaning back and eyes devouring the beauty and supremacy of those stars chattering silently in their ancient old mystery. We were awe struck at how and what each one was named and placed by that invisible, majestic hand behind the endless night curtain. Our conversation was light, random yet warm and genuine; from the stars to life we communed as friends and brothers and sisters. Two times we spot the shooting star – like little children, we gasped with delight.

It was right under that stary, stary sky that these travelers, weary not from the trip but from the burden of life, rested, replenished and revived with new vision, clearer and brighter, just like the stars.