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The Wall

Monday, June 28th, 2004

as I walk the scenery changes, first my eyes show me the lush green shades of a primeval forest, I smell the dampness in the air, the smell of crisp new life, I close my eyes to enjoy the peace, and feel the sting of hot sand burning the soles of my feet, I open my eyes and see only the endless expance of a sea of sand, the remains of once mighty mountains, the wind stings my face with the tiny grains, I start to walk, looking for shelter, slowly at first, then with increasing urgency, till I find myself running full speed to escape the stinging sands, the scorching sun, I shield my eyes with my arms, looking down I see the earth change again,the sea of sand becomes a sea of grass, stopping I look around and see rolling hills covered in grasses waving in the wind, streching as far as my eyes can see, behind me the same, no sand, only grass, I walk on, wondering how I got here, slowly the hills rise higher, become snow covered mountains, over the mountains, I walk on, past the mountains, through lands dotted with trees, past rivers, the sun rises, sets, rises again, over and over, never a sign of life, then in the distance streching across the horizon before me, a dark line appears, as I walk on through rocky badlands, the line grows, becoming clearer, a featureless black wall, taller than the tallest mountains, finally splashing through a swamp, I come the the base of the wall, massive blocks of obsidian stacked high enough to dwarf all the worlds mountains, longer then all the rivers, I walk along the wall trying to find some way through the impossable barrier, beneath the wall I know not the setting of the sun, only when it rises beside me and banishes the shadows from my path do I reckon time, days pass, unknown weeks as I walk along the base of the wall, feeling it’s smooth surface under my fingers, stumbling along in the dark of night, blinded by the sun in the day, then beneath my hands the wall vanishes, no, not the whole wall, only part of it, I use my hands to find the extent of this hole and for the first time I notice the cold, because a warm breeze is blowing from the void, the sharp edges of the obsidian cut my hands as I crawl into the wall, shivering, I curl up, I can smell the dampness, taste the air, it is stale, I rest for a time, the sun striking me as it rises, the night enveloping me again soon afterwards, my strength returns as I rest, then in the darkness a voice calls to me, beckoning for me to come deeper into the wall, I follow it, moving deeper into the wall, ever deeper into darkness, no longer does the sun shine from behind me, there is only darkness, and as I struggle on, the voice bocomes deafening, still I crawl on, dragging myself along till I reach the end of my strength, then a pin point of light appears far off before me, I force my hands and feet to continue on, the light becomes brighter till my sight is filled with a blinding white light that burns through my eyelids, I no longer feel the sharpness of the obsidian, I no longer smell the dampness of the stone, I no longer taste the dust in my mouth, I no longer hear my voice calling me…

nothingness, absolute nothingness, I cannot see, hear, taste, smell or feel my world, only the wall exists to me and I forever crawl through the passage of my mind, here at last I have found myself.

David

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2004

Years later, as the school bus drove past David’s old stop, I would wonder. Why, when I remembered David, did I not feel sad? Why did I remember David’s birthday party, at his house down that driveway, where David had a full head of wheat blond hair and a big smile on his face? Why did I not remember the bald David, string off into nothingness with those tired eyes? The weak eyes of someone who is fighting for their life, the chemotherapy steeling all their strength.

I don’t remember exactly when David died, I know it was in fifth grade. Mrs. Vinning’s class, where David sat in the back corner—when he came to school, which was less and less often. His leukemia was bad, had been since the year before. That year, fourth grade, we sent David to Disney World, or at least we helped. Our class designed some little pictures and had them printed on some little pads. I designed one of them, a simple scroll that said “David” and had some stars on it. We also had some pencils and erasers that said “David” on them. In the mornings before school we would stand at a table in the lobby and sell these things to the other students as they got off the bus. They would buy a few with the money their mother or father had given them for it, because the school had sent home a piece of paper explaining what we where doing and why we where doing it.

What we where doing was trying to raise enough money to send David and his family, his mother, father and younger sister, to Disney World—his dream. We did not even know how much it cost, but we where determined to send them. Each of us bought something every morning, even if we did not need it, even if we had bought one the day before.

In the end we did raise some money, I don’t know how much but we gave it to David’s parents so they could take him to Disney World. The Starlight Foundation payed for the rest, airplane tickets, tickets to Disney World, hotel, and even a limo to pick David up from school to go to the airport. That was a great day, the end of forth grade, and everyone in our class outside of school waving to the limo as it drove David and his family off to the airport.

I do remember the phone call. It must have been a holiday, maybe spring break, because it was sunny and nice outside and my mom called from work. She told me that David has “passed away.” This was not the first time that someone I had known had “passed away” but this was the first time it was not someone old, it was the first time it was someone I saw more than a few times a year and it was the first time one of my friends had “passed away.” This was someone my age, this was someone who was not supposed to die. Even though David had been sick for years and getting worse the idea that he would not get better had never occurred to me. This was the first time I really came face to face with mortality.

I cried, and my mom tried to comfort me over the phone. She also said that she thought it would be better if I did not go the to funeral, she would go but I should stay home. I tried to argue, I said I wanted to go, that David was my friend. But she convinced me that it would be better if I stayed home, if my last memories of David where happy ones not ones of his funeral. She said I did not really want to see David like that.

So I did not go to David’s funeral and the next week we went back to school. Nothing changed in our daily routine except that the counselor came in and talked to our class, and we got the chance to talk to him one-on-one. But something imperceptible did change, the desk in the back of the room took on a new significance. It embodied the struggle of life and death in a way that science class could not and looking back at it brought you face to face with mortality. From this desk, for a long time, the icy finger of reality could come up and tap you unexpectedly on the shoulder and make your eyes swell with tears.

But years later, as the bus drove past David’s driveway I did not think of any of this. I did not think of David, bald, tired, dieing. I thought of David, happy, smiling, laughing, full of life at his birthday party. And the bus drove by David’s stop everyday, and my life went on, and David is still my friend.

A Small Good

Sunday, June 13th, 2004

“The ladies papers are in order.”

The well-educated British voice brought me out of my daze. A hand extended from behind me with a fist full of money. Before me a soldier, wearing fatigues too large for him and holding an assault rifle, looked down at the money.

A moment before that soldier had tossed my papers to another man sitting at a table next to him and said in a thickly accented English, “your papers are not in order. Step over there.” He pointed the muzzle of his AK-47 to a small whitish building a few meters away. Three more men in fatigue’s stood or squatted, smoking, with rifles in hand. The three smiled and laughed when they saw their companion point.

“Take my hand.” The British accent came again. The wad of pounds pushed into the soldier’s hand. Not waiting for a reply he began to walk.

So I walked hand-in-hand across the border with the British man. Fleeing the days old bloody civil war.

I looked back to see the five soldier’s standing together yelling. The long line of refugees waiting to cross the border looking on. “Don’t look back,” my savior said squeezing my hand. I looked forward again, across the few meters of dead zone to another border check point. The guards there looked on. What a strange pair we must have made, a young blond American woman in cut-offs and a tee-shirt carrying an old duffel bag, and a British business man in a black suit with his briefcase, holding hands.

“Are you going to the airport,” he asked, nodding to this new country’s soldier’s as we passed through the checkpoint.

“Yes, uh…” was all I could manage

Never releasing my hand, my British savior guided me among the rows of buses and cars waiting to pick up refugees and ex-patriots fleeing the violence. “My company sent a driver,” he explained.

A few moments later we stood next to a green Land Rover. The driver tossed his cigarette into the dust and squeezed his eyebrows together as he opened the back door. The driver looked questioningly from me to the businessman as my savior took my duffel bag and handed it to him. “We’re going to the airport first,” the businessman said climbing into the back seat next to me, “then to the offices.”

In the Polly Magoo

Tuesday, May 11th, 2004

What color is your insanity?

Mine is blue. The blue of Alice’s eyes. Somewhere between the deep crisp blue of the clearest day, and the cold blue of midwinter ice.

I fell in love with those eyes one evening in a small bar called the Polly Magoo on Boulevard Saint Germain in Paris.

At the time I lived in London, studying near the City. I was in Paris to visit my best friend, Scott, who studying at the Sorbonne. We sat in the smoky, poorly lit bar drinking a beer. Talking about nothing in particular, waiting for Alice. Scott thought we would get along so he wanted us to met. Alice was another overseas student at the Sorbonne.

We had been in the Polly Magoo about a half hour when she arrived. Scott sat with his back to the door so I caught sight of Alice first. She walked in and I knew who she must be immediately. Dressed in blue jeans and tee shirt with a University of Virginia emblem ironed on. As she crossed the room, all I could see was those blue eyes.

“Bonjour,” Alice smiled as she walked up to Scott and I.

A good moment

Saturday, March 20th, 2004

The flash of the strobe lights burn an almost colorless image on Jeff’s retinas. Still life sceens revealing the mass of sweaty body’s crowding the dance floor.

Flash!

Flash!

The intervals between the flashed shortes as the beat quickens.

Flash, flash!

The individual images begin to form a stop-motion movie. The dancers jerking like puppets in time with the music. Writhing in aural ecstasy.

Flash!

The music stop and the room is plunged in darkness. The only sounds the heavy breathing of the dancers.

Flash! Flash!

Jeff can feel the sound as much as he can hear it when it returns. He can feel Alice begin to move again. His hands on her hips, her back against his chest. Over the smell of sweat Jeff can make out Alice’s perfume—Chanel #5, his gift strait from Paris. Jeff closes his eyes and dances.

‘This is a good moment,’ Jeff thought losing himself in the beat.