It’s been a while, but it’s that time again… another collaboration with Emilio Pasquale! He supplies a photo and I provide a story inspired by the photo. If you haven’t checked out his photo blog, I’ve made his name a link so you can check it out… I don’t think you’ll be disappointed 🙂
I pulled my tangled hair into a ponytail at the base of my neck and wrapped a rubber band around it. As I plunged my other shirt into the creek to rinse it clean, I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation between two young men, probably in their early twenties, I guessed.
“I can’t wait to start at Reichter and Schmidt.”
“We don’t graduate for two more months.”
“Yeah, but I’m ready now. I’m thinking I’ll get promoted and make the real money in no time.”
“I haven’t started applying for jobs yet,” the other responded.
“You can’t wait for life to happen, Danny.”
“It happens anyway.”
I lifted my gaze to Danny. I didn’t know him, but felt his kindred spirit. I could attest to the fact that life resembled a desert wash after torrential rain. Unable to soak into the hardened soil, the excess water paid no mind to the boundaries of banks, much like life progressed regardless of “plans” or dreams. One day, you were in control and the next, it slipped away like liquid through oily fingers.
“You can’t get pissed about where you’re going if you don’t steer the boat.”
“Who says I’m pissed?”
The go-getter snorted. “You will be when you’re middle-aged, living with mommy and daddy, and still trying to figure out what you want to do with your life.”
“Whatever,” Danny said as he flicked a rock across the water.
The ripples expanding from the place where the rock sank mesmerized me. At first, pronounced and defined, then tapering off into stillness, they reminded me of my late middle-aged view of life. The problems and struggles were all rocks thrown into my pond; at first disruptive, but gradually they disappeared. No matter the rock’s size, I remained.
People like Danny’s friend really got under my skin because I used to be one of them. When I was in grade school, I knew I wanted a husband, two kids and a couple dogs, living in a huge suburban house with an expensive car in the driveway. I dreamed of schmoozing at networking dinners in fancy restaurants and traveling all over the world. I wanted the big corner office with the floor-to-ceiling windows, even though I would hardly be there to enjoy the view. I had faith in the myth that a woman can have it all. I got everything I ever desired, but I still had nothing. Ironically, I didn’t find meaning until I had nothing.
I wanted to tell Danny it was okay to be still and listen for life to beckon you. But I knew I wouldn’t because I hadn’t spoken a single word in 2,853 days.
“I can’t help you if you don’t want to help yourself.”
Danny flung a rock into the water. “I’m sick of your stupid clichés, Mark!” He hurled another rock at the same spot. “Can you, for once, say something that isn’t a quote from some motivational book? Or is that thinking too far ‘outside the box’?”
My gaze shifted from Danny to Mark.
“I guess not. I’m going back to camp.”
Danny rested his forehead in his hands. I knew how he felt. I had also thrown daggers with deadly accuracy. I left in my wake too many corpses to count; relationships that would never be restored. Now, I traveled alone, unarmed, by necessity- so no one else would suffer.
I twisted the water from my shirt and hung it on a sturdy branch of a nearby scrub oak. Danny never lifted his head or acknowledged me, even as my footsteps crunched the leaves and pine needles covering the ground. I was used to that, as the years had made me invisible. Only a few people noticed me, in the form of spare change dropped at my feet. Humiliated, I always accepted with an averted gaze and a nod of my head. God provided.
Danny stood and dusted his jeans off. He walked in the opposite direction of his friend. I thought a quick prayer that he might not be so stubborn and choose to make amends. I hoped he wouldn’t know the pain of surviving alone.
I lowered myself to the ground beneath the tree and leaned back, resting my head on my pack. As soon as the sun rose, I would stuff my few belongings inside the bag and head west with my life carried upon my shoulders. I had a destination in mind, but no timeframe in which to get there. I never thought beyond what I would do when I got there because I think I knew, deep down, there wouldn’t be a beyond to concern myself with.
This story was obviously inspired by Emilio’s photo. He sent it to me back in January but I just haven’t been able to write. When I saw this photo, I saw immense loneliness, and it was more the emotion that I took from the photo than the image itself.
Thanks again to Emilio for providing another photo for story inspiration. I hope we will collaborate again soon! And thank you to everyone who stopped by to read the story.
Have a beautiful Tuesday!
So many solid lines stuffed with meaning as well as moving the plot. “through oily fingers”, “steer the boat”, corpses, that scrub oak all leading to the great last paragraph. Well done
Great story! I really enjoyed reading it.
Thanks so much for reading, Priceless Joy!
Well, Janna, what can I say? The story improves with each reading. I’m not sure how much you edited from the email version you sent me but this seems so much more powerful. I love the phrases you use- like philosophermouse mentions. I sent you the backstory of Que Hoe thinking you would somehow use that as inspiration but, instead, you have used the image itself. The desolation one feels when standing there at his marker, the loneliiness of the land all around. As I said, I read so much of your own personal life story in everything you write. But this really made me feel for what you’ve been going through more than any other story you’ve done. I hope life is getting more manageable for you! And how is your son doing?
Thanks for your kind words, Emilio. I did do some editing before finally posting so maybe the changes were in the right direction 🙂 I have to admit I did draw from my personal emotions for the tone of the story. I wish I could say that life was much better, but I’ll just leave at I wake up every day. My son is doing okay, still not pain free, but I still pray and am hopeful that the medication will help. Thanks for thinking to ask.
Let me know when you’re ready for another! I enjoy it! And it’s easy for me!
I can’t believe it took me nearly a month to sit down and read this. Emilio’s photos do have a way of reaching the emotions. Thanks for the update on your son. Hang onto hope, Janna, and keep waking up every day. Your answer is on the way.
What a beautiful, but lonesome, photo Emilio has provided, Janna! I can’t help feeling the loneliness in your words and, knowing some of the backstory behind them, appreciating just how far you’ve already come. You probably can’t see it, of course. We rarely can when we’re immersed in the muck of existence. But it’s there. Hope, acceptance, strength. You will survive, my friend!
You’re right, Debbie… it is hard to readily see the distance traveled because I’m so caught up in the mess of the moment. Those words come from someone who has been here before, and that is some comfort 🙂 Thanks so much for offering your support and encouragement.
The photo is really heart stopping. Your story gripped me from the first to the very last word, Janna.
And me, too!
Thanks, Sue 🙂
Thanks so much for reading! I’m glad you found the story interesting 🙂
Powerful piece. You really spoke to me. It has been awhile since anything hit quite so on target. Beautiful.
Thanks for reading, Marilyn. I’m glad the story evoked some emotion!
Very powerful and thought provoking piece Janna. I’ve read it a couple of ties and it just gets better with the reading.
Thanks for the nice comment, Judith. I appreciate you reading it!
great story and picture
good to check in with you again
Glad you stopped by, Patty – thanks!
“Daggers with deadly accuracy” is a potent phrase… it says so very much. Thanks.
Thanks for reading, Allen. I think we’ve all said things we wish we hadn’t from time to time.
For me this was a very powerful and evocative phrase – “with my life carried upon my shoulders”.
Thank you, Janna 🙂
Thanks for reading and the feedback, Eric. She feels the weight inside and outside. Sometimes life is really that heavy 🙂
Oh I really love this story.. so much truth in this, and just maybe we who are just a tad less driven by those cliches will fall a little less heavy… maybe there is a beauty of grey, of something normal.. In Swedish there is a word called lagom that is the ideal of being right in the middle… but we all love the winners don’t we.