The Companion Broker (Fiction with photo by Emilio Pasquale)

Okay, it’s been a while since I’ve posted a collaboration with Emilio, where I write a story inspired by a photo he provides.  It’s completely my fault!  See, Emilio gave me this photo to write for September.  I have no excuse for my delay, other than 2015 isn’t landing at the top of my “best year ever” list 🙂   If you haven’t checked out Emilio’s blog before, you really should – click his name to link to his site…. I gave you three chances here!  I’ll stop rambling now – the story begins right after the photo.

Photo by Emilio Pasquale... story by me!
Photo by Emilio Pasquale… story by me!

I had a knack for finding the broken ones.  I would take them in.  I would love them.  I would lose myself in them.  Each time, I thought my heart was full enough to make them whole.  Each time, the shine tarnished and I escaped with a little less of me.

My present is made up of their pasts, the cracks in my broken heart filled with pieces of their pain.  Desperado, Cat’s in The Cradle, Father of Mine, Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough… their burdens set to music. As I sped down the remote highway, I played each and every one of these songs, over and over. It’s funny how the years of heartaches wrapped in catchy melodies slid along the hardened spaces of my soul with such ease. At least the tears reminded me that I was still alive.

This time, I didn’t care if I lived to give again. Phillip had been my latest broken bird, on the verge of falling into the dark abyss. I scooped him up and nurtured him. For three years, he greedily fed on my love and affection until he was strong enough to fly. And he flew all right… straight to my ex best friend, Sarah. I took his bad and gave him my good. It all cancelled out in the end and left me… empty.

Off to the right, a row of rusted old cars and a seen-better-days ranch caught my eye. On impulse, I pulled onto the shoulder, kicking up a cloud of dust and gravel behind me. When the dust settled, I stepped out of my car and eyed the street sign perched atop a leaning metal pole. I didn’t know which was more ironic; the fact there was a street sign marking a span of dirt that could barely be considered a road, or that the sign read “Opportunity Way.” I doubted opportunity traveled back-roads.

I walked for a little ways until I came to a waist-high wooden fence that encircled the yard. For a time, I perched on the fence, staring at the row of cars. I couldn’t help but relate to them; we had all been shiny and something to look at back in the day. But now… well, I cried.

I didn’t want to think about it, but I suspected I would always see the lost ones, broken, looking for validation and something that felt like love to make them okay for a while.  I could see my future so clearly… like beggars pleading for loose change, their eyes would search mine for a bit of my soul they could have.  On my strong days, I would turn my head and quicken my pace. “I don’t have any,” I would mutter.  It would be true.  If God was merciful, they won’t pursue me. They would see I was as broke… broken… as they were. They would sense I had nothing to offer, no hand to grasp in desperation.

“Howdy, ma’am!”

I startled, losing my balance and fell back into someone’s arms. I twisted my neck and glimpsed a not-completely-unattractive man, possibly in his early fifties. Exactly what I don’t need. I jerked my weight forward and steadied myself on the fence.

“You’re welcome,” he said.

“I didn’t thank you.”

The wood bounced as he hoisted himself to sit next to me. He shrugged. “I was overlooking your lack of manners.”

I clenched my jaw, but kept my gaze focused on the cactus that took root next to the blue car. “Speaking of manners, it’s not polite to interrupt someone’s thoughts.”

He smiled. “Maybe not, but when the thoughts are thunk on my property, those rules don’t really apply.”

“You’re right. I’ll go.” Before I could slide off the fence, he touched my arm.

“You’re welcome to stay.” He shifted his gaze toward the cars. “Lots of people come here to think. It keeps me in business.”

“Business? What kind of work?” I thought maybe mechanic, but his khaki pants and pastel blue polo shirt didn’t fit.

“I’m a companion broker, you could say.”

“Companion broker?” The words tumbled around in my head as I tried to figure out what that meant.

He laughed. “Lemme explain. I help fix people.  This highway is traveled by lots of lonely people; people with heavy stuff on their mind. Sometimes all they need is human connection.”

My eyes widened. “So you’re a pimp? That’s horrible!”

He lifted a rhinestone and gold-plated Zippo from his pocket and lit the cigarette hanging from his pressed lips. “No, not a pimp. I mean, sometimes people are looking for that, but usually, they just want to talk so they don’t feel alone.”

“Not a pimp, huh? That blinged-out lighter says otherwise.”

“Hmph. One of those.” He shook his head and exhaled a trail of smoke.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

He shrugged. “Bitter, disillusioned and bearing scars of past loves. I’m guessing you’ve convinced yourself you’re on a journey to find you, but really, you’re running from who you are.” He paused to exhale another puff of smoke. “You judge me because it makes you feel better about yourself.”

“Listen, Mr…. Mr. whatever-your-name-is, you may think you know my story, but you don’t!” I clenched my eyes shut, hoping it was enough to keep the tears back.

“They call me Big Guns.”

I stifled a laugh. “Big Guns?”

He pushed up his shirt sleeve and flexed, I think. “See what I mean?”

I saw a barely perceptible bulge in his bicep. I shook my head, “I’m sorry, but those aren’t even purse pistols.” I laughed, almost forgetting that moments ago, I wanted to cry.

“Come on,” he said as he hopped off the fence.

I didn’t move. Following him seemed like insanity.

“Trust me. You need to see this.” He held his hand out, waiting for me to grasp it.

Impulsively, I took the invitation and his fingers curled around my hand. “Is it more impressive than what I’ve seen so far, Mr. Guns?” I shocked myself with the flirtatious tone in my voice.

This time he laughed. “I think you’ll be amazed. You can call me Thomas.”

I followed Thomas to the row of rusted cars. With his back to me, I slipped my tinted gloss from my pocket and swiped a quick coat on my lips.

“These cars were my dad’s hobby, but he passed away three years ago. I can’t bring myself to get rid of them, yet I don’t have the expertise needed to restore them either.”

“I’m sorry for your loss.” I didn’t know what else to say.

“I found another way to use them to honor his memory, though.” He opened the door to the first car and gestured for me to look inside.

Paper filled the inside of the car clear up to the windows. “What is all this?”

Thomas smiled. “These are letters from the lonely. We’re all broken in some way and these letters allow those passing through to let go of some of their burdens.”

“What do you do with the letters? Do you read them?”

“I don’t read them. I leave them here so the intended recipient will find them. There’s no such thing as coincidence; our paths cross for a reason. Some people write letters, but others read them and take one with them when they go. All I ask is that writers include their name and phone number, and when you take a letter, you contact that person.”

Companion broker… it made more sense. “Do these people ever meet?”

He shrugged. “Some do. I’ve gotten a few letters thanking me, but really, I’m just doing God’s service.”

“God’s service?”

Thomas smiled. “I used to be a pastor but disagreed with the human way of organized religion. So, I decided to minister to people on my own, according to God’s word and Jesus’ principles.”

My cheeks flushed. “I-I’m so sorry, I called you a pimp.”

“And you laughed at my biceps.” He closed the car door and led me to the blue car. “I think this one might have what you’re looking for.” He pointed to a notepad and pen on the dashboard. “Write a letter, or take a letter, it’s up to you. Take your time.”

I watched as Thomas shuffled away, dust trailing behind him. A pastor. Unbelievable. I turned my attention to the mounds of paper filling the car. I shoved them aside so I could sit. I wondered why he thought I’d find what I was looking for here. I didn’t even know what I sought.

I grabbed the paper and pen and wrote my first tentative words. The rest of the words followed swiftly and before I knew it, both sides of the page were filled. I hesitated. Then with a deep breath and long exhale, I scrawled my name and phone number. After I dropped the paper onto the pile, it felt like a weight had been lifted from inside me.

The dense pile swallowed my hand, and my arm up to my elbow, before I grasped a page. I held it up so I could focus on the scrawled words. I can’t believe I’m writing a letter to leave in an old car for some stranger to read. I smiled. My letter started similarly. By the time I got to the end, my eyes blurred. I swiped the wetness from my cheeks with the back of my hand.

Seth Mitchell.

My breath caught as I stared at the familiar name. A buried past, exhumed and resurrected by one hand-written letter. I folded the page into fourths and shoved it into my back pocket. Twenty years felt like a span of a few breaths. That letter transported me from middle age to mid-twenties. I stepped out of the car and slammed the creaky-hinged door behind me. The thought crossed my mind that the old car was a time machine of sorts.

Maybe Seth had been right back then… that love wasn’t enough. Maybe I was right in my proclamation that time doesn’t heal all wounds. Maybe right or wrong no longer mattered.

All I knew in that moment was that I needed to find out.

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Thanks so much for reading! If life cooperates, the plan is to have another Emilio photo/story collaboration posted in December.  Stay tuned 🙂

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Flirting With Darkness

10-12 Lava Tube5

I’m submerged,
on the brink of
forever losing my footing.
Arms flailing,
body swaying…
threatening to tumble
from the narrow plateau.

I curl up to absorb
the crushing blows;
the one-two punch-
sadness aches,
loneliness paralyzes…
I avert my gaze to hide
the mottled bruises inside.

I waver between
giving in and fighting back,
succumbing to weakness
or summoning strength;
I taunt the darkness…
I beg it to finally claim me,
yet dare it to set me free.

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I’m not sure how much explanation this poem needs – it seems pretty straightforward to me… but then again, I wrote it 🙂  Here’s some background just in case:

I wrote this poem a couple months ago.  After several months of not seeing hope or a reason to look forward to another day, I grew tired and frustrated.  In the first verse, I’m balanced on the edge of darkness, in danger of being swallowed forever.  It’s like a force was pushing me from behind and I did everything I could to not fall.  In the second verse, I’m tired- beaten down by sadness and loneliness.  My bruises are on the inside, so no one can see them but me.  The third verse is the contemplation of whether to keep fighting the darkness or let it claim me.

This struggle has been very real and obviously, I’ve chosen to fight it.  With the loss of 2 of my pets recently, I’ve had passing moments of darkness, but nothing like the total immersion I experienced for the first half of the year.  Right now, I feel that little hope is good, but too much hope is a set up for disappointment.  Perhaps the longer I’m in the light, the more I will trust that hope is more than just a mirage shimmering on my horizon.

Thanks for reading.  I hope you have a beautiful Monday!

Finally Some Fiction Here! Someone Else’s Dream, With Photo by Emilio Pasquale

Each month, I team up with Emilio Pasquale – he gives me a photo and I write a story inspired by it.  What follows is the photo he chose- FOR MAY! (yes, I am that far behind), and then my story.  His photography is impressive, so if you haven’t checked out his site, you really should 🙂

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Photo by Emilio Pasquale
Photo by Emilio Pasquale (story by me!)

Someone Else’s Dream

She leaned her bare elbows on the iron railing. The still-warm metal transferred a day’s worth of heat to her skin. The sun had set about an hour ago; she’d watched it sink below the horizon.

“She comes out here every night.”

Ingrid heard the whispers behind her, annoying like gnats swarming in dusk air.

“It’s like she thinks he’s coming back.”

She closed her eyes and bowed her head. They didn’t know what they spoke of, but she let them think what they wanted. Her momma had always told her that gossip was like a raging wildfire. Truth only fanned the flames until all that remained were embers glowing among the ashes of destroyed lives.

“It’s sad, really. At her age, to be tossed aside like that; I heard he found someone else.”

Ingrid turned to face the women behind her. “Sadness… joy… life brings some of both, doesn’t it?” Ingrid smiled as their eyes widened. The yellow glow of the lamplights did nothing to conceal their reddened cheeks. At least they had the decency to be embarrassed, even though it wasn’t because of what they said, but rather, that she’d confronted them. She gained some satisfaction in their discomfort as she watched them scurry like roaches seeking a dark corner.

Alone again, Ingrid returned her attention to the canal below. Specifically, the boat tethered to the railing. That boat wasn’t much to look at on the surface, but it held the answers to many of her life’s questions. She felt that if she spent enough time in the presence of the boat bearing her name, mysteries of life would be revealed to her.

As a young woman, she’d dreamed of a simple life spent on the countryside. She’d imagined growing her own produce, maybe even a small vineyard where she could practice the art of making wine. When she first met Gary, she thought he’d shared her dreams. She later realized he had his own dreams of owning a boat and living on the water.

Fifteen years ago, he bought a canal boat and named her Ingrid’s Sunset.

“You bought a boat? Without talking to me about it first?”

He’d held her hands in his. “But honey, she’s perfect, just like you.”

She shook her head. “The wood needs refinished, the leather seat is weather-beaten, and it’s taking on water. It’s a wonder the thing floats.”

Gary grinned. “Give me time and you’ll see the beauty too.”

His excitement had softened her toward the dilapidated vessel. For a few years, he did work on the boat in his spare time. The leather seat had been replaced and the leaks plugged where the floor boards remained dry. His attention drifted, though, to bigger, more elaborate boats. He wanted to travel the ocean and knew the canal boat would never get him there.

Ingrid stared down at Ingrid’s Sunset, the irony, bitter in her throat. Like the boat named after her, she could only carry him so far before he realized he needed more. Like the boat, she had been nurtured and cared for in the beginning. Without thought, she’d let go of her countryside dreams and adopted his dream as her own. She’d believed him when he told her she’d always be his co-captain.

She closed her eyes to the grit carried on the warm breeze. She despised this place. It served as a constant reminder that she was trapped in the nightmare of living in someone else’s dream. For nearly two years, she’d spent her evenings with Ingrid’s Sunset looking for answers, searching for direction. Abandoned, she lingered in the purgatory of realization… unable to let go of his dream, yet unable to pursue her own.

“It’s getting dark.”

Ingrid didn’t turn toward the voice behind her. “It’s been dark for some time.”

“I have to go home soon so I can make sure mother gets her nighttime meds.”

“Sarah, you can go. I can see myself in just fine.”

“You know I can’t do that,” she whispered.

Annoyance filled the wrinkles scrunched between Ingrid’s frowned eyebrows. She knew the rules and had no regard for them. However, Sarah was no longer bound by them. For six months after Ingrid’s breakdown, Sarah had been the caseworker assigned to monitor her re-acclimation, or whatever it was they called it. Basically, Sarah hovered to make sure Ingrid didn’t go off the deep end again. After six months, the state department of mental health services deemed Ingrid able to live on her own in society with medication. But Sarah continued to check on her every day.

“Why do you still come here?” Ingrid asked; gaze fixed on the tethered canal boat bobbing in the water below.

“The water calls to you.”

Ingrid glanced over her shoulder. “What do you mean?”

“You come out here every night, as if you are waiting for him to return. Even though you know he isn’t coming back, I fear you’ll answer the water’s call.”

Ingrid studied the deep creases that spanned the length Sarah’s forehead. Under the street lamps, the pale skin stretched across her cheekbones looked thinner, almost crinkly- like wadded tissue paper. She suspected painful stories settled in each of the furrows. “You think I’m going to drown myself?”

Sarah shrugged. “Maybe not intentionally, but once the water wraps itself around you, I’m certain it will suffocate you. I’ve been left before and I know the lure of needing to know why.”

Turning back to the canal, Ingrid looked into the murky water. Instead of her reflection, she could only make out mottled patches of reflected light. “I used to dream of the countryside.”

“You should go there.”

Several minutes were swallowed in silence before Ingrid broke her grip on the railing and took one step back. “You keep saying that. I’m thinking maybe you’re right; maybe it’s time to move on.” She turned to Sarah and noticed her eyes glistening with unshed tears. “You want to come in for a snack before you go?”

Sarah shook her head and glanced at the watch strapped to her wrist. “I have some things I need to do yet tonight.”

She didn’t ask the time, but suspected it was later than she thought, as the canal walk had grown deserted. “Goodnight then.” Ingrid smiled. “Thank you for everything.” She felt Sarah watching her as she strode away from the canal. Once she passed through the archway to the gardens, she stepped aside and ducked behind a flowering Texas Ranger shrub. Peeking through the space between clustered branches, Ingrid watched as Sarah kneeled down at the railing. Even before the first rope slithered from between the rails and dropped into the canal, she knew what was happening. Ingrid could have stopped her, but didn’t. When the third and final rope disappeared, a lengthy exhale escaped.

Sarah stood and brushed her knees off before reaching into her pocket. Ingrid squinted but still couldn’t make out what she held in her hands. She gasped when she saw the first flames flicker. Again, she could have intervened, but watched in silence as Sarah tossed the flaming object over the railing.

“Goodbye, Gary.” The words slipped from between parched lips, like a breeze whistling between bare branches.

Ingrid stared, transfixed, as the first tendrils of smoke drifted skyward. In the periphery of her consciousness, she sensed that Sarah had disappeared into the darkness outside the lamp-lit walkway. A hint of a smile tugged at the corner of her lips as the wisps grew into billows of black smoke. She knew this would be her last visit to the canal; the hold on her now broken.

Just as leaves bud in the spring, Ingrid felt the first stirring of life in her once-dormant soul.

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When I started this story back in May, I stopped writing just before where Sarah was introduced.  I finally realized my hesitation with the story – the ending I had in my mind was too obvious.  That’s where Sarah came in.  Instead of Ingrid coming to the conclusion of letting go and moving on herself, Sarah helped her along.  A part of me thinks that Gary might actually have been stored in that canal boat, possibly under the seat (hmm… perhaps I’ve thought about this waaaaay too much!) but I left that open… Ingrid’s goodbye to Gary could have figurative or literal, depending on how you- the reader- choose to see it.

Thanks so much for reading!

Emilio – you want to try another photo for September?  Hey, I could have a story by Christmas, haha!  Seriously though – I’ve missed writing for your photos 🙂

Freedom Is A State Of Mind

It’s almost Independence Day here in the United States, but I thought I’d look at freedom in a different way. Freedom isn’t just about rights that are awarded from sources outside of us; freedom is also what we allow ourselves to make of it.

For a while I’ve been imprisoned by my own thoughts and circumstances. My mind has settled on the impossibility of what life is and I’ve been unable to comprehend a time where things could be different. This has led me into some really dark days. I haven’t written on my blog for nearly a month, mostly because the majority of what I’ve written has been so dark and depressing, I simply cannot share it.

During this time, friends have tried to lift me up because I can’t stand on my own. I know this has been exhausting for them because it’s been tiring for me as well. Waking up each day has been a chore. I’ve been caught in an endless loop of not wanting to do anything, and then feeling down because I don’t find joy in anything.

I know; it’s all in my head.

A glimmer of hope came through in my writing recently, and I thought I would share. It’s the first hint in a long time that maybe I will be right again, someday. This poem was written about a friend who has put a lot of effort into trying to get me to see hope. I’ve not been able to look beyond what I could see for today and tomorrow. But sometimes (I’m told) hope waits over the horizon, just out of sight.

Just because I can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Hope is the light streaming in between clouds
Hope is the light streaming in between clouds

You are…

A seedling sprouting

on the charred forest floor;

the sun rising

bathing desolation in golden light;

fresh rain soaking

into parched desert soil;

the smile spreading

across a tear-streaked face.

You are the today

that makes me want to see tomorrow;

you are a gift-

a reminder of God’s amazing way.

These sentiments also apply to everyone who has offered prayers and well-wishes over the last several months. A big, heart-felt thanks to all of you! There is still so much uncertainty in my life, and most days are emotionally and physically draining, but I’m starting to believe one thing IS a certainty: I will be okay. “Okay” might not turn out to be what I thought it would be… but that’s okay 🙂 I am so far behind in reading blogs but I am finally to the point I think I can set aside a little time most days. I always enjoyed the blog community and I think perhaps taking the step to interact again will bring some normalcy, which I’ve been lacking.

I wish you all a beautiful weekend!  If hope isn’t clearly visible, may a shift in mindset bring it out of the shadows.

It Is Done – Poetry and Blog Hiatus

Nature's representation of my life at the moment...
Nature’s representation of my life at the moment…

I just let go-

my last precarious hold

on my final shred

of battered sanity.

My soul sinks low,

 a free-fall plummet

to the depths

of I-don’t-know where.

I’m so alone,

fearful, uncertain-

my anguished prayer

is that misery isn’t forever.

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Here is where I usually provide my inspiration for the poem.  About all I can tell you is that I wrote this poem on Saturday after a particularly gut-wrenching event.  I still cry whenever I think about it, which is quite often.    Beyond this, I have to leave you to your own interpretations, as it would reveal too much.  This brings me to the real point of this post…

For almost five years (in March) I’ve posted regularly, at least twice a week, except for maybe a week off here or there.  Circumstances are such that I need to take a longer break.  I don’t know if it will be a matter of weeks or months at this point, but I will be back.  I love this place and it makes me sad to do this, but with what’s going on, I can’t chance posting my emotions “real time.”  I fully intend to fill in some of the details when I’m on “the other side.” Even though I can’t see the other side through the darkness I’m in right now, I expect I will get there.  I don’t know who I’ll be at that point.  God willing, someone stronger.  Maybe more confident, too.

I hope you don’t forget about me during my absence and are willing to get re-acquainted with me when I return.  I have many regular readers that I consider friends and I will miss you!  I will try to do some reading, but may not comment much.  I look forward to the time when I can experience some sort of happiness again and can share it here 🙂

If you are the praying type, I could really use your prayers right now.

JannaT.