Almost 6000 Words of Wisdom

This continues where Don’t Look For Death Because It Might Find You left off.

In a past life Buck had been someone, but it was a little unclear who.

He was not dumb or slow although some took his reticence to speak as an indicator of such. In a different time and place Buck had been a son, he had been a husband and most importantly a father.

Buck reminded Tom of granite, imposing and forbidding he gave the impression that had he wanted to remain in the bar nothing could have made him move. Tom wasn’t real sure how they became friends or even if they were, but he couldn’t let him stay or maybe he wouldn’t have stayed.

Who really knew what or why Buck did what he did. The reality was that Tom had invited him out, had asked him to join him for a beer and so he felt responsible for the incident.
Their friendship had been a gradual process, not much different than watching a glacier move. Slowly it had evolved from grunts and nods to the odd word here and there. The bar they were currently walking away from had helped to push things along.

One day Tom had decided to stop and get a beer before heading home. Buck was sitting on a stool, alone as usual. It hadn’t been easy to approach him, but he had been afraid not to. So he had walked over and asked Buck if he could join him. An almost imperceptible nod yes demonstrated his approval and so he pulled up a stool and sat down.

For the first ten minutes he hadn’t even tried to speak to him, just sat there trying to figure out what to say. It was awkward and uncomfortable, but the silence didn’t faze Buck. And in truth it was Tom’s decision not to try and force conversation that caused Buck to speak first.

He didn’t say much, but for someone who tended not to say more than three words at a time this was a veritable Shakespearean soliloquy. “You could do better work if you slowed down.” It wasn’t said critically, there was no accusation, it was surprisingly friendly in tone and nature. “If you let the machine do its job you’ll do better.”

Tom suddenly realized that he had been holding his breath and exhaled deeply. “Thanks, I appreciate it.”

And from then on they had an unspoken appointment to share a pitcher of beer each week. Over time bits and pieces came out about Buck. He shared little things about his life, but the pieces of the puzzle were still hard to place. It became more than apparent that there was much more to Buck than it appeared, but still he was a man who did not offer much in the way of answers.

Buck

His name was Buck and he was built like a gorilla. It wasn’t an affectionate description, nor a term of endearment. It wasn’t that he looked particularly simian, it was his long arms. Had they been thin they would have been called gangly, they were not.

Those arms were connected to a body that resembled a fireplug and to a brutish looking face. Dark eyes hid behind thick black eyebrows and a nose that resembled a pear.

He would never be called pretty, handsome or complimented for his looks. But neither would he ever be teased as it was apparent to even the animals that he was not to be trifled with. It was one of the things that set him apart.

Dogs avoided him. Big dogs, little dogs, Rottweiler, Pit Bull, Schnauzer, it didn’t matter, they stayed away from him, as if they could sense the violence that lay just beneath the surface.

Tom had seen it surface a couple of times. They had finished their shifts and walked over to a local bar for a beer. A couple of locals had the misfortune of poor judgment. He had sneezed and knocked over their pitcher of beer. They immediately began berating him and when he didn’t respond they grew more aggressive.

They mistook his inactivity for fear or who knows what. Had they looked more closely they would have noticed that his large hands were scarred and callused. A person doesn’t get those marks, they earn them. And those that earn them have a certain something that they bring to the party.

Tom was surprised, really shocked was more like it with the speed at which things happened. The man closest to Buck grabbed his collar and demanded that he spring for a new pitcher of beer. One moment he was standing in front of Buck, hands wrapped in the collar of a dirty blue jumpsuit and the next he was writhing in pain on the ground, one arm dangling uselessly from his body.

The second man didn’t have time to do anything before Buck and picked him up and slammed him face first on the floor like a cheap rag doll. The only saving grace for him was that the impact knocked him senseless, would that his sense would have flitted over to the first man.

If it had he might have lay still. He didn’t, opting to grab Buck’s leg. Perhaps he did so unconsciously, perhaps not. It doesn’t matter what the reason was, because Buck fixed his arm so that there was a question of whether he would ever be able to feed himself again.

Tom looked at his watch. It was 5:37, their shift had ended at 5:30. It had taken at least five minutes to leave the plant and walk to the bar. How did this happen so quickly and what was he supposed to do now.

Buck was a bit of an enigma to Tom. The fury with which he had dispatched the two men has dissipated into the ether. It was as if it had never happened. The only sign of his anger were the broken bodies of the two men and a couple of rivulets of sweat upon his brow.

Beyond that it was hard to determine if anything unusual had happened. He wasn’t breathing hard and his behavior had reverted back to the passive state in which most people usually saw Buck. Tom knew that this wasn’t what most people considered normal behavior, but he also knew that Buck had not gone looking for trouble, it had found him. And he also knew if they stayed there until the police came Buck’s trouble would include Tom and he wasn’t willing to let that happen.

So he grabbed Buck by the arm, taking care to make sure that Buck saw that it was him and not some stranger and suggested that they leave. And so they did, their progress was unimpeded by the other patrons of the bar. They were not people who had a great love for the police, but they were people who appreciated having two functional arms and after what they had just witnessed no one dared to challenge their departure.

Back on the street Tom considered what he knew about Buck. When Tom began working at the plant Buck was a Chief Machinist. Not that the “chief” part of the title meant anything, but in the 10 years since Tom had begun working at the plant he had yet to meet another Chief Machinist. Nor had he met any other machinists besides himself.

It was kind of queer. There was room for at least another three full time men, plenty of work to go around. Best of his knowledge the company was making money, so it seemed strange to him. But he had learned not to ask questions, what another man did was his business and it was best to stick with people of the same pay grade as your own.

What he did know was that Buck never missed a day of work. He didn’t call in sick, he didn’t take vacations either. He came to work and he did what he had to do. But that still didn’t tell the story. He was fast at his work, but not in a flashy way. His speed was deceptive, he always appeared to be moving at half speed, yet his production was faster than Tom and error free. And as Tom had heard, Buck had worn out at least three other machinists.
Each one had tried to match his production and precision, but none could.

Tom didn’t know this because of Buck, you could say that he knew it in spite of Buck.

Buck didn’t speak much and when he did it never was about his work and rarely ever about himself. Most of the other employees at the plant avoided interacting with Buck, he had a look about him that made people second guess themselves, double check their self-confidence. The thing was that Buck didn’t try to make anyone feel anything, the feelings were just a response to Buck. It was part of who he was.

During the first few years Buck didn’t say a word to Tom. The only way he knew that Buck was even aware of him would be when Buck came to his position to exchange a part or check the inventory terminal.

Clad in blue coveralls and safety glasses he would shuffle over and sniff around for whatever it was he needed. Tom knew that it was a little unfair to describe Buck in terms best used for a bear or gorilla, but it was hard not to. Buck had repeatedly demonstrated that he was abnormally strong and while he may have shuffled while he walked it was deceptive. He was fast and agile, his movements were actually measured and precise.

Old Buck didn’t waste energy with unnecessary movement or gestures.

Her Story

She came in through the bathroom window. The blackbirds outside the house announced her entry, but it didn’t matter, there really was no need because when she came in through the window the window came with her, glass and frame.

Her jacket provided some protection, at least it prevented major shards of glass from severing an artery or doing other serious damage. But it didn’t matter to her, the London Fog jacket she had borrowed from her last boyfriend had sustained mortal injury, grievous wounds made it apparent that it had purchased a one way ticket.

How silly it seemed, the fight that she had with her boyfriend. It was like so many other fights, battled over trivial things. Days later she wondered why his refusal to wear underwear bothered her so. What difference did it make, but it did. Something’s are not logical, nor rational, but they are important to us for reasons that we cannot always understand nor fathom.

The day of the final fight had given no indication that this would be the last day that she would speak with or look at him. One more act of impulsive behavior and one more place she would not be able to go back to, not even if she wanted to. But she never did, once she left she was gone. A traveler in the dark whose most important possessions were those that she always carried on her person.

They had woken up and made love in bed and again in the shower. And for a brief time she had thought that she could ignore the problems that made her shake her head. She acknowledged her role, owned her feelings and admitted to herself that she was impulsive and that if she would let herself forget she could forgive. But she didn’t forget and so she couldn’t forgive.

Her exits were not dramatic or exciting. A simple “I am going out for a walk” in which she left out the part about never returning. As she grabbed her hat and keys he yelled out from the bedroom, “It is cold, take my coat.” And so she had taken the London Fog and ambled out the door.

The steps to the staircase down did not slow her progress as they had in the past. This time they encouraged her. Not withstanding the 30 seconds it took to tie her shoe and adjust the coat her exit from her old life had taken a grand total of six minutes. In all of 180 seconds she had evaluated the prior two years of life and found them lacking and so she continued striding down the hall, accompanied by the strains of Gloria Gaynor singing “I will survive.”

Following the Breakup

Some people don’t like the clickety-clatter of chaos and confusion caused by the end of a relationship. That had never been a problem for her. When it was done, it was done and she always knew. Some of the men had begged her to reconsider, professed their undying love and offered to change, but by that point it was too late.

It was dead and there was no second coming. She wasn’t like her friends, willing to ignore problems because of a fear of solitude. It wasn’t honest and she was honest, too honest. She knew it, but it wasn’t something that she worried about or focused upon. In her eyes there was a natural cycle for relationships, they began, developed and grew into something that would last a while, but were ephemeral in nature.

And so it was with the last relationship, at least that is what it had appeared to be. But like many things in life, appearances can be deceiving and she had learned that leaving this last guy behind was far more difficult than she could have ever imagined.

Initially she hadn’t thought twice about it. She just walked out and headed towards the bus station. She never shared her finances with her men. She was far too independent for that, insisting that she maintain her own checking account. It was part of how she maintained control and in part responsible for how she kept from getting too close to them. They could only get so far in her head before they reached the end of the line.

Inside her pocket she clutched a small purse. It contained a lipstick, a stick of gum, bank card, checkbook with a balance of $7,237.34 and the first and only credit card she had ever owned.
All of her clothes, books and music had been left behind in the apartment. She liked making a clean start and this was going to be just that, clean. She figured that she had enough money to start over wherever she ended up and just where that would be remained up in the air.

Once she got to the station she would purchase a ticket somewhere and during the ride she would consider her options. She might even go on a vacation, lounge around on a beach somewhere and enjoy herself. She was single and all things were possible.

A billboard advertising the “Simple Life of Country Living” led to one of her famous impulses and so it was she ended upon a mostly empty bus headed down South. Her father had a hunting lodge that he rarely used, it was quiet and comfortable and she knew where the caretaker left the spare key.

The Bus Station

Years ago her mother had warned her that if she spent too much time with the guys she would never find the guy. At the time she had blown it off, attributed it to a woman who had never known a man besides her husband. Married at 19, pregnant by 20 and the mother of three children by 24 she couldn’t possibly understand why it was important to experience life and to live a little. So she wrote it off to motherly advice and went about her business.

She had always liked men and they had always liked her. She appreciated all the things that made them different from women, strong masculine hands, rough hewn features, broad backs, thick hair and more. There were so many little things about men that attracted her and so many different men to choose from.

So she set off to prove herself right and her mother wrong. She dated a lot, but was very selective in who she gave herself too. Not everyone made the cut. She wouldn’t talk herself into liking a man strictly to have a boyfriend, she’d rather be alone than settle. Besides, those relationships never worked, they were train wrecks waiting to happen.

Her thoughts were momentarily interrupted by the bright lights inside the bus station. With the exception of a man sleeping on a bench and the woman at the ticket counter it was empty. The fluorescent lights made the faded yellow paint look even more washed out than it was.

The checkerboard laminate floor was raised in places, sticky substances pulled at her shoes. In a different time and place she might have taken that as a sign that she was supposed to stay, but for now it was just gross. She choked back her thoughts of what made the floor so sticky and headed for the ticket counter.

It was 9:30, the next bus didn’t leave until almost midnight. Five hours after departure it would reach Durham. Then it would be a matter of finding transportation out to the lodge.
That gave her seven hours of downtime. Seven hours of being with herself. Some people had trouble being alone, they couldn’t take the silence, couldn’t handle the lack of contact with others. That had never been a problem for her. Her brother had locked her in a closet and left her there in the dark for hours. He thought that he was punishing her. She merely closed her eyes and went to sleep.

The harder part of the trip would be contending with the other passengers. She wasn’t unsocial, but she was not inclined to spend the rest of the night sharing recipes, stories of home or being mauled by some guy who thought that he had found an easy way to pass the time.
For a moment she considered turning around. She could walk back and step right into the life that she had left. It was almost comical to her. He had no idea that she was about to run off into the night, no clue that she had decided that their relationship was dead.

And for a moment she felt badly about it. Men were not real observant. He would not have noticed that they hadn’t had a real conversation for weeks, would not have noticed that she hadn’t initiated any sexual encounters and even if he had, he would certainly not have realized that she was no longer present.

He wasn’t a mind reader, she couldn’t expect him to fix something that he didn’t know was broken. It would be easy to come back like nothing was wrong and to just pick up where she left off, but it wasn’t honest and she couldn’t have that, couldn’t live with herself.

The Girl Who Was

It was hot outside, so very hot. If you were dumb enough to sit outside you could watch the heat radiate off of the highway, could see it shimmering off of the blacktop. An old radio with a broken knob pumped out a live version of Gimme Shelter by the Rolling Stones.

“Oh, a storm is threat’ning
My very life today
If I don’t get some shelter
Oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away

War, children, it’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away
War, children, it’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away”

Yes, Mick could sing. She had never been one to chase after the older men, but he was different. In a past life she and her boyfriend had gone to one of the shows at the old stadium. Mick might have been old enough to be her father, but watching his shirtless body prance and strut around the stage she became intrigued. It was one of her many secrets, Mick was a boyfriend who would never be, but he would still be Mick to her.

It was a week since she had left the old life behind. Seven days ago she had been a committed woman on the verge of being committed. Seven days ago she had been living a different life, been a different person and now she was just starting to learn who she would become.

Her thoughts were interrupted as Mick left the stage to make way for another of her favorite artists. Rod Stewart serenaded her into a daydream about endless youth

“May the good Lord be with you
Down every road you roam
And may sunshine and happiness
surround you when you’re far from home
And may you grow to be proud
Dignified and true
And do unto others
As you’d have done to you
Be courageous and be brave
And in my heart you’ll always stay
Forever Young, Forever Young
Forever Young, Forever Young”

She missed the days when she could still believe that she would always be young. Her face and body still belonged to a young woman, but her heart and soul were much older. Too much baggage, too many scars to be the girl who could sit and daydream about the cute boy in her class, to kiss his picture and say that she was Mrs. Goodlookingboy.

Now she was more like Mrs. Robinson than a miss and it hurt. It hurt to be honest with herself, hurt to admit that she had been fooling herself for so long. When had she given up on feeling that crazy “high school love.” When had she decided that it was ok to not really feel anything.
The worst part was acknowledging her betrayal, not of another, but of herself. It is bad enough to lie to others but to lie to yourself is the greatest and most damaging lie of all.

But now she had an opportunity to fix that, to learn from the past and make it right. That was the great message of Hollywood, you can screw up and still make it ok. There were a million examples of it. Politicians, athletes and celebrities are celebrated on camera for admitting their faults and insecurities, lauded for admitting that they share the same human foibles as the rest of us. Everyone can get a second chance.

Hell, even Nixon managed to die as a revered elder statesman and not someone who had been run out of office.

A snort escaped her lips. She couldn’t quite believe the garbage she was spewing out, not that it mattered. She was the only one here. Aside from a couple of trips into town for supplies she had had almost no interaction with anyone else.

It had taken two full days to call home to say that it wasn’t home any longer. She had intentionally waited until the middle of the day, wouldn’t risk the conversation. Not because she was afraid of confrontation, but because she couldn’t think of a nice way to tell someone that she wasn’t in love with him anymore and probably hadn’t been for longer than he would believe.

There really wasn’t any point in hurting him like that. Just a short message to say that she was ok, was sorry that it had taken her so long to call and a request to donate all of her stuff to whatever charity he saw fit. No need to worry about bills or banking and just like that her present became her past, a story to be relived in dreams and journal entries.

And now out here in the sunshine there seemed little reason to look backwards, there was a big world out there and the only question was where to go and what to do. A pained sigh escaped her lips as she realized that she had fallen back into wondering where and what her place in the world should be.

She was comforted in knowing that the gray skies of Ohio were behind her, if she had to start over it might as well be in a place that had nice weather.

The Fall From Grace

“G-d struck down Lucifer and sent him spilling from the heavens and into the Earth. His wings were taken and his appearance went from fair to foul.” It was the first line of the story I had tried to write my sophomore year of high school. I fumbled around with it for a while, tried to find a voice that I could latch onto, a guide that would help me tell the tale.

I was almost sixteen years-old and an avid reader. I loved science-fiction and fantasy, wanted to be like Tolkien and Bradbury. It didn’t seem out of reach or impossible, all I needed to do was find the voice, catch the willow-of-the-wisp that would ferry me across the River Styx, my personal Charon.

Even now you can hear the echoes of the writers that influenced me in my youth. I’d like to say that I made the same mistake as Icarus, that I soared too high, that my flame burned too brightly to shine for long. It would be a lie. My life had long since lost that spark of hope that the youth of the world rely upon. I felt like I was nothing more than a broken toy that had once been shiny and new and now was buried at the bottom of the toy box. I could see glimpses of daylight, but I had no idea how to claw my way back to the surface.

Georgie might have been crazy. He might have been certifiable, but he was my lifeline into the world. He was the reason that I did more than just go to work. He was the reason that I didn’t just lie in bed or in front of the television.

A past love had told me that my affection for Georgie was equivalent to suffering from “Stockholm Syndrome.” She had said the same thing that many did about Georgie, that he would die a violent death and that he would cause nothing but pain to those around him.

I wonder if she would be surprised to see me now, to know that I was the reason he was dead. I wonder if she could recognize me, if any remnants of the love that we had shared remained or if I was nothing more than a dried up husk. Once I had been in love. Once I had felt alive and not dead inside. She wasn’t afraid to look at the darker places inside of me, didn’t think that I was broken, just lost.

And for a time her belief in me had made me feel like maybe she was right, like there might be a place for me, a chance to make something of myself. But that time was so long ago it was no longer real to me.

There is no question that her departure from my life corresponded with my own downward spiral, my own destructive nature took me to places I was afraid to be. The daylight was no longer bright and the sun was no longer warm. When she left it was abrupt and without warning.

She had told me that she loved me. She had promised to never leave me and I had believed her. I had tried to hold on to that belief, tried to convince myself that one day I would come home and find her waiting for me. But the days turned into weeks and the weeks became months and time never stopped moving, but my heart did.

A Broken Window

For the first time in what felt like eons she was free. It was easy to daydream, to lie in the sun and consider all the places she could go, the things that she could do, the people she could meet. After a long relationship it was easy to adjust to being single, to knowing that she could pick up and go anywhere, do anything.

But before she could do any of that she had to attend to a few things at the cabin. It had been late when she arrived and she had been very tired. The great escape as she liked to think of her flight from relationship land had been more emotionally draining then she had expected. It wasn’t that she missed him or that she was fearful about not finding someone knew, it wasn’t any of those things.

The end of some relationships stirred up old ghosts, memories of the past and things that had been. We all have our own baggage and sometimes when it is shifted around in the mental attic we call our minds it can wear you down a little. And it is never more apparent than when you leave something or someone behind, there is always a moment of doubt, some bits of regret.

In her case it was never enough to keep her from leaving, but it was enough that she spent time just thinking about what had happened so that she could learn from it and make a mental note not to make the same mistakes of the past.

The thing that made her saddest was knowing that in time it would hold less meaning to her, the memories would be there, but that special place that he had once occupied would be empty and his face would be harder to remember. It was both natural and normal, but it bothered her a little to consider that he might feel the same about her, to know that one day she would not be foremost in his thoughts.

She stood up and brushed herself off. The cute yellow sundress she had picked up during her last trip to town stuck to her back reminding her that while it was nice to be warm it was less pleasant to be warm and sticky.

More to the point back in the cabin there was a cold pitcher of lemonade calling her name and as a single woman with no encumbrances there was no reason why she couldn’t sit inside in her bra and panties and enjoy a cold drink.

To get to the kitchen she had to walk by the bathroom, the shards of glass from the broken window had been cleaned up and as a temporary solution she had glued a piece of cardboard to the frame. She knew that she had to get it fixed, but thus far it had not been a priority.

Now that she was considering moving on, leaving it in this fashion was not an option. It would have to be replaced. It was time to make a list of things that needed to be done and to more seriously consider where she wanted to go and what she wanted to do when she got there.

The Ghosts of Our Past

The ghosts of our past haunt us to our dying days. It is a common misconception among people to assume that this is a negative thing, that this is a something that hurt us. It can be, but only if you let it. We have the power to control our destiny. That is what I had told her, a promise of our future.

We were so very much in love. She was intoxicating, addictive, my favorite drug. I couldn’t get enough of her. Even now I can still smell her, the scent that never leaves me. Ok, it is not completely true, now it is more of a memory, but in my dreams she still visits me. In the dark of night she comes to stay with me and in the morning I wake up to the bittersweet realization that she has left me again.

Sometimes I’ll close my eyes and try to fall back asleep, hoping, praying that I can reconnect with the dream. In my mind there is no pain, no sorrow, no loss and no heartbreak. We’re still driving a convertible, her hair blowing in the wind, body pressed close to mine.

“Young hearts gotta run free, be free, live free
Time is on, time is on your side
Time, time, time, time is on your side
is on your side
is on your side
is on your side
Young heart be free tonight
tonight, tonight, tonight, tonight, tonight, yeah”
Young Turks- Rod Stewart

It was one of our songs, we loved the idea of just running away together. It was a plan of ours, to steal away in to the night and to find somewhere that we could live together for the rest of eternity.

You know what is like, the first love of your life. You have nothing to compare those feelings to, nothing makes your heart soar like they do. As a teenage boy you have to fight to not act like an idiot. You’d pick a fight with some guy just so that you could try and prove how brave you were. You’d do a million other stupid things like that, just because you felt like you had to show her how much she meant to you. There was a fire inside you that you swore could not be quenched, a burning that felt so good it ached.

Sometimes that passion you felt could get you into trouble. Sometimes you found yourself getting involved in things that were best left to others. Sometimes you got lost, got stuck with the wrong crowd and the wrong people. Sometimes you found out that your parents were not that stupid, that they knew something more about living and life than you did. Sometimes the lack of life experience could save you because you didn’t realize the amount of danger you were in and sometimes it was that very lack of experience that condemned you.

It was my fault that I lost her. It really was. Because I was an idiot who fumbled the best thing I had. Because my fragile male ego wouldn’t allow me to ask for help and by the time I was ready to the only people who would help me were the very people that I should have run away from.

When she left me it was because I was already gone. I had already left the relationship, the boy she fell in love with fell down the rabbit hole but there wasn’t a friendly rabbit waiting for me.

There was a creature with a smile like the Cheshire cat, a creature who was only too happy to take me on as their apprentice. She called him an asshole and a loser. She called him a leech, a thug and more.

I called him Georgie.

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