Chapter 1: The Opening
Path to Perniciousness
There is no mystic secret
It is the betrayal of the stars
And the sun that rests over the mountain
Shows only phases of an aging moon
We are barefoot on the path of perniciousness
Uneven footing on rutted brown earth
Sweet whiskey of your soiled lips
Are memories as I lay down on this floor
Last night in the dimly lit bar room
Away from the January noon, now so long ago
You became unearthly bound
Beyond the stars and stratosphere
I swear at the lies his injustice
Of drying marrow to the bone
I seek to set fire to this truth
Of infinite lies stretching with smiling stillness
(c) 2017, Ron McFarland
For the seekers. From the reformed doubter. Time, from the very beginning. Segments of each season seem to stutter in our memories. On the strength of memories and nothing more, we live as gatherers. Compiling and pooling. Sorting and categorizing. The gathering of our souvenirs must be shared. Words only outline the collection of wounds and sorrows. Stories provide a simple hue for each rich truth that will be known. Eternity, in it’s grandeur, cannot be rolled up in simple sentiments.
To be honored by, with, and in story is to understand. To separate wheat from chaff, stories harvest essential truths. In the strength of truths, hope surfaces. And hope, like tufts of yawing grass, will always favor the spring sun of honesty. Each phase always offers the vow of truth. In this land and for each truth, the call of the great mystery reaches forward, like fingers of morning sunlight that slowly extend under the forest’s canopy. I walk now far from county roads that gouge the face of this ponderosa forest in Northern Arizona. I seek the sunlight and the truth. This is where the dream of hope begins.
In the afternoon of March 18, 2014, I looked away from the computer screen to the window. A usual early-spring storm was evolving. Tender starter flakes danced outside on gusts of winds. Through the glazed window, I saw that it was twenty-eight degrees, by the thermometer outside. From my desk, the day appeared to be normal. But, I felt out of phase — out of sorts from the rhythm of a typical day. I was the observer of this life. I was of it and not in it. I was the acting interloper set on someone’s stage. This day was the start of my journey. The story unfolds from here. And, in truth, the messages began.
The cell phone rings. I snapped back to this reality. On the screen, I see Tamera is calling. She is the sister of my best friend Shane. On rare occasions, she’d call the office phone or my cell looking for Shane. I’ve known Shane for 30 some-odd years. And Tamera — a few months less than that.
Tamera had ocean-blue eyes cast of polished sea glass. From an angle, they glowed aqua blue, like the waters over the pearly beaches in the Yucatan. In the Yucatan, lovers lay in twisted repose on rickety wood slat benches. Trellised away from the sun glinting after lovemaking, couples hide in secluded talapas sandwiched in the jungle savanna of palmettos and coconut palms. It was there where I wanted to spend time with Tamera, twisted under the shade of a greying fronds stitched by the sacrament of locals, after the latest hurricane. This is where slight ocean breezes offer an occasional relief away from the heat of lovemaking carcasses. This is where I hoped to be someday.
Tamera moved to southwest New Mexico, to Silver City, shortly after Shane introduced us. I’ve visited Silver three times with Shane. I counted this fact on my fingers, recording each brief encounter with her using the care of an archivist.
Silver is an impoverished mining town. The town is still reaching to gather it’s pantaloons and other undergarments from the floor after many unwanted entanglements by the mining company thugs over the past century. The frail town is nestled in the high-desert of southwest New Mexico. Rickety wood structures built in haste by miners in the late 1800s are weathered grey and leaning. Many of the wood structures have surrendered to the elements of summer torrential thunderstorms and spring time winds. Some lean against crumbling adobe houses built by the Mexican and Chinese immigrants who were enticed by the mining companies to work for one-fifth of the wages paid to white workers.
Southwest New Mexico is a land of rolling hills blanketed by yellow bluestem grass with scatterings of juniper puffs and alligator pine. The crumbling brown sugar town of Silver once hosted brothels, bloody-bucket saloons, and clandestine opium dens in the 1850s, spurred by the rapid influx of miners. Silver gave birth to the legends of Billy the Kid and Madame Mille. It now lays of barren open pit mines.
I am an average looking bloke. Of course, this is stated with a salt of subjective humility. Each man or woman, for that matter, will appraise themselve on ruler using a self-defined mathematical imaginary scale. We tally our unique god-given traits along with self-defined supplemental traits. After quick addition, a generous mark is etched on the yardstick. In a often less-than-generous manner, we quantify our competition. The two contrasting scrapes on the ruler provide us with a necessary comparative score. We are quite generous in measuring ourselves, yet fall short in measuring the competition. In defense of this suggestion, I have been quite brutal with my personal measurement, when repentance is due. I have been generous in measuring my friends. In business or in love, the yardstick measures our penetration of influence.
Currently, I am housed in a male vessel. I rank a generous 5 or 6 on a thigh-trembling social-Richter scale of 10. Tamera, even after decades, generously taps a 9.5. I sport a head-full-of greying mud-brown hair, a thicker mane than most of my contemporaries. But lately, it’s been thinning a bit in the back. Some refer to this as my monks cap. I’m now in my 50s. I’ve been told that I have soft green eyes, but when I look in the mirror, I only see darker circles forming from my lack of sleep over the past few weeks. Also, upon inspection, my nose seems to be a bit too long for my face. My furrowed brow is a mark that I consider of honor. I’ve worked for years in front the computer screen squinting at the examination of the finite details found in computer programming code and in the hexadecimal encoding of files. I am a consummate geek.
After I met Tamera. She was my Sassofarrato’s Madonna Annunciate. To be with any woman is to dance. We first stepped to a three-beat count of the waltz — a holy trinity of Time, Timing, and Lust. Yet, our dance quickly became an odd calypso. The crucifix of timing is essential to each measured scheme. The pace for growing love follows the seasons of the earth and refuses to be measured. Timing gives us the opportunity to bottle wine of sweetened vegetation, but the full flavor of Merlot is realized with only the richness of time. Odd timing between Tamera and I was soon venerated. Yet, I still pray that God of time will relinquish the lustful ghost of unripened thoughts to this goddess. Time may still provide atonement.
I looked at the clock on my computer screen. Two thirty-five on Tuesday afternoon. Close enough to wind down and think about heading to Mother Road Brewery after talking with Tamera. Maybe the timing with her was now.
Putting on my best flirt voice, I said in the deepest sultry tones I could muster, “Hey Tamera. How are you doing?”
Sobs came out of the speaker. Jesus, something is up. I silently lambasted myself, “Don’t be such a douche-bag.”
“Tamera?” I became honestly concerned.
“It’s…, it’s ..” she was crying.
“Tamera. Take a deep breath. Calm…calm…” I made a breathing sound into the phone to mimic the slowing of the breath. I waited a few moments. I hear choking gasps for air. “Now, tell me slowly…. Tell me what happened.” I waited. I learned the technique of holding for a response from my mental health therapist when I went into marriage counseling after my first divorce. My therapist was a big asker of one-line questions. I’d describe an important event in great detail and she’d simply respond “Stan, how does that make you feel?” I wanted to respond “How the fuck do you think it makes me feel?” But I always held off. She’d wait for my response. And wait. And wait some more. Until I replied. Almost as if her waiting was the wick that would sop up the spilled mess I made of my life.
I heard Tamera sharply inhale, in staccato. She blurted out on an exhale, “Shane is dead. He got hit by a train.” She bawls.
“What?” I burst out. My mind began to race. I hoped for a quick retort. Maybe it was a stupid joke. But no riposte. Only sobs on the other end of the line. There’s a few dozen vehicles hit by the BNSF train each year in Flagstaff. His car probably stalled on the tracks.
She restated carefully. “He’s dead.” She wailed.
My response softened. “Oh my god.” I covered my mouth after blurting that out. I paused and listened. Tamera sobbed. Seeking clarification, I asked “Did the train hit his car?”
“No… no… it hit Shane. He was walking Pepper … down by the tracks.” I could hear her reaching to catch a full breath.
“Oh god,” I softly responded. Pepper was Shane’s German Shepard mix he picked up some 7 years’ prior. Shane arrived at our office cradling the little ball of fur. He purchased Pepper for a few dollars from a couple of girls who had a cardboard box full of scrambling puppies outside of Safeway.
I sat straight up in the chair. I gathered my thoughts. Reassuringly, I said, “Tamera, I’ll head down to the Police Department now. I’ll find out what I can. Also, I’ll see where Pepper is.”
“Thanks.” Tamera choked.
“I’m so, so sorry. I’ll call soon.” I waited for a response, but heard soft sobs. “My love to you and Shane.” I touched the red disconnect button. I held the cell phone against my chest. I felt my heart beat a steadily – reassuringly. I stared out the window at snow now whisking by. I welled up and sobbed. I reached to make sense of a world without him. I hadn’t cried so hard since I lost my father several years back. Shane was not only my business partner; he was my friend.
The Flagstaff Police Department, an honorable police department that I had the opportunity to get to know during my less-than-sober years, gave robotic and scripted answers about Shane. The desk sergeant at the FPD addressed me with staccato tempo. It was cold that day and he wore his I wasn’t Shane’s blood relative, so why would I expect concern?
The pound had picked up Pepper. They tell me that Pepper did not leave Shane’s side after he was struck by the train. When I arrived at the pound, Pepper’s bright brown dog eyes looked through the cage at me. His tail wagged wildly, thumping the sides of the cage. I could not wait to hug him, in spite of his wet tongue that always seemed to find my ears. As I looked at him while his cage was being unlocked, I was flooded with memories of Shane. Pepper leaped at me as I leaned down to greet him. I hugged Pepper tightly as he lapped my face. Pepper didn’t mind the tight hold around his neck. After returning to the house with Pepper I called Tamera. We cried. I consoled.
Exhausted that evening. A cavernous chest. My heart was missing. I was folded into a tunnel of darkest grief. Though I attended the funeral mid-week, I was out of phase with the common-day world. I, the observer of what is being acted. Engagement is the tender wound of life. When spirit is not of the world, truths reveal.
Nights echo a lonelier song. I later wrestled with the bed to conquer my sleeplessness. I ached to sleep. Worn to the bone.
Pepper had difficulty sleeping too. He lifted from the pillow placed in the corner that was his make-shift bed and paced . Like clockwork, every 10 minutes he arose from his place of comfort and walked his green line. Nails tapped rhythmically on the hard wood floors. To one wall and back to the other, he walked in circles. He halted to sniff the air. Repeating his sniffs, I knew it wasn’t for me. He was trapped in a prison of dog thoughts. His ghostly silhouette would soon settle back into the pile of pillows placed in the corner for him. Does he remember Shane strewn on the tracks? Pepper and I shared the same ghost.
Shane, a spiritual mash-up, was wildly creative with both technology and art. He was a gear-head with oil paint-stained hands.
A beautiful soul. And if love is the signature of the heart, his was big. Like fine whiskey, in his youth, he sipped wild women in slow doses. Age mellowed him. After his wild twenties, he’d preferred to stay at home and paint l. I can’t blame him a bit. As his interest in art grew, he became uninspired by his computer job. It defaulted as a means to pay bills. He soon planned to dump the programming gig. But plans are made for fools who put faith in the future.
That week, memories continued to wrestle with my sleep. When a few minutes were eked for slumber, disturbing dreams snagged my attention. We went to college together. Later, we raised hell in Flagstaff. Over thirty years, we spent time together as friends and co-workers. It was a long sail together.
Seven days after the accident, I finally fell into a luscious sleep. An intense dream unfolded. My soul seemed to arise away from my body as my body laid prone. I lifted through the rafters and beyond the roof. Far above the clear city below. I could see car headlights snake through the streets downtown. I hung mid-air for hours. I was the outside observer passing time.
From a distance, sunrise lifted the dark shroud of night. The rising sun slowly sliced through starry-black curtain of night. The San Francisco peaks glowed in the morning dawn light. The sun fingered through the land. Vast open spaces of Ponderosa seemed to come alive. The sun reached further into the native Hopi and Navajo lands. A breeze soon lifted around me. A soft message whispered around me “You must go beyond. You must go beyond.” It repeated several times.
My spirit gently returned to the room. I awoke. The walls, floor and ceiling seemed to glow. The world was translucent. And the message of the dream remained. “You must go…” I looked to the clock on the shelf. It read 8:02 a.m. I slept for 6 hours without interruption. Given the intensity of the dream, that night may have well been a year. Time is relative. It is not measured linearly.
Pepper did not pace either. But, he began to stir and I re-focused into the reality of the morning. The hidden curtain between the present and the mysterious spirit world pulled slightly opened that night. It was a calling for stillness from the holy lands. It was in that moment I knew I was bound for the road.
(c) 2017, Ron McFarland