Tuesday, July 17, 2018

WAITING FOR A FRIEND - Another 2018 RFL Short Story

Marcus and I began our theater admin careers together back in 1993, and he was my friend. He was someone who was beloved, creative, and inspired so many people.  He was diagnosed in the fall of 2010 and gone by the end of March 2011.  And I miss him, a whole lot.

I think marc would have liked Fantasy Faire. It would have appealed to both the theater artist in him, as well as the clergyman.  So it was not hard to imagine being immersed in a blue land, and having his carroty head (as it was when we first met) pop up and be ready to truth talk.  Enjoy.

The Weeping Land
by Judith Cullen
© 2018

In Memory of Marcus Walker

I found myself in an azure land; as blue as my heart felt, filled with trees that mimicked my tears.  My footfalls felt empty, echoing on the stone path till I stopped, stood still, afraid the emptiness was more than I could endure.

There was a rustling in a bower of ferns to my right and an impish head popped up, bright ginger hair anomalous in this weeping land. 

"Aristophanes!" it shouted merrily.

"Gesundheit!" I replied and sniffed loudly, by long-practiced reflex. I had not done that in years, and there had only ever been one person I had shared that joke with.

"Marcus!  Is that you?" I looked to the bower of ferns. The fronds waved at me, mockingly empty.  I stood blinking at where I thought I had seen that bright, beloved head appear.  I couldn't be.  Marc was gone.  He'd been gone for a while.

What was the magic of this land?  I wasn't certain this was somewhere that I wanted to be.  Still, there was little to be lost by continuing. I had become pretty good at losing. It left me raw and directionless.

I looked casually as I walked on, thinking that perhaps my present state of grieving had left my imagination open to wild suggestion.  Copse, bower, meadow remained empty of  that which my eyes sought - my friend.

I stepped into a building, its smooth surface soothing in tones that harmonized with the land.  There were wares for sale, shapes and hues to draw my interest.  I tried to focus on them, carefully examining one thing after another: the cool glittering glass beads, the intricate metal bracelets, the richly enameled pendants.
Marcus Walker

"I'd avoid anything with carnelian, if I were you.  It's not really your color!"

Swiftly as I turned, I just missed the familiar head as it popped out the open doorway - out of sight.  The hair had been thinner, still ginger bright, and there was no mistaking those freckles and the slightly lopsided grin.

I ran to the door, but there was no one to be found.  The plants and bushes were not even moving this time, but stood still in quiet testament to the pervading calm of the land. It was almost unsettlingly quiet. A place where a raised voice, merry or angry, would shatter itself harshly on the ear.

As I approached the center of this land, still some distance away from it, a figure beckoned to me.  I squinted to see more clearly.  Could it be Marc? Had he found respite here? Was he not dead?  This time the seeming figure of my friend did not move with the swiftness he had before, and his hair was thinner and grayer.  But amusement shone in those clear blue eyes.  He disappeared from my view into a columned plaza, and I hurried to catch up.

A broad pool unveiled itself before me.  I stopped where I was, stunned for the moment by the beautiful serenity I beheld.  It was a shallow pool, dotted with rose colored lilies, and at its farthest end stood a great statue of a woman, pouring water from a great stone vessel into the pool. Her features and her aspect seemed curative to me, compassionate, and I felt the insistent tug of her serene presence above the subtly shimmering waters. 

I was not the only one who felt this.  Here and there,  beings of all kinds were wading into the pool: human, elf, dwarf, creatures with paws, creatures with hooves, dark, light, and everything in between.  Each one, singly or accompanied, were reverently making their way to the great stone lady.  The only sound was the restful murmur of the water's movement.  I found myself stepping down the plaza stairs and into the water, joining the pilgrimage.

As I drew nearer, I saw the lady stood in a clear pool of her own on a raised dias, its waters flowing into the greater one. Stairs rose from the great pool, just as the water from the lady's vessel cascaded downward.  Those who had gotten this close stood in awe, eyes raised high as if seeking the gaze of this goddess of the waters.

I ascended nine steps to the foot of the statue, marveling as much at its height as I did at the invisible attraction that drew all to it.  At edge of that inner pool was a stone tablet, with elegant letters chiseled by a craftsman's hand:

Willows weep into the waters of Time poured out by Nienna, The Lady of Compassion, who rules this land, a place of rest where travelers come to find comfort in grief.  Here in her tranquil garden of tears, Nienna teaches the endurance of the spirit and the power of hope and time to heal.

I raised my head to the Lady of Compassion, pondering what her teachings could mean for me.

"Hey!  Over here." 

The voice was familiar.  I turned to find the welcome face of my friend, this time he did not dart away.

"Marcus!  What are you doing here?  How ...?"

"I'm sitting on a tree root." He patted the large root of the gigantic willow on which he sat. "Here, pull up some wood."

He was dressed in a hooded monk's robe of darkest blue.  The hood partially falling back, I could see that his head was bald - all the bright ginger hair gone.  It gave him a certain sacred quality. I tried to combat my discomfort with humor.

"I see you have forsaken short sleeved light blue sports shirts for something more classic."

"No, no!" he protested gleefully, "That's the Methodists. We Baptists have always been more the button down collar type."

I sat where he bade me.

"It's good to see you, my friend."

"It's good to be seen.  But I have to wonder why I am being seen.  These days I only make guest appearances."

His freckles still danced the same way they always had, as he grinned at me.

"Could this be your doing?"

"Mine?  I am not sure how."

Marcus reached for my hand. His touch was soft, and very present.

"Here we are at this pool of tears, you and I.  I am beyond tears, so the weeping must be yours."  He paused.  "How long has it been?"

He locked his eyes with mine and I knew that humor or evasion would be useless.

"Ten years, maybe." I said, "more like twelve or thirteen."

"So it began when I was still with you. That's an awfully long time to grieve."

A moment of uncertainty was followed by a torrent of feelings that flowed out of me with the same steady ebb as the waters flowing from the Lady's vessel.

"That's just it.  It hasn't been just one thing to get over.  It's been a whole series of things, one after the other.  Just when I think this is over, something else comes up - another hit - and I just feel like . . . " I paused unable to go on, pulling my hand back to wipe my eyes.

"Go on.  Tell me, how do you feel?"

I looked down at the pool, which began to blur in my dampening vision.

"Like it's never going to end." I finally said.  "Like the loss is just going to keep peeling away the layers of my life till there's nothing left.  Yet, just when I think there's nothing left to lose . . . "

"There's always something else." He said gently, taking my hand back. "Remember how you used to tease me about my glass?"

"Your glass?"

He adjusted himself on the root, settling in.

"Yes.  You used to say that I looked at 'my glass', and not only saw it half empty, but slightly cracked.  Remember that?"

I laughed in reply, "I've never met anyone as pessimistically optimistic as you, Marcus."

He joined me in laughing. "Yes, I could almost always anticipate the worst, and it never let me down."

Our laughter subsided and I watched his face transform from mirth to utter seriousness. "When the worst did come, I wasn't prepared for it.  I fought it with everything I possessed.  I did not want to believe, could not conceive, that something like this was happening to me, to my life."

"Six months it was, if I remember," I said quietly, "Has it really only been seven years?"

The sound of the flowing waters filled the silence as we both remembered, until I finally broke it.

"Yet at the end, you had a kind of peace about you, a radiance of spirit."

"Trust me, there is nothing about dying that is elegant. But you are right about where I was spiritually.  You see, there's a great liberation in truly having nothing more to lose, along with the insight to realize all that you have been blessed with, all that you still have.  I treasured every one and everything in those final weeks.  So, in a way, you were right all along about me and my glass. It took cancer to convince me of that."

"Please," I struggled, "Don't make your death sound like some sort of blessing.  I still miss you terribly, and so do a lot of others."

"Blessing, curse.  What does it matter, really?  I always had a choice about what perspective I took. Crossing the veil, passing, death: they await us all.  It's not good or bad, it's just the truth of mortality from the first draw of breath.  You're fortunate, really."

"Is this going to be another of your sermons, Marc?" 

"Noooooo," he laughed, "despite what it might look like, I don't have to do those any more, thankfully." He paused. "Your life isn't what you wanted it to be right now, not what you envisioned.  But the universe has not stepped in and made the decision for you, charted your course and cut down your options.  You still have choices."

"Sometimes it seems like I have lost my knack of choosing," I sighed.

"It's all a cycle, good times, bad times, everything in between.  Like the orbit of a planet around a sun, you can only see a bit of it now, but the reality of the pattern is much larger."

"That's very platitude-nal Marc"

He grasped my hand with both of his, shook it earnestly, "Choose.  Make choices, good or bad, but choose while you still can.  Make the most of whatever is given you, whatever time. Regrets waste your energy."

He looked up to the great statue of Nienna, Lady of Compassion. "See her, and allow yourself to absorb her message.  There are tears here, yes, but also cleansing. It's not weakness to struggle, it's how we grow. I know it has hurt, every bit of it, including my death.  I know it sometimes strangles your spirit.  But through all of that you have grown so much in empathy and compassion. They will be your legacy."

He nodded to the Nienna again. "That must be why she called you here, and summoned me to speak.  Come with me," he stood up, a new resolution in his eyes.

He guided me to the Nienna's inner pool, where the waters never stopped flowing in a land that weeps and heals.  He stepped down into the pool, helping me to follow, took hold of my shoulder and we waded to the cascade of sparkling water.

"You don't have to keep struggling with these burdens," he said softly in my ear, "open yourself up to the possibility of healing, and allow yourself to be whole."

With that, he pushed me into the cool falling waters, which refreshed as much as they shocked.  I stood for a moment willing myself to let go, feeling the energy of cares flow down my body and out my fingertips, exiting through the soles of my feet.  It was crying and laughing, it was exultation and serenity.  It was the beginning of true and deep healing.

I turned around and stepped out of the falls.  Marcus was gone, and I stood there in a silent embrace of love and fellowship. I had almost forgotten I still had it. I had never actually lost it.

Marcus (left) in "Greater Tuna" with another friend, Scott Campbell

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