So much silence isn’t a good thing, or is it? Music fills the void with illusion. Loneliness has crept back in again. Insidiously. She paralyzes me with frigid arms. Her familiar embrace now holds me hostage.
Mid July, mid 70’s. The family of four stood in the driveway of a run-down looking two family house, as they watched the giant moving truck slowly back out into the street. Tears welled up in the older daughter’s eyes. The younger child grabbed onto to her mother’s long linen skirt. She looked up to see the dark stains spreading beneath the underarms of her mom’s favorite olive shirt. Their father swiftly turned on his heels, walked into the house, letting the loose screen door slam loudly behind him.
The mother and two little girls stood for a few moments, frozen in time at the end of the driveway. They watched as the truck turned the corner, finally passing out of sight.
This was one of a series of moves. For reasons mysterious to the children, just as soon as they got settled in a new town and into a new school, it was time to move again. Usually something to do with their father’s job as a professor. Switching universities, better opportunities, or something of the sort.
This time they were going to move to a another state, but until the next house was ready, they would need to stay in temporary housing, an apartment of some sort.
As the kids got into the back seat of the beige Volvo station wagon, they each hugged a teddy bear close, trying to hide their tears in the well-worn, faded fur.
Hours passed, and after dark, they arrived at their destination. It was a nondescript place. Dark russet brick, all one level. Basically a Motel 6, minus the sign. The family set up a temporary home in this complex. Simply furnished, it served its purpose well enough.
Over the next few days, the girls ventured outside. It was during an era when kids were allowed to run around wild and free. Nobody really paid much attention, unless it was time to do homework, chores, walk a dog, or eat dinner. As they wandered around the complex, they noticed quite a few other kids around their age. The children seemed friendly enough, and one of the neighbors even had a plastic kiddie pool in front of her unit. It was blue, with bright green turtles and seahorses printed all around the outside. The little girl invited the sisters to play, and of course they were excited to meet a new friend. And, even more excited to be able to cool off in the bright blue plastic pool.
Being that it was summer and there wasn’t much to do, having a new friend with the kiddie pool was a good start. At least they had somewhere to go. They didn’t like to stay inside the dark apartment, since their mother seemed to be unhappy, and the place felt oppressive in the summer heat.
One day, not long after moving in, the new friend told them, “hey, it’s time to go to Bobby’s place, his mom is doing her shower.” The girls had no idea what this meant, but of course they were curious. They followed her as she traipsed around the complex. As they followed her, she called out “shower time!” over and over. Gradually, a few other children, hearing the call, joined them in the parade towards Bobby’s place.
Finally, they arrived at the apartment. Number 19. The door was open. An older boy, maybe 9 or 10, poked his head out of the front door. “Hurry up! Mom’s just getting in the shower now!” All of the kids shuffled in through the door, crowding the hallway of the small unit. The sound of a shower could be heard, and a high-pitched voice called out “Hey you guys, wanna see my tits?” The group of kids, mostly boys, swiftly gravitated towards her voice.
The bathroom door was open, an intoxicating scent of strawberry shampoo filled the air, as a cloud of steam poured out. Rock music played on a transistor radio. Behind the sheer plastic French doors into the shower, a messy giant blonde head of hair bobbed up and down. Suddenly, the doors opened and Bobby’s mom leaned out, “see these!” she held up her enormous breasts shaking them at all of the children. The two new girls stood in shock. The older sister grabbed her younger sister by the hand, and dragged her through the cluster of kids, and out the front door in a hurry. They ran all the way back to their unit, where they fell onto the air mattress in hysterical fits of giggles.
Silently, I sit. Eternally waiting for something, or someone, to happen. My thick-skinned, firm body, rests motionless. Self control is my strength. I move one eye, then the other. Nothing. Nobody. I am alone. Time passes, as it always does. Finally, I sense movement. A tiny leave shivers, ever so slightly. I dart an eye in its direction, glancing at the surrounding greenery.
It’s nearly time. Something is about to happen. I wait. With stealth motion, I peer around myself, noticing that I’m a bit too bright to blend in. Swiftly, I shift my muscles, triggering a deeper shade to sweep over my skin. There. I’m hidden. Listening, I hear nothing more from the leaf. I wait. Waiting is my virtue. Patience you can call it, but for me, it’s a way of life. Waiting. I know it’s worth it. Again, I hear a barely audible sound. Tiny feet delicately treading on a branch. Exquisite. The sound has come closer.
Now is not the time to make my move. I slow my heart rate to the brink of death. Completely undetectable, I close my eyes, and I wait. I listen as the tiny footsteps move around in the foliage right across from me. It’s time. With one eye open, I spot the miniscule spider as he cautiously makes his way along a very thin twig. I prepare myself. It’s time for something to happen. I breathe. And, it’s done. My tongue has been unleashed. I’ve swallowed the spider. Gone in an instant. He didn’t even see it coming.Chameleons have the ability to see and perceive the intentions of others. With sublime patience, camouflage and cloaking capabilities, these incredible creatures exhibit unparalleled powers of adaptation. The chameleon knows precisely when to make the right move.
A fine mist of drizzle dampens my forehead and brow. My locks are activated by the humidity and I can feel them rising up in protest. I breathe in the sweet wet air, blended with exhaust from cars entering and exiting the parking lot. Stepping up onto the curb, I find my favorite spot under the awning of the massage parlor in the dingy 7-11 strip mall plaza. Dropping my hefty backpack to the floor, I stooped down to dislodging the worn and warped wooden flute. I’ve had it since I was 15, and I am continuously awed by its resilience. I am now 48.
It wasn’t always like this. I mean, I wasn’t always like this. Here. In this god-forsaken strip mall in the valley of Los Angeles. No. Long ago, I was in paradise. I remember the scent of the mountains, the soft air on my skin. The sun and sea were never too far. Nature and her abundance surrounded me. How did it happen. How did I get here?
Life has its leaps and bounds, you know. I always excelled in music, and my mother dreamed of me going to the states to become a star. Yes, I dreamed too, you know. It was a far away and wondrous place, full of happiness, success, and opportunity. I had a huge imagination, and my mind wandered through the streets of New York. My musical gift fast became known around the island. So much so, that when traveling bands came through, they would ask me to play for their concerts. I gladly obliged, time and time again. I would get paid, and be able to help the family and save some money on the side. My expenses were minimal, food, maybe a beer here and there. So the rest of the money was a real help to my loved ones. Me, well, I really never had a taste for the material things.
Finally, when I was 19, the day came, when the band I played with in Jamaica asked me to tour with them. Of course I accepted the invitation. My family was more excited than I was. They practically packed my bags for me. I was going to do a year-long tour in the United States, beginning in NYC, hitting every nook and cranny between, and ending in LA, followed with a European tour. Needless to say, we toured, played, and stayed here and there. It was all a blur. I smoked more and more, slept less and less. Random women came in and went out the revolving door. I really never had enough time to establish a connection with anyone. It was go, go, go. I tired of it quickly. Days, turned into months, months, into years. Again, and again. I sent most of the money back to Jamaica. My little sister and my nephews needed it more than I did. I mailed monthly gift packages, and transferred cash continually over the years.
Occasionally, I would get to go back to my home. The island air would embrace me as soon as I exited the airport. My soul felt content from the moment my feet touched the ground on my beloved Jamaica. My heart would be overflowing with love and gratitude. But, all too soon, it would be time to board another flight to link up with another tour, and the pattern would continue on and on. Playing, getting paid, sending money back, I felt trapped in an endless cycle as well as a symbiotic relationship with my kin.
Years pass, they do. You blink and 5, then 10. Gone. Blink again, 15, and 20. A few more blinks, and more than 30 years passed by. Yes.
The last tour had ended, but I never told my family. I continued to send the money I always had. It was on a schedule, and as long as I sent it, I rarely heard back anymore. My account was getting low, dwindling, one could say.
I stayed here and there, a couch, lady friend, or guest room. Eventually, even the best of us wears out our welcome. I had not enough to get back to Jamaica, not enough to rent a room. Just my weary backpack, and my trusty flute remained. Shoes on my feet, thank god. Somehow, my inner strength kept my body strong, and those locks too.
These days, I shelter under a bridge of sorts. I suppose it’s more of an underpass. The rain has been coming down lately, and it does make it a more difficult situation but I persevere.
As I situate myself under the awning of the massage parlour in the 7-11 plaza, a grey Toyota Camry slows thru the lot. A grey haired, white lady leans out her window. “I have half a sandwich if you want it?”, she says with expectant eyes. I feel betrayed and disrespected. I know she wants to be of assistance, but she is offending me. I walk to her window and I can’t help but to reprimand her. I tell her, I am Jamaican, and I don’t take food from nobody I don’t know. She looks upset as tears well into her eyes. I know she has kind intentions. I know this, but it offends me.
I was a sought after musician! I’m not supposed to be here. She waits in her car, as I storm away, grabbing my wooden flute out of the weathered backpack. I look over, and stare into her eyes as I begin to play a heartfelt ballad about love and lost. I can see a tear well, and drop down her soft white cheek. I smile to myself, knowing I still have my power. My gift is not lost forever. She smiles and touches her hand to her heart in a thankful motion. I feel, for that moment that I am found.
Light fades, Shadows move
Silently I fall slow motion
Deeper into the abyss
A cavernous void, infinite chasm
Weightless no sound
I continue down
Into the otherworld
Floating down forever
Tethered to the past
Tethered to the now
Tethered to the future
I don’t know how
To disconnect, change course, shift focus
To become untethered.
The gold foil tipped cigarette, stained with lipstick, smoldered in an overflowing ashtray. Soft blonde waves of hair cascaded across her face as she softly fell back into the burgundy velour sofa, which swiftly enveloped her small frame. Slender stocking encased legs shimmered in the candle light. One metallic sandal lay discarded on the persian rug, while the other remained partially strapped to her delicate foot. The floor vibrated with bass music from the club below, mixed with din of a crowded room, occasional loud shouts, and the intermittent sound of breaking glass. With a quiet click, a door was opened. A man slipped into the room, wearing a tuxedo, dark hair slicked into a pompadour. Cat like, he moved across the room, towards the woman on sofa. As his eyes adjusted to the candlelight, he could see that there was nobody else here. Had he locked the door? He swiftly doubled back to be sure. Carefully trying the handle, he found it secure. Taking out a pack of cigarettes and a tarnished lighter from his pocket, he lit up a smoke. The flame briefly illuminated a scowling expression on his face, and the sparkle of his green eyes flashed in the dark. Taking a long pull, he dramatically exhaled towards the ceiling. Tiny beads of sweat were starting to emerge across his tanned forehead and upper lip.
Crossing the room, he reached the sofa and stopped. He stood over the blonde who was passed out cold. Her cigarette now just a faint fading ember in the ashtray. The pale blue sequined gown had slipped off of her shoulder to reveal creamy skin glowing in the low light. He reached his hand slowly towards her, running his fingertip over her bare shoulder and up the side of her neck. She stirred. He swiftly pulled his hand away, and stood there watching her. She continued to doze. Obviously she had over indulged. It didn’t help that the heroin was back in fashion, and she had been dipping into it again on occasion. He was pretty sure she was nodding off, and not just simply drunk. He sighed to himself, shaking his head. He looked at his watch and sat down in the chair across from her. As he jabbed out the cigarette in the tray, it overflowed, ash and a few butts scattering accross the mahogany table. A few minutes passed and he checked his watch again. The sound from below started to fade and within the next hour, it became quiet. Silence came over the room, other than the soft breathing of the woman.
Now, he stood up and walked towards the sofa again. He took a look down at her with pity, gently running his hand over her soft locks, pushing the hair out of her face to expose the delicate alabaster features, dark lashes and crimson lips. He let go, and her platinum waves fell once again covering her face. He took a step back, paused to look at his watch once more, and then leaned down to the corner of the velvet sofa. He took out his lighter and held it to the loosely fraying edge by the floor. The flame started small, and eased its way up the seam, as it reached the arm of the sofa it began to smolder, but suddenly a larger flame burst forward, and then another, until it suddenly burst into an angry fire swiftly devouring the sofa…he blinked as he watched for a few moments, then turned and quickly walked towards the door, making a stealth escape. Taking a back stairwell to exit the building, he stepped out into a dark alley. It was quiet and damp outside. A gentle rain was falling. He looked up at the building to see a window flickering with firelight. Taking his cigarettes out, he lit one, taking a long pull. He exhaled. He muttered one word. Bitch. With that, he turned on his heels and headed down the dank alley into the distance until he was just another shadow in the dark.
Leaping high, legs extended, I land gracefully. Effortlessly. My body is a machine. Upon landing, I fold gently, rolling to the floor. Lean, limber and flexible, I fall smoothly into a split, exiting seamlessly. Choreographing as I go, I move with utter fluidity across the vast empty dance studio. I am free. My body is a tool for full-fledged expression. Music plays loudly in my head.
Some people dream of flying, but I dream of dancing.
I’m awakened by a sharp twinge in my knee. The swelling is going down, but the pain is intermittent. Getting up is awkward, must move slowly until the legs synchronize. I’ll never dance again, but I can dance in my dreams for the rest of my life.