And I’m running, only a few strides ahead of my two captors. Dirt under my bare feet, lots of hard stings to ignore. She calls out,
Honey, why are you running?
We’re trying to keep you safe!
I stumble; they gain ground. His hands grapple my left shoulder, knocking me off kilter. Her fingers catch in my hair, yanking back my scalp. My foot catches a dip, I volley for balance, and they are on me. We are a heap of bodies on the ground.
We sit up clumsily in the dirt and glare at each other; an isosceles triangle of discontent. To my left, she brushes off her arms and head very gently, lovingly, as though she were her own prize pony. She wrinkles her nose at me, affects a teasing lilt with a put-on smile.
Where are you running to, anyway?
Where do you think you could possibly go that would be better than here?
The wind whips my hair into my eye. The sting! Through squinted, watering eyes I see the despair leaking out from behind her face. She knows she should let me go. She will die if she lets me go. Dusk progresses. She illusively recedes just slightly behind the thickening wall of dust. She shouts plaintively,
If you have to live here on this declining, dangerous rock for another 50 years or more, do you really want to risk this life?
Because at this point, it’s unlikely that things are going to get better than this. In fact, it’s very likely that…
Her words are garbled in the weather, but I hear them.
To my right, he shifts his weight and stands.
Oh, surprise, surprise, you agree.
Not only are things not going to get better, they are likely to get worse
I’m tired, and damn it, he’s earned my belligerence. Yeah, yeah, what she said. Original.
His withering glace-by barely acknowledges my presence as his eyes and shoulders roll upward. He heaves a sigh, laces his voice with disdain and he lowers his eyes to meet mine, level.
So what are you going to do? Anything? If you were going to do something significant, you would have done it by now.
His words are one with the shards of dust pecking my face.
I look around. The wind sucks my breath and I can’t clearly see more than a dozen feet in any direction. Where we’ve come from is just visible – the shape of a house shining through advancing dusk. I start to feel afraid that if we don’t head back, we won’t find our way.
But I was running, I don’t want to go back.
They are both standing now; their stances betraying confidence in their combined capabilities. We’re all still a bit out of breath. She looks distracted and sad, but she often affects distraction to avoid being party to unpleasantness. He’s dead set on me, advancing to force me back or allow him closer.
I feel the need to defend myself.
What do you mean, “would have done it by now?” I’m not that old. I have at least 25 years of work left in me.
In that body? Besides, at the pace you’re going, you’ll surely be dead before you’ve had enough “development time” to make any big difference in the world.
He harrumphs in triumph, once again exposing the consequences of my undisciplined nature. The successful hit emboldens him, and he fires off a round.
Face it, you’re too slow. You meandered down paths when you should have picked a way and committed to it.
When you had perfectly adequate protectors to teach you how to be safe in the world you disdained them. You had to figure it all out for yourself.
You never achieved financial security – you’re one job away from a significant dip in lifestyle. You haven’t achieved ownership of your own time.
You’re thirty-eight years old and still only adequate at providing safety and protection for yourself, let alone all these other people you’ve acquired.
You had all that time, and you wasted it with your eyes closed, denying yourself in pursuit of comfort. Now, you’re soft. You’ll never be happy less comfortable and you’ll never have a big impact.
I let myself slump a bit. Encouraged, he continues,
You can’t understand meaning or consciousness with the tool you have –it’s a good brain, but come on. Get over it.
Settle in and do some work. Make whatever small contribution you can now and quit whining.
He’s right, of course. I feel defeated. I have no choice but to go back with them. His voice becomes a sing-song.
Accept where you are. Move in increments. Narrow your scope of influence. And you will be happy.
He’s exasperated with me. Resigned. But not angry. He looks a bit pathetic, his eyes running in the wind and his rough, red cheeks slightly sagging. He turns his palms upward to encourage trust.
I feel cautious, but I step toward him. His voice softens.
I know I drove you all those years with a sense of potential greatness, the capacity to affect wide-scale change, but it’s time to let that go. You didn’t work hard enough. You didn’t pay enough attention. The time is gone.
The best you can hope for now is to be an excellent mentor as you co-develop with your kids and work to stay ahead of them.
He is so serious, and his tone has become so soft and loving that I melt into his arms. He is a giant. He holds me firmly and awkwardly, inspiring my tender heart. Then he says,
I had high hopes for you once, but you know, you haven’t done too badly. Not bad at all. This can be a comfortable life.
As if in response, a gleefully musical, sardonic laugh, just a single exhalation of mirth, tickles behind my left ear. I whirl around, half-breaking our embrace. No one.
My heart beats faster. I am consumed, compelled by that laugh. I breathe deeply, and my lungs sting as the laugh’s pulsing, musical vibration pulls them more open, clamps them more closed. My ribs sing with the joy of true expansion.
I am left hungry, wanting. I close my eyes, shake my head.
I want to settle back into that big, comfortable hug but it’s awkward. I feel irritable. That stupid, sleek, right-on sexy laugh has lodged open a small part of my mind that says, hey, wait a minute.
Ever-alert, she sees me falter and instantly we’re forehead-to-forehead, her arms wrapped around my shoulders and her soft, soft fingers under my hair, playing with the tiny strands at my nape. Her breath is warm, sweet strawberries in spring. In all the world there is only Me and She. Security radiates from her in warm, cooling waves.
Shhhh, She guides me to the ground and crawls behind me, then sidles up until her legs and arms are around me, her torso pressed to my back, her chin resting softly on my head. She is bigger than me, warmer than me. She is Beauty, and I Love her. She Loves me. Me, all flawed and broken. Me without more effort. Me. I am of her and safe to Be. When she speaks, her gentle, soothing tone delays her meaning.
There, now. You know he’s right.
Now, now, hear me out.
My ears ring with the wind. My strength ebbs and I drop my head. She gently catches my forehead in her two palms, her fingers massaging up into my hairline. I whimper
All this striving, for what? You thought it was money, and that certainly would have been nice, wouldn’t it?Freedom? But you didn’t find a path that led to money.
That’s okay, you did your best. You didn’t commit to a crazy path. You hedged, you balanced, you built effective contingencies, and you even made some bold moves to preserve yourself.
You’ve come so far, and you will be a good wife and mother. Because of you, this man and these children will reach heights they could not without you. The power of your energy concentrated on this little family could change the world, you know.
Her forgiveness and acceptance are a balm. Then she says,
I’m proud of you.
The laugh that startles my right ear rings with melancholic mirth and unspoken accusations of half-kept promises. My heart strains forward as though the sound calls my absolute essence. I am over-the-moon, beyond in-love with the unseen laugher, who is my only true joy and reason. And is not here.
Her embrace feels suddenly constraining, her radiant protection thickening into cloying stickiness. I notice how hard the ground feels under me, the wind scraping my numb hands, the drip of my nose. I pull away from her and stagger to my feet.
I feel incensed. Emboldened, I want to whip like the wind. I'm so mad I could spit, and I do. The wind blows it back and I don’t care. I'm livid that the voice dares make itself known this way, only to retreat. But I turn it on them.
WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? What makes you so sure that I don’t have greatness in me? I can do this. Maybe I can do it all!
She looks up at me, surprised and puzzled. He just shakes his head sadly and holds his stance, ready to take me back by force if necessary.
I look around me. All is chaos of wind and dust, but through it the shape of the house still beckons with its light and its peace.
Then I hear, reverberating, joyous and without doubt of welcome,
My heart finds its rhythm in the resonance of this voice. It consumes me. The voice is mine, inhabiting and speaking in every cell of my body. The world closes into a pinprick the size of the universe and I hear only,
The power of you can light all the lamps in the world.
Infused with tenderest appreciation, urgency and sincerity, tinged with admiration, I cannot mistake these words for idle compliment. They feel like a hard-won message, truth wrested through trial and offered to me as a token of most devoted love.
The wind abruptly switches direction, throwing me off balance. The voice becomes an urgent whisper emanating from my core, through my organs, muscles, bone, flesh, aura and bursting into the world,
I love you. Pay attention.
The wind drops. The residue of that voice coats and tingles my skin, but I hear nothing. And then, shuffling. My former captors watch me, warily.
Dust still mills around the ground, but the air is clear. Dusk sits on the cusp of night, but I can see the details of my house, and shadows of buildings and activity in the distance.
I walk forward, and throw an arm over each of their shoulders, hugging them to me. They are smaller than me, and seem reassured by my presence.
We walk back to the house together.