A hundred pairs of eyes

cave

Hundreds of crickets watched us from the darkened ceiling as we moved through the cave led by a guide with only a flashlight and a thousand facts about the cave.  The guide was an older woman with wrinkles at the corners of her eyes and sandy blonde hair tucked behind her ears.  She had 30 years of experience leading groups through protected areas of national parks and caves.  The pay wasn’t great and the days were long, but she somehow still found pleasure in the work.

It beats getting stuck in a cubicle farm, she would have explained if anyone asked about her longevity as a ranger.  Not that she wasn’t looking forward to retirement because she was, very much, looking forward to spending her golden years between the mangroves and beaches of Florida, which she would have added if anyone would have asked.  

She stopped at an open area in the cave and waited for the slowest members of the group to catch up.  It was a limited mobility tour and between the older adults and toddlers with their caretakers, everyone was slow.  In spite of the weight of the baby bump, I am proud that we were able to hold our own and were not the very last stragglers of the gang.

“Kids, come up here.  I want to show you all something.” 

She had a secret smirk on her face as she watched parents trustingly bring their children towards her.

“There’s room right around here.  Come on, squeeze together everyone,” the guide said.  

Herding the tiny humans forward, the kids moved into a tight semi-circle around the guide and in front of the adults.  Everyone stood with wide eyes, limited by the unfamiliarity of the cave and the darkness.  The air was dry and cool, giving away nothing with a breeze that didn’t exist.

“I bet you think we’re alone in here, right?” she asked.

The kids shouted different answers, not as easily prompted as she expected.

 “Oh, I guess we’re holding hands now.”

She looked down in surprise, twin brothers stood on either side of the guide.  They had each grabbed one of her hands and stared absently off into the dark space beyond the beam of her flashlight.

The guide quickly regrouped and shook free of one of the boys. 

“Sorry, I need this hand,” she whispered to him.  

“Follow the light,” she said in her full voice to the audience.

Swinging the light directly overhead, she illuminated a writhing mass of large crickets clinging to the ceiling with their skinny legs and testing the air with their antenna.  She panned the ceiling with the light revealing a city of crickets temporarily on hold.  They watched us calmly and waited for us to leave as we gasped and squirmed in their presence.  

We were never alone in the cave.  In fact, above or below ground, we are never alone.  Sometimes, we just don’t know where to look to find a single pair of eyes when there are actually hundreds waiting and watching to see what we will do next.

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A Better Way to Joy Ride

junk yard

Rosa was on the phone when I quietly knocked at the door and walked into the room.  The lights were low and the blinds were down.  It took a second for my eyes to adjust to the darkness in the middle of the day.  The place was wrecked, shoes were haphazardly kicked off in a pile by the door and clothes were crumpled on the floor.  A box of fried chicken was on the table next to a Big Gulp drink with napkins and ketchup packets mixed in with a stack of mail. 

Rosa sat straight up, stiff as a board, in an old brown reclining chair.  She wore a nubby bathrobe and her short, dark hair stuck out in every direction like she was just seriously electrocuted and should be on the way to the hospital instead of sitting in a chair furiously scribbling away at a notebook.    

As I approached, it was clear that she deep into something messy.

“I’ll come back later,” I whispered, not one to interrupt unless it was absolutely necessary, and started to retreat towards the door.  Rosa held up a pudgy finger, indicating for me to wait one minute. 

“Ok, I’ll call back tomorrow and speak with the officer,” she growled into the phone.    

Angrily shaking her head, she looked up at me with one eye to ensure that I hadn’t snuck out as she made final arrangements for her appointment tomorrow.  

Ending the call, she dropped the phone onto the notebook on her lap with a disgusted sigh.

“Sounds like I don’t have a car anymore.” 

She waited with a dramatic pause, gauging my interest.

Unable to resist the bait, I took the hook, line and sinker, and casually asked for clarification.  

“What in the world happened, Rosa?  I didn’t even know that you had a car.”

“First, do you think I can drive right now with my legs like this?”

I scanned her face, she was serious, and then dropped my eyes to her painfully swollen feet and legs poking out from underneath of her long bathroom.   

“No, I don’t.  Shouldn’t those be propped up?”

She ignored the question and continued.

“Well, I didn’t think so either, but I just learned that my car was traveling the wrong way on a one way street back in my home town, crashed into a few parked cars and was then abandoned on a side street and the police wanted to know if it was me.”

“So, you did have a car?”

“You’re really hung up on that, yes, I had a car back home. I left the keys with my roommate for emergencies only and now he is missing and my car is in the junk yard.” 

Her dark eyes flashed with anger, “Excuse, I need to make some more phone calls.”

The next day, her door was open as I passed by in the hallway.  Light streamed in from the windows and the clutter was gone.  Her shoes were lined up, her clothes were put away and there was no trash to be seen.  Her hair was pulled neatly back with a wide headband displaying a pair of very dainty, unpierced ears.  She scrolled through images on her phone and laughed to herself.  Noticing my shadow darkening her door, she waved.

“Hey girl, come on in.  What’s going on today?”

I wanted to ask the same thing of her regarding the grand theft auto situation but held my tongue.

“Wondering about my car?” she asked.

Feigning shock at her mind reading ability, I confirmed her suspicions with a nod and again took the bait.

“What happened?”

She threw her hands up with a smile, “We worked it out.  He knows what he did was wrong, but there’s no use fighting over it or staying mad.  I can’t afford to waste my energy like that, if I didn’t forgive him hate would build up and stay right here,” she lightly pounded at her chest with her fist.

“Right here,” she emphasized.

“It would make me sick when I am in here trying to get better, to be better.”

Unable to stop myself, I gushed with partially informed questions.

“But if you drop it, how will you get him to pay you?  Will insurance cover the damages?  What did you tell the police?  What did he tell you?  How will you get around?”

In the midst of this flurry of questions, there were two questions that I didn’t ask but most wondered about the answers, how and why did you forgive him?

She held her hand up to stop the questions, “I’ll figure that stuff out.  Its going to be ok.”

Reassuringly, she nodded and patted my hand.

“Really, its going to be ok.”

Suddenly, I was left with a sad emptiness where a surrogate anger had rushed out, like water from a broken cup.  There is another way to get better, to be better, and it starts with deciding to put the sword away.  

 

Earl

 

toe

“Nope, I can’t make it,” the maintenance man flatly refused without offering a reason.

“Earl can do it,” he continued.  “It’s easy, just tell him to… Is he there? Let me just talk to him.”

I handed the phone over to Earl with a shrug, “He won’t come out and he wants you to do it,” I whispered with a twinge of guilt in the pit of my stomach.

Earl is a tiny, old black man, made about ten years older due to his health.  He wore the same self-assigned uniform of a black pants and a collared shirt every day, pressed and ironed, with pleats sharp enough to slice a blade of grass in half.  He walked slowly with heavy, thudding steps that announced his presence before his actual arrival.  Orthopedic shoes make it very difficult to sneak up on someone.

Fortunately, Earl was not a one to sneak, steal, lie or cheat.  He kept a demanding moral code and held tightly to the training he received in the military, meaning that he never shirked responsibility or refused an order from a superior.

The maintenance man, on the other hand, received no formal training other than from the School of Hard Knocks and had no moral code.  He had no scruples about assuming a superior position to which he had earned no right and making Earl do his work.

“No problem, I can do that,” Earl said after thoughtfully listening to the maintenance man on the phone when he should have been saying, “No, that’s a problem,” and “I won’t do that.”

Without complaint or hesitation, Earl hobbled away with a strange new limp.

Something was wrong, but what, I wondered.

“Wait, let me do it,” I shouted after him and raced across the room to cut him off at the door.

“No, I’ll do it. It will just take me a minute and I’ll be right back.”

Earl pled with his eyes.  Please, don’t take this from me.

And I let him go.

Over an hour passed before he returned, perspiring and covered with cobwebs and grease. He dropped into a chair and pulled a plain, white handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the sweat from his forehead. If he was in pain, it was a mystery to me.

It was a little later that I discovered the origin of the new limp and the teeny, tiny feeling of guilt exploded into that of a massive fireball and my admiration for Earl grew at the same rate.

I learned the following things about Earl.

  1. Earl’s toe was just amputated one day earlier.
  2. The stub was wrapped in gauze and stuffed inside of his orthopedic shoe.
  3. Earl refused all pain medications so he could come to work in spite of having lots of PTO.
  4. Earl needs a vacation. And a new third toe.  He really misses it.

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