Where Do We Go From Here?

Bedtime. Nightlights weave a protective aura. Shadows trundle across phosphorescent stars. There’s coolness to this light, a softness projected by every apparatus engineered to keep darkness at bay. The undulating glow galvanizes toy spaceships, model airplanes and posters depicting oceans, deserts, tropics, deep space. A room for a child with restless legs.

There’s a smaller room within this room, though some may just call it a drawer. In this drawer there are artifacts, stockpiles of precious treasures children specialize in: a baseball glove, marbles, shells acquired on a far-off shore. Anyway, what’s really important in this drawer is a snapshot of a father and son tucked beside an even smaller room, though most would just call it a box.

But this box is a special box, a box crafted by meticulous hands in some distant place. It’s a box with a small dial protruding from its base, a dial little fingers regularly turn when sleep is miles away. It’s an old box, so when you open the lid it makes this screeching noise and you cringe a little bit, but that’s okay once the music commences.

There are other rooms, big ones this time, the ones people pass through and paint with memories. They’re the type of rooms where a woman might lie awake, sequestered to the side of a bed, anticipating the false presence of a body upon a spread of empty sheets. These are rooms where a tender kind of loneliness sets in when the television is off and the house is at rest. Lastly, there are these narrow rooms, these connecting rooms, rooms generally referred to as halls. But in this particular house, they’re just another pool of separation preventing a reassuring peek into a protectively lit room.

A boy lies on his side beneath a dragnet of nightlights, absorbing the melody of a music box, thumbing a photo of his father, eyes drifting, shutting, slipping away. An incandescent beam cuts across a wall, the nightly insignia of a mother carefully opening a door. The boy is alert now, steady, still. He will act as though he’s asleep as long as his mother pretends to believe him. Sometimes it’s kind of hard to say goodnight.

The mother shuts the door, leaving the boy unable to rest, to set his eyes adrift. He throws his feet over the bed, slides into a pair of slippers and wades across the room, parting watery light. He switches a lamp atop a small desk. This is where the refrigerator paintings come from, all creatures born from clothespins, googly eyes, glitter and Popsicle sticks. Upon the desk there is a sketchbook, leather-bound, an engraving of a mighty tree etched upon its surface. Another precious artifact; the container of three-thousand-one hundred dreams realized in color and shape.

There are thresholds that ease open with a sheet of paper and a spire of colored wax; sleepy passageways, best revealed in twilight, when the mind is welling to forfeit the optics of what is blatant and real. They lead to flaxen meadows trembling beneath daylight stars and clouds that shift at an extraordinary rate. A celestial neighbors hangs on the horizon, close enough to touch, harboring an apple glow.

What makes us wade so deeply into these synaptic lagoons? What makes us wander blondish fields, the sonority of our slippered footsteps strumming through tall grass? There’s a purpose to these private meanderings, an attraction to invisible tethers that guide us to places of familiar profiles, cherished in perfect memory, until the amnesia of waking takes us away.


 

The boy wakes at his desk in a wash of morning light, soaking in the realization of time and place. Drowsy, he fumbles through his sketchbook, soliciting evidence of the soft elsewhere that turned in his dreams. His eyes bind to a page. The proper markings are there: tessellated branches, wind-driven clouds and celestial bodies hanging in an indigo sky. Particles of dusts dance in the slipstream of his touch as he shuts his sketchbook, while his mind secretly tattoos a remembrance, stunning and unreal, to the surface of his heart.

The boy has become an expert at espionage, a reluctant agent edging corners, monitoring voices through walls. On certain mornings he is prone to discover his mother with a phone pressed to her ear, her lips beckoning words he cannot place or register. He sinks in and listens, thumbing the strap of his sketchbook as he might thumb a precious picture, not wanting to intrude, interrupt or interpret adult pain. Though there’s no way of knowing with whom she speaks, he can only assume it has something to do with the letter-sized worry she holds in her hand. She’s in the throes of one of those telephone negotiations, those not quite pleading, not quite crying arbitrations that always seem to settle somewhere in between.

What if her arms were longer? What if she could reach around corners, pulling him past temporal anachronisms, the contradictions of what one senses at the time and what is presently believed? What if she could coax him past the agony of front doors? The fact it’s the most necessary portion of a house also explains why it’s the most mysterious. It’s the place people enter and exit, the portal loved ones pass through, tacitly agreeing to come back okay. So it should come as no surprise when such a pact is broken, it’s hard to disavow the shadowstain that lingers there.


It’s a rare and stunning wisdom when a child looks at his mother and realizes she lives inside hidden places of her own—shaded depths, camouflaged and lurking through tunnels of active memory. He knows he must brave broken passageways, that he must run to her, be her counterweight, the one true thing above all else, the before and after dictating the chronology of her life. Locate a blank page and guide her through the tall grass, beneath accelerated skies, star-stenciled and breathing. Become entangled, the mother’s hands running through her child’s hair, interlacing fingers, the security that’s explicit when someone loved is near. In this place of greater safety, a boy can lie on his belly, flipping through the pages of his sketchbook, his fingers delicate, decisive, fleshing the outline of a man who isn’t there.

What the boy remembers most about his father is the clutter of his desk. There were days when dad returned home from work only to bury himself inside his study and plummet into aggregations of finely printed pages. This was not an intentional distance, it was a mandatory one. Every now and then, the boy would slip into that crackerjack space and share a joke, a smile or a disparaging account of a rotten school day. Other times he would just sit and draw, simulating the concentration his father conveyed. These were loving intrusions, simple attempts to pull warmth from a man as he toiled among grown up things.

“He’ll be back,” she assured him as his father shut the door—an unknowing preface to the most colossal of lies.

It was never a messy clutter, just a beautiful disarray of books and papers, curious objects with mystical resonance. Handsome ornaments, tiny figurines, polished stones and things that looked old. These were riches acquired before the boy’s time, or at least before his memory kicked in, so he couldn’t help but wonder about their origins, though he never got around to questioning aloud. The most enchanting of all the desktop treasure was an antique music box that dad would wind for time to time without introduction or reason. And when the tiny aria enveloped the room, the boy would sink into a nascent state. It was as if that melody had always been with him, a part of him, etched upon his identity, a rippling pool of recollections in the backwaters of his mind.


Crayons untangle human boundaries, mapping lost outlines. The light on a wristwatch. The turn of the doorknob. A hand, a handle, a briefcase. The gestures of unintentional goodbyes. Though the boy may not realize it, there’s a precious defect to his memory, a selectivity of images, color-glazed and hurting: shoulders, eyeglasses, elbows and a necktie. It’s as though he’s lost his father’s totality, the sincerity of his living wholeness. Now he’s left with something bodiless and mythical, something beyond the scent of Old Spice, the pen-strokes and the contour of a stubbled chin. He’s left with a presence, bare and wavering, an existences beyond physical form. A substance only he can see.

A mother’s eyes shackle to her child’s hands. The application of color and shape. A sacred cartography. She senses a shielded intensity radiating from her son, an under-force, wall-breaking and ferocious, spawned from the mire of unreachable convictions. If life was fair and god was tangible and everyone got a second chance, there would be no weighted moments in this life, no decisions about whether to elude sorrow or rediscover the moments that conceived it. It occurs to her the most potent dreams are those we secretly forge for others: a gentle vision of a boy running through a starstruck meadow, beckoned by a man with a music box in hand, a father cresting a gentle hill.

The boy lies on his side beneath protective lights. He faces a music box, soaking in the melody, as he thumbs the photo of his father, his eyes drifting, shutting, slipping away. An incandescent beam cuts across a wall, the nightly insignia of a mother carefully opening a door. It’s a befitting ending, if you think about it. After all, this hasn’t only been a story about dreams or loss or which memories are cherished most feelingly—it’s also been a story about opening and closing: a music box, a book cover, a front door. In the shallow amount of time we’re allotted on this earth, there’s such an abundance of passageway we must cross, it’s often difficult to determine which way to go. But no matter how many doorknobs we turn or hidden worlds we plunge into, there’s a foreboding acknowledgment of that final threshold, a notion developed sometime in childhood and anxiously carried in our pockets for the rest of our lives. Despite this understanding we continue on, we keep moving and we keep opening doors, drawing courage from the memories we share and the hands we hold onto. And perhaps this hope, this ubiquitous wish is, in and of itself, a form of sympathetic magic, if only dreaming makes it so.

Mom shuts the door.

The boy closes his eyes.

Goodnight.

 

Comments are closed.