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The roads of life get experienced one moment at a time regardless of how cluelessly we traverse the journey. At times we see the grasshopper. The glinting dew-diamonds on early-morning grass. The butterfly, crocodile, whale chiffon clouds on stage with the azure background accenting their show.

Then there’s the walk home after an exhilarating evening of joy. Those moments come rapid-fire yet soft. Billowy. Unforgettable. All because you’ve set your heart free. All because you’ve connected to your higher self and you allow yourself to glory in all that is good and kind and fortunate in your life.

Those roads, less traveled, beckon to us. Always. For the most part, we not only ignore them, we grow into a refusal of their actual existence. Memory serves us well here if we could only grasp the importance of the fact that these moments of walking on air truly emanate from within rather than without…

Rachel

“She likes me!” Tingles shot an array of directionless explosions throughout his body. His brain. His arms. His legs. The tip of his nose. He likely glowed brighter than the most dominant star in the sky.

They’d danced. He actually danced with her! Seventh grade was becoming a bellwether time in his young life. The holidays had passed. Rachel had asked (through a friend) if he liked her. He appreciated her forwardness. After Dawna, he needed that.

He got to walk her home. What an amazing time to be alive! They held hands. They strolled Dunbar Avenue with its elongated shadows painting a surreal backdrop to their majestic victory over new love.

Ray noted the magnificence of her warm hand, the tapestry of stars winking their approval through the maple leaves overhanging the sidewalk by Jimmy Smith’s darkened house. The world slept. The entire world snoozed the night away allowing them their time and a complete run of everything everywhere. Nothing was denied the two young lovers, as best they knew to be, as they strolled in harmony.

When the time came to part, and she walked into her house, Ray felt blissfully lost. He remembered his favorite shortcut. He floated between two darkened houses. He imagined a narrow deer-trail from all the times he’d cut through these peoples’ lawns for a more direct route home.

In the daylight, he’d always felt the thrill of necessary caution. Caution because he must take care not to be seen as this trespass might not be welcomed by the homeowners. Tonight, the entire world bowed to him. He ruled the night as he’d never known he could.

As he approached the alley between Rachel’s street and his, he noted the darkness and how easily his feet found true purchase and how the crisp shapes of daylight blurred into gray-black marshmellowness at night. His gaze rose to the heavens, the stars all witnessing his primal victory as he waked with a lilt, a skip, and an unceremonious topple over a seldom closed gate.

He’d tumbled over the thigh-high obstruction and flipped onto his back in the gravel of the alley. There were the stars. Laughing. Not in derision. They giggled because they knew he did not feel the fall. He simply grinned back at them.

He had the sense to collect himself. He knew nothing could hurt him this night. Yet sometimes in life, he’d found it important to make sure he was ok. After a few moments of physical inventory, he took a moment to smile back at the heavens, lift himself and cut through the apartments, which was a daring move since he’d never really done that before, day or night.

Why not? He was indestructible. He ruled the heavens and the earth. He could still feel her hand in his. For the second time, he felt love engulf his entire being from the inside out.

***

Days and weeks of school passed by. They saw each other as much as two twelve-year-olds could. Summer began and he had not yet kissed her. Something about a kiss frightened him to his very core. He couldn’t understand it. T.J. was frustrated with him. He could not believe Ray could go this long with making “a move.”

It happened one day that Rachel had struck out to T.J.’s house in search of Ray because Ray and T.J. were best friends. Ray was not there. In T.J.’s backyard, underneath two broad canopy trees, sat a bench-swing.

Rachel was growing into her body. She proudly walked with her growing breasts accented with tight-fitting tops. Ray appreciated this. In fact, his internal self drew toward them like an emotional magnet huge as the Empire State Building. Those breasts called to him. Their siren song taunted him.

Intimidated him. This fateful day, filled with T.J., Rachel, and the swing, forever changed Ray in ways he would continue to discover decades later. T.J. lured her to the wooden ship. The one that sailed away with Ray’s dreams.

To his credit, T.J. told Ray about it the next day. Or was he bragging? He’d slipped his hand up under her tight blouse, and fondled the softness Ray had believed was his. T.J. even took the time to describe how soft they were in his Neanderthal vocabulary.

Rage tore through Ray, a voracious beast that threatened to devour everything and everyone. A hardness grew in a recess in his heart. That dark corner where Dawna and Rachel had erased the pain which resided there. They’d filled its emptiness with love, or so he’d believed for many, many years to come.

That pain had always been there. A casualty of two parents who fought too often and too loud. A small kid who could not understand why they could be so harsh at times. But that pain had always been a dark shadow within gelatinous darkness.

Now, that pain morphed into something hard. Something more rock-like. The dual betrayal of best friend and girlfriend washed over him like a black wave of dirty, oily goo. While Ray raged inside, he simply walked away from his friend, then ran to his pillow in his room and wailed into it all the pain of childhood which should never feel this dark.

A few days later, T.J., having apologized over and over and over again, found Ray and Rachel at T.J.’s cousin Harry’s house. The three were playing spin-the-bottle in Harry’s garage. The intent was to get Ray to kiss her. When the bottle pointed to her, he could not do it. He could not kiss her. He walked away.

The next day (it seemed), Rachel was seen walking arm-in-arm with some tall, stringy-haired guy from highschool. While Rachel was about to go into the eighth grade, Ray knew he could not compete with this guy. He looked dirty. He looked unscrupulous. Ray would never be like that. This dude looked like Ray’s moral-less father.

He knew she would give this guy whatever his needs demanded. For the second time, Ray learned the harsh lesson, “You don’t get to say goodbye…”

Memories

Choices float through our hearts,
Forever available in their invisible realm.
Not like objects in liquid dreams, but
Wispy clouds on high.

We choose where memory drives our soul
From open joy to blackened hole
Yet too often we choose one or the other
When both should live on.

Love always delivers the paradox of knife
One side ecstatic, the other strife
For love’s acquisition is the grail we hold dear
And its absence the darkness we fear.

Memory’s clouds too often envelop pain
Darkness its character, its definition, its reign
When joy and aspiration may be saddled as well
Our choice, slice of heaven or burning ember of hell

Balance lends credence to life and our love
That we may learn to be wary yet cherish
Our smiles and our foibles which never need perish
When we keep whole the memories of love…