Before and After
In an instant, a life can divide into Before and After. A phone call or a news flash can do it. Invariably, something remains as a reminder. For Joseph, a colleague at Chloe’s office, it is Bach playing on the stereo before the screech of brakes, the crunch of metal, an ambulance, the hospital.
“I hear Bach now and think: oh, yes, I used to love that. Before. In my other life.”
For Chloe’s sister, Anna, it is a body shampoo. She told Chloe how the shower was hot and steam clouded the glass. She stood in the warm fog, then sniffed the fresh, pine scent of the new Badedas body shampoo. That clean scent of mountains and good health. Just seconds later, her fingers, tentative, pressed back and forth, smoothing the skin as her brain bristled
indignantly. It can’t be! But it is, yes, it is. I think it is. A lump.
And after – doctors visits, surgery, chemo, hair loss, pain.
Chloe will be reminded of these conversations in four minutes. Right now she chooses a pretty china cup, Staffordshire, patterned with red roses. She pokes the tea bag with a spoon while she pours in the boiling water and then decides to start the laundry while the tea steeps. Dan’s shirts are already loaded in the washer but she pulls them out anyway, to shake them. She is nervous that a stray ballpoint might lie forgotten in a pocket, leave a Caspian Sea of navy ink never to be bleached away. As she shakes the shirt, something flies out, floats up like confetti to land on the lid of the dryer. She studies, frowning, a pair of ticket stubs for a New York City theatre.
She is puzzled at first. Then remembers, of course, the business conference in New York City. Seven days had stretched to ten; Dan had been exhausted when he came home, complaining about the demands of clients, the tedious conversation of his colleagues. Chloe studies these tickets with a sense of unreality, as if she is watching herself on a movie set, frowning for the camera. But her mind is seething with questions. Dan had not told her of this theatre visit. Off-Broadway does not seem appropriate, somehow. Hedda Gabler is an odd choice for an evening with a client. Or a colleague.
With cold clarity, Chloe sees that these stubs will lead to questions that she does not want to
ask, but must ask. That will lead to answers she does not want to hear. Later, a Decree Absolute, loneliness.
Chloe knows as she stirs her tea, stirs what is now gungy, tarry soup, that she is already in the after. She throws the tea away, gets a fresh teabag, starts over. The tea, though freshly brewed, still tastes thick and stale.
She understands now, that she has moved in space, slid towards some other life. She has crossed that invisible but solid line. Lipton’s Orange Pekoe has joined Bach’s St. Matthew’s
Passion and Badedas with Original Scent, to be forever in the before. And there is no going back.
Revelation from Elevation: Life Lesson Learned on a Plane
On a return flight from St. Petersburg; Florida not Russia; I had the privilege of sitting next to a Russian woman; one whose parents named her Natasha. She had come to America to bury her sister who suffered from blunt trauma, murdered by a brutal man under the influence of illegal narcotics. I was staring out the window when she approached my aisle, and upon seeing how much taller she was than me I offered to switch seats to spare us both the drama. Little things like that are what this world needs; I thought nothing of it, but that morning, it was everything to a person that had been mourning. Later at dinner; as we shared drinks and proceeded to fill our stomachs; she admitted that had I not performed that small act of kindness she probably wouldn’t have even spoken.
Lanky, skinny me; I was seated in the middle. I guess the guy to my right missed his flight because the seat remained vacant. Natasha looked concerned. Worried. Depressed. There are several applicable adjectives I could use. Most importantly she looked robbed of life. Questioning GOD she sat confused. “Please fasten your seatbelts” the captain pronounced. “We’re about to commence with takeoff. For the time being please turn all of your questions, worries, and electronic devices off.”
Takeoff was about to begin and Natasha appeared to be scared. “Would you like some Orbit?” “Orbit??” “No, not as in spaceships! It’s gum…….for the popping in your ears!” “Thanks” she said. Shortly after we ascended into flight I put on my headphones and took out a Newsweek to read. She turned her head towards the window. I read until I was lulled to sleep.
About an hour passed. The lovely ladies with the carts proceeded to come down the aisle. Our choices were peanuts, crackers, and chips; soda, water, or a pretty smile. The cart lady was really cute. I wondered if she had a boyfriend because she seemed to be into me. As she handed me my peanuts I got my answer. Damn! The good ones always have wedding rings! Natasha beside me was still asleep. When she awakes I bet she’ll want something to eat.
“Excuse me miss….” “Yes?” “Can I have some peanuts and water for my girlfriend? She would ask you, but as you can see….she is asleep.” “Oh, Certainly!” She exclaimed. She smiled and winked at me as she started to leave. Flight attendants are such a tease. Before 9/11, I used to board the plane with Chinese.
Before I could slip back on my headphones Natasha began to weep. Only thing was she wasn’t awake. She was crying profusely in her sleep. Honestly, I was scared as hell. I didn’t know what it was I should do. If I woke her up she could get mad. If I didn’t wake her, and she cried the whole time I would’ve looked like an inconsiderate fool. I wondered what or who she was dreaming of? Whatever it was it couldn’t have been good. Despite the duality of my indecisiveness I decided that waking her up was the best thing to do.
I nudged her on the shoulder. One shoulder nudge soon led to two. And on the third time/ she opened her eyes/ to hold my hand as if it were God’s/and the end of the world was coming soon. I looked into her eyes…..scared…..not sure if I was prepared for what I was exposed to. “I…..I……I……while you were sleeping I got you some peanuts and a bottle of water too. Are you thirsty? Please don’t hurt me! I thought waking you up was the best thing to do.
“It’s ok, I’m sorry. I was dreaming of my deceased sister. Reliving a memory of when the two of us used to race home from school. I don’t know how I’m going to live without her……I buried her yesterday afternoon.”
Damn. What was I supposed to say? I just sat there. We both sat there. She didn’t let go and I didn’t expect her to. Silence is a crazy thing. It can be interpreted as positive or negative. Depending on the participants; it is a peculiar organogenesis. It gives us time to develop thoughts; clear our throat and lungs so fresh air can be consumed…….it gives us time to interpret if the heart is worth it; whether or not it is strong enough to endure all of the events it goes through.
If felt like a lifetime had passed. Like we were both people we knew from each other’s past. For her loss/ I prayed that GOD/would send angels to surround her and make her laugh. Laughter was the only thing that would take her mind off of what she had. A grief so overshadowing that it appeared in my forecast. I hate to see other people sad so I took it upon myself to assist in claiming her bags. Suddenly, I remembered in my youth that I always took pride in being the clown of the class. So I bore the burden of her baggage on my shoulders to take some of the weight off of her back.
“What is your name?” I asked. “Natasha” she said. “Okay, Natasha, if you don’t mind me
asking….. Exactly how did your sister die?”
Natasha took a couple minutes for herself. Then she let out the terrible torrent she was holding inside. “She. ….she was murdered by her ex-boyfriend. He had a nasty habit of getting high. Off of terrible things….Hardcore Drugs…Drugs my sister stored for him during long trips when he would leave. One day she wrote to me that she was leaving him because she wanted to come clean. I could not come get her at that time. Through an exchange of letters I told her to wait a week. I thought waiting for me to come get her would be better. …. So I could bring her back home with me to live at my place……. if she could be patient and wait….I
would bring her to a sanctuary where she would be safe.
But…But…my sister, she wouldn’t listen. She was so intent on running away. And she succeeded…..Until the day her boyfriend tracked her down to the motel where she stayed. Like a villain; he beat her. Then finally he struck her with a baseball bat to the face. When the police came to arrest him, they…they…they couldn’t save her life…. This flight I’m on was meant for the both of us….I feel like if I left a week earlier she wouldn’t have died.”
She stuttered through all of her sentences until she let loose a waterfall of tears that seemed to be brought up from the balls of her feet. “My little sister…….She was supposed to be in the middle……and and……that empty seat to the right of you……that seat was meant for me.”
When words cannot provide comfort; the only thing left we can do is pray. We were too close to GOD for him not to hear us; even though neither of us understood the events of that day. I gave her some napkins to dry her face. It was like throwing blankets over a lake. A heavy heart; I wished her not; she wiped away until her cascade began to fade. Natasha needed someone to talk to. Anybody. She had sorrows she had to let loose with my help. I started thinking had I not been there….had I not heard her story…there’s really no telling what she would have done with herself.
And that’s when it hit me. From her experience I had my own revelation. The hearts of people are like beacons; reaching out to one another in anticipation….that someone, anyone, somewhere will take the time to truly listen. Sometimes, I wonder how many people out there are really screaming….Other times, I wonder how many people out there aren’t even listening. Hearing her story, just being there for her…..I felt the most sincere sense of completion. That day, on that plane, I felt glad. I was content with being a human being.
I suggested to Natasha to look out in the clouds. “Look! Those over there look like her angel wings! Your sister may be gone, but she’ll always be with you….talk to her like you would if she were here beside me.” And she did. She told her sister how one day they would be reunited again. In her heart she would always keep her, and she would be reminded of it every time she
felt a breeze in the wind.
I didn’t know where to start….how could I help her pick up the pieces of such a shattered and
broken heart? My only answer was to take her mind off of everything. Together on my laptop we laughed as we watched the comedian Kevin Hart.
It’s a fantastic feeling to be above the clouds. The joy of knowing you’re above everything is
the splendor of marveling at what you see when you look down. One can see whole weather systems….storms, snow, vicious rains; even barren lands suffering from drought. Natasha’s search to find solace in me taught me this:
No matter what your facing that may be perceived as bad or insurmountable at a particular time in your life; remember to always keep your head held high with positive insight. It’s always sunny somewhere so keep your head not to, but above the sky.
We don’t understand death as much as we claim to understand our lives. Nor who he takes
away or why, so in the meantime, we write. The least I could do was offer my
shoulder to cry on; which she rested her head upon for the rest of the flight.
Corey R. Jackson