Chapter 1: The Opening
Path to Perniciousness
There is no mystic secret
It is the betrayal of the stars
And the sun that rests over the mountain
Shows only phases of the aging moon
We are barefoot on the path of perniciousness
Uneven footing on rutted brown earth
Sweet whiskey of your soiled lips
Are memories as I lay down on the floor
Last night in the dimly lit barroom
Away from the January noon so long ago
You became unearthly bound
Beyond the stars and stratosphere
I swear at the lies his injustice
Of drying marrow to the bone
I seek to set fire to this truth
Of infinite lies stretching with smiling stillness
For the seekers. From a reformed doubter. On the strength of memories and nothing more, I recall that I lived as a gatherer. I collect the mystery of life to share with you and others. From the very beginning, I forgot that I have always had memories to share. A strong recollection for this one story now leaves my lips. This story is for you, the traveler. These words will leave a unique taste, not unlike a grain of salt on the tip of your tongue. A careful shaman harvests the essential truths that arise like smoke in the moonlit sky. We each are shamans.
To look in the direction of smoke rising from embers is to ultimately understand and know. Each twist of smoke rising is another strand of a story woven into the fabric of this dream. In the strength of dreams, hope is like tufts of yawing grass that arise in the warm spring sun.
Here, near the San Francisco Peaks, the great mystery reaches its stretched fingers, like the bright sun that slowly inches through the sleepy forest in the cool spring morning time. I walk far away from the county roads that gouge the face of this ponderosa forest in Northern Arizona. This is where the dream of hope begins.
On the afternoon of March 18, 2016, I look from the computer screen out the window at a late-winter storm. Typical weather for the southern part of the Rockies. Tender starter flakes toss about on gusty winds. Twenty-eight degrees by the thermometer nailed on the outside wall, just beyond the frost glazed on the window. This was the start of my journey and the messages.
The cell phone rings. On the screen, I see Tamera is calling. She is the sister of my best friend Shane. I have known him for 30 years and Tamera a few months less than that. Tamera moved to Silver City, New Mexico soon after Shane introduced us.
I visited Silver City three times. I tagged along with Shane in hopes of getting to know Tamera a bit more. Silver City nestles in the high desert and is bound by rolling hills of yellow bluestem grass and scattered puffs of juniper and alligator pine. The crumbling mining town of Silver City once hosted brothels, bloody saloons and clandestine opium dens in the 1850s. Past residents of the town include Billy the Kid and Madame Mille.
I am an average-looking guy, about a 5 or 6 on the thigh-trembling Richter scale of 10. Tamera, even after these years, is tapping a 9.5. Me, a headful of greying mud-brown hair, in my mid50 with greenish eyes, a bit too long of a nose, and a furrowed brow from squinting years at the computer screen examining programming code.
After I first met her, I called her on occasion. I stepped on my tongue far too often, and probably made a bit of a fool of myself. I am sure she was transitionally flattered. Nevertheless, a person cannot live with someone pitying them, so I soon put her on a shelf. Yet, from the day that I met her, I had closely mapped her.
I looked at the time on my computer screen — 2:35 on Tuesday afternoon. Close enough to wind down and think about Mother Road brewery.
Putting on my flirt voice, I said in the deepest and most sultry tone I could muster, “Hey Tamera. How are you doing?”
Sobs came out of the speaker. Jesus, something is up. I lambasted myself under my breath, “Don’t be such a douchebag.”
“Tamera?” I was honestly concerned.
“It’s… it’s…” she was crying.
“Tamera. Take a deep breath. Calm…calm…” I made a breathing sound into the phone to mimic the slowing of her breath. I waited a few moments. I hear her choking gasps of air.
“Now, tell me slowly…. Tell me what happened.” I waited. I learned the technique of holding for a response from my mental health therapist when I went into marriage counseling after my first divorce. My therapist liked to ask one-line questions. I would describe an important event in detail and she would simply respond, “Stan, how does that make you feel?”
I wanted to respond, “How the fuck do you think it makes me feel?” However, I always held off.
She would wait for my response. And wait. And wait – some more. Until I replied. Almost as if her waiting was the wick that would sop up the spilled mess, I made of my life.
I heard Tamera sharply inhale again. She blurted out, “Shane is dead. He got hit by a train.” She bawls.
“What?” I burst out. My mind raced. I hoped for a quick retort. Maybe a stupid joke. However, nothing followed. Only sobs from the other end of the line. There are a few dozen vehicles hit by the BNSF train each year in Flagstaff. His car probably stalled on the tracks.
She carefully restated. “He’s dead.” She wailed.
My response softened. “Oh my god.” I covered my mouth after blurting out. I paused and listened. Tamera sobbed. Seeking clarification, “Did the train hit his car?”
“No… no… it hit Shane. He was walking Pepper … down by the tracks.” I could hear her reaching to catch a full breath.
“Oh god,” I softly responded. Pepper was Shane’s German Shepard mix that he picked up some seven years prior. Shane arrived at our office cradling the little ball of fur. He purchased Pepper for a few dollars from a couple of girls who had a cardboard box full of scrambling puppies outside the Safeway.
I sat straight in the chair. I gathered my thoughts. Reassuringly, I said, “Tamera, I’ll head down to the Police Department now. I will find out what I can. Also, I’ll see where Pepper is.”
“Thanks.” Tamera choked.
“I’m so, so sorry. I’ll call soon.” I waited for a response but heard soft sobs. “My love to you and Shane.” I touched the red disconnect button. I held the cell phone against my chest. I stared out the window at snow whisking by. I welled up and sobbed. I reached to make sense of a world without him. I had not bawled so hard since I lost my father several years back. Shane was not only my business partner, he was my friend.
The Flagstaff Police Department provided me with perfunctory information. Scripted and stoic. I was not Shane’s relative, by blood. I was able to retrieve Pepper from the pound. He offered me a friendly face. And a wet tongue. A flood of memories with Shane, too. I hugged Pepper and held on for a while. He did not mind. After returning to the house with Pepper, I called Tamera. We cried. We consoled.
Exhaustion that evening. It felt like a big hole carved in my chest. I was enveloped in a dark tunnel of grief. At the funeral midweek, my spirit seemed out of place from of my physical body. I was an outside observer of the surrealistic stage when you lose someone. I did not want to engage with anyone. Nights seemed lonelier. Darkness seems to scratch at the existing sting from a deep loss. I wrestled the bed to conquer sleeplessness. Worn to the bone, tossing and turning, I ached to sleep.
Pepper had difficulty sleeping too. He paced every ten minutes. His nails tapped the wood floors. He walked in circles from wall to wall to wall. He occasionally halted and sniffed the air. Was he searching for Shane? Every ten minutes, his silhouette settled into the blanket I tucked in the corner for him. Could we be sharing the same gaping hole of loss? Does he remember Shane strewn on the tracks?
Shane was a spiritual mash-up. He was a creative blend of technology and art. A gearhead with hands stained with paint. A soul of beautiful love. Once a purveyor of wild women and song, he mellowed over time and angled away from the partying scene, but always kept his paints close. He was also a creative technocrat. Lately, he grew uninspired by his computer-programming job. It became a means to pay bills and the source of funding to erect his art studio. He had planned to dump the programming gig soon, but this future would never come.
That week, memories wrestled with sleep. When a few minutes eked in for slumber, disturbing dreams startled me to attention. We went to college together. Later, we raised hell in Flagstaff. Over thirty years, we spent time together as friends and co-workers. It was a long sail together.
Seven days after the accident, I finally fell into a luscious sleep. An intense dream unfolded. My soul seemed to arise away from my body, as my carcass lay prone. My soul lifted through the rafters and beyond the roof. Far above the clear city below. I could see car headlights snake through the streets downtown. I hung mid-air for hours. I was the outside observer passing time.
From a distance, sunrise lifted the dark shroud of night. The rising sun slowly sliced through the starry-black curtain of night. The San Francisco Peaks glowed in the early morning light. The sun fingered through the land. Vast open spaces of ponderosa seemed to come alive. The sun reached further into the native Hopi and Navajo lands. A breeze soon lifted around me. A soft message whispered to me, “You must go beyond. You must go beyond.” It repeated several times.
My spirit gently returned to the room. I awoke. The walls, floor, and ceiling seemed to glow. The world was translucent. Moreover, the message of the dream remained. “You must go…” I looked at the clock on the shelf. It read 8:02 a.m. I slept for six hours without interruption. Given the intensity of the dream, that night may have well been a year. Time is relative. It is not measured linearly.
Pepper did not pace, either. Soon, he began to stir as I focused. I reengaged with my reality. The mysterious hidden curtain between here and the spirit world beyond was slightly pulled open that night. It was in that moment that I knew I was bound for the road.