If you’re anything like me, this string of pseudo-words conjures a Tom Petty song, but since you’re probably not, it may just read as someone obsessed with the letter Q. And why qwouldn’t I be? For those who don’t already know, I aspire to be a published author (excuse the redundancy). I’m very heavy on the aspiration, hopeful on the published, and still a mere writer until that fateful day arrives.
Read: I’m in Query Hell. I’m quite sure of it. Not qidding.
To get traditionally published, querying is the act of reaching out to literary agents (or sometimes, directly to publishers, though not so much) to ask (query) them if they are interested in representing your manuscript. It’s a lot like looking for a real estate agent; you want one whose values, style and track record match what you seek for your house. If you have a million-dollar mansion, you want someone experienced to entice serious buyers and weed out the lookie-loos who merely ogle the decorating. Victorian? You’ll want a historic house expert. Micro-house? You need to look for quirkies. In short, you want a good fit.
Likewise, for my manuscript, I require an agent who 1) represents the genre I write (romance); 2) is somewhat quirky themselves (kooky yet professional); and 3) will not only relate to a slightly off-qilter manuscript but will also be able to sell it to a publisher. In my search for the perfect agent, I’ve utilized many online resources, created a multi-paged, color-coded spreadsheet, and have sussed out those agents I think would be interested. Over 200 of them, in no particular order, all at-the-ready to stab their Rejection Wands deep into my heart and roar with malice when they read the pages I’ve bled over for the past three years.
Ok, maybe that last part is just my Imposter Monster screwing with my head, IDK. Hard to tell. I’ve quibbled with my pillow for weeks on end, my hopes of a decent night’s sleep quashed. Quite the quandary.
In all seriousness, though, I’ve never feared the Submit and Send buttons more. My stomach twists, my coronary arteries bulge, my inner champion cheers, “You can do this! Someone is bound to love your weird-ass manuscript!” while my inner douchebag admonishes, “You suck, nobody wants your crazy-cat-soaked story!” My ulcer, naturally, prefers the second one, so I drown it out with Stuart Smalley affirmations for at least an hour after I click. Shame I don’t like alcohol.
For all the times I ridiculed you, Sir Smalley, I apologize. I get it now. If I listen to any more ramblings of my Inner-Dbag, I’ll lose the courage to press any button at all, which will only extend that long, dark corridor of uncertainty into a perpetual moving walkway of shame and fear.
Which won’t do. So quietly I quiver, a mere month later. Two handfuls of queries sent, the responses ranging from suggestions on how to improve, form rejections, and the ulcer-inducing Phil Collins of Responses, the No Reply At All. It’s the name of the game. Whenever I am summoned to my inbox for a personalized flogging session, I chant, I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me! I consult my spreadsheet, reread my query and pages. I tweak. I lather, rinse and repeat while the soap trail beelines for my eye sockets, whereupon I suffer horrible, searing pain! (oh, wait, I’m not a Gelfling). I tear up, pummel my peepers, scream, babble incoherently, and cower in a remote corner of the shower.
But only until the hot water runs out. Then I stand, ready for round two. Or three. Or thirteen. I’m determined, I will quersevere.
There’s only x number of days left! – I can’t wait!
We all know at least one friend who relentlessly counts down to Christmas, posting memes and already finishing not only their Christmas lists but their shopping as well. All for that one day, that one week, one season. Outside of holidays and social media, we have bill deadlines, elections, births of babies, weight loss, things we look forward to being o-v-e-r. We always want to get to the finish line. The goal. The end where everything will be done, finito, accomplished. Hastening, causing things to happen before they normally would, is part of our daily lives.
It is: The Future. The Not-now. The … end of the waiting. (It’s petty to say it’s the hardest part… but well, you know)
Looking forward to things is not all bad –pregnancies end in messy miracles, deadlines come to fruition with achievements realized, elections culminate in new leadership that doesn’t have its head up its ass. Things we look forward to are generally things that have been fostered and nurtured in the time that precedes them.
Except holidays, for me. This hastening drives me crazy. (Okay, crazier. Sha’up) Holidays are merely seen, by most people, as festive but stressful. To some, they’re a nuisance, but to most, they are something to be cherished. For me, they ruin everything – with hastening.
I admit to fantasies of throttling people who start that rolling countdown calendar from the fall of the first leaf until the actual day, sometimes even before Halloween. Why? First, because I don’t celebrate holidays in general, and more specifically, because counting days down until the blessed event (and I say that with no religious connotation whatsoever, just want to avoid the word “fucking”) relegates the days in between now and then to the Less Important Bin.
And I am a person of the Now.
As Christmas lurks on the horizon, some people rush to cross off items from their lists. Yay for consumerism and efficiency. The fervor of anticipation for that single, solitary day that will put all these other days to shame. Granted, since the whole season is supposed to be all about Love, and the whole Christ-thing, I can’t actually hate the whole season. I try not to hate, but I take umbrage (recent affection for this word) with the anticipation that makes people neglect two things: the Here and the Now.
Let me expand this to include things less seasonal than holidays – let’s say, life goals. The “one day I’ll” ‘s as well. Days whiz by, we get lost in tedium, maybe it just seems easier to concentrate on a point far off into the future – less pressure! So, we make the only thing that matters the goal, that one day, that one time, that one “not now, but Then.” The Then that seemingly makes all other Nows seem somewhat … obsolete.
The day, the deadline, the goal. When one thinks the goal is the final destination, what makes it all worthwhile, I think they’ve got in all wrong. Backwards. The goal, that is. To me, the goal is everything you do to get to the supposed goal. The way. The stones along the path. The sunsets you see when you’re kicking those stones and the flowers you see to the side of the path and the dog you see tromping through those flowers.
Did I lose you?
Personal example time. Three years ago, I set a goal, to write a book and get it published. Nobody, save for a few fortunates who possess means and avenues not available to us normal folks, or for those who self-publish, has any idea that writing a book worth traditionally publishing is a lot harder than it seems. I thought a month or two of hard writing would do the trick. And wow, what I turned out during those long happy days of blissful ecriture was sad, sad drivel. Not even vomit of the keyboard, but drool that had no business (and not a shot in hell of) being published by any publishing company who, you know, values its integrity.
But the lessons I’ve learned on the way to fixing, revising, editing, re-re-rewriting, the people I’ve met, befriended, and aided in their own journeys along the way, and the self-discovery and learning I’ve become addicted to, that’s what the goal of publishing a novel has become to me. Not an end goal, but the gift of a million Nows on the way to a goal that is no longer my primary one. Now, and many Nows since and forthcoming, are my goal. The learning. The anticipation. The knowledge that I am working towards something that is itself fulfilling, and tasty in its own way. The nibbles. The morsels. The failures that will inevitably point me in the right direction despite seeming like the wrong one at the time.
My goal has morphed into Forever Reaching My Goal. It’s a beautiful thing that I realized about six months in, when I asked the Great Universe for guidance. Enjoy the ride, it said, for that is the real treasure. The discoveries, the unveiling, the pitfalls, the humbling of several writing contests where I failed to impress, and the few where I did. The praise of a few friends who were kind enough to tell me how good (or how bad) my writing was (and oh, God, I’m sorry you’ve had to read the drivel I asked you to read – but I promise, I’ve become a far better writer than I used to be!) and for the praise I know I will receive once that publisher says yes to what I’m still perfecting at this moment.
Because the goal, literally, my intent to be published by a real company, is already happening. I set my intention, and in the way that Time is all Now and All at Once, at the same time, I’ve already been published. So, all this “time” in between then and now, is The Perfection. My learning, my yearning, my practicing my words and scrapping them just as much, the plot twists, the characterization, the climax and the denouement of my story.
Which brings me back to the Hastening. I understand people want to get to that special day. The birth of their child, the outcome of the election, the day they and friends and family can rip open presents, but to me, the joy is often missed by sight of the Goal.
So, soften your focus. Keep that goal in sight, of course, but see it as something that is going to happen regardless, and make each day your goal instead. Like exercise plans for weight loss, a job promotion, graduation – they are all great in concept but even more wonderful to work for. Celebrate that, the million tiny achievements in the everyday – they are all more beautiful than you can imagine because they are singularly fleeting but in the aggregate, monumental.
Save the hastening for things like the wish that your dental exam would go by faster – the hoping that filing your taxes would be less complicated – that the jerk in front of you would stop driving like his thumb’s up his ass and the dick behind you would stop riding your ass. Hasten small things, but not days. Not entire days. Do something small, every day, that makes you cherish it somehow. Then let it go. But acknowledge it for its importance, and not just as some throwaway in the pursuit of something bigger than will one day, just like this one, become obsolete.
Back in my twenties, I dated a guy we’ll call R. This R was the love of my life. Probably still is, at least, until I snag my next one. However, R and I broke up twice back then (read: he dumped me twice back then). Never mind those circumstances, they’re not important, just know that R came back into my life in my forties, looking for a second/third chance to make things right. After those two spectacular breakups in my twenties, do you think I’d learned?
** Oh, this time will be different, because it’s obviously meant to be!**
Idiot. Answer: No.
I flew right back into his arms, only this time, the breakup was exponentially more explosive. Trust me, friends and family can attest to the fact that his Third Dumping of Me was by far the most successful and I indeed did splat splendidly.
Should I have known better than to try and rekindle? Yup. Did I try to rekindle anyway? Yup.
Who do you think learned the biggest lesson?
He did. I was still studying.
Fast-forward four years, when for some reason, I thought about this guy we’ll call M. Now, M was a high school crush that never got off the ground for a myriad of reasons. Not heeding anything I should have already learned about resurrecting past flames, I dug and scrounged and scratched and clawed until I found M online, in the most obscure way possible.
Can you guess what happened? I’m sure you can, because you’re sharper than I am. But let me sprinkle in some details for flavor.
A meeting, an attraction, a reunion of sorts, several dates in clandestine locations. I’m not sprinkling in e.v.e.r.y detail, but you’re smart, you can figure it out. Anyway, long-distance relationship for two months, filled with calls, texts, proclamations of What Should Have Been Way Back When and plenty of You’re So Different Than What I Expected and I’m So Glad You Got in Touch with Me.
One fateful weekend, when he was here visiting his kids, he invited me to his big Christian Cult. (I could call it a church, but I don’t like lying.) For him, I suffered through it for almost two hours. Then, out to dinner with his entire family, kids, mom, siblings. I thought I was doing a really good job of blending with the family. Apparently not, because then?
Nothing. No word. For two whole days. His wayward “Hey” text was answered by me with a slight chastization, because I am nobody’s doormat, doorstop, door-anything. If we are full-on dating, I’ve attended your church AND met your family, a simple text isn’t too much to ask, no matter how busy you are or how late it is.
Which turned out to be an ironic revelation in itself, because a full day later, he left. One, without even telling me his intentions, two, without even seeing me to say goodbye, and three, after texting me one last time. You, of course, already know what was about to happen, right? I was about to receive The Dump Text.
Yep, this pillar of maturity I spent so long trying to find didn’t have the balls to call or see me, despite being a mere five miles away. To add insult to injury, being a pilot, he turned his phone off immediately after texting me so I had no way to respond while he was in-flight. I tracked said flight back to Texas and waited ten minutes for him to disembark. I dialed.
He picked up the phone. Hello? Who is this?
Um, really? I had to laugh at this point, because he was obviously expecting me to rant and rail and bitch him out. I did none of those. I just said, M, I get it, you don’t want to continue, you could have just told me. We’ve not talked since, despite his again serenading my ears during that phone call with We Should Stay Friends! and I’m So Glad We Had This Time Together! (Carol Burnett, I hear ya. Soooo long…)
Another fast-forward to present day, more or less. Several months ago, I met a guy I’ll call J. J piqued my interest at a Christmas party and left me insomnia-bound for two days, wondering how we could have clicked so well and parted without any follow-up offers. I don’t often click with guys so immediately, and so I decided, thinking of a previous J that I had NOT reached out to and regretted ever since, I wasn’t going to let history repeat itself. I sent this New J a message. Which – he to this day has never read. It sits languishing in his FB message queue. After meeting again at another party months later, I realized the cold hard truth: he was seeing someone and they were indeed serious. What I thought was a click was, to him, a mere clack. Still, at least I tried. We did talk, albeit knowing he was unavailable didn’t thrill me. He’s an interesting man regardless. Which got me to thinking…
About the Old J, the one I met in 2005 during filming of a Keanu movie in Chicago. Old J and I had hung out during the long days of extra-ing. He was a production assistant and I was just trying to get a glimpse of Keanu. My life was awkward. I was in the middle of a divorce, my father had died suddenly the week before, and I had just moved for the second time in six months. This J made me laugh, flirted with me, and somehow seemed like a ray of sunshine for my soul during those three days. I wasn’t ready to take any steps at that point, so I didn’t. One of my friends told me I definitely should have, as she was sure “something should have happened” between us.
Through the years, I’d always been rather wistful about this J, so when the Christmas-party J slipped through my fingers, I thought, I don’t want to regret not reaching out to another J! And, in the months since the second J-fail party, I’d thought about the first J. A lot.
Now, I am fully cognizant of the fact that reaching back into my life has never reaped a bountiful crop. Nevertheless, I persisted. Cuz I’m still an idiot sometimes. I did some investigating. I’m Facebook friends with a friend of another Facebook friend and they are in the Chicago film business. I asked him how I could find a certain someone named J from the Keanu movie I was an extra on. And through some research, I found him.
What’s funny is, I realized when I went to Facebook message him, that I had already done so six years agoand had completely forgotten about it. I had already found him somehow, and time was kind enough to let me forget this fact. And, since I’d already learned my lesson about past relationships, I didn’t do anything.
Huh. Okay, so that’s a lie. Pass me the cordless drill and a large drill bit so I can install this tidbit permanently into my skull, please.
I did not, in fact, learn that when something did not happen in the past, it’s because it wasn’t meant to. But I was about to finally listen to my own little pearls of wisdom.
After I messaged him again, of course. Because apparently I’m a bit brain dead.
A few minutes after I pressed send, I researched him and found his Twitter page. He is the owner of his own extra casting company downtown, and so I began reading.
And what did I find?
He’s a full-on Trumpster. Not even a mild one, but a huge flag-waving one.
This here Pretty-Liberal-and-Proud-of-It will not suffer even one date with a Trumpster – ever.
Put down the drill, cuz my cheek felt the slap from the past as if it were real — a harsh, open-handed, leave-a-mark slap, and no power tools are needed.
Did you know you can delete an entire conversation on Messenger?
Hell, yeah, you can. Did I? Hell yeah, I did. Sometimes even idiots learn.
As I chuckled to myself at my desk, I figured, the Universe had reacted to my infinite will, way back in 2005. I just didn’t know it yet, that Time is merely a concept and your infinite will always knows best, because it is timeless. It knew he was not the man for me. I went full-on laugh when I surmised that no man so far has been the man for me, but that’s another revelation for another column… I can’t handle too many pearls in one week.
Just wanted to impart some wisdom to anyone willing to listen: the next time you regret not reaching out, not putting yourself out there, or wonder why you never heard back or you flat-out got rejected either by somebody, or a job opportunity, etc.? It’s because the universal will knows better than you do.
Heed the Universe, man. It really does have your best interests at heart. Trust it.
One day, maybe that other J will open his Facebook message box to read what I sent him. Maybe he won’t. Either way, universal will’s got my back.
And egrets everywhere rejoice.
(These photos are mine. Trust me, those egrets are indeed rejoicing.)
So here I am, at my yoga class, ready to be namastéd to hell and back, cuz it’s been a rough week. Haven’t been sleeping very well and my back has paid the price, but this class is my third in five days. Aren’t you proud of me? Look at me, waiting so patiently for this Core-class to start, acting pleasant toward those around me. I usually avoid eye contact and small talk at all costs; however, today, I make a concerted effort to not be rude. My usual rule of experiencing the Zen without a side of human is not in force, so I make nice with the person on the mat next to mine. She is quiet and nods to me, careful to keep the respectable two-to-three feet distance between us. Unfortunately, another someone wants very much to be close to me. Too close. But hold that thought. I’ll explain in a minute.
The teeny tiny yoga instructor addresses the class, ascertains who’s new and who’s a regular, then lowers herself ever-so-gracefully onto her mat, without using her hands to aid her descent. She motions for us to lower ourselves to the mat in the same manner. Only one of us succeeds, while the rest of us clunk down with varying degrees of grace. My degree is the square root of zero. There is no slow, measured movement into a sitting position for me. I’m lucky I don’t throw my back out. I bend at the waist, hunker my hands down on the mat then let my ass hit the floor, stifling a grunt in the process. An elephant wearing a tutu possesses more grace than I. A+ for effort, though! Okay, I’m seated.
One minute down, fifty-nine to go.
I can’t help but laugh at her next words. They might have been “Sit down and get settled on your sitz bone,” but all I heard was “Sit on your sitz” and I smile. And so I sit on my sitz. Look at me! Sitting on my sitz. I’m sitzing! Haha! How funny is that? NOT FUNNY This is a serious transmeditational class, for god’s sake… I squeeze my eyes shut, willing my internal mouth to follow suit. Not surprisingly, it doesn’t. It never does. Those two cups of coffee before class were a ba-a-ad idea, but it was either fall down from exhaustion or caffeinate myself to come work out. I cast a smile to the woman on my left. Her eyes are closed. I’m alone in my sitzing, all caffeined and no one to know.
Two minutes down, fifty-eight to go.
Oh boy, this class is going to suck, for the road to Zen is filled with pain. No pain, no gain, right? I’m familiar with this instructor, and she’s murderous on the core. I mean, obviously, look at her. All flat-stomached and settling gracefully on her sitz. I adjust my Namasté in Bed t-shirt to cover my overbaked muffintop and await the next position.
“Ground yourself and your root chakra into the floor.” Ah, the centering of the self. I ground my root chakra into the floor as requested. The instructor contorts herself into a perfect pretzel-like, cross-legged pose, her thumbs and forefingers positioned in a precise loop atop her knees. I try to follow suit, still figuring out how to sit on my sitz as opposed to fidget-on-my-fat ass. This is more difficult than it should be due to the pulling of the groin muscle I did last week getting into pigeon pose. Pigeons don’t have groin muscles, I’m pretty sure, because if they did, they would never, ever strike a pose so ridiculous. Instead of centering, the pain causes me to curse my root chakra and the horse it rode in on. As everyone else in class assumes the peaceful seated pose, I stretch my legs out in front of me and squirm from side to side, unground and not Zenned in the least.
Next, our instructor prompts us to find a focal point six to eight feet in front of ourselves, zero in on the point and then soften our gaze. Supposedly, this is done to relax us. Pinching my thumbs and third fingers together to complete my circles, I will my energy circuit to cooperate. I search for a focal point the requisite six feet in front of me. What I find is far from ideal.
My softened gaze turns to a surly stare, for there, inching toward me in all its furry obnoxious glory, is an eyebrow. A centipede. One of those wiggly waggly insect-like creatures that moves so deftly it creeps out even the Let It Be bug lovers among us. There will be no more grounding for me. I am decidedly unground and halfway to my knees by the time I spy He Who Has Far Too Many Legs inching ever closer.
And now I’m faced with a dilemma. As everyone around me breathes in, breathes out, and exhales all their stale air up through their remaining chakras, mine are in revolt. I maintain perfect silence, swallowing my need to scream bloody murder while the segmentally hairy one proceeds to taunt me. He not only senses my fear, he is quite resolute in his mission to terrorize me. His little legs swish-swish-swish back and forth, to and fro, his combat boots marching in perfect goosestep formation toward my mat. This is no time for grounding. No time for root balancing, breathing serenely or remaining on my knees.
This is time for war.
The others in the class lift their arms and encircle their heads, breathing deeply and releasing all that stale energy from the depths of their bellies. I scramble backwards, inching my mat closer to the wall as Sergeant Centipede marches on, gunning for me, a triumphant trumpet protruding from his horny antennaed head. It’s not reveille I hear. It’s a battle cry. Ten-hut…. Charge!
I stifle a shriek. This is no longer yoga. It’s No-ga. As in, this is No Way to Namasté. I must escape. I must duck, bob and weave in order to stay out of Sherman’s March to the Seat of Mary’s root chakra. I hazard a look around and nobody else has noticed Mr. Brow. Nobody. I am alone on this battlefield. But make no mistake. I will not concede. If the Brow don’t retreat, I must get on my feet.
Which I do. We move to our second position. I am still nowhere near grounded. Stepping on the ‘pede is not an option, because despite its aggressive actions, I have a personal policy of not harming nature as long as it doesn’t bite, sting or infect me with disease. And so far, so good.
As the instructor brings us onto our feet in a splayed leg stance, the transition to warrior pose is underway. I pray the Brow takes notice. This Yogan is not taking any shit from a hairy insect-like creature. Not today. Not ever. Discreetly, I lift my mat and drop it back down, hoping to thwart Brow’s advances. The effect is minimal. The thwop of the rectangular magic carpet merely garners mild attention from my neighboring yogalites, the Brow unconvinced to alter his intended warpath. Now the tiny trumpets blare louder, and I spy a skull and crossbones flag, the Jolly Roger waving side to side in his miniscule hands. Or feet. At this point, they’re all goosestepping so fast I can’t tell one appendage from the other.
The class lunges left, I inch right. With my feet pointed to the corners of my mat and my torso in a slight plié, I strike. I poise my right foot a là Karate Kid, Muwagi would certainly be proud of my balance. I prepare to toe-flick the charging eyebrow into oblivion. Lucky for the Brow, and everyone else, my feet are still encased in socks. I’m not one of *those* yoga students who flaunt their lower filanges. Feet are gross. Although come to think of it, that’s what this bugger deserved. To be flicked in the face with an angry, calloused big toe, to be pummeled with my piggies, uppercut with my underpedals. Kicked in his little eyebrow face with my little hammerhead podiatral protrusions.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m still lunging, still poised to strike. I flick. I falter. And I fall. He heads in the other direction. For one second. Then the multipedal mongrel resumes his encroachment. Until I flick again. And with one large burst from my lips, I blow on him afterwards for good measure.
It is then, and only then, he stills, perhaps stunned at my boldness. For the next forty minutes, he neither advances nor retreats. But don’t think for one moment I have achieved any sort of victory. I am still, after all, in a Core yoga class, and my instructor has no mercy. With one eye on the Brow the entire time, I work my core.
“We crunch, we twist, we bend and bow.
Maybe my breath has killed the poor eyebrow. “
Alas, I am wrong.
At the end of class, there is usually a seated pose or some sort of relaxation technique to allow our muscles to absorb what they’ve just learned. And usually, I choose child’s pose. But not tonight. No child’s pose, for this is no longer child’s play. This is all-out war, because the Satanic Brow has sprung back to life, defying all odds. It rears up, waving the flag with more determination than ever. Like Fred Flintstone gearing up for a marathon, the peddling of his hundred feet on the ground alerts me to his nearness, and he’s more determined than ever to mount my mat, and possibly, one of my limbs.
I Am So Outta here.
For all intents and purposes (translation: ouch), my class is over. I shuffle my mat and my sore core to the door, and silently tell the bug to namastay the hell away from me. And that, my friends, is the non-climactic and non-moral end to a very hairy story.
(And if you’re wondering how I know the eyebrow is a boy? Really? A girl eyebrow would have been tweezed… duh)
P.S. The next week, same class, there was neither an I nor an Eyebrow in yoga. But there was a spider, who wantonly walked her way across the ceiling at a very respectable distance. Dealing with 92 fewer legs? Zentastic.
I licked my lips before I inched The Big One into my mouth. When I wrapped my lips around it and bit down, a healthy stream of hot filling oozed out. It dripped down my chin and landed in my lap, burning me through my jeans. Goddammit, I thought, can’t anything go right today? The gas station burrito continued to unravel, no longer able to contain its beefy bean and cheese mixture, but I no longer cared. I kept chewing and swiped my face with a napkin, intent to enjoy what I could despite the crappy start to my day.
My phone had died overnight, so the alarm I’d set never had a chance to go off. Because of this, I’d overslept and missed an important client meeting as well as my usual yoga class, so not only was I not going to be hired for the freelance job, I was also stressed out because of it. The pink slip I’d watched sliding underneath my door had reminded me my rent was late, and without the prepayment for the freelance job, I was in danger of losing my apartment. I finished chewing and swallowed, pushing the now-compromised tortilla back into my mouth, devouring it like I hadn’t eaten in days. Which was only half-true: it had been a half-day since I’d last ingested anything of substance, since I didn’t count the two saltines I’d eaten for dinner the night before. I couldn’t even afford to be picky at this point.
I licked my fingers and set about wiping the still-steaming beef fallout that had seared its way through my lap. Once I’d collected the majority of the mess, I balled up the napkin and tossed it into the backseat. The light changed to green and I fiddled with the burrito wrapper. I took my time getting up to speed, knowing full well the next light would be red by the time I arrived. In my home town, this sequence of lights was one I went through several times a day. Six lights, each within two blocks of the next, all guaranteed to make you stop at every single one unless you hit the first one just right. I never have. Today was no exception.
I glanced over at the pickup truck to the right of me, chugging along at the same exact speed, slowing down at the exact same pace. The driver caught my eye. He smiled. Maybe this day is looking up after all. As we pulled up to the light and his window rolled down, he beckoned to me with his chin. I depressed the passenger-side control, placing silent bets on whether he would tell me I had an underinflated tire or whether he needed directions. It was neither.
“That must be one tasty burrito…” Despite his deep, sexy voice, his semi-crooked, semi-brilliant smile ticked me off, as did his raised eyebrow. More bothersome was the fact they were both attached to a roguishly handsome face. I heard Chandler Bing in my head asking if I could BE any more mortified.
I struggled to keep my cool, looked right at him, and smiled. Squinted my eyes as I popped the last of the burrito in my mouth. I made sure to chew a bit too exaggeratedly, moan a bit too loudly and lick my lips a bit too suggestively, all for his benefit. But the bit-too backfired. In my effort to over-dramatize my piggishness, I started choking. The dry heel of the tortilla stuck in my throat, because I’d literally bitten off more than I could chew. It took all my concentration not to gag. I didn’t need to look out my window to know he was laughing at me. Had my eyes not been tearing, I would have laughed myself. I crumpled up the wrapper and tossed it backwards to join the napkin in the back.
A honk behind me alerted me to the now-green light. I floored it and got up to speed quickly, swearing under my breath when I saw the looming red waiting for me at the third intersection. Wisely tapping the brakes, I tried in vain to change lanes. But Hottie Snarcastic was still next to me. Window still down. Me still mortified. I swiveled my head with measured precision, Exorcist-style, and leveled a stare into his deep blue eyes as both our cars jerked to a halt. He didn’t even flinch.
“Seriously, though, it looks positively delicious.” He winked at me. He fucking winked. Who winks at a random stranger choking on a burrito? Pervert. With yet another smirk forming on his face, he gazed down to his left hand as it lifted from his lap. I shuddered at what he’d bring into view. The light changed, and I pressed heavy on the accelerator to avoid finding out.
My fears were unfounded. At the fourth light, he twisted his wrist and presented me with an orange, half-eaten, ensconced in a napkin. Part of the peel dangled off, and he flicked it out the window. He saw my eyes widen and he winked. Again.
I’d had enough. I harbored a distinct dislike for sarcastic litterbugs who winked at strangers. “Have fun with your fruit, LitterBoy.” A puff of smoke drifted out the window as I turned my head forward and waited for the light to change. Great, he smokes too. So much for the day getting better. I’m being stalked by a creep.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see him pivot away from me and cuss out his passenger, but since my window was on its final ascent, I wasn’t privy to his words. By the time he looked back to me, the light had changed. I depressed the gas pedal, weary of being mocked again for my fast food indiscretions by a creepy orange-eating, cussing smoker.
Even if he was Hottie McWinky. And still McStaring at me. Trying to tempt me with his orange as we proceeded, neck and neck. I mean, who the hell peels an orange in a car? Slowing down for the fifth light, I turned to see him sink his teeth into a wedge, juice bursting forth and covering his chin with the sticky liquid. It dripped onto his shirt. He laughed. I ducked my head so he wouldn’t catch my indiscriminate gawking.
He did anyway. I turned to see him smiling. His roll-the-window-down hand gesture amused me, so I did so, only to hear him say, “See, maybe you should switch to something a little more healthy. Not only is the wrapper biodegradable, but it’s not hot. Just sticky.” I smiled, almost slightly willing to maybe give him another chance to perhaps be charming.
Until his friend chimed in, “Dude, you’re such a douche… Go!” and off he sped, burning rubber as he peeled out and left me in his wake of cough-inducing exhaust. Internally, I chided myself for investing any efforts in conversation with a man whose truck bore the kind of tires that signified sub-masculinity in other areas of life. Not surprisingly, once the smoke cleared, I discerned a pair of molded rubber testicles hanging off the rear hitch. And that, my friends, is the vas deferens between a man I want and a man whose truck wears testicles…
I immediately wrote him off. No more chances. Some winky He-man who mocked my food choices, peeled oranges while driving, hung around equally assholian friends and drove trucks with over-compensatory tires was simply not my type. The sixth and final light hung like a harbinger of doom ahead of us. The long line of cars to my left guaranteed I couldn’t change lanes.
I was stuck, forced to endure the longest red of the thoroughfare. I tried not to look over at him, despite his pleas for me to open my window again. I did, for no other reason than to tell him off. Being the asshole he was, he tried to beat me to the punch.
“Hey! C’mon, I’m sorry… Truly… I didn’t mean–“
I held up my hand to stop him. “No apology necessary. You and your douche-buddy there go have a nice sticky, biodegradable fun time in your I-have-an-infinitesimally-tiny-penis pickup.” I ignored him the rest of the red, although his friend started yelling at me and gracing me with obscene finger poses as Hottie McTeenyPeen Himself slapped his hands down.
It was time to move on. The light changed. My throat burned with the post-coughing fit burrito aftermath. Somehow I’d neglected to purchase a beverage at the gas station, so I patiently waited for the cars to clear before I pulled into the left turn lane for the upcoming 7-Eleven. Poking in my change bin, I found the exact required 99 cents for a Big Gulp. A Diet Coke with a splash of cherry was calling my name.
Unfortunately, so was Hottie McTeensyPeen. I didn’t realize he had followed me. His door slammed as he stalked toward me.
“Hey, Little Miss BurritoBreath, why do you call me such horrible names? I was just trying to be nice.” There he stood, hands balling into fists and stuffing deep into the pockets of his faded, perfectly tight jeans. His dark blond, shaggy but short hair was windblown from the ride and looking way too perfect as well. I hated him even more for seeing me at my worst. Ripped t-shirt, yoga pants, hair up in sloppy ponytail, mismatched socks, gouging myself on unhealthy and non-biodegradably packaged fast food. Why did he even care?
“Look, I don’t mean to be mean, but you’re not my type, okay?” Which was one big fat lie. Physically, he was totally my type, but driving a truck like that? Trying to drag race with me on a crowded street, smoking and cussing? Not my idea of a mature, stable male I wanted anything to do with. Especially on a day like today.
I turned to walk into the store, but I didn’t get far. He was in front of me in a flash, opening the door and waving me under his arm. Like a gentleman. And damn him, he smelled good. Like citrus and musk.
He bent in as I dipped under his elbow, his hand light on my shoulder. “The truck isn’t mine, it’s my friend’s, he’s just too wasted to drive. Sorry about his flipping you off. He can be an asshole. I can’t vouch for the size of his dick but he’s going through a really rough time right now.”
I softened, against my will and my better judgement. “How considerate of you. But I’m not interested in someone with a lead foot, who smokes and makes fun of my burrito-eating. I have my standards.” By the time we made it back to the fountain drink dispensers, I was sure I’d seen the last of him. And contrary to my standards, I was disappointed to find him missing from behind me. Oh well, I thought, he’s probably a douche in other ways. The way this day is going, it wouldn’t surprise me.
I dispensed my Diet Coke with a splash of cherry, tasted it to make sure it was perfect. Contemplated grabbing a Snickers on the way up to the register but vetoed the extra calories. Hottie McSorryPants stood off to the side, and with a flip of my stomach, I realized I was glad he was still there. The smile that spread across my face was unbidden but as soon as he noticed, he stepped forward.
“This will be all together,” he told the cashier, circling his hand over my drink and waving a twenty toward the register. His travel-sized package of WetOnes landed with a thud on the counter. “And a pack of Marlboro Lights.” When he saw me flinch, he leaned in and whispered, “For the douchebag in the truck outside.”
I swiveled to face him, about to say Thank you when he leaned in again. “Least I can do for making fun of your burrito. Also making up for my friend forcing my foot and choking you out with exhaust fumes.”
As the clerk handed him his change and the cigarettes, he backed away from me and turned, sailing one last glance over his shoulder.
“Thank you,” I said weakly, admitting to myself and silently to him, that all transgressions had been forgiven. I watched his lips curve into a thousand-watt smile, his head tip forward, and his hand raise up to push the door open.
I ducked underneath, slowly shuffling to my car. I could feel his warmth at my side as he slid his hand underneath the door handle to open it for me. We stood, our faces inches apart, our breaths coming a little too fast, my cherry mingling with his orange.
His head cocked as one side of his mouth twitched. “So… you wanna maybe go grab some lunch?”
My heart fluttered, but only for a beat. “You think a few winks and a Diet Coke will get you lunch, huh?”
The way his eyes lit up, you’d think I’d said yes. His head tilted back and he started laughing. “Jesus, you’re hard to please. Smoke bothered my eyes.” Those same eyes pinned me with a stare, “You didn’t answer my question,” and then demanded a response.
I slid into my car, the black vinyl seat burning the backs of my legs. Carefully placing the drink in the cup holder, I turned around, extended my neck toward him and smiled big.
“Thank you, but I already ate.”
The look he gave me wasn’t what I expected. Crestfallen, shocked, dismayed were not on his agenda. What I saw was incorrigible, determined, and confident. He shut my door. With his hand, he gestured for me to roll down the window. I started the car. Depressed the lever. By the time the window was down, he was leaning in.
His finger scarped the end of my nose, and a dried, red flake of bean stuck to his fingertip. “You missed a spot…” As I looked down, he flicked it to the ground. “Or were you saving that for later?” The hot blush of humiliation danced across my cheeks in less than a second. My mouth opened but before I could get a word out, he snapped his eyes to mine.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “It’s biodegradable.” Before he turned to leave, he looked me straight in the eyes. And winked.
Jacob stalked over to the side of the driveway and stopped, two feet behind the daffodils that flanked the winding terracotta-colored paver path to the front door. Lining up the tips of his shoes with the seam in the stone, he swung his nine-iron and whacked the head off the miniature lawn statue. For as long as he could remember, he’d hated the thing. His soon-to-be ex-wife was a fan of ornamental landscape décor and now that she was gone, he no longer needed to tolerate the kitschy vulgarity. The gnome’s hooded head took flight, the resounding whiiiip a red blur slicing the air above the large expanse of his manicured lawn.
On any other day, he would have been proud of his smooth stroke. And he would have been proud today, had it not been for the triangular projectile’s unfortunate encounter with the windshield of a passing BMW. The skid marks left on the pavement by said BMW would surely give the street cleaner something to fret over come Monday morning.
“What in the actual hell was that?” Curly black hair splayed out in all directions as the woman slammed the driver side door while exiting her conspicuously-consumed vehicle. She continued her tirade as she barreled toward him. “You could have killed me!” Her head twisted side to side, her glare ping-ponging between Jacob and the midnight blue car.
Jacob set the end of his club next to his shoe and leaned on the handle, taking careful stock of the stern-faced beauty as she came to a halt in front of him. Her fists clenched with indignation. She was decidedly not a red blur, certainly not a skid mark, but damn, he’d definitely love to consume her. He pushed the inappropriate, hedonistic thoughts from his mind, considered offering an apology, but instead remained silent, poised on his club, face expressionless. It was the correct response if he’d wanted to infuriate her, as it seemed to work quite well in that regard.
The windshield hadn’t been shattered, only deeply divoted, the scar large enough to make driving troublesome, if not downright hazardous. The woman, however, was a hazard only to him. Her beautiful green eyes threatened to pop out of her head and lance his skull when she pointed to the imbedded severed head.
He blinked. “But I didn’t kill you.” He watched as she blanched, appalled at his nonchalance. The rise and fall of her chest distracted him, and damn if he wasn’t inappropriately turned on by the volume of heaving he witnessed. Those had to be D’s, at least. Double-D’s. Chrome-gnome double-domes. Her tight white blouse’s buttons certainly had their work cut out for them. His head shook before the avalanche of crude, lecherous thoughts racing toward his tongue could articulate themselves.
With much effort, he willed his voice to remain calm. “I’m truly sorry for the inconvenience,” he offered, this time in earnest. “I can arrange to have it fixed for you today. I know a guy.” In fact, he’d been on his way to meet that very guy before he liberated his golf club from its caddy and unleashed his fury on the unsuspecting lawn ornament. His best friend happened to be in the auto glass industry, and owned a shop two miles away. His ringing phone reminded him there was no way they’d make their 9 AM tee time. Without looking down, he swiped and depressed the speakerphone button.
Jacob’s eyes remained glued to hers as she squinted at him, miffed at his thinly veiled indifference. “Were you seriously golfing in your front lawn? Do you not take into consideration that cars, other people, children, could be seriously injured by your recklessness?”
His gaze fell, and he lost a few seconds while he gripped his club tighter.
“Hello? Jacob? Hell-ohhh…” His friend grew irritated as a more feminine yet pissed off voice broke his reverie.
“Excuse me, my eyes are up here.” She pointed, with both middle fingers extended, to the top of her face. “Fricken pervert.”
“Jacob? Jacob! Is the Bitch back to bust your balls?” The woman’s face twisted as his friend taunted him.
He fumbled with the phone before lifting it in front of his mouth. “Hey, Jer, it’s not the Bitch. Listen, can you replace a windshield of a …” He glanced over her shoulder. “BMW 328i, like, now? I won’t be able to make our 9 holes today.”
The woman with the wild hair, the flaming cheeks, and oh, yeah, her eyes are up there stood gaping at him as a slow smile spread across his face. It infuriated her.
“Yeah, I can. Should I come pick you u– “
The woman interrupted. “For your information, Jer, I’m not a bitch. But your friend here is the asshole who now owes me a serious apology. And a new windshield.” With that, she turned, strutted back to her car, and disappeared inside. Jacob’s eyes fell again, though not to her chest.
Perhaps the double Bloody Mary he’d sucked down for breakfast was a blessing in disguise. He’d never heard of anybody getting arrested for Putting While Intoxicated. The BMW’s owner approached him again, cell phone in hand and bullets shooting out of her eyes. The poor judgement he’d used thanks to the buzz he drank for breakfast may have saved him from getting behind the wheel, but it left him with the distinct feeling he was now in front of a one-woman firing squad.
Recently, I had the opportunity to impart some wisdom to a friend of mine who had just started using a smartphone. I’m certainly no expert, but while I tried to explain the dynamics of and the nuances inherent in Wi-fi, Bluetooth, hotspots, data connections, signal strength and app usage, I had to laugh at some of the analogies I came up with. The one I settled on is that of the internet being God.
I do believe the whole concept of having a smartphone is that you don’t need wi-fi to get to the internet at all; you’re just always able to connect, sort of like you don’t need to go to a church to “get” God. Wi-fi is like a church, a brick and mortar, fixed structure where the God Connection is fast, strong and personal; Bluetooth is like a priest or someone who could help you with the wi-fi Connection but isn’t the actual wi-fi itself; a hotspot is like a bible where you could “take the church” with you on-the-go, and so on. I pondered this concept all afternoon.
And then I thought of cats, which prompted this silly narrative that’s been addling in my brain.
We were all gathered in the stadium of the PreLife, a crowd of thousands eager to receive our assignments of how much Earth we were to experience, to Connect to. These PreLifers were here because they chose this particular planet; I specifically chose Earth, because it was only place you had any shot of being assigned as a Human. Otherwise, you might end up an inert gas that merely circles a planet, or an orbiting rock sphere belonging to one of those planets, or part of a craggy formation on some uninhabitable landscape in any of the 674,877 solar systems that comprised our sector. This room was for Earth-bound souls only, and we felt like the Chosen Ones. Emmett, my Soul Mate, and I sat, hand in hand, eager to hear our fate.
Among us Chosen Ones were those who had Lived before. They were the Old Hats, those who had ridden the planet so many times they were almost bored but yet felt obligated to serve one more round. The Frequent Fliers, who had, at least a few times, visited and experienced the planet’s Connectivity, wished to return to gain new perspective. The Newbies made up the rest. Emmett and I were two of them. We had not been to Earth even once. However, we were all looking forward to sharpening our skills at being Alive. Emmett was especially enthusiastic as we all huddled around Nestor, the sage who was handing out the Connectivity devices.
Nestor, clad in a long, flowing robe and emitting a soft white glow, looked out over us after affixing the Chart of Connectivity to the easel next to him. There was a palpable buzz of energy among the recruits, our eyes darting quickly between our closest friends and family to the organizational chart in front of us. It shifted, a digital cacophony of numbers, letters and symbols, none of which were readable as the assignments were still stabilizing. Silence descended upon us as we noticed Nestor raising his wand, and our ears instantly tuned in to the wisdom he would impart upon us. Emmett and I held hands.
“Alright everyone, listen up! You have all expressed a specific interest in going to the planet Earth, but in doing so, you have elected to have your mission chosen for you. I regret to inform you that some of you will be disappointed you have signed up for this mission, because, as you may or may not know, there are varying levels of Connectivity. And, frankly, they’re a crap shoot. We Elders threw Finity Darts to decide who gets what, and then made modifications accordingly. Now, for those of you who have ridden this planet before, I caution you to keep a tight lip on the subjective Connectivity of those who will receive ‘lesser’ assignments today.” Nestor used his fingers to air quote the ‘lesser’ distinction.
He continued. “We must give everyone an opportunity to experience Connectivity on their own terms, and divulging supposed ‘tricks and tips’ will only hinder a Soul’s progress, as what worked for you on previous visits might not work for them the same way.”
The silence we had fallen into deepened when he said this, a few of the Old Hats murmuring as though they had heard it all before. Other Souls, in particular the Newbies, turned their heads to gaze at their neighbors, suddenly worried that all prior communication here in PreLife had been rendered null and void. Emmett flattened his palm against the heel of my hand, ran his fingers slowly over the top of mine, and graced me with a comforting smile.
Nestor calmed our fears by smoothing his own hands over one another, blinking slowly, and nodding his head.
“Now, now, I see the angst in your eyes. You will still have pathways to communicate to each other. I simply caution you on dispensing advice without regard for each Soul’s individual journey.”
With that he bowed his head and raised his wand. He pointed to Emmett. My heart leapt.
“Dear Emmett,” Nestor began, “you have expressed an interest in the highest Connectivity, and so it has been granted. Your assignment includes a modest upbringing and a call to serve as a religious conduit. This means, you may choose between early education to become a monk, a rabbi, a priest, or a minister. Don’t get caught up on definitions. It all means the same thing to us. You will then embrace Connectivity on a 24/7 basis.”
Emmett’s eyes went wide as he gasped, his glee barely containable. “Yes, sir. I would cherish the opportunity to be Connected 24/7, Sir.” I wondered what his admission would mean for us. I was both excited and nervous.
Nestor wagged his finger, his head tilting in warning. “As you wish, however, this means, other Souls will be able to summon you at will, day or night, sunshine or blizzard, and you will have to respond. Are you quite sure up for this?”
“I would love it, Sir. I don’t need any respite. I can handle it!” Nestor handed him a large black transponder, which Emmett looked over curiously. “Sir, there is no power switch. And no charge port. How will I reload?” As he looked at me, I flinched. His 24/7 Connectivity was great but how were we to keep in touch with each other if his unit wouldn’t even charge?
Nestor patted his head. “You don’t have that luxury, Son. You will need to harness power from the Earth itself, on a continual basis, for your mission. And it must be both replenishable and unending. Sometimes you will feel very important and needed. But this job will also, at times, be unrewarding and thankless. Now, off you go.”
With a wave of Nestor’s wand, Emmett vanished. The rest of us stood in awe, the realization that there really was no going back. Once we received our assigned transponder, our fate was sealed. I missed my Soul Mate already.
Nervous glances flew from Soul to Soul as Nestor raised his wand to summon the next recruit.
“Mayla, you’re next.”
A shy female soul emerged from the crowd and stood before our leader. She looked both eager and terrified, her angelic halo of golden hair brushing her face and imbuing her with a soft, cherubic demeanor. In a barely audible voice, she answered, “Yes, sir. I’m ready for my assignment.”
Nestor smiled at her and took her hand, caressing it as he slipped her a pink transponder.
“You, dear, have also elected to shoulder a high Connectivity, and so it has been determined that you will be a Mother. This assignment will also require unending Connectivity, but only for a specific time period. From the moment your true calling kicks in, you will be needed on a 24/7 basis, but only for several years. As these years pass, you’re Connectivity will diminish, and you can rest. That is,” he chuckled, “until you become a GrandMother. Then, perhaps, you will feel the need for constant Connectivity once again. But this too shall diminish. So you see, you really have a neat little arrangement. Best of both worlds.” And as he waved his wand above her head, she too vanished.
Next, Nestor called recruit after recruit, handing out transponders and assignments of various degrees of Connectivity. Policefolk, doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, government officials of varying importance, and several entrepreneurs came forward, one of whom actually whoop-whooped as he learned he would be the next CEO of SpaceX and launch a cruise ship into orbit. One by one, they learned their level of Connection. Most were happy.
Others, like me, wondered how much actual Connectivity we would receive, and as we feared the worst, became a tad despondent. Exchanging worried glances, we sat patiently and watched as our friends and family dispersed and then disappeared in front of our eyes. I grappled with missing Emmett after only a short time. Would I even be able to connect with him on Earth at all?
A seeming eternity later, Nestor bowed his head and sighed. “Okay, to everyone that is left, don’t be dismayed. You too will have the ability to Connect, albeit on a lesser scale. These assignments have been tailored to fit what we thought each of you could handle. Although you feel, now, that you could manage near-constant or high-volume network activity, we need to see some growth before upgrading your tasks. Therefore, some of you will become professional students. Some will be working-class, with or without families, or choose to remain single entities. This does not mean your jobs will be easier, less intense or less important. Simply put, you will have the opportunity to decide, on the fly, your Connectivity rate, and you will be able to selectively choose when and where to upgrade yourselves.”
As he called each Soul up to him, handed them a transponder and wished them well, they, one by one, disappeared. Soon, only a fraction of the original crowd remained.
“Now, most of the rest of you are assigned an easier set of tasks, for you will be inert objects. For these jobs, you shall experience random Connection but will not have very much say in when and where this occurs. However, in being such objects, you will enjoy an infinite opportunity to observe and learn from other around you. Among these objects, I am assigning you to become vehicles, houses and other buildings, furniture, tools, musical instruments…” he waved his hand noncommittally, to and fro, as if to indicate these were, in fact, lesser assignments. My stomach clenched as his gaze stopped on the Soul to the left to me. That Soul was weeping without shame.
“Dear lad,” Nestor consoled, “do not weep, for although these seem like lesser assignments, they are in fact pathways to learn and become more prepared for your next journey. In these roles, you will have to heed others, but it is not without reward. You will get the chance to use what you’ve learned at a future date.” When Nestor winked, the Soul to my left understood. And so did I. This was merely our first round, and after this task, we would be given another opportunity to ride Earth. Inwardly, I cheered.
As Nestor handed out more transponders, each and every time a new Soul was called, my heart sank. When was I going to be called? Would I be rejected and sent back to Nebulus, where I would again count the days until I was called?
Finally, only 24 of us remained. Our hands clasped before us, wringing with worry, we sat without a sound. Perhaps we weren’t going to be overlooked after all.
With a large sigh and a toss of his shoulder-length white hair, Nestor regarded us with pity. “Now it is time to reveal to those left, those who will have the least Connectivity, the solemnity of the task before you. You, the Few, the Chosen, and the Seemingly-forgotten. You, my dears, have the most misunderstood of tasks bestowed upon you. It is the most solemn, beyond reprieve, the most arduous task we have for our recruits, and there will be no modifications.”
A chill descended. We were mortified. We were going to become…
“Cats.” Nestor said, without apology. “You are to become Cats. You will have zero connectivity, you will sleep for most of your Earthly journey, you will heed no one and you will care not a stitch that this is the case. You will constantly feel maligned, ungrateful, unrecognized and underfed, although you will have the chance to multiply at an alarming rate.” As his robe fluttered in the breeze, Nestor pulled his sash tighter.
“Simply put, you will not heed anyone but yourselves, and because you will not have Connectivity, you will appear completely and utterly self-sufficient. Because of this lack of Connectivity, you will be given the privilege to be able to lick yourselves. Anywhere. You will be able to make your home inside or out, in the company of humans or alone. Unlike dogs, you will have the ability to potty indoor without consequence, should humans desire to provide you housing. But there is one thing, and one thing only, that you will torment you throughout your journey.”
We all stood, flabbergasted, unsure if this was a punishment or indeed a privilege. Nestor’s face stilled, the wrinkles appearing endless. His countenance grave, he inhaled with great effort. Each of the remaining Newbies grew severely intent on his every word. What would torment us? What would cause us such great agony?
“On Earth, there is a device capable of producing a small, intense red dot…”