Once upon a time…
The blue light pouring out of Adam’s cheap dual-monitor setup strained his eyes.
“So,” said Chris, giving him a start. “Are you coming out tonight, or what?”
“Listen, as much as I’d love to come, I have heaps of work on.” explained Adam.“Now, before you try and tell me is that it’s only a couple of hours, it’s not only a couple of hours. It’s never only a couple of hours. After I get ready, I have to get there. Then, people. Then, just when I think the night is over, some random I barely know will be like, ‘Let’s go on an adventure!’ which means it will be an all-nighter. Besides, who’s gonna feed my cat?”
“Right” Chris said flatly. “Are you sure you’re not washing your hair?”
“My car is in the shop.”
“I know. That’s why I sent over a taxi. It should be arriving right about …. Now.”
‘Damn I’m outgunned.’ thought Adam.
Honk Honk. Adam peered out the window to see a yellow taxi cab idled on the rain-slicked pavement. “Great,” he said. “I’ll try not to let it hurt my feelings that you don’t think I’m worth an Uber.” He threw on his leather jacket and headed for the door.
Adam stepped into the cab without acknowledging the driver. Immediately, he was met with a confounding profusion of sensory inputs. The interior was neither warm nor cold. It smelled sharply of either cinnamon or mint, depending on which way he turned his head. As the car lurched forward, he pressed into the leather seats. Dog tags swung from the rear-view mirror. Chaka Khan may have been playing on the radio, but Adam could hardly hear the music over Rhonda’s full, husky, uninvited speaking voice.
“What do you think people do with their crutches?”
“Huh?” Adam replied, staring at his phone, hoping she would get the hint.
“You know, once you don’t need them anymore. When you injure a leg and get better, what do you do with the crutches when you’re done with them?”
‘Is this a riddle?’ Adam thought. He wasn’t in the mood for riddles. He kept quiet, choosing not to humour her. Chaka Khan managed to get a couple of words in edgewise as Rhonda awaited Adam’s response.
As her metre climbed, Rhonda continued. “I feel like keeping them in the house is bad juju, like you’re saying to the universe that you expect to get hurt again. Plus, I bet there are people out there who would be grateful for a free pair. What do you think?”
“I’ve never really thought about it.” shrugged Adam
“So, you’ve never had crutches before?”
“Why are you asking me all of these questions?” Adam challenged. “You’re supposed to say stuff like ‘Hi, how are you? Are you buckled up?’ And then you’re supposed to notice that I’m not in the mood to talk, and just leave me alone until we get to where we’re going.”
Rhonda briefly turned around and arched an eyebrow at Adam. “‘How are you is one of the worst questions a person can ask,” she stated.
“It’s polite.” Adam retorted.
“It’s boring. You and I may never meet again. Why would I waste time being polite? I’m trying to get to know you.”
Adam was confused, “with crutches?”
“You never know what someone is going to connect with. Like my last customer, for example. I asked her right out of the blue when was the last time she baked an apple crumble, and she told me a beautiful, but devastating, story about a friend of hers who died after getting T-boned by an apple truck. We’re meeting for coffee this weekend. There’s always at least one thing two people can connect over.”
‘How do you like them apples?’ Adam sniggered inaudibly.
As much as he hated to admit it, there appeared to be some truth to what Rhonda said. In fact, the crutches that Adam had when he was seventeen, were rusting in his parent’s garage right at that very moment. He could have told Rhonda the story but refused to give her the satisfaction.
Adam folded his arms and stared out the window, “I’m not in the mood to talk.”
“OK,” said Rhonda, smiling as though she knew a secret. “I was shy like you once.”
They sat in silence for the rest of the ride, listening to Chaka Khan belt out a ballad.
Adam entered the swanky minimalist high-rise where Chris lived. After exchanging a few texts, pressing a series of buttons, and fixing his hair in the elevator, Adam met Chris who guided him up a short flight of stairs onto the roof, where the party was blooming.
“I have to go and defend my throne,” he said, pointing to the beer pong table. “Talk to you in a bit, okay dude?”
‘You tricked me, you piece of–‘
Adam made a beeline for the drinks table, eyeing pale ales and ciders next to a suspicious bowl of red liquid. Anything would do, but he had to get there first, and that meant (ugh!) small talk. The crowd standing between Adam and the party alcohol made for a gauntlet of skin-crawling conversation. Finally, Adam made it to the table. He chose a beer and removed the cap. Turning to find Chris, he bumped into someone. She was a tall girl, almost Adam’s height, with long brown hair and eyes like resort pamphlet pools.
“Excuse me,” she said, bending down to pick up the empty cup Adam had knocked out of her hand.
“You’re excused,” Adam replied, cringing even as it came out.
Somehow, that made her smile. “Wow, thanks. Are you sure I don’t deserve a spanking?”
Adam choked on drool. “What?”
Her nose scrunched up, “Sorry. Sometimes I just say things and – ahem – what’s your name?”
She watched him for a moment, to see if he would elaborate. No dice. “Nice to meet you, Adam.”
“It is, isn’t it?” he smirked.
She looked at him as if his eyes had just switched places. “Uh huh…”
“So,” Adam said, scrambling, “uh, how are you?”
She smiled and nodded. “Good thanks”
Luckily, she had reinforcements inbound. A shorter blonde girl dragged her away by the arm. Adam made his way to the edge of the rooftop, leaned on the stone wall, and peered down on the busy streets below. Behind him, the music was swelling in competition with drunken laughter and hollering. The livelier the party became, the more exhausted Adam felt. He didn’t think about jumping but he thought about falling.
The crowd made it harder for Adam to lie to himself about why he felt so lonely. He kept up the mysterious-leather-jacket-wearing-dude act for about fifty minutes before deciding to call a cab home. As Adam climbed into the back seat, mint and cinnamon washed over him.
“Well, well, well,” said Rhonda, carefully cutting back into traffic. “Twice in one night? You know there is no such thing as a coincidence. I’m only a few minutes from the end of my shift as well, so you almost missed me… Have you thought of a question for me?”
Adam sighed. “Something to really get to know you, right?”
Rhonda nodded, meeting his gaze in the rear-vision mirror.
“Okay,” he said. “I’ve got one. Why do we go on living, when so much of life is suffering?”
Rhonda was thoughtful for a moment. “Suffering is a gift from God, my boy. Or whatever it is you that you believe is your higher power. It’s the one thing that everyone on this planet has in common.”
Adam was aghast, “A gift? What an interesting take. I knew something was off about you the second I got into this cab. The smell, the trinkets, the questions. No, suffering isn’t some gift meant to bring us together. The universe is a series of random, meaningless events that all trend toward pain, death, and decay. We are all a means to an end. The end.”
Rhonda snapped the dog tags free of their chain and thrust them behind her so that Adam could read them. “So what is it that you’re trying to say?” she asked. “That my son was blown to bits for no reason at all? That his life meant nothing? Is that what you mean?”
Adam choked up “I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t know.”
“You didn’t ask.”
Suddenly, Adam broke down, “I lost someone too,” he whispered. “My brother came home from Afghanistan and shot himself while he was on leave.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, baby.”
Adam took a deep breath, “It’s okay. We weren’t really that close. He never told me or anyone that he was struggling. He just kept everything to himself.”
“In that way, it seems you two are a lot alike if you don’t mind me saying.”
“So are the two of us.”
Rhonda did not press the issue further; she drove in silence with her eyes glued to the road. Adam watched cars passing in the opposite direction, trying to make out the faces of the people inside cloaked in shadow. For some reason, once they arrived at Adam’s building, he was reluctant to get out of Rhonda’s cab. And after a while, he asked her a question.
“What was your son like?”
Rhonda and Adam talked for a long time about life, family, and relationships. At last, when they mutually decided that it was time to part, they shared a hug. A bittersweet goodbye to the night would change Adam’s life forever.
As he climbed the steps to the apartment, Adam reflected on something Rhonda said in the car. ‘We all have our own stuff to deal with. It’s not dumb to be sad. It’s dumb to be stubborn and try to go it alone.
He called Chris. “Hey, man. I’m sorry I left you hanging tonight.”
“Yeah, thanks for that! Hey, I’m actually looking for the name of a girl I met. Pretty. Long dark hair, resort-infomercial-ocean-water eyes.”
“Very blue eyes,” Adam repeated.
“Oh, you mean Kate. Kate Finlayson”
Adam ended the call, went immediately to Kate’s Instagram. He opened a direct message.
“Hey”, he wrote. “What do you think yoga instructors do to blow off steam? More yoga? Or do they need something a little more high octane? A jewel heist perhaps?”
On her side of the chat, three dots appeared in a cloud. Adam said a little prayer that they had something in common. Everyone does.
“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.”
― Thomas Merton
Moral of the Story:
Owning our story can be hard but it’s not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and happiness. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light. Device dependency, image over substance, and a buffet of superficial engagements compromise a deeper relationship with ourselves and others. With devices in hand, we can avoid human exchange and the potential awkwardness therein. Because avoidance relieves discomfort or fear in the moment, it feels like a solution. However, prolonged evasion exacerbates anxiety, makes it harder to extinguish, and limits possibilities for enjoyment of life. Resilience is gained by exposure to stimulus. In small doses, we learn that we can manage and that the threat was unnecessarily inflamed. Sometimes we can even begin to embrace what we shunned.
We are innately social creatures, hardwired to seek each other out. We are profoundly shaped by our relationships and alliances. We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honour the connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection. Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves. Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries when they are acknowledged and healed. Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful lives, vulnerability is the path.
“Agape love is strengthened by the person who expresses it – not by the person who receives it. In fact, the person who receives agape love does not have to show any appreciation at all.”
― Brian Apollo
Affirmation: I am ready to open my heart to true friendship and deep, meaningful connection.
I am worthy of love and respect, friendship and companionship. I allow myself and those around me to be imperfect. The more I love and accept myself, the more my life flows and grows. I am a magnet for deeply fulfilling connections. Loving others is easy when I love and accept myself. I trust myself, I trust life, and I trust my friends. I have healthy boundaries. I am allowed to say no to requests for me to do favours for people and still be worthy of friendship. I am grateful for all my connections and they are a source of true happiness in my life. My open heart magnetically attracts incredible connections of all kinds. I often connect with kind, like-minded, bright and friendly people. I use my words and actions to create more of what the world needs – love, compassion, and fulfilling connection.
“Connecting with someone is not necessarily a bond with a significant other, or even a friend, but can be the indefinable – perhaps the rarest and most precious thing in life to find at all.”
― Donna Lynn Hope