The following morning I returned to my old stomping grounds. A small town I had invested much spare time in my youth. A place where I spent many years after high school trying to find myself. The early days of failed self discovery. Some invisible force, an inner tug–an urge–was telling me to revisit my roots. To this day, I can’t describe that pull.
I parked downtown and wandered the mostly empty streets, browsing the shops, and was there for a good couple hours. I window shopped and sat in corner cafes sipping coffee and nodded to strangers when they looked my way. When I was hungry, I ordered from my favorite childhood pizza joint and mostly kept to myself.
Pacing, I kept my hands stuffed deep in my pockets and my focus on the cracks between the sidewalk bricks below me. I had no idea what I was doing there. Despite the pull to return to the old homestead, I was clueless to the reasons why.
A temporary escape to reflect, and remember my ancient memories, perhaps?
There has to be a reason for all of this.
But what if there isn’t?
Just go home…
On my way back to Nancy, I drove slowly by the old apartments and housing complexes I used to “party” at, where friends and family once resided. I sat on the side of the road in my car and reminisced on the old days. Every now and again a small smile would inch it’s way across my face and I became lost in old forgotten memories. The moment I felt as though I had overstayed my welcome, or when I felt like I was being watched, my foot would find the accelerator and I sped away to the next location. I didn’t wish to raise any red flags in the neighborhood or become the center of negative attention.
At the south end of town, where the homes transformed into fields and farms surrounded by barb wire fences, I felt compelled to stop at the driveway of a church I once attended in my teen age years. Strangely enough, the church reminded me of the refuge I experienced often in the dream world. The same color building, same lay out, same parking-lot. The same pillars and wooden doors. Rows of trees on three sides.
I wonder if Pastor Shepherd remembers me? Since you’re here, might as well say hi.
I exited the car and stood on the fringes of the property and casually glanced around the open area.
The lot was empty, except for one red mini van in the far corner of the parking area. The licence plate had “Saved3” etched into the thin white metal, and the roof of the vehicle was covered with fallen leaves. Attached to the church was an outbuilding apartment and on the second floor of the home a figure stood in a window looking down at me.
Knowing I was being watched, I decided to re-enter the car, ignore my impulses, and leave. As I opened the door, a man exited the apartment and stood at the threshold. He hollered across the open space between us, “Can I help you?!”
I closed the car door and approached him with slow hesitant steps. My hands never left my pockets. “Sorry. I’m looking for, Pastor Shepherd. Is he still around?”
The man was wearing a white dress shirt and black pants. While I remembered Pastor Shepherd as an elderly man, the new pastor had a youthful look to him. His hair was short, his sleeves were rolled up and he was wearing white sneakers. He closed the distance, “Pastor Shepherd moved to Portland about three years ago. Is there something I can help you with?”
The answer eluded me. I knew I was there for some reason, but I couldn’t place my finger on it. “I really don’t know.” I chuckled. “I may be beyond help at this point. Sorry to have wasted your time. Have a good day.”
“Nonsense. Please, come inside. It’s cold out here. You want some coffee?”
I do love coffee… Why not?
“I’d love some. Thank you.”
He led me through a side door and we walked down a long hallway in silence. The nostalgia was almost overwhelming. The art on the walls were the same. The smell was familiar. The kitchen hadn’t changed, and the community areas where we had potluck meals and group gatherings were identical to what I remembered. Perhaps the rooms and corridors were a little smaller than what I recalled. The building was silent and other than us, it was empty.
He opened the door to his office and his wife was pushing coffee through a large urn into a tall cup, and before she turned around, the pastor cleared his throat and said, “We have company.”
She turned to the door and smiled, “Well, how are you today?”
“Not bad. I’m, Jeremy.”
“I’m, Jennifer.” She extended her hand and shook mine. “This is my husband, Ray.” She pointed to the pastor. “Cream and sugar?”
The pastor gripped my hand and squeezed, “Ray. Ray McKay.”
I looked around his office, “It’s exactly the same as I remember it. The desk was over here before. I’m really sorry for showing up announced. I was just driving around checking out the old stomping grounds and happened across you on my way back through.”
He sipped from the cup. “Was this your place of worship?”
“A long time ago.” I replied, removing the cup from Jennifer’s hand.
I sat slowly in a leather chair he gestured to at his desk. “Some of the art in here’s different. More books, but other than that, it hasn’t changed a bit.”
“You say you came here by accident? Just happened to come by?” He leaned back in his seat and furrowed his brow.
“It feels like that. But over the last year, I’ve come to a conclusion that nothing really happens by accident.”
Smiling, Jennifer held the cup under the urn and when the coffee touched the rim of her mug, she left the room and closed the door.
Pastor McKay draped one leg over the other. “I agree, Jeremy. Nothing happens by accident. Outside you said, ‘I may be beyond help at this point’, what exactly did you mean by that? Are you in trouble?”
I pondered his question and looked into the cup for my answer. “Not in trouble in the conventional sense, I don’t think. But something doesn’t…”
“… Something doesn’t feel quite right, does it?” He replied with a half smile and tore a sheet of paper off a tablet on his desk. He reached into a top drawer and removed a pair of scissors from inside the clutter.
He cut the sheet down the middle. He set half to the side and the other half, he cut up into small pieces. The sections fell to his desktop and scattered across the surface. Triangles, circles, corner edges, strange shapes and long thin strips. Once the remainder of the paper was diced up, he turned to a shredder and ran the untouched half sheet into the machine and when the paper was pulverized to powder he picked up the shredder from the floor and gave it an aggressive shake.
“Join me.” He said and pointed to the pieces on the tabletop. “Help me put these back together. It’ll only take a minute or two.”
I scooted the chair forward and between the two of us, we rearranged the pieces into their rightful places. We organized the paper in silence, only pausing to drink our coffee.
“There, it’s all done.” He sat back in the chair, satisfied, and smiled at the finished product. “That was easy.”
“No, it’s not done.” I replied.
“Looks done to me.” He shrugged and gave the puzzle a look over.
I eyeballed the shredder on the floor.
“What? You want to empty it and look for all the pieces? Sift through all that confetti? We could be here for awhile. In fact, we may be here forever.”
“It’s the confetti I’m looking for. The big puzzle seems mostly done. I feel like I have all the right pieces, but the other half is missing. I’m seeking the crumbs. I don’t need the big pieces anymore.”
“Sometimes we have to deal with what we have. Make due with what’s provided to us. Sometimes the confetti pieces are impossible to find.”
I shook my head. “I don’t believe that. I can’t believe that. Not anymore.”
“Tell me about it.”
I relaxed and said, “My dreams are now as real to me as this conversation is. Sometimes they seem more real… than dreams. They can be quite intense some nights. Not every night though. Something is telling me something, but I don’t know what to do with it. It literally makes no sense. But at the same time, it’s all so real.”
“And you don’t like the way it makes you feel and it’s frustrating and you can’t tell anyone cause they’ll think you’re off your rocker, am I in the ballpark?”
“Right on the money.”
“Let me tell you something. When I turned twenty one, my buddies took me out for a night on the town. I don’t remember anything after the first three hours. They pretty much dragged me place to place and brought me home after I couldn’t stand up anymore. Later they told me I made an ass of myself.
“But at some point through that night, I experienced a series of events that I have never spoken about. Not even to Jen. Today seems like a good day to share with somebody.
“Through the course of that night, I heard voices, and saw glowing animals. Crazy right? I was blinking in and out of sleep and I saw people that were’t there. I heard an accordion I haven’t heard played since my father used to practice in our living room when I was a child. I always chalked it up to alcohol poisoning, and intermittent blackouts, but it was those things I witnessed and remembered that helped make me who I am today. What I experienced is for me, and me alone, what I did with the information is what’s important.”
He refilled his cup and approached the window. “I still can’t explain what I saw, not completely. But I knew I had to make sense with what I was given.”
“What I’ve been given, doesn’t make any sense. and doesn’t feel like it will any time soon.” I looked to a painting on the wall.
“So, make the nonsense, make sense.”
“How do I do that?”
“You’re on a quest. A journey. Your own personal trail of tears. It may never make sense, but you have to stop fighting and you need to try and get through this adventure. You’re seeking answers that can’t be found the easy way.
“Inside of you is a safe and you’ve forgotten the combination. You’re at the point now where you have a stethoscope against the door, alone in a small silent room and hoping for the sound of a click. Next week you’ll be ready to use a drill or dynamite. It’s when you stop trying to force it, will the combination be remembered.”
I leaned forward. “So… just ignore it and it will come to me? Make it make sense by leaving it alone and hoping for the best?”
“Quite the opposite, Jeremy. Let yourself go. Explore every corner of what your given. Turn over every stone. Turn on every light in every room. The more you look, the better you’ll see. You’ll never see it, unless you let yourself go. At least that’s what I had to do.
“Jeremy, I have a theory. You claim to have all the big pieces together and the puzzle seems complete, but I don’t believe that to be true.” He waggled a finger at me and closed one eye. “You might be missing the bigger pieces and only a fragment of the smaller puzzle seems done. It just looks complete and feels right.” He tore off a chunk of papers from the tablet and positioned them around the half sheet. “Perhaps it’s not the confetti you seek, perhaps is the large unseen pieces that slip you by. Stop following the crumbs. Ignore the microscopic pieces in the shredder. Find the large pieces and then maybe you’ll find you can finally unlock that vault.”
My stomach lurched into my throat. A million images screamed through my mind. Pastor Ray was speaking, but the words were in one ear and out the other.
I’m missing something. Something I haven’t seen yet.
Of course, I wouldn’t look for those pieces right away. That would be easy.
And we all know, nothing is ever easy.
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