Thursday, August 15, 2013

Prompt One: Two Compositions About Life

The Blue Bicycle 

I used to believe in something. I used to wake up and feel alive, back when I had something to be happy about. It was better then, when I had a home, a family, a reason. My wife, Anne, was the most beautiful woman I had ever known, an artist with bright shining eyes that lit up my world, splashing color in even the dullest areas. We had plans to travel across the world, I wanted to see it with her, look at it through her perspective. We didn’t have enough money to travel then, though we hardly took notice of our financial struggles. We had a globe she made herself, expertly painted with detailed outlines of where our travels would take place. A piggy-bank stood on the mantel right next to it, with a note stuck to it that wrote, “Hope”.

Like I said, we didn’t have much, a little brown house on the corner of a poor neighborhood, with cracked windows, and trash all over the yard. There was barely enough room for the two of us, along with her paint supplies, and the rest of our oddities, but when we moved in I watched Anne’s eyes dart from one part of the house to the other, with such happiness. I could almost see all the creative ideas popping into her head, one by one. After a little while I could see all her ideas turning into reality. Every day, as I would be at work, she would be at home, making the house look more and more amazing day after day. Instead of a gloomy brown, the house was a bright sky blue, and instead of dirt and trash in the yard, we had flowers of every size and color. The windows were still cracked, Anne liked them that way. She had a way of making everything- even ugly things- brighter. She said that the windows were a euphemism, that even when the outside world is as ugly and cracked as it can get, we still have a home.

I drove my truck to work every day, it was big, bulky, hard to park, got six miles to the gallon, the radio didn’t work, and it barely made it to work and back every day. I loved it.

When Anne wasn’t working on the house, or working from home, she would walk to the beach from our house and surf, and like she did with everything, she learned fast. We went to the beach on my days off, and I would watch her surf, grinding waves and cruising through tubes like she was born to do it. I was, as some would say, a lot less graceful than her. My clumsiness always overtook me on the waves, but whenever I would come up and take that fresh breath of air at the surface of the ocean, she would always be there, laughing and smiling at me.

When we had been living in our house for a little over three years, I was promoted. I would have less work days, a more relaxed environment, and we would finally be able to afford our trip around the world. That night, Anne and I celebrated. I cooked as she danced in the kitchen, singing he favorite songs and making me laugh so hard I almost burnt dinner. We stayed up late that night, and talked about our plans in the firelight like we were kids again. Then finally, as the sun started rising, I kissed her goodnight. It was the happiest day of my life.

The next day the “boys” wanted to take me out to celebrate. Anne thought it would be better she didn’t go, and went surfing instead. I kissed her goodbye, and drove my old beater away.
We were having a good time, drinking and laughing. Telling old stories like they were yesterday I didn’t even notice the rain outside. 

As I came home, dropped off by a taxi, swaggering my way into my house, there were two police-men at my front door. They grabbed my arm and started to explain. I just stared in disbelief. When they told me, I shook my head so violently I collapsed, yelling and thrashing, but then I just wept. I wept till the policemen left, on the mat next to my front door. Too weak to move, too crazed with anguish to understand, I wept till the moon had gone and the sun was shining, and through the tears, I still couldn’t believe, the most important person in the world, my wife, the love of my life, had died that day, and I wasn’t there. . . 

We were married for three years.

It has been two years since Anne drowned. I haven’t smiled since. The flowers in my front yard died, overtaken by weeds and neglect. The house itself hasn’t looked the same to me. Instead of bright yellow, it has faded into a grey, though everything looks grey now. I replaced the cracked windows in my house; they looked too much like my heart, cracked and unfixable, broken. Now I just stare out at the world, in hate and jealousy. The piggy bank still sits on the mantel collecting dust; there is no note on it anymore, because there is no hope for me anymore. I sold my car a year after she died; I hated it almost as much as I hated myself. My life is over, it’s grey. 

A new family has moved in across the street. In a ramshackle house twice as beat up as mine, a mom, dad, and little boy; Holding a little blue bicycle. 

One night I was lying awake at night, sobbing silently, when I heard a scream from the house across the street. I crept down my staircase and gazed out of my clear window. What I saw shocked me. I saw the wife of the family leaving the house, while her husband yelled at her angrily from the front door. She was holding her cheek, almost running to her car. The man started going towards her, reaching to yank her from the driver’s seat, but then she just sat there and cried. The boy was outside too, clutching his little bicycle for dear life. 

The next morning on my way to the car, I noticed the little boy coming outside, carrying his bike. He was setting it down gently on the pavement when he noticed me glaring at him. With bright eyes he waved and smiled at me. I waved back uneasily, and went to work.

This became a morning ceremony; I would step off my front porch, looking at the dull and little world, and notice a little boy waving at me from across the street, always smiling. I never quite had the courage to smile back, but as the days kept rolling on I started looking forward to my morning greeting from this strange young fellow.

Getting home one day, I started thinking about that kid. How even though his situation at home was terrible; with his parents fighting constantly, his house being a piece of trash, and no friends on the block to play with, he still wore a smile on his face. This puzzled me dearly. I looked at the poor little one and saw myself in him, with a broken heart and no friends to comfort him, yet he always had a smile.

As I continued to decipher this conundrum I noticed that two things never changed; the way the kid smiled at me as I went to work, and the way he polished his bicycle every day before he rode it.

One day on my way to the car I took a moment to study the bike. It was nothing special; cheap, small, and worn to the core. The tires were smoothed out from months of endless use, and the breaks looked like they didn’t even work anymore. But something still stood out about it. The frame of the bike shined. Every part cleaned and polished gleaming in the sun. It was as bright as my house used to be.

Suddenly, an image of my wife came to me, a long dead memory awoken by a sparkling bicycle. She said, “Life is valuable when you give it value.” Tears suddenly came to my eyes; I ran back inside and slammed the door shut. Climbed up my stairs as fast as I possibly could, and grabbed the picture of my wife I held so dear to my heart. I softly cried that day, while whispering “I love you” and “I’m sorry” to the picture cradled in my arms. . . 

Life is hard, and I am sad. But every day, I see a kid worse off than me, smiling. I try and smile back. I know it will take time, and that I will never be as happy as I once was, but there's a note on a piggy bank in my living room, next to a beautiful, old, dusty globe.

It says “hope”.

Leaving Your Mark

Dear Matthew, 
It is the middle of the night, and if the nurses saw my light they would come and tell me to go back to bed. But what do I care? For some reason I feel an urgency to write to you. I don’t think that I can wait until the sun is up to get a few things down on paper. My heart feels full. I am not sure what it is full of: pain, happiness, suffering, regret, longing, it is a jumble of emotions that make me ache to speak to you tonight.  

Everyone tells you how it is going to be. You will live your life as well as you know how. Try and be a good person, have fun, work hard; that sort of thing. And then one day, the big guy upstairs will take you away. And that’s it.

Well, there are many things they don’t tell you. Nobody warned me that the memories would pass through my mind’s eye in a quick succession of painful pictures. Nobody told me that I would have to make peace with the things that I have done in order to feel at peace with myself. Nobody told me that regret would come like a devil in the night, trying to steal whatever happy thought I have left.

Nobody told me that at the end I would be alone.

I have spent many weeks on this bed. Every night I go through those decisions that I made, wondering what I could have done differently. Wondering how my current position would be changed…

           The old man stopped the steady flow of his hand. His gaze rested upon that last sentence. All at once, the flood of pictures started rolling through his mind. They were vibrant this time, full of color, full of life. He shook his head, willing the memories to go back into the dark corner of his heart where he left them. How my current position would be changed….

You may think this an odd compilation of rambling words to be getting from your grandfather this late in the game. It is all over for me. Every decision I made, every wrong road that I took, led me to this place. There is no hope of change for me…. But there just may be for you.

I have gone back and forth in my mind, not wanting the last big decision that I make to be the wrong one, especially because I won’t be here for you. I have broken my heart more times than I can count. I have become numb to that sort of pain. But the breaking of your heart… That is more than an old man like me could bear.


   He put down his pen a second time, massaging his hand gently. He remembered a time when he would write for hours without the pain that five minutes writing brought to his hand now. Oh well, just another blessing that came with age.

  Laying his head back on the pillow, he tried to peer through the window near his bed. He could see a street lamp dimly lit across the way. The close proximity of the city came in muffled sounds to his ears. It was late for him, late for the hospital, but not late for youth on a Friday night. A short humorless, laugh escaped his mouth. Youth truly was wasted on those who didn’t know what life was all about. 

   “I wish someone had told me,” he muttered under his breath.
  The pictures were flashing through his mind again. He closed his eyes and succumbed to the memories that brought pain, and with that pain the clarity that came with age. 
     He was eighteen again. Handsome, intelligent, motivated, the whole world open before him with endless possibilities. The joy of living was pumping through his veins. High School graduation was over. The subsequent summer was spent in surfing and enjoying every moment before joining the dreaded adult world. He was starting college. An academic scholarship to Columbia, young Charlie had it all figured out. Life was going to be great. 
     A slight smile unconsciously lit the lips of the old man. He felt once more the hope and the happiness that existed in the springtime of his life. 
    The pictures bounded forward to the night he met her. She was an angel, her exotic beauty spanned the decades and he saw her face for the first time.  Dark lashes framed the biggest, most beautiful eyes imaginable. Her hair hung in a thick braid resembling a rope over her shoulder. The laughter rang through the silence of the cold and lonely hospital room. 
     Charlie opened his eyes with a start, shocked by how real her presence felt in the room.
    “Oh Maggie…” he mumbled to himself.
    “Yes Charlie” his mind brought the long forgotten sound of her voice to the fore.
    “You will?” The old man felt as he saw the youthful smile spread across his young face in his mind’s eye.
    “Oh Charlie, I have been dreaming of marrying you for two years now! Let’s not wait! Let’s get married tomorrow. I want to start a new life with you!” She jumped into his arms with a force that penetrated his heart as he twirled her around in the August sunshine.
      The first few years passed in a happy way. He worked hard but looked forward to coming home every day. Graduate school flew by, meetings, job offers, promotions, and eventually Wall Street.
      The years of repressed memories had clouded Charlie’s recollection of how everything started to change. He felt a pang at his heart as he allowed himself to remember that icy January day.
His beautiful wife was sitting on the floor of a tidy nursery. The walls were painted in bright murals of Winnie the Pooh. She held an assortment of baby clothes and toys in her lap. Tears were streaming down her face.
     They had lost the baby. He remembered that he had tried to hold her, to comfort her. They would get pregnant again, everything would be okay.
She was never the same again.
      He threw himself into work. Fifty hours a week turned into sixty, and sixty gradually grew to seventy and eighty. Her schedule was not much different. When she wasn’t working she was on the board of various ladies groups and activities. A year passed in this way. By the time they discovered she was pregnant again, their lives had begun to go in different directions.
      The excitement for this baby was not there as it was for the first… only because they had allowed their excitement for each other to dwindle.
      The baby came, a healthy, beautiful boy. Asher. His name meant happy, blessed. Perhaps his mother was trying to instill new life and happiness into her home through her new baby boy. He should have been the saving grace of their marriage… and the saving grace of Charlie’s life.
     The old man shook his head. The painful memories were cloudy at this point. Did he even remember the first few years? Was he ever home? An absentee father is a common thing in today’s society. The result varies from one situation to another, but in each case hurt abounds.
      It was too painful to relive the memories of the years that followed. He never blamed her for the breakup of their marriage. But he never blamed himself either.
     Charlie wiped the side of his face. Were his cheeks damp? Was it tears? He didn’t even remember the last time he cried.
    Clearing his throat and glancing around the room self consciously he picked up his pen again.
I know your father never had anything good to say about me. I know I never did anything to deserve the admiration and respect I have consistently received from you. I also know that I never told you that I was proud of you. And so I will say it now… I am proud of you. You have worked so hard to get where you are now. 


I can’t get our last conversation out of my mind. You came to me a year ago. You told me of your plans and prospects. I took the opportunity of telling you my great success and how I had worked my way to the top. I told you that all it takes is hard work and determination and before you know it you will be able to have anything you want.

It is this statement that has been haunting me these last few days as I battle with memories and new revelations about living. I have not been able to escape my own thoughts while lying in this bed. For the first time in my life I may be realizing how wrong I have been. Hard work and determination…. Did I mention the sacrifice of all that is truly worth your time on this earth?

You remember your grandmother, I am sure. She was once my angel. I am sure that in all of the holiday trips you took to her house she never mentioned me once. If I know her, she burned long ago every memorandum of what we once had. 

Matthew, you have a beautiful wife and a baby on the way. You have all of the potential in your field as I had in mine. Learn from an old man, and make a better choice. I only wish now that someone had told me what life was all about before it was too late. The only consolation I have is that I am able to relay my hard life lesson to you.

I am alone. I have been alone for years. I don’t say this to receive pity, for I know I don’t deserve it. I only say it to impress upon you the importance of what I am writing.

Cherish your wife. Be there for your child. I told you I was proud of your achievements, proud of your prospects. Know now that I would be much prouder still if you follow this simple advice.

         Remember me fondly, Matthew. 

     The old man jotted down his grandson’s name and the city he lived in. Placing the notebook on the table, he sighed. He was weary of writing, weary of thinking… weary of living. Closing his eyes he silently prayed that the letter would find its way into Matthew’s hand. He knew in his heart that he would not be there in the morning to see that it was done.
       After striving for so many years to make his mark on the world through Forbes Magazine, a big name, and lots of money, he realized he had utterly failed. He would find consolation and happiness in the hope that his grandson would lead a different life than he had.
        His mark on the world would come through one small family. And yet, Charlie found more satisfaction in this hope than he had ever experienced in his life. 

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