Our ties were born of mutual ties: two women that have shaped our lives in ways that will ripple until they end. Laura and I found ourselves without them this spring. Each of them walked away from us for different reasons, but in the end, then, we stood alone. This was the nascence of our independence, together, and we began it with a hike.
Joining Laura coincided with the end of scripting myself as the good-guy protagonist in my life. Imagine a spiritual conception of yourself as one who ultimately can do no wrong. That inevitability wraps any bad action of yours, any harm you may cause, outside of your control. That you are destined to exude only light, and that anything to the contrary is to be explained away. This, unbeknownst to conscious me, was me. At least until the spring. Until I met a counterexample I couldn’t deny. Until right before Laura and I looked at each other for what felt like the first time. We saw that our scripting days were over.
We hiked to the top of Papago. Laura told me her dream of the zebra.
In the dream she climbed to the top of a hill and came upon a bench. On the bench rested a thick book, open to questions. She asked one and the tome sprung open, revealing itself to be a picture flip-book. I appear on the bench. Together, we flip the pages back and forth, back and forth, together animating pictures of a zebra.
The zebra trots on a road but then trots itself into the sewer. Into the manhole it jogs and then gravity reverses itself. Now trotting on the underbelly of the road, in the sewer, the zebra keeps going. Trotting in the sewer must be trying. The scents of the underworld soak the zebra’s coat. It reaches a second manhole at the other end and climbs out. Hooves reach the light and gravity reverses again. The zebra continues to trot in the original direction, the sun as its witness. Still, it has stripes that are black. The black and white live together as one in the zebra. Sun or sewer, day or night, the stripes never change. The zebra cannot eradicate its darkness. Nor can it lose itself in its light. Instead it must keep trotting in faith. Trotting with the knowledge that gravity will reverse again, that it will learn to greet the sewer and the sun alike as old friends. The zebra grows with them as time loops on. It learns the rhythms of the sun and the sewer—and through them its stripes—by heart. This does not make the zebra’s trotting any easier. But it does make it clearer.
We stop flipping as the zebra emerges from the sewer, right before gravity flips upright. The book disappears, I disappear, and Laura is left on the bench on the hill.
When you good-guy script yourself, there are no black stripes. “It must be paint,” you tell yourself. “I tripped and fell through a zebra-paint machine, but I am clearly a white Arabian stallion.” You become very good at telling the other African equids that you are a stallion. Most of them, at the surface levels of consciousness, even believe you.
But you are a zebra.
What happens when you hurt the one you love the most?
Morning on my back and steam on my face.
It hurt to remember; it was worse to forget. The singular moment of solace was that surrounded by voices, held by nothing but harmony.
I promise them it won't be much longer--three weeks more, and then hills, cold, quickened pulse, thickened blood. They punish me anyway, for keeping them in one place so long.
The thing, Laurie reminded me, is that Drew is your friend and you're excited to see him play music...then you go and you realize oh wait--Drew's a rock star.
"The thirst is quenched, the hunger gone, And my heart is cracked across; My face is haggard in the glass, My lips are withered with a kiss."
"How can you say such terrible things about me...you don't even know me...but when your son is caught doing the same things, you say it's nobody's business?"
May all my days, both singly and in their final totality, end thus.
A little piece of me I'm not proud of wonders if it isn't right. But I love them enough to be wrong about it.