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The Awakening (Part I)
Image Source: JoseMa Orsini

Dawn broke gently, casting charcoal blocks of light against the ink-black ceiling and walls. It was early May, the world in half-bloom, the semester nearly over. An overcast Sunday morning, with spits of rain and fog and birds and lilacs in the air. A beautiful morning to be alive.

Tom Moody lay in bed watching the gray light creep further and further into the room. He had been awake for hours, replaying a night that seemed to start an eternity ago and inhaling the pillow next to him to try to hold on to Corey.

Tom thought of the Galaxy Effect and the time when he coined the phrase. He and his brother Rick, five and eight respectively, awoke at 4:45 AM one Labor Day weekend morning for a flight back home from their grandparent’s and summer vacation. Rick said in the driveway, “Look, there’s Venus!” And Tom thought of that moment at 8:00 PM, 2,000 miles later, and he couldn’t possibly fathom that it had happened on the same day. It seemed like a galaxy ago. Thus, the Galaxy Effect, and he was feeling it thinking of the mere hours it had been since Corey was in this same bed with him.

As he lay in bed in the advancing dawn, Tom thought of Saturday night and how Corey’s boyfriend, his best friend Hank, had been short with her, and how he had left the club early after threatening to smack her one. He thought of Corey at the bar, alone and vulnerable, and how crazy he had been for her for so long. And he thought of how he had found enough of a pair to tell her, and how she had reciprocated in kind and how they had ended up at his off-campus apartment.

He thought of their time together, mutual lust overflowing in…not reckless, but contained…abandon, both of them knowing that this was just an interlude: a break in routine…and that all was fleeting but perfect.

He thought of Corey lying next to him, recovering, radio playing low, and her retreat back to Hank. He thought of her final kiss: firm, on closed lips, a definitive “if I weren’t with this guy, then…” statement.

He thought of her closing the bedroom door and slinking out of his off-campus apartment, back to her man, while he lay there sleepless and restless, the night and the past barreling through his mind like a film montage.

He thought of the gray blocks of light on the ceiling. The Gray Hour. Gray in the middle of everything. Black and White, Night and Day, Good and Evil. A world with a best friend and his girlfriend, and a world of recrimination and acrimony after the truth inevitably comes out.

But right now was the gray middle. The past was the night, and the inevitable future was the morning yet to come. Tom Moody laid back in bed, inhaling the pillow next to him like it was the night before and relishing a moment of consummation that he had been craving for years. The radio played low, and it all became the soundtrack to a magical evening in a spring of rebirth.

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Summer 2000: I’m living in Medford, not far from the Tufts campus, working for a non-profit at the corner of Boylston and Arlington and playing in a band. I pick up the 96 bus at the corner of Walnut and Summer St., and the bus takes College Ave to Harvard Square, where I catch the Red Line into Boston. The morning driver is often rather dour, and the bus is filled with people heading into offices and labor, thus the commute always has the feel of a death march.

Most mornings I end up sitting across from the same family. The mom is a natural beauty: chestnut hair, high cheekbones, glowing skin and personality. She always reads to her daughter, who is about six and having the time of her life, letting her natural exuberance and curiosity about the world guide her. The father is always set apart, reading the Wall Street Journal or crunching numbers in his portfolio. He looks like a heavier Kotter with a full beard, and he always wears a Rolex, a floppy fishing hat and Joey Ramone glasses.

They’re a striking couple: striking in their differences. Not just in their physical differences, but also in their demeanor. Sometimes the father plays with the daughter, but mostly it’s the mother. Occasionally they banter softly a bit, but it’s always strained and under their breath. The father will whisper and grunt; never looking up from his paper or work, and the mom will look frustrated, and then pull it back before returning to story time. The daughter is oblivious to it all, fortunately, but I can almost physically see the distance between them.

If the morning commute is a pall on the day, the evening commute is an entirely different world. The bus driver on the afternoon shift is older, and obviously loves his work and his friends. Every stop he adds “good old” to the street: “good old Royall Street!” “good old Florence Street!” It’s a touch of Mayberry in suburban Boston; a lovely break in the monotony of commute/work/commute/repeat.

Most evenings I end up sitting across from the mom and daughter, and most evenings the father is absent. Staying late at the office, no doubt. On these commutes, the mom seems freer, more of herself, as she reads to her daughter and points out landmarks along the way.

As the summer goes on, more and more, the father is also absent in the morning. By Labor Day, he’s gone, as is her ring. I have a front-row seat to a slow disintegration.

Thirteen years. A lifetime ago. I think of them sometimes. The daughter would be in college now. What school is she attending? What is her major? How did the divorce affect her? How did the mother make out? Was there one cause for the split, or many over time? Who pulled the trigger?

They were a family, and then they weren’t. I never learned their names, never spoke a word to them, knew nothing of them and still don’t. They had no idea of my existence, and still don’t. Parallel lives, never to intersect. But they remain with me; a vision of heartbreak during a high summer of golden twilights, “good old College Ave” and an unbroken horizon.

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motel11-e1335127272402
Image Source: Pulsamerica

Soundtrack: Panama City Motel by Sugar

She lies on her side, panting gently in sleep, flower in her jet-black hair, which spreads out and pools across the pillow. Her unadorned chest heaves slightly, her legs porcelain lines. Satori in garters. In sleep she floats on lotus petals, bas-relief on the filthy linen of this borrowed Valhalla.

Ten balboa for the room, which is tropical oppressive. Crumbling white plaster and spackling chunks; one wicker chair; a crucifix on every wall…a fresco of the Virgin Mary in failed vigilance against sin…a nightstand with rosary beads, two liter bottles of water, two liter bottles of Coca Cola, overflowing ashtray, radio on low. An excited voice from Caracas…something about the revolution…or the glorious regime… The ceiling fan spins a languid wall of hot air, while the smell of kerosene and burning petrol and the sound of overworked mid-50s Chevrolets wafts in.

He stares at her in repose. She is too beautiful, too untouchable on terrestrial plains. The only way to reach her is with the ten balboa left behind on the nightstand. He gazes at her for a long moment while holding the doorknob, watching the pitch of her bare chest, dreaming of her welcoming clench, breathing in her perfection on his hands…

She is just a dream. She is unobtainable. You know this.

He stares at her immaculate beauty, blows a kiss, turns the doorknob and walks out into a world of vulgar uncertainty…

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104 Riverside Drive House
Image Source: Tracy Stoops – peeeple.com

Your stoop was short
three steps from
street to door
shortening the distance
to you

The buzzer always died
third ring
then the door would wheeze open
and my pulse would race

Cooking smells in the foyer
black and white mosaic tiles
junk mail piling up on the floor

Up three flights
to the open door of 3F
where you always stood
waiting to welcome me
home

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Wall

There
at the edge of the woods
the old stone wall
mossy and cold
sturdy as any
New England storm

We walked and sat
upon the stones
when we were young

Life ahead, so much life!

Now
at the edge of the woods
the old stone wall
colder than any
New England storm

I walk and sit
upon the stones
alone

Not much life ahead, not much life

not with you

gone

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