JUST FOR A LITTLE WHILE….
A green balloon bumped against scraggly tree limbs playing a raucous game of keep-away. Its dirty white string dangled from the balloon's base as the cord struggled in a tug of war with the breezes for possession of the toy. The line wrapped around a succession of twiggy branches, clinging and wrapping tighter with each swish of air from the north.
Down on the ground, a tricycle lay overturned. The handlebar stuck up in the air; the wheel spokes were bent making an ugly display of wires sticking every which way. A cell phone lay nearby, one of those ornate models with glassy diamonds on the back. Who would leave such a thing lying around?
When I entered this scene, I admit confusion. Driving for 24 hours straight, I had spent the entire time on the road, only stopping along the highway to park and catch a nap or eat from my stash of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and bottled water. I was on an intense journey, you see, to make it home for my mother's birthday. If I didn't waste time, I might complete the 1,200 mile journey to make it for her 60th birthday party on the night of June 18.
That was the day I pulled into my home town of Pine Hills, bumping along the old rural route exiting the interstate and on to the pretzel-wrapped conglomeration of bumpy trails leading towards home. What a relief to be away from traffic.
A clean country breeze waited in greeting, while quiet enveloped me like a cloak; but it was an uneasy stillness. Something seemed missing, but in my weariness I didn't get it. At least not until I stumbled on the tricycle. What a strange item to find in the middle of nowhere.
I pulled over in curiosity and got out of the car. Setting it straight, my eyes were drawn to a movement high in the trees, the balloon. I could hear the scrape of rubber against hard rough bark. That was all I could hear. Then it hit me! Total desolation! Not even birds or animals broke the silence. No cars, no voices, no radios, no critters scurrying through country grasses or bugs buzzing. Was it possible? Panic grew in my heart as I scanned in all directions looking for some movement, listening for any noise whatsoever. Only a still quiet answered my quest.
Fear iced in my veins as I considered the prospect something was wrong. Unconvinced, I picked up a rock and flung it into the nearby woods. This maneuver, when I was a kid, never failed to uproot wildlife, sending birds and critters scurrying in all directions. Silence. The breeze whispered through the trees while that confounded balloon knocked around in the branches, but that was the only sounds. Not even a simple bee or butterfly penetrated the air even though a field of wildflowers was nearby.
My mind swirled in an alphabet soup of confusion. Where was everyone? How could I find some answers? One thing was for sure, I needed to get out of there in a hurry. I jumped in my car. Turning the key as I had a thousand times before, the engine didn't respond. Nothing. I tried again…and again…What was going on? Frustration swelled inside me as my pulse quickened. I got out and slammed the door. Adrenaline pumping through my veins, I stepped forward ready for battle…but against what?
The unknown…my heart took a cowardly leap backward. What was happening? Where had all the people gone? Why was nothing alive here but me?
I scanned the grassy plain looking for something, anything, to signify living creatures. All was serene and quiet, a carpet of green stretching for miles. The grasses shimmered in the sun as though there were no cares in the world. The highway! I took off in a gallop toward the interstate, my feet pounding against hard earth as loudly as my heart thumped in my chest. I could flag down someone and get away!
The highway was only two miles ahead, but when I reached the one-mile mark, I stopped short. I could see it, and that same spooky stillness had overtaken there as well. No cars. No movement. I paused in awe, with the reverence of a prayer meeting. Remarkable! Starting again toward the road, running faster, I arrived breathless and ready for collapse. Bent over, clutching my knees, I struggled to breathe as I scanned the wide gray…and empty…highway. Nothing. A scrap of white paper, highway litter, fluttered along the road, propelled by summer breezes. It was the only movement.
Had it been this way when I pulled off the road? I didn't think so, but I got to this place so weary I couldn't be sure. Turning, I began the long trek back to my car, in the wild hope it would start now.
The journey back left my mind open to speculation. Could it be I was the only person for miles around? Or even on the whole of planet Earth? Being alone didn't scare me; nor did I worry about survival. I knew I could find sustenance even without a proper community around me.
I wondered how far and wide the desolation encompassed. Honestly, I had no way to know; and if my car didn't start up, walking would take a long time to search surrounding areas.
So, for the moment, I was alone and had no quick means to find any answers. What bothered me the most–in fact, it sent a chill through me–was that my vision of life was shattered. Something unearthly and strange had happened here. I could no longer rely on the predictability of everyday occurrences. If life could suddenly disappear, then anything could happen. My assumptions about God and the Universe, life and death, right and wrong all were trashed now that the impossible had happened.
Now nothing could be relied on; there was no longer a sense of guidance. No compass to life. Nothing. I wasn't certain I wanted to live in a world where there were no guarantees.
I got back to camp, funny how I started to call it "camp," as though that was the natural thing to do. Ha! What was "natural" anymore? I picked up the bling phone and listened again…nothing. Next I slipped behind the wheel of my car and tried it. No luck there either.
The sun was falling quickly in the sky surrounded by feathery orange and blue wisps of clouds. I realized I needed to prepare to spend the night.
My first impulse was to sleep in the car; but it being a hot night, I opted instead for bedding down outside under the stars. How quickly the sun puts the world to sleep and the moon steps forward in its brilliance to comfort the lonely souls of the world, lonely souls like me.
I spread out an old green blanket from the car that I kept for emergencies. It had been intended to keep me warm if ever I got stranded in winter. Instead it was my bedding for a June night in a green pasture in a strange new world where life had up and taken leave of the place.
When you think you may be the last person on earth, looking at the stars is a whole new experience. You become one with them. They are tiny glitters alone in a black sky universe, and you are a tiny speck alone in a big, big world that has turned dark somber tones in its lifelessness. The stars and you become brothers in the void.
I lay on my back and studied them. It occurred to me that with no one else in the world to define the universe or explain who or what God is, then I could think whatever I wanted about life's big mysteries; because there was no one else involved in the question. It was all up to me! I'd be writing the Book of Life from here on in.
Since it was only me and the stars, they became the only entities this night with which I could have a relationship, so to speak. Surely, stars don't talk, but their glistening rays do generate thoughts and inspire; and at the loneliest moments, they telegraph amazing information in shining crystal droplets. I fell asleep under their cover, feeling oddly at peace with the universe.
By morning, I worried again. A good night's sleep did little to make my plight bearable. My eyes opened to rays of warm yellow sun washing across my face. The gentle glow soothed before it puzzled me. Once consciousness bubbled to the surface, I looked around wondering where I was…and then I remembered.
The reality sliced through the fog of my thoughts. I was alone, perhaps the only one left in the entire world. My heart beat skidded with jumps and starts as I surveyed the green fields and trees. I strained my ears to hear the rustle of chipmunks in the bushes or the rich chirp of a bird. Nothing. This strange world was silent except for the summer breezes strumming a swishing tune as they glided across the tree tops.
Food. What could I eat? A quick walk around revealed rows and rows of berry bushes. I grabbed the tart little gems by handfuls and stuffed them in my mouth, being famished as I was. Then I remembered I still had some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the car. Once I'd eaten two of those, I searched for water since I had already finished the bottles I had for my trip.
I heard the brook bubbling before I found it. The gurgling and churning drew me in. I had to work my way down a hill into a heavily wooded area. There I found the brook flowing on a southward path in the valley. The waters were so clear I could see the creek bottom with its array of brown, black, and tan stones and dark green vegetation. Cupping water in my hand, I gulped it. Pure and clean. Delicious!
Settling on the bank, I found great comfort in the brook's song. Is there no more beautiful music than fresh water gurgling in a stream deep in the forest. Even the sun didn't penetrate this quiet place. It was me and the water, and I felt more and more enthused as I listened and breathed in the alluring scents of the woods. Spicy smells made by dampness and shade, dirt, water, pine, flowers, and plants, lured me into the valley's trance.
I felt like I was in church. Here, alone in this beautiful place, there was nothing to fear. The sights, sounds, and woodsy fragrances wrapped me in quiet calm. Nature touched a pulse deep in my soul that validated and explained my existence. Kicking off my shoes, I dangled my bare feet in the water. The cooling stream tickled my toes and massaged my feet, wrapping them in soft flowing comfort. I was Adam in the Garden of Eden.
I don't know how long I sat on the bank. But at some point, I realized I needed to face the future. I needed to figure how I was going to survive in a world where I was the only one alive. If I could have spent the time sitting along the brook, I would have been fine. But of course, the reality of the situation demanded I strike out and look for other people or even simply animal life, some semblance of creatures alive and well besides me.
If I found nothing, I would hammer out a simple life, surviving on nuts and berries until I could grow some crops. There would be no meat or dairy since there were no animals.
As to my vision of God and morality, after a night's sleep I felt better. If I could feel so close to the stars, I felt in time I could feel close to God. After all, He was the only One I could talk to, and I planned to do plenty of that. Perhaps this entire disaster was the best thing to ever happen to me because I found God in my loneliness.
In resignation to begin anew, I climbed up the slope, leaving behind the pleasant valley with its bubbling waters. When I reached the top, my eyes lighted on a movement by my car. My heart lurched. Mother and my brother, Sam, stood next to the old green Ford. They ran toward me as soon as I came into view.
"Where have you been? You missed my party!" my Mom declared.
I was speechless. Finally, I mustered up, "Where did you come from?"
"From the farm, you silly! What a crazy thing to ask!" Mom reached over and straightened my collar. Yep, that was Mom. Her famous nervous impulse proved it!
"I thought…" I stopped short with my explanation. Something told me if I said more I would make a fool of myself. Finally, my brother spoke, "What the heck are you doing on this old abandoned farm site?"
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"This is old Mr. Toth's place. No one's lived here for 2 years. A crop duster messed up and dumped too much insecticide and nothing living has made a home here in a long time."
Farmer Toth's? Oh my gosh! I had made a wrong turn and didn't know it. I missed our place by 2 miles. I felt so stupid. I tried making light of things. "Looks like I made a wrong turn," I said. "These old eyes of mine aren't what they used to be."
"You're only 33!" Mom said. A glance at her sparkling eyes reassured me she had already moved on to simply being glad to see me.
I held this experience in my heart for a long time. When I made that wrong turn, I stepped out of the ordinary and into the extraordinary…in myself. I found peace in that quiet place where I could listen to my own spirit…just for a little while.
© JO Janoski, 2005, All Rights Reserved.