Have You Ever…?

Have you ever peered into the eyes of someone completely lost, hopeless, forgotten? To look into their eyes and see nothing, no dreams, only despair? Often when folks see a homeless person, they will joke that they are talking to themselves, have you never spoken to yourself? Maybe you didn’t feel like there was anybody else to talk with, no one to listen, no one to validate your existence.

Being homeless, even for one night can be scary, it can be devastating for a parent with children, there are families separated because there might only be a room at a shelter for the wife and children, not for dad. In general, society tends to look the other way when they come across homeless people, mind you I said homeless people and not “the homeless”; the later is a way of disassociating them from society. Someone whom is homeless already feels alone, in fact it might be the absolute loneliest a person can ever be, and then on top of that for others to literally look away or cross the street to not have to come close is demoralizing at best. Not only are they marginalized but then they are simply ignored or admonished by the public as trash might be.

What put the homeless people onto the streets, why are they there? What happened to lead them into the shadows, to live under bridges, in sewer and run-off tunnels, along the river in tarp covered hovels built from fallen trees and branches, during the winter? Did they succumb to a mental illness not having insurance or ran out of money due to an illness? Did they lose their job, their home and their family?  Have you ever felt so desperate that you found yourself sifting through someone else’s garbage? Have you ever been so distressed that you did things you might never have dreamed of doing? Things that made you feel dirty, immoral, disgusted with yourself or even less than human?

I am not attempting to make anyone feel bad or guilty, I just want people to remember there are folks out there barely surviving, they are sick, they cry at night because they are beginning to forget who they are, they fall asleep at night wondering if they will wake up, if they will be raped, if they will get to that point tomorrow where they will finally give in and do something they won’t be able to forgive themselves for, will they become the people they used to see wandering the dark places, ghosts of society, whose only thought each day is how to keep their selves or their children alive one more day.

This happens every single day, even in your community, believe it or not no city, neighborhood, community is immune. I know, I’ve seen those eyes before, I’ve stared into them, looking for some flicker of hope, some remnant of a bygone dream, I have looked past the dirt, the shame, the guilt, into the reddened, yellowed tired eyes through a broken mirror.

There is a reason lives are counted officially by souls, its because no matter your religion, race, culture, political stand, sexual identity, economic level or you live in the suburb or the city, in an apartment, a home, a car in a parking ramp, or under a bridge, we are all souls in the end, thriving or barely alive. We can never forget that.

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Maybe

Often in our lives we will happen upon a time when we must decide on a direction to travel, metaphorically speaking that is, sometimes the decision isn’t an easy one to make, sometimes the path we know we must turn to is away from our friends, colleagues, our safe places. It is easy to follow, it is less work to remain, it is more comfortable not to climb and meet the challenge you may face.

But what is the payoff, sometimes we might find that we have allowed ourselves to follow others or maybe for whatever reasons we just didn’t want to continue on the path we started down and now we have become lost, as the darkness closes in and we are too afraid to call out for help we lose sight of our way back, and as time goes on we learn to survive right where we are and grow weary of change because we know how to operate here, leaving that safe place if dangerous, the unknown is dangerous.

So we stop moving, we stop challenging ourselves and we stop growing. Our friends and family don’t see the pain we are in, they have lost sight of who we are and don’t understand our struggle. They say to us…”just turn around and come back, what are you doing? Why would you do that? Why have you left, that hurts me and what about me?” They don’t ask us what we need so they don’t know and that makes them uncomfortable so they just fade away and begin to blame us for their loss.

Now it’s just us, what do we do? We know we are lost, we know we are in pain, maybe we are ashamed of our choices, maybe we even begin to feel left behind and vulnerable. Maybe the thought of trying to climb out is overwhelming and scary, we don’t know what’s out there any more, maybe we feel like we are too far gone and nobody cares anyway and the trouble just isn’t worth it, maybe we just aren’t worth it.

Maybe.

But maybe we deserve more, maybe we are worth it. Maybe we made a mistake and have underestimated ourselves. Maybe we forgot how strong we are and how much we love ourselves, isn’t that all that really matters in the end, it’s been said that when we finally decide not to care what anyone else thinks of us is when we finally become free. And besides it is none of our business what anyone else thinks of us right? But we care, we are the only ones whom can make ourselves happy, it is us whom keeps us safe, it by ourselves that we have survived and that takes fortitude, strength and bravery. Those are characteristics that anyone should be proud of, and proud to know, and that makes us worth every bit. It is that sort of power that can beat the darkness and show us the light.

One foot, that’s all that it takes to begin the journey back, one foot in front of the other. Find your own way, cut a new path, and climb against the struggle and the pain because somewhere out there is a better place, a place with sunshine and warmth and people waiting for us to show them what it means to be strong and hopeful in the face of adversity. And with that experience, vigor and knowledge we become that person others look to for guidance because we have fought the demons that’ve held us. It isn’t an easy fight, it is hard, harder than most would understand but through it we shall grow and become proud of who we are. Because we are all worth it, and when we are sitting at the edge of that lake, on a sunny shore and we see our reflection in the surface of the water we will know what it means to love ourselves and be proud and be healthy. And then maybe, just maybe we can show others the way too.

When Did that Happen

I woke up this morning and stumbled through the living room, to the kitchen where I fixed a pot of coffee, only a half pot, any more and I get heart burn these days. Then on my way to the bathroom I stubbed my toe on a bench in the dining room, as I hopped around the table in the dark attempting to grab my foot and find the light switch I found I was more disturbed not by the fact that I haven’t yet learned that that bench has always been there, but more so that I could no longer just reach my foot without straining my back. I don’t know when that happened, I used to be so limber. When I reached the bathroom and found my tooth brush, the paste and looked into the mirror, I was frightened. Not by my reflection and mussed up hair, but by the crows’ feet and the creases around my mouth, the amount of gray facial hair along my jaw and the traces of so many years passed in my gaze.

I looked at my hands and saw my father’s, how long have I slept with my eyes open I wondered? The days and weeks seem to fly by without discretion now and climbing a ladder these days provokes more cautionary thought than it used to. When did that happen?

I woke up this morning and realized I turn fifty years old in a few short months. I’m scared, I‘m not prepared for this, and I am certain I knew it was coming and still let it happen; even my shadow looks longer now.

Suddenly I looked around at work and I realized I didn’t recognize at least half the people around me, and most of them look as though they just wandered away from preschool without their parents. “Excuse me Sir” they blurt out as they pass me by never looking up from their phones or their tablets, as if they have somewhere important to be…I don’t it seems, not nowadays anyhow. Not anymore.

How cruel is time when the sun gets close to the horizon before you realize it and when the days get colder and fly by as if on a train to some place out of the way. I feel like I am on a bus that suddenly stopped aggressively and I have no idea where I’ve been or why I’m being told to get off now. What did I miss, when did I last speak with my children, and why does that damned Cat Stevens song make so much sense now?

Turning fifty is no joke, and it’s not for the faint of heart either. I sat on the side of the tub, head in my hands, frantically trying to think of clues I may have missed, I didn’t see that last sign, not until now, it’s like fog finally lifting and there standing in the wet grass is me, bewildered, confused, afraid but I don’t know what it is I’m afraid of, I guess maybe it’s the thought that I missed something, that I should have taken advantage of my youth and done more, gotten lost more, played more when I had the chance. It feels like there is someone closing in behind me, I can’t see them but I know they are there, I can feel them. I turn the corner and then run as fast as I can for as long as I can and then I turn around again because I swear I heard something right behind me, but again, I can’t see them.

The shadows are crawling up the sides of the buildings all around me now, the warmer sun light out of my reach, I can feel the cooler, lonely air creep up the back of my legs and I shudder. As I stand there feeling as though I’ve missed something and can’t remember what it was I look across the street and there is another, just standing there looking lost, as lost as me, but doesn’t want to acknowledge me and turns away but can’t decide in which direction to go.

I stand up and grab my brush again; I force the last of the paste from the tube onto my brush and continue on. Isn’t that the point, to continue on in the face of it all, to attempt to stay a step ahead? I can hear the voice of my old platoon sergeant even now, of all the things…”Stand up soldier, carry on, so long as there is a single breath in you”. But there has to be more than that I think to myself. Adapt and overcome, those are words I can fight on in light of. So soldier on I will, but by gawd this soldier will adapt and overcome, I will go places I have not been yet, I will see things I have not seen. I am not done learning and will take advantage of every day that I have.

Then the door to the bathroom opens and it’s her, my Love, she doesn’t see the crow’s feet, she doesn’t see the loneliness and the fear. She holds me, my tired body, she lays her cheek against my back and whispers to me…”I love you, with everything, I love you”. And with that the cold melts away, the fear subsides a little and I feel stronger.

Lost

How could she say no, he loved her and that’s why he gave her the pills, like he told her, if he didn’t care he wouldn’t spend his own hard earned money to buy her what she needs to get through her day. Now all she has to do is cook him and his kids, their kids’ dinner. He works so hard ya know, he was dealt a bad hand so he didn’t get a job making what he’s worth, but he found other ways to make money, and he couldn’t go to school because he wouldn’t be able to work and buy her pills. So when he came home from the bar and she questioned him about where he’d been and he lost his temper again and hit her, well it was her fault for being unfair and making him mad. That’s what she told the police anyway when they questioned her, and that’s when she turned to go to her room and ran into the edge of the door cutting her cheek.

So each day she washed his clothes, the kids clothes, cleaned the house, tried to study but after a while she knew it was unfair for her to take so much time away from his kids to study for some class he said she’d never be able to pass anyway, she wasn’t smart enough but he would take care of her…and like he said, he loved her.

There were parts of her day when she started to crash that she questioned whether or not she doing the right thing, there was a part of her that was struggling, a part somewhere inside of her that opposed him but that scared her and she kept it tucked away. That was dangerous thinking. And after a few years her relationship became one more recognizable as a caretaker than as a mother, she couldn’t play with them because she had to make them dinner, what kind of mother would deny her man and his kids dinner?

When the kids were fed and she’d washed the dishes he gave her what she needed, she swallowed them with some warm Pepsi and went off to her bedroom and sat, she waited with her eyes closed as her body began to slump and feel warmer, then her mind drifted off and she lay back on her bed and floated away to some place better. Some place where the sun shone upon her face, where the wind was sweet and she was free. Some place she could wander off to as he came in and stripped her clothes from her, used her, took advantage of her and then left her by herself afterwards to curl up in the corner and hold herself against the torment that came like a slow burning fire day after day. Night after night, and so on, and so on.

Eventually she was lost touch with the outside world, her support structure had been severed, she was manipulated and abused and her soul was in dire straits. When she saw or interacted with others it was through a sort of mask or body suit she wore that no one could see through to feel sorry for her. They didn’t know what was happening inside the dark, dangerous walls of her home, they didn’t know the rot that had infiltrated her body, her mind. Soon no one saw her and she knew it, she became lonely, not lonely like most people feel when they everyone leaves after the party but lonely like there is no one that knows how you feel, like no one understands the pain you feel, like when you find yourself inside of a nightmare and you try to scream aloud but nothing comes out, you have regressed inside of your own mind and lost your way.

On a sunny Sunday afternoon an aunt and uncle leaving the family cabin happened to pass her as she rolled up the driveway, they saw her, she looked into their eyes and smiled and they smiled back and waved as they drove on, they had someplace to be and couldn’t really stop to visit just then. They thought how she didn’t have the kids with her and she was alone but they’d get hold of her later on and check in with her then. So they continued on their way.

Three days later they called her husband because she wasn’t answering her cellphone. He told them how he was upset with her for just up and leaving her kids at home alone with no dinner, how he’d not heard from her either. They didn’t say anything then, not to him but they wondered about the cabin, maybe she finally ran away, no one in the family liked him, they all suspected that he wasn’t a good man. That was all, they were adults and could handle their own affairs.

So they drove to the cabin, there in the driveway was her car. It was cold and the keys were still in the ignition. They checked the cabin but it was empty, in fact the door was still locked from when they’d left, nothing had been disturbed, it appeared as though no one had even stepped inside. He stepped outside and called out to her, she stayed inside and made a few sandwiches, she probably went for a walk, and she’d be hungry when she came back. He began wandering around the cabin, there were a few trails off from the driveway and he thought he’d just wander a bit and see if he found any trace of her.

In a small clearing underneath a tall Poplar, he saw her from behind, she sat in the leaves, and he called to her. He stated that they’d been looking for her, that people were worried. He paused a few yards behind her because he felt sick in his stomach, he didn’t know why but he knew something was wrong. Then he saw her left hand, it lay palm up on the ground next to her hip, he didn’t need to go any further, next to her hand, in the grass, on top of some leaves was a gun. He saw the other side of her head and her hair was matted and darkened with blood.

What happens to a person when they get so lost, so lonely that there is no way out, that their lifeline cannot reach beyond the place within themselves, that dark place that becomes their only safe place? In what world does God allow a mother to go so adrift so as to go missing within themselves, to drown in such sadness that there is absolutely no other way out. And how do those around them not see her?

To my cousin, may she rest free.

At the Bottom of the Box

He brushed aside the un-ironed shirts and work pants hanging in his closet, pants to the right and shirts to the left. There on the beige carpeted floor against the blandly painted back wall sat a box, a very ordinary box, one that new reams of printer paper might come packaged in. He stood and looked at it for a while, the noises in his head of the birds chirping outside and the airplanes flying over head and the cars driving through the parking lot, splashing through every pothole on their way out turned to static.

He really wasn’t thinking, just had a feeling he needed to pull it out, he couldn’t actually assign a purpose to it, these days he doesn’t really know why he does things, he is living on two planes, one with his live in girlfriend and the other with the ghosts of his past. Both want his attention, they wait for him at the end of the day and whisper to him in his ears, it seems lately he can’t play his music loud enough. He goes to the gym and tries to lift away all the voices in his head, he grunts under his breath, pushes away the weight from his repeatedly but it just keeps coming back to him like flies on a rotting corpse, consuming his flesh bit by bit. When he can’t fight it any longer he showers and scrubs at his swollen skin.

Then it’s back to work and he forgets about everything for a while as he investigates program issues at his desk. He spends the next few hours like he did before the gym, searching for clues among clues among long strings of code that don’t seem to make any sense just hoping to trip over something that doesn’t quite seem as convoluted as everything else.

Back at his closet he looks over the box sitting at his feet, its edges are crushed and worn edges. There is a tear or two in the top and old tape along the sides. He lifts the box onto his bed and pauses as if he is standing at the entrance to a dark alley. Then he pulls the lid off, inside there are papers, it doesn’t look unlike every other banker’s box in peoples closets, ones that might hold last year’s taxes, old college essays, maybe an old book with torn corners that’s meant to be re-read again. But this box is different, there are things among those papers and books and essays that speak to him like murmuring from someone standing behind him in the shadows.

Among the dusty things there are hopes and imaginings, they are clean and fresh despite their age, they were placed there years ago when he was much younger, when he still dreamed of far off places he would go with someone much different than his girlfriend, there are lost dreams at the bottom that got buried by certificates and degrees and old manila envelopes with the words taxes and some other year crossed out and below it written vacation or minivan or fifth grade softball and some summer track program. And there’s a hand written list on a smallish note pad; it has categories and mileage and notes about campgrounds somewhere far away. In one corner there is an old receipt, written in pen and at the bottom signed by him and his ex-wife, at the top, the name of an old pop-up camper. Suddenly his eyes begin to water; the corners fill quickly and over flow, sending streams of liquid down over his cheeks. He can smell the linoleum and the weathered, mildew stained canvass. He closes his eyes and sees his oldest daughter staring up at him as she tries to lift tongue of the camper to help him hook it up to the trailer hitch. Her eyes clenched shut and her mouth pursed in a crooked smile. Then he turns to see his other daughter and his son jumping from one bed to the other inside the camper and his heart breaks because he knows that was long ago and when he opens his eyes everything is different, and the only thing staring back at him now is the ancient box of lost dreams he still keeps.

It’s a strange feeling, holding a bunch of dreams and memories that seem so empty, the purpose is gone, and they seem senseless and desperate now. There is no place for them here, the pages are faded and discolored with the sour taste of pain. A melancholy wave washes over him and he feels incredibly dejected. As he puts the lid back on the static in his head seems to slip away slowly and when he tries to lift the box from the bed it appears heavier than before. He struggles with it as he walks from his apartment down the dark halls filled with strange smells and descends the cold stairs to the back door. He stands at the dumpster a long while and as it begins to rain his eyes fill again, so he lets the box slip from his calloused hands and fall away. The murmuring in his ear fades and loneliness creeps in holding his hand like an old friend he doesn’t quite trust but desires to hold onto.

Conflicted

The sun beats in through the window from outside his car and burns the skin on the back of his neck, but it feels good. He squints to keep the light from piercing his eyes as he drives south along the river.

It’s been far too long since the heat of the sun caused him to perspire; it’s been bitter cold almost as long as he can remember and now the black leather wrapped steering wheel threatens to singe his palms if he moves his hands from ten and two.

There is a part of him, buried somewhere deep inside, hidden away, something that’s been there all along and though it doesn’t show itself he knows it’s there because there are echoes of its presence. That something makes him long for the bitter cold, in spite of his desire to pull his car to the side of the road and get out, and allow the full strength of the sun’s rays to wash over his self.

It’s that bitter cold that stung his cheeks when he faced it, that crept up under his skin like a shadow and stole away any heat stashed there. So why then does he want for it, why is it that he dreams of the chill that used to slide up under his pant leg like a thief?

It’s the warmth of the sun he knows he needs, it’s the gleaming off the pavement before him that makes his chest swell with excitement making him search for it, reach for it and throw his face skyward with arms outstretched inviting it in.

Yet he feels foolish, how can it last, it’s only a fantasy, he can count on the cold to be there mostly, he doesn’t question its presence, its bite, its bitter presence. So he leans his head against the window and feels the heat from the sun pour in over his forehead, he feels a drop of perspiration roll down in front of his ear and listens as it falls to the floor and soak in to the carpet at his feet.

He closes his eyes and swears to himself for feeling conflicted.

The Truth behind Her Eyes

Wandering through the fall days longing for an answer to a question he hasn’t formulated yet, but wondering each day what’ll happen the next. He looks for an out from a dark place, his only respite enjoyed on his bike, riding in the cool air, feeling the slight warmth of the sun on his face. And writing, putting pen to paper the old way, trying to keep up with the voice in his head as he scribbles in an old hand made leather bound book he crafted himself. He is lonely, he is worried and he feels trapped.

On a sunny Saturday morning he walks into his writing group, it’s located in the midst of many cultural shops throughout the Global Market in Midtown. It is still early but the sounds of many of the shops and restaurants begin to echo throughout the indoor market like a cacophony of a tinny instrumental. The tables in the restaurant the group meets in have already been formed into a large square to accommodate the slowly, quietly arriving writers. They all take their seats in their favorite places below the early sunlight flowing in between the blinds in the large window. And they patiently wait for their turns to read and listen to each other’s stories, rhymes and reflections of their internal hymnals.

This is his place, his saving grace; there is no judgment here, no criticism, no dishonesty and no harm. It is a place for him to divulge his pain in an artistic manner, to spill over his dreams and nightmares, it is here that he learns to carve out a space for honesty and truth without repercussion, to offer himself in a way that others feel and hear and welcome without prejudice. It is here that he met her.

He removed his jacket and gathered a cup of coffee and sat at the table facing the window. He looked around at the others, there were a couple of people he hadn’t recognized and always made it a habit to welcome those he didn’t know whom might be new, however the moderator begun and we began to write. As he listened to those whom chose to read he was enjoying each word, each transitional phrase, he enjoyed each person’s individual method of sharing the secrets they held closely outside of this group. He was fascinated by their personal narratives and their anecdotes.

Then he heard her voice, and he turned to watch her as she read aloud. There was something different about her, different then the idea he had of her when he saw her initially. She read with a bold honesty and integrity, but there was more than that, as he watched her read she periodically looked up over her book at him, he began to hear something else in her tone, there was a parallel dialogue between them that no one else was privy to and he hung onto every word. She read from a place somewhere no one else was allowed to be, someplace she kept herself safe, a place in the shadows between her hurt and her struggle to stay alive. And he recognized it; he felt the coolness of the darker recesses. He saw the isolation and seclusion behind her eyes.

He would introduce himself to her during the break, flustered and flushed, he awkwardly spit out something incoherently, but she understood him and felt a draw from somewhere he was protecting but wouldn’t yet let her see. They shook hands and exchanged numbers and in the feel of her soft, delicate palm inside his strong, calloused grip there was something shared, something they would continue to feed and watch grow. Two people who felt lost in a world of darkness, found a light in a place they felt drawn to be. They would find a way to invite each other into their world, into their shadows and battle the cold with united warmth, warmth derived from an assembly of what is left of the embers that have continued to burn deep inside each of them. Together, hand in hand they would lean into the cool fall air, and build new fires, new dreams and go on wild and fantastic adventures.

Big Boys Dont Cry

Sitting against the wall in his room he looks around and at the old wood paneling and the green shag carpet. The sun flows through the window at the top of the wall, the glass is the color of root beer and textured, the light shining through is dark and mellow. Its 1979 and he listens to 10CC crooning out the lyrics “I’m not alone…” and gets mad. He wipes away the tears that stream down his cheeks onto the sleeve of his second hand Sergio Valente shirt. His bedroom shares the basement with the wet bar his parents entertain in periodically, no one is home but crawls behind and hides below the bar anyway and drinks his mom’s Drambui. He is twelve.

His adoptive dad is travelling on the road, his mom is out with her boyfriend and boss, and his little sisters are at sleepovers. This is typical, if his mom is home she is drunk and passed out on the couch, so he would feed his sisters and then put them to bed. He can’t take his mom’s car this time so he takes his bike to Rockefeller’s arcade, scores some pot and rides to the river where climbs down the sandstone cliffs to the shoreline, there he smokes and watches the dark, cool waters slowly drift by.

He feels powerless, abandoned, desperate and lost. He smokes until it doesn’t hurt as much, until the pain runs like an undercurrent; it never quite goes away but is always there just under the surface. He doesn’t quite realize it at first and when he does he doesn’t care that his Nikes are almost completely submerged in the dirty Mississippi River. He lets himself fall back until his long hair is trapped beneath his back and the grey mud that makes up the beach between the reeds and the water. He lies there staring up at the stars, he feels like he’s floating somewhere between the earth and the space, somewhere no one can reach him, where the pain and the angst falls away for a little while, in obscurity.

The trouble with obscurity is that no one is there to see you, or to feel you or hear you and he realizes that’s where is already. With that he feels a sudden thud as he falls back to earth. Like opening a door in the midst of winter and catching the cold air in your face as it steals your breath, he is suddenly aware of everything that hurts, its late September and he can see his breath, its cold and when he rolls over to stand up he plants his hand in freshly fallen snow. He stands there looking out over the fastly running water shimmering under the moons light at the darkness all around him and he makes a promise to himself. His father always told him that big boys don’t cry. It’s time for him to be a big boy.

The tears stopped flowing. He swallowed hard and buried the pain, and all of a sudden he felt awkwardly comfortable in the darkness, it made sense to him, it seemed to welcome him, there was a safety within it he liked and he would own it. And it would serve him well.

Lost in Lava

We’d been driving up the coast north from Kona, Hawaii about 45 minutes, it was hot, and we were looking for things to check out along the road on the way towards Moana Loa when I spotted what appeared to be a remote lagoon located maybe a mile or two off the highway.

The color was a bright teal, clear and looked like the oasis’ you used to see in the old movies as the main character began to hallucinate. There was what looked like a thin strip of light sandy beach that was shaped like a giant fish hook extending from the shoreline out into the calm water. Bracketed by a stand of coconut trees and I could imagine my partner and me lying beneath them listening to their huge fronds swaying in the pacific breeze as we let the cool waters rush over our naked feet. I wanted to be there immediately, I wanted to dive into that cool water and let it wash over my hot, dry body.

I sat up quickly in the driver’s seat and whipped that rental van around suddenly; it tilted to one side and the tires squealed and I think my partner was startled awake from an afternoon daze. I pulled off of the black asphalt ribbon and slid to an abrupt halt while a cloud of red dirt swirled around us. When it settled I told my partner we were going to go on a short hike to this wonderful looking lagoon I spotted from the road. Supportive and intrigued she exclaimed “let’s do it”.

We jumped out of the van into the hot afternoon sun, it was high overhead, the air was still, and there was no breeze. I locked the doors and off we went, we ascended a small burm and there in front of us, between the road and the sea was a field of long dried, red lava which seemed to reach for acres. It was jagged and clumped in huge boulders. We climbed it and stumbled over a number of these before deciding that it appeared almost impossible to traverse with any simplicity. We looked over the landscape and saw a gully open up a few yards ahead of us, we climbed down into it.

In the gully the ground softened, it was sandy and thick with Kiawe trees. These are shorter, barren trees that are covered in huge woody thorns that appear to be 3-6 inches in length, and their limbs and trunks are bizarrely twisted as though they are reaching out desperately seeking moisture from the air in the arid terrain. We navigated between them like we were performing some sort of native dance. As we did so there was a feeling that crept up the back of neck seemingly to warn me we were being watched from somewhere deep in the thicket. As we grew more frustrated at the difficult maneuvering it took to travel a short distance within the gully we spotted a Tribe of goats, standing within the Kiawe trees watching us, and it was unnerving.

We decided to climb out from the trees and onto what was now the only alternative. The lava field had turned to jet black; it was no longer filled with huge jagged red boulders. It appeared like miles of taffy, rolled out and twisted into ribbons, sometimes looking like massive hills of bread dough as it sits on grandma’s counter settling, its edges rolling over the surface of the counter and then frozen in that form. Only it was all just black. It was certainly easier to walk on, though periodically the round domes would collapse under foot and shatter like fine china. There were great tubes that had formed when the lava cooled and dried, leaving the center hollow. There were caves and sometimes the roof of which had crumbled and fallen in. It was fascinating, and eerie.

As we walked, ascending and descending, travelling through sections of tubes sometimes 10 feet high and skirting other collapsed tubes, leaving open ground that seemed to fall away into deep dark caverns, we considered what might happen if we were to trip and land on the lava rock. Our bare knees striking the sharp, glassy surface would surely split and tear open eviscerating muscle and tissue. We were careful and strategic as we continued our hike. We were too far along now to turn back. Finally we began to see green foliage growing between the smaller cracks and sand began to fill crevices and lower, shallower portions of the ground. After what we had estimated to be an hour or so we reached the shoreline. Indeed it was cooler, the water was magnificent but from where we stood it wasn’t the idealic lagoon I thought I’d spotted earlier. However it was a nice respite, refreshing and breezy.

I felt like the main character after crawling through the hot desert sand to the oasis I spotted only to find that it was a much smaller patch of green than I’d anticipated, a single tree protruding from the ground and at its base a spot of moist sand that accentuated my misinterpreted desire for something grand.

We shrugged and decided not all struggles, not all explorations and adventures’ culminate in discovery of something awe inspiring, and turned to find our way back. After a short amount of time trying to decide which way to go, with the sea at our back and the infertile fields before us, we stumbled upon a makeshift pathway. It was marked by other travelers with white chalky symbols etched out on rocks to the right and to the left most likely with pieces of coral, suggesting a safe trail by staying between them as we hiked. We would follow these symbols, but it was difficult, you couldn’t allow your eyes to wander from under foot for fear of tripping.

Bones bleached from the sun, lay in stark contrast to the rock littering parts of the path, out in front of us you could see transparent waves of heat rising from the rock, and through the souls of your shoes. We rarely spoke, keeping our eyes focused in the direction of our rental van, we couldn’t see it but knew generally where it must be and praying that inside it was the water we’d incidentally left behind. It took us nearly an hour and a half to reach the road, the bottoms of our shoes shredded from the severe, razor-sharp rock. Our throats dusty, we were absolutely parched and the skin on our arms was blistered, covered in hundreds of what appeared like tiny droplets of sweat but these weren’t sweat, we’d run out long before, these were diminutive though no less obtrusive, clear blisters.

In spite of the challenging journey, our clothes soaked through with sweat, our ankles and feet tired, we reveled in the idea of being lost in a lava field and surviving it. We would move on to more adventures, great elevations, searching for green sand beaches and rolling through small villages blanketed in thick, wet fog in the mountains of the South end of the Big Island; Hawaii. Some fruitful and some challenging but all adding so many memories, feelings of accomplishments’ and fueling the imagination even more, wondering what other strange and wonderful places we might discover along the way.