My Visit with the Wise One

bobOr,

When Your Dreams Tell You You Everything

Before I met the Wise One, I joined a group of anglers in the night at an old pier, the concrete docks withered by the elements. That night, though winter, felt like any ocean side night: damp, thick, and invigorating. The four of us cast our reels into the sea with the synchrony of familiar co-workers, in fact, that’s what we all were, why we were joined that night—to work on our fishing skills. I was the least competent of all, and I knew this going in, but my form wasn’t too shabby; my wrist flinging back and out with the right timing, sent my hook far into the unsettled dark water.

fishing-village

We began to pull in our lines, and though I thought I hadn’t caught anything, mine stopped, a hard tug fought back. As I wound the reel toward me, a large glob, somewhat purple and iridescent, emerged from the low tide. It resembled a gelatinous pile of nothing at first, then upon examination by me and my fellow fishermen and fisherwomen, we recognized by its dangling tentacles that it was a jellyfish.

No one dared to touch it, though I thought it couldn’t still be venomous now out of the water. It appeared to be dead, then suddenly it came to life, squirming closer to me, until part of it, a yellowish section of its rounded head, suctioned itself to my back. My blue hooded sweatshirt lessened what I thought would the sting. Only a mild discomfort overtook me, like that of a toy dart sticking to your forehead. My fellow anglers offered no help, said little to appease my fear, or try to remove it. They said vague things like, “It’s part of you now.”

And so it was time for me to leave to see the Wise One. I left the fishing dock in a hurry, and ran toward the streets of the village. All the roadways were covered in a fresh layer of ice, solid and clean as a newly Zambonied ice rink. My flat, smooth-bottomed shoes took to the ice with ease, and soon I was skating away into the night, quick and effortless. I thought to myself how much easier this seemed than fishing, how much more suited I was to this new activity versus the last.

jellyfish

I later arrived at the Commune—it seemed as though several hours had past, or least the night had turned to morning. The sensation in my back had vanished, though I knew the jellyfish was indeed part of me, that we were one creature now. The icy streets of the fishing village slipped from my memory, and were replaced with the steamy interior of the Commune. It was a large space with the air of an upscale health food store. Pungent and sweet smells wafted about, mixing with the body heat of tens, possibly hundreds of people. They were all arranged in groups, camped on the floor or on low, soft furniture. They dressed either in long flowing colorful clothes, or very little clothes. Their hair was long and unkempt, matted and thick, or either very clean cut. They were also much younger than me.

Then, the man I had traveled to see, appeared out of thin air, and came right to me, as though we had made an appointment. No one else moved when he arrived, as though they too had appointments and would simply wait their turn with him. He was just as I had imagined: thin, narrow-waist and hips, bony almost, though sinewy and rugged. Only the top of his fuzzy hairline showed, the rest of his ropy hair was tucked up into his striped tam, which rose off the crown of his head like an elongated skull. He wore a green soccer jersey. Here he was, Bob, en carne viva.

 rasta-commune

I told him everything. About the fishing and the jellyfish. He listened with care, and didn’t say much. When I finished pouring myself out to him, he said with dignified equanimity, that, yes, it is part of me, that that’s what jobs do. They stay with you and you cannot separate yourself from them. They are you, the way the jellyfish is now stuck on your back for good.

And then he stared at me, straight into me. I sensed he was about to speak again, and though I thought he was about to smile, he puckered his lips a bit, tilted his head, and blinked once.

“Maybe fishing isn’t your thing,” he said.

bob

With that, the Wise One moved on into the crowd, circulating amongst the rest of his disciples at the Commune. They embraced him and he them, and it all felt so natural that we would be with him in this way, that he had transcended death and was so alive as he once was. Someone off in the distance had offered me something to take, but I refused. I had seen who I came to see.

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Pilgrims

medjugorje-tat

Toddy hurled the dice at his sister Maggie the very instant their father Elmer opened the door to let the motel housekeeper in. Maggie screamed, boomeranging the Wa-Hoo game board at Toddy in retaliation, marbles flying in all directions. Toddy ducked and laughed.

The housekeeper peeked over Elmer, who tried his best Bosnian on the woman: “The sheets are dirty. Stains.”

The maid spoke back to him in clipped words, still distracted by the ruckus.

“Kids.” Elmer shrugged.

The housekeeper went to English. “Our rooms are clean.”

“I don’t normally complain about things like this, but please look at these sheets.”

He led her to the bed, toward the table where the children were playing. Maggie sat slumped in the chair holding her hand over her eye, howling. “Toddy hurt me, Dad.”

Toddy was on his hands and knees and picking up the marbles. He always put away his toys—one good habit his mother had taught, and one that stuck—which Elmer adored, his boy being only eight. He kept his head down, away from his father’s stare.

Elmer pulled back the green floral print bedspread and showed the housekeeper the sheets. A yellow stain—the outer edge darker and more distinct—in the shape of a small country occupied the middle of the white sheet.

“See?”

“Dad!” Maggie sat up, crying harder. She pulled her hand down and blood trickled down the canal of her nose and cheek.

The housekeeper pointed at the girl.

“Toddy, get over here.” Elmer grit his teeth.

Toddy trudged over to his father and Maggie stood up and followed him. She glanced quickly in the mirror next to the TV set and saw the blood. She screamed—she was prone to screaming, at her age, going through the first change, plus her mother’s passing didn’t help any—and fell to the floor. The housekeeper rushed toward Maggie and propped her up on her legs. The housekeeper pulled a hand towel from the pocket in her apron and dabbed the girl’s eye. Maggie shuddered and grit her teeth like her father.

Elmer took a knee and held Toddy by the shoulders. “You hurt your sister, mister. Say you’re sorry. Apologize.”

“I’m sorry.” Toddy turned his head to the maid and his sister. Maggie cried and gripped the hand of the woman.

“I AM sorry.” Elmer squeezed the boy’s shoulders.

“I AM sorry.” Toddy squirmed. “Ow.”

“You hurt me and your mother, too.” Elmer squeezed Toddy’s shoulders tighter and started to shake him, slowly. Elmer turned his eyes up at the dresser, at the black lacquer box with a green ribbon, when he said your mother.

“Dad!” Maggie turned toward him.

“You be quiet, Margaret.” Elmer shook Toddy faster, squeezed him enough to make him cry. The boy’s head rocked back and forth. “You hurt all of us. The whole family.”

“Sir,” the maid stood up. She spoke quick and breathless in Bosnian and approached him. Her sentences, strings of the crude Shtokavian dialect hit his ear. Elmer remembered Lana teaching him various words she knew; her grandmother had given her both a crash course and a language book before Elmer and Lana’s first pilgrimage to Medjugore in 1997—before the children. Elmer realized this was why the maid switched to English: his Bosnian was too advanced, straight from the book and not the Shtokavian tongue. Lana’s family didn’t speak that kind.

“Sir, stop.” The maid pulled Elmer away from Toddy. The boy bit his lower lip and he shuddered wiping his eyes. Elmer turned to the maid and collapsed at her feet. Her short wavy hair was dark with strands of gray. She was plump in the belly and hips—a grandmother maybe, with grandchildren about Maggie and Toddy’s age. Maybe they were older—the woman looked at least in her late 50’s—and maybe they worked at one of the shops on the hillsides selling candles, or the white statues of the Virgin on the way to the shrine. Or maybe they worked as house and groundskeepers at the other motels and hostels. Or maybe at the cemetery digging graves for all those who were born here and all those who wished to be buried here. She was old enough to have lived a long life, to see all her children grow up and have their own.

Elmer grabbed the woman’s thick ankles and feet, covered in worn, nurse-like shoes. He held her and gushed, letting it all go, asking for forgiveness. The children now cried with their father, reaching for him, holding each other, their little bodies pressed as close as possible to one another.