Jumping Off Point
By Robert Starr

    “I have to have a jumping off point. I mean, I’ve got to know where things start, a focal-reference-starting point, do you see now?”
    “I think so. That’s why we’re here.”
    “No, no you don’t,” and he bends his head and runs his hands through his hair- once, twice. “No one understands me.”
           “Look,” I say, “no one really understands anyone. We just relate to the roles we play. You can only understand who I’m trying to be if I make it simple for you.”
    I look across the front seat at my brother involuntarily, swept away on the clarity of the point I’ve just made.
    “Don’t you get it?” I say using my hands with the palms turned upwards. “ M’God you’re making this hard on yourself. Everyone’s locked away in their own little universe. That’s just the way it is.”
    But I’m focused and Larry isn’t, so he doesn’t say anything else and starts the car. . We drive for a while in a silence as taunt as a drum skin before he finally speaks again:
    “I want to know why things happen, why things are the way they are. I have to be able to see it for what it is, not for what I think or want it to be.”
    “That’s why we’re here,” I say, “ to show you what I’ve already seen.”
       Larry drives over the dirt road in the dark and I start to feel something ducking back into the shadows behind the trees just as the headlights hit; I can feel it staring into the passenger side window from the dark as we pass.
    “We’re close now,” I say, being careful not to look sideways . “Here,” I say leaning forward  and looking up at the treetops for reference, “stop here.”
    And when Larry stops the car and shuts the lights out, when the engine pings twice and goes quiet, I feel it  for the second time  in the silence that floats down to coat us like we’ve been tucked quickly under a warm blanket that’s too heavy to move.
    “Open the door,” I say to my brother, putting my hand on the passenger side handle and smiling over at him. “it’s okay.”
    And we both get out and walk toward the waiting embrace

    The waiting embrace. Of course I didn’t know that’s what was waiting for me the first time I made contact; I didn’t know to expect anything except greasy hands and frustration when my car got a flat on a midnight country drive three months before. I’d been out to clear my head, to get away from the things that were bothering me about my life and the city, and I’d wobbled to a shaky stop at the top of a starlit hill after I heard the blow out.
    I still remember how mad I was and how silly it seems now that I could ever have been that upset and childish. Everything is so different now. What were those lines?
    I can see clearly now the rain is gone.
    So I knelt down and started to change the tire and they crept (no, actually ‘crept’ is wrong, only predators creep) up behind, gently and slowly enveloping me from head to foot in one priceless moment of timeless suspended silence like the second you teeter on the edge of the board with toes curled on the edge after the first dive when you’re over the fear and you know what a thrill comes next.
    I felt compelled to stand up and dust myself off, to be presentable but not turn around and spoil the magic .
    And the stars came alive over my head, waiting for me to notice them, and I knew Einstein was right and that light travels at the speed of light and that I should sit down because the entire universe was above and behind and all around me and, in one sudden moment, I got a glimpse  (the faucets of perception were turned on for only a second so my mind wouldn’t explode), and I had to sit down because everything ebbed and flowed from the blood in my veins to the dry earth eventually, and then out there and up there where it all came from, all swirling together to direct itself back into me again.
    And that’s how I knew my troubled brother needed to open his eyes too.

    But this night adrenalin and anticipation makes me think we’re  all here together, but I realise they haven’t come, aren’t here, might be gone altogether, so I close my eyes and start to pray-wordless- focusing mental energy in a prolonged silent but roaring plea, and serenity comes, apologetic and rushing to meet us.
    “See?” I whisper to my brother and I really want to say something further, but the words jamb in my throat and don’t find sufficient purpose to come out, so I say again, “See?”, and I turn my head upwards.
    But the stars tonight are only pinpricks again-distant and cold- and a breeze musses my hair and makes me do up my jacket.
    Larry starts the car.
    “C’mon,” he says flashing the lights on as if they too are impatient with me.
    “C’mon,” Larry says looking at me through the windshield. “This is stupid.”

    “Stupid?” I say as I slide into the car but know I’m more pissed at them for showing up and leaving than Larry. “Stupid?” I say again hoping my indignation might save some credibility. “How can finally finding something right here that comes from out there, that can, has, taught me everything I need to know, but stupid Larry?”
    He’s quiet now, listening I think, really wanting to hear the solution, and I sense my advantage and push on:
    “It came Larry, it was with us,” and I use a little silence as a build up to what it is I really want to say to him, what this all has really been about, “I could tell they were there too.”
    “Who? Who was ‘there too?’, he screams at me as we pull into his driveway, and his face is contorted in the houselights like he’s trying to stretch his mouth impossibly wide to let something large and uncomfortable out.
     I don’t say anything.           


    But I understand Larry; I know how hard it must be for him to believe in anything after the rough life he’s had. What with losing everything to the bottle and the pills. So I get out of the car at his house and follow him in past the sheriff’s notice on the front door and go inside.
    I hear him rummaging in the kitchen, looking for the bottle he’s misplaced.
    I stand in the door way watching his back and this common place (a familiar surrounding I’ve been in many times before) has ghosts that haunt it, my laughing niece and nephew that thought their drunken father was hilarious, and my sullen sister in law standing with her arms folded casting dark disapproving glances his way.
    “Larry,” I say and my voice echoes in that room with the absence of his family making me feel like an unwanted intruder, “Larry, we don’t have to go out there again.” It’s the tube of fluorescent lightning over the sink that’s made me say this, the harsh silence of its solid white light compounds my embarrassment, illuminates my shame at thinking I could help him to exchange the crags of life on solid earth for the mysterious abandonment of the spirit and sky.
    Larry finds the bottle in a lower cupboard and stands up with it holding the label at eye level like a connoisseur. A filament in the light flickers and buzzes at me, affirming that what you see here is just what you get.    
       “No,” he says, not shifting his attention from the bottle he’d holding up to the light. “No,” he says, ‘ there’s no point to that anymore at all.”
    I see it’s time to go so I ask if I can take his car and bring it back in the morning.
    It’s a long way home; the car’s hood feels unusually cold, and I don’t remember it being that way before and in the moment I’m looking down to open the door under the house lights, I feel suddenly vulnerable, exposed, like something’s been watching me from behind and above. I can feel it looking at me from all around – a fisheye shot that stretches forever to both horizons, and I panic, jumping into the car and slamming the door closed behind me with both hands.
    Just before I put the key in the ignition a silent calm surrounds me as though the air merely hangs ( filling the space allocated to it ) in my lungs  and my heart suspends its noisy pumping - not stopping but holding itself in mid stroke so all the thoughts competing in my head settle like soft white petals without even a breeze
    And I know they’ve come again.
    I sit in the car marvelling at the machinery that is my hand: ineffable number of atoms held together making the cloaking membrane of skin and under that a living design of muscle, tissue, and bone no engineer could hope to design. And the brain working all the parts-frontal lobe, temporal lobe and sparking neurons connected to everything out there.  And understanding comes to me like this:
    My body is an engine run by the force we call soul, all part of the bigger spirit.

    When they leave this time, there’s  a gentle electricity like a hot sock from the dryer running  over my arms and up my back to gather itself at the very centre of the top of my scalp before snapping gently away . So my essence relinquishes its place to a fear coming from my mind, and I think of my poor brother.       

    “Larry, Larry” I say pounding at the door. “ I was wrong. We’re not locked away in our own little universe, they understand everything, Larry. Everything.”
    I stop knocking suddenly when I realise nothings happened- no one has answered the door.
    “Larry?” I say as I push it open and walk into the dark house.
    And the first creak of the rope I hear from the basement roars at me changing everything.
    “Larry?” I whisper standing at the top of the basement stairs where the door has been left open.
    “Larry. It’s all right. We’re not alone.” I say but another creak answers me.
    I stand there for a long while before phoning the ambulance, dumbstruck because I finally know most people can only handle a universe as big as their own minds and lives, and my brother’s was so tarnished he’d decided on a private release from it, a personal jumping off point that would have been the same whether the peaceful Gods passed through it or not.


E-mail: Robert Starr

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