The International Writers Magazine: Life Under a Cloud
A Travelers Tale
J West Hardin
I have never considered luck to be a driving force in my life. I’ve made my own way and have been satisfied with simple pleasures . I keep my head down and have never built up my hopes with unrealistic expectations. I wasn’t born in the right bed nor did I inherit from a long lost uncle , instead I was orphaned by alcoholism and idiocy.
It’s not as if I live with a cloud over my head. I would describe my life as one of strange fortune resulting from the inconsistent destiny brought about by the economics of living hand to mouth. In colloquial parlance, ‘I work my side of the street’. Looking back, it’s been like flying in the slipstream of an errant wind .
I have followed whatever direction my intuition has taken , for I lack any ties or obligations to bind me. My life is lived between two extremes, coincidence and accident, there is no middle ground for me. I am either winning or losing, it’s black or white, feast or famine, deeply in love or immersed in isolation. Nothing comes to me in steady and predictable increments, instead there are either unpredictable bursts of activity or long periods of cascading drought that occur with no discernible pattern or logic. I have no fall back position. I am only qualified to fall forward into the next day after being surprised by the generosity of the last and waking whole. A breaking dawn can signal anything.
Experience has made me less patient with the foibles of my fellow travelers than I could be, and I apologize for my impatient hunger. Fate has taught me to grab opportunity with both hands and wrestle it to the ground, while others have the luxury to weigh the probable success of multitudinous offerings. They wait, I am compelled to strike. Indecision is not a skill I possess, my skills are kept sharp by infrequent use and idle time in the scabbard. I never got to live like other people and instead became the outsider, the shadow in the alley, a back door man. In fact, when I was younger and living ‘out of doors’, I remember watching people on their way to work, disappearing into office towers, and wondering whether they were a separate species.
When the science cult of astrology was enjoying mainstream popularity I was told that my stars were dark and tangled with improvidence. I was born on a cold winters day, a Scorpio with my moon in the trine of shadowy Pluto and distant Neptune. It all sounded quite ominous and fecund with negative connotation. My star sign suggested that I was a lusty loser and at my tender age I believed it. “Was that why I was tracking such an abnormal fate?” I asked. The 70′s were a weird time for spiritually vulnerable people. I’m glad we’re done with that decade. I believe in ghosts and have seen one manifest itself into a physical form. It was the spirit of a young Hawaiian woman. She approached me, I ran away thinking, “these things can only happen to me”. I came out of my youth believing that my fate was controlled by a spirit whose will cast a shadow over me.
And you think your life has been ‘difficult’?
There have been many instances where I have prayed for normalcy and instead found myself flying upside down in a hurricane of happenstance and the collision of unspecified occurrences . I have wondered at times if I was being challenged by an external force for reasons greater than I could fathom. Was I being prepared for something to come? Did my life have a greater meaning? At the end of each day I would put my back against the irradiated concrete and brick like a lizard to absorb the last warmth of the sun before the night caved in around me. I waited for God to remember my name and tell me there was more to life than a sidewalk and an empty glass. I waited in vain and grew away from the idea that divine providence held the winning cards in this game of life.
Conversely I lived in a maelstrom of inconsistency and confusion as my daily meat, snatching at straws that I would try to spin into fools gold to feed the fool that I was. Others in turn envied my apparent freedom and independence without once breaking away the fragile facade to see what lay behind my liars smile. I lived as a man floating in the air of a separate world. When ‘things’ happen in your life that have no relation to any action taken on your part do you dismiss it as coincidence? What if it happened a thousand times? Would you put it down to bad luck? If that’s the case I have no luck at all. So there I was, wallowing in the mysteries, not knowing where to turn. Booker T. Jones said it all.
“Born under a bad sign. I’ve been down since I began to crawl. If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all”.
I’ve never lived in one place long enough to develop any religious sensibilities or insecurities about the unseen and erstwhile unknowable. I am no prisoner of a particular geography, my culture is the one I happen to be living in. I am cautious of people and remain intelligently suspicious. I am neither superstitious nor intractable. I have witnessed things I don’t understand and remain satisfied that there are some things that I am OK not knowing. I am convinced that there are many experiences that I can simply do without. There seems to be a new god to worship every thousand miles or so, separated from the old by a mountain, valley or river, the concept of worship is like the dust on my shoes. I don’t live in fear of retribution nor am I concerned about what’s coming next. But having said that, I have always had a nagging suspicion in the recesses of my mind that I am being toyed with by someone or some ‘thing’ outside my knowledge or control.
This idea first came to me as a young man living in oft times challenging circumstances. There were instances when it seemed to me that time had been made to stand still and that I was observing rather than living through some striking event that might have meant grievous harm to me. Walking away from material violence and extricating oneself from impending destruction is not a natural talent, unless it is. In the bar fights and protest marches of the late 60′s and early 70′s I was always amazed that I could walk away without being arrested or hospitalized. I started to feel as if someone was watching over me and guiding me in, out and around my vagrants lifestyle. I have walked through life as if dipped in honey.
I began to consider the possibility that there was a supernatural influence at work , present and unaccounted for, who was guiding me through a series of ‘tests’ and ‘challenge’s designed in such a way as to gauge my strength. "Can you take ‘this’?”, I imagined it saying as I was thrust into another trial. “How about that?” I often felt pushed to the ragged edges of my capabilities just to prove that I could get through anything that life threw at me. I also thought that it was entirely possible that this ‘trickster’ was simply having malicious fun as it shadowed me through my world.
There was the point in my life where I became a traveler and that cloak was my salvation, because the armor of the routard is impenetrable. We are blessed with the powers of invisibility, transmutation and teleportation. As a child I discovered touchstones amongst the bits and detritus in my jumble world that allowed me to fly when I held them in my hand . Certain objects revealed their true nature to me while I was dreaming.
A touch would begin my conversion into spirit and I would rise out of my body after becoming a wisp of pure energy. One object was the corner phineal of a wooden bed frame. In my unconscious state I would hold the spindle until I had gathered enough energy to fly and off I went. I would speed away as if I were a bolt of naked lightning. In that ethereal state I could soar over the town I lived in, looking down from high above like an eagle. The horizon was always clear of obstacles, the moon clear and bright, and I would follow the rivers that passed over a patchwork of fields into country I had no prior knowledge of. Each night I went a little further, becoming bolder as I swept over the lands below.
The short wave radio that I’d salvaged from a garbage dump was another object of power, it spoke to me. I can still smell the dust burning off those ancient glass vacuum tubes as they heated up in the dark space beneath my bed. I remember how the glow warmed my face. A whistling wave of oscillation would connect me to far flung aviators and the captains of ships at sea. There were cities listed across the dial that felt for my fingers with sparks of recognition as I passed the control knob from right to left. I was transcendent . Was it in this dreamscape that my spirit was mingled with that of another? What had I done that I shouldn’t? Something told me that I must visit each and every one of those cities to find what awaited me. My fate, it seems, was sealed.
Whatever the reason I have been disallowed a normal life I can’t say. Be it by my strange fate, an inexplicable phantasm, or the coincidental unraveling of an unintended consequence marked by my unheralded birth, I don’t know. I am too far down the road to begin anew. I slipped through the cracks long ago and the timeless world rushing beneath my temporary circumstance swept me away to where I am now. If I am in the company of an unrevealed guardian angel, so be it, it won’t change anything at this point. I am comfortable living the life of a ruin-bagger, making shit up as I go, juggling my chances on a high wire and disappearing before any of the balls fall to the ground . What I do know is that every cell in my body is conditioned to move, like a shark I may die if I stall. Traveling and unattended mystery is all I know. My tattered travelers cloak has served me well in the dark days and kept me warm through the coldest nights. If I am haunted by another, it seems that we’ll grow old together.
By the way, do you have a good story to tell as we pass between dusk and dawn?
© J West Hardin March 2012
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