The temperature was perfect last night. The bedroom window was open, allowing an intermittent, gentle breeze to breathe a fresh coolness into the room. The sound of leaves, rustling outside, like a distant round of applause, rose and ebbed with the moving air. A cloud front was on its way in from the west, right on schedule, which obscured the brightness of the moon as the late night hours dissolved into the early morning leaving a silent, still blackness over everything. The smell of the air outside foretold the coming of rain but as of yet, there was none. Only stillness. Only dark.
These are the early summer nights when sleep should come, like a shroud, and cover us completely yet, for me, it never came. I waited. I listened as the chiming of the grandfather clock downstairs announced the passing of another hour but still sleep eluded me. As I lay in the darkness I was helpless against the encroachment of thoughts of her and I. These were not nostalgic thoughts. These were not thoughts of yearning nor of love unrequited. Those things were past. These were thoughts associated with the clean up. The aftermath. The long, arduous process of packing away memories and cataloging each one in the event that it may be required at a later date. It is the careful packing of a lifetime into the brown, cardboard Banker’s Boxes of my memory and then stacking them, carefully, perhaps never to be opened again.
Images came to mind of news footage I saw last Spring after a category 4 tornado ripped mercilessly through the area from which I write this. People wandered around the debris fields that were, only hours previously, their neighborhoods. Open foundations of their homes, like gaping wounds in the landscape, were the only reminders of what once stood. The expressionless faces of those lost souls still haunt me. They were stooped over, eyes cast down, doing the only thing they could, picking through the remnants of their lives looking for something, anything, that was salvageable. A broken frame containing a family picture. A wet, dirty child’s toy that might bring some element of comfort to a frightened, confused toddler. What else is there when your psyche is in complete shock? When survival instincts are in overdrive? We look for the familiar. We try to grab hold of, and cling to, what we know and what we are used to. What happens to us when that is not possible? What happens when it’s all gone? I suppose we cling to the memories of these things. That’s where I am and what I am doing now. In the debris field of my own life recovering from the storm that obliterated twenty years of work, love and striving, trying to determine which memories to cling to and which to discard.
After Hurricane Katrina, in Louisiana, the question that was often asked of residents was whether they would rebuild in a place where, due to its elevation, another flood was not only eventually possible but a near certainty. The answers varied. Some said that the affection they had for their hometown outweighed the fear of another loss. Others said that they were moving to higher ground before they attempted to rebuild. These people could not suffer a loss of this magnitude again. If higher ground is the decision, then the question becomes one of where to find it. If the decision is to stay and rebuild, then, one has to wonder what one will do when the flood comes again, because it will. It is only a matter of time.
Life, and love, it would seem, are a series of trade-offs. There are costs to be measured with every decision. Stay or go? Rebuild or not? We keep certain things and throw others away. This is the Quid Pro Quo of life. Quid pro quo, quite literally means, This for That. What do we give up in order to get something in return? The Hannibal Lecter of my own subconscious leans in and whispers it to me as he does to a young Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs. Quid pro quo, Joseph. Quid pro quo.
What am I willing to give up in order to regain my life? What do I still have ? What of love? Do I dare rebuild when I know that another flood will come? Do I move to higher ground? What can I offer to my side of the timeless equation of Quid pro quo? What is my “this” and what is the eventual “that” which I might hope to gain? Perhaps it is only time that can bring answers to these questions. While I wait for these, I will keep packing the faux wood-grain, cardboard boxes and affixing the lids. I will continue to stack them, neatly, in my mind. Some of these, I will place up front where I can get to them easily while others, I will bury deep in the back and toward the bottom in the hopes that I will never again have to see what’s inside of them.
Quid pro quo, Joseph. Quid pro quo.