december 1k

dec 1k
Levi is a young man who just sat down next to me on the park bench and shook my hand and said, “Levi.”

I said, “Nice to meet you.”

I go to the park in the dead of winter to think.  The cold makes my thoughts feel crisp and clear.  It’s my favorite way of getting privacy while being out in the open.  I watch the ducks paddle around the half-frozen pond and wonder how they stand the cold.

I can tell Levi wants to say something to me.  I don’t talk much in general, so people in general gravitate toward me when they have something to say.  He turns to me but only sighs, and the frosty white cloud of his breath crosses my lap.  In summer you’re asking for it, but generally, in winter, parks are safe from these sorts of encounters.

“Alright Levi, just lay it on me before we freeze to death,” I say, almost involuntarily.  He looks me in the eye in this crazy way that makes me think, Run!

Before I can make that decision, he stands and takes off his suit coat and casts it to the ground. “I make over half a million dollars a year, and I’m not even thirty,” he says.  Then he takes off his black leather gloves and throws them into the pond.

It scares the ducks and me, and the ducks and me watch to see what will happen next.

“I’m an executive at the largest bank in the region and was just made an offer I can’t refuse by one of the largest banks in the world.”  He unbuttons his cuffs.

“So what’s your problem,” I ask – freaking out.

“When I was seventeen, I lived in a small town and got my girlfriend pregnant, and we got married within a couple months, and then she lost the baby, and then I told her I wanted a divorce…” he trails off, shivering now.  “I left town.  She crawled into the bed of her dad’s big old farm truck with the engine running and the garage sealed up, and made a bed there and went to sleep forever.”  He’s really shivering now.  “I vowed to never again get involved with another woman.  I devoted my life to work.  I fill my head with numbers and try to push out the guilt and sadness.  I send money to her parents once a month – like I’ve put their forgiveness on layaway.  I can’t turn back time, but I can throw money around, and everyone can use some extra cash, right?”

“Most people,” I say.  “Yes.”

He sits back down.  We watch his gloves bob in the pond.

“So what’s the matter today?”

He looks at me, and I look at him, and his eyes make me suspect he doesn’t sleep much.

“I’m in love,” he says and even almost cries about it.

“That’s probably healthy,” I say.  “You still have a life to live.”

“You’re married?”

“Yes,” I say.



“And you’re happy – a good man who’s faithful and loves his wife and kids, right?”

“Yet we still find ourselves escaping to the same park bench you and me,” I point out.  “You should explore this relationship and see what happens.”

He rolls up his sleeves and puts his fists together face-up, thumbs out.  On his left wrist is tattooed NEVER and on his right AGAIN.

This guy is hard core.

Then he unbuttons his shirt and drops it on the suit coat, and then he pulls off his t-shirt too, and I’m frozen by what I see:

There must be two hundred NEVER AGAINs wrapped around and around his torso and down both arms.  Across his lower back is a big pick up truck and I’M SORRY BRITTANY.

I’m speechless.

He holds his arms out from his sides – hands still in fists – and faces skyward with closed eyes.  His whole body is pink now.  I’m not sure what to do.  I have nothing to say, and I’m not a hugger.

Then I find myself taking off my own coat, then my dress shirt, then my t-shirt.  “Come on!” I yell, and the next thing I know I’m hovering, suspended in the air over the duck pond, and in that split second I wonder how this is going to help.

And that’s when I look back to the park bench, and no one is there – just a really expensive suit coat and dress shirt.

I crash into the water, and it feels like broken glass.  A metallic taste I can only compare to batteries comes into my mouth.  My limbs lock into place.  I open my eyes, and a million needles push into them.

My wrists say NEVER AGAIN.

My body says I’M SORRY.

But all I can think about is my wife and kids and leaving my past down here.  My wife has forgiven me of my mistakes.  She knows me more deeply than tattoos.  The extreme cold makes these thoughts more crisp and clear in my mind than any have ever been.  I force my fists open and my hands to paddle.

I collapse in the dead grass on the shore, and I think the ducks are laughing at me.  I don’t want to die here with the ducks, so I keep moving.

I sit, dripping all over my expensive car with the heat blasting, and I suspect that I’m dying.  If I live, I’ll refuse the world bank deal and be a husband and father instead of an empty shell.

I look at the NEVER AGAIN in my lap, and I think, “That’s right.”  I’ll never again make others pay for my mistakes.

I close my eyes and sit back.  The heater roars.  The pain in my joints is excruciating, and my chest is on fire.  My mind fades.  I blame the heat.  It always makes me sleepy.  I hope I wake up in time for dinner, and I wonder why I can’t move my fingers.

16 Responses to “december 1k”

  1. 1 Stephanie 12/14/2009 at 10:16 pm

    Holleh molleh.

    My favorite yet. And my favorite line: “I have nothing to say, and I’m not a hugger.”

  2. 2 Ramona 12/15/2009 at 8:51 am

    sad and hopeful at the same time.

  3. 3 claire 12/15/2009 at 11:50 am

    hard core.

    me too steph. the best line.

  4. 4 heather 12/16/2009 at 2:44 pm

    what the f***? someone has a few novels in them. or collections or something! which one of you is it? or both? …this kind-of reminds me of fight club. but you;re touching on something so heavy for most people, forgiving ourselves. it’s really beautiful.

  5. 5 marthasnail 12/16/2009 at 8:22 pm

    i think this is my favorite too. excellent.

  6. 6 amisha 12/16/2009 at 10:51 pm

    it just keeps getting better and better, this project, this combination of that image + these words. fantastic work you two.

  7. 7 donna 12/16/2009 at 11:02 pm

    wow. speechless.

  8. 9 beth 12/17/2009 at 10:53 am

    so many great moments in this. another good line — “like I’ve put their forgiveness on layaway”. and the picture of his breath like a cloud crossing ‘i’s’ lap. but of course that glance back to just the pile of clothes — sheesh, you. just know that this comment of “good” is weighted with gold. thanks, you two. 🙂

  9. 10 Maureen S 12/17/2009 at 3:03 pm

    my heart aches.


  10. 12 Brian 12/17/2009 at 7:55 pm

    Better every time.

  11. 13 Raeh 12/23/2009 at 9:22 pm

    Totally floored by this

    (stubbled across your flickr and blog via “habit” blog…love it)

  12. 14 carolyn (girlreaction) 01/08/2010 at 10:26 pm


  13. 15 louise 01/09/2010 at 6:29 pm

    that was great to read

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