A Significant Day
Chapter 1: A Significant Day
The day before a significant day seems like nothing to be cherished. No dire decision must be made. No chance must be taken. Life carries on casually without consequence or concern. With repercussions minimal, money is made and money is spent and all that matters is the simple passing of the hours. Then, a significant day comes along. The insignificant day suddenly becomes wasted time. The ramifications of a decision that may have seemed to have meant absolutely nothing the day before become much more substantial. Weight arrives upon unsuspecting shoulders and many of those shoulders collapse. One spilt beer can make for the greatest party that 1.2 million people have ever been to. One heart is broken and the entire population of a greater metropolitan area ceases to exist. A gift becomes a curse. These are very specific examples.
The day before the most significant day in history was a good day for many people. Then again, perhaps the day before the significant day was actually the significant one. The inanity of its events made it seem otherwise, but, without those events, things would not have ended up occurring as they did. Perhaps there are no insignificant days. Perhaps there is only the illusion of an insignificant day. Perhaps the notion of the mundane helps people think they are prepared for excitement. They can reserve their strength, their anxiety, their volition for the big event. But, if they had only kept sharp, they may have been more prepared. After all, an unused muscle deteriorates. Perhaps the realization that there are no insignificant days allows a man to remain limber and poised, ready to react at a moment’s notice. Maybe, if the Ripple Six had treated every day with fervor, they would have been more prepared for the events that would lead to the end of the world.
On the day before what seemed to be the significant day, Chester and Arch were getting high in their apartment, as they did most days. This is how insignificant people make insignificant days a little more significant assuming there are insignificant days at all. It was about four in the afternoon. Erin was there too. She only smoked when the guys did. Chester and Arch were pretty committed to the lifestyle.
Erin had never effectively been much more than a reflection of the people she was around. But, every friend group does well to have a mirror in it. A mirror makes the rest of the group feel good about their strengths and positive qualities. Mirrors also make the rest of the group view and potentially develop disdain for their own faults and failings if they have the good sense and humility to do so. It was not that Erin lacked a personality. It was that she allowed her personality to be fluid to gain the favor of those she came in contact with. She cared enough about those around her to let them see themselves in her. As far as pleasing people goes, it was a rather ingenious type of person to be.
Damien and Madeleine were intertwined in the back bedroom. They were intertwined back there more often than not. An observer might have a difficult time determining where one body ended and the other began. Damien and Madeleine had nearly reached the place where they could not either.
Immediately, upon meeting, Damien and Madeleine formed a type of spiritual and emotional mutualistic symbiosis. This is a state of mutual benefit that occurs naturally when needs are met equally in two or more separate parties. Both parties do fine before meeting each other but quickly find they benefit and thrive from each other’s company and cooperation. Damien and Madeleine had this type of relationship. Damien was a musician and Madeleine was a photographer. They both saw life’s varying guises and attempted to remove its masks and unlock truth through their own respective mediums. Damien had a pretty standard outlook for a musician. He saw darkness most places he looked and this sadness seemed to write his songs for him. In fact, he found merit in melancholy. It was realism to him. He would not be blinded by bliss. Madeleine saw beauty all around her. The untied shoe of a homeless man at the bus station was the perfect picture of a man who has scoured and scrounged searching for the American dream. She saw a man who never stopped trekking and, though he may be down on his luck at the moment, he would never stop. At least he had a shoe to be untied. Damien saw it as an indicator that no matter how long or hard you walked, life would untie your shoe over and over again. Damien found solace in sadness. Madeleine found potential for positivity in something that was broken. Between the two of them, the vibrant, spinning world eventually settled into a certain shade of grey; a shade of grey that seemed to them as an all-encompassing understanding and ostensible state of peace. They grounded each other. Unchecked optimism can blind the eye to reality and rampant pessimism can cripple the soul. Damien and Madeleine met each other between two worldviews and created a new one. It was a worldview that can only be had by two people in communion with each other.
Off of the coast of Laguna, a city in the South of Brazil, certain bottlenose dolphins have created a similar relationship with the local fishermen. The dolphins corral schools of mullet into a closed off area and notify the fisherman of their presence by slapping their tails on the water. The fishermen promptly move to the location and net the fish. Once the fish are immobilized, the dolphins are able to pick them easily from the net and devour any stray fish with minimal effort.
In Ethiopia and Kenya, tribes of the Borana Oromo people, or Boran, have developed a similar relationship with the honeyguide bird. Honeyguides feed primarily on the larvae and wax that they find in honeycombs. The Boran are only interested in the sweet honey that the bees create. The honeyguide birds are far more skilled at locating the bee colonies than their human counterparts but extraction of their food source proves to be quite difficult. The Boran have no problem digging the honeycombs out once they have found the bee colony. These African people have developed a whistle to summon the honeyguide bird and when it is blown, the honeyguide leads the Boran to the nearest source of honey, wax and grub. It does not leave its human companion behind in the journey to the bee colony, knowing that it needs the humans to effectively extract the honeycombs. Once the beehive is located by the birds, the Boran people knock it down and break it open, making it easy for the birds to sift through the wreckage, finding the delectable larvae they crave. The people, because the birds had led them there, can now harvest as much honey as they desire. Both parties gain something in each other’s companionship.
Damien and Madeleine were the bottlenose dolphins and the fishermen. They were the honeyguide and the Boran. The dolphins and the fisherman both caught fish before they were introduced but they caught much more while they worked in tandem. The Boran and the birds harvested honey and food before they unified their efforts but their search flourished in the company of each other. For an artist, inspiration is food. Where Damien and Madeleine had come across inspiration before, their unity seemed to yield unimaginable results. Though this all was true, their relationship was not exclusively pragmatic. Madeleine had a laugh that shined light into the darkest corners of Damien’s soul. When Madeleine’s world was spinning out of control, Damien seemed to be able to grab it with one unwavering hand and place it back where it needed to be.
“Listen to this,” Damien said solemnly as he reached for an old Moleskine notebook. The notebook was weathered and worn, tattered and torn over years of philosophical tussling.
I am creator. I am God.
So, I sewed your soul from straw.
I looked, I loved. Good, what I saw.
But coursing wind revealed your flaw.
And so I sculpted you from clay.
You managed to last for many days.
But the years passed by, brought you to decay.
Slowly you were unmade.
“What do you think?”
“I think I’m sad now,” Madeleine sighed. This is how this conversation usually went. Her mood, her state of mind and her life were all genuinely affected by his writing.
“No, but really,” said Damien persistently. Madeleine took her time. She never responded hastily to Damien’s poetry.
“You think we should be unmade?” Light crept into the room from between the cracks in the blinds covering the window. It gave them a small portion of light by which they could see each other and the world around them.
“In this poem, man is the creator and god is the creation,” he said.
“Why would you make god out of straw?” Madeleine asked incredulously. Damien looked at her. She was adorable. It was all he could do not to kiss her every time he saw her beautiful, freckled face.
“I made God out of straw because it is what I had and I liked the way it looked.” Damien explained, “If there is a god, it is something distant to us now. Something we must create for ourselves. Monotheistic believers tend to create their god out of stone. Stone is permanent and immovable. It gives no room for the belief to breathe. So, I made god out of straw. But, straw could not hold up against opposition so I revised my creation. And, once again, I was forced to unmake it.”
“Should you be making gods, Damien?”
“I have to! If it was clear what god was, everyone would agree on it. It would have showed itself to us by now. We would have a clear, unarguable picture of god but as it is, we do not. We have to paint the picture for ourselves. I want to know what I am looking at more than anything but god seems not to care enough to show me.” Damien was becoming frenzied by this point in the conversation. As he spoke, he realized he was both questioning and answering, assured and clueless.
“For someone who claims not to know if there is or is not a god, Damien, you spend a great deal of time antagonizing the idea of it. I feel like that is dangerous. If you see something that you think is a sleeping bear in the woods, do you walk up and poke it to see if it is asleep?” She knew she had a point. “I would not. I would just admire it from afar and let it go on sleeping.”
Damien did not respond immediately. He gave a bit of thought to this idea. “I think I would poke it,” he said.
“No, you wouldn’t. Why?”
“To see if it’s actually a bear.”
This is how it was with them and it was good.
At this point, Peter was arriving at the apartment. A record of a muddled genre spun seamlessly in the corner. The voice of a young Jewish gentleman escaped the speakers, singing misguided, self-absorbed, yet incomparably perceptive commentary on his own apathy. The melody was sanguine. The singer’s voice was abrasive. This coarse vocal styling was essential for this band’s particular fan base. Without it, the music would be too accessible. It would be too listenable. The lyrics were poetic and insightful. The choices in instrumentation were enlightened and relatively reachable. Every cadence made for a record that a mother of three could listen to in her minivan as she dutifully picked up her eldest from soccer practice. But, no soccer mom listened to this record. That voice, that sonic sandpaper, unsettling as it was, gave its hearers hope that the dirtiest and most downtrodden of people could be insightful, inspired, and artistic. There was no smoke, no mirrors, no auto-tune, just truth delivered by the unlikeliest of troubadours.
Peter entered the apartment and was met by a bombardment of smoke, laughter and the sounds from the record player. Peter, like Damien and Madeleine, was a spiritual kid. For Peter, nothing was insignificant. Every occurrence had cosmic consequences. The day before Peter quit smoking cigarettes, he bought a blue pack of American Spirits and the cash register displayed the price, $6.66. The pack of cigarettes cost six dollars and sixty-six cents. It was as if the Lord Himself had descended from His throne on high and possessed that cash register in Indianapolis to speak to Peter directly. Peter panicked. He got into his car, sweating from his anxiety. For weeks prior, he had been considering quitting, going back and forth on the pros and cons of continuing a relationship with cigarettes. Now, on a suddenly significant evening, he had his answer. Those numbers on the cash register told Peter that cigarettes were from and for the devil.
Luckily, for Peter, he had his own numbers. The Lord created the world in seven days and Peter would create a new world for himself using the same number. He immediately removed thirteen cigarettes from the blue pack, broke them in half with an unbridled level of conviction and threw them away. Everything made sense to Peter in this moment. Biblically, thirteen was a symbol of rebellion. The dragon, Satan, is mentioned thirteen times in the book of Revelation. Nimrod, thirteenth in the line of Ham, one of three sons of Noah, was infamously rebellious. His name was derived from the Hebrew verb “marad” which means “to rebel” and it is believed that Nimrod was responsible for establishing a kingdom, the kingdom of Babylon. The tower of Babel was found within Nimrod’s kingdom. Peter wanted no part in the Tower of Babel and he wanted no part in rebellion against the Lord and he wanted no part in the number thirteen. By breaking thirteen cigarettes that evening, he was rebellion against rebellion itself. This left him with seven cigarettes.
Seven cigarettes were left. Like in the seven days of creation, a new world would form in Peter’s heart over the course of those seven cigarettes. Like the seven trumpets blown by the seven priests around the walls of Jericho, he puffed on those cigarettes with vigor and the walls of his addiction crumbled. This night occurred one hundred and thirty eight days before what seemed to be the day before the significant day and Peter had not smoked cigarettes since.
Pot makes you hungry and so does intertwining so, by now, everyone in the apartment was ready to eat. Damien and Madeleine emerged triumphantly from the back bedroom and Damien asked if anyone wanted to go get food. He was answered with the excited eyes and smiles a child holds on Christmas morning. Food would be such a treat.
The gang put on their shoes and jackets and stumbled into daylight. A soft, February sun met their shoulders so gingerly it was as if it was not there at all. Seen but hardly felt, it smiled their eyes and set them upon their way.
It had been a merciful winter thus far. It had only snowed thrice and never more than a few inches. It was odd for Indiana. The meteorologists claimed that they were still in for some sizable, typical Hoosier winter weather despite the delay, but it certainly had not come yet. It was as if Old Man Winter had overslept and was late to his shift that year. Either that or he was waiting on something. Save a couple stubborn leaves, the trees were completely barren. Considering the time of year, it was a strange miracle any foliage remained there at all. But, like dinner guests holding on to an enjoyable evening as long as they possibly could, a few leaves lingered.
An Indian buffet at the end of a strip mall about three blocks away was decided upon as their dinner destination. It was one of the most consequential decisions any of them had ever made. They were oblivious to this fact. The soles of their shoes began consuming the pavement and their laughter filled the air.
As the Ripple Six traveled down the sidewalk, one solitary, miraculously remaining leaf, a last bastion of the passed seasons decided it was its own fateful time to fall and separated itself from its tree. It landed noiselessly in the hood of Damien’s jacket. Madeleine pulled it out and held it in her hand for a minute. In the dehydrated veins of that leaf was a dead season. She saw proof that those days were gone but not forgotten and lived in her memory for a moment. The leaf told her that the past had happened, but that it had to go. Each season must give way to its successor. The world must keep on spinning, setting the stage for life and death. The ebb and flow of creation and destruction sat, encompassed in a moment in her palm and she gave thanks for all of it. All would soon be dead and born again. All would soon be dead and born again. All would soon be dead and born again. Right now, they were dying.
They made it to the Indian buffet and piled their plates with naan, rice, chicken dishes and various spicy curries and chutneys. The laughter continued. Their bellies filled and the laughter continued and right next door was a store they would soon go into, a store that held something either eternally unfunny or cosmically laughable. Maybe, it was both.
They paid their checks and exited the restaurant, once again inviting the last rations of sun for the day to their shoulders. Arch had put on sunglasses to shield his lowered gaze. He spun around just like the world was doing under his feet. He had not planned the spin but it could be said that something did. Maybe it was God. Maybe it was Charles Darwin. Maybe it was little green men who had planted antennae in the spine of every man and controlled them like RC cars from a planet far away. Who it was did not matter. Why, at the moment, did not either. Where and when were the operative questions.
The spin slowed and Arch found himself staring at a tattered sign above a dingy storefront. “Yesterday’s Folly Antiques” held in rotting wooden letters and chipped paint. Arch read it aloud. “We should go in there,” he said and they did.