I lie. I lie a lot. I have been lying for thirty-two years, non-stop. It started out rather innocently at first, and my lies have mushroomed into creating a life I did not choose, but one I wear on my back like a hair shirt. Each and every day of those years, I promised myself I would unwind the world I have created, bare my soul to the people I continue to hurt, and live just one day at peace.
It’s been said that telling a lie is like sticking a shovel into the ground, turning over a clump of grass and starting a small hole. Each subsequent lie digs the hole a little deeper. Each attempt to cover that lie digs it deeper still. Yet, the series of holes I have dug are too big, too winding, too entrenched to wave off with a simple Mea Culpa. The Grand Canyon’s got nothing on me.
As the sun’s rays reach down for the horizon, late on a summer’s evening, I’m at the one place where my twisted soul can find a small moment of peace; walking the bike path at Delaware Park in the heart of the City of Buffalo. The path is a 1.8-mile track that circles around softball diamonds and soccer fields, surrounding a nine-hole golf course and drifting past the under-appreciated Buffalo Zoo. Nothing gets your pace increased more than the drifting aroma of the bison exhibit. This verdant pasture is all a part of the Buffalo Olmsted Park System, one of the true jewels of my home town.
As the sun drops, I am close to violating another law. The park closes at sunset and I’m pushing my limit. My plan is three laps and that will extend my walk past dark. Going to my home in Amherst tonight without this walk would be just too much to put my mind and body through. I simply want to get through the night and get some sleep without turning over one more shovel full of deceit. Each lap takes a half hour to complete and I need every step of it to ease the pain.
How did I ever get myself in this position, living every moment as if a guillotine’s blade was poised and ready to drop just above the collar of my Under Armor shirt? I had good jobs, gained enough experience in manufacturing to be in a position to travel the country as a consultant, finding myself on the road as many as five nights a week. That travel has enabled me to create my cover, live my life one step ahead of the executioner. Crimes? By most standards they are minor but not so minor that being exposed wouldn’t destroy my life from so many different angles. Any attorney worth his or her salt would have a field day, like vultures picking at a carcass. Do I deserve that fate? Absolutely, but none of my crimes were committed with intent. I’m not really a bad person. I told a lie, one of arrogance, not meanness; you can say that it was minor manipulation for personal gain, not wanting to cause anyone in my life any pain. But the hole was dug, then another, and another and the canyon widened.
As I pass my car for the first time, the sky has turned from dark blue to glowing red. The sun has slipped below the horizon, leaving a colorful memory of itself across the wispy clouds above. I try to take this walk as often as possible. It’s one of the few consistencies in my life. Despite the quality of my work, I avoid the spotlight at all costs. My picture will never appear on the news, in the local paper or in trade journals. It is in my best interest to remain anonymous. If I get involved in a golf or tennis tournament, events I could win with ease, I will drive serves into the net or nine irons into the water on purpose to avoid winning and the notoriety it would bring.
My choices require two vastly different cars as well as two distinctly different wardrobes. Two separate doctors send bills to two different addresses, addressed to two different names. Not only do I live two diverse lives, I am two different people with two different birthdays and I always celebrate them with my family. My craving is to be just one inhabitant of this skin but not sure how to get there or how I would ever consolidate. My whole life is documented on Google calendars, coded in seven colors, designed so that no one but me could ever decipher it. I spend little time with a spouse or children despite adoring them all. For the most part, I am a ghost in their lives, and we are ships passing in the night. They can, however, reach me at any time on one of my two separate cell phone numbers that are both forwarded to my one device. Life is a balancing act and I am the master juggler, the guy with six long sticks balancing spinning plates. There is no time off. Should just one of those plates shatter to the ground, so would the juggler.
Is it possible that yesterday was the fall of the first plate?
Age is becoming the enemy. The first thing to go is short-term memory. I have noticed minor hiccups starting to form. Forgetting keys, walking into the next room to find them and forgetting why I walked into the room in the first place. Calling people by the wrong name saying the wrong things in the wrong company. For a man living life on a tight rope, any slip of the tongue is a slip of the noose. I can be no less than perfect at all times with absolutely no room for error. Living with that form of self-created pressure is, at times, unbearable. I wish this life on no one, least of all me.
The second lap is not much different than the first. The attendant at the snack bar had been racing through the process of closing for the night. When I approach the stand for the second time it is dark and all evidence of customers and server have disappeared. Cars parked around the outer ring of the path have dwindled to one or two. As I glide along the parkway, it officially becomes nighttime in Buffalo. Rounding past the starters shed at the golf course, my car comes into view in the distance. It is decision time. Do I climb into my car and head home or do I break the law and try to squeeze in one more lap?
The hardest choice, do I make a decision on what I came here to contemplate?
Every single hour of every single day is spent in search of a way out of my predicament. What purpose would one more lap serve in that search? One doesn’t survive a lifetime such as mine without a small bit of optimism. Maybe one more lap will provide the answer that has eluded me to this point. At the very least, it will delay a return to my life for another thirty minutes. How’s that for optimism? One more lap as I pass my car on the right, parked along Ring Road, near the soccer fields. As I go by, I glance into the driver’s window and see the envelope containing my admission of guilt. It awaits me like rifles at a firing squad, aimed at me for one last goodbye.
Ahead of me, a line of vehicles is inching forward, each one waiting to pull out of the zoo parking lot and then onto Parkside Avenue. One guard stands at the exit but doesn’t see me stride by. The only cars still in the lot belong to employees left behind to clean up for the next day’s crowds. As the zoo passes out of my view, the silence of the now-empty park surrounds me, bringing a modicum of peace to the end of a hectic day.
Having returned to Buffalo this morning, I went to Spot Coffee on Elmwood and set up my office there. Traveling as much as I do makes paying rent for an office space pointless. Hiring a secretary to keep track of me would be dangerous in the life I have chosen. I maintain just this mobile office, but despite the dangers, I was fortunate to find Emily. She has been a lifesaver for me. She is loyal beyond any definition of the word and seems to understand me better than anyone else on the planet. She helps coordinate my lives between appointments and emails and personal plans. She always, always has my back. I honestly don’t think I could have survived all these years without her help. Working from her home, she is able to bring sanity to my beyond-crazy existence. She remains the only person on the planet who knows all of my secrets.
Circling the park is my only true me-time, my sanctuary. More than once I have dreamed of dying and having my remains buried here along the path with no headstone, no trace of my life, no monument to my stupidity. Just peace and tranquility, surrounded by the footsteps of those seeking answers to questions far less complicated than mine were. Whispering to each passing soul, “Don’t worry. Look at me. It all works out in the end.”
In an effort to get out of the park under my own control and not that of flashing police lights, I pick up the pace. I notice my increased pace in my calf muscles, but I try to ignore them so I can keep up my momentum. I have all night to rest. I push past the next exit, leaving the zoo behind for good. The path starts to follow along Amherst Street as lights start to illuminate the interiors of the beautiful homes that grace the street. I push past the Colvin Boulevard entrance then the beautiful Nichols High School campus and its athletic fields. The path swings to the left as the park intersects with Nottingham Terrace, one of Buffalo’s elite neighborhoods. My mind leaves its never-ending troubles behind as I try to carve five minutes or more off my average lap time, partially for the health benefits and partially to avoid the Buffalo Police Department. Only one car is visible along the pathway as I near the snack bar for the third and last time.
One foot in front of the other, walking shoes slapping at the pavement, half a lap from the end. It feels as if I am running away from a life that has become more than I can bear. I am haunted by a feeling of dread, like my world as I have constructed it, is about to disintegrate at my feet. My walk doesn’t wear me out anywhere near as much as the executioner’s song that plays over and over in my head. It’s not my own demise that saps my energy, it’s the thought of the pain that will crush the people that have trusted me all these years, moored their lives to mine, ones who saw me as a man of integrity, someone they could trust and count on no matter what happened. I can see their smiles ahead of me as I walk. Will I ever see those smiles again?
As I circle the park for my last lap, the snack bar is dark and deserted. The signs and menus have been pulled inside. I move along the tall clump of bushes just past the snack bar. Two strides later, I can feel a stinging sensation in the back of my neck, like a wasp or a yellowjacket taking out their vengeance on me. Did I step on a fallen nest, disrupting their twilight meanderings? I try to lift my right arm to fend off my attacker but it won’t respond. My left arm falters as well. Both have dropped to my side. My momentum keeps me moving forward but my legs no longer hold up their end of the bargain, causing me to fall forward to the bike path, face first. My body flips over once, leaving me flat on my back and looking straight up into the tree’s upper branches. No matter how hard I try, my limbs won’t respond. I am totally paralyzed. Only my eyes seem to move. I am feeling no pain and couldn’t scream out if I did. The dark limbs of the trees sway slightly. Bats are darting back and forth above the branches, catching their share of winged breakfast food. I can hear footsteps running but can’t tell if they are coming towards me or running away.
Air. The frustration of it being so available … yet my lungs seem incapable of drawing it in. This is not the death I had imagined; my life ending by a small bug instead of at the hands of the ones I have deceived for so long. I hear the sounds of the night … the birds singing their twilight song, the distant traffic … the light dims as each breath becomes more and more labored. I feel a slight sensation of blood trickling down my face. My thoughts slow. A pair of eyes look down at me but I can’t form the words I intend, “Don’t worry! Look at me! It all works out in the end!”