Combination Lock

Three turns to the right. Stop at “Guilt.”

Two turns to the left. Stop at “Self-loathing.”

One turn to the right. Stop at “Guilt for the narcissism of self-loathing.”

Open the safe. Inside, you will find another, small safe.

Three turns to the right. Stop at “Anger.”

Two turns to the left. Stop at “Impatience.”

One turn to the right. Stop at “Self loathing for feeling angry and impatient.”

Open the safe. This time, you’ll find a drawstring bag inside. Open it, and out will flow dozens of small, egg-sized capsules. Each is clear, with a folded up piece of paper inside of it. You can open the capsules look at the writing on the papers if you like. One will say “Happiness.” Another will say “Misery.” Another will say “Oddball.” Another will say “Unique.”

There’s something else in the cloth bag. If you reach right to the bottom of it, you’ll find a needle. The moment you try to pull it out, you’ll find the cloth bag unraveling. But if you leave the needle in place, you’ll be able to put all the capsules back inside. Then you can draw the strings shut tight, and even tie them. You can put the bag inside the first safe, and put that back inside the second. You know the combination now, so it’s no trouble going in and retrieving the bag whenever you like.

But what if you lock both those safes and throw them into an ecologically correct trash heap? Melt them down, use the metal to make… not bullets or guns, no… not spearheads either… and not jail-bars… how about wrought iron railings, delicate and beautiful, the kind you can train vines and flowers to grow around? Then you can still feel safe, but you don’t have to look at a cage or a weapon. You can’t use the railings against yourself, because you can step over them and make them beautiful. Forget the flowers – even without them, they’re beautiful. Just wait, see if other people admire them. I’ll bet you they will.

What about the bag, you ask? Well, that’s still with you, isn’t it? Tie it to your belt. Let people look into it sometimes. Let the people you love go in deeper, and sometimes maybe take a risk with a stranger. Don’t worry, they can’t steal anything. Even if they take one of those capsules in there, a new one will pop back instead of it. But more importantly, spend some time with that bag yourself. Look into it. Sort it out. See what belongs and what doesn’t. See, this is the magic about it – if anyone else tries to take something away, it’ll pop right back. But if you give it to them willingly or get rid of it yourself, it’s gone for good.

Careful, though. Don’t throw away “Compassion,” or “Love,” or even “Fear.” Don’t let yourself throw all of it away, both good and bad. Keep most of it. Just sort out things like “Pointless Guilt” and “Worthlessness” and you’ll have a good start going.

But remember the combination. If you don’t know how to open that first safe, you’ll never get anywhere. What if the combination changes, you ask? Ah, well, if it does, I trust you’ll be able to listen to that little click-click when the wheel hits the right place, so you’ll crack it in no time. Just make sure to try.

Across Five States: Into Ohio

Night had fallen, my brother was driving, my mother was holding the rat-cage, and we drove into Ohio. Music was blaring out of the speakers from my brother’s iPod, and the two hours driving in the dark were an experience unto themselves. Lamps were scarce on the highway, we were surrounded by trucks bigger than us [several of which were swerving alarmingly at some points] and we were just driving and driving, the road seeming to go nowhere.

A curious thing about the highway through Ohio – there are lots and lots of bridges going over it. Low bridges, just over the height of one of the huge trucks, that seem to go through from one city to another or to lead from one part of town to the other. What we enjoyed about these bridges was the fact that they were all named, the green sign hanging on the bridge for all those driving underneath to see. We passed some boring ones of course, but we found one particularly road with a wonderful name: Bittersweet Road. It conjured up the images of tragedy and drama, a small town in crisis perhaps or a pair of star-crossed lovers.

As my brother and I sang along to the wonderful voice of Amanda Palmer, the cabaret music of The World Inferno Friendship Society and the hilarious lyrics of Jonathen Coulten, the miles went by swiftly. Eventually, around eleven at night, we followed one of the many blue signs pointing to wayside motels. We chose the Day’s Inn, parked,  and entered.

“Excuse me?” my mother called to the receptionist. He was a young guy who was on the phone. He spoke to us, revealing an Indian accent.

“Yes, hello,” he smiled.

“We’d like a room for three – with two double beds please.”

“Long day of driving, huh?” he asked rhetorically, smiled, and asked my mother for credit card information. Once the transaction was complete, he handed us our room keys – the plastic card kind – and explained that we needed to enter through the back. We did so, and stuck the key in the lock, a plastic box with a red light showing on it. We slid the card in time after time, but it stayed resolutely red. Eventually, we had to go back and get the keys reprogrammed. It didn’t help. Tempers were running high by this time, in the tired sort of way that tempers run when their victims are especially weary. Again, we walked to the receptionist, and this time he got new keys and came with us to make sure they worked.

Finally, we settled in our room, sneaked the poor rats in and fed them and retired to surprisingly comfortable beds.