The Stranger's journey has now come full circle.
Join me in the bright sunshine at When Words Go Free...

There are still stories to be told.
Read them at The Stranger Looks Back.


He woke up in a daze. His surroundings seemed both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. He wasn't quite sure whether he was here or there, what was real and what was not. Until then, he had always been able to separate the two, even when there was some overlap.

Now, the bridge that he walked seemed more like a balance beam, on its way to becoming a tightrope. He didn't know if he was more afraid of falling off or staying on. And if he were to fall off, which side he was more afraid of falling into.

He had not expected this, not even a little. In fact, he hadn't been so thrown for a loop since he first started walking that bridge, so long ago. Despite appearances, he generally knew where he was, the impression of omnipresence entirely by design. It was not that he had any specific plan - he knew better than that - but he did have a general direction in mind.

He had very recently been reminded, quite serendipitously, that there was a time he was indeed looking for answers to questions that didn't need any. Then, there had been an answer that now seemed almost prophetic; considering the source, this did not surprise him at all. The apparent randomness of the reminder made him wonder if the universe was going out of its way to prove the point.

He knew that things would unfold as they should, and that the best he could do is enjoy the unfolding. As far as he had come in this respect, he was having trouble with it now. As much as wanted to just be wherever this was, at least some part of him wanted to believe that it would bring him somewhere else some day. But he knew that's not how it works.

As he considered these things, he realized that his confusion was just part of where he was, something to be experienced, not overcome. It would find its own way to where it should bring him; all he had to do was try to keep up while remaining true to himself. As much as this scared him, and as much as part of him still wanted answers and reassurances to magically appear, he accepted where he was and welcomed the next leg of his journey with open arms.

At that moment, he did know one thing for sure. The lines that he had so diligently drawn were now blurred beyond recognition, and for that, wherever his road led him, his worlds would never be the same again.

Old Friend, Revisited

I am starting to think that I may have had an affair.

I was separated from my wife at the time. She was a friend of a friend of my wife. At one point, she had been a friend of my wife, but they had a falling out. I don't know why.

We had become friends, in a casual sort of way. We just kind of clicked, as people, not as a man and a woman. At least not that we would acknowledge to each other. We had many common interests, a similar life view, whatever that is, and a sense of camaraderie.

A couple of months into my year-long separation, a singer was coming to town that we both liked. I bought tickets. I asked my wife if she would mind if I went with her. My wife didn't mind. I asked her if she wanted to go. She asked me if my wife would mind. I said she wouldn't. He didn't sing my favourite song of his because he never sings anything from his first album. Other than that, the show was magical.

Over the next several months, we went to two other shows together, also with my wife's "permission." They were also magical. For one of them, we took the subway. On the ride back to where I had parked my car, our bare arms brushed against each other for a second or two. It felt like nothing I had ever felt before, or since. That was the only time we ever actually touched during that time.

During this time, the time of my separation, we talked. A lot. A real lot. We would spend hours on the phone, so much that we both upped our long-distance plans, after those first devastating bills. We talked about anything and everything. We acknowledged our attraction to each other. We discussed life, music, politics, children, relationships. You name it, we talked about it. We fell asleep on the phone together at least once, maybe more.

Once, when I dropped her off after the last of those shows, she invited me in for coffee before my long drive home. We had coffee, we smoked cigarettes, and we talked. A lot. A real lot. At some point I said I should go. She stood at the top of the stairs as I walked down them, where I stopped at the door to outside, and turned towards her to say goodbye. Then we talked. A lot...

That whole time, that night, I wanted to walk up those stairs. I wanted our skin to touch again. I wanted to hug her. I wanted to kiss her. I didn't do any of those things. Some time after we noticed that the sun had come up, we said our goodbyes from our respective ends of the stairwell, and I opened the door to outside and left.

The Thin Blue Line

Sometimes he wondered if he would ever get there. With each step, he knew that he must be getting closer, but it always seemed just out of reach. It looked like he was getting closer, but it didn't feel like it, as though it were all an illusion. Maybe it was.

Each morning he would wake up thinking, "Today. It will be today." Each night he would go to bed thinking, "Tomorrow. It will be tomorrow." Each day the line got thinner, to the point of being almost invisible, but it was still there. It seemed like no matter what he did, not matter how hard he tried, it didn't make a difference. Like running on a treadmill, going as fast as he could without getting anywhere.

Then it occurred to him that maybe he was trying too hard, that he was too desperate. He had always believed that the universe in which he lived gave back what was put into it, but now he thought he might have misunderstood that at least a bit. That it wasn't simply a numbers game, a question of put more in, get more back.

He came to realize that in doing only for the promise of reward, he was denying himself that very reward. That the doing had no value, because he did not value it other than for what it could achieve. He understood now that he had been so focused on the destination that the journey had become meaningless.

His newfound understanding in hand, he let go of the "goal." He just put it out of his mind and went about his business, doing for the sake of doing, being for the enjoyment of being. He embarked upon the journey, and found that it was it's own reward.

Not long after this, it happened, seemingly without any effort on his part. While he wasn't even looking, he reached his original destination, and found that it was simply a step in the journey.

Vodka & Coke

It's her fault, that vodka and coke is my drink. I had always been a rum and coke kinda guy, Captain Morgan and all that, until I asked her what she was drinking. Vodka and coke? I never heard of that. Try it, she said. So I did. That's when I learned that vodka goes with just about anything, but not rum.

I might have gotten drunker that night than any other in my life. And why not? After all, it was an Irish wedding. My cousin's wedding. Her cousin's wedding. Our cousin's wedding. In case I might have forgotten, my grandmother's nurse was kind enough to remind me: "You know she's your cousin, right?"

I didn't much care. Or wouldn't have cared, had there been a reason not to. We danced. I don't dance, but we danced. We drank. We sat together on the bus back to Middleton. I think we may have fallen asleep. I don't remember how or why, but I didn't go back to the hotel. I went to her father's house. I think I might have prayed to the porcelain god - that would have been the rum and the vodka fighting it out.

We fell asleep on the sofa. I don't know why, but I'm sure it was a sofa, not a couch, even though I still don't know the difference. In any case we fell asleep on it, and woke up on it. All I remember of that is how peaceful it felt, how right, falling asleep like that, waking up to find our arms wrapped around each other, so close and yet so far.

There was nothing even remotely sexual, or even romantic, about any of it. It just felt good to be beside her. God she was beautiful. And so sad, it seemed. I knew she was married. I knew she wasn't happy. I knew that her husband, I think his name was John, was an asshole. That's what everybody said, anyways. I wondered why he wasn't there with her, at her cousin's wedding, at her father's house. She had said he had to work, but the looks on the faces of the others when she said that told me it wasn't so.

So what of it? I met a distant cousin, we seemed to hit it off in some sort of way, we had a really nice evening enjoying each other's company. We traded addresses and promised to keep in touch. And we did, for a short while. She wrote, I wrote back, she wrote back, I didn't. Her last letter scared me, so I put it off, meaning to write, but never did. I just didn't know how to deal with the awkwardness of it.

All these years later, I know there was something there, some unspoken connection between us. When two people meet and just take to each other, like that old cliché about how it feels like you've known each other forever, there is something there. At the very least, a friendship that could have been lasting and true. Maybe more, maybe not. I'll never know.

But hey, I saved myself from some awkwardness.