The Forgiveness Bypass

So, this story is a bit longer, and took about an hour and a half rather than the hour I had set as the goal. Still, think shooting for the hour is what’s important as it makes it more likely that the story will get written….think I might re-title the Fiction category to Fast Fiction….

It originated on New Year’s Eve with a joke about my 12 simple steps for a better you & me, and specifically the line about forgiving people but not telling them. It’s funny to think of how some people might react when you offer forgiveness that they are not looking for….anyway, Happy New Year.

The Forgiveness Bypass

Everyone had gone home; probably already asleep in their homes as everyone in his home was asleep. But he was not. He was too tired, too drunk, and -he thought -too happy to sleep.

The New Year had been ushered in, toasted, celebrated, the leftovers from the year before wrapped up, put away, and the dishes stacked in the sink. For an event that lasts a mere second, the transition from one year to the next, a lot of preparation is involved. This explains his being tired.

Being too happy was probably only related to being too drunk; and, being too drunk was probably related to the extended preparations and celebration around that particular moment in time. They had been consumed with cleaning, shopping, cooking, searching recipes, digging up dishes, serving, eating, drinking, talking – lots of talking – and then celebrating, then goodbyes at the door.

The friends and neighbors were gone, the wife and children asleep, but he stood on the back deck in the extraordinarily warm night air of January 1st. The stars were bright, his drink refreshed, and all the houses in the suburban safari dark. Even the dog was asleep at this point.

He was too tired to lie down, or at least that’s what he told himself, even though he knew it wasn’t true. He really was just not ready to let go of the last year, the year that had ended and was gone. He stood in the night of the New Year, but it was the old year where he lingered.

This had been a different New Year’s Eve, something had been missing, and he did not want to leave the old year without putting his finger on it. Everything had been the same, slightly different, but pretty much the same as every other New Year’s in his 50 something history.

He recalled those first New Years’ parties outside the domain of family, out with his friends, and how they roared through the night. It was the glimpses of those young faces crowding the streets of NYC on the television that first planted the seed of something missing in his head. He saw the wildness, the rowdiness, the roar of youth and felt unable to connect. What the hell was the big deal over one measly second?

That was when the seed was planted, and now standing in the backyard the thought was growing in his head and heart. He thought perhaps it was just getting old, that this is what happens, these empty rituals lose meaning in the rational light of day. If growing old meant anything, it meant growing more rational.

Taking a sip of his drink, he waxed over the decades. The 20′s, the 30′s, the 40′s, and the various incarnations of New Year’s celebrations he had passed through. They had all been the same, in one way or another. The places and faces had changed, but he had not.

Some had been better than others, but they had all been the same. Even after getting married, even after the kids, even on the suburban safari, the celebrations had relatively stayed the same.

Even when the children were still young, and the exhaustion of endless diapers and sleepless nights resulted in New Year’s being celebrated in bed barely awake – even that was the same as the parties from his roaring twenties.

Something was different this year, and he hoped in the stillness of the New Year night he might find the answer and then let go of the old year and get some sleep.

His biggest fear is that something had been missing all along, and he was only now discovering it so late in life. He feared, momentarily, that the last five decades had been missing an intrinsic truth. That was the biggest fear, and it sobered him up enough to go inside and refresh his drink.

He poured liberally from the near empty punch bowl, and on impulse grabbed the iPod docking station to bring outside with him. Perhaps the thoughts were merely abstractions, like mental lint gathering in his head rather than his navel. A little music might disperse it, break the hold, and bring the peace of mind he obviously was seeking.

With difficulty and determination, he balanced both his drink and the music player as he slipped back outside to the deck littered with empty bottles and glasses from guests who had taken advantage of the rare spring weather in winter. He pressed the play button, lowered the volume immediately, and then raised it appropriately so that it only slightly filled the void of human sounds that surrounded him. Auld Lang Syne began to play, and he smiled while taking his first sip.

Could it be this simple? Was it a simple song that was needed? He couldn’t remember them playing this at midnight, and realized then that it had been forgotten; then he laughed at the irony of it all as the Scottish lyrics traveled through the suburban NJ air.

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?”

He had forgotten and now remembered, and he felt better. He remembered, he remembered all the previous years, remembered all the decades, all the friends, all the places and faces of decades gone by.

“For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.”

And kindness surrounded him, the stars felt close, and the peace, the magic of New Year’s Eve night returned. That magic that existed in each and everyone one of all his New Year’s Eve returned. And it was magic; there was no other explanation as to how one second in time can have so much meaning behind it. The magic of a new year.

“We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine† ;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.”

With this peace came an underlying realization, and he swallowed it with a long draught of his drink – It concerned that prick who lived behind him.

He had known many pricks, big and small, but they never lived next door. He lived with them at work, worked with them on town committees & commissions, but never had he lived next door to one. It was the prick next door who had stolen his New Year’s magic – slowly, over the years, stolen the magic.

Then, as if his thoughts were made of matter and had traveled through the night, over the lawn and past the trees to his neighbor’s yard, the cock began to crow. His neighbor’s fookin’ rooster cried out as if in response to the man’s thoughts.

“Jesus Christ”, he muttered aloud, “I want to kill that son-of-bitch.” The desire was aimed at both the rooster and his neighbor, the only person in Oaktown to own a rooster.

Oaktown was a suburban town; no one owned chickens or roosters, so there was no need to have a law banning them. He had succeeded in getting a law passed, but his neighbor had been grandfathered in and was allowed to keep the rooster till it died. So the neighbor took exceptionally good care of the rooster.

It had all started rather simply, when he had complained of the inordinate amount of noise produced by an extended home renovation his neighbor was engaged in. The project had dragged on for over a year as the neighbor did all the work himself, but it resulted in a year’s worth of power saws, power drills, nail guns and shop vacs running every weekend, ruining every weekend morning, ruining every weekend afternoon.

He thought he had been fair enough. He first asked that the work start later in the day, and end earlier, and he thought it had been amicably resolved, but it wasn’t. The roar of the power tools shattered the suburban morning, and afternoons were the same. It was only at times like this, in the middle of the night, when he could have a few moments of peaceful meditation on a weekend.

Now the rooster’s crow mocked him, as if it could read his mind.

The neighbor had purchased the rooster after the police responded to a noise complaint. It was near a year after the project had started, and there seemed to be no end in sight, no hope for mutual agreement – so he resorted to the law. Unfortunately, the neighbor was not breaking any law.

So the neighbor had responded with building a chicken coop and buying a rooster, all for the sole purpose of torturing him. The rooster cried every morning, cried at full moons, and now cried out as it read his mind, read his private thoughts.

This is what had stolen his magic, stolen the idea that one second in time still had meaning, and still had a reason to be celebrated.

He thought at first of going over and choking the rooster to death. What laws could protect a rooster? What could be the worse penalty for choking a chicken?

He also thought about choking the neighbor, but knew that the law would not allow that.

And perhaps, again in response to these thoughts of murder, the rooster stopped crowing, and the soft singing of the song resumed to fill the void.

“And there’s a hand my trusty friend !
And give us a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.”

It was then that he knew what needed to be done. He needed to make peace with his neighbor. It was like a light shining down, like the night sky suddenly became bright, and the stars came to life with this realization. He must make peace, and he must make peace now.

He got up from his seat with the fervor of man overtaken by a religious conversion, and pulled his cell phone from his pants pocket. Dialing the neighbors number, he hesitated only momentarily at the lateness of the hour. He knew his neighbor might be asleep, but this moment could not be bypassed.

he saw the light in the neighbor’s bedroom go on.

“Hello, John”, he spoke into the phone. “Yes, it’s me, sorry about the lateness of the hour….no, it’s not about the rooster. I mean, yes, but not really. John…” he said haltingly, “I want you to know that I forgive you.”

“I want you to know I forgive you for being the biggest asshole I have ever known, for being a giant fookin’ prick, for being such a douche bag. I honestly and fully forgive you being a complete piece of shite.”

He did not expect it to come out that way. It’s not what he intended, to offer forgiveness full of hostility, but he could not have risked waiting; he could not bypass the moment. So it was what it was.

The man stood in the stillness of the universe surrounding him and waited for a reply, waited for what he assumed would be a barrage of curses aimed at him – or at the very least to hear the line go dead when his neighbor hung up.

He waited for what seemed a long time, but in reality was just a few seconds, and then his neighbor responded. It was not angry, it was not hostile, it was almost soft and matter of fact.

“Right back at you.”

Auld Lang Syne

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