The Sweetness of Life
by Mike Lecky
I woke up Saturday morning in a flowerbed wedged between two
parking lots, a block from the restaurant I had been eating at
the night before. This is not so strange an occurrence. I had
been sleeping on a friend's floor and outside on rooftops and
guarded suburban coves since landing on this side of the country
three weeks ago. A week earlier I had camped out in the baseball
diamond across the street from my flowerbed. At four AM the sprinkler
system came on to water the field and stayed on at least until
seven when I got up and walked downtown to a coffee shop.
This time there were no sprinklers, but when I woke up, clothes
caked in sod, something small and fierce stuck in my left eye,
I knew something was wrong. As I stood up, blinking at the six
AM sun, I checked my wallet to make sure nothing was missing --
there was no cash in it but that was no surprise. I did however
notice my new flashlight that used to hang from my belt so handsomely,
all chrome and glass, was nowhere in sight. I kicked around in
the dirt a moment, checked under a few of the surrounding rose
bushes, but no luck. Resigned to the fact that I had lost my new
toy for good, I stumbled toward downtown and a bus route that
would take me back to my apartment in Fairfield, blinking and
rubbing at my eye. It was only then, on this normally serene walk
home, now unpleasant and seemingly longer than usual, did I realize
that I had lost something else, something much more valuable,
something I would find much harder to regain.
To clarify, I am speaking of The Sweetness of Life. The Sweetness
of Life that I learned at such a young age, younger than most,
I have been told, which does not surprise me as I have always
known that I was an exceptional child and one that would go far
(and fast!). The Sweetness of Life that I learned, struggled with,
wrestled and loved, alone, for one cannot be taught such things.
It is this, The Sweetness of Life that I knew I had lost, somehow,
miraculously, overnight. I tramped into my apartment, finally
getting home around ten AM, and collapsed hopelessly on the floor.
Worried, my roommates rushed to my side with questions of where
I was and what was wrong. "I have lost The Sweetness of Life",
I mumbled, and wordlessly, solemnly, they helped me up and onto
Lying forlornly on the couch for several days, digging, always
digging at my left eye, I considered my position. "The Sweetness
of Life is not something one can lose. It is not something one
can have in the first place, so it is not something one can lose.
It is something that is learned and that learning, that knowledge
is all you can lose." Getting up to shower, for my roommates
(who I am certain have never truly known The Sweetness of Life)
had threatened to "turn the hose on me," I realized
that action must be taken. There was hope for me yet. Shaking,
as if on new legs, I made for the door, grabbing my jacket and
skateboard and, without a word, slipped out into the cool evening.
"It is still out there," I thought, "It has always
been there, it will always be there. I knew it once, but I can
learn, relearn. I can know it again." I was skating faster
now, over rough pavement and manholes, faster than most would
dare but managing easily because, as I have mentioned, I am an
exceptional young man. "I am an exceptional young man,"
this now, out loud, unconcerned with what I might look or sound
like skating hopelessly towards the ocean, arms flailing to keep
balance, leg pumping the pavement, always faster.
A car rushed past beeping, and for a moment, I lost my balance.
At this speed, I know I am done for. "I'm done for!"
my eyes closed as I shouted, bracing for the impact that would
end my life, my brilliant bulb burning out so tragically early.
Suddenly my board regains control of itself, despite my insistence
that I am to crash and die right here, right now. The pavement
under my wheels became smooth, that new black cement! I opened
my eyes and I had turned, I am coasting peacefully along the ocean
on a slight decline, negating the need to push.
I coasted all the way down to the old Chinese Cemetery, negotiating
the last bit of broken road and gravel on foot. It was dark then,
and the lights across the strait look vaguely familiar, like as
if I had seen a movie shot right here in this cemetery on a night
just like this one. I lay down on the grass amidst the old graves,
the large gray ash-burning device directly behind me, and stared
across the water at the city's lights and the bright orange circle
they projected on the clouds above like a halo. Almost two hours
passed and eventually it began to drizzle and I started back for
the apartment, slower this time, enjoying my first West Coast
rain in quite some time.
A block before my apartment a giant white wolf-dog appeared on
the street, all illuminated in the yellow of the streetlights.
It was a sign, an omen for sure, I knew that much, but the angel-dog
was paying no attention to me -- it was all caught up in the goings-on
of the woman behind me who had a dog of her own (just a normal
dog, from what I could gather). I skated by slowly, watching the
huge beast out of the corner of my eye, but its gaze never left
the woman behind me, and I shuddered, knowing exactly what it
was to receive a sign, to meet an honest-to-God omen, without
the messy obligations or consequences.
I opened the door to my apartment and threw my coat on a hook.
"Hey," I mumbled.
"Hey. What's up? You find the sweetness of living again,
or whatever that was?"
"Yeah dude, no problem," I grinned, crashing back onto
the couch, the cushions feeling particularly comfortable, the
CD playing on the stereo much better than I remembered.