Open-Ended Questions

I’ve always liked to look into people’s houses.

Ask anyone that spends time with me in a car ride. When the music is down low and I’m off staring through the raindrops on my window, you can be sure my eyes are trained on wherever the light shines.

On that perfect christmas tree wondering how long it took the family to put it together…and if they fought over who got to put the star on top.

On the crusty fireplace with wood still stacked high although it’s the middle of July.

On the tv left on with nobody watching, on the silhouettes in what looks like the kitchen, limbs dancing in evangelical delight as they tell the craziest story.

I sit in wonder. Wonder about all the stories I will never get to hear and all the living, breathing beings that materialize as open-ended questions when they pass me by. I wonder about how we as human beings have such a strong desire to connect. I wonder if that’s because there’s so little we know about each other. With every new fact you learn about your best friend, there’s a billion other facts about a billion other people I don’t even know exist.

But that’s the source of all our energy isn’t it? The sense of thrill that accompanies the ignorance. The freedom to supply your own answer with the possibility that the real one could be a million times more interesting…or commonplace.

Maybe after a long winded ten hours, a family of four hauled that tree from the forest and finally fit it into their living room….or maybe a Walmart employee delivered it to their doorstep.

Maybe that fireplace has a mythical legend behind it, beseeching the superstitious owner of the house to leave the wood stocked lest they face an eternal winter…or maybe there’s a stressed single parent inside who can just never seem to find the time.

And why is the TV playing to the empty couch? Was the couple watching suddenly dragged out the backdoor by a couple of rogue IRS officers?…Or did the family dog step on the remote again?

The best thing about these questions is that I don’t have the answer. Every new house I pass is a new adventure and a reminder that stories never end. That’s why I look into people’s houses because although I see them for only seconds at a time, the ideas they spark are forever. And nothing is more inspiring than an open-ended question.

Another Mistake

I shouldn’t have come.

I knew it while putting on my clothes this morning. My reflection in the mirror screamed it back at me as I tried wrestling my mangled hair into a ponytail. I knew it on the cab ride over here, every bump on the road a signal that nothing good would come from this. My road was already rocky enough and coming here, seeing him, would only make things worse. But I ignored all sense of reason and that foolishly led me here, standing right outside the door, peering through the glass window and hoping that the lights in the hallway were dim enough to shield me from view.

And there he was.

Up on the stage, tuning his guitar. His brown t-shirt and denim ensemble, however simple, looked better than anything I had the patience or effort to come up with these days and his hair, unlike the shaggy mop I used to know, was cropped short. The vibrant red-haired girl on the drums must have cracked a joke because he looked back at her and smiled. The signature display of teeth that would have knocked the wind out of me had I not been holding it in already.

I really shouldn’t have come.

That small voice in the back of my mind was still nagging me, although it changed it’s mantra from Don’t go! to Leave now! This time, I had just the ounce of sense left in me to listen to its orders before a pair of eyes found mine and pinned me to my spot.

It’s all over now, I thought as the figure placed his bass down, excused himself and briskly made his way over to the door where I was standing. Although the transparent rage blazing in his eyes was worsening my already troubled nerves, I held my head high and waited for the storm I knew was coming.

“What are you doing here?” He whisper yelled. He had gently closed the door behind him when he came outside but the force with which he gripped my arm showed that his current emotions were anything less than calm.

“Nothing, I–”

“You’re definitely crossing the line here. How did you even know where to find us?”

For a moment, I wondered whether he would actually let me answer or just turn me in on the spot but he seemed to be waiting for an explanation. One that we both knew he wouldn’t like.

“I saw a flyer. On the town bulletin board.” His grip wasn’t loosening and I might have been losing blood-flow in my arm but I didn’t dare mention that.

“No. Contact. Tari. We explicitly agreed that I wouldn’t tell Gabriel what you did as long as you left him alone.”

“I know, Jackson, and I am leaving him alone, both of you but I just–I just had to see him as all. I won’t try to talk to him, I swear.” Not that he would want to talk to me. In fact, I’m probably the last person on earth Gabriel would want to see right now.

The fire still flared in Jackson’s eyes but he released me while still keeping a close distance between us. When he spoke, his voice took on a softly threatening tone. “You better not try talking to him. It was rough after you left. So rough, I wasn’t even sure he would fully recover from the shock alone not to mention the physical damage. He’s finally in a good place right now, back at doing what he loves without bad influences like you hanging around.” His pointer finger made its way up to my face during his speech and was now mere inches away from jabbing me in the eye. “You ruined everything, Tari. And any chance that you two might have had together.”

Any feelings of fear and nerves that were brewing in me before swiftly switched to anger. I’ve spent the last two years trying to clear my conscience. One year of completely hating myself and the other trying to convince myself that it wasn’t entirely my fault. That I did not intentionally ruin Gabriel’s life and that I was not at fault for what happened that night on the bridge. I let Jackson place the blame on me because it was his best friend who almost died that day but I’ll be damned if he makes me out to be the villain.

“You don’t think I feel absolutely horrible for what happened? You don’t think the only thing that I want is for Gabriel to be safe and happy?” I didn’t wait for an answer and Jackson curled his lips when I continued. “That is all that I want. So don’t think I came here for a reunion.”

Jackson opened his mouth to respond but the sound of Gabriel’s voice slipping through the speakers interrupted both our trains of thought.

That voice. How I terribly missed that voice.

It stripped my anger away piece by piece until all that was left was hopeless resolve. I stared pleadingly into Jackson’s piercing blue eyes, hoping–no, praying–that there was some compassion in him even for me. “Look,” He stared back, with a hardset jaw. “I plan to keep our agreement but, there are no rules against me staying here.”

Jackson and I were friends. Once. Maybe that was why he didn’t immediately yell at me to leave like he probably should have. But rather, stared at me a bit longer before sighing very heavily. “Just make sure he doesn’t see you because if he finds out you’re alive when I told him you were dead–” His words faltered.

I sighed in relief and nodded to make him know I understood. He backed up, while shaking his head before turning completely around and walking back into the performance room. Pulling the hood of my sweater over my head, I made my way back over to the window, only allowing my left side to be faintly illuminated by the light pouring out.

I promised both Jackson and myself that Gabriel would never see me or hear from me again but as I stood there observing the ease with which he slid his fingers over the guitar strings and hearing the melodious notes that echoed from his lips, I found that conviction slowly and dangerously chipping away.