Sticks and Stones

In case you didn’t hear (everyone did, shoutout to social media), something happened the other night. I don’t know exactly what it’s called – I’ve heard a lot of names used to reference it. I’m also not an astrologist, and I could very well be wrong, but I believe it was a “supermoon lunar eclipse”, which is to say that the moon was larger due to the fact that it was at its closest point to earth in its orbit and was also entirely blocked off from the sun due to the earth being in the way. A combination which produces a beautiful sight. I was sitting on my back porch, looking up at the sky and thinking.


“Do I dare / Disturb the universe?”
—T. S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”


I once explained, to a friend, my philosophy regarding life. It took a couple of minutes, but that was because it took me a while to find a set of rocks and patch of sand well-suited for the task at hand.

“Wake up, I can’t be late again!”, my mom yelled from the hallway, pushing my door open. She grabbed onto my blanket and snatched it off of me. “Come on now, hurry up!”

I feigned cooperation until she turned around and walked out the door. Then I dove face first back into my bed.

There was a large rock on one side of the patch of sand and-..

“I’m not playing with you, GET UP!” She had really swung the door open aggressively this time. I decided to get out of bed, as an act of self-preservation. It was on mornings like these that I regretted my late-night behavior – scrolling up and down my news feed until there was nothing else to read. Even when there was nothing else to read, I would refresh and read the same things again. It wasn’t as if I were doing anything, I was just trying to keep myself from falling asleep. I don’t like sleep. On a conceptual level. This morning, I was paying for my moral objection in the worst way.

When I got out of bed, my legs bent back and forth like noodles, my eyes were full of crust, and my dog had peed all over the floor again. Details that would normally have no bearing on each other, that morning, they combined together in one pigeon-towed, vision-obstructed leap from my bed which ended with myself face up in a puddle of dog piss. I didn’t have enough energy to express anger, just disappointment. I decided I would take that loss and continue undaunted. I grabbed a set of towels and hopped into the shower.

I drew a large rectangle in the sand, placing the largest of the rocks at one edge and holding the other rocks in my right hand. I used my other hand to slide the rock across the surface of the sand, while using the smaller rocks to take it off of its course and pinball it around the rectangle. Eventually, the rock reached the other side and the demonstration ended.

‘That’s it?’, she asked.

‘That’s it.’

“You KNOW you don’t have time to take a 30-minute shower! Get out!”

I stayed in the shower for 30 more seconds as an act of defiance, before climbing out and onto the cold, clammy bathroom floor. I shuffled to the bathroom mirror, using the larger towel to first dry myself and then wipe the mirror off. I leaned into the mirror, eyes lowered in focus.

Any facial hair coming in? Nope? Alright.

I figured that if I got ready as quickly as possible, I’d have a few minutes to sit down and listen to music before I had to leave for school. I like listening to music whenever possible. The physical feeling brought on by the rhythm combined with the mental activity brought on by the lyrics can be a moving experience. Even if it’s Young Thug.

I decided, that morning, that I would have some time to relax. I walked into my room and threw on a pair of cargo shorts, a baseball cap, and a matching short-sleeve button-up. Altogether, I had exactly 9 pockets. It was the last week of school. I had nothing to lose. I sat down on the couch and plugged my headphones in.

‘But what does it mean?’, she asked.

‘We’re the big rock. Life is the rectangle. We start off at one end and the universe, God, whoever you believe in, puts little rocks in the way that knock us off course for a while. But they don’t just sit there – they move and get in our way and each others’ ways. It’s kinda like how molecules bounce around in a container in free, random motion. Nobody can predict which direction they’ll go, but eventually they hit the wall of the container they’re in. We all make it to the end eventually.”

She cast her eyes on the ground.

‘Interesting,’ she said.

My alone time that morning was particularly short-lived when my mom snatched my headphones out and told me she was headed to the car. I grabbed my backpack, slipped a pair of low-tops onto my bare feet, and followed suit. Luckily, the trip to school wasn’t particularly long, because my mom was in a bad mood today. She was cranky and frantic to get to work, which was not uncommon. As soon as we got there, I got out of the car and walked toward the main entrance, giving her a friendly wave goodbye as I strode across the sidewalk.

As usual, I was one of the first people at school. When I got inside, I spotted Mr. Hastings, one of the school’s security guards, near the cafeteria doors. I walked past and gave him a firm nod. He basked in the perceived respect and fear that students had for him, despite the fact that half of the student body was bigger than him, and, in fact, no one was scared of him.

It was while deep in my concerned thoughts about what a frail, unarmed security guard could do to protect the student body, that I saw the girl of my dreams. She was sitting in the same spot as she did every morning, at the same time she did every morning, with the same cup of coffee and her newest literary interest in her hands. I hid behind one of the doors and stared at her for a while. She was sitting cross-legged on one of the cafeteria benches, propped up with her elbows on the table. She was fine as hell and she read. What more could I ask for? I didn’t know anything about her, but I figured eventually I’d go and talk to her and we’d hit it off and somewhere down the road we’d get married and have kids. I was sure of it.

‘You don’t believe in fate, then?’

‘Fate? No. It’s an excuse to be lazy,’ I replied.

‘But haven’t you ever had something fall into place so perfectly that you couldn’t help but feel it was meant to be?,’ she asked.

I picked up one of the small rocks and waved it in front of her face.

‘Coincidence.’

I was about to go talk to her. I really was gonna go do it. However, just at that moment, I recalled my lack of manhood. Instead, I walked into the cafeteria like I do every day and sat several tables behind her. I looked down and pretended not to notice her. I also pretended she was pretending not to notice me.

‘Everything is a coincidence to you, then,’ she said.

‘Not everything, just most things. The most beautiful things.’

I couldn’t help but feel extremely childish that morning – I had been doing the same thing, day in, and day out. I’d wake up, get dressed, get dropped off at school, stare at the back of this girl’s head, go to class, and go home. My life was arranged in linear fashion and there was no deviation.

‘So the most beautiful things can’t be planned? What about like-.. love?’

‘You don’t choose who you love. The thing about people,’ I said, ‘is that we’re predisposed to see things in close proximity as being in a line. If we see three balls on the floor, we naturally create a line from one to another and then from that one to the other one. It’s not just a visual thing either. We assume that if something is aesthetically or emotionally pleasing, that it was set up that way for a reason. We give too much credit to the universe for setting things up. In fact, the most beautiful things in this world are random coincidences.’

‘So it’s impossible to plan something beautiful?,’ she asked.

‘It’s entirely possible. But whatever you planned will always be outshone by the spontaneity that is the world. We can plan some great things, but nature always wins. You can plan to get into your dream school – and it might make you happy – but you can’t plan to meet that person in your sophomore physics class who claims your heart and makes you even happier. It’s a random union. You can plan to have a child, but you can’t plan which baby pops out nine months later. It’s a random, blind, race to life. But when you get that baby in your arms, it’s the most beautiful thing ever. The random creation of life.’

I slung my backpack around my shoulder and stood up, breaking out in full stride toward her. I made my way around the table and sat across from her, looking at her directly. She looked up at me through unassuming eyes. The ends of her mouth naturally curled up into a smile. I could see her sinewy finger resting next to a word in the middle of the page. We both stared at each other for a while, until she spoke.

“Hello.”

‘Even something like a lunar eclipse. When we see the sun, moon, and earth line up, we view the straight line orientation as a default position. We picture it as something that happened because it was supposed to happen. In fact, it is a complete coincidence and matter of timing. I think the most beautiful things in this world are coincidence. No planned prom, graduation, or wedding will ever be as magnificent as volcanic lightning reaching out and placing the tips of its fingers upon the earth.

“Hey. I’ve seen you in here for a while and I told myself I’d come and talk to you today. What are you reading?”

“Leaves of Grass.”

“Walt Whitman, right?”

“Yeah.”

She offered a warm smile, looking around briefly before refocusing on me.

“I’ve read a lot of his stuff,” I said, “maybe we can sit down over coffee and talk about it sometime.”

“I have a boyfriend,” she said.

I looked at her for a long while, maintaining a forced smile.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

I gathered my things, cast her a firm nod, and walked out of the cafeteria.

‘That’s it?’ she asked.

‘That’s it.’