THE JOURNEY OF LIFE
BY L.W. COOK
Copyright © 2007 L.W. Cook All rights reserved
Preface: The Journey
This thing called life touches us all in different ways. Along this Journey we make friends and find love. We reach out to the realm of possibilities of our dreams. We are born in our families and we choose our wives or husbands through various means but few are lucky enough to enjoy the comfort of a true friend. Should you be one of the few who have enjoyed such a miracle then you realize, at least in part, the meaning of this thing we call life. Life, such a simple word yet no poet has captured its meaning. We are here today and gone tomorrow and the only thing that matters is the Journey.
"In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies,
but the silence of our friends."
Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968)
The year is nineteen ninety-five and it’s a cool day in the small town of Deering, Alabama. A soft breeze blows over the lush green pasture and a cow lazily eats its fill of grass. The summers are humid and the winters are mild in this small town of 20,000 people.
Although, the economy was growing and inflation was all but a distant memory Deering was a town built on the steel industry. Due to the increasing competition from overseas the steel industry was in the worst depression in its history. Deering was once a thriving town until the local steel mill closed, putting over eight thousand people out of work. Soon, one by one and family-by-family, the town began to fade away. One business after another was forced to close its doors.
Young Brad Haskins and Chance Williams sat under a tree in old man Clark’s pasture. In the middle of the lush meadow sat a small pond green and full of life. Standing beside the pond was a tall Weeping Willow Tree Chance had named Nelly.
Is it possible for something as simple as a tree to affect someone’s life? Is it possible for a tree to be a friend? Nelly was more than a tree. Nelly was tall and beautiful and enduring. She had stood for ages alone in the pasture and withstood the test of time. Each time Chance would see Nelly he felt safe, he felt at home.
Chance sat with his knees bent in front of his chest, he was doing what he always did, writing.
Brad stood next to the pond skimming rocks. Brad was young, arrogant, and good-looking. Being from an upper middle class home he dressed well and had a perfect smile. He was also black, which didn’t sit well with Chance’s other friends. It was uncommon in a small southern town such as Deering for a white boy and a black boy to be good friends. But other people never concerned Brad or Chance. Brad skipped another rock over the small pond. “I hear Lisa is moving?” He says softly.
Chance was shy and unaware of himself. Raised in foster home after foster home, he withdrew into a world of his own and had few friends. He met Brad at school one day when a bully was giving him the once over. Brad stepped in and the bully never bothered him again. The two had nothing in common but quickly formed a bond and a friendship.
“Yeah.” Chance replies as he gently lowers the yellow legal pad to his side.
Brad continues to skip rocks over the glassy water. “Are you gonna go see her before she leaves?”
Chances hazel green eyes are distant and his voice is unemotional. “What’s the use? Just like everyone else, she’ll be gone in a few days. Nothing I can do about it.” Chance sat the yellow legal pad in his lap and rested the pencil on top of it. He stared off into the distance as he thought of Lisa moving away. He had lost so many people in his life he had become accustomed to the loneliness. He had learned it was best not to get close to anyone.
Times were hard; every night you would hear on the news how the economy was growing but not Deering. It was an old town and dying a slow painful death. It was in a severe recession. “If this is a recession, I would hate to see a depression,” Chance thought. In droves, people seemed to be giving up on this small town and moving away to find work.
Suddenly Chance’s eyes snapped back into reality. “I got another letter in the mail yesterday. I haven’t opened it yet,” Chance said as he retrieved the unopened letter from his notebook.
Brad’s eyes grew wide and he tossed the remaining rocks into the pond. “You haven’t opened it? It could be the answer to all your dreams!” Brad said with excitement. That explains Brad in a nutshell. He was a dreamer. He always had his head in the clouds but couldn’t see the mud puddle in front of him.
Life had taught Chance some hard lessons. Dreams were dangerous. “I’ve gotten a dozen of these and they all say the same thing. Thank you for submitting but your work isn’t right for us, blah blah blah. Besides if they liked it they would have called.” Chance said in disgust.
“You want me to open it for ya?” Brad asked.
“I don’t care. Open it if you want.” Without giving it any thought Chance tossed the unopened letter to Brad.
Brad stood up and walked to the edge of the pond; with his back turned to Chance he opened the letter. Knowing it can’t be good news Chance begins to write again. That explained Chance. Whenever things began to get hard for him he would always withdraw into his writing. Writing was an escape for him. It was a way to create his own worlds where families don’t get killed in car wrecks. He could create a perfect world and live the life he had always dreamed of living.
Suddenly Brad began to jump up and down. He was screaming and dancing underneath old Nelly. The cow they affectionately named Wilma lifted her head and looked at Brad to see what all the fuss was about. “You did it, you did it!” Brad yelled at the top of his lungs. “You crazy bastard you did it, they want to buy your story for a million dollars!” Brad raises the letter in the air and dances at the edge of the pond in excitement.
Chance never raised his head, but continued writing. He and Brad had been friends all their lives and he knew him better than he knew himself. Brad was a dreamer.
“What’s wrong Chance, have you lost all hope? You don’t think it’s possible this letter, the very letter I hold in my hand, is the answer to all your dreams?” Brad says as the struts over to where Chance sits.
“No, I don’t, you stupid idiot.” Chance rolls his eyes in the back of his head mocking his old friend.
The life seems to be drawn out of Brad and he lowers his head. He sets next to Chance and puts the letter back into the envelope. His voice is soft, almost apologetic. “Man, you’re no fun at all. You got to have dreams. If you don’t have dreams then you’re like all the other pricks in this town. You’ll live and die in this one horse town and never do anything with your life. Is that what you want?” Chance doesn’t respond and continues to write. “Do you really want to work in that stupid grocery store all your life? It’s a dead end job man!”
Chance threw the lead pencil on the ground and stood shaking his finger. “Some of us weren’t born rich. I have a pretty good job and I ain’t giving it up over some stupid dream. I’m getting a raise next week and good one at that. I should consider myself lucky. Look at all the people who are out of work. You got it made; your mamma and daddy will give you everything you need. I ain’t so lucky; I have to pay my own way in life. So get off your high horse and stop judging me ‘til you have lived in my shoes for a while.” Chance threw down the legal pad and climbed the old tree and sat on a branch to think.
Brad knew Chance was right. They were 22 years old and Brad had never been able to hold down a job. Chance had had his job at the grocery store for years and it was safe and secure. He knew it was asking a lot to get him to take a chance at leaving the only safe thing he had ever known. His mother and father had been killed in an accident when he was twelve years old. He was moved from one family to another until he was eighteen. Since then he has worked at the local grocery store making just enough to get by. It was a steady income with health benefits and he made enough money to pay the rent on his little one bedroom apartment. It was easy for Brad to dream; he knew if he failed he had a family to prop him back up. Chance, on the other hand, had no family. Brad had been the only family he had ever known.
Since they were children Brad and Chance would come to the old Weeping Willow tree they had named “Nelly,” ten or more years earlier. The tree stood proudly in the middle of the pasture, with green leaves draping down almost to the ground. It was forty feet high with thick branches from the bottom to the top that made it easy to climb. Brad joined Chance in the tree and sat next to him.
“I’m sorry man. You know I didn’t mean to - well you know,” Brad said as he put his arm around his best friend.
“Yeah I know. The thing that scares me the most is I know you’re right. Why do I stay here in this run down town? I swear, sometimes I think the worst thing that ever happened to me was getting that freaking job. I just don’t want to end up like my dad; I don’t want to end up living on food stamps and on welfare. You know what I mean?” Chance broke a small limb off of the tree and began to pick the leaves off of it.
“Yeah buddy, I know what you mean.” Brad broke off a small twig and began to pull the leaves off of it as well.
“Well?” Chance said as he stared at Brad.
“Well what?” Brad replied.
“What did the letter say?”
“Are you kidding? It said to come to Hollywood and be somebody,” Brad said smiling.
“Lying bastard,” Chance said as he jokingly pushed Brad out of the tree.
Brad fell from the tree and lay flat on his back. “That’s not funny. You could have broken my leg or something - you idiot,” Brad said as he was getting off the ground, and trying to sound mad.
“Boo hoo. My God! It’s only a couple of feet from the ground. Talk about being a wuss!” Chance began to laugh.
“Yeah, it’s funny ‘til somebody gets hurt.” Brad said as he dusted himself off. Bending down he noticed the yellow legal pad. “What are you writing about this time?” he asked as he began to read.
Chance jumped down from the tree and snatched the yellow pad from Brad’s hands. “Sorry man, this one is personal.”
“Well excuse me for living.” Brad said as he wiggled his hips and shook his head to mock him.
“I’m sorry man, its just, well, its Lisa. She’s got me a little on edge today. We had a long talk last night and she gave me the old “let’s be friends bit - don’t you hate that?”
“Hate what? I’ve never had a girl say that to me. Have you forgotten whom you’re talking to? I’m the stud of the south!” Brad raised his hands high in the air and proudly displayed his muscles for all the animals in the pasture to see. The old cow lazily looks in his direction; with a mouth full of grass she continues to chew without paying attention to Brad.
“You mean stud mouth don’t you?” Chance said smiling.
Chance sat on the ground and began to write again. Brad ran over, knelt beside him, and got in his face.
“Come on man, let’s do it? Let’s forget this one horse town. Let’s go to Hollywood and be somebody. What do you say?”
“I say you’re full of it.”
“Come on buddy, I spent two years at the Junior college taking film classes and I’m still here doing nothing. With the stuff you’re writing and my eye we’ll be famous.” Brad raises his hands in the air and looks into the sky. “One thing I know for sure, we can’t do anything as long as we stay here in this dying town.”
For a moment Chance allowed himself to dream. His eyes grew distant as his mind thought about leaving the town that had given him nothing but heartache his entire life. “I’ll make a deal with you. I have a two week vacation coming up we’ll take a trip to LA. What you say about that?”
Brad shook his head. “Not good enough, if were going to make our mark we have to go all the way. There’s no way we can expect to do anything in two weeks.”
Chance forcefully cracks a smile. “Look at it this way. We’ll go out there for a couple of weeks and see what it’s like. If we decide to go back we’ll have a better idea of what we’re getting into.”
Brad smiles, his eyes light up. “Tell you what; I’ll get my dad to spring for the tickets. I’ll tell him we can only afford one-way tickets and if he doesn’t buy them for us we may not be able to come back. That should save some money.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Chance replied.
Brad had always been a dreamer, and he and Chance loved to talk about moving to Hollywood and making something out of their lives. For as long as they could remember they had spent countless days in this old pasture underneath the old Willow tree and dreamed.
As the two friends sat planning their future, Brad’s cell phone rang. “Brad this is Lisa. Is Chance with you?”
“Yeah, what if he is?” Brad said sarcastically.
“Let me talk to him. Please?”
Brad handed the phone to Chance. “One of these days you’re gonna have to get your own cell phone. It’s Lisa.”
Lisa was nineteen years old, three years younger than Chance. Her family was moving to Ohio where her dad had found a job. He had been laid off from the steel mill for 3 months and they had no choice but to move where he could find work. With this in mind, she had received a partial scholarship from the University of Dayton and would be attending college there. Chance knew she couldn’t pass up the opportunity, and he couldn’t give her anything here in this crusty little town. Still, it hurt him that she was leaving, and he felt it was best if he just let her go. There was no need to say goodbye.
Chance grabbed the phone and stood next to the pond. “Hello?” he said softly.
Lisa’s voice was breaking and he could tell she had been crying. “Chance, are you going to see me off? I’m sorry I have to go, but I can’t leave my family. Please come and see me before I leave.”
Chance closes his eyes and places his hand over the mouthpiece of the phone. “Listen Lisa, you and I both know you can’t stay and I can’t go. If I come there and say goodbye it will make it just that much harder. When you get settled write and let me know how you’re doing, okay?”
Lisa is crying and her words come out between breathes. “I… I… love you Chance. I hope you understand I have no choice.” She pauses and wipes her eyes with a tissue. Chance doesn’t say anything and there is an uneasy silence. Lisa gathers her composure and whispers, “please write me back. Will you Chance?” Suddenly she hangs up.
Chance handed the cell phone back to Brad.
“Sucks don’t it?” Brad said softly.
“You’ll never know old buddy. You’ll never know.”