February 9th, 2012

by Robert Scoville
©2012 Robert Scoville

Pat looked out across the immense grandeur and beauty that is the grand canyon. A smile came to his lips, an ear twitching at the sound of crunching metal. He lowered his eyes to track the crumpling shape of his car, the last remnant of his former life. Once the car came to rest at the bottom of the canyon, hopefully even bouncing into the river, his old life would be gone.

Glass and fiberglass fell around and ahead of the car in a spray of tiny shards and small pieces broken off at each of the several crashes against the cliff wall. Pat watched as the twisted hulk hit bottom, rolled over twice and finally stopped. Another roll or two might have put it in the water. He willed the car to make that final flip, but it did not.

He didn’t grimace as another might at the vain expectation left unfulfilled, instead focusing on the victory he’d just won.

“I’m free,” he said. The soft words sparked a feeling so light and radiant that the words rumbled deep within him and came bursting out in a bellow. “I’M FREE!”

The feeling subsiding, Pat found his arms and face lifted upward. He glanced around in near shame, but no one was around. Of course he’d picked this time to drop his car off the cliff because no one was there. He couldn’t start his new life if there were witnesses to the death of the old one.

The words he bellowed echoed off the distant cliffs and came back to him in a rolling wave of exuberant cries, “I’m free!” they all said in turn. Pat’s smile deepened as he walked back to the parking lot.

Of course he had no car anymore, but he did have a bike and some provisions. They’d have to do to get him back to civilization.

Assuming he wanted to return. It was they after all who had turned his former life into such a ruin. Returning to them now would simply reattach him to his old life as though he’d never left it. Sure he had new clothes, a new bike, and a new outlook. Sure he’d thrown away everything he owned, even now his car, but those civilized people didn’t look at life the way he did. They didn’t see who he was, just the role he filled. Old or new, if he returned he’d just fill another role.

He couldn’t go back to his old role; he’d burned too many bridges there, the bridges being figurative and his cubicle more literal. The new him had been lucky to escape those ashes of his old life. Still, he couldn’t go back just to fill another role. That could easily resurrect his old self.

Pat mounted his bike, shouldered his pack and pedaled to the parking lot entrance. His options were: toward humanity or away from it? Right or left? The choice seemed so simple. It would be easy to jump back into the dance as his old self. Ashes though he was, they’d dust him off quickly enough and set him dancing with the rest of them. It would take longer but they’d even forget he’d ever left.

So, right or left? The other path would take him to sights unseen. He’d get lots of exercise, plenty of sun, perhaps a beard, maybe a few stories to tell when at last he returned to civilization, secure in his new self.

The weight of the dilemma surprised him. Pat thought he’d killed his old self already. Sure he had doubts, but they were supposed to die with his car. That should have ended it. Why was he tempted to head away from his new life?

The moment hung in the air until a realization overcame him. He hadn’t left everything behind. From under his shirt he pulled out an old crucifix that he’d worn longer than he could remember.

Pat climbed off his bike and pulled out a small shovel from his pack. He dug a small hole just under the sign at the entrance to the parking lot and dropped the crucifix in it. He knew he wasn’t giving up his faith, just that his faith required him to give up his emblem.

Standing over the hole, head bowed and hands clasped before him in prayer he said, “Here lay one Patrick Grant Henley. He was loved by some, hated by some, and hurt by many. May he rest in peace. Amen.”

He spared one last moment to fill the hole and pack the dirt with his shoe, before climbing on his bike. With his head turned away from civilization he took a deep breath before pressing down on the pedal. As he exhaled the first breath of his new life he said, “Now I’m free.”

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