A cool breeze came and caused ripples in the pond. I felt it washing over my body but not going through my body. If I didn’t know I was naked I’d think I had clothes on. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t scared. I felt calmer than I have in a long, long time. I was looking myself—my other half, my ego—in the face and it was ugly. Half his body was black and shadowy and had a blood red eye and the other half looked like me. Long, curly hair, chocolate skin with a big, roundish nose, full lips and a beard that connects and extends down to his chest. A leaf fell from one of the trees and glided toward the pond. As it descended, we both concentrated on each other with peripheral attention to the leaf. When the leaf landed on the rock between us, the fight began.
I was getting my ass kicked from the word go. Uppercuts, right and left hooks, roundhouse kicks to the gut and head, I caught them all. I fell into the water and everything stopped. My mind was clear, and my thoughts were passing effortlessly. I was pulled up and punched in the face several times with each punch feeling harder than the last. It was with each word that a punch landed like, “You” *punch* “Arrogant” *punch* “Piece of” *punch* “shit!” He threw me back into the water.
My blood filled the pond and soon the sun was blotted out with red. My thoughts were still serene. Wait a minute. One thought entered, if my thoughts are serene down here and rampant up there, that means. . . I shook it off as Maslow’s hand reached in to grab me and I grabbed back and yanked him into the water. Maslow swung first and I saw it coming and dodged. I got into Maslow’s pocket and punched him in the gut, then an uppercut, then punched him square in the jaw. Maslow started to ascend but I pulled him back and continued pummeling. Body shots, elbows, right and left hooks, right and left crosses, right and left knees, it was his turn to catch them all. And I enjoyed every second of it.
I tried to strangle him, but he broke free and rose from the pond and I followed. Once up, we both beat each other to dust—neither one giving in. The fight lasted until the night and by then we were both tired, but we kept on. Neither of us wanted to be the first to quit. Neither of us wanted to give in. Neither of us was gonna back down. I was serious about taking control of my body and life and he was serious about taking over and killing my family.
Even though we’ve had our differences, I never wished anyone dead. Even Jody, and he’s done me the worst. I know why, though. Mom and dad always gave me everything I wanted and ignored Jody, and I never bothered to be a better brother to him. That would change as soon as I get myself together. Together. . . something about that word stuck out to me. Together. . . get yourself together. With each sloppy punch landed the words get yourself together recurred. I didn’t know why at first until, “You can fight me like this but not Jody, huh?”
“What?” I threw a half-assed punch and missed, “the fuck are you talking about?”
“You have all this fire, all this resolve, and you choose to fight me. The only one trying to help you.”
“After all that shit you said,” I clenched my fist and prepared for another half-assed punch, “you expect me to believe you were trying to help me?”
“If I didn’t say all that shit, you’d still be crying your eyes out like a little bitch.” He replied, “If it wasn’t for me, you’d still be unraveling, you ungrateful bastard!”
Get yourself together. . .get. . .yourself. . .together. . .yourself. . .together. . .yourself. . .yourself. . .your. . .self. . .self. . .self.
It hit me then, self! Literally, get myself together. He and I have to merge and become one! I’ve been wasting my time fighting it because it is me. It’s really me! I wasn’t fighting an outside invader. . . I was fighting myself. I put my fist down and looked him–myself–straight in the eye.
“You’re right,” I said. “This is nothing but a waste of time.” I continued, “I’ve been denying you for so long that you’d become unrecognizable. I’ve been letting people step on me for my entire life and all you’ve ever wanted to do was establish me as a person that has rights, dignity, hopes, dreams. All you’ve ever wanted to do was help me show the world that I mattered. That I wasn’t put here to be stepped on, spat on, treated like shit and dirt and litter in the street. I was put here for a reason, a good reason. I was put here to do something. I was put here for a purpose, and all I’ve ever done was run away from that. I ran away from the bullies, I ran away from my family, I ran away from my parents, I ran away from my wife and brother. But, worst of all, I ran away from myself.” I paused, walked up until Maslow—I—was about an inch from my face and looked him–myself–in the eye. “No more. No more running. Here and now, I’m making a stand. Here and now I’m making a decision. Here and now, I’m taking control. And here and now. . . I fully accept and embrace you. I accept and embrace me.” I hugged him—myself—sincerely.
“I thought you weren’t gonna let me take over,” Maslow said as he hugged me back.
“You’re my other half. So, for me to regain control of my life I need you with me. I need me with me.”
“About time you—I—came to my senses.” I pulled back and we both fell into the water where the thoughts were pure, serene, and passing like water flowing down a river. My body began to relax, and I was becoming myself fully for the first time in my life. I took slow, deep breaths and opened my eyes, returning to the fortune-teller’s place.
I looked at her in amazement, “W-was all that. . . a dream?”
“That was no dream, Jason.” She said with her legs crossed, hands rested, and eyes closed. “You’ve overcome the deepest problem, the problem from which everything stems in your life.”
She opened her eyes, they were a dreamy, emerald green, “Now, how do you feel?”
I took a deep, slow breath, “I feel great! I feel incredible! Better than I’ve ever been in my life.”
I looked at the fortune-teller, “How can I repay you?” I asked. “I-I have no money. Is there something I could do?”
“There is only one thing to do, Jason.” She said. “Take control of your life. Go out and find your purpose. Do what you were meant to do.
“That’s it?” I asked.
“That’s it.” She said. “Remember this: No matter what happens in your life, you have the power to change it. Your previous victim state was the reason for your spiraling. The victim mentality will always lead to suffering. Take responsibility for yourself, and your life will bend to your will.”
“Right!” I turned and started to head for the door.
“Once you learn how to bend life to your will,” She said when I got as far as the door, “come back, for there will be more to learn.”
“I will,” I touched the knob and looked back, “Definitely!”
“Say,” I remembered just as I was about to step out, “I never got your name,”
She simply smiled, her emerald green eyes lighting up the dim room in a way I never noticed, the whole room took on a tranquil and aquatic feel like I was underwater with slithers of sunlight peeking through. I looked into those eyes and got lost for a moment—almost drowned in them—and it was then I got her name.
She nodded then closed her eyes and went back to meditating.
* * *
My father died a month later like the fortune-teller predicted and was buried next to my mom in Greenwood Cemetery. During that time, I’d been wandering around New York—spending most days, and some long and sleepless nights, in Central Park thinking about what it was I really wanted from life. I didn’t try to reach out to my family or talk to any of my friends or former coworkers, they wouldn’t have understood what was going on in my head, no matter what happens in your life, you have the power to change it—Madame Emerald’s words weighing heavily on my mind.
Everybody attended the funeral, including my brother Jody and his wife—my ex-wife—Mandy, and the cousins and relatives that didn’t answer me because of Jody’s blackballing and bastardizing. I stood in the back, near a tree and watched from a distance as everyone cried when the casket was being buried into the ground. I didn’t feel anything. I felt sad, of course, that I lost both my parents within a month of each other but other than that, I didn’t feel anything toward my relatives, including Jody. I felt no hatred, resentment, hostility, or animosity; in fact, I felt still. I felt calm.
When everybody left the funeral, I went to my father and mother’s graves. I told them I loved them. I told them I was sorry for not being the best son I could, for not being there, for running away from responsibility and being a poor older brother. I felt calm and still while doing this. I made peace with my past and all my shortcomings, all my mistakes, and all my self-loathing, hatred, guilting, and shaming. There was no grief, no sorrow. There was a mild, melancholy feeling but also deep love and understanding of the way life operates. People die every day including the ones you love. Life is too short to hold grudges and petty grievances, that our death was, and is, upon us at all times just waiting to happen. I also came to understand that it didn’t matter if the world was against you, it didn’t matter if no one was on your side and everyone hated you, life was short all the same and it’s up to you to live it the way you want to live it.
My parents made a choice to go on vacation and experience a part of the world they always wanted to. To do things they never got to because of their daily, unfulfilling lives. They both knew they were going to die, and they wanted to leave knowing they got to live the way they wanted to at least once.
I finally understood the choice they made at the end. It’s like the fortune-teller said, “No matter what happens in your life, you have the power to change it.” My parents realized that a little late, but it’s better than if they never realized it at all. I looked up at the sky and blew a kiss to them. I turned from their graves and walked out of the cemetery to live the life they never got to, to live the life I was meant to.
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