I returned home with my mind in deep thought. This quest I was on was not a matter of dreams any longer, of choosing whether to attend a church mass, or whether to plunge headfirst into the abyss. In such a place where ghosts walked the streets like living men, fallen angels sought to be free, and objects were lost and found in mysterious circumstances, nothing was trivial, no detail insignificant. While I had received clues, what I needed was information to help me chart my course. I hoped that Stan was right and that the notebook I held in my hands could help me find my way through the maze that my life had become.
The house was dark. Dad was not home and I didn’t have a key. I walked around the back of my house in search of a window that might have been left open. Mom always slept with her window cracked regardless of the season, so I dragged a ladder from behind a neighbor’s house and climbed inside. Turning on lights in the kitchen and hallway, I walked into my room and flicked on my desk light, re-lit the votive, and without even taking off my jacket, immersed myself in
I opened the book on its first page, written upon which, with grandfather’s hand, was the poem Daniel had recited to me that night at the hospital. Below the poem, I recognized Grandpa’s style in a sketch of a fire pit, and if that wasn’t convincing enough, the J.G. initials beneath it fit Grandpa’s name. But looking at the drawing even more carefully under the bright stream of light, I noticed something else far in the background. Just beyond the figure of a soldier, with a long rifle pressed to his chest, was a silhouette that at a quick glance could’ve been mistaken for a raven, had it not
had human-like torso and extremities. It was not human, nor was it a bird. It was an angel.
The floor shook a little, announcing Dad’s arrival, his car pulling into the garage. I closed the book and hid it under my pillow. He climbed the stairs and soon I heard his footfalls outside my bedroom. He paused in the open doorway, looking surprised to find me on my bed with a textbook in my hands.
“Oh, you’re home?” he asked, though the way he said it sounded more like a statement. I nodded, considering that his earlier anger had left him.
My father had a penchant for quickly switching his mood once he blew his fuse. He could scream and shout at Mom, only to cast smiles at Rena and me standing nearby. It infuriated Mom. Looking straight at him, I noticed I was not afraid of my father. His appearance felt more like a nuisance interrupting my reading, rather than a threat.
“Are you hungry?” he asked, lifting a paper bag he held in his hand. I nodded again, as the smell of roasted chicken reached my nostrils. “Come to the kitchen. Let’s eat.”
A moment later, Dad and I sat at the table, bones piling on our plates. Not a single word was spoken. When we finished he made a pitcher of hot tea and went to the living room to watch the news. I called Grandma, who was mad that I still wasn’t back, and I asked to speak to Mom.
“Yes. He’s here and all is fine,” I told Mom, my voice low, hand shielding the phone’s receiver. “I’d rather just stay here for the night than walk back to Grandma’s at this hour.”
“Okay sweetheart,” she said after a brief hesitation. “But if at any point you feel uncomfortable, call me and I will have your uncle come and get you.”
“Deal, Mom. I love you,” I said.
“I love you, too.”
“And, Mom? Can I stay home tomorrow? I’m not ready to go to school.”
“Don’t you have your winter break next week?”
“No, that’s the following week,” I said, relieved at the recollection. It was better than finding cash in my pocket.
“Yes, of course. Stay home. I am sorry you had to witness all this,” she said, and we hung up.
Back in my room, the book in my hands, I turned over the first page and entered Daniel’s territory. His earlier poems reiterated what he had told me at the hospital. Those writings had the character of descriptive storytelling—vivid words bringing to life the search for his roots. The pieces gained a contemplative dimension as they progressed, his attention shifting from trying to find his way in the outside world to focusing toward the within, giving his passages an almost metaphysical quality. I came across philosophical passages like, Nothing is absolute, especially belief. There were also those disturbing passages through which I could feel what Daniel was going through: I discover my humanity through you, Spirit of Pain.
It was easy to lose myself in his words: And fear shall cast no more veils over the eyes of The Seeker. Death’s elusive faces, their essence untrue… Many passages pointed to Daniel overcoming hardships. Over time, he seemed to have found the ability to let go and make peace with what life kept dishing out. He seemed to believe that he needed to suffer so that he could better understand himself, integrate the parts he might have lost or forgotten.
As Daniel’s own search for clarity and understanding began to bear fruit, so did his verses: Life has no meaning unless one can face the lies and look without blinking. He believed he had to dissolve the walls that sheltered his innermost being to gain insight into the workings of his soul.
Daniel was coming back to life on the pages before me. What’s more, in his words, I was recognizing my own struggles. It was getting harder to keep my eyes open but I wanted to keep reading, aware of the fact that his beating heart was close to fading. That thought gave the burst of adrenaline I needed. I read every page that night, following Daniel’s alchemy of words that kept conjuring a spirit of a quest.
I blinked my heavy eyelids, exhausted, and fanned the pages once more. Unless I had missed something or his location was written in code, I saw nothing concrete in the text beyond the evolution of Daniel’s soul. But maybe my oversight wasn’t as much due to my inability to penetrate the verses, but rather boiled down to the simple fact that Daniel had lost his book weeks, if not months, before he had met me. He had had no opportunity to add anything to the text that would indicate his current location.
I stood up and approached my window, hoping to see Stan waiting outside, so that I could ask him again. But there, I only met the wind rustling branches of trees. Holding the book in my hands, I reclined on my mattress. The dawn was already breaking, faint light of a new day seeping into my room.
As I lay drifting, fragments of Daniel’s last poem floated through my mind. It was a short and peculiar piece, its meaning elusive, harder to grasp. Holding the text above my face, I examined each word once more. The way they were strung together, the way they teemed with contrast, seemed to give rise to an equation. Like a plus and minus, one verse cancelled another. All of the rest of Daniel’s poems led somewhere, except for this one, and yet it alone contained an indication of a possible location:
Weeping in the darkest hour, not knowing,
I teeter over the precipice of all knowing.
Fear is nothing but a shadow of the sun,
Darkened light of twilight, such is early dawn.
Find me where light reaches not.
Find me where light fills the void.
Reading the last two lines over and over, my head spun in circles like a cat chasing its tail. I was going nowhere. It led nowhere, yet Daniel’s request to be found could not be more obvious. What place was light and dark at the same time? Had Stan—the person who was already dead—not told me that Daniel was alive, I would’ve thought that Daniel was describing the place where people went after death. But of course Daniel could not have written about that when he was still alive. Numbness spread through my body, inciting doubt. I was back to questioning my sanity.
Under closed eyelids, my tangled, emotionally charged thoughts turned into a vision of snow-capped mountains. I was flying over a chain of ragged peaks. Descending lower, I spotted a lone figure sitting still on a plateau, high in the land of endless winter. His eyes were closed. So immersed was he in concentration that his body generated enough heat to melt the snow around him. Daniel’s features were as serene as they had been the last time I saw him. Falling flakes evaporated before touching his skin. I noticed that his lips were moving, soundlessly reciting the lines of his poem: Find me where light reaches not. Find me where light fills the void. I wanted to ask him where that was, so I descended lower. My feet touched the ground and I approached until I stood facing him.
The air grew dense. Electric sparks stung my skin. I heard the sound of approaching thunder and saw the shadow of a bird circling above me. Its wingspan was enormous. And then a roaring came, like that of a plunging waterfall or an avalanche. The mountain shook beneath my feet and a blizzard obliterated my view of Daniel before I had a chance to ask him
anything. The bird descended to where I stood and enveloped me in its wings to take me away.
The dream dissolved into nothingness until I awakened to my room bathed in the gray light of a winter day. I couldn’t tell what time it was, only that the clouds had returned. The grainy ceiling appeared to be slowly shifting, like veins of quicksilver. Find me where light reaches not. Find me where light fills the void. I recalled the vision of the meditating Daniel, and an idea popped into my head.
I need to see Paula.
“You want to learn to meditate?” Paula looked at me with her big brown eyes. She was standing in the doorway of her apartment, the door-chain stretching at the level of her throat. “Like, now?”
“The sooner, the better. Could you just give me a few pointers? Please?”
Paula looked at her watch. “I have loads of homework, but I suppose I can spare fifteen minutes before supper. Come in.” She undid the chain and held the door open for me before shutting it with a long creak. She led me to her bedroom. Two twin beds lined the two opposing walls, and wedged beneath the parapet of a solitary mirror was one desk Paula shared with her sister, my classmate. The room was half the size of mine, but it was very cozy with blue patterned wallpaper covering the walls.
“The first thing you’ll need to do is empty your mind of thoughts,” Paula said as we each sat down on the edge of the beds, facing each other, her hands on her lap. “Which alone can take years.”
“Bummer,” I said. “I don’t have that much time.”
“What are you doing this for?”
Daniel had inspired me, sitting in deep focus on the mountain plateau in my dream. I hoped to learn how to meditate to forge a mental connection with my brother, which could lead me to him. But I didn’t want to share my reason with her, or anyone for that matter.
“I want to learn to concentrate better. And it takes however long it takes. Sorry. Please proceed.”
She drew in a deep breath. “The best way to begin is to focus on one thing. Like repeating a phrase or listening to your breath.”
“Okay, focus on one thing. Got it. And once I get this part down, then what?”
“Then you wait,” she instructed.
“Wait for what?”
“The visions,” she said, spreading open her hands like it was the most obvious thing. I really felt like I was entering a foreign territory. We barely started and I was already falling behind.
“Visions? You mean like having dreams while awake?” I asked.
“Not at all. Dreams are the product of the unconscious. A jumble of all sorts of things.” I didn’t agree with that part, but kept mum about it. “Visions come after you clear the slate. You don’t make them, they come to you.”
“What do you see in a vision?”
“Depends. Often it is light. But you have to be able to stay in the no-thought zone for a long period of time to achieve that.”
“Have you seen it? The light, I mean.”
“Only little flickers,” Paula said. “Like mini fireworks.”
If it took so long for Paula, who sounded like she was quite the expert already, it would probably be awhile before I’d see anything. Too much time. The time I didn’t have. But maybe it’s because she didn’t have the urgency I did?
“By the way, what happens to me will be different from what happens to you, but there is a place where we all link up,” Paula added, confirming to me that I had done the right thing coming to ask her for guidance. I was after that link.
“Can you please elaborate?”
“For example, once both of our minds are empty, we should be able to connect to the same thing no matter who we are. I like to call the ocean of consciousness.”
“That would make telepathy possible,” I said, wanting to go home and try it as soon as possible.
Paula smiled. “Exactly.”
I stood up. “Thanks so much. I really appreciate you taking the time to explain.”
“Remember to sit still. Think of one thought or feel your breath and try not to flinch. And most importantly, be patient. Things of value take time to achieve.”
I nodded. “Can I ask you a favor?”
“Will you please not tell anyone about our meeting?”
“I never talk about such things to anyone. Most people don’t understand. Especially Marta,” she said, and walked me out of her room into a likewise tiny foyer.
The smell of supper coming from her kitchen wafted through the air, making me hungry. Her sister, my classmate, walked out of the kitchen and gave me a puzzled look.
“How come you missed school today?” she asked.
“Not feeling too well,” I replied, thinking I should’ve asked her about today’s homework, but school was the last thing on my mind.
“I see you’re better already. Coming tomorrow?”
“Yeah. Probably,” I waved at the girls and turned toward the stairs.
Walking home, I tried to get a head start by concentrating on my breathing, but aside from creating steam clouds, I hadn’t succeeded in gauging how empty my mind had become as a result of my efforts. But one thing—the beauty of our world—did strike me just before I entered the street to my neighborhood. I stopped to breathe in the wondrous view spreading before me. The snow-covered fields to my right seemed to go on forever as the line between earth and sky blurred into obscurity.
Darkness was quickly approaching so I rushed home. Dad wasn’t there and as tempted as I was to ask Mom for another day away from school and spend the night practicing meditation until dawn, I knew that the more time off I took, the more catching up I would have to do later. With reluctance, I brought a textbook with me to the kitchen to get an idea of what I had missed today, and made myself toast and hot cocoa.
It was close to midnight when I shut the book and went to the bathroom to brush my teeth. I only managed to get through a page and a half of the dense read. I was lagging and unprepared for tomorrow. Lying in bed, I tried to breathe, but a flurry of thoughts kept getting in my way. I wanted to make that leap to the visions already, but to my chagrin, I realized that Paula had been right. It would take time and practice. I grunted and rolled over to my side. I needed help from someone who understood this better than me. Ben was out and so was Art. I sank into my mattress and called for Punk.
Forgetting to set my alarm, I woke at eleven in the morning. Taking it as a sign, I stayed home rereading Daniel’s poems. Spending all day in a quiet, empty house made me feel disconnected from the rest of the world. I could stare at a wall for hours on end and not come up with a single thought worth pursuing. This was very different than focusing on one thought with the aim of eventually letting it go to dissolve in nothingness, per Paula’s instructions. This was my version of a languid avoidance of responsibility. This was my mind turning into a mush of confusion, teetering on the verge of despair. My dreams that night were also devoid of concepts or foresights, and I had no energy to change that. All that was bad news in light of Daniel dying in some mysterious place I had no ability to pinpoint.
On Thursday, I mustered enough discipline to get up on time and go to school, but even there, I felt like a shadow of myself, and people were hardly noticing me. On Friday afternoon, Mom and Rena returned home. That evening, my immune system collapsed with my body temperature climbing to dangerous levels. Mom called in a doctor, the same one who would usually come to Grandpa’s house when he had an attack. The doctor examined me and prescribed six days’ worth of antibiotic shots.
The medication made me groggy so I spent most days sleeping. As much as I disliked being sick, resting did have its advantages. My mind quieted down and soon I was making progress in keeping my mind solely focused on my breath for longer stretches of time. But I still had no visions, no new ideas of where else Daniel could be. The only thing that kept coming to my mind was returning to the very place I saw him last—the hospital—and pestering the nurse to force her to admit the truth about my brother.
Grandpa was released from the hospital the day I received my last shot. Mom left with Rena to visit him at home, leaving me on the sofa in my pajamas, with a remote in my hand. Shortly after they left, I heard a knock on the door.
“Who is it?” I asked through closed doors.
“It’s a surprise.” I heard a male voice, muffled as if he was speaking through a piece of fabric.
“Who is it?” I repeated and sneezed.
“Bless you,” the voice was clearer this time. I thought I heard a chuckle.
“Thanks, but I’m still not opening the door until I know who’s on the other side.”
“I told you it’s a surprise,” the voice said. “So I can’t say. That would ruin it, wouldn’t it? Not to mention I don’t really have a name.”
I turned the handle and pushed open the door. “Punk!” I exclaimed.
He stood smiling with his hands in his pockets. This time his jeans were not torn up, his black jacket not made of leather nor stained with paint, and his hair not modeled into a blue spike. He looked tidy and clean, his black hair loose and falling in long streaks to the side of his face. If he had passed me on the street, I couldn’t have guessed it was the same person as the raggedy youth I had met in November, though in no way would I fail to notice him.
“I heard you needed help,” he said.
“And you heard me!” I exclaimed.