1. an opening, hole, or gap.
2. a space through which light passes in an optical or photographic instrument, especially the variable opening by which light enters a camera.
It was underneath the smell of cut grass and gasoline that I first noticed the hole. A medium-sized perforation about the size of a tennis ball that was sticking out like a pockmark on the face of my freshly manicured lawn.
On first glance I estimated its size to be approximately three-inches wide by four-inches deep. A perfectly shaped cylinder unlike any of the typical oblong-shaped chasms that are dug by man. On the contrary, I was certain this particular hole was delivered by one of the masters of dirt and dig – a varmint. The enemy of perfectionist yard enthusiasts everywhere.
Now, I’ve always prided myself in keeping a tidy yard and have been mowing my one-third of an acre plot religiously every Saturday morning during the mowing season. Always making a point to follow-up the proper mow with a good trimming around the base perimeter of the fence line as well as going the extra mile to get every rogue dandelion that curiously survives the spraying by the professional weed service I pay top dollar to in order to make my lawn the envy of the neighborhood.
And now — there’s a freaking hole in it.
For the last twenty years mowing the grass has been the only thing that has really given me any sort of happiness. During that same span of time the long, blondish lawn on my own head has disappeared and the chiseled abs I once had have succumbed to the inevitable phenomenon I like to call age mass. I’ve been in and out of jobs over the years, habitually single and even survived a bout with colon cancer at the tender age of thirty-six. For the most part you could say that my life has been pretty much status quo.
But I wasn’t always the lawn-loving, bald, thick in the middle-man you see here before you. At one point in my life I actually had dreams. Dreams of becoming the next Edward Van Halen as guitarist for the hair metal band, Silent Rage.
You’ve heard of us, right?
Don’t worry. I won’t shed a tear if you haven’t. But I will say that Silent Rage was one of the 80s most well-known hard rock groups. I mean, we played gigs everywhere from Maine to South Florida; opening for bands like Winger, KIX and Heaven’s Edge. We even had a showcase for the Adverse City Records honchos in New York City, who promised us a two-album recording deal in early 1991.
Yep, the world was going to be our oyster. That is until Kurt Cobain, Alice in Chains and the rest of those Seattle grunge lunatics shot that dream to hell. Forcing the band to dissolve and me to have to sell off most of my gear and take on the first of countless jobs just to make ends meet. Eventually leading to the middle-aged conundrum I now find myself in.
In a world where age, health and hair have forsaken me, mowing the lawn is the only thing I have any sort of control over. So you’ll have to excuse me if I get a little upset when a rabbit or groundhog comes into my inner sanctum and decides to dig a hole.
How did I not notice this obtrusive hole while I was mowing, you ask? Good question. I pondered the same thing myself. Surely I would have seen a tennis ball sized hole as I was making passes over it with the lawn mower, yet I must have somehow overlooked it.
But what made the whole thing even stranger was the fact that there was no dug-up loose dirt in the area surrounding the hole. In fact, the earth near the hole was hard packed and completely dry. Giving every indication that the hole had actually been there for a long, long time.
Now, I may be forty-five years old and been diagnosed with presbyopia at my last eye doctor visit, but even I would have noticed a blatant hole sticking out like a sore thumb several weeks into the mowing season. I decided to kneel down to get a closer look at the intruder’s work, hoping to find a clue as to what brand of rodent had been infiltrating my land.
As I started moving loose grass clippings out of the way a drop of sweat slipped off of my brow and fell into the hole. There, beneath the warm June sky something began shining out of its depth. At first I thought it might be a quarter or some small piece of glass or stone reflecting off the hot summer sun. Instead, it turned out to be nothing material at all.
It was a beam of light. A light shining out from somewhere within the hole. It was almost as if someone was on the other side of the hole shining a flashlight outward and into my eyes.
A lump began to develop in my throat and I actually felt my heart skip a beat. I’ll be honest with you here. I seriously gave consideration to making a run for it. Something about this whole thing just didn’t seem right. But instead of running, I decided to do what only a fool would do. I laid down flat on my stomach and peered my eye right inside that cantankerous hole.
Screw you, Alice in Wonderland.
What I felt when I first looked into the hole was reminiscent of a pirate who had been lost at sea for months. A pirate who would spend most of the day peeping through his spyglass in a vain search to find land but only finding endless sea. Until one day, just as he’s about to run out of food and water, he discovers the thing he had been searching for. The only thing that mattered.
As I looked down into the hole I could see a white-colored, cloudy canvas. Like I was flying through a sea of cumulus clouds, with edges clean and soft. A canvas whose brightness covered the entire spectrum of my senses and then; as if on cue, having already known of my intentions to see what lied beyond, the canvas of clouds quickly parted into some dream-state dimension
From a third-person perspective I saw myself in this surreal state just as clear as day. Only it wasn’t the forty-five year old me I saw. Instead, it was a much younger version of me, no more than twenty-one.
Nearly forty pounds from my midsection had all but disappeared and every last one of my long blond hairs had miraculously returned. The real me had a sense of confidence he hadn’t felt in a long time.
For all intents and purposes, it felt like the year 1990. Like watching some old home movie, but in the highest of definition. One where every nuance of every movement was noticeable – the sights, the sounds, the feeling. From that moment, I realized I no longer wanted to just look into the light inside of the hole. Instead, I wanted to become a part of it.
I watched from above as this younger version of me stood somberly next to his idling, green, 1976 Chevrolet Vega wagon. A dark brown suitcase sat next to the car as it sputtered in and out of stalling. I was certain that it wouldn’t be long into my trip before the car would leave me sitting on the side of the road.
It was 1990.
The familiar sounds of Westminster Chimes began to play from the St. Agnes Church a few blocks away. I had enough time to count each chime as it signaled the hour of day.
By the time it reached the ninth chime I had already determined that it was early morning based on the positioning of the sun in the eastern sky and by the faint sounds of another lawn mower leveling the landscape some distance away. It was also at that moment that I realized I was at West Chester University again and even more importantly, I was fully aware of what was about to happen next.
A young, attractive woman slowly approaches the vehicle. She had fair skin, a creamy complexion and the familiar long brown hair that ran down beneath her shoulders. With deep blue eyes that breathed a life in me that I’ve never felt before nor ever will again. She wore the blue denim jacket her parents had bought for her in high school, with matching jeans and scuffed up Chuck Taylor’s that have seen a lot of miles from the long walks we had taken together over the last two years. The smile she had that could light up a room was now replaced with sadness. I knew going in this was not going to be easy.
Christine is was my everything.
“Have everything you need?” Christine asked in her casual, nonchalant fashion. The faux me was already quick to answer.
“Yes. Enough to get me through to Scranton.” I said. Of course, I was lying. As Christine already knew from our many journeys in the beat-up old wagon, the Vega constantly burned oil and overheated. I figured I might only make it as far as Allentown before I’d have to stop.
“Did you get all of your paperwork complete?” she said, hoping that somehow I might have overlooked something. Something that would have delayed the inevitable.
“Uh-huh. Got the final papers from the bursar’s office yesterday. It’s all done. Turned in my keys to the resident advisor this morning, gassed up the car and here we are.”
“You know, you don’t have to do this.” Christine said solemnly. “Can’t you at least stay until the end of the semester and see what happens?”
Tears began to fill her eyes.
“ I can’t.” I said. “You know I’ve waited a long time for my music to take off. This gig up north promises shows for the next three months. Good pay too. Mike our drummer even says that it may lead us to a showcase in New York City if we’re good enough.”
There was an odd silence and then she said those same five words I still ask myself in my darkest nights.
“Are you good enough, Jim?”
Even though I already knew the answer, at that moment someone greater than me had pressed “pause” on this supernatural VCR.
“Choose.” a voice said.
“Choose?” I asked looking at the now frozen in time Christine. I could not take my eyes off of her.
“You can change the outcome. I’ve given you the choice.” the voice responded.
“But I already know what happens” I thought to myself, now knowing that whatever voice was speaking to me could also read my mind.
“Twenty-five years ago you decided to leave college for music.” the voice responded. “You now have the chance to change it.”
“Change it?” my conscience said. Could I really sacrifice these last twenty-five years? Is it possible to get a second chance in this life?
It’s true. I did turn my back on college and Christine [who was already halfway through her second year of pre-med] in exchange for a chance to become the guitarist for Silent Rage – the next great hair metal band. But instead of staying in school to get my teaching degree, marrying Christine and living happily every after, I took my beat-up Fender Strat on the road for two years performing to semi-packed crowds before the advent of grunge destroyed me and nearly every other 80’s hard rock band that existed and ended my musical dream.
During those ensuing years Christine and I fell out of touch. I don’t know if she ever did become that doctor but I am sure that her end result was better than mine. I did try looking her up on Facebook and LinkedIn after my battle with cancer [being face to face with death has a tendency to make you want to tie up loose ends] but came up empty-handed.
“Are you good enough, Jim?” the voice asked me again.
“This isn’t that movie, ‘Groundhog Day’.” my conscience told me. “No one can really go back. You only get one life and the trick is to make the most of it.”
Sure, grunge was a setback. And I know that if I had been made that decision back in 1987 instead of 1990 things might have been completely different. But age, health, relationships, job-hopping and even that little drinking episode I had that led to a night in the drunk tank were all setbacks. But none of those things really destroyed me. They only made me who I am
“Are you good enough, Jim?”
I looked at the frozen Christine. I looked at the frozen twenty-one year old me. I looked at the idling Vega that would wind up stalling out halfway to Pottstown, leaving me stranded on the side of Route 100 for two hours. Until a friendly trucker came by and offered me a lift into town where we talked about music and The Gulf War over a six-pack of Coors Light.
What happened next I can’t explain. It was as if the dream sequence I had become immersed in had suddenly become a puddle and a huge omnipotent hand had disturbed the still water. I saw Christine and the Vega and the young me ripple away into darkness while the real me drifted off into another stream of consciousness. I woke up lying face down next to the hole on a warm bed of freshly cut grass.
As I was pulling myself up off the ground I noticed that the sun had already begun its soft descent into the deep western sky. I smiled. The light and hole that once seemed so painfully intrusive to me was now gone and in its place was a breach that no longer seemed like it was the end of the world.