Through the Darkest of Nights: Testament I

Every Friday every few days over the next several months I will be posting installments of a novel I’ve written about life, death, war and politics in America since 9/11.  This second post is the first installment of Chapter I of Through the Darkest of Nights, an intensely personal story of hope, reflection, determination, and redemption that contrasts the protagonist’s idealism with the apathy and moral decline of a nation that has lost its way.

All installments will be available for reading here.

 

Through the Darkest of Nights

Departure

Pulsing flashes lit up the night sky in rapid succession.  The rolling thunder of the detonations swept past me, echoed through the streets beyond, and set off the frenzied barking of a dog somewhere in the darkness.  On this 4th of July, on this first Independence Day since the towers of Manhattan crumbled into dust, the business titans of Concord, New Hampshire are making their annual patriotic statement with a bigger budget for explosives than ever before.

There are better ways to celebrate freedom than with explosions, but this doesn’t seem to occur to most Americans. On Independence Day or on any other day.  They like explosions, not only on the 4th of July, but as a matter of principle.  They like explosions so much that advertising revenue soared last December as tens of millions of them rushed home from Christmas shopping to watch network coverage of high tech American fireworks exploding all over Afghanistan.

Long ago, before I became who I am, I watched the fireworks above my small Minnesota town, on the 4th of July 1963, in an America that no longer exists.  The America of my boyhood, the America of folksongs, the America of the Peace Corps, of confidence in justice, of idealism in Washington, was destroyed in five lethal seconds.  Under a blinding Texas sun.   And a very different America replaced it.

On my transistor radio that night, I heard Bob Dylan call me his friend. He said the answer was blowin’ in the wind, but I heard no answer in the wind.   All I heard that awful weekend was the pounding of muffled drums and my mother crying.   I don’t hear any answers in this windy parking lot either, all I hear is a girl cursing into her cell phone at someone named Jason.  Young love isn’t what it used to be, but then neither is anything else.  

I wish Jason the best of luck, he’s going to need it, then get into my car.  I need solitude.  I need to think, for I have much to think about.   As I begin my own journey to freedom, I want to stand where America’s journey to freedom began, on Old North Bridge.  It’s not far from here, it’s just a short drive through the New Hampshire night.  

Americans died defending that bridge.  Branded as rebels and insurgents, they were killed by soldiers of an occupying army.  They were afraid to die, but on an April morning in 1775 they defended that bridge anyway.  They took a stand in defiance of a global superpower ruled by a man named George, who had to be locked up and treated for insanity a few years later.  

As I stand in the darkness on Old North Bridge, more recent memories stir, and I think of Sarah.  A lover of poetry, she had come here last August to see the historic bridge that inspired Emerson’s classic poem.  A lover of history, I had come here that same August day to see where American farmers had taken a stand and fired the shot heard ’round the world.

I remember the instant attraction I felt the moment I saw her.  I remember how quickly it became love.  I remember how deep and abiding I thought that love would be.   As we spent the next two weeks together, the days and nights passed all too quickly, but I remember every moment.  I remember caressing her hand as it rested on my chest, I remember us making love for the first time as a thunderstorm pounded its way across the night sky.

But most of all, I remember the beauty of her smile in the morning and the serenity of our afternoon walks.  Falling in love with Sarah rekindled my idealism, and I began my journey out of the wasteland of alienation I had been treading through.  I learned that only the sanctity of love can overcome despair.  I learned that only love can restore innocence, only love can defeat the demons of grasping, ambitious adulthood.  I learned that love is sanctified in the giving and receiving of love.  I learned that the anguish of daily trials and troubles is banished in the warmth and tenderness of love making.

Innocence is not lost in physical union, it is found.

Another barrage of fireworks exploded in the distance.  The present returned, as it always does, to punish me for my mistakes, to remind me of what I have lost, to remind me of my loneliness.  My longing had whispered to me that Sarah would come back to me someday, but my longing was deceiving me, for I knew I would never see her again.  Not in this world.

The scars of that fiery September morning in New York have still not healed, and never will.  My heart was shattered that morning, but it still beats.  I’ve been told it will not beat much longer, but I’ve been told a lot of things since my Awakening, and not much of it has been true.      

Sarah, her timid eyes alight with hope as we stood together on this bridge, could not have known her life would end so soon.  But it did.   Death comes for all of us, and it is always cold and heartless. She’s gone, but her memory sustains me and gives me strength.  So I take refuge in her memory, and feel her loving presence carry me back in time for a few precious moments of reunion.  Leaving that refuge is painful, but never seeking it at all is unbearable.

I walk back to my car and drive away.  I-95 carries me southward under a crescent moon, towards New York City and searing memories of tragedy.  In Providence, I pull into a gas station and donate forty dollars to Exxon/Mobil, another ten to R.J. Reynolds, and smoke my way into Connecticut.  I kicked the habit for seven years, but I’ve concluded that I picked a bad millennium to quit smoking. My doctor wasn’t happy with me, but I wasn’t happy about the x-rays he showed me either, so we’re even.    

     

29 comments

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  1. Walking alone is no fun at all.  

    • RiaD on March 16, 2008 at 13:35

    O my!………

    Wow! I must ask is this a true story masquerading as a novel? It’s just so…real.

    I’ve reread.

    Wow!

    Bravo!!

    ::stands applauding::

  2. this is going to be even better than I imagined.

    Your heart is in EVERY word of this – I can feel it to my toes.

    And this line just blew me away

    Innocence is not lost in physical union, it is found.

    BRAVO!!!

  3. And this helps me remember why.  Thank you.

    • Alma on March 16, 2008 at 20:11

    I can’t wait for the next installment.  🙂

    I might comment more later, when my brain is working.  I just got home from the emergency room an hour ago.  Been there all night with Dale.

  4. What a powerful voice ringing out! Killer stuff!

    But um……when is the scene in baja?

    • kj on March 17, 2008 at 00:37

    i’m in for the ride.  excellent, Rusty.

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