I must sound like one of a gaggle of prudish old hens clucking amidst the clicking of their mahjong tiles, but what has gotten into young people today? At the ripe old age of 22 I reflect back on my adolescence as a time when self confidence was taking continual nose dives with every fresh glance in the mirror at my awkward form. I remember the battle of wills trying to control a part of my anatomy that seemed to want to embarrass me by demanding attention at the most inopportune times. If modern trends are any indication, I should have let my mindless yet determined member say cheese.
A survey conducted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy revealed that 20% of teens have sent or posted sexually explicit pictures or videos of themselves, with a full 39% having sent or posted sexually evocative texts or emails. ABC news contributor Cole Kazdin remarks on the most startling incidents where “[c]hildren as young as 12, who aren’t sexually active, are sending explicit, provocative and even pornographic images to their peers” and “kids who are too young to wear bras…are posing in them, and then topless and then actually engaged in sex or even in masturbation” (Kazdin). Despite being a Generation Y cohort, my heart has long been enraptured by the 1950s, a simpler, less sexualized and un-digitized time.
And maybe that is why, for the majority of my own teen years I was either wrestling with the adolescent exhilaration of trying to sleep after receiving the rare flirtatious compliment or suffering palpitations while attempting to orchestrate an extra-curricular social gathering (it’s not a date, it’s a group thing!) that might get my fantasy girl to “like me like me.” At the start of such a foray existed the stubbornly persistent cycle whereby I would unsteadily dial the number that would connect me to her only to, in a moment of cowardice—or sanity—abruptly hang up the phone off before she could answer. I can still recall the cold drops of sweat that would form in the intense silence after I pressed the last digit, and the first ring that set them rolling.
On the rare occasion I was brave—or delusional—enough to let the call ring through, my crush’s smooth, casual manner of speaking made me consciously discomfited of the stammering and verbal stumbling she reduced me too. The eloquent scripts I wrote for myself before I endeavored to call always came out butchered once that last ring cut off and she answered. The neat conversational phrases I had penned turned into awkward mishmashes of questions without upward inflection or comments that stalled mid sentence.
Needless to say, I might have melted into my bedroom floor completely had I switched the phone into camera mode and sent a pixilated image of my privates to her. Of course, considering that 38% of teens believe that it’s common practice to share sexual images with people aside from whom the image was originally intended for and sent to, I could have let this statistic work in my favor and shared an explicit picture or two with the mutual friends my crush and I had in hopes that she would become enamored with my…candor
I remember the searing, unquenchable, inferno of jealously that consumed me when I would see or hear tale of my dream girl having talked to another guy. We weren’t anything, even by adolescent relationship standards, but that fact did nothing to assuage the pain my heart felt. As far as I was concerned, she was going to be my Snow White and I her Prince Charming. And I desired, like husbands do of their brides, that she keep herself only to me. With the fact that presently nearly half of high school boys have seen a nude image of at least one of their female classmates, I can only imagine the indignation my still maturing mind would have suffered had that girl—whose soft gently parted smile and lively blue eyes simultaneously intimidated and mesmerized me—appeared explicitly on the screens of my male compatriots. It would seem—given the current trend of sending and receiving “innocuous experimental message[s] sent to a cute boy or girl”–that my romantic morals have always been, like the fairy tale featuring the seven dwarves, old fashioned (Gil).
After enough repetition of stepping off the expansive porches built outside each geodome and onto one of the connecting suspension sidewalks attached to them like mini intersections, I began to get my sea legs and soon figured out how to walk with the swaying of the bridges and not fight against it. Eventually my pulse settled down and I became able to hear Ande’s tour notes without being interrupted by my racing pulse.
“Some people who visit think that us Katharians are de-evolving by living in the trees. Those are the ones who think we live like the primates. We prefer to think, instead, that we have risen above the cultures who dwell the ground and are this much closer to the peace that lies out there” he said, while gesturing with open arms to the iridescent sky that could be seen through a break in the dense canopy.
“That’s very pleasing to hear,” I said, being on a respite from the “daily grind” of back home, “but I actually meant to ask what brought your people here, geographically?” It didn’t seem an out of place question to me, seeing as how the rain forest the Katharians dwelled in was in the heart of the Congo and yet Ande–and so far as I had observed through the clear plastic window panels in the geodesic homes we had passed by—the rest of the citizens living in the suspended community were more or less Aryan.
Ande nodded, and said understandingly, “Ah, you want to know our origins.” He leaned forward, pulling his resting body from the side of the rail and setting the bridge in a strange wobble that set me fumbling for something to steady myself on. “That, you see, is a question better answered by one of the members we will find in the Commons. My guide specialties revolve around the mechanical and architectural facets of Kathar, not the historical or sociological tenants of it. I do apologize for this knowledge gap; I’m afraid I’ve only given a few other tours, and to men much less open than yourself.”
I assured Ande that there was no need for apology, and told him that I looked forward to hearing the background of their organization whenever it would be convenient. We continued on and, as we stepped onto the 360 degree porch of a dome that seemed empty, I took the opportunity to wrap a knuckle against the building’s skin. It have a dull thud, almost like when one beats on the rim of a drum.
“What sort of synthetic material is the covering made out of” I asked, studying it closely.
“You must have been too ill at ease during the start of the tour to hear that, Mr. Kuhns, Ande answered with a kind smile. He flicked the beige film himself before answering that it was made of recycled plastic bottles. “And the metal skeleton,” he started, giving a tap on one of the numerous spars that made up a myriad of triangular panels, “is all reclaimed as well. Mostly aluminum from the aerospace and automotive industries, but with more than a few stray beer cans thrown in as well you can be sure.”
“And the windows?” I asked, running a hand across the clear plastic skin that made up the upper half or so of the geodome
“The same as the rest: plastic bottles that have been reheated and formed into large sheets. But where the privacy panels are hashed from colored bottles, obviously the light panels are formed from clear. Each equilateral panel is replaceable as well as reconfigurable, so light panels and privacy panels can be interchanged to suit the mood and desires of the dweller.”
Such simple concepts that were executed so brilliantly. I couldn’t help but think of the pedestrian ways my own society tried to use such trash; I remembered a television segment on a home built of old tires stacked and stuffed with aluminum cans. It seemed like cave man innovations compared to what I found here.
Enjoying the sure footing of the geodome that was suspended from a mighty and ancient tree whose leaf I could not identify, I stooped to study the bridges’ planks. I had at first thought them to be something like whitewashed lumber, but Ande quickly enlightened me to the contrary.
“Recycled e-waste plastic, remember, sir? Remolded into grooved boards that can be strung together like beads with our cable, made from re-smelted scrap steel. Also from e-waste.” My flushing cheeks betrayed the fact that my terror had prevented me from remembering this aforementioned fact.
Standing back up, I took a quick survey around and realized that I was lost. Each geodesic building, nearly identical in construction though with some variances in size, was exceedingly disorienting. I had always felt I had a pretty good sense of direction, but as it appeared to me now I was a creature of visual reminders such as turn left at the big rock, if you see a yellow house with green shutters you’ve gone too far, and what have you. But as sure as I knew my way around the City by a sense of familiarity, so too did Ande continue our tour.
“If you’ve seen enough of the residences, Mr. Kuhns, I’d like to take you to our community center.” It was getting to be twilight.
“Certainly,” I agreed, and, without much further difficulty, followed Ande over bridge and porch, bridge and porch, bridge and porch until we came to a massive form hanging from the biggest tree in the forest that I had seen so far. All of the panels were of the clear plastic variety, and light was emanating outwardly; all I could think of was the ball at Times Square on New Years.
“This is the Commons Hall,” Ande said. “Next door is the Central Hall, on the other side is the Citizens’ Center, and just beyond us is the Supply Bank.”
“So this is downtown Kathar,” I said, shaking my head in amusing disbelief.
TAKE ME TO YOUR LEADER
Upon entering the Commons Hall I was reminded of a social reception the likes of which I was similar with from my own culture. Rows of circular tables featuring dinning and socializing citizens looked inviting enough, their warm smiles and waves of welcome to me, a perfect stranger, made the atmosphere warm, yet mysteriously awkward at the same time. Walking through the center of the expansive room that, to my eye didn’t betray that it was a mere wedge of a largely circular structure, we made our way down a gently curving corridor until we found the office Ande intended to take me to. There were numerous glass doors with etchings that revealed their purpose. Game rooms, conference halls, and presumably some semblance of local officials’ offices as some names had but a single name upon it. As we continued to walk, with glass office doors to my left and light panels showing the encroaching night immediately to my left, I nearly bumped into Ande when he stopped suddenly in front of the only door whose glass was not clear. Instead, this door was frosted for privacy, and there was no name engraved upon it.
“This is Mr. Sanyu’s quarters. I’ll introduce you to him and let him answer the remainder of your questions.
I couldn’t help but harken back to my days of waiting outside the high school principal’s office as I approached an imposing looking man of about 60, seated behind a massive desk that must have been hewn out of a single massive slab of an ancient fallen tree. His smile was warm, but still I was uneasy. They all seem nice in the beginning I thought.
“Ande! Do introduce me to our new guest,” Stepping out from behind the desk I awaited to see what cultural greeting they embraced. To my surprise it was the hand-shake and one-handed hug we often give good friends back home. It was a ping of familiarity in a setting where it seemed out of place.
Ande scampered away hastily, I assumed him eager to join the masses in the dinning facility we first came across.
After being kindly offered a seat, Mr. Sanyu slowly lowered himself into the intricately carved chair whose massive size could only be in proportion with the mammoth desk it was pulled up behind.
We always hear about how, in times of high adrenaline or points of peril, time slows. But what I remember as I ran toward the house, yelling “call 911” is how fast I seemed to make it to the nearest door. Not how long it took me, not how each tick of the clock seemed to hang, or how a moment felt like an hour. It felt like life—or fate—was hitting the fast forward button, impatiently searching to see how the accident was going to end.
Screeching tires and metallic crash set the clock spinning. The silence of living mass in helmets and leather jackets collapsing to the ground and tumbling to the shoulder; the bodies’ delicateness manifest in the comparative hush the way a trampled flower makes no sound. But alas, the images we carry with us speak loudly.
Survivor stories always seem to include at some point the declaration that the catastrophe survived seemed unreal, dreamlike. But what I remember as I ran back to the accident scene, seeing an open wallet laying on the dusty side of the road, was how this was the stuff one couldn’t make up. Not how unreal it was, but rather how frighteningly real it all seemed. For, staring up at me from behind a thin veil of a translucent plastic sleeve was a school photo of a pretty brunette girl, maybe a freshly minted teenager. A daughter for certain, though.
Moans of agony pierced the silence; motors had died but rider yet lived. The damage had been done and all that remained in its wake was stillness, of vehicles and of bodies. But cries of pain meant life, and the soft rustling of leather on gravel spoke volumes, piercing not only time
and space, but heart. It said with clarity that the young girl staring at the sky from her daddy’s wallet would cry over the road rash and bruises, but not mourn an irreplaceable loss.
The first slurred words of consciousness meant that tragedy would not fill the newspaper: an accident report would be written, not an obituary.
The wail of sirens in the distance lifted fate’s—or fortune’s—finger from the remote, and life resumed at normal speed.
Whilst searching for the fortitude with which I would resign myself to mediocrity, I set foot to the ground and traveled into the wilds so as to gather the courage for acquiescence. Upon the first low sun of my journey, I took shelter and rest beneath a swaying pine. Before us lay a quagmire offering nothing to replenish a depleted body. Even the glimmering rays of dusk disappeared into its depths; the murky water refusing to give reflection.
Another day’s travel found my neck browned from the sun’s steady glow and my legs caked with the blood coaxed forth by the bushes’ thorns. By twilight I rested on the bank of a meandering stream. Sunset danced across the dawdling current, amethyst sky stretching and rolling over polished rocks, orange shafts of refracted light twisting around great boulders and hiding in reedy shallows. Sleep welcomed the weary spirit, which the body cushioned by soft moss held.
By the journey’s third day mine eyes had set on the summit of a distant mountain, and mind told body the strength of spirit to settle for typicality laid amongst the clouds hiding the terrestrial peak yonder like the small fruits veiled in morning’s thick fog. The lazy stream that had night prior wet my mouth and lulled me into sleep like a self-soothing newborn received its life force from fresh rime atop the great earthen projection I sought to ascend .
Treachery in way of unsure footing, and assistance from vineage which did behave like the hand of a stranger whose pleasure derives from giving false assurance of strength only to release his grip and gleefully watch a gullible victim fall back from whence thee stumbled made the day one that left my hands marred, knees bruised, and life force depleted. The anger harbored towards the weakness within and my need to conquer the mountain pushed my legs forward until all light had drained from above. Celestial radiance was obscured by the protruding branches that mockingly poked at my arms continuously. Only when I had fallen amongst the ground litter and hadn’t strength to again stand did I fold my tired body up like that of a fetus and surrender myself to sleep.
Shivers wracked the stiffened bones, shook awake the disillusioned eyes and re-bore the vitality that had set in, developed and receded respectively. The bursting gales carried away the sparkling crystals of water that had sought to warm themselves out of existence by nestling my body. As I rose from the damp earth and dead leaves below it came to be that I was enwrapped in the current of the sky; clouds swathed my body and kissed my warm skin before obeying the breeze’s tugs and commands of obedience, drifting away. I was the great boulder that the lazy current twirled around. The crisp exhalations of the high crag filled my lungs with verve, muscles twitching at the rejuvenation.
Standing at the commencement of my final charge to the apex, my mind greedy to drink in all the resilience the highlands had to offer, smoke began to churn about my head and fill my nostrils. The whistling of the air and the sharp rocks spoke their own chants, and so a faint, distant greeting of hello did not fall as such on my ears, my mind did believe the winds to be the speaker. But lo, I looked for the source of the sensory effluence and found a man dressed in skins who lofted his staff high, disrupting the tranquil, milky air that clung to him like peasants to an emperor.
With a booming voice as deep as overhead thunder he did ask of me, “From whence have thee traveled? I know the distance must be great.”
“From the village far below, whose peoples dare not cast eye upon this upsurge of rock nor entertain the notio n of traveling upon her.”
“And yet here ye be, standing before me in the mist of daybreak. Sun is yet doing battle with Night to earn the reward of banishing Morning Dew.”
So that the great man who wore the skin of Bear did not take aggression against my encroachment, I yelled to him over the gales: “It is not for rebellious reasons I have come. Rather, I have left my village to come here so that I may procure the countenance to spend the rest of my days amongst her people as a nameless hand that bales the sheaves and feeds the stock. I have come for strength to face mine enslavers, to find the spirit to be bound myself like the sheaves. They seek the sky in their growth the way I doth by foot, yet each of us are cut down for the sake of what is said to be good by the sages in our midst.”
After bearing my heart to the dweller of the high slopes, he rested his bearded chin upon the tip of his ironwood staff in contemplation. Raising himself to speak, the man seemed mightier than he was priorly, as if each breath gave power for his shoulders to widen and his spine to lengthen.
“Your story rings true to me, weary traveler, for thou are not amongst the first in the low village to seek clarity on matters within by removing thyself to this elevation. As I have sought bounty from the ground and that which springs from it, I find where thou heavy feet hath trampled the delicate fruits. When I am keen for game, thou moans of confliction and questions of self cause them to stir and to flee. Rebellion is perhaps not in thy mind, but is on thy heart. Thee wishes to abstain from the death of diversity thou feel thyself condemned to and so hath sought sanctuary here.”
I meditated on what was being spoken to me and the heart inside spoke to me of its fresh enlightenment: that which had been uttered was the cadence of my feet, the pitch of my spirit and the hue of my life force. Before I could thank him for the clarity yielded me in the haze of the mountain I heard thunder again.
“The villagers, thy people, see only what is before them. They are like the moles who dwell the earth, making hasty paths that wander aimlessly, all the while proclaiming their work straight and true. Yet Eagle knows truths not yielded to those below, not from his wisdom but from his vantage. I watch the injudicious scurrying from my high perch; I know the ‘straight path’s’ windings. The sheaves harvested are cut to thwart their escape to the sky. Their stalks grow true, for they know the way to clarity. Homes are built from the mightiest trees to fit this selfsame motive.
“And so many a man hath come to visit this mountain, his mouth naming the heart’s purpose many things. All seek the same as thou, and those who dare tread the steep slopes are yet to bear the burdens of life. For the heavy and bent backs of the aged entrap them at the foothills. They have learned mediocrity and mediocrity has pervaded the essence, calling itself by many other names. Not the least of which is “right” or “good.”
“What am I to do?” I inquired of the man wearing eagle feathers about his hair, talons about his neck. “The village below seems now as muddied as the lightless swamp I settled near two nights prior.”
The man spoke again, holding his arm out to me.
“This skin of Bear which doth scare off chills and drinks in dew was not born to me. Neither hath I a weapon with which to kill at distance. No, I settled into this skin the way you must settle into your own: with a clear mind and light feet. Let not thy thoughts be burdened by nor envious of the height of the crop, thee must harvest just the same. Trample not the sweet fruits of nature as you contemplate thy lot. Walk lightly within thy own forest and find within thyself that which doth scare off the chills of angst and drinks in dew borne of saddened eyes. Wrap thyself in skin so even though the tempest doth yet blow, ye may know the wonder of being warm.”
I did then depart from the man of the mountain to meditate on all of his words. Upon finding the unchanged murky water, which was yet stubborn and did not give reflection, I looked to the left and looked to the right and found succulent water plants. I looked to my thrashed legs and saw not all of which stained me was bitter blood; for I tasted it and some was the sweet nectar of berries imparted on me as I journeyed.
Upon returning home I was given to believe myself a fool having traversed the land beyond the clouds. Yet he who dwelleth amongst the earth and wears dirt on his face and hands mocks easily those with wings, which soar majestically and understand trueness from unlying perspective. So was I mocked though I bore the same filth upon my body at days’ end, for I had seen the low land from Eagle’s vantage; my journey a scar to be bore the entirety of life remaining.