The Shape of an “L” on the Forehead

PROLOGUE

Hey y’all. I had this vivid dream last night that was so detailed & felt so powerful, I thought it would be a shame not to share it. I thought it would be entertaining to present it in the form a rough script for a one act play. I even threw in a handful of pop culture allusions to one time popular terms &, for those of you who can handle it, even a bit of social satire. CAUTION: I use some slang from & even a handful of private idiomatic expressions. Follow along if you can, but don’t read too far into this: it was JUST A DREAM, man!

OPENING SCENE

Hot Blonde from my past is sitting on my right in a hot tub. She’s acting like we’re “together” & I’m going along with it but not overanalyzing what it means. I don’t mind if she talks to other men while she’s with me; I’m not too possessive, just enjoying the attention & the semi-exclusive access to her that she allows me. I’m in an outdoor hot tub with the jets either lightly on or not on at all. She sits down next to me on the right side & presses her body tightly against mine. I’m a little surprised but I weave my right arm inside her left arm & she accepts. I rub her smooth, female thigh while she rests her left hand on my right thigh. Other people start to show up. At first, it’s the Young Thick who I believe is vacationing with us. He sits down to my left a couple of feet away. I remember feeling relaxed & confident. I have my hot, blonde, flight attendant loving up on me at my right. I have my young but impressionable body guard buddy to my left. I’m feeling good about my own physique as well. Out here, I’m obviously a “have,” not a “have-not.”

WARNING: A NEW CHALLENGER ENTERS THE ARENA

An unknown Caucasian male unexpectedly shows up & takes a seat in the hot tub on Hot Blonde’s right side. He looks like college kid with the surfer boy hair from the gym–but older, more confident, & huskier. He cautiously takes notice of Kara but respectfully avoids engaging her in conversation as she is a stranger. But Kara eagerly strikes up a conversation with him. He quickly warms up to the idea of getting to know her & shoots an occasional wary glance my way while he tries to assess my relationship to her. Although Kara is verbally attentive to him, she continues to love up on me physically. To curtail any awkwardness, I coolly acknowledge the stranger to let him know that I was in the picture without chasing him off. If Kara wanted to talk to him, he could talk to her. But she was still with me. In the past, an interaction like this would have angered me. Today, I stayed cool though. I was connected to Kara but not attached. We weren’t together “together;” we were together enough. I was closer to her then this cat was & that’s all that mattered. I’m the one who was rubbing up on the top & inside of her left thigh. New guy didn’t want no smoke.

I mostly engaged my Young Thick bodyguard on my left. Despite his immense physical presence, he had adopted a deferent attitude in the current setting He was spoke to me freely but was silent towards our companions, even Kara, who knew him. I caught glimpses in his eyes of silent admiration as he assessed how I dealt with the potential challenger to my love interest without going absolute nuts. I was allowing my girl freedom but wasn’t allowing anyone to punk me either. It seemed as if Young Thick was taking notes on how he might act if in a similar situation.

ENTER, STAGE RIGHT

A new player then entered the arena from “stage right.” He walked behind us & took his seat in the hot tub to the Young Thick’s left. If you were to plot a seating chart outlining the five of us, we formed a capital “L.” The new stranger, Young Thick, & I made the long vertical line. The hot blonde & potential creeper made the short horizontal line. At this point, I was still in confident & in control. I did not perceive the newcomer a threat. I actually recognized him once he got settled into the water. He was a casual acquaintance. He wasn’t a friend, but there was respect between us. There would be no smoke.

But the stage had been set for change. A battle-hardened adversary once said of his enemies: “When they feel the strongest is actually the time they are most vulnerable.” Young Thick seemed to realize this before I did, because he began watch me carefully to gauge my reaction to the new challenger. Seeing no threat, I greeted my acquaintance. In this situation, it was clear that the hot tub was my home. I had been there first. I was there with the hot blonde on my arm. I even had a tall, muscled up, young man at my side to handle any light work, if need be. Like a lion feeling secure in his home territory, I graciously allowed these two new men into my domain as a host opens the doors to his own home to guests. But, if any guest chose to start trouble, the law would favor my swift & potentially violent response. Whatever happened here, I was in the right. Castle Doctrine extends to public recreational places like resort jacuzzis, night clubs, & bars. It didn’t have to be written in any arbitrary law book. Any red-blooded American male with half a sense of honor was sworn to abide by these rules on pain of death! I knew the rules; there would be no need for smoke today.

FUZZY LOGIC

Again, I’m recounting a dream that I had last night. In long dreams like this one, the details between transition scenes become fuzzy. To summarize, Hot Blonde predictably started talking to Acquaintance guy. I didn’t mind because she does this to every new guy who happens to cross paths with us while we’re together anyway; but then she explained that she knew him to. Before I even had a chance to trigger my alarm bells, people started to disappear. I noticed that Creeper Guy had left. My Young Thick was no longer a factor as he had politely excused himself to go inside. Before long, Hot Blonde had taken more than a casual interest in Acquaintance guy. She was now on my left in between me & Acquaintance Guy. Although she was still holding my hand, she had most of her body turned towards him. Occasionally, she’d turn to her right to smile talk to me or even blow me a kiss then wink. But those occurrences became fewer & fewer fast. Even I remember right, she was still holding my left hand with her right when they started making out furiously. Shocked, I braced myself to hold on. As I gathered myself to prepare what to say, prepping my body for a possible confrontation, she stopped kissing him & for the first time in a long time–focused her attention just on me. Her eyes were sad & glue as she feigned an apologetic look. She broke away from her new lover & leaned in close to me while she whispered quietly: “It’s okay. He & I have been seeing each other for a while. It’s give me a few minutes & we can hang out later.”

1453—THE OTTOMAN TURKS

Without a word, I emerged from the pool to go back inside. When this newcomer arrived, people starting to disappear. And now, I was disappearing to. I took one last glance as the beautiful, tall, blonde voraciously turned her full attention towards the newcomer as she threw herself into a frenzied embrace with him. Their two bodies sunk beneath the white bubbles of the whirlpool jets. As they sunk beneath the service, I turned away never to look upon them again. Although they were out of sight, I could still see everything come tumbling down.

It was a long walk back into the resort. Looking back, it must have been uncomfortable to go from a hot water jacuzzi to open air without having toweled off; but I don’t remember feeling cold. I passed through the lobby of our resort, past my Young Thick friend without casting a glance his way. I made my way into a small kitchenette off to the side of the main lobby. My sister was in there eating something. She immediately greeted me by telling me about what she had just been through. I didn’t want to talk but politely listened, not making eye contact. I was still shell-shocked from having had my entire kingdom plundered from right underneath my nose. There was a covered plate on the table that I instinctively knew was supposed to be mine. When I lifted the cover, I saw a half-consumed meal. My sister then explained that she had decided to eat half of my meal. For the first time since I had watched the sinking of the Titanic underneath the cold North Atlantic waves, I spoke; and the words were harsh.

FAT/BALD

I blew up at my sister the way I had only blown up at a true enemy in the past, like that Fat Bald. In fact, it was as if my consciousness had separated from myself & I seemed to be listening to myself talk the way I bystander would. I was stunned at the harshness of my words but was too frozen to act.

My sister was quick to counter-attack me. She called me a hypocrite & screamed out that I was selfish. I caught my breathe & tried to explain that I had just experienced the worst day of my life. She didn’t seem to care. When I reminded her that she had eaten my dinner without permission, she finally snapped to. She grew silent, perhaps recognizing that she had over-reacted then asked: “Well. What do you expect me to do to make that right now?” Then she walked out.

Her words struck me. Was everything suppose to make something right? Couldn’t things just be? There were some things that couldn’t be made right. That collapse of Rome that I had just witnessed out on the pool deck….nothing was going to make that right.

I sunk down into the chair. I was afraid to move, lest the day somehow manage to get even worse! Lyrics from a song from a by-gone era came to mind . . . something about “the shape of an L on their forehead.”

CURTAIN CALL

Less than two hours ago, I was on top of the world. I was at the apex of my physical existence. I was surrounded by competitors for all the blessings I had already earned from myself, & it was clear that there wouldn’t be “any smoke.”

And indeed, there would not be. But in place of “smoke” . . . “tears.”

Doppelgänger

He-Man meets Faker

We all want to believe that we’re special; that there’s no one else on earth like us. You know how disappointed you feel when you realize how common you really are? Well imagine how much more disappointing that must feel for the most powerful man in the universe!

Skeletor: “Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha, He-Man! It looks like you’re not so unique after all!”
“Meet my latest creation—FAKER!”

Skeletor taunts He-Man as, through a magic, Fakers dons a human head that closely resembles He-Man’s! As the two gladiators skirmish, Skeletor reveals that Faker began as one of Man-in-Arms’ proudest accomplishment–a robotic training dummy imbued with the strength & speed of a true warrior. Skeletor’s minions ambushed a band of heroic warriors during a simulated patrol. Tri-clops made some modifications & then Skeletor put the finishing touches on the simulated life-form by channeling a portion of his own power into the robot. Surely, a warrior that was equal part machine, equal part conjured beast–could combine all the necessary qualities to equal & even surpass the fighting prowess of the most powerful man in the universe! Right?

After a brief struggle that, at times, demonstrated strength & speed from the robot that seemed to equal that of his twin human: He-man proves that things aren’t always as they appear.

In the end, looks are only skin deep. He-man’s true strength comes from his humanity–more specifically, the righteousness of his humane qualities. He-man knows how special he is without needing to be reminded all the time. He-man knows that what powers his strength in combat is the compassion of his heart. He-man is strong because he only chose to rely on that strength when absolutely necessary. And because his motivation is pure, the power of Greyskull coursed effortlessly through him, it’s truly deserving champion. When the machine in Faker begins to fail, the power of Greyskull does not. He man perseveres because his strength comes from a higher place outside of himself.

By the end of the brief conflict, it isn’t even close. He-man sends Skeletor scampering for safety atop this giant panther with his defeated robot servant in close pursuit. He-man had won; but Skeletor realized that he had uncovered a true weapon in the war for power. Skeletor had discovered the art of deception over brute force. He would perfect that weapon & deploy it again when the time was right. But for now, He-man had saved the day once again.

Le Morte d’Fidelitas

Image borrowed for not-for-profit, creative purposes. Click on highlighted text “SOURCE” for image’s origin.

Do you remember the tale of King Arthur & the Knights of the Round Table? It’s a series of legends that means so many different things to so many different people. The tales revolve around such high order concepts like honor, courage, & equality. This tradition is not just an amazing story: but a series of numerous amazing stories that, taken together, create a context for an idealized age. The theme that stood out the most for me as a student was the love triangle involving King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, & Sir Lancelot. This particular sub-plot highlights what is to me the most treasured of all high order concepts–FIDELITY.

The entire premise behind the Round Table was equality. Unlike a traditional table that takes the shape of a square or rectangle, there is no “head of the table.” Any point around the circle’s outline stood an equal distance from the center. Any one knight seated there could take center stage at any given moment. Each man, whether lord or vassal, was equal part speaker & listener; performer & spectator; leader & follower. The Round Table served as a stirring symbol for an ideal for which we still strive even today. So imagine the shameful scandal it must have been when the leader behind such a beautiful idea fell victim to the common sin of adultery.

Click on the highlighted link that follows to see a YouTube video clip from the 1981 movie Excalibur. In this scene, the King asks the rhetorical question, “What is the greatest quality of knighthood?” The answer he receives foreshadows the betrayal that is yet to come.

Careful what You ask For

As if that weren’t bad enough, Arthur’s Queen Guinevere, the iconic pure lady in the most elevated legend written from the courtly love tradition, not only cheated on her husband . . . but did so with the his best friend . . . Lancelot!

Sir Lancelot was Arthur’s greatest Knight. On multiple occasions, depending on which tradition of the legends you cite, Lancelot fought & defeated the entire lot of knights all on his own. He was the champion who would defend the King’s, or the Queen’s, honor in single combat in situations that didn’t warrant involving the entire army. Lancelot was supposed to be the Guardian of Purity; but he betrayed his King–and best friend–by sleeping with the Queen. The affair between Lancelot & Guinevere was the betrayal of Betrayals! It was a sin interwoven into a sin. Not only did the King of idealistic Camelot lose his wife to such a profane sin of adultery; but did so knowing that it was his best friend & bodyguard who stole his wife away! Why didn’t they just stab him in the back & then urinate on his bleeding corpse as they ridiculed him while he toiled through his last painful breaths? Where were their 30 pieces of silver, as they had “betrayed their master with a kiss“?

Here is another link from the 1981 movie. I couldn’t find a clip in English but that shouldn’t matter as the action requires no words. Fast forward to the 1:18 mark & witness for yourself the death of fidelity.

Once Seen, cannot be un-Seen

But when it comes to stabbing people in the back, it was Arthur who had the last word. After having endured so many whispers of this tragic betrayal, the King tracked his Queen into the woods only to find the unclothed bodies of the two people who he loved the most asleep in an intimate embrace. The brave warrior held mighty Excalibur over the pair of evil-doers, ready to slay them as was his right as husband & king. But instead, the King of Camelot, Champion of Equality & advocate of righteousness, plunged his sword in between the two lovers & left them alive to awaken & live with the guilt of their sin. While Guinevere & Lancelot chose to strike their King down with infidelity, their King responded not with violence but forgiveness. Arthur was too faithful to his wife & friend to end their lives.

Editor’s Note: The following content involves the use of characters both named & un-named. Any likeness to other people, real or imagined, is completely coincidental.

Fidelity. In my own life, my pursuit for this lone ideal above all others has been the biggest source of my frustration as well as the greatest block to finding lasting love for myself. Although I don’t claim to be “king” or any form of “royalty” for that matter, I’ve often played the role of Arthur in my life’s intimate relationships. On more than one occasion, I’ve dealt with the aftermath of some unseen betrayal–or, worse yet–borne witness to such betrayal, at least in my own eyes, similar to the ghastly scene that Arthur discovered in the woods. I even shared one such instance with my wise pastor. I told him that every time I closed my eyes, I’d see my beloved Lorraine with that corrupt monster who stole her from me. I could never free myself from the pain of that disappointing image; I could never feel pace, whether my eyes were opened or closed. For months afterwards, all I saw was PAIN. My pastor responded in a factual but sympathetic way: “It’s true what they say. Once you see something that horrible, you can’t un-see it.”

In more practical terms, he followed this up with: “You have to forgive.”

“Forgive?” I asked, confused.

“Forgive them. Forgive her. But forgive him too.”

I stormed out of his office in anger. I was disgusted with my pastor’s weakling advice. I could forgive her, of course . . . she was pretty! But forgive that fat, ugly beast? NO! I wanted to slay this pile of walking pollution as was my right as a man betrayed. I would un-sheath my Excalibur & not re-sheath him until he had feasted on my enemy’s blood! (This is figurative language used for dramatic effect only).

At the time this conversation occurred, there was no talk of “Arthur” or “Round Table.” I only bring it up now because, after countless painful nights & deep reflection, I, too, chose not to strike down those who had wronged me. At first, my pastor’s plea to forgive seemed like vile weakness; but eventually, I saw forgiveness in this case as strength. Like King Arthur, I did attention to betrayal; but then walked away. Today was the day that this same pastor invoked the legend of Arthur & “The Sword in the Stone.” And today was the day I finally decided to heed that wise man’s plea & put the betrayal behind me, not in front of me. It only took . . . oh, I don’t know…..a year or so. (Statement inserted for humorous effect only).

Today’s sermon haunted me as I went about my Sunday’s chores. At some point, I realized something. It wasn’t so much the loss of Lorraine that I had been mourning; but the failure of faithfulness. I had witnessed what I believed to be the loss of a sweet girl’s innocence, & I regretted that perceived loss. She wasn’t the love of my life; but she was my Camelot. She was validation of an impossibly child-like expectation I have always held onto. She was my fairy tale. And her betrayal was the death of my innocent vision.

In every Arthurian legend, his death evokes both pain & hope. Pain, because the Warrior King who was not too proud to show mercy when warranted had passed; hope, because of a prophecy that declared that when the need arose, on a future date the King would return. If I’m not mistaken his epitaph read:

Arthur: the Once and Future King.

For me, fidelity died with when Lorraine disappointed me. But it wasn’t her job to uphold my world view anyway. Concepts like Fidelity are bigger than one person or one moment. Fidelity, like love & courage–can be vanquished for a time, but not forever; so I mused.

I’ve mourned the death of my personal Camelot as I saw it sink beneath the dark waves of The Lake. My treasured dream had ended. But after today’s sermon, I realized that my use of the word ended is premature. The place where I am now is neither an end nor a beginning; but a continuation. Life, spiritual growth, triumph–these high order ideals often occur in cycles. I had witnessed what I thought was the death of fidelity; but it was simply a set-up for its re-emergence. My cycle continues. I’m still learning. I’m still improving. I hurt but then heal. I hate but then love. I fight but then forgive. Just like the legend says about King Arthur, when the need arises on a future date, my Camelot will come again. I treasured Lorraine. I treasured what she represented for me; what I made her out to be. But doing so was unfair to both of us–and foolish. When I experience my own personal Camelot, it doesn’t have to have anyone else’s name on it other than my own.

My Camelot . . . will come again.

It’s June . . . but Winter

Photo borrowed for a not-for-profit purpose citing the Fair Use Clause of 1976 from a Pinterest website. Click the highlighted “Pinterest” term to view source material.

A creative writing exercise that employs current circumstances to enhance realism.

It’s finally June. After a long winter of wearing masks, Covid restrictions, & uncertainty; the sun is finally shining on a bright reality similar to the one we knew before “Coronavirus” captured the headlines in March of 2020; and for those of us whose lives it did not take, it put on hold. But at last. It’s warm outside. The masks are off. We have permission to enjoy life again. Things are finally back to normal. It’s summer.

I’m typically a night owl which means that I rarely get along with early mornings. However, today I couldn’t help but tire of the bed shortly after 7am. It’s the first Saturday of June & I had the day off. I had promised myself that Summer 2021 was going to be one for the ages, for me at least. It would be a summer of momentous positive change. Why sleep in when there was a warm, bright world outside just waiting to erupt into a sizzling summer? I took my coffee on the front porch, facing East. I wanted to acclimate myself to feeling alert this early in the morning. I would use the bright sun in my face to reinforce the caffeine in my bloodstream & the general feelings of excitement surging inside me. I sat out there so long that my coffee became warm, not hot: much like the weather. It was warm, not hot: a rather pleasant circumstance.

I went back indoors where, to my shock, I felt cold. The sleeveless muscle shirt that seemed like such an advantage outside suddenly became a liability. My housemate keeps the thermostat waaaaayy down. She was away for the weekend so I immediately went to shut the A/C down. Then I took my place on the sofa to finish my coffee only to find that the lukewarm liquid no longer appealed to me. I turned on the TV as I planned out my day. What chores had to be done first, what time should I go to the gym, etc — such weighty topics required my attention. Time, like the sun outside, was burning. I don’t have expensive cable so I watch YouTube on my TV. I had been hearing that old Guns N Roses song “Cold November Rain” at the gym lately so I decided to play a version that included the lyrics. As I settled into the song, I noticed that I still felt cold, despite having shut down the A/C. Then, the following verse appeared onscreen:

Don’t you think that you need somebody?

Everybody needs somebody.

You’re not the only one.

You’re not the only one.

Out of nowhere, I found myself thinking back to a photo I recently chanced upon featuring Lorraine. Her best friend had gotten married in May; it was a majestic affair from all accounts. Lorraine was one of nine bridesmaids. They were all beautiful–the bridesmaids and, of course, the bride herself. But Lorraine, even off to the side–even with their every effort to minimize the superiority of her beauty . . . easily overshadowed them . Just as the sun outshines the combined light of the moon & the stars in the night sky, Lorraine stole the show–just as she had stolen my heart years ago. But oddly, she was the only bridesmaid who was there alone. She, the sun amongst the stars . . . She, the standard for all womanly beauty . . . She, the matriarch of the endless tempest in my heart . . . was alone.

But so was I.

I grabbed the Afghan from the couch & wrapped it around me. The atmosphere no longer felt lukewarm; it felt cold. I shivered as the irony set it–It was June, but still felt like winter to me.

Even on the brightest summer day, the next thunderstorm is always waiting to strike. I felt it in my bones; it was going to rain again–a rather (un)pleasant circumstance.

This piece serves as the pilot episode for a fictional summer series following one man’s continuous struggle to pick up the pieces from a disastrous disappointment & evolve to the next stage that awaits him–presumably a happy one.