Gary stared at the map as if he had no idea what he was looking at. Nothing about it made sense to him. It was like a mass of scribble on a page. A foreign language he couldn’t decipher.
“Where the hell am I?”, he said.
He turned his head to look out his driver’s side window just as a massive caravan of sixteen-wheeler semi’s hurled past him going at least 90-100 mph. The gust of wind that whipped off them was so fierce, so strong, it made his rusty, 1985 Subaru nearly flip over on its side.
“This is insane,” he said to himself, as his car struggled to keep its tires on the ground. “I can’t believe this is happening. Not now. Why now?”
He reached over and turned on his hazards.
Sheets of heavy, intense rain, louder than any rain he’d never heard, beat down on his windshield. Gary covered his ears. The sound was deafening, maddening, terrifying; as if the raindrops falling from the sky were billions of fists beating down, pummeling him from above, viciously intent on breaking through and killing him. Had it not been for the endless river of white lights speeding towards him, the red lights zooming past him, and the two, dim, crummy lights in his car, it would have been pitch black. He would have been in complete darkness.
Fear started to creep in. His heart, already weak and feeble, began to pound. His gut started turning in circles. His breathing got shallow. His hands went clammy. His mouth went dry. He started to shake uncontrollably.
“Look at yourself, Gary,” he said to himself. He pulled down the sun visor and looked at himself in the mirror.
“Look at how pitiful you are.” He ran his hands across his balding, 53-year-old, sweat covered, head.
“You have no idea where you are, and no idea where you’re going?” He gulped. Vomit crept to the top of his throat.
“When are you going get your shit together, Gary? When are you going to figure it out? Look at everyone else. They all know where they’re going. They all have a job. They all have a purpose. They’re all headed somewhere; to something, to someone. You’re the only one broken down on the side of road going nowhere. You’re the only one who's lost. While you’re sitting here, in an old rusty car, the rest of the world’s passing you by in Corvette’s, Mustang’s, and Porsches.”
He looked to the side again. Fear and humiliation clouded his eyes. He could barely see anything.
“You should be ashamed of yourself.” He looked down in despair.
“You better hurry up and figure it out, old man. Time’s ticking.”
He pushed up his thick, brown rimmed, glasses, and wiped the nervous sweat off his brow. Then, after taking a shallow, utterly depthless breath, he looked down at the map and tried, once again, to figure out where he was. Desperately, he tried to focus. Desperately, he tried to quit shaking and ignore the rain beating down and the traffic racing past him, but all to no avail. The intensity of his desperation only made it worse.
After a minute or two, the lights in his car began to flicker. He looked up at them.
“Don’t you dare,” he said out loud to them, “Don’t you even dare.”
In an instant, they, and his hazards, went out, and the darkness came crashing in.
Then the panic set in. Uncontrollable panic. Unimaginable panic. Panic so commanding, so oppressive, and so suffocating, that he felt like he was being crushed beneath the weight of a colossal boulder. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t think. He couldn’t even scream. He was utterly consumed with fear.
“I can’t do this anymore,” Gary whispered to himself, as tears started welling up behind his eyes, “I’ve tried so hard, for so damn long, to make something of myself, something of my life, but no matter how hard I try, no matter what I do, I always fuck up. I always fail. Look at me, I’m no one. I’m just a nameless, faceless, fearful old man, that nobody knows, that nobody cares about, with no money, no family, no friends, no job, no nothing, sitting in an old, broken-down car on the side of a four-lane highway, somewhere in the middle of nowhere, during a storm, in the middle of the fucking night, scared to death. It can’t get worse than this. I’m not doing it anymore. I’m finished.”
Then, he laid his head back against the seat, closed his eyes, and prayed for God to take his life.
No sooner had he prayed his prayer, than he fell into a very, very deep sleep. As he slept, he dreamed.
In the dream, he saw himself standing on the top of a high mountain, looking out over the world. He was younger, maybe 25 or 30, and stronger, much stronger. His hair was thick and healthy. His clothes were new and fresh. He was wearing a brand-new black coat and dark, brown leather boots that went up over his ankles. His coat was zipped, and his boots were laced up methodically. He had the look of a mountaineer; a very seasoned, knowledgeable, and well-equipped mountaineer. The gaze in his eyes was purposeful, expectant, filled with hope, confidence, determination, and an almost tangible belief in the magnificence of life. In his hand he held a map.
He had climbed the mountain for a reason. He was searching for something: a place, a region, a land that he knew could only be seen from that place. The journey up the mountain had been long, tiring, and wearisome, but he had persevered, even in the steepest, most difficult parts. Never once had he given up. Never once had he turned back. Never once had he stopped fighting to keep his mind, his body, and his heart fixed upon the only thing that truly mattered to him: finding the path.
Now, he was there, standing on the highest summit, above the clouds, looking down on the world around him. Right where he needed to be. The perfect vantage point. He opened the map, held it up in front of him, and examined the landscape beneath him. The words and markings on the map were understandable, decipherable, and clear, very clear, like a language that only he, himself, knew. After a little while, he rolled up the map, reached into the pocket of his coat, took out a compass, opened it up, and stretched out his arms to locate north, south, east, and west. When he had finished, he turned to the east, faced the dawn, and scanned the horizon.
Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, it appeared! He saw it! There it was! Stretched out like an open highway before him! Cutting through forests, winding through valleys, blazing through fields, rushing through rivers, roaring over oceans, soaring through the skies, in plain view, in plain sight, unveiled before his eyes! The path, the way, the road he’d been searching for his whole life. He’d found it! His search was over. A deluge of peace fell upon him.
At once, he unzipped his coat, tucked the map safely into the inside pocket, zipped it back up, turned to face the east, and started running, in full sprint, Home.
Right then, Gary’s leg twitched so hard, he knocked it on the steering wheel column, and woke up. He sat up abruptly, like a man coming back from the dead. He looked around, spellbound, bewildered, and confused.
“Where am I? Who am I? How did I get here?”, he thought to himself.
Suddenly, like a diver, plunging headfirst into crystal-clear water, he came back to his senses, and recognized his surroundings.
“Something’s different,” he thought to himself, “Something’s changed.” He was puzzled and mystified. He began searching for clues.
He looked in the mirror and examined himself in the dark the best he could. Nothing was different: he was still balding, he was still plain, he was still Gary.
He looked at his car: it was still old, it was still dirty, it was still just a rusty, old 1985 Subaru.
He looked outside: it was still dark, it was still raining, it was still storming, there was still traffic.
He looked at the map: it still looked like scribble, it still was confusing, it still was no help.
He was still alone, still lost, still sitting in a broken-down car on the side of a highway, in the middle of nowhere, in the dark. He was still without a job, without a family, without friends.
Nothing in his physical life or surroundings had changed at all. Everything was exactly the same as it had been before he went to sleep. Every detail, every fact, every jot and tittle of his life was there, fully accounted for, and present. Everything but one thing. Something was gone. He was certain of it. Something that had always been there was now missing, and whatever it was that left, whatever it was that no longer remained, had been a massive part of his life, perhaps part of the very fabric of his existence. But what was it? What could it be? He laid his head back against the seat and thought.
Suddenly, he sat up, and opened his eyes wide in disbelief. His mouth dropped open. He gasped.
“That’s it! That’s it!” he exclaimed, “The fear! The fear inside of me! I’s gone! It’s vanished! Disappeared! I’m not afraid anymore!”
Then, like a massive tidal wave, the dream came rushing back into his mind. Full of power, full of force, full of meaning, full of truth. He remembered the mountain, the landscape, the map, and the compass. He remembered the way he looked, the way he felt. The coat, the boots, the health, the strength in his bones, the strength in his mind. He remembered the confidence radiating from him, the ambition pulsating within him, the determination empowering him to his core, and the feeling of purpose and direction bursting out of him like a white, hot bolt of lightning. He remembered the path appearing out of nowhere. He remembered how he felt when he saw it: the peace, the exuberance, the thrill of knowing his journey was over, the excitement of running home.
He didn’t know what it all meant. He didn’t need to. The meaning didn’t really matter. All he knew was that the dream had given him something he’d never had. Something he’d only dreamed about. Something he never thought he would ever, in his life, possess: Fearlessness.
Without hesitating, Gary took hold of the fearlessness within him and put it to good use. He put his keys in the ignition, and tried, one more time to start his car, this time believing in his heart that it was going start. And, like magic, it did!
The hazards came back on, the lights inside came back on, the engine came back on. The darkness fled. The old, 1985 Subaru engine purred like never before. It was a miracle! The sweetest miracle ever.
“Holy shit!” Gary screamed. He nearly fainted. He nearly cried. He laughed hysterically. His smiled wider than he’d ever smiled before.
Without thinking, he put his foot on the clutch, moved the shift into first gear, looked in his rear-view mirror, looked out his driver’s side window, waited for an opening, and the second one appeared, he shot into traffic: first gear, second gear, third gear, fourth gear, fifth gear! He did it! He was back in! Back in traffic, back in life, back in the high life again! His heart was pounding. His mind was racing. His engines were full throttle, baby! No, he didn’t know where he was going. No, he didn’t know what lay ahead. No, he didn’t have any clue what the future held. This only did Gary know - that he was a new man, a fearless man, headed home, to a new life.