I walked outside to find the two of them up in the tree house. It was still under construction but was about 80% done now. Seth and Isabelle were in the hammock on the second level, he had insisted on building a top of the line tree house for Isabelle so that she could experience the magic of being outside and playing under the stars. We already had a pretty bad ass deck, no railings anywhere which I guess wouldn’t pass code, but for now it was great for us. I’d be worried about having this kind of set-up if Isabelle were any younger, she turned seven in September. That Autumn the leaves had turned all the fiery colors of fall, bright oranges and reds, with a remnant of hesitant green still hanging on.
I stepped outside like a ninja, in stealth mode. Barefoot in the late April night, undetected by Seth and Isabelle as they talked. I could here him telling the story as the two of them gazed up at the stars. It was past Isabelle’s bedtime, but these sort of magic nights they come along, well I guess life is what you make it and they could come along as often as you would like, as often as you open your heart to have them come alive. I need to keep reminding myself that. Life is what you make it. And so I wasn’t going to enforce Isabelle’s bedtime just yet.
We have a bad habit of building these prisons around ourselves. Prisons of time and “to-do” lists that keep us from moments just like this, and while I planned to come out and tell the two of them it was time for bed I realized, what’s the point. Why? Why does it have to be time for bed…Isabelle doesn’t have school tomorrow, she does have her weekly zoom check-in with her class, but that’s not ‘til 11:00am…So even though both Seth and I understand the importance of schedules for Isabelle, and for her Mom and Dad. It helps. You become your habits. Habits make it easier when life becomes an uphill battle. To be able to fall back on your habits and your routines is a gift, it’s one less thing you need to think about. The ball is already in motion, the tide is already pulling you out to sea, all you have to do is go with the flow, and that’s the importance of routines and habits and why they’re so important for humans to find success and also to find peace of mind. I thought as I stepped out into the yin-yang stone work Seth completed last spring for our newly renovated firepit and overall back yard of which the Edison fairy lights and Isabelle’s super dope tree house were all a part of.
Sometimes I wonder who the treehouse is really for, Seth or Isabelle, but I think I know the answer to that…besides humans live in the center of the paradox, walking that fine line between order and chaos, control and loss of control, knowing and the unknowable, we live in that liminal zone, we are not gods and not animals and we have to learn to walk that line, to not give up and throw up our hands and say “what’s the point?” but at the same time not to become so overbearing that we try to control every aspect of everything. We have to get comfortable riding that wave, its funny because I thought this as I walked right along the line between the yin-yang symbol in our patio walking up to the tree house, listening.
The tree frogs were conducting their annual symphony, the first fire flies and cicadas had yet to come out. Tonight was the first night that it had been warm enough to really be comfortable outside to lie back and stargaze, which is exactly what Seth and Isabelle were doing.
I could see them pointing to the stars as I walked towards them, but as I got closer I heard Seth’s smooth baritone come across with a completely different story.
“Were you scared of getting caught?”Isabelle asked
“Of course.” Seth said, “but that’s what made it fun really.”
“We were sitting there in the moonlight on a night just like tonight, it was April 23rdand it was gorgeous and clear and the moon looked almost identical to how it looks right now. I remember because Daniel and I were looking at it before we made our dash across the lawn of Hermitage Castle…we had no idea there would have been a ceremony going on that night. We didn’t even know the rumors of the secret society were true. We just wanted to go to the Castle. It was something we did on nights when there was nothing else to do. Sometimes I’m amazed how much energy we had back then. How we could be up all night and then go to class the next day with only a little headache as punishment for completely ignoring our internal circadian rhythms…and these Spring nights, especially when the stars are out like this, were particularly fraught with energy."
“I had been writing a paper for my English lit class…King Lear I think it was.”
“I love Shakespeare”Isabelle said, far to wistfully for a girl of seven…
“Very Good Isabelle, that’s my girl.” The pride was apparent in his voice.
I thought for a minute how lucky the two of them were, him to have a daughter like Isabelle, and her to have a Father like Seth.
If its one thing this pandemic has taught me it’s to appreciate what I have, and my family is perfect, not in the sense of universal ideal of perfection, but they really are perfect for me, you know how your car, or your room, or your favorite pair of jeans is perfect…that’s how my family is…I was filled with a sense of overwhelming peace. Like everything would be alright, because in this moment everything is alright and this moment is all we have, all we will ever have. Now. Be Here Now.
“I’m here I said to myself” and I heard Isabelle ask:
“So you were writing a paper and…”
“And back then Daniel and Daddy lived together in a room much smaller than your room is now honey bear.”
“Were you poor?” Isabelle asked innocently but with a hint of superiority. A superiority we had planted there and fed with our constant reminders of how lucky she was and how good she had it. So that almost invisible, but also equally omnipresent sense of superiority, that was our fault. A twinge of regret surged through my body, but I wasn’t immediately sure what I could do to rectify the situation, and so I let it pass. Another thing this crisis taught me, is that your life becomes what you focus on. It could be easy and great or it could be hard and unbearable what was that quote from Blake, “the mind is a world unto itself, it can make a heaven out of hell, or a hell out of heaven.” Or was that Milton?
“So Daniel and I lived together; we had bunk beds and, I think we had a little 19” TV and a mini fridge. It’s amazing we lived the way we did then…Anyway I was finishing up the first draft of my paper on King Lear and Daniel, who was an art major at the time, had just finished a piece comparing Dali and Picasso. We both needed some fresh air, there was something about being cooped up in the same 10x10 space breathing each other’s air that made us feel the need to get out. We needed to stretch our legs and it was such a beautiful night. You know how you stepped outside tonight when Shadow went running outside and were just struck by the sheer beauty of it all?”
“It is so gorgeous, the sky is so clear, the stars are so bright, look you can see Orion perfectly!”
“Very good Isabelle! Very Good!”
“I know it’s marvelous, and I’m lucky to be able to be here with you and your mother right now…Come on up here honey!”
“I didn’t think you guys could hear me…I was in barefoot stealth mode.” I said a little disappointed at being found out.
“Oh baby you know I can always sense you. Your aura is just so strong; I’d know you were near in the pitch dark with headphones on.”
“What are you two cool cats talking about anyway?” I asked coyly.
“I was just telling Isabelle the story of how we met.”
“Oh that’s a good one, go on…”
“So, where was I…”
“You and Daniel had just finished your homework for the night.”
“That’s right, Ok…so Daniel and I had just finished up our homework, it was a Thursday night and we headed out. Neither one of us had any money, so we weren’t going to the bars, even though that’s where the majority of the campus was on Thursday night."
“So Daniel and I decided to just take a walk, and as we were wandering past the Bell Tower and then through the Botanical Gardens, we were both so moved by the night that we decided to push our luck and go check out Hermitage Castle…Now remember it was probably about 11:00pm and the majority of kids on campus were either out partying, or sound asleep in their dorms. So hardly anyone was out and about. The brick walkways were vacant as Daniel and I strolled under the stars. The moon was gorgeous above us and though not quite full, was still bright enough to light the way and give off little moon shadows from the newly minted leaves of the spring trees we were walking under.”
“So now with our destination in mind, we both entered our own stealth mode.”
“I hope it was better than mine.”I said as I listened to a story I knew by heart now.
“Honey, nothing I do is better than you. Isabelle, your Mom would have definitely been much stealthier than either Daniel or me, but as things played out Daniel and I did seem to be stealthy enough for the business at hand…"
“We crept down the road, past the old outdoor stone theatre that made me think of the origins of drama, of Sophocles and Euripides and comedies and tragedies of ancient Athens. Where the old archetypes were originated, where the skill and style of really great storytelling was codified and replicated with such classics as Oedipus Rex and Antigone. Just thinking about those stories now makes me wish that I’d paid more attention, maybe I’d be a better story teller today if I’d listened more then. Because believe it or not, there are tricks to this trade.”
“We stuck to the shadows now, ensuring no one would notice us going in or out of the Castle. We didn’t really have any need to be so sneaky, because no one was ever at the Castle anyway, or so we thought.”
“That night as we made our way down the gravel driveway to the big round about where an ancient pecan tree and a gnarly old walnut tree were locked in each other’s embrace, we could see there were lights on in the castle. Something I’d never experienced before, and enough to give Daniel and I pause. What started out as just a little evening exploration to stretch our legs was turning into something else, and neither Daniel nor I wanted any trouble. We certainly didn’t want to get busted for trespassing.”
“But we kept going, crouching down in the dark shade of the undergrowth and staying far out of sight, and that’s when we saw them.”
“Dad…I’m getting scared.”
“Don’t worry honey it’s not scary…”
“What did you see?”
“A large round table, stone, and on the table were six swords, bright and glowing in the moonlight.”
“I didn’t even wait, I ran right up to the table and grabbed a sword and so did Daniel and then we were gone the same way we had come.”
“Through the woods and down the path running as fast as we could, all hunched over and sneaky like but we didn’t even make it past the round about when we heard someone shout:”
‘Stop! There, by the trees, get’em They have the swords of the castle, they have the pride of the brotherhood. Get them! Thieves. Release the hounds.’
‘Release the hounds?’ Daniel and I said to each other with a new found fear, Daniel threw his sword off into the woods and went tearing back to our room full speed, not bothering to stick to the shadows, or obscure his appearance or location…he was gone.”
“I on the other hand took a different route. I kept the sword and went tearing across the parking lot on the other side of the woods that lead right through the cemetery. I glanced back quickly and could just barely make out the sounds of slobbering dogs. It sounded like three or four to me, and a whole team of flash lights accompanied by the yells and threats of a few dozen very angry men.”
“I ran, and as I did I thought to myself, ‘What the hell am I doing? What the hell did we just stumble into?’…the only thing that even came close to making sense was a little far fetched but the pieces congealed in my mind even as my feet raced through the gravestones and I picked my way over the old knee high rock walls. I came over that last wall and that’s when I realized that Daniel and I had unwittingly found ourselves in the middle of some secret society’s initiation ceremony. The swords had to have been part of that initiation, which meant that I now held in my hand a sword that belonged to another young man, rightfully, who now could not have his initiation completed simply because Daniel and I took a walk and I was compelled by some childish impulse to steal.”
“I’m so glad you’ve grown out of that stage.” I said looking lovingly at Seth.
“Oh baby I’m out of that stage. Way out!”
“I was still running. I had just run up the stairs that lead from the cemetery to the gym, and just as I was rounding the corner that leads towards the quad, I hung a right and was looking back to see if the dogs or the brotherhood were still on my trail. And that’s when I ran right into your Mom.”
“Yep!” I said with a self satisfied smile.“I was looking down going over some flash cards for my exam on the magna carta and that’s when this big sweaty brute bumbles right into me. It was just like a scene in a movie, some rom-com with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, so cliché, but it was also kind of beautiful. Especially when you think about the randomness of the universe and what the chances were for us ever running into each other like that. Especially since we did take similar classes in the English Department on the same floor, and yet we had never met before.”
“Life is so weird.” Isabelle said.
“Tell me about it.” Seth said as he leaned in and kissed me, pulling me and Isabelle closer to him, protecting us all in the warm security of his embrace. I was so lucky, and I knew it.
“And so we run right into each other. My books go flying everywhere, your Dad bent down to help me pick them up and as he was bending down, he accidentally cut me with that stupid sword right on my hand. My hand started bleeding, I started crying. Your Dad freaked out, apologizing grabbing my hand and saying he’ll fix it up for me, I tell him to let go, and just then we look into each other’s eyes and that was it.”
“That was it. Wasn’t your hand bleeding Mom?”
“Sure honey, but when I looked into your father’s eyes, I don’t know how to put it. Hon you’ve always been better with words…”
“I saw a reflection of my soul.” Seth said…
“Your father the poet, it's why I fell in love with him.”
“What about the sword?” Isabelle whined.
“Oh, the sword, what did I do with that? You see once I ran into your Mom, nothing else mattered.”
“You gave it to me, remember? We used it in our reenactment of Macbeth, and then I just donated it to the theater department, no big deal. I really think that everyone thought it was just a prop anyway. And for all we know…’the Brotherhood’ had actually gotten their special swords from the prop room at the theatre department anyway. So the way I see it, no harm, no foul. Your father learned his lesson, and that magic night brought us together.”
“And that was the beginning of a beautiful story that brought you into the world sweet Isabelle.”
“Eww gross… Come on you guys.”
Isabelle squirmed and giggled as Seth and I kissed again. Then we all settled back in the hammock, our eyes dreamily locked on the star speckled dome of the late April sky.