So Many Started Things Need Finishing

Do the Laundry
Vacuum my room
Cook Diner
Buy Groceries
Loss Five Pounds
Update Work Plans
Finish Action Planning
Figure Out How To Convince the Workers to Accept the Settlement
Re-write Short Story Ending
Record Poems
Finish Reading the Mayor’s Budget
Finish Reading Sister Outsider
Figure Out How To Say Goodbyes…

So many started things need finishing.
Saul checks the watch his cousin gave him in Chicago two years ago. The one with the chipped glass that he had made plans to fix on Friday after work and before the panel on gentrification he still had to prepare for. It was 9:32. That means it had been almost an exactly 20 minute ride from the restaurant back to his house, assuming that they had only spent 5 minutes in forced pleasantries with his roommates downstairs.

Tomorrow he would have to check in with Karen and ask her about her day. He had been too anxious to ask when he walked in with Angela. He could tell that she wanted to talk with him. He feels bad. He also needs to remember to ask her if they picked a date for the townhall so he could start making turn out calls.

His gluttonous mind was acutely aware of every detail of his room. The union pin reminding him to finish up the grievance form, cross it off his infinite to-do list. The crumpled up draft legislation on the floor reminds him to push out some talking points tonight. He’ll just re-write the ones from last year.

Dirty underwear laying on the floor reminds him he needs to finish the essay he had started on Tuesday instead of doing laundry. He should have cleaned his room before he brought a second date home. She probably doesn’t have enough affinity for him to overlook the filth. Though in fairness, he thought, there is no way he could have predicted this date would end up in his room. Oh, right, he remembers, the date that is happening now.

Saul tries to be present as the remnants from the early spring shower are dripping slowly and soundlessly on the window. The street lamp’s dim light is refracting within the moving droplets. If you are watching closely, you can see a million tiny rainbows on the windowsill. It is what his mother had always called exquisite sacred beauties, the ordinary places where god showed up.

Saul finds himself wondering if other people sees these little things. The play of light on bedroom windows after a storm; the patterns of creases on the bed sheets; the semi irregular assemblage of nobs on the radio that looked like Morse code; the creases on the corners of her lips that came from excessive laughter.

He wonders how she can sit there in front of him like she is not the most beautiful woman in the world. It always amazes him how otherwise observant people could be oblivious to their own beauty. He knows most men would have pointed this out to her by now instead of sitting in silent admiration. Yet Saul feels a deep comfort in the silences, even if they were partly a response to an intimacy that had developed perhaps too quickly in the course of two dates.

Part of him knew that a lot was being assumed about each other in these silences. That their relationship thus far had been laying out their hearts to each other, without discussing all the connective tissues that really made them who they were. With her he experiences silence as an endless series of pregnant pauses giving birth to something magically mundane. He felt an almost meditative calm begin to wash over him. Saul notices that the rhythm of Angela’s breathing was starting to match his own. He was beginning to feel that each deep, almost luxurious breath he took was drawing them closer. It makes the silence seem almost metaphysically productive.

Saul checks his watch, out of habit, but quickly forgets the time. Each moment of silence seems to grow in importance to him. Like sitting here poised precariously between the towering clutter of laundry that still needed to be folded and papers that still needed to be sorted, was the most important thing he could be doing.

Angela communicates volumes in these silences. Straight backed with a naturally proud poise, she exudes a vibrant confidence, even in moments like this. The ease of this moment is part of what Saul likes about her. Her openness always seems so organic, like a warm invitation to an intimate space that she is waiting to walk with him. Her warm solid vulnerability was the first thing he looked for in her eyes but the last thing he wanted her to see in his.

“When I was a kid,” He says stepping into the silence for a moment, “I used to love it when it rained like it was raining earlier. Torrential rain.”

“Really?” She smiles, imagining a smaller, infinitely more endearing Saul running through puddles. “Why?”

“Me and my siblings used to build a dam around this little…um…little…you know those little tubes that they put under country roads? To make sure they don’t get rained out?”

“Like a drainage pipe?” Angela says quizzically as she unconsciously hooked a stray hair behind her ear. The ardent curiosity in her eyes when she listens to Saul makes him light headed at times. Sometimes Saul wishes he could see himself how she sees him. Interesting, engaging and full of a powerful wonder. He wants so badly to be man she sees when she looks into him.

Maybe that is what attracts me to her he thought. Besides the messy dark hair that always seems to need to be pushed past her ear in a habitual, youthful way. Maybe that is why he had asked her out on that first date two weeks ago, despite feeling assured that she had a million better things to do. She had an art show coming up next week. The Dirty Lemons were going to be playing at the 9.30 club on Friday. The diverse city grant was due tonight and he is pretty sure she had been meaning to apply.

Yet she makes Saul feel comfortable in needing a human connection, she makes him feel worthy of it. She scrunches her eyes together as if forcing her brain to think of another word for the pipes that ran under small side roads, just as a Kodaline song started to seep out the speakers on his night stand.

So you brought out the best of me,
A part of me I’ve never seen.
You took my soul and wiped it clean.
Our love was made for movie screens.

Saul feels an unusual overwhelming poignancy in the moment; so full of meaning as to seem fake. Yet encouraged by her openness, Saul forces himself to not over-intellectualize the moment and wade into the youthful buoyance of it. Both Saul and Angela smile as he leans back for a second and mouths the words:

But if you loved me
Why’d you leave me?
Take my body,
Take my body.
All I want is,
And all I need is
To find somebody.
I’ll find somebody.

He isn’t singing the words to her, not really, but the effect is the same. Angela takes in a deep stuttering breathe to steady herself. Saul begins to sway gently as the song continues, his knees softly pressing against hers as he keeps the beat. Each causal touch feels almost like an embrace, and both Angela and Saul could feel their heartbeats building faster than the tempo. Saul smiles a slightly cocky smile that he has no faith in, which Angela correctly presumes is full of the same mixture of heady emotional longing and fear and uncertainty that she herself feels.

“Yeah, a drainage pipe” Saul begins again as the song lingers on in the background. “It was one of those old country roads. When spring came, we’d have these giant rain storms. I remember loving the feeling of the pressure changing in the air. It felt like the whole world has building to something it couldn’t contain. Then there would be a flash of lightning and thunder that seemed to shake the ground and the sky seemed to overflow with water. Inches of rain every hour would come pouring from the sky like a dam had burst in heaven. It was moment that I wanted to last forever, and sometimes I feel like…”

“Weren’t you scared,” Angela interjected, breaking herself momentarily from his story “how old were you?”

“I was terrified, maybe like 10 or 11, but also excited, anxious and…”

“Where were your parents?” Angela is visibly concerned and partly incredulous.

“…That’s a good question…around, I imagine. Anyway, we used to build a dam around this drainage pipe. We would stack shovels full dirt until it was taller than I was. We would race to see if we could build a little temporary pond. I remember once, during a particularly bad storm, asking my brother if we could build the dam all the way to the sky and if we did what he thought we’d find there. He would smile and say, ‘the only thing that can stop you is your fear of heights kid, the land above the clouds is where your dreams lay waiting for you jump up and claim them…’”

“Your brother said that?” Angela asks.

“It was something my father used to say to him when was my age, I mean, when he was the age I was then.” Saul replies nearly absent mindedly, watching droplets fall from the tress, the last remnants of the summer squall that was now heading out over Virginia.

Saul sat with that memory for a moment, staring off into the window, half mesmerized by the droplets racing down while the other half of his mind wonders why that memory feels so pressing. Angela is too wrapped up in the story to let Saul ruminate on it for long.

“And your parents just let you guys do this?” Angela says, clearly enthralled with the story. Saul smiles at her concern for the safety of his younger self.

“In my head, I spent most of my childhood roaming the country side with my siblings but, yeah, I think my parents must have been around. They were pretty attentive parents, just not as interesting to me as my siblings.”

“Were you the Black Huck Finn?”


“Running through the rustic country side, exploring the world with your best friend, bucking civilization for some nascent sense of the great beyond?”

“I’m not sure the story works if Huck Finn is Black…”

Angela laughs a hearty, full bodied laugh, and slides a strand of her long dark hair behind her ear again. Still smiling, they lock eyes.

“You know what I mean…”

“Yeah, when I was younger, I always felt pulled by a subtle but lingering sense of wanting more out of life; a desire to journey halfcocked at a whim. I always wanted to carry things over the edge and see a…something different…something new…a world beyond my own.”

“Over the edge?”

“Yeah. You know. See what was over the next hill. Take the next left instead of right and just ride off into the sunset. When I was a kid I would extend my ride home from school by hours, taking each route. By the time I went to college I knew every inch of the countryside by my house…But… I’m far too practical or practiced and methodic for that now. I have list of things to do, things to finish, things that keep me firmly here, with my feet on the ground…”

Saul’s words trail off as he suddenly realizes how much he misses that part of himself. He misses being the daring young child, fascinated by dreams of what lay beyond horizons. The world, his world, had seemed much larger then. He finds himself wondering what had pushed him from a budding cartographer to professional list maker.

There is another pregnant pause full of half knowing glances. Angela let’s Saul words sink into both her mind and into the room. She reaches out and places her hand on his arm gently, intuiting that he had inadvertently gotten himself lost in the past. They lock eyes as her warm knowing smile opens up a little space for him to process and just be.

Saul takes a shallow, quick breath and stares into Angela’s eyes for a few long and solid moments while slowly beginning to feel a their shared warmth and a new confidence. There is still a tension in the air, and shared anxiety and nervousness, all of which Saul decides, at last, to ignore.

He feels the pressure in the room build as he holds her gaze. Her clear dark amber eyes reminds him of the late afternoon sun breaking through storm clouds. He wants to say something. He wants to harness the courage of his younger self. He wants to push the moment over the edge. Saul wants to make the sky break open and rain. He wants so much but it’s been so long since he’s felt this way that he is unsure what to do next.

“Can I kiss you?” She asks him.

Saul begins to lean in even before he has fully registered the question. As their lips touch, out of practice, he is in a daze, in unfamiliar territory. The pressure that had been building becomes uncomfortable, like the room can’t hold it all. They break and Saul resists the urge to touch his lips and is left with a lingering sense of disbelief. Like an anxious man wondering if he locked the door to his house, Saul replays the moment to himself several times while staring into Angela’s eyes.

She laughs nervously and anxiously to break a bit of tension. She leans into it and him, resting her head on his shoulder and breathing audibly as if she has opened a pressure value. Saul comes-to slowly. He breathes deeply as he struggles to get on top of all the unexpected emotions he feels abruptly surging inside of him; joy and elation and desire mixed with a fear of the unknown and embarrassment at his detachment.

More expectant moments come that wash away bits of stress with each breath. Soon, the pressure of the room begins to equalize and Saul wraps his weightless arm around her. Angela slowly wraps her arm around his waist, and settles for a moment, peering out the second story window watching droplets of rain race down.

The moment nears a certain perfection, a symmetry that Saul is finally too fully immersed in to make a mental note of. Angela loses the world in the moment and finds herself with alone in the microverse they have created.

A rare sense of shared energy fills the room and suddenly everything was possible.

After a minute, Angela sits up and straightens her back. She looks at Saul and smiles warmly. They sit in the calm as their hearts beat steady synergetic thumps in tandem. Their breathing calms slowly. The weight of the moment is still there, but the room stable. As Saul’s mind clears he is left with that unfamiliar feeling of wanting more; of wanting to lean in and feel what happens when the pressure breaks. He imagines himself leaning in for another kiss, sense its possible completion of the moment so vividly but habit forces hesitation and he says “that was…yeah.”

Angela beams a soft smile of both disappointment and also a relief that surprises her. She turns to watching the droplets race down the window sill for a moment, breathing in step with Saul, letting the pressure build again.

“As a young girl,” She begins in an anxious tone, as if she is starting the story in an attempt to relieve the immensity in the air, “I used to wander the woods behind my aunt and uncle’s house. There was a trail that went from their back door to this pond. It seemed massive to me as a kid but it was probably only 40 feet across. After a rain storm, the pond would over flow and there would be a million little streams that would begin to flow from it. I used to run along the streams to see where the water ended up. I’d get to where one stream ended in a little puddle and then run back to the pond to find another stream I could follow. I used to think that I could follow them all to end. I’d be running all afternoon in the damp woods, until it was too dark to see the streams anymore. Then I’d vow to come back the next day…”

Angela stops in mid-sentence and her demeanor changes as if she suddenly recognizes why she is telling this particular story. Instead of finishing, she stares off through the window. Saul sees the sorrow and disappointment in her eyes and waits for her to continue while slowly rubbing her back. She expects Saul to make a joke, to laugh away the awkwardness of her tangent. Yet he stares intently into her eyes, waiting for her speak. It displays intensity and focus that makes the moment more intimate than she is prepared for. She feels herself exposed and vulnerable but safe and confident as the tension blossoms haphazardly in the silences.

“You can only take so many paths…”

“I’m taking the job in New York,” she says curtly, ended the conversation with a sense of finality that surprises them both.

There is a flash of pain and regret in Saul’s eyes and his mouth stays open briefly as the unfinished sentence tumbles from his mouth unsaid. Closing it, he forces his mouth into a smile.

“Congrats. It seems like the perfect job.” Saul’s face takes longer than he wants to soften from regret to sincerity, “I’m really happy for you.”

Saul is uncertain if all this building tension would end in relief or if he would be carried away by the torrent. Yet he still finds himself wanting more. Saul wants to pierce the tension that is building with the rise and fall of their chests but isn’t sure if he can handle what comes after.

Angela recognizes the panic and uncertainty filling Saul’s face. She leans in and gently runs her fingers through his dreadlocks almost as if she is absent mindedly trying to calm herself along with him. Saul responds by wrapping his arms around her waist and lets his would-be lover hold him. With his ear pressed gently over her chest, Saul thinks he could hear another slab of mud being added to dam holding back their emotions. He listens to the bricks being laid in their shared silence, building themselves higher, haphazardly towards the sky and beyond.

Saul begins to wonder whether this night is the start or end of something new. He wants to check his watch, to find some measure of certainty and control in the squall. He begins to understand how vulnerable he is being held by the smaller woman. Part of him remembers that this level of intimacy on a second date is dangerous.

He can sense that he is teetering on top of a towering structure built in haste for an unsound reason. He feels partly foolish for letting this much pressure grow. Yet most of him, including the part of his soul that feels connected to Angela’s, even that the part of him that knows such connections are rare but not unique, wants to push back the feelings of vertigo and leap.

So he decides to embrace the uncertainty and the fear and jump into the moment. Saul looks up into Angela’s eyes for another endless second before leaning in to kiss her again. Saul remains slightly detached from the moment for a few seconds, lips still unpracticed, still not sure the moment is real. Remembering something of his former self, he decides to close his eyes and lean into the curve. The gently pecking punctuated by bits of nervous laughter quickly build into a torrent of passion. Angela senses Saul’s passion and reciprocates, kissing him more fervently.

Saul lets himself go as he forgets his laundry lists of concerns, tasks and anxieties. The tension slides from dangerous ambiguity to excitement and elation. With each kiss, each caress, an unchecked task fell from his back and lands on the dam that had been building. Saul can feel the structure cresting in the sky just as the gravity of the instant began to crack it.

Angela feels hope growing in the pit of her stomach. The promise of something new, something magical was stirring and racing its way to her brain. The sensations were using her spine, strong and proud and now tingling with sensations, like an elevator shaft. Just before the sensation reaches her brain, just before she recognizes its purpose and communicates it to Saul in their shared languages of kisses and silences she is reminded of the 8 am plane flight that needs booking, of the empty boxes in her apartment that need filling, the good-bye’s letters to finish, thank you notes to sign. She remembers all of the started things that need finishing, the tasks that this dam of emotions they were constructing would not let her complete; the future she was planning that would swept away when the levees failed.

Angela stops, stiffens, and gently pushes Saul off of her just as Saul feels the last bit of stress fall and land on the embankment, shattering it under its own weight. The emotional release should have felt climatic but the distance between them makes it overwhelming. Saul moves away slowly but decisively, now trying to stop himself from being swept away.

They sit in muddled silence now. Saul slowly rubs Angela’s back in a daze as they both catch their breath. Saul tries to read the silence through the torrent of emotions flowing through him. He tries to understand it and her while fighting back a bitter-sweet joy. Each breath is filled with the sweetened remnants of intense satisfaction and the smoky tinge of disappointment. But the language of silence they had shared is gone, and in its place the laundry list of tasks and little anxieties begin to return.

“I just…It always happens like this. We can only follow one path at a time and only so many paths before…before…” She tries to explain, though the words sound dull and incomplete to her.

Saul hears her, nods, and continues to rub her back without really comprehending. The emotional world that their caresses had contained came flooding back in, incomprehensible to him. Sounds and thoughts and plans rushed in and mixed with the joy and ineffable sense of loss too quickly for either of them to decipher. The feeling of standing on top of the unfinished rampart, so close to the sky; a feeling that had been so real just a moment ago that it could only be communicated in silence, was distant and hazy and half formed. As the time passed slowly, he began to wonder if any of it had been real. He only knows he feels the undeniable sense of wanting more.

“How tall did your dams get?” She asks.

“When I was I kid?” Saul responds, remembering the moment when he stood so high on the mound of wet dirt that he seemed to tower over his older siblings. He remembers thinking he could have seen across the entire prairie if the rain hadn’t obscured his line of sight. The feeling of power and certainty felt so visceral and alien and welcomed to him in this moment.

“Unbelievably high” he answers wistfully, happy to be focusing on anything but the present moment “higher than I ever thought I was capable of. Higher than I’ve ever been since….”

Saul laughs, upon hearing himself speak, yet never had a hyperbole rang so true.

“Maybe 5 feet once or twice, but it felt like miles” he admits, “when was the last time you followed the paths behind your aunt’s house?”

Angela smiles, watches the last rain drops trickle down the window and says, as if to herself, “Is that not what I’m doing now?”

The silence that follows is hollow and filled with the remnant emotions of opportunities aborted. Their hearts both beat quickly and in time with their own breathes but no longer in time with each other’s. Now each out of step breath seems cheap and appears to be pushing them apart.

Eventually, Saul and Angela wade through the water logged remnants of their earth worked dam as he walks her to the door. They mumble lies about seeing each other before she leaves and Angela tries to summon up the words to say they should get together again the next times it rains. Instead she leans in, kissing Saul one last time on the lips, and tries to press as much meaning into it as possible.

She tries to tell him how much she wishes she could follow his love till it ran out. She tries to tell him that New York is a short trip away. She tries to tell him that this night meant more to her than the list of to-do’s that forced it to end prematurely. She tries to tell him how badly she wants to jump beyond with him. She tries to impress her new found need for the previous emotional excellence. Yet, as she opens her eyes and they lock with his she sees no sign of comprehension.

As he closed the door behind her, Saul unconsciously felt his lips, feeling like she had left a message on them in braille. Yet his fingers and hands and arms were too heavy and clumsy to decipher it now. He watches her walk away slowly, breathlessly and aimlessly to her car. Then, staring at the broken levees at his feet, the piles of clutter around his house, and remembering the laundry on his bed, Saul began to plan.

The rain drops falling on the window remind him of his younger self. He remembers the feeling of wanting more. The feeling of her lips on his gives him the courage to ask for it, even if her message failed to deliver. He begins to pick up the clutter strewn around the room, making expansive plans for the future as he cleans.

Buy the laundry detergent that makes his cotton shirts feel like silk across his skin.
Clean his bedsheets of the remnants of the night’s mud so that he can awaken afresh in the morning.
Vacuum the dirt off the carpet so that he can feel the soft wispy fabric between his toes.
Buy peaches from the farmer’s markets, sweet like the late summer night, and share them with Karen.
Write a vision statement for my work that ensures I’m heading towards the light and not just fighting back the darkness
Re-write work plan to fit vision statement so that I can feel rejuvenated by my daily work
Write a short story about the tower of Babel
Write a novel about my vision for Black Liberation
Write more poems about melted kisses
Tell her I loved that moment in the sky when I felt closer to an unknown god than ever before
Learn to get better at saying goodbyes
Find Reasons to go the New York.
Fall in Love again.

There are so many started things that need finishing…

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