Leaving the Lake ebook is available at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/370131
Chapter 7: May 16 (Afternoon)
Tane returned to her writing, trying to exorcise the image of the enormous roach from her mind by focusing on her essays. Around four o'clock, she began receiving increasingly urgent intuitive messages directing her to drive to the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. She loved taking walks around the brackish lake and was certain that some of those walks had preserved her sanity at times when her boyfriend's demeanor and uncommunicativeness had become too unpleasant to bear. But this time, Tane was so immersed in her writing that she did not want to stop to heed her inner voice. Ignoring the messages for as long as she could, by four-thirty she found she could resist them no longer. Impulsively she closed her computer, retrieved her handbag and digital music player, and headed for her car.
The late afternoon warmth turned out to be the perfect environment for the shorts and T-shirt she had donned that morning. Easily finding a parking spot on the street adjacent to the lake, she was surprised to see that only a few people were out on such a pleasant day. Tane inserted her earphones, turned on the music player, and set off toward the west end of the lake. Abruptly, her inner voice interjected and told her to turn around and head east. Having given up on ignoring the voice, she obeyed and reversed her direction. Her attention was drawn to a lone figure crouched on the concrete steps leading to the water's edge. You need to walk near that person, the voice told her. And, she knew instinctively, she needed to pull the earphones out of her ears so she would not be distracted by music.
As Tane veered from the path she had been following and walked closer to the lake's edge, she noticed that the figure was a dark-haired man wearing a gray sweatshirt. Apparently he had caught sight of her out of the corner of his eye because as Tane approached, the man turned and looked her full in the face.
Immediately, Tane could see and feel that the man was troubled. His eyes were bloodshot, and his face had an anguished look matched by the intense energy she could feel emanating from him. Typically in such situations, a person would politely look away and "pull in" her energy rather than engage a stranger directly. For reasons Tane was not consciously aware of, she chose not to do this. Instead, she looked directly into the man's eyes, feeling an overwhelming wave of compassion travel from her to him. In that moment, all concern for herself and her apparently desperate situation melted away, becoming inconsequential. Whatever this man was dealing with, she sensed, made her troubles pale in comparison! She was overcome with a feeling of boundless strength and supportiveness for this human being she had never set eyes on until five minutes earlier.
If Tane could have translated her communication to the man into words, they would have been, "Whatever you are going through, I understand – I've been there. And you know what? It will be okay. The difficulties you're dealing with will work out fine; they always do. This is just part of life. We all are in this together. You are not alone."
The man gazed at Tane for a long time, much longer than is considered polite for a man to look at a woman he doesn't know very well. But somehow it wasn't rude; it wasn't inappropriate; it wasn't sexual. It simply was one human being connecting with another, heart to heart, both of them having agreed to set aside the armor of social convention and protection that people have been taught to assume in public.
The man looked at Tane until she passed behind where he was sitting, and she sensed that he was looking at her even after that. She continued on her walk until the voice popped in again, instructing her to turn around, go back, and talk to the man. Oh, this is rich! she responded to the guiding voice. Now you have me striking up conversations with strange men. And what, pray tell, am I supposed to say to him?
Ask him how deep the lake is, the voice suggested. You've always wanted to know, and he does know.
With a sigh of resignation, Tane headed back toward the man, who looked up as she approached. "Excuse me, but do you have any idea how deep the lake is?"
Tane was surprised to see that his face looked much different from the way it had looked a few minutes earlier. His eyes were calmer and clearer, and the ruddiness of his complexion seemed less pronounced.
"Oh yes," he responded. "Lake Pontchartrain actually is fairly shallow, only about 13 feet on average, but there are deeper channels dredged that allow ships to pass through."
"I had heard it wasn't very deep, but didn't know about the channels," Tane commented. "I absolutely love this lake; it's my favorite spot in Mandeville. By the way, my name is Tane."
"I'm Artie, Artie Morrison," the man said, extending his hand upward while Tane leaned down to shake it.
"Do you live near here?" she inquired.
"I live in Covington. It's only about a 20-minute drive, and I like to come here a lot too."
Tane and Artie continued their conversation for over an hour. A resident of south Louisiana since age 28 (which Tane guessed had been at least 25 years earlier), Artie had a wealth of information not just about the lake, but about the history of Saint Tammany Parish and the New Orleans area. He was wearing a wedding ring, and Tane's intuition told her that he had been happily married for many years and had three children. Clearly he was not flirting; their conversation was simply a pleasant exchange between two congenial new acquaintances.
Artie exuded creative ideas and enthusiasm, was an avid reader of historical fiction, and had been planning to spearhead a restoration project for a natural spring located in Old Town Mandeville, just across the street from the lake. "The next time I take a walk here, I'll look at the remains of the old fountain," Tane told him. Artie's passion for the town's heritage was infectious, and she was intrigued to learn about a natural spring she had walked past dozens of times without knowing it was there.
The late afternoon sun was heading toward the horizon, and Tane and Artie seemed to realize simultaneously that it was time for them to return to their homes. "I'd like to give you my card," Tane said, not wanting to sever the connection with this stranger she had bonded with. "It has my website address, and you might like some of my articles," she added as explanation. "My car is parked over there, and I have some cards in it."
"I'll give you my card as well; I have a few in my truck," said Artie as he headed for a vehicle parked on the same street, just a few yards in front of Tane's car. She opened her trunk, pulled a business card from her purse, and started walking toward Artie's truck. For a moment she was confused because the man heading toward her looked different than he had a couple of minutes earlier. Artie had taken off his baseball cap and was in a black, short-sleeve T-shirt rather than the gray sweatshirt he had been wearing.
Artie noticed Tane's confusion and flushed slightly. "I took off those two heavy sweatshirts – not too comfortable on a warm day like this. I was wearing them to weigh me down." It took Tane a moment to realize what he was telling her. She paused for a moment, and then looked into his eyes with a blend of astonishment and understanding. In that instant, she realized that when she first had approached him, Artie was contemplating suicide by drowning in the lake! She was too stunned to speak.
"The moment I saw you, I knew I didn't want to do it. I want to finish the historical novel I'm reading, and harvest the vegetables in my garden this summer. I want to see the old fountain restored, and watch the purple martins when they build their nests here. There are so many things I still want to do! I really am not ready to leave."
Tane was astounded, both by what Artie was saying and that he had the courage and trust to share it with her. She looked into his tear-swollen eyes, with tears filling her own. The two exchanged business cards and a long hug, and then turned and walked to their vehicles.
Overcome with reverence and awe, Tane drove home with the knowledge that meeting Artie had changed the course of her life as much as it had changed his. I did nothing but look at the man – connect with openness and compassion – and he changed his mind about ending his life! Clearly it was not his time to leave Earth; no doubt his family would have been devastated. His troubles were, she sensed, financial in nature – and temporary, as are all such problems. That her mere presence, compassion, and willingness to connect could have made such a difference in a person's life made her feel blessed and happy, despite the dismal situation she was returning home to.
We all really are connected, at a deep level, Tane acknowledged, and we're here to help lift one another up when a person can't make it by themselves. These are the things that truly matter.
Copyright © 2013 by Alexi Paulina
Alexi Paulina's ebooks are available at https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/alexi3