Chapter 2: Small Town Roads
May 4, 2017
I wake up, after what seems like days, still lying face down on the floor. I open my eyes and turn my head to the side. Wait a minute? Is that rotten nefarious shadow still in the room? Cautiously, I raise my head. The room is different. This is not my bedroom and I am no longer lying underneath my bed; I am in a very strange place—a hall way! Quickly I scramble to my feet. My stomach: nauseous as a sock tumbling in a dryer. And my head pounds into my feet. I glare down a hallway that stretches for miles. I look behind me— the same. Where am I? I stumble forward inspecting every corner. Black doors line either side of the hall, and they are all shut.
I approach one of the black doors, examining its big bold dark wooden structure and brass hinges. I turn the wooden door knob; it is locked.
Frantically, zigzagging back and forth across the hall, I try every door relentlessly, one by one. Negative. All of them are securely locked.
Ok, now I am ready to hit the panic button. Where am I? What is this place?! I have an important meeting that I need to get to! I thrust my hands in my pockets. No watch, no cell phone—or anything. I start to run—hard!
My eyes water as I run down the hall.
Short of breath, I stop and look at the floor. The floors, they look like they are made of flesh-colored wood. And the ceiling is made of layers of large spackled stone, like a medieval castle. And the walls . . . geez, are they moving?
Two steps forward. Stop. Two steps again. Stop.
It’s almost like they are ever so slightly in motion, but when I stand perfectly still, so do they. This is all so bizarre—so haunting—I have never seen anything like it. The very air I breathe almost seems to be watching me, or something.
I hoof down the hall, one foot after another, slithering further out of reality, desperate for an open door or exit. I think back to that crazy shadow in my bedroom. Uggh . . . a wretched lump forms in my throat as I listen to the sound of my own footsteps trudging across the seedy floors.
Faint groan-like sounds start to seep into the air.
Halt. Freeze. What?
These groans are dark, crude, and unintelligible. I can’t seem to trace their origin. Behind the walls? Inside the doors? Maybe even inside my own head? I am not sure, but this is no joke.
I charge against one of the gigantic black doors applying all my body weight, banging with both fists.
“AAAAAHHHHHHH!!!” I yell as loud as my lungs can bear.
Lights flicker. A creepy chill spans down my spine and, at last, a single door creaks open slowly, about six doors down the hall.
I barrel to the door.
I now stand inside a dark room where I cannot see a single thing. A faint speck of light appears along the edge of the wall, growing brighter and stronger. The room is so poorly lit, but I can see I am in a small room with no windows and no other doors. A black and white framed photograph is hanging precisely on the center of the wall. The peculiar light now shines from within this picture, so I crawl toward it like an inchworm, engrossed by the mysterious luminous beam. But as I get closer, the puzzling light fades. How strange. Hung in front of me, there is a very small grainy photo. And there we are, like two apparitions manifested from the past. It’s my ex-wife and I back in the day. I remember that picture so well. We were at my father’s beach house…
June 30, 1992
It was our third anniversary. We had decided to go down to my parent’s beach house for the weekend to Emerald Isle, NC.
We jumped into my black Range Rover and headed toward the coast like a bird escaping its own cage. The air was crisp and cool. At the time, both of us, only twenty-six years old, we were young and naïve. You see, this was when my life was at its peak and my love was at its finest. There was an innocent happiness within me knowing that my life was still unchartered. I had all the time in the world, or so I felt, to carve my life just the way I desired.
I started flipping through the different radio stations to check the basketball scores. It was a damn good day. Outside, the sky, a blue dome spattered with pillowy clouds. I swear I could see the Snuggle Soft bear perched way up on a cloud, holding some toilet paper.
We finally arrived at the beach, and I felt it was high time for a stiff drink. I love the smell of the salty air—nothing finer. Two of our friends, Hugh and Sarah, had decided to meet us there, and they had already arrived and had made their asses into the liquor cabinet.
The house was exactly the same. Pristine and perfect, as always. The upstairs was all of one room with a combined kitchen, den, and living room. There were six large glass doors that covered the entire back of the house. Beyond these doors, a ginormous deck with an incredible view, overlooked the ocean. And below the that, a rickety old dock led straight to the beach, which was my favorite. I have passed out many of nights on that dock. Right on the edge.
It was 10 pm. You could see the ocean lit up under the moon through the sliding doors. Smooth as glass. I turned around, Raines and Sarah were roaming all over the den talking about the decor and stuff, whipping out their camera and clicking photos. They sounded like squawking chickens. I wasn’t paying much attention to what they were saying. I just watched Raines moving around the room in her white sun dress. She exuded a peaceful confidence. She was everything I wasn’t. She was creative, artistic, emotional and free-spirited. She loved art and she loved writing. She was different. She was intense and animated. She talked with her hands and she felt with all her heart. I watched her pour a glass of wine. Without taking a sip, she placed it on the edge of the counter, walked over to me and wrapped her arms around my shoulders.
“Say cheese,” Sarah squealed and clicked a picture of us. “Classic,” she walked away with a smile.
Night passed, morning came. 4:00 a.m., all of us were still up playing poker, except Raines. She had gone off to bed early.
I remember it so well. I was blitzed, so and I decided to stumble downstairs to find my lovely wife, annoyingly staggering into the guest room, mumbling, “Raines . . . wake up . . . wake up . . . I won poker again. Why did you go to sleep so early?”
She rolled over and looked at me through squinty eyes, “Let’s walk down to the dock.”
I followed her out through the back sliding glass doors and all the way down the steps. The wind was whipping through air, making a faint whistling sound. And the ocean was coming in with high tide. We sat over the side, our two feet buried in the sand, as little foamy ocean waves rippled closer and closer.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I’m pregnant,” she said, looking up at me.
The ocean breeze stopped in its tracks, and with it, my world. I think, even the waves in the ocean froze for a second.
Raines kept talking, but I couldn’t hear anything. All I heard were those crickets in the dunes; those repetitious chirps echoing over and over. Raines kept explaining, and I just looked up at the infinite stars across the water. It was then that I realized that my tiny reality was about to expand much further than I have ever known.
I remember the drive back home from the beach. I don’t think I spoke a single word. Driving through the back roads of uninhabited small towns is a favorite of mine—it has always given me peace of mind; miles and miles of crop fields under lagoon-blue skies. Small town roads, they take me back to my childhood, when father used to drive us down to the beach house every summer. My father, well that is a whole other story. My father was powerful, sharp as a tack, mindful, and brilliant. Benjamin Grady Lawrence II was his name. And I am, as you may have guessed, Grady the III. Most people call me Ben. My father was a wealthy man. He made all his wealth in the stock market. He was a lucky bastard. While all his friends were losing money hand-over-fist, my father was earning returns that could choke a horse. He taught me everything I know about the stock market. But other than that, things were very complicated. I learned early on in life, that with my father, it was his way or the highway. I couldn’t win an argument with him. He dominated the room wherever he went. He simply ruled. Dominance and success flowed through his veins. And boy, was he hard to please.
At the age of fifty-four, he died of a rare type of heart attack. I was twenty-three years old. After his death, my mother, Katherine, suffered a severe identity crisis. She had stood by his side throughout their entire marriage.
I was an only child and my father had left a trust from which I could not inherit until I was thirty years old. I did inherit the beach house right away. But I called it my “father’s” beach house. Even still, it doesn’t feel like mine. I struggled for a while after his death. Things were hazy. And then, I met Raines. We were soon married, and I lived a somewhat normal upper-middle class life. I was happy and, for the most part, content. We moved from Raleigh, NC and settled down in Charlotte, NC.
When I came into my inheritance upon turning thirty, I invested half of it in the stock market, and with the rest I opened my own stock brokerage firm in Charlotte. My company soon expanded all over North Carolina and ‘Benjamin Lawrence Investments’ became a Fortune 500 company. My mother passed away that very year.
This was around the time my son was four years old. My wife gradually became needier, and my son grew distant. Years went by. My son didn’t exactly turn out to be the boy I had envisioned. I kept signing him up for baseball and sports, but he wasn’t interested. We didn’t have much in common, although I did teach him how to play the guitar.
But over all those years, unfortunately we really didn’t develop the relationship that I had imagined. It’s not my fault. I did my part. Plus, my company was growing so fast and I was always needed in the office. Time slipped and things changed.
And my wife . . . geez. She protested every single decision that I made. Back and forth, we fought day and night. I always won though. After all, who do you think was the sole bread winner of the house? Me. I made all the rules.
Why did I make all the rules of the house? Because, I gave her everything. But she . . . she never seemed to appreciate the fact that we no longer had to worry financially. She became whiney and stayed sad all the time. Truly, it got to the point where I almost felt sorry for her. She had no real talent. I mean she was artistic but not really all that in tune with the real technologies of the world. The more I would try to help her, the more reclusive and sad she became. She gained weight. She stopped going out with friends. She pretended to be the victim.
What’s that you say? I’m a jerk?
Yeah, I know.
As I was saying, gradually, our usual weekend dinners with friends as well as family vacations completely came to a halt and everything in the house was nothing but a big ass fight. Who cooked dinner, who took Leo to school, who unloaded the dish washer . . . the list goes on and on. I wanted her to just snap out of it and wake up to the reality, but she didn’t. It was too late, she had built a wall. And I had already reached a place where I just didn’t care anymore.
Let’s just say, my life started changing and I changed with it. Life kind of peeled the layers off the “old” me into a new cynical skin—a tougher skin, a dominant skin. I became the new “Benjamin.” I kind of just tossed the old me into a closet like an old shoe.
And here I am, a complex, shallow, sophisticated, arrogant, overindulgent man, walking the earth every day without really discerning the consequences of my evil ways.
And nothing is going to change it.