Part III: Adam and Eve’s Story
“You’re soaked!” Katelyn cried. She grabbed his sweatshirt and a towel from the truck and ran towards him. “Here, take off your shirt.” he did so and dropped it. It plopped soggily onto the ground. She rubbed his hair and his back with the towel.
“I can do that,” he said, embarrassed at her motherly concern. She handed him the towel and looked him over.
“You look different,” she said.
“What?” He stopped drying himself and looked at her. “How?” he asked guardedly.
She thought a moment. “You don’t look annoyed at getting soaked.” There was more, but she couldn’t put it into words.
“I’m not,” he said after a moment and was surprised that he really wasn’t. Usually little things, inconveniences, things that got in his way annoyed him. So he wouldn’t have to explain, he asked, “Was the cellar interesting?”
As he stripped his jeans off and dried his legs, Katelyn described the antechamber but left the tunnel out of her description and couldn’t bring herself yet to mention the cavern. She handed him the sweatshirt, which he slipped over his head with a contented, “Ahh.” He started to put his jeans back on. “Ugh,” he grunted as the wet denim touched his ankles. The warmth of what had touched him in the clearing was gone.
“Do you want me to hold one end so you can wring more water out of them?”
“I don’t think it’ll help much,” he said and grimaced as the cold seeped into his skin.
“Wait,” Katelyn called as she went and rummaged behind the passenger’s seat. Darren stood with his jeans half up, half down, and finally took them off entirely. He felt like an idiot, just standing there, in the open countryside, in his Jockeys. He was about to put the jeans back on and call it good when Katelyn unearthed a pair of hiking shorts.
“I forgot I left those in there,” he said happily as he put them on.
“We can put the heater on, too, if you’re cold.”
Darren looked at her, smiled. “I see you stayed dry.”
“I had no idea it rained until I started back up the steps. Only those nearest the entry were wet. Nothing below got even damp.” They looked around for anything they’d left out. “I’m glad you put everything in the truck before you wandered away.”
“Me, too,” said Darren and then thought, wandered away? Not even. Wandered, yes, but towards. The warmth may have left him, but the impact of the experience had not. He hoped it never would. He closed Katelyn’s door, got in himself and drove without hesitation making all the correct turns back onto the highway. Katelyn was quiet as was Darren. He thought of other experiences in his life that might come close to what he’d just experienced. He could think of none. He was young the first time he saw migrating swans, and he was almost overcome by their beauty and power. And the first time he and Katelyn made love was incredibly special. But neither experience was anywhere close to what had just happened to him. And he didn’t even really yet know what had happened. He realized Katelyn had just said something. He was about to ask her to repeat it when he caught a couple of the words. They were from one of her favorite poems. “Say it all again, please?”
Katelyn started again:
“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.” (Samuel Taylor Coleridge)
He finally offered, “Good old Kubla,” but thought, ancient forests and sunny spots of greenery, or in my case, an old pine forest and a rainy clearing with puddles. Why am I not telling her about the clearing? She told me about the wine cellar even though there wasn’t much there. Before he could change his mind, he pulled over.
“What’s wrong?” asked Katelyn coming out of her reverie. She’d been thinking of Alph, the sacred river, and wondering if it either started or ended in a small blue and green pool with tiny, brilliantly colored frogs. She also wondered if there truly were walls and towers and gardens beyond the cavern and whether she’d stopped short of what was there. She looked at Darren, and her breath caught in her throat. The painting at the museum. The one of the masked head. His eyes were the eyes in the painting, on fire with a light that knows, the light of stars.
Darren didn’t notice. He was trying to figure out how to bring up the clearing and what had happened to him there. He couldn’t just blurt it out. Wanting to see that fire as long as she could, Katelyn helped him out by casually asking, “So, what did you do after your nap?” He was deciding how to answer, how much to say and he turned towards her. Now focused on her, he could see she knew: surely not what had happened but that something had.
He swallowed. Besides keeping promises, Darren didn’t lie. He’d either have to tell her all or tell her he couldn’t. He chose to tell her. “I woke up and needed to pee, so I headed to the woods. I looked down the cellar steps, but I couldn’t see you or hear anything, so I checked my phone and saw you’d called and said everything was fine. So, I knew you’d call if you needed anything. So, I found some bushes and, well, after, I just decided to take a walk and look at the woods. My dad and I went walking in some woods when I was a kid. It was a nice memory. Then, after a bit I found I was lost.”
Katelyn was wondering why he was making such a deal about peeing and taking a walk and had stopped listening when she heard the word, “lost,” and was about to interrupt when he continued, “not really lost but not sure where I was, and everything looked the same, but my find-car app was working, so I didn’t think anything about it. So, I walked some more but got tired of it, so I turned on my app, but it took me to a ravine instead of my truck.” He stopped.
“So, what did you do then?” she prompted. She was still unsure what had really happened and why his eyes, though not so much now, had looked like the eyes in that painting. She remembered the painting well. She’d been on a business trip and had an afternoon to herself after a meeting was canceled. The museum was a small-town museum with no well-known canvases, but the pieces it had were quality. She had wandered through the main room, rounded a large wall, and had abruptly come face to face with the portrait of the man in the mask. She didn’t remember if his shoulders showed or even his collar. The painting was unnerving. She thought at first it was because it was only of his head but then realized the mask he was wearing was misplaced, not over his eyes as most masks are. After several visits, she figured it out.
All the other paintings were properly lit, but this one seemed to have been done incompetently or at least haphazardly until she realized that the lighting was very clever. If you stood some distance away, you could see the colors and large shapes fairly well, but you had to stand far enough away that you really couldn’t see the details because all the colors were dark. When you walked close enough to really see what was in the painting, you blocked the light source and the details were dim. If you stepped to the side, all you got was glare from the glass that covered the painting. If, however, you walked up really close and straight on, you saw yourself reflected feature by feature: your eyes were his, your nose his, your mouth his, but where you knew the rest of your face was, his wasn’t. It was as if you weren’t. Or, rather, that you thought you were something other than what he was showing you you really were. It was the last piece she visited before leaving the museum for the final time. She walked up to the painting and boldly whispered so only he could hear, “You’re wrong. I am. I belong as much as you do. And I belong to you.” That is when the eyes in the painting burned with knowing. Katelyn had had to go outside and sit before she could walk back to her hotel. She didn’t belong to him. She hadn’t meant to say that. She’d meant to say, “I don’t belong to you.” It took her until today to realize she did. She’d limited herself, masked herself, not only to others but also to herself. Maybe mostly to herself. But no more, she promised herself. She looked at Darren and silently promised him, too.
Darren was obviously hesitating. He wasn’t looking at her, and he was fidgeting like when he’d eaten part of a cake she’d made for a shower and realized after he’d cut into it that it was the cake for the party, and he didn’t want to tell her. She tried to think what might have happened and decided he hadn’t really met a bear or fallen into the ravine. It didn’t seem as if something had gone wrong. Actually, it seemed as if something had gone right. She asked very gently, “Darren. Baby, what happened to you out there?”
And that was enough. He finally let out the whole story. He even admitted to crying his eyes practically out of his head. Then, he fell silent and looked at her. Katelyn gulped. “I didn’t tell you everything I saw. I’m sorry. I didn’t think it would matter, and after Everything happened, I thought you’d think I was silly.” And she told him what she’d seen and felt and tasted and heard. And touched. And been touched by. Even that the cave had hugged her. Even that she’d said goodbye to invisible bells. But especially that she now believed. She thought he’d be annoyed with her for holding out or, worse, hurt that she had. And he thought of both, but the warmth had begun in his shoes and was moving up his legs, and he remembered his promise in time and said, “I almost chose not to tell you. I can’t be mad at you for not telling me.”
“Really!” she said incredulously.
“Yah, really. I don’t want to lose this. If I don’t respect it, it might go away. I can’t let that happen.” The warmth spread to his chest where it nestled in and made itself at home.
Katelyn looked at him in wonder. I’m so ashamed, she thought, but she didn’t quite have the courage yet to say that out loud. Then again, she didn’t think her eyes had a knowing fire in them, but she remembered that her skin now held flower petals. She said quietly, “I made myself a promise today, just now actually, that I will won’t wear my mask any longer. I’ll be me, inside and outside, to myself and to you and to everyone. I don’t want to lose this either.”
“Your mask?” Darren asked.
“I never told you about the painting of the man in the mask, did I?” she asked searching his eyes.
“No. There’s a painting like what I saw?” He didn’t know if he liked the idea of his vision being something lots of people knew about and had seen, that it was something ordinary. On the other hand, if he had seen a picture of it, in a magazine or somewhere, and that got him to the experience he’d had; well, what was wrong with that? It wasn’t the puddle picture that he wanted to hold onto. It was the knowing, the feeling of belonging to everything, an everything much larger than himself and his petty pleasures. Compared to Everything? Well, he was pretty small potatoes, as his grandpa often said.
“There really is a painting but it’s only partly like what you saw.” And she told him about it. “Who knows,” she added. “Maybe the artist had a vision like yours and made the painting from what he saw.”
“I hadn’t thought of it that way,” Darren said. “I guess it doesn’t matter. What matters is. Uh, I’m not sure what matters except that we know there is more.” They sat silently for a few minutes, each trying in their own ways to figure it out.
“I think what matters,” offered Katelyn, as she again saw the panorama and heard the bells and could now feel the colors of the flower petals throughout her body, “is that we wanted to go beyond ourselves and find where we fit in Everything, and find the Divine and that we belong to Him.”
“Maybe; probably,” agreed Darren, “but I didn’t know I wanted it or wanted Him. How can something like that happen when you don’t even know you want it to?” But I want it now, very much, he thought to himself. “Most importantly, how do we keep it?”
Katelyn seemed to ignore his question. “I remember a story about the Light of creation.” Her voice was searching her far past. “My great-grandmother told it to me when I was really small. She was Jewish. It was from some important writing and was something about the Light of creation and how it’s different from the light we can see. I wonder if Adam and Eve could see that light. They had to know about it, right? I think we now know something, too. I’m sorry,” said Katelyn rousing herself. “That doesn’t answer your question. I don’t know how we keep it.”
“I know what we don’t do. We don’t go around telling our friends. We protect it. I think this is how we keep it. Besides, people would think we’ve gone nuts or were smoking something. I can see why people don’t share visions,” Darren added seriously.
“Yes, it’s too precious to have people just dismiss, or, worse, trample. I know what I experienced.”
“I know what I experienced, too.”
“And I believe you. I believe everything you said happened, really happened,” she said.
He smiled at her and kissed her on the forehead. He could tell she did. He said softly, “I believe you, too,” then added more strongly, “but we don’t tell our friends.”
“No, you’re right.” Katelyn was lost in her musings. “Do you think Adam and Eve told their children?”
“What?” Darren had begun to feel the weight of his experience and was exploring it and was somewhere else seeing all of space and time and everything in between and wondering if that was where God was, and what He was really like—probably much, much larger than Darren’s childhood teachings had led him to believe.
“Do you think Adam and Eve told Cain and Abel about that Light?”
“No. If they had, Cain wouldn’t have killed Abel.”
“Maybe they did, and that’s why he killed him.”
They fell silent again.
“I don’t think this is getting us anywhere,” he said gently, taking Katelyn’s hand.
“No, I guess not. It isn’t about anyone else, not even Adam and Eve.”
“I think it’s about what we’re supposed to do with it now we’ve experienced it.”
“I just remembered part of another poem.” Katelyn began
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.” (Rainer Maria Rilke)
Darren sighed and smiled quietly. “So, that’s what we’re doing.” It was a statement, not a question. He felt its truth.
“Yes, I think so,” she said. “No, I know so.” She said turning to him and smiling.
“Then we’d better get busy.” He started the truck, and they headed home.
In the ensuing weeks and months, they learned to trust and fall, and in doing so, realized they were starting to fly. Their friends did wonder at the changes in them. Some sneered, afraid of their inner strength; others were drawn closer to them, wanting a share of the peace and joy evident in them now. All Darren and Katelyn would say when pressed was, “Helmsley is a really magical place.” They said it with soft, secret smiles as they looked at each other with acceptance. They said it with a gentle pleading in their eyes as they looked at their friends with hope. The hope they, too, would take the journey and find their caves and their clearings. That they, too, would trust their heaviness and take the necessary fall before they could soar. Before they, too, could see the light of stars and of creation. For the rest of their lives, Katelyn and Darren thanked the magic of Helmsley—the spirit of the Divine they had found there—and trusted, fell, and soared many, many times.