I was desperate to find a job in Santa Cruz. Living in Boulder Creek and entertaining thoughts of a return to the agonizing commutes and teeming hordes in Silicon Valley, created nausea of a first class order. Something to pay the bills, on this side of the mountains, kindled the greatest hope, a sense of joy and relief.
I needed to be closer to home. Boulder Creek was a forty-minute drive from the relative metropolis of Santa Cruz. It was a relaxing drive, curving through giant redwoods and quaint villages. My two boys were always getting into some kind of mischief that required parental attendance and diplomacy. Too many times the three hour round trip, into what natives called "The Pit," rendered returning to work ridiculous, which meant another partial day off and mounting absenteeism.
Employers hated absenteeism. This was back in the middle days of feminism. Women in any kind of authority positions were rare. Employers hired the worker with absolutely no thought to the worker's family. There was no family. The wife was supposed to handle all things family, leaving you the man, free to devote your waking hours to the employer. This was no longer the case in reality and employers were lagging behind.
Coming off six months unemployment with no prospects in sight churned the stomach. Personal guilt was already at an all time high. Instead of looking for another job during that time, I kept a promise to the Universe.
There was a story in me about my renegade family. I had been entertaining friends for years with fantastic stories of my grandmother and her dramatic, manipulative behavior, culminating in her equally dramatic death. People listening to these stories urged me to write them down.
The deal with the Universe included six months without having to worry about money. With that worry alleviated, I would write the book. Thinking the chance would never materialize, the deal sat on the back burner. A few short months later, there was a blanket lay off and the doors to the unemployment office opened to me for the first, fearful time.
The Universe provided a reminder in one great flash. Dust blew everywhere when the old electric typewriter unearthed itself and found a sunny place to sit in the tiny kitchen, just under the casement windows that provided cool, fragrant breezes and birdsong as inspiration, when needed. I fancied myself writing the great American novel. I cultivated a great tan and did editing on the beach in those the six months rather than look for a job.
One ream of paper and two bottles of sun block later, the Help Wanted ads became the reading material of choice. Nearly every job category held an opportunity and resumes flooded the outgoing mailbox, followed by emptiness and silence.
Registration with Kelly Services won the first job assignment and sent my heart racing at the possibilities.
Arriving just a bit early for the temporary job assignment, I pulled my used up Datsun into the one remaining parking spot in a crowded lot. The stainless steel handle of the plain and nearly windowless concrete building felt round and smooth. It pushed easily inward, opening into a brightly lit, but slightly shabby, lobby area. The furniture was utilitarian, chrome and plastic, mostly tables and chairs. The carpet showed wear from the front door endlessly opening and closing.
A woman standing just inside the door smiled. "Kelly Services?"
Nodding in the affirmative and returning her smile, long hair swayed across my back when I turned to head in the direction she indicated. She pointed to a group of people clustered together near the opposite corner of the room.
A young man looked over his shoulder and smiled broadly, then wildly waved me over as though we were good friends. Memories flashed quickly by, seeking familiarity. No face came up that matched this one. The golden tan color of his skin was the perfect canvas for blue eyes and sparkling white teeth. Slightly curving hair, cut short, spoke of sunlight and ocean waves, careening surf boards and lazy beach days. The strength of my attraction overwhelmed the job need for just a brief moment.
This particular company built telephones. The parts came from Mexico and this place in Santa Cruz assembled them. Somewhere in the process, Mexico mis-manufactured several thousand electronic parts. Instead of sending them back, the company decided to hire a temporary team of assemblers to repair the parts. That is where Kelly Services came in.
Two teams of four people would work two shifts, five days a week until all the parts went through the repair process. Rumor had it that more parts were in manufacture and our job assignment extended.
The young man was Tim and he was my new best friend. We talked while working, sitting across from each other at the same workstation. We ate lunch together. He spent all his time with me but did not seem to be making any advances. I have never been a good judge of that stuff. Curiously, he was extremely friendly with me and no one else in our tight little group. He confused me...what did he want?
Time went on and I learned he had a small daughter in Florida. He seemed to be the wanderlust type. He heard stories about the scene on the California coast and decided to check them out for himself. So far, he liked Santa Cruz more than Venice.
He showed great interest in me. He urged me to talk about my recent book writing adventures and dreams of becoming a published author. He wanted to know all about my life.
Working the swing shift, 3:00 in the afternoon until 11:30 at night, included a half hour lunch. One evening, he leaned over his sandwich and said, "I understand there is a great little theater on the beach in Capitola. I heard two little old ladies inherited it from their father. They still use real butter on their popcorn. They say there are sofas in the lobby. Want to go to the movies with me Saturday night?"
We saw "Cross Creek," the story of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. This courageous woman bought a run down orange grove and an equally broken down house in the Florida Everglades. Her goal was to restore the house and farm, earn enough money from her oranges to support herself and write great Victorian Gothic Romance novels. Her editor consistently squelched the Gothic Romance manuscripts and encouraged her to write what she knew, of the people and place that captured her heart. The Pulitzer Prize winning children's story The Yearling was the result.
"Cross Creek" brought me laughter, tears and even courage, courage to believe in my story and myself. I could find courage and the expression to tell the story I knew. I wondered if Tim had any idea how this film would affect me. I raved on and on about what a wonderful movie it was but did not say much about the fire it lit inside me. When I thanked him with all my heart for the movie, he grinned and said, "My pleasure."
I was growing more comfortable and a little bit less suspicious about Tim. The company and attention seemed easy and uncomplicated on the surface but I was still vaguely wary. What did he want? Any minute he would ask to borrow money or make a pass at me in the hall. I wanted to be at ease with the friendship and take if for face value. Nevertheless, it also felt like something was missing...some words not spoken, some intention not clear. I felt there was more to the picture.
Over lunch the following Thursday, we sat together reading the Good Times, checking out Rob Brezny's astrology and the weekend entertainment in town.
I pointed at the page in front of me and exclaimed that Kenny Loggins was coming to town to do a political benefit for George McGovern, the presidential candidate. I cared not one whit about George McGovern, but Kenny Loggins was one of my favorite musicians.
"I would love to see him. I am a huge fan. I love his music. He is such a poet. His music has gotten me through some very rough patches in my life." I was gushing and I knew it.
"If you want to see him so badly, I'll take you." Tim offered. He looked at me, waiting for an answer. Tim gave the impression of not having much money and like me, lived paycheck to paycheck. I thought for a moment. I really wanted to see Kenny Loggins. As much as his music inspired and comforted, I had never seen him perform. The concert venue was a small, intimate place holding only 300 people. It was sure to be something special. Yes, I wanted to go, rich or poor.
"How about we split the cost of the tickets?" I suggested. We could both be short milk money for the coming week.
"How about I cover the tickets and you take us to a little dinner?" Tim's eyebrows went up. It was a good compromise.
"Okay, deal," I said, quickly thinking of my favorite, inexpensive restaurant, filled with local color that Tim would be sure to enjoy. "I will meet you at 6:00 at the Crepe Place." Let's see, I mused, dinner for two should run me about $30.00. I would drink coffee and forgo wine and dessert. It would work. I had no idea how much the tickets were going to cost. I had avoided looking that far down the advertisement. It was a benefit, so I imagined it would not be cheap.
"That sounds great. I haven't been there. I've heard the food is really good."
We finished our dinner early and just under budget. When Tim reached for the check, I reminded him of our deal. He graciously relinquished the bill and I had enough for a generous tip. Tim also did not have wine, or dessert.
It was a star filled, early autumn evening and if you were very still and quiet, you could hear the surf pounding the beach. This town had my heart.
We strolled slowly south toward the theater, stopping to view the sights. Lingering at the bronze sculpture of Tom Scribner, the old man who played the saw on the streets, I regaled Tim with stories of listening to this local icon. We looked at the latest books, artfully arranged in the window of The Bookshop Santa Cruz. It was still ahead of concert time when we reached the theater.
Neither one of us had a watch. We went back to Pacific St. and sat on a bench to talk. This put us within eyesight of the theater. We shared small talk about the weather and looked at the stars, straining to see them beyond the city lights. I noticed people walking toward the theater and guessed it might be time to find our seats. Tim pretended to be impressed with the intuitive urge when I interrupted him suggesting it was time to return to the theater.
The concert was impeccable. Kenny sat on the edge of the stage and chatted with the audience as if we were in his living room. He sang all my favorite songs. I cried, remembering how tough life had been at times and how alone I felt until I heard Kenny sing the hurt away by reminding me of the truth about life. This was a special concert for me. I was very happy and felt surrounded by magic.
Tim walked me to my car, lightly kissed my cheek and said goodnight. The drive home was smooth and quiet. I hummed Kenny Loggins' tunes.
I tucked myself into bed and fell into a contented, blissful sleep.
I was standing on a battlefield. The battle was over and bodies littered the ground everywhere. It was all in shades of gray: the sky, the land, the bodies, and the blood. The shadows were long. There was a heavy fog in the distance. It hung above the ground like a great, floating shroud, muting everything. I knew this place to be a vast, rolling plain. The ground was frozen and it was cold. My shoes were heavy leather, badly worn and split in places. Hand knitted stockings showed beneath the hemline of a heavy skirt and apron. A hand knitted sweater, feeling too small, hugged my arms and stretched across my back. A rough cotton scarf covered my hair and tied tightly under my chin. I was an Russian peasant girl, looking for my brother, Yuri. He could be alive.
My stomach, heavy, sick, and long since empty from vomiting, produced nothing but dry heaves. The tears on my cheeks were beginning to freeze. Roughly brushing them away I reminded myself that Yuri needed me to be quick and find him.
There was blood everywhere, puddles of it, frozen around the edges but oozing and slippery in the center. I looked into dead, tortured faces hoping there was nothing to recognize. I pushed bodies over, peering beneath helmets and caps...nothing.
I picked my way through a jumble of bodies, feeling hopeless and a failure. I heard a faint sound. I froze in place. Again, the sound came...an agonized, whispered moan vibrating in the stillness. I called my brother's name "Yuri," and hurried toward the sound. This boy was not my brother.
He lay on his back. I knelt next to him and brought his broken body over to lie on my lap. He thrashed at first and moaned louder. Cradling him in my arms I whispered that it would be alright. I wiped blood and hair away from his face with the corner of my apron. I patted his cheek and gently crooned a lullaby Mother used to sing. Hugging his broken body brought an odd sense of comfort. My quiet tears left white streaks on his skin. The moaning stopped. His eyes fluttered and opened. They briefly focused on my face and then he looked into my eyes. In one tiny moment, we saw each other. Just as quickly, the light in his eyes was gone. He was dead.
A great emptiness filled me and I awoke. I felt a rush in my stomach as I came into full consciousness and the dream flooded through me. I was wearing a babushka and the dying boy was Tim.
I sat up in bed with the revelation. It was Tim. That is why he acted as though he knew me from the very beginning. That is why he took me to that movie and to the concert...he was paying me back. Now, I understood. The dream filled in the missing part. Unbidden and surprising relief flooded my chest and burned my cheeks.
I wrestled with myself during the drive to work that afternoon. Should I tell Tim about my dream? Maybe he will think I am nuts. He probably does not remember this other lifetime.
What if he does remember? What if he is very clear, about who I am to him? Tell or keep quiet? These questions jumbled in my mind.
I pulled into the parking lot and hurried to our workstation. Tim was not there. That in itself was odd because he was usually early. It had become our habit over the two-month long assignment to have a cup of coffee before beginning work. Where was he? He did not have a phone and I think he might have been living in his Volkswagen Bus. He never talked about where he lived. I realized, sadly, that while Tim knew much about me, I knew very little about him.
I lost myself in repairing parts, finding concentration much preferable to worry. I looked up when the supervisor came in, followed by a middle-aged woman. The supervisor told us that Florida had called Tim back. The woman's name was Mary and she would take Tim's place for the remainder of the assignment.
My stomach fell and my heart started to pound. Tim could not be gone, just like that, with a snap of the fingers, in the blink of an eye. Tears began to well and my feeling was so like the dream...just at the instant of recognition, death.
At lunch break that evening, I sought out the supervisor. He had nothing to add. Likewise, he thought the disappearance of Tim rather sudden and inexplicable.
"But that's how you temporary people are..." he turned in mid-sentence and left the lunchroom.
Tim was gone. There was no way to contact him...no way to find out what he knew and did not know. Tim knew everything about me and I knew so pitifully little about him. The only answer I had was the dream.
I had always believed in the theory of reincarnation. Several times in my life, odd memories of being someone else would crop up...a middle-aged German man with spectacles and a black leather physician's bag...a very old, frail man lying on the dirt in a cave, breathing his last breath and walking out of his body. Visions like that resulted in knowing reincarnation was something actual, although vague for me.
The dream of Tim dying in my arms was more than a fleeting, unrelated vision. I provided comfort in the last moments of his life in another time and it meant so much to him that he sought me out in this life to return the favor. He gave me courage, inspiration and joy and then he was gone.
One simple act of kindness, one brief moment of shared comfort in a lost world, resulted in a deep revelation of a past lifetime and the enormous impact one small act had on another human being, an impact strong enough to bridge the barriers of time and bring with it pictures and memories.
These small acts are more important than changing the world with grand, sweeping accomplishments. With these small acts, we change each other and in the end, that changes the world.