She drove her old, little, faded, yellow beetle down country road 94. This was her attempt to escape the suffocating feelings that accompanied the void she felt due to his recent absence. About an hour into her drive from Olmsted Falls, she passed a hitchhiker. He was wearing a patchwork jean jacket, a Hawaiian shirt, rain boots and aviator sunglasses, and this strange inclination inside her told her to turn around. She didn’t really know why she went back for him. Maybe she wanted company other than her calico cat, Delilah. Maybe the silence was too much. Maybe it was because her coffee was already gone. Maybe it was his strangely festive outfit. Regardless, she couldn’t just drive past this man without finding out what he needed. She pulled over and unlocked her door. Delilah looked up from her resting place on the passenger seat, meowed and jumped in the back, looking questionably at the stranger. She motioned to him to get in her car and reached across to open the door for him. She didn’t realize it then, but she was offering him much more than a ride.
He stuffed his accordion and guitar into the back of the beetle and introduced himself as The Wizard in a British accent.. They drove in silence for a while but then feeling more relaxed, he took off his hat and asked, “If you wouldn’t mind, if you could spare the time, would you sit with me a while and let the day unwind?”
“There’s not much else we can do here,” she responded half sarcastically and half curious, looking back at Delilah.
They drove down the interstate 65 on that warm summer night, the radio clock read 6:02 and words and music floated around them like fireflies. With each minute that passed and with each word he spoke, she felt safer with him. With each moment they were together, she felt less guarded. What she didn’t realize just yet, however, was that every word that they spoke and every song that played on the radio was slowly chipping away like little hammers at the brick and mortar walls she had built around herself. Delilah had even moved up to sleep on the Wizard’s lap. My cat has a better judge of character than I do, she thought. It was in that moment that she realized that small words were a lot stronger than she had ever realized.
An hour into their drive, the Indiana arches welcomed them. Her eyes filled with tears as a familiar song came on her old, tattered radio and she desperately tried to change the station as painful memories came flooding in like a tidal wave with each note that was sung. The radio button was stuck she could not figure out a way to make the song or the feelings that came along with it stop. Memories of him: nights on his porch, campfires, s’mores, fishing trips, his laugh, his smile, his anger. They all became very real as the Beatles sang “Yesterday.”
Trying to hold in her tears was like a child trying to stop a water balloon from exploding when she couldn’t turn the hose off. Slapping desperately at the radio as the summer air blew in all the open windows, he took her hand, and pulling it away from the dial said, “it’s just a song, don’t make it a monster.”
“How so?” she asked him almost pleading, her mascara running down her face. He was the monster, she thought to herself, but I loved him anyway.
“Songs are like mile markers as they mark the passing of time,” he explained in a voice so calm, it reminded her of her old yoga teacher. “These songs,” he went on to explain in that same calm voice, “mark the significant moments and they have the power to take us back in time to when those moments happened. Kind of like a time machine.”
“Sometimes,” she said, gathering her thoughts, tucking her wildly curly windblown hair behind her ears and straightening her sunflower cardigan sweater, “I think the potential of what something could be is the most beautiful thing in the world. I fall in love with what something could be only to find out it can never be what I created in my mind. We were engaged. We were going to own a traveling coffee shop and change the world one cup of coffee at a time. We were going to have kids and a little blue house in the country and….” She rolled up the window and her voice got very quiet, “I never cared if he hurt me, but Delilah was only six weeks old…She was just so small. Who does that to something so small? I had to leave…”
She couldn’t continue. She was crying too hard to talk, much less drive. She pulled her little yellow bug over and parked next to a farm. The red barn and the horses eating grass calmed her somehow.
“This is when you learn to restore the order with your imagination,” he said with absolute certainty, sitting up straight and adjusting his Hawaiian shirt collar.
Petting Delilah and feeling a little calmer, she started the engine and they resumed their drive. Red barns, horses, cows, and chickens surrounded them and the sun was in that perfect place in the sky that made everything seem dream like and magical. I bet this looks beautiful in the snow when the sun shines down and makes everything sparkle, she thought to herself. This thought brought her comfort somehow until she remembered watching the snow with him. We used to dance in the snow.
“You were that girl who twirled around in the spring, were you not?” inquired The Wizard, interrupting her Midwest landscape inspired thoughts. “In the winter, did you make snow angels when there was hardly enough snow to make wings?” he inquired. “When you didn’t know what to believe in, that simple act of not knowing definitely made you cling to the idea that something would make you believe again, did it not?”
Thinking back to her childhood, she remembered dancing on her grandmother’s back porch in the country with pink lilies and making snow angels on the driveway when her school’s cancellation gave the day it’s prized title, “a snow day.” I was that girl… but, how did he know that? She thought.
Pausing and adjusting his raggedy straw hat, he asked her, “Do you think you clung to him because he made you believe in yourself?”
Not answering his question because she didn’t have the words just yet, she asked The Wizard, “Why do people tell you it’s safe to fall when they have no intention of being down there to catch you when you land? Because once you jump, there’s no way of stopping. Words are spoken, so you leap, trusting them and the net of spoken promises will appear.”
“Maybe it is that he forgot you had jumped in the first place?” The Wizard interrupted before she started crying again. The song had finished, leaving room for an uncomfortable silence to settle in. Wishing to avoid that, The Wizard continued, “Maybe he was too consumed with figuring out who would catch him, that he did not have it in him to catch you?”
Gripping the steering wheel in frustration she blurted out, “But what happens when the net is not there and you just crash? Why do people do that? Why did he do that? I did not ask to trust him, and I certainly did not ask to love him. It was all his idea and doing. But, I did love him and regardless of how he treated me, regardless if he beat me, I think I’ll always love him.”
Gently touching her shoulder, trying his best to calm her down, the Wizard said, “regardless my dear, it is up to you to pick up all the little pieces of the little words that were spoken and keep going. Fear isn’t love. What you felt for him was the fear you’d make him angry, not love. You lost yourself in an attempt to make him happy. He said he would kill himself if you left him, but he won’t. Control is not love. I hope you’ll understand this one day.”
Indiana was in the rear view mirror now as they drove through a suburb of Chicago. The sign read, “Welcome to Skokie” as they made their way down country road 205 into town. Joni Mitchell was singing “Both Sides Now” on the radio and summer was fading as they headed west, crossing the state border-lines. Five hours had passed since she met the Wizard, yet it felt like she had known him for much longer.
“This is where I get out, my dear, my next show awaits me,” The Wizard told her, pointing to this somewhat unkempt building with a washed out sign that read “The Carousel Bar” down the street. Delilah sat up in his lap, licked his hand and jumped in the back seat, preparing herself for his departure.
“Really?” she asked in shock. “Already? And here?” she asked with uncertainty eyeing the homeless man begging for money on the street corner.
“But not before I give you something, my dear.” He opened up his ragged knapsack and pulled out a broken fishing pole.
What ever will I need a fishing pole for, she thought to herself, somewhat bewildered. And how did he fit that in his backpack?
Handing her the pole, he said, “With this, you catch all the little parts of whom you are that he took away from you. You said you don’t know who you are without him. You said you lost yourself in the sea of his control and manipulation. Catching those pieces will help you remember the beautiful person you are,” The Wizard said.
Then he pulled out a blue hammer with a chipped handle and handed that over as well. He said, “With this, you’ll always be able to break down the walls you will inevitably build back up again because people will continue to break promises and your heart. It’s what people do. But when you notice that those walls are getting thicker, use this hammer. Do not ever let them get so thick that this hammer would be too small to work. You are going to fall in love again, my darling, and it will be magical.”
Lastly, he pulled out his accordion. Before handing it to her, he played a somewhat out of tune G chord. Adjusting the intonation before handing it to her, he said, “With this you will be able to write new words and melodies and create your own songs that will mark the miles of your own life, my darling girl.”
“You may not be the wizard I expected to find, but I think perhaps you might be just the wizard I needed,” she told him as the sun set painted the most beautiful tapestry of pink, orange and red in the sky. With that, he tipped his hat, smiled and almost skipped off with his guitar and old tattered knapsack in hand.
She put her new treasures in the back seat of her little yellow bug. His voice, laugher, songs, and those nights with him on the porch seemed more distant now. “Maybe I’ll write a song about it,” she said to Delilah, eyeing the accordion and smiling. “This must be what “moving on” feels like.”
She turned on the radio, and as Neil Young sang “long may you run,” she started driving into the end of summer back home to Ohio with this new found hope that this was where she’d begin to trust the journey she did not just yet understand.