Neal Crook

After retiring from teaching high school, I relocated from hectic Los Angeles to serene Cambria, California. My life filled with gratitude in a world of chaos is daily inspiration. Involvement in the Cambria Writers Workshop provides me the opportunity to explore my past and present place in the grand scheme of things. The rights and struggles of the GLBT community often take center stage in my writing.

I live with my husband, Michael, two cats, Rufus and Angie, as well as our two dogs, Sterling and Anoush.

Symbols, Solitude & Solace

“Come on, gimme a break, is everything symbolic? Can’t rain just be rain?”  Victor, who loves to tease, challenges me.

2017: I walk around my classroom critiquing my students’ daily symbolism assignment.

“If an author makes the point to be specific about the weather or a color, there is a

 reason.” I stamp “good” on Victor’s project.

I find symbolism in almost anything. My students lament that they will never be able to listen to a song, read a book, or watch a movie without hearing my voice. They fear I will be whispering in their ears long into their adulthood, “What do you think the storm symbolizes?”

Precisely the intent, my mark stamped. They will never forget me.

2020: The world is on lock down. The weather is grey and dreary. Clouds loom and quash my motivation. I am immobilized. Sheltering in place with a partner who suffers from depression is not easy. Isolation within isolation creates a small, lonely space. The meat of a walnut encased in its hard shell of a home, I feel trapped, suffocated. If this virus takes my life, I worry, what is my legacy? Who will remember me?

I have worn the same pajama bottoms for the past week, black flannel emblazoned with white skulls. I sit alone and watch TV. Obsessed with the news, the screen drones as I sporadically attempt to complete simple household chores. One particularly handsome journalist’s beauty distracts me from reality. His voice spouts death statistics and evaporates into that of an adult in a Peanuts cartoon. COVID, Wah, Wah, Wah…

Just outside my window the rain beats on fragile ranunculus blossoms They were foolish to believe that spring had arrived. So many lives beaten down.

 One day the sun attempts an appearance. Its warmth encourages me to shave, shower and put on a pair of pants. I turn off the TV. My husband, Michael, remains in bed. The sun’s rays offer minimal motivation. I will be selfish and keep it for myself. I need to get out, take a drive. I decide to treat our dogs to my excursion. Excited to hear the noise of their leashes and even happier to jump into the backseat, their tongues loll, and tails wag. They too have been the victims of quarantine.

Without a destination, I turn up highway 46. At the crest, I pull over to view Morro Rock. Brilliant green hills roll behind me. The ocean view offers a perspective of the sun reflecting off the sea. The rock glows in the light. However, in the distance, dark clouds hover. A reminder that relief from despair is fleeting.  I grab my phone, snap a pic, and capture the image. As I take another photo, I hear Victor’s voice. “Will you explain the symbolism?”

            I smile and nod towards the impending rain.

 2021: the sun has been shining for several days. Motivated, my husband and I work in our back yard dead-heading hydrangeas, fuchsias, and salvia. We prepare for new growth come spring. The dogs dutifully follow, nosing our hands as we make each cut. Michael opens the hot house; engulfed by a sweet scent, he calls me over to share his discovery: a cattleya orchid, regal purple, in full display. We breathe in the splendor.

That evening, tired but invigorated from our day of toil, we get comfortable and turn on the news.

My handsome newscaster appears on the screen and utters, “OMICRON. Wah, Wah, Wah…”

Michael stands and without a word he retreats to the bedroom. My world turns black.

Once again, I hear Victor’s voice, “Will you explain the symbolism?”

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