We have so much to tell.
Picture earth movement. Not the dramatic earthquake that ruins homes, businesses, government buildings, that leaves thousands of traumatized people on cots in school gymnasiums, with rampant looters, police, and vigilantes.
Picture, instead, the earth giving a little shake detectable by only the most sensitive instruments. But enough of a shake that a rock on the side of a mountain cracks open, a rock already fissured, perhaps, by ice and heat. Inside the mountain runs a hidden river.
Water pours though the cracked rock. If the water were sentient, it might look around and think, amazed to be out in the light, I am about to flow down this mountain, not knowing what creek bed will receive me. The water gurgles into declivities. They fill up, and it spills into new recesses. They, too, fill up, till at last a crease in the edge of the slope receives the water, and a creek is born.
This story flows forth like that. As these words fly into cyberspace, we have many choices before us. What to tell first? And then? Whose story starts the narrative?
There is so much to tell. Our sense of overwhelm at the magnitude of these interconnected lives compels us to calm down. Breathe. It must begin somewhere.
Let us look in on Dean Colfax, then, with a clichéd cop-out: Hey, why not?
We will first meet Dean and then his wife, Priscilla, the two linked by a phone call. While the call might seem to be a mere instance of garden-variety spousal discord, it holds within it signs of enormous change happening, not only to Dean and Scilla, as she is sometimes called, but to their two children and extended families, their friends and co-workers, people who live near their San Francisco home, and myriad other folks who float in and out of this narrative that, starting as a trickle, will become a river fed by all their experiences.
We see Dean alone at a table in a coffee house called JavaPort on Chestnut Street in San Francisco’s Cow Hollow neighborhood. He writes grants for a living, does a volunteer gig at a hospice in Cow Hollow on Wednesday evenings, and often goes to JavaPort after. He is sometimes accompanied by Bert Quant, a fellow volunteer. It is April of 2011. Dean will turn 40 in late November.
A series of recent events has jolted him from a life-long passivity. We could, perhaps, divert the narrative here to recount each of these, and hope that your patience holds up through the entire catalog. But let us take a more leisurely approach.
It is better to explain that, while Dean is sitting at his table alone, he is not actually alone. He has invited a man to join him for coffee (though Dean is actually drinking mint tea). He had met the man less than an hour earlier. Their first encounter was violent, not thuggish but accidental.
As Dean left the hospice, having determined that his new friend Bert would not be joining him for a beverage this Wednesday, he tripped over a guy in his 60s who was sprawled on the steps of the 19th century mansion that housed the facility.
Tripped twice. Once when the old guy grabbed his pant leg, and again when the old guy asked him if anyone in there ever reported near-death experiences.
The guy claimed he was a researcher. Homeless, bearded, two teeth missing: not what one expects from someone purporting to do research. The question threw Dean against the opposite stair rail, as he lost his footing recoiling from the odd inquiry. Earlier in the evening, there had been an event with a dying man named Rory McGinnis, a green banana balanced on the nose of an amateur clown working up a party stunt for a possible show-off moment at the home of Gene and Maggie Cassidy.
But to digress and enter that part of the narrative will only take us from our chosen task. We will revisit the green banana, and Gene and Maggie. Right now, the only relevant piece is that the old man broached the question, and Dean lost his footing.
The old guy said he was homeless. Dean, as is the case with most of us when we encounter someone who lives on the streets of our cities, has a practiced response, both external and internal. His armor goes on, rationalizations flare up, maybe he tosses a quarter into a cup if the wretch honks into a harmonica with some brio. Then he hurries on.
But this guy looked and acted different. He did not seem crazy. His beard, light gray and streaked with black on both cheeks, as if with Zen brush strokes, was neatly cropped, as was the white hair, tame between upper ear and temple. He did not smell foul. There is more to tell about this initial encounter, and it will be told in time.
There is also a nearly implacable urge to spill forth the entire conversation that ensued once the two men arrived at JavaPort. But that conversation will make more sense to you if we first devote some time to showing you more about Dean and Priscilla Colfax; about Harlan, their 14-year-old son, and their daughter Candice, two years younger.
The old man was in the restroom of the coffee house. Dean took out his cell and hesitated before calling his wife. He had invited the guy to come home with him, have a meal. And spend the night.
This was a high-water mark in Dean’s relationship with Priscilla. Not long before, Dean Colfax would not have offered anyone, not his brother Scott, not his dad, not a single person, access to the daybed in the living room of the Colfax house on Regan Street, without first getting permission from his wife.
Dean was breaking out. Not in the out-to-have-an-affair-and-get-divorced-because-I’m-turning-40 kind of way. It was much, much more subtle than that.
This, too, will be revealed.
Though not without antecedents, the phone call to Scilla was nonetheless anxiety-provoking. Dean held his finger above the button that would connect them. He wanted to talk to her without the old guy at the table. Just before the guy (he did not even know his name!) returned, he found the courage to let finger hit key.
Priscilla Colfax was relieved when her cell rang. She was sitting in the passenger seat of Vera Chen’s newish Volkswagen GTI. She was relieved not because she disliked Vera. Oh, to be sure, her accent was hard to decipher at times, and Scilla had enough challenges to make nicey-nice at social gatherings to have to add that burden. But Vera had offered to drive Scilla home.
The dinner at Casa di Barbolo for Belinda’s 49th birthday could only work on Wednesday, the one day Dean had to have the Prius. His do-gooder thing at that organization Priscilla suspected was mostly a cult.
That whole enterprise irritated her. It was one more way he was being weird lately. A friend had suggested he might be going through a mid-life crisis, turning 40 this year, male-pattern balding, softening around the waist, lack of career growth. Scilla thought that was a crock. She was 43 and had not had a crisis when she turned 40. Why should he?
She had run out of things to say to Vera and had grown weary of saying, “Beg your pardon?” to every other thing her former co-worker said. Then the phone emitted Dean’s ring. Saved.
“Hi, Dean. You home?”
“Uh, not yet.”
“I’m at JavaPort.”
“With your friend, the shrink?”
“Uh, no. With another friend.”
“Oh, uh, this older guy. Very interesting guy.”
“So I get to go home into a cold, dark house? You know the kids are probably not home yet. Or did you forget?”
“No. I will be heading out soon.”
“Well, that’s just great.” She regretted the tone of sarcasm somewhat but felt he deserved it.
“There’s something else. I have invited this new friend to eat dinner with me. At home. And, uh, to um, well, to spend the night.”
“What? Dean. You’re not kidding, are you?”
“Nope. He is right here. I am standing up, we are heading out the door.”
Dean did not hear her next remark: “What is wrong with you? What?”
She did hear his, though it was not intended for her. “You ready? Let’s go. She’s cool with it. I’m parked just a couple blocks from here.”
Dean. In Scilla’s inner accounting he would get a new check mark by his name. He would need to pay for this. This was unacceptable.
And in this way, the couple entered a new adventure in the 15th year of their relationship.
© All content copyright 2011 Serial Jones. All rights reserved.