Strobes, Candles, and Magic

Strobes, Candles, and Magic


It’s a small bedroom, with tan walls, a twin-size bed, a wooden nightstand on his side, and a plastic storage container to my left.  Sometimes I toss a lace bra or silk panties sideways and they land on the table top, but mostly it’s a place to keep a bottle of cold water, or my eyeglasses, earrings and necklace so I don’t forget them when I leave. And yes, I always leave before the sun comes up, before the light shines in through the off-white blinds behind me. I come here at night and I leave in the darkness.    

In front of the bed are three metal shelves filled with a collection of Shakers that line up like toy soldiers. In the corner I spot a candle shaped like a large pumpkin with a rough outer skin like a cantaloupe. He said the candle is a favorite from his college party days, more than forty years ago. He tells me about his travels to New York with friends and meeting Bob Dylan at a certain party in the Village. Listening to his stories from the past reveal a part of him I like; a glimpse of his sentimentality for simple pleasures in life; a hint that he values memories, friends, and family—a hope that he won’t forget me. 

When we first met, he told me about his best friend Jack, who had survived two cancers before having   a massive stroke which left him with speech and mobility deficits. It wasn’t the cancer aspect that made a connection for me, but rather the idea of one man’s devotion for another and the way he was willing to do anything for his friend. It was his loyalty to Jack that I admired; the daily updates on his condition, the way his life revolved around visiting him at the hospital two or three times a day. This is someone who hated hospitals ever since he was a young man; the distinct antiseptic way they smell, the sounds of pain that echo down the corridors, and the machines that regulate and display life or death. So, in retrospect, my attraction to this man began with his friendship with Jack and the way he put his own life on hold so that he could devote his time to his best friend—someone he had known since he was 15-years old.

And in this room, under the spotlights, we face each other as if we were stars in an X-rated movie and we toast Jack while drinking Ricard and I listen to stories about the two of them; when they were roommates during their college days, when they bought their first sailboat, and their adventures on the high seas. He talks about a shared sailing exploration around Cape Horn and how they fought high winds and hail. He uses sailing terms that I don’t understand like tacking, gybing, halyard, and shackle, watching for the jib flaps, pulling in the sheets, and turning the wench. He relives the past under the stars, as if going through the memories might ease the grief he’s feeling—Jack died two weeks ago.  


And it’s here, under the strobe lights that I feel a deep connection with a stranger and in some way slowly fall in love with Jack—someone I have never met in person, but feel I’ve known for a lifetime.

Red, green, and blue lights flicker their reflections on the ceiling and walls that surround us. We watch the tiny lights bouncing above us revealing their shapes, subconscious meanings as they wander through space. The iPod plays dreamy music, mostly alternative, and I move my body to the rhythm of artists I haven’t heard in a while like Meatloaf and Cake. I allow them to take me into another world. I think about the present and the future, let my imagination go crazy, and I pretend for the time being that all is well.

It’s easy for me to forget when my world went haywire after my husband died and I felt the first of many jolts before submerging into a pool of details and functions which needed to be complied with. All I have to do now is take a deep breath, hold it, feel it fill every crevice of my body, and move with the magic. 

This room is the scene of small and large experiences that are whispered about in the dark. We talk about the day’s news, heads together, gazing into one another’s eyes as though we speak a language transmitted from some extraterrestrial force. We are close enough to feel each other’s breath as our noses and lips touch. We are propelled toward one another, like a magnet, drawing its strength from the magnetic flux produced when we’re together. 

To describe our conversations might be difficult as they tend to be sacred; like black-box confessions made inside a dark cubicle. If you saw us in these moments, you might identify pauses in our dialogue as nothing more than a way for us to collect our thoughts in order to go forward—a direction I’ve been trying to follow since my husband died. But I see it another way: my mind is being overwhelmed by two processes that must simultaneously proceed at full steam. One is to deal with and live in the present world. The other is to re-experience and mourn something or things that happened in the past. It is as though the strobe lights are pulling me toward heaven, but the extra gravity around me keeps me earthbound.

We call this room, “The Truth Room” because one can’t help but be honest when lying below the stars, the galaxies that make up our universe away from the world we live in. He tells me he’s confused about who he is now and what his new life consists of. He doesn’t talk about it, but it’s evident from his philosophies about living that his new direction is not a carved path. I try to be there for him, stroke the back of his neck and wrap myself around him under the stars that flicker on and off, changing their clusters, floating toward one another and then away—far away. I watch the drifters that are left behind to find their way back in the dark.

About TRatner

Terry Ratner is a freelance writer, registered nurse, and writing instructor in Phoenix, Arizona. In June of 2004, she graduated with a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative nonfiction from Antioch University, Los Angeles. Writing has always served a purpose in her life, but it wasn't until her son died in a motorcycle accident in March, 1999, that she began to publish her works. What's unique about Terry is the way she balances the life of a nurse with the life of a writer. "Nursing allows me to give back to the community and then write about those experiences." Ratner teaches creative writing in a variety of settings from community colleges to a school for homeless children (Thomas J. Pappas) to wellness communities throughout the Valley of the Sun. In 2004, Terry launched an Arts and Healing program for children undergoing dialysis at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center. She has published numerous personal essays, cover stories, interviews, and book reviews for a variety of national and regional publications. Her manuscript, a work in progress, features a series of twelve essays, ten of which are introduced with black and white photos, dealing with issues of family and identity.
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1 Response to Strobes, Candles, and Magic

  1. Joanne Dean says:

    Dear Terry, Thank you for sharing this beautiful story. I can not express in words how thrilled and happy I am that you both found each other.

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