Lao and Me

Pond Ring 2This story was the winning entry in the adult category Short Story Contest: “Diamond in the Drink -or- How Did the Wedding Ring End up in the Kelley Pond?”

By Barry Bryan

I heard about the wedding ring found in the Kelley pond and the contest for best story about how it got there. Sometimes the best story is the truth. It is my ring. I put it there forty-two years ago and prefer that it stay there.

This story began at the end of another one. I’ll start there. Back in 1970 I had been married to Greta for over ten years and had a good paying office job at a manufacturing plant. I moved stacks of invoices to other stacks and put numbers into ledgers. I’d been there for years. I can’t say I was happy there, but a sensible person didn’t leave a good job.

Our marriage was good. We both worked and spent our weekends keeping up our yard or going to movies and eating out. We were both working for retirement and the better life to follow. Sometimes I had doubts about our life, but that was silly. We were doing what responsible people did.

Then trouble started. It started slow at first. It was all my fault. It wasn’t another woman, drinking, gambling or drugs. It started with a box of books. I bought the box in the parking lot of a coffee house. There were old school buses and vans parked there with clothes, books, jewelry, records and stuff for sale beside the vehicles. The sellers said they were raising money to go up the coast to Mendocino. They were going back to the land, to provide for themselves and live in the moment. I left with my books, and thought the sellers wouldn’t last long before the real world caught up with them.

When Alan Watts, Jack Kerouac, Carl Jung, Ram Das and Lao Tsu walked in the door with me, life changed. Reading them was slow at first, but I was soon thinking about our life on a treadmill going nowhere. I tried to talk to Greta about what I was learning, but she wasn’t interested. She was comfortable the way things were and didn’t understand why I wasn’t. For awhile, I kept my reading detached from our life. Then, Lao Tsu kicked me in the butt when he said:

“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”

He talked directly to me. I was thrown off balance. Then he sucker punched me with:

“At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and what you want”.

When I came to, Lao walked out the door. Jack carried their bags.

“Wait, where are you going?”

“We’re going north to Mendocino. We’re going to catch up with you. You’ve already left. You just don’t know it yet”.

That’s the way I remember it.

Before long I told Greta that I had to go north. I wanted to go together, but she wouldn’t hear of it. She gave in and agreed I could go for thirty days and she would drive up at the end of the month. She said if I realized my mistake, I would go home with her. I said if things were going well she could stay a couple of days and we would talk it out.

Things were rough at first. I made it to a farm where I slept in the barn in exchange for doing farm work. Others slept in tents, a school bus, and an empty chicken coop. We didn’t really do a lot of work, but we did everything the farmer asked. We were labor, but also companions and entertainment for him. He had been lonely since his wife died years before. He taught us to do all the practical things a farm demanded. We talked to him about what we hoped to find. He talked about what life had taught him. He told us to respect the land and nature would take care of us. He said people generally live up to your expectations if you let them know what you expect. We talked to him about philosophy and he related everything we said to nature. We earned each others respect and trust. We were becoming a family.

When I accepted the coastal weather, I became aware of the beauty around me. The ocean changed daily in color and temperament. Its rhythm was soothing. Words were not adequate to describe the stateliness, grace and impact of the redwoods. I had found the place where I belonged. I was home.

The month ended and I was excited about Greta’s visit. I wanted to show her everything. I knew she would love this place and the people. We could start a better life together.

On the day of Greta’s visit, I hitched a ride to town and waited in the bar on Main Street. We were to meet there at noon. I waited alone all afternoon. The bartender came over and asked if I was George W. Richards. I told him I was and he handed me an envelope. It was from Greta. She was not showing up that day or any other. I had abandoned her and hurt her beyond repair. She had burned my books and did not want to see me again.

I stumbled outside and walked up the street. Dazed, I stopped at the pond and starred at the water. Lao stood next to me. He said: “when I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” He patted me on the shoulder and walked away. I looked at the ring on my left hand and took it off. My initials were on the inside. I threw it and my old life into the pond and walked to the highway to catch a ride back to the farm.

Four of us stayed with the old farmer until he passed away. To our shock and surprise, he left the farm to us. I still live there in peace and happiness.