Prescribing Life Lessons: Forward
by Zachary Franck
It's been a crazy couple of years. In more ways than one. I've fell in and out of love. I've slipped in and out of addiction. I've made new friends and lost old ones, I buried my good friend. It hasn't been easy yet difficult doesn't describe it. Planes, trains and automobiles have carried me from coast to coast. My toes have touched both the Atlantic and the Pacific. My life has given me hundreds of pages filled with words but the ink in my pen stays dry. There isn't one sole reason for this, as a writer I have to come to terms with it. At times thoughts fly through my mind at a million miles per hour yet disappear before they can land, it's as if they were shooting stars. Nights that I should've spent writing slowly turned to games of garbage can basketball, crumpled balls of paper replaced the first five chapters of my award-winning novel. More times than once. I always told my teachers that they'd read my book someday, at this rate they probably never will. Maybe I should've paid attention more in school, I know I should have put forth more effort. But I didn't. I rarely attended class and did drugs in the bathroom. A true winner. Algebra class became my independent study. I wrote some of my best poetry in math classes over the years. Enough about that though. This isn't about skipping algebra class or doing drugs in the bathroom, this isn't even about high school. This is about the years that followed, some of the best and worst of my life. It's about sleepless nights in the midst of summer plagued with intrinsic thought. I never knew how low my life would end up getting. Honestly, nobody did.
My group of friends has been infected with arrest records and the occasional overdose. We grew up behind white picket fences and under blue skies. This wasn't the plan for us. I'm not saying that we're all criminals and junkies, by no means is that the case. We're also not exactly goodie-two shoe kids from suburban New York. Some have been stuck in the middle for years while others know exactly where they stand. Many are confident in the paths they took, graduating college after a short four years. I followed the yellow brick road, hopping from city to city almost always landing back in my hometown. My feet danced in southern California sand, they've stomped up Broadway in the middle of an early morning. It was romantic while it lasted, but it didn't. I've slept on park benches in Manhattan during autumn, it wasn't that bad, for a night. The homeless shelter in the not-so-nice section of Long Beach was much worse. My life has been in a suitcase for better or for worse.
It's as if I'm waiting at a bus stop in the rain; waiting, waiting, waiting. The rain is dripping, dripping, dripping. A car pulls up and a stranger steps out into puddle with his luggage. He doesn't have a bus ticket yet he sits down next to me. The stranger asks when the next bus will be arriving, I don't know so I shrug my shoulders and he looks away. I attempt to scribble down some poetry as a water droplet bursts onto the page, completely smudging what I had written. I rip up the sheet of paper and throw the pieces into the wind, the words weren't that special in the first place. The man next to me lights up a cigarette and chuckles softly with the smirk of a wise man. I asked the stranger what he thought was so funny; he took a long, slow drag off his Marlboro and looked away. I was about to open my mouth again but before I could he answered. He said "We're both strangers in the rain waiting for a bus that may never come. A young man with an old soul and an old man with a young soul, we have more in common than you think." I was about to say something but he handed me his half smoked cigarette and I took that as a cue to shut my mouth and listen. He went on, "I've seen cities in Europe and villages in Africa, I remember them so vividly and I'll never forget. I've climbed mountains in Alaska and surfed waves in Hawaii, neither were easy yet both were simplistic. I've lost many years to the bottle and even more friends to the needle, when my mind grew weak, it was my heart that held a candle in the darkness. I've been laughed at, ridiculed and beat up and I've been smiled at, complimented and hugged. My wallet has been stolen and returned, both empty and full. My old fantasies became my new realities and my old reality is fantasy. Your reality can be built up and broken down, both are hard work and nobody can do it for you."
His words had put me in a daze, I had been holding a finished cigarette for ten minutes. The stranger no longer seemed like a random man at a bus stop in the Bronx, when he spoke I listened. He held out his open pack of Marlboro Reds, I took another and lit it up immediately. He said, "I'm fifty-eight years old and I've seen a lot over the years but I need to see more, I need to do more. Passion flows through my veins like heroin, it fills my lungs with air and rips me out of bed in the morning. It is one of the greatest gifts from god. Talent is not enough my friend, it will get you to the race but it won't win it. Talent without passion is a waste, you either have it or you don't. You have it, kid. You wouldn't be writing poetry in the rain at a bus stop if you didn't. With talent and passion comes the third point to the triangle of creative success, balance. Without balance you'll be standing on the edge for the rest of your life. Don't waste your time, your talent or your passion; find your balance." I took the last drag of my cigarette and flicked it into the puddle near his luggage. I had so many questions; Who was this guy? Where was he from? What does he do for a living? As I was debating with myself about asking him these questions, the bus turned onto the street where we were sitting. I stood up with my ticket, still in awe of the whole situation. The stranger stayed seated as the bus came to an abrupt stop in front of us. I was confused, I asked him "uhh this is the bus we've been waiting for, what are you doing?". He stood up and answered, "Prescribing Life Lessons" and walked steadily in the opposite direction. I was standing with one foot on the bus and one foot on the street, my soul was buzzing. His reply would stay with me for the rest of my life. A part of me wanted to chase after him and find out more about this mysterious stranger but I didn't. I walked onto the bus and took a window seat in the back. I watched him as he turned the corner, dragging his luggage behind him. The doors closed and the bus started to roll. I took out my notebook and opened to a fresh page, still in shock about everything that I just heard. My mind was racing and I thought for a few moments about what to write. I was inspired for the first time in a while. I took the cap off my pen and wrote three words at the bottom of the page; Passion, Talent and Balance. I paused for a moment and smiled, then wrote another three words at the top, Prescribing Life Lessons.