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No social media. The term didn't exist. What did exist was Mr. E's, "Say it out loud. You'll hear it, mystery." He lived off campus and was a tall interesting looking man who always seemed to wear the same colorful checkered flannel. Whenever you walked past him or found yourself in his presence, you were mesmerized. He said unthought-of things; "Weed will be legal some day. Don't forget to pay your supplier." Or he wouldn't say anything at all and captivate you with a sight of hand magic trick and then walk away. He seemed to always be walking away. Almost as if he lived off the suspense of wondering what you would have said in response to his awkward, yet captivating interaction.
I don't know how he entered my life. It was junior year. I remember lying awake on my uncomfortable twin bed listening to the newest Tori Amos album. I was interrupted by the sound of pebbles at my window. See, this is how we communicated back then. So archaic, but nostalgic at the same time. The excitement of who was behind the toss of rocks and what adventure you were about to experience accumulated in a heartbeat. I pulled the curtains back and saw him, Mr. E. He was standing outside of my window holding a disc-player. Vintage, even then. I put on some warmer clothes and walked outside. He was standing on the side of my apartment building next to a man-made campfire. The apartment had an open plot of land and for him that's all he needed to inspire such a primal moment. I walked over, he motioned me to enter and there was nothing to lie on except the cold ground. Nature at its finest. Take away the essentials. Get in tune with your senses. Silence your phones. Wait, we didn't have iPhones. They didn't exist. Just us. A man of few words owned them all. We didn't speak for the rest of the night. We didn't do anything except listen to the sounds of Tom Waits, the crickets, and watch fireflies.
He got up and walked. I thought he was stretching his limbs; he was lanky. I waited patiently, but wandered out myself when he didn't return. When I looked over to where I thought he was standing, I saw a gum ball. Pink. A bright color against the dirt ground. I picked it up and saw another brightly colored gum ball a few yards ahead. A trail? Did he expect me to follow gum balls in the middle of the night? Of course, he did. And of course, I grabbed them all and followed where he intended.
The trail ended in the middle of this forest. It probably wasn't a real forest but rather a tree-lined path on a walking trail. I picked up the last of the gum balls and when I looked up, I was standing in the middle of the forest, feet muddy, hands dirty, a bit cold but my adrenaline warmed me. I heard water, a creek bubbling, and found a bench. I sat down and found a jar. It was empty but I picked it up regardless. As soon as the glass jar was in my hands, I felt a presence join me ... Mr. E, tall, enchanting. He handed me a second jar, full of fireflies. I watched them dance and became hypnotized by their movements in the tiny jar. In this dreamy state, I sensed his hand twist and turn. When I blinked, the light enticed the night sky. They joined the stars and the fireflies felt their freedom. My heart raced. I found my arms stretched out in front of me almost wanting to fully understand their luminous journey into the air. I turned to smile and say something profound, if not poetic to the man who gave me this night—this experience to remember.
This moment in time that was not posted to Instagram or Facebook or even caught on camera. It resides in my memory. Does it even exist if it's not on social media? Social media didn't exist. He did. I did and when I turned to say something, I realized I was on the bench alone in the forest that was probably just a tree-lined walking path. I sat for what seemed like the rest of the night, but I awoke in my bed. The campfire was gone without a trace. Mr. E, "Say it out loud; mystery." I rubbed my eyes and discovered I was clutching a collection of gum balls. Pink and bright. Just like that college moment that went without a caption.