“The past is never what it was when it was the present.” —James Quincey O’Keefe The Ballad of Low Tide

Prologue: Truth and Honesty

I’ve seen the answer through the smoke, heard it on the wind, and accepted its scar on my skin. And though I don’t know who is asking, or why, I do know the answer: the answer to the riddle of my life. I know, declare, claim, and swear the answer is forty-two. Curious words to write to one’s self? Perhaps. Though is it not more curious to attempt to write a recollection, a recounting, of the past so the present may be understood enough to have a future? Perhaps even a future disengaged from whence the past was taking me, guiding me. Does that make sense? I think it does. I hope it does. First, let me begin by committing myself to honesty: I do hereby swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I will not waver when I must write about myself, “George Thomas Olson has once again claimed another lunch at Carafe with Charles as a business expense.” Or, “Is it possible to differentiate sanity from insanity if one is insane?” Or, more to the point, “I am in great fear of not being a better husband, a better father, than I was.” Though this recollection is sure to be a daunting task, I have a memento, a lone one, taped to one of the surrounding whitewashed walls. I plan on using it, using it for inspiration. It’s an old photo of me as a child. I must be two-ish. My parents took me on a road trip through the southwest, even into Mexico. In the picture, I’m as dirty and unkempt as a beggar’s child. I seem to be holding something small, precious, and magical, at least based on the reverent curve of my hands. You can’t see the object. And I, unfortunately, don’t remember what it was. But there’s some talisman, distinctly there. The look on my face is an odd mixture of guilt and elation. Behind me, taking up the entire background, is my parents’ car, a dusty, lime-green Volkswagen bug. The license plate, YHW 423, like a curious halo, shimmers above my head. I also hope to use that curious gleam in the child’s eyes to illuminate the path I took to reach these coordinates in space and time. And, honestly, how do I know that was me, when I am what I am now? And who am I now? Where am I now? Easy questions if I wanted easy answers. For I would simply say: I am on an island, in a white room overlooking the sea, writing and ignoring the mesmerizing voices of the Sirens. I’m not looking for easy answers, though. In this recollection I quest for something more ephemeral—the truth. Perhaps that’s what the child once held? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Are you ready to begin? I think I am. I hope I am. As the sage Lao Tzu once said, “A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” So, I assume the longest story, and for that matter the shortest, begins with the first word. And the first word to this story, my story, our story, is “bougainvillea.” No, actually, it’s something much more disturbing than that. It’s “destiny.”

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