Yellow Light

by Erika Shepard

The lamp over my desk is dim, casting a yellowish light to the ceiling. It is a CFL lamp, miserly in its use of electricity. It saves precious pennies but fills the room with a deep sense of gloom.

        Under it, I am alone. I am old.

        It is the nature of things, to live this way, for those of us who have outlived our usefulness here in the oh-so-advanced 21st century. Yes, the concept of family was never perfect. It was always too restrictive. Yet, it had its uses.

        Still, over time it has assumed a different meaning from the one it held just a few decades ago. Along the way it was ripped apart, fragmented by the tyrannies of capitalism and distance and illness.

        Jobs are gone. Moved to China, they said. There are opportunities across the country, we hoped. Gotta go there. Robots, they reply, nothing for you here. Damn immigrants, some howl, just need to build a wall. Creative destruction, the rich man preaches. Everyday connections, once strong, were thus broken, leaving only anxious confusion and the scattered remnants of what was.

        Yet in the darkness, the simple yellow light also reminds me of campfires and tents, of marshmallows and chocolate and graham crackers. There, the flickering yellow light was a good thing, a warmth that bathed everyone around the circle equally in its glow. Yes, we sang sentimental songs. We told wild, implausible stories. We drank a little, and a few even smoked some weed. But we were together. We mattered to each other, even if we occasionally irritated one another in the process.

        Simpler times, you say. But they were not simple times. People were dying.

        Nixon is a crook! we exclaimed over the smoke. Johnson is a political hack! we hurled back, taking a sip or a toke. In those days it was Vietnam, that jungle ghost, lurking under every word. But that was then. Ancient history experienced in real time and in different ways by us around the fire.

        We had no clue, no prescient divining of the world to come. After all, we were invulnerable. We would always be young. If we put our minds to it, we could make a difference. We shall overcome! we sang at the top of our optimism.

        Yet, here we are. Divided. Angry. Afraid. And yes, many of us, lonely.

        Under my little lamp, I wonder where it all went. The friendships, the campfires. Those friends have moved on, driven by necessity or hope. Some have died. So too, the definition of family has, thankfully, grown. I have new friends now, ones that I love most dearly. They are my family now, glued together from their fragments and mine, bonded together by love. Yet, they too have lives of their own. Each will continue their singular journey, as I will. As will everyone.

        Tonight, I am in no man’s land. Yes, it is sometimes a place of loneliness and memory, but it is also a place of solace and warmth.

        I expect the sun will rise tomorrow; I expect I will see that sun. So, I will go out to meet the world. I will gather with my friends and we will laugh together, eat well, and perhaps drink a bit too much. We love each other, after all.

        So it is with no man’s land. It is, like most things, temporary.

        It will pass.

Erika Shepard is a retired minerals exploration geologist, sometime writer, and transgender woman living in Bellingham.

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