Avengers of Hope

Due to circumstances beyond his control, Zane had never realized an opportunity to gaze into Tonia’s crystal ball. This was telling because they were both a couple of aspiring gypsies who were struggling to make their mark. Historically Tonia would make light of the fact that as a pair, they were in command of a potential charisma that could be helpful in establishing a cult following. Somehow on this evening the idea began to take root. “I don’t think we should start a cult,” Zane said. “I think it would be better if we created a movement instead. “You have to be the leader,” Tonia explained as Zane sat quietly and listened. With youthful enthusiasm, the couple sat in the dimly lit room as they each enjoyed their respective cigarettes. As the conversation continued, the scheme of starting a movement began to unfold. In no uncertain terms, Tonia informed Zane of a unique ability which afforded him the luxury of effortlessly engaging with strangers. Tonia correctly noted Zane’s strengths while trying desperately to convince him of the potential. “People just naturally gravitate towards you because they can feel the kindness that flows out from you like gamma rays.  You make people feel good about themselves and they would pay good honest money for that.”

As if to convince himself that being a cult leader would be harmless, Zane carefully stated, “It’s not doing harm if you offer something in exchange.” He went on to suggest that people are literally dying from hopelessness, and “surely a five-dollar donation wouldn’t cripple anyone’s budget. What they’re getting for their money is hope,” he thought. Zane took a moment to silently grapple with the possibility of becoming a pair of traveling gypsies, peddling hope, and reading palms. “Tonia’s right,” he silently thought in earnest. “People always have gravitated towards me, but I can’t stand it!” Zane had a habit of misinterpreting kind advances as threatening gestures, and as a result he resisted physical human contact at all costs. Perhaps this was a biproduct of the mental illness? Perhaps it was due to inadequate modeling during his youth?

Whatever the reason, Zane couldn’t shake a lingering sensation of inadequacy that had been plaguing him since he walked off his job. Securing gainful employment bolstered his weary ego; it fostered genuine hope, and it was a welcomed change. His plan was to establish a solid ‘track record’ at the new job being hopeful that once he had established a satisfactory work history he would then be able to find another job closer to Tonia. That was the plan, and it was a good one, but it wasn’t meant to be. Historically Zane would buckle under the pressures of the daily grind, and because of this he was known to abruptly walk off from his jobs in a state of reckless abandon. Much to Zane’s grave disillusionment, his latest attempt at employment yielded similar results. He had managed to burn yet another bridge and it pained him right down to his inner-most core.

Although she tried to mask the disappointment, Tonia remained hopeful. “After all, we are the Avengers of Hope, she must have said to herself as the realization of her dwindling patience began to set in.  Indeed Zane had the potential to become anything he put his mind to, and he had set his sights on a happy future with Tonia. However another week had gone by, and he still had not attempted to get his house in order, meaning he still was not any closer to a divorce. When asked if he had contacted Social Security, Zane struggled to make eye contact and she knew the answer was no. Since losing his job, Zane fell into a crippling state of deep depression; he became weary and apathetic. It was if he was reduced to nothing more than a paralyzed insect trapped within the sticky confines of an old-fashioned hanging fly strip.

Zane was experiencing the dissonance that presented as he realized how his hopelessness would surely interfere with future plans of traveling the country as fortune-telling gypsies. As he wondered if he could turn on the charm he suspected a lack of charisma needed to radiate the hope that Tonia was so keenly aware of in him. She could tell he was lost in thought, so Tonia asked, “Tell me what you’re thinking?” Zane struggled to come up with an answer as he tried to establish eye contact. “How in the hell am I going to sell hope if I can’t even muster any for myself,” is what he was thinking? He looked into her eyes and couldn’t get the words out? Looking back he understood that he should have just said it. Instead he wiggled and squirmed trying to think of something else to say.

Four days had passed since their last physical encounter, and Zane was in a bad way. The longing and heart wrenching desire, coupled with the relentless anxiety had sent him into a self-perpetuating spiral of depression that rivaled anything he had encountered before. He agonized and moaned; he squirmed and ached. There was one sure way to ease the pain Zane reckoned, and the answer was only five minutes away. It was on occasions such as this that Zane would rationalize the cannabis intake by reminding himself, “Cannabis isn’t addictive.” The words tumbled around in his mind for a moment before some merciful cognitive reasoning began to take hold. “Where did I hear that from,” he silently asked? “It must have been a study,” Zane surmised as he imagined a large conference table in an executive office filled with peer review scientists who set about the task of “weeding out the bullshit.” After weighing some pros and cons, Zane once again convinced himself that cannabis was harmless. He quickly got dressed intending to venture out to the nearest dispensary. He donned his old cap because he was too apathetic to comb his hair. He hadn’t taken a shower in days.

Against his own better judgement he found himself waiting in line for the next available bud tender. He heard his deceased father’s voice in his head as he secretly cursed at the annoying young couple who were sampling each product while taking up everybody’s valuable time. Zane impatiently waited his turn while a voice from beyond chimed in from behind the veil and said, “Drugs will ruin your life Son. I thought I taught you kids to stay away from it.” Zane realized his father’s ghost was the literal manifestation of his guilty conscience, but his inner addict was compelled to make a stand. “Yeah, but it’s just pot, and it’s not even addictive,” Zane retorted as if dad were right there with him. “Yeah, but listen to me Son,” Charlie stated in an authoritative tone. “You’re smoking way too much. You’ve even said it yourself…you told it to Elise; you warned her that smoking pot will make you lazy!”                

Suddenly a distant bud tender from the farthest available till called out in an eager voice. With that Charlie’s essence hastily returned to whence it came. “Sir! I can help the next person in line,” called the bud tender with a welcoming tone! She was in her mid-twenties, Zane reasoned as he strolled towards her with a non-threatening demeanor. As he approached, Zane reached for his wallet mid stride while announcing, “I’m here to pick up an on-line order!” The clerk silently drank in the rugged persona, and then said, “Excellent, I just need to see your driver’s license!” After taking a look at the photo, she examined Zane’s face. “He looks different with glasses,” she thought. “Not only that, but the hat makes him look like a criminal from the old gangster films.” The budtender trained her focus back to the task at hand while succumbing to the masculinity of his rugged three-day beard. She suddenly giggled as she trained her attention upon the text of Zane’s driver’s license! She couldn’t believe her own eyes, so she purposefully glanced up at Zane, and then she quickly studied the driver’s license for a second time! Upon doing so she thrust a willing gaze upon him and said, “We’ve got the same birthday!” It took about a second for the words to resonate within his mind, because truth be told, he was still rationalizing his drug habit with Charlie in the background. When the weird coincidence began to gel, a genuine smile crossed Zane’s face and he off handedly asked, “You said we have the same birthday?” She only had to grin and nod because words would have only fallen short. It was the kind of chance meeting that would shake rational thought to its knees while begging the question, “What are the odds of that?” The young bud tender instinctively shrugged her shoulders as a playful smile manifested upon her eager face. With that she dutifully turned and walked towards the staging area where the prepackaged on-line orders were waiting to be claimed. In her absence, Zane’s attention was once again focused upon the annoying couple who were still sampling various products. “How can people be so finicky,” Zane wondered? Suddenly his attention was once again thrust upon the bud tender as she returned with a small paper bag in hand. She always considered herself to be a nice girl and she secretly resented the fact that management encouraged her to dress provocatively to attract tips. She prided herself on being in control, and being overly promiscuous was not in her nature. In spite of this, she looked Zane squarely in the eye and coyly asked, “Are you as fiery as I am?” The words stunned her as she caught herself articulating the seduction in real time! The typically reserved bud tender was thinking the words, and much to her dismay, she caught herself saying them out loud! “He’s going to think I’m a total tramp,” she reasoned while carefully studying his reaction! Without saying a word, Zane’s body language and facial expressions took charge. He instinctively cringed for less than a second while tilting his head and simultaneously leaning his torso backwards as far away from her as possible without moving his feet. The bud tender was quietly relieved by the knee jerk reaction knowing that her sudden advance had not taken root. Although she was pleased to learn that not all men are pigs, her warm smile slowly morphed into a gentle frown as she felt cold rejection creep in. Zane neutralized the bud tender’s dissonance by donning a disarming smile. Without a pause he kindly suggested that the unlikely coincidence must have been brought about by the new moon. Zane had no intention of taking advantage and the relieved bud tender knew it. They exchanged a pair of innocent smiles as she passed him the tiny brown sack that concealed the non-addictive, yet crippling cannabis. With a respectful nod, Zane turned his back and walked away. For a brief moment she felt a soothing rush of healing warmth as she came to the realization that, “Maybe, just maybe, there are still some good men out there! Maybe there is still hope.” As Zane made his way towards the exit he could hear her cry out with an optimistic flair, “I can help the next person in line!” It was at that moment that Zane realized he failed to leave a gratuity.

He exited the dispensary and made his way towards the parked minivan. “She was really coming on to you son,” his dad informed him as Zane opened up the door and slid behind the wheel. Charlie’s ghost returned just as rapidly as it had disappeared. Before inserting the key and twisting the switch, Zane wondered if he had handled the situation appropriately? He contemplated the answer to his own question while he sat in the driver’s seat. The light drizzle intensified into a steady pouring rain as he mouthed the words, “I didn’t lead her on, and I think I acted like a gentleman.” Once again he heard dad’s voice echoing in his mind from the vast reaches of the shadowy ethereal plane. “If you’re going to be the front man for a movement called the Avengers of Hope, then you’re going to have to learn how to deal with the ladies. They are going to be flocking to you like a gaggle of love-struck doves. I hope you know what you’re getting yourself into son.” In that moment, Zane wondered how Tonia would react to a seemingly endless flow of potential adoration as a small following would inevitably evolve into a full-fledged movement?  In the moment Zane realized the necessity of being nice to people. Would he revert to flirting as just part of some hastily cultivated shtick, and would Tonia suspect that flirting was born out of some deep-seated need to be adored?  “Would I need to flirt with women, or men for that matter,” he asked? Zane contemplated the difference between being nice, as opposed to flirting. “Surely I’m over thinking this,” he concluded as he proceeded to crank the engine. He reviewed the conversation he shared with Tonia that previous Saturday as he drove towards the house in the pouring rain.  “Avengers of Hope,” Zane said. “That’s what they would call us.” The phrase suggested that somehow Tonia and Zane possessed a unique ability to summon hope from the depths of great despair. In order to peddle hope, Zane would first have to cultivate it from within himself. In the moment he remembered Tonia, and the years of struggle and torment that she endured while patiently waiting his return. “She never lost hope, and now it’s our time to shine,” he concluded. Zane was convinced that the love they were cultivating would be self-evident, meaning that, “all we would have to do is be ourselves. As long as we let our love light shine, everything else will follow in its own way.”