Break on through to the light inside |

Break on through to the light inside

Open Space
Derek Franz
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

Blood is hard to clean off a mirror. I scrubbed my splattered drops off weeks ago, but today I can still see the red, slashing arc across my reflection.

How do I combat this swelling darkness inside of me, this half that’s tangled around my soul, strangling, hating? I hate it. So it grows, and sometimes its canopy is so far above me I feel no hope for finding a beam of light.

The sun still shines, however.

I went into Glenwood Springs High School last Tuesday as a guest speaker for a handful of student journalists. I could see my 17-year-old self among them, looking back. Optimistic for the future, yet also bored and yearning to find what waits in the hallway after the bell.

Who was I to them? A success story? A long-haired dork who has spent too much time in a cubicle?

The tough thing about getting older, I think, is that you have that much less to look forward to; fewer chances to head out the door in any direction, toward the place you’ve always belonged.

This was all on my mind a day later when I left the neighborhood cafe and paused for a moment outside the door. My first impulse was to head back to my apartment, into the stuffy air of familiarity and a shower to start my Wednesday routine. But the sky was crisp and green grass was fighting its way through the snow in patches. It occurred to me I never have time to sit in the sun and stare at the river anymore. (When my rent is rising and someone is scamming my credit card account, relaxing seems irresponsible.) Screw it, I thought. Bills can wait for now. Just because the office is going to swallow most of my day, perhaps my life, I still have this one moment to follow after my heart. So I started off toward the Roaring Fork, stopping at a gas station for a Gatorade to wash the black coffee from my mouth.

At the Conoco, I saw myself again. A toe-headed toddler was jumping with glee by his mama’s leg.

“Guess what,” he told the clerk lady. “I’m going to school today! And it’s a mini college, and I’m only 4-years-old!”

To have a child around is to have a source of hope and wonder in its purest form, and I remember what it felt like to feel so unlimited. There was always tomorrow and the next thing.

Not so much for me these days. The weight of the past tends to keep me locked into a self-imposed life sentence, headed for God knows where. It’s damn hard to get out of the ruts and take that right turn when I need to. I just can’t seem to ever forgive myself.

This world is too good for me and the rest of us. I consume all the planet’s blessings in great quantity and leave trash behind, simply by my human standard of living.

I honk my horn and yell at the other jerks as I gas it down the highway. We’re all trying to go somewhere, yet in our haste all we do is cut each other off.

So, sometimes all the children seem like little monsters to me, popping out of the womb ” more every day ” nothing more than mouths and fingers who will be yelling and flipping me off someday: I see the ugly part of myself in them, the part for which I can’t forgive myself.

I wish I could amputate this evil that’s tangled in my roots, slithering all over me. If I could only hack myself free I know I could add some goodness to this thick, dark forest.

My instinct is to fight ” scratch out my imperfections that smack of selfishness, greed, deceit, rage: a sense of entitlement. The vines grow higher and I scream. Sometimes I hit myself and punch things until my fist bleeds.

The sight of my red drops across the mirror stops me, leaves me huffing. Jeez, what am I doing?

The blackness is not around me ” it’s within, possessing my actions, breeding destruction. If I’m not careful this infection will push out all that’s left of me to love, leaving me to rot in the husk of an empty heart.

Looking back at myself through the glass, I see my real sin. I need to love myself. I need to stoke my fire with all the goodness I know I have in me, and burn away the cold and all the snaggled brush.

If I can outgrow my cage, then so can that child. Maybe we’ll even meet again someday, out in a green field with views of dreamy mountain summits poking into a blue ocean of heaven.

So I try to remember that now, as I smile and watch the toddler burst out the door and break into a skip; as I look at all the teenage faces looking back at me in their journalism class. I wonder if they see themselves in me, and I hope I give them hope, because that seed of love is the only key to our prison.

Derek Franz is dedicating this column to his dad and mom, as well as Matt Samet, Cat Morgan and Margaret Maxwell. If you think your name is missing from this list, contact Derek at or 384-9113.

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