How do you contain the wind? Can you bottle it? Can you catch it in a net? And if you could capture the wind, the moment you opened the container, would it all seep out immediately, ecstatic to be free?
Windrider was a free spirit, contained only by his physical body, not by rules or deadlines, not by protocols or the boundaries invented by countries. When the wind blew, he rode on it, until…
A novel virus swept the earth. A microscopic, invisible, misunderstood life form that ravaged economies, bodies, and people’s sanity, and was more powerful than a war or anything created by human ingenuity.
Windrider, who had spent years flitting like a butterfly on the wind, accepted into the hearts and homes by people of all creeds and colors and cultures, now was shunned as if he, too, were a virus, confined to his small piece of the world. The wind had stopped. The earth was still and quiet.
Windrider, the first gust:
Windrider hoisted his backpack onto his back, pulling the straps as tight as possible to keep his shoulders straight, and buckled the strap across his waist. When he started this adventure almost 5 years ago, he decided that he needed the best backpack out there. He settled on a Tortuga Outbreaker, 45 L with its “ tear-resistant sailcloth and sealed zippers that provide ample protection from sharp objects and the elements.”
His given name was Brent, but after traveling for a year, his friend named him Windrider, because he rode the wind. Some people couldn’t find the time to utter 3 entire syllables, so they started diminishing his name. A beautiful Taiwanese chick that he dated (perhaps dating is the wrong word for his passing affairs) in Taiwan who barely spoke English, called him Windy. A gorgeous woman with skin blacker than the night sky, in Africa, called him ‘Rider of the Wind’ in that delicious Kenyan accent. A friend he made at the ashram in Virginia called him Rider, and it stuck. He only used his full name, Windrider Brent Tallison, when he had to fill out applications or if he was telling yet another beautiful lady how he got his name.
Life for Rider wasn’t always amorphous and unencumbered. He grew up in a middle class home in Ohio, with two sisters, Veronica and Lorelei, a mom and dad, and Granny Tallison (Tally, for short) who lived with them for most of his life. There was nothing particularly remarkable about life in Ohio, but it was cold in the winter, and often gray, which caused some people to get SAD (seasonal affective disorder), if you believed in that sort of thing. Tally said, “so many of the new disorders, like ADHD and SAD are just a bunch of bunk that doctors made up because they can’t figure out what’s wrong with people.” Maybe Tally was right. Anyway, she was the one person Rider was going to miss the most when he took to the road. “For how long?” Tally asked. Rider didn’t know. “For as long as the wind blows, Tally. When it stops, I’ll come home.”
He had wanderlust and it was a need that he had to accommodate, like a hunger in your gut that won’t subside until you give it food. So, he took off to see the world. Quit his job that he got after college (he got a degree in business because he didn’t know what else to do and it seemed like a good degree to have), and took off his business suit. He bought the necessary items, got a few mandatory vaccines, even though he was mildly opposed to the idea, got his passport, bought the latest copy of ‘the Lonely Planet’ travel guide in paperback (he didn’t want to be stuck somewhere with no internet connection), became a member of hostels.com, and joined a few travel sites for backpackers. He was only 28, healthy, and could sleep anywhere. Rider didn’t want to wait until he was too old, or until he was tied down by responsibilities. Even his family thought it was a good idea.
“Go now, while you still can,” they said. “But do be careful out there.” His father gave him a few pointers on how not to get ripped off, and his sisters gave him some condoms, just to be safe. His mother cried, but she was happy for him. Tally punched his shoulder and told him to, “have the time of your life, Kiddo, but you better email or text at least once a week. We want to know that you’re okay.”
“I’ll do better than that,” Rider said. “I’ll keep a blog and post it on social media, complete with pictures and videos.”
“Write postcards. Write letters. Do it the old fashioned way,” Tally told him. And sometimes he did.
And so began his ride on the wind.
Lorelei, A Nurse:
I’m so proud of my little brother. I admit, I’m a little jealous. Traveling around the world like that. I wish I had the courage to do that. I hope he doesn’t let people take advantage of him, with that baby face. Maybe I settled down too soon. I did everything by the book. Nursing school. Got married. Bought a house. Had 2 gorgeous, amazing children, the loves of my life. I supposed I can live vicariously through Brent. Oh, I love this video. What a beautiful country. Holy cow! Did he have a Go-Pro to take this video of him bungee jumping? I’m getting agita just watching this! Actually, maybe that life is not for me. Too dangerous. Too many unknowns. But I sure would like to visit some of those places. Maybe Lyll will take me on a second honeymoon, if only we can get some time away from work.
Rider often got by on his good looks, his irresistible charm, and his ostensible naivete. He was moderately intelligent and very curious. He had a good heart. If ever a gun were to pass through his fingers, it would be to shoot a target, not a bird. At first, women wanted to be his friend, which was fine with him, but when they discovered that he truly was a sensitive man who seemed interested in their every word, they started to realize just how adorable he was, and this often led to sex. He rarely solicited it. They peered into his grey eyes, and leaned back to gaze at his beautiful, somewhat effeminate face, with soft curves and smooth skin, his shoulder length hair trailing behind his ears. He was equally enamored. And he was never lonely.
It seemed that wherever he went, he made friends with everyone, and often had people willing to put him up for a few nights. He stayed until he got the wanderlust again. There were many women, but he never stayed long enough for true intimacy to emerge. A few times, a woman would travel with him. Inevitably, she would want to go home, and he would want to keep going, so he did. “I feel a gust,” he would say.
Sometimes the wind swept Rider off his feet like a lover and carried him gently to the next adventure, softly landing him like a leaf that glides down from the top of an oak tree. Other times, the wind came in sudden gusts, whisking him up like Dorothy in a twister, slamming him down somewhere that wasn’t in his guidebook. Luckily, his dad’s words of wisdom also carried on the winds and kept him safe. Rider became a puff of dandelion, and the wind propelled him, planting him in another country, another continent.
He traveled through the broken streets of South America, and tred on the cobblestones of old European villages. In Italy, he had to retrieve the memory of his father’s words about how not to get taken advantage of when he got bamboozled by some hustlers who saw a rich American as their mark. He only got taken for about $50, but it could have been more. Lesson learned.
Lorelei,life in Ohio:
I cannot believe Mom fell for that. I’ve heard that older people are the ones getting ripped off more than anyone nowadays. But how could she have sent that dude money? She must really be desperate to see her son. She really thought that guy was Brent, or whatever he calls himself nowadays. Rider, I think. Jeez. I think it’s time for ‘Rider’ to come home. He can’t do this forever. I don’t think he even knows that somebody conned Mom into thinking the guy was her son. Does he even know that she sent that guy $500? Dad went through the roof when he found out. I think he cut her off from all the bank accounts. Is she losing it?
He had a close call in Africa, because he had no skills in fighting, and got his ass kicked by gang kids on the streets of Johannesburg. Luckily, a small band of invisible angels must have been riding the winds that day, because a police car happened to come down the block just at the right time, scaring them away. They left him in a puddle of blood and bruises. The police gave him a ride to a nearby clinic, but only after he thanked them with some American dollars.
He came home to Ohio and took a martial arts class, realizing that the world could be a scary place. But, wanderlust rarely let him settle down for long, the winds began to howl and he could hear his name in them, calling him to ride.
Lorelei, Life kicks her ass:
I’m working 3 days a week, 12 hour shifts. I need to sleep for a day, afterwards, but the kids are in school anyway and Lyll picks them up, so it works out. This schedule has its advantages, but it is kicking my ass. I could never do this if Lyll weren’t such a great father. I need to tell him that more often. I should write it down so I remember. What am I saying? I have to write this down? I’m going to tell him later when I see him. I know what it’s like when you don’t feel appreciated.
Windrider went wherever the breezes blew. When he ran low on money, he got odd jobs working, without a visa, for people he met. Fixing things, building things, chopping wood, trimming marijuana plants, working on farms, walking dogs. When people found out that he was a traveler, they fed him, and gave him wine, and took him to see the sights. He learned how people lived and how they thought differently about things than Americans did. In some countries, their stuff was not the most important thing. Being together was more important. In some places, being the best was not as important as it was in America. Community often seemed to take precedence over the individual. Sometimes, life was more simple in other countries, less stressful.
But sometimes, it was harder. Sometimes, the sidewalks were broken, the streets were dirty, the food gave him parasites. Sometimes, the toilets were disgusting. But what he often found were people who ate meals that took hours, talking and laughing and arguing over several courses of food, who bought fresh food at the market almost every day. This was real. There were so many different ways to be, he discovered.
And there were so many adventures out there. He ziplined hundreds of feet over rainforests, bungee jumped off a bridge, skied down treacherous mountains in the Alps, swam with sharks, rode in busses that he swore would never make it off the bumpy roads in one piece, went to a classical concert in Vienna, ate a blowfish in Japan, and helped to build a sustainable house in Argentina. And with each experience, he sent home pictures and videos and stories of his adventures.
Lorelei, living vicariously:
I can’t wait to show Mom and Dad this new video from Brent. I love that Brent is traveling, but they’re getting worried that he’ll never come back. The kids are so excited whenever he comes home. They love hearing his stories. I know they’re going to follow in his footsteps some day. I’ll dread that day, but I’ll understand. I just wish Brent wouldn’t do dumb stuff like bungee jumping and sky diving. I never realized what an adrenaline junkie he was. Well, I guess it’s better than drugs. Like that guy who came into the operating room the other day. The drugs just take over their brains. I just feel so sorry for their parents. I guess we’re lucky. Brent just wants to have adventures traveling the world. That’s a much better way to get your fix.
Wandering becomes weariness:
Rider was admittedly getting a bit tired of traipsing all over the world. He never really thought he would, but one day he had a burning desire for a bed of his own. He wasn’t really sure if he wanted to settle down forever, or where that would be if he ever did, but some switch clicked off. Maybe his body was weary, maybe he was just weary, but he went home to Ohio, for a while.
When Rider got home, something unexpected happened to him. This was no longer home. He slept at his parents’ house, but he felt like he had slid back into his childhood, in some bizarre reality that was like a memory coming alive. So, he went to live with his sister Veronica. She was a wild spirit of sorts, and lived with a few roommates who kept asking when he was leaving, since he wasn’t paying rent and sleeping on her floor. Next stop, a few old friends, the ones who hadn’t moved to another state, but his own experiences were so expansive, it felt like they had stopped growing and he could no longer relate to them. They had bought houses and gotten married and done all those traditional things. That’s when he moved in with Lorelei, Lyll, and their 2 kids, Maddie and Jay.
He actually liked having a family around him. He didn’t feel like an extra, the kids loved him, and he helped around the house. He got kind of comfortable, even put a little weight on. Brent ‘Rider’ lost himself in a sort of unreal reverie. He had gotten used to having no purpose in life, other than to just ‘be’. Until Lorelei got on his case. “You cannot live like this forever. I mean, you’re not a burden, and I love you, but is this it? Uncle Brent, who has no job, you’re just…what? A cook? The maid? The tutor? What are you? Is this it for you?”
And so, Rider bought a van, put a comfy mattress in the back of it, and decided it was time to find out what America was all about.
Lorelei, the Pragmatist:
I love my little brother, but he can’t go on like this forever. He used to wear a suit, can you imagine. I’m glad he got his ya-yas out, traveling the world, but I feel like he’s becoming too self-absorbed, and unrealistic. He’s got all these pie-in-the-sky ideas now. He’s not living in reality. It’s just sad watching him spin his wheels. Maybe I can get him a job at the hospital, even if it’s just volunteering.
Traveling in the states was more expensive than traveling in many other countries. People were often more fearful of strangers. Even the hostels were expensive, so he was glad to have the van; it was the closest to a home he’d had in a long time. And he had his own bed.
Windrider chewed on an edible gummy; it made his drudge work so much more interesting. Otherwise, how would he do this for 8 hours a day? He even thought of getting a real job, but he couldn’t figure out what that would be. Plus, the thought of giving up his freedom, leaving whenever he wanted, when the drudge work got overwhelmingly boring, he wasn’t ready for that. He did the drudge work because it was good money, and they would hire him back every season.
Living in his van was easy and cheap. He parked on their land and sometimes, the family came out and pleaded with him. “Come on in, Rider. You need a good meal and we’ve got plenty. You’re like family.” So at least once or twice a week, he had good food and good company. Sometimes, he bought them groceries so he could reciprocate the kindness.
When the work was done for the season, he drove to a Rainbow tribe gathering in Colorado. He could always count on them to be his family for a while. People that gathered were into intentional communities, ecology, New Age spirituality, things he could embrace. They called each other ‘Brother and Sister, and many of them were nomadic, like him, so it had the feel of family. They were the last bastion of free love that he could find in America, so he turned off his cell phone and danced ecstatically with them, letting the wind blow him in circles.
Lorelei, a year later, Spring 2020:
I’m exhausted. I don’t understand these people. How can they think this disease is about politics? It’s worldwide? What don’t they get? And that lady, the other day. Yelling at me about wearing a mask? Is she kidding? Muttering something about her freedom? Yea, Lady, I get it. It’s uncomfortable to have to wear a mask. I do it all flipping day long. I have to. It’s my job. And you, Lady? Your freedom? What the heck? Feel free to get Covid. And lucky for you, I took an oath. So if you get it and you happen to get really sick, I’m still gonna treat you. I’m not gonna ask you for your politics or your damned philosophy about if you think this is real or not. I’m just gonna mask up and suit up and try to save your sorry ass. I’m not gonna ask what your name is or who you are, so I don’t have to make any judgment about whether or not I should save your life. I care about you because you’re a person, and I’m in the business of healing people if I can, not deciding who gets to live or who gets to die.
Windrider, March 2020:
Each place that Rider went, it seemed that he was getting shut out. The country was shutting down, one state at a time, and Rider suddenly felt like he was in a whirlwind, dirt swirling in useless circles. He knew he could count on the Rainbow tribe to take him in for a while.
Rider knocked on the door of the old house, paint peeling everywhere, roof shingles falling off, rotted wooden planks on the steps. He knocked on the door, expecting to be embraced. They only opened the heavy, wooden door, but kept the screen door closed.
“Hey, man. Good to see you,” Moonbeam smiled at him through the fuzzy old, screen. “What are you doing here? I thought you were trimming?”
“The whole world is crazy out there,” Rider commented. “I was coming to see if I could stay with you guys for awhile. I can do whatever work needs to be done, buy groceries, cook, and throw you some rent money.”
Moonbeam crossed her arms over her chest, getting oddly aloof. “Oh man, I wish I could let you in, but you know, the quarantine.”
Rider hadn’t really considered that they would even care about the virus. He thought they lived on love and hugs and positive thoughts. He was completely stunned. He got back into his van and kept driving, not knowing where to go next.
Lorelei, overworked, exhausted, anxiety-ridden, April, 2020
Where the heck is my brother? We haven’t heard from him in weeks. He said he would call us every week. He’s in the United States, for god’s sake! Not in some crappy little country that doesn’t have good cell phone reception, let alone toilets with lids. How irresponsible. My folks are frantic. He must have lost his cell phone again. Or who knows what the heck happened to him. He’s such a jerk. We’re in the middle of a pandemic and he’s still floating around. I hope he’s staying safe. Sheesh!! He makes me crazy. I’m swamped here, putting my own life on the line every damned day, can’t even see my family, and he’s doing what? Smoking dope? Getting laid? Mingling with strangers? Where the heck is he? I have no energy to worry about him. I’m gonna kill him when I see him.
Wanderlust, as the winds die down, and the world comes to a halt:
The truth was, when he ran out of money, or just needed a good dose of family, he went home to the family of origin. This wasn’t a chosen family that he met on the road, but a family that accepted him, no matter what he did, even if they didn’t let him live in their houses indefinitely. Sometimes, he needed to go back to that family and just hide for a while. Recharge. And in this case, he knew they would take him in when nobody else would.
Another truth was that it was a pandemic, and while he wasn’t really sure if he needed to self-isolate, quarantine in his van, there wasn’t really anything to do. But still, sometimes, he contemplated settling down, before it was too late. Before he couldn’t make any decisions. Maybe when he found the right woman. Maybe she could tame him. In the meantime, he went back to Ohio. He knocked on his sister’s door.
Lorelei, fighting the good fight:
I’ve never seen anything like it. Gynecologists and radiologists were called in today to work in the E.R. Looks like they’re going to have to dig back into their training from med school about how to work some of our equipment. And I’ve never seen so many people die in one day. I’ve had a few patients die over the years, who hasn’t, but this is mind-numbing. They had to get a refrigerator truck to haul off the dead patients, there were so many. The only way I can push this down is to go jogging. I don’t even like jogging, but I’ve got to run it off. I’ve got to stay strong or I’ll crack.
And we’re running out of masks. Masks! Can you believe this! And we might not have enough ventilators. The other day, they used one ventilator on 3 patients. Unheard of! Or beds. Beds! They’re sending some from other hospitals, and they’re sending anyone who isn’t Covid positive to other hospitals. They’re testing all of us regularly. 3 doctors and 2 nurses tested positive, so they sent them home for a week. Only a week? I thought it was supposed to be for 2 weeks. Whatever. I don’t think I’ve slept a full night in weeks.
The wind blows homeward:
Lyll answered the door with a mask on his face. Brent went to hug him, as he always did. Lyll backed away. “Yo, Man. Good to see you. But we’ll have to do the virtual hug, y’know.”
Brent chuckled, forgetting that some people were afraid of the virus that was ravaging the world. “Oh, right. Yea, sorry,” Brent said as he attempted to push past Lyll into the house to say hello to the kids. Lyll put his hand on Brent’s shoulder and almost pushed him out of the house. “Woah. Dude. I love you, but you can’t come in here. And also, where’s your mask?”
At first, Brent did not know why Lyll was shoving him, thinking that he was no longer welcome in their house since his last visit, but then it became clear to him. “What? Lyll, it’s me. I’m cool. I’m not gonna infect anybody. I haven’t been in another country for almost a year.”
“You’ve been in another state. Visiting with or sleeping with who knows who,” Lyll retorted. “Have you been self-isolating?”
Brent was completely caught off guard. He stepped back onto the porch. “I mean, I live in my van, and nobody lives with me.”
“When was the last time you were with people? Who were you living with?” Lyll queried, almost interrogated. “Listen, go around the side gate and come into the backyard. Let’s talk out there.”
Brent complied, because he had no other choice, except leaving.
They sat at opposite ends of the rectangular table in the yard. Sporting rubber gloves, the kind worn in hospitals, Lyll handed Brent a cup of coffee, then peeled off the gloves and laid them on the table. “Half and half, no sugar, right? We don’t have any airy fairy liquids like almond milk,” he mused.
“Thanks, Brother,” Brent said. “I’m a real man. I use cow milk,” he quipped.
“Brent, did you know that your sister isn’t living here at the moment?”
“Oh, Bro, I’m sorry. Is there trouble in Paradise? I always thought you guys were the perfect couple, even better than my mom and dad.”
“No, Brent, your sister is working at the hospital with lots of Covid patients. She can’t be near us now. She’s living with a bunch of nurses in an apartment near the hospital.”
Brent ‘Rider’ was stunned. The pandemic hadn’t really hit home for him. He played it down, didn’t really think it was something to worry about.
“Lyll, it’s only hitting old people and people with underlying conditions. And besides, we have to build immunities to this thing. You don’t have anything to worry about with me. I’m young. You’re young. The kids aren’t in any real danger. Come on, Man. I think you’re overreacting. And besides, the earth is cleaning itself up. Look around. No pollution. Hardly any cars. This is actually a great thing.”
“Brent, you’re entitled to your opinion, but I still can’t let you in. I can’t have you jeopardizing my family. And you can’t go to your parents’ house either.”
“What? My folks would never turn me away. I’m their baby, remember?”
Lyll shrugged his shoulders, sighed a heavy sigh, and said, “I can’t let you do that. They’re in the high risk category. Not to mention Granny Tally. She’s actually old. You just said that the virus is hitting old people, and they all qualify. You can park your van in front of our house and use the downstairs bathroom, but you’d have to sanitize it every day. You have to self-isolate for 2 weeks.”
Reality descended upon Brent like a tempest, crushing him into the ground. He felt like he couldn’t breathe. His mind swirled like little dust storms.
When the dust settled, and the wind died down, he laid down on the mattress in his van and called his sister.
Lorelei and Brent:
“Little Brother, if you don’t think this thing is real, or any big deal, think again. Shall I tell you what I see every day in this hospital? I love you, Brother. And I want to keep you safe. Anyone, any age, even healthy people, can get this thing. This monster. I know you’re used to being free, doing your own thing, but maybe, it’s time to grow up. Quarantine in that van of yours for 2 weeks, then go take care of Mom and Dad and Granny Tally. Then, you’ll have to isolate with them, but I’m sure they’ll love having their baby back for a while. You can start again. Go back to the womb, and this time, you’ll grow much faster because you already have all that knowledge and all those experiences. You can start from scratch and begin again.”
So, that is what Brent did. He retired his backpack. He went home. It was time. Outside, the earth was quiet. The wind had died down.