February was always the best month of the year in Arizona. It was still chilly from the winter but not yet taking on the desert's heat from the summer. I peered back into the rearview mirror, putting down my windows and placing my hands on the wheel. I turned down the radio so I could hear the silence. It calmed me a lot these days. I couldn’t tell if I was trying to decipher the voices in my head or quiet them. I was only 20 at this point, but I swear my soul felt aged far beyond that. My childhood wasn’t easy, but I refused to be a victim. Instead, I listened to every podcast, read every book, studied every successful person out there, and decided that I wouldn’t stop until I was happy. What a paradox, I thought. Work to be happy, never happy cause all I do is work.
Grace Church. I read out loud, passing the big white chapel with the cross hanging from the top. I wonder if God is in there, I thought as I had a flashback of the night before. Falling to my knees in exhaustion, collapsing my arms into the end of my bed
“Where are you!” I yelled into the mattress
It was the only thing I knew how to ask, the only thing that I felt deserved an answer.
I’m tired God, I’m so tired.
As if He didn’t know, I replayed the trauma; I replayed the addictions, I replayed the loss, the grief, the sadness, the loneliness, as if he were not there.
“Give me a sign God”
It dawned on me in the car that I went to sleep right after that, there was so much to say, but the truth is I felt if he was real that I would have said enough to get his attention.
I looked up, and the light had turned red. I slammed on the breaks. My body jolted forward and back into my seat.
I could feel eyes on me.
Looking over to my left stood an older man. He had piercing blue eyes, big long white beard and a bandana.
“Rough morning?” He smiles
“Uh, yeah” I scoffed back. Immediate regret filled my body.
Did I really just tell a homeless person, RUDELY, that I was having a rough morning?
“You know, Angel, life is just one breath at a time.”
I smiled at him.
“I’m sorry. You’re right, I’m Nicole”
“Nice to meet you Angel, I’m Jay”
Our short hello’s turned into “how are you’s” and “tell me about your day” and “Ill see you tomorrow” He mentioned once or twice he loved Coke slushee’s, so I made sure to get him one when I could.
It was a Tuesday when I ran into the gas station to get ourselves one. But, I came out to my car door being smashed open, my backpack with my laptop, all my writing, and all the cash I had left. Gone. I yelled out of agony, falling to the ground and dropping the slushie. Jay hustled over to me
“Angel, Angel! Don’t worry Angel” going to wrap his hands around me to pick me up.
“STOP! Just stop! I’m not a fucking angel. I can’t do this; you don’t even know me!”
My heart sank when I saw the remorse in his deep blue eyes.
He was just trying to help. But no one could fix this.
I got in my car and drove away. I was mad at the world. I didn’t care if I was acting like a victim. I didn’t care about anything.
The next day I rolled out of bed. I could smell the wine that had spilled on my sheets the night before, drowning myself out of the fact I didn’t know what the hell I was doing with my life.
Something was telling me to go for a walk. I debated but concluded my hangover could use some fresh air.
I took maybe 100 steps away from my house to see this little black book sitting in the middle of the street. The tire marks were fresh, and I could see the cursive from a foot away. I ran over when the road was free; picking it up, I grazed the paper through my fingertips, flipping to the first page
“John Wilson” Nice, only every white male in America is named that.
I flipped to the next page.
Observation: Fatigue can result in a loss of Joy and passion. The key to self-love is self-care.
Observation: Life is one moment, one breath at a time.
Remember what it felt like to hold my power. Visualize that moment!!!!
I wanted to play it off as less meaningful than it felt to me, but the truth is holding the journal in my hands, I’ve never been so certain that something was meant for me.
Part of me felt guilty that I was reading whoever John Wilsons diary was. All these stories, all this pain he had endured was personal. Frankly, though, he sounded like me, except it seemed he had a happy ending. Like he knew something I didn’t. Every time I opened the journal to read it, it seemed like I would come across something new that would change my perspective. I couldn’t deny that I had prayed for answers and a sign and this book seemed like just that.
For weeks I looked for Jay, I never found him. I moved. My life changed. But I thought about him from time to time, hoping he knew I felt terrible for being so harsh.
I’d like to say that after finding the little black book, my life was peachy-keen forever. But you know how they say glow sticks have to break before they glow?
The book was there through it all -
It was there when I fell in love, madly in love
When the man I loved turned to a drunk
And the love turned abusive
First his words hurt me
Then his hands
It was there when I finally had the courage to leave
And it was there when he decided he wanted to leave this earth
I’ll never forget his mothers voice on the phone “He shot himself”
My heart had been beaten so many times it went unconscious. I didn’t just feel grief; I lived in it.
I sat on my floor, listening to the music the man I loved and I would listen to when we first met. My tears made it hard for me to see as I got up. I stubbed my toe on the bookshelf. Then I pushed it over to the floor, all the motivational pages of self help positive thinking spread across the floor.
“Damnit God why! How coul-“
Right in front of me, the little black book laid flat open. I could see pages of the book stuck together, gently peeling them apart I started to read:
The formula for freedom -
Faith + Love x Forgiveness = freedom
I need to FORGIVE NOW!!!
Embrace the all free.
I sobbed. I cried until there were no more tears to cry. Until my eyes were swollen and my head was pounding. I told myself that the moment I got up from crying was the same moment I'd stop feeling bad for myself again. I had to forgive. I had to be free.
For years I focused on this formula. I felt like I had found the secret to life, found purpose, found the way to true bliss. My search for John Wilson never ended. One afternoon I found myself standing in Target. The wheel on my cart was squeaking; pulling into an aisle to look at it, I saw I pulled into an aisle full of journals—all Little Black Books.
In big, bold letters, it said, write your story
All I remember is picking it up, throwing it in my cart, and saying “Yes”
I’ll never forget the publisher calling me, Joyce Bennet.
Joyce was kind, but somehow you knew not to mess with her. She believed in me. She believed in John’s formula. She believed in the book. She believed I could write it.
“I’ll give you $20,000 to publish the formula.”
5 years later
Arizona still smelt the same. Crisp mornings. Dry heat. It was my home. It was my heart. It was the place I was lost and the place I was found.
I hadn’t reminisced on how far I had come, but as I was sitting in my Mercedes, driving down the same old street, I used to live on, where I found the little black book - the book that made me 20 grand, and put me on the NYT Best Seller and saved my life. I started to cry tears of joy.
My gas light turned on “shit, I need gas"
I pull into the gas station; putting the pump in, I decided to get a coke slushie.
Maybe things haven’t changed that much.
Walking up to the door, there he was, his deep blue eyes looking back at me.
Still wearing the blue bandana that matched his eyes and the beard long as ever.
“JAY!!” I squealed
“Angel!!!” He smiles as he embraces me in a hug.
“5 years, jay. I’m so sorry. I was so upset the last time I saw you”
“I know dear,” he spoke in tenderness “I already knew”
We began to catch up. I told him about the journal and how my life had changed. I told him every story. What I had gone through. How I had changed. How good life was now.
“You know I asked around for you, but I realized I didn’t even know your full name. I couldn’t find you.”
My phone started to ring, rustling through my purse to find it, I asked
“What’s your full name jay?”
He sat quiet, I figured he was waiting for my phone to stop ringing.
“Jay is for John”
I looked up to him, looking back at me.
The phone I had just managed to pull out of my Mary Poppins bag had slipped through my fingers.
“You knew” I whispered.
“It was meant for you, angel”
“No, what no, no - how could this be? No” I started to cry. “This is your book John, this is you. John, don’t you see, you saved my life! Which rippled to saving millions of peoples lives”
His blue eyes cascading at me, he places his hand on his heart
“Then my work here is done”
Behind me, I start to hear a man’s voice, “Hey lady! Move your car, please other people have to pump gas.”
I sighed. Ugh.
I placed my hand on John's shoulder, “one second,” I said, and as I started to pull my hand away, he held onto it, reaching it up to his lips he kissed it. Tears filled up his ocean eyes.
My bottom lip was quivering but I spoke anyway “I knew I would find John Wilson one day.”
“You didn’t find me, dear, You found you”
When I came back from moving my car, he was gone.
I never saw John again, but I felt him all the time. Looking back, I remember when I first got to know him, I questioned if maybe he had forgotten my name cause he only ever called me Angel. I thought perhaps because I would bring him slushies and give him change, he thought I was an Angel to him, but really all this time - he was mine.