The Monk and the Wandering Master


“It’s hard out here on your own.” I must have said it hundreds of times in my head over the last few years. “It’d just be nice if someone had my back”.

People aren’t meant to live alone. I’ve often thought it. Research backs it up. The solos have a greater risk of disease and early death.

Can you die from being the only one who takes out the trash? Seems like it some days.

Once I came to these feelings after a few years of monkhood, which I highly recommend if you ever get the chance, I pursued becoming part of a couple with the ambition of a junior executive trying to get to the big office. I tried every method and each one became more punishing.

I’ve started to wonder, “Is this even something I want? I often cannot wait until the date is over. I think almost every time at least once on a date–can’t believe I’m missing Netflix for this.

I’ve flown to Portugal, taken numerous ill fated weekend adventures and had any number of garden variety flops. My buddy calls me “an extreme dater”.

That’s awful.

I think I’ll take one more chance on this whole love thing and then I’m done. If this nice guy doesn’t work out then I’ve got to be the problem or just someone who doesn’t want what I claim or think I want.


Meantime the Universe with its legendary humor has given me a rather odd turn of events. A friend who keeps showing up. Judah. The young kid with his Rasta dreads, variable views because he is 22 and changes religion as often as I use an Oxford Comma, and hops down the stairs smiling every single morning, his prosthetic leg slung by his bed ready to take on the day. He is impossibly cheerful.

Judah lost his leg in a farming accident about four years ago in the rural rustbelt and has been wandering the country ever since. In his wandering he wound up outside my window on campus. He was always smiling. I saw him with his walk like he was on a tightrope ready to fall into a vat of lava balancing long strides in torrential rain, frost and sunshine and his face never changed. He smiled. His blue eyes shined and he sat under various trees reading and writing in his little book.

Everything about him looked like a story.

Finally the curiosity became too much so I ran, literally, out of my office across the campus and knew where he was. How? No idea.

I sat by him on a bench and talked about his sanguine smile and his walk and his books. I gave him twenty bucks and my number, “Look if you need something, call.”

He didn’t call, of course.

Then I saw him again and invited him to a dance I was organizing for Queer youth,

“I’m not queer, is that okay? Can I still come? I love to dance.”

“Yes of course. It’s for everyone. Maybe you’ll meet some cool people.”

He showed up in a clean pair of jeans, button down shirt and sports coat. Adorable.

We’ve been friends ever since. He’s stayed with me off and on, he’s had jobs and saved up money. He’s taken out the trash, swept the floors, made pancakes, been polite and kind to a degree few people can be.

The last time I saw him was December. Then he disappeared. I tried not to worry about him,

“Don’t ever think about me when I’m not around. I’m just out wandering and I’m always okay.”

Over time I figured he’d worked something out for himself that he liked.

Then a few weeks ago I opened my front door on a frosty spring morning and there he was sitting on my porch chair. He had been sick. He lost his clothes, his phone, his wallet and walking stick. Losing what little you have is an occupational hazard of the homeless traveler. So is getting sick.

“Come in. Get a shower. Get food and sleep. Your clothes are still in the closet. We’ll talk later. I don’t have time now.”

He slept hard for a few days. He ate, he showered often. The light showed back up in his eyes, his smile returned at first in a trace around the corner of his lips and then a little wider.

Now he stays here.

He sits with his lanky kid frame draped all over the couch huddled over his books. Sometimes we talk, mostly about nothing. It’s pleasant, it’s easy and kind. I give him old people knowledge and he reminds me how the young think.

He spends time talking with the pet bunny. In some ways they are kindred. Wild yet gentle creatures in a weird world of boxes and confinement. He is sweet to her as he crouches over her two pounds of proud rabbit and pets her. She likes him.

He got a job. He works at night. I work in the day. We keep the place tidy, leave nice notes. He takes out the trash half the time and thinks its about time he pay his half of rent too.

He likes it to be nice, me too. If I’m sweeping, he’s dusting.  If I bring home pizza, he gets the beer. He has his friends, I have mine. Our lives cross here and there, usually involving coffee.

Life can be simple in its beauty. We can have each others backs.







6 thoughts on “The Monk and the Wandering Master

  1. Julie, could’ be the best short story I’ve read in a long time. Do you subscribe to The Sun. If not, check it out. You may want to submit. I like your use of separating sentences and avoiding long paragraphs. Its a tricky writing tool and it works. A personal test of mine is how I feel upon completion. In this case I found myself wanting to read more about you and your mysterious friend. That means I liked it, a lot.


    1. Thanks Tom–I’m glad that trick is working. I feel like it lightens the look and tone. It prevents me from going too deeply, too quickly. I’m thinking of a doing a much longer story of this kid and our odd friendship. He’s the friend I didn’t know I was looking for. In this time when we are all so scattered sometimes strangers can become family.


  2. The title says it all … monk and master, both are one. Oh dear harbourer of all strays, your heart is huge and your pen agile. You are among the wisest and most compassionate freaks i’ve ever met, just keep it rolling. As for the pursuit of couplehood, well, don’t ‘give up’, but don’t cling … true companionship comes disguised and unbidden. I’ll testify to that. Plus, your generosity guarantees that your ass will always be covered. Count me forever among your many donkey-blankets.


  3. P.S. pass on my high-five to Judah – Daniel & I loved sharing breakfast and rambling philosophies with the two of you … and dancing at the queer youth prom, woohoo!


  4. Writing for Scientific America, Blake Edgar says, “It was cooperation, then, whether in the form of monogamous pairs, nuclear families or tribes, that enabled humans to succeed when all our fossil ancestors and cousins went extinct. In fact, cooperation may be the greatest skill we have acquired during the past two million years – one that enables our young genus to survive through periods of environmental change and stress and one that may well determine our geologically young species’ future.”


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