The last of the tomatoes were done.
Unlike squash, they wouldn’t have survived creeping across the garden soil; their vines required staking, this year by aluminum wire cages. Stepping into the collapsing mess of metal, I reached down and plucked the final fruit from its stem, inhaling for the last time that distinctive, acidic scent.
This season, everyone seemed to have had a stake in something.
I was a professional musician. Roughly half of my colleagues either’d had contracts with an established organization, or hoped for hire; the rest were investing in a newer venture, because it served them in familial ways.
After having taken a tally of all concerned I’d discovered that, just as my beloved would suggest, none of those involved had wanted to risk their own potential benefit by standing against anything – least of all, it seemed, any moral component in actions taken. None of them, that is, but me.
And, so, I’d been left facing my remaining options. They were few.
1.) Take whatever I could get, which would likely be a rare to never hire by the established organization’s newly created collective of contracted members;
2.) Join the new venture, which clearly served first those already attached – by either employ, or enrollment – to a local institution.
In short, both actions sidelined me. The possible motives had emerged, and none of them were attractive: a.) I was perceived as aging out? b.) I was not accepted, because I did not submit to those who sought authority over me?
The third option only became clear after I had confronted the initial two and found them both undesirable:
3.) Walk away.
Facing the reality that my net income would only be marginally affected, seeing as that generated by both options had never, in the past, even remotely covered the number of uncompensated hours, the likelihood of garnering more creative time had begun to feel more like a reward than a punishment.
And, so, the decision was actually easy.
The outcome, however, I could not have predicted.
First, there’d been the sheer relief. Had there really been that much pressure, and stress? Being locked into a work schedule, occupying weeknights and weekends, pre-determined by those outside of myself. Yes; yes, there had. The release of this weight was euphoric in its effect; I felt as if I’d just been granted an unlimited vacation!
But, secondly, I’d begun to note a silence. Nobody seemed interested in remaining in touch, even those I’d thought were friends.
My declaration of intent was never challenged, no attempts made to persuade a re-consideration, only two polite assurances of future, independent collaborations from among dozens. Stock replies, and more silence.
The stakes were just too high.
A favorite metaphor among Biblical apologists is the fruit of the vine. Believers, so called, are to bear it; if they do not, they are cut off from the host.
I love tomatoes. I eat them, nearly every day when they are in season. But, maybe I am more like a squash, or a pumpkin. Meant to grow on another vine, close to the soil.
I’ll stake my life on that, instead.
© 9/24/18 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, whose story it is, and whose name appears above this line. Thank you for respecting original material, however unimportant.