Long ago I recall reading in a newspaper or a magazine the bizarre tale of a man who lived in a cave outside the city of San Antonio. The unfortunate man’s name was Bumrún (pronounced Boomraan) but his few acquaintances called him Mr. Boomerang. Surrendering to the life of a troglodyte is strange in itself. Yet more outlandish were the causes of his situation. One Fall day, Mr. Boomerang absented himself from his wife on the pretense to traverse the world, and, by some obscurely premeditated plan had occupied this cave, which was situated mere miles from his home. Events of infidelity and disharmony among matrimonial partners are not rare, and yet this singular tale has telling indications of a notion many of us feel to be of a universal nature. In his cave, and while daily espying his domicile, the days turned to months and months to twenty years; but then, as mysteriously as had been his disappearance, long after his estate was settled, funerary events gone from the memory of the community, and the condolence letters to the widowed Mrs. Boomerang yellowed, he entered the door, quietly, as from a week’s absence, and became a loving spouse till the end of his days.
This story strangely affected my intellect. Mr. Boomerang was not the sort of man to go down in history as worthy of study. He was of the class that men and women interact with daily and forget hourly. Were his friends asked who among them would perform rituals today to be forgotten tomorrow, they would have listed Boomerang. Assuming, of course his persona would sustain its impression on their minds with enough intensity to animate their lips with his name. Nevertheless, this oddity of human experience did occur, and without a shadow of a reason.
This outline is all that I remember. It has played strongly on my own consciousness. Its absurdity is one we would fain hear in some tabloid and mutter aloud to our neighbor, “I would never act in such a way!” Yet, secretly, in the hidden recesses of our hearts, we feel some morbid kinship to the man and his cave. Then we gather our senses and repeat to our own satisfaction “Not me! Surely another may act such. But not I!” Whenever any personage heavily grips the mind, time is well spent in contemplation. Trust in reading this brief exposition of the Abysmal Dismal Mr. Boomerang, that I have done such thinking. Or, to those more serious men of the mind, I proffer this outline for your own intellectual furnace. Know that what follows will certainly unravel the mystery of Mr. Boomerang’s self-banishment and return, and like a belt around a man’s belly, will be a nice moral cinched up tidily in the final sentence. All well forged thoughts have their practicality, and every peculiar action its thesis.
What sort of man was Boomerang? We are free now to shape him in our own manner and use his name. He was a meager middling man. One of those individuals who coasted casually through his twenties without distinction. He had a mildly thinning fur of hair atop his oval cranium. His legs were too skinny for his torso, only to be outdone by his arms. His nickname, Boomerang, stuck at a young age, and came not so much from mispronouncing his moniker as extraction from his temperament. Most strikingly, it was in his manner of conversing. He would open some speech on a topic quite emphatically, with vim and vigor, and then he drifted off, fading for many moments, only to return to some unrelated topic even more emphatically than he began. By all appearances he loved his wife, at least in the way of the mediocre. There was a slight intensity at the outset, which quickly cooled in marriage, like throwing a teacup of warm water into a cold bath. His heart, however, was neither depraved nor wandering. He was the sort to settle, due to a general sluggishness in his character. He believed himself an intellectual. His mind daily distracted itself in long and lazy musings that tended to no purpose, and that had no endurance to achieve a goal; imagination was not among his gifts and his thoughts seldom intense enough to grasp hold of words. His friendships were as light-hearted as his romances. Though the few who knew him would ever dream him capable of acting as he did, it was only his wife of his bosom who—had someone asked her—would have hesitated. After ten years matrimony, she had become familiar with a quirk in his nature. One she did not analyze, perhaps from fear, perhaps from her own laziness. This behavior was a peculiar sort of vanity. In a perverse manner, not unlike a mischievous young boy, Mr. Boomerang enjoyed the keeping of petty secrets; ones that would bear not a moment's interest should they have been revealed. During her temporary widowhood, and when most strongly accosted by her memories, she would often recall the little strangeness in the good man. This strangeness was left undefined, and so, perhaps, it was nonexistent.
Let us watch as Mr. Boomerang says goodbye to his wife. On an early October night, he begins to gather his things. For all the years he has known his lady, he has spoken of traveling, of seeing the world, but she never minded his talk. True, the couple travelled together once, perchance twice, but they lived abroad as they lived within the confines of their tidy home. Though they were vacationing on the Seine, the trappings of their San Antonio existence surrounded the couple. To travel without purpose is to be shot into space to float till death. Yet, every winter, Boomerang grandly announced to his wife that as soon as the snow thawed, he would fill his pack and escape these walls for the greatest adventure of his life; and by summer it was forgotten. He assured Mrs. Boomerang that this time was different. He would travel the world with only what could be carried in his rucksack. Thus he approached his wife, sack filled with clothes, some pots and pans, and an old audio device. Mr. Boomerang explained his imminent departure without mentioning for how long he would be gone or in which way he was headed. He assured her not to expect him before twenty days, maybe thirty. Grown familiar with his antics, the good wife knows not to ask questions, and so merely gives an inquisitive look. She assumes he is venturing out of state for a short time in order to prove the veracity of his previously bespoken claims. And so, in the manner of fact way of a ten years marriage, the master of the house kisses the cheek of the missus. Woefully, neither knew that this parting gesture would be the last between them for twenty years. But no more tarrying for the husband, off he goes, almost resolved to perplex his good lady by a whole month’s absence.
After the door has closed, Mrs. Boomerang perceives it thrust partly open, and the vision of her husband’s face, through the aperture, smiling on her, and gone in a flash. At that moment she thought nothing of it. Yet later, when she has spent more years a widow than a wife, the image returns. It forces its way into her mind: his eyes squinting as if espying her from afar, and a crafty smile plastered on the lips that a moment previous were extended to her cheek. The image haunts her through the protracted years of her loneliness. It became impossible to recall his face without that sly and crafty look upon it. Sometimes, at night, fantastic images keep her awake, as, for instance, if she imagines Boomerang in a coffin, that parting look stamped on his visage. Or, should she picture him among the spirits of the dead, she sees not the face she married, but that final, mischievous little grin. Yet, it is due to this very smile, which, after all others have given him up for dead, she sometimes doubts whether she is a widow.
Let us follow Mr. Boomerang presently, for our interests lie with him. If we were to lose him now amidst the endless rows of oval putty, we may lose him forever. Ah! There he is. He is giddily running over San Antonio sidewalks, avoiding streetlights. He steps in an alley to peer over his shoulder, certainly, believing someone is following him. His route is akin to a bumblebee in a hive sharing its story of food with its fellows. First he moves straight, and then he returns on the opposing street. Then his circuitous route takes him farther away. Was that a shadow on a wall following him? But Poor Boomerang! Little does he know his own insignificance in this great world. No eye but mine own has traced your path. Foolish Boomerang, sleep a single night in your cave, but you would be wise on the first light of day to rush home to Mrs. Boomerang and tell her the truth. Do not be apart a week from her good bosom and your warm hearth. Call this silly journey what it is—a cry. For know this, that should a hole grow in your wife's heart, should she believe even for a single moment that you are dead or lastingly removed from her, you will become sadly aware of a change in the woman’s heart forever after. It is perilous to make a chasm in human affections; not that they gape so long and wide—but so quickly close again.
Lying on the rough made bed upon the floor, Boomerang almost repents immediately. As his eyes close but for a minute, he spreads his arms and legs out like a fallen angel in the snow and then tosses in his unaccustomed bed. Sitting upright forcefully and suddenly, he shouts “No!” as he stuffs his clothes into his rucksack. “I will not sleep alone but this single night!”
Waking earlier than usual, he sets himself to consider what he truly means to accomplish with this practical joke. Such are his loose and rambling modes of thought, that he has taken this very singular step with the consciousness of a purpose, yes, but without the ability to define it properly for his own contemplation. As he attempts to brew his morning coffee, he spills the first batch. Quickly and through a morbid vanity, his ideas—one upon another—lead him to a specific interest: in what manner are the wife and creatures within his circle of influence faring without him? How do they mourn his absence? He realizes, as a revelation, that though he is but outside the city limits, he is as effectually apart from his wife as if a plane had whisked him all night through the clouds. In his masterly way, he meanders to his home. He is cautious, for to be seen is to ruin the whole experiment forever. Beholding his home once again, he is involuntarily drawn toward his forsaken domicile. He is a man of habit; habit takes him by the hand, and guides him to his own brown door, where, just at the critical moment, he is aroused by the texture of his own doormat. He is awake! Boomerang! What are you doing?
The man’s fate hangs upon a pivot. The next twenty years to be determined by a single motion—to cross the threshold or to turn. Little dreaming of the doom to which his first backward step devotes him, he hurries away, breathless with an agitation he has never felt before, and he scurried with such fervor that he does not witness his little brown door fade behind him. Imagining that he hears footsteps following him, he runs once again. He rounds a corner and bumps into the owner of a corner cafe. Boomerang and his wife have breakfasted there on more than one occasion, yet the owner does not comprehend the flustered runaway lord. Finally escaping his neighborhood, Boomerang searches circumspectly for pursuers. Alas, there are none. Worry not, man, you are alone. His crafty smile returns. He has made good his escape, and neither Mrs. Boomerang, nor their nosy neighbors, nor even the cafe owner discover his plan. He is, in a moment of rare clarity, slightly perplexed that none have raised alarm and sought to chase the master of the premises. Slowly, he returns to peer at his cabin in the city. Mrs. Boomerang must now be arising, as is her custom. There is a peculiar change in the familiar edifice, such as affects us all when, after a separation of months or years, we see again some tree or lake, or artwork, with which we were friends of old. In ordinary cases this impression is caused by a comparison and contrast between our imperfect reminiscences and the reality. For Boomerang it required but the magic of a solitary night. Returning to view his castle, he feels as though he is a tourist in a memory.
Without him realizing it, a great moral change has occurred in his breast. But this is a secret from himself. Before taking to his heels, he catches a momentary glimpse of his wife as she passes in front of their window; she is facing in his direction. He can almost see the flower patterned dress laying heavily over the folds of her skin. Nincompoop that he is, he pictures her descrying him among the thousands of atoms of mortality in the awakening city. Right glad in his heart, though his brain be somewhat dizzy, when he finds himself by the little wood fire in his cave.
Thusly does his long whim-wham commence. After the initial conception of the practical joke has finally settled into his mind, he begins the establishing of himself into his new system. With deep deliberation he decides to purchase second hand blankets and axes and water purifiers to create his man cave. He learns to hide from hitchhikers. He becomes a wilder man; his beard grows to his chest, his eyebrows, unruly. Boomerang is another creature. The new system being now established, a retrograde movement to the old would be almost as difficult as the step that placed him in his unparalleled position. Soon, local hikers know him as The Man in the Cave. Adults leave him food, books, and knick-knacks; children tell stories about him, and dare one another to venture near the wild troll of yonder cave. Boomerang, due to his sloth-like demeanor, has been rendered inactive to the entire human world. In his sulkiness, the only sensation remaining to him is a commitment not to return to the woman of his heart until she is frightened half to death. Two and three and four times he has made the short trek to his house, and each time a darker cloud oppressed it. In Mrs. Boomerang could be detected a heavier step and a paler cheek and a more anxious brow. Then, a sudden flurry of activity confronts Boomerang. He watches a portent of terrible evil entering his home in the guise of a fat bodied truck and a gurney. Men and women of the stethoscope tribe escort Mrs. Boomerang to a hospital. Nervously, Boomerang paces while awaiting her return, until many hours later, he watches again as she is taken home by their neighbor. Dear woman! Will she die? A new form of energy has arisen in his belly, and yet he lingers away from her bedside, watching from afar. He whispers aloud “I cannot go back now.” Oh no, Mr. Boomerang, you will not. It takes the poor woman several weeks, but soon she recovers; the crisis moment has passed; her heart is sad, but quiet; and, let him return, soon or late, she will never be feverish for him again.
Such ideas float randomly through the fog of Boomerang’s mind. Even he is aware that an impassable gulf separates his wife from him. “Fool!” he says aloud in the echoing chamber that is his new abode, “She is but a few miles from me!” She is a world away, Boomerang, a whole world. From day to day, he puts off his return as one puts off an unpleasant chore. Always the exact time is left unsaid, undetermined, unchosen. Soon, he will put it on the calendar and make whole what he has sundered—next week, or perhaps the following. The dead have nearly as much chance of revisiting their earthly homes as the self-banished Boomerang.
Would that I had space to write an epic poem about this Odyssean journey, rather than a few pages. Then might I illuminate how an influence beyond our control lays its strong hand on every deed which we do, and weaves its consequences into an iron tissue of necessity. Boomerang is spellbound. We must leave him now for ten years or so as he regularly haunts the doorstep that he still calls his own, and the faithful wife, too. He is slowly fading from her affections, as his abode from his. It must be remarked that he has long since lost the perception of bizarreness in his conduct.
Now for a scene. We witness a crowd of people moving their way through San Antonio streets on a Sunday morning in Spring. Amidst them is a vagabond teetering on the precipice of old age; he has few characteristics to attract casual observers, yet bearing in his whole demeanor is the handwriting of no ordinary fate. Nature alone did not construct such a being. He is thin, weak, and frail. Not upright from a life lived in strong purpose, but crumpled and bent far ahead of his time. His forehead is low and narrow and deeply wrinkled. His eyes are small and lusterless like burnt embers. They are apprehensive and often looking inward. He moves with an obliquity of gait, as if unwilling to display his full front to the world. Now cast your eyes in the opposite direction and witness a portly woman who long before has surrendered her sex. She is in the wane of life, a counselor at a private catholic school; she grips in her left hand a small pocket bible. Etched on her mien is the settled life of widowhood. Just as the lean man and well-conditioned woman are passing, a slight obstruction occurs, and brings these two figures directly into contact. Two hands touch; her massive bosom caresses his frail shoulder; they stand face-to-face. Thus after a ten years’ separation does Mr. Boomerang meet his wife!
The river of flesh eddies away. The woman hurries along to Church. But she pauses on the threshold. Glancing around, there is an emotion she cannot purge. The sober widow gathers her book tighter to her chest, and then opens it. Without another thought, she crosses into the divine household of God. And the man? The uncaring San Antonians stare at him in astonishment. The effect of the encounter between Man and Wife has engendered a truly terrible persona. He is a wild beast now, mouth agape as in a scream, face flushed, shoulders hunched, arms dangling before his torso. He flees, never stopping till he is safe in his cave. The latent feelings of years breaks out; his feeble mind acquires a brief energy from this swell of emotion; all the miserable strangeness of his life is revealed to him at a glance; and he cries out, passionately—”Boomerang! Boomerang! You are mad!”
From the outside perspective, the absurdity of his situation surely indicates that he was not in his right mind. The singular situation had become so molded to him that he had forged new systems, a new identity, daily habits, and even distant relations with mankind, all centered around this new existence, one generated by happenstance. Without intention, Mr. Boomerang had dissevered himself from humanity. He had given up his place and privileges among the living, without being admitted to the dead. Neither the troglodyte, the hermit, nor the vagabond is fully parallel to his own life. He walks in and out of San Antonio crowds. He consumes their goods. Occasionally he sits on benches and watches life move around him. At his cave, he enjoys many of the same comforts of his home, as though, seated before the fire with his wife at his side. Yet, he never feels the complete warmth of a woman. He is like a white feather floating in a puddle reflecting the stars at midnight. It was Boomerang’s unprecedented fate to retain his original share of human sympathies, and to be still involved in human interests, while he had lost his reciprocal influence on them. Doubtless, to explore the workings of his intellect over these many years, and the subsequent peaks and valleys of his emotions would be quite intriguing. It must be true that through the routine of each day, he deemed himself the same man as ever. There are moments, however, when we become cognizant of our circumstances. These moments, rarer as we age, can be bewildering and terrifying as when we are driving a vehicle only to peek around and wonder “How did I get here?” The truth of a situation rarely occurs in the routine, but requires an awakening. And so it was at this juncture for our hero. Lamenting his fate, he would keep saying, “I will soon go back!” He would not, of course, reflect that he had been saying so for twenty years.
I conceive, also, that these twenty years would appear in retrospect to him but the mere month he had originally planned. The entire event, for the remainder of his time on this planet, would be relegated to a brief interlude during the business of life. Thus, when he came home, his faithful wife would clap her hands for joy to behold the middling Mr. Boomerang. Alas! What a mistake! Would Time but await our favored follies, we should be young men, all of us, and till Doom’s Day.
One evening, in the twentieth year since he vanished, Boomerang is taking his customary walk toward the dwelling he still claims as his. It is an average Fall dusk. One of those moments when Winter has not decided to arrive, but we prepare our households in anticipation as we would for an unwelcome visitor. When Boomerang glances up he sees the warm fire, and, in the medium of a shadow upon the ceiling, the caricature of his plump wife flicking with the rise and fall of the fire. At that moment, a chance gust of wind and a few raindrops fall on his noggin. Would he stand there, chilled by the coming storm or enter the place where he was once the protector? To enter would most certainly cause such a flurry of activity; his gray wife running to warm him, squealing with joy, and fetching new clothes which she has surely kept in perfect condition. Of course he is going to enter—Boomerang is no such fool to keep the good woman waiting a moment longer. Heavily, for his legs have grown stiff from the years, he ascends the stairs, which he had last descended twenty years earlier. Thou Shalt Not Enter! Mr. Boomerang. Would you go to the sole home remaining to you? Then step into your grave! The door cracks open a little at first, then fully to admit the stranger. As he passes in, we catch a final glimpse of the man, and recognize on his face that same crafty smile, which had been the precursor of the little joke he had initially played on his wife. How unmercifully has he quizzed the poor woman. Nevertheless, we wish a good night's rest in his oaken bed beside the old lady to our Mr. Boomerang.
It must be noted that said happy event could only have occurred at just such an unpremeditated moment. We must leave our patron as he moves to greet the widow. He has provided us much food for thought. In this small morsel we choose a delight; one necessary to lend itself to our moral, and one now shaped into a figure, which can be useful to our own lives. Amid the seeming confusion of our mysterious world, individuals are so nicely adjusted to a system, and systems to one another and to a whole, that by stepping aside for a moment, a man exposes himself to a fearful risk of losing his place forever. Such a man, like Boomerang, may be the Outcast of The Universe.
-- Kirk Barbera