The Punishment Light

by Beth Markley
Originally Published: 
Lisa S. / Shutterstock

A package came in the mail for our 13-year-old recently. I wasn’t expecting it until Monday. He was expecting it by 8 p.m. Sunday evening like the tracking website promised. I showed him it was being sent via USPS and they don’t work on Sundays. His shoulders drooped. He wouldn’t have the precious headphones he’d researched and saved for and finally badgered me into letting him buy online until Monday.

A whole day later than expected.

I’m prone to getting a little snippy at these moments with a kid whose whole day can be destroyed when one, little thing that doesn’t go exactly as planned, who lives with so much privilege that he can’t cope with not having everything he wants. Right freaking now. A little shoulder droop will call to mind people out in the world who don’t know whether they’re going to sleep on the cement floor of a train station tonight or on one side of a razor-wire fence or another. I told my son he could find something to occupy his mind while he waited for his package.

I’m a terrible hypocrite. No, it’s true.

Last year, I was having breakfast with a business acquaintance who made a casual comment about moonlighting as a medium. Forget any professional conversation after that. Tell me you commune with the dead, and I’m going to forget whatever it was we were talking about and concentrate on that.

I know there are people out there who make a healthy living separating the gullible from their hard-earned cash in exchange for phony messages from beyond. I’m also pretty sure there are actual psychics, just like there are people who can do math and who like spiders. Just because I can’t fathom it doesn’t mean it’s not possible.

I’d also like to believe that there is something beyond, regardless of whether I can perceive it or not. I’ve proven to be fairly insensitive to the goings-on of many bonafide, actual live people, so it’s not absurd to think I’d have very little sense of those who don’t actually occupy an actual physical corpus.

Anyway, I quizzed my friend on about as much as we had time for, and later signed up for an actual session. I was supposed to identify a burning question and focus on it, without sharing with her. She, in turn, would dedicate a block of time to think about me and call forth anything that was of a mind to let itself be known. She recorded herself narrating this session and sent the recording to me.

I’m not going to share my question with you. Suffice it to say there are things in my life I’ve been pining for and which occupy no small amount of space in my imagination. There may be a Mediterranean cruise involved, a ticker tape parade and/or a new wardrobe.

Actually, forget the new wardrobe. If I could have anything, I’d rather yoga pants be considered essential professional attire and flip-flops. Flip-flops would be the new power shoe if I had one single thing to say about it.

But my medium friend had nothing to say about ticker tape parades, cruises or flip-flops. She said my spirit guide is a guy who looks a lot like Roberto Benigni dressed like Richard Simmons. In her vision, he’s scampering down a railroad track eating peaches and popcorn and talking about pigeons.

I’d like to say that all makes perfect sense, if you knew the question I posed.


If this was my spirit guide in spandex, I’m guessing he’s telling me that the answers to my questions aren’t all going to just present themselves to me on a platter. That I need to chill out and wait for things to take their natural course while I keep plodding along, which is exactly the kind of answer that makes me want to mope around and complain about wanting what I want. Right freaking now.

There’s a route between my house and downtown that I’m always convinced might be shorter if I’m late to a meeting. If there’s no traffic and school’s not just let out, and all the lights work in my favor, I can maybe cut two minutes off my commute.

On that route, however, there’s one traffic signal we call the punishment light. The punishment light is absurdly long for no good reason. The punishment light will turn green long before I get to it, from where I can see it and know that unless I speed through the neighborhood, I’m going to miss it and have to wait a full three or four minutes that feel like 10 or 15 before it’s my turn to cross the intersection.

The original punishment light is from the series Weeds, which I loved before the protagonist got involved with the Mexican mafia and I got confused and stopped watching. It’s the perfect descriptor for this inexplicably long and aggravating thing that regularly appears as though put there to make my life difficult.

It’s the package my son thought he was going to get on Sunday, but which actually was more likely to come on Monday. It’s Roberto Benigni wearing neon sweatbands, running down a railroad track talking nonsense. It’s my moment to remember there are people in far worse waiting games than the one I’m in right now and I should take up real yoga instead of just wearing the namesake pants, wishing they were career-wear.

Sometimes the punishment light is the universe telling me it’s time to chill out.

Sometimes it’s just a damn traffic light.

And sometimes a package that was supposed to come on Sunday, but in all actuality would certainly come on Monday, actually comes on Sunday–which it did, and made a boy very happy.

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