Chapter 1 -Who Am I
I try to think of myself as a simple man. One filled with Love who communes with nature. But invariably I find myself standing at a place where two points meet and the world then demands my attention. I was a born a ram, an Aries. I was born to firmly stand my ground as the ever looming precipice quietly awaits beneath me. I am not scared that I will fall. What I fear, my only fear, is my desire to jump. As I move through this life both physically and temporaly, I am aware of the ground constantly shifting beneath my feet. As pebbles, rocks and stones give way beneath me, I can’t help wonder which stone may strike a boulder and end it’s trajectory or which precariously entrenched pebble may dislodge an avalanche to the horror of them passing unawares below.
And careful as I am to plant my feet on solid ground with every step I take, I’m always prone to make mistakes. And I’ve caused whole mountain sides to collapse behind me as I wander along my trail.
I am connected to the Earth, the Foundation of my being, but I hold my head up facing ever towards the Firmament. I can feel telluric currents gently nudging the unfolding of events. But every time my actions cause the cliffs I tread upon to collapse, I can’t help wondering where the true fault lies; was it me or circumstance.
I am a hermit but not oblivious of my responsibilities to life. I am no friend of nostalgia, the pain of longing to return home. But I am and ever will be a sentimentalist.
I try so hard to stay away from situations that could cause harm, but they seem to seek me out.
My ex-lover, the love of my life, she sought me out. Poor her. We spent a year or two getting acquainted and when we found out she was pregnant, we started fighting. The fights were constant. But our arguments always ended with brutal & persistent silence.
You see. I’m always lonely. I have my novels. I have these pretty words. But I have no story.
So i await the storm. Let it wash away the past. So that I might move on along the slopes and hope it wasn’t my tread which crumpled the cliff in my wake.
Each step I take I focus on the landing. For despite the possible repurcussions of my acts, I must move through this manifest world. To lay down in fear of hurting others is to assume the role of a god. I act when I must act. I go because I must ascend the heights. To reach the summit is not my goal, for what lies at the summit besides further vertigo and the inevitable return to the world below? I must reach the summit because I must go. It’s as simple as that. And if rockfalls thunder down the mountain taking trees and homes in it’s wake it has been the will of Brahman, YHWH, Tao, Allah, Krishna, whomever has borne me on this path.
Not to go, to do nothing, would be to defy God’s will and shame will be my burden. And it seems I must tread my trail in solitude – to be sure, quite distinct from isolation. I want a companion to share this mission with, but all quests of the heart must begin alone.
I have been told that on this path no effort is wasted; no gain is ever reversed; and that even a little of this practice will shelter me from great sorrow. Therefore I must go. I seek the Godhead, Theotokos, Gaia, Balance. Not for my own sake but for the sake of my son and family, I go dutifully on. Trembling with every step I take, I defy the Earth to give way beneath me or the sky to come crashing on my head.
It might seem like pride, to continue upward despite the possible -inevitable- consequences of my actions. But to lay down and die? I fear whatever might or, worse, might not await me at the end. To continue is not pride, but courage.
I love my son and I love his mother. But she and I will never forgive each other. And it wrenches my heart both day and night to imagine he might come in time to only think of me as a boulder rolling down into his world or that I may have been the one who dislodged such.
But where will flights of fancy take me? I breathe deep thin air and wonder at the valley below. So many folks going on about their lives, they take no notice of me. Am I conceited? No. I just don’t want my one true love, my only son, to become just another one of them. That… That is what terrifies me most of all. That I will be villified by his kith and kin for my being kept from him so long. That he might not learn how to be independent of others’ judgement of his father.
I keep him with me in my heart and there I have gouged out for him a home. And that is where my emptiness comes from. A ram longs for his kid and it is getting harder to breathe up here alone.
I am ultimately unattached. But is that a good thing? The choice was not my own. He was taken by his mother for her particular reasons. And I endeavor to forgive her. I fought with all my heart to keep hope alive, but passion soon overtook hope, leading me to shameful acts, and now I must learn patience. I still clutch tightly to my dreams. I am conflicted. Unattached, did I say? No: I hold onto hope as if it were a shower curtain and I, a man of no importance, slipping in the tub. I will someday rend the fabric of the universe and make it so that human kind can fly and so avoid these slippery slopes.
If God had wanted us to fly, he would have given us wings, some say. Troglodytes, rooted forever in place. He gave us brains and imagination. Free will to get ourselves in trouble. With which to build airplanes, wage war, contemplate life’s meaning.
I was an addict. That was her principle reason for leaving. If God didn’t want us to use nature’s pharmacopeia He wouldn’t have given us poppies, cannabis, St. John’s Wort, valerian, kava kava, yeast, tea, coffee, coca, psylocybin, tobacco, willow trees, cocoa, ginseng or ephedra. But he gave us these to use as sacrement, not for recreation. And here is where I made my mistake.
We have forgotten that the seed bearing plants and herbs were given us to use for nourishment. Instead, we use them to turn a profit or to temporarily escape. Here we are: wretched prisoners draped in clanging chains. Imperceptibly connected to the Earth’s atmosphere by fire and rain. It is an untenable position.
But with faith I reach higher to the summit. I will meet my maker and I will face Him.
There is no peace unless we force it, such a contradiction. It does not simply come.
Their is no justice unless we make it. And mine has just begun. Woe to them in Ivory towers. I shall make the Earth quake with a stomp to send them reeling back to the realm of mortals. Where the masters go on flirting with the cliffside wind and them who sleep on benches are vagrant princes, vagabond kings drowsing on their thrones. The shamed will one day have remuneration against the high priests and magisters who defile God by handing out, as if it were there’s to give, damnation. In a world where accusations are equivalent to condemnation, blessed are them for whom human justice failed, for God in his great wisdom has increased their numbers so as to overwhelm the self-righteous. If only the masses of discouraged had the will to take back their inallienable rights. There is no room for liars in the courts nor for them who bear false witness in the heavens. And for all who’ve passed a beggar whilst themselves feighning deaf and blind, refusing even the generosity of a dime, they shall know shame in time. It will be incumbent upon us, then, to usher them into the flock with loving-kindness.
For it is writ that we must forgive, show mercy, but never were we told we must forget.
There is no shame left in this world today; only arogance: mirth, gossip, greed and anger. Those of us who are still with conscience are seen as malcontents or anarchists. Our failure to conform is seen as an emotional leprosy and so we have been put out to the margins. We see that life has more than only joy in store for us, but our worries are felt by those same troglodytes I mentioned earlier as anachronistic in this land of TV, milk and honey. Envy of the Joneses keeps the lump sum of “civilized” man twittering of jokes and posting only happy telegrams.
Real life comes with real emotions. An examined life, the only life worth living, finds contentment with both decay & growth; ecstacy, depression. But in this modern age we must turn to strangers with whole alphabets following their surnames and take into our bodies chemicals created by lesser beings than the Great Provider or else be turned out by friends and family for ever feeling blue; for daring to disturb them with our woes, seeking only consolation. We few who truly live must hide our hearts with gay replies or else be perceived as freaks to pity. Or, worse yet, be numbed by prescription medication.
There are so few artists whose works bear weight. Everything enjoyed by the masses is just so much bubblegum. Where are the goddamn songs? And what’s wrong with blue emotion? It is the color of the rivers, lakes and oceans; the shade of the sky in which birds so delight and the average man perceives a glorious day! Indeed what is wrong with darkness? It is the time of sleep, of peace, of dreams and of rejuvenation!
We must learn to cry again, or else fall prey to laughter and forgetting. That’s not to say joy has no intrinsic value, but it must be balanced before it turns to mania. And in the valley they are fond of madmen.
And suddenly, I feel as though I’m no longer treading towards the summit, but balancing on a thread. I fear, here, I must make myself clear; to ready my intention. That is, I don’t wish for folks to suffer, rather just be honest to their deeper being. To go on pretending as we do now, is to wallow in hypocrisy. We have become somehow endentured to the notion that only joy can be sublime. So much so that in hiding our pains and shames from others, we’ve actually reached a stage wherein we deprive ourselves the transfiguration brought about by crisis. Short of forging strength in the flames of true passion, we imitate. Or we deny those galvanised by pain the nobility of their tortorous baptism.
Furthermore, in refusing to face our own hurts and humiliations, we begin to fear them who are most honest or, worse yet, pity them and offer silly platitudes and reflexive condolescence. Today, we may see a news piece which for but a moment solicits a meagre and self-indulgent compassion, but tomorrow, if not just minutes later, we will have forgotten that token gesture of sympathy as if it had never cut us to the quick. And so, by denying the darker nature of our inner-selves, we deprive the tormented souls of loved ones courageous enough to ask for help the lifeline of dignity and companionship, throwing instead a gossamer thread of heartfelt but empty words capable of bearing nothing. Money to the Landslide victims of Pakistan. Prayers for Fukushima victims. We point out the irony of tsunamis taking place the day after Christmas. As if the news were just another drama show interrupted by commercials. “This special coverage of the BP oils pill, brought to you by Doritos. Dare to be bold.” And despite their good intentions movies about such tragedies as the Chilean miners, gets turned by Hollywood into Gold.
“It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’” Matthew 21:13
As a kid I took great delight in stumbling through the forest at night. The moon would cast her loving gaze upon the crooked dogwoods, oaks and hickories, intricately weaving their shadows into the cloak of my memory as I eagerly sought the place of owls I’d heard, but could not see, or the cave from which the bats I saw, but could not hear, must have come. I delighted in June with its dancing fireflies so close, so brief, so magic. Even the howls of wolves and chirping dens of coyote kits seemed to me as warm a blanket as the midnight rains and bellowing of bullfrogs. Crickets played their violins at eventide and all was right. And all was right.
I never felt the crackling of fires, the pops of sap from incinerating greenwoods, the light of camps were meant to keep the darkness at bay, so much as to stake our claim within it. For, ever was there truly darkness? If the moon was new the stars shone that much brighter. And if it stormed the forge of Thor would briefly light the way. The thunder never menaced me any more than Nana’s voice easing me to sleep.
And between the night and full daylight came slowly yawning dawn. Be she in mourning veiled in indigo, adorned in resplendent crimson, awakening from tangerine dreams or rising next to nude from the horizon barely covered in her flaxen gown, the world was yet unchanged.
But as I’ve aged, I’ve changed. I’ve become indoctrinated by the empty, fleeting pleasures of material things. Purchasing power has become its own sense of accomplishment for many. Work’s become mundane. Less a source of pride, than that with which the dollars earned can buy.
And that is why I’ve left the world behind. To seek my own true nature. Am I the evil man, the loser, the narcissist? Or am I humble, brave and good? I have read the Scriptures of the world’s greatest holy books. I’ve pored over Leibniz, Heiddeger, Pascal and Descartes. I’ve read the Tales of Heike, Genji, Camelot, Gilgamesh and Beowulf. I’ve been a cinephile for a while. I know the historiographies of our human race. I know what authors, poets, artists, bards and Hollywood expect. But the concept of right over wrong, of light over dark, I thoroughly reject.
Zarathustra was wrong about Ahura Mazda. Angra Mainyu’s influence and the daevas brought balance. Ahura Mazda, Mithra, the yazatas would not share the world in peace. How many deaths have been caused by the quest of “good” to overcome “evil”? How many witches burned, Musselmen and Jews slaughtered? Christians butchered, Buddhists raped and children orphaned by two or more people’s of different perspectives claiming they fought for justice? The concept of what is “right” is wrong, fundamentally flawed in that dessert nomads seek oases abundant in water, seafarers quest for dry land. One day wine is sacrement, the next a sin.
And so now I’ve taken steps to leave all the world’s ignorant prejudice and want behind. All want but one. I want only to deserve the love my son so enthusiastically offers me. But according to the world, I am not a man. I trust strangers more with my secrets than I do my friends and family. I am a cynic, yes, but not a pessimist. I believe in hope and love, in magic and miracles. My very life has been a fairy tale. I have been hit while hopping trains, I’ve climbed mountains so high I could look down on the rain. I’ve been through deserts where there is no sound. I have been bound and gagged and tortured in the name of someone else’s idea of Justice. I have been a pirate, a thief, and a hero who’s saved lives. I’ve been tempest tossed, served up by floods, tornadoes, hurricanes. I’ve stood among a clutch of flowers that were said to be the last of their kind. I have heard the wind call my very name. I have stared into the Sun and not been blinded. All that happened was that I sneezed. But when I close my eyes to meditate, I find no peace. Just meaningless emptiness. Not Nirvana, not abandonment of attachment, but a blinding, eerie void. And when I pray, day after day, year after year, I receive no recognizable answer. I am a beast, yet tremendously and fiercely made. I have been called loser, monster, narcissist, racist, libtard, tree-hugger, faggot, ignorant and wise beyond my years. I put no faith in other men. Less yet in what words they utter. I have been abandoned by friends and family, left to raise myself. Be true to your inner-nature, the sage Boddhidharma teaches us. But I was thoroughly indoctrinated by materialist consumerism into believing the sustainment of hedonism – greed, lust, gluttony, pride, envy, sloth and wrath – is not just possible, but a virtue in it’s own right. What is my inner nature? What is it that I am? I do not ask these questions for myself alone. I do not share with you my story out of vainglory. It is my experience, my life so far, the only truth I know. And it is an allegory, nothing more.
My first intent upon release from prison was to hike the Appalachian Trail. You see, my childhood was a lonely one, my earliest memory of being picked on in daycare. From kindergarten through the sixth grade I had a better time of things: my entire class was composed of only fourteen other kids. At home I was left alone to watch TV and eat. My entire world revolved around these fourteen other kids and what I’d learned about society through shows like Saved By the Bell, ALF, Married with Children, Rocko’s Modern Life, The Simpsons and In Living Color. So the day in seventh grade when I arrived early at school and all the other children were awaiting class, my entire world came shattering down when out of nowhere all my childhood friends chose to hogtie me with jump ropes and encourage younger kids from other classes to pelt me with basketballs and sling hula hoops at me as if I were a horseshoe post. Later that week was my first attempt at taking my own life. But I tied the knot in the make shift noose wrong and landed on the floor. I got into fights, withdrew from schoolwork and my parents grounded me and sent me to a therapist. I guess I can’t blame them entirely, but they made little effort to console me or understand my side. They just had no understanding of the trauma I endured. Some say get over yourself, everyone gets bullied. But not everyone is demonized by every single child, teacher, parent and sibling that they know. Banishment would have been preferable to being forced to endure day after day the same classes as all my tormentors. I entered high school afraid of others; terrified. And the only kids who did accept me were the “bad kids” parents tell their kids to stay away from. My point in this is that an early age I came to reject the social constructs of good and evil. It was a topsy-turvy world, in which, like Captain Kurtz, I found black to be white and evil welcoming. The horror was intoxicating. I longed for dreary skies and months of rain. I did not stalk and plot in the night, but hid from the terrors of the light.
I was a privileged kid in that I came from a well to do home, but I had no friends outside of class. At home I had no parents. Don’t get me wrong: they were present, but usually too absorbed in busy work or arguments to pay me any mind. I love them. I don’t blame them. But I vowed I would never become them. As I had come to learn, the price of wealth and privilege is hypocrisy and ignorance. I chose a different path. My college years were wasted by contradictions. Finally, I’d made some friends but it wasn’t long before they realized I lacked in social graces. I was a gifted student and would have made straight As if the school hadn’t the policy of mandatory failure due to absence. I aced my tests, turned in the homework that was required, my reports and essays received the highest marks and I wasn’t even trying. Why go to class if I knew all this stuff already; which I’d taught myself in high school high on pot and coke and acid?
A Brief History of Time, Gödel, Escher, Bach, the theories of general and special relativity, quantum mechanics, the emerging wonder of string theory, I perused while playing Nintendo and eating psylocybin. Same with all the classics of Western philosophy and Lit. And the more I learned the more I realized how pointless any of it is unless you’re happy. I turned to drugs and sex, because of my distaste for academe and my lack of faith in humanity. “Vanity of vanties; all is vanity.” It seemed the friends I thought I had were interested more in my wit and knowledge, than in the deep disturbing notions I had tearing me up inside. Whenever someone seemed to plead with me to open up and I’d relent, they’d look at me askance, break up with me as crazy, or just disappear from my life forever. Everyone but the so called scum of the Earth.
I turned away from education and high society. I sought out the depths. It was there I was accepted. They knew pain. They understood loss. They were just as disgusted by the shallowness of the upper classes, fraternities and sororities. The social mandates behind such groups were not altruistic. Self-righteous, more like it. They understood the need to escape. But even then, surrounded by my kindred spirits, I had to hide my background. Whenever it was found out I came from the suburbs, suddenly everything we had in common didn’t seem to matter. And once again, the labels: poser, phony, narcissistic ass.
Alone again. I wandered: hitchhiked, train-hopped, slept on benches when it rained. Slept beneath the hedgerows in public parks on dry nights. I made myself become the invisible man. Everybody hated me for who I truly was. And for years I hid myself. I isolated. I dove in dumpsters, fasted of necessity, was pulled over by five campus police cars because I was wearing a trench coat during the Indian Summer after Columbine, my backpack ransacked, and I was questioned as to how I’d accumulated so many library books. I didn’t have my wallet on me or lost my student ID or something and despite my pleas that they call the University library where I worked I had to finally invoke my father’s name. My father the tenured professor, who’d worked at that college longer than I’d been alive. I was asked why I was carrying surgical masks and rubber gloves, as if I weren’t taking any chemistry classes in which I might need them. unfortunately I let slip the truth: I was going to DC to protest the war in Iraq brought about by George Bush the Second’s conspiracy theories. And didn’t know what to expect. They judged me a threat because of fear and ignorance and hate.
But I seem to be rambling. The point I’m trying to make is that I could no longer trust the “trustworthy”. And I would never be accepted. And so I sought escape. I took drug use to the extreme, fucked as many women as I could get. I tried self-murder, or as I saw it: autonomous euthanasia. But it seems even God and Satan would not accept me. A hundred sleeping pills only made me vomit. Ropes would brake. I drove my car at maximum velocity, unbuckled, airbag disabled, into the wall of an underground parking structure. Only to awaken from a coma a few days later. I overdosed on Intravenous cocaine, but I guess it was too highly cut. Eventually, I just gave up.
Then, while dating a Seventh-Day Adventist who wore dreadlocks and had a curious habit of only wearing leather if it had been given to her, that she had not bought, yet loved to eat chicken in spite of how they’re raised, I finally cracked. The technical term is a fugue state. I wound up in a mental ward having no recollection of my day. it seems I woke a friend named Maggie at her dorm room while draped in an American flag. She told me not to move, she’d get some clothes on and come back. When she returned I was gone. I crossed the street, pounding on locked churchdoors, I guess to find some sanctuary, I rushed through traffic, nearly got run over by a bus, was found atop a stadium light at the old football field screaming at the sky and was taken to a mental ward and medicated. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, continued my studies in the hospital, and was broken up with on St. Valentine’s day in a card which quoted Nietzche’s “Zarathustra”: “One must have chaos inside one’s self to give birth to a dancing star.”
Despite visits from two people who truly wanted to be my friends, I despaired of ever truly being intimate with any other person in this life or the next. I was different. Essentially and fundamentally so. The son of a mathematician and an historian. Brother to an archival scientist, I was driven by my spirit in a family full of empiricists. I was born to privilege, but rejected it as meaningless. An atheist in the Bible Belt. A hopeless Romantic and a cynic. An anarchist who voted Democrat. When I was finally released from the asylum, having never found the sanctuary which I seemed to have sought during my psychotic break, I ran away.
I mean, I guess that’s how I should say it. Realizing I could never please others by being myself, I listened to the Doctors. Took their fucking pills. They made me feel numb. I could experience no joy in life before anyway. And it appeared as though others began to actually like me. But I felt no pain. One could be forgiven in asking the most obvious question: “So, you finally felt no pain. What’s wrong with that?” Until then, although at that time in my life I’d yet to realize it, all I knew was pain. Unbeknownst to me, and without my invitation, pain had insinuated a place in my heart most people would only allow their loved ones to share. Pain had become my sinister companion. A darkness that made me feel safe, like a kid beneath his blanket, hiding from the monster in the closet. My mind was no longer mine. It was ruled by the medication. I had friends who truly cared for me, at last, but at the cost of all emotion. J Emotion had always been my compass. Now I was lost in a world where the sun neither rose nor set. I had lost my orientation. So, in that since I ran away. I sacrificed my Being to make others feel more comfortable around me. But I’d become a soulless robot.
I quit the medication and thus embarked upon this journey. I will meet my maker. He owes me explanation.
Chapter 2 – Out of the Hospital
I was released from the Hospital soon after I’d begun cheeking my meds. Doctor’s are very easy to fool. Psychiatrists especially. Just act complacent. That’s all society wants from us and it’s all it expects our professionals to allow them. Status quo.
I began walking. To where I didnt care. All shit flows downstream, so I reckoned if I just went where gravity and other matters led me I’d find the source.
First off, personal affairs. Next, financial. Third, vendettas.
As I was passing a girl on the sidewalk, a car swerved over the curb and I pulled her to safety. The prick at the wheel just kept on going.
“Are you okay? Are you injured anywhere?” I asked.
“My name’s Chris. Can I ask yours?”
Again, no response. Then I noticed. That far away look in her eyes as only one who’s been beaten by this world can recognize. In the eyes of a twelve year old.
So I shut up and just held her. I began to cry. I’m bipolar and was off my meds, so don’t go trying to ascribe some deeper significance here, but finally I heard her voice.
“Are YOU alright?”
I reluctantly released her from my embrace and held her shoulders at arms length.
“Of course I am.”
“So, why are you crying?”
“Because you are.”
I laughed a little, “No, because I’m glad you’re alright.”
“Well. I’m not.”
“You’re not glad that car didnt hit you?”
“No. But that’s not it. I’m not alright.”
“Are you hungry? Do you like chocolate?”
“No,” she sighed… “But I like red velvet.”
“Then let’s go get some milk and a cake, huh?”
“That sounds okay, I guess.”
We spent our walk, hand-in-hand. In that most intimate silence that only two people who truly trust each other could know. She seemed infinitely older than her apparent age. She wore a blue tu-tu and bare legs. Knobby knees and a turquoise blouse, like Belle I suppose, from Disney. Her feet were the perfect size for a girl her age, but I had no idea they made Doc Martin’s boots for children. Red leather.
When we got to the restaurant and ordered: Velvet Cake for the wee made with milk, Miller High Life for my self, I asked her where her parents were. She simply shook her head. Whether this meant she didn’t know or didn’t care, I couldn’t say, but that flicker of recognizement between old souls which passed as our eyes met earlier told me better than to press the issue. So I started talking about her dress.
“All it seems you’re missing is a tiara and slippers,” I said.
“Don’t want slippers. Get dirty. And I’m not a princess, so no crown,” she replied forelornly mincing at the slightest bit of cake.
“Well, I really DO like your boots,” I said peering at the one poking out from beside the table. She was a country girl, I’d say by the way she slouched in the booth, letting each heel rest wherever it may. Not excitedly pressing her child’s breast to the table, not locking her legs together with feet on tip-toes as I’d seen so many other girls her age do during my countless years as a service worker.
She put down her fork, cake still on it, looked me in the eye and, I swear, as she took a sip of her milk, she took in my full measure; eyes ranging for the first time from my stubble to my scalp. She set the glass down, returned to her cake and replied, “They’re practical.”
“Do you remember what I told you my name is?” I asked her.
“Does it matter?” She replied around a mouthful of vanilla frosting.
“Why wouldn’t it? I mean I’m an old man, a stranger. Surely, your mother taught you better than to talk to strangers?”
She never looked up at me, but did wipe her mouth with her napkin, like a little mademoiselle. “You saved my life. You are no stranger.”
This is a twelve year old girl almost killed by a motorist just minutes ago, I had to remind myself. How could she seem so unconcerned by it all?
She let loose another small sigh, not out of tedium, but as if she were preparing to tell me the secrets of Life and her sigh were merely prelude. For the first time she sat erect, placing her napkin primly on the table and looked into her milk as if lost in deep revert. “Call me Cecilia. I’ll call you Julio. I always liked Paul Simon. Deal?”
“Where are you from, Cecelia?”
“And why are you alone?”
“I prefer it that way.”
“You ran away?”
“From the woods? No. I’m going back soon.”
“I meant did you run away from your parent.”
“I don’t have any parents.”
I let this sink in and took a chug of my beer.
“The Northern woods.”
“So why are you in Chattanooga, all alone?”
“I meant to find somebody.”
“And did you.”
“Yes. I found his body.”
Plain as if she had found her crayon.
“And did you call the police?”
I let a second pass, sorting out all the questions in my head. They coalesced around this one: “You found your dead friend’s body. That must have been hard on you.”
“Better for me than him,” she replied immediately and took a gulp of milk.
I took a deep breath. “Where is your friend?”
“Yes, but where’s his body?”
“Gone, I said.”
“Washed away by the river? Buried? Burned?”
“No, just gone.”
Brick wall after brick wall, I turned in my seat to take out my phone. I had to call the police.
“Don’t,” Cecelia said. For the first time I noticed emotion in her voice. Fear? Panic? Concern? “Don’t call the police.”
I turned back to look her majesty in the eyes. One was copper, the other green. “And just how do you propose I respond to a missing child, with no family, who says she’s witnessed a dead body?”
Both her eyes positively glowed, both green now, both like emeralds caught between me and the purest ultraviolet light, I dropped my jaw.
“I propose you don’t respond. Nobody will find Theodore and you just got out of a psych ward. Now, here you are with a beer and little girl. How’s that gonna play out?”
“Hey! I checked in voluntarily,” I responded, missing the forest for the trees.
“But you left, you ran away.”
Then I suddenly noticed what I’d missed. “Hold on. How’d you know about that?”
“Come. Finish your beer, pay the tab and follow me.”
I did as commanded. Her directive was neither regal nor an order, but a humble request. As if she were actually a princess beloved by her people… Was I delusional again?
We started back towards the river. I needed something stronger than beer. We stopped briefly so I could buy a pint of Bourbon.
“Do you want a Coke?” I asked Cecelia, queen of the world.
“No. Thank you.”
We continued to the waters’ edge and hobbled over some boulders way off the trail. “This is where Theodore’s body was a half-hour before you saved me.
“But there’s nothing here.”
“He was a being composed of pure energy. He materialized waiting my arrival and our enemy found him as he was vulnerable.”
Again, I had to remind myself of the apparent physical age of the girl. “Waitwaitwaitwaitwait,” I thought. Did I just think to myself “apparent”? She IS twelve. She doesn’t look twelve. She IS twelve.
“So, Theodore was a fairy, then. A pixie.”
“Theodore was an agent. But if it helps you to think of him that way, then I suppose, you could say that.”
She removed her eyes from Theodore’s final resting place and probed me deeply with her one emearld eye and her other, now copper eye. Her taciturn face, suddenly took on the weight of the world. Her lips pursed. Her brows beetled. Her nasal cavities constricted. She held her breath never taking her eyes off mine and I could feel this “girl,” although now reluctant to use the term, evaluate me thoroughly. I took a deep swig of my Jim Beam.
At last she spoke.
“You have seen things. Felt things. Heard things.”
“Yes, but I’m not crazy and I don’t believe in fairy tales. I checked myself into a hospital because I knew what I was experiencing was another part of me taking over and I didn’t want that.”
“But why not. And why did you run?”
“Because i just want to be normal.”
My answer to both questions.
“In whose eyes?”
More silence. I brought the pint back up to my lips, thought better of it and wiped my mouth.
“How old is he?”
“You’re the one with all the answers. You tell me.”
“Eight is a magical age. Who’s to say what he thinks is normal?”
“Well, then if not for him, then for the courts.”
“Bugger the courts. If you really believed that you’d still be in hospital. You were afraid you were going insane. Then realized you were perhaps the only one in the whole world who actually wasn’t. That’s why you ran away. In spite of the possibility of losing your only son, you ran away because you wanted to save your own mind. You vowed to never be like them and damned if they take your child, he would grow up and understand one day. Right?”
She looked among the boulders and found a chunk of quartz.
“See this? ‘They’ say it’s just a meaningless rock. That it has no intrinsic value because it’s commonplace. But I find it beautiful. I find it more beautiful than gold. It has value to me. And I won’t let ‘them’ tell me otherwise.”
“My son would give me rocks everytime we went for a hike,” I replied. “I’d never sell them for anything.”
“Intrinsic value is meaningless. It’s a thing’s subjective value which matters. What is the intrinsic value of a soul? Is there a price on a human soul? No. But that doesn’t mean it’s worthless. Quite the opposite. It’s worth is incalculable. And the enemy has just taken the soul of my friend Theodore. You have felt things that other people call abnormal. But what do you feel now?”
I took a shot. And thought for a moment drifting off into the upcoming twilight.
“That, my dear Julio, is a substance which can change the course of History.”
Chapter 3 – Into the Playground
I don’t know if it was she or I who said it:
“I have to leave here. Now. I have to think.”
Maybe it was a thought, shared but never spoken.
Regardless, we wound up on some swings in a playground overlooking the Great Tennessee.
I stared off at the ripples in the river. Flung stones. Skipped the good ones. The sunlight faded. Cecelia let me be alone with my thoughts… For awhile.
“So what are you going to do,” she asked me through her Doc Martin’s.
“Whatever needs doing.”
“I need a man.”
“I’m not a man. I’m a lush.”
By this point I’d accepted that Cecilia was of noble birth. A woodland princess. Stranger things have happened.
“I don’t care about that, I mean I need a human agent. Drink whatever swill gets you through the day. Or helps you sleep at night.”
“What’s the pay?”
“Can’t exactly sell that as income to child support.”
I took another draught of my pint and stood.
“Might as well take a piss off the pedestrian bridge.”
“Behave now, Julio. You’re drunk in the company of royalty.”
Me, I didn’t feel drunk. Just ballsy enough to speak my mind to “her highness”, the 12 year old.
“Just who the Hell are you, ‘Cecelia’? You told me before at the diner you didn’t wear a tiara because you were no princess. And you better get your facts straight. I am not your subject.”
“True enough. But let me answer your question with another: who the Hell do you think YOU are, Julio?”
“Chris Rozema. Not Julio.”
“Semantics. What’s in a name. The constellations all have names. Do you think that defines them?”
“No. It helps us define ourselves.”
“Then define yourself, Julio. Who the Hell are you?”
I turned away and answered, “I am a man of no account, with few friends and an ever dwindling pocket book. I am an addict that screwed up my one true chance at Love and lost my son in the process. I am a man who can’t hold a job for more than a few months. I am a man who has failed at suicide too many times to count. I am a loser.”
“Is that your definition of yourslef, or others’.”
“I am a man of infinite potential.”
“And I am a Queen, by birthright, to a nation on no map, teetering on the bring of collapse. We have more in common than you might think.”
That one took me a while to ponder out, but I saw her point. We could just both throw our hands up in the air and surrender, or fight for what we know is right.
I turned to her. “You’re a queen?”
“Does that surprise you?”
I thought back to all the words she spoke. The way she phrased them. She was certainly no mere twelve year old.
“I guess not.”
I hanged my head and sat back next to her on the swing.
Forelornly, I suggested we were at least the same in that we were both the Queen and King of nothing.
It was the first time I heard her laugh.
“Say what you will, but nothing is a wonderful thing indeed.”
“But anything is more than nothing. Even if you were queen of an acorn, one day you’d be queen of the tree.”
“And there would end my reign. You see, nothing is unencumbered potential. Things, places, all have limits. I’d rather be a queen without bounds than a queen of a gilded cage.”
Again, I thought.
“Then the Queen and King of Nothing we shall be,” I exclaimed.
Again, that laugh, “Who said I’d ever marry you?”
I looked at her and laughed as well. “You’re too young for me anyways.”
“But I’d take you for a Knight,” she replied in all seriousness.
Maybe it was the drink, but I escaped the confines of my swing and knelt before her, eyes toward my feet. “Then have me Queen Cecelia.”
She rose herself, took either side of my jaw in her precious, tiny hands, kissed my cheeks and brow and ordered me to, ” Rise, Sir Rozema, Knight of the Court of the Queen of No Substance, defender of all most held dear, honest and brave in defiance of hopelessness, true to beauty, hope and wisdom.”
I rose. A wholly different man.
I finished the last of my pint of swill.
Chapter 4 – The Unwelcome Guests
“It’s getting dark. We should probably head home. Somewhere safe,” I ventured.
The night is safe. It is the refugees of the stars and the playground of the owls. Are you afraid of the night?”
“Nope. Just the cops.”
“Don’t worry. Now that you are my subject you are a man of no substance. We shan’t be bothered by them.”
“Then what of the enemy?”
“You miss my meaning, Sir. We are ethereal.”
“But the enemy tracked your agent Theodore when he was invisible. How could they not track us?”
“Again, you missed something there. I cannot be tracked. You cannot be tracked. We are now encloaked in the shade of non-existence, a completely different thing than immateralism.”
Incorporeal beings of neither weight nor energy. Non-existent. Made a certain sense to the ill-versed amateur physicist within me.
No. She hadn’t said we were “non-existent”, merely that we were “cloaked in the shade of non-existence.”
Shadows in the night.
But the moon was out. I again suggested we get to somewhere safe.
“Are you a superstitious man?” Cecelia asked.
“I used to consider myself an empiricist. A Romantic. An atheist. But now…”
“Well, where would you have us go?”
“First, tell me who this enemy is.”
“You used to be among their numbers.”
“How now,” I reacted. “That is, whatever is that supposed to mean? Your Highness.”
“Please, just Cecelia. But you were a skeptic… A skeptic of all things. You were skeptical of God, of fairy tales, of Love, of Good and Evil. But then you risked your life to save a stranger. You broke free from their ranks.”
“I just reacted, Cecelia. There was no motivation.”
“Ah, but that’s where you’re wrong. The highest form of altruism is done without regards to consequence. No thought. No mind. Just action. You were skeptical of all things but never lost Hope. The loss of Hope is the enemy.”
“Forgive me, but how did this ‘concept’ kill your agent Theodore?”
“He lost Hope.”
“Lots of us lose Hope at some point in our lives, Highness, but we keep grinding with the gears.”
“To what purpose?”
“Laziness, I suppose. Or responsibilities.”
“Tedium will kill a man. But not responsibility. Responsibilities include holding yourself out just a little longer because you beleive, in the end, you have a duty. Be it to a boss, a son, a friend or co-workers, that duty is an extension of Hope. Hope that your actions matter. When you stop seeing meaning in your life, when tedium and drudgery surround you and you just give up, then and only then is all lost.”
“Then, Theodore -”
“He’d been with me a thousand years. These ‘gears’ of your finally wore him down. It is a constant battle. No war. No winning. Just the fight. And he was tired.”
“I need another drink.”
“Name the place.”
“Where the HELL would you and I fit in… Begging your pardon.”
“Stop it. All this Highness shit and pardoning. I have been with you since man first carved graffiti on cave walls. And I have loved you ever since.”
“You think this moppet-outfit is the only gown in my collection,” she winked.
Ten minutes later I was sitting in the corner booth of an Irish pub with an overweight accountant.
Fine, whatever. Vanity be damned. I’d wished she’d turned herself into someone who’s beauty would make the head of every man spin. But humility is the hallmark of valour. It was her mind that mattered. She seemed to ascribe to Cromwell’s view: paint me warts and all. We sat drinking Irish whiskey. I prefer Tennessee or Kentucky but it was the lady’s treat.
“It is apathy that is the enemy. Not Evil. Not Hate.”
Huh? “Then you advocate such things? Genocide, murder. Rape.”
“Of course not, you poor, sweet man. But where does glory come from? The defeat of those with wicked intent. Where does sorrow come from? The loss of love. Am I to war with glory and love as well?”
“But what does Buddha say about desire?”
“Siddhartha. Poor confused Siddhartha. I was his wife, you know?”
Of course I didn’t.
“When he set out to end all suffering on Earth, it was with good intent. But he abandoned me, his children and his kingdom. You might say it was selflessness which drove him. But there are two possible ends to suffering. Death and nullification of self-will. When the self is nullified whom or what might take it’s place? When one obliterates one’s self there is a vacuum created.”
“Then all these monks vaccuous souls have been disposed to wrong-minded thought? Ill intent”
“Did I just say that? All I said was there was a vacuum, not that anything has filled it.”
“But you are a Queen of No Thing. Surely vacuum is preferred to intrigue?”
“Watch your tongue, lest it lead you and not the other way around. Emptiness and Non-existence are two entirely different things. From emptiness comes further emptiness. A lack of Passion, Drive, Creativity, Procreation, Hope and Love. From Non-existence all things may proceed.”
I was dizzy. I suggested we leave. I had to clear my head for this sort of talk.
We caught the bus to the foot of the mountain. There was an abandoned church there.
“Ah. Jehovah,” Cecelia gave a wry smile. “Appears as if we’re neighbors again.”
“More than likely, unwelcome guests,” I mumbled. “Given your advocacy of Darkness.”
She approached tenderly and with a new disguise. “Does this gown suit you better?”
I turned and saw my ex.
I had nothing to say, except, “How dare you! Mocking me like that, it’s cruel.”
“But it’s inflamed your Passion.” She turned into a twenty-something blond. I turned away.
“You see Jehovah promises us things lost. Immediately, you saw the treachery in this. Such reasons are why I chose you.”
“The Devil can make itself the most sublime creature on Earth. But I’d never have her.”
“Are you sure of that?”
My mind started racing… Within hours of meeting this innocent looking victim, I’d come to learn of her ferocious aversion to apathy and acceptance of fate (or God’s will, however you name it), her devotion to passion and the necessity of evil, her love of darkness and ability to she’d skins like a snake.
“Are you the Devil, then?”
“Hah. No. Lucifer was the trickster in that mythology. Much like Coyote. He was not evil incarnate. He served a purpose. To keepan guessing. To ensure they stayed alert. I suppose you could compare me in that regards, but there is where all similarity ends.”
“What are you then?”
“All will come in time. But I love Creation. Please, never doubt that.”
“You said yourself, I am a skeptic.”
“Then ponder on it.” She laughed, returned to her tu-tu and Doc Martin boots. But she remained the same age. “We’ll build a small fire. What am I thinking, this is a Church. We’ll have ourselves some candles.”
She returned a quarter hour later, surrounded by lit candles floating in mid air, an escort of moths of all varieties, and an old, abandoned hound. Her blond hair, now braided in a daisy-chain around her crown did take on a tiara-like visage which reflected the flames. The moths gathered in her hair and I never felt so comforted by contradiction: moths surviving the flame. I couldn’t tell you what I felt. Passion doesn’t scratch the surface.
“Now don’t go getting any ideas, there, Gallahad. I am your queen.”
You are my question, I retorted in thought. In word I replied, “Lancelot.”
“It was Lancelot who slept with his queen. Galahad had a pure heart and was Lancelot’s son.”
I plucked some candles from around her illustrious countenance and set a few on the floor around me, as we mortals don’t have the luxury of telekenesis.
“So. ‘celia. You’re breaking my heart.”
“The lyrics. The Paul Simon lyrics.”
“Oh,” she said. “That was never my attention. Is this form too distracting. I only meant to take on a shape you felt you could trust.”
“To be honest, I’m not sure their is one.”
“Then, I’ll remain this way. Bart seems to like it.”
“You named the lame dog, Bart?”
“I think Bartholomew is a fitting name for him.”
“And here I was thinking you were a Simpsons fan.”
“I was, for awhile, believe it or not. When they were about family, not pop-novelty.”
“I will admit, it lenda him a regal heir,” I said as I beckoned Bartholomew over. He hobbled, favoring his left rear leg. I took a look. Must have been in a fight. A week ago I’d say. I caressed his velveteen ears and massaged his back. All good dogs deserve a descent rub-down from time to time.
“He likes you.”
“My blessing and my curse. Beloved by animals, betrayed by men.”
“A modern Francis of Assisi?”
“Please, Highness. No more courtly manners from me, no more condolences from you. Okay?”
She just shrugged.
“So. ‘celia. You never exactly answered my question. Who the hell are you?”
“In a nutshell? I am the Creatrix.”
She sighed as if the weight of the world rested upon her shoulders. Perhaps it did. I did not envy her this explanation.
A full ten or twenty minutes passed in silence.
“I am the point in place and time at which existence occurred.”
“No. Your concept of God presupposes divine will. I, this universe, it’s laws, Bartholomew, Theodore and you were accidents.”
“But you were born with consciousness.”
“I was not born, I simply and suddenly existed. And no, I had no consciousness.”
Chepter 4 – The Tedium