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As dark as this is, it’s still one of my favorites.
“That’s it,” he says to himself. “I’m done. I can’t take this anymore.”
He walked along in the rain, head down, hood up, seething. He despised it all; existence, his situation, and his damn sore luck.
“There’s no reason to keep going. Nothing is working. I can’t pay the bills, I can barely keep food in my belly, and there’s nothing I can do to change any of it.”
He walked up to the front door of his apartment and walked inside. He stood there in the dark for several moments, thinking about his predicament. Try as he might, he just couldn’t find a way to make things any better. He couldn’t get a better job because he wasn’t qualified. He couldn’t go back to school because he still needed to make money to survive; granted, he was hardly surviving as it was. He wasn’t truly living; he was merely…
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I spend a lot of time driving down dark roads in the middle of the night. On warm nights, I can roll the windows down and feel the breeze blow in the otherwise still night air. It is during these times that I find myself lost in thought. My little red hatchback carries me both down the physical and metaphysical roads before me. Tonight’s headlights illuminated something that has been silently growing in the damp shadows of my brain like a patch of mushrooms.
I guess I think about mortality quite a bit. Mine, others’, the general concept…all of it comes to my attention on seemingly a daily basis. Tonight, it has been all of those. I realized that I am immortal. We all are. At least until we are not. Every day, we get in our cars and drive around, arguably the most dangerous thing we do habitually. Yet, somehow, we are okay with this. People get in horrific car accidents every day. But here we go, driving at speeds much faster than we realize, surrounded by other humans (arguably the most dangerous species on the planet.)
Despite every creeping danger, we usually arrive at our destinations in relative safety. Somehow.
One of these times, I will not survive. One of these days, my immortality will run out, and I will reach my only true mortal moment. And…I’m mostly okay with that. Sometimes, I need to comfort myself with thoughts of some beautiful afterlife. Sometimes, I look fondly on the day I will no longer have to feel the aches and pains, emotional ups and downs, financial and social insecurity. Mostly, though, I just distract myself with all the things around me. I narrow my focus so finely that I don’t have to bother with mortality or the meaning of life, BECAUSE HOW CAN I, WHEN SOME PERSON I DON’T CARE ABOUT SAYS SOMETHING THAT MILDLY IRRITATES ME FOR A FINITE PERIOD OF TIME?!
But then it returns. The understanding that my whole life is just a breakneck hurtle towards that solitary mortal moment. Be it accidental, natural, or ninja assassination (not gonna lie, kinda hoping for that last one), I will get there. There is nothing I can do to slow it down or stave it off. Sure, I can take better care of myself, drive safely, and try not to anger large men named “Brutus,” but really, when my moment comes, my Achilles heel will be dangerously, irrevocably exposed. And I shall…pass on.
It is that knowledge that gives my life some spark of meaning. I am no one special. The world was just fine before me, and it will carry on as if I had never existed when I have left. In these waning days, though, I can do something no one else ever will: I can be me, here, in this very second. This moment is something no one will ever be able to replicate. The unique variables and slight changes between me and the next guy just like me are what make me who I am.
I have the unique opportunity to impact the lives of the people around me today. I can interact with a very select group of people, a subset of humanity that is uniquely individual to my experience. No one has ever, nor will ever, be dealt the same deck of cards as I have. There is inspiration in that thought. There is life in that. Something that breaks up the monotony and spreads some color into the shades of grey that cloud up everyday living.
It’s a shame that we fall into that mode so easily. Monotony, that is. Each second that passes is one that does not come back. It is the unstoppable march of time and the frailty and limited longevity of existence that gives life such succulent flavor.
I don’t really know what any of that means. I was honestly hoping that by the time I had thought things out to this point that I would have some profound, uplifting message to relay, some life-changing turn of phrase. But alas, I do not. Perhaps I overestimate my ability to think beyond myself. Maybe all the people in all those cars I drove past today have already had these thoughts. Perhaps I’m late to the party. I might actually prefer that. Knowing that everyone out there has come to terms with what a jumbled, beautiful mess this life is might set my heart at ease.
Truly, it is peace that I seek along this path, and it is peace that subtly eludes me. Not entirely, however; as I fumble around blindfolded, it give me a whisper or a peck on the cheek to remind me that it is still there, unattained and available.
I don’t know what I have to say. I guess if you find yourself kept up at night by conflicting thoughts, you are not alone. If you want to find something concrete to pin your value, your hopes, and your passions onto, there are others like you.
If you just want to be at peace, and you hope that everyone else can find some semblance of lasting peace, yeah, me too.
Maybe the peace is in the passage.
Even if it’s not, I would rather live my immortal moments on a fruitless search for peace, meaning, and significance than realize in my dying seconds that I had wasted my immortality.
My old gaffer was a mountain of a man. His physical presence was powerful, and his intellectual stature surpassed his physical height by about a mile. I think about him a lot. Even more lately. You see, my life is about to change once more, in one of those ways I wish he could have been here for.
I am going to have a son.
I knew the guy for twenty years, and I knew I could always count on him to say the right thing. No matter how angry I made him, what he was going through, or what was going on in the world, that dude was quick with the comeback. I knew that no matter what I threw at him, he would take a drag off his cigarette, look at me over the rim of his glasses, and the next words out of his mouth would calm me to my very soul. Even when he didn’t have answers, he had a way of phrasing things that made the world seem like an alright place. But that’s not why I miss him today.
I am going to be a father. I wish I could have one last cup of coffee, sitting on the warped deck in that overgrown backyard, with the smell of dew and smoke in the air. I wish I could tell him. I wish I could see his face light up. I wish I could feel him wrap me up so tight I think I’ll collapse like a pop can. I wish I could hear the excitement in his voice as he told me he was proud of me. I wish I could feel his happiness reverberate around the yard as he told me for the thousandth time about the day his life changed, about the day I was born.
This is one of the happiest days of my life. Diminished in no way whatsoever by my seemingly constant grief. They are parallel, these thoughts. I am exuberant, and all I want to do is call the old man, and hear him shout his hallelujah. To see him try to subtly wipe the tear from his eye.
I wish, more than ever, I could show him this crown jewel of my life. I’m not the perpetual fuck up that I was when he knew me. Sure, I’m still a lost cause, but I’m a lost cause who has started to make a place for himself. I found a career I want, one that pays the bills and gives me a good life. I found a remarkable woman (or really, she found me), and she brings me more joy than I surely deserve. We have found a nice home, in a nice area, and we live comfortably. And now, to top it all off, we are bringing a baby boy into the world, a boy who carries my father’s last name forward.
Everything is wonderful. I struck out on my own, and dammit, I MADE it. Finally. I have something worth holding onto in my life. Many somethings. I just wish I could show him, because, for the first time in my stupidly short life thus far, I feel I have lived up to his pride.
You called me. The day before it all changed, and you left me a voicemail. We had fought, hard, two days prior. You told me that no matter what I did, you loved me and you were proud of me.
But look, Dad. Look at where I am. Look at what I did to get here. Look at all the sleepless nights I was kept awake by the memory of your voice, turning your words over and over in my mind.
Look at the fruits of your labor.
I have a family of my own now. And they are so beautiful, both in visage and soul.
I hope I can be half the father you were. He’ll be one lucky kid if I can manage that.
There comes a point where you are no longer the protagonist of your story. Where you must humble yourself and accept a lower place in the cast list. This is not a bad thing; it just feels that way sometimes. Perhaps you feel you never truly reached your rightful position. Maybe you think your “protagonist potential” was never fulfilled. Ultimately, that does not matter. Your opinions don’t change the facts. Fighting to stay at the forefront of this story can have disasterous consequences. You can, in a mere breath, become the hated villain. If you greedily cling to the title card, you will find yourself opposed to the new hero of the tale. When you find yourself in this place of transition, face your slow demise with grace and class. Your part is not over, but diminished. That is a small mercy. The responsibility of carrying the story no longer lies on you. You can become the wise sage, or the wisecracking sidekick. You can be the mentor, or the inspiring old wanderer, or the boon giver. We all think we will be older when the world moves on and we are replaced. Perhaps instead of being a side character whose only story development is taking an arrow in the knee, we can use what is left of our youth and fervor to better equip the new adventurers. My time at the helm has come to a close. I can embitter and enfuriate myself, ruining what is left with pride, or I can accept it and look forward, walking into the next chapter of this saga with my character and nobility intact. I’d rather be left behind by the next quest than be the evil that inspires it.
The Traveler led the Warrior along the broken, icy path that lazily wound its way up The Mountain. Their journey had taken them across barren wastelands, through lush, green forests, dusty towns, and giant, bustling cities. The path had brought them a long way, carrying their feet along for over a thousand sunsets. Now, as the top of The Mountain loomed above them, their quest seemed to be nearing its end. They had persevered for so long, drawing ever nearer to the Temple of Time, yearning for the day they would stand face to face with The Storyteller.
The Traveler turned around, pausing briefly to check on her charge. The Warrior trudged along several paces behind The Traveler. He noticed the look in The Traveler’s eye, and grunted and nodded, acknowledging that even as worn out as his body was, he could carry on. Their exhaustion seemed to melt just enough that the passion for their goal could spur them onward towards their destination.
They continued on for several days, rising almost imperceptibly into the clouds. Finally, they broke through the clouds, and they saw it. There, a mere league ahead of them, stood the ancient temple. The Temple of Time was believed to be older than time itself, and by appearance, that belief could almost be assumed to be true. The temple was segmented into five sections, five separate buildings that stood together as a single unit. At the four corners of the construct, Pillars rose into the sky, seeming to scrape against the very stars. In the center, where one would expect a central spire, instead a low, single story mound of stone brought together the strength and might of the four Towers of the Winds with a subtle grace and humility. And at the entrance to this mound stood an old woman.
As the pair drew closer to the woman, they saw that while she seemed to be as old as the temple itself, she stood tall, unwithered by the assault of the millennia she had endured. A light breeze whispered through her hair, gently playing with her silver locks as they lay loose on her shoulders.
“Greetings, sister,” The Traveler said when they grew near enough to converse.
The Storyteller smiled thinly.
“It has been many cycles since we last met, young ones,” she said softly.
The Warrior dipped his head.
“Too long, if had been but a day.”
“You tell the truth, brother,” The Storyteller replied.
The Traveler shifted her pack to her right shoulder. “You know why we are here, yes?”
“Of course, dear one. But the Tale has told me that you are to tell me nonetheless. You must ask your questions.”
The Warrior sniffed. “Why can’t you just tell us the answers without the ceremony of asking?”
The old woman’s smile lit her face with joy brighter than the noon sun.
“Brother, in all the lives you have lived, you still do not understand the Tale any more than when you were on our mother’s breast. I do not write the Tale. Nor do I dictate what I see. The wind speaks to me, and I write its words in the book. I do not imagine the story of this world, even though it reaches my imagination long before it ever comes to pass. Those events must come to pass as they have been foreseen…more or less. It is integral to your journey that you come to the crux of your story on your own terms. It would be more of a crime than a gift to do things any other way.”
The Warrior huffed, but did not reply. The Traveler searched the face of her sister for some clue about where to go from here. They had arrived, and now it felt as if they were further from finding the answers they sought than when they had begun all those years ago. A crushing wave of despair washed over her as the questions they had set out to have answered disappeared from her mind. She suddenly could not remember why they had come, and both the absence of purpose and the frustration of having come so far to be stumped by her own mind hurt more than any wound, sickness, or loss she had endured thus far. She closed her eyes, squeezing away unexpected tears.
“What does the book say we should do now?” she asked quietly.
The Storyteller took a long, slow breath, and looked up at the sky.
“Wait. Your quest will find you once again. Wait. Watch. Listen. Exist for but a moment; let your worries quiet themselves.”
The Traveler opened her eyes again, and noticed that the sun was setting to her left. The three turned towards the red-gold of the sunset. Birds sang in the valley far below. How she could hear them, the Traveler did not know, but the birdsongs comforted her soul. The skies danced in shades of red and yellow, slowly giving way to brilliant purples and blues. The stars, which seemed close enough to touch, shone and twinkled silently, watching the Tale unfold below them with bated breath.
They stood like that for a century or more, the sun swinging above and below them over and over, with each pass being similar in beauty, yet unique and breathtaking. They did not speak. They only watched. Waited. Listened. And when their hearts had calmed themselves and the fire of their passion had burned down to stubborn coals, The Traveler looked back to The Storyteller.
“Sister, does the book permit us to walk through the temple?”
The old woman nodded. “It does much more than that; it demands it. But it also demanded that you ask it so.”
The Warrior was silent. It seemed that after all this time, he was beginning to understand. The Tale. Beginning. He still understood almost nothing, but the beginning is important, as understanding little is infinitely superior to understanding nothing. It is a slight, yet critical difference of mind.
The Storyteller led the way into the Temple of Time, and the Traveler and The Warrior followed her. The world below stood unchanged. Time had stopped. Or so it seemed. While the days kept changing, the land was more or less the same as when they had set out on this adventure. The Tale was not something that came to fruition in a day, or a lifetime, or even a million lifetimes. The Tale was written on the tapestry of time from the first second to the very last…and beyond. The Tale had a different name among the mortals who lived below. They called it “eternity.” And they could no better understand it than the two Prime Walkers who had ascended to the Temple of Time.
Inside, secrets unfathomable were shared, questions begat more questions, and answers simply led to more inquiries. And as far as those who lived below could tell, the Traveler and The Warrior never emerged again. When the first eternity came to an end, and a new Tale had need to be told, they came forth, being some of the first to lay eyes upon the uninked pages of the new eternity. The next stage of their quest had begun.
My mind betrays me on an unnervingly regular basis. This wonderful machine that opens up the world to me is also my greatest burden. The darkness is equal to the light, reaching depths parallel to the dizzying heights I can achieve. And it is never at an opportune moment; always it is at a time I would rather have full control of my mental faculties. Then again, I don’t think there is ever a “good” time for mental fracturing. Perhaps just better and worse moments, then.
It is in these times where I know, with no sense of illusion, that my mind is attempting to trick me into making devastating decisions. My thoughts whisper that those I love conspire against me, use me, and feign care. In a louder voice, they tell me that I am a dismal failure and that even my best intentions are worthless, as nothing I do or say improves anything. At best, these thoughts tell me, I put delay the inevitable destruction of everything around me. After all, who am I that good things would happen to me? No, this is nothing but the deep breath before the plunge, wherein the world will drag me to the bottom, beyond the reach of any ounce of light, where I belong, to slowly drown and have this wasted life squeezed out of my lungs.
Eventually, my darkness takes a stronger form, shouting in my face, saying I am better off dead. That everyone I know and love is better, happier, if I am gone. I am worth more dead than alive; that isn’t saying much, though. After all, it is pretty easy to be worth more than worthless. This darkness screams at me to jump. To end everything in various ways. IT takes the traditional route sometimes, quoting all the typical ways of ending one’s life. Rope. Gun. Knife. Substance. Occasionally, it gets creative. “Put the car in neutral and lie down behind it as it rolls downhill.” “Give away all your possessions. Walk into the mountains. Take no provisions. Feed back into nature.” Regardless, the result is the same. This depression in my soul becomes heavy enough that it leaves an ever deepening depression in my mattress, making it nigh impossible to get out of bed, let alone walk around and pretend that everything is alright.
But that is what I must do. Because unless I plan on pulling the trigger on myself, moping and aching does no one any good. I must not be a worry or a burden. I cannot let the darkness be right. I can’t let myself be so heavy on my dear ones that I am their cross to bear, their burden to wear, the pain they share. I have to get up. I have to pretend. I need to be okay. Fake it til you make it. God…this might be worse.
There comes a point where it cannot be faked. I cannot hide behind the facade of a smile any longer, for the void has drained the strength from my face to even slightly lift the corners of my mouth. I can hardly speak. I cannot eat. It hurts to move. I wish so completely for death that I dream of the end like one would fantasize of a quiet beach getaway. It is all I want, and everything I can’t have. Because this life is a bowl full of suck topped with shit sprinkles, and isn’t that exactly what I deserve?
Some part of me says no. I don’t know what part. I know others would say I’m better than this. I disagree. I am wretched. This pointless, causeless, useless emptiness proves my point. Nothing makes me this way. Nothing happens that makes me angry at my own existence; I simply wake up that way. Nothing hurts me, I simply implode for no reason whatsoever, dragging down those around me as I crumble like a toppling tower.
I despise it. This darkness and decay, I hate it. I never wanted to be like this. I’ve tried so hard for so long to not be this way, but I cannot seem to shake this beast from my back. These demons plague me, and I hate their voices so much, I would die to silence them. But perhaps…not really. I mean, I haven’t done it yet. There must be some rational side of my brain that keeps me here. Of all the times I’ve thought about it, and all the different ways I’ve planned it, I’ve only once tried…and thank whatever powers may be that I was far too young to be successful.
I think I know I can’t help but be this way. Perhaps medication would help, but chemicals scare me. I don’t want to be a zombie. I’d rather be in periodical anguish than feel nothing at all, ever. That’s no way to live. At least when I’m like this, I can punch myself and know I’m still alive, to some degree.
So I sleep. and I eat. and I try to outlast the storm. Because I do know that it is a storm. Eventually, these black clouds pass, and I am more or less okay after that. Usually incredibly tired, but okay. I’ve survived every dark onslaught so far. There is no reason to believe this one will be any different.
I just wish when the Void came calling my name, I could keep it to myself. No one else deserves to go through any of this with me. No one needs to be confused, hurt, or upset by me, especially when I’m not in my right mind. I wish I could disappear for a few days when this…thing…takes over, you know? Get out of the city so the blast radius doesn’t hurt any bystanders. Cuz, you know, none of this is their fault, either.
It tires me thinking that my mind will be on an eternal rollercoaster ride, rushing from up to down to up again at a pace that already gives me whiplash. I wish I could just stop the ride in the middle. Not too high, not too low…riding the balance.
I suppose I should get out of this bed and get some food in my belly. Take care of myself the best I can, get through the rest of the day, and hope for a better tomorrow.