Seashells

I had just died when I got the card from that woman. I don’t remember her name or the nice things she said to me. Her words seemed recited from a practiced script. She was an actress pushed out onto the stage to hold my hand repeat words, words she’d said so many times they’d lost all meaning to her.

The card was for a psychiatrist who would help me through all of this. Anger management. Addiction. Grief. Psychiatrists only deal in negativity. You would have told me to go. You would’ve said it was important. You would have encouraged me to face this all and deal with it. So I went home.

I took Sasha down to that little inlet between the jetties–the one where you thought the earth should end. You said on clear days you could take your glasses off and the ocean would melt into the sky without so much as a seam. It was your glasses and their clarity that made the scene less breathtaking, you said.  I always hated how poetically you viewed the world. How you chose to rationalize flaws into serendipitous grace. It’s like you were forcing meaning onto nothing, just so you’d have something to call ‘beautiful.’ I’m surprised you didn’t request rose-colored lenses in your prescription.

Sasha found a shell in the surf and carried it up to me, but she got anxious when she realized I wasn’t the one who used to collect them. If she remembers the shells, then she remembers you were here one day and not another. It breaks my heart for really selfish reasons–I don’t want to hear her whine and fret about what to do with the shell. It’ll bother her until we get home and she can curl up at the foot of the bed like before. Then she’ll stop worrying because that’s when you’re supposed to come home. She’ll be asleep before you don’t.

Dogs have good memories, but they’re easily distracted. People are more likely to dwell. And it feels like I dwell on your absence more than is healthy. I know you’re just across town, but it’s not that simple, and you’d tell me that if you could. We’re living in different times now. You’ve started somewhere else, and I’m left to continue holding on to an old life and an old dog who still brings you seashells.
I’d like to pull you back from when everything fell apart and tell you I told you so. I told you it would end like this. I told you to take these things more seriously. But you’d put on that knowing smile and feign ignorance. And you’d blame it all on something stupid, like the fact that we’d kept too many promises.
I kept that little shelf you started. The one you put the seashells on. It’s still just as out of place and awkward as it was when you were here, but I’ve been too busy to do anything about it, especially now that I have to look after Sasha all by myself. Do you know how frustrating it is to have to keep up a tradition you never wanted in the first place? It’s like being forced to dress up as Santa every December, even though the kids have all grown up and moved out. It’s just sad now. Sad and inconvenient.

And I hate to admit that I’ve started collecting the seashells. It’s for Sasha. She seems so lost without someone to appreciate them. She doesn’t understand that they’re worthless and that you’re not coming back for them. I’ve started another shelf to sate her naively hopeful compulsion–to humor her and let her pretend that you’ve come back. She loves those stupid trinkets. Little bits of mineral poetry and beautiful nothing.

Advertisements

Blueprints…

Then it hits you…

The sobering understanding, the pang of proactive regret that accompanies the realization that other people a getting shit done…and you’re left wondering “what the fuck am I doing?” You start to think back over all the lists of things you should have done; you catalog all the opportunities that you didn’t take because they weren’t set on a deadline, and you truly thought – truly believed you had “more important things to do.” Then, when you’re finally done making that list, you’re thirty and you’re bitching at the 29 year old you for not doing more, and he in turn blames you at 28, and so on until you’re standing in your room, yelling at the twelve-year-old version of yourself for refusing to take an interest in anything more significant than Mortal Kombat and masturbation.

But there was potential. There was all this stuff you were going to do. You had plans. Well the surprise is in discovering that thinking about doing things is not the same as actually doing them…though your mind pretends they’re the same thing. It does this because you’re lazy, and because plans indicate progress. The problem is, you’re not going to do anything with those plans beyond sitting back and admiring them – pretending like the lines on a blueprint are the same thing as the house they represent. Blueprints are shitty for providing shelter in the rain. Build a house.

Tomorrow…

I’ll do it tomorrow…

…when it’s light out, and I can see my blueprints more clearly.

I need to rethink the skylight in the foyer anyway…


Get out of the car

If you’re caught in a blizzard at night, let’s say your car – it breaks down. You’re stuck in the snow. It’s falling and it’s on the ground. It’s everywhere and freezing and dark and white. If you’re stuck like that, they say just wait. Stay in the car where there’s a little warmth and the snow isn’t falling. It’s safe, they say. You’ll die if you go out, but if you stay, you might live. Someone might come. There might be hope.

There’s always a ‘might.’ There’s no hope without a ‘might,’ and no ‘might’ without some misguided bit of faith.

Faith and ‘might’ are stupid and tenuous things for so much to ride on.

No. Get out.

Get out into the blizzard, and wrap your arms around yourself. Push through the snowdrifts and laugh when they put up resistance. Smile at your own arrogance through the icy onslaught, and curse the night with pride. Curse it with the narcissism of free will and sovereign self-determination.

Get out of the car because it’s not going anywhere, and the little bit of warmth inside is fleeting. It will slowly kill you as it turns to frost. Like frogs boiling in reverse. It will be dark, and while it may shield you from the snow, it won’t keep you from death.

Get out of the car and make your own way. Pass through the night and make footsteps in the snow drifts. They’ll be gone in the morning, but you will have made them nonetheless. The obstacles will forever be disturbed by your persistence and the warmth of your dying body, and you can fall face first into the abyss knowing the blizzard wasn’t so strong. It wasn’t so strong to keep you afraid and clinging to faith and a ‘might’ – cold, cold coffins when there are no headlights in the mirror. No sun rising on the horizon.

Get out of the car and threaten to kill yourself, with no forethought of ‘mights’ and no trust in faith. Get out of the car, and as your eyes freeze over and frostbite wicks in from your extremities, put a twisted grin on your face and lock your fists against the wind. Walk away from civilization. Let nature take its course. There’s a quiet dignity in selecting natural selection for yourself. There’s an uplifting arrogance in chastising Death for his tardiness and demanding his time on your own.

There’s a saying that tells you when you’re going through hell, keep going. That saying doesn’t promise survival. It just promises you’ll be dying on your own terms. So get out of the car. Look into the night. And trudge into hell.


The day will still be beautiful

I probably won’t ever write you anything like he could. I probably won’t ever capture you like that. The snapshots he takes speak volumes in their eloquence and style; sing music to you. I envy it, really. And I can’t pretend that it doesn’t worry me.

He’s got novel ideas. I’m just short stories you’ve read a thousand times. Stories you love, yes, but you know how they go. Any new chapters would just develop old characters into circular plots that end where they began, like sitcoms and cartoons. No more of the excitement and drama. I can’t write you into anything but my own hackneyed ideas now, like a musician trying to recapture the adoration of his first hit – rewriting the same song until he’s quietly forgotten on the shelves and streets. Left to shuffle home and wonder how exactly it was he could capture the world’s attention like that; and how lucky he got, even just once.

Fifteen minutes. I knew it was limited, so I drank it in every second. High and drunk, taking drags and sips on us until reality fell into a blur and I could steal you away and escape. Remember that Vonnegut quote? One starts it, the other finishes, and both know what it means: be here, now. Carry those nows. That’s what life is – a series of nows that become thens. Moments in time that never really exist except when we pick them out and force them to. Force them to exist for us. We hold them up to the light and examine them as if they were shapes in a kaleidoscope. All the colors are the same. The light is the same. But we’ll never see the same images. No. Those moments are private, and no matter how intimately we share them – like clouds – they’ll be different in memory. So capture them as fully as you can. If we don’t catalog them now, we’ll forget them then.

People say things about soul mates. But really, none of that matters because that’s never been our style, and we’d just laugh at ourselves for suggesting such ridiculousness – regardless of how accurate we knew the description to be. It’s a strange kind of metaphysical irony when you try to dismiss as ridiculous those things which make perfect sense. And you dismiss them because life has presented them at what you believe is exactly the wrong moment. But then in time, you go back to those stories and those pictures and those memories and you remember again; and you realize how perfect life’s timing was, and how much you still hate that things didn’t go differently. But you smile through all the nonsensical bullshit because it was exactly what you needed exactly when you needed it. And because you still have the stories and pictures tucked away for any time you want to remember.

The images will be different. The clouds will shift in time. But the day will still be beautiful, and we’ll still be lying on the grass together, staring at the sky.


Let’s create a little synesthesia

God…it’s that annoying bassline again.

Repeating and phasing right and left. Panning. Makes that little bit of schizophrenia in all of us,

Makes it come out, and we’re left asking

“Wait…where the hell am I?”

And there’s the realization that they call it ‘trance’ for a reason.

Casting a tow rope down the rabbit hole.

But damn, that’s cliche – seriously…an Alice in Wonderland reference?

Illusion of control; allusion of insanity.

Eye roll.

Stumble up to the bar and ask for something thick and viscous. Curacao and blackberry syrup.

But you need some real alcohol in that.

Nah, the curacao, it’s froo-froo. Sparkling wine and Grenadine. Splash of something citrus. Needs a bit more.

Needs a bit less. Estrogen, I mean. It’s like magnets with similar poles. When you exude it, you drive it away. Take note.

I didn’t come here to get laid.

Then why did you come here? The atmosphere?

Swimming through a haze of something deafening and acrid; strobes and booths punching signal like a sonic assembly line, spilling neon photons and lumps of prefab audio out onto acid-stripped floors. It’s so humid the bass drips out of the stacks like sweat running down the back of your butterfly girl.

The DJ… He’s the only sober one here.

Oh yeah…drink that in. The atmosphere. It’s an affront, an assault on every sense, and you can’t help but become every kind of intoxicated in it. Float for a bit and take a drag on the mob.

Smiley faces and energy drinks then, too.

Let’s create a little synesthesia, and I’ll let the sights and sounds make love to me instead.


Periphery

It’s the way world moves. The way it looks through my glasses – like an amber dream, and shifting. Like the waves of grain in that song about America, and where people always seem to walk when they sleep or die. In their trips to Elysium and the Summerland, hands outstretched and catching each stalk in passing.

The sun shines through and licks trees, blades of grass, and it makes you wonder. Makes you wonder how many of those blades – billions of leaves of grass and wheat – have been noticed, cataloged by human hands and minds. How many particles are waiting to be observed… And then you realize what a waste of space the universe is. Countless fields, waves and grain and grass we’ll never harvest, never even notice. Not enough fingers to touch or minds to experience. So what’s it for?

To distract you from the drive. To fill in the holes. Like in dreams, there’s only what you notice. The fringes fade and melt. Nothing more is needed. How many stars were there last night in your mind? How many clouds or rocks or leaves? It doesn’t matter when it’s all background. Even in lucid dreams you won’t notice the universe. It won’t calculate into meaning anything. It’s just there so there’s something if we look. Just in case we keep going.

Straight ahead there’s nothing definite. Mirages and hallucinations. Glance in your periphery, and there’s God – so many billions of untouched blades of grass. Scattered and shifting like a dream.


The Troxler Effect

There’s this game that children used to play. It was back when you only had your own imagination to distract you from the world outside. It was played like this…

You find a mirror somewhere – usually a bathroom – and you light some candles. You turn off the lights and stand there by yourself, looking in the mirror and chanting quietly. Slowly. They used to call it “Bloody Mary” because that’s what you were supposed to say, and that’s what you were supposed to see.

After a few minutes of staring and chanting, the child’s face in the mirror, it would disappear. It would be replaced with terrible things. Monstrous faces. Distorted, horrible images that would make the child scream. They’d run away and tell their friends about it. Tell their friends about Bloody Mary.

But it’s not real. Bloody Mary doesn’t exist.

You see, in 1804, Ignaz Paul Vital Troxler discovered that if you stare at a single point for long enough, your peripheral vision starts acting screwy. Things start to disappear. You’ve seen it before. It’s called Troxler’s Fading.

The thing about Troxler’s Fading though, is that it doesn’t just make things disappear. It distorts them. Warps everything beyond recognition. Changes images until they no longer resemble what was there. There’s no Bloody Mary. Just a trick of visual perception. A penalty for staring too long.

When you focus on one thing, your eyes get lazy. Your brain gets bored. It constructs terrible images to wake you up. Make you look away. Focus on something else.

But when we were kids, it was just a game, and we could look away.

Now we look for so long and stay so focused that we can’t distinguish the original image anymore. Like your mother tried to warn you about making faces. “It’ll freeze that way,” she said. She didn’t know about Troxler. She didn’t know we want to imagine ourselves as monsters. She didn’t know we make monstrous faces to cope with the damage. Real or imagined, it doesn’t matter.

So we find a mirror and look at ourselves in the dim light, further worn from sleeplessness and anxiety. We stare and distort those things we see. We focus on one thing and the periphery fades. Our eyes make us ugly. Our brains turn us into hideous things. It’s not real. It’s a trick of perception. But this time, instead of noses and ears and eyes distorting, it’s those other things. It’s vices and addictions and damages. It’s emotions and regret. It grows on our bodies in the mirror. Tumors and boils and scars. The Troxler Effect. It all becomes unbearable until we scream and want to look away. But we keep staring; making our faces become terrifying.

We aren’t seeing a ghost. We’re seeing ourselves. We take it with us. We carry Bloody Mary in our minds like something to hide. Something to regret. If only we could separate that distortion from the real image. But we keep staring at a fixed point. Keep imagining the monsters we want to be.