The chain breaks at one of two ends. I’m certain I have the world in my hands but can’t make it to stand two whole days without imploding. The gift-wrapped box in the sky with bow-ties engraved with my name, I can have it: in the land of the free in the 21st century, any one of us can have it (supposedly). The night sky hides 10 billion galaxies the world can’t yet see, just waiting for someone with the perseverance to reach long enough and grab it — a whole new realm of possibilities. The imagination isn’t separate from reality; they’re in the same box. Today I was on the phone for two hours trying to pay six different bills to eight different companies. I washed dishes and shoveled the driveway. I looked at my kid and couldn’t see a reason why I shouldn’t be reading just to pass the time. If life is a puzzle it disintegrates just the same. Just like in a movie, when a typewriter flies down a flight of stairs, the slow-motion bursting scatters little springs and keys in an upward shower of catharsis. Thoughts of self-castration are not far from mind. I could’ve been a fucking Jedi.
Long nights awake in bed, my tired circuitry is sparking with the energy of a jazz band. There is so much to be done in this life, but at 1am there is nowhere to go. Just to sleep. By 6am sunlight is faint, and my eyes are heavy enough to witness unconscious dreams of greatness on the dorm room’s concrete wall. The future on the concrete wall, a vortex of fog and the ghosts of future selves. The projector has been on all along – 8am awake to find myself sleep-screaming in the back of class. In the dream, someone telling me I’d been wrong. And in a few moments when I graduate I’ll be awoken by the screeching of a library desk. 8 hours of class, 6 hours of clearing tables. The kitchen is a cluster-bomb of aluminum line cooks, and the incredulous owner saying I yesterday called to quit my job. From my back on my mattress I had dreamt-up unemployment and I swear the projector had been turned on. The vortex on the wall it swirls; dreams no longer clearly separating from reality. Dizzying clouds of cigarette smoke in the heyday hours of a gentle trip. Today I am the professor of pharmaceuticals. Fog rolls down the basement steps to underground bars where bass-drops come in flavors of neon candy. I’ve been reading more Pynchon lately; Calvin and Hobbes for what might lie awake in the future’s fog. Tomorrow I can be a dentist; I can be a desk clerk. Tomorrow morning I can be quickly falling through the sewer grate, or founding an internet platform. I am going to write novels when I graduate, or I can uncover the next Watergate, or I will be the first to manufacture sheets of graphene. In a few years when I’m well on the road to my dreams, starting my own business and happily getting married, I’ll realize I’m awake in class, and they’re all frozen and watching me. Hope mocks me for being so dead wrong; the concrete wall is a facade, and all of life has passed me by on my back, long days awake in bed on my back. I awake to find myself still asleep in class, and everyone is watching, the vortex on my desk in a puddle of blood, where the pencil has dug a crater into the back of my hand.
There is blackness shattered in the cracks of the small bare-wall room. Puke on the throw rug bought at Target left sitting for three days straight. The wracking of the nerves leaves shuddering on the bed the infant who tried to escape their fate by running for his god damned life, halfway across the continent to a city raw with beggars and transient thieves in the night. There is no woman here; there is no mother. There is nothing here but an empty desk and a waste-basket filled with ashes of a life of peace disregarded – contentment discarded, illusory harmony torn at the seams of the suit jacket and college degree: there are no Bachelor’s here, no dreams of vacations in Caribbean seas or the totalitarian pistons that deliver by degrees, the consumer success your privilege had blessed as something you could accomplish with ease.
Here there is darkness.
Synthetic Chinese amphetamines. Craigslist sex-list swapping fluids through a spectrum of genders, leaving you a hollow waste huddled on the mattress on the floor. Luckily, the internet has movies for free. What were your dreams? What did you sever the cords of the safety-net for? The map laid it all out: degree, career, marriage, a new TV and couch and color splotches to match the walls and you decided to get out. The map was well-defined. Skunked beer mixes with the spunk on your bedsheets. It’s been three days. Cold winter sunlight barely touches the floor and you’ve waned to a pallor of jaundice or piss. The hope that your parents miss you fearfully plunged down the toilet. The strange city, you immigrant; the cafes are filled with echoes and the shadows on the corner see you as the ghost. Weep out the window for the touch of a familiar hand.
Here there is darkness.
On the floor the bundle of books you backpacked ‘cross eight states, left untouched for six whole days. The paragraph you typed still up on the screen (great promise here, you tried to say), minimized behind the scenes of comedic relief that let you freeze, however momentarily, the blackness that rots through the cracks in the wall. You had peace on the map; follow the dotted-line they’ve defined as contentment. But here the darkness is allowed to seep and the oblivion of it crushes you to weep – you fool! There is nothing here past the boundary but the infinity of what you can dream and daily swallow. Fill yourself with the possibilities, you haven’t to be so hollow: These are the constellations of oblivion and they dance beyond the boundaries of their maps.
There are rats in our ceiling though I know you didn’t hear them. The house was crowded, it was loud, little house reverberating with the sound of New Year’s tidings. You were speaking to your friend’s parents, the ones who work at a hospital, and my sister was planning her wedding day. Everyone was talking, everyone was watching the countdown on TV, everyone was enjoying the simple normalcy of things. But there was a scratching in the ceiling over the kitchen, a noise that isolated me. I had to focus to hear the little claws. I admit it was easy, to disconnect from the party and hear the silence in my head quickly broken by the scurry of little claws. And maybe the silence has been there a while, is why it was so easy to find – spaces in broken conversations to hone in on, like the air you find inside the cardboard décor of furniture stores. It is all empty air and the silence it was piercing my head. And this is when I first heard the rats, seated in silence at the kitchen table hearing friends go on about fantasy sports and TV shows to ring in the new year and the vacuity of it all suddenly transpired – in me a distant hollow ringing, the fear of floating away in the wake of a cruise that’s already left the bay.
I believe they noticed I was pale and clammy, these people at the kitchen table with me. They regarded me with a safe distance, like a child around whom you carefully choose your words. I was the idiot they looked at and had to repeat exactly what they meant when they said the stock market was a better way to hedge their bets. As if I were the idiot! They couldn’t hear the rats clawing six feet above our heads. The tendons in my chest began to tighten, I was sweating with a pain that could have been the flu or claustrophobia – more rats were filling into the ceiling, the scraping reaching a frantic pitch and no one could hear a god damned thing but their own platitudes and plaints. My eyes were stuck in the middle distance of nowhere, focused compulsively on the silence that surrounded me, filled me – and how quickly it was broken by the clawing in the ceiling! I had to act. Visions of insulation and wires being ripped apart by the clawing horde making nests in my ceiling.
It was the footsteps they heard, paired to the conspicuous vacation from the kitchen chair I’d occupied all night: they knew it had to be me on the roof. Figure, it would be only me they heard through the ceiling. I admit I was stomping trying to find a weak patch in the roof, a way to get through to the rats making nests in my ceiling. I didn’t notice them at first, my audience below, and the sight must have been something to see – the front yard matted with leaves I never raked, garbage bags piled in the drive I never took to the street, and the dozens who gathered in the cold New Years’ drizzle to see me stalking the roof with a flashlight and cleaver. My plan I hadn’t fully thought through. It was you who called up to me first. I waved you away and said go back inside, this was something I could handle. And this must have been the stroke of midnight, because somewhere behind our house fireworks were going off. And I imagine the fireworks put me in silhouette because the light of them was bright enough to hide the shine of my flashlight. I was looking up in the trees over the house, for the rats, because even on the roof I could still only hear the scraping somewhere above me.
It was a dead monkey I heard say it, is how I know this to be true; deep in the verdant jungle where nature still appears real, the hunted-dead monkey said to me, “All life has a point.” I agree this is ridiculous, that a dead monkey spoke to me, but anyway that isn’t the point. The point is this: All life has a point.
On this I still haven’t heard from Jesus or Buddha, Moses or the sun god Dionysus or Ra. But the dead monkey has spoken and said it succinctly: All life has a point. And for a while the daylight imbued the sidewalks and little grass strips along the road with a peculiar, pleasant beauty; and the moonlight shone white blankets to heighten, by contrast, the mystery buried in night’s distant streets. There I found proof to show what the monkey claimed to be true: down the thousand unknown side-streets of a thousand foreign cities, kept secret and inviolate in the folds of night, is the mystery that creeps unbidden near the extremities of the known, crouching and goading over the untouched possibilities of life. Therein lies the point.
What soon became clear was that I needed to find every little alley-way and nook of the mind that hadn’t been fingered. At night I went skipping with a mind full of nebulae poured into dextromethorphan: there are versions of trees you can see when the streets are vacated and your eyes are too bright to miss the massive conduits between the earth and air. I spent a week on hunger-strike with no particular gripe in mind, just starvation for the sake of seeing what worlds would spawn across my bare white walls. I scavenged the dumpsters of seven holy cities for messages cast-aside. I watched the bottoms of people’s feet from behind as they walked, to discover what maybe they always hide in stride.
I burned three-day stretches between the coasts on methamphetamine and bass-drop overloads. I got lost in the tome of the man driven mad by his will-negating drive to unleash good Dionysus, who grew into the perimeter with no stars. I scratched and crawled up the sides of buildings I had no purpose being in, and found on the roofs the castrated and sacrificed will of the dead who could never dare to explore, for themselves, the mystery at the end of their cul-de-sacs at night.
What I found there at the end of my parents’ cul-de-sac one night (alone, I was wondering if I should finally accept shelter; I did) was the collective unwillingness to explore the dark secrets lying dormant at the end of our world. The crushing machinery that has built the AI to digitize our dreams into little pixels of digestible pastries, the algorithms and political house-keepers issuing well-dressed drones to hunt down and devour the little mystery still left hiding at night – at night the immensity of the mysteries unexplored, sprawling; the purple moon at night is circular and will say nothing at all.
The future is felt like a big open sore, suppurating raw – like putting fingers in the wound, to pay the future any mind. I can give it no concern. I am supposed to file forms to meet important collegiate deadlines, but I think I’d rather just sit staring at the back of a stranger’s head. I am supposed to pen a ten-page paper but again I’ll hand in four, with five-inch margins, the product of a seven hour last-minute slog with my forehead on the keyboard – time now is better spent browsing news-column comments and disturbing Japanese porn. Every day has the same routine – standing staring at the dormitory doors, thinking and shrinking at the notion that this wave was set in motion without my consent. I find myself biding minutes by the hour looking forward to exhaustion, just so I can sleep, and forget, and not be bothered by the fate that I’ve had double-stuffed down my throat. For what if I do go through the doors? Attend every class and score a 4.0GPA? I’ll only find myself wandering through the motions of a life I’ve named Regret. But the passion that I had for the one thing I was good at – I sit here staring at a camera I’ve lost the will to lift off my lap. This would be best just to forget.
You’ve been dumped into the vortex (the bottom is endless), now cling to the walls, or find yourself hurled through the perpetual swirls of an abyss you’ll never breath free from. You have a choice – etch your name on the first rung you can manage hold and hang there for your life of regret. Or plummet – follow your dreams down the vortex picking blackened breadcrumbs from the sidewalk just outside your cardboard door…
… The swirling black mess suppurating raw in my chest, I’d rather sit here and stare at old dust-motes and forget, that time regardless passes on.
It began with a long day in bed when I slipped too deeply into my head… Short walk to class, an hour long now trying to avoid the eyes of each person I pass by.
I am the person walking up and down the same flight of stairs, convinced, utterly convinced this is the quickest way to nowhere.
I am the hollow-eyed nightmare shaking, standing in the campus square, trying to ascertain which direction I was supposed to go.
I am the unreachable stranger walking laps through the mall bundled thick in winter jackets on an August hot day, speaking nothing to no one, softly muttered to no one.
These are the gaps in my flesh – please come take a peer at this hollowness, the oblivion inside these cracks.
This is the fragile waste bucket seated beside you in class, huddle forward on my desk with a face distantly pacing the floor beside my chair; that is my spunk right there on the desk, naked and scared and bared boneless for all to feast.
Bury yourself face-first in the muck of this mire, self-negated with nothing left to hide, nothing to strive for or to die; the wandering days melting down the clock-faces into a formless pulp rid of meaning.
These are troubled times.
The skeleton stalks through the bookshelves for something to eat, having found behind his eyes the rats that infest the manifolds of his brain; having found nothing of interest, he wastes 7 hours browsing internet trash, and then goes back to sleep.
This is the trouble with trying to complete the litany of tasks dictated by a dream of socially-acceptable success – these dents in the table are the blood-smudges of a forehead that bears repeating: It cannot fucking focus. Have you paid your fucking speeding tickets?
Did you finish your homework on time?
Did you remember to pay the bills your wife keeps asking you to pay the bills but instead I put rat-traps in the ceiling is what I did for all of fifteen minutes yesterday. That is what I did yesterday. The rats haven’t been heard again and I am safely huddled in my bed trying not to openly weep; it is now my new belief the rats are dead.
There is a purpose here buried in the interference and the babble of a family speaking distantly at Christmastime – distantly from across the dinner table. And the task here is keeping track of the echoes to listen for my name while simultaneously keeping track of the little sparking flashes fluttering ‘cross my corneas. The fluttering it needs to be pinned…
to stick them to the wall with nails pulled from this cranial rot, stick them to the walls the butterflies with their wings spread wide and poke at them, the wings, until I’m sure each one has died.
But I am utterly convinced it is just as futile to die.