The Drifter.

He woke up before his alarm had a chance to crescendo.  Why even have that feature if the slightest sound from the alarm was enough to wake him up? Just in case he managed to sleep through the noise, perhaps.  He snoozed the alarm and lay on his back, waking up with his eyes wide shut in deep reflection about his love life.  After all, what else does one spend one’s time alone thinking about?  It was only natural that he found himself thinking about the futility mingled with desperation that he shouldered day in and day out.  He considered how he had skipped in and out of interest in various women he encountered, musing on the reason for the instability.  Maybe it was a weird vibe or her being too self-interested or him being too insecure or maybe it all didn’t matter that much anyways and he would be fine with the first one who’d have him.

It was his loneliness that caused him to drift from one person to the next.  At this, he put both his hands behind his head, eyes alert now as they gazed past the ceiling.  He saw now how naïve he was in thinking that he was actually able to love someone else; how could he when he failed to even love himself?  That was the reason he chased here and there, after all.  If he could just see that someone else could see something good in him, then he’d be happy. Then, he’d know that he meant something to someone.  Then, he’d realize that he was worthy of being loved.  Even though he had friends and family, it was his loneliness that knew him best, and it was his loneliness that he loved.  It let him push his problems onto other people, projecting a lack of understanding and empathy onto those around him; loneliness let him comfortably deceive himself into thinking that he was taking the high road by suffering their misunderstanding and “appreciating that they tried.”

What could he do about it? If he was lonely with his own company, adding more people who weren’t him, couldn’t think like him, didn’t know enough about him would only serve to magnify the alienation.  He kept laying in bed, dreading the masks he would need to put on just to get through to the next time he would be laying in bed.  It was never about the other people; a person like him would never be good enough for someone else.  He didn’t wish himself on anyone at this point.  All he could hope for was the day that he’d learn to just be okay with who he was.  Maybe then he could look for something more.

The Chase is On.

Chase woke up that day before snoozing his alarm a second time.  However, he had not risen from his slumber with the peacefully exasperated sigh common to many houses across the world; today was the day the streets were required by law to be clear due to some kind of local project to refurbish the street curbs, and his van was still parked outside. 7 AM to 9 PM.  7 AM to 9 PM.  What time was it? 8:18 AM.  The covers were thrown aside in a flurry of morning anxiety.

He began his run that morning with greater zeal than normal, but it was not so much a run for cardiovascular health as it was for fear of his car ending up in an impound storage facility.  Grabbing his keys and foregoing his wallet, Chase sprinted outside in the half-awake daze of the earlier hours, backing his van onto his lawn before trudging back inside.  He walked through the door he had left open, and closed it behind him before walking briskly to his room and turning off his already sounding alarm.  He shrugged silently and turned about face to retrieve his earbuds from the top of the miniature refrigerator; he was already up – might as well actually go for a run.

The sky was awash in formless clouds, but enough light came through the clouded canopy to create a canvas of bright grey, barely discernible from white had it not been for the defining contrast of the elevated greenery.  Birds whistled and squawked in vaguely nearby trees on indiscernible branches, and the soft wind gently berated his ears.  Bushes quaked gently as he looked onwards into the stillness.  Air came into his lungs smoothly and stirred his body to motion.

He began to stretch, leaning towards the wall, feeling the muscles limber up gradually, then he set off, putting his earbuds in along the start.  As he ran, he sped up to acclimate himself to the subtle chill grazing his skin.  His breath became slightly more labored, but he continued his dogged pursuit.  Why run? He ran from his asthma, keeping the wheezing at bay once a week with a two-mile run.  He ran from a lack of discipline by forcing himself to adhere to a routine that was not of particular enjoyment.  He ran from the problems weighing on his heart at the time, clearing his mind in the morning to prepare himself to meet the world that day.

He finished the two-mile cadence, and found himself wheezing slightly as he ran out the end of the path.  It was a sound not unlike the distant cry of seagulls by the ocean, and it concerned him.

All I See.

*Note: This was taken from my old blog, “Poet in a World of Prose,” which has since been deleted.

I once heard a story about a fall from glory

a prince become slave whose end was kinda gory.

Young genius shown at the age of twelve

and into his dad’s work did he choose to delve.

All by himself with the teachers of the temple

showing them miracles and the God they resembled.

He was the best man at a later wedding

Turning water into wine and guest’s lips he was wetting.

But this great man encountered teachers who had floundered

each speaking against him, man it was a downer.

So downward he descended into this realm of mortal beings

Speaking of the great things that he himself was seeing.

Soon twelve friends appeared at his side asking

for more of his glory, for in it they were basking.

They were not full in wisdom but had hearts to follow

Little did they know he was a man full of sorrow.

In that final hour, he took his last breath full of power

and with his sacrifice did upon humans shower

blessings incomprehensible and somewhat invisible

rising three days later, he proved to be invincible.

A gospel to spread, he now sought out his friends

who each had a strong message to send

in the form of letters and addresses

telling of God’s Son and how He blesses.

Their message reaches out now to modern ears

blessed are they who receive what they hear.

I see a world plunging deep into darkness

devoid of true life and full of dread starkness.

With reason they combat the invisible truth

with all the fibers of their arrogant youth.

But that which is seen is made from that which is not

so put away all the battles you have fought.

Redemption at hand yet it is casually dismissed

the world wreaking havoc with religion as a cyst.

But to follow the Son is not even close to religion;

it’s the cause of a spiritual decision.

Labeled blind for trying to seek out the righteous,

I pray for the world should it try to incite us.

Blind? Nay, merely looking with split vision

as I admire the works of God and His solitary mission:

He came not to judge but seek and save those who were lost

yet it is hard to do when they don’t believe in the cost.

The price of your life is worth more than you think

from the shirt on your body to the rock on your ring.

Your life was paid for in full by pure, untainted blood

a love everlasting and mercy that does flood.

Dismount from your throne of “knowledge” and look God in the face

for it is then when you will know the truth of your deservéd place.

April Stools.

As he yawned with the exhaustion of a man who slept too late to be waking up so early, he groaned out of bed and into the bathroom.  There was the smell of lavender, like someone had used his fancy liquid hand soap, but he was the only one in the house, and he had just woken up.  Perhaps it was leaking? He picked up the bottle, examined it, and set it down, scratching his head in bleary, apathetic confusion.  It was probably some stupid April Fool’s joke.  There was nothing wrong with the bottle, not a crack anywhere he could see.  He felt the familiar clench in his bowels, and knew it was time for the morning ritual.

Sighing, he sat down and began to take the children to the pool.  That is, he defecated.  Today’s experience was a pleasantly soft ordeal, sliding out without much strain.  He exhaled fully after holding his breath in from the initial release, feeling the cold tile beneath his feet, and feeling the cold seat slowly warm to the temperature of his rear.  As he felt the familiar emptiness within his stomach signaling the end of his time on the porcelain throne, he began to reach for the the toilet paper, but paused. The soon-to-be-soiled paper was coming from the bottom up, not from the top down.  Who on Earth could have done this, he thought.  He attempted to remove the inner tube of the toilet paper dispenser to flip the roll upside down to his liking, but discovered that it had been glued shut.  I must be dreaming, he sighed.  So, with eyes squinted shut, he dispensed what he perceived to be enough toilet paper, and found that he must have yanked too hard, littering the bathroom floor with excess toilet paper.  He could feel his spirit begin to crack within the pit of his heart.  He bent down to tear a segment of the fallen bathroom tissue so that he could wipe, then proceeded to clean himself.  After he wiped, he discovered, with gradual mortification, that a brown streak ran up from the toilet paper past his wrist, past his forearm, up to his bicep.  He began to cry.  Why is this happening? What have I done to deserve this? I just wanted to relieve myself…

He looked down, and discovered that the toilet paper was gone.  He reached desperately over to the cabinet to find the extra rolls.  Instead, he was greeted by a raucous explosion of noisemakers, leaving his knees quaking and without a doubt that he had emptied himself of refuse.  With his heart pounding and his head furiously attempting to stave off a headache, he took a few moments to make sure he caught his breath.  Then, he got up with his head down grimly, knowing he had not entirely cleaned himself – he came to terms with the fact that he had no other choice. He grimaced as he pulled up his pajama pants, knowing that they would need to be washed promptly.  As he flushed and met his own gaze in the mirror, his spirit crumbled within him as he saw that the brown streak ran all the way up to his right eyebrow.  He washed his hands in the sink, which thankfully worked, and found he couldn’t remove the brown streak that marked him, so he just wiped his hands off on a towel before he realized that he was smearing it all over his towel.  Resigning his life to his circumstance, he tearfully began to stuff the towel into his mouth, hoping that he might suffocate himself and end his misery.

And then he woke up with a start.  He had broken into a cold sweat, and was looking about himself in a panic.  He looked at his arm, and it was clean.  He checked his phone and it read April 2nd.  Relief.  Relief?  He felt the clench in his stomach, and stumbled into his bathroom, and he almost fainted.

There was the smell of lavender, the toilet paper was the wrong way, and his towel was smeared brown.

Save It for a Rainy Day.

As rain graced the front lawn with its mild pitter-patter, he sighed as he turned his eyes from the window back to looking longingly through an old photo album.  The fact that he had a photo album at all already hinted at the amount of dust he had to blow off before opening it.  Eyes watering before he even got to the first page, he waited for his coughing fit to subside before attempting to make out individuals, years younger than they were now, on the glossy, colored rectangles.  He saw familiar pictures of him as an infant that had been embarrassingly shown to every family acquaintance, family photos at various scenic locations and unremembered birthday parties, and his dad’s transition for donning glasses that made him look like a human fly to lenses that made him look like a pretty fly human.  These were all just memories now; re-creating some of these events wouldn’t even be possible.

With a sharp intake of breath, he saw his first pet, Buddy.  How had he forgotten him?  A warm golden retriever, Buddy had been with him during his teenage years, loyally sitting at his side through all of the unspoken troubles that rebellious teenagers inevitably go through.  He remembered throwing the frisbee as far as he could and watching Buddy race after it, then laughing as he watched Buddy jerk his head from side to side trying to throw it back to him.  He remembered sitting on the couch, watching the television, and seeing Buddy amble along and plop down right under his feet – he remembered Buddy’s breath swelling slowly up and down against his legs.  He remembered…

He killed Buddy.

As he pulled into the driveway late at night, that foolish, affable, loyal creature bounded right in front of his car and the consequential thud said enough.  He ran out of his car without a second thought, but it was already too late; Buddy lay still, never to catch, nor attempt to throw, another frisbee again.  He forgot about how he cried as he held the cooling body in his hands, waking up with a blanket draped around him.  He forgot about walking into the house, shivering, holding Buddy in his arms, and collapsing in a chair, hearing what his parents said to console him, but not understanding anything they said.  He forgot the months spent in quiet everywhere he went, swallowing bit by bit the guilt that had consumed his soul.

He got over it eventually, but they never talked about it again in that house.  Buddy was in many more pictures in that album, but something suffocated the desire to continue reminiscing on the matter.  It was raining that day as well.  Suddenly, the rain outside intensified in volume, and it took on a more menacing tone, a rumble of thunder, a glare of lightning.  He saw the headlights of his car rove into the driveway, he felt the thud, the rain washed over him.  How quickly it was all over, years of companionship ended by an exaggerated gesture of welcome.  He missed his Buddy.

He had no idea how long he had been repressing this memory.  It has been decades since he even thought of Buddy, much less the circumstances in which Buddy had been killed.  He never got another dog, nor did he ever desire another pet.  He always felt pangs of melancholy echo in the chambers of his heart when he saw other dogs, but he figured it was just puppy love.  He sighed. He thought he had suppressed recalling the tragedy for so long because he took the life of what had been his best friend – turns out he had just been saving it for a rainy day.

Good Parenting.

He held the door open as his son gripped his coffee and met the brisk autumn air.  They sat down on an old wooden bench in the park, one that had seen its fair share of romance, grief, and crumbs of bread from ducks being fed.  He stared at the worn, rusty bolts in the wood, and wondered about the city’s use of its finances with regards to public restoration projects.  Typical of the city to go for the grand gestures rather than paying attention to the existing detail falling swiftly into disrepair. His son turned to meet his eyes, staring at his stress-creased, bleary-eyed smile.

What are you thinking about, son?

He almost snorted. His father had asked this question to start every conversation they had as long as he could remember.  Couldn’t he think of anything new after thirty-five years?

Not much, Dad. Just thinking about work and the wife, all the bills that need to be paid, my co-workers being paid more than they deserve, my boss being the most incompetent slouch I’ve ever seen in a professional workplace.  I’m thinking about how communication between my wife and me has crumbled to the point where sighs take up more space than words between conversations.  I’m thinking about seeing myself go grey every morning in the mirror, and all the alcohol I’ve been drinking to numb the years has been adding to a slowly rounding paunch.  I’m thinking about the screeching alarm I wake up to every single day, reminding me of the miserable routine that I’ve thrust myself into, hoping one day to make enough money so I can retire to a life of golf and cigars.

But of course, he didn’t say any of that. Instead, his son just sighed.

Nothing much, Dad.  Life as usual.

His father’s mouth formed an “o,” but his voice failed to escape his lips.  He wondered about what had happened to this son of his, who used to talk freely and laugh easily.  He thought on the years of joy they shared together, and somehow, it didn’t add up in his head. Had he gone wrong somewhere in guiding his son’s life? Had he been overbearing at all the wrong times, misunderstanding what his son was telling him? It had to be his high school friends; he always knew the wrong crowd would get to him, and they ruined his relationship with his only son.  It seemed like every time his son looked at him, all he could feel was disappointment, as if he’d let him down somehow.

Whatever happened to us, David? We used to be so close.  Now, we hardly have six words between the two of us.  Was it your friends in high school? How could a few years with the wrong people have changed you so much? You’ve become heartless, David – please, remember me and remember all the times we had together.

No, Dad. It wasn’t my friends in high school.  Don’t blame other people – who you don’t even know, mind you – for something that isn’t even their fault.  The problem is, Dad, that as I got older, all I could hear about was how great you thought I was going to be in college, how you thought that I would make a great attorney, and how you had my whole life mapped out for me.  Things were fine as a kid, but the older I got, the less I had a say in my own life.  You’ve made me care about things like politics and paying the bills and bickering with colleagues when all I wanted was to make a difference in the world. But the world got to me, and you got to me, and there isn’t a thing any of us can do about it now. So just leave it there and accept what’s happened. I’m not the kid you used to know because you’ve just made me yourself. There’s no life more miserably wretched than the life lived out disingenuously, and you’ve made this life I live wretched with how you talked on and on about the petty problems you had at work, or the innumerable mishaps that didn’t really mean anything in the long run, but you focused on because you liked to hear yourself talk.  You never cared about my dreams and aspirations, and you sucked my own life right out of me, slowly filling me with grey nonsense that only you care about.  You stole the unexpressed genius of my youth and replaced it with a jaded set of eyeglasses from which I now look at the world.  I suppose you think I should thank you now because you’ve helped me see the world as it is, but no, I won’t thank you.  It’s not something to be proud of when you lose faith in your own perspective; it’s tragic, and now that I’m mired in this replica of your own story, I’m never getting out. Hopefully I won’t have a child because that way, I won’t run the risk of ruining his life as well.  That’s some good parenting, Dad, you did swell. I’m making money and I have a house and I pay all my bills, but you know what? I’m dying day by day.  My dreams have deserted me, and now I’m grasping in the darkness, my only hope is found in the current lack of it, that maybe some day, this lifelong nightmare will be over, and my eyes will be washed clean from the blindness I’ve been living in.  But until that day, I have you to thank for the life I’m living, or having, rather; it would be a travesty to call what I’m currently doing living.

He got up and walked away after pouring the last of his heart out to his father.  He left his cup on that wooden bench.  His father stared at the emptiness occupying his son’s spot, hands trembling.  Quietly, he lowered his head to his knees and clasped the back of his neck with his hands.  He really had let his son down, and he just let him down for the last time.

On Gratitude.

He was just the weird kid that sat with the group during lunches, always a little to the left of you – far enough where he wasn’t sitting next to you, but close enough for it to be obvious where he wanted to be.  No one really spoke to him, and people always whispered about how weird he was, how he never said a word, and they wondered why he even bothered sitting there.  You always wondered about him, but you never felt like he was doing anything out of place, so you left him alone.  You sometimes wondered about his expression, often catching him looking at you as well, but he would glance away just as your eyes fell upon his face.  It was difficult to discern what went on behind his long hair, but any time you did catch a glimpse into his soul, it seemed familiar. Somehow, you knew what you saw; you both walked through the same trials, but you chose instead to put on a different mask.  You smiled through the abuse, the tears, the screaming fear.  You deflected invitations to lounge at your place, choosing instead the guise of mock humility in hopes that flattery would divert attention away from your broken household.  You almost wanted to ask him how he was doing, but you feared that the resulting empathy would weaken your defense.

And so you went on living.

All through high school, he just sat there.  Every lunch period, he would wordlessly sidle over to your general left, letting the backpack strap slip off his right shoulder to the ground, and sit.  People stopped whispering about him eventually, sharing the belief that he wasn’t hurting anyone, so why bother?  Yet you knew how much he hurt himself – you saw a scar that peeked out from underneath his long sleeves, and you could only imagine how much it hurt to be so near to friendship but never partake.  You understood. And you never tried to change it.

And so you went on living.

You walked home everyday from school, opting to take the scenic route so that you could prolong the time spent away from home.  You’d see him get picked up every day, looking straight ahead wordlessly as his mother drove off.  You felt the silence in the car, and grimaced.  Even if it was a forty minute walk, it was definitely preferable to the suffocation of that disapproving, insatiable silence.  You exhaled as you found yourself at your own doorstep, apprehensive of the conditions that lay behind the slightly dented door.  It stuck if you didn’t push down on it as it was opening, but it wasn’t too bad.  Sometimes you’d be home alone, and you could actually do your homework in quiet.  You’d make yourself a sandwich, and fiddle with your guitar, playing things mindlessly until you heard footsteps at the door.  Putting away the guitar, you’d sigh and spread out on your bed, praying that the door to your room would stay closed.

There was no such luck today as you opened the door to the cries of your mother screaming at your father. Rushing forward to hold him back from killing her, you bit your lip as blow after blow rained on you.  You crumpled.  As you fell on your knees, hunched over, you felt your spine give out from the beating.  With your eyes shut tight, all you could see was black and red, clenching your jaw so tight your teeth groaned under the pressure.  Your breath leaves you and you fall forward onto the musty carpet, unable to respond to fading calls of your name.

You’re dying.

As you come to, you realize immediately that you’d been taken to the emergency room.  You sigh grimly, wondering when your life came to the point when you worried first about the medical bills that couldn’t be paid before you worried about your own health.  You look over at the small table beside you, and you see a card with your name roughly scrawled on the cover.  Curious, you open it, and begin to read.

Dear John,

By this point, I’m fairly sure you still don’t know my name.  But that’s okay.  I’m happy to be known as the quiet kid who sits on your left hand side at lunch.  It always felt like we had a connection.  It must be some kind of inescapable fate that led me to writing this card.  I know you don’t know much about my life – I’m not even sure if you care, but I feel like I need to tell you this because maybe you do.  Here goes nothing.

Every day at school, I walk around and try to keep a low profile. I stay quiet, and I try not to do anything weird, other than stay really quiet.  At lunch, I go over to where you and the other people sit.  If you’ve ever wondered why I’ve been drawn to your group, it’s mainly because of you.  There was a moment, I think it was sophomore year, when you put your mask down, and I recognized myself in your eyes.  I was walking in the hall, and caught sight of you opening the door to the bathroom.  But what I saw wasn’t typical you.  Your eyes gave it away; I saw the hurt you kept inside.  I didn’t know what to do.  At first, I just hung out with your group because you were the only one who would let me sit there and not ask questions or tell me to leave.  I think your friends caught on, and so I sat there with you guys all through high school.  Something about watching how you talked to your friends and how you paid close attention to what they said was really admirable.  It’s like you held onto every word they said as if it was the last thing you’d hear them say.  You rarely talked much about yourself, and I wondered why your friends never noticed that you would always dance around their questions about you – especially the questions about your home and your family.  I wanted to talk to you, to have you listen to what I had to say, but I couldn’t even hold eye contact with you longer than an instant.  And so I just watched.

I never would have guessed that you’d be going through something like this.  Even though my parents are divorced, they’ve never laid a hand on me physically.  It’s the emotional abuse that did me in.  Feelings of worthlessness, abandonment, the desire to just be accepted for who I am and not what I do, I’ve thought it all.  Eventually, I started cutting, and the peace that filled me in those moments was the only thing I looked forward to at home.  My mom stopped talking to me since my dad left us, and she either works or sleeps.  She never knew about my hobby.  My dad, well, who knows where he is?  I try not to think about him because I don’t want to run the risk of becoming anything like him.  One day, my mom overslept, and so I had to walk home.  It’s about a thirty minute walk, and along the way, I stopped by the ER.  I don’t even know why.  I stayed to see patients being rushed in, usually unconscious, and as I went in more and more after school, the staff grew to recognize me.  They would let me in the back sometimes to see the people being taken care of, and I wondered what it’d be like if I was the one laying in the bed.  Would anyone come see me?  So, I began staying longer and longer, hoping for people to wake up so that I could hear their story.  These people became my daily friends.

Still, I cut.  Some days, I could go without it, but some days, I would spend as long as I could in the bathroom, watching my anxieties flow away in a crimson calm.  Today, I avoided cutting, and went to the ER instead.  I met Henry, who was paralyzed from the neck down, and Mary, who suffered third degree burns all along the left side of her body.  And then, I met you.  At first, I couldn’t even recognize you because you were swollen.  Your mom was crying about how your dad beat you, but once she saw that you were being taken care of, she left.  The nurses said that you needed a blood transfusion, and went to look for your mom, but she was nowhere to be found.  I wondered out loud if  I was a match, and the doctor searched for your records.  We’re both O-negative.  They set me up and drew blood, and the blood transfusion was under way.  Guess it was a good thing I didn’t cut today, huh? 

Anyhow, they drew enough blood and sent me on my way.  I stayed in the lobby to write this card, hopefully my story didn’t annoy you too much.  I just wanted to say thank you for not pushing me away, and just letting me be who I am comfortable with being.  My mom was often silent at home, and it killed me; it seemed like she never forgave me for my dad abandoning us.  But when you were quiet, I understood it as an invitation to do as I pleased, and I’ll never forget that.  Hope you get better soon.

Joshua

Stunned, you put the card down.  You never realized that this was how he felt, and you began to regret not asking him how he was.  It might have cracked your defenses, but you now understood that you needed one another more than you expected to help each other get through the circumstances you were both in.  You lay in bed with your left hand still holding the card by your side, and you felt like reaching for the remote.  As you turned on the television, the first thing that was on was a news report about a vehicular homicide.  You tried your best to sit up, but froze as you heard the identification of the victim.  It was Joshua.  Apparently, he felt faint as he walked up the hill from the emergency room, and fell into the street, where a car, unable to see past the crest of the hill, unknowingly ran over his limp body, killing him.  You broke down.  You tried your best to yell, but your body denied you the capacity to.  You covered your face with your hands, clutching desperately at your hair, not understanding why this happened.  Each breath you drew brought you more pain as anguish racked your body.  You cried quietly until the tears no longer frequented your face.  When the last staggered breaths were drawn, you realized that Joshua, this complete stranger to you, gave his life that you might live.  With that knowledge, you fought to find closure through it all.  You found disbelief, you found anger, you found humiliation, and you found guilt.  But finally, after everything, you found gratefulness.

And so you went on living.