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.

Advertisements

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.

Three Hours & Twenty Minutes.

As I slowly drift off to sleep, her age-worn hair, experience-crushed eyes, and folded skin contorted and writhed rhythmically, her voice protruding from her like an anesthetic needle.  Her clasped hands wrinkled with the softness of tenured comfort, creating valleys of sagging pallor.  There were no fluctuations in her voice, a manifestation of a hot wind in the dry desert of her syllabus.  Adventurous souls proffered answers in the midst of her inquiring pauses, the colorful voices shattering the approaching slumber.  A ghastly smile breaks itself upon her visage, revealing grated tombstones sealed by exhausted lipstick.  Her elbow stays leaned upon her wooden throne, and she is content to slump gently on it as she relays a sermon that might deaden the living.  A lecture this riveting might prove to evaporate the ocean, leaving behind the salty skulls of her silent students.  She begins to rub – scratch, perhaps – the center of her left palm with her right middle finger; is she onto me?  Surely she couldn’t muster up the vigor to make such a crude gesture intentionally.  She continues on her path, eyes ambling left and right, seeking to prey on any form of unsuspecting reciprocation.  She laughs at the yet unspoken but formed thought in her mind, arousing the attention of the dust drifting in the air.  I thirst for life, but I go now to experience, for the thousandth time, the overwhelming weight of listless sand falling on a bed of shells.  Her vocal chords produce the flat, gratingly pleasant tone of an elderly grandmother speaking of experiences obsolete; the class stares everywhere except towards her.  What a life she must lead.  She holds her own syllabus close to her face, as if reading the exhaustive script for the very first time.  Perhaps she finds delight in the tortured lack of sonic participation, savoring each page, each word, as if it were her first time.  How young she was then, how full of fresh curiosity to further her field of study.  Her eyes are now draped by eyelids that have seen one too many refills of the same coffee mug to get her through to the next day.  Her gnarled hands, graced by rings on her index and middle fingers, gesture with the velocity of greased molasses, accompanying an equally soporific sentence.  She rubs beneath her nose; perhaps she herself is unsure of her place among the living and the dead.  She has finished elaborating her syllabus at length to an audience fully capable of perusing its contents.  It is finished.  There are yet two hours to pass.

Epitaph.

*Note: This was written on my old blog, Poet in a World of Prose, which has since been deleted.

What’s love to you, kid?

The young man hesitated, unsure of what to say to someone who was possibly the girl’s father.  His mouth was left half-open before he closed it and swallowed, preparing himself to answer.

Love is when you care about someone so much that they’re all you can think about every moment of the day.  For me, it was spending time watching sunsets with her.  I asked her why she stayed out to see the sun go down, and she would only ever say that it was because there was nothing for her to do at home.  Love is when you devote yourself to learning all about the person you love, when you are willing to suffer what they suffer so that they’re not alone.  It’s considering that at the end of the day, the life you live has been affected so deeply by that person that to lose that person would be to lose a part of yourself.  The Good Book says that love is patient, and that love is kind, sir.  I cared about your daughter more than you could understand.  She knew the parts of me that I wouldn’t dare to tell anyone else, and she shared the deepest parts of her life with me, until her life experiences were almost mine.   I think that’s what love is, sir.

The man looked hard into the young man’s watery eyes, holding him there in his gaze for a while.  Then, he spoke.

You’re right about love being all of that, for a young man.  That’s how I remembered it too, when I was chasing after her mother.  But there’s a part of love that you haven’t quite experienced, and I don’t blame you.  Love never ends.  That’s in the Good Book too.  When you were describing all of that, yes, it’s true that love is devoting yourself to learning all about that person; yes, it’s being willing to suffer what they suffer; yes, it’s about having them become a part of yourself.  But that’s not all.  When her mother died, there was never a day that would go by when I would tell people that I cared about her, because that care never ended.  So when you say that you cared about her, that she knew you and that she shared with you, you really do put her in this dirt we’re standing over; don’t you talk about all those things as if they were in the past, but speak of them as the truths that they are, in the present.  Every day after her mother passed, I would come visit her and talk to her as well.  When you love someone, she doesn’t need to be there for you to experience things about her.  When you love someone, the world is constantly reminding you of her and how she is.  I still love my daughter, kid.  She’s not gone because so many things remind me of her.  I’ve just retired, which is why you found me here so late, but I still woke up for the sunrise to spend it with her.  Call me crazy, but I saw her smile as that sun peeked over the mountains there.   But, that’s enough of that.  Point is, if you love someone, even the separation of death won’t stop you from loving that person.  Keep loving her, kid; she’s never been gone anyway.

With that, the man turned to walk away.  The young man watched him go, tears falling from his eyes like rain.

Oh, wait.  She left you something, underneath the pillow she slept on at the hospital; the nurse gave it to me when I visited the hospital late at night after she passed.  I never thought that I would meet the young man she wrote it for, but you’ve got to be the one.

The young man trembled as he opened the letter, and the man, with his hands in his blue jeans walked off, whistling.

I love you.  

I know you normally don’t start a letter off like that, but I just wanted you to know that that’s the first thing I thought when writing this letter.  I think that, as much as it hurts me, I don’t have much time left here.  The doctors and nurses have been wonderful to me, so pay them a visit and thank them for me after I’m gone.  

By now, I hope that I haven’t been wrong in thinking that both of us love each other.  It’s funny, I kind of knew that you always liked me by the way that you would always watch sunsets with me, no matter what.  I guess it was my way of testing how loyal you were.  But, you never missed a sunset with me, and I’m assuming you won’t even miss my own personal sunset.  I was never really interested in the romantic parts of life; I just watched sunsets because I thought they looked pretty.  But eventually, it was more than the sun setting that I looked forward to.  I loved the way that you would walk me home slowly after it got dark, the way that we could talk about anything at all that was on our minds, the way that you looked into my eyes and made me feel like I alone captured your attention.  The other girls at school always really liked you because you were so nice to everyone, so respectful…and so handsome.  It’s weird, but I feel like growing up together never created an obstacle between us.  It sounds so silly, but it’s like we were just made to love each other.  I wish I didn’t have this disease; I can only imagine how hard Daddy’s been working to pay for all of this.  But, I know that you and I will be with each other forever.  Daddy used to always say something like “Love never ends,” ever since Mommy passed away, and I believe him.  I know that eventually you’ll go off and marry a beautiful girl who adores you and would treat you as you deserve to be treated, that you’ll have a loving home and a wonderful future; I hope that you won’t forget me in the process.  I know it’s unfair of me to do this, to ask that you let me occupy your heart when I’m about to leave this place, but I hope that in that big heart of yours, you can make space.  Anyways, thank you for visiting after school every single day and bringing me wildflowers that you pick up along the road.  They always make my day, even when I’m feeling horrible.  I hope that this letter gets into your hands; I’ve told the nurse to tell Daddy who to give this to, but he might not know it’s you because he’s never met you before, and I’ve never talked about you with him.  I started this letter with my love, and I’ll end it with my love, so that you know that my love continues on from beginning until whatever end may come.  Take care of yourself, and keep on loving the people around you with as much love as you poured into me.

I love you. 

 

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.