People are always grieving.
That’s what I’ve learned. People grieve time and time again. People are always sad, always lost, always in search of something just a bit too far from their reach. People grieve the love they lost or haven’t found. They grieve the loss of success, of friends, of childhood. People grieve, and god they never get bored of it.
For me, it was just funny. Funny because most don’t even notice the kind of pathetic irony of their existence. The irony of never being found, not because they are lost, but because they were never willing to be understood to begin with. The irony of living eternally desperate for destruction, like an addict that falls because it is the only way he knows how to live. Everyone I had ever met was eager to be eaten away by time, to crumble under their own sadness and desperation, waiting for the next good thing to die so they could grieve again. To never find what they search so they have just another great moments of self-destruction. An eternal dichotomy, humorous in a way only a god could appreciate and avoid.
I saw it and laughed, but I was never strong enough to conquer my own grief. I could never be a god. I could never conquer my own demons. I was one of the few who saw the truth. The pathetic one who understood it all and yet still crumbled under the pain.
Honestly, I wasn’t the smart one, but the fool.
I was on the path to my own destruction, I knew why and yet I still surrendered.
I was lost but I held a knife in my hand, one in which I could see my own reflection, see the truth in its blade and still let it cut deep into my flesh.
But one day I woke up to find nothing. In itself nothing is a painful word, calling for me to grieve. Nothing is a place, a land of eternal sadness because there was something it had lost, or even worst, it never had anything to begin with.
I moved my arms, I could feel them throb and yet I couldn’t see them. There was no light, just a darkness so deep it swallowed it all. A darkness so profound I felt like it was coming from inside me, destroying any chance of seeing beyond my own mind.
I was alone, I was empty, that was the only thing I knew for sure. I tried to touch my head, I knew my arms were moving and yet my fingers never reached my eyes or my lips. I tried touching my legs but I never reached them. I felt them there and yet I couldn’t touch them. I was alone. My body had left me behind, it had run away and only my thoughts remained. My body was gone and yet my mind still hadn’t noticed there was something missing.
Who needs a body anyway?
I asked that, but there was no sound, no answer. God, I was going mental. There was so much silence I needed to scream but I didn’t accomplish that either. There was silence, god-awful, putrid, self-centered, all-absorbing silence that ate any noise even before it was made.
If I’m honest, I was not having a very good day.
Hours, minutes, years passed, though it could just as easily been a second. It passed and suddenly I heard a noise. A noise so sweet, so gentle.
I heard it coming from every direction, I wanted to move toward it but there was nowhere to go when I resided inside the darkness.
An image popped up before me. An image that didn’t let me look away. It came up as quickly and unexpected as a bird does as it crashes without warning the window of a car.
A single image, accompanied only by that noise that kept hitting me with its steady rhythm. An image I somehow recognized. A child cried. I was the child with a thick red mark on its forehead taking its first breath in the image before my eyes. I knew for certain it was me, but I couldn’t remember ever living it. I couldn’t even remember who I was, who I had been, not even my name.
How could I be real and not have a name?
That’s the first thing that came crushing. Was I real? How could I be if there was nothing of my body to touch or see. How could I be real when I was gone, gone and forgotten even from myself. The image triggered something in me as a long string of events to began hitting me from every direction. A life, mine to own, and yet one I could not remember living. I couldn’t remember any letters, any last names or nicknames. There was nothing but memories that had no names, cities or dates. It was all empty while I stood in a sort of unreachable land of never-ending motion. A land I could feel was moving all around me and yet I couldn’t see.
The noise, steady like the beating of a heart, grew louder while the image before me faded away.
Black forever, light for an instant.
That had been my life. That is why that moment was so unnervingly comfortable. That’s why the darkness punished me because I had loved it so damn much. I had once craved it to a point that I used my hands to cover my eyes, my fingers to press hard against my neck until I saw spots of black. That’s why I had to leave, because I loved it, I craved it.
I woke up, at least it felt like it. I blinked, the world around me was moving, the sun was strong coming from the distance. I turned, a man was watching me, sitting close enough I could feel his warmth. I looked at his beard, nothing else mattered but the way it moved with his lips. He was smoking and watching me like I was about to speak. I wondered if I had blacked out and left it all behind for an instant and I was just now returning.
I looked at the ground, ashes were piling up right under him. It was a pile large enough for me to wonder how long he had sat there, how many cigarettes he had smoked.
It seemed like he was waiting, I knew he was eager for me to do something and yet for some reason, I couldn’t speak.
There was nothing to say. We sat side by side on the porch of a wooden house. He inhaled, but the cigarette in his hand never got any smaller. I knew minutes passed and yet nothing changed. Even the few people I saw on the street appeared to be walking in front of me time and time again. Always in the same direction, always the same people while I sat there unmoving. There was no grass, no fences, no trees, just dry land under the strong sun. Light, god, what a punishment it was to endure the light.
I looked to the side, the man was gone and I had to wonder if he had ever been there. The cigarette remained, waiting on the porch, burning away slowly.
I stood, my legs barely holding me as I stumbled forward. I reached the street and turned left, though I think no matter the direction I chose every path was taking me to the same place.
I know its nothing new, we all walk, we all reach new places, but it felt like I was doing something wrong. I was barely moving my legs and yet everything around me was running so fast. The mountains, huge as they were, passed me by too quickly. The grass grew long enough to reach my eyes, then it grew short and suddenly it turned to a dark tone like it had been burned by the sun. Everything began to fall apart, to die, but I kept walking until there was no green and my feet were lifting the dirt with every stride.
As I walked I remembered.
The first thing I saw was the ace of hearts, it was hanging from a branch. I looked up, it wasn’t the only one, in every corner where there should have been a leaf hang a card. I had to smile, not for happiness but because I knew it was what I had to do. I smiled at the thought of playing once more. The first time I had smoked a cigarette was while playing bridge with my grandmother. She never had any mercy, any opponent was good enough to be destroyed and god I appreciated learning that so young. I lost and lost and lost. One day, I was about fourteen and someone knocked on the door. She told me to hold the cigarette while she saw who it was. I held it in my hand, I watched the ashes as they fell and for no reason other than curiosity I placed it in my lips and inhaled.
That was the first time. She came back later and we kept playing as usual, but since then she always offered me a cigarette, and I always accepted. I always took that simple, poisonous choice.
I turned and noticed that the trees on the other side of the road had no cards. No aces, kings or queens. I moved closer, and instead of cards, a pocket watch hung from its chain. It was my grandfathers, his initials were carved on the back. He had told me about it many times, he had stolen from his father and had carved with a knife his initials on the back so no one could ever take it away from him. He had carried it around all his life, it made him feel powerful, special. He said it was like he carried the secret of time in his pocket. A relic only he could ever have.
The clock never ticked, it didn’t move. The clock just waited and stood still.
I tried taking it, pulling it down so it could come with me, but the instant I did it turned into sand. The moment it stopped touching the branch it was gone and the minuscule grains disappeared between my fingers.
Had I been able to feel anything and I would have been sad.
I kept moving, wondering about my own life, but it felt impossible as every memory was missing a piece I hadn’t found. Like a part of my brain was gone, the only part that made sense had vanished and left me lost in the sea.
I kept walking because I wanted to run from them. I wanted beautiful memories I could feel, but every fractured memory carried too much grief. There was a veil, a thin cloth of sadness that covered what I saw with my glossy eyes. I didn’t know why, but it couldn’t have been more maddening for there was nothing I could do to remember.
I kicked a rock, or at least I tried, but it never left the ground. I kicked again and again, I could see my foot reaching the small object and yet nothing happened.
After a while I gave up, the rock didn’t want to go anywhere, and yet I wanted to keep moving.
There were many paths in front of me, but they would all lead me to the same place.
I moved right, and I can still remember what I saw. A woman stood at the distance, between the dry land a body was waiting for me.
A name came to my mind as I looked at it, one that stuck with me with desperation. Katie. Katie. Katie, I kept hearing it inside my mind, I could hear my own voice call that name time and time again in a memory I couldn’t quite place.
I knew her, I craved her, and yet I made the mistake of blinking. As I opened my eyes the woman I was sure I saw was now no more than a pile of rocks. She was gone from my memory taking from me any chance of remembering.
I turned right, this time wobbling like a child who simply didn’t want to go and I heard a noise. It was muffled, but loud at the distance.
I followed it into the forest, the trees so hight they seemed to reach the sky. I walked downhill until a lake appeared before me. its water clear, no waves or movement, nothing but peace. The noise stopped but I approached the water. I kept walking with desperation until I saw a creature waiting for me by the water.
It was a dog. My dog. I can’t explain with words how much he meant to me, so instead I’ll let my actions show you. I fell to my knees before him and thought I shed no tears I was desperate to cry.
That dog had been my salvation. My redemption. My friend when the world lacked any reason and I found no peace within myself. He had been thirteen the last time I saw him, but at that moment he looked young, no white hairs, no tired eyes. He looked glorious.
I didn’t dare touch his fur just in case he ran in fear. I had loved him, but I knew that made my parents worry. I knew they suffered when time passed and I kept reading with the dog by my side. When I spoke to him like he was human, when I let him eat half of my sandwich. I grew and I was happy, quiet and shy, but happy. I knew they worried that my only friend barked instead of talking, but I was fine with the solitude as long as he was by my side.
Human connection? I had never learned, never understood it. Beyond my parents and my siblings, I couldn’t comprehend the need most had to share a life that is so brief, so illogical and complicated with another. It was like I was always standing alone, listening to the voices at the distance, screaming back in a desperate attempt to hear a response that made sense, something that wasn’t just incomprehensible noise.
He had understood, his barks somehow the only voice I heard clearly in a fog of confusion.
But I remembered, he had left one day too.
As I remembered, as I tried reaching for his brown fur he screeched, a piercing sound so deafening that I had to cover my ears, but that didn’t stop it from pounding against my head. It roared in my mind with every beating of my heart, I tried to scream his name but I couldn’t remember it. I closed my eyes pleading for it to stop.
In a matter of seconds, it had ceased, and he was gone when I opened my eyes.
I blinked. I wasn’t in the forest any longer, instead, I was on a path once more that led through dead land and large rocks.
I walked slowly down a trail eager to be forgotten. A path that didn’t allow me to look back as it disappeared once I strolled past it. I kept going because I needed more. I needed something I couldn’t name.
A scar. I remembered a scar.
Or at least a memory of one. It made me stop dead on my tracks. Carved on every tree was a mark made just for me. A scar that had ached for months. We all bear in our skin the true reminder of pain. I had suffered, but never had any of my wounds been clear against my skin. Never had any of them been there for anyone to see. I had always hidden my truths, I had always lived in a cave of inescapable fear and control far from an untrusting world.
I had never shown my scars until that day. Until the mark was clear in my face.
I crashed my mom’s car against a palm tree. No safety, no place to go as the ruins were clear on my forehead. It was a stupid accident, but for some reason, those are the ones that hurt the most. It had been a few weeks after I had gotten my license, and the last time I had driven a car.
I touched my forehead, I could feel it throbbing above my eyebrow. It began right over my eye and it disappeared under my hair. Somedays it was red against my pale skin, other days it blended and hid perfectly from view.
The scar I loved and hated, it had been a cruel accident for an immature child, but God had it made me grow. A scar, one that had taught me about my own mortality. Oh, I remembered the taste of the red liquid, the throbbing on my body, the dizzying memories of an eternal moment. Eternal because by just closing my eyes I could picture myself there time and time again. Death so close I could feel it in the tip of my fingers.
I wanted to stay there, playing it over and over like an addict, but Katie appeared once more. I saw her clearly, standing and looking at me from a distance.
There was a second of doubt.
Did I want to find her?
Why chase after a dream? I looked down, a stupid mistake because as I looked up she had already started running.
Katie, I knew her name, and yet not my own.
Katie had been a constant contradiction. She had loved me, and yet she always promised she would set me free. She had been with me and left me behind. I was desperate for her. Eager for every single one of her impositions, her words, her actions driving me to insanity and then forcing me back.
She lived to love and torture me with her kindness.
Then it hit me.
God, it hit me so hard I actually felt the pain throbbing on my cheek.
She had told me to stay. I remembered talking to her over the phone, I remembered her voice, her pleading tone. I even pictured her face as her voice gave away her agony as she cried over the phone. Stay, she said but I was never strong enough to fight myself, to conquer my doubtful mind, to let the world save me from my demons.
I hung up that day, who knows how long it had been since then, and I had sat on the floor of the hotel room. I dropped the phone and took one more sip of water.
“Katie,” I called out. My voice hoarse, my lips dry. I called for her as I ran.
I lost her, but I kept running, for the first time knowing where I was headed.
I kept running even if I felt like I was standing still.
I grieved at that moment, I grieved for the life I had remembered.
I kept running as words hit me. Words I had wished to escape returned to me, they were eager to find me, get revenge for all those times I had deceived them, ignored them, betrayed them.
Deranged, unhinged, crazy. I was all those things, I had tried to kill them and yet they still remained alive. They had come with me to the ends of it all, they had conquered while I had caved under a world that had no reason. I had been weak as everything about society disappointed me. A coward. I was deranged, and I couldn’t understand why I was punished for being born?
I reached my destination and I remembered it all. if I had been breathing before I wasn’t any longer. I couldn’t, not when I was defeated, but I would be lying if I said I thought things would end up differently. Sooner or later I knew people like me ended up in a place that had no walls and yet still had you locked inside.
For the first time since my arrival, I was moving faster than the world around me. I ran, straight ahead to the cliff I knew awaited me.
I stood on the edge. The sun was even stronger there, blinding me
“Are you leaving,” the man asked me appearing behind me, for some reason I knew he would be waiting for me there.
“I don’t want to stay,” I said with harshness, “I don’t want to remember.′
“Remembering isn’t really a choice.”
“This isn’t what I wanted,” I screamed back, without taking my eyes from the sun ahead. “This isn’t what I wanted, the creature is still here.”
“Creature?” the man asked.
“The one I carry, I wanted him gone and yet he is here!” The beast, the one I carried, it had accompanied me on every moment of my journey. It had been cruel and smart, it had shown me the darkness, and had plagued my mind with nightmares. It had hurt and cut deep into me with its every breath.
He seemed to understand what I meant because I heard him chuckle with pain. “You come together, you can’t get rid of him.”
“It’s not him I want.”
“You can stay here,” he offered. “Time makes us all forget.”
I don’t know what I thought about at that moment, but I stayed silent. Maybe I wondered about the weather, my home, or about the life of the man that stood by me. I wish I could remember, but I was so lost in that moment, the sun taking from me my strength. “Can’t I be better? Can’t I be more than this worthless thing inside me?”
He moved closer and sat at the edge of the cliff. “There is nothing more, no one to blame or anyone who can be your redemption. There is nothing. Nothing.”
“I can’t stand that word,” I spat. Nothing was a word I despised, one I only understood fully in that eternal moment, as the light shone so desperately bright.
“Because you are afraid,” he said. “Maybe you’ll find something else, I don’t know. Maybe you’ll find a soothing kind of nothing, the kind that lets you be free.”
“Are you afraid?” I asked.
“No,” the man said moving his head to the sides, “I’ve been here long, at least I think I have. I never dared take the next step. I’m not afraid, I’m just waiting.”
“Waiting is for fear,” I replied. “Do you fear what awaits?”
He sighed, his hand scratching his face. “At least this doomed place is predictable.” I felt warm as the sun grew brighter, even more than I ever thought possible. “I thought you’d want to stay too, my boy.”
“I want another chance.”
“You came here by choice.”
“I know,” I said with sadness. My voice weak as it escaped my lips and my eyes looked once more towards the sun. “I know, but not anymore.”
He didn’t respond, I didn’t turn around and he never said another word. I never saw him again.
I wondered about the clouds as I looked at the cloudless sky. I wondered if they would ever arrive, or if the wind was just so strong it didn’t allow for them to appear.
I wondered about my home and I understood. People feared the deranged, the unhinged, the crazy because living is the most common thing. They are afraid because the fear of the unexpected is usually much stronger than the need for freedom. I understood there that people fear most things.
I was once afraid, but since that day I haven’t been any longer.
I don’t grieve anymore, not since I understood that as long as I’m deranged I will always be free.
I haven’t grieved, I haven’t cried, I haven’t been anything but eager to breathe since that day.
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