Back when the sun was a bronze color starting the minute it rose above the hills until at least just before lunchtime, all the mountains faded into the blue pencil distance. Which is to say that almost anything that tried to weigh me down with endless despair was easily relegated to the background of my frantic forward motion.
I had a lot of help. For example, the wheels of my big pink motorbike were always eating up brand new roads; for example, my big pink motorbike had enough seats for all of my friends – at least, the friends I knew were friends.
(It would take me a long time to realize that there were people looking out for me that I never acknowledged. Lisa, for example, was constantly sleeping in a haze of dark hair, her shoulders bare to the breeze. How was I supposed to know that in her dreams she was fighting off all kinds of ravages that were trying to cripple me? How could I know that she so gladly turned her back on this waking life to ensure that the tremendous inferno of nightmare dark never killed me dead?)
By the time it was midday, the sky would have turned a flat white but my smile was undaunted. I was riding ceaselessly. There was no stopping me. The rugged terrain around me was the right kind of obstacle. Challenging, but no match for the certainty I had wrapped around my existence. You could see it in my eyes. I thought I would live forever.
The Cry of a Great City
Henrik used to tell me that for any person to be truly considered great, that person needed a field against which to prove or define his greatness. When he talked like this, my head shrunk to the size of thumbprint; it detached from my body & tried to find some new kind of rhythm. Unfortunately, my hands have always been too clunky to deal with the elegance of grand concepts & my head knew this. This detachment served me well. It reminded people that I was an indomitable presence, but it also signaled that I was pretty useless in other delicate situations.
Like when the whole city starts to shift out of synch so all that’s left is a kind of ghost city, a thin cry that used to be a vivid & fully alive kind of scream. People would look at me & expect me to do more than notate the shape & color of every leaf. Actually, this isn’t theoretical. I’m talking here in generalities, like a case study, when in fact what I am describing is a real occurrence. It was May. I was sitting on the ground outside my secret headquarters where I go when I want to hide from the world. I reached down to pick up a really oddly shaped leaf off the silent grass. Behind me, the sun was screeching. I turned the leaf over in my hand in the hopes that careful study would reveal the workings of the cosmos, that staggering answers might be contained within simple natural mechanisms. Instead, a single mantis stared back at me. The leaf had fallen, & the little guy had clung on.
My head started spinning with terrifying velocity. Everything around me disappeared & I felt that I could easily let the whole city burn if it meant I could spend the rest of forever in happy contemplation.
What happened is that I imagined myself as a kind of figure for myself. I started to believe that maybe I was not just a regular person but that I was living in the times that define our age. My actions or inactions would have such lasting repercussions that people either would or would not sing songs about me.
What happened is that I got to my feet with great effort. I threw the leaf back down to the ground.
The mantis launched himself up just as the leaf descended in a spiral of rage to the ground of this planet. I shook my head & my beard felt the afternoon sky mingling with it. After squinting, I saw that single green bug against a cityscape that was returning in a hush of regal importance.
When I first met Lisa, she was asleep. On the couch, in the living room, while some record was playing, maybe The Pixies. Gordon & Marty were living together & it was impossible to tell if Lisa was dating one of them, or both of them, or neither of them. Basically, since she was asleep, any assumptions about Lisa’s personality or current life situation would have been conjecture, more filled up with my own hopes & wishes than with any kind of reality. Of course, I fell deeply in love with her though I had never seen her sparkling & awake. I never knew the sound of her voice, tinged with an abiding sadness or radiating with private joy. I would never stand taller in her sight, proud for once of my lumbering & undying body.
I stood over her as she breathed peacefully. As ridiculous as it sounds, I knew she was in love with me, or rather that love would be the obvious response emotion if she ever was awake in my presence. Suddenly heavy in my own skin, as the afternoon burned into evening, my whole body turned red. All the myriad details & colors & lines that comprised my being in this world simply faded away into one blotch. Somewhere in the far reaches of my consciousness, I had a quick vision of an armored sentry. Just his eyes were visible through the slit of his thick steel helmet. The blue of those eyes almost stopped my heart. I started sorting through folder after folder in the drawers of my brain. Is there any reason to move? Can I justify staying here, redly in love & static, for the rest of forever?
A Happy Place
One of the difficulties of being a person is knowing the context against which your human body is always seeking to define itself. Sometimes you’re in a dark alleyway at night, or just before night, or the alleyway is actually the bridge of an interstellar cruiser. All of your friends are hunched over complex looking metal boxes with lights & a soft whirring noise. Navigation controls, weapons systems.
Sometimes Lisa is sort of resting her eyes when you walk into the room, & then you think maybe she’s actually sleeping like always so you try to be extra quiet when you walk over to the window to look out at the birds or the big bright sun. Even though it’s nighttime. So the sun you’re looking at is actually the moon whether you can see all of it or not. Clouds, dark branches.
Sometimes when you turn back to the interior of the room, & you see Lisa’s sleeping face, you experience a stab of tenderness. There’s the softness of her cheeks as they curve delicately into her small mouth. These are the moments when you have no choice but to trust the evidence of your senses. I immediately fall to my knees. The ground I’ve been standing on is solid, despite a still spinning crisis of intrinsic nature. Victorian hardwood, hammered metal rivets.
Who cares about the surface when underneath the veils of sleep, Lisa fights her life out in order to keep you safe.
To Oppose the Power of Evil Gods
We’re fighting through our lives. We’re trying to understand the great riddle of calm in the face of a universe full of catastrophe. Marty & Gordon have tried to keep out the despair by covering ever surface of their apartment walls with movie posters. They play video games while the morning sun rises high in a sky they won’t ever really see. I worry about these guys, my brothers, my compadres. I worry that actual life is passing them by while they anesthetize themselves with pixilated enjoyment machines, dreaming other people’s dreams for them.
I worry also that they’ve found the only succor that this modern age presents to individual people who are trying not to die.
But I don’t have to expend any effort to stay alive, the promise of my forever life burning. My challenge lies in having a life of note, in living well. I don’t fear the guns pointing at me from somewhere beyond my ability to perceive them. The fourth wall, this fourth world. Everything seems like a memory even though it’s happening all around me. I can’t get myself to care enough to be disappointed. I take everything for what it is & what it is is stunning & lovely. Sensational, spectacular.
Marty & Gordon have created new uncomfortable eyeglasses for themselves made out of angry red brick & seething inner turmoil. Now, they catch the world in glimpses mediated by a shroud of aggression & an urge to send it all hurtling.
It Wipes You Out of Existence
When I go out to check the mail, it’s not quite late afternoon. I put on my blue boots & trudge through the snow that piles up. This is what passes for an epic adventure because I spend a lot of brain power avoiding the big slush build-up near the front stairs; I anguish about heroically traversing the cracks of ice that accumulate. Sometimes I look around to see if anyone is watching me.
Mostly, the neighbor girl is the only audience. Sometimes she might call me over & I wait for the day when I will be able to rush into her arms. This is not really what I think when I see her because after growing up with her she is mostly unappealing to me as someone I would like to board a train with. That’s what helps me gauge my level of interest: would I or would I not like to board a train with this female person? Still, I would like to feel what it feels like to want to jump out of my boots, run barefoot across the gleaming snow that separates our yards & take her in my arms. That kind of love wipes you right out of existence, hits you dead center in the center & practically annihilates every particle of your being.
Lost in Time
People think all kinds of wrong things.
A whole brigade of envy troops once went marching down the street while I was zipping by on my scooter except they weren’t really envy troops. There might have been just one guy totally consumed with greed & avarice; his friends looked like they were pretty happy with whatever they had in their mental / emotional / physical possession. So that one dude, however, was so loud in his obviousness that I made up some crazy way of trying to deal with it.
What I did was that I started to whistle a little tune. I couldn’t hear it, since I was helmeted on my scooter, going about 40 miles per hour. What I hoped was that the world would be attuned to my solo vibrations, that the noise of my noise might be enough to put things back in order. In that one moment, just even thinking my little loopy song had some kind psycho-social effect, I was bounding right out of myself like a wave that gets all kinds of delusions & separates from the surrounding water in search of its true higher calling.
I guess what I’m doing is trying to provide an example for what I was talking about earlier. Walking back from the mailbox empty-handed, with no overwhelming love-type experience beckoning me from the next house over, I started to make up some stuff in my brain to satiate me. I walked back into my own house like water that remembers it’s just water, all the music in the world fading.
Dreams of Doom
I forgot to mention that one of the most important events of my life, up to this point, happened about two days ago. Marty & Gordon moved & though I knew about it ahead of time, it still left me a little bereft. To make matters more logistically confusing, they moved into two separate apartments, different sides of town. It’s times like these that really try men’s souls.
I had to take a nap to nourish my intellect so that I might discern the way out of this mess. I woke up exhausted because my dreams had taken all the strength from me. In my first dream, it was nighttime or maybe I was on the moon because it was dark & spacey. Lisa was there with me & I was full of shock to see her seeing me. She said something loving to me without actually saying anything at all. What I mean is that she expressed it through eye & hand gestures though maybe she said something. I don’t really know.
In my second dream, which occurred immediately after the first one ended but had no real narrative connection & so is probably a wholly different symbological construct, Marty & Gordon were in bad trouble. Don’t ask me what it was but I know they were sort of shackled to opposite corners of the same big room & I was burning like a candle in the center, fiery & strong & tall but melting a little around the head area. I was torn about what to do, pretty sure I couldn’t actually do anything, & I was needing Lisa like a planet in love with its own gravity.
So now afterward, I’m feeling spent & listless lying in a square of late afternoon light. I think I should get up & call Lisa to let her know I finally figured out that the reason she sleeps so much is because she’s occupied defending my dream-self from all kinds of crazy problems out of her sheer love for my corporeal self. I also want to call Marty & Gordon, just to sort of say hey & check up on them a bit. I have this unhinged notion that I should probably call myself, that I should dial the number & let my insides feel totally saturated with expectation that I will actually answer & listen to whatever it is I have to say.
The Man Who Knew All The Answers
Occasionally, I might have to spend a whole ten minutes watching a bird hop around on the grass. I like to invent careers like this for myself – jobs with no real responsibility but that are full of a greater kind of significance. Also, this is a good way to distract myself from the things that are happening, from coming to terms with my new role as someone who actually knows the reasons behind things that previously seemed inexplicable.
I have a hard time getting Lisa off my mind. After all that’s happened, I guess I’m starting to realize some truths. I guess I need to turn a hard eye on myself.
When the source of all beauty in your actual universe, the wellspring of colors & poetry & amazing music, is a girl whose voice you’ve never heard, a regular human person who has never seen you walk or run or smile – well, this is either the most logical situation ever, or else it is perplexing.
I’m not even sure if it’s morning or afternoon or that brief fraction of time in between. My chest heaves against invisible bonds & I can’t get enough air in my lungs. Each one of my senses has been shut down, or muffled. My whole head feels wrapped in thin cotton cloth, but wrapped a few dozen times over so that what I actually experience is like a haze of swaddled comfort, but so much of it that nothing else seeps into my plush & padded knowledge of the phenomenal world.
What I mean is that Lisa has gladly thrown her waking life away to save me. She spends all of her time dealing with night-beasties while I rollick around, wondering why everyone is so glum. I thought I lived a charmed life of big happy inconsequence. But the truth is I’m living this endless life of ambitious fun only because there’s someone looking out for me.
I’ve been able to ignore reality. All it cost me was the kind of pure love that a person needs to make their lives actually matter. Lisa, my beautiful dreamer, dissolved to a lovely snore.
A New Life
When a person decides that they’re going to start over, or maybe start for the first time, that person needs to do a certain number of real things & a certain number of symbolic things. Since that person is me, I started by getting out of bed. I immediately made it up, nicely smoothed, official looking. I took a big breath of the free air & looked out the window. People were walking on the sidewalk despite the snow slushing up most of the paths.
I couldn’t hear another person. The whole space was empty – my room, the adjoining rooms, maybe the whole universe. I put on a suit. Quietly, so as not to disturb the silence that held the entire day in its palm.
In the kitchen, I hunched over the counter long enough to make a list of things that needed to get done. It doesn’t make much difference what the things were so I wrote down some real things, some things I intended to do anyway, some things that would happen whether or not I intervened. The important thing, to me, was that I was setting up a system for establishing & maintaining responsibility.
I would blink my eyes every so often to keep them free of dust & clear. I would make the sun move across the sky, charging the particles in the air with sensual yellow before becoming an incendiary orange. I would kick the box of circuit boards & transistors in the corner of my brain & hope that life glowed in it again soon.
I would leave the house in search of justice for myself & for Lisa most especially & I would cross it off the list vigorously once achieved.
Too Late Forever
I want to say that this has been a good life.
I want to say that this has been the best possible life for a person like me who probably shouldn’t have ever been entrusted with one – much less an endless life of living forever.
But can anyone know anything essential about the quality of anything? I’ve had great times & rough times & I’ve been able to sit in the big green chair & contemplate things that most people don’t have the luxury of even knowing about all while the morning sun comes up & turns the surrounding snow a kind of bluish purple that makes a person feel as if the happinesses & sadnesses of this world are of the perfect variety.
I’m not sure if I smelled the flowers at the right time, or if the concept of a right time is a big part of the problem facing all of us on this spinning world.
I do know that I am now a fully actualized version of myself. I know that I’m not going to let anyone else fight any battles for me. Last night, I shook Lisa gently until she opened her eyes & looked up at me groggily. She was a little frantic at first, maybe trying to get back to sleep so as to keep protecting me. I told her that she could stop her constant vigil over my wellbeing. I told her that she had her own life to live & I was now willing & capable of dealing with the slings & arrows of being a breathing damageable person.
See, I’ve been alive in a certain way for longer than I had any right to be. Now it’s the morning of the first day of how I really want to be living. That’s it. I really want to be living.
Nate Pritts is the author of five books of poetry & the founder/principle editor of H_NGM_N, an online journal & small press.