Keeping My Head Above

Just thought I’d write today. No theme, no depth of subject or consideration of how it might affect my life and life in general. Just write. So…

My life’s a mess, but so is human life overall. The length and breadth of it is a litany of sloppy, awkward, falling-down trial, error, failure and maybe the occasional tie. There don’t seem to be any wins. And if we think there are such Me-versus-the-Universe faux-comebacks, that’s just the House sucking you in with a blast of endorphin to keep you at the gaming table.

I guess the best times are the trials, those times where I’ve messed in the mess and have yet to fall on my face in the slop of it all. There are few times where the mess isn’t within and arm’s length of me (or you). I dance on the edge of it, splash in it, wade through it, throughout the Sphinx’s four legs in the morning, two in the afternoon and three at night quiz answer for Oedipus. His prize was the keys to “a NEW Thebes!”

And we all know how that turned out, right? 

Yes, life is messy, from its hormone-drenched origin, to its splatter-flick, camel-through-a-needle’s-eye (so I’m told and have observed) delivery, over its boot-sucking traverse of the day to day swamp, until its icky finale and ultimate disposal.

I am up to my chin in it all, with the once-distant solid ground of my evermore within sight, which sometimes feels more appealing than yet another swallow of life’s wallow. I’ve taken on a lot of its turbid wash over the past few years, sometimes nearly going under, occasionally dreaming of scuttling this leaky vessel altogether.

But here I am, taking the gamble one more day, reaching my foot into the stark paper-white unseen in hope there’s a there there to support me until tomorrow when I hold my nose and take another sodden step. That’s the risk I take. Maybe you do, as well. I’ve taken many a messy misstep, sunk into it over my head and somehow sputtered like flotsam to the surface. I’m an expert at treading, though I’m more exhausted every day.

Maybe you’ve been lucky enough (or made your own luck) to find a map to the stars’ homes, isles of dryland dreams to keep your feet unsullied at least for awhile. I applaud you, but won’t allow myself envy. That’s just more heavy ballast I don’t need. I carry enough of my own. 

So here on this page I have smeared the results of my latest fall in the marsh of human existence. I’ve wiped from my eyes the detritus I observed upon the silty bottom. Exhaled more of the miasma floating above the surface like a diaphanous warning of days to come. And I’ve spit out some of my latest gulps of failure. 

Another mess. Another chance to tread on. Another tie.

Something About This

We need to do something about this.

I know. If this goes on much longer, I doubt he’ll ever be able to – you know – again…

Don’t even think that. If he stops for good he’ll just lose the will to go on…with anything.

Then we need to do something.

He’s tried almost everything, walks, music, reading. God, look how he just sits there. A blink, blink, a sigh.

I caught him crying the other night.

No you didn’t!

Yeah, in bed, alone, staring, like he was expecting someone to come to him from out of the ceiling. Or past. You know how he likes the room totally dark and cool.

So how do you know he was crying?

Heard him. Like a stage whisper. Said her name and then…well, a sobbing sound. Like he couldn’t catch his breath.

No kidding! Maybe we should suggest he reach out to her. And yeah, we both know she’ll eventually make him more damn paralyzed with misery than he is now. Humming away in his chair one minute and then…

I know. But he can’t go on like this. I’m afraid he might just…you know, POOF, gone. And what about us?

Okay, you go to his right and I’ll go left.

Wait. Listen. The laptop. Is he writing her? Think she’ll answer? I mean kindly? What’s he say?

Let me check. Oh… Well at least he’s trying.

Okay, but what’s he written?

It says, “We need to do something about this.”

(This is pretty much the only way I can write fiction these days. I imagine two characters speaking and then my imagination follows their conversations. But I’m miles ahead of where I’ve been for months.  In this case, I’ll let your imagination discern who – or what – these two speakers are.)

If I Recall, That’s the Spirit

 

I hope someday you reach that point in your life, as I have, when you recognize Christmas doesn’t march up to you like a balloon-festooned Fifth Avenue parade anymore, one whose colors, sounds and corporate sponsorships you can see from blocks away. Nor does it sneak up on you on little mouse feet in the snow. Christmas has become like old age to me now. One day I’m humming along to the rustle of life’s green leaves, all the while ignoring the gifts of my black hair, firm chin and memory like a 100-terabyte computer. The next blink, I’m shaving silver filings off the lower chin of some barely recognizable guy in the mirror. And suddenly I hear (and need to turn up the volume on) a song I think might be called “Silver Bells.” And that’s OK, because the tree downstairs today is always green, and somewhere inside me a little kid is coiled in bed — quiet as the whispers of angels’ wings — for that sunrise when I can charge into the living room in an explosion of torn paper and cardboard before we three brothers trek to church and back. These days, Christmas just IS. And, should you reach my tinsel-topped, Santa-in-training-bodied and memory-leaking station in life, you might recognize it doesn’t need to come at you but once a year. You can charge into it every sunrise, tearing open the gift of that new day and giving it to all you meet. If I recall, that’s the spirit!

A mid-December rambling. Now back to our regular programming.

Just A Few Appropriate Remarks

It was a sunny and breezy day, I’m told, in that place where the headliner gave a performance of Springsteenian length, full of bombast worthy of a king…or Freddie and Queen. Then that other speaker, who’d taken the train up from points south, rose with a folded piece of paper in his hand, bareheaded, mournful, haggard and humbled by the venue, the times, the occasion and its raison d’être. And while the crowd still buzzed from the performance by first name on the marquee’s performance, the tall man presented his 271—word “appropriate remarks” in his scratchy voice, its accent many of the intelligentsia derided, while it was perfectly understood by those from the Kentucky hills and the Illinois prairie. And when he finished, he did not hear the thunder of applause, for the sky was clear, even of 21-gun cannonades. Nor did he hear the brassy fanfare of approbation, the wind only enough to move a lady’s hair across her brow. Instead, came an awkward silence and then a pitter-patter of hands reminiscent of raindrops on a gravestone. But it was a day of remembrance and there were gravestones by the thousands, most with names now long-forgotten. Not many have forgotten the first few words those remarks, nor the gist of the final ones. They are why a child learns that a score is an old word for 20. And why, deep down inside, we believe that this grand experiment of ours, this “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” That is our hope. They define us. Amen.

Marching Back to The Twilight Age

Across these shadow-filled decades you probably wouldn’t remember how we’d sit there on our beds and submit our lives and times to all the oh-so-mature, badass examination that only eighteen-year-olds possessing a 2-S or 4-F Selective Service deferment or a Draft Lottery number higher than 200 could muster. Through the tawny, fuzzy-framed lens of five beers each or the gray-white haze of ultra-clarity that you’d acquire from that illicit psychoactive agent you harbored in your sock drawer, artistic, philosophic and geopolitical certainty would hang in the air like soon-to-incinerate paper lanterns strung from one side of the room to the other. Occasionally, the rocket’s red glare of your proselytizing the work of Salinger would send me scooting for safety behind the cover of my Shakespeare, Twain and Chekhov. Do you remember falling to sleep to Zeppelin, Dylan and The Dead? How about the phony bomb threat someone tried to pin on the Black Panthers that emptied the dorms on our first night on campus? Can you recall how we wandered around the quads and stared at easily a hundred of the first girls we’d ever seen wearing clothing — actually or, most likely, in our dreams — more easily removed than high school uniform jumpers, wide-belted low-hipped bell bottoms or even a tight-ass mini? Do you recollect any of those deliciously salacious silhouettes of their Promised Land projected through each of the nightgowns by the fire trucks’ lights? I only just thought of them, sitting here with this faded old photo of her. I wonder whatever happened, since we never did. Those will never be the good old days, though, since so much bad since then blocked the light of the good. But the faintly outlined memories I saw today through something like those old chemically induced dorm goggles make me happy. I guess I could call them memories of the Twilight Ages, since at this age I’m living in now sure as hell feels like a Dark one.

I don’t wish you could have been there, but you probably had to be to fully understand this. It was a time of great social and political upheaval faced by kids who had lived through a just-averted nuclear war touched off a relatively few nautical miles from Key West, by burning racial divisions and flaming American cities, and by many an American boy about to turn 18 who sweated out if his next birthday recognition would include a card that read: “Greetings.” Guys my age tend to talk about their youth as “the Dark Ages.” But they really should be called the Twilight Ages. Today scares me in a whole different way.

Going Under

Lately, this same dream comes to me every night. It’s a dream in which I’m treading water in the middle of a vast ocean on a night of the new moon. I rise and fall on the swells of this inky deep that fills the great depression beneath me. I can tell I’ve been in this water a long time because my fingertips are pale prunes and my eyes sting from the tear-like waters that splash my face. Occasionally in my dream, I sense a vessel approaching, but my voice makes not a sound, my words, my cries for help lie stillborn. I am silent, invisible, mere flotsam as far as they can tell. Often, I recognize the passing craft, perhaps as if I launched it myself or I once sailed with it in my younger days of even a great grey ship of the line bearing a USS (insert some President’s name here) on its prow. And as they drift by my silent kicking and stroking that keep my head above the dark void that would consume me, they toss something over the side. I always hope perhaps it’s a life preserver or line with which to haul me free. But it inevitably turns out to be more ballast that snugly tangles around me and smugly seeks to pull me down, down, down below the surface again. Sometimes it succeeds. But I’ve always had sharp teeth and a sense of survival and place to know in which direction to swim for the surface again. Lately, though, I’ve lost my bearings and the weights have dropped upon me all at once in a tangle of knots and cables I can’t seem to chew through. And I’m going down, down, down. The interesting part of all this dream scenario is that I don’t think of the things above, below and all around me in any concrete terms or even ideas. They’re all just vague faces floating around in the darkness that consumes me. It’s all dark clouds, but not in any poetic sense. Almost literally dark clouds is all my brain can conjure. And when I finally find the emotional and intellectual wherewithal to chew on something for a moment, it just gets covered up by all the other things spinning around me. This sounds scary because to me it isn’t scary anymore. It’s nothing. I’ve become nothing along with it. I believe I’ve gone under, disappeared for good this time. I’m alone, and the dark grows darker and I’m exhausted beyond words from the fight, and just as my breath is giving out, I close my eyes and let the nightmare take me. Then, with all hope lost that this dream will ever end, I finally drift off to sleep.

The Scars That Never Stop Hurting

He didn’t know how to make peace with his past. What offering of acceptable remorse exists when the past, in whatever personage or spirit, listens naught and averts its eyes at the mere thought of him? He’d try, “I’m sorry,” but seven letters hanging off-kilter from an apostrophe can get blown sideways and lost in the winds between two people, two different lives from what came before. His mind has lost its edge and quickness since its days of serving up scars even before others knew the sting of his cut. Now his life is not much more than a scar, something to look at and recall all those wounds he administered across his lifetime. So he waits upon his cold chair for that final felling wound. He sighs at how the sword always fell to his pen, but knows the scythe always wins. Perhaps then a peace he still dreams might come will reveal itself before he hears the swoosh of that existential steel. And, if comes too late, he must assume the role a scar on a piece of someone else’s past. But wouldn’t it be grand to hear that voice say, “Would you write me again.”?

A 200-word free written bit of what feels like literary (those probably not literate) confession and self-imposed penance. Hey, you sit down without a shred of inspiration, you can’t expect Shakespeare or Kendrick Lamar. You just hope and expect ‘something’ will appear eventually. Oh, and the new photo, old regrets and ancient scar (I have many more, some of which you can’t see) are all ©Joseph Hesch.