October 27th, 2021
Through The Looking-Glass There Is You And Me And Everything You See
It was on the corner of 50th and Radial Highway at the gas station there. He was standing outside the white van screaming at the top of his lungs to the woman behind the wheel.
His clothes disheveled. His face dirty and caved in at the cheekbones like any other amphetamine addict. And he was screaming, belligerently. The woman was small and frail and sat timidly without saying as much as a peep.
God, I thought. What a monster.
The sky was grey and a cold chill swept through the Benson area and the rest of Omaha. I pulled my jacket collar up around my neck and held it close to my body as I pumped twenty dollars worth into the Volvo. I looked around to see if anyone else was seeing what I was seeing. Heard the growl of discontent. There was only one other car at the pumps and the man seemed to be minding his own business, ignoring the whole scene. The woman in the van inched it forward and the man screamed again.
“STOP! DAMNIT! WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING!”
Then he got in the van. Closed the door.
When I was done pumping I drove past and got a good look at them. These two creatures, existing. Inhabiting the world and so making their own mess of the thing. And I wondered how it came to be. These two. What bound them to each other. What kept them coming back for more. Him and her. They were older and their skin leathered though it makes no difference which generation stakes its claim on any poor soul who seems to have accepted their ill-chosen state.
But what do I know. Maybe it was paradise for them. Maybe she had a quirk for aggression. The tone of his voice did her in. Gave her the goosebumps. Made her tingle all over. And maybe he wasn’t at all dissatisfied with his frail partner. Maybe he preferred the submissive type. Got his kicks from obedience. The woman gleamed straight ahead. Her face stone still. Eyes blinking in her head. He gave her a mouthful but I couldn’t make out the words. Then I was gone. Headed down the road.
Words swirled around my head as I drove. My mind trying to rationalize the behavior. Find the commonality between us, as I too have raged incoherently at my partner. Made her suffer at the cost of my own pain. Ripped down golden tinsel and stomped out the YAY balloons above the hallway. Tore at my hair as if to rip it from the top of my head. And as the scenes played on I became horrified.
Oh no . . . That could be me.
And even worse.
That is me!
I cringed and felt the gut wrenching truth grip me. Tear at my insides.
A wave of sadness followed and the tears came and rained down my face without me wanting them.
When I reached Capitol Bindery my face was wet and I sat immobilized. I couldn’t move. I cried uncontrollably. My whole body convulsing.
Go on, a voice seemed to say. Go on and end it. What good is it to keep going, to carry on in this way. You’re only adding more pain. Creating more suffering. You’re no better than those you point fingers at and hurl your judgements . . . Remember when you said your goal in life was to diminish the amount of suffering in the world? Remember that? How you professed it with pride as if it were bequeathed by some higher power . . . But what you failed to see was your own pain, your own suffering. You forgot to look inward into your own dark cave for the treasure that you seek. So you moved on. Covered it with drink and weed and books. You thought knowledge would give way to wisdom. But all rivers run into the same sea. It brought you here, to face the monster in you.
My hands trembled. I held them out and looked at them. I could see them before my eyes but I couldn’t feel them. I became lightheaded and leaned back in my seat. Closed my eyes. The voice continued.
You lack the courage to be vulnerable. You lack the strength to tear out your insides and hold them out for world . . . You’re afraid. Afraid of what they might think. That they might think you’re foolish. A coward. Weak. But now look at you. Blubbering like a baby at the harrowing truth. You are a mirror. Can you not see? You are a mere reflection of the pain you inflict. Everything you think and believe in your soul will come to surface in the way you see others. The way you act towards them . . . So go on. Get it over with. Get on with it.
I ignored its attempts to persuade me. I ignored the imaginary threats for intangible objects, knowing that it wouldn’t solve anything. The world would go on suffering with or without me. And I remembered then a quote a friend used to say often.
The love you withhold is the pain that you carry.
And I began to wonder if the pain I cause is in direct correlation with my inability to give love. Give it freely. Without restraint. Shower it on those closest to me. Strangers. Beggers. Theives. Dictators.
Beside the bindery there is a gallery, and in its large window sat a dummy with a woman’s face, the head bent in a sorrowful way but the mouth was showing its teeth, grinning with a forced expression. In the dummies’ lap there was another head. This one a man’s, and it was looking up at the other and it, too, was grinning. And I wondered if that’s what we do. If we just smile it all away. Put on our face. Play the persona. Shove the feelings down deep in our guts and walk the earth disillusioned. Make the suffering more insufferable for the weight they carry. For the heaviness of it all.
Suck it up! Grow a pair! Be a man! Stop being a pussy! Get over it! The old order seems to say. The Past’s solution to trauma that has created a whole world of people without the proper tools to cope with experiences that leave us feeling hopeless, empty, alone, and so perpetuates the cycle of misery and coldness that turn us away from one another. Isolates us even more along with the screens and the news and social media influencers.
I took a good look at the dummies in the window then, at my own reflection beside them there on Vinton with grey clouds and the cars passing by and I knew full well it was within my power to change the course of my life. To take the river and bend it to my will. Though it is no easy task it is possible to be the masters of our own selves. Sometimes, to make it better, we have to take one step back in order to take two steps forward. We have to get a good look at what lies before us. We have to renegotiate our contracts with life. Create new boundaries. Understand the conditions in which we’ve placed ourselves. Then we can begin again. With mirth. With love.
With a new burning ferocity to live without restraint, so that all the warm things that seem to get swept under the rug of bitter rhythms can find their way back into our relationships, our connections with one another.
I’m no a monster. And neither are you. We’re doing the best we can with what we’ve been given. And there’s always a choice to do better.
November 17th, 2021
The world is garbage. That’s what she said to me over the metallic tones of rage and syncopation ringing in my ears…
November 10th, 2021
It starts slow . . . It starts with nothing, really. Nothing at all. Just the chair and being in it. Sitting. Waiting. Nothing else. Just waiting, or not waiting because nothing else matters. That’s all there is to it.
November 3rd, 2021
Nine months. That’s how long it’s been. That’s how long I’ve been here on Fowler Avenue. Between these walls. Sitting in this room. Staring out the window at the bare limbs of the Ash tree, at the snow and the green things and now the fallen leaves covering the earth, the tree bare once more…