I fear no longer the pain, the pain I for so long seeked to numb. For in pain there is always the hope of healing and in healing there is always lessons to be learned. Lessons that make the pain less brutal, less sharp than any morphine could. No in the most odd and peculiar chain of events I have come to fear the very thing I once sought as my saving grace as heaven and hell did exchange place. No, now I but fear the numbness and the false pleasures it did give, the poisoned oasis in which I no longer wish to swim. I fear the numbness, the numbness and not the pain it once hid. For I fear no longer life's pain, but that I might seek to truly hide from the lessons that it gives and the healing in which I might come to live. I fear the numb nothing of those in waking death. I fear the numb nothing that one can but find in sinister bliss, in void, in wretched abyss.
It was in these brief moments that I felt the currents of my life flowing. Flowing and dancing across the river's bed. My eyes were closed to the world, but in new sight I saw the fondness of love. Light and darkness birthed one another and I was no longer alone. No longer alone for I knew when I opened my eyes she'd be there.
She had been holding my hand the whole time that I was stuck there lying in that bed. Crying while I laid there still. Reading me my favorite short stories even though she knew I wasn't there to listen. Talking to me about all we were going to do once we got out of here even though there was no guarantee that we would. She sat there loving me even when I wasn't there to love her back. And when my eyes finally opened there she was smiling. Smiling at me with so much joy.
"Hey there stranger." She said.
"Hey..." I said as I looked at her somewhat confused.
As much as I wanted to tell her I loved her, that it didn't matter why I was here, there was something else I had to do first.
As I scanned my gaze across the room somewhat frantically I finally returned my eyes to her.
"Hun," she said, "Hunny are you ok?"
It took everything in me to withhold my laughter, but I managed to cock my head slightly to the right and produce a hazed gloss over my eyes.
"Hunny, it's me Karen. Hun... you goddamn asshole!"
I guess I wasn't able to hold it in any longer. She saw me smirking or something and it must have given it all away.
"Hey there stranger." I said.
"No." She said. "I've been losing my mind the past week and when you finally wake up the first thought you have is to fuck with me. Why do I even... Why..."
"Babe you know you're gorgeous when you're flustered."
"Shut the fuck up. You know I look like a hot fucking mess right now."
"I don't know maybe it's whatever is in that IV, but you might be the most beautiful thing I've ever seen."
"Shut up... just shut up."
"Don't babe me. I thought I lost you and I thought..."
"But you didn't. You couldn't if you tried."
"Well maybe I'll try a little bit harder next time."
"Babe this wasn't your fault."
"No it wasn't. It was mine."
"Don't say that..."
"We can talk about this later babe. Just let me look at you for a while. Just let me look at you."
No one ever said loving someone was easy. No one who truly ever loved anybody at least. Love, contrary to popular belief is... Well it's fucking violent. At least it was for us in that moment. That blissful moment when I was drawn from deep sleep and thrust into the truth of such violence. A dreamless slumber ruptured by a strong haymaker to my upper left temple.
"You motherfucker," she yelled.
"You motherfucking piece of shit," she screamed as the onslaught continued.
I'd like to say I was present in such a way to see the beauty that fueled her anger. That I witnessed the love that hid behind the fire in her eyes. The immense care that subsisted beneath the vehemence of her scream. But in all honesty I was more consumed with the horror of that moment and the ever present fear of pissing myself uncontrollably. A horror and fear that produced shrill sounds that no grown man should ever have to make in the company of others.
"That's right scream you lil bitch boy!" She howled as her fist made contact with my right collar bone.
Yup that was it. I was a lil bitch boy. She surely wasn't wrong about that. I had been a lil bitch boy from the moment we first met and I was finally getting the ass whopping that I deserved. But even though this may sound odd given the noises I was making and the piss I was so desperately trying to contain, but I was now more in love with her than I had ever been... It was as if each strike tore away yet another layer of my cowardice. A cowardice that had kept my love buried so deep for so long.
I know it must sound terribly odd and maybe that's because it truly is, but I was in love in that moment. And even though an ass beating is an odd and kinky occasion to fall in love, it was our moment through and through. For what is love that knows not terror. And if it was so that love was her purpose and terror was her stay, I was more than willing to receive the delights of her rage.
She had gorgeous eyes and they were looking at him. He didn’t know why, but they were. He always wanted to tell her how gorgeous she was, but could only find the courage to tell her from time to time as the months carried on. She would smile and then she would blush, but soon find a way to deflect his attention from seeing her so. Though he let such tactics seem successful, nothing she could do could stop him for seeing her as she was and the magnanimity that even the slightest presence of her glance held. Such raw beauty that lay in her gaze made him wonder if there was anything more beautiful to be found in this here life.
Not much to say about this one. I found it in a random journal of mine and was instantly drawn back and reminded of a version of me that was a little more optimistic and youthful in his outlook on the world. A version of myself that I sometimes struggle to be. It is not that I am necessarily a nihilist now as my youth grows shorter by the day, but nihilism is nonetheless an undesirable facet of my life now. I struggle with it and fight it off most days as best as I can, but in the end it is the belief in the beauty of brokenness described below and the overcoming of fear of self that I have faith will win the day. And truly it is in the light of hope and of love in which I am guided to a more blossoming tomorrow.
As I walked out from all those who were still mourning I began to feel utterly bizarre. Clarity… such clarity as I soon became unable to distinguish my voice from one now gone. I knew now what was wrong. Honesty, true honesty. That at first I wasn’t even sad about his passing. Part of me can’t help but feel awful about that, but it was true. No, I was just afraid. So afraid that without him I would have to see what I wished so dearly not to, all that I was and wasn’t ever to be. But… But I’m not scared anymore. For the things that scare us most usually aren’t quite as frightening as they may seem. And though they seem terrifying to us at first, as we work through them little by little, their horror soon fades from sight. We then come to see that what we were in fact scared of was ourselves and who we believed ourselves to be. That we were scared to be let down for we thought ourselves deserving of such. We were scared of being hurt because we ourselves are hurt. We were scared of being alone because deep down we thought we were. But this must not be for I… we are so beautiful in our brokenness, our fallibility, and fault. We are the young and the troubled and it is ourselves that we fear most. But when love… when it comes and we finally share it with ourselves all our fears… they do fade and anxious hearts in bliss are remade.
There is always, when writing, an unending desire to write more. To tell a grander story. To bring so much more to life than even possible by one mind. But alas I lack the diligence or the courage to do such at this moment. This piece of a piece is all I can summon. Maybe there is more to this story, maybe there is not. But then again stories worth writing always start in such a way and there is seemingly always an air of doubtful lust in their stay. Doubt that you can do much more and lust for something so much more.
The night was crisp and full of promise as he walked into the bar. He was arriving late, a fact none of his friends would be to entirely surprised to see. But he wasn’t there to see them, at least not in the grander scheme of things. Why he was there was quite different. He was there, in this place, to meet someone else. To meet a stranger, though strangers they soon would not be.
Upon approaching a group of familiar faces that he knew to be his friends, he smiled. They were a bunch of hooligans and jokers and this they knew. They had never tried to be anything other. As they greeted one another with cheers and insults he continued to smile as they smiled too. Beers were dispersed as jeers and more insults continued to flow, but he began to feel off put, displaced as if he had somewhere else to be. This was an odd feeling for him because this is exactly what he had come to witness. His friends. This sharing of drinks and tales long gone. This was his destination and any goals he had conjured up for the night were set in exactly this context, but it wasn’t… It wasn’t where he was supposed to be.
As the feeling grew more and more distinct he began to absolve into anxieties of a precarious sort. And with these shuttering feelings emerged ever so more a loss of words and he began to shift his gaze amongst the room. First to his friends hoping none had caught a glimpse of his rising dismay. He didn’t want any of them to think something was going on, let alone ask what was wrong for it was a question he hadn’t the slightest answer to. Then he peered outward to the window at the far end of the room. There weren’t many people outside. No, just one man not much older than him. One man sitting there gazing off into the night with a cigarette simmering near the edge of his lips. Go… Go… This word, it was all he could now think. Go… Go…
At first he did his best to ignore this word calling him to the outer realms of the bar. Calling him to dive into the solitude of another, but the harder he tried to shut this calling out the greater the pull came. Go… Go… These words became his reality. They became his all. He couldn’t stop them. They were breathing in him. The best he could do was to hold that breath for a moment or two, but this was just as futile as an attempt to hold his own for too long. For as soon as he could hold it no longer it would release again in rage as the gasping of air came out even louder than before. To ignore them any longer was nothing short of asphyxiation.
GO… GO… He was transfixed. He was ungrounded. All of him was unceasingly taunted by this stranger's call. A call to be with one he knew not. A call to be cast out into the night without the guidance of familiar stars. But he had no choice. He could fight it no longer. Outside of all that he knew and expected this stranger was the only company he now sought.
Requiem. This was the first thing she said to me. Requiem. This was the last thing she said. I did not know her, not in this life at least, but she seemed to know me. It was the way she looked at me, much more than what she had said. No one had made eye contact with me in so long, but when she did I felt recognized for the first time in eternities.
Requiem. This is what she said to me as she passed me in this place of mourning and remembrance. She passed me for I was still and seemingly unable to move from my present position. As I pondered this word more it became more mysterious to why she had said it. It was a word that did not hold much meaning to me, but she said it as if it would. Was she trying to tell me something. Was she trying… The longer this experience lingered in my thoughts the more familiar she appeared to be and the more captivated I was with her word. Her eyes were surrounded with dried tears and her voice was a folly between fear and care.
Who was she, I thought to myself. Who was she and why was she here? I had often drifted to this location to be alone. For in this place I was encompassed in true solitude, no longer surrounded by eyes that would stare right through me. But why was she here? An abandoned sanctuary on the outskirts of town is a rare place to find a companion, even as brief as our interaction had been. Her perfume… It was so familiar. It was as if I was embraced by its aroma and comforted in its stay.
Who was she? Who was she? I was still standing there. Transfixed by the wake of her presence. Human contact can be utterly intoxicating when one is deprived from it for as long as I have been. Requiem. This is what she said to me. This is what she said. An unholy sacrament to those long dead. Was I dying? Was I already dead? I have often thought these things from time to time. Sometimes it’s the only thing that makes sense, but then again what difference does death make to those not seen. Maybe I was dead. Maybe she was just trying to make me aware. Aware of my own untimely condition. Or maybe I was just going mad.
As I sat down on the steps that lay before the altar long empty I found an air of rest. I had been standing for so long I thought I had forgot the comfort that can be found in sitting with one’s legs stretched outward. There was a smooth breeze that rustled in through the broken stained glass windows. It had been blowing on and off for some time now. Every once in awhile its flow disturbing the dust that had come to set in this vacant, holy place. And as the dust gently fell upon new spaces I gazed up at the only thing left hanging. The Crucifix.
The slain God stared at me, just as I was staring at him. His agony… My agony… They seemed so much the same. It is no wonder so many had come to pray at his feet for he was the universality of those who suffer, of those fated to die. Requiem. Her words soon returned to me as I drifted back to thoughts of her. Requiem. Requiem. Who was she? Who am I?
I was overjoyed when my editor and dear friend Eric Cooke first asked me to write a book with him, but, as I should have known, it was no simple task that he was asking me to partake in with him. Eric, who is currently working on his PhD in Criminology (and is probably one of the smartest people I have ever known), wasn't just asking me to write a book about the anxieties of youth, as I am akin to, but something much more complex and demanding. Without giving anything away (if there is much to give away at all at this point in the process) I will say I have never embarked on a writing project such as this. With topics ranging from crime syndicates, human trafficking, Nitzschean Ethics, Post-modernity, and a score of others this novel will require both a breadth of research and a meticulous attention to detail that I have yet to experience in writing fiction. Luckily, for my sake, I won't be going at it alone. As daunting as the task may seem I am overly excited to see Eric's writing style in full force and to see where he takes his brilliant ideas for this story! But in the mean time here's a short teaser for the book. A short glance into the mind of our man antagonist, the Baron.
A cancerous Elysium consumed me as cigarette smoke danced over a pallet long drenched in the blood of red wine. With every inhale I expedited my own demise. With every exhale I smiled. There was a certain impotence to the habits I pursued. A certain blissful folly that most confused with stupidity and ignorance. But I knew what I was doing. I know what I have done. What I have done and continue to do. They say there is no sin in the heart of a good intentioned soul. Well if that be the case count me a sinful man. A soul ever so damned. Horror. Disease. Moral Famine. Of these I count my friends. The devil in man is the devil in I. And oh how charming I can be. Seduction. Erosion. Both I use to play my game. But in the end the sin is all the same. I use you, you don't use me as we dance the dance of satanic serenity.
I don't know how much explanation this particular piece needs. Just came from the heart of one very blessed grandson. Love ya Grandpa.
There was an easing silence between the two of us as we drove along pleasant suburban roads. Our destination was nowhere in particular and our purpose was quite unknown. Well at least that’s what we like to tell each other. Yes, our plans were quite random from time to time and rogues we might have been, but our intention was all too clear and we knew why we were here. We were friends, my grandpa and I. We were friends and being with one another was a celebration of that. Whether it was driving aimlessly by neighboring structures or pontificating out on his front porch together, the only thing that mattered was… that we were together. And when we were time’s expanse slipped away for a moment as youth and age old wisdom became one in spirit while we smiled and we laughed in one another’s company. There is much I learned being with him. He was, if he was anything, a breathing genealogy of all which had come before and all which was on its way. A birthing point of knowledge that I but tried frantically to witness. There is much I learned being with him. Hell I like to think I might have taught him a thing or two from time and time again. But all and all we were friends and that’s not something everyone gets to say. For we were always blessed with each other’s company. Where youthful laughter was shared and life’s mystery were summoned forth and christened by the presence of our joy.
Corbin, Kentucky, a small town of about 10,000, has turned out a wide range of exceptional people. Perhaps best known is Colonel Sanders of Fried Chicken fame. But what I remember are the great football teams of the 1950’s that produce All State and All American football players. There was a spirit in that town. I was about ten years old when move into Corbin and I first felt is presence. I then experienced that feeling for the next seven years. That feeling has never left me. This is a short story written from memories about the spirit and homemade ice cream.
Southeastern Kentucky harbors a town named Corbin. Around 1950, a clearly defined place, Hart Hollow, lay just southwest. An infectious spirit inhabits the area, making great residents greater, lesser ones less so, and the mundane a near impossibility. The infectious spirit first struck the holler’s front end, then spread to the back where my family lived. The spirit, as miniscule as it was powerful, and so fine, a laboratory scale would struggle to measure a microgram, spread and marked us for life.
A boy named Hart spread the infection. He taught me and my brothers about football. He only taught us once, but the micro-spirit, like flint striking steel, showered sparks that kindled fire in our souls. On the way to church, we visited the Hart boy, his mom and dad, and their hound dogs. They shared homemade ice cream the Hart boy’s daddy made. The ice cream, a yearly treat, and friendship, the finest, beats today’s refrigerated and churned vats coldly served. Old man Hart had electricity, but cranked his machines by hand. He possessed unrelenting hound dog spirit. He mentioned his oldest boy was attending Morehead College on a football scholarship. We’d never heard such a thing.
My family moved from Hart Hollow, that heavenly enclave with angels watching over it, or so I reckoned back in 1970, when I took my wife and children to see it. That’s before the Devil took a giant spade and knocked down the south side hill. He’d extracted coal needed to keep Hell burning hot, then covered up the deed with a bypass. I wept, with only the spirit to sooth.
We’d lived “storybook” lives. Dogged by the Devil and strained economics, we moved often, attending South, Central, and Eastward schools. On Ruby Street, behind something called a stadium, we heard, for the first time, drums and trumpets announcing a Friday night football game. Church members said it was the devil. We ignored the comments and played on Eastward’s grade school team, the Green Wave. We sneaked into Friday night football games. With the spirit strong and the Devil in pursuit, we moved to a farm on Cumberland Falls Highway where I could see the backside of the holler, a premonition. Rightly so. The Devil found us. I wondered aloud if we were cursed, my brother’s suggested offering me as sacrifice, instead, my parents spirited the family across the Ohio River, north to Kokomo, Indiana, “a half-hour before the Devil knew we were gone.”
We arrived in Kokomo one week before school started. With 50,000 inhabitants, one high school, and 2,500 students, they cut more freshmen players than Corbin’s team numbered entirely. The spirit was strong, two of us made the starting lineup, one joined the Marine Corp. I remember beating the state’s number one team, Logansport High School, 13 to 6. After season’s end, we quit high school and joined the Air Force and Army. The spirit lives on.