Cognitive Dissonance

Many summers ago…

I looked out towards the Pacific, saw the miles and miles of cultivated land and uniform buildings, hundreds of windows catching the sun and glimmering in the distance as a great fire.

We sat there, my brother and I, on the hill crowned with a solitary bench, overlooking the very land that had fostered us. Below our aching feet suburbia unfurled before us like so many uniformed soldiers. Houses stacked in neat little rows, their manicured lawns gleaming in green summer perfection. There was not a soul to be found in that display window world below. The streets were empty, the parks were lifeless, and the atmosphere eerily silent. Somewhere within me I longed to hear the sound of children’s laughter, but there was only the wind. Suddenly it felt like we were the last ones left.

How sad, I thought. How very sad.

A breeze sped west from the sea, rippling passed like so many fingers through my hair and headed towards the mountains that still burned from its summer preening; sending plumes of ashes and smoke into the valley below. In the miles and miles in front of me staring down from our little mountain lay everything we had ever known. How utterly microscopic our pristine world was.

“This is it!?” I spoke suddenly, compelled as I was to break the silence. “The culmination of all of our efforts…I don’t think we were meant for this. I think other people feel it too; I think they just don’t know how to listen. Why do you think apocalyptic fantasy is all the rage right now? Maybe, subconsciously, we long for this to come to an end.”

The words flowed out of me lucid and clear but the train of thought had no destination. It sped forward, unbound and undeterred along clear tracks of gray matter going nowhere.

“I harbor no faith in us as a species. Time and time again we have proven we do not deserve this. It’s all there, in the pages of history. I don’t think we are going to make it…Nations pursue conquest and domination every generation over dwindling resources constantly at war over invisible lands drawn in the sand.”

“We consume far more than we produce,” said my brother.

I pointed up at the blue sky, “We should all be going up there, together!” then stretched my arms out at the cities before me, “But we are too busy squandering over all of THIS! Nationalistic conditioning has blinded people to the idea of unification. We turn a blind eye to the suffering of others in other worlds. Our progression as a species has been halted in the name of capitalistic consumerism. Our governments have implemented systems to raise generations of comfortable consumers to buy, buy, buy; and all the while they are the ones who are being bought.”

“Working to feed the machine.”

I lowered my quivering arms, “The machine needs to die! All empires fall. And one day this age will end, with or without us. We were not, we were…then we won’t be.”

It had been hours since we dropped, but the LSD was still hot in our blood. Just moments ago we were running down the canyons of Laguna like half-naked Braves. Chasing what? I don’t know. It didn’t matter. I suddenly felt every muscle in me come alive and begged to burn. So I ran. Crossing small valleys in a matter of strides. My breath drowning out all other sounds. There was only me and the path and the wind billowing in my  hair. How I suddenly longed for four legs.

We stripped down to our underwear when we reached the ocean. She sparkled like some bygone Mediterranean jewel and I let those salty hues envelop me whole until I forgot to breathe. Beneath the surface the sunlight pierced the liquid veil and I looked on with burning eyes at natures dance. I was young and the world was brand new. That day the life I had been avoiding for months took me by the hand and begged me to participate. How could I refuse?

 

A hawk flew across us, moving with the breeze. I traced its trajectory, in awe of its perfect and most mechanical design. It’s plumes were brilliant, the tips of the feathers shining red beneath the sun like blood from a fresh wound.

“I see before me the futility of existence. I see life and at it’s most basic level, my consciousness deems it meaningless. Everyone wants to believe that life is this great miracle that is guided along by divine providence or some grand design. Life, in its basest terms, is the result of biological reactions between two compatible pairs of living organisms. People want to believe we are born with purpose, that every one of us was put here to accomplish something great; there are almost seven billion people on this planet and what? Everyone has a destiny they are meant to fulfill? No, we are born without purpose—”

“We have to find purpose. We can make a purpose.”

“That was my next point!” I shouted in excitement knowing he understood. “I know how pessimistic it sounds, but we are born without purpose, though I believe we can make our own. You are absolutely right. I see life, and I still see it as ‘meaningless’. There are people born that just live and die, but I can give it a meaning. I can make it mean something, what time I have here.”

“All I want is to see the world, to live and enjoy my life, and help as many people as I can. I think that would be enough…,” he said, speaking more to himself than to me.

“I think like that, about the absolutely absurdity of life, and then I think of us. You and me right now, sitting on this very bench. I think of all the steps, everything that ever happened to us that led us here, to this moment in time. I think of our Grandfathers, how Mom’s father ran away from home as a child and joined the circus and made his way to America. And I think of Dad’s father, how he landed at Normandy on D-Day and somehow, someway made his way up that beach without his rifle. Made it through that terrible war and made it home. Those men sired our parents. Our parents in all their own steps somehow made us and out of all that, here we are—sitting right here. One step in a different direction, a subtle shift in the wind and we wouldn’t be. And even us, we could have turned out very differently, you and I. But here we are, as we are. And that, that to me is amazing. That makes life beautiful to me,” I was nearly on the verge of tears. “I am torn between futility and beauty.”

“That called Cognitive Dissonance, when conflicting beliefs exist inside of a person.”

“That’s my personality…internally, I am constantly wrestling with myself. But you know, I am really beginning to like who I am. What I am becoming. And you, I am so proud of you. I like who you are, who you’ll become.”

“I like the person you are.” He said as my eyes began to well. And maybe that’s all I needed. Maybe that’s all we need, to be seen. Then he hit me, “But my pale ass is burning up! I gotta get out of the sun cause your dumb ass lost the sunscreen. Let’s go.”

“You go ahead. I want to be alone for a while.”

He took off down the path and disappeared. I made my way off the sidewalk and onto the dirt path that led up to a rocky Martian cliff. At the top, a man dressed all in white was flying a remote hobby plane. Suddenly I felt the compulsion that I had to go up there and see him. There was nothing else in the world that was more important.

I made my way up the steep rock face sure-footed and unafraid. I tried to be as silent as possible. A deep urge surfaced that pressed me forward just to see this man’s face. I walked behind him at a respectable distance, not making a sound. I caught his face for a moment from a peripheral glance. His eyes never left that plane. The drone soared silently as the hawks flew around it not quite sure what to make of the alien blue craft.

‘I bet he wishes he was that plane’, I thought. As I rounded on his right slowly moving further and further away from him I saw on his face a look I’d never quite seen on anyone before and it’s stayed with me ever since. There on his wrinkled canvas was painted an expression of pure bliss. I had never seen someone more content. So completely lost in a moment.

I smiled to myself and said, ‘I need to find my plane.’

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…alas, Atlas.

She is covered head to toe in some kind of cheap paint. Her already fair skin made up to look dead and porcelain wrapped up tight in a black dress. There are tears in her eyes. I am waiting to catch them but they never fall. They lay suspended in those dark iris pools and I am drowning along with them in her confession. She reads aloud to me; her poetry flowing from a stuttering tongue still learning to articulate the dying language of a wounded heart. Even in costume and those layers of paint, she is the most naked person in the room. I sit transfixed, beholden by her bravery. I am there with her, behind that locked door we all hide behind with our eyes pressed to the looking glass.

Inside these walls the roof is caving in. The pillars of her house collapsed, the ceilings and the heavens suspended now only by her shoulders. I move to lend what strength these bones can offer–but alas, Atlas stays my willing hands. Her voice breaks, then resounds with metallic will. ‘I wanted only to show, I needed only to know–that I am not alone.’

Of Bones and Blood

Once I spoke in metallic words, but the machinery had failed me; my steel was bent by the profound and the absurd. Educated harshly by a world of constant tectonic shifts, I became as water. Pouring myself into silent containers that neither condemned nor condoned, then I became the martyr. How quickly does a crutch become a limb when constant motion is itself a medication. Pre-conditioned responses make pretty little waltzes under the vigilant veil of celebration.

Animate the inanimate to satisfy what is insatiable. Love only that which asks nothing of you. Lie, lie, lie to yourself until it becomes the gospel truth. They draw ever near, though only to unravel the sutures of your misbegotten wounds.

It’s not enough. It’s never enough. A brilliant star collapsed inside my gut and it’s a hole that since has never shut. It takes, it breaks, and it unmakes in a fever of bones and blood–and even though I know, I know, I cannot endure this storm alone.

As if pain were a tree you diligently water, for the shade of it’s branches has been all you’ve known of shelter. Fostering you from the sunlight of a life that scorched your skin so. These things that I carry, sometimes they carry me. To places I don’t want to go, but how these haunts begin to feel just like a haven home. Most days I choose to fight. I don the many masks needed to survive, and I forget which face is really mine. But on this night, I begged them to steal. I made a choice; to offer them my hand lest they grab me by the throat. Then they took my voice, ‘Oh child, it is time to heal.

The Birds in the Pines

Did I ever tell you about that girl from the old neighborhood?

It’s just this girl that I still think about sometimes, you know? The thing is, it’s been so long I don’t even know if she really ever existed. I mean, I don’t even remember what her name was. Maybe it’s like one of those dreams you get mixed up with a memory. But I know…I am just full of shit. It did happen. It wasn’t a dream; I just really want it to be.

I remember she had dark, brown hair and really fair skin–for a California girl anyway. Somehow we always seemed to end up at the park at the same time. We raced up and down the slides, tried to see who could swing the highest, or jump the farthest. Our favorite thing was climbing the pines that grew all around the edge of the park. But we had one in particular, the furthest tree on the left if you were looking directly east, that was ours. The trunk was wide and forgiving of young legs, and it had this branch that went over the backyard fence of an adjacent house. We used to caw like crows and make faces at the people who lived there but, to our eventual dismay, they never seemed to notice.

the pines

We spent hours up in those boughs. Day after day reaching as far as we could till there was nothing else within our tiny reach to grasp. God, she was good too. She kept up. Climbed just as high as I could, if not higher. Never complained or showed any fear, not once. Even the bugs didn’t scare her. I remember that much about her, she was brave. And she was lucky, so lucky, because no one in her life was telling her she shouldn’t be.

One day we are sitting up there in our pine and she just starts picking at the bark till it was flat and smooth, then she breaks off a small twig and starts carving into the tree. I look over at what she is doing, but she won’t let me see. She starts fidgeting, all bashful like she’s got some awful secret in her that just won’t stay down. Doing that “I-Know-Something-You-Don’t-Know” jig girls do when they think they know something you don’t know.

In between shy, nervous glances she gets coy, “It’s the name of a boy I like.”

“Who do you like?” I asked, trying to act indifferently.

In spite of her theatrical meekness, she very matter-of-factly says, “It’s you.”

I told you, she was brave.

“Oh…” I paused as looked at what she had done. There in the side of the tree was our names carved inside a misshapen heart. “You spelled my name wrong.”

That poor girl had probably been rehearsing this scene for days; inspired, no doubt, by a steady diet of Disney films. I can picture her, laying on her stomach with her feet up swinging side to side, writing my name incorrectly over and over on so many sheets of construction paper with small, broken crayons.

She quickly receded back to her embarrassment and her ears turned pink like two tiny tulips. I didn’t know what to feel or what to do. I just sat there on that branch while the crows laughed. Part of me had wanted her to say it was me, but there was something else there, something then that was much bigger than that desire that was nameless and unseen.

We didn’t speak again until it was time to go and we had climbed down from the tree. Down on the grass, she pushes down whatever blood had rushed to her face and all but skips towards me smiling, “So see you tomorrow?”

“Fuck you.”

She stopped dead in her tracks. Her face went blank, expressionless save for a slight furrow in her brow contorting in childlike confusion as she raced to make sense of what just occurred. She was too young, too innocent to know what those words meant. She only knew they were ugly, ugly, words. But me, I knew them. I had heard those words spoken many times by grown people who were supposed to be in love.

Looking right at me, she finally resigned herself to the truth. Her small lips trembled, uncertain of which words to choose, “You can’t say that….th-those are ba–”

That unseen something bubbled to the surface. “Fuck. You.”

There was no venom in that tiny voice of mine. There was nothing in it at all. It was as if I was reading lines from a script that belonged to someone else. This was me, rehearsing the lead in a violent play I had seen dozens and dozens of times from the front row seat of a dirty car window, or peering out from a crack of an assumably closed door.

Her body seemed to be gripped by an intense and sudden cold. She tries to stop the tears from coming up, slightly choking as her failure overcomes her. She doesn’t know much, but she knows this hurts. This little creature who had just moments ago carved the name of her crush into a tree, now recoiling from him like he was the goddamn Boogeyman. And she curses that very same name. Her instincts take over, and she angrily wipes those disobedient tears from off her face. She exits stage right. The curtain falls. I get the part on the spot.

I was five years old.

The bark has healed over that crooked heart, but I still think about her sometimes. Especially on days like this, I think about her, and the rest of them too. All those brave girls who carved my name somewhere close.

I am sorry.

Loose Change

The music was blaring so loud that the rooms of the house were shaken by the hands of the bass lines. Glass bottles rattled nervously along on the edges of counters while red cups trembled in the hands of young bodies swaying with the melody.

The house was filled to the brim, bodies on top of bodies heaving to and fro, a living mass of flesh twisting and writhing together in one ecstatic motion. The walls themselves had come alive and their pulse quickened with every song. Women screamed and men waited patiently or otherwise for their moment to strike. Hands began exploring the curves of neighboring frames and at times you couldn’t tell where one body began and the other ended–and so the waltz went on.

There was one who was still in spite of the motion. He sat alone, a shadow overlooked and unattended to in a forgotten corner. The poorly postured spine and accompanying body language spoke, “I would rather be anywhere but here,” and yet, there he was and there he stayed. His hair was long and dark, draped about his face like a curtain closing on a stage. His face was obscured, brought to light only when he lifted a bottle of cheap red wine that dangled precariously from his right index and middle finger, bringing it to his lips in a graceless yet fluid fashion between the passing glances at the people around him.

These people some would call his friends, though he was beginning to really wonder what the definition of that word truly meant to him now. The more he began to brood over the thought, the tighter his grasp became on the bottle (unbeknownst to him). All these people he knew, he did not know; and they did not know him. What he didn’t realize, however, was that this was (subconsciously) a defensive effort at self preservation; superficial relationships required less maintenance and left far less of a mess whenever they left, voluntarily or otherwise. This fact, accompanied by the terrifying notion of his genuine nature being discovered by someone else, left the boy–for better or worse–socially and utterly inept at developing healthy and reciprocal human relationships. Rejection, in this society, was non negotiable.

A few shared interests brought these people together on fair enough terms, but it was the treasure cove of the various rainbow colored assortments of bottles in the house and what those bottles would do to them that truly bonded them together. Their socially acceptable, government taxed drug habits allowed them all to tune in to the same communal frequency for a few hours. Dopamine and Ethanol were the true companions here tonight, and oh what a lovely pair.

His face became briefly illuminated as the wine was lifted to his lips and it was then a smile was seen–forced, sad. Defeated.

He recalled, with a greedy slosh of his drink, a bygone season of his youth, a chapter of his life that now seemed so very far away from where his story was now. So far in fact, that it may as well have been another tale entirely. He remembered how these people around him had all once sworn that their bonds would never be severed. Be it tested by the wiles of men or women, the gaps created by distance, or even by the rapacious hands of Father Time himself; their fraternity would always endure. And it was for this very reason that he had smiled that sad, sad smile…for time had indeed bested all of their promises. The years had now made strangers of them all.

He had watched–from a comfortable distance, how the years had come and gone, each one somehow quicker than the last, taking with them one person after another from his life who saw fit to grab a piece of it and oh, so many of them did. From the friends who would come in good cheer to laugh with him in the fair weather seasons, to the transients and drifters whose walks in life had collided with his own to share the road for a time. To the women whom he had shared a bed with, to the thieves who coveted pieces of his very soul—where were they all now, all these people he had touched?

Things fell apart, with or without his help, while other unseen beginnings were born from their endings. People fell in love, he noted with a secret envy, and by-in-by fell away from him. Others simply drifted away, like so many Autumn leaves shaken off of a shivering branch. He thought to himself that this was simply the way of things. This was only the reality he refused to accept in the ignorance of youth. People came and went away in seasons. Hopefully you saw them off well and could greet their returns, if any, with open arms. And if you did see them again, it would be as if there never was any distance, stolen heart, or time that had ever separated you in the first place.

Deep down in his heart, this was a greater hope; that those he chose to call his friends and his new found families would forever remain true to him. But he had come to learn there was no such thing in life as permanence and that for him, being a man who was all too aware that his tomorrows were all but infinite, forever was a dream that he simply could not afford. To him the present was all he had and all that mattered was who was present.

Everything in his life he learned was temporary. Just like his now almost empty coveted bottle would soon be nothing but garbage, an object to be cast aside. Just like this moonlit night would soon give way to another dawn that would come to steal away his dreams. Just like his life would come to a close, at a time unlikely of his own choosing. All fades away into story in the end, and he had been so many stories, hadn’t he?

It was this fact however, that ever present sense of self awareness of ones own mortality that drove him to constantly seek some semblance of substance in any and all things he sought. And therein lay the great dilemma, the cognitive dissonance that cleaved him in two; the Romantic and the Cynic. One embellished and sought love, while the other mocked it in parodies. One yearned for honest, pure affection, and the other was paralyzed at the very whisper of the word.

Though in secret fantasies and half-hearted whispers he demanded substance, the life that he had created for himself was not one of substantial merit by hardly any means. In spite of the depths that he had explored and thought existed within himself, his actual existence was one of extraordinary shallowness. His dreams told stories of forbidden passions; his waking body found him parading in the same nocturnal debaucheries the likes of which he repeated week after week, year after year. Countless mornings spent waking underneath an unfamiliar ceiling. A warm and nameless body at his side. These collisions the only bit of intimacy he could afford to spare with the loose change left in his pockets.

He was ever the victim of his own hypocrisies. Countless contradictions were brought to light by a near constant state of self deprecating examination. It was clear to him, and anyone else who really looked beyond his presented self, that he was his own worst enemy. In the space that existed behind those wild eyes, he was both warden and jailer. Completely unaware that he alone held the key to his cell, for his chains had grown far too comfortable.

Slight Madness in Los Angeles

It wasn’t until we had actually arrived in the heart of Los Angeles that I had really started to regret my decision to go. As soon as I walked out of the car the city hit me dead in the face. It’s ventricles pumped out hot garbage that stung my nostrils as arterial scum seeped into the gutters. The wailing of sirens echoed off the alleys and their song rang on in my ears. The sheer weight of millions of people condensed into a few miles of metal, brick, cardboard, and concrete was felt in your very bones; but you breathed it all in because it reminded you that you and this city were alive.

Los Angeles had never sat right with me. Even when I was still a child the place always had a strange kind of energy to it. It felt as if you could feel the cumulative failures of thousands of stars that just never burned bright enough. The city itself seemed to feed off dying dreams.

You felt all of this way before your father was driven temporarily insane after being sentenced to eight hours of straight gridlock traffic and beat you in the passenger seat. You knew something was wrong with this town way before you walked down Sunset Blvd with a chill in your gut and your mom said those bad vibrations you were feeling was just the presence of demons attracted by sin and the Scientologists.

L.A, you never stood a chance.

CJ had found a girl online on some dating site that lived in the city, but it was Johnny who said they should set something up tonight. The idea of drinking there on a Friday night didn’t appeal to me but their company did, so I stowed away in the back seat and sang out loud and off key when a good song came on. I was trying to psyche myself up. Anything could happen in the next few hours.

We walked towards the bar and the streets were eerily empty, what with it being the busiest night of the week in a big city and all. But it didn’t bother me.

A couple blocks down I saw two men and a tiny dog standing over something. It was the body of a homeless woman sprawled on top of the gutter. She wasn’t waking up. That didn’t bother me either.

The men huddled over her were gay and full of worry and compassion. Even their little dog with it’s pink leash was gay, it had no say in the matter. They spoke in soft worried voices on their phones trying to get help and get her to open her eyes. The woman’s body was half in the street and half on the sidewalk. She was older, not old, but she didn’t seem to be very much alive.

The sirens would soon be singing their song for her too.

Walking passed them I somehow found a way to make a joke about it. We all laughed and looking back, I don’t know why.

The bar was called the Golden Steer or the Yellow Bovine, something relating to colored cows or false idols. A giant of a Mexican with a face that looked like it’d been chiseled straight from the pavement asked for our ID’s. With my friends already inside he stopped me extra long just because he could. He told me he needed to check my purse. I told him I didn’t have a purse. Then it hit me, it was my long hair — funny guy…

I walked through the door and suddenly the empty streets made more sense. As dozens of smells and sounds flew at me and my eyes adjusted to the darkness I had never seen more people in my life shoved into such a small space. It was one writhing mass of overly exposed flesh and tilted baseball caps. The instinct to flee screamed so loud in me I heard nothing else, but somehow I found my feet following my friends.

I decided I was going to have a good time. I was going to be happy there regardless of what I thought about it and goddammit, I was going to be out of my head.

It was so crowded you had to force your way to the bar and you were always being touched. Like an obstacle course of limbs. The crazy part to me was I was the only one in the entire place who seemed to be unhappy about it.

The bar was long and narrow and far beyond its max occupancy. It was clearly a Hispanic joint that went back and forth from blaring top 40 club hits to Banda music. Everywhere you looked were people within a centimeter of each other’s faces. Claustrophobia does not even begin to describe it, but it’s a start.

It took a good two minutes just to fight your way to the bar and when you got there, you stayed there, and you ordered two drinks at a time. The beer was flat and stale and again, I was the only one who seemed the least bit bothered by it all. Maybe I was crazy.

I had to push the thought of not being able to escape out of my head, my anxiety nearing a dangerous level as a large woman’s back was pressed against mine while some man’s arm rested at my shoulder–so I asked CJ to show me what this girl he was meeting looked like. She had a cute face and looked fit from the angles she decided to show. She wore glasses that housed big brown eyes and rested atop a small button nose above full red lips. She was on her way to meet us and had just gotten off the freeway.

Pushing back the screaming notion of stabbing the large woman behind me repeatedly, I congratulated him on what looked like an otherwise fine catch.

I told CJ I would be the designated driver, to drink his fill and have fun. So I was pacing myself with only a couple of the awful flat beers and what had to have been the cheapest tequila north of the border. Every other friend I knew had a DUI, driving in California is dangerous business, even without the drink in your blood. He was surprised by my offer. “Are you saying that because you actually want me to have a good time, or do you just not trust me to drive!?” “Both.”

If his battered Ford was any indication, CJ was an absolutely horrible driver, especially when he was sober.

A couple stale beers later and his girl showed up. All three of us are over six feet tall, finding us wasn’t difficult in that bar overflowing with Angelinos. In person she was cute, but thicker than she looked in her photographs. That’s the thing with meeting people on the internet, they almost always look better in the pictures. When you are going out with a catch you met online, six to one odds they are not what they sold themselves to be. When you are online dating you are really playing Russian roulette, but loneliness and a need for a body makes you keep pulling back the trigger.

She brought two friends with her to help break the ice, each one bigger than the last, the last being so big that I was forced to wonder how the hell she had managed to fit in the place at all. The woman behind me had now apparently decided I was a permanent pillar while another limb, whose origins were blissfully unknown, was becoming more and more familiar with my thigh. Introductions were made and I forgot their names right after they said them. I didn’t care because I knew I’d never see them again. But I smiled anyway and offered a shot to whoever wanted it first. In spite of all of this, I was still desperately trying to have a good time. The not-so-fat-but-still-fat one took the offer. She had a great smile and she even said thank you. As I handed her the shot, I spilled a bit of the tequila on the fat one’s shoes. I apologized repeatedly and sincerely but she seemed pretty damn upset about it.

I didn’t know what the big deal was. It’s not like she could see her feet anyway. I didn’t feel at all bad. Her personality was as lousy as her diet. There is no hope for ugly people with ugly personalities and though it didn’t seem to stop her, I knew somewhere inside all of that flesh, she knew that too.

In between the sounds of bass lines, auto tuned voices, and the people yelling over me for drinks, I tried to talk to Johnny and CJ, but it was almost impossible to hear anything over the speakers and my impaired hearing. CJ was focusing on impressing his girl and Johnny was making small talk with the not-so-fat-but-still-fat one while the fat one just stood there, angry at the world for making her fat.

More and more I was feeling a sense of urgency to flee. I couldn’t understand how no one else seemed to be panicking. It seemed insane to me how everyone could be even remotely content crammed into that bar like cattle with nothing but shit beer and cheap tequila to drink.

Everywhere around me I saw this look of sheer bliss on everyone; the mirror behind the bar showed me I looked nothing like them.

That was it, I told Johnny I’d be outside if they needed me. “I can’t do this anymore.” He knew me well enough to understand and nodded respectfully. In spite of the ocean of bodies I swam out the door in ten seconds.

The dull roar of the dive was finally silenced as the door slammed shut behind me and the quiet of the street greeted me like an old friend. I decided I wasn’t crazy after all for wanting to leave. It was the people in there who suffered that madness with smiles on their faces who were insane. Still, even after fleeing that asylum, I couldn’t help but feel like I had somehow failed.

I took a seat on the curb and laid my chin on my knees. I tried not to listen to the voices of the drunks ordering hot dogs and puking simultaneously behind me. I tried to get the image of the human zoo out of my head. I couldn’t tell if I wanted to be somewhere else or be some one else.

I didn’t know what I was feeling sitting there on that curb, but I bet that woman lying in the gutter could have told you.

Who knows how long I sat there wrapped up in blues in that dirty gutter, I just remember hearing Johnny call my name. I snapped out of it and got up and followed them down the crooked sidewalk as it rose and fell broken from all the earthquakes. The girls were bragging about how many drinks they had, in case the boys had forgotten. I looked up and saw no stars, just a lonely waning moon lighting up the hillside. “That’s a full moon if I ever saw one.” One of the girls said.

“That’s not a full moon. The full moon is tomorrow.”

“Pft, that’s a full moon.”

“No, trust me–it isn’t…”

I could tell they were all really starting to like me.

The girls wanted to dance and the guys would follow the girls until they got their opening. I heard them all talking as they stumbled on ahead. I wasn’t listening but I smiled when I was supposed to and laughed when I should have laughed. You learn when to laugh at the right times and you’ll live forever.

We got to the front of this building that was painted solid black with no windows that just said ‘Bar’ in neon lights. There was a line to get in the place. I didn’t believe anyone should ever have to wait in line just to get a drink, but I waited with them anyway. The night could still be saved. The next big story, the great love of my life could be inside of those doors for all I knew.

I walked through the doors and found a booth as far back in the place as I could possibly get and we had a whole corner to ourselves to breathe. The girl’s friends wanted to dance and Johnny followed them happily in drunken faith. CJ and his girl stayed at the booth with me and he offered me a drink. Somehow right then whiskey sounded more like poison than medicine. He went to the bar, leaving just me and his girl at the booth.

Her dress came down to her thighs leaving nothing but leg, yet there was nothing sexual about it. That dress made her feel uncomfortable, vulnerable even as she fidgeted trying to get it just right. I feel for women sometimes, I really do.

She looked over at me looking at her. “You are not having any fun at all, are you?”

“No.” It just came out and I was surprised I didn’t lie. Then I felt sort of sorry for her. I studied her for a couple seconds to find something I could bring up and tried to talk to her about a tattoo she had on her thigh to make conversation. I knew how I must have looked to her and I didn’t want to ruin anyone else’s time. The tattoo was a portrait of a singer I loved but when I got excited and tried to talk to her about him, she answered in short responses. She had made up her mind about me, she was done and hell, I couldn’t blame her.

Johnny and the girls came back. “These girls can’t dance!”

“Do you dance?” they asked me.

“No. I can’t go in there! I am an epileptic, those lights will give me a seizure.”

Johnny and CJ were the only ones who laughed. The girls didn’t care if I was being serious or not. I could tell they thought I was stuck up. Maybe I was. The truth is I was a terribly lonely person who just wanted to be left alone and I was trying to sort out how the hell that was possible.

So they all left me in the booth to celebrate each others drunkenness. I wondered what I looked like standing there alone to the people around me but no one noticed. It was one in the morning and everyone’s bellies but mine was full of the drink. The booth across from me held up two bodies, a man and a woman kissing each other and fumbling in and out of passion. For whatever reason I wondered if he loved her and I could tell from the way she studied his face when his tongue receded that she was asking herself the same thing.

Last call.

The music stopped and the lights came on guiding everyone out of the club en masse. Outside people stumbled slack mouthed over the broken sidewalks. Small boys with big mouths tried to start fights to prove to the world they were still men. Women in short dresses stole glances at me while still on the arms of their paramours. I watched as predators sober as judges stole easily suggestible bodies away into the night in yellow carriages while stone faced cops circled and prowled around the curbs in their black and white like lions in the tall grass looking for anyone to break away from the herd.

I looked around at the dispersing crowd and asked myself if this was it. If these late nights were the highlight of our lives. I saw these lost people had found themselves in lives they could only enjoy when they were in the process of escaping them. Escaping the responsibility of success handed down to them generation by generation by an unknown author. Running far away from the soul crushing jobs that fueled their petty stations and nocturnal enterprises. Their wed locked spouses and hungry children. Their problems with God. Fleeting dreams and neglected ambitions. Escaping their very consciousness. Drowning out the voice that would otherwise be screaming, “Why!?”

I longed to be counted among them, because I was a part of them, in their communal bliss. I didn’t want my mind. I didn’t know who put it there or where these thoughts came from. I didn’t want my eyes to see these things as they were. I wanted to find beauty in this! I wanted pure requited simplicity. I wanted this to be enough because I had no other answers.

I knew nothing else.

We were walking back towards our cars when I found myself suddenly far ahead of the group. As I looked up from the cracks, my mind was anywhere but there with them. It was on the battered surface of the moon 200,000 miles away, looking down at our lonely blue world wondering if it was really going to make it.

I saw the cracks in the broken pavement and suddenly I wanted the tectonic plates below the earth to shift and collide together so violently that the San Andreas fault-line would burst open and it’s hungry mouth would send dear Los Angeles screaming into the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. The skyline sparkled in the distance and I wanted nothing more than to see it all submerged in the sea.

We went wrong somewhere, I thought. We have got it terribly, terribly wrong.

The 10th Hour

What you are about to read comes from a part of my life and a piece of myself that I have kept hidden from virtually everyone. Things will begin to add up, and those missing variables that sum up a fraction of the equation that is me will be solved for some of you. Just like that, you’ll see a line, a series of letters revealing parts of me I have shown to only a handful of people, most of them gone now. It’s such a daunting thought, so invasive to think that people, strangers and friends alike, are going to be introduced to some of my demons. Hell, you might recognize them. You may have even given them names.

It all happened months ago, during a road trip I took with my younger brother to Northern California, in a sleepy forest town called Arcata. I was laying down in a cozy apartment at four in the morning during the tenth hour of a hallucinogenic trip under the influence of LSD. I shine emphasis on the state I was in for two reasons,

1: These lines follow no structure and evolved in an entirely organic matter. It’s simply a stream of consciousness spurned on by the effects of the LSD which, while they are mind altering, do not alter your present state of self awareness (on the contrary).

2: While under the effects of LSD, I was able to think in a manner which I had never been able to before. This new found thought process allowed me to remove myself while exploring myself (I can’t explain it any other way)–which was necessary–considering what it was I was going after: the root cause of a very real depression that still beset me.

I was able to see parts of me that I had hidden away and forgotten. Thoughts I had grown afraid to entertain, the memories I had sought for so long to drown; I brought them to the surface and found that I was not afraid, for how much more harm could they inflict on me now that I hadn’t already endured? There came at this time, a very strange kind of acceptance: I saw my life as it was, still effecting my life as it is, and going on into what my life would be.  It had to stop somewhere. To me, that meant acknowledging my pain, my hatred, and my sorrow and the child that was. For, instead of choosing to accept them as very crucial parts of myself I needed to recognize, I chose instead to forget them.

So, I remembered.

I beheld it all, all that I was running away from, and found some sense of peace at last that was born out of a sense of understanding I had discovered in an altered state of mind. I saw that I was only the cause of an even greater effect. A link in a great chain whose line had endured for generations. People who hurt others because they could not understand their own pain. The loveless who secretly weep and obsess over the one thing they cannot seem to ever posses. I was born with abandon to people who had also been given very poor hands in life, born with no clean slate to speak of. What I endured at their own hands, they too had suffered once, for suffering was all that they knew. In that respect, they had given me all that they had ever had.

Confronted with that profound truth it was then I felt, for the first time, actual empathy for the people that had wronged me. Not only my parents, but everyone who’d ever done me harm. And then everyone I myself had committed crimes against in some fit of anger or some preposterous notion of revenge. All those people who’d been refused a greater love, all reaching for the same thing at the center, the very thing we all orbit around, we are all connected to that. This great web that unites us all…It all just made sense in those precious moments in a way I may never be able to truly describe. Someday, I will try.

In that place I had found the key that would move me beyond my circumstances. Then it all poured out of me, like a river. This body of work remains largely untouched from it’s original conception save for some minor revisions or lines I needed to add for a “sober” or “unaltered” mind to make sense of all of this and also, it’s structure, which I have since changed to present the lines at the pace I would like them for them to be presented. This piece evolved with no design in mind, the words simply took me where they may.

I wrote this for no one, though it is for everyone.

the 10th Hour

I need you to know I am not well

and the truth is

I haven’t really ever been.

Not for a long time.

I can blame this on the way I was raised and I have for so long

How my Dad beat me because his Dad beat him when he was young

because we come from a long line of Soldiers who couldn’t make sense of war

or how my Mom didn’t love me enough

because she was the last of eleven children

born to already tired parents and wasn’t raised right

so she didn’t know how to raise me

and when I got grown and grew bad she abandoned me

because her God told her to,

but the thing is every addict and every selfish sob story

plays the same damn cards and never takes some goddamn responsibility!

People have had it worse then me.

Some people didn’t and neither of that matters

because none of them are me and I am not them,

but still we need to find some sense of understanding

and find camaraderie in our suffering

and let that hunger in us that’s never filled

be filled with something good for once

and maybe then our stomachs would cease to growl.

Sure, some of that I never had any control over

and I was just a little kid

who didn’t deserve any of that

and no one deserves any of that at all

and it fucking hurts like hell

when the people who are supposed to love you the most hurt you like that,

you are goddamn right it does!

And I took that hurt and that pain

and crafted it into a fucking shield to survive

and how I survived

but my strength that served me then

is a weakness that cripples me now.

That shield has since grown into a wall from all the bones

of the bodies thrown against me

and now no one can get in

and I am lonely

and I don’t want to be alone anymore

but love is the scariest thing to me

because I have seen what it can do to people

and it hurts every time I try and make it happen for myself,

but I am trying to confront my fears and it starts and ends there.

A whole mesh of seasons unfolding

that I hope will bear at least one good harvest.

It hurts

but that was a long time ago

and I am no longer a helpless child

and they are no longer who they were

and everything changes.

So blaming other people, that just arrests you.

You stay ever the helpless child.

Haven’t you cried enough?

For once shed your tears for someone else!

Because now you know what hurt is.

Because now you can recognize it.

And so many people are hurting.

And they are hiding it with painted masks and excess

and nothing gets better,

they just wait for it to go away

and it won’t go away

because it’s a part of them now,

well how do they fix it?

Love.

Love.

Love you gotta let it in.

Someway.

Somehow.

This is all on me now

and that’s just the damnable misery of it all:

knowing I can’t blame anyone anymore

and I alone am the sole author of this story

and I am just learning how to write

and I guess you can call that a strange sort of strength all on it’s own

but it’s just the beginning

and I didn’t really have one,

not like a “Once upon a time,” or anything,

so I have to start all over

and I don’t know that much but I am learning

and I am learning so much watching

but I know I need to participate even more.

Because you see people like me,

we have to know that this all has a meaning,

that there is something behind all of this,

there just has to be some meaning behind all our suffering

and we know that we have to find something

and we can’t settle for anything less than real

because in spite of it all

we still hope

and we still dream

of love,

of a real kind of love.

The kind that accepts

and understands

and knows

and heals.

Cause I need to heal something bad.

Can’t you see it?

I see some people that find happiness in the most mundane things

but really nothing is trivial

and they smile anyway

and everything is relative

but I still wish that I could be that simple

but my life permitted me no ignorance to procure that kind of bliss

so it has to be something so much more

and it’s a curse I think is really going to bless me.

I know I can find a way to make it better

because it has been better

so I can’t go yet

because I have barely seen a fraction of anything

and I have to make it all worth something.

I need to find something

and I have been going mad just to trying to find what that something is,

something I know is going to save me,

from myself

or the world

or both,

but I don’t know what it it is I am supposed to find!

I guess I will know when I find it.

It’s looking that gives me purpose.

It’s the search that makes it all worthwhile.

Because I don’t know if it’s just around the next bend of the highway

or the next turn of the page

where the author may have wrote something

that makes you feel like they wrote it just for you

to reassure you that you are not alone!

Someone has been there, where you are before

and they came out of it

and it’s there in the pages of history and poetry

to make you write something beautiful now

and give back that same gift!

It could be in the face of an unconventionally beautiful woman

sitting alone in the window of a cafe

looking over the menu for the seventh time

cause she is waiting for something big

to walk in through the door on a lonely night in Brooklyn.

It could hit me in a shoulder high crest in summer time

and cradle me in it’s salty truth like sunlight holds the pacific at high noon.

Or I could make it out in the shadows of the clouds

floating along the unfurling valleys below me

as I fly overhead and overwhelmed towards some strange new land

in which to lose and find myself.

It can be in the smiles of my friends,

behind a patient glass of wine in Summertime

where we talk real good talk of all the good things

we will do in good time

cause we want to be good men to not even really good people.

Perhaps it’s in the ivories of a piano

hidden away in an old house you just have to play

because no one has played it in years

and it was meant to be played

and You and I were meant to be loved!

It can be in the leaves falling in Autumn

reminding me beautifully and morbidly that life is still magic,

even when it’s ending,

but from that fleeting end Springs a new beginning

and the world will soon be green again.

Maybe it will be illuminated by a full moon on a white beach

that causes the blood to boil in our veins with passions beyond our understandings

and spurns us on into that ethereal world where the tides meet the skies

and you can’t tell if you are swimming or flying

because sometimes the stars align and anything can happen.

What if it’s in the arms of a woman who’ll fall for and into me,

touching me in a way that’s more than physical

and I don’t tremble at the thought of surrendering

because maybe this time it’s a victory and not a defeat.

I could find it one tiny raindrop in a storm that fell

not one second before the precisely perfect moment

upon a window in November

and reminded me in it’s following symphony

how truly wonderful this world can be

in the morning, and at noon and at night

and every day there after.

It can be anything.

It can be anywhere.

It can be anyone.

So I am going to stop looking for excuses and start searching for this.

Whatever it is.

Because I am not going to find it sitting here feeling sorry for myself anymore.

Because I want to be well

and I want to be whole

with all of what’s left of my soul.

It’s out there.

Somewhere.

Waiting to meet me on some unknown platform and

slowly I am moving towards it,

I can feel it.

– I

November, 2013