Life is fucking short. Mortality is a bitch. I realized those things recently. I work at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, ORD on your luggage tags. I'm a baggage chucker. I'm the asshole that mishandles and wrecks your luggage all day long. A guy I work(ed) with, Bernie Jacobs, died yesterday. A severe hemorrhage in the artery at the base of his brain. An aneurysm. He's dead. I was with him yesterday, and hours later, he's gone. We're born, and then we start dying.
I got a postcard from the future today. On the front of it there is a dark skinned girl wearing a flower necklace and a grass skirt. Above her head in bright orange letters outlined in yellow it says, "Aloha from Hawaii!" On the back, in black pen, someone had scrawled:
Transgression is progression. Let go.
It was dated six days from today, Sunday. I was confused by it, to say the least. The girl on the front doesn't stop smiling, it's annoying. Processing all of this was not going well for my head and the all-too-familiar grinding started. The rusty gears of my mind strained and scratched against one another in an attempt to make sense of the present events. Instead of giving in to my rationale, I did what I do best. I grabbed the clear brown plastic bottle off the counter in the kitchen and screwed the child-proof cap off. The comforting sound of pills colliding with container soothed me instantly. I poured out six chalk white Vicodin on the table. I hesitated.
Wilson, Sam was printed on the side of the bottle. My grandpa Sam died 6 years ago. Through a clerical error, he was never reported as deceased. Thus, his social security checks continued to come and his open Vicodin prescription started to become extremely lucrative.
I poured out three more for good measure and moved to the refrigerator. Grasping the handle, I tugged lightly until the seal broke and the door swung open, revealing a rainbow of sorts within. Ten or so jugs of brightly colored drink sat arranged upon the refrigerator shelves, the contents of which were concocted with extreme care and precision. I clutched the handle of a pitcher that contained a bright red liquid. I filled a tall glass to the brim, stooping and closing one eye to see the meniscus of the drink, softly curving. A smile crept across my face, slow at first, until it became a giant grin racing between each ear. It was a smile of anticipation. Let me explain something. Some people are passionate about knitting or cooking or Sudoku. I like pills, and I fucking love Kool-Aid.
I took the pills in one hand and the glass of Cherry Kool-Aid in the other. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. The pills slid down my throat, the cold liquid chasing them in close pursuit. I reclined in my La-Z-Boy, letting the wave of nothingness engulf me.
When I was younger and we lived in Virgina my family would go to the beach a short drive from our house. I would search ceaselessly for shells. When I found them, I would press the open end of the shell to my ear and listen to the ocean. These days I can hear it whenever I want, if I take enough pills. Nine should do the trick.
Somebody has a case of the Mondays.
My day off from wrecking handling traveler's baggage.
I clutched my list of things to get in one hand as I walked to the grocery store. On the crumpled piece of paper, there was a total of three or four words, depending on how you define Kool-Aid.
I never was one for variety.
Upon entering the store, I instantly realized I had to use the bathroom, and badly. Annoyed with myself for not going before leaving my house, I veered left towards the Men's room. A diet of various frozen and microwavable meals keeps my digestive system constantly on edge. I entered what promised to be the typical dirty public restroom, I wasn't disappointed. Inside, there were three stalls. Statistically, the stall closest to the door gets the most use and is thus the dirtiest. This in mind, I quickly walked towards the second stall. I pulled my cellphone out in anticipation of playing Snake on my shitty outdated Nokia. As I opened the door, the mobile device slipped from my hand and smacked against the tiled linoleum floor. It bounced hard and slid beneath the third stall. Swearing loudly, I marched around to the other stall. Pulling the creaky metal door closed behind me, I picked up my slightly chipped phone off the stained floor, unbuttoned my pants and disposed myself upon the cold plastic toilet seat.
Some of the best art and the most profound thoughts are scattered among the public bathrooms of the world. There's something enticing about the anonymity of a bathroom stall. Some men are emotionally and artistically in tune when taking a shit, or something like that.
No longer feeling in the mood to play with my phone, I slipped it into my pocket and heaved a deep sigh, ready to relax. That's when I saw it. Directly in front of me, on the stall door, was what appeared to be a short paragraph, written in black marker. It looked fresh. What was most unsettling, was the handwriting. I'd seen it somewhere before, and very recently. My eyes studied it from the top, reading the first line.
Do you believe in free will?
Unconsciously, I felt my head nod a little.
Do you believe in God?
Again, I felt myself nodding to a bathroom door. My eyes followed the words farther down the door, reading on.
If you believe in God and free will, then it follows that you believe God does not control you. No predestination. We control ourselves. It means one thing: God watches T.V. God cannot intervene in free will. God can only observe. Supposed omnipotence has become a diluted form of omniscience. Watching us, watching T.V. All day. One person to the next. Change the channel. Change the channel. This begs the question though, what if God could only watch one channel until it was cancelled, what if
At this point, my ass was completely off the toilet seat as I leaned forward and craned my neck to read the last few lines. The writing stopped abruptly, the author had seemingly been cut short by the end of the door. A feeling of unease spread through my body. Without knowing why, I hurriedly stood up and exited the bathroom. I walked quickly, my pants still undone, pulling them up as I scurried from the restroom. Wanting to put as much distance between myself and the store, I decided to forego my list and get home as swiftly as possible.
As I approached my dingy little excuse for a house, I noticed the mailman had come. Hoping for some distraction, I reached into the plastic box and pulled a stack of envelopes from within. I stood at the end of the walkway leading to my house, thankful for the sense of normalcy that had begun to return to my chest and head.
Magazine subscription renewal.
The fucking Golden Gate Bridge. “Greetings from San Francisco!” plastered across the front. The machine of my mind stirred to life. The feeling of security moments ago had fled, only to be replaced by one of inexplicable dread. Almost in slow-motion, I turned the card over to the back. It was dated 5 days from today. As I read the words penned across the reverse side of the postcard, I literally felt my heart drop in my chest.
the remote is broken.
I became a third person observer in my own body. My mind whirred, frantically trying to comprehend. I must have stood there for five minutes, my heart pounding, inhaling short choppy breaths. The world stopped moving for the first time in my life and noise ceased to exist. That's when I heard it.
At first indiscernible, my feet lead me towards the house and the sound became clearer. The noise carried on continuously, changing pitch like a siren. As I opened the door and moved towards the kitchen, the screaming became unbearable. I searched for the unearthly screech until I found the source: the clear brown plastic bottle on the kitchen table. I reached out and snatched it, depressing the cap and turning simultaneously, defeating the child-proof cap. The white lid detached from the bottle, revealing the medication within. Pouring out a handful of pills, I seized the refrigerator door and yanked. In one fluid motion I pulled a pitcher of Kool-Aid from the shelf. Without bothering to find a glass, I dropped the pills into my waiting mouth and flushed them down my throat with a gulp of green Kool-Aid, Lemon Lime. The screaming halted
The world became silent once again, except for the faint dull of the ocean in my ears.
Good morning. Sort of.
A deafening clap of thunder echoed through the air and shook the window panes. It was a harsh beginning of what would prove to be the longest fucking morning of my life. Squinting once, twice, I sat up and tried to recall what had occurred to lead me here, in the living room, where I was splayed out awkwardly across the couch. I stood up, yawning and running my hand through disheveled brown hair. Gazing around the room, I saw it. There. On the counter acting as a coaster to an empty glass, was the postcard. My heart rate instantly accelerated and the recollection of the bathroom, the postcard, the screaming, it all hit me like a well-placed sucker punch. I reeled backwards, knocked onto the couch by the sheer weight of the previous night's events.
Skip to me riding the Green Line from Cicero. On the train questions buzzed thorough my head. One kept resurfacing over and over though.
What the fuck?
Skip to me pretending to be normal, going to work. National threat level today: Orange, how comforting. At O'Hare, I slipped three or four pills in my mouth, to forget. I may be an airport employee, but my real work is done in construction. Painkillers are like bricks. I take them to build a wall. The wall stops my feelings, fears, all the bullshit from penetrating my consciousness. They keep me isolated.
Skip to me not caring about your luggage from FLG, LAX, PBI. Flagstaff, Arizona, Los Angeles, California, West Palm Beach, Florida. Rain drops slide down big glass windows. Boeing 737-900's roar down the runway. Numbers, abbreviations, I do not care.
Skip to me opening my mailbox. My head hoping and my heart dreading for the inevitable. Reaching in, I pulled out what I knew would be there. “Howdy from Texas!” I didn't turn the postcard over. I extracted a lighter from my pocket. Flames licked the sides of the card and the message on the back was reduced to ash.
Skip to me crying in my living room. A glass of Strawberry Kool-Aid rests on the coffee table, half empty. A bottle of pills is tipped over, half full.
Take a deep breath. Hold it. You feel in control; you could breathe at any time. Feel that tension in your lungs. The slight burn of the oxygen in your chest. Now imagine you're at the bottom of the fucking ocean. The surface is 50 meters above. You're halfway to drowning. The panic sets in. Your calm, collected breath is now incomprehensible fear. The slight burn has turned to a fierce pain. The edges of your vision start to blur. The blur turns black. The sense of inevitability and helplessness overtakes you. Welcome to my fucking world, every minute of every day, until I take my pills. And you wondered why I hear the ocean when I close my eyes.
People assume tragedy is the pretext to insanity. What they fail to understand is a different phenomenon. Sometimes, insanity precedes tragedy. Sometimes tragedy, trauma, catastrophic occurrence, they are born of delusion.
I dreamt in dead languages last night, Sumerian, Aruá. Don't ask me how I know this. The birds singing outside reminded me that regardless of my life, they and the rest of the world continued on unbothered.
A red blinking in my peripherals caught my attention, the answering machine, I had a message. I pressed the playback button and a woman's voice spoke to me. She called me sir, and told me the book I had placed on hold was in at the public library. I didn't put a book on hold. Ominous isn't the right word, but it's the only one I can think of.
The Breakfast of Champions Addicts, Kool-Aid and pills. Liquid motivation to wash down my pharmaceutical stress relief. Tangerine, just to clarify. Against my better judgement, albeit impaired, I ventured in the direction of the library, it wasn't far away. The Vicodin occupied my attention between destinations. I exited my house, and then I arrived. My consciousness was consumed and buzzing. A man sat on the steps of the large stone building, his disheveled clothing and obvious disregard for hygiene contrasted sharply with the grandeur of the library. He said something to me. He seemed like he meant it. I couldn't hear him over the waves crashing in my head.
Through the glass doors, past the book drop, to the desk. The woman there assisted me in locating the work I had allegedly put on hold. She handed me a book that would be gray haired and decrepit if it were alive. I sat alone in a dark corner, breathing deeply, contemplating. The geriatric pages sent a cloud of dust into the air when I pried them open. There was no title, just an author; Friedrich Nietzsche. There was two pages of writing, the rest were blank. With an irregular heartbeat and a clouded mind, I read on.
Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: "I seek God! I seek God!"---As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated?---Thus they yelled and laughed.
The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. "Whither is God?" he cried; "I will tell you. We have killed him---you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.
"How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us---for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto."
Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. "I have come too early," he said then; "my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars---and yet they have done it themselves.
I read it again.
Then I read it again.
Confused isn't the right word, but it's the only one I can think of.
This was a coincidence. It couldn't be relevant to the bathroom, to the mail, to the pain. In frustration, I dashed the book against the table. It resulted in a resounding crack, a nebulous of dust, and a paper rectangle that fluttered to the floor. I was at odds with myself, still pretending coincidence existed. Deliberately, I reached down, apprehension coursing through my body, making my fingers shake. I haltingly clutched for what looked like a photo under the table. As I pulled it nearer my face, the masquerade of coincidence fully crumbled. Fuck Seattle.
I recognized the handwriting on the back of the postcard as if it was my own.
New values must replace the divine order. The death of God will allow human creativity to fully develop. You are the madman. The time is coming.
Fear isn't the right word, but it's the only one I can think of.
1. to slip away from or elude (pursuers, captors, etc.): He escaped the police.
2. to succeed in avoiding (any threatened or possible danger or evil): She escaped capture.
I woke up in the woods. Shafts of light cut through the canopy above, a creek meandered through the ground below.
I walked. And walked. Everything was blurry, morphed as if viewed from alien lenses. After some time, I stopped. Not knowing why. Just understanding it was of great importance I do so. On a fallen tree I sat and rested. And after a time, an indefinite amount it seemed, down from the branches floated a bumblebee. It ceased its activity on a branch near my face. The eyes stared at me intently, as if bubbling with a hidden intelligence. Breaking our temporary vision lock, the bee rose from the branch and flitted near my ear. The buzzing increased steadily, making the hairs on every inch of my body stand at attention. I sensed the delicate legs of the insect graze the insides of my ear and burrow deep into my lobe. All the while, an incessant, steady, irrevocable buzz surged into the right side of my cranium. It made my eye twitch half shut. And the noise didn't stop. It clawed my insides out until time and consciousness melted away. Then there was nothing. It was gone. Relief. Something, a slight noise, barely discernible from the white noise. Then the volume increased. It became audible. A buzzing. A deep echoing buzz that caused me to rock back and forth as my eyes rolled back into my head.
I woke up in my bed. Rays of light forced their way through the blinds, miscellaneous trash scattered the floor. Warm relief seeped through me like whiskey on a cold night. The buzzing was gone.
Time between pills, between trips, was slipping together. Dreams became reality. Reality became hell. Escape.
A frail 10 speed in my garage served as my getaway vehicle. I made my way with nothing but a healthy amount of pills and a water bottle filled with Black Cherry Kool-Aid. I pedaled. Sweat dripped down my nose, my muscles strained and cried out for rest. I came to a point where the path diverged into a forest. Setting my bike down behind a Chokeberry Bush I took a deep draught of sugary drink and added milky white medication. I felt the pills floating like boats on the Kool-Aid in my mouth. I ported the ships home, to my waiting throat, and continued on foot. After some time I came to a tree that rested horizontally on the ground. Sitting, I removed pills and drink from the sack on my back. Drink, pill, swallow. Drink, pill, swallow. Repeat. After the fourth repetition. I heard a noise that made the hair on every inch of my body stand at attention. Deja-vu jolted me like a cold shower. I met eyes with the slight creature, the bumblebee. It drifted lazily from above me, stopping on a branch. Time stopped, or sped up, or slowed. I'm not sure. The bee, having sufficiently stared through me, alighted upon the ground. As I focused though, I saw it was near something that shouldn't be in the woods. I wasn't aware the United States Postal service delivered to forest paths.
"Hello from BEEautiful Hidalgo, Texas! Killer Bee Capital of the World!"
Embrace it, lest beauty be mistaken for the repugnant.
Before I had an opportunity to consider the words, I felt the lightest of touches on the inside of my ear. It was followed by an unbearable buzzing. A drone, in more ways than one. And my eye twitched, and I was staring at the inside of my head. Then, nothing. I passed out. I woke up. Time was nondescript. I began though, at a certain point, to truly listen to the previously insufferable hiss in my ear. I focused my sense of hearing and closed my eyes. The buzzing finally made sense. Realization broke me like a sunrise does a dark sky. As I lay there on the forest floor, everything was clearer. In my head I did not hear the ocean, I heard the bee. It was no longer the intolerable noise, but a symphony. Whether the sound had become an orchestra, or if it had been one all the while, I did not know. The only feeling coursing through my content mind was appreciation, because the music was fucking beautiful.
Chapter 6- Saturday
I work Saturdays. In the midst of the unexplainable, the impossible, the airport kept me believing in reality. Life becomes simpler when all one does is throw bags onto conveyor belts. Grab, throw. Grab, throw. Grab, throw. A rhythm builds and I forget. I disregard everything. Like the pills, this monotonous pattern isolates me. Then a break, a change. A respite means time to think, to feel. I don't want to feel anymore. I prefer the all-consuming nothing.
In the bathroom I continued my process. Grab, throw. Grab, throw. I lose count. My mouth is the conveyor belt, pills are the luggage. Grab, throw. Grab, throw. I'm damn good at my job.
After my shift ends I clock out and walk towards the luggage carousel. I stand in the emptying baggage area. It's late, only a few stragglers hang around collecting their bags. One man catches my eye. He's tall, with flawless pasty skin that seems to glow. Broad, strong shoulders highlight an unusually muscular back . He is immaculately dressed in a dark pinstripe suit. As a simple black bag whirs toward him on the conveyor, he extracts it with little effort. When he turns away our eyes meet, he smiles slightly. Is he...walking directly at me? Yes.
Hello he says, with a look that usually accompanies friendship.
Hello, do I know you?
I'm Gabrielle, call me Gabe for short, and no we haven't met, but I've heard so much about you.
I'm confused, what's going on, can I help you?
You can help us all. But don't worry, my purpose here is to deliver you a message.
I stared blankly, almost defiantly, all the while knowing the time for ignorance had long since passed. I began to perspire. Gabe smirked, handing me an envelope. I quietly ripped it open with deliberate movements. Inside was something that shocked me, although it certainly shouldn't have. A postcard. "The City that Never Sleeps!" and a photo of the Brooklyn Bridge. The ink was still wet.
The strand of my existence is in your grasp. You are humanity. The choice is now. Meet me on this bridge at dusk tomorrow.
This will all be over soon Gabe assured me.
His hand reached out, lightly squeezing my neck, almost...lovingly. The moment seemed to drag on. Like a dam breaking, an onslaught of tears poured from the enigmatic man's eyes. Composing himself, his eyes lingered for a moment longer on mine and he pivoted, walking towards the door. There was a peculiar bulge in the man's suit where his shoulder blades should have been. Something powerful was flexing on his back as the man marched away. I doubted my initial reaction, it couldn't be, were those...wings?
The Sabbath, how appropriate. As I stepped off the plane I got a breath of the damp New York air. Next day tickets are easy to come by when you're an airline employee. Hello JFK--the airport--not the president. A walk through baggage claim made me cringe as I flashed back to the previous day's events. In the lobby a large group of people stood huddled around a television likes hobos to a fire, jockeying for position. I approached the assembly and listened to the woman on the station. She told us of erratic weather in the area that was baffling meteorologists. A click, a video flashed across the screen. Grainy and shaky, we watched a bizarre light show, the clouds seemed to part, spilling light on to a hulking steel structure below, a bridge. The audio began to increase as the camera man gasped. The water was swirling, jumping from the estuary below and into the sky, forming a cyclone of sorts. Micro lightning storms littered the footage. An audible scream erupted from the television speakers and the video cut out suddenly.
I had seen enough. The group around me began to whisper excitedly, I took it as an exit cue.
A 20 minute taxi ride down 278 West placed me within walking distance of the Brooklyn Bridge. My eyes confirmed the television report. Sky and earth seemed to be forming a union, differences between the pair became less than discernible. I continued on foot, the bridge unhurriedly came into focus. As I approached the massive suspension bridge, a dense fog settled over the landscape, obscuring the New York skyline, decreasing visibility to several feet, isolating the madness. At the entrance to the bridge I discontinued my march. I had encountered no one and the bridge was unexpectedly closed. Knowing such coincidences weren't coincidence at all, I inhaled the moist air indulgently, absorbing what could be my final moments. From my small rucksack I produced a bottle of pills, a bottle of Kool-Aid. Tropical Punch, my favorite flavor. Special occasions warrant such behavior. I poured the pills in my mouth, I poured the Kool-Aid. Like a well choreographed dance, everything was perfect, I'd had practice. I closed my eyes, letting the sound of the ocean sweep over my senses. I opened them. I walked.
The mist danced around me as I journeyed to the center of the giant metal framework. I walked, trapped in my five foot bubble of vision, oblivious to the world around me.
Without warning I arrived. What I saw did not make sense, although not much had recently. I knew I was at my destination, because I saw Him. He was standing precariously, albeit confidently, upon the pedestrian railing. I couldn't look directly at Him, when I tried, my eyes began to burn and my lids would snap shut. He seemed to glow. Not like you or I, not like the moon, reflecting light, but creating it. He was a source, not a recipient. His back was to me, He faced the unforgiving space in front of Him, arms spread out slightly. The water rested ominously 120 feet below. He spoke to me. Well, not to me, more in me. He spoke in me, I heard Him in my mind, I felt Him.
You came, He whispered solemnly. He did not yell, but his voice resonated deep within, shaking me to my core.
I want to end this, whatever it is, I spoke or thought, I'm not sure which.
I know. It has been difficult for both of us I imagine. You seek answers, I am here to provide them. This will not be easy, are you ready?
Tentatively, I nodded my head. Even though He wasn't facing me, I knew He understood.
My time with you, with my children has been approaching an end. Akin to an apprentice surpassing his master, humans believe they have reached beyond me. I am a distraught parent, disgusted, terrified, in awe of my creation. My interaction has eclipsed productivity. Humankind is converging to a point of complete liberation. At a crossroads you sit; turn towards stagnation or progress towards limitless potential. I leave you with a choice. I know it is not fair, but alas not much is. My fate in your hands, much as life has been in mine, I turn the tables, I reverse the roles.
I felt myself stagger. My mind was buzzed and delusional. What was He saying?
I sense your apprehension, but I have not come to judge. I am sick. Terminally ill one could say. The poison that is modern life has eaten away at my very being. What was once a lingering doubt has blossomed into a flower of certainty. My presence is unappreciated, unwanted, hated. It was always I who stressed the importance of patience with my creation, but alas it seems my creation has lost patience with me. It is my time to go.
The weight of His words was more than I had ever known. I shrieked out in protest. My voice became a high pitched wail that was swallowed as the winds around me began to gust with a new fervor.
Humanity has failed me. It seems omnipotence does not guarantee love.
Tears slid down my cheeks in earnest.
It began to rain, lightly pouring on us. His chest heaved, exhaling a ferocious burst of wind.
I'm sorry! I cried.
Please, don't! I pleaded desperately.
I dropped to my knees. My eyes fixated on the spot where He had been standing. I turned away as He cut through the air, hurtling towards death. With the power of an imploding nuclear device, He made contact with Earth. The lightning, the fog, the cyclones, the chaos, it all ceased. There was only...nothing.
A single bumblebee landed on the railing where God once stood.
A postcard, this one from the present, rode the wind into my hand. It's only fitting that the front was a picture of my home, "The Windy City!"
The back, black pen blood formed apologies of a divine origin.
I am sorry.
I reached for my pills, to stop the buzzing. To hear the ocean.
I screwed the top off the container. In my rush, it dropped from my hand. The Kool-Aid slid out of my rucksack.
The pills bounced. The Kool-Aid bottle broke.
The pills rolled. The Kool-Aid poured out.
The pills jumped off the bridge. The Kool-Aid pooled on the walkway, blood red.
And I was alone, so alone.