I’m A Million Different People From One Day To The Next

I’m told the word for it is “manic.” I have this cacophony of internal noise in my brain that damn near gives me a headache. My thoughts race at the speed of light, all of them tinged with a certain level of darkness. My emotions climb and dive at alarming rates, changing like the wind. I feel depressed, and this angers me. I feel out of control, and I struggle to keep my tongue in check, refusing to let it unleash the things my mind has fabricated.

It’s like a strong wind is blowing, and there is a never-ending scream, allthewhile a multitude of people are holding a hundred different conversations in an echoing cathedral. It’s more than a little distracting. I try so hard not to let it affect me, not to let it all influence my behavior, but it takes so much out of me simply to act normal. I feel claustrophobic and like I’m on the edge of a cliff at the same time. I want to be around people, because being social might help me come back down from this, but I also don’t want to be around people because…what if they notice?

So I shake my head and try to cut loose this invisible tether that holds me fast to the storm that rages within, meanwhile attempting to calm it by sheer force of will.

This is me.

I am peaceful. Calm. Tired. But calm. Things are good, I am fine. The world is still the same as it was yesterday, yet somehow everything around me seems brighter, more decadent and beautiful. I am normal. I don’t have to pretend that I am okay, because I truly feel alright. I think back over the days that brought me here, and I wonder if this is normal, or if my dark demons are right in telling me I am alone and I am a freak.

Nope, not gonna go down that way today. There’s no need. The storm has passed. There’s no reason to relive it.

This is also me.

I feel like I am so many different people, all of them taking my face as a mask in their theatrical display. They are all me, just different sides of the same coin. Albeit a weird, nine-faceted coin…maybe it’s more like a diamond, with so many different sides. Some of them are tarnished and dirty, while others shine bright and beautiful.

Great. Now I just referred to myself as a beautiful diamond. I’m such a dweeb.

But all these various versions of me, they are all truly me. There is the sad, depressed version. The side that sees something sinister around every corner. The side that seems sinister and cruel. The hopeful version. The nihilistic one. The one that tries to understand all of this. The one that knows he can’t and just doesn’t even try.

It’s all there, hidden away behind my eyes. This is me. Now that I’ve got that nailed down, maybe I can try to start figuring out other people.

Oh geez, sometimes I crack myself up.

A River Carried Us Through It

I’ve run out of eloquent cliches and quirky mid-thought intros, so strap in, hit the gas, and try to keep up, because, quite frankly, I’m not sure this is going to make even a lick of sense.

So, anyway…

I don’t know what made me realize this, but I came to the conclusion today that I have viewed myself as a boulder in a river. Everything has been moving around me, passing me by, with no intervention or causation on my part. I am simply…here; while all of you are temporary. I have been subconsciously under the impression that it is everything around me that moves, that the people outside myself come and go. And to an extent, that’s true.

But it’s far from the whole truth.

The whole truth is that life is motion, and for every day that goes by, I come closer to some things and some people, while drifting imperceptibly further from others. We’re all moving. We’re like leaves on a stream. The water carries them closer and further apart constantly.

And that’s kind of an isolating thought.

It makes life seem rather lonely, knowing that the people I commune with daily will, one of these days, all be gone. Because as time goes on, we drift apart, we lose touch, people die…

But it’s also a stark reminder to seize the day.

These people, they won’t be here forever. These moments, they won’t last long. Live in this second. Let your worries take a back seat once in a while and just…live. Learn to do more than exist. Don’t take anything for granted, because sooner or later, this train will carry you so far from this place that all that is left is the memory.

Remember that yesterday is written in stone, and tomorrow is unsure. Live today. After all, that’s where you happen to be. Enjoy the people around you now. Experience the fullness that this day can grant you. Choose to truly, entirely be here today. It’s the only chance you’ll ever get to do so.

Rocks In My Backpack

These are my regrets. By regrets, I don’t mean things that I wish I had done differently, or mistakes that I have made. No, these are the things that I wish could have been different, but ultimately, everyone is better off this way. And I’m sorry I couldn’t have been more, done more. But this is how it is.

The record. An unopened album sits on my desk, not even a foot away from me right now. I keep it, partly because I don’t really know what to do with it now, and partly because it reminds me of my inadequacies, shaming me into striving to be better. It was a gift, something I bought you, something I knew you had been looking for and couldn’t find. I planned to give it to you, as a surprise. And then everything fell to pieces. The things you asked of me, the things you needed from me, I just couldn’t handle. It pushed me beyond my limits, and I’m sorry. What you need and what I have to offer are two very different things. I have nothing evil to say about you, you’re a wonderful person; you’re just more than I can handle. Holding on to you was like trying to fit the oceans in a coffee mug; it’s laughably impossible. It has nothing to do with you. You deserve to have your needs met; it just won’t be by me. So I keep the record, still wrapped in plastic, and every time I see it, it reminds me that some day, someone may ask more of me than I previously thought I could give. Only next time, I’ll be ready. I’ll be better than I am now. If only you could know me then.

The guitar. When I was younger, you taught me how to play music. You spent your Fridays helping me hone my craft. You were strict, but I knew it was because you loved the me almost as much as you loved the music itself. The things you taught me stayed with me, and now, nearly fifteen years later, your words still ring in my mind. You were the first person to push me, and that’s why it hurts me so much to know that I laid down the craft so willingly. It embarrasses me. You poured so much time and effort into finding a way for me to learn, and you inspired me to pursue it. But when you were gone, I realized the passion I had wasn’t for performing, but performing with you. Without you at the helm, I had no reason to stay the course. My true passions lie elsewhere, and there came a day when I had to make a choice. I chose to let it all go, and life has carried me very far from that day, away from the times when my fingers danced across the fretboard. I’m sorry I will never live up to your expectations of what I was meant to be; I realized too late that it was never really who I was.

The college. I have an acceptance letter stashed away in one of these drawers to a school I never attended. This is the only true regret that I have. The one thing in my life that I wish I could take back, the one day I wish I could do over. The day I left your house and crossed state lines to go to orientation at a school far, far away. You always believed in me. You always had my back. You always had my best interests at heart. And you were always right. I knew that. Never once did you steer me wrong. But that day, I thought I was man enough to make my own choices. Now, I suffer for it. Now I wish I had listened. I would do anything to take back the cruel words I spoke to you that day, thinking that I was master and commander of my own life at such a young and naive age. What a fool I was. Perhaps I still am a fool. I don’t know; I don’t have you here to tell me if I’m getting things right or not. Because that argument, that day I made you cry, that day I told you I didn’t care what you thought, was the last day I ever spoke to you. You saw right through me; you knew I wasn’t trying to start new and fresh, but that I was running away from my problems. You knew I was taking the easy way out, and that if I just faced my issues head on, that I could have conquered the world. Obviously, things didn’t work out. Obviously, when you breathed your last, I realized my mistake. By then, it was too late. I should have been there. I should have at least been closer. I should never have said those things. I should have never been that way. I hope you know I am truly sorry.

We all have scars. The sad truth is that the deepest ones are not those inflicted by outside sources, but the ones we give ourselves. Some are unavoidable. Some are the result of youth and stupidity. Regardless, we carry them the same. They never go away. They ache like phantom limbs, creating an itch we can never scratch. But life goes on. I’ve come to embrace the sweet grace of time, as it never lets me sit in one place for too long. I may wallow in self pity for a moment, but the responsibilities of age do not allow me to remain in the mud. I only hope that I can take these moments, these memories, and use them the right way. I hope that I can glean the gold from them and spin it into a beautiful life. That I can gather these scattered lessons and hard-fought truths and mold them to myself, creating a new, better man.

Life has not been easy; mostly because I have not allowed myself to live an easy life. Partly because that’s just the way the cards were dealt. But easy or not, this is the way things are. I wish I could have been better. I wish I could have lived up to my potential. However, all that is behind me, on my back like rocks in a knapsack. The good I hope to take away from this is with each rock and pebble I have collected, I have grown stronger, and with each day that I carry these things with me, I am able to stand a little taller. Some day, I will be able to look back on all that I have done and be proud. Not of my mistakes and shortcomings, but of the human being that I became because of them. You always told me that we learn more from our failures than our successes; if that’s true, someday, I’ll be a damn genius.

Hush

He woke up suddenly, eyes snapping open, fluttering around frantically for a moment. His panting returned to steady, even breaths as he realized he was no longer in the dream. The room was still very dark; his alarm would not sound off for several more hours, so he might as well try to go back to sleep. He rolled over and realized he had sweat through the sheets. Dammit, he thought, not again. I just ran these through the wash two days ago.

He stared at the wall, the visions from his dream replaying themselves in his mind. To tell the truth, it was less of a dream and more of a memory…or a series of memories all slammed together.

He was just a child when it all happened, far from able to defend himself from your attacks. All the bruises you made him cover up, and the cuts and welts he had to lie about, all the scars that would never go away. What the hell was wrong with you.

His whole life since then, he’s had to live with this…thing, growing and living inside him. It’s not quite fear, and can’t really be called hate. There’s no naming it, no label to be slapped on it. It’s just this underlying darkness that shades everything about him, from his happiest moments to his quiet nothings. It’s like a faraway storm cloud, casting a deep shadow on the landscape below, but not close enough anymore to rain heavy upon him.

He rubbed his aching shoulder. He told people it was an old sports injury, but he never really played any sports. The truth was much more sinister. The fact of the matter was you threw him so hard against the wall that you dislocated his shoulder. Twice. And now, on top of an injury that refused to heal properly, even after all these years, he had to carry around the hidden shame that the one who was supposed to protect him from the dangers of the world was the greatest danger he had ever faced.

His mind had settled in this dark space, and in the safety of his quiet room, in the middle of the night, he let himself relive those memories. He walked himself through every painful second of that time you slammed his head against the sink, over and over and over again, remembering how he only wished he would pass out one of these times so that he could escape, even for a moment.

Or the time you threw him across the room into the dresser, where he gashed his head open. He remembered with a soft, bitter laugh what you said when you saw the wound. “Shit, boy, don’t you DARE bleed on this white carpet. I’ll make you REALLY bleed then.”

There was the time you knocked him down on his face and sat on his back, grabbed his chin, and tried to snap his neck. You would have killed him if someone hadn’t rang the doorbell.

Or when you beat him so bad with that aluminum bat that he couldn’t walk for two weeks. And when he finally could walk, you went at him again because you thought he was faking.

Or the time you woke him up in the middle of the night and beat his face in because of something that happened in your dreams.

Or when…god, the list just goes on. And every time, you said the same thing: “Be grateful I don’t give you what you deserve.” Jesus, some of the shit you pulled would have been considered cruel and unusual by Saddam Hussein. How on earth did a little boy deserve anything like this? What could he have possibly done?

A lot of years have come and gone since all of that happened. The scars and the aches have become a part of who he is. You accidentally made him strong by trying to tear him down. You tried so hard to destroy him, and now…now, nothing ever could. The pain of it all has mostly faded, but there is one thing that still infuriates him; you tell people how great you are, saying how you raised a good man. You ain’t done shit. He raised himself. He decided a long time ago that he was going to be nothing like you. He wasn’t going to become any of the things you said he would be. He set out to prove you wrong, to make something of himself. And here we are, he’s somehow turned into a functional human being, and you’re standing there trying to take all the credit. Why do you think he wants nothing to do with you?

When was the last time you talked to him? When was the last time you asked how he was doing, or came to see him? You know the only time you ever call is when you need something from him, and it’s a god damned miracle that he even picks up the phone, let alone gives you what you want. You literally haunt his dreams, and you broke his body more times than anyone would be willing to count, but when you call, he’s enough of a man to help out when you’re in need.

You refuse to acknowledge any of it. You pretend like it never happened. You sit in your church pew, whispering about all the sins of the people around you, and you’re the biggest hypocrite of them all. You’re disgusting.

It was embarrassing enough that it happened, but what made it worse was there wasn’t even an excuse for it. It would have been so much better if you were simply an angry alcoholic. But no, instead, you were just…cruel. Violent and sober, terrifying and terrible.

But enough of that. The hate, the resentment, they aren’t who he is anymore. He let it all go. He’ll never forget; to forget that would be to forget who he is, to lose so much of the strength he has built up. Perhaps, in a sick way, he should thank you. Thank you for the broken bones, the isolation, and the shame. Because overcoming all of it made him damn near indestructible. It made him sympathetic to the plights of others. It made him find his own way, and in doing so, he gained a lot of wisdom and experience in a short time.

You don’t deserve it, but thank you for the sleepless nights like this. Thank you for the nights I wake up screaming, for the flashbacks, for the vivid memories that will never go away and never leave me alone. Not because they “built character.” No, from the burning wreckage you left in that basement all those years ago, I built a man. So suck on that.

The Outlaw

The Outlaw panted heavily as he ran across the creaking wooden floor, his weathered desert coat whipping behind him. His spurs clanged jarringly with each heavy step, providing an almost musical cadence to his flight, punctuated at various intervals by the explosion of gunfire behind him. He reached the end of the hall of the inn, ducking into the last room on his right, barreling through the open door, heading straight towards the large picture window on the opposite end of the room.

In a matter of seconds, he reached the window, bracing his boot on the ledge, ducking his head and crossing his arms, launching himself through the glass. The giant pane shattered on impact, with the shards etching small scratches on his face and hands. The Outlaw tumbled to the street two stories below.

He rolled when he reached the ground, and taking barely a moment to recover himself, he raced across the road towards the alleyway ahead. The town was eerily quiet, but only for a heartbeat or two, as by the time he reached the other side, he heard his pursuers land on the ground behind him and continue their chase. He saw a horse trough a few feet to his left, and he knew he had a choice to make. He could either dive behind it, using it for cover as he faced his enemies, or he could test his luck and hope he could evade their bullets as he continued to search for the right place to make his stand.

Before he had time to finish his thought, his feet made the decision for him, as he raced on through the narrow alley between the general store and the saloon. Instinctually, he cut left at the end of the alley, reaching for his sixguns as he ran. He pulled the hammers back and spun, firing off two shots at his assailants. He was not aiming, he was simply trying to distract them and slow their attack, giving him a crucial extra moment to plan his next move.

Turning once more and continuing to run, he remembered something; at the end of the street, only a few buildings ahead, there was a small meadow, and beyond that, a church. An appropriate place for this battle to come to a conclusion. His destination fixed in his mind’s eye, having become his singular thought, the Outlaw redoubled his efforts, running at full tilt towards the steepled building.

With bullets whizzing by all around him as several men chased him down the street, the Outlaw wondered to himself what would happen if any of their shots found their mark. There was no cover here; nowhere to go, nothing to hide behind if he went down. He had to hope that his luck would continue, at least until he could put some pews between him and his assailants.

After several agonizing moments, he reached the façade that led up to the double doors of the church. Knowing that the doors opened outward, and that he could not spare the time to stop and pull them open, he dropped his shoulder and plowed through them, breaking them almost clean off the hinges. They fell to the side, hanging on just barely at the bases.

The Outlaw charged to the pulpit and turned, just as his attackers entered the holy place. There were six of them. The Outlaw was not surprised; the entity that had sent this particular hit squad after him was a fan of the number six, obsessively, compulsively, almost comically.

They squared off for a moment, and one of the men began to grin. He wore crisscrossed gunbelts across his chest and a wide-brimmed hat. He holstered his guns and took off his gloves, slapping them across his thigh, dusting them off.

“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” he tutted as he put his gloves in his back pocket. “Why do you always run? You know this always ends the same way.”

The Outlaw squinted slightly. “Indeed; I run, you chase, you catch me, I send you back to the hellhole you came from.”

The man grinned again and removed his hat, tossing it onto the pew to his left. “That’s not true, really. We’ve taken you in more than a couple times. In fact, you’ve met our boss face to face a time or two, if I remember c’rectly. He’s mighty eager to have another sit down with ya.”

The Outlaw grunted and nodded towards the other five men. “And it took all of you shooting at me to deliver that message.”

The man shrugged. “You’re a tough man to convince. Sometimes you take a certain amount of…persuadin’.”

They stared at one another in silence for a short time. A slight breeze blew softly through the open door, tiny dust devils sweeping their way inside the church, only to die as soon as they crossed the threshold. One of the men coughed. A dove fluttered in the rafters above them. The Outlaw eyed his opponents, waiting for the right moment…

The church bell rang out above them, signaling high noon. The pure ringing was the unspoken signal everyone was waiting for, and the church exploded into a flurry of smoking gunpowder and flying hot lead.

Gong!

The Outlaw raised his sixguns, firing off two carefully trained shots, burying both in the chest of the mad directly ahead of him. A bullet knocked his hat off his head, and he dove to the right, barely dodging a hail of bullets that lodged themselves solidly in the oaken pulpit he had been standing in front of fractions of a second earlier.

Gong!

Rolling to his knees, he quickly squeezed off another round, taking out two more of the men in the doorway.

Gong!

“Three,” he mumbled to himself as he ducked under a barrage of gunfire.

Gong!

He poked his head up again, and immediately a round grazed his cheek, leaving a burning line of blood where the lead had kissed him.

Gong!

“Q’Vietch!” he swore, ducking back down below the top of the pews. Hearing his enemies’ footsteps as they slowly walked down the aisle, he looked beneath the seats, shooting one of them in the foot. He launched himself to the left, sliding on his knees across the aisle. Aiming quickly, he blasted a round between the eyes of the man who had fallen, clutching his wounded foot.

Gong!

The Outlaw heard his assailants dive behind the pews as his momentum carried him out of sight. He took a moment to quickly reload, knowing he may not get another chance to do so.

Gong!

The sound of panting and clinking metal could be heard, as all three men had come to the same conclusion, each reloading their weapons.

Gong!

No one moved for a moment, catching their breath and regaining their wits.

Gong!

The Outlaw stood quickly, firing off a flurry of shots at the first man he saw, riddling his body with holes.

Gong!

The man who had spoken earlier popped up across the room, having crawled away from where he had landed in the pews, shooting the Outlaw in the shoulder, spinning him around.

Gong!

Using his momentum, the Outlaw leaned into the spin, firing off a series of rounds, emptying the gun in his right hand. One of the shots found their mark, miraculously, and as he fell over, he heard a grunt and a groan from the one remaining assassin.

GONG!

As the final toll of the church bell rang out, seemingly more violent and vigorous than its predecessors, the Outlaw pulled himself up and switched his loaded gun to his good hand and walked over to where his opponent had fallen.

He found him crawling slowly towards the door in the side aisle. He kicked the fallen man over with force, feeling a sick sense of pride when he saw that the wild shot that had struck the man had landed dead center in the man’s chest. The wounded man was dying quickly, bleeding profusely all over the floor of the church.

The Outlaw let out a dry laugh. He cocked back the hammer of his pistol once more, aiming down at the head of his enemy.

“Tell your master our little campfire chat will have to wait until some other time.”

The wounded man choked as he attempted to speak. “M…M…Malchizedec won’t stop coming for you. We’ll keep coming back until he’s collected all of you.”

The Outlaw snorted. “Go back to hell, where you belong.”

He squeezed the trigger, and the round punched a clean hole right between the man’s eyes. He holstered his weapon and walked back over to where he had dropped his other pistol. Bending down to pick it up, a short groan of pain came forth unbidden from his throat. Holstering the weapon, he murmured, “Godam demons.”

Hearing a soft creak on the stairs behind him, he turned and saw the pastor of the church frozen on the top stair, coming out of the belltower, eyes wide, mouth agape as he surveyed the bloody mess below him.

The Outlaw nodded towards the clergyman. “My apologies, Father; it seems my friends and I have made a little mess.”

The pastor shivered, regaining his composure. “Friends, huh? I’d hate to see what you do to your enemies.”

The Outlaw chuckled. “Aye, Father, I suppose it’s a good thing I don’t have very many of either.”

The pastor nodded and descended the stairs. “I’d ask you if there was any sins you needed to repent of, but I’m afraid I don’t have that kind of time.”

The Outlaw smiled thinly. “There are things I’ve done that I’m not sure even God wants remembered out loud ever again. Let’s just leave it at ‘Bless me Father, for I am Sin.’”

The Father burped and covered his nose, the stench of the blood clearly making him sick. “I suppose that is fair, my child. Go and be blessed.”

The Outlaw stepped to the doorway, and seeing the doors he had destroyed, reached deep into the pocket of his coat, he withdrew several silver pieces. He flipped them to the pastor. “This oughtta cover the damages; god willing, me and my kin won’t be back through to trouble you and yours ever again.”

“Let’s certainly hope so.”

The Outlaw turned once more, gingerly went down the steps to the road, and walked out into the Wilds.