Post-Shower Thoughts

He stood at the sink, staring at the faucet for several quiet moments. Without thinking, he turned on the cold water and splashed his face a few times. The water was icy, and it stung his cheeks. He turned the faucet back off and shook the water from his hands. Drops trailed down his face and off his nose and closed eyelids. He took a deep breath and looked into the mirror. It was time to face his reflection.

The man who stared back at him was only vaguely familiar. The features were the ones he remembered; the deep eyes, the high cheekbones, the dimpled chin. Those things were the same, but something about it looked like someone he had never seen before, on an existential level.

It amazed him that the face can stay the same, but the person behind the image can be so different from who he once knew; it was especially surprising considering he was looking at himself, and had such a hard time identifying the man he saw. He looked into his own eyes, searching desperately for the person he felt he should be, the man he thought he was. The eyes that looked back were dead, cold, and empty.

He wasn’t sure where he went wrong. Or, for that matter, if he had actually screwed up in the first place. Things were just sideways, and he didn’t know why. He had done what he had thought was right. He tried to be good to people, he tried not to interfere where he didn’t belong, and he struggled constantly with always making the best decision. But it seemed as though his efforts had been all for nothing. His life was in shambles, and perhaps so was his soul.

His mind drifted slightly to matters somewhat adjacent. He thought of his friends. Several in particular. He wasn’t sure what to do with them anymore. Things had happened, things he’d rather not think about, and now the relationships were strained at best. These people he had been so close with, that he had confided in and who had confided in him, were distant and closed off. They pretended that everything was fine, but he could tell that everyone noticed it. No one was oblivious to the rift, this schism in the group.

He knew it wasn’t all them, though. He knew he wasn’t the same. He knew that, unbeknownst to him, he had undergone a metamorphosis and become this thing that stood in the mirror. It burned him inside, the shame of knowing he should be a better man, but he had no idea how. He felt like there was something wrong with him, but he didn’t know what it was or how to fix it. He didn’t quite feel completely human…whatever that might be.

Maybe this was exactly what it meant to be human. Maybe the essence of man boiled down to a state of total confusion. At least in part.

Perhaps it was simply his age. Maybe he wasn’t old enough or wise enough or experienced enough to handle his circumstances properly. They say youth is wasted on the young; maybe this is what they mean by that.

He wished he knew how to fix things. He wished he knew what needed to be fixed. He wished his problems were much less…cerebral, and much more, well, real. If he were hungry, he could deal with that. If someone were injured, he could handle that. But this personal, emotional, social garbage…man, was he lost. Was everyone else this lost? Or was he the idiot in the masses?

He reached for the towel and dried his face. He had to get to work, so it looked like he was going to have to figure all this out on the fly. Joy.

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Children of Forgotten Gods

The dwarves, the children of stone, loved the stone and the riches they yielded. They toiled and sweat, straining gems and metals from the mountains, and they were content.

The elves, children of the earth, sons and daughters of the forests, loved the trees and the life found beneath them. They ran with the fauna and rested with the flora, they danced beneath the boughs, and meandered along the fields with grace and beauty, and they were content.

The men, the children of the gods, loved knowledge, exploration, and adventure. They loved to live, but somehow their love of such rich things had twisted and tangled itself seemingly beyond repair. Their love of life turned into a habit of taking and destroying it. Their love of knowledge morphed into a thirst for hidden truth and secrets best left alone. Their love of adventure changed into a desire to crush the dreams and aspirations of their kin.

Like their gods before them, the fell victim to their own curiosity, growing further and further apart, even as their accomplishments and feats seemed to bring them ever closer together. The flame of their communal nature was slowly starved, being steadily snuffed out by their growing, cancerous lusts.

The race of men was a tragic one. Their lives were short, compared to those of their elven and dwarven brethren. Their race was a young one as well, having risen up in more recent times, while the elder two had been walking the earth longer than time could even remember. Perhaps, in days long since forgotten, the elves and the dwarves had stumbled through similar such sins and learned from their mistakes. However, time was no friend to humankind, as they had but a few short years to experience all that life had to show them.

Perhaps it was for this reason that they lived so furiously. Perhaps it was because of this that they yearned to explore the world as they did, and chased after knowledge and adventure. Perhaps it was the very nature of their short lives that taught them to live while they were yet alive, and to cherish every moment. Even with all their sins, this innocent aspect of their true nature remained mostly intact; in fact, it was possibly their greatest trait.

And so they were never content, because they inherently knew that contentment was not the goal. The goal was to live, and to find all that this life had to offer; the good, the bad, the dark, the light, and all the moments in between.

Anatomy Of An Engram

Music holds a very special place in my memory. When a song plays, moments in my life flash before the foreground of my mind, unbidden and unbridled. Today has been a day of musical memories.

It all started with “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones. It came across the airwaves and brought me back to the day of my father’s wake. It will forever be burned into my mind.

My dad’s favorite movie was The Big Chill. It’s about a funeral, and the reunion of the friends that attend. In it, that song plays, and my old man had told me my whole life that when he died, he wanted us to play it at his funeral. So as I organized the songs for the wake, that one was the first one on the list.

Before everything started, I took a moment to see see his body by myself. I needed to be sure I could compose myself before I went through the rest of this day; I figured the easiest way to do that was to get my emotions out of the way right off the bat. I stood there as Kieth Richards serenaded me with those opening chords, staring down at my dad’s lifeless body. I placed my hand on his chest. He was cold and stiff, almost like he wasn’t real. It was then that I realized that this body no longer contained my old man. It was simply a collection of bones and tendons that somehow used to hold the entirety of the man I once knew.

My thoughts returned to me, and my day carried on. Later, I heard “When The Time Comes” by the Classic Crime. It carried me back to a moment from that same day. My baby sister didn’t want to see our dad’s body. She refused to go up to the casket with the family for the whole day, knowing that it would be the hardest thing she had ever done in her short fifteen years so far.

She came up to me when everyone had left and it was just us at the funeral home. She slipped under my arm and hugged me close.

“Joshua, I want to see dad, but I just want you there with me. Will you go see him with me?”

I blinked away tears, trying to be strong in this difficult time for her.

“Of course, little one. Let’s go.”

We held hands as we slowly made our way to the front of the visitation room, and that song began to play. It was perfect. It’s a quiet song, one that talks about the loss, confusion, and pain that unfortunately accompany love. We reached the casket, and my sister burst into silent tears, hugging me once more, even tighter than before, he little body shaking as she attempted to hold herself together. We stood there until the song faded out. She reached out and touched his cold face, breaking into tears anew. It was heartbreaking to see, but at the same time…it was one of the most tender moments I have ever experienced. In those short three and a half minutes, we shared something special that no one else will ever know or understand, something special and unique that will forever be just between her and I.

I returned to today with a sigh as the memory gave me one last kiss and left me with my mixed emotions.

And then, I heard bagpipes in the distance. Don’t ask me from where, or why someone was playing bagpipes at 8:30 at night, but there I was once more, burying my father in my mind.

My dad was in the Marine Corps, and so when we finally laid him to rest, the Marines sent out several men to perform a flag ceremony and play Amazing Grace on the bagpipes. That, by far, is the hardest, most intense, most emotional ten minutes of my life. Nothing will ever hit me like that again. It destroyed me. Those sweet notes sounded strong and tender as the casket was lowered into the ground, and the freshly folded flag was presented to my family.

I do not cry. At all. Freaking ever. But that day, as Amazing Grace hit me like a ton of bricks, every hair on my body stood on end as if at attention, and I bawled like a newborn baby. My heart shattered, and if I had not been sitting down already, I would have collapsed to my knees from the weight of it. I tried to look away. I tried to close my eyes and shut out the sound, but my body straight refused the commands my brain was giving. My heart sped up and slowed down, my breathing stopped entirely for what seemed like an eternity.

And then, as the echos of the music bounded away, it was over. He was in the ground. It was final. It was over. It was real. This was no show, this was no test. I and my family were short a very important member. Our team captain was down for the count, and we were never the same.

And here I am at the end of this walk down memory lane, left with some weird mess of memories and moments parading through my mind’s eye, making me relive those life-altering two days. Later that week, I turned twenty-one. I had my first legal drink without him, and with every drink I’ve had since then, I’ve been confronted with one very important piece of information: Life Goes On.

It is vital to remember these things together. Remember what happened. Remember where you’ve been. And just as importantly, remember that life graciously doe not leave you in your most painful moments. Time moves on, and therefore, so should we.