Chapter 1

Someone told me that I should write down my thoughts. They said that it was something that would help me organize all the shouting voices in my head. Honestly, I don’t really see the use in that. I like my shouting to be confused. At least then it makes sense. Otherwise it’s like some media-envisioned drill instructor barking orders at you and telling you what scum you are. I think that shouting should be chaotic—a spontaneous outburst of raw emotion. To me, controlled, orderly shouting is scary. There should be no premeditation; just a pure release of the soul. I don’t want to control it. I mean, I tell myself that I want the shouting to find its release and then retreat leaving me stillness to reflect on its words. On the other hand, the shouting has become me and who I am, and I fear the day that it stops.  But for now, I’m taking the advice. I just don’t remember from where the advice came. Was it someone’s insight I trust, someone’s insight I don’t trust, or just a random thought? While the world and my life in it spins around corners and hallways, doorways and walls, there are glimpses of rooms dressed in facades where scenes are played out on stages. Sometimes I am an observer while other times I’m an actor. I trust my instincts, though, and right now they are telling me to write.

And so here I sit here on a cold park bench writing down these thoughts. The bare metal of the communal throne digs into my skin leaving frosty imprints of numbness on my back. I try to write from my heart, but the frigid wind cuts through my worthless coat creating an icy fortress inside of me. I begin to reflect on my words; rereading, deleting, and editing until there is no writing—just spurts of ideas that are noted then quickly erased. Is this my problem? That every expression of emotion is quickly captured and analyzed like some sterile, scientific study? Is this shouting trying to shake me out of this downward spiral? The idea of free expression within me is scary, but why?  I have already lost so much due to my controlled response.

The answer comes like a fitted glove—a fit of anger and resolve telling myself that I must break free from this icy cell.  However, I quickly subdue this rebellion for I realize that the bond with my captor is so strong that I cannot even imagine another way of life. The slow, smoldering flame at the end of my cigarette crackles with excitement then fades quickly to a dull glow. Yet under the seemingly innocuous slow burn lies a fiery demon ready to strike—a snaking tentacle of mist rising from its depths is the only warning to its power. This shadow of white slowly reaches up and wraps around my bare neck; it numerous fingers constricting leaving phantom scars. I start to breathe short, shallow breaths as reality and time slowly sneak away under the cover of night. But my consciousness and the shouting remain even as I try desperately to quench their life with drink and nicotine.

“Drink more.” It could be a joke shared with a friend of mine or a WiFi password at a restaurant which a server seemed embarrassed to share with my kids. While the tonic starts to take hold on my mind a moment of clarity quickly erupts through my head like a searchlight cutting mercilessly through the fog.  At first the poison dulls your thoughts, but once it passes through your body it leaves you in a state of false alertness. I start to reach for the well-used bottle of Bourbon waiting patiently by my feet, but pause to indulge a memory before returning to numbness.

My memory is of a summer day on the shores of Lake Michigan. It’s cold—much too cold for the middle of summer—and yet people are on the beach and even riding the frigid water on surfboards pulled by large, colorful kites. There is a lighthouse in front of me dressed in bright red bricks and wood trim recently kissed by a fresh coat of white paint. A group of us wait patiently, quietly, for our chance to ascend to the top of the building while a video plays in the background showing a reenactment of a marine rescue. When our time comes, we move slowly up a twisting, metal staircase that you have to climb like a ladder or else risk bumping your head on the ceiling. We finally emerge through the floor into a room that is uncomfortably small for five strangers to be occupying at once.

All around us, large, spotless windows stand at attention with the only proof of their existence being the thin wood sills between them and the lack of a biting wind. In the middle of the room, on an imposing metal cylinder, sits an unpresuming grey box with a single unblinking glass eye watching through me, the windows, and out to a scene well beyond my comprehension. In the corner—which is not really a corner because the room is arguably round—an old man emerges from the sunlight. He shimmers for a moment as if vapor until his tired voice gives him presence, making the space even more crowded. He shows us a light bulb no bigger than one of my fingers, and explains, as he must have for years, how the light from this tiny bulb bounces back and forth inside the little, grey box until it bursts forth in freedom from the large, glass eye creating a ray of light that can be seen 21 miles away; a beam so potent that it would blind you instantly if you watched it passed. I wonder how that feels to be so oblivious to your power. For when that light is turned on, it just spins around in an endless automated circle with no concept of its own strength. Why this memory now?

With a renewed resolve, I quickly reach for the Bourbon; this time not hesitating as my hand wraps around its cold exterior. I flinch as the icy bottle touches my lips, but am soon filled with warmth as I drink deeply. My mouth opens again and again like a fish out of water until the alcohol’s glass prison can give me no more release. I sink peacefully back into the bench, waiting for the oblivion to come while indifferently examining the cracks in the sidewalk under my feet. The bottle slips from my fingers and shatters as it hits the ground.  Its death is barely noticed as my mind has already begun to fragment like the shards of glass now scattered below me. I feel myself being drawn to the ground filled with the absurd thought that the cold, etched concrete would make a comfortable bed. Subconscious reflexes pull me back before I fall, but I stay hunched over as my eyes pan slowly back and forth seeing emptiness in either direction. There is only right or left as the cruel force of time shuts out any forward or back. The only choice as I see it now is to stay and become a statue—a balled-up frozen monument to once was—or stand and become a restless wanderer along this path set by an unknown architect.

The Bourbon, my unknown and uncaring saving grace, finally asserts itself fully in my mind—deceiving and blinding me as is my wish. I begin to rock back and forth on the bench until she clasps my hand leading me to the dance floor. The all too familiar music plays managing to drown out all the shouting in my head. Yet as I stagger to my feet and start to move to its rhythm, the biting cold on my fingers wakes me long enough to entertain one more memory.

I see my house. It’s a beautiful house meant to be a dream home for me and my family.  However, I let it become an empty shell full of ghosts. I watch myself moving slowly through the hallways and rooms hearing faint whispers and moist breath on the back of my neck. It’s too crowded, too silent, and I become more and more claustrophobic.

That is what ultimately led me here to this bench—a place where solitude was expected, welcome and comfortable. I remember praying for the peace for which I searched, but now I realize that I did not wait for God. Instead the Evil One answered my prayers and I accepted out of convenience. Peace has come, yes, and although I know it is just for this moment, I welcome this unholy embrace as I fall back into oblivion. On the way out I half-heartedly curse my weakness, but quickly forget the reason for doing so.

I continue to sway and write incoherent words while a storm brews on the horizon. I look up, almost falling backward in my drunken stupor to see clouds moving swiftly above me. They seem so close that I feel like I could reach up and touch them even though I know that they are miles above. As I watch, I sense the presence of days past contained within them, but can't make out the details. I strain to make out their foggy narrative, but soon realize that my familiar view of Ursa Major is blocked. I should be able to find Polaris without this celestial landmark since I’ve visited this bench many times before, but its cloaking leaves me uncomfortably lost and directionless.

Before long, the clouds cover the entire sky like a plush, down comforter, and I give up trying to find my bearings. Without warning, a torrent of memories starts to fall to the sidewalk as drops of rain. They form streams of water that dutifully trickle toward storm grates to be lost forever in the dark recesses of dirty sewer pipes. As quickly it begins, the downpour is over leaving an oppressive silence.  A few raindrops remain rolling down my face and caught in my hands, but they quickly slip through the cracks of my weathered skin leaving only slug-like trails behind.

And so I stand, alive, numb, shaking off the wetness and pulling my now useless coat around me. The sidewalk waits patiently before me stretching in either direction drenched with my broken past and fragmented memories. I pick a seemingly random direction and start to walk—comforted for the moment by the knowledge that this simple action creates a forward and a back instead of just a left or right. There is no firm destination, but there is motivation to move. As I walk, I see my memories littered all around me clinging to the grass as dew and hanging from the trees. I know that the sun will soon rise and evaporate them, but morning is still far away.