All I’m saying is, the way I was seeing things at the time, most everything was dark. I can’t really explain it any better than that. But I suppose I’ll try. I have a lot of free time now, after all. My story may or may not make sense, but maybe you’ll find it interesting. What the hell do I have to lose?
What I’m saying is: at that point in my life, there was a lot of — how should I put this — fumbling around in the dark. It wasn’t that I was blind all of the time. It was more like I was in a very large and very dark room, and every once and a while a light would flash, but only for a moment, and in that split second I could look down into a valley and see everything that ever was and everything that ever will be. There were elephants, mountains, lampshades, pornographic magazines and zip ties. Eggs, hot air balloons, belly-button rings and Beethoven. Baudelaire, Lil’ Wayne and my third-grade teacher, Ms. Kielbowick. Spiders, too — lots of spiders.
I could actually see all of these wonderful, horrible things every time the light returned, which was — how should I put this — not often, nor regular. Yet once the brightness disappeared and blackness enveloped the room, it was as though nothing had ever been there.
But oh, how I wished something had been! I recall how I would sprint — I mean, really sprint — into the darkness, naked and alone, hoping to find something, anything, to hold onto. I would have held the thing to my chest, no matter what it was — flower, beast or Hitler — until it was, like, digging into my skin, and I could feel it entering my body, as though there was nothing separating myself from the thing itself, or myself from the outside world, as though I and it actually existed in any sort of meaningful sense.
But it didn’t take me long, a couple thousand years, give or take, to realize that nothing I saw when the light came on was actually there. That was a tough lesson to learn. For epochs and epochs I tried to convince myself that if I just ran a little faster or tried a little harder that, one day, I would actually be able to reach out and touch something, that I’d be able to rub it on my skin like I had with rocks and dirt before I had entered the large, awful room — so long ago.
But failure compounded upon failure until finally, one day (I think it was November — though it was quite hard to keep track of the seasons back then, as one could imagine) I finally just sort of gave up. I accepted that all of my gestures had been futile, and no amount of will would make them meaningful going forward. So I sat down, right then and there, and resolved to embrace my predicament, to accept it for what it was.
It was only then that my existence began to improve. That’s not to say that the whole charade got better in any objective sense, but what I’m getting at is, from that point forward, I was able to sort of fold in upon myself, to make friends with myself, if you will, and understand that it was me and only me, buddy, and that if I was going to be stuck in that place for an incalculable duration of time, then I better get comfortable looking at things from the inside out.
My dear friends, I hope that gives you a general idea of the kind of place I suddenly found myself in so many years ago. Now let me tell you about the rest of the things. I will try to be as succinct as possible, as I’m sure you have places to be, people to see. I don’t have anywhere to be, of course, because I’m no longer among you. But I remember what it’s like to be human.
The Thing in White
Perhaps the first thing I should tell you about, before I move onto more interesting subjects, is the utter silence of the universe down there. It was absolutely gut-wrenching — the worst part of my existence, by far. Imagine a place so silent that it hurts your ears, a place so silent that the silence drills into your ear canal, a place so silent that even when you try to talk to yourself — to soothe the horrid lonesomeness, of course — there’s nothing to be heard. If you were in such a state, you’d probably begin to question your existence, wouldn’t you?
And that’s what I did, just as anyone would, because like I mentioned, it was dark much of the time, and the darkness and the silence in unison began to call into question my identity as a human being, or whatever I was at the time. If the silence and darkness would have been everlasting, of course, it would stand to reason that I really didn’t exist at all, for what is the world if it can’t be sensed? But thankfully there were breaks in the void, moments of sensory input initiated by the Gods — or whatever was controlling that terrible place at that terrible time — that gave me just enough hope to keep going, perhaps against my better judgment. I can recall a handful of these moments from my thousands of years roaming the vast nothingness, but I’ll spare you the pain of having to listen to all of those recollections and instead describe the most memorable of the bunch.
It was several hundreds of years before the November that I realized that all creation was a mirage, yada yada yada. I had been stuck in a silent, darkened state for a particularly long time — much longer than the gaps that had preceded it — when out of the cold black night a spotlight appeared on the ground about 100 yards in front of me. Try to imagine my surprise! It took my eyes several seconds to adjust to something they had been deprived of for so long. Once they did, I naturally sprinted toward the light, because I had no idea how long it would last. As I ran closer, I noticed a small figure in the center of the spotlight. I couldn’t make out what it was, so I kept running, faster and faster.
By the time I was 50 yards away, the figure became clear: it was a girl of about 13 or 14, in a white dress. A black bonnet covered her eyes. She was playing a pure white harp. What I didn’t notice then, but did notice by the time I reached her, was that she had cuts all over her arms and legs, and even a few on the part of her face not obscured by the hat. The cuts weren’t deep, but they were significant enough to give me quite a shock, and I couldn’t help but wonder where she’d come from, and who or what could’ve done such an awful thing to such an innocent creature. As she plucked her harp in the most beautiful tones I’d ever heard — indeed, the only tones I’d heard in perhaps millenia — she sung soft words that I was barely able to make out:
Go and see the world today
Oceans, flowers, marmalade
Today’s Versailles, tomorrow’s dust
A chiming clock is sealed in rust
Emotions rushed through me that I hadn’t felt for as long as I could remember. I cried. The tears were accompanied by memories — of me playing in a sandbox as a child, of me taking a gulp of ice cold grape juice, so on and so forth — that nearly knocked me to my knees in their vividness.
It was a girl of about 13 or 14, in a white dress. A black bonnet covered her eyes. She was playing a pure white harp. What I didn’t notice then, but did notice by the time I reached her, was that she had cuts all over her arms and legs, and even a few on the part of her face not obscured by the hat.
I had to see the eyes of the child creating such divine tones, so I moved as close as I could and tried to tilt up her chin with my finger. But there was nothing there. Only air. When she revealed her obscured face from under the bonnet, what I saw made me recoil with such a mixture of admiration and disgust that I couldn’t bear to repeat it to you now. You have to understand: if I told you what I saw, it would not be good for either of us. And you, dear reader, would be haunted more than you know.
Just understand this: after I peered under that bonnet, I collapsed in a heap on the cold floor, crying ambiguous tears. The girl began to disappear and the spotlight faded away. I shouted for her to never leave me, but of course she couldn’t hear me — I couldn’t even hear myself by that point — and my words were not even true. I had wanted her to go. More than anything, I’d wanted her to go. But as the light and her body dissolved from existence, I couldn’t help but think that maybe if she just would have stayed a little bit longer, everything would have been all right. But of course that wasn’t true. None of it was ever true.
Now this may sound strange to you, but perhaps the one thing that most helped me while existing in the void was my innate dumbness. Stupidity saved me. It dulled the pain of existence and dimmed the terrible memories so I wouldn’t have to relive them as I fell asleep at night, on the hard floor of that unforgiving room.
Some people may argue that stupidity should never be considered a virtue. And that may be true. But I am living proof — or more accurately, once-living proof — that stupidity can offer at least a modicum of bliss when possessed at precisely the right moment. At the very least, stupidity gave me a respite from the grinding banality of a life that often left me destitute and without the slightest flicker of stimulation.
Being dull of mind also afforded me the blind, baseless hope that my predicament would one day improve. This feeling was, as most things, totally unfounded, and would ultimately be proven false: my lot did not improve for many thousands, or millions, of years. My lot, quite truly, did not improve until it came to an end, when I was blasted off into a great crystalline light that brought me to the space which I currently inhabit, which I have to admit is much more comfortable and bright then my former resting place.
But I’ve gotten off topic. The importance of stupidity in terms of my mental wellbeing cannot be overstated. Had I been a smarter man, I would have been burdened by knowing all there is to know, and the ultimate grim reality of my situation would have been too crystalline to bear. I would have undoubtedly offed myself right then and there, most likely sometime after watching that horrid demon in white play her harp so beautifully. That would have been it for me, brother. Blood and guts and all that.
But thanks to my eternal dimness, I was able to forge on where wiser men would have caved. Now I look back on it all and laugh, dear reader. I can tell you that, from where I sit now, everything is perfectly fine. If you wish to get here yourself one day, I would do everything within your power to make your awareness as hazy as possible. Dumb yourself down! Only fools believe intelligence to be a virtue. The truly smart understand that a lack of wisdom leads to endless comforts and a life well-lived.
Memories from my human childhood were another valued asset to me, because they played like movies in my mind’s eye. They distracted from the grimness. I played many scenes over and over again, but perhaps the one I revisited the most was a moment from my eighth year on earth.
I was at a friend’s birthday party, along with five or six other children. The whole lot of them trotted through fallen leaves into the forest to play in a small creek. As I watched them frolic down the path from my viewpoint on the porch, it felt as though I’d been punched in the gut.
God, how they hated me! I had no reason to believe that this thought was true, yet I knew that I was loathed. I understood, on some substrata, that I was separate and other. So I sat under a glass table and pulled my knees to my chest, tears falling to the wooden porch between my feet. I could see my friends by the creek, sword fighting with broken sticks, and I knew in my heart of hearts that I would never be able to get along with them in any meaningful way, that a transparent film would always rest between us, that when I looked at them and said “I am here!” they would only partially acknowledge my words, as though I were a ghost whispering to them from another time and place.
I could see my friends by the creek, sword fighting with broken sticks, and I knew in my heart of hearts that I would never be able to get along with them in any meaningful way, that a transparent film would always rest between us, that when I looked at them and said “I am here!” they would only partially acknowledge my words.
These visions, however sad they may seem, brought me great joy. They reminded me that I had once existed. And it was during one of these unbearable, necessary visions that I was finally ripped out of the awful darkness for good. I’d been lying there in utter blackness, vividly imagining a moment from childhood in which I ate two full bags of baby carrots — so wet and sweet — when I noticed a white light the size of a pin needle appear directly overhead. It remained small for what felt like several minutes. Then it expanded, slowly at first, until it was about twice the size of a full moon. It hovered at that size for several hours, looking down at me with vague sentience. I cannot explain to you how I knew that it knew that I existed, that it somehow sensed me on an animal or human level, but there is no doubt in my mind as it lives today that it was peering at me, like an ape.
So I peered back, with watery eyes adjusting to new light. I was in shock; I cried, but did not blink, because on some level I feared that the orb was a delusion, a fiction of my mind made manifest merely to cope with my horrible loneliness. My eyes vibrated slightly; a constant, repetitive motion that I heard in the back of my mind. It was a low hum, and the hum grew louder, and louder, and louder until finally, after what felt like millenia, the orb expanded in a flash, exploding outward like a supernova and utterly overtaking the darkness that had existed just a moment before.
How should I describe what happened next? I’m sure it’s difficult, dear reader, to imagine your body — the same body that you’ve considered yourself, or at least a part of yourself, for your entire life — evaporating, cell-by-cell, into the ether of the universe. Imagining having no arms! No legs! No head! Words cannot properly illustrate the sensations I was feeling as my skin and bones and muscle and sinew dissolved into the atmosphere, but I can tell you that it was not painful. It was more like being in a pleasant state between wakefulness and sleep, that state in which the unreality of the world becomes apparent and a sense of stillness rushes into your mind like warm milk.
Believe what you will, dear reader, but I would not lie to you: this is how it felt! And it is how I still feel, millions, perhaps billions, of years later: I am totally at peace. I exist, both everywhere and nowhere. When the wind blows, I am there. When a mother gives birth to her bleeding child, I am there. As the universe expands outward, into something that I cannot speak of, I am there, on the fringes of existence itself, humming with an internal light that cannot be explained.
Yet I know this is not my final state, for one day I will have to cross into a dimension of non-existence. I will leap over the borderline and into that space in which the universe is currently expanding into. It will be a final and brutal frontier and I am terrified of the nothingness. But I know that I must go, as we all must go, like mindless fish into the unforgiving ocean.
I spent my last night in Italy eating a DiGiornio at a small table in a rustic cottage.
I snapped myself out of the daydream, yet again befuddled as to why I was considering Hemingway.
Claire Rousay has captured the moment by ‘enchanting the ordinary.’