I once wrote. Often, and in many voices. Published twice, only in short form, and only seen in syllabuses used in a small number of second-rate state schools. My notion of returning to the pen (either in literal form or scribed here) has left me here.
Some may find it useless to digest scraps of who they’ve been at different times in their lives, and I would agree to a point—but in this case, I see it more as a discovery of a voice I thought lost. Clearing the brush and stepping strong across a path abandoned long ago to the appetite of time; we cannot undo the passage of time, but we can grasp threads thought lost to rediscover what might improve upon what we become each day. Humility and confidence, the dichotomy of man’s growth of spirit.
Below is the opening of something I wrote six years ago—it’s not my best, but it was specifically intended to target the mass audience. Snooty with airs of ambition is great… but you tend to be your only audience when stuck in the groove of induglence.
1—A Deserter’s Song
The thin, crimson ribbon drips from my left nostril, and bright pins of agony spiral up every tooth in my mouth; I steady myself on the curb I seem to have fallen on, and lean against an empty trash barrel, breathing in the November air. The gold-tinged sodium halide above bathes me in an illusory warmth only betrayed by the crystalline puffs of breath rising from my mouth. I am struck with malady. It is a malady which plagues so few that their plight is often mistaken for a gift—sight.
I am “blessed” with sight. It is a sight which extends beyond the landscapes most people often find themselves dissatisfied with—the smiles of their friends, the embraces of their kin, their marriages and divorces from people and beliefs; yet that which exists beyond these celluloid sensations is a darkness. In truth, I do not know what is beyond the darkness, if anything. Maybe I am not strong enough to reach beyond the fugue, maybe I haven’t yet found the path, or maybe… just maybe, the Devil whispers, there is nothing.
In this darkness, we few who are imbued with hope and sight are candlelights, searching evermore in the black chaos, often with only the halo of our own flames to see by. There may be edges—limits or boundaries; but if so, then the curve of space and perception is so finely-woven that the senses fail this light even when our wicking flame may tickle strokes of soot along these hypothetical walls. Imagine waking up in a space which is undefined, and all you can see is your own self. Now imagine that you can tread in any direction, and never come upon any form. If the normal geometry of what most believe to be true and real cannot be found outside of your own self and gravity itself withheld from this space, how can you ever learn anything of it? This is what keeps the patron saint of madness tapping at the door of my mind.
One day, I fear I may find that I’ve let him in.
A gray mist begins to form, and the chill of Winter’s call begins to set into my arms and legs; despite the thermal shirt, the sweater and my jeans, the cold spell which the Northeast is suffering through this week has bled me of comfort. The briny scent of seawater pricks my nose, and two bridges reach away from the right edge of my sight; I realized with numb surprise that I was somewhere in downtown Manhattan, somewhere close to Wallabout Bay. Echoes of skittering aluminum trickle from a nearby alley, startling me. I whip my head back—only to see nothing but the form of a bum turning towards the dark skin of a building, trying to wedge himself in a crevice between the molded ornations and a steam vent in the concrete beneath.
I know—“bum” isn’t exactly a term in vogue these days for a person down on their luck, living on the streets; “transient” would be one of the more sterile terms I’ve seen thrown around… but if you knew what a “transient” really was, my social impropriety would be the least of your concerns.
The dark once scared me as a child. Not the ominous, godlike dark I spoke of a moment ago—or at least, not that I knew then. Just the plain darkness we all see as shadows and the absence of direct light. I was afraid of the dark from the inception of my memories until the age of twelve, when I first was bathed in the infinitely-more wretched darkness that haunts and stalks me still; perhaps even as a child, I’d had the foresight to know what fate beheld for me in its design.
I remember a parade of endless nights where I would awaken from the dreams of youth, and that room—the very same bedroom which I loved and cherished as my own while the daylight spilled from a tall bay window facing a beautiful copse of bright birch—became a place of pain when it was cloaked in the dark of night.
Like a lot of children, I suffered a condition known as “night terrors”. Night terrors can present a range of symptoms for children; the exact symptoms would depend on the child—some might experience hallucinations or a vague sense of terror, where others may awaken screaming with no recollection of why. My affliction was total paralysis; I would awaken without reason, and find that I couldn’t move, my voice replaced with a hoarse croak that bordered on inaudible. I remember laying there with the weight of my own fear pressing on me from all angles, with the breath from my scream barely able to move the edge of my G.I. Joe pillowcase.
As I grew—from a toddler into adolescence—these attacks grew with me, and I became more withdrawn; whereas a week of nights might’ve only hosted two trials of these fears when I was only two, my ordeal’s growth outpaced my age and soon, as I approached five years of age, it consumed my sleep, leaving me with only a handful of nights each month without an attack.
Concern grew in my parents’ hushed conversations—a child may believe in the Tooth Fairy’s fantastic gifts, but a child never suffers for a lack of awareness of when they’re the subject of these conversations. They feared I was demonstrating signs of autism, a condition which was slowly gaining an audience of larger awareness in those times; it was now the 1980’s, and the information age was taking a slippery hold on modern life.
One Massachusetts spring morning, as my mother drove us into Amherst—I to preschool, and Mom to a boring cubicle where all the responsibilities of her job as an accountant awaited her—I spoke of the fear. I don’t remember this, or the tears pouring from my bright, blue eyes which my mother recollected to me during my twelfth birthday early in the spring of 1991.
“My sweet boy, you were so brave and so fragile at the same time. You can never think you’re weak because of the terrors—a man three times your age now is rarely so brave as you were then. Honesty and fragility are not weaknesses. They are the art by which we are defined, Jeremy.”
My only memories of our morning trips to and from the city were of watching the pines as they flowed past the passenger window; I often found myself fixing my eyes on one point, letting the scenery pass in a blur of colors as the outlines blended into a green-tinged river of Monet-painted fauna and finely-woven threads of steely guardrail..
After that day, I still felt the fear, and the nether hours of the night still held me powerless in its grip—but my mother’s wisdom and an amplified infant monitor brought her to my room nearly every time I awoke. Together, we discovered the peculiarity of my condition—it was dependent on the dark. As my mother would arrive and the light above washed over me, I was freed from my paralytic curse.  Yet the doctors would not allow me a permanent light: they felt it would prevent any chance I had of overcoming this affliction, and my father stood firmly with them—and against my mother—in that diagnosis. So on the journey through my pain went; in the crook of my mother’s arms was where I found solace from that nocturnal imprisonment in the first twelve years I lived, running my cheek along the peach-colored hairs on her arm, as she spoke to me soothingly in a honeyed voice slightly tinted by the husk of a light smoker. She might have been able to shield me further and longer, if not for the accident—for that matter, I may have never crossed the threshold into this changed world, if not for the events that proceeded the first tangible scar on our family’s love.
I force my eyes to snap open, before I begin to drift and lose my control over this curse; my presence here, in the corporeal host and the illusory Now, requires some amount of my awareness. If I lose that control and relax the hold on my awareness, I risk the darkness and all its devices; as the days roll into months and years, those devices have grown in number. I am but a deserter lieutenant who can’t hope to escape an army of innumerable ranks—I left the war and my compatriots have forsaken me, but the enemy’s scouts search for me still. When they find me, there is no escape from the darkness; there is only the vortex of inky black as the souls and soulless clash with gnashing lust for survival.
Sniffling lightly, I run the cuff of my worn sleeve back against my nose and wrap my arms about my legs, gripping the lips of the sneakers I’d put on before I’d fallen asleep the night before… in Boston Harbor.
(Copyright 2006 Jamie Watt, all rights reserved.)