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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Five Years

December 10th, 2008

Five years. How can such a slice of time seem simultaneously eternal and instantaneous? When I dissect it all, when I pick it apart and reduce it down to individual memories, it seems to expand, to swell; pushing against the barriers of conscious thought until it breaks the walls of the mind and washes over me and I, too, am reduced and broken down. Tiny, minuscule events/memories/experiences are pushed through filters and distilled into something far purer than ever they were in real life. I take the essence of these seemingly inconsequential slivers of past life-not more than a few neurons in length-and make idols out of them; massive, monstrous things littering the plains of Dura in my mind, all with feet of clay. Her smile becomes something Holy. The breeze on my face as I sat in the desert in Mexico watching the stars becomes God's touch. The moment I was told I would never see my 35th birthday, when everyone was thirsting, straining to see me break down, to see the drama their hearts were crying for, becomes the first of my Rubicon's to cross, my first crossing of the Potomac. I infuse these things with meaning they never possessed, until I can hardly contain the procession of my life as it is projected on to the backs of my retinas. And yet, when I step back, it all becomes a flash, five years gone in a snap, so quantum-brief that I only really know it was there at all by what it spawned in its passing.

Five years. Five years I have whipped myself over and over again, converting the past into a scourge wreathed in acid and fire. Never forgiveness-never for me. All of the religious and philosophical thoughts on the matter be damned - no forgiveness; never for myself, that which I can extend so easily to others. I wouldn't permit it. You have to pay. Everybody pays. It's not enough. Cut off from the world - it's not enough. Take my life-it's not enough. Hit and kick me and push me into the sewers of public humiliation - it's not enough. It will never be enough, because no matter what they do to me, I hold the contract, and I control the vig. I will never let myself close to the principle. I chose to pay like this

Five years. The universe still spins, indifferent to such a tiny, insignificant speck of time. But I am not the universe; five years is not insignificant to me. So much is different now. So much gone, and so much evolved. Just a few revolutions of a tiny blue rock around the relatively tiny yellow sun. I feel as if it should be possible to reach back through the veil of time and alter a few things. Surely no one would mind if I changed a few events, with a few twists to the story, and then watched as the ripples float towards the present. Washing it all away, replacing me with some alternate universe version that never got so messed up in the first place. Stupid, silly thoughts. There is no reality but this one, the one we have chosen. The one I chose. I didn't always believe in free will. Part of me still rejects the idea. We are but biological machines, I would shout to the sky. Neural pathways set at twelve. Nurture always trumps nature. And I am right about these things. I can blame my bipolar nature, a fallen world which glorifies violence and which enthrones nihilism; I can say I hated God and wanted revenge for being born. I can say that I am irreparably broken, shattered, alone. And I would still be right about all of this. Yet, underneath all of that, I cannot deny that there exists a solid rock, unmoving and stolid amidst the stream of toxic garbage. We call this rock choice.

Choice. How quickly I lost sight that such a thing even existed. Locked in. Running on autopilot. Being what I was programmed to be, not what I might have chosen to be. Such a tiny thing, the realization that I controlled my life, that choice is mine. This is insanity, to me - to lose sight that choice exists, that we are more than the sum of our past moments. I am surrounded by men who have forgotten this. A man here pulled out his eyes this week and ate it in front of the sergeant, because he was reading Matthew 5:29, and heard Jesus tell him to take it literally. This was his second eye, mind. He plucked out at first when he was living in the county jail, because George W. Bush told him he had to do this if he "wanted to be the ultimate cell warrior." Squirrel - the blind, sane (according to the state) Squirrel - he has no choices, only desire and fears, which thrust him to and fro, mercilessly, eternally. I, too, lived like this once. I fear that a great many of you will never understand why this realization alters everything. And about how this makes me a man apart from who I was. All of the foundation of my life was quicksand threaded with drowning pools of noxious poisons. A few clean steps, that's all we have as a species. I lost sight of that. Now, I see.

Five years. Five years it took me to choose right action five years it took me to realize that morality and purpose and...beauty, even, all of that was already inside me. I've been scouring heaven and earth for these things, and they have been here all along. They are here in my heart and my mind and they cannot be taken from me because my beliefs in anything outside of myself waver. For the first time in my life, I believe in Thomas, and so these things I value - morality and kindness and self-control - these things are me. I never would have found them outside of myself, this see that God planted in my soul. It is only ever grasped inside. Inside me. Inside you, too.

Five years I've been choosing to daily break myself over the wheel of my burdens. Tonight, I have said my apologies. I will not cheapen them by repeating them here. Those are mine, and they belonged to my mother and my brother. Tonight, I am letting it all go. I've got work to do before the end, and I cannot lift both weights. It is enough, I think. Enough.

It is snowing outside. It does not snow in South Texas very often. I never look out my window anymore. In fact, I keep it covered with rolled up newspaper, because it is easier to live in a concrete world when you forget that blues and greens exist. My neighbor began yelling that it was snowing, however, so I took the newspapers down to see for myself. What was once dirt and metal and gray is now white. Hundreds, thousands, millions of crystalline motes dance and scatter when I look their way. A man downstairs is crying that this is a sign from God for the new year. Call me skeptical, as always. I am not sure I have ever seen special divine providence before. I guess it happens, my view on the issue is that when God wants something to happen in the world, he acts on the hearts and consciences of men and women, rather than waving a magic wand and dismissing all of the myriad physical laws he went to such trouble to create. I know I am in the minority on this amongst Christians, but that is okay. I guess I am just not that egotistical to think that God sent us a storm to tell us 2009 would be a better year. Metaphor, on the other hand, I get. Seems like a good night to let myself become covered in white, too. Each time that a snowflake - individual, unique - passes by my window, I whisper out and connect a piece of my regrets, my guilt, my fears to it, and watch them borne away to melt on the ground. Two hours, I sat there, on the tips of my toes, just...letting go. Such an enormously complicated, and yet simple, thing to do. Just. Let. It. Fucking. Go.

They painted our pod recently. Black and white. What when they painted the chicken wire covering the small slit windows in my door, I reached through the gap and dipped my pointer finger into the wet paint. I traced the words "No Tomorrow" above my door.

Tonight, I stare at these words.

I am not my past. The past is dead.

Tomorrow is a ghost. It may never happen.

I only have the here and now, and the choice.

I chose to fill my life and my veins with poison.

I chose to surround myself with hollow men.

I chose to surrender my free will to hate.

No more.

I choose honor.

I choose dignity.

I choose to be better than I have ever been.

I choose to keep my eyes on the fact that I have this choice, as every second slips into a new one.

Five years. Five to go, more or less. Five years to do as much damage to this place as I can. Five years to continue the process started tonight. It is funny, one moment, all you can identify as fear, and then you realize that all fear is chosen, and poof! Gone. No more fear. Moses, Elijah, Paul come even Christ and the Buddha, they all had the wilderness as a place of suffering and refuge, a crucible for the soul. I have Polunsky. Because of this place, I have never been this free. You can only wake up once from a dream. I am awake, and my heart is smiling for the first time in years.


"An empty pageant; a stage play; flocks of sheep; herds of cattle; a brawl of Spearman; a bone flung among a pack of dogs; a crumb tossed into a pond of fish; ants, loaded and laboring; mice, scared and scampering; puppets, jerking on their strings - that is life. In the midst of it all you must take your stand, good temperedly and without disdain."

Marcus Aurelius, meditations


© Copyright 2009 by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker.
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