R.A.T.

Fashioning an image from the vague outlines she inherited through the cultural hand-me-down, she built her castle of security and tried to live as close to the masque she donned and had so elegantly moulded as she could. Still, she felt herself slipping into that gap growing into a chasm, that frigid fissure that had yawned to a void, like some serpent stretching to consume its prey; she felt the agony of the increasing distance between who she was and who she pretended to be.

If she didn’t truly love him, she might blame him. And how she tried to hate him; how logic dictated he should be so easily hateable. Yet she knew damned well this was not a matter of logic. This was not a rational issue at all. Clearly. And how perplexing, as she was herself so rational, so practical, so cool, calm, collected and ambitious. What was it about him?

“So, it’s been awhile,” he wrote her over a social network on August 31. “How’s life?

And she had to stop fooling herself: he would never be ready. Never willing to commit, to raise a family. She knew he felt that he didn’t belong, and that he was unwilling — or perhaps unable — to forge such a close and traditional bond.

On September 26, she writes back three words. She writes “In Memory” in quotes, followed by “Shinedown.” In response, he wrote on September 27, “It’s not traditional for us, I know, but put your fingers to the keyboard and write words directly to me. Direct communication could be a road worth exploring. So, again: what’s going on in your life?”

She knew she must leave him behind. Cut the tie that bound her to him. She must commit herself to a hollow shell, this thick armor she had hand-crafted, this fortress of fiction she was building, for she could no longer bear waiting, suffering in the tension of this suicidal gray area. So she grabbed her gun. Took another, threw it as his feet — those soles, so worn — and, aiming the barrel at his chest, taunting him with wicked words, trying her damnest to tempt him into picking up the gun and pulling the trigger.

On September 29, she writes: “You want direct? How’s this for direct. The only reason you even have access to this is because I am an evil bitch who wants you to be able to look at these photos and wonder, and agonize and analyze as you do. It is not to have contact or dare I say even a conversation. If I didn’t make it clear in the past, allow me to be direct. I can’t, and won’t have contact with you. I can only move forward and make the best out of what I have. Yes, it may be completely colorless and totally lifeless, how I now choose to live, but I only choose forward. I can’t, and won’t look back. Since it will only make me bleed. Make me want for things that can not be. I am contented with what I do have and as always, I have no rear view. I make my choices and move on, so stop trying to install something in my car that was not manufacturer’s specs. Now, if this isn’t direct enough, I don’t know what is. Now, you will get a couple of days to read this, at which time I will sever this last tie. I am going to continue to build and love who I am with to the best of my ability and don’t need reminding of what never really was’s.”

Then he wrote her back the same day: “Yes, that was direct. And I understand. If you don’t desire contact or conversation, that’s your prerogative. But I think this is stupid. And you’re not going to make me angry at you.”

No, she told herself. He will pick up that gun. He will point it at her. He will pull the trigger.

And so she responds, on September 29:

“Trying to make you anything would require action. You don’t do action, you do inaction. I really don’t care at this point, truly. I will do what I need to do for myself and I don’t require or request approval or opinions from you. Most importantly, I will not do anything that for one minute makes my man doubt me. I don’t and will never do, have never done, men as ‘friends’. Especially ones I have history with. He is paramount. Period. That includes any and all contact with you. You remained a faceless, nameless person to him so far, and will stay that way. As they say the past is history. My future is him, and we are building it as we speak. Next year we are getting married. Buying a house. That is all that is important now.”

To which he promptly respond: “Okay, then. Congrats. And goodbye. Delete away.”

He refused to play her game. So she lowered her weapon. She cut the tie and walked away. And she tells herself that if she had indeed shot him in the chest, nothing would have come bleeding out.

Nothing at all.

And he wonders if perhaps she might be right.

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Of the Nurse & My Colon.

Without looking up from her hand-held high-tech device, the nurse asks me, “Have you ever had a colonoscopy?”

Breathing ceases. I choke, and the silence is penetrating. I can feel little particles of air hit the pores of my skin like a zillion little ice-picks. I’ve paused here, not for dramatic effect, but out of sheer terror. At the mere thought of the procedure, which my father had described to me rather recently, my butt cheeks clamp closed tighter than the doors of NORAD. “Uh,” I explain slowly, nervously, “no… ”

I just came here for my anxiety medication. I don’t want doctors coming in here with those miner’s caps on with the lights in the front and a pole of considerable girth, proclaiming, “Bend over now, boy — we’re-ah goin’ on in!”

“That’s okay,” she says, still without looking up. “He doesn’t recommend one until you’re fifty.”

I exhale with profound relief. Quickly, I calculate that I have a little over a decade and a half until I find myself in the rather disturbing position of having to pay a man to stick a rod up my anus.

“So you’re safe…”

“Good,” I say, almost involuntarily.

Ominously, she adds, “.. for now…”

What I’m Looking At.

I’m in my car on break at work, and I look up to see a teenager enter the doors of the restaurant, and his eyes meet mine. I look back down at the pad on paper on which I was writing and put the cigarette scissored between my fingers to my lips and, before I can take the usual hearty drag, hear him say, “Whatchu lookin’ at, beech?”

Strange question, but it deserves an answer, I suppose. How might I respond? After all, what is it I’m looking at? The most accurate answer, I feel, is a juvenile delinquent so horribly self-conscious he feels threatened by the mere glance of a stranger and feels compelled to respond with territorial aggressiveness despite the hypocrisy inherent in the fact that he had to be looking at me just as long as he saw me looking at him in order to know whether or not I was looking at him.

Instead, I just laugh under my breath and take the drag off the butt of my cigarette.

Might As Well Face It, You’re Addicted to the Notion of Addiction.

What is addiction? According to experts, it is a brain disorder characterized by the inability to control the impulse to take mind-altering substances into the body despite the consequences regarding health, relationships and the legal system. To the brain of an addict, to not have the substance is the equivalent of starving. The brain is certain that the substance is as pivotal to survival as food and water, and in a sense the brain turns on itself.

Which is an interesting angle for experts in this area to take, if you ask me. I mean, there are several observations to made here.

First is the fact that across the human populace and all throughout human history, there is not a substance known to humankind that has not been taken copiously by numerous individuals of this species who then ceased taking the substance. You could say, in other words, that there is not an “addiction” our species has experienced that it has failed to overcome.

This is misleading, however. For any disease that has that rate of remission can hardly be characterized as a disease, and if it does constitute a disease we would have to call any recovery that occurs a remission. It would not be an individual “overcoming” addiction. It would not be an act of will or effort, but the disease just spontaneously reversing itself.  Doctors don’t treat addiction with medical technology. What this means, of course, is that any instance of recovery is not the result of intervention. It is not the result of a program like alcoholics or narcotics anonymous. It is remission, plain and simple. If addiction is a brain disorder, the simple fucking fact is that following twelve steps, embracing the label of “addict” and giving yourself up to some arbitrary higher power does not have any effect on the disease. It would make about as much sense to take a twelve-step program to overcome AIDS or cancer or, hell, paraplegia.

And, to push the point: if such programs do indeed help the “addict” at all, as so many insist, this would be a clear indication that addiction is not a brain disorder.

Well, then what is addiction? What is it really?

All indications point to the fact that it is a choice. That it was a choice to first take a substance into your body and it is a choice to keep doing so. Yes, some substances that a person might take, such a heroine, can have damaging effects, including death, if stopped too abruptly. While many would use this fact to counter the argument that addiction does not exist, they would be overlooking the fact that we only know that stopping such a substance can have such ill and potentially mortal effects because people have stopped taking them abruptly. Why? Sure, many might have been locked in a room or have been unable to find a dealer. Others, however, just quit taking it despite their desire to do so. In other words: they made the choice to stop taking the substance in question. The ill physical effects of ceasing a substance no more constitute “addiction” than the ill physical effects one has when, say, ingesting spoiled food.

Yet people talk of addictive personalities, which is essentially an obsessive-compulsive tendency when it comes to drugs, and one that is likely genetically inherited and then nurtured by life circumstances that activate it.

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: genetic nature and environmental nurture are not the two faces of fate. They are not the almighty fucking duo of destiny that has etched everything about you in stone. Instead, all nature and nurture do is set up the vast spectrum of choices differing in degrees of difficulty, with the path of least resistance at one end and the path of greatest resistance on the other. Indeed, some things are easier to get into than out of, like a finger trap, marriage, or cocaine, but that does not make you plagued by a disease known as addiction. That only means that some choices are simple and easy and others are complex, monumental challenges. It only means that every choice has its consequences, its opportunity cost. That isn’t a characteristic of a disease called addiction, its a characteristic of being alive. Its still about taking on personal responsibility and exercising your free will. Identifying yourself as an “addict” and giving yourself up to a higher power is to take on a stigma and relinquish personal liberty and responsibility.

So what is addiction? Addiction is a debilitating myth.

Cienega and Sieves.

Across the desolate wasteland I drag myself by my bony digits, each caked in layers of sand mixed with blood hardened into some almost concrete substance. Hardly a body, I am barely alive. More like a feeble creature composed of mere skin and bones; some animate, three-dimensional stick figure vacuum-packed in a form-fitting, dilapidated epidermis baked to a light brown beneath the relentless rays of the desert sun. So far have I traveled up and down these dunes across this dusty tundra, so long past any reasonable estimated point of expiration. Why? Simple: because in this dramatic metaphor for my path through life I am at the same time immortal. I am subject to dying, but never death; the pathway of suffering without the release of reaching the final destination. I am bound to dying, verb; eternally shunned by death, noun.

Then comes the oasis. You turn to look at me like that again — nay, into me. Its like the cool drink of water I never thought my chapped and broken lips would moisten themselves with again; the refreshing, smooth experience my scorched throat had long ago lost any hope of being massaged by. Loaded looks exchanged; silent conversations. Swift sips with every brief moment of eye contact you allow me. It at once revitalizes me and kills me. I like you too much. Care for you at too deep a depth. How has this strong connection between us not died by now? How can you bear me? How can this fire you light inside me not only cease to be snuffed out, but grow, refine itself, mature, strengthen? This is unprecedented. Its the kind of painful passion I have the courage to express now in my sudden descent into a liberating madness, but not the opportunity; reverse of the situation so long ago, when I had the open window but remained perpetually wary of leaping through it.

Its so childish of me to despise your husband so much. To say the cruel things I say about him in my head, but as far as I can see and feel there’s no passion between you two, no real link, but maybe its just some infantile jealousy that blinds me. I can be such a spiteful monster. Such a judgmental prick.

Some girls you see, you find yourself overlooking imperfections as if to make them fit some preexisting mould in your head without knowing the source of that structure. Looking at you, my dear, takes no effort at all; my eyes merely need to open wide and take you in. I need not overlook anything. From inside those eyes, to those eyes themselves, to the body to which they belong, I know you are She against whom I judge the rest against. I want to swallow you. I need to violate you sensuously.

Your husband just beside you. Your children at your knees. Relatives surrounding you and your mother, mere ashes, resting within an urn on the table at some distance behind you.

My parents light up when you walk to them, and they hug you. They had been afraid that they wouldn’t recognize you, but I told them not to worry. You looked the same. No one could mistake those vivid, ocean eyes as belonging to anyone else. All the while I stand to the side, smiling like a loon, the weight of social customs wasting no time bearing down on me. Yes, this is rather unacceptable, I tell myself, as this is a memorial service for your mother. I try to fight it, I know this is about a time of mourning, I know its an inappropriate mood for me to be in, but I’m just so happy to see you that I cannot help myself. I am entranced. I want to reverse time. Or erase what its done. I want to keep you. I want to take you away. I want a moment with you alone. Anywhere, and right now. Anywhere but here. The weight of rules embraced by the cultural herd continues to rain down upon me, my ego an insufficient umbrella. Yes, considering the circumstances, I am an inconsiderate prick.

Outside, when I ditched my parents for a smoke, I saw you coming out of the car, your hair dyed a dark, reddish-brown. It looks so you. So alluring. You’re dressed dark and beautiful. I walked over, shook hands with your husband, hugged you lightly — curse his presence; I desired to drown there — and shook hands with a girl you introduced as your sister from California. Like most California girls I’ve met in my life — all California girls, come to think of it — she was good-looking and had an insatiable look in her eyes. If you hadn’t been there, my jaw would have dropped to the floor, embraced by a dirty crater of its own making; next to you, however, she shrunk to pathetic insignificance, like a once-bright star drowned out by the radiance of the bellowing sun.

And she was there, too, that raw and wonderful character. Your cousin, the woman I hold up so high in my heart and mind because it seems to me that she is the only caretaker in your life you got dropped into the hands of that ever had the heart to truly take you in with both hands and care for you as her own. I can never hope to express how grateful I am for the fact that she exists. In my eyes, your parents perpetually abandoned you, as so many relatives did; she welcomed you with open arms. Surrounded by so many so dreadfully emotionally distant from you, she is the one who held you close, and I think you feel that, too. I don’t think she has any idea how deeply I respect her.

Just as its about to begin, just as we’re about to follow the so-called religious authorities into that room like a line of cattle led to the slaughter, in the door comes your cousin, Dante, long hair tied back, mustache grown now to the form of handlebars. The man through whom I was graced with meeting you.

We are all led inside. My parents and I sit in the third and last row to be occupied; my mother lets me go in first. For what seems like forever the priest goes on with his ritual, his rite, his voice sounding like a nasally robot, like Dan Akroyd when he played the role of a Conehead in his Saturday Night Live skit. My body, throughout the entire service, was like a clenched fist, flooded with tension. My leg kept bouncing, and my mother kept putting her hand on my knee to stop it, but no matter how many times I consciously ceased I would unconsciously and automatically find it bouncing up and down again.

My stomach started acting up, gurgling as it often does, and I could not silence it. With the first whine from my stomach, my mother’s head quickly jolts towards me. I don’t look at her, because then I’d loose it. Burst this tension in a convulsion of guffawing. My face began to redden, I felt the impulse to laugh at myself, had to clench my teeth, breathe deep, look to the side. Do not burst out laughing at a funeral.

And then the priest began his robotic Conehead voice again, and I felt the laughter bubbling to the surface, aching to break free. No, I begged myself, Do not do this. If anyone has been watching you and your parents whispering, if anyone has caught a glimpse of your face or body language, you no doubt already appear as some insensitive shit. Keep your heresy silent out of respect for her.

Soon the preacher said something that struck me wrong, gravely wrong, and my mood changed; at a level, I was almost thankful. The droning voice went on, the singing went on, the stories, like those of Lazarus. Suddenly everyone stood and my parents and I thought we heard the priest say that if you are of the Catholic religion and want to come up to pray, you may do so now. All my life I felt like a fish out of water, but never so naturally, obviously excommunicated as now, I was certain. I stuck out like a sore thumb. I felt a history here, but I knew now more than ever that this place was not my place, that I had no place it in, that I never did, did not, and never could belong. My mother turns to me and whispers almost inaudibly, as an obvious joke, “You want to go up there?”

My response was immediate an impulsive; I turned my head to her abruptly, shot her a look of disgust and said, “Fuck no!”

I had dropped the F-bomb in front of my mother and in a church, neither of which really bothered me, but I feared might have bothered you, or those close to you, all of whom were around me and might have heard me and taken it as a sign of disrespect for you, and for the dead. I looked away, wincing, wincing ever more intensely within. Had anyone heard me? I hoped not.

Someone then tugged at my leg. My parents were sitting down. Everyone else was standing, but my parents were sitting down. I questioned her in a whisper, and she said that they weren’t going up there, so we should sit down. so I sat down. Just the three of us, as all of the others were standing. We waited for almost all of them to go up and pray as we stayed behind, all of us committed heretics, but no one ever did go up as far as I could see. Eventually, all of them sat down again, and my parents and I exchanged confused glances. I felt like a naive anthropologist who was unintentionally insulting due to his lack of familiarity with tribal customs. Again, I hoped that no one had noticed. I was increasingly worried about my F-bomb and if anyone had heard it.

Finally, the priest indicates the end of the service, and we all rise in preparation for departing out the slow cattle march down the hall. I can see you, as I could the entire service, and there is conversation between you and those around you. I watch as you turn your head to the door and say quite distinctly, “Motherfucker!” I don’t think I’ve ever felt more comfortable with you than I did right then. Happy as I was for that, I was concerned and curious as to what was going on. Your husband ran down the side isle and out the doors and the rest departed in a slow march.

There had been these people sitting to the left of us the entire time, and I knew that they had been watching my parents and I, and they now stood to the side, facing all of us as we made our measured exit. I hoped they were members of the church and not your family, as from their perspective, I am sure they saw everything. After we were out of that room, I began to feel a little better, a little less claustrophobic. I wanted to fucking run for the hills. My parents were pushing to leave. My mother was especially hungry, and judged from my stomach gurgling during the service that I was as well. And I was rather hungry, to be honest, but I wanted to be around you as much as possible, but I had come with them and was not prepared to drive my car from their house to Mentor, where I was bound to get lost.

I distanced from them and gravitated towards the circle that had formed around you. Apparently some aunt of yours who had not spoken to your mother in years had arrived at the funeral unexpectedly, sat in the back and acted like she was so much better than everyone and then left abruptly, hence the “motherfucker!” from you and your husband’s swift scuttle down the isle. You asked if I were coming, and I said I couldn’t, and hugged you goodbye, shook your husbands hand, shook the hand of your sexy-eyed sister, then the hand of Dante, and couldn’t find anyone else. My parents really wanted to leave, so I followed them out the door. Left you behind.

Why couldn’t you stay here in Ohio, leave Iowa behind? It was an insane question, I know, but I miss being around you so much. I feel like shit for being so happy and excited at a funeral, but I got to see you, and I can’t smother that selfish glee in me, no matter how hard I tried to fit in for just a moment, no matter how offensive I attempted not to be in consideration of the circumstances. A mother to whom you were never close had died. A father who was never really there for you now expected you to be there for him in his time of guilt and mourning. My heart ached for you. It always does.

As we approached the car, I tried desperately to suck down my cigarette, as my parents were entering the car, more than ready to go. A big-bellied man came down the steps. He had a beard and I think I remembered him, however faintly, from years ago. From the one time I had met your parents when they came to pick you up from my parents house during high school. I was sure it was your father. His eyes met mine. I confirmed who he was, and shook his hand as he approached me. It felt awkward saying it, but I knew I had to say something, and I didn’t know what else to say. I felt so fucking alien.

I said to him, “I’m sorry for your loss.”

And then he burst like a dam. Bled to me like a sieve. She had the tumor since she was young, it was decades old, he told me, and the doctors said that even if she had been given MRIs all along there was nothing they could have done. It was inoperable. But he was supposed to go first, not her. He guessed it was meant to be, that it was what god wanted, and I bit my tongue.

Nothing is meant to be. Things just happen, I wanted to tell him. The guilt in the man was clear and unbearable. He should have taken his wife to the hospital, yes; his daughter should not have had to call an ambulance from states away. And it was unfair nonetheless that he had to sit by his wife’s bedside and watch her die, yes. But these things happen. Life is no fairy tale. There is no God or Devil. No Good and Evil. And what you call Good so rarely triumphs, so don’t go down with the vessel of false hope expecting a happily ever after.

Its not your fault, it is merely the ways of this impersonal universe. Nothing is meant to happen; things just happen, and then you’re left to manufacture your own meaning in the wake. You always want what you don’t have; this is natural. You rarely appreciate what you have, and you never really know what you had until its gone.

Again, life is no fairy tale, I want to tell him. At best, what you have at the end is a Shakespearean tragedy.

But I don’t say anything. I just let him talk, let him spill to me. I listen to his voice, his face, his body language, his eyes. His story. In the end, he shakes my hand and thanks me for coming before turning around and exiting with tears in his eyes. I watch him go for a moment before turning towards the truck’s door.

I get one more look at you before my parents back up and drive me away.

I hope to hell you’re all right.

The Emotional Treadmill, or: Then & Now & the Illusion of Their Distinction.

According to Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini and Richard Lannon — all of whom are professors of psychiatry at the University of California in San Francisco — in their book, A General Theory of Love, the mammalian limbic system requires resonance through attachment bonds with other limbic systems in order to regulate and revise itself, to keep mammals physically and mentally healthy and, in some cases, alive.

The caregiver-infant bond of a mammal begins during pregnancy, when the fetus and mother are in such a close, symbiotic relationship that they are, in a sense, not two, but one. As the fetus develops, it is shaped not only by the mother, but, through her, also by the world around her. This bond becomes even more important after birth, when, as a mammalian characteristic, infants are born before their development is complete.

In order for a human infant to be able to exit the birth canal, for instance, the head must be at a size that still allows birth to occur, and so the brain must undergo most of its growth outside of the womb. This early birth requires that conditions external to the womb qualify in important ways as a sort of “second womb” so that the infants’ development can continue properly. The bond between mother and infant keeps them attentive to one another, provoking the close emotional and physical (optimally skin-to-skin) contact that permits them to continue in semblance of the prenatal symbiotic relationship. It is not merely the nurturing behavior the bond inspires that is important, it would seem, but something inherent in the bond itself, as evidenced by the effects of prolonged deprivation of contact between parents and infants, even in cases where biological sustenance is provided: in short, as a consequence the infants die. Instead, the capacity offered by these bonds to empathize or emotionally attune with the internal states of other mammals are evidently something which mammals require for both psychological and physical health.

Through the nature of this early caregiver-infant bond and the bonds forged with secondary caregivers, the infant is imprinted with “attractors” — patterns and styles of relating that, in their deep-rooted familiarity, come to offer a sense of security for them throughout their entire lives. Through experiences with subsequent and necessarily resonant bonds we build upon these patterns, but in doing so we only give them further elaboration; the framework, the underlying pattern of relating, is far more resistant to change. As a consequence, as we grow we draw in and gravitate towards those who have an affinity with our infant-borne attractors and in so doing activate the corresponding attractors within them. The closer another person approximates the “prototype” offered by our attractors, the more complete we feel, the stronger our sense of belonging; the greater the chasm, the more profound our sense of isolation. We subconsciously attempt to deal with inconsistencies in attractors, however — or so it would seem — by means of transference and subtle manipulations through non-verbal cues that promote a sort of “self-fulfilling prophecy.”

If these patterns or styles of relating are unhealthy and unsatisfying, they will nonetheless be sought by the individual despite their best efforts to the contrary, as neurology favors the comfort of the well-worn path of the known over the unpredictability that comes with those uncharted jungles, no matter how greater the opportunities may be for happiness in the vast, unexplored territory — and intellect, for all its awesome power, has no reign over the treacherous ocean of emotion. Emotionally, socially, romantically, the past in a deeply-rooted sense is ever-present; the ghosts of childhood haunt our perceptions and the patterns of past times continue to possess our immediate relations. For all our lives we might fancy we’re chasing after a dream, or perhaps running away from a nightmare which is forever and always in such hot pursuit, but the truth may be far worse than finding ourselves running around in a tight little circle: we might just be on a treadmill, running in place like some feeble fucking hamster.

Service With a Smile.

We provide service.

Fried or grilled dead animal drenched in oil, wrapped in vegetable matter, splattered in pastes of various colors, viced between two toasted buns and wrapped in the colorful dried and dyed pulp procured from the severed and shredded bodies of countless, once-mighty trees?

We’ve got ’em for you.

Processed, breaded and fried chicken parts that, once passed the early stage of edibility, would be more effective if used as gravel on your driveway if not for their slightly-too-big size?

Indeed, we shall provide.

A salad of undoubtedly genetically-modified greenery to give you the illusion of eating healthy despite the fact that it typically serves as little more than decorative bedding for a hunk of artery-clogging bird, be it breaded or slimy-skinned, and saturated in your choice of dressing?

But of course, my lard-lusting Americans — and yet contrary to popular belief, that’s not all. No, our services extend far beyond what constitutes a publicly-acceptable form of assisted suicide. We provide a much more valuable service as emotional dartboards. Every one of our lovely stores essentially serves as transference terminal — for those of you familiar with the concept of transference from psychology.

You know our customers. You’re probably one of them. They just got off work, and they can’t yell at their boss. Their boss has been making them feel like shit all day. Perhaps employees or customers to their place of employment have been making them feel like shit all day, too. And they’ve had to hide it all behind clenched teeth hidden behind the curtains of the most convincing smile they can muster. They need to make their bills, so they can’t bite or bark back. And they can’t go off on their spouses or parents or children or friends, either, so on their way home from work, they stop in, order their cornucopia of literally killer consumables, find something to bitch about and let out all their steam at the poor schmucks behind the counter or through the drive-thru window.

My fries were cold. There was a hair in my sandwich. I said light on the mayo. Where’s my frigging apple pie?

Then there are people like this guy, just another animate fossil, another mobile corpse that death forgot. Another zombie the grave burped up. Just another old fart who’s lingered too long.

With dilapidated, Caucasian-raisin skin hanging off his brittle, bleach-white bones like Bubba’s big-bottomed, well-worn and nearly-transparent tightie-whities hanging wet on a clothesline, he reaches into the bag the girl behind counter has just presented him. In the fashion of an ungrateful child on Christmas he reaches in, grabs the chicken sandwich, plops it on the counter and unwraps it in a rush right then and there. With skeletal, Slim-Jim fingers he slowly and attentively dissects it in some disturbingly thorough pre-consumption autopsy ritual, picking through it like a monkey scanning the scalp of his simian brother for some tasty lice. The shaven, nutless, stretched-out scrotum skin of his forehead, lines etched into his flesh from years of his wretched facial echoes, twists into a scowl of acute concentration.

He’s just fishing for a flaw in the sandwich assembly, itching to bitch, and this guy hasn’t worked, by the looks of it, in roughly half a fucking century. With social security, senior discounts, and a medical establishment providing him the best pain meds available for his failing body, his biggest worry is the eternal sleep, but he still finds some justification to passionately seek out some excuse to blow off steam at some underpaid teenager behind the counter with a shitty childhood not entirely behind her and an unpromising future ahead of her, given the shit state his generation has left the world and all, given that the cold and callous To Be stands before her just waiting with open jaws dripping venom to chew her up and spit her out.

I walk away, sweeping the floor.

I don’t look back.

I stop paying attention, so I suppose for all I know he could have gotten bored or keeled over before finding a reason in that sandwich to treat a kid like crap, but its pretty typical around here. Customer service is just one long test of endurance.

And what doesn’t kill you but tries tends to make you a mirror of itself.

Crest to Trough in the Land of Masqued Misfits (a Lesson in Passion).

The plan was simple and innocent enough. A bunch of us were supposed to get drunk, walk around the unofficial Halloween celebration in our beloved college town, and then crash in a hotel room so we wouldn’t have to worry about sobering up and driving home. Things are rarely simple, however, and nothing ever goes according to plan.

When I woke up, I found that Nick had texted me. Turns out everyone had decided against it; so he was the only one there at the hotel room. Had been for an hour or two, as a matter of fact, just boozing away in isolation. Unnerved by the thought of Nick sitting alone, drinking beer and watching television, I tried to get myself motivated and get on down to Kent. My fear was that he would become overwhelmed by despair and slit his wrists or something worse, like sell his soul and life savings to some smooth-talking televangelist on Channel 3.

It took several cups of coffee, half a pack of cigarettes and a shower, but I made it there. He offered me a beer and we went outside, drank and smoked cigarettes. I figured I’d finish my bottle, down another, maybe two, and we would head on downtown and walk amongst the wackos. Then Lilly called, asked where I was, and then she was on her way over.

Ah, Lilly.

Seeing her, as always, made my jaw drop. She wore some sexy, revealing get-up and had on a Mafia fedora. With her was her mother, who had a blond wig on and was dressed up as a French maid. She was also with Veronica, a friend of hers who I’ve met twice before. She was this petite-looking skinny girl who is mildly attractive and could probably tear anyone apart like a coked-up bobcat if you made the mistake of pressing the wrong button.

“She’s a girl that you can drink pretty,” is precisely how Lilly explained her, adding that she was so skinny that Lilly felt fat when standing beside her.

There was a problem I was worried about to some degree, but mostly because I’m a pervert. Evidently Moe and Lilly had spoken a few days before and Moe mentioned to her that despite the fact that this was my favorite holiday, I never really dressed up. He offered his parrot costume to me, which he had worn a few years ago. Lilly then became determined to do what she had to to get me into that costume. If I had know this beforehand, I would of held out to see how far she would go — because as much as I care for her, I’m an asshole — but as it was I was promised a few looks at her ass as she danced around town in her sexy, revealing outfit. But Moe was recording with his band at an undisclosed location tonight and I had been unable to get a hold of him, so there was no costume. No costume, no free glimpses of her wondrous behind. Nick offered his old wedding suit, however — there was a Mafia theme to the wedding (and the marriage itself was “waxed” less than a year ago) — which for some unknown reason he had in his car. Though the fedora didn’t fit my fat head, I put on the shirt and tie, and I sort of looked like a mafia guy. It was enough.

So we all went to gallivant around the college town. Nick was dressed as a beer bong, though to me he looked like a metallic, sentient dildo. Everyone else thought he was the tin man.

At some point Lilly complained how her boyfriend, Brian, wouldn’t touch her because she had on that glittery stuff. Up front I told her I happen to agree that the glittery stuff was annoying when it rubbed off on you when you were with a girl, but it wouldn’t stop me from touching her. I provided solid evidence for this assertion later in the evening, when we were shitfaced outside of Venice, lost in the crowd. It was then that I turned to see Lilly trying to pick up this girl that somehow looked quite familiar. As I paid attention, it became abundantly clear that this girl was bisexual and that the tall guy beside her, who was undoubtedly her boyfriend, was uncertain as to whether or not he wanted to have the threesome the two girls had proposed. Clearly he was either drunk to the point he wasn’t thinking clearly, homosexual, insane, or some unholy cocktail. My alcohol-induced ADD led to me look away from a moment; when I looked back there was Lilly, head tilted, lips mashed against Veronica’s mouth.

“Hey,” I said, tapping her shoulder in mock anger, “Hey, hey, hey. I want some of that.”

And then she mashed her lovely lips against mine, her tongue was in my mouth, my tongue in hers, and I was suddenly enveloped in a moment inconceivable degrees beyond surreality and high above the realm of fantasy, for here I was in the midst of an act with a girl who I had previously not even been able to make the vaguest sense of sexual contact with in my craziest, sex-fueled dreams. It was an act of hers that clearly said, “All right, you asked for it. Let’s see if you can take it.” When she she released me, biting and pulling at my bottom lip as she did so, it was too soon. Especially after that bottom-lip biting. That drives me insane in the good way.

“Wait a minute,” I said quickly, “hold up.”

And she turned back, and this time I kissed her, her back against the brick walls of the building, and I bit her bottom lip back.

“You’re a good kisser,” she told me. “Makes me wonder what you’d be like in — ” And she stopped.

Pinch me. No, don’t. Was I dreaming? No, no. I’d never get this far in a dream. I was clearly awake and irreversibly shitfaced, and so was she.

“There’s one way to find out,” I was quick to respond.

She started saying how I was her friend, how we were friends, how that sort of thing would get between us as friends, as us kissing alone might have ruined everything, but I did my damnest to reassure her that at best it would strengthen the bond. I was like a greedy, needy child fueled with just a little too much chemical courage. I didn’t regret any of it at all, and I still don’t.

Regret was to come a bit later in the evening, when most of us had parted ways. I was still pumped from the whole incident with Lilly. Charged and ready to go. I wished she were here. I wish she’d let me. If it happened, I hoped she was wrong that it would demolish our friendship. I talked with Nick, a little about kissing my divine friend, Lilly, and him and I went back to his hotel room. Outside the door him and I stood around, bullshitting and smoking our smokes when two girls walked by on the banister of the second floor.

“Hi,” I say. This was uncharacteristic of me, even when drunk. No harm in such a greeting, though, I told myself. Hi is universal, right?

They say hi back, whisper something to one another, look back at us briefly, and then go through the door of the room above Nick’s. They could be elephant women, they could be super-models. I’m too damn drunk to tell, or even care at this point. I had my chemical courage, and the night was my fucking playground, or so it felt like. They’ll be back out, I told myself, and indeed, they were.

What they look like was now clearer. One was a tall, big-boned girl in long brown hair and has a hairband across the top of her head with two ears, maybe cat’s ears, sticking out of it. The other was cute. Not drop-dead, but she had character. Her body language was sexy, her voice had some hint of a Southern accent that bled out now and then. I could maybe get with this girl tonight, I thought to myself. I started flirting in my own unusual way, which involved calling her “Zazen Girl” due to the meditative-like position she was taking on the balcony. I had to explain to her what Zazen was, which disappointed me.

Another girl came out, and this one reminded me of my friend Joyce, mostly in the face. She was overweight, but not morbidly obese or oddly-shaped or round like a three-dimensional Eric Cartman. She had a warm, giggly nature about her, and there was something about her I liked, or something I thought I saw in her that I thought I liked. I constantly worried about her feeling bad or excluded for some reason and tried to include her often enough to make her feel flattered by my coming back to her, but not often enough that it seemed obvious.

The last finally came out — a tall, mammoth of a woman with a bald head wrapped in a pirate bandanna embroidered with skulls and crossbones. Her name, I think, was TJ — an unfortunate name for such a manly woman but, I suppose, a fairly cool one for a pirate. She’s originally from Maryland, we would later discover, and has a big scar on her leg from an auto accident she had when she was young. She’s also a psychology major who later gave me her professional opinion that I was, and I quote, “fucked up in general” and “in a bad way.” I didn’t like her much. Something told me the feeling was mutual.

Southern Girl and I began threatening to beat each other up in a playful manner, and so to get her downstairs I kept asking if she wanted to fight. It worked. Downstairs she came, the rest of them trailing behind her, and she walked a bad-ass walk up to me confidently. I didn’t move. Stood calmly, taking drags off my cigarette. “Bring it,” I said. As anticipated, she got up real close to my face, doing her best to intimidate, and I did the same. Yeah, I thought to myself, I could do this. And by this, of course, I meant her.

As our play-fighting began, the rest of them sat on the base of the fence that surrounded the pool, and this is where her and I eventually made our way. During a play-argument, she sat in a space provided by the Pirate and I sat on the end, but I wanted to keep the interaction going, so I got up to approach her. We got engaged in another play fight and I ended up falling into Joyce-Face and whacking my pocket-rocket into her knee.

“I totally hit you with my boner,” I said to her, “Sorry.” I meant it, too.

I was sitting on her lap at that point and she said, “That’s okay,” and started touching it with her hand — quite purposely, is what I mean to say. And stroking it then, up and down as it bulged beneath the jeans. I knew what was going to happen next, but I told myself I was insane; sure enough, however, it happened. She stuck her hands down my pants and started massaging my monster.

“You do that well,” I tell her.

Then, she whispers into my ear, “Just wait until I give you head.”

Oh, hold the motherfucking presses.

Call me a jerk, but as unattracted as I was to her, the offer didn’t seem altogether unappealing. I asked if she wanted to go up to their room, and she said sure, she didn’t care were. “I think we’re going to go talk upstairs,” I announced to the group. “Uh-huh. Right. ‘Talk’,” everyone’s faces said. Nick then motioned towards his hotel door.

“Door’s unlocked,” he said.

No stairs? That seemed much safer. I turned to her. “Cool?” She nodded, and off we went.

Once inside, I suggested the bathroom. One reason was the greater degree of privacy the room offered; there were two doors between us and anyone who might walk into the hotel room. The other reason was that I judged, and it turned out quite accurately, that she was too eager to put her mouth around my bush-splitting beef bazooka to bother with reaching for the light switch which I, in my drunken state of mind, would not be able to find on my own if i tried. The darkness, I presumed — and quite inaccurately, as it turns out — might allow me to ignore the fact that I wasn’t actually in the least bit attracted to girl. Of course, she didn’t care where it was we went, so towards the bathroom we stumbled.

On the way there, it struck me that it had been awhile since I had trimmed the bologna bush, and I didn’t want her to think this was typical of me. “I’m a little hairy down there,” I warned her.

She laughed. “Its not a problem.”

Before I had closed the door she had dropped to her knees and flipped open by belt, and the door closed as the zipper dropped and she dug me out. It was so nice to feel a warm, wet mouth down there again. “You do that well, too,” I told her between the moaning. My mind couldn’t help but realize she wasn’t the best, however; not even close. Dorothy was still the undefeated Queen of Blow-Jobs. Joyce-face was, however, the noisiest one to ever engage in the process. I didn’t mind, understand; it was just noteworthy, that’s all. She was enjoying it immensely or very dedicated to conveying that impression; which was the case was lost to me, as I was, as I believe I mentioned, quite drunk, and quite lost in the sheer enjoyment of something other than my hands, a sock, or a pillow working around the beef-shaft after over four years.

Politely, I asked her if she minded at all if I moved to the floor. She expressed her permission, however rudely with a full mouth, and doing it slowly, I managed to accomplish it without her puckered lips ever straying from my knob-capped calm-slammer. The tile was cool against the base of my spine, which added an enticing contrast with the moist circa 98.2 degree temperature of her mouth. Bashing my head on the base of the toilet, however, was not a comforting experience; nonetheless, it was lost in the sheer joy of the gracious fellatio.

She seemed entirely comfortable with me holding her head in place as I thrusted in and out of her mouth, too, which was not something I had ever actually done before; though the impulse to thrust has made its way to the surface during a blowjob, I have never actively face-fucked a girl before. This girl was quite open to anything, it seemed. A little too open, even, as it soon became the case that she tried her very damnest to fucking swallow me.

For a moment that was a bit too enduring, I honestly had the fear that I might be raped by the girl. Not a laughing matter, this I know; sad as it is, I’m not kidding. Not in the least. “Stick it in my pussy,” she breathed to me. “Please. Just for a second.”

I shook my head, though she probably couldn’t see me, and told her no, I couldn’t. Crawling up atop me, I could see the features of her face in the dim light cast through the cracks in the door. It was haunting. In the bad way.

“Just for a minute. Stick it in my pussy. Please.”

I asked her if she had a condom. She didn’t. I told her I wouldn’t, not without a condom.

She went back to breathing, begging in my ear. Putting the weight of herself against me. Though I wasn’t trying to be forceful, I was trying to push her away, shove her off me. Her hands, I felt them go down around her pants, pushing them to her knees as she continued to crawl atop me, pinning me down.

Given the right girl, this would be a major turn on, but this wasn’t the right girl. The right girl was vomiting in her boyfriend’s toilet right now.

I tried to scoot myself upward, my back cold against the porcelain of the toilet bowl. I tried to stop the scenarios flashing through my drunken mind. Who’s going to listen to a man who claimed he was raped by a girl? Other men would laugh at me. Feminists would idolize her.

Then it came: the knock that might have saved my life. It came from the front door of the hotel room, I’m sure, and like an instant, Pavlovian response her and I are off each other and quickly putting on our cloths like a couple of teenagers caught by the cops. After ensuring she was decent, I wasted no time in opening the door. It was over.

She laughed. “I’m glad one of us has good sense,” she said, giggling, referring to my insistence on a weenie beanie. “But I’m going to go get a condom. I’m not kidding.”

And like none of that ever happened, I just sort of shrugged and said, “Okay.”

Evidently, it was then that I called Nick. I don’t remember. All I remember is She-Monster the Pirate coming out the door, walking to the banister and looking down. Joyce-Face held up her hands, giggling in response to her pirate friend’s disappointed look, trying to beg for the condom between fits of laughter. It was then that I pointed at the Pirate. “Here’s your chance to stop your friend from doing something she might regret in the morning,” I informed her. “The power is in your hands, because I’m not going to fuck without a condom.”

She didn’t blink. She turned and walked back in the door and shut it behind her. We laughed.

“Are you kidding?” Joyce-Face said, losing it in laughter again. I thought I was home free, but then then the door opened again and the pirate dropped the condom like some throwaway eye-patch. Cock-sock in hand, there would be no turning back.

In the hotel room I’m like, “Let’s not do the bathroom thing this time.”

“I don’t care where,” she said. “If you’re looking for romance, I’m not the girl.”

“No,” I said before she finished, “not at all.”

I sat on the bed (stumbled is probably a more appropriate term) closest to the bathroom and kitchen. The main light was off, but the light from the kitchen still illuminated the room.

“Again,” I said as she crawled on the bed, “Hairy. Sorry.”

“It’s no problem,” she said. Damn, she was a nice girl. I could tell. Maybe that was it. She was more like a teddy bear than she was almost anything else. I had fucked my own fisted hand, folded pillows, holy socks, bunched up blankets, a fake silicone vagina with beads on the bottom that I had inadvertently transformed into a pearl-cannon. I had even considered buying a watermelon once. Despite all that, I could never bring myself to fuck a teddy-bear. How on earth can one bring himself to bone Snuggles, for fuck’s sake?

But she wasn’t a teddy-bear. She was a girl. A sweet girl I had no desire to bone. For the lack of anything holy, what had happened to me? What had my world come to? I had french kissed a goddess and here, mere hours later, I was about to harpoon a motherfucking Care Bear with my vacuum-sealed cum cannon. I had rode a tidal wave this evening, with Lilly as the crest, and not just any crest. A crest as high as the skies and beyond. And now? Now I was down in the trough. And not just any trough. No, this had to designate a new low in my life.

If that wasn’t bad enough, there was the condom issue. In attempting to put my wankee in its nipple-tipped wetsuit, I discovered myself putting it on backwards. Even when I got it right, everything went wrong. I couldn’t get the disobedient soldier to grow a spine, to put it in a way. It was like taking the hand of a coma patient, putting on a sock puppet and trying to pull some Weekend at Bernie’s kind of shit. I am not hard at this point. It was like a glorified gummy-worm. It was not hard. I was not excited at all.

“Maybe you should do what you were doing before,” I said, the fucking asshole I am. “It seems to like your mouth.”

I was way too drunk. How had I gotten so fucking drunk? I was not at all attracted to her. The guys at work, they keeping saying how a vagina is a vagina, which seemed logical enough on the surface, but no, they’re wrong, a vagina is not a vagina. Its like one guy at work, one guy who is obsessed with breasts, even more so than the majority of men I know. Its like that’s all he ever really looks for or sees in a girl. A pair of disembodied, levitating knockers would be enough for him. I at least needed to like the whole package, even after almost three years of circumstantial abstinence.

She sucked me off, and then climbed atop me. She began kissing my neck in a violent, sucking pucker fashion I am not at all unfamiliar with, and I repeatedly tried to veer away from her to stop her or in the very least limit her ability to do it, and in the face of her ruthless persistence I eventually found myself wriggling myself upward by shoulder-crawls not at all unlike when I feared getting raped earlier in the bathroom. And I’m glad, despite my profound intoxication, that I was clear-headed enough to do this, despite the fact that I still had marks on my neck the following day. It was distracting for her to do that but, more importantly, it made me profoundly angry considering my sober analysis on the subject years and years prior.

It’s not too deep of an analysis, really. My philosophy on the hickie, particularly when delivered to the neck, isn’t complex at all; hell, countless members of the animal kingdom comprehend the logic instinctively. In short, it’s nothing more than the natural act of marking territory, not unlike a dog pissing on a tree. It is a big red beacon for the world to see, and for them to read like a neon sign that says: “This man is owned by someone as a romantic partner and/or sexual resource.” Now, if a girl and I are in a committed relationship, hickies are entirely permissible, though, I must confess, not always welcome. Still, when it comes down to it, I would rather she elect that means of marking territory as opposed to the far more serious demands for a wedding ring.

In any case, when asked suggestively by others what that mark is on my neck I will, without fail, default to the usual cover-stories, which most can all too easily see through, much as one can see through the water-saturated white T-shirt of a bra-less babe caught in a rainstorm. It is a heat rash, I tell them. It is the result of skin irritation from the collar of a new shirt. Or, it is razor burn. And so on, ad infinitim and predictability. When in a committed relationship, I utilize these cover stories automatically due to my embarrassment and drive for privacy.

If we are just fuck buddies, however, and especially if it is merely a one-night stand, its out of anger and a desire to counteract the ownership the mark or marks imply. For unless the girl and I are in a committed relationship, there is simply no justification for giving me the most modest Hoover-bruise. It is the act of crossing a line, a gesture that indicates the sucker as confusing their act of renting the suckee for owning. It implies ulterior motives that are bound to result in me promptly fashioning a turtle-neck and scarf, an attire I loathe, and a seemingly inappropriate attire to adorn considering my simultaneous act of running for the hills away from the girl in question in a fashion that clearly implies my ass is on fire.

“Maybe you should try the top.”

Oh yes. I like the top.

We repositioned. Then I looked. Below her shirt, it looked like scorched earth with a vagina at the equator. My dick, a big ol’ phallic Jello Jiggler danging before what for a moment seemed akin the the vertically-positioned lips of Bill Cosby. Quick as it came to my drunken mind I damned myself for that thought, realizing that it was technically a racist comment, but it then struck me that until this moment I had actually overlooked the fact that she was a black girl, so the initial association was perhaps not as blatantly racist as I had initially thought. Indeed, this would be a first for me. I don’t think I had so much as kissed a girl with a dark pigment before, and here I was, about to cram my half-hard pork link into one.

It wasn’t that I considered her a notch on my belt or anything, it was that I was trying to talk my dick into cooperating.

It wasn’t an ugly vagina, either. I’ve seen ugly vaginas, but never in person, only in porn, and this wasn’t one, for sure. It didn’t look like a close up of the bottom half of Mick Jagger’s mouth while he’s eating an Arby’s Beef and Cheese or anything. So what was wrong with me?

“We’re not attracted to her,” I told my dick, “that much is obvious. But its a ready and willing vagina with no strings attached, you know? Not, like, a pussy-puppet, got me? No strings. She’s not trying to reel you in. And we masturbate all the time, you and I, once or twice a day to keep a minimal standard level of sanity, isn’t that right? So just look at her as a ready and willing extension of our masturbatory practices. Like the silicone vagina.”

This was not working.

“Stick it in me,” she breathed.

I was whacking off like a caged monkey before her holiest of holes, but the pesky appendage was receding, recoiling, but had nowhere to hide and so ultimately just dangled its limp head in a state of playing-opossum for lack of a shell to wither itself within. I don’t know if I ever even got the damned thing inside of her, but I do know that I must have been drunk enough to think I did, because I was thrusting like a maniac. Still, perhaps only dry-humping her. Banging a loose goose-neck against pussy-lips that, for all I know, might have been tighter than the doors of NORAD.

“You could slap my ass,” I requested while atop her in the sexiest, raspy, alcohol-breath-bellowing mumble into her ears I could muster. And she tried to slap my ass on several occasions, but kept slapping the side of my thigh, which wasn’t doing anything for me. Its like she didn’t know where my bony white ass was. This amazed me. I had, after all, managed at least on one occasion to masturbate with one hand and slap my own ass with the other, and I’m no double-jointed circus-freak, either. She was in the perfect position to easily spank the ol’ back-cheeks and she was missing it entirely. I suddenly stopped to wonder: how drunk was she?

All I know is I stopped jack-hammering for a moment and she said, “Stick it in,” again, so at that point, at least, I wasn’t in. I still had fingers, though, so fell down, swayed to the side and plopped one in, worked them like mad, and she seemed to sort of enjoy it, but I eventually convinced myself that this was not really the case. The clit wasn’t engorged. No bulging bliss button. Damn it, I thought to myself, What a drunken lack of passion I have for this.

Pleasant girl sounds. Success on its way? No. “Stick it in,” she said.

So two fingers, three. More happy sounds. Are we on our way?

“Stick it in.”

Fuck.

I had determined by this point that I could stand up on the bed, lift up her bottom end, drop her and then kick a steel-toed foot dead between those lips in a deeply-penetrating cunt-punt and she’d still be begging me to ram my cock into her, but this was a problem, because it was like a fucking tube-sock filled with wet sand. So I sighed as silently as I could and just laid over on the mattress. Life sucks.

It wasn’t the booze. I knew that, faced it. Hell, I’ve jerked off with excellent results while totally fucking shitfaced in the privacy of my own apartment while watching porn. “No,” I thought to her,”the truth is I’m just not into you. I’m less into you than I am into my hand or a folded pillow, and that makes me a total asshole. I’d rather be passionately making out with Lilly right now than even successfully fucking you. For her, for Lilly, I have passion. I need passion; I need intensity. I can’t fuck a girl I don’t even want to kiss.”

As always, I am out of my mind, and my heart has my dick on a short leash.

I thought all this. Of course, I said none of it.

“Sorry,” is what I said. “Whiskey dick. Beer beef.”

“That’s okay,” she said, apparently humored, amazed and confused at my comment, as if I had just apologized to her after fucking her like a god. We left for upstairs, to join Nick and her friends, and she seemed to be glowing all the way.

I was so, so fucking confused.

The Wall.

The wall still stands between, and I patrol the holes and cracks in the old wood door at the heart of it like a rite for which not one iota of passion has been spent since eons passed, when I began, still thirsty for those droplets of memory, half-hoping for another flood. Are we all that different, you and I, that I should fear your face and all it reveals to me through those dark, ancient eyes? In the end, do you devour me after all, or do I instead swallow you like a courageous serpent, or do we, perhaps, merge into one? When the time comes, will I become someone, something else, or merely something more? And where and who does that leave me?

Hold On, Gotoma.

She spontaneously manifested, magically lifted me up and then just as abruptly disappeared, vanishing from the naked eye, and with her evaporated grasp she abandoned me. Gave me away to gravity. Out from the ether she came and went; out of the ether shall come another, I venture to guess, no doubt gone like the last in good time.

“So it goes,” as Vonnegut said.

Forever and always, for good and ill, as a wise and nonchalant man once told me just before she stepped into my life, it pays to remain aware of the moment’s mortality — it is wise to remember that, as he echoed, “This, too, shall pass away.” These are words borne neither of hope nor of hopelessness, but out from the womb of reason. It is the mother of hope; slayer of hopelessness. When we are on empty, it can carry us on fumes until we manage to fill us back up, and in times of hope it serves to remind us that we should not take this time for granted, for it is as transient as anything.

Gotoma realized this essential truth regarding the impermanence littering this wheel of death and rebirth, and believed he had found the eye in the cyclone of samsara in what he called a Middle Path — which, despite the inconsistency, was a path that lead to the most extreme end of letting go conceivable. As a matter of fact, the goal of “letting go,” the ultimate target to which the entire religion or life philosophy that came to be known as Buddhism aimed, was not conceivable at all, hence the total absence of any definition or description of Nirvana that is not limited to negation. If it were truly a middle path, its aim would be no less imbalanced, and its total lack of value in mastering the art of “holding on” would be given life through its fair share of the fuel currently being consumed by morbidly obese art of “letting go.” And if you ask me, if the art of letting go were truly comprehensive it would have most certainly included a chapter dedicated to loosening its own grip on itself, anyway.

To learn where and how to hold on, where and how to let go: this is level and fertile ground for a truly middle path.