I did this reading at the Utah Arts Festival festival two weeks ago (and my final MFA reading) and had someone request it. As I haven’t been able to publish it (or my book) yet, I decided to throw it up here. So, enjoy! It will fill you with so much happiness. And darkness.
The Night is All
“Tis no ease to rise on a grey day. The devil holds fast your eyelids.”
You lie in bed trying to get up. Trying is not the right word. You could get up at anytime. You are not physically incapable of getting up. If say, a fire started, or a bomb exploded down the street, then you would get out of bed immediately. But, neither of those has happened yet this morning and it’s unlikely they will. Perhaps the more accurate phrase would be, “You lie in bed, postponing getting up until the last possible second.”
It’s Tuesday, eight o’clock or so. You’ve already decided you will be arriving late to work this morning and so you continue to lie in bed. Your body feels weighted down with iron, lead, and steel. Eyes glued shut. The fact this is just a feeling and not a reality does not matter to your brain. There is zero motivation for removing the covers.
The ceiling fan spins above. The two tiny chains dangling beneath clink intermittently. Light filters through the curtains. The cat is lying on the bed. Your dog, Amelie, is furiously licking her butthole at the foot of the bed. You are twenty-eight years old but you feel like you’re thirty-eight.
Your wife, who you married at the age of twenty-four and lost your virginity to and love very much and who is all together better person than you, has left for work. There are no kids. There was almost a kid last January. They would be due about now, in this searing heat of August. But they evaporated some time ago, around February.
Life, it turns out, is not so simple.
If only it were. If only everything was seamless, balanced, and smooth. If only the problems of existence were all serotonin levels and neurology that could easily be tweaked. An adjustment made to one’s theology or philosophy. If only, though it might seem strange to say, it was a simple matter of being an alcoholic or a sex addict. If only one could just believe or, conversely, rid oneself of belief. If only all of this could all be explained through a book, or a lecture, or a pill, or an intervention.
You would happily go after more anti-depressants, therapy, A.A., S.A., meditation, a book or two, prayer, a Masters degree in Divinity or philosophy. If only then, you’d be set and could go about the rest of your life.
Wouldn’t it be nice.
Yet you cannot isolate one part of yourself from another, because it’s all connected. Life … is complicated. It’s beautiful and tragic and complicated and connected. All at the same time. And yet it’s amazing how this simple fact is often overlooked, brushed over. In politics, in theology. In mental health and war and daily interactions.
How we eschew complexity for simplicity every time.
So, you have these personal problems of faith and doubt and marriage and mental anxiety, which you cope with through bottles of whiskey, packs of cigarettes, and daily masturbation. Because these problems are bound with other, bigger problems: the wars and greed and infidelity and injustice you see while watching the news or within yourself. Summed up in as simple and complicated of a phrase as, “The Human Condition,” as college-sophomoric and Camus as that sounds. Or perhaps, more specifically, this problem lies in the inability of compartmentalizing the human condition. To turn on the news and see a story about another mass shooting, another black man dying on the street, another boat of refuges drowning atop the Mediterranean, another few hundred Syrians shelled by the government, and not have this news plunge you into a deep, seemingly-eternal darkness for the next several days or even months.
You have this filter you cannot get rid of. You cannot see yourself in a healthy and objective way. You cannot look at your relationships with others, or the world in general, in a healthy and productive way. All there is, is darkness. Bodily compression by the weight of all this metal.
This dark weightiness, this compression, filters and taints all you come into contact with. Like constant sleep deprivation.
Who knows though. Maybe you’re just in your twenties. Or maybe this is an early midlife crisis. Maybe it’s your loss of faith. The transition from youth to adulthood. Maybe it’s just depression, pure and sweet. But you know that it has to do with this, The Why. You are paralyzed by The Why. Why is there something rather than nothing? And what are we to do about it, this Human Condition of ours? And why are you always so fucking existential?
You cannot, as many people do every day, push away this concern—when you go to work, when you are at home, when you are at a soccer game, when you are out at a bar celebrating a friends birthday.
To you it all hinges on this Why.
And everyone, appears to be offering their simple solution to this question, taking the form of political or religious ideology, or merely entertainment and distraction: Another self-help book, another sermon, the latest superhero movie, the next sports championship, the next president of the United States. Everyone has their answers or their opiate. Rather than genuinely seeking an answer, many people profit off this question even.
No one, really, seems to care. Pastors. Politicians. To really do the work on issues that are ambiguous and complicated and that require—to use a seemingly outdated word—longsuffering. No. We want everything microwaved, digitally compressed. Sanitized in clean, tidy boxes. We are just humans after all.
The God you have served faithfully for so many years is now gone. And it’s strange, to have a belief system that—though imperfect—for years consisted of a plan, some arc of justice. A foundation of faith that has also seemingly evaporated.
Your framework for the world is collapsing: The navigation of marriage and the unexpected adult responsibilities it brings. Some unexpected deaths. A suicide or two. A miscarriage or two. Your own addictions. Your malfunctioning brain. The world presented through media news cycles. You have experienced the complete and total loss of any romanticism or expectations you had for this world.
You are a big romantic. You were a big romantic is how you say it now.
So, you seek an answer that, deep down, you are not sure exists. And this, more than anything, terrifies you. And though others might think this is all just some heady-philosophical-mumbo-jumbo of someone-who-just-needs-to-get-outside-a-little-more, you cannot stress enough how life itself might hinge upon all this, lying in bed.
This, right here, is what we call the rumination-death-spiral of depression. This is home. This interior self. And home is a prison. It’s almost like there’s no way anyone could ever know you, unless they also existed inside this head of yours. Let’s be honest right up front however, depression itself does not make one the most reliable narrator, especially when one’s experience of the world is mediated by a constant, cerebral, critical filter—objectivity, reality, sails right away.
Each day goes like this: Coat lungs in cigarette smoke. Bath liver in alcohol. Pump stomach with pizza. Glaze eyes with movies and Netflix and iPhone scrolling.
You’re not even interested in sex. The window for sex, due to falling energy and the side effects of Prozac, is somewhere between fifteen minutes and an hour a day. And even then sex feels like work. An errand. Going to the grocery store. Something you’re supposed to do. The release is nice, yet the release can be achieved through cruder means. By jerking off onto the top of your thigh through your boxers, for example.
When you’re not in despair you’re just really fucking irritated with everything. With your partner. Your job. Everyone you come into contact with. Staring at the walls in your warehouse workspace like a damn mental patient. Depressed, but thinking, Motherfucker, I got shit to say. Shit to do.
The only thing you really enjoy is getting a little drunk and falling asleep at night to Lord of The Rings on the couch.
And so you live in this moment, this tension of The Why, every day, and you realize that the way things are going leaves one with only two choices: One, to find some way to make your life sustainable, or Two: To end your life. These really are the only two options.
And you realize, on this specific morning, lying in bed staring at the ceiling fan—the cat, the dog, etc., that where you are now, here—depressed and beyond despair, but calm, not trying to be dramatic—this is the gulf those who commit suicide do not make it over. Cannot bridge, for whatever reason. It’s like a revelation this morning. You suddenly understand this why. And you’re still lying here, in bed, in your head, unable to convince yourself to simply get up. You try to tell your wife all this, but you don’t want to overwhelm her or anyone else for that matter. And so, even though you have a wife and friends and a great family, it doesn’t matter, because in your head, in your body, in your soul,
you are alone.
And it’s this mental strain, this inner confliction, this never-ending mental battle, which is the real nightmare, your archenemy, the Holy Grail of an answer you seek.
And it’s almost surreal being here, in this bed, not even hung over for once, occupying this mental space, this no man’s land, between life or death, this tension of existence, and you wonder how you will push through this tension, or not, which happens each morning you wake up.
How you are going to make it through.
Or how you got here in the first place.
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