I’m looking through old photos and I’m laughing. Thanks for the happy memories. You’re right about taking pictures.

And so begins the rewriting process…

There are family stories; there are reasons why people make the choices they make –why they walk the paths they walk. These things hinge upon something imperceptible, yet undeniably powerful –a force, stronger than blood, that can pave the lives of our sons and daughters.

The Mo Rose Family

Deep in the Loud Lands, where the winds carry sound, Andomo Mo Rose sat with his daughter. They huddled together, waiting. There’s a trick to it: you wait for the world to quiet, until you no longer hear the barley fields stir, when the winds have at last died, and only then you project your voice. The timing had to be perfect.

When it was perfect, you can hear a person’s soul captured in time. It was prayer. It was a wish. It was a song. Andomo and his daughter laughed together atop that hill. “Shhhhh. It’s almost time,” He whispered. He became as still as stone. Addy did her best to not move. But she looked up to him with all the adoration a daughter of three could have for her father. Everything silenced.

Had I known you would pass, I’d never leave. Had I known you would change, I wouldn’t have held you that night. Had I known you would become my life, I would have done you better. If only, if only, Oh, if only I’d have known.

The winds carried his voice down the fields. The echo grew louder and louder, and then it was nothing. Andomo propped Addy on his shoulders. He sauntered with a bit of a sway. Addy giggled. She clung to his face for her dear life. She pointed to the house on a hill. “Home, that’s home!”

“Very good. What about that?”

“Barley!”

“And that?”

“Balloon!”

“Right again! Those balloons are going to make everything better here in the Loud Lands. One day we’ll get to leave and see the world.” He stared at the Great White sailing across the sky. Its shadow swooped across the vast fields. He could imagine himself aboard. By then people would want to meet him. He’d be a man of importance and wealth. He smiled to himself.

He tucked the blankets into her shape. Little Addy slept in no time. He stared at her through the door left ajar. His attention shifted. The Mo Rose Manor, his inheritance from his grandfather, Alphonse the First, the Greatest, had sheltered the Mo Rose family for three generations. The dim lights of a late home awakened memories of his childhood, flashes of time he had half-forgotten. He saw himself running down the hall to the bonsai garden, where Alphonse had hand crafted canary cages. The canaries chirped in their prison, and little Domo stared up at the cherry petals pelting down as light as feathers.

“Domo, come here. I have something to tell you.”

He ran to his grandfather. The details of his face was lost in the glaring sun. “Hi Al.” He must have smiled. He remembered smiling.

“Do you remember what happened to your dad?”

“You’re my dad.”

“No. No, I told you before. I’m your grandpa. Your dad is gone.” His armored voice cracked. It was a strange sound to hear for the boy. Domo didn’t really understand why it discomforted him.

“Where did he go?”

“He killed himself.” His grandpa’s eyes appeared beyond the blinding sunlight, his pupils as dark as an eclipse. “Because I left. Because I chose to find that damned tree. That demon cursed us. I wanted to understand why I felt the way I did.” Alphonse wrapped his hands around Domo’s arms. “Listen to me, Domo. One day, I will not be around anymore. You’ll be a man then. But I want you to remember something. Don’t look for the Tree of Madness. Run as far away from it. That’s why we’re out here. We’re all cursed.”

The memory ran its course; Domo only remembered his grandpa’s eyes, his black pupils. The rest was oblivion. He stared at the shadows around the walls. A lengthy sigh escaped him. Tomorrow he’d have to take his cart to the next town to sell his goddamn Fire Juice.

His cart had been loaded with that radioactively red juice. He had breakfasted with his wife, Mei, who stared at him with haunted eyes. She wrapped her stomach, full of life, in an embrace. Andomo stooped down to Addy’s eye level. He held her close. “I’ll be home in no time.”

“When will that be?”

He laughed. “Soon. Soon. Make me proud.”

He whistled a tune he had heard on the static radio. “Miko, let’s go!” He snapped his whip at the air, and the horse began to trudge down the road. It was an endless ocean of barley.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wrangled with you for some time. I wish I could see you in a better light. It’s hard to love what you hate, but you’re as much me as I am you. You are my mom. You are my dad. You are my depression. My bravery.  My anger. My kindness. My fears. My love. My regret. My caring. My violence. I think I finally understand beyond good and evil. There’s no holistically good nor evil. I’m a person. There’s only my actions, moment by moment. And that’s liberation. I am the ability to change.  I imagine I’m in a jelly cocoon. I’m trying to push and stretch my dimensions, my skin. And it’s a moment by moment effort…

 

Random Thoughts

There’s a spider that spins a huge web right in front of my door every night.

It wants to eat me. I’m tired of walking into that web. I will be its greatest catch.

If you find me dead with millions of spider bites, just know

Life was OK.

 

The wind slaps my chest

I’m sticky with sweat, and I’m skating half naked and really bad

But I just don’t care anymore. I’m having a blast.

 

Things that scared and affected me don’t anymore

I think it’s because my greatest fear was losing you

Coyotes scare me, especially when you’re out in the hills and you hear them howling close to you

I’m becoming tan and leathery but I like it.

 

 

 

 

 

Dear you,

I’m happy to hear from you, though I’m sad to hear you’re going through so much. I want to steal away your pain and sadness, but I read that’s a toxic thing to wish. You should want that person to become stronger through those experiences. And it sounds like you are. Protect yourself. Try to limit one on one time with him. I don’t know the reasons why you’re not eating, but do your best to. I know you are. I hate September too, and I’m counting down the days until October.

I’m flying to Portland. We’re going to zipline through the woods, see strippers, eat oysters by the water, and have a layover in Vegas, where we have to ride a roller coaster, smoke cigarettes on the strip, and get some good food. I hope you have an adventure you’re looking forward to. Give my best to your family for me. My mom asks about you a lot, and I tell her I pray for you. Pet Halo and Bebe a little longer for me.

I think I understand the lucidity and half consciousness. I’ve spent many days wandering  through LA in a similar state. It all feels like a dream sometimes, you know? I scare people when I have extensive conversations with myself. But it makes me laugh. I’m proud that you’re becoming a capable dietitian! It probably means little to nothing coming from me though. Lately, I haven’t been writing as much. I feel like the words are hiding from me.

Hang in there. You’re almost there. It’s only a phase, and good things are waiting around the corner as well.

 

 

 

 

 

You’re becoming a feeling. I’ve already forgotten what it was like with you day by day. It’s scary how years’ worth of moments can be wiped away, reduced to feelings. Last night, I dreamt about you. I dreamt about what it was like to be a part of your family again. I can’t say I remember too much from the dream. You and I sat in the backyard. I tried to remember the features of your face, and I think I can still recall you in all your details. I hope you finish your goals. I hope you protect yourself. I hope you find your happiness.

She held my scars in that café, late night. She tells me she’s tired of LA, and that she’s moving away. But she wants to know about my hand. I tell her I’m not ready to share, so she tells me everything she went through. Well I can’t not share after that… I tell her and she stares at me in shock, but she doesn’t let my hand go. We’re up in the hills and we see all of Hollywood. She tells me that she only sees me for my kindness. I imagine that’s what you saw in me, and I tell her that’s not good. She agrees. “I’m not a good person.” But she held me close. I had forgotten what it was like to be held.

 

 

 

 

 

On Being Lost

I don’t want to know you until you become everything I know you can be.

A lone hum reverberates. It’s a faint sound against the cacophony of gusts, howling as the coyotes once did. Behind the running line in the silken sand, there’s a shadow of a city. From afar, one could easily mistake the city as a place of prosperity. Its growing shadow foretold of an expansive land with buildings rising high into the heavens. Infrastructures devoid of flesh whistle as the wind pierces their hollowed bodies. It is a place of vultures.

The humming begins to splutter in a fit of asthma. The rider glances to the engine, then to the horizon in repeated succession. It was nothing he didn’t expect. In fact, he knew his bike would only take him out of the city so far. Perhaps it was an idiotic tendency to work against his expectations. But fuck it. He was still within the city’s shadow. The bike crawls to its final death. Alas, with a cough, it ignites into an inferno.

“Fuck!” The rider dismounts and runs for cover. He leaps and covers his head. A second has passed. A minute. The rider still has his head pressed into the sand. Feeling foolish, he turns back when his bike finally decides to explode. As a final ‘fuck you’ the bike hurls a steel gear towards his head. The impact offers him a second of a reverie. A woman appears against the sinking sun. She is as angelic as he remembers, or perhaps as angelic as his circumstances have made her. He frowns at such a memory and sleeps.

Pain. Wet pain. His body instinctively brought his hand to his temple. His fingers remove the scabbed blood. Back to sleep. More pain. And then a strange sensation pries his eyes wide open. His wound began to itch. Again, he brushes the wound. A terrible realization slaps him into consciousness. He screams as a bug licks his temple repeatedly. “GET OFF ME!” He flails, finding strength as he races head first into the sand. Sand has a nasty tendency of getting everywhere, including the dent in his temple. He sits up coated in the miserable material.

Time doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. He looks back to his renounced home, had it ever been a home. From far away, it looks hideous. Rings of highways orbits the city, and memories of wasted hours in traffic resurge. He saw himself in his car, turning from radio station to radio station, and he remembers that it was always the same few songs that played. Back then, he reasoned it was a conspiracy –that the music industry had been trying to indoctrinate the mass public with pop songs about money, relationships, and unachievable dreams of happiness. He shakes his insanity away. A throbbing in his head leaves him in groans.

He allows himself to bake in the bright, morning sun. Its heat is unbearable, and he can feel his skin sizzle. The light, intensely white, burns his retinas but he refuses to look away. Again, he hears the buzzing. It wants to land on his temple to lick his wound. “I’m going to kill you!” He snaps awake to a huge fly. It is the size of a grown man’s shoe. He chases the hideous menace, the most useless creature in existence. But it’s not like he has anything else to do. The fly is slow, often spinning out of control as it attempts to take off. He catches it with ease. He brandishes his shoe. A cruel laughter erupts from his chest, his soul.

Cornered, the fly raises its twig hands and rubs them in mercy. He watches it grovel. For whatever reason, seeing a giant fly grovel, returns him from the edge. He sits down, realizing his entire body is drenched in sweat. His shirt and underwear sticks to him. “What do you want? You’re probably hungry like me. You were just looking for a snack, weren’t you? Well I’ll probably be dead in a bit.” He squeezes the skin around his temple, wiping the blood on his finger. “Here. Go on. Eat.”

The fly is doubtful. It casts doubtful glances between the blood and the rider. But hunger wins. It eats feverishly. The rider watches in disgust as the fly’s tongue laps at his finger. Since when did flies eat human blood? A troubling thought enters his atmosphere. What if there are more shoe-sized flies that feed on human blood? “This is a one-time thing, you. Don’t go telling your friends about me, all right?”

He stumbles to the detonation site. The engine betrayed him. He stares at the ashen sand in contempt. It’s a long road to nowhere, and he can’t go back to the city. He is a lost man. He stumbles down the road, if you could even call it a road, when he hears a buzzing from afar. “I already gave you food. Go away before I kill you!” The fly u-turns. “Good! Go on! Fly away, scumbag!”

The isolation is hauntingly beautiful. Waves of sand sweep down the hills to his right. Cacti would pose like people, inviting him over with hopes of conversations. He told himself so many times that they weren’t real people, but he fell for the illusion each time. “Nothing’s different.” Heat, exhaustion, and hunger, all of which is death for the man. He collapses and waits for eternal sleep.

*

There was a place of fertility. There was a place of structure and a place of family. The man had been a prince, not of natural birth, but through the courting of a royal’s daughter. Sure, in that time he thought he did the best he could, but did he truly know what was best? Who was the man but a boy then? A boy who hadn’t seen enough of the world, but he had decided he was enough. In the Palace, they grew together only to have found they could no longer grow if they stayed together.  Growth is change, and change is inevitable. “Goodbye.” They said to one another. “Goodbye.” There was a place of fruit trees and shrubs. There was a place their dogs roamed happy and free. There was a place of family and friends. But it is only a place of the past. Nothing more.

*

AHHHHHHHHH! The rider has a habit of screaming himself awake. He doesn’t know when the strange awakening became habitual. Today, he screams himself awake and feels the cooked sand sift through the crannies of his hand. He had not moved much since he last lost consciousness. His shirt, his favorite shirt, is coated in dried, stiff blood. “I am alive,” he says to his disappointment. To the horizon, there is the road to nowhere, blazing in the intense, crimson sun. He remembers a time when he had been rigorous with a schedule. It drove him mad.

To the heap that is the remnant of his bike, he mourns it for the brief journey it offered. After all, it did what it was meant to; take him away. How can he be mad at it? He was always helplessly sentimental. He tries his best not to look to the city, but its looming presence and expansive shadow calls to him. “Damnit!” He looks back, too often.

Nourished by sleep, he walks down the road to nowhere. His movements are lethargic and his line of vision sways. There is a hole in his head. His tongue is parched that it feels shriveled. A salty taste manifests when his tongue touches the walls of his mouth. He walks and he collapses and he walks. “I would really like to die.”

The buzzing echoes in his ears. His eyes open to his fly friend. In its twig hands, it holds a small paper cup. “Is that for me?” He drinks it. It taste bitter, sour, and then sweet. “What is that? That better not be piss! I hate you! What do you want? You want more blood? Here!” He presses his fingertips to his temple again, feeling the rough texture of congealed blood like rubbing one’s fingertips over pavement. He peels away the healing, and offers fresh blood to the fly. “I want to sleep. Leave me alone.”

BZZZZZZ.

“Follow you? Why would I follow you?”

BZ

“You found water? And some food? But you’re too weak to carry it to me. I just have to walk there. That’s all I have to do to carry on?” The rider squints at the fly with suspicion and a smile. “You want me alive so you can keep snacking. OK, I have no purpose in life. Show me.”

A purgatory of barren landscape stretches as far as the man can see. “I am doomed to roam this place until I finally die.” It’s a strange mindset to occupy for an extensive period of time. In fact, it can drive a man mad. People need to belong somewhere, to something. Prolonged periods lost can leave a man feral.

The rider’s imagination wanders to the possibilities his life could bring him. It was fun to revel in potential, but it was another thing to actually work toward something. The man walks. He walks with the illusion of an oasis welcoming him with a cool bath. But he accepts there is no predicting what could happen to him. It was always outside his ability to foresee a clear path. And so it is surrender.

He could feel the sun’s oppressive light lessen. Each time he looks up, the sun shifts. This fly would be the death of him. How was it that the fly still had so much energy? He didn’t give the fly that much blood did he? He looks back, realizing that the city’s shadow still captures him. And why couldn’t he return? Why not, then, return to the Palace, to family, to a sense of belonging?

He stops. The city with its hollowed buildings calls to him with an otherworldly whistling. The longer he stares at the city, the stranger the illusions he sees. His exhaustion plays tricks on his eyes. The air wavers with heat. People begin to pour forth from the outlets of the city. Ancestral zombies stumble toward him with groans, greedily grasping for his flesh. He shudders.  He recognizes them vaguely of his bloodline. Somehow he was a piece of their puzzle. In the grand scheme of humanity, they were very much a part of him. They invited him to death, step by step. He shudders.

The fly lands upon his shoulder –a reminder of reality outside his mind. He touches his wound with the suspicion that his perspective of reality was no longer reliable. He feeds his new pet and trudges onwards, choosing to lose himself in the sand with its billions of pebbles.

A tent looms before him, and he wanders inside. It is a dark place. Smoke infuses with a dull, blue light. “Watch where you’re going!” A giant’s voice steals him away from his illusions. The fly is gone. A giant of a man towers over him.

“Where’s my fly?”

“What fly?” The giant looks confused, noticeably annoyed. He huffs from his pipe, exhaling a pungent cloud of something.

The man coughs. The smoke infiltrates his lungs and nose, scraping the walls like a hurricane of shrapnel. “I have this pet fly. I feed him blood, and it was taking me somewhere.”

First confusion, then the giant offers a smile. “You’ve been smoking something powerful.”

“No, I have this hole in my head, and I can’t think straight. I don’t know what’s real anymore. And I’m lost.”

The giant offers a disgusted look as he examines the festering wound. Then a look of sympathy. “You must have traveled a long way to reach here.”

“I think I did. What are you smoking?”

*

A memory is a call of the past. A memory is an invitation to revel in an exaggeration of one’s own bias, an emotional distortion of the collective reality. This memory was of sadness. She had been a sweet girl who gave everything to him. But it was never enough, was it? How could one admit that without becoming a villain? To live is to experience these tragedies. She was a sweet girl, who deserved better.

She wanted nothing more than to make him happy. She would plan trips outside the Palace to make him smile. But he was an anxious wreck, who could not handle all the joys and pleasures that was offered to him. He was a coward, afraid of life. And so they would be a miserable pair. But it was not to say he didn’t love her. He loved her with everything he had. He wanted nothing more than to see her become everything she could be. It was a foolish enterprise on his part. Another person’s growth was outside his control and capabilities. He was hubris itself to think he could better someone. And so in the final days of their relationship, they burned more than necessary on a pyre of their own imagined problems.  He had to go because he had to. She deserved better.

A dead city. A dead city, he had come to a dead city. He had tried to make a home in the dead city. The streets would talk to him. Deep in the night, when the gusts run fast, the city would animate with whistling. It was a haunting sound of ruins. He had wandered there, but he could not stay there. It was too perfect for him, a place of loneliness that would too easily become his mausoleum.

*

In the tent, he watches the giant across him bite into the roasted scarab. CRUNCH, the shattering of exoskeleton. The giant clearly enjoys the meal. The giant tells him his name is Jackel. They are in the company of Jesuits, who make a hobby of venturing into the desert to bake their brains and to write of the goo their brains excrete.

The way Jackel relishes his bug almost makes the man want to try his own steaming bug graciously placed before him by a Jesuit. It is a sickening thought, maybe because he thinks of his new fly friend who had disappeared. His stomach growls in impotence. He can’t put up the fight any longer. He takes a bite. It is delicious. It is horrifying.

They smoke together on the sandy plains. They laugh together between swaying palms. The man is fulfilled for now. He touches the wound on his temple, even after he thought he had forgotten about it.  It has scabbed over again. The man stares at the pipe mysteriously. His father had been a smoker. He had convinced his father to quit smoking. It is a bit of irony that he would begin to find solace in smoking. “I really enjoy this.”

“If you’re going to kill yourself, you might as well smoke the good stuff,” Jackel laughs. He offers his pipe and his leaves.

“No thank you, I like the cooling feel of this one.” The man glances over to the Jesuits. They are wrapped in white cloth, huddled beneath a tree with papyrus and ink. They laugh because they enjoy their time together. The man looks over, admittedly with some envy. “Do you like it here?”

Jackel stares off into the vast plains. “It is an interesting place.” He looks to his ringed fingers, sparkling with jewels. “This place has been good to me. I met many beautiful women here. But I do not like it. I am happy I came here though.”

The man smiles. They were two very different people who had walked two very different paths. Yet they met here. It was perhaps fate, if one could believe in such things. There was something about Jackel that made the man feel as if he could speak freely. “Can I be honest with you? I’m lost. I don’t know where I’m going. I ended an 8 year relationship with the sweetest woman. I feel as if everything that had been an infrastructure in my life crumbled. I am a man with nothing. ”

“8 years? You must have met her when you were young! I’m sorry, my brother. Let me think about this.” The giant looked to the plains. They stood in silence, watching the sand sweep in waves. “I have felt what you feel now. But I’ve learned to embrace the feeling. There’s sanity in solitude, sometimes. You are not lost. You are free. I think about the past a lot. I see my reflection sometimes and I say, ‘Who the fuck are you?’ I don’t recognize myself. But I like what I see. I like who I am now.” He flashes his fingers in a blaze. He points to his long braided hair and laughs. “A year ago, I could never imagine myself like this. Of course this is all superficial. None of these things matter, but I like them! My best friend always tells me, ‘You must know who you are, Jackel! Never forget where you came from!’ And it’s true. No matter what you show on the outside, you must know who you are. You must know where you came from. You’ll find yourself this way.”

They return to the tent. Jackel retrieves a drum from his bag. He taps a mesmerizing beat. “There’s something about music that makes me happy. When people hear music, they are lost. And that feeling is good. They can escape. I want to make beautiful music one day. This is my gift to the world.”

The man smiles. “One day I’ll write something beautiful.”

“I believe it. You and I are artists!” They share a laugh, perhaps acknowledging the delusions of their dreams. At the same time, it’s this delusion that drives them to become something better. And maybe that’s worth something, anything.

“Then it’s a promise. We will make it one day.” They shake hands with firm conviction.

The Jesuits prepare the wagons. Jackel and the man embrace. The man feels warmth, and his glossy vision has faded. He looks across to the sweeping plains of sand. “I’m happy to have met you.”

“I am too. You’ve given me a lot.”

The man gives a doubtful look. “But I didn’t give you anything.”

“You have.” He smiles. “It’s funny. You know I said the same to my best friend back then. And he would say the same thing.” The giant laughs. “Keep your head up, my brother.”

*

Dear Lost Love,

I miss you like no other. You hate me like no other. We were each other’s worlds, but that’s a tragic responsibility. I was a drowned boy who thought he could save us both. I wanted to protect you and raise you high above my shoulders. I wanted to give you blue skies. You’re the best I know, but oh how they hurt you. I’m no better than them. I never was… The last I heard of you, you were in pain –pain that I caused. I want to retreat to you when I don’t want to grow anymore. I always said you need to become your own person. I don’t know why it has to be this way, but it just does. I hope you find yourself. I hope you learn to stand on your own, as I’m learning to. And I hope you find a man who can help you grow in the ways I couldn’t. I think about you every day, but I’m romanticizing the past. You know me like no other. You know I am hopeless. Please take care of yourself. After all the ugly and evil I’ve done to you, after all the pain you’ve passed to me, and after our time, I want to see you happy more than everything. I’m sorry I was the one to hurt you.

*

In the desert, there is a bridge to nowhere. It is wedged between two great boulders out in the middle of nowhere. Who knows why it was built there? Another human endeavor, of which meaning is lost to time. But there is no better place to fulfill fantasies of suicide. The man has a fear of heights, but he is tired of being a coward. He is tired of being an anxious fuck. He had heard stories of these jumpers from travelers. “They leap from the bridge and watch the floor reach for them. The trick is to keep your eyes open the whole time.”

The man began the climb up. In between periods of silence, the winds howl with the echoes of the forgotten coyotes. He has a long way to climb. He still has a ways to go, but the view is starting to become increasingly majestic; a dampened blue stretches as far as his eyes can see. Great clouds slowly sail across the sand. He looks up to his fly friend, already at the top. “That’s not fair, Buzz!”

His hands are blistered. His arms ache. And his legs are sore. But he can see the bridge. Screams of the jumpers leave him shaking. His gut feels twisted. Alas, his hands stretch over the platform and he props himself up with the last of his strength. He rolls over. His body is coated in sweat and sand, that most miserable material. The jumpers help him up. They pat him on the back and welcome him to their shared pursuit of insanity.  Next is surrender.

They strap him with rope. “Don’t hesitate,” he repeats to himself in his mind’s voice. “Don’t let them see you shake. You are as brave as you show them. The ropes are tightened and they count down. He takes the plunge with no hesitation, much to his own surprise. “Keep your eyes open,” he chants his mantra. “Watch the floor.” He swings up. He’s flying over the desert. For second he sees the clouds reaching for him. The fear escapes him. He laughs. The rope squeezes his ribs, but he laughs. I was a coward when I was with you. Are you proud of me now? I want to be brave for once in life.

*

A hole in the head, a wound that never heals, and the embrace of a feral heart: what does it mean to be one’s own person? The sky spins on with transient clouds, from spark to smother. There’s a road that never ends, only a life that can end. Oh, the invitation is there –the invitation to sleep eternally and never to feel pain again.

But in this time, in this moment, is there anymore than the sea and the thrashing of waves? The man stands on the shore and watch the waves drift inland then return to some primordial origin. He had always feared the ocean. But he wandered a long way, inhale and exhale. He had lost himself in his reflection a few times, and failed to recognize the man staring back. There is art upon his shoulder and across his chest that had been needled in. The pain is a good pain, for it is the price of beauty in this world. It is also change that is visible, a point of no return.

To his friend, Buzz Aldrin, he gives him some of his blood. The fly is happy. Blood for friendship, would it be any other way? They have traveled a long way to reach the ocean. It is a reprieve to the vast barren plains. The smell of salt, the cooling breeze, and a fear to face invited them.

“Buzz, I was always too afraid to swim with her in the ocean. I have a new rule. Whenever I go to the beach, I must go into the water. I can’t believe I let that fear stop me from enjoying something so pure and simple as the beach.” He wallows into the water. The cool touch of the sea chills him. He can see her by his side. He wants to hold her hand and go into the sea together. The water hits his chest. He shudders. He inhales and submerges.

*

The man screams himself awake in horror. I am still alive. It is an existential horror to know there is no end, no final chapter, nor episode, only a target looming in the interminable distance. There is a cooling breeze that brushes the hole in his head. It’s a long way from the city. It’s a longer way from the Palace of her. He had been lost for some time now.

From his travels, he learns there is a dark place at the epicenter of the desert. In the most remote places in the world, there are shadowed towers that climb down from the heavens. They spiral with strange architecture. The man who was once lost has a destination; he wishes to see the dark tower and its secrets. Many write the towers will change a person. They write of seeing demons, and they say that the demons reveal the most horrible realities of this world. The man thought he had already seen enough in the desert.

At the horizon, there is a black glimmer. It’s especially illuminous. It is a summoning; one must willingly wish to see the dark tower with his entire being. It has been months in the desert. He didn’t recognize that it was the dark tower he wished to see all along. But in times of being lost, there is always the chance that wandering will take a person exactly where he needs to go.

He screams, “I found it,” unaware of the terrible truth he’ll learn. It is a race against the falling sun. He stumbles across the mire of sand.  If he can find the tower before sunset, he can enter. At night, the towers disappears, then reappears farther away when there is light again. Men have spent their whole lives chasing the dark towers. He can feel his sanity slip. An alien laughter erupts out of him between his attempts to catch his breath. I’m sorry, he begins to chant in his mind.  I think this is all for you.

The light is falling fast. There are days the sun saunters across the sky. But today, it feels as if the sun were diving for the sand. He runs, with the black glimmer nowhere closer. It is another hopeless endeavor. Stupidity and arrogance seem the drive the man. Another endeavor casted to the winds. He screams at himself for all his attempts in the world. They seem as menial and impotent as his curses at the air.  It is an endless cycle of failure and building himself up. How many cycles must he endure until he is changed?

The tower pierces through the atmosphere. It falls with its pinnacle diving. A shadow of its impact looms above the man. He screams at the sight of the meteor. He runs for cover, but the shadow still captures him. Two steps that way, three this way. He looks up and feels the unfathomable gravity pressing down on him. His running is futility. There is only surrender. “Do it!” He screams, “Kill me!” The tower stops just high enough for the man to reach. It’s within his grasp like some celestial fruit. He jumps and flails for a ledge. He raises himself up, and suddenly the tower rises. The desert stretches farther and farther… The entire shithole of a desert is within sight. “Buzz Aldrin, we’re in space…” He searches for his friend but again the fly has disappeared.

He peers down. He can see the fading sky. Farther down he can see the distant desert. “FUCK!” He screams down for his own elation. His voice echoes down the chambers of the tower in a cumulative, amplified FUCK. His fears of heights reawakens, and he almost wishes to plunge down, feel his heart fall with him in his chest until he is offered relief with the explosion of his innards, the shattering of his bones, and the complete erasure of his body.

The tower invites him to a room, where there is a fountain set at the farthest end. It is a reflective pool that points him to the ceiling. It is of purest white, evocative of the blazing sun. He wonders why such a place would exist.  It hurts his eyes to stare at the white for too long. An instinct awakens in him. He dips his hand into the water.

He sees himself as a child with bruises on his legs and his arms. His ears are torn from being pulled too hard. Blood trails down his neck. This was his foundation for love. He watched himself as a child fade away. He saw himself as a prince. He was with the princess. She had been crying because he had struck her. He was no prince. He is no man. He is a hideous demon with twisted ears, red angry skin, and a damned tongue. He is everything he despised. He was just another cruel gear in a machine of abuse. And there it was –the truth. He had to leave because he was abusive. He hurt her, and he stopped her from being happy. He saw him and her. She gave him a look of loathing and said, “I don’t want any part in comforting you. But of course, you helped me become a better person. Of course you pushed me to change and have better relationships with my family. Of course, you took care of me when no one would.  You were my best friend. You gave my life purpose and reason. I liked all of you, even the rougher edges. But you did some really evil things to me. How could you when you love me? No one made me feel as low as you did…”

The man returns to the room. He sees himself in the pool. Behind his reflection is the demon that hides beneath his skin. He cannot run away from the truth any longer. There is no absolution. There is no forgiveness. He has to live with what he has done until he dies. “I hurt the one person I loved the most. That’s why I’m out here. I’m an evil person.”

*

Every day, the man returns to the pool to see his demon reflection. He stares at the creature that beckons him. Deeper in the water, there are memories of him and her. There are the ugliest moments. There are the happiest moments. They are stacked together like a deck of cards. He reaches into the pool whenever a bad memory surfaces. “Why did you do that? Why did you say that? You could have been completely good to her…” Every time his hand touches the water, the memory dispels. He only sees himself, a demon.

The days and nights blend together endlessly in an infinite, slow march onwards. He touches the wound in his head, feeling the grooves of his calcified flesh. He is afraid to probe the wound any further, afraid that he might feel his brain. In between moments of lucidity and dreams, he turns to his old fly friend. “It’s lonely here in space, Buzz.”

How much time has he spent by the fountain? He eats a little to keep on living. He has enough to keep going. He is reduced to skin and bones, but there is no end until death. He writes letters to her, to which he sends them to the wind, hopelessly watching them fly wherever they’ll go. He imagines she and him are no different; they are casted to the wind, knowing god-knows-where they’ll go. Sure, you can plan and aim and you can strive but ultimately it is surrender. A year ago, he had resolved to give his entire life to her. Day by day, we cling to illusions of stability and certainty. Change seems to loom in the horizon incessantly, whether by one’s own faults and devices or by circumstance. But this change makes sense. He was her tormentor. He doesn’t deserve her. She deserves better…

He is not within reality. All these days longing for her, there has to be a reason these emotions drive him to aim for something. He leaves the fountain. He climbs down the stairs. And he arrives at the platform. The tower reacts to him. A trembling resonates through the structure. The tower lowers him down to the desert floor. He sees the horizon, a slice between a blue sky and the endless amber. This is what he wants.

The floor is within his reach. He makes the jump. There is no rewriting of the past with all its effacements, but there is a hope to make things better. He could become better. He can feel her sadness and he can feel her pain –he could help her, he could show her things will be different. He will bring her happiness because he would never make her his only hope of happiness, never again. A white rose materializes next to him. He takes it, and he will win her back with his transformation.

*

He returns to the Palace of her, starved and haggard.You do not belong here anymore.” The words he has dreaded strikes him bluntly, verbatim as he imagined.

“I remember you. This place has nothing for you. Leave.”

“I want to see her again.”

“So you can hurt her again.”

“I want to make things better. I’m changed. I’m not asking for forgiveness.”

“No one can offer you forgiveness.”

“I want us to be happy. I can make her happy. I was a coward. I’m different. I will never strike her again.”

“You don’t get that chance. She’s no longer here. She’s on her own journey.”

“Where?”

“If I tell you, you’ll hurt her again. People don’t change so easily. Prove to me your change, prove to me your remorse and guilt. Burn the hand you used to hurt her. Let the searing pain seep into your flesh and understand that her pain was doubled yours.” The guardian plucks a piece of charcoal from a pit of fire. “Press it into your hand.”

The charcoal breathes in, as the man. “I don’t want to. But she didn’t want the pain either.” He pressed the charcoal upon his flesh. It begins to sear his skin. He bites down his scream and holds it there. White intense light begin to cloud his vision. He looks upwards, quivering, until the scream erupts from his teeth. His hand is mutilated. The skin bubbles upwards. The meat beneath is striated in crimson and coagulated with blotches of white pus. He pours disinfectant over the wound. Sensation has already left his hand.

“I will bandage your hand.”

“No! I want to see it every day. I want the scars so I know the evil I’m capable of.”

“She left a few days after you did. She had written a note. I will show you and maybe you will find your way back to her. Fate might not be so kind.”

I am so tired. I hardly sleep since you left me. I don’t know how you did the things you did to me. I miss you but I’m tired of hurting over you. I’m leaving because I deserve better. I’m heading to the coast and I will find myself there.

*

On no day particular, the man finds her. He had searched the coastal cities. He then wandered back deep into the desert. It was not the place he expected to find her, but there she was in the middle of nowhere. She sat across him, at first she was a silhouette with a vaguely familiar essence. Well, there are times in life when one can be in tune to some sort of cosmic intertwining. He calls her name with too much enthusiasm. She turns, revealing a different person than he had remembered. A look of surprise transforms into half a smile. She invites him to sit with him.

“I’m sorry for everything.” The words he had been waiting to say to her erupts out of him. “I realize I want to be with you. I can be different. I am different. I want us to be happy, happy together.”

She shakes her head in disbelief. “What are you saying? How can you say you’ve changed if this is what you’re saying?”

“I want to do all the things I’ve been too scared to, with you. I want to make you feel like you’re the only person that matters when I’m with you. I was a coward back then. Let me show you. I want to be good to you.” He hands her the white rose.

“No. I can’t. I won’t. I will never respect myself if I go back to you.”

“I know I’ve hurt you. I saw it… I saw all the memories and I know I can’t take any of it back. I’m not asking for forgiveness. I know I have to live with what I did until I die, but I can be good to you.”

“So can others. Why would I return to you?”

“I know I was a monster. But you were my best friend. I was your best friend. I know there were ugly moments. But we had happy moments too.  I miss you. I want to give you myself as a changed person. I want to share only the good with you. Please.” He again offers the white rose.

“I’m happy to hear you think you’ve changed. But I have no desire whatsoever to experience and understand your changes… You were the one who told me to become my own person. I did that. I found my own path and I found happiness outside of you. You need to take your own advice. Back then… every night, I wished for the same thing. I wished for your happiness. I’m not the one to give you happiness.”

“I have found happiness. But I want to share it with you. I want to swim in the ocean with you. I want to dance together–”

“It’s not what I want anymore. Let me go. There’s no going back to the past. We’re both different now.”

“I want to win you back. Give me a chance.”

“Listen to what you’re saying. How can you say you’ve changed if you’re saying these things? You should go. Goodbye.”

“That’s fine… I knew there was a chance you’d say no. I just had to try. I don’t care it took this long. I don’t care about the pain I went through. You’re worth it.”

“Goodbye.”

“Take care of yourself.” He watches her leave. He then walks on the road away from her, to nowhere. She was happy and she was doing well on her own. She had become her own person. Was that not his wish? Shouldn’t he be happy that his wish came true after all? He half smiles and places the rose on the desert floor. “Thank you for everything.”