Living in such a state taTestaTesTaTe etats a hcus ni gniviL of mind in which time sTATEsTAtEsTaTeStA emit hcihw ni dnim of does not pass, space STateSTaTeSTaTeStAtE ecaps ,ssap ton seod does not exist, and sTATeSt oFOfOfo dna ,tsixe ton seod idea is not there. STatEst ofoFOFo .ereht ton si aedi Stuck in a place staTEsT OfOFofo ecalp a ni kcutS where movements TATeSTa foFofoF stnemevom erehw are impossible fOFoFOf elbissopmi era in all forms, UsOFofO ,smrof lla ni physical and nbEifof dna lacisyhp or mental - uNBeInO - latnem ro your mind is UNbeinG si dnim rouy focusing on a unBEING a no gnisucof lone thing, or NBeINgu ro ,gniht enol a lone nothing. bEinGUn .gnihton enol a You are numb and EiNguNB dna bmun era ouY unaware to events stneve ot erawanu taking place - not -iSSuE- ton - ecalp gnikat knowing how or what TWENTY-FOUR tahw ro woh gniwonk to think. You are in 03/31/96 ni era uoY .kniht ot a state of unbeing.... ....gniebnu fo etats a
Wow. Spring Break sucks when you're rooming with the Lord of the Sith.
I went and visited a friend in college out-of-state, and his roommate's girlfriend happened to stay with us. She has cystic fibrosis, so we couldn't smoke in the dorm room cause she would, well, die. Every morning at 6:30 she'd pull out this huge motorized inhaler and sit at the desk, sounding just like Darth Vader.
Where's a damn Jedi knight when you need one, huh?
My Spring Break didn't suck just because I was woken up by sounds that should only come from hospital rooms. She was also stupid, as was my friend's roommate. The two of them would argue and finally, when she had had enough, her comeback was "If you don't stop being mean to me, I'm gonna go buy a can of dip."
Yeah. That's showing him. You go, girl.
Anyway, other than that week of sleeping on a love seat, it was pretty relaxing. I was kinda worried that we'd be low on submissions this month, but as you can see, that didn't happen. Yippie. Got some new writers, and a whole bunch of letters, two of which are extremely entertaining. I'll let you figure out which one those are. Noni Moon talks to Griphon, and Ansat writes some fiction for a change. IWMNWN is brilliant as usual. And me, well, uh, I put the damn thing together.
See ya next month.
[another great batch of letters. one person loves us, one person hates us, another person is just plain weird, the fourth complemented my name choice, and the fifth one just wanted to share some interesting, albeit useless trivia.]
From: jujube Subject: fan mail hi kevin, just wanted to thank you for sending me a copy of sob23.reading it will be a top priority this weekend. after attentively reading your interview with noni moon, i made it a point to read gray matter champion.even though i didn't finish,i was thoroughly enthralled...breathless if you will.anyway, thanks a lot for changing my life. your fan, jujube
[well, we always try to change people's lives. consider it a gift from us to you. if we couldn't change lives, well, we'd probably end up doing bad things, like throwing glasses of water at people out of car windows. er, wait, we already did that... er, um... well, we don't own guns, so most people are safe. toodles.]
From: Tutkin@gnn.com (Mark Warshavsky) To: firstname.lastname@example.org You fuck'n ass where are the blow job pictures I will have to fuck you good nd hard!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
["fuck'n." never seen that before. he wins the SoB horny geek of the month award.]
From: Stephen Graves <email@example.com> Subject: Yahoo! I would be very interested in how you have to chose my name for your character Dr. Stephen Graves. I hope you realize that I am disgusted and perplexed at the same time. It is my belief that truth is stranger than fiction and I would like to relate some of my "personal" history. I am orginally from "Indiana", Dan Quail and his family lived in the same town and my mother and father's families did back in the 30's. I left home at 18 and while attending Indiana University I moved to Gary Indiana (remember the Music Man --- Gary Ind. Gary Ind my home town) when I finished college I went to work for a CPA firm in Chicago (Groh & Gough -- pronounced Grow & Golf --- interesting name). It was during the Viet Nam War and I got drafted and rather than go in the Army I volunteered for the U.S. Air Force. After finishing my initial training I was stationed in Las Vegas Nevada for my entire four year tour. I think it was something to do with my first wife's name (Veva --- pronounced Viva lal Viva Las Vegas). While living in Las Vegas I obtained a MBA and my wife Veva received a B.A. in Philosophy and English (seh was awarded the Governors Trophy for study in Philosophy --- She wrote a paper on Language and Cognition --- something to do with the linguist at M.I.T. ---what's his name???). After the Air Force we moved to San Francisco where I went to work for a international CPA Firm where I did accounting/audits of Lockheed, a number Bio-techs, and many other companies. For a period of time I worked for the Kaiser Company a large west coast conglomerate that had built the Bay Bridge, Golden Gate Bridge, Hoover Dam, and many other industrial projects etc.etc. I then was divorced from my first wife and married a lady from China. In 1985 we traveled to China and I like to claim that I helped to do the seed work for the Shanghai Stock Exchange (it will probably be the world's largest in the 21st Century) In 1988 I started my own firm and have had the chance to travel to the firm USSR province that is now the country of Georgia (that is where Stalin was born) I also am the Treasurer for the East Meets West Foundation started by Le Ly Hayslip who Oliver Stone made a movie of her live --- Heaven & Earth ( about Viet Nam). I have a very active imagination and do not really mind your "smut" but think you hare missing the mark about "sex". >From my experiences I would like to state that given the state of the current world virussss, bugsss etc Sex life between strangers probably should be limited to what I would call ---- Cold Fusion. Which could be explained by the fact that it is when a egg and a sperm get it together in a "petrie Dish" I always did like that Petrie dish on the old Dick Van Dyke Show and now kind of enjoy the series of ironic puns, etc that I can string together about it. to bring you up to date I thought that I would relate a recent observation I made. This past week I was watching C-Span and noted that one of the individuals being interviewed was a Rep. John Ensen (Sounds like the term for Navy Lt. --- Ensign) R-Nevada. Given that I once lived in Nevada I took note. The irony was that this John (please excuse the pun again) like the "Godfather" John. What I was unable to determine was whether this was another "piece" of black humor (please excuse the double entrendra ). Was the Navy making fun of the Godfather, or was the Godfather telling the Navy what level he had pentetrated into their "Black Programs". WOOOOOOOOOOO lest we forget I think Nevada is that place where Area 51 and Sam Becket (that navy guy time travels ) of Quautum Leap is staged. Anyway with that I want to close. I feel sooooooo Real. Oh, by the way my e-Mail address is from and old Childhood nick name "GravyTrain" If you like Pink Floyd listen to the album ---- Wish you where here!!!!
[i was wondering when the net.kooks would start writing in. keep it coming in. I still don't understand the "John = Godfather" thing, and I've seen the movies way too many times. Someone clue me in please. Other than that, his theory sounds pretty plausible. That's why they cancelled the "Quantum Leap" TV show -- so they could relocate to Area 51. Uh-huh.]
From: CWeigert@aol.com Subject: Kilgore I just finished playing our esteemed Mr. Trout in a high school production of "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater" It's good to see I'm not the only one who likes the Sci-Fi- visionary. Regards. CWeigert@aol.com
[yeah. i get tons of these letters now. makes me regret my decision to pick the damn handle. at least they actually made the distinction that i didn't think i really WAS kilgore trout.]
From: Juliana Poteet <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Kilgore I just wanted to write and tell you that I am from a small town in Texas named Kilgore. I thought that was neat. BTW, I enjoyed your homepage.
[see, now this is the kind of letter i like to get. yes, it has to do with my handle, but it has some practical information. for instance, i did not know there was a small town named kilgore in texas. what is even stranger is that there is a small town in texas named poteet as well. creepy, eh?]
F. David Horn
I Wish My Name Were Nathan
Nemo est Sanctus
A boy's conscience can cause incredible disruption. There is a nagging wrong in the boy's world and he must act.
Any person must act on their principles. Otherwise, their knowledge of right and good is wasted. Their power to create good is tremendous. The person who says, "I can," can touch countless lives. It starts with cheering up strangers with a smile and showing real respect for people--any people. Next thoughtful gifts of care, then blind goodness lashes out, and then your profound kindness might affect hundreds of people every day.
I know. I have seen what is possible in this world. A lot can be done today and tomorrow to kindle the fire in our hearts.
When I said a person has the power to create change, remember that the first thing to change is yourself. That means not making the same, tired excuses for yourself anymore. It means finally doing what you said you should do. Only you can decide to become part of the solution.
You deserve to know the truth. You will make sacrifices. Sacrifice your inhibitions! Discover the greatness in yourself. Conquer your doubt. Rule the kingdom of your mind. Execute traitors to that kingdom without mercy. Starve your doubts with inattention. Then your kingdom will have no boundaries.
Make large, inclusive dreams. Dream of doing things that will take many important, dedicated people to accomplish. The sky has no limit. Teach people everywhere how and why to build strong, happy families. Let tiny pieces of freedom rain down on people all over the world. Leave gifts to our children.
If you never see the accomplishment of your goals in your lifetime, perhaps our children will. The beauty of great dreams is that they create self-rewarding effort. Starting new things is a comfortable process. All you do is take the first step. Then if the dream inspires and the work rewards, watch out! People will come to help. Take the next step and move out of their way.
Make charity happen. At least help. Find a volunteer. Something volunteers have in common is they can all use your help. They can probably use you right now! Talk about their experiences as a volunteer. This talk may give you the courage you need to lend a hand the first time. One thing you might do is become the America police. America is your jurisdiction. Learn what it is to be an American by studying founders of our nation. When you catch an American kid bored, sulking, and hopeless, remind them that Americans are hopeful, inventive, and irrepressible.
I have told you already and again now that you can create unimaginable change if first you change yourself. Dare to let your dreams survive and surpass you. Give your time to a charity. Your time is so often worth more than dollars. Smiles are worth more than gold. Be inventive. Be hopeful. Be irrepressible.
Griphon is driving me back to Nashville so I can catch my plane. I came down here for Spring Break just so I could check out Nashville and Graceland and see where most of the pop crap that populates the radio waves came from. And I knew that Griphon was down here at Rhodes College in Memphis, and I sincerely appreciate the ride he gave me from Memphis to Nashville, because otherwise I would have had to ride a Greyhound bus, and that would really suck.
His car is a 1980 Chevy Impala. It's supposed to be blue, but I'd say the predominant color is rust. He informed me before we left that he just got new brakes and finally got a rearview mirror. I was not impressed. The trip took about three hours, and during the course of the first half I did the interview. The second half consisted of coming up with Tom Swifties. I still haven't recovered from those yet.
NM: How are you doing tonight, Griphon?
GR: Oh, I'm doing fine. How are you, Noni?
NM: Oh, pretty good, considering. So, let's go ahead, and -- he's packing cigarettes. How'd you get started writing for SoB?
GR: Well, Kilgore and I went to high school together, and he and some of his other friends started doing "Where There's a Will, There's an A" [my first zine, on paper, of which only a few copies exist cause i can't find em and burn them --ed] and, well, I kinda figured out that he was involved with that and approached him about it, but by the time that everything had, ya know, gotten to where I could have been a small part of it, it had pretty much shut down. So, Kilgore told me about his new zine that he was putting out that was going to be strictly legal -- or completely legal. He asked me if I wanted to write for that, and I did, and I did.
NM: Wow. So you and Kilgore go back a long ways, huh?
GR: Yeah, let's see. I think we met in 10th grade english -- Miss Beard's class -- and he'd written a few things, and most of the class found it rather disturbing, but I thought it was pretty damn funny. And over time, we just talked to each other every so often, then started hanging out and developed a pretty tight bond. Figured that we were pretty compatible, and so we've been friends for about four years.
NM: And if he hadn't let you put stuff in the zine, you probably would have beat him up or something, right?
GR: Excuse me?
NM: If he hadn't let you put stuff in the zine, you probably would have beat him up or something, right?
GR: Beat him up? Like, bully him?
NM: Physical harm.
GR: Why would I do that?
NM: Well, if he didn't let you write, ya know...
GR: I... no... um... well, of course, his blanket statement was "we'll print anything," and that's proven true on numerous occasions, and so I don't think he would have discriminated against me for any reason. I won't brag on my writing skills, but, ya know, I'm better than some.
NM: Oh really?
GR: Well, yeah. I've run across a bit of a bad -- we all have our bad periods. Mine was early high school, but I figure that I'm intelligent enough to come up with something halfway decent. If it's halfway decent, hell, Kilgore will print it.
NM: Yes, he will. One of the first things you wrote that gained a bit of notoriety were -- you know where this is going, don't you -- the Dr. Graves stories. Would you care to comment on how you devised that character?
GR: Uh, Dr. Graves was written by John Smith. [laughs] Actually, Kilgore did run my name with the first Dr. Graves stories. Dr. Graves was conceived by the other John Smith, who wrote occasionally for it, and he had developed a philanthropist with some odd habits. I was the one who turned him into a polysexual that was very skilled at his craft. We wrote it in Economics class. We had planned to get 100 stories out by the end of the year, but we only got around 30 or 40. SoB only ran two of em, or maybe three. But Dr. Graves was a fun character. It allowed me to access that Harlequin romance part of me.
NM: Ah, the Harlequin romance part. Is there any chance that he might make a comeback?
GR: Well, John Smith and I have some correspondence, and we're working on another story that I'm behind in getting an update on. But whenever I start writing and it starts to turn sexual, I just set it aside and get it all out with a Dr. Graves story. It's been awhile, so it may be time for another one, but I'm not sure.
NM: I know that Kilgore Trout had mentioned that there was a possibility of Apocalypse Culture putting out the complete collection of Dr. Graves stories. Have you heard anything about that, if that will ever come to fruition?
GR: That's always a possibility. I mean, we have all the stories on file, minus one or two that were lost via disk storage. I guess it'd be up to John Smith. Hell, why not?
NM: I think it'd be pretty interesting to see Dr. Graves in his full glory and splendor.
GR: [lights a cigarette]
NM: I've heard that apart from writing for State of unBeing, you've become a bit of an editor yourself and are publishing a zine.
GR: Yeah. It's called Cap'n Swank. I had the idea for it about two years ago. It's much different than State of unBeing. I guess it'd be closer to the Austin fanzine Peek-a-Boo, which is now defunct. But instead of just text, it's got a lot of pictures. It's really in a different vein, so there's no conflict. I dunno, it's a lot of fun, and it allows me to not be quite so serious. I won't profess to being serious all the time in SoB, but it definitely has a little more class to it than my zine.
NM: Maybe it's the "low-brow" counterpart to SoB.
GR: That it could be. Mainly, it's just having fun with pictures and being goofy. I did it in conjunction with the school newspaper because I have pretty free range with that, but not as free as I wanted. There's also another zine on campus called Rat's Ass which is just really bad -- drugstore philosophy and all that -- and we just wanted to represent a different aspect of the school since it gets such a bad rap of being really homogeneous.
NM: And that college would be Rhodes College, correct?
GR: Yeah, that would be correct.
NM: What are you studying there?
GR: Majoring in English, concentrating in the writing track, and minoring in film and anthropology.
NM: Sounds like you're a busy boy.
GR: For the most part I am. School is rigorous, but I try to make sure that I don't take more than I can handle. As a result, I do try to push myself some, and my writing for SoB has kinda dropped off. I haven't written as much since I moved away, but I plan to rectify that as now I'm starting to get out of the core requirements and into the straight english and writing. If I get better at writing, then I'll have a better product to give Kilgore. That's a good thing.
NM: Yeah, I'm sure Kilgore would be happy to hear that. Just how big of a nag is Kilgore when it comes to getting submissions in?
GR: Let's see. I get maybe one e-mail two days before he runs the publication telling me to write for it. I've never been much on deadlines, and as a result, responses are usually at weird intervals. He's not too bad about it. He's got a large pool of resources to take from, and so if I don't write for him, he's got at least two or three people to take my place.
NM: Do you have any set rituals or anything to get into the mood for writing?
GR: Other than chain-smoking and drinking coffee... if I haven't written something in a long time and have developed writer's block, I'll just write something and take it out to the Memorial B-B-Q Pit on Rhodes College campus and burn the manuscript to the writing gods, in the hopes that they supply me with a better inspiration and skill next time.
NM: Ahhh. So, if you can't think of it, maybe magick will help out. [to tape recorder] I've gotta wait for him to light his cigarette. He's gonna burn us up... he's having a lot of trouble with his cigarette.
GR: [incoherent mumbling] Goddamn wind.
NM: Would you like me to light that for you?
[Griphon finally lights his cigarette.]
NM: Whoo hoo! Okay, we almost ran off the road there, but now that he's got his cigarette, I guess he's happy. So, I read somewhere that Nostradamus predicted in about five days that there were supposed to be a bunch of great fires. I guess that'll be proven true or not after this interview runs cause the publication date will be after the 21st of March. Do you subscribe to any certain prophecies or any systems of predicting the future?
GR: Nostradamus is interesting to watch because he's got a great track record -- he hasn't been wrong yet. Kilgore's been telling me about Terence McKenna, and I think that is pretty interesting as well. I guess that knowing the future is good if you believe that it's important to know the ramifications after your life. I'm not real sure that after this life anything happens, so knowing the future isn't real important unless it can make me lots and lots of money.
[capitalistic pig laughter abounds.]
NM: So you don't want to know the future unless it will help out your greed?
GR: Yeah. And sex. Maybe fame. Other than that, I don't believe it's important for my personal happiness. It may be nice to know just so that I can get things ready when the shit hits the fan, as it were.
NM: It is always nice to be prepared. Speaking of that, do you have any religious beliefs or background?
GR: I grew up with Kilgore as a Baptist and got burnt out on that about a year after Kilgore did. For a while, I was searching for something to fill that gap because I did feel kinda empty. I started studying Zen, and that helped, but it was hard for me to grasp the concepts through books. It is a very difficult worldview/religion/philosophy/what-have-you to access [garbled] Eastern culture. I think aspects of Zen and aspects of Aleister Crowley's personal philosophy blend in real nice together, and I can see that as a paradigm for how I may want to shape my life. I'm still looking and trying out everything. I haven't given up totally on Christianity, just most of the bullshit parts of it, of which there are a great deal.
I've noticed that churches and any kind of thing that can give a blanket sermon just isn't for me. There's so much politicking that Christians go through. The last time I went to church, the minister asked us to pray for more money for a new building, even though they have one of the largest buildings in town. I just find that silly.
NM: Do you think that's a problem with religion today? That most people are just using it for social and power reasons instead of getting back to some sort of spiritual grounding?
GR: Yeah. I mean, Christianity being 2000 years old, it's gone through a lot of changes, especially with Paul and Constantine. They've basically helped shape it to the way it is today, and I think it really gets away from, you know, actual experience. The root of the word Christian means following Christ, and I think it really deviates from that. Two things Christ taught: love thy god with all thy heart, and love thy neighbor as thyself. I think that rarely, if at all, that comes into play with most religions today, especially Christianity.
NM: Who would you consider your primary literary influences?
GR: Influences... um, hmmm. I don't know. There's certain authors that I enjoy reading that are good writers: Charles Bukowski, John Irving, William S. Burroughs, Ernest Hemmingway. I don't know. Like, I've written bad Hemmingway before on purpose, and that was fun, but I really don't see a point of adopting writing styles. I guess, in a way, there is a certain style that you are taught growing up, and I was sort of taught the essayist style: support what you're saying and make it pretty barebones. So, that would lean towards Hemmingway... I don't know. [laughs]
NM: Are you gonna end up sticking a shotgun to your head to end your literary career?
GR: That's kinda clichèd. I think after my writing career is over I'll be a pompous ass. [laughs]
NM: Ahhh. No wonder you and Kilgore get along so well.
GR: That's right, baby. We're the best.
[car erupts in laughter, and Noni lights a cigarette.]
NM: Speaking of careers, what do you plan on doing once you get out of college?
GR: After this four year college I'm in, I'm thinking about film grad school. I found that many years ago that poetrie wasn't in my blood, and I found out this year that there hasn't been a single poet in the United States making money. So, it maybe a toss up between producing films and writing fiction. But I imagine it'll be a couple of more years of school, and then maybe a year or two of just cooling off, doing lots of drugs, touring, and building up some great experiences to have so when I start my vocation of choice, I'll have something interesting to say.
NM: So, last Tuesday Bob Dole pretty much garnered the Republican nomination for the presidency. How do you feel about the current political current in America right now?
GR: What is current? Like this year, the last five years?
NM: This year, past five, ten, fifteen years.
GR: Uh, well, I think Reaganomics were pretty bad, but I think everyone thinks Reaganomics were pretty bad, so that's no revelation. [tell that to my father. --ed] I think that politicking in general has become way too profitable and way too elitist. I think that in the Constitution the only restrictions for somebody running for president must adhere to is they must be over 35 and they must be a US citizen. I don't think the majority of people -- er, 98 percent of people that fit those qualifications would have a chance in hell of even getting looked at seriously for president. I just think that a two party system, and politics in general, aren't a good thing. It's gone seriously downhill for the past fifty years.
NM: Well, what do you think we could do to change some of that?
GR: I dunno. Theoretically, it might work... if you really wanted to change it, you'd have to eliminate all the agendas that people have. The people that get elected, the only thing they want is to do a few special favors for their friends and have their own little agenda set up so they can make the most out of being in Congress or the political system in general. It is supposed to be truly for the people, and if they started acting that way, things would be a lot more productive.
NM: A lot of the political literature that is run in SoB takes on an anarchistic, revolutionary rhetoric. Do you think the time for something like that has come, or do you think it's still possible to get some change out of the current system?
GR: The anarchistic revolutionary route definitely has its merits. For one thing, change would be sudden. At the same time, I think that the system still could be saved -- if the right people got in. I think it would be a really slow process, and everyone would have to have a clear focus of some end goal, but things like NAFTA are making things a lot harder. And there may come a time when the Constitution, the way it was set up, will no longer be able to be saved, and then it will be time for some sort of revolutionary measure. Or at least something out of the current mode of operations.
NM: So, who do you plan to back next November?
GR: I suppose if I have to pick between the two main candidates, I'll go with Clinton. At least we've seen what he does. He won't be able to surprise us, really. Bob Dole is an experienced politician. He'll be able to get things passed, but the things that he wants to get passed are things I don't necessarily agree with. So, it's a tough call. But I think I'll go with Clinton.
NM: It would probably be more beneficial if we did have more than two parties.
GR: Yes, definitely it would be. It's just that the Republican and Democrat parties limit what a democracy can be because they say, "Any idea in America can be expressed and acted upon," but realistically, you only have the main two spheres of thought, and if you don't agree with those, you're like, Ross Perot, or you might get a percentage of the vote, but it doesn't really matter cause in the end, you lose. There's no place for third place, or second place for that matter.
NM: Do you think Colin Powell would have won had he run?
GR: I think he should have run, but I don't think he would have won. I think everyone should run for President. Anyone with any idea at all that is out of the ordinary ought to at least express it and get it out in the market, as it were. Who knows? Maybe it'll change something. Maybe somebody will latch onto it and think it's a great idea and lobby to change something they wouldn't have normally lobbied to change because this idea wasn't voiced.
NM: Hey, that sign back there set Bucksnort, Tennessee. That's really a town?
GR: If you consider a truck stop/motel and a couple of gas stations a town, then yeah. They have cute little shot glasses there that say stuff like "Big cats are dangerous, but a little pussy never hurt anyone." Or "Welcome to the Bucksnort whorehouse, where the customer comes first." They even have video poker.
NM: Groovy. Let's stop. I've gotta see this.
GR: It's ritual to stop when you're driving from Memphis to Nashville. Otherwise bad things happen.
NM: I won't ask, but for some reason the theme from Deliverance just popped into my head.
GR: Play some video poker. It'll make you feel better. The shot glass is on me.
"The poets? They stink. They write badly. They're idiots you see, because the strong people don't write poetry.... They become hitmen for the Mafia. The good people do the serious jobs."
I wonder if
the desire to have
that makes you sound
like a Southern sheriff
The kid at the counter
had a zit-geist on his face
and I thought....
"Oh, how clever I am.
Mixing McDonalds, Dermatology,
Hegelian philosophy, and Dialectics
in one short phrase. Maybe I'll be a part
of the anti-thesis."
Then again I'll probably
just get the two cheeseburger special,
jump back into my car, and drive along the long
boring stretches of I-80.
States that sound and feel like yawning
As they roll and merge
Slowly and clumsily
Like fat, old lovers
Not interested in pleasure
I can't suppress the urge to become blank
Only to recognize yellow lines
And exit signs
The police cars I pass
Are blank also
And only yawn an Iowa
As I absently speed through
"You have something to tell me."
It wasn't a question; I could tell. I could always tell. Usually I wouldn't push the issue. If I waited, usually she'd tell me, sooner or later, in her own way. This had gone on long enough, though. A day, a couple of days, that was fine. She'd been like this since Saturday, and by the end of the week, well, this had gone on long enough.
She didn't answer, of course. If it had taken her this long, it wasn't something she WANTED to tell me, it was something she HAD to tell me. It was something she was hiding, and that was something I would not tolerate. I had taken a lot of shit from her, but there was one thing I insisted on, and that was that I was told the truth, even if she would rather hide it.
"You have something to tell me, don't you."
Again, not a question.
She didn't even look at me. The slightly startled look that had risen involuntarily to her face when I first "popped the question" was gone, replaced with the studied indifference only an actress could muster. She looked down, and to the right, and pretended to look at something to the forward right of the car. As if the blank stare wasn't enough to tip me off, this fascinating object never strayed, always being at a thirty degree angle to the front of the car, traveling unseen at 60 miles per hour down the freeway.
Not Saturday. I suppose that isn't quite right. Saturday was when she first started acting this way towards me, but unless I was way off my mark this had nothing to do with Saturday. The first couple of hours maybe, but not really Saturday. This had to do with Friday.
Her lower lipped quivered briefly, and she bit it to keep it still.
"Why do you say that?"
"Don't lie to me. You have something to tell me. Why aren't you?"
"It's not important."
"If it wasn't important, you would have told me Saturday."
The look -- the surprised one -- came back, and I could almost have sworn she had jumped, if my vows hadn't gotten me into enough trouble in the past.
I could tell. She knew I could tell, but she didn't want to. She marked it up to coincidence when I got things like that right, and I usually didn't give out any information I didn't have to when it came to things like that. But even if I hadn't been able to tell right away, the moment I figured out she was hiding something I would have assumed it was about Friday.
She'd been hanging out at a night club. Again. That had been a sore spot between us for months. I wasn't invited. Indeed, she'd made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that she did not want me there. I guess it was her solution to us spending what she considered too much time together. For a while it had been almost every Friday she was there, doing God knows what. Since I wasn't allowed to see for sure, and the few friends I thought I had among the group she hung out with fed me doctored information, my imagination would have run rampant save for the trust I had in her. Fed me doctored information for their own gain, some of them; but I suppose I'll touch on that sooner or later.
Then, as we fought about it almost non-stop for a while, it had tapered down. She spent the occasional Friday with me, and I was happy enough with that. The one Friday she wasn't with me she went out with one of the people from the club -- the one I had almost begun to like, ironically enough -- and went to the movies. When they were alone, he tried to sexually assault her. She got away, but it didn't do wonders as far as convincing me her friends were harmless.
This week was different, though. She had been telling me it was the band, this one band, that was so important to her. And this one band was leaving on tour soon, and this was their last show. So I stopped pushing the issue. I didn't try to talk her out of this one; I didn't ask her to spend time with me, even though this week she was spending more time apart from me than most, and half the rest of the month she had plans, sometimes out of state. But if this was so important to her, I thought I could live through one more time, and maybe she would be more likely to work with me instead of against me, and to find some way for us to spend time together instead of accusing me of being a downer and of hating her friends. (As a general rule I do hate her friends, but not because they are her friends. They are hatable in their own right. And it hurt me less that she had friends like that rather than that she spent so much time with them; when I asked her why, she said because they gave her something I never could.) I thought this week would be it, and when the band she said she really liked left, she'd spend less time at the nightclub.
This week, I was merciful. This week, I was generous.
This week, I was stupid.
"I don't want another fight. This evening's been so nice this far. It seems like we've been fighting for a we--"
"We've been fighting for a week because you've been hiding something for a week!" I was almost yelling now. I don't usually do that, but when I get frustrated, I get depressed, and when I get depressed, I can either sulk or get angry. If I sulked, I'd never get it out of her.
"Fine. I'll tell you after we get home," she conceded.
The rest of the ride was icy. And silent.
We pulled into my driveway. We'd been seeing each other for a long time -- long, at least, in teenager years -- but we both still lived with our parents and so we lived in different houses. When she'd said "home", she'd expected to go to hers. When I'd turned into my subdivision, we'd had a brief fight, but this was something I had power over. I told her no one would be at my house, and someone would be at hers. I wanted to make sure I got the whole story, and as long as she wouldn't tell me in the car...
My family was out. It was a little late, but not too much. Maybe ten. I unlocked the door and went in, not even looking backward. She'd come in; she really had no choice, and I was getting sick of the games.
When I heard the door close, I kept looking at the fireplace. I could hear her still, and so I knew she was by the door. "Look," I began, "you've had a week to tell me yourself, and all I've gotten has been silence, stress, and evasion." I spun around and finally caught her line of sight for what almost seemed the first time in a week. "Now tell me."
A look of defiance shot across her face. "What if I told you I don't want to?"
"What if I told you I don't give a fuck?"
That is one thing my father taught me. Profanity is not good, especially not around a woman. But it works. Sometimes, he said, you have to use what works. As a military commander, he knew the importance of making things work, even if someone didn't want them to.
There is one thing I have to say for her: She never took long to adapt. Seeing that didn't work, she went conciliatory. "Come on, you've been distant all week. Can't we just be close for a while? And I can tell you later, when we're all made up?"
She walked towards me, summoning all her not insignificant charm and beauty, and put her arms up. I let her embrace me, and, putting my left arm around her waist, I put my right hand up to her face, caressing her cheek. I gripped her face, stopping it a couple of inches from mine. "No," I said simply, and sat her down on the couch.
She tried to look away. I held her head for a little while, but then I let her look away. I felt more comfortable standing, anyway. After a couple of moments, I started her off.
"Okay, you have something to tell me. It's about Friday night, and what happened at the club, and..."
She was looking away, and looked genuinely sad. I had to use what works, though. Something I'd had to learn alone was that mercy is good, insofar as it goes, but if you want to get someone to tell you something they don't want to tell you can't be merciful until after it is all over. The tears I had to view cynically, as a conscious or subconscious attempt to weaken my resolve, and hence aid her tactical position in the relationship.
"At the club, and ..." I repeated. She looked up with the hurt anger of a beaten girl, of a little girl who has been beaten again, and although she doesn't know why -- if there is a reason -- somehow thinks she has called it upon herself.
She could look like a victim to comfort, or a target to finish off. For obvious reasons, I hardened my heart and chose the latter. When she saw I didn't relent, she dropped her eyes again and began.
"Yes, it was at the club. At first. There is more to it than that. ... Never mind, I don't want to tell you." She got up, looking angry once again.
"I know all that," I said gently. "Sit down." She did.
We arrived at the club, Amy and I, same as always. We just planned to see the band. A lot of people were there, since it was their last show in Austin for a while. We'd arrived alone, but lots of people were there.
We'd gotten there a little early, to get settled in. We got some drinks and got settled waiting for the show to begin. About then the others started to filter into the place. We ran into a lot of people who we usually saw there; Cecily, Robert, Scott --
"Fuck." The very fact his name had to come into this story made my stomach twist. He was the guy who had tried to assault her. I wasn't shouting in anger, just muttering at the recurrence of an uncomfortable presence, like when one wrinkles one's nose at an ever present stench to which one has grown resigned but not accustomed.
Still, looking back, she flinched more than would be expected from my outburst. That should have tipped me off.
After all, he was the one who had told her this band's music "wasn't my style," even though he had never even seen my cassettes, let alone listened to them. Since it "wasn't my style," I'd of course not enjoy the club, and would only bring her down. He was also the guy who had assured me that "everyone" saw our break up coming, the last time she left me, and advised me not to try to get her back.
She may think he's a friend, that he can be trusted. Then again, she'd feel Lucifer himself could be trusted, probably. Well, that's not entirely fair. She wasn't the only one who had been fooled into trusting him. So had I, kind of. Until he assaulted her and showed his true colors. And made me feel stupid for coming so close to following his advice.
If I had, we'd never have gotten back together, and he'd have gotten his way.
She looked at me coldly, not knowing whether to be irritated at the interruption or grateful for the reprieve. When I didn't even turn to look at her, she continued.
We all got settled in, and about then the show started. It was nice. They played, we danced, and everyone was pretty pleased with the evening. The evening went quick. Too quick. I was just getting into my stride. I saw Amy over on the other side of the club, talking to a group of our friends, so I figured I could take a minute to step into the bathroom.
I went to the bathroom and was fixing my make up when I happened to run into Megan. You don't know her. We went to school together years ago, and I haven't seen her in years. I don't know what she was doing at the show; I don't remember seeing her there before. But there she was. We talked for a while, catching up on old times. It seemed like we'd just started, but it must have been the better part of an hour. Megan's ride came in to get her, and we said good bye. I'd finished with the make up, and noticed that the bathroom was nearly empty now.
By that time I realized how late it was getting, and I figured I'd better find Amy. I rushed out of the bathroom, and ran into Scott.
"Have you seen Amy?" I asked.
"She went home. I told her you told me you were going home with Cecily since you couldn't find her. Guess you'll just have to ride with me."
So then there I was. Amy was gone. I was flabbergasted. He had no right to do that, especially not after the stunt he'd pulled the other night, trying to force himself on me in front of my own house. But what could I do? The club was emptying; I had to get home. I accepted his offer. I had no choice, did I?
I made him promise he'd take me home. I said, "You'll take me straight home, right? Promise?"
"I promise I'll take you home," he said. I should have caught that, but instead I just felt relieved.
We headed home. He tried to start conversation. Little things. I wouldn't talk to him, though. I was trying to avoid being nice to him. Until I saw where he was going. Then I started talking. Yelling, actually. He turned off too early, see. Not even out of Anderson Mill. So I knew something was up. He kidnaped me, I guess. Kind of like what you just did.
He took some roads, and before I knew it I was lost. Not that I know that area or anything, but I had no idea where we were. After a while of that, he pulled over on a deserted stretch of road and stopped the car.
I told him no. I said I didn't want to do anything. Not tonight. Not with him. He said all he wanted to do was talk. I said I didn't even want to do that, but what could I do? So he talked, and I sat there. He talked about how he'd broken up with his girlfriend, and about how he never stopped wanting me, and everything you'd expect from him. I guess I should have expected all that, too, but you saw what he is really like before I did.
As he was talking he moved closer to me, and after a while I ran out of car seat. But then he stopped abruptly, grabbed my head with his fingers in my hair, and kissed me.
I'd backed myself up too far. I could barely kick, and not enough to reach him. I was twisted too weird. All I did was exhaust myself.
But I'm not going to lie to you. I know it's bad but -- but I kind of liked it. My mind didn't, but my body did. You know what I mean? And I think he could tell. I think he could tell that night he tried to kiss me, that he was turning me on even while I was turning him down. Maybe if I could control the way by body was he would have lost interest. As if anyone could do that. I don't really think it would have stopped him, but I don't think we'll ever know for sure.
I didn't want it! I really didn't. I told him no. I cried through the whole thing, for God's sake. But I was trapped and exhausted. He could just pull me down and my skirt up and -- you know.
I didn't want it. My body may have responded, but it was still rape. I struggled as best I could. With my mind. But he didn't stop. And I didn't want to tell you. I knew you wouldn't take it well. I thought it would just do more harm than good to tell you he raped me. Especially him.
She stopped and looked up at me. The tears were flowing freely now.
"I thought you said you'd stay away from him."
"I had no choice!" she cried.
"You could have found a way. For crying out loud, you could have called me. You know I'd be there for you; why is it so fucking important to you to keep away from me? Why do you always have to turn to other people when you need something? Why do I only find out your problems when we're fighting after the fact?"
"This isn't fair! I didn't mean for this to happen."
"Oh didn't you." My sarcastic tone brought hurt to her eyes. Hurting her hurt me, but it somehow felt better than having her do the hurting. "How many times have you fucked around behind my back?"
"This isn't fair."
"I know this has happened before. How often?"
"Why do you persecute me?" Her voice had gotten a lot quieter when I had begun shouting accusations. She sounded like she was trying to calm me. Or herself. I don't even think she caught the allusion.
"Everyone knows the last time you left me you were in the arms of another guy in a couple of days. How often has this happened when we were going together? How much of a cuckold am I?!"
"Stop it!" she cried. "Stop it."
She sobbed. I froze, all my anger spent.
I was in about as much shock as she must have been that night. I didn't really have a lot of responses to choose from.
"You know, of course, this ends our relationship," I told her.
That's when the tears really began to flow.
"It was rape! I didn't want to do it, he pressured me into it."
I laughed. It sounded hollow, even to me, but I meant it. This was genuinely funny, in the sense that Lovecraft meant when he said, "The world is indeed comic, but the joke is on mankind." Then I turned my back on her and walked into my bedroom.
"You wanted it," I called back over my shoulder. "You weren't really resisting him, and even if you had been, you told me you'd avoid him. You told me he could be trusted." By that point, I'd found what I was looking for, and I could look into her eyes as I continued. "You told me you could be trusted."
She cried a lot. She told me I was being unfair. She told me I was blaming the victim. (I told her that wasn't true at all, I was blaming both the guilty parties.) Finally, she gave up. She didn't tell me anything convincing.
"I'm afraid it doesn't matter what you call it. This ends our relationship. Permanently. You put yourself --" I corrected myself as she began to object. "-- allowed yourself to be put in a position where you had sex with another man. That is unacceptable."
"What do you expect me to do? I can't change the past. Are you going to stop loving me because I was attacked?"
"I'll never stop loving you," I told her, honestly, as I knelt beside her on the couch. "I love you now as much as I loved you then. You have to take responsibility for the mistakes you made, too. If you had trusted me and stayed away from those people you thought were your friends, or if you had cared enough to spend your evenings with me, this would never have happened. You must take responsibility. Our relationship cannot continue, I cannot be with you after you have given yourself willingly to another man, but I still love you."
"I love you, too," she whispered, and looked almost happy for the first time in a week. It could just have been relief, but it made me feel happy anyway. Our lips met, our tongues touched oh so slightly, and I held her so close, so tight that I felt the heat as the bullet passed through her head.
I miss her. I really do. I still think about her.
All right, that isn't saying much. Let me try again. Even if there weren't a police investigation into how she ended up dead in my living room, I'd still be thinking about her. A lot. There isn't really anything I need to hide, now. There is nothing the police can do to me. The police can only hurt my body. Pain goes away.
Love never does.
My son came up to me after dinner with the question parents must always eventually answer: "Why do people die?" His carefree summer of exploring and playing with his friend Nicholas had been interrupted when Nicholas' older sister Kimberly died in an automobile accident. I wasn't sure Timothy and Kimberly had known each other all that well, but he had been markedly affected by the unexpected change in events.
I'd been waiting for him to ask me the question. Tim seemed almost embarrassed to ask. He stood beside my easy chair with his hands behind his back, casting a glance downwards.
"Let's talk about it," I said. "Come on, come up here." I picked him up and set him on one arm of the chair. Soon he'd be too big to sit there. "Is this about Kimberly?" I asked.
He nodded yes, still looking downward, at his knees.
"Are you sad?"
Tim shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know."
"What's wrong, then?"
He grimaced. "You know," he mumbled.
"What is it?" I asked, intrigued.
"When am I gonna die?"
I hugged him. "Certainly not right now," I said, attempting some humor.
That wasn't the trick. "But when?!" he cried out.
"Wait, wait, hold on a second, Timothy," I said. "You can't know that."
"Do you know?" he asked.
"No, no, I don't. No one does. There's no way of knowing when you're going to die."
He moaned, "That's not fair!" "No, it's not," I said.
"That's not fair!" he repeated.
"Timothy, what do you think death is?"
He shrugged his shoulders and squirmed about some. "When you're in a car wreck?"
"How, a car wreck?" I asked, prodding him on.
"Nicholas said Kimmy got crushed and all her blood poured out."
"Why is that bad?" I asked, as if I had no idea.
"Daaaad," he said, "you know. It hurts, doesn't it?"
"Yes, yes, a car wreck hurts. But Kimmy doesn't hurt anymore."
"Why?" he asked.
"She's not alive anymore. She can't feel pain."
Tim made a bewildered face. "Why did they put her in the ground then? Why can't she come back if she doesn't hurt anymore?"
"Because she's not alive. She can't move anymore. She --"
"So what is she doing?" he asked.
I groaned inside. Thinking back, I realized he had never come in contact with death before. We didn't watch TV or go to violent movies, not even church. Aaah, church! That's it. They tell kids what death is like.
"Well, Timothy, we don't know. No one knows what dead people do."
"That's weird. Why not? 'Cuz we can't see them? Nicholas said they put Kimmy in a hole and put dirt on top of her."
"It's true. They buried her."
I hesitated. "Otherwise she'll stink," I said bluntly.
It didn't faze him. "Can't she take a bath?"
"No, Timothy, she can't do anything. Wait a second, and listen. You know how we carve pumpkins for Halloween?"
"And how after a few weeks it shrivels up?"
"That's because the pumpkin is dead, like Kimmy."
"But it doesn't stink much."
"That's true, because we took out all the insides first. The insides are what stink most," I explained.
"Why don't they take out Kimmy's insides?"
I shrugged my shoulders. "They could, I guess. But there's no reason to. She's still dead, like the pumpkin. People don't want to look at dead people."
A flicker of understanding came to his eye. "You mean the pumpkin was alive once?" he asked incredulously.
"Yes," I said, immediately dreading the implications -- yes, we kill things on purpose.
"Can pumpkins talk?!" he asked.
I laughed. "No, no, Timothy, they don't talk. Pumpkins aren't people."
"Do they make any noise?"
"No, they don't. Plants don't make noises."
"How are they alive, then?" he asked.
Suddenly I realized my error -- I hadn't explained life to him yet!
Good grief, Timothy was only ten. I'd already made quite a mess of explaining what was happening, and I wanted to make sure he had a sensible picture in his head. I also realized I didn't want to sound like I knew everything; I certainly had my own doubts about what life and death really were. I wanted to keep his mind as open as possible, without any false hopes or any false dreads. This was the main reason I kept him out of church.
"Timothy, can we start over?"
"Okay," he said.
"I need to tell you about what I think it means to be 'alive'. These are only my ideas, but most people believe them. You see, no one really knows."
Timothy squinted at me, trying to take it in. "We're alive, aren't we?"
"And Nicholas is alive, right?"
"And Kimmy was alive before the car wreck, right?"
"So, why don't we know what 'alive' means?"
"That's just the thing, Tim. Most people have an idea about it. But all they know is what they can see."
He let it sink in. I hoped I wouldn't completely overwhelm his brain.
"I don't get it."
I brainstormed to come up with a perfect example. Ah-hah! "You know that light in the refrigerator?"
"Right now, is it on or off?" I asked. He made a move to jump up and check. I restrained him and smiled. "Without looking." "On?"
"Why do you think that?" I asked.
"It's always on, right? Every time I open the door, it's on."
Funny thing is, those lights never seem to burn out either. "That's a perfectly good idea," I said. "However, what if I told you that it went off when you closed the door?"
"Oh!" he exclaimed, smiling, "I never thought of that!" Then a puzzled look came over his face. "How?"
"There's a switch in the refrigerator. When you close the door, it turns off the light. When you open the door, it turns on the light."
"Oh! Can I see?"
"Sure," I said. We got up and ran into the kitchen. Timothy opened the door. The light was on. Then he peered at the door and examined the corresponding area on the frame of the refrigerator. He flipped one switch and turned off the refrigerator.
"Uh-oh!" he said, and flipped it back on. He blushed lightly and continued his search. He felt around the perimeter of the refrigerator, from the sides to the top, and finally found it. Running his hand over the switch, the light flickered. "There!" he said, pressing and releasing the switch several times. Then he slowly closed the door to see the process in action. Right before the door shut, the light went out. "Cool!"
"Now, Tim, are you wondering why there's a switch?"
"Nope. It seems silly to keep the light on when no one's looking." Then he stood still and pondered. "Is this about 'alive'?" he asked.
"No, no, not yet. This is about whether people know things or not."
"Let's go back to the chair." I sat in the chair and Timothy perched on the armrest. "You see, you didn't know before that the refrigerator light turned off. And once you figured out that it did turn off, you wanted to know why. And then you figured out how. And now it all makes sense, right?"
"Now, what if I never told you that the light turns off? What if no one ever told you, and you never thought to ask?"
"I don't get it."
"Well, the first thing is, you wouldn't know, or even suspect, that the light turned off, right?"
"Yeah, I guess so."
"Now, Tim, if you didn't ever think about that, do you think the light would actually turn off?"
"I don't know."
I smiled widely. "You don't know what?"
"If the light would go out. But you just said it --", he stammered, and then started thinking. "You just told me it would go out. So doesn't it always? If I knew or not?"
"Yes, whether or not you know it, the refrigerator light goes out when you close the door. People made it that way on purpose, so we know what happens. BUT -- and this is the big but --"
Tim started giggling.
"-- what about everything else in the world you don't know about?"
"Say, how the refrigerator works. Or if it works. Is it only in a refrigerator where stuff stays cold? Does the refrigerator turn cold when you open the door?"
Tim started squirming uncomfortably. "Weeeeell... there's a switch that turned off the refrigerator."
"That's true, and...?"
"I think the refrigerator stays cold all the time, and the switch turns it off. It would be silly for it to get cold when you open the door."
"Why? Are you sure?" I prodded.
"I don't know."
"What about your dresser? If you stood it up on one end, it would be the same size as the refrigerator, right? And if you open the drawers, you can see inside the dresser, just like the door on the refrigerator. So does it get cold when you open the drawers?"
"Nooooo," he said, giggling.
"Why not?" I asked.
"It's not a refrigerator."
"Then what is a refrigerator?"
"It --" he started. "Daddy, this doesn't make sense."
"How do you mean?"
"I know what a refrigerator is."
"It's what keeps stuff cold inside," he said proudly.
"Exactly. A refrigerator keeps stuff cold inside. That's why we call it a refrigerator. There's a little more to it -- it's a box that people make, that keeps stuff cold inside."
"Oh!" he said. "I always thought something that looked like that was a refrigerator."
"Well," I said, "see that painting of the little girl on the steps with the cat?"
"What if that were a painting of a refrigerator? Would that painting keep stuff cold inside?"
"Noooo," he said, laughing.
"What if it did?" I asked.
He paused for a while, and started to giggle. "It would be a painting and a refrigerator."
He thought he was making a joke. "Yes!" I cried out, hugging him. "That's exactly it. Do you see? We might come up with a new word for that, too. A 'refrigepainting', eh?"
Again Tim laughed, smiling widely.
"Now, how about this, Tim? Think hard. If you didn't know the word 'refrigerator', would that box in the kitchen still keep stuff cold inside?"
"Yes," he said quickly.
"Then would it be a refrigerator?"
He paused to think. "Yes?"
"Because it keeps stuff cold inside!"
"Exactly! So, if that painting of a refrigerator were just a painting, would it be correct to call the painting a refrigerator?"
"No, 'cuz it doesn't keep stuff cold inside."
"Exactly! Now, Tim," I said, returning to the original point, "tell me what you think it means to be 'alive'."
He hesitated and said flatly, "I don't know."
"That's not exactly true, Tim. Tell me some things you think aren't alive."
"Uuum, the chair?"
He squinted. "The refrigerator?"
"What about the pumpkin?"
"Well, wait a minute first. Why do you think the chair and the refrigerator aren't alive?"
"They don't talk."
"But what about this?" I asked, leaning back in the chair and making it squeak. "Is the chair talking?"
"It's not saying anything." "How do you know it's not saying, 'Whee!', but the way a chair says it? Our dog Kornkob goes bark!. Is she talking?"
"Yes, she is. She's talking the way dogs talk. Why is her bark! talking, while the chair's squeak isn't?"
"Because the chair's not alive."
"That's true, but you just said 'alive' meant you could talk. So your answer didn't say anything new, you see? Let's back off from talking for a second. There has to be a reason why the noise a dog makes is talking, while the noise a chair makes isn't. There's more to 'alive' than talking."
"Kornkob can also growl."
"That's true!" I said, as if I'd never realized. "What about this, then?" I asked. I let down the easy chair, making the springs contract and go sproing. "The chair makes other noises as well."
Tim punched the side of the chair, thump. "That one too."
"And Kornkob can whimper too. Think of this, though -- why does Kornkob whimper, instead of growl or bark?"
"When we first got her, she'd whimper when I yelled at her. But now she just barks."
"That's true! But the chair always goes sproing when I let it down. It always goes squeak when I lean back in it. Do you see the difference?"
"Kornkob knows me now."
"And I've had this chair for ten years! Why doesn't it know me yet?"
He hesitated. "Because it can't!"
"Exactly! Chairs can't learn. BUT -- that's only one reason why they're not alive!"
"There's more?" Tim asked.
"Yup. To be alive means you can grow, too. You're growing taller every year. I'm growing, well, a little chubbier. But the chair will always be the same size."
"But what if we pulled on it and it got longer?" he asked.
"Ah-hah -- that's the difference. 'Alive' things grow by themselves."
"But we eat food. Isn't that what makes us grow?"
"Yes -- but we eat the food on our own. Eating is part of growing."
"'Alive' also means to move. We're alive, so we can move -- on our own."
"What about robots?"
"They do move on their own, that's true. But, 'alive' things have to do all the things we're talking about."
"Oh. What else?" "One thing is, they are organized into specific parts, or organs."
"Like my stomach and my mouth?"
"Uh-huh, and your teeth and your gums and your tongue and your throat and your skin and your muscle..."
"Chairs are like that too, though."
"But, again, they don't do it by themselves. All by themselves, every living thing develops its own organs."
"It's my own darn fault that my nose is so big."
"Yeah," he said, giggling.
"The last thing living things do is to make offspring."
"Oh yeah! It all seems pretty obvious now."
"Now, let's get back to the pumpkin. Do you think it's alive?"
"Well... I don't know."
"Why not?" I asked almost incredulously.
"It doesn't move, does it?"
"Oh, it does. But plants move much, much slower than people and animals. Look there," I said, pointing to the plant hanging next to the window. "See how all the leaves and stems are facing the light? They move toward the light, because light is a part of their food."
"Oh, duh, I knew that!" he said. "But plants don't learn."
"Well, plants don't learn in the special way we humans, or even animals do. But all of us learn through evolution."
"That's how living things adjust to changing environments over time. It's a chemical way of learning how to live better. It's really very complex, though. You'll need to wait about five years first, okay?"
"Now, again, was the plant alive before you knew it was?"
"Yeah, but I wouldn'ta thought of it."
"Ah-hah! You see, the reason we know what 'alive' is, is because scientists defined it that way, just like we defined a refrigerator as being a box that keeps stuff cold inside."
"I think you need to take a rest now. Think about this while you're gone -- what do you think dying is?"
"Think about it," I said.
Tim came back in an hour. "Well," he said, "because dying's when you're not alive, it's when you don't grow or learn or move anymore."
"Yes, that's true," I said. "And?"
"And I don't know anything else. I really tried to figure it out."
"That's perfectly all right. People don't know what death is, beyond the fact that it's when you're not alive."
"Is it heaven?" he asked.
"What do you think heaven is?"
"Nicholas said it's where good people go after they die. It's a really great place, he said."
"Do you believe that?"
"I don't know. Is it hell? Nicholas said that's where you go when you're bad. And it really sucks."
"Where do you think Kimmy went?" I asked.
"Neither. She's in the ground."
"That's true, in a way."
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"Well, does my definition of 'alive' seem complete to you?"
"Complete? I don't get it."
"Think about animals and people. Is there something else we do that nonliving things can't?"
"Well... they don't do stuff."
"Well, I can read, and have fun. And Kornkob can chase sticks. And have fun. I don't think the refrigerator has fun."
"Exactly. 'Alive' doesn't say anything about having fun. Or wanting to."
"So what's that called?"
"The ability to have fun?"
"I'm not sure. Maybe that's not the whole picture. We can also be sad, or be angry, or get excited, or be hopeful. I think animals can't really feel those things," I said. "All in all, I think something only people have is the ability to have emotion. That's part of being alive, if you're a person."
"Well... I think Kornkob gets angry and excited. And hopeful, when it's time to feed her."
"That's true in a way. I think that she doesn't feel them the same way we do, though. You see, something else only people do is think. We can think about things, and those things can make us angry, or sad, or hopeful." "What about Kornkob?"
"I believe she's just reacting to her surroundings. When you feed her, she gets excited because she can smell the food, and she knows you're going to pet her. But I don't think that if you're inside she'll even think about it."
"So does she think about us?"
"I don't know. Probably not the same way we think about her."
This to him seemed even sadder than if Kornkob had died. "I always thought Kornkob was like us," Tim said.
"I don't think she is. But she's special in her own way."
"I guess so."
"But Timothy, think about 'thinking' again. Many people believe that since we can think, we're special and different from everything else in the whole world."
"Yeah?" he asked excitedly.
"That's what many people believe. And that's what makes being alive so important. That's the other thing about 'alive'."
"So what happens when you die?"
"No one knows, beyond the obvious things -- not moving, not growing, not learning. Remember that light in the refrigerator? Think of that light as being the special part of being human. Well, no one knows if it goes off when you shut the door."
"Really?" he asked. "Why not? Can't you tell if someone's thinking?"
"Well, yes, you can, actually. Scientists believe that our brains are what make us think."
"But Kornkob has a brain."
"That's true. But scientists don't believe it can think the way we do. Brains do other things besides thinking."
"Oh. Can you tell the difference between how her brain and our brain think?"
"No, we can't."
"So how do we know Kornkob doesn't think like we do?"
"We really don't. But we have to assume she doesn't, since animals don't do the things people do."
"I don't get it."
"Well, they don't..." I started. I was going to say "build cities", but beavers and birds build their homes. I also wanted to say, "use language", but whales, bees, and octopi also clearly communicate. I also wanted to say, "wonder about death", but elephants show distinct remorse and curiosity when coming across dead elephants, though not other animals. I also wanted to say other things, but I couldn't say anything specific. "It's hard to say. Animals don't do what people do."
"Dogs don't do what cats do either," he said.
"That's very true," I admitted. "So do you see what I'm talking about?" I asked. "There are definitely things we don't know about life. And this makes it that much harder to know what death is, since we can't experience it, without being dead."
"What do dead people say it's like?"
"Well, Timothy, that's where I have to say I have no idea. There's no scientific evidence that dead people can think, much less tell us what being dead is like."
"No one knows?"
"Not for sure. Think of life as being like a light bulb that's on, and death being like a light bulb that's burned out. And, you can only see that light bulb when it's on, since it's the only one in the room. Trying to find out about death is like trying to see a burned-out light bulb in the dark. We know it's there, but nothing else for sure."
"What about heaven and hell though?"
"Well, those are ideas people have about what happens after death. Remember the special part about being human? Those people call that your spirit. They believe that when a person dies, his spirit goes to heaven or hell, depending on what he did in his life."
"What he did?"
"Like, if he did good things to other people, or bad things. They believe that your entire life is judged good or bad when you die, by another spirit, and then you go to heaven or hell forever."
"That's not fair! Why is it all for a grade?!"
I had to laugh. I had to laugh at the way people believed life was for a grade. I almost got a headache.
"Tim, that's just what some people think. But I must tell you, most of the people in this country believe that."
"Is it true?" he asked pleadingly.
"I don't think so, son. It doesn't make sense to me."
"Why do so many people believe it then?" he asked.
"I.... It's tradition."
"Do the dead people say that's what it's like?"
"Well, like I already said, I don't know for sure. I haven't talked to any dead people. But throughout history, some people have said that they have."
"They say that the spirits of the dead people talked to them, in their minds. Or that they saw an image of the person in the dark, who talked to them. Or that they saw the person in a dream."
"Oh, you mean ghosts?"
"Yes, son, ghosts."
"That's what spirits are?"
"If you believe in spirits, yes."
"But ghosts aren't real."
"If you don't believe in them, no."
"What do you believe in, Daddy?"
"I don't know. I don't believe in anything, unless there's some way I can prove it. I can't prove anything about death."
"But that's scary! I wanna know what's going to happen!"
"Tim, that's the way almost everyone is. Everyone wants to know what will happen after they die. But you can't know that."
"That's just not fair!"
"It isn't; that's true. But look at it this way. As far as science knows, when you die, you can't do anything anymore. Science doesn't believe
in the spirit. They think that when you die, it's all over. So, from their point of view, there's nothing at all to be scared of about dying."
"I... I guess."
"You don't believe that, do you?"
"It doesn't make sense. How could it just be all over?"
"As far as the dead person is concerned, it is. You see, scientists think that the brain creates the illusion of a spirit; that the only time you know you're alive is when you are alive."
"Oh," he said, eyes cast downward. "I don't like that. That's not fair."
"I don't think it is, either."
"Daddy, are you a scientist?"
"So what do you think happens to your spirit when you die?"
I finally realized I wasn't getting through to him. He'd just have to wait a few years. "Well, I do have my own special idea about it, but I can't tell you if it's true or not."
"What is it?" Tim asked, his eyes gleaming.
"Well, it's this. I think that spirits are just like electricity, that run our brains when we're alive. And I think that every living thing -- even animals and plants -- have the same kind of electricity. In people, the electricity allows us to do all sorts of wonderful things -- to think, to believe, to love, to hope -- and very bad things too. And I think that when you die, the electricity leaves your body and enters the air, and gives something else a spirit."
"It doesn't go away?"
"No. I think the spirit of life lives forever."
"So all the dead people live forever?" "I... I guess you could say that."
"So, Kimmy is still alive, somehow?" he asked, excited.
"Yes, her spirit lives on," I said.
"And there's no heaven or hell?"
"I don't think so. I don't believe being alive is a test. I think you're judged by what you do when you're alive, right as you're doing it -- by yourself. There's no reason to be afraid of death. You need to make the most of the life you're living right now. You need to make good use of the spirit while you can."
"Wow," he said, dazed. "Well, I better get started!" he exclaimed. "Thanks a lot, Dad!" Then he ran off to his room.
I realized how his mind worked. He didn't really care about what was provable and true; he just wanted reassurance. Isn't that what everyone wants, when facing the unknown in such an intimately personal way? Yes, I guess so. I was left dazed myself for minutes after Timothy ran off to his room to take advantage of the beauty of living. I really hadn't even thought of it much before myself. I breathed a deep breath, leaned back in my easy chair, and looked at my hand. I wiggled my fingers around and smiled. Good fingers. Good hand. Good life.
It was just the two of them in that room that night. Soft music playing, a cool breeze drifting through the open window. Unseparated, together. They watched each other over empty dinner plates, watched by drained wine glasses. Unity. Exploration. The air between them felt heavy and dense. It was a barrier and yet transparent as well. Cheap cologne and imposter perfume. Nothing mattered except being.
Let the process consume you. Become ritual, for it is not the end that is important but the realization of the means. Belief is a tool, not a dogma. Rip apart your mind and put it back together in varying configurations. Tamper. Reconstruct. Destroy. Rebuild. Your soul is your only guide. Know thyself, poison thyself, heal thyself. Then forget and begin again.
Manny stood on the corner, waiting for his contact, who was long overdue. The shipment had to be made tonight or the user would die. A blue Chevrolet pulled up alongside the door, and a large woman got out of the back seat. She handed Manny a metal box with a keypad on top. He grabbed the box and ran.
Elegant tapestries were flung on the floor in a careless manner. The shattered remains of vases and fragile sculptures littered the ground. He repeatedly pounded his fist into the nearest wall, damning his tormentors. They had destroyed his image, his position, his ego. Who were they to do this to him? Who gave them the right? He had, simply by being alive.
Explore, she said. Grieve for her and for you.
I don't want to feel helpless, she replied.
She smiled. No need to. Use this time to heal yourself. Make yourself whole again.
But I can never replenish what she took away.
She never did anything. That was her failing and her blessing, too.
Should I open it? he asked himself. The box was heavy and smooth, emitting a low, pulsating sound.
Maybe it's a bomb. God, I don't want to be a messenger of death.
Manny punched in a code on the keypad. The lid opened with a soft pop.
Love is magick. Love is magickal. Be used by love in all of its glory.
The sheets smelled of sweat and cum. They slept peacefully, bodies still wrapped around each other from the night's activities. She lied awake beside him, a hand placed on his rising chest. The pulse of life, the rhythm of love. A sigh escaped her lips, and she, too, drifted off to sleep.
He had phoned the police about the break-in, and they told him that an officer would be over shortly.
They can't help me, he thought. They're in on this cosmic joke, just like everyone else. One, two, one, two. It's always the same story, the same motions, the same games. Everyone plays, but why do I always lose?
He pulled an overturned chair onto its legs and sat down, waiting.
Grieving is a sublime process, she said. You don't understand why, but it is necessary.
It shouldn't be. Nothing should be necessary. It's so wrong.
She turned away. What is so wrong about experiencing loss?
The emptiness of it all. It's too horrible.
Don't be empty then. Simple, no?
The void sucked at Manny with a hammering fixation. He held onto the doorknob, trying to keep himself from entering the box.
Stop! Stop! he yelled as the box grew, inhaling furniture from the room. I can't die yet!
Manny prayed to God, making promises that could never be kept, if God would save him. He lost his grip and flew across the room. The lid shut, and Manny screamed from within.
You know yourself better than anyone else, so why fight it? Use your strengths to conquer your weaknesses, and be proud. Pride is not a sin when it is justified. The tools are at your disposal. All you have to do is plan and act.
The cops came and questioned the man. He answered them without hesitation and listed everything that was damaged or missing. The officers took notes in little black books and said they'd do what they could. After the police left, the man spat on the ground. He was still destroyed.
They awoke together, bathed in sunlight streaming in from a window. Their eyes peered into each other's as they kissed, ignoring their foul morning breath.
I love you, she said.
He grunted, stood up, scratched his bare ass, and walked into the bathroom.
He's the man I've been looking for, she confided to no one.
So, the funeral is tomorrow?
Yes, she confirmed. One o'clock, at First United Methodist. Are you going?
Yes. She was the only one I ever loved. You know that, don't you?
I'll always love you, too -- even as much as she did.
You can't replace her.
I'm not trying to. You've got to move on.
The reason for existence is left up to you. Find that reason and you will understand life. Searching can only make you stronger.
The man stood outside on his porch, not wanting to be near his ruined possessions. He had worked so hard for all he had, for now it was all gone. Yes, it could be rebuilt, but he was too tired to start again. This wasn't the way life was supposed to work. He sat down on the porch swing and began to rock, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth...
That's up to you, she explained. It's your call. I don't know. This is so confusing.
As it should be. Just remember, I'm always here.
Please, she begged. Kiss me. Make me feel wanted again.
The wind howled as Manny stood in front of the obese woman.
What kind of hell did you put me through? he asked.
That wasn't hell, she corrected. That was heaven: you alone with God. Get it?
Manny whipped out a pistol and levelled it at her.
Wrong. That was hell, and that's where you're going.
Don't mess with me, Manny. I've got power. It ain't over till the fat lady sings.
The shot put a huge hole in her head. As Manny walked off, the wind whistled through the hole, creating a discordant melody. He smiled.
I'm walking.... I'm walking in the forest on a dirt path. It's insanely green and summerish around. I'm carrying this large heavy wooden box on my head, on my shoulders. The path is covered with greyish soil and has some little rocks under the surface. I have to watch my step or else I'll drop the box. I don't know what's in the box. It feels solid but not like it's a block of wood.
I have to watch my step. I have to kick at the rocks I see coming up so I won't get caught by surprise. I shuffle my feet in the dirt. Clouds of dust rise at my feet and made it hard to see. Yes, it's very warm, and dry. It's dry and the dust clouds don't settle right away. If I could look back I'd see them still.
I move like a robot with the heavy box on my shoulders. I have to strain my eyes to look forward the way my head is tilted. Up ahead I see more path. The path is wavering from side to side. It is well-worn but the rocks are still hiding under the surface.
All the branches of the trees are sticking high up into the ground. No branches will hit the box or my head so I can keep a steady pace except for the rocks. The leaves on the trees are bright green and caught by the sunlight. They are waving slightly in the wind. I can't feel the wind because it is so light. The wind is rusting the tops of the branches. My face is damp and burning. I can sense the dust from my footsteps rising and sticking to my face.
I am walking along further. I look to my left and notice that one of the trees has a treehouse in it. I put the box down. I look at the treehouse. It's in the shape of a cube. The walls are made of plywood and square and thin. Doors and windows are cut out of the walls. The treehouse is very small. Only a child could fit in it. I remember the treehouse.
I put the box back on my shoulders. I continue walking away from the treehouse. The path is well-worn. Dry grey dust rises at my shuffling feet and sticks to my face. I have to kick rocks out of my path. Straining to look ahead I see the path falls. The path descends and then is level. I carefully take the steps down the path and continue walking.
I look up and see that the path ends. I am on a sandbar extending into a lake. Eight or ten people are here. Some people are sitting on the sandbar. Some people are sitting with their feet in the water. Some people are playing in the water. I walk to the edge of the sandbar. The sandbar descends sharply into the lake. The sand is yellow on top and tan near the water.
I look at the water. I can feel the cool air that drifted over the lake. The water is dark green, almost olive. The water is never still. I hurl the box into the water. Before the splash I see that it is only a plastic blue crate. I look aside and my foot slips. Sand slides down into the water. I regain my balance and walk to the high point of the sandbar. I look at the lake. I dive in.
The water envelops me; the water is so cold that my chest tightens in shock. But it is only cold in comparison with the hot dry air I had been walking in. Almost immediately I adapt; I find the water is quite warm and pleasant; I soar underwater; I'm free. I shoot toward the surface, and I reenter the air and see the people. All the dust has been washed off my face.
I glide toward the sandbar and touch it with my feet. The bumpy rocks poke my feet and tickle. I get a good grip on it and then shove!, swimming backwards in an arc down deeper underwater. I touch the lake floor with my hands and open my eyes to survey all that is around me. Sitting a few yards from me on the floor of the lake is a guy, decked out in a loose teeshirt that billows in the current and sneakers whose laces dance in the water and jeans that stick tightly to his skin.
I turn over underwater and walk over and sit down next to him. He's sitting there quietly, his eyelids lightly closed, his palms turned upwards. A humble grin anchors his expression. The gently flowing water plays with his shirt and I can see flashes of skin underneath and I stare at his feet. Between the cuff of the leg of his jeans and his shoes he's wearing bright red socks.
"Nice socks, eh?" I ask him. He tilts his head slightly to nod.
I smile and I look around me quietly. The water continues as far as I can see, getting darker and murkier with distance. I don't see anyone's feet wading in the water at this distance. I glance back at the guy and see his eyes are wide open staring at me. With a jump, I fly up toward the surface and hit my head.
"We're just in a box of water?" I say. His eyes are lightly closed and he tilts his head slightly to nod. I sit back down next to him and look at his red socks.
"When do we breathe?" I ask.
"Don't breathe," he says.
I take a breath and water rushes into my body. I breathe out and water swirls around in front of my mouth. The water doesn't leave my body. I shrug my shoulders.
"What are you doing?" I ask.
"Concentrating on my blood flow," he says.
I glance over at him again and I can see that he is telling the truth. His skin is a healthy pink. As I watch it turns slightly redder. It keeps turning redder. I don't remember seeing it that red before.
Suddenly he opens his eyes, glaring, and screams, "I see you're content to keep on bothering me!" A frantic grin dances on his face. "Look at me now, eh?" he demands, lifting up his shirt. I can see his stomach and where the waistband of his underwear peeks out.
"I wasn't looking there," I said nervously. "I couldn't help it."
"I know," he says lightly, all the red anger evaporating from his face and body. "C'mon, let's go!" he exclaims, grabbing my hand and pulling me up through the water. I am eager to leave. I remember that we're in a box and when I look up at the surface and I clench my eyes tight.
When I open my eyes, a confused mess of red light is shining in my eyes. I glare at the light and try to make it out. My mind focuses and I see I'm staring at the clock. It reads 4:34. I realize I'm lying on my side in my bed. I throw off the covers and yawn and slowly make my way out. I'm very nearly naked. I stumble over to my dresser in the dark and pull out some clothes and get dressed.
A confused grin is on my face; it's been stuck there since I woke up, I realize. I feel my way out of my room and my feet kick aside the damp clothes I tossed on the floor in a daze. The light in the hallway is a little brighter. I walk down the hallway and stretch and yawn again. I head for the door and open it.
Outside it is even brighter, but still very much night. I look around and find my bike. I get on my bike and coast down the driveway and into the street. I know where I'm headed and all I have to do is look down ahead of my front tire where my light illuminates the road and watch the pebbles in the gravel flow by. I feel energized as though I hadn't gone to sleep.
At a certain point I take a sharp turn off the road onto a grey dirt road. My tires kick up dust and I leave it behind me. Ahead I see the path ends at a clearing. I get off my bike and lean it against a tree.
I walk forward into the clearing, where a rocky precipice overlooks a deep valley. To my right I see a man and a woman standing and looking into the valley. To my left I see a guy leaning against a big rock, eyes lightly closed. I glance down and I can't see his socks under the cuffs of the legs of his jeans since he's standing.
With my footsteps, he opens his eyes and grins. He pulls out a bottle rocket out of his jeans and shows it to me. Then he sits down on the ground on his knees and sets up the rocket, pointing into the sky. As he's working his shirt billows in a light breeze and where his jeans legs have hiked up I can see his red socks.
"Nice socks, eh?" I ask him. He tilts his head slightly to nod.
He pulls out a match and strikes it against the rock. The match flares up and he holds it under the fuse of the bottle rocket, then stands back and shakes out the match. He walks over and leans against the rock. I glance down at the fuse of the bottle rocket and watch it burn.
With a whistle, the rocket flies into the air and explodes against the black sky into all sorts of colors; green, red, white, yellow. I glance down and see the man and the woman are in a light embrace, kissing. I glance back at the red socks of the guy standing against the rock. I glance up. He makes a sideward glance at the couple kissing and grins. I make a goofy grin, but only because I realize my pants leg is damp. I shrug my shoulders at it and we laugh.
--SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-- State of unBeing is copyrighted (c) 1996 by Kilgore Trout and Apocalypse Culture Publications. All rights are reserved to cover, format, editorials, and all incidental material. All individual items are copyrighted (c) 1996 by the individual author, unless otherwise stated. This file may be disseminated without restriction for nonprofit purposes so long as it is preserved complete and unmodified. Quotes and ideas not already in the public domain may be freely used so long as due recognition is provided. State of unBeing is available at the following places: CYBERVERSE 512.255.5728 14.4 THE LiONS' DEN 512.259.9546 24oo TEENAGE RiOt 418.833.4213 14.4 NUP: COSMIC_JOKE THAT STUPID PLACE 215.985.0462 14.4 ftp to ftp.io.com /pub/SoB World Wide Web http://www.io.com/~hagbard/sob.html Submissions may also be sent to Kilgore Trout at <email@example.com>. Thank you. --SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB--