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About Strange Lands and People
I saw her again tonight, her figure faintly outlined on the fringes of my memory. She had smiled brightly, but it was only a smile. Her lips closed, and she took a breath, and another, and another. To her, it was just another sunny day, another faceless figure who momentarily piqued her interest and then faded slowly out of her ever-occupied vision. There was a palpable intensity in that severe, greystone building. The shouts and laughter of adolescents shook my fragile spirit to its very core. “Get up, get up! Go out there and make your mark!” No avail. I sat there watching as memories were made, bonds forged, souls elated. “You’re going to regret this.”
As time went on, I realized the dreams I dreamed that night with wide eyes and the pulse of life in my heart. For a while, they beckoned to me, and I yelled into the night sky that one day, I would make it, one day, I would stop the earth and the sun and all the raging wonders of the heavens, and cry tears of joy until I couldn’t anymore. But something in me died along the way, and it was an old stranger who instead reached those dreams. He collected them unceremoniously and continued his never ending journey.
One brisk morning, far away from anything, I confronted the stranger. I looked him and the eye and told him, “leave me alone, you are not welcome here.” His silence shattered my words, sent them echoing aimlessly through the high peaks and distant valleys. There was a hint of sorrow in his weathered face and grey cloudy eyes. He yearned for peace, for love, just as much as anyone else. But he bared his soul one more time, took a final step forward, and I surrendered to his iron will.
Others will come as well. They will climb in through the window at night, layered in black leather. They will put a firm hand on my shoulder and tell me, “I’m sorry, but it’s time.”
My friends and I sat on a ledge overlooking the lake, oblivious of what was to come. I heard myself scream from somewhere far away, “please, appreciate this while it lasts!” The disembodied voice was distraught, every fiber of its existence yearning, willing, prostrating itself before me. It didn’t care that it was reaching ears that couldn’t hear and eyes that couldn’t see. A “yes”, an “ok”, would have been enough. The past walked away and the future wailed and wailed, and nobody ever learned from their mistakes.
The time came to make a choice, and I followed an endless mass of weak minded cowards to a high rise office near some city. I was a machine during the day so I could be a man another time. But there was no compromise. I wanted to live again, to walk down a street and see my world, my perceptions cemented into reality. Atoms of time immemorial bowed to my presence, opened up the gates, and something that didn’t exist now existed. It may have been a small thing, an unanticipated gust of wind, a leaf that tilted this way instead of that, a ray of sunshine that stopped a young man in his tracks until it dawned on him that it doesn’t matter what or how things are, but what they do to you.
I did unspeakable things in the shadows with the angels of the dust, withering and dying with primal delight. The giggles became cackles, and I saw for the first time how small my world was. Who was I to decided what things are, what things do, if love and hate and pain and exaltation were really all that different? Even eternal heaven left things unexplained. There were no happy endings.
Sometimes, out of nowhere, I would break down and cry. Everything was too strange. The fact that each moment existed exactly as it did was incomprehensible. I lied and joked and pleaded with what I saw, but I knew that every good thing had a price. From our primal needs to our most nuanced desires, we needed to hurt or be hurt, and somehow we were okay with that.
As long as I slept on a jagged concrete floor with gunfire piercing the smog at night, I was okay. It could have been even worse, to be honest. The only thing that could have destroyed me was realizing that I was actually nothing more than a simple lost soul marching to an unmarked grave in a grey, forgotten little town.
Now, here I am. She’s standing in front of me, beautiful as ever. There was a new curve here or there, but otherwise she looked the same as the day I met her. It was a cold and lonely night, and I didn’t know nor care why she was here; I just wanted her to stay. She gestured to me and floated down the alley past my scarce belongings into a dingy road lined with rotting husks of houses. I followed her silently across town until we came upon a wrought copper ore gate at the base of a mountain. At the summit stood a magnificent mansion, bathing in the first light of dawn. “I knew it. I knew from the moment I saw you that everything would go your way, that you would cruise to the top of the world.” She laughed that same laugh and smiled that same smile, and for a moment I was 13 again, and it wasn’t too late, and I could conjure ghosts from all corners of the earth and say one last goodbye. My hand jolted forward, then stopped cold. The gate was unapologetically unyielding, and it was real.
A bolt of cold shot through my nerves, and a warm serum of calm drifted over. I turned to her. “You are the most beautiful person I have ever known. The night I met you was the first and last time in my life I felt truly happy. Please, walk with me one last time.” Her eyes welled up with tears, but she knew my mind was made up. Together we walked through the dead city to the edge of everything I knew. I didn’t know what was waiting for me at the bottom of those cliffs, but I was about to find out. As the edge of the sun shot above the clouds, I let go, and flew towards a point on the horizon that never came.