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Insomniacs in the Planitarium
“To me the perversion of sex is an unnatural state of affairs,” declared the slovenly man sitting beside me in those padded planetarium seats. The man was grotesquely fat, and balding, and his shirt was just small enough to display a sliver of the ivory fat roles of his gut lurking bellow it.
“How so Hank?” I questioned back.
This was how all of our conversations started, with Hank speaking his mind, and me forcing him to form a theory behind it.
I had been coming to the planetarium late at night for about 5 months and Hank claimed to have been coming there for years. There was something relaxing about its vast star covered dome, and the quiet of the automated voice as we passed through different regions of the known universe. We both came here to sleep, me to escape the chaos of a wife, her mother, and two kids, and Hank to escape the drunken ranting of his land lord.
My wife had actually suspected me of an affair, till she secretly followed me once, and hid in the seats farther up, listening in on our conversation. It hadn’t taken long for her interest to get the better of her, and soon after that she was there beside me, adding her own voice to the conversations and discussions that arose.
After that she would often times join me at the planetarium for a conversation with Hank, leaving her aging mother to watch over the kids, and for awhile it took the place of ‘mommy and daddy’s night out’ and even sex! But that had stopped when Felicity had taken ill with pneumonia. Then my wife had been forced to stay at home, watching over our darling angel. For a while we even tried alternating who would stay with Feli, and who would go, but Feli had gotten worse, and my wife had soon refused to leave her side.
In the week before Felicity died, I don’t think my wife even slept, she just kept a constant vigil over Feli’s bed. She didn’t take the death very well. Hell, I didn’t take the death very well, but I kept going to the planetarium, my wife did not. She began to find solace in sleeping, she still does. She says that in her sleep our family is whole again and that Feli’s still here.
I still can’t sleep though, and I find solace, in a strange way, by talking about these things with Hank. Hank has no inhibitions. He asks the hard questions, but not in an accusing way, he just asks as if the knowledge of it interests him. And I give him truthful answers. It feels good to talk about it, to get it out, even when it is very hard to say.
He once, shortly after Feli died, asked if she was my favorite child. I had never physically thought of who my favorite child was, so the question threw me a little off guard, but as I talked I realized that Feli had been my wife’s kid. I had taken Mikey, the boy, and she had taken Feli, the girl. For a while this thought had horrified me, admitting that I had favored my living child to my dead one when they were both alive. But, as I talked about it with Hank (and I did talk about it) I came to terms with it, and I realized that this hadn’t affected my love for Feli, and hadn’t affected how I interacted with her. I still was a loving and caring father.
In all honesty I think all parents have a secret favorite child. They may never admit it to even themselves, but it’s there, and it’s only human, and as long as they aren’t terrible to the other children, it should be fine for all.
Hank chuckled at my question, as he burrowed himself deeper into the padded planetarium chairs, much like a cartoon hedgehog shakes water from its spines.
“How so…?” He mused aloud, his voice slightly slurred by his immense weight. “Don’t you see where I am coming from? The only truly provable reason for living stems from our need to carry on our DNA. To reproduce!” Hank became more animated, here, his train of thought leading him down a path that excited his mind in ways exercise had never excited his body. “Sex is the only real point to life. It’s what we’re supposed to do, so we can reproduce, yet we’re ashamed of it. Isn’t that strange?”
This question was aimed at me so I piped in, the topic already making my brain twirl in complicated philosophical loops. “But that’s assuming there is not a greater being, or a greater level of existence that we can reach. You are posing this thought without considering the billions of people that believe in a higher power or religion.”
Hank nodded his head, and throatily chuckled, clearly having fully expected my response. “But those can’t be physically proven to be true while we live our lives. For all we know death could be the end, and all those people could be wrong. And in no religion that I know of, save for the Shakers, and we’ll just ignore them, is procreation declared bad. The whole notion of celibate priests in Christianity is not called for in the Bible, it’s just an oxymoronic representation of giving up worldly pleasures for spiritual enlightenment. Even God wants humans to have sex.” Hank began to turn red, his breathing was growing steadily deeper. His thoughts were exciting him even more than normal, and his hands began to clutch onto his left side of his chest in excitement.
“True,” I bantered back, my interest genuinely piqued at such a topic that could get Hank so worked up, “but surely being spiritually enlightened and happy with one’s state of existence is goal of intelligent life, even in the realm of science?”
“Ohuhuh,” Hank chuckled at me, beads of sweat appearing on his immense brow. “That is a very good question… hmm… I believe that happiness is definitely important to living a good life…, and I suppose enlightenment could be nice too, since we are in a way searching for enlightenment of knowledge, but I would not say they are a meaning to live… Does that make sense to you?”
“Yes and no,” I answered. “It could use some explanation.”
Hank chuckled in a deep bumblebee growl. “I thought you might,” he drawled, “But it isn’t that easy to articulate… I guess a person’s own happiness and enlightenment don’t affect anything in the world.” Hank breathed in deeply, and exhaled out small spurts of air “When you reproduce though, you create more, and you affect the world in your own little way.”
“I guess I can buy that.” I pondered back to Hank. “I guess in that way, I’ve done my part, even if one was not…” I trailed off, my thoughts broken as Feli came to the forefront of my mind, and tears cracked my dry eyelids. I usually try to not think of Feli for this reason. No man likes to cry, and no human likes to think of the child that they outlived.
Hank turned towards me, a look of sincere sympathy on his face, even making it through the clear discomfort that the movement caused him.
“I haven’t though, Marty. I’m almost fifty years old.” Hanks hands went again to his shirt, clutching just above his heart. His face displayed stark discomfort upon it, and turned even redder than I knew was possible. “I am a fat old f***, hell I’m still a virgin, Marty. I gave my life away to food and thought, I didn’t pay attention to what was most important to life, even though I’ve had this same conversation with numerous people, I didn’t listen to my own words. Hell, I didn’t even become a professor like I wanted to. I’m a fat f*** of a college dropout,” Hank took in a deep breath, his face twisting in excruciating pain. “Damn it Marty! Don’t let me die like this!” Hank screamed this last bit, his booming voice enough to startle awake the poor planetarium attendant.
Hank’s face began to slacken and spasm, his fist clutched closely upon his dying heart, but all I could do was stare in horror as spittle came from his mouth, my mind not ready to except what was happening before me.
Fortunately, the planetarium attendant was fully aware of what was occurring, and raced to the phone on the wall near the main exit. He began to scream at me to do something, as he hectically dialed 911. I eventually came out of my shocked state, and attempted CPR with what I remembered from my 8th grade Boy Scout course, but I knew long before the EMT’s came that I had failed, and that there was nothing they or I could do. It took seven of them to carry him out, and that was after they defibrillated him, shoved tubes down his throat, and broke his ribs in an attempt to resurrect him. He was dead by then, I knew it. His face was blue, just like poor Feli’s was, and his limbs were already turning a corpselike white.
He was dead. He who had been my outlet for the pain that I continued to feel for Feli, he died, there in front of me, and I was helpless. I feel terrible, I felt terrible, I am terrible.
What is the meaning of life? I’m not really sure. Who is more happy, more content; Me, who knew the love of a child of your own flesh, only to see her die before my eyes, and to have to live with that sorrow? Or is it Hank, who lived a life of excessive pleasure and knowledge, but never knew what love was, who never cherished life’s sweetest gift?
May they both rest in peace.