Sunday, November 23, 2003

Criss Cross Pass

Two weeks

I'm an intelligent man. Because
of that (and certain other kinds of luck),
I lived a decent life in a good place
with a good wife and pretty good children.
I taught a science at a university.
My health was good for most of my life.
I was not a rich man nor remarkable one,
but had a place in life that I enjoyed.
I helped and guided many students who,
I think, appreciated it. I did
no evil that I knew of, had good friends,
and thought intelligently with concern
about the issues of society.

Imagine my surprise then, when I died
and found myself not dead but still alive.
I had no awesome fear of death when it
was time to die. In fact, I was so drugged
against the pain of cancer that I knew
not death at all it seemed.

One moment I
was there barely alive inside a flesh
decrepit and destroyed, and then I stood
within new flesh, a fresh form of me.
Not young, not old, but new and healthy, if
such things are real in this pathetic place.

I will admit that in my life before
I had some curiosity about
the afterlife. I heard the talk of things
that people who had died revealed of light
and visions, music, relatives, and God.
I'd heard such talk and gave some thought to it,
but then dismissed it all as brains gone dazed
in wish fulfilling dreams of some odd sort.

And I was right because no light, no God,
no music, vision, angel, nor a soul
I knew appeared to me.

Instead, all that
appeared was me in this dull, dreary place.
I think that happened some time ago
except I cannot tell the time in this place.
I've slept a dozen times here, I would guess.
And yes, I've dreamt at times when sleeping.

in order to stay sane, I write (compose)
this mental diary. I'll send it as a wish
back to my living wife and children.
I'm tired, though. I'll see if I can find
a softer place amidst these barren fields
to lay my head and hope I do not dream.

The next day

I've yet to meet another soul since I
passed on to here, this desert place. I've had
no food, no drink, no conversation 'cept
this mental ramble in my head. I asked
the air if I might talk to God, the guy
upstairs, head honcho, high mucky-muck - but
there was no reply.

So I keep wandering.
This desert looks as though it's endless but
there may be something here or someone else.
I refuse to despair until I know
I've got some reason to despair. Until
I'm certain, I'll keep on walking, looking, trying.

But man, I'd like a juicy steak, some gin
and tonics, a swim in a pool. I'd like
some jeans, a cotton shirt instead of this
odd, flimsy, dusty jumpsuit thing I've got
to wear.

I used to be a scientist
but here I could care less about the world.
The plants are dry, thorny, and desert-like.
There are no animals or insects I
can see. I wonder how long I can go
without some company.

I mentioned dreams.
Yes, there is sleep and dreaming, but I hate
to dream since they are dreams of people, food,
pleasure, green places, and life as it was.
It's like a man at war who dreams of home -
awakening in a muddy, bloody pit.

Is this place hell? Am I being punished?
Is this eternity and damnation?
I can't believe it. I refuse to. That's
impossible to accept. Why should I?
I'm alive. I'm well. I'm merely adrift
is all. Besides, who here besides myself
could say it's hell?

The goal is now to walk.
Keep walking 'til I get someplace or find
someone who knows. That's my job, now. My task.

One Week Later

I can't take it anymore. I can't stand
this endless silence. It's deafening! All
I hear is noiselessness, my own brain buzzing
on and on. Help! I need some help! I need
to know I'm not alone. Alone forever.
God help me! Yes, God! I give in. Hey, you!
Hey, God! Give me a break, will ya? I mean it.
I really mean it. C'mon. Enough with
the torture. I give up. You win. Please, God.

Two days later

You stinkin' God! You stinkin', dirty, lousy God!
You stinkin', stinkin' almighty nothin'!
I'm waiting and waiting. I asked you nice
for help. I asked you nice and you gave me nothin'.
Nada! Zero. Zilch. That's 'cause you're a fraud.
God, you're evil! You're a stinkin', evil God.
You are. You're a lousy, nothin', no good God.
I hate you, you sick joker. Monster, evil,
malevolent, nothin' God. Go to hell!
You go to hell, God! You stinkin', scum God!

The next day

I take it back! I didn't mean it! Listen!
I'm sorry. I was just mad. Please. Please, God.
A little help. That's all I'm asking. Please.
A little help. I didn't mean what I said
before. O K. Maybe I did mean it
but not like forever. I was just mad,
just frustrated. Please, God. You understand.
You can forgive me, can't you? I mean,
you're bigger than me. Don't be a bully, God.
Please, God. I'm serious. I'm really sorry.

Three days later

Enough! Enough! Enough! I'm crying, God!
Have mercy, have mercy, have mercy on me.
Oh, God, it's too much. It's unbearable.
This suffering is too much. I can't take it anymore.

The next day

Yesterday I cried and cried. Rolling in
the dust, I cried like I never have since
I was a child.

It did no good. I'm spent
and all used up. I'm tired and hopeless.
It's just no good. There is no God except
there must be something since here I am -
a useless, miserable dead man. Oh, God,
this life or living or whatever limbo
is unbearable. I can't go on except
I do. I can't die. I'm stuck with it. I'll
go walking. Just keep walking and go blank.

The next day

I wander. I amble and I wander.
I go everywhere and nowhere at all.
I go on. I am mad. I am insane.
My thoughts are lost, dead ends; purely useless.
Was I ever alive? A married man?
A father, a teacher, a real person?
I don't know anymore. I don't exist.

Two days later

After forty days and forty nights (or so)
I'm not alone. Alleluia! I met
a woman wandering around like me.
I saw her first and then did not believe
it true. I stood there like a fool and then
I ran and shouted at her, suddenly
afraid she'd run away, but she was just
as glad to see me, too. O happy day!

I ran to her, then stopped. "I'm George," I said,
"and man, oh man, I'm glad to see you.

she said and stuck her hand out to shake mine.
I had a million questions. The answers
are thus:

She died in her fifties. She'd lived
on the same continent as I. She'd been
unmarried but had two children. She'd been
a clerk. She woke up here the same as I
and had been roaming twenty days or so,
she figured.

She was plain to look at and
there was a kind of dullness to her skin
and eyes.

I saw from how she looked at me
I must have looked the same. In fact, I looked
down at my hands and they seemed ashy, now,
to me. Her clothes were same as mine.

I'm so relieved to see I'm not alone
in this weird world, this desert place and time.
Who knows? If there are two, perhaps there may
be more? Perhaps, there is some life and hope
for life here after all.

Her eyes are grey.
She says that mine are, too; except we both
admit they were different colored when
we lived before.

We spent all day talking
and talking. It felt good speaking out loud
to someone real. I can't remember feeling
such relief and delight ever before.

The next day

We keep on walking and Lucy talks of life,
her own, incessantly: "My father was
a lazy bum, a good for nothing. All
he did was criticize me and my mother,
who was a saint, a true saint. She'd smile, pat
my cheek and give me candy when I cried
because my father hit me. I hated him.
I'd daydream that he'd die, hit by a truck,
or poisoned by my mother in a glass
of beer I brought to him. 'Here, daddy,
drink up.' Then he would and roll over dead.
I used to work for the State. Everyday
I sat as people came to me; a line
that never ended. They all complained -
'why is the line so long? Why do you take
such time? Why can't you hurry up? How come
you waste my time?' Always complaining
as if I made the rules. All of you looking
at me like I was stupid, ugly, low,
and lazy. An endless line of mean faces
shouting, demanding, stamping their feet, frowning
and scornful.

You. Yes, you, George. Why d'you look
at me like that; like them."

"I'm not. I'm listening.
That's all. My face is blank, I think."

"Oh, no,
I see that smug look hiding in those eyes.
You think you're better than me, and smarter, too."

"No, I don't. I swear. I'm just listening."
She was right, though. How could I not think I
was better and smarter than her, this shrew.

"Well, I don't care," she said. "Why should I? I'll
just make the best of it. Wish I had food
to eat, though. I feel hungry. Really hungry."
Lucy talked and talked. She never stopped.
I tried to tell her of myself or ask
some questions but she didn't care. She said
the same things over and over. Her father,
the bum; her mother, the saint; her lovers,
the heels; her children, the brats; her job,
the horror; and eating and eating.

When it got dark, we stopped to sleep. She pressed
against me yet I felt no warmth from her.
"You're a cold fish," she said. And she meant it.
She felt no warmth from me, either. She tried
to seduce me but it was too strange. Her skin
was dead. Her lips rubbery and dry.
My flesh felt no sensation. Nothing teased
or tickled. Nothing awoke my senses
to life. The feeling of touch was wooden
and dull. I wanted to try this thing with her.
I wanted to test response to stimuli
except there was no response other than
distaste and boredom.

Lucy blamed me for
the deadness of our flesh. She kept saying
how hungry, how ravenous, she felt.

I slept and then I dreamt a pleasant place
of green lawns and golden trees where I walked.
I roamed the golden woods admiring
the leaves and light, but then a cloud crept on
the sun. Then more filled up the sky and made
it dark. I heard a noise like rattling leaves
except that no wind blew. Then in the shadows,
hundreds of tiny, red lights shone out
and slowly moved. Then looking down, I saw
my bare feet buried in a swarm of rats.
They ate at me. I yelled and tried to run
but I ran on the mass of them. They crunched
beneath my feet as others scrambled
to bite at me. I woke up flailing, hollaring.

"Stop it! Stop it!" Lucy yelled.

"I'm being
eaten alive!" I shouted. "Eaten alive!"
I tried to calm down but my feet felt strange,
somehow incorrect. I felt for them.

"My toes!
My God, you ate my toes!"

"I'm hungry!" she yelled.
"I've got to eat." She lunged for my hands.

I cried, and ran from her. I fell because
my feet weren't right. She pounced on me and bit
at me however she could. I hit her,
fought her off as best I could but she kept
on biting me. I struck her hard as I could.
It did no good. She bit and clawed at me.
At last she clamped her teeth on my throat.
I tried to scream - 'you're killing me!' My mind
began to darken 'til it all went black.

The next day

Waking with the light, I started up in shock.
I looked upon myself and felt my throat.
I was entirely restored.

Lucy lay
some yards beyond still fast asleep. My gorge
rose up. I wanted to destroy her, kill
and crush her. As I went to her, she awoke.
"Hi, George," she smiled. "I had the weirdest dream."

I felt a fool. A dream. That's all it was.

Resuming our walk despite my unease,
I asked her what she thought of death.

"You mean
this place?"

"What other place could I mean?"

don't know. You call this death?"

"What do you call it?"

"I don't know. Not much, I s'pose. Death, huh?"
"Yes, death! One moment you're alive on Earth,
the next you're here in endless desert land."
"Oh well. I guess I hardly see the difference,"
she said.

"Don't you have any desire to get
someplace?" I asked.

"Like where?"

"Suppose this place
is hell or limbo or purgatory,
or even heaven, as weird as that might be;
then it makes sense to try and get out of here
and into some better place."

"If it's hell,
there's no getting out, is there?"

"Why ask me?
I'm not a Christian. Are you?"

"Yes, and this
is hell and I've been judged, so here I'll stay."
"But you don't know that, do you? Who said it?
Was there a voice from God that said, 'Lucy,
I condemn you to hell forever.'?"

Nobody told me. I just guessed it since
I'm not in heaven."

"Were you expecting - what -
angels, music, the light, and Jesus?"

"Maybe that's not how it works here. Maybe
there's a way, a path out of here. Who knows
until we try?"

"You try. I don't much care."

"How can
you be so hopeless? What can it hurt to try?
What else is there for you to do? You got
a better idea?"

"Sure. Nothing. Nothing
at all. I don't mind nothing. What had I
ever before? I'm used to it. I sure
am hungry, though."

That sent a shiver down
my spine.

"But I have or had people that
I loved. I want to see them all again.
Don't you?"

"Not really."

"That can't be. Surely
you loved someone - your mother, your kids, a friend."

"No one really."

"Well then, maybe this is
another chance. Maybe there'll be someone here
or further on somewhere. You won't know 'til
you try. C'mon Lucy. What else is there?"

"You're trying to get to me; to make me cry.
I'll never cry 'cause no one loved me. I
would die before I'd cry for anything.
Show me a place where I can get something
to eat. Maybe then I'll cry out in joy."

"What if that never satisfies you here?"

"It has to since I'm hungry like never.
I've never felt hungrier," she said.

She grabbed my arm, lunging at my hand.
I pulled away.

"What are you doing?" I yelled.

"I have to eat!" she screamed.

"Not me!" I said.
"I'll kill you if you try."

She lunged for me
again. I struck her. She grabbed at me.
I struck her hard as I could which stunned her.

"Let me!" she shouted.

"Get away!" I said
and backed away.

She started after me.
I turned and ran. She chased me for awhile,
but I was faster and put some distance
between us. I looked back, not far from her.
She screamed at me, then fell to the ground
in despair. I watched her take her own hand
and bring it to her mouth. She bit her thumb off.

"No!" I hollered.

She looked up, chewing as
she did, then bit another finger off.
"Oh, God!" I cried. I turned away and ran
as fast as I could away from her, running
until it was dark; and then ran some more
not caring if I ran over a cliff.
When I finally slept, what hateful things
I dreamt.

Three days later

After a few days, I stopped worrying
that Lucy would catch up to me. Instead,
the endless expanse of desert began
to wear upon me, making me long
for company again. Especially since
I figured that where I met one person,
I might meet more. But what kind of people,
I wondered?

Then I met a man named Bill.
I came upon him unexpectedly.
He sat amidst some small brush. He was braiding
a thin rope of some kind from the fibers
of plants.

"Hello," he said cheerfully. "Glad
to see ya. My name's Bill. What's yours?" he asked.

I told him.

"George, huh? Been here long; this place?"

"I don't know. What's long? I tried to keep track
but now I've lost the count. Some months,
I guess. What about you?" I asked.

than that," he told me. "I can hardly guess
how long it's been now. A year or two or more,
I s'pose," he said as he kept working on
his rope.

"What's that for?" I asked him.

"This rope?
This is my rope for hope," he laughed. "I think
I might come to a better place where I
will need help to climb down to it. It's all
that I could think to do to help myself. You know,
I've met some others here who just give up.
They don't try anything or go anywhere.
In fact, some are really crazy now."

was glad to hear him say this. I told Bill
about Lucy and what happened. He nodded
his head to signify he wasn't surprised.

Although I was wary, Bill was charming.
He told me about his past life, and had
me speak of mine. I learned he'd been a man
of wealth and power, boss of thousands in
his field of work.

"But here," he said, "I'm nothing.
I have no rights, no power, no meaning; but
I have a future still, a hope for joy.
I've reason to go on because I know,
I assume, this can't be all there is. No,
I'm sure there's more and this is just a test
of sorts. Why, in my first life, I never let
my heart despair. Instead, I persevered
until I got all I deserved out
of life. I see no reason yet to lose
my hope for better things. No God has said
I can't expect an end to this," he said
gesturing to the desert.

my feeling!" I said. "This can't be all there is.
That would be absurd because just think - if this
is one place where we exist, there can be
a million more places we could exist in, too.
No, you're right! There's something to this place
for us alone. Some kind of test or else
a passageway."

"Of course!" Bill said. "We've got
no reason yet to lose hope. No reason
unless we hear it right from the mouth of God."

"That's what I said to Lucy!" I told him.

"You know, I've heard some things about a place
to get to from some others. I thought they
were crazy, though. Some talked of mountains,
some said a valley. One fellow had a name
for it. He called it 'Criss Cross Pass.' We ought
to look for it. What do you say, George?"

don't know."

"You got some other place in mind?
A different plan for tomorrow?"


let's see what we can find. Who knows, we might
meet up with others yet and form a group
to find that place, that Pass. After all,
a pass means a place to go somewhere else,

"Yes, of course."

"C'mon then, George. Daylight
is a-wastin'."

Bill got up and started walking.
I caught up to him and we marched on that day.
When night came on, we rested. Why we need sleep
here has baffled me. I need neither food
nor drink to live, but by the end of the day
I'm tired and need to sleep. I wake up fresh
and restored, clean and complete as I learned
with Lucy.

I now know I'm immortal
because I cannot die and all I see
or know about this place is that it can't
be all that's real.

I think of God and yet
nothing comes to mind. It seems that God is
a concept, an idea, a remote
possibility to me. I wish he would
appear and have all this make sense except
he doesn't care, and this makes no sense.

Later, I felt something in my eyes.
I tried to reach up and brush it away,
but my hand wouldn't move. And then I felt
pressure, much greater, a digging pressure
on my eyes. It felt horrible. I tried
to bring my hands up but they were stuck

I opened my eyes but the light
was dim and obscured by - by what? By hands!
Not mine! Dear God, Bill was digging my eyes
out of their sockets with his fingers!

Oh, God!
Oh, God! My eyes! I felt them being popped
out of my head and ripped away! Oh, God,
the pain of it! God, help me! God, help me!

I was blind. Completely blind. I was slapped
in the face and head as I cried out
for help.

"Shut up, you fool! Shut up!" he shouted.
My hands, I realized, were tied behind my back.
His rope, that's what he made it for - to tie
my hands. God, how can this be? He struck me
over and over until I couldn't speak
or yell anymore.

"Why? Why?" I croaked.
He laughed. "You fool. You stupid fool."

That's all
he said at first.

He yanked me to my feet.
"March!" he ordered.

"How?" I said.

Whack! He hit
me with a whip of rope across my face.
It stung terribly.


I moved a step


Whack! He struck again.
I moved and started walking. I gave up fear
of stumbling or stepping on a bush
or walking off a cliff.

After awhile
I felt no pain where I once had two eyes.
I marched and followed orders Bill would bark:
"Left! Now right! Now go left!"

I'd get a whack
from the whip if I didn't do it quick

At first, I was too stunned by violence,
by blindness, by unreality to believe
what had occurred but soon I became angry.
Who was this man? How dare he! I'll kill him!

I asked him why he did this. He laughed, whipped
me in the face and said, "shut up."

he said, "You stupid fool. What do you think
you are to me? Don't you know who I am?"

He told me he was a man of fabulous wealth
and power. I'd never heard of him before.
That enraged him. "You know of me now, though,
don't you?"

He told me how frustrated he felt
to find himself alive here. "Where's the fun
in nothingness? Idiots like you, George,
you never really lived. You never owned
or commanded; were never feared or obeyed.
It's a joyous thing to live like a king -
Above the law, beyond the reach of weaklings
and fools. It's pleasure to be rich. That's just
the way it is in a world of rich and poor.
Here, there's no rich or poor, but I don't mind.
The rules are still the same - the strong survive
and make the weak provide entertainment."

I tried to reason with him, appeal to conscience
and compassion but he laughed and sneered. Bill
was heartless, and though I was blind, I saw
with greater depth than ever before just
how evil a man can be - how cruel, vicious,
and vain. I experienced slavery
for many days.

At night I slept tied up.
Each morning I woke with fresh eyes and saw
the dawn embrace the fading cobalt sky,
and then again I felt thumbs dig into
my eyes and pluck them out - and waves of pain
engulfed me.

Sometimes I wept; sometimes I swore;
sometimes I was passive. I tried every way
of feeling, of thinking, of acting. All
was useless and led nowhere. Misery
was all I knew. I never knew there could be
so much misery in all existence.
A total, and endless suffering. How
was it possible to live, to have any
being amidst such universal evil?
I lived and thought, "no one has ever been
as unhappy as me." Is this slavery?
Is this sickness, poverty, defeat, or rape?
It's all that and more.

I'd quit. I'd swear and quit.
No matter how he beat or whipped me, I'd
lie there dead. Except Bill was inventive.
He'd find newer indignities and horrors
to practice on me. I couldn't remain
a passive lump of dead meat. He found ways
to make me move and march.

"You stupid fool,"
he'd laugh. He'd brag about his former life
and all his cruelties over others. He'd
regale me with his joys of viciousness.

"I was a king! Armies marched at my word.
I walked on battlefields filled with the gore
of the wounded and dead. I said to myself -
this is glory! This is all my doing!
I would take a woman because I could.
I'd kill a man simply for being ugly
to look at.

"You pathetic, man-shaped,
pile of dung; and you don't even know me!
My chamber pot was gold; toilet paper
was silk; my horse drooled on diamond bits.
Grown men soiled their pants when I turned to them
in anger. People fell to their knees
before me. What do I have now? A worm,
a footstool, a dog like you.

"You've no idea
how much I hate your filthy, moaning corpse!
If only I could kill you a hundred times
a day, a hundred ways each time. I am
your God, now, dog! Get down and pray to me!"

I fell into the dust and tasted it.

And all my little cruelties came back
to haunt me: all the callous words, the cold,
dispassionate thoughts and deeds, my own pride
and pleasures - all the wealth and power, what
I shared in such, small as it was, and how
I never cared except about my own
prosperity, my own health and well being.

I had so much time to think, in spite of
my misery, about my life. The way

I taught my children to believe that life
is only good if there's pleasure and health,
money, work, and self-righteousness.
How lonely I felt when my kids turned out
just like my wife and I, only worse; rather,
they were us to a greater degree, and how
I hated them for that.

I wasn't bad;
I wasn't good; I wasn't anything much,
and hardly ever real at all. I had
some moments of seeing now and then,
but mostly I'd been blind all my life;
and how that made me weep deeply within.

During all this time, I tried to break
the cords that bound my hands, and they indeed
wore out as days passed, but Bill wove new ones.
Finally, though, one cord was not as good
as others, and it broke one night before
I slept.

What should I do, I wondered? I
was blind and needed sleep to be restored
in sight. I couldn't sleep, though. Not now. Not here
with Bill nearby. If I moved, would he awake
and tackle me again? I didn't know what
to do. I even thought of giving up,
not trying to get free. At last, I prayed
for help, for courage, for inspiration.

And then a breeze arose. It sifted dust
and blew some on my face. I crawled along
as quietly as possible. At last,
I got up on my feet and walked away blind.
The wind began to blow somewhat stronger
the farther I went. I knew that it erased
my tracks.

The day came up, but I walked on
exhausted and blind. I kept going.
The wind kept blowing. Finally, I slept.

The next day

I never knew such relief and pure peace
as in waking up free and with new eyes.
I could not celebrate nor weep. All I
could do was feel thankful; deeply thankful.

The next day

As I wandered once again, and wondered
for what purpose I lived and suffered this place,
I saw a man in the distance. This time
I turned and ran away from him. I'd had
enough of people here. They're all insane,
I feared.

The man saw me, too, and he called.
I don't know what he said, but he chased me
as I tried to run away.

As fast as
I ran, he was quicker, and he caught up
to me.

"Slow down!" he said as he breasted me.

"My name's Tommy. What's yours?"

I didn't answer.
I just ran.

"I'm so glad to see you! I
haven't seen a soul for days. I've been dying
to talk to someone. Anyone," he said
as we jogged along.

I tried to elude him.
I'd change direction suddenly, or pick
up speed, but he followed me and would say,
"Hey, what's the hurry? We've got all day. Just wait
a minute. Let me explain. Hold up there."

Eventually, I tired of the game
and exercise.

"That's better, now," he said
as I walked along ignoring him best
I could until I told him bluntly, "Look,
I don't know you, and I don't want to know you.
Everybody here is crazy, so far
I've seen, and I just bet you're crazy, too.
So why don't you go and leave me alone?"
"I'm lonely, mister. Aren't you lonely here?
I've never felt so lonely in my life.
It's the silence. I can't stand the quiet.
When I'm alone the quiet never quits.
I try to talk or sing, remember stories,
but it's no good for long - the quiet comes
and hurts my head. My mind, it just can't work
in silence. Every thought is loud, and shouts
at me. You feel the same, don't you?"

"Not quite,"
I said. "Find other things to think about."

"Like what?"

"Tomorrow. The future. Or fate
and philosophy. Have hope about a place
that's better: an escape or rescue or dream.
I don't know. Think about the past and all
your faults and errors. Think about God
and what he's up to."

"What are you saying?"
Tommy asked me. "Think about God or fate
or what?! You don't get it. I can't do that.
I don't know how. I only know that silence
shouts at me and will not stop. It jams
my head. It's like an engine or machine -
ka-thunk, ka-thunk, ka-thunk, ka-thunk, ka-thunk,
ka-thunk, ka-thunk, -"

"All right! I get it!"

not all. I have the worst of nightmares when
I dream. It makes me scared to fall asleep."

"Everybody's scared to dream here. It's all
a nightmare, waking or asleep."

"That's true!
Exactly so," he said.

We walked. He told
me of his life before. I didn't care.
I hardly listened to a word he said.
In time, I saw no reason I should fear
what he might do. He didn't seem a threat,
so I relaxed my guard and merely walked.
Sometimes he asked me questions but I had
no wish to answer them. It didn't matter.
He'd go on and babble more about this,
that, or anything. He didn't care
about a subject, only that he had
a subject.

An example would be thus:
"When I was small, about seven, I think;
no, it was before that. I must have been
six and a half. No, six and three quarters,
I'm sure. It happened in August. It was
the end of summer right before our school
began again. That makes me either six
or seven. I know I wasn't nine. That's
too old and eight is very if-fy. Yes,
and five is far to young for such a thing.
I can't remember anything before
the age of five. Do you? I don't. Some people
say they do but I think they just make
it up. Don't you? Besides, who cares at all
about such things? I don't. Do you? I'm sure
you wouldn't care what I remember when
I was a baby three years old. It's like
a dream. You know how it is when someone
tells you the dream they had which makes no sense
to you except you're too polite to say -
'shut up! I don't care about your dream.
It's stupid and makes no sense to me.
How should I know what it means.' - Right? I bet
you feel the same, don't you? I do. Except I had
a dream the other night that really spooked me -"

And on he went.

In wait that night for him
to fall asleep, it wasn't long before
he did. Then I crept off and walked away,
and made some miles between us. Finally,
I was too tired to keep on going, so
I rested, hoping to resume my trek
after awhile. I fell asleep, though.

The Next Day

I awoke to hear that Tommy had tracked
me down. He babbled on about how glad
he was to see me.

And so the day played
just like the one before. We walked, he talked.
I tried to think of ways to shut him up.
I'd ask him about his life, his parents, his work.
His reply would soon degenerate into
a babble of non-sequitors.

At last
I said to him, "Tell me what you know of God."

"God?" he said.



"Because I'm curious."

"What's there to say?" he asked.

"What do you think?"

"Is there a God?" he asked. He actually started
to wonder. His brows furrowed in thought. "God,"
he said after a few moments - "God is ...
God must be ... God," he stammered, then whispered,

"God is not nice."

"How's that?" I asked.

"God is
not really anywhere, is he?" he whispered.
"If God is everywhere, he can't be anywhere."
This made Tommy chuckle. Then he laughed out loud.
God is ... a worm, " he said, and laughed some more.
"God is ... a parasitic worm. God is ...
a tiny, corkscrew, parasitic worm."
Tommy went on like that, and as he did
I prayed to God for help, a miracle,
an idea. Anything. But nothing came.
After some hours walking, though, in boredom
I began to look at the desert
as I ignored Tommy. In all directions
it looked the same. This wasn't always true,
I'd noticed before. Sometimes the desert
had brush on it. Sometimes the ground was hard
and dry, a little cracked, or smooth as rock.
It wasn't all the same, all the time. Then
a new thought came to me. A possibility.
How long it might take for it to work, how could
I know, but still, I knew I had a chance
to rid myself of a parasitic worm.

Two Days Later

We walked, he talked: "Did you know my father
was a ferryman? No one ever has
a ferryman dad. Do they still have ferrymen,
you think? What a silly job. Back and forth.
Back and forth all day long. Who ever dreamed
of being a ferryman? A ferryman? Why not
an ant, a carpenter ant? Everyday
another grain of sugar for the anthill, oh boy!"

Then it was there: my chance! I steered Tommy
away and kept walking, veering always
to the right a little. I guessed at
the time it would take for evening. I guessed
pretty good. By the time it was dark, we'd
come round in a circle and met the prints
we'd left before.

As usual, Tommy slumbered
quickly. I got up and walked backward 'til
my feet touched rock, smooth sandstone rock. And so
I walked away and prayed I would elude
that horrible, little, noisy man.

I laid down on the hard floor to sleep,
I prayed to awaken alone.

The Next Day

I did.
When I awoke I was alone. Thank God!
Tommy, I knew and saw in my mind's eye,
was now on the path of a circle trying
to catch up to me forever. The thought
was sweet to me, and fitting an idea.

I walked North again and pondered, though. What
did Tommy mean? What could I learn from him,
if anything? Why was he crazy, a babbler?
Why couldn't his mind rest on anything real
or meaningful?

It made me think of my life.
I thought of all the endless self-talk
I must have made to myself just like babbling.
Talking to distract myself and others.
Talking to make myself seem superior,
or smart. Talking to fill up space with noise,
a gas of ideas on ideas on ideas.

How had I become a mental windbag,
a head full of slithering, restless worms?

I kept on walking, and shame, not Tommy, dogged
my steps. Looking on my life, I had so much
to be ashamed about, it seemed. What did
I know? I mean, really know about life,
myself, or others? I didn't know my wife
or children. Did I have friends? Real friends
or were we more like Tommies to each other?

Everyday my thoughts revealed more layers
of stupidity and inane living.
Sometimes I cried out - Enough!

I'd try to squeeze
my head and push out all those useless thoughts.
"Stop thinking about the past!" I'd tell myself.
I couldn't though. "Stop thinking!" I'd insist.
I'd try to sing songs, or fantasize
and remember stories. It'd only last so long.
Sometimes I regretted tricking Tommy.
I'd almost convince myself to turn around
and return. I'd apologize for fooling him
and we'd be friends again, I'd think.

Somehow, my feet kept going North all on
their own. How is it possible, I wondered,
that a man can live so long and not know
what anything was about or what it meant?
How can a man fill up so much time, so many
meetings with other people, and never
meet anyone? I mean really meet them
in the moment. I'm ashamed to realize
I never knew anyone. Myself least of all.

A Few Days Later

I tried to think of all the songs I'd heard
that had the theme of walking in them, since
that was my mantra now: "I'll keep on walkin'",
I'd sing. Or - "I'm the walkin' man." Or - "These feet
were made for walkin.'"

I'd try to come up
with variations - "These toes of mine," "I'm
a heel and toe fool," "All I need is arch

After awhile I didn't feel
so bad. Walking seems to do something for souls.
There is a rhythm, solitude, and peace
in it. I walked, feeling almost good, until
I came upon a great surprise: the ground
gave way and formed a dry creek bed of stones.
This was the first I'd seen of anything
but flatland. I was amazed. Imagine that?
A geological feature; a break
in the desert. I didn't know to be glad
or wary. What did it mean? Well, it meant
an end to awful monotony or
it was a singular feature meant to lift
a person's hope and dash it all to bits.

I took it as a sign of hope. Maybe
I was getting somewhere after all.

The Next Day

I came upon another dry creek bed.
This is the most exciting thing I've seen
since finding people here. Not everything
is all the same! There is variety,
a chance for different things; and not the same,
dull round forever. It is hell with hope.

The Next Day

I came upon a newer feature of
the land. A dry gulch. The bank was sheer.
I had to let myself down it and drop
to hit the bottom. Then I saw I had
no way to climb the other bank. I walked
along the shallow canyon looking for
an easier way to get out of there
and go North again. The gulch had twists
and turns to it.

As I came around
one corner, there she was - Janet.

She knew
me first. She sat upon the ground, saw my face,
and knew me right away. "George!" she cried out.

Startled, I jumped. "What?" I yelped. "Who are you?"

"Don't you know your own wife," she laughed. "It's Janet."

"Janet?" I wondered. "Wife? But that can't be,"
I stammered.

"I've been waiting, George, and now
you're back, you're home at last." She stood and held
her arms out.

I didn't know what to do.
I acquiesced and tried to kiss her cheek.
She held my face between her hands and mashed
her cold, dry lips against mine. I shuddered,
pushing her away. She didn't seem to mind.

"George, I'm so glad you've returned from your trip.
If only Ted were here to see you now.
But that's all right. We'll meet him further on.
He's waiting just ahead."

Who's Ted, I wondered.
Dare I ask? But I did.

"Theodore," she said.
"I call him, Ted, but you never cared for that.
Theo, you call him. Our little boy."

I knew and my legs felt weak. "Oh, God, no,"
I moaned. It wasn't a little boy or girl.
We never knew the sex of our aborted child.
We were in college. The time wasn't right.
I swore we'd marry after graduation;
except she didn't graduate. I broke
it off with her, she went away, and I
went on with life. I never kept in touch
with her nor knew what she went on to do.

Of all the things I'd done, this thing I'd most
forgotten ... 'til now.

"Oh, Janet," I said.
"What happened to you?"

"Whatever do you mean?
Nothing happened to me. Don't you remember?
You took your business trip and now you're back.
I'm so glad you're home, darling. I missed you

She smiled sweetly at me, took
my hand in hers and said, "Let's go see, Ted."

What could I do? She was mad. Should I run?
I knew she wouldn't follow me if I did.
I couldn't though. Not this moment. Not now.
We walked along the dry gulch holding hands.
She talked about what she'd make for dinner,
or else about Ted and his 'escapades'
as she called them. I murmured agreeably
from time to time.

The sincerity of
her madness broke my heart until I burst
out loud: "Oh, Janet, what's become of you?
Am I to blame?"

"Why George, what's the matter?
Were you so lonely while away. But now
you're home. You weren't gone so long. We'll have
prime rib tonight. Your favorite. It's good
to have you home."

I pretended to be pleased
and nodded. While walking, we came to a place
to climb the bank. She was reluctant but I
persuaded her that Ted was farther on
from there. We headed North. I don't know why,
but I took comfort in that compass point.
It seemed to draw me.

Before I slept that night,
I had a fright that Janet might be like
that woman Lucy who ate and killed me.
My fear subsided, though, as I listened,
and heard her fall asleep.

I could not, though.

The Next Day

I got some sleep but it was fitful. When
we rose and walked, it felt like I'd no rest
at all. Janet held my hand which I hated.
She was hard for me to be with and talked
too much. She kept adoring me, also.
That killed me. She loved me, she kept saying
or spoke of how wonderful I was to her;
her hero and darling husband. It was

She hadn't killed our child.
I had persuaded her; insisted it
was best for us, our future. Then, when she
became depressed and boring, nor fun
to sleep with anymore, I cast her off.
I told myself she dragged me down and held
me back from happiness; that my career
would suffer if I didn't let her go.
She never made a fuss or fight of it.
She let me go and hardly said a word
except that I, of course, knew best.

I felt
relieved that she could understand what was
important in life. I walked away singing
and after awhile, never thought of her.

It was youth. Just youthful folly, right?
It's not my fault if she went mad. I'm sure
that there were seeds of it in her right from
the start.

And she walks too damn slow!

she sings a tune which irritates me to death.
She's not my wife! I had a wife and children.
A youthful promise doesn't really count.
She's mad and that's too bad but not my fault.
I've got to leave her. I can't get anywhere
with her. She's just too slow and pathetic.
I can't help her. What can I do? Nothing.

The Next Day

"Do you remember when we were in college?"
she asked me as we walked.

Uh, oh, I thought.
"Yes, I remember," I said.

"They had a place
on campus where pregnant girls could go
and have their babies killed. Do you
remember it?"

"Yes," I hesitated
to say. "Why do you ask?"

"It just occurred
to me how happy I am, how glad we are
that we had Ted. I know it worried you
back then, but look at how it's all turned out?
I can't imagine how I'd feel if I
was like that girl I knew who went and killed
her baby. First, I felt sorry for her,
but then, I hated her since she was
a murderer, a weak and whining murderer.
She made me sick. I'm glad when she left school.
You know, I later heard she killed herself.
Imagine that? But she deserved much worse.
I hope she rots in hell!"

"Janet! Janet.
Don't think about it. Not right now," I told her.
What could I say? My heart sank low in pain.
Was this going to be it? Was she going
to wake up and know us as we were? Would she
become a harpy and a hag who dogs
my every day with hatred and sickness?
No, that's too much. It's clear I seem to jog
her memory of things. She sometimes talks
of things we did together: pleasant things
like walks or sights or music we shared.
It makes me sick to hear about it. Let
it be, I want to shout. Shut up, and let
me walk in peace! She's crazy like the rest of all
I've seen here in hell.

Killed herself? No, no.
How could she do it? How? It's not my fault.
She was always depressive and weak. That's
entirely clear in looking back now.

That evening, after stopping, she fell asleep.
I couldn't sleep. I knew I had to leave.
There was no point in staying with her. She
was mad. Who knew what she would do, become,
if she realized what the past truly was?
Enough of this. Enough of all this madness.

I walked away. Just like that. It was easy.
I felt relieved to do it. Free. Alone
and free from that insanity. I walked
and tried to hum a tune. Eventually,
I tired and fell asleep. Quite easily.
It was good to sleep in peace again.

The Next Day

I woke up refreshed. I was still alone.
Thank God, for that. She was no Tommy
tracking me down. I walked North and felt fine.
Besides, Janet didn't need me. She had
her fantasies. That's all she needed.

The Next Day

Last night I dreamt of Janet and I.
Well, that's to be expected, isn't it?
I'll walk it off. I just won't think of it.
I'll think about my wife and children, all
the good times we had. That's what I'll do.

The Next Day

I had another dream of Janet. Bill
found her. He did awful things. Awful things.

It doesn't matter. What're the odds that Bill
would find her? Or Lucy or anyone?
Well, they found me, and I found her. I guess
it's possible. Not likely, though.

Why should
I care anyway? She has her fate, I
have mine. It will be all right, I'm sure.

The Next Day

She nags me worse than any biting fly.
I'm sick of her! I wish I'd never seen
her face again. Why won't she go away
and leave me be! I'm sick to death of her.

The Next Day

I can't go on. It's hopeless. Why bother?
To hell with Janet. To hell with everything!
God, I've had enough. My brain keeps buzzing
stupid thought after ugly thought. I can't
keep out the words - I hate myself! I hate
this life! I curse the day I was born!

for what? You tell me that! To be a fool,
work like a dog, then die; and what! Then this?!
It's all a sickness. How easy to die. How easy
to murder. How easy to never know.

I hate it all! Every moment reminds
me of futility. It is a joke,
a cosmic joke.

What is life, I cry.
What am I doing here? for God's sake!
Just let me die, let me die, let me die!
I can't go on. It's useless, hopeless, stupid.
Oh, please, just let me be nothing. No more thoughts.
No more feelings. No more guilt. No more madness.
Because it's all insane. Nothing makes sense.
Give me nothing, nothing, nothing. I hate
to live. I hate everything of life. Let
it all disappear. Let me vanish.

I lie on the ground, my face in the dirt,
trying to eat the dust and die from it;
weeping, crying out and begging for death -
for real death - true disappearance from being.

As I lay there, something touched my shoulder.
A tap. And then another. I looked up
and turned. The strangest feeling came over me.
I got frightened. Horribly frightened.
I wanted to get up and run but I
could hardly move. I was paralyzed.
By what? It wasn't fear exactly. It
was shame.

A man was kneeling beside me.
He held a cup. He offered it to me.
I couldn't move to take it. I was stunned.
My thoughts cried out, "Who are you?"

But I knew.
I knew exactly who he was. I wanted
to run.

He pressed the cup to my lips.
I had to drink. It was water. I drank.
It entered me like a drug that spread
a mist of euphoria. I felt peace.
Unbelievable peace. And love, too! I
felt waves of love pouring out of him
for me.

He spoke to me and called me - "Friend".
I trembled, overcome with feelings that
seemed infinite and glorious beyond
all knowing.

The water I drank seemed living
and breathing with energy, with light, life,
and love like an endless bursting star.

I knew everything I wanted to know
in that moment. I knew what life was. I knew
who I was. I knew how cherished and pure
the soul of me delighted in his mercy.

I knew him and then myself better than
I ever could have known. I saw myself
as he saw me and knew what heaven was.

I knew I would never be the same again.

He pointed North. I looked. A vision filled
my mind. I saw a place, a mountain pass.
Two trees were crossed and people passed beneath.
I saw the deserts and foothills. I saw
people alone walking, meeting others, going
in two's and three's, then groups. At last, they joined
to enter in the valley of the Pass.

The vision ebbed. I turned toward him in joy,
but he was gone. It didn't matter. I
knew what I had to do. I knew what life
was for; my life.

I rose up and began.
I wanted to run for heaven, for that Pass,
that place where he was waiting. How I longed
to see him again. I couldn't wait.

I marched
all day and half the night. I had such will
and energy. I buzzed with happiness.

Two Days Later

I dreamt of Janet again. I saw her
lying dead. Her eyes open but lifeless.
It scared me. I woke up trembling.

Oh, no.
I realized I'd forgotten about her!
What should I do? I wanted to go on;
to hurry on to heaven, but I couldn't
let go of her. I cared for her, and prayed -
help her, God, won't you? That prayer brought some peace.
Until I thought, what if his idea of help
is me? That thought depressed me. But she'll slow
me down, and who knows what?

But I knew.
I knew the truth of what I ought to do. What he
would want from me.

I turned South and began
to trudge my way backwards.

The Next Day

When I awoke,
my heart felt lighter; at greater peace. As
I walked, I had hope, great fancies of hope.
Then later, I began to fear. What if she's gone?
What if I can't find her? What will I do?
I prayed my tracks would last, there'd be no breeze
to scatter them. I picked up the pace. Then,
I ran. I ran in fear I'd be too late.
Dear God, don't let me miss this chance to serve,
to make amends. Let me make amends, God.

Three Days Later

I've been hurrying but have no notion
how close or far I am from where I left her.
I keep hoping, soon, Lord, soon. I could weep
that I might be too late or never find her;
that my eternity is seeking after her
who can't be found.

But up ahead, I see
a speck against the desert sand. Is that
a little bush or her? I run fast now.

It's her! It's Janet. She's just sitting there.
I slow down before she sees me. What will
she say or do? She doesn't hear me come
until I'm close to her.

"George!" she says
rising. "How glad I am you're home. How was
your trip?"

"It was perfect, " I say. How glad
I am to see her. I embrace her tightly.
"I missed you so much, " I tell her.

"You're so sweet.
That's why I love you, dear. Where's Ted? He was here
a minute ago. He'll want to see you, too."

"I met him on the way. I sent him on.
Let's go catch up to him, all right, Janet?"

"Whatever you say, dear."

She holds my hand
and we begin to make our way North again.
It won't be easy, I know. I realize
I have much to learn about patience, love,
kindness, mercy, and grace. That's why I had
to come back here to her. I know that we
will make it North; that little by little,
Janet will get better somehow; and that,
little by little, I will get better, too.
I know it. I see it. It is promised.
I realize all that is true. I have faith.

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