Worth A Story

Sometimes you tell a story that sucks.

It’s an inevitable scenario stimulated by the warm glow of a loose conversation that knows no boundaries: Everyone is sharing a time when the rain ruined their day. Some are funny, some are tragic, yours doesn’t quite connect.

It’s your turn to tell, but the anecdote that you’re thinking about doesn’t really fit the format of the other stories at all. The rain has never ruined your day. In truth, it’s embellished many of them; you love the smell that announces its arrival, you love the electricity that’s in the air, you love the way it feels on your skin and the way it makes the whole world stand still like Christmas lights strung around an intimate dark room.

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But you can’t quite capture the words to describe all those feelings in that moment – you become discouraged halfway through as it becomes apparent that no one in the room is on the same wavelength as you.

“Yeah, I was walking through my grandpa’s yard when it started pouring, so I ran under the old magnolia tree that we used to climb when we were kids. It was such a cool feeling, like the safest I’ve ever felt, ya know? It was awesome.”

Swing and a miss. There’s a break of silence. Everybody is thinking you’re kinda weird now.

Dispute that.

You’re goddamn right it was awesome.

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I want to tell you why that story doesn’t suck.

That story was a figurative manifestation of your identity, your fingerprint in a story. No other person has ever felt that way, and though there are people that may do a better job at explaining the swells and currents that occur in those minute moments of distinction, you told it the best because it was only yours to tell.

It was a you-had-to-be-there moment. And not just there physically because you still wouldn’t have felt it, either. You had to be there physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, struggling desperately on a feeling to be desperately in that moment with a medley of jubilation rebounding through your vibrating heartstrings. And you know, there was only one person that meets all that criteria for those few minutes of heartbeats quickening into infinity.

You. You know what you know.

You understand what happened from every angle that can be understood – and I understand what I feel in the times that mean much to me more than anyone who’s ever existed or ever will exist. There’s no bridge between two people that could ever hold the freight of these event’s significance because this is seed of the joy in life, deep beneath the surface where eyes can see, far too complex in design, meaning, and purpose to be explained by the blind, muffled voices far above.

So I apologize in advance if I seem kind of shallow when you ask me about my past year. From August 20, 2015 to June 15, 2016 was my moment for which you had to be there, and I would never risk spoiling a single second of it for the sake of being the cool partygoer with the cool stories, because frankly I care more about preserving the memory of those golden days in the East African Savannah, under the Indian stars, cruising through the Vietnamese jungle, much more than I care about impressing any person on earth.

I suppose that I’ve found a virtue in selfishness that way.

I know for a fact that I was the happiest man alive this past year, and attempting to prove that fact to somebody seems to be the most direct route to tarnishing my pure regard for pure days past. There’s great merit in being content with your own story without having to pass it around, adding a bit here and a bit there to make it more appealing to the ears of your listeners while cheapening the experience in the eyes of your heart. Suddenly you forget how the Tanzanian sunset light poured out of the sky like honey, how the chance encounters with hearts and minds very similar to your own made a certain day explode with spectrums of ideas and laughter.

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When you reach the end of your days you will stumble upon a bookshelf, and on that bookshelf there will be but a single storybook. This book will contain the absolute truth as you know it. The most truthful book ever written. More truthful even than the history books, National Geographic magazines, and the religious texts altogether because this one was written in summer sweat, blood from a scraped knee, saliva from the mouth of a lover, tears wiped away on an old sweater sleeve: the ink of living. It was written by the reader.

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You’ve got nothing else to do on your deathbed, so you’ll heft it from the shelf, blow off the collected dust of the decades, open the cover and begin on page one.

As you read the story of your life, the secret story that can’t be shared, will your eyes sparkle over the words with admiration like insurgent diamonds cut from the young cosmic novas? Will your hands reach with blistering anticipation to the next page like a young boy’s to the next branch of the backyard magnolia tree?

Or will you cringe with regret at all the missed opportunities, at the person you could’ve been?

It depends… Is it a good story? How was the character development? Was the protagonist likeable? Was the antagonist injustice?

Did you work to change your setting for the better? Did you work to make the other character’s stories better?

Was the plot exciting?

Most importantly – was the theme love or fear?

I’m working on the greatest story ever written; I hope you’d pick up your pen and join me. This is the story that I will die in peace with, it’s the book I’ll cling to as I rage, rage against the dying of the light. Your heaven’s acclaim will reckon on the light you shared throughout the pages of days.

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Life is a secret giggled a little too loudly into the ear of a loved one, a best friend, the one person that could possibly get it. Maybe it wouldn’t do well as a story, but I’d say to whomever wanted to know that it’s not worth telling anyway – you had to be there.

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Endia

I left India in an intense rage, and I couldn’t have imagined it any differently.

After a 13 hour bus-ride down from the Himalayan town Dharamshala starting at 7 am I made it to Delhi to await my 6am flight in the airport.

Though sleep was desperately being asked for that night, it was not received on the hard floor of the crowded, blaringly hot New Delhi airport. Eventually 6 am rolled around and I groggily hefted my pack onto the ported plane. My flight left just as the sun was rising on the hazy Indian skyline.

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To Chennai!

Definitely not my favorite city in India – the last time I was there I was chased around the bus station at midnight by a group of teenagers trying to force me to take innumerable selfies with them. And it’s gotta be the hottest place in the world. I can’t properly say it’s the worst, however, because I didn’t catch Kolkata – where faulty infrastructure regularly results in metro overheads becoming metro onto-yer-heads.

But despite even my best efforts not to I had a very awesome, sleep deprived, caffeine loaded day exploring the Capital of Dosa (big gravy and potato filled pancakes)

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Chennai buddy Mano in his tailoring shop

Disclaimer: Dosas were harmed in the making of this day

My last day in India was filled with sentimental goodbyes to the small things that had charmed me along the way. With melancholy I said farewell to the Shiva temples on every block corner and the consequential Ganesha temples across the street.

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I purged every part of myself on the senses given by the birthplace of spirituality. Her crooked sidewalk under my feet, her blistering air on my skin, her kaleidoscope colors like desirous dreams in my eyes, her smells of incense and human depravity, her tastes of nature, spice, and soul. India was as fresh in my mind as it had been every day for the past 6 months.

6 WHOLE MONTHS! Half a year! 1/38th of my entire lifespan had taken place here. And this was the end.

India had held some incredible adventures for me – climbing Delhi temple ruins like a monkey, scouring the crowd-packed markets, sharing the train berth with 12 strangers, biking recklessly through the Ghats, sneaking stealthy past wild elephants, leading an enterprise to investment, becoming an expert traveler/friend maker, becoming strong within and feeling my strength without.

India held some incredible lessons for me as well – I learned many hard truths about life on earth. I saw many things I won’t forget if my eyes see another thousand years. Things that make the circumstances of my own birth seem nearly sarcastic in contrast to others – my privilege would stare me in the face with a grimace every single day, sourly spitting the contempt, “Why are you so special?” over and over. Things that told the true trivial nature of the things all humans make important in our lives – revealing to me that we can only find meaning through celebrating the people that care for us for the stupid, gross, fantastic, goofy people they are.

I thought about the last incredible week I’d had in the birthplace of the Buddha, the Dalai Lama, the Hindu yogis of legend – the Himalayan mountain range. It could be called the greatest of God’s creation – and I would agree wholeheartedly, and wholestomachedly – because Tibetan food is the cat’s pajamas.

Oh – so are the masterpieces of the universe. Here’s a pic of me enjoying both!

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(Speaking of Tibet I’d like call your attention to the terrible injustices that the Tibetan people face under the tyrannical rule of the Chinese government. Take a moment to check out this link: www.freetibet.org. China keeps their terrible doings under wraps by limiting the speech of the people – the more people that know about it the better!

Now back to the story!)

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On a bizarre collision course of fate I met up with a fellow Gap Fellow (the best people in the world) there in the Himalayas (the best place in the world.) Leah and I hiked, camped, marveled, depolluted, and motored ourselves through the white giants, belligerent on the will of becoming and constantly in awe of what we could mold from reality.

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We were, in every sense, on top of the world.

Suddenly I lurched from my flashback to find myself drooling into a cup of hot chai on the hottest day in the hottest city, sweating furiously. I was dreaming about the cold I had just left up in Himachal Pradesh, delirious from a lack of sleep.

I looked up from my warm predicament to see my best friend, Koushik, come to see my off to my next gap year leg.

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At the same instant my heart swelled with affection and terrible remorse. How could I leave my bud after everything he’d done for me? How could I leave SustainEarth after we’d accomplished so much?

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I was leaving at the very beginning! Being forced to sell my shares.

I was being Zuckerburged by destiny.

Koushik took me to the airport as I tried to decide if I wanted to sleep or weep.

Good byes do not get easier, friend.

“Bye, buddy,” Koushik said as we stood in front of the airport gate as ritual demands.

“Shut up,” I said – not wanting what was happening to be happening. There was a pause.

“Hey, cheer up, man – you’re going on another great adventure. You’re the luckiest guy I know and deservedly so, enjoy this! I’ll see you again in a year or two, I know it!” said Koushik.

“Yeah, I’m just sad that I won’t be a part of SustainEarth when it becomes a billion dollar success. Put aside a million for me, yeah?” I shot with a little grin.

Koushik tugged my shoulders in a fraternal embrace, “You’ll always be a part of SustainEarth, dude – India welcomes you anytime.”

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“See ya soon,” I murmured as I turned away and walked into the airport as quickly as I could flee the scene with my huge pack in the state I was in.

With an hour left before my international flight I was greeted at the check in counter with a smooth, “You need proof of onward travel to enter Thailand,” which I definitely did not have at the moment. So I bent over, bit my finger, and prepared to be screwed one last time before I left India.

It was only appropriate.

I ended up having to buy a very expensive plane ticket from an obscure Lebanese travel agency located in a makeshift – blue tarp hut just outside of the airport grounds, that I had no use for whatsoever and was unable to cancel or refund.

Hence my fit of rage.

For all of a moment all of my emotions were numbing my spongy, depleted mind and I was experiencing a tangible depression that I could almost look in the face.

I felt like spit getting on the plane.

But if India taught me a single thing, it’s that adversity is not the equal of failure. It’s not a very good reason to be upset ,either, actually nothing that comes to mind quite is.

So before I let myself fall into a corpse-like state of rest high above the Bengali Bay, I celebrated my time in India – the solitude, the alienation, the praise, the grand, and the glory of loving those who were around to love – and paid homage to what I’d learned by practicing my stride that could take anything.

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As you do.

Ba dum.

And then I died as much as the most alive person can do so – to wake up in a new life, in a new world with a new set of rules and new terrors to dispute.

Cued up: Thailand.

God Nose (The Face of God)

I stood facing a mountain that looked like a face.

“The face of God,” Koushik told me.

“God is a lot uglier than I pictured,” I said.

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As I looked upon the deity’s rocky busted mug I reflected on all the dismally warm afternoons I had spent cycling the village roads in the foothills- jamming Tchaikovsky and screaming Kendrick Lamar lyrics at innocent, gawking bystanders- and wondering  what all the hype about this god was about.

Thousands of pilgrims come here every day to scale this god’s poor, almighty cheek. For the past three months I had witnessed swarms of hairy people go up and similar swarms of bald people come down.

Apparently this god eats your hair.

That’s pretty weird, dude, I thought.

Maybe all those neck tattoos out there got it wrong… Only can judge God, 

Yeah, that train of thought got out of hand.

Tirupati is the second largest pilgrimage site in the most religious country on Earth. Tens of thousands of Hindus are drawn to the city every single day appeal to the man upstairs.

And today I was going to climbs those stairs myself.

I had put it off for too long, but I was waiting for the right moment. Until I knew exactly what I was getting myself in for.

I was very appropriately avoiding cultural appropriation for the sake of those who hold the tradition dear by filling myself in on the details of the subject beforehand and truly appreciating their meaning in the culture. (I would ask you to do the same for any long held tradition that you suddenly think is gram-worthy unless you have a genuine desire to tread on beauty- in which case I don’t wanna be your friend.)

So in the weeks preceding the climb I researched elaborately and found the story behind the god.

At the beginning of the age of man – the Lord Vishnu (the Hindu creator) turned to stone on top of the seven hills of Tirumala, the earthly façade of God, after prophesizing the marriage of his next incarnation and the goddess of wealth.

A temple was built around the God-turned-to-stone and it is said that any wish made purely in his presence will come true for the price of humility – symbolically displayed by removing the hair from your scalp.

That’s why fathers of the sick and mothers of the ill-fated – people at the beginning of their life’s endeavor and others at the end of a tragedy come to this place and scrapes their heads slick.

To correct the wrong and materialize the right of the crooked, bumbling universe with the fulfillment of a true desire.

So I decided to complete the pilgrimage myself.

I began the climb early one morning, just as the sun was creeping over god’s forehead. Koushik dropped me at the foot of the steps painted crimson and gold with holy colors.

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9 km up… shoes not allowed.

For 3 hours I climbed barefoot alongside hundreds of people.

People from all over the nation.

People quadruple my age, people a quarter my age. People much more wise, people much more dumb – people much more deserving of a wish granted, (it wouldn’t have surprised me if there were people there wishing specifically for my setup,) but accepting of my company nonetheless.

We all climbed up the god’s face like annoying flies perturbing his sleep. By midday my shirts and pants were drenched in perspiration by over 100 F heat, but I made it to the temple of Venkateshwara (the stone incarnation of Vishnu) panting and glowing red.

That wasn’t so difficult, I thought just before my definition of difficult changed dramatically.

This was the point when the real fight began.

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Like an overflowing liquid we were all funneled into a caged hallway to await our brief council with God. The pilgrims began to chant the name, “Gowinga” as we squeezed along through the barred narrow corridor like cattle moving blindly towards the slaughter.

But we were.

After another couple of hours of having about as much say in the direction my body was moving as a pint of water in the Pacific, I was shoved into the courtyard of the temple and ushered in front of the black, unmoving figure – the champion attraction of this spiritual amusement park.

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For all of 15 seconds I saw it. The smooth, black stone gleamed underneath the floral adornments piled higharound the idol’s neck. He peeked out from behind mountains of red, white, orange, and gold petals. The holy golden chamber was illuminated by low, dancing candlelight, making the air sickly warm and fragrant. The fever dream settled over my milky mind. Shadows danced around the figures solemn face as my gaze settled.

I was in sight of God.

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And God is exactly what I saw.

I wasn’t looking at the idol, though.

I was looking at the mother carrying a coughing child in front of me. Then at the middle age man about the send his only son off the university in the States behind me.

I watched their solemn lips slide silently apart, willing to never reunite for the sake of their destination, like smooth granite stones in a fierce stream.

I watched as they laid themselves as primitively bare as possible, laying down on their faces, as humble as the dust from which they came at the foot of a thing that would be dust had a chisel been put to it. Because their instinct had, after millions of years of ‘not enough’ manifested a human soul that had drove them to the madness of hope.

This was the true face of God.

My mind’s eye flashed back and forward at the same time, to a time that it couldn’t possibly wish to conceive – yet was built of nothing else except that purpose – to the start of the universe. The stars that came to being that would eventually come to form every aspect of this moment, the great carpenters. They are our dreams coming to being in us for the single sake of being spoken aloud at least once. Here. Now. This is our hopes and desires being ritually given back to the universe with the most impenetrable faith that they’d be fulfilled unconditionally.

And in the hopelessly wide gap between our expectation and reality is where I saw God.

Because sometimes there is a bridge. Like a whisper spanning a canyon, bafflingly complex in design and ambiguous in purpose – yet there. Sturdy, unreliable, encouraging.

Suddenly I felt the humility I deserved. My privilege, my arrogance, my intelligence, my beauty, my flesh, my bones were all stripped away in a second and I stood there naked, more raw and naked than on my entrance of the world.

I felt the presence of Everything, and I saw my insignificance to it all. My life, the big things that I think are important to the progression of the way things are or will be, are as dead leaves on the forest floor.

But I also saw the beauty of having the privilege to exist in the way that I do in the first place. I can run, I can jump, I can eat, I can dream, I CAN LOVE, and as insignificant as that may be to the universe – that’s the greatest bit of meaning that any of us could possibly pull out of this weird thing we’re all doing.

And with this epiphany fresh in my brain I left the temple as another current of visitors rolled in – and with spontaneous conviction I made a stop at the tonsure cue.

With a fresh razor and a ticket in my hand I stooped down in front of a beaming barber. Without a moment of reverence before my characteristic golden shock he poured scolding water over my head and whispered a mantra before peeling my scalp like an apple.

The entire time it was happening I could only think about how bald I was going to be.

The baldest man on earth, really. For a few seconds anyway.

It was certainly less hot on the way down the mountain.

With the most respect for the culture, the religion, and the universe, I accepted this tonsure as a gesture of awe.

 

Trainxiety

I wake up in agony on the train.

I’m anxious.

I try to remember where I am before I open my eyes – a game I play a lot. I hear the rumbling wheels and imagine a pale gray-blue interior was digesting me in the dim early morning light. I open my eyes to the wrong color. Crimson – like guts.
As I lean up from my bed there is a sound like velcro being ripped apart. The perspiring skin of my back clings to the fake leather of the top bunk in the compartment. The metal fan humming inches above my head does little against the steamy South Indian air gushing in through the open windows.
I always feel like an annoyance to the other passengers when I insist on sleeping in the top bunk, but my feet hang way off the bed and if I sleep on the bottom or the middle the people trying to pass in the aisle would be tripped or clotheslined. I think it comes off as, “I want this so I get this,” which is the last thing that I want.
I hang my head over the edge of the bunk and look around the compartment. Empty. I couldn’t remember how many people were here last night. People are always boarding and leaving.
I hop down a little too quickly. My bare feet hit the linoleum with a sharp smack and the bones in my feet ache for a few seconds while I slide on my shoes. The bathrooms in these things always have a thin layer of piss and grime on the floor and I’d rather not mop that with my socks. I carefully tuck in my laces before I enter the bathroom.
In the grimy, metal mirror between coaches I watch myself slowly brush my teeth and splash the crust from my eyes with the water from the sink that smells like pennies. I don’t look so good.
I spit out a big glob of white foam and turn towards the door on my left. The red paint is peeling from the handle – the exposed metal black and brown with hand grease and use. My hand reaches out to it, but I stop. I consider the consequences for a moment, what if someone sees what I’m trying to do? What if they kick me off the train?

It worries me, I can feel the bottom falling from my chest like a free falling human form, but I still find myself gripping the handle and sharply twisting it. The door swings inward, and I step back to avoid being caught between the door and the wall.
I step into the threshold to feel the breeze and the warmth of the sunshine. I look out at the flat countryside while the wind flies through my hair. The train is going so fast.
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Neat squares of banana trees stand uniformly in the midst of acres and acres of cornrows. With a million arms the earth offers up all that it’s accomplished, millennia of evolution from dust back to dust, to the orange sunlight, like a child cutting himself on his father’s pride. Palm trees stud the sides of the fields like watch towers with clumsy coconut guards that fall to their deaths every once in a while. Powerlines fall and rise like infatuation across the sea of green and gold. Just beyond the field stands a mountain, I can see from here that it’s covered by a thinning pine forest. I squint at the rocky facade glowing in the rising sun. The profile of the mountain is a string of lightning running parallel with the ground, dividing the pale sky from the dark body and striking directly into my rib cage – electrocuting my blood.
Automatically I turn and walk back towards my compartment.
The corridor is still empty as I sit down on the hard, flimsy bed. I take off my shoes and socks, then lean back. As I close my eyes, visions snap naturally into my head like a child’s eyes to a candy jar. The river, the pines, the friends, the moments. A brisk wall of fresh morning wind hits me broad front side, buffeting my cheekbones into sculptures of a joyful presence. The driver’s side window on my civic won’t go up, and I can barely hear the melodramatic overdrive guitar shuttering from the broken back speakers as we fly over the slick black water into the next county, towards Utah. A familiar face looks over from my right where I see a distinct lack of apprehension laid plain on features that I know too well.
“Huh?” I ask.

“I said I can’t imagine what it will be like here without you,” Mattie says, louder this time.

“It’s not so bad,” I yell back over the droning wind, “I need to get out, man. There’s nothing here. You need to get out, too.”
“You know that I can’t.”
I don’t say anything. Everything I’ve ever had I’ve cut in half to share with Mattie – but you can’t do that with opportunities. It’s all or nothing. This time it’s all.

“Just promise that it’ll all be the same when you get back. That it’ll always be like this, John.” He looked out at the glass-like water of the river. A fishing boat emerges from under the bridge, cutting the river in half with its wake, disrupting the serene flat surface. Waves lapped at the pines on the banks.

I open my eyes like the doors to a courthouse. The wind turns back into the sound of steel wheels on steel tracks.
That mountain outside the door hatch looked like that day. That’s the only reason. It’s tiring to swim such immense channels of nostalgia. I’ve been away long enough for my memory to become a false portrayal of home. As I lean back I begin to think again. I think and I think.

Have I seen so much that I’m driven to frustration? I’ve pushed too hard in trying to expand my mind – the elasticity is no more. My viewpoints no longer slide back to their normal, blissful position. They remain until I change them, they remain dry and brittle. I refused to have moderation in my quest for clarity, now I’m seeing the world too clearly, too young. I am one of the men freed from his chains in the cave of Plato’s allegory – learning of what casts the shadows of people’s actions. That deep, dark part of the human heart that no one has the courage to explore.
I feel better.
I swing my feet over to the side and stand up. The coach sways left as I walk the length of it, making me stumble into the next empty compartment. I continue to the next joint, barely noticing that the rest of the coach is empty as well.
I catch myself opening the next door hatch. I stand and look out. The scene had changed. Plains of red earth extend for miles in each direction interrupted only by course gray brushes and mountainous piles of boulders. The bright, white sun is merciless – bludgeoning the blue sky and the cracked, thirsty earth with spite. My gaze falls absently on a patch of bright yellow garments leading a goat at the dirt road crossing.
In a moment as short as a punch to the jaw, I glimpse beneath the headdress. Smooth ebony skin make the whites of her round eyes gleam like the moon. Her slender neck leads upwards to a pretty, round face – where her heart shaped lips curl into a smile as she spots my red hair whipping around into my face. If beauty is kind to the eyes, then she is a caregiver.
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Her beauty is not what strikes me, though. I reel back at the sight, but before I have a chance to look again she is just a faint yellow blot, growing fainter. A liquid sickness crawls through my chest, like blood spilled on marble. I have seen that angelic face before. Somewhere, sometime – in a past life it seems to me now. Where? When?
A whisper falls into my mind like a stone sinking in the sea. Will she remember me?
I’m anxious as I recede back into the train.
My bare feet take me to the next coach. The aisle is clear – silence except for the pounding of the wheels and the squeal of the brakes. The train is slowing down.
A station is coming up – I think. I walk briskly through the empty coach – in the direction the train is moving.
I am deeply affected by the realization that there are no other passengers aboard this train – trouble is I don’t notice that I realized it. It is just a deep ache that seems like it’s always been there by the time you realize it, like depression or arthritis. My mind keeps going back to that lady’s face – like a tongue worrying at a piece of apple skin caught in the back teeth. Her features haunt me.
The more quickly I walk the slower the train becomes. Sections of track intersect poorly on the gravel below causing the coach to lurch sideways. I stumble and stub my toe on the sill of a compartment.

While I blink down at the pain, I observe that there is blood, the toenail is detached, definitely broken – but I lose interest immediately. The station is approaching.
From the next door hatch I watch the cement platform slide up beside the train – the sound scatters the few stray dogs rummaging through a burning trash heap.

Behind the platform there is nothing. Beaten earth stretching beyond the horizon. I turn and glance at the other side of the tracks.

There I see a small town propped against a never-ending pine forest that sends a shudder through my back. The pastel rectangles jutting up from one another make a sherbet iceberg at the colliding seas of red and green. Sunlight falls straight down from the heavens, creating weird tricks of shadow on the frontline of houses. Facets and reflections make the jewel-like city shine like a crown on the head of a queen and I look right at her face.
She is not flawless, but her blemish is.
A brick house with a slanting tin roof and 12-pane windows with green shudders. The bricks are darkening – it is an old house. Vines climb the bricks all the way to the roof in some places, the bushes out front have become scraggly and misshapen. The house still seems to have the warmness of inhabitants, however – the freshly cut lawn a uniform rebellion of life against a red, barren oppression. It looks like a trampled corpse under a sheet.
On either side of the lawn stands white-washed concrete boxes with lines of dripping clothes on the roofs and naked children playing in the dirt outside, unsupervised. Suds from the bucket stick to a young girl’s bony brown arms as she stands up from her work to peek at her child. Cracks web out from her tiny home’s foundation over her head of wavy, jet-black hair as she looks over at her neighbor’s brick manse and for a second I could see what she was thinking.
I’m anxious.
I hear the air dampen with voices on my left.
I tear myself looking away. Walking into the next coach I take a seat on one of the beds beside the door. I look out the window at the people on the platform. It is crowded. More even than the platform under Connaught Place in Delhi. Figures move through the crowd of figures in streams. Their features are blurred and distorted by the noon sun and the tint of the window. All I can see are active black splotches on a field of white glare, like a Rorschach.
The movement of the station seems to slow as the train does. Everyone’s eyes in the station darts towards my train – searching for the number – where is it going? Was it their train?
Where is this train going? I think. I can’t think of the name of the place right now.
I find it strange that no one approaches it – they all simply stare at the navy blue exterior of the coaches beyond the yellow line. Not their train, I guess.
The ambiguity of the window makes my head swim. I walk again towards the next coach. I hang my shoulders out of the slowing door hatch and look ahead. My eyes worked through the crowd trying to focus on a face, but they’re hindered by the bright sun. When they finally adjust they find a family of four standing right at the edge, toeing the safety line of the platform. The only people in the station stepping forward to the locomotive.
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The train stops just as my door hatch reaches the lady in the middle. We are face to face – inches apart. My eyes fall into a pair of tired Atlantic oceans that churn with unconditional love while my blood turns to ice. The rest of the face materializes out of the white noise that my vision has become. The shape of the eyes I am looking into were from my own face. So are the lips and the nose. Cheekbones borrowed from my very own skull. But she doesn’t have her father’s freckles – not like I do, anyway.
Mom?!

The realization skips through my mind like the first stone cast.
She is looking at the train, not at me. Something shows on her face besides the sun – a gleaming admiration, pride almost.
I try to speak, but no word comes out. My voice is absent.
The man to her right is my father. To her left my brother. Tall, intelligent, purposeful – both men looking at the train with upmost appreciation for the mechanical makeup of the machine. I can see them analyzing it – their eyes scanning the thing with respect. My little sister gazes up at the big glossy coach I was just in, her eyes bulging with excitement.
I stand there looking at them, looking at my train. Something grabs a hold of my foot – wraps around my calf and buckles my knee. The sickness spreads around my chest again like a crowd running from a gunshot. I look around at the platform unbelieving. I know every single face in audience.
My best friends, my schoolmates, my family, my mentors – people from Colorado, people from Kenya, people from India. Mattie stands just behind my family, laughing so hard that tears are rolling down his cheeks.

They all have one thing in common – my love. Everyone stares at the train silently with joy and admiration, this is the train they are waiting for. Not to be passengers of, but to be spectators of.   I long for them – their conversations and embraces and smiles, but as I begin to step out of the door the long whistle sounds.
It shoots through the crowded train station like a bullet, making the air thick with resonance. The people on the platform become rigid like the sound, suddenly.
A shadow crawls across the platform – a dark cloud comes down to blot out the hard blows of the sun.
I look back at my mom – her prideful expression has turned to grief and worry, I could see the dark circles beneath her eyes. My brother’s eyes become absent and grim. My father goes from analyzing the locomotive to scrutinizing every aspect of it. I can see the contempt heavy on his brow. My sister cowers behind my mother’s pant legs, wailing. Mattie’s laughter has become weeping and the tears thicken.

Are they okay?

 

I am anxious.
As the train begins to crawl forward I see the faces of my friends scowl with envy and malice – looking at the moving carts as if they wish the train will derail – sending the carts toppling upon each other in a blazing wreckage. The train picks up speed and the line of familiar people blurs into a single familiar line upon my vision. The platform disappears and I am left with nothing but a view of the children playing by the trampled corpse again.
I wish I could help them.

I walk into the next coach and sit in the aisle. With my knees to my chest I close my eyes and try to clear my mind. My head feels like a beehive.

My mother. My father. My siblings. My friends. That was my life back there. How could I just leave them?

I am alone on this train. I know this now, I’ve known this for a while now.

So why is it just me on board? I know this too.

The objective of a simple being that is capable of only movement is simple, really – to deliver itself, to move to a given point in time and space, to exercise its ability and to maintain its ability by accomplishing in the most ancient way – any addition that is not contributing to that goal is its detriment. I know what I am, I know what I do – but I don’t want to let go. Self-preservation, I guess.

The immovable object boarded the unstoppable force with the intention of sight-seeing.

This train was built with me inside. I am the piece that does not function.  I am within a vessel that is destined for something that I feel apathy towards, so it is me that will be the undoing. A train laying its own tracks and feeding its own engine would have no need of a component that finds meaning beyond the usefulness of an object. This is a system of intelligence functioning entirely independently of the concept of second thought. No object that didn’t truly exist cannot matter – the ghosts that humans have made: Opinions, potential, remorse, fear, meaning – nothing not being would ever be known.

My mind’s eye is distracted by the fields I saw when I woke up – a presentation of agriculture, the mark of civilization. Biological evolution from amoeba to organism to plant and animal, to human and agriculture, to destruction and war. Impulse, instinct – action to action, dust to dust.

I am anxious.

My panic fits snuggly within a moment.

I shatter over the mentality like a glass house whose owner doesn’t take advice. My eyes snap open, I trip over the maroon carpet as I try to run before I stand. I look back down the length of the train – I mistake the thumping of my heart against my ribcage for the footsteps of someone chasing me.

Breathlessly, I slam into the coach’s door and into the next threshold.  The door hatch to the furious outside wind is wide open – I am only able to glimpse the dark sky as I pass, the vague form of an old creator looking down. The train is traveling so fast, I see him grimace while I slam into the next coach door. I sprint the length as the cabin whips around like a fire in a storm.

The only remaining length is the engine.

My muscles fail in the joint of the two carts. I fall to my knees, skidding on the stainless steel floor. Blood trickles between the diamond-shaped imprints as I recklessly bash into the wall. I choke on my breath, struggling to my feet.

Hesitantly, I lift my head to see myself in the reflection of a glass pane. 1 of 9 in a wooden door painted dark green with a brass knob. Beyond I could see the dining room table, exactly as I remember. My hand innately finds the knob and jiggles a certain way. It gives. I close my eyes and breathe deeply.

When I open them again I’m looking into my own eyes in the reflection of a thick stainless steel door, smooth and cold like a practiced regret. Both of my hands are wrapped vice-like around the large red latch in the center.

I step into the conductor’s compartment.  A wave of cool air blasts me from a vent near the door. I step a bit further in to see all the engine controls. A field of switches and levers and gauges functioning gracefully in alignment with one another. My mind balks for a moment trying to appreciate the craftsmanship behind such an obviously genius machine.

A high-back chair is set in the middle of the cabin like a throne overlooking the many controls. Whoever sat the throne was king of the most powerful country ever established – the country five feet in front of the barreling engine disappearing rapidly underneath the tracks; the manifestation of raw purpose and dynamism.

Whoever sat here would have to know where the train was going.

For a moment it seems the gates of my mind will not allow the truth passage, yet those gates are shattered when I crane my neck over the back and into the seat. Empty. Nothing. My heart cracks like a rotten egg in my chest and the rancid sickness spread through once more. The bareness of the reality that the train is driving itself is inescapable. It doesn’t ask, who will drive me?, nor does it lay dormant at a station to rust – it bounds furiously.

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I sit down in the engineer’s seat and look down at the controls. This is a living organism, functioning properly and entirely independently.

I look out at the windshield as the engine devours the track. Mountains strike upwards from the horizon at the meeting of heaven and earth, leaving bruises in the sky who shamefully covers up, denying the evidence of an imperfect relationship.
Then they vanish. I watch in awe as the mountains dissipate from summit to foot, they blow away in the wind like dust. No warning of what can barely be called destruction.

What is the meaning of it all?

The world I know is changing before me.  I’m in awe of the fluid universe, at the blatant pointlessness of every endeavor we have. Death is certain, nothing exists on purpose, and nobody asked to be here.  Why? It echoes through my mind, the single valid question to the immaculate. My eyes struggle to look past the glass of windshield, but instead are caught by a smudge. I look closer but can’t see, the lighting is weird.

I stand up and change my angle. Seeing it from the side I can see that they’re characters, backwards letters. It doesn’t take me long to make out a name that I’ve written a million times.

JOHN
I read my own name proudly written outwards on the windshield of the train – readable from the outside like a nametag – meager, but the best that could be done, the statement of a mission that only a single mind cares to hold – a destination – a crude statement of purpose too specific and too general to be thought not an enigma.

I’m pulled from my daze of confusion by a spark that flies from the cool cabin behind me. A siren rings through the small compartment. The controls in front of me begin to flash red one-by-one. The gauges showing pressures and contents are all maxed out or dead. The interlocking mechanisms lose the grace they operated with before I entered the cabin, now they jumble against one another, accomplishing nothing.

I sit down at the controls and smile.

Yes, yes, yes. This is what I want.

Content, I look out of the windshield again. The skyline breaks prematurely at the cliff of a trench in the earth. The tracks direct toward a weak looking bridge. Even from far away I can see that the makeshift structure is frail – splintering rough lumber staked together with black iron. It doesn’t look like this bridge has ever even been used before. I am sure that the train cannot make it over.

The ravine below swallows the small light from the gray sky, the bottom having an unthinkable lust for detriment. The train sprints towards it, maybe without knowing, maybe without caring.  This is my moment of action. The only thing I can do must be done. I reach down and snatch back the brake handle beside the chair – the bridge is a mere 200 meters away.

The wheels squeal on the tracks.
I grab the arms of the chair to keep my body from propelling into the windshield. The train slows – but the bridge is still quickly approaching. I brace myself with my heart in my neck. The blurring country beyond the side window paces down for my eyes to catch. Slower and slower. The train is crawling imperceptibly just at the edge of the ravine.

The grate of the leading cart comes to a halt just short of the pitfall. My grip relaxes, leaving bony imprints and puddles of sweat on the arms of the fake leather chair. A long shudder of ecstasy runs through my body, from limb to limb. I sit in dead silence for just a moment’s relief. It’s over.

I did the only thing I could possibly do. In a way I share this with the train. This is what I wanted.  I close my eyes to think once more. I settle into a state of closure, this will make an end to the journey.

Silence… Finally…

Then like courage the train jolts forward onto the swaying rickety bridge.

No, no, no. I reach down for the brake handle again, but it does nothing.

Again it jolts forward – the wheels are turning again. The engine uncertainly makes its way onto the bridge. The structure trembles under the weight of the single cart while the sickness flows painfully through my entire body.

I’m so anxious.

Like an apparition a wind sweeps up from the ravine. The cabin door bursts open and a gust blows through like a tornado caught in a shoebox. Whispers sound through the wind, I recognize the voices: “You can do this,” “You’re a great man,” “Nobody’s better,” “I’m so proud of you.” They pick me up and I hit the ceiling hard. I’m thrown around recklessly – bashing into walls and windows. My head hits the control panel and blood runs into my eyes. I try to soften the impact onto the steel floor, but my wrist shatters. I scream out in pain.

The gale then sweeps me completely out of the cabin and into the frame of the door hatch hanging over the black abyss. My broken hand clings weakly to the bar. I look out one last time at the world and God focusses on me for a moment.

I resist the will of the menacing ravine, hanging to the train with every ounce of strength within me. In the end it’s inevitable, though. They want me out.
My fingers are pried from the bars while my body hangs limp in the nothingness and I’m cast into the depths.
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I fall. And keep falling.

As I fall I look up to see the train continuing its journey – picking up speed effortlessly, like a falling body.

Faster and faster it goes, light as a feather without my weight. The bridge holds it as if it were made of paper.  It doesn’t need me. It will arrive better without my passage. The best, in fact.
I am anxious as I fall.
I am nothing.
In the darkness, I still hear the wheels beating the track and I don’t worry for him any longer. He knows where he’s going.