As Seen On the Internet:
A (slightly modified) Compilation
Written by Jalen Cole
Our Own Devices 5
“Thanks for coming.” she said to me from across the table, brushing her hair aside as she looked down at clasped hands. I used to think her eyes were vibrant blue. Now they just felt chilling. As distant as her reluctant voice.
“Yeah, you’re welcome.” I coughed my sentence out, avoiding eye contact while attempting not to stare at the flowing bridal gown she had worn so proudly.
“Don’t be like that, Chris.” She looked up, I could see pain swirling with the happiness in her eyes. I knew I wasn’t making the big day any easier but I didn’t care. As long as she could understand the position I had been placed in.
“Why shouldn’t I be?” My eyes darted up, anticipating to lock eyes, “I left the past where it was. I got through this.” She gave to my expectations and looked up into my eyes. I countered, placing a hand on the table, five fingers stretched across the cloth to display my sincerity, “I got over us.” I could see a tear fall from her cheek. I wanted to retract, but I couldn’t sacrifice the footing I had already gained, not again, “We haven’t talked in a year, until you suddenly bring out the news you’re getting married?” Then I actually lowered my voice, as if we were both ashamed, “After…how long? You two started, what, two months ago, three?”
The party went on around us, congratulatory, formal, pompous. Even through it, we were the only two in the room, even through blaring music and chattering guests, our voices were the only sources of noise in the foyer.
“Why are you even here then?” She asked, her voice shallowed as her eyes retreated back to the safety of her hands.
“Because you invited me.” I retaliated, “I came in good faith, but then you treated me like a stranger for two and a half hours, flaunting the man who practically married you on a whim.”
“You know, you’re not the most important one here!” There was a strange comfort in her raised voice. Even though she was talking straight to me, singling me out, our conversation had long since been alienated. Alone in each other’s company. Just like it had always been.
“You’re right.” I stood from my chair, being careful not to cause a scene, “Why should I ruin the festivities?”
I knew she wanted to try and stop me as I walked out, as I walked away. I just knew it. I didn’t look back, but I had to know it.
. . .
It hadn’t been long since I got back to my apartment that I decided to lay down in my bedroom and watch the ceiling above me. A ceiling trembling with the happiness of the couple above, which is when and why I made the executive decision to sleep on the couch for the night. I failed to remove anything from my pocket, which made it especially easy for incoming messages to annoy me. Three independent buzzes, each separated by a minute and change. Three different messages, no doubt from either Amanda or Robby, the happy couple wondering why the guest of honor skipped out early, if it isn’t too vain to think that.
I found myself physically rolling my eyes as that thought crossed through my mind, but by the end of the roll, I had already disregarded the thought, and the two people supplying it. By then, I had collapsed across the three cushions that acted as a makeshift bed, still dressed in a rented tuxedo. Ambivalence had already been stewing since I got through the front door, but only now did it start to surface. Only now was I feeling the conflicting effects. Luckily, I could use sleep to evade it, for however long I wanted…
“Good, keep running.”
That voice was enough to snap me up from the cushions, “Who’s there?” I asked, my voice frantic and dire as I hurriedly scrambled off the couch.
“Just a worried bystander.” The voice replied.
I turned my head to notice someone standing in the doorway to the kitchen, arms crossed, as comfortable as can be. His stature took some of the tension out of the equation, but was still mildly disturbing, “By the way, don’t call the police.” He warned, reaching behind and pulling a pistol from his waist, “They make things more complicated than necessary.”
I stood across from him, still halfway crouched, gun aimed for my chest, confused on which move to make next, “Is this a robbery?” My voice trembled with me, “Take whatever you want, just don’t shoo—.”
“Do what I say and I won’t. Now come over here.” He smiled a bit, putting the sidearm behind him again as he turned to walk into the kitchen.
I hadn’t been eager to follow, but something possessed me to step after him. When I entered in, I could see my mysterious burglar had propped his feet up on my kitchen table as he tilted back in a chair, fingers intertwined against the back of his head.
“Who…are you?” I couldn’t help but ask.
“Is that really the most pertinent thing to be wondering right now?” He replied, dropping his legs back to the floor as he let the chair do the same, “Do you mind if I pull this back out?” He asked while pulling the firearm out from his waist and placing it on the table, “It’s really uncomfortable.”
“Are you gonna kill me?” I asked, my voice wavering in uncertainty.
“If I wanted to, I would’ve when I had you at gunpoint.”
“So, I’m just gonna call the police then.” I said, letting my shoulders drop with a sense of relief.
“I can still shoot you!” He discouraged, grabbing the gun and waving it in the air.
“But then I’d need an ambulance…”
“You know what, just…just gimme your phone.” He put his free hand out across the table, bending his fingers back over his palm, signaling me to comply.
I had to walk to the table, getting dangerously close to his weapon before I could hand over my cell. After I had, I took a moment to sit across from him. By then he had seemed much less frightening and even less threatening.
“This is nice, how much did you pay for it?” He asked, briefly intrigued in the smart phone before he placed it on the table and smashed it with the butt of the gun. After doing so, he shot me another glare, “So then. I’m here to help.”
“Listen man, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Take what you came for and just…” I took a moment to look back at his gun, “just leave me alone.”
“Unfortunately, I can’t.” He near whispered, “I didn’t come for anything you own. I came for you, Christopher.” His words echoed through the kitchen as he slowly moved the barrel’s aim from my chest to my head. He could see sweat forming in rivers over my brow as his finger danced around the trigger, a smile stretching across his face while he watched me squirm, “Relax,” He voice shifted to a softer, lower, soothing pitch, “nothing sinister, I promise.”
His hand stayed around the grip while his fingers reached for a mechanism that would release the magazine. The metal thud smacking against the wood of my table was louder than I had anticipated, something was weighing it down. Something had to be, because when it had landed, it landed straight up—never once wobbling.
“I couldn’t have shot you, even if I wanted to.” He said, grabbing the bottom and spinning the magazine upside-down. A small copper orb fell from inside—shining with flecks of gold—rolling around the table before coming to a stop in the center, between the two of us, “For how squeamish you were, I definitely wanted to.” He had placed the gun beside the orb, briefly glancing up at me, seeing my displeased stare, “Okay, bad joke. The gun was just a way for me to transport this, and it made it easier to convince you to come and sit so we could discuss…this.”
“What is it?” I asked.
“The reason both of us are here,” His voice ebbed with sovereignty. As he spoke, I reached across the table, instinctively, to analyze it closer, “No no!” He warned, slapping my hand away. We had both shared a strange moment of bashful silence, “Don’t touch it. Not yet.”
“I don’t even know what this is.” I rolled my eyes, sinking into my chair.
“So give me a chance to explain.” He gave his smile again as he looked the device over, “It’s a highly technical piece of hardware. It was made to solve problems, correct errors. It’s only ever given to those who have an opportunity to change their lives.” His fingers twitched with a reminiscent curl.
His vagueness sparked an annoyance that had been bubbling since I left Amanda’s wedding, “What do I have to do with that? With you or this thing or any of it?!”
His hand moved, hovering over the pistol he set aside, “Because…” he hesitated, lifting the gun up slightly, “I’m supposed to kill you.”
“Y-…you already said you couldn’t shoot me, even if—” I stopped myself before saying anything potentially damning, “Look, I don’t know what you want, just…please.”
He grabbed the gun swiftly, bending it back behind himself and resetting it in his waist, “I’m supposed to kill you three months from now.” His tone shifted, taking a sharp turn. He seemed to tremble as he delivered the words, a mix of frustration and relief that made it impossible to talk back to, “I’m supposed to go out with a friend who had just been promoted. We’re supposed to party and drink and be irresponsible…and I’m supposed to decline a taxi and drive home.” He sighed, running a hand through his hair, briefly, covertly, bringing his forearm against his face to wipe away any forming tears, “I’m supposed to T-bone you at an intersection…and kill you on impact. Then I’m supposed to get arrested and eventually convicted for reckless endangerment, manslaughter, DUI, and…driving with an expired license. That’s the funny one.” He almost smiled, but managed to avoid fully grinning.
“Listen, this is…a lot.” I closed both eyes hard, gripping the space between them.
“I don’t care how much it is I just need you to understand why I’m here.”
“Okay, well what do you expect from me?” I sounded slightly defensive, “You show up threatening me and then you flip it into…into what? Time travel?”
“I expect you to believe me.” He put his hand on the table, five fingers stretch out and pressing hard.
“If,” I stopped for a moment, “if, any of this is even true…how did you get here?”
He sank a bit further into his seat, balling his hand into a fist and placing it in his lap, “A woman appeared in my cell and dropped that ball in front of me,” He pointed to the golden orb, “She didn’t have the motivation to explain why, but she told me how the thing worked, how it’s supposed to help, then touched it with two fingers and—” He made a gesture with both hands, “disappeared. I touched it with one finger and I was back in my apartment, two days ago.” His voice became more stern, “It filled my head with every detail I would need, every little bit of info I would need to get here, how to get in, and most importantly, how to convince you.”
A silence hung between us, as if he was prompting me to keep the conversation going, “Your story is—” I took a moment to search for the right word, “extravagant, but I wouldn’t say I’m convinced.”
“Oh, for goodness—” He readjusted in his seat in order to lean forward into a stronger position as he sighed, “Your middle name is Anthony, after your grandfather.”
“Plenty of people know that,” I sneered, my tone inadvertently becoming more petulant.
“Your first dog’s name was Persephone, and she’s your security question for every one of your accounts.”
“That…doesn’t prove a thing,” I spoke through gritted teeth.
“You still sleep on your left side because it reminds you of when you could sleep beside Amanda, when she could trust you.”
“Time travel isn’t real!” I stood out of my chair to stare him down with more power.
“Then why would I have come here, Chris?” he kept his voice low, as if I had moved exactly as he wanted me to, “Of all places, of all times, why would I come to you here and now, knowing that you don’t even have a car yet.” I was at a loss for words, wavering in place with my lips pursed, ready to deliver the response I hadn’t yet concocted, “I know all about that blue sedan you had your eyes on. Used, not bad mileage, only a tiny bit dented on the front fender.” He perked both eyebrows and smiled slightly, “I doubt you’ll keep putting money aside for it now, knowing you’re going to die in it.” He re-established eye contact, “I understand I’ve stricken a very vulnerable cord, mortality and all that, but I just really need you to be persuaded so I can leave, so…convinced?”
His careful blend of nonchalance and contentious debonair completely debased me, removing my ability to retort verbally or physically. My only option was to slowly let my arms fall to my sides and sit down once again, “How does the ball work…?”
His smile filled the room with a new, elated atmosphere, “Touch it with just one finger,” he said solemnly, leaning towards the orb as it wobbled idly at the center of the table, “and you will appear…as far back as it need take you.”
“Appear?” I sighed, gripping the bridge of my nose.
“It’s hard to explain. You don’t really get sent back or anything you just…” He unfurled his fingers as far away from his palm as possible, “poof. Then you’ll be there, at the first incident, the first inkling of things to go wrong, where you can begin correcting things from the very start. Once you arrive, you’ll have all the info you need to do whatever it is you have to. When you’re finished doing whatever you’re doing, touch it with two fingers, and it’ll bring you back to the next instance for you to fix. One at a time, you can spot shine your personal history.”
I nodded slowly, first in disbelief but then in agreement, “Okay, sure. What if I go forward…and I don’t get told what I’m supposed to do?”
“It means you’ve come back.” He smiled and nodded, “Oh, and, by the way.” He stood, “I recommend a plastic baggie for safe transport.” He pulled his gun from behind him again, waving it in the air to display its ineffectiveness. He laughed quickly under his breath, standing and heading for the door.
“Wait!” I turned around in my chair to maintain the stare, “Aren’t you gonna…go to the next instance?” I pointed over my shoulder at the orb, “Don’t you need to fix anything else?”
He smiled slightly and laughed under his breath, “So you believe me?” He took the moment to indulge in my bewilderment, “It’s time for me to go, Chris.”
“Just…! After everything you’ve said, you’re just gonna leave?” He maintained his poise, even through a bittersweet smile, “Say you’ve convinced me. You’ve given me an opportunity to change my life. Do anything, be anyone…I don’t even know your name, and you’re just gonna leave?”
He looked up towards the ceiling, pursing both lips and nodding slightly as if he was considering his options, “Emanuel. My name is Emanuel Tigas.” He looked back down to see me once again. He took a step back towards the exit and began reorienting himself so he could walk out. As he opened the front door, almost walking out, he turned his head to speak to me one last time, “I’m sorry for what I’ve done to you. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me one day.”
. . .
It had been almost an hour since Emanuel had left my home. Almost an hour since I started staring at the copper and gold ball that he left on my table. I had tossed countless ideas around, all trying to come up with something to do with the present my guest had left for me. Each and every thought had the same suggestion running in between them.
“Why not just try it, what’s to lose?” A part of myself asked the others, the weaker part.
I couldn’t help but entertain the thought that everything could be solved with a single touch. I paced through the kitchen spying the ball left on my table’s center out of my peripheral every time I passed it. Eventually, I left into the living room, continuing my pacing, the orb always in the corner of my eye.
Ultimately, I gave in to the urges, entering back into the kitchen only to dig through drawers for the plastic bags I knew I kept around. After collecting one of appropriate size, I went into an old cabinet in the corner of the kitchen. Anything without a home, temporarily or permanent, or anything that didn’t quite fit in the other cabinets went in there.
I was hoping I’d find something that could keep my hands safe in the case my bag ripped. After a few minutes of searching, I had come up empty. The only thing I hadn’t checked was a small lockbox from my college days—with its lock cracked open from my many drunken college nights.
Rummaging through it, I came upon something I briefly considered to be useful. A handful of unused condoms, which would probably stay that way for some time—one for each digit. Luckily, I convinced myself not to throw them out. I almost wished I could’ve convinced myself to not buy them. Maybe I could…
Laying underneath them was a pair of latex gloves. They had gone with an ensemble for a Halloween party, but the rest of the outfit had long since been thrown out. Beer bellies make it hard to fit into old clothing.
The last thing I did before I decided to fully believe in Emanuel was grab my phone. I quickly punched in Amanda’s number as I walked back to the kitchen, but only managed to get her voicemail. She must’ve still been busy at her reception.
“Hey, it’s me,” I said at the tone, taking a pause for a layer of dramatic effect, “I’m really sorry about tonight. I can’t apologize enough. But I’ve got a plan to fix all of it. A plan as stupid as I am.” I took a moment to laugh, hoping she would find it as funny as I did, “And uh, if it works, you won’t even have to worry about me ever again. So, here’s hoping.” I paused, this time it was for me, not the drama, I needed to take a moment to fully accept what I was about to commit to, “I really am sorry.” Maybe it was for the drama.
After that, I hung up, quickly pocketing my phone and using the glove to place the ball inside my plastic bag. I took a moment to take a few deep breaths as I removed the glove. I placed it in my back pocket and readied my index finger for something I felt incredibly confident and stupid for considering.
I closed my eyes and braced myself for any kind of pain that might come as I pressed my finger against the cold metal. But all I could feel was the wind sweep against my face and strong aroma of cut grass rising from below. Somehow, I had gotten outside, somehow I had opened my eyes to see a familiar cul-de-sac. My knees buckled, almost as if I had jumped and landed on the new ground. My heart skipped a beat as a sudden sensation of vertigo almost put me on my back. My breaths became erratic and hurried as I scrambled to regain my balance and composure, which took entire minutes to fully accomplish.
I looked down to find my finger still pressing the orb, my face and body still clenched and braced for anything. A melancholy moon hung above the houses of a small neighborhood, casting somber rays of dim light down the streets. Late night wind whimpered against rustling sycamore trees as a cacophony of late night insects chattered.
I was going entirely crazy, every fiber of my being shouting. One half was cursing Emanuel, but the other was screaming with the excitement of what he had promised. Now I only needed to find out where to start—that’s when it hit. All the knowledge promised to me by a stranger. Where I needed to be and what I needed to do, all the information I needed had made its way into my mind.
My feet seemed to move without me, marching forward towards my resolve. While they did, I was still partially adjusting to my surroundings. The turn of the millennium, a literal half a lifetime ago. I had to shake off the feeling, being shell-shocked would have to wait. For the time being, I was off to meet myself.
. . .
Whatever knowledge I had acquired from the small orb in my pocket lead me to a not-too-lonely house on the left side of a dead end street, paired only by a twin on the right. The birthplace of the love story between Amanda and I.
I remember the two of us used to keep our windows unlocked, using a ladder my dad kept in the shed to sneak into each other’s rooms. I briefly reminisced in the old times we shared together, stories and gossip and jokes that were thrown back and forth while hiding under forts made of sheets. It always seemed like the nights lasted forever, day-time only acting as a reprieve in between.
I used our old methods to sneak into the room I used to sleep in, carefully tiptoeing my way closer towards the bed near the room’s far end. As I approached it, I noticed the sheets rising and falling slightly, rhythmically. For the first time, I noticed the sleeping body of my younger self. The feeling of a fourteen year gap between me and myself seemed so surreal. But, if Emanuel was right, it would all be worth it.
Seeing myself, my past self, sleeping pushed every other thought aside. Somehow, it was more surreal than the prospect of time travel. Slowly, trepidatiously, I extended a time breaking finger towards my own head. The same one I used to bring me here, I had to be doing it for some kind of poetry. Maybe I was doing it for the drama.
Every other thought was purged from my mind as I began to remember being dragged from my slumber, unexpectedly, as my finger touched skin. There was a shared moment of still silence between myself and myself. I took my index finger and placed it over my lips.
“Don’t do anything loud.” I warned.
“W-…” My past self started, obviously scared at the man in his bedroom, “Who are you?”
“Chris.” I started, smiling, “I’m you. From the future.” For the drama, again…I had been reminded of every cheesy line from every time travel movie ever.
The room was darkened, illuminated only by patterned stripes of moonlight filtered in through blinds, but even still, my past self was able to be as quick witted as ever, “I look like that in the future?” He asked, looking me up and down. For a moment, it felt like we were separate people, “Here I was, thinking I’d be handsome.”
“Man, I was an asshole.” I said, earning a laugh from little Chris. And as that thought came into mind, I articulated it, “I’m gonna call you Little Chris to avoid confusion, okay?” I kneeled down low, making the conversation more intimate.
“Why do I have to be Little Chris, why can’t you be Big Chris.” He said, gesturing at my stomach.
I let out a low laugh and almost sighed, “Let’s stay focused, ask me why I’m here.” I said, getting down on one knee to even out our heights. For a moment, I could feel myself imitating Emanuel.
“Alright, why?” Little Chris asked, I remember that I was starting to feel a little more comfortable by this point in the conversation, although more curious.
“Regrettably, things don’t go so well between us and Amanda in my time.”
“Oh…” I could remember I was disheartened, almost heartbroken when I was told, “What happened?”
“We had some disagreements. Trust issues, a…less than romantic home life,” I stopped and awkwardly scratched the back of my head, “It might’ve had something to do with me cheating on her.”
Little Chris stirred in his bed, “You w—” He stopped himself to readjust, “Why did you do that?”
“Lots of reasons.” I pursed my lips, “But that’s not why I’m here.” I said, grabbing Little Chris by the shoulders, trying to capture his full attention, my full attention, “We got into a huge argument, one that seemed like it lasted for days. It revealed layers of her that we…” I paused and let go of my younger self, my shoulders and arms slumped down to my sides, “layers that I never knew about.”
“Hey, come on. I’m sure it wasn’t that bad.”
“No, it really was!” I said, my voice going higher than I anticipated. Both of us crouched down, expecting either of our parents to wake up. “Listen,” I made sure to keep my voice low, “I can tell you everything you’ll ever need to know about Amanda. That way, you can spend your time learning about everything else.”
“Uncover those hidden layers.”
“Now you’re getting it.” I smiled, nodding to my younger self, “And once you know it, you can learn new stuff. And once you know it, I’ll know it. And then I can do…something…with that.”
Little Chris chuckled at me, “You’re a bit all over the place, aren’t you?” He asked.
“Yeah.” I rubbed my head again, “Time travel will mess you up. But you won’t have to do it, luckily. I think I created an alternate universe with this golden ball.”
“You are…” My younger self took a moment to find the right words, “the oddest, most…information-dense dream I have ever had.”
I took the moment to grab his shoulders again, “I promise, I’m not a dream. You’ll be seeing more of me in the future. I can’t tell you when because I’m not sure, but I promise, you will see me again.” I stood up from him and smiled down, “Until next time, Little Chris.” I took a moment to open the plastic bag in my pocket, reaching in with two fingers for the orb in my pocket. In another instant, I was gone: in the next instance I was supposed to be, but I could remember myself making yet another witty response.
He smiled back to me, “Until next time, Big Chris.”
. . .
I found myself in the same crouched position, resting behind a tree as another familiar scent struck me. I peered around my camouflage to see a bus pulling out and away from a car circle at the lip of my neighborhood, coughing smog like propulsion as it crept away. I wanted to take a moment to feel nostalgic, but was interrupted by a flood of directions. The information had come in so much quicker this time, it almost knocked the wind out of me. I felt like a marionette, being pushed up into a standing position and getting shoved towards my objective without my body fully consenting. I crossed over two sets of streets before weaving around a small grove of trees and towards my younger self as he walked home from the bus stop.
“How was school?” I smirked as the words danced off my lips.
Little Chris turned to investigate, “You!” He shouted before backing away as quickly as his feet would carry, too quickly, “You were supp—” he began just before tripping over his own feet and falling to the ground, “You were supposed to be a dream!”
“And you were supposed to remember Amanda’s birthday today.”
“Wait, what?” He seemed more reluctant for the moment, albeit still off guard.
“Listen man, I get it, it’s the first birthday she’s had with you, so it slipped your mind. But it’s the first birthday she’s had with you, so you gotta set the mood and not forget it.” I extended a hand to help him up from the ground, “That’s why I’m here.”
“Alright just…I need a second man.” He accepted the hand, “You show up out of nowhere then disappear for—”
“Three weeks,” I interrupted.
“Yeah…three weeks. Then you just show up out of thin air again. This might not be weird to you but I need a minute.”
“Alright listen, I’ll make this easy for you,” I grabbed both of his shoulders to inspire some confidence, “Amanda’s expecting you to walk her home from the bus stop as usual, but they got stuck behind a few lights and are running late. So this is what I need you to do,” I shook him by his shoulders ever so slightly, “Run as fast as you can home, grab the teddy bear Aunt Ronda got you for valentine’s day and cut the ribbon off of it. Give it to Amanda as a distraction present and drop her off at her house like normal. That’ll buy you some time to make or buy something a bit more thoughtful.”
“Okay!” He nodded back, “Repurpose bear, get real gift. Got it,”
“Alright,” I smiled quickly before the grin soured, remembering that my past self hadn’t felt confident at all by the end of the conversation, “I have complete faith in you.” I took a step back and reached for the baggie in my pocket.
. . .
The first trip to the past I had taken seemed so fluid, as if time itself were the wind breezing by my face. It was jarring to be flung so far, the feeling leaving me completely unprepared for the hop and skip that occurred once I touched the orb again. Before my knees trembled and my legs shook as I landed back in time. Now, it seemed almost as if the ground shifted beneath me without so much as a twitch from either leg. Where my heart had once skipped a beat, I now felt as if I wasn’t comfortable enough where I now stood.
I looked over my shoulder to see Little Chris, thumbing through a drugstore’s catalogue of greeting cards, “I take it she liked the bear.” He flinched as I spoke form beside, looking over his shoulder at me, “you seriously couldn’t think of anything better than a card?” I raised an eyebrow.
“You didn’t give me a whole lot of time to think of anything substantial.” He scoffed.
“Yeah, that’s the way this tends to work.” I gripped the bridge of my nose, remember that my younger self didn’t feel very helped by my comment, “Birthday cards are on the other side, by the way.”
“…Shit.” He muttered under his breath.
“This is gonna take longer than I thought.” He didn’t feel very helped by that comment either.
. . .
I spent so long going forward through my past life, correcting every mistake I ever made, every time I wronged Amanda. So much so that it started to get tiring. There were so many, I had messed up so much, it was almost embarrassing. At one point, I warped forward and attempted to go forward again. To let one mistake slip through the cracks. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t make the device move me forward again. I was obligated to correct whatever I did wrong. I could tell Little Chris was even getting tired of seeing me and was attempting to make corrections before I had to. But he fell short. And when he did, I was there to catch him. The entire thing became a process, the only reward being the reminder, every time, of Amanda’s smiles. I had to convinced myself that was enough.
As I did more, Little Chris got older and I got closer to the present. Back to when I would’ve started. As I did, I got better and better at mending whatever wrong I had done. Some kind of training for when I did return, so that I wouldn’t ever make another mistake, but it was hard to tell if I was learning from my mistakes, or someone else’s. Me and my younger self seemed so distant from each other at this point, like two different people. Which was concerning, considering how close I was getting to my current age.
But I would have to toss those ideas aside, again. Drain my head, purge my thoughts, cleanse my conscious. Until I return…
. . .
It had finally come when I had least expected it. I touched the orb with my index finger and thumb, just as I always had to go forward. Instead of the feeling of instant travel, I could feel wind whipping around my head as I traveled. As the scenery seemed to morph around me, the ball let out a whimper and dimmed, leaving me, at the end of my journey, in a darkened bedroom. The information had stopped coming in, and the feeling of being transported between destinations didn’t surface. It was incredible, waking up in a bed I didn’t recognize, in a room that felt completely foreign. The only thing I did expect was the only thing that wasn’t there. Amanda. I pictured her lying next to me, the two of us embracing each other through the nights—a repaired couple. But I didn’t find her. Only an empty pillow with the impression of her head on it.
I got up, swinging my legs wide across the side of the bed, propelling forward with my arms, ecstatic at what I would find. I could hear Amanda’s voice coming in through a crack in the door, hushed and low. The apartment we shared was beautiful. Finely furnished and decorated. Pictures of us, happy, all around this country and others. It was relieving to see her again, so close to me without there needing to be some event to bring us together.
It wasn’t as relieving to see someone inside of our apartment, kissing her goodbye as he left out our front door, “Amanda?” I asked, my voice rolling through the apartment, catching her off guard as the door shut.
“Chris!” She near jumped as she turned to me, standing in an untied bathrobe, clutching it shut with both hands, “Hun, it’s like…4 in the morning, what are you doing awake?”
I didn’t know how to answer, “I don’t really know. Who was that?”
“Who?” She asked, batting her eyelashes coyly.
That was when I knew what was happening, “Are you…what’s happening?” My voice shook with disbelief as her eyes said what her lips couldn’t, “Who was at the door?” I asked, my voice shrinking.
“I swear, I can explain.” She said, walking closer to me, holding a hand out so that she could come in and embrace me.
I wanted to, I did. But I chose not to and backed away instead, “Start explaining.”
She was debased, choking on her own words as a tear started to form, “I’m so sorry.”
“But I…” I took a moment, placing my hands on my waist. I didn’t want to look her in the eye, so I turned to the side, “I did everything I could. I did everything to make sure you were happy. Weren’t you happy?”
“I was, I was, I promise.” She nodded, “I was so happy, for so long.” She admitted, tears free falling as she did, “But you were so perfect, all the time. You never forgot, or missed, or misplaced anything. And I just…wasn’t.” She said, walking over to me and forcefully turning my head, locking eyes with me, “Someone as great and loving as you…deserves someone so much better than me. I can’t be perfect like you.”
There was a moment of silence between us, “I don’t care what I deserve, I just wanted to be with you!” My body took a step forward without me knowing. I pursed my lips and nodded downward, moving backward in an attempt to reset my tone, “Is this my fault?” I asked, “Is that what you’re trying to say.” I became a bit defensive as my voice seemingly came to a whimper.
That’s when she became defensive too, “You know, you’re not the most important one here!”
There was a strange comfort in her raised voice. Even though she was talking straight to me, singling me out, our conversation had long since been over. I wanted so desperately to walk away, just as I had before, to keep running so I wouldn’t have to face whatever uncertainty laid ahead. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t sacrifice the ground I had made. Not again. “You’re right.” I told her. Again, we felt alone in each other’s company, “You’re right.” I grabbed her by the shoulders, “I’m sorry. All I ever wanted was for you to be happy.” I dropped my arms, letting my hands grip her waist. I pulled her in, resting my head on her shoulder.
“Chris…” She said, her voice barely above a whisper as she threw her arms behind my neck, tears still falling.
“You’re happier with Robby.” I said, “I already know it.”
“Chris, you’re not making any sense.” She said, pulling away from me.
I had to reach into my back pocket to make sure I could go through with what I was planning. Luckily, I still had my plastic baggie.
“Don’t worry about it, Amanda.” I kissed her one last time before I backed away, “I’m going to fix this.”
I pulled the orb around to my front, a dazzling golden glow emanating from it. I realized this was not the finale, this was not the present I would come back to. I realized that making amends, true amends, with Amanda and finally understanding her heart was why I was brought here, just another way station along the road.
. . .
After I had touched the orb, I found myself standing in front of myself. Two futures crashing in the past, right outside my old house, next to the ladder, “Hey, me.”
“Hey…” He said back, “Why are you here.”
“Listen…I know this is what we wanted from the start, but it just doesn’t work out.”
“You’re crazy,” He scoffed, moving closer to the ladder, “Emanuel gave this to us so we could fix it!”
I moved with him, placing a hand on the rung he was aiming for, “I’m telling you it doesn’t work out!”
“That’s why I’m doing it!” My past self broke my hand away from the ladder, “To get Amanda back, so we can fall in love all over again!”
“But she won’t! It works, for a while, but it wears off. She’s so much happier with Robby.”
He gave me a frustrated look, breathing heavily, nostrils flaring and head shaking. I still had the stains of tears on my cheek and shoulder, eyes still red and body still partially shaking, “But I love her.” He said to me, one last plead to reconsider, “We love her!”
I stared at him again, feeling so distant from myself from just a few feet across, “We want her to be happy.” I said, taking a strong step forward towards myself, placing a time breaking hand on my own shoulder, “All we’ve ever wanted—above everything else—was for her to be happy. And if we fix this,” I grabbed his other shoulder, “if we change who we are and fix something that should stay broken, she will never be happy.”
Ambivalent tears fell down his face like streams, “But…” His voice was shattered, unfounded, “But I love her.”
“So let her go.”
That was the last thing I said to any of my past selves, under any circumstance.
. . .
I found myself standing in my kitchen again. Hand still inside the plastic bag, hovering just above the copper and golden orb. Quickly, I pulled my hand away from the ball, closing the bag shut and throwing it across the kitchen. I was so relieved to be back in my apartment, the apartment I had started everything in. I took deep breaths as I sat down at my table again, where I was first across from Emanuel Tigas.
But memories of our conversation were put on hold when a tremor was sent through my left leg. A buzzing, but not separated by seconds. A phone call coming in. Either Amanda or Robby, the happy couple wondering why the guest of honor skipped out early. That’s when I was reminded of the phone call I made just before I left. Just before I went back.
Just then, an idea came to mind. I near jumped off and out of the chair and ran for the bathroom. I took a minute to wipe my face, cleaning up any leftovers from whatever alternate world I was in. When I looked half presentable, I ran out of the apartment, down two stories of stairs and down the road. This was the point where I promised myself I’d get a car. But, for now, legging it back to the church would have to do. I ran as fast as I could, tearing through crosswalks, weaving between cars where I was forced to jaywalk to save time. It took a couple of minutes and a lot of stamina to reach the reception, but I finally did.
I was out of breath and near stumbling when I entered through the doors, trying my best not to make a scene coming back like I had exiting. Careening through the crowd, making my way towards the table Amanda was sitting at, a phone pressed hard against her cheek.
“Hey.” I said, taking a seat next to her, breathing heavily, speaking in a staggered fashion.
“Oh, my God, Chris!” She said, putting her phone away, “You scared me!” She slapped my arm with as much frustration as relief.
“Scared?” I asked, “How’d that happen?”
“The message you left me!” She shouted, almost smiling at how relieved she was, “It sounded like you were going to commit suicide or something!”
“No.” I smiled back, “God no! C’mon!” I reassured, “Listen, I’m really sorry about earlier. I don’t know what came over me, but I’m over it now. I just want you to be happy. And I know you and Robby are going to be happy together.”
“That means a lot to me.” Amanda said, nodding and placing a hand on mine, “Thank you.”
“Of course.” I smiled back. I still hadn’t mended the relationship Amanda and I used to have. But that was fine. I didn’t have to worry about being a good boyfriend and I didn’t have to worry about any past mistakes. Now I was only concerned with being me.
“Mr. Henderson…?” A voice called out from beside me. As I opened my eyes slowly, I turned towards the murmur. An attendant with a clipboard shot me a dissatisfied, impatient look as she asked again, “Mr. Henderson?”
“Yes?” I asked, collecting myself, straightening my clothes, as I sat up in the seat I had slumped into.
“The doctor is waiting for you, if you’ll follow me.” She said, turning around without waiting for my response. It seemed to be more of a formality, or maybe she just made it seem that way with her icy glares. Once I had left my chair and caught up, she had looked over her shoulder at me, “Do you know why you’re here, Mr. Henderson?” She asked, another formality, “May I call you Matthew?”
A more personal question like that caught me more off guard than anything else she had said, “Sure.” I replied, half-heartedly, “I came in because of my sleepwalking.” I said. It, evidently, didn’t merit a response.
“Your doctor is right though this door.” She pointed down the hallway. A straight hallway. Lifeless, bland, forgettable. Grey and neutral, vague. The door shared all of these attributes, with the exception of a small name tag reading “Dr. Scorttes”.
Entering in, I quickly spotted him flipping through papers, patient notes, and prescriptions. He looked up to me, oddly, almost jumping from his seat, “Matthew! I wasn’t expecting you so soon!”
“I didn’t expect to get screened through so quickly.” I half laughed, “So, looks like we’re in the same boat.” I said, sitting down across from him.
“You’re here about the sleepwalking then?” Dr. Scorttes asked me, pacing the end of the room he had appropriated.
“Yeah, I uh…I’ve been having some trouble with it lately.” I answered.
“Before I do anything, I’ll want to know how intense it all is, so…take a moment and lay down.” He gestured to me, “I want you to relax and think hard about the first time you remember this happening.”
I didn’t much understand the methods, but complied without hesitation. Laying down across the sanitary paper spread along the chair and thinking back. I closed my eyes to see if that would help.
“Good.” Dr. Scorttes continued, “Now…Think back…
… Mr. Henderson?
“Mr. Henderson…?” The voice called out again. Again, it prompted me to wake up. Only, this time, I shot my eyes open, gasping for breath, flailing, falling from my seat.
“Mr. Henderson!” The attendant shouted for me, kneeling at my side as I heaved for air.
It didn’t take long for me to readjust to the situation. Getting off the floor and dusting myself off, “I’m fine…” I said while trying to keep a nonchalant tone.
She had quickly helped me up, “Bad dream?” She asked, returning me to my seat in the waiting room.
“What’s happening?” I asked, my voice becoming frantic and unstable.
“Don’t worry, son.” Dr. Scorttes said, trying to reaffirm me from his desk. I didn’t remember getting into his room. Maybe his hallway was too forgettable, “You just need to take this prescription to the pharmacy. Then you can take….
… your pills?”
Another voice coming from my side, almost as if I was still asleep. It dragged me from the darkness, pulling me back to an unexpected sight. I had come back to see myself, in a mirror.
“I said are you done?” The voice asked again. My wife. She had been waiting with the same impatient stare at the door to the bathroom, “Are you done taking your pills?” I had to grip the bridge of my nose before I could refocus on the situation. The first thing to come to my attention was the bottle of medication in my hand. The second was the nagging thought of how I got home. Or when.
“I…” I started, barging into the sentence without figuring a point for myself to make, “How long have I been standing here?” I asked. I wanted to ask when and how I got home.
“You said you were going to take them 15 minutes ago.” She answered, “I assume you’ve been here since.”
I was thinking a lot. Too much maybe. Which meant I was blinking in turn. It must have looked strange from where she was standing, “I’m sorry.” I said, placing the bottle on the sink. I lied. But it seemed like the right thing to say.
“I think tonight you should get some sleep.” She had said, dropping her gaze down in an attempt to meet my eyes. I had let them fall lower and lower as the conversation dragged on, up until they were staring at the floor, “But, since I know you won’t…do you want me to stay up with you?”
“No…” I lied again. Of course I wanted her to. But I also didn’t want her losing sleep over me. Silly thing.
She had left from the bathroom door, saying, “Goodnight” before she left. I stayed inside for a few more minutes after she was gone, standing with and by myself. I remember leaving the bathroom. But I don’t remember laying down on the couch, or turning on my TV. I remember walking through my hallways before emerging into the den. Walking down one and turning into the other before I could resume my night. My hallways are bland, grey, neutral, forgettable.
I don’t remember rolling onto my back and muting the TV. But I do remember why. I wanted to try what Dr. Scorttes asked me to do. Closing my eyes and focusing on the first time. Fixating on the one moment that I…
…I don’t remember
“You don’t remember?” Dr. Scorttes asked me, still pacing on his side of the room.
“That’s the problem.” I explained, sitting up from the sanitized paper, “My dreams are usually so realistic…it’s hard to know when they even end.”
“Sounds like that’s why you’re having trouble remembering. Do you remember anything recurring? Anything that could help differentiate between real and not?” He asked.
“Maybe.” I had spoken without meaning. It passed through my mind without a second thought, hitting my lips as the next checkpoint. By then, I tried to stop myself from uttering the word but couldn’t. I still did my best to hinder Dr. Scorttes from hearing it though. The word fell off of my lips, quiet but still audible. Dancing though the air up into Dr. Scorttes’ ear.
“I’m no neurosurgeon, but I know someone…
…who can help
“Someone who can help? What, are you gonna be talking to a shrink?” She asked, sitting down beside me on the couch.
“I don’t know yet.” I said back, sitting beside me on the couch, continuing a conversation I didn’t recall starting. She moved her hand to the side a bit as she prepared her next sentence. As her ring finger passed through a ray of light penetrating the blinds, a glare shot off of the diamond embedded in her ring. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to snap me out of the conversation. Drawing my attention away from sentences and reactions that I shouldn’t be able to make and back to what was really important.
“Where…” I started, standing up from the couch I was sitting on and being temporarily blinded by the light seeping in from beyond the window, “Where am I now and what time is it?”
“Hun,” She started, “Are you okay?”
My voice stumbled, “I just,” My eyes darted subtly, wobbling as I tried to understand where I was, “I just…”
“You’re starting to worry me.” she said, standing up to echo my own movements.
“I just…need to know where I am. And what time it is.” I reiterated. I thought it would emphasize the importance of the information if I repeated it again, slower.
“It’s the morning. You’re at home. You passed out on the couch and I woke you up a few minutes ago.” She said, seeming to have taken my tone more personally than I had intended. She. She. She… She… She…It kept cycling through my head. She was the only word that came to mind. Not even dear. Honey. Darling.
“You’re my wife!” I had shouted at her, placing my hands on top of my head as I walked away from her. Her. Her…Her, “I don’t even know your name!”
“Okay, now you’re starting to scare me, Eric.”
That’s when I stopped. Something was wrong. It had to be wrong. Something had to be. I turned to see her again. She was still echoing my movements; or maybe I was mirroring hers. Either way, we were both staring into each other’s eyes, crying them dry. I remember wanting to drop my hands. To walk closer to her, wrap my arms around her and apologize. Over and over until the tears stopped and started again. Joyfully.
But I didn’t. I did drop my arms and walk closer. I did whisper, “I’m sorry” as I passed her into the hallway. Still low, still quiet, still audible as my lips passed her ear.
I remember walking through the hallway. My hallways are bland, grey, neutral, forgettable. Too forgettable. I remember walking to the end of my hallway to come to a door that I thought would lead me outside. It lead further inside. Too far inside. I don’t remember entering the door. I remember walking through the other side of it to find Dr. Scorttes flipping through more papers, patient notes, prescriptions.
“I…” I had started, still unaware of the situation.
“Was just leaving.” Dr. Scorttes reaffirmed, “I gave you the card for that psychiatrist.”
This conversation has been done for some time. I was in it. I am the newcomer to the conversation. A piece of me knows I have talked to him about getting help. A part of me knows he recommended a psychiatrist he knew. A portion of me knows the business card has been buried in my pocket, underneath a phone I refuse to answer for fear of the wife I don’t know. Another section of me doesn’t know any of these things. Those sections are giving the agonizing screams of confusion and disorientation. Those sections have resorted to instinct for safe haven.
“Make sure you tell them Hank sent you.” Dr. Scorttes said before I left out of his door. A door that I had not closed. It remained open. I turned into it, that’s what I remember, before the blackness set in again. But it was shorter this time.
Abridged. Broken. Sectioned.
It didn’t take quite as long for the voice to drag me from the depths of the abyss, “You’re the one Hank sent. Mr…Thompson! Yes, I’ve been waiting to see you since Hank sent me your paper work.” He almost seemed elated; I wanted to convey the same excitement but couldn’t manage in the groggy state I had fallen into.
“Seems you’ve had trouble with sleepwalking recently.” He went on, hoping for a response I was unable to give.
“That’s the least of his issues!” I heard her voice again from the side. My darling. Honey. Wife, “He’s acting like a completely different person. Like he’s disconnected from everything around him.”
“Given the circumstances…” The psychiatrist flipped through his papers as he passively spoke, “It wouldn’t be uncommon.”
I reached my hand out from the chair that I was slumped in, it seemed strange to be grasping towards either of them at this point. My memory had failed and I was left without the details I might’ve needed to save the relationship I never had. She noticed my fingers from the peripheral, glancing down at me with a pitiful stare, “Do you see this?” She spoke to him but looked at me, as if I had done something wrong. I wish I could say I hadn’t. He responded, saying something at first that remained inaudible to me in my slump, “…I’m no marriage counselor. Anything besides his condition, you and Eric will have to work out yourselves.”
Again, it snapped me out of the handicapped state I had been in. My name up for debate. The only thing I thought I had left as a tether to fact. I stood up between the two, making my voice boom as much as I could with the haze still partially intact, “What did you call me?” I asked.
“Please, one mental breakdown at a time.” He motioned one hand up defensively, laughing me off
“Did you just…” My voice wavered as she placed a hand over my forearm, moving it back and forth in an attempt to soothe me. A failed attempt, “Did you call me Eric?”
Their faces seemed to retain a certain amount of shock from my question. She motioned slowly to console me but I backed away, snatching my arm away from her reach, stumbling backwards into the corner of the room, their eyes fixed scornfully…pitiably on me. My mouth opened but ran out of ammunition, water started to form around my eyes as I shook my head in desperation,
“No that’s…please that’s not me.” My head had sunken and was pointed towards the floor, I had lifted it to return their stares, “That’s not me.”
But that was when the third voice came, shattering me and forcing my eyes shut as I refused whichever reality was being forced upon me, “Mr. Henderson? Mr. Henderson, are you okay?”
I forced my eyes open as I countered, “Who’s that?!” My voice seemed to ring through a small room, annoying Dr. Scorttes as my shout hit his ears, “Jesus.” He flinched, “It’s the card for the shrink you wanted.”
“H-…Hank?” My voice trembled again.
“Since when are we on a first name basis?” He scoffed, oblivious to my situation, which I wouldn’t indulge him in for fear of not knowing it myself. I wouldn’t admit that doubt to myself.
“You—you called me Matthew!” I was elated, I would’ve jumped up from the sanitized paper if it weren’t for the haze I had felt since before.
“That’s your name, isn’t it?” He asked, almost concerned as he started to notice me more, even if it was only from his peripherals.
“Isn’t it?” I asked as I shook my head, pinching the bridge of my nose as a twinge passed through my head.
“You’re supposed to be telling me.” Her voice passed through my ears once more. I had reluctantly opened my eyes to see her in front of me again.
“I.” My words failed me once again as I stared into her pained eyes, tears ready to fall in the presence of my absent mind, “God, please, tell me what I’m supposed to do.” It seemed the right thing to say. I didn’t want to hurt her, so I gave in to the responses I shouldn’t be able to say. It didn’t seem to help the way I wanted it to.
“You’re unbelievable.” She rolled her eyes, dropping her arms and the packed bags in them as she retreated back down my hallway. My hallway is forgettable.
Her face is not. A feeling, deeper than the impulses and reactions I was suppressing, deeper than the responses I refused to give, emerged and controlled my motion. I reached an arm out after her hand, grabbing it and pulling myself to her back, falling to my knees as I wrapped both arms around her waist.
“It’s all so messed up!” I sobbed into her back, trying to make her understand, “I just don’t know what to do! Please tell me what to do…” I wanted to keep shouting, but my voice wavered and fell as I had.
“You’ll have to talk to the psych.” Dr. Scorttes voice rang through my ears, his chair and himself sitting impossibly inside of our living room. She didn’t seem to notice him but I had turned my head just before my ears started to ring with another voice, “You’ll just have to follow me, Mr. Henderson.” The attendant called out, trying to wake me from whichever fever dream she thought I was in. Before I could process her voice, the psychiatrist and my wife began an argument before me. Further alienating the woman I had my arms wrapped around.
Their voices bounced off of each other, echoing through my ears, intensifying with each syllable, repeating lines over and over. I forced my eyes shut in the hopes that I could escape again. To be taken to any memory or any dream. Anything that wasn’t where I was. I pulled my arms away from her waist and covered my ears to no avail. I buckled over, forehead to knees, hyperventilating in fearful anxiety.
“Can everyone PLEASE be quite?!” I screamed, the only time my voice hadn’t failed me. As each voice went dead silent, I was left with my own sobbing as the only thing I could hear. But only briefly. Another voice calling to me, only unfamiliar.
“Matthew,” The voice pulled me away from my rest once more. My body seemed weak, as weak as my voice had been. My half opened eyes spotted a doctor standing above me, in an actual hospital room. His facial features were forgettable, but familiar all the same. His name badge seemed blurry at the edge of my vision, but I was more focused on his words, “Welcome back to the land of the living.” He looked through charts, making sure to look down at me just to make sure I hadn’t faded out of consciousness again, “During our last round of scans, we found a sort of…” I watched him look for the right word to use, something that wouldn’t scare me, “anomaly.” He went with it, “A couple of the nuts and bolts in your noggin’ were overworking. Long story short, we’re expecting you to recover from it.” He smiled.
“Thanks doc…” I smiled weakly back.
“Yeah, all you have to do…is…take
… your pills?”
“I said are you done?” The voice asked again. My wife. She had been waiting with the same impatient stare in the bathroom, “Are you done taking your pills?” I had to grip the bridge of my nose before I could refocus on the situation. The first thing to come to my attention was the bottle of medication in my hand. The second was the nagging thought of how I got home. Or when.
“I…” I started, feeling a vague feeling of déjà vu, “How long have I been standing here?” It seemed like the right thing to say.
“You said you were going to take those 15 minutes ago.” She answered, almost worried, “I assume you’ve been here since.
I had thought a lot, maybe too much, which meant I was blinking in turn. It must have looked strange from where she was standing, “I’m sorry.” I said, placing the bottle on the sink. This time…it didn’t feel like a lie. I was concerned, concerned that I had concerned her.
“I think tonight you should get some sleep.” She had said, without dropping her gaze, “But, since I know you won’t, do you—.”
“No.” I interrupted, smiling as I met her eyes, walking in close so I could wrap my arms around her again, “I think I’d really just like to be with you tonight.” Her eyes seemed to soften as she smiled at me, giving me a kiss on the cheek as she retreated away from the bathroom doorway.
“Then I’ll meet you in there.” She had begun to walk away.
Once again, she left me with and by myself. Alone to stare into the bottle of pills in my hand before setting them aside and chasing after her.
My hallway is gray and neutral. My hallway is far from forgettable. With pictures of my wife hung all around and snapshots of our wedding accompanying them. None vague, none neutral. My hallway is worth remembering.
A brief compilation of chronologically scattered poetry
During the Night – For the time I thought I would never sleep
I really envy the characters from movies
I’m jealous of their visible arcs
of the palpable progression they make
of the neat happy endings they get to have
But more than anything,
I’m jealous they get to have montages.
I wish so much that I could skip through the day with a few
I wish so hard that I could undercut the malignancy with
a cross fade.
But more than anything,
I envy the way they skip the night.
I so desire the ability not to lay in bed for hours.
Not to toss and turn through the early midnight’s.
I wish I didn’t have to be alone with my thoughts.
Contemplating responses to conversations that will never take place.
But more than anything,
I wish I wasn’t alone with my memories.
I wish so badly to not be trapped with these
Depictions – For the time the bus ride was unusually existential
Dreary days, darkened skies
Thunder playing for distant crowds
Soaking streets and bare white lies
hollow skies with space for crying clouds
Is the ground truly holy if it lay untouched?
Is it the rain’s fault for failing to infiltrate?
Or maybe the clouds for dropping them from too high up
Or even the leaves for failing to abate
I’ve watched the world go by through a window while I daydreamed
And wondered if a rhyme scheme really made it poetry
If ABAB captures the fragrances of
Old Gasoline Tanks
Wood Posted Mailboxes
Or Humming Power Lines
Or if I can properly describe the drifting sounds of
Car Wheels Grinding Away From The Office
Or Any Other Statement
Or perhaps not,
perhaps wind eludes even my most tranquil thought
I can’t define the swooping chills or goosebumps of gusting cries carried on the droplets of freshly minted rain, the murmurs of nature calling through rustled leaves and side paneled homes. Feeling the tilt of a planet against your face, feeling the warming pull of tempest’s call and the excitement of the past voices it carries.
Perhaps rust will forever remain a shade of red
A pure sensation that cannot be said
I can’t describe the feeling of rubbing an index finger against the oxidized surface, peeling humbled metal away in flakes of red dust and the charred remains of proud steel. Feeling the sturdy decay, feeling the uneven grace of rot brought briefly to life only by the heat of a single drop of exhumed blood.
But there are some things I just don’t know how to put into words
What Makes A Man –For the time I was asked to answer a question
I often visit a diner to contemplate the questions of life
The steam from my cup ebbs with patient breaths
Staining a nearby window in grey streaks and crests
Spiraling wisps slowly put me into a shadowy trance
Where my most existential thoughts are free to dance
What is it that makes a man, I wonder
My anatomy is no different
Of Skin, Blood, and Bone;
My molecules remain bound
Of Soulless Atoms;
My body is nothing more than dust
Of stars long dead.
What is it inside a man that makes him more?
The same question I’ve pondered every drink before,
My trance fades slightly, then slowly comes in
As I stare through the window and ponder once again.
What is it that makes a man, I think
My Life is made of countless Coincidences
Of years untold;
My Free Will is an illusion
Of past actions recurred;
My thoughts are an enigma
Of coded proofs.
I retrain my focus on the cup, a moment of reprieve
A brief stillness before my trance can proceed,
And I imagined a man, torn down to its base
His body worn away, without a trace
I try to think of what would be left behind
What could be left to describe mankind?
What is it that makes a man, I reflect
My Mind is a shelter
Of uniqueness so rare;
My Voice is a shadow
Of my Soul’s indentation
My Body is just an echo
Of what I am deep within
Again I lack an answer as I drink from my lonely cup
And again I wish my thoughts weren’t so dreadfully stuck
Perhaps I’ll spend eternity searching through my mind
And perhaps I’ll never know how a man is defined,
But I know whatever it is that makes a man true
Is the same thing, inside, that makes me a man too.
The Impromptu Orchestra –For the time the day was too long
Do you ever have a moment, or a feeling
A feeling where you have to stand up and shout and sing
A feeling where you hear your favorite song at the end of a day
And you just have to get up and scream the lyrics.
That feeling is strange because it overwhelms you.
It forces you up and then pushes something into your hand because only now do you need a proper microphone.
And you turn the volume all the way up.
And you open your windows so the whole world can hear.
And you sing the verses out of order.
Because the song doesn’t matter, you’re singing the way you feel.
Because what the hell does the band know? They only wrote it.
The order falls away and the volume dies down and you eventually let go of your makeshift microphone and you go back to having your bad day.
You press next song and reset the shuffle hoping you land on your song again.
Maybe this time you’ll actually sing it instead of yelling at a mirror.
But who are you kidding?
That’s the best part.
Lilacs – For the time the courtyard actually looked nice for once
The lilacs are in bloom.
Their canopies open like hands grasping at the life-giving sun.
Nature hums around them in a square courtyard orchestra,
Singing the song of a sheltered ecosystem,
An isolated cacophony paced to the clock ticks and heartbeats of eager Friday students.
Of nights to be on weekend’s eve who hope the day could be over;
Of summer’s kiss and midnight’s bliss for dancing, howling hoarders.
The courtyard breathes the thoughts of tepid school goers who, if the night ahead will loom,
Can look outside for a single breath would see
The lilacs are in bloom.
Standby – For the time I should’ve let my pride get the best of me
This is the part where I apologize
Where “sorry” starts before the cries
Where I’ll internalize, again, what I want to say
Where I relinquish my pride to keep an argument at bay
Regret use to run shallow, but rivers deepen into the rock.
Where I’ll pretend to be wrong to spare your feelings
Where I begin the concealing
To obscure my words and prevent the sorrow
Whatever I can do, if it means seeing you tomorrow
Further and further until the truth is blocked
They don’t even sound like me now
Hollow amends souring my mouth
Syllables are passing through, but they aren’t words.
And only when the truth has been fully concealed
New locks placed on my mind, further enclosing the latest pairs
The oldest tighten, cracking under their own pressure.
Only then will the will the mountains have fully healed
This is the part where I apologize
Where I use “sorry” as a vagrant disguise
Recall – For the time my mind became my least favorite escape route
I lied awake late last night, my only company was thought.
I can’t remember the last time me myself and I fought.
Myself blamed me for what I began
I countered, “I’ve done all I can”
We shared a disappointed nod, indulging in a lie
If it meant avoiding another goodbye.
Because I’m killing myself inside
Just trying to decide
If I should keep you close
Or sweep away the broken pieces of my heart and mind
And I’d cling to our memories, I swear
If I knew from the beginning you weren’t ever even there.
Stranded – For the time I needed the people in my life
A student roaming the halls, head bowed, lonely straight to the core
A misunderstood outcast who’s out lash would be seen as brash
He keeps to himself, stranded in company, alone in the face of
Boys and girls who share his space, and dread his face, he’ll just head for the
As he stares to the clock, hoping the second hand will strike the
Then the bell will start to scream, so then he starts to careen
The lunch area, around his friends, talking to him of their own
He feels loved, where the rest of the day is spent so
School becomes his waiting game, lunch coming as a
For having the patience to be misunderstood, hide under his hood, he can be
Persevere – For the time She was the only person I would listen to
Pretend you’re happy, pretend you’re swell.
That the world is bright, that all is well.
The sun shines bright, the moon lies low
That your lamps burn dim, with gentle glows.
The soft night turns, twists, and sways.
And in your head, beautiful dreams are played.
But when you wake, you know what is true.
You know the world simply didn’t pay you its due.
That what you’ve earned has not been fulfilled.
That your dreams are empty still.
And thought the darkness might ensue, you battle it back.
You won’t let despair swallow your tracks.
But you’ve been walking this road for so long, how do you know your goal is near?
…And you whispered softly, “Please. Persevere.”
So I did and I tried.
I failed and I lied.
And so I came back, “How can I hold hope, after so many years?”
…And you whispered softly, “Please. Persevere.”
And once more I tried.
Even swallowed my pride.
And so I came back, “Please, just tell me. Your words are unclear!”
…And you whispered softly, “Please. Persevere.”
And I will, I promise. Again and again.
I’ll craft masterpieces with this pen.
Because when I’m beaten, and rejected. Derailed, or neglected. Denied, or disrespected.
I promise to you, my dear. I will, forever, persevere.
Dear Erin – For the time She left me to my devices
Hey there, Erin. It’s really been a long time.
And I’m sorry to hear things are less than fine.
And it seems that you were right all along…
About the sorrow of living. About it’s tragic song.
So, I’m sorry the good times always seem to have run.
And I’m sorry there was nothing but darkness to come.
I’m sorry I wasn’t there when it was most needed
It’s only, you were so strong, I felt unneeded
And I’m sorry I couldn’t help you navigate the light.
To get you through the darkness, and to make things right.
And my words can say much more than this poem really can.
So I’m sorry I can’t express how sorry I truly am.
And I can remember a time where we weren’t just sad.
When we and our friends could even be glad
But as time long past and times far gone.
The past will stay where the past belongs.
But know that from you, I learned the error in my ways.
I learned to change, to make my own brighter days.
Because you twisted and knotted destinies shape.
You curled and ripped, and created your fate.
You made the world what you wanted it to be.
Or you tried, but that’s all that matters to me.
You won’t become another martyr of sin.
You’ll enhance the burning passion within.
You inspire me to do good for the good I hold.
You inspire all of us to make everyone behold.
For inside of us burns the flame of life.
A flame that burns light into the darkest strife.
So, Dear Erin, you show me even in death.
That life can be more than just breath after breath.
You show me that what I do really matters.
And that even when my world starts to shatter.
I can pick up, and start over again.
All I need to do is believe now and then.
Leid – For the time I thought I felt love in my heart
The rain fell evenly through the night
Thunder screaming, lightning burning bright
I heard a strange sound come from beside
My phone, buzzing, singing an injured leid
I answered, but she spoke before me
Her voice came through determined, but still shaky
“I have a question for you…
If I said I love you, would you say it, too?”
Silence is frightening, stagnant, deepening
Each second counting down when I know she’s listening
So I searched my heart and mind alike
Thought through every kiss, talk, hug, and fight
I didn’t know how to answer so suddenly
“All I want is to make sure you’re happy.”
It wasn’t a lie, but it was all I could offer
The most neutral thing I could think to say to her
And I could hear a sigh from the other end
Then, I knew what I had to mend
So I started, “I have a question for you…
If I said I love you, would you say it, too?”
Silence is frightening, stagnant, deepening
Seconds flying by in the between
Her voice didn’t come through, determined or shaky
I didn’t hear anything, she must’ve hung up, maybe.
Dearest Erin – For the time my memory deceived me
It’s been six years since we were together,
Four since communications fell apart
Two since I tried talking to you again
One since you broke my heart
It’s been so long, my memories aren’t even clear now
The hard part is, I had faith in you
I believed you were strong
But, hey, jumping down a few stories
That’s a hell of a way to prove me wrong
No one but me even remembers you
And now I don’t even know who I’m writing for
I can’t even afford that luxury anymore
Which leads me to believe…
Now all I’ve got is memories of us
Memories I can no longer trust
You’re nothing but a complex of my memory
So I won’t remember, I’ll let you go
For all the time we shared that we didn’t at all, I’ve got nothing left to show.
And Now – For the time I dabbled in song writing
Long ago: the planet we stood on was flat
And everyone accepted it as ordinary fact
Then we unraveled the truths disguise
Then we sent space ships up into the skies
(And now) We all know of the blue marble’s majesty
We all know you can sail from sea, to shining sea
We all know circumnavigation
Was the foundation
Of the world
We are better,
than our predecessors. (And now)
We know better,
than our ancestors. (And Now)
We must choose,
Win or Lose…
The course of our world.
Untitled – For the time I felt uncharacteristically hopeful
Fight not for the stories of old
Fight for the ones yet to be told
The stories that dare to make us dream
The stories that make our futures gleam
Stories that can boil our blood
Stories that bring tears to flood
Stories that make us cheer for more
Or stories that make us tired and bored…
The stories of new, the next best thing
Not the stories of old, the last regime
Where the past held lessons to be learned
The future gets something inside of us to burn
A yearning, a sense, an idea, a thought
Something for which we have fought and fought
a better day, a happier life
A brighter smile, and an end to all strife
So don’t grab for the dreams of long lost dates
Aspire for the dreams you’ve yet to make
What would you do if a stranger approached you with the opportunity to go back and change your life one, mistake at a time? What if your reality was indistinguishable from your dreams and it was up to you to decide what was real? What if the only person you ever really loved was never anything more than your mind playing tricks on you? Read as author Jalen Cole navigates the dangerous waters of introspection, self-doubt, and inner discourse in a compilation of his best work to date.