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Four-thirty a.m.

Four-thirty a.m.

Four-thirty a.m. They yell at each other from across the street, their voices echoing through the emptiness.

Are you just going to walk away from me? After all this?

What do you want from me?

I want you to come here.

Why?

Because I need you.

I’m no good, I’m fuckin’ no good.

But I need you.

I can’t do anything for you. I can’t do anything for myself.

We were together. Why are you walking away from me? Now?

He walks across the street, stands close to her. Wearing a backpack she stands next to her bicycle in the shadows of a streetlight. He too wears a backpack. Why? she cries. I can’t do anything for you, he says. We were together, she says. He walks away from her. She steps out of the shadow. He turns and takes a step toward her. She moves toward him, he spins away and walks to the corner and disappears.

She cries into the emptiness. Why? What did I do?

Nothing. She crosses the street and stands where he stood a minute ago. She hesitates, not knowing which direction to go. He is gone. She walks toward the corner until she is only shadow.

Five-thirty a.m. The darkness is receding, the street is empty. Voices travel from the park down the street, a fight, an argument. I move to the balcony to listen, but I can’t make out what is being said. Once the sun is up the voices will be lost in the hustle.

The buses begin the day. Every hour they pick up passengers and follow their routes. In all directions, to the bigger cities west and south and north. Not many of them travel east, the direction of sunrise, of birth, of new life. The diesel engines belch black smoke, the passengers hidden behind dark windows.

The homeless are awake, stretching with the first rays of sunlight. The days are growing shorter. Winter is coming. They have saved little, not enough to get them somewhere warmer. They have a few months yet, not to worry.

Once the sun spreads its long arms along the once empty street, I go inside and dress and walk downstairs and down the sidewalk toward the park. I wonder about the girl with the backpack and bicycle. Did she take up with the homeless drifters?

I walk across the street but I don’t find her. Or her boyfriend. He is gone, I suspect. I feel sad and alone. She has nothing but sadness to fill her heart. My sadness is selfish. Is all sadness selfish? No, I don’t think so.

I can’t catch the meaning of the prattle among the homeless. Here, I am excluded. Even in my own apartment, I am a stranger. I leave. She is nowhere and the argument has been settled. I walk back to my apartment. Standing on the balcony in the glow of sunlight with a cup of coffee leaves me feeling less alone.

Six-thirty a.m. The buses roar along the street below and people are moving about. The sun is up. An argument breaks out between two construction workers across the street. They face a long day but soon the construction will be done and they can rest. Until another job begins.

They scream back and forth. Their argument is angry. I can’t quite make them out through the leaves of the tree next to the parking lot. It doesn’t matter. I won’t interfere. It is their business and they will work it out. Or not. Maybe they’ll stay angry all day. It is too bad. It’s not the best way to go through the day.

I can no longer hear the conversations among the homeless in the park. The sun blurs their words. I wonder how the sun impacts the energy of sound? Is there science behind this? Maybe their words become lost in the noise and confusion of the new day.

I refill my coffee. It is already stale and bitter. If I smoked I would have a cigarette, but I don’t smoke. From my balcony, I see the two men who were arguing earlier are taking a cigarette break. They must have settled their argument. Or grown to hate each other so much that they refuse even to argue. Words are sharper than swords.

My day moves across the sky like the sun.

Seven-thirty a.m. I sit at my computer to write. Words drip from me like raindrops from leaves in spring. The loud hot summer is coming to an end. Kids are back in school, swimming pools are empty, parks are filled with the homeless and the elderly.

I think back on the end of my summers when I was a kid. The neighborhood boys wore new shoes and stiff blue jeans the first day of school. We were scolded by our mothers for the grass stains on our new blue jeans the first afternoon after school. All of us. We couldn’t help it, playing football on gravel tore the knees out of our jeans. Grass stains seemed better. But our mothers didn’t think so. Until we started coming home with the knees torn out, they’d never understand.

Mothers didn’t have to understand, however. We couldn’t win.

I liked it when my son came home with grass stains on the knees of his jeans. And maybe a rip in his tee shirt. And a scraped chin. He doesn’t come home at all now. Grass stains aren’t so bad.

The words drip, drip, drip. One word falling after another. Falling slowly. I await another spring. But first the fall and then winter. Winter isn’t so bad, I tell myself. Not so bad. As long as the words continue to drip to remind me there will be another spring, then winters aren’t so bad.

I will make it, I’m sure. And if not, well I had a good run. The kids are back in school now and the park is quieter.

Eight-thirty a.m. I am restless and walk out onto the balcony. The buses move their passengers with determination. I am thankful so many choose to ride the bus instead of drive. To work, to school, to the store. Or to visit a museum. The Botanic Gardens, the Art Museum, the Museum of Nature and Science, the Planetarium, the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Things to do.

I stand on the balcony, the buses idle at the stoplight. The diesel engines rattle and spew black smoke. It is still better than so many cars up and down the street. There are still too many cars, however, because there are too many people. I shouldn’t complain. I am here too.

I am taking an antibiotic for a bad tooth. Four pills a day. One every six hours. But the dentist said I didn’t need to get up in the middle of the night. Why didn’t he say one every five hours? It doesn’t matter, I can’t remember when I took the last one anyway. I walk inside and take a pill. It doesn’t matter, they aren’t helping. The pain is worse.

Pain isn’t a bad thing. When my son didn’t come home, I forgot how to sleep. Sleep brought misery. I stared at the ceiling, but I couldn’t see anything. I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t exist. Sleep comes only to those who exist. So does pain.

I have adjusted. There are worse things than toothaches. The coffee is bitterer now than before. I toss it down the sink and clean the coffee pot. I walk past the desk back to the balcony. I wonder about the construction workers across the street. They are quiet. Friends again? I doubt it. They probably realize the work is easier with two than one. Or they steep in their own anger. Getting blacker and blacker, bitterer and bitterer. They should toss it down the sink. Anger is undrinkable.

Nine-thirty a.m. In the glare of sunlight, I think I should change. Become someone different. It always sounds appealing to me, this notion of change. Disappearing for a while and reappearing as someone new. Superman does it. Spiderman too. Batman. Superheroes. I can’t name them all. The writers who created these superheroes became someone different. They created different worlds. All of us daydream. We daydreamed more when we were young and carefree. What happens to us?

We grow up.

The buses stay on schedule. The world stays on schedule. Particles of matter are wild and out of control and yet, the world stays on schedule. Is earth the only place in the universe where order is maintained? Or do I imagine this? What I am observing is chaos but my mind puts it in order. I wonder about this.

In 1927, the German physicist Werner Heisenberg stated that the more precisely the position of some particle is determined, the less precisely its momentum can be known. This is known as the Uncertainty Principle. The way I understand it is by observing something, we change its reality. Unobserved particles behave differently. I wonder how this can be? Maybe the truth is we don’t know how anything behaves. Our minds put it into some order so we don’t go mad.

I have been up for five hours now. I awoke at three. The witching hour. This is the time of night I usually awake. I believe in ghosts. Spirits. All sorts of things I can’t see but which influence me. The universe is a dark place, full of dark energy. What is going on out there?

After my son committed suicide, I stayed awake hoping he’d give me a sign. Anything to let me know that his spirit still lived. I heard noises in the house and I imagined his spirit was restless. He foraged through the kitchen, helping himself to a late night snack. Lights turned on. Floorboards creaked. Things crashed to the floor.

On a bright August afternoon, the man to whom I sold my son’s musical instruments and gear – his guitars, drums, keyboards, amps, speakers – came to pick it up. We couldn’t get it all into his van, so he called a friend who had a pickup truck. After we loaded the van and the pickup truck, he said goodbye and drove away. I was standing in the driveway watching them drive away when all of a sudden the sky turned black, thunder roared overhead, lightning lit up the sky, the wind tore limbs from trees. I looked up into the angry sky, pleading with my son. You couldn’t expect me to carry all of this with me forever, could you? It suddenly occurred to me, why should he be angry with me? I didn’t leave him, he left me. I would never have left him – never.

The wind died down, the dark clouds disappeared, the sunshine returned. The way of a human life. We explode into the world, screaming, we live for a while, and then fade into memory.

The sun on the balcony is intense and I step back inside.

Ten-thirty a.m. I brush my teeth and make the bed. Each day unfolds. A series of events. A day doesn’t follow a cadence but is divided into fragments we piece together into patterns. Some fragments become fixed in our minds as memories.

The first line of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus: “The world is all that is the case.” The second line: “The world is the totality of facts, not of things.” He goes on to write: “Philosophy sets limits to the much disputed sphere of natural science. It must set limits to what can be thought; and, in doing so, to what cannot be thought. It must set limits to what cannot be thought by working outwards through what can be thought. It will signify what cannot be said, by presenting clearly what can be said.”

We are left with what can be said as our only means to come to grips with what cannot be said. The unspeakable. The conveyance of thought is quite impossible. The moment it is said, it becomes a jumble of words, each of which has many meanings. The meaning of the whole is defined by the meaning of its parts. What a mess. Look at the dictionary. And how many dictionaries exist around the world? And then we must contend with quantum mechanics and relativity. And the Uncertainty Principle warning us that by looking at a thing, we change it.

In order to know something, we must go to the core of it, examine its heart. But not the muscle pumping blood through its arteries. No, we must look at what makes it what it is. But how do we strip away all that it isn’t in order to discover what it is? The last line of the Tractatus: “Whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must be silent.”

Outside the buses idle at the stoplight. Order. An attempt at it anyway. It takes only one bus to run a red light to disrupt order. Or a pedestrian to step in front of an oncoming bus. Or a loaded gun in my son’s hand.

Whereof we cannot speak…

In each day there is a fragment that knocks me to my knees.

Eleven-thirty a.m. I step onto the balcony. The sun is intense. My head aches. I am weary. The determination by the buses to follow their schedule amazes me. Where are the passengers going at eleven-thirty in the morning? Maybe some have no destination but rather seek refuge from the sun. I step inside. The order outside has erupted in my brain. I can no longer think about anything. Sartre said, “Everything has been figured out, except how to live.”

One expects gray days to bring introspection, not days of sunshine. But inside my mind, it is gray all the time. Existence is what it is. Nothing more. But we long for something more. We crave the heart of the matter. But the heart really is only a pump. Working twenty-four hours a day, every day, until one day, it stops.

My son sought something outside himself. And unlike most of us, he did something about it. He wasn’t satisfied with philosophy or travel or religion. Or sitting on buses. Or waiting at traffic lights. No. This was to him a flaw in the human spirit. I told him that in flaws we see beauty. In the grain of a burl, the tree makes art. My son had a scar above his left eye from a bike accident. And a birthmark on his right ankle. By the time his body was found six days after his suicide, neither the scar or birthmark was identifiable. In life, they were beautiful.

Through living we make art. We produce things of awe and beauty. Sadness seeps into scars. Whenever I touched the scar above my son’s left eyebrow, I touched sadness. He always smiled while my heart cried.

I needed to protect him against scars – and sadness. I couldn’t. Sadness seeps not only into scars but into everything. It changes things. Once we determine the degree of sadness in a thing, we can no longer know its momentum.

I think about eating something even though I am not hungry. There are photographs of my son on the bookshelf next to my desk. There are some of him with his sisters. One with his grandfather. One with a friend. He looks happy. I have to believe this. Otherwise, I don’t have the strength to go on.

Twelve-thirty p.m. From the balcony, I watch a young pair of drifters on the sidewalk below stop to scavenge through a trash can. I recall an early morning not too long ago when I couldn’t sleep, I carried my trash down to the dumpsters in the alley. As I swung open the heavy gates guarding the dumpsters, I surprised a young man who had crawled up into one of the dumpsters looking for discarded food. He apologized. I apologized. Afterward, walking back upstairs to my apartment, I thought how I should have offered him something to eat. I always have too much and never think about those who don’t.

From where I stand the sidewalk seems a long way down. But not far enough. I wouldn’t kill myself if I jumped. And I really don’t want to suffer. The coroner said my son didn’t suffer. He did it right. I think about this. Not for too long because the anguish is too much for my heart to hold. It seeps onto the balcony and drips to the sidewalk below. To where the young couple was a moment ago. They have moved on.

I remember my son as a bright star. He lit up every room he walked into. He never wanted to be the center of attention, he just shined so brightly he turned people’s heads. Before his body was found by hikers, I vowed to find him. Where? I looked around. The universe is vast. Even our tiny planet is vast when one is searching for someone. I always believed destiny brought my wife and me together. We loved each other. In our specific way. Our son brought us a deeper happiness. He took the empty space away.

Now my stomach is screaming at me. I ignore it. There will be time for food later. My wife suffered an agony I didn’t understand. She did something about it. I look at the sidewalk below, turn, and walk inside.

One-thirty p.m. The computer sits on my desk, mocking me. Fuck you. Words won’t fill the empty space.

Two-thirty p.m. Sleep seldom comes for me in the night. Nor in the day. I am weary but cannot sleep. What did Camus mean when he said, “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide?” Words drip like raindrops from the leaves in spring. Everything has meaning if one puts the words in the right order. Like a mathematical equation. Nothing could be simpler. Or harder.

In the end, it will be written whether I write it or not. Someone else might put the words in a different order, but the meaning will be the same. It is impossible to get to the heart of something. We try, God help us. We do try. And that is being human. As human as it gets.

I look at everyone differently now. I guess this is what I am trying to say. Things change. I have been told that I need to change. I don’t understand because I have changed. The change is subtle. I think of myself on the periphery of a tornado. Things are whirling out of control but it seems calm because I am part of the commotion. Part of the whirling mass.

There are times when I want to disappear. Go somewhere where no one knows me. Create a new identity. I wonder if this is possible? Can we strip away who we are like an old suit? Change into a new set of clothes? Walk down a new street surrounded by new people? I can whistle without fear of being scorned. Without someone glaring at me. I will look ahead not over my shoulder. This appeals to me. What have I got to lose?

Three-thirty p.m. I stop. I haven’t heard the buses in awhile. I know they are still running. They never stop. I step onto the balcony. There is a lull as if the world is standing still. One day it will. I will know right before it happens. Not the whole world, just the part of it I am concerned about. Or that is concerned about me. Is there a difference? I am not sure. But I hope there is a split second when everything becomes clear to me. And the way I figure it, what will become clear to me is that none of it matters. It is all a blur and none of it matters. All of the criticism, the judgment, the condemnation, the hyperbole, the anguish. I will relax. And finally fall asleep.

The buses are on the move again. The construction continues across the street. The homeless are shaded up beneath the cottonwoods in the park. The young man and woman from four-thirty a.m. have said their final goodbyes, I am afraid. They are too young to know what they want. Or need. But I want to tell them it doesn’t matter because they will never know until right before the end. They should embrace each other now. The world seems less empty when there is someone else to hold.

My wife told me she was fine. She wasn’t going to kill herself on the one-year anniversary of our son’s suicide. She would charge up the stairs in the morning just like our son did on his last day. He never did anything in a deliberate way. He charged here and there. He charged into life and never stopped. Maybe he just needed to sleep. Sitting there on that rock outcrop overlooking the last landscape he’d ever see, at least in this world, what was going through his mind? Maybe he was just tired. Tired of the rush.

She lied to me. Not deliberately. She changed her mind, that’s all. It is forgivable. I wish she’d have talked to me about it. She didn’t. It was her choice. She was still alive when I found her. Rushed to the hospital, she survived. When I was allowed into the emergency room, she was sitting up, answering the doctor’s questions. I smiled at her as her mouth struggled to find the straw sticking out of the large cup of ice water she held in her trembling hands. I took the cup from her and held the straw until her mouth found it. She smiled back at me.

The doctor told me she wanted to keep her a couple of days for observation, until my wife’s liver and kidney functions returned to normal, which she was confident would happen. Just a couple of days to get fluids and nutrients in her. She’d be fine. They were going to move her up to intermediate care. It would take an hour or so. I went home to pack a bag for her. Toothbrush, hairbrush, a book to read, slippers, things she would need for a brief stay in the hospital. When I returned she was unconscious. I asked the nurse. The nurse seemed confused. When I told her my wife had been sitting up in the emergency room downstairs, the nurse tried to wake her up. No response. Until the first of her three violent seizures. Her heart stopped during the last one. They rushed me out of the room.

Someone came out into the hall to tell me they had revived her, but I knew this wasn’t what my wife wanted. No, this isn’t what she wanted. They moved her to intensive care. Her brain was quiet. Her eyes too.

After I called my wife’s mother, I made the decision to have her removed from the respirator. It was my decision. No one else’s. I sat with her for the next seven hours holding her hand, telling her how much I loved her. Did she hear me? I’m not sure. Do we ever hear anyone else? I’m not sure, but I hope so.

The rush was over. She died at two-thirty in the morning, just before the witching hour.

Four-thirty p.m. I look back over what I have written so far and think about all the books and articles and stories and poems ever written throughout the history of mankind, including the stories that are told from one generation to the next and the petroglyphs and pictographs etched or painted on rock walls. There has been a lot written. And endless stories told. Each telling is a different story. Each story a different ending. It is all in the telling.

Five-thirty p.m. My mind is quiet now as I sit out on the balcony and watch the rush of traffic below. So many people. Is anyone aware of anyone else? Or are all of us wrapped inside our own minds? I have been up for thirteen hours, thirteen hours of a day in my life. Hours are broken into minutes, but it is the years that slip away from us. Not hours, not minutes. Years. Here and gone.

Five years gone. Never to be recovered. But the memories of the years remain. Memories have encapsulated the five years since my wife’s death, although I have tried to escape the capsule. I have sleepwalked through the years. An observer.

I sit quietly waiting for the end of the day. It will come. It always does. And I wait.

Six-thirty p.m. This is the real witching hour, the time just before sunset. When the sun goes down, a new world is born, filled with different creatures than the ones that inhabit the day. The night people don’t rely on the light. They rely on instinct. Touch. Smell. What echoes across empty streets. They are alive. Their senses keen and wary. They feel the stretch of emptiness. And they desire to fill it. Since there are so many of them, it isn’t hard to fill the empty space. They don’t think about the light. They keep their eyes closed, sleepwalking through the day.

Seven-thirty p.m. The sun slips below the mountains. West. The direction of death. The Hopi believe that each day the sun carries our souls with it to the dark land below, out of which dreams arise to remind us that our bodies still breath. We must hold onto our dreams so we won’t lose our way in the dark. Dreams direct us back to the sunlight where new life holds our souls.

My dreams confuse me. They lead me away from the sunlight back into the shadows of my past. I am not patient. I follow the wrong dreams. Into the shadows.

The Hopi say the shadow people wander without purpose because they have lost their souls. I ask, how do I regain my soul? They look at one another but do not speak. To some questions, there are no answers.

Eight-thirty p.m. I have grown weary but resist falling asleep because I am afraid of my dreams. The part of me that is mind fights sleep with all its might, but my body is weary. I know the routine. Even if I give in to my fatigue, my body won’t sleep for long. It is restless. Just long enough for the dreams to lead me into the land of shadows where I search for my lost soul.

Nine-thirty p.m. One night I will wander far enough. We will bump into each other in the shadows, my lost soul and me. It will be a happy reunion. I don’t give up.

Ten-thirty p.m. I give into sleep. It is senseless to resist any longer. We can only fight for so long. I have become a warrior in my battles with sleep. I remember once, when I was much younger, staying awake for three straight days. In my confusion, I saw myself huddled in the soft glow of a streetlight on the other side of a deserted street. I was cold and alone. So alone. I wanted to walk over to wake myself up. I felt so sorry for myself. I shivered. In the cold light of the lonely streetlight. But I couldn’t bring myself to move. I was frozen. Three days is a long time to go without sleep. But three days is not a long time.

Eleven-thirty p.m. Sleep takes over. The street below is filled with the night people. They are always there.

 

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