Please let me know what you think, it was tough on the mind writing this one.
|The following is a real story. It is based on eventual truths. Not a single character's name has been changed to protect the innocent.
I have been advised to include the following disclaimer: The subject matter herein is not suitable for all audiences. Many will miss the primary concept. Most will find at least part of it offensive. And it may pose a choking hazard to children under two.
My concience has forced me to include this disclaimer: Anna -- I'm trying my best. Wherever you are now, whatever you have become, do what you always have. We both know you will always have that energy.
The day I first met King Annabelle Graham-Bell, she was in her last year of school. I was not.
She wanted to be a healer, and was well on her way in my opinion.
She would speak often, and at great length of all the great healers she idolized. Her eyes would shine as she compered "great works of doctors" to "the little things" performed by common laypeople. In her mind, there was no difference between stitching up a ruptured heart and mending a broken one.
"Healers today," she would say " spend vast amounts of time and effort fixing certain problems and ensuring those problems never happen again without ever asking if it is indeed a problem to begin with."
Annabelle wanted to become a different kind of healer. A mixture of doctor and poet. Nurse, mother, grandmother, and baby sister. Shaman and saint. Hippocrates and Eros.
The day I met Annabelle, I could feel there was a difference within her. When I saw her, I knew she was special, unique.
The day Annabelle met me, she knew I was the same as everyone else.
It would take three years from the time I first saw Annabelle before we actually had a conversation.
I am a criminal, you see. I spent five years of my life living in a state correctional facility somewhere in the middle of America. I would like to break away from this story for a moment to explain to you that I am not an evil man, I would never harm another individual, and I only served five years in a penitentiary because I was wrongly accused and convicted. I would like more than anything to break away and explain all of that to you; but be honest, you wouldn't believe a word of that shit. And since you're being honest, I will also. It's just that -- shit. All lies. I AM an evil man. I HAVE indeed harmed my share of individuals. I deserve far more than five years. I am a monster, well "was" a monster...
"If the simplest base component of anything is energy; and if energy can neither be created nor destroyed, then everything that ever was, or ever will be -- it all IS right now."
Annabelle told me that.
... AM a monster. A monster made of energy that can't be destroyed.
As I've mentioned, I met Annabelle when she was in her last year of school. She was thirteen years old then. Her last year of school was the eighth grade.
In my first year of prison I spent most of my time getting away from reality as much as I could. I shaved my head; read alot; took any and all drugs I could get my hands, lips, nose, or veins on; and looked away from the current situation as often as possible. Many days passed with me gazing out a window, waiting for the inevitable come-down of whatever drug I was on. Nothing existed out that window except a road three stories below and a bus stop bench and trash can on the opposite side of that road. I'm sure there must have been more to look at, but I was somewhere past the middle of a year-long binge and saw only a bus stop bench and trash can.
Two years passed in pretty much this manner. New faces cycled in, old faces cycled out. The bus stop bench and trash can never changed. That's all I really noticed.
Eventually I died. Most people do when they keep tempting the fates as I did in that second year of prison.
I suffered many minor ailments before the "Big One". Heart irregularities due to crack binges. Falling out from too much heroin -- almost like dying but you come out of it. Had cotton fever once. That was the worst. It happens when you don't cook the dope right and end up injecting a small piece into the vein -- cold sweats, aches, kidney pain... oh god, how the kidneys hurt. And one can expect a fair amount of run-of-the-mill ailments and infections that just come with the territory. You see, the drugs are smuggled in anally, vaginally, or even swallowed and deficated out later; yet we still smoke, eat, snort, and shoot them.
The day I actually died though, I had injected heroin laced with Phentenol after a morning of chugging piss-blood toilet hooch. So I guess I deserved to die that day.
The hooch we had be fermenting for some time in one of the toilets and some asshole pissed in it just to be a fuck head. The asshole was caught in the act and got cut... bad... and bled all over the place, not being considerate enough to miss the toilet containing our hooch. We drank it anyway. Then I injected too much heroin. Then respiratory failure. Then death. For seven and a half minutes.
There was no light at the end of the tunnel, no angelic voice, no life flashing before my eyes, nothing. No energy. No life.
"There's always the energy. It is never gone, it just changes. The energy that is you, if it seemed to not be there, then it was elsewhere, doing what it does. But it came back, you see? It is never gone."
Annabelle told me that.
I was in the hospital for awhile and when I finally got back to my window, things had changed. The bus stop bench and trash can were still there by the road, but so were people. Women. Women not waiting for a bus or throwing away trash. Perhaps they had always been there and I just didn't notice. Women waving up at me and the other men. Yelling things to us we couldn't hear. Holding babies. Holding hands. Lifting shirts and skirts. Women three stories away living. Laughing, playing, enjoying. Women and one girl. One thirteen year old girl sitting on the bus stop bench, staring at the trash can. As though the only two objects I had noticed in two years, I only noticed because they were connected to Annabelle. She didn't wave or laugh or yell. She didn't live or play or enjoy. She sat and stared and I loved her.
I watched her, this girl. Every day. Every day I would look from confinement into a free world and ask myself questions about this young girl sitting on the bus stop bench, staring at the trash can. Why does she sit there? What is she thinking? Where are her parents, where is her family, does she have a family? Who is she? Every day I watched. Every day I asked. For three years.
She was not always there you must understand. Not every single day on that bench. In fact, more days than not she wasn't there. But I still watched her. In my mind I saw her even when my eyes did not. And I became obsessed. Not the kind of obsession typical of a middle aged man staring at a young girl from a prison window; but the typical obsession of a shattered mind staring at an enigmatic mystery from a solitude of body and spirit.
I played over in my mind the scenario of our first meeting, though my heart assured me that would never happen.
"Hello" I would say "My name's Thomas" for I would not tell her my real name, not at first. "I've seen you from my window. Where do you go when you aren't at the bench? Do you like books? I read alot. Do you listen to music? Not me, not for a while now. Do you like games? I play chess. I'm not very good."
So many questions I would ask her. So many things I would tell her. I would help her, this young girl who had no one and nothing save a bus stop bench and trash can. I would teach her of life and it would all begin with those very first words when I met her for that very first time.
But in the end, when we met, I said nothing.
I was released from prison in June. Five years I had spent peering through a window into the outside world and I had noticed nothing about it. Always distracted by the girl, I had not once contemplated the sky or grass or wind or sun and now here I was, in June, thrown right into the middle of all of it. I don't know if it was serene or frightening or overwhelming. I only know it felt unreal. Everything seemed too crisp.
I stood there on the sidewalk in front of the only life I'd known for so long and just waited. I waited for my senses to adjust. I waited for my mind to correlate what I felt to what I thought I should have felt. I waited for freedom to make sense. I waited for some sort of thought to come to me, some idea of what to do now, some semblance of direction. When none came, I walked away. I vowed to never return to this unbearable place.
Two months later I returned.
It was inevitable. I had to return. I had to see her. And when I did, I summoned all my courage, rehearsed my dialogue, and walked up to her.
And said nothing.
I stared at her, she stared at the trash can. It felt like an eternity. Then she spoke.
"I was waiting for you."
"And for much longer."
"Why?" I asked.
"Didn't you want me to?" she replied.
"What's your name?"
"Your name is Annabelle Graham-Bell?"
"It's an unfortunate name."
Then silence. Another eternity. I stared at her, her at the trash can. This time it was I who spoke.
"Who are you?"
"I told you."
"But who are you really?"
"A king," she said.
"In so much as this life, this world is the kingdom in which you live," she explained. "In so much as you have difficulties and confusion and questions; and no one to turn to for help. In so much as you have chosen to come to me, to place these burdens at my feet based on nothing I have done to merit or deserve them. As a king recieves a throne by birthright alone, I have recieved you because I am who I am."
"You'e a king," I said.
"I am your king."
"My friends call me Anna," she told me.
"You are not my friend."
I did not see Annabelle for quite some time after that conversation. Perhaps I was hurt that she would not rank me among her friends. Realistically though, she probably had no friends. Perhaps we simply drifted apart but we had nothing to drift apart from. More likely than not I was just too terrified of a deep rejection and found it easiest to simply hope she would come to see me; even though that's not her style and I knew she never would. I found her though, after the cats.
I had been renting a studio apartment above a shit-hole diner in an even more shit-hole part of town. It wasn't really a bad place if you could get past the smell of piss and stray cats. I could. I loved them -- not the piss so much, but the cats. They were always rummaging through the garbage behind the diner. I would watch them most days; not with the intensity I watched Annabelle, but almost as often. One stray in particular would, many nights, sit outside my window on the fire escape and look in on me as well.
This particular cat was solid black but for a thin white stripe that ran from under his chin almost to the middle of his belly. I allowed him to come inside and live with me. I named him Saiorse, which is Gaelic for "freedom", and fed him leftovers and milk. Saiorse loved to sit and watch TV with me or look through the window at the world. I would leave the fire-escape window open so he could leave any time he wanted, but he always came back to me during the night so I wouldn't worry.
One day when I went out for light bulbs, I had to walk across the bridge to another part of town and then it rained. And I got lost.
The rain poured down and I hoped Annabelle and Saiorse had managed to find shelter to wait out the storm. That's what I should do, shelter. I fell asleep in a park on a picnic table under an awning, and when I woke the rain had stopped but I was still wet and lost.
It might have been two or three days later when I finally made it back home. Maybe longer. Maybe not. I stripped off my dirty clothes and put them in the sink to wash then took a beer from the fridge.
Saiorse had babie.
I looked down and there they were. Six of them, suckling on Saiorse next to the fridge. It was the most adorable sight I had seen since being a new free man. A mother seeing to the wellbeing of her young. A small glimpse of happiness cast into the blindness of society. But nothing is perfect, and I did not have enought leftovers and milk to feed seven cats. So I moved my laundry aside and drowned them in the kitchen sink. Even Saiorse.
I should have kept one of the little cute ones for Annabelle. She might have enjoyed that.
My name, I suppose, is Annabelle Graham-Bell. Anna to my friends, though I have none. It is indeed a most unfortunate name, but it correlates well with a most unfortunate life. I'm not certain if the burden of such an odd name jinxed me into and equally odd life, or vice-versa. I guess it depends on what you believe, or even if you believe in belief. I don't know if I do or not. Maybe I used to.
I've had a great deal of time to ponder such human inventions as belief, knowledge, truth, perception, etc. What always seemed my biggest confusion is the inferred duality of these words. Knowledge, for example. How do we know what we know? I know fire is hot because it's burned me. I know two plus two equals four because someone told me it does. I've "experienced" fire, I can "regurgitate" numbers. Therefore, I know them both? I know where McDonald's is - but that's not true. I know the location of McDonald's because it was told to me when I was given directions to it; and I know it WAS there the last time I left it. Do I truly know where McDonald's IS right now? Might aliens have invaded while I was walking in the park and evaporated the entire chain? Highly unlikely. Might a confused arsonist have misread a street sign and torched McDonald's to the ground instead of the house of ill repute the next block over? Doubtful. Could some teenage emplyee left a fryer on? Do the smoke detectors work? Is the fireman dispatcher on duty high today? Termites in the support beams? Drunk driver parked in the dining area? Airplane lose and engine at that extremely unfortunate perfect altitude-speed-trajectory mathematical calculation where X = McDonald's?
Scenarios which have an extremely slim degree of likelihood in their own right; but so was Columbus disproving a flat world, Exxon Valdese poisoning an ocean, the collapse of the World Trade Center. Mere moments before all of these pages in history, the world knew what it knew. And what it knew, beyond all doubt, was wrong. Does anyone really know anything?
As far back as I can remember I lived alone in the dark. Imprissoned in some dark corner of existance ala some V.C. Andrews heroine. But I am no heroine. I did not escape. One day a door opened and I walked out into a much brighter world with much greater hopes and promises. None of which I understood. I had spent so much time in my own mind I just couldn't grasp what was happening out here. I wasn't ready for this world; or perhaps this world wasn't sufficiently ready for me. But we are now forced together in an awkward co-existance. Neither trying to prove ourself right and the other wrong; just comparing notes and wondering if either of us is getting close to the truth.
I was thirteen years old when the door opened and I walked out of the darkness. I had nowhere in particular to go for I had no idea what was here. As though I had escaped a sinking submarine to find myself in the middle of the deepest ocean. The only thought in your mind is "Well, fuck -- now what?"
But you have to do something. That's the whole point, not what you do, but that you simply do.
So I just left. Started walking. Stopping here and there to look around, admire the scenery.
The buildings amazed me. Such beauty formed piece by piece, stone by stone, all linking together in some pattern to share energies of each column, window, brick, and shingle. To multiply the collective energy ten, twenty, a hundred fold into this perfect free-standing entity unto itself. Every minimal action of brick layed, board sawed, drywall cut, nail hammered -- each of these tiny works forgotten; but the resulting creation stands lofty over the blue collar kingdom to bear witness to, to proclaim presence among, to shout abounding praise to all those small works which resulted in her magnificent throne among the other monarch buildings fulfilling their very own destinies.
One small task does indeed change the world. For you see, there is no such thing as a great work. A great work is simply the sum of small tasks.
I used to spend a great deal of time sitting across the street from one building in particular. A building alive with energy. Overflowing with energy from the men inside. Prisoners. Trapped, stranded, forgotten.
You can feel their energy. Pouring forth in wave-like patterns. Undulating around you. Coming first in quick bursts and then ebbing back until almost gone before rushing forth again. As if stretching your bare legs into the ocean's tide.
I would sit on a bench across the street from this building, bow my head down toward and old garbage can and soak up that energy for hours. I had never met even one of the men in this glorious building but, sharing their energy, I felt as if I knew them all. But does anyone really know anything?
I searched for Annabelle to tell her about the miracle kittens. I knew she would love to hear how cute they were snuggled up to Saiorse. It wasn't much of a search, really. I just meandered about town somehow knowing she would appear when I was ready to talk to her.
When I found her, she was laying under a tree in a park, looking up into the leaves. When I approached within earshot, she began to talk about the leaves. Something about each leaf falling at it's perfect time so the wind can carry it onward to fulfill some sort of leaf destiny, or to impose a muse-like leaf inspiration to some dynamic thinker or cutting edge artist. And each time one of us ignorant people plucks a leaf from a tree before it has begun its journey, we are severing its very life purpose. Ending its course before it's begun. One simple action and we have interfered with the Great Design, negated the possible flow of action and reaction. And how much more so for the man who steals a guitar and halts the musician's creativity? Or the waitress serving bitter coffee to the morning's prime movers? Or, God forbid, the child who steps on a bumblebee and hinders the process of cross polination?
I didn't tell her about the kittens. She didn't ask about Saiorse.
I wanted to tell her. I wanted to tell her that I drowned them. That I killed all the cats. That I thought it was right, the best thing to do, better than letting them go hungry, hungry like I had been so many times. Better than starving to death. I wanted to tell her I thought it was mercy, but now I wasn't sure.
She looked at me:
"Nothing," I said.
She stared at me. Into me.
"Do you mean 'nothing' or do you mean you dont know? That I wouldn't understand -- that you don't know how to explain to another person what you feel, how it hurts, all inside?"
"I mean 'nothing'" I said.
"You're like a suicidal wasp," she said. "Do you know what I mean? The kind of wasp that stings you but loses its stinger in the process and dies? See, the wasp doesn't know it will die. God didn't give it that kind of consequential reasoning. The wasp only knows it feels threatened, that it must protect itself. The sting is and act of desperate reaction. If the wasp knew the consequenses of its desperation, it would surely reconsider the path it chooses. It would see that suicide is not a wise response to whatever is threatening it. As humans, we are given the ability to realize that, to understand it, to know it. If we choose to."
She hugged me and walked away. I watched her for a second, an eternity, then yelled after her...
"Anna," she said, and kept walking.
A leaf rode the wind past my ankles and I wondered where it might be going, what destiny it might be fulfilling. I wished I could go with it.
Anna is sixteen. I am not. In many ways, the important way, she is much older than I am. I guess she has what people call an "old soul". Somehow I suppose I always knew she was in this world to teach me a lesson, or show me a path, or some sort of other existential, Zen Buddhist bullshit. Maybe I was even starting to learn. I was trying to learn, but it wasn't easy. I'm not from wherever she's from. I don't know what she knows. But I'm trying so hard, even now.
Sometimes it would seem that maybe I had grasped some small concept of her idea of life, even if it was the tiniest little bit. Like the time I saved the car.
It was several months after Anna and I had met, years maybe. I spent most days -- everyday?-- thinking about her. Maybe not really her, but the things she would tell me. She didn't really exist to me. Not like a real person. To me, Anna wasn't there in body, in physical form. She was, of course. But it was her words, her feelings that always made me take notice. It was the idea of Anna that was alive.
It was one afternoon in June when I was walking through town, pondering over the idea of Anna. There was a man by a car. A man Anna's age, maybe older. Maybe alot older. Maybe younger.
The man was not exactly "by" the car. He was halfway inside the car. Leaning in, legs sticking out, looking for something beneath the steering column. That's not entirely true, either. He wasn't looking for something. What he was doing was different. I knew what he was doing. I recognized it. I've done it myself. He was stealing the fucking car.
As soon as that one thought, stealing the car, trickled into my mind it was drowned by the flood of thoughts of Anna. What she had told me. The leaves. Stealing guitars. Bumblebees. All bombarding my mind in a torrent of realization. This car, its owner -- an awakening -- the owner's world would be thrown off kilter -- a spiritual moment -- all would drastically change because of one unenlightened car theif -- an epiphany --
I could help.
It was destiny. I was there to stop all of this. To make a difference. I decided to do something, anything to help; but that decision, I'm afraid, had already been acted upon.
I couldn't remember any of it in any detail. Only in bits-and-peices flashes of memory as if it were all filmed in the illumination of a strobe light and then many random frames were taken out. The first thing I noticed was the blood. Everywhere. On my hands, my clothes, the car, the street, the man. All that blood. And the man, laying on the ground, broken, still. Just laying limp by the car beneath the half-open door. Oh my god -- the door. The door of the car was a twisted metal mess. It stood ajar but was dented and bent at unnatural angles. As if something were wedged in the door frame to inhibit its closing, but it was opened and slammed repeatedly anyway. And that man was so broken. His head held no shape, as if the skull were missing. Blood everywhere. I needed a shower.
I remember talking to Anna in the bathroom. I was at the sink scrubbing at my fingernails to get at the blood that didn't come out in the shower. The bathroom window above the tub was open and the cool midnight breeze wafted in as Anna watched me working at my nails.
I am always so comfortable around her, but sometimes when she just watches me I get nervous. As if there is something I should tell her and she knows exactly what it is though I don't. I feel obligated to say something.
"Am I in hell?" I ask her.
"Yes," she informs me, "why do you ask?"
"I don't know, sometimes I just don't understand this world I guess. I get confused. Scared."
" I know you do, Thomas. We all do. We are all in hell, but we don't have to be. There are things you don't understand, but only because you are failing to look. I know you try, Thomas, your heart may be kind but you are missing so much. I saw you today."
"At the car?"
"You were there?"
"No, Thomas, I wasn't there. You didn't want me there. But you don't always need to be somewhere to see something."
"I'm sorry," I said.
"Why are you sorry, Thomas?"
"I stepped on a bumblebee."
"Yes you did."
I slept very little that night. Vulgar dreams haunted what sleep I did get. I spent all night and most of the morning weighing options, consequences. I knew I had dissappointed Anna. I had not lived up to whatever arcane idiom she has chosen for me. Subsequently, I had dissappointed myself. I knew I had to make it right. I had to do something to show Anna that, although I may not be on the path to enlightenment, I at least had a map to it, could see it from here. I suppose all along I truly knew what must be done. I didn't even need to ask Anna, I was sure she would concur. Even if it meant I had to go back to jail -- back to the seclusion, the drugs, the small window tethering me to reality -- even if I absolutely had to go back, I still must tell someone about the car. I had to confess that it was me who mangled the door, not the skull-less man lying in the street. I had to admit my crime and Anna would know that i had done the right thing.
So that's what I did. That's why I'm here now. Not jail. A hospital.
It's actually why I'm even telling anyone any of this at all. They call it therapy. I told them all of this, everything I've told you here, even more. I told them about Anna and they told me I was fragile. Disturbed. They said she isn't real. She doesn't exist. They say Anna is all made up in my head. A vision, a hallucination. They tell me she's pretend.
I told them they were close. Almost right. Like a curve on a graph reaching an infinite number, always getting closer but never quite reaching the truth. I told them Anna is not from here, that's true. She does exist, she's just different. A different kind of person from a different place -- Europe maybe, or China, somewhere where folks are smarter than us. Where they understand more. I explained that Anna's not pretend, not a vision or hallucination. Anna's an idea. It's the idea of Anna that truly exists. That's the part beyond her body, her eyes, her smile. It's what she gives us. Tells us. Shows us. Whatever truth she holds forth to us that we can probably never truly grasp. But that's not the point, we aren't meant to grasp it, we aren't meant to understand. Only to try.
Write it, they said. Tell someone. Share what you feel, it will help. So I did. I am. But I don't need help, they do. They need to know Anna, to believe. And they will, now they will, she came to visit today.
I didn't know what to say as usual. So again I found myself staring at her in silence. Seconds? Eternities? Until finally she spoke:
"Are you well?" she asked.
"I had to come see you."
"Because, Thomas, you wanted me to."
"I didn't know it was you at first. They said 'Miss Graham' was here to see me. They got your name wrong."
"No they didn't," she corrected. "I guess it's like algebra, Thomas. When 'Annabelle' became 'Anna', 'Graham-bell' became 'Graham'."
"Oh," I said.
"Thomas, you are sick. But it's okay, we all are. Everyone is very ill. From birth we are infected with society's expectations. It's a disease of demands. What you ought to say, how you ought to act. All of it predermined and handed out in tidy little cookie-cutter portions of influence and suggestion. And the prime movers medicate our minds with tainted ideas such as 'liberty' and 'free will' assuming that we will believe a catch-all concept of choice means the chains of existance are all circumstantial. Don't you see, Thomas? We are all free to do as we wish, provided it falls within the confines of legality, morality, religion, societal politik, peer acceptance, and personal responsibility. That is precisely why we must be aware, Thomas. Aware of our thoughts and actions. Liberty and free will are misnomers. There is no such thing as freedom, there never was. There is only action and reaction. That is why you must carefully weigh even the smallest decision. Like dots on a balloon, Thomas. As you inflate the balloon, the dots move apart farther and even faster the larger the balloon becomes. You see? It's like ripples in a pond, but ripples that speed up and grow stronger. Any minor action, stepping on a bumblebee, will be a mere ripple in reality here and now; but will become a tidal wave of detrement elsewhere in space-time. Choice is the closest thing to freedom we have, Thomas. Do you understand?"
"My name isn't really Thomas," I confessed.
"I know, my name isn't really Anna."
Anna's time was up. She would have to leave. I thought maybe I was beginning to understand. Maybe just a little, but it was a start and now she had to leave me. There were still so many questions. Would I see her again? Would she come back to this place? Could I ever convince this goddamned hospital that I wasn't insane, that it isn't all in my head?
She put her arms around me and leaned close to my ear.
"In some worlds," she said "I am called 'Sonivi'. In others, 'Deptren'. My given name is 'Challu Nanotii'. But here, with you, I am 'Anna Graham'."
She walked away and I watched her.