My bike trip to Greenville was one that left me physically fatigued, and writing about it to you last week left me mentally prostrate as well. My insomnia was cured for a time, but it soon came back, and I started drinking espresso again — I always relapse. It’s not a question of nevermore, but of whenever. And now I was calling my mother on the phone in the mornings with a coffee cup in my hand, when she starts her day (except on Sundays because she is always in the bathroom getting ready for church), and I’ve been doing this ever since my stepfather left us for the great beyond. My mom and I chat briefly about mundane topics, such as our plans for that particular day, or about the books we are reading. We tell each other about our doctor’s appointments and about what they say about our conditions. My mom has macular degeneration in one of her eyes, periodically having to receive an injection in it. Whenever I inquire about her vision, she tells me that she can still read her romance novels every day. She also tells me she has problems with arthritis, informing me about her doctor’s statements about this also.
But our conversational motif lately has been centered on the fact of my having no life insurance. I’ve had my concerns about this for quite a while. I wanted a decent, dignified burial; however, I didn’t see the need for spending a fortune on a funeral. I didn’t want to use up my savings for this venture, either. So on a Monday morning, I decided to start the week by taking care of this problem. I would ride my mountain bike to Williamston, to the company which handles both my health and home owner’s insurance, to see if an agent could write me a policy for twelve thousand dollars or so.
My eyes came open in the middle of the night once again. I made a pot of coffee and opened a volume by Walt Whitman that I had checked out of the local library. I waded through the author’s whimsical and aimless musings as I ended up taking in more caffeine than I meant to. I couldn’t help but notice Whitman’s repeated poetic references to sexuality and deathbed scenes, singing songs of budding life and corpses, and I was growing anxious about my bike trip to Williamston, even though the town is nowhere as large as Greenville, nor nearly as far away. After several hours, I put my book away and donned my wireless ear-buds, linking them up to my iPhone. I opened the YouTube app and queued up the album Incesticide, by Nirvana. I turned off the lights when the music began. It filled my mind with sounds of distorted electricity as the late Kurt Cobain, a man of great talent who took his own life, beget compelling emotions of aggressiveness and agitation with his guitar. His raspy voice came on, singing his chorus, beckoning, “Come die with me.” I listened to this musical suicide note until it was almost time for me to leave. I got suited up with layers and layers of fleece to protect me from the cold.
While I was outside, getting my mountain bike out of my shed and switching on its flashing tail-light, the goddess of the dawn began drawing back her rosy curtains, allowing the chariot of the sun to start its daily journey across the vault of the sky. I rode past Robersonville Manor as I was pedalling down the highway, approaching the illuminated billboard in front of the church next door. The billboard said, “Life Without Christ is a Deadend.” I was riding further out, passing through town, looking over and seeing a golden swath of crimson light in the east as the glowing stars and planets were beginning to surrender to the rising sun. I turned on Third Street and rode past the peanut factory, Ann’s House of Nuts, with its parking lot filled with vehicles. I continued my trek towards the outskirts of town, past the empty buildings of the East End Elementary School, which isn’t a school anymore, since it was shut down, the teachers and the children being moved to a newer facility several miles out-of-town.
As I was leaving Robersonville, I began to pass by newly plowed fields, the sod cut into neat rows, covered with a glaze of frost. I went over a bridge, with a hovering mist dancing above the swamp below, the grasses and mosses tinged with tiny particles of ice. I stayed in motion as I approached an overpass, my heart and lungs oscillating as I rode up the incline, and when I reached the top, I looked down upon the Interstate below, with its rushing vehicles of varying shapes and sizes, all of them with a place they had to go. As I rolled down the other side of this asphalt mountain, receiving an elevated view of the fields, the farm houses, and the clumps of maple and pine trees that speckled the landscape, I looked over at the disk of the sun in the east which now fully revealed itself. I turned on Airport Road, and it seemed like I was traveling directly into the bosom of the great star. I rode past a pond, and I could hear the ducks cry out from the opposite bank. All of this began to remind me of my readings of Emerson and Thoreau, with their lionization of the outdoors, the transcendentalism of magnificent nature, with the satisfaction of self-reliance within. I was musing upon these ideas as I passed the Martin County Airport, floodlights lighting up its runway, but I didn’t see any planes there, which are used to spray pesticides upon the crops when the season is ripe.
As I grew closer to Williamston, the farms growing larger along with the farm houses, I began traveling through a close-knit neighborhood, which seemed to reveal itself suddenly, then a sign came up, “Welcome to Williamston.” I wasn’t long after this before I was traveling along with slow-moving traffic, and soon I was in the parking lot of my insurance company. I went inside and told the clerk behind the desk what I came for. She said that the agents were currently in a meeting; it would be over in an hour, then someone would be available to help me. I left and found a coffee shop nearby. This was the last place I needed to go, an establishment that would sell me more caffeine, but it was in a covenant location and was a comfortable place to sit and wait. So I hitched my bike to a flagpole and locked it, then entered the venue, taking in its nineteenth century Western decor. The town of Williamston has an affinity for horses. It is proud of its agricultural center, named after a state senator, which serves as a stadium for rodeos and livestock displays. Every year the town holds a festival downtown, known as “The Stampede,” which is filled with vendors selling trinkets and food, serenaded by gospel music.
I drank two overpriced mocha as I sat in a comfortable chair, placing my feet upon an imitation bearskin rug, reading news articles on my iPhone, repeatedly looking up at the clock on the wall to check the time. As I continued to sit in quiet contemplation of politics and gossip, I was mesmerized by events exploding on the other side of the earth. I read about the aftermath of a crime which shocked the world. A deranged mass murderer in the idyllic and benevolent nation of New Zealand posted a rambling manifesto online so it would go viral, professing his belief in white supremacy, noting President Donald Trump as a symbol of white identity. Then he drove to a mosque in the city of Christchurch — taking with him an assault rifle — and entered the sanctuary of peace. As he opened the double-doors, he was greeted by an elderly man who said, “Hello, brother.” And the gunman raised his weapon in reply, firing indiscriminately into the crowd. After the first killing spree, he drove across town to another mosque and did the exact same thing. Fifty worshippers died. This was a deed inspired by the internet, performed for the internet. He had a webcam placed on his forehead, streaming this abomination live on Facebook. When the terrorist was apprehended and brought before a judge, he basked in the attention he was receiving, loving his newly forged status as a celebrity, and, his hands cuffed to the front of his torso, and with the fingers of his left hand, flashed a symbol popular to other white supremacists online, to establish himself as a hero in their shadowy, anonymous sight.
His manifesto stated that this rampage was in retaliation for an attack in Europe, where an extremist drove a speeding van — plowing it into a group of pedestrians — killing several, all in the name of Islam. The terrorist in New Zealand was originally from neighboring Australia, and one of their politicians immediately grabbed a microphone — taking his place before a camera — repeating the same diatribes he spouted in Parliament. The lawmaker declared that the people of New Zealand had brought violence upon their own peaceful country because they opened their doors to those immigrants and migrants. And as the legislator was speaking, a teenaged boy with an egg in the palm of his hand smashed it against the lawmaker’s bald head. The politician lunged at him, slapped him, and went on the attack, taking another swing at him. This powerful man was surrounded by a group of supporters, who all pounced upon the boy, one of them applying a choke-hold upon him, wrestling him to the ground.
President Trump reached out and sent his condolences to New Zealand, but failed to condemn the attacker. He has declared that my country is in a state of emergency, because groups of disadvantaged hispanic people are supposedly invading our country, the same way Muslims are supposedly invading New Zealand. As I was volunteering with Laura at Robersonville’s community center last week, I saw for myself the very people America is so afraid of. A hispanic couple came in with four children, and we served them lunch. The wife had a little boy in her arms, and there was two other toddlers, with a teenaged girl who could speak English, communicating with us on behalf of her loving family, telling us what food to put on their plates. Is this the reason the United States needs to build a wall on her southern border? The President of the United States — who possesses the loudest bullhorn on earth — does not condemn white supremacy, but I hear by condemn it on my own. I write my lines to you hopefully, and as you read them, you can surrender to my literary voice — a voice of humanism, a voice of inclusion, a voice of compassion, a voice of empathy and love. If you believe in God, then I can tell you that we are all the children of God. We are all equals in the sight of God. The people of this earth have more in common than they have in attributes which sets us apart. We may have different religions, different cultures, and different skin tone, but basically we are all the same, no matter what some people might tell you, with their symbols and speeches, and their perverted racial theories sowing their stinging nettles of malicious doctrine.
As I was pondering these issues, looking into my iPhone at the pictures from the opposite side of the world — of the flowers of condolence and sympathy — I looked up at the clock on the wall and saw it was time to finish my mocha and leave. I returned to the insurance office and an agent named Kyle was available to assist me. When I sat down in his office, Kyle asked how he could help me, and I declared my intentions. Kyle told me about their twenty-five thousand dollar whole life policy, quoting me a monthly payment I could easily handle. “Where do you work?” Kyle asked. When I told him I lived on Social Security Disability, he gave me the bad news. His company usually does not sell life insurance to disabled persons. Kyle said that he had a person come in there who received a disability check because he permanently messed up his spine, and the company denied him coverage. When I told Kyle my diagnosis, that it affected the brain but it was not life threatening, that I did distance riding on a bicycle, had regular EKG’s which indicated a healthy and fully functioning heart, that my cholesterol was good, and that my weight was on target, Kyle asked me what medications I took for my condition, and I told him. He wrote all of this down. He said he would call the home office about this, but said my prospects were dismal.
My phone rang as I was leaving town on my bicycle. It was Kyle. He said that his company could not help me, but not to give up, even though there is a chance I would run into a dead-end no matter where I went. There were other insurance products in the marketplace which required paying into the system for a couple of years, then receiving full coverage after the trial period — this was my best avenue of pursuit. I ended the phone call feeling disappointed, having struck a societal barrier not of my own making, which I previously knew nothing about. As I was riding home I noticed the grave markers of a farming family, buried on their own land. As I passed the airport, I saw two buzzards picking at a dead carcass on the side of the road, its bones uncloaked in the noonday sun.