The World and the Town

I hope this letter finds you doing well; I felt sick for a couple of days, but I soon got over it.  Other than this, the past week has been largely uneventful. Just the same mundane life. Laura had a problem with her car the other day, and we took it to the mechanic’s shop in Williamston. As it was being repaired, we walked across the street to a restaurant to get something to eat. We chose the booth in the corner of the dining area, with me facing the wall and Laura sitting on the opposite side. Much to my surprise, there was a television screen mounted on this wall, a few feet above Laura’s head. It was tuned to Fox News (the volume was turned off, but you could read the captions), and I immediately viewed the images of President Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — known worldwide for their avariciousness and cruelty — standing at two separate podiums, wearing matching red power ties, dressed exactly alike.

The Secretary of State had said in a speech that America is a force for good in the Middle East. America is supporting the world’s only apartheid state, giving it the so-called “qualitative military edge,” making it the regional bully, while we continue to support the war in Yemen, allowing the Saudi coalition to create mass starvation, as they are bombing school buses filled with children, bombing weddings and hospitals, and bombing schools, using the weapons they are buying from the United States. We are also supporting the economic strangulation of Iran, who threw off the yoke of American oppression after a revolution forty years ago. We also attacked and destroyed neighboring Iraq under false pretenses, and this massive instability spread to Syria, bringing about a brutal civil war, a terrorist caliphate, and massive waves of desperate refugees flooding into Europe.

“Don’t look at that, look at me,” Laura said, breaking my train of thought as I was looking upward at the television screen.

“I don’t want to see them, Laura,” I replied, “I want them out of my face!”

It seems like the news is everywhere, on television screens in public places, on newspaper stands, on our iPhones and tablets, and I’m always drawn toward them in a perverse sort of way. I noticed that I know so much about the world, but so little about the town I live in. When I went to the town hall in Robersonville to pay my utility bill, I asked one of the women working there when the town board meetings were being held. She said that it was on the second Tuesday of the month, in the upstairs meeting room at 7 p.m. This would be right after I came home from the housing projects, to stand in the bread line to get my weekly allotment of free food.

The following Tuesday, Laura and I left for the food bank — she to volunteer and get food, I to stand in line to get food. It was going to feel strange, after mingling with Robersonville’s poor, to take my seat at the town hall among property owners and elected officials. My stay over at the housing projects was brief and mostly uneventful, but you have to deal with personalities there, and I was the only white person in line; however, no one has ever mistreated me. When my turn came up, I was given limited choices of what food to put in my backpack, but the food bank was really generous this time, and my sack was heavy. Laura helped me get it secured upon my back, and Tina laughed when she saw me leave as if I was on a mountain climbing expedition. As I rode my bike home past the car wash, I heard someone shouting to another, “He can’t lift, he can’t carry. That’s all he is!” I didn’t turn my head to the side to look at who was saying this. I didn’t believe they were talking about me, but it made me uncomfortable. I know I looked strange riding home with this big load on my back, but motorists will probably never know why I was doing this, and I will never conform in order to please them.

After arriving home and putting my food away, I left my apartment to walk downtown. As I was getting closer to the town hall, I noticed several cars and pickup trucks parked in front of it. I felt a little uneasy as I entered the building and walked up a flight of steps into the meeting room. Why would someone who lives in a lowly place such as Robersonville Manor, where the tenants don’t have the right to vote in municipal elections, want to attend a board meeting? I was relieved when I entered the room, and saw there were several rows of chairs which allowed me anonymity as I sat in the back. The board members were sitting behind a table the shape of a semicircle, with a podium facing the center. The meeting had just started and the mayor, who owns and operates the local pharmacy, announced the commencement of new business.

A woman representing an insurance company took the podium. It was a type of insurance which covers residents who have an unknown water leak on their property — leaving them with a sudden, astronomical water bill — that would not be covered by homeowner’s policies, and would cause the municipality hardship if the resident couldn’t pay the debt. The town of Robersonville could pay the premiums by increasing everyone’s water bill by approximately a dollar and a half, and if they did so, the town would be able to forgive the liability after the homeowner got the leak fixed, and wouldn’t end up having to turn his utilities off. One of the board members asked her about the other communities who implemented this scheme. After she told them, and passed out the advertisements for her company, the mayor said they would take it all into consideration. She smiled at me as she walked past and left the room.

The next order of business was concerning a proclamation by the Boy’s and Girl’s Club of Robersonville. The mayor read it out, and it listed the good works it was performing for the youth of the town. I found this interesting, because I didn’t know that such an organization existed here.

The next person who took the podium was a gentleman in charge of Robersonville’s zoning laws. There is a church on the corner of Outerbridge and Academy Streets, the old Robersonville Primitive Baptist Church, constructed in 1910, that was converted into a museum which the town finally closed, locking its doors permanently. The church was a more “worldly” design of American Colonial Revival architecture, with only one entrance in front, not two separate ones for each gender, to keep the men and women separated. The grandson of one of the parishioners had acquired ownership of the building, restoring it as an expression of Southern culture. Now it’s in poor repair and has a “For Sale” sign in front of it. A group of people have expressed an interest in buying the property and turning it into a church again. The leader of the group stood up and introduced himself. The official mentioned rezoning the neighborhood to allow this new place of worship to be established. The mayor agreed to this. The official also talked about the dozen vacant houses here in town, in severe disrepair with their roofs caving in, their owners no longer taking responsibility for them. He suggested going ahead and getting these dwellings condemned so they could be torn down. The board agreed to this, also.

There was no more business here, and the meeting was adjourned.

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Life and the People We Love

Hello, my friend. It takes me awhile to get my thoughts together, so I can’t write to you every day, but I think of you every day, and I hope my letters find you in good spirits, cheerful, and happy. It is always a pleasure to read what you write in your blog, exposing myself to your library of human experience. I see in you the answers to the big question marks of human existence — the intrinsic beauty of common everyday life, the heroic self-overcoming of personal challenges, and the belief in a universe designed for a purpose in which all living things have meaning. You once asked me to define myself in three words. If I was able to do all this, it wouldn’t be with the words “mental, disabled, schizophrenic,” it would be with the word “non-conformist,” and nothing more. Writing to you helps me to attain a life goal, of being an author of a new American literature, one that celebrates the condition of an obscure man, memorializing the unknown people in his life, and one that commemorates the community he lives in. You ask me what I would want in my life to be different. My answer is that I would like for this fragile planet to be all one nation, with no need for armies or artillery, where everyone has plenty to eat, where the air is kept clean, where resources are shared, and diversity is respected beyond the point of toleration.

I shall always be an idealist, but I realize that I’m also a dreamer, and sometimes these dreams take me into realms of darkness. The other night, while I lay sleeping, a terrifying nocturnal narrative began spinning its yarn in my disturbed unconscious mind. I thought I was traveling down a cobblestone street in the middle of a large medieval city. The sun was bright and I admired the architecture. The battlements, the cathedrals, the obelisks, the walls with their tiny doorways and shuttered windows, everything seemed so intricate, vivid, and real. The streets and shops were empty; there were no people anywhere. Before long, I realized I wasn’t walking — I was floating — moving along the street in no particular direction, with the same landmarks revealing themselves over and over. Soon I found I was traveling in circles. I was trapped in a never-ending rotation. Wanting desperately to get out of it, my ego split into two parts — a total shift in solipsism had just occurred — and an unknown, invisible Me began looking upon the traveling, floating, rotating, imprisoned Me. As I looked upon this buoyant, traveling Me, hovering in quiet hopelessness, going around in circles, my detatched, invisible Me — devoid of all emotion — realized that my tortured Me was nothing more than a head of a mannikin made of plastic, with frozen facial features, with no hair on its face, eyebrows, or head. Then — suddenly! — in the distance! The crack of an unseen shotgun pierced the air! The bullet struck the forehead made of plastic, leaving a large hole, but there was no blood gushing out, only the shredded filaments of synthetic, processed material flying into the air. When I awoke, these threatening images fading into the mists of unreality, I doubted that these were the machinations of a sleeping mind, but that they were perhaps a simulacrum of futurity, and I had just witnessed the prognostication of my own murder.

I felt an existential fear which would not leave me until the sun came up.

Let me tell you how to face these troubles. You confront it a little at a time. As your courage increases, the monster becomes increasingly insignificant, until you begin realizing that it was not rational to start with, and you can see for yourself that it amounts to nothing. To take away all this ugliness, I believe in the outdoors and in getting close to nature. It is now early spring and my bike excursions to the countryside bring everlasting beauty into my life. I see the shadows of trees in my pathway beneath the fiery sun. I see wisps of clouds embroidering the canopy of the sky. I’m observing increasingly diverse species of birds, as they continue migrating back toward the mellow temperaments of spring, singing their characteristic fortes and pianissimos, in their peculiar andantes and allegros, speaking a musical language that only feathered creatures can fully understand. I’m watching the local farmers taking their tractors and equipment out of winter storage, tilling their own land, plowing their fields among the grasses and the tiny purple flowers which adorn the ditch banks.  Sometimes a dog will come running from a family homestead, barking and chasing me, my pulsating heart getting stronger and stronger, and whatever is good for the human heart is good for the human brain.

Unfortunately, however, Laura’s brain is in a state of growing atrophy. She is losing her ability to remember, but I know she loves and cares about me. The doctors aren’t sure what is going on, or if it is going to get better or worse. She is also experiencing chronic pain in her back and in both her knees, spending most of her spare time in bed, pacified by television. I always get bored watching television with her. Laura talks about the characters in these so-called “reality shows” as if they were real and not fake. Her favorite show is Dr. Pimple Popper, a program which chronicles the exploits of a young female physician who lances enormous cysts and boils, extracting colossal amount of puss out of her patient’s skin, in full view of her mesmerized audience. My favorite show is named after the star of the program, Dr. Phil, who is an enormously wealthy Beverly Hills psychiatrist. His latest case was one of an affluent widow who became delusional and her daughter didn’t know what to do with her. The widow thought that she had been targeted by a terrorist network based in Saudi Arabia, who were trying to kill her by pumping poison gas through the ventilation system in her house. She was spending all her pension money staying in motels, trying to escape her killers, but they were following her, pumping the same toxic fumes through the ventilators in her motel rooms. Dr. Phil exploited the situation, playing to the audience and to the cameras, talking about the murder of a journalist for the Washington Post in a Saudi Arabian consulate building in Turkey, mentioning the fact that she was Jewish, and declaring that she knew about how her people had been gassed by the Germans during the holocaust. In order to straighten this poor woman out, Dr. Phil psychoanalyized her, sent the health department to her home, and they, after finding an infestation of mold growing in her living room, Dr. Phil gave her an invitation to enter an opulent treatment center for the rich. The widow agreed to it and would soon get her home repaired. This is how voyeurism works to drive ratings and build a television audience.

It is also a platform for propaganda, but Laura doesn’t realize this. After Dr. Phil was over, it was time for the local news broadcast, and Laura doesn’t like journalism at all because it upsets her. She turned off the television. As we stayed together to chat for a while, Laura invited me to a meeting that was to be held at her church this evening. There was going to be a dinner served there, and a speaker, who was going to update the congregation on what some missionaries were doing, was probably going to make an attempt to raise some money. I agreed to go with her, but as time passed — as Laura’s speech grew increasingly fragmented and confusing — she took her medicine and her eyes grew increasingly droopy. Then Laura said she was tired. I replied that I felt uncomfortable in houses of worship; it’s not as if you can just go in and listen to a speaker and be left alone, the parishioners will single you out, shaking your hand in “fellowship,” and this makes me anxious.  I also believe one of the male church members is secretly a homosexual, who is always coming on to me and following me around whenever Laura brings me over there. He would be so much better off if he would come out and be honest with himself, along with everyone around him, concerning the persons he is sexually attracted to, but he is now an elderly man and he has kept it hidden probably his entire adult life.

Laura and I decided not to attend church after all. I left Laura’s house, returning to my apartment, and in our own separate homes, we both fell asleep. The next day, my mother called and said she wanted to drive down to Robersonville to see me. I was excited about her forthcoming visit. I washed the dishes, swept the kitchen floor, vacuumed the carpet, and I wiped down the toilet, the sink, and the mirror in the bathroom. Everything was tidy and ready for mom’s entrance. When she arrived, she brought me two jars of home-made soup. Then we left and mom took me to a seafood restaurant in a strip mall in Williamston.

As we sat eating our crab cakes and flounder, mom and I chatted about our relatives. She said that all she sees of them is what they put out there on Facebook: pictures of the children and unlimited selfies is all she knows about them. I asked her how things were going on at home where she lived. She said that my sister and her boyfriend got into a big fight the other night; it was all over now, but I became a little concerned. Cathy had moved in with mom, along with her son, when she left her abusive husband after meeting her boyfriend on Facebook, who had traveled all the way from Texas (half way across the country) to move in with her, only two weeks after meeting her online. Mom allowed this because she was living alone after my stepfather’s death with not enough money to keep her house, and both of them started paying to live there. If this couple should split up and move out, mom would be alone and in financial trouble again. I told mom that I quit Facebook years ago because of things like this, because it doesn’t just bring people together, sometimes it hurts people. My half-sister is addicted to Facebook, where she uses it to stroke her ego and to get attention, putting people down and calling people names. Facebook manipulates people, being used by foreign governments to sway elections, to spread falsehoods, to target people in a deeply personal way. I am convinced that the behemoth that Mark Zuckerberg created is not a force for good in modern society, for he has made his fortune invading the privacy of others while rigorously protecting his own, selling the personalities of men, women, and children to the highest bidder, for exploitation by people hiding in the shadows, caring only for their own hidden social agendas.

After discussing all of this, finishing our meal and leaving the restaurant, mom wanted to go shopping, so we went to the other side of the strip mall to Roses. The Roses store was filled with cheaply made merchandise for every aspect of a home, with its imitation Oriental rugs, its obsolete electronics, its inexpensive faux impressionistic artworks, and its clothing with religious symbols and black empowerment slogans pasted upon them.  Browsing slowly in department stores is a chiefly female excercise, and I got bored quickly. Mom went through the whole store, buying only a small bag of jellybeans. After leaving Roses, we went to the busiest place in Williamston: Wal-Mart. After I purchased a bathroom scale to monitor my weight for Dr. Saba, mom said she was getting tired so I suggested that we return to my apartment to sit and visit for a while.

We arrived at my apartment and mom sat relaxing in my favorite recliner which I reserved for her. I made coffee and turned on the fan, and she told me how relaxing the atmosphere was. It was like being in your own personal library. She looked over some of my books lined up on my numerous bookcases there in my living room. Mom wanted to look at my Bible. It was the original King James version containing the Apocrypha. Then she wanted to look at my volume of the Apostolic Fathers. I showed her a book entitled Exhortation to the Heathen, by Clement of Alexandria. I explained to my mother the author was considered Christianity’s first pope. She also picked up and opened a copy of my Cliff Notes on the Old Testament. I offered to let her borrow them and take them home, but she declined. After slowly finishing her coffee and looking at her watch, mom suddenly realized it was time for her to drive back home. It takes an hour to get there. As I walked her outside to her car, and we stood face to face, my mother hugged her tender offspring, saying that she loved me. I watched her as she entered her car, which was aged like she was. She carefully got herself situated — after a lengthly search in her pocketbook for her sunglasses, putting them on, finding her keys, cranking up her vehicle — and she slowly drove out of the parking lot. She called me later to tell me she made it home safe.

I’ll call her again tomorrow morning.

Starvation

I just thought I would write you a few lines to tell you how my psychiatrist’s appointment went last time. It was the most difficult session I’ve ever had with Dr. Saba. After he weighed me, I told him emphatically that I could no longer go hungry in order to please the scales. I weighed in at 175.6 pounds and my height is five feet, nine inches. Dr. Saba asked me how long had it been since I had stopped fasting. I told him three weeks, adding that I got worried about every morsel of food I was putting in my mouth. As I continued skipping meals and weighing myself repeatedly, my body began to fight back. Laura and her friend Diane found out what I was doing and became alarmed. Diane met me at Laura’s house especially to talk to me about the dangers in what I was doing, telling me she had a sister-in-law who was skinny like I was. When this petite person got sick, she had no reserves in her body to back her up. She turned into a walking skeleton, then she passed away. Going without food is serious. People in refugee camps turn to eating grass and dirt when the food aid doesn’t arrive in time. Cities come under siege in wars, and people have a history of eating each other when it becomes a matter of life or death. Fasting is a pathway to depression, Dr. Saba told me. He realized he had made a mistake in his dealings with me — trying to keep me at an optimum weight by nagging — but he wouldn’t own up to this, saying I had let all of this weighing get to me.

I realized, despite all my desires to conform and to please everybody, that this was impossible, and that I shouldn’t try to do it anymore.

We also discussed my latest obsession with current events shaping our world. I cannot trust the mainstream media in this country. No matter which news outlet you listen to or any news article you read, there is no way a person can really know the truth. The propaganda wars are a fog of white noise, an attempt of powers beyond our control to mold the minds of the masses. It is the corporate elites — whether foreign or domestic –who are the puppet masters, trying to manage the herd. Their’s are the loudest voices, and their lives — because of their massive concentrations of wealth — are so much different from our own. I can see political leaders at world summits, men who wield such power that they could order the murder of a fellow human being and never have to answer for it. The rich and powerful live by their own set of rules, and they make the rules for everybody else.

Dr. Saba said that our form of government doesn’t work in other nations who are different from us. But fortunately, we have freedom of speech and have no restrictions on what we can read. Instead of reading the news app on my phone, I could read Wikipedia on my phone. Instead of reading journalism, I could read the great books of civilization, and learn about the great ideas of mankind. They are people out there who don’t follow the news at all, and no person must make it so personal as I have been doing. I am but one person living in a small town.

So this is the jist of the conversation between me and Dr. Saba. When I picked up my script and made my next appointment in May, I left his office and got into Laura’s car. She had been outside waiting for me. I said, “Let’s go to Denny’s. I’m hungry.” When we got to the restaurant and took our seats in one of the booths, I told Laura about the session I just had. “Did you talk to Dr. Saba about me?” she asked. I told her that her name never came up. My stomach felt full after lunch, for the first time in a long while.

The next morning the sun rose and a blue sky prevailed, despite what the weather forecast predicted. I spent time walking around the track with my wireless ear-buds, listening to the band Blue Oyster Cult, doing almost five miles as I repeatedly walked past the flag pole, the stars and stripes flapping in the breeze. I returned home and washed a sink full of dirty dishes, feeling that I had achieved a small victory after all the mess was cleaned up. My depression was lifting, and I knew that this was the beginning of a bright new day.

Justice and a Positive Attitude

If you have been reading my lines, you have probably noticed this before I have. My mind has been too focused upon conflict and injustice. This becomes a millstone around your neck after a while, all this looking cross eyed at the stratification of social class, at the worm-eaten ugliness of racism, at the manipulations of politicians flooding the airwaves — it is time for all of this to change. Keeping faith in the altruism of human nature — even if some do not agree with me — helps me to fight my feelings of sadness.

I’ve seen on Aljazerra how the nation of New Zealand is slowly healing after the terrorist attacks of over two weeks ago. The police having taken their crime scene photos, the sheet-rock has been replaced and repainted, with new carpeting being put in, and the mosques have now been reopened. The Prime Minister of New Zealand has responded by banning all assault rifles and implementing gun control. But this will probably never happen in America. The National Rifle Association is a powerful organization on these shores, and whenever a school full of kids gets sprayed with bullets, the leaders of the NRA respond by declaring, “The best thing you can have against a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” My stepfather, not buying sufficient life insurance for my mother to retain their house on her own after his death, responded to advertising he saw on cable television instead, sending his money to tele-evangelists and to the NRA. At Laura’s church, on Sunday mornings after the congregation enters the sanctuary, the deacons lock the double-doors so no one can get inside until the service is over. These are the times we live in, and I have to learn to accept it.

Laura and I have been together a lot lately, discussing our relationship with the food bank here in Robersonville. I told her that, since I was standing in line with her once a month to carry her bags of the free food anyway, I should sign up myself and see if I qualify for food also. This way we would have twice as many victuals together, could trade with each other, and, instead of buying it at the store, we would be in a position to give away food to any of our friends who might be in need. After we agreed to do this, I searched the back of my closet and retrieved my large backpack made for hiking which would hold a week’s worth of groceries. I was a bit nervous on Tuesday evening, when I had to ride my bike to one of the housing projects to stand in the bread line by myself. I hitched my bicycle on a clothes line post, making sure my padlock was fastened, and found my place in queue outside the door of the community center. The atmosphere was raucous, but friendly. Laura was helping Tina, the director, who already knew me and was aware that I was coming for myself this time. When my turn came to enter the building, I filled out the form and Tina immediately knew that I qualified. I opened my backpack and Laura filled it with food, helping me to get all this strapped snugly upon my back. When I got home to my apartment, I sorted out the items which my doctor didn’t want me to eat, then I went over to one of my neighbors, Della, who has problems with her mobility and stays isolated in her apartment. I placed the food I was giving her into a plastic bag and left it in a chair Della has on her front porch.

She called Laura later on, asking where the mysterious bag of food came from.

A few days later, Laura and I traveled to a Wayne County high school to see Laura’s mentally challenged brother participate in Special Olympics. All the handicapped athletes, their caregivers, and their families gathered on the bleachers surrounding the track and football field. The event began with the playing of the national anthem. I stood before the American flag with my right hand over my heart. I was probably the only person in that crowd who knew that Education Secretary Betsy DeVoss, as the Olympians were on their feet saluting the flag, was simultaneously going before Congress with a budget which discontinued funding for this whole event. She claimed that private charter schools needed the government money, not the handicapped children and adults who filled this small stadium. This was a project for philanthropy, not government. This was the claim by DeVoss.

Knowledge can be a terrible thing, especially if you are suffering from depression. If I hadn’t been looking at the local news outlet, I never would have known what was going on in Washington. I had problems paying attention to the event as a result, but I saw Andrew win two ribbons for his excellence in two sporting events. He did much better this year than he did last year. I wished I could have felt more upbeat and congratulated him more. I noticed that the workers at the group home where Andrew resided seemed cheerful and happy. Unfortunately, I couldn’t share their enthusiasm, feeling overwhelmed by despondency and boredom.

I was tired when I returned to my apartment. I opened the news app on my iPhone and found out that President Trump overrode DeVoss’ recommendations for Special Olympics. The organization would keep their funding after all. I’ll never know if this was a rare flash of humanity on the part of Trump, or if this was because it could hurt his chances in next year’s election campaign. I know he wants to stay in power as long as he possibly can. Democrats control the House of Representatives, who wouldn’t have agreed to defunding Special Olympics in the first place. When the President announced his countervailing decision, DeVoss responded in public that this was what she actually wanted all along. She had been trying to keep funding them, behind the scenes while nobody was looking, and now DeVoss was pleased and content with herself.

I have an appointment with my psychiatrist today at noon.

A Place of My Own Forever

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.

The Town and the City

Since nearly a week has drifted past without you hearing from me, I thought it timely to write once again. I keep you constantly on my mind as I go through my daily life, swimming like a carp through this ocean of time, hoping find sunshine near the top as I search for issues to discuss and for stories to tell. But whenever I write  letters to you, we both realize that other people can read them as well. Not only am I making my confessions to you, but I’m actually confessing to the whole world. I sometimes contemplate the ethics of what I’m actually doing in here, describing in graphic detail actual situations and real people without their knowledge or consent. It would be better if I could write essays, but my mind doesn’t seem to work that way. I’ve even tried to write fiction, but my writing abilities are so limited that I just cannot express myself in that fashion.

As I continue to share with you the facts of my inner and outer life, a phantom endowed with artificial intelligence has been scanning my correspondence, trying to find ways to predict and control my behavior, by offering what I might think would be a reward. I received an email the other day, from the corporation which owns this platform, embedded with a video. When I played it, a cartoon filled my screen, telling me about a single mother who started blogging about having a job cleaning the houses of wealthy patrons, living on food stamps and Medicaid, who saved up her money and bought herself a premium plan. When she did this, her blog generating a plethora of readers, she recieved a book deal, quit her day job, and lived happily ever after. I doubt if this story is true, but I know for certain that I’m a voluntarily party to my own surveillance. They’re learning more about me than I am about them. I probably agreed to something I didn’t take the time to read, and now they are lurking in the shadows, part of a secret society, and these spectral entities — these agents of corporate authoritarianism — believe that I will always write to you about the exact same things, my mind being stuck in the very same places, with no chance to change or evolve.

As you can probably tell, I have been carrying around with me a sense of uneasiness and apprehension. I’ve been having serious problems with insomnia. When I awoke the other night, it was midnight and I felt restless. After I sat at the kitchen table for a couple of hours, reading the poem “Evangeline,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, I found myself unable to concentrate anymore. I entered my bedroom, turned on the lamp upon my nightstand, and, switching on my tablet, traveling within the search engine of YouTube looking for music, I pulled up The Greatful Dead. I queued up a five-hour video of nothing but their instrumental improvisations. I lied upon the bed listening to it for an extended period of time while a vivacious electric bass line, carrying on an underpinning as well as a rhythmic function, acting as a sympathetic expressway with the driving accentuations of an electric guitar, had its the lead instrument perform a halo of ringed and angular figures. I looked into the screen of my tablet, viewing an image of their iconic human skull with its jawbone missing, the top of its cranium removed, and its inside cavity bisected by a lightning bolt, the colors red and purple filling the enclosure on each side of it. Other pictures were appearing, illustrative of galvanizing roses, with the Dead’s trademark multicolored walking bears, sequencing upon a dark circular band like the fleeting pictures of a kinetoscope, as they were looking in my direction, smiling, with joyful faces.

This was reminding me of the crafts project Laura was currently working on. She had been staying awake a lot more lately, painting a ceramic reef with figures of trees, bushes, and forest animals moulded into it. I was impressed with Laura’s artistic ability, including her use of different sized paint brushes to create shading and perspective. She was planning to give the finished product to her dentist, as a gift for repeatedly fixing her partial which she was constantly breaking. She had also set a goal for herself, and I felt a sense of pride in her for painstakingly working toward it. Her love of painting, along with my desire to educate myself and to write, is part of a work ethic we both aspire to.

As these thoughts of endeavor and determination were crystallizing in my mind, the sun was rising and it wasn’t long before Laura called to wish me good morning. After Pee Wee finished helping her around the house, Laura offered to take me out to breakfast. We went to Bojangle’s. I sat at one of the booths as Laura was getting our food. When she arrived at our enclosure, Laura told me that the young woman who was in the lobby wiping off the tables was a client she served at the food bank. We knew she wasn’t the only person employed there who couldn’t afford to feed herself.

Fast food restaurant chains are part of an obnoxious industry, serving up obesity to the masses and throwing copious amounts of food in the garbage. The employees at Bojangle’s were all black women, who found themselves growing older and feeling trapped, all of them relying on public assistance and not having the resources to leave town for a higher paying job. The only employee in there who could feed herself was the store manager, who frequently tells her underlings to clock out and to keep working, in a corporate effort to receive ten or fifteen minutes of labor for free. This practice is illegal, but the workers have no access to the legal system, and have to agree with it to keep their jobs. They have no money, most of the cash we spend in there go to the apex predators near the top of the food chain. When Bojangle’s came to Robersonville, they built a brand new building beside the local McDonald’s, erecting a tall illuminated sign so it could be easily seen by people passing through town and along the surrounding interstate highway. McDonald’s immediately hired its men to raise its own sign, with the golden arches emblem, in order to block the view of the Bojangle’s emblem.

One morning when I first moved here, I had the experience of walking into the local McDonald’s to get one of their Egg McMuffins and a small cup of orange juice. When I walked in there at dawn, I noticed that all the customers who were hanging out in there talking were retired, affluent, and white, while the workers serving us all were black. The whole food service crew was sullen and angry, slamming their cooking utensils, snapping at each other, and treating their customers with cold indifference. They had been encouraged to compete against each other — to get themselves a raise — but whenever they received one, their work schedules would be cut,  and they never saw an increase in their paychecks. Their economic entrapment was filling them with hatred as I approached the register. After I payed the money, picked up my tray, and turned my back to walk away, I heard the uniformed servant mutter, “I want that cracker out of my face!” When I sat down at one of the tables and called Laura to tell her about this, she thought that this was all a part of my disorganized thinking processes — that what I heard was an auditory hallucination — and it was all in my mind. When I left the restaurant, I feared that the whole community of Robersonville might be like this, filled with racial conflict and antagonism. I received a load of junk mail with a set of McDonald’s coupons enticing me to go back in there, but I never did, and several years later McDonald’s left town, taking their golden arches emblem away, leaving behind a vacant building with a “No Trespassing” sign affixed to it. Bojangle’s had become its prime adversary, and eventually won the war.

As Laura and I were sitting in there, eating our meal, we discussed common everyday things in our daily lives. I told her that when I stopped drinking coffee, I turned to food, and I didn’t know what my psychiatrist would say when he put me on the scales again. I also conversed about my problems sleeping, and that I had planned to take my mountain bike to the bicycle shop in Greenville to get the back tire fixed. Even though I don’t own a car, I own two bicycles: one ordinary one for short rides around town, and a high-end mountain bike I bought with my settlement money for distance riding. But if I had known how difficult and expensive this bike would be to maintain, I would have thought twice about purchasing it. I had made an attempt to pump air into the back tire the other day, and I bent the metallic tip in the stem and the tire lost part of its air. Now I needed a new tube. So tomorrow I would make a day of it, riding my bike on underinflated tires the thirty mile trip up there, and I needed to come back home really tired. This should cure my insomnia.

When the day had ended, I had another bad night in bed trying to sleep. I turned the fan on to provide a little white noise to relax me, but it didn’t work. I kept dozing and waking. This went on for hours as the frustration was building, and I shifted my body this way and that, getting tangled up in the covers. Then, in the wee hours of the morning, as I was dozing off again, the budding flower of my unconscious mind was beginning to bloom, revealing a movie in which I was the star performer.

I was up and already dressed when the school bus arrived. I carried my textbooks in my satchel. I left my apartment to pass through the double-doors the bus driver was holding open for me. When I took my seat inside the bus, I was much older than the teenagers who were also riding in it, but for some reason no one noticed this, including myself. The adult driver, who was my age, was stopping at other residences to pick up more kids until the bus was full. When we arrived at the high school, the bell rang and I arrived at my English class just in time. Having trouble squeezing my fully grown body into one of the tiny desks at the back of one of the rows, I was the oldest person in the room — including the teacher — and there was this girl in my class, and over time we became infatuated with one another, passing secret notes back and forth in defiance of classroom subjugation. We met up in the hallway after the bell rang again.  I walked her to her locker. When we arrived there, this was the first time I had gotten a good look at her. She was coquettish and pretty, with long blonde hair and blue eyes. She was turning the knob back and forth on the combination lock so she could open the thin metal door. As she was putting her ringed composition books inside, I felt an inner tempest beginning to brew inside of me — I had the eerie feeling that something was wrong — and I began questioning my place in this scenario, with a sense of trepidation rising by degrees. I overcame my shyness, and I asked her directly, “How old are you?” She turned toward me, looking into my eyes with a smiling sense of youthful rapture. “I’m sixteen,” she replied. When I heard this, the fruit plucked from the tree of knowledge was immediately swallowed — the inner eye of realization was suddenly opened — and with a shudder, a shock, and a repulsion beyond belief, I was scorched by the flames of enlightenment, knowing that my life was taboo and perverse. I didn’t know what I was doing there, how I got to this point, or how to escape!

I awoke safe, startled — alone in the darkness of my bedroom — lying still in my own bed. I had never left home to begin with. None of this had really happened. I had been persecuted in my sleep once again by another nightmare. I knew that my bike trip today would take me through downtown Greenville, past the neighborhood where East Carolina University stood, and I would see the students walking along the sidewalks peering into their iPhones. I wasn’t truly concerned about my failure at attaining a formal education anymore — I had come to terms with my disability, I had come to terms with the long stretch of time I spent in the state mental hospital — but it was this degenerating infantilism which was percolating within my subconscious, generated by my traumatic experiences in both places, which was tormenting me at night.

And it was freezing cold when the sun came up. I covered my body with layers and layers of clothing. I went outside to the shed and removed my mountain bike, checking the back tire. It might have been low on air, but experience was telling me that the pressure inside it would hold, and that I wouldn’t have a flat. I got up on the bike and started riding, flexing my leg muscles, my lungs filling and expelling volumes of airborne nutrients, my heart rate rising upwards. I traveled past the outskirts of town, to pedal down a network of secondary roads which would lead me towards the city and avoid the traffic. I pedaled down a lonesome road, along wide open land covered in a lush green and brown, with tall pines stripped of their needles, groups of blackbirds migrating, chirping in unison, and past farm houses in varying states of repair.

I was paying more attention to my back tire than to my surroundings as I was rounding a curve. Then I approached a crossroads, where a house with a flagpole was not displaying the American flag. The colors which were blowing there in the breeze represented the rebellion of a burgeoning nation that lost a war for the rights of white men to own black men, along with black women and children, as chattel property. The people of color brought over here from Africa under bondage to work for free would have no rights at all. Their white slave drivers could beat them, kill them, and rape the women to produce even more offspring of servitude. The flag that was flying on that pole was crimson like blood, crisscrossed by a diagonal X the color of iron, embedded with stars representing the southern states in their brutal, slave-holding union. The conflict had been a vicious one, fought with cannons, rifles, and bayonets. Thousands of men lost their lives. Black men from the North fought side by side with white men, showing the variegated scars from the whips applied upon their backs by their owners whom they escaped from.  The men of the South had been arrogant and filled with pride. Their’s was a fight for states’ rights, and against Northern aggression.

The family living at this residence are showing off their values as well as their flag. They don’t believe in being politically correct, but adhere to the well-worn maxim “to tell it like it is.” They feel that human beings should be the result of mass production, like the biscuits Laura and I ate at Bojangle’s. When they come out of the oven, they should all look the same, taste the same, have the exact same pattern upon its top layer, have the same sausage inside, having its bottom the same shape and texture. The store manager should not tolerate any biscuit that looks or tastes different. Any deviation from the prescribed norms are garbage, and belong in the trash. Since a person can look around and see for himself that God didn’t hold fast to these ideals, the people in this house now believe in a hierarchy of races — the white man throughout history has always been the ruler, (always been the givers, not the takers) — but whenever they find themselves alone in a crowd, the one caucasian in a mass of black people, it fills them with fear. They have faith in their violent stereotypes, but they try to console black persons by declaring their flags and statues as symbols of heritage, not hate; and they are scared to embrace a black family, or to invite them into their home for dinner. Now they wish to make America great again, feeling nostalgia for the social systems of the past, wishing to mold this country back into their own image once again.

As I traveled past this crossroads and left this residence in the distance, forgetting about the speaking points I frequently hear on talk radio, changing my inner dialog which was reciting the propaganda pieces I read on my iPhone, I was now halfway to Greenville, and soon I would have to be on the lookout for passing cars. When I finally entered the north side of the city, I traveled down its sidewalks, constantly on the lookout for pieces of sharp glass from broken bottles. I crossed the bridge across the Tar River, and made it downtown, cycling among the slowly moving cars and tall apartment buildings. There was a construction boom in this part of the city, with luxury condominiums rising up and a new overpass being built. Business was excellent, with the college students shuffling around wearing shorts in this cold weather, either walking to the library, going to class, or going out to eat.

I rode up an incline, past a huge parking lot, making it at last to the Bicycle Post on Arlington Boulevard. I squeezed myself and my bike through the front double-doors, which cannot be propped open, and I was greeted by the owner. I was glad she was the one I had to deal with because she was my own age, and she was the one I bought my bike from, and she still remembered me. “You rode your bike all the way up here today, didn’t you?” she asked, as I approached her, pushing the most expensive item she once had stocked in her inventory. I told her how I messed up the stem on the back tube as I was trying to inflate the tire. My front tire was also underinflated. I needed a new tube and both my tires put in shape so I could ride home before dark. The owner approached the mechanic in the back, a strappling young college man who kept his pedigree Alaskan Malamute close by his side on a leash, whose bulging muscles and tight clothes indicated that he worked out at the gym, was interested in mating rituals, and able to eat all the pizza he wanted and not have to worry about gaining weight. He said he could fix it by this afternoon. I left my phone number with the owner, and decided to skip lunch, even though there were plenty of eating establishments close by.

I decided to retrace my path, and wait for my bike at the public library downtown. As I walked among the tall buildings, the congested traffic, and the younger generation, I felt awkward and small. I had to get used to pushing a button on the telephone poles at every intersection, waiting for the signal in front of me to indicate that it was safe to cross the street. As the Sheppard Memorial Library came into view, I walked past an apartment building that wasn’t there a couple of years ago, with a girl almost young enough to be my granddaughter wearing wireless headphones as she was turning to enter her building. When I walked inside the library, musing along the stacks, I ran into my mother who was looking at a paperback with a cowboy printed on its cover. We surprised each other at this meeting. I asked her about what was going on at home and at church, and we conversed at length about our much different lives. I declined her invitation to lunch when my phone began to vibrate. My bike was ready for pick-up, and I needed to leave quickly so I could get out of the city before the rush hour began.

After I left the library, approaching one of the crosswalks at an intersection, I pressed the button on the nearby telephone pole, and a couple of college students approached the crosswalk on the opposite side and did the same thing. I could tell from their hair styles and their designer clothes, along with their self-confident and optimistic demeanor, that I was now viewing society’s conservative elite, the product of neoliberalism and social class. One of them was grinning profusely, even though he never looked directly at me, and I didn’t know why. We walked past one another as we traveled toward opposing sides of the crosswalk. I once had a roommate when I was their age, who used to pick on me all the time, whose father was a doctor and mine a chronically unemployed construction worker, propose to psychoanalyze me. “You have an inferiority complex, Thomas,” was his arrogant conclusion, but he had an overwhelming sense of inferiority all of his own. If the truth be known, I believe everyone has an inferiority complex to a certain extent. It forms in our psyche when we are born tiny and helpless. We have to depend entirely upon our mothers — for better or for worse — because we cannot feed ourselves, clothe ourselves, or even walk on our own. The elephantine adults all around us are so huge, our surroundings so large and intimidating — with giant furniture we could never climb onto on our own — and  we cry out in frustration whenever we don’t have the ability to get what we need, as our caregivers always receive their gratification without even paying attention to it, or struggling with it at all.

With my spontaneous musings upon developmental psychology interrupted by a ringing iPhone, I was walking down the sidewalk, and it was Laura. We talked for twenty minutes until I approached the bike shop. After I ended the call and entered the building, the owner wasn’t there anymore, but a young woman was minding the front counter. She brought my bicycle to me and I checked both tires. “Wow! Nice bike,” she declared, “and you got dual suspension.” I thanked her, replying that it came in handy when I was riding through the city. After I left the shop, I would now have to leave this metropolis as quickly as I could to beat the afternoon rush and to get home safely. I made it through downtown again, across the Tar River bridge, rushing toward the north side of the city, past the Pitt County Office Park, past the factory, moving rapidly into the rural areas, past the house with the Confederate flag, out into deserted open spaces.

The wind had shifted and I was battling against it. My heart was racing, my lungs were pumping, my legs were flexing as the air was blowing directly into my face, down my nose, down my mouth. Then, suddenly, my heart flew out of control. I felt a sharp pain in my chest. My cardiac muscle had squeezed into the wrong pattern. It released and did it again. I was feeling another sharp sensation. My body was trying to tell me something. I was placing too much stress on my heart. I needed to slow down. I put my bike into a lower gear. I knew I was out of shape, and I needed to take care. I had pushed myself to my limit.

I could tell from the angle of the sun that I had plenty of time now to make it to Laura’s before it sunk below the horizon. When I arrived there, I sat in my favorite recliner in her bedroom, trying to cool down, waiting for my heart rate to slow itself. After about fifteen minutes, Laura brought me a glass of iced tea. I sipped on it slowly. Looking at my wrist and the crook of my elbow, I could see my arteries throbbing. I heated up a bowl of stewed tomatoes, but I just picked at my food, having lost my appetite. I was totally exhausted.

I knew, at long last, I would sleep well and not have any nightmares tonight.

Live Long and Prosper

I know it has been a while since you have heard from me, and I hope this letter finds you doing well. The last time I wrote, I felt discouraged because I didn’t think my correspondence was reaching you; then, suddenly, you came out and made your presence known. Words cannot express how much I truly appreciate you. I’ve been looking around in here, falling upon some abandoned blogs, but I assure you that I will not end this relationship and walk away. As long as you remain interested in reading me, I’ll always be with you.

As I might have mentioned before, I don’t have an interest in resurrecting the past — even though over half my life span has slipped away — because the first half of my life wasn’t a good one, but now I have settled down and achieved felicity. I have survived. Now I’m searching for the fountain of longevity. Having recently become interested in some interviews on YouTube featuring social critic and celebrated atheist, Christopher Hitchens, who was promoting his book God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, I soon realized he had passed away several years ago. I looked him up on Wikipedia, and it said that his cause of death was cancer of the esophagus, with his father dying of the exact same ailment. Mr. Hitchens had a penchant for smoking and drinking, writing articles after his diagnosis in which he blamed himself for the lifestyle choices which possibly contributed to his disease. All of this made me stop and think about my own personal habits — drinking six to eight cups of espresso every morning and not eating — and I could feel the inflammation in my stomach. All of this coffee was passing through my esophagus, too. My doctor has told me that she has never heard of coffee causing cancer, but she has warned me that it is a risk factor for my heart, and admonished me about the long-term effects of the omeprazole I’m taking for my abdominal pain, because it could have an adverse consequence upon my kidneys. I know that I must control my addiction, stop fasting, eat a balanced diet, and start riding my bicycle more than I do.

When I approached my coffee pot and opened the kitchen cabinet, I was greeted by an empty espresso container. I took note of how big it was, finding myself in disbelief at how fast I had drunk its contents. I threw it in the garbage can and took out the trash, then washed out the decanter, hiding my coffee maker — my early morning pleasure apparatus — under the sink, shutting the cupboard so it would be out of sight. I had quit before, and I knew I would feel fine at first, but then the withdrawal pain would always start in the early evening. Instead of a blossoming headache localized at both sides of my cranium, the pain this time was concentrated in my eyeball sockets. It kept me awake half the night as I listened to a podcast on my iPhone, lying there trying to sleep. It was from Sputnik Radio, formally called the Voice of Russia, with the presenter exclaiming, “Welcome to Sputnik Radio, coming straight to you from Washington, DC, the capital of the Divided States of America!” As he pontificated upon international politics, calling into question this country’s values and institutions, telling me that Sputnik was the only place where I would get the real truth, I tossed and turned for a couple of hours, finding relief by falling in a fitful slumber.

My eyes didn’t hurt the next morning, but they felt like they had been through a terrible strain. When Laura called me, her speech was dull and incoherent. She fell asleep in mid-conversation, then awoke and asked what we were talking about. An hour later, Pee Wee called me on Laura’s phone, telling me that she got all her work done around the house and was getting ready to leave, but something was wrong with Laura, that she was in bed and she didn’t need to be home by herself. I immediately rode my bike over to Laura’s, and Pee Wee had left the door unlocked so I could get inside. Laura was in bed asleep and I was alarmed by the expression upon her face. I woke her up and asked her what was wrong. She languidly explained that she had a pain in her arm where she had slept on it. “Do you need to go to the emergency room?” I asked. She replied no, rolling over upon her other side, shifting the blankets, causing Pumpkin to raise up on his paws, and to find another spot on the bed to curl up and purr. I sat in the recliner facing the side of Laura’s bed. “You’re missing out on life if you lay in the bed and sleep all the time,” I informed her. “I know,” Laura sighed, her eyes droopy and closing slowly, her face relaxing in the mist of an inner fog, the corners of her mouth sagging downward as she drifted off into a dark repose. I determined that all this was a false alarm; Laura was sleeping to escape the discomfort in her limbs. I remained seated and took out my iPhone, opening the YouTube app so we could listen to some music. I queued up Eric Dolphy’s “Stockholm Sessions,” and sat the phone upon the desk beside me.

When the melodious sounds began, a drumbeat introduced a saxophone riding over top of an upright bass, playing a figure akin to a person rapidly walking, with a romantic clarinet taking over later, a stylish piano providing rhythm as this horn drifted downwards, shuffling about in its lower registers until it began taking on a strident sense of urgency, the notes moving ever so much higher, like a determined arboreal animal clawing itself up a tree. Whenever the bass took the solo, I could imagine each knowing finger vibrating all its strings one by one. When another song came on with a sparkling trumpet, giving it an urban feel, all its concrete and tall buildings, with its neon lights and its bustling traffic, began revealing themselves in my fantasies. A lone bass clarinet made mellifluous circular figures in the air, and a charming flute left behind impressions of a lush forest, with beautiful deer gambolling among the trees, dancing winged cupids carrying bows and arrows of flirtation. The tension in Laura’s sleeping countenance was beginning to evaporate, leaving behind the plump appearance of a cherub. These improvisations lasted nearly an hour as Laura soundly slept.

When the drums stopped tapping, the bass stopped shimmying, and the horns grew silent, the album was over. I rose from my seat and put my iPhone back into my pocket. In the interest of better health and my desire for a long life, I decided to get on my bike, get myself some exercise, and to leave town. I quietly walked out of Laura’s house, softly closing and locking the door behind me, and I stopped by my apartment to get my backpack, because I decided to travel to the Bethel library to see if a book I saw on one of their shelves was still available for check-out. After I left home and pedaled past the outskirts of Robersonville, down the rural road among the wide open fields and farm houses, the weather was overcast, cold and gloomy, with ridges of dark clouds frowning overhead. It had been raining off and on for over a week. The ditches were full of water, the ground made of mud. The land was bare of crops in this mid-winter season, with some fields covered in brown, others with decapitated stalks in neet contiguous rows. I rode past cows put out to pasture and barking dogs restrained in their yards. Sometimes, I would even hear the call of a bird.

It wasn’t long before I approached the interstate highway. It had four lanes, two northbound, two southbound, with a median strip in between. The cars and trucks roared by at seventy miles per hour. As I pedaled across, I had become complacent as to the element of danger involved, for I had crossed this highway many times before, but I always looked both ways before I did it. After I arrived at the other side, I would see a sign “Welcome to Bethel,” and I turned and traveled down Main Street until I arrived at the railroad tracks which bisected the downtown area, which was filled with abandoned shops and buildings. Along these tracks was what looked like a converted train depot: this was the Margret Blount Library. After I secured my bike and turned off the ringer on my phone, I entered and looked for the book I wanted. It was sitting right there on the shelf right where I saw it before. I pulled it out and sat upon a comfortable couch, skimming and thumbing through it. The library had the atmosphere of a community social gathering, with all the patrons chatting with one another. At the adjoining table, two retired women were sitting there talking. One of the ladies was describing to the other her tenure as a telephone operator, where callers would tell her what number they wanted to be connected to, and she would plug a certain cable into its appropriate jack, creating a mesh of wiring as she plugged and unplugged the cords. Not wanting to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations, being unable to concentrate in this atmosphere, I didn’t stay there as long as I meant to, but I went up to the front desk to check out my book. I handed my library card to the retired school teacher who worked there, and we talked about the gloomy weather we were having. After I left with my book in my backpack, I turned the ringer back on so I could hear the phone in case Laura woke up and called, and got my gear all together, travelling back down Main Street, turning toward the ominous four-lane highway.

When I arrived at the intersection, I was oblivious to the peril. A car was trying to turn in beside me — she had her turn signal on — but they were riding upon the shoulder of the road for some unknown reason, the occupants in the car both having these fatuous smirks on their faces. They  looked over at me, and I suddenly flushed with anger.  I began crossing the highway without really thinking — everything happened so fast — and I pulled out in front of a sports car. It was changing lanes, racing towards me. I was crossing as fast as my legs would carry. Within a few seconds, I was in contention with destiny — encountering my own mortality! — as the vehicle was drawing ever so close, I desperately attempted to reach the other side. I was too scared to turn my head and look at it. I didn’t hear the blast of a horn. The car didn’t slam on brakes. I made it to the median, but the driver may not have seen me in time. I looked quickly at the distant vehicles in the northbound lanes, making it completely across without stopping or slowing down. My heart was pounding.  I may have survived this deathless encounter, but I felt the shock and surprise at what I graphically imagined. I could close my eyes and almost see and feel the car striking me at high-speed, my body flying off my bike and into the windshield, my bones instantly breaking, my body thrown mangled and bleeding upon the asphalt!

I write to you about longevity, about making lifestyle changes that lead to good health and the prevention of disease, but now I suddenly realize — if I’m not vigilant — that despite all this, I could die instantaneously in an accident!