The Eternal Suffering that is Consciousness
My very first memory is of the sun. Observing it for the first time. Seeing the light, feeling the heat and the energy emanating from it. It is what kept life going. All life. The sun. That’s what it is called though I couldn’t answer why. Why. The deathly question. The one that will always branch into more “why’s”. Because, it just is. The deathly answer. The one that will never sate you, though it feels like the right answer sometimes. Do we keep asking why because we are naïve? Do we keep asking why because we know, because matter itself knows that one day we will reach an answer? Or do we simply refuse to accept that there is no answer? Why should I, why should the atoms that I am made up of stop searching for the reason they are here and where they came from? There it is again. Why. I already hate that word, but I can’t help but use it. Even if I am not consciously searching for an answer, my every iota is shaking with the thought.
My second memory, not so long after my first, is of the star. One white speck that would appear in the empty canvas of nothing as the sun set. What is it made of? Is it another sun? It must be very large and far away if I do not feel its warmth. Or it is tiny and very close. How do I know? Asking questions is frustrating, but isn’t that all we do? I think so. We are curious, that is how we are made. I am a vessel, a thing made up of smaller things, tinier things, even more miniscule things, that have amazingly figured out how to work together to make a thing, a vessel , that is capable of asking the questions they want the answers too. It is them- for that is how I refer to this energy- it is they who are advanced, yet we, we take all the credit for it. You and I, we think we are the advanced organism. Maybe there are more organisms out there. Maybe the star is like our sun, and maybe, just maybe, there is something like me, or unlike me, staring at it asking all the same questions. There is no one who knows THE answer. The answer to a question we don’t even know how to ask. So how do we find it? This answer? We ask. And we think. And we let all the energy that is making us ask work together to find the answer. I have another question. Why is some of the energy part of me- what is making me contemplate and ask and some of it making the rock under me? I don’t use it. Is it helping me? If I am energy, and everything is energy, then why am I stuck here? Why can’t I interact with the energy up in the sun? past the sun? in the star…? Is it different energy? Does distance make it hard to communicate? Are there restrictions? There must be or the answer would have been found by now. Now. What a strange thought. What do I mean by now? I have been asking a lot of questions. Has this all happened at once? I was able to ask all those questions and now I can’t see how. Does everything happen as one simultaneous…-thing? I need a word. Something to describe it. Time. Time is one answer and a million questions. What is it? Am I just using it to explain how I have a first memory and how I’ve been able to keep asking questions? Am I going to be able to do this forever? Do I keep asking questions until I find an answer or do I run out of questions? Time must be real, else beginning and end would be the same. I would have found an answer before I asked a question. It all would have happened and been over and nothing would remain. But what is nothing? Can nothing truly exist? Must there be something, always? Why? Why. Why. Why. This is maddening. I feel like I want to stop. I feel…I feel?
When Mortars Come Knocking
A silky gold sunlight flooded the room through several wide windows overlooking the back garden. Among the dust that floated peacefully on the rays of light were notes of lavender and honey, just barely hiding the scent of stale furniture. At first glance the setting looked quite pleasing. The lush garden crept all the way to the edge of the house so that the blooming flowers peeked in through the windows at the small living room. The furniture was of a fashionably old style and the doily and copper coffee set in the middle of the table were tasteful, though somewhat kitschy. Several paintings were scattered on the walls along with a golden saint patron portrait, the effect being that the room looked quite rich and cozy. However, once the eyes adjusted one began to notice the chipped wooden table and scratched sofa legs, the cheap frayed fabric which made up the furniture, and the white door frame which, while not dirty, looked translucent and sickly as any shabby painting job looks.
Ivana was standing by the windows, anxiously glancing at the sky. The bombing had started in the city, and though her house was far in the suburbs she felt sure she could hear the screaming jets flying somewhere overhead. Her parents had said that they would be safe in the country. That no one would drop a bomb on their house. Now Ivana knew they had just been in denial. She loved her house, she had grown up here, but she knew she would have to leave, and the sooner the better.
Her eyes flicked from the sky down to the edge of a gathering of trees just on the edge of their land. She had seen some movement. Her heart pounded in her throat as she waited for the figures to emerge from the shadows. A few seconds later most of her fear washed away in a burning cold sweat as she recognized her father and grandfather escorting their neighbors through the field. They didn't have a very large cellar so they would be spending the night with her family in theirs. Just to be safe.
It was a quiet morning. The air was still and fog sat heavy around the house. I saw the old widow working in the garden on my way out the back door. She did not look up as I passed, her hands were busy in the dirt around her rose bush. The garden was quite bare but for that single bush with thorns as large as my thumb and petals so crimson they were almost black. How she managed to keep the flowers thriving I could not imagine, for the dirt all around the mansion and throughout the forest was dry and unnourished and not a spot of sun had managed to break through the dense milky fog in the past few days. Maybe even weeks. It was hard to keep track of time here.
I walked my usual route, down the steps to a stone path which skirted along edge of the forest. The path was nearly invisible below the cottony blanket of mist, but I knew it well and felt the broad smooth stones below my feet. To me it seemed the walkway flirted with the woods, dancing around the outside like it would run into the open arms of the trees at any moment. But it never did. For a long ways it snaked and teased, but not once did the path turn into the chilly allure of the autumn forest's waiting embrace. I never once lost sight of the house. With all this fog it seemed odd that it should not disappear behind the velvety curtain but there it sat, on the top of the hill, its massive jagged outline piercing through the very air with its stone and iron armor. After a while, when the fog got thicker with the afternoon air and I could scarcely see my own hands, I turned back to the house, still visible as if on a clear day, and started back. I tried not to look, but as usual my eyes could not help but be drawn by the dark pout of the roses. An intolerable melancholy pervaded me and the scene of the copper forest swimming in white fog which had been so serene and supernatural that morning suddenly darkened with gloom. The cold fingers of the mist grasped at my heels begging me not to close the door behind me. A loud silence suffocated the house, interrupted only by a rhythmic creaking from one of the upstairs rooms. That would be the widow sitting in her rocking chair by the window facing the forest path from which I had just come. I knew she would be there because I would often see her as I looked back at the house, her one milky eye gazing at something I could not see while the other seemed to watch me as I walked. The creaking stopped and the house was quiet. I wandered around a while, wondering if I would see the old woman again today. She had been quite excited by my arrival when I first came to the house God knows how long ago. It feels like its been ages. I was the first visitor she had had in a while and the loneliness of her place was enough to drive the sanest man mad. Utterly alone, with not even a single worker to help with maintaining the estate, the old woman attended to me hand and foot making sure my stay was comfortable. I fell into a routine here, pampered by the lonely widow and before long the days started to meld together and here I am now. The woman never talked to me anymore. At some point she just stopped and scarcely left the upstairs drawing room. Only to attend to her roses. I do not remember when she became so withdrawn. My mind felt foggy whenever I tried to recall any particular memories. I must just be tired. This weather is making me weary.
I spent the rest of the day in the library flipping through the impressive collection of books that overflowed the library. I finished off Hamlet for the fourth time. “Then venom do thy work!”. I shivered. My ear itched. I reached from where I was sitting to the nearest book and picked up Metamorphoses. One of the pages was bent down at the corner so I flipped ahead to it. Book IX. I read a while longer, and with thoughts of death I went to bed.
A sound in the night woke me. Or was it the lack of sound? I had been dreaming that I had fallen asleep under a tree in the rain, but was woken when a drop of water fell from the leaves and into my ear. When I opened my eyes in the dream I saw the filmy eyes of the widow, made whiter by the light of the moon standing over me. I felt as though a cold hand was squeezing its bony fingers around my throat and a feeling of pure dread creeped over my skin and into my bones. I awoke with this same feeling grasping at my very spirit. I reached up and felt my ear but it was dry. Unable to shake the gloom I got up and went to my door. On the other side stood the old woman, holding a bouquet of roses. The petals were speckled with early winter frost, now melting in the warrmth of the house, revealing that they had just been picked. I stood unmoving, wondering if she even noticed I was there.
"Beautiful girl, beautiful roses" I heard her mutter. Was she talking to me? As I wondered how to respond the woman entered my room and placed the boquet on a desk by the window. I followed and for the first time noticed a newspaper clipping that had been framed sitting atop the desk. As the old woman shuffled out of the room, choosing once again not to acknowledge me, I picked up the frame and read.
Missing: Jocelyn Barrie, 30 years old. 5'6, medium build, dark red hair, blue eyes and freckles. Last seen at H. bus station wearing jeans and a blue plaid shirt. Please contact H. Police Services with any information regarding this missing person.
Beside the article was a black and white picture of a beautiful young woman with hair that I could only imagine was a luscious red, much like the weeping rose petals that sat on the desk. The date on the article was from the spring. I tried to remember if the old woman had ever mentioned having a daughter but as usual, the foginess in my head kept me from recalling any details. I heard the backdoor close heavily and pulled the window curtains aside. Moonlight spilled into my room setting my blonde hair aglow and raising goosebumps on my arms with its ghostly touch. If I looked straight down I could just see the garden and the now nearly bare red rosebush peeking up at me. What on earth was the widow doing gardening at this hour? I could see her hunched over a fresh mound of dirt to the left of the roses. For a while I watched her work, the moon dipping in and out of clouds. Finally she stood and walked back towards the door, out of my sight. The moon emerged once again in all her brilliance and lit up the garden. Like a candle in the dirt I saw it. A single yellow rosebud growing from the freshly turned garden dirt.
The Question or the Answer
One hundred and eleven dollars and thirteen cents. That’s all I had left.
“Ten, eleven, twelve aand thirteen.” The woman behind the glass counted out the pennies and slid my money towards me. “Thank you, have a nice day.” She didn’t even look up at me as she said it.
I picked up my money and folded away the bills, dropping all the coins but one penny into a donation jar on the counter. Turning to the door my eyes quickly glanced up at the calendar hanging on one of the hideously drab oatmeal coloured walls. Tuesday. It always happened on a Tuesday.
The sun warmed my face, a nice change from the frosty air conditioning inside the bank. I stood there on the sidewalk for a while looking up at the sky. The clouds were still far from the sun. That was good, I still had some time then. I don’t know why that reassured me, I had nowhere to go. My landlord had evicted me, I had no money and most of the people I know were already ‘gone’. We’re not supposed to use the word abducted. They prefer gone. I think it implies that it was sort of a choice though so generally I avoided talking about these things in the first place.
I finally decided I would go left because there was a nice little park with lots of trees that may offer me some privacy which was hard to come by these days. It was common knowledge that we were being watched. You never knew when they were watching but you could be sure they didn’t miss much. Most of us avoid looking up at the sky for too long. All the people who had a habit of gazing at the moon or the stars had ‘left’ first. The word ‘taken’ was another taboo in this context. Apparently in the past people who tried to report the abductions were laughed at and ridiculed. But at least back then most of them were returned. Now it was rare to hear of someone who had been brought back and even if they were they were not the same. Just a body. An empty vessel if you ask me.
On my way to the park I stopped at a corner store to pick up a notebook and pen. The urge to write had washed over me so strongly I felt I had no choice but to comply. I set the book and pen down on the counter and reached for my wallet. When I pulled it from my coat a single leaf of paper, no bigger than the palm of my hand, fluttered out and landed on the counter.
Do you know?
That’s all it read.
“Leaving today?” Asked the cashier, noticing the paper. I gave a small nod and quickly tucked the paper back into my pocket.
“I remember when my wife got hers.” He nodded to where the paper had been. “She got all quiet and nervous at first, like you, but by the time the clouds came she was as cheery as a July sun. The way she saw it, they don’t take just anybody and if they asked her the question then she would do her best to answer.”
I looked at the T.V, not wanting to be rude and interrupt but frankly not giving a damn about what the man was saying. Channel 51 was on – the usual. A cool female voice read off the names of those who had recently left while a slideshow of patterns drawn in cornfields played on the screen. The translations ran across the bottom. They were all thank you messages of sorts. It seemed rather forced to me.
“Anyways, pip up! You must know something worth knowing if they’ve chosen you.” He smiled as he counted out my change.
“Keep it.” I turned to leave.
“I hope you know!” the cashier said after me. This had become the standard goodbye people used when someone was leaving. Pointless really. How could you know the answer to a question you didn’t understand?
I finally reached the park and settled down under a large tree shielding me almost fully from the sky. I opened the notebook to find it had already been written in. Do you know? Without hesitation I wrote directly underneath it.
‘I know some things, but I don’t know a great many more.’
A ray of sunlight broke through the leaves and touched the page I was writing on. Those same three words appeared again underneath what I had written. I didn’t write anything for a while as I sorted through the thoughts in my head. A draught of wind had closed up the gap in the branches and I once again sat in shadow, shielded from the sky. I felt like I was truly alone with my thoughts. A rare privilege nowadays. My initial answers to the question seemed elementary. Anything I knew about mathematics, science, history, culture and the like they undoubtedly already knew and knew better than I. They probably even knew a great many of my personal details, my name, my age, my parents, relationships I had had. It seemed they already knew more than I so what they were asking must be for something deeper. Something that exists only in my own mind. Something I’ve never spoken nor written anywhere, not even betrayed by a twitch of my face; simply carried with me always. So was that it? What was that kernel that made me without a doubt me? My soul? Physical entity or not I knew we all had one. I knew that body and soul could exist as separate entities yet that those two entities needed each other to function properly. Not just any body and any soul either- a body you were born in. One you saw and felt grow and shaped and help shaped you. I looked up. The clouds had crept closer to the sun. I was running out of time.
Do you know?
Maybe they were asking about the meaning of life. An answer that’s been tirelessly pursued by people since the beginning of time. Though if they didn’t know it seemed fruitless to ask us. I smiled. The irony was laughable. We finally find the “big man in the sky” so to speak and instead of giving answers he asks the questions. It felt like a test. Or an experiment. And then I knew. I knew they weren’t looking for an answer at all. They already had it. They were looking to see if we had found it yet.
A cool female voice echoed around me from the speakers hidden everywhere. ‘Those with tickets please find their way to the nearest pick up location. Thank you for your cooperation.’ Her voice made the hair on my arms stand straight. We all knew what happened to those who didn’t cooperate. I stood and brushed the grass off of myself and started towards the nearest assembly point. When I got there, there was just one other person sitting on the bench. She glanced at me as I came up. She had her dog with her. The sun was low in the sky and the clouds creeped ever closer. I saw a woman walking towards us from down the street. It was the woman whose voice had made my hair stand up every time I heard it. I’d never seen her before but I knew it would be her. The grey evening light made everything look sad and dreary. I wondered if I would remember any of this. She had almost reached us and the edge of the clouds was just a hair away from covering the sun. In that moment I knew two things with absolute certainty. I knew the end was approaching for me and I knew the answer to the question. I smiled again at the irony. Getting destroyed by something we came up with in the first place – time. The woman finally reached us and the sun was now completely blocked by a thick wall of clouds. She smiled. Even her smile gave me goosebumps.
“Welcome to the end. Do you know?”
At 18, you will become a woman
But what about at 17?
When you look 18 and that means its ok for a stranger to pinch your ass on his way by
And what about at 15
When the howls and the cat calls from people driving past make you feel like a prostitute and not a girl on her way to school
What about 13?
When your long legs suddenly become sexy legs to wandering eyes and that peeking bra strap gets you detention for being a distraction from boys learning
I became a woman
At 13, when I learned in school despite seeing boxers escaping baggy jeans
At 15, when I earned my black belt and the confidence that is built along the way
At 17, when I started saying NO. instead of offering nice excuses
And at 18, when the world said I did