The darkness is not simply darkness.
Something moves in it.
I had cast off such notions at the tail end of my NYC experience, heaving a great sigh of despair and disappointment as I left behind the assumptions and ideas of my youth and early adulthood.
It nearly killed me.
But there is a place, a spot so remote on the map that it is difficult even to make the phone company acknowledge its existence, that keeps drawing me back. A place I have experienced trauma not once, but twice.
And now, I am moving there.
I’m not talking about a city, or even a town. I’m talking about a two-block radius. And already it threatens me with fears of isolation and unnameable anxiety.
Why on earth would I move there?
One word: Sacrifice.
Though I did not know it at the time I agreed to the move, this was to come down to a potential choice between my comfort and my son’s. I hope that I have proven myself a good father by selecting the latter. I hope also that I have not unsettled myself so much in the process that I will become a burden to him.
Such a delicate thing a psyche can be. I fret about the boy idolizing tough guys & villains, and yet some part of me also takes a bit of comfort in the fact that his heroes are not as breakable as mine.
Though not intentionally, it is possible that at some level I avoided immersing him in the idealistic end of the children’s television pool. I was a child of the ‘70s, of course, when the do-gooders had found refuge on the public airwaves. Mister Rogers, Jim Henson, Bob Ross, Carl Sagan, yea even Bill Cosby all did their best to make a peaceful man of me.
The fact that it worked in my case but not for so many of my generation likely speaks more of me and my family than of the zeitgeist of that age. But from early on, my boy never showed an inclination towards the sentimental side. He has always been a pragmatist, eyeing the world suspiciously even as a dubious infant. In my choices of programming for him, I have most often followed his lead, which tends to be in the direction of wall-smashing superheroes and black-&-white dilemmas. Who’s on whose team, and which is the strongest, these are the primary questions he wants answered. Most of all, he just wants answers, which are things I am increasingly disinclined to hope for. I offer shades of gray, and the dubious frown returns.
I was, and am, a painfully empathetic person. The suffering of others distresses me to the point that I block it out. I fear that in some ways I have systematically dulled my empathy to save myself. Once particularly on those two blocks mentioned earlier. And yet here I am, deferring my comfort in the hope that he will find greater happiness than he would elsewhere.
Something moves in the darkness. It always has. I do not know what it is or what it intends. I do not know if it is good or evil. I have no way to prove its nature or its existence. Therefore I do not know if I should hope it knows what it’s doing.
In times past, I spoke with it. Or with something. It seemed to hear me. Perhaps I made deals, agreements now unbreakable even with a greater understanding of their import. Perhaps all I did was talk to myself. But I don’t think so. I also don’t know so. Answers, as I say, are not forthcoming, nor do I expect them to appear anytime soon. If ever.
I have proclaimed aloud to the empty air that I do not make bargains, at least not any longer. With coins airborne above fountains, I have said only that I wish for my son to have a happy life. I know too much and too little about the world to get any more specific.
Nightmares, recurrent fears…are they premonitions? Or simply the lizard-brain reaction to passages in books and movie images that cannot be unseen? I refuse to ask, lest the darkness answer me.
And yet I, too, want answers. In spite of myself. We all do, or think so. Which of us could truly stand to know what our final moments will be? Or when? Would it change anything we did in the meantime? My continual assumption of the worst has certainly hastened my creative activities in recent years, after glimpsing the faintest hint of helplessness and oblivion. But to truly know…that way lies madness.
But there is madness in uncertainty as well. Thomas Cole’s third Voyage of Life painting depicts the terror of being caught in life’s current, buffeted by waves and careening into rocks, any one of which could sink the passenger before he reaches that last, graceful frame. Death is everywhere and nowhere, so long as we know not when or where it lies.
I do not know what it is that waits in the darkness. None of us do. But I am increasingly convinced it is there. Whether for good or ill, it is possible that the day comes for everyone when they meet it. I for one do not claim to know what that would mean for me.
My eyes are open. My feet are moving. Grasp the gunwales. We float, on.