I had been for some time complacent in my being lost, comfortable in my ignorance, taking no heed to the particular state of my soul. I was living from thrill to thrill; all intermediate moments mere interruptions of what would have been one perpetual high time: drunken, stoned, late-night sing-alongs, forgotten revelations, endless curl of cigarette smoke, chasing girls' blurred smiles and falling facedown in faded embraces, faking love.
I was... 20, 21, 22 and running. I didn’t know it at the time. Had anyone confronted me on the matter, I would have said, “of course I’m running!” In my mind I was running towards the light, towards truth, towards the height of experience, scaling the mountain of knowledge, of the senses, peeking into the garden of delight. I had peeled off the last remaining layers of conditioning with which my evangelical Christian upbringing had armored my innocence. At last I could feel the wind breathe on my naked skin, unburdened by the heavy conviction of original sin: humanity's inherent unworthiness. From that prison of imperfection I was released into a domain of possibility, the world was finally free to show up as it was, unfiltered by the fear of judgement day. Only later would I discover that it was not from Christianity I had escaped, but my misunderstanding of Christianity: an all-too-common misperception of the overly eager, poet-intellectual-wannabe adolescent.
But for now, I reveled in the glory of this newfound freedom, albeit a limited and unsustainable one. For while it was true that I was running towards the light, it was only true in part. By and large, I was running away. Away from the True Moment, away from Immediate Presence, into a illusory moment concocted in can and bottle, into a rush of sensory stimulation synthesized in pipe and paper roll. And the foul, melancholy sobriety which inevitably returned between moments of intoxicated spiritual enlightenment always reminded me of my true state of affairs: lost.
I lived inside the noble delusion that I was a seeker of truth, but this identity was only the costume I wore to play my part in the pageant of human life. I was too busy tracing my own shadow to realize that the costume didn't fit. And in my haste to unveil mystery, I stumbled shamelessly down the temple staircase, landing flat on my face in the reception halls of beauty, making an utter fool of myself before bewildered, caring, parental figures.
Meanwhile, fellow victims of similar misfitting disguises roared with inebriated laughter at my blunders, and I, momentarily encouraged, pulled the giant clown pants back up from my ankles, and with a crumbling will, pulled the belt so tight it cut off circulation to my life organs, and forgetting I was body, became floating mind, disconnected from the anchor of lived actuality, vainly attempting to construct a world out of ideas, grasping at "knowledge", "beauty", and "morality", but mostly at cans of cheap beer, and choking green vapors which sent my spirit-mind reeling into a super-real cerebral playground where I had no business being.
I remember the fateful hour that this realization, this awareness-of-being-in-trance, first knocked on my door, the first calling of so many to come. Many, many times I would ignore it, insisting on running, though winded and wounded and longing for rest, addicted to the rush of air on my face, terrified of stillness.
It was a morning like many others. I awoke contorted on an armchair in Rotten Belly Jonny's unfinished basement, surrounded by the spirits of rock'n'roll pasted on cement walls. Hank Williams and the ghosts of his Drifting Cowboys smiled awkwardly at me from the eery silence of time. To the right, Robert Johnson: his black, spider-leg fingers sprawled on the fretboard, a limp cigarette spilling from his lips, his high-whining wail reverberating in the hollows of his dark face and mixing with echoes of Faust and Mephistopheles bickering outside Abe's BBQ joint, at the intersection of Highway 61 and 49.
The smell of dust and ash filled my nostrils. Slowly I realized where I was. Looking down I saw a cigarette-sized hole burned in my brand new western shirt. Only gradually did I become aware of bits and pieces of the preceding night: broken strings at the Moonlight Tavern, Keystone Ice in the back of a Jeep Cherokee, a late-night pilgrimage to the Mifflintown Cemetery, waking the sleeping ghosts with a spontaneous a cappella rendition of "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry".
The house was silent.
“First up”, I thought to myself.
I felt a disorienting buzz inside my temples: the pre-pain afterglow I had always found so pleasant. But this morning there was a new scent in the air. I wrinkled my nose and peeked around the shadows cautiously.
“Who’s there?” I might have said, had I confronted this intuition as a being, like those ancient Bible characters always seemed to do. I blinked a few times in the dark, and soon recognized an old enemy: the Future.
And suddenly, like a forgotten dream, I remembered a new song Rotten Belly had sung the night before. I had been ascending the last golden steps to the cloud of unknowing, soon to crash into the oblivion of armchair slumbers, when I faintly heard his graveled voice collapse with resignation: "I see no future with you in my past"....
And then it spoke.
Future: Good morning, Kyle.
Kyle: Aw... fuck…
Future: Are you ready for me?
Kyle: Ready for what?
Future: To reap what you sow.
Kyle: You don't exist.
Future: Then why are we speaking?
Kyle: Because I’m delusional! There's only this moment right here, right now. I’ll never reallymeet you.
Future: Not if you keep spending your nights like this you won’t.
Kyle: Fuck off. I’m young. I’ve got time.
And then the spirit was gone, and another shape moved in the darkness, back behind the congas Matt had been banging on so comically just hours before. Now those blood-red drums loomed above me like a scaffold upon which my innocence was to be put to death. I recognized this form as well, and with a strange combination of nostalgia and terror heard it speak:
Present: Who said anything about time, or age? Look into my eyes. Forget the you you see mirrored back in Future’s eyes. You’re right about one thing: that you doesn’t exist.
Kyle: Come back! Future! Come back!
Present: No Kyle, he’s gone.
Kyle: You mean I’m stuck with you now? Oh, no! At least Future allowed me.... the escape into possibility!.... a window through which I could imagine my potential one day being realized! But.... how can I possibly face this burning void, the collapse into nothingness which is.... Now??
Present: You said it yourself a moment ago: your relation to Future is delusional. Now do you want to live in delusion, or reality?
Kyle (sobbing): Reality... I think… I don’t know... No! God, not if it feels like this…
Present: You’ve taken an irrevocable step forward. You’ve met me. You cannot go back. Now look into my eyes and see yourself as you are: lost.
Kyle: I don’t know what to do.
Present: Be patient. Patience is everything.
As my red eyes began adjusting to the blinding clarity of the world through the eyes of the Present, I began awakening more and more to the truth of my utter lostness. I had lived in the dark for so long I recognized nothing; my belongings were all scattered, strewn about, like discarded beer cans along the nameless Juniata County backroads.
Squinting painfully into the perpetual midnight of the Rotten Belly basement, I realized that this newfound awareness of my total unawareness did not come alone. No, this realization walked hand in hand with a friend: the knowledge that a phase of my life was ending.
“Only fools can be redeemed”, I had prophesied it to myself! Or rather, some dark corner of my fragmented psyche had communicated it to the cognizant "me" in the form of a macabre ballad of a man hired to murder a villain in order to provide for his starving children. In the song, the man dreams of his deceased wife's tear-steeped eyes, pleading that he not do the deed: "if you do this thing, you'll be lost from me, never to be freed, for you know too well what heaven forbids, only fools can be redeemed".
"Bind us anew, I to you, you to I, bind us anew, anew, anew..." the tormented widow cries to his lost bride beyond the grave. And she, like the ghost wearing the Long Black Veil, haunts his dreams, echoing his wailing plea: "Bind us anew!" And I, to that hidden part of myself, from whence this odd drama sprouted into waking mind and music, also cried, "Bind us anew!"
I had often wondered where this song had come from, a man so different from me, in such a tragic, seemingly unrealistic situation. Only now, knotted in this antique armchair, did I begin to realize how alike we were. The simple line, "only fools can be redeemed", unfolded in new dimensions before my brooding eyes. Moments before I was the fool, free to go on reveling in the darkness, happily miserable. But now I had "seen a great light", and was beginning the long, arduous journey toward redemption.
I knew then that I could no longer skirt the issue. What I had taken for a cure, the ecstasy of temporary intoxicated union, was only one of the many learning curves, on the road to…. to what? Could there really be true redemption? Transformation? Enlightenment? All these words still sounded so religious to my newly "liberated" ears... too "heavenly", too... unattainable, unrealistic. The world had long been trained me to be a healthy skeptic. I was schooled in intelligent cynicism, the result being a high-functioning, critically-thinking palace of mind, plastered in jadedness.
The idea of holiness had become a tragic joke. Righteousness a fool’s errand.
“Present!” I called out, but the Spirit was gone. I was left with the scent of cigarette butts and a vacant concept of Now. I wandered through empty corridors, and eerily reverberant chambers. Yesterday’s forms of meaning and purpose now all fading apparitions, cliff-face crumblings in the fist of my new awareness.
I awoke and realized I had dozed off into a shallow sleep troubled by the face of an ex-girlfriend: her indifferent face, always turned from me, laughing at someone else’s story. Hot iron on my heart.
“I should probably get out of this dump”, I thought to myself.
I got up and climbed the steps out of the dark, musty basement, smelling of beer skunk and mold, squinting my eyes at the daylight. It was 1 o’clock. Turned out I wasn’t up before everyone, everyone was gone. A prick of anxiety and shame stabbed my sternum as I reached for my phone. Realizing it was dead, the anxiety rose to a subtle panic. I rushed past the empty beer cans strewn about the living room floor, and walked out the door into a perfect early spring day. The sky was clear, the sun shining, green buds beginning to swell. The beauty oppressed me.
“Why can’t it be rainy and foggy?” I thought.
I had work to do for a College class on Victorian Literature. But instead, I drove home and slept until 6pm. When I woke up I was in a full-fledged panic.
"Bind us anew!" I felt the cry forming inside the knotted place behind my sternum. Not the fully formed imperative, but the prelinguistic urge, the naked intention, the voiceless prayer, the seed not yet sprouted but longing for the light.
"Bind us anew!" I felt rising from the bitter ruins of my adolescent idealism. I knew not to whom I wished to be bound, or who would do the binding. Just the unarticulated yearning for the "other", the fleeing from the nightmare of being locked in a self-made world.
Bind us anew, I to you, you to I. Bind us anew, anew, anew, anew...