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Walking Out Alone

Somewhere out in the darkness of the forest there is a path.  Not everyone who looks for it finds it, and not everyone who finds it was looking for it.  Many who take the path wish they had not, and many that pass it by wish that they had the courage to take it when they had the chance.  

At the end of the path is a clearing. In the center of the clearing is a standing stone, weathered and ancient, the once sharp corners rounded by time and by touch. It is a hidden place, a place of loss and pain and sacrifice, but also a place of rest, a place of freedom. The front of the stone is stained, layer after layer, cracked black and dusty brown and wet shiny red.

We speak of sacrifice, but what does that mean?

The kid hangs onto my arm, clings in fear.  He is maybe eleven, and even though he is big for his age, he feels small.  He shakes and clutches to me, flinches at every sound.  He knows that the world hurts, knows too young that mostly we live and die alone.  He has been left and abandoned, he is alone in an empty house, he is surrounded by loving strangers.  "Don't leave me," he pleads, "don't leave me out here alone."  We walk along the path and his big wet eyes shine with panic.  "I'm sorry," he says, "what did I do?"  I clench my jaw, I don't say anything.  Words are whips to him, nothing will comfort him, nothing I can say will make a difference.  "It's dark," he says. "When are we going back?" When I don't say anything again, he changes.  He shakes, but he does not resist.  He walks beside me along the path.  He recognizes what is happening here. "You are going to leave me," he says to the ground. "Please," he whispers. "Don't." His voice has lost the hysteria, has lost the sharp edge. "You are going to leave me out here alone." We reach the clearing, and there is the stone, a broken tooth jutting from the earth.  I lead him to the stone, leave him standing there.  He is big for his age, but there in the dimming light of the clearing with his back to the ancient and weathered stone he looks tiny and pale. "I am going to leave you," I finally say, and as I suspected, he flinches when I speak.  I point the gun at him.  "I am going to leave you here, but you will not be alone."  "I'm scared," he whispers. "You're scared?" I say, "I'm the one who is going to have to walk out of here alone."  It is the punchline to a terrible, unfunny, joke, and I immediately hate that I said it.  His eyes meet mine, and for a split second I see there not fear, but rage, a shiny black diamond of hate, and I pull the trigger.

It is the most scared you will ever feel.  At stake is... everything.  Everything you are, everything you want to be, everything you wish you were.  It is a place of sacrifice and sadness, yes, but it is also a place of freedom.  That freedom is why people seek this place.

I lead the teenager into the woods.  He is young, maybe fifteen or sixteen. He has long unwashed hair, and walks with a slouch.  He has a flannel jacket with the sleeve ripped out at the elbow.  He is wearing shorts, cut off slacks that he had bought at the thrift store for a dollar or two.  He is wearing a dog chain around his neck that he had stolen from a friend's house, that they had actually previously used as it had been intended, as an actual chain for their actual dog, and that had now been repurposed as a necklace.  He has scars, only a couple of them visible. Hand written around the back of his Converse All-Stars, the classic Chuck Taylors, in thick black marker is written the phrase Humpty Was Pushed.  He is sad and angry and impulsive, and he feels like he is mostly alone in the world.  The t-shirt under his torn jacket reads THE QUEERS: Grow Up, and features the silhouette of a young man yelling into a microphone.  The kid has yet to get his first, but he has the look of a person that will get several bad tattoos.  He looks over at his shoulder at me.  "The fuck are we doing out here?" he says. We walk further into the woods until we reach a clearing, a large standing stone in the middle, splashed with something, layered, over and over, cracked and dried black, older brick brown, fresh bright red.  "Hey man, what is this shit?" he says as I direct him to stand with his back to the stone. He turns to me, his surly eyes filled with confusion and fear.  "What the fuck is this, man? Who even are you? What the fuck do you want from me?"  "Nothing," I say. "I don't need anything from you anymore." I raise the gun, and the kid stands straighter, and the fear in his eyes is burned away by anger, bottomless and black.  "I know you," he says, his voice a harsh and flat whisper.  "I know you, you old sack of shit.  You are a fucking pathetic jok-" and I pull the trigger.  The stone is splashed red, and his body drops to the ground.  "I'm sorry," I whisper. "I thought I needed you, but you were just holding me back."

There is something to this, this ritual.  There is something cleansing about fire, there is something purifying about violence.  In the blood, perhaps we can find peace.

As we walk the path he nods along to a song only he can hear.  He is smoking a cigarette, and drinks frequently from a flask.  His arms are covered with scars, lines and lines of them, a criss cross chaos of them, some fresh, others older and puckered.  Both of his hands are bandaged and broken, the classic fifth metacarpal fracture, sometimes called the boxer's break, the fine bone along the line of the pinky finger that gets broken when you hit something very hard and you don't lead with the first knuckle like you should.  Boxers actually don't get this break very often anymore, because they wrap their hands before punching.  No, this break is most often reserved for drunks and idiots that never learned to properly process emotions.  He reaches into a pocket and pulls out an unmarked bottle of pills and dumps an extraordinary amount directly into his mouth.  He stops walking for a moment, looks thoughtful.  "I forgot what those even were," he says, then shrugs. "Might kill me, maybe, but fuck it," he says and starts walking again.  He drinks again from the flask, a long and shuddering pull.  "Sometimes it talks to me," he says, gesturing with the flask.  "Sometimes it tells me to kill myself."  His eyes look wild and confused.  "I always tell it, don't be lazy.  That's your job."  He laughs, a mad hyena, a lunatic in a ward.  He speaks again, his words slower more deliberate.  "A friend told me once that suicides can't get into heaven.  I told him, fuck heaven.  Hell has the best music."  He stumbles.  His words have become mush, sloppy and liquid.  "I told her that I would die without her," he mumbles, maudlin and embarrassing.  "But she didn't believe me."  He leans his back against the stone.  "Or maybe," he says, "maybe she believed me, but just didn't care."  He closes his eyes. "Thank God you showed up."  He slumps against the stone.  "Thank God you sho-"  He never even sees the gun, he never hears the shot.

There is only one more, and yet two bullets remain.  I walk out of the clearing and do not think of this.

The boy is twenty-one.  He should be called a man really, would be convicted as an adult if he were ever caught committing a crime, but despite committing many crimes, he never will be.  The legal system aside, however, this is a boy; he hasn't stepped into manhood, hasn't had anyone to teach him what it means to be a man.  He has had models of manhood, but they were all lacking in one aspect or another.  He walks, a broken boy in a young man's body, and tears pour from his eyes, and snot streams from his nose and he snuffles and his breathing hitches; the hyper ventilation weeping of a desperate scared child.  "I just... can't...seem to calm down," he says between quick hitching breaths.  He hasn't learned to calm his body and his mind yet, nobody taught him to breathe through the panic, through the desperation, through the grief.  He is a shattered heart, a broken beer bottle of a man.  "Will... I... always be alone?"  He says to me.  He believes himself to be a victim, though he isn't.  He believes himself the hero of his story, but quite the opposite is true.  He is not the victim, but nobody ever taught him to take personal responsibility for his actions and the consequences.  He is here as the result of his making every mistake, he is here as a result of his selfish and self harming behaviors.  He believes himself to be a victim, but he is not, except possibly the victim of his own failures.  Still as we walk into the clearing, it is hard to convict him too harshly; he is a pathetic and broken boy, and even though it was he that swung the hammer that shattered his identity, it is hard not to pity him, just a little. He just didn't know any better.  He stands with his back to the stone and instead of fear, or anger what shows in his red rimmed eyes is relief.  "I see," he says, when he sees the gun, his voice heavy and thick.  He leans forward, presses his forehead to the barrel.  "Finally," he says and he looks directly into my eyes.  "It's okay," he says when my own tears start to flow.  "It's okay, I want this."  I hesitate; I can't pull the trigger.  This is too much, this is too real, this is too... and his hand covers mine, and he does it for me.  The stone is splashed fresh red and wet, and then I am alone in the quiet.

It is the most scared you will ever be.  At stake is everything.  There is nothing to be gained here, nothing to acquire, to collect.  This is a place of loss and sadness and sacrifice, but also of freedom, of reflection.  But as the silence drops and there is still one bullet remaining, I have to wonder: what if after this, I have nothing left?  We speak of self-sacrifice, but what does that mean?

I turn to go, confident that this is finished, but there, at the path leading away from the stone, is another.  He is sitting on a rock, hunched over a laptop balanced on his knees.  He is a large man, greying and slow.  He has the body of a former athlete that has let himself go, even though he was never into playing sports, and had certainly never had an athlete's body.  He sits and taps away at the keyboard with a desperate, trying too hard flair.  "Hang on," he says as I approach.  "Hang on just a minute.  This thing is the thing, the thing that will do it, that will finally free me.  Hang on just a minute."  I walk behind him and I see him describing the scene, the stone and me, a faceless avatar with a gun, a simple noun, gun, a means to kill.  Is it black, is it a revolver, is it heavy? How do I know that there were only five bullets?  "This is the thing that will free me," he says.  "They will all love me after this."  And I have to wonder who they are.  Who is he trying to impress?  I stand behind him, and find that he has a presence.  He is likable.  He is generally kind and generally polite.  I can see why he gets along with nearly everyone.  He is safely married and safely chubby and safely non threatening.  He is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the crusts cut off.  He is a broken piece of glass that has sat in the sand and the surf and now the shine has been worn off, and all the sharp cutting edges have been ground down.  I watch over his shoulder as he writes this scene, as he describes himself in these terms.  I watch as he writes that I lift the gun, I watch in horror as he writes that I briefly consider turning it on myself instead.  "It's okay," he says, and I see through my tears that he has turned from his keyboard.  I look at him and he looks at me.  "It's okay," he says again.  I turn in a sudden panic, and I see that the way out of here has disappeared.  Is there no way forward?  "I've got to go too," he says.  "Are you me?" I say, "Am I you?" He smiles. "You are what I mean when I say 'I.' I am you, but I don't have to be, if you don't want me to be." "I don't understand," I say.  "No," he chuckles, "nobody ever does."  He turns once again to his keyboard, and his fingers fly over the keys in fits and bursts.  He stays hunched, watching the keyboard.  All these words, hundreds of thousands of them, millions, maybe, and he has never learned to type properly.  I cannot do it, I know this.  "But you will," he says, not turning from the keys.  "You will." "But I like you, I don't want to be rid of you," I tell him, pleading.  "Look around," he says, "There's no way out of here."  I hear him typing and I raise the gun.  That simple noun, gun, and I try not to, I don't want to, but my finger tightens around the trigger but even though I resist, it happens anyway, and it explodes in my hand and then I am alone.  I drop the gun.  It is empty, like me.  I see that there is a path where there was not one before.  It leads away, but in a direction that I wasn't expecting, to a destination that I do not know, to a fate that I cannot control and cannot predict.

There in the clearing the stone stands, ancient and cracked, stained black and dusty brown and fresh wet red.  This is a place of sacrifice, of loss and sadness and regret, but also of freedom.  It is that freedom that I came here for.

We speak of sacrifice, but what does that mean?

I turn, and I take my first step down the new path.  Now, there is nothing left but to walk out.  Alone.



Still Writing,

RP
8-18-18


My dogs were very high maintenance animals while I was editing this, so if there are any glaring typos blame Hailey and Noor.  The usual stuff here: Twitter @RDPullins and on Facebook, email me if you wanna at dissent.within at gmail.com, comment here, or you also have the right to remain silent, a right that nearly every single one of you choose to exercise.  Listen to good music, kiss somebody you love, don't let the bastards get you down.  You're good; just keep moving forward, and you will be fine.  Peace.

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