I. Prologue: Self-Exile to Purgatory
With my eyes shut tight, I heard a terrible screeching sound.
It came from above and below, left and right, the sensation of a sphere surrounding me.
I dared not open my eyes for fear of what would be found.
It came again, its echo scraping the courage from every muscle and every bone.
The screech possessed the piquancy of steel dragging its edge across hard stone.
I lingered inside myself for a while, ignorant of my current situation,
Searching for some opinion or belief based upon solid predication.
I found only a fringe area of my mind linking me to an uncertain actuality,
A fragment of information dormant and in a state of certain fragility:
My name was Justin, wasn't it?
And now, knowing this, I face finality.
Brought here by my own doing,
To escape from all my pains,
The pills coursing through my veins,
The rope holding tight around my limp figure,
I know I had done a terrible thing,
Sacrificing my joy, laughter, and spark of vigor,
Exiling myself to this Purgatory.
How can this be the end to my story?
I had said many terrible things,
I had been beset by the horrible sadness despair brings,
And now I am consumed by the feelings of darkness.
But did I really mean it?
I hadn't known what lay after until I'd seen it.
Do I want to die?
That would be a lie.
It's too late for me, anyway.
Now I'm all alone,
And I don't have another day's time to call my own…
Again, the Raven cawed,
Awaking me from my indecision,
And I found that I was standing within a labyrinth, ruined and flawed.
Clarity returned to me, restoring my vision,
And I opened my eyes and stared ahead.
The world blurred my sense of linearity,
And I forgot all that was ever done or said.
No more anger, sadness, or happy sincerity.
Nothing made sense anymore or mattered at all;
No chapel mass, neither imponderable or liturgical.
Only the sense of Destiny approaching fast.
A Raven, an invisible Clock, a labyrinthine Haven, a noose, and an epitaphic rock;
A phone to no one worth knowing, a hinge coming loose, a path to nowhere worth going;
A grand piano with no visible player, a play on the stage of life with no active participator;
A pendulum bell slowly tolling while Fate's final game of dice finally stopped rolling;
No desperate deals to be made, no doctors with medicine to help your ills fade;
These were my final truths and ethereal possessions.
No apologies or amends to make before the pendulum's final fall,
The clock ticked away in tandem with my fate.
Time to make concessions.
I have a date with the gallows.
For the crime of being only Justin here now in the hour growing late.
I am the hangman and there is no one else that follows.
Oh God, forgive me.
I don't believe in the comfort of fate.
But the power of three obsesses me,
Extreme to extreme, or neither way.
White, black, or neutral gray.
Madness, sadness, or nothingness.
Don't cry for me, don't scream and shout,
Don't judge me harshly, please, don't cast me out,
Don't play for me a noble symphony;
Don't write for me a pitying eulogy.
Just let me be.
Let me be alone now in this hour growing late
To face what may come tonight,
To make my choice using my own voice.
It is little more than a hushed sound,
With no proud courage to be found,
I whisper aloud the options available tonight:
"Do I go left
Or do I go right?
Do I even want to stay alive?
What is there left to fight for?
I don't think I can endure myself anymore.
Just tell me how to feel alive,
Because I feel dead inside.
If I don't find love, how then will I survive?
If I can't enjoy life, when will I die?"
I looked up at the noose above
Then, down at my trembling hands,
Holding three fates, I tried in vain to understand.
As I looked down into each of my palms, I saw two warring brothers,
And the gap between my hands expanded into a great ravine
Between nemeses staring at one other.
They were like polar shades,
Black and white, like and unlike.
A shy, lonely boy and a devious fiend,
As close as lovers.
And I studied them both closely:
One was the dark-eyed villain with the maniacal smile
Who saw himself as no less than divine, grossly;
The dispenser of self-righteous anger upon his misery's architects,
With an exploding calm as volatile as an imploding bomb,
Across from him was the pathetic boy whose every action he himself judged as vile,
While pleading to the bleeding hearts of those he respects
To give him a reason to endure his trials.
I saw a prefect trinity.
Then I realized solemnly
That of the three,
Spectator, victim, fiend,
None of them were truly me.
Frustrated, I clapped my hands together,
Dispersing the images.
With my fingers now free to grasp Fate at will,
I reached up to pet the creature seated upon my shoulder,
A consciousness far older,
And it offered to me an implement heavily given.
So I took it and wrote with the Raven's feather in black ink that finishes
The message that read:
"I am Justin and I have no wish to be forgiven,
For if forgiveness were my creed,
Forgiveness would be what I'd need."
The Raven cawed apathetically,
Disappointed in me for not realizing what a wonderful gift I had been given,
I look up again at the noose to ponder the deed.
Whether or not I die as one or as three makes no difference to me,
To be seen as a whole entity or three, I still die alone now.
All that matters now is how…
What has become of our old bonds, dear friends?
Have they become unbound by love,
Free to be wisped away by the slightest breeze
And to be never seen again?
Must I shun it all, like sickness?
Or do I embrace it as weakness?
To make it an invisible boundary,
Or a confining boundlessness around me?
Here I am at my journey's climax,
Where the sun does not shine
And the moon does not wane and wax,
Here at the very end of my lifeline.
Oh Momma, I don't want to be all alone.
Say you love me once last time.
Oh Cody, please don't leave me here on my own.
Remind me of who I was once upon a time.
Daddy, please say a prayer for me because I can't promise I'll be fine.
Show me who I could have been if I only had more time.
Sister, sister, hold my hands as I say goodbye.
I'm sorry, the hourglass no longer has any sand left for me to call mine,
And I'll slowly hang up the phone,
Leaving you all with a comforting lie,
Severing all connection with the outside,
Walking across hallowed cobblestone,
I step inside myself to ride my thoughts' internal tide.
The rooms mold to me.
They encase me.
Old harsh truths return to face me, verily.
They hold me.
Inside me, this place feels like limbo:
An outward manifestation of the inescapable sadness attached to my soul,
Like a mirror reflecting both friend and foe,
To which I said, "Hello, my old friend,
I'm sad to have to see you again."
The broken mirror shattered,
Fracturing a single image of what mattered.
I turn away from myself, but peer deeper into myself.
Memories stirred like agitated hornets abuzz,
Stinging me with every pain that is or ever was.
Amidst the gloom, I saw two feminine figures.
I stopped the silencing and made the leap.
They heard the crying inside me and I threw myself at their feet.
And they, enduring my wilting cynicism
By listening to my flowery lyricism,
Became the two women who held my heart;
One I could never have,
The other one I knew doomed me from the start.
Like an expedition into an untamable forest,
Without experience or knowledge to guide me through the worst parts,
I did what I could, fought past it, and cried my hardest.
The pain's still a reminder that fills me up until I can't feel.
The numbness took away anything that could be have been real.
Was I madly infatuated?
Or was it true love instigated?
The feelings always profligate,
Like great vines covering all in their growth with ever being sated,
Commingling everything from hate to love.
I can do nothing but wait.
Await the hangman's noose hanging above.
I burned the forest down and left it all behind,
Leaving no trace of the man I once was for either of them to find.
I searched for a means to stay afloat and return to safe harbors before I went amiss.
To keep me from drowning in a freezing whirlpool of the Abyss,
The hungry vortex feeding upon my doubts and fears inside me,
Becoming a huge beast, my own Charybdis.
I rise up, breaking through the surface
I returned to the high, hopeful place,
The place inside my dreams and my waking sight;
The place that recharges my will to fight.
And I found it empty of the hopeful and full of the doubtful:
Emptiness and stagnation,
Only the memories of deprivation.
No family, no friends,
Here I am alone again, and then not alone.
Isn't that always the way it's been?
My only companions being the laughs and jeers of other children.
Clawing at my face, I screamed out in heartbreaking rage,
Begging Fate to burn my life story away page by page.
My angels sang as I fell like Lucifer from the highest clouds of grace,
Losing my wings and condemning myself to a most horrible place:
The Realm of Reality,
Where unrepentant cruelty is life's only irrevocability.
You will never be the genius,
Or the prodigy you think you know.
Time to put down the fantasy mercifully
And let it all go.
Does being happy mean settling for less?
Does being selfish mean I'm self-fulfilling?
Or does it mean my moral compass has become only an obsessive mess?
Busy wheeling and dealing,
Hoping to make that big score,
Hoping to make my life worth so much more.
Afraid to lose what I alone could never attain,
Unreasonable fear infecting a reasonable brain.
I don't want to kneel before the preachers teaching;
Or hear the masses chanting the word of their teacher's Preaching.
But I know who I am.
I am an observer, not a player;
Just a man walking alone.
Neither a lion nor a lamb in need of prayer.
Standing behind the fourth wall here all alone;
A watcher, front row and center,
I take notes, compile stories, share them with imaginary friends.
To seek some understanding or even a glimpse of truth at all,
And walk among them alone without warmth, cold as winter.
I have always walked alone, again and again.
I do not belong with others or on my own.
I am trying to convince myself to find some meaning;
To just to enjoy the little pleasures of being.
A desk full of paper
And a pen full of ink:
These are the things I need.
And a quiet place to think,
Books, words, quiet peace:
These are the things I seek.
Some way to make my loneliness ease.
Respect, creation, uniqueness,
A means to stoke my fire:
These are the things I truly desire.
Beyond it, I see my truth.
Like a soothsayer, I see my foggy path laid out in cold stone,
And the truth is grim:
I will walk it alone.
I have no future, my great fire will only dim.
To walk with me is to be alone.
That is why I have always walked alone.
As the fog cleared, I heard the soft keys of the grand piano humming gently.
I turn ever so slightly to see a skeletal phantasm alternating between black and white keys:
With bony fingers, it played a sad requiem to accompany me on my final journey
To the Gallows past which no waking eye sees.
Teeth bared, neither in a delighted grimace nor in a grim grin,
The brim of its hat covering one hollow eye,
The other opened in search of Human Sin,
Fixating itself upon me, he knew me completely as only Justin,
Forgiving, condemning, and ignoring me all in one blink of its exposed eye.
Leaving me with a fading tune to choose next what will happen.
I realized I had not come to a fork in the road,
But to a choice of left or right in my life's labyrinth
With nothing--no bread crumbs or rope--to retrace my steps with,
Conducing the fading of all trivialities into the background,
Summoning the "yes-or-no" conundrum back to the foreground.
VIII. Cardinal Choices
Do I go left or do I go right?
Do I surrender to the fear and sleep away the eternal night?
Do I persevere and live to carry on the fight?
Do I wait to see what comes around the junction?
Or do I run and run and run until my legs cease to function?
Do I close my eyes and step into the light?
Do I go left?
Or do I go right?
Do I say a prayer and hope an answer arrives in time?
Do I accept life really has no inherent reason and no convenient rhyme?
Do I make amends?
Do I reach out to those I call friends?
Do I just accept this is the way all things must end?
Do I continue on and damn the risk?
Do I say, "No More," and choose not to exist?
IX. The Free Haven
Like my self-imposed exile from the world I knew,
This tug-of-war wired me up with tired old fires burning me up.
In the chaotic fires of my elemental re-forging, the Justin I knew was remade anew.
The images are high in definition, even those from long ago,
The nerves in every part of my body are a floodgate of electrical feedback;
A firm but pleasant shock fed pleasure and pain to my body and brain front to back,
And it filled me with a self-assuring glee,
Like the inflating of a self-styled prince's king-sized ego.
But my silky humility trumped my glass ego's fragility,
Through the looking glass I saw the Clock's hands reach for the highest point in time,
And the bell announced midnight, reminding me what was at stake tonight:
I may take right and end up left.
I may be left with no way of knowing what's wrong or what's right.
The only certain choice is surrender.
Then, and only then, will my choice have a final answer.
Left or right, I am moving on in life.
Bleeding into one another, one problem becoming the other,
I will never possess an absolute solution to my inner strife.
I'm bound to choose over and over, now and forever,
The chance to become a better man, a better friend, a better lover.
So I tell myself I'm not alone and I'm stronger than ever.
I faced my demons one at a time rather than face them all together as one,
Forsaking the façades piecemeal,
Until each trial is a memory to be remembered as over and done,
As I learn to cope and find ways to deal.
To see these battles as triumphs, not defeats, fairly won,
Would give me the wings of Icarus to rise into Heaven and touch the face of the sun.
Nevertheless, I cannot deny the journey has had a toll on my well-being,
Both external and internal, briefly blurring the neat lines between the civil and the infernal.
But now I am living instead of just seeing:
I am breathing, I am finding purpose in being.
The clock had passed midnight here in this place;
My Haven of dreams, where nothing ever appeared as it seems.
A reprieve I have no desire to waste in prodigal sin.
As if the universe allowed me a second taste of Ambrosia's sweet nectar again,
The ethereal body I occupied regenerated corporeal bone, muscle, and skin,
Like the gentle embrace of a loving parent, my body encircled my soul,
And I could feel my body, restored to its full physical role, slowly becoming whole,
Then, when I ceased to be a specter divided by those three unreal men,
I grew stronger with each puzzle piece uniting.
It started as a rising sensation, like gravity loosening its hold without fighting.
Upward I rocketed till the stars were lanterns lighting my way.
In silence, I lost all thought and knew not the proper words to say,
And I lost the cardinal choices of left or right, black or white, or even neutral gray.
Thus it was that I found myself in that beautiful High Place, the Great Gardens,
And I saw the Great Warden presiding over all cosmic knowledge and truth;
And there in His midst were spirits of all sorts, ancient ones with the vigor of youth.
Each walking a separate path, perpendicular with others, converging at different intervals;
Independent of trivial mortal concepts, my haze set me apart from their ways.
Though their paths were fashioned after my own mind's maze,
Minus the dividing walls and infectious gloom,
They walked where they willed their feet to carry them;
They talked with eloquence to whomever crossed paths with them;
They had knowledge and accepted it whenever offered.
And everything they did was done so with a light-hearted whim.
And realized this was a vision of freedom without certain doom.
And I, being moved by the idea of a world without margins in sight, felt comfort.
X. A World without Monsters or Demons
My reversal of polarity led me to reconsider the forthcoming hour once more.
With my foot in the door,
I gave thought to the day when I shall pass away, no matter what road I take,
Barring any intervention that the meddling hand of fate could make,
My life could be a legacy of sheen and humble grandeur of life serene--
Not grandiose failure or envious wishes,
Which I judge to be the poisoned apple and the Dark Side's lure and bait--
There is much I must do to before the eve of my ceremonial Wake:
First, I must make my own mythical dishes to feed my physical greed;
Then, concoct an immortal brew to slake my ambitious thirst;
And lastly, plant a seed of life to grow large and feed the world, rather than leave it worse.
I'd like to see myself standing tall in the manner of a statuesque model,
Promising to others hope is here, inside us, for any person to find and take.
Free for us to retake, remake, and persist.
Free to enjoy and live with rather than just linger and exist.
The journey to the light of the Promised Land is a hard trek through the Dark Valley's shadows,
A vale filled with hardships and woes,
But I know now what any living warrior bloodied by his demons knows:
Though we may face one demon or an entire legion in countless bouts,
I choose to live a life rife with strife,
Rather than hang at the end of a rope or cut with the edge of a knife,
Suffocating my hopes and bleeding myself out.
Wielding a shield, a truth-dented manifestation of prudent determination,
And built with overlapping bands of reinforced steel-clad iron willpower,
I defended myself from the onslaught of the bitter outer wind time and again,
Which always seeks to rend me apart at my psyche's fault line,
As the hour nears, and the sweet nectar grows sour,
The inner storm of self-abusing sin rises up enraged
Like a great monstrous maelstrom angrily engaged,
It tried to bend my mind into believing nothing good can likely ever be mine.
On my hopes and dreams they happily dined,
My trine personality struggling to find unity.
Wielding an abstract hammer,
I engaged my demons in battle,
Embracing the incoming tidal wave of pain
Freely flowing out from the unlocked cage's door
And I, having made my choice, screamed, "No more!"
For a while, I saw nothing evermore.
Consumed entirely by my inner war,
I searched in the darkness for my conscience door.
Stillness and silence reigned forevermore.
But I no longer wept…
XI. The Clock Ticks On
With my eyes shut tight, I heard a gentle sound.
It was a voice singing, low but proud:
The happy chirping of all sorts of birds;
And this was accompanied by a sweet melody,
A song of speechless words.
It soothed my spirit and told me it was okay to open my eyes and see,
And I saw.
The sweet gentleness of a cool morning's breeze blowing,
Its invisible hand caressing the trees' leaves outside my hospital room window.
I placed a hand over my chest to feel the thump of my heart,
Counting off each one like sheep.
I'm still so tired now, I thought, all I wanted to do now was sleep.
Tubes and IVs connected to my body fed me strength and healing,
But I could not shake that shameful feeling.
My mistakes almost cost me everything.
Instead of lying inside a warm hospital bed,
I could have been lying inside a casket, cold and dead.
But I remembered a simple truth instead:
Time is fleeting,
And already the vestiges of my youth are retreating.
Doing now what felt right,
I rose from the comforts of my bed to bask in the new day's warm light.
It stung my eyes.
Like an ignorant man suddenly made wise,
I realized that pain is God's way of making us try.
With my eyes closed,
I looked to warmer summers and greener pastures;
I dreamt of quiet days spent living,
Of days spent laughing and enjoying life,
Striving to keep myself driving forward,
Toward whatever doors life has in store for me to open.
I opened my eyes and looked into your own.
I smiled contently, because neither of us will ever be alone.
No, my dear friend, never again.