Beneath every surface a scratching, beneath every thought a lie we tell ourselves to escape the pain, and now the time has passed for pleasant ways around either. Darkness follows too closely for us to fall behind and no one ever comes back from the heavy tendrils of its grip. So we run, faster, farther, higher up the mountain to avoid being enveloped. Yes, we fear darkness. We fear an endless nothing of staying in one place, locked in a routine of normality.
To this end, we become animals, caged and lonely, yet roam in the world as if the bars are invisible because this monument of steel lives within. The tiger paces endlessly, reassuring us, compelling the run to hunt for something better, though we’ll never find it. He knows as much, for this is his game carefully crafted to breakdown patience and courage and faith. All of which are replaced with darker desires, which are rarely satiated by the treasures we gather.
One minute wasted then two, and finally a lifetime of naught surrounding a hole in the ground. Tears, fears, and condolences move closely together, imaging themselves as bedfellows for the distraught, and whispering every manner of guilt to frame our pain. The passing of life is banner-less, save the framed and distorted faces around the hollow hole. No celebrations now, no happy reminiscing, only damp cheeks and downturn mouths to mark a life of minutes racing by too quickly and ones which end too short of their mark.
The rope is slack.
A world of lack.
Return to black.
Fall now, break now, empty now into your abyss. They’ll save in the rendering when all transition to light from the fight of those awakened. These beings don’t proffer excuses in the face of responsibility. Instead, they stand, steady and flexible as the great bamboo, to bend but never break.
But those who perceive themselves as weak and incomplete hear the tiger always. Grunt, pace, growl. It’s stalking you now, so make haste and move on to your next distraction lest you become the nothing you fear.
Darkness is easy to embrace. We will forever gravitate towards the worst interpretations of ourselves because to know the dark means we’re working on our inner demons. It also means no one can use them against us.
In the fall of my final year, the tiger stalks the edge of my life with gruffing calls. It knows what I had yet to grasp—this is the end, and no silver ray of anything could change my fate. In truth, there aren’t many moments I’d have asked it to leave, not in the midnight cloak of desperation confronting me. Somehow, the soft hand of near death comforted, yet its grotesque twist of flesh cements in my chest. No breath is deep enough to loosen its grip, which would’ve been far more welcome many years ahead.
“Too young,” I choke out.
Gruff, gruff, my steady companion calls.
“Not yet,” I whisper back.
Not because I’m not ready, but truth told I count myself among the great cowards of the world. Yeller bellied, drop everything and run in face of confrontation. That’s right, no saving lives here, no running into burning buildings, no standing up to schoolyard bullies, even ones many decades younger. You might add spineless in the most disgusting ways, and you’d be correct.
I stand for nothing, fall for everything, then flog myself relentlessly because taking too much responsibility for all the wrong things is my gift. While others divert, obfuscate, and blame, I hold the bag high and say, “Yep, it was all my fault. I’m weak, useless, careless, and lazy.” Of course, no one hears this dialogue except the tiger. It uses my lack as a way to pull me closer, and I craft my guilt to destroy everything good I create, to tear myself down to the shell, so as to be empty.
You know this feeling, don’t you? You know what it is to be a voiceless remnant with no ears to hear your crying late in the eve. With every fiber we want to yell, “Not again. Please stop, get the hell away. I don’t have anything left. Can’t you see? Don’t you know?” No one answers, of course, just the padded pacing of a black and white ghost that growls soft and low. Its waiting with an answer while cleverly suppressing something deeper—an inner voice of ancient and serene knowledge.
In the caverns of my reprieve I hear a voice, not the tiger, but something just as strong. It replies in cut, direct tones. Somewhat cynical and demanding, it blurts out sarcastic responses to questions and small talk, ones which never quite reach my lips. For that much I’m thankful, though often I dig my teeth deep into the flesh of my lip to hold it back. This is more difficult as I age due to my dwindling patience for crap and chit-chat.
One truth I’ve found over the years, besides my lack of backbone, is that people are lazy, wanting, and broken; or so their empty eyes and slack behavior would indicate. They have more to give, but bind it tight inside as if they could use up their energy and have none left. Another myth, another lie, something we buy for everything, yet it gives us nothing in return. That’s the way to distinguish it from the truth.
The truth scratches beneath the surface, beneath every thought we hide from, and lower yet is the voice. Our true voice, the one we hide for fear others will run, the one waiting patiently, the one we keep locked away.
The voice of our surround.
“In war, truth is the first casualty.”
The first war is always against ourselves. Only one victim exists—our soul.
With the heart, with the heart, with the heart—he said begin with the heart. If only I knew where it lives. What is tangible and present for some, eludes on the highest levels. Moments of tenderness break through, and I think I might feel something, anything, but it drifts away in a painfully slow death march. Love is unknown, the true feel of it.
Is it loyalty? Patience? Kindness? Infatuation?
These I’ve seen, even experienced, though never for long. I know sadness, I know how the emotions of others crash into my being so as to incapacitate me. The rest is a foreign idea, swimming at the bottom of day old soup; somewhat foul in smell and cringe worthy in consistency, but not the fabled and promised emotion of story books and movies. My chest doesn’t ache for the things I cannot touch, though my body is desperate to taste the newly bloomed rose.
So close, she lets me so close. I want to whisper my tongue down her thigh, to feel her hair against mine, but some walls are too tall, and I’m weak and tired and not in the frame of mind to play those types of chords. A once sweet song brandished with subtle notes of sin, in which neither of us will win because bricks are dull. Every word against them slams hard and falls flat to the ground. Lower still, until the soil grinds my hopes and desires into aged powder, a fine end to a nightshade lover.
But the tiger finds me always. It’s stalking now, a jab of despair, a swipe of all the ways life became too hard. So I mourn with the other framed face around a hole we fill with might have been wishes and never come true dreams. And the tiger gruffs its response or condolences, depending on the ear.
Here lie my voices of ill repent and contemptible promises. Be careful lest they mock and haunt to bastardize even the brightest and most encouraging light.
Do you hear it?
“You can’t have it, ’cause you don’t deserve it.” An echoing laugh follows misplaced keys. “She’ll never want you, ’cause you’re worthless.”
“Screw you,” I scream, though no one listens.
My hand ventures to its throat, finding only mine.