For six weeks, April 19 to June 6, 2012, I visited my stepmother every day; first in the hospital following her colon cancer surgery, then, in hospice. Three years prior, my great aunt had lost a leg to poor care in the hospital following hip surgery. Having lived independently until age 96, she was forced into a rehabilitation home from which she left only to die in a hospital mere days after her 97th birthday.
I visited my Aunt Dutsie (nee Elvira), once a week. She snapped at less fortunate fellow patients who endeavored to engage me in conversation. “She’s visiting me,” she would say. Sometimes I would bring an art project or puzzle for us to do together. Often, I would wheel her to the dining room for a meal or around the floor to see something different from her room. Most often, I would just listen to the stories of her long-ago youth and the bitterness she still held toward some no longer with us, as well as the myriad quiet joys and sorrows that were her life.
I visited once a week; it was not enough.
I visited my stepmother every day, not only so that she would feel loved, but so that the hospital would know she was loved and would not ignore her and her well-being as too few staff attempted to care for too many patients. Even present, I witnessed disdain and careless banter repeatedly, sometimes with reference to my stepmother, more often, with regard to some less frequently visited neighboring patient.
I visited my stepmother every day, computer in tow so that I could work when she slept. I listened to what stories she would tell when she was awake. I begged her to eat and drink. I conversed with doctors and nurses, hospital social workers, aides. I didn’t cry when she yelled at me for being overly kind to nurses and aides she had berated and insulted. “I’m in pain. I’m allowed to be mean.” I knew she was in pain.
She knew she was dying.
Over the weeks, her stories were fewer as she spoke less and less. But many people came to visit from her church, her apartment building and neighborhood, her family and friends, and they would tell stories. Often, she slept, but occasionally she would bestow on them a smile of thanks for the memory.
My stepmother was the last thread connecting me to my father’s family. She buried my dad, my grandmother, my great-grandmother, my two great-aunts and my cousin. I visited her every day because while she “was,” they all still “were,” too. On June 6, 2012, she passed away. One moment she was breathing, shallow and slow. The next her body was deflated as she expelled her last breath and with it all the spirits of the “gone people.”
I was happy she was no longer suffering, but I cried because I felt myself newly bereft of all those I’d lost before her.
Recently, a friend made a comment that made me realize, however, that she and they aren’t really gone. As long as I am, they, too, are: in my heart…and in my stories.
End of Time
The Island, the most serene Eden in the world, had been banned from visitation for centuries. I know, as a recipient of all the knowledge contained among its citizens, I am both God and worm. Each of us, as a service to our race was charged with discovering whether or not these immortals should be allowed the cure, which is our magic to bestow, or should suffer in isolation for eternity?
I stretched and rolled in the tiny egg, so infinitesimal it would require eyes far more acute than any the people confined to this exquisite jail owned. Although they had the skills as artists to create beauty to match that around them, did their hearts finally have the humility and humbleness to allow them the cure, and therefore death?
Would they kill me, as they had the first three of my ancestors? Ignorance of the transformation that would take place if they allowed me to grow and mature, to spin my chrysalis had been the downfall of them. They thought only of their precious roses, required food for those such as I. The next three, had fared little better.
How could such a gruesomely horrid death come from those who brought art to life? Great paintings, intricate fabrics, poetry that begged to be memorized and recited when love was found, and entrancing strains of music which held the listener in rapt attention and till the last note died a lingering death into silence.
Now as I burst from my egg, a tiny sliver of green undulating caterpillar, I found myself on the underside of a rose bush leaf. The green almost the exact shade of my skin, it would hide me perfectly until my first molt required me to climb into the heart of a magnificent bloom and beginning the second stage of growth. I must gorge myself on the attar, the very molecules which gave the flowers their enchanting scent. The gardeners who created stunning landscapes for them to enjoy found the next three generations there, and before we could escape, crushed us under heavy heels carved from the same wood sculptors used to make life like copies of our cousins the moths.
I had the heartbreaking awareness I was their last chance. Would they see beyond the destruction of one flower, to understand I must be allowed to grow into a fat blob of emerald skinned jelly which could barely cling to a thorn to begin the arduous task of spinning my protective cocoon. Did they understand our process well enough to understand I must transform in order to grant them their desire to cease?
The last one before, my cousin Anterria, had been dropped a hundred years ago, and had made it through to the last days before breakout before a curious gardener had pulled her chrysalis from its branch and broken it open. Unaware he would kill the lovely creature inside, he finally made the connection between our meter long glass like protective enclosure, and what we would become. At least he proclaimed his discovery.
Love brought death to those who left the curious ecosystem. Being human, and unable to understand the fundamental changes in their poor bodies, the drive to explore took them on to every corner of their world, bring a deadly plague with them, killing hundreds. It took the best part of a century in their years, to discover the pattern which emerged, and then suddenly, not a single ship visited. Those who remained, transformed to immortal completely, and as is the case, were sterile as well. No need for new souls when those who were there would live on in perpetuity.
Not one child had been born after the mythical beginnings of their memories. The arrival of a sailing ship, and the first grateful sips of water the parched adventurers had let dribble into parched lips, had set in motion a change. This erased as only the contagion could do, the first stage of the change. The unique atmosphere of Eden, Island of Paradise sustained those who remained to complete the final steps, and if I released the equilibrium which kept them from aging, then the twenty five embryos and small fetuses which the women carried, would also begin to grow as they aged.
Those who left took a fatal gift with them. It killed those who traveled and those who loved them as surely as if the knife were already in their heart. A miserable, painful, breath robbing plague which burned them up from inside. The coughing so severe; its broke ribs. It became known as Blue plague, far more deadly than any of the previous influenza’s which had reeked havoc as they spread from one continent to the next. Those who managed to survive were forever weakened, unable to do the heavy labor required by farmers and craftsmen.
At first it wasn’t understood, but over the course of many outbreaks, the others finally comprehended. They banned all contact with Eden. Deadly as it was beautiful. Those who remained were left to suffer alone and forever alive. Curious travelers came to look, and to point, but never close enough for those trapped to entice then to shore. Eventually curiosity ceased, dying to the more practical needs of commerce and fishing.
The source of the contagion resided in a quietly cordoned hall, away from anyone who would partake of the sparkling fountain at the alter there. The other sources of water didn’t have the same startling transformative properties. Only this one, where you needed to kneel in supplication to reach forward over worn marble stones into a pool which magically never overflowed. The water danced, so clear the illusion of nothing remained. One could hear the droplets dancing and splashing, but the eyes insisted it did not exist. Only if the kneeling curious were daring enough to reach out, to test, then did their questing hands find water. The scent sweet and the feel soft to the skin, it begged to be tasted.
And then change began, the Blue plague took weeks to show and then only in those who left. From each ship which visited a few remained, and when the last one left, and only the curious searched their shores with spyglasses, there were perhaps two hundred souls trapped.
Our own history recited the reason for this one place, this single island on a world otherwise forever pastoral, peaceful, prosperous, perfectly poised in equilibrium for the people who lived on it. Humanoid, like so many other places, Earth, Qinta, Sanata, and Holastem all showed thriving populations of the same biosphere and eventual development of the human genotype.
We had our own history of misguided philosophies and tortured dictators with insane agendas. Eventually we progressed to the point of long lives, thousands of years, but blessed with the eventual end of time. The knowledge we would end. The water, we as magical bestowing beings, needed to nurture us, was unique to our ecosystem as far as we knew. I knew I could grant their fondest wish, including the ability to age, and end time.
In a turbulent era, early in our discovery of other sentient beings, a generous misguided leader decided to place alters, magically protected in obscure locations in several worlds. Early in their life cycle, where our studies had indicated the humanoid track would proceed. Those worlds where insects would take the higher path, were not altered. It would be a sin to play with them.
A thousand thousand years later, we began to track them down. The molecules which gave us long magical lives of enduring self discovery and creative outlets, were a curse for humanoid life forms. Our enlightened state, we were Gods to many lesser cultures, and the plague of guilty consciences forced the high council to send out many ships. Each manned by one mature Mantillan and ten eggs, carefully set in stasis to be planted in those worlds we had unforgivably altered. The ship carried the antidote, the DNA alterations to bring aging back to humans cursed with immortality. In other words, magic means to cure.
We had the vaccine for the fatal Blue plague, created by the fountain, the price paid by those who left the island before transformation was complete, brought to the others with hugs, kisses, and love.
We had the neutralizer which would end the effect of the fountain, turning it into a cure for half a dozen chronic immune disfunctions including the scrooge of cancer.
I sighed, driven, climbed my way outward on the branch to seek the roses. The delectable scent and my insatiable appetite blended into gut wrenching need, and I buried myself into the center of the yellow rose. My jaws ached, but I could not stop, driven by instinct older than our prodigious memories. I knew each and everyone of our species had survived the gorge, the teaching tapes played in the stasis sublimation station imparted the necessary basics and our mission statement. Nothing in them prejudiced the young to become anything specific. That too, had long gone from our home planet. We’d perfected sentient machines which were more than happy to do the mundane tasks of maintenance.
Impressed upon my psyche the imprint of guilt, and guise of magic we wove around us. For it could only be magic, which would give these trapped souls what they desired most. Release from utopia so varied and yet so much the same. Nothing new to bring forth, as their brains were not yet evolved to shed old memories from their data storage. I’m sorry. I should not compare the brain of a living thinking, organic being to the banks of binomial bits which stored AI programs for machines.
Above me I noted the yellow roses had been coaxed to climb an arched trellis to form a quiet corner arbor. Now that my eyes were able to discern more than dim objects and large splotches of color, I noted the sturdy hooks at the top of the bower. I also heard the head gardener, the very same one who had killed Anterria. His quiet well modulated tenor seemed to be explaining something to an unseen audience. I turned my antenna, tuning the distance until the buzz cleared.
“Hush, and no you cannot go closer to observe. I have mistakenly taken the life of more than one of these creatures, and now that another has finally appeared, and it seems they only come once in a century, we will let it mature!” The syllables projected clearly now that I’d adjusted for the frequency of human speech.
“But Daniel, I promise to be careful. You’ve been at us for decades about how we can’t allow another death. Everyone has it ingrained, we practically eat, breathe and sleep it.” The female sounded petulant and bored.
I guess I was a new form of entertainment. I could hardly blame the curious. Something different, something new. I understood having watched what our nursery keeper and starship captain had seen over the 900 years in orbit. Nothing approached Eden, not sea life, nor bird life, or any of the ships he’d noted still sailed the oceans of this world. To be sentenced to eternity, with no chance of new stimulus, it would horror to me.
“Isabella, no!” Daniels voice brooked no disobedience. “I will cause you pain beyond your imagination, for days on end. You know I can. I will protect this one. The creature which will emerge is much like our butterflies and moths, but much more.”
He was right there. My wings would span two meters, and from top to bottom almost three. They are iridescent. In this case, since I had chosen to eat yellow roses, every shade of gold from pale yellow to deep umber. Laced with fine black lines like old Earth’s Monarch butterflies. There had been hope they would evolve into something more when we found them.
“Then can we at least have a window, there,” Isabella pointed to the side of the glass enclosure I only noticed now.
“Aye, you and all the others may take turns watching. This one will cocoon itself like the last one, I have no idea how long it’s life stages will take. We might have to wait for some months. It will be big enough to dwarf us I think.”
He might have murdered Anterria, but he had taken the time to dissect her poor body. He’d understood instantly how the wings would expand, and we were indeed related in some way to the moths they so loved to sculpt. He was the oddity, the scientist among the artisans.
“Can we bring our paints?” Isabella asked, “I wish to be lucky enough to see it emerge!”
There was hope for these spoiled immortals. I noted the undertone of regret others had been misunderstood and treated like the pests which devasted the few crops they planted.
Perhaps this would be a successful mission after all. I had hope. I wonder if I will be able to communicate with these people. Are there those among these artists who have turned to science? Do they finally understand the need to clearly communicate? Why hadn’t even one of them gone the route of experimentation and learning how things worked and why? Other worlds where we had retrieved our life altering fountains had. Was the magic of science beginning here at long last?
One world had even found a vaccine and limited the use of the fountain to the wisest of them, preserving the greatest minds of science for all time. Not this one. Here this gift was cursed and segregated in fear. Change was slow, almost imperceptible. I marveled yet again at the diversity of the universe. How choices and survival of the fittest dictated advancement of technology and science.
I dragged myself into the center of another rose. Cursing the need to gorge, the pain in my jaw and my grossly swollen body. Looking back, I saw the limp decimated blooms that marked my progress toward the top of the arched trellis. Close to my goal, which was only a day or two away now, as I’d worked my way through the hearts of twenty or more flowers, was a single brilliantly carmine bud, just beginning to break the green shell which had encased it. I would have a few spots of lively fire on my wings after all.
This was magic indeed, the final pattern of shading in my wings would be random, but I could dictate the hues by choosing which roses to eat. The red one was next to the considerately placed hook. I looked forward to the task of spinning. The gorge was almost over.
Oh, how I longed to respond to the questions. The observations. The gardener, who’s name was Thomas correctly presumed my chrysalis was becoming more transparent which each day. I knew it would take 130 days from the moment I closed the last hole in my cocoon. Once I struggled free, I would be able to communicate with those I chose, and I chose Thomas as my first contact. The man showed such care for my fragile case. The arbor had been segregated and guarded from all possible disturbances. He ordered a large tent to be settled over me and my rose arbor. No wind swayed my home.
I had a perfect transformation period. Many of us had died in centuries past when storms wrenched us from our delicate attachment points. Thomas made sure I would never have such a horrifying experience. There, I felt it, the tear had started. At last, I wriggled fiercely. The air inside suddenly cooler, I had to hurry. The temperature made my wings begin their expansion. Of all the things in the universe, please don’t let me be the one who could not free myself from the broken case. It did happen.
My eyes caught movement. Thomas understood my predicament. The glass like cover hadn’t split properly. He approached with a tiny blade, like the one he used to graft roses, with a touch more delicate than an eye surgeon’s, he sliced the stuck portion across my back open and pried it apart.
I twisted, sliding my new body, with its narrow waist, and pixie face out into freedom, my wings following. Clinging to the branch I hoped there would be enough room for my wings to grow. Again, Thomas to the rescue. He reached up, freeing my trembling arms and legs, and gently placed me on a patch of lawn, in the open where sunshine speared through an opening in the roof of the tent.
I began the rapid flutter, the strain on my shoulders and hips was welcome. I heard the sighs as Thomas’ companions stared in rapt attention. I looked over my shoulder to see what I had created during the long sleep. I was right. One bright crimson spot in each quadrant. Concentric borders of deepening yellow, the palest close to the red. Stained glass sections between black dividers grew in minutes and I fanned them dry.
I folded them together and then opened them to show their full glory, iridescent in the sun. Gasps rose from the unseen spectators, and I turned. Thomas stood there his mouth open.
“I greet you, majestic creature. I wish I could talk to you,” his voice was reverent.
I adjusted my antenna once more. You can, I am the answer to your fondest wish. Nod if you understand me.
Slowly his head tilted forward, once then twice.
I bring the end of time.
“A miracle! It speaks. It brings a cure!” Thomas shouted.
Chaos erupted behind the glass window. Cheers and questions.
Do you believe in magic?
“I have always believed this place was magic. Black magic. You bring the white. Welcome”
We have work to do.
I would bring the magic of death to Eden. They were worthy.
watch the world’s demise
two of them
looking into me
ten of them
all been broken
locked into mine
you complete me
I just unearthed all of the beauty in humanity
distilled in one moment that is
two college kids in a library.
but I’m pretty damn sure
that this whole thing is a children’s game
let’s play dress up in
arrange ourselves by height, shoe size
she knocked over the marble track
he hid out of bounds
they took all the oil and called this fragment of Earth theirs.
can you imagine seeing us from outer space
an organism so infectious it’s on seven different brinks of self-termination
we turned our home inside out
broke the shield to let it burn.
It’s collateral beauty and
I’m watching like the fictitious god we’re all banking on
silly humans it’s almost time to say goodbye to the silly human race.
but our minds
see this at the same time
to help one person so we can pretend we're making a difference.
asymptotic in opposite directions
but tragically parallel the entire time.
it’s almost impressive how
we’ve trapped electrons and flung them so fast the ceiling lights up
thrown bits into algorithms so I can call on data from a server half a globe away
brewed sounds into syllables into words into existential conversations in a library.
with a magnifying glass up close
I think I found beauty in humanity but
what good does any of that do
if I’m too scared to ask you
if we can sit together when we watch the world’s demise.
A to B
The answer we found on a night not to exchanged numbers,
better to have known, then to live with it.
A smirk hides that smile.
Our way to say;
This was, is, and will be,
while watching her danced to flamenco.
Letter to Verona
I write this letter to you, fair Juliet, where you are in far away Verona, Italy, because, unbeknownst to you, we share a bit of common ground, so to speak. Since you are a woman of such passion, I am quite sure that you will be able to understand why I feel drawn to write to you. Please allow me to elaborate a bit.
Since I was only ten years of age, I have had a steadfast love for one man and his country: Michelangelo and Italy. I fear I have never had the opportunity to meet the man nor have I visited his country, much to my ongoing disappointment. And to be honest, I know that my so-called love story is quite unusual while also being a bittersweet one. Therefore, I pray you will try to keep your heart and mind open as you read on.
Since early childhood, I have always had a sense that I was mistakenly misplaced at birth or more simply, I have feared that I was born on the wrong continent. This predominant feeling evolved from my early fascination with Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, the great Renaissance Master. My love for this man blossomed when I was a mere ten years of age. I vividly recall when I first saw a picture of his Pietà, which he miraculously sculpted when he was only twenty-four years of age; I knew without a doubt that it was the most beautiful piece of art in the world, and he, the greatest master of all time. I was captivated by the wonder and beauty that each stroke of the artist’s chisel had brought to life. My love of this sculpture led to a full discovery of all things created by the artist’s hand, and it became my dream to see his work in the "flesh". I call it the "flesh" because to me, his work is so very vivid and lifelike, it can be called nothing less.
Through the many years, my Italian fixation, especially for the Renaissance Period, evolved to great heights, propelling me to feel a perpetual draw to your homeland and all it has to offer; music, art, food, wine, opera, architecture, literature, and more. I have not been fortunate enough to set foot on Italy’s soil as of yet, but I know that if I ever do, it will be like coming home, and I am sure I will never want to leave the beauty and wonder that will be found therein.
I write to you, sweet Juliet, because I feel that the master who penned you to life also experienced a similar pull to your fair country. Shakespeare was able to make the city of Verona and its people as extraordinarily palpable on paper as Michelangelo was able to breathe life into his creations with a chisel, marble, and buon fresco. Thus, I know that Shakespeare, too, was filled with an extraordinary fascination for Italy and all its beauty.
Many years have passed since my early fascination began with Michelangelo and Italy, and I am nearing the latter years of my life; I will soon be sixty-four years of age. A deep-seated fear has invaded and permeates my soul where I remain in my faraway homeland, as I fear that I may never meet my greatest and most enduring love. Please say a soft, sweet prayer for me, fairest Juliet, that I may one day be fortunate enough to set foot in your wonderful country where I will be able to not only meet the man that I have loved for nearly my entire life, but also find a solace in my soul by arriving home at last.
With sincerest and deepest felt emotion, I remain, ever patient and faithfully yours.
“A beautiful thing never gives so much pain as does failing to hear and see it.”
I've known you since... forever.
And we never part.
I have felt your every pain, been there through your every struggle and heartbreak.
I have watched you choose others over me, anyone at all as long as you didn't have to spare me a glance.
And yet, in the dead of the night once in a blue moon, you tell me you love me.
I find myself believing you.
You harm me.
You ask me if I'm okay when I seem sad.
You insult me.
You coo and praise when I am in my prettiest of moods or when I do something right by you.
You've been with me from the start, as I have with you.
Does it tire you?
This relationship of ours; hate, love, hate, love and hate again?
How we go from the best of friends to the most bitter enemies and those long planes of numbing silence in-between?
Do you ever think of those nights where we lay together, listening to sad music, silently crying or desperately wanting to?
Do you ever think of those many moments where you call me... things that... no human being should ever have to hear from another?
I know you've been hurt.
I know you wouldn't have taken on these words and spat them in my face if you didn't hear them somewhere else, first.
I know you are broken.
But so am I... And all I want is the good moments with you.
Those little ones, few and far in-between, where you and I are whole again and everything feels right with the world.
I feel like I'm in an abusive relationship.
Maybe I am, in some strange way.
One minute, I am being treated right but even then, I wait and inevitably, you are disappointed in me, again.
That is what you do to me.
You love me a moment, you hate me for what feels like a lifetime, and then you love me again.
I could never leave you.
You know that.
I just want to make you happy...
I've only ever wanted to make you happy.
Everyone else but especially you.
You're the one person in this world I couldn't run away from if I tried.
Maybe some day.
I have to hope that I'll be enough for you, some day, because you know fully well I have little to hold onto, anymore.
I suppose I am grateful to you for trying to love a broken thing like me, as I do you.
Don't give up on me, alright, self?
Don't give up.
I truly wish I believed we could ever be more than this.
Returning to the Source
Death comes in the form of release. Not of relief, don't get me mistaken. I refuse to condone the idea of escaping life before living it to the fullest.
However, I will not deny the notion of death being like the opening of a door. The door to the cage that is the body, where the soul, or essence, whatever you choose, bursts forth to experience the fullness of itself in all its glory. What might that be like, I wonder, if one remained on Earth in a new freer form?
For those that have lived the longest, it must be that much sweeter to feel the freedom. All pain and limitations flitter away. No hunger for any fleshly desires to consume thoughts and moments. More time to enjoy the fruits of all the world's labor, and observe other's lives with new insight.
A new design, being filled with all the knowledge of what was, what is, and what will be. All 3 of Dickens's spirits in one, to become whole. Wholly you. Wholly realized, realizing that death is not the end, but a continuation, an extension of life. No longer separated from the source, but finally, fully part of it.
I Am Here to Save You
Hello, there child...
\/\/|-;() /-\/~ɛ -/()|_]?
Oh? I go by many names. However, you may know me as Death.
Don't be scared my child, nothing can hurt you now...
o|() -/()|_] |0/~()|nn|}ɛ
I promise. Now why don't you follow me...
See there is nothing to fear here...
|-|-} }() |0/~ɛ-|--|--/
Yes it is quite pretty...
|o|_]-|- \/\/|-;ɛ/~ɛ /-\/~ɛ \/\/ɛ?
This is your new home...
I wouldn't lie to you. Now go on my child your family is waiting for you...
O}()()o||o-/ɛ |nn/~ o|ɛ/-\-|-|-;!