Sixty-Seven Light Years
The government was asking to cryogenically freeze bodies for scientific purposes. They didn't answer any questions about it and I wouldn't have volunteered if I didn't need the cash. $5,000 in the name of science. It’d be done by the end of the year.
Earlier that summer, a man we all called King came home for break from Harvard and he was working on a sermon. We were down in Mister Sydney's basement and had seven candles drawn for light and cockroaches scattered up from underneath the floorboards.
"Stardust" by Louis Armstrong flickered dust and spun through fading light from the windows and spun on the record player like the orbit of a flying saucer.
King said that most people lived an entire lifetime as though only they existed in this world, using their brothers and sisters selfishly and for their own gains and prosper. But gravitational pull is final and inexorable, a law of the universe, that is, what goes up must come down and each shall reap what they sow and whoever was the first shall later become last. Finally, he said that the breath of life is the outward concern for others. "We must reach beyond humanity," he said, "and reach up. Way up, for the God of the universe, whose purpose changeth not."
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison was published the day after Easter Sunday and when I read it, it struck through me like the eternity of grace in one fleeting second of space. I saw change coming at the speed of light and regretted not being a part of its making.
I came out from the cold with my teeth chipping and grinding away furiously at my own teeth. It was New Year's Eve and near midnight and I walked down the way.
A gray Ford sedan pulled up by the sidewalk and the driver put it in park and rolled down the window. He looked to be a hundred years old. "You call for an Uber son?"
I said, What, and he said to hop on in, "It’s fixing to storm. Come on before I lose all my heat coming out the window."
When I got in the car I thanked him and he said that I was surely welcome and he was humming some gospel song and I asked him how he’d describe America today.
"Divided," he said.
"That’s exactly what I said. Broken as the heart of a bastard child."
"Circles" by Post Malone vibrated through the radio speakers and the song seeped into my skin, stealing away my senses, and I told him I've missed so much over the years and looked outside the window as the driver spoke and I saw, black men on the side of the road getting beaten and choked by policemen, the same as I saw in Georgia in the thirties when I was a child, and my driver told me that’s just how it goes even these days, and there were homeless on the sides of the street like an army of ghosts and they asked for help, some of them did, and recieved it not, and there were thousands of cockroaches roaming across the road and I saw money on fire and I saw people fleeing from a dark wrath in the sky like a terrible biblical exile and before my eyes it rained the ruins of mankind. The driver said that’s just the future and he said it's been one hell of a year and asked me if I had any plans for the one coming but he didn't let me speak. "Yup," he said, "Been one hell of a year, one hell of a year I tell ya."
He said you know how racist this country is, that they voted for a known criminal to be President who had no business running in the first place and he got their vote just because they were so sick of a black man in charge of the free world they didn’t care who replaced him. They’d had voted for anybody.
"Is this the year 2019?"
"Goddamn," I said
"Yup, you said it son, this president now," he said, "has broken the law in more ways you can count and they tried to get him for it but he’s above it all. It’d be like trying the devil. Well, good luck with that, I say. He’s gone as far as promising to take every last Mexican from here and then building a wall making it impossible for any immigration to occur."
I tried to speak but could not. I come from all over across the Atlantic, Germany and Ireland and Scotland and France and Spain, and I only ever got here because my ancestors risked it all to get me here, hundreds of years ago and they did it for me.
The driver said in this past year a billionaire sex offender, who had molested thousands of underage girls, finally hung himself in jail but maybe he was killed and the people who might be behind it is downright scarry, and said that the sex offender used to run with the current president and he ran with a former president too. "The former president I mentioned, well, when he was still in office, a staff of scientists briefed him on the status of extra-terrestrial activity and by the time they finished their report and left, the President of the United States hung his head with horror in his eyes, rested it upon the desk right there in the oval office and wept," and he told me there's dark things going on that we don't know about, and I said, You mean like the nature of God, and he said, "No, not like the nature of God," and then he told me that God died in 1966. He told me about Vietnam and Civil Rights and how when they killed Martin Luther King, Jr. it was like killing Christ without redemption. "Mama Nature is fixing to tell us all," he said. "Been a long time coming. But hell, what do you expect?"
I thought I needed that money back then but I should have turned it down and stayed where I was meant to be, and fought for change instead of watching and waiting on it. Could I have made a difference? No, probably not. Could I have tried, yes, I should have tried. I’ll have to live with that for the rest of my life. My heart felt scorched, my body was as a dried-up earth. "I don't know," I said, "I didn't expect this."
"Mama Nature will have her way, she ain’t nobody’s bitch." He finally told me that he don't know how far gone I've been but that I ain't missed much and he called me son at the end of the sentence and we drove on down the way some and the shadow of dawn blazed crimson and bright-flame orange as the sun emerged across the horizon, burning in the sky the color of blood, like the soul of a vengeful deity on fire.