Not so long ago, my life used to be sorrow… vast & wide, a chasm of lonely rocky purgatory that I was flung into the moment my Viking was flung from his steed into his own unknown abyss of darkness. I spent months in a despair, climbing onto various ledges and facades, just to have fickle wild forces push me off. Endlessly freefalling down, allowing myself to be swept away by forceful rivers of potent tears at the bottom, & so unused to human contact, I forgot how to think & communicate and I alienated everyone as I was alienated from the world I once knew. I stopped fighting and exploring for egress because I forgot how, or why. When I traveled I ambled in circles, without direction or purpose, tacitly accepting my lost fate & a purpose forgotten. I was beaten against the rapids, bruised and bloody, so stoic I stopped feeling. When I was too tired to struggle & direct myself, I would nearly perish on the craggy outcroppings that changed positions with the seasons. I began to float on my back as the only means of survival, searching the sky for meaning when I could see it. Given this slight shift in perspective, while lithely floating down sorrow’s eroding river, in a moment, a flash of more brilliant sunshine than seen previously before, I must have realized that, yes, I could devise a way out, at the point where the chasm was widest. I began constructing step, by heavy, hard, cold step out of refurbished and corrected logic. I toiled. I floundered, discouraged. I looked to the sky once more & redoubled my efforts towards the clouds only to languish, beset by apathy. I debated whether or not to give up. I hadn’t seen the world outside of the canyon for what felt like a lifetime…had it been a lifetime? I was a different person than before, & the only things I knew were either in the past, or newly pertained to that barren stone depression that cut through my world, dividing it into then, and now. What’s even out there? What’s the point of facing more pain on the other side if the world was just the same cruel place that jettisoned me here? Was it? Why should I? Wait, sunshine…I remembered the feelings he gave me, the new lush green warm world he opened up for me…I had hope I could possibly find that landscape again, or even make a new meadow in which to cherish those memories.
Henceforth, after seemingly endless works, I did find the resolve, and a way back to the forest I knew, though the paths were all beaten differently, the earth scorched by the insensitive and the ignorant who burn the world around them as the only mark they can make. Some walks I now know well, others remain unexplored, whether doubt or fear or apathy is hindering me, I do not know. The roads are supposed to be safe, but being so cruelly displaced taught that nothing in the universe is completely without hazard. I can always see the chasm beyond the lushness and hear the saline river when I stop to listen, but I avoid those like disease. I accept no blankets from friends or strangers, knowing all too well the plagued price I pay for trusting those who don’t truly fathom where I’ve been. I walk every day, solid and alone, myself the only real thing I can truly discern, skeptical of every uncomfortable encounter, each surprise tumble and turn, gleaning every bit of knowledge I can, divining the useful from the useless when I have the energy to spare. My plastic austere protects me from the elements above, but my kinetic feet betray the true danger below. I focus on the horizon like it’s an attainable goal, stare at the clouds as if they have meaning, and marvel at how there’s still a sun and springtime in such a cruel parallel universe where there is no longer unconditional compassion. I soldier on towards Valhalla, avoiding every urge to fall to my knees, fall into myself and onto my sword, to fall out of this world through the wormholes of panic that litter every haunted crossroad.
The panic, like the rocky depression chasm, is vast, albeit surprisingly narrow, making it deeper than I know or can imagine. Every instance of mental & emotional desperation is a deep camouflaged stone-walled well that I can’t see on the path until I’ve tripped or fallen. There’s a wooden staircase of thoughts & logic that spirals down the inside, towards the matte, airless blackness and void. Some of the stairs are sturdy, while others are broken, carved up, or missing altogether. Most of the time, the stairs degrade more the farther down they go, worn away by perversion, misuse, fears, and bad habits. Each well looks slightly different, augured in different circumstances and techniques, but they all feel the same, even comforting in their familiarity, like the wolf that hangs back, following consistently to devour one’s predators and perhaps… When I am not careful enough to heed the warnings, I stumble into these wells, usually hitting the first or second stair & alighting there in a moment of surprise and confusion. I have gotten better at taking small steps & shuffling my feet so that I don’t plunge right in headlong when I do find it suddenly breaking my path. Sometimes I realize where I am & simply walk out using the sound logic at the top. Sometimes I rest for a moment, too tired or stunned to move right away. Sometimes the need for something familiar, something I used to have, and the curious hope that It might be down there, urges me deeper. I edge closer to the center, peering towards the spiral that disappears like an iris, spiraling into the endless deep dense obscuring fog. I wonder how deep it is. I wonder how the atmosphere will feel on my skin if I descend. I wonder what’s really down there. I calculate the vastness depending on the gravity I feel. I ponder, if like an eye, that the staircase iris actually rings the black pupil of true sight.
Sometimes I step farther down, on purpose, hoping to learn what each stair holds & to feel something correctly. Most of the time I scratch, crawl, or climb out, resisting the familiar seductions of curiosity and velvety cool comfort tinged with freeing irrationality that strengthen the farther I go in. Sometimes I stumble & lose ground; I miss a stair & barely catch myself, or I trip & miss a few. Most of the time I come out with a little more knowledge with which to discern the universe, albeit a little more confused, only a little bumped and bruised by my foray into the haze, but bolstered with the premonition of an elaborate trap thwarted.
But sometimes it feels right to go in. Why else would there be stairs? Did I build them and forget, or did the collective unconscious of the universe long betrayed leave them there to lead all men to their demise? Each stair holds a thought, an association, a connection, a pattern of something and yet nothing that could feel real. The ones near the top are strong and logical, but they lose soundness, I lose soundness, in mind and body as in construction and craft, as I descend. Each stair is a different idea, and as the light disappears they devolve into ephemera that only makes sense inside the rarified well. They appear to twist and overlap and intertwine, all part of the larger structure that isn’t merely a well or stairs, or the battle between knowledge and ignorance, logic and pain. The planks degrade as I discover them, and it becomes easier, and more interesting, to descend rather than climb to freedom. Though who would ever want to leave? It’s close, warm, quiet, protected & calm inside the well. I’ve been here many times before, after all. Haven’t I? Is this familiar feeling safety or habit? I could live down here. Couldn’t I? The parameters are obvious & familiar. Existence feels attainable. Motion is progress, no matter the direction…right? When I can’t resist the urge to explore it, when it feels impossibly right to discover the abyss, I take the steps one by one, drunk on the seemingly logical rationalizations that lead so succinctly to justifiable madness. One idea leads to another, grows to another, evolves to another, until I’m looking back up at the spirals & blinding light above me, seeing all of the horrible scenarios at once. They appear to make such a beautiful pattern of lace, albeit tattered, making so much sense from below, whether I ponder the stairs themselves or the holes in them. Of course, this is how it has always been. They obscure the combative light that blinds & hurts me, they enforce my habits via habitat. By this time I can see so many flawed boards that I feel I can’t possibly climb out, so why bother? What truly merits effort? Why should I return to the forest of logic and chicanery, only to be duped again, with yet another well to explore if I’m not simply shoved in?
The blackness below obscures the stairs of thoughts nearest the bottom, a blessing and a curse, as they are by any measure in the worst of conditions. They’re covered in moss, stones, condensation, corpses, bones, and entrails…that I can see anyway. It’s easy to slip, nothing to fall through. One can sometimes discern, sometimes only feel, the horrifyingly gory and sad despair and ruin… yet they’re fascinating, each and every stair a diorama of depravity. Singularly and grouped in case studies of scenarios so bizarre yet so real I know every one possible, just a step away. I can see every flaw painted with such a fine brush it looks like a photograph, even as the inky atmosphere swirls through my eyes and lungs and pores like opium. If I go towards it, what will I learn? How will it feel? How will it change me? I’ve come this far, can I possibly get free? Why would I want to when I’m so comfortable and sensible among the nourishing death and ashen doom that’s as sweet and satisfying and sustaining as the air? The air that’s MINE down here. The air I know. Through the lens of the haze I can perfectly see anything I want to…
It feels natural to descend. Logic spirals, having forgone the burden of being linear. Down far enough, there is usually a stair that breaks, designed to leave me sliding, seemingly luring me to the end of it all like the cleverest of native traps. The substance I mistake for air is so black and thick I can taste it, and it tastes like blood and white noise. I slide on moss? tears? offal? tiny wasted bodies trapped before me? I slide out of the very arms that hold me. It doesn’t matter. I flail for anything to grab ahold of, afraid of the speed, the rushing consuming substance coming from nowhere, the screams I think I hear even though I’m only screaming and talking in my head. I insult every foothold I miss, every corpse’s hand that doesn’t hold. I look up and can’t even see the live hands and limbs reaching down anymore...& I don’t care. I’m so blinded by the sun at the top before the descent obscures it completely. The rush is so loud I can’t hear instructions shouted by good Samaritans. The blackness is so turgid I disturb and displace it with my volume and I can’t even see the logic and light I left behind. I acquiesce. I get used to the slide. I start to push the obstacles out of my way because they haven’t helped up to this point. Fear shoves curiosity aside as I realize this is no longer an amusing mental game; that I’m stuck, I’m sinking, I’ll never get out. I collapse in on myself, like I’m buried in snow. In my encasement the cold fear subsides as warm, familiar, peaceful numbness sets in. I can’t talk. I can’t move. I don’t want to. I can’t see the top or the people I can only guess are there, trying hopelessly to reach out to me.
I fall asleep, the only way I can quell the false logic that has replaced my every racing notion, praying in the way of an atheist for death, hoping in the way of a fool that I will regain consciousness in the arms of someone stronger and braver than I pretend to be. When I wake, if I am careful, my eyes will adjust in the blackness, my lungs will reject the putrid air, and I can climb out, hand over fist, carcass over corpse, my head on the precipice of exploding and imploding, my nails splintering and further damaging each stair. I slip, sink & flail until exhausted and comatose once again, awaking only to repeat the cycle of luck verses meticulously planned ascent. At some point I may realize I miss the the sun, the linear world, as cruel as it may be, though still not as pointless as the spiral. With each small victory of correct logic, I replace the fear, the curiosity, the complacency, the desperation, and the poison of urgent solutions. With each muscle ache I choose to trade the seductive blackness for the adventure of banality that awaits, paradoxically reveling in the free will that lured me to the depths in the first place…
No matter what I see or what I learn inside each well, once I am outside again, only one thought enthralls and terrifies: I have never seen the bottom.