The end of all things by: Dark Wraith
In the span of a few months, I have seen three family members put to their final rest. It has been almost enough to take from me the will needed to write, but not quite. The posts I had planned to publish here at Pam’s House Blend seem now, as I write this, bereft of the substance a worthy writer should convey as the passing ripples of grief move by.
As such, today I shall publish one post, a story that will be put nowhere else. It is, of course, nothing more than a story, the story of a man I have known for many, many years. His name is Al.
When Al was in the fourth grade, during the time when his father was dying from the twin killers of lung cancer and the butchers people called doctors, he began to have problems. Mental things, mostly. He couldn’t do a standardized test worth a darn, and the apparently rather noticeable lisp in his speech convinced caring school officials he should be designated as educably retarded. ‘Moron’ was the specific term for him, based upon his score on an IQ test. ‘Imbecile’ was worse, but Al wasn’t quite that stupid.
His motherever the loud, bat-crazy, dead-smart she-beastfound out only when Al let it slip that he’d been put in a “special” class, and then all Hell broke loose at the school. Al was put back in with the normal kids, even though the caring school administrators knew very well that Al would have been better off being left with those more like him. They were right.
It got worse as the next few years passed. Al’s father died, and the bills were too just too much for Al’s mom to bear. Blue Shield had cut off the medical insurance months before the doctors were finished with their monstrous work.
The house got sold, and there were periods when a big old station wagon was more or less home. Sometimes, food was what could be slipped out of the grocery store where Al worked or out the back door at the all-night diner where his mother worked. But a few times, a little extra money was on hand, usually from some relative who would hand over a roll of dollar bills along with a lecture. Al got the brunt of some of that: learn how to be a man was the basic theme.
One evening, Al’s mother bought him two pairs of pants at an outlet store. To anyone else, the pants were simply awful looking; but to Al, they were just wonderful: polyester, dark blue with thin, vertical black stripes. They were so cool.
The kids at school didn’t think anything about Al was cool: “pussy,” “faggot,” “fat-ass”the usual stuff Al didn’t quite understand but knew was humiliating. He got the occasional slam into lockers and other physical violence. Once, he tried to push his way past a couple of jocks, but just as he made it through, he was nearly knocked unconscious by a blow between his shoulder blades from the football coach/health teacher who said he was “fighting.”
Lesson learned: hierarchies are not to be subverted.
It just got worse, and school was a miserable Hell on Earth. But at least Al could wear those pants he loved. Every two nights, he’d wash them by hand so he never had to have any others.
One afternoon, he had finished phys ed and went to the locker room to lie down. The athletic types didn’t seem to understand that running a paper route and working at a grocery store were more than enough “exercise,” and all that silly stuff where the alpha-male types got to shove everybody else into the ground just took Al down.
He couldn’t have had his eyes closed for more than a few seconds when he heard something like a snicker and then a match being lit. He saw the match come over his head and land on his leg near his groin.
Even though it’s sort of combustible, polyester doesn’t really burn. It melts; and it does so in an expanding sort of way. Those pants Al loved so much became a tormenting wrap of molten patches sinking into the skin on his legs.
The pain was so unusual that Al didn’t scream; he just jumped up gasping. No one was around, and his pants were nearly gone: it was like black glass in splotches all over his thighs. He ran out the back door of the boys’ locker room and started running for home. That was across a field and then down a sidewalk, where everyone could see him almost naked from the waist down, by this time crying, with tears all over his face and snot running down his nose.
Maybe two blocks from his house, he told himself to stop sobbing. There was no purpose in it. It just made the embarrassment worse.
He had, for the first time, heard a voice inside him bidding him to be strong. Not to “be a man”just to be strong. This was important because, when he got home, he had to go upstairs and take care of what had happened to him.
Alcohol and merthiolate. Pour it on, rub it in, push forward. The black stuff would roll up and wash off. Pour more on, rub it in, push and push. More of the black stuff would roll out.
Don’t scream. Don’t cry. Just take care of it.
Stop shaking. Don’t get sick in the stomach. Such things serve no purpose.
Just take care of it.
After the burning, his mother put him in a private, Catholic school. Even though the family had no Catholic background, the head mistress took pity; and for the next two years, Al flourished as he never had before. The boys were all horny as Hell and ready to take anyone as a new friend. The girls were naughty when the nuns weren’t around, but they were always sweet; and they never once gave Al a cruel note telling him how much they they were in love with him just so they could laugh at him as if he believed it. The nuns were sometimes mean as dirt, but they were deeply, powerfully intellectual, constantly hammering home lessons about “unjust wars,” or even “bad” Catholic policies. At the end of the last year Al was there, the archdiocese broke up this enclave of liberation theology. Two of the nuns left the convent and told the class that they were lovers.
Such a time.
But the end of that enclave meant the end of the free ride for Al, so he had to go back to public school, to the high school where all of those old monsters were waiting.
Al had been sent back to Hell, and he began to live his punishment. Drab, black clothes, a heavy overcoat worn at all times, just so the world couldn’t touch him. Long hair over his face so no one could see him: that would make it harder for people to laugh at him for being ugly.
Obsessive/compulsive behaviors ruled his life. A thread falling from his overcoat had to be tucked in a pocket; otherwise, it would be lost and lonely. Tap one finger on a desk and the same finger on the other hand had to do the very same tap. The taps then went to patterns, more and more complex. Accidentally do something in the pattern, and the whole pattern had to be done.
Then came learning about a shower. Twice a day, six latherings; rinse completely between each. Wash the world outside away. Wash the sins inside away.
Then came the exercises. It had to go on until it hurt, until it hurt until Al wanted to cry. But Al had to be strong.
No more could anything hurt enough for tears: not burns, not self-inflicted pain, not even death of people who couldn’t stay any longer.
Just don’t lose anything. Put it in a pocket. It would be sad if it had to be alone.
Time went on, and Al grew up. For a very long time, he forgot some of the lessons he had learned. He still had mild quirks, but most of them he could hide. He figured out how to look and act so tough that only a fool would call him a bad name. He learned how to live in a world where pain hurts and death happens.
Then one night, something awful occurred. It was late, and Al was in his usual light sleep. He rarely slept for more than a couple of hours at a time, anyway, and that night was like most, until he opened his eyes.
There in the darkness, he had a real, honest-to-goodness vision: it
was a revelation indescribable to anyone else. Al saw the end of all things, and it was simply breathtaking in its horror. And there was nothing he could do about it.
The writer Thomas Paine wrote in his essay “Age of Reason” that a revelation is such only to the one who has had it; to all others, it can never be more than a mere story. Only that which is personally experienced rises to a level above where reason alone can justify belief or acceptance. All else is nothing more than the poetry of prophets, false or true as they might be in some sense larger than mortals could hope to grasp.
Al had no idea what to do of himself. He had seen something that just completely redefined his life, and yet it would mean nothing to anyone else, even if he were stupid enough to say something about it to another living soul.
Nothing in the world had changed; yet for Al the world had changed for the worse. All of the animating forces that had given him life and put distance between him and his bad years were so irrelevant: hope, love, faith, and so many others, some without names, were now moot.
The end of all things would always be waiting, patiently resting as the permanent and eternal backdrop against which life in all its joys and sorrows played itself out.
Al spends his remaining time on this good Earth running from that place where all things end, even as he runs headlong into it, as all people do. It’s probably a little better not to know just how awful that place is, that place where hope, love, and faith become nothing more than meaningless revelations.
The end of all things comes, and it comes yet again and again, marking the years and the days, measuring each person for frailty in the face of pain and humiliation, then smiting each.
But a person should be strong. Crying does no good; neither does running from the end of all things.
Yet still, Al runs.
The Dark Wraith now rests.