Tuesday. 4:31 am.
I can’t sleep, again. The operation is less than a week away.
Wine no longer makes my heart glad; a little of it makes me sad, much makes me melancholy. My soul is faint and impotent; in vain I prick the spur of pleasure into its flank, its strength is gone, it rises no more to the royal leap. I have lost my illusions.
– SK, 1843
My friend and gentleman artist, Victor, fancying himself a critic, recently asked me about the subject matter of many of my latest images.
“What’s with the road trips to the plains, man?”
“I don’t know,” I murmured. “Just adventuring I guess.”
“Seems silly,” he offered as he turned to walk away into nothingness. Though I couldn’t see it, the nonplussed look on his face was palpable. “You are about to have cancer surgery and can take off to all those beautiful mountains but you would rather be in Kansas or somewhere…”
I had deflected. It’s not as if it was foreign question. I have been asking myself the same thing for years in one way or another. Who are you, Tony? What are you? How will you be remembered? The answers have been, and are now, too frightening. I, too, feel now that my soul is faint and impotent. Sure, I still lie to myself from time to time and, under the deceit of toxic personal fictions, insist that I live a life fulfilled. Why have I been taking photos of empty places filled with the decaying remnants of spent time? Because, man, I can’t help but feel that there is a home for me there. I am distraught. I am alone. I don’t want to die.
Victor’s question is the reason that I can’t sleep. Victor Eremita, sage.
Wait, was I dreaming again?
I crawl out of bed and into the shower. I’ve got to get out of here.
Several hours later, I find myself driving. The landscape here has surrendered to the callous blight of winter. The sky is dark, heavy and low. The car reads the outside temperature. Twenty-two degrees. It is cold. To the right, the yellow and red and gray blur of an oncoming Union Pacific screams southwest to deliver its yield to the Suncor boilers in Denver. Out of the corner of my eye, I see the number emblazoned on the front of the locomotive: 2668. How far have you travelled, 2668? How far?
Keensburg. Tampa. Roggen. I pass through old, sick and gasping towns, all lost to the push of industry and technology. Lost to the speed of the interstate.
As I stop at each one in succession, they labor to serenade me with their death rattle. By the time I get to them, some have already died. I embrace the melancholy yet choke back silent tears for their demise.
This is about you, Tony.
…and yet, only the deep inner motion, only the heart’s indescribable emotion, only that will convince you that what you have acknowledged belongs to you, that no power can take it from you – for only the truth that builds up is truth for you.
Dude, you have got to get off this pavement.
Turning north, I pull onto the familiar. The yellow washboard of CR4 welcomes me back into my childhood. Guilty, I smile for the first time today while thinking of my two grandfathers. I continue to bounce northward, straight and endless. Alfred K and Thomas D. Two smart men that understood Sartre’s condemnation. They, like Victor, are immortal. My own untouchable philosopher kings. Escaping back into your childhood, Tony. Pathetic. Liar. In agony, I long to gain their wise bearing.
Why am I bound by the sticky-sweet limits of a half-life’s wanton aesthetic? Why? Am I nothing but an unrepentant? Sickening profligate? Will I never transcend anything to understand a moral sincerity and imperative of conscience? I’m not so afraid of the possibility of near death as I am of the heavy awareness that I haven’t done anything worthwhile yet. I fear that I am forty-five years old and haven’t done a thing. I fear that I have simply paid lip-service to life. I fear that I am a hypocrite to myself. This has got to be the most sad and pathetic type of failure possible. Duplicity. Goddamnit. I have become convinced that I have lived a life, as the man said, of quiet desperation. Why is it only now, seven days out – as I rush to gather coins for the ferryman – that I offer myself the freedom of honesty?
I fear that my friend’s callous smirk betrays a truth. Please, Victor, just tell me that I haven’t run out of time? I need more time…
Today, I dread the thought that I may have exhausted my lot of Tuesdays.
Today, I find myself in Pawnee country.