Pressed Against the Sky
The first thing to know about me is that I’m dying. I’ve been dying for the past few minutes, but I’m okay with it. The way I see it, if I know some-thing’s happening, it’s already too late to do anything but accept it. Okay, so I’m not one hundred percent happy about it, but then, I think there’s always a part of any experience that could use some improving, but by the time the experience is underway, there’s very little that can be done to change it. If I can’t prepare for it, and I’ve always thought preparation was the key to understanding things, then why worry?
Okay, so I’m a little upset. Who wouldn’t be? If I spent every day knowing I was going to die, then maybe I could be handling this better, but I’m a creature of habit, a creature of nature, and it’s my ingrained fear of basic mortality that’s gotten me this far, so now that I’ve been forced to look it in the eye, there’s no more avoiding it, and as I’ve said, it comes with a mixed bag of emotions. I’ve always feared most being reduced to a single thought, as if that would reduce my entire existence to a piece of trivia, something that could easily be discarded. Being forgotten, I don’t think that’s what really gets us in the end. It’s a lot harder than most people will admit. It’s our need to shape how we’re remembered that truly haunts us, our last attempt at control. They say we’re born and die without much say in the matter, but everything in between is up to us.
How to describe it? I don’t know, when I was growing up, it was easy to look up at the night sky and lose myself in the stars. As I grew older, I became familiar with the concept of constellations, but I could never find them on my own, only the easy ones, the Big and Little Dipper. Even the North Star, never had a clue, and I realized I never had a problem with that. To me, the stars were still the stars either way. I liked that other people could look at the same stars and see something entirely different, could even derive some use from them, but I never felt compelled to share that experience. Mine was my own, right?
What can I say about the moon? It was different.
Sorry, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Heath Lange, and I have lived for seven hundred years. I suppose it sounds a little sad now, because that will, in the end, be all that it was. For most people, it’s a biblical lifespan, I realize, but when I account for myself, I thought I would live forever. Who doesn’t? But in my case, I suppose I was being a little less than purely optimistic. Still, that’s all over now, or will be soon enough.
Seven hundred years ago. Many lifetimes ago. I didn’t start out as an American. For some time, even for some people as we rarely admit these days, that was not an uncommon story. I came from Europe, of course, or maybe that was not so obvious. But I have seen much of the world, and much of what the world has done, in my time. I have seen wonders such that you have rarely heard about, but are as precious to me as my own thoughts. I wish that I could recount those experiences now, but when you live a long life, you tend to begin seeing experiences differently. As they accumulate, they begin to take on a life of their own, so that you have not had one but many lives, still one individual but a history that is a history to yourself, something you can remember but not exactly remember yourself participating in. Try explaining that to someone without such an experience. That’s why I don’t bother. People have less imagination than you suspect, that’s what I’ve discovered.
I don’t mean to disparage others. That is, I suppose, an erasable element of my personality, except by the hand that approaches me now, of course. It always takes some other hand to take, doesn’t it? We use metaphors because they speak to the secret knowledge we deny ourselves, our inability to accept that the world is more complex than we can understand. When you’ve seen enough of it, you can begin to understand a little more of it, but like the mind itself, it can never be completely understood. Even the greatest minds we celebrate were crippled by limitations, and they have nothing to do with whatever era they may have lived in.
Did I start by saying I would introduce myself?
It’s Good to Know
Knowledge, in the end, is a little more trouble than it’s worth. I could have spent my time learning everything there was to know, and had the best memory the world had ever known, and in these final moments it would have been worth as much as so many grains of sand, to be lapped up by some incoming tide. It would have been worthless, especially if I had discovered I had no practical use for it. Imagine it, though, a seven-hundred-year-old man with so much accumulated learning, spreading it wherever he went. Why, he could have solved all the world’s problems himself. What else is an ageless man worth if not as some benefit to humanity? If the common impulse is to imagine the worst of the immortal man, what then of the alternative?
Or, what if he does nothing if not for himself? What if, fearing no reprisal from the revealing of his nature, he were to openly offer his life and charm to mankind as it saw fit? What if he were to simply live a normal life? Such a man would surely grow lonely in time? I’ve been no more isolated in the past fifty years as the last five hundred. I share what I have always shared, whatever has been needed, and I share now only what seems necessary. I would not want to bore you. I share what I think is useful.
Would you like to know? I have a secret, something I have never shared, never once in seven hundred years. Are you sure? Once discovered, this secret can never be taken away again. It will become just another piece of common knowledge. It will become mundane, and a little more magic will be lost in the world. If nothing else, I have seen the well of magic dry up in my time. The more people learn, the more they insist they know. I could laugh if not for the fact that, in these final moments, I fear I would truly burst, and I would not like that.
I only want to retain, I only ask for the benefit of greed. Grant me this wish. Is it so much to ask? Pity me, do not scorn me, not in these final moments. You will have a lifetime in your turn to remember me as you will wont to, but for now, it is still my time.
It began so simply, like a joke. Twelve buttons. You could not imagine, and how do I explain? They were my life. I could tell you that I was a Pinocchio, I was a plaything brought to life, by twelve magical buttons. I could do that, but it wouldn’t be right, and that’s all I care about now.
Many years ago, I fell in love. This would not have been a problem except that I knew that I was different, and being different, I knew the ways in which I was. There was the problem, which was in me, and being within me, I could not escape it.
For many years, I had tried to, tried to and failed. I accepted early on that it was impossible, and that the only way for me to overcome it was to find even small ways that I could relate to the rest of humanity. It sounds silly, doesn’t it? We are more alike than we imagine, but our imaginations prefer to guide us apart. At times, mine was all I had. What else was there? I lived while others died, and that sometimes seemed like all there was. I lived and others died. It was constant, so in that way, I can understand if that’s all someone who does not know what it is truly like would think it to be. Just an endless, tragic cycle, one of needful loneliness, because otherwise, how could I endure it?
Like I’ve said, there is more. There is even more than you might imagine, more than simply following the progress an ordinary lifespan could never appreciate, to experience the results of a thousand decisions, the flow of opinion, the tide of time as it whips along, dashes against the same shore the same way but is interpreted anew each time, as if it has never done so before. It is more than perspective, more than advantage.
It is simply my way. I wish I could define the peculiar alienation that comes with this condition, but it simply cannot be understood without experiencing it. The human mind is incapable of grasping that which it has not known firsthand, and while knowledge may be developed over time, a certain willingness to embrace the unknown, there are unconquerable limits that invariably must be accepted. Most people would never put forth the effort in a million years, let alone seven hundred, or even one. They would not even give it one minute. I always know who has the potential of being comfortable with it. The trouble is, they are not always ready.
If you want to know the true curse of it, there it is. If very few people could even begin to grasp my condition, fewer still are capable of accepting it in any manner of time that will be useful to them, or myself. Would you care to hear how many I have encountered in that small pool? In seven hundred years, that number would surprise you. An average lifespan gives a person the chance to meet a thousand people? My number is far smaller.
Everyone has needs. Mine really are no different, they are just more difficult to obtain. You might argue that I could make it easier by simply deceiving my way into what I want, but you would find the appeal of that option diminished if you wanted to be honest with yourself. It’s far easier to deal with honesty in a life like this, because that is all, you will end up discovering, that you will want.
So yes, as I said, I once succeeded. I fell in love. She knew and I knew, and we both knew without speaking the outcome, how it was inevitable, except I guess we were less romantic than the greatest fiction writers. We did not decide it would be better for a short-term reward in exchange for a long-term tragedy. As I said, we both knew, without speaking of it, just as if we had known each other all our lives, and in consequence, knew that happiness meant a bittersweet misery. Could you truly imagine that?
You might as well call me a coward, and you might as well be right, and maybe I interpreted everything wrong after all. She was an anchor. The twelve buttons represented each of the ways we could relate, regardless of everything else, no matter our fate together or, as it was, apart. The first came in the form of the first time we understood, no matter the differences that had once divided us, that we knew each other. It was a beacon; it showed us the way forward, no matter where it led. In time, we found others. As I counted them up, I knew they were bringing us together just as they were holding us together, and it was only a matter of time before we came apart again.
Do you understand? I believe that is all we ever have, just a metaphor of a life, of happiness. I believe that happiness is real, but that it only exists in the meaning we give it.
The First Door on the Left
Did you want to know her name? It was exotic and ordinary at the same time, and it is more than I want to give away now. She liked my name, I think, but I was more than it to her. Sometimes we tend to think otherwise, even when we know the name and the person and think fondly of them, or otherwise. A name remains a name, an abstract thought. My memories are more than that.
Just beyond this room, the first door on the left, are what still remain of all my time on this earth. I have known and seen the product of many hands and minds, have held so much in my possession, and in the end, I no longer have it all, and what’s left, I leave behind, as is only natural. The pharaohs thought they could take it with them, but each was plundered in time. That’s the way of things. We are belonged to ourselves for only so long. I think that’s what I regret most about her, and I think that’s what family is really about, leaving not just things or memories, but people behind who will perpetuate not what you were, but what you meant.
I have been writing these finals thoughts down because that is what I have come to believe literature is for as well, a chance not just to be read, but to be understood. I have led a life unbelievable, but one that might still have some value, and I hope now that I might have found a way to make it count for something.
When I am finished writing, I will leave this journal in that room, and that will be the room that will matter, not this one in which a rotted corpse will remain, meaningless in its existence and what it represents, a long life that amounted to words. I remember her in these final moments because I regret now more than ever my mistakes.
I have just looked out the window. The moon is shining. Few people think of the moon as shining, and in a certain way, they would be right, but they are also wrong. The moon shines, and it is like a woman. It shows you only what it wants to, and even though we have journeyed to it now, we can still look up at it the same way we saw it before. I think of the moon like her and I apologize. I can look at the moon and see her.
I don’t see regret now. What’s my secret? I have none.