The Magik of Christmas

blue white ribbon on pink box
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

I low key hate Christmas.

 

The monstrous levels of commercialism. The forced notion of “Happiness” and “Peace on Earth” on what is essentially just another day as we swing around the sun. Plus, the fact that it practically starts the day after Halloween.

 

I am also painfully aware of how depression levels spike during the holidays, increasing suicide rates. My own depresssion spiked, or sunk, to a new low last year, leading to a mental health crisis that took me the entire year to recover from. It’s an ongoing process that even now, I must work daily at maintaining.

 

In the midst of all this seasonal ‘fakeness’, I found one thing that helps to stem the tide of rising depression. I volunteer for a charity. I help people as they struggle through their own holiday issues.

 

I donate my skills as a professional bus driver to operate a city transit bus as it is temporarily transformed into one of Santa Claus’ legendary reindeer and loaded with gifts, plus a bus full of other volunteers dressed as christmas elves. We even have a Santa.

 

We drive across town,  delivering gifts to families that have been nominated by people in the community. These families have been selected because of various reasons: perhaps they have suffered a loss in the family and are still grieving during the holidays, or one or both adults in the family have been laid off and now the family is struggling, on several occasions, we have visited families that have newly arrived to Canada, after making a long and difficult journey.

 

I volunteer, I say to those who ask, because it’s easy and fun. I merely drive the bus, the other do all the hard work, going into houses loaded with gifts, singing and being merry, and dealing with overly excited children. I say that I enjoy the challenge of driving my bus to locations I am rarely allowed to drive, that I enjoy the test of my skills.

 

I say these things because it hides a deeper truth.

 

During my first year as a volunteer for the charity, I signed up as a driver. When the coordinaters saw me, they immediately made an offer that I step up as a Santa Claus. I am a large man, tall and robust. It seemed a natural choice. I felt a great deal of apprehension at the offer, but looking into the eyes of my wife, I felt that the choice had already been made.

 

I underwent strenuous, vigorous training to become a Santa. It would not be out of place in a comedic montage during a comedy film, finding the right suit, mastering the laugh, learning the songs. It takes a special breed of person to be a Santa, that much is true.

 

My assignment for that first year was hospitals. Our charity sends a team of Santas plus elves and a massive amount of small, stuffed teddy bears out to all of the hospitals and long term care facilities around the city. Our job was to make sure that every patient gets a delightful stuffed bear and some quality time with Santa and his elves.

 

For me, it was an intensely difficult time. I am shy and withdrawn in public and this was akin to diving headfirst into the deep end of public scrutiny. The costume helped, as it provided me with a ‘mask’ to hide behind, and a persona as well. I could be “Jolly”, even if I wasn’t actually. I knew then what it must be like to be an actor. My hat goes off to the people of that profession.

 

But the beauty and dignity I witnessed there has stayed with me all these years later. I was privileged to see all manner of people living as best they can in difficult situations. In the dementia wards, I saw so many people who could barely remember what day, or month, or year it was, but they always recognized Santa as I came in, singing with my elves. Their faces would light up with such joy that my heart broke every time I saw it.

 

My elves and I would break off and spend time with each person in that wing. We made sure that they each came away with a teddy bear and a hug, or a firm handshake for the non-huggers. We couldn’t stay very long however, we had a lot of people to visit and only a little time to see them all.

 

One room we entered was unnaturally silent. It was a meeting room, with a long table in the middle. There sat a woman with an elderly man in a hospital gown. The man was staring blankly forward. he didn’t react as I introduced myself, nor acknowledge the teddy bear he recieved. The woman explained that his dementia had taken him to the point of catatonia, he was able to eat and could be led around, but that was the limit. But there was one way that she, his daughter, could still connect with him.

 

She calmly took out a flute case and set it in front of him and opened it for him. She also took out a matching case and set it up for herself. She then took the flute from his case and handed it to him. Still staring forward, he took the instument and with must have been muscle memory alone, placed his fingers correctly along the flute. She then took up her own flute and began playing a few notes.

 

At first, there was no response. She began again, and this time, he started to play along! His eyes were dull and lifeless, but his playing was strong and sure. Their music echoed through the halls and several elves were drawn to the room. We watched and were witness to a daughter connecting to her father and it was the most beautful thing we had ever seen.

 

She did this several times, starting a song, then he would join in. It was wonderful, amazing. I think we were all weeping by the end. Two intruments together, making beautiful music. A rare treasure. We were all busy giving gifts, but we recieved a momentous gift ourselves.

 

This reason alone is why I no longer volunteer to be a Santa Claus and only offer to drive the bus. I am not strong enough. My heart cannot stand to bear witness to such beauty again, it would break.

 

Many years later, as my mother spent her last few years in a long term care facility, a Santa came to visit her. She was so excited! He spent some time with her, and left her a cute, cuddly teddy bear. She was so happy, she talked a length about the visit.

 

I still have a teddy bear from my time as a Santa. I look at it from time to time, and think of the man and his daughter. I also think of my mother. I believe now in Santa Claus, thanks to this charity.

 

The Magic of Christmas charity.

 

A Start*

I’ve always been shy.

I’ve always had a hard time fitting in, especially as a child. As an adult, I have learned that I don’t need to fit in. Self-acceptance has been one of the most difficult facets of my journey.

As a child though, it was much worse. My shyness held me back. I couldn’t open up to people, and it only got worse around the people that I actually liked. As a result, I had very few friends. The other kids didn’t know what to make of me. I was wierd. Different. I was picked on and at times, bullied. But mostly, I was left alone.

One year, grade 5 if I can recall correctly ( and I so rarely do about my childhood, repression as a defence mechanism was I tool I used regularly, it seems ), I made a friend. A classmate was randomly assigned to me for a class project. We connected as we worked together. We did what the youths of my era did, we played outside, we talked, we laughed. To my eternal regret, I can no longer remember his name.

One day, the teacher stepped out of the classroom for a washroom break. I seized the opprtunity and turned around to ask my friend a question. Then, it happened.

The entire class turned on us and began to shout:

“fag!”

“Fag!”

“FAG!”

It became a chant, everyone in time yelling it again and again. I was a child, I had no idea what it meant. I only ever heard it used as a derogative. As a bad word.

My friend began to cry, then fled the room.

I sat there and endured. The life I had led had conditioned me to sit and take the abuse. I remember my hands balling into white knuckled fists on the desk.

My teacher finally returned and quieted the class. Then, he found my friend and brought him back to class. Everything returned to normal.

At the end of the day, my friend quickly packed his bag and left the school. He didn’t say a word to me. The next morning, before class began, I found him. I wanted to make sure he was ok. He was my friend.

He turned to me and said, “I’m sorry Ellis, I can’t be your friend anymore. I don’t want to be called that name ever again.” He then walked into class and never spoke to me again. He was my friend.

I spent the rest of that year, and the year after, alone and friendless.

It was in the final year of elementary school, grade 7, that I was tasked to guide the new kid around school. He was Irish, and very brash. And loud. He loved to laugh and joke.

We became friends. He helped me to discover that I had a sense of humour, that I loved making people laugh. We spent the rest of the year as friends, then my family moved away and I never saw him again.

His name, I remember.

*A Start was a story of mine originally written as a post on Facebook. I’ve transcribed it here, with minor alterations and improvements.

A Discovery of Selves

Ellis selfie

My name is Ellis Obi-wan Hotomani.

It is a name of my own choosing.

I am clever. I am caring. I am compassionate. I am silly. I am irreverant. I am also sad a lot.

I was born in Calgary in 1974, in the old General Hospital in Bridgeland, which was demolished some time ago. I always suspected that I broke the mold when I was born there. I also suspect that I am mistaken about that.

I am an indigenous first nations person, from the Carry the Kettle first nations reserve, in Saskatchewan. I have never lived on my reserve, however. I know that it would have changed a great number of things about myself and I often wonder about that.

Both of my parents are Residential School survivors. Their experiences changed them fundamentally. Intergenerational Trauma tends to pass from one generation to the next, as the name describes. As such, I am also a survivor of that trauma.

As a child, experiencing those inherited traumas, I did not understand them. I just assumed that it was a part of life. People can survive in nearly any environment, it is a strength of our species.

I grew up under these stressors, not even aware of them, yet affected by them nonetheless. I grew up without Hope. I saw it in others as they planned for the future, but never saw it in myself. I could barely conceive of what layed beyond tomorrow, much less plan for it.

I was reckless, heedless even. I had pain that I needed to bury. Alcohol became my friend. All too soon, all I did was work and drink.

I was lonely as well. I was painfully shy, afraid to reach out to someone, equally afraid of what might happen if my affections were returned. I was determined to be unloved.

But I was also clever. I always wanted to understand things, even if I never turned that towards myself. I indirectly learned about myself through several college courses studying native history, which would come in handy later.

My self-loathing was on the rise. I was running towards a dark end, and I knew it. I had no hope. But change happened.

I discovered role-playing games.

Tabletop rpgs. Sitting at a table with a group of friends, working together, solving problems and having fun. All without drinking. I suddenly found a group of people to socialize with without alcohol. I am now a gamer, loud and proud.

More importanly, I discovered Hope. I discovered that I could effect change in my life with nothing more than will and determination. It was lifechanging.

I wanted to learn more about myself and my people. I knew so little about them. I was culturally disconnected. It is an unusual concept. How does one not know where one is from? How many people can say that they know nothing about their people or where they are from?

This is what the residential schools intended. To create an entire group of people with no idea where they are from, where they belong. To my shame, I am a success story.

I try now to learn. I have spoken to elders. I try to connect. I am from two worlds, and to this day, feel that I belong to neither. I have tried to heal, to move past my trauma, and be a better person. I struggle daily against my depression, using medication and psychological training to help me.

I write to express myself and document my journey. I am happier now then I have been in my entire life. I have love, and am now loved in turn.

A rainy night in Seattle

It always rained in Seattle whenever Elara got a step closer to finding the people who kidnapped her sister. Perhaps the rain was an indication of how unpleasant things were becoming. She drew her revolver as she crouched behind a dumpster.

 

Her informant sweared up and down that this site, an abandoned house turned drug den, was were the local missing people went. It had taken a bit of work to make him talk, but the rope burns will fade and with a bit of physio, his fingers will heal.

 

The gun was old, but servicable. The best she could afford with limited funds. As her search for her sister began in earnest, she ran into increasingly unpleasant people. She bought it off a hooded man in an alley, and tried not to think about what it was previously used for.

 

The police were useless. They had dozens of missings person reports to deal with already. They made a cursory evaluation and suggested that it was drug related. Elara didn’t believe that, wouldn’t believe that. She began her own search.

 

The house was dilapitated, the windows boarded up. It stank of human waste. Addicts were strewn on the main floor and upper storey. The misery here was the hardest to bear, but she steeled herself and checked every body here. No sign of her sister, thankfully.

 

The basement door was made of steel, the frame reinforced as well. The password her informant gave her worked, and she was in. She discreetly pressed a button on her phone, sending a message and entered.

 

A drug lab, with a half-dozen armed guards, and a rough hewn tunnel leading away into darkness. She prayed that she would soon see her sister as she lashed out and crushed the windpipe of the nearest guard with her revolver. Then she began to work.

 

Minutes later, she pulled herself up in agony. Beaten, shot, and stabbed. She alone was left standing.

 

Several of the non-combatants had fled through the basement door, but a few had left through the tunnel. She quickly pulled out a syringe and injected herself with something to block out the pain. Company would be coming soon.

 

Elara pulled herself through the tunnel, more dead than alive. No thoughts left other then finding her sister. She had to save her.

 

A basement filled with empty cages. Stairs leading up. Terrified voices echoing. She dragged herself up.

 

A warehouse. Delivery trucks loading human occupants, all gagged and bound. Guards. Lots of guards. Elara drew a deep breath, and moved in.

 

The Exemplar made short work of them all. He had intercepted the text about human trafficking and investigated. He arrived to witness a lone woman attempting to rescue them, against impossible odds.

 

He healed her as she collapsed in front of one of the trucks. A muffled scream as a similar looking occupant edged towards the front. A sister?

 

When Elara woke, The Exemplar asked her with a smile, “Would you like a job?”

Recollections

green decorated christmas tree
Photo by Bianca Debisko on Pexels.com

 

Been thinking a lot about my mother lately. Of course, that brings to mind my father as well. They were always together, through good times and bad.

 

She had patience that bordered on the inhuman. She lived a life of near constant disappointment. She survived her residential school ordeal. Her children made questionable choices. Her husband was at times a violent alcoholic. But she endured.

 

She smiled. She laughed. She could joke. She made the best bannock. She could walk for kilometers.

 

These were all traits that I absorbed from her. Except the walking part. And the bannock making ability.

 

Every year, I would help her set up the X-mas tree. We always used the same ornaments, year after year, only buying new ones when an older one broke. Every year, I would untangle the long string of tree lights and I would wonder how it get to badly wound up. I would silently curse whoever just stuffed the whole string in the box all willy nilly.

 

As a child, I would eagerly await the day when I could open my gift that I found underneath the tree. When I got older, I would in turn buy gifts for my mom and the various members of my family who happened to be in town during the season. I always struggled to buy her an excellent gift. I always have, when it comes to people I care about. Gifts for people I wasn’t overly concerned about were far more easily obtainable. I would merely walk down a gift isle and grab a selection, even if they were more expensive then a thoughtful gift.

 

Every year, I would silently pray that the season would pass uneventfully. More times then I care to admit, my prayers were unheard. My most vivid memory of the holidays was when my father drunkenly threw out the entire tree, gifts and all, outside and onto the front lawn.

 

My mom patiently waited until he passed out, then sent us children out into the cold to recover what gifts we could and to see if we could salvage the tree. Money was tight then, so we had to have a high barrier for what was an unacceptable amount of tree damage. One side was completely flat, so we simply turned it so that side faced the wall. My mom was a master of making do with what we had. She made it work. We were happy.

 

She deserved so much more than the life she was given. But she, as only she could, made the best of her situation. She had strength without limit, endurance without end. She built her family and held it together. Without her, I would not be here.

 

She gave me the strength to endure my own trauma, and the wisdom to seek help when I needed it. She was never cruel, nor cowardly. She taught me to see the beauty in the moment, even when it is as ugly as it can get. Lessons that saved my life.

 

When dementia took her, it took all of her. She was a fragment, a shadow, or a whisper of herself. And yet, she could still be found, smiling and laughing. A lifetime of bad memories, seemingly gone.

 

As the holiday season rolls upon us once again, I find myself thinking of her. The old X-mas tree, now long discarded. The ornaments and tinsle and lights, all gone. Her lessons remain though.

 

I am here, now, because of her.

 

My eyes are open because of her.

 

My heart, though wounded by her absence, remains free because of her.

 

I live now, because of her.

The Canvas Man

Imagine a blank canvas.

Skillfully, or clumsily, as you will, cut out the frame of a man. Now, pull him free from the canvas.This man now exists in the world, much like you or anyone else really. He has plans and goals, hopes and dreams, triumphs and failures. He has to provide for himself and for those he loves.

This blank canvas man has no history. No backstory. No origin. He has had no previous consideration for those aspects of life. They have never been important.

As he travels through his life, he encounters people who have history. These people have tales they can recount of their ancestors, of their family exploits, where they came from and notable family members.

The blank canvas man begins to ponder where he comes from.He looks at himself. He notices that he is native. An aboriginal. An Indian. He is proud of this.

He wonders, where is he from? He talks to some who might know. They tell him of the place he was born, the house he lived in, the school he was educated in. He goes to those places, to try and remember.The hospital he was born in is gone. The house he was raised in is gone. The school he was educated is gone. Everything gone. Did the blank canvas man spring into this world fully grown? He cannot answer that, but it seems unlikely. Where was his past?

He goes to places of higher learning. He leans academically that once, a long time ago, strangers came to the land of his ancestors and took that land, by force.Divine Right, the strangers called it. He also learned, to his horror, that the strangers overpowered his ancestors, and forced them to leave their land. They were then forced to live on different land, with different rules.They were no longer allowed to practice their traditions. They were no longer allowed to leave the land they were given. They were no longer allowed to speak their own language. Then, the strangers came for the children. So many children were taken. Not nearly as many returned. The parents wept. The man’s heart broke from the sorrow.

The children who returned were changed. Different. Broken. They could no longer speak the language of their parents. They no longer knew the ways of their ancestors. They only knew the ways of the strangers, and then, only by rote.He learns that the broken children grew up to be broken adults. Some were able to recover, and heal. Others were not. The man learns that this is where he comes from. He learns that his parents were taken from their family and subjected to all manner of “education”. When they returned, they simply had nothing in them to teach. He was essentially starting off anew.

The blank canvas man learns all of this and more. He learns that, despite the tragedy, or perhaps because of it, his people, all of the people involved really, have struggled to recover the identity stolen from them. Some have been very successful. He finds this inspiring. The blank canvas man determines to learn, and cover his own canvas with the knowledge he has discovered. Each fact splashes across his canvas, giving him color. Giving him life. The no longer blank canvas man discovers his greatest joy: that the colors on his canvas can be read by those around him. The readings give thought and happiness to others. He has, through his struggles, and the struggles of others like him, found a way in the world.

It was a beginning.

Understanding

There is so much about the world that I don’t understand.

People, for instance.

I am estranged from my family. Estranged is putting it mildly. I am the Black Sheep.

I performed the actions that led to the estrangement out of Love. Out of responsibility. Out of compassion. Were I in the same position, I would make them again, without question.

Family is a difficult concept to explain, or understand. Each family sees itself differently. There are whole sciences devoted to the study of family.

Pre-estrangement, I was the dutiful son. I did what was asked, regardless of my feelings on the matter. I never knew that I had a choice. That came later.

As a reward for my duty, I was made the executor of my father’s will when he passes. I was also made the trustee and guardian of his estate should he lose his capacity to make his own decisions.

Now, post-estrangement, I find that I’ve been removed as the executor and guardian. My father had a medical emergency recently. I was not informed until after. This was when I learned that I no longer his legal representative.

I learned that, in the middle of his medical emergency, my father hurriedly contacted his lawyer to remove me from his paperwork.

Why?

Fear?

Was he afraid that I would somehow take advantage of his weakened state to strike back at him for years of troubled parenting? For years of neglect & abuse? Does he fear this because, if the situation were reversed, he would do the same? This is all supposition; I may never know his reasons.

I am not him.

I would not do that.

If it were required, I would stand for him, and ensure his well being and that his needs were met.

I have learned from him. I have learned that I want to be a different man from him. I am trying to heal from my experiences and to grow from them.

Part of my healing includes letting go of hatred. And fear.

I try to understand that he needs to heal as well.

Will he?

That is the part that I don’t understand.

The Doorway

vintage brown wooden door
Photo by Mikey Dabro on Pexels.com

I stood outside the door, full of uncertainty and dread.

My heart caught for a long moment as I raised my hand and gently knocked.

What would be on the other side? My mind conjured images of Demons and Terror. Of images long forgotten. A slavering, ravenous beast stood behind the door, and waited for me to enter.

An aura of fear radiated from the door. Or perhaps just from me. I hoped that no one had heard my knocking.

A questioning grunt echoed from the other side of the door. A shambling lurch could be heard, increasing in volume. With a sickening noise, the lock clicked and the doorknob rattled. A garbled voice rumbled threateningly, “Come in.”

I looked back and forth down the empty hallway of this old, dilapitated apartment complex. The dim hallway light showed that no one was around to witness my entrance. No one would notice if I ever left.

I swallowed a rising lump in my throat and placed a hand on the doorknob. Fear pressed against me. A physical thing, fear can be sometimes. I wanted to run, to leave this place, and never return.

Instead, I opened the door and stepped inside.

The apartment was small and full of dark omens. The air was thick and stuffy. The temperature was stiflingly hot. A pressure wave hit me as soon as I closed the door. I wondered who could live in a place such as this?

The question was rhetorical. I knew exactly who lived here. The god-damned Devil.

The devil was my father.

He had just shuffled his way back to his chair, uncaring if I actually entered or not. His clothes were tattered and threadbare. He walked with a bit of a limp, which he corrected with a cane. Daring to raise my eyes toward him, I can almost see something about him, something I haven’t seen before. With a long groan, he sits back down on his chair, in front of the television set that always seems to be on.

Endless commercials drone on from the screen. Every time I come over. Always commercials.

I take off my shoes and leave them by the door. Then I move over and stand beside him, careful not to get in his line of sight. I do this every time I see him here.

I clear my throat in an attempt to force the words out. I have to speak to him and yet, I dread nothing more than his gaze upon my face. My words are mumbled, stammering.

“Uh, I was at the hospital today…uh…”

“WHAT?” His voice, sharp, cuts me to the core. I have his attention now.

Those terrible eyes focus on me.

“I, uh…”, I manage.

“I saw mom today.”

“OH.” His attention shifts back to the screen. The drone of the television set filling in the empty spaces of our conversation.

“Uh, yes. She was doing good. Yes, good.” I have a hard time stringing sentences together when I’m near him. His presence overwhelms me.

“So, yeah, she said something funny. It really cracked up my girlfriend.” I’m trying to connect, but I don’t know how, or if I’m doing it right.

“YOUR GIRLFRIEND WAS THERE?” He leans back in his chair. I go on full alert. Why would he ask that?

“I DON’T WANT HER TO SEE YOUR MOTHER ANYMORE.” He nods to himself. He leans forward again, the matter already forgotten.

I reel in stunned confusion. Was that a command? A demand? An order?

“Yes. Of course,” I weakly submit.

I’m disgusted with myself.

“I’VE TALKED WITH THE DOCTOR”, he continues. “MOM WILL BE HOME BY THE END OF THE WEEK.” Something resembling a smile crosses his face.

What? No! She can’t!

She will die here!

She almost died here! I had to call for paramedics to take her away to the hospital because you couldn’t take care of her and you absolutely would not allow anyone else to take care of her either!

These were the things I wanted to say. But instead, I said nothing.

With a lurch, he stands up and slowly makes his way into the kitchen. He pulls open a cupboard and retrieves a glass. Then he opens the refrigerator and pours himself a glass of juice.

I meekly follow.

The implications of his words hammer into me like a series of blows. If my mother returns here, she will die soon after. My heart starts to pound, my hands begin to shake. Panic takes hold.

My head drops in defeat. The finality of his command still echoes in my mind. I am prepared to accept it, as I have so many others.

But I can’t.

I ball my fists, clenching them so tightly that they go numb. I’m shaking. I want to run so badly. I keep looking at the door, hoping for someone to enter and save me. All I can feel is His prescence, this titan who stands before me and in whose prescence I can do nothing. The Fear has me.

But this is about my Mother.

“she’s…She’s not coming back here,” I say quietly. The purpose of my visit, the topic I’ve been trying to avoid bringing up, finally surfaces. He looks at me in suprise.

I release the breath that I was unaware that I was holding in.

“Today, I filled out the paperwork for Guardianship and Trusteeship of mom.”

The look of suprise switches to anger. He calmly puts his glass down on the counter and adjusts his grip on his cane. His eyes never leave me.

“I talked to her doctor,” I continue, “and the hospital staff. They all agree that she shouldn’t return home. That she should stay at the hospital and move to a long term care facility.”

“SHE BELONGS WITH ME!!!” The force of his words pushes me back. Tears start forming on the corners of my eyes.

“You can’t take care of her anymore,” I reply. It’s taking all of my willpower not to turn and run. “You tried, remember? With the daily visits from the nurses and the food delivery people. You somehow drove them all away. They won’t even come back now.”

He rages against me. It is absolutely terrifying. The very walls seem to shake. When he raises his cane and pulls back, as if to swing, I retreat into my memories.

My tattered, ragged memories.

Every memory of abuse, physical and mental. The futile attempts at hiding from his rage. The endless fear. The memories of his abuses against my mother and siblings. But something else strikes through.

Memories of his drunken ramblings about his childhood. His stories about the abuses he endured as a child. The Residential schools and their lasting effects. His experiences in the army. The friends he lost overseas. The times he wept from the sadness he held inside. His suffering.

I realize in that moment, that he was as lost as me.

The veil drops from my eyes. I can see him now as he really his. Not as a tyrant. Not as a monster that has tormented me for my entire life.

But as a man. A broken, battered man. A man that should have received help for his numerous traumas, but never had. He was likely unaware that help was even available.

He was old. Hollow. Barely standing. Holding himself up through stubborn willpower alone.

I.

I felt.

I felt sorry for him.

A lot of my fear left then. But not all. I will always carry some with me.

“Mom can live,” I say now with more confidence. “She can live for many more years, and be happy during those. But not here. Not with you.”

My father lowers his arm. The cane slides back to the ground. Perhaps he recognizes the change in me.

“Trained professionals will be around her at all times. She will be cared for. She will be safe.”

“I can’t…I can’t carry this anymore.” I look at him. “The experiences I’ve had with you. The constant fear I live in. I can barely interact with men, especially ones who remind me of you. I have to let it go. I have to heal.”

“I forgive you.”

I head for the door and put my shoes on. There is no other noise in the apartment except for the reassuring stream of television commercials. I put my hand on the door to leave, but something stops me.

“I’m getting help to deal with my trauma.” I turn to him. “It would help you to do the same.”

I don’t know why I said that. Perhaps one final appeal to his sanity. Perhaps a lonely child’s attempt to connect with his father.

The groan of a chair from the living room as he eases himself down. Relative silence for a moment. I already know what he’s going to say.

“NEVER COME BACK HERE.”

It still hurt.

I leave, and pass through the door. I turn and look at the door as it closes. It is no longer imposing.

It is old, and sad. Like so many other things around here. I walk away.

I have never returned.

Torches

green lit torch
Photo by kelly lacy on Pexels.com

His friend quipped a hilarious comment, and he laughed.

Laughter roared around the table from the gathering of his friends.

The whole evening went on like that. The gathering of friends each striving to make the others laugh the hardest. It was a good night.

Then, the night wound on, and the gathering of friends made their separate ways home.

As the last friend closed the door behind her on her way out, his world was once again plunged into darkness. The memory of their shared laughter a dwindling light flickering off into the ebon blackness of the world he lived in. He sighed.

He felt hollow already.

He was wounded, seemingly from childhood. This tear that rent his mind, his soul, was part of him, ingrained in his actions, and his mannerisms. He knew no other way to exist. He simply assumed that the rest of the world operated in the same manner as he.

For the most part, he was correct.

So he dwelt, in this shadow world, looking for those rare moments that lit up his existence. In his youth, those ‘flares’ would occur somewhat frequently. Finding a friend, travelling to a new location, discovering a new love, learning and education. They were torches to him in his darkness.

The wounds that tore at him continued to worsen. They clawed at him, slowing him, affecting his reason, altering his decisions. They struck him down. Again. And Again.

But every time, he pulled himself up. He carried on, unaware that every time he fell, he lost more of himself on the ground. More and more of him was left behind as his wound increased.

In time, his darkness swallowed everything. His wound a ragged, a ravaging maw that destroyed all light it encountered. There was so little left of him. He was so tired.

A voice began to speak to him, at first in quiet moments, then more and more frequently as the years went by. It was Death.

His Death.

It spoke to him as a friend. Promising an end to his struggle. A cleansing of his wound.

He considered: To Leave? To Stay? There seemed only pain in this world.

His view was not unwrong.

In his travels, he obtained knowledge about his wound, and that others also suffered as he had. He learned that it was possible to repair oneself, through various means. He arrogantly assumed that he was strong enough to endure where others had fell. He had chosen take none of those options.

He was so wrong.

It was his death urge that had convinced him that he could endure, knowing he would fail in the long term.

He was not strong. He never was. The nature of his wound convinced him otherwise.

And so, in his darkness, he considered his End.

Those flares in his darkness, those loved ones, those friends, seem so far away. Almost beyond his reach, beyond his memory. Those nights, spent alone in the dark, talking to Death, were among the longest nights of his life.

He was at his End.

He knew this.

He took the only choice he had left.

He asked for help.

He had to admit that he was broken and needed help.

And help was given.

Each new day since then is still a struggle, but now he has the tools and support to continue in the world. He has hope now, for perhaps the first time in his life. He can live in this world.

And so, He Does.

Those Torches in his life saved him.

Midnight at the End of the Universe pt 7.

The great space station Remembrance rumbles as another wave of destructive nuclear energy is shot out into the void.

Onboard the E.M.S.X. Calamity, which is attached to the station, the ships rattles along as well. A framed photograph in the Captain’s quarters is jostled and floats free of its mooring. Its drifts slowly and gently into the center of the room.

The photograph is a signed print of the christening of the Calamity, taken in orbit over the Earth. The entire space suited crew is present, floating along the hull. Abraham Standford on the left, fingers splayed in the Peace Sign. Isolde Drarm is to his right, clutching tightly to the tether connecting her to the ship. It was her second spacewalk. Center frame is Thomas “Jax” Jackson. He is exageratingly swinging a bottle of champagne towards the hull of the experimental ship. On the far right is Captain Katherine “Mac” MacNamara. The solar protection visor is down on her helmet, obscuring her face. She was fuming on the inside.

The bottle was meant for her to break against the hull but Jax convinced her that it was more ‘dynamic’ for him to do it.

A plaque is attached to the frame. Written on the plaque is ” Katherine, the E.M.S.X made us a crew, but YOU made us a family.”

The photograph continues its gracefull arc until it taps gently against the wall on the far side. The frame cracks in two, separating the image of Katherine MacNamara from the rest of her crew.

 

In the central hub of The Remembrance, Katherine is secured to a terminal, in a long, curving corridor. The Research and Development wing. Her upgraded clearance has allowed her full access to every file. Information flows across her screen detailing a bewildering amount of projects that were scheduled to occur. She types in the project name.

Euthros payya.

Research information spills across the screen, of a complexity that she has never seen before, far outside her areas of expertise. Typing furiously, trying to narrow onto specific information about the genetic sampling station, brought up only densely technical information. Pleasant singing quietly echoes from a P.A. system. A voice startles her.

“I can do that a lot faster, if you’d like.”

Katherine swivels in her seat towards the voice.

Isolde Drarm, cleaned and in a fresh uniform. Her golden hair spills out from under a military cap, the logo for The Rememberance embazoned on the top. She has never been more radiant. Katherine now realizes that she will never love another person as much as she loves Isolde. She pushes her seat away from the terminal, momentarily at a loss.

“Uh, yes. Yes please.”

She unbuckles herself and floats out of the seat as Isolde slides in. Katherine holds on the the back of the seat, mesmerized by the ease of Izzy’s motions, her effortless understanding of Katherine’s intent. A lock of her hair brushes against Katherine’s hand. The feeling unleashes a wave of memories, all the quiet moments they shared together in their growing relationship.

A growing unease starts to fill her stomach. Something is off, not quite right…

“Captain? I located the DNA extraction machine.” Izzy looks up from the screen to her, her expression quizzical. “What do you need it for?”

The revelation blows her concerns away. The machine!

Mac runs a hand through her hair, uncertain of how best to explain. She determines the direct path is best. Isolde is waiting patiently.

“We are fucked.”

“Totally. Completely. There is no other way to look at our situation.”

Isolde stares in suprise.

Mac continues, swinging her arms around the room.

“This station, The Remebrance, is our salvation. But it will also be our tomb. Yes, we can live out our days here safely and in peace, but that’s it. For us, and humanity in general. Or so I thought.”

“I stumbled upon a plan to survive this apocalypse that we created. The big brains back home must’ve had more time than we thought to set this all up. This station was designed to survive the end of existence that our ship accidently caused. The station was meant to hold thousands of people, tens of thousands, in a continuing arcology while this black hole does it’s thing and collapses, eventually spitting out a new universe for the crew to colonize.”

“I mean, that was supposed to be their plan. Something must’ve happened that prevented the crew and civilains from boarding. Maybe they just ran out of time and had to launch prematurely.” Katherine waves her arm helplessly in this otherwise empty room.

Isolde tilts her head and rests it upon her hand. It was her gesture that she used when she was unsure of a subject matter.

“If that’s true, then why launching without a crew? Without a crew, this station would be just a derelict, a ghost ship of a long dead race, assuming any sentient, star faring race would ever chance upon it.”

“That’s just it,” retorts Katherine, “this station is more than just a colony ship. It’s a seed ship.”

“The DNA of millions of the human race is secured safely on board. The Remembrance is entirely automated, programmed to launch samples of our DNA at worlds that could one day support life. With a full crew, she could drastically improve her odds of seeding worlds successfully. Humanity would not only be reborn, we would be spread across the Universe!”

Katherine takes Isolde’s hand. Cool to the touch, she notices.

“That is why I need to find the DNA extractor.”

“I want to embed our DNA into the system.”

“I want us, you and me Izzy, to live forever on a million worlds.”

Isolde Drarm looks up at her with her beautiful blue eyes and smiles.

“All right Captain, when do we start?”

The audience roars. The screams strike him as a physical force. He basks it in.

Jax smiles and catches his breath, resting his left hand against the mike stand. There is a green bar stool next to him with a bottle of water sitting upon it. He deftly picks up the bottle, opens the cap, and takes a long drink. He is sweating profusely, his heart is racing. He hasn’t worked this hard for a crowd in a long time. Serving aboard The Calamity ruined his conditioning.

He wipes sweat off his forehead, oblivious to the dried blood he is scraping off his hand and leaving on his face. His knuckles are still bruised from his brutal assault on Abraham Standford. The incident is long gone from his mind.

There is only the audience.

The audience demands only one thing from Thomas Jackson. His best.

He will not let them down.

In a move of exagerated sexuality, he spills the rest of his water over his head and down his chest. The crowd goes wild. More. They want more.

He slides into another song, one laced with overt sexuality and dark desire, his body dances along with the rythm. His voice is getting strained and his muscles fatigued but he is taking energy from the crowd. As much as the crowd is taking from him. He will not stop. He will never stop.

The slapping of his shoes against the stage and his strained voice echo hollowly throughout the empty theater.

The station rumbles as another blast of atomic energy is shot out into the void.

The room containing the DNA extractor has an impressive amount of security protocols needed to enter, but Mac and Izzy make their way through easily. The large room is cut in half by a sealed glass wall with a single door on either side of a connected hallway. Several hazard suits line one of the walls on their side.

Lt. Drarm leans in and examines the suits closely. Captain MacNamara fidgets excitedly nearby. Her dreams of immortality are so close.

“Well,” Isolde says after a moment, “the suits are only needed for experiments that require a clean room, which is what the barrier is for. The room has scrubbers which clean the air and surfaces as necessary. The little corridor is also a decontamination room.  We won’t need them for a simple DNA extraction.”

Mac is already moving towards the door. “Good.” She enters the decom room, Isolde at her heels.

The air inside the sealed room is cool and crisp. Katherine’s skin prickles just a little bit. She spots the retractable shelf containing the extractor and swipes her ID card against the reader. The red light in the shelf switches from red to green and the shelf silently slides out from the wall.

The shelf reveals another sealed container. Katherine sighs in mild frustration and looks up at Isolde. The lieutenant is leaning against the far wall. She smiles and shakes her head in commiseration, her golden hair spilling out from her officers cap.

Something strikes Katherine as wrong again with Isolde. She can’t put her finger on it. She is so tired, the enormity of her actions as captain of The Calamity and the utter destruction that followed have hollowed her out. She wants her burden to end.

A faint pounding catches her attention. It fills the room. She looks around for the source.

“What’s wrong, Captain?” Isolde looks curious.

“What is that noise?”, she replies.

Isolde shrugs. “It’s probably aftershocks from the nuclear launcher that this station is built around. Why stop now? You’re so close to your goal.”

“This is what you want.”

Katherine runs her hand along the container in front of her. Then she swipes her pass card along the reader. The container unlocks.

The pounding noise continues, louder this time.

“Yes,” she muses. “This is what I want.”

She opens the container and stares at what is inside.

Lt. Isolde Drarm arrived in the research wing of the central ring of the space station, as per her captains’s orders. She was alone and frightened.

The area was empty. She was suprised, Katherine was supposed to meet her here.

Panic swelled inside of her, twisting her insides until they were hard and cold knots.

She had a murder to report. Abraham Stamford: her friend. While she was showering and finding fresh clothes for herself, her friend was being murdered by Jax. The thought nauseated her. She had to find her captain.

Heading to the nearest computer, she found Katherine’s previous search.

Euthros payya.

Latin perhaps? She took a moment to skim the information folder. Fascinating stuff. She marked the location and launched herself in that direction.

Captain MacNamara was not there.

“MAC!” She screamed, pounding her frail fist against the door of the empty room. She began a room by room search for her commander. Her friend. Her love.

She found Katherine MacNamara in the Nuclear Containment wing.

She was sealed in the Nuclear Fuel Containment room.

She was staring unshielded, straight into a bin of nuclear rods, that were meant for the cannon at the center of the station.

Izzy screamed, pounding futilely against the safety glass as lethal levels of radioactivity flooded the other side of the room.

The pounding has become more insistent. Katherine closes the lid of the container and turns towards the noise. On the other side of the safety glass, Isolde stands screaming.

She looks like hell. Gaunt. pale, Her gold hair barely an inch long. Even in a fresh uniform, she looks nothing like the vision Katherine followed, yet somehow more beautiful than ever.

Isolde finally finds a communications panel. She turns it on with numb hands.

“Mac…what…what did you DO?”

Mac slowly makes her way to the panel, her movements suddenly uncertain and weak. She feels it. It is unstoppable.

She is burning from the inside out.

Katherine activates her end of the communicator.

“Hullo Izzy…I think…”

“I think I just killed myself.” She giggles uncontrollably for a moment.

Isolde weeps, resting her weary head against the panel.

“Don’t leave. Don’t leave me here alone.” The words come out of her at barely a whisper.

After a long pause, “My love,” Katherine responds, “My love. I’m sorry.”

“It’s this place. It gives you want you want. Abraham was right. He said it when we first arrived here.”

Isolde listens mutely.

A wave of fatiuge washes over Captain MacNamara. She is suddenly very tired. She can’t seem to open her eyes anymore. She fumbles for the communication console.

“Izzy.”

“Izzy.”

“You need to leave here, Izzy.”

“This place will kill you if you let it.”

Isolde smacks her fist against the wall.

“Mac…”

“It’s OK, Izzy. I’ll be here.” Katherine leans against the safety glass. “M’tired…think I’ll take a nap now…”

Isolde weeps now, for all that was lost, and curls up on the floor opposite of the glass partition where her lover Katherine now rests. And sleeps.

The E.M.S.X. Calamity pulls away from the death station, Rememberance. Her fuel source still unreplenished, The Calamity could not travel far. Isolde Drarm, her lone occupant, set a lazy orbit around the death station. Once a month, The Remebrance would swing into view.

There is nowhere else to go.

Food and water aboard The Calamity were exhausted for a full crew of four, but for a crew of one, Isolde made them last for a significant period of time. Ship maintenance however, was not her specialty, but she did the best she could. It was the routine E.V.A. into that absolue nothing outside of the ship that was the most difficult.

The supermassive black hole they called Nemesis always beckoned.

When enough small microfractures finally shatter the hull of The Calamity after five years of lonely existence, Lt. Isolde Drarm welcomes it.

Food supplies were finally exhausted, and Isolde faced the gruesome possibility of self-cannibalization. She was tormented by the regular sight of the Remebrance, itself full of food and rescources that she could use, but knowing that she would die soon upon docking.

 A small, framed photograph somehow survived the implosion, drifting away from the ship with just enough force to resist the black hole, Nemesis.

The photo was a reprint of the crew of The Calamity, on Earth, at the launchpad a day before the crew left the planet to board the ship.

Smiling and happy, Abraham Stanford, Thomas “Jax” Jackson, Isolde Drarm, and Katherine MacNamara waved at the camera.

The caption underneath the picture simply states:

They are the best of Us.

The space station, Rememberance, dims it’s external lights in rememberance.

Then, the entire station went into power saving mode, awaiting the rebirth of the universe.

Eager, but patient, the ancient space station, now a remmnant of a dead universe, waited to meet the first life of a new universe.