VITERBO UNIVERSITY | SPRING 2014 | VOLUME 78

TOUCHSTONE

LITERATURE

Revelations 21:4

Thomas Nathaniel Pfister

The defeating feeling is so familiar; the setting, however, is never the same.

Nathan sits back, scanning the room for a familiar sight. His mind races like a sprinter unable to finish a race. The bare, white walls look endless; only a few pictures of long-lost family separate his apartment from an uninhabited, love-lost home. The counter is filled with piles of bills and other miscellaneous mail he never bothered to open. A table sits in the corner, dishes scattered across it with half-eaten meals from this past week. Ants are now making themselves inhabitants on his dark, wooden table. He never gave the room enough thought to make it his own, which is evident by the packed boxes still leaning against the far corner wall. Sunshine creeps in through a dusty window from above, shining light on a seemingly hopeless scene. The television in the corner plays old home videos from a happier time. The stained coffee pot begins to fill. For no particular reason, coffee always makes melancholy moods like this easier to bear.

He scans the room, looking for something, anything, to change the way his mind is racing. He sits down, pulling his MacBook onto his lap, and opens it to reveal a forgotten story he began to write. Oh yes, that’s what previously solidified me as a man worthwhile. He scans over the scattered thoughts and ideas spilling over the screen. Three years removed from college, and this is all I have to show for it: broken thoughts spilled on paper and unrealistic, broken dreams. Rage begins to flow through his veins. A rush of hate seeps through his pores. He throws the computer from the lap of his favorite drink-stained, filthy-with-dirt blue jeans and listens to the thud it makes as it hit the floor. He couldn’t stand thinking of how he got to this place.

He falls to the couch, landing on a leaning pile of untidy laundry he had finished washing earlier in the day. At least he thinks it was from today. Clear thinking and recognition are not strong points of his lately. Why he ever bothered to wash clothes he never wore confused even him. He spends most of his time with his favorite mug, filled with coffee, black, reminiscing about what he’s seen in his short-but-tragic life.

Nathan recounts his travels since he left his parent’s home in Michigan—the last place he ever truly felt at home. It was the last place he felt welcome and somehow accepted by society. Memories flash before him, without resistance, flooding his senses--he felt it unrealistic to try and control his thoughts over the past few months…

It was the end of his senior year of high school and his classmates were preparing for what his teachers always referred to as “the real world,” though he never truly listened to any of them. Sensing untruth in this thought, his mind began to recall his only class he saw as worth attending. Nathan had, on a whim, decided to take a Creative Writing workshop--a derivative of senior English for those students deemed to be “gifted with words,” as Ms. Dawson had explained to Nathan’s mother and father. He always enjoyed writing; he had been a writer for the local newspaper growing up, and this allowed Ms. Dawson to find the potential he purposefully hid from others. He shied away from any compliments that were tossed in his direction. They were inessential and unnecessary to him. He was never gifted in anything society considered important—he never played sports and was never book smart. He wasn’t a popular kid growing up; in fact, he was the definition of a nobody, a nothing. He swore he could hang himself in the gym and there wouldn’t be a soul who would notice, until he got in the way of a sporting event or gym class. Only then they would cut him loose and scoop him up with the broom they used to sweep their beloved gym floors.

Deciding he needed a cup of coffee due to his sudden overtaking of sleeplessness, he stumbles to his feet. The scene is a little blurry—he sits back down. His head is spinning now, like the inside of a tornado. A dizzy spell hits him and he catches himself thinking not even coffee is worth trying to stumble to the kitchen for in this state. His heads begins to hang and his eyelids drop. I can’t be this tired already, I just woke up. His thoughts become cloudy like a storm approaching the California coastline. The room begins to sway uncontrollably, making Nathan uncomfortable and seasick.

“You know, Nathan, you have so much potential as a writer.” Nathan sees himself as he’d once been, standing tall and awkwardly shifting his rather thin frame from one foot to the other. His hair a purposeful mess, long and brown, lacking any true style, his glasses sliding down his sweaty nose; people always made him uncomfortable and caused him to perspire this way. His black Nike sweatpants looked almost neat next to his favorite, ragged and gray University of Illinois sweater. He always loved that sweater.

“You have the ability to make words jump off the page. Your passion leaves the reader hanging on every word. Goodness, you left me hanging on every word in your last assignment,” Ms. Dawson said the day he decided to drop her class. If only

I had he thought, taking a moment to control where his thoughts were leading him, before releasing them to resume the random, structureless flow they had taken. Instead of following through on his own self-destructive behavior, she convinced him to stay on her own imitation of a beaten path that she had carefully laid for him. He promised her he would continue to work on his writing, to master the art of dripping the heartbeat of your soul onto a blank canvas for the world to see. He blamed this particular day as the day that caused him to land where he is today, lying on the floor of his empty apartment, wishing he could do it all over again. Tears streamed down his present-day cheeks, sliding through his unruly hair and onto the floor below. Let it be.

High School came and went, and college was there before he knew it; the memories streamed in his mind as fast as they had seemed to in real life. It was like watching a cheesy film roll from a projector you stereotypically see in every sappy movie. He stands outside an auditorium, his black robes drag on the concrete floor and his yellow tassel that settles over his pale cheeks alerts him to his whereabouts. He looks down and sees his degree in hand. A sudden rush of accomplishment sets over him and calms his nerves. The tears stop for now. He had done it, he had escaped the social nightmare that was a university; the nightmare that was living with adrenaline-filled frat guys pushing you off the sidewalk as they rushed to the nearest run-down campus bar with the all-too-typical, lacking-self-respect sorority girls running a few steps behind them.

This was a more joyous and not so ambivalent time in his life, despite his failed social experiment spanning the last four years. His muddy, beaten-path of a life was set to take off like a rocket set for space. His beaten path lays before his feet, clear and concise. His mind was full of endless possibilities and destinations. He had dreamed of publishing a particular piece of work, of art, that passion had taken seamlessly from his complex mind onto the paper that sat before him. He looked for the MacBook he had tossed to the floor moments ago and bent over, almost cautiously, to retrieve it. He began to read his own literature, though he never got the same satisfaction he had previously, just a sad sunken feeling that engulfed him.

“Bullshit, complete bullshit.” The words still sting his core as they had the first time he heard them. The editor throws the manuscript onto his desk in front of Nathan. Stunned, silent, he waited. “I’ve never read so much bullshit in three-hundred pages before in my life, and I’ve been in this business for twenty-three years.” Nathan didn’t dare take another breath, another hit of oxygen. He didn’t want to give his lungs what they craved for, not after they had failed him here. “Kid”—the editor’s tone had changed to that of a caring father—“you’ve got to do better than this. I can’t do anything with it. What do you want me to do with this? Huh?” Tears begin to flood Nathan’s eyes; he jerks his suddenly lifeless body towards the manuscript in front of him, grabbing it tightly, without remorse.

As he lifts it from the recently dusted, brown oak desk, the room turns pitch-black.

Nathan, sensing consciousness, spins in an exaggerated circle, looking for a true sense of happening as the room begins to disappear in front of him.

His mind begins to hum again, this time with even more painful memories. He’s sitting in the hospital room at the young age of fourteen. The white room lacks a sense of life, a sense of hope. He begins to feel the color has a deeper meaning than a simple bad choice in paint. There’s a monitor of some kind next to the hospital bed, and saline enters his body through a needle placed sloppily in his left hand. His breaths are deep and endless, his lungs almost begging for them to stop. A single framed picture sits in the corner, painting the picture of somewhere in Europe he always wanted to find. He always wanted to stand in that exact spot—the one where this picture was taken—and feel what the photographer felt. Somehow this would make everything okay; everything he felt would be lifted from him like a weight off of his back. This is where salvation would meet him. He looks down at his registration bracelet, seeing his name scrawled over it by the overworked night staff brings it all back to life. He is alone, so somehow he feels it’s okay to look, almost as if it wasn’t before. His wrist burns, the bandages they had applied cover the scars he inflicted the night before. Tears burst like a broken dam from his blood-shot eyes. He could never forget this moment.

His life had changed its course completely that day, though he could never imagine exactly how drastically this would change his future mindset. Suffering was forever etched in his mind from this moment forward. Nathan closes his eyes as tight as he can, wishing it all away.

Nathan awakes from what seems to be a relatively harmless dream, though his mindset tells him otherwise, filling his thoughts with apprehension. He has just had a fight with his parents, storming out of the room and seeking refuge in the garage. This happens all too often--the fights. This garage has been his childhood hiding place for as long as he can remember. He was starting to seek and discover a pattern between these fights and the lack of memory he had upon their completion.

He stirs to what reminds him of a white, blank canvas of a room, in which he spent time after these fights. This place exists only in the subconscious, locked away with a key only he possesses. He’s safe here, if only for a fraction of time. Consciousness ensues. He looks down and sees the blood flowing down his wrists; they’re clenched, his palms sweaty. He’s holding a wooden handle of some kind. Afraid to look further, he forces his eyes to follow the seemingly endless, chipped handle as it leads him to the top of a pair of large, dull garden shear blades. Reality smothers his senses and his heart begins to ache for relief as he discovers his neck between the blades, blood still trickling down his arms. He’s sitting on a large, frozen chest in the garage his parents store food that will not fit in the freezer in their kitchen.

Blood has now wet this white freezer as well; the stream of red seems condemning and endless. Motionless, looking for an answer to a question he has yet to ask, he quickly releases his tight grip of the shears and watches as they clang on the dirty cement floor. I can’t let anyone see me like this, is the only thought he can process right now. A sense of embarrassment stings him like a hornet’s nest as he leaps off the freezer. The instant before his feet can hit the ground, everything freezes. His conscious self is drawn to the lack of reality that has suddenly been placed before him. The room is starting to shake, almost rattle. Nathan begins to stir; his unconscious self threatens to engulf him again. He wants to wake up; he wants to drown his memories with a stiff drink like he always has. Alcohol has served him as a faithful crutch these past few months. His feet touch the ground unevenly; the cement floor begins to sway beneath his weight. I’ve had quite enough. I want to wake up now. Threatened by this notion of reality, his unconscious self takes control again and presses on. Nathan’s knees instantly, uncontrollably, crumble beneath him; he bends down to this dream-state without a whisper, crashing hard to the floor. Tears falling from his sunken cheeks, he places his face in his hands, weeping like a child who has skinned his knees.

The room becomes a vortex, swaying forward and back, and suddenly Nathan finds himself sitting in a ripped, brown, wooden chair. Stuffing is falling out on all sides and the legs look as if they’d wobble under an average person’s weight. It gives the feeling of an elderly grandparent everyone has. He can see a tall and handsome man wearing a black suit, frayed near the wrists, with a blue-striped tie under his white lab coat, conversing to his mother and father. “Nathan is very sick” is all he can glean from the conversation. His mind was never quiet, not even then. He couldn’t escape the constant, controlling thoughts long enough to concentrate lately, making eavesdropping all too difficult. He sees his mother look in his direction; never has she presented such a worn, tired expression across her pale face. He can see the disappointment fill her eyes, like a battle you’re bound to lose. She forces a smile as a tear spills down her face, a tear his father quickly wipes away. He never could show weakness, Nathan’s father. He hated him for that. Even at such a young age, Nathan could feel a rage building inside himself. This gas-filled fire of rage made the voices he heard seem almost harmless. Looking back, this is the only time the voices ever stopped for him. He hated himself at that moment. How did I get here?

Heart beating fast, the room he now stands outside of brings a sudden sweat to his brow. Hands trembling, palms clammy, he looks up. He can see her now. She looks back at him, her long blonde hair, bangs swept off to the side of the perfect complexion that makes up her face. She represents for him what true believers seek after this life. Her blue eyes could light a room that was filled with darkness; her words could spark the imagination of an entire generation. Her silhouette dances through his heart and mind like a five-star Broadway show. The way her eyes meet his still puts worldly matters to rest. Adrenaline meets anticipation and everything feels just right, just how it was always supposed to feel. They never needed to say, “I love you,” they simply knew. She smiles, and he finds himself smiling back—it’s been a long time since he’s smiled. Their eyes meet, causing Nathan to reminisce about their first meeting in front of that old, eyesore of a movie theater in his hometown. It was the fondest memory he could recall. Fear and anxiety suddenly strikes him, pounding at his heavy chest for a way in. Nathan looks down, his hands are warm now, and his heart begins to jump from his chest. The unmistakable color of blood is seeping from his fingertips and onto the floor. No, this can’t be. Not again. He jerks his head upright, as if he already knew what was to come next. His heart isn’t beating fast now; in fact, it’s not beating at all. She’s gone. Don’t leave me here, alone, not like this.

The room falls, as if from the sky, down around Nathan’s motionless figure—symbolic of what he just lost. Various objects meet the floor with such force that you can feel the entire room shake beneath your still feet. The destruction leaves you with a bitter taste in your mouth and debilitating sadness in your heart. The thunderous crash immediately wakes him from his sleep. His head comes rearing around as he takes in the scene around him.

Silence engulfs the room. Panicked, he puts his hands to his face to feel if it’s real. He swears to himself it is. It has to be. Darkness has set; he can see this from a window in his living room. He looks down at his hands again; they’re shaking still, the only sign of movement in the darkness. The lack of red on them settles his foreboding curiosity. His blue jeans bring back a sign of familiarity; the stains bring him a sense of comfort. This is real. He scans the room like you do when you wake from a deep sleep and nothing makes sense in your drowsy attempt to regain consciousness. The coffee pot in the kitchen has filled, an hour or two ago, evident by the way it has chilled itself. The loveless room is his—there’s no doubting this—the lack of care gives it away instantly. Memories of what, only moments ago, swept before his conscious-self are fleeing him.

As common sense swirls, Nathan looks to touch his feet on even ground again. He spots his forgotten laptop on the floor next to him and everything seems to magically make sense in the world again. He lunges for the gray MacBook, knocking over the lamp that stood between them only moments ago, and takes a careless seat on the nearby couch. His head spins—the same, yet somehow so differently, than it had his entire life. Clarity arises from within. This is it, what he was put here for. He opens a blank Word document and begins to type furiously about a broken, naïve and scared young man, and he realizes everything will be just fine. Anxiety and hopelessness flee his core. The tension filling his mind and heart is lifted as it spills onto the blank pages before him. Emotions pour and his soul is left, stroke-by-stroke, on his worn keyboard.

The world will finally hear his story.