Published: Nov 15, 2019 3:24:52 PM


When do we know a prize is earned? When can we recognize what life gives, and if it's good, and if it's correct? Often, I wake from sleep at night, and my brain sweats with grandmaster strain.

Half-remembered songs. Miniature dreams folded like wrinkled currency into flighty fantasies and harrowing dooms. And I wonder—what is all this? There's got to a purpose here, in all this waking suffering.

The cruel shift-manager using his enemies for ottomans makes the spoken purpose clear—it's preparation. It's rehearsal. It's my gray computer testing scenarios. There, I can grow flush with the imagined nightmares and still live to wonder further, unharmed in the act.

But as my deadly mind pulls on a nine-foot needle to stitch up some hypothetical horrors, I also imagine hope. Good things. The horrors come easy. Those monsters are death on two legs. To consider hope, though, is another question—can life correctly give us something good?

Is all that a reward? That makes it simple. Transactional. Goodness, happiness, compensation. I do not speak of such simple emotions with right-angled edges. I do not speak of lumber, no, I speak of the idea of love. Is love transactional? Is it a prize? I belittle its enormity like this. And yet, I beg, not with myself, nor with love in the abstract. I beg the rigid, spit-soaked web of the surrounding world itself.

I beg the question, have I given enough? Always, awake at night, torn from rest and refuge, the question repeats. Have I given enough? Have I given enough to be free of thought? Has that been earned?

Consider every approach. Each direction. Every tiny factor. Each feeling. Each touch. Each human flutter. Every inference. Every assumption. Is every fear attacked, skinned, and killed? Is every opponent crushed? Is every chant uttered? Have I respected every life that's earned it from me? Have I been bold? Have I been tender? Have I sunk low enough? All actions are facets in a delta feeding to the rivermouth of lush life where the bronze giant stands, one foot on each side of the channel, sword drawn, ready to ask me one question I have been cursed to answer truthfully—have I given enough? Have I given enough of my life, in vain prostration, to demonstrate myself?

My existence is an accumulation. I note it. I note my awareness and the unceasing attempts to trick myself into believing that I am good, because That Cruel One has disallowed directness.

"I'm good enough, at the very least."

I trick myself. I outsmart myself. I know my opponent. These are the snaking interlinked corridors I craft and retrace, teaching myself lessons that I cannot come to hear from the distrustful, petty mouths of others. I retreat through dreamlogic fingers of my own self-feeding vampire simulacrum, to force self-deception, to force admission, to force suffering through mental flagellation, unobserved by any fair judge, all in service that one day, I may force acceptance. I force suffering on my body and mind because I do not believe I’ve earned anything in life.

"You've earned nothing."

The foul loop repeats. Around in the world I go, feeling hurt and trying to give more. I watch myself forget what I've done, actions worthless the moment they're cast, and deaf to thanks. But can I give enough back in transaction, to reward that which has been rewarded to me? To express gratitude, or something grander—to become understood. To bring forth total understanding to the other, in my self-disrespect, in my freakish brain. I drag myself by handfuls and fingertips to frame those outside the four walls of my skull as good, and correct, and given with honestly.

Can I show that I must extract, through atomic truth and wizardry, trust in myself and The Myself That Isn't Me? Can I ever give enough evidence of my rise from erroneously-titled worthlessness? Can I ever be forgiven for the tricks I play in fear, rather than imagining hope truly is as strong as blithering, shuddering disbelief that I have, yes, truly, given enough?

This is what wakes me from sleep. That not only can I not ever earn life, but if I did, I might forever live beneath its debt, because it's too good to be true.

It's not debt. And it's the supreme truth. Death didn't kill me. What chance does life have?

Yes! I've earned it.

-- Alex Crumb
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