Questioning mortality can be a slippery slope. Thoughts can betray you. Your mind can become quicksand, pulling you into dark depths of the consciousness that you cannot escape from. How far into the self is one willing to satisfy curiosity?
Option Three is April’s short story that brings you into a fictional struggle of the self, our own mortality, and issues of the bigger picture.
Being alive is not a concrete concept. Sure, you can feel with your senses and experience joy or sadness, and that might be the definition of alive, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Maybe I am coming from a philosophical standpoint. What does it mean to be alive? What are we? I do not know. Some days I find myself questioning my mortality. Like, my mind lives inside of my brain—according to science—and that is where my thoughts are. The brain is where I am. With that logic, my mind is just a series of electrical neurons buzzing around some organic tissue. Take the mind away, and the body is not me—according to science. Or if the brain stops shooting neurons, I’m dead—according to science.
It’s a bit crazy to ramble on these tangents of the self. I feel mad, going through these answerless questions. They seem to come daily now. There isn’t much else to do in a butthole of a town with a population of under a thousand people. Your options for activities are limited. The other kids smoke up, drink, fight, and vandalize. I do too. They’re my friends, some of them, so I join along and get high and drink to excess. Then the grizzled after-work drunks yell at us from their porch, seeing us barely walking, inebriated. They threaten that they’ll call the RCMP, but they don’t. They have nothing to stand on because we don’t have any weed or drinks on us when we’re walking down the road. We’re not stupid.
Don’t get me wrong; I like getting wasted like anyone else and getting yelled at by the townsfolk, who tell me to take off the spiked collar and the makeup, and focus on school. It’s a real good fuck you to the prudes when we stay up until the sun rises. It’s fun, and it is the only activity you can do here. Still, at some point in the day, you are done all of that. You can only drink and do drugs so much at any given time. Even for only a few minutes, you’ll find yourself at your most vulnerable. You might be waking up in the morning, or walking to school, or in the shower, and you’ll find yourself alone in your thoughts—the most frightening experience of all.
Ideas run through my mind, like wondering if I will ever get out of this small town. No one likes to talk to me. I mean, talk, talkto me. The adults are either rambling about the government being a bunch of lib-tards taking oil money away or telling me to stop dying my hair and help my folks. My friends want to get drunk, break shit, and poke fun at the nerds. No one wants to talk. When I say talk, I mean getting into the nitty-gritty of ourselves. Introspective, if you will.
My gramps had a lot of books. We have them now since he blew his brains out. I read through them, not understanding everything. He had a wide range of books, like some on religion, philosophy, social sciences—all the good stuff. My parents don’t read them. They watch the tube, drink, smoke, and then fight over the dishes or about that waitress my dad banged over a decade ago. They don’t have time to learn, let alone pay attention to their kid. The books just stay in Gramps’s old room, left untouched since the day he died. They’ve become my teacher. I ignore the odd bloodstain I find every now and then.
Maybe these books are what separates me from everyone else. I’ve asked my teachers if they’ve heard about them. Some have, others haven’t. In short, they tell me to focus on my grades that are slipping. Whatever. If an academic facility is not the place to talk about ideas, where is, then? I don’t know. Thus, I find myself wandering inside of my mind, puffing on a cigarette alone, watching the sun go down from the rooftop of that old abandoned butcher shop. I do enjoy the sun. The warmth and light bring a sense of stillness. It doesn’t judge my outfit or my thoughts. The giant fireball only watches before it vanishes behind the horizon. Then, I am left in the beautiful blackness of the night while the world slumbers.
I get stuck on the question of who we are. If science is right, then we are just a series of neuron links accumulated together to create consciousness. Take a single neuron out of the equation and examine it, and that is not you. With that reasoning, how many neurons does it take to make up you?
These are questions with no answers. The more I read, the more I wonder. Religion offers different solutions, also with no conclusion, other than we are the abstract concept known as a soul. Dig into any of those books, and you’ll find they can’t answer some of the tough questions with anything more substantial than saying that’s the way it is, and to have faith. I have discovered one thing, though. The more questions you ask, the more it alienates you. My friends have started to talk to me less. Whatever. They were boring to me, anyway. We still chat at school and stuff, but I don’t have much else to say beyond that. My mind is too troubled by my mortality. My interests have made me an outcast amongst the rejects. No amount of spikes or layers of black nail polish will convince my friends to see me in any other light—or darkness, if you will.
Now that I am not off getting high or drunk every moment I can, it has given me more time with the self. I am wondering what defines me. Where do I go when I die? The body and the brain stay here. The neurons die. Then is that it? Does the consciousness fizzle out? If so, then why does any of this matter if we eventually end up in the nothingness? The joy in life is so short-lived, only to be met by misery. We wait for another wave of happiness, and then the cycle repeats itself the following day, over and over again. I wonder if experiencing life with others is what gives living value. Then is it your memory that lives on through others that matters? I chuck the idea aside. That has no place for me—not in this small town. I don’t want to share my time with these hicks.
I wonder if I will ever get out of here. I’ll graduate high school in a year, and I don’t have a lot of money to skip town and head for the big city. It’s not like I have any aspirations. I just read and get myself tied up in theoretical knots. Skipping town to be homeless in a big city doesn’t sound appealing, either: escape the suffering here for new pain. It’s all pointless. Whatever.
Did I mention my gramps blew his head off? Yeah, he was a bit of a gun freak. My folks cleaned out his collection. They didn’t check his bookshelves—because they don’t read—and I found an old revolver tucked inside a dummy-book. Man, did that ever shock me. There is so much power in something so small. One bullet can end all thoughts inside of someone’s head. Sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste all go away. The emotional sensations cease to be with one pull of the pistol’s trigger. The everlasting slumber.
Back to the mortality and life-after-death stuff. If this is all we have, and our consciousness dies inside of our mind, then we do return to some state of neutrality when we die. We can’t experience loss, sadness, or misery because our neurons are toast. It’s kind of the closest thing to isness, that thing that monks try to do. Death is the answer. The eternal peace.
We all end up in the grave at some point. It’s up to you how long you want to gamble in the game of life. Roll another dice each morning, hoping something will get better. The years go by, you keep trucking along, and eventually, you turn into my parents—drunk and fighting. As you get older, you could end up like Gramps and finally call it quits anyway and take your own life instead of rotting away in a rocker.
Now I sit here on that same old abandoned butcher shop rooftop, puffing on a smoke and watching the sunset. I think about my quality of life. I have a choice to make. I could be isolated from everyone with my intellect. I could swoop back down to drinking, smoking, and vandalizing with a real punk-rock attitude. The third option is I could end it. The revolver in my sweaty hand is loaded. I suppose it doesn’t matter what choice I make. At some point, I will eat the dirt. It’s really up to me if I want to try or just take the shortcut. No one will miss me, anyway. Over half the time, I am alone. I don’t talk to anyone anymore. I have no one to touch. Death sure would make for some talk around the town.
Option three is one I’ve been considering heavily today. That’s why I have the revolver in my mouth as I stare out into the sun. The fiery ball is looking back at me, not judging, only watching. The neutrality of the star is the one thing I would miss. It has a strange sense of isness. Now I second-guess my gramps and myself. Maybe the sunset each day is all I need. Hey, there’s something worth living for, or whatever. It’s probably a good idea to take the gun out of my mouth, then. Maybe I’ll give life a go for one more day, enjoy this setting sun, and embrace the slumber of the night.
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