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 considered 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 go on these tangents of the self. I go mad, going through these answerless questions daily. There isn’t much else to do when you live in a butt-hole of a town with less than a thousand people. Your options for activity 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 or drink to excess. Then the grizzled after-work-drunk men yell at us from their porch, seeing us walking inebriated. They threaten that they’ll call the cops, but they don’t. 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 then getting yelled at by the townsfolk to take off the spiked collar and makeup and focus on school. It’s a real good “fuck you” attitude to the prudes while we stay up until the sun rises. It’s fun, and 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, that is the most frightening experience of all.
Thoughts run through my mind. I wonder if I will ever get out of this small town. No one likes to talk to me. I mean, talk to 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 he left us before he blew his brains out. I read through them, not understanding everything. He had a wide range of books, like some on religions, philosophy, social sciences – all the good stuff. My parents do not read them. They watch the tube, drink, smoke, and then fight over the dishes or over that waitress my dad banged over a decade ago. They don’t have time to learn or 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.
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 it 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 really brings 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 where the world is at peace.
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?
I know 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 real difficult questions other than saying that’s the way it is. 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 anyways. 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 number of spikes or layers of black nail polish will have them 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, as we wait for another wave of happiness, then the cycle repeats itself. I wonder if experiencing life with others makes living have value. Then it is your memory that lives on through others is what matters. I chuck the idea aside. That has no place for me, not in this small town.
I wonder if I will ever get out of here either. 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 a theoretical knot inside my head. 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 all his guns from the house after that. 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 of the 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.
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 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, or monks try to do. Death is the answer. The eternal peace.
We all end up there at some point. It’s up to you how long you want to gamble in this game called 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 anyways and take your own life.
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 can 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 does not matter what choice I make. At some point, I will eat the dirt. It’s really up to me if I want to try and gamble with living on or just take the shortcut. No one will miss me, anyways. 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 of the town. Option three is one I’ve been considering heavily today. That’s why I brought the revolver to my mouth as I stare out into the sun, which is looking back at me, not judging, only watching. The neutrality of the fireball was the one thing I would miss, and 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 peace of the night.