Start Again


Glimpses from within a train wreck
Uncertain if deliverance is forthcoming
These are glimpses from a world uncertain
They remind me that I might not be here at all
And it is all just a dream

"So what would an angel say?
The devil wants to know."

--Fiona Apple, "Criminal"

There are people who enter into one's life but for a fleeting instant and are then lost forever. They seem to provide what is needed in that instant and then pass like clouds who no longer need the sky. The waking world accepts them as less but alludes to the idea that they are more.

Jenny was caught in crosstown traffic. She was the only one in the bookstore except the wire-rimmed glasses wearing clerk, who was reading Faust and intermittently staring at the cash register. His job was just an excuse to read for free and look down his nose at those who bought books that were beneath his high-brow literary superiority. He had forgotten Jenny was even in the store. Most people didn't stay so long in the metaphysical section of the store. Yet, when I came in and went to the same section of the store, his irritation was aroused. He stopped reading long enough to wonder if we might be stealing from the store.

Jenny was a race car. She drove fast on the straightaways and rode the high edge of the curve when it came time to turn. She had come undone but convinced herself she was more than less. When it started to rain it was because she needed the rain. She dressed in black and never exposed her skin to the sun. She might have been like any of the goth kids, except that everything she was she considered an apparition in her own mind. She found no solace anywhere, believing that in death she had been punished by being sent back to the world she left.

The explorer within me was more finely tuned at the time. It has lost its glow with my efforts to re-integrate myself with the world. For that I am now sorry. Jenny showed me the dark side. She reminded me that despite the truth and vision we acquire from passing through the light in both directions there is a side that thinks very little of this world. Jenny embraced the dark side and fed on the sorrow and pain of the weak and wounded. I understood the feeding, for being an empath requires certain nutrients not found in the food that they set on the table. Her way did not work for me and something about the ankh I always wore around my neck in those days bothered her.

Your sense of honor makes you undead.

The words spoken by the phantom in the airport sent a shiver up my spine. I was merely reading the newspaper and waiting for my flight to board. He had been watching me for some time and his stares made me more curious than uncomfortable. There was a delay in the flight so I went back to the airport bar and ordered a drink I had never ordered before. The man followed. He wore an overcoat and hat and only removed them after sitting down at the bar beside me.

He smiled for several minutes and ordered whiskey from the bartender. After two sips he opened his mouth to speak. "You have to remember they are always one step behind you most of the time." I nodded, for outwardly it appeared the man was just a crazy talker. Yet, I could sense he was one of my kind. The energy is always different in those with invisible wings. He excused himself to visit the men's room and never came back. He never returned to the gate to board the plane he had been waiting alongside me for. All he left was half a glass of whiskey and a pack of playing cards. When I flipped them over I could not fail to notice that the backs of the cards were decorated with a knight on horseback and the knight wore a red sash. The red riders have always played a prominent role in the vivid dreams following my death.

Chris was a bottom-feeding wayward princess who lived in a basement apartment and combed the landscape for clues. Her sadness was like a crown. When she met me she wanted nothing more than for me to be her friend and companion. She never sought to consummate or make the friendship into something romantic. Yet she managed to touch my heart in ways that are not easily defined into categories.

She had a strange pen-pal relationship with Sarah McLachlan and it netted her second row tickets to her concert that year. Something about the energy in the room bothered me and I walked out halfway through the show. Chris sat with me on a bench outside the venue and I told her every aspect of my story and for the first time opened all the floodgates. Chris always wore long sleeve shirts or a jacket, and that night she rolled up those sleeves to show me the deep scars on her wrists that had never healed.

"You never stop grinning, no matter what story you tell.
That disturbs me.
It is like you always know something no one else does."

I never saw her again, but she sent a letter to my post office box several months later. She said she hoped I was feeling better and that she knew I would find what I was looking for but that she knew of no way she could fit into my life the way she wanted to. She also told me that she shared my story with someone and hoped I did not mind. Chris had written down the whole story and mailed it as part of her correspondence with Sarah McLachlan. A year and a half later I heard Building a Mystery for the first time on the radio and laughed myself into hysterics. Sometimes you wonder where people get their material from. They get it from the same place I get it from. I steal the stories of others and weave them into the fabric of my life.

I have to go back to the way I knew and walk the path again
Or I will continue to unravel into nothingness.
The choice has been made.
The choice has never been so simple
At a time when it is the most difficult.
I have come undone
Or maybe I was just resting for the days ahead.


A line from Dante's Divine Comedy:

{...}"Sweet spirit,

what souls are these who run through this black haze?"
And he to me: "These are the nearly soulless
whose lives concluded neither blame nor praise.

They are mixed here with that despicable corp
of angels who were neither for God nor Satan,
but only for themselves. The High Creator

scourged them from Heaven for its perfect beauty,
and Hell will not recieve them since the wicked
might feel some glory over them." And I:

"Master, what gnaws at them so hideously
their lamentation stuns the very air?"
"They have no hope of Death," he answered me,

"and in their blind and unattaining state
their miserable lives have sunk so low
that they must envy every other fate.

No word of them survives their living season.
Mercy and justice deny them even a name.
Let us not speak of them: look and pass on."

I saw a banner there upon the mist.
Circling and circling, it seemed to scorn all pause.
So it ran on, and still behind it pressed

a never-ending rout of souls in pain
I had not thought death had undone so many
as passed before me in that mournful train.

-Inferno, Canto 3, Lines 30-54. (Modern Library 1996, John Ciardi: Translator)

In The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, Dante and Vergil visit the Vestibule of Hell, the final resting place of the opportunists. After passing under that gateway to hell, reading the inscription "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here," Dante states that he had not thought death had undone so many when speaking of the number of opportunists that he sees. This is a unique statement in all of the Divine Comedy, and implies that the number of souls here vastly outnumber the souls in all other places. Dante is saying that there are far more opportunists than fiends or righteous men. The vestibule of hell holds a harsher punishment than all the true circles of hell. The opportunists will not be ressurected at the apocalypse, and will never be granted paradise, repose, or even oblivion. This is the source of the common mis-quote attributed to Dante:

"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain neutrality in times of moral crisis"

Dante never explicitly made that statement, but has implied it in his Divine Comedy.

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