I remember a moment of peaceful clarity:
It took place in the Catalina Mountains outside of Tucson, Arizona. I saw an electric monsoon form over the Sonoran Desert in the distance, with the sun tossing rays through gold-silhouette, towering clouds above. Behind me stood forest-patched, rocky peaks and a sapphire blue sky. Around me, oak trees and boulders that looked like the effigies of Man.
I was with a friend of mine, and no one else was there. It struck me as tragic that we could be the only two in the entire Tucson Metropolitan Area who would be standing at that spot, enjoying the full cycle of Earth, weather, and life emanating from the grounds beneath our feet. It was stunningly beautiful, but as are most things in life, painfully trivial, because eventually we would have to descend from the mountain and allow our Electric Monsoon to be forgotten amongst the many monsoons of our past and future.
Life goes on day by day. It does not have time to wait for Beauty. Perhaps it’s up to us to make time for it, by stepping away from Life and catching the next train for Tomorrow. I’d like to think Life will still be there, waiting for me.
I remember thinking, while looking at that Electric Monsoon, that perhaps Beauty is not a commodity that some things are fortunate to have and some things are unfortunate to lack. Perhaps Beauty is a universal constant within all things that exist, and it is us, We the Fallible Humans, who are unable to properly perceive Beauty, and are thus unable to appreciate things for being as beautiful as they really are. Ugliness is really just our own inability to rightfully attribute Beauty to something we don’t understand.
And goodness knows, we don’t understand.
Flowers are beautiful.
Are barren desert floors beautiful?
Love is beautiful.
Can hate be beautiful?
Tragedies are beautiful, but why?
Who are we to judge Beauty if we can barely perceive it? Perhaps living is about learning to appreciate all things, concrete and abstract, for the Beauty inherent within them, whether they be great or terrible, lovely or hideous. Maybe mastery over understanding Beauty is what leads us to peace, or to forgiveness.
Shortly thereafter, I discovered I had bed bugs.
Bed bugs are the most repulsive, invasive pests I hope you will never have to encounter. They will ruin your life.
If you’re not familiar with bed bugs, they aren’t microscopic creatures that go unnoticed like I initially assumed. Bed bugs are huge, grotesque, apple seed-sized parasites that shit your own blood all over your bedding, laying eggs in your outlets, your carpet, and your electronics, spreading to the corners of your living space such that you no longer feel that your home is truly yours.
Yes, bed bugs make you feel like a stranger in your own house. Even after you think you’ve eradicated them, you lie in bed thinking about them, feeling them phantom-crawl all over your skin, tossing and turning, and slapping your skin in panic at all odd hours of the night, sprinting out of bed to turn on the light so you can search every square inch of your sleeping space for what you swear might have been there.
It seemed poetically ironic to me that I should, so shortly after believing everything in the universe to be exquisitely beautiful, encounter the Devil Himself shitting all over my box-spring.
Let me tell you: bed bugs are a psychological condition. It starts out as insomnia. Every tickle on your skin keeps you awake. It becomes paranoia. Every speck of dirt on the kitchen floor forces you to fall to your knees to inspect it closer. Every seed, every crumb, every clod of dirt reminds you that you might not be sleeping alone. The sleeplessness and paranoia combine for chronic daytime anxiety. For a short time, I stopped hanging out with friends.
Hey, wanna come over tonight? Oh, by the way, I have bed bugs.
Hey, wanna come over tonight? Oh, by the way, I have gonorrhea.
Hey, wanna come over tonight? Oh, by the way, I have leprosy.
Eventually, the battle against the Idea of bed bugs (since the bed bugs had been seemingly eradicated) became a battle over my sleep schedule (because the insomnia had pushed it back quite a bit), which in turn spun into an out-of-control arms race fought with drugs and liquor.
12:00 am – Get in bed.
12:01 am – “Oh God, I felt a tingle on my arm.” Flail about. Turn on lights, inspect bed.
12:15 am – Get back in bed. Toss and turn.
1:00 am – Get out of bed. Inspect bed. Take an herbal sleeping pill. Get back in bed.
1:45 am – Get out of bed. Inspect bed. Take a melatonin pill. Get back in bed.
2:30 am – Get out of bed. Inspect bed. Take a drowsy antihistamine. Get back in bed.
3:00 am – Get out of bed. Inspect bed. Take a diphenhydramine pill. Get back in bed.
3:45 am – Get out of bed. Inspect bed. Take a shot of vodka. Get back in bed.
9:30 am – Wake up. Cuss. Roll out of bed. Pee. Put pants on backwards. Stare at bowl of breakfast cereal for twenty minutes trying to make sense of it all. Coffee. Fall asleep on toilet. Chase the bus. Curse the sky.
That oh so beautiful sky.
Eventually, as the conflicting chemical substances were vying for my attention, my body and mind itself became the battleground. It’d be all too easy if caffeine won out against depressants or vice versa, but what happens is more of a Torched-Earth type of warfare that leaves your ego tweaking out on the Cliffs of Reality.
“Hey Quack, how’s it going?”
“Great! Fine! Okay. Fantastic! Oh God, it’s terrible, shoot me now! Life is shitty shitty shitty. Really good though! It’s good to see you! I love you, will you go out with me? No wait, I didn’t want to say that! I was just kidding! It’s not you, it’s me. Find help. Oh please, find help. No wait, I’m fine. How are you? Nice weather, eh?”
I recall a couple nights ago tossing and turning from the thought of bugs, feeling my body deadening under the influence of sleeping supplements, reflecting on my mind slowly losing its grip on reality in the twilight of consciousness, and how the bugs have influenced my daily life. Suddenly, thoughts of people entered my mind, and I began to think about all the things I ever wanted to say to individuals and didn’t, because I was afraid, because I didn’t have time, because I was too sane to blurt out how I really felt, because I was too busy making excuses as to why I can’t be more sincere with my emotions around people about whom I care.
I lay there thinking about a project I had been intending on pursuing – writing little notes to people in or out of my life and keeping them in a binder for who-knows-when. They would say things I would be too shy to say in person, perhaps because they would be too schmalzy. Things like, “Dear [Woman in my Past], Every time I hear the opening chorale to Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture, I think of you.” “Dear [Old Coworker], Your enthusiastic pursuit of knowledge was always an inspiration to me. I’m sad we stopped keeping in touch, because I never didn’t have a good time around you.” “Dear [Acquaintance of my Present], You remind me a lot of how I once was, and that’s why I ask you so much about your life – because I want to guide you when you encounter experiences during which no one guided me.”
But (lying in bed), I thought, What if I never make this binder? What if these thoughts get carried to the grave, and no one has a chance to know that I think about them, years after, years during, constantly, evermore?
Is that beautiful or terrifying? To live a life without confessions? Without sincerity? Internally agonizing over imagined conversations that never happened or will never happen?
What if I die tonight, in my sleep, never having made this binder?
I stumbled out of bed, drugged and half-conscious, and on a back of old sheet music, I wrote this: “Thank you for being a part of my chaos. May we continuously strive to perceive the trivial as the grand, the significant, the glorious, lest we forget that all that is great was once a chance unlikelihood, a speck in the vastness of the cosmos. All my life, the strangers, the friends, the living, dead, forgotten, remembered, may we recognize the imperceivable, phenomenally beautiful and expansive universe within our souls. Forgive each other and appreciate the trivial.
P.S. This is not a suicide note.”
Then I went back to bed, and lay there thinking, “Okay, bed bugs. You may have your turn. Feast, my little bed mates, feast on my life’s blood. I am at peace with you, for I am but a bed bug myself, on the soil of this Earth, itself but a bed bug in the Solar System. Call it not empathy, but justice for which I allow you to feast, for outside of me is a world that I do not understand, about which I can only strive to understand, and outside of you is a world that you do not understand, and that world is me.”
And finally, as I shut my eyes, for a split second, I saw bed bugs as beautiful.
Of course, I still want to kill them all mercilessly, but perhaps that, too, is beautiful in its own perverse, psychotic way.