A Danyael story
Start at the beginning of the Danyael series
That evening found me pacing back in forth in my kitchen. The angel was perched atop the table, watching me. Its head moved back and forth tracking my movement. The tape and piping covering its wings was fresh. I'd replaced it when I got home, as some of it had torn free on the trip to the church. The angel hadn't complained at all. No screams and whines, just a half-lidded stare, occasionally blinking.
Cleanse myself. I wasn’t really sure what that meant. I didn’t think the angel was talking about physically bathing, but I didn’t rule it out. I also didn’t believe that an angel would come to Earth in order to tell one dude to take a shower. There was obviously something more to this whole thing. I certainly FELT dirty with the angel looking at me. I could feel the sedentary and apathetic life I’d led leak from my pores, staining me with a sticky residue. Every time I’d taken the easy and cowardly road in my life seemed to be a streak on me; each mark a heavy weight to seemed to pull me down and make it more difficult to move. So I paced back and forth. I think I was trying to build up some kind of momentum – gain the inertia I needed to push my leaden legs up the mountain called Change. As I paced I could feel the pressure of the angel’s gaze build upon me, pushing to do SOMETHING. At last it became too much and I fled into the closest room; my roommates’.
I turned on the light and sat on their bed. The zebra stripped comforter was pulled square over their bed – something they only did when going on vacation or after washing the sheets. They were a bit more together than I was, or at least trying to be. I had kept a single steady job longer than either of them, but their job hopping was career based. My employment was based on a sense of apathy and helplessness rather than any kind of faith in the company. The roommates had a sense of progress and evolution in their lives.
On their bookshelf sat a row of self-help and self-exploration books. They weren’t the type to take anything from them as Gospel, but after graduation from college and being dumped into dead end wage slave jobs, they’d been looking for any edge to try and improve their situation. Apparently they’d found something in the books, or in themselves, because they were light years beyond where they started in just five years. I’d always teased them about the books, finding no value in the literary equivalent of a Richard Simmons tape. Back at the beginning, right out of college, I’d viewed myself as a shark. Sharks haven’t changed significantly in millennia, having achieved a nearly perfect ecological balance early on in their development. I thought I’d done all of my growing and changing early, and was ready to just coast through life. I’d been coasting all right, just like a sedate brontosaurus eating his shoots and leaves. And now the big asteroid was here, and it had wings.
I sighed and flopped back onto the king size. The ceiling was covering in glow in the dark stars – the leftovers from the previous tenants. They were in all of the bedrooms. We kept meaning to take them down, but never seemed to get around to it. The dull soft green of the plastic cosmos stared back at me impassively. The stars and planets soaked up the light of the dim incandescent sun, ready to light the darkness. I took off my shoe and tossed it at the light switch. I got lucky and the light flicked off, leaving me to stare at the constellations of the house’s ghosts.
Under the light of the stars, I tried to search my soul for darkness. I’d never killed anyone. Check that right off the list. I’d never stolen anything significant. In the third grade I’d swiped some of Chucky Littleton’s baseball cards, but I didn’t think that would count against me with Saint Peter. I’d certainly coveted my neighbor’s wife, but I’m not sure there’s a person alive who hasn’t done some coveting of Angelina Jolie at some point in her career. I didn’t worship false idols (unless you counted my original line Star Wars figs). I didn’t work on the Sabbath. Ever since that episode of the Simpsons I said “Jebus” instead of “Jesus”. I called my dad once a week. I wasn’t sleeping with anyone, much less committing adultery. That just left the big one.
Watching the motion of the stars above me, I was surprised to discover that I really DID believe in God. It may not sound like a huge Revelation to you, but up until that moment I hadn’t connected the dots at all. An angel in the flesh. Proof of a higher divinity. I had unconsciously steered myself away from any question of God and religion for years, creating a blank space in my world, a deliberate blind spot I had never intended to fill. The question was difficult and painful, so I ducked it. Now that the question had fully thrust itself upon me, I found that the choice had been made for me. The force of the angel in the next room compelled me to believe. The tension I felt at the realization melted away to relief. The question was settled without me having to struggle over it at all. It was a peaceful feeling.
The moment of reverie was disturbed by the sound of my phone ringing. “Sometimes I feel I’ve got to - *clap clap* get away, I’ve got to - *clap clap* run away . . .” Immediately the world once more drew me back from my warm hiding place in my subconscious. I cursed customizable ringtones.
I dug into my pocket and pulled out my phone. The silver clamshell was dingy from being crammed into my pocket with gum wrappers and my waxy black wallet. A corner was dented from where it had bounced out of my pocket while I jogged down the stairs leaving work. It still worked most of the time; I figured I’d replace it when I got a free upgrade sometime on my plan. I flipped it open and pressed it to my ear. “Hi.”
I sat listening to silence in the dark. Every few moments I imagined I could hear a breath, but it might have just been a bit of phone static. I sat under the stars, their dim glow joined by the blue light of my phone, and waited for Alicia to say something. She had called, so I was Damned if I was going to be the one to break the silence. I was still fed up from our last conversation. Concurrently I felt a great fear at saying the wrong thing. It’s strange to be torn between wanting something to be over and dreading its loss. I suppose a lot of people feel that way, but it always paralyzes me. I felt as though I was balanced on the edge of a cliff, and my slightest word could send me plummeting. So I sat without speaking, wondering why she’d called, knowing why she’d called.
It must have been at least a half hour that we sat listening to each other’s digitized silent stares. I think I may have drifted in and out of sleep. Often times when I’m in a stressful situation I feel sleepy, to the point of having a difficult time keeping my eyes open. I long to just let them slide shut and escape the reality in front of me, sliding into a blissful nothing for a while. I probably gave in a little listening to that phone line.
In retrospect, I’m glad phone companies have made evening minutes free for most cell plans. This wasn’t the first time Alicia had called to say nothing. She often would contact me and then expect me to behave as if I’d approached her wanting something. Alicia was always searching for proof that I was thinking of her. She’d call and wait for me to say something, or set arbitrary goal points in her mind that she wouldn’t convey to me. If I didn’t call her by 6pm, I didn’t care. If I didn’t hold her hand while we crossed the street, I was tired of her and wanted out. She would try to leave because she wanted me to stop her. All part of our pattern. We were probably silent on our phone calls more than we were speaking. Who calls someone not to talk to them? Who sits on a silent phone that has called them with nothing to say?
My eyes fluttered open to her voice. “My hands are feeling numb. Do you think I have carpal tunnel?” Her latest job was doing data entry for an escrow agency. It was a lot of typing, and not much human interaction. They were also very forgiving of absences. Alicia moved quickly enough through their files when she was in the office that they didn’t give her a very hard time for the amount of work she missed. It was probably the longest she’d held a job since I knew her.
“I’m not sure. Have you been to a doctor?” I knew she hadn’t. If she went to a doctor the condition would either be real or illusory, neither of which was a state which was good for her in her mind. She’d rather be in the ambiguous area in the middle, have Schroedinger’s wrists for a while, because that would generate the most interest from me. She never seemed to want a solution to her problems, only to have someone care about them.
There was a soft cough, and then a small sigh. “No. I tried a new doctor last month, but I didn’t like him. He hurried me. What kind of doctor hurries you? You’re there for help, you’re not buying groceries. I don’t know why he would be in such a rush. I’m a patient. I’m supposed to have his full attention. I don’t want to go back to him, but I don’t know where to look for another doctor.”
I replied, “Your insurance company should have sent you a book of the doctors who support your coverage plan.” I hadn’t used my own insurance, but I’d kept the book around in case I ever REALLY needed to go. I figured Alicia’s company had a similar setup to SitSurvey. “You can just look through the book and pick one.”
“If I do that I’m just gonna fuck it up like I do everything else. Can you come help me? My wrists really hurt.” I closed my eyes and felt the pit of my stomach drop out. If eating cheese is the epitome of a mouse’s existence, does it mind the trap? The choice lay before me. I could say yes, and be the nice person, and re-ensnare myself into another iteration of the cycle. I could say no and be the jerk, and hang up the phone and be alone in the dark. I took the phone away from my ear and lay in silence, floating on a sea of indecision.
From the dark of the room came a reedy, whispery rasp of a voice. “Cleanse yourself.” It was accompanied by the soft rustle of feathers.
Suddenly my choice was clear before me. Cleansing, true cleansing, had little to do with an immediate washing of anything. Wash a truck while it drives through the mud and the water is meaningless, it only adds to the muck. In order to truly be washed free of that which dirties you, you must break the cycles that create the stain. The cleanest creature in nature is the snake, just after shedding its skin. It emerges from its old, worn and dirty skin fresh and new. No amount of soul searching or good behavior would clean me as long as I continued to live the same soiled and pointless life I’d been leading. An angel had come into my life and told me to clean up my act, literally. An agent of change, the final boot to my ass to get me in motion.
I picked up the phone and spoke slowly and clearly. “No, Alicia. I’m not going to come over. I know you can choose a doctor for yourself. You know that too. If I came over, I wouldn’t be helping you at all, I’d just be enabling you to be dependent on me. It’s time for you to start standing up on your own two feet. I care about you enough that I want to see you do that. So I’m not coming over. I’m not going down this road with you again. Good luck.” And then I hung up.
The phone started ringing again as I got up off of the bed and walked to the bathroom, but I paid it no mind.
I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror. My beard was getting a little wild, and it definitely needed a shaping. I pulled out my electric razor and flicked it on, feeling the steady buzz in my hands. I closed my eyes for a second and pressed the handle to my face, letting the thrum travel up and down my jawbone.
The thing about leaping off a cliff is that after you make the jump, you don’t need to worry about decisions anymore. It was as if the leaden chains I’d wrapped my soul in had been released, and I felt light as a feather. The world felt fresh and new, and I felt the need for sensation. I wanted to shed my skin. So first, I shed my hair.
I trimmed up my beard carefully in the mirror, shaving my cheeks and neck, then putting a guard on the blade and cutting the main course of hair to a uniform length. When I was done I brushed my beard out with wild strokes of my hands through the hair, watching brown springs flick from my face into the sink. I studied myself in the mirror, leaning close and turning my head back and forth. On a whim I turned the razor back on and shaved the rest of my beard. I could feel a bit of a breeze from the ceiling face on my face. It felt chill and clean on the newly bare skin. I wanted more of that feeling, so when my beard was gone, I moved the razor up and began shearing the hair from my head.
The razor wasn’t designed to do much than trim a beard, so when I started going too fast it yanked the hair rather than cutting it. I couldn’t see the back of my head to effectively cut it, so I ran my other hand slowly over it, following the razor’s pass. Every few seconds I would run my hand under a stream of water from the sink to wash the hair away. The sink soon started to clog and drain slowly, loose hairs floating on the surface of the water. When I was finished I turned the razor off again. There was some blood on my head from where I’d pulled hair free, or scratched myself with the razor, but it didn’t hurt very much. I hadn’t missed too much, it looked pretty good for doing it myself I thought. I could still feel the loose hair covering my scalp and neck, so I stripped off my clothes and got into the shower.
The water and soap burned at the gouges in my skin, but it felt almost good. It was like a doctor slapping a newborn to get it to start breathing. The stinging pain fired up my heart and gave me a rush of energy, making me feel alive. I watched the hair and blood wash off of me and swirl down the drain. The process of cleansing felt good. Physically watching myself force my way out of the cocoon I’d trapped myself in for twenty five years was exultation. I scrubbed with soap again and again, rubbing my chest and neck raw, drawing a bit more blood to the surface. I knew I’d bruise from that, always having had delicate skin, but it was like scratching a mosquito bite. You know that you’re going to scratch yourself painfully eventually, but each time you reach for that itch you feel a split second of ultimate fulfillment. I was doing something, I was making a change.
When I got out of the shower and dried myself, I started cleaning up the mess I’d left in the sink and shower. I wiped up the hair and blood, and in doing so, noticed that the sink and tub had gotten fairly dirty even before my electric exfoliation. My energy was still running high, so I ducked under the sink and got out the cleaning supplies and went to work. I sprayed down the tub, watching the soapy bubbles slowly slide along the porcelain. I could see trails left in the wake of the foam, clean patches in the film that coated the sides. I started scrubbing, and when I was done, moved on to the corners of the grout, and then on to the sink.
I realized as I worked that cleaning myself was not enough. Not really. I left stains in the world as I passed through it, and unless I wanted to fall back into old habits and once again poison myself with the apathy and fear that held me back, I needed to clean my surroundings as well. The dirty tub, the loose hairs around the sink, the streaks on the mirror – they were all small symbols of my avoidance issues. I grinned as I washed them away feverishly. I wondered how many self-help books cleaning your bathroom appeared in.
When I was done in the bathroom, I returned to my bedroom. Flicking on the light, I stared at a month's worth of accumulated soda cans. The sight of them made me want to vomit up all of the caffeine and sugar I’d drunk from them – puking so hard I pulled the fact that I ever drank the soda out of the past and got rid of it. I went to the kitchen and got a garbage bag and quickly tossed the aluminum cans into it. Next my laundry went into its basket, and all of the loose change that was spilled across my carpet went into a Sobe bottle on my desk. I stood up to stretch my back and saw my torn poster. Down it came, along with my other posters. Bruce Lee, Kitty Pryde, KISS, Star Wars, all of them torn from the walls and tossed into the garbage bag. I started to toss my Lando Calrissian fig into the bag as well, but couldn’t bring myself to get rid of Billy D.
Everything about my old life disgusted me. So many hours wasted in imaginary realms. Books and television had been my constant companions since a very young age. I learned quickly that the electronic hum of a TV, or the dusty smell of a good book, were excellent ways of escaping the world. I could live through them without having to live at all. I was done with that.
I pulled garbage bag after garbage bag out and filled it with my old things. A few odds and ends I hung on to. Billy D. and Boba Fett. My Best of the Doors cd collection. My copy of Watchmen signed by Alan Moore. My C3PO sheets I tossed. I went from room to room of the house, pulling my books off of the shelves in the living room, grabbing my rpgs in the computer room, my boxes of comics from the basement. All went into the garbage bags, and out to my car. Without the passenger seat, I could stuff it all into my car in one load. I had to turn around and slam my back into the passenger door to get it to close, but it all squeezed in. The only thing that didn’t fit was my television. I got some rope out of our shed and tied that to the roof of the car. Then I drove down to the Walmart a few blocks away and threw all of the bags into the dumpster. I looked at the accruement of twenty-five years of meaningless life, and knew that if I left it there, I’d come crawling back. So, I looked around to see if anyone was watching, and then I siphoned some gas out of my tank into an old coffee cup, tossed it into the dumpster, and set it on fire. When the fire got going, I heaved the TV up to the side of the dumpster and levered it in. I watched the flat panel of the television melt and cave in on itself for a few minutes. Then I got into my car and drove home.
When I got home I pulled my phone out of my pocket again. It had rung off and on for about an hour, and then stopped. I had 4 messages from Alicia. I deleted them without reading. Then I dialed work.
“SitSurvey, Richard speaking. How can I help you?” Rich’s voice was a void of emotion, a measure of absolute professionalism. He sounded neither excited nor bored.
“Hi Rich. I’m just calling to let you know that I’m not going to be in tomorrow. I quit.” When I said it, I knew that I’d wanted to make this call ever since I started working at SitSurvey. Another itch scratched, another small ecstasy.
For the first time ever, I heard some emotion in Rich’s voice. It was surprise, and a bit of sadness. “Oh man. That kind of sucks. I’m gonna miss you, you’re one of the only sane ones around here.” Miss me? We’d never even had a conversation that I could recall. “Why are you leaving?”
I replied, “I’ve just been doing a lot of thinking and I realized I have a lot of shifting priorities right now that I need to attend to. I’m starting to really feel like a changed person, and I need to continue that trend. If I stay there, I’m only going to bounce back.” I could hear him punctuating my pauses with “Mmhhhmmmm”s, and occasionally jostling sounds which I assume were nods.
“Yeah, I’ve been there man. I honestly wish that I’d had the guts to just quit like you’re doing. I was too afraid of not being able to find another job somewhere and then ending up on the street. I wanted to ditch out of here and go to art school for a while, but just couldn’t seem to see how to do it. But hey man, good luck. I’m sure they’ll want you to stop in tomorrow and fill out some paperwork, maybe want to have an exit interview. But, again, good luck. I’ll let Boss know you called and what you said. Gotta get back to it.”
I could hear him disengaging again, pulling the skin of the wageslave back down over the man. It was interesting to me that we had our first almost conversation the last time we spoke. I think we could have been friends. “Ok Rich. Take care and be good.” I hung up.
My dervish of cleaning and washing had left me tired, so even though it was only nine, I decided to turn in. I walked into my room in the dark, not bothering to turn on the light. I could hear the sound of great wings shifting in the dark, and a dim silhouette showed me the angel perched on my headboard. I lay down underneath it, and it leaned forward, blotting out the stars with its wings. As I drifted off to sleep, I could hear making a strange sound, almost a purring lullabye.
Story and image by Nick Bergeron, Copyright 2009