“Every sensation, even pain, is a negation of death.” — Robert E. Howard
Time was the first thing which seemed to fall away from him.
It wasn’t that he stopped aging, or that days and nights didn’t come and go, or the months on the calendar ceased. If anything, the days and weeks, then months and years, were moving too quickly. They swirled around him like water spinning down a drain. Time left only an echo of memory as it gurgled away, along the pipes.
Something in him, it seemed, had sprung a leak. He was hemorrhaging time. He no longer felt that he was passing through time but, rather, that time was passing through him and passing him by.
Waking, some mornings, in those first few moments, he couldn’t recall if it was before or after Christmas. If the season was winter or summer, spring or fall.
He recalled his name, but the aging face that greeted him in the mirror seemed like a parlor trick of the person he remembered being. A Rip Van Winkle mockery as if he had gone to sleep and awakened 20 years later to face a face that was his but not him.
Yet, it was the same face that had greeted him as he brushed his teeth the night before, the same lines and wrinkles, thinning hair and sagging jowls.
He had lost the moorings of time. And that was only the first of it.
His seasons stumbled one upon the other.
They bumped into one another and then bumped into each other and then seemed to thin as the collisions became more like sliding motions, like a dance round and round, until the seasons were no longer even thin but seemed to be one twirling silhouette like the way that separate blades of a ceiling fan disappear into a merry go-round shadow circle.
The many become one and nothing at the same time.
As his seasons blurred, so did the weather accompanying them. He noticed that he no longer shivered in winter or sweat in summer. He was impervious to the chill of a November morning as well as the swelter of an August afternoon.
July might just as well be January to him. He could no longer tell the difference. His days, weeks and seasons ran so close together that one seemed to be the other. His mind could no longer keep them straight so his body quit trying, too.
This continued until he didn’t even realize that he no longer noticed the pleasures of a gentle breeze or the glowing warmth from a ray of sun or the cool joy of a sudden sprinkle.
In slipping out of time, he had become numb.
Food nourished his body but he could no longer distinguish tastes. He gave to charities but he was moved by reflex more than generosity. He said grace out of ritual rather than out of thanks. He said I love you, not from genuine feeling, but because it was the right answer.
From being numb, he had become jaded.
And time continued.
One morning, evening, in winter, summer, perhaps it took a second or maybe over the course of an hour or maybe a week, he cut his upper lip shaving. He touched the trickle of blood with the tip of his tongue. There was no salty taste. No pain. Just the realization that a bit of liquid had seeped into his mouth, and the mirror reporting the cut by the blood trickle of his reflection.
Stanching the cut, he dressed and went outside for his walk. He walked and caught a distant, disjointed sound. Between the ellipses of silence, the bits and pieces he heard were familiar. He walked toward the sound until it was a continuous noise, closer until he could tell it was a song, closer until he knew it was a song that his mother had sung to him so many years ago when he was a boy. And despite the brick walls and closed doors, the choir’s voices carried.
The song filled his ears and his mind. Memories of his mother’s voice supplanted the voices of the choir. He was filled with the song. The song and the memory filled him to brimming and bursting. His heart skipped a beat and thrummed. Tears slid down his cheeks. A wave of sad mourning was followed by a rush of adrenaline then awe, then inspiration.
He felt the cold of the November wind on his face. The cut opened on his lip and he tasted the salty mix of blood and tears as his tongue moved over a forming smile.
There, outside the building, he fell to his knees to give thanks.
As the moment lingered in the now and stretched through the years of the then, and though he knew that this moment too would pass, this moment was his and he was thankful to know again how it felt to be alive.
Dean Poling is an editor with The Valdosta Daily Times and editor of The Tifton Gazette.