Monday, May 16, 2011



Men who allow themselves to become nothing, to slip out of the tender casuistry of history, have no place in the world. My situation was grave: I was nothing. At least a hole has a framing perimeter: one can peer through it to more soothing vistas. But nothing exists as a nonentity. It hangs in the non-air, non-expectant, un-drenched, non-honeycombed, ahistorical --- simply empty.

A pulsing yellow light bulb sat squarely in a recessed overhead light fixture. Sitting in the bunk the dullness of my state spread over me in widening hazy fingers. Honestly they were right, Gavin, Clare, my superiors. There was nothing to do with nothing except to go back to the States.

After I was fished out of the Thames, only Gavin was classy enough to see me. He was as chipper as ever, pretending to be envious that I was going home while the rest of them would toil it out until the end of the war. He tried to look calm and reassured. But I knew that he was glad to finally get rid of me.

For the productive phase of my participation in the Second World War was concluded. What could I do? How to even find the words to articulate a dead-end state? I didn’t even want the memories. I did not want to remember the ozone smell of Clare’s unwashed hair. The peppermint she used as shampoo. The gray-green tint of her gnomic skin, the endless concentric circle of our conversations about psychological versus ontological reality.

Lying in my cabin berth the sea rocked and pitched ever so slightly. I could measure the subtle undulations by the line of water visible, like a carpenters leveling plain, from the porthole window. I had removed my insignia. My dog tags were pitched into the Atlantic. I had carefully smudged my name from the lip of my shirt pocket. I was aware of the date. It was my thirty-fifth birthday and for an young-old chronophobiac such as myself I knew what the implications of such a mid-way point was. If I lived to seventy, half my life was over. It was year zero for Langley Vandemark. I had reached the penultimate act and was ready to finish the drama. I had reached the perimeter gate, and everything concluding afterwards would be a mere dance with shades out on the broad, flat plateau.

A word to the wise: one should be careful when blaming outside events for our own inner transformations. How do we know that there is a cause and effect relationship between these two slippery and notoriously difficult to grasp concepts: mind and body? I was being sent back to America because of my increasingly erratic behavior; the diagnosis, nervous exhaustion. But was that a correct etiology?

What if it is mere synchrony? What if our inner life obeys its own dictates? How do we know, when we turn out the lights at the end of the day, that the day held sway over our over taxed minds? For nothing escapes the leveler. And I was no longer culpable. My thoughts and behavior were no longer concerted. My thinking and emotions had unhinged and uncoupled and were separable entities. All had come loose from its moorings. I could hear them rattle and disengage, orbit about me for an instant and then mercifully disappear. What remains?

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