Heart Shaped Box

What Becomes of Man

The landscape is in turmoil. A wreck of what was once an ideal habitat for all living creatures. Even back in the days of landfills and pipelines, mountain mining and permafrost melting, when all they could seem to think of was a picture as big as the bottom dollar. We didn’t know how good we had it. How good we could have it, if feeling wasn’t outcast by the mind and the pseudo intellect of societal standards. Replacing intuition and compassion with a pack mentality based in personal greed. We tear each other down with the contradictions of our supposed purpose. The fight for survival, but with no primal sense. We are animals trapped in a cage we now call earth. There will be no freedom. No salvation. Their pointless planetary explorations doomed from the start. All they did was further pollute the atmosphere with the noxious fumes of their phallic creations while children starved and guns killed those who wouldn’t be silenced by the virus.

It pounds against my chest. A ticking time bomb. A reminder of our pressing mortality. We will never see the forest for the trees. All the bees are dead. People roam the streets, despondent zombies unable to think for themselves, but thanks to the revolutionary upheavals of iniquity’s vendetta, they have to. It is the repercussion of people being pushed too far, left feeling they have no other recourse than to push back in exactly the same manner. Meeting the violence, the villainy, and the noise with more until all leadership was wiped out.

There will be no requiem.

I remind myself of these truths, hoping to come to terms, but, you see, I can’t help myself. It doesn’t matter how many layers I wear to protect my skin from the harsh rays of the sun, or the erratic chill of the winds, it sways and it persists in its countdown. My heart-shaped locket. A blessing, but my curse.

“Hey, you look familiar.”

I cannot see the face of the man who lays down this accusation. It is covered by a large piece of cloth. Most don’t like to take their chances nowadays. The train car is packed with bodies, but he makes his way closer. Unconcerned with the fact that anyone at any point might consider the light fabrics that drape his body a commodity in the compact quarters of our destination. We are on a track over fifty-feet high. It would be no big thing to push and grab. It might even be considered one of the more polite pillaging’s, especially regarding his race. Why do we think it is easier to kill one color, one religion, one gender, predilection, feature or demeanor than another? When the deed is done, the blood stains the same. Each one of us granted the chance to put the inhuman in humanity’s fate.

I do not mind that he moves towards me, his intense gaze holding mine in unwavering connection, but it is how he maneuvers on the outside of them that disconcerts me. Confident in a way that almost dares them to try it. Yet not one of them so much as attempts a dirty look at his inconvenient progression. Who is this who approaches me… recognizes me?

Finally, I break our connection. People are moving now, obstructing our view, in a rush to get out before the next wave swarms in search of a seat, or worse. I exit the platform, free of another burden.   

The terrain is sandy but moist. Environment knows no climate anymore. It is as nomadic as its inhabitants. Coexisting with each other’s inflicted destruction, we keep pace in our race to extinction.

Are those footsteps?

The market is always crowded. We may not have commerce, but we still have needs, bartering our goods in a way that would make Jesus rethink his sacrifice. Can he see us now, I wonder? But faith is not my talent. I have the taint of another stigma’s path to walk.     

A path I now rush down. What am I afraid of?

I turn down a side path. It is narrow and dim. Not much light can get through the crumbling buildings’ teepee collapsed dependency on one another. I do not look up as I hurry through the broken concrete cobblestone of this metropolis graveyard. I don’t want it to happen again, despite knowing better. One cannot outrun fate. Cannot stop time from happening, or the events brought to life by the sinister pendulum keeping beat on my heart.

Why do we fool ourselves by thinking this time might be the exception? This person we find ourselves drawn to a departure from all the others when we ourselves have not changed? I cannot change. I am not meant to. At first I tried to be the change I wanted to see in the world, but that is not my purpose. I am a reminder. I am a lifeline. I am the last.

I take a sharp left and go into a building whose door bears a red streak. Babies cry, people cough and sneeze, uncovered and unperturbed by proximity. They shit and they sleep in the same corners. Personal freedom, if only we could have seen what it looks like in the bigger picture. One gesture of goodwill and community can make all the difference, and that is the gift of the individual. Singular but never alone, pieces of the great divine’s consciousness. We are a collective capable of greatness when we come together. A tide that moves things forward, but we become chaotic ripples when trapped in the defensive struggle to maintain our own course. Wayward in focus, we force things to stand still as they are being torn apart.

No one would follow me here… unless…

I freeze, paralyzed by the realization I have walked straight into the hands of my condemnation. Mask still on, his eyes smile as he looks up from the basket of necessities he is handing out to the obstructionists, sparkling like he has won an optimistic bet with himself.

“Well, I hope you got to wherever you needed to be in such a hurry.” He says as he comes to stand before me. “I’m Isiah.” 

“What do you want?” 

He nods, respecting the abnormality of our interaction.

“I would like to show you something.”

Resigned to my role, I allow him to lead me to our fate. We walk through the courtyard of an old tenement structure where I am surprised to see children at play. How long has it been since I’ve seen such a novelty? I do not ask, of course, but follow his lead up the steps, when another man appears in similar apparel. In fact, they all wear layers and masks of white and dusty browns.

“Who is this?” he asks as he looks behind us, then around.

“Someone from the transport.”

“Are you sure it’s safe to bring her here?”

“Chris,” He puts a reassuring hand on the man’s shoulder. “It’s as safe as anywhere else.”

The man nods in quick succession.

“It’s just,”

“Nothing. Life is what we make of it.”

After slapping him on the back, we proceed to a top floor dwelling where I am amazed to find the walls covered in photographs and papers. I move forward, reaching out to the events and memories I thought lost. I turn to him, but words escape me.

“Incredible, isn’t it?” He walks towards me, removing mask. “I knew I had seen you before, but I now realize it was on more than one occasion.”

He begins pulling photo after photo from the wall.

“The Twin Towers, The Tulsa massacre, Hurricane Katrina, Covid-19, The flu Pandemic, The Holocaust, storms, famines, trials, genocides, purges, wars…” He stops his frantic gathering of evidence to look at me. “How is it possible?”

In all of my years, I have never found myself accused of the truth. I have never spoken it out loud before and expect to be ridiculed and torn up, repressed, so I do not make the impression that what I say could be anything less than treason to the human spirit. I have seen it happen many times before. Yet I have no other recourse.

“Because I am all that is left.”

He does not understand, but for a moment, I think I see a desire to. I hold my heart in my hand and take a step towards him. He pulls back, afraid.

“When the world was born, and we were but scattered pieces of light meant to bring presence to life, the worst of what that could mean was kept hidden, untapped in our hearts from inexperience. What was fear, hate, evil, in the eyes of purpose?”

His posture shifts, intrigued by my words. An intellect at work to comprehend the implications of what is being said. I dare to step closer. He does not retreat.

“But our hearts were torn open by our need to be resounding. To not only survive, but comparatively, and thus the individual was born and what was once seen as consciousness multiplied became divided.”    

“You cannot be serious.” 

 He knows I am.

“That’s it then? The cycle of life? We create to destroy, and what is born innocent remains destined to be corrupted?” He shakes head. “I can’t believe that is all there is.”

“And that is why I am here, and there.” I point to the photos. 

I put my heart in his hands. He is captivated as things instantly become clearer.

“She’s a witch!”

 Chris has barged in.

“She’s the reason for all these tragedies. I recognize her, Isiah.”

Isiah moves forward to get between the frantic individual and me.

“Chris,”

“Think about it, if we destroy her, it can all go back to the way it was.”

“We can never go back.” I say.

“Even now she speaks of our extinction!”

“She is right, Chris.”

Chris is winded by this perceived betrayal.

“Why would we want to go back, look at where it has brought us?”

Again, Chris nods manically.

“Sure, sure, but life was better than. We had homes, we had food, we had guarantees.”

“Not everyone.”

It is in this moment the color of their skin hangs heavy and apparent in its distinction. Chris suddenly straightens, bravado rising. He feels the entitlement of his ancestors.

“The world has gone to hell and you are going to stand here and tell me we are better off?”

Isiah does not falter, does not shy away from the tension. Does not rise to its infuriating refrain nor cow to the threat of its dissident tendency to oppress by any means. 

“I am saying there is better still.”

“How? When? When will it get better?”

“When we no longer consider ourselves the victims to the consequences of our actions or rise to violence every time we are called to face it.”

“She is a plague.”

“She is one person.”

“Haven’t you always said that is all it takes?”

Isiah is struck by the use of his own words against him, but in a way that opens his mind further to their meaning… and ours.

“Yes… but for its inspiration and what it invokes in the collective. We choose whether it is for fear or…”

“Survival!”

Chris lunges at me with a jagged piece of crafted glass. Isiah has no time to respond with strategy, it is only through intention he is able to get between us and take the glass for me.

“You did this!” Chris says.

“No.” I kneel beside Isiah. “You chose to.”

He cannot take the truth and runs from the room in denial. I look at Isiah, still conscious and smiling. 

“Will I survive this?”

“My friend,”

“I know, I know,”

With difficulty, he readjusts himself, nuzzling head upon my lap as a grateful tear falls from his eye and he sets his hard jaw, more determined than ever to keep the faith.

“There’s always… Pandora.”

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