Valley of the Eremites

by dschapman

I have lived in this near-total isolation for over a year now. It has done nothing good for me, save prolonging the placid ease with which I do nothing, abstain from everything, and learn how to wallow in resolute insularity. Wallow is what pigs do in the mud. I’m muddy. I keep my hair trimmed short, like I wore it as a young boy in New England when I absolutely hated it, indifferent to it now, and I wear plain fitted clothing to hide me, grey and listless, from the crowd. I lather my face up in mud and try to disappear my features.

Time slept beside me for many of those empty months, but slipped cleanly away from me in others. In the end I am still a stranger to it still, I am still lost without it and desperate to keep it beside me, hungry to fuck it and eat it for breakfast. Time is not something I can ever get enough of. I feel as though I am obsessed, and nobody likes an obsessor. I obsess about time and time doesn’t like me.

I have woken with time and slept without it. In the timeless passage of my dreams I have fawned over women, the woman of my life, and in my waking moments laid half-dreaming, with heavy, lumbering eyelids half-open, and watched the glistening gold shine in low through the window, under the brassy-green leaves and between the pearl-white railings and rafters, panelled in the shades of glass, hanging sweetly from the walls and sliding, down with the sink of the sun across mattresses, over armchairs, under feet and into thin, pale shadows. I walked in the gold and I thought about the women I loved in my life. I thought about love and I knew that I meant it. I loved a girl, I could not show it. I loved a girl who did not love me back. And I even loved a girl who didn’t know me, but would have loved me if she did. I loved the most wonderful girl in the world, and I loved her completely. And above all else I loved God, indiscriminate God, of the all-encompassing, super-imposed like polyurethane rubbed into wood, I can see it dripping down me now, I can see the patina drying into my bones, the thin film of lightness that cascades through the fields and the flowers. Above all else, I loved the world.

A valley is a precious place, not to be taken for granted. I am out of harm’s way until the end of the earth, here, and I am awash in comfort and opulence. My mansion grows bigger, fuller, I shave my face in the morning, I stay current with the latest fashion, research, and art. But none of this is what you would expect it to be, and if it has proven me anything, it has proven me wrong, and all of happiness fraudulent, all of desire delusory, shown me that nothing can ever exist except this. I revile this, and I bathe with it, and I have sex with it when I’m alone at night. There is otherwise little to do. But this is excessive and endless, it consumes me, keeps me fed and quiet. We must not take our blessings so lightly, we will miss them when they’re gone. But in this vale of mammoth clouds the old men die only by murder and suicide, a man can go centuries without leaving his house, without noticing the change in the seasons, the atmosphere, without feeling the rain on the back of his skull, seeping existentially into the folds of his fabric.

Ever since it occurred to me that this experience might kill me, that I might never escape from this most recent descent into the deep, the clear bliss of this selfish, drug-addled perpetuity, the myth of the self-preserved being, the myth of perseverance… I have been looking for a way out. I must do so carefully, cautiously, so as to not tip off anyone that something is wrong. Because people can be touchy, and this environment is very sensitive. Paradise is more easily spoiled than non-paradise, it is in fact all that can spoil at all. But my efforts have let me down. I am smart, I am capable, I admire my face in the mirror some nights, other nights I revile me, but overall I am sufficient – and yet not even I can outrun these capacities. I grow fat. My skin gets warm, my face gets red, my gait slows and my limp worsens. Every moment in which I am not saving my life I am wasting it, and it pains me to waste so much of it, even in near-perfect paradise, especially here in this paradise, silent and tight and consumptive, withholding of us all and jealous.

I wonder if a man can ever get away from himself, or if I am doomed to live like this forever. I feel like I waded too far out as a boy into the big, beautiful sea and I got caught by the tide, and swept into a vortex, what do you call it – a whirlpool, been dragged to the deep – or something like that. There are not enough words to describe the self, self-doubt and denial, self-sufficiency, self-control. I am a monster of the bodily self and I’m listless, I describe to you in listless tones the lifestyle of the modern animal, six feet tall and viral. I carry myself like a puppet on thick, waxy strings to the end of the stage and then, upon turning, carry myself back again to an empty auditorium. Would it make any difference if anyone were watching, or would it just make it worse? I can hear the beating of the drums, the coming of the kings from mountains, the rushing of the crimson sea – I can hear the trumpets of angels, the cacophonous strings of the daylight and wind, the repetitive drunkenness of bluebirds – I indulge in it, I am impressed by it, and then I wonder: well, what now?

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