When Will I Get Back to New York?

I left my dad’s old car, the one I’d driven from Southern California to New Mexico all the way back to the East Coast at my mom’s place in Richmond. My stepdad offered to give me a thousand bucks for it, which was fine with me since I’d gotten it for free, and I needed the money. Then, he offered to drive me from there all the way back up to New York City. But first, he said he’d take me to Virginia Beach so I could say I’d traversed the entire continent.

At the sandy beach’s edge, I took off my brand new motorcycle boots and my socks, rolled my jeans up and touched my right toe into the Atlantic Ocean. In the shore break, the water was so warm. I reflected back on the fact that my dad’s ashes had been scattered across the Pacific. That meant, in a sense, he was there, too. In a sense, he was a piece of this entire earth – in the oceans, the rivers, the lakes, the rain, the soil, the plants, the beasts, me and you. Before we left the Beach that day, I bought a “Virginia Is for Lovers” tee shirt at some tourist shop along the main drag. My intention was to arrive back in New York City after my six-year hiatus wearing that tee shirt completely ironically.

I don’t know if this is true or not anymore. The memory might have been morphed by time, but I remember sitting at a diner in Richmond back in 2002 – the same diner where I’d first recited that poem to James that drove him so crazy when he was going mad about the Occupy movement. I didn’t have enough money to pay for the fried eggs and toast I was eating. My last unemployment check had been spent outlining the still-fresh demon wings tattoo stretching across my back. When I was done, the waitress had me sweep up and roll some napkins to pay her back for the food I’d more or less stolen. But before I finished my meal, while I was sitting in that diner’s wooden booth, I begged the universe, “When will I get back to New York…” where I’d just left, driven down 95 South by my father and stepfather in a rented van from a psych ward in Brooklyn to a psych ward in Richmond. That voice that always comes to me in psychosis simply said – Six years, Gabriel, in six years, you’ll return to New York. That night, I wanted to cry. It seemed like such a long time. Now, like I said, I don’t know if that’s true or not anymore, but I’ve never been able to shake the notion that, all the way back then, that voice knew exactly how long I’d be away from New York City.

Tears of joy welled in my eyes as Downtown Manhattan’s skyline loomed across the horizon out my passenger side window in the distance. A triumphant sense of pride built in my chest as I contemplated all I had endured since I’d last been graced with that magnificent vision. That was when I made up my mind what the first thing I’d do once I set foot back in New York City would be.

After helping me carry some suitcases up, my stepdad left me alone in the overpriced student-housing apartment I was to share with two other grad students in New York’s Stuyvesant Town – one of the original middle income housing projects, built for native New Yorkers returning from World War II but priced out of the market during the intervening years. Today, that massive complex, a town inside a city at the edge of the East Village, has been turned into a high-priced world of luxury condos, but every once in a while, you might still meet an elderly widow, one of the original residents, living there for practically nothing.

I slipped out of that “Virginia Is for Lovers” tee shirt I’d bought at the beach. Irony didn’t fit my mood anymore. In black jeans tattered at their ankles and motorcycle boots, I pulled a wife-beater over my tattooed back. My hair was long and shaggy again just like it had been when I’d left New York the first time. That Hebrew name, “Michael”, stood out above the neckline exactly as it was supposed to. The black demon wings gracing my shoulder blades poked out from underneath. I still remembered the way. Walking over to Avenue A, I crossed all the way down to Houston Street, through the Lower East Side and made my way towards the Williamsburg Bridge into Brooklyn.

When Cora and I were in New York last weekend, we met up with a friend of hers in that same Brooklyn neighborhood across the Williamsburg Bridge. We sat in McCarren park late at night with Cora’s friend and discussed whether she wanted to stay in New York or return to her home in Los Angeles. I related to the dilemma. I’ve been there before many times myself.

As Cora and I walked into Times Square from where the Bolt Bus dropped us off that weekend, Cora turned to me and said, “Sometimes I get so scared one of us is going to die. We’re so happy together. It just doesn’t even seem possible. It would probably be me, though, my youth would make the whole thing that much more tragic.”

There on the sidewalk, I glanced at her sidelong. I’d never contemplated such a possibility, but as soon as Cora mentioned it, I prayed it would never happen. Especially to her. If one of us is to die, it has to be me.  I couldn’t live out my years like Edgar Allan Poe lamenting his lost Lenore. I’ve lived so much of life already. These last six months with her have been some of the best of my life.

Click here to start this story from the beginning.

Or click here to keep going.

There Are Higher and Lower Planes of Existence from Here

Cora and I got into bed last night to watch a video about past lives on YouTube. Some kid was convinced he had a previously existent family on an island off the coast of Scotland. He even knew their names, but we turned off the video before we got a chance to discover if that previous family of this apparently reincarnated child had ever actually existed. It was after 11:00. I sat down on the hardwood floor to set the alarm on my phone so we could wake up in time for work today, and I hesitantly said to Cora, “I know this sounds strange, but do you think I might have been in hell in a previous life?”

“Why would you say that, Gabriel?” Cora asked from where she lay in bed, a concerned lilt in her question’s tone.

“I was just thinking about it. Remember when I told you how during my first ever psychotic break, I believed all the souls in hell had broken free, and it was my job to find them and bring them back to their prisons? Well, it just struck me – What if I’m not supposed to be looking for other souls? What if it was me who broke out of hell this whole time?”

“Gabriel, even if you were in hell, I don’t think you’d be able to get out. I don’t think that’s how it works.”

“I don’t know. I mean… in a lot of reincarnation theories there are higher and lower planes of existence from here. What if I was stuck in some lower plane for a really long time, and that’s why it seems like I’m brand new to this plane? That would explain why my visions of hell are so clear in psychosis…”

“Gabriel, can I ask you a question?”


“I’m more than happy to talk to you about all this like it’s real. Because you know I wonder sometimes whether or not it is. But do you think it’s healthy for you if I help you think even deeper than you already do about these sorts of things?”

I didn’t say anything for a little while. Not because I was angry. I simply had to think about what Cora had just asked me.

Today, I was thinking about it all again as I walked up the block from the Metro to my apartment after work, and the craziest thought infiltrated my mind. For a minute there, I believed maybe I actually was Jesus in a previous life. Not metaphorically speaking, but rather that I was the risen Christ, that I had been beaten and crucified, and the memories still remained latent in my soul. Then, it seemed to me that as Jesus I might have been condemned to hell – either as an avatar of God sent to conquer the nether regions or else as a false prophet who’d sown schismatic seeds. Either way, for that brief second, I believed I had to get this life right. Because I was certain I didn’t want to have to go through any of that ever again.

Click here to start this story from the beginning.

Or click here to keep going.

I Don’t Mind Being Homeless… I Just Don’t Want to Look Homeless

In August of 2008, I decided to drive back to the East Coast from Santa Fe where I had just completed what would become my first master’s. That was the one in Asian Classics. The seeds of this trip had been planted a year earlier, when I’d first flown out to California to pick up my dad’s old car from my stepmom and drive it to New Mexico in the first place. I wanted to complete the cross-country trip. I had virtually no money when I left the Southwest. By the time I puttered into Charlottesville, Virginia and took a stroll across their Downtown Mall that I’d been arrested on more than once, my bank account was even drier than my gas tank. Classes were starting for me in New York in less than two weeks.

At my mom’s in Richmond, she helped me add a new pair of black motorcycle boots to my wardrobe. My last pair had been lost at the end of my time in Charlottesville before my dad had passed away back in 2004. I’d been living in a dead-end room with no lock on either my door or the door outside. Back then, I was so paranoid, I booby trapped my own door with a can of pink paint, thinking if somebody tried opening it, they’d knock over the paint can, and that would wake me up. Apparently, one night while I was passed out, this girl who eventually got away with my Flannery O’Connor books tried getting into my room to tell me something. She panicked when the can crashed, but in all fairness to her, she taught me a Buddhist chant one day out in the mountains. That chant kept me still through many moments of madness.

The paint spilled, but I didn’t wake up, which was probably for the best. Back then, I slept with a knife under my pillow. As out of my mind as I was in those days, who knows what I would have done… The next morning, my two shirts, my one pair of jeans and the motorcycle boots I owned were all pink. I’d bought that pair of motorcycle boots in New York for my 25th birthday right after September 11, 2001. They were a feel-good gift from me to myself. They’d carried me through my last year in that city, brought me back to the streets of Richmond and dumped me out into the mountains of Charlottesville. Now that I was returning to New York, the city I’d always wanted so badly to be my home, I hoped to return the same as I’d originally left. That’s why those boots my mom bought me in Richmond during August of 2008 were symbolic.

Eventually, though, I lost those boots, too. I wore through their heels a year later stalking the streets of Richmond that same summer I was homeless. I wound up trading their holey soles in for a pair of cowboy boots at this second-hand clothing store. The owner of that shop let me pick through her newest clothes each and every day. Because like I told my brethren on the streets, “I don’t mind being homeless. I just don’t want to look homeless.”

Click here to start this story from the beginning.

Or click here to keep going.

The Real Goal Was Enslavement

I made it ten days clean and sober on the streets of Richmond back in 2009. Then, the vampires took over the city again. I believed the whole metro area was a massive sex slave factory. The women I saw on the streets, their brains were infected by some zombifying concoction. They unwittingly waited only to be shipped off into the possession of the wealthy masters who’d come in town that very weekend to choose their respective prizes, who walked side by side with their future possessions at that precise moment, pretending to be interested in courtship, but it was all a twisted game. The real goal was enslavement.

Not knowing what I was supposed to do, I strolled down the street wanting to scream out against the horror I was witnessing. I beat my fists against my head. Only those of us who were homeless weren’t part of this sick charade. Some guy I didn’t know shuffled up to where I meandered along. He said, “Hey man, you wanna split this rock with me?” In his palm a plastic-wrapped crack flake lay revealed.

As the sunlight burned my sweaty neck, I knew it was the will of God for me to smoke that rock. Maybe, I needed the strength of crack cocaine to do what came next. Maybe, I needed to be fucked up to set this crazy world straight. I said, “Sure, man. I guess it’s about that time.” In two months, I would have had four years clean.

We wandered off the beaten path and settled down in a little clearing not too far from where an occasional car whirred up the toll road. There were dirty clothes, broken bottles and fiery remnants scattered around. It might have been his sleep spot. He broke that flake into a stem, sparked a cheap lighter and damn, man, did we smoke that rock.

“You good?” he asked me.

I came zooming out of the bushes back onto the sidewalk. My eyes popping out of my skull, my veins breaking through my neck, my teeth chewing through one another as if their enamel were cud, I found a street party going on down at the old 19th century slave block turned 21st century farmer’s market. Somehow, I scammed myself a wrist bracelet for the all-you-can-drink Budweiser.

The sky grew dark over Richmond’s bar district. The stars were revealed more so than in Manhattan. I swerved back up Main Street. The sidewalk newspaper dispensers were driving me insane. They sold nothing but lies. I turned to some city kids laughing and sharing cigarettes on the corner. “Watch this,” I told them.

From a running start, growling something unintelligible, I shoved every single one of those dispensers in front of me right into the street. A horn honked. Somebody wanted my attention. I walked into the middle of the traffic and started yelling at all the cars to “go the fuck around me.” Horns blared. People yelled. One driver eventually decided to call my bluff. We stared each other down as if in some sort of Hollywood showdown – my forehead to his bumper like the bull facing a matador. I hopped on top of his hood and ran the entire length of his car laughing and stomping as hard as I could.

“When I woke up the next morning in jail, the sheriff told me I sure as hell was a lot nicer when I wasn’t drunk.”

“I’d say so,” Luc laughs. We’re sitting out on a picnic table behind our office. They’ve banned smoking on the building’s balconies. Luc’s still vaping, but I’m back on cigarettes pretty much full time, except when I’m with Cora. She knows I smoke. It’s hard not to smell the sweetly scorched leaves staining my fingers and lips. But I don’t want to smoke around her. The only shot I’ve got at ever quitting for good is if I keep at least one part of my life completely tobacco-free.

It started about three weeks ago, when my manager told me the company might have to let me go at the end of the summer. My writing simply isn’t converting enough paying customers. They’re giving me one last chance¸ but it’s already July. I’ve had a hard time being at the office. Thoughts of the many trajectories my life could have taken consume me. I smoke to forget. It’s all I’ve got left.

“I can’t even believe you remember all that,” Luc adds. “You must have been pretty messed up.”

“I don’t really remember it. I have vague recollections of being surrounded by the police that night, but I was in a blackout by the time it all started. Those kids on the corner found me out on an island in the James River a couple weeks later and told these guys I was sharing a bottle of whiskey with that story. ‘Man, you’d never believe what we saw this crazy motherfucker do. He ain’t scared of nothing…’ they said.”

“You’re lucky you didn’t get hurt,” Luc mentions.

“Not that night,” I say, “But I got the shit beaten out of me a bunch of times that summer. I didn’t mind though. I’d seen this lecture on Tantra during my first master’s degree, the one in Asian Classics. The professor who gave that lecture talked about these Tantric yogis who’d welcome being beaten. They believed they could steal somebody’s merit if they could make that person lash out at them. Then, whatever creative power the other person had harnessed throughout their lives would be released and transferred into the object of their aggression – the yogi himself. It turned the yogis into gods. That’s what I thought I was doing that summer, becoming a god. So I never fought back. Anytime anybody attacked me that summer, I just covered myself as best I could and took the beating. I remember thinking, though, back in Santa Fe, after I heard that lecture, that if the yogis were right, if getting mocked and beaten gave them more creative power, then what happened to Jesus when they crucified him? Maybe the suffering of his passion actually turned him into God.”

Click here to start this story from the beginning.

Or click here to keep going.

My Grandmother Always Told Me My Aura Was Indigo

Last week, a friend of Cora’s read our auras for us from the backseat of Cora’s car. She told Cora hers was deep red. Mine was emerald green. “I just see people as colors,” Cora’s friend told us. As a child, my grandmother always told me my aura was indigo. The last time a psychic tried to see it, she’d told me it was non-existent, black. At that point in time, I was practically on the streets in Brooklyn, high as the stratosphere most days and blacked out like a winter sky most nights. The last psychic Cora and I went to see didn’t say anything about my aura. Instead, she focused more specifically upon my spiritual past.

Cora and I had gone down to Georgetown that night to get hamburgers at this spot Cora really likes. She considers herself a hamburger connoisseur, and thus far, she’s proven herself right. While we were eating, we thought it might be nice to go see Disney’s Maleficent that night. Both of us are huge fans of that particular character, and the idea of a whole movie dedicated to the wicked sorceress was very enticing. However, the only show we could get tickets to didn’t start for another three hours. We decided it was time for us to visit the psychic we’d been talking about going to since we first started dating.

One night, very early in our relationship, our entire date turned into an attempt to discover the best psychic in Dupont Circle, but we never found one who was still open and available. We decided the universe had determined that wasn’t the right night for us to visit a psychic at all.

In Georgetown, as soon as we made up our minds, we walked right past a billboard stating there was a “psychic upstairs.” When we buzzed her door, she told us to go get some cash and come back in a half an hour. That’s exactly what we did. We sat outside her door until she came out and asked who wanted to go first. Cora did. She’d never been to see a “real” psychic before. While I visit psychics as often as a lapsed Catholic goes to church. They’re the religion I grew up with as a child. Like with any childhood religion the world has destroyed for you, I don’t believe in them anymore, but I can’t shake the notion that what they say very well may be true. Whenever I’m at a crossroads in life, I always wind up getting my tarot cards read.

Cora came out of the psychic’s with a dazed look in her eye. It was my turn. In the low, somber light of red bulbs and beaded table cloths, the psychic read my cards. But it was one question she asked about my past that proved the most compelling. Midway through our session, she turned to look me straight in the eye and said, “Now, tell me about the Satanism.”

I admitted it was something that had attracted me as a child. I’d been hurt by my parents’ divorce and wanted revenge upon the entire world.

“You awoke some very dark forces with that,” she said to me. “They still cling to you today.”

I was stunned. How could she have known about my history with black magic just from looking at me and flipping over some cards. When I left, Cora asked, “So what did you think?”

“That was weird,” I said. “I think she might really be psychic.”

“I know. I thought that, too,” Cora said. She told me what the psychic had revealed about her, that she wants lots of kids (“But ten is too many,” the psychic had admonished her. Apparently, to Cora’s nervous laughter since that’s a secret fantasy Cora has kept hidden from almost everybody), that she was born in the winter and she’s very close to her family. But the thing that really shook me is the psychic also told Cora she’s a warm, happy soul and I’m much too dark a figure for her to ever be happy with.

At Cora’s last week, after we dropped off her friend who read our auras for us, we started doing some research of our own.

“So what do you think? Are you emerald green or indigo?” Cora asked me, our phones still in our hands open to various psychic websites.

I shrugged. “Indigo sounds like me when I was younger. I can see how I’d be emerald now. I’ve heard auras can change color over time.”

“What are indigos supposed to be like?” Cora asked.

“They were a big deal in the seventies. Practically every kid was an ‘indigo’ child, fresh out of somewhere and brand new to this plane, the harbingers of some future world,” I said.

“That makes sense. You seem like a new soul.” Cora laughed. “I think I’m an old soul.”

“Oh, really?” I smiled. “I don’t even know what all that means.”

“Well, let’s look it up,” Cora said. She found this website that, as far as I could tell, equated the age of a human soul with some physical variant.

“That’s bull shit,” I scoffed.

“What’s bull shit?” Cora asked.

“The way they talk about souls. There’s no linear progression to the soul.”

“I don’t think that’s quite what they’re saying, Gabriel.”

“That’s not what I learned in my psychosis.”

“What?” Cora wondered with a shake of her head.

I tried laughing my statement off. “I mean, what I believed when I was in psychosis was that souls were eternal and that I’ve returned from somewhere else to teach this plane something. I’m not brand new here, but now I’m stuck. And the problem is no one’s listening. How am I supposed to teach people who think they already know everything?”

“What are you talking about, Gabriel?”

I grew serious again, “I know it sounds crazy, and I know that what happens to me in psychosis isn’t real, but for years, my spirituality, my whole life, was based on it. Even before I ever had a psychotic break. My first break… I’d been pushing myself so hard to it, trying to discover what exists on the other side. And then, after this last break in Richmond, I pretend like none of it’s real. Because that’s the only way I can live in this world – to believe that everything that formed my spiritual existence simply can’t be true, which means everything I ever believed is worthless. So what’s left? Atheism? Nihilism?”

“I don’t think I understand, Gabriel.”

I looked at her. She could tell I was angry for some crazy reason, and she could tell I was hurt by an even crazier reason. She wanted to understand what I was talking about so madly so badly. I slid closer to her on the couch and put my arm around her shoulder. I softened my tone. I could feel my eyes open up from angry slits. “That’s okay,” I said. “I don’t really want you to. I’m sorry I got all worked up. That was crazy. Truth is if I wanted to live in a psychosis, I never would have come off the streets. I never would have gotten clean again. I wouldn’t be working the job I have today, and I’d be incapable of trying to build a relationship with you. My psychosis is the world I lived in for 15 years, and I simply can’t live there anymore. Sometimes, that really hurts.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever understand, Gabriel.” Cora looked at me. “Is that okay with you?”

“Yeah, it is,” I said. “In fact, not understanding that piece of me is probably the best thing both of us could ever hope for.”

Click here to start this story from the beginning.

Or click here to keep going.

As the City Lights Burned the Nighttime Sky Bright

I stabilized while smoking cigarettes on the porch of a halfway house in October, 2009. I knew I had a job. I was laying brick patios for $8.50 an hour, but I was supposed to be teaching an Intro to Critical Thinking course at a small college in Northern New Jersey. Somehow, the school year had already started, and I was still in Richmond, Virginia. I’d been through all this before, but this was the worst it had ever been.

My nights were spent sleepless on top of my bed sheets in my single room in that halfway house, staring at the shadows on the ceiling, deconstructing my entire life. I couldn’t figure out what had gone so wrong. There was one thing I was certain of this time, though – this was my fault. My current predicament had nothing to do with my early childhood development, my parents’ divorce, or my mom’s solitary raising of me. It had nothing to do with either of my stepdads or their personal demons. It had nothing to do with my grandfather. It had nothing to do with my culture other than how I had interpreted it. My father’s death wasn’t even the cause of this. I was in that halfway house only because of me.

As a prerequisite for staying in that place, I had to attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting every night. I’d been going to those meetings off and on for nearly twenty years by then. I’d put together three years clean three times. In fact, a mere five months earlier I’d been steadily approaching my four-year anniversary for the third time since I’d turned 15 in 1991. Once again, I hadn’t made it to that milestone. But for the first time ever when I tried getting a hold on it, not even AA made any sense to me.

Everybody was talking about God, and I couldn’t understand. I tried rewording that program’s 12 steps with words I could comprehend. Because the simple words the founders had originally chosen were just too complex. They said – Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. That was gibberish. As far as I could tell, a Power greater than me had driven me insane. And the psychiatrists said, once again, that wasn’t even the case. There was absolutely nothing.

Five months earlier, as June was drawing to a close, I was in the middle of visiting my family for a short summer break from New York City in Richmond. I’d finished all my papers from my second semester of grad school, and I was starting to put together a syllabus for that Intro to Critical Thinking course I’d been hired to teach in the fall. I crossed my legs in lotus position to meditate one night, a regular habit I’d been practicing since before I’d even gotten clean that last time in DC back in August of 2005. And that’s when it happened. That’s when I broke… again.

You know Who I am, Gabriel,” the voice started in my stomach. It coursed through my limbs until becoming audible.

Staring blankly at the wall in front of me, my heavily lidded eyes half-closed, I nodded. I’d met this voice before in college, long before any sort of mood disorder or mental illness had ever colored my mind, making itself undeniably manifest to me. This voice was familiar. This voice was true, and I knew it wasn’t me.

You know what you have to do now, Gabriel,” the voice continued.

Without breaking my spine’s concentrated position, again I nodded. Unlike when I’d been in college, today I had a name for the voice. This was the Hindu conception of Brahman speaking audibly. I was to be The Angel Gabriel, to live the earthly life of Maitreya, the Buddha-to-be, by going out from the homeowner’s life into homelessness.

When I stood back up, pins and needles shooting through my legs’ discomfort, I took the anti-psychotic medication I’d been taking regularly since my last psychotic break in Charlottesville right before my dad passed away. With the medication coursing through my system, I knew this time the voice was real. And that meant – it was time. I knew exactly what I had to do.

Taking long walks through the woods, going for hours long drives around the Virginia countryside, I contemplated this proposition for about a week. But when CNN was busy broadcasting the news that Michael Jackson had just died, I knew the moment had finally arrived. The King of Pop was our true father – the first to come, the first to leave. I called my mom into the living room I’d been walking circles around while manically putting together playlists that could sing the world into existence through my week of sleepless nights. I told her, “Mom, I need to go into the psych ward.”

Slowly, she sat down on the couch. Concern spread through her happy face as she set her palms down on her thighs. “Why’s that, Gabriel?” she asked.

I told her, “I’m hearing voices again, Mom.” But I didn’t tell her my plan. I needed to get into that psych ward.

I couldn’t keep anything straight. I was on so much medication in the hospital. People flittered in front of my face and disappeared. In a land of phantoms, I battled the Hindu goddess Kali. Putting her to sleep with my embrace, I awoke as Shiva. I wound up in a padded room. That wasn’t the first time that had happened. A week later, the doctors decided I was stable. Nobody met me at the exit. The nurse who’d discharged me gave me cab fare. In my hands, I held my bag and a prescription to get filled on the ride home. I didn’t feel like taking the taxi waiting for me. I told the cabbie I wasn’t the patient he was looking for, and against his protestations, I headed out across the parking lot.

My mom’s home was down a winding path to the left. If I turned right, I’d head straight into the city of Richmond. Following the advice of a previous AA sponsor, I turned right, kept straight and threw that prescription away at the first trash can I came across.

Finally free, I strolled up the sidewalk. The city’s downtown skyline loomed in the distance at the end of the road. I nodded to every soul I passed. My ministry began that day, an eternity in preparation for just one moment. A man approached to ask for a cigarette. I gave him one, and he wondered, “What’s in that bag?”

“All I own,” I told him.

“You got a Bible in that bag?” he asked.

I told him I didn’t.

“Oh. I usually carry a Bible in my bag,” he said.

“Wish I had one, friend,” I told him.

“You don’t have one?” he asked me. “You look like a prophet. I thought you might have one.”

“Not today,” I said.

“Well, come with me,” he said. “I’ll give you one.”

I went back with him to where he lived at his mother’s house. Of my own free will, I gave him my wallet and my money, keeping only an ID card with a rubber band in case I collected anything else. He never asked me for anything, and he thanked me for my kindness. I traded him for a smaller bag with a shoulder strap making it easier to carry, but he couldn’t find that Bible.

“I’ll tell you what,” he said to me. “I’m gonna put a Bible right in this here bag you gave to me, and next time I see you, I’m gonna give that Bible to you. You’re on a journey. That’s right, a journey,” he said.

I nodded, but I never saw that man again. He told me he was a minister. Right then, I knew I’d chosen the correct path.

Taking up on a corner down in Richmond’s bar district that night, I spent the early evening asking people only to please give what they could spare. I scrounged up just enough change to get a couple hot dogs at this place across the street, and I knew the Lord was watching over me.

As the night drew on, I realized I needed to find a safe place to sleep. I hiked underneath a long bridge heading back to Southside where my mom lived, and I searched out a safe spot underneath there to make a bed. Beside a lonely, little outcrop of rocks overlooking the James River, I set my bag down and pulled out some clothes to make a pillow to sit on. I crossed my legs in the lotus position, and I meditated as the city lights burned the nighttime sky bright in the darkness across from me.

Click here to start this story from the beginning.

Or click here to keep going.

The Values I Embrace Today

Yesterday was Easter, and since Cora’s still at that festival in the California desert, I went over alone to a friend’s place for brunch. Luc was there, too. It’s his old apartment, the last one he lived in before moving out to Anacostia. He didn’t bring Leah, his most recent love interest, though. He still thinks their burgeoning relationship is a bit too fresh to subject her to his friends. After we ate, Luc and I were sitting at a table Luc made by hand when he first moved into that place with his ex-girlfriend, the grad student in her mid-twenties. Our current host’s stepmom and this other woman Luc’s introduced me to before, Medha, were sitting at that heavy, wooden table along with us. Luc’s known Medha for years, but she recently moved back to DC from Brooklyn to help out her mom who was diagnosed with breast cancer last year. I was drinking coffee while everybody else was sipping the remnants of their mimosas.

Our friend’s stepmom was saying, “I think it’s simple. If you put people on an X-Y axis so you have four quadrants, and if you consider the Y axis to be the spectrum of depression and the X axis to be family upbringing, you can start graphing how people are going to react later in life. See, in this quadrant, you have depression with a good upbringing, which makes the chemical problems manageable. In this quadrant, you have a bad upbringing but good chemicals, which explains how some people overcome their circumstances. In the third quadrant, you’re good with both, which is the easiest way for somebody to be brought up. While in the last quadrant, you have bad chemicals and a bad upbringing. These are the people who are really in danger.”

“Sure. That makes sense,” I said. “But it’s really a spectrum on both axes, right? Not to mention there are so many psychological problems that don’t fall into the category of ‘depression’ per se, and that really complicates matters. Besides, what constitutes a ‘normalized’ upbringing at any point in time? I’d say trauma is the most natural thing that ever happens to a human being in this world.”

“Despite my hopeless romanticism,” Luc interjected.

I went on, “It’s simply because our culture places so much emphasis on the sanctity of youth that the most important part of a ‘normalized’ upbringing in this culture is to avoid trauma at a young age. But what about a culture where entire generations are traumatized early in life? Like, for example, a culture that survives genocide. Then, the abnormal becomes the child who is not traumatized.”

“Right,” Medha said, “I even think about kids in this country who grow up with poverty or gang violence. But I guess that’s how we wind up with the different cultural narratives we were talking about earlier…”

“Sure,” I said. “Except there’s no real reason to believe any one narrative is inherently superior to any other. There’s only the one that wins.”

“History is written by the victors,” Luc reminded us.

“Maybe,” Medha said. “But do you think that’s why Communism lost, though? Do you really think capitalism is ‘better’?”

“I don’t know about that,” I said. “But I’d make the claim that Marxist communism is ideologically flawed, and the flaw lies in Kant’s idealism, which crept into Marx’s thinking via Hegel. I mean, the problem with Marx, in my opinion, is more or less a problem with the German philosophy of his time. It’s the inversion of the ideal and the real. Even though Engels claimed he and Marx actually set Hegel right side up. I simply don’t think that’s the case. For me, the antidote is Nietzsche, which he probably even saw himself to be. And Nietzsche is what’s actually at the heart of the American project even though we couldn’t have said that at the beginning.”

“Are you saying we’re the overman?” Luc asked with a smile.

“No. But we have the myth of the overman, the myth of the future. Not to mention the whole ‘that which does not kill you only makes you stronger’ mentality. But that’s why, I’d say, reality is even more than just the victors writing history. The only thing that makes something ‘good’ at all – and I pretty much stole this idea verbatim from Nietzsche – is whether or not it survives. And that’s why, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve really come to believe there’s something to this American system I spent my twenties and early thirties railing against.”

“But the American system is actually two systems,” our friend’s stepmom told us. “One system is what people call capitalism and the other is more or less Christianity. And these two systems are constantly at war here. In fact, if you look at our elections, we’re split pretty much evenly at about 50/50. But it’s those two systems in conflict with each other that makes the United States what it is. We need the greed of the capitalists to move us forward while we need the morals of the religionists to keep us from completely destroying one another.”

“Sure,” I said. “But one thing I’ve really come to believe is that the America I know is necessarily anarchic. And the more I look at my life, the more I realize those are the cultural values I was raised with. So I have to admit, despite any of my past leanings, those are the values I embrace today.”

Click here to start this story from the beginning.

Or click here to keep going.