Figment of Reality

The loss of meaning precipitated this story. It was sort of a tragic gift from the shattered skull of Airman Lewis late one evening near a runway deep in the hot, hungry bowels of the Republic of Vietnam. Nevertheless, this is not his story. While I honor the memory of those he represents, he is merely a character in a muddle of memory and metaphor that seeks release onto the printed page.

So, I’ll tell you right up front: Figment Of Reality is made-up-words for the perception of life. In turn, the perception of life forms the roots of alfalfa. At least, that’s how this barely-perceiver-of-the-present understands it.

You should also know this: while skiing the steep, dangerous slopes of the barely perceived present, barely-perceivers-of-the-present think a lot about life and war, and since I brought it up, alfalfa.

Thoughtful stuff, alfalfa. It was grown in and harvested from the broad, black prairie of my preschool youth in fields soon buried by the post-war suburban tide of which my family was in the vanguard. My peers and I roamed these croplands and their wet-weather, wooded creeks. In them, we found our imaginations and the growing power of our bodies and senses.

So, the sight, the smell, and the feel of alfalfa and black dirt bring to mind those crucial years of moving from raw recruit to apprentice human. In some way, they have organized my recollection.

As a caveat, made-up-words reminds us that one should not take the confusion inherent in metaphor lightly. These references to color, winter sports, alfalfa and a barely perceived present could easily be as baffling as the essence of experience they attempt to illuminate.

I see that you agree.

However, even if by some stroke of luck I manage to braid this subject matter into a golden syntactic truth, there is a risk in supposing similar meaning in the minds of other barely-perceivers-of-the-present.

The shock of Lewis’ gift—of his grisly death—of the loss of meaning—spun me into a sense-churning, ass-over-elbow tumble down a ski run of sand and blood. I felt the urgent surge of nausea. Trying to steady myself, I reached into the darkness for a wall that wasn’t there. Caught by surprise, I fell into an existential open grave.

Looking up from that metaphorical tomb, I realized just how meaning as generally understood made us barely-perceivers-of-the-present. Without it, without meaning, the olive drab boy-men sweating and swearing in the fire and night ceased to be the self-actuating, well-intentioned children of God I grew up believing us to be. Now we were just things to be confused and killed. We were also killers and confusers, I suppose; killers and confusers that had been subtly indoctrinated to sometimes conflate hormones, religion, and civics into such a rage of indignant justification that denying decency, understanding, and kindness in oneself could seem honorable.

Figment Of Reality followed me into the shadows and helped me throw up my new found doubt of meaning, and of barely-perceivers-of-the-present, who define and are defined by meaning. It splattered that uncertainty onto my bed of black grass and sand.

A marine like a field of alfalfa waving green above the flat black earth pulled me to my feet. He looked into my eyes in the hope I could see we weren’t devoid of meaning; so that I could see we were still barely-perceivers-of-the-present. He told me I was OK.

I tried to agree with him. “I’m OK,” I said.

He nodded, and Figment Of Reality let him go about his duties. Then it led me back to mine: pulling human shards from burning wreckage. As I did this, I peered into the faces of the confused, trying to believe that they were OK; that it was OK to be barely-perceivers-of-the-present; that we were all barely-perceivers-of-the-present; that we were all tumbling down slopes of blood and sand; that we all emerged from fields of alfalfa.

It had to be OK because Figment of Reality imagined these tales of life and death again and again: of armed teenagers afraid and unable to understand; of more nights of rockets, machine guns and terror; of again running to warn my comrades who work on warplanes in the black night; of a flare popping above; of shadows under the wings dancing like fits of death.

Of surprise.

In the shadows, I glimpsed another scared teenager. This one wore the black uniform of my enemy, wielding a black weapon in the flickering light and dark. I, unarmed and illuminated, prepared to die alone and afraid, tumbling down a slope of blood and sand. Instead, I saw the blood of this teenager, the blood of alfalfa. I saw him dying at the hands of a teenage marine, just like a young marine who looked into your eyes and told you that you were OK. I saw us tumble together down slopes of blood and sand; three teenagers tumbling down in olive drab and black; a braid of living and dying confused.

And then I forgot. For a lifetime.

Love, heartache, work, failure, friendship, hatred, disappointment, and success; these are made-up-words for stories spun by Figment Of Reality. They fill one’s time.

Yet doubt, once planted, continues to grow from the moguls of an airman’s brain, from an armed teenager in a spasm of death, and from a field of alfalfa born from the musty black dirt of my youth. For decades it grows, extending its roots through the shadows of Figment Of Reality.

Then, following a crisp, sunny day filled with a little too much coffee and much too little to do, doubt forces me from sleep. It makes me stand alone in a field of alfalfa; to ponder my aloneness amid a ghostly horde of barely-perceivers-of-the-present. It compels me to see that I am a weed of olive drab and black; that I am doubt itself; that doubt is made-up-words for being.

Still, Figment Of Reality insists that as alfalfa grows green from the hard, black earth, I must learn to accept that which I barely perceive. In seemingly all ways it tries to tell me that everything is OK. That it’s OK barely-perceivers-of-the-present apply reason and compassion to every problem but fear seems to prevail; that it’s OK many millennia of armed conflict and persistent reflection lie behind and before us. That it’s OK doubting may be merely a diversion for old men who, in their youth, tumbled down a ski run of sand and blood. It’s OK. Because with each death too soon, with each life lived long and well, barely-perceivers-of-the-present learn a little more and forget a little more.

Figment Of Reality says I should accept this as sentience, which is made-up-words for itself, Figment Of Reality.

It says I should try to believe that this is enough.