Figment of Reality

The loss of meaning precipitated this story. It was sort of a tragic gift from the shattered, burnt body 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, 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 remains a risk in supposing similar meaning in the minds of other barely-perceivers-of-the-present.

The shock of Lewis’ gift—of his horrific 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 an urgent surge of nausea. Trying to steady myself, I reached into the darkness for a wall that wasn’t there. Caught off guard, 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; to be killers and confusers, too.

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 helped me splatter that uncertainty onto my charred bed of 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 asked if I was OK.

While doubting that I was or would be, I said: “I’m OK”.

He nodded, and Figment Of Reality let him go about his duties. Then it led me back to mine: pulling human shards from the burning wreckage of our comm shack. As I joined this task, I peered into the faces of my frightened and confused peers, 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, mortars, machine guns and terror, of running to warn my comrades who work on warplanes in the black night, of a flare popping above, of shadows under the olive drab wings dancing like fits of death.

Of surprise.

In the on and off 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 frightened and confused.

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 about humanity’s seemingly feckless expression of itself, once planted, will continue 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. And so it grows, unseen and unconsidered for decades; extending its roots through the shadows of Figment Of Reality.

Then, following a crisp, sunny day filled with 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 isolation amid a ghostly horde of barely-perceivers-of-the-present. It compels me to see that I’m an olive drab and black weed of doubt; that doubt itself is made-up-words for the need to understand.

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 unapplied reflection lie behind and before us. That it’s OK we concurrently learn and forget with each life lived long and well, and with each death too soon.

That it’s OK my restless doubt could be merely a diversion for an old man who, in his youth, tumbled down a ski run of sand and blood.

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.