The Edge of the Known – Book Two
The second act of the series sees its namesake band finally harvesting some of the fruits of their creative efforts. They’ve garnered some attention from the Indie press, returned from a triumphant (from their down-and-out perspective, at least) self-made tour and landed a producer and prospective manager.
They’ve also begun to create the most powerful music of their career – and of their whole generation, for that matter.
Unfortunately, all of this progress could be derailed by the overall psychic and emotional state of singer/guitarist Brandon Chane, founder member and visionary of the group. The fire that stirs his music into Dionysian frenzy seems equally capable of burning his life to ashes.
And Saul, who once helped him to pierce the darkness with his inner eyes and behold the light within, may be too consumed by his own personal crisis to throw Brandon a lifeline this time…
Chapter One: The Stories We Cling To
Love was the most ruthless force in our universe. That’s what I’d believed, that I’d sooner endure the ravages of hate any day. Hate wielded the honest pungency of a fist full to your face. Love eviscerated you where you stood and yet still left you standing.
I remember the moonlight on the little window box balcony. Janie was so nervous that she’d stolen occasional drags off of my cigarette. This had been her idea in the first place: The two of us “getting away”, booking this room in the Latore Motel.
“I thought I was braver than I am,” she told me.
The idea – insofar as I’d believed I’d understood it – had been to pretend we were on vacation, perhaps try and resuscitate the amorous mood that had characterized our rendezvous in New Mexico months before, when everything had seemed to open up and flow. I stared back into the motel living room, which bore witness to the scalds and the warm patches of love’s dying embers, as if its solidity could somehow refute what was happening, what could not be happening.
I’d played deaf amidst all of the whispered warnings.
Janie moved to catch me in a hard embrace then. There was tenderness in her clasp; but I see it now, that it was tenderness provoked by remorse, by loyalty to what had been, rather than by any enduring passion. With her lips, her fingers, and all the womanly fire that her body could convey, Janie was saying goodbye. With all the unsinkable generosity of her heart, she gave me a hero’s send-off.
“Rachel is the luckiest girl in the world, to have you for a big brother,” she said. “Tommy and Carlos… me, too. I’ve never met anyone like you before. You’ve opened me up to so much that I was never even aware of. You do that sometimes just with your presence, even if you’re not saying anything.”
Stalling, postponing the inevitable dive into blackness, she took another drag. My tears were subsumed, inhibited by anger because anger was what I clung to to see me through this. But I never railed at her that night. I watched her retreat as if I was an impotent mute.
“But I feel as if I don’t even know where you’re at half the time,” she explained. “The way your mind works… it, like, never sits still; it’s like this madly inspired spinning gyre. And I try to keep up with it all, but it’s like you go around a bend, every time, and I’ve lost you again.”
My entire survival strategy had been contingent upon viewing my tendencies towards mental and emotional extremity as a gift rather than a curse. Of course, this had also rendered me reliant upon the presences of people in my life who could always forgive me for my excesses. Maybe Tommy’s rare loyalty had spoiled me. Maybe I had let my Muse lure me into a deluded world where it seemed justifiable to sacrifice anything on the altar of vision.
I gazed down at the street below and felt the whole spinning and sickening free-fall that could bring me to kiss that pavement. A couple walked by, hand in hand, oblivious to the clamor of Armageddon. I gave up in that moment. I couldn’t stop her. The gods had granted Janie complete executive power over my damned soul.
Her heart was turning away, shining its light elsewhere? I was never going to touch her again? Suddenly the fall from the balcony seemed the much kinder terror.
“You need someone who can really meet you in those places. And I…”
“Don’t!” I managed. “Don’t fucking act like you’re doing this for my sake. I can decide what’s good for me!”
“Fair enough.” Her voice was wispy, insubstantial: An echo of the distance that had already claimed us. “I need to feel like I can keep up.
“It’s like… you’re living in this world that’s being totally reinvented every day. And I’m sort of stumbling along trying to figure out what the rules are.”
“There aren’t any rules!” I protested. “Just be with me, and…”
Janie bit her lip. One fat tear slid down her cheek. I doubt that she’d wanted to say it so bluntly. But what gentle way is there?
Folding chairs, and a wooden rail rife with splinters; cigarette smoke lingering in the still spring air. Nothing there to cling to, to spare me from the plunge.
This can’t be happening!
I’d once told her that if it ever came to this I would understand. I’d been a goddamn liar. The death of something so beautiful and divinely inevitable could never be understood; it was incomprehensible.
Janie reached over and squeezed my arm. “Hey. I do treasure what we’ve shared.”
“Then don’t turn your back on it and let it die!” I growled. I could feel my face curling into a snarl. I couldn’t stop it. Janie withdrew. Having lost the focal point of my anger, I reverted to teetering on the edge of the precipice.
“I really tried, Brandon,” she said.
It was that voice both forlorn and resolute, and every man hears his end in it. The chasm gaped even wider below me. Above me were only stars, beyond reproach or appeal.
“You’d better just leave, then, if that’s what you’ve decided to do.”
Everything within me prayed that I was calling her bluff. But the deeper, wiser part of me knew that this horrifying rift was an already-accomplished fact.
Her voice had diminished almost beyond hearing. “O.k.”
For a long time, I wavered on that balcony and tried to tell myself that I’d find her when I went back inside, her heart and mind reconsidered. The roiling grief didn’t fully announce itself until the receding sound of her engine merged with the rest of the street noise.
I thrust down the fierce impulse to dive down to the pavement, my salvation.
Sometime later, I fished out my cellphone and rang Carlos.
“Hullo?” His voice seemed to emerge from inside a bundle of cotton. I’d obviously woken him up.
“Hey, can we talk? I’m sorry. You know I wouldn’t call at this hour if it wasn’t serious.”
He collected his wits pretty quick. “I thought you were spending the night at the Latore Motel.”
“I’m still here.”
“Then you’ve got someone to talk to, haven’t you? Or what, you’re alone? What gives, bro?”
“Look, it’s over. Janie broke it off just now. She’s gone.” Part of me couldn’t believe any of the words I was uttering, or fathom the ocean of woe that churned beneath them. “Let’s go get a beer somewhere, all right?”
“Shit, bro: It’s like, one o’clock or damn near!”
I was flailing for anything in the manifest world that might ward off the encroaching blackness. The reality of what had just happened was threatening to penetrate my brain, tear through the last thin sheets of illusion and doubt and make itself known in indisputable searing pain.
We met up at Charlie’s Pub on Lincoln Ave. There were probably a dozen other people strewn throughout the place, sullen or just plain tired. There was neither a band nor any spark of life. The bartender, a middle-aged man with a mountainous beard and half-head of hair, had the look of compassion in his eyes. This carried through the timbre of his voice, too. He must’ve read the sheer duress on my face. When he informed us that we’d arrived just in time for last call, I asked for a shot of whiskey and a glass of lemon water to chase it down with. I had no patience for beer tonight. I needed something that was going to hit my bloodstream and brain quick.
Carlos, the drummer for my band back then, was full Hispanic. He’d grown up in Mexico City and, later on in his teens, moved to New Mexico in search of work. He’d subsisted for years on minimum wage or sometimes even less, resorting at times to dealing drugs. Like me, then, he was acquainted with extremity and desperation. This, alongside our passion for music and self-expression, formed the major pillars of our camaraderie.
“So why didn’t you call Tommy?” he asked.
I nodded my thanks to the bartender when the drinks arrived and then gulped the stinging liquor down. I needed that moment to compose my answer, anyway.
“I just feel like he’d want to answer this whole twisted conundrum for me, you know? Provide some summary statement that would explain the significance of it all and the lesson that I’m s’posed to take from it. I don’t wanna hear about how the pain will subside in time, or that when one door closes another opens, or that it was better to find out sooner rather than later.”
“A raw wound is not to be reasoned with,” Carlos concurred.
I nodded. “I hate to ever judge a friend, and I suppose maybe that’s what I’m doing right now. He’d probably show more tact and sensitivity than I’m giving him credit for, really. But I just feel too vulnerable and I don’t want to chance it.”
Carlos seemed amenable to just accepting this and moving on. “So what did Janie tell you?”
I noticed the bartender out of the corner of my eye. We shared a wordless exchange, and he offered a conciliatory nod. When he refilled my shot glass I conveyed my sore gratitude as best I could.
Then I turned back to Carlos. “She said that I’m constantly going to places where she doesn’t know how to follow me to. You know – in my mind.”
My thoughts and I were still involved in the delicate game: Relaying the bare facts of the story without (for the moment, at least) believing any of it.
“But that’s not the real reason at all.”
This remark slipped past my guard. It surprised even me. I was now embarked upon a frightening plunge into the unknown.
“Well so what is?” Carlos prompted me.
It must be that my fresh wound had temporarily numbed me, like a clean cut or sudden burn that you don’t feel yet because the surface nerves are dead. I spoke with the detachment of a sleepwalker.
“It was about two months ago; I told Janie about something that’d happened to me, something I’d done. This was right before the first gig we’d ever played, Tommy and I with Tim. I was in a fight. Some drunk – he was probably twice my age – he pushed me down. So I took him down.
“It ended up where I was about an inch away from opening up his jugular with the jagged end of a broken beer bottle. Who knows if I might not have done it, too, if Tommy hadn’t ‘a stopped me.”
I’d spoken softly. Nonetheless, I was gripped by sudden panic, imagining that someone may have overheard me. I cast my eyes around the place – it was long, narrow and dimly lit – and encountered the same subdued apathy that had greeted us when we’d first come in. The dull murmur was too low to articulate the actual words that it carried. For the moment, at least, Carlos and I were left in our own little world.
“Damn, bro,” he breathed. “I had no idea.”
I shrugged. “That’s because I never had the guts to tell you before. Tommy was there, like I said. Besides him, the only one who knew about it was Saul.”
Saul was a former suicide crisis responder who was now conducting his own unique (insofar as I knew) therapeutic practice out of his home. Carlos and I had both worked with him and, in different ways, had altered the courses of our lives thanks to his philosophy and intervention. Saul insisted that we were the authors of our own destinies.
I’d always believed that if you’re gonna call yourself any kind of spiritual teacher, if you place yourself in a position where others look to you for guidance and support, then you should practice what you preach. At least have the desire to, and make the effort. I’ll admit that I knew a few charlatans in my day, and had even followed a couple in my youth, when I lacked experience and hadn’t yet learned to discriminate between teachers who actually implemented their own philosophy and all the self-promoters who didn’t.
Spirituality can be easy to talk about. There’s a plethora of books abounding, and if you read a few key ones you’ll learn many of the catchwords and phrases that one needs to know to get around in certain “enlightened” circles. But walking the path… ah, that is a whole ‘nother ocean, my friends.
Yeah… There’s genuine exploration, questioning and growth going on out there. There are also a lot of people who perceive taking on the mantle of “spiritual teacher” as being an easier way to make a buck and get laid than holding a less glamorous day job. To me, few things were more infuriating that someone espousing lofty aphorisms about love, understanding and consciousness whilst behaving selfishly in their personal lives. If you call yourself a spiritual teacher, practice what you preach! At least people who’re unabashed jerks have the guts to show how they really think and feel about other people. They have that much integrity. But to con people through the rhetoric of spiritual growth and enlightenment is unconscionable. Many politicians and religious leaders know this trick, too.
It is a game that had been going on for a very long time on our planet. I hoped that as we continued to grow and awaken, more and more of us would see through it – until there just weren’t enough of us left for the swindlers to swindle anymore.
Spiritual rhetoric is like any other kind of script: It can be turned to all kinds of purposes depending upon the motives of the people using it. But knowledge that one awakens to through experience and assimilation is a whole different matter. You can’t really misuse that sort of understanding because it changes you first.
And from there it reaches out and touches others. I think that this is – in its ideal state – the nature of the teacher-student relationship. Earned knowledge isn’t merely something that teachers possess: it is something they’ve become an intimate part of through their own inner awakening and transformation.
So now, having said all that, let me assert that I’d worked with Saul for some time and that I believed him to be the real deal.
Thinking about him brought me an insight. “When we aren’t self-aware,” I said, “that’s the kind of place unconscious forces can sweep us away to. We can lose control like that.”
“Well… maybe you!” Carlos retorted.
He often had peace on his lips. And sometimes, he reviled violence in a way that almost approached its own kind of aggression. I felt my eyes sharpen.
“Look, man, you nearly destroyed yourself with meth. Lack of reverence for life is the same across the board. It don’t matter if it’s killing someone else or yourself.”
He was immediately repentant. “Sorry, bro. I didn’t mean to get judgmental. You scared me, I guess. You just told me something pretty intense, right there.”
I waved down his apology. “Yeah, it is. I don’t blame you.”
“So you think that’s what made Janie want to run?”
“Everything changed after I told her about that. The way she’d look at me, touch me… it was all so tentative. Unsure. I think I freaked her out. I’m sure of it, actually. It had nothing to do with the explanation she gave me.”
I sipped at my lemon water and Carlos nursed his one beer until we left. I knew that I had an engagement with brutal grief, but my mind seemed to keep finding ways of postponing the moment. I didn’t want to be near anyone when the psychic dam finally burst. As it turned out, though, my personal crisis never reached its culmination that night. I was still too insulated by the protective walls of disbelief.