Loser

These beats fill me with a sense of foreboding. They are alluring. Part of me wants to relax into their comforting embrace.

Comfort is the shade of a tree that provides well deserved rest after a long day. It is also the shady tree you lay down at and never get up.

Comfort is a story where I am the hero.

My instincts do not always have my best interests at heart.

The melody starts out softly. It echos slightly, lingering longer than I expect. Deep bass notes rumble at the edges. A piano floats over top, dancing, barely tethered to the ominous tones below. The contrast highlights the melody line rather than contrasting with it.

And so, begins a tale. Unlike the more abstract emotions that previous songs have tried to capture – this is a clear story. Or is it?

It has many of the core elements of a story I know well. It’s set in a dirty bar. It’s hero is a cowboy.

The action takes place at a card game. Our protagonist wants something.

As do I, as do I.

This is a very particular person in a particular place and time.

Games of chance and skill are not among my vices. I have never met a real cowboy, let alone been one.

Yet, as tale opens, I know this place. These tropes are so well worn, I can fall into them like a pair of old boots.

From another angle, this song is not a story at all. A story is – a man dances with a maiden, falls in love and is driven out of town by her lover, a local bandit. Unable to stand being away, he returns, though he knows it will mean his doom. He is wounded on his way to her. He falls, unable to stand. She rushes out. With one last kiss, he dies in her arms.

By contrast, here almost nothing happens. It’s a portrait then. A character study.

In that character, my own flaws are laid bare. And from that gaping maw, that open wound, I feel the ominous notes well up that tell me this is a tradgey.

This comfortable tune comes with a price.

“If I had a gun for every ace I have drawn,
I could arm a town the size of Abilene
Don’t you push me baby,
‘Cause I’m all alone
and you know I’m only in it for the gold”

I am not proud of how often I think about violence and revenge. But, I do.

These are not fantasies of justice. These are fantasies of power. Of having ENOUGH. Enough power to bring lay an army low. Enough money to solve all my problems. Enough respect to make my troubles obsolete. Enough bravado to say, “Don’t you push me” in a quiet voice, and have it reverberate down the spine of those who are tempted to defy my will. To hurt me.

I understand this impulse. I am ashamed of it. But I understand it.

But what I don’t believe, is

“only in it for the gold.”

I know why it’s there. That is the lullaby I sing to sooth my conscious. To make myself appear more ruthless than I am. It’s a easy one to get lost in it, because it makes everything simple.

It’s a clear goal. And in a certain light you can even root for it. We all want our protagonist to succeed.

He wants his gold. Why shouldn’t he?

It pushes away the shame and the doubt and the fear.

If had enough, if I really had enough, I wouldn’t need to sing anymore.

When things are quiet and I feel alone, when I have been pushed to my limits, I monologue elaborate tales that end with the defeat of my enemies.

I say to the shadows “I am going to kill you. It’s not personal, but I will do it.”

This is not my best self. Making those pathways in the brain is bad for me. Calling up those fantasies makes them more real. More likely to happen again. More likely to bleed over to the rest of my life.

This is not how I want to relate to the world.

I have complicated thoughts about absolutes like “EVIL”. But situations like this call for a word with a charge. To unnecessarily end the infinite irreplaceable universe of possibilities contained in another person is – evil.

But riding the pulse, entering the flow, letting my instincts take control also feels good. It feels real. It acknowledges the impulse and gives it literal voice as I whisper “You wish it wasn’t true. You never thought this day would come. How could you? You thought you were invincible. You thought you were just.

“But then again, justice never had much to do with it.

“Part of me wishes it wasn’t true. I wish I didn’t have to take unto myself the stain of ending you. But the time has come to end you. I do not do this with pleasure.

“…Well, that’s not entirely true either. This is no time to lie or deceive. We were on opposite sides of a line. I didn’t draw that line, but it was there. So I will feel real satisfaction at removing you. But I didn’t want it to be this way. I did not set out to end you.

I say to my unnamed opponent “And yet, here we are.”

“Don’t you push me baby, ’cause I’m moaning low.”

It’s probably worth underscoring that I am the hero of these stories. I claim this spot by virtue of being the protagonist.

My desires are good. I am kind to my mother. My intentions are good, if only my enemies would try and walk in my boots they would understand. But they don’t, because unlike me, they are evil. You can tell because of their actions.

I have within me a hero-making storyteller.

Sometimes, on quiet nights, I will ponder this puzzle:

I am a humble person. So I know that like most people I am not always right.

But about what? My views on morals are self-evident. My views on how the world works have been justified by experience. My understanding of the gods has informed everything I do, if it’s wrong my world would fall apart – so clearly it’s not. That would be silly.

I might be wrong about something unimportant, but if I am, I can’t think of it.

My hero-making storyteller is good at it’s job. But it cannot fill the gaping maw.

The gaping maw at my center spawns fantasies that corrupt everything they touches.

I am the hero, because if I wasn’t, I might think twice about what I was doing.

“Never find another honest man.”

When I was held to account, this is not what I confessed. I recounted my good deeds. With genuine tears in my eyes, I spoke about my hope that I could be of use to my fellows. What a glorious thing it would be to believe that I could change someone’s life for the better.

Were they suckers for believing me? The tears were real. The gaping maw corrupts everything in comes in contact with. My emotions are grist for the mill.

Games of chance and skill have never meant anything to me, but I know what it is to have all perspective hijacked.

Some comforts are not tree’s. Some are horses. I get on them to rest my legs as I travel, and look up to find they are riding me. I can feel the weight, but I don’t dare admit it’s there.

I’m carrying a horse? That doesn’t make any sense. So it isn’t real. I’m in control. I am a good person. I am doing this to protect… for love… and the rest of the time the horse is not even there.

Except as a cold drink of water at the end of a hot day. That is nothing. That is what I deserve. Who would deny me a cold drink of water?

I know what it is to confuse the need for a certain feeling with salvation. To equate the thing I want with life itself.

Every morning the junkie wakes up without a gold dollar to their name. Hard work, ingenuity, sacrifice – all good things – corrupted by the gaping maw. Most nights they fall asleep having found what they need to keep them going.

We are amazing creatures full of infinite possibility. We are all hero’s.

The melody line goes quiet and high, scratching desperately at the outer range of audible. Tap tap tap.

Like a voice gone hoarse, like a scream in the distance, like thunder on the horizon, all the lost details of these notes speak volumes.

They fumble about, imprecise, wild and feral. Confused but dangerous. I do not want this creature to turn it’s full attention on me. I do not want this creature to decide that I am what stands between it and salvation.

It is not a horse. It is bigger. And it has teeth. Luckily, all I have to do to make it go away, is look away.

I am a good person. These are minor ticks, not addictions. Who would use such a loaded word? Bad habits maybe.

Perhaps the notes, like me, are afraid of what they would wrought if they fully unleashed themselves.

“I can tell the queen of diamonds by the way she shines”

This line cuts into me and I stumble in place. It reaches into the gaping maw at my center and puts its molten core right at the center of my senses.

“I can tell the queen of diamonds by the way she shines”

That is a nonsensical phrase full of abstract magical thinking.

I have told you what my vices are not. They are not gambling. I do not drink.

I smoke too much, I eat the wrong things, I make impulsive decisions, I overuse sarcasm and judgmental thoughts. Sometimes I am cruel to those I love.

And I do much worse things to avoid facing the heart of the gaping maw.

I don’t name my sins. If I spoke them aloud they would cease to be abstract. They would be real, and that would require a reckoning.

I know they are there though. I carry them with me everywhere. They weigh me down. And that seems fitting.

The right compliment can cripple me faster than the worst insult.

An insult can be deflected with armor. After awhile you don’t feel the armor. It’s weight becomes just a part of your body. Nothing compared to the other burdens.

But a compliment can come from anywhere. I try and dodge, I look up, and I see the monster I tried to forget.

I know the weight of my sins, but I dare not acknowledge them.

I would try and justify myself of course. After all, I am the hero of my story. If I have a vice there is a reason and a tight narrative about how I am overcoming it.

But if I spoke it out loud, it might ring false. Not in a grand way, just a sad little bit of self serving nonsense.

It might sound like:

“I can tell the queen of diamonds by the way she shines”

When I dispense wisdom, it might be as useful as:

“Well I know a little something you won’t ever know
Don’t you touch hard liquor, just a cup of cold coffee”

I have a gaping hole that I don’t know how to fill. It hides itself well. Life is hard and I deserve a few indulgences. So what if I have a smoke? Who minds if I take another bite? If I make a sarcastic joke.

Or, the other things I dare not name even here. They have teeth. They are not horses. Am I carrying them, or am I holding onto their back for dear life?

Mostly I don’t even know it is there.

The trick is, I can’t see it at all. I think protecting the wound is the same as protecting my life.

Metaphors about burdens and armor and claws are themselves a subtle comfort. A tree to sit under, a story to tell where I can be the hero. They make the battle between me and a creature outside of me.

The gaping maw is in me. And things come out of it more often than they go in.

And I think protecting the wound is the same as protecting my life.

“I can tell the queen of diamonds”

From this vantage, forgiveness and redemption are just as bad as heroics.

There is nothing to forgive. There is nothing to redeem. There is nothing to overcome.

Because, you see, I can tell the queen of diamonds…

The line is sung with care and affection and eerie normalcy.

“Well I got no chance of losin’ this time.”

As do I.

 

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