[a short story by Sha’Tara]
(I’ve probably posted this story in the past but I feel like it’s time to run it again since I’m having some discussions on the subject of empathy…)
Lanky Andy, Andrew Larkin, walked into “The Odyssey” restaurant at exactly 1800 hours. He allowed his transitioning photochromic lenses to clear enough so he could scan the seats. Eddie, Edward Aberhart, his friend, was seated in a booth halfway down the window aisle, facing the entrance door. He waved at Andy.
“Jees… Jesus Eddie, you look like shit. What’s up? What’s with the ‘I need to see you right away, like today!’ call?”
“It’s like this Andy. I’m at the end of my rope. I’ve been thinking about things for years now and it’s turned into a bloody nightmare. I keep asking myself, ‘Is is worth it? What am I doing here? What’s the point of anything, anything at all.’ and nothing seems right, feels right, tastes right.”
“What does Linda have to say about your, um, nightmare?”
“Linda’s gone. She packed up, went back to her family down south. I haven’t spoken to her since she left, that’d be about two months ago. Just packed up while I went uptown, loaded up the car, took Jessie with her and left me a note on the kitchen table: ‘I’m going to stay with mom for a bit until I can get a job at the hospital down there. I know a doctor, I’ve got excellent references as an ER nurse, I’ll get a job. Please, don’t call me, don’t call mom, just vanish from our lives. If you follow, I’ll get an injunction based on emotional abuse. I don’t care what you do Eddie, just disappear from my life; from our lives. You’ve become creepy, sick, but not something I can do anything about. I won’t let you drag us into your nightmare. Goodbye Eddie.’ and that’s it.”
“Well, nothing like a cheery get together to get things rolling.”
A busty, dark “Greek” looking waitress came by, took their orders and said their drinks would be right up.
‘I sure hope so’ thought Andy. ‘I need a drink, the kind that helps you put your thoughts together, then wipes them out so you can enjoy life again, if only for a day.’
Although the place was three quarters full, it being Saturday evening after all, the drinks miraculously showed up within three minutes. Eddie fingered the cold condensation on the outside of his glass. He didn’t pick it up, didn’t drink, just stared as if he was reading a message. Andy sipped on his, smacked his lips then swallowed the entire glass, waving at a waitress for a refill.
“All right, goddamn it Eddie, you got me here. Don’t tell me you’re just going through another of your emotional bullshit phases. I had enough of that shit with you in college. Let’s cut to the chase, what’s eating you?”
“I’m really sorry Andy but my life sucks. I hate teaching and I don’t believe anything the curriculum makes me teach the kids so I can’t really motivate them. Well, how could I? I can’t motivate myself any longer.
“You know I used to attend the Pentecostal church. I thought I had some sort of relationship with God. It felt good, right, proper and my life made sense. I joined the Lions’ Club to be of service in the community and that reinforced my belief that life had purpose. I married Linda and I was sure I really loved her. Jessie’s birth, now that was some celebration after all the scare that she would be abnormal – nothing wrong with that kid. I had it all and then it all went away. I mean it, Andy: it just evaporated. Like I fell in some big black bottomless hole. That’s where I’m talking to you from: a black pit of despair, falling with nothing to hang on to. Can you accept that? I’m not asking you to understand, just accept this is how it is.”
“Do you want me to lie to you?”
“OK then, I can’t – no, let me put it more clearly for you: I won’t accept it. I’m a rational person, Eddie. If something fucks up upstairs, it’s up to me to go up there and straighten it up. There’s no Chimera up there that’s going to take over and fuck up my life – not before now, not now, and not ever in the future. I wouldn’t let it happen. That’s my answer to your asking me to accept your current state of mind: I don’t because if I did, then I’d have to try to understand it next – and I’m simply not going there. I don’t play mind games Eddie. My own life is controlled; some people say I’m as hard as a rock, well fine, that to me is high praise. That’s why you stuck with me through college too, you needed that hardness to put grit into your own mush, Eddie.
“What the fuck, man. You are the one who got Linda, you whiny wimp of an excuse for a man. She went for you because she felt sorry for you most of the time. But I was the one who loved her Eddie. How often I imagined what we could have done as a couple, as a team. A doctor and a nurse, and I would have pushed her to get her medical degree too. We would have been all over the world, helping people, I mean really helping. A team on fire. Fuck you Eddie, you miserable excuse for a human being. I feel so sorry for you right now I want to punch in that baby face of yours. Goddam it, I don’t believe this.”
“Why have you never told me of your feelings for Linda until now? I didn’t know, honest.”
“Of course you didn’t know, you self-absorbed little shit. All that’s ever really mattered to you was you and your precious feelings. ‘I joined the Lions’ club to be of service to the community.’ Such a crock. You joined to find support for your insecurities – tell me honestly that isn’t true.”
“Ah hell Andy, I didn’t call you here for you to beat up on me. I’m down, Andy. I can’t take this. Is this fun for you, crushing what’s left of a total loser?”
“OK, OK, I’ll back off if you’ll level with me and tell me what’s really the problem. What’s the cause of your black pit of despair, Eddie? What’s this Gremlin you’ve got on your back that you can’t shake off this time?”
“The honest truth, Andy: the world, and my life in it. Have you followed the news lately? With all the crap that’s going on and that keeps arising all over, is it really worth it? Is there some point to it? The world’s in a shambles, what am I supposed to do? Ignore it? Carry on like what’s her name, Pollyanna?
“I wake up in the middle of the night and I have visions, terrible visions, of things happening to thousands of people, horrible things. And I feel guilty about it all, I can’t help myself, and the guilt won’t go away. It’s like everything bad that happens is my fault. I’m responsible somehow, as if I were a puppet and I was being played, forced to watch; forced to link my lifestyle to the problems of other people. If I enjoy something, they go without. If I eat, they starve. If I have a house to live in, they are homeless. If I have rights, they are enslaved. If I’m free, they are in prison. I’m cursed, Andy; I’m the other side of the coin.”
As their food was being served, Andy didn’t answer. He moved some plates around, ordered another drink, looked up at Eddie and said, “Ed, drink your fucking drink, right now.”
The waitress looked up, a shocked look on her face. “Sorry, that’s between my friend and I here. Please bring him another drink, he’s going to need it.”
The waitress almost scampered away. Andy started eating and felt ravenous. He swallowed, then started to laugh. Not so loud as to cause embarrassment but so Eddie would hear it and stare at him.
“You find something amusing, Andy?” Eddie put his empty glass down, looked into Andy’s eyes.
“My problems are amusing to you? I thought doctors were supposed to be empathetic.”
“Some are but it’s definitely not a trade requirement. If it was most of us would be out of work tomorrow. But this has nothing to do with me being a doctor, or you a high school teacher. We’ve been dancing around a much more serious business called life. You asked me, is it worth it? Before I answer that, give me a rational alternative to what you call life.”
“That’s a nuts question. How can there be a rational alternative to life?”
“Ah, got you there haven’t I?”
“I don’t have any answer for you. Are you talking about an alternative to life? How can there be such a thing?”
“Have you heard of NDE’s or near death experiences that some people claim to have had?”
“Vaguely. Here and there. There’s no proof of such a thing actually happening. Just the brain reacting in a crisis when life is on the line.”
“Exactly!” Andy drank some more and it seemed his drinks were tasting better each time. So did the food. “Got to congratulate you, Eddie, this is one hell of a fine restaurant. Not fancy, but you can’t beat this food, or the drinks either. Don’t know when I’ve enjoyed myself more at a meal. Go ahead, dig in, dig in. This is fantastic!”
“What do you mean, ‘Exactly’?”
“I said there was no proof that NDE’s are real experiences and you said, ‘Exactly.'”
“And I meant every word!” Andy laughed at the puzzled expression in his friend’s face and noticed that outside, the world had gone dark except for street lights and the lampshades over the booths made new shadows.
“Ease up on the drinks, Andy, you’re losing it.”
“Actually I’m getting it, Eddie.”
“Care to explain?” He took a serious drink and suddenly felt himself unwind. As if something good was going to happen. Imagine that: nothing good had seemed to happen for ages. He knew it wasn’t the drink, nor the food. Anticipation. He actually felt it.
“I never realized it until now,” said Andy. “About you, I mean. I always thought you were somewhat of a sissy, a wimp you know, going around feeling sorry for yourself, bringing people into your circle to empathize with you. But that wasn’t it at all. You were just confused, selling yourself short, unaware of your own nature, thus unable to take advantage of it.” He seemed to look at Eddie with some sort of awe. “I never knew; never suspected even.”
“Would you tell me what you’re going on about, Andy? You’re confusing me and I think you’ve had too much to drink.”
“Oh just wait. I haven’t had half enough. I’ve been a fool, Eddie, a complete idiot. I’m the one who’s been totally self-centered and blind. You know what you are, buddy?”
“Hey, this is getting scary. What am I? Some sort of Reptilian alien?” Eddie smiled, ate some, enjoyed it. “You going to keep me in suspense?”
“No. I’ve got it. You, my very dear friend and pain in the ass, are an empath. A real, honest to God empath. That’s what explains your angst, you visions, your despair; your deep questioning of the purpose of life. You feel it man, you feel it all and you have never learned how to deal with it. You’re supposed the “channel” this stuff, not keep it bottled up. It’s not about you, it’s about this world, and how life evolves or adapts itself within. That life needs to communicate; to give itself messages and in human terms, those messages are carried by empaths.
“When I said, “exactly” I meant it: it’s all based on empathy. There’s no need of proof once you pass a certain point, or reach a certain level of evolution – it just is. I’m a surgeon and I know a bit about NDE’s. I’ve had talks with quite a few patients who, after thanking me for saving their life, went on to describe their experiences under anaesthesia when they experienced clinical death. I was interested but never convinced beyond what you said: brain reaction.
“But it wasn’t that, don’t you see? These NDE people are empaths! They crossed over and came back because their nature provided the bridge between the physical world of their body and the spirit, or mental, world inhabited by their consciousness. I remember talking about this with Linda. She didn’t make the connection between NDE’ers and empathy, but she accepted the experience as very real. Goddam Eddie, she was right! I just needed to see the connecting thread and you just showed it to me. Your angst is your connection to others, Eddie. You’re not cursed, you are blessed, old friend.”
“If that’s the case, shouldn’t it have made me selfless and compassionate instead of the loser wimp you see before you?”
“No, I see it now, that’s not how it works. You needed teachers and you didn’t get them – luck of the draw I suppose. You needed to be taught self-empowerment and self-reliance. That’s where the rubber hits the road I bet. That’s where it comes together and changes you completely. Think about it, Eddie. Think about it long and seriously. While you’re on top of that, teach yourself about channelling – pass it on, don’t keep it in. You’re watching the movie, you’re not in the story being chased by those demons, though they are real. You can sense them but they don’t know you exist. That’s your key and your power. You can exert influence upon the stories in your mind if you learn how to transmute the information then upload it in its changed form. I read about this stuff; it’s amazing I never got it until now. You: you’re the key. You’re the Avatar. You’re the one making it happen now, right now, while you’re outside of yourself.
“Is that my alternative to life?”
“Yes. You see, there isn’t just one form of life, there are infinite types of life. People like yourself, well, they can slip in and out of any form they choose. You have the power to do that and that’s how you survive in worlds given over to violence like this one. You don’t stay in the line of fire, you duck, you live to fight another day. But you’re always on the front lines regardless of where you go in your mind.”
“You missed your calling, you should have been a preacher. I’m sold. Just hoping it isn’t the drinks talking, or feeling.”
“It isn’t the drinks. This is like a revelation. I’m sold too. I’m no empath, I know that, but you know who else is?”
“You bet, Linda. And I’m going after her. I love her; I’ve always loved her and I’m going to make it up to her for not pushing my way between the two of you. Got that?”
“Yes, I got that. It’s how it’s got to be.” He hesitated for a moment, then added, “I know you’ll be good for her, and you’ll take good care of Jessie. Let me know when you guys are married, or settled. I’d like to visit.”
“I’ll do that. No, I mean we’ll do that.”