I pulled back the curtains over my window and looked through the filmy panes towards the field across the road. The grass blades were green with brown edges and were matted underneath a frost that was gray and dusty. The shed in the middle of the field had steam coming off of its warm roof that rose in high swirling spires that drifted off towards the train tracks. The train came through and the brown tracks smoked in its wake, hot with friction. There was a small gray cloud, far away and hardly visible through the spaces in the leafless trees.
A month earlier I had sat outside of his house with him. It was late autumn and as we spoke our breaths swirled in front of us. It was cold and the sky was just coming out of its nightly blackness and I needed to go to sleep but I stayed outside and listened as he spoke to me. He was talking about the passing of beauty and his inability to understand everything but mainly suffering and others’ incapacity for virtue and kindness. I had nothing to tell him. I only listened as his thoughts became words that steamed from his mouth before disappearing, only to leave their painful roots deeply stemmed in his thoughts.
“You know,” I said, feeling the need to say something that I could end the night with, “everyone suffers at some point. Everyone must suffer. But really it’s about how they see it and take in their own suffering. Just accept it and take away its power over you. Let it make you stronger.” I stood up to show that I had said all that I was going to. As I walked away I realized that my words had not done anything and that no one’s words could really do anything for him.
The gray cloud grew larger as the white clouds that it touched stuck to it and were stained with its gray heaviness. The trees by the railroad tracks swayed as the wind blew their canopies. More smoke came off of the green roof of the shed. The field whitened with more frost. The hazy blue sky lost its color. The gray cloud moved closer until it obscured and eventually hid the horizon from which it came.
He slept less and began to read more as though there was some vessel within him that he had to fill; some finite space that would make him whole and fill the shape that he wanted to become. But he was still not full. When I saw him he was distant and would look both pitiful and powerful. When he spoke he talked about both the horrible world but his own greatness and control over his life. Later that night he told me about the beauty of life and his own powerlessness and his resignation to fate. People were worried about him, but he thought that they simply didn’t understand what he was saying and as he said this I saw a fear inside of him as he realized that he didn’t understand what he was saying either.
Clouds hid everything behind them under an opaque gray quilt that covered everything in coldness. The sun was covered and reduced to only a small circle of light that made cloud a brighter gray than the rest. Above there was a whorling of white flakes like silt beneath the current as some force spun them downward.
That evening I was sitting on my bed, warm and complacent aside from a knowing that soon something would happen. I had heard rumors and knew that they were all true. I thought about him. He was strong but he had begun unraveling, twine by twine, until the remaining fibers could not hold on anymore and the he, once one, came apart. The kitchen door opened and he walked in with a red leatherbound book with musty pages in his hands. He set it down on my bedside table and stood there cracking his knuckles, writhing his fingers together and breaking them apart as he tried to string together a story and an explanation. He said he had been awake for days feeling cold and hearing and seeing things. Earlier in the day he had left and gone to his friends’ apartment and slept on their floor until they kicked him out and when he left their apartment he saw a church and went inside where he saw a woman kneeling and praying for a diseased man in the hospital but she stopped praying to comfort him until the pastor came and talked to him. The pastor gave him a Bible and they placed their hands on it and prayed to St. Anthony to help him find himself but when the pastor opened his eyes he saw him crying as he felt he had become a conduit for God’s word and must make a pilgrimage to Singapore with his Bible, a knife, a harmonica, and camera to pray continuously. He swore he would never lose the Bible as the priest had given it to him and in doing so had cast out the devil from him so that he could go about repaying the priest. The snow came as a message from God and despite the snow he felt an incredible warmth and felt a bright sun inside that gave him illuminations and only then did he realize that he must love all people that he didn’t like before and make amends to them because they simply have different truths than him.
He stopped talking and looked at me. He was unable to understand that I was unable to understand what he had said. To him his truths were absolute. But his words had no effect on me other than a fear and painful empathy for him. I remembered talking to him on the beach months earlier. In the waves he was happy and smiled when he talked about his girlfriend. Under that bright sun above the beach he looked so firm and happy, but when he spoke to me now I saw his strength pouring out from him until he was emptied.
Realizing that I had not understood him, he opened his red Bible and began to read. “There is an appointed time for everything and a time for every affair under the heavens a time to give birth and a time to die a time to plant and a time to uproot the plant a time to kill and a time to heal a time to tear down and a time to build a time to weep and a time to laugh a time to mourn and a time to dance a time to scatter stones and a time to gather a time to embrace and to be far from embraces a time to seek and a time to lose a time to keep and a time to cast away. . . it had to snow today. Today it was a time to snow, it must happen. You know what I saw? A bright sun and I felt an inner warmth. Deep. In my core,” he said as he closed the book with a snap and clenched one hand in front of his chest. He held this pose for a moment before he set the book down and covered his crying eyes with both hands. In that moment of his revelation I saw his dissolution and unraveling but I did not say anything.
After he left I stayed in bed. I felt paralyzed. I should get up and try to help him but I knew that there was nothing I could do and so I stayed where I was, sitting upright and looking towards my door. When I got up I went outside to the porch. The snow had stopped falling and most of it had melted already. The gray cloud had been torn apart by the last of the sunlight and the gray pieces that remained had been carried away. The sky was black and starless. I thought of the sky earlier that day. It was robin’s egg blue and I saw the shell crack and all of its insides pour out and spill across the horizon. That ugly yolk had poured out and there was no way to put the pieces of the shell back together and capture and contain its insides so that they would be protected and safe. At that moment the sky looked at once beautifully grand and frighteningly fragile.