Space, A Preface (for The Doctor) by Benjamin McPherson Ficklin

“After death comes
nothing hoped for
nor imagined.”
Heraclitus, Fragment 122

         Before anyone labels me insane, let them be born into my head, and we’ll see the situations they find themselves in. Like, at that moment, the edge of the Oregon desert, stooping in the shade of the last ponderosa pine, glancing back and forth from the dirt road to the setting sun. I mean, haven’t we all felt naked and limbless upon realizing that we’d invested hope in something untrustworthy? Personally speaking, it’s a familiar thought: Oh, all their promises were lies easing their experience of our interaction. Or worse – some people have malefic intentions.

          I remember the tree groaning as I watched the sky spread orange on the horizon. The long shadow stretching across the desert – that wasn’t real, just another thing progressing toward disappearance. Can’t you almost see me dissolving as I slouched there in flip-flops, shredded blue jeans and a yellow bikini top? They had my backpack. They weren’t returning with beer and gasoline for the eastward drive. Considering it now, that story reminds me of the time I attended RagnaRöck. It was this festival near Weott, California, pretty deep in the redwoods. Four days of, maybe, two hundred metalheads and me listening to music beneath the giants. I awoke hungover on the second day, too much red wine. Nothing is beautiful when grappling with internal pain, right? So who wasn’t going to say yes to some cocaine with breakfast? I think I’d been planning to make pancakes. It doesn’t matter who brought the coconut. You just need to know there was a coconut in the camp I’d awoken in. One of the metalheads produced it when I verbally begrudged my headache. “Drink the milk inside this coconut.” They said something like and handed me the fruit. Isn’t it easy to imagine a gaggle of metalheads doing cocaine and growing increasingly more frantic in their application of various coconut-opening methods? Whacking it against a rock – whacking a rock against the coconut – whacking the coconut with a frying pan – punching the coconut. It wasn’t cracking, so, with a burst of excitement, I leapt up, cradling the fruit, and declared I would return with a knife! or a sword, or a dagger. Any blade. The mission: Open The Coconut. What I mean is that my hungover need for electrolytes was buried by the coke, but it felt good to have a purpose. I was proud to be a woman searching for a knife to open a coconut.

         I scuttled through the trunks, cradling the coconut like a football, just sober enough to not shout my need into the early morning camp. Laughter. I heard laughter, or maybe it was merely voices. Outside a red tent sat two guys wearing black. One of them lifted a golden dagger to the nose of his friend. The friend snorted violently. Perfection, right? Synchronicity. One of those moments where you have faith in a cosmic current upon which you’re riding. New-age people love this idea and will tell you all about it, as long as you employ their vocabulary. Me? Who am I to believe anything? Yet, here was a dagger and what appeared to be more cocaine at seven something in the morning. What could I have said to them? Some high-pitched, rapid-fire rant about my desperate need to borrow their blade. And, maybe, could you help me keep my buzz going? Whatever came out of my mouth, I still recall the gaunt redhead with a long beard asking, “You want to take a hit of space?”

          I immediately said. Like, “Do you want to take a hit of space?” “Yes!” He lifted the knife and smiled. I snorted. They both laughed. I tried to reiterate my purpose for needing for the blade, when I experienced a cessation of the corporeal form I’d inhabited for the preceding twenty-whatever years. A complete rupture in continuity. Darkness mostly. It wasn’t so much calm as it was devoid of feeling. Weightlessness is maybe a good descriptor word. Nothingness with succulent orbs scattered in the darkness. Floating freeform for some decades until coming upon themed planets that fractalized infinitely. It doesn’t matter what the planets were, as much as it matters what the planets evoked. I can say that I remember there was a labyrinthine orb that I flew into, and, upon noticing the cracks in the stone walls, I burrowed into more minute mazes. A liquid orb with water ever more blue the deeper I sunk. A flesh orb in continual orgy with itself. Heat orb burning me into nothing over and over again, no incineration any less visceral than the last. No pain though, remember? No emotion. Feelings evoked by the orbs were so distant that I could consider them objectively. Forever spent travelling the nihility of darkness; forever spent delving into orbs. Heat, fear, wetness, sensuousness, hunger – though there was nothing to feed, or I mean that I had no remembrance of body or personhood or Earth or any language taught to me as a child.

          “What’re you?” At first it didn’t sound like English. It was just a fleshy smacking that reverberated through the darkness. Years later, it became recognizable. “What’re you doing? Why the fuck are you crawling? Where’s the coconut?” Millennia in the past, I was still me and there I was crawling along the dirt path between the tents amidst recognizable things like redwood trees, ferns, plastic coolers, tents, and one of the guys from my camp standing over me. We’re all a lost people, really. Abstainers, outcasts, misfits, the abused, the neglected, the left behind, our society doesn’t make space for most people. Yet there I was, this person on the planet Earth, in a time, beneath enormous trees. Isn’t it sort of cruel that we tell little kids they’re special. We’re implying, You’re greatness is due to your uniqueness. This platitude is pervasive across The United States of America, thus I can bet all those metalheads had quarterlife crises right around when I had mine. Even the angriest portions of this country’s counterculture want to believe their individuality predestines greatness. Oh, what the fuck story am I telling? A tension, a rupture, a breaking of my mind continued all that day. At one moment I was omnipotent and capable of exploring existence unknown, the next I became a dirty human surrounded by acoustic metal. Everyone was mad at me. I’d be mad at me too. When the last hallucination of a golden plane of unfeelable joy (somehow I knew that was the final insight) left me, I returned to corporeality on a wooden stage, without a coconut, next to a man with a guitar, before a crowd of people, yelling – I was yelling, “Why can’t I die! Why can’t I die! Why can’t I die!” I was so overwhelmed by the profundity of my experience that I thought it had to climax in an expiration. But I returned to flesh. Toes, elbows, stomach, butt, ears, boobs, nostrils, mouth, language. I spent the next few years afraid that at any given moment my human reality would dissolve again. But I’ve always come back here to you. Most of us are here. What am I saying? Don’t listen to me. Anyways, sorry. And there I was, somewhere on the edge of the desert, beneath a ponderosa pine, again in disbelief of my proceeding existence and stuck with the responsibility of a body. Those that had promised me care were nowhere on the road, but, since I was no longer bound to them, there was a desert to wander through. The sun set and it became cold real quick.

Benjamin McPherson Ficklin was born in Portland, Oregon. He funds his writing addiction by working as a commercial fisherman, abstract photographer, weed trimmer, event coordinator, and gongfu team-master. Follow Benjamin McPherson on Twitter