‘From a Time of Ambiguity’ (Entry Two): ‘On Pleasure’

My young grandfather tiptoes through the kitchen and into the empty master bedroom. He carefully and intently anticipates each step, making sure that he does not set his foot on one of the creaky boards of the bedroom floor. He sees his dad’s sock drawer that opens up to his chin. He stares at it with wonder, continuing to creep onward. He reaches in to the far back of the painted oak drawer to the pair of old socks that his dad never wears. He feels the box that he intended on finding and pulls out a thin, white and orange cylinder, carefully inserting the box back into one of the two dirty socks from which he obtained it. He slips out of the room just as quietly and stealthily as he had entered, proceeding hastily behind the neighbor’s shed. He pulls out the matches that he had traded ten rare baseball cards for in order to ignite the cigarette he had stolen from his father. He smokes his first cigarette at the age of nine. He shines with happiness, despite the cough that associates his first deep inhale, the end of the cigarette glowing bright orange, air flowing quickly down his throat and rushing into his lungs. He could finally relax and not worry about arithmetic, feeding the dog, or hanging the clothes in the back yard with the clothespins that made his fingers sting with pain.

+++

            I walk across Lancelot Drive into the alley with two of my comrades, carrying a thirty rack of Natural Light. We walk down the dark alley, cautious of the dog in the backyard next to us, since we feared getting caught by anyone. We approach our disgusting destination. We habitually imbibed at the old abandoned house across the street from the pool where I worked as a lifeguard. We entered from the back, barely able to squeeze through the wooden gate, covered in wonderfully green ivy that seemed to constrict each panel of the gate with its strong, green arms. The gate connected to a deteriorating fence that seemed all too close to falling down into the alley. However, it still managed to keep us hidden when we wanted to go into that abandoned backyard and drink a few, or many more than a few, beers. This particular night, just three of us met at the abandoned house, but normally a whole crew of vagabonds congregated in that tiny backyard. We opened our first beers and began to talk. Continuing in our drinking, we began to feel empowered. Our parents, who implored us not to participate in activities like the ones we were currently partaking in, could not stop us. We were great friends sitting in a backyard enjoying a few drinks together, relishing in each other and in our youth.

+++

            My friend, Beau, tended to act quite awkward. He stands barely above average height, and remains a little bit overweight, but not “big” in any sense of the word. While interacting amicably with all whom he encounters, he inhabits a constant state of self-loathing and often jokes about his own pitfalls. However, my friend, Ian, and I still enjoy his company. One night, Ian and his girlfriend went out with Beau, setting him up with a girl, in hopes of easing some of his depressive thoughts. After they went to dinner at a somewhat upscale steak house, they came back to Ian’s house, where I met them. We hung out for about an hour, watching TV. Then, things escalated all too quickly and both couples began making out, sucking each other’s faces as a vacuum machine sucks dust particles and old Dorito crumbs off of the filthy floor. As the fifth wheel, a position I was not too unfamiliar with, I uneasily announced my much-expected departure and exited out the screen door. See, Beau, like me, had not lost his virginity, and was much too eager to get rid of the gargantuan ‘V’ on his forehead. That ‘V’ would disappear by sunrise.

+++

            I stand staring at a picture in an old, dusty frame. In it sits an old man with black hair. A transparent tube connects to his nose, leading to some machine not visible in the picture. He holds a baby, not more than a few months old, calmly lying in the arms of his grandfather. This picture sits on the mantel above the fireplace, gathering dust throughout the year. I find myself visiting the picture every now and then, seeing grandpa Ben holding me as an infant. I cherish this picture. I have never met my grandfather. Of course, he has held me, but he died of lung cancer before my first birthday. I know this picture, but not my grandfather. How can feeling giddy and shining with delight from a cigarette compare with having conversation with your own grandson? I am most certainly not angry at my grandfather, but it would have been nice to meet him and talk to him. There just seems to me severe pain that accompanies what some people consider “joy” in smoking cigarettes and things of that sort. This “joy” that my grandpa found prevented his relationship with his grandson from ever existing.

+++

            After having the golden liquid flow down our throats, each second becoming more dreamful than the one before, we left to rendezvous with a few other companions at the park in the neighborhood over. Given that we were only fifteen years old, we could not drive. As a result, we were forced to walk in the strikingly cold night on an adventure to Royal Park. We continued along the street, with beers piled in a backpack. We, a young group of hoodlums, found our three other friends and continued to drink more. I could feel the effects of the alcohol. I felt light, I felt immutable. After having finished my share of the thirty pack, only one friend, Cruz, and I remained at that eerie park. He still had three beers left, and after having about six, I decided to help him out with the last few. I was fifteen, no taller than 5’ 9’’ and weighed less than a buck twenty-five. These eight beers affected me more than I anticipated, causing me to begin blacking out, forgetting bits and pieces of what remained to occur that night. I don’t remember crossing the busy six-lane road in Dallas, and I barely remember having a man at another park shine a flashlight into my eyes. I remember extremely vaguely Cruz’s sister banishing me from their house due to my intolerable intoxication. I recall my hand on the doorknob attached to the deep, dark green door of my own home. I walk in nonchalant and soaring. But then, my mother calls me into her room, and I hesitantly enter. I open the door and proceed. She was wearing her pink nightgown that covered her body down to her shins. She looked at me; immediately suspicion rose inside her. There I stood, in front of the very woman who granted me life, intoxicated. Shame engulfed me. How could I disrespect my own mother by doing exactly what she told me not to do? How does a good buzz from brew compare to the loving and caring relationship between a mother and her son?

+++

            The next day, I walked to Ian’s house. We went to two different schools; I went to the small, private, Christian school and he went to the local public school. However, the summer allowed us to spend all the time we wanted to together. Finishing the small talk, he quickly acquired a face of sincere, frightful, and intrigue-filled fervor. He began to explain to me the happenings of the night before, after I had quickly and awkwardly left his house. He explained that Beau had taken the other girl back to his house, where Beau and his grandmother were the only inhabitants. They proceeded to continue their path of lustful excitement; Beau’s heart probably beating faster than ever before in his life. He reached into his pocket to pull out the condom Ian had advised he bring, but before he could even put his other hand on the wrapper to peel the case off, the girl pounced on him as a lion ambushes the vulnerable gazelle in the flat plains of Africa. Beau, a virgin, could not resist, and they proceeded to have sexual intercourse without protection. After the deed had been done, he began to fill up with anxiety, while she sat there indifferent, which all of us, after hearing the story, found extraordinarily odd. Beau went to Ian, who was decently more experienced in the matter. Ian gave Beau some Plan B that he kept in his drawer in case there was ever a pregnancy scare for him. Beau encouraged the girl to take it, and she complied. She had a day of sickness from the medication, as the box specifically indicates. He finally felt relieved. Why seek momentary, perhaps all too momentary, sexual pleasure if it costs such anxiety, such sickness and potentially exterminates a life?

+++

            People often fret over the lack of happiness in their lives. In effect, they chase money, sex, alcohol, drugs, work, and anything that they can find temporary pleasure in. They look for happiness in what St. Augustine calls “inferior objects,” things that can only give us fleeting pleasure, rather than lasting joy. Augustine claims that there are “higher and supreme goods,” saying, “these inferior goods have their delights, but not comparable to my God who has made them all. It is in him that the just person takes delight; he is the joy of those who are true of heart.”[1] Here, Augustine makes a clear distinction between pleasure and joy. Pleasure fades away, and suffering accompanies. Pleasure, at first, outweighs the pain. However, soon enough, anguish prevails. Joy, on the other hand, lasts, and can truly satisfy our desire for happiness, which pleasure can and will never do. Why do we continue to seek such disgusting and lowly gratifications?

+++

Oh what are my grief and my trouble, if I am able to be happy? You know, I don’t understand how it’s possible to pass by a tree and not be happy to see it. To talk with a man and not be happy that you love him!… there are so many things at every step that are so beautiful, that even the most confused person finds beautiful. Look at a child, look at God’s sunrise, look at the grass growing, look into the eyes that are looking at you and love you…[2]

What is a simple buzz from a cigarette when compared with looking into someone’s eyes and knowing they love you? What is finding brief happiness in the bottom of a bottle when compared with the glorious sunrise that occurs each and every day? What is finding sexual pleasure with a floosy girl compared with looking upon the face of a beautiful child? After having these experiences with pleasure, I simply don’t understand what people, including myself, think we will find in these simple and unsatisfying ends. All I do know is that Joy is not at the end of a cigarette, nor at the bottom of a Natural Light can, nor on the lips of a promiscuous woman.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

[1] St. Augustine, Confessions, trans. Henry Chadwick (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 29-30.

[2] Dostoevsky, Fyodor, The Idiot, trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (New York: Everyman’s Library, 2002), 553.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s