The Dark Night of the Soul

Benny stares through his basement window and he can feel his heart rejoicing once again by the absence of the sun. Sunlight has become his worst enemy since his parents died, his wife left him and his only son was officially declared M.I.A. while fighting the war in Iraq. These days, he hardly leaves his apartment. He closes all the shades, draws all the curtains and turns off all the lights while he just lies on his back with his hands clasped behind his head and his eyes transfixed on the white ceiling.

Sometimes Benny lays with his back to all the stuff he has accumulated over the years. Stuff that he can’t seem to bring himself to get rid of. He likes to rummage through other people’s trash and bring various things into his already cramped space. There is so much stuff in his place that there’s hardly any room for Benny himself. Clothes carpet his floors, empty take-out boxes are all piled in one corner of his bedroom next to the TV, and there are a number of shopping bags filled with trash rotting in the kitchen. Maggots have taken residence under them.

Benny’s window overlooks the sky and he often feels like God is looking down on him. The phone lately has been ringing with a sort of desperate urgency, yet Benny remains completely still as if he hasn’t heard it at all. He just lets the machine deal with the incessant calls. His friends, or at least the few he has managed to hold on to, must be wondering about where he is. He has once before tried to end it all by starving himself, refusing food and water for nearly two weeks. But at the last minute he changed his mind and decided to have a can of coke and a slice of pizza.

Benny has ceased to maintain any sort of personal care and he is beginning to smell. A stale odor of decay swirls lazily about the air of his apartment. The smell is akin to rat and mice droppings, if you’ve ever had the misfortune to smell that particular odor. There are litters of unwashed dishes in the sink, mold all over his bathroom walls, a mail box full of unopened mail and a mass of newspapers piled up in front of his door. From an outsider’s point of view, it would seem as if no one lives there at all. Day after day, Benny just lies there, living a death in life, with nothing to look forward to or get out of bed for. “What a waste,” he thinks to himself. “Just taking up space.” Death seems to be constantly tip toeing around him, waiting for the right time to finish him off.

He remembers happier times when his wife Lola sat in the sand on the beach on Martha’s Vineyard building a sandcastle with their son, little Jimmy. Her long straight brown hair flirting and twirling in the summer wind, Little Jimmy screeching with joy and laughter, “Daddy look! Look Daddy! I made a castle! I made a castle!” He remembers looking on and smiling with an open book on his lap and thinking how complete his life is finally, as the summer wind gently lifts his blond hair off his forehead. He remembers feeling the joy of a man who keeps winning the lottery over and over again, every time he thinks about his life with his beloved family. His parents were still alive back then and they used to go visit them on the Cape where they all lived.

More recently, Benny’s bouts with depression and psychosis have driven his wife away. She could no longer tolerate the periods of rage and paranoia that plague him when his ill. She begged and pleaded with him to seek treatment, but he refused to admit that he was sick. Eventually, Benny’s denial and the ensuing consequences drove her away. Lola feared that had she not left him, she would start hating him and she could not contend with that possibility. So inspite of herself, she left and took Little Jimmy with her. Lola’s departure exacerbated Benny’s already declining mental health. She had custody and he had the weekends. His visitations became less and less regular as his life careened out of control due to his untreated condition. Before he knew it, Little Jimmy turned eighteen and joined the army. His relationship with Lola was on-again off-again: on when he was well, off when he was not.

Now lonely and bereft of emotion, Benny lies motionless on his disheveled bed staring at the ceiling of his sinister apartment waiting for something, anything to happen to make him feel alive again. He used to be a man who made things happen; now he has become a man who waits for things to happen. He used to walk around with a half smile on his face, a twinkle of joy and mischief in his eyes and a restless eagerness in his steps. He used to be the life of the anywhere he happens to be, always ready to crack a joke or laugh at someone else’s. He used to pretend to walk around like a sad man with his head hanging over his chest, and then all of a sudden perk right back up again laughing at himself. Now, he feels that his fire has been snuffed out by a giant bright red hand that has descended directly from hell.

The phone is ringing again and it goes directly to the machine. “Hey Benny. It’s George. What’s goin’ man? I haven’t heard from you in days. I’m starting to worry. Call me.” He lies still unresponsive. He decides that tomorrow he will do something, anything, even though he does not know what it is. He’ll find out when he actually does it.

The next day, a streak of sunlight slices his bedroom floor and for the first time in months, he does not mind its shiny glare. “Today’s forecast is expected to be sunny and temperatures are expected to reach record high for March.” His listens to his clock radio as he gets out of bed. For the first time in months Benny decides to clean himself up. He showers, shaves, puts on clean clothes and even cleans his dirty apartment. He opens his night stand and grabs his rosary beads. He makes the sign of the cross using his middle finger first on his forehead, then chest then his left and right shoulders. He then says a quiet prayer then leaves the apartment. He passes in front of the mirror and smiles at himself as he heads out. He gets on the train and heads and finds himself getting off at the stop near the beach, the same beach he used to spend time with his family.

Benny spends all day at the beach, watching happy families, seagulls, listening to the soothing sounds of the waves. He is waiting for darkness to fall and soon, the sun descends into the belly of the sea and everyone has left the beach. He lies in the sand on his back with his hands clasped behind his head as he stares into the dark skies, which he feels promise him nothing. At midnight, he gets up and walks toward the sea. The voices of his wife and son echoe in his ears from that perfect summer day he remembers so well—“Daddy look! Look Daddy!”—as he enters the sea until he is completely submerged, to dwell forever in its abyss.

Back home, Lola leaves Benny a message about possibly getting back together if he’s willing to go into treatment. Little Jimmy calls next, leaving him a message to announce that he’s back from Iraq and eager to celebrate his homecoming.

The moon emerges to hover over the sea and diminish the darkness. Benny’s soul wishes he were there to come and see.

Jacques Fleury is a Poet, Author and Columnist; his book “Sparks in the Dark: A Lighter Shade of Blue, A Poetic Memoir” about life in Haiti & America was featured in the Boston Globe. Sample or buy the book at: www.lulu.com. 20% of proceeds will go to Haiti charity Partners in Health. For personal appearances or comments contact Jacques at: haitianfirefly@gmail.com.

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