I send the message to Mimi, lock up the place, and get back in the car. Hamlet is pouting, wedged betweeen a couple of paddles, lying on his paws on top of a drybag.
ďLetís get the hell out of here, boy!Ē
That cheers him up. I donít care now, about anything. The island seems like the only place I can get any peace of mind at this point. Thatís why I want it--right now--nothing else--nothing else at all.
I see the early crocuses blooming, little purple signs of spring, scattered snow drops, daffodils ready to burst forth, a million tiny points of life, being green, just being alive on the near-frozen mud of March. Hamlet is halfway out the window, smelling all the things Iím seeing. This moment is all right. If I just donít think, if I can totally inhabit my senses, forget about my mind, let the present in, commune with the natural world--instead of giving in to the maelstrom of thoughts and emotions I know are churning up, waiting to mess up my day--Iíll be fine.
I can even let myself think about what I donít want to overwhelm me--Keith, KHaring, Dawn, Mimi, the stuff thatís been consuming me--without giving in to dwelling on it, wallowing in it.
We, me and Hamlet. Sheila was right, I donít feel alone, Hamlet is with me. We get to the drop-off point and unload the equipment. I park the car. Hamlet waits, guarding our gear. He gets so excited when he figures out weíre going for a boat ride, I waited until now to confirm it. I say just two words, ďboat ride,Ē to him and he is squealing with more desire and anticipation than he can contain.
ďThis is it, boy. Weíre going for a... BOAT RIDE!Ē
Down the hill with the equipment and weíre ready to push off. As soon as the raft is in the water, Hamlet is in the raft, muddying it up. He eyeballs the island and leans over the side of the boat, waiting with his tongue hanging out, nearly hyperventilating. The last gallon of water is loaded into the craft. I shove it over a sand bar and weíre gliding on the gray-green glassy pool separating the shore from Turtle Isle. Since Iím planning a long stay, I slip the raft down the left channel, pass by the island and catch the eddy at itís tip to nudge us back toward the last good landing site.
Before I can say, ďWeíre here, boy!Ē Hamlet is out of the boat, splashing through the water and up on the shore, barking like a jackal. I throw out the anchor, hug a tree, and then Hamlet comes over to collect his own hug.
Within the hour, our gear is lined up against the tent and I have a fire started. I found four marbles on my search for firewood. By the third one, I couldnít keep thoughts of Dawn out of my head. Finding marbles on our secret hideaway--it was our little pleasure and now itís a sad reminder that I canít ignore whatís been in the back of my mind any longer. By the fourth marble, my eyes were tearing, maybe it was the smoke from the fire. Hamlet comes by for reassurance, which Iím happy to offer. It feels good having him to hug, like a warm teddy bear. Iíll be OK. I just need to keep busy.
Supper is simple, jerky for me, dogfood and a bit of jerky for Hamlet. I set out a couple of fishing lines, lie back and wait for the sun to set and for the comet to appear. This yearís comet is turning out to be a stunner. Out here, away from city lights, it should be a magnificent sight to behold.
Lying here, my back to the earth, wrapped in my extra sleeping bag, I imagine the rest of the world spinning by. I can barely hear a sound above the rushing rapids lining both sides of the island. Every once in a while, a car backfires, its driver downshifting a bit too late on the steep grade that connects Route 724 to the 422 bypass. The nearest road is basically a shortcut, taken by locals looking to shave a few precious minutes off their daily commute, or boom-boxers in sleek low cars, the Ď90s equivalent of hot-rodders, or else guys and girls who love to push their imported beauties up and down the Appalachian hills, feeling empowered, feeling free.
Then thereís the recurrent sound of long freight trains skirting the mountains on a pair of three inch rails. The screech and howl starts at Clapperthal Junction. Cars start clattering around the riverís big ďSĒ curve. Banging to a halt begins on the next hill downstream. All that tonnage squeezes through the single-track bridge about a hundred yards from here. It sounds like hell.
I never mind the sound of the trains, though. It is after all, the sound of my artwork. Itís also the sound of Reading, the city wher I was born. Iíve recorded, sampled, and orchestrated the sounds of the trains for years. Itís a familiar soundtrack for my consciousness. Iíd wonder where I am without it.
The sun is setting and I let my mind wander for the first time since this morning. Instantaneously, the thoughts rush in, tumbling like waves from a dam release. Mimiís message echoes soundlessly.
ďDawn is KHaring !!!Ē
Incredible... All this time sheís been sending, receiving messages as Keith! What a mind fuck! Itís so outrageous. It upsets me just thinking about it. It seems so deceptive, manipulative, deceitful. I start to feel real hate welling up in me.
Now in an instant, I feel differently. What if she is a clear channel, clearer than I am? How did she--could she have answered those questions? Did I tell her casually one day, details about that particular trip to New York with Keith? Should I allow for the possibility that she has telepathic powers or that Keith is actually using her to communicate with me. Some of those replies actually came before my initial messages were even sent. Precognition?
Screw it. I donít care. I hate this whole fucking business--what itís become, my stupid obsession with a fanatical genius, a dead gay man, a bi-sexual madwoman, everybody else in this psychic melodrama.
And fucking Mimi! What did I expect, meeting her in a fucking chatroom on fucking American Line? So I deserved what I got. What the hell. I feel like a fool every time I fall for a woman.
ďHamlet, come here, boy. You see that comet up there? Thatís all there is boy--fucking space dust. A sooty snowball, heated up to glow for a few months in four-thousand years. Thatís it, boy. You and me and a fucking snowball in outer space.Ē
Itís so cold out here, Iím shivering in my sleeping bag. I donít know how Hamlet can take it on the back porch all winter. He comes in for food, then heís at the door begging to go back out, afraid he might miss something--a trash pickup, or the mailman, or his nemesis, Goulash, the sheepdog.
Iím freezing but the comet is so beautiful. I donít know. Nature is damn harsh, but itís cut with such magnificence, such delicate perfection. Itís cruel for months, then kind for a moment, makes you crawl, then lifts you up, drops you like a rock, floats you downriver for miles, then crashes you into a boulder just when youíre starting to relax and trust it--or Her. Fucking Mother Nature....
Somehow, I fell asleep under the stars. I woke up at 3 a.m. The comet had set beneath a shimmering sky. My fingers were numb. The fire was barely glowing. I kicked the last few embers into flame, added some twigs and a big piece of driftwood. I stroked my dog, offered him a snack, and crawled into the tent. My first night on Turtle Isle. I felt like a bitter old man.
I woke up after sunrise with a single thought racing through my mind-- ďThe spawn never diesĒ. Slowly, the dream comes back into focus. I see a ring of workers tending a huge ever-expanding mushroom in a vast cavern. I recall the entire vision now, seeing Francescoís role as the bearer of ancestral wisdom, seeing Keith as my companion in this cosmic process. All my dreams concatenate into an instant of clarity and peace. I feel connected to the past, alive in the present, seeding the future. So thatís it. The whole endless circular pathway is within me. I am in the world, seeded by the past, within the present, dreaming the future. The spawn never dies....
A cold rain is starting to fall. I let Hamlet into the tent and start writing....
Iíve spent the last week writing like a maniac. One week into my solo sojourn and Iím finally getting past my anger. Thereís too much here to feel good about. This morning, I landed the biggest bass I ever caught! It was nearly four pounds and gave me food all day--a half fillet for breakfast and lunch, a whole one for dinner, breaded and fried up with beans and rice.
All week thereís been only two canoes on the river--one carrying a solitary fisherman who saw my catch, gave me two thumbs up and wished me luck, and another manned by a pair of paddlers who were scouting routes for their canoe club. I told them to avoid the fast water around the island and hoped theyíd stay away. Half the pleasure of being here is the seclusion. I can share the river if I have to but Iíd like the channels near my island hideaway to stay uncharted, especially by a gaggle of day-trippers from boathouse row.
The weather has been colder than normal but thatís normal--at least every other year. Thatís been the pattern so long. One of these years people will just come to expect it. Then it will be a normal two-year cycle and you wonít have to act predictably surprised, just to have something to complain about.
Cold for March means cold and windy, which makes it feel colder, like winter with sun and green grass and the witheld promise of spring. Soon it will be spring by the calendar, though, and then there will be no turning back. I feel like Iím out here getting the jump on things along with the flora and fauna that use the sunís progressively steeper angle for setting their biological clocks. Spring is around the bend damnit, by the sun if not the weather.
My manuscript is finally up to date. It took a few years to get in synch. Now that Iím writing in the present, maybe Iíll be able to see an end to it all. Sometimes, I wish I could say I donít care about what has transpired since I began this project. I admit it, I care. But Iím still uncertain as to what I believe.
Occasionally, I just go off the deep end with it all. I feel like Iím being programmed, manipulated, jerked around by ghosts. Before I left, I filled Sheila in on every detail of the projectís past and all I could about the new version--ďthe millennium project.Ē She was wide-eyed and seemed incredulous. But she didnít interrupt or react to my story until the end.
ďOK,Ē she said. Then she took a deep breath and smiled an impish smile. ďWhen do I get to ask the hundred or so questions I have?Ē
I put her off until my return. Sheís a trooper. She just helped me load up and kept smiling and shaking her head. When the story in the Weekly World News hits the stands, things will take on a life of their own. After that, it will be a free-for-all. This thing has been concocted from scratch, and who is really responsible for it?
In a way, itís the memory of Keith moving through those who knew him. But things, especially living things, evolve, mutate, metamorphose. Even the memory of the dead changes. Itís carried by the living through new territories, conveyed across old boundaries, seen from higher heights, taught to the young. Things change and we change with them.
I was moved by the omnipresent memory of my friend, moved by our pledges to create something new, something strong, something never before accomplished. Since then, it has nearly died, as he died. It stalled, as I stalled, hesitated, struggled to be born anew. Now it will multiply!
Along the way I have touched others and been touched by them. Iíve let out what was all inside and let the outside in. Iíve been changed in the process, changed by the process, perhaps even for the process.
I felt at the heart of it when it began. Now I feel outside again. Dawn has been guiding it, guiding me, for months. Do I trust her? Must I trust her now more than I trust myself ? Or is she a messenger? Can I just perceive the message, act on it, move it along, be a part of it without knowing the ultimate source?
I canít deny Iím still influencing, creating even, the steps which will inevitably open it up to the world. As I examine my decisions, some were made consciously, others were conceived in dreams, came to me in flashes of insight, even perversity.
Maybe Iím just reluctant to let go. Now that I can begin to discern the rough outline of its silhouette. I can see how it will grow, expand in time, taking on a form of its own. Others will get involved. Soon many others will add their energy to the burgeoning conception I so obsessively nurtured for years, alone.
The mere idea of an open-ended project whose definition would evolve over time is what has given this thing so much momentum. With millions of people let in all at once, what will happen to it? Where will it go from here? The stage has been set by a small crew. The cast is enormous, endless. We are also its audience.
The media of the future are in place today. When Keith died, there was no World Wide Web. Now, a few individuals can institute a global process with a few keystrokes, let it simmer for a few days, stoke it with a tantalizing bit of imagination, send it on its way toward the millennium at the speed of light and thought!
Thereís no going back now, anyway. I knew it when I dropped the altered image into Alís mail slot. I knew it when the dreams came so insistently, when messages flashed, and replies came instantaneously. I knew it when I met Keith for the first time. I knew it also when my grandfather died...
Life is all there is. Living. Carrying the torch. Passing it on. The blackness of the void is illumed from within, as the darkness of our sleep is brightened by dreams.
No one returns, yet no one leaves. We are all here at once, some as bodies, some as ghosts, some in memory and some in dreams. What we do is what we are. Whatís done through us and to us, what there is to do and what will be done happens, never dies. There is nothing else but life.
Today the vernal equinox will occur. The world will be in equipoise, balanced for an instant between shadow and light. The outcome is inevitable. Spring will arrive, flowers will bloom, leaves will deck the trees, animals will mate and bear their young, the land will be renewed, and this island will warm up!
The comet is a nightly reminder of the miraculous present. Its tail has grown since the beginning of the month. The shiny shaft is pale blue hazy white. Skirting the halo of the milky way, the glowing space thing points down toward Earth like a cosmic road sign, directing souls toward their destiny.
Hamlet is totally in the present, always. We are bonded, mammal to mammal, like never before. Clustered days have passed without a sighting of another human being. Except for the sounds of road and track, the passage of the occasional aircraft, I feel like I could be ten-thousand miles from civilization. I donít want to leave this place, ever. I fantasize about paddling out at the end of the month for supplies and paddling back in again after an hour or so on shore, replenished and ready for more time on Turtle Isle. I dream the approach of the glowing ship seen by no man, hovering there above the bridge, over the river.
Iím drifting now, watching the water flow on, dreaming of dying, being born, ending it, starting over. I see the endless capacity of nature to renew itself, the endlessness of manís urge to know too much, to be too much, to love and be loved without end, to live without limits. Life and death are the same thing. Keith floats beatific, transfigured, above these budded treetops. I am alive on this island. We are bound by the infinite circularities of fate.
Nothing Dies is an endless work in progress...
This site contains a portion of a work-in-progress conceived in 1986 by Keith Haring and Tullio Francesco DeSantis.
Nothing Dies, entire contents copyright Tullio Francesco DeSantis, 1987 - 2016