Mortigi Tempo

Brian Schmitt

 

It was on a fair spring day that I stumbled upon the journal of one Harry MacFarlane. I was walking through a catchy little forestry on an enticing little Sunday when I came across the navy-blue journal. It was a little battered and worn, and immediately I knew: it was quite old. At first I was excited to have found it; the weekend I was supposed to be freely enjoying was actually somewhat lonely. But after reading its scarce yet captivating contents, I felt compelled to put it back in the forest and let another person stumble upon it, hoping they would do the same, and so on and so forth. It was very strange—I usually don't walk through the forest, I usually stay along the cobblestone path beside it. Maybe there was a strange force pulling me towards the navy-blue journal, since I felt no real reason to change my usual path. It is my sincere wish that the story of Harry MacFarlane be spread from coast to coast; from nation to nation. And then will Harry MacFarlane be remembered, not forgotten; for that is the single reason for the agony he endured.

 

Harry didn't write much—he wasn't a very good writer at all. He misspelled some words here and there and had distracting punctuation mistakes; basically, he wrote like he was still in grade school. Right now I'm clueless as to why he would even write a journal; he seemed like a regular kid, amazed by movies and not by books; perplexed by explosions and not by words. Perhaps the force that pulled me to the journal was the same that drove him to write it. Yet I would imagine Harry didn't care much for literature. He seemed a simple teenager, and most likely going through the same confusing phases that many teenagers go through—zits, love, peer pressure, the complexity of his future life, the pressures of school and home—and he wrote in the navy-blue journal during his week-long spring break. He made one entry for each day, from Monday to Sunday. Like most kids he probably felt that Monday was the true start of the week, not Sunday. Sunday was just another Saturday. And while most kids his age were at Six Flags or visiting their grandparents who live miles or oceans away, Harry MacFarlane wasn't going anywhere. He stayed home during his entire spring break—he entered it a somewhat confused, yet care-free, teen. He would leave his spring break a victim.

 


Monday,, March 24, 1997

 

Harry's first entry isn't very enlightening: "Here goes another long spring break." His optimism was as low as his self-esteem: "Im gonna do nothing, except eat my face off. Wont pick up food, just call for delivary." Without any disposition towards self-achievement, immediately Harry was failing himself, both for his standards and what everyone else expects of him—"Im tired of them telling me to work towards sucsess. I look forward to a whole week alone." Harry's optimism predicted his week for him, so already Harry didn't have to do any of his own work.


"Woke up around 11 in the morning, ordered some sausage pizza. After I ate, I walked around the park until 3, just throwing a football to myself." The park wasn't far from the forest, being just a five-minute walk. "I pretended to be the allstar quarterback throwing a 36 yard touchdown pass to a rookie receever. Nobody was around. It was nice." From this I could tell Harry MacFarlane was a football player, or a "jock," who dreamed of success. But as his apathy immediately showed itself in the first passage, he dragged himself down with no motivation for himself. As with all jocks, he seemed to be the popular one—perhaps the handsome benchwarmer that all the girls dreamed to have. "I got 3 or 4 calls from Jenni and Gabby, havent called them back. I should call back, just to say whats up. Actually, I dont want to. I miss Linda a little, maybe Ill call her." Already he had intention not to be alone. Yet a part of him embraced the isolation—but another feared it; the part which feared it he was not familiar with. Another way to put it: he was hesitant to talk to Jenni and Gabby, but he wanted to talk to Linda. He barely wrote any more about Linda after that.

 

"I sat in the dark for four hours trying to sleep. I kept my eyes open, closing my eyes was too painful for some reason." Already there were signs of fatigue. "I thought about Linda, and if I should see anybody for spring break. I think Ill just stay at home. Ill turn my phone off. Or maybe Ill burn it." This was the moment he decided to be alone for the week, being only familiar with himself. There were two possible outcomes: he would enjoy the break from life, or he would tumble down a deep slope of loneliness—his own thoughts would turn him crazy. But those are just two possible outcomes. "I couldnt sleep, so I went downstairs for a cup of water. When I tried to go back up the stairs, I couldnt. I dont know why, but my legs wouldnt let me. So I just slept on the couch in the living room. Parents wont be home til sunday, they cant care if they are not here."


Many times Monday appears to be a dreary, long day to people. "Just another Monday," I once overheard someone say. Harry went through a very long Monday, I could tell. Of course he didn't write much, yet with the situations he described, I could already see the deterioration occurring in him. It started at the genesis of Spring Break—which in itself was the very symbol of freedom, of escape; odd that Harry was living maybe the worst week of all his weeks passed. That same week—Spring Break—would perhaps change the rest of Harry's life. Instead of the week becoming a distant memory, it would follow him on his shoulder, always whispering, screaming into his ear, trying to remind him of the pain he suffered—of the loneliness he endured.

 


Tuesday, March 25, 1997

 

"I woke up early, couldnt sleep much. There were sirens outside my house, and I heard a few gunshots. Maybe it was a burgler or something, but there are some news cameras out there now. I dont feel like going outside now, so Ill just wait for the news on tv." I read into the local newspaper at the library, and I discovered that it was a break-in, and the neighbor, which Harry "barely knew," similarly to all his neighbors, was attacked and shot. They had rushed him to the hospital yet he died during the ride. The burglar wasn't caught; he was still roaming the streets. I looked further to see if he was eventually captured, but I found nothing. The burglar stole only movie cassettes and kitchen silverware, which is odd for such an extreme event. Harry's neighborhood, similar to mine in the present, was peaceful; content, yet friendly. It was out of place for a burglary, and obviously very out of place for a murder. Harry didn't watch the news at all that day. "Afternoon, sat staring at the ceiling for a while. Then I just walked around my house. I was bored, so I turned the tv on to a random channel. It was a movie, with some guy running through a parking lot. I wished I was him because he looked like he was doing something important." I can't recall a movie having a scene like that. But it was a somewhat novel idea of Harry's, and from this (along with his football fantasy) I could tell he dreamt of being a type of hero—perhaps saving the "damsel in distress," or stopping the bank robbers, or even running from the enemy—but becoming a hero, no matter the consequence, was the only hint of optimism from Harry.


"Ordered some chinese food, the guy was late and the stuff was cold. So I put it in the microwave. But some of the teriaki chicken exploded. Cleaned it up, ate the rice and noodles. Wasnt very good." I can't imagine how many times this has happened to me, not the microwave incident, but the food being cold. The delivery man is usually arrogant. I also can't imagine how much gas I've wasted picking up the food instead of ordering it—just to avoid the delivery man and the automatic "tip" I have to give him. I bet many have done the same thing.


Harry didn't sleep at all that night: "I cant sleep now…its 4 am. The tv is on, the lights are dimmed, and I still cant sleep. I think I need help. Maybe I have insamnia." Later, he wrote: Its 9 am now, I didnt sleep. I tried to imagine sheep hopping over a fence, but it didnt work." At this point, Harry was a moving car—getting slower and slower, breaking apart; yet the driver caring less and less.

 


Wednesday, March 26, 1997

 

"I watched the news, and some cultists committed suicide, about 40 of em in San Diego. Something called Heaven's Way, or something like it." It was actually called Heaven's Gate, a "UFO religion." They believed that a spaceship was hiding behind "Comet Hale-Bop," and that Jesus Christ himself was aboard that ship. The killed themselves so they could ride the spaceship as well. I also read they carried quarters to use on the spaceship's arcade and vending machines. They committed suicide by drinking poisoned vodka, which in my terms is an oxymoron—vodka and all its cousins are poison, they just take a few decades to kill you. Harry didn't react much to the news. "Flipped through the channels, nothing was on."


His next action was very, very surprising. "I found my moms cigarettes, called camel. I smoked half the pack already. I feel relaxed now." Harry started smoking during his Spring Break. I would imagine it would be an ugly habit which would stick to him until he died. There's only one excuse I can come up with as to why he would start smoking: a cigarette hanging loose between his lips was his only companion during his lonely Spring Break; his only friend during the worst time of his time. Yet his friend would always perish eventually, and when that happened, he would just ignite another. Maybe millions found solace in cigarettes, or even alcohol. Harry didn't write about drinking alcohol, and barely about cigarettes. The one moment he did write of them was in fact poetic: "I sat in the dark and lit up a cig, watched it burn in the dark. It was amazing." It's easy to imagine: like a burning building on the darkest of nights, like a volcano on a lonely, deserted island in the midst of a black ocean. It's almost a perfect metaphor for Harry: a faint light in the dark, which was slowly burning away.


"Im getting a wierd feeling. I dont have a clue what it is. I dont think Im sick, stomach hurts a little, but I still feel fine. I just feel wierd. A little scared, too. Maybe Im dying. No one has called me since monday. I really, really hope that someone does call me. I dont care who, anyone. Im gonna take a walk.


"Just got back from the walk, I think I might have walked a few miles. No one's called me. What a waste of hope. I feel sicker. I feel alone. I wont be able to sleep tonight. I think Ill have a cig now. Maybe three."

 


Thursday, March 27, 1997

 

After reading the following passage, I now know the exact reason that Harry MacFarlane kept a journal. It was the same reason he smoked cigarettes—the journal was his only companion, his only friend during Spring Break. The conscious decision, to be alone for the whole week, had sparked the unconscious decision to keep such a journal. It's a very human element to find solace in inanimate objects when no other living thing is around, and Harry is a fine example. It's the same with cigarettes: an inmate in prison, when cast away from his fellow prisoners, finds a friend—an escape—in cigarettes, or whatever object he can get his hands on. Harry was by no means a prisoner of someone else, but a hostage to himself and his urge to be cast away. He was victim to loneliness, which was originally the essential break of his Spring Break. And when he first separated himself from man, and the longer he kept himself separated, the further away he moved from confrontation. Thus, closer and closer Harry went into the scorching pits of permanent solitude.


This was the passage: "Your my only friend. How pathetic is that?" The reason Harry thought the journal was his only friend was most likely the isolation—without anyone calling him or acknowledging his existence, Harry felt no one cared for him. And the journal, being the only object closest to him during the time, was truly his only companion.

The dictionary proved to be a time-waster for Harry. He would look up words and laugh at their ridiculousness, or be perplexed by the many definitions of simple ones. "fried cake, a small cake fried in deep fat. No duh. Freeze has 23 definitions! They all mean the same thing! This is crazy!" It's too bad Harry didn't realize he himself was frozen.


"Autophobia…the fear of being alone or isolated. Ha! Auto, maybe its automatic. Maybe everyone automatically has this fear." Later that day, Harry killed his time with video games. "I played Super Mario 3, I got to the end of that sand level. But I used both Mario and Luigi in the 2-player mode, made it much much easier to get there. I miss yoshi from the other game, though. He was always my favorite."


No matter how Harry made the time pass, he would always be alone, unless he himself changed that. It was already Thursday, and already did Harry seem lost. "I just got back from walking around in the woods. For a few minutes I thought I was lost. Ive lived here my whole life, and I know the forest like the back of my hand. But I got lost, and it was the scariest thing ever." What a perfect event to explain the depth of Harry—lost in a place that was always so familiar.


"When I found my way back, I fell asleep on the kitchen floor. My stomach hurt a little bit, so I laid down. Its now 3 am, I slept 13 hours. I guess I don't have insomnia. Insomnia means a difficulty in falling or staying asleep, esp. when chronic. I looked it up in the dictionary. I spelled it wrong before. I wont change it though. What does chronic mean? It says it means continuing a long time or recurring frequently, as a disease." There was already a chronic "disease" in Harry, and it wasn't insomnia. It was something that was quite "automatic" in everyone.

 


Friday, March 28, 1997

 

These were the days most wrought with fear of inevitable, life-long isolation—yet Harry didn't see that himself. Harry threw words together, most likely making no sense to himself. "I tried to watch tv, but I couldnt get myself to pay attention. I kept on thinking if I would ever get out of my house. Maybe it locked me in. It would take me the rest of my life to find the key." I don't like to use this term, but—Harry seemed to be going mad. "What to do? Theres not much to do alone. This damn house, I hate its guts. I wanna find that key outta here soon. Haha, Ill look for it today." Maybe, like he said, for the rest of his life, he would search for that key, but he would never see the truth: it was inside himself. I'm sure many of us have searched for such a key, and I am damn sure the key is inside us; it always will be. But first we have to unlock the mysteries of ourselves, and Harry was incapable of doing so. He wrote the following on one page, and underlined it three times: "Im such a fool." I doubt he remembered writing it; he probably wrote it unconsciously. Yet he wrote the underlying truth because he was a fool to himself.


He did very little on Friday. "Im just sitting around, really bored. Tried playing solitaire, maybe 20 games. But I kept losing, I lost every damn time. I hate solitaire, I dont know why I played it. I really really hate it. I think Ill play another game, though. Nothing else to do."


Later that night Harry felt a strange feeling, one he's never felt before. "An hour ago I felt really drunk. I couldnt walk straight or see straight. I threw up 30 minutes ago. All I could think of at that moment was in the 5th grade when I faked puking and dumped chicken noodle soup in the toilet, and told my mom I was sick. Ive never felt like that in my life. Now I just feel sick."


"When I get back to school Im not gonna tell anyone about my spring break, I wont even talk to them period. I dont like people anymore. Im going to try and sleep now." He wrote later: "It hurt keeping my eyes closed. I tried having a cig to calm me down, but I still cant fall asleep. Ill just stay up, I guess. I still sleep with a shirt over my lamp, I guess Im still afraid of the dark." I would guess that it was a trait of Harry's to be afraid of what he cannot see.


There was a significant change in Harry: his imagination was rotten. "I tried to do the extra credit project my world history teacher gave me. Im supposed to draw a political cartoon for WWII, but I cant think of anything." Harry was like a rotting revolver shooting blanks. It seemed that the target he was firing at was in fact the same man shooting the gun.


He did not lie—he didn't sleep at all that night.

 


Saturday

 

I'm guessing Harry didn't write the date for either two reasons: one, he forgot the date; two, he didn't care for the date. If it was the latter then it's easy to see Harry was frozen in time—Spring Break, actually. And, predictably, he would stay frozen till he died—died alone.


He barely wrote anything. Maybe he and his only friend, the journal, were growing apart. I would imagine so, since a journal can't talk back. "There's nothing to do today. Spring break is almost over. Most kids say it went by too fast. Mine went by so damn slow. Its arguabely been the slowest week ever." And that was all Harry MacFarlane wrote on Saturday. There isn't much to interpret. He never wrote much at all, actually, but this was surprising.


Yet he was very, very wrong—that week would never be over for him.

 


Sunday

 

Unlike Saturday, Harry didn't write a word. He only drew a vague picture (which caught me off guard, since his imagination seemed gasping for air). It depicted a lone stick-man figure sitting atop a monstrously tall hill. The hill was on fire, burning from the bottom. The stick-man was alone, and obviously afraid. But there was no where to go for the stick-man, just like there was no where to go for Harry.


That gave me the idea that maybe we are all stick-men atop a scorching hill—to some it is so frightening they cannot move an inch; to others, it's all a matter of faith in the jump to the bottom. Some are weak, some are strong. It's pretty simple to see which of those Harry falls under. He was also afraid of something outside, so he locked himself inside his "house"—inside himself. And while Harry was homesick, he would never leave his "house."


And so Sunday, the death of the week, was the last day of his Spring Break. And after that, I knew nothing of the rest of Harry's life. But from what he wrote, it's simple to imagine what it turned out to be. Imagining it gave me the picture—the image—of a lonely autumn leaf sinking into the winter snow. I've never been so sure—in fact, I am damn sure of it.

 

If I could have spoken to Harry MacFarlane, I would tell him so many things. I'd tell him not to lock himself away, or be frozen in time. I'd tell him to surround himself with friends or even enemies. I'd tell him that loneliness can kill any man, even the strongest. I'd tell him he can't be the hero who saves the damsel in distress or stops the terrorist from killing thousands unless he saves himself first. I'd tell him to live his life the best he could, and to always look onto the following day with a veracious passion. I'd tell him to live not in the dark, but amongst the light. I'd tell him…so much.


Harry MacFarlane was that stick-man on the burning mountain. Harry had figured his life by drawing it. He was alone. Such a simple statement that is, but such a scary thing it also can be for anyone. He withered away inside because of it. Forever until death he would live in the past, alone and frightened; forever until death he would live alone atop the burning mountain. Harry would waste away his years, not counting them, thinking he was forgotten. He would, forever until death, be locked inside himself.


Mortigi Tempo—killing time—Harry would do just that.

Euphemism Campus Box 5555 Illinois State University Normal, IL 61790