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Searching for God

The world is a different place in the darktime
After replacing light bulbs in the empty house
I walked through the scrub bushes and dunes out onto the big empty
The sky roiling with clouds, a stain of black spreading to reveal the stars
Having sinned so much and now carrying ghosts on my back
All of them revealed themselves in the night sea
I lit a cigarette and tried to stare down the black roaring shapes
But then felt frightened and had to look away

Human heads lolling in the surf
The disappointed face of God
Black masts on the horizon of others coming
Dark water, the fizzing cauldron of life, rushing up against me
The stars revealed themselves in crosses and shapes behind a certain cloud
Flashlights bobbed down the way across the sheeny night mirror of wet sand
I walked briskly down the beach thinking often of turning around and going back to the car
The car, which contained the iPhone, and all my friends and connection to the world
Instead I walked on telling myself I was searching for God
Festina lente, festina lente
No willpower to do anything anymore
But flit restlessly from task to task accomplishing none of them
Unable to do complete anything except a power walk through the darkness
Seeing shapes like upright driftwood in the distance
Scared to realize that they were people fishing in the dark
My rotten restless mind never leaving me
Thinking not of God or stars or letting the rhythm of the clouds and surf and the daunting
black beach houses pass over me
But of all that I told myself I would die if I didn’t accomplish
That I hadn’t accomplished
And of all the people I liked and didn’t like and wanted to see and what
I would say to them when I saw them, the wandering unstable, unrelenting mind
Thinking of the walk back to the car before I had gotten to the end of the beach
What would I eat when I got home and what would I eat for breakfast and what would my next
four months look like, would I spend it alone

I walked to the end
To where the brackish water met the Atlantic
And looked up at the stars and pledged to learn more about Astronomy
And then turned around and walked back down the beach
My shirt drenched in sweat, feeling like an egg cracked open
Though I hadn’t found or spoken to God
I had thought I heard my dead father say “take care of your mother”
When I trudged through the sand back up off the beach
And across the asphalt road to where the car was parked
I got in the car and tried to wait a moment—discipline—before
Picking up my phone
And finding that all the people I had thought about had texted or called

Hard to believe that there was a time
When a massive two story building in a strip mall
Functioned as a youth pleasure dome
I can no longer feel the kind of excitement
The endorphin rush, anticipation followed by total fulfillment
The belief that all desires could be fulfilled
By a day spent in a vast maze of netting, plastic orbs and ball pits
The most advanced hologram video games (we clustered around in awe)
Virtual reality helmets and gloves, four of us
Cooperating to beat Teenage mutant ninja turtles
And the artificial day-glo jungle of the lazer tag arena
Misted in fog, our Platoon, Dien Bien Phu
Swarming with youth running
Past the rows of games
Pizza parties and birthday cake
Like the hidden foot clan warehouse full of half-pipes in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
We went there as often as we could
Being an all-you-can-eat-buffet
The entrance fee was steep
We got older but continued to go there even in high school
Then us good boys, who had once found fun in RPGS, magic the gathering, movies and Exhilarama
Crawled into a wormhole of illicit pleasures
One night, years later, we climbed up the precipitous ladder by the dumpsters
And drank beer and looked at the moon and expanding pine tree line and skyscrapers of Raleigh
across the wood line off in the distance
Having discovered danger and risk diluted the wholesome magic of games
We stopped paying to go to places like that
The next time I went past the building and looked up nostalgically
To watch the kids running in to fulfill their dreams
The light-up sign outside was gone and the doors were locked and the big plate glass windows showed a gutted and emptied warehouse
An independent business built on gamer dreams was perhaps financially unsustainable
It had packed up and disappeared one day like a mirage
Like that disappearing magic store that sold dragon eggs in some bygone YA novel


Aaron Lake Smith