Observer Effect

Miles Zimmerman
May 29, 2017

Hawthorne was tired. Yet the whole world was right outsidesleep felt wasteful. But it was cold, so Hawthorne rifled through his closet for the smoking jacket. “Testacles spectacles wallet and watch” he mumbled to himself, in this instance referring to his cigarettes, headphones, lighter, and shoes. All accounted for.

To observe something is to change it—his roommate was ranting his usual dinner time lecture, and for whatever reason this time it wasn’t unsticking from the back of Hawthorne’s mind. Some rule in physics or metaphysics or whatever manic rambling stream of consciousness he’d at first despised, then accepted, and then just listened to as the man’s connection from mouth to brain joined together and forced itself without fail into everyone’s ear holes (most of it just went right out the other side).

They weren’t all crazy though, the stories—one of them involved his near death. The roommate was biking back to the house when he found himself flipping over the roof of a car which had suddenly swerved off the road. The pavement, stubborn as always, soon followed, putting an end to his unexpected flight.

After smacking his head he entered, as he described it: “the infinite”, the place our energy or souls or whatever go to when we die (“energy is neither created nor destroyed” he always assures). Not alone in the infinite, he communicated with the omniscient queen of the place, a sentience filling the void (“no words spoken of course, language is a flawed medium”). Together they watched his body bleeding out while a couple called 911. Floating over the panicked scene, the queen gave him a choice: “stay in this peace forever, or return to the vessel from which you came. But do not worry, you will be back.”

The roommate chose to return to what he knew, to his body and all the pain from the crash that was about to return with it, because—Hawthorne knew the answer but still loved hearing his roommate repeat the line—“death would only bring me back to this infinite peace, so why not stay on earth and live the shit out of being me, the human me, since I’ll just end up back at that place again anyway?”

“Why didn’t anyone tell me this kind of shit when I was trying to kill myself,” Hawthorne thought to himself while he put on his jacket and walked outside.

If you’re going to chain-smoke, you may as well make it a little ritual. Headphones – check. Alabama Shakes – check. Cigarettes – check. Constant feeling of imminent doom – check.

Hawthorne stepped over to the driveway and stared at the silhouette of a large oak as it swayed in the cool breeze. It was three in the morning but he still felt like he was doing something naughty, and a stern lecture was waiting for him on the return inside. “That tree was planted before my parents even met, dated, married, and then conceived me. And definitely before I could have the minimal biological capacity needed to come out here and think that stupid thought” he mumbled, frustrated at his constant anxieties. The tree continued to sway, indifferent.

Silhouettes of oak trees are beautiful in any kind of weather and any season. Something to do with the curls of every branch, as though the universe had some kind of fritzy convulsion of ADHD while constructing it. Every bend of every branch needed change, with nature telling itself “this doesn’t feel quite right.”

“People don’t feel quite right either,” thought Hawthorne as he lit his second cigarette. Like the oak, his thoughts felt twisted too. He could watch his stream of consciousness curl and bend into branches, one idea flowing into the next while simultaneously witnessing the other paths his mind could have followed. He took a drag as his mind branched back again to his anxieties.

Looking down at the ground, Hawthorne was sad that he could feel so much love for everyone he met but simultaneously so much fear being around them. It seemed so amateurish, considering it was the same feeling that started in adolescence.

Hawthorne’s old CBT training kicked in and he moved his mind back to the music. Alabama Shakes was a good choice. A good listen, a good feeling. Or at least something.

“Absolute shit” is an adequate phrase to describe Hawthorne’s mood that evening. Well, “a shitty kind of nothing” is likely more accurate. He thought again about what his roommate had said about the infinite—if his roommate felt calm in that place, at least he didn’t feel nothing.

“Don’t keep thinking this way you asshole” Hawthorne said to nobody in particular. Suicide is logical, he knew that, he had been down that road.

When college started, Hawthorne had trouble making friends. Making a single close friend at all would be the more accurate version of that trouble.

After breaking up with his longterm girlfriend, a relationship continued into college far beyond its high school origins, feeling nothing might have been an improvement over the immense void taking over his mind. Hawthorne was broken somewhere inside.

During finals week, on one particular day of feeling the usual cocktail of shit and nothing, he came to the logical conclusion that his life was done. He was ready to just die and be done with it.

He walked to the edge of the parking structure. 14 stories—a lower probability than would be desired for something like this, but the probability of death from jumping was the highest here. Hawthorne had learned that semester to calculate the final velocity and the force of the impact of an object falling from height and hitting the ground. Humans are objects as it turns out, and the coefficient of friction for the air density that night taken into account, he figured the parking lot gave him 98% likelihood of immediate death if he went head first. So parking structure it was.

At the top of the structure, looking out he saw the happy faces of inebriated students coming back from parties, always in groups, laughing, being merry (drunk), and enjoying their lives. At least that moment of their life.

Hawthorne’s attention turned to a particularly attractive group of girls. As he looked at their faces, he watched the face of a girl who reminded him of a photo he cherished. His mother in her 20s, smiling, happy in life while she sat around a food-covered table surrounded by her equally happy, smiling friends. Their grins genuine, they were the faces of pure joy, the kind only seen between the closest of relationships. At someone’s most untroubled, uncaring, gleeful state of mind.

He saw the face of his mom as she learned of his suicide, and how her entire life would be crushed forever.

He saw his dad, droopy eyed from weeks of work without sleep. He saw his sister without her usual pep and cheerfulness. Also crushed.

“Shit.” Hawthorne said again, this time to himself. “I can’t do this to them.”

He stepped down, moving to sit on the ledge instead. At the same time a car pulled up, a dread-covered man stepping out. Dreads saw Hawthorne and immediately walked over, hopping smoothly onto the ledge to sit with him. Rifling around his pants, his face became a full smile as he pulled a joint from his pocket, grinning, reunited with his green friend once more.

“Want a hit, my dude?” asked dreads.

Hawthorne hesitated for a moment, then replied “Sure, why the fuck not?”

“WHY THE FUCK NOT! YEAH MAN!” dreads shouted with a smile as he passed over the joint. Hawthorne took a drag, watching as more students loudly made their way into the dorms, occasionally indirectly. “The college experience” Hawthorne thought to himself, passing back the joint.

“Damn dude you look like you want to die man!” yelled dreads again, grinning a little, then giving up the attempt, clearly picking up on the mood of his new smoke buddy. Hawthorne glanced at dreads. The guy was obviously a student. Why have dreads but drive up in a mercedes? “Rich people can be weird” Hawthorne thought to himself.

As he looked over at the man, Hawthorne found himself curious what stoner wisdom would flow out of this strange human’s mouth. He paused for a moment before inquiring “what if I told you I do want to die?”

“I’d say… ummm… I’d say no sympathy, dude.” dreads replied, thinking about it a bit. He continued, putting his hand on Hawthorne’s shoulder, “Man, nobody gives a shit about you dude. I don’t mean that in a shitty way though man, I just mean the universe didn’t make you some superman important world saving dude, you’re just gonna die like everyone else. I’m gonna die. But I’m gonna hit this dank shit in the meantime amigo. It makes me feel, you know?”

Hawthorne was impressed. “No sympathy”, he remarked. “I like that.”

Dreads took another drag, scanning Hawthorne up and down. On the exhale, he managed a raspy remark, “Man you’re intense! I can feel it, in your presence or something. You got some ghosts in your mind, my dude.”

Dreads again paused for a moment. “Sometimes you just gotta let the ghosts in and let them color your mind. Sometimes you gotta force the ghosts out and make the colors yourself, your own colors man. Sometimes you gotta hit this shit…” dreads took another drag “…and think to yourself, ‘now I’m flying highhhhh, and this is me now’. None of that ‘who am I really’ sad thinking shit. You’re whatever you are right now man. And now that you met me, you’re a new right-now-man, you know? Your right-now-man is now the man who’s sitting here with this cool mother fuckin’ right-now-man”. Dreads pointed to himself before throwing the butt of the joint off the balcony, his grin continuing to grow in size. “And now I’m the right-now-man about to get schwasted, ooo yeah!” dreads shouted enthusiastically as he hopped back onto the pavement, throwing up the hang loose hand sign as he slid back into his mercedes, pulling out towards the liquor store.

As his cigarette smoke drifted out into the darkness, he thought again back to dreads. Hawthorne realized to himself that dreads was someone he hid from that night, someone he failed to reciprocate the implicit social invitation he was being offered. Dreads could befriend him that quickly and without expecting anything in return, except perhaps a little fun, and Hawthorne’s mind fought against the notion. Opening to people was new to him, out of his comfort zone, yet dreads had made such quick emotional connection. “Twisted thoughts, twisted oak.” he chuckled a little, staring up at the tree.

The emotions, the colors of socializing, those are what make us humans enjoy one another. Maybe that’s why he couldn’t do it when he was right there on the ledge. He might feel nothing, but his mother, his father, his sister, they always feel something, they are always filled with colors so rich in form. Leaving so soon for the infinite would make them feel that shitty kind of nothing, just like he does. Something Hawthorne wished for nobody.

“I’ll feel the colors again; you always do you fuckhead” he reminded himself. A near daily reminder at this point. But it was true, the shit and the nothing do go away for periods of time during the year.

The oak continued to sway as Hawthorne threw out his finished cigarette. He paused to look at the tree a final time, as it held such presence.

“I’m going to die one day and this god damn tree will still be here, just fucking swaying and swaying and swaying forever!” he muffled a yell in the darkness, as the wind finally snapped off a particularly loose branch from the oak. Nobody appeared to be woken up, thankfully. But then Hawthorne realized: nobody cares. And neither did he. At least no more than that tree, he thought to himself, staring at the scab where the fallen branch once held. It continued to sway.

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