Some people seem to think that with enough time and effort you can just delete certain people, events, and memories from your life completely. I’d just like to be standing in the room the second they realize that there’s no such thing as a “fresh start” and that every decision you make leads to an everlasting consequence that never truly goes away. For some, this becomes the incentive to finally think through their actions and be less impulsive. For most however, it seems to never come. They spend their lives jumping from town to town…person to person…job to job…praying that one day they’ll stop meeting “problem people”; blissfully unaware that the problem lies within and travels alongside them to every town right next to their toothbrush and box of old, forgotten photographs. Treat every town like a small town—you’ll be happy you did.
“…a child is born with a heart of gold/ the way of the world makes his heart grow cold…” the lead singer sang.
Those words surrounded my psyche as they boomed beautifully from my headphones. I continued to nod my head to the rhythm as I looked over some notes regarding my next patient. The mental toll of being a licensed psychiatrist can, at times, be a great one; which is exactly why the mp3 player my son had gotten me last Christmas had begun to take on more relevance in my day-to-day.
He had loaded it with tons of music ranging from blues to classic rock and I was trying to take the time to listen to everything at least once. But it was becoming difficult as of late, for I had found myself predominantly listening to the more soulful
artists such as Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, and to what was quickly becoming my favorite band, Earth Wind & Fire.
“Hearts of fi-yuh…creates love’s desi-yuh…” I sang softly, taking full advantage of having an office all to myself. I finished scribbling some more topics of discussion as I became ready for my final appointment of the evening. Looking at my watch, I noticed that Edward Shane, my last patient, would be arriving at any moment—and yet Margaret still hadn’t let me know about it over my intercom.
I sighed as I slipped my headphones from my ears and picked up my telephone instead. I dialed the receptionist’s code only to hear the repetitive ring of a phone that nobody was picking up. Her voicemail began.
“Hello, this is the office of Dr. James Ember. If you need to reschedule an appointment, please leave a detailed message including your name and the reason you will be unable to attend. Our office hours…”
I sat impatiently as the message played, eagerly awaiting the obligatory beep until finally, it came.
“Margaret, it’s James. I don’t mind you taking your breaks in the evening but you need to be back in time to let me know when my patients will be coming in. I remembered Edward’s this time, so you lucked out. But for future reference—“
A soft knock was heard on the door. I looked up at the knob and began to quickly put away my mp3 player.
“—and that’s probably him now, I have to go, call me tomorrow morning.” I quickly stated as I hung up the phone abruptly.
“Come in!” I yelled politely. The doorknob turned slowly before creeping open. It was a tall, pale man with greasy black hair that hung scraggily across his face. He was completely dressed in black, as he always tended to be, with a pressed button-up shirt and slacks that lay lazily across his dress shoes. He had an odd smell to him for some reason, as if he hadn’t showered yet. He was a built man, easily at least 230 pounds, and kept himself in relatively tiptop shape. It was Edward alright, but something seemed a little off about him today.
He had been battling manic depression with what appeared to be some mild psychosis, but it seemed that progress had been made within the year or so he had been seeing me. I had prescribed him some strong medications, but lately, I was questioning whether or not he was still taking them. He definitely hadn’t today.
“Hey James…” He said exasperatingly as he took a seat in front of my desk. Beads of sweat were visible on his forehead and his breathing was a bit irregular.
“Hello, Mr. Shane. Decide to jog up here today?” I joked with a bit of a smirk across my lips. He was looking down at the floor and then kind of looked back up at me with an odd grin across his face.
“Do you know what I did last night?” He asked me, completely ignoring my question. It annoyed me when people were disrespectful, but in this line of work, you have to constantly remember that you’re there to help without passing any sort of personal judgment.
“No, what did you do?” I responded. He leaned forward in his chair, almost as if he was going to tell me a secret.
“I went camping…for the first time…in my life.” Edward proclaimed as he began to slowly catch his breath. “And I have to admit, that it was more therapeutic than pretty much anything we’ve ever done in here.”
A smile crept across my mouth. “Careful Edward, you’re going to hurt my feelings.” I replied, laughing a bit as I said it. “But why do you say that?”
“Why? Because nature is the purest thing on the planet, that’s why. Sleeping on the cold, ground…feeling the raindrops drip down your face like the tears of God himself…it’s all so very sobering. The earth feels so real when you can just let it run through your fingers again. Like when you’re a kid, and you just enjoy the feeling of sand coming in and out of your hands. You’re never more alive than when you’re standing firmly on top of the same dirt that will one day be your grave.”
I kept my eyes fixated on Edward as he continued his rant. I glanced down for a moment at his hands and they appeared to be bruised. It made me wonder if he was still hurting himself the way he used to when we first began his therapy. I wanted to look more closely, but he placed them deep into his pockets before I could.
“You know, ever since I was young, I’ve only been able to drink water. My mother would try and serve me orange juice and milk and all this other bullshit, but it always just tasted so thick, so contaminated. It would make me sick. Water was the only thing that made sense to drink. It just tastes so clean and so very necessary. Every time I have a cup of water, I feel reborn, purified, baptized even. It’s like consuming the essence of life. It’s as if every glass is a new start.”
Edward wiped some sweat off of his brow with the sleeve of his shirt. I wrote down a couple observations as I sighed rather loudly. He noticed my exhale.
“Am I boring you…” He muttered with an unsettling glare.
“Oh no, no. I was just exhaling. Sometimes, you just have to take a deep breath, you know? Tell me more about your connection with water.”
Edward’s glare slowly dissipated as he refocused his words.
“…its just that, our bodies are like 90% water or something. Can you believe that? All this flesh and all this bone and in the end, it’s only 10% of what makes us, us. But I went all out last night. You don’t understand, I didn’t even bring a sleeping bag. It was just me and Mother.” Edward continued. A look of confusion swept my face.
“You brought your mother along as well?” I inquired. Edward laughed.
“No, James. I mean Mother Nature.” He specified.
“I was out there for hours; maybe more than a full day. I’m wearing the same clothes I had on yesterday, and yet, I feel cleaner now than ever before. I know what you’re thinking though: it was nearly forty degrees last night. But that didn’t worry me because I knew how to make a fire.”
I jotted down a couple more observations as the wind began to pick up outside the windows in my office. It was about nine o’ clock at night and I wasn’t used to having appointments this late in the day, I was beginning to feel sleepy. But, in order to have these appointments around Edward’s work schedule, I made a bit of a professional sacrifice. I wouldn’t have done this for anyone else, but I really cared for Edward’s wellbeing. There was something about him specifically that made me feel like I truly was his only hope.
“You made a fire?” I asked as I stretched a bit to wake myself up.
“Yes, the biggest one I could muster without losing control of it. I was born anew in its warmth. The heat was almost surreal as it engulfed my senses and showed me that modern man’s “conveniences” were trivial in comparison to the satisfaction of surviving, authentically, on your own…”
Suddenly, and very rudely, a loud yawn escaped my lips. The night was beginning to take its toll as being unused to working this late began to have its effects. Edward noticed this and his expression abruptly shifted.
“I’m sorry about that Ed, I’m still adjusting to this new—“
“—what the fuck is wrong with you.” Edward interrupted. His vulgarity took me by surprise. As a very educated young man, he was usually very poignant in expressing himself, even when upset.
“Edward, you don’t have to talk to me like that. I’m just not used—“
“—you don’t give a shit, do you?” He interrupted again. I leaned forward in my chair.
“Stop it. You know that isn’t the case. We’ve been seeing each other too long for you to suddenly feel this way. Just continue, please. I apologize for the yawn, it was completely unprofessional.”
Edward put his head in his hands before a disturbing cackle began to leave his lips.
“…Mr. Ember…” He began. My heart began to flutter a bit as I followed his words.
“Yes?” I responded. Edward started nervously cracking his knuckles, as he would tend to do when he became stressed.
“…what would I have to say for you to care about what I’m telling you…” He murmured.
I shifted in my chair as my face contorted towards bewilderment. I had told him several times already that I was fully engrossed into what he was saying; he was just no longer listening.
“…what if I tore off all of my skin and sang for you…what if I told you I was secretly gay…would you care then…?” He continued slowly, growing more and more unstable with every word he spoke. It was now becoming evident that he had successfully hidden the true severity of his psychosis. A hint of fear was growing in my abdomen.
“Edward…” I started.
“…what if I told you that I killed your little receptionist…would you care then…” Edward croaked. I sat in complete silence for several seconds maintaining eye contact with him the entire time. I finally gathered my nerve.
“You shouldn’t even make jokes like that, Edward. By law, I can’t take things like that lightly.”
“You know…I’ve noticed that people don’t listen the way that they used to…” Edward continued as he pulled his hands from his pockets. They were indeed bruised, as I had observed earlier, however now I could see them much clearer. There was dried blood on his knuckles and strands of blonde hair caught in between his fingernails.
“…action is the only thing that people care about these days.” He finished. I kept my eyes locked on his every move. I wasn’t prepared to do anything drastic as long as he stayed in his chair. A lump of hot, fear was lodged deep within my throat.
“…Mr. Shane, I don’t know if you’re trying to scare me, but I would have been very aware if you had done something like that no more than a few hundred feet from my office door…” I said softly, trying not to provoke him further.
“Really? Even as loud as you have your headphones on before I come in here every day…?” Edward asked slowly. I sat as still as I possibly could while a horrifying reality began to take shape in my mind. My eyes were glued to Edward’s as he continued to stare me down. Edward’s smile was now full as even his yellow, jagged teeth were exposed now.
“…you know what I love best about the dirt-filled ground that blankets our forests? And I only ask this because now I feel that you are truly listening…”
I shook my head and replied “No, Edward. What do you love best about it…”
“Because, in the end, we all erode back from whence we came. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. We originate from the soil and when enough time has passed, we become apart of the soil, again.” He murmured quietly. Edward then stood out of his chair, and loomed over me as he looked down at my noble, yet fearful expression.
“…do you ever miss the soil, Dr. Ember?” He asked politely. We were now simply gazing at each other as a handful of seconds began to feel closer to decades.
That’s when Edward leapt at me.
My chair flipped upside down as we were now rolling atop each other on the floor as he struggled to pin me down. His strength was unexpected and his rage unforeseen, but the adrenaline of the situation kept me from letting him attain an easy upper hand. Our bodies writhed and banged against the wooden desk as he swung wildly for my head but I swung back, landing occasional blows to his ribcage and stomach.
The force of us knocked my telephone off of the desk with a loud clang, and instinctively, I outstretched my hand, grabbing it by its base. Upon gripping it, I quickly snapped my arm against his skull, hitting him in the temple with the awkward device. He screamed in agony as he jerked backwards, off of my chest and groin, and fell on his back, cupping his throbbing face. I rapidly sat myself up, took hold of the phone’s curly wire, and lunged towards Edward, wrapping it tightly around his neck.
He tried to loosen the wire’s chokehold with his thumbs, but I had already gotten a firm grip around the ends. He shook and writhed back and forth in vain attempts to get me off of his back, but I knew that letting up in the slightest would give him the edge, for I was no match for him in a strictly physical sense.
His body movements were spastic, but were gradually becoming more subdued as the oxygen flow to
his brain began to decrease. Finally, with one last desperate twitch, he fell face down to the carpet, as I violently held on to the phone’s cord as if I were trying to break it. I let a few seconds pass before finally loosening my grip.
Edward Shane was dead.
I let go of the phone cord and fell backwards as I attempted to catch my breath and let my heart rate decrease. Every single breath felt like a gift as I inhaled and exhaled as if I had just been born. It was at that moment that I realized that Edward had ironically forgotten about one of the elements: Air.
He didn’t mention the wind and it how seemed to bring a pulse to the world, in more ways the one. It was only now, as I lay on my back gasping in the oxygen that had nearly been taken from me, that life had begun to take on a whole different meaning.
I sat up moments later and gawked at the lifeless corpse that, only minutes ago, was a man named Edward Shane. I briefly considered walking to Margaret’s office to see exactly what he had done to her—but quickly decided to just call the police instead.
I sat idly in the waiting room until law enforcement arrived, desperately trying to hold onto my sanity and shattered nerves; not sure if I would’ve been able to if it hadn’t been for my extensive background in the human condition. The officers found me and asked a few basic questions before, for the time being at least, deciding I more than likely was telling the truth. I cooperated with everything they wanted to know as we all waited for the detectives to arrive.
“We’re sorry you had to go through all of this, Dr. Ember. I’m sure it’s been a real nightmare for you. We’re working fast and as soon as we get everything we need, we’ll let you get home to your family.” The officer said with a strong, palm placed firmly on my shoulder.
“…thank you. I just want this all to be over with…” I muttered silently.
“I hear you, Doctor. Is there anything we can get you in the meantime? I’ve got some sodas in my car, you thirsty? Need anything to drink?” The officer asked in a concerned tone. I looked up at him from the couch I was sitting on with a blank expression.
“…do you have any water?”
- Jon Banks
The Harlem Renaissance represented an unparalleled time in which African-Americans were beginning to be taken not only as intellectuals, but as legitimate artists. During the previous Reconstruction/New Negro period, black writers primarily focused on pushing a new social philosophy through essays and speeches. The Harlem Renaissance would advocate similar themes though more rooted in books, poetry, & other forms of artistic expression. This new approach to black expression was possibly best summarized by the man widely recognized as ‘The Father of the Harlem Renaissance’: “We turn therefore in the other direction to the elements of truest social portraiture…we shall let the Negro speak for himself.” (The New Negro, 29).
A key component of this period was the dawn of a new mentality amongst blacks which shifted concentration from freedom to social equality. This sense was somewhat pioneered within the New Negro period with writers such as Booker T. Washington encouraging a social revolution amongst blacks in order to achieve the equality they sought. This was slightly altered during the Renaissance to a sense closer to entitlement with many blacks feeling that they shouldn’t have to struggle or strive towards something that was essentially owed to them.
This period set itself apart from other literary eras in a couple of unique ways. Firstly, the Harlem Renaissance was easily the most decadent with much emphasis on the social atmosphere now available to blacks, primarily in the North. New York City and even Paris, where many black writers from Africa or the Caribbean lived, became a hotbed for creativity, lavish partying, and a level of black social freedom unheard of before this time.
The Harlem Renaissance was also pivotal in the grand scheme of African-American advancement. This intense level of social progression gave blacks the confidence needed to strive for even more politically-motivated change in the future. The literature developed during the time was also integral in the “humanization” of blacks, showing an artistic, contemplative side that whites were only now being formally exposed to.
There were several major contributors to the Harlem Renaissance, one of which was poet Countee Cullen. His writing was heavily influential featuring work that would fluctuate between William Wordsworth-style complexity and simple, declarative prose. His poem “Incident”, in which he recounts being called a nigger as a small child, is arguably his most enduring work. Upon being accepted into Harvard and receiving his Master’s in English, he further denounced stereotypes that blacks could not reach the same literary heights as whites.
Zora Neale Hurston played a large role in the burgeoning movement by helping redefine social norms, especially within the women’s community. Her literature encouraged a less restricted female lifestyle, encouraging women not to be bound by the social, sexual, and societal norms that had remained prevalent throughout American history. Her stories “Spunk” and “Sweat” (along with her novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God) further pushed her ideologies on female behavior as well as the importance of the black vernacular. The immediate influence of her work could possibly be best observed within the emergence and popularity of flappers, a “new breed” of woman that emerged in the 1920s. Flappers were liberal and often promiscuous women that embodied the ideals of Hurston’s work.
The most influential member of the Harlem Renaissance was arguably Langston Hughes whose work so well embodied the movement that he was labeled by many as the “Poet Laureate of the Negro Race”. His poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” is considered his signature and, due to its unique structure and subject matter, is considered a landmark in African-American poetry. Hughes’ work was crucial because of its simple declarative sentences and all-encompassing morals that though rooted in the black struggle could be applied universally.
The Harlem Renaissance represented an apex in African-American influence and popularity that would arguably never be equaled. To quote Langston Hughes: “It was a period when the Negro was in vogue.” (The Big Sea, 26). It was a time in which it was fashionable, progressive, and even “cool” to be black or at the very least embrace their ideals. Inner-city whites were used to a more restricted lifestyle which just made the social revolution that much more exciting and innovative. The Harlem Renaissance didn’t just liberate the black community—it liberated America.
If you’re complaining about something without offering an alternative solution, you’re probably annoying everyone.