The day had not gone well at all. For the life of me it always surprised me the level of self-involvement that a teenager could have for the most inane things. I don’t remember ever being that way, but I’ve always supposed that we never, ever see the true mirror image of who we were; nor most often, who we have become.
It is a state of mind, our state of existence to see the world through our biology instead of the precepts of our mind. Are we Schrodinger’s cat? Our perceptions determining our death or are we in the box, both alive and dead at the same time, the moment of our birth, a simultaneous event to the moment of our death; our perceptions always determining the nature of our understanding, the nature of our life.
Amused at myself for trying to make sense of life through the confusion of post-pubescent hormones on two legs, I started my jeep and left the high school behind for the night, leaving the intricacies of Euclid’s Geometry, and the foibles of teaching in the past for another day.
“Flatland” was still wondering its way through my mind, the book I had the kids reading for extra credit. It was Edward Abbott’s satirical novel of a two-dimensional world, mimicking the irony of humanity, in the gilded cage of early Victorian life in England. You could almost feel the disdain Abbott had for his own society in the characters he created, in a world of Geometric figures come to life. A life like my own locked within the limits of a universe defined and limited by my own perceptions; perceptions whose dimensional topology voiced my social confusion with its asymmetry.
In “Flatland” life and death were locked within two dimensions, characters only able to move left, right, forward and backwards, movements only North, East, South and West. A world with no ability to look up or down into our world of three dimensions.
Doesn’t it make you wonder the limits of our own Universe? The inherent limits in our ability to see n-dimensional worlds that we cannot conceive of, that we can only imagine in metaphorical rabbit holes, that fold back into the recesses of our minds. The Schizophrenic Mad Hatters of a mathematician’s mind, the only clarity voiced in the Poison Well we find ourselves within.
Mesmerized by my own thoughts, that Zen moment that we all infrequently experience, I didn’t see the truck that ran the red light, didn’t see the cry of shadows that turned life into a slow motion 8mm film.
Realty, foggy in a pink haze, jerking and shifting as if in an earthquake; innately the pain bringing to mind the Darwinian knowledge that we run from most of our lives, where death lurks in the shadows, always present, always hidden, until it’s not.
“He’s awake I think”, said a disembodied voice to my right. At least that was what it sounded like. There was a faint nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach, the sounds around me reverberating against my skin, as if listening, and feeling them deep underwater.
I couldn’t seem to open my eyes or move my body. ‘Oh God, I’m paralyzed and can’t move!’ The thoughts flashed through my mind, even as I realized that something heavy lay over me. I could feel, but I just seemed to be held down by something undefined.
It was that panicked embarrassing moment of falling in deep water, and realizing after you calmed down, that all you had to do was to stand up and walk out of the shallow pool you fell into. A moment most of us experience as children, but which metaphorically translates into our understanding of many emotions of loss, of disorientation in the fight or flight of adrenalin driven reactions.
I opened my eyes, than just as quickly closed them. This was such a moment of fear, I wanted to run, wanted to hide; but only smiled in relief as I realized that I must be delusional, must be in some trauma induced, drug rendered dream of my own imagination. Keeping my eyes closed, I laughed out loud. Relieved, knowing what I had seen was impossible, my laugh a bit manic, a bit panicked.
Knowing your delusional is one thing, but blocking out the visions of a nightmare is another. “Alexander?” My eyes were still closed, my hands gripping the fabric like cloth that lay over me. The shrouds that moved, tumbled, and tore at what seemed to be the very fabric of reality, spoke my name softly. Spoken it seemed, as if the sound were wet, or porous to the deep-sharp harmonics we are so use to when listening to the inflection of another person’s voice.
“Alexander!” The waiting sepulchral with a voice, more adamant than before. “What do you want with me?” My child’s petulant voice squeaked, and sprang from my mouth unbidden, the fear of a four year old, driven to huddle and hide under the blankets. To quiver in wait, knowing the monster will get me, but hoping to go unnoticed, hoping that I would wake up before it was too late.
“Alex, if I might be so informal, we’re not going to hurt you. I was as frightened as you are now when I first came here.” As the shadow talked, I was still dizzy, overcome with the noxious vapors of a world gone mad. Still to nauseous to open my eyes more than a few seconds at a time. I could see shimmering rings of fire set in apparitions that coalesced around me, foggy singularities that seemed out of time, out of space.
The voice, a formal British accent disconcerting even at the best of times, waited patiently for my answer, the panicked feelings I’d had since waking up, starting to leave as I answered with a question. “Where am I? The last I remember I was in my Jeep, a truck had just hit me and then this.”
The voice took on a face, or a caricature of one anyway as I fully opened my eyes; the face full of flowing lines, hypnotic in the motion and anti-motion of visions outside my ability to describe; his face drawing me in, blocking out the sensory overload of my surroundings, the focal action of my eyes, like the baby’s first step, the act limited my perceptions and described the action of my progress on the world around me.
“Who are you?” I said. “Where am I?.” I asked again. “What is this place?” My need to find solace in answers overflowing my patience. “To answer your first question is easy, but complicated.” The voice said. “I’ve had many names, but my first is most appropriate for today and probably the easiest for you to use.” “Euclid is my name.” Euclid paused for a second, “Euclid of Alexandria, your name sake and a descriptor of my beginnings, the harbinger of the future I now walk and the future you have now fallen into.”
“The second and third question you’ve asked, Where are you? What is this place you find yourself awoken to? Is much more simple, much more complex, then you yourself realize. Simple in my ability to tell you, but complex in my ability to help you understand the nature of your new birth.”
My consternation to his reference ‘my new birth’ sent a quiver of agitation deep into the palpable recesses of whatever my body now consisted of. I could feel my heart beating, could feel the air rushing in and out of my lungs, ‘so I had to be alive’, ‘didn’t I?.’
“What do you mean, my new birth?” I asked, looking around. Seeing my entire surroundings constantly in flux, constantly shifting outside my ability to bring even the most basic thing into focus. “I can’t be dead!” I can’t seem to bring anything into focus, but I can feel myself! my life! my breath!” My mind’s fear was running, a startled panic that I had trouble holding onto.
“Alex!” The voice, Euclid, a life line now, to being able to think, to hold onto, to pull myself back from the brink of madness, back to who I wanted to be, who I expected to be.
“Euclid, or whatever your name is, do you expect me to believe anything I see as anything more than a delusion. Even now, it’s my own mind that wars with itself, who more likely to conjure you; Euclid, than a teacher of Geometry. A delusion wrought from drugs or something else, I don’t know what!” I was getting angry, anger replacing my fear, my rational mind taking control, driving away the thoughts of this world as anything more than a story made up by my subconscious, a story to survive being comatose somewhere.
A flash of memory from the ‘Dickens’s novel, A Christmas story.’ Where Ebenezer Scrooge confronts Marley, the ghost of his long dead partner, Euclid “you’re my undigested bit of beef, that blot of mustard and crumb of cheese, there’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!” I started to laugh; a panicked laugh, that place in the core of your being that wants to scream, but the ridiculous unbelievable reality around you turns your budding scream into a rakish delusional laugh.
It’s amazing the thoughts that come to mind when your mind draws a blank, the vacuous nature of fear swiftly suckling in thoughts from your subconscious; Freudian slips of nature, surreal, pragmatic and more often than not, truthful in some abstract way.
Your dream, our delusions, sublime, piercing in their confused power to draw the metaphorical blood, draining away our resistance to change, seeing the backdrop of our life in the moment of our death.
The dark fearful mood that was threatening to drown me lost its hold as I felt a hand on my shoulder, my eyes still closed, hiding from the visions I could not understand. “Alex, calm yourself.” Eulid’s quiet voice, mesmerizing, peaceful, an island of calm in the maelstrom of my mind.
I sighed, and took a deep breath to calm my nerves. Whatever “here” was, whatever I was: ghost, specter, doppelganger, something other than what I once was seemed to be changing.
“Okay Euclid, or whatever your name is. Tell me where I’m at? What am I doing here? And how do I get home?” “Alex, you’ve never left home, or at least no more so than at any other time in your life.” I started to speak but his unseen hand squeezed my shoulder, my vision adapted more to the odd lights and lines around me. I could see an outline, more a sphere of energy than a body, but yet still my mind’s eye looked deep into the essence of the thing called Euclid, rationalizing my perceptions, seeing the outline of a man taking form as we talked.
“Alex, you’re here for the very simple reason, that we need your help. You have a lot of questions, questions I myself had the first time I came here, but this will go quicker if you listen to our story.”
“Edwin, maybe you should explain the next part.” I wondered who Euclid was talking to, until I noticed a small orange sphere, a ball of energy just behind him. Even as I heard the words, I saw it take shape into the form of a man.
I couldn’t say anything, obviously what sanity I was starting to attain, was as whimsical and ethereal as Edwin seemed to be. “Okay Edwin, either I’m dead, insane, or you’ve got one hell of an explanation coming my way. So what is it!”
“Alex, can I call you Alex? Alexander is so formal.” Edwin asked this as if the fading life that I thought was mine, seemed of no importance whatsoever. I suppose in a delusion of this sort; whatever this sort was, it was to be expected.
I took a deep breath and calmed down somewhat. As I calmed down, the world seemed to come into focus. The exotic caricatures did not change, but the pattern seemed to be less intent, less painful or had less of an edge that didn’t seem to grate on the nerves as much.
“Okay Edwin, tell me what you need, but tell me where I’m at first and how I got here. Please!” I said this last with a bit of sarcasm and just a touch of desperation. An odd thing happened after I said this and watched as Edwin and Euclid seemed to nod in agreement to each other, nodding that it was okay to tell me what I wanted to know, at least that seemed to be the message.
Both Euclid and Edwin had taken on a more solid corporal shadow in human form, but yet when I was distracted and not focused on them, the energy like sphere that I had first noticed seemed to dominate my perceptions. Maybe it was my focal myopia, or the wondering gaze that kept being drawn to the constantly changing patterns around me, but I could have sworn that every time one of us talked or directed our attention to each other, the energy in each sphere seemed to extrude and connect in the direction of the person we were talking to.
“Alex?” I jumped as he came back into focus and the orange tendril of energy that was moving toward me evaporated. ‘Did it disappear or did it just move out of sight of my perception?’
As Edwin started to talk I couldn’t help but feel that I had seen him somewhere before. “Alex, you’re going to be fine, all of us who have come here for the first time, went through the same sense of doubt and disbelief that you’re now going through.”
“What exactly am I going through, do I have to ask it again!” “Sorry Alex it is hard to know where to begin. The problem we face, me, Euclid, you, and unknowingly all life in my time, Euclid’s time and now yours, all of us, all that you know, have known and ever will know will be lost. The very essence of our reality is breaking down and soon it will cease to exist without your help.
“What do you mean your time, and now mine? And why do you need my help?” Edwin had a way about him of pausing, letting you think to ponder, a slow logical manner that inherently you wanted to trust. That teachers manner that one develops after years of trying to push knowledge into the vacuous black of holes of young men and woman.
“Edwin I know you, but I don’t know from where. If this is all a delusion, then you’re one of my memories coming back to haunt me, if it’s real then what or who are you, and why do I know you?”
There was a sigh from the corner; Euclid flickered, his aura dimming at the question. His outline emerging as my focus went to the noise he had made. “Tell him Edwin, if we are to make him believe us, who we are and why we need his help is the place to start.”
“Yes Alex, you know me, or rather know of me. In my day I was considered something of a gifted writer and teacher, even if I do say so myself, but many others have said so then and now, so I don’t think is egotistical or narcissistic to state the truth of my small gifts.”
He said it with something of a smile and a blush, or at least that’s what it seemed. “My full name is Edwin Abbot, I wrote a number of things, but you probably know of me through the book called ‘Flatland’.”
What he said was unexpected, but I wasn’t surprised either. One more mark on the wall to validate by delusions. I had read ‘Flatland’ as a Grad student in Mathematics, I had just started teaching it to my students the day before. What made it unusual was the setting, a two dimensional world called ‘Flatland’ visited by a being from ‘Spaceland’, another name for our three-dimensional world. What made me laugh now and prove that I was in a delusional state unconscious in some hospital somewhere, was the simple fact that Edwin Abbott wrote ‘Flatland’ in 1884, Edwin Abbott died in 1926 at the age of eight-seven. The man in front of me could not have been more than fifty or sixty years old.