When we were no longer gods
The day Edgar died I was on my way to The Pink Cow in Shibuya. The news hit me hard. I felt guilty and ashamed that I couldn’t say good bye. The last time he spoke to me he wanted me to help work on his book but I didn’t have the emotional or physical energy to help him. I was drowning in my own struggle to survive in an all Japanese company. There was no way I would be able to dedicate the time he needed. “This is my book! It will be the greatest book of poetry to be released in a life age.” He sounded so confident. The more he pleaded the more annoyed I felt. Edgar had a way of making everything about him. I couldn’t stand it so I said, “The only person who cares about your book is you.” The look on his face told me how deep and painful of a wound I had made. I wish I could have taken it back. I thought he would cry. “If you don’t want to help then fine!!” That’s when he walked off. I only saw him twice after that, once was at the book launch and the other was at his funeral.
I wish I had dug deeper into my energy reserves and pulled out enough to help my friend and mentor finish the thing he wanted most in life. The book was the culmination of his days as a poet. It was supposed to be his master piece, something he could hand down to his grandchildren. After all he had done for me it was the least I could have done in return. At the time, my soul was too battered. The company I was working for had hired me but they didn’t know how to train me or even what to do with me. They knew I didn’t have any experience or Japanese ability yet they hired me anyway. Eventually I would make my own path but it took a heroic amount of endurance to get there.
Around the time of Edgar’s book, I had asked my supervisor if I could go to New York with the team to observe and learn. I thought I was showing ambition, a quality that is cherished in most of the world. He took me into the office and said, “You Americans are always so arrogant. How dare you tell me what to do with you. You are my dog. All you need to do is wait for my command.” Those words broke over my psyche like sharp rocks on the hull of a ship swirling in a storm. I was drowning and didn’t know how to save myself. The idea of waiting in silence for my masters voice went against every fiber of my consciousness. Being American was to be proactive, ambitious, and assertive. I did not know how to hang my head in silent humility. I did not know how to be someone’s dog. I still don’t. If I had tried, it would have been the equivalent of drinking hemlock.
My crisis was compounded by my inability to use words to defend myself or show my power. Language is the seat of our identity and our conduit to the world around us. Without language, we are all helpless fools in the eyes of those who have the power speak. I knew that I had the ability to improve things. I knew that I could add value to the company, but I didn’t know how to show my power without language. Feeling like I was seen as the fool made my anxiety a hundred times worse. If you have every battled anxiety before, then you know it is a saboteur, a gremlin in the machine of the mind. Once it gets a hold of you, it starts to rip out wires and randomly pull levers until the whole thing crashes into a wall. Without language I was a nervous, mentally handicapped caveman who had been reduced to being someone’s dog.
I found power in poetry. In that world I was accepted and praised. My natural talent as an orator and the deep resonance of my voice added extra magic to my performance. I was a god looking for my way back to the spirit world, far from the trivial concerns of men. That was the delusion I made for myself to help me survive. It all came crumbling down when I got the phone call from Edgar’s wife. Each syllable of the news was like the swing of a hammer smashing me down. “He collapsed from a stroke.” BAM! “He was rushed to the hospital and died from heart failure.” POW!!! I fell to the ground and cried so violently it gave me a headache. It must have taken me 30 minutes to compose myself. Those tears were for the loss of my friend and for the realization that we were not gods, but, instead, we were part of the hoard of hapless humans doomed to suffer. I could not see the future from that fixed point in time. I was suffocating. I was drowning. And so, I cried.