A Giraffe Under the Canopy – D.E. Lee

It was quite the pleasant day in Mystic, CT.  The sun was burning up in the sky and the inchworms were conversing down on the earth and the clouds were sort of sitting there lazily, bored with their inbetweenness.  The thermometer read a pleasant 70º F and the waves lapped promiscuously against the grainy shores and the rickety frigates.  For everybody else in Mystic, life was beautiful and grand and passionate.  But for Christian, the gaiety of the day made him want to throw up the entirety of his stomach’s contents.  Maybe throw up the entirety of his digestive system – get rid of all that bolus!  Then maybe move onto his endocrine system.  I mean, who really needs serotonin?  For one, Christian wasn’t the happiest fellow to begin with and this brightness reminded him that he could see everyone clearly and be seen by everyone clearly.  Clearly.  That was the word that made Christian grumble and curse.  So what did he do on this picturesque New England day?  He shut himself up in his little black room in his little colonial house on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean.  He peered through his blinds and watched the blurring cars and observed the Daniels pulling out of their driveway, smiles jarringly plastered on their faces.  Christian sneered to himself in his superiority and threw himself onto his dark bed and snapped on his massive headphones and obscured himself with his Native American quilt that his mom knit for him back in the sixth grade.  He closed his eyes and allowed the sweet, melodious sounds of Donna Summer to wash over him (when people asked him what he listened to, he either answered Zappa or Captain Beefheart).

“I just want the world to end.” Christian muttered to himself as he closed his eyes.  He muttered to himself a lot back in those days.  His mother said he inherited the habit from his father, but Christian never knew his father.  According to his mother Molly, Christian’s father was a handsome, strong-jawed alpha male who ate exclusively red meat and barley. He played varsity football in high school, rowed in college, and refused to drink anything other than whiskey on the rocks throughout his married years.  Apparently, he died in a tragic sailing accident, but Christian has always suspected something else happened.  He was just a skeptic like that.  In his and his mother’s eyes, Christian was nothing like his father.  He was a scrawny milk-drinking boy in his third year of the hormonal zoo that is high school.  He didn’t play sports and he didn’t eat too much red meat.  He preferred tofu and rice because most people thought that was weird.  For Christian, life wasn’t about the muscle or the mass.  It was about the arts and the philosophies.  His favorite authors were Burroughs and Burgess, although if you were to ask him what the major themes of some of their books were he would have responded with one word – capitalism.  His favorite philosophers were Kant and Hume and if you were to ask him what his favorite works by them were he would have answered that he really enjoyed Hume’s meditations and Kant’s reflection on scientific materialism.  For you see, Christian was a thoughtful young man who was vastly more intelligible than the average sheep.  He was probably more intelligible than his father who was also a sheep.  The only thing Christian had in common with his father was his damn muttering.  According to his mother, muttering indicated a sort of heightened intelligence.  Christian laughed at his mother scornfully for this, but secretly kept those words close to his heart.

Christian was above.  Simply above.  He didn’t bother himself with the plebeian squabbles of the unread commoners and he certainly didn’t intermingle or even place himself next to any of the brainless varsity athletes.  Since nobody could even catch a glimpse of the echelon he was in, Christian sat by himself at lunch enjoying the tofu, rice, and ruffles that his mother packed for him.  Christian had no need for other people because he had himself.  Yes indeed, Christian was a goat trapped in a world full of sheep.  Maybe he was more of a giraffe, actually.

Thoughts that ran through Christian’s head on February 3rd, 1984: Boxcutters.  The ending to A Clockwork Orange, the Stanley Kubrick film.  Why is Mr. Nona’s head so round?  Does he realize how round his head is?  The beginning of A Clockwork Orange, the Stanley Kubrick film.  The actual color of the sky.  Is it really blue or is it just an illusion?  What if he had a really hot girlfriend?  The story that his mother told him about his father’s football years.  What if Christian was a varsity football player?  Would he still be a giraffe or would he automatically become a sheep?  Scientific materialism and the impact that it has on free will.  The existence of a sort of God or Dog or Bog or something.  Why did Banana Republic name themselves after banana republics?  Does that imply that the store operates on a plutocracy and that their products are produced by cheap native labor while the rich take all the profit?  Is America a plutocracy?  We should push for anarchy; it’s the only system that ensures absolute equality.  The impact that Donna Summer had on disco.  I mean, the impact that Zappa had on the music industry.  Yeah.  That’s what Christian was thinking about.  Christian thought about a lot of stuff.  After all, he had nobody to talk about this stuff with.  What else was he to do?

“What are you planning on doing after high school, sweetie?”  It was just one of those days.  Christian’s mom didn’t often concern herself with Christian’s future, but today just so happened to be the day that Christian’s sister came back from college for spring break.  Did I forget to mention Christian’s sister?  Her name is Elizabeth.  She went to Wesleyan University in the lovely, small town of Middletown, Connecticut — only an hour away from home by car.  How convenient, thought Christian’s mom!  She could come visit all the time and she wouldn’t have to worry about not fitting in with the community.  She would feel right at home with the other wasps!  Perfect!  Absolutely perfect!  A perfect scenario for a perfect wasp like Elizabeth!  Both ideal and real!  What a dream!  Elizabeth made Christian feel sick to his stomach; maybe he really should get rid of it after all.  Then maybe he wouldn’t feel so sick all the time.

“Do you want to attend college, like your sister Elizabeth?  I think you should go to college, sweetie!”  Molly’s voice sounded too placating and sweet to Christian, so he decided to disagree.  Not that he was going to agree in the first place, or anything of that sort.  College was just the man trying to brainwash you and turn you into a consumer and a sheep after all.  How peachy keen, thought Christian.  He couldn’t let that happen to himself.  But wait, what happened to all those people who were already sheep that went to college?  If everybody were already a sheep, why would the government have to brainwash him in college?  Christian never even contemplated this question.

“I don’t think so, Molly.  I’m not one of those brainless commoners who simply goes to college and majors in an uninteresting major and gets a soulless job and becomes an inconsequential, unquestioning cog in the machine that is the great American plan.  That’s not for me, Molly.”

“Your sister isn’t brainless, Christian!  She’s planning on becoming a doctor, isn’t that something?  She’s helping people, sweetie!  That’s not inconsequential.”

“Helping people?  I wouldn’t exactly call that helping people.  Sure, she may save somebody’s life, but she would also be subsequently fucking them in the ass with medical bills or whatever!  I think healthcare should be free.  We shouldn’t have to pay to live, Molly.  Elizabeth is just working to become a fucking mechanism so that the government can extract more money from the poor unsuspecting plebeians!”  Christian had won.  What else could Molly possibly say in argument?

“Watch your language young man or I’m going to have to ground you!  Go apologize to your sister!”  Elizabeth had been standing in the room the whole time and Christian hadn’t even noticed.  In Christian’s defense, she had always had a small, undetectable presence and she never said anything unless she was directly addressed.  A perfect, reserved, obedient girl!  She even got into Wesleyan on a lacrosse scholarship!    Christian hated her because she epitomized his definition of the commonwealth.  Normally whenever he and his mother got into an argument, Christian would apologize quickly and then flee to the comfort of his darkened room.  However, with Elizabeth standing next to the kitchen counter drinking a glass of cranberry juice, Christian decided to be extra rebellious today.  After all, he had to let Elizabeth know that he wasn’t a sheep.  He was a giraffe.

“Apologize for what, Molly?  For telling the truth?  That’s not going to happen.  And you can’t do anything about it.”

“Fine Christian.  Have it your way.  You’re grounded.  One week.  No music.  No door.  No friends.”

“Yeah, I don’t think so.  What can you possibly make me do?”

“You better go back to your room.  Get out of my sight now before I get really mad!”  The tone that Molly had adopted earlier had quickly disintegrated into one of utter disgust and vehemence.  Her seams had burst and her cracks were exposed.

“You can’t make me, Molly.  You and Elizabeth and even Dad are all just fucking sheep!”

“Alright Christian, you’re being a real pain in the ass!  You’ve always been a pain in my ass!  I’ve put up with your bullshit for the past three years and we’ve never had any problems!  Why are you acting up today?  You better march back to your room this instant.”

“And if I refuse, Molly?”  Christian tried to snarl her name as best as he could, but it ended up sounding more like a whimpering Doberman than an angry one.

“Then leave.  Don’t come back.  If you don’t want to listen to reason in this household, if you don’t want to follow the rules of this household, then get the fuck out!”

“Fine!  I’ll fucking leave!  I don’t want to live in this tyrannical dictatorship anyway!  You’re a fucking psychopath!”  Molly’s words had penetrated Christian’s heart, but he couldn’t lose.  He couldn’t back down now.  Obliging his mother meant obliging a sheep, and that wouldn’t do.  Christian ran up to his room and packed up a rucksack with all the essentials.  He packed all of his clothes – which were really just three t-shirts, two pairs of jeans, and a Brooks Brother’s sweater that was once white.  He packed his retainer and his dental care equipment; oral hygiene was important to Christian.  He packed his carton of cigarettes and lighter; he didn’t really smoke but he held on to them in the off chance that he was in the company of an attractive girl.  He packed his headphones and his big CD player; maybe he’d be able to hook it up somewhere and engage in the sweet reveries of disco and Summer.  I mean Zappa.  He packed his fresh copy of Naked Lunch; the spine was barely cracked.  Last but not least, he packed the blanket that his mother knit for him. He ideally would have liked to leave this, but he just couldn’t bring himself to ditch it.  With everything squared away, Christian ran down the stairs and through the original, Georgian front door.  He slammed it behind him, first yelling one last fuck you at Molly, and dispersed into the pure black night indicative of a New England small town.

Christian could handle this.  After all, he was sixteen years old – an adult – and vastly more intelligible and experienced than everybody else.  He didn’t need his mother and he didn’t the need the comforts of money and he didn’t need the security and he didn’t need a home.  He wasn’t a consumer and those supposed necessities were just a product of the mass consumption of the roaring twenties.  Christian tried comforting himself with these facts.  That failed.  He couldn’t shake the feeling that something bad was going to happen.  He felt anxious and sick to his stomach.  It felt like a disco in his bowels – I mean a Zappa concert in his bowels.  He definitely should have pitched his digestive system.  Maybe he felt guilty about what he said to his mother.  Doubtful.  His mother needed to know the travesties of the American education system.  Was he worried about where he was going to sleep that night?  Likely.  Christian had no friends, so where was he going to stay?  He didn’t want to sleep outside.  He wasn’t a commoner.  Well then what?  He didn’t have any other family close by.  What exactly were the options?

Christian wandered through the empty streets of Mystic and ultimately decided to head for the docks.  Watching the boats pass by and listening to the waves gently caress the earth had always been extremely comforting to Christian – kept him grounded.  He walked hurriedly over to the shore and inhaled sharply when he made it.  There were no boats out.  The sea was empty and black.  There was no wind and the water was eerily calm.  No waves.  No boats.  Only nothing.  The overwhelming darkness made Christian feel overwhelmed and like he had to sick everywhere and he clung onto the dock so as not to be dragged out into the oblivion.  He just wanted light.

He turned around, trying to escape the devouring black, but to his surprise the land was just as dark as the sea.  Where had all the light gone?  Feeling increasingly sicker, Christian wiped his nose, cleared his throat, and ran.  He ran through the oblivion, not knowing where he was coming from nor where he was going.  He ran hoping to catch a glimpse of some sort of salvation.  He ran and prayed that something would save him from the dark.  He ran and ran and ran and ran.  And nothing.  There was nothing.  No light.  No location.  No existence.  Christian fell to his knees and dug through his rucksack, desiring the security that the blanket provided him.  It was gone.  Where had it gone?  Maybe he dropped it in his haste to escape.  Maybe some sort of God or Dog or Bog took it from him to try to teach him a lesson for his sins.  Had Christian sinned to begin with?  Feeling hopeless and exhausted and frightened and just the slightest bit hungry – running did that to him – he tried to right himself and continue searching for the bright.

“Wait…what’s this?” Christian thought to himself as he noticed a formidable building lit up like Vegas, and oh!  Christian had definitely hit the jackpot!  For before him stood the only light in this landscape of dark and nothing.  Before him was the Methodist church that Christian used to visit in his youth.  How ironic, right?  Christian had denounced Christianity as an attempt to further homogenize and regulate and moderate the human race during his freshman year of high school.  To think that the only thing left in this oblivion was a home for the one thing that he hated and despised even more than the government.  Organized religion.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Christian muttered to himself as he basked in the holy glow emanating from the architecture.  Normally, he would have left and struggled through the miasma looking for another source of brilliance.  Unfortunately, Christian had had enough of that for one night and resigned himself to taking refuge in the church, no matter how much humiliation and shame it would bring him.

As he opened the double doors he was immediately struck by a wave of comforting warmth and yes – he felt comfortable, strangely enough.  Walking in, he gently shut the doors behind him and cut himself off from the oblivion right outside.  Christian was safe and sound.  Christian felt humbled by the grand, open expanse of Mystic’s Methodist Church.  For the first time, Christian looked around the church.  And more than just looked at the structure, he noticed the content.  He noticed the stained glass ceiling and how the moonlight that shined through it was colored and distorted and changed.  He noticed the old church benches and the dilapidated wooden floors, worn by its constantly shifting contents.  He noticed the symmetry and the order of the room and that made him feel more secure.  How strange.  For Christian to be so impacted by something so sheep-like, he must have had a rough night.

He lay on one of the benches and stared at the pillars decorated with the faces of angels or something.  He closed his eyes and imagined being an angel.  Must be tough he thought.  Must be boring he thought.  To work solely for God or Dog or Bog.  Must be restricting he thought. And yet those wings were enticing.  Those wings were mystifying.  Those wings, they bore were the ultimate freedom.  Those wings he desired.  So were they free beings, able to fly through the sky ceaselessly as they pleased, or were they locked down and forced to follow God’s or Dog’s or Bog’s orders without deviation?  Christian mulled this over for a while and ultimately decided that it wasn’t so polarized.  Sure they may have been restricted by the conventions of some holy supreme being, but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t have their freedoms.  They just had to follow some order and live within some restrictions is all.  Other than that, they were free.  Absolutely liberated.  Christian lulled off to sleep and dreamed of flying.

What did Christian do the next day?  Well nothing unusual really.  He went back home and apologized to Molly and Elizabeth.  He was at fault, but the soft-spoken Elizabeth and the loud-mouthed Molly both felt equally responsible.  They hugged and cried and apologized over and over and over again.  Christian went back to his room and unpacked his things.  He never did find his blanket, but he felt that it wasn’t too much of a loss.  Did Christian have some sort of catharsis while asleep in the warmth of the Methodist church?  I don’t really know.  Did he stop eating tofu?  No.  Did he stop hating football players?  No.  Did he stop his solitary ways?  No.  Did he actually ever read Burroughs?  No.  Did he stop being a skeptic and rejoin the church?  No.  What did he do then?  Just one thing.  He repainted his walls white.  In the end, Christian was still a giraffe trapped in a sheep’s world.  But what was wrong with that?  Why couldn’t giraffes and sheep live together and coexist peacefully?  They all live in a hormonal zoo after all.  And did he ever forget the night of perpetual darkness that he experienced on February 3rd of 1984?  Maybe.  So what became of Christian?  Absolutely nothing.

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