House of Cards

It’s possible to wake up in the morning and go off to fool the world. I do it all the time. At some point, I look around me and can’t shake the feeling my whole life’s made of little lies. Fudge a little here, polish a little there. It is all so fragile.

And with that little here and little there, my world is firmly off track.

Nothing eases it. It’s like sandaper on the underside of the skin, scraping its way out into the open. It keeps me awake at night, revisiting moments and hidden paths of thought that should never have been. Revisiting them not for their costume-jewel treasure, but in a quiet agony.

Life is not always like a box of chocolates, sometimes it’s like a game of cards. A bluff and a gamble. There is an empty space behind the same old smile, and nothing in it but stale smoke, a broken mirror and raw hunger.

It’s a driving force that no friendship can restrain, no success can satisfy. Unconstrained moments briefly fill its emptiness, and then their waterless clouds dissipate. Nothing kills it.

It’s time for me to put the unfinished excess of summer away. I do this every year, and have for at least the last three. Not a few weeks ago, I wrote spring thoughts of things I longed to do. This year, finally, it would all come together and I’d be what I should be. My cards would line up for success. Well, I lose that bet every year. Once again, it was all swept away by other misadventures. I do not know if I’ve served the God I claim as my own, or been a simple failure as a human being. In many ways, it’s been a summer of practical atheism.

Leafing back through the digital pages of this journal (and I will explain next week why I’ve been doing that), it occurs to me that it’s been a long time since I’ve really stood for anything. I am a set of propositions, some eye-catchingly outrageous, some crafted into familiar tameness. I haven’t thrown my heart into it. I am nothing but a mask with an empty space full of cobwebs behind.

Life’s a gamble, and people have certain cards they play. This one for fortune, that one for happiness. By these divining tools, we hope our penny’s bought the future.

I have no future. I only have now, and now is dangling by a thread, drained by all the shoulds and woulds and those precious, costumed could’s. My penny’s spent.

Exhausted, I have crawled to bed with most tasks undone. My eyes refuse to focus. So does daily life. I’ve learned things this summer — learned my own limitations in all new ways. Learned how little I like myself, and how much I can pretend to. Learned how much I can isolate myself within my world of smoke and mirrors, while pretending to reach out.

I am a fraud. I’ll always be one. It’s inherent, part of the structure itself. This is not the real Cezanne you see. It’s a worthless digital reproduction. This is not real holiness. That’s God’s. What I am is something else.

I know there’s a day ahead when all that’s real will come to light. The house of cards will be shaken and fall down. The mask will be shattered. The straw will be burnt. And I will be thankful for it, even though I cry over the waste I’ve made of what could have been gold. But I just don’t have that magic, spinning straw into gold. Life’s not really a fairy tale.

As I recall, those delightful windfalls always had a price in any case. Currently, I almost feel that I’ve sold my firstborn or betrayed my true love. There is just so much to do, so much to be, and I am none of that.

That’s the truth. Much as I can probably finagle a way to make it look like that’s the lie, it’s the honest truth. I don’t like what I’ve become or where I’m headed. It smells like greasepaint and the wardrobe room.

Now, this is the part where I turn it all around and say something faith-filled. Something uplifting. That’s the formula we go by, right? Spin that straw into gold.

Well, there isn’t really a thing for me to say right now. Not because I can’t find it, but worse, I don’t want it. I know where to look. But there’s this craving eating at me from the inside, and it wants other things. It doesn’t care about fidelity or truth, only about what the smoke can veil and whether it can bluff its hand.

I long for space to be alone. And there’s nothing so isolating as sin.

There’s that scratch of sandpaper again. And a little fudging, and a little lie to cover it while I bleed out.