A Brief Rivalry - But A Lesson Well Taught

  As uninteresting as my childhood and early teenage years probably seem to you, we will not visit there very often, as most of my development actually took place under the watchful eye of Mother Harvard. However, from time to time, there will be some occurence in my early past of significance to this strange tale that I weave for you. The powers that be found me when I was very young (and I will tell you more of that story later), but once I was found, my coming to Cambridge to continue my journey in life was a foregone conclusion. In fact, I only filed one college application, to Harvard, and early admission at that, as I instinctively understood that there was no other suitable destination for me after high school. Nevertheless, I still received other invitiations, all tendered based solely on my reputation as a unique find, a once in a life time discovery. But those other offers were only half heartedly entertained. And I say all this not to make some silly boast, but more as a statement about the times. For that admission year, despite scouring the world for candidates, Mother Harvard could only find 16 black males that she deemed worthy of her ranks. And of that 16, only 4 or 5 of us actually survived the experience, and actualy began the true journey to realize our full potential.

  My race had fallen far indeed.

  Anyway, returning to my salad days within the arms of Mother Harvard, I feel compelled, at this juncture, to tell you of Victor, especially if you are to understand why I am sitting in a room at the top of the Washington Monument. Unlike my other friends, I do not recall how I actually met Victor, other than to say that one day, he was just there. He was nothing like Kip, which is to say generally that Victor was poor, an orphan even, and arguably, my Latino equivalent. He was, without qualification, brilliant, and physically imposing for a Latino, but still true to his heritage, as the blood of the Aztec, Maya, and Olmec warriors, and even their priests , flowed strongly in his veins. He was an alpha male, par excellence, and although we did not share much, that much we did.

  I do not know what to say about Victor, other than he was a rival who taught me many things, more than I have ever learned from that fool, Kip, but also unlike Kip, Victor taught me directly and intentionally, well, at least sort of. In fact, I never really engaged Victor in any meaningful way. We were not friends, nor enemies. We simply kept our distance. I was aware of his comings and goings, his accomplishments, his failures, his friends, and his activities -- not because I cared, but I was often curious to see how he approached so many of the wonders we both found in Cambridge.

  As I said before, Victor and I were similar, in that we were both born under less than ideal stars, but our bad hands were played with very differently. Succintly, I grew up in love, Victor did not, which is not to say he was not loved, but that it was simply different. Furthering his run of bad luck, Victor's biological family died in a horrible car wreck when he was very young, and Victor was ultimately adopted by a yuppie white couple in Colorado. They loved Victor, but not in the way Victor needed. Like me, Victor carried the "darkness", and his adopted family just had no context for understanding or dealing with the burden their adopted offspring carried. Thus, Victor carried his "darkness" awkwardly. Unlike me, he never learned to soften his "darkness" with the selfless kisses of a mother, who loved him more than life itself, or derived an identity from people, who not just looked like him, and reinforced him superficially, but actually believed in the value of his existence. His loving white parents did everything my mother did for me, but the whole did not exceed the sum of the parts for Victor. The best that I can speculate is that I grew up among the oppressed, and they viewed me as hope personified, and nourished and protected me as they would their own heart's deepest desire. Victor simply grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth, and to add insult to injury, there was no medicine in that spoon to cure his inner sickness.

  I guess money isn't everything, in some circumstances.

  For example, Victor grew up singing hymns at a sterile Catholic church whose members did not understand why Jesus was such a "friend". Victor never fought at school because his teachers would not allow children to fight, because violence is abhorent. Victor never stole candy from the local store, he always had money in his pocket. He never cried because he was at home alone while his mother worked to insure their survival. His parents retired early in life. He never went to the weed house with his older brother. Victor's siblings took him to the country club and the ski lodge. No one ever worked themselves to death for his benefit, other than the family servants, but they were usually compensated a bit more than minimum wage. Victor had his own room; went to Disney World every other year. He got a new bike every Christmas, and instead of my beloved mongrel dog, had a pure breed golden retriever as his pet. His parents were always there, protecting him, loving him, nourishing him.

  Victor had it all from his adopted parents, but none of it was what he needed, and in the end, that made all the difference.

  But not to dwell too long on these hackneyed and sterotypical details, I guess that I am trying to establish that Victor and I should have chosen the same thing, but we did not, and to this day, I still do not understand why. My best guess is that the difference lied in the aspects of our upbringing that I mentioned earlier, but even that is just wild conjecture on my part, and subconciously, probably an effort on my part to make my decision seem "right", although that is not what I want you to think. In any event, I will just move on to the first and last time that I actually spoke to Victor.

  It was my sophmore year, and I was lonely at the time, and my emotional turmoil manifested itself through insomnia. And that particularly cold and dark night, I had drifted in and out of sleep, unable to maintain a dream well enough to fall asleep. As you no doubt recall, I often chose to “play” in my dreams – I would imagine a place and friends and things to do, and then close my eyes and go there. As I grew older and my mind became more sturdy, my dreams became more “real” for a lack of a better word, but I do not mean real in that I imagined them to be more “real”, I simply learned to explore my dreams as my own creation and not that of a world that I merely awoke in. It took many years of rather vivid nightmares -- of battles, demons, war, death, and destruction before I realized that I, and not my dream, was actually in control. Soon, not only did I gain the ability to control my conscious dreams, but I also learned to assert my conscious self in my subconscious dreams – that place deep inside of you where nightmares and all the dreams that you cannot remember take place. And once I was able to be conscious in that place, I learned that that place was not a closed place, but rather connected to other “places” as well. From the subconscious dream, I had access not just to my dreams and the unexplored regions of my own psyche, but I also had access to “shared” places among other sentient beings. Complicated, I know, but we can discuss this in greater detail later; however, the larger issue on this night was that I was tired, but unable to sleep, and before long, I did sleep, but only after exhaustion claimed me, and I slipped into her dark, senseless arms.

  And then, a voice abruptly drifted from the darkness, “Magnus.”

  It was a familiar voice, but not one I knew well, so I peered into the darkness, unsure of how to respond, as I had not created this dream, but I was deep in my subconscious.

  I called out, “who are you? I do not understand why you are here?” A chuckle drifted through the void, “for you to understand that you do not understand is impressive indeed – you are special.” Feigning unnecessary bravado, I responded, “nameless stranger, I do not know who you are or what you want, but if it is conflict you seek then I will oblige, because here, in this place, I am master, and within the confines of my psyche, no one is my equal.” And so I drew my soulblade, whose jagged obsidian edge glowed menacingly in the dark.

  “Behold my power, demon, as my faith is far stronger than you realize. You will not survive my ….” The voice interrupted me --“fool, you cling to that which you do not understand – so strong is your faith that you challenge a being of whom you are ignorant? What if I am angel? What if I am the spirit of a departed loved one with a message from beyond the grave? You do not even hesitate to draw your blade and strike me down! Faith -- bah, what do you know of such things?”

  In those days, I was many things, most of them bad, but rude was generally not one of them. “I apologize, stranger. You are right, I had assumed that since I did not create you and since you were in my dream and autonomous, that you must mean me harm. That was presumptuous, and if I have misjudged you, then again, I apologize. But for clarity’s sake, what do you want with me?”

  “To shatter your faith. To tear from your heart that which you hold dearest; to leave you empty and hollow, questioning everything and knowing nothing. I wish to introduce crushing doubt and uncertainty into your world.” My soulblade responded to his threat, bursting fully into existence, as my soul followed smoothly and fully through the blade, its surreal purplish black light slashing through the darkness. “These are not the words of a friend,” I whispered.

  “But I am a friend, and you know me well”, it said, stepping from the shadows. Hmphf. And shatter my faith, it did.

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