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The Scorpion and Saint Celestine

In which a forest fire pleads its case.

By J. Otis HaasPublished 5 months ago Updated 5 months ago 15 min read
The Scorpion and Saint Celestine
Photo by Benjamin Lizardo on Unsplash

“Identity disturbance with markedly or persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.

-Criterion 3 for Borderline Personality Disorder, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V

A vast gulf exists between me and most people. Their seeming certainty in who they are seemingly impels them to act according to a set of instructions that seemingly allows them to function and achieve their goals in ways I find both inscrutable and unfathomable. Since childhood, I have been an anthropologist studying them. I still do not understand.

The surety with which others declare “I am,” as they assign comfortable labels to themselves wracks me with doubt and a sense of inadequacy, as every attempt I have ever made in that regard has felt like donning a tissue-paper mask in the rain. Place my hand on a stack of holy books and make me swear. I’m afraid the best I will be able to come up with is: “I feel like a forest fire, so maybe I am that.”

My greatest fear is being alone with myself, but despite this I burn hot, immolating relationships until only I remain in a lifeless, sterile landscape, my self-fulfilling prophecy come true again. I cannot contain or control myself. The merest disappointment begets an Exterminatus order, incinerating any chance that anything will ever grow there again. I don’t know why I’m like this. It feels like my purpose is to burn.

It is 1993. My best friend Tim asks me if I’ve ever noticed how weird it can be to reflect on the concept of “I am me.”

What can I say? That, for as long as I can remember, that even since early childhood, doing what he suggests has elicited a drug-like state in me, that it makes me feel like I’m falling backwards into some sort of fractal consciousness in which I cannot find a single handhold to grab onto? That there is no self-identifier that comforts me? That when you put it in recursive terms like that I feel like I’m going to fucking die never knowing who I was or what I am or what I ever possibly could be? That there is a stranger in the mirror?

I don’t remember what I said, but it wasn’t that.

“What do you do?” people always ask.

“What do you do to make money,” is what they mean.

“What is your primary function in the capitalist machine and where do you fall in the power-hierarchy?” is what I hear.

I can tell you what I used to do. I used to do lighting for high-end events in New York City in a life that now feels like someone else’s dream. I was a stagehand or lighting tech or master theatrical electrician, depending on what the listener would best understand, but this always felt untrue, or at least incomplete.

What did I really do?

For years I slept next to a person I certainly didn’t love, whom I suspect actually hated me, which I’d convinced myself was somehow better than drinking myself into oblivion every night just to achieve the obliterative darkness of blackout, the only thing big enough to consume the self-loathing, and escape the longing to die by simulating death in that coward’s way.

I am a mess.

I see the world only in black and white. Love and Hate are the only emotions I feel. Fear is there, too, seasoning the entree of my life with its sour tang, manifesting in the reluctance to act. I Hate my life, yet I fear change. It is a vicious cycle.

Love is acute, incubating until I burst, again, into flames, and the conflagration of my inadequacy and self-loathing consumes whatever I briefly held dear. Love is a thing that is just too big and slippery to hold onto, and the ineffectiveness of my attempts to find it, in any sort of meaningful sense, eat me alive as it devours anything decent that crosses my path.

The Hatred is chronic. It infects me to the core, like a singularity in my soul, sucking the entire concept of Hope across its event horizon to a place I cannot see to find it. I hate everything and everyone, but most of it is directed at myself. I am broken and every choice I make seems to further distance myself from not just the good things in life, but Life itself. I wrap myself in nihilistic indifference, but it is a cloak I wear to hide how much I care. All suffering comes from desire, and oh how I suffer.

I am a monster.

The scorpion begs a favor from the fox. “Ferry me across the river on your back,” it asks.

“You will sting me,” says the fox.

“We would both drown,” responds the scorpion, “I am not that foolish.”

Halfway across the river, the scorpion strikes. As the pair sinks beneath the surface, the fox asks “Why?”

“It is my nature,” says the scorpion.

I am that foolish.

I am a scorpion dreaming.

For decades I tried to shoehorn myself like a puzzle piece into lives that, at best, tolerated me, and, at worst, outright rejected me, but please forgive me, the gnawing emptiness inside falsely promises that it can be filled, by you, only you, whomever you may be in that moment. You shine like a lighthouse to me, and in heedless hunger I will promise and betray, shapeshifting before your increasingly horrified eyes, desperate to dock at your shores. I am so afraid to be alone.

I am sorry.

I know now why I am like this. Weaponized Trust can fire lies like bullets through a child’s developing consciousness. Done regularly enough, this can result in a mind where rational thought is intruded upon by a tumor made of fear that, if fed, can gradually grow to eclipse all else. As I grew, I found a world eager to feed it.

The inside of my young head looks like a funhouse. Mirrors upon mirrors upon mirrors reflect my worst fears, not just the ones put in me by a hateful relative, but also the ones fed to me by the media. They bounce around at the speed of light, gaining form as they are shaped by the warped reflectors.

I am small. I am afraid to be alone. I am afraid of nuclear war. I am afraid of my father.

I know now that some infinities are greater than others, but this hard-won knowledge would not come until after decades of battle and suffering. I thank my mother for never giving up on me.

I do not forgive my abuser.

Eventually, I cannot live with myself any longer. It is a bitter cold New England night when I drink myself into a blackout, intending to freeze to death. There is a girl involved, of course. I think this sounds like a poetic death, though it had been years since I’d written poetry, and would be years before I would do so again. It doesn’t matter. Any reasoning I might have come up with was only to occlude the truth that I simply could not spend another moment in my own presence. Oblivion, or even Hell, seemed preferable to my pitiful, tortured existence.

In the psych ward a confused middle-aged fellow patient asks me if I’m God. Frostbitten, and with a shattered ankle, I tell her I am not, but down the hall in a room on the right is a young man named Elijah who says he is. I have learned nothing from this experience.

I resolve to get it right the next time.

I am more lost than ever.

In time, I’d ride the white-hot electric rails of ketamine therapy to a whole new me, but just like any philosopher who makes it out of Plato’s cave I found myself not satisfied, but just a level up in my ignorance. “You know nothing, Jon Haas,” my Wildling bride snarls at me. We are beyond the wall and I am more lost than ever. I half-remember the lessons I learned in Braavos in the Temple of the Faceless Men. The null set of ego death is upon me.

I am No One.

You can exist like that for a while, feeling like a bubble in a bubble in a bubble, turtles all the way down in the fractal infinity of Everything. It is a place you find after being extruded, spaghetti-like down the tubes of Spacetime and yourself to the singularity at the center of your soul. The lack of physics in this realm is comforting. Not free of gravity, but in a place where gravity doesn’t exist and never did, you exist without mass.

Lighter than a photon, I hang in the darkness. All concepts of me are lightyears away in another dimension. I am beyond Jonathan, shrunk so small into Planck Space that I have escaped all confining circles. Emotion, Reason, and Faith all hang somewhere above. I have passed monkey-brain and lizard-brain, watching in amazement as even the ever-present arachnid-nature of the scorpion disappears into the darkness.

Once I was a little light.

The Warp is a place of pure emotion, powered by the basest impulses of all sentient species. I am in The Warp, flirting with demons, all too eager to follow them to their pleasure planets, knowing full-well the whole time the cost of choosing to believe their lies, but blinding myself to all of that for a taste of the dopamine my depression had so-long denied me. Everything is happening at the same time.

I am flying.

The Astronomicon ignites in the impossible distance. I must pass through The Warp as I race towards Holy Terra. This time I am a teardrop of mercury passing faster-than-light, toward the beacon. This time I do not pause, merely reflecting the distorted faces of any demons that dare approach. Upon arrival in that sacred place I find only myself.

Zoom back out.

I am falling.

Freedom can be blinding. It can make you race, moth-like towards the sun, feeling like an angel until the wax-nature of your wings is revealed to you and you plummet once again down, down down, and not even your screaming appeals to the gods are enough to keep you aloft.

I am Icarus.

It all washed out. It all washed out in the darkness and there in the k-hole, I am lost again, but I am found, was blind, but now can see. The multiverse is splayed out before me in an infinite plane of diamonds and it shatters and rains down around me, slicing me to molecular ribbons until

I. Am. Exposed.

When Saint Celestine is slain, she claws herself back to life, crawling up an ever-growing mountain of her own corpses until she lives again.

I am Saint Celestine.

This is a story about picking up the pieces.

This is a story about how, no matter how awful things are, how awful you are, things can always change. The beauty of the human condition is that we have the magic to make something out of nothing.

I am really trying.

Imagine it’s a simulation, that we are all bits and bites flowing through a model of a place that once was or was never meant to be.

Would it change anything? Would it absolve us?

I reach inside to rewrite my registry, undoing the programming, editing my playerfile. This comforts me, even while the mere notion fills me with exquisite dread.

I turn my Faith up to 255, which is as high as it goes and toggle off my ego, becoming one with the universe. Is this Nirvana?

It is 2019 and my mother thinks I’ve become a Buddhist. I recount my recent litany of mischiefs and let her think on it. All suffering comes from desire.

I am me.

This is a slow thing and I tend to overshoot, overcompensate, and over correct.

I am trying to find my voice.

I am Faithful. It is the only way I can Radically Accept certain constants in my personal algorithm.

I am insane. Can you tell?

Even now I have to wrap myself in metaphors to temporarily give shape to the amorphous blob that is somehow, impossibly, me. Have you noticed? I pull them on like armor and slosh around inside to the best of my abilities. Bruce Lee said:

“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”

I am water.

Take the pain, that singularity of aching sensitivity that throbs like an infected clitoris inside you. Cast the nerve endings out in a web and watch them assemble into a matrix whereby all that reactive susceptibility to the merest stimuli, which has always sent currents of every emotion at once, in terrible concussive shockwaves through your being at the merest kind word or slightest slight, and see how they resolve into tentacles of Empathy.

I am an octopus.

I cannot remember a time when I was not pure, hungering id, driven by primitive, insect-like urges to the next sweet thing. I have feasted so long on the soda-pop spilled on a garbage can lid that my feet have crystallized into the sticky morass I have entrenched myself in.

Lost in sugary ecstasy, I am stuck.

In my experience, one of the worst parts of mental illness is being able to identify what is wrong, and knowing full-well how to fix it, but being unable to take even the first step towards making things better. You wind up watching yourself, like a marionette attached to strings controlled by your illness, doing the most outrageous, horrible, and self-destructive things, in pursuit of a goal that you don’t even want, helpless to stop yourself.

Whether Einstein said it or not, that quote about insanity being repetition of the same thing expecting different results would flash in front of my eyes. Jonathan knew better, but Jonathan was merely an observer, his sickness was calling the shots.

Through this process, I have learned that, counterintuitively, it often takes far more strength to let go of things than it does to hold onto them. Even after a psychedelic rewriting of my fundamental self, it still took a tremendous amount of willpower to do the things I needed to do to affect change in my life, and to maintain the momentum requires vigilance, initiative, and desire, which necessitates that some suffering must be endured. Every day I try to find balance in all that.

Believing that the only two True economies are Love and Trust helps, and I don’t care if that sounds oversimplified or naive.

This is how I do it.

I draw a Venn diagram in my mind, three overlapping circles. Emotion, Reason, and Faith, the Consequences of Consciousness. These concepts are ephemeral, and the whispiness of their nature makes it hard to find purchase until I populate the circles with a menagerie.

Christian Scientists eschew diagnosis, believing that merely identifying an illness gives it power. Using the other edge of this blade, I label my inner selves for the first time, Emotion, Reason, and Faith now represented by a Rabbit, Otter, and Octopus, respectively.

I now have a map. It sits in the corner of my vision like a heads-up-display, registering my state of mind. Each circle represents a resource, and gradually, gradually I learn to move my thinking to where they overlap. This is hard at first, as I am always drawn to extremes, but in the center, within all three at once, is my Wise Mind.

I am guiding myself.

The literature on my condition haunts me. Doctors and academics don’t hesitate to use words like manipulative and parasitic when discussing people like me. Forum posts and articles on the subject read more like instructions on how to deal with nuisance wildlife than people in need. “Don’t let them get too close to you,” is repeated, plastered like a warning label throughout the discourse.

I know what I am, so I cannot blame these people who have been hurt merely by the presence of creatures like me in their lives, but it still hurts. I become hyper-aware. Even now, I know that true independence remains a goal for me, and there is much I must do in pursuit of it. I strive for symbiosis instead of parasitism, which is not ideal, but is the best I can manage at this time.

Please don’t give up on me.

I still make mistakes every day. Decades behind everyone else in terms of personal development, I am a neonate, still wet behind the ears with amniotic fluid, but I am learning. My progress is slow, but measurable. Using a scalpel made of pure will, I excise the toxicity from my life. Slicing through thick cables of codependency and entanglement I begin the arduous process of freeing myself.

As I grow lighter and lighter, I find the strength to let things go. My true friends remain, but legions of others, who have been my partners in misery, cannot stay. Feeling pressure to accomplish something with my life now, I break free of the enablers and facilitators, feeling myself rise above a muddy battlefield strewn with corpses, most of them my own.

I am finding ways to be comfortable alone.

I am still a forest fire. It is still my purpose to burn, but I try to take a more measured approach now, scouring away the underbrush of preconception, both within and without, allowing for new growth.

I am doing that right now.

I am

Note: Inspired, in part, by Marsha M. Linehan, George R. R. Martin, Games Workshop, Grant Morrison, and Bruce Lee. Thank you.


About the Creator

J. Otis Haas

Space Case

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Comments (2)

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  • Andrea Corwin 5 months ago

    Wow. I could say a lot but fear it may seem trite or create the wrong impression - or illusion. So: I used to once a year, around the new year, cross the asshole in my life off my list. Poof! Gone! Liberating and cleansing. Some new ones creep in and it many times takes awhile to figure it out and then, poof! Your writing and descriptions are A+++ superb. I look forward to your stories. Just as fires cleanse the forest…writing…releases…lifts and soars.

  • Kenny Penn5 months ago

    Oh my goodness, there is so much rich and diverse emotion here! There were times I felt like tearing up and others like laughing. Your similes are amazing, like the line “like donning a tissue-paper mask in the rain”. I hope things get better and better for you and in the meantime don’t stop writing!

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