By Andy Christian Castillo
Through my cold haze flashing lights snap into the darkness, bathing the night in angry color. In front of me, a slumbering form is covered with a sheet. I see a stretcher beside it, unused. Backlit smoke drifts up from the idling ambulance. Men raise an emergency spotlight. Cars slow down to gaze in horror. Color blinks; extremities shiver.
Cold. So cold I can’t feel my fingers or my feet. So dark I can’t see them either. I want to curl up in a Starbucks with a hot chocolate and a good book. I want to run through the sprinkler and slap my wet shirt against my stomach. I want to listen to my mom read bedtime stories again. Maybe then I’ll forget reality.
Maybe than I’ll forget that existence is fleeting.
Running away from us; running into the cold darkness of January’s dying night. Running away from time and into eternity.
No comment from police. No comment from me. No comment from anyone. God damn this godforsaken night.
The next day I read that his name was Jimmy Collins. He was a retired corrections officer and Marine Corps veteran. 68 years young. His brother said that he was an “unforgettable character.”
The next day, like every other day since I took my first sharp breath, I continue to live; continue to breathe. That night I eat pork chops and rice. I wonder about Jimmy; who he was, what he liked to do, where he wanted to go. To me, he was a news story — a tough faced Marine photograph on MassLive.com. He was a bitter cold night in January and an extra half-hour past my shift end. But who was Jimmy really?
And what about the young man who hit him? He was only 20, driving a delivery truck. His life is changed forever.
I sit on the couch and stare at the blinking Christmas tree, the conversation non-existent. Next to me, the guinea pig hut is covered in an old quilt sewn with love by my last remaining grandparent. This square room, with tattered walls and stained edges, physically holds me captive.
But my thoughts are distant, lonely, forlorn, free.
I’m not here anymore, instead I’m sitting inside of a smaller room with the air conditioner growling and the TV tuned into white noise. The door is shut and the shades are down. I’m on the bottom bunk, underneath a bare mattress piled high with dirty clothes and unopened care packages.
Tears run down my face.
Boston has been attacked. I flip the channel back to scene of chaos: bewildered runners groping for loved ones; discarded towels; blood-stained streets. So far away from it all and yet, so close to my heart.
I’m glued to the screen but can’t watch. It’s too close to home. Too close to home. Instead I push open the door and escape to the suffocating heat and silence of the desert. The rocks are sharp and round underfoot, but I don’t notice. By a single tungsten light, I find the steps to the bathroom and push open the door, dazed. It’s all the same; same row of clean sinks, same row of stalls, same stale smell. Inside the first stall I sink down and cry.
I was in the Middle East on April 15, 2013, when two pressure cooker bombs exploded 12 seconds apart near the Boston Marathon’s Boylston Street finish line. Shrapnel ripped through the crowd leaving three people dead and hundreds more injured.
My brother was called up with his National Guard Military Police unit to search Boston door-to-door for the perpetrators. They found them, but not before more death. Not before more heartache.
And the violence doesn’t seem to end — every day it’s something new. The places are new and so are the victims, but the story seems like it’s always the same.
Because of this repetition, I am convinced that humanity lives in a broken world.
No matter how many hobbies I engage in or where I escape to, I’m always brought back to death and violence and dying. Of course, I find this reality depressing; it constantly weighs on my heart. But, at the same time, realizing the ultimate fallibility of existence is a relief because it forces me to look outside of myself for hope.
And in looking, I find myself drawn toward inexhaustible and incomprehensible love.
I feel it in my soul — a soul that’s on fire surrounded by the bitter cold of midnight.
The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.
Andy Christian Castillo is the Founder of Ver・ism(s). He is a military veteran and student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, pursuing a degree in English. In his free time, he plays music, writes poetry, gallivants around the world, climbs mountains and runs through the pouring rain.