Threshold Markers

Soon after graduating from college, I came face to face with two important facts. The first was that I was a drunk, and the second was that, despite my education, I had no marketable abilities or particular skills at all. I didn’t know how to address the latter condition, but had been given, along the way, some idea as regards the former, so checked myself into in-patient rehab for the month of October, 1989, and promptly got involved with one of the networks of support available* upon my release. It was nearing Christmas when this next thing happened, and it was such a subtle thing that it may very well be no thing at all. It is tempting to dismiss it outright, as it seems almost entirely owing to my state of mind at the time and was very likely a misperception of something quite ordinary. I was in a very jittery and not-sane frame of mind in those early months of sobriety. If you can imagine the psychological equivalent to having your entire body covered in scabs, and then the scabs all suddenly torn away, leaving only burning nerve-endings and raw, bleeding flesh, yet for all this still being infused with a giddy sort of blind optimism and near-infantile level of self-absorption, then you might appreciate the state of mind I inhabited. I was at the very least capable of interpreting things in a skewed sort of way.

But what I saw, while looking out the back window of my parent’s two-storey house, overlooking the neighborhood hills perhaps a quarter mile away, in addition to the seasonally-appropriate festooning of colored Christmas lights, tucked in amongst the other houses in the densely-packed and tree-lined suburbs, was a wall of red-orange light. The area of light itself was about the size of a house, though it did not appear to have any roof or any adjoining walls to form a regular structure. There wasn’t anything to it except for a large, flat rectangle which glowed evenly throughout, though not intensely, and with that same glowing orange-red that I recalled the glyphic L-shaped object having, from my sighting at age fourteen, as well as the (then) more recent Madeleine-cookie airship. This is a very particular shade of orange – richly luminous, seemingly alive – and if it is possible for a color to indicate by its shade, its saturation and intensity, that it is somehow itself intelligent, then that is what this shade of orange-red does and did. This wall of light wasn’t up to anything; it was simply planted there, amongst all the other lights. Except that it seemed way too big and way too even. Seeing this put me into a particularly anxious state. I called my mentor in the “program”**, telling him what I thought I was looking at; that I felt that if I went to it – which for some reason it seemed like I was supposed to do – I would be made to drink (since that was my greatest, and genuine, fear at the time – that something beyond my control would make me drink, which maybe sounds ludicrous, but actually kind of isn’t). I expect my friend thought I was ordinarily newly-sober insane, but he was able to talk me down from my state of near-panic, and convinced me that I didn’t have to do any such thing. And though it was still several days until the holiday, and the neighborhood lights otherwise remained until Christmas and New Years, I know that by either that next evening or soon after, the large rectangle of orange light was gone and did not reappear.

Some few years later, I had another, very subtle kind of sighting that occurred in a similar context. I’d been afraid to go to a small meeting*** at a hospital in Ballard (a neighborhood in north Seattle), one that I knew would be sparsely attended by those in alcohol and drug treatment at the hospital, and even more sparsely attended by other, sober members from the community at large. So basically, I expected I would be on my own if I went, and if I went, it was expressly to be helpful, if I could, to an unreceptive and resentful room of people who were more or less held captive. I did not want to do this. In fact I unreservedly did not want to do this. I battled against my sense of obligation all the way. But in going, as I approached the Ballard neighborhood, the hospital, and my increasing dread, I remember noticing in the sky overhead, hanging at what seemed a really high altitude, a small silver shape, bluntly cylindrical. It was so high, and so far off, that it was hard to see it as more than just a smudge, but it hung there, and for the duration that I watched it (several minutes) it stayed pretty much in the same place. At the time, I thought it must be a blimp or balloon – although I’d never seen a blimp or a balloon up that high before. This was at many thousands of feet into the hazy sky. I checked its position often as I drove through and eventually found a parking space alongside the hospital. In some corner of myself, I imagined that seeing this thing was an acknowledgement that I was crossing an important threshold, in being willing to confront my fears and work, ostensibly, for others’ benefit, even though I didn’t really believe that the object was anything all that extraordinary at the time. And as I sat in the meeting, which itself was quite unremarkable (what the hell had I been so afraid of?) I looked sometimes out the window toward the grayish sky, and was still able to see the object overhead. It’s position was just such that from where I sat, I could look straight at it. The funny thing about this memory is that I have the impression that the sky was simply crammed full of objects at the time… This was a regular fantasy of mine from that period, that objects – seemingly ordinary objects: helicopters, airplanes, blimps, whatever – were just about everywhere in the sky above the city, that it was almost more crowded up there than it was down in the busy streets. I don’t know what it was about the sky on that day that gave me that impression. Maybe it really was crowded with airplanes and helicopters and blimps and balloons. Except that how crowded could it actually get?

*Forgive the cagey wording of this statement. The “network of support” is one that everybody knows, and that I, frankly, have no trouble with naming and associating myself with. The network itself however contains within its literature of very strongly suggested traditional practices, as regards its public relations philosophy, the imperative that members not publicly identify themselves specifically as such in media like for instance this sort right here. This is as much for the good of the network as it is for that of the member.

**See above. Trying to describe this very specific state of mind and context puts me into a position of playing perhaps somewhat loosely with the concept while keeping to its letter. Yet to describe events without this context renders them almost entirely meaningless. I.e. "I saw a dot up in the sky" – and, yeah, and, so what? 


Olympia, 1987: Wrong-sized Star

(Note: though these events are all in front of me, in written form, culled from my journals of last summer, any attempt to put them into the order of their occurrence seems to get undermined, again and again. Perhaps this is in the nature of memory itself, which seems to have its own needs for narrative structure, over and beyond any mere chronology of fact. Perhaps it is more a matter of the language that I’ve formed them from, or into, which dictates what is included or excluded. The journal is in fact kind of a mess, sprawling and unruly, and as I wrote these entries initially, their recollection wouldn’t keep to any convenient timeline, no matter how hard I tried to follow one for my own mnemonic purposes. Events would not keep in order, but came as they would. Hence the following was among the last that I actually remembered, though it comes in time before the previous entry.)

In my sophomore year at college, I lived in the small city of Olympia, WA. This was in 1987 and for most of that year, I was living in a very odd, shared apartment complex near the county jail. This rather barren neighborhood was situated atop the mostly undeveloped plateau, from where I could take a long, stepped pathway down the side of the hill, through a wooded slope to a wide road and an area which opened out onto a lake. The road led into or out of downtown, the lights of which shone in the darkness directly across the water, about a mile away. Rail tracks also ran though this flat area, and a land-bridge crossed the water for the railway, leading to a switchyard and into the city. I walked this route often, following the tracks into town to read or write at the local coffee shop. Twice I jumped onto slow-moving freight trains to to town. The first time I got away with it. The second time, I didn’t, and I never tried that trick again. This would have been in the wintertime, and not long after Whitley Strieber’s Communion had been released.

I’d just bought a copy in hardback from a shopping mall bookstore. I’d felt compelled at seeing that famous face on the cover, which I remember seemed so very familiar at the time. This response is by now a familiar trope among contactees, I’m well aware, though I didn’t at the time feel as if I knew that woman, or believed I had any experience with grays. Rather it seemed – or it seems now, after long reflection – as if I’d already been saturated with that image in media. Yet I don’t think that was yet the case. The ubiquity of that almond-eyed face came later, as a result of the book and its cover, among other things, but that hadn’t happened yet. At the time of this experience I was then reading Communion, and it was having a profound effect on me. I was fascinated and utterly terrified (which I believe is a very precise definition of the numinous).

On this particular night, I walked back from the coffeehouse along my usual route to my apartment on the hill, along the rails and over the land bridge. It was cold and damp, but not for the moment raining. I smoked a lot of dope at the time, and so I was probably at least a little bit stoned. I remember as I approached the train yard at the outskirts of downtown, I looked up into the clear night sky and saw, among the usual array of stars, one especially large, flat, shimmering disc of light. It was white, having liquid-like edges that, though generally hard and circular, wobbled and shifted. It acted much the same, optically, as any star seen through the atmosphere would, only enlarged to some ridiculous proportion. Size-wise, the disc was much larger than any other star in the sky, yet it was smaller than the moon would normally seem. There was no moon visible in the sky that night. I remember thinking at the time that it must be Jupiter. I certainly did not think it was a UFO, or anything all that unusual… except that it was so big, and oddly shimmering, with that uncertain edge. I had the chance to watch it for quite a long time. It hung directly ahead and above me for much of the walk back home – through the rail yard, over the land bridge and back to the road – and it never once changed its position or behaved in any other way strangely. It was just like any normal star, only much, much bigger, as if optically enlarged. And though I was likely reading Communion on that particular night, I did not at the time see this thing in terms of any such phenomena. That association only came later, on reflection, perhaps by several years. It seems such a minor thing in itself, but the memory of it has stayed with me vividly for these past twenty five years as some sort of marker, to indicate this particular point in my life.

The Haunted Rooms, Olympia, 1988-89

After the aforementioned childhood images, which could have been dreams – certainly they follow in part the logic and the tone of dreams, though I have never remembered them in that context – and the two very clear, upfront and personal sightings of things that were obviously there, obviously in the sky and, moreover, were obviously not planes or clouds or even the Goodyear blimp (yes, thank you, I do know the difference) it seemed as if for a long time nothing else of this sort happened. Yet my years as an undergraduate and as a young adult were perforated through by certain images and irruptions of the stuff of meaning, of the supramundane. My mind and my character were far from cohesive. I was dissolute. I drank heavily and accomplished little, descended into a pervasive lassitude and depression. As a result, though drinking like this kind of held me together at the time and made life bearable, I now regret just about every moment of my lifetime between 18 and 22 – though less for my behavior while drunk than for the way the intensity of need (only partially met by drink) and sheer, chronic horrible feeling caused me to act towards others who were, for a short time, close to me.

During this period, there were a couple of events that stood out as especially odd. Now that I think of it, they both happened at the same rooming house where I lived for most of a year between 1988 and 1989. The house seemed to be haunted by a resentful ghost. The landlord, a middle-aged woman whose father had died suddenly and violently while building the house, had inherited it some twenty years previous to my living there. The building, a dismal and dark spot within an apparently otherwise normal suburb, had never been properly finished, though it had been inhabited for all this time by a variety of marginal characters, some of us students, many quite shady, most all of us desperate in one way or another.

On one late morning in the autumn – more likely by then approaching early afternoon –I was simply too lazy to get out of bed. After some hours of lying awake, I both felt and heard something explode inside of my skull. It was like a small bomb physically in my head that literally exploded. That did get me up; that got me out of bed fast. I was scared, and I felt certain then that someone or something had intervened, had set this thing off in me, as if to say, enough is enough. God only knows to what purpose. But it was time to get up and do something, though to my perspective there seemed little point to the day, and nothing worth the effort.

The next event from this period happened some months later. I’d moved into another room in the house, above the cold garage, to the expansive but unheated, uninsulated attic room where I spent the worst and most difficult winter of my young life. The springtime would soon be full of bad drama surrounding a downstairs neighbor, but that, I think, hadn’t happened yet. The room beneath mine was then still empty. The angry ghost would manifest at night, pounding on all four walls at once, or interrupting the power in measured intervals of three (the possibility that mischievous people might have been behind this certainly exists, but I couldn’t see why they would bother with such coordinated effort, in such numbers as these pranks would on occasion require). The event that followed may very well have been little or nothing at all: it only seemed to be some kind of skywriting, seen through a window. To see it, I would have been lying on the floor, looking out at the sky, but that isn’t so unusual. What was unusual was the oddly glyphic form of vapor arrangement that I saw. This was at least a decade before the issue of chemtrails became part of the public dialogue, and the utterly bizarre tic-tac-toe patters I’ve since seen photographed in the sky, as if daring those below to notice. This could have been a precursor to that particular form of jokesterism, whoever was behind it.

What I saw, made out of cloud, from my perspective, was a long horizontal line, out of which, attached at the base, was formed a small equilateral triangle, and in the very center of this was a single dot. These were very precise shapes, only starting to untangle and waft away, made out of, yes, clouds. I saw no aircraft make them, and I’d heard nothing – or at least hadn’t noticed, though this design hung at fairly low altitude. It’s hardly impossible that this wasn’t the work of somebody in a small airplane just practicing their craft. It just seemed outright mental at that level. But what did seem meaningful was that there was a communication of something very strange going on – at least I felt it to be so – and this, like so much, remains at the level of an uncertain liminality between the mundane and transcendent, the banality of obvious, stupid fact and the mystery of possible, deep otherness. These things, too, may be expressed by people and their activities. Perhaps what I speak of is less an external event than it is my own frustration with the seeming limits of first, myself, and secondarily, normality. I felt that quality of otherness to be expressed in the fact of communication through these unlikely shapes, though they, like much else, could very well have found their source in my own longing that it be so.

Mark and I Became Robots, 1975

In or around the third grade, perhaps sooner, my friend Mark had come to my house. This would have been around 1975. We played at something in the basement, I have no idea what, but my mother at some point had come downstairs with a plate of apple slices for us to have as snacks. This seems to have been the catalyst for what happened. I and Mark took a slice of apple each and bit into them. A moment later, we found ourselves standing at opposite corners of the basement recreation room, and between us there had formed a tunnel of swirling gray vapors. As if enacting the movements of a pre-determined ritual, the two of us walked toward each other. I remember Mark’s face, very clearly, as being utterly neutral – he had no expression whatever. I felt my own face to be as blank as his. Our movements were automatic, almost robotic. That is not to say that we acted or moved machine-like, but that our movements seemed necessary and precise, executed without consideration, neither with hesitation nor hurriedly. As we approached each other, there was nothing visible to me except for Mark’s blank face. Everything else was enfolded in the gray mist. As we got to within some few yards of each other, we both simultaneously rose up by an inch or two – we weren’t floating; it seemed rather that we had stepped onto adjoining ramps, leading to a slightly raised platform. There had been no such platform on the carpeted cement floor a moment earlier, and I couldn’t actually see that there was one now, but neither could I look down, nor could I see anything beyond the perimeter of the fog-tunnel and Mark’s face approaching mine through it. Yet we had both been lifted up slightly, and I now walked on something solid. We passed each other – Mark to my right side as I was to his – both staring straight ahead, and once past, we returned to the floor, descending that same “ramp” the other had stepped previously up. The fog disappeared. We returned to whatever it was that we’d been doing. My mother, who’d taken a seat at one corner of the room, had sat there throughout this whole exchange and was still there. She had no reaction whatever, in fact no expression on her face at all – much the same as both Mark and myself. I don’t remember anything that happened immediately after that. By the fourth grade Mark and I weren’t friends any longer, though, and I have no recollection of what actually came between us to cause a rift.