Descartes Conundrum

The limits of thinking

Photo by Jakub Gorajek on UNSPLASH.

I wave my hands in front of the Daniel-thing’s face again. Nothing. Its eyes are open, but it’s not seeing me, not seeing anything. I thought he’d had a seizure; when I checked for a pulse or breathing I found neither.

And then there was the stuff with my fingers. I shake that memory off and move my mind as far from my digits as I can. I shove my hands in my pockets and resolve not to pull them out again.

How quickly I had overlooked the fact that we, Daniel and I, hadn’t hung out in years. And now we were walking some unmarked highway through Death Valley? If this is Death Valley? I shrug it off; this place is, I suspect, nowhere.

We both had reacted with such glee. Well, we would, wouldn’t we? Both of us had been agnostics, skeptical about beginnings and endpoints. Neither of us interested in the concepts of souls, afterlives, or the man upstairs. Despite the twenty years between us, we were friends, men who enjoyed the questions more than answers.

Then there was the stuff with the ice pack. How it hadn’t melted, and we’d been out here for hours, hiking mile after mile on the soft, gooey-warm asphalt. I look again at the desert before me. The long, empty road stretches towards the horizon. The punishing sun hovers low enough to touch.

I think about looking back, but fear vetoed that idea real quick.

What would I see? Would I look up into the eyes of a masked medical team who were even now trying to revive me? Or would it be the much-ballyhooed tunnel of white light?

The realization hit me first, then Daniel.

We stopped walking hours ago. I want to look away from my friend, but I’m sure if I do, he will disappear; he was never really here. Neither am I. Even here isn’t here. But I feel if I look away, let things roll to whatever is next, then I will quickly lose my mind. If Daniel-thing were to disappear, I think I would learn what pure, unadulterated loneliness is.

Daniel decided it was confession time. I must have known about him and Faith; on some level, I knew. She had become distant because I’d been distant. Then, anticlimactically, things were fine again, no explanations, no talks, no heart-to-heart confession. One night she was a bit closer to me in the bed. Her butt angled towards me just so, the way it did when she wanted sex. Her flesh always felt so hot to me when my hungry hands found her in the night.

And then the money that had gone missing, the business went under.

“Bro, we aren’t in Kansas anymore,” I said to him. An hour or a century ago; time is funny here.

So is space. This desert looks as if it were composed of stock video clips and stills All the classic tropes are here and accounted for as if it were drawn by a child.

I wish I could take it back, the last thing I said to Daniel-thing. The thing that made him freeze up and go mute, standing there facing west, his long hair frozen motionless between steps. His processor has blipped into an infinite loop.

Cogito, ergo sum.

I think, therefore I am.

Descartes proof that he existed. I exist with this unmelting ice pack pressed against my low back because I think I exist here with an unmelting ice pack pressed against my low back.

The Daniel-thing felt similarly.

Well, why wouldn’t he?

Then, there were doubts.

Maybe this isn’t Daniel, but a Daniel-thing.

Maybe Daniel–thing was only a mental construct in my unconscious

Cogito, ergo mortuus sum?

I think, therefore I am dead?

I don’t know. I do know that this is already tedious.

“See you later, Daniel,” the idea of me says to the immobile Daniel thing.

I continue walking west without moving an inch. I don’t look back. The sun never moves from where it hangs overhead.

I tell myself I’m not playing and replaying the same question over-and-over in my brain.

Am I dead, or am I merely dying?

I don’t look back. Now there is only the sun, the warmth from the asphalt warming my soles through the leather, and the walking.

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