Why you shouldn’t read A Song of Ice and Fire

Library warning poster

Library warning poster (Photo credit: Phil Bradley)

Given the recent popularity of the Game of Thrones television series, and my need to balance my abysmal existence with immersion into a fantasy world, I decided a little while back that I would give a go at “A Song of Ice and Fire”. Before attempting the series I enjoyed “The Wheel of Time” and “Sword of Truth” series beyond praise, but with criticism. The former for the author ignoring the main (my favorite) character in favor of others, and the latter for pressing his political agenda that completely contradicts my own. I thought “A Song of Ice and Fire” had merit prior to its televised popularization, since I had seen it on numerous ‘Top Ten’ fantasy series lists. I started reading it, and I was considerably unimpressed. What follows is a brief (because nobody reads anything over 1,000 words) explanation why, with comparisons to Martin’s contemporaries Robert Jordan and Terry Goodkind. My three main points are based upon characterization, political intrigue, and literary value.

Characterization.

Hollow. The characters seem empty to me, and perhaps this is the result of each character not actually being tied to a set of complex characteristics drawn from the real humans. The characters rather represent just facets of what makes up actual human beings. There are main characters that Martin tends to embrace more throughout the series, but what comes to lack from not fleshing out characters becomes worse than caricature. At least caricature can become amusing if the reader understands what the author intends. Martin’s characters lack this, being most likely a consequence of over-diversification of characters solely to express multiple character traits. Robert Jordan and Terry Goodkind do the opposite. Rarely does a single novel in their respective series go into double-digit characters. This is because the characterizations are more comprehensive, and it is their characters, unlike Martin’s, that serve to drive the story, rather than being tugged about by excessive plot twists and turns.

Political Intrigue.

I hate it. Mystery, intrigue, and even occasionally romance, are all literary devices used to appeal to a mass readership. They are some of the most popular books by quantity, yet  rely upon simplistic ‘twists and turns’ to draw the attention of curious readers. Rather than being event-driven or character-driven, Martin’s world is built upon a swarming mass of political behavior. For Americans who suckle the life out of individualism, this becomes a quick sell. “What is this individual doing to that individual and how will it affect those individuals?” I couldn’t care less. Where Martin’s contemporaries exceed him is their understanding of the pacing issues that are inherent to a politically-driven world. It slows actions and events, doesn’t allow characters to grow and develop, and becomes muddied when the reader doesn’t attach or identify with a certain political entity or ideal. Jordan and Goodkind both deviated into p0litically-driven worlds at certain points within their series, but the entire series did not suffer because of it.

Literary Value.

I’ve heard the argument that fantasy isn’t literature, and I disagree. My disagreement is partially due to the inconclusive sampling that many anti-fantasy literary snobs have. The other part is because I feel that fantasy often seeks to explain the same moralistic ideals that I believe is the intent of any literary author. Scholars and critics may not share my opinion that the purpose of literature is ultimately to morally inform and spread personal ideology, but that is why I write and therefore what I believe. Martin, however, writes for a mass audience, which severely compromises poetic license.  This causes him to rely heavily on cliché and uninspired descriptions. His writing does flow, but it feels as though it was written for an audience first being exposed to literature as a means of entertainment, often categorized as ‘teen’ or ‘young adult’ literature. This self-imposed limitation on his vocabulary and descriptions gives his writing an elementary feel, and I suppose is equivalent to a cheesy science fiction film.

Alternatives.

Characters. Robert Jordan created my favorite complex character, Rand al’Thor, a simple man and a character gradually developed through the series to be reconciled with the insane Lews Therin introduced in the very first book. Terry Goodkind created another type of character, Zed, who would normally be cast-type as ‘comic relief’, but actually becomes an intense character himself, perhaps even borrowing the title of ‘main character’ occassionally.

Plot-driven. Rand al’Thor is the (spoiler) Dragon Reborn (/spoiler). The events surrounding him are what affect his world, and characters and their decisions don’t drive the story as much as they are simply affected by their world. Terry Goodkind does a similar job with Richard Rahl, making him the (spoiler) son of his first major enemy (/spoiler), but also allowing events to take over the direction of plot. Political intrigue is limited to character development.

Literary Value. Robert Jordan never preaches to the reader, but he definitely expresses his worldviews through characterizations and immersive descriptions of locations and battles. His writing is uninhibited by genre conventions. Terry Goodkind becomes a political philosopher midway through the series, but scenes early on made my stomach heave and chest pound, especially with the descriptions and background information about the Mord Sith.

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Found Unworthy

The warrior fights. Forgets his feelings.

Strength and might. His centrally focused mind.

English: Theseus fighting the Minotaur by Étie...

Victories won and every kingdom saved.

All to take her hand. A waft of nothing.

Stories will be told of his deeds and traits.

Her hand will never fold. Such dire straits.

Can’t place a ring. Another hand holds tight.

Prancing through fields of merry time and cheer.

Accomplishments gather dust on the shelf.

An officer, gentleman, respected.

Unseen in countless battles he must fight.

Can’t reach the ceiling. Too far. Made of glass.

Just like her slipper the prince found and stole.

A way to her heart through smiles and joy.

Nothing like what’s shared through scars and bloodshed.

The warrior grows stronger and alone.

Invincible to those he must now fight.

Chasing the demons who scream at his back.

He can’t turn around. His Minotaur’s maze.

Someone to save, or let it be himself.

A rider in cloak and dagger comes near.

“Come with me.” The rider says nothing more.

The warrior vanishes. Rises new.

Pray be his faithful, to not meet his rage.

The feast of the haunted. It is all done.

Death of the Individual

Individual. Selfish and alone.

No sense of community. Nothing shared.

Produce and consume. Never own the means.

Expectations large, with little reward.

The failure and despair we don’t witness.

Left behind, abandoned if not consumed.

See the implosion of a falling star.

Red Star Rising, it used to be the sun.

Corporate States of America

Corporate States of America (Photo credit: watchingfrogsboil)

Shining over every kingdom. Shared lands.

Traveled beyond time and space. Advancement.

No profits, but prophets who saw the way.

Release the chains of the present to see.

See the future that was supposed to be.

Not held back by prisons and devices.

The fat gatekeeper fed by his own greed.

Children with empty stomachs. “I want more!”

Taste their tears. One too many grains of salt.

A harvest for the fat man while they cry.

Their potential will amount to nothing.

Discarded generations, without means.

Production amassed built empires great.

Shadows cast over world without toilets.

The world’s embarrassment, until the guns.

The gold and the jewels were just too shiny.

Fat fingers pulled the trigger. Stole the world.

God, the Bully

The birds chirped and fluttered about as the wind rustled the leaves of the trees stretched above the framed sidewalk. A woman walked along, the heels of her shoes clicking against the smoothly worn pavement. She walked down the mostly uncrowded sidewalk, past the bank, across the street from hotel that overlooked the park. She could hear the din of a jackhammer and other tools being used as she turned the corner onto the next street. Wearing a black and white textured jacket over a silk button-down blouse and a skirt, she must have been on her way to work. She came near the construction site she heard earlier, right across the street from where she was waiting at the crosswalk. The wind flapped through her jacket, showing a few more centimeters of skin that was already being exposed with her cleavage and uncovered legs. The men working across the street stopped what they were doing and the noise died out a little. Before she glanced over at them, one of them hollered, “Hey mami, what’s up?” The woman smiled to herself as the crosswalk sign changed to ‘walk’. She crossed the street, away from the men and slowly out of their sight. The men resumed working, starting the jackhammer again and returning the neighborhood to the faded sounds of construction. Timothy paused for a moment, though, still gazing down the street before somebody tapped him on the shoulder to hand him a hammer. Timothy had seen the woman, and thought she was beautiful. Perhaps even the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. He couldn’t manage an outburst like Juan just had, but she definitely caught his attention before the guys had decided to return to their work.

Timothy liked his boss, Juan, and respected him a great deal. He was constantly amazed how Juan had the cojones to talk to beautiful women wherever he was, including at work. Timothy was raised by both his parents, but as a child he adhered to certain unwritten rules learned from his household at a young age. His father would often have friends and guests over either to discuss business or to watch a game on the 12” television set in the living room, which was just out of Timothy’s reach on its varnished stand. Timothy would go fetch them tea from the dining room table when asked to, and in the meantime he would play on the rug with his toys, while the men talked about money or yelled at the players on television. When the men came over, sometimes they brought their wives along. The wives would all herd off to mingle in the ‘guest room’, the yellow walls echoed their chattering amongst themselves, fussing over one another’s youth or age, sometimes dropping their voices to a whisper to delve into gossip. The women took care of their own hospitality, Timothy’s younger sister boiling the water and preparing the tea leaves for the group. The women never interfered in the men’s business, and even when one of their curious daughters would poke her head into the living room, Timothy knew better than to look at the young girl.

This was part of the reason he admired Juan so. Even in Timothy’s adult life, he had maintained the same level of formality toward women ingrained from his youth. He had friends, and they had girlfriends, but Timothy never greeted the women in public before shaking his friend’s hand or kissing him on the cheek. He always asserted that male bond first, and it made him a more respected friend for that. Juan was different, though. Juan was a good friend, too, but the moment any woman was in his vicinity, his eyes would become glazed with the hunt, hollering his war cries of “Hey baby!” reckless to any other man. Juan always had hated the, “I have a boyfriend,” line when women would politely turn him away. His response was always something along the lines of, “Well, where is he now?” or “I’m just trying to get to know you.” He would become giddy when rewarded with a smile, and that would egg him on, filling him with courage and helping him produce the romantic phrases he had used on countless other women. Juan could be bitter when rejected, though. “Bitch. Don’t pretend like you can’t hear me,” if they ignored him or just continued to walk away. Juan was a type of guy that Timothy enjoyed hanging around and working with, but who was quite different from himself. Maybe that’s where the phrase ‘opposites attract’ gathers its meaning.

Timothy’s biggest problems with the opposite sex stemmed from his inability to speak. Timothy became mute at a young age, dating after the memories of playing on the rug around his fathers’ friends. Timothy’s father left to go fight in the war around that time, so Timothy had nobody at home except for his mother and sister. He contentedly sat on the rug in the living room and played with his toys in those days, mostly by himself. His mother and his sister were at home, too, but were usually hysterically concerned with Timothy’s father and the war’s effect on the community. You see, the war was not war as most people know it. Timothy’s family lived near the border, along the eastern front of the war. Right outside the family’s home was an intermittent barrage of explosions, gunfire, or wounded men being dragged to safety. Enemy forces were advancing westward, too, and sometimes would seek quarter in the homes of widows and spouses whose husbands had gone off to fight the war. On one such occasion, two enemy soldiers banged on the door to Timothy’s house, shaking paintings hanging on the walls of the house. Timothy’s mother began crying from the other room and of course his sister started in, too. Timothy, unperturbed by the noise and the violence, went to open the door. The two men rushed in, one scooping Timothy up in his arms and placing a hand over his mouth. Ignoring the two women’s sobs from the other room he threw Timothy on the couch and the other man demanded harshly, “Where’s your father!?” Timothy looked up at the men, thought for a moment, then started to yell, “Mom, where’s…” before the man with the demands forced a hand back over Timothy’s mouth. The man spat on the floor. “If you open your mouth again, I will cut your tongue out,” the man smiled at Timothy with broken teeth. The man slowly removed his hand from Timothy’s mouth while the other peeked around the corner into the dining room. “There’s nobody here,” the man informed his partner. The women must have stopped sobbing. The man with the broken smile asked Timothy again, “Where’s your father?” Timothy looked up at the family photo on the wall, then back at the man, “I don’t know.” The man sneered. “I told you what would happen if you opened your mouth again. Come here,” the man said as he grabbed Timothy’s jaw with his strong hand to pry it open. He reached for his knife with his other hand, placed it into Timothy’s mouth, half-sawed, then flung the a chunk of the bloody muscle to the floor. The man’s partner tapped him on the arm, “That’s enough, let’s go.” The assailants partner looked at Timothy, then both men headed out the front door, slamming it behind themselves. Timothy’s mother peeked in from her hiding place in the guest room, face awash with tears. She looked down and saw the bloody mess on the floor. “Timothy, why are you just sitting there? Look at the mess you made! Clean it up or I’ll tell your father!” Timothy kept his mouth slightly agape, creating a pool for the blood filling his mouth, and made his way to pick up the other half of the tongue. He went to the kitchen to rinse his mouth out and clean up the best he could.

Years later, hanging out with Juan at work, it was all behind him. Timothy loved to hear Juan’s dirty jokes, his stories about the women he supposedly took home, “every night.” Timothy enjoyed Juan’s company, appreciated his sense of humor and irony. He just wished he could do more than just laugh and smile at his jokes. Juan didn’t seem to mind, though. A captive audience was all his ego needed. “…I was trying to get bitches to buy me a drink for my birthday. Not a single one said yes. It was my birthday, man!” All of the joking stopped whenever a woman walked by the construction site. “Hey, honey!” Juan yelled to the first thing with two legs and boobs to walk by today. The woman looked over, and as soon as Juan began slapping his hands together while thrusting his hips, she frowned at him with a disgusted sigh and quickly walked away. It was supposed to be a hot summer day, and as the day wore on, the heat index indeed rose, causing the men to sweat and take off their shirts. Juan was short, with a little muscle but not much definition, and when Timothy took off his shirt Juan pointed him out to the guys and laughed, “Look at Timmy Two-Tone!” The other men laughed, too, before getting back to work. Timothy was pasty white, face and hands a shade darker from the sun, but his chest pale as a an unhealthy ghost. It didn’t help that Timothy was skinny to boot, adding to the visual amusement for his colleagues. “Somebody get that bird out of here!” Juan continued with a chuckle from the crowd. It was all in good fun, though. As the day got hotter, fewer people were out in the streets, the day slowly grinding on the workers with nothing to distract them. Especially Juan. Finally, though, after the midday sun had peaked, a woman in a white blouse and a black skirt could be heard clicking her heels as she walked along the sidewalk. The men stopped to look up, Timothy as well. It was the same woman he had noticed days before. As she walked by and looked at the group of men briefly, Timothy wanted to tell her how beautiful she was, how she made his heart jump with just a look. He knew his heart would pound through his chest if she got any closer. Luckily for him, she didn’t. He didn’t have health insurance anyways. Juan looked at Timothy and smiled at the latter’s puppy dog gaze, actually keeping his mouth shut for once. Though he couldn’t resist a low whistle. Timothy wanted to tell the woman how he felt, the explosion of emotions that was fighting its way out of him as she walked away. This too would culminate into nothing, though. Timothy knew he couldn’t speak, no matter how hard he tried. That had been with him since years ago. So instead of words, poetries, and the like that would flow from an enamored’s lips, Timothy said nothing as the woman continued to walk away. Nothing he could do would stop her. Even if she did stop, just for a moment, what would Timothy do? He couldn’t say, “hi,” “hello,” “how are you?” “I think you’re beautiful,” “do you want to hang out sometime?” “I’d like to get to know you.” He couldn’t say anything at all, opposite of everything that would spew from Juan’s lips were he in the same situation. Timothy was helplessly mute, destined to fail at any such venture. As the woman slowly slinked out of view, Timothy gave her one last plea with his eyes to just connect. She looked back briefly, then disappeared out of view. Timothy knew things could be different. He couldn’t speak, but he could at least try to show her how he felt. If she were his, he could shower her with gifts, surprise her every day, translate every ounce of his unfettered affection into symbols of love that he was not able to put into words. It would never become, though, because Timothy had nothing to start with, no way to initially tell her how he felt inside. He could only plead with his eyes that she’d understand, but he knew she never would.

Timothy kept working for Juan, saving up enough money to eventually buy himself a car. No longer would he have to get rides from his mother to work, and endure the harassment from the guys it garnered. Timothy looked all over for used cars, because he couldn’t afford anything new (though he desired). He finally settled on a car from a nice old lady who lived in the countryside. The car was an upmarket mid-size sedan. At least it would have been ten years ago when it was new. This was Timothy’s first car and gave him a sense of independence and freedom. Timothy was scared to drive on the highway because the cars drove so fast and recklessly, so he took the city streets to work every day. In those summer months it was hot, especially with a broken air-conditioning unit. Juan told him it just needed to be ‘re-charged’, but Timothy didn’t know how. Of course, he couldn’t ask anybody because he was unable to speak. Timothy drove to work every day. In the mornings the temperatures were cool enough, but in the afternoons following work the heat became decidedly unbearable in his drive home. Timothy refused to give up his freedom, though, for the minor discomfort on the drive home. At least the driver’s side power window worked. Except that wasn’t a viable solution when it rained. Driving home one day in the heated atmosphere of his car because of the downpour of rain that had begun before Timothy began his drive home, Timothy sweated throughout the ride home, dabbing perspiration from his forehead while holding the steering wheel with one hand. As the rain drummed on the roof, and the windshield wipers feebly exerted themselves to clear the windshield, squeaking with each pass, Timothy passed through a green light not seen fifty meters before, and suddenly he heard the door crunch and felt the impact of another car slowly pushing him to the right, away from his forward momentum. Timothy tried to exclaim something to express his surprise, but nothing came out. Both cars skidded to a halt in the intersection. Timothy couldn’t see much because of the rain, and tried to get out of his vehicle, but the door was heavily indented and lodged shut. Timothy blacked out and awoke to the screeching of the metal hinges of his driver’s side door being torn away from his car. He was rescued. As they pulled him out of the car, he could see the flashing yellow lights of the tow truck, and realized that the rain had slowed to a light drizzle. He saw the other driver standing outside her vehicle, a woman holding a child, crying hysterically. A police officer was questioning her. Timothy was loaded onto a stretcher, somebody was trying to ask him if he was alright, but Timothy couldn’t respond. He was loaded into the ambulance on the other side of his vehicle and taken to the local hospital. Somehow, his mother was there and the crew let her ride with him in the ambulance.

When Timothy awoke in the hospital, he immediately felt stiffness in his neck and realized it had been immobilized with a brace. He tried to look around the best he could, but all he could see was his feet. His mother noticed him stirring, and from out of view she asked, “Honey, how are you feeling?” He could feel his mother grip his hand. Timothy heard soft footsteps walk into the room, and shortly a nurse appeared at his feet. “Are you ready to go?” the nurse asked him. Timothy couldn’t speak, and couldn’t nod his head to a simple question, so he gave the nurse a thumbs up with his free hand. The nurse smiled. “Okay, let’s help you out of this bed. See how it feels to walk.” Timothy didn’t respond. The nurse moved around to his side to place a hand behind his back, and his mother did the same. “Let’s try to sit up, okay?” the nurse asked him. With the assistance from his mother and the nurse, Timothy was able to sit up. He turned so his feet dangled off the bed. The nurse moved around to this side of the bed, and continued to help him up. She gently grabbed his wrist, his mother already holding onto the other, and gave him a smile of reassurance that he couldn’t see because he was staring at the floor. The women gently helped pull him out of bed, his feet touching the floor delicately, uncertain of whether his legs were capable of supporting or balancing him. They were, and he successfully stood on his own, the nurse and his mother there for stability if needed. Timothy tried to look up at the nurse to thank her, but he couldn’t. His neck brace prevented him from moving his head, forcing him to stare at the floor. Reassured of his legs’ usefulness, he began to shuffle forward. Timothy, with his mother and the nurse helping him along, made it into the hallway for a test walk. Other patients were in the hall, wheelchair bound or with walkers. Timothy could not see them. He could only look at the tiles beneath his feet. As the three moved down the hall together, Timothy’s feet shuffling along, others looked at him with pity. Some of the more physically capable looked at him with relief. Thank God I don’t have to suffer such a condition. Timothy didn’t know their thoughts, and was quite content with the accomplishment of being able to walk again. He tried to smile, but of course nobody could see it with his neck twisted in that manner. They left the hospital, Timothy trying to smile at everyone who offered sympathy to his mother on their way home. He wanted to show that nothing was wrong, that he was okay and everything was normal. Without words to bridge that gap, and since his eyes could no longer reach a friendly face, he had no way to communicate to people that he was going to be alright.

It would take weeks for Timothy to become functionally capable again with simple tasks many folks take for granted, and his return to compromised normality was a relief of burden for Timothy. He was told by the doctors he would no longer be able to work, and that he would receive a portion of his father’s pension, as well as payment from the insurance company to compensate him for his condition. Timothy still wanted the formality of closure with his employer, though, and told his mother he wanted to go visit Juan and the guys at work to update them on his progress and to share the sad news that he wouldn’t be able to work with them anymore. On one of the last warm summer days of the year, Timothy’s mother took him to visit Juan and the guys. Timothy was excited to see them again. When his mother pulled up to the site, the guys stopped their hammering and shoveling. They were all surprised to see Timothy as he was slowly helped out of the car. Timothy’s mother escorted him as he shuffled his way over to them. Looking at the ground, Timothy couldn’t see the expressions on their faces, but began a smile to the ground as he stood there. Timothy’s mother stepped away to answer her phone. Juan was the first to break the silence. “Hey Timmy, welcome back.” He dropped his voice to a whisper, glanced at Timothy’s mom on the other side of the car, and told him, “Wait ‘til I tell you about this fine ass bitch I met last week. She was a dime, man.” Timothy grinned even wider. A couple other guys walked over to him, Timothy only hearing their footsteps as they approached, and they patted him on the shoulder. Timothy wanted to say something to the guys, tell them how he’d miss working with them, hearing their stories, sharing laughter, but everyone understood he couldn’t speak. Timothy continued to stare at the ground, the others staring back at him. Timothy’s mother returned and spoke instead. “The doctors said Timothy won’t be able to work anymore. We just wanted to come tell you.” Timothy heard the familiar clicking of heels on the sidewalk across the street. Juan looked up and whistled. Timothy couldn’t see what was going on, just staring at the ground, but he instinctively turned to face the familiar sound. Then he remembered. Tidal waves of emotion. His feelings that he would never share with such a beautiful woman. The idea that he would never be able to experience the love that so many others had already experienced, things he had seen in movies but would never become a fairy-tale ending for him. The hunchback can’t save the gypsy girl, the beast won’t be transformed by the merchant’s daughter, the frog will never be befriended by the princess. Long suffering and alone. Fact or fate, he could not tell the future, but the dismal frustration left him no recompense. Life’s cruel and sadistic ways had robbed him of the ability to speak, and now he had lost the ability to bridge any connection with his eyes. All he could do was feel helpless against unvoiced emotions, stare at the ground, not even able to gaze longingly in hopes of a catching a look or precious smile. The only noise he made and what he saw was the shuffling of his feet as his mother helped him return to the car. They left the site, a woman he would never know, and the men whose company he had grown to enjoy in order to return home and resume the limits of his life.

Timothy didn’t have many friends, to be honest, but one would be remiss to say Timothy had none. He stayed in contact with friends from high school, guys he’d partied with, and co-workers he’d met. Everyone used to hang out, before Timothy’s accident. After, though, Timothy did his best to stay in touch. He always enjoyed being up-to-date with his friends’ lives, loved to hear their stories of love, loss, success, heartache, a new job, a newborn child, a marriage, an engagement, and anything else they’d celebrate or lament in their lives. He loved to share every moment with them, to experience all of life’s ups and downs, be there as a friend to congratulate and console them as good friends are supposed to. Over the years, some of those friendships waned, as people moved away, or no longer carried common interests, or became simply too busy and caught up in their own lives to make time for past connections. Timothy didn’t mind, though. He believed that a friendship lost meant a person was strong and fulfilled, and if they didn’t need Timothy anymore, that was good for them at least.

Timothy told himself that he wasn’t the type of person who needed friends. He thought it was enough for him to be there for someone else if they needed him, and if they didn’t, so be it. When Timothy moved out of his mother’s house and into his own apartment, confident with his independence now after some months of recovery, Timothy realized friends were all he really needed. For a person who doesn’t speak, and a person who can’t look another in the eyes, it is tough to make new friends. Timothy hadn’t realized it before, when his only misfortune was an inability to speak. Caring eyes and a sincere smile still allowed him to show his worth as a friend. When he lost the ability to speak with his eyes, though, that set him back considerably. He was disabled now from using the two most common connections people make with each other. Without the ability to speak, but unhindered by his permanently twisted neck, Timothy began to rely more heavily upon text messaging to retain those friendships he soon realized he needed. He had gone downtown to facilitate this better, buying himself a new phone with his settlement money. It was the kind of phone he thought businessmen used. It made him feel important.

Timothy returned home, sat on the couch in his apartment, with the chandelier lighting the room, and began inputting the contacts he wanted from his old phone. Once he had stored everyone’s information that he thought he needed, Timothy started sending text messages to his friends. “This is my new number. Text me if you ever need anything.” A sincere message, an outstretched hand from Timothy, who valued friendship more those days than some people would understand. He texted a girl from high school, one he’d partied with a few times. And a friend from another country he’d met while traveling on a family vacation. And another number he’d gotten while traveling alone in his own country. He texted another girl from class, some sort of project partner. And he didn’t forget his family either, his mother, and sister, and even uncles and aunts who had long ago moved away and started families. “This is my new number. Text me if you ever need anything.” Timothy didn’t care if people used him. He even texted a girl he thought hated him in high school, the one who always frowned at him despite his smiles. Timothy understood that she probably just needed someone to vent to. And he texted some of his younger friends, too, those a grade or two behind him that he’d met playing sports at the playground. He hoped they looked up to him as an older brother. “This is my new number. Text me if you ever need anything.” Of course Timothy texted his best friends, too. He missed them the most, the guys he’d shared his most important life moments with. He knew they’d text him back and make him laugh or smile, or alternately that he’d be there to allay their concerns with life, “Dude, that shit is whack,” he’d text back. Best friends are always great for unconditional moral support. Even the friends who were just plain sad, Timothy wanted them to text him, too. Whether former supervisors were feeling down in the dumps, or his emotional sister was having a breakup with her boyfriend, Timothy was ready to be there for whoever need it. “This is my new number. Text me if you ever need anything.” Timothy stopped for a moment. He realized he wished he could text his father, too. The man was gone now, but he was supposed to be here through all of this, to support Timothy through his own tribulations. Due to the circumstances of lives, and those that the war took, his father couldn’t never be there for Timothy, no matter how much Timothy needed him sometimes. That’s what Timothy friends were for, and part of the reason why Timothy offered himself so freely to be a friend especially during others’ times of need. Timothy enjoyed providing a positive perspective for his friends, giving them motivation when they needed it. That’s why he texted the foreign exchange student who had started a new life here, giving him encouragement Timothy thought he’d appreciate being in a new place away from family, trying to make a better life. “This is my new number, text me if you ever need anything.” Of course Timothy texted Juan. And the girl who took over for Timothy at the construction site. He texted her first-line leader as well, the guy who was supposed to be helping her learn on-the-job. In fact, he texted most of his co-workers from the construction site, being such recent friendships that he feared to break so soon. Again, Timothy paused. He wished he could text his grandfather also. Maybe he’d go pay his respects at the war memorial later this week. Such an influential man, Timothy thought. Mourning could be done later, though, during his own private time. He returned to texting more people, not wanting to leave anyone out. After all, he wanted to hear all about wives and kids, and celebrate current lives.

Once Timothy was finished texting, he set his phone on the table, then got up to get a snack from the kitchen. He came back, sat on the couch, and looked around the floor. He was waiting for someone to text him back. He was going to venture into public in a little while, but he wanted to reconnect with at least some of his friends first. He knew that would put him in a good mood before he went out, and maybe somehow that mood would reverberate into others, helping him make even more friends. He sat there, looking left, then right, slightly impatient but knowing that someone would text him back any moment now. Did it just vibrate? Timothy checked his phone. No, nothing. He set his phone back down. Timothy started drumming his fingers against the table as he waited. He checked his phone again. Nothing. Timothy got up, shuffled to the bathroom, came back and sat down on the couch again. He started thinking about what he wanted to get done today. Timothy wasn’t working at the moment, though he wouldn’t mind starting up again sometime. For now, he just spent his days doing various things to spend his time away. He started eating healthier, so he spent long trips at the grocery store, reading labels and buying the most caloric-appropriate foods he thought his body would need. On other days he made plans to go visit a museum or an aquarium. He usually arranged in advance for guided tours so as not to strain his neck too much. He would get something accomplished today, certainly, just as soon as someone texted him back. He wouldn’t put his life on hold, but he just wanted someone to text him back.

Nobody ever texted Timothy back that day. Timothy continued his life, though, only checking his phone once the next day. When still nobody had texted him, he left his phone on the dresser, undisturbed for a week. He checked it again that next week, and still nobody had texted him. Timothy turned his phone off. He continued along, grocery shopping every so often, and visiting places in the city that seemed nice and peaceful and uncomplicated for a man with his visual and speech impairments. After a month, Timothy turned his phone back on. He hoped someone had tried to call him, or text him back. He pressed the power button, waited for the phone to boot up, then waited another minute more to give the phone time to notify him of any attempted contact. He waited some more. There was nothing, no activity at all. Timothy quietly put the phone away in his pocket, and made his way to his apartment door to leave. He shuffled down the stairs and outside. Along the sidewalk he took to downtown, he stopped. There was a large boulder in the grass next to him. Timothy reached down, placed both hands on the boulder, and heaved with his weakening strength. The boulder rose few inches. Timothy propped a knee against it, and reached into his pocket to pull out his phone. He tossed it underneath the boulder, then moved away so the boulder would drop. Timothy brushed his pant leg, then returned to the sidewalk and continued his walk downtown.

That year, Timothy slowly lost his hearing. Though he knew that the slow loss of hearing occurs as people get older, he also knew that it was supposed to occur slowly over time. Timothy did not have any medical conditions that can cause hearing loss, and he was aware that there is no cure for age-related hearing loss. Doctors say that age-related hearing loss is progressive, which means it slowly gets worse. Timothy’s hearing loss needed to be evaluated as soon as possible to rule out potentially reversible causes such as too much wax in the ear or medication side effects, so he went to the hospital to see his doctor, the same doctor that he hadn’t seen since pediatric care years ago. Timothy walked to the hospital, signed in, and waited in the waiting room. A nurse came out to get him and run a few preliminary tests, and once they finished he had to wait for the doctor. Timothy’s doctor came into the room, sat down, and began to explain everything to him in hand-written notes. “Tiny hairs inside your ear help you hear. They pick up sound waves and change them into the nerve signals that the brain interprets as sound. Hearing loss occurs when the tiny hairs inside the ear are damaged or die. The hair cells do not regrow, so most hearing loss is permanent.” Timothy was distraught at this point. He began to cry. The doctor looked at him, but downcast eyes and a twisted neck hid the tears well. The doctor continued scribbling on his notepad. “There is no known single cause for age-related hearing loss. Most commonly, it is caused by changes in the inner ear that occur as you grow older. However, your genes and loud noises (such as from rock concerts or music headphones) may play a large role.” When the doctor was finished, Timothy went back to the reception area, paid his copay, and left the hospital.

Whichever king decreed that silence is golden surely never experienced being deaf. Timothy thought he knew solitude before, but a world without sound was another world, one without life. He couldn’t hear the shuffling of his feet anymore, though he watched them in silence as he slowly moved along the sidewalks beneath his feet. He could feel the breeze, but couldn’t hear it rustling the branches of the trees around him, or the birds chirping as he walked along. If he were to walk into the street, he wouldn’t hear a car honk at him. Thank God he could still see, even if his neck was twisted to look only at his own feet. People didn’t talk to Timothy anymore, but now Timothy couldn’t experience bits of people’s lives as he walked near, he couldn’t overhear neighbors conversing, couples arguing, friends discussing shared interests. He walked into the grocery store, and couldn’t hear the squeaking of carts, parents scolding children, or the voice over the loudspeaker that he knew was happening around him. Timothy purchased a few items before heading to the cashier at the “10 Items or Less” line. He watched the cashier scan his items silently, paid her in cash, and in his condition Timothy couldn’t see her smile at him, and he never heard her kind words as he walked away. Timothy went straight home, and couldn’t hear his keys when he pulled them out, or the sound of his apartment door closing. He put the groceries away without a sound. He couldn’t hear the humming of the refrigerator, not even the rustle of the bag as he put it away. He finished and sat on the couch in complete silence, nothing but the sound of his own voice inside his head.

With nobody to spend time with, Timothy started eating less. He still went out to restaurants, asked for a table for two, trying to be the polite patron and not inconvenience small families or large groups of friends by taking up too much space. He wouldn’t notice the wait staff until someone tapped him on the shoulder, impatient already to take his order and move on to tables that were worth their time. Timothy liked to tip excessively well as reward for a kind server, but they anticipated larger sums from more significant gatherings of people. Since there was nobody for Timothy to share his meals, he ate quickly. At moments Timothy was almost tempted into pretending that he was one of those other people with friends, who took bites between exuberant stories and tales. Timothy could engage in neither listening or telling any such tale, and quickly gave up such a fancy. Timothy sat alone, with nobody to talk to, and his meals were routine and boring. Sometimes he would skip meals altogether for fear of going out to eat and being reminded of loneliness. Eventually Timothy stopped eating at all. He knew that everyone else ate meals with smiles and conversations, and belonged to groups of people who laughed and enjoyed life in public while he sat alone.

Saint Timothy (ortodox icon)

Timothy’s increasingly poor diet did affected his health. At some point, and this must have occurred before he stopped eating, Timothy stopped caring. He knew he would never be able to speak, he couldn’t look people in the eye, and there was nothing that would bring back his hearing. What did it matter if he ate healthy? His body adapted to his condition by demanding more sleep, making Timothy drowsy and able to sleep for days at a time. When he woke up, he felt weak, and his lack of coordination made trips to the bathroom painfully dangerous. His body was easily bruised, and he was covered in them after repeated attempts at ‘independence’. His skin grew pale because he refused to go out during the day. He was confused most of the time, experiencing difficulty with keeping track of the day or the time. When he went to lay back down, he covered himself with blankets because of uncontrollable shivering. His heart slowed to less than one beat per second, and his breath became shallow. Stubborn though, in a state of delirium, Timothy struggled out of his bed. He went to the apartment door and let himself out. Outside was a cold, winter day, a few inches of snow covering the ground. Timothy began to walk along the shoveled sidewalk, not knowing where he was going. He felt pins and needles followed by numbness. His skin grew hard and pale, colder than the snow on the ground. His whole body ached yet he could feel no sensation as watched his feet shuffle along the ground. Timothy continued to shuffle along the cold, lonesome street, not knowing the time because he could not ask, and not feeling the frostbite set in and slowly bring his lonesome experience of life to its death.

Robot

The robot doesn’t feel his emotions.

Visor Robot

A protected layer he can’t access.

Little heart beating like a little drum.

Artificial heart, nothing can stop it.

A well-oiled machine that chugs along.

Pieces, parts, assembled from all over.

Device that functions without anything.

Doesn’t need love, caring, or tenderness.

He works because he must, no reason why.

He doesn’t wonder, or think about life.

There is no yesterday, lessons programmed.

Perpetual today, lives in the now.

Futures and plans are determined designs.

Unexpected shapes can’t alter his mind.

Square holes, round pegs, it’s all mathematics.

A formula solution. Only real.

Nothing considered. Taken for granted.

He has no experience, yet functions.

Outperforms everyone, but shares nothing.

“A box of bolts.” So derogatory.

No feelings to distract him from his ways.

No warmth or kindness can ever touch him.

Signals interpreted without meaning.

Is life so bad, who has the upper hand?

The one who knows nothing, but just lets go?