I haven’t been camping in years, but recently i went with H and S. It was a hardcore missouri outing: we swam at johnson’s shut-ins, then camped at tom sauk mountain, then walked around elephant rocks state park the next day. It was nighttime on top of the mountain, and we all had had a couple beers. We had just gotten back from lying down on our backs on this “lookout” area, like a wooden dock with railings over the mountains, to watch the stars. We saw some streaking shooting stars with long tails and then, gone. S said the tails of the shooting stars looked green. Different minerals emit different colors while burning as they fall. S was using this app on their phone where you can hold the phone up to your visual surroundings and the phone will capture it somehow. The app illustrates for you which stars you are seeing. What are the clusters of light named, what are their meanings, which astrological signs are sprayed above? I looked at the phone glowing and floating in the dark. The screen was laced in mapped compartments, stuck like a tiny sticker below the actual sky, which appeared less organized and less bright.
We got back to the campsite after star-gazing and it was about midnight. We sat there at the picnic table, kind of exhausted but not tired yet, watching this big beetle fling itself at the camping lantern, buzzing its body against the plastic heat. Then it stopped freaking out and just sat there, looking at the lantern like watching tv. A moth joined in. They weren’t dead, but they were completely still. Two bugs existing, waiting, not disturbed or hurrying. It was strange to watch the bugs in silence, who were watching the light in silence, and we were all just there, dumb living creatures staring dumbly. The beetle’s armor was brown and his head was crowned with light dust. H said: he looks prehistoric. S said: yeah becuz he is.
The other night, D and i watched a documentary about simulation theory. The doc had a lot of archival footage of philip k. dick speaking about his dreams, also elon musk and scenes from the matrix. I’ve never seen the matrix, nor had I ever thought about simulation theory seriously. I guess i’ve lacked a strong desire to question existence. The theory or hypothesis simply states that our lives here on earth may be an artificial or computer imitation. We are a product of another world’s advanced technology creating a copied world. How can we be so original, the only element of life in the universe, and how can we assume there aren’t others that could’ve possibly created us?
I almost started crying while watching the film, thinking about the element of brokenness. Maybe this is a simulated world, with how many glitches happen. On the screen, a person with a big smile began to peel, revealing smoky wires and gears and machinery underneath, malfunctioning. An image of a man in surgery appeared, glitching out, his body cut open at the heart. Of course I was thinking about my dad’s surgery. I was thinking about all of our bodies as copies of other bodies, but there’s always mistakes in how we are formed. The brokenness of the world is hard to accept. Other peoples’ realities are hard to view. Maybe it’s easier to believe we are simulations, fake worlds, in order to keep going.
It’s been really hard to read or write. Reading and writing can’t give me full-on distraction from grief — literature and diaries and working through shit with words here, i am looking at myself and my world. Maybe i’m making excuses. I’ve been playing a spongebob cooking game on my phone haha. I’ve been sitting in my new room at my new desk in STL. It was supposed to be a dreamy ending to the summer but a lot of stuff got messed up. My family has covid rn even though they were vaxxed and wore masks. All summer long, whenever i feel slightly sick, i overthink it, the anxiety then triggering more covid-like symptoms. I stuff my face into the bag of coffee and take a big whiff: does it smell awful? Am i losing it? There’s less and less sets of factors and actions and more and more just hoping. My roommate M told me that how I am feeling is exactly how their clients feel and react, overthinking their sore throats, and convincing themselves they have HIV. On the phone with my parents, as they were walking through my childhood park, i told them my throat was feeling sore. My mom said, we are all just trying our best. We will be living with this virus for a long time.
D and i took a walk around the neighborhood, as we’ve been doing. We like to walk down the alleys and pick up things. In one alley, it seemed like an old woman had died nearby: her colorful suit jackets and crocheted blankets were displayed on the dumpster for taking. Opening the the brown dumpster lid, inside were fuzzy bathrobes and an unused package of adult diapers. I grabbed a beautiful yellow bed sheet patterned with flowers and ribbons and a random cutting of floral fabric. Maybe she was a seamstress, collecting. I acknowledged how looked-down-upon it is where i grew up to look through people’s trash in daylight, digging around in dumpsters -- the connotation of desperation. But i love the trash -- the trash is sacred, the trash used to be someone and their memories. D told me i need to be careful with how i speak as a privileged person -- for poor people, the trash isn’t sacred or idealized or “fun”, it’s survival. Sometimes objects have no heightened meaning of beauty.
On the walk home we decided to order chinese takeout on south grand up the street. This spot is always bumpin, because you can get tons of good food for like $20. We got crab rangoon, egg drop soup, orange chicken, and vegetable fried rice. Because of covid, people have to wait outside, standing around, before going inside and getting their food from the cashier at a clear plastic partition. D went inside the doorway of the restaurant and I loitered by the patio of the closed pho place next door.
I looked up from my phone and noticed that everyone was looking up at the sky. Inside the wide open dusk blue, over the brick buildings of the St. Louis main street, i could see tiny dark clusters floating away in a giant hoard far off. Freckles moving, my brain thinking: flock of birds migrating, then thinking: released balloons. Are those balloons, one of the takeout-orderers asked. An older black woman was filming the dark dots on her phone, shaking her head. See how some of them are bigger, with bits of red? Yeah. Some more neighborhood people walked by and pointed: damn drones. The older woman agreed: the government doesn’t want us to know about this, but we know. My heart was racing, looking at the floating specks, my brain agreeing, these are drones, these are airplanes, these are militarized floating objects. In the back of my mind: the horrors of the news, the wars, the old American paranoia unraveling. What’s crazy is, if we were in our homes, we would never see this, I said to the woman filming. But she didn’t hear me, or ignored me, or didn’t care.
How our realities are so based on what we can see, visually in front of us, as opposed to digital internet threads. Words I read on a screen are real, too, but they don’t touch my body as much as the pattern of dark spots over my neighborhood. As D exited the door frame, he handed me the brown paper bag. I’m really scared, I said, pointing to the sky. He looked up and looked at me, and kept walking. It’s balloons, he said. I looked again. The black orbs, some red, some clustered, some alone. Oh. Yeah. those are balloons. Just like that, in concepts and definition, they were.
In the woods in the tent, sandwiched in the middle between H and S like cocoon bugs, i woke up feeling sick. Analyzing it now, it was probably dehydration. The summer sucked out all of my fluids, evaporating into the heat. I zippered out of the tent and squatted all around the campsite, trying to pee. I settled into the folding chair with daisies on it that S brought, placed in front of our fire pit which had long glowed out, darkening into soot. I played the spongebob game on my phone. I shone my phone light on the ground below me, trying to gag and throw up onto the artificial light on the dirt. I saw a millipede crawl by, nocturnal stroll.
I thought about the simulation documentary, fresh on my mind, and i thought about the scary part of the film where a guy was too obsessed with the matrix movie. He had convinced himself that everything wasn’t real. His voice came through in the doc, recorded from a phone call from prison. He was trying to communicate, reach out to other people struggling. Even when life feels as hellish as a nightmare, we won’t snap out of it and wake up from the dream. The reminder that reality is real and collective. I had to brush away these thoughts of the documentary, thoughts that were spiraling and making me more nauseous, alone in the dark.
Being wide-awake in the middle of the night, when everyone else is sleeping, makes me feel like a little kid. It used to be really hard for me to fall asleep at sleepovers, and I’d always have to call my mom to pick me up. But now I know how to take care of myself, to soothe and distract myself like a parent does. I looked out into the texture of the black trees and the car path ahead, and the stars tossed above which each had meanings even if i didn’t know them, and the yellow square of the latrine bathroom window further down. I zipped open the tent and crawled into my designated rectangle. I scrolled through pictures on my phone from the past two months until i fell asleep, calming imagery of my life blurring into the fabric of the enclosure.