Giving It A Rest…

Taking some time away from this.

As a friend rightly pointed out, I need to focus on the present.

On my trip, I’ll probably have my copy of “Don Quixote” if I take any books at all.

As always, if memories come knocking I’ll record them.

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Cold Feet

Admittedly, I’m starting to feel like my travel plans are a mistake.

Why should I continue to live in the past?  Even if I was Phil, what’d that prove to go back?

And what are the odds that I was him in the first place?  I’m pretty sold that I was John Harris, and that’s an easy thing to swallow, but Phil Dick?  Really?  Even if the things I remember are incredibly banal, the odds are billions to one.

Also, I can’t get over the thought that I should have transcended if I was him.  Why would I come back to this grubby earth when I was so sure I was going to be freed from the clutches of the Demiurge?  I think I’d rather believe I wasn’t him than believe the alternative, that there is no transcendence or that I was fundamentally wrong about something.

That fear looms large… I’m reasonably sure there is something to reincarnation, if John’s life is any indicator, but beyond that, what else can I say?  A Gnostic or Buddhist view on the subject can give me hope but what if that hope is as false as the hope of simply not existing any more, or going to heaven and not coming back?  What if our whole existence is tied to this material plane and its resultant entropy, and we will continue being reborn until we attenuate along with the universe, some part of our consciousness living long enough to feel its atoms ripped apart?

I might just spend this trip trying to forget the thought ever crossed my mind, which will ironically be rather hard considering I’ll be right there in Point Reyes Station.

There’s always cheap wine if it becomes too much.  I can’t scrub on the trip because I’ve already spent money on this… I’ve got the car and hotel.  My petard is well and truly hoisted so I might as well go on and get it out of my system once and for all.  And once I’m on the ground, if all goes well, I’ll see for certain that this isn’t a place that I knew at all and that I was freaking myself out over nothing.

The point of this trip is now to prove to myself that I couldn’t have been this man.

A Mistake?

Ever since these memories- or apparent memories- have broken, I’ve been trying to use them the way one might try to read the lumps under a tarp to try to discern what’s under it.  The apparent patterns, consistencies, numerical repetitions, places and actions that continue in a seemingly unbroken narrative… it all seems to hint at something big.

But supposing I’ve been looking in the wrong place?  Supposing I’ve been groping in the dark when all I need to do is turn on a light?

This isn’t a question about whether or not reincarnation is a thing, but whether revisiting an endless string of illusions is really helping me to see anything when the ability to lift up the proverbial tarp was in my hands all along.

I’m going to be spending some time focusing more on Gnostic texts to see if there isn’t a more efficient way to lift this tarp.  I’ll continue recording memories, thoughts, and impressions but the hard questions a friend recently asked have forced me to admit I can’t discern a real value to these past lives beyond a well of inspiration for my fiction.

Putting It Together

The initial avoidance of my memories is over and I find I’ve been able to sit down with the available resources and, between “Maginficent but Not War,” the KSLI Battlefield Tours Facebook, and my own memories, I can give an approximate account of what happened that night in 1915 just over 100 years ago.

I was with Y Company (a fact I have not yet confirmed), near the mid-point along a line roughly parallel to Begijnenbosstraat, near Witte Poort Farm.  Zouave Wood was to my right perhaps 100 yards away.  The ditches that are along the road now were probably enlarged to form a trench at that time.  If I looked straight in the direction we were advancing, I was looking slightly to the right of where the Railway Wood cemetery now stands.

There’s an interesting anecdote from an officer with the 84th battalion of a car picking up some of the cavalry officers’ kit that had been left behind from a road between our line and the German line, but I don’t have any recollection of that strangely enough.

When the whistle blew, we advanced toward Railway Wood.  The German line was roughly parallel to what is now Bellewaerdestraat.  To get there I and a large swath of our company had to pass across an open field and through the wood which slowed us somewhat.  The moonlight gave us just enough ambient light to see where we were going but there was also light from fires that had a dim orange or red cast.

The field was strewn with barbed wire.  I got my leg caught at least once.  The fear was worse than the pain; I think that moment was the single most terrifying in all of my fragmented memories and I’m still not sure how I was able to free myself.  They had also laid out bear traps; I saw a man get his foot caught in one near enough to see how deep his wounds went but I couldn’t do anything for him, I don’t know what happened to him.

Most of the casualties it seems were reported missing and are commemorated on the Menin Gate.  I think most of them were simply lost in the fields and in our retreat we had no time to bury them before mud and subsequent shell fire on the 26th left us with nothing to bury; I do not recall being under especially heavy shell fire that particular night.  There was small arms fire and machine gun fire, mostly, but the Germans hadn’t set up as many machine gun nests as they should have.  We still took heavy losses owing to the bright light that left us exposed, so the deficiencies in the German defense didn’t make it easy for us.

Thankfully I don’t think this was the time my rifle developed a stiff bolt.  That was a daylight assault as far as I can remember and probably happened at St. Eloi much earlier in 1915.

Passing through Railway Wood, which was there but thinned considerably by small arms and shell fire by this time, we saw a gruesome sight.  They’d decorated the trees and snags with some of the bodies of dead Canadians who had been holding the line when they broke through.

We took the German line and held it with a modest two machine guns and our rifles, but were pushed back the way we’d come by Dawn as the German reinforcements were on their way by this time, and our best intelligence said they had us badly outnumbered and out-gunned (if memory serves the rumor was twenty-to-one but I don’t know if that was the actual number).

Sunrise gave us a view of a landscape not quite the idyllic farmland you see today and not quite the moonscape you see in pictures from later in the war.  It was one of those bright red sunrises, intense and in a way, foreboding.

It’s a sick tragedy to think I survived that night, knowing that I only had seven more weeks to live as John Harris.

Some of the details recounted here are things that I have not found in any official report of the battle, but are of the gruesome sort that often goes unreported in war diaries and correspondence.  Given the strict censorship British command imposed and the reluctance of survivors to talk about these things, the world may never know.  As my long-time readers might be aware, I have confirmed that at least some of these more lurid details- among them the bear traps- are at least possible given that there are confirmed reports from later in the war.

Farewell, Doris

I just found out that Doris Sauter, someone I loved in my previous life, has died at the age of 63.

She was a long-term cancer survivor, had actually been declared terminal, but she lived on for another 33 years after Phil had succumbed to a stroke.

It’s strange, you can anticipate losing someone across two lifetimes, but it still hurts when it comes.

A Century Now…

It’s now been a century since the Battle of Bellewaerde Ridge.

I remember only a few hazy fragments that I believe happened on that day, of moving across darkened fields lit only by moonlight and the reddish glow of distant fires, of barbed wire and bear traps that snared the legs of our best men, and of a feeling of profound and sustained horror, like the feeling of shock you get when your car goes out of control but attenuated and stretched over several long, agonizing hours.  I remember hearing things buzz by my head, unsure if they were bullets or the large corpse flies that seemed so ubiquitous on the Ypres Salient.

I still don’t know if the wood I remember was Polygon Wood from earlier on in the spring, or Railway Wood during this particular battle; if it was Railway Wood then in all likelihood I was in Y Company which managed to take the German front line, though I have yet to confirm this.  My memories are far more visceral than exact; I just remember there were good men being killed and maimed all around me and I was somehow left standing.

I can’t say I’ve been much at ease knowing this anniversary was looming but I’ve been trying not to think about it.  Here in the quiet suburbs west of Portland, a whole century and several lives later, it seems far away but I have only to be reminded of what happened and it’s real again to me.  If I close my eyes I can still see the sun rising blood red on those shell-scarred fields the next morning.

Not sure what I’m going to do today, besides rest and try not to dwell too much on those memories.  It was another life altogether; the eyes I saw it through are closed forever and there is nothing but to accept that what’s done is done.

For My Upcoming Trip

I thought of a little test I could set up for myself while I’m on this trip to see places from Phil’s life.

Normally when I go on road trips, even if it’s a place I’ve been before (like my own mother’s house in Las Vegas), I usually have to write down street names and make small notes.  Even though I have a good sense of direction and often memorize directions from Google Streetview, I almost never get where I’m going without looking at notes.

This time, I want to do it different.  I’ll still have my notes just in case I forget, but I will hand them to my fiance and I will see just how far I can get without using them.   The area thankfully hasn’t changed too much in the last 50 years or so, and there are still plenty of landmarks Phil would have found familiar so that’s not really a concern.

Considering how good I am at memorizing directions and my generally good sense of direction it won’t completely prove or disprove anything if I don’t have to look at my directions at all, or if I have to look at them once or twice.  Still, f I find that I can navigate the area just fine without being reminded too often about where things are, then that does at least strengthen my circumstantial case for having been Phil.  After all, at that point I’d be doing better than I’d do trying to find my own mother’s house.

It’s going to be weird though, going back.  If I’m right about having been Phil then I left there with too many bridges burned and too many swords over my brow.  Perhaps it’s better that I’m returning to Marin County as a stranger this time.