a stillness at appomattox

Let me tell you more about the malaise. It is a sickness, you know. It sinks in on a Thursday night after two Sazeracs and a couple of American Spirits and you drive home to an empty house. It takes permanent root when you read three Bruce Catton books and drive through an old town like Selma and you know that you lost, and you lost bad. Now I know that you’re tired of hearing me talk about this – no! Listen to me. This is very, very important. You say it’s the twenty-first century and it’s high-time to move past the Civil War and the Reconstruction and an obsession with wool suits and thick beards but to hell with that. This is important. You have to listen to me. I’m on to something.

I’m sad and you’re sad and we’re all sad because it’s over. The war is over long ago and we’re still living with it. What do I mean? You know damn well what I mean. I mean we drive out to these small towns that haven’t had significance since 1859 and wear high-dollar oxfords and talk about football and sip bourbon but we wouldn’t dare live there. If William Faulkner was one neighbor and Shelby Foote the other and the honorable Stonewall Jackson himself were mayor, we would still pack up our bags and head for a dull apartment building somewhere in Marietta. I would and you would and we would take our women with us, because we can’t bear to live there. It is too much for us, because it reminds us of how our forefathers lived in the Deep South and swatted flies on the wide front porch and heard the dragonflies buzzing at sunset over a Mississippi swamp. We hear it all at night and remember that our great-great-great grandfathers lost and lost in a miserable fashion before it was all over. So we live in the New South – in an apartment that looks like a sterile progressive prison – all because to do otherwise would cause us to remember. And, by God, we want to forget.

But the malaise tracks us down anyway, because we know that even though they lost, at least they fought. We don’t fight. The best we can manage is a good hunting trip, but we weren’t brave enough to join the army. That was for the rednecks in high school, the dead end kids with nothing left to lose. That wasn’t for us – we had bigger plans and we were going to hold Congressional hearings and reform the banking industry but we are miserable. Utterly miserable and there is practically nothing we can do about it except run a marathon or move to Alaska in hopes of finding our sorry selves. Movement is a sign of the malaise, but it is not a guarantee that one is aware that one has it. Are you aware? I don’t know that you are. Now don’t give me that look because we’ve known each other for a long time, you and I. A long time, indeed, and I’m not sure that you know you have it. You are always on the move chasing rock bands around and planning hiking trips out in the damn cold Rocky Mountains, but I think you really believe that you do all that just for the fun of it. And you’re completely delusional to think that. Oh relax, don’t be so offended. You’re just sadly mistaken, old boy, to think that you do all that just because you love the snow in the mountains in January. You do, of course, but more than that deep down there is part of you – maybe even all of you – that is busy fighting off the sickness by going on a search for – well, what are you searching for?

Now don’t get mad, dammit. I’m trying to make a point.

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