Fighting the Old Man (by Billy Coffey)

To me, he is simply known as the Old Man. I don’t know his name, and I don’t think I care to. Old Man is enough.

I’ve known him for nineteen years now, and he knows me. Knows me well. When and where we meet always seems to be his prerogative. He is always dressed the same—dapper pinstriped suit with a red handkerchief, black bowler hat, immaculately shined shoes, and a cane. And I am always wearing the same expression: horror.

The Old Man is my nightmare.

He arrived one night shortly after my near suicide, sitting on a park bench in my dream. He motioned me over to sit down, gently patting the section of wood beside him. I did. He offered me a deal: come with him, and all would be well. Don’t, and…well, he said, “The consequences will be unfortunate.”

I was convinced of that when he turned to face me and a worm fell out of his left eye. It wriggled onto my hand and then in, slowly crawling up my arm and into my chest, boring its way into my heart.

I woke up screaming.

He arrived again two weeks later wanting my answer: stay or go? I stayed. By the time he was finished with me, I wished I had chosen otherwise.

And that’s the way it’s been since. Not every night, sometimes not even every month. But for nineteen years now he has come for me at his whim in his pinstriped suit and bowler hat and cane, each time asking me different variations of the same theme:

Ready to go yet?

I thought at first he was the product of an overactive mind. Or too many Stephen King books. But when I wake up screaming and incoherent and then force myself to stay awake for days because I’m afraid I’ll fall asleep and never wake up, I’m not sure neither my imagination nor Stephen King’s is at fault. I’m not sure at all.

He’s tenacious, the Old Man. Smart. Knows just what to do to hurt me the most and has no qualms about doing it.

I suppose whether he’s a demon or a psychological manifestation of my vast emotional baggage depends upon whether you ascribe to God or Freud. I’ll leave that to you.

Me, I know this: there is an unseen war waged daily around us between light and dark, life and death. The world of the spirit may be hidden from human eyes, but we are all laid naked before it. I once gave this little thought. Denied it, even. But no more. Now I know better.

I’ve always suspected that the devil gets too much credit for the terrors of this world. It’s always easier to blame his wickedness than our own. Make no mistake, though—there is evil beyond this world. Darkness. I’ve seen it.

That’s why there will be nights of endless coffee. Why the upstairs light of my workout room will be on at three in the morning because I’m doing pull ups. Why I can quote movies like Grease 2, films so horrible they are banished to the wee hours.

Because I must stay awake. Because if I close my eyes he may be there. Waiting, smiling, asking if I’m ready to go yet.

My fear? That one day I’ll say yes. That soon I’ll tire of the fighting and the beating and the temptation, and I’ll walk away with him. You become willing to do most anything to find rest, even if it’s rest in shadows.

Ready to go yet?

That’s what he wants to know.

Ready to surrender? To lay down faith and hope? Are you ready to quit wanting to stand and fight, to rid yourself of the notion that you must keep going when you just don’t have to? Are you ready to stop seeking the light and instead enjoy the darkness?

Are you ready to go yet?

So far, that answer has been no. I’m not ready to go. There are people and things in my life worth the fight, worth the beatings.

I stand and fight and keep going not because I want to, but because I must. Because the darkness in my life makes the light in it shine brighter.

So today, I ask you this: Anchor your faith in the deep harbor. Set your eyes on truth. Seek God. Love. Laugh. Believe. And always, always hope.

Because in some ways, the Old Man is after us all.

“My true desire is to relieve others of their pain though I myself may fall into hell.”
–Bassui

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