BLOWING UP THE WORLD
by Michael Robinson Morris
A committee gathered in the cosmos, an intergalactic council assembled to decide the fate of the Planet Earth. Not the Earth as it is today, but Earth as an idea. The council must decide whether Earth, from its very outset at the beginning of time, should be birthed again in order to become through the billions of millennia of its life what it has become today, with all its wars, famine and misery, or whether it should be aborted, like a fetus before it was ever born. The council had the power to go all the way back in time and nip Earth in the bud if necessary.
I was invited to the assembly. There were no chairs, no conference table. No faces. Just darkness, and the invisible throbbing of powerful minds. But I knew I was there. I had been invited to submit my all-important opinion. Once again, if we had the power to reach back to the beginning of Earth’s creation, should we let it become what it has become today, or should we blow it up before it was ever born. All invisible faces looked to me.
My answer was…
Standing on the surface of Planet Earth, I felt the whole world erupt beneath my feet, billions of voices screaming at once, the sky afire with molten lava and shattered crust. I screamed. For I realized in one instant that my answer hadn’t been verbalized. It had been enacted. Before I even knew what my answer to the fate of the Planet Earth should be, my wish was carried out. Without reprieve. My instinct had pushed the button, while my conscious self stood horrified at the wrath of my own decision. I screamed. Oh, how I screamed.
I bolted up in bed screaming at the top of my lungs. My bed wasn’t a bed, but a foam mattress and a sleeping bag laid on the dining room floor of my dad’s new girlfriend’s cockroach-infested Hollywood apartment.
Still half asleep, I launched into the living room where my brother David slept on a similar makeshift bed.
“Mike?” he said.
All he must have perceived in the dark was his brother pacing maniacally back and forth.
“Mike, what happened?”
“Dad’s gonna kill me, Dad’s gonna kill me.”
“I blew up the world.”
I eventually woke up, I suppose. For the entire day following, I was in a trance state, barely able to eat or talk. When I tried to explain what I had done in my nightmare, just the words themselves repeated in my own mouth brought the haunting sensations back to me. I could still feel it. Standing on the planet while it exploded beneath me and all around. My fault.
David said, by the sound of my gurgling scream, he thought I was gagging on a horde of cockroaches that had bumrushed the open cavity of my mouth. That would have been better.
When my dad heard the story, he was fascinated. He wanted to take me to a psychiatrist to have the dream interpreted. I told him no. It was still too close, I wanted to get away from it. My father’s intellectual interest left me cold to the idea of exploring it further.
One year later I was 14. I was sleeping in my usual bed at my mom’s house in Topanga Canyon. She and her boyfriend Ken were in the bedroom across the hallway. In the dead of night, I crept past them and descended the stairs in my pajamas. I could feel the told ceramic tiles under my bare feet. My right hand ran along the lacquered wooden handrail. I was sensate. But I wasn’t awake.
When I reached the bottom of the stairs, I turned left and walked toward the dining room, past the bar-style kitchen counter on my right and the living room on my left. From the light I must have turned on at the top of the stairs, I could see my silhouette reflected in the dining room window. In a trance, I approached the dark outline of myself.
The infernal question was put to me again. Should the earth become what it has become today, or should we blow it up from the outset? If your answer is to let it be, the voice told me, leave your head on straight. If you want to blow up the world, turn your head upside down.
Like I had been a helpless witness to the execution of my detached wishes, I was forced to watch my body speak for me. In the silhouetted reflection, I saw a terrible image. My head was straining sideways, trying to put itself on my shoulders upside down.
At school in the eighth grade later that week, I tried to explain this to my friend Spencer. He barely heard what I was saying, since a group of other kids swooped toward us and swept him away while I was still reenacting what my body was saying. Alone in the wake of a frenzied throng of kids, I stood with my head cocked to one side. The muscles brought back to me that horrible feeling of responsibility and guilt for wanting to blow up the world.
My parents had split up when I was 9. What that meant to me at the time I could barely fathom. It only came in the form of yelling and fighting. My dad had a terrible temper. He never hit me, but I’d seen him destroy things. This trickled down to my brother and me. After he left, it became quite normal for us to smash toys and punch holes in the walls. My mom never knew when to let up. She would harangue my father to no end, as if daring him to lash out at her. When he had come to pick me up for a custody weekend, my mom came out of the house to accuse him, to rail him, to blame him for all he was doing to the family. I don’t remember the words, I remember the yelling. My dad was trying to drive away and my mom was grabbing at him, trying to stop him from escaping.
“You’re harassing me! You’re harassing me!” he yelled back at her, before finally getting his Honda out of the driveway.
I buried myself in the world of martial arts. Bruce Lee and the Shaolin monks gave me an opportunity to focus my strength. In the backyard of the Topanga house, I pretended I was a Shaolin monk born three hundred years ago, training under harsh circumstances, battling corrupt generals for the freedom of the land. That’s where I went when I couldn’t stand the yelling in the house. And after my dad was gone, it was my mom’s crying. Then after that it was my brother’s raging outbursts. I had nowhere else to go but away. Thus formed my habit of “disappearing”. If I couldn’t do it physically, I did it emotionally. It’s no surprise that one of my favorite pastimes as a young adolescent was to prowl the neighborhood as a ninja. Donned in the traditional black Japanese garb of tabi shoes, head wrap, shin-wrapped pantaloons and bag of tricks, I headed out into the dark neighborhood. Being invisible and peeking into other people’s private lives was a thrill for me. And I did it with the notion that it gave me power. When I was invisible, I could do anything I wanted. Better to have a secret power—a pretend power—that nobody knows about, rather than be helpless in the face of others. If I was helpless in the disintegration of my family, I found a way to balance the scales.
Whenever I felt I didn’t fit in during high school, I turned and disappeared, to leave people wondering where I went. At a countless number of parties, I would hide in the bathroom and stare into the mirror, reassuring myself that I had a secret, powerful self lurking beneath my determined features. They would all see how great I would become. They’ll see. I will do it on the sly, I told myself. I will work my magic in acting, filmmaking and music, until I become larger than life. I will prove it to the world how great I am.
Yet at the same time I felt so small. There was too much to prove.
When I was 18, I had the choice of going to college 10 minutes away at UCLA, or to New York University on the other side of the country. Of course I chose the latter. I wanted to get far away from home. I’d had a taste of this kind of adventure when I went to London by myself as a guest of the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain. When I was out on my own in a strange new world, I could start over. I didn’t have to bring my handicaps with me. People would meet me and be interested because of who I could be at that moment. God forbid anybody should know me for too long, or they would find me out.
NYU was a haven for filmmaking and acting, part of my three-point get-famous plan that included the songwriting and recording that I did on my own. I was 3000 miles away from home and I could rebuild myself from the start. And I was determined to work three times as hard as anyone else just to prove that I was a complete human being.
I shared a dorm room with two other roommates; it was a new home better than my old home. I had escaped and I was never going back.
But one night my mind drifted up to the ceiling after everyone was asleep. I floated in the upper corner and mingled with the molecules circulating in the air. Looking down on the room, I was stricken with the grasp of the infinitesimal. The 15-by-20 foot room was as massive as the universe. And I was just a miniscule speck, suffocated by the massive weight of the universe. I was an ant’s breath away from being nothing.
I got up out of bed, sensate but not awake. I went into the bathroom and turned on the harsh white cabinet light. I stared at my face in the mirror. If you want to destroy the world, hold your breath, the inner voice told me. My reflection stared back at me, cheeks puffed, lips pursed. I was holding my breath, trying to destroy my idea of the world again. God, how could I escape from myself. I envisioned opening the tenth floor window and leaping out. There were voices from below, late night kids carousing on the street. What would they think of seeing my body landing splat on the pavement next to them?
I turned on the faucet and splashed my face with water, hoping to snap myself out of it. It was a battle between two people; my rational self and the wounded child that would never forget. How I could hold my breath thinking that I might suffocate the world while being simultaneously aware that I had to save myself before it was too late, I don’t know. But finally I prevailed. I looked into my pale blue eyes and my washed out face and saw that I had survived.
I still carry with me to this day a sense of infinitesimal grandiosity. I still want to change the world, to make an impact, yet I am always haunted by a feeling of smallness, helplessness, that I am invisible to the world. I expect to spend the rest of my life working my way out of this paradigm. But it will be that labor that will bear the fruits of fulfillment. My handicaps will be my triumphs. If I survived the destruction of the world, what greater feat is there?
About the Author:
Michael Robinson Morris is a filmmaker and songwriter who first enjoyed seeing his name in print in the 6th grade for “Fonda Honda,” a short travelogue piece for the school newspaper in his hometown of Topanga, California. He is due for publication with Pure Slush and has recently been awarded a grand prize at the Eyelands Book Awards.