by Paul Hiebert
At the age of 25, Gordon decided to get a job at Canada Post — not because he cared about delivering birthday cards or making sure tax forms arrived at the correct address, but because he believed a job at the post office would prepare him for the coming apocalypse.
Gordon had always admired mail couriers from a distance. He liked their uniforms, their physical fitness, their positive attitudes, their short navy blue shorts. It all reminded him of discipline and the military. One day, with his curiosity piqued, Gordon stopped a mail courier on the street to ask him about his job.
“He said you get all this sweet gear, you can change your routes, you’re out there walking around everyday listening to music and you get time to yourself. It helps with your mind and — Boom! — this guy’s healthy,” said Gordon. “Once you’re in, they take care of you.”
He applied for the job within the week, but didn’t get called back for six months. In the meantime, Gordon got a job as a bicycle courier because he saw the two positions as similar. They weren’t. “It didn’t seem as healthy as Canada Post,” said Gordon. “Bike couriers are hipsters, pissed-off dudes who ride around on cool bikes, whereas Canada Post employees are total dorks.”
After receiving the phone call from Canada Post, then passing a series of interviews, mathematical tests, background checks and quizzes, Gordon was hired. (Because of his employment, we identify him here solely by his middle name.) His plan was to wake up and get dressed well before his 6 a.m. start time. He would pull the navy-blue shirt over his broad, chiseled shoulders; slip his long, skinny white legs into the short shorts; and cover his dirty-blonde hair, which he rarely shampooed, with an immaculate Canada Post cap. Then he would spend the morning delivering mail on his downtown route in Vancouver, Canada.
But the first day Gordon showed up hung-over with only three hours of sleep. His dark brown eyes, set deep above sharp cheekbones, were half shut. He had trouble keeping them focused while sorting through the thousands of letters he would need to deliver later that day. By the time all the other mail couriers had left the building to start walking their routes, Gordon was still staring at a pile of parcels and envelopes. He was terrified about losing his job, his new regimen. Relief workers were called in, and eventually all the mail got delivered that morning.
After his shift, Gordon often walked around the Canada Post building talking to other employees and studying the equipment. He wanted to learn how everything worked, how to operate every kind of vehicle. He told his boss to sign him up when the next training session was scheduled for the five-ton truck. Gordon needed to learn how to drive it. The semi-trailer truck, he thought, would come later.
When the time came, Gordon took some weekend courses and driving lessons for the five-ton. The instructor was a thin man in his mid-forties, with curly grey hair and big, protruding eyes. He smoked cigarettes in the passenger’s seat while directing Gordon through perfunctory drills. Both he and Gordon wore their navy blue uniforms, both dressed like total dorks. The instructor demanded that Gordon give a running commentary of what he was thinking at all times, but Gordon had trouble concentrating. “Speedometer! Green light! Side mirror! Crosswalk! Break! Blind spot! Intersection! Right-turn signal!” the instructor shouted, cigarette in hand, when Gordon zoned out or went silent for a few seconds, which happened a lot.
Gordon tried to focus, but intersections and right-turn signals couldn’t compete with the overwhelming sense of dread that took over his mind from time to time. A feeling of complete humiliation and shame throbbed in his head, as if his mother had just walked in on him with a drunken college orgy on his computer monitor. The harder he clicked the mouse to make the sounds and images disappear, the louder and brighter and more hardcore they got, while the stop-button shrank to the size of a pixel.
To combat these thoughts, Gordon envisioned the scene in Terminator 2: Judgment Day where Robert Patrick’s T-1000 drives a black semi-truck in pursuit of Arnold and John Connor on motorcycle throughout Los Angeles’s dried-up river system. The Terminator that could out-maneuver the other at high speeds, the one that could push the throttle with the most confidence, grace and robot determination, would prevail in its mission of either killing or protecting the adolescent boy — a boy whose existence would irrevocably change the future war between machines and humans. Gordon imagined pistons, leather, stoicism, theme music and swirling, sawed-off shotguns.
With this sense that lives would be saved if he could maintain a tight grip on the steering wheel, Gordon shouted “Intersection!” as he careened his five-ton through corpses of ash and shards of glass scattered across what once was a city street; “Right-turn signal!” as he heard the thunderous din of 400 helicopters hovering against a black sky above the skulls and screams and bedlam.
Gordon needed to score above 80 percent to pass the exam. The instructor gave him an 82.
Gordon was 19 when he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Friends, family, and professionals have told him he’s mentally ill, but he can’t see any of the symptoms. To him, it’s all real. When he takes his prescribed medication, the apocalypse doesn’t vanish; the pills simply give him another day to prepare, and he feels like a coward for delaying the imminent confrontation.
* * *
Is he delusional? Gordon describes reality like The Matrix or The Truman Show. Everyday life is a shadow, a guise covering up some deeper truth that only a few have access to.
Is he paranoid? The morning after a relaxing evening with friends, he’ll worry that they were all laughing at him, or that he didn’t pick up on some inside joke. Sometimes he’ll wonder if his friends were planning to rape him.
Does he hear a voice inside his head? The voice has the same tone as his speaking voice, but its character is different. There’s something sexually perverted about it, and it only has negative things to say. The voice speaks too fast for Gordon to respond and defend himself.
Everything is a symbol. Everything is language. Nothing is acceptable at face value. Everything means more than it is. A couch is a baby soother because a couch is tantamount to relaxing, relaxing is equal to laziness, laziness is equal to weakness, weakness is equal to infancy, and infants suck on soothers. A train racing by Gordon’s apartment window at exactly 3:33p.m. can be a sign from God that it’s time to stop fooling around on the Internet and start doing laundry. His mind leaps from object to object in an endless search for confirmation, for a final meaning.
Sometimes he believes he can predict the future. A situation will flash in his mind before it happens in reality. When Gordon was out delivering mail, he once had a vision of a squirrel scurrying across the sidewalk. Moments later, that same squirrel dashed across his path. When an internal image matches an external occurrence, like it did with the squirrel, Gordon takes it as a sign that he has mixed up his route or something terrible is coming for him in 10 minutes. Superstitions like this guide him.
At night, he takes two tablets of Seroquel to knock him out and prevent psychosis. If he doesn’t take them, he can’t sleep and becomes manic the next day. Gordon describes this unmedicated state as “ready to live, ready to die, much more daring.” In the morning, Gordon takes two tablets of Wellbutrin, plus one during the day, for depression. The Seroquel and Wellbutrin are prescribed to him by his psychiatrist, Dr. Dave Irwin, a schizophrenia specialist at the University of British Columbia Hospital. In the morning, Gordon also takes 2 tablets of Omega 3, recommended by Dr. Irwin to help rebuild brain cells. Either in the morning or at night, Gordon takes one capsule of Mikei Red Reishi mushroom extract to reduce his stress level, which was prescribed by a shamanic healer that Gordon met through a friend. “They say it’s good for you, but I don’t really know what the fuck it does,” said Gordon. “I don’t know if it does anything, but I want to believe that lady who prescribed it to me.” Gordon also takes one Kirkland multivitamin from Costco, prescribed by his mom.
Gordon can remember when his mind broke. When he was 19, one of his friends decided to have a few people over at his parents’ house when they left town for the weekend. The small group of friends planned the event for weeks. It would involve electric guitars, copious amounts of ice cream, and, most importantly, LSD. Gordon had drunk beer and smoked weed in high school, but this would be the first time he tried anything harder. The group took the drugs and walked around the house like children. All the lights were on. Music poured out of stereo speakers at an incredible volume. They went outside, stretched their arms out to the stars and wondered if they could touch infinity if only they kept reaching. Every pleasure was heightened; every mundane observation became divine.
The group of friends changed into their swimming trunks and climbed into the hot tub. Gordon took a deep breath of air and dunked his head underwater. This was the last breath of a certain kind. While submerged, Gordon looked up at his friends through the steam and foam to see sharp fangs coming out of their mouths. His stomach contracted. His heart started to beat like a grazing deer that’s just heard an unnatural movement in the tall grass. Gordon got out of the hot tub and jumped into the swimming pool to see if the drastic change in temperature would exorcise whatever it was that was twisting everything he saw into something threatening and hostile. He got out and returned to his friends, who sat blithely in the hot tub. They made fun of him and called him stupid. They told him he didn’t deserve to be there.
Gordon ran upstairs to a bedroom and closed the door behind him. Other people began showing up at the party, either arriving in cars or jumping over the back fence. From inside the room, Gordon heard them talking in the backyard. They were talking about him. Some people tapped their fingers on the house windows.
The bedroom door swung open and a large man strolled in. He had a big scar on his lip and was known in the neighborhood as someone who liked trouble. The man stared at Gordon. Gordon shifted his seat on the bed. Then the man reached into his duffel bag and pulled out a large knife.
“What are you doing?” asked Gordon.
“Nothing, I’m just getting my knife,” he said.
Gordon sat there wet and shivering.
“Do you get it?” said the man. “Get the fuck out of here.”
Gordon dashed into the bathroom, locked the door, turned on the shower, and got in. The house was full of people now. They talked loudly throughout the kitchen, living room and hallway. They banged on the bathroom door and yanked on the doorknob. Everyone was cursing. Gordon got out of the shower and looked at himself in the mirror. His torso and wide shoulders began to melt. His white teeth were rotting. Gordon didn’t grow up in a religious home and never attended church, but in that instant he asked God for help. God didn’t come. Instead, Gordon saw the Devil staring straight back at him through the mirror. All Gordon knew about himself and his life up to that point was a lie. In the silence of that white-tiled bathroom, amid the clamor of the house, he saw the truth.
“All of a sudden — Boom! — everything had a meaning, everything clicked as a part of this bigger story,” said Gordon. “Everything you looked at dictated a part of this story. Before, I was responsible for myself; after, it seems as if anything good I had done was given to me and everything bad I had done was my fault. So anything good cannot be a positive for me because it’s just fate.”
Whatever kind of change manifested that night, it was permanent.
* * *
When people meet Gordon in a university classroom or at a party, they can’t detect anything is wrong. Gordon is quite popular and gets along with all types. He says he wants to be a “good guy whom the bad guys like, and a bad guy whom the good guys like.” People even call Gordon’s friends’ cell phones to try to get a hold of him when he cannot be found. This happened a lot after Gordon threw his cell phone off the Lions Gate Bridge one night because he felt burdened with having to be available to all people at all times.
Gordon is charming because he cares. He listens intently to others because every individual is a unique universe of thoughts, emotions and experiences. Gordon befriended the overweight man who lives with his ailing mother, and who has never had a girlfriend, because Gordon sees the beauty in banal situations and the misfits who live through them. He is drawn to what most would deem neither valiant enough to be considered heroic, nor sad enough to be considered tragic, because to him everything contains both of these qualities at all times. For this reason, he danced with the mature woman who was insecure about her crooked nose at the nightclub in Toronto. She would have spent the entire night standing by the wall if he hadn’t approached her, and because he did, he believed the cosmos was altered. A close friend of Gordon’s once said, “all women fall in love with Gordon for 30 minutes.”
Since Gordon believes the end is coming, he makes sure to absorb everything around him. He paints self-portraits, cooks various curry dishes, performs at poetry readings, plays defense on a hockey team, makes shelves and cabinets from planks of wood, plays bass in a post-post-modern band, trains in Kung-fu twice a week and works on bicycles, scooters and Volkswagen vans. Walking around his apartment, one is just as likely to trip over a hockey stick as an acoustic guitar case, a stack of two-by-fours as a pile of books on Kierkegaard. Gordon is interested in everything because it’s all part of his training for the apocalypse: the more he knows, the better prepared he’ll be. His yearning for life involves an urgent awareness of death.
When Gordon first saw the band he now plays in perform, his mind became clear. “When I heard their music, there was no question of whether or not it was good or bad, because it was one of the only things you could actually trust,” said Gordon. “There’s no denying that the music is beautiful, powerful and dangerous. It’s like a badass sword.”
He cares so much about his band that when he heard Radiohead was coming to play in Vancouver, he was determined to deliver his band’s demo CD to Thom Yorke. To achieve this, he needed two things: a concert ticket and a disguise. Gordon bought the ticket online, and then put on a plain red t-shirt, red pair of shorts and red cap. He stuck white electrical tape in the shape of a cross onto his shirt and cap, and slung a black canvas bag over his shoulder. Dressed as a makeshift first-aid attendant, Gordon was able to march backstage, walk right up to Thom Yorke and place his post-post-modern band’s demo into the lead-singer’s hand. Yorke called for security.
Gordon has opened a door to signs and wonders that he can never close. Schizophrenia is regarded as an illness because it has more control over him than he has over it. To a large degree, constraints and limits are necessary for life: governments wouldn’t work if there were a revolution every year; chess wouldn’t work if the rules altered with every move.
To Gordon, the apocalypse will reveal all of his secrets and twist every thought he has had toward someone else into something shameful and selfish. He will become a “pervert,” a “loser,” a “leech.” Gordon fears God will give up on him one day and “hang me up by a hook in my mouth and move on to fuck with somebody else.”
Gordon can become completely self-absorbed, a black hole of his own worries. Friends have found him sitting inert at his desk in the dark, staring at a web browser with dozens of opened tabs. Gordon sees himself as the only one who knows the truth. At times, he wonders if he is Jesus Christ. Underneath his bed, Gordon stores large paintings that he drew years earlier of himself hanging on a cross.
If Gordon doesn’t get crucified soon, he sometimes longs to crucify himself. The closest Gordon has come to killing himself was when he wrote a batch of good-bye letters to his friends. The letters spoke of failure and regret.
“I can’t stand just being a joke, being stuck in this weird loop, being bullied,” said Gordon. “Everything has been corrupted. Even the simplest moments have been stripped of their purity. Every memory is attached to this weird self. With every face you get warring connotations. I don’t know about this life, and sometimes I don’t want to know anymore.”
Gordon says that if he ever had to hurt anyone, it would be similar to a soldier following orders from a higher-ranking official, like in The Godfather: He wouldn’t necessarily want to do it, but he would out of an act of duty. The higher-ranking official could be nothing more than a train passing by Gordon’s apartment window at the right time.
* * *
At the present moment, Gordon is on education-leave from Canada Post. He is about to enter his final year at Simon Fraser University majoring in film studies, where, for his senior-year project, he wants to make a movie about time travel. Gordon had tried going to school during the week and delivering mail on the weekend, but the workload proved too much. Initially, his supervisor at Canada Post wouldn’t allow him to take the time off for school. She gave Gordon an ultimatum: “either you quit or you get fired.” After exhausting all other options, Gordon decided the only way he could keep his job was if he talked to his supervisor one-on-one.
“I just showed up and gave her a heart-to-heart,” said Gordon. “She revoked everything and said, ‘Alright, you got it.’ Cleared — Boom!” Gordon had told her how much he looked forward to coming to work every morning. He had told her the job was a “break from my life.”
One night, Gordon biked home after leaving his ex-girlfriend’s apartment. It was well past midnight, and he had spent the evening trying to explain to her why they couldn’t get back together. She had told him she loved him. Gordon had remained silent. He felt unable to love her back because when he was with her the demons didn’t go away.
“You know Gordon, it feels like you just gave me up to whatever monsters you’re scared of,” she said. “You just handed me over.”
Gordon biked along a beach path near the ocean. He felt a desire to fall off his bicycle and let his body skid on the pavement. He wanted to fight the next stranger he saw walking on the path. He wanted to do something symbolic to let her go, something honorable. He was looking for an end to what once was.
With no one around except for a few vagrants sleeping in the park, Gordon parked his bicycle, took off all his clothes and walked into the ocean naked. With each step further from shore, the dark water swallowed up his pale body. When his feet could no longer touch the ground, he started swimming. He dived deep and felt the water get colder. Although some part of him knew that sharks didn’t come this far inland, he wondered if tonight they would somehow appear. He continued to swim down until the water turned pitch black and icy cold. Everything was silent and he was alone. He hoped something would be different when he came back.
Paul Hiebert is a writer in New York.
Photo by Hobvias Sudoneighm from Flickr.