On the other side of this desert, there is something. Something unique. I am not sure what exactly it is, father, but it is something neither of us could have imagined. The world, this whole universe, in fact, is filled with things that neither of us could have ever thought of. And I intend to document as many of these things as I can for you, father. Wherever you are now, I wish you to know that. Everything I have done in the past three months, twenty-six days, and eight hours has been for you.
The desert heat is beginning to get to me. Heat has never been something I could tolerate, despite the joy you used to feel while wandering Manhattan on those “nice” summer days. I’m covered in sweat. I do not like sweat. Oh no, not at all. It’s quite unpleasant. From the looks of it, the three guides I have hired are not faring much better themselves. Luckily, they have been keeping to themselves just as I have been. I do not like talking to strangers. Do not misunderstand me; they seem to be decent fellows. But you know me well, father. You know that I do not like conversation.
Currently, I am questioning my resolve. I do not think I can finish the task I set out to complete. It is just too large a goal for a single man to complete. I’m trying to figure out how many things I can find by the end of my lifetime, and it seems that no matter how zealous I am in this task I will only see a fraction of the universe’s marvels. I feel overwhelmed. It is difficult. Yes, very difficult. Every time I think about giving up, though, my thoughts drift back to my life before I discovered my goal.
I first realized something was different about me on November 20th, 1938. I was eight at the time, and mother had died just a few weeks previously. You were crushed. I remember that quite well. To you, however, perhaps the one thing more upsetting than her death was my lack of an emotional response to the event. You had attempted to talk to me multiple times about it by that point, but it always seemed to you that our conversations never had any lasting impact. You seemed to be heading quickly into a major depression.
Looking back now, I feel that perhaps if I had pretended to be emotionally compromised, you would have felt better. But surely you must have realized that I was different by this point? Yes, you must have. You must have. It is impossible to miss, after all. Actually, that is the wrong term to use; it is improbable, but not impossible, that you missed the signs. I was not like the other children in our neighborhood. As they played baseball in the streets, I was inside. I never liked being outside. Inside is where it is safest, after all. Inside is where all the comforts of life can be found.
I never made friends easily. You knew that. That is why you, mother, and I would always spend so much time together. I remember how we would all huddle by the radio, listening to the radio adaptation of War of the Worlds. That is what I was doing on Sunday the 20th, while you and Uncle Áine talked in the kitchen of our boarding home. You did not think I was paying attention. To be fair, I was not, until you lit a cigarette with your zippo lighter. I had always liked the metallic clacking sound made as you lit the lighter. I have always found it soothing. It may be because I had always associated that sound with your presence, and that was something that always made me feel safe. Perhaps I should have mentioned that fact to you at one point or another.
But when I heard the clacking sound, my attention immediately turned to you. You probably did not notice because I was not looking at you. I do not like making eye contact. My classmates at the time had told me that my attempts at making eye contact were disturbing. I figured that if I could avoid it, I would fit in better. In retrospect, I think that my actions in that regard made mother sad. I did not like seeing her be sad. Oh, no. That made me sad. But as I was saying, you did not notice that I was paying attention.
You were telling Uncle Áine how you thought there was something different about me. How there was something “off in my head.” I had never actually thought that way, before. Perhaps you were right. Perhaps I was “off in the head.” It was nothing I could help, though. The fact that you said that would bother me for many, many years. I never told you that. I was not supposed to be listening in. As you used to say, “Nobody likes a rat.” Besides, I would not know how to bring it up, anyway. Why walk right into an awkward situation when it was easily avoidable?
After that day, it seems that I had become even more reserved than I was before. I just didn’t know what to do with myself, after that. I guess you can say that, in a way, my ignorance of the situation had made it much more tolerable. After November 16th, I had adapted a way of thinking that centered around the idea that keeping thoughts important to me to myself was the best course of action. I would come to regret that a mere six years later, on June 6th, 1944.
Although June 6th, 1944 will be forever engraved in my cerebrum as the day that I lost you, I had already not seen you for several months before that. You were drafted into the army to serve in World War II. And you were very happy to be able to serve. At the same time, you were quite sad. Yes, very sad indeed. I was very sad, too. But I did not tell you. No, I kept things to myself. I did not want to make you sadder. During those months, I lived with Uncle Áine. We would write letters to each other, and you would tell me how training was going. You were happy that you were going to be serving in the European rather than Pacific Theatre. Your reasoning was “That way, I can be home to you sooner after the war.”
That was not meant to be, however. Oh, no. You were meant to leave. Like mother. We got the news on June 6th, 1944. You were engaged in Operation D-Day. You died. Oh, you died. It was very sad. Uncle Áine was very sad. He did not become depressed like you when my mother died, though. No, he attempted to do the opposite. He wanted to be happy. You know Uncle Áine was always a drunk. Always, for as long as I have known him. He was a nice drunk, though. Very nice. Not like the mean drunks you always hear stories about. I am lucky, yes, very lucky. Uncle Áine was always good to me. He took on an extra job when people fired me because I “couldn’t do stuff right.” I guess I was overwhelmed too easily.
He was a stupid drunk, too. You knew that, as well. I loved him anyway. I did not have to tell him that. He was under the impression that everyone loved him. I found it curious as to how he could have assumed that. Surely he must not have been that over-confident? Regardless of how he actually felt, there was always an air of friendliness about him. People seemed to respect and like him, and his jollity always seemed to offset my own awkward nature. Still, he lost his self-restraint, and would gamble in horse-racers often. Mother would not have been happy with him. Later on, as he started to drink, I would say “Oh, no. Oh, no. You shouldn’t do that, Uncle Áine. Drinking alcohol impairs coordination. Yes, just twenty miligrams per deciliter of ethanol can impair coordination. That is not good. Coordination is important. That is why I don't drink alcohol. Alcohol is not good." He would laugh and reply “Oh, don’t worry, Finbar. Have a drink with me!” and I would be forced to say “No.”
It did not bother me too much, though. I just had to remember to hide the three-dollar bill collection you had from the 1850s. Very rare, very rare, you would say. Quite the treasure. After your death, I was given all of your other belongings, as well. My favorite was the zippo lighter. When I get sad or nervous, I still click it. I emptied it first. Smoking is bad, very bad. If I had known while you were alive, I would have told you. It would not have mattered, though. But you still should have been made aware of it. Knowledge is important. Yes, knowledge makes the earth go round. You and mother used to tell me so.
Uncle Áine died in 1953. He had become very sick with tuberculosis, and was dying. The death rate of tuberculosis in 1953 was only 11% of the death rate in 1900, but that still meant that over thirty thousand people died of the disease each year. It was sad, very sad. We had no money to pay for doctors because it was all gone. That is how I learned that gambling was bad. Yes, very bad. Better to save money than spend it on useless things. Uncle Aine would tell me stories of adventures you, mother, and he would go on before I was born. I vaguely remember you attempting to get us to travel as a family when we were young, but I never liked it. I think I might have been the reason you were forced to give up on it.
As Uncle Áine was dying, he told me that I should try to live life to the fullest. Yes, yes, he was quite sad as he said that. Very sad indeed. But I wanted to honor his dying wish. I wanted to honor you and mother as I honored his dying wish, as well. So I did as he suggested and made my current goal; to travel the world and document unique things that neither of us have seen. Before he died, Uncle Áine bought me one of those new instant, self-developing cameras. They are very expensive, but not as expensive as the medical care. “I’m dying, anyway,” Uncle Áine had said, “So I’ll spend the money on the camera if you promise to use it.” I replied “Yes, yes, Uncle Áine, I will use it. I will follow my goal to the end.” He smiled. He was always a good uncle.
I paid for the guides to take past the desert to the wilderness beyond using part of your three-dollar bill collection. Please don’t be mad. Please don’t be mad. I did it so I can take pictures for us. I keep the pictures in a journal. I hope to one day have many books with the pictures of my travels, and to write about them as well. I have only been here for a few weeks, and I already have dozens of pictures. Perhaps I will give my books to cousin Owen, the one who always smells of grilled cheese. I like grilled cheese. About twenty meters from here I see a stalagmite formation in the desert sands. That is odd, very odd. I think I will take a break from my writing to go take a picture of them, now. I just want to tell you something, father; I love you, even if there is something "off in my head."