Damage. They call it experience. There you go. But listen cautiously to the meaning of the simple syllables in a word like damage. The way the ‘m’ rolls under the crest of the ‘d’, the way ‘age’ takes a part in the inevitability of it all. Damage: an even number of letters. The middle is the space where there is nothing. It is cruelly symmetric to the shape of being human—being only between moments—and being a matted, emaciated, old, dirty alley cat—one of those things that’s there just because it is, because no one wants it (and strangely, because no one has the heart to put it out of its misery). And yet if you do not handle that radioactive substance of regret and guilt with care, it leaves behind a dirty residue. “Oh, I am better,” says Life. “Oh, I have done worse.” But then there is Damage playing tricks in the back of Life’s mind. “I have done worse, haven’t I? Right?”

He, this young man, we are concerned with—he will leave the scene the first chance you give him—no time for damage. He will resist the rust, corrosion and burden of damage. His friendships remain on principles, and only the bullshit grows up around them. He will vanish, if necessary. No past. No regrets. He’s America, this damage. Gone on with idealism, even after wars. He’s Georgia—in kudzu covered forests and carven, broken, red clay washes—a state that has inspired more songs about homecoming and the blues than any other. Although, this young man, this guitarist, he will not write music about homecoming—what home?

He’s a small music box of a town, sending a song out into deep space even as the stars reply only with a million year vanishing in the sky. He’s a feeling that can’t be shook; when you’ve been awake all night and it’s five o’clock in the morning—there is a sensed presence in the room.

He can still hear the resonation of a G chord he finished hours ago at a show, the fingers came off, applause, his consciousness returned, and now this is the picture: He is Travis Fleeting in his lonesome, dreaming state, right there in front of you, cuddled up in front of the television in his dingy living room, roommates fast asleep. He does not exist because he is his glorious friends. He is love found along the way. He is a strange reminder, constant only for himself in his lonesome dreaming state, his dream now static on the television screen flickering dizzyingly with the word “MUTE” spelled out in green, blocky, awkward digital letters in the lower left corner.

Travis’s bloodshot eyes are open but not focused as he lay in the fetal position in a beat-up, corrugated, blue armchair. Bands, fields, blurs of colored shapes wash across the television nonsensically. Now and then a phantom face or object seems to form out of the scrambled noise only to flicker and disappear. Tired but too disturbed by the dream to sleep, Travis stares at some point halfway between himself and the television; a halfway point of consciousness where dreams turn to mist instead of bothering us; their corporeality stolen from them by the undeniable hallmark of the drudgery of reality. There had been a carousel. There were spinning, painted horses—breathing horses—with metal shafts through their middles, their innards. He had seen it. They would bray and kick and scream, their brilliant green and yellow and orange painted skin matched by frantic wide white eyes and teeth and blood coming from their wounds. Among them, a pale white horse (almost grey from soot or slush ground into its hair) does nothing but get thumped by the hoofs and torn by the gnashing, burly teeth of the prettier horses. Chewed and ripped and born of hope, the white horse stays to comfort the others, to be with them in their dizzy round and round terror; to free them if he can. Still he hopes that one day he might stumble upon a herd of painted (not purple and green, but painted like white, brown, black) horses in Montana, and see them running free through open fields in the cold and low light of dawn. Even the word Montana sounds like the freedom defined by the chains he cannot see, cannot define, around him now.

When Travis has the dream he dies, only to awaken in his own bed, shocked not to have four feet and hooves. Television and a sleepless night in that soft, familiar armchair usually follow, the warmth of the corrugated velvet cradling him. The high-pitched chattering of channel ninety-nine is muted but its scrambled signal still graces him with enough randomness to contemplate. Planet Earth? Planet Earth? Are you receiving our signal? Travis smiles lazily. “I am receiving you, Commander Gibson.” Fifteen minutes before, the channel had been clear enough to make out naked, heaving bodies through the static. Now the picture isn’t clear enough to make out anything. Travis, despite accusations, actually turns the channel on for the sake of the vegetating color bars; just something to watch. Waves and tides of odd bands of resonance fight their way across the screen, and Travis enjoys lapsing into a hypnotized state in a valiant attempt to comprehend the dream and the hole it leaves somewhere in the middle of him.