Elian brings me whiskey. He’s not supposed to, but I convinced him that I have no reason not to drink, something he understands, even if does not inherently accept it. If not for his sympathetic demeanor and favorable posture towards me, I would not be nearly as warm and empathetic.
You may feel as Elian does, that someone in my situation ought not behave this way. For you, it is okay--not only acceptable but an absolute! You would just order a new kidney, a new liver, make an appointment for Thursday afternoon, a light lunch in your fabricated belly, and then go about your day. But for me, someone who has rejected this path, a bona fide deathist, you think I should show my body the care not required by the majority of people.
To you, I say get stuffed! I embrace my decay, I look forward to organ failure, to dialysis, to a sudden and irrevocable pain shooting up my arm that drops me to the floor. I pray for cancer, wish for tuberculosis, bash my chest in the hopes of collapsing a lung. Had I a tall enough ledge in this single story dwelling, I’d roll myself right off the precipice and into glorious oblivion.
Death is what I want, what I need, all that I pursue. Excluding this little exercise, I have no other occupation, no other duty requiring my attention. I have no expectations, no hope for a tunnel of light nor a charming but stern overlord to whom I must defer. Much like the atonement I seek with this journal, the results are both unknown and likely to be disappointing. I know this, yet I do it anyway, clack away at this ancient keyboard with arthritic fingers. This is who I am, who I always have been; a man alone and deliberate, incapable of yielding to common sense. I can and so I do, no matter the outcome.
What I am not, is a sociopath. Many assume I am, even though they benefit from my work. Please know that I am not without understanding of the effect I have. Rather, I know all too well, for the visions I receive not only lay out the steps of my path, they reveal the consequences of many of my more dubious activities. When I ruined that first cat, my visions still shielded me from the reactions; the outcome remained pure and untainted by opinion. Such is the major gift of youth! To be one with action, to have no fear of the lie. As I grew older, the visions grew hideous appendages of conscience! And doubt! And impact!
To mend the cat situation, I suffered therapist after therapist with my weepy, devastated mother as my father cooled more and more like a man walking deep into the heart of a blizzard. I ate pills of every color; I had wires attached to various parts of my body; I had men and women of every disposition prescribing the best course of action.
“He should be encouraged to engage with other children,” an attractive young woman with the county said. The top buttons of her blouse were unfastened during our one interview, and she constantly closed the view of her cleavage, which I starred at incessantly. Those compressed, visible breasts seemed to be a handy barometer for her interest, speaking “you” and “not you” to every inquiring pair of masculine eyes.
“Consider me a navigator of sorts. You tell me where you want to go, and I’ll help you find the right path,” said a fit middle-aged man with a wall of degrees framing him from behind. He squeezed a racquetball in his hand during some of our sessions, his square head wagging from side to side as if it were mounted on a thick, metal coil.
“He should not eat any meat, only grains and vegetables,” suggested the school counselor—a skinny, small woman with cavernous eye sockets and blotchy skin. In contrast to the county woman, her small, unfastened breasts careened around the inside of her blouse like two marbles from Newton’s cradle.
“He should stay with us for a month. We have a 67% success rate,” advertised the camp director, a giant cross dangling from his neck, jiggling Christ around like a stiff marionette. He had the largest, whitest teeth I’d ever seen, so I naturally assumed he bleached them in the blood of lost children.
“He should see a dermatologist,” a neighbor told my mother, a look of concern masking her deep desire that my family put the house up for sale before I became a real threat. Every time we drove past her house, she would stop and stare at us, and I would stare back, not wanting to be rude.
“He should be drugged, drugged, DRUGGED!” They all said. And so I was. I was drugged into slumber, drugged into focus, drugged into numbness, drugged into alertness, drugged into a walking coma. My pubescent body limped under the chemical bashing I willingly invited. As I mentioned, I’m not a sociopath. I wanted desperately to be normal.
Unfortunately, my genetic disposition took yet another slug at my desire to fit in, bestowing on me a case of acne so bad, so devastating, my face would run with pus and blood even after the slight abrasion of a pulled on sweater. I would wake in the morning and peel my face from the pillow, soak my t-shirt in the shower before removing it from a back full of weeping sores.
My mother washed my sheets, boiled my shirts, purchased cardigan sweaters and button-ups, all the while never uttering a word to me about my condition. I thought she hated me and wished that I might someday simply ooze and bleed out, a big pile of fleshy goo that she could simply wash away with detergent and forget about. I did not consider that she did not know what to do with me, only that she would prefer not the bother of a disfigured, menacing boy in her life.
My father, his casual drinking becoming something of a profession, ignored me, disregarded my mother, and retreated from us to some place we could not reach. He removed my workbench from the garage, traded my tools for an old couch, and turned the space into a private living room. He installed carpet, a television, and a bar with padded leather and buttons. To an outsider, it might have appeared that he was creating a party room, but parties never came, and my mother and I never received an invitation into his sanctuary.
I tried to engage my mother, attempted even to make friends at school, all with little success. The drugs kept me quiet and solemn, making it difficult to exude the necessary personality to attract other kids, and my bursting dermatological affliction only brought ridicule. At home I was determined to reverse course with my mother, to win her back and rebuild our family. I stayed close, helping her with chores, chopping vegetables for the dinners she made, perfecting a vacuuming technique that left no visible lines in the carpet. I refrained from taking anything apart, and focused all of my efforts on building with only what I had.
My mother began to receive me with less apprehension, and eventually even asked me to assist her in the kitchen. My early skill was in the parsing of things, and she inadvertently provided me with an outlet. I quickly stripped and chopped peppers, symmetrically sliced tomatoes, diced onions deftly enough to avoid tears; I could debone a chicken like a surgeon, leaving nary a trace of flesh behind. The speed and skill of my blade took her by surprise, but as we meted out meal after meal, her astonishment gave way to a quiet reliance.
“Thank you, dear,” she began, “you don’t have to stay and help. You can go play outside.”
“No way, Mom,” I returned, knowing that she made such statements merely to provide me an opportunity to flee. After all, not many normal boys prefer time cooking in the kitchen over throwing a football across traffic. “I want to be here, with you.”
She would smile and return to her recipe book, her Cuisinart, her collection of wooden spoons. She had her own private sous chef, and I obliged her every culinary whim. Unwittingly, I also acquired a serviceable education in cooking, and I would dazzle a few others with my talents later in life. Be it a quick curried lamb roast or a salad caprese, I could prepare it exactly as my mother and I had, much to the culinary delight of those who came within twenty feet of my kitchen. Unfortunately for the starving masses, not many did come to taste my offerings, as my future fame and fortune held sway only a moment before reversing course.
Describing these scenes with my mother, I do not aim to suggest that we reconstructed our family, but she was tolerant and accepting in ways I thought permanently demolished. I suppose she felt this camaraderie was for my benefit, my rehabilitation; however, we both evolved out of it, and for the first time in my young adult life, I felt comfortable with another person. To assuage her ongoing concern with my long-term mentality, I attended session after session with Dr. Patterson, the square-headed, racquetball-squeezing psychiatrist.
“Did you want to do it?” Asked Dr. Patterson during a session which occurred not long after my sixteenth birthday. He busied himself with brushing some unseen lint from his wool pants. When he would stand, you could see that his pants rode a bit too high, his belt hovering just over where his navel would be. His glasses glinted with a bit too much gold rested under perfectly manicured eyebrows and a bend of expertly cut and blown hair. His watch cuffed his wrist like a nugget-laden pronouncement of his success. I was on a sliding scale with him, but clearly, others were not, and the doctor amassed as much money as his wall of diplomas and awards would allow. If my description appears unflattering, it is not my intention. Dr. Patterson was a creature at one with the monied fashions of the late 1980s, and I envied every polished point of his immaculate presentation.
“’I’m still thinking about it,” I returned, as I usually did, with confessed vacillation.
“There’s a place that exists between your idea and the action you will take. Some people actually imagine a stop sign to help them control their impulses.”
“I totally do that. Just yesterday, I imagined an encyclopedia was torn apart and plastered to the walls of my room. But I didn’t do it. I stopped myself.”
“How did you do that? Did you use a visualization?”
“No, I burned the book,” I lied.
“Really, and how is that an appropriate reaction to your idea?”
He typically returned my excuses and misdirections this way, simply tossing them back to me like a very expensive game of frisbee. I furrowed my brow and chewed my lip, inserting sighs and false-starts every few seconds. Finally, I found a thread to grab.
“Well, pasting the pages to my walls would have made my mother upset, although I am the only one ever to use the books. I feel like the books are mostly mine, so I decided that it was okay to destroy them, just not in a way that my mother would see.”
“I don’t follow. How would burning the book not upset your mother?” He pulled a pair of scissors out of the sky and snipped my thread. He leaned in towards me, his chin bobbling onto his knuckles.
“I didn’t really burn the book.”
“I know,” he acknowledged, making a scribble on his pad of paper. “Against your efforts, I believe you are making progress. You can relate better to others now, even if your imagination does interfere.”
“Maybe. I don’t know.” I’ve always like to give others a bit of fabricated self-doubt to enjoy. Most folks I’ve encountered savor the act of feeding reassurances to others.
“Sure, just now, you created a story for one of two reasons: you either wanted to amuse me or misdirect me. In either case, you were engaged with me.” He lifted his head and held out his arms as if there were no other, possible explanation.
“Uh… Okay,” I muttered.
“Charlie, do you know what the difference between a lie and the truth is?”
“Sure,” I return, crossing my leg over my knee, cocking my head with an air of righteousness. “A lie is not a truth, and the truth is not a lie.”
“You’re oversimplifying the differences. Try again,” he requested, taking no measure of my attitude.
“Um…” I fumbled, and looked away at one of his many diplomas and awards. I often tricked myself into believing that we both enjoyed this banter, that the doctor and I were in this together, each wanting to eat up 50 minutes and get the hell out of there. As I searched for another particle of truth, one element of a lie, I felt a ballooning sense of confusion, one I had known before. I wrestled with the idea that there could be “the truth” and only “a lie,” that somehow we believe truth can be all encompassing while a lie is a single instrument of anti-truth. I focused all of my energy on retching up just one point, one example, of each. And then I began to speak…
Later, after the vision subsided and I had gushed on for 10 minutes about the very nature of truth, Dr. Patterson told me that I ‘went away’ momentarily, that I sat in silence, unmoving for four full minutes.
“Was that one of your visions?”
“Yes,” I answered, feeling somewhat off balance by his transition into witness.
“Is the first time your day dreams have been purely philosophical?”
“Yes, no, well, not this much, I guess,” I muttered, my speech deteriorating. I mentally stuttered. What he said was true. I had not experienced one of my episodes that dealt with the dissection of ideas, only physical things, mostly machines.
“Have you ever experienced one of these moments over an emotion?”
“We’re going to try that next time, okay?” He gently said, the remnants of a smile still ironed across his face. He glanced at the wall clock hoisted on the wall to my left and his right, his usual way of indicating the expiration of our time.
I walked out of his office into a small waiting room with three uncomfortable chairs and a coffee table littered with sports magazines. My mom was not there, which meant I would have to wait for her.
A boy a little older than I sat in the middle chair. He wore wrap around, mirrored sunglasses and moved his head to the music emanating from his cassette player. I had seen him in here on several occasions, but I never spoke to him. He wore a sleeveless shirt and ripped jeans. His hair was cut short and feathered on top and left long in the back, a style popular with kids of the day who plucked the entirety of their identity from music. Of course, our cultural and technological revolution has made such relationships less meaningful, in that music no longer flows from a single tap. In a way, this transition away from a limited source of music adds confusion to adolescence. You cannot see and immediately judge one’s musical tastes, making it more difficult to discern who might be your automatic ally in school. Since my clothes plain and unfashionable, I had no connection to this boy. If we were in school together, it would be likely that I would not speak to him there, either.
I sat down next to him and nervously shuffled through the magazines, looking for an escape from him, from whatever he might want of me—to conversate, to ridicule, to frighten. After all, he was in a psychiatrist’s office! He must be crazy, I thought. I could hear the metallic crashing of instruments from his tiny headphones.
I became aware of my breathing, that I had the power to stop it, perhaps pause this situation long enough for my mother’s rescue.
He clicked the stop button on his Walkman.
“Did he ask you how much you masturbate?” He asked, casually, not looking at me.
I remember being flummoxed, but not from offense. I would have stammered had he asked me for the time or where the bathroom might be.
“Never mind. I’m just fucking with you.” He clicked the play button, resuming the onslaught of heavy music.
“Ready?” My mom asked a few minutes later, out of breath from rushing.
Every week after, I’d look for the boy. Sometimes he would be in that same seat, his glasses and headphones on, sometimes next to my mother. Occasionally, I’d see him out front, smoking a cigarette.
After a session some time later, I found the waiting room empty. No boy, no mother, nothing but the magazines picturing men golfing, men fishing, men skiing. I sat for a moment in the center chair and moved my head, listening to pretend music. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine the boy’s thoughts, his favorite things, his reason for being there. Did he like cars? Baseball? Was he a rock collector? A model plane builder? Why did his mother never pick him up? Did he think I was a masterbator?
“Hey,” he said, dropping into the chair next to me. “What’s up?” He wore no sunglasses, and his headphones hung silent over his neck.
He leaned forward, putting his elbows on his knees, and picked up a magazine. As he flipped through the pages, I desperately wanted to speak to him, to ask him questions, find out his favorite things, but I could not. He was sitting right next to me. His leg was practically touching my own! How could I speak to another boy in this position?
I shifted forward, putting my elbows on my knees, and pushed the magazines around the table, as if taking inventory. The boy stopped turning the pages and tossed the magazine down.
"I hate sports," he calmly said. "You like sports?"
"I take things apart. I fix things. Lawnmowers, toasters, bicycles, whatever..." I blabbered.
"I mean, I did. I don't really anymore."
"Okay," he said. I felt he was losing interest already. Before I could properly gather my senses I blurted, "I had to stop because I took a cat apart."
"I tried to save a cat. It was hurt. But it died."
"Are you saying you killed a cat?"
"No," I returned weakly. "Yeah, I guess."
"By taking it apart?"
"I tried to put it back together!" I pleaded.
He laughed and shook his head. "Holy shit, man. That's fucked up."
He stared at me for a while, until his smile folded back into indifference.
"Is that why you're here?"
"Why are you here?" I timidly inquired.
"I get angry at things. People. People mostly."
"But I'm not crazy, or anything."
"Sure, totally." I agreed, nodding my head, giving him my best sympathetic face. I don't think he trusted it to be authentic, because he smiled again. Not understanding at the time what this meant, I smiled back.
That's when Dr. Patterson opened the door to his office and stepped into the lobby. Treading lightly in that small, quiet space between patients, he smiled and the boy and at me, and then ushered him in. Before the door closed, the boy turned to me and said with a grin: "Don't take apart anything if you can't put it back together, okay?"
"Okay," I replied, cheerfully.