I will start this forward by saying there has been much hesitation on my part to share my recent work. I’ve stumbled upon a very true and intrinsic place in my life these past few months, and I’ve been reluctant to showcase this dark awakening for many reasons. The first reason is that many people probably won’t understand it, nor will they ever experience it in their own lifetime. The second reason is that, despite my constant efforts to explain that which is unexplainable, I feel some resentment in admitting vulnerability to a world that truly thinks it is invulnerable. The third and final reason, and most important to me, is that it frightens me in ways that I never thought possible. And if I can find freedom in this fear, with all my volatility and flightiness, what’s to say that it won’t forfeit the last connection I have with society? We were all born in a sort of fluidity, a chasm of chance if you will, and it took every strengthened synapse and molded molecule in me to deny this birthright. What will be left, after my declaration of disengagement, to preserve the deep love that others have for me?
In a lackadaisical (but momentary) mindset one morning, after constant contact with an interested literary agent in Chicago, I accepted an assignment that at first irked me. She would give me two weighty topics, both distinct and yet dissimilar, and I would connect them in a literary fashion. If I accepted her challenge, I would have two hours time to write about them. If I denied her insistent inquiries, refusing the assignment, then I would indirectly arouse suspicion of my past work’s validity. She needed to know, based on the uniqueness of a random writing assignment, if I could recreate that which I had previously submitted. Luckily, as I had earlier stated, I was nonchalant that morning and I had no qualms with this project. How heavy could the two topics be, anyway?
I spoke briefly on the phone with her, encouraged by my previous publishing mentor and also by my current companion, and immediately accepted her surprisingly towering topics of: Art and religion…
Art and religion?! I asked for clarification and she elaborated: sell a painting. Create a new religion. Explain my recent enlightenment. She said I was a surrealist writer, so why not share a story of personal religion and Le Manifeste du Surréalisme? And finally she negated my obvious aversion with incentive: Do this, show me, and prove to my superiors that you’ve found a new way in the world.
And so I suppose I owe my newfound triumph to this two-hour cluster-F of writing. It was unedited, unscripted, and unprecedented. And it illuminated only the smallest but most truthful sliver of my unending darkness: my ability to sacrifice compliance, deflect a life of stability and listen intently to the vilest voices of the universe. And I owe SO MUCH to those who tried to cure me, save me, marry me, change me, manipulate me, domesticate me, saturate me, suppress me, hold me, cut me, screw me and, above all, understand me. For I now know why I rejected engagement rings and the promises of a new life and the chances to be like everybody else on this planet. I needed to know, to have, and to feel…so that I might one day define all that is ugly and ruined and forsaken when it is gone. And I am long, long gone. And where I’ve gone to, I’ve never been happier.
So I hope you enjoy. And know that I also hope you don’t, if you so feel that way. Because, no matter the way this makes you feel, know that you felt something evil and beautiful and real. And that is all I wish upon the world; the ability to feel something outside of familiarity, commonality, safety and maybe, just maybe, sanity.
There aren’t many things I expect to remember at the end of my life; this I’ve accepted. My family’s history of weak minds and heavy conscience; thick blood running rampant between soft silt and polluted valleys. This has plagued me at every juncture but birth. Yet I swear on all that is true and blatant and heartbreaking to me in this life, I will never forget that one moment melted into Robert Vickrey’s artwork. It was an after-hours show at the GRAM downtown this winter and I was moved so tremendously that I briefly forgot how to do the most simple of things. My legs separated; two loud clicks of angry heels. My lungs collapsed; dead and stagnant air hovering over the smallest recesses in my pockmarked throat. It felt as if there was an exploding of stars, a vacuum almost, that suctioned the space behind my ears to large chunks of overlapping egg tempera. How proudly, how insignificantly, I stood there as I watched the brutal splitting of my two hands into four shreds of severed membrane and mismatched fingerprints. How sweetly I smiled as metacarpus merged and ligaments loosened. There was but only a quick and painful “pop” as bone tore away from trapezoid, disseminating to a four-sided frame of his painting “The Labyrinth.” Oh, how beautiful I felt as I witnessed the most glorified and sanctified unions of hammer to nail. Fragile knuckles exploded, fingers bent backward, white skin gave way to cherry muscle; rusty iron spokes through the weakest Hooks of Hamate and into blemished skin. I leaned back upon an inverted crucifix, jagged splinters deep into my sagging shoulder blades, and drank the melted gold of false idols. For every artist’s dream was finally forming within the most despondent parts of Vickrey’s unending Labyrinth, over the hollow space between peeling wallpaper and knobby knees, and into the gaping appendages hanging loosely at my sides.
I tasted the erratic splashes of Pollock’s paint across my lips. I held loosely Van Gogh’s blue and unrequited gift of one-sided silence. I basked in the warm windows of Rothko’s always setting sun. And all at once, as was written, I was two hands into four corners within eighteen-thousand misunderstandings. Small scribbles upon the sacred printed pages of proverbial lies; we had long ago sunk into mass graves of putrid, forgotten genius. I sold my soul to aesthetic and archetypal and bellicose and infallible. I worshipped a neon god of heightened awareness and hysterical perception. I chewed up wooden parish pews with a growing fascination for futility and frivolity. I opened leather-bound books and spit deep into their spines. I danced upon cold slabs of marble, rolling my hips and parting my knees, while I mocked the most meaningless hymns; sharp and sinful screams reverberating against stained glass and Baroque ceilings. For a long life of mistaken meaning and empty expectations had led me to this moment. This cataclysm. This apocalypse. Walls crumbled and floors buckled beneath the grand finale of manifestations; the culmination of civilization’s once-abandoned thirst for knowledge. Medicine was disproved. Faith was forgotten. Science was negated. Embryos dissolved in acidic placenta. Loosened follicles floated down into green piles of sloughed skin. Optic nerves caught fire, burning from end to end; we saw sentience but we would never see significance. For we were gestated in noxious neurotransmitters; tangled lattices of polypeptides and norepinephrine. Black pupils, smooth bullets into shriveled raisins, spiraled down their rainbow drains and drowned in an equally-blinding sea of white waves and knotted blood vessels. And through this pain, this awakening, this punishment…I finally foretold a better way to live. A better way to know. To be. To die. A rational reasoning to refuse love and light. A deepening canyon of intent and purpose and prospect. I craned so far my neck to see that familiar, small spot behind the sun. And I never expected, with my first glance inside those stained walls of dripping graffiti and rotting stucco, that the carefully placed footprints of lives long gone would lead me through this maze of blue basins and manic mountains.
And finally I was released from that burning chasm of concrete; long streaks of sepia stains and melting tar upon fragmented grey rock. There once sat a sagging sedan between two decaying docks; I can still hear the grinding of its expired engine. Melting mortar had hardened long before I was pulled from that gigantic mess of broken glass, crushed headlights, snapped sternums and punctured air bags. And for two decades…two excruciating and horrific and gruesome decades…I watched over and over and over again the beginning of my end. I saw my mother’s brain burst from her forehead and out through her nose . I relived my father’s chest opening up and swallowing the spears of David Dunbar’s tri-shield. And I watched a little girl, compressed between cracking plastic and collapsing cartilage, being sprayed in the face by familial blood.
And so I pulverized permanence and cracked the foundation of ambiguous living. I tore at my face. I bruised my breast. I unfastened my father’s seatbelt. I wanted…no…I needed to feel all that was absolute, unforgiving, fucking ugliness. I needed to know destruction. I needed to understand destitution. I needed to be blasphemous. Fingernails like claws. Tips like talons. Small flakes of me embedded deeply into frying flesh and smashed buckles. My vise was crippled. The Jaws of Life were separated. My mandible locked tightly around the scratched slabs of stone that once supported the weight of multiplying melancholia. One Buick LeSabre, two bodies, three corpses, and four million shattered dreams. I gnashed, I chewed, I spit and, every now and then, I swallowed. I ingested cracked clavicles and lacerated lobes. I sucked in razor-sharp shards and lapped up small puddles of blood. My esophagus ripped and ruptured. A tidal wave of acrid blood filled my mouth to the brim and spilled from the corners of my mouth. Dozens of deepening rivers mixed with black bile and scarlet saliva burst from my lips like the expulsion of many malicious lies. And still we will lie, we will choke, we will swallow.
We accept the caustic cancer growing in our bones. We do not tourniquet the arm that fills with lymphatic fluid. And we do not stifle the stranger’s mucus that drips down our chins and burns holes in our clothing. We know nothing of a peaceful and consistent existence. We are priests of pain. Prophets of passion. We live in a wasted world of reason and rationality. We open our hips in anticipation of the slowest suffocation; a sweet screwing that bites at our lips and thrusts wire hangers into our bowels. We coagulate with the same fluids that tangle our sheets and stain our mattresses. We lock ourselves in dark rooms and dance longingly with the most despairing of ghosts. And we jump headfirst into an always stagnant surf; anchors for ankles and bricks for brains. Our wounds widen within salty waters. Our fingers fray against habitual hooks. We feed flesh to briny behemoths. We staple skin to the bellies of boats. And we look up into a crowded cove of bloated bodies with disintegrating disguises.
But know that we will never pity the lost ones. The ones that were born to die in this lonely ocean. The ones who missed a million chances to press syringes into sugar cubes. To taste the coveted contradiction of saccharine sealant and chemical conspiracy. To experience the mind-expanding journey that simply starts upon trembling tongue and tame tastebud. They march upon cramped cobblestone and they cower inside neat squares of whitewashed fence. And sometimes they call out to us, breaking from their bubbles of constant cold shoulders, and point to our broken backs and laden luggage. But there is no point in recruiting for an abandoned army. There is no purpose in telling a cochlea what it cannot hear or showing a retina what it cannot see. And, I suppose, this is what it’s like to fear and taste and feel and be all that was revealed to me in Vickrey’s labyrinth, in that car, in her uterus, and in this life.
And so I allow the sinking of civilization as the left side of the world slides slowly into the sea. And I suppose I feel something deeper than human emotion. I know something older, something truer, that withstands the beginning of time and space and myself. I was once branded with the defeat of successfully separating my morality and my immortality, but I am finally starting to decipher the damnation of unwelcomed mania. I see this as my only cure for permanent descent. And never again will I beg and plead and threaten the person I once was and hope to one day be. I’ve eaten my grievances and burned my bucket list. For this moment signified final appreciation and irrevocable love for the instability of my life. And still I will welcome the lost and hopeless ones, as I once was, with my stitched and bandaged hands open wide. I will never refuse their inane questions of what it’s like to feel something, anything, everything all at once…though I’ve accepted they will never truly know. For how easy it is to push people to the brink of death. How simple an effort to invite them to question the importance of their life on this planet; and then bend down to whisper the most inhuman of insults in their ear: “You were made to be meaningless.”
As painful and frightening as it was to learn of this power, I have never felt so connected and coherent in my entire life. And I wish, with the most hateful yet humbling of emotions, that everyone in this world could experience something even remotely as viscous as this. The way I felt in that single, impenetrable moment; my palms splaying and my shoulders broadening as unforeseen fingers wrapped around my waist and slid down my wrists. I welcomed, without warning, the sudden judgment of my fucked-up existence in a world full of concrete mazes. Yet my forehead continued splintering and bleeding and oozing small bits of pink flesh and thick fluid; the starkness of loss and injury slowly sliding down my swollen face and filling up the blackest voids of my eyes. Even then, through a cranial cloud of torpidity, I could still see the smallest of spider webs spanning out from an ever-deepening hole; a familiar fissure that had once felt my fist and my heel and my forehead. It was then that I finally wiped the gore and plasma from my mouth and turned away from the plastered wall that had matched my gaze for almost two decades now. And, in the absence of intimacy, I finally felt a part of myself that I assumed would forever lie dormant within miles and miles of my small intestine.
Because there’s nothing quite like seeing the calmest parts of yourself in the hasty brush strokes of another; the humiliation of your past, the confusion of your present, the fear of your future leaking down into the shallow cracks of aging varnish. Know that there is no feeling more shameful and righteous, in the entire goddamn history of the universe, than looking upon the face of the faceless and finding an entire canvas sporadically stapled with your hair and nails and skin. Face proudly, in black pools of bacteria and mold, the reflection of loose teeth and thinning hair that successfully suppressed the image of the woman you once were. Accept the rape of your weakest parts. Break your bones and eat your hair. Spend many a sleepless night under an array of always-closed doors. But, above all, know that once you are chosen for change, edification, enlightenment…there is no chance in hell you can turn back.
Robert Vickrey’s The Labyrinth (1951)