I had a bad night last night. I’m sharing that. And a bit more of my novel, because, it seems clearer and clearer that sharing it here is the only way it will ever reach anyone. And that, I think, is fine with me. I’m too — something — at a loss for words? Ha. No. At a loss for story. Yes. Love and Light, friends. Love and Light. Sent from here where I am, at Aftermath, caught in my own undertow.
That is an inept, inexact, inaccurate, insufficient precis. I am not feeling. It is not a feeling. It is a submersion, a sinking into during which I am denied oxygen, my chest about to explode as a result of the involuntary physical compulsion to gasp for the air I need which only results in swallowing more of this fetid, murky tide that has carried me so far from shore. And too, neither is it a bit. It is a crushing flood, an overwhelming deluge. And, technically, nor am I lost; I know where I am but I cannot gain purchase, find leverage, achieve effective hold or position, because I am in too deep, and, alas, I have never learned to swim.
I suppose, then, I am drowning. But, I must be doing it wrong. Listen to the following from Popular Science Monthly, May 1878, by Roger S. Tracy M.D. [click HERE for full article]:
If death by drowning be inevitable, as in a shipwreck, the easiest way to die would be to suck water into the lungs by a powerful inspiration, as soon as one went beneath the surface. A person who had the courage to do this would probably become almost immediately unconscious, and never rise to the surface. As soon as the fluid filled his lungs, all feelings of chilliness and pain would cease, the indescribable semi-delirium that accompanies anæsthesia would come on, with ringing in the ears and delightful visions of color and light, while he would seem to himself to be gently sinking to rest on the softest of beds and with the most delightful of dreams.
I have certainly sucked in and swallowed, all about the powerful inspiration here beneath the surface, but, alas, my sinking has been anything but gentle, the visions far from delightful, and the dreams . . . nightmarish.
Someone wanted to see me but I declined. One reason; I am here in Aftermath and don’t like to leave Judah. Another reason; the me he wanted to see has nothing to do with me, not really. And, yet another; he does not have a frame of reference including Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch or Helene Hanff or James Purdy or Stephen Sondheim or Thelma Ritter or Blanche DuBois or Norma Desmond or the Algonquin Round Table or Bloomsbury or Pfaff’s Saloon or Flahooley or . . . any of the other things I want someone to know, or, at least, if not know, to be interested enough in me to think these things of value, to think, at least, that knowing about these things made me interesting and of value, rather than, well, annoying, cloying, antique, crazy, whatever it is that makes me so easy to dismiss by almost everyone. So, I declined and instead I ate a piece of cake. And I read short stories from back issues of Harper’s and The New Yorker I’ve been carrying around. And by eight-thirty I was in bed with Judah, devoted, pressed against me, it’s quite cold here already, his head on my stomach, my dear, snoring Judah, as I read my signed edition of David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks, all done along with sipping my giant mug of Steven Smith Varietal No. 45 Peppermint Leaves Herbal Infusion tea.
And . . . I felt so (pick one) lost, drowning, sad, alone, beside the point, pointless that I wanted to reach out, speak it, Tweet it, text or talk or somehow break the surface and keen an S.O.S., request a life jacket, something, someone, somewhere, and though it now seems unlikely — impossible, even — that I will ever make it *To the Lighthouse of my own volition, not with all these stones in my pockets, but perhaps, maybe, someone already there (or, later to arrive) will shine a beacon, search, find some trace of me, some shadow, shell, artifact I left behind.
And . . . instead. I read. Until the book fell and I, with Judah, slept. And, again, in what seems not to be a coincidence though I don’t believe in fate or plan or . . . still, I find myself editing a part of Libertytown in which Parker is — against his will, so drowning he reaches out for air from someone who will never help him to shore. Here then, more of Chapter 10, should you be so inclined.
LIBERTYTOWN: The Novel [excerpt from Chapter 10]
“Love?” Matthew moved his hand from my knee to squeeze my thigh, to bring me back from wherever I’d disappeared.
“I’m sorry, babe. Connections, they just, sometimes, they change shape. Not in a second. It’s just, the realization happens in what seems like a second.”
“I don’t understand what connects us.”
“Us? Like, the universal us?”
“No. Us. You and me. The we that we are, you know? I don’t understand what we are and…this conversation is scaring me. But, I mean, I guess, I’m afraid. I mean, what are we, Oz?”
The tumult in my chest, the rush of joy when he said those words, when he took it upon himself to use the incantatory name that he knew only Tom had ever called me, was quickly twisted into panic over my inability to answer.
“Sissie and I, we used to be out here in the yard at night, when I was a kid especially, spending nights here, and I would help her do the laundry. Only, she called it the ‘wash’ and it was a huge production. The washing machine lived in the corner of that summer kitchen – the one I told you about that got torn away-“
“Yeah, you told me.”
“-and it was this ancient Maytag. You had to pour the water into it. Just, the carting of the water was this huge workout. And then you’d do the soaping cycle thing and then have to drain all that from a plug on the front. We’d carry the huge buckets down to the gutter by the road and dump them there, at the end of the driveway. Then you’d put new water in for a rinse cycle and then you’d run the clothes through these rollers to get them – you know – to get out the major wetness – these rollers that were dangerous. You could get your hands caught in them so easily. The funniest thing – years later – I didn’t know it when I was a kid – I mean, I don’t think I knew it, don’t think she ever called it – those rollers – they’re called a mangle. Isn’t that just so – I don’t know – something. Mangle. When you look that word up it means to destroy the shape of something, like, in its verb meaning – its usual meaning – but then, at the same time, it’s this thing that presses and smooths things into a shape. Which is, if you think about it, just like what I was saying earlier – you see? I mean, words are this mysterious code and one can have a million meanings and it depends on who you’re talking to. Everyone has pictures – their own set of pictures and remembering that comes into their head whatever word they hear so how do any of us ever – I mean – that any of us ever can agree on anything, that we ever actually know what anyone else is talking about or meaning or feeling or thinking – it’s like this miracle. So…I don’t know what I’m trying to say…what was I talking about?”
“You and Sissie outside.”
“Oh, right. See, it’s so bright out here now, bright in the world. We have so much artificial light everywhere we can barely see the stars. And that is so weird too. Right? I mean, lights are meant to help us see, but in the case of the skies, the stars, all the lights we’ve stuck in the ground all over the world, they make it harder to see. They obscure the sky. Isn’t that weird? I mean, I swear, the stars out here, when I used to be a kid with Sissie out here and we would be hanging up the wash on the line – because she never had a dryer – she always hung clothes out, or, in the winter –“
“Right, in the hallways outside my room – you told me.”
“Yeah, your room. I like that you say that – your room.”
“Were brighter. But, maybe not, I mean, maybe the stars haven’t gotten any less bright it’s just we need so many things to shine, we try so hard to make things clear – you know? It seems so metaphorical to me and – but that wasn’t what I meant to tell you. I meant to tell you that Sissie knew all the constellations. She would point them out to me and for some reason, I just, I could never remember any of them. I don’t think I cared, I guess. But one, well, two, the dippers. I knew them. But I thought the Little Dipper looked like this flour sifter she had. I have it now. That sifter. And, that’s what we called it, the little one, we called it The Sifter. It’s somewhere over there – up there – and – I just thought calling something the “little” version of something else was sad. I wanted it to have its own name.”
“I wish I knew the constellations. Their names. There’s so much stuff you know. I feel like, I don’t know enough stuff.”
“But that’s just like the opposite of what you were saying before. About yourself. No. See, we shouldn’t have to name everything and box it and know it. The Big Dipper and The Sifter, they aren’t those names. I mean, we’ve named every star in the sky but why? Why can’t we just look at them and let them be what they are and live in that beauty? I mean, we’ve named them all and now we’ve made the world so bright we can barely see them anymore. Some things are just better off not being named. I mean, Matthew, some things we should just let be. Just let things be what they are.”
I was crying again. Which made me laugh. Matthew stood and reached for my hands, which I gave him. He pulled me up.
“I know what you’re trying to say. I get you. You know that, right? I mean, I think sometimes you think I don’t. But I do. You say ‘I mean’ all the time now, like I do, and I talk like you sometimes and I get that. You’re the smartest person I’ve ever met. You know, like, everything about everything and you’re amazing and you’re the most loving person ever. I get that.”
“Okay, Matthew but I-“
“No, I’m not done. Don’t talk because I’m still not good at this talking and I know what I want to say and I don’t want you to confuse me or tell me what I mean – just let me talk –“
“Okay. See, you’re all those things you are and at the same time, it’s like, you’re the loneliest, saddest person I’ve ever met and I’m afraid. I’m just, I’m afraid that someday I’m going to be another story you’re telling someone else and I – I just, I don’t want to hurt you.”
Like any word. So many possible meanings. To afflict with bodily pain. Injure. Strike. To cause distress. Offend. Wrong. Harm. The result or description of any of those. Verb. Noun. Adjective. But I think, for me, it is most true when traced to its Old French root, hurter, to collide. Hurt happens when there is a collision of need, desire, intent, belief. Colliding, it’s an accident. Yes? Hurt, like mangle, sometimes required to squeeze out the excess, to smooth and shape.
He did not want to hurt me. He did not want to hurt me in those ways he believed the people in my stories had hurt me, which, I think, happened because they left me full of empty spaces – oxymoron that – full of empty spaces, the loneliest, saddest person he’d ever met.
He did not want to hurt me. Empty space. Lonely. Too late. He was there. Sooner or later he would be gone. This, then, is that story. That hurt.
“Matthew. I love you. That’s just what it is.”
“If I’m hurt, whatever we are, that’s mine. My choice. Whatever we are, whatever you have to offer me or I give to you, whatever the other one of us calls it when we tell the story – if it’s ‘hurt’ – that’s just a word. We can’t – there isn’t – it’s no good trying to make things so bright we can see everything if all the light makes it so we can’t see the stars.”
He dropped my hands and took my face between his long, scapular, dirty nailed fingers. His nails were always dirty. I wanted to change that. He brought his lips to my forehead and he kissed me there, or, rather, placed them there and breathed for a few seconds, which reminded me for some reason of the time as a child I had been chosen to read for some visiting bishop the passage about “if your light is under a bushel” as rehearsed by Sister Michael Immaculata and afterward, the bishop had made the sign of the cross on my forehead and then kissed where his fingers had blessed me. Years later, I had sung a musical theatre lyrical adaptation of that same verse in “Godspell” and now, Matthew, was anointing me again, this night, christening me Oz again, thanking me, accepting me, baptizing me, some sacrament or sacrifice or something all connected to everything I’d ever done and been since born, meant to be the first American Pope or the first male to play Fanny Brice in “Funny Girl” or all the other things I’d been meant to be, thought to be, hoped to be, never was.
“I love you too.” He said. “I mean, you know that, right?”
“I know that. Right. Now, I think, I need to go to bed.”
“No. Wait – please. Just smoke one cigarette with me. It’ll be like our moontan. Our thing. Like you and Tom. Like Boynton taking you for ice cream. Come on. So you have another story to tell someday. One about me.”
— end of excerpt — thanks for reading —
* I am not afraid of Virginia Woolf, and feeling very indebted to her at the moment, and of kindred spirit. Alas, my Woolf is all in storage, and, anyway, I am here at Aftermath, so I cannot pick up my copy of “To the Lighthouse” and revel in her work. Her sister did the artwork on the cover. I must away. It’s Saturday and I need to read for hours on end. Mr. Mitchell’s “The Bone Clocks” demands my attention. Love and Light, dears. Thanks for reading.