REPORT A PROBLEM
I had a terrifying headache yesterday. It felt like I was going to faint from the pain. I held the bottle of pills and jiggled it a few times. Rumba. How ridiculous! What is this urgent call? What is it that I need to pay attention to, if I am so helpless to start with? Finally, after an herculean struggle with sleep, I woke up just after midnight with a sharp nail in each eye. I wavered into the bathroom but didn't make it that far. Instead, a light-headedness simply flattened me to the fir floor. And I died.
The house was dark. I was looking up but there was nothing there. I could feel the points of contact between my body and the floor, not that many, now that I think of it; the back of my skull, my shoulder plates, my elbows, my hip bones and feet. Death didn't hurt. I wasn't weightless, or in space. I was in the house. But how did I know that if I couldn't see? And how was it that it was so quiet, so dark? Where were the yellow shafts of the street lights to project branches on the wall?
Something glowed and darted in a familiar way. I had seen that zigzag movement before. I remembered this song: "The damsel fooled him well, her hand stroke his swell". This was from the stalls of a bathroom. A school's bathroom. A dirty smelly place that was tore down and replaced by open sinks. My vision in this memory was dim. I counted the coins in my pocket. There was enough for a coke and a Mars bar. They went well together. A corrugated steel sheet was rolled up to reveal a counter where none had been. All the boys rushed.
A walnut tree cast its massive shadow on the cottage and the shallow pool. I had never seen so many bees. Some had fallen in the water and energetically planned their escape by holding onto anything that came near. I hadn't been stung yet. My hands were black from peeling the tender walnuts. My stomach would only hurt later on, when the heat of the afternoon would be replaced by the cold of altitude. Why was I left alone? Where was my uncle with his double barrel resting on his forearm, as he scanned the gray mountains from the porch?
There was a reception. My mom had done her hair up and was wearing the short blue jacket. My dad was upset. Even in his light suit, he looked old enough to be her father. "Well do you want me to look good or not? Because I could have worn my apron!". At the door they tell me to go downstairs where all the kids are playing. I slowly open the door. A hand grabs me and pulls me to a running circle. An older boy whips us in turn with his belt. I am frightened. It's not a game.
I push further back. I want to find the very first ones. Why? Because the newer ones are ordinary. The more you see, the less it has a hold on you. It is first ones that are crucial. Besides, what else is there to do in this darkness? I push aside the obvious scenes looking for my gem. Something beautiful I say to myself, not just pleasure. Not one in which I am crying or afraid. On a crisp day, a boy is climbing a steep and dry river. The rocks sparkle gold. A girl urges him on from above.
There is a quality to her skin. The reddish brown contrasts with her pale eyes. The ends of her hair are the same colour as the dirt. Her top is tied in the back of her neck and only covers her front so that as she climbs, the boy gets a hint of her pubescent breasts. She finally extends her hand to pull him over the last rock. The valley through which they climbed is the only green in the entire landscape stretching to the horizon. He is out of breath. She is thoughtful, distant. He could jump, to prove...
The wind picks up. What was crystalline becomes grainy like an old black and white photograph. The sun throws its last ray to the summit, the only thing still lit, and disappears in a murky brown sky. The good is separated from the boy and he finds himself at the airport waving to his parents. "Why is mom crying?" he asks his aunt. "She's going to miss you". He doesn't understand. Not yet. There is too much movement and strawberries still stain his hands and lips. The ceiling is unbelievably high. The silver planes are far enough to be toys.
"You don't want to smile honey? It will make your mom very happy to see you smile". As an old man, I hold this photograph. Its paper is very thick and textured like the skin of a small lizard. I am sitting on a high stool next to stairs leading downstairs. There is no railing. The combination of the high stool and its proximity to the hole on the floor is alarming, even after all these years. But the expression in my eyes is the same as it is today. You would not guess a boy of four or five.
"We are in Holland. Your father is doing well. The doctors managed to save his right eye. I am writing this on a very small plastic table inside our cabin. You would have liked all the little gadgets in here. There is a hook that comes out from the wall to hold your jacket, and you can get a coffee at any time by pressing a button. Outside the window, green fields pass by with speed. The cows are white with big black spots. I wish I was one of them. They look so peaceful. Their cheese is so good!"
Since my mom didn't have the heart to circumcise me, my aunt took things in her own hand. But the operation didn't go well. I suppose they had waited so long that I didn't fit in the strap device and that they had to physically constrain me with their own hands. There was an initial cut that went too deep (where I now wear a surgical-steel ring). My screams must have been something to behold! My aunt's face was white when she came to visit, but what was done was done. I absolutely refused to circumcise my own son.
Is that why, in my pictures from that time, five to six, you see me slumped over with a hand in my trousers? Even to this day I don't understand any sadistic or masochistic tendency. What a body deserves, my own included, is worship. Amazement at its complexity. Awe at its contours, texture, colours, beauty. I have been a prisoner of my desire for physical intimacy not because I was abandoned, and perceived to be tortured (which I was, and I will not go there in these entries), but because I received so much intimacy when I was growing up.
I will take a detour, seeing that I can do whatever I want, lying on this hard floor, and describe what you imagine: a skinny boy with fair hair, fair skin, a round face, full red lips and eyes that although not oriental by any means, still hint at an incredibly mixed heritage, a boy who is spoiled by a young and stylish mother (she was a model after all) and shunned by a father who blames her of raising him as a toy. He was himself a force of nature. His physique I remember to be like a rock.
He painted all day in his studio, a modern square that was dug at the bottom of our property, sticking out just enough for windows to provide natural light in that holy space. Tables were filled with jars and brushes and tubes of paint half-pressed, half solidifying to my mother's horror. "Do you care how much we pay for these?" I remember was a common theme. He painted standing up, bare-chested. A library occupied a whole wall. His vice wasn't women, but books that he smuggled in there without my mom finding out. Books of nakedness, or places.
Books of polychrome architectural ornaments, books on the erotic works of Boucher, books on the Tibetan monks, books on Lurçat's tapestries. The one thing they had in common was lots of pictures and very little text, or at least just enough at the beginning so that a young boy who sneaked in could bypass them in no time at all in order to dwell on how well gold went with green, and blue with red. Sometimes, he was allowed to read comics while the painter furiously attacked the canvas. His style refined over the years to become more gentle.
The explanations come much later on. For now, a white room with high ceilings and high windows occupies the centre stage. A thick red book with concentric gold squares lays on the tiled floor. The boy is too young to understand, but he can plainly see that the women don't mind being humiliated. Some even smile, and he's puzzled by that. This is forbidden knowledge. Perhaps it is evil, this giving in, this using your parts for other purposes. He quickly closes the book when he hears a sound then rushes to replace it with another at random. The Bible.
This being my father's Bible, you can imagine the illustrations. He must have saved for a while to get it. How many times did I stare at the ornate Egyptian or Assyrian decors while trying to decipher the drama unfolding in them? There was a drawing by Dore of something between a contorted pillow and a dark cloud that I still visualize when I think of God. I often thought, even back then, how childish his actions seemed. Just like the bullies at school he was quick to anger and like them he demanded homage and impossible to follow rules.
And where is God? Where is he when Claire is folded in pain? As a kid, my guilt doesn't come from something he or his priest says, but from somewhere deep in my own gut. My uncle is sitting by the walnut tree. I am standing next to him aiming at a sparrow. Next to him is a tin bucket filled half way with cold and black water. When we hit, he rushes to where they fall. Holding the frightened head between his fingers, he pulls it off and throws the twitching body in the bucket. I want to miss.
I don't want to have the same nightmare, but I also want to be a man. My mother's letters are full of sunshine but I am in the middle of a dark night. A massive tree can only be guessed at. There is a nest. I can hear the chicks call and I toss and turn. The bird soup, as delicious as it was, is poisoning my veins. I have a fever. I imagine myself impossibly small, or the bedroom enormous. Something rolls from under the door and comes to rest against my bed. It is a round gun pellet.
We shuttle between our life in the crowded city and the cottage by the mountain. So we are often in a baby blue Peugeot 404. I wish I could sit in one right now and put my hands on the slim steering wheel and the strange knobs. There was a solidity to it that is hard to describe. I imagine it blaring, through its tube radio, its sad songs in a foreign tongue. I ask myself why? On such a beautiful day? But my mom wipes her tears and turns the volume gently up. I shield myself against her emotion.
The day my father died I received a long-distance call saying he was hit by a motorcycle while crossing the street to the gallery but that he's fine. Just minor cuts and bruises. He'll call himself once he gets a chance. That night, I had forgotten him, I woke up to something nebulous and insect-like crawling up to the corner of the room. It was a compact form the size of a human chest. It hovered there and disapeared. My irrefrutable proof that there is a world unseen. I knew he came to say goodbye. From far away.
He was a better man than me. Famous for one thing, and contrary to what you believe, fame is the most difficult thing to achieve. You might think that luck, or good looks, is all it takes. Having witnessed it first hand, I assure you it's hard work in mines. As time goes by and there are more people, therefore talent, on our little land, the competition for the spot lights intensifies. If you need to know, the secret ingredient is sacrifice. For the masses, now as in always, only crave blood. Start with your family and then move on.
I am puzzled at the fact that my headache is back. I wonder if it's possible to die again after you're dead. I haven't been reincarnated as far as I know. And I don't understand why people don't want to be reincarnated as an insect, say a fly. How long does a fly live? There's no harm trying that for a week. The speed must be exhilirating. Or a wasp. Or a worm. Any sensation would be better than this darkness, this being shut away with your own memories. So few stand out against the blurred background of everyday life.
No, I say. No! I am in a nightmare. All the familiar elements are here with me. Finding incredible objects. Stumbling upon danger. Running, running. To no avail. The object in question is a beaded necklace. The string itself is thick and unbending like a piano string. I wonder how one can tie it? The beads are uniform and heavy. A single feather-like object protrudes from the left side. Something made of glass. No one can wear this, I say to myself. But it is beautiful nevertheless. It is a dream, I fully realize. But what does it mean?
The fact that I feel pain, that I dream, that I try to flee from a dangerous beast, make me think. I must be emerging back to the living world. I am no longer dwelling on regret, or those scenes barely remembered. This feels more immediate, more familiar. If I am running away, there must be something to run away from. Something out there. I welcome this, welcome anything that stands out from the darkness. Fear, pain, appreciation of mystery, of beauty, as useless as it might be. We, all of us, need to be strong. Our end is surreal.
If I take my death as a friend, as a path that I leave behind, for my children to bloom in the world, having freed the spot I occupied and the resources I required, my selfishness can finally dissolve into something warm. A door could be left ajar, to realize that this is not solid ground. That everything is void, and that anything is possible. I could be crazy, or an elightened soul, but the one thing I know is that hidden deep within me, within you, are tangible jewels of truth. All it takes to reach them is work.
I lay awake in the middle of the night, for it must be night, and I review my words. I count the number of times I say I. In this case, it might do. To share an imperfect knowledge is better than declaring faith. Not everything is simple. Not everything has to be broken down into bite sized proclamations. After all, I want nothing. Where I am not much can reach. Worrying about a reputation is for fools. Either something resonnates, in which case, it doesn't need to be reinforced, or it doesn't and its arguments are like broken tools.
What did I do with my last days? I ate, I slept, I got irritated with the news. When I thought of helping, I became judgmental. Now I know that I should have just done, that an act of kindness may stand on its own. I often said what is the point if... As if the world could fit in my head. I should have been like a cork in the waves. With complete trust. I guess we learn to worry as we grow up. We soak in the insecurities of parents and siblings, adjusting our steps to watch out.
And finally the brightest stars. What defines. What remains when all else is washed away. The drowning is one. I was clueless. I thought of nothing when I jumped into the pool. My cousin looked like she was playing. After all, it wasn't a big pool. It took two strokes to reach her. I wanted to play too. At that instant reality was replaced by a monster of intent. A force of nature. She grabbed me and I could not breath. I became all of mankind. My survival was not me. It was something with no brain, filled with eyes.
When all hope had vanished, when the horror filled every pore, the world was covered in a fog. My sharpest memory. Most of the time nothing happens. Then all of a sudden alien eyes weigh you out. The way you act in those instants is of utmost importance. You are not judged in the afterlife, or what you did before. Only what you do now. If you've ever experienced this, you know precisely what I mean. I did a little nothing, and it saved me. The beam of light faded as fast as it was lit to light another man.
The Tip Jar