Saturday, February 9, 2013
Postitbreakup presents ... David Foster Wallace's triptych on depression
1. THE PLANET TRILLAPHON AS IT STANDS IN RELATION TO THE BAD THING.
I've been on antidepressants for, what, about a year now, and I suppose I feel as if I'm pretty qualified to tell what they're like. They're fine, really, but they're fine in the same way that, say, living on another planet that was warm and comfortable and had food and fresh water would be fine: it would be fine, but it wouldn't be good old Earth, obviously. I haven't been on Earth now for almost a year, because I wasn't doing very well on Earth. I've been doing somewhat better here where I am now, on the planet Trillaphon, which I suppose is good news for everyone involved.
Antidepressants were prescribed for me by a very nice doctor named Dr. Kablumbus at a hospital to which I was sent ever so briefly following a really highly ridiculous incident involving electrical appliances in the bathtub about which I really don't wish to say a whole lot. I had to go to the hospital for physical care and treatment after this very silly incident, and then two days later I was moved to another floor of the hospital, a higher, whiter floor, where Dr. Kablumbus and his colleagues were. There was a certain amount of consideration given to the possibility of my undergoing E.C.T., which is short for "Electro Convulsive Therapy,' but E.C.T. wipes out bits of your memory sometimes - little details like your name and where you live, etc. - and it's also in other respects just a thoroughly scary thing, and we - my parents and I - decided against it. New Hampshire, which is the state where I live, has a law that says E.C.T. cannot be administered without the patient's knowledge and consent. I regard this as an extremely good law. So antidepressants were prescribed for me instead by Dr. Kablumbus, who can be said really to have had only my best interests at heart.
If someone tells about a trip he's taken, you expect at least some explanation of why he left on the trip in the first place. With this in mind perhaps I'll tell some things about why things weren't too good for me on Earth for quite a while. It was extremely weird, but, three years ago, when I was a senior in high school, I began to suffer from what I guess now was a hallucination. I thought that a huge wound, a really huge and deep wound, had opened on my face, on my cheek near my nose .. . that the skin had just split open like old fruit, that blood was seeping out, all dark and shiny, that veins and bits of yellow cheek-fat and red-gray muscle were plainly visible, even bright flashes of bone, in there. Whenever I'd look in the mirror, there it would be, that wound, and I could feel the twitch of the exposed muscle and the heat of the blood on my cheek, all the time. But when I'd say to a doctor or to Mom or to other people, "Hey, look at this open wound on my face, I'd better go to the hospital," they'd say, "Well, hey, there's no wound on your face, are your eyes OK?" And yet whenever I'd look in the mirror, there it would be, and I could always feel the heat of the blood on my cheek, and when I'd feel with my hand my fingers would sink in there really deep into what felt like hot gelatin with bones and ropes and stuff in it. And it seemed like everyone was always looking at it. They'd seem to stare at me really funny, and I'd think "Oh God, I'm really making them sick, they see it. I've got to hide, get me out of here." But they were probably only staring because I looked all scared and in pain and kept my hand to my face and was staggering like I was drunk all over the place all the time. But at the time, it seemed so real. Weird, weird, weird. Right before graduation - or maybe a month before, maybe - it got really bad, such that when I'd pull my hand away from my face I'd see blood on my fingers, and bits of tissue and stuff, and I'd be able to smell the blood too, like hot rusty metal and copper. So one night when my parents were out somewhere I took a needle and some thread and tried to sew up the wound myself. It hurt a lot to do this because I didn't have any anesthetic, of course. It was also bad because, obviously, as I know now, there was really no wound to be sewn up at all, there. Mom and Dad were less than pleased when they came home and found me all bloody for real and with a whole lot of jagged unprofessional stitches of lovely bright orange carpet-thread in my face. They were really upset. Also, I made the stitches too deep - I apparently pushed the needle incredibly deep - and some of the thread got stuck way down in there when they tried to pull the stitches out at the hospital and it got infected later and then they had to make a real wound back at the hospital to get it all out and drain it and clean it out. That was highly ironic. Also, when I was making the stitches too deep I guess I ran the needle into a few nerves in my cheek and destroyed them, so now sometimes bits of my face will get numb for no reason, and my mouth will sag on the left side a bit. I know it sags for sure and that I've got this cute scar, here, because it's not just a matter of looking in the mirror and seeing it and feeling it; other people tell me they see it too, though they do this very tactfully.
Anyway, I think that year everyone began to see that I was a troubled little soldier, including me. Everybody talked and conferred and we all decided that it would probably be in my best interests if I deferred admission to Brown University in Rhode Island, where I was supposedly all set to go, and instead did a year of "Post-Graduate" schoolwork at a very good and prestigious and expensive prep school called Phillips Exeter Academy conveniently located right there in my home town. So that's what I did. And it was, by all appearances, a pretty successful period, except it was still on Earth, and things were increasingly non-good for me on Earth during this period, although my face had healed and I had more or less stopped having the hallucination about the gory wound, except for really short flashes when I saw mirrors out of the corners of my eyes and stuff.
But, yes, all in all things were going increasingly badly for me at that time, even though I was doing quite well in school in my little "PostGrad" program and people were saying, "Holy cow, you're really a very good student, you should just go on to college right now, why don't you?" It was just pretty clear to me that I shouldn't go right on to college then, but I couldn't say that to the people at Exeter, because my reasons for saying I shouldn't had nothing to do with balancing equations in Chemistry or interpreting Keats poems in English. They had to do with the fact that I was a troubled little soldier. I'm not at this point really dying to give a long gory account of all the cute neuroses that more or less around that time began to pop up all over the inside of my brain, sort of like wrinkly gray boils, but I'll tell a few things. For one thing, I was throwing up a lot, feeling really nauseated all the time, especially when I'd wake up in the morning. But it could switch on anytime, the second I began to think about it: If I felt OK, all of a sudden I'd think, "Hey, I don't feel nauseated at all, here." And it would just switch on, like I had a big white plastic switch somewhere along the tube from my brain to my hot and weak stomach and intestines, and I would just throw up all over my plate at dinner or my desk at school or the seat of the car, or my bed, or wherever. It was really highly grotesque for everyone else, and intensely unpleasant for me, as anyone who has ever felt really sick to his stomach can appreciate. This went on for quite a while, and I lost a lot of weight, which was bad because I was quite thin and non-strong to begin with. Also, I had to have a lot of medical tests on my stomach, involving delicious barium drinks and being hung upside down for X-rays, and so on, and once I even had to have a spinal tap, which hurt more than anything has ever hurt me in my life, I am never ever going to have another spinal tap.
Also, there was this business of crying for no reason, which wasn't painful but was very embarrassing and also quite scary because I couldn't control it. What would happen is that I'd cry for no reason, and then I'd get sort of scared that I'd cry or that once I started to cry I wouldn't be able to stop, and this state of being scared would very kindly activate this other white switch on the tube between my brain with its boils and my hot eyes, and off I'd go even worse, like a skateboard that you keep pushing along. It was very embarrassing at school, and incredibly embarrassing with my family, because they would think it was their fault, that they had done something bad. It would have been incredibly embarrassing with my friends, too, but by that time I really didn't have very many friends. So that was kind of an advantage, almost. But there was still everyone else. I had little tricks I employed with regard to the "crying problem." When I was around other people and my eyes got all hot and full of burning saltwater I would pretend to sneeze, or even more often to yawn, because both these things can explain someone's having tears in his eyes. People at school must have thought I was just about the sleepiest person in the world. But, really, yawning doesn't exactly explain the fact that tears are just running down your cheeks and raining down on your lap or your desk or making little wet star puckers on your exam papers and stuff, and not too many people get super red eyes just from yawning. So the tricks probably weren't too effective. It's weird but even now, here on the planet Trillaphon, when I think about it at all, I can hear the snap of the switch and my eyes more or less start to fill up, and my throat aches. That is bad. There was also the fact that back then I got so I couldn't stand silence, really couldn't stand it at all. This was because when there was no noise from outside the little hairs on my eardrums or wherever would manufacture a noise all by themselves, to keep in practice or something. This noise was sort of a high, glittery, metallic, spangly hum that really for some reason scared the living daylights out of me and just about drove me crazy when I heard it, the way a mosquito in your ear in bed at night in summer will just about drive you crazy when you hear it. I began to look for noise sort of the way a moth looks for light. I'd sleep with the radio on in my room, watch an incredible amount of loud television, keep my trusty Sony Walkman on at all times at school and walking around and on my bike (that Sony Walkman was far and away the best Christmas present I have ever received). I would even maybe sometimes talk to myself when I had just no other recourse to noise, which must have seemed very crazy to people who heard me, and I suppose was very crazy, but not in the way they supposed. It wasn't as if I thought I was two people who could have a dialogue, or as if I heard voices from Venus or anything. I knew I was just one person, but this one person, here, was a troubled little soldier who could withstand neither the substance nor the implications of the noise produced by the inside of his own head.
Anyway, all this extremely delightful stuff was going on while I was doing well and making my otherwise quite wor· ried and less than pleased patents happy school-wise during the year, and then while I was working for Exeter Building and Grounds Department during the following summer, pruning bushes and crying and throwing up discreetly into them, and while I was packing and having billions of dollars of clothes and electrical appliances bought for me by my grandparents, gelling all ready to go to Brown University in Rhode Island in September. Mr. Film, who was more or less my boss at "B and G," had a riddle that he thought was unbelievably funny and he told it to me a lot. He'd say, "What's the color of a bowel movement?" And when I didn't say anything he'd say. "Brown! har har har!" He'd laugh and I'd smile, even after about the four-trillionth time, because Mr. Film was on the whole a fairly nice man, and he didn't even get mad when I threw up in his truck once. I told him my scar was from getting cut up with a knife in high school, which was essentially the truth.
So I went off to Brown University in the fall, and it turned out to be very much like "P .G." at Exeter: it was supposed to be all hard but it really wasn't, so I had plenty of time to do well in classes and have people say "Outstanding" and still be neurotic and weird as hell, so that my roommate, who was a very nice, squeakingly healthy guy from Illinois, understandably asked for a single instead and moved out in a few weeks and left me with a very big single all my very own. So it was just little old me and about nine billion dollars worth of electronic noise-making equipment, there in my room, after that. It was quite soon after my roommate moved out that the Bad Thing started. The Bad Thing is more or less the reason why I'm not on Earth anymore. Dr. Kablumbus told me after I told him as best I could about the Bad Thing that the Bad Thing was "severe clinical depression." I am sure that a doctor at Brown would have told me pretty much the same thing, but I didn't ever go to see anyone at Brown, mainly because I was afraid that if I ever opened my mouth in that context stuff would come out that would ensure that I'd be put in a place like the place I was put after the hilariously stupid business in the bathroom.
I really don't know if the Bad Thing is really depression. I had previously sort of always thought that depression was just sort of really intense sadness, like what you feel when your very good dog dies, or when Bambi's mother gets killed in Bambi. I thought that it was that you frowned or maybe even cried a little bit if you were a girl and said "Holy cow,l'm really depressed, here," and then your friends if you have any come and cheer you up or take you out and get you ploughed and in the morning it's like a faded color and in a couple days it's gone altogether. The Bad Thing - which I guess is what is really depression - is very different, and indescribably worse. I guess I should say rather sort of indescribably, because I've heard different people try to describe "real" depression over the last couple years. A very glib guy on the television said some people liken it to being underwater, under a body of water that has no surface, at least for you, so that no matter what direction you go, there will only be more water, no fresh air and freedom of movement, just restriction and suffocation, and no light. (I don't know how apt it is to say it's like being underwater, but maybe imagine the moment in which you realize, at which it hits you that there is no surface for you, that you're just going to drown in there no matter which way you swim; imagine how you'd feel at that exact moment, like Descartes at the start of his second thing, then imagine that feeling in all its really delightful choking intensity spread out over hours, days, months ... that would maybe be more apt.) A really lovely poet named Sylvia Plath, who unfortunately isn't living anymore, said that it's like having a jar covering you and having all the air pumped out of the jar, so you can't breathe any good air (and imagine the moment when your movement is invisibly stopped by the glass and you realize you're underglass ...). Some people say it's like having always before you and under you a huge black hole without a bottom, a black, black hole, maybe with vague teeth in it, and then your being part of the hole, so that you fall even when you stay where you are (. . . maybe when you realize you're the hole, nothing else .. .)
I'm not incredibly glib, but I'll tell what I think the Bad Thing is like. To me it's like being completely, totally, utterly sick. I will try to explain what I mean. Imagine feeling really sick to your stomach. Almost everyone has felt really sick to his or her stomach, so everyone knows what it's like: it's less than fun. OK. OK. But that feeling is localized: it's more or less just your stomach. Imagine your whole body being sick like that: your feet, the big muscles in your legs, your collarbone, your head, your hair, everything, all just as sick as a fluey stomach. Then, if you can imagine that, please imagine it even more spread out and total. Imagine that every cell in your body, every single cell in your body is as sick as that nauseated stomach. Not just your own cells, even, but the e-coli and lactobacilli in you, too, the mitochondria, basal bodies, all sick and boiling and hot like maggots in your neck, your brain, all over, everywhere, in everything. All just sick as hell. Now imagine that every single atom in every single cell in your body is sick like that, sick, intolerably sick. And every proton and neutron in every atom. . . swollen and throbbing, off-color, sick, with just no chance of throwing up to relieve the feeling. Every electron is sick, here, twirling off balance and all erratic in these funhouse orbitals that are just thick and swirling with mottled yellow and purple poison gases, everything off balance and woozy, Quarks and neu- trinos out of their minds and bouncing sick all over the place, bouncing like crazy. Just imagine that, a sickness spread utterly through every bit of you, even the bits of the bits. So that your very . . . very essence is characterized by nothing other than the feature of sickness; you and the sickness are, as they say, "one." That's kind of what the Bad Thing is like at its roots. Everything in you is sick and grotesque. And since your only acquaintance with the whole world is through parts of you - like your sense-organs and your mind, etc. - and since these parts are sick as hell, the whole world as you perceive it and know it and are in it comes at you through this filter of bad sickness and becomes bad. As everything becomes bad in you, all the good goes out of the world like air out of a big broken balloon. There's nothing in this world you know but horrible rotten smells, sad and grotesque and lurid pastel sights, raucous or deadly sad sounds. Intolerable open-ended situations lined on a continuum with just no end at all. .. Incredibly stupid, hopeless ideas. And just the way when you're sick to your stomach you're kind of scared way down deep that it might maybe never go away, the Bad Thing scares you the same way, only worse, because the fear is itself filtered through the bad disease and becomes bigger and worse and hungrier than it started out. It tears you open and gcts in there and squirms around. Because the Bad Thing not only attacks you and makes you feel bad and puts you out of commission, it especially attacks and makes you feel bad and puts out of commission precisely those things that are necessary in order for you to fight the Bad Thing, to maybe get better, to stay alive. This is hard to understand, but it's really true. Imagine a really painful disease that, say, attacked your legs and your throat and resulted in a really bad pain and paralysis and all around agony in these areas. The disease would be bad enough, obviously, but the disease would also be open-ended; you wouldn't be able to do anything about it. Your legs would be all paralyzed and would hurt like hell ... but you wouldn't be able to run for help for those poor legs, just exactly because your legs would be too sick for you to run anywhere at all. Your throat would burn like crazy and you'd think it was just going to explode ... but you wouldn't be able to call out to any doctors or anyone for help, precisely because your throat would be too sick for you to do so. This is the way the Bad Thing works: it's especially good at attacking your defense mechanisms. The way to fight against or get away from the Bad Thing is clearly just to think differently, to reason and argue with yourself, just to change the way you're perceiving and sensing and processing stuff. But you need your mind to do this, your brain cells with their atoms and your mental powers and all that, your self, and that's exactly what the Bad Thing has made too sick to work right. That's exactly what it has made sick. It's made you sick in just such a way that you can't get better. And you start thinking about this pretty vicious situation, and you say to yourself, "Boy oh boy, how the heck is the Bad Thing able to do this? You think about it - really hard, since it's in your best interests to do so - and then all of a sudden it sort of dawns on you ... that the Bad Thing is able to do this to you because you're the Bad Thing yourself! The Bad Thing is you. Nothing else: no bacteriological infection or having gotten conked on the head with a board or a mallet when you were a little kid, or any other excuse; you are the sickness yourself. It is what "defines" you, especially after a little while has gone by. You realize all this, here. And that, I guess, is when if you're all glib you realize that there is no surface to the water, or when you bonk your nose on the jar's glass and realize you're trapped, or when you look at the black hole and it's wearing your face. That's when the Bad Thing just absolutely eats you up, or rather when you just eat yourself up. When you kill yourself. All this business about people committing suicide when they're "severely depressed;" we say, "Holy cow, we must do something to stop them from killing themselves!" That's wrong. Because all these people have, you see, by this time already killed themselves, where it really counts. By the time these people swallow entire medicine cabinets or take naps in the garage or whatever, they've already been killing themselves for ever so long. When they "commit suicide," they're just being orderly. They're just giving external form to an event the substance of which already exists and has existed in them over time. Once you realize what's going on, the event of self-destruction for all practical purposes exists. There's not much a person is apt to do in this situation, except "formalize" it, or, if you don't quite want to do that, maybe "E.C.T." or a trip away from the Earth to some other planet, or something.
Anyway, this is more than I intended to say about the Bad Thing. Even now, thinking about it a little bit and being introspective and all that, I can feel it reaching out for me, trying to mess with my electrons. But I'm not on Earth anymore.
I made it through my first little semester at Brown University and even got a prize for being a very good introductory Economics student, two hundred dollars, which I promptly spent on marijuana, because smoking marijuana keeps you from getting sick to your stomach and throwing up. It really does: they give it to people undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, sometimes. I had smoked a lot of marijuana ever since my year of "P.G." schoolwork to keep from throwing up, and it worked a lot of the time. It just bounced right off the sickness in my atoms, though. The Bad Thing just laughed at it. I was a very troubled little soldier by the end of the semester. I longed for the golden good old days when my face just bled.
In December the Bad Thing and I boarded a bus to go from Rhode Island to New Hampshire for the holiday season. Everything was extremely jolly. Except just coming out of Providence, Rhode Island, the bus driver didn't look carefully enough before he tried to make a left turn and a pickup truck hit our bus from the left side and smunched the left front part of the bus and knocked the driver out of his seat and down into the well where the stairs onto and off of the bus are, where he broke his arm and I think his leg and cut his head fairly badly. So we had to stop and wait for an ambulance for the driver and a new bus for us. The driver was incredibly upset. He was sure he was going to lose his job, because he'd messed up the left turn and had had an accident, and also because he hadn't been wearing his seat belt - clear evidence of which was the fact that he had been knocked way out of his seat into the stairwell, which everybody saw and would say they saw - which is against the law if you're a bus driver in just about any state of the Union. He was almost crying, and me too, because he said he had about seventy kids and he really needed that job, and now he would be fired. A couple of passengers tried to soothe him and calm him down, but understandably no one came near me. Just me and the Bad Thing, there. Finally the bus driver just kind of passed out from his broken bones and that cut, and an ambulance came and they put him under a rust-colored blanket. A new bus came out of the sunset and a bus executive or something came too, and he was really mad when some of the incredibly helpful passengers told him what had happened. I knew that the bus driver was probably going to lose his job, just as he had feared would happen. I felt unbelievably sorry for him, and of course the Bad Thing very kindly filtered this sadness for me and made it a lot worse. It was weird and irrational but all of a sudden I felt really strongly as though the bus driver were really me. I really felt that way. So I felt just like he must have felt, and it was awful. I wasn't just sorry for him, I was sorry as him, or something like that. All courtesy of the Bad Thing. Suddenly I had to go somewhere, really fast, so I went to where the driver's stretcher was in the open ambulance and went in to look at him, there. He had a bus company ID badge with his picture, but I couldn't really see anything because it was covered by a streak of blood from his head. I took my roughly a hundred dollars and a bag of "sinsemilla" marijuana and slipped it under his rusty blanket to help him feed all his kids and not get sick and throw up, then I left really fast again and got my stuff and got on the new bus. It wasn't until, what, about thirty minutes later on the nighttime highway that I realized that when they found that marijuana with the driver they'd think it was maybe his all along and he really would get fired, or maybe even sent to jail. It was kind of like I'd framed him, killed him, except he was also me, I thought, so it was really confusing. It was like I'd symbolically killed myself or something, because I felt he was me in some deep sense. I think at that moment I felt worse than I'd ever felt before, except for that spinal tap, and that was totally different. Dr. Kablumbus says that's when the Bad Thing really got me by the balls. Those were really his words. I'm really sorry for what I did and what the Bad Thing did to the bus driver. I really sincerely only meant to help him, as if he were me. But I sort of killed him, instead.
I got home and my parents said "Hey, hello, we love you, congratulations:' and I said "Hello, hello, thank you, thank you,"I didn't exactly have the "holiday spirit," I must confess, because of the Bad Thing, and because of the bus driver, and because of the fact that we were all three of us the same thing in the respects that mattered at all.
The highly ridiculous thing happened on Christmas Eve. It was very stupid, but I guess almost sort of inevitable given what had gone on up to then. You could just say that I'd already more or less killed myself internally during the fall semester, and symbolically with respect to that bus driver, and now like a tidy little soldier I had to "formalize" the whole thing, make it neat and right-angled and external; I had to fold down the corners and make hospital corners. While Mom and Dad and my sisters and Nanny and Pop-Pop and Uncle Michael and Aunt Sally were downstairs drinking cocktails and listening to a beautiful and deadly-sad record about a crippled boy and the three kings on Christmas night, I got undressed and got into a tub full of warm water and pulled about three thousand electrical appliances into that tub after me. However, the consummate silliness of the whole incident was made complete by the fact that most of the appliances were cleverly left unplugged by me in my irrational state. Only a couple were actually "live," but they were enough to blowout the power In the house and make a big noise and give me a nice little shock indeed, so that I had to be taken to the hospital for physical care. I don't know if I should say this, but what got shocked really the worst were my reproductive organs. I guess they were sort of out of the water part-way and formed a sort of bridge for the electricity between the water and my body and the air. Anyway, their getting shocked hurt a lot and also I am told had consequences that will become more significant if I ever want to have a family or anything. I am not overly concerned about this. My family was concerned about the whole incident, though; they were less than pleased. to say the least. I had sort of half passed out or gone to sleep, but I remember hearing the water sort of fizzing, and their coming in and saying "Oh my God, hey!" I remember they had a hard time because it was just pitch-black in that bathroom, and they more or less only had me to see by. They had to be extremely careful getting me out of the tub, because they didn't want to get shocked themselves. I find this perfectly understandable.
Once a couple days went by in the hospital and it became clear that boy and reproductive organs were pretty much going to survive, I made my little vertical move up to the White Floor. About the White Floor - the Troubled Little Soldier Floor - I really don't wish to go into a gigantic amount of detail. But I will tell some things. The White Floor was white, obviously, but it wasn't a bright, hurty white, like the burn ward. It was more of a soft, almost grayish white, very bland and soothing. Now that I come to think back on it, just about everything about the White Floor was soft and unimposing and ... demure, as if they tried really hard there not to make any big or strong impressions on any of their guests - sense-wise or mind-wise - because they knew that just about any real impression on the people who needed to go to the White Floor was probably going to be a bad impression. after being filtered through the Bad Thing.
The White Floor had soft white walls and soft light-brown carpeting, and the windows were sort of frosty and very thick. All the sharp corners on things like dressers and bedside tables and doors had been beveled-off and sanded round and smooth, so it all looked a little strange. I have never heard of anyone trying to kill himself on the sharp corner of a door, but I suppose it is wise to be prepared for all possibilities. With this in mind, I'm sure, they made certain that everything they gave you to eat was something you could eat without a knife or a fork. Pudding was a very big item on the White Floor. I had to wear a bit of a thing while I was a guest there, but I certainly wasn't strapped down in my bed, which some of my colleagues were. The thing I had to wear wasn't a straitjacket or anything, but it was certainly tighter than your average bathrobe, and I got the feeling they could make it even tighter if they felt it was in my best interests to do so. When someone wanted to smoke a tobacco cigarette, a psychiatric nurse had to light it, because no guest on the White Floor was allowed to have matches. I also remember that the White Floor smelled a lot nicer than the rest of the hospital, all feminine and kind of dreamy, like ether.
Dr. Kablumbus wanted to know what was up, and I more or less told him in about six minutes. I was a little too tired and torn up for the Bad Thing to be super bad right then, but I was pretty glib. I rather liked Dr. Kablumbus, although he sucked on very nasty-smelling candies all the time - to help him stop smoking, apparently - and he was a bit irritating in that he tried to talk like a kid - using a lot of curse words, etc. - when it was just quite dear that he wasn't a kid. He was very understanding, though, and it was awfully nice to see a doctor who didn't want to do stun to my reproductive organs all the time. After he knew the general scoop, Dr. Kablumbus laid out the options to me, and then to my parents and me. After we all decided not to therapeutically convulse me with electricity, Dr. Kablumbus got ready to let me leave the Earth via antidepressants.
Before I say anything else about Dr. Kablumbus or my little trip, I want to tell very briefly about my meeting a colleague of mine on the White Floor who is unfortunately not living anymore, but not through any fault of her own whatsoever, rather through the fault of her boyfriend. who killed her in a car crash by driving drunk. My meeting and making the acquaintance of this girl, whose name is May, even now stands out in my memory as more or less the last good thing that happened to me on Earth. I happened to meet May one day in the TV room because of the fact that her turtleneck shirt was on inside out. I remember The Uttle Rascals was on and I saw the back of a blond head belonging to who knows what sex, there, because the hair was really short and ragged, And below that head there was the size and fabric-composition tag and the white stitching that indicates the fact that one's turtleneck shirt is on inside out. So I said, "Excuse me, did you know your shirt was on inside out?" And the person, who was May, turned around and said, "Yes I know that:" When she turned I could not help noticing that she was unfortunately very pretty, I hadn't seen that this was a pretty girl, here, or else I almost certainly wouldn't have said anything whatsoever. I have always tried to avoid talking to pretty girls, because pretty girls have a vicious effect on me in which every part of my brain is shut down except for the part that says unbelievably stupid things and the part that is aware that I am saying unbelievably stupid things. But at this point I was still too tired and torn up to care much, and I was just getting ready to leave Earth, so I just said what I thought, even though May was disturbingly pretty. I said, "Why do you have it on inside out?" referring to the shirl. And May said, "Because the tag scratches my neck and I don't like that." Understandably, I said, "Well, hey, why don't you just cut the tag out?" To which I remember May replied, "Because then I couldn't tell the front of the shirt:" "What?"I said, wittily. May said, "It doesn't have any pockets or writing on it or anything. The front is just exactly like the back. Except the back has the tag on it. So I wouldn't be able to tel1." So I said, "Well, hey, if the front's just like the back, what difference does it make which way you wear it?" At which point May looked at me all seriously, for about eleven years, and then said. "It makes a difference to me." Then she broke into a big deadly, pretty smile and asked me tactfully where I got my scar. I told her I had had this annoying tag sticking out of my cheek ...
So, just more or less by accident, May and I became friends, and we talked some. She wanted to write made-up stories for a living. I said I didn't know that could be done. She was killed by her boyfriend in his drunken car only ten days ago. I tried to call May's parents just to say that I was incredibly sorry yesterday, but their answering service informed me that Mr. and Mrs. Aculpa had gone out of town for an indefinite period. I can sympathize, because I am "out of town," too.
Dr. Kablumbus knew a lot about psychopharmaceuticals. He told my parents and me that there were two general kinds of antidepressants: tricyclic5 and M.A.O. inhibitors (I can't remember what "M.A.O." stands for exactly, but I have my own thoughts with respect to the matter). Apparently both kinds worked well, but Mr. Kablumbus said that there were certain things you couldn't eat and drink with M.A.O. inhibitors, like beer, and certain kinds of sausage. My Mom was afraid I would forget and maybe eat and drink some of these things, so we all conferred and decided to go with a tricyclic. Dr. Kablumbus thought this was a very good choice.
Just as with a long trip you don't reach your destination right away, 50 with antidepressants you have to "go up" on them: i.e,. you start with a very tiny little dose and work your way up to a full-size dose in order to get your blood level accustomed and all that. So, in one way, my trip to the planet Trillaphon took over a week. But in another way, it was like being off Earth and on the planet Trillaphon right from the very first morning after I started. The big difference between the Earth and the planet Trillaphon, of course, is distance: the planet Trillaphon is very very far away. But there are other differences that are sort of more immediate and intrinsic. I think the air on the planet Trillaphon must not be as rich in oxygen or nutrition or something because you get a lot tireder a lot faster there. Just shoveling snow off a sidewalk or running to catch a bus or shooting a couple baskets or walking up a hill to sled down gets you very, very tired. Another annoying thing is that the planet Trillaphon is tilted ever so slightly on its axis or something, so that the ground when you look at it isn't quite level; it lists a little to starboard. You get used to this fairly quickly, though, like getting your "sea legs" when you're on a ship.
Another thing is that the planet Trillaphon is a very sleepy planet. You have to take your antidepressants at night, and you better make sure there is a bed nearby, because it will be bedtime incredibly soon after you take them. Even during the day, the resident of the planet Trillaphon is a sleepy little soldier. Sleepy and tired, but too far away to be super-troubled.
This has nothing to do with the very ridiculous incident in the bathtub on Christmas Eve, but there is something electrical about the planet Trillaphon. On Trillaphon for me there isn't the old problem of my head making silence into a spangly glitter, because my tricyclic antidepressant - "Tofranil" - makes a sort of electrical noise of its own that drowns the spangle out completely. The new noise isn't incredibly pleasant, but it's better than the old noises, which I really couldn't stand at all. The new noise on my planet is kind of a high-tension electric trill. That's why for almost a year now I've somehow always gotten the name of my antidepressant wrong when I'm not looking right at the bottle: I've called it 'Trillaphon" instead of "Tofranil," because "Trillaphon" is more trilly and electrical, and it just sounds more like what it's like to be there. But the electricalness of the planet Trillaphon is not just a noise. I guess if I were all glib like May is I'd say that "the planet Trlllaphon is simply characterized by a more electrical way of life:" It is, sort of. Sometimes on the planet Trillaphon the hairs on your arms will stand up and a chill will go through the big muscles in your legs and your teeth will vibrate when you close your mouth, as if you're under a high-tension line, or by a transformer. Sometimes you'll crackle for no reason and see blue things. And even the sound of your brain-voice when you think thoughts to yourself on the planet Trillaphon is different than it was on Earth; now it sounds like it's coming from a sort of speaker connected to you only by miles and miles and miles of wire, like you're back listening to the "Golden Days of Radio.'
It is very hard to read on the planet Trillaphon, but that is not too inconvenient, because I hardly ever read anymore, except for "Newsweek" magazine, a subscription which I got for my birthday, I am twenty-one years old.
May was seventeen years old. Now sometimes I'll sort of joke with myself and say that I need to switch to an M.A.O. inhibitor. May's initials are M.A., and when I think about her now I get so sad I go "0." In a way, I would understandably like to inhibit the "M.A.O." I'm sure Dr. Kablumbus would agree that it is in my own best interests to do so. If the bus driver I more or less killed had the initials M.A., that would be incredibly ironic.
Communications between Earth and the planet Trillaphon are hard, but they are very inexpensive, so I am definitely probably going to call the Aculpas to say just how sorry I am about their daughter, and maybe even that I more or less loved her.
The big question is whether the Bad Thing is on the planet Trillaphon. I don't know if it is or not. Maybe it has a harder time in a thinner and less nutritious atmosphere. I certainly do, in some respects. Sometimes, when I don't think about it, I think I have just totally escaped the Bad Thing, and that I am going to be able to lead a Normal and Productive Life as a lawyer or something here on the planet Trillaphon, once I get so I can read again.
Being far away sort of helps with respect to the Bad Thing.
Except that is just highly silly when you think about what I said before concerning the fact that the Bad Thing is really me.
2. THE DEPRESSED PERSON
The depressed person was in terrible and unceasing emotional pain, and the impossibility of sharing or articulating this pain was itself a component of the pain and a contributing factor in its essential horror. Despairing, then, of describing the emotional pain or expressing its utterness to those around her, the depressed person instead described circumstances, both past and ongoing, which were somehow related to the pain, to its etiology and cause, hoping at least to be able to express to others something of the pain’s context, its—as it were—shape and texture. The depressed person’s parents, for example, who had divorced when she was a child, had used her as a pawn in the sick games they played. The depressed person had, as a child, required orthodonture, and each parent had claimed—not without some cause, given the Medicean legal ambiguities of the divorce settlement, the depressed person always inserted when she described the painful struggle between her parents over the expense of her orthodonture—that the other should be required to pay for it. And the venomous rage of each parent over the other’s petty, selfish refusal to pay was vented on their daughter, who had to hear over and over again from each parent how the other was unloving and selfish. Both parents were well off, and each had privately expressed to the depressed person that s/he was, of course, if push came to shove, willing to pay for all the orthodonture the depressed person needed and then some, that it was, at its heart, a matter not of money or dentition but of “principle.” And the depressed person always took care, when as an adult she attempted to describe to a trusted friend the circumstances of the struggle over the cost of her orthodonture and that struggle’s legacy of emotional pain for her, to concede that it may very well truly have appeared to each parent to have been, in fact, just that (i.e., a matter of “principle”), though unfortunately not a “principle” that took into account their daughter’s needs or her feelings at receiving the emotional message that scoring petty points off each other was more important to her parents than her own maxillofacial health and thus constituted, if considered from a certain perspective, a form of parental neglect or abandonment or even outright abuse, an abuse clearly connected—here the depressed person nearly always inserted that her therapist concurred with this assessment—to the bottomless, chronic adult despair she suffered every day and felt hopelessly trapped in. This was just one example. The depressed person averaged four interpolated apologies each time she recounted for supportive friends this type of painful and damaging past circumstance on the telephone, as well as a sort of preamble in which she attempted to describe how painful and frightening it was not to feel able to articulate the chronic depression’s excruciating pain itself but to have to resort to recounting examples that probably sounded, she always took care to acknowledge, dreary or self-pitying or like one of those people who are narcissistically obsessed with their “painful childhoods” and “painful lives” and wallow in their burdens and insist on recounting them at tiresome length to friends who are trying to be supportive and nurturing, and bore them and repel them. The friends whom the depressed person reached out to for support and tried to open up to and share at least the contextual shape of her unceasing psychic agony and feelings of isolation with numbered around half a dozen and underwent a certain amount of rotation. The depressed person’s therapist—who had earned both a terminal graduate degree and a medical degree, and who was the self-professed exponent of a school of therapy which stressed the cultivation and regular use of a supportive peer-community in any endogenously depressed adult’s journey toward healing—referred to these female friends as the depressed person’s Support System. The approximately half-dozen rotating members of this Support System tended to be either former acquaintances from the depressed person’s childhood or else girls she had roomed with at various stages of her school career, nurturing and comparatively undamaged women who now lived in all manner of different cities and whom the depressed person often had not seen in person for years and years, and whom she often called late in the evening, long-distance, for sharing and support and just a few well-chosen words to help her get some realistic perspective on the day’s despair and get centered and gather together the strength to fight through the emotional agony of the next day, and to whom, when she telephoned, the depressed person always began by saying that she apologized if she was dragging them down or coming off as boring or self-pitying or repellent or taking them away from their active, vibrant, largely pain-free long-distance lives. The depressed person also made it a point, when reaching out to members of her Support System, never to cite circumstances like her parents’ endless battle over her orthodonture as the cause of her unceasing adult depression. The “Blame Game” was too easy, she said; it was pathetic and contemptible; and besides, she’d had quite enough of the “Blame Game” just listening to her fucking parents all those years, the endless blame and recrimination the two had exchanged over her, through her, using the depressed person’s (i.e., the depressed person as a child’s) own feelings and needs as ammunition, as if her valid feelings and needs were nothing more than a battlefield or theater of conflict, weapons which the parents felt they could deploy against each other. They had displayed far more interest and passion and emotional availability in their hatred of each other than either had shown toward the depressed person herself, as a child, the depressed person confessed to feeling, sometimes, still. The depressed person’s therapist, whose school of therapy rejected the transference relation as a therapeutic resource and thus deliberately eschewed confrontation and “should”-statements and all normative, judging, “authority”-based theory in favor of a more value-neutral bioexperiential model and the creative use of analogy and narrative (including, but not necessarily mandating, the use of hand puppets, polystyrene props and toys, role-playing, human sculpture, mirroring, drama therapy, and, in appropriate cases, whole meticulously scripted and storyboarded Childhood Reconstructions), had deployed the following medications in an attempt to help the depressed person find some relief from her acute affective discomfort and progress in her (i.e., the depressed person’s) journey toward enjoying some semblance of a normal adult life: Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac, Tofranil, Welbutrin, Elavil, Metrazol in combination with unilateral ECT (during a two-week voluntary in-patient course of treatment at a regional Mood Disorders clinic), Parnate both with and without lithium salts, Nardil both with and without Xanax. None had delivered any significant relief from the pain and feelings of emotional isolation that rendered the depressed person’s every waking hour an indescribable hell on earth, and many of the medications themselves had had side effects which the depressed person had found intolerable. The depressed person was currently taking only very tiny daily doses of Prozac, for her A.D.D. symptoms, and of Ativan, a mild nonaddictive tranquilizer, for the panic attacks which made the hours at her toxically dysfunctional and unsupportive workplace such a living hell. Her therapist gently but repeatedly shared with the depressed person her (i.e., the therapist’s) belief that the very best medicine for her (i.e., the depressed person’s) endogenous depression was the cultivation and regular use of a Support System the depressed person felt she could reach out to share with and lean on for unconditional caring and support. The exact composition of this Support System and its one or two most special, most trusted “core” members underwent a certain amount of change and rotation as time passed, which the therapist had encouraged the depressed person to see as perfectly normal and OK, since it was only by taking the risks and exposing the vulnerabilities required to deepen supportive relationships that an individual could discover which friendships could meet her needs and to what degree. The depressed person felt that she trusted the therapist and made a concerted effort to be as completely open and honest with her as she possibly could. She admitted to the therapist that she was always extremely careful to share with whomever she called long-distance at night her (i.e., the depressed person’s) belief that it would be whiny and pathetic to blame her constant, indescribable adult pain on her parents’ traumatic divorce or their cynical use of her while they hypocritically pretended that each cared for her more than the other did. Her parents had, after all—as her therapist had helped the depressed person to see—done the very best they could with the emotional resources they’d had at the time. And she had, after all, the depressed person always inserted, laughing weakly, eventually gotten the orthodonture she’d needed. The former acquaintances and roommates who composed her Support System often told the depressed person that they wished she could be a little less hard on herself, to which the depressed person often responded by bursting involuntarily into tears and telling them that she knew all too well that she was one of those dreaded types of people of everyone’s grim acquaintance who call at inconvenient times and just go on and on about themselves and whom it often takes several increasingly awkward attempts to get off the telephone with. The depressed person said that she was all too horribly aware of what a joyless burden she was to her friends, and during the long-distance calls she always made it a point to express the enormous gratitude she felt at having a friend she could call and share with and get nurturing and support from, however briefly, before the demands of that friend’s full, joyful, active life took understandable precedence and required her (i.e., the friend) to get off the telephone. The excruciating feelings of shame and inadequacy which the depressed person experienced about calling supportive members of her Support System long-distance late at night and burdening them with her clumsy attempts to articulate at least the overall context of her emotional agony were an issue on which the depressed person and her therapist were currently doing a great deal of work in their time together. The depressed person confessed that when whatever empathetic friend she was sharing with finally confessed that she (i.e., the friend) was dreadfully sorry but there was no helping it she absolutely had to get off the telephone, and had finally detached the depressed person’s needy fingers from her pantcuff and gotten off the telephone and back to her full, vibrant long-distance life, the depressed person almost always sat there listening to the empty apian drone of the dial tone and feeling even more isolated and inadequate and contemptible than she had before she’d called. These feelings of toxic shame at reaching out to others for community and support were issues which the therapist encouraged the depressed person to try to get in touch with and explore so that they could be processed in detail. The depressed person admitted to the therapist that whenever she (i.e., the depressed person) reached out long-distance to a member of her Support System she almost always visualized the friend’s face, on the telephone, assuming a combined expression of boredom and pity and repulsion and abstract guilt, and almost always imagined she (i.e., the depressed person) could detect, in the friend’s increasingly long silences and/or tedious repetitions of encouraging clichés, the boredom and frustration people always feel when someone is clinging to them and being a burden. She confessed that she could all too well imagine each friend now wincing when the telephone rang late at night, or during the conversation looking impatiently at the clock or directing silent gestures and facial expressions of helpless entrapment to all the other people in the room with her (i.e., the other people in the room with the “friend”), these inaudible gestures and expressions becoming more and more extreme and desperate as the depressed person just went on and on and on. The depressed person’s therapist’s most noticeable unconscious personal habit or tic consisted of placing the tips of all her fingers together in her lap as she listened attentively to the depressed person and manipulating the fingers idly so that her mated hands formed various enclosing shapes—e.g., cube, sphere, pyramid, right cylinder—and then appearing to study or contemplate them. The depressed person disliked this habit, though she would be the first to admit that this was chiefly because it drew her attention to the therapist’s fingers and fingernails and caused her to compare them with her own. The depressed person had shared with both the therapist and her Support System that she could recall, all too clearly, at her third boarding school, once watching her roommate talk to some unknown boy on their room’s telephone as she (i.e., the roommate) made faces and gestures of repulsion and boredom with the call, this self-assured, popular and attractive roommate finally directing at the depressed person an exaggerated pantomime of someone knocking on a door, continuing the pantomime with a desperate expression until the depressed person understood that she was to open the room’s door and step outside and knock loudly on the open door so as to give the roommate an excuse to get off the telephone. As a schoolgirl, the depressed person had never spoken of the incident of the boy’s telephone call and the mendacious pantomime with that particular roommate—a roommate with whom the depressed person hadn’t clicked or connected at all, and whom she had resented in a bitter, cringing way that had made the depressed person despise herself, and had not made any attempt to stay in touch with after that endless sophomore second semester was finished—but she (i.e., the depressed person) had shared her agonizing memory of the incident with many of the friends in her Support System, and had also shared how bottomlessly horrible and pathetic she had felt it would have been to have been that nameless, unknown boy at the other end of that telephone, a boy trying in good faith to take an emotional risk and to reach out and try to connect with the confident roommate, unaware that he was an unwelcome burden, pathetically unaware of the silent pantomimed boredom and contempt at the telephone’s other end, and how the depressed person dreaded more than almost anything ever being in the position of being someone you had to appeal silently to someone else in the room to help you contrive an excuse to get off the telephone with. The depressed person would therefore always implore any friend she was on the telephone with to tell her the very second she (i.e., the friend) was getting bored or frustrated or repelled or felt she had other more urgent or interesting things to do, to please for God’s sake be utterly up-front and frank and not spend one second longer on the phone with the depressed person than she (i.e., the friend) was absolutely glad to spend. The depressed person knew perfectly well, of course, she assured the therapist, how pathetic such a need for reassurance might come off to someone, how it could all too possibly be heard not as an open invitation to get off the telephone but actually as a needy, self-pitying, contemptibly manipulative plea for the friend not to get off the telephone, never to get off the telephone. The therapist was diligent, whenever the depressed person shared her concern about how some statement or action might “seem” or “appear,” in supporting the depressed person in exploring how these beliefs about how she “seemed” or “came off” to others made her feel. It felt demeaning; the depressed person felt demeaned. She said it felt demeaning to call childhood friends long-distance late at night when they clearly had other things to do and lives to lead and vibrant, healthy, nurturing, intimate, caring partner-relationships to be in; it felt demeaning and pathetic to constantly apologize for boring someone or to feel that you had to thank them effusively just for being your friend. The depressed person’s parents had eventually split the cost of her orthodonture; a professional arbitrator had finally been hired by their lawyers to structure the compromise. Arbitration had also been required to negotiate shared payment schedules for the depressed person’s boarding schools and Healthy Eating Lifestyles summer camps and oboe lessons and car and collision insurance, as well as for the cosmetic surgery needed to correct a malformation of the anterior spine and alar cartilage of the depressed person’s nose which had given her what felt like an excruciatingly pronounced and snoutish pug nose and had, coupled with the external orthodontic retainer she had to wear twenty-two hours a day, made looking at herself in the mirrors of her rooms at her boarding schools feel like more than any person could possibly stand. And yet also, in the year that the depressed person’s father had remarried, he—in either a gesture of rare uncompromised caring or a coup de grâce which the depressed person’s mother had said was designed to make her own feelings of humiliation and superfluousness complete—had paid in toto for the riding lessons, jodhpurs, and outrageously expensive boots the depressed person had needed in order to gain admission to her second-to-last boarding school’s Riding Club, a few of whose members were the only girls at this particular boarding school whom the depressed person felt, she had confessed to her father on the telephone in tears late one truly horrible night, even remotely accepted her and had even minimal empathy or compassion in them at all and around whom the depressed person hadn’t felt so totally snout-nosed and brace-faced and inadequate and rejected that it had felt like a daily act of enormous personal courage even to leave her room to go eat dinner in the dining hall. The professional arbitrator her parents’ lawyers had finally agreed on for help in structuring compromises on the costs of meeting the depressed person’s childhood needs had been a highly respected Conflict-Resolution Specialist named Walter D. (“Walt”) DeLasandro Jr. As a child, the depressed person had never met or even laid eyes on Walter D. (“Walt”) DeLasandro Jr., though she had been shown his business card—complete with its parenthesized invitation to informality—and his name had been invoked in her hearing on countless childhood occasions, along with the fact that he billed for his services at a staggering $130 an hour plus expenses. Despite overwhelming feelings of reluctance on the part of the depressed person—who knew very well how much like the “Blame Game” it might sound—her therapist had strongly supported her in taking the risk of sharing with members of her Support System an important emotional breakthrough she (i.e., the depressed person) had achieved during an Inner-Child-Focused Experiential Therapy Retreat Weekend which the therapist had supported her in taking the risk of enrolling in and giving herself open-mindedly over to the experience of. In the I.-C.-F.E.T. Retreat Weekend’s Small-Group Drama-Therapy Room, other members of her Small Group had role-played the depressed person’s parents and the parents’ significant others and attorneys and myriad other emotionally toxic figures from the depressed person’s childhood and, at the crucial phase of the drama-therapy exercise, had slowly encircled the depressed person, moving in and pressing steadily in together on her so that she could not escape or avoid or minimize, and had (i.e., the small group had) dramatically recited specially pre-scripted lines designed to evoke and awaken blocked trauma, which had almost immediately provoked the depressed person into a surge of agonizing emotional memories and long-buried trauma and had resulted in the emergence of the depressed person’s Inner Child and a cathartic tantrum in which the depressed person had struck repeatedly at a stack of velour cushions with a bat made of polystyrene foam and had shrieked obscenities and had reexperienced long-pent-up and festering emotional wounds, one of which being a deep vestigial rage over the fact that Walter D. (“Walt”) DeLasandro Jr. had been able to bill her parents $130 an hour plus expenses for being put in the middle and playing the role of mediator and absorber of shit from both sides while she (i.e., the depressed person, as a child) had had to perform essentially the same coprophagous services on a more or less daily basis for free, for nothing, services which were not only grossly unfair and inappropriate for an emotionally sensitive child to be made to feel required to perform but about which her parents had then turned around and tried to make her, the depressed person herself, as a child, feel guilty about the staggering cost of Walter D. DeLasandro Jr. the Conflict-Resolution Specialist’s services, as if the repeated hassle and expense of Walter D. DeLasandro Jr. were her fault and only undertaken on her spoiled little snout-nosed snaggletoothed behalf instead of simply because of her fucking parents’ utterly fucking sick inability to communicate and share honestly and work through their own sick, dysfunctional issues with each other. This exercise and cathartic rage had enabled the depressed person to get in touch with some really core resentment-issues, the Small-Group Facilitator at the Inner-Child-Focused Experiential Therapy Retreat Weekend had said, and could have represented a real turning point in the depressed person’s journey toward healing, had the rage and velour-cushion-pummeling not left the depressed person so emotionally shattered and drained and traumatized and embarrassed that she had felt she had no choice but to fly back home that night and miss the rest of the I.-C.-F.E.T.R. Weekend and the Small-Group Processing of all the exhumed feelings and issues. The eventual compromise which the depressed person and her therapist worked out together as they processed the unburied resentments and the consequent guilt and shame at what could all too easily appear to be just more of the self-pitying “Blame Game” that attended the depressed person’s experience at the Retreat Weekend was that the depressed person would take the emotional risk of reaching out and sharing the experience’s feelings and realizations with her Support System, but only with the two or three elite, “core” members whom the depressed person currently felt were there for her in the very most empathetic and unjudgingly supportive way. The most important provision of the compromise was that the depressed person would be permitted to reveal to them her reluctance about sharing these resentments and realizations and to inform them that she was aware of how pathetic and blaming they (i.e., the resentments and realizations) might sound, and to reveal that she was sharing this potentially pathetic “breakthrough” with them only at her therapist’s firm and explicit suggestion. In validating this provision, the therapist had objected only to the depressed person’s proposed use of the word “pathetic” in her sharing with the Support System. The therapist said that she felt she could support the depressed person’s use of the word “vulnerable” far more wholeheartedly than she could support the use of “pathetic,” since her gut (i.e., the therapist’s gut) was telling her that the depressed person’s proposed use of “pathetic” felt not only self-hating but also needy and even somewhat manipulative. The word “pathetic,” the therapist candidly shared, often felt to her like a defense-mechanism the depressed person used to protect herself against a listener’s possible negative judgments by making it clear that the depressed person was already judging herself far more severely than any listener could possibly have the heart to. The therapist was careful to point out that she was not judging or critiquing or rejecting the depressed person’s use of “pathetic” but was merely trying to openly and honestly share the feelings which its use brought up for her in the context of their relationship. The therapist, who by this time had less than a year to live, took a brief time-out at this point to share once again with the depressed person her (i.e., the therapist’s) conviction that self-hatred, toxic guilt, narcissism, self-pity, neediness, manipulation, and many of the other shame-based behaviors with which endogenously depressed adults typically presented were best understood as psychological defenses erected by a vestigial wounded Inner Child against the possibility of trauma and abandonment. The behaviors, in other words, were primitive emotional prophylaxes whose real function was to preclude intimacy; they were psychic armor designed to keep others at a distance so that they (i.e., others) could not get emotionally close enough to the depressed person to inflict any wounds that might echo and mirror the deep vestigial wounds of the depressed person’s childhood, wounds which the depressed person was unconsciously determined to keep repressed at all costs. The therapist—who during the year’s cold months, when the abundant fenestration of her home office kept the room chilly, wore a pelisse of hand-tanned Native American buckskin that formed a somewhat ghastlily moist-looking flesh-colored background for the enclosing shapes her joined hands formed in her lap as she spoke—assured the depressed person that she was not trying to lecture her or impose on her (i.e., on the depressed person) the therapist’s own particular model of depressive etiology. Rather, it simply felt appropriate on an intuitive “gut” level at this particular point in time for the therapist to share some of her own feelings. Indeed, as the therapist said that she felt comfortable about positing at this point in the therapeutic relationship between them, the depressed person’s acute chronic mood disorder could actually itself be seen as constituting an emotional defense-mechanism: i.e., as long as the depressed person had the depression’s acute affective discomfort to preoccupy her and take up her emotional attention, she could avoid feeling or getting in touch with the deep vestigial childhood wounds which she (i.e., the depressed person) was apparently still determined to keep repressed. Several months later, when the depressed person’s therapist suddenly and unexpectedly died—as the result of what was determined by authorities to be an “accidentally” toxic combination of caffeine and homeopathic appetite suppressant but which, given the therapist’s extensive medical background and knowledge of chemical interactions, only a person in very deep denial indeed could fail to see must have been, on some level, intentional—without leaving any sort of note or cassette or encouraging final words for any of the persons and/or clients in her life who had, despite all their debilitating fear and isolation and defense-mechanisms and vestigial wounds from past traumas, come to connect intimately with her and let her in emotionally even though it meant making themselves vulnerable to the possibility of loss- and abandonment-traumas, the depressed person found the trauma of this fresh loss and abandonment so shattering, its resultant agony and despair and hopelessness so unbearable, that she was, ironically, now forced to reach frantically and repeatedly out on a nightly basis to her Support System, sometimes calling three or even four long-distance friends in an evening, sometimes calling the same friends twice in one night, sometimes at a very late hour, sometimes even—the depressed person felt sickeningly sure—waking them up or interrupting them in the midst of healthy, joyful sexual intimacy with their partner. In other words, sheer survival, in the turbulent wake of her feelings of shock and grief and loss and abandonment and bitter betrayal following the therapist’s sudden death, now compelled the depressed person to put aside her innate feelings of shame and inadequacy and embarrassment at being a pathetic burden and to lean with all her might on the empathy and emotional nurture of her Support System, despite the fact that this, ironically, had been one of the two areas in which the depressed person had most vigorously resisted the therapist’s counsel. Even on top of the shattering abandonment-issues it brought up, the therapist’s unexpected death also could not have occurred at a worse time from the perspective of the depressed person’s journey toward inner healing, coming as it (i.e., the suspicious death) did just as the depressed person was beginning to work through and process some of her core shame- and resentment-issues concerning the therapeutic process itself and the intimate therapist-patient relationship’s impact on her (i.e., on the depressed person’s) unbearable isolation and pain. As part of her grieving process, the depressed person shared with supportive members of her Support System the fact that she felt she had, she had realized, experienced significant trauma and anguish and isolation-feelings even in the therapeutic relationship itself, a realization which she said she and the therapist had been working intensively together to explore and process. For just one example, the depressed person shared long-distance, she had discovered and struggled in therapy to work through her feeling that it was ironic and demeaning, given her parents’ dysfunctional preoccupation with money and all that that preoccupation had cost her as a child, that she was now, as an adult, in the position of having to pay a therapist $90 an hour to listen patiently to her and respond honestly and empathetically; i.e., it felt demeaning and pathetic to feel forced to buy patience and empathy, the depressed person had confessed to her therapist, and was an agonizing echo of the exact same childhood pain which she (i.e., the depressed person) was so very anxious to put behind her. The therapist—after attending closely and unjudgingly to what the depressed person later admitted to her Support System could all too easily have been interpreted as mere niggardly whining about the expense of therapy, and after a long and considered pause during which both the therapist and the depressed person had gazed at the ovoid cage which the therapist’s mated hands in her lap at that moment composed —had responded that, while on a purely intellectual or “head” level she might respectfully disagree with the substance or “propositional content” of what the depressed person was saying, she (i.e., the therapist) nevertheless wholeheartedly supported the depressed person in sharing whatever feelings the therapeutic relationship itself brought up in her (i.e., in the depressed person ) so that they could work together on processing them and exploring safe and appropriate environments and contexts for their expression. The depressed person’s recollections of the therapist’s patient, attentive, and unjudging responses to even her (i.e., the depressed person’s) most spiteful and childishly arrested complaints felt as if they brought on further, even more unbearable feelings of loss and abandonment, as well as fresh waves of resentment and self-pity which the depressed person knew all too well were repellent in the extreme, she assured the friends who composed her Support System, trusted friends whom the depressed person was by this time calling almost constantly, sometimes now even during the day, from her workplace, dialing her closest friends’ long-distance work numbers and asking them to take time away from their own challenging, stimulating careers to listen supportively and share and dialogue and help the depressed person find some way to process this grief and loss and find some way to survive. Her apologies for burdening these friends during daylight hours at their workplaces were elaborate, involved, vociferous, baroque, mercilessly self-critical, and very nearly constant, as were her expressions of gratitude to the Support System just for Being There for her, just for allowing her to begin again to be able to trust and take the risk of reaching out, even just a little, because the depressed person shared that she felt as if she had been discovering all over again, and with a shattering new clarity now in the wake of the therapist’s abrupt and wordless abandonment, she shared over her workstation’s headset telephone, just how agonizingly few and far between were the people whom she could ever hope to really communicate and share with and forge healthy, open, trusting, mutually nurturing relationships to lean on. For example, her work environment—as the depressed person readily acknowledged she’d whined about at tiresome length many times before—was totally dysfunctional and toxic, and the totally unsupportive emotional atmosphere there made the idea of trying to bond in any mutually nurturing way with coworkers a grotesque joke. And the depressed person’s attempts to reach out in her emotional isolation and try to cultivate and develop caring friends and relationships in the community through church groups or nutrition and holistic stretching classes or community woodwind ensembles and the like had proved so excruciating, she shared, that she had all but begged the therapist to withdraw her gentle suggestion that the depressed person try her best to do so. And then as for the idea of girding herself once again and venturing out there into the emotionally Hobbesian meat market of the “dating scene” and trying once again to find and establish any healthy, caring, functional connections with men, whether in a physically intimate partner-relationship or even just as close and supportive friends—at this juncture in her sharing the depressed person laughed hollowly into the headset telephone she wore at the terminal inside her cubicle at her work-place and asked whether it was really even necessary, with a friend who knew her as well as whatever member of her Support System she was presently sharing with did, to go into why the depressed person’s intractable depression and highly charged self-esteem and trust-issues rendered that idea a pie-in-the-sky flight of Icarusian fancy and denial. To take just one example, the depressed person shared from her workstation, in the second semester of her junior year at college there had been a traumatic incident in which the depressed person had been sitting alone on the grass near a group of popular, self-assured male students at an inter-collegiate lacrosse game and had distinctly overheard one of the men laughingly say, of a female student the depressed person knew slightly, that the only substantive difference between this woman and a restroom toilet was that the toilet did not keep pathetically following you around after you’d used it. Sharing with supportive friends, the depressed person was now suddenly and unexpectedly flooded with emotional memories of the early session during which she had first told the therapist of this incident: they had been doing basic feelings-work together during this awkward opening stage of the therapeutic process, and the therapist had challenged the depressed person to identify whether the overheard slur had made her (i.e., the depressed person) feel primarily more angry, lonely, frightened, or sad. ,6(a) By this stage in the grieving process following the therapist’s possible death by her own (i.e., by the therapist’s own) hand, the depressed person’s feelings of loss and abandonment had become so intense and overwhelming and had so completely overridden her vestigial defense-mechanisms that, for example, when whatever long-distance friend the depressed person had reached out to finally confessed that she (i.e., the “friend”) was dreadfully sorry but there was no helping it she absolutely had to get off the telephone and back to the demands of her own full, vibrant, undepressed life, a primal instinct for what felt like nothing more than basic emotional survival now drove the depressed person to swallow every last pulverized remnant of pride and to beg shamelessly for two or even just one more minute of the friend’s time and attention; and, if the “empathetic friend,” after expressing her hope that the depressed person would find a way to be more gentle and compassionate with herself, held firm and gracefully terminated the conversation, the depressed person now spent hardly any time at all listening dully to the dial tone or gnawing the cuticle of her index finger or grinding the heel of her hand savagely into her forehead or feeling anything much at all beyond sheer primal desperation as she hurriedly dialed the next ten-digit number on her Support System Telephone List, a list which by this point in the grieving process had been photocopied several times and placed in the depressed person’s address book, workstation terminal’s PHONE.VIP file, billfold, zippered interior security compartment of her purse, mini-locker at the Holistic Stretching and Nutrition Center, and in a special homemade pocket inside the back cover of the leatherbound Feelings Journal which the depressed person—at her late therapist’s suggestion—carried with her at all times. The depressed person shared, with each available member of her Support System in turn, some portion of the flood of emotionally sensuous memories of the session during which she had first opened up and told the late therapist of the incident in which the laughing men had compared the female college student to a toilet, and shared that she had never been able to forget the incident, and that, even though she had not had much of a personal relationship or connection to the female student whom the men had compared to a toilet or even known her very well at all, the depressed person had, at the intercollegiate lacrosse game, been filled with horror and empathic despair at the pathos of the idea of that female student being the object of such derision and laughing intergender contempt without her (i.e., the female student, to whom the depressed person again admitted she had had very little connection) ever even knowing it. It seemed to the depressed person very likely that her (i.e., the depressed person’s) whole later emotional development and ability to trust and reach out and connect had been deeply scarred by this incident; she chose to make herself open and vulnerable by sharing—albeit only with the one single most trusted and elite and special “core” member of her current Support System—that she had admitted to the therapist that she was, even today, as a putative adult, often preoccupied with the idea that laughing groups of people were often derisive and demeaning of her (i.e., of the depressed person) without her knowledge. The late therapist, the depressed person shared with her very closest long-distance confidante, had pointed to the memory of the traumatic incident in college and the depressed person’s reactive presumption of derision and ridicule as a classic example of the way an adult’s arrested vestigial emotional defense-mechanisms could become toxic and dysfunctional and could keep the adult emotionally isolated and deprived of community and nurturing, even from herself, and could (i.e., the toxic vestigial defenses could) deny the depressed adult access to her own precious inner resources and tools for both reaching out for support and for being gentle and compassionate and affirming with herself, and that thus, paradoxically, arrested defense-mechanisms helped contribute to the very pain and sadness they had originally been erected to forestall. It was while sharing this candid, vulnerable four-year-old reminiscence with the one particular “core” Support System–member whom the grieving depressed person felt she now most deeply trusted and leaned on and could really communicate over the headset telephone with that she (i.e., the depressed person) suddenly experienced what she would later describe as an emotional realization nearly as traumatic and valuable as the realization she had experienced nine months prior at the Inner-Child-Focused Experiential Therapy Retreat Weekend before she had felt simply too cathartically drained and enervated to be able to continue and had had to fly home. I.e., the depressed person told her very most trusted and supportive long-distance friend that, paradoxically, she (i.e., the depressed person) appeared to have somehow found, in the extremity of her feelings of loss and abandonment in the wake of the therapist’s overdose of natural stimulants, the resources and inner respect for her own emotional survival required for her finally to feel able to risk trying to follow the second of the late therapist’s two most challenging and difficult suggestions and to begin openly asking certain demonstrably honest and supportive others to tell her straight out whether they ever secretly felt contempt, derision, judgment, or repulsion for her. And the depressed person shared that she now, finally, after four years of whiny and truculent resistance, proposed at last really to begin actually asking trusted others this seminally honest and possibly shattering question, and that because she was all too aware of her own essential weakness and defensive capacities for denial and avoidance, she (i.e., the depressed person) was choosing to commence this unprecedentedly vulnerable interrogative process now, i.e., with the elite, incomparably honest and compassionate “core” Support System–member with whom she was sharing via her workstation’s headset right this moment. The depressed person here paused momentarily to insert the additional fact that she had firmly resolved to herself to ask this potentially deeply traumatizing question without the usual pathetic and irritating defense-mechanisms of preamble or apology or interpolated self-criticism. She wished to hear, with no holds barred, the depressed person averred, the one very most valuable and intimate friend in her current Support System’s brutally honest opinion of her as a person, the potentially negative and judging and hurtful parts as well as the positive and affirming and supportive and nurturing parts. The depressed person stressed that she was serious about this: whether it sounded melodramatic or not, the brutally honest assessment of her by an objective but deeply caring other felt to her, at this point in time, like an almost literal matter of life and death. For she was frightened, the depressed person confessed to the trusted and convalescing friend, profoundly, unprecedentedly frightened by what she was beginning to feel she was seeing and learning and getting in touch with about herself in the grieving process following the sudden death of a therapist who for nearly four years had been the depressed person’s closest and most trusted confidante and source of support and affirmation and—with no offense in any way intended to any members of her Support System—her very best friend in the world. Because what she had discovered, the depressed person confided long-distance, when she took her important daily Quiet Time now, during the grieving process, and got quiet and centered and looked deep within, was that she could neither feel nor identify any real feelings within herself for the therapist, i.e. for the therapist as a person, a person who had died, a person who only somebody in truly stupefying denial could fail to see had probably taken her own life, and thus a person who, the depressed person posited, had possibly herself suffered levels of emotional agony and isolation and despair which were comparable to or perhaps—though it was only on a “head” or purely abstract intellectual level that she seemed to be able even to entertain this possibility, the depressed person confessed over the headset telephone—even exceeded the depressed person’s own. The depressed person shared that the most frightening implication of this (i.e., of the fact that, even when she centered and looked deep within herself, she felt she could locate no real feelings for the therapist as an autonomously valid human being) appeared to be that all her agonized pain and despair since the therapist’s suicide had in fact been all and only for herself, i.e. for her loss, her abandonment, her grief, her trauma and pain and primal affective survival. And, the depressed person shared that she was taking the additional risk of revealing, even more frightening, that this shatteringly terrifying set of realizations, instead now of awakening in her any feelings of compassion, empathy, and other-directed grief for the therapist as a person, had—and here the depressed person waited patiently for an episode of retching in the especially available trusted friend to pass so that she could take the risk of sharing this with her—that these shatteringly frightening realizations had seemed, terrifyingly, merely to have brought up and created still more and further feelings in the depressed person about herself. At this point in the sharing, the depressed person took a time-out to solemnly swear to her long-distance, gravely ill, frequently retching but still caring and intimate friend that there was no toxic or pathetically manipulative self-excoriation here in what she (i.e., the depressed person) was reaching out and opening up and confessing, only profound and unprecedented fear: the depressed person was frightened for herself, for as it were “[her]self ”—i.e. for her own so-called “character” or “spirit” or as it were “soul” i.e. for her own capacity for basic human empathy and compassion and caring—she told the supportive friend with the neuroblastoma. She was asking sincerely, the depressed person said, honestly, desperately: what kind of person could seem to feel nothing—“nothing,” she emphasized—for anyone but herself? Maybe not ever? The depressed person wept into the headset telephone and said that right here and now she was shamelessly begging her currently very best friend and confidante in the world to share her (i.e., the friend with the virulent malignancy in her adrenal medulla’s) brutally candid assessment, to pull no punches, to say nothing reassuring or exculpatory or supportive which she did not honestly believe to be true. She trusted her, she assured her. For she had decided, she said, that her very life itself, however fraught with agony and despair and indescribable loneliness, depended, at this point in her journey toward true healing, on inviting—even if necessary laying aside all possible pride and defense and begging for, she interpolated—the judgment of certain trusted and very carefully selected members of her supportive community. So, the depressed person said, her voice breaking, she was begging her now single most trusted friend to share her very most private judgment of the depressed person’s “character”’s or “spirit”’s capacity for human caring. She needed her feedback, the depressed person wept, even if that feedback was partly negative or hurtful or traumatic or had the potential to push her right over the emotional edge once and for all—even, she pleaded, if that feedback lay on nothing more than the coldly intellectual or “head” level of objective verbal description; she would settle even for that, she promised, hunched and trembling in a near-fetal position atop her workstation cubicle’s ergonomic chair—and therefore now urged her terminally ill friend to go on, to not hold back, to let her have it: what words and terms might be applied to describe and assess such a solipsistic, self-consumed, endless emotional vacuum and sponge as she now appeared to herself to be? How was she to decide and describe—even to herself, looking inward and facing herself—what all she’d so painfully learned said about her?
1. The multiform shapes the therapist’s mated fingers assumed nearly always resembled, for the depressed person, various forms of geometrically diverse cages, an association which the depressed person had not shared with the therapist because its symbolic significance seemed too overt and simple-minded to waste their time together on. The therapist’s fingernails were long and shapely and well maintained, whereas the depressed person’s fingernails were compulsively bitten so short and ragged that the quick sometimes protruded and began spontaneously to bleed.
2. (i.e., one of which purulent wounds)
3. The depressed person’s therapist was always extremely careful to avoid appearing to judge or blame the depressed person for clinging to her defenses, or to suggest that the depressed person had in any way consciously chosen or chosen to cling to a chronic depression whose agony made her (i.e., the depressed person’s) every waking hour feel like more than any person could possibly endure. This renunciation of judgment or imposed value was held by the therapeutic school in which the therapist’s philosophy of healing had evolved over almost fifteen years of clinical experience to be integral to the combination of unconditional support and complete honesty about feelings which composed the nurturing professionalism required for a productive therapeutic journey toward authenticity and intrapersonal wholeness. Defenses against intimacy, the depressed person’s therapist’s experiential theory held, were nearly always arrested or vestigial survival-mechanisms; i.e., they had, at one time, been environmentally appropriate and necessary and had very probably served to shield a defenseless childhood psyche against potentially unbearable trauma, but in nearly all cases they (i.e., the defense-mechanisms) had become inappropriately imprinted and arrested and were now, in adulthood, no longer environmentally appropriate and in fact now, paradoxically, actually caused a great deal more trauma and pain than they prevented. Nevertheless, the therapist had made it clear from the outset that she was in no way going to pressure, hector, cajole, argue, persuade, flummox, trick, harangue, shame, or manipulate the depressed person into letting go of her arrested or vestigial defenses before she (i.e., the depressed person) felt ready and able to risk taking the leap of faith in her own internal resources and self-esteem and personal growth and healing to do so (i.e., to leave the nest of her defenses and freely and joyfully fly).
4. The therapist—who was substantially older than the depressed person but still younger than the depressed person’s mother, and who, other than in the condition of her fingernails, resembled that mother in almost no physical or stylistic respects—sometimes annoyed the depressed person with her habit of making a digiform cage in her lap and changing the shapes of the cage and gazing down at the geometrically diverse cages during their work together. Over time, however, as the therapeutic relationship deepened in terms of intimacy and sharing and trust, the sight of the digiform cages irked the depressed person less and less, eventually becoming little more than a distraction. Far more problematic in terms of the depressed person’s trust and self-esteem-issues was the therapist’s habit of from time to time glancing up very quickly at the large sunburst-design clock on the wall behind the suede easy chair in which the depressed person customarily sat during their time together, glancing (i.e., the therapist glancing) very quickly and almost furtively at the clock, such that what came to bother the depressed person more and more over time was not that the therapist was looking at the clock but that the therapist was apparently trying to hide or disguise the fact that she was looking at the clock. The depressed person—who was agonizingly sensitive, she admitted, to the possibility that anyone she was trying to reach out and share with was secretly bored or repelled or desperate to get away from her as quickly as possible, and was commensurately hypervigilant about any slight movements or gestures which might imply that a listener was conscious of the time or eager for time to pass, and never once failed to notice when the therapist glanced ever so quickly either up at the clock or down at the slender, elegant wristwatch whose timepiece rested hidden from the depressed person’s view against the underside of the therapist’s slim wrist—had finally, late in the first year of the therapeutic relationship, broken into sobs and shared that it made her feel totally demeaned and invalidated whenever the therapist appeared to try to hide the fact that she wished to know the exact time. Much of the depressed person’s work with the therapist in the first year of her (i.e., the depressed person’s) journey toward healing and intrapersonal wholeness had concerned her feelings of being uniquely and repulsively boring or convoluted or pathetically self-involved, and of not being able to trust that there was genuine interest and compassion and caring on the part of a person to whom she was reaching out for support; and in fact the therapeutic relationship’s first significant breakthrough, the depressed person told members of her Support System in the agonizing period following the therapist’s death, had come when the depressed person, late in the therapeutic relationship’s second year, had gotten sufficiently in touch with her own inner worth and resources to be able to share assertively with the therapist that she (i.e., the respectful but assertive depressed person) would prefer it if the therapist would simply look openly up at the helioform clock or openly turn her wrist over to look at the underside’s wristwatch instead of apparently believing—or at least engaging in behavior which made it appear, from the depressed person’s admittedly hypersensitive perspective, as if the therapist believed—that the depressed person could be fooled by her dishonestly sneaking an observation of the time into some gesture that tried to look like a meaningless glance at the wall or an absent manipulation of the cagelike digiform shape in her lap. Another important piece of therapeutic work the depressed person and her therapist had accomplished together—a piece of work which the therapist had said she personally felt constituted a seminal leap of growth and deepening of the trust and level of honest sharing between them—occurred in the therapeutic relationship’s third year, when the depressed person had finally confessed that she also felt it was demeaning to be spoken to as the therapist sometimes spoke to her, i.e., that the depressed person felt patronized, condescended to, and/or treated like a child at those times during their work together when the therapist would start tiresomely lallating over and over and over again what her therapeutic philosophies and goals and wishes for the depressed person were; plus not to mention, while they were on the whole subject, that she (i.e., the depressed person) also sometimes felt demeaned and resentful whenever the therapist would look up from her lap’s hands’ cage at the depressed person and her (i.e., the therapist’s) face would once again assume its customary expression of calm and boundless patience, an expression which the depressed person admitted she knew (i.e., the depressed person knew) was intended to communicate unjudging attention and interest and support but which nevertheless sometimes from the depressed person’s perspective looked to her more like emotional detachment, like clinical distance, like mere professional interest the depressed person was purchasing instead of the intensely personal interest and empathy and compassion she often felt she had spent her whole life starved for. It made her angry, the depressed person confessed; she often felt angry and resentful at being nothing but the object of the therapist’s professional compassion or of the putative “friends” in her pathetic “Support System”’s charity and abstract guilt.
Though the depressed person had, she later acknowledged to her Support System, been anxiously watching the therapist’s face for evidence of a negative reaction as she (i.e., the depressed person) opened up and vomited out all these potentially repulsive feelings about the therapeutic relationship, she nevertheless was by this point in the session benefiting enough from a kind of momentum of emotional honesty to be able to open up even further and tearfully share with the therapist that it also felt demeaning and even somehow abusive to know that, for example, today (i.e., the day of the depressed person and her therapist’s seminally honest and important piece of relationship-work together), at the moment the depressed person’s time with the therapist was up and they had risen from their respective recliners and hugged stiffly goodbye until their next appointment together, that at that very moment all of the therapist’s seemingly intensely personally focused attention and support and interest in the depressed person would be withdrawn and then effortlessly transferred onto the next pathetic contemptible whiny self-involved snaggletoothed pig-nosed fat-thighed shiteater who was waiting out there right outside reading a used magazine and waiting to lurch in and cling pathetically to the hem of the therapist’s pelisse for an hour, so desperate for a personally interested friend that they would pay almost as much per month for the pathetic temporary illusion of a friend as they paid in fucking rent. The depressed person knew all too perfectly well, she conceded—holding up a pica-gnawed hand to prevent the therapist from interrupting—that the therapist’s professional detachment was in fact not at all incompatible with true caring, and that the therapist’s careful maintenance of a professional, rather than a personal, level of caring and support and commitment meant that this support and caring could be counted on to always Be There for the depressed person and not fall prey to the normal vicissitudes of less professional and more personal interpersonal relationships’ inevitable conflicts and misunderstandings or natural fluctuations in the therapist’s own personal mood and emotional availability and capacity for empathy on any particular day; not to mention that her (i.e., the therapist’s) professional detachment meant that at least within the confines of the therapist’s chilly but attractive home office and of their appointed three hours together each week the depressed person could be totally honest and open about her own feelings without ever having to be afraid that the therapist would take those feelings personally and become angry or cold or judgmental or derisive or rejecting or would ever shame or deride or abandon the depressed person; in fact that, ironically, in many ways, as the depressed person said she was all too aware, the therapist was actually the depressed person’s—or at any rate the isolated, agonized, needy, pathetic, selfish, spoiled, wounded-Inner-Child part of the depressed person’s—absolutely ideal personal friend: i.e. here, after all, was a person (viz., the therapist) who would always Be There to listen and really care and empathize and be emotionally available and giving and to nurture and support the depressed person and yet would demand absolutely nothing back from the depressed person in terms of empathy or emotional support or in terms of the depressed person ever really caring about or even considering the therapist’s own valid feelings and needs as a human being. The depressed person also knew perfectly well, she had acknowledged, that it was in fact the $90 an hour which made the therapeutic relationship’s simulacrum of friendship so ideally one-sided: i.e. the only expectation or demand the therapist placed on the depressed person was for the contracted hourly $90; after that one demand was satisfied, everything in the relationship got to be for and about the depressed person. On a rational, intellectual, “head” level, the depressed person was completely aware of all these realities and compensations, she told the therapist, and so of course felt that she (i.e., the depressed person) had no rational reason or excuse for feeling the vain, needy, childish feelings she had just taken the unprecedented emotional risk of sharing that she felt; and yet the depressed person confessed to the therapist that she nevertheless still felt, on a more basic, emotionally intuitive or “gut” level, that it truly was demeaning and insulting and pathetic that her chronic emotional pain and isolation and inability to reach out forced her to spend $1,080 a month to purchase what was in many respects a kind of fantasy-friend who could fulfill her childishly narcissistic fantasies of getting her own emotional needs met by another without having to reciprocally meet or empathize with or even consider the other’s own emotional needs, an other-directed empathy and consideration which the depressed person tearfully confessed she sometimes despaired of ever having it in her to give. The depressed person here inserted that she often worried, despite the numerous traumas she had suffered at the hands of attempted relationships with men, that it was in fact her own inability to get outside her own toxic neediness and to Be There for another and truly emotionally give which had made those attempts at intimate, mutually nurturing partner-relationships with men such an agonizingly demeaning across-the-board failure. The depressed person had further inserted in her seminal sharing with the therapist, she later told the select elite “core” members of her Support System after the therapist’s death, that her (i.e., the depressed person’s) resentments about the $1,080/month cost of the therapeutic relationship were in truth less about the actual expense—which she freely admitted she could afford—than about the demeaning idea of paying for artificially one-sided friendship and narcissistic-fantasy-fulfillment, then had laughed hollowly (i.e., the depressed person had laughed hollowly during the original insertion in her sharing with the therapist) to indicate that she heard and acknowledged the unwitting echo of her cold, niggardly, emotionally unavailable parents in the stipulation that what was objectionable was not the actual expense but the idea or “principle” of the expense. What it really felt like, the depressed person later admitted to supportive friends that she had confessed to the compassionate therapist, was as if the $90 hourly therapeutic fee were almost a kind of ransom or “protection money,” purchasing the depressed person an exemption from the scalding internal shame and mortification of telephoning distant former friends she hadn’t even laid fucking eyes on in years and had no legitimate claim on the friendship of anymore and telephoning them uninvited at night and intruding on their functional and blissfully ignorantly joyful if perhaps somewhat shallow lives and leaning shamelessly on them and constantly reaching out and trying to articulate the essence of the depression’s terrible and unceasing pain even when it was this very pain and despair and loneliness that rendered her, she knew, far too emotionally starved and needy and self-involved to be able ever to truly Be There in return for her long-distance friends to reach out to and share with and lean on in return, i.e. that hers (i.e., the depressed person’s) was a contemptibly greedy and narcissistic omnineediness that only a complete idiot would not fully expect the members of her so-called “Support System” to detect all too easily in her, and to be totally repelled by, and to stay on the telephone with only out of the barest and most abstract human charity, all the while rolling their eyes and making faces and looking at the clock and wishing that the telephone call were over or that she (i.e., the pathetically needy depressed person on the phone) would call anyone else but her (i.e., the bored, repelled, eye-rolling putative “friend”) or that she’d never historically been assigned to room with the depressed person or had never even gone to that particular boarding school or even that the depressed person had never been born and didn’t even exist, such that the whole thing felt totally, unendurably pathetic and demeaning “if the truth be told,” if the therapist really wanted the “totally honest and uncensored sharing” she always kept “alleging [she] want[ed],” the depressed person later confessed to her Support System she had hissed derisively at the therapist, her face (i.e., the depressed person’s face during the seminal but increasingly ugly and humiliating third-year therapy session) working in what she imagined must have been a grotesque admixture of rage and self-pity and complete humiliation. It had been the imaginative visualization of what her own enraged face must have looked like which had caused the depressed person to begin at this late juncture in the session to weep, pule, snuffle, and sob in real earnest, she shared later with trusted friends. For no, if the therapist really wanted the truth, the actual “gut”-level truth underneath all her childishly defensive anger and shame, the depressed person had shared from a hunched and near-fetal position beneath the sunburst clock, sobbing but making a conscious choice not to bother wiping her eyes or even her nose, the depressed person really felt that what was really unfair was that she felt able—even here in therapy with the trusted and compassionate therapist—that she felt able to share only painful circumstances and historical insights about her depression and its etiology and texture and numerous symptoms instead of feeling truly able to communicate and articulate and express the depression’s terrible unceasing agony itself, an agony that was the overriding and unendurable reality of her every black minute on earth—i.e., not being able to share the way it truly felt, what the depression made her feel like inside on a daily basis, she had wailed hysterically, striking repeatedly at her recliner’s suede armrests—or to reach out and communicate and express it to someone who could not only listen and understand and care but could or would actually feel it with her (i.e., feel what the depressed person felt). The depressed person confessed to the therapist that what she felt truly starved for and really truly fantasized about was having the ability to somehow really truly literally “share” it (i.e., the chronic depression’s ceaseless torment). She said that the depression felt as if it was so central and inescapable to her identity and who she was as a person that not being able to share the depression’s inner feeling or even really describe what it felt like felt to her for example like feeling a desperate, life-or-death need to describe the sun in the sky and yet being able or permitted only to point to shadows on the ground. She was so very tired of pointing at shadows, she had sobbed. She (i.e., the depressed person) had then immediately broken off and laughed hollowly at herself and apologized to the therapist for employing such a floridly melodramatic and self-pitying analogy. The depressed person shared all this later with her Support System, in great detail and sometimes more than once a night, as part of her grieving process following the therapist’s death from homeopathic caffeinism, including her (i.e., the depressed person’s) reminiscence that the therapist’s display of compassionate and unjudging attention to everything the depressed person had finally opened up and vented and hissed and spewed and whined and puled about during the traumatically seminal breakthrough session had been so formidable and uncompromising that she (i.e., the therapist) had blinked far less often than any nonprofessional listener the depressed person had ever shared with face-to-face had ever blinked. The two currently most trusted and supportive “core” members of the depressed person’s Support System had responded, almost verbatim, that it sounded as though the depressed person’s therapist had been very special, and that the depressed person clearly missed her very much; and the one particularly valuable and empathetic and elite, physically ill “core” friend whom the depressed person leaned on more heavily than on any other support during the grieving process suggested that the single most loving and appropriate way to honor both the therapist’s memory and the depressed person’s own grief over her loss might be for the depressed person to try to become as special and caring and unflaggingly nurturing a friend to herself as the late therapist had been.
6. The depressed person, trying desperately to open up and allow her Support System to help her honor and process her feelings about the therapist’s death, took the risk of sharing her realization that she herself had rarely if ever used the word “sad” in the therapeutic process’s dialogues. She had usually used the words “despair” and “agony,” and the therapist had, for the most part, acquiesced to this admittedly melodramatic choice of words, though the depressed person had long suspected that the therapist probably felt that her (i.e., the depressed person’s) choice of “agony,” “despair,” “torment,” and the like was at once melodramatic—hence needy and manipulative—on the one hand, and minimizing—hence shame-based and toxic—on the other. The depressed person also shared with long-distance friends during the shattering grieving process the painful realization that she had never once actually come right out and asked the therapist what she (i.e., the therapist) was thinking or feeling at any given moment during their time together, nor had asked, even once, what she (i.e., the therapist) actually thought of her (i.e., of the depressed person) as a human being, i.e. whether the therapist personally liked her, didn’t like her, thought she was a basically decent v. repellent person, etc. These were merely two examples.
6(a) As a natural part of the grieving process, sensuous details and emotional memories flooded the depressed person’s agonized psyche at random moments and in ways impossible to predict, pressing in on her and clamoring for expression and processing. The therapist’s buckskin pelisse, for example, though the therapist had seemed almost fetishistically attached to the Native American garment and had worn it, seemingly, on a near-daily basis, was always immaculately clean and always presented an immaculately raw and moist-looking flesh-tone backdrop to the varioform cagelike shapes the therapist’s unconscious hands composed—and the depressed person shared with members of her Support System, after the therapist’s death, that it had never been clear to her how or by what process the pelisse’s buckskin was able to stay so clean. The depressed person confessed to sometimes imagining narcissistically that the therapist wore the immaculate flesh-colored garment only for their particular appointments together. The therapist’s chilly home office also contained, on the wall opposite the bronze clock and behind the therapist’s recliner, a stunning molybdenum desk-and-personal-computer-hutch ensemble, one shelf of which was lined, on either side of the deluxe Braun coffeemaker, with small framed photographs of the late therapist’s husband and sisters and son; and the depressed person often broke into fresh sobs of loss and despair and self-excoriation on her cubicle’s headset telephone as she confessed to her Support System that she had never once even asked the therapist’s loved ones’ names.
7. The singularly valuable and supportive long-distance friend to whom the depressed person had decided she was least mortified about posing a question this fraught with openness and vulnerability and emotional risk was an alumna of one of the depressed person’s very first childhood boarding schools, a surpassingly generous and nurturing divorced mother of two in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, who had recently undergone her second course of chemotherapy for a virulent neuroblastoma which had greatly reduced the number of responsibilities and activities in her full, functional, vibrantly other-directed adult life, and who thus was now not only almost always at home but also enjoyed nearly unlimited conflict-free availability and time to share on the telephone, for which the depressed person was always careful to enter a daily prayer of gratitude in her Feelings Journal.
8. (i.e., carefully arranging her morning schedule to permit the twenty minutes the therapist had long suggested for quiet centering and getting in touch with feelings and owning them and journaling about them, looking inside herself with a compassionate, unjudging, almost clinical detachment)
3. GOOD OLD NEON
My whole life I’ve been a fraud. I’m not exaggerating. Pretty much all I’ve ever done all the time is try to create a certain impression of me in other people. Mostly to be liked or admired. It’s a little more complicated than that, maybe. But when you come right down to it it’s to be liked, loved. Admired, approved of, applauded, whatever. You get the idea. I did well in school, but deep down the whole thing’s motive wasn’t to learn or improve myself but just to do well, to get good grades and make sports teams and perform well. To have a good transcript or varsity letters to show people. I didn’t enjoy it much because I was al- ways scared I wouldn’t do well enough. The fear made me work really hard, so I’d always do well and end up getting what I wanted. But then, once I got the best grade or made All City or got Angela Mead to let me put my hand on her breast, I wouldn’t feel much of anything except maybe fear that I wouldn’t be able to get it again. The next time or next thing I wanted. I remember being down in the rec room in Angela Mead’s basement on the couch and having her let me get my hand up under her blouse and not even really feeling the soft aliveness or whatever of her breast because all I was doing was thinking, ‘Now I’m the guy that Mead let get to second with her.’ Later that seemed so sad. This was in middle school. She was a very big-hearted, quiet, self-contained, thoughtful girl — she’s a veterinarian now, with her own practice -- and I never even really saw her, I couldn’t see anything except who I might be in her eyes, this cheerleader and probably number two or three among the most desirable girls in middle school that year. She was much more than that, she was beyond all that adolescent ranking and popularity crap, but I never really let her be or saw her as more, although I put up a very good front as somebody who could have deep conversations and really wanted to know and understand who she was inside.
Later I was in analysis, I tried analysis like almost everybody else then in their late twenties who’d made some money or had a family or whatever they thought they wanted and still didn’t feel that they were happy. A lot of people I knew tried it. It didn’t really work, although it did make everyone sound more aware of their own problems and added some useful vocabulary and concepts to the way we all had to talk to each other to fit in and sound a certain way. You know what I mean. I was in regional advertising at the time in Chicago, having made the jump from media buyer for a large consulting firm, and at only twenty-nine I’d made creative associate, and verily as they say I was a fair-haired boy and on the fast track but wasn’t happy at all, whatever happy means, but of course I didn’t say this to anybody because it was such a cliché — ‘Tears of a Clown,’ ‘Richard Cory,’ etc. — and the circle of people who seemed important to me seemed much more dry, oblique and contemptuous of clichés than that, and so of course I spent all my time trying to get them to think I was dry and jaded as well, doing things like yawning and looking at my nails and saying things like, ‘Am I happy? is one of those questions that, if it has got to be asked, more or less dictates its own answer,’ etc. Putting in all this time and energy to create a certain impression and get approval or acceptance that then I felt nothing about because it didn’t have anything to do with who I really was inside, and I was disgusted with myself for always being such a fraud, but I couldn’t seem to help it. Here are some of the various things I tried: EST, riding a ten-speed to Nova Scotia and back, hypnosis, cocaine, sacro-cervical chiropractic, joining a charismatic church, jogging, pro bono work for the Ad Council, meditation classes, the Masons, analysis, the Landmark Forum, the Course in Miracles, a right-brain drawing workshop, celibacy, collecting and restoring vintage Corvettes, and trying to sleep with a different girl every night for two straight months (I racked up a total of thirty-six for sixty-one and also got chlamydia, which I told friends about, acting like I was embarrassed but secretly expecting most of them to be impressed — which, under the cover of making a lot of jokes at my expense, I think they were — but for the most part the two months just made me feel shallow and predatory, plus I missed a great deal of sleep and was a wreck at work — that was also the period I tried cocaine). I know this part is boring and probably boring you, by the way, but it gets a lot more interesting when I get to the part where I kill myself and discover what happens immediately after a person dies. In terms of the list, psychoanalysis was pretty much the last thing I tried.
The analyst I saw was OK, a big soft older guy with a big ginger mustache and a pleasant, sort of informal manner. I’m not sure I remember him alive too well. He was a fairly good listener, and seemed interested and sympathetic in a slightly distant way. At first I suspected he didn’t like me or was uneasy around me. I don’t think he was used to patients who were already aware of what their real problem was. He was also a bit of a pill-pusher. I balked at trying antidepressants, I just couldn’t see myself taking pills to try to be less of a fraud. I said that even if they worked, how would I know if it was me or the pills? By that time I already knew I was a fraud. I knew what my problem was. I just couldn’t seem to stop. I remember I spent maybe the first twenty times or so in analysis acting all open and candid but in reality sort of fencing with him or leading him around by the nose, basically showing him that I wasn’t just another one of those patients who stumbled in with no clue what their real problem was or who were totally out of touch with the truth about themselves. When you come right down to it, I was trying to show him that I was at least as smart as he was and that there wasn’t much of anything he was going to see about me that I hadn’t already seen and figured out. And yet I wanted help and really was there to try to get help. I didn’t even tell him how unhappy I was until five or six months into the analysis, mostly because I didn’t want to seem like just another whining, self-absorbed yuppie, even though I think even then I was on some level conscious that that’s all I really was, deep down.
Right from the start, what I liked best about the analyst was that his office was a mess. There were books and papers everyplace, and usually he had to clear things off the chair so I could sit down. There was no couch, I sat in an easy chair and he sat facing me in his beat-up old desk chair whose back part had one of those big rectangles or capes of back-massage beads attached to it the same way cabbies often put them on their seat in the cab. This was another thing I liked, the desk chair and the fact that it was a little too small for him (he was not a small guy) so that he had to sit sort of almost hunched with his feet flat on the floor, or else sometimes he’d put his hands behind his head and lean way back in the chair in a way that made the back portion squeak terribly when it leaned back. There always seems to be something patronizing or a little condescending about somebody crossing their legs when they talk to you, and the desk chair didn’t allow him to do this — if he ever crossed his legs his knee would have been up around his chin. And yet he had apparently never gone out and gotten himself a bigger or nicer desk chair, or even bothered to oil the medial joint’s springs to keep the back from squeaking, a noise that I know would have driven me up the wall if it had been my chair and I had to spend all day in it. I noticed all this almost right away. The little office also reeked of pipe tobacco, which is a pleasant smell, plus Dr. Gustafson never took notes or answered everything with a question or any of the cliché analyst things that would have made the whole thing too horrible to keep going back whether it even helped or not. The whole effect was of a sort of likable, disorganized, laid-back guy, and things in there actually did get better after I realized that he probably wasn’t going to do anything to make me quit fencing with him and trying to anticipate all his questions so I could show that I already knew the answer — he was going to get his $65 either way — and finally came out and told him about being a fraud and feeling alienated (I had to use the uptown word of course, but it was still the truth) and starting to see myself ending up living this way for the rest of my life and being completely unhappy. I told him I wasn’t blaming anybody for my being a fraud. I had been adopted, but it was as a baby, and the stepparents who adopted me were better and nicer than most of the biological parents I knew anything about, and I was never yelled at or abused or pressured to hit .400 in Legion ball or anything, and they took out a second mortgage to send me to an elite college when I could have gone scholarship to U.W.–Eau Claire, etc. Nobody’d ever done anything bad to me, every problem I ever had I’d been the cause of. I was a fraud, and the fact that I was lonely was my own fault (of course his ears pricked up at fault, which is a loaded term) because I seemed to be so totally self-centered and fraudulent that I experienced everything in terms of how it affected people’s view of me and what I needed to do to create the impression of me I wanted them to have. I said I knew what my problem was, what I couldn’t do was stop it. I also admitted to Dr. Gustafson some of the ways I’d been jerking him around early on and trying to make sure he saw me as smart and self-aware, and said I’d known early on that playing around and showing off in analysis were a waste of time and money but that I couldn’t seem to help myself, it just happened automatically. He smiled at all this, which was the first time I remember seeing him smile. I don’t mean he was sour or humorless, he had a big red friendly face and a pleasant enough manner, but this was the first time he’d smiled like a human being having an actual conversation. And yet at the same time I already saw what I’d left myself open for — and sure enough he says it. ‘If I under- stand you right,’ he says, ‘you’re saying that you’re basically a calculating, manipulative person who always says what you think will get somebody to approve of you or form some impression of you you think you want.’ I told him that was maybe a little simplistic but basically accurate, and he said further that as he understood it I was saying that I felt as if I was trapped in this false way of being and unable ever to be totally open and tell the truth irregardless of whether it’d make me look good in others’ eyes or not. And I somewhat resignedly said yes, and that I seemed always to have had this fraudulent, calculating part of my brain firing away all the time, as if I were constantly playing chess with everybody and figuring out that if I wanted them to move a certain way I had to move in such a way as to induce them to move that way. He asked if I ever played chess, and I told him I used to in middle school but quit because I couldn’t be as good as I eventually wanted to be, how frustrating it was to get just good enough to know what getting really good at it would be like but not being able to get that good, etc. I was laying it on sort of thick in hopes of distracting him from the big insight and question I realized I’d set myself up for. But it didn’t work. He leaned back in his loud chair and paused as if he were thinking hard, for effect — he was thinking that he was going to get to feel like he’d really earned his $65 today. Part of the pause always involved stroking his mustache in an unconscious way. I was reasonably sure that he was going to say something like, ‘So then how were you able to do what you just did a moment ago?,’ in other words meaning how was I able to be honest about the fraudulence if I was really a fraud, meaning he thought he’d caught me in some kind of logical contradiction or paradox. And I went ahead and played a little dumb, probably, to get him to go ahead and say it, partly because I still held out some hope that what he’d say might be more discerning or incisive than I had predicted. But it was also partly because I liked him, and liked the way he seemed genuinely pleased and excited at the idea of being helpful but was trying to exercise professional control over his facial expression in order to make the excitement look more like simple pleasantness and clinical interest in my case or whatever. He was hard not to like, he had what is known as an engaging manner. By way of decor, the office wall behind his chair had two framed prints, one being that Wyeth one of the little girl in the wheat field crawling up- hill toward the farmhouse, the other a still life of two apples in a bowl on a table by Cézanne. (To be honest, I only knew it was Cézanne because it was an Art Institute poster and had a banner with info on a Cézanne show underneath the painting, which was a still life, and which was weirdly discomfiting because there was something slightly off about the perspective or style that made the table look crooked and the apples look almost square.) The prints were obviously there to give the analyst’s patients something to look at, since many people like to look around or look at things on the wall while they talk. I didn’t have ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼any trouble looking right at him most of the time I was in there, though. He did have a talent for putting you at ease, there was no question about it. But I had no illusions that this was the same as having enough insight or firepower to find some way to really help me, though.
There was a basic logical paradox that I called the ‘fraudulence paradox’ that I had discovered more or less on my own while taking a mathematical logic course in school. I remember this as being a huge undergrad lecture course that met twice a week in an auditorium with the professor up on stage and on Fridays in smaller discussion sections led by a graduate assistant whose whole life seemed to be mathemati- cal logic. (Plus all you had to do to ace the class was sit down with the assigned textbook that the prof was the editor of and memorize the different modes of argument and normal forms and axioms of first- order quantification, meaning the course was as clean and mechanical as logic itself in that if you put in the time and effort, out popped the good grade at the other end. We only got to paradoxes like the Berry and Russell Paradoxes and the incompleteness theorem at the very end of the term, they weren’t on the final.) The fraudulence paradox was that the more time and effort you put into trying to appear impressive or attractive to other people, the less impressive or attractive you felt inside — you were a fraud. And the more of a fraud you felt like, the harder you tried to convey an impressive or likable image of yourself so that other people wouldn’t find out what a hollow, fraudulent person you really were. Logically, you would think that the moment a sup- posedly intelligent nineteen-year-old became aware of this paradox, he’d stop being a fraud and just settle for being himself (whatever that was) because he’d figured out that being a fraud was a vicious infinite regress that ultimately resulted in being frightened, lonely, alienated, etc. But here was the other, higher-order paradox, which didn’t even have a form or name — I didn’t, I couldn’t. Discovering the first paradox at age nineteen just brought home to me in spades what an empty, fraudulent person I’d basically been ever since at least the time I was four and lied to my stepdad because I’d realized somehow right in the middle of his asking me if I’d broken the bowl that if I said I did it but ‘confessed’ it in a sort of clumsy, implausible way, then he wouldn’t believe me and would instead believe that my sister Fern, who’s my step-parents’ biological daughter, was the one who’d actually broken the antique Moser glass bowl that my stepmom had inherited from her biological grandmother and totally loved, plus it would lead or induce him to see me as a kind, good stepbrother who was so anxious to keep Fern (whom I really did like) from getting in trouble that I’d be willing to lie and take the punishment for it for her. I’m not explaining this very well. I was only four, for one thing, and the realization didn’t hit me in words the way I just now put it, but rather more in terms of feelings and associations and certain mental flashes of my stepparents’ faces with various expressions on them. But it happened that fast, at only four, that I figured out how to create a certain impression by knowing what effect I’d produce in my stepdad by implausibly ‘confessing’ that I’d punched Fern in the arm and stolen her Hula Hoop and had run all the way downstairs with it and started Hula-Hooping in the dining room right by the sideboard with all my stepmom’s antique glassware and figurines on it, while Fern, forgetting all about her arm and hoop because of her concern over the bowl and other glassware, came running downstairs shouting after me, reminding me about how important the rule was that we weren’t supposed to play in the dining room. . . . Meaning that by lying in such a deliberately unconvincing way I could actually get everything that a direct lie would supposedly get me, plus look noble and self-sacrificing, plus also make my stepparents feel good because they always tended to feel good when one of their kids did something that showed character, because it’s the sort of thing they couldn’t really help but see as reflecting favorably on them as shapers of their kids’ character. I’m putting all this in such a long, rushing, clumsy way to try to convey the way I remember it suddenly hit me, looking up at my stepfather’s big kindly face as he held two of the larger pieces of the Moser bowl and tried to look angrier than he really felt. (He had always thought the more expensive pieces ought to be kept secure in storage somewhere, whereas my step-mom’s view was more like what was the point of having nice things if you didn’t have them out where people could enjoy them.) How to ap￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼pear a certain way and get him to think a certain thing hit me just that fast. Keep in mind I was only around four. And I can’t pretend it felt bad, realizing it — the truth is it felt great. I felt powerful, smart. It felt a little like looking at part of a puzzle you’re doing and you’ve got a piece in your hand and you can’t see where in the larger puzzle it’s sup- posed to go or how to make it fit, looking at all the holes, and then all of a sudden in a flash you see, for no reason right then you could point to or explain to anyone, that if you turn the piece this one certain way it will fit, and it does, and maybe the best way to put it is that in that one tiny instant you feel suddenly connected to something larger and much more of the complete picture the same way the piece is. The only part I’d neglected to anticipate was Fern’s reaction to getting blamed for the bowl, and punished, and then punished even worse when she continued to deny that she’d been the one playing around in the dining room, and my stepparents’ position was that they were even more upset and disappointed about her lying than they were about the bowl, which they said was just a material object and not ultimately im- portant in the larger scheme of things. (My stepparents spoke this way, they were people of high ideals and values, humanists. Their big ideal was total honesty in all the family’s relationships, and lying was the worst, most disappointing infraction you could commit, in their view as parents. They tended to discipline Fern a little more firmly than they did me, by the way, but this too was an extension of their values. They were concerned about being fair and having me be able to feel that I was just as much their real child as Fern was, so that I’d feel maximally secure and loved, and sometimes this concern with fairness caused them to bend a little too far over backward when it came to discipline.) So that Fern, then, got regarded as being a liar when she was not, and that must have hurt her way more than the actual punishment did. She was only five at the time. It’s horrible to be regarded as a fraud or to believe that people think you’re a fraud or liar. It’s possibly one of the worst feelings in the world. And even though I haven’t really had any direct experience with it, I’m sure it must be doubly horrible when you were actually telling the truth and they didn’t believe you. I don’t think Fern ever quite got over that episode, although the two of us never talked about it afterward except for one sort of cryptic remark she made over her shoulder once when we were both in high school and having an argument about something and Fern was storming out of the house. She was sort of a classically troubled adolescent — smoking, makeup, mediocre grades, dating older guys, etc. — whereas I was the family’s fair-haired boy and had a killer G.P.A. and played varsity ball, etc. One way to put it is that I looked and acted much better on the surface then than Fern did, although she eventually settled down and ended up going on to college and is now doing OK. She’s also one of the funniest people on earth, with a very dry, subtle sense of humor — I like her a lot. The point being that that was the start of my being a fraud, although it’s not as if the broken-bowl episode was somehow the origin or cause of my fraudulence or some kind of child- hood trauma that I’d never gotten over and had to go into analysis to work out. The fraud part of me was always there, just as the puzzle piece, objectively speaking, is a true piece of the puzzle even before you see how it fits. For a while I thought that possibly one or the other of my biological parents had been frauds or had carried some type of fraud gene or something and that I had inherited it, but that was a dead end, there was no way to know. And even if I did, what difference would it make? I was still a fraud, it was still my own unhappiness that I had to deal with.
Once again, I’m aware that it’s clumsy to put it all this way, but the point is that all of this and more was flashing through my head just in the interval of the small, dramatic pause Dr. Gustafson allowed himself before delivering his big reductio ad absurdum argument that I couldn’t be a total fraud if I had just come out and admitted my fraudulence to him just now. I know that you know as well as I do how fast thoughts and associations can fly through your head. You can be in the middle of a creative meeting at your job or something, and enough material can rush through your head just in the little silences when people are looking over their notes and waiting for the next presentation that it would take exponentially longer than the whole meeting just to try to put a few seconds’ silence’s flood of thoughts into words. This is another paradox, that many of the most important impressions ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼and thoughts in a person’s life are ones that flash through your head so fast that fast isn’t even the right word, they seem totally different from or outside of the regular sequential clock time we all live by, and they have so little relation to the sort of linear, one-word-after-another- word English we all communicate with each other with that it could easily take a whole lifetime just to spell out the contents of one split-second’s flash of thoughts and connections, etc. — and yet we all seem to go around trying to use English (or whatever language our native country happens to use, it goes without saying) to try to convey to other people what we’re thinking and to find out what they’re thinking, when in fact deep down everybody knows it’s a charade and they’re just going through the motions. What goes on inside is just too fast and huge and all interconnected for words to do more than barely sketch the outlines of at most one tiny little part of it at any given instant. The internal head-speed or whatever of these ideas, memories, realizations, emotions and so on is even faster, by the way — exponentially faster, unimaginably faster — when you’re dying, meaning during that vanishingly tiny nanosecond between when you technically die and when the next thing happens, so that in reality the cliché about people’s whole life flashing before their eyes as they’re dying isn’t all that far off — although the whole life here isn’t really a sequential thing where first you’re born and then you’re in the crib and then you’re up at the plate in Legion ball, etc., which it turns out that that’s what people usually mean when they say ‘my whole life,’ meaning a discrete, chronological series of moments that they add up and call their lifetime. It’s not really like that. The best way I can think of to try to say it is that it all happens at once, but that at once doesn’t really mean a finite moment of sequential time the way we think of time while we’re alive, plus that what turns out to be the meaning of the term my life isn’t even close to what we think we’re talking about when we say ‘my life.’ Words and chronological time create all these total misunderstandings of what’s really going on at the most basic level. And yet at the same time English is all we have to try to understand it and try to form anything larger or more meaningful and true with anybody else, which is yet another paradox. Dr. Gustafson — whom I would meet again later and find out that he had almost nothing to do with the big doughy repressed guy sitting back against his chair’s beads in his River Forest office with colon cancer in him already at that time and him knowing nothing yet except that he didn’t feel quite right down there in the bathroom lately and if it kept on he’d make an appointment to go in and ask his internist about it — Dr. G. would later say that the whole my whole life flashed before me phenomenon at the end is more like being a whitecap on the surface of the ocean, meaning that it’s only at the moment you subside and start sliding back in that you’re really even aware there’s an ocean at all. When you’re up and out there as a whitecap you might talk and act as if you know you’re just a white-cap on the ocean, but deep down you don’t think there’s really an ocean at all. It’s almost impossible to. Or like a leaf that doesn’t believe in the tree it’s part of, etc. There are all sorts of ways to try to express it.
And of course all this time you’ve probably been noticing what seems like the really central, overarching paradox, which is that this whole thing where I’m saying words can’t really do it and time doesn’t really go in a straight line is something that you’re hearing as words that you have to start listening to the first word and then each successive word after that in chronological time to understand, so if I’m saying that words and sequential time have nothing to do with it you’re wondering why we’re sitting here in this car using words and taking up your increasingly precious time, meaning aren’t I sort of logically contradicting myself right at the start. Not to mention am I maybe full of B.S. about knowing what happens — if I really did kill myself, how can you even be hearing this? Meaning am I a fraud. That’s OK, it doesn’t really matter what you think. I mean it probably matters to you, or you think it does — that isn’t what I meant by doesn’t matter. What I mean is that it doesn’t really matter what you think about me, because despite appearances this isn’t even really about me. All I’m trying to do is sketch out one little part of what it was like before I died and why I at least thought I did it, so that you’ll have at least some idea of why what happened afterward happened and why it had the impact it did on who this is really about. Meaning it’s like an abstract or sort of intro, meant to be very brief and sketchy . . . and yet of course look ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼how much time and English it’s seeming to take even to say it. It’s interesting if you really think about it, how clumsy and laborious it seems to be to convey even the smallest thing. How much time would you even say has passed, so far?
One reason why Dr. Gustafson would have made a terrible poker player or fraud is that whenever he thought it was a big moment in the analysis he would always make a production of leaning back in his desk chair, which made that loud sound as the back tilted back and his feet went back on their heels so the soles showed, although he was good at making the position look comfortable and very familiar to his body, like it felt good doing that when he had to think. The whole thing was both slightly overdramatic and yet still likable for some rea- son. Fern, by the way, has reddish hair and slightly asymmetrical green eyes — the kind of green people buy tinted contact lenses to get — and is attractive in a sort of witchy way. I think she’s attractive, anyway. She’s grown up to be a very poised, witty, self-sufficient person, with maybe just the slightest whiff of the perfume of loneliness that hangs around unmarried women around age thirty. The fact is that we’re all lonely, of course. Everyone knows this, it’s almost a cliché. So yet another layer of my essential fraudulence is that I pretended to myself that my loneliness was special, that it was uniquely my fault because I was somehow especially fraudulent and hollow. It’s not special at all, we’ve all got it. In spades. Dead or not, Dr. Gustafson knew more about all this than I, so that he spoke with what came off as genuine authority and pleasure when he said (maybe a little superciliously, given how obvious it was), ‘But if you’re constitutionally false and manipulative and unable to be honest about who you really are, Neal’ (Neal being my given name, it was on my birth certificate when I got adopted), ‘how is it that you were able to drop the sparring and manipulation and be honest with me a moment ago’ (for that’s all it had been, in spite of all the English that’s been expended on just my head’s partial contents in the tiny interval between then and now) ‘about who you really are?’ So it turned out I’d been right in predicting what his big logical insight was going to be. And although I played along with him for a while so as not to prick his bubble, inside I felt pretty bleak indeed, because now I knew that he was going to be just as pliable and credulous as everyone else, he didn’t appear to have anything close to the firepower I’d need to give me any hope of getting helped out of the trap of fraudulence and unhappiness I’d constructed for myself. Because the real truth was that my confession of being a fraud and of having wasted time sparring with him over the previous weeks in order to manipulate him into seeing me as exceptional and insightful had itself been kind of manipulative. It was pretty clear that Dr. Gustafson, in order to survive in private practice, could not be totally stupid or obtuse about people, so it seemed reasonable to assume that he’d noticed the massive amount of fencing and general showing off I’d been doing during the first weeks of the analysis, and thus had come to some conclusions about my apparently desperate need to make a certain kind of impression on him, and though it wasn’t totally certain it was thus at least a decent possibility that he’d sized me up as a basically empty, insecure person whose whole life involved trying to impress people and manipulate their view of me in order to compen- sate for the inner emptiness. It’s not as if this is an incredibly rare or obscure type of personality, after all. So the fact that I had chosen to be supposedly ‘honest’ and to diagnose myself aloud was in fact just one more move in my campaign to make sure Dr. Gustafson understood that as a patient I was uniquely acute and self-aware, and that there was very little chance he was going to see or diagnose anything about me that I wasn’t already aware of and able to turn to my own tactical advantage in terms of creating whatever image or impression of myself I wanted him to see at that moment. His big supposed insight, then — which had as its ostensible, first-order point that my fraudulence could not possibly be as thoroughgoing and hopeless as I claimed it was, since my ability to be honest with him about it logically contradicted my claim of being incapable of honesty — actually had as its larger, unspoken point the claim that he could discern things about my basic character that I myself could not see or interpret correctly, and thus that he could help me out of the trap by pointing out inconsistencies in my view of myself as totally fraudulent. The fact that this insight that he appeared so coyly pleased and excited about was not only obvious and superficial but also wrong — this was depressing, much the way discovering that somebody is easy to manipulate is always a little depressing. A corollary to the fraudulence paradox is that you simultaneously want to fool everyone you meet and yet also somehow always hope that you’ll come across someone who is your match or equal and can’t be fooled. But this was sort of the last straw, I mentioned I’d tried a whole number of different things that hadn’t worked already. So depressing is a gross understatement, actually. Plus of course the obvious fact that I was paying this guy for help in getting out of the trap and he’d now showed that he didn’t have the mental firepower to do it. So I was now thinking about the prospect of spending time and money driving in to River Forest twice a week just to yank the analyst around in ways he couldn’t see so that he’d think that I was actually less fraudulent than I thought I was and that analysis with him was gradually helping me see this. Meaning that he’d probably be getting more out of it than I would, for me it would just be fraudulence as usual.
However tedious and sketchy all this is, you’re at least getting an idea, I think, of what it was like inside my head. If nothing else, you’re seeing how exhausting and solipsistic it is to be like this. And I had been this way my whole life, at least from age four onward, as far as I could recall. Of course, it’s also a really stupid and egotistical way to be, of course you can see that. This is why the ultimate and most deeply unspoken point of the analyst’s insight — namely, that who and what I believed I was was not what I really was at all — which I thought was false, was in fact true, although not for the reasons that Dr. Gustafson, who was leaning back in his chair and smoothing his big mustache with his thumb and forefinger while I played dumb and let him feel like he was explaining to me a contradiction I couldn’t understand without his help, believed.
One of my other ways of playing dumb for the next several sessions after that was to protest his upbeat diagnosis (irrelevantly, since by this time I’d pretty much given up on Dr. Gustafson and was starting to think of various ways to kill myself without causing pain or making a mess that would disgust whoever found me) by means of listing the various ways I’d been fraudulent even in my pursuit of ways to achieve genuine and uncalculating integrity. I’ll spare giving you the whole list again. I basically went all the way back to childhood (which analysts always like you to do) and laid it on. Partly I was curious to see how much he’d put up with. For example, I told him about going from genuinely loving ball, loving the smell of the grass and distant sprinklers, or the feel of pounding my fist into the glove over and over and yelling ‘Hey, batterbatter,’ and the big low red tumid sun at the game’s start versus the arc lights coming on with a clank in the glowing twilight of the late innings, and of the steam and clean burned smell of ironing my Legion uniform, or the feel of sliding and watching all the dust it raised settle around me, or all the parents in shorts and rubber flip-flops setting up lawn chairs with Styrofoam coolers, little kids hooking their fingers around the backstop fence or running off after fouls. The smell of the ump’s aftershave and sweat, the little whisk-broom he’d bend down and tidy the plate with. Mostly the feel of stepping up to the plate knowing anything was possible, a feeling like a sun flaring somewhere high up in my chest. And about how by only maybe fourteen all that had disappeared and turned into worrying about averages and if I could make All City again, or being so worried I’d screw up that I didn’t even like ironing the uniform anymore before games because it gave me too much time to think, standing there so nerved up about doing well that night that I couldn’t even notice the little chuckling sighs the iron made anymore or the singular smell of the steam when I hit the little button for steam. How I’d basically ruined all the best parts of everything like that. How sometimes it felt like I was actually asleep and none of this was even real and someday out of nowhere I was maybe going to suddenly wake up in midstride. That was part of the idea behind things like joining the charismatic church up in Naperville, to try to wake up spiritually instead of living in this fog of fraudulence. ‘The truth shall set you free’ — the Bible. This was what Beverly-Elizabeth Slane liked to call my holy roller phase. And the charismatic church really did seem to help a lot of the parishioners and congregants I met. They were humble and devoted and charitable, and gave tirelessly without thought of personal reward in active service to the church and in donating resources and time to the church’s cam-
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼paign to build a new altar with an enormous cross of thick glass whose crossbeam was lit up and filled with aerated water and was to have various kinds of beautiful fish swimming in it. (Fish being a prominent Christ-symbol for charismatics. In fact, most of us who were the most devoted and active in the church had bumper stickers on our cars with no words or anything except a plain line drawing of the outline of a fish — this lack of ostentation impressed me as classy and genuine.) But with the real truth here being how quickly I went from being someone who was there because he wanted to wake up and stop being a fraud to being somebody who was so anxious to impress the congre- gation with how devoted and active I was that I volunteered to help take the collection, and never missed one study group the whole time, and was on two different committees for coordinating fund-raising for the new aquarial altar and deciding exactly what kind of equipment and fish would be used for the crossbeam. Plus often being the one in the front row whose voice in the responses was loudest and who waved both hands in the air the most enthusiastically to show that the Spirit had entered me, and speaking in tongues — mostly consisting of d ’s and g’s — except not really, of course, because in fact I was really just pretending to speak in tongues because all the parishioners around me were speaking in tongues and had the Spirit, and so in a kind of fever of excitement I was able to hoodwink even myself into thinking that I really had the Spirit moving through me and was speaking in tongues when in reality I was just shouting ‘Dugga muggle ergle dergle’ over and over. (In other words, so anxious to see myself as truly born-again that I actually convinced myself that the tongues’ babble was real language and somehow less false than plain English at expressing the feeling of the Holy Spirit rolling like a juggernaut right through me.) This went on for about four months. Not to mention falling over backward whenever Pastor Steve came down the row popping people and popped me in the forehead with the heel of his hand, but falling over backward on purpose, not genuinely being struck down by the Spirit like the other people on either side of me (one of whom actually fainted and had to be brought around with salts). It was only when I was walking out to the parking lot one night after Wednesday Night Praise that I suddenly experienced a flash of self-awareness or clarity or whatever in which I suddenly stopped conning myself and realized that I’d been a fraud all these months in the church, too, and was really only saying and doing these things because all the real parishioners were doing them and I wanted everyone to think I was sincere. It just about knocked me over, that was how vividly I saw how I’d deceived myself. The revealed truth was that I was an even bigger fraud in church about being a newly reborn authentic person than I’d been before Deacon and Mrs. Halberstadt first rang my doorbell out of nowhere as part of their missionary service and talked me into giving it a shot. Because at least before the church thing I wasn’t conning myself — I’d known that I was a fraud since at least age nineteen, but at least I’d been able to admit and face the fraudulence directly instead of B.S.ing myself that I was something I wasn’t.
All this was presented in the context of a very long pseudo-argument about fraudulence with Dr. Gustafson that would take way too much time to relate to you in detail, so I’m just telling you about some of the more garish examples. With Dr. G. it was more in the form of a prolonged, multi-session back-and-forth on whether or not I was a total fraud, during which I got more and more disgusted with myself for even playing along. By this point in the analysis I’d pretty much decided he was an idiot, or at least very limited in his insights into what was really going on with people. (There was also the blatant issue of the mustache and of him always playing with it.) Essentially he saw what he wanted to see, which was just the sort of person I could practically eat for lunch in terms of creating whatever ideas or impressions of me I wanted. For instance, I told him about the period of trying jogging, during which I seemed never to fail to have to increase my pace and pump my arms more vigorously whenever someone drove by or looked up from his yard, so that I ended up with bone spurs and eventually had to quit altogether. Or spending at least two or three sessions recounting the example of the introductory meditation class at the Downers Grove Community Center that Melissa Betts of Settleman, Dorn got me to take, at which through sheer force of will I’d always force myself to remain totally still with my legs crossed and back perfectly straight long after the other students had all given up and fallen back on their mats shuddering and holding their heads. Right from the first class meeting, even though the small, brown instructor had told us to shoot for only ten minutes of stillness at the outset because most Westerners’ minds could not maintain more than a few minutes of stillness and mindful concentration without feeling so restless and ill at ease that they couldn’t stand it, I always remained absolutely still and focused on breathing my prana with the lower diaphragm longer than any of them, sometimes for up to thirty minutes, even though my knees and lower back were on fire and I had what felt like swarms of insects crawling all over my arms and shooting out of the top of my head — and Master Gurpreet, although he kept his facial expression inscrutable, gave me a deep and seemingly respectful bow and said that I sat almost like a living statue of mindful repose, and that he was impressed. The problem was that we were also all supposed to continue practicing our meditation on our own at home between classes, and when I tried to do it alone I couldn’t seem to sit still and follow my breath for more than even a few minutes before I felt like crawling out of my skin and had to stop. I could only sit and appear quiet and mindful and withstand the unbelievably restless and horrible feelings when all of us were doing it together in the class — meaning only when there were other people to make an impression on. And even in class, the truth was that I was often concentrating not so much on following my prana as on keeping totally still and in the correct posture and hav- ing a deeply peaceful and meditative expression on my face in case anyone was cheating and had their eyes open and was looking around, plus also to ensure that Master Gurpreet would continue to see me as exceptional and keep addressing me by what became sort of his class nickname for me, which was ‘the statue.’
Finally, in the final few class meetings, when Master Gurpreet told us to sit still and focused for only as long as we comfortably could and then waited almost an hour before finally hitting his small bell with the little silver thing to signal the period of meditation’s end, only I and an extremely thin, pale girl who had her own meditation bench that she brought to class with her were able to sit still and focused for the whole hour, although at several different points I’d get so cramped and restless, with what felt like bright blue fire going up my spine and shooting invisibly out of the top of my head as blobs of color exploded over and over again behind my eyelids, that I thought I was going to jump up screaming and take a header right out the window. And at the end of the course, when there was also an opportunity to sign up for the next session, which was called Deepening the Practice, Master Gurpreet presented several of us with different honorary certificates, and mine had my name and the date and was inscribed in black callig- raphy, champion meditator, most impressive western student, the statue. It was only after I fell asleep that night (I’d finally sort of compromised and told myself I was practicing the meditative discipline at home at night by lying down and focusing on following my breathing very closely as I fell asleep, and it did turn out to be a phenomenal sleep aid) that while I was asleep I had the dream about the statue in the commons and realized that Master Gurpreet had actually in all likelihood seen right through me the whole time, and that the certificate was in reality a subtle rebuke or joke at my expense. Meaning he was letting me know that he knew I was a fraud and not even coming close to actually quieting my mind’s ceaseless conniving about how to impress people in order to achieve mindfulness and honor my true inner self. (Of course, what he seemed not to have divined was that in reality I actually seemed to have no true inner self, and that the more I tried to be genuine the more empty and fraudulent I ended up feeling inside, which I told nobody about until my stab at analysis with Dr. Gustafson.) In the dream, I was in the town commons in Aurora, over near the Pershing tank memorial by the clock tower, and what I’m doing in the dream is sculpting an enormous marble or granite statue of myself, using a huge iron chisel and a hammer the size of those ones they give you to try to hit the bell at the top of the big thermometer-like thing at carnivals, and when the statue’s finally done I put it up on a big bandstand or platform and spend all my time polishing it and keeping birds from sitting on it or doing their business on it, and cleaning up litter and keeping the grass neat all around the bandstand. And in the dream my whole life flashes by like that, the sun and moon ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼go back and forth across the sky like windshield wipers over and over, and I never seem to sleep or eat or take a shower (the dream takes place in dream time as opposed to waking, chronological time), meaning I’m condemned to a whole life of being nothing but a sort of custodian to the statue. I’m not saying it was subtle or hard to figure out. Everybody from Fern, Master Gurpreet, the anorexic girl with her own bench, and Ginger Manley, to people from the firm and some of the media reps we bought time from (I was still a media buyer at this time) all walk by, some several times — at one point Melissa Betts and her new fiancé even spread out a blanket and have a sort of little picnic in the shade of the statue — but none of them ever look over or say anything. It’s obviously another dream about fraudulence, like the dream where I’m supposedly a big pop star on-stage but all I really do is lip-synch to one of my stepparents’ old Mamas and Papas records that’s on a record player just off-stage, and somebody whose face I can’t ever look over long enough to make out keeps putting his hand in the area of the record as if he’s going to make it skip or scratch, and the whole dream makes my skin crawl. These dreams were obvious, they were warnings from my subconscious that I was hollow and a fraud and it was only a matter of time before the whole charade fell apart. Another of my stepmother’s treasured antiques was a silver pocket-watch of her maternal grandfather’s with the Latin respice finem inscribed on the inside of the case. It wasn’t until after she passed away and my stepfather said she’d wanted me to have it that I bothered to look up the term, after which I’d gotten the same sort of crawly feeling as with Master Gurpreet’s certificate. Much of the nightmarish quality of the dream about the statue was due to the way the sun raced back and forth across the sky and the speed with which my whole life blew by like that, in the commons. It was obviously also my subconscious enlightening me as to the meditation instructor’s having seen through me the whole time, after which I was too embarrassed even to go try to get a refund for the Deepening the Practice class, which there was now no way I felt like I could show up for, even though at the same time I also still had fantasies about Master Gurpreet becoming my mentor or guru and using all kinds of inscrutable Eastern techniques to show me the way to meditate myself into having a true self . . .
. . . Etc., etc. I’ll spare you any more examples, for instance I’ll spare you the literally countless examples of my fraudulence with girls — with the ladies as they say — in just about every dating relationship I ever had, or the almost unbelievable amount of fraudulence and calculation involved in my career — not just in terms of manipulating the consumer and manipulating the client into trusting that your agency’s ideas are the best way to manipulate the consumer, but in the inter-office politics of the agency itself, like for example in sizing up what sorts of things your superiors want to believe (including the belief that they’re smarter than you and that that’s why they’re your superior) and then giving them what they want but doing it just subtly enough that they never get a chance to view you as a sycophant or yes-man (which they want to believe they do not really want) but instead see you as a tough-minded independent thinker who from time to time bows to the weight of their superior intelligence and creative firepower, etc. The whole agency was one big ballet of fraudulence and of manipulating people’s images of your ability to manipulate images, a virtual hall of mirrors. And I was good at it, remember, I thrived there.
It was the sheer amount of time Dr. Gustafson spent touching and smoothing his mustache that indicated he wasn’t aware of doing it and in fact was subconsciously reassuring himself that it was still there. Which is not an especially subtle habit, in terms of insecurity, since af- ter all facial hair is known as a secondary sex characteristic, meaning what he was really doing was subconsciously reassuring himself that something else was still there, if you know what I mean. This was some of why it was no real surprise when it turned out that the overall direction he wanted the analysis to proceed in involved issues of masculinity and how I understood my masculinity (my ‘manhood’ in other words). This also helped explain everything from the lost-female- crawling and two-testicle-shaped-objects-that-looked-deformed prints on the wall to the little African or Indian drum things and little figurines with (sometimes) exaggerated sex characteristics on the shelf ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼over his desk, plus the pipe, the unnecessary size of his wedding band, even the somewhat overdone little-boy clutter of the office itself. It was pretty clear that there were some major sexual insecurities and maybe even homosexual-type ambiguities that Dr. Gustafson was subconsciously trying to hide from himself and reassure himself about, and one obvious way he did this was to sort of project his insecurities onto his patients and get them to believe that America’s culture had a uniquely brutal and alienating way of brainwashing its males from an early age into all kinds of damaging beliefs and superstitions about what being a so-called ‘real man’ was, such as competitiveness instead of concert, winning at all costs, dominating others through intelligence or will, being strong, not showing your true emotions, depending on others seeing you as a real man in order to reassure yourself of your manhood, seeing your own value solely in terms of accomplishments, being obsessed with your career or income, feeling as if you were constantly being judged or on display, etc. This was later in the analysis, after the seemingly endless period where after every example of fraudulence I gave him he’d make a show of congratulating me on being able to reveal what I felt were shameful fraudulent examples, and said that this was proof that I had much more of an ability to be genuine than I (apparently because of my insecurities or male fears) seemed able to give myself credit for. Plus it didn’t exactly seem like a coincidence that the cancer he was even then harboring was in his colon — that shameful, dirty, secret place right near the rectum — with the idea being that using your rectum or colon to secretly harbor an alien growth was a blatant symbol both of homosexuality and of the repressive belief that its open acknowledgment would equal disease and death. Dr. Gustafson and I both had a good laugh over this one after we’d both died and were outside linear time and in the process of dramatic change, you can bet on that. (Outside time is not just an ex- pression or manner of speaking, by the way.) By this time in the analysis I was playing with him the way a cat does with a hurt bird. If I’d had an ounce of real self-respect I would have stopped and gone back to the Downers Grove Community Center and thrown myself on Master Gurpreet’s mercy, since except for maybe one or two girls I’d dated he was the only one who’d appeared to see all the way through to the core of my fraudulence, plus his oblique, very dry way of indicating this to me betrayed a sort of serene indifference to whether I even understood that he saw right through me that I found incredibly impressive and genuine — here in Master Gurpreet was a man with, as they say, nothing to prove. But I didn’t, instead I more or less conned myself into sticking with going in to see Dr. G. twice a week for almost nine months (toward the end it was only once a week because by then the cancer had been diagnosed and he was getting radiation treatments every Tuesday and Thursday), telling myself that at least I was trying to find some venue in which I could get help finding a way to be genuine and stop manipulating everybody around me to see ‘the statue’ as erect and impressive, etc.
Nor however is it strictly true that the analyst had nothing interesting to say or that he didn’t sometimes provide helpful models or angles for looking at the basic problem. For instance, it turned out that one of his basic operating premises was the claim that there were really only two basic, fundamental orientations a person could have toward the world, (1) love and (2) fear, and that they couldn’t coexist (or, in logical terms, that their domains were exhaustive and mutually exclusive, or that their two sets had no intersection but their union comprised all possible elements, or that:
‘(∀x) ((Fx → ~ (Lx)) & (Lx → ~ (Fx))) & ~ ((∃x) (~ (Fx) & ~ (Lx))’ ), meaning in other words that each day of your life was spent in service to one of these masters or the other, and ‘One cannot serve two masters’ — the Bible again — and that one of the worst things about the conception of competitive, achievement-oriented masculinity that America supposedly hardwired into its males was that it caused a more or less constant state of fear that made genuine love next to impossible. That is, that what passed for love in American men was usually just the need to be regarded in a certain way, meaning that today’s males were so constantly afraid of ‘not measuring up’ (Dr. G.’s phrase, with evidently no pun intended) that they had to spend all their time convincing others of their masculine ‘validity’ (which happens to also be a term from formal logic) in order to ease their own insecurity, making genuine love next to impossible. Although it seemed a little bit simplistic to see this fear as just a male problem (try watching a girl stand on a scale sometime), it turns out that Dr. Gustafson was very nearly right in this concept of the two masters — though not in the way that he, when alive and confused about his own real identity, believed — and even while I played along by pretending to argue or not quite understand what he was driving at, the idea struck me that maybe the real root of my problem was not fraudulence but a basic inability to really love, even to genuinely love my stepparents, or Fern, or Melissa Betts, or Ginger Manley of Aurora West High in 1979, whom I’d often thought of as the only girl I’d ever truly loved, though Dr. G.’s bromide about men being brainwashed to equate love with accomplishment or conquest also applied here. The plain truth was that Ginger Manley was just the first girl I ever went all the way with, and most of my tender feelings about her were really just nostalgia for the feeling of immense cosmic validation I’d felt when she finally let me take her jeans all the way off and put my so-called ‘manhood’ inside her, etc. There’s really no bigger cliché than losing your virginity and later having all kinds of retrospective tenderness for the girl involved. Or what Beverly-Elizabeth Slane, a research technician I used to see outside of work when I was a media buyer, and had a lot of conflict with toward the end, said, which I don’t think I ever told Dr. G. about, fraudulence-wise, probably because it cut a little too close to the bone. Toward the end she had compared me to some piece of ultra-expensive new medical or diagnostic equipment that can discern more about you in one quick scan than you could ever know about yourself — but the equipment doesn’t care about you, you’re just a sequence of processes and codes. What the machine understands about you doesn’t actually mean anything to it. Even though it’s really good at what it does. Beverly had a bad temper combined with some serious fire-power, she was not someone you wanted to have pissed off at you. She said she’d never felt the gaze of someone so penetrating, discerning, and yet totally empty of care, like she was a puzzle or problem I was figuring out. She said it was thanks to me that she’d discovered the difference between being penetrated and really known versus penetrated and just violated — needless to say, these thanks were sarcastic. Some of this was just her emotional makeup — she found it impossible to really end a relationship unless all bridges were burned and things got said that were so devastating that there could be no possibility of a rapprochement to haunt her or prevent her moving on. Nevertheless it penetrated, I never did forget what she said in that letter.
Even if being fraudulent and being unable to love were in fact ultimately the same thing (a possibility that Dr. Gustafson never seemed to consider no matter how many times I set him up to see it), being unable to really love was at least a different model or lens through which to see the problem, plus initially it seemed like a promising way of attacking the fraudulence paradox in terms of reducing the self- hatred part that reinforced the fear and the consequent drive to try to manipulate people into providing the very approval I’d denied myself. (Dr. G.’s term for approval was validation.) This period was pretty much the zenith of my career in analysis, and for a few weeks (during a couple of which I actually didn’t see Dr. Gustafson at all, because some sort of complication in his illness required him to go into the hospital, and when he came back he appeared to have lost not only weight but some kind of essential part of his total mass, and no longer seemed too large for his old desk chair, which still squeaked but now not as loudly, plus a lot of the clutter and papers had been straightened up and put in several brown cardboard banker’s boxes against the wall under the two sad prints, and when I came back in to see him the absence of mess was especially disturbing and sad, for some reason) it was true that I felt some of the first genuine hope I’d had since the early, self-deluded part of the experiment with Naperville’s Church of the Flaming Sword of the Redeemer. And yet at the same time these weeks also led more or less directly to my decision to kill myself, although I’m going to have to simplify and linearize a great deal of interior stuff in order to convey to you what actually happened. Otherwise it would take an almost literal eternity to recount it, we already agreed about that. It’s not that words or human language stop having any meaning or relevance after you die, by the way. It’s more the specific, one-after-the-other temporal ordering of them that does. Or doesn’t.
It’s hard to explain. In logical terms, something expressed in words will still have the same ‘cardinality’ but no longer the same ‘ordinality.’ All the different words are still there, in other words, but it’s no longer a question of which one comes first. Or you could say it’s no longer the series of words but now more like some limit toward which the series converges. It’s hard not to want to put it in logical terms, since they’re the most abstract and universal. Meaning they have no connotation, you don’t feel anything about them. Or maybe imagine everything anybody on earth ever said or even thought to themselves all getting collapsed and exploding into one large, combined, instantaneous sound — although instantaneous is a little misleading, since it implies other instants before and after, and it isn’t really like that. It’s more like the sudden internal flash when you see or realize something — a sudden flash or whatever of epiphany or insight. It’s not just that it happens way faster than you could break the process down and arrange it into English, but that it happens on a scale in which there isn’t even time to be aware of any sort of time at all in which it’s happening, the flash — all you know is that there’s a before and an after, and afterward you’re different. I don’t know if that makes sense. I’m just trying to give it to you from several different angles, it’s all the same thing. Or you could think of it as being more a certain configuration of light than a word-sum or series of sounds, too, afterward. Which is in fact true. Or as a theorem’s proof — because if a proof is true then it’s true everywhere and all the time, not just when you happen to say it. The thing is that it turns out that logical symbolism really would be the best way to express it, because logic is totally abstract and outside what we think of as time. It’s the closest thing to what it’s really like. That’s why it’s the logical paradoxes that really drive people nuts. A lot of history’s great logicians have ended up killing themselves, that is a fact.
And keep in mind this flash can happen anywhere, at any time.
Here’s the basic Berry paradox, by the way, if you might want an example of why logicians with incredible firepower can devote their whole lives to solving these things and still end up beating their heads against the wall. This one has to do with big numbers — meaning really big, past a trillion, past ten to the trillion to the trillion, way up there. When you get way up there, it takes a while even to describe numbers this big in words. ‘The quantity one trillion, four hundred and three billion to the trillionth power’ takes twenty syllables to describe, for example. You get the idea. Now, even higher up there in these huge, cosmic-scale numbers, imagine now the very smallest number that can’t be described in under twenty-two syllables. The paradox is that the very smallest number that can’t be described in under twenty-two syllables, which of course is itself a description of this num- ber, only has twenty-one syllables in it, which of course is under twenty-two syllables. So now what are you supposed to do?
At the same time, what actually led to it in causal terms, though, occurred during maybe the third or fourth week that Dr. G. was back seeing patients after his hospitalization. Although I’m not going to pretend that the specific incident wouldn’t strike most people as absurd or even sort of insipid, as causes go. The truth is just that late at night one night in August after Dr. G.’s return, when I couldn’t sleep (which happened a lot ever since the cocaine period) and was sitting up drinking a glass of milk or something and watching television, flipping the remote almost at random between different cable stations the way you do when it’s late, I happened on part of an old Cheers episode from late in the series’ run where the analyst character, Frasier (who went on to have his own show), and Lilith, his fiancée and also an analyst, are just entering the stage set of the underground tavern, and Frasier is asking her how her workday at her office went, and Lilith says, ‘If I have one more yuppie come in and start whining to me about how he can’t love, I’m going to throw up.’ This line got a huge laugh from the show’s studio audience, which indicated that they — and so by demographic extension the whole national audience at home as well — recognized what a cliché and melodramatic type of complaint the inability-to-love concept was. And, sitting there, when I suddenly realized that once again I’d managed to con myself, this time into thinking that this was a truer or more promising way to conceive of the problem of fraudulence — and, by extension, that I’d also somehow deluded myself into almost believing that poor old Dr. Gustafson had anything in his mental arsenal that could actually help me, and that ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼the real truth was probably more that I was continuing to see him partly out of pity and partly so that I could pretend to myself that I was taking steps to becoming more authentic when in fact all I was doing was jerking a gravely ill shell of a guy around and feeling superior to him because I was able to analyze his own psychological makeup so much more accurately than he could analyze mine — the flash of realizing all this at the very same time that the huge audience-laugh showed that nearly everybody in the United States had probably already seen through the complaint’s inauthenticity as long ago as whenever the episode had originally run — all this flashed through my head in the tiny interval it took to realize what I was watching and to remember who the characters of Frasier and Lilith even were, meaning maybe half a second at most, and it more or less destroyed me, that’s the only way I can describe it, as if whatever hope of any way out of the trap I’d made for myself had been blasted out of midair or laughed off the stage, as if I were one of those stock comic characters who is always both the butt of the joke and the only person not to get the joke — and in sum I went to bed feeling as fraudulent, befogged, hopeless and full of self-contempt as I’d ever felt, and it was the next morning after that that I woke up having decided I was going to kill myself and end the whole farce. (As you probably recall, Cheers was an incredibly popular series, and even in syndication its metro numbers were so high that if a local advertiser wanted to buy time on it the slots cost so much that you pretty much had to build his whole local strat- egy around those slots.) I’m compressing a huge amount of what took place in my psyche that next-to-last night, all the different realizations and conclusions I reached as I lay there in bed unable to sleep or even move (no single series’ line or audience-laugh is in and of itself going to constitute a reason for suicide, of course) — although to you I imagine it probably doesn’t seem all that compressed at all, you’re thinking here’s this guy going on and on and why doesn’t he get to the part where he kills himself and explain or account for the fact that he’s sitting here next to me in a piece of high-powered machinery telling me all this if he died in 1991. Which in fact I knew I would from the moment I first woke up. It was over, I’d decided to end the charade.
After breakfast I called in sick to work and stayed home the whole day by myself. I knew that if I was around anyone I’d automatically lapse into fraudulence. I had decided to take a whole lot of Benadryl and then just as I got really sleepy and relaxed I’d get the car up to top speed on a rural road way out in the extreme west suburbs and drive it head-on into a concrete bridge abutment. Benadryl makes me ex- tremely foggy and sleepy, it always has. I spent most of the morning on letters to my lawyer and C.P.A., and brief notes to the creative head and managing partner who had originally brought me aboard at Samieti and Cheyne. Our creative group was in the middle of some very ticklish campaign preparations, and I wanted to apologize for in any way leaving them in the lurch. Of course I didn’t really feel all that sorry — Samieti and Cheyne was a ballet of fraudulence, and I was well out of it. The note was probably ultimately just so that the people who really mattered at S. & C. would be more apt to remember me as a decent, conscientious guy who it turned out was maybe just a little too sensitive and tormented by his personal demons — ‘Almost too good for this world’ is what I seemed to be unable to keep from fanta- sizing a lot of them saying after news of it came through. I did not write Dr. Gustafson a note. He had his own share of problems, and I knew that in the note I’d spend a lot of time trying to seem as if I was being honest but really just dancing around the truth, which was that he was a deeply repressed homosexual or androgyne and had no real business charging patients to let him project his own maladjustments onto them, and that the truth was that he’d be doing himself and everybody else a favor if he’d just go over to Garfield Park and blow somebody in the bushes and try honestly to decide if he liked it or not, and that I was a total fraud for continuing to drive all the way in to River Forest to see him and bat him around like a catnip toy while telling myself there was some possible nonfraudulent point to it. (All of which, of course, even if they weren’t dying of colon cancer right in front of you you still could never actually come out and say to somebody, since certain truths might well destroy them — and who has that right?)
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼I did spend almost two hours before taking the first of the Benadryl composing a handwritten note to my sister Fern. In the note I apologized for whatever pain my suicide and the fraudulence and/or inability to love that had precipitated it might cause her and my stepdad (who was still alive and well and now lived in Marin County, California, where he taught part-time and did community outreach with Marin County’s homeless). I also used the occasion of the letter and all the sort of last-testament urgency associated with it to license apologizing to Fern about manipulating my stepparents into believing that she’d lied about the antique glass bowl in 1967, as well as for half a dozen other incidents and spiteful or fraudulent actions that I knew had caused her pain and that I had felt bad about ever since, but had never really seen any way to broach with her or express my honest regret for. (It turns out there are things that you can discuss in a suicide note that would just be too bizarre if expressed in any other kind of venue.) Just one example of such an incident was during a period in the mid-’70s, when Fern, as part of puberty, underwent some physical changes that made her look chunky for a year or two — not fat, but wide-hipped and bosomy and sort of much more broad than she’d been as a pre-teen — and of course she was very, very sensitive about it (puberty also being a time of terrible self-consciousness and sensitivity about one’s body image, obviously), so much so that my stepparents took great pains never to say anything about Fern’s new breadth or even ever to bring up any topics related to eating habits, diet and exercise, etc. And I for my own part never said anything about it either, not directly, but I had worked out all kinds of very subtle and indirect ways to torment Fern about her size in such a way that my stepparents never saw anything and I could never really be accused of anything that I couldn’t then look all around myself with a shocked, incredulous facial expression as if I had no idea what she was talking about, such as just a quick raise of my eyebrow when her eyes met mine as she was having a second helping at dinner, or a quick little quiet, ‘You sure you can fit into that?’ when she came home from the store with a new skirt. The one I still remembered the most vividly involved the second-floor hall of our house, which was in Aurora and was a three-story home (including the basement) but not all that spacious or large, meaning a skinny three-decker like so many you always see all crammed together along residential streets in Naperville and Aurora. The second-floor hallway, which ran between Fern’s room and the top of the stairway on one end and my room and the second-floor bathroom on the other, was cramped and somewhat narrow, but not anywhere close to as narrow as I would pretend that it was whenever Fern and I passed each other in it, with me squashing my back against the hallway wall and splaying my arms out and wincing as if there would barely be enough room for some- body of her unbelievable breadth to squeeze past me, and she would never say anything or even look at me when I did it but would just go on past me into the bathroom and close the door. But I knew it must have hurt her. A little while later, she entered an adolescent period where she hardly ate anything at all, and smoked cigarettes and chewed several packs of gum a day, and used a lot of makeup, and for a while she got so thin that she looked angular and a bit like an insect (although of course I never said that), and I once, through their bedroom’s keyhole, overheard a brief conversation in which my stepmother said she was worried because she didn’t think Fern was having her normal time of the month anymore because she had gotten so underweight, and she and my stepfather discussed the possibility of taking her to see some kind of specialist. That period passed on its own, but in the letter I told Fern that I’d always remembered this and certain other periods when I’d been cruel or tried to make her feel bad, and that I regretted them very much, although I said I wouldn’t want to seem so egotistical as to think that a simple apology could erase any of the hurt I’d caused her when we were growing up. On the other hand, I also assured her that it wasn’t as if I had gone around for years carrying excessive guilt or blowing these incidents out of all proportion. They were not life-altering traumas or anything like that, and in many ways they were probably all too typical of the sorts of cruelties that kids tend to inflict on each other growing up. I also assured her that neither these incidents nor my remorse about them had anything to do with my killing myself. I simply said, without going into anything like the level of detail I’ve given you (because my purpose in the letter was of course very different), that I was killing myself because I was an essen- tially fraudulent person who seemed to lack either the character or the firepower to find a way to stop even after I’d realized my fraudulence and the terrible toll it exacted (I told her nothing about the various different realizations or paradoxes, what would be the point?). I also inserted that there was also a good possibility that, when all was said and done, I was nothing but just another fast-track yuppie who couldn’t love, and that I found the banality of this unendurable, largely because I was evidently so hollow and insecure that I had a pathological need to see myself as somehow exceptional or outstanding at all times. Without going into much explanation or argument, I also told Fern that if her initial reaction to these reasons for my killing myself was to think that I was being much, much too hard on myself, then she should know that I was already aware that that was the most likely reaction my note would produce in her, and had probably deliber- ately constructed the note to at least in part prompt just that reaction, just the way my whole life I’d often said and done things designed to prompt certain people to believe that I was a genuinely outstanding person whose personal standards were so high that he was far too hard on himself, which in turn made me appear attractively modest and unsmug, and was a big reason for my popularity with so many people in all different avenues of my life — what Beverly-Elizabeth Slane had termed my ‘talent for ingratiation’ — but was nevertheless basically calculated and fraudulent. I also told Fern that I loved her very much, and asked her to relay these same sentiments to Marin County for me.
Now we’re getting to the part where I actually kill myself. This occurred at 9:17 PM on August 19, 1991, if you want the time fixed precisely. Plus I’ll spare you most of the last couple hours’ preparations and back-and-forth conflict and dithering, which there was a lot of. Suicide runs so counter to so many hardwired instincts and drives that nobody in his right mind goes through with it without going through a great deal of internal back-and-forth, intervals of almost changing your mind, etc. The German logician Kant was right in this respect, human beings are all pretty much identical in terms of our hardwiring. Although we are seldom conscious of it, we are all basically just instruments or expressions of our evolutionary drives, which are themselves the expressions of forces that are infinitely larger and more important than we are. (Although actually being conscious of this is a whole different matter.) So I won’t really even try to describe the several different times that day when I sat in my living room and had a furious mental back-and-forth about whether to actually go through with it. For one thing, it was intensely mental and would take an enormous amount of time to put into words, plus it would come off as somewhat cliché or banal in the sense that many of the thoughts and associations were basically the same sorts of generic things that almost anyone who’s confronting imminent death will end up thinking. As in, ‘This is the last time I will ever tie my shoe,’ ‘This is the last time I will look at this rubber tree on top of the stereo cabinet,’ ‘How delicious this lungful of air right here tastes,’ ‘This is the last glass of milk I’ll ever drink,’ ‘What a totally priceless gift this totally ordinary sight of the wind picking trees’ branches up and moving them around is.’ Or, ‘I will never again hear the plaintive sound of the fridge going on in the kitchen’ (the kitchen and breakfast nook are right off my living room), etc. Or, ‘I won’t see the sun come up tomorrow or watch the bedroom gradually undim and resolve, etc.,’ and at the same time trying to summon the memory of the exact way the sun comes up over the humid fields and the wet-looking I-55 ramp that lay due east of my bedroom’s sliding glass door in the morning. It had been a hot, wet August, and if I went through with killing myself I wouldn’t ever get to feel the incremental cooling and drying that starts here around mid-September, or to see the leaves turn or hear them rustle along the edge of the courtyard outside S. & C.’s floor of the building on S. Dearborn, or see snow or put a shovel and bag of sand in the trunk, or bite into a perfectly ripe, ungrainy pear, or put a piece of toilet paper on a shaving cut. Etc. If I went in and went to the bathroom and brushed my teeth it would be the last time I did those things. I sat there and thought about that, looking at the rubber tree. Everything seemed to tremble a little, the way things reflected in water will tremble. I watched the sun begin to drop down over the townhouse developments going up south of Darien’s corporation limit on Lily Cache Rd. and realized that I would never see the newest homes’ construction and landscaping completed, or that the homes’ white insulation wrap with the trade name TYVEK all over it flapping in all the wind out here would one day have vinyl siding or plate brick and color-coordinated shutters over it and I wouldn’t see this happen or be able to drive by and know what was actually written there under all the nice exteriors. Or the breakfast nook window’s view of the big farms’ fields next to my development, with the plowed furrows all parallel so that if I lean and line their lines up just right they seem to all rush together toward the horizon as if shot out of something huge. You get the idea. Basically I was in that state in which a man realizes that everything he sees will outlast him. As a verbal construction I know that’s a cliché. As a state in which to actually be, though, it’s some- thing else, believe me. Where now every movement takes on a kind of ceremonial aspect. The very sacredness of the world as seen (the same kind of state Dr. G. will try to describe with analogies to oceans and whitecaps and trees, you might recall I mentioned this already). This is literally about one one-trillionth of the various thoughts and internal experiences I underwent in those last few hours, and I’ll spare both of us recounting any more, since I’m aware it ends up seeming somewhat lame. Which in fact it wasn’t, but I won’t pretend it was fully authentic or genuine, either. A part of me was still calculating, performing — and this was part of the ceremonial quality of that last afternoon. Even as I wrote my note to Fern, for instance, expressing sentiments and regrets that were real, a part of me was noticing what a fine and sincere note it was, and anticipating the effect on Fern of this or that heartfelt phrase, while yet another part was observing the whole scene of a man in a dress shirt and no tie sitting at his breakfast nook writing a heartfelt note on his last afternoon alive, the blondwood table’s surface trembling with sunlight and the man’s hand steady and face both haunted by regret and ennobled by resolve, this part of me sort of hovering above and just to the left of myself, evaluating the scene, and thinking what a fine and genuine-seeming performance in a drama it would make if only we all had not already been subject to countless scenes just like it in dramas ever since we first saw a movie or read a book, which somehow entailed that real scenes like the one of my suicide note were now compelling and genuine only to their participants, and to anyone else would come off as banal and even somewhat cheesy or maudlin, which is somewhat paradoxical when you consider — as I did, sitting there at the breakfast nook — that the reason scenes like this will seem stale or manipulative to an audience is that we’ve already seen so many of them in dramas, and yet the reason we’ve seen so many of them in dramas is that the scenes really are dramatic and compelling and let people communicate very deep, complicated emotional realities that are almost impossible to articulate in any other way, and at the same time still another facet or part of me realizing that from this perspective my own basic problem was that at an early age I’d somehow chosen to cast my lot with my life’s drama’s supposed audience instead of with the drama itself, and that I even now was watching and gauging my supposed performance’s quality and probable effects, and thus was in the final analysis the very same manipulative fraud writing the note to Fern that I had been throughout the life that had brought me to this climactic scene of writing and signing it and addressing the envelope and affixing postage and putting the envelope in my shirt pocket (totally conscious of the resonance of its resting there, next to my heart, in the scene), planning to drop it in a mailbox on the way out to Lily Cache Rd. and the bridge abutment into which I planned to drive my car at speeds sufficient to displace the whole front end and impale me on the steering wheel and instantly kill me. Self-loathing is not the same thing as being into pain or a lingering death, if I was going to do it I wanted it instant.
On Lily Cache, the bridge abutments and sides’ steep banks support State Route 4 (also known as the Braidwood Highway) as it crosses overhead on a cement overpass so covered with graffiti that most of it you can’t even read. (Which sort of defeats the purpose of graffiti, in my opinion.) The abutments themselves are just off the road and about as wide as this car. Plus the intersection is isolated way out in the countryside around Romeoville, ten or so miles south of the southwest suburbs’ limits. It is the true boonies. The only homes are farms set way back from the road and embellished with silos and barns, etc. At night in the summer the dew-point is high and there’s always fog. It’s farm country. I’ve never once passed under 4 here without seeming to be the only thing on either road. The corn high and the fields like a green ocean all around, insects the only real noise. Driving alone under creamy stars and a little cocked scythe of moon, etc. The idea was to have the accident and whatever explosion and fire was involved occur someplace isolated enough that no one else would see it, so that there would be as little an aspect of performance to the thing as I could manage and no temptation to spend my last few seconds trying to imagine what impression the sight and sound of the impact might make on someone watching. I was partly concerned that it might be spectacular and dramatic and might look as if the driver was trying to go out in as dramatic a way as possible. This is the sort of shit we waste our lives thinking about.
The ground fog tends to get more intense by the second until it seems that the whole world is just what’s in your headlights’ reach. High beams don’t work in fog, they only make things worse. You can go ahead and try them but you’ll see what happens, all they do is light up the fog so it seems even denser. That’s kind of a minor paradox, that sometimes you can actually see farther with low beams than high. All right — and there’s the construction and all the flapping TYVEK wrap on houses that if you really do do it you’ll never see anyone live in. Although it won’t hurt, it really will be instant, I can tell you that much. The fields’ insects are almost deafening. If the corn’s high like this and you watch as the sun sets you can practically watch them rise up out of the fields like some great figure’s shadow rising. Mostly mosquitoes, I don’t know what all they are. It’s a whole insect universe in there that none of us will ever see or know anything about. Plus you’ll notice the Benadryl doesn’t help all that much once you’re under way. That whole idea was probably ill-conceived.
All right, now we’re coming to what I promised and led you through the whole dull synopsis of what led up to this in hopes of. Meaning what it’s like to die, what happens. Right? This is what everyone wants to know. And you do, trust me. Whether you decide to go through with it or not, whether I somehow talk you out of it the way you think I’m going to try to do or not. It’s not what anyone thinks, for one thing. The truth is you already know what it’s like. You already know the difference between the size and speed of everything that flashes through you and the tiny inadequate bit of it all you can ever let any- one know. As though inside you is this enormous room full of what seems like everything in the whole universe at one time or another and yet the only parts that get out have to somehow squeeze out through one of those tiny keyholes you see under the knob in older doors. As if we are all trying to see each other through these tiny keyholes.
But it does have a knob, the door can open. But not in the way you think. But what if you could? Think for a second — what if all the infi- nitely dense and shifting worlds of stuff inside you every moment of your life turned out now to be somehow fully open and expressible afterward, after what you think of as you has died, because what if afterward now each moment itself is an infinite sea or span or passage of time in which to express it or convey it, and you don’t even need any organized English, you can as they say open the door and be in anyone else’s room in all your own multiform forms and ideas and facets? Because listen — we don’t have much time, here’s where Lily Cache slopes slightly down and the banks start getting steep, and you can just make out the outlines of the unlit sign for the farmstand that’s never open anymore, the last sign before the bridge — so listen: What exactly do you think you are? The millions and trillions of thoughts, memories, juxtapositions — even crazy ones like this, you’re thinking — that flash through your head and disappear? Some sum or remainder of these? Your history? Do you know how long it’s been since I told you I was a fraud? Do you remember you were looking at the respicem watch hanging from the rearview and seeing the time, 9:17? What are you looking at right now? Coincidence? What if no time has passed at all?* The truth is you’ve already heard this. That this is what it’s like. That it’s what makes room for the universes inside you, all the endless in-bent fractals of connection and symphonies of different voices, the infinities you can never show another soul. And you think it makes you a fraud, the tiny fraction anyone else ever sees? Of course you’re a fraud, of course what people see is never you. And of course you know this, and of course you try to manage what part they see if you know it’s only a part. Who wouldn’t? It’s called free will, Sherlock. But at the same time it’s why it feels so good to break down and cry in front of others, or to laugh, or speak in tongues, or chant in Bengali — it’s not English anymore, it’s not getting squeezed through any hole.
* One clue that there’s something not quite real about sequential time the way you experience it is the various paradoxes of time supposedly passing and of a so-called ‘pres- ent’ that’s always unrolling into the future and creating more and more past behind it. As if the present were this car — nice car by the way — and the past is the road we’ve just gone over, and the future is the headlit road up ahead we haven’t yet gotten to, and time is the car’s forward movement, and the precise present is the car’s front bumper as it cuts through the fog of the future, so that it’s now and then a tiny bit later a whole different now, etc. Except if time is really passing, how fast does it go? At what rate does the present change? See? Meaning if we use time to measure motion or rate — which we do, it’s the only way you can — 95 miles per hour, 70 heartbeats a minute, etc. — how are you supposed to measure the rate at which time moves? One second per second? It makes no sense. You can’t even talk about time flowing or mov- ing without hitting up against paradox right away. So think for a second: What if there’s really no movement at all? What if this is all unfolding in the one flash you call the present, this first, infinitely tiny split-second of impact when the speeding car’s front bumper’s just starting to touch the abutment, just before the bumper crumples and displaces the front end and you go violently forward and the steering column comes back at your chest as if shot out of something enormous? Meaning that what if in fact this now is infinite and never really passes in the way your mind is supposedly wired to understand pass, so that not only your whole life but every single humanly conceivable way to describe and account for that life has time to flash like neon shaped into those connected cursive letters that businesses’ signs and windows love so much to use through your mind all at once in the literally immeasurable instant between im- pact and death, just as you start forward to meet the wheel at a rate no belt ever made could restrain — THE END.
So cry all you want, I won’t tell anybody.
But it wouldn’t have made you a fraud to change your mind. It would be sad to do it because you think you somehow have to.
It won’t hurt, though. It will be loud, and you’ll feel things, but they’ll go through you so fast that you won’t even realize you’re feeling them (which is sort of like the paradox I used to bounce off Gustafson — is it possible to be a fraud if you aren’t aware you’re a fraud?). And the very brief moment of fire you’ll feel will be almost good, like when your hands are cold and there’s a fire and you hold your hands out toward it.
The reality is that dying isn’t bad, but it takes forever. And that forever is no time at all. I know that sounds like a contradiction, or maybe just wordplay. What it really is, it turns out, is a matter of perspective. The big picture, as they say, in which the fact is that this whole seem- ingly endless back-and-forth between us has come and gone and come again in the very same instant that Fern stirs a boiling pot for dinner, and your stepfather packs some pipe tobacco down with his thumb, and Angela Mead uses an ingenious little catalogue tool to roll cat hair off her blouse, and Melissa Betts inhales to respond to something she thinks her husband just said, and David Wallace blinks in the midst of idly scanning class photos from his 1980 Aurora West H.S. yearbook and seeing my photo and trying, through the tiny little keyhole of himself, to imagine what all must have happened to lead up to my death in the fiery single-car accident he’d read about in 1991, like what sorts of pain or problems might have driven the guy to get in his electric-blue Corvette and try to drive with all that O.T.C. medication in his bloodstream — David Wallace happening to have a huge and totally unorganizable set of inner thoughts, feelings, memories and impressions of this little photo’s guy a year ahead of him in school with the seemingly almost neon aura around him all the time of scholastic and athletic excellence and popularity and success with the ladies, as well as of every last cutting remark or even tiny disgusted gesture or expression on this guy’s part whenever David Wallace struck out looking in Legion ball or said something dumb at a party, and of how impressive and authentically at ease in the world the guy always seemed, ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼like an actual living person instead of the dithering, pathetically self-conscious outline or ghost of a person David Wallace knew himself back then to be. Verily a fair-haired, fast-track guy, whom in the very best human tradition David Wallace had back then imagined as happy and unreflective and wholly unhaunted by voices telling him that there was something deeply wrong with him that wasn’t wrong with any- body else and that he had to spend all of his time and energy trying to figure out what to do and say in order to impersonate an even marginally normal or acceptable U.S. male, all this stuff clanging around in David Wallace ’81’s head every second and moving so fast that he never got a chance to catch hold and try to fight or argue against it or even really even feel it except as a knot in his stomach as he stood in his real parents’ kitchen ironing his uniform and thinking of all the ways he could screw up and strike out looking or drop balls out in right and reveal his true pathetic essence in front of this .418 hitter and his witchily pretty sister and everyone else in the audience in lawn chairs in the grass along the sides of the Legion field (all of whom already probably saw through the sham from the outset anyway, he was pretty sure) — in other words David Wallace trying, if only in the second his lids are down, to somehow reconcile what this luminous guy had seemed like from the outside with whatever on the interior must have driven him to kill himself in such a dramatic and doubtlessly painful way — with David Wallace also fully aware that the cliché that you can’t ever truly know what’s going on inside somebody else is hoary and insipid and yet at the same time trying very consciously to prohibit that awareness from mocking the attempt or sending the whole line of thought into the sort of inbent spiral that keeps you from ever getting anywhere (considerable time having passed since 1981, of course, and David Wallace having emerged from years of literally indescribable war against himself with quite a bit more firepower than he’d had at Aurora West), the realer, more enduring and sentimental part of him commanding that other part to be silent as if looking it levelly in the eye and saying, almost aloud, ‘Not another word.’
The Lost Years & Last Days of David Foster Wallace
David Foster Wallace: Defining voice of depression?
Beyond the Trouble, More Trouble By Elizabeth Wurtzel
THE UNFINISHED: David Foster Wallace’s struggle to surpass “Infinite Jest.”
happier note, here's his kenyon college speech without having to buy that cash-in book
p.s. Hey. If you have the time and are in the mood to read some brilliant and very sad writings this weekend -- and you people in the East Coast blizzard zone might be ideal targets (sorry) -- you might want to lift your finger off the track pad and run your eyes carefully through one or more of these David Foster Wallace essays, gathered for you by the inspiring writer and d.l. Postitbreakup. The rewards are great, so give it some thought, won't you? Thank you ever so much, Mr. P. Also, re: a different matter, if anyone out there has any guest-posts they want to build and send my/the blog's way, that would be a huge help to me as I'm in one of my occasional phases where a lot of real life plus lack of time/ inspiration is playing havoc with my post making abilities. So, if you have something you could give the blog and its readers, that would be really great, thanks. ** 5STRINGS, Hi. You're like ... what's that ... uh, Kris Kristofferson (?) quote, ... uh ... 'You're a walking contradiction, partly ... '. I forget the rest. Anyway, that can totally work, obviously. Me, I'm, like, ... I don't care about story-telling very much, and I love poetry, and I think the new writing is super fashion-y (in a good way), so, yeah. A friend of your mom's is into slave culture? How so? You gotta fill that out for me, man. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi, D. Yes, the Cop Killer guy/story has made the news over here. I think his manifesto is what got the French intrigued. As I see you know by the FaBlog, that is quite a text there. I love all the TV references and stuff. It's not quite Unibomber level, but it was a nicely head scratchy read. ** Rewritedept, Hey. Cover looks nice. Yeah, you should probably put your name on there somewhere. Never read Svenonious's books. They're good? What are they? Nope, didn't listen to it yet, sorry. Life intrudes. It's on the conceptual turntable for this weekend. On the 'Hey Ma' related post, it's your call. Whatever you want. I think probably it should take place in one post, but it can be a giant one, you like. I know The Witch. I like The Witch. In fact, I'll go listen to them, but not until after the MBV owns me. I'll try to have a fun weekend. I'll figure something out. You too. ** Tonyoneill, Hi, Tony! Oh, wow, that's a good question, but, hm, let me go smoke a cigarette in the Recollets courtyard for a minute and think about that, and I'll be right back. ... Okay, it's a strangely hard question. I mean, there's the kind of hidden 'worlds' and 'corridors' that are in the structure of certain films themselves, like 'Marienbad' and 'Providence' and Robbe-Grillet films, and those tend to excite me the most. There's Lynch, pretty obviously, like that spooky hallway in the beginning of 'Lost Highway' where it seems like Bill Pullman and whole movie ends up getting lost. When I think about actual secret corridor stuff, I seem to end up thinking about kind of dumb blockbuster movies like, I don't know, Indiana Jones and 'Hellboy' and that sort of thing, or about certain horror movies like, uh, 'House of 1000 Corpses', or ... there's that kind of awful (to my mind) movie 'Cube' that's like a movie-as-puzzle. Hm, let me think about it more today and see if I can come up with much better examples 'cos I surely can. Weirdly, I still haven't listened to the new MBV. Kind of bizarre that I haven't. A time and place problem, but I absolutely will this weekend. You okay inside the blizzard? The latest news here has NYC being hit more by a ton of slush rather than by a ton of hardcore snow? More soon. Awesome to see you, T! ** David J. White, Hi, David! Yeah, I understand. Definitely the best idea is to take the story and form where you need/want them to go for your film and avoid slavishness 'cos that's always seem like a bad idea. I guess it's naturally hard for me to get out of my own thinking about the piece and how/why I made it, and that's just my problem. You know, like, in the fiction piece, the whole point is that it's the voice of the boy on the far left, and that's why the piece has that title, so changing that makes me confused because the film isn't about what the fiction piece was about, so, yeah, I just need to get my head around the change and figure out what the title means re: the film and stuff like that, which is nothing but interesting to do. So, yeah, mainly, thank you again so very much. ** Cobaltfram, Sounds like your comment yesterday got disappeared like comments here do sometimes for ultra-mysterious reasons. I'm so happy to hear that Chad liked 'The Sluts' so much. Yeah, obviously, that means a lot. Hm, my ranking of my own stuff, well, let's see ... I'm actually not as into 'The Sluts' as I am into most of my other novels, which is weird since it seems to be the most popular one. So, it would probably be down in the lower realms, which isn't really so low since I am proud of all my novels, rightly or wrongly. At this point, I'd put 'TMS' at the top, 'MLT' a close second, then, uh, either 'Guide' or 'Period', and then, after them, 'Try' and 'God Jr.', and then, after them, 'The Sluts', 'Closer', and 'Frisk', not necessarily in that order. I don't know. That would be my 'hierarchy' as of this morning. Austin, new Herzog, presumably seeing pals, ... very nice. Okay, have a great weekend in a high style of your choosing. ** Scunnard, Thanks, buddy. Oh, a Day coming from you would be a veritable life/blog saver, if it's easy and if you don't mind. Thank you! A thoroughly excellence-stuffed Saturday and Sunday to you. ** Bitter69uk, Hey, man! How are you doing? It's great to see you! Really glad you dug the Butoh and its related post. Actually, I once read an interview with VHoKB where Butoh was cited as a big influence, so there you go! Wow, really nice recent Nico post on your site! I'm going to go over that in detail later on. Everyone, d.l. bitter69uk has a superb looking post about Nico up on his always compelling Bitterness Personified blog, and you should really go check it out, and you can do that because it's as simple as being right here. Kudos, sir! ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. Nice photos of the shows. Lookin' good. Everyone, do you want to go see visual evidence of a exhibition by Jutta Koether and another group show via the eyes and lens of _Black_Acrylic? Easy. ** Billy Lloyd, Hi, Billy. I agree about the Romantic era's betterness. I was only into the Renaissance period thing for a bit because I was in love with a guy who really was. You know how that goes. Our Recorder Consort group was hired to play at the annual Renaissance Faire, if you know what that is, and after six weeks of standing around all day amidst people dressed up in Renaissance costumes and talking in fake Shakespearean accents, I was way, way over that era. Really nice book covers. Simple but elegant and personal too, nice! Sure, I would love to read the advice you gave them if you don't mind copying and pasting. That would be great! The twins sound very cool and like unique dudes. And your relationship with them is very sweet, and it's no doubt being hugely influential for them. Oh, man, good luck getting that Monopoly game in your winning circle. ** Steevee, Slush attack: that's what the news is saying re: NYC and environs. We're getting slush here too today, but it's melting into dew at the ground's first touch. Good luck with all of that, my friend. ** Grant Scicluna, Hey! Yeah, starting every scene as though it's in action and barreling ahead was a big strategy. I'm really glad it was effective. Thank you so much! And thanks for not erasing the output from your keyboard cleaning. That was fun. And thank you yet again about the 'God Jr.' scene. You're so kind, Grant, that's so good of you. It always surprises people when I say this, but I don't like 'Salo'. But you have to understand that the Sade novel was massively important to me and changed my life and helped set my goals as a writer, so I'm not that objective. For me, the film is really reductive, and Pasolini's decision to ground it in politics is an interesting decision, but the complexity of the novel and characters' and authorial motivations is lost in part because of that decision, and I find the visualizations of the violence way too literal and theatrical, but I think trying to portray those kinds of horrors in an illustrative way is kind of a losing battle in general. So, yeah. But, like I said, the book is far too important to me to get my head out of it and see the film only for what it is. You and many others whose opinions I highly value love the film, so I know/ believe that the problem is my problem. You have a superb weekend too! ** Michael J Seidlinger, Hi, Michael! I'm so glad you came back! My pleasure, my honor, etc., etc., sir! Congrats, and I'm so happy to see the great response that 'MPS' seems to be getting across the board so far. Awesome! ** Sypha, I read that Rhode Island got one of those state of emergency things imposed on it, so, yeah, I assume you're pretty socked under. Enjoy it, and fingers crossed that your power doesn't fail you! ** Misanthrope, I haven't seen you this far down in the comments arena for ages. Good sign re: zzzz? The Chabon does sound tricky. Sounds kind of racist to me based on what you say. Maybe it's a parody of racism? I don't know. Curious to hear your final judgement once the covers are closed for good. ** L@rstonovich, Larsty, my old buddy! It's a heck of a great thing to see you, pal! What's up? What's good? What's new, what's old? Thanks for the Korine compilation! Much love, me. ** Un Cœur Blanc, Hi! Michaux is really wonderful, yes! I feel like reading him now. I feel like you must be getting the full effect of the blizzard where you live. Are you? If so, I hope its beauty outweighs its anchoring effect. Great weekend to you irregardless! ** Okay. Like I said, DFW, courtesy of Postit, will fill your weekend with major value, if you let him/them. See you on Monday.
Posted by Dennis Cooper at 12:09 AM