Not A Day Goes By

by dschapman

On the eve of my 22nd birthday I suddenly found myself an adult, all alone, in the world of adults, without any women, without any friends, without any sense of well-being. A man delivered a sofa to my door and I told him to put it in the living room. Why did he bring me a sofa, this morning? I don’t use sofas, unless I have to. I had no plans and not a care in the world. I wasn’t sure if I’d even live to see tomorrow – my birthday – the day of my birth, what does that mean? I was trying not to think too hard. What would I do with myself? Where were my friends – and where were the presents? There are no presents, anymore. No one can give me anything I could want, except myself, and I am too poor to give gifts to myself, spirit-poor, characterless. That is – I am not a gift-giver, not anymore.

I put a call in for a call girl, something I had never done before, but it was too expensive and I didn’t have the appetite for it, anyway. I would never have an appetite. But nonetheless, I had to eat – so who would join me for dinner? Would I eat dinner alone, in my kitchen on a stool watching Rio Bravo on a tiny screen, a bowl of beans and rice lightly salted, a shot of gin in tonic water? I hope not, I thought. Although, I do love beans and rice… I ran through my options in my head, and there weren’t very many. I was friends with a beautiful girl, a girl I had meant only a few weeks ago and had, against all sense of character, introduced myself to out of the blue, and she received my introduction warmly. I wanted to take her home with me in my nice, fast car and fall in love with her, in love with me, although I knew almost from the beginning that nothing like love would ever come of it. Nothing would come of it, at all… Nothing ever comes, at all. But she was so beautiful, so real, and her and I were not so different – but her beauty, it was too much for me, it confused me, made me feel giddy; I thought, what is this? It’s like I – like I…

I asked her to have dinner with me. I made sure to mention that it was my birthday so she wouldn’t dream of saying no. She didn’t say no and she gave me her address to pick her up, and I told her when I’d meet her. .

My friend – my only friend, who I couldn’t stand, like my family – came by to take me to lunch. I told him that I didn’t have an appetite but he sat me down and made me smoke until I had one. It didn’t work – nothing works anymore – but I went with him nonetheless. His wife joined us and the three of us had little, very little, to say to one another. I let them talk to each other about something domestic for as long as they could, while my mind was a thousand places at once, and when they had finished and had nothing domestic to say, I tried to sound not absentminded, and to be polite, and so I mentioned – feebly – a show that I’d seen. Neither of them had seen the show so I mentioned one they had soon, and we had a good laugh about it, saying the same things over and over. Afterwards my mind is gone. I am thinking about, Where has my mind gone? A thousand different places. Wholeheartedly absent, the prodigal son, now and then returning. After a minute of silence someone asked me my dinner plans and I said, I have a date. My friend said we should go to his restaurant, because he was working, he could hook us up with something nice. He works at the nicest restaurant in town, and I like it, but I don’t like any of their food; it is too good for me. I get steak and fries when I go but they are not the sort of steak and fries I like, nor could even eat if I did; but that’s what I get, and that’s what I pay for, and I go home satisfied nonetheless, unsatisfied. So I decide to go, and get steak frites, and maybe have a glass of wine. He offers to pay for my meal but I politely refuse. I pay for lunch and excuse myself.

I am falling apart every day it seems. Today my toenail split in half. Rotting away, piece by piece. I’ve lost some feeling in my ankle, but that’s fine, everyone is losing feeling these days, or so it seems. I think my toenail hurts me, but it is hard, if not impossible, to tell. Nothing is certain. I am plagued by uncertainties. I take refuge in them, turning silent. I allow others to feel my inconsistencies and be at odds with them. When I go on a trip with my family I press myself close to the far end of the car and say nothing. They talk and they shove food in my face and they ask me if I want some. I grunt or I shudder or I try to smile. I have taken to winking; it requires minimal effort and seems to keep them cheerful. I wink a hundred times a day and even that exhausts me. I do not want to hurt their cheer, but by god, I can’t keep winking… Besides, they know better. No, I don’t want to hurt their cheer, but – but I cannot stand food being shoved in my face, and I cannot take part in the bantering inanity for one moment longer. Am I even a family member? Or am I this sort of family member, and is that okay of me? Let’s face it; I’m no George Bailey. Or am I George Bailey? I cannot stand how often they thank me or apologize for something or tell me they love me. Just let me off the hook, I want to cry – I’m kind of a monster, don’t you know that? I’m one of the tortured ones – yes, that’s me! A tortured one. And it’s ridiculous.

And on these trips, with my family, I let them assume that I am in great pain and that is why I’m being unpleasant, because it is true that I am in great pain, as I am always in pain. But that is not why I am being unpleasant. An altogether different sort of pain…  My dad starts asking all about my friend, my other friend, whom he has only seen once, just the other month, but can’t stop thinking about; he is sounding quite concerned for him. He is asking me how he has been. Who – him? I shrug and try not to say anything because it is impossible to say, I mean, there just aren’t any words for it, but I realize my dad genuinely wants to help, would really like to understand him, and maybe, even, could. “He seems to be having such a hard time… But he really is smart, isn’t he? He really is a good kid, isn’t he?” he asks me. Ah; so – so I shrug, this time to myself, and I try to put it into words.

I say: “Well – yes. Well… I couldn’t say. I mean yes.” I pause and make an abstract gesture in the air. “It is hard to explain. He is hard to, I mean – I don’t know. There is a commonality between us, which is why we are friends. We share a similar sense of the world, we read and write the same poetry.” I try to think of how to answer his question, how to explain my friend. It is important that I do it right because it is a chance to help explain myself, a way to position my own particular mode of existence in a way in which he could then sympathize. “He’s poetic, you might say – he’s got a certain sense of true poetry. The kind that isn’t smart or good, or dumb or evil. Of – abstraction – he is – struggling. There is – a – depth, you might say, a poetic depth to him, not a darkness, not a tragedy, not really, but a – well, a darkness, maybe. Something uncivilized. It is almost an epistemological sense of the world…” He asks me what epistemological means. “Ah – I mean, he’s just – he’s like an existentialist, you know, concerned with existence, like what Ted and I were talking about over dinner. No, I don’t mean that; he’s just – yes, well, yes, he is a very good person, and yes, he is smart, or… something like it.” God, what a disaster…

Lately I have been talking about poetry as though it were something one could conceivably talk about. It’s simply the word to say, about something, the one that refers to something referential. It is a force, an element, something that bears upon the world, a bow across a horse-hair fiddle; I have stopped talking about concepts. I used to think concepts were everything, that concepts were art. But of course there must be poetry, too; there is a poetry to things, something of a profundity, something with bearing. This piece of art is a concept piece; but so is it poetic, a poetry. I relish the sense of aesthetic, my ever-dissolving idea of aesthetics. I wish words like beauty and love and virtue didn’t exist because they have been diluted beyond all recognition and are worthless now as words, as references… But beauty – it is a sense of beauty – it is beautiful; you couldn’t understand, if you’re still thinking in terms of beauty, that is, of art and not-art, giving a name to significance; but there is nothing more sincere in the world than this, than my desperate attempt at sincerity, and of sincerity, therein unbearable beauty

Consider if everything I said were true, if every single phrase I shared with you, with the world, were confessional, auto-biographical, and if you could read a story of truth in the soul of me. Now consider if, when you knew you could truly believe me, when you knew I was nothing but sincere with you, I were to say to you: “What, that? That was all a lie.” What would you choose to believe, then, once I had been brutally honest with you – my sincerity, or my honesty? Which side of the chiral strip would you tend to, and why? – the one that lies, or the one that tells the truth? Either way, you will misunderstand me – “Ah, you don’t, you don’t know, you don’t know” – because sincerity like this, chiral sincerity, is eternal, and is nothing short of meaningless.

Sometimes, I… Well, I’m sure you understand.

In a trailer by the sea, on the shores of Mexicos, eating tamales and drinking tequila, I read poetry from a man in the American West, a man who was very dear to my heart, a gem in the rough, and his diamond count was stunning; it took my breath away. White foam laps at empty ships, bridges sink away into sand, a carriage pulls a man through the dirt. The people stared as if to say, “Listen, do you hear that sound – ” painted neon lights, engines humming in the night; a baby on an escalator; there was icing on this cake, I swear it, who has eaten all the icing? A statue of an idol juts out in the middle of the bay, his secrets safe inside him, winking, thinking: “This is the way the world will end; with a dream.” That is to say, poetically; swimming, swallowing water, feet in the sand with the seashells, the sky the shade of molten sunlight, dripping down our thighs; I dreamed I wasn’t thinking this. I dreamt my dreams weren’t happening.

Cold water; someone leans over me. I am tended to; my wounds are nursed and dressed, my clothes are clean and starchy. I hear someone singing Cyndi Lauper. Is this a dream? I am confused; confusion is nothing new. Try not to focus on it, or it will dissolve, and you will be left naked, untended to, falling through the ether of pure disassociation. A doctor says, “It’s Asperger’s,” but Asperger’s doesn’t exist. Is that a shadow, or the chimney? What if its a shadow of the chimney? It is hard to imagine all of the possibilities… Is it dyslexia, then? No, that’s ridiculous – some other disorder… A personality disorder; an obsessive, manic, borderline, polarized, paranoid, narcissistic disorder – an imbalance, histrionic and depressed. No, that couldn’t be it…

I keep thinking about a girl from my childhood, from almost as early as I can remember, to the end limit depths of that world that I can remember, as little of it I remember; it is more myth than memory, and I doubt it, and it presupposes I exist; but she is there, in the midst of it, my childhood, alive, a myth more alive now than ever. She who loved me – yes, she who did love me – and invited me over to her house to spend the night that night, when I did not stay the night. Children… She terrified me… We were only children then. Was I ever a child? What was my life, and why do I doubt it? How can you doubt that? It is quite clear, it is all crystal clear, and she loves me… How she did love me! But I never knew why; and then – that was all that I saw of her. That was the end. What happened? How did it never exist? She hated me, I remember, I hated her too, it was a childish, loving-eyed hate, and I hated it. And then – I was gone. Years passed… it seems like it has been a lifetime, because it has been a lifetime. I was ten or fifteen, then; I am two of ten or fifteen, now. The world up to this point – has not been in vain – has it? I heard her name once years ago, and I asked: Oh – her – how is she? They said she got pregnant and had a son, and then they called her a slut or something. I thought about that hardly at all, long and hard, unthinkingly. I kept thinking. And the one day I saw a picture of her; I almost passed out from it, it was all too surreal, like a dadaist glance in the mirror. It was like the cold saltwater waves of rocky New England, all at once submerged, sunken under. It was a boardwalk, or a naked bush in the woods in the winter, and it was too much for me. It is all too much for me to handle. I have been thinking about her and it seeps into my dreams, and now I have been dreaming of her, of her son, I have been waking up overcome with unpleasant emotions… She is so far away from me now. Did she ever even exist? What about me – what was I then, that I am not now? Oh, so many orders of magnitude, so many trysts and discontents and abyssal renditions of life, so many quasi-dimensions between us; I want her to be happy, I do not know why, that is, I want her to know that I’m here in this world, that I was there with her, once, and I understand her, now, if I did not understand her then. I do not know what kind of woman she is, I know nothing about her or her life, I do not even know if she remembers me; for some reason, that is enough for me. I remember her, I know her well, I love her – do I mean, I love her? Yes, I guess I mean it, if that’s what dreams of love portend. Who is she? How strange it all is to me… And a son, and a picture of her and her son, and you could hardly see her face, but you could see the side of her head, all her hair, bleached out by the flash-induced brightness, and it was – compelling, it moved me, I felt like Enrico Caruso. Who the fuck is Enrico Caruso? And who the hell am I? I shouldn’t ask this of myself, but – I love her… She is what I’ve been thinking about lately, and she’s been tearing me up inside, disassociating me from the rest of my world and placing me in the comatose drift of a now-mythic nascence. She and her son – in my dreams – they overtake me…

I tossed and turned in bed again, unable to sleep, trying with all of my resources to sleep. I had taken the weak painkillers, the strong painkillers, the Nyquil, the melatonin, I had drank warm tea, I had taken a couple more painkillers. Nothing helps; this can’t go on like this, I think. Something needs to change. I hear a sound in the night and I shudder; my hand searches for the handgun in the pill drawer. The dog is barking out the window. I tell him to be quiet; it is nothing. I tell him it is time to sleep. But I can not sleep. I started muttering to myself, muted animal grunts that I could not stop nor explain, and they grew louder, and louder, until the dog was staring at me, worriedly. He crawled closer to me and sniffed my eye. “Don’t mind the monkey,” I said, sitting up, patting his head, half-asleep, half-manic; “The monkey can’t sleep.” Don’t mind the monkey – the monkey can’t sleep… I kept making noises, monkey-noises, turning my thoughts over in my head like a handful of nuts and berries, picking the fleas from the backs and tasting them, getting desperate. I put on American Psycho and admired it with laughter. When it was over I watched Freddy Got Fingered. “Life was weird before the internet,” I thought. I would rather have watched Lawrence, of Zhivago. I would always rather watch Zhivago.

I slipped out of the covers and fell to the floor to do a few push-ups. I did them not on my toes like a man but on my knees like a little girl because it was all I could tolerate, because I am useless, and my toes don’t work, and neither do my ankles. I am relieved to find that I can do them at all. One, two, three… The dog is watching from the bed. He is curious. I am starting to ache already. Nine, ten, then, eleven… I am slowing down. I can feel a sliver of pain in my spine, in the bones. I can’t stop now! Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen – nineteen, twenty – I collapsed on my chest on the cold wooden floor. I was in pain and I couldn’t even feel it. It felt like I had eaten a handful of painkillers and they had all gone straight to my shoulders. Muscles are a wonderful sensation… It made me regret that I would hardly ever use them in my life. My dog leapt down from the bed to investigate. He paced up and down beside me and then stepped across my back. He put his nose up to my face and started licking me. I put out an arm to hold him close and he curled up beside my head, where he quickly fell asleep.