Thursday, October 2, 2008

Chapter 5 from 1983

I used Jackie to release me from my prison. There soon came to be no other communication than the physical. Long periods of melancholic silence having only one answer. She gave herself purely to a sexuality she believed in despite the fact that she never once achieved orgasm.

I really did love her. That wasn't false, but the cruelty was that so much was still in the way. It was impossible for me to grow and change and at the same time cling to an ideal that I only understood out of faith. We were too young, and I offer only that if I ever ask for forgiveness. Of course that is what the school knew, my parents knew, and all authority by which I felt limited. Even blind fate knew that we were too young. Depression was the cost of breaking the rules. Not parents' rules, or society's rules, but the common law of all who grow up healthy because they are like everyone else. That rule I was determined to break because, as I saw it, there was evil afoot in the normal life.

Who knows when it started. I'd grown up on Lake Erie, and watched the clear seedbed of fantasy that I knew turn into a stinking cesspool. I knew the reasons. I couldn't always decide whether greed or the rationale given by the greedy made more sense to explain it, but I'd read enough to know without a shadow of a doubt that it was evil. I believed with the conviction of one who understood simple statistics and computation and logic that when you added it all up there wasn't much time left to disaster. That made all the other escapes unreal. I would still defend myself in that. Life as usual in a decaying world is the most dangerous fantasy.

I grew up with the implicit assumption that war was a masculine right of passage. The war of my father's generation filled my senses. It was everywhere in mythology. It was a just war. The soldiers of the good side were good. The mythology bolstered the childish assumption that authority is right and made my collapse more thorough when I found that the war which had been arranged for my generation was being fought in Vietnam.

I grew up in a house where the playroom that most attracted our fantasies was a fallout shelter. I remember very clearly the piles of cinder blocks passed along a board to the basement. I remember the pride I had in my father's ability to construct such a fortress. I remember understanding not at all the seriousness of the project; that, though water and food stores and blankets and other necessities were all laid aside, the reality of their purpose was never made known. It was a fun place -- and fun to imagine being trapped there. But the collapse was greater when I found out later the impossible escape it was pretending. Nuclear war was an abstraction. Fallout couldn't penetrate the earth so we would be safe. Coffins to assure that putrefaction begins well before burial.

Something must have snapped very early which made me too serious and too private in an obsession with meaning. Everywhere, it was a simple matter to point out to myself the one serious omission made by all the normal voices in all the normal tracks. Yes, I wanted to know, but why do you all act as though what doesn't matter matters, and what does doesn't. Why should I prepare to take a place in a society that is corrupt to its very soul. Finally, why is happiness important in a world so full of misery -- actual and potential.

Who can untangle the threads? It must have started almost from the beginning. I prefer to think that it started simply with the very real love I'd gotten at home. I prefer to think it started when my mother, against the advice of doctors and the ridicule of friends, fed me from her breast, thus soldering a link that others can't recover. I prefer to think that there has been something real in the rejections and false starts of my life, which look so much like mistakes on the surface. When lost without certain guidance, I have tried to opt for the way most true to my feelings. Meaningless though such choices may seem, I prefer to think that they harken back along a well-connected path to something I once did know with certainty.

I remember very clearly one summer evening in a sleeping bag in the back yard which overhung the lake. The stars were out in myriad brilliance. A friend was beside me, and we were moved to thoughts as children have of the distance to the stars. My calm and pleasure at being under the stars that night began to turn toward agony as I measured infinity and found always a brick wall there at the end. I don't know how old I was, but there I have proof of some motion in me that was untutored and unstoppable. No one had prepared me. The trap lay waiting in the language.

Some are never moved in their own thoughts to the boundaries of sense. They leave that to the experts. Some may find themselves there and not be bothered. I'm sure the puzzle I found in my mind is some sort of cliche. But some can't forget the agony. They hubristically try for a solution on the power of their own thoughts. If they seek help they are considered cute. And who had the answer to that conundrum? For whatever reason, I was left only with my own devices and with a puzzle that wouldn't disappear.

I remember when I was very young, perhaps six or seven, an exultant feeling of being elect. I remember the circumstances exactly, though I can't recall the reason. I was on the schoolbus, and I looked around at all the other children. Things had a crystal clarity that I have seldom recaptured. I knew that there was something in me that was lacking in them. Perhaps it was the day after the night under the stars. That strikes the most consonant key. It's hateful now to think that I was that way, but perhaps that feeling, too, lay buried in the language -- available to those who needed it; who could be snared by it.

I remember, much later when my own language had grown, a similar exultancy that remains equally elusive to the kind of memory that could bring it back. That time, I was on the streets of New York, walking. I knew with the same exultant certainty that I had known my own specialness, that there about me on the crowded streets walked infinite infinities. I was filled with a sense of wonder at my own smallness, and the hubris of anyone who could claim a measure of more than was in each private universe.

I remember sitting at my school desk in the sixth grade and feeling a tiny prick in my rear end, such as might have been caused by a splinter in my pants, or some random excitement at a nerve end. But I remember being certain that it was the injection of some mysterious hypodermic syringe, and equally certain that I couldn't reveal my notice -- even to myself. Because I was tortured by the possibility that I had been chosen by some other-wordly force either for my liberation or my enslavement. In the first case, the hypodermic would confirm my distinction from those around me -- I must have belonged to the race of aliens and I needed the booster to survive here. In the second, I was being drugged so as to keep me from something. In either case, it was part of necessity that I not reveal my awareness because, in the first I knew from my previous ignorance that I hadn't been supposed to know -- I feared losing my role -- and in the second, if I was to escape, I needed the liberty that continued pretense of ignorance would give.

It never occurred to me that the pinprick alone was the source of awareness; that I was being injected with a drug that had waked me. It never occurred to me because I would have had to be told. It was not an insanity, nor even the beginnings of insanity. I was living in a world of mysteries, and I was confident they would be unfolded. I kept my mouth shut until the reality of the thing was made apparent, and then I would wonder that everyone could have thought such a thing. People hold stranger fantasies as reality, and what interests me is my preoccupation with having been chosen.

I don't think it came directly from any unhealthy input. My parents may have held the proverbial hopes that I would grow up to be president -- important in some way. But Santa Claus came to everyone's house, and God knew all my thoughts. I reasoned, if that were so, that when I prayed to God he would appreciate my jokes. I joked with Him even without decorum because, so I reasoned, he could not be affronted. If he knew all my thoughts, then there was no use evading what was central in me by making a pious pretense that contradicted who I actually was. I had no feeling that I could hang-up on God when the prayer was over, and so prayer was a means of discovery for me. I wanted to prove to myself what I really meant when I called him a bastard. I knew He would know.

I think I may have been theologically correct. That ignores the other possibility that prayer plays an active part in forming one's life. But, I did pray fervently. Whatever prayer was doing for other people who mouthed more pious words in their heads, I wasn't always fooling myself when I made a comparison favorable to myself. I was good in all the essentials. It's hard to remember what good and bad were in childhood, but I loved my parents, did what I was told when it made sense and when I wasn't overcome by curiosity; I took my naps and so forth.

But, what was good? I got my share of spankings and caused my share of grief. I don't think I felt the pain I caused untrue. I deserved the spankings. Yet when I made my prayers, I truly wanted to be good and felt that perhaps, insofar as I could control it, I was good. Sin is so arcane that I could easily have convinced myself that I was damned for all the petty breaches. But I knew that I was good.

And I knew that I was chosen. That, if I was good then my life could not but hold meaning and that, since I was not equipped to fathom that meaning, all I need do was be good --and wait. I began the quest to uncover the meaning of my life, thus, at a very early age. I wasn't really waiting; I was looking for clues.

I think that I was aware that meaning might be held out until after death, and of this I was terrified. That part of Christianity never became real. The language into which I was born provided convenient stepping stones for the eradication of demons. Each step led further into consciousness from where the possibility of eternal life made no sense. Heaven and hell were only real for my body. They bore no fruit in my mind except as abstract reward and punishment. I wanted desperately to go to heaven, but not to look down upon meaning -- merely as proof that I was good. I couldn't believe that consciousness was possible after death; and meaning was a matter for consciousness.

There were gremlins, I recall quite clearly, which inhabited the door of the family car so that when you turned the crank, the window went up and down. They were hidden by the mystic veil of the panel. I peopled the space with actual gremlins, and tried to imagine how they made the window work. Have we all forgotten these things? Or is this just evidence that I am helpless in my need to know? I hadn't the equipment to imagine gears and levers, but the essential thing was that something had to be there.

Whatever pulls on the imagination pulled on mine in that way. Mine weren't frivolous gremlins invented only for delight. Something had to be there between my hand and the window, and without the gremlins I could make no connection. I imagined people in the box of the TV who went through all the utterly impossible antics of cartoons. Their smallness and infinite malleability confounded me, but there had to be something.

Is it all these things which combined, and having no more real answers to the bulk of humanity, leave most of the world asleep? Do we all learn so early because the natural questions literally cannot be answered, to put off asking them and to finally forget that they were ever a question at all? I have since eradicated the ghosts and the gremlins, but with great effort. Others may watch a television or drive a car or fly in a plane with the incurious mind of one who knows only that someone else knows; and takes it for granted that there are no gremlins. It seems to me now not a deficient mode, but I cannot.

I don't know the cause -- where it started. But I find myself here in this position, and I have left only responsibility that what I am entails. Voids itch in me forever; until they are filled. It is simply the way I am. I shouldn't have to ask forgiveness for this quality, though it has caused endless pain. And God grant me grace not to boast, though I have done that often enough.

No! I am here and I have eradicated all the gremlins except God -- to my satisfaction. I began the life of violent atheism soon after meeting Jackie. That was a violent denial which, as do all denials, affirmed more than it denied. Then I slipped into despair and agnosticism. Finally, I found in the East something new to fill the void, but it still itched.

I hope now to fill the void by writing this. Actually, I mean that quite literally. It will not stop itching until it is either filled or until I can leave it empty in the manner of the vacuum which satisfactorily names the void between for some physicists. Like a normal itch, scratching makes it worse, and in my case leads onward to the hope of a cure. It won't go away. And I have been led to write this. There is no answer here. But neither is the writing just for me that I may have my own answer in the engagement --though it is partly that. It is, like all writing, like all proofs, mathematical or otherwise, like all argument -- it is a trail left after some prior impulse started the travel.

I have always found that my arguments don't occur to me until they have been voiced. For that reason I am always engaged in argument, and always excited -- to the dismay of my interlocutor as often as not, for whom other things are important. But they start on a clear impulse, my arguments, and I am convinced of them before I have even made them clear -- in words -- to myself. I have been accused -- and have even assented on occasion -- of being a devil's advocate, but I am not. I can never act the side I don't believe in, and so I have been silent of late. That is why I am writing this. I have had a clear impulse that it is right, and pray that I can show it to be so.

If there is truth, it will strike hollowly on those for whom the void has never existed. But there are many more who have only tried to forget desperately something that is now so long past that it can easily be forgotten. I cannot forget. I don't mean that everyone must know the workings of a TV, or a car, or a computer; or a tree, or a frog or a human. It cannot be wrong even to rest on the faith that someone else knows, because it is a practical faith. But the other faith -- the one that knows that there is meaning to existence. That cannot be given over to others. If you have faith in God, then ACT like it! or by God, I'll call your bluff. If you don't, then listen. And if you think it doesn't matter, then watch as the drain is pulled out, and you are sucked away with the waste. Not God. God doesn't matter -- but meaning does.

"Getting a little carried away there, aren't we? You begin to sound nasty; and preachy."

Yeah, well. I don't know if there's really going to be anything here. I just have to go on. Each step of the way there are barriers that channel my path, and it has come to this. I feel at once constrained and boundlessly free. That is a feeling I would like to impart. And this is the price of my freedom.

"How about a few more constraints on the style?"

I'm trying.

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