Myself, that is, Shannon Page, living in a world of potato chips, Kraft Dinner, ground turkey, green beans, Vachon Jos Louis and those really tasty tangerines that peel easily, found himself perspective in the controversial waves of circumstance, plummeting like a stone.
Sometimes it takes a plummet with a rocky landing to make the plot lines of your life intersect meaning, especially when your vision’s obscured by a grey, billowing mist corresponding to the opaqueness of your worldview.
Before the evening at Charsmith’s place which prompted my redemption, I remember the severity of my mental decline: oh, I was so confused, the confusion, the dread of waking thought. It literally turns my stomach to think that I once lived under the steady pounding of the Smith of Persona’s hammer, so unsure of my identity. Yes, my identity, the totality of myself reflecting the scourge of ambivalence instead of a passion for the eternal. I mean, you care about what you’re going to eat for lunch or whether your apartment is clean, but you function in the day-to-day as though you’re unconcerned about the ultimate fate of everything you know and value.
At least I didn’t give into McRose. At least I didn’t give into the sedentary guilt within me.
I define guilt, perhaps the most integral part of my psychological constitution, as the plummet of the conscience from its suspension in apathy, introducing pain, where in pain one finds the requisite self-reflection to find an identity. One hears one’s own voice, maybe for the first time, through the amplification of guilt.
My first recollection of this painful voice within was in third grade. Jason’s brother, a high-strung lad named Jeff, had a birthday party in which his father took us out for ice-cream following an evening at the arcade. I watched defiantly as each boy–Shawn, Charsmith, Jason, some other boys and even the birthday boy–politely requested a small cola to avoid any needless expense on Jason’s father’s behalf. Without a second thought, brazen to the core, I ordered a banana split and devoured it in front of the others, simply shameless.
Until this day I exist in mortification at the thought of this childhood decision, I’m blushing while I confide this to you. It bothers me that even at such a young age I felt so entitled.
Guilt–I remember the day as a young boy when the sky ominously opened up and a swan descended from the heavens; my mind was inseminated with twins, yes, with guilt and jealousy. Guilt for the event, and its natural consequence, jealousy of the world. Why have I no protector in this deistic pocket in the universe? Before my eyes popped open to the contradictions in life I had positive feelings, lived under the protection of obliviousness, but my altered perspective has indelibly changed the way I experience and process my surroundings. I find myself mourning my innocence.
And, believe me, I know it’s wrong, that I have allowed circumstance to taint the spirit dwelling in me. The Concept, God’s Son, clarified that it is the manifestation of a person’s inside that makes him or her unclean before God. I have to admit that I couldn’t stand myself before myself, let alone before God, in the volatility of everyday life, for every place I turned I found my vision distorted and deceitful.
The outer, in my mind, had to conform to the inner, it had to, if I was to maintain my sanity, if I was to remain physically in this world, even though it was stifling.
However, I refuse to give myself an excuse for the callous life I led–the life that I have totally renounced–including the way the rest of the evening unfolded with the lovely Lexus and the gathering at Charsmith’s abode.
So we left the bar and Charsmith took the girls back to his place in his Jaguar. That left me, Jason and a sullen Euripides to make that walk to the condo on the bay that Charsmith referred to as his pad. It was a nice evening, still kind of muggy, and the bold moon was intermittently being obscured by the feint outline of cloud in the August sky.
So as we’re walking down Main Street, I say, “Hey, Euripides, you know that girl that was with me tonight? If you want her, she’s yours, just give me some indication, I mean, she’d accommodate anybody, I’m sure of it, and I know it’s been a while for you.”
“What are you talking about?” said Jason. “That’s the prettiest tart I’ve ever seen you with, and after Charsmith went all out for you. That just wouldn’t be right.”
“I suppose,” I said. “But you think she’s prettier than Karis?”
“Hell yeah!” said Jason, and freckled Euripides nodded his agreement. “To tell you the truth, Shannon, there’s nothing special about Karis. In fact, most guys consider her . . . cough . . . to be rather ordinary.”
No girl was prettier to me than Karis.
“But Euripides,” I maintained, refusing to be offended, “I’m serious, she’s yours if you want.”
Euripides blinked slowly and replied, “Ahabah kacah pesha . . .”
“What did you say?” I asked, surprised he answered me. My offer was meant to be rhetorical.
But he had already looked away, his vernacular for disinterest.
After we arrived at the condo, we all gathered around in Charsmith’s family room and talked for a while pretending to listen to records while raiding his impressive bar, but it was a joke, a means to an already assumed end, the inevitable move to the bedroom. Charsmith was the first to take his girlfriend upstairs, all cool and all. Soon, out of habit, out of duty, I begrudgingly offered Lexus my hand, and, to my disappointment, she, although hesitantly, even graciously with her beauty and all in contrast to my ordinariness, accepted.
There’s a special room at Charsmith’s reserved specifically for his friends. We get upstairs and I can already hear Charsmith in the juxtaposed room getting it on with that faceless, pretty girl whose mental picture somehow has eluded my memory. He’s such a clown. Anyway, usually when I get up here I only fool around with the girl a bit, I mean, there’s no way I’m allowing myself to completely use a woman I hardly know, only to discard her. Tonight, however, was different: my intention was to damage myself beyond repair. Does that make sense?
While the experience began to unfold, I retreated into my thoughts and communicated with Lexus’ eyes. Some might call this type of communication fantastic or delusional, but my interpretation is distilled in feeling that is very real, and it would be hard to convince me that the conclusions I reached were groundless and unfounded.
Looking into her eyes:
“Why are you here?” they ask.
“To destroy myself.”
“And me, too?”
“Yes, my destruction is founded on yours.”
“How do you know I’m not the stronger?”
“It’s because you’re the stronger that I know I’ll succeed.”
“Why must you die?”
“My capacity to feel for others has me exhausted. I can’t anymore.”
“You want to be incapable of love and compassion?”
“Yes, for my own good.”
“That makes you inhuman. Does that bother you?”
“What are you left with then?”
“You don’t need mercy?”
“It’s about time the world becomes brutally honest to me. That’s true mercy.”
“I’ll be honest with you, Shannon. I was just looking for a good time, not philosophy.”
At this point our experience ended, and this sleepy clarity spread throughout my body. In this clarity I resented her for the closing impression she made on me, for at that moment I was totally convinced that she had used me for something much more demeaning than my need for a moral ascension. And I could feel myself dying. Never had I used a woman like that in my lifetime, and I felt sick and indifferent and on a higher emotional plain than the one I occupied earlier. At the same time I felt very free, like I had taken a first step to never caring about another in an intimate way again, including myself. This was very important.
And I mean, if you just take the time to see the world for what it is, you will begin to recognize that behind all beauty is a set of dirty pointed teeth, and you can either accept it and go on loving others, sucked soul-dry, or you can retreat into indifference and just wait to let the Teacher’s cries of meaninglessness sweep you into the grave.
Lexus believed that what we did together was the predestined conclusion of our evening together, snuggled up against me talking about who knows what. She never could have known what she did for me because she didn’t know what she did to herself when she managed to slurp down the remaining drops of my life essence. But if she had consciously used me the way I used her, this isn’t what bothered me. We really connected that night, and I was disappointed that she was prepared to attain such physical intimacy with a man she just met when I thought she might have more self-respect than me.
I got up and dressed, ignoring her totally. It thought it was the final nail in my coffin, and it was excruciatingly painful to make myself be so callous. My mind was reeling from so many different feelings, many of them connected to a sick feeling that started in my stomach and left my legs shaky. No doubt it was a guilt sickness. My body was trembling slightly. Maybe I wasn’t quite dead yet.
And so I took one last measure to ensure my obliteration.
“Lexus,” I said, looking into her expectant eyes now dark in the shadows, “we’re different.”
When I got downstairs, Euripides was flipping through the channels with a despondent Jason beside him, beer in hand.
“What’s with you?” I said to Jason, putting my tie around my neck and under the collar, but not tightening it.
“Go away,” he replied.
Then I just started laughing. Women always know Jason. Nine times out of ten I come downstairs and there’s Jason sitting beside Euripides with this acrimonious air surrounding him like a fog.
Just when I’m about to disclose the particulars of my strange evening with the guys, Lexus comes tearing down the stairs. I felt kind of bad about the way I treated her, but it was her fault if you look at it a certain way.
“Lexus, wait,” I called out, but she rushed by us seeking the door leaving a trail of fragrant perfume behind her.
“At least let me walk you home?”
“I can take care of myself, thank you,” she says defiantly, still with her pride, and I watch her disappear behind a door slamming shut into the mugginess of an August evening.
“Wow, it appears you stole that girl’s dignity,” Jason remarked, while Euripides continued to flip through the channels without showing any emotion.
I just glared at him, feeling awful.
“Anybody up for some food?” he asked, oblivious to the heavy cloud that remained in the room.
* * * *
Charsmith was the one person I could always count on. He would do anything for me, but I’m not sure I could boast the same for him.
As much as I like him, I’ve always stowed away a sliver of resentment for him. He was the kid in high school who everyone loved, the glamorous rich boy with all of the academic potential and good looks to match; this was a boy who had never experienced trial through his entire childhood and adolescence.
Even the tragedy of his life, the death of his family in a car accident, was unable to rob him of his joy.
I was jealous of him, and on top of my jealousy I was jealous that I was jealous of him and he would never be jealous of me.
This describes the state of our friendship, how I resent my dependence on him while he continues to be the one constant in my life, my life-flow of material providence.
With all this said and out in the open, Charsmith chose to hang with me over every other guy in school, partially because we were friends since early childhood, but mostly because he liked me. Some would even say that I possess a power over him. It’s a strange feeling to know that a person of such repute and affluence holds you in the highest regard, and it’s definitely a source of confusion. At times I cannot help but think that maybe there’s more to me than what I see in myself. For some people this would be a positive thought, but not necessarily for me, who only wished to escape notice, especially from my own critical eye.
The reason I’m telling you this is to provide a gloss for the cataclysmic event that transpired after Jason, Euripides and I left in search of some fine eating. When we got back to the condo after gulping down some late night subs, we noticed that the place had been trashed. The television’s been thrown against the wall or something, the curtains have been torn down, smashed lamps and pottery–in short, the place looked like it was either ransacked or the result of a Pink Floyd meltdown scene.
I yelled Charsmith’s name, but Euripides covered my mouth when Jason thought he heard a noise upstairs, but our attentiveness to the quiet of night yielded us nothing. So after listening intently to the silence of the house, we resolved to scour the house for our poor, abandoned friend amidst the flotsam and jetsam.
Of course, the logical place to look first was his bedroom. Maybe he and his vixen had been so involved with each other that they had failed to notice the commotion downstairs.
We peered into the darkness of his room and couldn’t make out his form, so we turned on the light. What we saw amazed us. Charsmith was there, in the corner, apoplectic in stillness, looking almost hypnotized, all sweaty and stuff with puke all around him, in his hair, he must have been rolling in it. Charsmith was quite the spectacle. At first, I was terrified that he had alcohol poisoning, so I told Jason to get some water. Then I realized that Charsmith had been driving that night and he was scrupulous about not mixing driving with beverage and I only saw him have one drink. So I bent down and asked him if he was all right, suspecting that the faceless girl might have been the one responsible.
“God . . . where’s the sense?” he whispered in a daze.
“Euripides,” I said, “help me get in bed.”
“I’m exhausted . . .” he murmured as we dragged him over to his bed and struggled to put him in. We even undressed the sickly dandy and tried to clean him up with his shirt.
Jason arrived back with a glass of water in one hand, a pitcher of water in the other. I leaned Charsmith’s head back and poured some in, believing it couldn’t hurt.
“Should we call an ambulance?” I asked.
“The righteous . . .” Charsmith moaned feverishly, eyes closed, but he was addressing us, I think. “Habakkuk . . . by faith . . .”
We decided to wait until the morning and monitor his progress through the night.
The whole situation was weird, and I felt funny in the stomach, aware of a sudden arousal of protectiveness when I saw this stranger I had been friends with all of my life so vulnerable.
Who would have known that Charsmith was really one of us, a White Sander?
It began to dawn on us that even with all his money he could not escape the dark wings this picturesque town had wrapped around us. That was the killer, I mean it. Jason couldn’t take it. All night he kept to himself. It seemed that reality finally gave its dirty grin to the dirty boy. Euripides, on the other hand, was unaffected, or at least he seemed, but he chose to remain silent rather than baffle us with his alien tongues. It was hard to tell if he was concerned.
The Charsmith that woke up later that morning had no jubilance, no cheer, no soul, and no memory of our solicitude. He was a changed man, and not for the better. After being around him for a few hours and showing enough decency to clean up the mess he didn’t seem to care much about, we had to get away from his contagious misery. But he desired my company, meaning that for me there was no escape. Jason and Euripides split as soon as it proved tasteful.
What I remember most about that morning was the flood of sunshine in the living room as we sat there, so oblivious to what had transpired the evening before. It was jocular in a way, but hardly funny, sadistic but incapable of gloom. It doesn’t matter, Charsmith was pensive enough for both of us. He could barely raise his gaze to meet my own, and his voice assumed this monotone indicative of absolute defeat. The way he smoked his cigarette indicated likewise.
“You were right,” he murmured.
“About the McRose affair.”
“Yeah . . .”
(What else could I say?)
“Nevertheless, I’m going to sell to him, Shannon. Period.”
I must have given him this incredulous look, for he added, “Charsmith Enterprises will be his by the end of the month, so you’re right, emasculation occurs when–”
“–You can’t do it, Charsmith,” I argued, “he emerged as your father’s biggest adversary, he’s everything you hate . . . besides, you’re the only one capable of standing up to him in town–”
“I’m incapable, though, of running a business. I’m a profligate and a thief. Period.”
“What happened last night?” I asked with just a little trepidation.
Charsmith leaned back in his chair and maybe even grinned, inhaling the last of his smoke before carelessly flicking it at me.
“Last night, nothing happened. Nothing happened except that something within me snapped.”
“The girl, did she do this to you?” I asked.
“Inadvertently, I suppose. After we were done, she had me do a line with her. I felt off, so I waited ’til you guys left and got her a cab.”
I asked Charsmith if she was upset about being carted home.
“Sure,” he laughed darkly. “She was insulted and embarrassed.”
“That’s understandable, especially if you gave her no explanation.”
“Then I went downstairs, looked around, saw our petty little lives in the bottle of half-empty champagne, in the record still spinning, in the five-thousand dollar couch that everyone puts their feet on, and it just made me mad, and you know what I kept thinking about?”
Charsmith chuckled, “That if someone like Descartes needed to prove his own existence, then why would he even bother trying to develop a proof for the existence of God, especially considering God is both logical and illogical. And then I just got angry and, well I, I revolted against the insanity of my life, the fact that it made sense to me to keep spoon feeding this child I call my livelihood while forever distancing myself from my human responsibility.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“You’re a coward, Shannon, my best friend, but a coward. You talk about this Concept, but you don’t care about what he stands for, don’t know that he’s the formula for becoming human. You don’t know that subscribing to the Concept isn’t a one time action, but a state of buoyancy, staying afloat the world.”
“And so, just like that, you’ve decided that you’re a Christian?”
He laughed again, exasperated. “I wish . . . Do you know how far removed I am from faith? Listen to this, instead of faith, I have its privation, yet I walk around with this playboy grin and people say, ‘There goes the man that has it all . . .’ I have nothing, you hear me, nothing!”
“At least, like me,” I observed, “you still haven’t been pillaged by McRose.”
“Yeah, so . . .”
“So you have some semblance of pride, right?”
“Haven’t you been listening to me? Pride means nothing when it comes to everything of consequence, things I don’t have.”
“Just the same,” I pleaded, perhaps for my own stake in the decision, “you can’t sell what good you have to the devil.”
Charsmith laughed. “I did that a long time ago. McRose is nothing, a peon, a corporate buffoon.”
“Well, he’s made more of himself than you,” I said heartlessly, simply furious.
“You’re right, but it doesn’t change anything,” answered Charsmith in a voice drained of energy.
It’s unbelievable,” I muttered in dismay. “I put a knife through my conscience last night and you developed one.”
Charsmith asked what I meant by that and I shared my encounter with Lexus with him.
He shook his head at me. “Your problem is that you just need a woman to care about you.”
“You think?” I replied, stunned.
The rich man nodded. “Now, if you don’t mind, you must leave me. I have some thinking to do, some juggling, some soul searching.”