Initially, Charsmith’s breakdown affected me for the better. For the first time in my life, I thought that maybe I had been dealt the more favorable hand, and this gave rise to a favorable mood. My experience with Lexus was fading from my memory, and I was growing less concerned with the situation in my own soul that aroused such hostility toward the emotions the world inspired in me. Still, I have to explain myself. My frustration with Lexus had nothing to do with my lack of success with love in the past, but her type of attitude in general. It disturbed me that I was so conscious of my individuality while in her eyes we had this shared outlook on life. Under the circumstances, telling her we were different was the cruelest thing I could do–to both of us.
The best way to explain it is through the masochist. The masochist makes the pain of the outer outweigh the pain residing inside. I’m the same way, only I stratify the inner and outweigh the guilt imposed on me by creating an ever new source that I can claim responsibility for, thus control. All that is required is an ever-flowing stream of dilution. The problem is that the dilution requires bigger and bigger sacrifices.
Big deal, I lived in dilution, but the rest of the people in White Sands were no different; they just weren’t conscious of it.
Like I said, ostensibly the body of White Sands was picturesque, while the cancer proliferated in concealment, with no one willing to acknowledge it. Dilution . . . denial . . . I think we’re talking about the same thing . . .
So what I’m trying to impress upon you is the struggle I was having as another shining specimen of humanity, trying to put my life in context when I felt no ties to neither the people around me, nor their lifestyles, nor the security they found in plastering over matters of the soul.
White Sands couldn’t help me, that I knew, and I found myself quite alone in my struggles to reconcile the idea that identity opposes itself to happiness: I knew I’d have to wade through my enigmatic past if I was ever going to consider a dramatically changed future.
No wonder I thought that happiness was not of this world, but could only be grasped in some selfless nirvana. In my mind, this maxim of western culture–to know and nurture myself, to live and be my own fulfillment–dominated my daily life, tied weight to my responsibility, and it truly felt like happiness was antithetical to identity, the fruit I would never taste.
As I grew older, I developed this desire to one day be aware of an affinity between myself and those shadowy strangers around me, and found myself disgusted by the idea of finding satisfaction through a fragmenting solipsism, for the more I lived by this philosophy the more I came under the conviction that happiness was a state to be found in a loving, supportive community aspiring to a common goal.
But I still had to live by society’s maxim, and felt that my communal conviction was lofty and sickeningly romantic.
I have to admit, I took myself–my experiences, my thoughts, my idiosyncrasies–seriously, although I paraded a certain apathy when it came to changing my ways, and was infinitely frustrated by the fluidity of my character and found myself struggling to even identify areas in life that I felt strongly about. The only thing I knew to do when it came to self-discovery was to deliberately “act” so I could turn around and study my reaction.
Is this what authentic living really is, to process your own subjectivity, and, like Lexus, possessed with no opinion, to say to hell with right or wrong?
I lived in dilution. What was her excuse?
What Lexus– like many people I’ve encountered–didn’t know was that she was pure opinion under the opinion that every other person’s opinion was just as valid.
For Lexus, there were no moral absolutes. Don’t you see the irony? One becomes faceless by being to avid about finding a face.
Charsmith, on the other hand. . . Arguably, he was on the idealistic path. I’ve arrived at the conclusion that Charsmith had reached the point where he realized that his identity, like mine, like Jason’s, like Euripides’, was illusionary, formed not by the self aspiring to define personal authenticity but by a mosaic of situations canvassing the tonic of indifference.
When Charsmith realized the futility of his lifestyle–that he couldn’t satisfy himself, that he couldn’t tread water for a lifetime–he tried to rebel, tried to make the subjectivity disappear before the unadulterated truth of God, what some philosophers would call the leap; however, the leap proved to be beyond him at this juncture in his life, no doubt corroborated by the fact that we found him a gelatinous heap in his bedroom, physically enacting the symptoms of despair.
Well, Charsmith’s despondency continued to affect us. For the next week, he’d show up at the bar, but would shun the festivities, would invite us over to his condo, only to disappear to the security of his bedroom once his tenure of courtesy was met, leaving us to entertain ourselves. Then he pretty well disappeared and we couldn’t account for his whereabouts. The worst part was that there were no women being introduced to us, a sore point with Jason especially. The skinny, curly-haired boy was becoming horny and conversely unpleasant to be around, to say the least.
At Silas and Priscilla’s Cafe about two weeks after Charsmith’s little collapse, Jason, Euripides and I were going on like we weren’t concerned, but the fact that Charsmith wasn’t with us was becoming disconcerting, even for Euripides, who’d mutter stuff in his alien tongues on a more steady basis. Of course, this was reactionary to Jason’s heightened expression of malice, which always found its object in poor Euripides’ defenseless posture.
“Why don’t you dress proper, you fat, freckled slob,” Jason would say. “You’re an embarrassment . . .”
“Perilypos estin hē psychē mou,” Euripides replied somberly, infuriating Jason even more.
I tried to distract these two from stewing and frothing over Charsmith’s absence, even talking about a project I had in development. Breaking the quiet at the table amidst the buzz of dishes clanging and restaurant noises, I brought my idea to attention: “You guys remember the new play I’ve been talking about writing, the one I’ve affectionately dubbed Grey-Eyed?”
“What about it?” replied Jason.
“I’m just not sure how it should end. For the truly disconsolate person, can there be any other result than suicide?”
Jason looked thoughtful: “Depends on the degree of dissatisfaction, I suppose. “Remember, Camus used Sisyphus to argue that suicide is irrational.”
“That’s true,” I agreed, “and it’s definitely not the final impression I want to leave for my audience . . . although if I did it right it would undoubtedly break their hearts.”
“If I were your character I’d choose to survive no matter the cost,” said Jason. “To put it more clearly, I’d rather benefit from a vicarious sacrifice, hence my appreciation for the type of character who will stop at nothing to achieve his ambition, no matter who suffers in the end, and especially if he improves his situation at another’s expense.”
While Jason was evangelizing on behalf of his god, I reached into my pocket and pulled out a letter, returned it to the pocket, and then found what I was looking for. On a piece of foolscap I had jotted down some notes about Project Grey-Eyed several days before, while reclining on my bench in the park.
“What’s that?” said Jason curiously.
“The notes for my new play. If you gentlemen would allow me to read it . . .”
“By all means,” said Jason with a wave of his hand, and Euripides consented in his least mistakable dialect, the grace of his company.
“I just want to preface things by saying that some translate Athena to be the grey-eyed goddess, others the beautiful-eyed goddess. As you’ll see, I went with grey-eyed.”
“Just get on with it,” Jason urged impatiently.
I cleared my throat. “The objective of Project Grey-Eyed: to create a character who expresses dissatisfaction over the false, grey-eyed optimism surrounding the prevailing everyday sense of “okayness.” So he seeks to transplant the grey-eyed vision to an equally compelling form, meaning that he seeks to destroy the dream-like security experienced in everydayness without resorting to the most available means of canceling contradictory mentalities: self-annihilation. Once denouncing the opiate, sugar-coated lies of his own stake in denial, this character can embrace the transparent freedom of his humanity with his conscience propelling him, in effect exchanging the deceptively beautiful death propounded by the passionate sadists lapping up twenty-five hundred year old hemlock for a new vision oozing with life and philosophy and an unquestionable association to the beauty of all things through whom he can share the same.”
I refolded the paper and returned it to its place. “So what do you guys think?”
Jason shrugged. “I’m unsure about what you mean by grey-eyed . . . you mean. . . life considered through decay. . .”
“Not exactly,” I replied. “I like to consider grey-eyed in terms of the myth of Orestes, which my play is based on. Orestes, as you know, kills his mother to avenge the murder of his father and then is warned by the Diascori (Castor and Pollux) to flee to the sanctuary of the Temple of Athena, where he is instructed to hold fast to her image, either that or confront the dog-faced Fates and suffer madness.
“Orestes chose to run from the Fates rather than experience them. He allowed the grey-eyed goddess to shelter him from the torment, so he could drift back into the dream and go about his daily affairs like his conscience never pursued him. It seems to me that he should have braved the Fates, if only to construct a ubiquitous temple to Athena in the process.”
“So you’re saying,” said Jason, “if, that is, I know you, and what I think you’re insinuating is correct–”
I continued: “The question, I suppose, is whether the character succeeds or fails. I’m still not sure how I want the play to end.”
“Let me get this straight, Shannon. You’re talking about a man who invests his whole happiness into a . . .”
“You can say it, Jason.”
“You’re talking about creating a character who completely surrenders himself to his religion, aren’t you?”
Jason looked at me real seriously, seriously considering his surroundings before leaning forwarding and whispering: “You’re never to discuss this further with me again. I’ll cover the bill today if you promise to never mention it again.”
* * * *
And I haven’t said a word about the new play to him since that afternoon. If he paid for anything it was a big, big deal, and I appreciated the gesture. How could I explain to him the directionless, concentric-circled desire, spreading and spreading in the pond of emotional possibility, and my inability to progress. Can one satisfy a desire that knows no more than desire? I, Shannon Page, can no more desire to desire than desire not to desire. What am I saying . . . I, like any person, desires to desire to the same degree I desire to purge myself of desire.
“. . . And the callousness of the teachers makes me want to be sick to my stomach,” continued Jason in that instigative tone he too often assumes. “Unions, policy, agenda–you’re all swine, digging for truffles and basking in mud and filth. Screw the kids right, simpler than standing up to the union which misrepresents you. Everyone else worships the golden calf, so why shouldn’t you?”
“That’s not fair, Jason,” I said. “You’re taking sides without knowing the facts.”
“You teachers are the ones which encourage kids to resent education, and they’re not dumb, they know that you don’t give a damn about them. You go home and write your nauseating poetry and get off on those perverse little observations you write down, and couldn’t care less about what happens to those brats once they leave school. No, you teachers don’t want to know. The moment you sense something amiss in a student, you back away, you pretend not to notice until they make you notice, and then you indifferently follow procedure. Then you blame the government for its policies, for the courts, that kids can destroy your career in an instant of revenge, and that your wallets aren’t as full as you’d like them to be. It’s no wonder kids want revenge on the system when they know themselves to be antecedent to the system.”
“Sounds like you’re personalizing the strike based on your own experience of education,” I taunted.
“Know this, Shannon, every one of you will have to answer to God before entering the gates of St. Peter.”
“Are you through?” I asked in amusement.
“It’s bloody cannibalism,” said a Silas sweating profusely, wiping a table next to us. “God still looks out for the little ones . . . (huff) . . . I anticipate lightning bolts from the sky. . . followed by balls of flame . . . and lots of gnashing of teeth. . .”
Once Silas got his piece in, I felt outnumbered by people ignorant of the facts. I had to change the topic: “So Silas, you heard about the upcoming election of a new mayor in town?”
“What, you think because I wear an apron I’m too involved to take an interest in the public supporting my livelihood?”
“Who do you think should run?” I asked.
“It doesn’t matter,” Silas replied, “that dirty McRose decides the contest. Mindless sheep–I’d like to lay the boots to their shepherd.”
“Amen,” I laughed.
“Jack Dubeau or Pete Ladouceur would make good candidates,” said Jason. “Mayor Contois will run again, and Mr. Baron was telling me the other night that he was considering it.”
“What about you, Silas?” I shouted. “Maybe you should issue a campaign.”
“Flattery won’t get you anything here, son. And tell your friend Chinook that I’ll drag him around the parking lot by his nose hairs if he ever pulls his stunts again. I grow weary of his humor.”
“I can’t just sit here like this,” whispered Jason a few minutes later, after Silas had returned to the kitchen. “We have to do something.”
“Like what, though?” I asked.
Our craniums compounded could produce nothing.
And in contemplating nothing I was reminded of the letter in my pocket from the week before and my mind waxed vacant. I fingered the smooth envelope in my pocket to ensure its possession.
“It should appeal to Charsmith’s new need for faith,” Jason stated, ever the embodiment of sagacity.
“Since it’s the only thing on his mind,” I mumbled.
“Too bad God wouldn’t intervene in his life directly. Maybe he needs an epiphany, eh Shanny?”
“Don’t call me Shanny,” I replied.
“Well, what do you think?”
“He needs to talk to someone,” I offered, trying to think.
“Like who?” Jason demanded.
Before I could answer, Jason started snickering to himself.
“What?” I asked, hoping to share his amusement.
“I was just considering therapy,” Jason replied with a big old grin. “Can you imagine Charsmith in therapy, analyzing his childhood . . . pouring over his feelings . . . twisting the wrench on his flaccid libido . . .”
“Actually, Jay, I was just considering a counselor myself, one religious in background and unquestionably familiar with Charsmith’s problems.”
“Fancy. He’d do some spiritual counseling for us. He owes me a favor.”
* * * *
“I won’t do it, forget it!” replied Fancy when we got him to the cafe a few hours later and explained to him Charsmith’s situation.
“Why not?” demanded Jason. “Charsmith just needs some religious insight, that’s all.”
“Then advise him yourselves. If he doesn’t come to me of his own volition, I’m not going to reach out to him when I’m not a big fan, to tell you the truth. I’d like to think I have character.”
“Listen,” I said, “just look at us, we’re zombies here. Do it for us if you’re not inclined to help Charsmith.”
Obviously Fancy was insulted. The short, stocky seminarian with the cobalt all-knowing eyes refused to involve himself in a gesture of support for the wrong reasons; besides, Fancy respected Charsmith’s privacy as he worked through his own spiritual journey. As religious as Fancy is, it’s weird to think how well he and Craven got along together and I imagine it would have been difficult for them to maintain their conversational boundaries.
So we talked to him for a while and elaborated on our concerns to such an extent that Fancy reluctantly agreed to consider the matter more.
“So, outside of me counseling him, you think the only thing that can help him would be an epiphany?” Fancy asked.
“That’s right,” said Jason.
Fancy looked at Jason in disbelief. “You realize that’s the spiritual equivalent of winning the lottery? It’s not something that can be manufactured.”
“Too bad,” said Jason. “We need quick results.
“But you say this whole breakdown thing revolves around faith, right?” Fancy asked quizzically.
“That’s what he told me,” I answered.
Fancy looked thoughtful. “What’s Charsmith’s story, anyway?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I’m asking for an historical context, that’s all.”
Jason replied: “His family was killed in a car accident two years ago.”
“Charsmith has no grandparents left, and no cousins to speak of since his parents were both “only” childs,” I added.
Fancy replied: “Of course I knew about the accident–and I knew him as the rich, hotshot in high school– but was he . . . I mean, what was the period of grief like when they died?”
“He was really upset about his sister in particular,” replied Jason.
“Yeah, he loved his sister,” I said. “But I’ve never known him to be fond of his parents much.”
“It certainly makes sense, then, that the reality of a god or not would make an impression on him at this time . . .” Fancy concluded, looking reflective.
We nodded our agreement.
“It kind of reminds me of something,” said Fancy.
“What?” replied Jason.
“Hmmm . . . oh, I don’t know . . .” transposing the rub to his temples. “But I remember reading that when a Greek would fall into the delirium of illness, an interpreter–called a mantis– would be called in to explain the delirium, what they called the manteia. The manteia signifies a person’s ability to use delirium as a telescope into absolute reality. You know what I’m talking about, right Euripides?”
“The point,” Fancy continued, “is that the manteia refers to the person’s ecstatic insight into the beyond, into reality itself, and the mantis would serve as the describer of this vision.
“Don’t you guys see, Charsmith could be classified as both the manteia and the mantis in his situation, serving as the unconscious mouthpiece for his self-transcending inner turmoil; you guys even heard him articulating his hallucinations. Remember, he couldn’t even remember what transpired the evening before, and you guys insisted that it wasn’t because of intoxication or anything else, yet the next morning he was able to describe an utter disjunction between his situation and his understanding of faith.”
“Do you think this idea is where followers of the Concept came up with this idea of tongues?” I asked.
“How would I know?” shrugged Fancy. “Besides, you’re missing the point. Maybe Charsmith experienced a profound “moment” that he’s not ready to digest, maybe an epiphany in itself. You know, though, it kills me that a person would contemplate faith enough to actually experience paroxysms, let alone a full-blown breakdown like that. I can honestly say that I wish I was as serious about my own faith . . .”
I, however, was not serious about anything beyond the immediate–Charsmith included–and was enamoured with another situation developing in my life that proved to be a distraction, having to do with the letter I continuously fingered in my pocket, which proves to be of such significance in this brief account that I cannot avoid its description.