The same morning Charsmith revealed to me his intention to surrender his soul to McRose, I retired to my studio with the full expectation of encountering some dreamless, lack of mind’s activity sleep. My studio is my inspiration, the place where I take blank canvass and interpret the figure before me, the place where the light floods through the windows in melancholic tones of greenish-blue and the smell of a model’s perfume seems to linger for days.
Here, in my apartment all alone, in the digital clear vision of hindsight, I digested the dual sensation of the evening before, how I was invigorated by Charsmith’s situation while reeling from my capability to callously inflict harm on myself and another–as demonstrated in my treatment of poor Lexus. Yet despite these thoughts, I fell soundly asleep that morning and had no recollection of having dreamed.
I woke up around three o’clock, and imagined that I could still smell the lingering “presence” of women, all nice smelling and sweet. Actually, there was something about my pad that seemed to continually attract the hermeneutical possibility of my female visitors in the form of, get this, in the form of the loquacious honeybee.
The amount of activity of these soft humming insects outside of my window couldn’t help but evoke a heightened understanding of the coming and going of my flower-fragranted models.
Perhaps it was the body-sprays or their perfumes that allowed me the correlation, I do not know, but the bees I observed always discovered a way to trap themselves between the screen and the glass, with pure air beckoning them on one side and the opportunity for freedom an impenetrable transparency away.
Countless times I would emancipate the little devils with a mason jar and an oven mitt, letting them drone their way back to the world of pollination and honey. And it seemed depressing to me when I would find one with curled legs and on its back, almost like I failed the little bee somehow. Maybe that is why I recognize in my itinerant flower visitors an essence of my women, a relation . . . and it hurt me to see one die. Yet I never found the time to fix the hole in the screen that allowed them entrance in the first place.
After examining my windows for the black and yellow-banded refugees, I walked downstairs to the lobby and checked my mail. There was a letter from who would you guess, but Karis, amidst some bills and stuff all stuffed in my mailbox–she must have procured my address from one of my crooked friends–and I felt my heart stir.
My hands became shaky and I felt sick all over even at the sight of her writing on the envelope. Perspiration formed on my forehead as I ascended the stairs to my studio in indecision, trying to decide whether to discard her message in the trash, or allow the wound to be freshly reopened, which surely would be the case if I even read one word of her scribbled handwriting written under the pretense of marginalizing the capability of myself to recoil from the lapse of her love.
So what it came down to was strength or weakness. If I was strong I would have chucked it, but I honestly can say that I’m not, being the man who in full consciousness of his demise finally ripped the envelope open in a rush of adrenaline capped with a plethora of emotions too flighty to realize. I regarded her words with haste and then reread it slowly, slowing the rush of adrenaline to the sky to a slow surveillance at condor heights.
The paper was scented like something sweet, I do not know from what, and I smushed it into my face believing I was suffocating in the sweetness simultaneously acrid.
There was too much feeling all at once.
The previous evening, when I discarded the girl from the night before, all I saw in her eyes was a bright agony as she left the condo, like our evening together was a moment’s recognition of the collapse of a social ideal, she still not the victim, but disillusioned, myself totally aware but indifferent, as always. What had I done to her?
Curse the volumeless emptiness within me, my quest to make the outer conform to the struggle within . . .
Now, though, after everything I’ve been through, now the object of my love, ethereal Karis, emerges from the murkiness of past sensation, all that I really can remember of her, with her heart proffered toward me in the form a silk smooth envelope smelling girlishly sweet and obsequiously noxious.
I realized, after the umpteenth time of reading the thing over, that what the letter was drawing from me was dormant feeling, and I understood at that moment something that has been eluding me since childhood: that I had no propensity to discern feeling in the face of the dominant two I described in a previous chapter.
Sure, I knew myself to be jealous of the so called “normal” people while slowly being consumed with guilt, big deal, right, but what I’m trying to illustrate is the impact these emotions had in my negative revision of experience, where even the most intense of feelings such as joy or excitement became convoluted by this “stock” of negativity.
During the aftershock of reading Karis’ letter, I realized that the flower of my soul was planted in decadence, that every object I looked upon was covered with a dust so thick that I couldn’t possibly perceive beauty, that there was no such thing as a venue I could position myself in to give rise to an accurate understanding of my emotion.
It took something like a smooth, sweet-smelling letter from a past lover who I simply couldn’t forget.
So after I read the letter I sat there in silent vexation, just staring out the window, crucified in spirit, immobile before the siren’s song, unable to distinguish the genuine from the fantastic, the likely from the improbable. The feeling of suffocation, of not being in control, triggered the uneasiness, now a nightmarish apparition fastening coals to my imagination. Karis’ sentiment, I would not cry, I would not allow the dominant head of guilt to close my passage to air forever.
What took some time to realize was that I had always mistaken the overlap of guilt and jealousy as a feeling in itself, but now I knew that I had identified a third element of feeling, something more earth shattering: hope.
Indeed, yours truly was being battered and beaten by hope’s untimely appearance, like Charsmith, whose existential crisis the evening before proved to be viral and contagious. But how did I come to such a recognition?
After a good half-hour of pondering and suffering, a coincidence occurred, and I’m not sure whether it was self-induced or providence, but I happened to glance out the window to find a cloud transparent in nature before me–I remember it well, how it was God-sent–and I remember how it made me consider my vocation in life, to be an articulator, in the imminent prospect of finding satisfaction in Karis’ arms for a lifetime. Forget Karis and the unrequited love bit turned possible: there’s always been some part of me that yearns to express the inexpressible, like that feeling you get in November when the sky is grey and the leaves are dead and everything is basically caught in the grip of the year-end parasite and yet something subtly pulsates beauty beyond the clouds that you can’t perfectly visualize, you only sense and dream into your coffee knowing that the feeling diverges from the similar cover of grey during the icy rainfalls of Spring.
There is something different about November and I just don’t know why . . .
Perhaps, now that I think of it, I’ve always entertained the idea of engaging on a quest for a sense of resonance with beyondness, like Charsmith, whose travels allowed him to see past the filmy grey a glimmer of something as well, a glimmer he deemed unreachable. The only difference is that I had invested my energy in poetic transcendence, not in the Concept who cancelled all anxiety and contradiction in the course of a single sacrifice.
Therefore, out of a sense of obligation to aspire to wholeness, I managed to sustain a constant flow of material in my life, referring mostly to my models. In women I used to believe that I saw a text rich in humanity, yet approaching sublimity, not in a divine sense or anything, there was just something right about women apart from the sexual renderings of the male. So I painted or captured them in verse not for retail, but for a higher form of understanding asunder from sexuality.
Anyway, it was one of these models, one of my favorites, named Infiny Schmidt, who I believe had an appointment with me that afternoon, who accidentally walked in while I was engaged in the backlash of reading the letter.
I sat beside the couch all confused and stuff, and I’m sure I must have been a mess since I hadn’t showered or shaved, still in my housecoat.
The next thing I can call to mind is that she was there with her arm around me, whispering soothingly to me, occasionally stroking my air. Big, green, compassionate eyes, and a mouth smiling slightly in concern, all framed by her dark brown hair dangling along both sides of her face. I was aware of myself all taciturn with the girl beside me and how all sense of time–the clouds moving, or birds flying by, the way my studio changes aromas based on the heat of the day–seemed to disappear under the sleepy consciousness in which I became the spectator of the reality I was responsible for, but couldn’t always facilitate, and I found myself deriving a certain pleasure from the whole twisted ordeal.
Remember earlier, when I kind of suggested that I took pleasure in the drama of life as a spectator? I, in fact, admit that I enjoyed being a spectator of my own circumstances. I enjoyed observing people from my park bench or in the bar. I’m capable of learning from everyone, like the man and the woman who made a production of their turmoil on the street that evening with Euripides; in their dysfunction, they denied the lie of separating their social personas from their domestic ones. However, in dissociating myself from myself, I never witnessed a truly altruistic act toward me, especially out of love.
In my readings, I came across this story of a Roman couple who unitedly committed suicide, where a woman named Arria took a knife and inflicted death upon herself and then turned to her husband and said, “Paetus, it doesn’t hurt.” I need a woman to inflict the mortal blow first and assure me of my well being before I follow suit. I am incapable of a single action out of genuine character, and I definitely cannot proclaim my love to a woman without her dangling herself before the possibilities of rejection and suffering first.
What I mean when I use the word “genuine” is that in witnessing the drama of life unfolding around me I see secure people who at least have a grasp of their ontological trajectory. Not I, I exist in a state of ceaseless undulation. I want to be the hero, yet I want to wield Nero’s torch; I want to be happy, yet am unwilling to surrender blandness; I want to be supportive to people, yet discover satisfaction in my own mordant observations; I want to lead, yet want to be dragged by the balls as well; I want to be the ethicist, no lie, yet am compelled to live in Dionysian bliss. And get this, I want to be the husband, believe it or not, yet cannot refrain from being the egotist I am.
You get the point, I want to be everything at once, meaning that for me there is no genuine.
What I long for most, I suppose, is a sense of independence, yet that afternoon I found myself in the attractive situation of being dependent on one of my favorite models with blazing green eyes and ordinary brown hair, who didn’t bolt when she realized she wasn’t going to be modeling that afternoon, but altruistically remained with me in my studio out of a genuine concern for my well-being.
So there we sat against the couch, me still clutching the scented letter, with sunlight flooding on us through the window, the translucent cloud now beyond my vision, while she waited for me to say something, anything about the state of mind I was in, the patient girl she was.
I felt pretty dull–I mean, deprived of effervescence, that is–especially in my mind, which was tired of wrestling with things altogether. Such irony . . . Lexus no sooner slams the door shut and justice à la Karis is delivered via airmail.
I’m torn and I behave the way I do because I’m torn.
When you’re torn between two opposing realities, the eternal and the temporal, as we all are, you simply cannot separate, you perpetually exist in this outlook-distorting anxiety until you will your way to resolution. And believe me, such polarities, if neglected in their distinction, become the same in a sense, with the netherworld dragging the firmament to the earth and conforming its dimensions to the gaping sepulchre called negation, which, like the mighty Leviathan, lies in wait to swallow its light, so that all that remains of the sordid ritual is the erection of a tombstone and an impassive, but well phrased, eulogy.
So you see, when it came to my love for Karis I was unable to see beyond the immediate, and the immediate was defined by my vindictiveness towards relationships altogether, extrapolated from experience and sequestered from intimacy’s promise altogether.
The truth of the matter is that I cannot discern love in the way women relate to me anymore, I can’t. Not that it makes any difference, since I’m one of those not meant to be loved by woman anyway. Just the same, the end all of such confusion is that you perceive nothing beyond the scope of your own love, actually envy the love you have for another because you’re incapable of projecting it on yourself, and blame this on womankind in general who never seem to suffer quite the same.
It’s no wonder I’ve shut myself off from this fallacy that’s been promulgated by poets and philosophers since the dawn of time, the one that claims that lurking between dripping with life flowers and moonlight nights and crisp white sheets and the innocent cry of a newborn drifts the ineffable spirit of intimacy.
Infiny, however, was a living polemic to such misogyny, dutifully beside me and suspiciously patient as I tried to find the language to explain myself.
During that time together sitting against the couch, I found myself wishing I knew her wholly, beyond witnessing her beautiful, compelling form in the context of my studio or in the face of this anomalous compassion. She had to have her own malady, she must.
Something had to obscure her angelic, textual simplicity, but I never ascertained exactly what that something was.
All I knew was that Infiny was beside me while I was trying to sort out the complications that suddenly materialized in my life.
” . . . Infiny?” I whispered through a closed throat, inflated with emotion at the sight of a comforting face.
“I’m here,” she replies, looking concerned.
Regaining my wits: “I’ve made such a mess of things . . .”
“What’s wrong?” she asks.
“You don’t have to stay, thank you. I don’t think I’m up to a session today, but I’ll pay you just the same.”
“You are going to tell me what’s wrong, right?” she repeats, at least for the third or fourth time since she had come in. “Come on, Shannon, you can tell me. Let me help you . . .”
There was no way that I could explain to her the letter, Charsmith’s breakdown, my treatment of Lexus, so I averted the question. We just talked about stuff for a bit, what I planned to do with my paintings and how I just had a poem published in a magazine again, and my designs for the Oresteia adaptation I was writing.
Then, after we sat for a while in quiet conversation, my curiosity peaked. The whole situation made my head spin, for, really, there were few women in my history who would have made any effort to help me at all. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a Charsmith when it comes to evoking female affection. There is only one woman I refer to as a lover, Karis, and she is only a lover insofar as I have had an emotional connection with her, yet the feelings have never been perfectly reciprocated.
That is why this congestion of female attention over the past twenty-four hours kind of took me off guard and I didn’t really know how to respond to the masquerade of femininity suddenly obscuring my life. And the understanding of being torn between my desire to actually love a single woman in conjunction with my affair from the night before in conjunction with my model’s concern only heightened my confusion.
Before I continue relating to you the subsequent conversation contributing to this defining period in my life, I feel that, in order to maintain my integrity as a narrator, it is necessary that you know that I have accustomed myself to integrating therapeutical measures into what should be strictly a professional arrangement between my models and myself, where the agreement is based on two parties coming together for the sole sake of arriving at an artistic end.
What I’m admitting to is a breech of contract, for sometimes I can’t help but discuss my personal affairs with my models as I paint or draw, even to the point where I occasionally expound on some of my more sordid theories. The violation, as I’m sure you can guess, is that it adds a personal dimension to what should ideally be an impersonal, business-like encounter. Anyway, it only takes several sessions before my models come to know me well enough to have sufficient reason to either detest me or just pass me off as eccentric. Regardless, I don’t care either way, I feel that if they reveal their bodies for the sake of my art the least I can do is elaborate on the psychology incorporated into the finished product. Is that so unprofessional?
The reason I tell you this is that I feel you should have a grasp of the significance of the following question I was able to ask Infiny with my whole history floating before me.
With great delicacy, almost hesitantly, I managed to ask the seemingly simply question, “Why?”
“It’s beyond me that you stayed,” I said, unable to sit still with the feeling of uneasiness unusually active and all. My guilt was particularly active.
Her eyes, the greatest aspect of her profile, after I spoke this, flashed mine into contact, but I had to lower them out of shame, I guess.
I continued: “Why wouldn’t you just leave? I mean–its an odd situation, you must admit, and damn uncomfortable too. I can’t believe you allowed yourself to be implicated in my struggles.”
“Any person would have stayed with you,” she laughs. “Besides, I wouldn’t want anyone thinking I’m inhumane, or even worse, insensitive to the artist’s plight.”
“But now . . .” I started, exasperated. “Now I “owe” you something, and I can’t live that way. Where’s my wallet in this mess of an apartment, at least I can pay you for the afternoon.”
“I didn’t expect anything,” she says. “Everybody has bad days.”
This was just modesty I decided, so I probed her further, suspicious to the marrow.
“What can I do to make it up to you?” I demanded, but it was the voice of defeat.
“Nothing . . . why can’t you understand that?” she implores, baffled, but I could tell she was quite amused.
“Easy: I would have kept to my own business given the situation, and for that reason I simply can’t understand. I require an explanation . . .”
“I thought we were friends, Shannon.”
“I’m not saying we’re not–it’s just that I can’t live in a world where motive, at least with respect to my affairs, can go on being cloaked.”
“Very well,” Infiny says ironically, “have it your way. It’s just that . . . the truth might shatter a man of such volatile sensitivity like yourself.”
Defeated, I repeated: “I . . . would like to know.”
“I’ll undress the motive for you only if you promise not to get all upset,” she teases. “Can you control yourself?”
“Like I ever show my feelings,” I replied stoically. “Few are more adept to stifling emotion, believe it.”
She breaks slightly into a smile when I made this reply and then settled her gaze so that it rested directly on my own, but I could tell that she was caught up in the game of suppressing the uncomfortable smile.
I encouraged her to continue, reminding her that she was one of my preferred models, even a friend, and that a woman of her values and character couldn’t say much to offend me.
“Pity,” she says.
* * * *
I continued to sit and talk with Fancy after Jason and Euripides had since departed, I smiled to myself thinking of that honest, trenchant admission.
It was no wonder I had retained that pleasant mood for nearly two weeks. Pity–it was a strange feeling to have one pity you, and not so different from having one truly love you, I can assure you of that. I still had the letter nestled in the security of my pocket as a constant reminder.
Love, Pity, put it this way: both are statements of one’s emotional acceptance of another.
So what we’re talking about here is the high I was on while Charsmith suffered, content to be pitied, and fully conscious that Charsmith was deprived of its restorative power; even I can admit that I hardly pitied him. Just the same, to be pitied by a woman is to be under her power, just like being loved, but I didn’t care. One of my models felt–I mean, felt–for me. Maybe this was what Charsmith was talking about when he said that all I need is a woman to care about me.
Fancy, oblivious to my sojourn in satisfaction, sat across from me in the booth with a half finished pint of beer in front of him and a Jagermeister shot he had recently emptied. We shared a platter of fries. I ended up hanging out and talking crap with him long after the others left for the liquor store and to prepare for the bar that evening. He was really intrigued about our discussion group, and wanted to know how he could join.
“Father Chapman says the group’s evolved somewhat beyond his vision, but he’s encouraged me to join nonetheless,” Fancy said.
“It’s easy,” I assured him. “We have a three question oral exam based on our three fundamental . . . well, no . . . favored texts.”
“Sweet,” he exclaimed. “Which ones?”
“Nicomachean Ethics . . . Critique of Pure Reason . . . and Being and Nothingness . . .”
Fancy smiled. “Being and Nothingness?”
“As Charsmith says, if you can survive such an odyssey and salvage something from it, you can tolerate us.”
“Piece of Cake, Shannon . . .”
“Speak of the devil,” I said, looking up to find Father Chapman at the cash register purchasing his usual take-out coffee. He saluted us with a tip of his green beret, but left apologetic about not having the time to sit down with us and grind out some theology.
“Now that I think of it, that’s the person you should get Charsmith to talk to,” said Fancy.
“What could the old gadfly do for a rich dandy?” I replied with a laugh.
“Don’t you understand? If a person’s physically unwell, you take him to a doctor. Psychologically unwell, you take him to a shrink. But spiritually unwell, you take him to a shaman, one who has earned his art . . . has dealt with the demanding side of the spiritual realm and emerged a victor.
“You see,” Fancy went on, “we’re talking about the old wise man, and how this character is engrained in literature as the all-encompassing answer. Chapman is our hermit, the old wise man who has segregated himself from the rest of society but is willing to impart his knowledge, and in this case is even willing to come down from his hill, figuratively speaking, of course, to impart his knowledge to those who starve for his wisdom.”
I wasn’t totally convinced.
“Think about it,” said Fancy, “you guys thought that Charsmith needed a psychologist, when in fact the world has revolved around the wiseman . . . one who called a “time-out” so to speak, gathered himself, and then moved forward with his philosophy. The point is that the old man is the true person you can look to for spiritual answers. Why else would this concept be so deep seeded if it wasn’t operating on an archetypal level as well?”
“Go on,” I urged.
“Well, the old wise hermit (for Chapman is a hermit) is usually a person who had a comfortable lifestyle, enjoying certain wealth and popularity in the public eye. The hermit, though, grows weary of society and longs for something beyond–a metaphysical longing I guess you would call it. So the hermit abandons everything, isolates himself from the rest of society and contemplates lofty ideas, but only after dealing with his own demons, which, for some more than other, is an excruciating experience, especially for those who are more ascetic in practice. It is this person, the one who has escaped the din of social agenda and developed a philosophy of life, that people implore for advice.”
“And Father Chapman fits this mould?”
“Sure he does,” said Fancy, taking a sip of his beer. “Think about it: he at one time lived that passionate, reckless, defiant existence, but grew dissatisfied and pursued a new measure to find meaning in life, eventually arriving in the church, which threw him out on his ear–only to find God in an experience that can only be described as theophanical.
“I’ve been bothering him lately to discuss this experience with me so that I might be able to apply it to myself, and see my life in the context of the deity. But he has no advice to offer, although he told me in detail his experience of God. His experience I will share with you if you like, but only if you vow that our conversation remains confidential.”
I agreed to the terms.
“After shutting himself from the town for nearly three months, the old priest came back from shopping and fell asleep on his couch. It was then that he was awakened by a figure he describes as pure light, or, as he would put it, the radiance of the radiance of God’s glory. He asked the figure if he was his Conceptual Eminence, and the figure revealed an old pious face behind a veil of light concealing his humanity.
The old man replied: “I am not, nor am I one of the prophets.”
“Then who are you?” asked Father Chapman.
And at once he found himself walking with the old man in the shade of the forest, with the noises of birds singing and locust in the tall grass. It was then that Father Chapman noticed that the light was of virginal white, now emanating from the old man’s face, and he fancied he was with Stephen himself.
“I am St. Seraphim, now of pure light, and I am here to assure you of your conviction.”
The old man beamed with the hesychastic light which apparently surrounded the Concept during the transfiguration at Mount Thabor.
“What conviction is that, Father?” asked Chapman.
“Your conviction to bring God’s love to this town, and whatever sacrifices the deity demands.”
“Are you saying I am to return to the church and admit wrongdoing?”
“I am saying,” said the figure of light reassuringly, “that it is God’s expectation that you weigh the divine will on your heart.”
“I don’t understand,” said Chapman. “If you visited me to communicate God’s will to me directly, why wouldn’t you specify what it is God wants of me?”
“Because, friend, you now know God’s energies and can discern God’s will for yourself.”
And the figure of light touched Chapman on his sleeve, and beams of light engulfed him like a pyre, leaving him to wake up from his slumber on the couch like he was personally touched by God and convinced that he had an intimate exncounter with God’s energies.”
“So Chapman’s a saint–”
“I never said that, nor would Chapman,” said Fancy. “He believes it was just a special dream, which was his only clue as to how I could have a comparable experience myself.”
“And you think this man can be a help to Charsmith?”
“Believe me, an old man like Chapman has seen it all, and will know how to address Charsmith’s needs.”
“Charsmith’s suspicious of eccentrics, though,” I replied.
“I know, Shannon Page, you’re just so normal.”