from Chapter One:
I brought another one home tonight. This one had a small birthmark
behind his left earlobe and cool skin that smelled of coconut
milk and lemon leaves. I catalogue them this way, by the most
minor of their physical details, because otherwise they are not
prone to distinction. The drink is always the same; though the
color varies from pink to clear to amber, its effects are consistent.
It convinces him that he is the one luring me away from the bar
to a more private place – my bedroom, with its bare walls
and white bed, antiseptic as a hospital and well-trafficked as
Union Station. But private, yes. The walls of my apartment are
insulated, so when I get on top and ride one of the men my neighbors
don’t hear. I am screaming, grunting. Sweating as my body
rhythmically contracts. I rip pleasure out of them, one at a time,
evening by evening. And by day I ignore the oily feel of them
that does not wash off.
Sometimes I am drunk, and I awaken with a headache to find one
of them asleep in my bed, his hair daubed in sweaty clumps to
his face. Then I rise from my bed and sit at my laptop in the
next room, typing in the dark until the sky bleeds vermilion.
It is this light or the clicking keys that wake him; I do not
know which. He sees me like that, writing in the morning light,
spread out naked with one foot up on either corner of the desk,
and I watch as the shame passes through his body. He goes soft.
He feels he has violated me somehow, that he has transgressed
some essential privacy. I observe with interest as he considers
his own voyeurism, and I think every time it is silly, he probably
still has the taste of me in his mouth. And yet he is afraid,
inadequate, discovering me like this in the dying dark. He puts
on his smoke-stinking jeans and sweat-damp polo shirt. He stumbles
putting on his expensive sneakers that were flung in the entryway
the night before. All the time I watch him. I don’t stop
watching until he half-kisses me and leaves and shuts the door
softly behind him. Only then do I delete the page of Os and Js
and ampersands and percent symbols, make pancakes, and start my
As children, we hide under the blanket and the monsters are gone.
From the outside, what is visible is a safe heap of comforter,
smooth and placid, hiding the child tiny and quivering inside.
Night by night we convince ourselves that there are no monsters,
until we can sleep serene in our knowledge that we are safe. Pretend
we are protected, and the protection becomes real. The monsters
cannot hurt you anymore because you deny their power.
There are no monsters, you say? But it is not an act of convincing
ourselves that they are false but of enlightening ourselves that
they are products of our minds: controllable, secured, innocuous,
yes, but only by virtue of being real.
One Saturday afternoon, when I was fifteen, an older boy from
school called me and asked if I wanted to go out. The trees were
woven into pale budded webs against a peacock blue sky, the lakes
rippled with wind, and I was exuberant in a new skirt and too
much lipstick. The boy picked me up in his deteriorating station
wagon, drove around for a while listening to his music, then pulled
up in front of our school and asked if I wanted to walk around.
He took me into the woods behind the school and inserted his crude
dirty fingers into my vagina. Then he hoisted me up and fucked
me against a big rock that felt rough against my young ass and
for days after I had scratches and bruises and I avoided him in
the school hallways. Two weeks later one of his best friends called
me in the middle of the night and asked me to meet him behind
his house and suck his cock. But these boys, these imbecilic boys
with their hormones and superiority complexes and competitive
inclinations, were unable to see the naked, intractable, and wily
girl who seemed ready to pleasure them. Naked I was most beautiful,
but they never saw me. They never once looked for what lived in
the contours they loved to grope. They saw something, some gathering
of shapes and light, but it was not my body. They felt something,
time after time, thinking it was my body. But it was not.
So you see, the monsters are real.
Now I wake up, often in a bed damp with the juices of angry lust.
I pretend to write until my interloper flees. I make breakfast,
write furious words until it is time to go to the science tower
at the university and analyze usually flawed genetic material
and squelch the hopes of optimistic parents-to-be. I go home,
go to the bar, choose another candidate to take home and screw.
Sundays I spend in solitude.
Our senses are endlessly deceptive. The visible spectrum of light
wavelengths, for example, goes from violet to red, or from 400
to 750 nanometers. We have the words infrared and ultraviolet
to describe colors we cannot see, and beyond those we have trouble
imagining what other colors might look like if we could see them.
And even with this very limited range of vision, we focus, project,
stabilize, and otherwise distort the image, which is saying nothing
of how the brain reinterprets it to become something else entirely,
a fish into a flower. And we have words, fish or flower trying
to describe this cocktail of images we sense, certain that we
see not many things but one, not a gathering of light but a meaningful
organism. A child sniffs a peony and says, "Pretty pink flower."
Perhaps this is all we are capable of understanding.
We group the world; we like to reduce it to its lowest terms.
We swallow it, one tablet of information at a time, rewarded for
this effort by seeing a coherent world and one logical line through
space-time. And even the psychologists, physicists and poets who
are vaguely aware of what exists beyond these parameters can get
up, get dressed and have breakfast in the morning without being
stunned by the proliferation of brightness.
And certain forms of madness involve not being able to think
straight. We are used to the one line; we call it by reassuring
names like sobriety and sanity. Those who feel the weight of its
limits try hallucinogenic drugs to experience the world beyond
this line, but really these worlds they conjure are only a different
distortion. We taste the real world, oddly enough, only in faint,
almost imperceptible brushes with imagination. And if you look
at it with your eyes, it vanishes like an afterimage or a ghost.
I would like to be able to tell you to trust me, but this is
my version of the story. And while I know now that he was not
one of my characters, I warn you that I have never learned to
convey what is real, that even if I experienced him as real, I
extrude something else, and again you see it differently. So do
not trust me but listen anyway. It began on a train...
Copyright © Lauren Porosoff Mitchell, 2000. No part of this
excerpt may be reproduced in any form without the permission of
Look At Me
PUB DATE: October, 2000
TRIM: 5 x 7 3/4
PRICE: $14.95/ Paperback Original
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