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Back to Look At Me


Look At Me
A novel by Lauren Porosoff Mitchell

Excerpted 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 work.

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 the publisher.

Look At Me
PUB DATE: October, 2000
CATEGORY: Fiction
PAGES: 204
TRIM: 5 x 7 3/4
ISBN: 0-9654578-1-8
PRICE: $14.95/ Paperback Original