I jumped in the river and what did I see? Black-eyed angels swam with me. A moon full of stars and astral cars. All the things I used to see. All my lovers were there with me. All my past and futures. And we all went to heaven in a little row boat. There was nothing to fear and nothing to doubt. – Radiohead’s “Pyramid Song”
Months ago, someone asked me if I was happy. Define happy, I said, tapping on my keyboard, deliberately immersed and evading. Not once did I glance up from the black keys, even when he pressed my computer shut, even when his voice crescendoed like a note held for too long left to stand and uncomfortably linger, when he repeated, Are you happy? I couldn’t look up, couldn’t, because I had to admit that I’d settled for a life of comfortable discomfort. I’d settled for less than extraordinary. I’d settled for a life anesthetized. I’d settled for something less than what I once had.
I’d have to admit that I mother-fucking settled.
So I looked sideways, fixated on a window across the way and the papers flying out of it. Apparently, the wind got hold of an empty desk and had its way with it. Papers fluttered out, scattered, and inevitably made their descent. You can’t catch me off guard like that,I said. He laughed, and wondered aloud why I couldn’t answer such a simple question.
Either you’re happy or you’re not.
After what feels like a lifetime of breathing underwater, barnacles attach themselves to hard surfaces: the sides of large ships, the backs of whales, or the shells of some turtles. And they remain, attached, grabbing at the living, the beautiful creatures that sally past. Sessile, complacent, they simply survive off of the remains of others. They take what they can get. They mother-fucking settle.
How is it that I had become the one thing I spent my whole life scraping off? How did I miss waking each morning to finally see half my face, my body, covered in the things? How did I become blind that I had become a sticky, spindly thing, affixing myself to a desk, to a series of websites, to a feeding routine? How is that I stopped moving? Breath sputtering out, a body giving way, a heart in the ether.
How is that I had become what I had become?
Vladimir: Was I sleeping, while the others suffered? Am I sleeping now? Tomorrow, when I wake, or think I do, what shall I say of today? That with Estragon my friend, at this place, until the fall of night, I waited for Godot? That Pozzo passed, with his carrier, and that he spoke to us? Probably. But in all that what truth will there be? (Estragon, having struggled with his boots in vain, is dozing off again. Vladimir looks at him.) He’ll know nothing. He’ll tell me about the blows he received and I’ll give him a carrot. (Pause.) Astride of a grave and a difficult birth. Down in the hole, lingeringly, the grave digger puts on the forceps. We have time to grow old. The air is full of our cries. (He listens.) But habit is a great deadener. (He looks again at Estragon.) At me too someone is looking, of me too someone is saying, He is sleeping, he knows nothing, let him sleep on. (Pause.) I can’t go on! (Pause.) What have I said?
Estragon: I can’t go on like this.
Vladimir: That’s what you think.
How is it that his words were a blinding sunrise I didn’t want to see? Over there is a cloak, it’s darkness. Cover me with it. Can you hear me? And the note fell, got caught up in a larger song played in perpetual repeat (needle lifted, placed back on the record, again, again) until the song was so loud it threatened to explode in on itself. Head to knees, this is what they tell you when planes crash, but they neglect to mention that you’ll complete from the impact. Why did his words need to be the sun that was the plane that was the remains of you scattered along the ocean?
A head lifts, a word holds and plays out the scene, looks for places to hide but there are none. And the cold, No.
No, I’m not happy.
There was so much to fear, so much to doubt. So the days past, a succession of sunrises and footfalls. My eyes have been getting accustomed to the light, but it’s been a long journey out. And this is the journey everyone wants tidied up and finished, all two hands clapping and, sigh, that’s over with. People don’t want to sit in the uncomfortable spaces; they don’t want to hear the I am afraids and I don’t knows. Instead, they press for 140 characters of light; they interrupt, they say, You’re just being dramatic.
Oh, am I. Being dramatic. Is that it?
This was a strange week of huddled shoulders shuddering. Of cards laid down, of new hands played, of a deck that keeps on with its shuffle. Easy, easy, you got her too high. But it was a, how about we shudder together? How about our shakes turn into a dance, a song, that we’re desperate to sing? Smiling, I said, I like that.
Yesterday, a man leans in, all the way, and says, Felicia, you’ve got to grow a vagina. I can’t think of anything else that takes a harder beating. I winced, withdrew, and he laughed, and said he was paraphrasing Bette Davis, about balls being nothing but soft tissue and all that. But a vagina! A vagina was a courageous thing, it took no prisoners, and so on.
I wasn’t used to such directness and coarse language, and I still recoil a bit as I type this. Did he have to say VAGINA? I guess he did because I’m still thinking about it. His words, our conversation, shook the windows and splintered some of the wood and glass. It reminded me of The Angel of the Odd exhibit I saw in Paris — all that fear trapped on canvas, desperate and wanting. Goya, Ernst, Milton, Blake, Goethe, Shakespeare — artists who slipped into darkness, saw savagery plainly for what it was, and transformed it to color, type, and voice. It reminded me of my meeting with my agent, who shook with excitement when I said that my writing is scaring me. I’ve been waiting for your writing to combust, he said. He knew my frustrations with Sky, knew I was confined by traditional narrative, knew I wanted to go somewhere strange and dark, a world far from linear. Yet, there was this word, courage, and I had yet to understand its meaning. It reminded me of a man who told me that if I keep dodging what eludes me, I will always be my own ruin.
It’s only when we say our fears out loud do we find a way to move past them. Otherwise, it’s an ocean that threatens to swallow, to curl us under.
My life is about to take some strange, miraculous turns, and instead of drawing all the blinds and shuddering alone, I sent notes, made calls, asked if my shoulders could have some company.
And it feels good, to open my eyes, have it all hurt. To finger the bruises. It feels good to shudder and shake alongside…