I open my eyes and the room is on fire. Completely unconcerned, I, Ben, watch the fire grow larger and larger, then shrink and die out, revealing Georgie Gust, my alter ego, sitting on a matching mound of dirty clothes.
I light a cigarette.
“I thought you quit,” says Georgie.
My nurse and doctor watch me, shaking their heads in disapproval.
Kelly doesn’t know about my obsession with Claudia Nesbitt—or, rather, Georgie’s obsession with her. I haven’t told her much about the spells that haunt me either. I haven’t mentioned a lot of things to her. I haven’t mentioned how much I struggle to write anything original that comes from the heart. Or that all I hear is the chaos of the Devil and the angels, and the voice of Georgie dictating my every word and action. That I’m nothing but a trust fund baby with an addiction problem and a constellation of lurid sexual fetishes that shrink into petrified silence in the presence of any actual women and a half dozen psychiatric diagnoses ranging from Tourette’s syndrome to schizoaffective disorder.
That I was taken into police custody for trying to rob a bank with nothing but a threateningly brandished cell phone and a reference to 9/11. That my father pulled some strings that landed me in rehab rather than prison. However, as part of one of the conditions of my release—that I must begin therapy with a court-appointed psychologist, Dr C—I haven’t really talked much about it. As I began to work in therapy, the issue that came into focus was that of Georgie, my alter ego, whom I’d conceived as living a parallel life to mine that mirrors and channels my own self-aware, yet foreign, emotional highs and lows.
That with Dr C’s help and encouragement, and my own intelligence and determination—well, some determination and some pure laziness—I might peel away the layers of Georgie’s existence, so that I might find the determination to hand over to Kelly all that I’ve kept inside, so she won’t leave me, so that I can self-actualize and get over the bitch, Claudia, and be honest with her, with Kelly, and with myself to meander out of some of the confusion. After all, sobriety has not cleared up all the fogginess; it seems to have added to it, seems to have created fucking stockpiles of it. And as the pieces of my existence have begun to emerge, they’ve done so with an extremely uncomfortable, agitating, transgressive, and self-loathing clarity. The clarity is what’s frightening me more than anything. In fact, I’m scared to fucking death of all this clarity.
“I want out of the labels. I don’t want my whole life crammed into a single word. A story. I want to find something else, unknowable, some place to be that’s not on the map. A real adventure. A sphinx. A mystery. A blank. Unknown. Undefined.”
Dr C’s Introduction
What if you had such severe schizophrenia that your life was just one hallucination after another? And what if people kept trying to drag you back out of those hallucinations, to prove that you weren’t living in reality, and that reality was nothing more than a psych hospital? Would you go? Would you make that leap back into reality, leave such a vivid life, for ceramic walls and metal gurneys?”
Not everything has to be interpreted literally; often a metaphorical interpretation is far more relevant and insightful, even if it’s just some fictional nonsense.
Introductory Clause: Subject (Paresthesia and Parenthetical Pet Peeves)
I sense a tingling, fucking burning, prickling of Claudia’s character defects. Prickling my skin, by reason of her particular parenthetical pet peeves. This continuous tingling and numbness in my face and back of my head I feel, therefore it must not be unreal, nor is there any other reason so remarkable as to elicit disbelief. Claudia’s parenthetical pet peeves are real and therefore worthy of a name: Claudia Nesbitt, no less than what is stated, as insubstantial as her being, but my dream and inside my dream.
Example: Claudia especially hates when people add an “e” to a name ending in “y.” Also, contrived spellings of common names.
History repeats itself. So does the present.
Obsession is a state of mind, so make it good.
The night is quiet and still now, and at the end . . . .
Once I encountered all these people, Claudia, Heidi, Kelly, Georgie, and myself, and my self, the fantasies of everybody and every place, and everything, they continued on. They became tragic obsessions.
Let’s get the facts straight up front, to avoid any confusion later. Georgie is an alter ego. I have several of them. It’s a means of leaving some room in my experience to avoid growing entirely sick of myself. I sit in this room, in this house, because I’ve lost myself.
I used to be all right. Back when I had a concrete hold on my place in this world, at least the people who used to make up my life. I’ve gone downhill, rolling down with the light feathery tumbleweed in our backyard. It’s disgusting in here, as mist and smoke linger throughout this claustrophobic bachelor pad. They say Ben’s 30 now, and that he’s a split personality; better put: a double personality, lacking true identity, lacking any sense of self. I don’t agree. I am Ben. They say a lot—the voices and hallucinations. They say Ben’s skinny because he smokes crack. He’s alone. He’s me. He’s in this living room. The landline rings all the time, often, quite a few times and they tell me to pick up, so I do.
Undoubtedly we are all capable of doing anything for 24 hours that would otherwise overwhelm us if we had to keep it up for a lifetime. We know this because we can breathe, can we not?
To the Reader, Looking Back
Looking back on it now, now that the words that come later can drain away most of the sentiment, there’s a nostalgia that still lingers at the top of the Eiffel Tower, when those kids—three girls and two boys—defined who I was, without the slightest hint of bias or negativity.
It was the first time in my life, the first “time of my life.” I was on a school trip in Paris, with the same kids who would taunt me and bully me back in New York. And although I had forgiven them, even loved them to an extent, there was so much going on at home, and in my head, and in my body, that I couldn’t tell the difference between what was good and what was bad, what was appropriate and what was not. Kids can be brutal.
They say that those in the “Losers’ Clubs” in school will usually show up at the reunions, years later, as glittering icons, while the popular kids turn to waste. I never went to any of the reunions.
I took a left turn by not going with my class. I got permission from the French teacher who was in charge of us to hang out with another group of kids from another junior high school; they were also in Paris from Nassau County, and, although I was away from my own crowd of popular kids (that particular crowd of waste), my new group of friends and I took off by Métro that night after dinner. We climbed most of the Eiffel Tower, as it was still open to tourists, even at the late hour.
As we gazed over the city lights, the brisk wind blowing hard, one of the kids, Wesley, who couldn’t have been over 12—all wrapped up in his ski jacket, his short curly hair frozen, unaffected by the winds—smiled innocently at me, and as if it was his second nature, he said, coolly, “You seem pretty normal to me, Ben. Hey, you’re one of us.” And all the others bantered among themselves in agreement. I took a group photo of my new best friends, all of us arm-in-arm, holding on in the chill air, and holding on to the memory of being so free, without supervision. Looking back on everything now, the world, the universe, never looked as beautiful to me as it did during that cool breezy night on top of the world, where I was with my friends and nobody knew just how invincible we really were.
(Parenthetical Pet Peeve) The fancier the hairdo, the harder the wind will be blowing.
I haven’t a clue what happened on the walk back to the hotel and, by the next day, when Wesley’s and his buddies’ vacation meant they’d be back in the States by sundown, I had forgotten about it. I mean, I’d forgotten about everything—my introduction—and I went back to the in-crowd as they did what they did for the rest of the trip, mostly drinking French beer from the mini-bar in the Hôtel Chateau Martine.
I find that the more I keep to myself all that I do remember from that particular night out with the group from Paris, I wonder constantly if, by now, they’d ever grown up or if they just stay the same, like in the picture I still have of them. It’s under my bed, in an old shoebox—so that I can stay the same, somewhere, somehow way deep down inside.
There are times I’ll struggle and tussle with my inner demons. Other times we’ll simply cuddle and snuggle together. It’s a relationship that has both feelings of love and hate. There is a bond between us that remains ever strong, perhaps based on the myth or truth of general inherent goodness or purely due to all the variants of myself and any beast or such demons, real or unreal. My inner demons are within me, and oftentimes, they end up being the ones who save me; I don’t have such a need to be saved from my inner demons per se.
—To suddenly discontinue, dissolving and dissociating breaking for a fairly ubiquitous cigarette, but to exist nowhere and do nothing—only like the fog and itty bitty bugs, to exterminate all ambiguous thoughts for a moment.
© Jonathan Harnisch 2014