Thursday, August 13, 2015

Memoir to Madness Part Five

By Christian Weaver

To read Part Four, click here

Dear Justin:

You won’t believe what just happened: I finally got a letter…FROM YOU!! Brother, please—and I mean please, don’t ever do that again. If you simply can’t write, then have Lace pen the letter or just send me a note. A simple “I am” would suffice at such times. But of course I didn’t hear from either you or her, your own girlfriend, for 3 or 4 months and so I called Mom and Dad, Debbie, everybody I could think of, and they as well had heard nothing. I started thinking that you were dead and that nobody would tell me out of fear of what I’d do. I got paranoid, crazy…found a pincushion trance (you know what I mean). And now you sit there and wonder how on earth that is possible, how on earth can big bro—Mr. Road to Damascus, Mr. Radically saved—so completely collapse? Just how could he roll to such precipitous depths? Well.…

You’re my Achilles’ heel, my fatal flaw. I have always felt strongly that our fates are entwined. I know that’s cliché, but it should hardly be surprising that two halves of one soul—and I mean that quite literally, physiologically—should perceive it as unthinkable that their lives could diverge, and this includes the moral sphere. Insofar as we’re autonomous, we must trod the same path, whether evil or good. Kind of childish, I know. But I think that the synchronisms are determined as well, independent of our choices, whether healthy and self-actualized or addicted and insane. Perhaps we’ll both perish from a similar ailment? Anyway, this belief is ingrained and immutable; it was suddenly proven false by your plunge into madness and I started falling apart. I deteriorated with guilt. If I loved you, I thought, then your decline would disturb me on such a visceral level that I couldn’t even function. I would fizzle, short circuit. It’s amazing how much our friendship, our soul-hood, resembles Vincent’s and Theo’s. “But of course,” you’ll say bitterly. “You’re the brilliant tortured artist, and I’m the goddam second fiddle, the auxiliary”—but you’d be terribly wrong. You—your humble demeanor, your orphan-like innocence, your terrible fits of madness and even the manner of your prose (naturally polished and lucid, savage, untutored)—are more Gogh-ish than I. Now Theo was the normal brother and Vincent was the failure, the village lunatic. Sound familiar? After Vincent committed suicide Theo simply fell apart. He was unable to run his business and he soon got committed…several years later he too had imploded. “Now that’s love,” my heart gushed. “He couldn’t function without his brother. How much could he have loved him if he’d continued to function normally, as Mr. Swanky Art Dealer and Patron Saint of Struggling Impressionists?” But of course that’s illogical; it’s the opposite of what you’d want. Your love for me would want me to be happy and healthy irrespective of your lot. It would rather that I flourish without you than self-destruct with you. But feelings, of course, are much deeper than thoughts; they’re more nameless and complex. They’re the terrible black well wherein the thought-pennies fall…”Confide in me, love, I’m a well of drowned secrets.”

Your biggest source of torment, besides your illness, of course, is what the cursed thing has done to your artistic potential. Aborted it, in other words, pulled it out with iron tongs and ran a shunt through its brain. In retrospect, it is clear that you were always more creative—more intelligent, as well: you started reading much sooner, became a student who made A’s (instead of A’s, B’s and C’s) and began to study stuff—heavy stuff—before I could possible give a damn. This was you at age ten:

He began to play piano and advanced rather quickly. The ethereal strains of Fur Elise and Chariots of Fire soon mingled with the noise of kids playing in the street. He also started drawing and was soon very good. He could sketch a pair of hands with surprising accuracy (considering his age) and his horses were impressively well-muscled and shaded.

This is what you did while I was playing hide n’ seek and Nerf football and swimming in the neighbors’ pool and climbing palm trees and hurling pine cones at my buddies. Not that you didn’t participate, but with you it was peripheral. As Captain Ahab would say, you had “the little lower layer.” By the time you were fifteen you had converted our closet into a small library, a sanctum sanctorum. It was mostly non-fiction (the exception was classic literature) and was arranged by such topics as serial killers, cult leaders, and abnormal psychology. Light reading, you know.

Mom and Dad enrolled you in a private Christian school. You were dating this rich chick—the principal’s daughter, if I recall—and you were one of the top students. “Which made me cringe,” you later chuckled. “Because I hardly cracked a book. The only kids who scored higher were a couple of Asian students and they studied obsessively.”

Megan, the king’s daughter, loved the dark and handsome prince. “She’s one of us,” he frowned menacingly. “She has stepped outside the bubble.” His habiliments turned to black, and he began to comb his hair (which was already thick and dark) like a junior assassin. His musical predilections were overtly Satanic stuff like “Danzig” and “Deicide.” He started to lift weights and became strong, absurdly strong, for his size. “You know what I’d like to do?” he told Christian one day. “I’d like to rip a man apart with my bare hands. Not just mangle him a bit or even break a few bones—I mean rip him into pieces like you would a small animal. Not that I’d ever hurt an animal, of course.  I’d sooner kill a damn human.”

But the only human he ever mangled that year was himself. He took a large knife and cut his arm to the bone. He stared stoically at the blood and let it soak through his clothing, even poked the yellow fat that, stuffing-like, protruded from the gash. He felt strangely at peace. He’d made the thought go away.

The point is that you’re naturally an artist, a creator, and an innovator of expression. To be incapable of creating is a torment in itself. I think that your ability, like you’re emotional development, was stunted by your illness. Your obsessions took it all. But that didn’t make you less aware of the loss or less degraded by the wreck of your artistic potential.

Someone once said (I think it was Benjamin Franklin) that there are two ways to become famous: either write something worth reading or live the kind of life that’s worth [someone else] writing about. I know you value the latter less, but I totally disagree: if someone’s interesting enough to inspire great art—if they become the artist’s muse, then they’re as interesting as the artist….

My first attempted novel, “Thunderheads on the Horizon,” has a character based on you. As a kid he resembles Damien in “The Omen” or Macaulay Caulkin’s character in “The Good Son”: quiet, calculating and sinister. He has an identical twin brother (never saw that one coming!), whose name is Nilo, derived from the Hebrew “ex nihilo” or “out of nothing.” The brothers were born to a young, unmarried woman in New Orleans and adopted, at three or four, by an equally poor couple who were living in Florida. The twins were messed up: they had medical problems like asthma and bowed legs and they were hopelessly feral and angry. The couple, however, were committed to Christ: they saw it all as God´s plan. They were right. Soon the husband (we´ll call him Craig—or Dad) was making two hundred grand a year and the twins were well-adjusted and healthy. He moved his family to a rural area in Tennessee and they immediately joined the local community. Most of the parents were fundamentalist Christians: and consequently, their children were outrageously sheltered, like the Flanders´ kids on “The Simpsons.” There were homeschooling events perhaps two times a month: picnics, field trips, hayrides, bonfires. Like a Norman Rockwell painting.

Here's some maxims about then:

1) The children of Christians are doomed for a fall. In the Garden of Eden they roam.
2) The children of Christians are blinded from youth. No Road to Damascus awaits.
3) If you must rebel, children, then chart your own course. Don´t leap from the ship for revenge.
4) The Garden of Lies is the Serpent of Truth.

And a poem:

So I'll speak of the link between madness and art. 
And the penchant of youth to partake of the fruit:
“Know ye not that your folly has ravaged my heart?
But your children will recompense you.”

The twins rebelled mightily—and this, combined with their native pathologies and a rough early childhood, sort of doomed them outright. They started acting self-destructively and they totally renounced Christian upbringing. They were the force majeure, the enfant terrible of the Christian community. As Julian later said: “We always rooted for the bad guy and thought insanity was cool.”

At eighteen, they left home and their pathologies grew worse. Nilo stayed inebriated on whatever he could find, and Julian…well, you know. They rejected their bourgeois upbringing and seemed to identify, almost exclusively, with the counterculture. Generation X and all that. At 19 they befriended a charismatic teenager named of Stanley Lyons who was seemingly an expert at paranormal activity. In reality, however, he was addicted to inhalants—particularly gold spray paint—and whoever played his game became a golem in his hands, a mere puppet of his will (Julian was the rare exception). He had a sort of cult following among the town´s young people, who would gather in the woods, or in mutilated apartments, and hallucinate for days. During one of these trips Nilo noticed, with sheer horror, that taunting, number-obsessed personality was hopping back and forth between Julian and Stanley. He believed it was a demon, like Azazel in “Fallen,” and when he spoke to it directly it called itself “Mable the Hag” and claimed to have possessed every other generation of women on the [twins’] biological mother´s family for many generations….

Nilo drove alone to New Orleans to locate bio-mother and investigate his lineage. She was living in the French Quarter with her boyfriend and was in college to be a special needs teacher. She had just moved there from Navarro, California, where she had lived in an Indian reservation as a journalist and columnist for a local newspaper. In her younger years she had backpacked around the world, dabbled in psychedelics (Timothy Leary for president!), and was as bohemian as pot brownies.

Nilo’s mom was racked with guilt about the loss of her twins. She´d been convinced by a DHS lady that it was in their best interest, that the adopters would be of stable, middle-class stock and provide them the opportunities that she never had herself. They could go to college, travel the world, and so on. She said the man the twins were raised to believe was their father—whom they were told, correctly, had died of cirrhosis right before the adoption—was actually the fellow she was with when they were born. Their birth father was still alive and working on an oilrig in the Gulf of Mexico, as he had for 30 years. “He’s a hermit,” she announced. He had lived alone in a trailer park outside of New Orleans, drank to excess, and smoked filterless Camels.

Nilo meets a motley assortment of bikers, hippies, and offshore workers. They consider him family and remember the twins from before the adoption, when they were sickly and small. (“You could hold them both in the palms of your hands,” said one lady, jabbing with her cane at whoever would listen, “and their skin was translucent!”)

Several months later he´s painting houses in the Garden District, big Victorian mansions, and he lives in a one-room efficiency on Decatur Street. It´s the size of a large bathroom. He starts messing around with heroin and finally meets his bio-dad (also named Craig!) at the annual Shaky Jake´s reunion party. He joins Craig´s crew and does several stints offshore as a sandblaster and painter. He continues with doing heroin and falls in love with the needle. It's a woman, a religion. One morning he awakes with a desire to huff paint. He hasn´t done so for years and he suddenly thinks that Stanly, from many miles away, is controlling his thoughts. He inhales the pungent fumes and is lost in nostalgia….the demon in a sort of green mist, enters through his spinal cord and fills him completely. He finds a package at his feet; it´s a detailed family tree (wrinkled and grumpy, like on the Wizard of Oz) from a company known simply as Hereditary Chains. It encapsulates the lives of every other generation of women on his mother´s side going all the way back to the blood-bathing Mary (nothing but madness, suicide, and missing or dead husbands). He realizes that Sara, who had never had a girl, could only provide a son for the demon to possess. Though Nilo was born first, Mable preferred Julian, who was much more receptive to demonic activity. Mable, in fact, falls in love with young Julian…. Now here is where the tale gets absurdly—and needlessly—complex….

Julian meets a brilliant, eccentric girl names Ashera who later becomes a national champion at barrel-racing and karate. They discover first love…they hold hands and ride horses and spend a lot of time alone. But Julian is troubled: he is jealous and possessive and at times a mere phantom. She finds it easier to talk to Nilo, who is mellow and loquacious. Julian grows jealous and his envy turns to wrath. As he later confessed to Nilo: “Her choosing you is what taught me how to hate.”

Mable becomes as jealous of Ashera as Julian is of Nilo. So she enters a third person, a thuggish fellow in his early twenties, and he brutally rapes Ashera. Nilo learns of Mable´s role because the rapist left a note that spoke in numbers and percentages. Now back to New Orleans….

Meanwhile, Nilo, down in New Orleans, becomes consumed with violent thoughts. His self-destructive anger starts to channel itself outward and he finds himself, and he suddenly, unaccountably, wants to seriously hurt people. He experiments with theosophy and deliberately attacks people on the astral plane (or in his dreams: he isn´t sure if they are products of his mind or are actually the souls of real people while they dream). He beats a fellow senseless by the Mississippi River and nearly strangles his own girlfriend. Something snaps in his mind—the twig of sanity, you might say—and he suddenly thinks that murder is his destiny and salvation….

He does a big blast of heroin and takes a Greyhound back home. He´s been gone for four years. He moves in with Julian and his girlfriend and they, along with Ashera, are appalled at his condition: the formerly harmless stoner is now an empty, grinning skull. He´s a scarecrow, a shell. He starts to carry a loaded pistol and embarks on an orgy of alcohol, pills and acid. He constantly hallucinates and nearly dies on two occasions….

Sailing through the stratosphere
Never coming down from here
Twisting, turning atmosphere
I'll come home tomorrow.

Smashing through the stratosphere
Jesus—take me down from here
Sweating, burning atmosphere
There is no tomorrow.

One morning he is swindled by a drug—dealing teenager. Ole Mable—whom, by this time, he bickers with as constantly as an imaginary wife—talks him into murder. He gets the kid in his car, puts a bullet in his head, and then sets the car on fire to obliterate the evidence. It erupts like a bomb and becomes a roaring inferno. He stumbles down a country back-road (smelling suspiciously of gasoline, incidentally) and passes out along the way. He wakes up in county jail charged with First Degree Murder.

In several months the drugs and their after-effects have dissapated and he is revealed to be a natural intellectual, perspicacious and disciplined. He starts to research the law and find the errors in his case. Mable helps him to file motions and his sudden legal prowess becomes a source of great wonder—and frustration—to the prosecution. Of course it helps that the judiciary system (the “good ole boy” network) is inept and corrupt: the public defender is a plea bargain expert and the county hasn´t had a trial by jury in nearly ten years. Here is an excerpt from what I wrote about the preliminary hearing:

Then the hearing took place, which was basically the D.A. (a wimpy, pig-head man with a head shaped like a dick with ears) blubbering on and on about “high flight risk” and the safety of the community.”

I couldn´t help noticing a comically-retarded element about it all; it reminded me of the mock courtroom scene with all the frivously-inept creatures in Alice in Wonderland. On trial for stealing the tarts, the Jack of Hearts (me) is accosted by the Queen of Hearts herself, who thunderously demands that they have the verdict first (“Off with his head!”) and the verdict afterwards, eliciting sharp laughter from the overgrown Alice. The fawning, frightened cards in the Queen´s courtyard, her retinue, reminded me of the bumbling milquetoasts in the courtroom that morning (“Yes, your Honor! No, your Honor!”).

My public defender and the D.A. reminded me of Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum (“Nowhow! Contrariwise!”), who acted like they were fighting but were actually best friends. The judge reminded me of the ill-tempered, meglomaniacal Queen of Hearts, demanding absolute silence and calling the defendants “my prisoners.”

Mable convinces Nilo that she will get him exonerated. However, once released, he must immediately start killing. She fills him with vivid, logical (well, to a schizophrenic, anyway) and intricate delusions. For example, he extends Darwinism to absurd lengths by concluding that humans must “climb to the top of the human food chain” (i.e. commit serial murder and transform themselves into true omnivores and apex predators) in order to avoid becoming victims themselves. He grows obsessed with the Pentateuch and thinks he needs a “scapegoat” to atone for his life—for his reckless, wasted life—and wash his slate clean. The sacrificial lamb delusion. He thinks that God is a sadist and that the only way to hurt an omnipotent, evil being is to destroy one of his creatures. Though this would be wrong in the conventional sense, the deed would be right, and even courageous, in the larger cosmic sense—like insulting a murderer. Finally, he believes that each person he kills will make him grow a bit stronger. He´ll appropriate their energy and grow brilliant, immortal….

After a year or so in jail he is totally insane. Not legally, of course—that´s damn near impossible—but a clinical poached egg. “Just like his brother,” people whisper.

Had I known how long this'd take I'd have mailed you the whole pile. The whole slush pile, that is—the prose is blocky at best and excretable at worst. So Nile meets this guy in jail. He sees through Nilo´s story, perceives that he's guilty, and predicts that very shortly he will see a “blinding light.” In the next couple days Nilo sharpens his toothbrush and plans to take a guard hostage—preferably an old woman—and ram it through her brainstem if he isn´t released promptly. But that night he is saved. The Holy Spirit fills his cell and he begins to praise God. As he put it, “My hands seemed to rise of their own accord and my tongue, in glossolaic fashion, hurled praises to the ceiling. And suddenly I was flooded with Love, pure Love.” Mable begs him to stay, with much pleadings, tears and threats. In other words, don´t expel her like the demons in Gadarenes. They get in a shouting match and Nilo vomits her in the toilet and hits “flush” with a grin. He´s delivered.

His conversion is as glaring as an axe of sheen lightening. He is, as the Bible puts it, “clothed and in his right mind.” He finally gets a haircut (the first in eight years) and hacks off his beard. He stops fighting his case and startles his lawyer by pleading guilty to First Degree Murder. He even stands up in court and publically apologizes to the family of his victim. The courtroom grows silent with confusion, and then awe. This is not the same person.

The book ends with Nilo talking to Julian through the bullet-proof glass of the visitation chamber. He has just received a life sentence and will soon be transferred to a state prison. Julian says his own illness has mysteriously vanished and is obviously in awe of his brother’s transformation. The whole story is a thinly fictionalized account of our real experiences, even down to the demon (which I believe you still have) and how I reconciled with the family and inspired the community. There´s actually a Patron Saint of Impossible Cases. It´s for schizophrenics, reprobates, the terminally ill….anyone who appears to be beyond all hope: 

There's a statue that weeps through the cracks in her eyes. 
She is striated black…stony fingers outstretched. 
Where the abscesses drain and the memories dry. 
Those who touch her are loosed from addiction and death.

Keep the faith, little bro, and you'll have your own Damascus.


To be continued....

Christian Weaver 271262
BCCX Site 2 14-11B
1045 Horsehead Road
Pikeville, TN 37367

1 comment:

Dominika said...

Christian ---

It's been five long months since we last heard from you, and speaking for myself, I'm growing ... Thirsty for more.

I'm looking at your last entry and my mind is boggled that no one left you a comment. Holy crap! That's unbelievable. Well, I don't want to derail on endless praises of your writing talent --- I am guessing you already know you've got some? I'm embarrassed to say that I don't have much in the way of critical or helpful comments; I'm just greedy because the feast you've offered before was so rich and satisfying. I swear I'm like that baby bird with its oversize beak wide open and pining to have its gullet filled: more succulent morsel please! I swear to you I will quit being lazy and offer a blow-by-blow commentary on the next installment.