I have no business posting this.
â€œ A life, Jimmy, you know what that is? It’s the shit that happens while you’re waiting for moments that never come.â€
-Quote from The Wire
I am of two minds, of two livesâ€”the space in between these worlds, taking the form of a highway truncating South Jersey, acts as the bridge. On one side, the near side, I am Thomas DeMary: middle manager for a global conglomerate, a loving husband and dog owner, a distant son to parents, an acquirer of various and sundry Apple products. On the other hand, farther away, I refer to myself as Mensah. I gave myself the moniker in 1999 because I needed a cool screen name, because I was Afrocentric, and my ex-girlfriend discarded my real name, opting for the pseudonym as my permanent identifier.
She knew, as I knew at age eighteen, I was trying on new skins, donning different colors, because she knew, as I didnâ€™t know, I wanted to transform. The way she doted over me and touched my ego with tiny, black fingersâ€”the way she pressed her breasts against my back as we sleptâ€”symbolized her worries for me, although I didnâ€™t know. She didâ€”she just never told me or, more likely, I translated her love poems as signs of romance rather than ominous scripture. She too was depressed: PTSD as a result of childhood horrors. Oh yes, she knew. To transform is to know, in an intimate way, pain akin to stabs, doubt akin to agnosticism.
They say youth is wasted on the young; they also say you are what you eat. Iâ€™m still young, though Iâ€™ve wasted years in this nebulous duality, that gray area in the middle of the highway: the phantasmic cursive wafting from a lit cigarette. I eat fat; I am fat. I used to be thin. I used to hoop: dribble off the knees, between the legs, stutter-step and drive to the right, push backâ€”fade away. And one. You say â€œand oneâ€ when you think youâ€™ve been fouled, been wronged; you say it every time you shoot in hopes that sooner or later, the other team will shrug and say â€œfuck itâ€ as you stroll to the free throw line.
I used to feel so young, so idealistic. I am still young, but the world turns, the years descend from the stands and swarm me mid-court. The years smother me, as does the fat; they say itâ€™s darkest before the dawn. I wouldnâ€™t know. I write at night, about the night, and the sun I see is my ex-girlfriendâ€™s touch: a good memory, but a memory nonetheless. She said â€œand oneâ€ every day in our final year. Which leads me to my wife, who touches me better, and soâ€”we move forward. Wiser in life, I hope. Better equipped to translate. My wife presses her breasts against my back; my wife kisses my bald head and traces the Oâ€™s around my eyes: she wants her husband. Whole.
Wiser, I hope. Writing is what I doâ€”am I a writer? My power is in language, in getting you to think of crusty adages, hoop dreams and bare breasts, of highways and The Wire. I am that powerful, though still young: youth is wasted like gin sloshed onto a bar or spilled from a careless mouth. Iâ€™m not much of a drinker.
Iâ€™ve been drunk once; I awoke to my ex-girlfriend riding me. There is no metaphor within this paragraph: my ex and I indulged in sport, drunken and gaussian, and I turned over to vomit onto the hardwood floor. Months earlier, in that same room, I watched The Powerpuff Girls with two women: my ex and my wife. There is no metaphor, but time connects moments, bridges them, blends them into one sound: writing gives me this flexibility. Transformation is not so easy.
I go to therapy to figure out Thomasâ€”officially. Word on the street is: Iâ€™m more interested in Mensah. It is because I think Mensah is more interesting, less pragmatic but not completely foolish. I go to therapy to treat depression but not split personality disorder. Mensah is my secret, my scar Iâ€™d show to women. He doesnâ€™t drink either, but he gets lost on windy roads in a black Mustang; Radiohead pours out of his carâ€™s open windows; he lights cigarette after cigarette because death is death: peaceful or lungs full of phlegm, itâ€™s the shit thatâ€™ll happen in between the penultimate and final moments. He has no use for God until shit hurts.
He is all the things I keep to myself, all the truths I tell myself in benign notebooks. You might think this weird, but I donâ€™t give a fuck. We all have someone we want to become, a secondary figure sliding down & climbing up our spines. We all want to transform: into monsters, into better lovers, into plastic toys and androids, into sexual heroes and sensual empaths. We feel each otherâ€™s pain; we have the capacity to connect; we spin solipsistic tales and launch them into the skies. They say UFOs donâ€™t exist, but the multicolors twirl and blink amid a cloudless night, anyway.
There is more to life than writing. I keep telling myself to stop writing about writing. I write about writing because for most of the day, Thomas doesnâ€™t write. Hatred for his job drove him to therapy. Hatred toward people leaves him lonely with Oâ€™s around his eyes. Every night, he sits in front of the iMac, waiting for Mensah to step forward. Mensah will save himâ€”writing will save him. I donâ€™t know what Iâ€™m writing right now. I meant to write about the juxtaposition of pragmatism and idealism. Presumably, youâ€™re reading this because you writeâ€”are you a writer?â€”and you understand my original theme.
We all want to write and fuck in London and sell books and toke in Amsterdam and blog about our author platforms and clink glasses at AWP and feel beautiful among the land of giants. Meanwhile, we leave behind complicated lovers and scold children and hold contempt for miscreant teenagers and balance our checkbooks and work less than stellar jobs that wonâ€™t even afford enough ennui to dream of feeling beautiful while staring at a spreadsheet. Everyday, we attempt a transformation, perhaps dragging updated versions of ourselves from our dreams. Every morning, we wake up and mutter â€œfuck.â€
My ex-girlfriend and I havenâ€™t spoken in ten years. I donâ€™t miss her but I remember our last conversation. Wellâ€”reallyâ€”I only remember her word of advice. â€œYour hands,â€ she said to me, â€œthey comfort people. Never stop touching people.â€ A hell of a thing to say to someone who never kept his hands to himself. They say genius is rare; she always thought of me as a genius and told me so. I wished she hadnâ€™t. It added to my writerly sense of entitlement; it further severed Thomas from Mensah, divorced us from a common ground. Thereâ€™s nothing genius about writing nonsense and furthermore, if Iâ€™m a genius then why canâ€™t I live the life I want?
Which is to sayâ€”what do I want out of life? There is more to life than writing and they say geniuses suffer from madness. Transformation is a big word for change and Octavia Butler wrote of a transformative god in a fictional world set aflame by economic disparity, slavery and sexual violence. No metaphor, no connection: I love Octavia Butler. I miss herâ€”genuinely. Her work transformed me into a better writer, but there are no self-help books to aid in personal transformation. Life is suffering, so said The Buddha. As it should if you believe the epigraph way up there.
I thought about quitting my job. Once a day, I think about itâ€”like, â€œmy wife wonâ€™t be that mad if I walked out.â€ Then I read an article about a man. Heâ€™s depressed and suicidal and drained of hope because of his unemployment. I have a job. I can pay the bills and buy aluminum toys. I contemplate returning to school full time. Iâ€™ve been accepted to three schools: two in a new city. I think about majoring in Englishâ€”then I switch to journalismâ€”then I switch to business, law, international relations, interpretative dance. I think, â€œI cannot do this.â€ I look for ways to comfort myself.Â â€œNever stop touching people.â€ Masturbation doesnâ€™t help.
My depression surfaced in the final days of our honeymoon. The London skyline winked its Eye outside our hotel room. We rotated through the famed Tubes with Brits, the French, Germans and the Portuguese. The Republicans stormed the castle while we were away; I didnâ€™t want to go home. Letâ€™s keep going, keep moving, forgo responsibility and make love, make moments, make literature, make babies and transform. Letâ€™s transform, my eyes suggested to my wife. She kissed my mouth and caressed my wedding band: she too wanted to transform. I found my soulmate. There is more to life than writing.
A raven touches down in unstable lands. Iâ€™m being maudlin: I mean to sayâ€”revolution surges around the world. I never thought Iâ€™d see this. People are tired and fed up. I never thought Iâ€™d witness this unleashing of anger, of dissatisfaction. Transformation is never idyllic. I must be mentally ill to believe such a lie. Transformation burns. It tears down. It razes. It finds itself in the crosshairs of what is knownâ€”not conformist, but comfortable. A boot to the back of your neck is never comfortable, but neither is a canister of tear gas fired from your army. I will not compare Thomas to a dictator, Mensah to a mob of young stars heaving white heat. I do, however, see the connection.
I do not weep for the revolutionaries. I grit my teeth, I walk around with a tightness in my chest. They stand up to say in unison, â€œAnd one.â€ To fear my own transformation, when compared to revolution, is comedic at best. Shit happens but sometimes, the moments do come. More like the opportunity or, maybe, the final straw. I may be gainfully employed, but Iâ€™m already depressed and suicidalâ€”sometimesâ€”and revolution promises nothing but a new tomorrow, either with fertile ground or dead soil. The young is full of hope, so they say. I dribble words off my knees, between my legs, stutter-step and drive to the leftâ€”strong to the hole. I donâ€™t know what I want out of life; Rilke was wise. â€œLive the questions now.â€ Fair enough.