Be Yourself Tonight
Mocha Bar: a sea of ghetto fab and in the midst of all that, an anomaly— a red headed Viking stares at me—or should I say we exchange covert glances while I attempt to focus on a martini, or an old friend; a new acquaintance; clocking the Viking’s movements from my locus of interaction. Glimpsed on the landing, dancing with some gyrating unknown; lost for a second, but I look up from my conversation with the dingbat who is a buyer for Virgin Records and he is sitting right next to us, listening in; then he is chatting with the off-duty bartender in cage aux folles sparkles… Finally our paths cross, I trip him by mistake. He says: You did that on purpose. My cue to turn vixen—procure him for the rest of the evening and then probably well into the small hours: who knows, there might be a marathon in there. Then the spectre of a failed love arises, I lose my nerve and pass it up.
There is not much more to do. I leave.Walking home thinking about Michel: still in love, and in need of detox: a get away, for at least a month. Can I afford it? Maybe. I’ll drop out of sight, go to Paris—get lost there… It’s a mental health priority; I’ll make it happen…
In the past, a one-night stand was a surefire salve for heartbreak—got you back on track. A friend used to say, “It takes a nail to remove another nail.” Truth be told, I didn’t want to deal with the disappointment of yet another liaison. A few hours of respite dragged out into weeks of torture and mind games and evasions and delusions: the occupational hazards of impromptu sex …
Walking past a block of warehouses, the dogs are howling—in this part of Brooklyn, bands of strays maraud the streets after hours. At the crossroads, three sisters appear—Macbeth’s bitches: they have collectively between them four eyes, two missing hind legs and well nicked pelts and tails. They stare at me, uneasy—keeping their distance in odd whimpers. What ails the mastiff bitch?
There is a low growl—but I see nothing. I turn to discover I am followed by a pack. This is strange and unprecedented: canines in these parts are not so bold. They are scraggy, friendly, goofy strays. But tonight, one of them is not so scraggy: he is… different. His eyes are glinting yellow. His eyes are blinding flashlights.
All night I dream about the Wolves of Ancient Paris: running wild on Ile-de-Cité, before the goddess Isis came and claimed the city for her own. The wolves of my dreams run rampant through the forests of Paris, silver in the night, eyes are bullets and teeth slashing away at eternity to expose time. Their phantasm finally pixilates, shimmers and crashes.I wake up in the hospital. I am disoriented. How did I get here?
I try to move—but there are so many devices hooked up to me. A nurse notices that I am awake, she alerts the others: the doctor is sent for.
How did I get here?
The nurse tells me I am going to be alright.
But what happened?
They were hoping I could tell them that.
Apparently I had dragged my bleeding lacerated body into the emergency room by myself and then collapsed there. I had lost several pints of blood; they rushed me to intensive care. I have a vague memory, some ghost image of the emergency room, (the horror: what bloody girl is this?) but the details blunted by the roar of alcohol pounding the brain.
The doctor comes, he asks me how I am feeling, I say confused. He takes my pulse and my temperature. I am doing better. (You had us concerned there, for a moment). He asks if I have any memory of what happened. I say not really. He tells me that it seems I was attacked by wild canines, and that I had fought back: canine blood and fur were found in my saliva and under my nails…
Did I have no memory of the incident? What about before that? Where could it have happened? I remember I was at the bar I say. Then I start crying, because I don’t know why I’m in the hospital and suddenly everything hurts.
The doctor says I’ve been unconscious for almost a week. I have a thousand stitches in my body. I am also under quarantine. I can’t have visitors—not until they find out what exactly is going on with me. And part of that would be solved if I could piece together what happened that night.
I can’t remember.
The doctor nods sympathetically, it is a trauma, he affirms—but you’re a fighter and you’ll get through this…
They load me up on medication: sleeping pills, painkillers, pressure modulators, drip…
Its all a bad dream, but when I close my eyes there’s worse.
At the end of the week, the nurses give me a bunch of notes and cards from friends and well wishers because I’m not allowed to take phone calls or check my email just yet.
The doctor is concerned that I am repressing the memory of the incident. I am wheeled in to see Dr. Carnelly, a psychotherapist, one afternoon. He asks me what I remember—he wants me to reconstruct. I tell him I recall something—but not a lot, and I don’t really feel like talking about it.
What do you feel like talking about?
I find myself speaking about a friend of mine who had lived in India in the hippy heyday of world travel. She got a job in a small village teaching French, and one night, walking home from a party at the English Consul’s house, she was attacked by a black dog…
I fall silent because I am talking about it.
Dr. Carnelly gently nudges me to go on.
She was attacked by a black dog—but the significance of that was that in Indian mythology, black dogs are a manifestation of Shiva.
“And you see this as a divine encounter?”
“You mean me or her?”
“Do you think your friend had a divine encounter?”
There was no rabies vaccine immediately available—so she spent a night in feverish delirium: Sanskrit characters burning themselves on to her brain. When she recovered, she found she could read Sanskrit and undertook to translate a sixteenth century poetess into English,
“You can look it up online—the poetess’s name was Mirabai—“
“I don’t doubt this happened to your friend—but I’m more interested in what’s happened to you—“
“Do you know that children of Israel were instructed not to eat the hip joint of any animal?”
“No I didn’t know that. Why do you bring it up?”
“Jacob encountered a stranger and wrestled with him all night—“
“At dawn, the stranger begged Jacob to let him go—but Jacob said no, not unless you bless me. And the stranger said: from henceforth you will be called Israel, which means Prince of God. Then he touched his hip joint and vanished—turns out he was the ‘Angel of the Lord.’ But since then Jacob had a limp and his descendants were instructed not to eat that part of the animal.”
“Fascinating. You seem to immerse yourself in a great deal of mythology”
“And you think it’s an escape route.”
“You strike me as an intelligent person. We’re all liable to out do ourselves every now and then.”
I like my visits with Dr. Carnelly; it is a relief to have conversation with an accommodating party. Once I growled at a nurse about to administer a syringe, startled, she sprang back, aggravating me the more—claws emerged and I swiped her. In her shock she knocked over an array of equipment—even though she realized almost immediately that it was all in her head. Since then, I’ve been handled at arms length— the nurses are a wary of me. The ones that do speak to me do so with an agenda in mind: a conversion to Jehovah’s Witness, or the like.So creeps in this petty pace…
Dr. Carnelly lets me ramble on because it amuses him, I think.I narrate the Tale of Rudra to him: two acolytes studied under a teacher, a guru who taught that enlightenment could be accrued in the wisdom from spontaneous actions. The two disciples went away and practiced this teaching in the ways in which they best understood it. The first one began to find spontaneity in extreme actions, positive and negative and was liberated by freeing himself from dualities through detachment. The second one, Rudra, went away, built a brothel and rallied a gang of men who all acted spontaneously: pillaging villages, raping women and enslaving them.
Years passed and the acolytes crossed paths and both were shocked by the other’s manifestation of the teaching. To resolve it, they went back to their teacher and asked his opinion. The guru immediately praised the first one, but Rudra he rebuked: for clearly what he was doing was evil. Rudra, incensed at the judgment, immediately slew his teacher. After that he was condemned to thousands of horrible incarnations: he became five thousand jackals, then five hundred scorpions in succession,
“But I was thinking maybe he was hatched as five hundred baby scorpions in the same nest—sort of like a hive—if you think about it, a hive is an entire consciousness and an ant or bee is a neural byte—“
“Where did you get this from?”
“Oh, I’ve been reading the Tibetan Book of the Dead.”
“Here in the hospital?”
“I had a friend send it to me.”
“Maybe you need lighter fare just now. That stuff’s a little morbid.”
To pacify him, I change the subject. I tell him about Mocha Bar and the entire scene and break down the concept of ghetto fabulousness and bling bling for him. That makes him smile. I tell him about social conundrums: introduce him to new buzzwords like niggerati (I don’t think I’ll be using that one anytime soon, he says.) I tell him all these things about my life—re-imagined as a DVD with special features—but I don’t tell him about the Viking boy that night: the hot glances, the maneuvers—the imaginary afterlife of our meeting: where I kiss him outside the bar. We go home and devour each other to shreds.
One afternoon I tell him about Michel, and the melancholy he has induced in me,
“It’s simple: I’m in love with him and he’s still hooked on his ex and we’re all unhappy—“
Doctor Carnelly is sympathetic.
“I’ve been trying to explain to him that love isn’t an emotion—it’s a chemical property,”
“Is that what you think?”
“You’re the doctor, how come you don’t know?”
“From what I understand, love is an emotion. But that’s just me, what’s your theory?”
“You don’t have to humor me just because you’re my shrink—“
“I’m not humoring you, I’m just really curious about what you have to say. Seriously,”
He has soft brown eyes that crinkle when he’s laughing.
Alright, I say, and break it down:
Love is one of those evolutionary things—a mating device. In the search for creating the perfect offspring, the body responds to those who are the perfect genetic fit.
It starts with entrainment, which is how ducks know how not to go after geese and chimps and apes don’t mix. Anyway, it’s like the progression from human sacrifice to animal to vegetable to symbolic—human kind becomes increasingly sophisticated so we develop all sorts of brand IDs for primal behaviors. When we meet the “right person” the brain releases a chemical peptide, phenylethylamine—and that triggers other chemicals: adrenaline and dopamine—the heart races and there’s bliss all around. But don’t be fooled—it’s an overdose, one that gets you into bed ultimately. And it’s addictive. So God help you if the other person isn’t as susceptible to those love drugs: there are calloused souls wandering about, having built a tolerance to peptides—they will desert you and leave you to withdrawal pangs worse than heroin.
“If it’s all just a chemical reaction—why don’t we fall in love with every genetically fit person around?”
“Because we usually go for some unfinished family business—something we want to resolve or recreate—“
That gives him a moment of pause. I continue,
“What’s more—we’ve become more and more sophisticated about procreation—it doesn’t necessarily have to be about human offspring or the opposite sex—“
“After all, vampires breed horizontally—they’re not creating new progeny, just working with what’s there—“
“Vampires? Oh dear, I should have seen that coming—“
“Whatever. There’s phenylethylamine in roses and chocolate, so check it out if you want.”
Doctor Carnelly shakes his head,
“You realize there is a pattern here: you start to make perfectly valid statements, rational ones and suddenly there is a swift detour into fantasy—“
“Mythology isn’t fantasy. Neither is chemistry.”
“But vampires are.”
Are they? I can sift his own chemical bouquet from where I sit. Not necessarily cologne or a distinct body odor—I bypass all that. Here is a hazardous distillation of self-satisfaction, a degree of empathy and sexual attraction—
I wonder how you feel about transference, Dr. Carnelly—no not necessarily the garden variety patient/shrink dilemma—I have something else in mind…
I find myself tearing at his jugular, piercing prehensile fangs…
A salty spray of blood squirt clouds what’s left of reason…
Dr. Carnelly starts. He blinks rapidly for a second, and then composes himself. He realizes he is imagining things.
After a few weeks I am removed from quarantine. I get to have visitors: Michel is one of the first to come. He’s brought a bouquet of white lilies for me:
“Thanks, they’re beautiful—“
“Somehow I didn’t think you’d go for roses—“
“These are so much better. So virginal, don’t you think—“
I get a silent but kindly reprimand.
“Do I get chocolates too? Or somehow I don’t seem the type?”
“You’re aren’t the type. You don’t have a sweet tooth.”
He’s come to say goodbye; he is on his way to Honduras for a few weeks—
“No. More like recuperation…”
“It’s all about the detox Michel, you just need to dry out—“
“Don’t you think there’s more to this than mere chemical reaction?”
“Mere chemical reaction? It’s the stuff of heaven—“
He smiles but his eyes are sad and they make me sad too. He holds my hand for a long time and then kisses me on the forehead. Gone.
What is man but a vapor?
They’ve found something in my blood, and they’re not sure what it is. The specialist shows me a simulation on a computer while I’m in his office: I watch the cells pixilate and shadow each other. A shadow realm I think—
“It’s like a slider, in game of Life, you know the cellular automata program— it’s creating a phantom universe to feed off of.”
The doctor’s exchange glances. Perhaps I have some intuitive insight to what is happening in my body. Maybe I can lend insight into this phenomena—it might be crucial to genetic research about blood behaviors… cloning, stem cell research.
Some sort of deal is struck: if I make myself available for research, they will waive the hospital fees. As long as they share the Nobel with me, I joke. I tell them that I am game as long I can participate as an outpatient. I actually have no intention of coming back here once I get out.
Dr. Carnelly, who should really have his head checked is worried that I haven’t been sleeping properly. They’ve monitored my sleep cycles—I ask him what they see. He asks me what I see—
“In my dreams?”
“Yes. What are they like, do you remember?”
“No. Not really.”
It’s not true. I have dreams of Paris freezing into silver flecked pixels, slowly breaking down to reveal the warehouses of Brooklyn underneath. In other dreams, bright-eyed canines lie in wait outside the hospital walls to ravish me. But I don’t tell this to Dr. Carnelly, instead I say: “What about you Dr. Carnelly, how are you sleeping these days?”
I have caught him off guard; he tenses. Adrenalin flows…
His own dreams are populated by a lone wolf springing into a wilderness of jackals; when he shuts his eyes there are scorpions—
I change the subject: will I be seeing him when I am released from the hospital? He says no, because he has referred me to another practitioner.
Why? I want to know. Because it’s better that way says Dr. Carnelly.
I say I think it is because Dr. Carnelly is married.
He says he is prescribing a mild sedative for when I have trouble sleeping.
It’s all chemical, I explain.
Being home feels strange and risky. Sunlight blares and I am forced to shut it out. In the bathroom, is a mirror: it scares me. Yes, I know, all the stitches are out, but you can’t expect me to be so eager to see what’s left.
I’m feverish and the pounding in my head turns out to be someone at the door—it’s been going for hours it seems. Finally I go answer it, it’s my friends Sylvie and Allegra, they storm my apartment,
“What’s going on?”
“You’re not answering your phone.”
“I can’t hear it.”
Allegra already in the living room holds up the cordless set, wires and all—
“Could it be because it’s not plugged in?”
“It was making too much noise.”
“Do you realize that everyone is worried sick about you?”
I want to be left alone. But they won’t leave me alone, my friends. Their concern is overwhelming: now they stream in endless barrage, keeping vigil over me; making me eat; sponging me down…letting sunlight and fresh air in. It’s either this or the hospital. I’m not going back there.
They’re almost as bad as the nurses and just as suspicious.
I feign sleep most of the time. I don’t think this fools Sylvie. I heard her on the phone with someone today, I think a doctor. She says I’m not improving and I won’t speak to anyone. Whoever it is asks a question, Sylvie says no, she’s not violent, yes there is aggression, but not at that stage…
I have to get out of here, or else they’ll be coming to take me back. And then there will be no going back. I wait, feeling out departures: filtering out noises and scents until the density decreases.
It is early summer and day shifts into night; suddenly I am alert. One person remains, seated in the living room, keeping vigil: a male in his thirties; dark hair, garlic and rosemary perspiration trace, but very subtle: roast chicken for lunch? It must be Liam, Allegra’s beau. He’s listening to some old jazz standard—Julie London? Alone in Paris?
I have heard the werewolves howling each to each…
A memory overhangs: the world shimmers; bright silvertone particles of reality condense. Three sisters, weird and four-eyed converge at the cross roads…
Light compresses into night vision.
In the bathroom: my body, scarred. A network of runes carved across my skin. A magical hymn, a scarry enchantment imprinted on my skin for the purposes of metamorphoses into— into what?
I don’t know.
Maybe I do. I tell myself: don’t be afraid, be yourself tonight…
There is a stifled gasp: Liam stands at the bathroom door watching me, eyes large and paralyzed with fear. As I tear at his flesh, I know for a fact he does not imagine this.
In the background Julie London croons. Yes, we’ll always have Paris.
Racing through the feverish tide of night: emptied out streets. Darkness. Night vision. Crossroads. Three bitches whimper in retreat; hellhounds appear: creatures with luminous eyes like mine. One of them a stranger in the night.
I know who you are.
It takes a nail to assess another nail…
I feel myself lengthening and sharpening. Eyes blazing, we lunge for each other.
©2006, 2013 onome ekeh