Gray MattersCategories Weird
The Subject awakens with stomach cramps and immediately selects from a list of possible illnesses, some of which are life threatening, as to the cause of the discomfort: dyspepsia, gastroenteritis, Hepatitis A, B, C, cirrhosis, pancreatitis. He mentions Duff McKagan suffered from acute pancreatitis which “Caused his pancreas to swell to the size of a football and leak digestive enzymes into his body inducing third degree burns.” The Subject adds how the lineup of Guns N Roses, from the release of “Appetite for Destruction,” until the release of the “Use Your Illusion Double Albums,” was one of the greatest rock bands of all time. He laments the fact when he was around twelve his mother bought him a sky blue T-shirt with the Guns ‘N Roses insignia ironed on the front, but when he received the shirt was worried his friends would make fun of him over the color, so he made sure to wear it inside out. Now, he would kill to have that shirt. He notes this is similar to the conundrum mentioned by Greater Ajax while discussing the paradox of time. Ajax can no longer reconcile living in a world where his mortal enemy has become his friend, and his friend has become his mortal enemy; not because of a sky blue t-shirt his mother bought him at the Jersey Shore. After tossing around for a few more minutes dealing with boredom, nausea, and now insomnia, The Subject debates the merits of masturbation as a medicinal sleep aid.
The Subject’s intake of alcohol has increased over the years. He still drinks like he’s in his twenties, but his body no longer reacts similarly. When you’re loaded, things don’t bother you as much. His hangover adds more PSI to the throb located in his temples. It’s around a Number 4 Captains of Crush Grippers level now. That’s about 365 lbs. Only four people have ever been certified as closing them including former World’s Strongest Man winner Magnus Samuelsson. The Subject believes keeping his body in a constant motion will somehow confuse his brain from being able to focus long enough is just enough to stave off nausea. However, as soon as he settles, the nausea returns. He could have taken an analgesic anything from Advil to horse tranquilizers. He has access to all sorts of pharmaceutical grade compounds. Things which would “Pluck the central nervous system like a Stradivarius in the hands of the number one chair at the New York Philharmonic.” Powders, pills, fluids, which when administered could dilate, enhance, subdue, inhibit, refract, compress, expand, dull, synthesize, make one understand the existence of God; but he doesn’t take anything. The Subject relates it’s some sort of penance; or, he wouldn’t be able to keep anything down anyway, so why waste it. The slightest move, even incrementally rolling his eyes down to forty-five degrees, from their current position of eighty-seven will cause him to vomit his “Un-plucked second hand ukulele of a central nervous system – in a cruel twist, pawned by an addict of oral narcotics hoping to use the money to buy the same drugs The Subject is now avoiding – over his bedspread.”
The Subject plugs headphones into his laptop and types in the web address for a reviled pornographic website. The fact he needs to hear audio is a way in which his imagination is on life support, and the headphones are equivalent to the feeding tube. It’s not that he needs to establish plot points, but it completes the transformation of allowing him to feel like he’s the next door neighbor, or son’s friend, or pizza delivery guy. He mentions he’s like the protagonist in Johnny Got His Gun relying on machines to achieve his orgasm. This is not remotely what happens to the character in the book; an explosion takes Johnny’s arms, legs, sight, and hearing. He’s left in a state of purgatory. The Subject imagines a different version of the book “Johnny and His Gun,” in which Johnny’s parents sit at the dinner table and stare at each other neither willing to admit what their son is doing in his room. The Subject changes his mind and opens a Word document entitled “Goals.” Number one on the list is eating healthier foods. Number two is record music as “The Van Damned.” “It’s mostly Black Metal and Stoner/Doom influences such as Burzum, Gorgoroth, and Sleep. My stage name is Rembrandt Van Pain.” The subject then recounts a story involving the band “Mayhem.” How the lead singer Dead killed himself, and the bass player Count Grishnackh killed the guitarist Euronymous. “He was also responsible for inciting church burnings in Norway, Grishnackh that is.” Number three on the list is exercise more.
The Subject shuts off the computer. The room is silent save for the air conditioning unit. The distractions, however vivid, cease. By now he is familiar enough with the symptoms and though his mind will soon be overpowered, he still attempts to fend off the approaching fear. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; The triggers lie in wait like land-mines scattered throughout his subconscious. He places the laptop on the end table and tries to breathe deeply to alleviate the sudden rush of adrenalin, searching his mind for measures to use against this onslaught, but fails. The pain in his side returns, and he is convinced it is fatal. The Subject washes his hands again, a compulsion which he hopes will somehow rid him of this feeling, but it only seems to intensify. He’s not thinking logically anymore. He’s caught in a cycle, metaphorical quicksand which envelopes him in a wave of unrelenting self-loathing. The more he tries to convince himself he’s not dying from something he’s contracted, which is in the process of metastasizing, enlarging in one of his body cavities, only weakens his resolve. Unable to deal with this immediate and overpowering line of thinking he breaks down. He suggests the best analogy he can make is the description of Hell, in Milton’s Paradise Lost: “No light; but rather darkness visible, only served to discover sights of woe, regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace and rest can never dwell, hope never comes, that comes to all, but torture without end.” The Subject turns on the television and catches the part in “Superman 3” when Superman is on a bender and begins breaking bar bottles by flicking peanuts at them. Just goes to show no one is safe.
An anxiety attack has stages and levels. It is a methodical villain with access to the deepest fears and horrors feeding off the illogical. It can be intimidating and slow like Sir Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man asking if it’s safe over and over, giving no quarter, drilling into Dustin Hoffman’s teeth without anesthetic. Anxiety can be an unrelenting abomination conjured up like a golem, a Juggernaut, a despot demanding tribute. The Subject would submit to Yubitsume, the Japanese custom of cutting off then presenting a finger for some previous transgression, or mistake, to appease his anxiety much like Robert Mitchum in The Yakuza.
The Subject falls asleep but wakes soon after. He washes his hands again. He knows it’s futile; all of these measures are simply nurturing and feeding the internal beast.
Isn’t that a Don Henley album?
The Subject feels my presence again and tries his best to keep me at bay.
“That was ‘Building the Perfect Beast.’”
The big attack is coming; he senses the seismic shift, which will separate the tectonic plates within him. He does his Mindfulness breathing exercises and attempts to clear his head.
“Five, four, three two, one,” The Subject exhales.
He can imagine me as he wants: in the guise of a ’40s hard-boiled character actor, a creature from literature, an unstoppable force, a wraith. He can conjure up stories and analogies to occupy his mind, listen to music, drink, make lists, but I’ll eventually take control.
You’re going to die.
He braces himself. Mitchum is fitted with a knuckle-duster, Olivier holds up the sickle probe. I deliver the knockout punch by making him realize his solitude is a permanent byproduct of his condition. The Subject enters hysterics. I fold my arms. However, in a few moments, he emerges from the maelstrom for a moment of clarity. Wiping his eyes and gathering his wits about him his composure returns.
“I didn’t hear no bell,” The Subject says and returns to his breathing exercises.
It’s a shame to see such a formidable opponent quote Rocky 5.
I unfold my arms, and we continue.
Andrew Davie received an MFA in creative writing from Adelphi University. He taught English in Macau on a Fulbright Grant. In June, He survived a ruptured aneurysm and subarachnoid hemorrhage. His work can be read in Bartleby Snopes, Necessary Fiction, The South Dakota Review, FLAPPERHOUSE, among others. His website: asdavie.wordpress.com