Becky

November 21, 2017

Unlike many of the people who cared about her, I met Becky long before I knew anything about her. We were in a class together at Reed College, when I was a sophomore and she was a junior. Humanities 220: Modern European Humanities, taught by a slightly cranky, matronly professor named Christine who despised the passive voice. Both Becky and I loved her. There were probably a dozen or so people in the class, many of whom I found annoying in some way or another. There was a ruddy-cheeked fellow who wore blazers and was my first exemplar of an East Coast prep school turd, there was an androgynous punk girl who spoke in a cadence I found jarring, a woman much older than the rest of us (28) who had dropped out of Reed several years earlier, when she was a freshman and got knocked up by her senior boyfriend (who was by this time my boss at the college mailroom). She had a kind of arrogance that I’d probably now characterize merely as run-of-the-mill late-twenties confidence, but it irritated me at the time. Then there was a cute girl who wore polka-dotted bandannas in her hair and spoke shyly, tremulously, intelligently. I was so insecure in that time, and I envied almost everything about her. I gave her a perfect life, a kind and caring boyfriend, abundant friends, lots of fun. If only I could have made these jealous gifts real.

Later, I learned that over the course of that year, Becky had begun dabbling with and ultimately became addicted to heroin (in a blog entry she wrote almost exactly two years ago, during what was perhaps her longest period of heroin sobriety, she says it initially helped her do the nightmarish load of reading she was assigned in the history, sociology, anthropology, and humanities courses she had to take after changing her major from art at the end of the previous year). I was heartbroken to realize that in order to remain in my shell of bitter self-loathing, I’d casually ascribed superior happiness to a person who would never quite manage to crawl her way out of the hell toward which she was even then in free fall.

I told Becky about all of this once. After graduating I had moved to western France to teach English to elementary-age children, and following an initial week of existentially heavy solitude, I’d met up with some of the other people in my program, among them an American girl from Madison, Wisconsin, who’d just graduated from a school in Minneapolis. When I told her I’d gone to Reed, she said she followed the blog of a girl who’d gone there. Reed’s a pretty small school, I said hopefully, and asked for the girl’s name, which I didn’t recognize off-hand. Then I went back to my studio apartment, climbed the ladder to my stooped loft bedroom, and read every entry.

Becky’s writing spooked me, and not just because it came to me like an apparition of a ghost from my past and revealed an absent-minded heartlessness I was sad to find in myself. We seemed to share a way of thinking about certain things—even perhaps the world in general—that emerged in the phrasings of our separate writings. I was surprised to encounter in that first of Becky’s blogs that I started following the phrase “nothing belongs to us except in our memories.” I had written an almost identical formulation (albeit slightly verbose) in a paper journal from around the same time. I know this because reading Becky’s diaryland blog inspired me to start my own. I can’t be sure anymore, but in thinking about Becky in the past week, I began to wonder if that was my first online journal—if it was Becky who inspired me, in some way, to begin writing my thoughts out for others to stumble upon. If it was she who pushed me toward the life I have now. If nothing else, I know that she helped nudge me along the path, even if I could never even come close to keeping up with her.

After a couple months, in November 2005, Becky wrote something in her blog—a request for correspondence, I believe—which motivated me to email her.

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Notebooks —July 2011 to date

September 26, 2012

The administration of injections was discontinued the day after sentencing. Following incarceration, when I had been stripped and searched and fully processed, I was taken to a windowless cell by a physically primitive guard—a man with eyes set into neanderthalishly convex brow plates, who had explained that my daily regimen of scheduled activities would begin with a morning injection to precede breakfast, as by now the medical consensus was that the dose worked more effectively on an empty stomach. (Something about metabolism of blood lipids or interference with intestinal pH—but I’ve never had much sense of those things.)

The sparsely-arbored flatness of the modern West. Garish maroon cars twenty years too old—their owners just as plausibly methed-out child-fuckers as dotty grandmothers. Everyone here has a kind of rugged beady look to them—skin accordioned into loose, parched folds. The young and the artificially youthful have all gone, leaving a pocketed sprawl of the abandoned elderly. The sky grades from a cloudless cobaltish center to a pollinated haze near the horizon. A plume of brown off to the east implies some unmitigated environmental interference.

In Wyoming I’d stopped at the kind of bar you recognize as such only on foot, the raucous overflow spilling into the night. As I arrived, a toady degenerate was being chased from the premises. He slinked around the corner and disappeared.

The barmaid looked almost stewed by age, her desperation etched in haggard creases along her neck. Her hair was light, apparently dyed. Where could she even procure hair dye in a place this forsaken?

The low cloud cover created new pressure points radiating out from the lower vertebrae and the air around him felt heavier and less purposeful. He had a hard time getting up. His shirt was damp—whether from sweat or condensation he couldn’t tell.

There was a kind of dull ache I couldn’t pinpoint, like a pain in my blood itself. I felt excitable, restless, but mentally paralyzed. It seemed impossible to do anything at all—the energy required was heavy and beyond lifting.

Time had slowed, and I watched the townspeople scuttle around me like beetles. They were almost comically over-animated, yet the atmosphere felt viscous and penetrable only by great effort, as in a dream.

Il m’approchait de l’autre côté de la rue. Il tenait une fleur dans la main et je ne savais pas s’il voulait me la donner ou me la vendre. J’avais l’impression que je devais me sentir menacée mais il en manquait une qualité essentielle. La fleur était soit un bégonia, soit un géranium. Celles-ci étaient les deux seules fleurs que je connaissais.

Lorsqu’il arrivait de près, je voyais qu’il était très sale, ce mec. Pas du genre clochard, plutôt genre socialement paresseux.

The adolescently loose quality of drunkenness. Not quite drunk, but tipsy, when an enlightening kind of effusion… The mix of uninhibited churlishness and a potentiating looseness of the limbs.

The twins sit side by side, not acknowledging one another, clutching at bags identical but for their color. The one in the lap of the copper-haired twin is a bright, vinyl-glossy red, lots of clasps and buckles.

Her twin is angry. They are not speaking. The one with blonde hair looks straight ahead. She is glaring at the tapping of a foot. This man has no rhythm whatsoever.

Their bags are just absolutely hideous.

The twin with the carrot-colored hair has a mole on her right cheek partly obscured by her hair. Sometimes she wonders just when she got it, or what accumulation of unique experiences layered moment by moment on top of one another to create this feature. Was it that weekend at the beach spent with Vlad? Where was Katerne then, why was she not there?

The mole is how her sister instructs strangers to tell them apart. “She’s the one with the mole,” she says. “See, right there, behind her cheek.” Her sister resents her doing this, though it is not a particularly ugly mole.

Ask the fact-checkers!

July 31, 2012

I’m sure they know the scoop.

Notes sur

May 18, 2012

This year I’m 28. In the fall I’ll be 29. I did everything right. I went to college. I went to graduate school. I racked up a crushing amount of debt. I got a job—a very good job. My co-workers all complain. I complain. We are not paid enough; we don’t have enough time; the work we do is not appreciated. I make $125 a day. I read things other people have written to make sure they haven’t fucked up the facts. Some weeks I work into dinner and through the weekend; work even while asleep. There used to be three of me; now there are two-and-a-third, two-and-a-half at best. Not very many people seem to think being right is important.

When my mother was my age, she was raising a six-year-old child by herself, attending college, and cleaning other people’s houses for a living. And those people seemed more or less grateful to her for washing away their shit.

I hate the word maid. I have always greatly respected those who make time for precision.

During sober months I manage to save money and lose weight. There haven’t been many sober months lately. This is not a sober month.

The more sympathetic of my coworkers drop by periodically to check in and note how “over-worked” I seem. They take some of my load, when they can. I think this is supposed to make me feel better, but I start thinking of a horse or pack mule abandoned in the desert.

I carry Blood Meridian in my bag and pretend I’m going to read it every morning on the subway. Instead I take “naps” and pick at my fingernails.

Recently I had a crack-up. I started checking facts and couldn’t stop. I dreamt of apocryphal facts. I thought I would be fired. Instead I was given many more facts to check.

That month I had just begun reading Claude Lanzmann’s memoir, in which he describes the guillotine nightmares of his youth. It was a different kind of guillotine I was waiting for, but I was no less certain it was coming for me. Depression is like that—it indulges a narcissistic self-loathing that makes possible the equation of professional failure with the Holocaust.

When I was 23, I tried to write “screenplays.” They were all about me and the douchebags I was secretly in love with. All the me-characters spoke in journal entries and acted like babies. The douchebags were sometimes me too. I thought I could figure out what they were thinking. Everything else was filler. Now I try to write “stories.” There’s only ever one character and they’re all about the end of the world.

Pas de musique d’accompagnement, de soutien ou de renfort. Pas de musique du tout.

‘Cause, you know, Mayans and shit

February 5, 2012

I’ve decided 2012 is The Year of Fuck It.

That’s all.

Cartridge

September 25, 2011

The only consolation I can derive from having finally finished Infinite Jest is knowing that I can just flip it back around and start all over again.

livejournal version

December 21, 2010

Today I was fact-checking a review of: A Widow’s Story: A Memoir by Joyce Carol Oates. New York: Ecco. 432 pages. $28.

It was incredibly depressing. Excerpted in the New Yorker, you can pretty much get the gist. Woman meets man, they share their lives for 47 uninterrupted years (though not to the extent you’d maybe imagine), he unexpectedly dies, she completely, totally, irreversibly falls apart:

“Mrs. Smith? Do you have someone to call?”
“Yes.”
“Would you like any assistance in calling?”
“No.”
These seem to be correct answers. It is not a correct answer to reply, “But I don’t want to call anyone. I want to go home now, and die.”
These thoughts rush through my head and I make no effort to deflect them, still less to examine them. It is strange to be assailed by rushing thoughts when I am moving and speaking so slowly–like one who has been hit over the head with a sledgehammer.
Already the time on Ray’s watch is 1:24 A.M.

Of course, reading this (and there’re about 400 pages more where this comes from), I feel immense sympathy for this person who’s lost the warm-blooded anchor she’s held since 1961, when she was a 22 year-old first-year graduate student at the University of Wisconsin (and soon-to-be mega-famous novelist). I have yet had no experience to approximate this loss. When I think of my parents dying…well, I just don’t. Even to say it feels like a kind of infernal invitation. I can go no further.

And yet. Last year my dad was very sick. Closer to that unnameable than I like to admit. He had a portion of his intestine removed, and when the two parts were reattached, they didn’t take. A tactless douche of a surgeon went in and tried to clamp my father’s insides together with metallic fingers; it didn’t work. With my incontinent, semi-conscious father splayed out in front of me in a hospital “recovery room” antechamber, flanked by aunt and mother-ex-wife, this doctor-fucker mused in my mother’s general direction about my father’s potential anal-penetrative sexual predilections. Did he not see me, standing there hare-eyed and frozen in my bundles of winterwear and massless incomprehension? I had the strongest urge to laugh and vomit, simultaneously, like the painful sensation that precedes urinary release.

Later, when my father was settled and hazily conscious, mother, uncle and I went for a visit. I cannot describe the hospital pathos that entered my body and swam around my brain ’til dizzy. I have never more felt the primal urge for flight, like: this place is no good, full of beeping alarm mechanisms — see the pale, sickly versions of your origins: flee!

Instead, in front of an ash-faced father invaded by tubes and delusions, I felt water seep into my knees, stared woefully at my mother, communicating child-despair. My limbs trembled, I saw double. Sensing my helplessness through some as-yet-indefinable maternal magic, she brought me a chair and orange juice and somehow, miraculously, I managed not to faint.

Meanwhile, my father smacked his cotton-mouthy lips and presented a wholly foreign version of himself to me. (Have you ever seen someone defined by sobriety descend into druggy madness? No? Well, let’s just say it’s creepy.) Eventually he got better, but still I felt I’d seen something a bit too far, like a confession not meant for me. I saw into my own future — the future of illness and mortality and the loss of people who are not just others but sewn into my being in ways that don’t make sense even to me.

So. All of that to say that JCO’s memoir was moving and upsetting and absolutely compelling. I felt. Even just fact-check-skimming, it was crazy-depressing. I wanted to cry at points. Which would have been inappropriate.

But then there was also this other demonish feeling that crept along the sides of my consciousness as I was reading. This feeling of: you should be grateful, bitch. She met her life-partner at 22, and from that day on they never went a day without speaking. She had 47 years of this non-loneliness that is so incomprehensible to me I dare not even think of it as a possibility. So her husband died at 78? Long life. You had so many good years. Get over it.

But I can’t put my heart into it. The pain she describes — this “his skin is still warm but beginning to cool” — is so gut-wrenching as to be virulently empathogenic. I both envy and pity her. I want what she had, but not to lose it. Does that mean I’d take nothing, for the sake of preserving the fragile sense of emotional cohesion I maintain, mostly artificially? Are you kidding? Of course not. I’d take the 47-year deferral of death any time. Every time.

Protected: return to innocence [part 1]

December 13, 2010

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