Then, 2011, I’d have looked uncomfortable, you’d expect me to become sick. A light on me, a small lamp in a spare place. I looked like any image. You’d take me for someone who stared. They’d take me for X, et cetera. One called my eyes sunken. One told me I barely had them, should close them always as if pained. These were gentlemen and not, I had a wiry frame about me and sat there under a single cheapo lamp you’d think things. You’d make assumptions. They’d assign stories to various pokes about my skin. I was not always bare. I’d start in various moods or shapes and suddenly hours would’ve passed and I would’ve learned nothing and three or four heavyset men would’ve told me things.
The year is unimportant but actual: these things did occur. I was bored, et cetera. I was enrolled to receive a degree which would’ve allowed for continuing study elsewhere for further degrees. I walked around a good amount. I didn’t eat well. I smoked when I could and cheaply, asking perhaps the two girls with whom I shared a small place in western Chicago for whatever cigarettes they had. I read a bit. I went to school and I made good on certain promises. Mostly back home. These are questions we’re asked, informally. “What’s going on with you?” “What are you doing?” “What are you doing with your life?” These were questions I was asked. My response was always a bit medical, maybe, or related to the head. I was doing certain things, feeling bad about it. I was doing other things, I seemed hopeful.
Back home where I lived growing up in Indiana, back home I’d register an amorphous kid. You’d, again, assume I was near to falling over, sick. This happened. Men there, too. Often, and I guess I’m finding this, often these are married men, older. Whatever their circumstance, there were places. We would couple where people pursued fitness, these individuals having got in touch through crude networking sites for this sort of thing, then. I’ve never been drawn to jowly sorts, people of money maybe. Still, though, a desperation in some stall lit vilely in a YMCA and they seemed centered, bound in history. I went by one name there and others elsewhere and finally, merely a tag, a user, someone behind walls.
So where I am then, being projected, alive in Chicago, where I read a bit and walked yet more. I think that I became drawn to this as anyone: I’m a fucking lonely person. Wherever the body goes, the head, the certain sea of desires that makes you one thing versus what, this was apparent. So I project myself, push outward, and acknowledge this: I don’t know how to phrase it but I want something, somebody. I’ll say I’d like to watch films together, sprawling ones and maybe become lost beneath your years. You’d have this, ideally, some time. I’m not interested in my world. I don’t want to talk about graduate school, galleries or money. I would like to be a bit of sleep, a dream or something close and offer this to you. This is what I’d hope to be.
These were places wherein abstraction was typically limited to minor codes, quick identifiers so that they might be certain of apt receipt, and you that murder wasn’t waiting. Reaching, thus, responses varied from automatic individuals simply wanting a quick release, happy to encounter a willing body, to serious, unhappy individuals more aligned with what I guess I was. I met an older man who went by Henry. Henry first spoke to me on the phone, fucking himself and making ambling declarations about violence he’d like done to me. This happened, often. I don’t know where it comes from. I’m sure I don’t. It was irksomely consistent, though, a sea of older men, sometimes women, ready to describe elaborate scenarios of torture, restraint, release, then moan a throaty song before they, or you, inevitably hung up. It happened too often, really. Thus, when Henry spoke of how my blood might look, I started singing an old Syd Barrett song until he stopped, then laughed until he shouted.
Moving, then, he and I became friends who’d check in on one another. Henry was one of several to fit this. Another wanted me bound up in her suburban home awaiting her return from work. Some fit hackneyed notions and wanted to pay me to act like their children. I would engage and become sweated, emptied-out, until finally able to leave my stupor and walk to the grocery. What would I purchase. These are questions. I would fill prescriptions and walk the aisles chewing at chalky pills. I would pace out front and drink from a large bottle of Coke. I would purchase liquor and replace drunk Coke in the bottle, shaking it and spraying it down my throat before leaving potential troubles.
Winters there could be hellish and this one ranked a claustrophobic swell of white. One night a man and I – he heavyset, older, losing teeth – sat stalled on the train while matters were tended to and I let him pull at my parts. Mostly I stared out the window unless a greased hand pulled my jawbone back to closed eyes and a greedy seeking kiss. I walked home with his breath and sent a message to an old friend that I was losing it. My friend was simple, told me in short declarative bursts that I should flee. I kicked at black stretches of ice and frozen mud and thought of my father, my mother, likely at hone around the woodstove feeding it and speaking. They were who I lost, was losing. They created this anxious state, a reached limit and clothes constantly mucked over in sweat or bits of blood or others.
At the apartment that night my roommates dyed their hair to match and so I joined them, each of us in front of the mirror as our radiators clanged blackening our heads. They sat then around the table and I made dinner – I hadn’t eaten in either some hours or hundreds, and the smell of basil or quick-fried spinach made me sick. I sat chewing at the corners of cooked bread as they opened up an evening’s worth of schoolwork. I pulled a book meant to be read one week past and filled in marginalia. They asked me about my work and I would lie. We then spent some time in the bathroom, tending to hair or what and talking and smoking and drinking a bit at what was left. These were heavy-hearted girls who lugged themselves into each relationship with whole history and future written down. That night, for the first time, I played myself live and had conversations with strangers, occasionally pulling here and there or posing in bad light with dye still on my forehead. At least three of the men who watched me wondered was I sick.
That was how, what, I became found. I don’t think I sought out much more than a person, alone, screaming the way they might. In return a set of individuals made suggestions, and so I’d either film myself or project it in lieu of lived life in a small room and over time I built a way of being, engaging. Again, this tendency to sweat. I was a nervous kid and this persisted into hands that always colded over at life. I was afraid, and this perhaps only made it worse. The only balance I found was after maybe four hours or performance, seated or lying down or even sleeping in my room, I’d walk out into the bitter cold and not stop moving until my head seemed to rejoin my body.
This was shocking to me. First, the depth to which I comfortably wallowed for strangers. Soberly I’d sip a cup of urine or hurt myself to bleeding. Second, the apparent disparity between selves as I would leave, often starving, to exist in that between state wandering around and running my fingers over freezing bricks of businesses before returning. I have always been terrified of living. I doubt most interactions before they happen except, maybe, these rudiments of fucking. I never felt terrified looking inward, though, and knowing that lifeless space I could dwell in, almost balletic, brought confusion.