I am selling myself to you. What’s my price? (Everyone wants to think they have one.) This. You. I pay myself with you, I am the one swindling myself.
You approach me like the night approaches the window. Except no, that’s not quite right, because it always seems like you’re already here. Still, somehow it feels like the way the night sneaks up to the window.
You told me about the zen master you had gone to see. You wondered if I wanted to come with you to see him. You said it’s important to learn how to let it all wash away. Sounds good, I thought.
The zen master said to watch it all appear and then to watch it fade and dissolve and to withhold judgment. And I wanted to listen so closely, I wanted to really hear him but he was looking down my shirt and I felt afraid. He said Come closer before I left, but I could not. Open, open, he said, The way you open all your holes to someone in the night, he said. Open, open, but I would not.
I saw you watching. I saw.
I saw that you need a game to play, otherwise you get bored and start to kill.
I wasn’t sure, though, that I had really seen it. Maybe my eyesight was bad. Maybe it still is.
It helps to give you a name, though I know you are unnameable. Dear so-and-so—using these pathetic little tools that probably mean nothing to you—dear so-and-so, why are you in me? How can it be that you’ve been in me all this time? Why have you not left me? Why can I not leave you? Why does escape seem impossible? Why do you seize me, why do you sweep through me, why. Why does understanding you feel like fighting off the old leering men who came to watch tiny teenage me swim?
Why are you? As far as I can tell, you serve no purpose, you exist as a virus, replication for replication’s sake.
It gets worse. So much worse.
Once, you took a form and slapped my face and said Act dumb, you want to survive don’t you? You started giving yourself away with increasing recklessness.
They were all right—each and every one of them—to warn me to stay away from you. But none of them had what I had. They didn’t know what it’s like to see you on your knees, to see you begging. They didn’t know. They still don’t.
It was easier to hate you when you refused to say that you loved me, needed me, had to have me. You learned new ways to draw me in. I liked watching you learn.
Once, you took another form and I escaped and drove away from you in the rain and the mist, the fall leaves their perfect set of insane flames, everything switching over to decay, feeling a new kind of death growing within me, your figure back there in the distance, receding, dissolving. You had made the new death in me possible, I understood, and this would bind me to you once again, I could see. Your death growing in me felt too good.
I said it gets worse, didn’t I?
Figure it out, baby, I think you would have said, if you had a voice. Figure it out.
Once, under the stars, deep in the night, you took yet another form and I felt ready to welcome you. I said Have me have me, take me away, take me all the way. I will be dumb for you, I want to know I want to see. I will do whatever I have to. I will get square with it all, I will understand.
I hated and loved every minute of it. It was exhilarating to show you my soul, not knowing what you would do with it, if I could handle it. You were telling me how much you did not need me, but I also saw you begging. Felt you begging, felt it deep inside me, less like surging and more like a sad slow seeping this time.
Whatever you are, you need a strong swimmer. I am that. I don’t get panicky underwater. I slow my heartbeat like the coaches taught me. So that night I opened my eyes and saw what I could, in the dark, in the haze, maybe the water was murky but I opened my eyes and watched you move toward me, nothing discernible but everything palpable. Felt as a new kind of contact happened. I was fileted. I was flayed. I was stretched on the racks, twisting and twisting as you whispered Yes that’s it baby, yes yes, you feel so good.
What had I imagined was possible? What did I think could happen—what could be breathed into existence—in that moment of contact?
Your eyes on me—if that’s what they are—breaking me and breaking me. Me thinking There is nothing to watch here. No one and no thing—I am not a me, look away away away. There is nothing here. Leave. Leave. Please leave. For less than a second I thought Look at me again and I will chop your fucking head off.
You kept calling out to me. Again and again, no matter how hard I worked to stop hearing. You were calling and calling, from inside me sometimes, yes. I could hear but I couldn’t hear. I was still too afraid. I couldn’t get the right ears to hear hear, no matter how hard I tried.
I found myself saying that if I could travel across time, travel through space at the speed of light, I would find you. And find you. I would find you. If there were a way to find you, I would have found you, found you. You you you. I would give in. I would catch you at your weakest.
I pictured a weekend. A long one, even. If only I could have been ready to kill you then. I pictured a nice room and a selection of consciousness-obliterating substances and a room service menu—privacy, but not.
You had been begging for it, after all. I don’t know how but I could feel it.
I pictured it. And it materialized—all of it—and I did nothing but cry.
You are the places where people go to enact every hidden, silent fantasy—the cruelty and the beauty too—and you are the fantasies themselves, and the economies that shape and regulate them. No, that’s crazy. Isn’t it?
You are the motel on the side of the highway and the stained sheets on the creaky beds and the dildoes left behind and you are also the bibles and the mold growing in the corners and the peeling paint in the bathroom and you are also The Ritz and The Plaza and the fine dining and the top-notch lighting program and the smooth marble of the bar where you place your drink.
No. You are the underpaid bartender with a knowing, world-weary smile and the businessman picking up the fellow lonely traveler and the girl looking uncertain in her dress and also you are the tray of perfect Spanish olives and you are the people who cannot enter either the bar or The Ritz or even the room at the Super 8. You are the ones left to rot and the ones overseeing the rot. You are their gestures and their clothes and their slow blinks and the rapid firing of their neurons and no.
No. I brought you back. I brought you here—I have these tools, no matter how useless. And I stole everything I could from you. I stole it all.
I waited until you were asleep and I took a twenty from your wallet but then I realized there was nothing I could buy with it. I did not yet understand.
I wanted to steal more and more but there was nothing to take. I could empty your pockets forever, I saw, and there would never be anything I could use. It was all so useless.
Sometimes I want to play along, though. I want to see if I can play, if I can beat you. Let’s imagine me on your arm, shall we? Just like you like it—I am beginning to understand. Let’s place our bodies at the scene of the crime. What do we see?
Deep breath, baby, I can see you saying. Deep breath baby, in and out in and out, like so many inviting knives in and out—that’s all there is. All different sizes and shapes, in all different hands.
I saw—I see—that you would always be the professor and his little wife. No matter where you are or who you are or what form you take or who and what you fuck or who you’re with, always the one with an arm and someone on it.
And oh god I saw I see, oh god, I’ll have no limbs at all. Not even one. And not even a face to show off. I’ll be nothing more than a vague sense that something is wrong—a something that won’t go away.
Maybe it was rock bottom.
The bitterness swept in, the resentment—something brittle and rigid. This was not what I wanted. Just when I thought I had expelled it, expelled you. How cute, how sad, I thought, that I once thought we were giving anything to each other. When it was so far, in fact, from an open exchange of anything. Giving was three worlds away from what happened, what happens.
You do not give or even take, you are the foundation and the bedrock and the core and the ür and I have only my human economy with which to make sense and it’s not enough. I need to be so much faster and so much slower.
All the killers and I really mean all the killers and the rapists and the ones who track down and snuff out and get off on and repeat and repeat and haunt us all on every frontier that has ever existed—I saw every single one of them flash at me through your eyes—whatever they are, please stop asking—when I told you that I did not need you anymore, that I would understand you on my own. I saw you seeing them flash back at me.
I spent the night throwing up, turning myself inside out to expel you. You were inside all the others too—why were they so unbothered by it? They were not up all night throwing up and throwing up, vibrating with the need to expel you. I couldn’t understand it.
I was ready to forget that a myself was possible.
But I returned and returned—why?—tethering a self to a my. Why? I think I liked knowing that someone was listening through the walls. I liked knowing that she would later see me and think This is her? This thing? and I liked knowing that you wanted them to know, to hear. I liked knowing that I might have been dreams and nightmares coming true for you. I liked knowing that you might lack control in relation to me, just another thing you were moving through.
Because you seemed to move through me differently than you moved through the others. Because, way in the back of me, I stopped needing to tell myself that one day you would not move through me.
There it was. Would I ever be able to do anything with it?
It’s a fact that I’m a problem for you. Yes, now I see it.
It’s just a fact that I’m a threat that cannot be neutralized by possession. By accumulation.
Let’s place our bodies at the scene again. Bodies?—is that even what they are? Who cares.
There’s something beautiful in your ability to evade. I see it best with my eyes closed. You resist all forms of capture. Especially language. You evade language with the force of the forces that created it.
You evade your creations (co-creations??) with the force of the forces that big-bang them fuck them into existence.
But back to the bodies. I am ready to imagine it. I am on your arm again. I’m wearing the dress you want me to wear, my shoulders back the way you like, my hair to one side just like you like. With my lips against your ear I say Fuck I’m so high, in a tone that suggests a promising lack of self-control, because I know it’s exactly what you want to hear.
I don’t even need you to want it anymore. I have learned, like every galaxy, to be the producer recycler destroyer of all energy. I am dangerously self-contained, self-sustained. Potentia gaudendi ad infinitum.
You are the force that will eventually make the Milky Way and Andromeda collide, but no matter, baby, so am I.
You look at me funny, I feel it in me, and I see that what’s happening is I can get behind and underneath you and it begins to unnerve you—what am I? you start wondering, though you have never wondered it before. Queer, you say. Queer little thing, queer as in opportunist, you say.
The camera cuts away and you slap me so hard you knock a tooth out of my mouth, but I’m kind of smiling.
I think I’m ready. I know that means starting all over again. Ok oh well. Fine.
Lindsay Lerman is a writer and translator. Her first novel, I’m From Nowhere, is out now with CLASH Books. She is an editor at Black Telephone Magazine. Her first academic translation is forthcoming. She has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada.
*Image credit: Still from Janie Geiser’s ‘Ghost Algebra’, 2009.