Coming into consciousness

Gerhard Richter, Abstraktes Bild

         I’ll never forget the end of summer in 1981. Or its beginning. That June, major surgery and a near-lethal stomach infection kicked me into the worst years of my life. I lived in Chicago then and my parents came from Florida to entertain me in the hospital and help to fend off the demons. They always showed up to help me through rough times. I was their only single child, the middle one between Maggie and Michael.

         After my second stay in the hospital, I slept most of the time.

         On my seventh day home, while chasing a slipper under the bed, I found a box of old journals. I spun through them until I found my last entries and relived the one-eighty my life took when I accepted the truth that I couldn’t love wisely. And so began my accumulation of Mr-Right-Nows to assuage passion that painting in streams of consciousness once sated.

         I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t written about the failure of every painting I attempted in 1978. The hole of this loss twisted my stomach as I remembered the night I shoved my oil paints, turps, brushes and lifeless, muddied canvases into the closet.

         I couldn’t understand how I possibly could have noted that a cancerous tumor of lymphoma would kill my father within six months, but not record finding out the following week that he would live for many years. Why hadn’t I written about almost losing my mother to congestive heart failure during her first chemotherapy treatment a few months ago? Or about dear Jake, my perfect lover.

         I began to write about the last three years, giving voice to the undercurrents of fear for my parents that still haunted me, especially between lights out and sleep.

         Capturing my past on paper consumed time that I’d planned to ready resumes and cover letters. I was done with the executive ranks. Give me a cubicle in which to turn out ad copy without budgets and, above all, without people who wanted my job. I had plenty of time to find the perfect position.

         Time continued. I wrote more, slept less, and enjoyed visiting with my friends Jess and Susan.

         Suddenly, perhaps in August or September, I realized that I was writing “a bestseller,” Breaking Through to Happiness. I was in a hurry to finish it before returning to supervise copy for Helene Curtis.

         I lit a cigarette and as I exhaled, I realized that the searing burn of my neck and shoulders was no longer pain but an urgent push, flying ideas through my mind and out onto paper, a blessing in disguise, its fire now passionate; not pain, but physical response to growing powers of perception.

         From the dining table to the kitchen, the typewriter to the bathroom, from electric light to sunlight, on and on came the streaming of my consciousness, its speeding carriage redoubling inspiration.

         Sun. Moon. Coffee. Water. Incessant smoke trailed from cigarettes I kept lighting.

         Paper flew from the roller bar, fell into my hands. Strange words leapt off the page and struck chords of fear.

         Birds called soprano to the clack of keys typing, a forgetting sound urging discourse.

         Another word-stranger caught my breath. I choked, I swallowed water, I pressed on.

         Sun poured through east windows into the room, its brightness gathering brilliance as it climbed. I rose to switch off the chandelier, suddenly aware that day had followed another night — I couldn't recall the last time I’d slept. Only when the phone broke the silence was I conscious of myself, how alive my flesh, how eager my spirit. I had to take advantage of every second left of freedom from deadlines and petty politics.

         En route to the kitchen, the light darkened, the burn again unbearable. I bathed my face in cool water until the heat in me evaporated and daylight returned to my awareness and I to my work.

         “FE/MALEKIND, POSITIVITY, NEGATIVITY, INTERNAL/EXTERNAL” swarmed on the page before me, on pages beside the typewriter. How did those words land on pages I'd typed? I never broke words like FE/MALE, WO/MAN. These new words incorporated both genders, one whole being in metaphysical terms, as well as sexual, but more important than orgasm.

         Jake never used words like these. Nor did my fellow free spirit friend, Jess.

         But, if not Jessie, and if not Jake, and not me


         I turned back to the machine, determined to author every word myself.

         Again word strangers danced laughing on the page.

         Confusion raged; boiling blood flooded my senses, drowning me in fear.

         The red sea fell away and again words glared at me in sharp black and white.

         I jumped up, knocking over my chair as I hurried to the bay of my living room windows.

         What was going on? None of this made sense, and yet every one of these thoughts made all the sense in the world. I paced my rooms stem to stern and returned to the front windows. The handsome Victorian townhouses across the street made me think of Sherlock Holmes. All I needed was a magnifying glass, and Sherlock’s flap-cap and plaid coat to track down the origins of those words. Laughter burst out of me, delighting me, easing the moment.

         And yet, I felt as though I was painting again, my typewriter my brush. The artist in me was alive again for the first time in three years!

         Pages piled up.

         But strange words were everywhere; my sentences fell into unfamiliar rhythms. Fear struck, raw and freezing.

         I lit a cigarette and fear ebbed under nicotine. And again I was typing. Until need for another cigarette broke the flow of words, leaving me breathless with excitement at the prospect of discovering inspiration’s next installment.

         I put out my cigarette, exhaling as I lifted my other hand from the keyboard. Both hands returned, fingers advancing along the keys.

         Time to discern the latest paragraphs.

         I couldn't stop typing. Could not.

         Sweat covered me like skin. My fingers slid off keys, striking wrong characters, clicking words, sentences, pages into being.

         But I had to stop typing to read. I had to know.

         I couldn't stop. I couldn't stop.

         My body felt hollow, fragile; it was shaking, breaking apart, collapsing inward, breath snuffed, sweat stinging my eyes, blinding me. And I was drowning in fear, beaten by blows from my heart, its speed wild, reckless, choking me, crushing my senses with thunder.

         Still my fingers forged words across the page.

         STOP! Please, oh stop . . . please . . .


         Terror seared like dry ice, its burn so cold, shriveling, cracking — breaking into pieces. But —

         No! It couldn't be.

         It just couldn't.

         Yet there was no other explanation: my hands now had a mind of their own.

         Oh stop, please stop stop STOP —

         Light more brilliant than the sun exploded, illuminating splendor, every cell of my being lifted by awesome power.

         Oh this light, blinding white, it shimmered, it gleamed, all consuming, invading, pervading. I sailed in its glory, soared in it. I closed my eyes; I couldn't keep them closed. And then the light whitened, it gained force and in it I saw all colors, every sign of life. Its power entered me like a lover, and like a mother feeding me joy. And then recognition came: the power, that Power. This power.

         I rose upon that crest of knowledge, afraid to breathe or utter a sound. The typewriter burred along, ready to continue its electric delivery of The Word already covering so many pages. I turned off the typewriter.

         I turned the machine back on, its hum electrifying, drums again ready to transmit The Truth. I couldn't watch my fingers tap keys, or the letters which snapped into life on the page. I knew already what they spelled.

         Yes, yes. The Power was . . . I stood up and dared to let my eyes fall upon the white sheet anchored in the roller bar of my typewriter.

         "MESSIAH" in bold black print centered the page.

         Indisputable substantiation.

         I sobbed in the agony of elation. The “Messiah” was the Power, the source of those words. The “Messiah” was sending a message through the typewriter to me.

         Blinding hot white light undulated inside me, seeping through every cell, warming, heating, filling every sense, sharpening sight until everything I looked at sparkled, colors rich and textures dazzling.

         My heart pounded, my eyes stung, blood sang in its race to the outer-reaches of my flesh. Toes tingled, fingertips tingled, the whole of me tingled in the full force of love and divine absolution.

         Melting and merging sensations turned me as one with the world, no boundaries, no blocks, a sense of freedom so comforting, so safe, that I knew without question that love had saved me, and that love would save the world. Oh “Messiah!”

         The “Messiah!” had chosen me, ME! to type His book! For it was His book, not mine. However could I have assumed that it was mine?

         Small glowing faces of English ivy bedded in brick peered through windows, nodding their confirmation. I knew now the state of grace, and I knew now the infinite pure wonder of life's one true secret.

         I raced to the bathroom, turned on the light and reflected in His glory. I was, framed in the medicine cabinet mirror. Darkness hollowed my high, narrow cheekbones, marks of beatitude. The brown of my hooded eyes was deeper, and brighter in the light of redemption, and the tangled mist of my short bronzed and copper hair glistened like gold, a halo. I wasn't too thin, I was lean-boned and long, wand in the winds of salvation.

         The dazzle of my smile dazed me. My knees melted. I grabbed the sink just in time.

         The “Messiah!!”

         Breaking Through To Happiness would free every being in the world.

         The Messiah, from Whom my Creators came, and came to create me. Oh yes. Yes!

         WRITE. Revelations came shining through, astounding me with their brilliance. "REVEAL/ATIONS!" the Messiah corrected, and the streaming of His consciousness surged down the sheets rolling through the typewriter.

         I turned the lights on and off, depending on the sun’s schedule.

         Anger struck when the phone rang. I limited conversations, often claiming company to terminate the call.

         I was fevered to get into type the work that also would liberate me from corporate enslavement. There was so little time to finish. So little time.

         In the bathroom again, I was furious. How could I forget pad and pen? Messages jammed in my mind without release inside my tiled cell. Anxiety hurried me back to the typewriter.

         More water. More trips to the bathroom, but I never again forgot my pad and pen.

         REVEAL/ATIONS gushed onto page after page of capital ideas.

         I would burst within this explosion of excitement.

         WRITE. . . .

         The window framed a burnishing sky reflecting like fire on the brass chandelier, its glare softened by the surprising presence of another day.

         I lit a cigarette and turned off the light. Before sitting again at the dining room table, I read the page in the typewriter. I vibrated with shock when I realized it was typed in upper and lowercase.

         I read more, still standing, hands shaking and ruffling the paper. The passage described the spanking my sister and I received after wrecking our closet instead of taking our naps before a family dinner. She'd offered to go first, surprising yet relieving me. I'd measured the pain by her response, hoping postponement would lead to pardon. Years later she said she hadn't wanted to suffer my punishment as well as her own. Why hadn't we agreed to disagree?

         I dropped into the chair, puffing on a cigarette, shaking. Maggie had nothing to do with Breaking Through to Happiness.

         Doubt agitated, spreading swift darting alarm. My heart heavied its beating, I couldn't sit up. Cigarette ash powdered the keyboard. Blowing it off felt good. As I straightened in the chair, questions resounded: Who had written about Maggie? The Messiah? Me?

         I felt nothing, I heard nothing. The light thinned, dulled.

         I grew cold in the absence of His warm hum.

         I stared at type no longer in caps, willing answers to relieve my fear.

         No murmuring dictation directed me. No words surged onto paper.

         But then my fingers touched the keyboard. And my sister's name appeared. Why was Maggie still the subject?

         There must be a mistake. But whose mistake was it?

         Fear hurled doubt aside.

         Where was the Messiah?

         My body iced, bumped with cold, a plunging cold like icicles driven into vital organs.

         Pain convulsed me. Physical pain, high and keening.

         Then the pain was mental, deep and destructive.

         What happened to Him?

         How could He leave without leaving a note, a thought, to say He'd be back?

         “Messiah?” The plaintive note in my voice drifted in the air, weaving new tears to sweep away.

         There was no messiah.

         Disbelief was unbelievable. We'd been writing the book that would save the world. The book. Yes!

         I scanned a few sheets from a pile, words like POSITIVITY, REVEAL/ATIONS, FE/MALE first bewildering, then reassuring me, then horrifying me.

         My throat dried and swelled, as if to lock out air forever.

         Those words were not mine.


         Then where was He?

         Confusion was hideous, it was wild and heaving.

         Pain split my head into spearing waves, blood pounding, a roaring thudding rush threatening the essence of my existence.

         The typewriter was real — I could see it, touch it, feel it. I drew it close and hugged it, resting my forehead against its metal.

         Back and forth the pain screamed, rebounding off the walls of my mind.


         The table gleamed, penetrating the chaos that engulfed me. I looked into my deep green living room, building reassurance. Back in the dining room, across from me on the white linen cabinet, the Sheraton coffee service glistened; off-white curtains shifted at the windows, puffs of air sifting my hair, cooling my flesh, drying it, feeding oxygen into my lungs.

         I was home. I was fine.

         A sheet of paper curled, slid from its pile and stopped on the rosewood inlay that bordered my massive art deco table.

         The taste in my mouth was metallic; rage burst into accusations and denials.

         Childhoods were for journals.

         I examined the single-spaced lines without margins that topped a pile of paper on my right. POSITIVITY, INTERNAL/EXTERNAL stepped across the page, words most assuredly not mine.

         Typewriter keys glinted dully in the shadow of my face. They smirked, floating in a play of light and shade.

         The typewriter! But it was twenty years old, it had no computer — then what? What?

         Pain jabbed the void where my womb used to be.

         In cold silence, fear erased hope. I felt rather than heard my scream.

         The Book called me back to work.

         But then words without meaning appeared, filling slow-rolling paper, a mesmerizing march that compelled attention, but denied comprehension.

         I tried to stop.

         I couldn't stop. Letters spelled words on page after page. I couldn’t stop to read them.

         I had to stop. I had to know who wrote those words.

         Need for speed blinded eyewitness.

         Faster. Faster.

         Faster faster faster.

         Pain snatched my hands from the keyboard. I tried to hold my head together, tried to halt the pain with hands hard-pressed against my ears.

         Falling into terror was terrible, my heart plunging deeper faster than any roller coaster ever had taken it. Inexorable sucking darkness, a suffocating compression —


         Messages          August 30th 3:56 AM — 4:03 AM


                           FIGMENTS, FIGMENTS, FIGMENTS.


                                    TREASON. BETRAYAL.

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