The Other Side of the Cube
When I was a child I used to wonder where people went when I wasn’t around. That is to say I knew that they were somewhere, though only in the abstract. But where did they go when their scent no longer carried the rot? Were they an echo of someone who is yet to exist? These things concerned me almost from the beginning.
Eight years old and I stood in front of my friend Darnell, wondered how I could feel the reality of him. My dad was a terribly violent man, but he was smart, so I asked him how I could feel Darnell’s alive-ness. “Empathy,” he said. “We know other people are alive because we feel their emotions just like our own. At least to an extent.”
But these are the places the mind goes when it’s dancing with paranoia.
My time doesn’t clock forward or reverse. All that has been will be again and again. I’m sure of it. The cockroach crawls up the spine and burrows itself deep into the neck. It secretes a thick black paste that slowly oozes its way down the throat. You gag because you can’t swallow. You choke. You gasp for air. You feel on the edge of death, but it won’t let you die. Everything starts to fade. Goddamn it, you choke, but you do not die.
Okay, listen, all I know is that here in the vacuum of space, far from any star in the loneliness between galaxies, there is a transparent cube where I sometimes live, eternally eight years old. Knees to chin and arms around knees. The cube is small, very tight. I can reach my arms out in any direction and touch any one of the four transparent walls.
This is where I am when I’m out of your sight. Or at least that’s what I tell myself as I stare at your shadow in the sand when the sun sets during that one perfect evening on the beach.
I desperately want you to press your chest to mine so that I can feel — really feel — you breathing. I want to love you as much as possible before our final disintegration.
It can get cold claustrophobic in the cube, but I’ve learned by now that screaming and pounding will do absolutely nothing. So I let the fear play itself out. I relax a bit. You just have to make the best of things sometimes.
But where do YOU go when you’re out of my sight?
Don’t poke your finger to my chest and scream at me for my solipsism. No, I’m sorry, it’s not you I’m mad at. And it is, in fact, solipsism. But it’s also the heaving of paranoia. I’ve started to worry that I can’t function without it. Paranoia as muse, you dig? And so I reach out, my fingers twitching as I touch one of the cold walls of my transparent cube. My fingers stick like dry ice. It’s not usually this cold. Why is it so cold now?
I lick my upper lip and now I’m standing in the middle of a vast desert. Why does the desert expand in so many directions? I look left, right, forward, backward. Only desert.
It surrounds me and I’m stranded.
And your eyes and smile are fading from my desert vision. I reach out and my hand goes through you as if you were a hologram. You’re gone again and I’m alone in this desert and I close my eyes. When I open them I’m back in the cube. So it’s alone either way, is it? Them’s the breaks. Ah, but how I wish things didn’t have to break so much.
But perhaps it’s something almost sacred. The paranoia covers the feet in wet clay. No, best not to think this way. It leads to insanity. But, I suppose, what of insanity? Isn’t that just a way of stretching one’s skin across unbending reality?
Eight years old and I stood at the bottom of the tree, looking up as Philip Drear climbed and climbed until, at once, a branch broke and he fell. The crack of bones as he hit the ground and blood burst from his face. I closed my eyes so that I couldn’t see him, though I could still hear his screaming. “This isn’t real,” I thought. “This is a movie.” I turned my back to him, opened my eyes, and ran.
Eighteen years old and we were on the boardwalk holding hands and watching the red sun set over the beach There was a man holding a black box and written on it was, “See the strangest thing in the world.” Curious, I approached him, my wallet out, searching for a dollar bill. My partner grabbed me by the wrist.
“It’s a con,” my partner said. “There’s a mirror inside. You look inside the box and see yourself. Get it? The strangest thing in the world.”
I knew this, but it still hurt that my partner would break the spell.
I am always most at home with the hucksters.
I looked toward the ocean. The people seemed like movie characters, automatons. The sea talked softly to me. It soothed me. But those people: There was no fooling me, man. There was nothing behind their eyes. But what of my father? No, he was too violent to be false. And what of my partner? The same, but different.
And then I was eight years old again and my dad was working on his car in the garage, the door open to let in the cool spring breeze. Eleven years old and he’d been trying to teach me this stuff, but I was altogether too distracted and uninterested. I danced around the garage, making up nonsense songs.
He told me to grab something from the toolbox, so I retrieved it. I handed him a screwdriver and he said, “Goddamn it! This wasn’t what I wanted. You never fucking pay attention. Where are you going?”
Where was I going? I wasn’t sure, so I ran out of the garage and into the yard, unsure of my specific trajectory. But of course he easily caught up to me. Suddenly I was face down in the grass and my dad was hitting me on the ear with the screwdriver handle. My ear bled. All I could hear was a hoarse, muffled scream. Was it mine? Or his?
He slammed the screwdriver handle against my ear, totally oblivious to the fact that I wasn’t even there. I was on the beach, looking out toward the ocean, no people in sight. The ocean was blood red and thick. Hadn’t I seen this somewhere before? I reached an arm out to try to touch the water, but I’m much too far away.
And then I was back in the cube.
The cube’s walls grow icy, obscuring the empty space outside and it looks like the thing is going to crack and bust open. The cube has grown cold before, but it can’t break. I know it can’t break. I open my eyes and see that the cracks have become more severe. The cube can’t break. I close my eyes and remind myself that this is all just a movie. A movie written by a terrible screenwriter.
Writhing, angry, screaming. Such sadness in the thought of floating helpless through infinite space. Worse than alone — alone and exposed, unprotected.
A carnival mirror maze. My image in the mirrors but there is no source. There is nothing to reflect.
When I was a kid, I sometimes wondered if the characters in the movies that I watched on my family’s old worn-out VCR even had the slightest idea that they were stuck in a loop, destined to live the same tape reel over and over. They just flickered, unaware. Beginning to end and back to beginning. Even at eight years old, I shuddered to think these rules might apply to me. There was just no way to know. There’s a certain terror in the idea that you will experience this same terror forever, and forever after that.
I know you can hear me. Reach through the page and into my world. I feel you staring even though I can’t see you. You can do it. Reach through the page and touch my fingers. Pull me into your world. Do you even see me? I can feel you.
Dark, the terror of pure being. I don’t know what came before the cube, but it was something like this — the horror of consciousness without substance. Sometimes the cube fills up with amniotic fluid. I have to remain calm and remember that, in the cube, breathing isn’t necessary.
We were naked in my room, holding each other body to body as we stood by the bed. This was the one last time, and now it’s over. “But,” I said, “There must be a way. Can’t we?”
My partner laughed.
“This hurts too much,” I said. “I feel like I’m disappearing. Listen, I have something I need to give you. Please, just wait here a second.” My partner shrugged and sat on the bed as I left the bedroom and walked down the hallway.
There’s going to be death in the bedroom. I retrieve the pistol from a desk in the study, and I turn back toward the bedroom. The hallway seems smaller somehow, as if I’m expanding, or maybe the walls are closing in. And the bedroom looks much further than it should be. I can see the harsh yellow light of the lamp on the bedside table. I check my hand. The weapon is still there.
Finally, I reach the bedroom. There’s something sitting naked on the edge of the bed, but it’s not my partner. The creature has a human shape, but its skin is completely transparent. I can see the inside workings. Thick red fluid, a terribly thick red water. It smiles longingly at me. I look at my hand. The weapon is gone. The creature is standing in front of me now, staring at me.
Have I told you my name is Nothing?
If you can’t reach through the page and touch my fingers, then at least watch me dance. Watch my melancholy twirls and look close at the fire in my blue eyes.
I want to believe there is peace somewhere amongst this rubble.