Pill-taking time came. Driving in the late-afternoon traffic on Southridge Road, Bernie leaned down and to the right, opened the glove compartment, removed the brown cylindrical bottle, opened it, shook out a pill, placed it in his mouth, swallowed. While the pill was in his hand, Bernie's fingers half-noticed that the pill was not the usual Prozac shape, but by the time it was in his mouth, Bernie had already caught sight of the distinct shape of his son, Chris, moving along the shoulder of Southridge Road a hundred yards ahead of him, and thus his brain was distracted from processing the pill shape discrepancy.
Bernie knew much more about the shape of his son than he did about the shape of his pill. He could have picked out the form and gait of his son from up to a mile away in a dense crowd. The visual stimulus of his son set off a series of systemic reactions within Bernie. When either of his children's bodies entered his perceptual field, Bernie's own body made subtle cardiovascular, autonomic, gastrointestinal, neurologic, respiratory, and endocrine accommodations which, taken together, constituted the feeling that a layman would call love.
He slowed the car and watched his son increase in size and definition. Bernie thought Chris's walk showed signs of fierce contemplation. The peaks and valleys of the usual junior-Schwartzean up-and-down walking motion were diminished, the typical wild arm swing contained. Yes, Chris must have been thinking hard and well. What was he thinking? No, not thinking, dreaming: Chris was dreaming of a more heroic adulthood for himself than either of his parents had been able to model for himespecially his father. Bernie pictured Chris picturing a life for himself sans the distressed Damsel of Depression and the Lone Ranger of Prozac. Chris was no doubt dreaming of his future as an uncompromising screenwriter or beloved professor of political science. While Chris often generously gave away his sweet boyish comic energy to the world, he was at this moment containing it, saving it for something special: a dignified adulthood, Bernie thought. Chris was gathering all the facts and memories and wishes at his disposal and pointing them toward the future.
Chris was thinking of suicide. Walking westward on Southridge at the end of a miserable day that wasn't half over yet, Chris hunkered in tight to his own body, prepared to have as many suicidal goddamn ideations as it would take to cheer him up. He wasn't committed to suicide, but the thought of it comforted him. Suicidal thoughts as entertainment. Chris was creating an annotated mental list of suicide's well-known practitioners, beginning with those honorary suicides, the drug overdose stylists. Chief among them was Jimi Hendrix, a man who had brought choking on one's own vomit the honorary status of famous last words. He had a lot of admiration for Sylvia Plath as well. He actually liked the few Plath poems he'd been exhorted to read by his lady English teachers. "Oh Daddy, Daddy, Daddy" was a line of poetry that actually made a lot of sense to Chris. As for Plath's most famous poem, her suicide itself, Chris had found it confusing at first. That was because he misconstrued the technical details of the head-in-the-oven method. Before he figured it out, Chris thought Plath and other head-in-the-oven aficionados had turned on the ovenokay, preheated the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheitand then stuck their heads inside the scalding hot oven and roasted their own heads. Which seemed to Chris like an act of untenable self-discipline. It wasn't until he had ceased to misapprehend the head-in-the-oven suicide as The Joy of Cooking Your Own Head that he could abide it as a realistic approach to self-murder.
The suicide pact was a form of problem-solving that Chris was still grappling with. A suicide pact required a lot of trust, and Chris figured if you were killing yourself, trust of other human beings was probably not real high on your list of values, attributes, and achievements. Frank had told him that the famous Abstract Expressionist painter Mark Rothko and his wifeMary Rothko, Chris wanted her name to behad killed themselves together. Frank said they'd slit their wrists. Chris would rather roast his head or even pan-fry his fucking head than slit his wrists. They supposedly did it in the bathroom, and Chris pictured the bathroom floor as looking a lot like one of Mark Rothko's big red paintings.
From The Sleeping Father by Matthew Sharpe - pages 3 to 16 and 22-30. Copyright Matthew Sharpe 2004. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Soft Skull Press.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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