Fiction

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

David Foster Wallace

#6   E——— on “How and Why I Have Come to be Totally Devoted to S——— and Have Made Her the Linchpin and Plinth of My Entire Emotional Existence”

And yet I did not fall in love with her until she had related the story of the unbelievably horrifying incident in which she was brutally accosted and held captive and raped and very nearly killed.

Q.

Let me explain. I’m aware of how it might sound, believe me. I can explain. In bed together, in response to some sort of prompt or association, she related an anecdote about hitchhiking and once being picked up by what turned out to be a psychotic serial sex offender who drove her to a secluded area and raped her and would almost surely have murdered her had she not been able to think effectively on her feet under enormous fear and stress. Irregardless of whatever I might have thought of the quality and substance of the thinking that enabled her to induce him to let her live.

Q.

Neither would I. Who would, now, in an era when every—when psychotic serial killers have their own trading cards? I’m concerned in today’s climate to steer clear of any suggestion of anyone quote asking for it, let’s not even go there, but yet rest assured it gives one pause about the capacities of judgment involved, or at the very least in the naïveté— 

Q.

Only that it was perhaps marginally less unbelievable in the context of her type, in that this was what one might call a quote Granola Cruncher, or post-Hippie, New Ager, what have you, in college where one is often first exposed to social taxonomies we called them Granola Crunchers or simply Crunchers, terms comprising the prototypical sandals, unrefined fibers, daffy arcana, emotional incontinence, flamboyantly long hair, extreme liberality on social issues, financial support from parents they revile, bare feet, obscure import religions, indifferent hygiene, a gooey and somewhat canned vocabulary, the whole predictable peace-and-love post-Hippie diction that im—

Q.

A large outdoor concert-slash-performance-art community festival thing in a park downtown where—it was a pickup, plain and simple. I will not try to represent it as anything nicer than that, or more fated. And I’m going to admit at the risk of appearing mercenary that her prototypical Cruncher morphology was evident at first sight, from clear on the other side of the bandstand, and dictated the terms of the approach and the tactics of the pickup itself and made the whole thing almost criminally easy. Half the women there—it is a less uncommon typology among young educated girls out here than one might think. You don’t want to know what kind of festival or why the three of us were there, trust me. I’ll just bite the political bullet and confess that I classified her as a strictly one-night objective, and that my interest in her was almost entirely due to the fact that she was extraordinarily pretty. Sexually attractive, sexy. She had a phenomenal body, even under the poncho. It was her body that attracted me. Her face was a bit strange. Not homely but eccentric. Tad’s assessment was that she looked like a really sexy duck. Nevertheless nolo to the charge that I spotted her on her blanket at the concert and sauntered carnivorously over with an overtly one-night objective. And, having had some prior dealings with the Cruncher genus prior to this, that the one-night proviso was due mostly to the grim unimaginability of having to talk with a New Age brigadier for more than one night. Whether or not you approve I think we can assume you understand.

Q.

That essential at-center-life-is-just-a-cute-pet-bunny fluffiness about them that makes it exceedingly hard to take them seriously or to end up not feeling as if you’re exploiting them in some way.

Q.

Fluffiness or daffiness or intellectual flaccidity or a somehow smug-seeming naïveté. Choose whichever offends you least. And yes and don’t worry I’m aware of how all this sounds and can well imagine the judgments you’re forming from the way I’m characterizing what drew me to her but if I’m to really explain this to you as requested then I have no choice but to be brutally candid rather than observing the pseudosensitive niceties of euphemism about the way a reasonably experienced, educated man is going to view an extraordinarily good-looking girl whose life philosophy is fluffy and unconsidered and when one comes right down to it kind of contemptible. I’m going to pay you the compliment of not pretending to worry whether you understand what I’m referring to about the difficulty of not feeling impatience and even contempt—the blithe hypocrisy, the blatant self-contradiction—the way you know from the outset that there will be the requisite enthusiasms for the rain forest and spotted owl, creative meditation, feel-good psychology, macrobiosis, rabid distrust of what they consider authority without evidently once stopping to consider the rigid authoritarianism implicit in the rigid uniformity of their own quote unquote nonconformist uniform, vocabulary, attitudes. As someone who worked himself through both college and two years now of postgraduate school I have to confess to an almost blanket—these rich kids in torn jeans whose way of protesting apartheid is to boycott South African pot. Silverglade called them the Inward Bound. The smug naïveté, the condescension in the quote compassion they feel for those quote unquote trapped or imprisoned in orthodox American lifestyle choices. So on and so forth. The fact that the Inward Bound never consider that it’s the probity and thrift of the re— to occur to them that they themselves have themselves become the distillate of everything about the culture they deride and define themselves as opposing, the narcissism, the materialism and complacency and unexamined conformity—or the irony that the blithe teleology of this quote impending New Age is exactly the same cultural permission slip that Manifest Destiny was, or the Reich or the dialectic of the proletariat or the Cultural Revolution—all the same. And it never even occurs to them their certainty that they are different is what makes them the same.

Q.

You would be surprised.

Q.

All right and the near-contempt here specifically in the way you can glide casually over and bend down next to her blanket to initiate conversation and idly play with the blanket’s fringe and create the sense of affinity and connection that will allow you to pick her up and somehow almost resent that it’s so goddamn easy to make the conversation flow toward a sense of connection, how exploitative you feel when it is so easy to get this type to regard you as a kindred soul—you almost know what’s going to be said next without her having even to open her pretty mouth. Tad said that she was like some kind of smooth blank perfect piece of pseudo-art you want to buy so you can take it home and sm— 

Q.

No, not at all, because I am trying to explain that the typology here dictated a tactic of what appeared to be a blend of embarrassed confession and brutal candor. The moment enough of a mood of conversational intimacy had been established to make a quote confession seem even remotely plausible I deployed a sensitive-slash-pained expression and quote confessed that I’d in fact not just been passing her blanket and even though we didn’t know each other had felt a mysterious but overwhelming urge just to lean down and say hi but no something about her that made it unimaginable to deploy anything less than total honesty forced me to confess that I had in fact deliberately approached her blanket and initiated conversation because I had seen her from across the bandstand and had felt some mysterious but overwhelmingly sensual energy seeming to emanate from her very being and had been helplessly drawn to it and had leaned down and introduced myself and started a conversation with her because I wanted to connect and make mutually nurturing and exquisite love with her, and had been ashamed of admitting this natural desire and so had fibbed at first in explaining my approach, though now some mysterious gentleness and generosity of soul I could intuit about her was allowing me to feel safe enough to confess that I had, formerly, fibbed. Note the rhetorically specific blend of childish diction like Hi and fib with flaccid abstractions like nurture and energy. This is the lingua franca of the Inward Bound. I actually truly did like her, I found, as an individual—she had an amused expression during the whole conversation that made it hard not to smile in return, and an involuntary need to smile is one of the best feelings available, no? A refill? It’s refill time, yes? No?

Q. . . . 

And that prior experience has taught that the female Granola Cruncher tends to define herself in opposition to what she sees as the essentially unconsidered and hypocrisy-bound attitudes of quote mainstream women and is thus essentially unoffendable, rejects the whole concept of propriety and offense, and views so-called honesty of even the most brutal or repellent sort as evidence of sincerity and respect, getting quote real, id est the impression that you respect her personhood too much to ply her with implausible fictions and leave very basic energies and desires uncommunicated. Not to mention, to make your indignation and distaste complete, I’m sure, the fact that extremely, off-the-charts pretty women of almost every type have, from my experience, tend all to have a uniform obsession with the idea of respect, and will do almost anything anywhere for any fellow who affords her a sufficient sense of being deeply and profoundly respected. I doubt I need to point out that this is nothing but a particular female variant of the psychological need to believe that others take you as seriously as you take yourself. There is nothing particularly wrong with it, as psychological needs go, but yet of course we should always remember that a deep need for anything from other people makes us easy pickings. I can tell by your expression what you think of brutal candor. The fact is that she had a body that my body found sexually attractive and wanted to have intercourse with and it was not really any more noble or complicated than that. And she did indeed turn out to be straight out of Central Granola-Cruncher Casting, I should stress. She had some kind of monomaniacal hatred for the American timber industry, and professed membership in one of these apostrophe-heavy near-Eastern religions that I would defy anyone to pronounce correctly, and believed strongly in the superior value of vitamins and minerals in colloidal suspension rather than tablet form, et cetera, and then, when one thing had been led stolidly by me to another and there she was in my apartment and we had done what I had wanted to do with her and had exchanged the standard horizontal compliments and assurances, she was going on about her imported denomination’s views vis-à-vis energy fields and souls and connections between souls via what she kept calling quote focus, and using the, well, the quote L-word itself several times without irony or even any evident awareness that the word has through tactical overdeployment become compromised and requires invisible quotes around it now at the very least, and I suppose I should tell you that I was planning right from the outset to give her the special false number when we exchanged numbers in the morning, which all but a very small and cynical minority always want to. I.e. exchange numbers. A fellow in Tad’s torts study group’s great-uncle or grandparents or something have a vacation home just outside town and are never there, with a phone but no machine or service, so when someone you’ve given the special number calls the special number it simply rings and rings, so for a few days it’s usually not evident to the girl that what you’ve given her isn’t your true number but for a few days allows her to imagine that you’ve just been extremely busy and scarce and that this is also perhaps why you haven’t called her either. Which obviates the chance of hurt feelings and is therefore, I submit, good, though I can well im— 

Q.

The sort of glorious girl whose kiss tastes of liquor when she’s had no liquor to drink. Cassis, berries, gumdrops, all steamy and soft. Quote unquote.

Q. . . . 

Yes and in the anecdote there she is, blithely hitchhiking along the interstate, and on this particular day the fellow in the car that stops almost the moment she puts her thumb out happens to—she said she knew she’d made a mistake the moment she got in. Just from what she called the energy field inside the car, she said, and that fear gripped her soul the moment she got in. And sure enough, the fellow in the car soon exits the highway and exits off into some kind of secluded area, which seems to be what psychotic sex criminals always do, you’re always reading secluded area in all the accounts of quote brutal sex slayings and grisly discoveries of unidentified remains by a scout troop or amateur botanist, et cetera, common knowledge which you can be sure she was reviewing, horror-stricken, as the fellow began acting more and more creepy and psychotic even on the interstate and then soon exited into the first available secluded area.

Q.

Her explanation was that she did not in fact feel the psychotic energy field until she had shut the car’s door and they were moving, at which time it was too late. She was not melodramatic about it but described herself as literally paralyzed with terror. Though you might be wondering as I did when one hears about cases like this as to why the victim doesn’t simply bail out of the car the minute the fellow begins acting erratic or begins casually discussing how much he loathes his mother and dreams of raping her with her LPGA-endorsed sand wedge and then stabbing her 106 times, et cetera. But here she did point out that the prospect of bailing out of a rapidly moving car and hitting the macadam at sixty miles an—at the very least you break a leg or something, and then as you’re trying to drag yourself into the underbrush of course what’s to keep the fellow from turning around to come back for you, which in addition let’s keep in mind that he’s now going to be additionally aggrieved about the rejection implicit in your preferring to hit the macadam at sixty m.p.h. rather than remaining in his company, given that psychotic sex offenders have a notoriously low tolerance for rejection, and so on.

Q.

Something about his aspect, eyes, the quote energy field in the car—she said she knew instantly in the depths of her soul that the fellow’s intention was to brutally rape, torture, and kill her, she said. And I believed her here, that one can intuitively pick up on the epiphenomena of danger, sense malevolence in someone’s aspect—you needn’t buy into energy fields or ESP to accept mortal intuition. Nor would I even begin to try to describe what she looks like as she’s telling the story, reliving it, she’s nude, hair spilling all down her back, sitting meditatively cross-legged amid the wrecked bedding and smoking ultralight Merits from which she keeps removing the filters because she claims they’re full of additives and unsafe—as she’s sitting there chain-smoking, which was so patently contradictory that I couldn’t even bring—and some kind of blister on her Achilles tendons, from the sandals, leaning with her body to follow the oscillation of the fan, so she’s moving in and out of a wash of moon from the window whose angle of incidence itself alters as the moon moves across the window—all I can tell you is that she was lovely. The bottoms of her feet dirty, almost black. The moon so full it looks swollen. And long hair spilling all over, more than—beautiful lustrous hair that makes you understand why women use conditioner. Tad’s boon companion Silverglade telling me she looks like her hair grew her head instead of the other way around and asking how long estrus lasts in her species and droll ho ho. My memory is more verbal than visual, I’m afraid. It’s on the sixth floor and my bedroom gets stuffy, she treated the fan like cold water and closed her eyes when it hit her. And by the time the psychotic fellow in question exits into the secluded area and finally comes straight out and indicates what his intentions are—apparently detailing certain events and procedures and implements—she’s not the least bit surprised, she said she’d known the kind of hideously twisted soul-energy she’d gotten in the car into, the kind of pitiless and unappeasable psychotic he was and what they were heading for in this secluded area, and concluding that she was going to become just another grisly discovery for some amateur botanist a few days hence unless she could focus her way into the sort of soul-connection that would make it difficult for the fellow to murder her. These were her words, this was the sort of pseudo-abstract terminology she—and yet at the same time I was engrossed enough in the anecdote now to simply accept it as a kind of foreign language without trying to judge it or press for clarification, I just decided to assume that focus was her apostrophic denomination’s euphemism for prayer, and that in a desperate situation like this who was in a position to judge what would be a sound response to the sort of shock and terror she must be feeling, who could say with any certainty whether prayer wouldn’t be appropriate. Foxholes and atheists and so forth. What I remember best is that by this time it was, for the first time, taking much less effort to listen to her—she had an unexpected ability to recount it in such a way as to deflect attention from herself and displace maximum attention onto the anecdote itself. I have to confess that it was the first time I did not find her a bit dull. Care for another?

Q.

That she was not melodramatic about it, the anecdote, telling me, nor affecting an unnatural calm the way some people affect an unnatural nonchalance about narrating a horrific incident that is meant to heighten their story’s drama and/or make them appear nonchalant and sophisticated, one or the other of which affects is often the most annoying part of listening to certain types of attractive women structure a story or anecdote—that they are used to high levels of attention, and need to feel that they control it, always trying to control the precise type and degree of your attention instead of simply trusting that you are paying the appropriate type and degree of attention. I’m sure you’ve noticed this in attractive women, that paying attention to them makes them immediately begin to pose, even if their pose is the affected nonchalance they affect to portray themselves as unposed. But she was, or seemed, oddly unposed for someone this attractive with this dramatic a story to tell. It struck me, listening. She seemed truly affectless in relating it, open to attention but not solicitous—or contemptuous, or affecting disdain or contempt, which I hate. Some beautiful women, something wrong with their voice, some squeakiness or lack of inflection or a laugh like a machine gun and you flee in horror. Her speaking voice is a neutral alto without squeak or that drawled long or vague air of nasal complaint that—also mercifully light on the likes and you knows which make you chew your knuckle. Nor did she giggle. Her laugh was fully adult, full, good to hear. And that this was my first hint of sadness or melancholy, as I listened with increasing attention to the anecdote, that the qualities that I found myself admiring in her narration of the anecdote were some of the same qualities about her that I’d been contemptuous of when I’d first picked her up in the park.

Q.

Chief among them that—and I mean this without irony—she seemed quote sincere in a way that may in fact have been smug naïveté but was powerful and very attractive in the context of listening to her encounter with the psychopath, in that I found it helped me focus almost entirely on the anecdote itself and thus helped me imagine in an almost terrifyingly vividly realistic way what it must have felt like for her, for anyone, finding yourself by nothing but coincidence heading into a secluded woody area in the company of a dark man in a dungaree vest who says he is your own death incarnate and who is alternately smiling with psychotic cheer and ranting and apparently gets his first wave of jollies by singing creepily about the various sharp implements he has in the Cutlass’s trunk and detailing what he’s used them to do to others and plans in exquisite detail to do to you. It was tribute to the—her odd affectless sincerity that I found myself hearing expressions like fear gripping her soul, unquote, less as televisual clichés or melodrama but as sincere if not particularly artful attempts to describe what it must have felt like, the feelings of shock and unreality alternating with waves of pure terror, the sheer emotional violence of this magnitude of fear, the temptation to retreat into catatonia or shock or the delusion—yield to the seduction of the idea, riding deeper into the secluded area, that there simply must be some sort of mistake, that something as simple and random as getting into a 1987 maroon Cutlass with a bad muffler that just happened to be the first car to pull over to the side of a random interstate could not possibly result in the death not of some other person but your own personal death at the hands of someone whose reasons have nothing to do with you or the qualities of your character, as if everything you’d ever been told about the relation between character and intention and outcome has been a fiction from start to—

Q.

—to finish, that you’d feel the alternating pulls of hysteria and dissociation and bargaining for your life in the way of foxholes or simply to blank catatonically out and retreat into the roar in your mind of the ramifying realization that your whole seemingly random and somewhat flaccid and self-indulgent but nevertheless fundamentally blameless life had somehow been connected all along in a terminal chain that has justified or somehow connected, causally, to lead you ineluctably to this terminal unreal point, your life’s quote unquote point, its as it were sharp point or tip, and that canned clichés such as fear seized me or this is something that happens to other people or even moment of truth now take on a horrendous neural resonance and vitality wh—

Q.

Not of—just of being left narratively alone in the self-sufficiency of her narrative aspect to contemplate how little-kid-level scared you’d be, how much you’d despise and resent this sick twisted shit beside you ranting whom you’d kill without hesitation if you could while but at the same time feeling involuntarily the very highest respect, almost a deference—the sheer agential power of one who can make you feel this frightened, that he could bring you to this point simply by wishing it and now can, if he wished, take you past it, past yourself, turn you into a grisly discoverybrutal sex slaying, and the feeling that you’d do absolutely anything or say or trade anything to persuade him to simply settle for rape and let you go, or even torture, even willing to bring to the bargaining table a bit of nonlethal torture if only he’d settle for hurting you and choose to drive off and leave you hurt and breathing in the weeds and sobbing at the sky and traumatized beyond all recovery instead of as nothing, yes it’s a cliché but this is to be all? this was to be the end? and at the hands of someone who probably didn’t even finish Manual Arts High School and had no recognizable soul or capacity for empathy with anyone else, a blind ugly force like gravity or a rabid dog, and yet it was he who wished it to happen and who had the power and certainly the implements to make it happen, implements he names in a maddening singsong about knives and wives and scythes and awls, adzes and mattocks and other implements whose names she did not recognize but still even so sounded like wh—

Q.

Yes and a good deal of the anecdote’s medial part’s rising action detailed this interior struggle between giving in to hysterical fear and the level-headedness to focus concentration on the situation and to figure out something ingenious and persuasive to say to this sexual psychotic as he’s driving deeper into the secluded area and looking ominously around for a propitious site and becoming more and more openly raveled and psychotic and alternately smiling and ranting and invoking God and the memory of his brutally slain mother and gripping the steering wheel so tightly that his knuckles are gray.

Q.

That’s right, the psychopath is also a mulatto, although with aquiline and almost femininely delicate features, a fact that she has omitted or held back for a good portion of the anecdote. She said it hadn’t occurred to her as important. In today’s climate one wouldn’t want to critique too harshly the idea of someone with a body like that getting into a strange automobile with a mulatto. In a way you have to applaud the broad-mindedness. I didn’t at the time of the anecdote even really notice that she’d omitted the ethnic detail for so long, but there’s something to applaud there as well, you’d have to concede, though if—

Q.

The point being that she thinks rapidly on her feet and determines that her only chance of surviving this encounter is to establish a connection with the quote soul of the sexual psychopath as he’s driving them deeper into the woody secluded area looking for just the right spot to pull over and brutally have at her. That her object is to focus very intently on the psychotic mulatto as an ensouled and beautiful albeit tormented person in his own right instead of merely a threat to her or a force of evil or the incarnation of death. Try to bracket any New Age goo in the terminology and focus on the tactical strategy itself if you can because I’m well aware that what she is about to describe is nothing but a variant of the hoary old love-will-conquer-all bromide but bracket your contempt for a moment and see the concrete ramifications of—in this situation in terms of what she has the courage and apparent conviction to actually attempt here, because she says that sufficient love and focus can penetrate psychosis and evil and establish a quote soul-connection, unquote, and that if the mulatto can be brought to feel even a minim of this alleged soul-connection there is some chance that he’ll be unable to follow through with actually killing her. Which is of course on a psychological level not implausible at all, since sexual psychopaths are well known to depersonalize their victims and liken them to objects or dolls, Its and not Thous so to speak, which is often their explanation of how they are able to inflict unimaginable brutality on a human being, namely that they do not see them as human beings at all but merely as objects of the psychopath’s own needs and intentions. But yet love and empathy of this kind of connective magnitude demand quote unquote total focus, she said, and her terror and totally understandable concern for herself were at this point distracting to the extreme, so she realized that she was in for the most difficult and important battle of her life, she said, a battle that was to be engaged completely within herself and her own soul’s capacities, which idea by this time I found extremely interesting and captivating, particularly because she is so unaffected and seemingly sincere when battle of one’s life is usually such a neon indication of melodrama or manipulation of the listener, trying to bring him to the edge of his seat and so forth.

Q.

I note with interest that now you are interrupting me to ask the same questions I was interrupting her to ask, which is precisely the sort of convergence of—

Q.

She said the best way to describe focus to a person who hadn’t undertaken what were apparently her denomination’s involved and time-consuming series of lessons and exercises was to envision focus as intense concentration further sharpened and intensified to a single sharp point, to envision a kind of needle of concentrated attention whose extreme thinness and fragility were also, of course, its capacity to penetrate, and that but the demands of excluding all extraneous concerns and keeping the needle thinly focused and sharply directed were extreme even under the best of circumstances, which these profoundly terrifying circumstances were of course not.

Q.

Thus in the car, under let’s now keep in mind enormous duress and tension, she marshals her concentration. She stares directly into the sexual psychopath’s right eye—the eye that is accessible to her in his aquiline profile as he drives—and wills herself to keep her gaze on him at all times. She wills herself not to weep or plead but merely to use her penetrating focus to attempt to feel and empathize with the sex offender’s psychosis and rage and terror and psychic torment, and says she visualizes the focus piercing through the mulatto’s veil of psychosis and penetrating various strata of rage and terror and delusion to touch the beauty and nobility of the generic human soul beneath all the psychosis, forging a nascent compassion-based connection between their souls, and she focuses on the mulatto very intently and tells him what she saw in his soul, which she insisted was the truth. It was the climactic struggle of her spiritual life, she said, what with all the under the circumstances perfectly understandable terror and loathing of the sex criminal that kept threatening to dilute her focus and break the connection. But yet at the same time the effects of her focus on the psychotic’s face were obvious—when she was able to hold the focus and penetrate him and hold the connection the mulatto at the wheel would become quiet, as if preoccupied. His right profile would tense and tighten hypertonically and his dead eyes filling with anxiety and conflict at feeling the delicate beginnings of the sort of connection with another soul he had always both desired and always also feared in the very depths of his psyche, of course.

Q.

Just that it’s commonly acknowledged that a primary reason your prototypical sex killer rapes and kills is that he regards rape and murder as his only viable means of establishing some kind of meaningful connection with his victim. That this is a basic human need. I mean some sort of connection of course. But also frightening and susceptible to delusion and psychosis. It is his twisted way of having a, quote, relationship. Most conventional relationships terrify him. But with a victim, raping and killing, the sexual psychotic is able to forge a quote unquote connection via his ability to make her feel intense fear and agony, while his exultant sensation of total Godlike control over her—what she feels, whether she feels, breathes, lives—this allows him some margin of safety in the relationship.

Q.

Simply that this is what first seemed somehow ingenious in her tactics, however daffy the terms—that it addressed the psychotic’s weakness, his grotesque shyness as it were, the terror that any conventional, soul-exposing connection with another human being will threaten him with engulfment and-slash-or obliteration, i.e. that he will become the victim. That in his cosmology it is either feed or be food—God how lonely, do you feel it?—but that the brute control he and his sharp implement hold over her very life and death allow the mulatto to feel that here he is in one hundred percent total control of the relationship and thus that the connection he so desperately needs will not expose or engulf or obliterate him. Nor is this of course all that substantively different from a man sizing up an attractive girl and approaching her and artfully deploying just the right diction and pushing just the right buttons to induce her first to go out with him and then to come home with him, never once saying anything or touching her in any way that isn’t completely gentle and pleasurable and seemingly respectful, leading her gently and respectfully to his satin-sheeted bed and in the light of the moon making exquisitely attentive love to her and making her come over and over until she’s quote begging for mercy and is totally under his emotional control and feels that she and he must be deeply and unseverably connected for the evening to have been so perfect and mutually respectful and fulfilling and then lighting her cigarettes and engaging in an hour or two of pseudo-intimate postcoital whispering in his wrecked bed and seeming very close and content when what he really wants is to be in some absolutely antipodal spot from wherever she is from now on and is thinking about how to give her a special disconnected telephone number and never contacting her again. And that an all too obvious part of the reason for his cold and maybe somewhat victimizing behavior is that the potential profundity of the connection he has worked so hard to make her feel frightens him. I know I’m not telling you anything you haven’t already decided you know. With your slim chilly smile. You’re not the only one who can read people, you know. He’s a fool because he thinks he’s made a fool of her, you are thinking. Like he got away with something. The satyrosaurian sybaritic heterosapien male, the type you short-haired catamenial bra-burners can see coming a mile away. And pathetic. He’s a predator, you believe, and he too thinks he’s a predator, but he’s the really frightened one, he’s the one running.

Q.

I am just inviting you to consider that it isn’t the motivation that’s the psychotic part. The variation is simply the psychotic one of substituting rape, murder, and mind-shattering terror for making exquisite love and giving a false number whose falseness isn’t so immediately evident that it will hurt someone’s feelings and cause you unease.

Q.

And please know that I’m quite familiar with the morphology behind these bland little expressions of yours and the affectless questions. I know what an excursus is and I know what a dry wit is. Do not think you are getting out of me things or admissions I’m unaware of. Just consider the possibility that I understand more than you think. Though if you’d like another I’ll buy you another no problem.

Q.

All right. Once more, slowly. That literally killing instead of merely running is the killer’s psychotically literal way of resolving the conflict between his need for connection and his terror of being in any way connected. Especially, yes, to a woman, connecting with a woman, whom the vast majority of psychotics on record do hate and fear, often due to twisted relations with the mother as a child. The psychotic sex killer is thus often symbolically killing the mother, whom he hates and fears but of course cannot literally kill because he is still enmeshed in the infantile belief that without her love he will die. The psychotic’s relation to her is one of both terrified hatred and terror and desperate pining need. He finds this conflict unendurable and must thus symbolically resolve it through psychotic sex crimes.

Q.

Hers had little or no—she seemed simply to relate what literally happened without commenting one way or the other, or reacting. But nor was she disassociated or monotonous. There was a disingen—an equanimity about her, a sense of residence in herself or a type of artlessness that did, does, that resembled a type of intent concentration. This I had noticed at the park when I first saw her and crouched by the blanket, since a high degree of unself-conscious concentration is not standard issue for a beautiful Cruncher on a wool blanket sitting contra—

Q.

Well still, though, it’s not exactly what one would call esoteric is it since it’s in the air, and common knowledge about childhood’s connection to adult sex crimes in the popular culture constantly, presently. Turn on the news for Christ’s sake. It doesn’t exactly take a von Braun to connect problems with connecting with women to problems in the childhood relation to the mother. It’s in the air.

Q.

That it was a titanic struggle, she said, in the Cutlass, heading deeper into the secluded area, because whenever for a moment her terror bested her or she for any reason lost her intense focus on the mulatto, even for a moment, the effect on the connection was obvious—his profile smiled and his right eye again went empty and dead as he recrudesced and began once again to singsong psychotically about the implements in his trunk and what he had in store for her once he found the ideal secluded spot, and she could tell that in the wavering of the soul-connection he was automatically reverting to resolving his connectionary conflict in the only way he knew. And I clearly remember her saying that by this time, whenever she succumbed and lost her focus for a moment and his eye and face reverted to creepy psychotic unconflicted relaxation, she was surprised to find herself feeling no longer paralyzing terror for herself but a nearly heartbreaking sadness for him, for the psychotic mulatto. And I’ll say that it was at roughly this point of listening to the story, still nude in bed, that I began to admit to myself that not only was it a remarkable postcoital anecdote but that this was, in certain ways, rather a remarkable woman, and that I felt a bit sad or wistful that I had not noticed this level of remarkability when I had first been attracted to her in the park. This was while the mulatto has meanwhile spotted a site that meets his criteria and has pulled crunchingly over in the gravel by the side of the secluded woody area’s road and asks her, somewhat apologetically or ambivalently it seems, to get out of the Cutlass and to lie prone on the ground and to lace her hands behind her head in the position of both police arrests and gangland executions, a well-known position obviously and no doubt chosen for its associations and intended to emphasize both the ideas of punitive custody and death. She does not hesitate or beg. She had long since decided that she must not give in to the temptation to beg or plead or cajole or in any way appear to resist him. She was rolling all her dice on these daffy-sounding beliefs in connection and nobility and compassion as more fundamental and primary components of soul than psychosis or evil. I note that these beliefs seem far less canned or flaccid when someone appears willing to stake their life on them. This was as he orders her to lie prone in the roadside gravel while he goes back to the trunk to browse through his collection of torture implements. She says by this time she could feel very clearly that her acerose focus’s connective powers were being aided by spiritual resources far greater than her own, because even though she was in a prone position and her face and eyes were in the clover or phlox in the gravel by the car and her eyes tightly shut she could feel the soul-connection holding and even strengthening between her and the mulatto, she could hear the conflict and disorientation in the psychotic sex offender’s footsteps as he went to the Cutlass’s trunk. She was experiencing a whole new depth of focus. I was listening to her very intently. It wasn’t suspense. Lying there helpless and connected, she says her senses had taken on the nearly unbearable acuity we associate with drugs or extreme meditative states. She could distinguish lilac and shattercane’s scents from phlox and lambsquarter, the watery mint of first-growth clover. Wearing a corbeau leotard beneath a kind of loose-waisted cotton dirndl and on one wrist a great many bracelets of pinchbeck copper. She could decoct from the smell of the gravel in her face the dank verdure of the spring soil beneath the gravel and distinguish the press and shape of each piece of gravel against her face and large breasts through the leotard’s top, the angle of the sun on the top of her spine and the swirl in the intermittent breeze that blew from left to right across the light film of sweat on the top of her back and shoulder blades. In other words what one might call an almost hallucinatory accentuation of detail, the way in some nightmares you remember the precise shape of every blade of grass in your father’s lawn on the day your mother left him and took you to live at her sister’s. Many of the cheap bracelets were gifts, apparently. She could hear the largo tick of the cooling auto and bees and bluebottle flies and stridulating crickets at the distant treeline, the same volute breeze in those trees she could feel at her back, and birds—imagine the temptation to despair in the sound of carefree birds and insects only yards from where you lay trussed for the gambrel—of tentative steps and breathing amid the clank of implements whose very shapes could be summoned by the sounds they made against one another when stirred by a conflicted hand. The cotton of her dirndl skirt the light sheer unrefined cotton that’s almost gauze.

Q.

It’s a frame for butchers. Hang by the hind feet to bleed. It’s from the Hindu for leg. It never occurred to her to get up and run for it. A certain percentage of psychotics slice their victims’ Achilles tendons to hobble them and preclude running for it, perhaps he knew that was unnecessary with her, could feel her not resisting, not even considering resisting, using all her energy and focus to sustain her feeling of connection with his conflicted despair. She says she felt terror but not her own. She could hear the sound of the mulatto finally extracting some kind of machete or bolo from the trunk, from her description, then a brief half-stagger as he tried to come back up along the length of the Cutlass to where she lay prone, and heard then the groan and sideways skid as he went to his knees in the gravel beside the car and was sick. Puked. Can you imagine. That he is now the one puking from terror. She says by this time something was aiding her and she was completely focused. That by this time she was focus itself, she had merged with connection itself. Her voice in the dark is uninflected without being flat—it’s matter-of-fact the way a bell is matter-of-fact. It feels as if she’s back there by the road. A kind of scotopia. How in her oneiric state of heightened attention to everything around she said the clover smells like weak mint and the phlox like mown hay and she feels the way that she and the clover and phlox and the dank verdure beneath the phlox and the mulatto retching into the gravel and even the contents of his stomach were all made of precisely the same thing and were connected by something far deeper and more elemental than what we limitedly call quote unquote love, what from her perspective she calls connection, and that she could feel the psychotic fellow feeling the truth of this at the same time she did and she could feel the plummeting terror and infantile conflict this feeling of connection aroused in his soul and stated again without drama or self-satisfaction that she felt this terror, not her own but his. That when he came to her with the bolo or machete and a hunting knife in his belt and some kind of ritualistic design like a samekh or palsied omicron drawn on his tenebrous brow in the blood or lipstick of a previous victim and turned her over into a rape-ready supine position in the gravel he was crying and chewing his lower lip like a frightened child, making small lost noises. And that she kept her eyes on his as he raised her poncho and gauzy skirt and cut away her leotard and underthings and raped her, which given the kind of surreal clarity of sensuous discernment she was experiencing in her state of total focus imagine what this must have felt like for her, being raped in the gravel by a weeping psychotic whose knife’s butt jabs you on every thrust, and the sound of bees and meadow-birds and the distant whisper of the interstate and his machete clanking dully in the stone on every thrust, she claiming it took no effort of will to hold him as he wept and gibbered as he raped her and stroking the back of his head and whispering small little consolatory syllables in a soothing maternal singsong. By this time I found that even though I was focused very intently on her story and the rape in the road my own mind and emotions were also whirling and making connections and associations, for instance it struck me that this behavior of hers during the rape was an unintentional but tactically ingenious way to in a way prevent it, or transfigure it, the rape, to transcend its being a vicious attack or violation, since if a woman as a rapist comes at her and mounts her can somehow choose to give herself, sincerely and compassionately, she cannot be violated or raped, no? That through some sleight of hand of the psyche she was now giving herself instead of being quote taken by force, and that in this ingenious way, without resisting in any way, she had denied the rapist the ability to dominate and take. And, from gauging your expression, no I am not suggesting that this was the same as her asking for it or deciding she wanted it unquote, and no this does not keep the rape itself from being a crime. And in no way had she intended acquiescence or compassion as a tactic to empty the rape of its violating force, nor the focus and soul-connection themselves as tactics to cause in him conflict and pain and gibbering terror, so that at whatever point during the transfigured and sensuously acute rape she realized all this, saw the effects her focus and impossible feats of compassion and connection were having on his psychosis and soul and the pain they were in fact causing him, it became complex—her motive had been only to make it difficult for him to kill her and break the soul-connection, not to cause him agony, so that the moment her compassionate focus countenanced not just his soul but the effect of the compassionate focus itself on that soul it all became complex, an element of self-consciousness had been introduced and now was itself the object of focus, like some sort of diffraction or regress of self-consciousness and consciousness of self-consciousness. She didn’t talk about this division or regress in any but emotional terms. But it was going on—the division. I was experiencing the same thing, listening. On one level my attention was intently focused on her voice and story. On another level I—it was as if my mind were having a garage sale. I kept flashing back to a lame joke during a freshman religion survey we all had to take as an undergrad—the mystic approaches the hot-dog stand and tells the vendor “Make me one with everything.” It wasn’t the sort of division where I was both listening and not. I was listening both intellectually and emotionally. This religion survey was popular because the professor was so colorful and such a stereotypical example of the sixties mentality, several times during the semester he returned to the point that distinctions between psychotic delusions and certain kinds of religious epiphanies were very slight and esoteric and had used the edge of a sharpened blade to describe the line between them, and at the same time I was also remembering in near-hallucinatory detail that evening’s outdoor concert and festival and the configurations of people on the grass and blankets and the parade of lesbian folk singers on the poorly amplified stage, the very configuration of the clouds overhead and the foam in Tad’s cup and the smell of various conventional and nonaerosol insect repellents and Silverglade’s cologne and barbecued food and sunburned children and how when I first saw her seated foreshortened behind and between the legs of a vegetarian-kabob vendor she was eating a supermarket apple with a small supermarket price sticker still affixed to it and that I’d watched her with a detached amusement to see whether she would eat the sticker without taking it off. It took him a long time to achieve release and she held him and gazed at him lovingly the entire time. If I had asked a you-type question such as did she really feel loving as the mulatto was raping her or was she merely conducting herself in a loving manner she would have gazed blankly at me and had no idea what I was talking about. I remembered weeping at movies about animals, as a child, even though some of these animals were predators and hardly what you would consider sympathetic characters. On a different level this seemed connected to the way I had first noticed her indifference to basic hygiene at the community festival and had formed judgments and conclusions on that basis. Just as I can watch you forming judgments based on the openings of things I’m describing that then prevent you from hearing the rest of what I try to describe. It’s due to her that this makes me sad for you instead of pissed off. And all this was going on simultaneously. I felt more and more sad. I smoked my first cigarette in two years. The moonlight had moved from her to me but I could still see her profile. A saucer-sized circle of fluid on the sheet had dried and vanished. You are the sort of auditor for whom rhetoricians designed the Exordium. From below in the gravel she subjects the psychotic mulatto to the well-known Female Gaze. And she describes his facial expression during the rape as the most heartbreaking thing of all. That it had been less an expression than an anti-expression, empty of everything as she unpremeditatedly robbed him of the only way he’d ever found to have power. His eyes were holes in the world. She felt heartbroken, she said, as she realized then that her focus and connection were inflicting far more pain on the psychotic than he could ever have inflicted upon her. This was how she described the division. A hole in the world. I began in the dark of our room to feel terrible sadness and fear. I felt as though there were far more genuine emotion and connection in that anti-rape she suffered than in any of the so-called lovemaking I spent my time pursuing. Now I’m sure you know what I’m talking about now. Now we’re on your terra firma. The whole prototypical male syndrome. Eric drag Sarah to teepee by hair. The well-known Privileging of the Subject. Don’t think I don’t speak your language. She finished in the dark and it was only in memory that I saw her clearly. The well-known Male Gaze. Her pose a protofeminine seated contraposto with one hip on a Nicaraguan blanket with a strong smell of unrefined wool to it with her trust me on this breathtaking legs sort of curled out to the side so her weight was on one arm stiff-armed out behind her and the other hand held the apple—am I describing this right? can you—the toile skirt, hair that reached the blanket, the blanket dark green with yellow filigree and a kind of nauseous purple fringe, a linen singlet and vest of false buckskin, sandals in her rattan bag, bare feet with phenomenally dirty soles, beyond belief, their nails like the nails of a laborer’s hands. Imagine being able to console someone as he weeps over what he’s doing to you as you console him. Is that wonderful, or sick? Have you ever heard of couvades? No perfume, the slightest scent of some unsoftened soap like those cakes of deep-yellow laundry soap one’s aunt tried to—I realized I had never loved anyone. Isn’t that trite? Like a canned line? Do you see how open I’m being with you here? Who would go to the trouble of kabobing only vegetables? I had to respect her blanket’s boundary, on the approach. You do not stroll up out of the blue and ask to share someone’s wool blanket. Boundaries are an important issue with this type. I assumed a sort of respectful squat off its fringe with my weight on my knuckles so that my tie hung straight between us like a counterweight. As we casually rapped and chatted and I deployed the blunt-confession-of-true-motive tactic I watched her face and felt as though she knew just what I was doing and why and was both amused and responsive, I could tell she felt some affinity between us, an aura of connection, and it’s sad to recall the way I viewed her acquiescence, the fact of her response, a little disappointed that she was so easy, her easiness was both disappointing and refreshing, that she was not one of these breathtaking girls who believe themselves to be too beautiful to approach and view any man as a supplicant or libidinous goon, the chilly ones, and require tactics of attrition rather than feigned affinity, an affinity that is heartbreakingly easy to feign, I have to say, if you know your female typologies. I can repeat that if you like, if you want to get it exact. Her description of the rape, certain logistics I’m omitting, was lengthy and detailed and rhetorically innocent. I felt more and more sad, hearing it, trying to imagine what she had been able to do, I felt more and more sad that on our way out of the park I’d felt that tiny stab of disappointment, even maybe anger, wishing she’d been more of a challenge. That her will and wishes had opposed my own just a little. This is called Werther’s Axiom, whereby quote The intensity of a desire D is inversely proportional to the availability of D’s gratification. Known also as Romance. And sadder and sadder that it had not once, it seemed—you’ll like this—occurred to me before what an empty way this was to come at women, then. Not wicked or predatory or culpable—empty. To gaze and not see, to eat and not be full. Not just to feel but be empty. While meanwhile, within the narrative itself, she, deep inside the psychotic whose penis is inside her, seeing the palm’s web as he tentatively attempted to stroke her head in return, and seeing the fresh cut and realizing it was his own blood the fellow had used for his forehead’s mark. Which is not a rune or glyph at all, I knew, but a simple circle, the Ur-void, the zero, that axiom of Romance we call also mathematics, pure logic, whereby one does not equal two and cannot. And that the quote rapist’s mocha color and aquiline features could well be brahminic instead of negroid. These and other details she withheld—she had no reason to trust me. And nor can I—and I can’t for the life of me recall whether she ate the sticker, nor what became of the apple at all. Terms like romance and love and soul that I believed could be used only with quotation marks, exhausted clichés. Believe that I felt the mulatto’s fathomless sadness, then. I— 

Q.

It’s not a good word, I know. It’s not just quote sadness the way one feels sad at a film or a funeral. A falling, plummeting quality, a timelessness. The way in winter the light gets just before dusk. Or that—all right—how, say, at the height of lovemaking, the very height, when she’s starting to come, when she’s truly responding to you and you can see it in her face that she’s starting to come, her eyes widening in that way that is both surprise and recognition, which not a woman alive can fake or feign if you really look hard at her eyes, you know what I’m talking about, that apical moment of maximum human sexual connection when you feel closest to her, with her, so much closer and finer than your own coming, which always feels more like losing your grip on the person who’s grabbed you to keep you from falling, a neural sneeze that’s not even in the same ballpark’s area code as her coming, and—and I know what you will make of this but I’ll tell you anyhow—but how even this moment of maximum connection and joint triumph and joy at making them start to come has this void of piercing sadness to it of their eyes as they widen to their very widest point and then as they come begin to close, the eyes do, and you feel that familiar blade of sadness inside your exultation as they arch and pulse and their eyes close and you can feel that they’ve closed their eyes to shut you out, you’ve become an intruder, their union is now with the feeling itself, that behind those lids the eyes are rolled around and staring inward, into some void where you who brought them there can’t follow. That’s shit. I’m not putting it well. I can’t make you feel what I felt. You’ll turn this into Narcissistic Man Wants Woman’s Gaze On Him At Climax I know. Well I don’t mind telling you I’d begun to cry, at the anecdote’s climax. Not loudly, but I did. Neither of us were smoking by now. We were both up against the headboard, facing the same way, though addorsed is how I remember us for the story’s last part, when I wept. Memory is strange. I do remember listening for some acknowledgment from her that I was crying. I felt embarrassed—not for crying, but for wanting so badly to know how she took it, whether it made me seem sympathetic or selfish. She stayed where he left her all day, supine in the gravel, weeping, she said, and giving thanks to her particular religious principles and forces. When of course as I’m sure you could have predicted I was weeping for myself. He left the knife and drove off in the Cutlass, leaving her there. He may have told her not to move or do anything for some specified interval. If he did, I know she obeyed. She said she could still feel him inside her soul, the mulatto—it was hard to break the focus. I felt certain that the psychotic had driven off somewhere to kill himself. It seemed clear from the anecdote’s outset that someone was going to have to die. The story’s emotional impact on me was profound and unprecedented and I will not even try to explain it to you. She said she wept because she realized that as she stood hitchhiking her religion’s spiritual forces had guided the psychotic to her, that he had served as an instrument of growth in her faith and capacity to focus and alter energy fields by the action of her compassion. She wept out of gratitude, she says. He left the knife up to the handle in the ground next to her where he had thrust it, apparently stabbing the ground dozens of times with desperate savagery. She said not one word about my own weeping or what it signified to her. I displayed far more affect than she did. She learned more about love that day with the sex offender than at any other stage in her spiritual journey, she said. Let’s both have one last one and then that will be it. That her whole life had indeed led inexorably to that moment when the car stopped and she got in, that it was indeed a kind of a death, but not at all in the way she had feared as they entered the secluded area. That was the only commentary she indulged in, just at the anecdote’s end. I did not care whether it was quote true. It would depend what you mean by true. I simply didn’t care. I was moved, changed—believe what you will. My mind seemed to be moving at the quote speed of light. I was so sad. And that whether or not what she believed happened happened—it seemed true even if it wasn’t. That even if the whole focused-soul-connection theology, that even if it was just catachretic New Age goo, her belief in it had saved her life, so whether or not it’s goo becomes irrelevant, no? Can you see why this, realizing this, would make you feel conflicted in—of realizing that your entire sexuality and sexual history had less genuine connection or feeling than I felt simply lying there listening to her talk about lying there realizing how lucky she’d been that some angel had visited her in psychotic guise and shown her what she’d spent her whole life praying was true? You believe I’m contradicting myself. But can you imagine how any of it felt? Seeing her sandals across the room on the floor and remembering what I’d thought of them only hours before? I kept saying her name and she would ask What? and I’d say her name again. I’m not afraid of how this sounds to you. I’m not embarrassed now. But if you could understand, have I—can you see why there’s no way I could let her just go away after this? Why I felt this apical sadness and fear of the thought of her getting her bag and sandals and New Age blanket and leaving and laughing when I clutched her hem and begged her not to leave and said I loved her and closing the door gently and going off barefoot down the hall and my never seeing her again? Why it didn’t matter whether she was fluffy or not terribly bright? Nothing else mattered. She had all my attention. I’d fallen in love with her. I believed she could save me. I know how this sounds, trust me. I know your type and I know what you’re bound to ask. Ask it now. I felt she could save me I said. Ask me now. Say it. I stand here naked before you. Judge me, you chilly cunt. You dyke, you bitch, cooze, slut, gash, cunt. Happy now? All judgments confirmed? Be happy. I do not care. I knew she could. I knew I loved her. End of story.

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