THE HORRIBLE IMAGE

Awful! What a horrible image! I wonít tell you what it was, or how it got there, but once it entered my mind, it got stuck there, and it wouldnít leave. Iíd close my eyes at night and it would stay on like a lamp that wonít let a room go dark: Iíd toss and turn in bed and try to imagine beautiful things, but it wouldnít budge. Crying and praying wouldnít drive it away. In the daytime, it persisted in the midst of solid objects which I tried to use to defeat it, ghost-like and invincible. Sometimes I didnít see it, it is true, but at such times I felt it lurking there behind the things that everyone else saw, and I knew that it could return at any moment.

Like any other human being, I long for happiness, I desire the beautiful, the interesting, the worthwhile and the engaging, and open my arms to them. I go to the beach to partake of the mesmerizing sea, its giant glistening hills of moments and its implications; I go to the park, where majestic spirited trees stand tall, unafraid of being out of place; I go to museums, where acts of genius capture stone and gold and paint to pierce time with our unity. I go to parties where pleasant lively faces glow, and expressions dart around like colorful fishes in the sea; where laughter rewards the clever, and hope caresses all. How I love the softness of women who have not yet given themselves, who stand there with a drink in their hand, undecided. I am not in any way loyal to the horrible image that torments me, yet it accompanies me everywhere I go.

It is the stain on perfection that nothing can wash out, the curse that stows away in the hold of joy, the rainstorm that falls over the picnic in the garden; Godís thunder chasing Adam and Eve from Paradise. I smile a hollow smile among the free and the satisfied, numbly imitating them, but I am like a man living in a basement on a sunny day.

The horrible image! What could make it go away?

There was Serena, such an exotic, inviting woman, into so many of the things that move me. But her inner eye was not stamped, as was mine, by the horrible image. We were like two instruments not in tune with each other, a violin of light and a cello of darkness; when she kissed me with lips moist and alive, and I began to fly with her flesh, suddenly the horrible image returned to me, it came between us like a brick wall. It would not release me. It would not succumb to petty distractions, like love or beauty.

At work, no one knew, but all thought me strange. They saw the way my eyes were trying not to look at something, the way I tried to win by not being alive. The work got done, the same way a man who is sleepwalking finds his way back into his bed.

At times, I thought I had escaped. I ran from the prison into the woods, as fast as I could, only to find myself back in my cell. The woods beyond the gate were a part of the prison! The horrible image ruined all the books I read, the faces of heroines and the purity of the brave, the stunning landscapes that the dead tried to give me with their best words. It emerged from the petals of flowers, and climbed out of the coffin of exhilarating songs.

Sometimes, the fury of having forgetfulness stolen from me drove me to scream, like a wounded beast, when I thought no one was around to hear me; but sometimes, I did not look carefully enough to insure my solitude. I saw healthy and vibrant people scurrying away like cockroaches from reflections of the horrible image.

Damn the horrible image!

I spent my whole life throwing water over it, and yet, the fire would not go out!

I crammed everything I could think of into my mind to leave no room for it, but it would not give up its place.

I tried love, I tried art, I tried nature, I tried walking, for miles and miles trying to leave its country, I tried the ecstasy of sex, the insentient power of liquor and drugs; it won every time.

Till one day an unimpressive revelation came crawling into my mind like a battered animal, looking at me with eyes that seemed to say: "You arenít that bad. Itís not going anywhere; and youíre not that bad."

And suddenly, just by realizing that nothing I could do could enable me to run faster than it, that it could catch me anywhere and anytime it wished to, I stopped running, I ended the futility. And merely by not running from it, the horrible image lost one-half of its strength.

Once I took care to make sure that my not running was not a form of running, the improvement stayed. Always, before, it had melted like snow.

I began to like myself, just a little bit, like a stranger you donít really know, who is polite.

The power of the horrible image diminished even more.

The battered animal inside me lay down by my feet to rest.

The horrible image accepted its rightful place in my life. I did not disown it; and it ceased to own me.

 

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