Archeology of Pain
Archeology of Pain - a short story
“I wish I could eat vitality and shit depression.”
“I’ll take a tall latte, thank you.” Of course, I wasn’t gonna tell that busy blasé Brian behind the counter what I really wanted for breakfast. I’d been there, behind counters serving sandwiches and half chickens to lines of hungry souls and never cared other than to get to the “next person in line, please.” I sat there, with my latte and myself, observing the crowd, getting their to-go coffee and walk out to their work, their numbers, files, graphics, charts, reports, their plan to work shit out. Good for them! They managed to fit in, or that’s the very least they want to show the world. They all have their secret pain, their private hell, their miserable ego toying around their brains, their shrink they beg for a salvation, their church they pray for a miracle, their drugs to get a kick out of themselves.
Caffeine, the most consumed drug on Earth to get you ready in the morning. One cup of psychoactive potion, milk and sugar depending on taste, and off you go shake that drowsiness off ya shoulders, and keep your mind alert. I drank that shit by the gallon as I sat at my desk. Coffee and layouts, coffee and e-mails, coffee and Photoshop, coffee and surf, coffee and chat.
Now that’s actually all I’ve got. Yup, unemployed. And desperately I try to stir out some atoms of ambition, starring at the circular movement of the spoon and that hot liquid. Yet, all I sip is coffee. Even the sugar did not help with sweetening that bitter taste of not knowing what to do with myself. And not even being able to pretend I have it all figured out, when fact is you just found a mold you think you fit in. I fit yet I don’t. Ha! Seizure jokes. The more I fit the less I do, the less I understand that game we play every morning, the more I wake up, the less I wanna live.
If you get quite early to the coffee shop, you see that first crowd of waiters getting ready, either young or foolish, or blasé and robotic like to a certain creepiness. You got the caricature of all types of people who end up behind a counter: gotta win some dough, you know. Been there, done that. Maybe why I like watching them.
Then, around 7:00, ya got the construction workers coming to get their cup of strength, though most of them usually go to the deli next to the site, after having finished the one drank on their way from home.
7:30-8:30: the rush hour of hell, white collars, clerks, students, teachers, any working soul at a desk coming to get its super-sized beverage. They are all rushed by time, by important stuff, exactly what we don’t know – do they? – and even more so by that fucking long ass line the rushed baristas are trying their best to work through, line that keeps growing for the next 60 minutes if not double that time. The price to pay for a good cup of coffee: Wait and Serve. The Ying and the Yang of a coffeehouse.
Then around 9:30, after quite an awaited break, enters what I would name the “Wanderers”. All we know is that they have enough time to sit for hours at a coffee table, consuming all sorts of caffeine beverages and dough based food in the middle of the day. Luckily for the waiters, it’s a much more chilled crowd than the previous busy heard. The wanderers are a very diverse crowd as well: rich or poor, regulars or tourists, lost or found, they all sit in their comfy chair and read their paper, do stuff on the computer, blessed is the sacred wi-fi connection enabling them to spend a considerable amount of time exploring that cyber world of theirs. Coffee and Facebook, coffee and blogs, coffee and Youtube, coffee and computer… watch out for that spill. Does not absorb as well as newspaper or notebook. Lots of writers too. There is this very traditional romantic thing about this writers’ fetish: the coffee shop. Could make a nice Hopper painting. Makes you feel better, inspired. The reflection of yourself in that coffee makes you feel like a true writer. Yet you’re still struggling to finish page 2. Phrase and delete. And it’s been 10 years of coffee on page 2. Though some did find salvation it’s true. But clearly you’re not there yet. Post it on Facebook, at least you got published.
Another rush comes in the afternoon, ‘cause you gotta wake up that digestion of yours and not fall flat on your keyboard. Same heard, same shit. Then another wave of wanderers, in all shapes and sizes, unemployed or self-employed, staying just for a cup or literally spending their day hooked to the grinder. As you figured, I am one of the latter. I don’t count my refills anymore, never did. I don’t count hours anymore as well. I’m so regular I only go home to shower. Sleep? I wish I did. Too much caffeine probably, though it is an insomnia that walked me to that shop in the first place. The pros of an all-consuming society are the 24/7 diners. And this one just happened to be next door. And it’s got all I love about diners, that old 50’s Americanism, those brown vinyl seats and Formica tables, the turquoise and pink neon outside and oldies playing day in day out. I’m sure that “David Lynch” like ambience is what attracts all the flies like me and our forever lost writers and wanderers through that door. Me, that’s for sure. Especially when it’s 3 in the morning and you’re in the no-sleep zone. Fatigue makes reality completely eerie, you just need the special setting to enter your private Red Room.
I go through periods of no-sleep, literally days with no sleep, to the point of no return, when fatigue and lack of sleep has triggered irreversible brain chemistry and keeps you awake, yet too tired to fully function. I was done with my spliff, the one I was counting on putting me to sleep… Mha! The thoughts we have sometimes, let me tell ya!
Bored out of myself, zombie like yet stoned enough to find a will to wander, I stepped out the door in the moonlight with a will to scratch that itch I still can’t scratch. Then I saw a light, opened the door to a Patsy Cline tune, welcomed by Sally and her superb uniform from another time, her cynical grind aspiring sympathy and common understanding within a glance of how senseless it all boils down to. I sat there ordering coffee and starred into blankness. The snake’s first bite to its tail: I drink coffee ‘cause I can’t sleep but most unlikely will I find sleep drinking away all that black potion.
But ya see, it helps me align shit; just like that white collar enjoys how caffeine helps him/her work out those numbers. In twenty-eight years of existence on Earth, I had accumulated a ridiculous amount of absurd data to file and shred. The problem was I never had managed to get my mental shredder to work. Most people have this amazing capability: move on. And you have those who don’t. Even if they try real hard to deny they can’t move on, thinking change of scenery is what it’s all about, though really what it turns out to be is “different people, different places, SAME SHIT ANYWAY.” Well, probably because a pattern lies within. So instead of shredding, you go through the archive of data stored in your brain, dusting off bones of dead dreams and lost hopes, to perhaps find logic and a way out of this mental misery.
Needless to say that this archeology of pain will get you nowhere as you still aren’t shredding all this stored data. Instead, you’re doing the absurd job of trying to make sense out of it. It’s like having tea with the Mad Hatter and the March Hare really. The proper thing to do would be to move on. But how the fuck do you start the engine, where is the first gear, which is the correct track to peace of mind? You have it in a nutshell: do not care.
Ha! Problem number one: I care too much…
Now this did not come with the first cup of coffee served by Sally. Nooooo… Tut tut tut. It had been weeks now, and a few micro-naps due to heavy exhaustion and the help of many joints, that I had stayed glued to that spot at the coffee shop. Just going home to wash and pretend I had something to go home to, such as a bed for instance. Nope, shower, smoke joints, back to the coffee shop being the only place where I didn’t completely lose myself…
Until that day.
It had been about twelve hours since my last move out of this place, I had just finished reading some essay on how incredibly fucked up and sordid our contemporary geopolitics are. I was about to get another refill and have a small cynical laugh with Sally, Queen of dark-humored punch lines, when this guy stopped at my table to mention his thoughts on that essay. I think I was looking for shit because I knew right away by his stare that he had not liked it. He was kind of cute though, maybe what tricked me in, shallow me. He asked to sit down and I nodded a why-not.
“Oh I read that book… yeah quite interesting but really I don’t think deregulation is to blame for, we were just trying to open up markets”. Hum, ok, sure.
“Consumption is progress” was another one of his quotes and the perfect trigger: “Don’t kid yourself, you have to abuse others if you want to succeed.” How did we get there, I don’t remember, don’t even recall being altogether satisfied with the author’s analysis, even finding some legit twists out of this incredibly amalgamated mush of a critic this guy gave me. Now the best thing to do with a situation like this is to take your shit and leave. That sucker needs to stay in his own time parenthesis, no need to make it last. Erase him as fast as it did for him to appear.
But no, I took the HULK option out of them all, and spilled out in return a slime of hate and anger, sandwiched between the frustration of finding out I had lost all ability to converse and the frustration of being a woman: I wanted to punch him real bad. I got into an amazingly anti-men rage, that they are all the same, abusing dicks thinking they own and rule over this planet because of this erected flesh which also makes them think they can treat women like jerk wipes, abuse them and throw them away, like you throw away ethics for money. Now the recollection sounds less agitated than truth… I was yelling, not finishing my sentences, scattered trying to get my shit together and stuff into my bag, making it very clear I was a nut job. I remember not being able to stop this urge to yell at him regardless of Sally trying to stop me and everyone around starring. I could not care less, ironically. I had focused the bitch laser on that sorry ass sucker who was now getting amused by my anger, which in retrospect was the smart thing to do. I wanted to rip his guts out at this point and stormed out the coffee shop, ranting and yelling away, madly.
I got home, cried like a baby, smoked like a chimeney and resolved to watch hospital soap opera online (you never stop, it’s like nutella). Then I fell asleep. And I slept after weeks of insomnia and micro naps. I slept 3 days in, the full 72 hours.
I woke up, took a shower, went back to bed, zoned out on the internet smoking my head off because light outside was hurting my eyes, or at least that’s what I like to tell myself. I’m addicted to weed. Calms me down. Like my meds do. Without, I blow a fuse, literally. I fit full tonic-clonic seizures. Light intensity as well as strobe like light are the main triggers. To be precise, any high light frequencies as well as certain radiation such as light rays : blue polarized or dark amber polarized sunglasses or glacier-mountains sunglasses just to go get coffee are not a fashion statement : bitch, I actually need those.
So yup, I smoke. Weed has natural anti-convulsant and anti-depressant qualities, or should I say cannabinoids do. I just wish I had legal access to a breed that was actually medicinal so I would not have to stone myself out with recreational stuff… it’s like a box of chocolate, never know what you’re gonna get. And sodium valproate is a mood regulator, jagged little pill under its smooth edges, which has a hidden side effect: dependency and addiction to the molecule. Without it, manic depression hits you hard. And if you stop for a while and take it again and do that a few times, or mix it with liquor, you are quite likely to fuck up your liver too. Mind you this is the only drug effective for photosensitive epilepsy (0.2% of population). I hate that crap, and I decided one morning with a taste of iron in my mouth and a numbed tongue twice its size to not take my pills anymore. The list of side effects is morbid and I once faced the sad reality of having to terminate a pregnancy, twenty-two being a young age and as the gynecologist put it: “In your condition, with the Depakine and all, it’s better for you and the child really”. Nicely put.
Morphine was the only joy out of this experience. If I commit suicide, trust me it would be on a morphine overdose, that drug just makes you a happy goofy moron who couldn’t care less for anything. Everything is a joke, even death, nothing means anything, life never did. And every thing is hilarious. Oh, cosmic joke: the guy who got me knocked up one really drunk night, his last name is Parent… boy, life makes it really bold sometimes! Dark is the knight… So I wanted, if I gotta spit an excuse, to try to see, stubborn mule that is me, try to experience life without meds… Well oh well, I fell down a well !
Highs and downs, euphoria followed within a twitch to deep manic depression, paranoia and sleep disorder. That will make reality distorted, my friend. Addicted, addiction for addiction, I started chain-smoking to keep me down, stone the crazy in me. The hysteria or the obsessive mind flow, the thoughts rushing through, the emotions raw…
I decided to go get some coffee.
It took a burn out at work, an internship in a publishing house combined with a job as a waitress at a chicken spot, working 14 hours a day for 3 months, and a messy love life, to come up with such an idea, and of course that “baby iceberg” which had helped sinking the “Mother Ship” down of my armada of “Life's Hopes and Dreams”. I wanted to see if I could take control of that, though I knew the obvious truth, but fuck it, ya can’t really know until you do. And you do know like I do what curiosity did to the cat. And so depression bit my ass… and most certainly my brains, which, on their own do not produce enough serotonin, more known as the “happy hormone”.
Of course, you don’t see it that clearly at first, you find excuses, you blame it on the sunshine, you blame it on the moonlight, and you boogie down the street. But then you blow fuses at work, storm out of yourself and scare away good folks and down the road your friends. You isolate yourself because you either are anxious about light or about people. Anxious about people, too many fights, your objectivity about human condition becomes a hatred of humanity altogether all of a sudden, you hear yourself go out of line and actually fully letting go. You don’t restrain, no regulation, the lava has to come out. And of course you seize. Perfect combo of happiness!! What a cure! But it’s too late, the show has begun, the train started, the depression sank deep. And soon you find yourself in a city where it rains a lot and has a reputation of liking the weird and depressed. Rain and coffee: perfect setting for a depressed mind, especially if weed is also known to be some of the best around. Too bad ya can’t get that card! Yup, because you’re not American. Shit! I feel like one, isn’t that enough?
So here you are, in a new place, with new people, a fresh start, yet feeling completely empty and unable to relate to others. Depression makes you totally self-absorbed, and sleepless. Until one night, you find solace in a old school diner playing your favorite tunes and with the perfect atmosphere to nest your depressed self. My Red Room. Insomnias after insomnias followed by hypersomnia, the consistency lies within that coffee cup at that coffee house.
Small talk with waiters and some folks were perhaps the social highlights of my day, but my favorite thing was to listen to conversations and observe people as I sipped my coffee pretending to read papers or some shit on the computer. If depression has its effects on isolating you from people and distort your social skills, it has an acute emphasis on your observation skills. I loved doing that before and I adored it then. Almost, if not totally a tool of adjustment: how do others think, what do they talk about and how, what it shows about them, what it shows what they could hide, then you start making up stories. Very entertaining, better than T.V! And how weird, strange, odd or alike are you to this?
“I am just a stranger on this Earth” says Dinah Washington.
Put that song on right now, it’s quite beautiful.
As it turns out, well a lot try to play the game, but truth is we are all neurotic creatures endlessly trying to work shit out. Which brings it back to me of course. Me, myself and I: the private church of perception of life itself, the prism through which we experience this world. Me, Myself and Eye. That’s a lot to sit with, crowded room of the accusing vs. the defendant all awaiting judgment. Me, myself and I.
More sugar in the coffee, and milk.
Anyway you wanna look at it, you choose. Even when you don’t, you do. Of course, life happens and forces shit down your throat and it hits us all, some more than others. It’s all pain any way. And then you choose to be miserable. Or more likely, your expectations, which for the most part are quite high, which have their ways to make you strive as well as make your self-esteem drop low if not met. Oh and the expectations we have of others! So many! Too many! Why? Why do I choose to think that way?
I need refill…
Sabotage! Yup, that came up to mind as Brian was refilling my cup, yes day shift. Self-sabotage to be precise. In the most fucked-up, twisted way, bad decision-making resembles sabotaging your life. Now why the fuck would you want to do this? Lack of self-esteem, doubt, fear… sounds like Tom Cruise’s character in “Magnolia”… but really it’s our dark side, our little private hell, that same private hell you enjoy complaining about, you sad martyr of life. It gives the world a legit reason of why you are unhappy. Because happiness and contentment take effort, balance takes effort. And consciously most of us are lazy bums. It’s an effort to make an effort, it means becoming better, therefore acknowledging you fucked up somewhere down the line; pride and ego having to be re-evaluated, having to be swallowed. I should go sit on Oprah’s show, quite the lines. That cheesy shit, Man in the Mirror, but truth is what makes you most miserable, really, is you. Your low self-esteem, your self-loathing, your private hate for your sorry-ass fate. So we raise our expectations of life, love, work, home, fun, a general inflation of desire until we reach crisis of reality. And it’s easier to shit on reality than on your greatly expended imagination, which enabled through time and space to expect a movie out of life, when life really just happens. Yes, again in a nutshell: Plato’s myth of the cavern. Project whatever you want on a wall, reality is it’s a wall. Now meditate on that with Facebook…Right… So we expect and soon enough we crash. And crash means trauma.
Trauma: here is the final dig, the dusting off of the bigger bone. Trauma is what will most likely make you doubt, fear and way over think shit. It’s like a ruck ironed onto your brain. And if you’re lucky enough, the iron’s burned the brain and the heart through. Ironed for life! New drama on ABC! There is nothing you can do but look at it and realize “Oh fuck, I see a pattern.” Again, breaking news.
There are millions of traumas, and the younger you are when they happen the sneakier they are to get rid of. And traumas could be only generalized through their consequence: lack of Love. Yes, war trauma is a generalized lack of love fucking up the whole population, just like a dreadful divorce can bring hell to a family, or death and sickness bring loss and fear of loss. Trauma is usually the cozy nest of depression. It’s as if it is immune to the mental shredder, even if you have one that works most times, with trauma, nothing, no one shreds. Then it’s you versus the beast. The demon is looking straight at you, grinding out of power, fully aware it’s holding you by the throat just by existing.
Sip. Sip. Sip.
So I believe, I think that the solution may lie in acknowledging it and reducing it, live through it, relativity theory applied to psycho-analysis. So fucking what? It’s gonna bother you each time you doubt. So might as well get used to it and not be bothered by that doubt. It’s not a healthy logic, it’s a flipped out reflex of your own demon trying to rock your boat…
Then it hit me: the more I stayed here, the more I would traumatize myself. I had to come back, come back to where I had left it. And face the truth. Face Me.
Turns out I am on cue, my cup is empty. I took a look around me, God I love that place, oddness mixed with melancholy, how romantic, how cinematographic. How perfect.
The moment I got up, the famous Georgia on my Mind, by the great Ray Charles, started to resonate behind the brown seats, glided on the Formica, poured into cups, whispered in patrons’ ears and hearts, followed Sally’s footsteps, condensed on windows, and flooded my heart. Sally knew something was up because usually I just nodded whenever I'd get out, as that had only been so temporary, and rarely if never sat at the bar. She looked at me in silence, amazing how much we talked that way. She started to get all blurry, my throat all lumpy and tears rolled down my cheeks, only to reveal her.
“One more cup of coffee for the road, Darlin’?”
I nodded. I just could not speak and in silence, tears rolled out of my eyes. I looked at her again, she was waiting for me to speak, patiently.
“I’m leaving. I have to go back.
- Yes you are Honey, and it’s gonna be great, I’ll send ya jokes!”
Mha! God I miss her. And as I started walking to the door, she shouted:
“Girl, you think too much ! Live a little, will ya! “
Written May 4th and 5th 2014.
Dedicated to all my friends in Portland, Oregon,
especially Madhava, Amanda, Lil Dustin and Brooke and my dear friends in NYC,
and those I had left in Paris and who helped me get back on my feet.
Dedicated to the Stark House, 1807 SE Stark Street, PDX:
Jaret, Courtney, Sadie, Jill and Alex,
Luka & Laser Beam and "Ann Frank’s room" of course.
photo credit : Sopha Kommavang. 2011