When I was a kid I would lie in bed and would either talk to god or play mind games. I say, talk to god because he never talked back, unless his voice consisted of the execrative silence of my suburban bedroom, and he never turned me into the Silver Surfer, as I’d asked more than once, sheets bunched in clenched fists and pulled tight across my neck. I was afraid I’d have to get saved like everyone else, that I’d never see another world, or glide alone through the emptiness between the stars.
Behind my eyes, though, I’d see what I called then, The Time Tunnel, named after a sci-fi show of the same name. In the show, the Time Tunnel was a large
orange metal structure constructed out of spiraling, graduating circles that created a portal through which the show’s handsome heroes could pass and have adventures, usually saving the world, or someone in it.
When I closed my eyes and concentrated, a simulacrum of the Time Tunnel sometimes began swirling, like a pale white overlay hanging over the blackness of my eyelids. No doubt it was easily explained by pressures put on the physiognomy of the eye but since I’d never heard or read about anyone talking about such a phenomena, I thought it was special to me. “Watching” it would render me into a kind of fugue state and although it wasn’t exactly comforting, I would repeat the ritual whenever I had trouble falling asleep.
I’ve never told anyone about these practices until I started writing about them just now.
There were other things, other forms, behind my eyes. I saw faces. Like the Time Tunnel, their forms were ghostly and they moved. Detailed faces, always with distinguishing characteristics and characters — faces who inhabited other lives and stories, endured their own sufferings, surfed their own timelines. Sometimes they looked at me and sometimes not. When they did, it was scary. Or, scarier. I could never understand exactly why, though, they just registered as a vague menace
Once I started looking at them it was difficult to stop. Unlike the Time Tunnel trick, The Faces weren’t a means to an end. They were compelling, yes, and I often invoked the experience out of some perverse curiosity, but once I started looking for them, as they emerged out of flat gray sightlessness and turned and transformed from second to second into other faces, and still other faces, with silent murmuring lips and dull eyes, and sharp shoulders and chins that turned from me to plot or gossip or condemn, it was difficult to make them go away. I’d fall asleep being watched.
I don’t know exactly when The Faces stopped appearing behind my eyes — possibly late adolescence. I don’t remember seeing them in college or after.
After I moved to Buenos Aires, they came back. It would make sense if I started seeing them in the hospital after my colon split in two, but my dreams in those days were in pain-killer induced Technicolor and very, very weird. I spent a long time drinking beer on a bridge in an after-death neighborhood inhabited by Hank Williams and Jean Genet. I never saw them; but I knew they were there. Also, I flew over Cuba in a magic umbrella, navigating colorful currents in the air. If I can ever find the vocabulary to write about them, further, I will. But, not now.
These days I confront The Faces, and they seem not to like that much. They’re even more detailed than I remember their being from childhood. I see their dimples and their moles. I saw a woman wearing intricately woven scarves and a funny hat, a man with buck teeth and a veiny neck and eyes that say, “I killed someone.” These details are fleeting, and are impressed upon me quickly, like stabs of a tattoo needle. I wish I knew what they meant. If I were a different sort of person, maybe I’d think that they’re the dead. Not my dead; Joyce’s dead. They have that sort of unfamiliar familiarity, except they don’t speak. Thank fuck they don’t speak. Maybe they’re composites of characters I’ve seen in movies, or met in dreams, smoked out of my under-mind by anxiety and fear. I just know that now I seek them out whenever my eyes close.
I look them in their eyes and wonder, since I’ve created The Faces out of nothing, what if there were nothing?
Why does anything exist at all? What would non-existence feel like?
Since childhood, playing all these head games in my bed, I’ve asked these questions. When I do, a sense of otherness, a concrete feeling of having rendered myself an other, of othering everything, of having, if only for a few seconds, separated the fiction of my self as separate from everything else and looked at me from some other place, saw myself as just another paint daub on an endless canvas but with a mind circumscribed by a body, by time, by faults that I’ll never overcome, certainly not now, that recognition, that dissolution, thrills me and races my heart. There could have been nothing. There could have been nothing.
Ah, I have no words to describe it. That run-on sentence really doesn’t get it. I just tried to invoke that untethered, alienated state, so easy to feel in childhood, and failed. Still, I know that, hahaha, nothingness will exist for me sooner rather than later and it pisses me off that I won’t be there to experience it.
But it’s also comforting. There will be an end, and I think I’m going quietly after all.