The doctors asked me if I could see things other people couldn’t see, and I told them not to worry, because I’ve always been able to see more than most people.
Clarence was with me at the time. He’s one of those people I see, one of those voices I hear that no one else can.
By the time I’d left the hospital, the trains had stopped running, and my ride had already gone to sleep. I never did have money for a cab, so I walked home, my feet drenched by small city lakes and rapids cascading down the sidewalks. This walk, I remember, complimented the smell of recently wetted asphalt: “the something odor/smell of wet asphalt (recent?).” I write this down in a notebook, so I could remember, because sometimes memories are difficult to come by. This notebook contains all that I carry with, wherever I go. The sky spotted this page with small circles of rain, since evaporated, proving that the setting was authentic. I even took the time to write the parentheses.
Filling Dr. Felix’s prescriptions always involved purchasing a small notebook, nothing more than 50 pages or so, to write down thoughts and memories that I’d care to remember the next day. The turnaround for these little journals was about as quick as going through a 30-day prescription.
Once I walked in my apartment, I shuffled to the right, into the kitchen to water a wilted rose in a vase. An old friend told me I needed to put water in it, if for no other reasons than to appear a little more normal and collected to my house guests. I didn’t have many guests besides Clarence, and I hesitated to mislead anyone into assuming anything normal happened in my apartment. But I put water in it anyway, distilling the strangeness of the armband around my wrist and the small, dark pink freckles that come with the needles and sticks when the nurses drew blood. The rose had died in my absence and I had no intention of revitalizing it. Looking back, I can tell I was simply in the mood to manufacture a small irony.
Clarence had waited for me on the couch, asleep, arms wrapped around his chest in place of a blanket, curled up and lodged in deep between the cushions.
I had come up with a little poem while I waited for doctor after doctor, reciting it to myself repeatedly while I sat upright in the hospital bed, the gown never quite covering my entire back. They took all my belongings and catalogued them, afraid that any of them might be used as tools to work against my physical presence in the world. I always took care to remind them that this was not the case. But the pursuit of immediate treatment always comes with its caveats. They took my notebook as well; maybe they were afraid I’d use it to write a final testament. For the first time in days, I sat next to Clarence and typed out the few lines I could still remember:
On a corner,
there is a woman
whose life spills out
in front of
my eyes —
Once she was beautiful
in the light
The sound of the keys and the slam of the hammer in the typewriter woke Clarence, but I knew he wouldn’t mind. He woke and helped me wonder if what I was writing would be better with line breaks or as a paragraph of prose. This is always the question. Looking at these lines against the thin white canvas, I knew I wasn’t pleased with the writing, but I was happy to know that there was some ink still left in the cartridge.
Clarence spoke against my more pessimistic judgments. This surprised me somewhat, because sometimes Clarence can be awfully critical of my writing. Never to the point of offense. It was a complex and sophisticated relationship. We argued frequently, but I was never one to criticize him. I accepted the criticism myself and turned around his thoughts in my mind with such precision that they soon became inseparable from my own.
Sometimes Clarence, in his more aggressive moments, crossed the thin borderlands into violence. I’m not particularly good at taking care of myself, so often I let him. I usually ask him to leave when this happens, but Clarence is the second shadow I cast in the sun. This is to say that he refuses to leave, a constant but sometimes unwelcome companion I have come to accept, because he never respects my dismissal. Instead, he follows me constantly, touring an art gallery or listening to music, which are two activities that elicited an internal peace for both of us. We have similar taste in these endeavors. It was only when we were alone, away from the world, that Clarence would start to work against the progress I’d made to think better of myself.
In this way, his words often aren’t worth repeating, and, after all, I’m usually the only one who hears them. I don’t include many of them in my notebook. When I do, I have the tendency to attribute them all to myself. From Faulkner to Stravinsky, many artists have said something along the lines of my fundamental philosophy when it comes to Clarence: “Good artists copy; great artists steal.” The doctors don’t consider me an “artist” per se, and tend to replace the word with “psychotic.” I hear them say it under their breath when they talk to their colleagues.
Part of the reason for Clarence’s critical absence in my notebooks is that I don’t want anyone who might read them to think of Clarence as the problematic figure he is. They might think me weak for being unable to move beyond a haunting.
All of this is to say that Clarence can be destructive. He was always very handy with a knife against my skin. “It’s a way to lessen the stress,” he told me, as small rivers of blood trickled down my arms and into my hands, which I clenched, hoping to save the fluids that once enjoyed protection in my veins. I think he means well by this.
The doctors don’t often remark on the cuts on my arms. They are always more concerned with whether or not I am tempted to act on this violence toward other people. The only person who would, under normal circumstances, find himself threatened would be Clarence, but it is difficult to assault a shadow. So I haven’t told many of my friends about Clarence, which is difficult, because Clarence can be very talkative during my conversations with others. He is especially fond of finishing my sentences.
Clarence and I had known each other for a long time. When childhood was rough, he petted my hair and comforted me. He became more aggressive while we matured, always in tandem. I look for ways to control him, or at least influence his attitude toward me as something more productive and innocent. Something, in short, that resembled the larger simplicity that follows from the naivety of youth.
“Why do you keep a dying flower in the kitchen?” he asked me that evening. I thought back to a time when my parents kept flowers in the kitchen, their petals falling beneath the dim glow of a white kitchen light.
“For the irony,” I said.
“What makes it ironic?”
I didn’t care to say. I wondered for the first time if Clarence deserved answers. My hair wet, my body frigid, the thoughts in my mind scattered like small flames about to coalesce into a vast fire. But shadows do not die from combustion.