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Darius James’ Razbliuto, baby

On the Brooklyn side of the East River, in the years before Berlin, during a time of fruitless endeavor and chronic financial unease, I awoke each morning with inconsolable feelings of dread. These feelings were not vague and free-floating. They were very specific, very particular. I imagined I had an undiagnosed disease. Each of my organs was a gelatinous suffusion of tumorous malignancies: my heart, my lungs, my liver, the gray sea sponge of my brain had metastasized a gum of shuddering tars. This diagnosis crouched darkened half-lights. And, as I turned the next bend, it would leap, casting a great shadow, and pounce with unsheathed claws and enormous unfurled wings. Thereafter, in a hospice fabricated of tarpaper and rusted tin, populated by the homeless and drooling deranged, my life would end in lonely and destitute circumstances—a husk on primitive life support.

Morning after morning I awoke to this dread conjured by anxiety and forgotten dreams. I would turn on my side, stare across a lumpy expanse of futon and study my wife’s posture in sleep. Dread ebbed into quiet apprehension. If my wife lay curled in limp fetal pose, her knees folded protectively against the irregularities of her breasts, with a slight tremble in her hands, and an angry twitch in her furrowed brow, I knew later that morning she and I would engage in an argument of escalating rage. I avoided confrontation by escape.

My hand would drop over the side of the futon’s wooden frame and blindly pick up the zippered flight-suit puddled on the floor. Then, as I rolled off the mattress, I’d slide into the garment and quickly leave the apartment with the laces of my black military boots untied.

Outside, I’d walk from the brownstone to the Cuban diner two blocks away. There, local artists mixed with Hispanic factory workers sat around a bench table chained to a wall near the diner’s door. Inside, behind a glass case shielding a series of metal heating trays, paunchy countermen in hairnets and spattered aprons spoke in staccatos of machine-gun Spanish while preparing pig entrails in simmering red sauces. In a brown paper bag, with a few words of English and Spanish exchanged, the countermen would pass me a toasted roll and a cup of cafe con leche’ with the morning’s newspaper. I would hand them my coins in return.

I would leave the diner and stroll along the edge of the East River. Under the Manhattan Bridge, I would squat on the river’s banks with a clear view of the World Trade Center on the opposite shore. And, while skimming the pages of the New York Post, I’d listen to the bray of capering mongoloids in the nearby park mingle with the sonorous chant of the neighborhood monks.

I would not understand why my anxiety expressed itself in similes of sickness and death until I found myself a decade later living in a complex of deteriorating buildings crushed against the demarcation line of the erased Berlin wall. I was profoundly unhappy then and didn’t know it. I had a home, a wife and two books published under my name. In my ten years of itinerant and self-indulgent bohemianism, these were the goals I had strived to achieve. I was well known. I was profiled in the press. I appeared on radio and television. I lectured and performed throughout North America and Europe. My work was the subject of academic papers. I took Hollywood meetings. I got stoned with pop stars. I even had a cute if bookish following of groupies sprinkled about the globe. Nevertheless, caught in the trap of my own ‘achievement’, I had sunken so deeply in the mire of my own misery the fact I might be unhappy never occurred to me.

My frustrations were many, the list too tedious and banal to itemize here. Suffice to say, the degraded life of drone consumerism advertised on North America’s billboards, and the senseless toil it implied, was a spiritual horror not even the finest expressionist of nineteen twenties’ German cinema could capture with their Eisensteinian montage, adroit underlighting and suggestive shadow. I was also frustrated by the triumph of commodity over the growth of radical aesthetics, radical spirituality, and the vacuous mediocrities commodity supported. The dictatorship of Dubord’s simulacrum. This, in turn, had marginalized the exceptional and brilliant. I dreamt of carnivals—an exuberant life turned upside down with seductive fire-dancers breathing blue flames in the dark. Clearly, I did not belong.

Chief among my frustrations, however, was the fact I no longer loved my wife. I had not loved her for many years if I had ever loved her at all. What love I once felt-that first bright flush of misplaced emotion-was depleted by her demands for a love I did not feel. She tried to dictate its terms and prescribe its nature. She judged each gesture of my affection as a misguided selfishness. She questioned its authenticity, its substance. Thus, she effectively limited the range of feelings possible between two people.

The bickering between my wife and I was constant and bitter. It required an enormous effort to resist lashing out in cold fury. What saved her life, and stunted my own, was the gentle advice of a sympathetic copy editor, a tall and athletic woman who once swam the circumference of Manhattan. However, despite the perspective I gained from her wisdom, the bickering continued. Finally, I was empty of emotion.

The Russians have a word for it: razbliuto (ros-blee-OO-toe). It means
‘exhausted love’. I came across the word by chance. I found it a few weeks after my nymph of a Caucas lover—an Austrian by way of Belarus and Hungry-packed her luggage and left. The word was bookmarked in a lexicon on a shelf of my library. She had searched the volume for a word to clarify the circumstances of her own feelings in a tongue close to her Socialist upbringing. I don’t believe she did this out of maliciousness. In her scattered mental and emotional state, I believe she simply forgotten she had bookmarked the page. I could be wrong. Maybe she did intend to leave the bookmark as her final knife. I honestly don’t know. It was often difficult to decode the fly-like buzz vibrating inside her skull.

What I sought in my relationships was an intimacy of a rare order. I envisioned a bond culminating in a union of telepathic intensity. I saw the melding of two erotically-charged minds meshed into an awareness of the third kind. I knew this was not wild-eyed, naïve or the result of drug-induced speculation.

In late adolescence, I chanced upon an ability to commune with a beloved friend in complete silence, attuning to the pulse of their breath. And, breathing in synchronous rhythm, our minds merged in a stream of fluid non-verbal thought. The imagistic and emotional content of our respective beings ferried back and forth on the currents of this psychic stream with the delicacy of tiny paper swans floating on sun-dappled waters, unfettered by the constraints of ‘words’. All it required, it seemed, was receptivity and focus. There is abundant literature to support this experience. One need not look further than the volumes shelved in the esoteric libraries of various sects of Buddhists, Taoists, Tantrics and those who worship before the black face of the Kali. Sing the name of the Kalimat in sacred song and she will transport you to ethereal realms of ecstasy. You will know the hard substance of her divinity.

Gnostic chants aside, this bond was not to be between my wife and I. My attempts to deepen what intimacy that did exist between us she thwarted through blame, pointed accusation or simple indifference. She did this out of a fear engendered by her upbringing. She was raised under the pall of spud-poor Irish Catholicism in a family of eleven brothers and sisters. Each had suffered at the brutal hands of an alcoholic father. Her father once slapped her for no other reason than to watch her cry. She was stubborn and refused. Her father slapped her again. Again, she withheld her tears. Her father, recognizing he had failed even at breaking the resolve of a hardened and willful child of four, collapsed into his own tears of self-pity. I hurt her once. I disappeared for five days. When I returned, confessing an infidelity with tail between legs, I watched her regress into thumb-sucking infantility. The sight was heart wrenching. Her look of helplessness and pain was the same contorted expression on the face of a four-year-old once slapped for no other reason than the sadism of a humiliated father.

I didn’t understand then that when she rejected my attempts to secure a significant tie between us that it stemmed from her lack of self-esteem. I could not see that her boiling surge of bitterness was a consequence of her inability to love herself. She nor I understood we were not obliged to love. Love was not an obligation imposed by edict. We had lost ourselves in the empty idealism of romantic love, clung to hollow notions of loyalty and suffered. Our only bond was delusion, our delusion compounded by guilt.

I could not articulate this with any clarity at the time. I could not explain this to my wife. I could not explain this to myself. My wife was just as Loony Tunes confused as I. It was obvious in the range of ticks wincing across her face in sleep. I numbed my pain with alcohol. My wife secretly popped pills. These were clear signs our relationship was in trouble. Any two self-respecting junkies would’ve shared the spoils of addiction.

I had no idea how to extricate myself from the rattrap our relationship had become. My wife and I had stayed together for eleven years. And I can’t explain why. She claimed she had enormous faith in my writing. She believed literary success (and, with it, financial stability) was just over a rainbow-hued horizon with singing bluebirds hovering nearby. But dark clouds gathered. `Success´ never came.

My wife, then in her middle years, also believed, sadly, her options in life were scant. She was nearing forty. She was without a career or child. However, until we overcame our rage, I refused to father her child. Understand, I wanted a child; but I had seen how rage had disintegrated the marriage of my parents. The rage I felt, which, unfairly, I never discussed, was due to the abortions my wife had in our early years together. She had three and did not consult me. The decision was her own. I had no voice in this choice. I was jettisoned from the process. Yet, I was obliged to forfeit to her demands.

Later, her self-hatred intensified. I did nothing to assuage her insecurities: ‘I’ve squandered my life nurturing him and his career. What importance does my life have? What am I worth? What have I accomplished? What did I expect to gain from him? Money? Happiness? Am I really my own person? Who am I apart from him? Am I still beautiful? Who will love me?’ I felt like a fly ossified in amber.

April 1998. “If you don’t have the money for next month’s rent,” she said, “I’m going to leave you. I’m tired of waiting for your ass to become successful.” (Ouch!!! Where did that come from? What happened to ‘We can live off the credit cards until you finish a chunk of your novel and get an advance? ´)

We scrutinized each other in silence. Instead of empathizing with her pain and frustration, her years of sacrifice and waste, I drowned in a giddy and oceanic feeling of relief. I wanted to clog dance with my own potato-starved kin on the Emerald Isle.

However, I maintained a face of imperturbable stone. “If you feel that way” I said, “I think you should leave.”

Her shoulders sagged under a weight of great sadness. I made no attempt to console her. I thought only of myself. And the desolate feelings of abjection I experienced each night before sinking into dreamless sleep. My only consolation were my reveries of all the places I would like to be if I were ever free.

Sometimes, I placed myself in a hovel of conical construction and baked clay near a vineyard in the south of Italy or in an earthen beachside design on an island off the shores of Greece. Sometimes, I traveled in burnoose among the Berbers of North Africa. Often, I thought of Berlin. And the clandestine weekend with the beautiful yet damaged Astrid. Sparks had literally flared off our lips with our first kiss. Memories of her russet aureoles, her mons vernis’ slender strip of manicured hair and the lock of her tightening sheath brought, finally, respite and sleep.

Then I remembered I had accepted an invitation to attend a university conference in Austria scheduled for the coming fall. I thought again of Astrid and her warm East Indian earth tones. And the orgasm that rendered me invisible. As I came, hot and milky, her pelvis slapping percussively against my own, wet and rigorous, Astrid keened in my ear. Her tone was sustained and unwavering, eerie and high pitched. And I vanished in a wash of radiant bliss.

There was nothing left to fight for. The only thing remaining between my wife and I was the miserly heart of bitterness. I made my decision then. I was moving to Berlin. I wanted to be as far away from her and New York City as possible.