Of Two Minds by Benjamin Weissman

BOMB 79 Spring 2002

When the doorbell rings the boy sits in his room and grows short of breath. Ding-dong was what I heard while huff and puff emanated from my diaphragm. His mom yells coming, and five seconds later answers the door. My guardian screamed, soon I will be there, and a few heartbeats after that pulled open a wooden panel that swings on hinges. The boy is 15-years-old. I was three years into puberty. The invasion is underway. The act of conquering and pillaging was upon me. His language is inadequate. My use of symbols—whether thought, written, or spoken—forever missed the boat. Paranoid: two voices in his head, simultaneously, fighting to be heard. I’ve had delusions of persecution and it should also be known that I nursed an exaggerated sense of my own importance. One voice is distant, observational, police-like, as if it were narrating all physical and cognitive action. The other was intimate, subjective, which is another way of saying, I’m all about doubletalk. First he sees himself behaving in the present moment. Then I found myself blathering on about something I’d just done. Each sentence, a shadow of its former self, as they say. There’s a reason he does this: the young lad suffers. I was a schizophrenic. He remains one. Many untrue things were said about me. He doesn’t see himself as a person in the world, but rather a hapless character doing things in a story. I was never among thee. Please note that everything told herewith is true with the exception of the crime. No one prepared me for the psych ward. He is an unreliable narrator as they say. I crawled through thick underbrush to slay the Gorgon. Constance, a lady he does not like, is here to visit his mom. A woman, whose name in Latin means faithful, stormed the homestead in search of my progenitor. This so-called friend of the family treats the lad like he’s a moron. Whenever I was in the presence of the big lady I did something dumb and she made sure I was aware of my idiocy. At some point the boy is expected to make an appearance, to say hello. I, the one and only son, had two minutes to step out to the foyer and salute the governor of Creepville. Constance is sexually confusing to the young man. Because of my age and lack of experience in the world I had trouble appreciating a giant woman with a deep voice and a crew cut. Since he remains in his room, frozen stiff on his bed, it is only a matter of time before Constance and his mom barge in and force an encounter. Unwilling to budge, welded to my beloved mattress, the old grandfather clock ticked and tocked in anticipation of the aggressive, uninvited guests, who made it their business to fling open doors and demand conversation. He needs a hiding place. A secret spot was what I so dearly craved. The boy thinks of sequestering himself under his bed or squeezing into the closet. An idea bubble suggested I crawl beneath my sleeping quarters or flatten my body into the tiny room where ghosts have been known to lurk. He considers making himself invisible. I weighed the possibilities of becoming unsee-able to the naked eye. The master of subterfuge walks into the bathroom and lays down on his back in the bone-dry tub. I tiptoed into the water closet and assumed a prone position in a vessel ideal for slitting one’s wrists. A bathtub that is never in use. Fortunate me never encountered a pubic hair. The lights are off, the bathroom is dark, a tiny streak of sun comes in through a narrow window above the mirror. There have been times in my life when the rooms I’ve occupied have suddenly felt like caves. Staring at the ceiling the boy prays that no one will see him. With eyeballs directed upward I implored the Almighty himself to let my physical presence go unnoticed. He is antimatter. I occupied the spirit-world. The plan is for Constance and his mom to not look in the bathroom, but if they do perchance venture in—please god nomake them not look in the direction of the bathtub. In the event that they did happen upon hygiene headquarters and their eyes drifted toward the coffin-shaped receptacle, father of Jerusalem SlimI beg theeblind the whores. Outside, a bird chirps out a repetitive sequence that resembles Morse code. I could hear a feathered vertebrate hoo-hooing a complex message on a tree branch. First he hears his mother calling for him. I was privy to maternal bellows intended specifically for me. Oh Benjamin! Son of Abraham. Come out come out wherever you are. The wolf pack suggested I exit the fairy tale. Then footsteps. I believe the audio went something like klop klop klop. Two women stand in the boy’s room. My crib contained a pair of middle-aged broads who maintained upright positions on feet. Honeywhere are you? his mother asks. An endearment was tossed my way followed by a request to describe the location of my person. The boy holds his breath. I sucked in a chestful of colorless, odorless gases, mainly nitrogen (approximately 78 percent) and oxygen (approximately 21 percent) with lesser amounts of argon, carbon dioxide, neon, and helium. The women walk into the bathroom, flip on the light switch, and look directly at the boy in the tub. With the aid of a finger the two gals were able to turn on an electrical device that enhanced their view of me in a setting that normally involves warm water and bubbles. There he is, as plain as day, or as unorthodox as a lobster on a leash. Me white, you, a large marine crustacean with a chain attached to my collar. What pray tell are you doing in the bathtub? Constance asks, her face flooded with wonder. The question, could you explain your behavior, was tossed my way via the bully, the bitch of bewilderment. Sweetheart, is something wrong, the boy’s mother worries aloud. An endearment was offered to me by my protector followed by an inquiring thought about my well-being. There are no soothing tug-boats or cheerful rubber duckies available to console his anxiety. My state of uneasiness and distress about future uncertainties would not be quelled by the usual bathtub accoutrements that squeak and float. The boy remains motionless. I lay there, unmoving, paws glued to the outer edge of my thighs. An embarrassing moment for the boy. Mortification pulsated through my every pore. Lying down in a dry bathtub with all your clothes on is not a healthy act. As my shoes scuffed the porcelain I asked myself what is madness? An oyster on the half shell. A useless astronaut that no one wanted. His mother, Gracia, whose name and demeanor rhymes with Geisha, bows her head and looks away. The lady who brought me into the world, a woman of polite manner, steered her face in the direction of the sink. Are you just going to continue lying there? Constance asks as one of her eyes begins to close. The lady ogre wanted to know if I intended to spend the rest of my life in that position. Yes, he says. I offered an affirmative. You are a strange and foolish child, she says, you are sick and in need of immediate attentionSee a doctor who specializes in peculiar pipsqueak, she continued, you’re not playing with a full deckLeave the boy alone, his mother says, coming to the defense of her blood kin, you’re pissing me off. I could swear she said, Don’t hassle the youngin I once called fetus or I’ll explode with an unkind thought. The kid arises. Just like that, I went from supine to upright. Passive resistance never works. I couldn’t turn the other cheek. It’s not a good idea to ridicule a boy whose favorite movie is Bloodbath 12. The last time I saw Constance she said my acne made her nauseous. He leaps at the horsey madame and begins to strangle her. With intent to choke, the galloping equine was advanced upon by yours truly. They fall to the tile floor. We crashed to earth, me on top of her. The mother, a trained actress, who’s performed in numerous off-Broadway musicals, screams as the two bodies thump to the ground. With my lips and nose buried in blouse I heard a familiar high-pitched wail. Frau C closes her eyes and stops breathing. What I hoped would happen, did happen.

Los Angeles native Benjamin Weissman teaches creative writing at both Otis College of Art and Design and at Art Center College of Design, where he is also a graduate advisor in the Department of Fine Art. He is the author of the story collection Dear Dead Person (Serpent’s Tail).

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Originally published in

BOMB 79, Spring 2002

Featuring interviews with Steven Holl, Stephen Mueller, Janet Cardiff, Laurie Sheck, Cornelius Eady, Victor Pelevin, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Bill Frisell.

Read the issue