“What’s it like to be you right now?”, a friend asked over coffee, January 2018. I know people wondered, but until then, nobody had directly asked. I appreciated the question. I missed being spoken to like I had something, even if that something was insider knowledge of a peculiar and undesirable existence.
“Not even I know”, I told her. Then I rambled on for a couple hours, wired. I was right in the thick of it, a wavering blade of shot nerves. When I imagine myself back in that moment, there at the coffee shop, I see my head, gray and stretched out, floating above shirt and pants stuffed with newspaper. It’s not me; I’ve been replaced by a scarecrow. A junkie scarecrow who’s paranoid of leaving the house lest he gets blown away or punched. I pity that poor thing, it was a thing with a situation, nothing more. But here was someone sitting across from this thing in a coffee shop, and she wanted to talk to the thing about the situation. It was all I could think about, and when someone invites me to talk about it, I just let them have it. There’s a helplessness to it, I’m overcome by talk. I see this in others who have gone through some fresh shit, it’s the trademark talking style of the traumatized. Seems sane until the subject is breached, then words will shoot out in ceaseless ribbons attempting to cover everything you’ve been thinking about this thing you do nothing but think about. I can float over myself while the talking is happening, see me going on like a nut, eyes bugging out, I’m such a baby, look at you/me, fidgety idiot. What’s it like to be a skinny midget baby? What’s it like to be erased to the delight of an angry mob of people who want to make the world a better place, sent to rot in nowhere with a belly full of their sins? What’s it like to not be you anymore?
I was a non-being, but different than dead, I could feel so acutely everything that constitutes life: blood flow, heart beat, brain activity, pain, and hunger - although I was not eating, and my shit was strained and sad, resembling old beef jerky links. This is the shit of a scarecrow, haunted and gaunt, a wet noodle big baby who was losing his mind trying to figure out how to beat being beaten.
The last time I was a person was when I was at a roadside motel deep in Maryland, May 2017. I was a man in a shirt, I still vividly remember the shirt’s smell, which was worn by a friend who worked at a pizzeria.
Whenever I’m facing a deadline, I find a roadside motel, just far enough away from familiarity, weird, cheap, not too nasty to be uncomfortable, but nasty enough not to be too comfortable. Preferred environment.
I turned off my phone to concentrate, and I sat down/paced to write a play about internet pornography, a taxidermy ram, and a virus that makes men speak in nothing but the most vulgar obscenities. Another piece contributing to my cultivated artistic persona of a sex/death driven, unhinged creep. An art that too often leaks into my own trunks. I wrote late into the night, buzzing on Adderall.
When I woke up the next morning, turned on my phone, I read of a drama that was written while I slept, a re-authoring of my being. It was a melodrama about justice, the antagonist was a scarecrow with my name, who had done things I have not done, who was called things that I was not, who was charged with vague accusations of badness, sprinkled with horseshit and sealed with a deathly kiss from the english language: “Abuser”.
In the play, the scarecrow is brought to a party, and with only the best intentions, the party-goers beat the stuffing out of it, set it on fire, piss on the flames and puke on the piss-ash forever. The end. This wasn’t a play about resolution. This is a ritual of comeuppance performed for the sake of the community because they say this scarecrow skidmark is POWERFUL, has the voodoo and must be stopped! They call this effigy by my name, but this can’t be me, I’ve never been powerful, pathetic maybe, powerful no, and now more pathetic than ever, publicly. Through the magic of melodramatic storytelling, they transfer my name over to a totem of abuse, circling it while chanting Ric is this thing, Ric is this thing, and the more they say it, the more they believe it, and the more they believe it, the more I can see myself in the scarecrow. The repetition has bonded us, and at this point, my life and the life of that lifeless thing is the same.
So no, I do not know what it is like to be me anymore, but I know what it’s like to be not me, and above all else, it is weird. It is a sublime feat of existential hocus pocus. How stunning to discover so intimately the frailty between individual and identity, how uncanny to be lifted out of your body, have it stuffed with straw, and set on fire as you hover over it like its ghost.
When it can be done with such ease, this is power.