by Vincent Pruitt
Here I am again, just any writer, sitting here at 10 A.M. or so on an empty stomach, writing my heart's content. There is something about the wee hours of the day, possibly the fact that I'm not completely coherent or maybe a more defined solitude . . . And by my side, a just warmed cup of joe java mud coffee ready to drink. Coffee is lube for the mental cogs, a near religious mechanism I do, by which you could almost clock my writing.
Around me are the confines of my second story studio apartment of scant, used furniture, fake wood bookshelves bursting with hard and soft bound occupants and posters of famous paintings strewn across badly painted white walls, the archetypal bohemian's living arrangement. Look closely at the arrangement: see there is my favorite work of art, Vincent Van Gogh's "Sunflowers" and Wassily Kandinsky's "Composition No.238", to name a couple. With things haphazard, the place resembles my lifestyle, looking as if in motion. Not too much in my place. Not too shabby, not too neat is the rule.
Besides the love of my life in far away, Mass-- more on her later--books are my pride, joy and sustenance, as a glance around my studio clearly shows: books ranging from the works of Lewis Carol to the works of Erasmus. I've spent years reading two to five books a week of these splendid texts, trying to make sense of this ran amuck world. And I will always keep reading and trying to apply my knowledge. People probably find me irritating in that sense, veritable almanac of quips, quotes and trivia that I am. Still, these people, the brilliant writers of these books-- each felt the need to share with the world their particular snapshot of the universe, these soulmates of mine. They are the real rulers of the world of the world from afar, literally writing the scripts for succeeding generations to live by in law books, scientific books and all forms of media-- not merely books. Yesterday's idea becomes tomorrow sworn laws of truth and lining my fake wood bookcases. Heart to heart, mind to mind, souls. Now, I'm prepared to add a mark to posterity just the same.
More about me, then? The vertical mirror on the distant wall adjacent to my windowed wall, the very wall that so well illuminates my studio, contains my figure from an angle, a day off clean shaven. A black American, I am-- Negro -- six feet one inch, one hundred eighty pounds avoir du pois, with a runner's build, an emotive face and eyes of alacrity. The virile male, I write jokingly. My worst vice: Probably talking too much, for I am an extrovert fascinated by anything and everything. But here I am now, with my "real life" left in shattered limbo, with myself temporarily offset from dropping out of school and "not doing anything".
Who can blame me for not going to school the last two semesters? 7 consecutive semesters, fall, springs and summers, have left me nearly burnt out. Nearly every semester was a notch down gradewise. And the worst thing; there's a full world out there, that I want to observe a bit and ponder a while, while in my twilight years, while there's still time to smell the roses. It could be that all this is a cheap compromise to my daydreaming, fantasy or what have you, versus swallowing the nine to five mind set I dread so much. Yet, my idealism never leaves me lonely or bored, though often hungry. I ask you, which is better? Allen Ginsberg wrote in his poem
World, world, world
I sit in my room
Imagine the future
Sunlight falls on Paris
I am alone-- there is no
One whose love is perfect...
Hmmmmm.... Then, what do you say? To try and fail, is to despair, I know; to admit defeat admits finality, a loss. I'm stronger than to rue my failings. That only gains insecurities and depression. Do I tell her that I want a chance to clear my head for a year at least, possibly forever, that I want to write so badly right now: the preoccupation with details of the now, the trivia that comprises my sense of reality, the insomnia of a neurasthenic, the ennui, the haunt of even looking so badly at a pen and wanting to write at this very moment? Or should I lie to her by saying that I have tried and failed, despite the "brilliance" nature has endowed me with supposedly. The compulsion to write or do art; I wonder how many truly understand. I do see myself an artist at heart, no matter how much reading, writing and arithmetic or college that I have to lean on. And only an artist at heart can truly understand that feeling; albeit the panacea for such longings is to do your path. Robert Frost wrote in his poem "the Road Not Taken"
...I shall be telling
This with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverging in a wood, and I--
I took the one less travelled
And that has made all the difference.
So pen in hand, path in mind and coffee by my side, I proceed. Shall we? I know that there are a million better ways I could do this. You see, writing isn't the chosen option, but kismet. Even in class way back in the olden days of my good grades and while the profs talked, I scribbled away notes on papers for short stories and poems. It took strength for me to concentrate on what was being said. Quite possibly my writing is some kind of ego thing, some self esteem default perhaps. I know simply that writing from the nether depths of my gullet is something I've got to do, something I will do.
Just now the surrounding Kansas City has impressed itself through the windows, upon my attention, its cool air wafting through a slightly ajar window. A variety of "integrated" kids are playing in the streets below, for this is midtown near the Plaza area. This area is the junction between the sleepy comfiture of suburbia and the impending, desolate, poverty of the ghettoes reaching here from the distant periphery of downtown Kansas City. The kids are playing kickball with oblivion, not having learned yet fully the divisions among themselves that come so naturally to us older folks. Eisenhower, that champion of breaking down such barriers would have been proud!
And suddenly, this room is a casket-- stuffy. I want to leave. How about the cafe? A double mocha sounds the best, followed eventually by a chaser shot of Dark Africa espresso for verve. Fresh air and the possibility of seeing my coffee house friends, all of it should do me some good. I am plagued and restless from the memory of what my counselor said, plus energized by the infectious energy of the outdoors leaking pass my window. I remember that moment with my counselor almost breathe for breathe, like eczema on the brain. I am nonplussed and drawn now to just be around some people. And so, grabbing my hat and jacket, I head for my jaunt along the avenue.
I'm soon at the cafe; the dishabille of a few tables about, dim lighting, the ready reading material conglomeration on the table at the rear of the place and a small handful of people lend character. This cafe is modernesque, its neon open sign hanging in a very visible location and the cafe's outside, lined on all sides by tables with parasols. At the far back of the cafe is an interesting couple-- as I sip my mocha-- that definitely suggests a writing exercise.
He is any man, USA, a schoolboy type, of khakis and a sweater, a blondehead. She is attractive with a potato and pie face, yet cute in kind of a pudgy way. I can tell that they have been intimate from the exaggerated eagerness of them both, while each leans forward slightly. His smart penny loafers are around her tiny, heeled feet, both their legs wide open, but his body incongruously stiff. She is slack, like a human shaped bean bag propped in a chair. Something's afoot definitely. They are looking eye to eye, though he's the one that occasionally looks away, all shifty-eyed like. His manner is a tad nervous. Has he lied to her? I bestow on their anxieties a conversation:
"Who is she, honey," the pie faced brunette asks.
"Just anybody-- or somebody. I don't know," he says.
"You don't know?"
"It was a mistake. I'm sorry. What more can I say? Her name is Anna, just a coworker. You know I love you, honey."
That sounds bunk even to him and he looks around the room. Is he making a plea to fortune for help or is he simply distracted? Maybe. Because he is unsettled, he looks for a point of relation to calm his nerves. And at any rate, he is still busted. Luckily, the brunette is forgiving, but what else happens?
And there it is summa summarum. My writing exercise begins and ends with a story, from of a picture of them in my mind and creates others. Does life ever resolve things in such neat, discrete packages? Not this time, it seems. I wish my life would resolve its problems neatly, but realize I have to create my resolution. Then so be it, I am creating my resolution by writing it, at the very moment this sentence ends with a period.
(Step)father would have smacked me down for spending valuable time reading and writing. Of course, he had a predisposition to physically and mentally abuse us anyway. Times were slightly different then and especially among the people in our backwards area of the town. Maybe it was a carry over from times when blacks didn't dare make a ruckus in public, out of fear, but redoubled the intensity of "correcting situations" at home. My family, nuclear and extended, firmly believed the stronger the whipping, the greater the resulting virtue. "Spoil the rod, but don't spare the child," my (step)father chanted repugnantly. Honestly, something clicked inside of me when he said such things and did things to us, even in the me as a child. I never bought that idiot reality of theirs where things weren't discussed, things were never resolved and the peace was so oppressive.
I did what any kid would have done and drew passive aggressive pictures of him, exaggerating his features and even ones of him physically injured, according to how deep my anger was. I imagined him boldly in my head, far out of the picture, not dead or anything, just totally gone.
For my sister and me, both of us very small then, he was a frightening monster with hands that engulfed ours whole and were roughed over with callouses from his work as a construction engineer in the Army Reserves. He was such an ugly man, that when he smiled, a supreme rarity, it was a grimace. The man had grown up in an abusive home and hadn't learned a damn thing! The physical-mental abuser, stern as he was with that permanently wrinkle etched, deeply furrowed brow that would have put a Frankenstein to shame-- he was some kind of tortured Sad Sack-- he sulked around the house a year and a half plus. Unemployed all that time and bellicose, saturnine, he infected the browned wallpaper of the house even, with his not quelling-forgiving-forgetting his inner torments. So crushed, he made us his externals, never allowed us to leave the house and made us clean all day long that roach infested, rat infested house. And study.
The mood was near ascetic in his domain. We didn't watch TV. We didn't listen to radio. Books were contraband. Everything was tensed and pin drop quiet or he would punish us physically or cause us anguish with his speaking. The words rattle in my head:
"When you're done with that, you can do this. And then I have other
things I want you to do. Did you get your studying done? Did you read
those Bible chapter I had you read, boy? (he was very religious in a strained
way) What? Do you have something to say? Speak up! And address me as
Or in front of my mother:
"Never get married. Look at me. Look at her. If you have any sense at all, you'll never get married, boy. All they want is your money. I wish I had never married your mother. Sit up straight when I'm talking to you! Matter of fact, stand up until I'm done talking to you. Got that? Yeah? Yes sir!"
He complained about everything. The religiosity of that man was the worst of it, however, because it was so stringent. For example, I managed to piece together a cache of fifty comics once. On discovering these comics, he beat me black and blue, open handed, for reading the Devil's work, then threw them all away. No, even that wasn't good enough; later he removed the comics from the trash and burned them in the fireplace. We went to church 3 times a week and had to sit at the position of attention, legs closed and arms smartly to our sides. Just imagine! Soon as we were home again, the man quizzed over what we had learned. God forbid us being wrong!
And his whippings went beyond his bare hands; hangars, belts, extension cords, even a fiberglass board he had especially crafted with holes along it length for a paddle! I hated the man's every breathe! Insufferable!
After a while, the beatings, though painful as hell, began to mean little to me. Welts and bruises garrisoned on my arms and legs, but I became indifferent. I became indignant at the man. Ideas contrary to his, sometimes for the sake of being contrary, formed in my mind. Thinking and these strong emotions welled up in me created convictions and my tenacity.
Mom was poor then, during a time when black women still carried very little clout. She had given birth to me in high school. So, I assume the decision to marry such a man was out of financial necessity. How could such a man have ever been romantic?
The atmosphere on our house intensified, became stifling and worsened. Late night lying in bed, and if I weren't crying, I often heard my sister crying or he and my Mom arguing. One night I heard the resounding slap of his hand striking her face! Six months later, they were divorced.
"Honey, will I ever get to meet you?" you asked a few times after we met on the internet. "I'm not sure we should meet".
"Why shouldn't we?" I asked. "What is the entire point of us communicating, if we are never to meet? I think we should meet".
"You may not like me when you see me. I don't want to take the---" "You've sent me photos, honey." "They are old photos, though. I look a lot different now." "This is a cul-de-sac, you know. I'll take the chance, if you are willing. And relax. I definitely like what I saw in the picture and what I know of your character." "Well...okay," She finally agreed.
Fidgeting ruled the first meeting with Cynthia, that and space filled words. It was a shock; she was only 18, but a beauty. She had lied about her age on the internet, telling me that's she's 24. We ate at the nearby Wendy's, her preference of all eating places for some strange reason.
The other meetings went smooth as honey and impressed her pretty, rosy face permanently in my mind. Conversations became more fluid as time progressed. Likewise, the more we talked, the more our relationship solidified. And love... We have said it enough on the internet, but to her face, we are such naturals. I can scarcely imagine saying the words to her. I would very much like to say to her unabashedly:
"Cynthia, you of all people! You're foremost! I would marry you now if I could honey; if only I were more...solid. Do you know what you would be getting into if you married me? I'm simply not ready yet, but you could consider us engaged, if you want. Do I have the right to suggest that? I love you!"
There those are the words. But in person, she and I face to face are an impassable wall. I'm sure she knows I love her, though, despite the impasse. She has to. For together, we are a couple of monkeys swinging through the ridiculous cantilevers of this world, sometimes on a treetop, hanging about talking, cuddling and sharing the consequentials and inconsequentials. But all that aside.... How can I call this or any relationship love, in view of my past and my thinking? In view of my disdain for banality? I am scared. I am tensed. I am frantic. Life must go on, however. And even so...
Reverberations of that ring in my head endlessly, as tireless as the begrudging irascibility of that fiend. And me, then, a literal minded kid; speeches like that constitute my inner core. And so, I am scared of everything, yet intrigued by it all, with tons to say. The most innocent of things... jokes told at school, by peers or teachers, either went pass me or jolted me with a huge sting-- thanks to the omnipresent invectives!
But now that I'm twenty six, have nearly finished college, have finished a stint in the Army, have read a library's worth of wisdom... The one time I visited my Mom and she took me to see him, we saw him sitting on the porch of his house. What nerve? The man handed me his phone number. Hell no, I thought; inside, I laughed loudly. In reality, I took his number and talked to him with a paucity of true feeling, barely holding myself in check.
If I could speak my mind freely to him, I would say:
"I never want to get caught up in that immanent world that you live-in and despise so much. You have visited your hang-ups to me, bruises internal and out. And you are right, the 9 to 5 life is slavery, but did you ask yourself what you really want? Do you want to live in fear of trusting and loving someone? You have to choose your future and be responsible for your actions. I will not live in fear of my shadow. I will find a balance between my persona and my inner being. I would die rather than live in perpetual fear for myself or regretting the past. I want to read and write, to entertain possibilities that would make that church you took us to, cringe or rejoice. My mind, at least, will always be free. And eventually I will marry."
Amusingly then, I imagine his doleful mug turning the dark purple of a raspberry; he was a very dark skinned man. Now and forever more that will be the end of that discussion-- end thought. So being, I have failed in this respect and still face these specters day-to-day.
Lieu of this, college is interminable. To anyone that's been in college, college is a gruelling transition point where every penny is the lost or gain of a meal and where huge bills accrue. I am hypnotized by the act of becoming-- my existential repetition. My counselor and (Step)father have made strong points about my lack of discipline. For most, I know it's the scariest thing to begin college and stop in the middle, even temporarily. The brochures read that most never return.
Frankly, I bow to those easily consigned to such a fate as school and do it well; but in so many ways one has to admit it's farce; what are we really learning about life? Of course, I know I'll go back sometime very soon, probably even this Summer. Meanwhile, I'm sorting my thoughts, reading and writing. And now I think, I could use an Espresso.