Beauty and Divinity

Unfortunately, you’ve seen Martin’s videotape so you pretty much know what you’re in for when he gets up from the cheaply upholstered chair and reaches for your hand in a gesture that’s like so transparently needy and infantile that you don’t have any choice but to take it and follow him blushing and hand-in-hand up to the podium and you’re pretty sure that he knows just how manipulative he’s being, but you’ve got to go along with it because you’ll basically end up looking like a total bitch in front of everyone if you don’t give him that he wants because he’s asked for it in such a transparently needy and infantile sort of way. This is essentially the same kind of like emotional trap that he used to get you to watch the tape in the first place: you standing at his front door and he opens it still smelled faintly of the hospital this like sick sterile odor and he ushers you in and says that you’re the only one he’s called since he got back. So you followed him back into the house, back all the way to the basement stairs, which he trudge-waddled down with such laboriousness that it like nudged the line between pathetic and funny in that nasty America’s Funniest Home Videos kind of way, and all you can do is just stand there on the step above and watch him go and just wait while he pants and sobs pretty much on the verge of tears, saying he knows how unpleasant an experience this must be for you and he’s so grateful that you’re making the effort to hide the total contempt and disgust that he knows you’re feeling. This also really gets under your skin because you’re pretty sure he’s just saying it to make you feel guilty for feeling the way you do but it’s not like you can help it, now can you?

Tonight is a Saturday in November and the city above you is like drizzled with this clinging wet hard-crystal slush. You’re in the basement of one of those drab inner-city churches that seems to be making like a conscious effort not to appear in any way affiliated with quote: religion and basically looks and functions like a shitty community center except for a few tacky (your opinion) posters like this one in the foyer of this really particularly Caucasian-looking Jesus like clinging to this little sheep-thing is a manner which strikes you as sort of humorously needy and above them in big drop-shadowed baby’s-first-Photoshop letters is the vaguely Orwellian and creepily adolescent-directed: The Great Shepard watches even the smallest of the flock.

Martin grabs the sides of the podium and begins to sway and he licks his lips the way he does when he’s about to start talking with no anticipation of ever stopping and you stand behind him alternating the position of your hands from crossed across your chest to stuck in your pockets to brushing back your hair over your ears to clasped behind/in-front-of you to just kinda swaying at your sides thinking about the last time you went into a basement with Martin which was of course the time when he showed you the videotape.

The tape that goes something like this:

Martin is in the bathtub, which is one of those old fashioned bathtubs that stands on four ornate stub legs and looks like it was made from the ribcage of a grotesquely huge buffalo-type animal. It is the sort of tub that very tasteless people (in the parenthetical: Martin’s parents) put in their ground-floor washrooms in an effort to appear wealthy and sophisticated, only to discover far too late the dreadful impracticality of the thing. And by that time they’re stuck with it.

Martin is up to his chin in lukewarm and rather rosy-hued water, having apparently retained the presence of mind to drape his arm and loll his head in the romantic fashion of the post-mortal Jean Paul Marat, whose image he confides to you as an aside he has always admired on an aesthetic level. The Martin on the static-clenched basement television screen is holding a pair of chrome scissors and is letting them clatter against the hard shell of the bathtub. The sound is like that of a broken metallic clock, clicking not quite in time to anything, but relentless.

Martin’s sister is the first to find him, about four minutes into the tape, and she screams horrifically, at an octave that is well beyond the capacity of the video camera’s microphone to accurately record and results in a squalling crunch of high pitched feedback. She (Martin’s sister) then falls to her red-stockinged knees and begins to sob into the toilet, wrapping her arms around the smooth sky-blue porcelain and spilling into the reservoir tears which Martin informs you were elegantly shapely, quite the Platonic ideal in terms of teardrop form.

Martin’s father is the second to arrive.

It is at this point that Martin pauses the video and turns to look at you. He touches your leg and asks if the videotape is too shocking and that he’s very grateful you’re willing to watch it with him like this and he knows it can’t be easy for you but he thinks he should stop and explain why he decided to record this deeply personal event in the first place. You stare at the flickering image of the paused tape and don’t really register much of Martin’s explanation, except for his repeated insistence that he did not recorded the event basically just so he could show it to people like yourself in a transparent plea for attention and sympathy. He touches you again and resumes the tape, which proceeds:

He (Martin’s father) dashes recklessly into frame and kneels at the edge of the bathtub and stares down into the pink-hued but still quite transparent water. Martin’s father wears on his narrow face a look of wide-eyed and bloodless panic. He thrusts his arms into the faintly chromatic water nearly up to the shoulder, fishing blindly in the tub for something.

Your single memory of him (Martin’s father) is of him carefully selecting over the course of like a week or so over a hundred works of famous art – among them the aforementioned image of Marat – which he then replicated, quite poorly, with his new laser printer. The memory of a pixel-blurred Mona Lisa grinning slyly from within the confines of a two dollar frame and looking like a mosaic made entirely from dried mud is particularly vivid.

On film, Martin’s father plucks one of his son’s testicles from the water and holds it gingerly between his thumb and his middle finger. It looks like an eyeball minus pupil and iris, a miserably blind sort of fleshy bulb.

Martin shares with you then, in a form of live commentary, that he was quite aghast at the time, having counted on his severed penis and testicles floating artfully on the surface of the water. The image was quite clear in his mind of the spherical tissue bobbing about the cylindrical. Submersion, he acknowledges, is a minor disaster as regards the like overall presentation side of things, but what can you do?

At some unrecorded point Martin’s mother arrives, though she remains out of frame for some time after she first speaks. Martin’s mother is a former army medic and her voice is very horse and unpleasant, you assume it the result of a lifetime of smoking. You can hear her off camera rasping at Martin’s father for him to get it all so maybe they can sew it back on and then finally she comes into frame and lifts Martin (rather dramatically) from the tub (dramatic as in like: water dripping and splashing everywhere, sister weeping hysterically, father searching also hysterically, Martin sort of sighing/screaming very much hysterically, mother grunting not at all hysterical as she lifts her son’s nude body from the quadrupedal basin) and she rushes him out the door to where an ambulance is presumably waiting. The camera never really gets a good shot of Martin’s mutilated nether regions, but there is a rather arresting image of Martin’s mouth like falling open as his mother hefts him and like blood and bits of pink muscle dribbling out.

Martin is explaining thickly from the podium that the reason for his slurring and like neigh incomprehensibility around the s-sounds is the result of his having unknowingly chewed off the tip of his tongue whilst in the midst of hacking off his masculine apparel. He didn’t scream once, he says, not until the job was done.

In Martin’s basement the tape is still running, still filming the now deserted bathroom. The water moves in a very understated gulping sort of undulation which you gather probably indicates an imperfect seal between the plug and the drain. You’re picturing in your mind that the recording equipment is like hopelessly antiquated and there’s a like Dickensian-looking type cameraman standing behind the device just staring through the eyepiece like totally shell-shocked under his floppy brown cap and is cranking automatically, turning rhythmically, hypnotically, his whole existence depending on the turning of the crank. A single abandoned testicle bobs to the surface of the rosy water and floats about tadpole-like. You and Martin are equally at a loss to explain why it would float now and not while he was in the tub. You sit there, and you watch the organ move on the undulating surface for like three minutes until Martin’s father dashes back into the bathroom and snatches it up.

Martin is nearly finished explaining these events to the increasingly uncomfortable looking members of an organization whose exact name you don’t recall but which could be for example called the Clinically Disfigured Persons Support Group, memberswho are themselves mostly the victims of unfortunate happenings which were relatively outside of their control. They’re pretty much each in the midst of their own like individual downward spirals of depression and self-loathing (not helped by the fact that their inability to view their own deformities with anything but like disgust and horror serves pretty thoroughly to convince them that there’s no possible way that these people without deformities feel any differently about them than they do about themselves) and many of them would readily admit that they pretty much just come to these meetings for the combination of sympathy and pity that feels a lot better coming from people who are themselves terribly disfigured (since sympathy and pity rather rankle coming from the non-deformed, given that they, they being the disfigured, are pretty much all convinced that they know how people, people being in this case the non-deformed, feel about them, them being the disfigured again) and the like front row seat to Martin’s creepy mental breakdown is way beyond the pale for these people, so-to-speak.

This discomfort only intensifies when Martin starts to talk about his compulsive addiction (you think that a rather redundant turn of phrase) to masturbation, which was essentially the root cause of the eventual self-castration. Martin’s fear of his genitalia began, he tells the group of disfigured citizens of the city much to their like chagrin and feelings of genuinely real embarrassment on his behalf, in a church service at the tender age of like maybe thirteen when the minister or pastor or priest or whatever started to talk about the like demonic personification of lust and somewhere in Martin’s adolescence mind he just clicks on and realizes that the priest is talking about sex and he compulsively shoves his hand in his pocket and starts like stealthily rubbing the tip of his penis through his pocket, and the priest slams his hand down on the pulpit and shouts out something quite vehement about the like whore of Babylon just as Martin experiences an orgasm for real for the first time ever and he fills his pants with an unpleasantly warm ooze that dribbles down his thighs when he stands and walks wide-eyed to Sunday School feeling a confusing combination of euphoria and like utter terror.

Thankfully, Martin glosses over the next few years of his masturbatory career, skipping ahead to the pre-castration nadir, an incident which involves him sneaking away from a partially disrobed potential sexual partner in order to pleasure himself furiously and repeatedly in the next room as a means of dispelling the psychic tension brought on by the impending coitus and being discovered by the very girl, now wearing only lace underwear, and seeing her face take on a monumentally spirit-crushing look of like disgust and revulsion at the sight of Martin standing in what’s basically a closet with his pants down around his ankles and not even then able to stop jerking off and like grunting ecstatically at the prospect of his impending issue.

Martin at the podium has been talking for so long now that he’s quite short of breath, and is panting out the sordid events in a ragged and groaning tone of voice made truly unfortunate given the context of what he is saying. But he struggles on and shares with the crowd that the worst part worse than anything he could have conceived even while in the midst of the excruciating pain which he’d naturally assumed would itself be the worst part of the process was that he still wanted it all the time. He didn’t think of anything anymore except masturbating. He thought about it whenever he was awake and when he slept he dreamed about it like no dreams he’d ever had before just like his whole subconscious was this like churning oily machine just lustfully grinding away day and night and he’d wake up like poking and picking at the mess of scabs and raw scar tissue between his legs having confused in his sleep the raw painful ache with like feelings of pleasure and he doesn’t really know what to do about himself he says as like a conclusion grabbing again the sides of the podium and twitching.

You are pretending determinedly to be not present and not looking at the faces of the disabled persons support group and not just standing there cataloging their brokenness and not feeling terribly alone and not hating yourself for feeling that way when these people have it so much worse off.

This man who no longer has a nose or mouth or even chin really but just this raw-fish pinkish space in the bottom part of his face brings up his fist and coughs damply into it from the exposed hole that is his bare-toothed maw and you find the gesture like sickeningly natural but like why bother exactly? And the guy next to him is looking around like you can just tell from his expression that he’s asking himself what’s wrong with these people like he can’t stand to be in the same room as these repulsive creatures and he’s got only one eye with which to be gazing judgmentally about because the space where the other would be is closed off by this like cancerous-type mass of puffy sort of greenish meat that seems almost to be swelling as you look at it.

Then there’s this beautiful like achingly gorgeous-faced woman sitting in the back of the room that everyone has been ignoring whose hands have sort of like melted together like the skin’s just this unidentifiable fleshy mess and there are narrow bird-type bones jutting underneath it all pressing out in odd ways and there are bits of surgical gauze wrapped around bits of hand but it seems sort of hopeless like why not just wrap up the whole mess, of which the single worst aspect is the relatively intact finger like sticking out that’s got the like bruise colored imprint of a wedding-type ring no longer worn. She, this stunningly beautiful woman, has been sitting there absolutely alone, having been through so far three of the projected eleven surgeries on-going in an effort to restore her extremities to some semblance of usefulness, and is very near to giving up all hope and isn’t really getting much out of the meeting so far at all. She is sitting beneath a poster of some like virginal-looking round-faced saint who’s staring up at the cross like the cross in the traditional hands clasped prayer pose and there are tears steaming down the printed face and with her hands brought together she seems almost to be mirroring the woman sitting below. The poster, which you think is on the whole sort of nastily ironic in this context and is like peeling off the wall, says in those ugly big superimposed letters placed there by some doubtless rotund-faced sweaty type in the feverish grip of a like religious drug-type high and tellingly composed in the like King James echoing flowery hyper-English favored by the desperately portentous: Yea though the beauty of this world may fade, his divine kingdom shall endure forever. And she this breathtakingly perfect woman with twisted and rotting hands is like looking past herself looking at nothing hearing none of what’s been said and is just staring like she’s left her body crippled in the basement and is rising towards something vast and mindless, a limitless force shuffling endlessly forward to engulf and consume everything it touches and it feels to you like all the air is going out of the room and it’s like the world is pressing down so hard on the church basement that you think you can almost hear the streets above breaking crumbling breaking

into nothing

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