As I’m standing here, naked in front of the mirror, the knife in my hand, tears streaking my ugly, lip-less face, and an idiotic erection pointing out at nothing, the events that led me here flash through my head.
It’s just like the story that therapist at Harbor View told us, about the Chinese farmer who’s horse runs away. Typical, banal Zen-bullshit parable about the transience of forms, but the point of it is that no event can be considered truly good or bad, as it is impossible to tell what the series of consequences it sets in motion will eventually lead to.
I guess that has some truth to it. For instance, how was I to know in a million years that meeting Camille would lead me to severing my own genitals with a kitchen knife?
The whole unfortunate series of events started with the mistake of cutting too deep. Self-mutilation is a passion that requires acute attention to detail. First of all, one cannot allow oneself to get too carried away. One must work only on the parts of the body that can be concealed by everyday clothing, or the many blood-soaked bandages that conceal the improvements might raise questions.
I’m not a fool; I know what people would say.
My name doesn’t matter. I work in a small public administration office downtown, but where it is, and exactly what I do there, is inconsequential to this story.
For all concerns, I could be anyone, anywhere.
I have a colleague there, at the office, a morbidly obese and appallingly servile man-boy who escapes from the tedium of his life into online computer games. He tells me about his ”adventures”, even though they are of no interest to me, but that’s how I know.
I don’t think he’s ever slept with a woman. I guess, maybe in that sense we are brothers in emasculation.
It is important for me to stress that I am not a sick or an evil man. I’m nothing like Sagawa or Meiwes, and I would never dream of hurting anyone. This is a purely personal project, an ongoing duel with this my most intimate enemy, my body.
The duels are fought in front of my bedroom mirror, standing on a few spreads of old newspapers, a razor in my hand. I twist, turn and tweeze, trying to decide what is most aesthetically pleasing, while my body taunts me with its angles, its jellyrolls, and the ugly little hairs like spider legs sticking out of its pale skin.
I snip off bits here and there and eat them.
It’s not like the taste appeals to me, nor that the idea of autosarcophagy turns me on or anything like that, but the little pieces of myself simply strike me as so appalling that I’m compelled to get rid of them, to remove them, utterly and completely, from my sight forever. That’s why I always eat the small lumps of flesh and fat raw, kneeling naked on the blood-soaked newspapers. The idea of preparing them seems not only appalling, but also horribly affected.
I had been working on my left thigh for some time, planning away more and more so that it’s overall shape was gradually changing, like a piece of wood, when I had the bad fortune of striking an, apparently, important artery.
I quickly realized I was losing too much blood, much too fast. I started feeling dizzy, and as consciousness began to fade, I called an ambulance. I collapsed on the floor in a pool of my own thick, dark blood, and as the darkness swallowed me, I could hear the sirens approaching.
That led me to be committed to Harbor View Mental Institution where I met Camille.
Our eyes meet across the circle we form for process group. The therapist, a man my own age, with a little fat knob of a head, is talking about setting goals and achieving them. Meanwhile, I can feel Camille’s eyes ransacking my face, not in a judging manner, but with a voracious curiosity, her green eyes nibbling away at me, like tiny jungle fish tasting an animal that has lain in the water for a long time.
While the therapist talks about addressing our issues in an orderly fashion, I too explore Camille’s face, mapping her delicate features, her pale, pale skin, and the tiny freckles abounding across it.
“It can be hard to pinpoint specific issues because multiple issues probably exist,” the therapist drones.
I am not sick. I don’t belong here. I have to get out.
I have always been dissatisfied with my shape, feeling that God must indeed be a very poor sculptor. Even as a young boy I was uncomprehending as my peers laughed and jostled in the shower after phys ed, their small pre-pubescent penises flapping like naked slugs. Were they not as ashamed as I was?
On my 30th birthday, a time when my body struck as me particularly pale, soft and sagging, I became so obsessed with a certain curvature formed by excess fat on my left hip, that I was unable to sleep until I had removed it with a kitchen knife.
I say removed, making it sound sterile and efficient, but in reality it was a messy and arduous affair. Luckily I performed the operation in the bathroom, where it was easy to wash away all the blood afterwards.
The taste wasn’t bad as such, but the little piece of myself was hard to chew, slimy and fibrous, and I almost choked when I swallowed it.
That was how I set upon eating myself into shape.
My commitment to Harbor View has put a regrettable stop to my beautification project.
“Maybe you feel like you’re not in charge of your own lives,” the counselor says.
Yeah no shit, I think. I’m locked in here, forced to listen to you.
I need to get out. The constant presence of the staff and the lunatics, the endless talks with therapists and counselors, the medicine that dulls me more and more for every day, it all eats away at my patience, and my fingers ache to pick up the knife again.
When I awake in the mornings I see the whole day spread out before me, but not the day as lived, only as thought, and in its contemplated state, every day is a weary, endless series of repeated movements and actions, all equally unsatisfying. Before I make it to the bathroom it seems my thoughts have already been there and moved on, leaving me to chase after them, trying to catch up with them for the remainder of the day.
I feel a scream building inside me. At night, it escapes my throat in stifled yelps and moans.
If only the lines traced in my mind by my anger, my sadness and my frustration, could converge, could become a focus point and burn a hole in these damned, white walls.
Camille is bipolar and used to be a drug addict, she confides one night during group.
Again, the counselor talks about goals,”Even simple ones, like finishing a book you’re reading,” he says solemnly.
In my head I laugh at him. I have my goal already.
That evening, after process group, I’m sitting by myself on a couch in the common room, biting little chips of hardened skin off my fingertips, when Camille comes up to me.
“They say cannibalism is the ultimate taboo,” she says, and nestles up close to me.
Her breath caresses the inside of my ear as she leans in close and whispers: ”I think it’s sexy.”
I’m not used to intimacy, but it is not an all-together unpleasant sensation. I look up at her.
“I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t a little ashamed of themselves,” she says. Suddenly she wrinkles her nose like a little girl and pulls away.
“I don’t see how you can do it, though. It must be so disgusting… with the blood, and the- ” she looks down and shakes her head. Then she looks up at me, as if suddenly realizing something,
“You’re Ouroboros,” she says.
Who, I ask.
“I’ll show you a picture,” she replies. ”One day. When we get out of here.”
Then she leans forward and kisses me furtively on the cheek.
Three nights later Camille and I manage to have sex in secret, like a couple of teenagers, while everyone else is eating dinner in the common room.
I have always found the idea of sex disgusting, but when Camille pulls down my zipper, she says: “Man was originally a round creature with four arms, four legs, and one head with two faces. It was a punishment of the gods that we were split into male and female.”
Camille is a clever girl.
“The word sex comes from the Latin word ‘secare’, which means to divide. To cut off,” she says as she rubs my hard shaft.
“We long to be reunited, to be made whole, and thereby dissolve.”
Still, I’m so nervous my legs are trembling when she climbs on top of me, and my hardness penetrates her softness. Her skin is cold in the little white room, but inside she is so warm, and I allow myself to be made whole, and for a moment, dissolve.
Afterwards Camille cries. She can’t, or won’t tell me why.
We hatch a plan to escape together. Camille wants to support me in my project, and seems as eager as I am to get out of Harbor View. She hates the ECT treatments they subject her to, and I can’t blame her.
Our biggest obstacle is an old, red brick wall surrounding the institution on all sides. The gate is always locked and requires a little magnetized chip that only the staff is allowed.
One evening Camille rolls off me and tells me the janitor keeps a ladder in the depot. When she tells me he always has the key on him, and that he is a real pig, the proud, defiant feeling I have after the sex, turns sour immediately.
I try to come up with another way, but Camille shakes her head, and seeing how much it bothers me, rushes to plant a kiss on my lips and promise she’ll be thinking of me.
As a mental patient you don’t have any dignity, and we will do what we have to escape.
When the day comes, it is absolute torture for me. Camille has slipped downstairs during the commotion that arises around the time for night meds, when everyone scrambles to get in line for the little red, white and blue highlights of the day.
I am left to wait, choking down my anxiety so as not to make the warden suspect anything. I bite my lips, fumble with my hands. No matter where I put them they seem to be in the way. I absent mindedly wonder if maybe I’d be better off without them, or maybe, at least, with just one of them?
Suddenly Camille appears around the corner and struts urgently through the room towards me. The warden doesn’t notice that she gives my hand a stolen squeeze, and whispers in my ear that she’s got the key. Relief washes over me. Now we just have to hurry.
As we run across the yard, the dew soaking our soft shoes, I realize I’ve fallen in love with this pale-skinned, green-eyed woman.
We cross the wall and leave Harbor View, never to return.
The next couple of days seem even stranger than the time at Harbor View, and in contrast, tumultuous and chaotic.
Camille has friends that squat in abandoned buildings in the slum, and they let us hide among them until one of them, a skinny white boy with unclean skin and red eyes, who insists on constantly speaking in Ebonics, gets us set up in a small low-rise apartment, no questions asked, crumpled dollar bills from a savings account furtively changing hands.
We start a new life.
The apartment is unpalatable. There are children peddling drugs in the yard in broad daylight, and not a night without gunshots, but we have each other, and for the first time in my life I feel something that I guess must be happiness, or at least a new kind of placid contentment.
For a long time it doesn’t even occur to me that this hole is exactly where Camille wants to be. That it’s close to where she lived before she was committed to Harbor View. I’m too blinded by my love for her, and by the unbridled sense of liberation I feel coursing through me at the prospect of resuming my project.
On our first excursion downtown Camille buys a green dress that matches her eyes in a second-hand shop. I buy an electric knife in Home Depot.
Back in the apartment that evening my heart is racing as I undertake my most ambitious project yet. Since the night we escaped from Harbor View, I haven’t been able to shake the growing annoyance with my hands. The symmetry of them bothers me, and no matter how I arrange them, I can’t help but feel like they’re somehow in the way.
I tie a ligature around my left wrist, tight to cut off the blood circulation, and then watch as my hand turns purple and bloated, and all feeling recedes from it. When I lower the buzzing blade of the electrical knife towards it, I have already stopped seeing it as a part of myself – it is something alien and arthropod, a profoundly disgusting creature. The pain is a flower the color of bruises and fireworks that blooms in my head, as the blade saws through flesh and bone, irascibly spattering blood across the kitchen walls.
The shock to my body is too much. When the last tendon is severed and snaps like a rubber band, and the kitchen filled with the smell of flesh and bone scorched from friction, I feel the familiar tugging of the darkness at the corners of my eyes. The floor comes up to meet me, and from a million miles away I feel my skull bounce against the tiles, all numb and slow-motion like.
When I come to, I’m lying on the mattress that we use for a bed. It is dark outside, with the noises a sleepless city makes; sirens, gunshots, someone laughing menacingly somewhere. I feel cold, and can’t stop shaking, even though Camille has covered me with several blankets.
She is kneeling beside me on the floor, almost as if in prayer, but with an expectant expression on her face, obviously eager to show me something that’s resting in her lap.
There is a dull, pounding sensation in the stump of my arm, and a strange, not entirely unpleasant smell in the air. I raise the stump up to my eyes. Camille has wrapped it up neatly in roll bandages fixed with duct tape. It hurts, but the pain is distant, like a sunset.
Without speaking, and without the buoyant smile leaving her lips, Camille holds a plate up to my eyes.
It takes me a few moments to recognize the articulated, spider-like thing the color of marzipan, arranged neatly on a bed of frilled lettuce leaves and tomato wedges.
“I made this for you,” Camille says and smiles.
We eat in silence, but it is a good silence, sitting on the floor of our crummy apartment, with cheap candles and cheaper wine.
I have been too rigid in my principles, I think. There is nothing wrong with cooking the parts.
So how did I get from there, the picture of an idyllic relationship, to, here, alone in front of the mirror, a ruin of a man?
Of course it couldn’t last. Remember the tale of the Chinese farmer I mentioned in the beginning? Well, there you go.
I have severed my lips in frustration. I always felt they were too wet and meaty anyway. I snipped them off with a pair of big paper scissors, so where once Camille placed her kisses, is now a funeral in red, a grinning, crimson mess. I can feel my gums starting to sting as they dry out around my exposed tooth necks.
One day I came home from a trip to the drugstore to buy painkillers, and found Camille passed out in our bed, a needle in her arm.
I shook her awake and yelled at her:
“Was that it? Was that why you were so eager to get out of Harbor View? Was that the real reason?”
She cried, said no and shook her head furiously. She said she loved me. I never used you, she said
I asked her why.
“I need it,” Camille cried. ”I need it to escape. It’s the only thing that makes it quiet in here,” She started beating her fists against her temples.
“There’s so much noise in there, all the time.”
That was when it dawned on me. The sex was not enough to make Camille feel whole anymore, to make her dissolve. That was why the needle had become her lover instead of me.
But who would I have been to judge her? It occurred to me that you can never judge anyone in your own optic, and so I forgave her. I forgave her and forgave and forgave her till I didn’t know which way was up anymore.
I never got to see her wear the green dress she’d bought. It languished at the bottom of the closet, among dust bunnies and dried up puddles of rat piss.
Plato 0, heroin 1.
Sadness and frustration took turns ruling my days from then on, as Camille slipped further and further away from me.
I became jealous that she preferred to retreat to that mysterious world behind her eyelids, preferred it to being here, with me, and so when I came home and found her high again a few days later, we fought, and I shouted, and she cried, and I forgave her, and the whole hellish story soon repeated itself, like an endless, indissoluble knot.
And still I forgave her, even when we started running out of money and I knew she’d started sleeping with her dealer. I think I had severed myself from all emotion at that point. There was only a slow, dull fire that still burned inside me, as I watched her become a stranger, and slip away to whatever desensitized bliss the needle promised.
In the end it wasn’t the drugs that killed her. I will probably never know exactly what made her jump; maybe the answer lies buried somewhere in the past, because after all, what are we, but bundles of damages walking around? Perhaps the ups and downs got to be too much for her. Perhaps she couldn’t think of any other way to quiet the noise in her head. Perhaps the world the heroin offered became so sweet that she couldn’t bear having to go back to one more day in the real world.
All I know is that all things inevitably move towards their end.
My body has indeed become my enemy, now more than ever. My brain haunts me with images of Camille, with sounds and smells that set the memories ablaze again and again. It is as if she has poisoned that big, gray lump of fat in my head against me. My penis as well, it fills with blood and rises involuntarily.
Everything betrays me. With Camille gone I find myself more disgusting and in the way than ever before.
My perception has become fragmented. I no longer remember when or what I eat. I can’t tell the days apart. Even the pain has lost its edge, its reality. But enough talk – I’m getting near the end, and it’s time to get to work. There is really only one thing left to do.
I can’t be sure that I’ll survive the next amputation, and I wonder why I never realized, that from the moment I laid down the very first incision, there was only really one way that this could end. Without realizing it, all along I was working towards cessation. I think I’m finally beginning to understand how everyone needs some way of becoming nothing. How it is our deepest, most secret longing. How it was all about that, about dancing right up close to the edge. To be united, to dissolve, to become nothing. And was there ever really any other way? After all, if I didn’t constantly work to improve myself, then where would I be?
I eat because I can’t allow myself not to. Not ‘I eat therefor I am’, but rather ‘I am, therefor I eat’. I think Camille would have liked that one.
The more I look at myself in the mirror, the more seems to be wrong with the image I see reflected back at me.
Soon I will make the next cut, and it will be my most ambitious one yet.
By Lars Kramhøft