Four Electric Ladies ... Contents
Copyright Ben Goertzel 1996 -- All Rights Reserved
I've only ever loved four women. Relatives excepted.
The first was my wife, Diane.
Diane was my fourth girlfriend ever. We clicked from the moment we met. There was a clear exchange of energies.
I was 18 when we started going together; she was half a year older. We got married a couple years later; I was 20 and she was 21.
I loved her; she loved me. Tra la la la la la. Things weren't perfect, of course; but hell, whose relationship is. Then she was killed. Her car was rammed head-on by a drunk driver. She was coming back home from a health food show. She was on the wrong road at the wrong time. No one could have predicted it.
I remember the week before her death better than any other time in my life. Our relationship was in a pretty sorry state right then.
Things had been shaky with us from the get-go, I suppose. But this is clear only in retrospect. She had always been sensitive, easily offended, breaking down into tears or exploding in shouts at apparently innocuous statements. And I've been temperamental since the day I was born. I can yell, curse and berate with the best of them. The big difference between us temperament-wise was that, while I got over my temper fits in a flash, she dragged hers out for days and days. Her anger at me never quite went away; it just hid somewhere in the back of her mind. It would come out for air every couple days, even when we weren't arguing, manifesting itself in barrages of negative comments.
I had fought a lot with my previous girlfriend, Anise, too. I guess I'm attracted to the volatile personality type. Anise and I would argue and curse at each other, over nothing essentially. She would call me a bastard and pound her fists on my chest. Then she would go out for a walk and come back an hour later. Repentant, she'd make love to me with vigor and passion; everything would be wonderful. With Diane, on the other hand, lovemaking after a fight was out. Even touching her on the shoulder the day after a minor argument was a risky proposition. "Get your filthy paws off me!"
Unlike Anise, or any other girl I'd been involved with, Diane was never repentant. She forgave herself instantly, and me never. She was too fragile to accept any blame. This fragility endeared her to me; it made her seem special and precious. But it could be infuriating. If she did think she was to blame for something, she would break down in tears at the idea, suffering from the thought until she could make it go away.
Something in being around Diane just set my brain on fire. On the other hand, Anise, like my girlfriends before her, had never really touched off any spark in me. Diane had it; they didn't. You can't boil it down to any of her particular qualities. Sure, she was intelligent, sensitive, fun-loving, etc.; but so are a lot of women. Something in the way we were together just seemed right and natural. Like the saying goes, from the moment I was first with her, it was as though we'd known each other forever.
Diane was half a year older than me, but she was behind me in school when we met. I was just starting grad school at Columbia, while she was in her second year of undergrad. She changed her major half a dozen times, ending up with a double major in math and sociology.
We used to sit up late at night in the student center and argue in a playful way -- argue about anything: God, politics, ethics, art, sex, literature.... I passionately wanted to convince her of my views on things, which were very well formulated. Her views were less clear, and I often managed to convert her to my perspective; but not always. She persisted to believe in the death penalty, to dislike Bob Dylan, and to feel drug use was evil. (However, she eventually softened on drugs to the point where would get tipsy on wine with a fancy dinner. She even smoked a couple joints, out of pure curiousity; she said she didn't care for it. And she dropped acid with me once.)
Occasionally our discussions got Diane a little shaken up, but it was all in good fun. We really got off on talking with each other. We understood each other immediately -- saw each others' feelings and motivations. After a few weeks of platonic friendship we started to sleep together. A few months later, when the next semester started, she gave up her dorm room and moved into my apartment (a very scummy one-bedroom cell a few blocks south of campus -- typical New York student accomodation). From that point on, we were never a night apart. We were an inseparable unit. For better or for worse.
She didn't have a deep interest in physics or philosophy, which were my two main passions. Unlike me, she wasn't a person who lives in a world of ideas. But she was always game to talk about anything. Especially in the early years, when I was still in grad school. When I had a Big Idea, or just a big confusion, she was immediately attentive. She made me spell out everything for her in simple terms. She thought the play of concepts was amusing, and she was intellectually acute enough to appreciate the power and originality of my thought processes. She liked the fact that she was married to someone who had these wild, brilliant trains of thought. Even though, as time went on, she grew to resent me for wanting to spend my time working and thinking rather than, say, watching TV with her. Sometimes she tried to connect my ideas to my personality. She was always quick to notice the weak points in my philosophical proclamations.
"The thing I don't understand about you," she said once, "is, you say you don't believe in anything. Life is but a dream, right?"
"No, I don't believe in anything. No fundamentally. I'm a total skeptic."
"Yes, you always say that. You don't even believe that I exist. We argued about this a year ago."
"You exist in some sense. I experience you. But I have no reason to believe you are conscious. So far as I know, I'm the only conscious being in the world."
She held up her hand. "Yeah, well. I don't want to argue about that again. It's stupid. But the thing is, you say you don't believe in anything, but then why do you care about physics so much? I see you finishing up your thesis now, and you're really obsessed by it. This Theory of Everything is everything to you. But if the world isn't real, who cares about studying it, understanding it? That's what I don't get. What difference does it make?"
I smiled at her warmly. I liked her confrontational tone, her aggressive train of thought. I loved philosophical paradoxes. "The whole question of 'reality' is bogus. What does it mean? Nothing is real and nothing is not real. It's all semi-real, somehow. It's there and it's not there. It's more real than if it didn't exist at all. But it's less real than we tend to think it is. It isn't solid and substantial. Everything is holding everything else up. But because of our limited scope of vision, we don't see this. We see a certain range of things, which are defined in terms of other things that are outside of our scope of awareness, and thus seem solid. Then, when we focus our awareness on these other things, we see them as dependent on other things, which in turn seem solid. If we could see everything at once then it would all seem interdependent and insubstantial."
"I can see why everything would be interdependent. But why does that mean it would be insubstantial?"
I tried to phrase my thoughts better. This was what she always made me do. It was a very useful process. "Well," I began uncertainly, "when we say that a bunch of processes in something like a forest -- decomposition processes, growth processes, migration, whatever -- are interdependent, that doesn't mean they're insubstantial. But that's because they're defined in terms of a lower level of being, in a one-way fashion. The things in the forest are interdependent, but they're all made of molecules and atoms. On the other hand, when you're talking about everything in the universe, there's no lower level to appeal to. You're talking about meaning. So, if the meaning of a thing is given by the things it's related to, and...."
She held up her hand. "You're getting way too abstract for me."
"Okay." In truth, I'd been confusing myself a little. "Maybe I'm not formulating things right. But this is what I want to grasp in physics. See, every particle is really defined in terms of other particles. You can never really measure an elementary particle -- that's quantum theory. The uncertainty principle. You can measure a particle only in terms of its interactions with other particles. So each particle is defined in terms of other particles. Again, just like in my philosophical argument, you have the basic stuff of the universe being things that get all their meaning from each other. There's no external source. My physics model boils all this down to the simplest level. I throw out calculus and everything complicated. I just have a discrete world, a finite collection of locations at which particles can live. Fermions live at the locations; bosons live on the links, the paths between the locations. The particles zip around on the links and hit other particles, thus destroying each other, or creating new particles, or just bouncing off each other. What I'm trying to get at is this weird way in which the world creates itself. All the particles are each other. But yet they're really there, in a way. The particles are semi-real. They grant each other existence, but they don't have the power to, because none of them has existence except through each other. But yet these particles are what we're made of, right? Their existence is our existence. If they're just semi-real, so are we."
"So something that's always creating itself, that's what you mean by semi-real?"
That was a nice way of putting it. "Yeah. Sure. Something that God creates, which is absolutely there: that's real. That's how Isaac Newton thought the universe was. Absolute space and time. That's bogus. But something that isn't there at all, on the other hand -- that's unreal. Like a movie. It doesn't contain your self. Your self is outside of it, not in it. It's just pictures on a flat plane. And then, something that engages the self, but doesn't have any absolute solidity, that's semi-real. It constantly re-makes itself, yes, and its re-building process engages your self. That's semi-real. See?"
"I guess so. But what does this really have to do with your physics model, with your dissertation?"
"Well, I want to get at these issues, but the mathematics gets in the way. So I've stripped down the mathematics to a bare minimum. My model is incredibly simple compared to everyone else's."
"So, your model of elementary particles is much simpler than everyone else's, but it still works."
"It gives the same predictions at the energies we know about. It gives different predictions at very high energies. But we don't know how to get there."
She laughed and put her arm on me. "This stuff is really weird, Vic. This isn't like high school physics at all."
"What? Newton's laws and rolling balls down inclined planes? No. That's not what fundamental physics is about. But in the end, it's the same thing Newton was trying to do. Understand the fundamental nature of the universe. That's what we're here to do, isn't it? To understand why we were here."
She poked me. "You're such a philosopher. Come on, let's get some dinner."
It was this discussion of reality that led Diane and I to drop acid together, a couple months later. I kept telling her how wonderful LSD was. I had tripped once before, with some of my rough friends in high school. As I admitted to Diane, I hadn't had any really profound experiences, but I had definitely enjoyed it, and I had sensed a deep potential. I had seen beneath the world in a way I had always imagined should be possible, but had never been able to achieve. Above all, it had felt like a substantiation of my long-held intuition that the world didn't exist. I had always known things were wispy, floating, insubstantial, but I had never been able to see things that way, except for a moment or two; at most a couple minutes. Acid dragged out this sensation of deeper vision for six or eight hours. You could look at something and really see into it, unravelling everything that contributed to produce it. There were no routinized thought processes there, to drag you back to reality.
I had gone in deep, but I wanted to go in deeper. I wanted to see into the structure of reality; actually see this interdependence that I'd been telling her about, that I was trying to grab in my physics theory. I described all this to Diane in such glowing terms possible.
I should also mention that Diane was moderately religious. When I met her she'd been going to church regularly. She had read somewhere that LSD could give you spiritual insights, an idea which excited her. It took a lot of arguing and discussing, but eventually I convinced her to try it. This was back when we were getting along well, and I had a great deal of influence over her. She trusted me. One of my friends from grad school, Mike Sellman, also wanted to try acid for the first time. So it was going to be a three-way trip.
So the three of us took the acid together, there in the dusty, unclean livingroom of my West Harlem apartment. The walls were covered with posters of rock bands and great physicists: Jimi Hendrix and Yngwie Malmsteen were right over the couch, staring out at Lobachevskii and Maxwell, hanging over the great stuffed armchair on the other side of the room. Mike's friend Sprout was there to babysit, along with someone else, a friend of his, whose name I don't remember. Sprout was a very clean-cut guy who ate huge sandwiches overflowing with bean sprouts. He wasn't into drugs at all, but had come at Mike's request. Mike had heard somewhere that it was good to have a straight "baby-sitter" around while you were tripping. I didn't really subscribe to this view, but Sprout's presence didn't bother me. I was only concerned with one thing: popping the tab in my mouth, feeling that weird familiar tingle on my tongue. I somehow felt this trip was necessary for me. And I was thrilled to have Diane along for the ride. Feeling as close to her as I did back then, it would have seemed wrong to go without her.
The acid hit Mike first -- and, much to the amusement of all present, he leaped on Diane and spent about fifteen minutes slurping her bellybutton. As for me, I was immediately thrown back to the end of my last trip. To a vision I'd had then, and had completely forgotten. This vision of society as a web of interdefinition -- I defined myself by reference to my parents, my friends and a few others, she defined herself by reference to her friends, et cetera, they defined themselves by reference to their friends.... I saw humanity as a vast system of simultaneous nonlinear equations: one which, however, could never be solved due to the fact that even the concept of solution was a human artifact and hence fit into the equation.... This trip picked up where that one left off -- people, webs, music.... I was inside Diane, Sprout and Mike, trying to bust out from their collective shapes and colors, trying to find the key to the universe.... I kept thinking about my Theory of Everything. Somehow, it seemed, I could get at the center of it all this way. The essence of reality. The same thing I was looking for with my equations, I could find this way -- directly.
Sprout put Pink Floyd on the stereo; I sank into every tiniest chamber of the music, every rhythm-within-rhythm, every counter-counterpoint ... music was my only tie with time. Time didn't pass so every note was a whole symphony. And through the phantasmagoric mayhem of it all I sought to concentrate.... But concentration was impossible. Every time I made a definite statement to myself, erected a plot of conceptual ground for my conscious to stand on -- the very process of standing seemed to flip the plot out from beneath my feet. Assertion of X was impossible since the process of assertion invariably seemed to contain not-X ... and no less when the assertion was this sentence. It was impossible to think. But I sensed somewhere that this was not something to be held against acid; it was something to be held against thought. Thought was a limiting, stilted process. I was feeling something much more profound.
I remember so brilliantly well the process of peeing. My little bathroom was a self-contained universe; my urination was the process of being. It was my connection with the world. There was nothing, nothing whatsoever, besides urination and the sterile Pine-Sol smell of the bathroom. As I finished peeing the walls hiccoughed, screamed and shuddered. The water swirled down the toilet as I automatically flushed. And I was -- literally, not metaphorically -- born again! Turning away from the toilet, I felt life as if it were something never felt before -- all full of vibrancy, hyperreality, subtle electricity. I looked at the mirror, saw myself, and tumbled through an abyss.... What I saw in the mirror wasn't "me" at all -- or rather it was "me," but in a deeper sense than usual -- it was a ghost, a heap of wafers barely cohered by some obstinate biological force.
I bent to drink and a thousand veils lifted. All of a sudden I saw all the unconscious rooms of my mind, all in action together. I felt my intuition calculate the angles at which to bend various parts of my body in order to successfully execute the act of drinking. Waist: just so much. No -- that, like before ... divided by the angle between the legs during walking. I felt my body think by analogy, proceeding on the basis of a weighted average of its actions in previous similar situations. Head: so far just like look at ground, minus scratch plus half of lean over to waterfountain ... Lips: shrink on contact, make round; torso: twist. I felt my body think, using processes I had previously identified with "higher mind." I saw, felt, experienced somethign I had never seen before. The same processes and forms were high, low, right, left and everywhere. There was an astonishing isomorphy of form across different systems and situations. A word popped into my head from somewhere: Logos. The Logos, the world of pure forms. The creative power of the Logos. These forms were guiding my thoughts. These forms were structuring the universe. I picked up a stick of Diane's lipstick and wrote the word on the mirror. In case I forgot it, I would see it there later: LOGOS.
I looked in the mirror again, and saw elementary particles. I saw deep down; molecules, atoms, particles, quarks. Wave- particles of energy getting superimposed on each other. I saw the constituents of elementary particles: these fluctuating angles, shifting back and forth. Each particle was a kind of higher-dimensional mirror, reflecting other particles. The archetypal forms governing the behavior of the particles, were the archetypal forms governing the behavior of my consciousness. The ideas floating around in my head were the ideas floating around in my body, in the particles within me. It was all the same basic structure. We partitioned the world into categories: over here is mind, over here is reality. Here is psychology, here is physics. But in essence there was only the Logos, only the realm of form.
I returned from the toilet and Diane was drawing on the wall with magic markers. The consequences for my security deposit did not even occur to me. She looked perfect, whole, beautiful, but not like a beautiful woman, more like a tree or mountain; a natural form. Her artistic motions wove pictures through the air; her body and her drawing were united in a four-dimensional scuplture. I had never known her to be artistic before: this was a whole new side of her, something that had been hidden in the back of her mind. Her drawings were gorgeous; they belonged in a museum. I had an inkling of another trip I would have much later, in which I would somehow see inside her, instead of seeing her surface. But for now I didn't see inside her at all. She was just a part of the room. The contents of her mind melted in with the shifting, dancing patterns on the wall.
Mike was not having such a good time: he was lying on the bed repeating "Of course!" five hundred time, again and again, in fake operatic tones. The babysitters had got bored and left. I think I'd told them it was all right. Mike was suffering. I tried to reach out to him again and again. But I couldn't get through. I wasn't experienced enough to break through his bad trip. His attitude was starting to poison my own trip. Cast out by him, I was confused and alone. I decided to change the music. Maybe that would improve things.
I put Jimi Hendrix, Axis, Bold as Love, on the turntable, side two. My mind set off again. I wanted to reach the core of things, the essence. To grab an insight out of here that I could bring back to the temporal world. I needed an extra ingredient for my Theory of Everything. I tried to delve back into the Logos. But the music carried me away. The final song arrived: the title song, "Axis, Bold as Love." I dove through the music. The onset of the song is slow, sweet, strong; as smooth as the pearly void of the Zen Buddhists. The music made me sing silently and laugh; the lyrics told fantasies of bright spiraling colors.
Anger, he smiles, towering in shiny metallic purple armor Queen Jealousy, Envy, waits behind him Her fiery green gown sneers at the grassy ground Blue are the life-giving waters -- taken for granted, they quietly understand Once-happy turquoise armies lay opposite ready But wonder why the fight is on But they're all bold as love They're all bold as love They're all bold as love Just ask the Axis ... My Red is so confident he flashes trophies of war and ribbons of euphoria Orange is young, full of daring, but very unsteady for the first go-round My yellow in this case is not so mellow In fact, I'm trying to say it's frightened like me And all these emotions of mine keep on holding me from giving my life to a rainbow like you But I'm ... I'm bold as love But I'm bold as love But I'm bold as love Just ask the Axis, he knows everything....
Each of his phantoms, his feeling-constructions, arise and dance with me in turn, clothed in gorgeous dashikis and skins of dragons, leopards, snakes. The emotions rise up from my mind and sail around the room, invading the molecules in the air. As the lyrics dim, the music unravels inexorably -- pattern on pattern of fresh flawless flowing, soft endings suddenly transforming into bright new beginnings, a symphony of delicate balance, afterplay, tying up every tremor left in my body in a kind of bouquet of nonmelodramatic love. And then the silence... The silence which seems to last forever. And then explodes, booms into a herd of thundering drumclouds; a swarm of beats spiraling out and in and out, in orbits too intense for the eye. In the complexity my self was lost; in the intensity my self regained. It was at this point the vision hit me with full force. I looked at Diane sitting there, and realized she was naked. Ordinarily she wouldn't have taken off her clothes in front of Mike, but now it didn't matter. Social strictures were nothing. The world was decomposed. Her lovely white thighs glowed out at me like ivory. My eyes caught onto her pink cunt, glowing between them, like a strange alien light. Every object around me, I saw, was a giant abstract red vagina: a living, breathing, pulsing opening, giving birth to everything else in the world. Everything was constantly being birthed by everything else. And everything was constantly making love with everything else, planting the seeds for this birth. Everything was flowing, a flowing and pulsing: flowing in and out of everything else, with a rhythm that was precisely the rhythm of my and everyone else's thoughts, the heartbeat of the universe. The moving was in precisely the form: X, not-X, X, not-X,.... In, Out, In, Out, In, Out,.... Everything was breathing, birthing, loving, pulsing, expanding contradictions into the flow of time. And real objects, people, minds, chairs, walls, music, were just continually regenerated by this flow. Mike was a giant beached whale; his destructive bad-trip mindset was carrying on by itself, self-sufficient and self-producing, each "Of course" birthing him as he birthed it. Diane's strange expression concealed some dark erotic mystery, but as her eye blinked the veil blew aside, and I saw the currents in her brain, locked in with the pores of her skin and the air in the room and the colors and curves in her drawing. Everything was just a temporary configuration, a network of processes that happened to approximately reproduce itself by the dynamic of universal love- birth. The Logos itself was a giant vagina, giving birth to forms and endowing them with the illusion of solidity. The insight was perfect; the moment lasted forever. The color red was more magic and vivid than even Diane's beautiful face. In the end the abstract vaginas and rhythmic In/Out movement proved to be inessential. The basis of the vision was nothing. The universe was open, wide, perfectly clear. I didn't try any more to think or describe it; I didn't care about bringing back insights to the temporal world, about my Theory of Everything. Everything just was.
Fifteen to thirty minutes, this ecstatic experience lasted for. But then, it was outside of time. In my mind, deep inside every moment -- it's still going on.
That trip led me to one of the biggest breakthroughs in my physics work, in my Theory of Everything. The acid trip didn't give me any details: what it gave me was a motivating insight. The insight that the Logos, the abstract structure of the universe, was the important thing. There were abstract forms, abstract structures out there, that were rising through everything. Science and mathematics made use of these structures, as did art; but no one was conscious that this was going on. Now I was conscious of it. Instead of constructing theories to account for data, I was fishing in the collective unconscious, looking for powerful forms to structure my understanding. I realized that this had always been my methodology, on an unconscious level. I was in tune with the Logos. The trip had been brilliant. A few weeks after the trip, I identified a certain abstract algebraic structure called the octonions as being essential to the structure of the universe.
Consciousness, I reasoned, made things timeless. It revealed the web of interdependence underlying apparent solidity. But it had a very limited span. Only seven items or so could be held in human consciousness at one time. No one knew the reason for this particular number. But I thought I understood it. It came from mathematics, from Logos. From the universe of abstract form. Because consciousness was timeless, it had to do with reversible operations: things that could be done equally well backwards and forwards. Consciousness was a reversible abstract structure. But I remembered from my mathematics classes that there were only four finite-dimensional division algebras of any interest. Only four finite-dimensional algebraic structures with the property that all operations within them can be reversed. These are called the real numbers, the complex numbers, the quaternions and the octonions. The octonions, the biggest such structure, contains seven basic elements. Seven elements: seven ideas in consciousness. I couldn't prove the connection there, but it seemed obvious. It came right out of the timeless, reversible nature of consciousness. Which had been revealed to me in the acid trip.
On LSD consciousness extends over things that are usually shut off to it. Consciousness is hyperactive. And so you have a weird sense of time: you dip inside time and wallow around. Time flows in many directions instead of just one.
This crazy psychological idea started me thinking: the octonions, this reversible abstract algebra, captures the present moment. The present moment in the mind. But what about the present moment in the universe? And this idea gave me exactly the concept I needed for my physics theory. I figured out a way to construct a discrete physics theory in which the structure of the octonions corresponded to the structure of particle interactions, at a given time. You wind up with an eight-dimensional spacetime, which has to be collapsed to four, but this is pretty standard in modern physics. The string theorists have a twenty- six dimensional universe, collapsed down to four. The theory worked! The octonions resolved so many open questions in the theory I'd had up to that time. The octonions gave the structure at the moment, and then my discrete Feynman summation, that I'd figured out before, gave the evolution over time.
When Diane and I tripped together, I had already written up my thesis, though I hadn't yet graduated with my Ph.D. It was already a pretty strong thesis, so I didn't put the octonions in it. It took a year for me to figure out all the details of the octonion theory and write them up. But when I finally did, it was accepted immediately; and once it was published, it was extremely well received. It was one of my best ideas, by any standard. And it came straight from the Logos. I didn't care to pursue the consciousness angle at present; I wasn't a psychologist. I just pushed ahead with the physics. I was inspired and elated. More than ever before, I felt sure that my Theory of Everything had promise.
By the way, this may seem a strange story of scientific innovation, but I'm not sure how atypical it is, at bottom. People have this wrongheaded notion that science is rational. But the truth is, of course, that creative inspiration, which is the ultimate root of all scientific and technological discovery, is entirely irrational. Ideas spring from emotions, feeling, intuitions; from the strife and turmoil of human minds. Preparing one's insights to communicate to others, writing them up in papers, one makes them sound rational. One has to, in order to be understood. Rationality is the language of scientific communication -- but not of scientific discovery. Or at least, this is my philosophical position. Which may be partly a self-justification for my own very irrational mind!
In the months after the trip, I tried to explain my new insights to Diane. With an emphasis on the philosophical underpinnings, rather than the mathematical details, which were growing ever more complex (for instance, the eight-dimensional octonions had to be unravelled into a certain twenty-four dimensional lattice structure). My notion of semi-reality, I tried to tell her, had been incomplete. Semi-reality wasn't just the world reconstructing itself at each moment. It was the world reconstructing itself at each moment, guided by this indescribable shaping force, that I called the Logos. It was the Logos that made the semi-real world such an intricate, patterned place. The Logos filled the world up with repeated structures, like the octonions.
"Your Logos sounds a lot like what I'd call God," she said.
"But it's a non-judgemental God, right? It just creates and destroys forms. It's a totally impersonal God. It has no use for prayer."
"It's a part of God, then."
"Maybe it's the only part of God that's really there. The other parts are just culturally imposed."
I tried to draw her out, but quite atypically, she didn't want to talk about it. I think she was jealous of how excited I was about my insights.
Of course, I have to remember that Diane's experience of that trip was quite different from mine. I was off in my own world, inspired by the music, by my urine, by my face in the mirror, by the sight of her flesh. I felt the contents of her mind: at times we were absorbed in one form. We were a single mind, thinking together. It was an incredible thing. But this was not the height of the trip. As the trip went on we seemed to withdraw more and more into our separate worlds. I was looking for insight; she was looking for spirituality. She was looking for God. But he always eluded her. She could see him disappearing around corners and into images, she said to me later. But she couldn't grab onto him, ever. I guess that's why she was jealous of my big Logos insight. She hadn't found her God, but I'd found mine. When I finally found my ecstatic vision, I was there all alone.
Still, she said afterwards that she'd loved the trip very much. She said she'd felt very close to Mike the whole time, as if they were sharing a collective mindspace together. She felt that I was shutting the two of them out, not letting them into my mind.
As for Mike, he seemed to be enjoying himself during much of the trip, but the whole experience left a bad taste in his mind. He didn't speak to either of us for a couple years, and then it was only a couple sentences. We both sensed that he felt somehow violated and exposed, as if we had seen too far into the secret caverns of his mind. It wasn't so much his embarrassing behavior (500 "of course"'s, sucking Diane's navel) as the complete relaxation of all psychological barriers between self and other. I felt quite guilty afterwards for having encouraged him to take the acid: I had thought it might solidify our friendship, but it wound up having the opposite effect. He couldn't handle the feeling of confronting the raw feelings and urges that make up the substrate of our world. In fact, though, we hadn't seen nearly so far into his mind as he thought we had. I was off on my own voyage of discovery, and Diane's feelings toward him during the trip were purely ones of affection and companionship. He had lost the capacity to distinguish our minds from his own.
Anyway, after that, Diane didn't want to trip anymore. So I didn't trip either. She hadn't found God, and that was that. She did start going to church again, so the trip must have had some spiritual effect on her.
That trip was a wonderful moment. We were very close then -- way back when we were both in school. I don't know how things went so far wrong afterwards. Later on, she even held the trip against me, accusing me of forcing her to take drugs. But she must have known this wasn't true. Convincing isn't forcing.
Diane was half-Indian -- India Indian, not Native American. Her Indian mother was fairly conventional, and was basically her only parent. Her American father had disappeared years before. Her mother would have rather seen her marry an Indian guy, but she didn't put up too much fuss. She thought I was a sweet boy.
When we got married, we'd been together for two years. I had just finished my Ph.D., and had gotten a post-doctoral fellowship, right there at Columbia. She was getting her bachelor's, and thinking about starting grad school, though unsure of the subject. I guess this is when things started to go sour. When we were both in school, we were just students in love; and our lover's quarrels never much got in the way of anything. Marriage was different. There were definite issues involved. After we got married, Diane wanted to buy a house in the suburbs, or at least a nice apartment in a good neighborhood. But we couldn't afford it on a post-doc's salary. We argued about this again and again.
"What, all you care about is a house and a picket fence? What about my career? All my life I've wanted to be a theoretical physicist. How can you expect me to do anything else?"
"I'm not saying I expect you to do anything else. I'm just saying, now that I'm married, I want to own my own house. Or at least an apartment, Vic. It's perfectly normal."
"Look, when I started grad school, I thought I'd get a good job as a professor right away."
"That's what you always told me."
"Right. Now it looks like it's going to take a few years, that's all. Once I get a professor job, somewhere outside New York, we'll be able to buy a house easily."
"I don't want to leave New York. This is where I grew up. Where would you want to go? Pocatello, Idaho? Come on, Vic? Think about it. You're not being fair to me. How could I live there?"
We argued and argued. I yelled, she cried. She yelled, I stormed out. She froze me out, not speaking for days on end. In the end I gave in: I said I would take a few years off from physics, get a decent-paying job, and see how I liked it. It was a painful decision, but somehow I felt good about it at the time. It was worth it for the look on her face. Pure love, warmth, sex, gratitude. Plus, it was sort of humiliating working for $18,000 a year. You couldn't support a dog on that in New York City, let alone a wife. After a year the post-doc expired, and instead of looking for another I took a job for the Columbia business department, as a computer systems administrator, almost tripling my salary.
I had reconciled myself to the idea of taking time off from physics -- but I hated the reality. I was still around the university, but that didn't count for much in practice; what I was doing had nothing to do with science. The job was fairly challenging, on a day-to-day basis, it had to be admitted: no end of new problems to puzzle out. You always had to stretch the system to the maximum, and no one was ever satisfied. But still, fundamentally, it was a mind-numbing pursuit. The only thing good about it was the salary.
We bought a two bedroom apartment, on a good block on the Upper East Side. Not a house in the suburbs with a white picket fence. It felt like a compromise. Two cars, a new Saturn and a used Mazda in good condition. Not even one car was strictly necessary; we could both have gotten around on the subway. We were comfortable, financially. I worked on my physics three evenings a week.
But I couldn't stand it. After two years, I figured I had given it an adequate chance, and decided to go back to physics. Even while working as a sys-admin, I had been steadily publishing physics papers, so my C.V. was pretty strong. I thought I might be able to get a professor job this time, albeit probably in some desolate corner of the country. But the physics job market was rock-bottom, and none of the professor jobs I applied for ever came through. Out of desperation, I went back to my old contacts, and wangled another post-doc at Columbia.
The second post-doc was worse than the first one. Less autonomy, and an area further from my specialization of fundamental particle physics. Superconductivity, this time. Mucking around with liquid helium. All through school I'd hated experimental work. I felt I was going around in circles. But this time I got some part-time teaching too, for extra money. I managed to pull in $30,000. Not a lot, but it was much better than programming. At least it was physics.
On the surface, Diane was supportive of my move back to physics. I felt like she finally understood: I wanted to be a theoretical physicist, not a computer hacker. Doing what I wanted -- needed -- to do was more important than making lots of money. Looking back, however, this was precisely when our problems intensified. I don't think she ever really reconciled herself to the fact that I would rather do physics for low pay than do system administration and bring her home a big wad of cash each month. This felt like a slight against her. I said before that she never really forgave me for anything. If something bothered her, she would mull over it forever -- nurture her annoyance, let it grow larger and larger until it spilled over out of her and caused an explosion.
To be fair, I should note that, at the time I started my second post-doc, she was having her own troubles in graduate school. After a year's study, one of her professors had callously told that her she wasn't cut out to be a mathematician. She'd quit the mathematics department in a huff. I had tried to get her to just ignore the guy (who was probably just sexist, or racist, or something), but she couldn't shake it off. She'd taken a semester off, working part-time as a math tutor; and then she'd switched to psychology. But her sociology degree didn't fill all the prerequisites for grad school in psychology. They made her go back and do a semester of undergraduate work, which she hated. Then, when she finally got into psychology grad school, she started having problems with the professors there too. She came home from school in tears every few days. I have no doubt the professors really weren't nice to her. I'd seen plenty of cruel professors already at that stage; I've seen a lot more now. But I didn't see why she took it so hard.
"Look, honey," I'd say. "That's how academia is. Grad students are slaves. They're pushed around like anything."
She'd protest the details of the situation. "But he had no right to give me that kind of grade. There were only three of us in the class. He made the exam extra-difficult just for me. Mark and John have so much more background than me. He knew I'd be the only one who couldn't do it."
"Look, you passed, didn't you?"
"So, you made it over that hurdle. Move onto the next one."
"But how can I just accept something like this? It's wrong! I should protest somehow. File a complaint."
"Well, file one, then. Good luck. You'll need it."
"Gee, you're so supportive. Thanks a fucking lot."
I remember it so well. That moment, repeated a hundred times. That look in her eyes. Not a twinkle; just the opposite. I saw the look and I knew I'd slipped up; I knew I'd said something wrong. My balance was shaken. I knew I was about to say something wrong again, but I couldn't stop myself.
"File a complaint, if you want. I mean; I hope you win the case. I'm just saying, I don't favor your chances. I mean, professors have the right to grade their classes any way they want to. If they want to be assholes, they can get away with it. It's one of the perks of the job. You get low pay, but lots of power."
"You're saying it's all right to give someone a C for purely personal reasons!"
"No, I'm saying it's all right to give someone a C if they got a C on the final exam for a course! If you file a complaint, he'll just say he was giving a fair exam, and you didn't know the stuff. Even if everyone in the class had failed, you'd probably lose the case. As it is, I don't see any hope at all."
"Then the whole university system is evil. I should sue him in a real court."
"You wouldn't win there either. And we can't afford to hire a lawyer."
"I guess that's right. We can't afford anything anymore, can we? Not since you quit your fucking job."
"Come on, sweetie. Just forget about it. This sort of thing happens all the time."
"It never happened to you."
"I never switched fields, either. If you'd been in psych from the start you would have had the background Mark and John do, and you would have got an A too."
"But I knew everything I was supposed to know for the class! What he put on there was totally unrelated!"
"Well, if it's really totally unrelated, maybe you could win the complaint. I don't know. Like I said, go for it."
"'Go for it! Go for it!'" She tried to mock my tone of voice, a habit which always annoyed me. "God, Vic! Why do you always have to take their side against me?"
"If I were in a position to take a side, I would take your side, honey. Come on. I'm just telling you my honest opinion."
"Well you can shove your honest opinion up your fucking ass!"
She was out the door. I called after her, "Oh, fuck you too!"
She came back at eleven and slept on the couch. I came out and begged her to come into the bed, but she wouldn't do it. I was up the whole night, tossing and turning. I don't know why, but her not sleeping in the bed really got to me. She'd never done that before. It seemed to mark a new low in our relationship. And the dispute in question was such a stupid thing, a non- dispute really. Obviously to her it was important, but to me it was totally trivial. I felt I had been reasonably supportive. She just hadn't like the way I'd phrased things, or my tone of voice. She felt that I didn't support her at all, that I was siding with the evil world against her, that I thought she was a piece of shit. Fucking Jesus!
The next day she spoke only a few words to me. She was still fuming inside. At dinnertime, I asked her to sleep in the bed with me that night, so I could get some sleep; she agreed. She turned in early at ten. When I went to bed at twelve, I put my arm around her. She moved to the far side of the bed and shrieked. "I didn't say you could fucking touch me!" I got up and went out to the liquor store and bought a bottle of cheap wine. It put me right to sleep. I rarely drink, so half a bottle of wine was enough to get me thoroughly wasted.
The next morning, she was feeling better. At breakfast she said she wanted us to see a marriage counselor. I shrugged my shoulders, unenthused, but said I would go along with it. She berated me. "You don't think you have a problem? You have to learn how to how to show me some respect, and support! Why do you think you can treat me like a piece of shit and then go to bed with me? You put yourself ahead of me by quitting your computer job, but that wasn't enough for you, huh? Everything is you, you, you! If I have a problem, it's because there's something wrong with me, right? I just wasn't good enough to get an A; is that what you think of me? Is that the way you support your wife, Vic? Huh? Is that the way you give love and support?"
"I didn't say you weren't good enough to get an A. I didn't say anything of the kind."
"Well, excuse me, I don't remember your exact words."
"No, you don't. And not only that, you don't remember the basic idea of what I said either."
"Oh, fuck you, Vic! I'm sorry I opened my mouth to talk to you today. You don't deserve to be spoken to."
"Come on, Diane. Calm down, huh? Look, I'm sorry if I wasn't supportive enough. I guess I just didn't realize it was such a big deal for you."
"You don't think it should be a big deal, that's what you're saying! You think there's something wrong with me for getting upset about it, instead of something wrong with him for giving me that fucking exam!"
"Come on, can't we just drop it?" I looked at my watch. "I've got work to do." It was seven thirty.
"You don't start work till nine. It's a fifteen-minute walk."
"I mean, my own work."
She glared at me, and got up from the table. She never liked the fact that, even though I was working in a low-paying physics job, I still had to use all my spare moments working on my Theory of Everything. When I'd been making good money as a sys-admin, she hadn't cared if I spent early mornings and evenings doing physics -- but now, all of a sudden, it grated on her more. Everything grated on her more.
"I want you to call a marriage counselor today. All right?"
"It's your idea. Why don't you do it?"
"Too busy, huh? Too busy for your marriage."
"Okay, I'll do it, all right?"
I did call a marriage counselor, from work, and made an appointment for three weeks later. I didn't have much faith in counseling, but I figured it might do some good. Things certainly were getting worse and worse by the month.
Then there were a couple fairly neutral days in there. I didn't have the guts to come on to her sexually, but I was getting awfully horny. This is how it always was after we had a fight. I was aching to have sex with her, but she was standoffish. Anyhow, we talked, ate meals together, behaved perfectly cordially. Everything was sort of all right.
Finally, one night I had a really erotic dream. I can't remember what it was, I just remember that I kept on waking up half- remembering it and and then forcing myself back to sleep. Finally Diane was stirring next to me and I couldn't keep up the fantasy going. The dream disappeared and the only thing left of it was a monstrous hard-on.
I knew she wouldn't want to do it that morning -- aside from still being slightly angry at me, she didn't like morning sex -- so I started thinking about the coming night. I wanted to have good sex that evening -- not just any sex: tremendous, super- ordinary sex. Sex befitting the awesome magnitude of my erection. The kind of sex that gives you images to reminisce over, and wipes the memories of stupid marital squabbles out of your mind. (There was a whole region of my brain filled up with images, sounds, smells and tastes of me and Diane having sex. I would go back to them in dull moments, playing them over and over in my mind like video clips.)
So, anyway, I started to pave the way early. As soon as I woke up I started fondling Diane -- kissing her neck, her lips, her breasts. By the time she woke up her pelvis was moving from side to side, quite involuntarily. She opened her eyes and I reminded her that she had to be at school in half an hour. She was taking an eight o'clock class.
"Got to go," she said thickly. "Fucking school."
"Is that what they teach you over there?"
I helped her out of bed and led her to the shower. The warm water woke her up. Slowly, methodically, I soaped her body up, and rinsed it off. Washing between her legs soon became a more protracted exercise. If she'd given it a few more minutes she would have had a nice little orgasm, but she was in too much of a hurry. "C'mon, sweetheart. We don't have time for this.... I'm gonna be late for class...."
I didn't have to be at work till nine. I went back to bed, turned the stereo on, and did a few calculations on my portable computer. Not stuff for my job -- stuff for my Theory of Everything. This is how I had to do things: my own work, the stuff that really interested me, had to be done in my spare time. At odd moments of the day.
The morning's work was pretty easy. No one else was in the superconductivity lab. I set up some experiments, noted down the results. I was supposed to do the experiments ten times. I got tired after six times and faked the last four. Then I took out my portable and worked on my own stuff some more, my Theory of Everything. (This is why good scientists never trust anyone else's data. Especially if the data is reported in a multi- authored paper. You never know who really did the work. The scientist who's writing it up may be totally honest. But who knows what the lab slaves really did behind his back? Or, on the other hand, the scientist himself may be a cheat, trying to make up good results to ensure his tenure. Or he may just be incompetent. In the course of my post-doc, I had the opportunity to try to replicate a fairly large number of experiments in superconductivity. I found that about 20% of the experimental papers contained seriously incorrect results.)
I met Diane for lunch outside her building. We walked over to the row of food trucks waiting on the street outside. I followed her to the Chinese truck. Today the special was goat curry. I bought her flowers from an ill-looking old-lady vendor. She laughed and told me not to. I told her that if she didn't want them she could give them to her thesis supervisor. Stop, stop, she said.
The afternoon's work was pretty tedious. My boss Dr. Zane was in and I had to proofread a paper for him. It was full of all kinds of mistakes, mostly typos, but some math errors as well. I got home and was feeling kind of down. But Diane had gotten home before me. She'd picked up on my earlier mood and she greeted me at the door in her black lace teddy. She pressed me up against the wall and kissed me, then led me to the bed by the collar. We never got around to dinner. It was a hell of an evening!
The next morning, though, Diane woke up in a horrible tizzy. I don't know why. Sometimes a really big orgasm seemed to fry her brain. I woke up early and did some physics work, my own stuff, and the first thing she said to me when she got up was that I should have been doing the dishes. It's true, the previous day had been my day to do the dishes, and I hadn't done them due to our having spent the whole evening fucking. I could have done the dishes at 5 AM upon waking, but I had chosen to work on my physics stuff instead. But so what? Is that the way to greet someone after an evening of total sensual bliss?
What I should have done was to say, in a very sweet tone, "Honey, I don't feel that's a very nice way to greet me." Maybe she would have apologized. Well, that's unlikely; she never apologized for anything. But she probably would have dropped her complaint.
Instead I just got pissed. I said, "Aw, fuck off."
I got back: "Don't you talk to me like that."
"I'll talk however I want to -- it's a free country!"
It's amazing what stupid things two very intelligent people can say to each other.
"No you cannot."
"Look, you come in here when I'm working and start nagging me; I don't like it. I'm sorry I used foul language. But the sentiment is the same one way or the other. Don't fuck off, then, just buzz off, all right. Flutter off. Twitter off. Leave me alone for a minute; and I'll deal with the dishes a little later. I don't go to work till nine, remember. It's only half past seven."
"But I want to use the dishes now and they're dirty. It was your day to wash them yesterday...."
"Look! I'll come do them in five minutes, all right? Just give me five minutes to finish up this equation...."
"Five minutes. Okay."
I hurry and struggle to finish the equation. Then, what seems like thirty seconds later, I hear a banging and crashing from the kitchen. I look at my watch. It's been a good fifteen minutes. Oops.
I go out to the kitchen and she's smashing the dirty dishes on the floor. "Honey, stop it! Don't be ridiculous! What the fuck are you doing?"
"Five minutes, huh? I know what your five minutes means! You can shove your five minutes up your ass, bastard! I don't know how many fucking hours a week you think you're supposed to work for your damn fucking pittance of a salary!"
I took a deep breath, trying not to yell. "You know I'm not working on stuff for my job. And my pittance is an awful lot more than you bring in."
"Oh, we're back to that again, are we? You don't think I deserve to finish my Ph.D. like you did? I'm not good enough, is that it?! Women don't deserve to get through school like men do? We're just supposed to stay home and do your motherfucking dishes while you do the work! You're such a fucking misogynist, Vic! You're such a fucking misogynist!"
"I didn't say anything like any of that. I don't know why you're making that stuff up."
"Making it up. Yeah, right. Look, Vic, would you just get out of my face, okay? I'm clearing the fucking dishes out of the sink, all right?! Just leave me the fuck alone! I'll do whatever I want. It's a free fucking country!"
"Yes, you're free to be as much of a bitch as you want to be. Great!"
"Don't call me a bitch!"
"Don't smash all our fucking plates -- bitch!"
I picked up a plate and smashed it on the wall. Why not joing the party? A piece flew off and gave her a small cut on the leg. "You cut me open, asshole!" She walked out of the room and shut herself in the bedroom. I opened the door and walked through the bedroom to the shower. She was huddled on the bed, writing in her diary. Always her diary after an argument. "Stay the fuck away from me!" Writing down all the bad things I'd said and done, it seemed plain. Many times when I was home alone I felt the temptation to peek at it, but I never succumbed.
I showered, dressed, ate and went to work. She was cold and angry; not speaking or communicating. She didn't have to go into school that day, so we didn't see each other till dinner. At dinner she was civil but not friendly; she went out immediately afterwards, saying there was a health food show she wanted to go to. I don't remember her having mentioned the health food show before that, but it's quite possible that she had, and I'd just forgotten it.
And that was the end of Diane.
Those last couple weeks were a microcosm of our last year and a half together. An extreme version, but perfectly accurate. That's how it was with us. Cold and unpleasant, then beautiful and erotic, then vicious and dumb. Then back around the cycle again. And sometimes, but not very often, just ho-hum. It was what you'd call a passionate and volatile relationship. Driven by eccentricity and instability on both sides.
Looking back at what I've written, I realize I've given a bit of a false impression. I've described only fights that were basically her fault. I guess this is because the fights we had right before her death were mostly her fault -- motivated by her irritability about her problems at school. Certainly, over the course of our relationship, I started many fights as well. For instance, one of our biggest fights was about how I wanted her to work rather than go back to school. After she flaked out of the math department, it seemed absurd to me for her to switch to psychology. I argued the case with her half a dozen times, always reducing her to tears.
After all, if she had worked, the pressure to earn lots of money would have been taken off of me! Her biggest grudge against me would have disappeared. I could have kept on going from post-doc to post-doc forever, like a number of other people I knew -- building up my C.V. and waiting for a real job. But she didn't want to work, so eventually I had to give in. I always gave in, in the end. The only thing I ever didn't give in to Diane on was physics. I took a pay cut and went back to physics, and I'm convinced that she never forgave me for that. She thought I loved physics more than I loved her. Which wasn't a reasonable belief. The two kinds of loves are impossible to compare.
She attributed all our problems to me, of course. She found a book once called Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them, and decided she'd found a perfect description of me. I was a man who hated women!
Of course, if she'd sincerely believed I hated her, I guess she wouldn't have enjoyed my company so much of the time. She was so damn sensitive; usually if she suspected someone disliked her, she'd avoid them like the plague. But nevertheless, if we ever had an argument, three times out of four the phrase would come up. "You're just a misogynist," she'd say. A hard thing to reply to, in any civil way. Perhaps I'd say, "That's ridiculous. If I hate women why don't I realize it." Or maybe, tongue in cheek: "No, fool, I don't hate women, I just hate you!" But she didn't care what I said. It was easier for her that way. Rather than think about the specific qualities of her personality that had led us to quarrel -- her moodiness and extreme insecurity -- it was much less troublesome for her to attribute our arguments to my supposed misogyny. After all, she couldn't change her gender, now could she?
I tried to talk to her about this stuff, but she always had a deaf ear. She believed what she wanted to believe about my attitude. What I myself felt my attitude was meant nothing to her.
"The odd thing about you always calling me a misogynist," I said to her once after a minor disagreement, a few months before the end, "is that I've always felt more sympathetic toward women than toward men."
"Girls used to scare me, when I was a kid, but once I got used to them in college, I came to prefer them. They're much less dangerous to talk to, somehow."
"Dangerous? What do you mean?"
"You know what I mean. It's a cliche. You can tell a woman your feelings she they won't just screw up their faces and look at you funny. Of course, women are incredibly judgemental, but they don't tend to judge you badly for what you feel, as men will generally do. Women just judge you badly for surface things, like how much money you have, how well you dance, or how good you look...."
She laughed, and looked at me warmly. It was a familiar look, a look from the distant past. The exact same look she'd always given me during those long, topical conversations we'd used to have in the student center, during those first few months. I felt an upsurge of love. She was so much fun to talk to. She never said that much, but she egged me on to think interesting things.
"It's interesting, if you think about it. Women's obsession with these surface things, which used to baffle and infuriate me, is a kind of cover for their absolute acceptance of each others' inner lives. Men on the other hand, are too paranoid to share their inner lives with each other at all. If anything they'll share their inner lives with their wives or girlfriends, but even this isn't so common. Men will judge each other very harshly for feeling the wrong things, but they don't care so much if women feel the wrong things: they judge women the way women judge men, on purely surface criteria."
She grinned. "You mean tits and ass."
"Sure. Physical appearance."
She had a sweet look in her eye. I could tell the serious conversation was over. She didn't care to hear my views about gender relations anymore. Something had clicked in her brain. She wasn't angry any more; she was amorous. Lovable. Frisky.
"That's what attracted you to me, isn't it?"
"Tits and ass? No way. It was your knees, in fact. The rest of your body is beautiful, but your knees are something else. They come from another planet or something. I've never seen anything like them."
"Knees from Venus?" She smiled again, flattered.
"Venus? No, not Venus. Not one of the regular planets."
"A special planet?"
"Hungarian Jupiter. Your knees are from Hungarian Jupiter." I bent over and covered her knees with kisses. Things went on from there.
Anyway, I certainly don't hate women. I read part of Men Who Hate Women, and I'm not sure how many of the guys talked about in the book as "case studies" really hated women either. The book was written by a recently divorced woman, based on interviews with others in similar situations. And I don't think you can tell much about someone from the rantings of their ex- wife or ex-lover. Based on interviewing the recently divorced, you would come to the conclusion that all of humanity is a bunch of stupid, violent, ungrateful, greedy, hateful bastards. Which is a little too pessimistic for even me to accept. On the other hand, I have known people who really did hate women. One of my friends in college, a very bright guy, really claimed to believe all girls were subhuman. He had a principle against trying to carry out intelligent conversations with females -- a principle which, so far as I knew, he never violated. But then, he grew up hating his mother. Maybe Freud knew something after all.
Diane claimed I tried to control her, by disparaging her schoolwork, and encouraging her to get a job. That I didn't give her credit for being an intelligent person; I didn't respect her opinions, because she was a woman. It was all such a bunch of shit. As far as not giving her credit for her intelligence, what she meant was, not giving her credit for being as intelligent as me. Which I never did, because she wasn't. She fell in love with me because, she said, I was the smartest guy she ever met. At least, I guess I was the smartest guy who'd ever had any romantic interest in her. But then she went on to hold it against me that I was smarter than her, that I breezed through school while she had to struggle. So bloody typical! So what if I never took her word for anything; I always had to think it through myself or look it up myself. So what? I don't hate women, I'm just a difficult human being. Not that she was any easier.
I don't know why I'm going on about this so long; I guess it got under my skin. When someone is dead it's particularly painful to have been accused of hating them, that's all. My love for Diane was not mixed up with hate. My love was pure an clean. It was our interactions, our habit-patterns, that were sour. Her social problems and instability, and my inability to deal with them except via anger. Our habit-patterns took off of their own accord, but the love was still there underneath, even in the worst patches. We could have wonderful conversations, and great sex, in the midst of emotional chaos.
About men and women, though. I can't seem to get off the topic. I think it's definitely very hard to mix the erotic with the everyday. When you have a really deep erotic relationship with a woman, you feel like she's a goddess, like you'd do anything for her. She's radiant, she's beautiful, she's the only thing in the world! (I'll get back to this topic later, in more detail.) But then, you satiate yourself, and more importantly, you have to go out in the world and deal with other things. So she turns into an ordinary person, just another human being you're dealing with. But then the erotic spark comes back, and she's a goddess again. Everything she says and does is right. The woman is constantly changing back and forth from goddess to human. She's confused at subtle differences in your behavior: why do you criticize today what you just overlooked yesterday? She thinks she's the same person today as yesterday, but to you, she's now an entirely different human being! And, of course, she gives the same treatment right back to you, without even realizing it. When she's feeling amorous, your behavior is manly; when she's no longer got sex on the mind, the same behavior is "authoritarian" or "controlling." One day your jokes are funny, the next day they're offensive, all depending on whether her body is telling her it's time for a good long woozy fuck.
I guess that's the root of the men-who-hate-women thing, really. Emotions come about from unfulfilled expectations, right? That's what the psychologists say. So if you treat a woman like a goddess, and then the feeling that inspired you to treat her like that goes away, so you just treat her normally -- she's going to be disappointed. She's going to decide that, by way of comparison to the way you were yesterday, you must really think she's a piece of shit today. We humans immediately become habituated to the best, that's the problem. Give us good wine for a few days and we'll be unable to enjoy the mediocre wine we've been drinking for twenty years. At least half the men in the men-who-hate-women book were unusually ardent lovers. Their women couldn't deal with turning from goddesses back into mere mortals. So, the thing is, instead of just appreciating our lover's unconditional admiration, expressed when they're in the love-drunk state, we come to expect it, and we accuse them of hating us when in fact they're just acting quite normal.
See, Diane was pissed that I hadn't done the dishes that morning, right before she died. And, if I'd been really horny and aching to please her, I probably would have done them right away. But I hadn't gotten around to it, because she wasn't a goddess right then, she was just my plain old lovable wife. So work took precedence. I used to dream about finding a woman so spectacular that I would always think of her as a goddess. But, after a few years more experience, I'm now convinced that this is actually a biological and psychological impossibility.
Christ. Enough about that. I'm supposed to be telling a story here. I just keep running it over and over in my head, the last few days she was alive. It's all engraved on the inside of my skull in seven different private languages. If I were able to do it all over again, I'd do a much better job. I'd treat her like a queen. We would have eaten at fabulous restaurants, made love five times a day. Christ. Blown our whole bank account. On the other hand, if I'd known she was going to die as she did, I would have been so depressed that I wouldn't have been any use to her at all. This whole train of thought is moronic.
Well, then. To get back to that horrible day. When the police called, Diane hadn't been gone particularly long, so I wasn't worried about her at all. I was reading a thick stack of technical journal articles, and cranking an Yngwie Malmsteen CD. Rising Force. I almost didn't hear the phone. The police cut right to the point. They didn't even tell me to sit down. "Is this Victor Tymanski? It's James Briggs, from the New York Police Department. I've got some very bad news for you, Victor. Your wife Diane was killed in a car accident on the Schulykill. It wasn't her fault."
I had to go identify the body. They told me the address. I did it mechanically, without thinking about anything whatsoever. Just marched to the subway station like a flesh robot. Rode the subway. Got off. It was her all right. Not mangled particularly. Just kind of broken. Indented skull. Not breathing at all. I followed instructions. I don't know what I was doing. I doubt if I said a word. I left and rode back home. By the time I got back there was nothing inside me at all.
My head felt thick and heavy, as though it were made of molten lead. My chest was shaking, shaking, shaking; I wasn't able to stop it. I kept on trying to formulate words to myself, but each time I ended up biting my tongue. My knees were vibrating: not quite knocking together, just agitating around and around in their own little orbits. My teeth gritted together to stop my tongue from getting bitten. The pain seemed to be coming out through the tops of my ears. The back of my head felt as though it had a large snake inside it, biting at my flesh, struggling to get out. I pulled myself under the blanket but it felt flimsy and useless. The air was still passing through it. I wanted to shut everything out. My stomach groaned and rumbled but I could hardly bring myself to notice it. Every muscle in my body ached, with a kind of sharp yet unfocused pain that radiated out in all directions.
I knew they would come and speak to me, come and try to comfort me, speak words of wisdom and empathy. I didn't want to hear it. Friends, family. They would read about it in the newspaper. All of them, in my mind's eye, looked like walking corpses; husks. There were no souls in any of them. I wanted them to disappear. I wanted to disappear myself. Infinitely worse than the darkest moments I'd ever felt before.
I stayed that way for half an hour, then in a sudden fit of strength my body lifted itself up and walked toward the window. Out, out, out! I told myself. Jump out the fucking window. It's time to be done with this once and for all. Diane's gone, now you're gone too. Maybe the religious freaks are right and there's another life -- then you can be in it together.
The ground looked up at me and seemed oddly porous, as if there were holes in it large enough to suck me in. I don't know how long I stood there. The sidewalk was disgusting, covered with years worth of litter, like every sidewalk in New York City. The concrete somehow soothed my head. When I was done looking out the window I went over to the phone and called my mom. My dad lived in Cleveland; I didn't have much to do with him. My mother was the only option.
"Laura ... hi...." I can only imagine what my voice must have sounded like. It was a monumental effort to choke up the words.
"Vic! What's wrong?!"
"Diane.... Diane is dead."
There. I'd said it. I hadn't cried before, but the words brought the tears. Laura asked more questions but I couldn't properly answer them. I think I sputtered up something about the car. I was still sobbing uncontrollably half an hour later, when she got there. She called Diane's family for me. She held me and rubbed my back as she had when I was a little child. She took me home with her.
It was the end of May; the semester was over. I didn't have to do anything. My post-doc started again in September. There was no summer funding. Normally I would have taught a couple summer session classes, for extra money, but that was out of the question. I wasn't up to doing anything. I gave an eulogy at the funeral. It wasn't difficult. Diane was cremated as she had always said she wanted to be. I sprinkled the ashes in a local stream we had often walked beside. As I watched them float along, and sink, my mind was totally blank. Only a couple of tears crept out. So this was it, I thought: the sum total of a person. No, not the sum total. The end result.
Mostly I sat around my mother's house listening to music, and staring into space. For the first time ever, she didn't complain about my selection of music. Because it wasn't my music, my oddball music, my acid jazz, industrial, classical metal; it was Diane's music. Her Hair soundtrack, her Jefferson AirpIane, Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Roberta Flack.... Her taste in music had gotten on my nerves before. So damn conventional. But now these songs were my lifeblood. I felt her essence, her mind and body, coming out of every syllable, every single note.
I can't remember what it was I was thinking; they weren't the kind of thoughts that can be recalled. Mostly sensory images of Diane, I guess. The way we'd argued, talked, giggled, made love. It had all seemed so serious. Everything she did or said was worth its weight in gold. But now it was worth nothing. Or rather, it was worth everything, and everything else was worth nothing. Different shades of nothingness. Fucking mother asshole christ.
For all our problems, at least our love had been genuine. We had seen to the core of each other. We had touched each other on the deepest possible level. With everyone else it was just a charade. Signs, symbols and mechanical motions. What was deep inside didn't enter into it at all. There was no soul to it.
I remembered the way I used to lie there sometimes, with my head on her belly, absent-mindedly fiddling with her breasts or her pubic hair. There was a tiny mole inside her navel; I used to pretend to bite it off. Even the bad things seemed suffused with beauty. So she had thrown pots and pans and plates at me. So what? At least she had really cared. No one really cared now. My mother didn't even know me. I was floating in a world of strangers. Diane was in a million tiny pieces, sitting at the bottom of a stream.
We moved Diane's and my stuff into my mother's basement. I couldn't stay in the apartment. I couldn't stay in the life I had lived before. I couldn't even bear to look at our things. The thought of returning to my job at Columbia was unbearably odious. It all seemed so false and stupid. To act like an automaton, teaching automata to behave like better automata. Doing someone else's experiments; being a laboratory robot. But would another job be any better? I had applied for dozens, like I did every year. I couldn't remember what they were. The thought of working at all filled me with horror. Go to Next ChapterBen Goertzel (firstname.lastname@example.org)