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A prose poem by John Adams

All I know is that if I make other people unhappy, I am no less unhappy myself.
Lermontov, A Hero of Our Time

I. The Simple Part

It's predictable. The more I talk about it, the bigger it gets.
I was happy as short a time back as last Sunday. I had reasons to be. My wife was still at home. I had a good meal in me. I was warm. I had a healthy tan.
I was on top of it.
So, I woke up a few minutes ago. I don't booze, I can't stomach pills. All the same, I felt wretched. I felt as if my skin was tightening, and my stomach was yellowing to junket. I smoked two cigarettes, both of which tasted and smelled like burning carpet. And I held my head.
I felt like I was in a cradle on board a ship. Awful.

That was something I'll never understand. That feeling was driving me mad. And yet, I felt at moments as if I would prevail, ideals and hope intact. As I say, I don't drink.
I started that week. I tried a glass of bourbon, felt worse, and went on the wagon.
Depression makes us fickle, doesnt it?

Satellites are the only things I thought about those first few days. I sat in my armchair, and every thought was barbed. And I thought: If I could bob up there with those planets
I sat there. The entire house was in disorder. The dishes had stacked up. The pile dwarfed me. The toilet was clogged. The stench wafted around, filling every corner. Laundry was all over the place. It was as if I didnt have a closet, and had just flung them wherever. The floors were filthy, the curtains were stained. Dust reigned.
The next cigarette I smoked didn't have any taste. It was as if I was sucking on my own finger.
So I was determined to beat it. I thought murkily: My birthday is this Tuesday. And I will be feted and carried upon the shoulders of loved ones. The cards will roll in soon. Soon.
I checked the mail later that day, dressed in a ratty bathrobe. I was barefoot as a Samoan.
My wifes attorney had sent me a letter.
I sat in the armchair for another few hours. I didn't even have the energy to light another cigarette.

The man in the bottle black suit rang the bell then.
I ran to the door and looked out the peephole. It was amazing. It was as if hed been there since I had signed the lease. Before I let him in, I tried to collect myself. I couldn't. Opening the door and facing the man, I felt just as lost as I had an hour ago. Another hour ago, too. Another hour ago. It stretched beyond these, it seemed.

The man invited himself in, doffing his Panama and throwing it on the hat rack. He held out a scraggy hand.
I didn't know what to say. So I said: Who are you?
He showed his teeth. He said: You know why I look so happy. One reason, least?
No. I said. I was ready to club him. I had the cops on speed dial, I thought just then.
Well, sir. The answer is, in a word, fasting.
Yes, if you can subsist for days on the thought of nourishment alone, you'll be happier than forty clams and a pope. He laughed so loudly my ears throbbed.
Sound crazy to you? Sound loony? Well, before you pass your petty judgement, let me ask: When was the last time you took a bath? Changed your clothes?
I swallowed hard. I wasn't about to judge you. I began to guide him out the door.

Thoughts and imaginings were in ferment then. I was giddy with abstractions. I imagined: The ladder there, and that strange series of rungs. The barriers and horrors of childhood, those night terrors always clawing. That trellis of fears, those vines of the realization of said fears. And the fracas, the churning evolutions of young adulthood. Beyond that pale: Adulthood. Digging for a career and, once that career was found, shooing away the ants. Dusting that treasured burden. Anticipating paychecks. Stocking a wine cellar against winter.
His eyes were rabid. He raised his arms, and his hands swooped down gracelessly. It was as if he was conjuring. As if he was ushering in a splendid alchemy of symbols.