Folio - Salt Lake Community College Art and Litereature Magazine

Bad Chemicals And Christ

Mike Englert

The professionals tell me I do not possess the mechanical functions of the brain that would be considered normal and am therefore categorized as one of the many stratifications of unstable. They disagree with me on how to treat the bad chemicals floating around in my head and being dumped into my bloodstream. I get confused and disoriented sometimes, losing track of the real tangible stuff around me. Often things are seen out of the corners of my eyes: Little girls of plaid, pale faces on towering dark figures with killers’ hands and children’s teeth, ominous hazel eyes protruding from foliage and looking upwards into mine with nothing but zeros in them. And so on.

Occasionally, I am taken hold of by very convincing hallucinations, varying in degrees of lucidity. For example, I was involved quite thoroughly once by a particularly violent episode: I was abruptly pulled toward the center of the Earth with intense force. This caused extreme physical pain as the layers of the planet ripped and smashed me into oblivion as I passed through each layer on my way towards peace. This was all understood to be punishment by the hand of an angry deity seeking revenge against me for wasting the life He had been so gracious to have granted. The resulting screaming, spitting, and circumambulatory writhing on the floor startled the patrons of the coffee shop I was in at the time, so they phoned the police. Needless to say, I am no longer welcome back to the establishment.

Other less wholly consuming hallucinations manifest in temporary beliefs, dangerous notions incompatible with the world. One I still have today but am slowly being corrected on is that I am a citizen of the Earth, not of my country. Or that God’s laws and Nature’s laws should have nothing to do with the way we create or enforce Man’s laws. Or that an individual is intrinsically valuable by being a living, breathing, loving creature, rather than by their measured output within an imposed system. I have been instructed and am being instructed today still that these are all silly, childish ideas. My hallucinations usually always have to do with a God or God head despite my usually firm atheistic tendencies and disbelief in anything mysterious, spooky, or transcendental.

I work nights now and go to school during the day. I think this is irritating those bad chemicals, as I am sometimes obligated to go a few days without sleep in order to keep up. My father died a month or so ago and left the world and the community very much as it was before. That wasn’t good for my head either. I am getting worse but am not overly concerned because I am not a danger to anyone but myself, so far as I have been able to tell so far. By this, I must assume that the chemicals can’t be all bad and may have some kind of redemptive property. This is more of a feel-good theory twisted backward to justify the need for self loathing and self-inflicted suffering, rather than one backed up by a number or a team of ambitious, unpaid grad students.

This all might still be unclear, so I want to tell you about a recent trip. It might shed some light on the nature of these bad chemicals. I was the victim of one of my strange attacks during some impromptu wanderings in the woods of Billings, Missouri. I seem to become susceptible to episodes when I am in the woods—especially unfamiliar, ugly woods punctuated with death and decay rather than accented with life and beauty, as the world is chosen to be displayed in too many men’s paintings to mention.

It might be important to note that when my mind weakens and I suffer an attack, I usually revert back to beliefs I had as a child. I can only guess that this is because all the ideas you have when you are younger seem so absolute because you are taught most of them by people who have an undeniable ethos, those who as far as you are told and can tell have really figured it all out: Adults. Children and the insane are those who need the firmest footing in their lives and their beliefs are constructed in step. When I entered the woods that day, I found a figure from my upbringing. I found Christ.

My trip to Missouri was to see a family friend’s family’s friends and to get a taste of that fine family life in the Ozarks. At least, that’s close to what I tell people. The trip was really about the fact that things were beginning to become very calm here in the Salt Lake valley: I was doing well in my broadcasting courses at school, had a steady well-paying job, my mother and sisters were climbing back onto the wagon five hundred miles north, out of sight, and my romantic life had stabilized. It was awful. I had to get away from it. I wanted to drink heavy and smoke thick and become less obvious. I wanted to be pulled from the car I had rented and be beaten, to be stolen from and left to start over again in honest, pure peril. I wanted to know something I had lost and know even more that I could never grasp it again, to inject some life back into life. The outcome, as it had to be, was failure.

Billings and all five or six towns sprawled around it were dead. The land was varying shades of brown, burgundy, stone, and gray, accented only by maroon tangles of serpents covered in spikes at the base of some swampy areas. Large black piles of soot and cinder block littered all privately owned land. It seemed the local custom was to burn down the houses when they outgrew their usefulness then to construct a modern version better suited to the inhabitant’s needs, ten to twenty yards deeper into the property, retreating slowly from the road every generation: A family-perpetuated scorched earth policy. This made man’s touch even more grotesque here than the Earth’s, a truism across the world, and one I suppose not really worth expanding on.

The environment was not helping my condition. I felt the pendulum in my head swinging much too far one direction and was afraid it might begin completing revolutions. I knew if it got that far, I’d really be in trouble. So I disappeared from the bed I had been provided for the duration of my stay at the family friend’s family’s friend’s around 2am and slipped out. I was compelled to reconcile myself with this horrible geography somehow.

I found my reconciliation in the form of my Christ figure found in the landscape of scraggly trees too stubborn to die but too weak to grow anymore, hindered by bizarre rubbery parasitic vines crisscrossing the meek but foreboding canopy, stretching out in all directions in endless, timeless monotony and punctuating at last into a hazy infinity rather than affirming mountain ranges (I have a strong distaste for any stretch of land with no mountains. How do the people ever know where they are standing? Where could their center possibly be?) Christ was out in these woods in a tree stand constructed of two by fours and bailing wire, wearing a camouflage hat with a gleaming white feather stuck in it, offering me a hearty, earthly good ol’ boy greeting through the dense grey thicket growing out of the front his face, poaching deer with the permission of the landowner.

His was a caricature. I think you find caricatures of people more often when seeking out isolated places. The implication is that I’m probably one, too. Under his mouth, around his chin, sand-colored hair began to flow down to chest level in a mess of curls, twigs, leaves and other debris from the woods. Here I had found my redeemer. I could tell from the look in his eye that this was a man who made his business soul saving and did it well. And I certainly was in need of some of his service.

Inaccordance with my encroaching dream state, I wanted to call him‘uncle’ right away and told him so. All defenses were crumbling. Chuckling beautifully and wholly, bobbing a large camouflage belly up and down, baring a pitiful pair of green and yellow teeth, he told me to call him by his christian name. That name was Butch Sutton. Not exactly a Matthew, Paul, Thomas or Malachi. I never found a Butch or a Sutton in any of the Good Book they pounded into our heads back in Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School, but it did seem right away to be a thoroughly Christian name in a charmingly vulgar American way.

He got right down to pulling me out of the despair that his native land was determined to drown me in, and he was completely oblivious to himself doing it. Most saviors (at least the important ones) don’t realize what good and bad they’re doing until they’re already being laid across a couple of planks of wood and the first nail is driven into their feet. Or do they do the hands first? I think it would more practical to do the hands first. Butch’s hands were tough though. I remember thinking how difficult it might be to drive nails through those. I kept that thought to myself. Not all defenses were down, yet.

Butch was exactly what I needed him to be: a hunter, a veteran, a wine connoisseur, and a dancer. All these things brought me back a little at a time until I was whole again and could denounce his teachings.

He told me of the deer and possums and other game that crawled and churned over the land like a divine infestation, keeping him fat, happy and occupied through all four seasons. He showed me pictures of his kills in an expandable wallet fold used by most people to keep pictures of grandkids or troubled nephews in. If he had a family, he did not mention them just as a Christ should. I felt it appropriate to share my killings, too.

My first one imposed by my father onto me was not clean. Hands trembling, rear frozen and numb yet somehow still bothersome and uncomfortable, trying with great strain to miss the mark believably, I was using all my training and hope to shoot high and to send the bullet arcing above the back. I was aiming to spook it, to save its life so that it may have a few more mouthfuls of the resilient grass growing out of the unforgiving frost and snow in small clumps. I pulled the trigger and ended up sending the bullet whistling straight through the spinal cord of the largest, most majestic target there was in the herd instead. She flailed her front half in a sudden panic, bloodying the snow all around her with streaks and splotches of bright crimson, while she dragged her paralyzed hind quarters helplessly in circles, forming a striking spiral of blood and fur in the pristine snow. I kept shooting. I had to keep firing, discharging the spent shell, ramming another, then sending the bullet on it’s way to her until she was finally still. The three more rounds were easier to place and fire into her than the first. I told him how much easier killing in general became after that, too. He bared his teeth and let out howls of approving laughter.

All life is suffering, kid!” What an eastern thing for a Christ to say, I thought. “Life feeds on life, my boy! It’s ugly at first, but we all have to face it.”

Butch Christ told me of his time in Desert Storm and his dozen dead buddies, almost all of whom were brought back to the states to be covered in wholesome American soil during elaborate ceremonies with similiar if not the same eulogies declaring each and every one an indispensable hero who had been dispensed with. He told me how thoughtful that was of the boys up top to have done that for them, seeing as how many of them first enlisted and sealed their fate with the idea of fighting and dying for their native land gracefully stuffed into their heads. It was only fair to dress them up and display them proudly if they weren’t shattered to pieces (many were) before sticking them into that native land and covering their boxes with native dirt, after they could no longer serve those who owned that dirt.The expedient process of shipping the dead home, rather than burying them in the trench they happened to be in at time of the greatest sacrifice, is as important a modern achievement of the twentieth century as penicillin, the microwave, or even genocide. Thank goodness for globalization.

I couldn’t relate much. My father was denied serving because of his bad hearing, and my grandpa never spoke about his time in wars, despite the fact that war was what he had made a fine career and retirement out of. My grandfather is very well-to-do these days.

He offered to take me down to the local wine and spirits store in his ‘83 Chevy Pickup. Butch seemed to enjoy my quirky company and had no idea that I was an unstable young man. I could not refuse such a perfect opportunity to go wine shopping with my Christ and actually ended up doing one better: I went wine tasting with Christ.“If you want a man’s wine, drink Norton. It’ll punch you right in the face and it’s made right here in this beautiful state of ours,” He didn’t know I was neither from this state nor did I find this land beautiful. Seeds of doubt in my savior were beginning to be planted.

If you like a fruity, more delicate taste, try this Gewurztraminer.” The silent attendant at the counter poured us a plastic sample cup and handed it to me. I swished it around, furrowed my brow, feigning something like deep study or solemn approval, and gulped it down, disorienting myself in increments and wetting the seeds gradually. It all tasted like wine to me. After a litany of other bizarre French- and German-named wines, and after a lengthy discussion with the attendant of the liquor store about the degree of oak and toffee present in one or maybe all of the wines for all I knew, he settled on a glimmering bottle of a Riesling variety which he assured me was perfect for complementing catfish.

After the copious amounts of wine samples, I felt as if I was on the precipice of either losing touch with the material world entirely, or being cleansed of all of the bad chemicals my brain was dumping into my bloodstream and fly up into heaven with Butch Sutton in his ‘83 Chevy truck, which was as good a chariot as any. But I knew I couldn’t do that unless he died for me. He was strong and I was weak, and if I was to get any redemption out of the deal, he had to be killed. This is what they had taught me back in Our Lady about how redemption worked, anyway. The scale in my head began to revolve slowly.

You wanna know the secret to happiness?” He asked. The pivot of the scale twisted in and imploded on itself, and I was lost. Christ himself was about to reveal to me his deep truths. With this inquiry and my increasingly strange connection to this backwoods, war-hardened wine expert turned subjective savior, I lapsed into another bout of what the professionals back home call a neurotic episode. Whatever was holding back those bad chemicals broke loose entirely from it’s hinges, and they poured into my body like the flood that killed the dinosaurs.

I heard voices. All the voices of the world whirled around me. Or maybe they were standing still and I was speeding by. Voices with hands and legs and teeth that reached out, grabbing and kicking and biting me as I went. Voices made of light and matter but casting no shadows. Voices made of colors, sweet-smelling colors, colors that made their own music separate from but still the same as the attacking voices. The music was low and ominous, but shot up high and beautiful while still resonating deeply profound in my body. My body. What was my body? It was my soul. The gnashing teeth and clawing hands convinced me that I was the bulb, filament, and glow, and nothing was separate. Waves of the voices came and went as if they were sieging an ancient city, but came in, passed through, and went on their way to oblivion very unlike a siege all the same. I began to recognize patterns in the waves and winced in preparation for each oncoming assault. A final barrage of voice and music and color and smell and death and emotion came hurtling toward me, coalescing into one final booming voice that centered and filled the whole universe, becoming the universe:

You’ve got to dance.”

...What?” I stammered.

You’ve got to learn to dance. Find yerself a girl at a bar or a pub and just ask her to dance. It ain’t got nothin’ to do with masculinity er bein’ good in bed er courtin’ her er nuthin’ like that. Yer young so ya gotta dance. I find myself one time with the most beautiful woman in town dancin’ and singin’ to some down to earth music right there in front of her man cuz you know what? He ain’t no dancer. All ladies wanna dance, so you just gotta be the one who will do it with them. And a lil’ bit a wine don’t hurt.”

That was it. This was his revelation. This was his sermon on the mount in all it’s great golden glory, uttered once and reverberated across all of beautiful green creation before ascension into the white, blinding beauty of Heaven. I needed to dance in order to please women, and being drunk while I did it was even better.

This brought me back to the world in one final violent shove. It didn’t ease me back into reality and settle me on soft folds of cloudy relief, but rather jolted me into a painful clarity, resulting in stark remission from my head sickness, placing objectivity back onto its throne, knowing everything that he’d said was a lie, whether it be deliberate or otherwise, and knowing too well that I wouldn’t recognize it for very long and that I had to escape before the looming, unpredictable relapse. It hit me hard, deep in the core of my gut and travelled along from the base of my being, flowing up the spine in a sickening pressure, building with a terrible popping and groaning in my head like the hull of a sinking ship, and ending with a final abrupt release out of the top of my skull.

I left him alone with the lie that I had a prior obligation and walked two hours back to where I was supposed to have been all day: back at the family friend’s family’s friend’s house. I shrugged off their worries and their scolding and began to pack my things. I didn’t know if it was to the family friend’s family’s friend’s dismay or delight, and I didn’t care. I just didn’t want to stay, searching for salvation on dead Earth anymore. I took the next bus further East.