Last February (Issue 87) we ran an essay by David Koteen called “Cholestiatoma,” about his struggle with cancer. I asked him for a sequel to that piece, and received this article, along with a brief note that said, “I have been reticent to send you the follow-up to the Cholestiatoma essay — because there isn’t one. The patient goes to the Polarity Institute, learns he is responsible for everything in his life, comes home, finds his wife in a love relationship with his partner, accepts it mas o menos, some haggling, hassles, and a happy divorce. Actually it sounds like a pretty good story; but the one I wrote, enclosed, is more like a sequel. Additional evidence and the same verdict. However, to the extent that I am conscious, I refuse to plead guilty. For the time being.”
Time, a pallid fiction; a courteous sycophant come to prate of future reward. And yet, the only vibrant thread visible throughout the entire tapestry. Lucy. A cousin of one of my college professors; he drove her over to the house we (four others and I) rented. Everyone else left for the dance and I was waiting on the third floor in our common room. Jerry, our pet squirrel monkey, sat on the window ledge eating peanuts, throwing the shells at whoever walked by, or nobody. The kindly prof brought her up the wobbly fire escape, our habitual ingress. Lucy Olinsen: rosy haired, blue of eye, straight nose, round cheeks, beautiful smile. Honestly feminine. The apparition of my choice. She walked like a duck. Whatever my shortcomings were, she forgave them. We drank something for a while, the three of us. Jerry got drunk, tried to jump to the lampshade, and fell to the floor. Lucy laughed and the monkey bit her thumb, which caused a few drops to come down her cheeks. I was immediately in love. The way her hair curled around her Scandinavian neck, the fullness of her 19-odd years in hips and breasts, the way her cotton skirt clung to her thighs. Young and hot and exceedingly loose to begin with, how was I to know this was the beginning of an inconspicuous sequence which was to follow me like a tail of lead. A little alcohol and a lot of youth; all I could feel was this intense vortex, effluxing from Lucy’s woman center, sucking me to where I wanted to go. And, she was there the whole time. We were dancing and I fell back on the couch. Happenstance. Abruptly, her goodness came tumbling after, duck legs and all. With her rump in the air our friendly monkey seized his chance, and leaped on it, chattering all the while, sniffing and scratching at her undergarments. Then in counterpoint to the previous movements came a taut whisper: “When I was 17 I got raped, and pregnant, and I wanted to have the baby. I was rejected by my parents who made me give it up for adoption (Jerry ejaculated). My friends condemned me. (Now a rain of tears was falling on my face.) So, please understand this; you’re wonderful, but I can’t let you come inside of me. I’m too afraid!”
Later, after graduation, I moved to New York, Lower East Side of Manhattan; very cheap apartment — $60/month. I lived with Robert, one of my college roommates, whose sister resided in Brooklyn. He was very Jewish, and not surprisingly, so was the sister: Lucy Hemmen. Also very uptight. Slender, angular with high cheek bones, light brown eyes, cropped red hair. The two of them had a long standing flirtation going — touching, innuendos, lots of tongue-on-the-lips action. He told me that all her experiences with men were cut short and unfulfilling. With a Ph.D. in English Literature, she was a recluse, eking out dollars proofreading for Readers Digest. She was contracted and in permanent hibernation. Immaculate two rooms, blue and gray. Of course, my heart went out to her. When you’re the way I was — three months of rent in the bank, no responsibilities except to give the day everything you’ve got, floating and flowing, back to the wind, sails billowed with tasting and touching and seeing, alive with give-and-take, skimming the cream and licking my fingers, always higher and higher — no thought entered of why I was interested in this cold woman. Robert was very jealous of his relationship with Lucy, but one weekend while he was gone, around eleven at night, I wandered over to Brooklyn, saw the light on, rang the buzzer, and got a reticent invitation up. She knew why I was there, and greeted me as warmly as she could (like the string beans do when you open the freezer). Same tight and trim outfit; not that I expected negligee or something. Coffee, she offered, at 11:30. Somewhere down in my subconscious cellar, behind the aging red wines, there was knowledge that before me stood a debt to be paid. Preferable would be passionate frolicking on the kitchen floor. Uh-uh. Strictly business. So when she went to the toilet, I raced quietly around her cupboard like a mongoose, finally uncovering some scotch and brandy. Took a long draught from each bottle, returned the scotch and asked her through the door if I could have a drop of brandy. She would sip a little too. At last she led me 2 A.M to her bed where “I made love to her.” Only due to the double Taurus in my astrological chart was I able to arouse enough emotion for both of us. About an hour drudged by, guilty and sober. I asked her if she felt alright? could I get anything for her? She invited me to sleep on the couch.
So, Hell has many vestibules. Teacups of flaming brimstone can be a relatively potable beverage. The couch was comfortable; but listening to Lucy’s wide-eyed pathetic thoughts, cacophonically ticking with the kitchen clock, left me empty as an abandoned tortoise shell. And not hungry. “Would you like to go out for breakfast?” I asked, several hours later. Nothing like a hot pastrami sandwich when your intestines are knotted up, and nausea has backed up your esophagus to the base of your throat. Maybe there’ll be some flaming brimstone tea?
When I bumped into Lucy Olinsen in the Glass Department of Macy’s, it was north and south poles of two magnets approaching each other. It was as if we had gone to sleep that night and were just awaking, still in embrace. My hands were on her buttocks and her legs were spreading, only restrained by the tightness of her skirt and social propriety. Waiting for 5 o’clock, I walked through the muddy winter city in shirtsleeves. Snow-mush around my sneakers. We drank Spanish wine on the subway downtown. Then slaloming through the overflowing cans of trash in front of the Ninth Street apartment building, rose up the stairs on passionate vapors. Avoided the many who frequented our small flat, gathered cozily around the electric stove oven. Did the landlord ever turn on the heat? It didn’t matter. I lead her into the back storage room, 6½ by 8 feet, curtained, frost on the sootfouled window, facing the next blackened brick building. Still a virgin. Except once. (She had snuck up to Massachusetts and climbed an old wisteria vine to peep at her sleeping child without adopted parents knowing.) More than I, Lucy O. understood why we had re-met. I never quite saw the ramifications of my actions, splashing out along the curved side to return one day; one day not too far off. Heating the room as we went, until from a hollow distance came that little voice: “Don’t let it go inside of me! I’m still scared!” Iron echo. So with a mixture of conflicting feelings, she lifted my twisting auger on to her belly as it was at the end of its course. When the liquid heat hit the soft flesh she screamed like a panther breaking loose from its manacles. In the background the soothing laughter of my friend Robert, saying, “Don’t worry. We keep it chained up to frighten burglars.” I took her home uptown, where she had a room with her better-to-do relatives. I never saw her again. Lucy called me the next day to say she had been severely reprimanded, as her carnal sin radiated boldly from her face. A good lesson: don’t show happiness. Her aunt and uncle asked her to be gone by the end of the month. What did that have to do with me?
The inexorable pride that haunts me, the fever of gluttony, and lust that would forego God for an ecstatic moment are the gas, grease, and oil that lubricate this Hellbent vehicle. They are tears the sperm that race up the tube; they excite and terrify but they will never, never save me.
When Spring emerged in NYC, it was time to go; thumb in hand I landed in Berkeley, Cal., which offered plenty of stimuli, and 3000 miles from the Atlantic Coast. One adventure faded into the next; the less you remembered, the better off you were. I was writing a little but mostly chasing the sun. Whatever was of import, day or night, this year or the next, was not it. Lucy Whitman was five or six years my senior, a dance teacher who bounded about the streets of Berkeley, leaping and lunging where she would. She was some kind of queen, who exuded regality with every step. She asked me to her modern dance class which was an hour and half of incessant transformation from rigorous exercise into improvisational, whatever works movement. Married, but living alone. The morning after the second class, she stopped by where I was staying, invited me to the beach — a picnic. I was surprised and elated; we went off in her Rambler stationwagon. She was very West Coast; I held her in awe. Below my curly black hair there was a great deal of fear: which I kept at bay with the whip and prod of faith. California beaches around Point Reyes are magnificent. Honored by the invitation and delighted with the sunny sands of the Pacific, Lucy and I ran and played along the shore line. We climbed a steep cliff to eat; I sensed a change in the weather: with malevolent fingers the sea spray reached toward us; sharp rocks scraped my skin as I climbed; as we went higher up the sheer ocean side of the cliff, Lucy’s features hardened. I shivered slightly. The ocean was leering and a voice came out of it, and said, “Why don’t you dive on to these rocks? I will protect you from being injured, you know. Try it.” Such a clear and seductive Voice. Squatting, I gazed into the crashing waves below, wondering whether I should jump or not. Lucy asked me if I wanted some yogurt; I looked up at her; she was huge. Her face was very far away; blouse wet; her nipples were little tongue tips beckoning me. Waist-length hair, blowing and winding about her sensual body; I thought it was seaweed and she, some kind of evil mermaid — part of the plan to get me to jump into the sea. She wore loose-fitting sailor pants with a large hole right above the left knee. She was the Temptress alright; and I knew it! At the end of her extremely long arm was this small purplish container. My jaw was set as I took it from her (now she was the witch from Hansel and Gretel, fattening me up for the oven — or in this case, to hurl me on the sharp rocks below). I lifted up the lid and spun it into the sea, and stuck my middle three fingers into the fruit at the bottom of the yogurt — boysenberry. And very slowly, gazing continuously into her green eyes, I slipped my hand full of yogurt through the slit in her bell bottoms, slid it up the inside of the thigh and began working it into her woman’s opening. Back and forth like a house painter; and then I came back for more, up through the slit again, working it much more vigorously, always with eye-contact, until finally, the spell was broken; the ocean let go of its menacing ways and Lucy returned to being a woman. On the 30-inch ledge we made love so deep, so intense, that the sound of the sea was silenced.
Lucille, Louise, Louis, Lulu, Lucifer, Lucy. Because we come from such a stiffnecked race (as Moses puts it) the cycles of our self-debilitating behavior — the ones that keep us firmly rooted to anxiety and frustration, year in, year out — to us are always subtly obscured. All the passing show, the glittering patina, possessions and wealth, and what-have-you remain on the earth when we drop off. What we take with us when we traverse the veil is awareness — a slight shift in consciousness. The whole story may be for a single hard lesson. The petite orgasms along the path act to keep us on task. Everyone has his own signs, sarcastic quips which demarcate the turns at the crossroads, reminders of our shortcomings. For me the trail has been blazed with Lucys. This excruciatingly lucid bit of information has barely penetrated my mind after 15 years. It has nothing to do with the individual females who don the name; it has only to do with my genetic, personal, and historical derivation. Well, perhaps a little more. There are two aspects of the Lucy Syndrome. The classic double-edged scimitar. In the Judeo-Christian tradition they are personified by Lucifer — the bearer of light, i.e. Venus before the sunrise. Lucifer, also, is the fallen angel, he who rebelled against God. He is of colossal pride. Lucifer — the cross of light and pride.
Another shape to this dualism comes out of a pair of Lucys who haunted ’60s B.B. King, the monarch of hard blues, has a guitar named Lucille, which he makes love to; rather she is the female sexual persona — the body of a woman. When I first heard him sing, “I got a sweet little angel/I love to see her spread her wings,” I knew he was singing to me. I gotta get me some Lucy! For those leaning on the intellectual came the Beatles with their portrayal of the same angel, only more abstracted — Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Unlike B.B. King’s Lucy, this one is not a sex-object, but the ideal partner or helpmate that is promised to every son by his parents.
My father hated my grandmother, his mother-in-law. “A selfish bitch!” was his favorite epithet. The major manifestation of the schism in my parents’ marriage was this loathsome creature: Louise or Lulu. Not only was the active detestation of Lulu present in my upbringing, but both my sisters were named after her (how far we bend to break our back): the elder was Louise; the second, Lucy. Thus, it is readily comprehensible to see why the Lucy Syndrome pervaded my being; I am its natural heir.
Not long after I finished my first book, I went to France. Too cold. To Spain, and eventually, the romantic and traumatic island of Ibiza. From there a motorboat would take you to the serene isle of Formentera. I was on it. As was a redhaired Irish lass, freckled and pugnosed: Lucy Reirdon. When we docked, she took me home. Formentera is flat and rocky. Rocks piled in rectangular fashion for fences and to form small agricultural plots and pastures. A few roads and mossy labyrinths of rock walls. Lucy as strong of arm and will. After we wound through the maze and arrived, she insisted that she wash my hair, which desperately needed it. (I hadn’t realized that this lady was the fourth non-familial Lucy in my life, nor that all of them had red hair. When you’re me, you’re pretty dense!) “Strip!”, she commanded. From the cistern she pulled up a bucket of icy water and methodically poured it over my head. As the water reached my loins, whatever flickering was occurring there, was immediately squelched. Lucy Reirdon was her own woman; talked very little; knew what she wanted. She had some type of intense Irish shampoo and sharp fingernails. I asked her if she had considered torture as a profession. Then came the icing on my scalp — about two gallons of cold water. I was in shock; one large mass of goose bumps. She took pity and wrapped a towel around me. And then some strong tea with milk and honey; and goat cheese and bread. Then a little onyx pipe with smokeable matter within. I hardly knew where I was in the first place, and what she offered in this burning vessel took care of the remaining fragments of my memory. She led me inside the white-washed house, which was really an altar — pictures of Christ, Krishna, Buddha, and many-armed goddesses with lotus flowers. Pillows and fragrance everywhere. A fever of fear shot up my spine: I was to be sacrificed! Quickly, I turned, expecting to see her with an ornate, sacrificial knife . . . but no. She had disappeared for a moment, dropped her army pants, and returned in an emerald green satin robe. As we sat quietly together on an assortment of sheepskin and Moroccan rugs, I perceived very clearly that Lucy Reirdon was a goddess. At the base of my skull a surging of energy gathered and was steadily rising like a thermometer over an open flame. Lucy unmoved, eyes closed, lips barely parted. Throughout the room a vague undulating orange glow. Then that old distant Voice, “Welcome home, lost one. You were right the first time; you are the sacrifice. Sacrifice yourself. It take a long time; begin now. Now!”
What we take with us when we traverse the veil is awareness — a slight shift in consciousness. The whole story may be for a single hard lesson.
Five years squeeze through the hour glass. Lucy went her own way. For me marriage and children and a farm in Oregon. What is begun is always completed. Sooner or later. As my marriage deteriorated, sexual frustration mounted. It became a malignant tumor in my head which grew and grew. It was cut out. You always get what you deserve. In this case I certainly did. Lucifer wields a decisive scalpel. But still my consciousness lay unaltered. One night around 3 a.m. — the hour of Lucy — I found myself in a deep cavern. There were three cots: on the left was an old emaciated friend of mine, named Louis, rapidly demising. On the right, a bull-necked, bulging muscled man. In the middle was the succulent bodied Ms. Lucy, her back side raised up like a cat in heat. And I — the ego of this vision — was floating above her in conspicuous coition. The heavy duty male leans over and in a gruff throaty voice says, “Lucy. Louis is dead. Nothin’ can stop me now. I’m comin to get ya!” Lucy weeps out, “You fucking coward! You’re too chicken to do anything!” “Don’t say that about me! I’m comin to get ya, right now! Look out, honey! I’m comin!” He leaps from the cot toward Lucy, who turns in fright. And what of our hero? I see the dead Louis and the raspy-throated bull, snorting fire. So still deep inside of Lucy, just as he lunges, I shove my foot in between his neck and shoulder. With the thud of foot against neck, I sit up in bed and look over at my wife, curled up asleep. My eyes close and that familiar Voice starts up: “You proud and lustful fool! Lucy. Lust. Lulu. Lucifer. You know how language works! I’ve warned you many times before! A word to the wise! You fool! This is the last time! We’ll take this body from you, if you can’t use it properly! Remember! Remember well!” And with that I was awake, staring into the chilly, dark room, sweating profusely. With the speed of a computer all the fragments of this story raced through my mind. Slivers from my childhood and my parents’ relationship — thousands of translucent slivers. The letters L and U. Grandma Lulu, the wedge. The quartet of redheaded Lucys. Why are we cast in this incessant drama? We stare at it and don’t see it.
And so, like Adam of the earth, I cry out, “Lord. Here am I, eater of apple.” And in the palm of my hand a single seed of understanding. Not much, after all these years, since I first met Lucy. The inexorable pride that haunts me, the fever of gluttony, and lust that would forego God for an ecstatic moment are the gas, grease, and oil that lubricate this Hellbent vehicle. They are tears the sperm that race up the tube; they excite and terrify but they will never, never save me. This jot of being who I am is a poor student. On the great scale the drop of awareness truly balances the vast weights of pain and frustration. Hours on the operating table pass; decades of unconscious days, they too pass. The moist dark germ awaits its proper season. And finally like a thin shaft of light I am ready to nurture it. Finally. Ah! Lucy. You beautiful creature! Beautiful, beautiful creature! Good-bye.