jen durbent: Writer, Comedian

Aurora Over Texas

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I'm not a guy with answers. I barely understand the question most times. Right? I don't know what you're going to get out of me.

Is that thing on?

So, anyway, the guy was my roommate on the 4th floor. That's what we called it. Well, I called it. The mental ward, the crazy bin, the loony house, what-have-you. I was in there for depression, of course, which you can see clearly by these shallow cuts' scars across the arm and a few deep ones. They call the shallow ones "hesitation" marks, but for me some of them are just scars from my cat. I do have a cat. I named him Gary. Well before that cartoon with the Gary cat character.

My legs are worse.

Not me, right. Not me. Anyway, there was the guy, my roommate, and he was crazy. He's what you wanted to talk about, right? He was one of those crazy quiet ones and he hated me because I have a hard time stopping talking. Well, maybe he didn't hate me but you got this feeling he just wanted me to be quiet because he just kept telling me to shut up.

Aside from the noise thing, he had a problem with mirrors. Mirrors and noise. The noise was one thing. You could see him physically wince at the noise, but if he had to, which sometimes you just do, he could take it. The mirrors? Those were gone from our room the first few minutes. He took over the unisex bathroom generally reserved for the handicapped, pulled the mirrors out of there. Covered all shiny chrome bathroom bits with masking tape. I once had to use it when I got the shits bad from some experiment they were running in the kitchen and even the handle had the tape wrapped around it carefully, like those movies with hair over boobs in movies so they can get a PG-13 rating.

He hated his face. His body, too, I guess. That was his problem. I don't know why. I thought he looked fine enough.

I already said he was quiet in the crazy quiet way but he did talk in group once about it. You ever do group therapy? I don't understand how it helps, because when I try to help someone I get yelled at and the other fools around the circle are always wondering how your problems are so big when they got their own problems that are much bigger.

But he talked and we shut up. He talked and stared at the ground and talked in a monotone, as if the splatters in the tiles were words he was reading from a textbook.

"I know there is no reason for it, but I cannot stand myself." He goes, "For a long time, I thought it was because I looked like my father, but I don't look like him. And that would be no real reason, anyway. He didn't beat me, or yell. Not any more than my friends' dads. Less than some, more than others, I guess. I know this is me. I know this because not everyone is running in horror. Most of you may be stupid, but not all of you. I am the source of my feelings. It is not an objective truth. I am not paranoid. I am rational. I know it is me.

"Every day, whenever I catch a vision of myself it looks foreign. An alien of a not human variety."

I started to say something about how he looked human to me but the counselor cut me off and asked, "When did this start?"

"Start? It's always been there," He says. "From my earliest memory. I remember seeing the aurora over my parent's farm in Texas. I was little, maybe 4 or 5. Shimmering green and black in the night sky like clean water shimmers blue and white when you look through it to daylight. I thought that was the top of the air and we were running out. I ran in the house to tell Mother to hold her breath because the air was going away. But, she was in the bathroom, and I couldn't go in there to tell her and she couldn't hear well through the heavy door. Not that I wasn't allowed to, but I just couldn't."

Another person was crying, a woman across the circle, nodding and sobbing quietly. He looked up at her, "What you said to me before? I understand. It's not the same. It's more like a distant dialect of a related language."

I don't know what she said to him, but the counselor smiled because it showed a connection and she wanted to encourage that. I know why she smiled because she did that before with me, the last time I was in here. I think she thought that bringing sick and sad people together can make them happy.

But that was really the last time I heard him talk. A word here, a sentence or two. He didn't talk to me in our room any more than "Lights?" because he wanted to turn them off so he could sleep all the time.

You want to know about that night? The night he woke me up with his cutting? The disposition, deposition, whatever? Okay okay.

It was a Sunday night, which I remember because the shows I liked to watch were...cancelled because some sport or something. Is that important? I know you've got it in your notes, but I'm just trying to bring it up for myself. In my head.

It was just like any other night. He went to bed at 9:30 I guess. I got back in from the TV room at 11 or so and as far as I could see he was asleep.

I guess a few hours later, which you've got the right time in your notes I guess, I woke up. I don't know why. I sleep on my left side so I was already facing him, watching him. I heard small rips and steady and deep breathing. I saw a small metal thing in his hand, a razor--which I guess he broke off of a disposable like I would do--because the light reflected on it from the annoying street lights outside that always shined down the center of our room. He noticed that I was awake, and leaned forward into that beam of light.

Now, you ever see those surgery shows on the TV where they do any surgery on the person's face? It wasn't quite like that, but that's the best way I can describe it. Bloodier, though. A lot bloodier. And he was awake, which was weird enough. He had cut along where his hair is and pulled down and I could see his skull and his lidless eyes and down past his nose down to where that divot under your nose is--it's called a philtrum; I read that on the Internet.

That was awful. But that wasn't it. There was blood everywhere, yes yes, I told you that, but there were fat clean lines down from the corners of his eyes down to where the skin still hung on his face. He was crying, quietly. Those lines, that's what I remember more than the blood, those fat clean bone white lines from his tears.

He asked me, he goes, "I am human, right?"

And I said, "Yes. You are."

"Do you have a mirror?"

And I did, so I got into my bag and gave him the little mirror that I'm not supposed to have and gave it to him. He looked at his own skull and gave me back the thing, covered in his blood. It slipped out of my hand and fell under his bed--can I get that back?

Then I asked him, "Do you want me to get someone to put it back on?"

And he nodded. He pushed the skin flap back up and his face hanged loosely on the skull. His mouth was turned up in a huge smile. He was hugging himself and grinning and making quiet noises and rocking and laughing like a little boy.