The following is from Lauren John Joseph’s At Certain Points We Touch. Joseph is a British born American-educated artist and writer, who works at the intersection of video, text, and live performance. They have written extensively on contemporary culture, art, performance, pornography, gender theory and the Golden Age of Hollywood, including Everything Must Go (ITNA Press in 2014), and the plays, A Generous Lover and Boy in a Dress, which were published by Oberon in 2019.
When did you know you were dead?
Im asking you a question that I know you can never answer.
It is now ten years since we met, six years since we last spoke, four years since your death, and Im writing you this from Mexico City, under grave obligation. It is not a letter, since I know you cannot reply; maybe its another monologue, certainly it does not require a second voice; lets call it plainsong then. This is the chant recalling your life, it is fiction, it is biography, it is a transfiguration.
Last night I was walking home through my neighbourhood of Tacubaya, a few hours before dawn. I was with a very handsome American boy whom I had picked up at a house party, we were on our way to get breakfast at the all-night taqueria. Because we were drunk, and because we were high, and because Tacubaya is quite dicey at 4.30 a.m., we picked up the pace of our flirtatious stroll so that it became more of a determined tramp. It was chilly, and it seemed like we were getting lost, but we were stubborn, and both unwilling to pull out a phone for guidance, preferring to show off to each other with how well we knew the city.
My new American friend and I took several wrong turns, and found ourselves suddenly stumbling out of the crumbling residential streets, onto a massive six-lane highway which told us we had gone too far. Gargantuan heavy goods vehicles, massive petroleum tankers and enormous Coca-Cola trucks thundered across the dying night, bellowing diesel through the city, causing the pavement to rumble beneath our feet. We stood stock-still, dazed, in shock, in front of a shuttered mechanics shop, agog at the sight of this impenetrable traffic, regarding each other with an attitude of, Well, what now?
A few doors down, a pharmacy slept under an illuminated emerald cross, bolted to its facade and spilling lurid green into the easing darkness. Text skated over the horizontal axis of the crucifix Medicamentos, suplementos, descuentos y ms! the infinite scrolling jargon of drugstore commerce, cordially punctuated at the end of each round by a very civil proclamation of the time, date and temperature.
I stand and watch the information pass by several times, quite stupefied, before I find the wherewithal to ask out loud, Is that right?
The American boy says, Yeah, I know. Feels colder than twelve degrees, right?
I shake my head, No. The date. Is that todays date?
He nods, Yeah, its the twenty-ninth.
Of February? I ask.
Yeah, he replies.
It cant be, I say, incredulous.
I guess its a leap year, he says, and laughs nervously.
That was when I felt it.
I have to go, I say.
Where? he asks.
Home, I say. Do I have your number? Ill call you tomorrow, later, tonight.
He looks confused, and says, OK
I can see that he is put out. He thought he was going to get a fuck, but I dont much care, Im already hurrying away.
You see, it came over me like a compulsion, like food poisoning, like a scream in the dark tearing me violently from a dream: the exhortation to finally put this down on paper.
I crash into my apartment, drop my coat to the floor and skitter, still drunk, towards the kitchen table. I know that I have to begin right here and now, at 5.15 a.m., at least to make a start, if I am to ever to crawl up out of this perdition. With a clean sweep of my right hand I clear a mess of mail and half-read magazines from the tabletop, grab for my computer with my left, and began to write.
Disinterred, exhumed, hauled up from such an early grave comes the writer I had all but abandoned, here to type out the opening line, When did you know you were dead? The writer who has held silent all these years, sticking to the shadows of shame and fear, the writer who has watched the other players wear themselves out running amok, the psychic I is now coming into her legacy. Who else has the dominion and tenacity to accept the many months of solitude which will be required to perform this commission? Only the writer. Only the writer can tell the story of our life, and your sorry death. The priest, the painter, the soprano I might have been dont have it in them. Only the writer.
The significance of the days date has opened like a portal onto mania. The phantasmagoric nature of its revelation, materialising before me on that lonely neon crucifix, driving me into a frenzy of desperation, contrition, and rage. And what is there to be gained now, after all this time? Am I hoping to perform some act of penance here on the page? I cant answer. I simply sit and write, I give myself over. I turn inwards, and try to remember the first time I saw you, back when you were just one in a multitude of sweat-streaked golden boys.
I write straight through to lunchtime when the drugs and alcohol finally wear off, leaving only a headache. I go to my room around 1 p.m. and take out the cache of your letters from under my mattress, only to find my eyes are too sore to read them. Frustrated, exhausted, I throw myself into bed but I dont undress, I dont even draw the curtains; I simply sink into the low light of a room which never fully catches the sun, to snatch some rest, though I know I wont really be able to sleep until this is finished, until it is all out and down, and staring back at me. As I doze, I dream of council tower blocks being dynamited, collapsing down into ascending clouds of hot grey smoke. In my dream Im watching from a safe distance but still I am afraid and I say so, out loud from my sleep.
Above my body, across the street, a neighbour flings open a window and the suns momentary reflection on the glass lights up the bedroom like a camera flash. I snap awake, startled and disorientated, so confused by my lack of sleep that, for a few seconds upon waking, I believe that I am back in London, that I am coming to on that irreversible afternoon four years ago, when I woke up alone and found out that you were dead. Only this time I somehow know what has happened instinctively, without having to be told; briefly I believe that I have been woken by a pythonic vision. Slowly, I sit up, ragged and bemused, the letters fall from my bed, casting my eyes about the room, only very gradually understanding where I am. Then I begin to panic. I dont know how long Ive slept, Im terrified that Ive lost the whole of this precious day. I scramble about on the floor looking for the alarm clock, and am desperately relieved when I see that it is only 1.45 p.m. I have barely dented sleep. It is still today, thank God, it is still 29 February. Nauseous, dehydrated and sore, I return to the kitchen. I spread out your letters on the table and begin to work again on this book, this exertion, this panegyric. It is for you, just for you, leapling, happy birthday.
From At Certain Points We Touch by Lauren John Joseph. Used with permission of the publisher Bloomsbury Publishing. Copyright 2022 by Lauren John Joseph.