"Convalescence" is a semi-autobiogrpahical novel. Two major literary influences on it are James Joyce's "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man", and Dostoyevsky's "Notes From Underground". It is about the struggle of a man (Garrison Mauer) to come to terms with his abusive family, his guilt-inducing religion, and his antipathy towards his own country. His 'friends' lure him into a life of alcohol and drug use; the numerous descriptions of drug trips, dreams, and other surreal moments will cau
"I am ill," Garrison Mauer said before taking another puff from Lee's hash pipe.
"You don't look sick," said McLean, taking the pipe from Garrison for a few puffs.
"The only coughing you've done is from inhaling," Corin said.
"No," Garrison said, coughing. "I'm ill in the mind."
"That's obvious," Lee said, tittering with the others.
"I'm ill in the spirit," Garrison continued, looking as if he were about to break down and cry. "I'm unhappy. I don't sleep well. I'm full of anxiety. I don't like myself. My mo--"
"That makes sense," Lee interrupted, inspiring more snickering.
"My mother says...I'm possessed...of many devils," Garrison said, hanging his head between his knees.
"What?!" Corin, Gérard, and Steven said at the same time. Lee and McLean just sneered speechlessly at Garrison.
"I know the drugs we've been doing are strong, but surely not that strong," McLean said.
Though the others laughed, I sat forward, listening intently to Garrison's explanation, however bizarre, of what he meant. I was taking him seriously, not out of believing him, of course, but out of concern for his well-being. From the earnest, troubled look on his face, I could see he clearly needed help, and I wanted to help him, if I could.
The others passed the hash pipe around the room and drank their beers, laughing as Garrison continued elaborating on his unusual revelation about his family life. Lee cut some lines of ketamine for everyone to snort on the coffee table. We, a group of expatriate Canadians, were in Lee's apartment on a Friday night, one of many get-together parties for the weekend after a week of teaching English as a second language to the locals.
"So, what are the names of these devils?" Lee asked with a smirk, then snorted a line of K.
"Will they come out and introduce themselves to us?" Gérard asked, chuckling.
"I don't believe in the devils!" Garrison said angrily. "As I said, my twisted mother does. She's managed to get my whole family--well, almost the whole family--believing her, too." He snorted his line of K.
"Religious nutters, eh?" Steven asked. He snorted his.
"Yeah, except my dad," Garrison said. "He's the one atheist of the family."
"You're religious though," McLean said, then snorted his line.
"Not like them," Garrison said.
"Yeah, I don't imagine them doing drugs at night, then going to church on Sunday," Gérard said.
"You and Corin do, like Garrison," Lee said to Gérard, then sipped his beer. Gérard frowned, trying to ignore his guilt feelings, as did Corin and Garrison.
"You do a lot of things at night, Gérard, before going to Mass," Steven said, alluding to Gérard's many affairs behind his long-suffering wife's back. Gérard glared at him.
"When I was really young, younger than I can remember, exorcisms were done for me, so my mom says," Garrison said.
"Did your head turn all the way around?" Lee asked.
"Did you puke green goo?" Corin asked.
"Did the exorcist say, 'The power of Christ compels you!'?" McLean asked. They all laughed.
"This isn't funny!" Garrison shouted. "My family was really cruel to me. They messed with my mind when I was a kid. I've suffered like this all my life--nearing forty years. I'm so glad I left them in Toronto, twelve and a half years ago. Living here's been, well, therapeutic: like a kind of mental convalescence."
"Yeah, whatever," Lee said. "Freak. Let's just all sit back and enjoy getting high."
The ketamine was starting to take effect. I watched Garrison, and he was drifting off into a trip. Lee changed the music on his CD player, switching it from rock to techno. The others enjoyed tripping out by themselves, while I, never losing my sense of concern for Garrison, listened to his babbling and mumbling about his family, a mumbling that grew stranger and stranger by the minute. It was hard to pinpoint the source of all his increasingly surreal remarks--how much of it was the drugs, and how much of it his apparent mental instability? Still, I paid close attention.
"Memories of my...old life...still bother me...after all these years," he went on, surprisingly articulate for a man in such a stupor. Though he spoke of his pain, he seemed momentarily detached from it, the obvious effect of the ketamine. "In body I'm...far from my family...in spirit, we're still close...painfully close. It's so good here, in Paris."
"Paris?" I said incredulously. "We're in Asia! Garrison, come back to reality, please! Tell me, what do you want out of life? What would make you happier?"
"I want...what everyone else...takes for granted. I want...to be healthy...in body and soul...to be happy...to fall in love...and be loved...by a girl."
"Of course, who doesn't," I said. "What else?"
"I want...my family...to love me...accept me...and respect me...I want God...to guide me...angels to guide me...no more devils."
"I thought you didn't believe in devils."
"I'm not sure...about that...There are...devils everywhere, I think...in me...around me...judging me...laughing at me."
"Garrison, what the fuck...are you mumbling about?" Lee asked. "Be quiet and trip."
"Nobody's listening to you," Corin said.
"I am," I assured him. "And I'm not a devil."
"Yeah, you're good," Garrison said. "My family's Lutheran...I converted...to Catholicism...Mom would be so mad! But I feel...better this way...The Virgin Mary...watches me...more kindly than...Mom did...But I want...to be healthier...I want God...smiling down on me...not judging me...not angry, like my dad." The ketamine was a shield against Garrison's pain; this of course was why he did it. "I feel...metallic right now. Like I have...armour on me...protecting me...Cool."
Though Garrison had been teaching English in the Far East for over twelve years, he'd lived more or less as a recluse for most of that time. Only in recent months had he come out to socialize. He came under the influence of Lee, McLean, and Steven; and Corin and Gérard, whom he'd met at Sunday Mass, joined the group to party on Saturdays. I'd known Garrison longer, because he needed me.
He was so desperate for social contact that it was easy for Lee to lure him into a life of drinking and drugs; and Garrison's tartuffe friends, Corin and Gérard, did nothing to discourage him from this decadence.
"Tell me about yourself," I said. "I want to know more about you."
"I was born...in October, 1869," he said.
"I think you mean 1969," I corrected.
"I'm the youngest...in my family," he continued. "There's my mom, Portia...my dad, Reynold...my brothers, Reynold Jr. and Fred...and my sister, Julia. I have a...special name...for them. I call them...the Five...because there are...six of us...but those five...are together...like a clique, an exclusive club...I'm not...one of them."
"I want...to cure myself...of my sickness...not the Five's way...but my way...I will heal."
"I will help."
Garrison continued mumbling and tripping, fidgeting in his chair in a dream-like state. Then after a few hours or so, we got him home and laid him on his bed. He hadn't stopped mumbling and tripping, always was he enjoying his high. We left him, and presumably, he soon went to sleep after that, dreaming something intense.
I know of the dream he had because he told me about it the next day at a café near his apartment. How much of what he told me was dream, and how much was the high of the night before, wasn't easy to distinguish; but he told me everything, in vivid detail, for he trusts me. Indeed, I'm the only one he can trust, for now. I understood his experience so well, it was as though I'd experienced it myself.
This was it.
I, Garrison, am about two or three years old. I'm sitting on a chair in the living room of my old home in Toronto, with my arms and legs held back by the Five: my brothers have my arms, my sister and mother have my legs. My father is holding my head back, though reluctantly; he only goes along with Mom's bullshit because--let's face it--he's pussy-whipped. All five of them are needed to restrain me, because though I'm a small child, I--with devils in me--apparently have superhuman strength.
I--possessed, of course--say a series of apparently meaningless syllables: "Taw, lay, cor, poos, sa, ta, ni; ah, vay, sa, ta, ni."
An exoricist is standing before me with a Bible in his hand. He, a Lutheran minister, shouts, "The power of Christ compels you!"
The interior of our living room is different: it's all of Victorian design. Also, everyone is dressed in the clothing of people from the late 19th century: Dad, Reynold Jr., Fred, and the exorcist all have sideburns like mutton chops; Mom and Julia are wearing frilly dresses of the time.
I look at the exorcist, then back at those holding me down on the chair. Instead of seeing my family, though, I see my five friends, all in 19th century clothes, and with mutton chops. They are all looking down at me and laughing, as they had at the party in Lee's home.
"What a family of nutters," Steven says, holding my right leg.
"Wah, shir, mwo, gway," I say, looking up at the minister again.
"Unclean spirits, leave this child, this servant of God!" the exorcist yells.
I look back at those holding me, and I see my family again, who are looking down on me and laughing, as my friends had been doing.
"Good!" Mom says. "Laugh at Satan, and he'll flee from Garrison. That's what Luther taught. Note all the foreign languages Garrison's speaking in. That's not baby talk; it's real language. No small child can do that. He's clearly possessed. I'll bet he's saying Satanic things."
"Ish, bin, dair, toy, fell," I say.
"In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, leave this innocent child of God," the exorcist says.
Now I see that those who are holding me are celestial beings. God the Father, an old man with long grey hair, a beard, and my father's face, is holding my head. Jesus, who has Reynold Jr.'s face, is holding my right arm. The Holy Spirit is a dove flying around my face, speaking to me in Julia's voice. The Virgin Mary, with my Mom's face, is holding my legs down, and St. Peter, with Fred's face, is holding my left arm down. They are all looking down on me angrily.
"Garrison? An innocent child of mine?" says 'God the Father'. "No, he's guilty. He doesn't merely have devils in him, he is a devil!"
"Zhuh, swee, uh, dee, ah, bluh," I say.
"Be gone!" the minister shouts, swaying his arm back and forth at my face, as if to swat the devils out of me.
Now looking like their normal selves, Mother, Father, my brothers and sister are looking down on me angrily.
"Yes, be gone with him," Fred says. "He's useless."
The exorcist swats at my face again, and I become angry. I grab his hand with my teeth, biting it hard, sinking my teeth deep inside, and sucking out the blood. He screams in pain; blood is soaking his hand. Smiling malevolently, I lick the blood off my lips after drinking what I'd sucked out from his wound.
"He's worse than a devil!" Mom says. "Garrison Martin Mauer: are you a vampire?"
Dad chuckles contemptuously at what Mom says, but doesn't say anything. As always where I'm concerned, the henpecked man keeps his atheism to himself. Now I have transformed back into my 39-year-old body.
"Fred! Reynold Jr!" Mom says. "Beat the devils out of him."
"Gladly," my brothers say in unison, with grins to match the one I'd just grinned. They start punching, kicking, and shouting obscenities at me. I feel no pain, thanks to the shield I'd felt from the ketamine at the party.
"He isn't hurt," the dove of the Holy Spirit says in Julia's voice. "He's on drugs, the dope fiend!"
"Yes," Dad, looking like God the Father again, says. "Beat the ketamine out of him!"
"The devils are making you do drugs now, eh, Garrison?" Mom, again dressed like the Virgin Mary, says.
My brothers now start hitting me harder. I feel my guilt increase as the ketamine wears off. As my brothers continue punching and kicking me, they quickly metamorphose into devils, with red skin, horns and hooves. It's a grotesque sight. These devils, now five, beat me and bite on my arms and legs, sucking my blood; and their faces dissolve into those of Lee, McLean, Gérard, Corin, and Steven. They're laughing at me as they abuse me, and my blood drips from their mouths.
From an unknown location, the voice of my friend calls out to me. "Wake up, Garrison!"
Garrison woke up the next day, in his bedroom, bathed in sweat.