Letters From an Artificial Island

by C.J. Pendergast

Mama by Serge Lecomte

Day 1 – Friday

Dear Past Self (Preferably the 8-year-old self, high on unimaginable levels of dopamine),I’ve been looking for you everywhere. I’m sending this to our old house, you know, the

one on Yoakum Avenue—where you flipped over your bicycle handlebars the day before your communion. The sound of bones slapping the pavement. The lonely jingle of the rotating chain after a bicycle tips over, lying awkwardly on its side, incapable of returning to its natural state. The skin on your face was lacerated, like peeling wallpaper. A skinned knee. The blood, effusive.

Mom fumed. “What are we going to do about tomorrow?” You forgot she reserved a professional photographer to take a picture of you in your miniature tuxedo. You would be framed and hung next to your perfect sister, hands together in prayer. “You look like the girl from “The Exorcist.”

Still, happy you remained. A vibrant and joyous child, often described as, “eccentric and erratic,” or the all-too-common, “troublemaker.” To this label you testified not guilty, claiming that trouble found you. Adults rolled their eyes, but I believe you. And still, happy you remained even with all those adjectives hanging off you like lead weights.

You possessed something then that I could use now: a ball of light. When we moved from the brick casing of that Yoakum Avenue house to the other side of town, to a mirror image of the childhood I’d been accustomed to, it seemed to go missing. I’m starting to think the ball of light was never packed for the move. Or, if it was, it must’ve been misplaced, put in the box of Christmas ornaments. Or it fell off the truck. Or the movers stole it.

I’ve suffered from the absence of that ball of light. It’s hard to live without it. I’ve been seeing a doctor who says that medicine can help me, that the medicine will imitate that ball of light. But it won’t be natural, it’ll be artificial like fluorescents. It’ll be non-inherited.

I took the first one today. And if I could describe the feeling to you, it’s like I’m being sent away to an island. Similar to when you used to hide in the closet if you needed to be alone. Like I’m being sent somewhere else, an artificial and vacant landmass surrounded by water. Exiled and cast away from everyone mentally, until I’m tolerable enough to join them again. Listen, though, I know it’s not a real island, it just feels like one.

When the doctor signed my prescription (like some sort of surrogate travel advisor), he said, “You won’t feel the full effect of these pills for about two weeks.”

I guess I’m stuck here until then,

-The 20-year-old you

Day 2 – Saturday

Dear Mom,

This hurts like hell. I just swallowed my second pill, and I don’t feel better. I don’t want to swallow the pill anymore. It’s unstitching the lining of my stomach, Mom. Pulling out the thread one by one, loosening everything that’s kept me together inside. The pain is incredible. Tell Dad I’ll try to be stronger. Tell him I promise this time.

I know you don’t believe that a pill can change what’s happening to me. And I don’t either. I don’t believe in magic shit like that. I guess I was kind of hoping you would, and I’m surprised how quickly you dismiss it. You were born a believer, never missed a Sunday at church. It just feels like you & Dad don’t even believe in what I have. But that’s OK, cause I don’t either.

It must be in our blood. Like late-life depression was in Grandma’s blood. She swallowed rainbow-colored pills that looked like they’d come from a PEZ container. I watched her in awe, unaware of the foreshadowing. Unaware that I would be doing the same as her soon thereafter. I wish I knew … I would’ve spoken to her about it instead of pretending to care about crossword puzzles and Jeopardy. But I’m telling you I’ll make up for this. Just like Grandma made up for the immediate death of her first child by having seven healthy children after.

Mom, I don’t believe I can do this for two weeks. So much can happen in two weeks—I mean, the entire world can go to hell in two weeks. I know this will scare you, but to be honest, that’s what it feels like. Like the world is ending and I’m just watching it all happen from this remote area. This mental island in my head where I am screaming but the noise is lost in the proverbial miles from wherever I stand to where all of you are.

If the world does end up being obliterated by some unstoppable and omniscient force, know that I love you—I think I do. I don’t know, I don’t feel it, I just know that’s something that I’m supposed to say right now.

Your only son, your second born,

-Christopher

Your only son, your second born,

Day 3 – Sunday

Dear Jesus Christ,

To be clear, I am sending this letter to the Jesus Christ, cold and locked in stone, in front of my Catholic High School, Kellenberg Memorial. If any other Jesus Christ receives it (the Christ of Latter-day Saints, the one who came from mushrooms, or the one bleeding on the cross where I received my communion) … please forward it to the one for whom it is intended.

I keep thinking about walking past you after getting off the bus everyday—burning rubber inside my nose. I remember looking up and wondering if you were alive in there, the stone, trying to get out. I think I’m the same height as you now. You look down on me no longer.

I’m sure I don’t have to fill you in with what’s been going on. I assume you know, since you’re always watching me. These pills make me want to return to you and tell you that I think you killed yourself. That your rules are askew. That suicide isn’t a sin because if it were, you’d be in hell. And I hate you for making me feel like a coward. You’re the coward. Admit it. Admit that there are multiple ways to commit suicide and just because God told you that you needed to die, you still knew it was going to happen and you let it happen.

I’m sorry. I’m reaching for something that isn’t there. I hope you can read my mortal handwriting. The real reason I’m writing you is to ask you a question: Is the place these pills are

taking me in my head Hell? That’s what it feels like, there are seven different circles and Dante’s high-pitched voice is laughing at me while I spiral down the bottomless pit.

Tonight I went to a bar with a girl I’m talking to. Are you surprised that someone you saved is amenable to this disorder? I am. The doctor you also saved gave me these pills to help me get through this undefinable disorder. With this, I assume you knew about it all along. And so, did you save them to save me? I don’t care.

The girl drank. I smoked weed. That messed with my head and I regretted it. I was ready to go home before we even made it out. I tried to get off the island in my head, but I couldn’t swim any farther than the sandbars. The girl got drunk. I’m afraid she became insecure when we got home because I struggled to have sex. We didn’t end up having sex. “Is it me?” she asked. Of course it wasn’t! It was the total opposite. Are proud of my inadvertent celibacy? We hugged instead and she eventually fell asleep. I stayed up watching a sitcom with a laughing track. Beneath the dim glow of the television, I joined in with the laughter, imitating the artificial audience, imagining what it would be like if church had automatic laughter in between sermons.

Can you save me again, or is it just a one-time thing? Let me know,

-Post-Pubescent Chris

Can you save me again, or is it just a one-time thing? Let me know,

Day 4 – Monday

To my psychiatrist,

It’s day four, and I’m not sure I can last any longer. I’m so far into my head on this island that when other people talk it sounds like their mouths have tape over them. I don’t know what to do. Pleasure doesn’t exist here, either. I’m frustrated sexually. I tried to have sex last night, but I

couldn’t. Tonight we tried again, and I could. But I felt absolutely nothing. There was no feeling whatsoever. Like I was wearing three condoms instead of one. “It was good,” the girl said. “Like normal.” But I worry that she’s lying. She’s too nice to tell me the truth.

After we have sex, which I prayed was at least pleasurable for the girl, I shook. I was soaked with sweat, my hair stuck to my face, my eyes burned from saline—the only thing that did come out of me. My body was an earthquake sealed by skin, emasculation was my fault line. My face peeled back as I grimaced in pain. She held me in place while I rattled violently.

Is this a side effect? Why didn’t you tell me about it? I didn’t have any difficulty with the first act (or even the second act), but the denouement is where I collapsed. I never realized how weak this could make me feel. How alone. How worthless and cold and empty and broken and shattered. Is there anything that I can do to escape this place?

Do I really have to do this any longer?

-Christopher Pendergast

Day 5 – Tuesday

To Friends back home,

I slept with the same girl last night. Everything with her is going well—I like her. I am having trouble with the sex though. It’s quite embarrassing, a reoccurring issue. I can have sex, but there was a point during it where it began to hurt. I’m quite sure it’s because of my pills.

When I wrote to my doctor about the lack of ability of being able to achieve orgasm he said, calmly, “It’s a side effect of the pills.” And then he asked, “What’s more important to you, sex or happiness?”

I already know what you guys would answer … I guess I’m just surprised that it’s already taken a hold of me. The thought is a poisonous glue that’s sticking to me all day. I’m embarrassed. She said that she enjoyed it. But I’m not sure. Have you guys ever lasted, like, three hours? It hurt like hell. I knew that once the credits of Dumb and Dumber were rolling that I’d made a grave mistake. That I was in some sort of trouble.

I did everything I could to take my mind off this, but then I realized everything in this world is sex. Doors of buildings. Car keys. Food. Food is sex. The percussion of my feet on the sidewalk is the rhythm of sex. The monotonous voice of the robot on the other side of the phone repeating, “Enter your account number,” over and over is the sound of sex. The news is sex. Mountain Dew is my aphrodisiac. The world is sex, and I can’t even enjoy it.

Love,

-P

Day 6 – Wednesday

To Matt Keezer, the founder of Pornhub,

I’ve been taking these pills that prevent me from climaxing. They are supposed to help my mood, but I can’t seem to grasp the concept that by doing so they would end up preventing something natural that can positively impact my mood as well. It’s all I can think about lately.

I was the longest visitor on your site today. Is there a prize for that? I attempted to achieve orgasm any which way I could. I was in the bathroom since I woke at 5:00 am to about 9 am, until my hand went numb. I gave up temporarily. I made some toast, and I

stared out the window imagining a plane going down in the distance, becoming nothing but ashes of strangers, fire, smoke. Decimated, the bones becoming a part of the soil. There was a part of me that wished it would happen—Then, I became terrified of my thoughts. I decided to go back in the bathroom and rely on something shallow.

My hand went numb earlier this time, about two hours in. I decided not to give up, but this was to no avail. Nothing worked. There was no video that existed in the hundreds of thousands uploaded on your site that got me off. No two-dimensional porn star. No artificial orgasm emanating from the condensed speakers of my computer that could help me reach my own, genuine one. I thought long and hard. For instance, if you could’ve located Sarah Morrison from my 12th grade Physics class and convinced her to do a video, I was positive that’s all that I needed. There are moments where I struggle to get off on images of strangers. Sometimes a familiar face can do the trick.

Your website was my obsession. I locked myself in the bathroom and vowed that I could overcome this. I lost track of time. Whenever I gave up, I rolled from one side of the bathroom to another, clutching my stomach, writhing in pain. This is because of the pills, not because of masturbation. I shoved my head into the toilet and dry heaved with so much strength that tears formed at the corner of my eyes. I couldn’t puke. I couldn’t vomit out the pain that was inside of me. Why am I telling you all of this?

Once my laptop warned me that it was on two percent, I realized that I didn’t have a charger. I remained committed. I was a loyal customer to your site for the time it takes grade school to commence and come to a close. When my laptop died, I switched to my phone. My phone was on nine percent. I went straight to the video I needed. I skipped to the best scenes: penetration

and good positions. I didn’t have enough time to watch a blow job. My phone died in the middle of a caked-up porn star with a bleached asshole and a fake tan. The screen went black.

I relied, finally, on fantasy. The unreliable imagination. Somehow, someway, I reached the end. I didn’t enjoy it. In fact, it hurt me. I collapsed onto the floor and passed out.

What’s my prize?

-Anon

Day 7 – Thursday

To the girl who sometimes shows up to this island I’m on,

Are you the only one that knows these coordinates? Why do you come here? I’m a ghost. I feel like I’ve been lying in bed for the entire week. I can’t seem to remember anything else. When I try to think about what’s gone on for the past couple of days, all I know is that there is a gray and black memory bank.

I’d like to say thank you. But I can’t. I can’t say anything right now. So I’m going to write it down: You are warm. Like, your skin is warm. I like it because when I shake, or when I get cold and you hold me in place I just focus on your warmth. I want to apologize to you for not speaking a lot this week. It’s not because I don’t like you. It’s because I don’t like myself.

This morning, before you left, I woke up early and you were already awake. I felt like a toy winding up. You were holding onto me. I told you, “Don’t resist. Let me stay in motion.” I was convinced I was being pulled to another dimension. But that wasn’t me who said that. I have no idea who did. There was nothing I can do to escape those words. Physical or emotional

contact makes me shiver now. I recoil at anything that regards closeness. I wanted to let you know that. It’s not you and I care, but I just can’t express it. Expressions are locked inside of me.

It’s only getting worse. I thought that it would just be stomach pain. But now my sleep is being interrupted. Like clockwork, I woke up at 4:00 am for the past three mornings as you know. But you might not know that while you sleep through the night, I wake up every hour and I pretend to be you.

I wish I could express this, or anything at all, to you.

-Chris

Day 8 – Thursday

To my psychiatrist,

I bet you think you’re real smart with all your degrees and such. Why didn’t you inform me of the pain I’d have to endure in order to get better? I am starting to think it’s not even worth it. Once I finally was able to ignore the stomach pain, it multiplied and brought insomnia with it. All I do now is wake up and stare at the clock. I can’t move my body, and I can’t close my eyes. I just lie in bed, awake, rolling around, trying not to stay in a position where I’d choke to death if I did ever vomit.

When I stare at the clock I just think, “This is a machine. It can do things on its own.” I just stare at it and wait for it to make any action, a motion, or speak to me. But it never does. I am lost and helpless. And I don’t feel safe here. You never gave me any advice on how to get rid of this pain. I’m already halfway there, what would happen if I were to stop?

Do you think you could send anybody to help me, please?

-Christopher Pendergast

Day 8 – Friday

To the nurse that I think I’m in love with,

You don’t feel the same. I am sure of this. Still, there is a little space inside of me that glows with magma like heat, that wants me to believe it. But my balanced side tells me that I’m wrong, tells me that this is your job. This is what you are paid to do. You are paid to love me. An educated, medical prostitute. Paid to be there just for me, to hold me, to take care of me. But when it clicks inside of my mind like a ballpoint pen, it writes in permanent ink that you don’t love me, and I resent you for that.

Sometimes I feel myself starting to become human again, other times I just feel like a shell. I’m almost ready to give up. I wish you were here to take care of me, perhaps take my blood pressure? When you touch my arm to take my blood pressure, I melt. I think there is something about you that makes me feel safe. Plus, you smell wonderful. I ‘ve only been eating because you told me I need to. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. I don’t taste anything at all. And I have no desire to. But you would tell me that isn’t the right way to be thinking. Could you just come home with me, so I could fall asleep on you?

I’d like for you to keep your scrubs on all the time,

-Your favorite patient, Chris

Day 9 – Saturday

Dear God of being awake,

I’ve got a bone to pick with you. In fact, fuck you. Why do you think that you can just enter me in the middle of the night, while my insides are exhausted, yearning for sleep? While my muscles are still snoring, while my bones are napping, why do you insist on making my brain and my heart buzz? It’s an incessant droning, monotonous hum, and I can’t turn it down enough for me to sleep—it keeps me up. I don’t understand you. There must be somebody, anybody else you could be following instead of tormenting me. I’m sure there is a mother of two right now, driving across the country who is nodding off on the interstate. I’m sure there is someone in the hospital who doesn’t want to fall asleep during their lover’s last breath.

I guess I should tell you the worst of what you’re doing to me right now: I am awake, but my insides are still sleeping. So, I have no energy or willpower to even move—I feel like I’d be okay with it if I could get up and do something, but everything is too exerting for me to attempt right now.

Leave me alone, you’re not even a real god.

-Chris

Day 10 – Sunday

To 1-800-Mattress,

Thank you for all that you’ve done for me. It’s been over a week that I’ve been sheltered and left to die on this twisted vacation. This mental island. These past couple of days have been

10,000 years. I feel like, at this point, I’ll be in your bed for the rest of my life. And if it weren’t for you, I’m not sure I’d be alive.

There’s this girl. She’s cute. She likes the bed, too. If she knew I was writing to you, she’d probably say thank you as well. I met her—well I guess you don’t care where I met her. Anyway, I take her for granted. Because, well, I’m on you this entire time.

I was prescribed these pills for my mental illness, or disorder, or whatever you call it. I’ve been put through this shit for seven years now and, frankly, I’m sick of it. The only positive that’s come out of those seven years seems to be the fact that they’ve led me to discover this bed. These pills, they hurt me. They feel like they are scraping at the inside of my stomach. I don’t want to take them. And I hold off as long as I can, trying not to take them, trying to pretend that your bed is my island now. That your bed is just as good as the pill. But my other side usually takes over, and I give in. I take the pill. At first it makes me feel better and I leave the bed. Then I begin to feel shapeless and I return to the bed to make an imprint again.

Anyway, I’m writing because I’m curious: am I just a number to you guys? I think that you have my name and my address in the system, but isn’t that just as good as any dating site? Are we dating? Did you match me with this mattress for the purpose that I’d be with it for as long as I was with my previous girlfriend? Do you care about me, or did you pretend to care just to sell me this mattress? Did you know that seven to eight hours of sleep is what’s recommended for us? Did you know that I am only getting four hours of sleep, but I am also lying on top of your mattresses for the rest of the hours? Does that count as something? Perhaps ¼ of sleep? What would you think? You’re the mattress professionals. Please advise.

One of your grateful consumers,

-Chris

One of your grateful consumers,

Day 11 – Saturday

To my boss,

I’m considering quitting.

Love, Chris

Day 12 – Tuesday

To Steve Jobs,

I start to see stars if I open my eyes too quickly. I’ve been staring at my phone too much. I am starting to think I love the inside of my phone, and I think that’s only where everyone exists anymore. I start to wonder where the fuck I am. But your Maps App wouldn’t be able to tell me. I’ll never use it again. A time ago, when I was fueled on only illegal drugs with a loitering stench or that chilled the inside of my nose and numbed my gums. Back when I drove hours across three state lines to meet the girl. Your map lured me down a bike path, meant for the vacationers that use summer as a verb, that ended on the edge of the Delaware Water Gap. After I backed my way out, with eyes damp from terror and fear, I shook for days on end. I resorted to inhaling the drugs again to get back to normal.

-C.J.

Day 13 – Wednesday

To the God of Being Awake,

            I don’t share the contempt for you that I did previously. These early morning rituals have become productive for me. It feels like there is somebody inside of my head that has turned the lights on. He wants me to think it’s me, but I’m not used to not feeling much at all. It’s not all positive. You stay with me for longer than I’d like. Why do you have to do this to me? Do you not understand empathy? Are you not capable? If all of this is just neutral, things inside of me that are influenced and controlled by outside sources. Why am I still convinced that you exist? It’s late at night and I can’t fall asleep, so I resort to writing this stupid letter, that I can’t even send, because I can’t even find your address.

-A Dreamer, Stripped of R.E.M.

Day 14 – Thursday

Dear Jeff White (My Drug Dealer),

I have replaced you. Well, I don’t think we’ve spoken in a while, but what I mean is I’m not sure I will be using your services anymore. I am taking these new pills. In fact, I am on them right now. Prescription. And I am so high that it’s actually scaring the shit out of me.

I can’t help but wonder: where are you now? Are you still selling weed and the occasional bag of blow? Did you graduate to something a little more dangerous yet profitable?

I get these points during the day that I call “drop offs.” There is nothing worse that I felt in this world, besides that deep cut cocaine you gave me that one time. I sipped up three lines in a minute and I succumbed to total body numbness. I made this gorgeous ascent to another world, filled with an internal buzzing. As high as I went is as far as I fell. I remember waking up on the cold kitchen floor, drooling. In the hands of the girl as she looked down on me. I felt like I was dug into a grave, staring up from walls of dirt, my limbs tied down by the roots, sprinkled with soil. Buried alive. I slept on my bathroom floor. The toilet felt like winter in New York. The girl was rubbing my back. “I’m here for you,” she said. But I couldn’t feel her then, I could only see her.

-516-524-5402 (I assume you only know me by phone number).

Day 15 – Friday

Future Me,

I’m hoping you survived this trip I’m on. Just like I survived the time I blacked out and woke up in the closet, feet floating inches from the ground, dangling from the neck by a cold, ivy green Ethernet cable. Fortunately, the carabiner I used to latch to the top of my closet was one I bought from the Value Shop on Main Street. It was a piece of shit. The faux metal is what snapped instead of our neck.

I ripped down all the posters and pictures in my room. I am surrounded by bone-white walls. It feels like that time we were locked inside of the mental institution in Queens. I sway like a human rocking chair in my bed. Rocking back and forth. Just waiting for the pain to go away. I guess I can’t stop thinking about how I want to go back to the old me. To the me that would be ruined inside over trivial matters. I want to go up to him and tell him that it will be OK. And just like I’d like to do that for him, I wish that you could come visit me now. Sit me down and assure me that it’ll be OK. Remember that day we were late to work because we hit a squirrel on the way? Cried so uncontrollably we had to pull the car over. The boss told us, “Next time, account for roadkill.” Does this make sense to you yet?

I looked at myself in the mirror and didn’t recognize the person. Was this you? You don’t look bad. You look happy and healthy … for now, at least.

I am writing to you in hopes that you’ll respond with what’s wrong with us. I’ve been misdiagnosed seven times now, and I’m starting to give up hope.

Yours Truly,

-You


C.J. Pendergast comes from Long Island, NY. He achieved his MFA in Creative Nonfiction from UNCW. He now resides in Oakland, CA and often finds himself talking to strangers.

Serge Lecomte was born in Belgium. He came to the States where he spent his teens in South Philly and then Brooklyn. After graduating from Tilden H. S.he worked for New York Life Insurance Company. He joined the Medical Corps in the Air Force and was sent to Selma, Alabama during the Civil Rights Movement.There he was a crewmember on helicopter rescue.He received a B.A. in Russian Studies from the University of Alabama. Earned an M.A. and Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University in Russian Literature with a minor in French Literature. He worked as a Green Beret language instructor at Fort Bragg, NC from 1975-78. In 1988 he received a B.A. from the University of Alaska Fairbanks in Spanish Literature.He worked as a language teacher at the University of Alaska (1978-1997). He was the poetry editor for Paper Radio for several years. He worked as a house builder, pipefitter, orderly in a hospital, gardener, landscaper, driller for an assaying company, bartender in one of Fairbanks’ worst bars, and other jobs. He resided on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska for 15 years and recently moved to Bellingham, WA.