- Published on Thursday, 09 January 2014 18:56
by Josh Cohen
The most remarkable thing about you standing in the doorway is that it’s you, and
you’re standing in the doorway.
Do you remember, not so long ago? When we were young, both in body and
mind, the potential was limitless. You possessed the charismatic pull of a prophet on his
last breath. We were all captivated waiting to see if you’d be damned or saved. To some
you were less than human. A monstrosity condemned to your seated prison, spine bound
by some divine curse. They never saw your beauty. They measured you in the old
conventional ways. You were not to be measured by the old standards. You were not
limited by the conventions of the human body. From your crippled seed your mind grew
into roots that sucked knowledge from every corner of the universe.
We rioted to put your picture in the national portrait gallery. When Congress
refused to acknowledge your brilliance we hurled rocks, bottles, golf balls and our shoes
at them. The bastards had rejected you and, by association, us. The people and the
people’s artist had been cast out of the halls of government. I super-glued one of your
works to a Smithsonian gallery museum. Remember the news story? They played the clip
of me crashing through the crowd over and over again. Everyone could tell it was
bullshit. Sure it looks bad when a man over six feet tall knocks a woman into a Van
Gogh rendering her unconscious, and it doesn’t get any better from any angle, but we
know Van Gogh would have understood. Our passion and our desire was to see your art,
real art, appreciated by the masses. I would have cut my own ear off too, if it would have
I did six months in a mental ward for you. They told me you weren’t an artist.
That I was delusional. You were a cripple and all of this was in my head. They told me
that The True Artists Disciples Association was made up. There were hundreds of
networks I told them. I personally had seen many of the secret hide outs. I tried to make
them understand. TADA is a magical movement. People moved by the artwork of a true
outcast to come together and improve the human condition. Progress was being made I
assured them. From the inside I thought I could change their minds. If the doctors were
told the truth on a daily basis, I thought, they would begin to see that they were being
deceived. Salvation never came though, and the white robes continued to silently drag me
off to my daily “treatment.” They tried to get me to talk about you, and us, when we were
boys. Finally I shut up. I am not proud and if you refuse me as a disciple any longer it
would be more than fair. I told them you were just a mute, confined to that chair, that you
weren’t making art, just carrying out your bodily functions. I told them lies. I hope you
can understand the need I had to get out. There is no change from the inside. Only by
gaining my freedom could I rejoin the movement and continue your work.
My sweet brother I still remember. It had been weeks since your accident. When
the white coats kept insisting that you had become a vegetable. Probably the same ones
who refused to believe in your movement a second time around. I came to see you every
day. I left crayons and paper by your chair, just like the ones I got you for your sixth
birthday. You said that was when you knew you wanted to be an artist. I was waiting for
my little brother to come back to me. That beautiful artist I had always known. I knew
that even with your spine twisted and mangled, even from within that mangled prison of
metal and plaster you would still create. You would create the same kind of masterpieces
you were talking about while I was at the wheel. Just like that last thing you described.
Some magical new medium that would revolutionize how we think. When your catheter
came loose and your piss spilled out all over the paper I brought you, I saw the wet stains
drying into a smiley face. It was then that I knew my baby brother had returned.
It was in Paris, or perhaps the park near our house, with the French name, L’Enfant
Park. We displayed your first collection next to a bench. We laid out a dozen or so on
mom’s best table cloth. The contrast was brilliant. Mom said she couldn’t tell what you
were thinking any more, but I could. The look of pride in your eyes as people passed
admiring your art, was enough to make any brother’s heart swell. Nobody bought
anything, but that wasn’t important. Their eyes said it all. As they came to realize your
genius their faces would twist into a beautiful admiring grimace. The sun shone down on
us, the greatest fraternal team in art since the Van Goghs. Your chair lit up like an ancient
Roman chariot. God was with us and our cause that day.
Which is why it was such a shock when that older gentleman, Mr. O’Connel who
owned the Lowe’s franchise a mile away, at least that was what mom told us, leaned
down to admire your work. I heard him whisper, “This is sick. Parading him around like
this. After what you did to him. You should be ashamed of yourself, and this, this
certainly isn’t art.” Well nobody talks to my little brother like that. Nobody was going to
place the blame on you like that. I was driving after all, but I wouldn’t say your accident
was my fault, and I certainly wouldn’t say that it was yours. He was bigger than me, I’m
sure you remember. His face looked haggard. Probably from years of alcohol abuse. No
way was I going to let some drunk speak to my precious baby brother that way, certainly
not while he was confined to his bodily prison. It was just cruel. My first blow caught
him off guard, which is good, cause he stumbled and tripped trying to get away. He was
bigger than me, dear brother, but I managed to hold him down. My hands were sore for a
week, but I never felt a thing as they rained down the truth of your work into his skull.
His salt and pepper hair was stained a repentant maroon when I left him. I heard cries and
outrage as we left the park, the people knew justice had been done. We had their full
support. I grabbed your chair and we sprinted straight home. I apologized for leaving
your paintings, but I knew you intended your art to be for the public. There was fear in
your eyes. You had never seen that side of me. I had never felt the need to rise up and
protect you before. In my defense, it was in your defense.
Months passed and the movement picked up steam. This was when the doctors
started. Sometimes they came to the house and the stink of rubbing alcohol and piss they
left would linger deep into the evening hours. It kept me up. They said you were
getting worse, but your art was getting better. It was magnificent. The simple material, so
natural, so unique. The dimension and range of emotion in each one. We put in long hot
hours selling your work on the street, and for a moment I really did fear that you had
started to decline. It was hot and you looked so tired, like you just wanted to sink deep
down into a cool black lake, slip away into the icy dark, free and free from sight. I told
mom my thoughts and that’s when the shrinks started. Mom was different after that. The
motherly gaze left her eyes. They lay sunken and fatigued, like trying to love us had
become too hard. She still took care of you, of course.
That is when the shrinks started. They told me I was sick. Me, with you confined
by your twisted bones. Face unable to convey the pain, wisdom and passion that leaked
out from a broken catheter. They liked to tell me that my illness wasn’t physical. I told
them that made us the perfect match. Who better to heal one another than two brothers
oppositely afflicted. They couldn’t see how you had restructured my thought, made it
better, taught me to see more. They saw only your old potential. I saw your new talent.
All the shrinks wanted was to suck me back into the past, but we had moved on. We must
move on. There is nothing left back there. The art has brought us to the future. They
couldn’t see that. I was put in the hospital. The sanitarium, to sanitize me, as though I
were unclean. Baptized in urine, and they still called me unclean.
The last months in the hospital were unbearable. The things they made me say,
blasphemous. I was forced to lie, to betray you. The white coats, worse than the shrinks,
shoved pills down my throat and tied my arms down. I had no choice but to lie if I was
ever going to see you again. So I told them what they wanted to hear. I let them take me back.
“It was an odd teal color, my Mustang, with a white stripe down the center,” I
told them. “It had been ten months since I answered an old ad for the 1999 Mustang, in
dire need of repairs. $500 to anyone who won’t scrap it.” The white coats hung on my
every word. So confident that they had changed me. I swear brother, their false truth fell
off me the moment I uttered it. “Finally with enough time shifting through junkyards for
parts and several nights spent under the hood it was running. It was more than that. It was
flying. I had to show my brother.” I told them again. The fools, their eyes lit up as I
feigned sadness and regret. They should have known a genius like you would never have
been interested in something so plain and ordinary as a car. Don’t worry dear brother, I
led them on a fool's errand. “He had walked a mile and a half to the art supply store on
Market street. I thought I would surprise him with a ride home.” The “doctors” asked if you
were excited. I knew the fools didn’t understand you. Excited over
a moving pile of metal, a rather insulting assumption to make about your brilliance. What
lies I had them believing. “ When I got there he was shocked. He gave me a big hug and
told me it looked great. He laughed and told me I was driving the world’s fastest breath
mint. He was an artist. He never understood why I chose such an ugly color.” They asked
me about the ride home. What a stupid question. These men had the brother of the
world’s greatest artist and they wanted to talk about a car ride. If I had been the brother
of the world’s greatest NASCAR driver, maybe I would understand. These fools could
have learned of your truth. “On the ride home there was a sudden stop. I hit the breaks
but we skidded into the back of the pick-up in front of us. His head went through the
window” It was here that I broke down crying. These idiots believed me. They told me I
had acknowledged my tragedy. That I was fit to reenter society. They deemed me clean
again. I was clean; I had been clean and it was no thanks to them. Baptized in urine, and
they still thought I was cleansed.
Despite the white coats’ best bullshit efforts, I was completely reinvigorated. My
dedication to the movement had only been strengthened by their absurd insistence on
delusions. Psycho-babble about guilt and repression and Freud’s fucking mother is no
match for physical evidence. Mother came to pick me up, all somber smiles and head-
nods. She didn’t say a word on the way back and neither did I. What was I to say? “Sorry
Mother, I saw through their ruses again.” Nor could I lie to her. I am an honest man,
always have been, and I’d had my share of lying to those fucking so-called “doctors” for
the past 6 months. Maybe she was trying the silent treatment, to force something out of
me to fill the silence. It was her mistake. I had been in and out of padded rooms. There
was no silence here. The slow rhythm of the motor, the cacophonous horns of our fellow
motorists, the repetitive beat of her wooden cross hanging from the rear view mirror as it
tapped against the wind shield. After what I’d been through this was an orchestra, a
parade. The everyday big brass band heralding the return of something big, something
very big. I’m sorry Mother it’s best you do not know. You’ll have to endure the silence.
At home I took long, measured steps to my room, so as not to give away my
intent. I have become an expert in the art of deception. Sometimes I even fool myself into
thinking everything is ok, into believing the mundane. But I am free of those delusions
now. All my willpower is spent trying not to race to my room. I am free. It is time to
resume work, to further the movement, to perpetuate your good name dear brother! I am
free and I am your servant!
I reach beneath a floor board, slightly out of place, beneath my bed, for that old
lock box. The rectangular grey and red one Mom got me for my tenth birthday, with the
combination lock built in to the top. The one that began to rust the very next year when I
left it out in the rain, and you cut your hand on one of the corners. You had to get a
tetanus shot and mom wanted to throw the box away. I hid it. Besides, you could have
just picked it up by the handle. I told you to be careful. Now aren’t you glad I kept it?
The codes, the secret plans, all of our work has been hidden safe in this box, under the bed.
Though curiously, as I open it, its contents become strangely unfamiliar. Where
once there was a code there are simply random letters scrawled between lines on
seemingly irrelevant newspaper clippings. “City to Limit Park Hours” and “House
Claims Family of Six, Three Housecats Miraculously Unharmed.” What does it mean? I
used to know what it meant, or it said something different. I think back to our hideouts,
in Milan and the creek near our old elementary school. What did it look like there? I am
going insane trying to remember. One of your first works is here, a green piece of
construction paper with a piss portrait of the Challenger explosion, a truly remarkable
piece. Although now it looks more like random lines, and blotches. It smells awful.
Involuntarily I wrinkle my nose. It must have been switched! Some one has been in here!
As though you read my thoughts a voice to confirm the suspicion rings out.
“Braa…Br…Hi” a familiar, yet shakier than I remember, voice says. Fully
upright, the answer to all my questions. Propped upright by some new metal contraption
that cages your legs and clasps to your neck and back, joining to another cage around
your head. One eye is half closed, but the other is all you. Peering out from between the
bars of your body-cage, a little piece of your soul is staring right into me, and I need to
ask “Was it real?” I need to ask “Did we do it? Is the world saved?” I need to ask so
many questions, but I stare at you speechless, clutching a piss-stained piece of paper in
my hands. I need to get some answers, but I don’t really want them. It’s beautiful. It’s
you, dear sweet brother, and you’re standing in the doorway.