So where was I by then? I was no longer in Berlin. I had gathered all this and it still didn’t mean anything. Fragments of truths, fragments of clues, but in the end I still didn’t know what it was that this case required. Hell, I still didn’t know what this case was.
I had lost my partners along the way and found myself alone on a different continent. I was warned that it would happen, I had even provoked it. I was on the other side of the coin, on the other side of the planet. I took out of my pocket the practical guide to private investigations that never left my side, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. According to this useful map, I was in the underworld, in the belly of the whale.
It only made sense: the driveway to the house where I was living was straight out of a fairy tale. Or a horror film, which in a sense is just a grim, sinister, primeval fairy tale. The woods around were populated by bears, wild turkeys, deers, coyotes, bats, fireflies and racoons. All animals that I had only encountered in fiction or on television. None of it was real before and here I was, in the American wilderness, awe struck and scared and totally lonely. I felt in many ways like I didn’t have the cognitive tools to understand what was happening around me. The light switches, the cars, the food, the accents: everything was slightly unfamiliar. Similar but not identical. My coping mechanisms kicked in but couldn’t breach the gap that was between me and the place where I had found myself.
Autumn came, this in-between where the spirits come out. I started to miss my long-gone love. I say that like that love had abandoned me, but in fact it was me who had deserted it. I had an even longer relationship with acts of disappearance and abandonment. I was still intimately certain that they were the only things that would give me worth in the eyes of others. Not being there. Not burdening them with presence and reality.
Well there I was. Finally away from everyone I knew. Careful what you wish for, you might very well get it. Along the lines of the story, the highways, the rivers of the Hudson, along the power lines that cut the sky in two, became apparent to me something I had suspected but blocked out of sight this whole time. How was I supposed to find the answer when I didn’t even know what the question was.
Imagine a land where you find yourself in front of a magician. The whole paraphernalia is there: the stage, the hat, the wand, there’s even bunting above the stage. It looks like a ritual. Except that as you watch the show, it becomes apparent that the magician is not going to pull a bunny out of his hat. Instead, he’s trying to sell you a car.
Everything has been pre-digested for your entertainment: magick becomes magic, technology sees you lying in your bed with dead eyes like it was opium. You’re only served finger food and everything comes in a throwaway cup. You don’t have to get out of the car to watch a film or go to a restaurant, or go to the bank. All interaction is formalised. Someone explains to you that this part of the world is so obsessed with their car for the simple reason that in the fifties people didn’t have places where they could go to have sex. A whole civilisation born and evolved on the idea that maybe if things go right you’ll get to take off the girl’s underwear on the back seat of your car. It speaks plenty of my naivety that I didn’t think that was what the whole entire world was built on. Planets and comets at the drive-in, trying to get into each others panties. Half mad with lust and desire.
The magician reveals himself to be the car seller reveals himself to be the Devil. I message Milk: tell me about the Devil. I need to know.
I am not happy, once more with the knowledge that is offered to me. But it offers a new insight on the American dream: the magician reveals himself to be the car seller reveals himself to be the devil reveals himself to be the spirit of America. When there’s a Will, there’s a Way. Wands are the tools of the Will. Aleister Crowley dressed as Uncle Sam tries to sell me a Toyota 4Runner.
We are all the fool, we are all the Magician. The Devil on the particular plot of land reminds us of the need to be responsible for our action, but it is often heard as taking responsibility for our success.
Overwhelmed by all this, the devil, the Toyota 4Runner, the light switches, I go for a walk in the woods that surround the property. It’s a long walk. Mostly it’s mulch, mushrooms, acorns and twigs, but every so often I come across more disturbing details: an empty jerrican, silver duck tape, and I wonder what dark deeds have been done. Because I only know this landscape in the summer doesn’t mean that it’s always summer here. The woods get dark as soon as it’s October. The family deserts the house and goes away to live under a more clement sun. Nobody would hear a scream here, as soon as the first snow settles on the ground. Worst case scenario, an alerted soul would probably just think: it’s only a coyote.
Who knows what goes on into the woods?
Since that’s where we go when we want to disappear. I think of my past relationship with someone who hurt me, I think of their latest attempt to get to my heart. In French, we have an expression about being made of the same wood. Your wood is the stuff you are made of. Some are brittle, some are so strong they can almost resist fires.
That man, trying to pull the same string in my heart that he always plucked when he was trying to take control of me, says that he is not surprised I’m finding myself in this situation, like it’s a bad thing. Like I’m a coward. I swear this man is a liar. With his fucking lyre, bad Orpheus.
You just hang out with the worst stuff the world has to offer, now, of course, of course, you are made of the same wood. Let me remind you of the worst stuff that lives in your heart, Justine. He uses my real name, like punctuation, making sure his point hits home. Let me remind you of who you are when no one is looking, Justine, the worst stuff that you have to offer.
I walk through the woods, and start thinking of Daphne. So desperate to escape Apollo that she was turned into a laurel. I remember that feeling so vividly, wanting to become a tree. I could weep my sap for centuries, inconspicuously. But then I think of the gaffer tape lying on the ground, and I wonder: is it really what happened? No one was there to witness what happened in the forest. Perhaps Daphne’s prayer was never heard. Perhaps it was too late, Apollo had already caught up with her. Perhaps he had forced himself on her, burying her face in the mulch so she wouldn’t cry. Perhaps when she screamed the neighbours thought it was a coyote. And when she lied there, violated and cold, Apollo freaked out and buried her under a laurel. Came out of the wood talking of transformation. You never guess what happened guys. Slightly shaken but desperate to take the upper hand. Adorned with a crown of laurel as a trophy.
No one ever knew what happened in the woods.
If it’s your story against mine, and I’ve been turned into a fucking tree, who will ever be able to tell what really happened in the woods?
Are we made of the same wood?
Are we made of the same wood?
You could say that I was desperate to resume my old ways. What I never said was that I am all the characters of this story, all at once. And so, to prevent myself from having to be myself, vulnerable to the point of transparency, I would in turn be Daphne, Apollo, the guardian of the gate, the mother, the child, Milk, Julie, the father, the magician, the MC of the Coney Island sideshow, the hunter, the hunted, the junkie, the devil, the victim and the perpetrator.
So, thinking that I could carry on fooling myself and all around me, I tried to set up the traps I set up as a seducer. But it didn’t work. None of it worked. The universe was tired of my bullshit, which means that really I had no more energy for it yet I was enraged by the stone cold truth: I just couldn’t live like this any longer. And so the way of the Universe of telling me that it was tired of my shit was that the Conversation kept imposing itself on me. In those new surroundings, without my partners by my side, I tried to emulate my ways to cope, or Investigation methods, in vain. Augen, Augen and Zahn had been dismantled. So which one of them was I then? The left eye? The right eye? Or the tooth? My powers had been left on the old continent. It didn’t make me weak. It made me new. Instead, I found myself having a series of conversations which were all the same.
I am driving from Woodstock to Kingston, in New York. It is now Autumn. The nights are cold and the days are golden. Like remnants of a mythological age, except of course such age never existed. Such things as fascisms are made of. Yet the sun warms my skin and I drive the car too fast. I listen to Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, and I pass a number of billboards advertising things like ‘Unfinished Furniture’, ‘Tiny Houses’, ‘Cheese Louise’. In the recess of the valley, a tiny timber house which shape resembles that of a church, calls itself ‘The Doll House’. The second L on the sign is upside down and its windows are blocked with heavy pieces of wood or metal.
Are these clues? Is this all real? I keep losing the plot of my investigation. But the investigation keeps reminding itself to me, although shape-shifting and like the reflection of light on continuously troubled planes of water.
The Conversation continues. On the third floor of the Shirt Factory in Kingston (in Europe, it would count as the 2nd floor, not the third, is this relevant?), I knock on the door of the studio 311. Behind the door, the space contains the script of a film, except the script of the film is the space. Doors, windows, rooms and corridors that connect them. The scripts has been torn to pieces and stuck on the walls, combined with all sorts of broken furniture, pieces of rubbish, plastic flowers and old cameras. The Conversation continues. Maps. The worry not being the madness, but rather: what if we are actually sane?
I feel layers of time so permeable that I allow myself to slip through them. Peer through the open door, listen quietly sat at the top of the stairs like a child during her parents’ parties. Keep to the shadows. Is there something so particular about time in this part of the world? A whole civilisation built on the self-consciousness that comes with its very new-ness. ‘This house is old –old for America, that is”, I keep being told. Yet here all seem so attached to the history that lies behind every single building. Nested in the recess, the layers of owners, makers, which all know by name even if they died decades ago. Ghost stories. A fondness for cadastre maps and old pictures. The story of the land, stolen, retold, retold, and retold again, until it becomes real. That’s the strength of stories, to make themselves retold so many times that they trickle through the fabric of things. They become the things themselves. They stretch themselves in front, in place of everything and prevent us from seeing that they are not the thing. From tool, they become tyrants. You’re only the solution until you become the problem.
In the Shirt Factory in Kingston, New York, I allow myself to peer through the door. I find myself in the same space three weeks prior, listening to the film script whilst simultaneously walking through it. I can hear the clicking of hundreds of sewing machines, by now it’s not a clicking or a humming it’s almost like a swarm of needles filling the entire brick building. Back to the blood-and-sweat-and-tears mothers. Back to 1917. The door closes. The air of mid-October flows through the open window of the warehouse, makes my skin crawl under my dress. Back to the present. Back to reality.