Misty-eyed

I take a toothpick to clean my teeth; an urge comes over me to stab my eye with it. The urge is sharp and swift, far faster than my conscious awareness of it. I am left confusedly holding the tiny, harmless-looking weapon in my hand, imaginary blood dripping from its tip. What the hell just happened?

The occasional urge to stab myself in the eyes is not strong enough to transmute into action; I have no wish to blind myself and deprive myself of my most important sense (seeing is disbelieving; I need to squint as hard as I can to wring meaning out of things). But the urge sneaks up on me, hijacks my brain, evades conscious detection: it is so quick that my eyes have been smashed and my sight grabbed before I know it.

The urge – that it exists – is extraordinary. But this is a clever little urge. It is sending me a coded message both in its laughable choice of weapon (yes, officer, the assailant came at me with a toothpick) and in its timing (when I am in front of the mirror, bending down to pick a toothpick from a flimsy pack of splayed sticks, fixated on a shred of spinach stuck in my teeth).

What compels this insurgent urge? It does not belong to my usual repertoire, it does not take their well-worn routes to get through to me. It is not seeking pleasure. It is not a member of my subcutaneous resistance movement (I know all their tricks and propaganda). It is not a covert agent of convenient forgetfulness, strategic misremembering or useful idiocy.

This urge was not forged from the usual libidinal frustrations or psychic frictions. It feels too singular, too knowingly poetic in its choice of bullseye.

All my life I lived in fear of people telling me jokes because I never found them funny. Then one day, at long last, I heard a joke that I liked:

Q: What do you call a deer with no eyes?

A: No eye deer.

The rogue urge to stab myself in the eye is an ambush, a surprise shanking. It wants to leave me reeling in confusion, it wants to get my attention. A toothpick violently stabbing the eye: that will do it. It swoops in, pops my eyeballs like pickled onions, then flees into the vast nexus of contradictory impulses that animates this mannequin.

The living room windows of my apartment resemble two eyes. I have centred the room around them; when guests come we gather in fan-like formation around them. I live in barely suppressed terror of walking into the room at night and finding a silhouette standing there, by the window, looking in. It doesn’t need to be a monster or an axe-wielding lunatic. It is his proximity that terrifies me; a brittle vitreous barrier is all that stands between the safety of my cranial existence and the cruelty of the world without.

The glass of the windows is the membranous film stretched over my eyes. The film, aching with disbelief and straining with being, there, where I can never be, longing for that which I can never have, is a shroud over my life. It is a moist sadness, a rear window, a kaleidoscopic memory. I unseeingly see the pickled onions my parents used to put out as hors d’oeuvres when guests came, along with the cubes of cheese, the green olives, the prawn cocktail, and I playfully stab at them with the cocktail sticks my mother has put out as an afterthought.

At first I suspected that the urge to stab myself in the eye was a mutation of the Oedipal complex, a rehashed and revitalised punishment for imaginary transgressions. But the choice of weapon made me think otherwise. Mythical self-mutilation would entail gouging the eyes out; this was a mere pinprick, albeit one sufficient to pop the optical illusion of life.

My parents once extolled the many benefits of plastic toothpicks over wooden ones to J as we sat in a restaurant. I think she found it one of the most excruciating things she’d ever heard (they were too unobservant to see the I’m-about-to-faint look on her face). I tried them out that evening; they were disappointing. The tip was very slightly bendy (presumably to give better access to the gaps between the teeth). No, a plastic toothpick would not puncture the eye with a clean and decisive penetration but would merely cause great pain and damage.

The choice of toothpick (not, say, a knife or fork) is telling; my convulsive urge clearly has a sense of humour. It is conveying to me that it is appalled by the way we are imprisoned by our form: perhaps the toothpick dreams of being a dagger or javelin but is bound by its factory mould to remain a largely useless, inherently disposable object. Perhaps it mistakenly believes that I would be better off not having my eyes; it senses my deer-like twitchiness, and, being a bit on the simple side, thinks: “Out of sight, out of mind!”

The urge to maim the gawping windows onto my soul is also a mockery of Greek mythology. By choosing such an absurd weapon as my punishment, my urge is exonerating me from guilt; it re-enacts a founding myth by belittling it. It is a critique of Judeo-Christian values, an attack on net curtains, a poke at fake hope. It is a cry from the heart (souffle au coeur) circa 1971, a desperate stab at starting over. Or perhaps it is just sick and tired of me and wants to make its point. The truth is I have no idea why the urge comes over me to stab myself in the eyes.

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