Just East of Eden
During her third replay of Let It Bleed, Lucille’s headphones died. Just like that - no warning, no nothing, just dead, dead as a doorknob. And with no music playing, everything felt unnaturally still. In her current condition, it seemed incredibly odd, incredibly off-putting that the world didn’t have a soundtrack to it.
To stave off the heat off early July, Lucille had a fan on her while she laid in bed in her room. Contrary to the title of this chapter, it was the night of July 4th. Her parents were in Maine visiting family friends - they extended the offer to her, but Lucille didn’t feel like going. Jackie currently had Regina over at her place in the city - they extended the offer to her, but Lucille didn’t feel like going. She didn’t feel like doing much of anything.
Well, she had done something. An unknown amount of time ago. She forgot to synchronize her watch.
The lights were off in her room. Voices spoke to her. She knew they weren’t real, but they sounded absolutely real, like they were just there, outside of her field of vision, speaking into the corner of her ears from somewhere in the darkness. It was idle conversation, middle-aged people who didn’t exist yet were undeniable somewhere in that room with her.
Lucille turned the lights on. Well, she flipped the switch, then ended up staring at her hand for an unknown amount of time. Covered in skin. Fascinating. A couple of mosquito bites on there as well. How did it all work? She followed the arm, down to the elbow, where a syringe had been in there earlier today. Today felt so long.
Her thoughts swirled. The voices made a temporary retreat with the darkness, and she was in her house all by herself. She didn’t like that. She tip-toed, heart-pounding, out of her room, then glanced back because surely people were in there. Nobody was. Just LeBong James. This was all his fault.
The hallway light flipped on. The bathroom light flipped on. Feeling safe in the light, Lucille ended up catching her own reflection in the mirror. In terms of time, she entered a black hole. Her pupils were massive, dilated. Her face looked exhausted. Her hair was messy. Her knuckles were white as they gripped the sink.
Lucille headed down the stairs into her living room. Those lights went on too. They called it a living room, yet nobody ever lived it in anymore. Her parents had their own television in their room, as did Lucille in hers. Yet the living room still had a television in there that nobody ever used because nobody ever lived in it. What was the point?
She needed some background noise now that her headphones were dead. She turned the television on. Ron DeSantis appeared on the screen. Not to get political, but it got political, and she nearly jumped out of her skin. His mouth was moving, but she couldn’t comprehend the words beyond an individual basis. She shut the television off.
Then came the kitchen. The lights came on. Lucille ran her hand through her hair. Ride the bastard out. She ran her hand along a wooden chair. Then she poked her head into the fridge. She hadn’t even properly prepared by buying fresh fruit or making a sandwich. There was nothing in the fridge, nothing in her mind.
Lucille backed into a counter and scratched the mark in the crook of her elbow. She wiped her face with both hands, up and down. There was absolutely no point in doing any of this. The whole day was a bust. The problem with intoxicants is their basic underlying assumption: that an intoxicated mental state is better than a sober one. But is it really? Is it really ever? It certainly can be. But then you get days like today where everything’s just going wrong.
All of it was wrong. The table, the kitchen, the house, everything. They all felt like they were escaping from her. Like a rug would be pulled out from beneath her feet any second now. The fundamentals of life - things like gravity, the senses, time and space - had been broken and split apart. There was no context to anything. Lucille couldn’t remember why she wanted to do this, what she wanted to accomplish while doing this, what she wanted to take away and learn from this. There was no point!
She could’ve been living her normal, everyday life, an ordinary life apparently so unappealing that she decided to expand her consciousness. For what? You can’t buy deeper understanding for twenty bucks. You can’t figure out what to do with your life when you’re alienated from your normal lifestyle in the first place! She tried a shortcut, because they were fun in college, but now she was…
What was she? She knew she was Lucille. But she didn’t have a job. Not to say jobs are your identity. Rather - she had nothing she was working towards. Aimless. Nihilistic. Fatalistic. She was a slow-motion sleepwalker, stumbling about, feeling blind under the bright lights.
The answer for her problems could only be found by looking at them honestly. Her ability to look at anything was severely curtailed at the moment. She ran a hand along wooden cabinets. The voices were back, still talking idly to one another. Deep, ragged breaths escaped her. Her stomach felt like it was going to explode. Lungs, too. Entire innards. Like her skin was a balloon, and that balloon was about to pop.
Feeling uncomfortable with her own skin. She didn’t hate herself. Lucille could never hate herself. She rubbed her nose. It was the other way around. She loved herself. Far too much. Because she knew, beyond all reasonable doubt, that she would be somebody. Famed author. Activist. Her very own Wikipedia page.
She rubbed her eyes. She wasn’t just one of the billions of people on this earth. She was different. She had to be. She wasn’t just going to live a hum-drum life of going to work, complaining about bills, and dying before hitting retirement. She had war zones to see, countries to visit, books to write, testaments to the human condition to create. She wasn’t going to be normal.
Lucille needed to leave the house. Living room or private womb or otherwise. As long as she was here in her childhood home, she would keep having those visions - now entering a literal sense of the word - of success.
She opened the back door and stumbled into her family’s patio. No lamps out here, just the light radiating from the porch. The neighboring house had its lights off, but she could feel the family inside staring at her. They had to be. Everybody was staring at her. No escape.
Lucille rubbed the crook of her elbow again. People might get the wrong idea upon seeing that. She didn’t shoot up or anything - she had donated plasma this morning for a cool $75. With her bank account having grown 15x more valuable, Lucille did the obvious thing and bought the stuff that was now inside her, swimming around in her head. And for what? She still didn’t have an answer.
Despite the sweltering heat, she shivered. And then she felt them, tiny pinpricks on her skin. On her legs, on her arms, in the space between her fingers. She stumbled backwards, banging her foot against a patio chair, and it sounded like a bomb went off. The noise reverberated around her skull, banging against it like metal against metal, sparks in the distance. Mosquitos floated around her in a swarm. There must’ve been thousands, tiny black bullets, Stukas and Hellcats and Zeroes. The assault made her knock over the chair entirely; the neighborhood sounded like it had just been carpet-bombed by Superfortresses.
Trembling, she sat on the concrete stairs up to the backdoor. The light kept some of the mosquitos off of her. She caught her breath. And then she felt the land shift beneath her. Just like the kitchen, the backyard was rejecting her. It all felt wrong, all that natural harmony that comes with familiar sights was simply gone. The house said she didn’t belong here, so did the backyard, so did the patio and the neighbors and the side streets and the main streets. The entire town of East Eden was spitting her back out - her time was up, she didn’t belong here anymore, time to leave, time to go.
But then she slumped on the stone steps. She didn’t want to go. It was safe here, because she knew what her future entailed. All those visions of beauty. As long as she was in East Eden, in that childhood East Eden mindset, then those visions wouldn’t be exposed for the youthful mirages they were. As long as she didn’t grow up, as long as she prolonged her adolescence, she wouldn’t have to start those fearful days of being an average, everyday, ordinary, normal adult.
That was the whole crux of the matter.
She was afraid of getting “old” because she wasn’t ready to let go of those dreams.
She dreamed of the Saipan Suicide Cliffs because it was a experience so beyond her own inevitable normality.
She had to prove her mother wrong about majoring in English and being an author. HAD to. Because, otherwise-
“I spent sixty thousand fucking dollars on nothing!”
In movies, the protagonists always punch windows or the like in situations like this, but Lucille just ended up gnawing on her shirt. That’s when the Superfortresses returned. Lucille heard a distant buzzing noise first, something like a low droning, but it came closer and closer, sailing through the dark sky, until finally-
The night sky exploded in a wave of red. The blast was enough to knock Lucille off the stone steps onto a patch of grass. She shielded her eyes - she didn't want the explosions to burn them away - but she looked anyway and watched the next bomb go off. The sky exploded in an array of orange, then a field of blue, and she heard cheers from the nearby elementary school where they were setting off fireworks.
Imagine an apple in your head. No apple in reality exactly matches the apple of your imagination, does it? The sheen or the shape of the color is always slightly off. When it comes to the Platonic ideal, life works very much the same way.
Lucille’s imagined life - perhaps all of ours - would be synonymous with Eden. Endless, limitless beauty. But we can only get so close. Lucille, banished from the Garden, found herself in the land of Nod - just east of Eden.
The bombs kept going off. Everyone made it clear they didn’t want her anymore. She had to grow up. She had to wipe her eyes because she was crying.
Tears and the display on her phone screen bounced around her eyes, but she managed to find the number she wanted to call. A few seconds later-
“Yeah?” Regina’s stoic voice came through.
“Regina…” Lucille mumbled out. Her stomach was about to pop open. She stifled a massive cry that would’ve sounded like a wounded animal. “I’m sorry.”
“Everything,” Lucille whispered out. “Everything. I’m sorry that I made a big deal about getting old. I’m sorry for being the same immature person I’ve always been. I’m sorry about my narcissism, I’m sorry for thinking I deserve pity for feeling like a misfit just because I don’t vote, I’m sorry for making you drive me everywhere, I’m sorry I spent sixty thousand dollars just to spite my mother, I’m sorry for thinking I was going to be something famous, I’m sorry for shitting in your tub that one time, I’m sorry for not having a job, I’m sorry for not wanting to have a job, I’m sorry for not wanting to grow up, I’m sorry that I’m not trying to die but not trying to live.”
The line was quiet for a moment. There was a lull in the bombs.
Regina’s voice crackled through. “You have cereal in your house?”
“Cereal? Yeah, I have cereal.”
“You should get some cereal.”
Regina’s words made sense. “Okay, I can do that.”
“You have milk?”
Lucille nodded. “Yeah, I have milk in the fridge. Not much else.”
“Okay, you should put some milk and cereal in a bowl and have something to eat. Then you should put some cartoons on the television.”
"But Ron's hiding there."
“...not on every channel.”
Lucille stepped back into her private womb known as her childhood home. After hearing Regina’s calming voice, maybe she had been looking at it the wrong way. Maybe East Eden wasn’t rejecting her. Maybe she was rejecting East Eden. Because she wasn’t content living just east of Eden. She wanted the real deal, the dreams of her childhood.
She munched on some cereal. Lucille wasn’t hungry, and manual chewing felt odd, but the action calmed her down a little. She must’ve passed the peak by this point, too.
“You feeling better?” Regina asked.
Lucille wiped her eyes. “Yeah, I’m feeling better. Thanks.”
“Okay. Call me if you need anything. I love you, you know?”
Tears fell into the cereal. “Yeah, I love you, too.”
The phone went silent. Lucille placed it down next to the bowl and slumped in the wooden chair. She would never have Eden. But she would always have East Eden. During a night of hallucinations and falsehoods and dying dreams, East Eden itself was the only undeniably real thing there was. And why would it ever root against her? Was seventeen-year-old Lucille not rooting for twenty-two-year-old Lucille right now?
Her high school version would be crushed to find out her dreams wouldn’t come true. But her high school version would be even more crushed to find out that her older self gave up entirely.
She took a deep breath and, thanks to that phone call with Regina, she now understood. In the immortal words of Frank Sobotka:
I need to get clean.