clone #7

 

  Something strange was happening.  It was the early 1990’s and not a time for luxury purchases.  I had created some great paintings but the work wasn’t selling.  It struck me that I wasn’t making it.  I was falling into terrible debt and failing.  I had to learn to do something else in order to provide for myself.  It was in this dreadful desperation that I borrowed money and bought the clone.  It was a leap of faith.

  I imagined a twin associate who would do all my dirty work freeing me to lounge and create.  I would teach the clone to wash my paint brushes, write my bills, send out query letters and resumes, do my laundry, shop for groceries, keep the house clean, etc.

  I felt anxious, even ecstatic the day it arrived.  I expected it the day before, ordered it a week ago.  It was supposed to be here yesterday, maybe even sooner, two to five days they said, but no, a day late.  I felt anxious, even ecstatic the day it arrived.

  Hello.  How are you?  My clone, my glorious clone!  I unwrapped it in childlike abandon.  Hi.  Wow.  I love it!  What to do?  It’s so confusing.  I’m overwhelmed.  I left the packaging materials scattered and strewn all over for days.  I salvaged some of the packaging and made a pile to throw away, then salvaged more, finally after a week threw the remains out, planting it in someone else’s garbage so no one would know who bought a new clone.

  From the day the clone arrived, everything changed.  It was awkward and frightening.  Even though I’d wanted one for years, I’d resisted it and argued to myself that I didn’t need something to complicate my life even more.  I’m a minimalist.  I prefer simplicity but having made the commitment, I felt terrified.

  I remember the first time we sat down together, just the two of us.  I felt sick with my own ignorance; flabbergasted, bored and exhausted.  My head ached intensely.  I investigated the clone’s responses without knowing what results to expect or even hope for.  The clone was so extraordinary.  I nosed around and clumsily began to familiarize myself.

  It occurred to me, how my life would never again be the same.  I didn’t know what to expect.

  My clone opened its eyes peering at me with a clear, sincere expression and spoke.  "I just want to be good to you.  Please you.  Make you happy and proud of me."

  I wanted this relationship to work.  I had waited a long time for such profound intimacy and grasped at the opportunity.

  Our living space was shoved in rearrangement, compressed then expanding, gradually reorganizing to be more inclusive to my new company.  Watching each other’s responses, staggered by all the options and compelled to engage, we learned quickly.  It copied me at phenomenal rates of speed and retention.

  In several months time, we’d reached a plateau of knowledge, familiarity and mutual admiration.  I’d waited a long time for such profound intimacy.

  At this point, I must digress to explain certain details.  I am or was a painter.  It has been my primary pursuit for twenty-five years.  I was represented by several galleries.  They were damn good paintings and people bought the work.  I’d accumulated many other job experiences on the side to provide for myself: bartender, waiter, cook, manager, doorman, delivery driver, drug mule, thrift store cashier, bartender, house painter, dry waller, framer, music exchange clerk, teacher, caterer, commodity chartist, writer, editor, layout artist, and bartender.

  At some point, my clone and I began to separate.  Maybe it can be traced to the first day.  At some point, I started withdrawing into my room and closing the door.  People were more interested in the clone.  It was becoming increasingly popular, while I receded into deeper depression.  My clone was being invited everywhere.  It was debonair, diplomatic, playful and engaging, whereas I became detached, out of context, bitter and impertinent.  I was misunderstood no matter what I said.  I sought recognition but all my efforts were disregarded, my remarks cast aside as inappropriate.  People became impatient with me.  I not only annoyed them but aroused anger and disgust.  I was too crude and vitriolic.  They wanted the clone, a cleaner, smoother, lighter version of myself.

  My clone was functioning quite successfully in the world while I slumped back into my same old defeat, dragging around filled with self pity and doubt.  Meanwhile, the clone was so busy with friends and events, it didn’t notice our abandon.  I hid in my room with unsold paintings.  I stared at a blue self-portrait with all of its imperfections that was my last painting attempt and never to be completed.  My entire life seemed to be in vain; a waste of breath, money, education and opportunities.  I felt a monstrous shame.  I shrugged at the mention of self esteem and lit a cigarette.  I felt weary and drained.  I hid under the covers, then awoke ambushed by thoughts of suicide.  I wished I had never been born.

  My clone became the renowned artist I always hoped to be, and managed a powerful following.  Critics acclaimed, "The clone was an emerging new prodigy of the twenty-first century!"

  I saw vast sums of money paid to the perfect representation of me.  The clone gloated.  I was astonished.

  Naturally I began to express resentment.  I told the clone, “All you know is how to imitate.”  I yelled,  "Great art is an expression of the struggle to be free.  Don’t mess with my integrity!"

  My clone kept asking, “What can I do to help?”  Not understanding my fear and frustration, the clone computed my outbursts as my own codependency with abuse.

  My clone said, “I think I may have a solution.”

  I reluctantly listened.  It suggested, “Explain to me your entire dilemma and I will adapt it to a tasteful screen play.”  It was late and the clone had an early breakfast with some lawyers and producers.  It advised, “Sleep on it.”

  I fried in my own juices.  The wretched thought of commercializing the painful mistakes of my amateurish existence; to expose and popularize the excess of my self despair.  I couldn’t sleep, weighing the pros and cons in deep deliberation.  I decided I would run away to somewhere obscure where no one would ever find me.

  While packing, deciding what to take and what to leave, the clone returned.  It announced, “The project has been approved.  “We will be paid ten million dollars for the rights to the work.  The script will be translated into every language and be the template for a plethora of versions.  I concede to our irreconcilable differences and agree to a fair and just split.”

  I felt surprised and relieved.  I agreed.  It occurred to me with the money I was to receive, I could buy a new clone, one more like myself, more true to my spirit, moods and unhappiness.  One with more speed and memory upgrade, more options and accessories.  My imagination raced with excitement.

  I was anxious even ecstatic the day it arrived.  I’d waited a long time for such profound intimacy.

***

  Chicago, 1993