Scary Night

A Great Ruckus on
Grand Concourse

I was called again to the precinct. It’s the second time this month. I’ve already told Willem that whenever he puts up that sort of stunt, not just me but everyone is affected. I don’t mind it myself, but after all, it’s 3 am and I’ve got patients to see tomorrow morning. But as usual, once out, he’ll likely walk away without listening to anybody.
I can’t bring myself to call his brother, because I know that he and his wife are going through a rough patch, and I don’t need to tell who’s the culprit for that. Their relationship took a hit from Williem’s behavior, showing up at all times, usually drunk, and asking for another loan.
No marriage can withstand that kind of interference. In our talks, I always try to drive home this point. At the end of the day, Theodorus is his only relative to not just care about him but also support him financially. Not so much for that, but without his brother, Willem would be done, couldn’t last another crisis.
As for crisis, well, there were so many that after all these years, I’d need to go over my notes to find out how many. On the other hand, I feel sympathy – not pity – for his plight, the demons he faces daily, the horrors that frighten him and prevent him from getting any sleep. This nightmare-induced insomnia only aggravates his state.
And then, of course, there’s his creative genius, his fury which cuts him off from everyone. To tell you the truth, he scares people away, especially when brandishing threateningly his brushes against the canvas. It’s his armory, to avoid getting hurt but go tell this to those he insulted and yelled at. They’re quite a bunch.

In the end, few get him. To them, his work is offensive, almost pornographic in its distorted colors and shapes. I understand; it’s not easy to appreciate his paintings for what they are, peasants, flowers, landscapes, and stars, but depicted through fouled traces and exacerbated emotions. They’d rather have romance, reassurance in art. Just between us, folks can be boring, but that’s just my opinion.


When we talk, his solitude always comes up. That’s when I truly feel sorry for him. Compassion, even, for no young gal, on her right mind, would put up with such a caustic personality, without being crushed. That’s why, despite the obvious risks to his health, I pretend I don’t mind his habit of sleeping with prostitutes.

For only angels like them can offer comfort and company to such an afflicted soul. At the same time, he’s always getting into trouble, fistfights and drunken stupors, let alone that he spends what he doesn’t have in those sinful nights. Willem has no sense of restraint and is absolutely oblivious to the concept of saving money to pay rent, or even food the following day.
Anyway, I’m here, waiting for Inspector Rolland, who at this point is an old ally. He’s been extremely patient but every time I come, I’m afraid that it’s the moment of rupture when he’ll finally throw the book at Willem. No wonder. He’s been through so much with his superiors, as he always lets such a ‘rowdy dopey,’ as they call him, walk without bail.
A few moments and Rolland brings him over. Disheveled, bloated, covered with the dirty blanket cops who arrested him had given him. This time, he was naked near the Reservoir, doing heaven knows what. I know he’s harmless, incapable of hurting a fly but would believe it?
That is, as long as you don’t pick a fight with him when he’s under the weather. But usually, he’s the kind that directs his anger against himself, which is sad. I’m always afraid of the worst. Thankfully, coming from him, I’m used to be prepared, sort of, and brought him a change of clothes; this is neither the first nor will be the last time that he strips in public.
To him, it’s not even ‘public,’ as in exposing himself. It’s more like an attempt to get himself rid of the chains he imagines (more)
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imprison him. I’m sure he’d go deeper if he knew how, and I thank god that even if the thought of harming himself may’ve occurred to him, he hasn’t got that far yet. Obviously, I worry, as Theodorus does too. But there’s not much neither of us can do about it.
Last month, I lost some sleep after I found him bleeding on his hand. Rolland told me that a transit cop found him hidden in a corner of 34th Street station. Again, he had no clue how he got there. He babbled something about a broken bottle, but I got nowhere asking for details.


Our sessions often go on in circles, and repetitions are the norm, both when telling me about his plans, or expressing his rather radical opinions. Once, he spent over an hour discussing the work of his friend Paul, who’s also a painter. He speaks of Paul with a mix of utter admiration and deep resentment.
I don’t have much to say about their friendship; it’s just something that I’ve got to accept. After all, Paul is one of the few that seems to have unrestricted access to him; the two speak a common language. But I’m afraid that their relationship is not on an equal footing.
I never heard Willem express jealousy, but the fact is that Paul talks as if there’s never enough praise for his own genius and his ship’s just around the corner. Meanwhile, he always criticizes Willem’s paintings.
He’s the type of character whose reputation precedes him, but Willem doesn’t seem to mind. Some say he abused his wife and left her with several children and not much else. He’s talented, no doubt. I’m not sure whether he’s ever paid for anything, but I always see him around when Willem has cash, which Theodorus or myself gave to him. Not saying that he’s greedy. I really believe that they complete each other. But Paul is streetwise, while Willem, emotionally, is like a child.
Personality-wise, they couldn’t be more different. Paul is a bon vivant, who simply lives for the pleasures of the table and bed, always surrounded by young girls whose ages I’m not sure are appropriated. Willem, on the other hand, is more like a monk, devotional, almost religious in his idealizations. Often, his sexual experiences result in big disappointments.
Many times he told me how he fell head over heels for this or that ‘lady of the night,’ only to retreat into sad feelings of guilt because she turned out not to be like his mother. Besides, most of them were and still are Paul’s lovers, to whom they give absolute priority whenever he’s in town.
It may sound like I don’t care about Paul, but truth to be told, his cocky attitude, his heroic tales that don’t fool me a bit, even his taste for his beloved sword, with which he practices fencing nonstop, kind of bother me. It doesn’t seem like he puts Willem’s well being above his own indulgencies. And always alleges to be broke, which I also doubt.


As usual, when I retrieve him at the precinct, Willem is mute. Shame and embarrassment seem to choke any attempt at understanding his condition. He’s aware of his incapacity and his breakdowns are reminders that any external or internal fact can trigger another crisis.
But as is his style, he never ceases to amaze me. He told me he was working on my portrait, in lieu of my services. Now, what can I do with a painting that, even if it were a monument to modern art, certainly is devoid of any commercial value? I didn’t say anything. I know that from the bottom of his heart, he believes I can help him and wants to show his appreciation.
I have my own doubts about that. Sometimes, it’s like Willem exists in some kind of dimension so alien that I simply can’t reach him, or have any idea of how to do so. It’s not that he’s beyond cure; it’s the world that is sick, and souls such as his have everything to lose, trying to cope with such brutal reality. Anyway.
I dropped him off at the room in the Bronx where he’s been staying, but only after he promised me to shower and get some sleep. I told him I’d call in the morning and since I’d missed his birthday, we should walk through the city, see the Christmas lights, hoping his melancholy would cut him some slack. Still, I went home preoccupied with his state.
It’s almost dawn, I barely have time to have a cup of coffee, when the maid tells me Paul had stopped by last night, and told her he was on his way to see Willem. I don’t know why, but I felt my heart tighten. I was just setting up my suitcase to head to the office when the phone rang. It was from the Bellevue, and Willem had arrived at the ER, covered in blood and missing an ear.

(*) Originally published on Sept. 27, 2017.

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