Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of
Volume 13, Number 2
Copyright © 2018
by Leah Browning, Editor.
All future rights to
in the Apple Valley
Review are retained by
the individual authors
Excerpt from Dependency,
a memoir by Tove Ditlevsen
(translated from the Danish by Michael Goldman)
Then time ceases to be relevant. An hour could be a year, and
a year could be an hour. It all depends on how much is in the syringe.
Sometimes it doesn’t work at all, and I tell Carl, who is always
nearby: There wasn’t enough in it. He rubs his chin with a pained
look in his eyes. We have to scale back, he says, otherwise you’ll
end up getting sick. I get sick if there’s not enough in it, I say. Why
do you let me suffer like this? Fine, fine, he mumbles, with a helpless
shrug of his shoulders, I’ll give you a little more.
I lie in bed continuously, and I need Jabbe’s help to make it to
the bathroom. When she sits down to feed me, her big face is all
damp, like someone spilled something on it. I brush her one cheek
with my finger and then stick it in my mouth. It tastes salty. Imagine
that, I think jealously, to be able to feel sympathy for someone. I pay
no attention to the seasons passing. The curtains are always closed,
because the light hurts my eyes, so there’s no difference between
day and night. I sleep; I wake up; I’m sick or I’m well. I see my
typewriter in the distance, as if I were looking backwards through
binoculars. From the first floor, where life is actually being lived, the
children’s voices reach me as through multiple layers of woolen
blankets. Faces appear at my side and then vanish again. The
telephone rings and Carl takes it. No, I’m sorry, he says, my wife
isn’t feeling well right now. He eats upstairs in my room, and I watch
in wonder, and a kind of distant envy, at his healthy appetite. Try to
get a bite down, he says earnestly. It tastes really good. Jabbe
made it just for you. He sticks a small piece of meat in my mouth
with his fork, and I vomit it up again. I watch him wipe the spot off
the sheet with a wet cloth. His face is close to mine. His skin is
smooth and fine, and his eyelids are shiny and damp like a child’s.
You’re so healthy, I say. You will be too, he says, if you could just
bear to be a little sick for a while, if you would just let me cut back
a little bit. Am I a real addict now? I ask. Yes, he says, with his shy,
tentative smile, now you are a real addict. He tiptoes across the
floor, pulls the curtain aside and looks at the weather. Won’t it be
nice, he says, when you can come down into the yard again? The
fruit trees are in full bloom. How about having a look? He supports
me while I stagger over to the window. Don’t you cut the grass
anymore? I ask, just to make conversation. Our grass is higher than
our neighbor’s. It’s neglected and full of dandelions, whose tufts are
blowing around in the wind. Well, he says, I have more important
things to think about. One day he sits down next to me on the bed
and asks if I’m feeling good. I am, because there was plenty in the
last shot. He says, I have to talk to you about something. At the
institute there’s a specialist who took 40,000 kroner that he received
for scientific studies and he spent it on narcotics. I ran across it by
coincidence. I say, I didn’t know you even went there anymore.
Well I do, he says, picking up some invisible fuzz from the floor, a
new habit of his, when you’re sleeping. So, I say, uninterested, so
what do you have to do with that? I was thinking, he said, bending
over again and picking up something, of going to a lawyer. At first I
was going to go to the police, but don’t you think it would be better
to get advice from a lawyer first? I guess, I say, indifferently, that’s
probably better. But don’t stay out too long. I need you here when
I call you.
My mother comes by and sits by my bed. She takes my hand
and pats it. Your father and I, she says, drying her eyes with the
back of her hand, are of the opinion that Carl is making you sick.
We can’t say how exactly, but I don’t think he’s right in the head.
He sounds so strange on the telephone, and he’s never here when we
come visit. Jabbe says that he’s gotten quite strange too. Recently
he asked her to wash the soles of his shoes so they wouldn’t carry
germs. She says he frightens her. He’s not making me sick, I say
calmly. On the contrary, he’s trying to make me well. Can you
please leave? Talking makes me so tired. But once in a while I
wonder myself if he’s gotten a bit strange with his fuzz-picking, his
tip-toeing and his locking himself in his room when I’m not calling for
him. Once in a while I wonder, without any real fear, if I’m dying,
and if I should pull myself together and call Geert Jørgensen. But if I
do that, I won’t get any more shots, that’s for sure. If I do that, he’ll
admit me to the hospital, where they’ll only give me aspirin. That’s
why I postpone it all the time, and I’m in a state where clear thoughts
don’t last for very long. Lise visits me and puts her face down close,
and her cheek touches mine. I pull my face back with a start,
because touching hurts. I can’t bear the feel of other people’s skin
against mine, and it’s been a long time since Carl went to bed with
me. What’s wrong with you, Tove? she asks soberly. You’re
hiding something, something terrible. Whenever anyone asks Carl,
he answers with some nonsense. It’s a blood illness, I say, because
that’s what Carl told me to say, but the worst is over. Now it’s
going to get better. Would you mind leaving? I’m so tired. Don’t
you ever write anymore? she says. Don’t you remember, how you
loved it when you were working on a book? Sure I do, I say,
glancing at my dusty typewriter. I remember. It’ll come back.
Later I think about what she said. Will I ever write again? I
remember that time long ago when sentences and lines of verse were
always flying around my brain when the Demerol started working;
but that doesn’t happen anymore. That old blissfulness never comes
back, and I know that Carl puts water in the syringe sometimes.
One day or night while he’s kneeling by my feet and sticking the
syringe in a vein down there, I can see that his eyes are filled with
tears. Why are you crying? I ask, surprised. I don’t know, he says.
But I want you to know that if I’ve done anything wrong that I will
be punished for it. That’s the only confession he ever made. I think
you’re putting water in it, I say, because I don’t care about anything
else. Eventually you’re going to feel pretty sick, he says, but
afterwards you’ll feel better, and in the end you’ll be healthy again.
But you have to stop pestering me, because I have never been able
to bear to see you suffer. Everything I’m doing, I’m doing for you,
for you to get better, so you can work again and be there for your
children. His words fill me with rage. I will not live without Demerol,
I bark at him. I can’t live without it. You started this and you have
to keep it up. No, he says quietly. I’m slowly cutting back.
Hell on earth. I’m freezing, I’m shaking, I’m sweating, I’m
crying and yelling his name into the empty room. Jabbe comes in
and sits by me. She is crying in despair. He’s locked himself in his
room, she says, and I’m afraid of him. I put his food outside his
door and he takes it inside after I’ve gone. Can’t you call another
doctor? You’re so sick, and I can’t do anything. When your friends
come by, he tells me not to let them in. He won’t even see his own
mother. He might be going crazy, I say. I know that happened once
before. Then I throw up, and Jabbe gets a bowl and dries my face
with a washcloth. I ask her to find Geert Jørgensen’s number in the
telephone book and to write it on a note. She does, and I put the
note under my pillow. Now I’m unable to sleep, even with chloral.
When I close my eyes I see horrible scenes on the insides of my
eyelids. A little girl is walking down a dark street, and suddenly a
man jumps out behind her. He has a black hood over his head, and
he’s carrying a long knife. He rushes at her and sticks the knife in
her back. She screams, as I do too, and I open my eyes again.
Carl comes tiptoeing in. Did you have another bad dream? he says,
bending down, picking up fuzz from the floor. We’re out of
Demerol, he says. I must have forgotten to pay the last bill, but you
can have an extra dose of chloral. He pours it into the measuring
cup, and I plead with him to give me two. What the hell, he says, it
won’t hurt you, and he does what I ask. I feel a little bit better, and
he pats my hand, which is only half as big as his. It’s a question of
nutrition, he says with a dopey grin. If you put on twenty pounds,
things will be okay. He sits staring into space for a while. Then he
starts to sing in a falsetto: We screw our women whenever we
want to. That’s from Regensen, he says. When I lived there I was
a vegetarian. Sometimes I imagine that you’re my sister, he mumbles,
bending down to the floor again. Incest is more common than
people think. Then he tries to go to bed with me, and for the first
time I feel afraid of him. No, I say, pushing him away feebly. Leave
me alone. I have to sleep. After he leaves, I’m immediately wide
awake. He is crazy, I say to the empty air, and I’m dying. I try to
focus on those two thoughts, which appear like two vertical ropes
inside my head, but they get blown away like seaweed by the tide.
I don’t dare close my eyes because of my visions. I wonder if it’s
night or day. I lift myself up on my elbow, and let myself slide out
of bed. I realize that I don’t have the strength to stand up. So I
crawl on all fours across the floor and pull myself up onto my desk
chair. It takes so much effort that I have to lay my head down on
the typewriter keys and rest. My breathing wheezes in the silence.
I have to take action before the chloral stops working. In my hand
I’m clutching the note with Geert Jørgensen’s telephone number. I
turn on the desk lamp, dial the number, and wait for an answer.
Hello, says a calm voice, this is Geert Jørgensen. I say my name.
Oh, you! he says. This is quite a time to call and wake me up. Is
something wrong? I’m sick, I say. He’s putting water in the syringe.
What syringe? Demerol, I say. I’m incapable of explaining any
more. Is he giving you Demerol? he says sharply. How long has
this been going on? I don’t know, I whisper. A few years, I guess,
but now he doesn’t want to do it any more. I’m dying. Help me.
He asks if I can come see him the next day and I say no. Then he
asks if he can speak to Carl, and I yell Carl’s name as loud as I can,
while I lay the phone on the desk. He appears in the doorway in his
striped pajamas. What is it? he asks sleepily. It’s Geert Jørgensen,
I say. He wants to talk to you. Oh, is that it, he says quietly,
rubbing his unshaven chin. Then my career is ruined. He says it
without reproach, and in that moment I don’t know what he means.
Hello, he says into the phone, and then he’s quiet for a long time,
because the other man is talking. I can hear all the way out in the
room how agitated and angry he is. Carl just says, Right, tomorrow
two o’clock. I’ll be there. Yes, I’ll explain it all tomorrow. After he
puts down the phone, he gives me a sick smile. Do you want a shot?
he says gently. This time I’ll put enough in; this calls for celebration.
He gets the syringe, and the old blissfulness and sweetness from too
long ago returns to my blood. Are you mad at me? I say, twisting
my fingers in his hair. No, he says, standing up. Everyone has to
take care of themselves. Then he looks around the room, looking at
every single piece of furniture as if he were trying to imprint on
himself the room and its furnishings. Do you remember, he says
slowly, how happy we were the day we moved in? Yes, I say
sluggishly, and we can be that way again. That was silly to call him.
No, he says, that was your way out. You’ll be admitted and
everything will be over. What about the children? I say,
remembering them. They have Jabbe, he says. She won’t leave
them. And what about you? I ask. What is your way out? I’m
done, he says calmly. But don’t you worry about that. We each
have to salvage what we can.
The next day he comes home from Geert Jørgensen’s and
looks more relaxed than he has been in a long time. You have to be
admitted, he says, taking off his motorcycle jacket, for drug rehab.
It will start as soon as there’s an empty spot at Oringe, and until then
you can have all the Demerol you want. Isn’t that good? Sure, I
say, realizing that that was the same sentence that got me to succumb
to the ear operation. And you, I ask, what are you going to do? I’m
going to have some trouble with the health care authorities, he says
with affected dismissiveness, but I’ll take care of it. You have
enough to deal with just thinking about yourself.
Jabbe is ecstatic when I tell her I’m going to rehab. Then
you’re going to get all well, she says. All your friends and your family
are going to be so happy. They’ve been so worried. The day I’m
going to be admitted, she carries me down to the bathroom and
washes me thoroughly. She washes my hair too, and the water gets
filthy. When she carries me back up to bed she says, You don’t
weigh any more than Helle does. Carl comes in and gives me a shot.
This is the last one, he says, but I’ll ask them to go slow in there. I’ll
go with you.
I put my arm around the ambulance driver’s neck, while he
carries me down the stairs. I think he looks worried, and I smile at
him. He smiles back, and I see sympathy in his eyes. Carl sits down
next to the stretcher, and stares out into space. Suddenly he snickers
as if he just thought of something naughty. He picks up a couple
flecks of dust and rolls them between his hands. There’s no
guarantee, he says flatly, that we’ll see each other again. Then he
adds: Actually, I never was quite sure about that earache. That’s the
last sentence I ever hear him say.
Tove Ditlevsen was born in Denmark in 1917. She enjoyed
significant popularity as a writer of both poetry and prose. Ditlevsen
used her poor upbringing, fragile psyche, and long-standing problems
with relationships and narcotics as sources of inspiration for her
writing, and she became known for her unique, honest, and
uncompromising works. She wrote more than thirty books, including
Barndommens Gade (The Street of Childhood), which is in the
Danish literary canon. Ditlevsen died in 1976.
Michael Goldman’s translations have appeared in dozens of literary
journals including The Harvard Review, World Literature Today,
and The Columbia Journal. He teaches workshops and gives
readings at universities and literary events. His recent books-in-
translation include Farming Dreams by Knud Sørensen, Stories
about Tacit by Cecil Bødker, and Something To Live Up To by
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