Bobby once told me that self-love and self-loathing went hand in hand. When you love yourself, he explained, you expect more from yourself. You want more for yourself. Just hating yourself comes from attachment to your own suffering, he said. The self-loathing of the narcissist was far more complex. It doesn’t come from a feeling of worthlessness, but a sense of incredible value that one can never practically live up to. The night with Tanya made me wonder if I was a narcissist. Let’s review the facts: on the outside, I sold drugs so that people would want to hang around me, invite me to parties, and fuck me. Basically, I was on an ego trip. If I wanted money, I would have taken myself a few levels up when I started to move volume. Get myself away from the street level shit. But the reputation that came with that was what I was getting off on. I suppose, if I had put in the time, I could have gone high up enough to fuck three strippers a night in the condo of my dreams, but that would have taken a hell of a lot more patience and self-discipline than I had.
Tanya was amazing. It wasn’t just that she was beautiful, but we really clicked. When I was done, we lay in the trailer and talked for a long time, and when I was ready again, she was game. I thought that was what the man with the clipboard paid her for, but I was only half right. He paid her for the sex, sure, but that understanding, that compassion, that open and honest ability to make me feel like I was the only person in the world she wanted to be with? That didn’t come from the man with the clipboard.
But then, when I got dressed and headed back to the cellblock for breakfast, I was more miserable then ever. That’s why I think I’m a narcissist. I’m pretty sure that night couldn’t have possibly gone better. It wasn’t that I was going back to my cage that bothered me. I don’t know what it was. Somehow, getting everything I wanted wasn’t enough. It was frustrating. I tried to imagine what it would take to make it better, but I couldn’t come up with anything. No wonder I spent so many years chasing high after high. The best wasn’t good enough for me. Where do you go from there?
I glanced around the cafeteria for Bobby, but I didn’t see him. The man with the clipboard wasn’t there either. Asking questions would just make people suspicious, so I ate my eggs and kept my mouth shut. On the way to the gym that afternoon Officer Patrone took me aside and searched me. That wasn’t unusual; we all got the once over from time to time. He didn’t find anything, but when he was done there was a note in my pocket. “Still alive,” was all it said.
I got to see Tanya again the very next week. It was even more amazing than the first time. There was no mistaking it; I was in love with her. The strange part was, and this I could scarcely believe, it seemed like she was in love with me. She even started to say something about when I got out, but stopped herself and apologized. She said that she didn’t want me to think she was a psycho. We really didn’t know each other that well. I told her it was okay. I didn’t say much else. I didn’t have to. We held each other for a long time and let the possibilities speak for themselves.
Bobby was still in the infirmary. It was a while before I could get the story out of anybody. The man with the clipboard finally filled me in. We had stopped hiding our little chats from the others. Everybody saw me talking to him. Everybody knew that he was behind what happened to Bobby.
Nobody knew the details. The man with the clipboard wouldn’t say much. Bobby’s job was to sweep and mop the classrooms and cafeteria when they were empty. He was usually supervised. For some reason, that day, the guard wandered off. In the meantime, Bobby managed to be doused in gasoline and set on fire. He had burns all over his arms and legs, but he survived, thanks to quick thinking on his part. The prison officials didn’t have a suspect, but when Bobby was sufficiently healed, it was likely that he would wind up in protective custody until more information came to light. The man with the clipboard was very happy about this.
“I won’t be here much longer,” he told me with a sly smile. People don’t smile on the inside. Well, Bobby does, but Bobby’s different. Seeing the man with the clipboard do it, with everyone watching, was blasphemy. “But I do keep my word.” And so, another week later, I was going to get to see Tanya again.
Meanwhile, I was losing my mind. It wasn’t just that I didn’t have Bobby to talk to, it was that asshole’s smug fucking smile. How could this be the plan? I began to believe that the man with the clipboard had pulled a fast one on Bobby. That made me very upset.
I started dreaming again. In some of my dreams, Bobby was coming to kill me. I had failed him, and he wanted revenge. In some of them, Tanya was coming to kill me. She learned that I betrayed my friend, and wanted to punish me. In most of them, I was chasing the man with the clipboard, but it always ended the same way. I’d back him up against the wall and try to punch him in the face, but I couldn’t. Looking at him was like looking at the sun. I couldn’t focus on his face, only his smile. My blows were weak and useless. My arms were like pudding. I tried to shank him, but when I reached for the blade it fell to the floor. I stooped down to grab it, but it was too heavy for me to pick up. Then I would look up and see that hideous, disgusting, smug, little smile looming over me. Mocking me. Mocking Bobby. Mocking my friend.
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