One day Holly introduced me to Patrick. Holly collected people in the same way the rest of us collect music. She had different genres and tempos for her different moods. Patrick was a person she befriended with a heavy dose of irony, like a twenty-something guy who still has a taste for The Spice Girls but is old enough to know that kitsch is not life. Patrick would slip in and out of favour, and when he was there it was only to satisfy some need which she would be unable to verbalize; like the Spice Girls fan, she was ready to disown him at the drop of a hat once his back was turned.
Holly could be a bitch, sometimes.
Patrick, on the other hand, didn't have a bad bone in his body. Nor did he know the meaning of kitsch.
"Look, Andy, art is useless," he said to me one day in his thick Irish groan, which was currently reverberating around one of the posher bars in Cambridge. He said all art did was hold up a mirror to your brain and let it play with itself - an activity he at best disdained and at worst regarded as downright dangerous. He said art wasn't like a book which explained something to you and left you wiser; it wasn't like a lecture where you received information from the outside world about physics or engineering or literature. This last one was a sop to me. Patrick couldn't have given a shit about literature.
The first time I met him was late one night at Holly's house. It might have been called a party if it hadn't consisted almost entirely of weed smokers - it was more like a collective slump. I drifted towards Patrick because he was the only other person there who wasn't high. For a few years I smoked the devil weed every day, until it started to induce panic attacks in me. That's what the things the French call "Anglo-Saxon values" do, if you succumb to them - they put you constantly at war with the part of yourself that wants to breathe reality-denying smoke in and out until you're surrounded by a mist of it so thick that you can't penetrate it until morning. You can have that, or you can have what the Anglo-Saxons call "success": my subconscious decided for me without asking my permission.
We talked and we drank and I made a mist around me with Marlboro Reds. Patrick was a physics student, an expert in the world of appearances. His politics - you always had to talk about your politics in Holly's house, you had to breathe it like you breathed the mist - were conservative, technocratic. He carried the supreme self-confidence of a scientist - the men who killed God - into the realm of human affairs. He said the mind was a machine. That's the central condition of our modern doubt: man can only truly know the things he makes himself. If we can't trust God, and we can't trust the creativity that nature gave us, then we're on our own with our reason and our tools. Patrick never said this, but deep down he knew it somewhere in that part of us that the poets call the "Muse"; the part that mocks us with revelations we could never have arrived at by actually just thinking. The part his science denies.
He said ghosts and demons and Gods meant nothing to him, and they never would. I asked him if he didn't think there was maybe a part of his soul he was unable to find, that if he tried he might be able to realize the difference between Shakespeare and The Spice Girls, and realize the former had something to teach him. He smiled politely and said no he did not. Part of it might have been a fear of the religious - religion colonized the word "soul" long ago and now you can't use it without people assuming some subtext about churches and oppression and the blood of Christ. For me, it's a way of saving myself from the banal language of the psychologists, and their belief that the mind is a machine that ought to just be tweaked to assure efficient running. There is so much more to the most complex object in the known universe. Call it what you want. I call it the soul.
After that, we met again. We would drink lager and lime and chat up girls. He had an Irish charm that his incorrigible optimism allowed to take free rein at all times: melancholia and brooding were unknown to him. Patrick let the rest of us do our doubting for him, or so I thought.
One day I asked him, obliquely, why he thought him and Holly were friends. He wasn't friends with anyone else like her; she, like him. He saw what I was getting at. He said he thought it was strange, as well. But he said he'd found it before, with these "literary types": once they've decided all values are relative, and everything as valuable as anything else, why should his rational, artless existence be inferior to any other way of being? They might paint crazy shit and smoke weed for lunch and dance around naked to turbofolk, but these "hippies", he said, had no genuine reason to prefer themselves to him. I didn't know if he was telling me the truth, but this was when I realized there might be more to Patrick than appearances suggested.
One time we went back to his room for a bottle of whiskey. We sat around his computer and talked about girls and whiskey and girls. Me and Patrick kept it simple. Holly isn't the only one who collects people like CDs; but I do it without disdain. I said I loved Holly and that through her I thought I knew what it all meant; I knew the mind of God. And that, even though I knew we were falling to our doom like the protaganists in a Greek tragedy - warned of our destiny in advance by our own natures - I wouldn't miss a second. You could say bullshit like that to Patrick - I thought he didn't have the faculty to tell bullshit from profundity. Sometimes all a man needs in a friend is a bottle of whiskey and a sympathetic ear for his self-delusion.
I got a lot more that night. Suddenly Patrick was in tears. He said he loved Holly. He said it stabbed him in the heart to see us together. He said he kept me close because he was addicted to the pain, addicted to a pain that was his only genuine link to the real her. He said he knew he could give her everything she rationally needed, that he could love her and look after her and remember where she had put her cigarette lighter. He recalled a time when she had given him a love note to pass on to me, how he had resented it and spat on it and then told me it had rained.
It wasn't that he hated me, he said - that wasn't it at all. He said he knew I was good for her and I made her happy. It was him, he said. He had no idea what the mind of God was, he said, and so he could never be anything to her - never be anything to any girl worth having. He said he stood on the brink of knowing what a Muse was and what love was but whenever he felt it was near and reached for it, he fell down flat on his fucking face.
Then I cried and I told him he was wrong, that me and Holly spoke our bullshit and invoked our God to avoid confronting our real feelings, to avoid looking at the brute facts of the matter. I said that talking about love is like dancing about architecture, and that we danced the fanciest Gothic imaginable because we'd never have any normal, solid stability - we'd never have any stability at all. Then he cut me off and he threw this poem at me and he told me to get out and never come back. He said he'd thought about what I had said about his soul and this was the result, and a fat lot of fucking good it had done him.
His poem might deny it, but I know that Patrick's Muse was an oppression to him. Anyone who says that writing is a way to forget, or to handle things, is not telling you the whole story. I know that he woke up one night with something hot inside him, and it burnt him as it flowed through his fingers onto the page. We write because our feelings pour into the cups of our consciousness, then overflow and trickle down the side. Outside of us but still attached. You don't just write something and cast it away from you to a place it will never bother you again; in fact, you solidify a moment and give it life beyond memory, the failure of which we all need to live and avoid being crushed by the past.
Patrick lives in London now. He works for an investment bank and he makes a lot of money in that world of appearances; apparently he takes a lot of cocaine. I guess the stress and emptiness of the City got to him. As far as I know, he never wrote another poem. If he did, he wouldn't tell me.
My Muse comes to see me only by night,
When the heavens close over the day,
As the gentle leaves shake in the pale moonlight,
Which is cast over its putative prey.
I too a victim of night's fell embrace,
Of privation and feelings of loss.
Whilst the sorrow reflected deep in my face,
Deprives the moon's light of its gloss.
Yet the silver it paints on every cloud's side,
Is akin to its impact on me:
For only at the end of every day’s ride,
Does verse come with clear certainty!