I first met Charles Goffman in the spring of 1984 when I attended a guest lecture he was giving on Neurochemistry at the University of Manchester. Even then, at 27, he exuded an intellectual maturity far outweighing his years or indeed status within the scientific community. A few years later, when the opportunity arose to work on an experimental research project he was heading titled 'A biological basis for love' I abandoned my life in England and set off for America.
I was a mere boy, barely into my twenties, whereas Charles was already doing battle with heavyweight scientists, politicians and philosophers of the time. Throughout most of those early months at 'Goffman Bio-Solutions' I kept my head down and diligently turned in report after report. Interns didn’t work directly under Charles however he would occasionally sweep through our lab like a force of nature and leave me feeling somewhere between excited and nauseous.
Although it was science that catapulted us into the same sphere it was poetry that brought us together. When I discovered that Charles regularly frequented poetry evenings at Berkeley, I railed against my social anxiety and went along.
At each event there were about 30 people and I believe me and Charles were the only two with no background in the arts. The de facto president of the club was a floppy haired, cravat wearing 'wordsmith' called Sebastian. The club members, even Sebastian's colleagues, didn't come to see him reinforce negative stereotypes, they came to see Charles and listen to his meditations on everything from Shakespeare to the mind-body problem.
He was a straightforward man and both his poetry, and his favorite poets, reflected this fact. Charles read Bukowski, Hemingway and Frost. He loved masculine writers that explored man's relationship with the natural world, yet he firmly believed flowers should stay in the ground and remain out of prose. I myself was not impartial to melodrama. At the time I was a big fan of Joy Division as well as the melancholic musings of Morrissey.
However, my affection for these artists did not compare to the love I had for Edgar Allan Poe. Although Poe has been credited with creating the gothic genre, I feel a lot of his work has been misrepresented as morbid. If anything I believe it to be life-affirming.
The moment eventually came when I had to give a reading to the others. It was out of the question I would compose anything myself; I was far too shy. I knew it had to be Poe's sonnet on Science. I just prayed Charles would view the great man the same as I.
Science! true daughter of Old Time thou art!
Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.
Why preyest thou thus upon the poet’s heart,
Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?
How should he love thee? or how deem thee wise,
Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering
To seek for treasure in the jewelled skies,
Albeit he soared with an undaunted wing?
Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car,
And driven the Hamadryad from the wood
To seek a shelter in some happier star?
Hast thou not torn the Naiad from her flood,
The Elfin from the green grass, and from me
The summer dream beneath the tamarind tree?
I cannot remember directly reading the words themselves, it was though my fragile conscious departed from my physical self. I floated above the room watching myself speak, as if in a dream.
I was lauded by Charles for picking an oft forgotten classic that was as relevant then as the day it was written. As I'd hoped, the words of Poe had forged a silent unbreakable bond that would last until this day, the day of his death.
Over the next few months we became confidants, friends and then soul mates. To say I loved Charles would be a gross understatement. His charisma so overwhelmed me it was more akin to a worshipping on my part. Can one be in love with their God?
Charles decided it was a good idea to keep our relationship a secret. The world was not as tolerant then as it is now and he thought our circumstances would be ammunition for the ever growing list of people who were trying to halt his work. I have no doubt now that Charles was ashamed of his homosexuality. A childhood spent in forties Wyoming cast shadows into an adult life that no amount of enlightenment seemed able to elucidate.
Those were the best days of my life and for a number of years, I believe his too. In the early nineties the research project made a series of breakthroughs in our understanding of the production and regulation of the hormones Dopamine and Oxytocin. It was ironic that our own love blossomed in a time when we were unravelling the chemical codes that it comprised of.
There was no cataclysmic event that precipitated the decline of our relationship. The man I knew in those early days at Berkeley began to slowly change. He grew less affectionate, not just toward me, but people in general. He was far less willing to engage in debates about philosophy, literary theory or humanism. It was as if he began viewing the brain as a computer and people as machines. His study, once littered with classic works of art, of couplets and stanzas, of words that were more than letters, gone. In their place textbook after textbook, anatomical diagrams and chemical equations, the cold dead language of Science.
I tried my best to bring him back. I called old friends, even Sebastian whom I knew he disliked, but at least thought would stir up some emotion in him. I organised excursions to the great European capitals. We went on tour after tour of the worlds finest art museums. It was all to no avail. Some part of Charles had died, in his desire to understand the biology of man, he'd negated the part of us which is divine. Poe had been right.
I had one last hope: poetry. It was our own language, a tendril to a higher power and the only thing powerful enough to stop the ossification of his mind. But it wouldn’t do this time to parrot the words of others, I would write my own poem:
Love! thou tentacles wrapped around my heart
Tangled in your web, my mind unspun
The affection I feel tearing me apart
How did I get so far from where I begun?
Deep In my mind you planted a seed
Shoots filling the cracks in my psyche
What was once a flower is now a weed
Hades hath gone and replaced Aphrodite
I know what's happening in my brain
From where the torment comes and how it begins
But there is Naught that can assuage the pain
As my neurons drown In oxytocin
Here it is, my final hypothesis
I'll never break free, your love is an octopus
I delivered the poem to Charles and took a sabbatical from work. I wanted to give him some time to consider what his life would be like without me in it. I went back to England and set about building bridges that I'd razed to the ground all those years earlier when I'd absconded to the States. Six months after my departure Charles called to say that he needed to speak to me. He had an urgency and passion in his voice I'd seldom heard in the previous decade. I arrived back on the next flight and immediately went to see him.
'You've done it, you've changed everything!' He placed his large hands on my shoulders and peered at me with his mahogany brown eyes.
I stared up at Charles and then began to weep into his broad chest. 'I knew it Charles, I knew you weren't gone. It's ok. We can go back. The music and the dancing and the poems... the poems, Charles!'
'I don’t think you understand,' I felt him flinch and then draw back out of my grasp.
He reached for the mouse on his desk and opened a presentation that he had prepared for the rest of the faculty.
'Imagine,' he said, 'Imagine if we could show that love is just a construct. A function of the body as inducible as blinking or salivation.'
'But Charles,' I walked back towards him, ' How can you say...'
'It was you, it was you', he took me in his arms again, ' The Octopus, The Octopus of Love.'
I felt a pang of dread reverberate through me.
'It has changed everything,… it will change everything... look he reached down again and started scrolling through the pages. Cephalopod research is an untapped resource... and there are no testing bans... these creatures have developed their own unique intelligence over the last one billion years. They have the same ability as mammals, to formulate both short and long term memories.'
'I don’t... I don’t.' I felt myself getting light headed.
'They are strictly asocial creatures, psychopathic cannibals,' he continued ' not like us or dogs or cats. Their behavior shows no markers of kinship... Although its early I believe we can induce in these aliens a state of love. We can show that love is merely a chemical compound.'
'But that wasn’t what I was trying to say! This, this is immoral.'
Charles shook his head. 'We have unlocked the chemical codes of affection and attraction... God is love... We Are God!'
A video appeared on the screen of a squid shooting ink into a rough approximation of a heart. Charles continued to talk but I didn’t listen, I couldn’t. My temples began to throb as though the blood inside my body was too thick for my veins. For a moment the world turned black around me and then I was back in the place I'd been 30 years earlier at the poetry reading, outside my own head, an onlooker floating above us.
The doppelganger in the office proceeded to pick up a heavy desk ornament and cave Charles' skull in. He collapsed to the floor, dead.
A lot will be written about me and Charles in the coming years. He will be eulogised as a genius and rightly so, I will be condemned a madman, and perhaps so too this is justified. My time is running out so I will not speculate any further on this.
Each man kills the thing he loves, I know that I cannot live in the world that Charles set out to create and so too I cannot live in a world without him.
My life has been a dream within a dream, a poem within a poem.
This is my confession.
(Based on this Story Jam)
Fruit from this Jam:
339 by Nemon
Child Design Inc by Nemon
Brendan by Conor O'Sullivan
Pain and Comfort by Aleks
Forever in Love by JuliaTannenbaum
My Wife the Zombie by
Badger Road by ryguy25
False Positive by patrick holloway
Let it Grow by sophierose
Darkest Result of Love by Tim
Love by sausau
Confession by MichaelThompson
The gaze by Ines
Paraselene Love. by Persia-Lili Moharerr
key to life by
Tea by aravio
The crazy friend ship fall out. by
The Desire to Feel by