Chapter 7: Art and Politics: An Evening with JonBenét Ramsey

London: Pluto Press, 2007.


Book cover: “Art and Politics: Psychoanalysis, Ideology, Theatre#8221;

TIME:  2025

PLACE:  A Room

RISE:  Voices heard in the dark, continuing as light comes up on the face of a woman seated center stage, reading a book which drops to her lap as the pressure of inner voices builds.

Mother’s Voice:
No no no no no no no No.  You’re getting it all wrong.  Again.  From the top.  (Sings following line) “I want to be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart, I—”

Grandmother’s Voice:
Sing out, JonBenét, Sing Out! You want to be Miss America someday it begins here missy.

Father’s Voice:
That’s what you are baby, Daddy’s Girl.

Grandmother’s Voice:
Oh, law, she carries her body like a sack of wood.  Keep going, nobody told you to stop.

Father’s Voice:
You don’t have to tell me it hurts.  It has to hurt for a while.

Mother’s Voice:
Speak up.  What have you got to say for yourself.  Nothing.  Good.  Here’s what nothing gets you.  (Loud noise of slap.  As light comes up on stage brief image of child being strangled by mother projected as shadow on back wall.)

Light now full on the young woman seated center stage.  Next to her a side table with lamp: on table her purse, an ashtray, cigarettes, bottled water, a glass.  She is JonBenét Ramsey, age 35, smartly dressed in a grey business-like suit.  Hair short and brushed back.  Glasses.  The light that rises on her must appear to come directly from the audience and should be played in a way that suggests she is under an increasingly intense spotlight of curiosity and interrogation.  She reaches for cigarette but begins speaking before lighting it.  Her speech moves in two directions.  The fourth wall is broken often in direct addresses to the audience—and often to particular individuals in the audience—directly, anticipating their unvoiced questions.  At other times she enters the privacy of an inner consciousness in which she speaks only to herself.

I read most of the night.  When it’s cold and dark and silent.  That’s when its best.  Time slowed to the hush in the heart.  Nothing but the little light behind my head and the page.  Nothing to distract me from the only thing that’s ever mattered.

You see—after—I have to be alone after.  That’s the kind of thing you want to know about, isn’t it?  No, I was never without someone—when I wanted.  But I always made them leave—after.  To be alone and read, with the night like a solitude all around you.  I know.  I know.  It’s so trite.  When I was emptied out, then words came alive.  But it wasn’t like that.  It’s the distractions.  They’re everywhere.  But late at night they fade away.  Words too crumble away til there’s nothing left but this (tapping forehead, a gesture repeated often), alone, seeking the single sentence.  A sentence where everything stops.  To read—for me that’s always been the most violent act.

Okay, okay I lied.  Sometimes they stayed, slept the night.  It’s too much trouble otherwise.  You never know what someone will think he’s entitled to because you fucked him.  Well three a.m. scenes aren’t my style.  Better to be alone together.

Yes you bet goddamn right the reading was often best then.  To know I hadn’t been touched.  Beside me one of the biologically blessed—a body at peace, dumb.  I beside it more awake than ever—in my body, a body alert, alive to its own knowledge.  (Brief nervous laugh)  You bet, give me a good book and I’m your perfect partner for the comedy of the morning after.  You know, the one where kindness is the language of evasion.  Hell yes a good read and I’ll say whatever you need to hear as complement to your fucking.

(Holds throat, effort to catch breath before continuing: this action to occur at other times during monologue)

I’m sorry.  I couldn’t breathe there for a minute.  Hot black coffee, cigarettes, a book, and night folded in on itself.  To lie there like that and come upon a sentence that bites into you like a judgment—that’s what reading is.

Yes sometimes yes when I found nothing but words then yes it all gave way to nights of a different kind, when the whole thing circled in on itself in a vertigo.  Only I was falling in words, out of myself, away from myself, reading the trap I threw myself into with greater effort page after empty page.


It was one of those times when there was nothing but what you call anxiety.  When anxiety drew a curtain between me and the world.  I’d wake in a panic.  Consciousness was nothing but images flashing, voices I couldn’t silence, feelings broken loose inside me.  And the craziest thing, with all this going on I functioned.  I went to work and had long conversations in which I didn’t hear a single word, afraid that any moment it would all tumble out and the only thing left when they came to get me would be a weeping I could no longer stop.  That’s how I lived—for months—in a general insurrection that could only end with one thing: the extinction of this.  (taps forehead)

You talk about a death-drive.  Death for me was then a pressure lived in the nerves.  And something else—finally: a uncanny pleasure.  “They don’t see it,” I said, “any of it.  I can go on like this, indefinitely.” The whole arrangement—what you call the world—it requires so slight an investment.  Master a few moves, words, gestures and you’re free.  For this (taps forehead).  For what beats here.  Every waking moment can be given to it.  No need to stop.  Nothing out there to get in the way.

That’s how far I’d gone—that time.  Only one thing held me back.  Every day, after work, I’d go to the University Library, to the stacks where they keep the psychology books.  I’d walk among them, touch them, whisper the titles.  “One.  One holds the key.  Tonight.” Because there was a wager here too, a pact.  I could take only one book.  Each day.  And I had to read it—all of it—that night.

That’s how I found it.  The sentence.  I don’t remember the name of the book—a collection of essays by an analyst named Bion.  I’m a lousy scholar.  Never time to get anything in order.  So what I do is write down sentences on scraps of paper.  I keep them with me here.

(Opens purse and takes out a few from among many crumpled pages.  She holds these pages gently, touching them with love, opening one with care, which she then reads.)

“Inquiry begins when love is doubted.” Some sentences, Christ, you read them and know your life will never be the same.  That someone could know that.  Write a sentence like that.  That others could come together in little rooms dedicated to the violence of it.  That some day, maybe…I too could be a… The book fell away.  Something broke inside me.

I remember everything about that night.  The acrid smell of the room; the slant of light; the heft of it, the book; the chill in my fingers, and the hot feeling here (indicating chest).  I lay there with my eyes shut tight so I could feel the words detach themselves and hang above me, the letters like stencils carved in the ceiling.  I lay there like that as dark turned to dawn.  It was only when I felt the light on my eyelids that I realized I was crying—the tears gentle and warm down my face.  I held myself tight then because then I was afraid I couldn’t stop.  “They’ll find me like this, here...beyond reclaiming.” And so I rocked myself and wrestled it down.  But I remember—I’ll never forget it—my face in the mirror when I was finally able to get up.  You know how sometimes you catch your face—your real face—when you’ve forgotten to compose it before you look.  My face: it was all on fire.  My eyes—they’re green—but then they were like emeralds.  The points of my hair—where it rats out in the night—were all ablaze with sparks of light.  And my mouth, it was open in a big O, with my hand holding it, like this, almost caressing it.

Then, before the mirror (shifting into mother’s voice)—“Makeup first, JonBenét, before anything else”—it faded.  My face faded.  But I could see it still receding and then the hot tears broke in me again and I felt it—Joy in me—that I’d found it, finally, something I could love.  Something I want.


Do you have any idea how terrifying it is for me to want anything?

(Pause.  Removes makeup from purse which she will use to put on her face during what follows.)

I wore my face at school one day.  Eighth grade: Patsy’d transferred me to a Catholic school.  Gotten it into her head the nuns were the finishing touch I needed.  Eighth grade.  Remember: when every boy at his desk rides a hard-on and every girl fidgets in a confused anticipation.

Morning recess.  I hide in a stall then sit before the mirror.  I rat my hair then pencil the eyebrows so that they this.  Then darken them all around with eye shadow and color my lips the richest red and this.  Last I hollow the cheeks.  This is the hardest part, to get it just right, the shadows that give it that hungry look they love.

I already had my costume on.  All I had to do was pull the skirt a little higher under the belt and tighten it.  For myself alone: I’d worn the garter belt and now I draw the nylons up slow, waiting for that moment when I feel them together: where the nylon ends cool, flesh begins warm.  I linger touching my inner thighs.  Then smooth down the skirt and sit.  Like this.  Until I’m ready.

Back in class I walk to my desk with my head down, my fingers scratching at my scalp, and bury my face in a book.  Only when I’m ready, then I look up.  At Sister Inez.  She gives no sign at first.  Just a blank look like something interrupted her train of thought for a moment but now she’s flicked it off, the way you brush off a mosquito.  I almost cry then.  But then I see the change.  The blank look was just the shock of it.  Because now she gets that tight smile in the lips and that fixed look in the eyes that comes whenever she lectures us on her subjects—and you’ll like this, this happens all the time—about nuns being Christ’s bride, the body a “temple of the holy ghost,” Saint Juliana “virgin and martyr” and all the others we pray to daily, who embraced death to save their virginity.  The eyes are slits now, boring into me.  The fingers snap, summoning me forward.  We stand before them, facing each other.  I wait for the slap I can already feel sharp and hot on my face.  I wait proud but it doesn’t come.  “Face the class,” she commands, turning me around at the shoulders.  A hush.  No one moves.  I can see it in their faces.  They’re spellbound.  The whole year has been building toward this and they know it.

Her voice, I hear it still, rising in pitch, almost remember them exactly, the words.  “See what I mean.  Can’t wait, can you? To be like this…”  Then, to me.  “Think I wouldn’t find out.  That you’ve been sneaking around in cars with high school boys.  Puffing yourself up so big, don’t you, that now you dare flaunt it here, in my face.”  She stopped.  I don’t know what she expected.  Tears.  Some broken plea.  A struggle to escape.  Cause I could feel it now, her fingers pressing down here (touches collarbone and neck) turning me back to her.  I got to hand it to her though, she had a sense of theatre.  It was like she was positioning me so I wouldn’t upstage myself, so we’d be face to face in profile before them.  But the hands wouldn’t obey.  I could feel them tightening, moving up, toward my throat.  But there was still pride in me—and something else.  This was the moment I’d been waiting for too.  So I held my pose and milked the pause.  Then I did it.  Slow, deliberate, defiant and proud—I smiled.  I looked her right in the eyes—and smiled.

There was something different in them too now, something I’d never see before.  A panic, like an animal caught in the headlights of a car at night.  Then outrage.  I felt it, her fingers at my cheeks, then sharp and deep as they raked down the length of my face—(Actress holds fingers forward toward audience and mimics cat claw scratch during previous line)—and with it a sound, a keening at first then a long howl like a fire-engine across the night.

You know how a cat-scratch at first all you see is the long thin line of the cut, clear, abrupt, and clean.  Then how little spots of blood pop up, isolated, before they come together and flow.  That’s what it must have been like to them.  There was a long still moment lifted out of time and held there pure so they could look at the long lines cut down my face.  Then it all ran together and I saw it, the blood in drops hitting the wooden floor.  No one moved.  None of those wanton boys, who bragged all the time about how tough they were, their pants chafing, whimpered a single word.  Not even when I started to shake all over.

(Pause.  Takes drink of water.)

Ah, the poor thing, you’ll say, never to have known anything different.  Never to have known love when it’s innocent and tender, when trust leads two down each tentative step as their bodies bloom together.  Well, that’s where you’re wrong.  There was a boy.  Once.  He was different.  It was different with him.  Like an island with him.  The first time we talked, at a school picnic, the thing I’ll never forget, that I’ll always treasure, he acted like there was nothing different about me.  We sat together under a great elm and just talked, that golden afternoon, about books, music, our plans for college and the great leap toward freedom that haloed that word.  And I remember that night lying awake in bed—After—thinking how easy it would be to slide into your world, to Lethe myself on the lotus of his tenderness.  Because he was gentle.  He tried to be gentle.  There was nothing unkind about him.  I could see that, even if he couldn’t.  Men can’t, you know, especially when they’re young.  There was a tenderness in the way he was with me.  Everything was slow, like a warm bath easing me into him.  And so when we finally made love it felt to me… like the first time.  I trusted him—the way trust is when something in you goes out into the other person, something you know you can never call back.  Yes, I loved...loved him.  And so I told him, as much as I could, about Patsy and John….  No, he didn’t.  He held me and I was even able to cry for a while.  No, nothing was different at first.  I’m sorry, that’s not true.  I could feel it already, something different in the way he touched me.  The tenderness had turned into a kind of sadness.  When he touched me now it was like he was witnessing, testifying to some generalized sympathy for life’s victims.  My body had become something about himself he needed to prove as much as the other boys had to prove how cruel they could be….  No of course there was no way I could get him to talk about it.  We were kids.  Briefly, in our confusion, we made a haven that turned into a prison.  For me, for me it was like his fingers were choking me—inside—cutting off everything in here  (moves hands on body from breast downward) that could breathe and flow outward toward him.  Until it got so that I wanted to run screaming or rake my hands across his face: “fuck me, fuck me for christsake, here like this let me get on top and ride myself down into you.”  That’s how it ended.  I protected him from himself.  His hand never took back from my flesh the change in it.  He felt what he needed to feel.  I felt his need free me back into mine.

(Pause.  Lights cigarette.  Deep drag before continuing.)

The mind is a razor—it cuts sharp and deep and final.  There’s a world within the world.  Mind ripens there, feeding on touch.  The only language is touch: and touch betrays us—into what we dare not know and can’t forget.  But you don’t want to hear about that, do you?  You want the affairs—my “sex-history” as you call it.  A quick rut through college and its humiliations.  Then the grand tour—my adventures with the country club set, an adultery or two thrown in to whet your appetite for the image you long for, me pinioned on the deck of some yacht, writhing backward, part of the new crop of international whores.  Or, better, this: a last look at my bloated body, the face pasty and colorless, as they wheel me out to final curtain.

(She stops abruptly, confused.  Eyes dart about as if she doesn’t know where she is.  Struggle for breath.  Then begins again.  Moves skirt up slightly above knee in what follows.)

Or what if I show them to you, the cuts here (indicating arms) and here (inside shoulder, just above breast) or if I slide the skirt to the thigh so you can see the ones there—a savage hieroglyphic, written on the body, the fine scars a razor carves into flesh to memorize an impossible awareness.  Isn’t that what you want—to hear how we cut ourselves? How it takes a world of wounds to seal over what bleeds here (tapping forehead) yet must remain unspoken? That’s what you want, isn’t it? Victims, in a long queue, Coriolanus’d, a pageant competing for the milk of human kindness you can’t wait to offer—as long as we come to you empty and broken.

(Smoothes down skirt.)

Sorry.  I have none.  (Tapping forehead)  For me it all goes here.  Here that the real cuts are made.

I’m sorry.  I know this isn’t what you want.  It can’t be.  You want to know about love.  What we learn from our experiences—even the worst.  Okay, what if I told you I learned how little there is to learn.  And how far we all go to deny that knowledge.  About all the times I told myself—like you?—“this, this will be different, he won’t be like the others...”  Only to say soon “ I will have done this...gone through this…now this won’t eat on me anymore....”

You see I’ve been on stage since I was five and learned early about roles and audiences, how perfectly suited they are to each other.  And so it didn’t take me long to learn that to “fall in love” there’s only one condition that must be met—but it’s an absolute one.  You have to find someone whose disorder matches yours.  That’s love—perfect symmetry.  (Snaps fingers)  CLICK. 

(At the snap of her fingers she points to an imaginary screen that is lit by bright lights cast on the back wall of the upper stage.  She steps to its side and delivers what follows as if she is giving an imaginary lecture complete with slides that are projected on a screen behind her.  The screen, however, remains blank.)

Click.  The narcissist aloof in his superiority.  You know them, ladies, the strong, silent ones, whose recognition is sought but never gained.  What a challenge.  He’s never found that one special woman who’ll give him the courage to express his inner feelings.  There must be treasures buried there, waiting to bloom at the touch of a real woman’s love.  What a victory: to be the one he opens himself to.  To be there the day it all blossoms in the full flower of its emptiness.

Not to your taste?  How’s this?  Click.  The romantic, drunk with the need to draw you into the whirl of his self-destruction.  What drama—to be the latest in the long line of the seduced and abandoned.  Center-stage at last, free to play the hysteric to his exits and entrances, then savor the delights of your abjection.  What poetry.

Or this?  Click.  The man we start to talk about in our thirties—don’t we, ladies?—the kind, tender, sensitive men.  They’re out there waiting—for you.  For someone just like you.  A real woman.  Different from all the others.  And now that you’ve finally found each other you can wash away all the bad experiences.  Because you’re ready to learn what real acting is: as you discover the little murders he must enact daily to hide his failure to be the kind of man he secretly admires.  The one who gets to fuck the bad girl’s brains out.  Who you must never be.  Remember, that’s all in the past, ladies.  Your little secret.  Your role—and damn right you better play it to chilly perfection in the sack is to be the good girl whose job is to keep his little allegory of love insulated from reality.

Click.  Click.  Click.  I was a true catholic in my loving.  I visited all the nostalgias.  These just a few hits from a life lived among shadows.  Love: the extent to which we’ll go to convince ourselves that we exist.  That in our romantic life we’re creatures of passion and not puppets aping pre-determined roles in comedies we repeat incessantly—as if all of this had anything to do with love.

(Pause.  Returns to Chair.  Sits.  Appears momentarily lost in thought.)

A wolf caught in a trap will gnaw off its own leg in order to be free.  They travel the greatest distances—alone, in a world of ice and snow, then kill—at the throat—in a necessity free of pity.  You can never tame them.  Sometimes they will come close and look at us but every motion is always approach and backing away.  The paws poised above the earth tentative, already redolent with withdrawal; the limbs on guard, flexed, but never in flight—in freedom free.  And when you look in their eyes you know it: that what they see they never forget.  Their eyes look straight through us.  And what they see becomes a ruthless will: to raise one’s voice in the torch-light of dusk and dawn, to summon, if only oneself, for the insistent plunge beyond all why and what for.

You want to talk about love? Okay.  Love, like a knife, rends the curtain.  The roles collapse.  The stage is bare.  The words empty.  The only language is touch—and touch betrays us.

Something happened to me before I could develop what you call defenses and so I live a sort of peril in a world defined by touch.  That screen of indifference you interpose between yourself and the world—you know, that contact barrier that gets you through the day.  I’ve never been able to build one.  You inhabit the world.  I live in the world within the world.  A world where everything is touching—and where touch never lies.

You see a dog chained, all fang, leaping forth and torn back, at the neck; then leaping again in renewed fury to attack what is always behind it, at its throat, wrenching it back, the noose tightening.  You see it—as I saw it yesterday.  On TV.  At the start of a commercial for—for god knows what.  You see it and you feel—what?  Fear?  Pity?  Or the brief stirring between your legs of an insatiable cruelty?  You see...feel...may even form a concept, a fleeting protest.  Then the whole thing dies within you and you move on.

I see nothing.  A suffering erupts in me and I have no way to stop it.  That dog’s violation and its dumb terror becomes mine.  It enters me and rushes down to wed with all the other images waiting to receive it—here (indicating womb)—in the place where touch never dies.

(During what follows the Lights come up in the house so that the audience members become aware of one another.)

Men, the long line, saying you love me while your hand at my breast is like fingers at my throat draining life from me.  Your hand, it speaks your fear, your loathing, your need to take possession of a trophy or coerce a testimony to deny something about yourself that you know is true.  Touch: all the ways we ooze betrayal.  Touch: what the body knows and must sustain—or die.  The way you touch me tells me everything.  What I am for you.  Who you are.  Everything we invent words in a vain effort to conceal.  Touch knows.  It is the future in the instant.

My body’s the seismograph of your self-deceit.  And you wanna know something, fellas, it’s not really a subtle science.  To know when your tongue in my mouth is like a bullet in my brain.  When your cock is a battering ram and how you loved it when I was tight and dry, like a virgin, submitted to the conqueror’s right.  My cry—of pain goddammit—the turn on you need.  Or when your mouth smells and pecks at me in the brief affirmation of my sex—oh yeh you guys love to eat pussy allright—the prelude, I can feel it already, my head forced down so I can suck long on my self-abasement.  Or your eyes, invading me, spying me out, waiting for it, my face abandoned to you in that look you love (she here mimics the commodified look of the woman in rapture), a face in surrender to your “O baby let me masturbate you.  I love to see your face when you cum”—your fingers like sand-paper rubbing at my soul.

Yes, but while I complied with your need, my soul took in knowledge.  Not just of you.  But the bitterest knowledge: that how we are touched becomes the way we touch ourselves.  And that this is how the soul dies—

Dies into Lust—the battle to deliver the wound that goes to the quick.  Whattya think, ladies? They’re big boys now, should we let them in on the secret?  How there’s always triumph from below.  How a woman can make her body a corpse that kills.  Or how a sharp twist and a howling in the hips can unman as surely as this deft reply to a casual but insistent question, “How good was it?  I’d give it about a B-minus.”  Better yet the quick trip right after to the bathroom.  To wash.  Followed by the stupor sleep that ends all conversation save the one that plays on as he sits and smokes alone….  Remember that strange satisfaction the first night he couldn’t get it up?  And all the ways you found to sustain what became “the problem” so you could watch confusion, frustration, then despair churn in him til he grabbed his cock, shook it like a sausage, and sweated it into a brief stand?  Or the times you told him “I’m not in the mood tonight, but you can if you want.  It’s like a mashed potato anyway, after the first push or two.”  Better yet the “please, please wait, I’m almost there.  No, not like that.  I told you, if you just wouldn’t move like that when I’m almost there….  Try again?  I can’t.  You know that.  Not tonight.”

Take your pick.  All roads lead to the crowning moment when he’s high above you, pounding away, and you can hear it, the words, shouted or in the silence, the “here bitch, I’ll give it to you, the way you want it, you bitches all got some alley-cat in you.”  The ceremony of the dead attained at last, bone to bone, socketed together, up and down, two hollowed out skulls, rubbing away at each other.

All that I was prepared to learn, given my upbringing but nothing prepared me for what I learned when I tried—Christ how I tried, believe me, tried, to make it work, to embrace the great institution of marriage and say yes, if this is all there is then yes we can build a haven and nurture one another, slowly, carefully—  Only to find the worst: to feel touch die into normalcy and normalcy into contentment.  It was then that I thought I was truly mad—suffocating in an unspeakable cruelty.

(Pause.  Long stare at audience before continuing.)

I know, I know, this isn’t what you want, not the history you envisioned for me.  You want me all dolled up in the latest symptoms—the affectless stare, the deadened body drooping like this, the head hanging lifeless, walking the dull round of its drift toward death.  And on the inner screen too a sleepwalker moving like lead across a blank stage where nothing remains, no memory, except at times some after-image already fading then banished by an incessant flight from knowledge.  As if I too must conform to the one belief that defines your world.  Well, I tried.  Believe me.  Tried.  But for me it never worked.  Memory always stayed alive, avid—as image.

I remember in high school.  I’d lie awake—After—rigid but my mind racing, unable to halt the rush of images that projected themselves on the ceiling above me like pictures on a screen, a home movie superimposed on the idiot wallpaper Patsy’d chosen for my room—a collage of Disneyfied monkeys, ducks, and mice grinning.  It was like I was exploding out onto the ceiling, thrown from myself then coming back at myself in a whirl of images.  But then as dark shifted to shadow and became dawn I’d slow it down until there was a single image, a snapshot preserved, refined, and stored here (tapping head) as a tablet against forgetting.

Oh I know the desire to forget, to shut down what beats here.  (tapping forehead)  I tried, too—like you?—believe me I tried, to find my way to a deadened body and a life devoid of emotion.  But I couldn’t.  Rage always supervened.  And I knew that if I lost it, the rage, I’d lose myself.  There’d be no me to open my hand in solidarity to all the others—like me—but broken by experiences I must believe were a thousand times worse than mine.  Yes okay yes the fear that if I ever lose it…the rage…if this (tapping forehead) ever stops, then I truly will go mad.  So okay yes I choose it: choose to remain without the thing I never had a chance to develop—a nice tight system of defenses.  Choose it: to be no more than one whom experience enters utterly—my body its permanent record.  For me memory can have nothing to do with forgetting—with bleaching things out and working them through.  I am memory come alive—as act.

I’m sorry.  You want events—don’t you?—to round the story off to a fitting close.  Me on the hook perhaps: “how better express her hatred of men.”  Or in porn: “look, look what she turned fucking into,” pure gymnastics; the geometry of safety, the body like a piston, the face expressionless, stiffening your prick’s itch for the shower of cum to anoint me with your disgust.  Okay.  Okay.  No more Sally Rand.  The feathers drop away.  I stand before you—the woman-child—in that pose you dote on.  You know the one.  Picasso invented it, Hefner perfected it.  The buttocks full now and thrust out toward you, two orbs, plump and inviting.  The shoulder turned so you can see the other at the same time—the left breast ripe, riding high, the nipple erect, waiting for the diddle of your thumb.  The head spun around atop the body, holding itself there in that dumb, insipid look you can’t get enough of: the idiot grin that says come, fuck me, any way you want me, I live just to please you.  Okay.  Picture this.  The statue comes to life and turns on its axis so that at last she faces you.  Courbet was a rank amateur.  Finally.  You get to see it.  What you long for.  A grown woman with the cunt of a little girl, shaven, open for your inspection so you can gape as long as you want—at the image of your fascination, your horror, your obscure object of desire.  Daddy was a true Cartesian—all he wanted was a little knowledge.

( Lights in house that have been on, making the audience visible to one another now go out again.  Lights on stage dim—isolating JonBenét, who stares out at audience.)

And you.  What of you? Cause it’s all theatre, isn’t it?  Health, Identity, the Bonds of Love?  I should know, I’ve been on stage since I was four.  Oh, I know the great spirit of renewal that reigns here.  The remarkable cures fashioned on this little O.  The pity and fear you so readily extend.  Your courage.  Your desire to confront essential things.  No violent emotion you won’t applaud, no horror you won’t bless—as long as it all leaves you purged when you leave, identity and world restored, “calm of mind, all passion spent.”  I know.  But I know something else: what a life under the bright lights taught me.  That the art of acting begins on the other side of all that.  And it’s really simple—the art of acting.  It can be condensed into an aphorism.  Something must break within you with each line.  Because acting was shoved down my throat I had only one choice.  To make it a portal of discovery.  To take every role you offer me and find its hollowness.  And then to play it—from here (touches heart)—so that you can feel it too.  If you want to.  But for that to happen, something in you too must break withinwith each line.

Everything you desire is visible to you here, save the one thing you can’t see.  Except when something I do arrests you for a moment and your world totters.  That’s when I get to look—for a change—and see dread in your eyes, as we meet, briefly, in that place inside you that you never visit, that stage where all roles dissolve for they are nothing but dry straw (snaps fingers) consumed in an instant by what beats here.  (tapping head)

(Pause.  Deep inside herself.  All lights now out but one on her face, a light that seems to be boring into her.  Then speaks, at first as if utterly alone.)

In the dream it always happens after I’ve lived a long and honorable life.  That’s when they come to get me.  The evidence has finally been unearthed, the body.  I am a murderer and yes of course the victim is always someone young, someone horribly violated.  I buried the body in a field...deep…where no one could find it.  But now they’ve dug it up and everyone knows.

The terrible thing about this dream: there’s nothing surreal, dream-like about it.  This is not a vivid dream.  The authorities who come to get me are ordinary in every way.  The scene is blank.  White.  Fading.  All I see now is myself in a room alone awaiting an interrogation that has already taken place, begging the same empty room with a plea that I know has already been rejected, unheard.

What’s terrible about this dream is its lack of color.  It has the absolute certainty of fact.  And that knowledge is so unassailable that whenever the dream happens I spend the next day trying to convince myself it isn’t true.  The day becomes a dream—everything real recedes and I walk through life like one trying vainly to come back, to reattach myself to the world.  I always succeed—eventually.  The dream fades.  I forget again and live—until.  Then I’m in a room alone again knowing that nothing else is.

That’s it, isn’t it?  This dream.  It’s the stage, the backdrop to all my other dreams, the motive for their intense imaginings.  But this dream needs no fireworks.  It’s more powerful than any other dream because it’s true.  And I can never convince myself it isn’t, because I know it is.

The feeling tone of it, you ask?  Unremitting.  Yes of course I know what the dream means.  No inquiry is needed there.

(She breaks down in a sobbing that lasts through the following lines.)

That I did it—to myself.  The pageants.  To myself, ten cents a dance.  That I would do anything—to win your love.  That you let me do it.  Saw I was doing it and couldn’t stop yourselves.  I was a child, how could you let me do that to myself—.

(Now directly, to the audience.)

Yeh yeh yeh yeh yeh yeh yeh.  I know.  I know.  A child can’t understand things this way.  Can’t be held responsible.  That would be too cruel, wouldn’t it? Besides, it’s only a dream.  Who would dare suggest that we are responsible for our dreams?  Because if that’s true, children are the only ones who know how precious life is—know it at the very moment they sacrifice it.

(She returns to chair.  Sits.  Takes up book.  Begins reading—avidly.)

Additional Information:

The Davis Trust for Aid in the Prevention and Treatment of Childhood Sexual Abuse
[989.9K PDF]   •   Download the free Acrobat Reader

Purchase details:

5.25 x 8.5. 192 pgs. (2007)

ISBN Cloth: 978-0-7453-2648-1

ISBN Paper: 978-0-7453-2647-4

Published by Pluto Press. Distributed in the United States by MPS.

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Chapter 7:  An Evening with JonBenét Ramsey: A Monologue

Chapter 8:  Between Two Deaths: Life on the Row

Related work:

Essay: "There is Another Court"

Table of Contents:

Preface ix
Acknowledgements xv
1  The Play's the Thing: Censorship, Theatre and Ideology3
2Mendacity: The Prospects of Progressive Theater Under Capitalism16
3Beyond The Corrie Controversy: Manifesto for a Progressive Theatre33
4The Trouble with Truffles: On the Ideological Paralysis of the Left55
5The Humanist Tradition: The Philosophical and Rhetorical Roots of Ideological Paralysis86
6The Knot at the Center: The Tragic Structure of Experience119
7An Evening with JonBenét Ramsey: A Monologue136
8Between Two Deaths: Life on the Row150
Further Reading170