It's the sight of the bridge that starts it all, sitting dirty white and lonely across a steep canyon a few miles further down the twisting coast road (though on any other day the sea mists would have obscured it) -- just a glimpse before I take the car round another bend and then it's gone -- But the connection is made in that moment (abetted I realise now by the rustle of the Pacific to my left and the dank odour of the green and brown slopes around me that pervades the car even though the windows are all closed up).
We reach the bridge a few minutes later and I crawl across its narrow span, on my side the sea and on Jessica's sheer walls that go inland a short distance before turning sharply right -- The gazetteer says this is the Bixby Canyon, and way below (a big fall down) Bixby Creek flows anonymously beneath the big concrete arch.
I swing off onto a dirt road at the far end of the bridge which slopes gently down the north canyon wall -- stop and turn the car off -- Jessica hot and tired beside me saying "Richard why are we stopping?" (our plan is to continue down Highway 1 to Monterey that day) and I can't answer -- We sit in silence (save for the waves in the distance and the odd car running over the bridge) but inside my head something strange is happening -- And the first recall occurs:
[I am sitting on a rock on the beach just past the bridge -- a sunset on the horizon -- meaty waves landing yards away -- Hands, notebook and pencil are protected from the spray inside a clear plastic bag – the water's so close -- And I am writing something ... a poem?? and I am lonely and my head is hurting.]
But this memory is not my own.
Jessica insists we continue and we do -- she hates the idea of being without confirmed accommodation once six o'clock has come -- and we make Monterey and get a room in a place just off the Highway -- But I'm not feeling right, and I just can't get the bridge out of my mind -- We eat functionally at a Denny's and on our return to the motel I announce I have to get out -- I find the harbour and stroll along by the boats -- more stuff comes through and though I am tense I feel no fear (though many might have, believing that a madness was upon them).
[I dream of a cabin further back past the bend in the canyon, a little wooden thing that sits beside the gentle stream -- The cabin does not belong to me but to a friend called Lawrence who has let me stay there a while -- Some of the time I am on my own (and this isn't such a good idea it turns out because all I do is drink alcohol and sleep and only occasionally eat) though sometimes I have acquaintances over who seem to appear from nowhere to stay but even then the drinking carries on – And these people call me Jack.]
There is a strange pleasure to be had from the memories of the drinking (though the memories of the pain and the shaking and the craziness that I now know was part of Jack's experience are curiously subdued) -- so I find myself in a bar in a bowling alley nearby the motel -- and while I start off sensibly enough on the beer I am later to eschew this for shots of Scotch in a big tumbler which is something I haven't done since studenthood -- The guy behind the bar is at first amenable but by the end of the session is noticeably nervous and I think tries to avoid me -- And when I am forced out of the bar when it shuts up at midnight (followed to the door by the anxious barkeep), I have a very hard time making it back down the road (I cannot walk in a straight line) which is a great surprise even to myself cos at heart (at this time) I am nothing more than a sober, respectable suit (something in securities).
Jessica back at the motel regards me with pained disbelief and banishes me to the bathroom -- "Fuck you, we're on vacation ain't we?" I slur but this is not well received -- And the next day I am too ill to drive or even be a passenger so we have to stay and have a look round anyway before carrying on to San Fran.
We breakfast in a grill on a jetty in the harbour and afterwards sit and watch sea lions play in the water below us -- I close my eyes as if to sleep (the sunlight is hurting them anyway) -- and become aware that --
[The cabin at Big Sur belongs to Lawrence Ferlinghetti who is an artist in his own right from San Francisco -- It is the fall of 1960 – My surname is Kerouac -- I am nearly forty years old -- I am a writer, but also a drinker, and Lawrence has lent me his cabin because he is concerned about my health -- He believes some time away from the sources of my pain will lead to some kind of recuperation but all I've done really is abuse his hospitality and sadly do not care (which is a measure of how far I've come) -- The cosy campfire evenings with my visitors serve only to exacerbate the madness....]
I try to get a hold of myself that day cos I feel that I'm coming apart -- A new personality bourgeons within me, an absolute stranger (though I am vaguely aware of the name from before all this started) and I cannot work out what is going on.
The following morning Jessica and I continue our vacation journey to San Fran -- She tries to talk to me but I remain basically quiet cos I don't know what to say anyway -- All I can do is apologise for my behaviour and hope she'll give me some space.
It's gotten dark by the time we hit the city (Jessica getting anxious) -- We come off the Highway just before it crosses the Golden Gate and find a room at the western end of Lombard Street -- Jessica carefully unpacks her stuff as I crash out on the bed and though I've nothing but the most profound of feelings for her (or think I have) as she bends and turns about her task (and often wonder what on earth makes her want to be with me) I can feel the bond dissolving as I think about it and what's really worrying is that (again) I just don't seem to care
Kerouac knew San Francisco intimately (this notion comes to me there on the bed) -- I envisage rancid hotels, cheap bars, a permanent and literal hunger -- and physical liaisons with both sexes, unpaid and paid -- Later I have to take a cab downtown (without Jessica of course) and see for myself -- to find that while much has changed, much has not -- Somehow I home in on an area carrying that same ambience of decrepitude -- Stumbling out of Dino's later, I come across a girl stood nonchalantly at the head of the narrow alleyway between the bar and the shop next door -- her face betrays nothing -- I halt wavering before her unable to accept the incredible mix in her features and skin colour (a kind of orange) -- an amalgam seemingly of every race on the planet -- And there is a lot of skin on show -- She cocks her head and goes "Huh?" and glory the temptation is so bad -- but as well as Jessica to think of I am at that time physically incapable anyway.
So I get back to the motel (my wife sleeping gently her hair all splayed out over the pillow) -- I see Jessica in a very different light as I sit beside the bed watching her (eventually falling asleep in the chair to be awoken aching in the dirty grey of dawn a few hours later by the cleaning cart going past our window).
We argue afterwards -- Jessica wants to do tourist things but I've no other inclination than to go downtown again and get out of my tree (though my head throbs like hell and I've been ill in the bathroom) -- It ends with her storming off to do what she wants to do anyway and while I know I ought to feign enthusiasm and go after her I just can't raise the energy -- I rush out onto the balcony when I realise she hasn't taken the key and throw it down to her as she walks by underneath -- it clinks on the floor at her feet -- She stoops to pick it up and continues without a glance.
Back in the room I arrange with reception to get me a cab and down in the city I repeat myself from the night before only on a significantly greater scale -- And this time I do not hesitate to approach my homogenous lady.
Jessica is sitting by the TV when I return and it's clear immediately she's been crying -- "Richard why are you doing this to me?" -- I shrug my shoulders, I still can't tell her -- She says "I want us to go home now" -- And we do.
But we have to drive all the way back to LA first because it's from the airport there where we picked up the hire car and we've no arrangements for a one-way deal -- Jessica rings ahead and reschedules our flight back to JFK -- We zoom down Interstate 5, completing the trip in a day -- In the departure lounge at LAX, the shop there sells paperbacks by this guy Kerouac -- I buy 'Big Sur' (a chronicle really of his internal crises during the stay at the cabin but in which all the names of the people and places have been changed, Bixby becoming Raton, for example) and another story called 'On the Road' -- I read them both over the next twenty-four hours and thus begin to understand.
(The flight home by the way turns out to be a nightmare -- all of a sudden I'm afraid of flying.)
Since we get back earlier than expected I still have some time off work (nearly a week in fact) and what I start to do is mope around the house first clearing out our drinks cabinet then making daily trips to the liquor store for supplies (not buying in bulk so Jessica doesn't get too mad) -- In one of my sober moments one morning Jessica pleads with me to see a 'professional' -- I accept at that time that something has to be done (though already knowing that it was perhaps too late) because if nothing else I would not be inclined to go back to my job -- Before I get too loaded I let her drive me to Dr Hertschel's -- who after I recount my tale (and Jessica tells her side too) talks darkly of 'schizophrenia' and says I must go someplace for tests....
But that never happens (pissing Jessica off even further) -- I do not bother -- Instead I sit in my nice house (Jessica out in the day teaching at her school) reading more by Kerouac (his books being journals of his life as it was lived correlating broadly with the events that I recall in this strange miraculous fashion) -- I also obtain two of his biographies (one small, one big) and in one of these books learn about an event involving Jack that takes place in an apartment in New York in 1961 (shortly after his return from Ferlinghetti's cabin) which leads to the resurrection of a memory of an incident that occurred immediately afterwards ... which though shocking to me at first brings an inner understanding of what is happening (the specifics however only coming later).
[The apartment in question is owned by yet another poet friend of mine called Allen (Ginsberg) (who in many respects is an even bigger fish than I in the world of literary art) -- Ginsberg has invited a man over (Leary, a professor from Harvard, Dr Timothy Leary) -- who wants to conduct an 'experiment' involving us -- He gives those present (including Allen and I) a drug to imbibe called psilocybin (a substance he tells us derived from particular types of mushroom) because he wants to see what it does to creative people like me (it really screws my mind as a matter of fact though I learn later it was supposed to enhance it) (and some would question anyway whether I am a true creative since after all I only write about the things I know and have experienced) -- And I spend the whole night ranting and raving (and drinking at the same time it has to be said) -- Leary seems perturbed that nothing amazing happens -- I leave Allen's having been up all night and in the cold of the morning wonder whether I missed something.
Empty now, I think of Kathleen and take a quick cab to the other side of town to her brownstone -- to find her getting ready for work and not happy to see me in my current state, eventually relenting however, though knowing it'll make her late for the bus (that's how sweet she is), and we sweat and groan on her sofa not really caring who hears us or why above and below, side and side.]
Sat in my mother's little house in Connecticut (I've had to get the train up since Jessica will not at this time cooperate) I recount that last part to her – Delicate and clean, she sits sipping coffee from a chintzy cup -- After an age, the hand holding it starts to shake and I watch tears form at the corners of her brown alive eyes -- "How the hell did you find out?" Ma whispers and before I even start to try to explain she tells me that it is true I am indeed Kerouac's son (she being 'Kathleen' but in reality Catherine) and that (to complete the tale) as soon as Jack discovers she is with-child he disappears never (by her) to be seen again -- And Ma is left alone to raise me eventually meeting Karl whom I always assumed was my real dad but who clearly isn't (and he's no longer around either).
I wonder then what Jack would have made of a son like me -- a boy so ... straight -- and the man he became, so responsible (until now that is) -- his very antithesis -- Shamed, probably, by my lack of resolve.
Aware that what I am to say is nonsensical though nevertheless true, I persist -- I tell my mother that somewhere in my brain are lodged Jack's memories and more -- his inclinations, his very personality – having been there I believe all along since my birth -- a genetic abberation unbeknownst to me because it was never supposed to be there (and might have stayed untouched forever if not for Big Sur two weeks ago) -- That conjunction of senses being the key to a door behind which lay an area (or areas) of my mind previously dormant -- And once it was cracked open just that little bit, it was never going to close again (in fact was going to open ever wider) because you see IT'S WHAT I WANTED ... there's enough of me as Jack's son to see to that. So slowly my mind is being usurped (unwittingly at that), and I have neither the will nor the means anyway to fight it.
Ma groans to her feet -- she can't look me in the eye -- instead we walk through the kitchen out onto the back porch -- She lights a cigarette takes a deep breath -- "Richard I don't understand what you're saying. How could this have happened?" -- It's necessary then to talk about the night at Ginsberg's place (as she goes back in the kitchen to fix more coffee) -- I mention the psilocybin and how I believe it affected Jack somehow so that his 'brain-state' was enshrined in his genetic material and transferred to her -- my own mother -- that morning in Queens.
"But HOW?" -- I tell her I don't in all honesty know (which is the truth) but also need to broach a certain theory I have located ...
I leave Ma later, she (and perhaps me too) even more confused than when we started -- Back home, Jessica returns from work (stressed as usual) and is not receptive to my talk -- I show her (via the Internet) my discovery of the notion (not shared by many) that hallucinogenic mushrooms (an example of which Leary used) are not in fact of this Earth (Jessica politely listening though I know I've lost her with that one statement but how else can she react?) and that the first spores from which they grew (millions of years ago) arrived from space having survived in the ether for aeons -- Their otherworldliness meaning they can do things we can neither predict nor understand.
I am not surprised when I am yet again urged to follow Hertschel's advice.
Jessica tells me also that Harold from work called (my supervisor) that morning after I'd left wanting to know what the hell was going on (I did not return on the day I was supposed to) -- As if my absence was going to mean anything in the grand scheme of things (little prick).
And now three weeks later (having on a number of occasions thought I'd reached the bottom only to realise after that they were but shelves on the big cliff down) as I write this piece (peace, even) my wife (though not for much longer), my beloved Jessica walks in the room without a sound thereby giving me no time to hide the bottle (strange that I still bother since it's really no mystery we both know that but I haven't had the wit to get it straight with her) -- She stands in the doorway looking like she's gonna cry so I try to get back to my work on the screen before me (the urge to communicate my experience being just one more aspect of the unconscious assimilation by my father), hoping she'll go away but she just keeps looking at the wine on the desk and eventually bleats "I'm leaving" and of course I do not respond.
With a muted snort she leaves the room and shortly I hear scuffling upstairs as she throws things into expensive luggage, and later the front door slams and she's out of my life and I feel a strange subdued sunrise of relief knowing that now the fun can really begin.