I had experienced blackouts ever since I first started drinking. That was the summer I finished tenth grade, at the Norway Cup, when I just laughed and laughed, a momentous experience; being drunk took me to places where I was free and did what I wanted while it raised me aloft and rendered everything around me wonderful. Only recalling bits and pieces afterward, isolated scenes brightly illuminated against a wall of darkness, through which I emerged and disappeared again, was the norm. And so it went on. The following spring I went to the carnival with Jan Vidar, Mom had made me up as Bowie’s Aladdin Sane, the town was heaving with people wearing curly black wigs, hot pants, and sequins, everywhere there was the throb of samba drums, but the air was cold, people were stiff, there was a huge amount of embarrassment to be overcome all the time, and this was visible in the processions, people were squirming rather than dancing, they wanted to feel emancipated, that was what this was about, they were not, they wanted to be, this was the 1980s, this was the new liberated and forward-looking era in which everything Norwegian was pathetic and everything Mediterranean was alive and free, when the sole TV channel that had informed the Norwegian population for twenty years about what one small circle of educated people in Oslo considered important for them to know was suddenly joined by new, very different TV channels that took a lighter approach, they wanted to entertain, and they wanted to sell, and from then on these two entities fused: entertainment and sales became two sides of the same coin and subsumed everything else, which also became entertainment and sales, from music to politics, literature, news, health, in fact everything. The carnival marked this transition, a nation moving away from the seriousness of the seventies to the levity of the nineties, and this transition was visible in the awkward movements, in the nervous eyes and the wild triumphant looks of those who had overcome this awkwardness and nervousness and were now wiggling their lean bottoms on the backs of the trucks that crawled through Kristiansand’s streets on this cold spring morning with a light drizzle in the air. That was how it was in Kristiansand and that was how it was in all the other towns in Norway of any size and any self-respect. Carnival was the rage and would become a tradition, they said, every year these stiff white men and women would affirm their emancipation to the best of their ability on trucks, decked out as Mediterraneans, dancing and laughing to the drums that former school-brass-band musicians played with such a seductive hypnotic beat.
Even two sixteen-year-olds like Jan Vidar and me understood that this was sad. Of course there was nothing we wanted more than a Mediterranean-style explosion in our day-to-day reality, for there was nothing we yearned for more than inviting tits and asses, music and fun, and if there was anything we wanted to be it was dark-skinned, confident men who took these women at will. We were against meanness and all for generosity, we were against constraints and for openness and freedom. Nevertheless we saw these processions and were overcome by sadness on behalf of our town and country because there was an unbelievable lack of pride about all this, indeed it was as if the whole town was making a fool of itself, without realizing. But we did realize and we were sad as we strolled around, each with half a bottle of spirits in an inside pocket, becoming more and more drunk and cursing our town and the idiotic people in it while always keeping an eye open
for faces we knew and could perhaps get together with. That is, girls’ faces, or in a pinch boys’ faces we knew who were with girls’ faces we didn’t know. Our project was doomed, we were never going to meet girls this way, but we didn’t give up as long as there was a glimmer of hope, we strolled on, getting drunker and drunker, more and more depressed. And then, at some point, I disappeared from myself. Not from Jan Vidar, he could see me of course, and when he said something to me he received an answer so he imagined that everything was as it should be, but it wasn’t, I had disappeared, I was empty, I was in the void of my soul, there was no other way for me to describe it.
Who are you when you don’t know you exist? Who were you when you didn’t remember that you existed? When I woke up in the apartment in Elvegaten the following day and knew nothing about anything it felt as if I had been let loose in the town. I could have done anything because when I was as drunk as I was there were no longer any limits in me, I did everything that entered my head, and indeed what would not enter a person’s head?
I called Jan Vidar. He was in bed asleep, but his father summoned him to the phone.
“What happened?” I said.
“We-ell,” he said, keeping me on tenterhooks. “Strictly speaking nothing happened. That’s what was such crap.”
“I don’t remember any of the last part,” I said. “Somewhere on the way to Silokaia, that’s the last thing I remember.”
“Don’t you? Nothing?”
“Don’t you remember standing on the back of a truck and mooning everybody?”
“Did I do that?”
“No, of course not. No, relax, man. Nothing happened. Or rather, yes, something did happen when we were walking home. You bent all the side mirrors along one street. Someone shouted, ‘Hey!’ at us and so we ran for it. I didn’t notice any difference in you. Were you that drunk?”
“Yes, it was the spirits.”
“I fall asleep when I get that drunk. Jesus, though, what a lame night. You won’t get me to go to carnival again, that’s for sure.”
“Do you know what I think?”
“When they have the carnival next year we’ll be there again. We can’t afford not to be. Not much happens in this shitty town after all.”
We hung up and I went to wash the Aladdin Sane lightning off my face.
The next time it happened was on Midsummer Night, also with Jan Vidar. We had dragged ourselves, each carrying a bag of beers, down to a place on the coast, to some sea-smoothed rocks below the forest in Hånes, where we wandered around drinking and freezing in the pouring summer rain, surrounded by Øyvind’s many pals and a few people we knew from Hamresanden. Øyvind had chosen this evening of all evenings to break up with his girlfriend, Lene, so she sat crying on a rock, away from the others. I went over to console her, sat beside her, and stroked her back while telling her there were other boys, she would get over it, she was so young and beautiful, and she looked at me with gratitude in her eyes and sniffled, I thought it was a shame we were outdoors and not somewhere indoors, where there were beds, and that it was raining now we were outdoors. Suddenly she looked at her jacket and screamed, the shoulder was covered in blood and, as it turned out, her back, too. It came from me, I’d cut my hand without noticing and it was bleeding profusely. You asshole, she said and stood up. This jacket’s brand new. Do you know how much it cost? Sorry, I said, it wasn’t intentional, I just wanted to cheer you up a bit. Go to hell, she said and headed toward the others, where in the course of the evening she found herself back in favor with Øyvind while I sat drinking alone staring across the gray surface of the water which the falling rain continued to dot with small evocative rings until Jan Vidar came over and sat down next to me and we could pursue the years-long conversation we had about which girls were pretty or not and who we most wanted to sleep with, all while we slowly but surely got drunker until in the end everything disintegrated and I drifted into a kind of ghost world.
The ghost world: when I was inside, it went straight through me, and when I woke up from it there was little I could remember, a face here, a body there, a room, a staircase, a backyard, pale and shimmering, surrounded by an ocean of darkness.
It was nothing less than a horror film. Now and then I would remember the most peculiar details, like a rock at the bottom of a stream or a bottle of olive oil on a kitchen shelf, everyday items in themselves but symbols of a whole night’s mental activity, in fact all that was left of it, which was bizarre. What was it about that rock? What was it about that bottle? The first two times it happened I hadn’t been afraid, I registered it simply as a kind of objective fact. Then, when it happened again, there began to be something eerie about it because I was so out of control. No, nothing had happened and probably nothing was going to happen either, but the fact was, I had no control over my actions at all. If I was basically a nice person, that was how I would be then as well, but was I? Actually?
On the other hand, I was also proud: occasionally getting so drunk that I couldn’t remember a thing was cool.
That summer, I was sixteen, there were only three things I wanted. The first was a girlfriend. The second was to sleep with a girl. The third was to get drunk.
Or, if I am being totally honest, there were only two things: sleeping with a girl and getting drunk. I had loads of other interests, I was full of ambition in all sorts of areas: I liked reading, listening to music, playing the guitar, watching films, playing soccer, swimming and snorkeling, traveling abroad, having money and buying myself equipment, but in effect all that was about having a good time, about spending my time in the most agreeable fashion possible, and that was fine, all of it, but when it came to the crunch there were only two things I really wanted.
No, when it actually came to the crunch, there was only one.
I wanted to sleep with a girl.
That was the only thing I wanted.
A fire burned inside me, one that never went out. Even when I was asleep, it flared up, a glimpse of a breast in a dream was all I needed and I came.
Oh no, not again, I thought every time I woke with underpants sticking to my skin and my pubic hair. Mom washed my clothes and at first I always rinsed them thoroughly before putting them in the laundry basket, but there was something suspicious about that, too. What are all these sopping wet underpants doing here? she must have thought, and after a while I stopped and put the semen-drenched underpants, which after a few hours became stiff, as if permeated with salt flakes or something, in the basket, and even though she must have noticed, because it happened at least two, often three times a week, I dismissed the thought of her bemusement as I replaced the laundry-basket lid. She never mentioned it, I never mentioned it, and that was how it was with so much, and probably had to be, in the house where she and I lived alone: some things were said, commented on, pored over, and attempts were made to understand them; others were not articulated, not mentioned, and no attempts were made to understand them.
My urges were strong, but they rumbled in the empty rooms of ignorance, where what happened simply happened. Naturally I could have asked my brother for advice, after all Yngve was four years older and had endlessly more experience. He had done it, I knew that. I hadn’t done it. So why didn’t I ask him for advice?
It was unthinkable. It belonged to the realm of the unthinkable. Why, I didn’t know, but it did. Besides, what good would advice do? It would be like receiving advice on how to conquer Mount Everest. Yeah, well, you go to the right there, see, and then you keep going straight on up, and there you are.
I would have given absolutely anything to sleep with a girl. Any girl actually. Whether it happened with someone I loved, like Hanne, or with a prostitute, made no difference, if it happened as part of a satanic initiation ceremony with goat’s blood and hoods I would have said, Yes, I’m up for that. But it wasn’t something you were given, it was something you took. Exactly how, I didn’t know, and then it became a vicious circle, for not knowing made me unsure of myself, and if there was one thing that disqualified you, one thing they didn’t want, it was a lack of self-assurance. That much I had understood. You had to be confident, determined, convincing. But how to get to that position? How in God’s name could you do that? How did you go from standing in front of a girl in full daylight, with all her clothes on, to sleeping with her in the darkness a few hours later? There was a chasm between these two states. When I saw a girl standing in front of me in full daylight there was a bottomless chasm between us. If I stepped off the edge I would fall. What else? Because she wouldn’t come halfway, she could see I was frightened, she would withdraw, retreat into herself or turn to someone else. But actually, I thought, actually the distance between the two states was very short. It was just a question of lifting her T-shirt over her head, unfastening her bra, unbuttoning her trousers, pulling them off—and then she was naked. It would take twenty seconds, maybe thirty.
There was nothing more deceptive in existence. Walking around, knowing that I was approximately thirty seconds away from all I ever wanted, separated only by a chasm, was driving me insane. Quite often I caught myself wishing we were still in the Stone Age, then all I needed to do was go out with a club, hit the nearest woman on the head, and drag her home to do whatever I wanted. But it was no good, there were no shortcuts, the thirty seconds were an illusion, as almost everything concerning women was an illusion. Oh, what a mockery that they were accessible to the eye but in no other way. That everywhere you turned there were women and girls. That everywhere you turned there were breasts under blouses, thighs and hips under trousers, beautiful smiling faces, hair blowing in the wind. Pendulous breasts, firm breasts, round breasts, bouncing breasts, white breasts, tanned breasts … a naked wrist, a naked elbow, a naked cheek, a naked eye looking around. A naked thigh in shorts or a short summer dress. A naked palm, a naked nose, a naked neck. I saw all this around me constantly, there were girls everywhere, the supply was infinite, a well, no, I was drifting in an ocean of women, I saw several hundred of them every day, all with their own individual ways of moving, standing, turning, walking, holding and twisting their heads, blinking, looking—take for example a feature such as their eyes, which expressed their utter uniqueness, everything that lived and breathed was here in this one person, was revealed, regardless of whether the gaze was meant for me or not. Oh, those sparkling eyes! Oh, those dark eyes! Oh, that glint of happiness! The alluring darkness! Or, for that matter, the unintelligent, the stupid eyes! For in them, too, there was an appeal, and no small appeal either: the stupid vacant eyes, the open mouth in that perfect beautiful body.
All this was never far from my mind, and all of them were thirty seconds away from the only thing I wanted—but on the other side of a chasm.
I cursed this chasm. I cursed myself. But no matter how frustrating this was, no matter how depressing this became, women shone with undiminished radiance.
Then a chance presented itself.
Some weeks after the dismal Midsummer Night party I traveled with the soccer team to Denmark. The town we were going to was called Nykøbing, on the island of Mors in the Limfjord. We stayed in a kind of hostel, perhaps it was a boarding school, just outside the town, surrounded by large playing fields bordered by shady old deciduous trees. In the evenings some of us sneaked out, it wasn’t allowed, but the town wasn’t far away and as long as we didn’t miss the training sessions a blind eye was turned, if indeed our absence was noticed at all. We bought cheap plonk from the supermarkets, sat outside on the benches drinking, and went to the nearby discotheque. On the second evening I met a Danish girl, and we got together every day for the rest of the time we were there. She was sweet and lively and intense, we sat on the benches and kissed, danced in the disco, one night we went for a walk in the park, and on the final evening I thought, Now’s the time, I wouldn’t have another opportunity, it was tonight or never.
On our last night everyone was outdoors; we started with a barbecue on the beach, the group leaders had bought beer, and when that was finished we took a taxi to a big restaurant in a forest not so far from where we were staying. She was coming, she had said, and she did, too, greeted me in the same warm way she usually did, stretching up on her toes, giving me a kiss and grasping my hand. We sat down at a table, I was knocking back the wine to summon up the courage for what I was about to attempt. In the bar I confided my intentions to Jøgge and Bjørn, told them I was going to try to get her into our room and fuck her. They smiled, wished me luck. It was a wonderful evening, outside the grayish-black clouds hung heavily over the green trees, inside under the glittering chandeliers people mingled, they drank and laughed and danced, there was a smell of sweat and perfume, cigarette smoke and alcohol, she sat at our table and talked to Harald, but kept looking in my direction and she lit up when she saw me coming with another bottle of wine in my hand. My stomach ached as I sat down next to her. She leaned forward, we kissed, I was about to pour wine in her glass, she held up a palm, she had to work the following day. She had a sudden idea: Did I want to go back to her place? But we’re leaving tomorrow, I said. No, she said, no, you’re not. You’re never going home, you’re staying here with me. You can go to school here! Or find a job! What do you say to that? Fine, I said, that’s what we’ll do.
We laughed and a wave of anguish washed through me: soon we would be in my room, soon she would be standing close to me and whispering, convinced I knew what I was doing.
“Want to go for a walk?” I said.
“What about the wine?” she said.
“We’ll be back,” I said and got up. Put my hand on her shoulder and guided her out of the room. Turned and met the eyes of Jøgge and Bjørn, they gave me a thumbs-up and smiled. Then we were outside.
She looked up at me.
“Where are we going?”
“Into the forest?” I said. I took her tiny hand in mine and we set off. I had already kissed her breasts, on a bench I had put my head up her sweater and kissed everything I found, she had laughed and held me tight. This was what I did with girls, lay on top of them, French-kissed them, and kissed their breasts. Once I had pulled down a girl’s panties and poked a finger inside, that was already two years ago now.
A shiver ran through me.
“What is it?” she said, wrapping an arm around me. “Are you cold?”
“A bit maybe,” I said. “It’s turned colder.”
The big heavy clouds that had been drifting in and were now over the forest had cast a pall over the gathering darkness between the tree trunks. A gusty wind had picked up. Above us the top branches swayed.
Blood was pounding through me.
“Would you like to see where we’re staying?” I said.
“Yes, love to.”
The moment she said that I had an erection. It pressed hard against my trousers. I swallowed again.
In the dusk the light in the buildings where we were staying was a deep yellow. It collected around the lamps in halos. I felt sick and my palms were damp with sweat. But I was going to do it.
I stopped and put my arms around her, we kissed, her tongue was smooth and small. My dick was throbbing so much it hurt.
“It’s over there,” I whispered. “Are you sure you want to go in with me?”
A flicker of wonderment appeared in her eyes. But she said nothing apart from yes.
I took her hand again, squeezed it hard and we walked quickly over the last two hundred metres. Hugged her again outside the unmanned reception area, almost suffocating with desire. Down the corridor to the room I shared with three others. Key out, into the lock with trembling hand, a twist, handle down, door open, and in we went.
“You back already, Karl Ove?” Jøgge said with a laugh.
“Have you brought a visitor with you?” Bjørn said.
“How nice!” Harald said. “Would you like a beer, Lisbeth?”
There was nothing I could say. They were my roommates and had just as much right to be there as me. Nor could I say that they had run back here out of sheer bloody-mindedness, or the cat would have been out of the bag, and although Lisbeth may well have guessed my plans, this was not the sort of thing that could be said out loud. Or at least not when the others were here, what would she think, that I was making fun of her?
“What the hell are you guys doing here?” I said.
Jøgge smiled. “What are you two doing here?”
I glared at him. He was doubled up with laughter on the bed.
Harald passed Lisbeth a beer. She took it and smiled at me.
“How funny that your friends came, too,” she said.
What? Did she mean that?
She looked around. “Anybody got a cigarette?”