The Violet Ladder to Heaven

I read the whole Bible after she dumped me: Old and New Testament. Why the Bible? It’s probably not most people’s first choice of break-up read. But she’d been going on a lot about God and angels lately, so it felt kind of like scrolling through her new boyfriend’s Instagram.

The Violet Ladder to Heaven
Photo by COPPERTIST WU / Unsplash

By MB Valente

So I’m not any of the things you think I am. I’m not a compulsive nutcase or a rich kid faking it or a closet fascist or whatever. I just thought things could be better. I thought we would be better. I’ve given up on all that now. 

Who knows when it started. Definitely not when I was sixteen, chugging beers under bridges and throwing rocks at cops. Back then I didn’t think anything could hit me back or stop the revolution coming. I figured whatever was left of the police state and the patriarchy by the time I was able to choose where and how I lived, I wouldn’t have to be a part of them. The spikes in my hair and the holes in my clothes were armor that made me invulnerable to laughter and my parents’ comfortable life. I don’t think my sixteen-year-old self would be too disappointed if he could see me now. I’ve never signed a lease or driven a car or paid for internet. I go to the backlot where the grocery store puts out its dumpsters at night more often than I go to the grocery store. But man, am I sick of it all now.

I was only at uni for a few months before I kicked my textbooks under the bed and started reading Kropotkin, Bakunin, Proudhon, Ivan Illich. I’d realized that tagging behind the black bloc and asking my professors pants-shitting questions in class wasn’t going to set the revolution in motion. I had to start small. It isn’t enough to reject everything you don’t want—you have to build the world you do want, even if it’s a world of twenty or ten or two. It was around then I first heard about the house, and like some kind of cosmic sign, a room opened up. You didn’t pick me. The fuck did I care, the next time you bought a case of beer and made it known in the unlicensed bars and back-alley mutual aid groups of Kalvingrad that you were looking for a housemate, I came back. Sure, it was awkward, but it made you see how much I needed it. I got the room in the basement, all dim and musty and mine. I’d skip classes most mornings and sleep off the nights spent drinking, smoking and talking about how fucked the world was. It was almost like being happy: three or four of us sprawled on the ant-infested patio sofas, passing a joint back and forth and sending empty bottles skittering over the bricks with our feet. We talked until the sky got light, until our eyes and throats burned. Back then, it felt like enough. Talking was enough. 

I wasn’t afraid yet. But there was already something there, even if I couldn’t put a name to it or see its leering face. Eventually it would wrap my gut in a fist that tightened day by day. I gave up booze, smokes, solid food, sex—the last one not by choice. Nothing worked, it wouldn’t let go.

The fear was already there—claws in my belly—when I met Daphne, but she distracted me from it for a while. Like a cigarette ground into skin, she burned so hot that everything else faded away. She wasn’t very politically-minded when I first moved in. She was this classy art student, square designer glasses, all “interrogate” this and “re-appropriate” that. But when she laughed it sounded like sobbing, and there was that wild way she looked sometimes. When I started talking to her about rebuilding the world from scratch, she got it right away. She saw her art school for the capitalist assembly line that it was, and the house for what it was, or could be: a society in miniature, ours to create in our own image. Something woke up in her, and she shed her skin. Not for the first time, I’d find out later. 

Now Daphne is a stranger, and I lie awake and alone while the rest of the house laughs and eats and fucks above me. I lie there and stare at the cracks in the walls. The others say it’s fine, the cracks have always been there, I’m always freaking out over nothing. But I’m the one who has to try to sleep under a ceiling that is literally splitting apart. I’ve tried meditation. I even tried reading the Bible. I’m still afraid.

After Daphne broke me and stomped on all the pieces, I didn’t just read the Bible. I also read a lot of stuff about recurring tropes in human belief systems. Now every time I try to meditate, I see a snake eating its own tail. It’s the third day of my fast and I can feel scales sliding against the walls of my gut.

Maybe it’s the fast giving me delusions of grandeur, but I seem to be the only one who realizes how bad things have got. It’s more than just the cracks. It’s a foundational flaw, a bowel-deep lack of responsibility and respect. You all must be immune to whatever it is that grabs me by the throat when I come home to chin-high stacks of dishes, pans alive with flies, unwatered plants wilting like prisoners in the garden, the cat staring me down as he pisses against the wall like, look how many shits I give. 

How is a self-organized collective like ours supposed to function when taking care of your shit so the Man doesn’t have to—the most basic thing—is so beyond us? Whenever I suggest we set up a system, some kind of rota, you all scream like children. You didn’t move here to have a bunch of rules and a fucking chore list, you say. But if you can’t tell the difference between rules imposed by others and the rules you make for yourself, what hope is there for us? In the past when we would have this argument, Daphne always backed me up. The last time she didn’t even look at me, just stared out the window fingering the silver cross she’s started wearing around her neck. 

It’s like trying to build a tower out of sand: for every handful I scoop and pat onto the heap, a landslide of your uncaring pours back over me. I used to care so much. But now I see there’s no golden future coming. Daphne is gone and not just for me. She’s lost herself. And the house is full of cracks. 

So I mop a trail from the front door to my room. I make meals for one and eat them down here alone. I watch the cracks gape wider. So far I don’t think you’ve noticed. Maybe it truly doesn’t bother you, or maybe you’re just too absorbed in your individual lives to see that our life, us, we are over. Either way, you’ll notice when the roof comes crashing down on our heads.

The snake slides in circles in my gut, and I want a cigarette so bad I might actually kill someone. I don’t recognize the scraggly, sunken-eyed Jesus in the mirror. Did I just compare myself to Jesus? Is this why fanatics fast, because it makes you feel like you’re on another level? I look into your faces and I do feel better than you. I know I am. I’m in too much pain not to be. 

I keep finding things Daphne left in the basement: a pile of peeling yellow boards that she must have planned to build something with, a round stone from the riverbank wrapped in red string. She’s always left this trail of bizarre objects behind her. Like her, you can’t explain them. You want to grab them, shake them, hurl them against the furniture, demand answers. Like her, they lie where they fall, they turn to face the wall, they keep their secrets for themselves and send you to hell with the silent treatment.

I read the whole Bible after she dumped me: Old and New Testament. Why the Bible? It’s probably not most people’s first choice of break-up read. But she’d been going on a lot about God and angels lately, so it felt kind of like scrolling through her new boyfriend’s Instagram. I found the New Testament easier to get through. I must have read the Book of Revelation at least four times. It’s so full of strange truths that sound stupid when you say them aloud. I need that angel to come to me and tell me the mystery of the woman, and the beast that carried her with its seven heads and ten horns. I hear her speak in Daphne’s broken whisper: “The beast that thou sawest was, and is not.” 

I’ve been thinking about Jacques Ellul. I used to think Christian anarchists were one of the universe’s flukes, like every possible wacko combination of ideas must have occurred to somebody, somewhere. But now that I’ve actually read the Bible and tried to understand it, I see it’s not as crazy as it sounds. The revelation: if people don’t want the Man telling them what to do, maybe they need God to tell them what to do. If we’re going to dismantle the State and build a just society from scratch, we need a lighthouse, we need light. People can’t stand alone, even together. We aren’t good enough. 

And it’s not like Christianity was always this repressive thing. The first Christians were the real anarchists—they hated war and capitalism. What else is capitalism but the cadaver the merchants wept over at the fall of Babylon? What else but the sick and constant traffic of gold and silver and precious stones, pearls and fine linen, wheat and beasts and chariots and slaves and souls of men? 

Then I started hearing music at night. Not that that’s strange in itself. The first time, I did the obvious thing: I went around pounding on people’s doors and telling them to turn it down, it’s three in the fucking morning, Jesus. But no one was playing music. You giggled at me like I was high or glared and muttered. If no one opened up, I listened at the door. But the music wasn’t coming from any one place. It was like the walls themselves were vibrating with an ultradeep thrum and thump, all the walls at once. 

I didn’t knock on Daphne’s door. It feels weird to say that, to think she has a door that isn’t mine. So it could have been her, she did have that drumming phase, do you remember the drumming? That didn’t occur to me until later, though. I just staggered back to the basement like a sleepwalker, stuck my head in the sink and ran cold water until I was shivering all over. I regretted throwing out the cigarettes I’d bought in a moment of weakness, even though I knew that smoking four days into a fast would make me want to puke out my entire digestive tract. Then I paced around my room with wet hair and my hands over my ears. For hours. That godawful yearning for sleep when you know you’ll never manage it a million trillion years. 

Three nights in a row I did that: knocking on doors, then batshit pacing until daybreak. By the third night I was so out of it, when Rob opened up to my knock and said he wasn’t playing any goddamn music, I pushed right past him and went into his room without permission, breaking what’s essentially the only house rule you people hold sacred. But his turntable was off. He wasn’t playing anything, not even his usual shitty techno. I must have wandered back to the basement and ended up in front of my laptop.

Blue light in the dark. The fear that if anyone saw your search history, they’d send you to a psych ward. First I tried: how to ignore loud music trying to sleep. All I got was Noise Cancelling Headphones – $189.99, etc. Then, reluctantly: hearing things audio hallucination. And there it was. A few lines below WebMD and other stuff like that, a hit that stopped me. This should be funny, I thought.

The Violet Ladder To Heaven

Are you going insane?? NO!!! That’s what They want you to think, Brother. They want you to swallow their poison pills and do their psychoSCAREapy and wack out your brain chemistry because they can’t handle the Truth!!!! And What Truth Is That? That this is the END, ZIP, bim bang boom, thats all folks!! Can’t sleep at night? OF COURSE NOT!!!! Think the world is going to He11 in a handbasket?? IT IS, BROTHER!!!!!! Hearing things? Voices, drumming, radio static, screams, cats fighting but theres no cats, singing choirs, stuff in Languages you don’t understand? Your not alone!! What you are hearing is Leakage from the Kingdom Above. Thats right: H-E-A-V-E-N. You are not suffering from halucinations, you have been given a special Privilege. A ticket out before this realm goes kablooey. Theres a Heaven up there Brother and It is not shiny lights and fluffy clouds like you learned in sunday school. We’re talking the Real celestial realm aka *Space* You can meet Jesus. You can meet Angels. (These are not dead guys with wings and harps but actual, for real E-T’s aka EXTRA TERRESTRIALS!!!) 
Getting VIP Access to the Kingdom Above is not easy and AVAILABLE SPOTS ARE FILLING FAST, but if you cant sleep and want to know more about Whats Going On, just follow these simple steps.
1. Practice Climbing The Ladder
Close not your eyes, Brother. Go not in the direction that SLOW-ciety wants you to go, but tell your feet to take you to Heaven. 
2. Let It All Go
Revelation 18:14 says: “And the fruits that thy soul lusted after are departed from thee, and all things which were dainty and goodly are departed from thee, and thou shalt find them no more at all.” Don’t just think it. Say it out loud AND MEAN IT.
3. Send Cash, Energy, Or Whatever You’ve Got to: 
VLH, 1445 Business Park Avenue, Suite 203…

I closed my laptop and sat for ages in the dark. 

That was two weeks ago, and I’ve slept like a baby every night since. The moment the rhythmic thumping starts, I do the thing—I feel dumb as hell, of course, but I do it and it works. I lie with my head at the foot of the bed and my feet on the pillow. I try to suck my eyelids back into my skull, I keep my eyes open even though I have to pretty much threaten myself—don’t blink, motherfucker—then, trying not to picture what it would look like to someone walking in, I bend my knees, I pedal my feet—don’t blink, asshole—then I say it. Out loud. The watermelon and cherries of my soul have left me, all cigarettes and booze and beet juice have left me, the completed chore list, the house how it should be, warm bread, Daphne’s smile, Daphne’s smell, all these things have left me and I won’t find them ever, ever again. Then, bam. I wake up ten hours later.

After seven nights of exquisite, dreamless, restorative sleep, I started to feel guilty. The crazy person or persons, plural, who’d made that website had basically saved my life. I was at peace. I was reborn. It wasn’t just the night music, either. The claws around my gut had released their grip. Whoever VLH was or were, I owed them. So even though I had no desire to meet for-real ETs or get VIP access to anywhere, I sent them some money. Not that I had much to send. Still, it felt like the right thing to do.

Then came tonight. 

I got back to the house with an armful of dumpster-harvested groceries to find the cat taking a shit in front of my bedroom door. I tried to kick him while he was still shitting—you have to catch them in the act or they don’t learn anything from it—but he finished and dodged, leaving only the fetid pile. I dug an old napkin out of my bag and picked it up. I knew none of you would even see it, let alone do anything about it. You never come knocking at my door anymore.

When I stepped into the room holding my napkinful of cat shit, the first thing I saw was a pair of dirty feet in flipflops. I got ready to go off about house rule numero uno, but it wasn’t any of you. It could almost have been me, if I’d never stopped smoking hash or started cutting my hair. He wore a wool poncho and faded cargo shorts and I figured him for a friend of Rob’s or—kick to the gut—Daphne’s. The guy raised a hand and held it there, palm open. Not a wave, but some kind of mystic hippie greeting. 

Hey, he said.

I know this house must seem pretty chill, I said, trying to stay nice. Whoever invited you probably should have told you, though. The basement’s not a common area. This is actually my bedroom, and we don’t go in each other’s rooms without asking. He smiled. But it was you who invited me, he said. He reached into his shorts pocket and pulled out a crumpled slip of paper: the money order I’d sent. I took a step back and my shoulder blades hit the door. Be not afraid, he said, still smiling that beatific stoner smile. I just came to say thanks. And to see if you had any questions for me. The cat shit was still warming my hand through the napkin. Do you represent them or something, I asked. His smile widened. In a sense, he said. I serve them. I walked this planet for a time, then I died for them. Though as you can see—little laugh—death looks different on me. Are you saying, I said carefully, that you’re their alien Jesus? Please, man, he said. Call me AJ.

And you know what? I went with it. Because I did have questions, like:

Why are we so worthless? Why do we let ourselves be ruled, when we could rule ourselves and be free? Why do we stay children our whole lives? Why do we think freedom means fucking each other over? Why are we incapable of creating something together, something good? Do we need you to rule us? Are you the only one who can be good?

Seems to me, AJ said, like it’s my job you’re after. You want to create something together, but only if that something looks like what you want. Y’all have created something. Something flawed and fragile. I don’t use words like good, but let’s say it lives. 

But it’s splitting apart. Don’t you see the cracks? There, there, there. It’s literally coming apart.

All living things do, brother.

How can we live together with so much uncaring?

That’s your pain talking, man, and all pain is temporary. Take it from me. Change is what turns suffering into substance. It’s all about transformation. Mold that clay.

But what if I can’t? Change. I realized I was sweating. I could barely see. What if I can’t shed my skin? What if I’m always, forever, nothing but myself? What if I can never stop following me wherever I go?

AJ pulled a lit joint out of his poncho—how’s that for a superpower—and sucked on it meditatively for a moment. Well, he said, there’s a kind of change you haven’t tried. A supraspiritual leap. You want me to join your cult, I said. He coughed and shook his head, waving smoke out of his face. No, no, he said. I’m not sure you guys would vibe. But you can skip that whole part, jump straight to the space travel. He watched me from the corner of his eye. It’s a cop out, though, he said. A deus ex machina solution. 

For some reason that was when I saw Daphne’s stone wrapped in red string was still lying by the bed. I could have sworn I’d thrown it out, but I was glad I hadn’t. I thought I saw what it was now, why she’d put it there, what it was for. The clumsy way she’d tried to soften its concussable core. The way I couldn’t let it go, despite hating it so, so much. I’m ready, I told Alien Jesus. Take me where you think I should be.

So here I go. Deus ex machina time. You won’t see me again. Does it feel like a cop out? Sure. But it also feels like rest. Respite. A long exhale. Finally, finally, change. A starshot. 


MB Valente is an American writer and translator based in Marseille, France. Her translations of graphic novels have been published by Fantagraphics, Magnetic Press and Europe Comics. Most people look at least a little like their dogs, but she really looks like hers.