Joyland

Los Angeles |

Failed Fetish

by Niko Sonnberger

edited by Lisa Locascio

My first time was with a fork. I know: such a cliche. I spent an hour nervously scanning the silverware with my finger tips. What tool will feel the best? The fork seemed obvious, the two-prong skewer was more anatomically conducive, and the butter knife seemed desperate. I wet my hands, picked up the fork and slid it in the electrical outlet with ease. I had never had 110 volts run through my body before, everything was light. My eyes rolled into the back of my head like cherries in a slot machine. Bingo. I was hooked.

As a novice, there was nothing refined about tastes. I had no hard limits, all electrocution was welcome. Fortunately, the human body is a wet sack of conductivity and I was a neon saint ready to absorb the blood of machines. Signs warning “high voltage” were my exponent of breath. It was like edging, but with death. As my love grew like a mold, the crystals in my head held each spark.

The first sunset I saw was a migraine. My mother held me in her lightning bolt arms. The glowing ball in the horizon of my skull ached brightly. Anointing my voltaic devils, it all began as a small prod: the first sensation. During childhood, my wool sweater collection grew exponentially when I detected static biting my skin. Then, it was the balloon shipwrecked to my hair at the birthday party, the further romancing of electrostatic. After, the humid August where I stayed in the lake during the lightning storm naked, a virgin electric. Running my hand over a fleece blanket over and over in the dark. The time I tried to keep electric eels as pets. Holding a bouquet of light bulbs. And my first kiss was a zap. The sound of the toaster hitting the bath water between my legs. And the forks, the enormity of utensils, over and over, wrecking my body like a dream. Eventually, casually considering red murder to get the electric chair and quickly realizing I live in the wrong decade. So many times, wetting my fingers, cracking the bulbs like eggs, all the dissected kitchen appliance, the “lost” extension cords, band-aid bound, burned, bruised, AC, DC. Edison, silver, copper, but always galvanized, always wanting more.

It was 7:36pm. Right on time. The sun had just gone down and I pressed my stethoscope against the light pole. Then it came, like the first breath after anesthesia. All the street lights turned on in a simultaneous orchestral hum and suddenly I was the doctor, the conductor; Tesla seeing the very first flicker into the future. The dark also had its rituals, each night I christened myself. I gathered all the tangles of holiday lights, my particular eucharist, coiled them around each limb like a festive mummy, plugged them in, covered myself with a sheet and fell asleep. As a luminous ghost, a BDSM Christmas tree, I knew somewhere inside I was fallibly human, anticipating the failure in my fetish.

What they don’t tell you when you get hit by lightning is, if it doesn’t kill you, it leaves a fantastically painful, tree-shaped fractal scar on your skin. This is called a Lichtenberg figure or lightning flowers or sometimes electric treeing. How ominous to name something so fatal after delicate flora. I found it rousing this scar shape abided by the language of the universe, the golden ratio. And I never cared for real trees outside of the flesh, but transmission towers, these were my cherished beacons. They were a symbol of humanity’s collective ability to streamline lightning bolts into walls & homes. You see, we all fetishize electricity, just in different forms. Yours may be just a glowing screen, but we are not so different.

I guess this is the part I should mention I am dead. “After all that?!”, you ask. Yes. All it took was one bad apple. In my case, forgetting everything in Europe runs on 220 volts instead of the standard American 110. The Europeans have always been extra. And there are only so many glasses of champagne, French clawfoot tubs, bubble baths with several toasters and Edith Piaf blaring until the human body simply fails you. Ashes to ashes, dust to toast. When you die, you return to the first source. And there you are free of your phantoms, tinctures, ceremonies and infatuations. This is where, for first time, the communion of light and dark bent and I saw backwards into my skull. I am the light.