Whispers from the Abyss

By Nicole Dao
April 27, 2024

I stared in the mirror and found a painted canvas staring back at me

As the deranged man awoke from sporadic sleep, he found himself entangled in a web of nocturnal visions. The room around him was suffocatingly confined. Shadows erratically lined the walls. In the dim light, he tried to piece together the remnants of his dreams from rational thoughts. A haunting yet seductive female body lingered in his mind, one that he obsessively craved in these nighttime visions. As my own reality and dreams blurred, I felt as though I belonged to the story of The Blind Owl. I, too, struggled to navigate the haze of nightmares and sensual dreams as they forced me to confront my unexplored impulses.

When I delved into dark literature, a cascade of carnal dreams night after night flooded me with sexual desire and confusion. The woman in The Blind Owl is the only being that the man can perceive and remember, yet her presence is imaginary. She embodies the man’s longing for a connection with a female, one that can hopefully mend his relationship with the rest of the world. My episodes involved vivid, erotic scenes of intimacy with different women. Some were celebrities. Some were acquaintances, and some were my friends. Like the man, I longed for intimacy with women but wondered what this meant for my identity. Gothic stories, with their explorations of desire, madness, and obsession, unraveled the chambers of my hidden psyche. A curiosity about myself was ignited that I was willing to explore. Weaving through the worlds of flawed characters and grim backdrops, I faced the ambiguity of my sexual orientation to embrace my true self.

In the confines of an ancient London home, I witnessed Dorian Gray’s porcelain and youthful essence become a muse for Basil Hallword’s artwork. Each tender brushstroke carefully sculpted Dorian’s bewitching nature. Through Basil’s eyes, I saw forbidden love for Dorian that dared not be made public in the air of Victorian society. Reflecting on my newly discovered yet unspoken attraction to women, I realized I was scared to be misunderstood as indecisive or illegitimate. With the arrival of Lord Henry’s cynical worldview, Dorian’s fear of transient beauty grew. His quest for overarching perfection led him toward vanity and self-destruction. Basil’s canvas, a depiction of Dorian’s soul, began to breathe a life of its own. What once was a portrait of an innocent young man was now a physical token of his decayed morality. In Dorian’s distorted visage, I saw that I was afraid of invalidation. Yet, a dangerous path of vanity and hypocrisy awaited me if I denied my sexuality for the sake of approval.

I learned that self-perception tarnishes when it is no longer genuine. Constructing a facade and suppressing aspects of myself were outlets for me to veer away from my true nature. As Dorian stabbed and ripped apart his portrait in a fit of self-hatred, the denial of his identity led to suicide. In a way, if I failed to accept my attraction to women, I would also destroy a piece of my authentic self: my gift of all-encompassing love. The Picture of Dorian Gray reminded me that self-discovery requires embracing the full scope of my identity, flaws and all. Gothic stories unlocked the secrets that I hadn’t yet uncovered about myself. I was forced to face the guarded side of my identity to achieve self-understanding, and I learned to love the unconventional aspects of myself even more.

As zephyrs and cloudy skies surrounded the desolate moorlands of Wuthering Heights, I longed for the young, wild-spirited love between Heathcliff and Catherine. After years of separation, Heathcliff’s unrequited love for Catherine never wavered. The humiliation he felt when Catherine married another man was still not enough to renounce his feelings. Heathcliff’s fierce love reflected my own ability to experience the full spectrum of love. There was beauty in my capacity to offer love as strong as Heathcliff’s to both men and women. When Catherine suddenly passed away, Heathcliff begged for her to take on any form and torment his mind. Heartbreak was the only way for him to connect with her. Heathcliff eventually succumbed to a lifetime of being haunted by Catherine’s ghost. He stayed true to himself by accepting his love for her as a part of his identity.

While Heathcliff was led down a path of despair, the embrace of my bisexuality brought me empowerment and liberation. Heathcliff sacrificed happiness and pride to achieve truth. He felt Catherine’s breath in the wind, saw her handprints streak his windows, and sensed her lurking spirit in his bedroom. Still, his personal integrity and love never strayed. Instead of conceding to the pain that haunted Heathcliff's life, I found resilience in embracing my raw self. I learned to cherish love, romance, and intimacy but most importantly, how its infinite bounds can comprise all types of people.

Flipping through the pages of these gloomy narratives, I looked around and found myself in The Blind Owl’s coffin-like room. This was the room that conjured my own sin and greed. Lustful dreams stood me at the crossroads of self-revelation, forcing me to face a hidden version of myself. In the shadows of these blank walls, the darkest parts of myself were revealed. I pictured who I was and what I desired. Like Heathcliff, I wanted both love and truth. I stared in a mirror and found a canvas staring back at me. The impressionistic portrait, comprised of unblended, hazy brushstrokes, slowly clarified into an unembellished illustration of pink and blue hues overlapping to form a beautiful violet. 

Layout: Joy Delight Pesebre
Photographer: Joshua Rush
Stylists: Reyana Tran & Adeline Hale
Set Stylist: Angelo Corridori
HMUA: Reyana Tran
Nail Artist: Anoushka Sharma
Models: Phia Gonzalez & Morgan Cheng

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