My Cubicle is a Secret Land of Make-Believe
Oh, man. That girl. That could have definitely been her. Could have been the one. Could have been my one. That girl, that sweet, delicate, smooth-skinned lady, with the most beautiful green sparkling eyes, like the kind of eyes that function as a physical feature so sought-after that I couldn't help but think I'd want her to have my babies so they'd get at least a 50/50 shot at getting those eyes and therefore have at least one thing to make getting through the humdrum of life a little bit easier.
This girl, who I could definitely have eventually seen myself falling in love with, no doubt about it, had not only shrieked but also shriveled away from me, into the arms of her two female cohorts who gave me looks of actual, unadulterated terror as they converged on and covered her, leading her further away from me, into the crowd, toward the stage where the singer in the band was flipping her hot-orange hair back and forth while sort of neighing into the microphone. And I was left to stand there, counting my losses, wondering what had gone wrong, hoping to fix it?
But no, things had gone too far. I look funny, and I'd touched her on the shoulder from behind. Once someone's recoiled from you, that's your first impression gone right there, and I've never had the wherewithal to come back from such a misunderstanding.
I flash back to ninety, ninety-five, a hundred seconds ago, when I'd seen her, arms out front, elbows crooked out and fists clenched, pointed at one another. She swayed back and forth, shoulders undulating. Enormous bright pink and purple lozenges passed over the back of her body from the stage's ceiling-rigged spotlights. She'd turned, for a moment, and looked at me. I thought she'd smiled. In retrospect, maybe not.
I don’t normally do these things. It's not like me. I feel bad about it. But God, the thing that would make me happy, the thing I want the most, is that I wish I was handsome enough to make her feel pretty tonight.
I've been having a tough time of it lately. Not too bad. Recently, at one point, I didn't leave my house for two months. I'm slowly overcoming that (it's still really bad) by blasting The Stooges, clenching my teeth, and driving until I'm about to pass out (I don't get very far).
Basically, I don't know anything about anything. There's nothing I'm an expert on. I don't have any good stories. I only have me. So, that's what I'll talk about. I'll talk about myself.
More often than not, when people describe themselves to you, like, “I'm a movie guy,” “I'm someone who's really humble,” “I'm the kind of girl you'd like to take home to mom,” what they say is actually the total opposite of who they really are. I mean, who are you to say what kind of person you are? Who gave you that right? If there's something complimentary about you, don't come right out and say it, let other people say it for you. A little humility is hard to find these days.
I've been described as: interesting, goofy, nice, intense, serious, a wet blanket, a mama's boy, a potential modern-day Al Jolson, and a man of excellent listening capabilities. Some of these came from family members, some not, I won't say which, because it doesn't really matter. What I can tell you is that nothing positive in that list came from Grandma, the woman who raised me, because, oh-boy, she's never had a good thing to say about me in my whole life! It's okay, though. She's had a hard time - husband dying of cancer, losing both of her kids to gang violence in Gary, Indiana (they were both mediators, and one of them was my mom), as well as plenty of other bad stuff. Plus, I was always kind of a wild kid, which can be tough.
Grandma is, was, a mohel, and high in demand until her early 70s, at which point a hand tremor would cause the family of the kid whose dick she was about to slice off to become pretty nervous and freaked out. Ever since then, I've pretty much taken care of her. I have my job at a local community college, where I have a small gray office situated behind a loading and receiving dock where I sign for packages all day. It's nice in there. Just me, a little TV, my Vaseline, and a box of Kleenex.
When I was a little kid, after I came to live with Grandma, I became aware that no matter what I seemed to do, my presence was very unsettling to other people. It's still the same now. I tried for a very, very long time to fix this, really, but I couldn't. So now I accept it, roll with the punches, don't care. The way people looked at me was never the way they looked at others. People were always keeping me at a distance or desperate to get away. I could feel this.
Even when I'd tried to make a friend, like approaching another kid at recess, they'd find an excuse to quickly get away and I'd be left standing there again, my eyes wet and burning and a sick feeling in my stomach. They'd already made their minds up about me before I'd even got a word out. I think it would be nice, would help a lot, if I could just find someone, anyone to tell this to who would say, “I know how you feel. I've felt that way before.”
A bit later, when I was a teenager, man, oh man, would Grandma ever confuse the heck out of me! She used to tease me and ask if I'd been hanging around any girls at school. The first couple times she asked, when I thought she was genuinely interested, my face would get all hot and there was something, I don't know what, that kept me from running out of the room and crying.
She said if I did hang around any girls that it wasn't because they wanted to sleep with me; I was too unattractive. She warned me about how women like to keep a guy around, a guy who the woman sees as not much more than a puppy with a larynx and opposable thumbs who can provide her with validation, attention, and on and on. She told me not to fall for this, that the girls only thought they could get away with it because all girls thought they were special on account of that hairy fish they were sitting on. But the girl had no intention of ever sleeping with the guy. Grandma told me to stay away from these girls. But, oh, man, I seriously ached to be used as some girl's doormat.
At least those guys, the doormats, got to hang out with the girls and got to say,
“We spent some special times together,” or “I used to hang out with her and her family and her dad would make fun of me for having such a big crush on her.” I see this as some defect in myself. You'd think even the biggest, saddest loser would have a girl take pity on him and treat him like a girl-friend. I wasn't even interesting enough to be pitied, or had enough of an interesting personality that a girl would've wanted to keep me around.
And when you're a teenager, man, you do some insane things. From the age of 12 to 22 you're so horny you could cry just THINKING about a pair of tits.
But also of course, when I was younger, I was interested in the one thing most people want: to have a good time. Crippling social anxiety let me out of the house only occasionally, when Grandma would force me out via name-calling, tough love, and/or embarrassment. But how to make the friends that would be there on the occasions when I actually did go out? It was always one step forward, then a kick in the stomach back.
So, for fun, I'd go out to a restaurant, order something big and expensive off the menu, and then just before the wait staff were about to bring it out, I'd get up and leave! Ha ha! Or I'd walk into a store, maybe a bicycle store, with a big Styrofoam cup full of coffee, and while looking at some of the merchandise, I'd accidentally lean over and make a big spill! Then leave as quickly as I could, leaving the mess for some other jerk to clean up.
What I'd do a lot, too, is ride the subway all day, from the stop near my house to the old dog tracks at Wonderland, and my favorite trick was to stand next to a train commuter. His (it was always a guy) attention would be hyper-focused on the newspaper held in his hands that blocked off everything around him, and as the train doors opened, then were ready to close, the locomotive prepped to carry us all away, I'd have a strike-anywhere match nestled tightly in my fist, like a shank, and would suddenly strike it on the nearest wall, and proceed to set the newspaper on fire! And before anyone could tell what had just happened, I'd be out the closing doors and up the stairs to street level!
Yeah, the days before security cameras were good ones. Definitely.
But then something strange would always happen when I rode the subway all day.
It was a particular feeling that I'd get of seeing the same place in different circumstances or from another mindset, or when the origin I was coming from was different. For example, in the mornings, I'd take a bus from my and Grandma's apartment to the train station a couple miles away, then I'd ride the red line to its last stop. After getting off, I'd make my way through the auditorium of the station and go to a donut chain where I'd drink a ton of donuts and coffee all through until the afternoon. I could only do this because I got there early, as they stopped serving donuts at 11 and switched to their lunch menu. So there were lots of people, you know, coming and going, and heading to work. I'd always be in a rush to do this, since I was really hungry, and so in that space of time everything to me was an obstacle as I made my way from home to the donut shop.
The way the train station looked in the mornings, when I'd head for the far escalator going upstairs from train level to the lobby, compared to how it felt later in the day when I was going home — it was almost an entirely different place. That upper level (it being the entrance, instead of the exit, when I was returning in the evenings) was not the same upper level I'd encountered early in the day.
When I was exiting the station in the morning, the people entering looked totally foreign and whack-o to me. Why were they pushing to go into town when I had just left it? It was almost incomprehensible to imagine that I would actually be just like them six or seven hours later. At that time, I would view the people getting off the trains into the station with the same strangeness of feeling. The up escalator, which I valued and wanted to get to so much in the morning, was later on in the day just something in the way as I tried to get to the down one, and I would actually think, 'Where did this goddamn up escalator come from and why does it have to be in my way?'
I never got used to seeing the same place from two different circumstances. I could never think, 'I'll pass through this way later today and everything will be the opposite.' I find it scary, for some reason.
I'm glad though, that, throughout my life, on the whole, no one ever liked me. I'm lucky, I think. When no one's ever liked you, you can do whatever you want. You expect to not be liked automatically, so you don't ever try to do things that will please people or make them want to be around you. Life would've been a lot tougher if I'd ever known what it was like to have someone really, really like me.
I’ve got some money, but taking care of Grandma puts a definite damper on my dating possibilities. It's good to have money. Like Grandma always says, money can't buy happiness, but happiness can't buy jack. I don't know if I'm lonely, per se. Scratch that -- I'm incredibly lonely. But I at least have Grandma for company.
Not that she'd be too bad off without me, on account of the fact that my good job offers actually pretty OK life insurance. I just mean that being alone for so long is tough. And what I mean is that, ah, Jesus FUCK, it hurts. Oh my GOD, it hurts.
This really got to me at some point a few years ago, and I got sick, which lasted for maybe six months. There's an army surplus store down the street from our apartment, and for a long time I'd think about how nice it would be to nail a length of rope above my bathroom doorway, wrap one end around my neck, and handcuff myself behind my back with those real heavy, clanking metal handcuffs that I'd get at the army surplus place. Then I'd just have to stick a chair in the doorway, stand on it, and kick it out from underneath me and -- voila -- I'd be outta here! I've heard of people having all kinds of traumatic experiences. Just even thinking about what it was like when I felt that way almost causes me to cry and howl out. I guess that means that that entire stage of my life was a constant traumatic experience.
I even called up my student loan place, because though I'd only been to college for a little while and dropped out, I still had a butt-load of loans that I was paying back. (All the debt with no degree, great going!) So I'd called them up and asked them if I, the person with the loans, were to die, if the loans would die with me. I did this for Grandma, to make sure that if I did kill myself, I wouldn't be screwing her over and leaving her with a ton of stuff to worry about. That's the last thing she needed. So the person on the other end of the phone got very quiet, and then told me that no, the loans wouldn't die with me, so that gave me some more motivation to keep going.
There was no way I could think of what it'd be like after I was gone. The one thing I did think about, though, for some reason, was my obituary. My feeling about this is that most everyone would be really let down by their own obituary. I used to read them all the time in the paper, and the one I remember most was this one in the corrections section. It said something like, "The obituary for Mr. Whatever last week stated that he is survived by his son, Julian. This was a mistake. His son passed away last year." Isn't that sad? That's just about the worst obituary I've ever read.
When I was sick, it wasn't like I was helpless throughout it all or anything. I did tell Grandma about some of what I was feeling and asked her what I should do. Like could I get help? Or was there a doctor I should go to? Some special kind of person, not our family practice guy who was approaching a gazillion years old? She said it just sounded like faggy nonsense.
I'd told someone at work about all of this, about feeling bad, Carl, a black guy with a head like a basketball and a thick, I mean really, really thick Canadian accent, and he'd told our boss! About me! About something I'd said in private! I got told to take a pill once a day and I stopped having those thoughts, but life wasn't really getting any better. Oh, I enjoy it, for sure. I just don't see much that's left for me. Maybe a wife and some kids could be a nice thing to look forward to.
The main thing is that I haven't had a girlfriend in my whole life. When I was in fifth grade, the cutest girl in the class, Rachel Watson, had asked her friend to ask me to be her (Rachel’s) boyfriend. Obviously, I was flattered. But another girl, more
homely, named Maggie, had asked me earlier that day (pre-puberty, I was a hit with the ladies) if I'd be HER boyfriend, and I'd told her no. That I wasn't looking for anything. That I was a man, and I needed to be free. I'd seen this guy on TV say something like that. It was just a preview for some upcoming episode of a show I couldn't give a crap about, but it sounded cool. And manly. I didn't have my dad around, so I learned on TV how to be a guy. Mostly Baywatch, Power Rangers, that type of thing. But the truth was that I thought Maggie was way too homely and unattractive for someone like me to go out with.
But anyway, since I'd already told Maggie no that day, I couldn't very well go right ahead and say yes to Rachel. Maggie's feelings! She'd know I'd been lying, that I didn't like her that way, and that I'd jumped at the chance to get something better and, believe me, that kind of thing can cause serious damage to a person's self-worth, even for the rest of their life!
So, I'd turned Rachel down. Then the school year ended, and that was the end of it. Puberty came in sixth grade. Then for the next ten years, I didn't approach any girls. I'd gotten such a big head. All I thought was, hey, the cutest girl liked me once and asked me out, so it could happen again, right? That's how it worked, for guys like me?
You wouldn't believe this, but the one date I did get in high school, with a girl I'd been secretly (it wasn't really a secret, everyone knew, it turned out, but I didn’t know that) in love with and pining over for three years, was only set up because the girl had just been dumped by her boyfriend and was desperate to make him jealous! It sounds bad, but I swear it's true. I was so pathetically, obviously in love with her, something I thought I was hiding pretty well, that as soon as she needed a rebound to make the boyfriend jealous, she knew she could come to me. This was because, other than the boyfriend, I was the only guy who thought this girl was worth a second look. I thought she was my type, that the boyfriend was wrong for her, that she'd come around and realize that I was the only one for her and she the only one for me. I thought she was secretly lonely, and I could help her.
I'm almost forty, and I've only had a sort-of sexual relationship with one single person! Oh, I'm glad the young me can't see me now.
Basically, there was and is nothing about girls that doesn’t confuse me. There was another girl, when I was eighteen, who I wasn't remotely attracted to, named Vanessa. She was, and I mean this literally, she was big-boned. My best friend in high school, who sat next to me in homeroom, would look at her some mornings, then lean over to me to say, “Dude, she gets bigger every day.”
Now that I'm pushing 380, I see how that was a mean thing to say. Especially because she was, truly, big-boned. She couldn't help it. Me, I'm just plain old fat. A fat, creepy loser. Ha ha! I'm glad I can say that now, because for a long time it was very hard to acknowledge that, yes, I'm fat. I would call myself “big” or “heavy,” but I dunno who I thought I was kidding. I'm fat. Fats-o. I even have a raccoon tummy. I'm not going to lie and say I have a thyroid problem, either (which I hate when fat people use that lame-ass excuse).
I've been on both ends. I was skinny as a rake as a kid and now I'm huge. How did I get this way? Grandma used to always tell me that I couldn't have dessert, which I LOVED, until I'd eaten everything on my plate. So I got doubly screwed there, having to finish off the entire dinner plate and then eating all of the dessert on top. Maybe if she would've just given me dessert I wouldn't be as bad off as I am now.
There are lots of things you can't do when you're fat, but the main thing I miss is going to the movies. I can't fit into the seats any more. There's a lot I could say about the movies and how much I love them. I like all kinds of movies. Some you saw always had a way of taking really messed up people and making them seem loveable or worthwhile or something. And you could tell that whoever made the movie loved those characters too. Sometimes a whole lot. And it made you think that if whoever made this movie thought these really messed up people are beautiful or lovable, maybe they think I'm lovable, too?
There are lots of things you can't do when you're fat, but the main thing I miss is going to the movies. I can't fit into the seats any more. There's a lot I could say about the movies and how much I love them. I like all kinds of movies. Some you saw always had a way of taking really messed up people and making them seem loveable or worthwhile or something. And you could tell that whoever made the movie loved those characters too. Sometimes a whole lot. And it made you think that if whoever made this movie thought these really messed up people are beautiful or lovable, maybe they think I'm lovable, too?
We even had a movie shooting around here once. There was some big actor in it, like George Clooney, I dunno. He had a reputation for being a nice guy, approachable, you know. During breaks in the filming, when there'd be a huge crowd of onlookers standing nearby (the local paper got ahold of the shooting locations each day and put them up), this actor would come over with a big smile and wave, shake hands, sign autographs. And this is the part that kills me. Guys would charge up to him just to bother him and say, "Hey, man. I'm a big fan of your work."
I wonder, what the hell was the point of that? The guy is a multi-millionaire movie star. His movies are incredibly popular. Obviously, people are fans of his work! You know how I know that? Because he's a goddamn multi-millionaire! The free market has spoken! So, when you see someone famous in public and you make such a big hub-bub about interrupting them to tell them you're a huge fan, that's just a big, fat waste of everyone's time, OK? The US dollar has already made it very clear.
As it stands, nowadays for breakfast I have two large bowls of cereal, probably about three or four servings a bowl. Lunch is usually two hot pockets or lunch meat sandwiches (cheese, ham, bologna) with chips. For dinner I order out a lot and always get the Weebler's special three medium pizzas with one topping, each for $15, finishing it off with cheesy bread sticks. For snacks, I can eat an entire bag of chips in one sitting.
Then on the weekends, it's a breakfast with six to ten pancakes with half a cup of syrup, eggs, bacon, and/or sausage. A big coffee with lots of sugar. I also crack an egg into the coffee because it makes it shiny and gets me my protein. My snacks before lunch are peanut butter or chips. I can polish off a jar or two of peanut butter in a day, one spoonful at a time. Lunch is fast food or a big sandwich with chips, soda, you get the idea. Then, for dinner, just like during the week, I have my pizzas.
How do I afford this? It's easy when you never go out. And don't forget to add the half of a two-liter bottle of vodka a night. So, a liter of vodka. Then, sometimes, I like to wash that down with pickle juice shots.
I have nerve pain in my legs when I stand for too long and my sweat smells like almonds. I'm pretty sure that means diabetes? Part of me wants help and part of me just gives up and eats.
I even remember the exact moment: I had no idea I was fat, or couldn't admit it, maybe, until I was walking down the street one day and this black kid yelled out, “Yo, fat guy!” I looked around for the sad sack who garnered such little respect that someone would address him as a fat guy, then realized that the kid was looking right at me. He wanted to sell me some candy, because I was fat.
Back to Vanessa. I'd sometimes like to tease the girl, who was very straight-laced and kind of a prude, and I'd flirt with her in the hallways, or give her a wink, and usually she'd just roll her eyes and smile a little, like she was annoyed but still found it kind of charming. I'd even sometimes call her my girlfriend! But she was in on the joke. Like, how could I, such a good-looking guy, ever be flirting with her? And how lucky was she? What a hilarious concept! Ha ha! And we both knew it. Then I'd carry on with my day, maybe whistle a little as I went down the hallway, and go find my best friend to do whatever it was we did during school.
I didn't think about her much, and it was all pretty funny until, one day, over Christmas break, I got a postcard in the mail. A postcard from Egypt! With all this
customs signage and stamps and stuff I'd never seen before in my life. And it had a picture of this pharaoh on the front holding hands with a woman beside the Nile River, one of those pictures you see that's done in hieroglyphics, sorta, and there were some snakes and lambs and whatever around.
Then, on the back, there was a picture of Vanessa! With her whole family! And they were standing in the middle of the goddamn desert and smiling and waving at the camera. And under the photo, it said, “Missing you and wishing you well. Can't wait to see you again.”
Then there was a little heart drawing and inside of THAT was her NAME! Vanessa! To be honest, I was floored. A kid like that, my position, what was I supposed to do? The only thing I could do: I never spoke to her or looked at her ever again, and we graduated a few months later. I've seen pictures of her now and she looks smaller and sleeker than I remember.
When you're fat, the worst part of your day is always wiping your own ass. That, and the questions I didn't know or think I'd be asking myself one day, like, “How much can I slouch while sitting without making my breasts look really big?”
And then there's the pooping, in general. I've taken some horrendous shits in my life. I mean, I heard this story recently of a guy on a flight coming out of
Washington D.C.? He pooped in the bathroom and messed it up so bad that the plane had to be TURNED AROUND. They couldn’t even fly the goddamn thing anymore. I've never had it that bad, but, man.
And because there's more of me, my underwear doesn't fit right. It's like the waistband gets all rolled up into a tube. It doesn't sit where it's supposed to and, goddamnit, it's always moving on me. I mean, I can't just ignore it. It bugs the heck out of me.
I haven't been able to wipe while sitting for over a decade, also on account of the fact that I have very short arms to begin with. When I go number two, I have to stand up, hike one leg up on the edge of the tub, do some inner thigh stretches, pick my stomach up and shift it left or right, so that it's out of the way, then stretch with all my might to reach my butthole. I have to go through this routine for EVERY WIPE.
Before that, when my size had increased enough to make wiping not only difficult but also painful, I developed a technique where I wedged my right wrist against the back rim of the toilet seat, for leverage, and reached as far forward as possible with my fingers to wipe. Eventually, my diameter increased even more, and I had to find new workarounds.
So now any time I leave the house, I pack a quart-sized Ziploc bag with ten to fifteen folded homemade baby wipes. And a wooden tablespoon. After a shit away from home, which I always try to avoid, but sometimes you just, well, anyway, I wrap a wipe securely around the scoop end of the spoon, reach back, wedge my right hand against the seat, and stretch the spoon along as I wipe backwards. This allows almost complete cleaning and scrubbing from my balls to the upper part of my crack. For the occasional splatter shit, it also covers from butt cheek to butt cheek.
A typical shit takes six passes with the spoon and wipes for that sparkling clean feeling and the mental and emotional comfort that no shit stink is pouring forth from you. If you're careful, and the shit isn't too messy, you can unwrap a wipe after its first pass, fold the shit inside of it, re-wrap it around the spoon, and get another pass out of the thing.
Eventually, when I was around 19 or 20, I did get into college. Not too far from home. Grandma saw this place being advertised on TV and billboards so she figured, hey, might as well get me out of the house for a couple years. These places were supposed to be super easy to get into. My high school grades were bad, and Grandma said this might be my only chance. The admissions department said that my bad grades didn't matter, that they saw something in me. I thought, well, that's generous of them. That's actually quite a nice thing to say.
We went through the whole thing, the whole shebang with the admissions people. They showed me and Grandma those great slick brochures about how much money I'd be making once I got out of school and went off to be a businessman or
salesman or something. I wrote my admissions essay as this story told from the point of view of a sponge. I just thought, what else am I supposed to write about?
Don't ask me what it was actually about, I couldn't tell you, but the admissions department I guess saw something in there that I certainly didn't. I never really wanted to go to college, though. Because I figured I could probably just get a job like at the loading dock and be happy, which is what I ended up doing anyway and, yeah, I'm happy. You could say.
The school was this super fundie-liberal place, and I got put in a dorm room with a guy and a girl. The school claimed not to “see” gender. They said it was a “construct.” Tell that to a bunch of horny eighteen year old boys and girls forced to share bunk beds. I think the main reason they did it was that it made more sense for them, somehow, financially.
And me and my roommates shared actually a pretty decent little apartment with a living room and our own bedrooms and things. I'd figured that I'd last maybe a few days before I made such an idiot out of myself or got so sick with anxiety that I'd drop out. I did end up dropping out, but not within the timeframe where I could get any of the tuition back that I'd paid, or actually that a couple investment banks had paid for me in loans, but I took the brunt of that. I took a bath on it.
My two roommates, to make things even more terrifying, had both been good friends and known each other since childhood and were, no joke, incredibly good-looking. They both had a significant other; she was long distance with her boyfriend from home who had taken time off before college to make some money at a local shop or something, and the guy had already picked up a girlfriend in the, I dunno, week that it must have been since he'd arrived? He’d wasted no time and this made me feel doubly bad.
One day I stepped out into the living room with nothing on but a towel and my not-yet-too-fat but pretty ugly body hanging out of it, and there was this girl sitting on one of our school-issued plasticky couches watching something on CNN.
I tried to cover and run, but she turned to me with these eyes that weren't particularly colorful or anything, more like if you put a dropper of black ink into someone's eyeballs, but it felt like they were actually looking at me, like interested in who I was and why I was standing there. Most people had always looked at me with a sort of oh-my-what-I-feel-so-goddamn-sorry-for-you or oh-Jesus-how-horrible-it-must-be look or they just seemed kind of repulsed.
But this time it actually felt in my bones like someone saw me and was interested or was maybe even just looking at me the same way they'd look at anyone else, which is something that I'd really have appreciated at the time.
And, get this, she said “Hi” to me, and didn't even turn away afterward, or anything! She kept looking at me and waited for me to respond. She wasn't trying to get away or even seemed uncomfortable at realizing who she was talking to. Oh, boy, I wish I could say that next she smiled, but actually I don't think I wish she had because by now this had already been almost too much for me to handle. And a smile? On top of all that? Would've been, just, man.
So she got up to shake my hand, which was still sort of a weird new formal thing that we eighteen and nineteen and twenty year olds were still getting used to, and this was my first sign that this girl was different. She looked smart. And had a smart face, and she looked kinda, I dunno, fancy? And stylish. She had super long legs and long black hair that covered the sides of her face and her shoulders. Her skin was totally smooth (mine was too, actually, except for my back, which was and still is covered in acne. Other than drinking, I get relief on cool nights when I like to sit by an open window or with a fan blowing on my back with my shirt off and let the cold air blow over my painful body acne and give myself some comfort) and she had this long face, like a very adult face, where her jawbone curved down and on both sides sort of looked like a banana. It was very long, and curved, and when the jaw bones met at her chin both ends pushed out a little bit so that she clearly had a pretty prominent chin there. That was also very attractive.
One last thing, her nose was sort of big, and long, and when I first met her I was sure she was Jewish. Turned out her family was just from Chile. Who knew. Her having a long nose, as a woman, only increased my sense that she was both intelligent and wise. Later, spending time with her, I would always, always feel like a little boy. She was poised, sophisticated, and was basically just the epitome of a woman.
I don't want to give you her name, but after this meeting we ended up hanging out once or twice by ourselves. She'd only had one boyfriend in all her life, and had just broken up with him. For being so beautiful, she'd never kissed a boy until she was 17, that boy being her ex-boyfriend, and I'm pretty sure she'd also only slept with him. Apparently she'd cheated on him, then broken up with him, and he wrote her a letter saying he'd kill himself without her. Whatever that was meant to do, I guess it had backfired.
I knew enough that, when she was around, I mostly tried to ignore her by acting like I didn't care if she was around, or what she was doing, or anything. Whenever I walked into a room, I would look at everyone except her, and then, when she came up to me or I ran into her, I would act very surprised, as if she was the only person in the room who I hadn't realized was there. In secret, though, pretty much every second my brain was screaming, “OH MY GOD! THIS GIRL IS. AH. WOW. SO, SO AMAZING!”
Then, one night, the most incredible thing happened. I was in my bed, asleep, late on a Friday night -- I didn't go out because I didn't have any friends, and was too ashamed to ask my roommates if I could tag along with them (usually I'd sit on my bed and cry, shaking with anxiety while I heard the voices of my roommates and their really fun new friends through my door as they laughed and partied in the living room) -- when I got a knock at my door. It was her. She'd been out with my roommates and I think she was sick of sleeping on the couch whenever she spent the night, so she woke me up and got into bed with me. I didn't know where they'd been, but I could smell a whole lot of vodka on her breath.
This went on and off, her getting into my bed in the middle of the night, for the next few weeks, and every night I'd go to bed, wishing with all my might that I'd wake up in the dark to her crawling up to me. And when this did happen, I'd pray and pray that she'd smell like liquor.
It was like a dream. Obviously, I wanted more, I wanted sex, but I was terrified, too. Grandma used to tell me I was doomed from the start because my mom got pregnant with me when she was on the pill.
I might as well give you her name, even though I'll tell you soon why I didn't want to. It was Amy. After a month or something of just sleeping in the same bed, she would come over, we'd kiss a little, and one time we sort of had sex. I stuck it in, but she didn't want me to stay in there. After it was over, I asked her how she liked having sex with me, and she said, “We didn't have sex.” I asked her what she called what just happened! She said that my penis was inside of her, but it wasn't sex. Jeez, I was more confused than ever.
There were a few times when she came in just to sleep in my bed, and she didn't smell of liquor at all. These were the times I didn't like -- she'd never do anything with me! So I hoped and hoped for the scent to be there, for it to overcome me, making me feel a little sick and pretty bad that she was drunk and I wasn't, but if that's what it took, then, well.
We didn't ever really get to talk. I didn't know if she was my girlfriend, or what. All I know is that being in whatever that in-between place was was horrendous. I couldn't stand the thought of her. Every morning I would wake up, and it would be like a lottery whether I would be in extreme pain or not. Even when I was lucky enough to wake up feeling all right, there was no way of knowing how I'd be a few hours later, and then a few hours after that. When it got really bad, which was pretty much every day, I'd go on long walks around the neighborhood by myself. It didn't help as much as I thought it would, but it did get me out of the house. I tried to focus on other things. I'd make a list of five things I could see, five things I could hear, and five things I’d feel. Then I'd make a new list, then another one, and on and on and on. I tried to focus on my feet, on the houses nearby, anything to not have Amy in my head.
I was skipping all of my classes. Not that I would've gone to them, anyway. The idea of sitting in a room full of strangers, and the beginning of the school year when everyone has to go around and introduce themselves, terrified me enough that I basically just bided my time until I'd be forced to leave. I didn't think it would be a good idea to pursue other girls, I’d told myself, because I felt like I would be wronging Amy. I was waiting for the day when she, or maybe via a message through my roommates, would tell me that she wanted to be my girlfriend. Until that time came, I would be loyal only to her, in case I screwed anything up.
The weirdest thing was that everything about her caused me a huge amount of pleasure and equal amounts of pain. She was interesting and beautiful in every way and so was everything associated with her. Even the holes and tears in her leather bag she used as a backpack were really interesting to me, and made much more beautiful by the fact that they were hers and I didn't know where they came from or whether she'd put them there on purpose. Did she notice them or care about them at all? I could see her in a magazine, stone-faced, looking super elegant, dressed all in leather on the arm of some rock star, just looking really cool.
It all went bad really quickly. I had never experienced love that way in my life before or since. Even to this day, I'm confused about whether I was actually in love.
I think I was, but the way it'd always been described to me didn't match up at all with what I was feeling. I'd never read or saw or heard how much it really, really hurt. The experience was SO painful, how could it be this being in love thing that everyone talks about? I'd like to set the record straight on the whole thing and say being in love was literally the worst and most painful experience of my whole life.
A couple times I started to ask her where this was all going, or told her that I thought I really, really liked her, and she'd just smile and get this glazed-over look in her eyes. Then she'd kiss me to get me to shut up. Eventually she stopped coming into my room, then stopped coming over altogether. It was all too much, with her and the student loan debt piling up, so I figured I'd cut my losses and dropped out pretty soon after. I didn't ask my roommates why she wasn't around anymore, I was never really friends with them and I think they thought she was crazy for doing anything with me.
And then everything after was somehow made way, way worse by the fact that I couldn't get over her at all. I still haven't. It's not like I haven't tried, I just don't know how to go about it. We stayed up late watching movies a couple times on the weekend instead of going out and never really talked. I thought it was great, like, we didn't have to go out, she got me, we were just enjoying each other's company and the movie, and we didn't need to say anything. This was a part about love that I'd heard about loads of times. The truth was that the whole time this was going on, I was boring the hell out of her. She didn't relish in those quiet nights like I did, basking in the fact that we didn’t need to speak in order to spend quality time together. She found them strained and awkward. "He hardly ever says a word. I'm so bored I could cry," was what I overheard my roommates saying she'd told them. People can be so mean.
I really don't know how to explain it other than to use this word that I saw on ER last week on the TV, which is "besotted." I think it's because it sounds like "sweat" is in there somewhere. I had given up and thrown my arms in the air to these feelings I had, and I was completely soaked. I'd cry and sob and wet my clothes from sweat and wiping away tears and when I wasn't crying I could start to just by thinking about her. Then it also felt like my brain was soaked with all of this shit I was thinking about her, really nice things, but also some really horrible stuff. It was like someone had dumped a huge bucket of water on me that was also filled with love and it pretty much took over my entire life.
I remember hearing that there was a guy once who said that smell is the strongest reminder of memories. Like, if you smell something it can make you think of your childhood right away. Well, that guy was clearly not alive before MP3 players were invented and music was everywhere. Because when Amy would come over, for some reason, Bony M was usually playing on my laptop, and now whenever I listen to Bony M, I can barely breathe.
Basically, the reason why I finally left was that any time one of my roommates mentioned Amy I'd start getting all red and hot and my neck would get splotchy and I'd have to go lay down. And when, on more than one occasion, they mentioned something about an ex-boyfriend of hers or a guy she was hanging out with, I'd have to excuse myself to go throw up right away. I did hear one story, from my girl roommate when she was really drunk, and it was about that ex-boyfriend of Amy's who'd threatened to kill himself if she broke up with him. He'd taken Amy's virginity when they were in high school, and now he'd dropped out of college and was back living at home. He was still trying to get back together with Amy and, rather than feel nauseous at someone mentioning him, I felt a weird sort of kinship with him. Like, we had both been messed over by this girl in some way, and both felt that we should be with her. At least I wasn't alone in the world on that count. Maybe Amy just went through life finding sad guys like me and him who'd fall in love with her and then ditch us. That would make her a pretty horrible person, which made me feel a little better about things, even though at this point I wasn't under any illusions about her being a perfect person.
One thing that would make my feelings about the situation better, I think, would be if I knew she was out there feeling the same way as me. Even if I never saw her again, or knew where she was, and we could never be together, to at least know that she had the same longing that I do would make getting through life a lot easier. Or maybe it wouldn't. I don't know. I wish I could fool myself. Since I'll never see her again, and I have no idea how she feels, I could just imagine that she feels how I want her to and convince myself that that's the truth, since she'll never be able to prove me wrong, and it would basically be the same thing as if it were really true. In a way. But I can't believe a lie like that to myself, no matter how much I want to. And I really, really want to. I still hold out a deep hope inside of me every day that I'll get a phone call, or she'll show up at my job, and tell me that she was wrong, she made a mistake, was confused, and that she loves me more than anything in the world.
I think about Amy every day, and I think about this as I sit in Elvis's barber shop, getting my hair buzzed and my unibrow waxed. I believe that all men can be divided into two groups: those whose hairline on the back of their neck tapers off in a straight, horizontal line, and those who have that little widow's peak thing that hangs down into the back nape of their neck. I have the first kind. It's more masculine. You see it on athletes, weight-lifters, presidents.
Grandma used to tell me that if my hair sworled in a counterclockwise direction, I was more likely to be gay. She'd seen that on TV somewhere, I think. Same with the length of my pointer finger compared to my ring. Something to do with testosterone, when you're a baby, still inside your mom. The straight taper had her convinced for a while that I was a real man, but once every few months she'd have a look at my hair sworl and the comparative lengths of my fingers. Hairline. Check. Hair sworls clockwise. Check. Ring finger is longer than pointer finger. Check.
I disappoint Grandma enough already, at least I didn't have to disappoint her even more by turning out gay. I guess the best evidence I could have given her would have been to get married, but I'm still working on that. Jeez, you get married for a whole lifetime. What's wrong with waiting a little? No one else seems to get that I've got all the time in the world.
And then there are all these gay people getting married. I mean, good for them. But I'm totally against gay marriage. And it's because I really like gay people. I think that, basically, being gay is passed down from parents to their kids, and probably the only reason why there are gay people is because gay people in the past had to hide it for so long, and they got married and had kids and a normal life, and so kept passing on the gay DNA or whatever. But when gay people only marry each other and don't have any kids, the gay DNA isn't going to have anywhere to go! It's just going to die out with the gay people. I predict that in 50 years there won't be any more gay people in America, and for that I'm very sad.
I'm thinking about all this when I see this sorta wondrous girl walk in to the shop. She steps over to Elvis and gives him a big smooch on the cheek. He switches off the buzzer, gives her a wet one on the mouth, and grabs her butt. He nuzzles his big nose, his huge nose, his nose that looks like an oversized lemon sitting on his face, into her cheek. They smile at each other, like, I mean, I can't even...
Elvis asks me to remind him what part of town I live in. I say Dedham. He asks what street, and I say Collins. He asks which apartment, and I say the Verdant Gardens. His girlfriend lives there too, he says. Not right near me, but on the opposite side of the complex. I face a graveyard wall, she the bustle of the Ventura Commons.
Elvis tells me that some tweakers have moved in to a nearby apartment.
Technically, they're his girlfriend's neighbors. A couple. They've been giving the girlfriend and her sister a few scares lately, mostly screaming and yelling and fighting over girlfriend-boyfriend stuff.
They've also invited some unsavory characters around, and the guy has a bad habit of standing off to the side of the porch that both units technically share, but he just stands there, smoking cigarettes, staring at whoever happens to be hanging out without saying a word. God, it makes me sick to think about! Usually, he just stares at the girls, but sometimes he locks eyes on the guys, real surly, and tries to stare them down.
So Elvis asks me if I can keep an eye out, especially for the guy. He asks me if I've ever seen them. Or do I know them? Me? How -- what? No way. How could I? I'm on the other end of the complex for Christ's sake!
He looks at me sort of odd for a second, then says that if anything funny goes down I should take care of it. Will do, I say. He says I should, like, sit on them, or collapse on them, or something. Then he laughs.
I think, what the hell, Elvis? I've been a good, loyal customer to you for years, and you're making fun of me now? Haven't I always tipped well, and been friendly? What makes me deserving of such a remark? In the past, I'd invited him a couple times to come to a barbecue at my place. Even considered asking him out for a beer. I hadn't done it yet, but I'd been thinking about it for a few months, and I'd been meaning to. But now? No, sir. Not after you hurt my feelings. Let's see how you like that.
The next day when I'm at work my boss, George, calls me in. He is going gray and ruddy and has always been a bit on the heavy side. Sometimes, when we're standing around waiting for some coffee to brew in the back office, George does these interesting ballerina movements where he spins around and gracefully palms the air. I just smile and nod my head. I don't know if he used to be a ballerina or not, but it weirds me out all the same.
I'm just in the middle of signing for some new air conditioners, window units for the students' dorm rooms, but he looks stern. Once he gets me alone, he shows me a little DV camera with a tape inside. He hooks it up to the small TV on his desk and my stomach drops.
Oh, God. It's an image of me, seated at my little table desk. He must have seen me. Jerking it. Slapping the ham. Doing hand-to-gland combat. It's what I do all day long, and I'm done for. But, what the hell -- a camera? That's got to be some kind of, I mean –--Look, he says. Tweakers.
He fast-forwards the low-res black and white tape. Then he stops, and I can make out a trio of young Rastafarian types entering the loading garage. My garage. The time stamp on the video says it was in the middle of the night. Two boys and a girl. They could be, almost definitely are from the homeless community in town. They usually stay there, in their shelter on Totten Pond Road, but ever since someone spray-painted the words “RAT'S NEST” in big black bubble letters all over the front of the building, the homeless got mad and have started to come out more, get bolder.
These people are able-bodied, young. What reason do they have to be homeless? Or on drugs? But they are, unmistakably.
As they pick through various items that have been delivered but never left the safety of the garage -- microwaves, bottled water, textbooks -- I think, are they doing this on purpose? The whole homeless thing? Is it something that's considered cool,now? I've seen young people, you know, around the neighborhood. They like their beards, now, and their secondhand clothes. Some of them, I honestly can't tell if they're actually homeless or some trust fund kid having a weird little freak-o bit of a rebellion, but this has gone too far. What do these kids have to steal for? Do they not think, even consider, who built those microwaves? Who shipped and received them? They have a place they're supposed to be. Don't these people think about that? God.
George and I nod to one another. He has this nice little sign near his desk that I like, printed out in white paper with black letters that says, “My cubical is my secret land of make-believe.” We don't even have cubicles.
The tape pauses. I don't know what comes next. He furrows his brow, so I do, too. We both look pretty serious. I think the look means, “We both know what we gotta do, if it comes down to it,” but I really have no idea if that's what the look means and, if so, exactly what we'd do if it came down to it. I head back to the garage to give Carl the update, along the way asking my boss as casually as I can if, just out curiosity, the cameras will become a permanent fixture, and how long they've been there. He looks at me and raises an eyebrow but says nothing more.
Back at home, I'm thinking about Elvis's girlfriend and whether she's happy and warm and safe. Those fucking, goddamn fucking tweakers. Why can't they leave other non-tweaked-out people alone? Okay. I know. Everyone's got problems. Lord knows, everyone's got problems. And maybe people turn to drugs, but, I mean, this drug? The one they're all on? It just makes you selfish. Literally, that's it. That's all it does. It turns all of the selfish parts of your brain on and shuts down anything else that thinks about other people.
And it's hard to feel bad for anyone on it because, obviously, it turns everyone into great big giant assholes. I try to be a nice guy to everyone I can. There's no reason not to. But if someone comes at me or someone I love? Well.
I'm not saying I'd kill anybody. Sure, my life isn't too great, but cast myself into the lot of those tweakers, those dog-shit-for-brains? Yuck. I'd only kill someone if they threatened to kill me or Grandma, or if they did something to Grandma that eventually killed her at some point down the line. Like if she got her foot run over by a bicyclist and couldn't walk, and had to use crutches and in the icy winter months still had to walk herself down to the corner market to get her paper, and on the way her crutches, which she was already pretty shaky on, slipped out from under her, and she fell and cracked her forehead on the pavement, and sustained enough of an injury that she had to go to the ER, and while in the ER the doctor made some retarded error and mixed up an IV dosage with her medication and she was so clearly not supposed to be on that IV dosage, and this sent her off into a kind of shock and renal failure that killed her, who would I kill? It'd have to be both the biker and the doctor. I'd murder them both. But maybe I'm just saying that because it's Grandma we're talking about here.
I do think that if I found the right woman, and she cared for me, I'd feel the same thing for her that I do for Grandma. I just want a good woman who will love me,
even though I know I don't deserve that love. If I ever find this woman, I will give my life to her.
Sometimes, especially when I'm sitting at work, I just get lost in all this in my head. I'm in the middle of something, and I look down at my feet, or my stomach, and I go, woah! I have been thinking for an extremely long time! What time is it, anyway?! Then sometimes to get out of that, especially if the thoughts are making me feel really crappy about myself, as they usually do, and I know this sounds sort of nutty, but I'll just think to myself:
-You in there!
-Can you hear me?
-Cut it out, and get back to whatever you were doing!
Then the voice at least quiets down for a little while. But, sure enough, pretty soon I'm back to thinking about this, that, or another thing. Oh, if I could just turn it off!
I wouldn't mind it so much if I was really smart or something. Since at least then I could have the thoughts and maybe go:
-These thoughts are, indeed, very interesting, and I ought to tell people about them! This could potentially change the world or at least be very, very cool!
But mostly I think about stupid shit, like Electra Minxx, my favorite porn star, and what she's doing throughout the day. She's very active on social media. Or I'll think about this ridiculous mole I have on my face, right in the middle of my left cheek, and how I could find a way to get it off just to be a little less gross. Or I think about my weight.
It wouldn't even be so bad, I don't think, the weight thing, if my stomach and pecs weren't so big. It'd be okay if I was just a big guy. But, everyone has something about themselves that they wanna change, so I could always -- okay, I'm doing it again. It's the voice getting at me again.
Sometimes it can be nice, though. Sometimes nice things pop into my head, or I can make the time pass by thinking about different memories. What I do like to think about most is when I was really little, riding in the car with my mom on late fall afternoons. Everything around me would be nice and dim and gold and orange and I'd be so happy. Whenever I asked, mom would take me out to run errands with her.
There was something we came up with that we'd always say to each other, whether we were in the car or it was time for bed or I was feeling bad. She'd say it to me first, and it went like this, “I absolutely and totally love you. I completely believe in you. There is nothing wrong with you and never has been. I promise that I will always love you and never, ever leave you.”
Then if we were in the car we'd squeeze hands and I'd say, “Me and mom, out on the town!”
Those were the best. Afternoons in the car, just me and mom.
I'm having one of my good days, my favorite days, a Saturday, when I hear a dutiful knock at the front door. I was hoping to spend the morning with a plate of banana French toast, whittling away at the box set of a show I've been watching, and then maybe going to my room to jack off for a little while.
The show is Law and Order. I've learned a lot of stuff about life from it. I also wear my Law and Order t-shirt that I bought off the TV during a marathon a couple years ago. I could sit here, in my chair, and watch Law and Order in my Law and Order t-shirt for days. Then, on top of that, I can pretty much always rely on being gently launched back to sleep by a jerk-off and a soft, slow R&B song on the stereo. That's a good time.
I generally do not ever answer the door, on account of the fact that Grandma gets plenty of visitors and most definitely does NOT want them seeing me on account of my appearance and personality. However, after a few more ring-a-dings and knocks, I take it upon myself to put on a pair of pants and make way for the front of the apartment. I've got bed head and a bit of banana on my shirt, but it's like, hey, this is my house, and you're showing up unannounced, and I'll look how I darn well please.
What I see on opening the door is interesting because it nearly causes me to vomit. There's a woman, I think, standing in her underwear with this stained t-shirt hiked up around her belly and tied in a knot in front. Actually, I think she's wearing short shorts. But yeah, ok, I get it. It's warm outside. But this girl is FAT. The belly hanging out under her t-shirt sort of looks like a rind of ham filled with cottage cheese. It's, just, yuck, and I want to slam the door shut right in her face, but when I finally look back up at it, her face, it's all red and swollen and splotchy with tears. Her hair is all messy and matted, too, like she doesn't even try a little bit to look nice, and it's as if the crying is pouring from every part of her head.
So I give her a moment.
And the next thing I know, she's off babbling. Like most women, right? She says she's Elvis's girlfriend's sister and there were these freak-o's at her apartment just now and she doesn't know anyone around here and she hopes I'm the right apartment because her sister wrote down a number for her to go to if anything strange happened and she couldn't tell if the number said 17 or 11.
So I do this thing that I've seen guys on TV do when a lady gets all babbling like this, and I shoosh her as I put my hands up flat in the air above my head and lower them down bit by bit. And it works! She shuts up. Thanks be to the Lord, right?
She looks at me, then pushes her glasses, which have almost completely fallen off, up the bridge of her nose, and I see that she's got these eyes that are, well, that are shit-colored. And one of them is this eye that rolls all the way in toward the middle of her face and God does it make her look totally, absolutely retarded!
So I'm like, is she looking at me, I can't tell, is she finished, what do I do? And where's Grandma when you need her? She looks for a second like she's gonna start getting all huffy and puffy with the crying again, so I just say,
-I know Elvis.
And she says, You do?
And I go, Yeah.
And she asks if she can come in. So I'm thinking, I've never had a girl over to my place before, and she's not the ideal or anything to be the first one, but I can work with this, and I'm really into this show, you know, it gives me more pleasure than basically everything else in the world combined and I don't, repeat, do not want you to come in between me and that. I sorta start telling her no when she, yes, starts CRYING again and says something like, Please please please I really don't wanna go back to my apartment right now and I'm scared to death and I just moved here and seriously though I have nowhere else to go.
So I tell her the truth, which is that Grandma won't let me have any visitors if she's around so I say I gotta go check. And oh jeez, she asks if she can just please step
inside for a moment while I go check and jeez Louise I just nod my head and say right-o.
Now she's in the apartment. Actually inside. The first girl that's ever been in here that's, well, I can't say “invited,” exactly, but the first girl that's asked to come in so she can see me. She wants to be in here with me! Just us alone! And I have waited I can't even tell you I've wanted this so much for so long and it is just such a thrill for it to finally be happening. Who knows if there's a God, but if there is, he was definitely around that day.
Now I've gotta search for Grandma.
Most of the time, when they meet for the first time, guys are really afraid of coming across as creepy while girls are really afraid of coming off as crazy. It seemed like this girl had no intention in trying to hide her part, which was fine by me. I'd given up trying to hide my creepy behavior long ago, because it was just way too much work. It's better to just be yourself and either come off as creepy or not. I normally come across as creepy, but what can I do about it? That's just me. I'm sorry.
Anyway, back to Grandma. I know she's not in her bedroom, since it's right next to the front door and obviously if she was in there she would've gotten up and answered the knocking. No go for the kitchen, or my bathroom, and obviously not where I was sitting, comfortably, ten minutes ago, watching my show. So there's one last thing to check. I leave the kitchen, go down the hallway, turn toward the front door, and go into Grandma's room. Then her bathroom.
I am FORBIDDEN from ever going in here, mainly because one time I walked in on Grandma when she was standing naked over the toilet clipping her toenails and she accused me, ME!, of peeping on her. Me? What? And how? This was just so wrong and a million other things that I don't even know -
Before that I never used this bathroom much, anyway, and don't have many memories of it other than me walking in on Grandma or when I was little and she'd plop me down on the toilet seat and kneel down to my face. She'd be drunk, which is how I got to know what vodka smells like on someone. Then she'd stare at me a long time, and then she'd go,
-Slap me, Wade!
And I wouldn't wanna, you know, and she'd keep saying it, and I'd keep saying no, then I'd start crying because, duh, I love Grandma and don't wanna hit her or do anything even remotely bad to her even when I get really, really mad! So, she'd say it a couple more times, and I'd get really sad, and afraid, and so I'd, you know, hit her. Just a little with my palm, more like a swipe or wiping motion. Not enough to hurt her or anything, or what's what I thought, anyway.
But she'd get REALLY mad and her face would turn all white and she'd -- SMACK! -- hit me right back across the face. And that hurt. That stung, especially when she'd hit my ear or the tip of my nose and she'd yell at me, Why did you hit me, Wade?!
And, so, I tried to explain, but then she'd sort of hit me again, even harder this time, and she'd say something like, How dare you hit me! I'm your grandmother! Fuck!
I'd say sorry sorry sorry and I thought you asked me to and she'd ask if I'd lost my mind, misplaced my globe, and I'd try to tell her she just asked me to but I guess she couldn't remember. Maybe it's because I hurt her so much it made her forget or maybe I just imagined that whole part up.
So I'm in there, and I look around, take a seat on the toilet, which has one of those print fabric things tied around the top of the seat. This one's got all these race cars on it because I ruined the old flower print one when I was little and had a bad case of food poisoning. It was bad, but I remember that summer had been so boring and it was actually the most interesting or spontaneous or exciting thing that had happened to me in weeks so I at least felt okay about that, but then Grandma got so mad that she threw her keys at me and made me clean everything up and that was no fun at all.
I wish I could forget all that stuff Grandma said to me, or lots of the other things she used to shout. I carry them around with me. I'd like to have different things in my head. Like maybe just a bunch of pictures and music. Words are always ruining your thoughts.
I look at myself in the mirror and part my hair a little to the left and step out of the bathroom.
The girl is now standing in the kitchen and pacing around, stabbing at her cell phone screen with her pointer finger over and over. So I say what's wrong and would she like to watch some TV. She does this little noise, like, Ehhh, but really high-pitched and God does it annoy me. So I sit down and keep watching my show. Before I know it, I've got my hand inside the strap of my boxers and I'm playing with my bag, but I realize that this isn't something you do in the presence of company so I subtly smooth my hand back out.
After another minute passes, I hear her shouting into the telephone, really pretty frustrated now. What I get from her is that someone, or some people, showed up at her apartment. People she didn't want around.
Where I get really interested is when I hear her call them tweakers! Who are these kids, 20 and 30-somethings, who are all hooked up on this drug that makes them act this way? Never mind the side effects, the hallucinations, getting all twitchy and impatient and all.
Plus, and this was just something I'd heard, I couldn't confirm one hundred percent, but apparently the only way to take the drug was to syringe it into your forehead. Right into your eyebrows, at the prefrontal lobe. And then your eyebrows fall out! Oh, my God! That would make you look like a monster.
I can't understand why it's all blown up like this outta nowhere. I mean, don't get me wrong, being selfish can be a whole lot of fun. This I know. But, first of all, most people are pretty selfish already, and it's just so selfish to want to make yourself more selfish, is what I think.
Kids on this drug, I guess it's called tweak, are these idiot burnouts who just go around having a good time and only caring about themselves! I mean, they steal, hurt, and maim people, even attacking their own friends and family members to get what they want. And what do they want? Cars, getting wasted, a grade in a class, I don't even know. I don't really want anything. Except my own family. But I wouldn't wanna hurt or steal from anyone to get that! That's not the point.
If I'm getting the jist of it, it sounds like the tweakers that live in our very complex have been trying to get into this girl's place. For what, I don't know. She isn't very pretty and doesn't seem to have much money, but to each his own. It isn't until she sets the phone down, finally, that this girl starts making some sense.
She says, Hi.
I turn around in my seat.
-I'm sorry. She starts to walk out.
-Wait. Uh, Dev.
I kind of want her to leave, but I can't be a total jerk.
-Can I help, or...like...?
She stops at the door.
-Look, we just had some pretty creepy people move in below us. They've been bothering me, us. Elvis and my sister are away, so it's just been me.
-I'm glad you were home. I'm glad you were home or I don't know what I would've done with myself.
-Happy to help.
-Do you know my sister well?
-Here and there. Elvis cuts my hair.
-I mean, I've invited them to come by a few times, you know, for a barbecue or something, but so far it's only been Grandma and me at those.
Her eyes pop open really wide and she reaches for the back of her neck.
-Right, you're -- I know who you are now.
-You invited us by a couple of weeks ago? I wanted to...I asked Elvis, but he said, A party? What's he gonna do? Lock us in a room and rape us? Ha ha.
I feel my face get real hot. She giggles but then right away purses her lips together. That was really mean, and I want her to leave.
She gives me a smile and waves as she walks out the door. I give her my serious look and nod goodbye. Then I go and sit down in my chair and sob until all the snot and wet runs into my mouth.
I've been drinking a bit, and since I'm feeling honest, I'll tell you about my real first sexual experience. Which wasn't something I actually experienced. To explain: I came out of my bedroom once when I was eight or nine, this would have been a little after my mom died, and found Grandma banging some guy on the sofa. The sofa where I watch my shows. The guy saw me, and he stopped, and got embarrassed and tried to get up, but Grandma told him to quit being such a wuss and to keep going.
She told me to stay there right where I was and to watch and learn, so I did. This then sort of became a thing with Grandma, where a couple times a month she'd have a man over, usually it was an old, pale, bald guy around her age, and she'd make me watch them screw. Or, not exactly make me, but they'd do it when I was around and she didn't try to hide it or anything. Each time it was a different guy, maybe because each time it happened the guy got so freaked out that Grandma was always having to find new ones.
I hated Grandma for that, and I hated her making me watch. It was gross. It definitely made me not want to have sex for a long, long time.
...And so here's something...after many more beers...Grandma came back tonight with a bunch of groceries and I helped her bring them up...and she said something seemed...a little different about me...and I went NO and she said did anything interesting happen today and I said NO WAY...but she said...she'd heard...I'd had a visitor...heard from a neighbor friend...ha ha...she asked if I had a little girlfriend now...and I said no...and she...she said she knew the girl...she'd seen her around...and all she could say was that girl looked like she needed to get screwed...oh my God...I don't...but...underneath this all...I was smiling...I don't know how I contained myself...
...I went back into my room and looked at myself in the mirror...and I was sort of like man...you know...you know you're drunk when you've been admiring yourself in the mirror for a long time...ha ha!...uhwhoahhhhhhhhhhh...
...I looked at myself some more...and could almost ignore it...almost ignore the...the...huge, the big...the thing right there out in the open...the hideous...such a gross thing...the huge mole...it's on my cheek...above my lip...it resembles a Rice Krispie...kids in school would ask me if I could feed them...they hadn't had breakfast...ha…
...But if I turn it away I can see my bald spot...in the mirror...the one on the back of my head...so it's one or the other...a shape like a lima bean...so many...too many fucking mirrors in here how could I not see it...this mole and this bald spot...if I could...just...I've thought about it...thought about...if I had a gun...a pistol at just the right angle...pointed at my face...some straight line...the mole to the bald spot...I
could blow them both...both away with one shot...blow those two things away and be rid of them...so when I died...my head would be perfect...no one would look at me in a casket and see a mole or a bald spot...they'd forget all about them...maybe not perfect but not so gross...so deformed...and old-looking...
...I go out into the dining room now...and Grandma's there...with this...this guy...okay...I dunno why she lets me around him...probably because she hates him...and thinks I'm the only...only thing that can make him stop wanting to come around...and there they are...just...talking...
...She knows I'm drunk...she knows it and that's why she's ignoring me...she's telling him to ignore me too...and so I look at them...look at them talking and what a thing to do so easily...I get...I'm so jealous...how do people...just...talk...like that...?...just converse...as if it were the most natural thing in the world...they're so good at it...why can't I...they make it look like it's just...so easy...something they want to do and not that they have to do and are compelled to do and hate doing...life would be so much easier if...I could just...
...I feel sick...and my eyes are burning and I wanna siddown and God oh God who did why did someone leave a glass of water there it's just oh no now I have to go into the bathroom again...and how could...and how could...
I always have funny dreams when I get drunk, and during last night I remember there being some things about Paulie, my old dog, dying, and he was lying in a big pile of beautiful naked ladies with big boobs, and all of the ladies were looking up at me with their eyes big and chins small.
One I remember really well is of me sitting on the floor, watching TV, and Grandma comes over and kneels down in front of the set, blocking the way. Then she's looking really sad. Like, I haven't seen her so sad since when I first came to live with her after all the stuff with my parents went down. And she starts to talk but, like what happens a lot in dreams, there's no sound. So, I pick up the TV remote and I point it at her head. Then I hit the un-mute button, and all this stuff starts coming out of her.
She says she loves me and she hates me just as much! Over and over again. Then she becomes a melting ice cream sandwich on a sidewalk. With a little baby duck inside of it. The sandwich. And then, again, she says it. I love you as much as I hate you, I hate you as much as I love you. Next, this is the weirdest part I guess, she turned back into herself and stood up but ended up way below me, like, underground, but I could still see her, and then, out of nowhere, she roundhouse kicked me in the face! That's when I woke up.
I've got a cold wet cloth hung around the back of my neck as I walk into work and an ice pack wrapped around my head in a mackie cap. This is something I do pretty often due to my weight, and it can be a long walk from my car to the dock. I often enjoy a cool cloth or ice pack on my body in order to combat the constant
overheating, sweat, and swamp ass. Today it's necessary because my whole head feels as though it's dried up and shriveled and, along with yanking my eyeballs so far back in their sockets that I'm sure they're going to get sucked into my brain, I've got the sense that it, my brain, is begging me for something wet to soften it up. So I happily oblige.
The loading dock light isn't on like it usually is and when I open the sliding metal door into the garage I don't see anyone at the receiving desk. The lights in my boss's office are off, too, so I walk past it into the main library. The stacks on the floor where we work are usually deserted, and this time is no different. Our floor is filled with self-help books, guides on mental health, that sort of thing, and no one reads those any more. I walk along several aisles of stacks, and the overhead motion sensor lights click on in each aisle one-by-one in alignment with my forward steps. I call out, Hey!, but no one answers.
I figure I've had enough of the library, and so decide I might as well get back to work. As I turn around, there's this SWOOSH sound and someone comes around behind me and cups their hand over my mouth. I panic for a second but, seeing the skinny, hairless, brown wrist in front of me, I know it has to be Carl, so I laugh and twist him forward, almost sending his little body into a somersault!
I pick him up and, seeing that he's most definitely not laughing or happy about this, ask him what in the goddamn hell is going on around here. He stares up at me all bug-eyed with his mouth hanging wide open and motions for me to go toward the office, so I pick him up and off we go.
The tweakers have returned. This is what I see on the paused picture on the TV screen in front of me. My boss figured out how to play the camera tapes through the old wide-screen set so we've got a pretty detailed image to look at now. Carl and my boss move around the room we're in sort of stiffly and just stare at each other all vacant and wide-eyed. Then they stare at me, then back to each other, and with a nod from both, the image on the TV jerks into motion.
It's three tweakers, like last time, but now there are three boys and no girls. They're prowling and skulking around, obviously tweaked, kicking things over on the dock and pushing each other around. They hardly even look at or talk to one another, just have at the stuff. It's total selfishness given form. One of them pries open a box containing sweatshirts printed with the school's logo. These were headed for sale at the campus bookstore, and when another tweaker comes over to check them out, he gets pushed away! There must be between fifty and a hundred sweatshirts in the box, and that guy doesn't let his friend, if you could even call him that, try a single one on. Like I always say, people are just jerks, for the most part.
Still though, if someone did that to me, something that rude, I'd just respond how I always have: smile, keep my dignity, knowing that it's really the equivalent of an unwanted little animal rubbing up against your leg. Or a bully trying to rankle you, to get you to become all mad. What I mean is, you know how dogs sometimes like to hump peoples' legs? Well, whenever I was around one of them, a humper, they'd always be drawn to me. I'd be there just being quiet and all, and then, outta nowhere, I'd be getting mounted and/or humped! And everyone would laugh and tease me and I'd be the butt of the joke, you know? But in those situations, you've got to keep your cool. Because, deep down, I know that I'm better than all the rest and no insult can ever hurt me with that knowledge in the back of my mind. I may be hurt, enraged, embarrassed inside, but I'd just smile, give the person their satisfaction, because I'm secretly plotting out my revenge, inside.
When I snap back, I see all three guys on the screen huddled around this box that they've just torn to absolute shreds. There's styrofoam and paper and cardboard all over the place and, finally, one of them reaches down into the box and pulls out a...well...this massive, sort of, well, I can't really tell what it is at this moment. For a second it looks like a giant head.
The tweakers get all excited and start pushing each other around and going at the very next box. Same thing. Giant head comes out, goes right next to the first one. They're getting on to the third when I sneak a glance at Carl, but his eyes are still fixed to the TV and, without even looking away from it, he sticks up a finger up to tell me to clam it. I shrug, Okay.
Then, about five seconds later, one of the tweakers suddenly jerks around. Then he faces the camera. He's actually looking up at it! Like, into the lens! I always thought those things were pretty well hidden, they're so small now, but this guy has some sort of paranoia-induced sixth sense right now which has made it obvious to him that someone was watching. He looks a little longer, then -- get this -- he smiles! And does a little wave!
The nerve of these guys. It's like they think whatever they do, no matter how stupid or selfish or meaningless, it's just A-okay! Just, you know, give a little wave! I close my eyes and shake my head, and when I look back up at the screen I get a really sick kind of wavy feeling in my stomach. Like a wave of nerves has risen up to my throat and then crashed back down into my belly.
The heads. There they are. They have faces. Heads and faces with no body. Fuck! These are the busts we had coming in, the really fucking fuck expensive ones that I was supposed to be looking out for!
There they are, these super important and really very, very costly busts of the school's presidents dating back to like what I don't know a hundred fifty goddamn years or something ago. God-damnit-fuck! I was supposed to receive these personally on Friday and make sure they were put away and safe but in my haste to get home and see Grandma and get a jump start on the weekend I'd forgotten.
So, all because of me, the school, its founders, its board members, all would be disgraced. Who knows where the busts might end up? Probably somewhere totally horrible and embarrassing and shameful for all of us.
This is it. This is my ass. I can't remember the last time I've felt so crappy so quickly. I've let these guys down. I'm a fucking loser! Whatever made me think I was
qualified to do a job like shipping and receiving? I should be out somewhere mowing lawns or mopping up a school cafeteria. That's seriously all I'm good for. I can't do a damn thing right.
The head honchos at the school are gonna kill me and maybe even fire my friends, too. All of this, coupled with the hangover, makes me feel like I have to go yuke right then and there but as I start to reel away, both Carl and George hold me back. I can't stand to look either one of them in the face. I've tried to be a good person, a good worker. I should have tried harder. Even Mom would probably have been ashamed. I'll never forgive myself for this. Never ever. When have I ever messed up so bad?
I vow to make a change right here and now, to take a turn for the best. I'll become a better worker and a better man. A moral man. A responsible one. Not only will I not let anyone down ever again, partly to avoid having to feel so sick to my stomach as I do now, I'll even go so far as to make myself into a more honorable person. I'll sit at my desk, after arriving ten, no, fifteen minutes early, punctually, always, and focus on nothing but my job until I clock out. These people have been kind enough to give me a job, a good job, and I've been ungrateful.
No more sneaking trips to watch some TV in the staff lounge. All that time I'd spent sitting on the toilet, not even going, just for the hell of it to waste time. No more. Have you ever spent long periods sitting on the toilet at work, just because you're sad? Well, it was time for me to buck up, quit that habit.
And no more stealing. Ever. Not even a pencil here, or a pushpin there. If before I couldn't keep any promises to myself, now would be the chance for there to be a plot twist in my life, so to speak, that would become my everlasting, solemn vow.
It's as I'm making this decision that I notice Carl wincing at the TV screen, his outstretched hand acting as some kind of shield to guard him from the image. A moment later he turns his head away, but his hand still stays out, as if turning his huge head away hadn't been enough. George, meanwhile, just stands. I look at him, then the TV.
The tweakers are all standing close to one another, sort of jostling, and then one of them steps back a bit and takes something out of his jacket that appears to be a gun. It's then that I notice the tweakers are arguing over one of the busts. Two of them are doing this tug-of-war with it, each holding onto an ear, yanking the other tweaker forward, then being throttled back, and the bust meanwhile is held specariously between them.
Then, next thing I know, the third one, the guy with the gun, points it at the other two and shoots them one at a time point blank in the face.
And the bust goes down. Whatever it was made of, why ever they were fighting over it, the fact is when it hits the ground this thing shatters. Into dust. As if it had just been a giant snowball, or something.
Well, so, anyway, now the other two are quite plainly dead. The guy with the gun spends the next several minutes dragging both of the bodies off-camera somewhere, maybe a trash can? I don't know.
Then, get this, he takes one last look at the security camera, gives another friendly wave, and shoots right at us! At it! The camera! I jump back when it happens, I'm so startled.
Carl's bent over on his knees gripping the edge of a desk and crying. My boss is stoic. Stern. He picks up the little gray remote and shuts the TV off, then chucks it across the room into a little waste can. I think I'll say something like, But, sir, how is that supposed to help anything?, but he starts in.
-All right, boys. So, this happened. This...here...is something that...happened. Now, what do we do about it? That's the --
I start in with a, What the f--, but he gives me a look that stops me. I realize I've interrupted him, that the question was rhetorical. Sorry.
Carl, weepy, can't bring himself to say anything except that it's still just as bad as the first time he watched it, and my boss can't quite come up with what to do next.
I realize something, start to ask a question, but my boss answers it, says the bodies have been disposed of.
I decide to go for a walk around the library for a few minutes, taking a stroll and holding onto the cold steel scaffolding until, clinging to a bannister as I descend some stairs in the bitter outside air, I stagger away from the building and go to my car.
My mind whirls and clanks like the crappy alternator I have under the hood. I remember a few times to think, Hello! Hello! Hello!, but it's a strain and soon I'm back in the swirl and the dark.
I think it's appropriate, here, to recount the one and only “real” date I've ever been on, the one with the girl who was trying to make her boyfriend jealous. I left some things out.
We'd been set up by a gay boy in our class named Jordan who'd been asking and begging me to let him fellate me since we were freshmen. I always said no, obviously, because I didn't wanna do that stuff with a guy. I hadn't even done it with a girl. Plus, it always felt like he was messing with me or something. So, I guess by getting me a date, since he was best friends with this girl, he thought he'd get into my good favor somehow.
Okay, actually, the truth is that I told him I'd let him suck my dick if he got me a date with the girl. But I never let him and I'll tell you why.
So the big night came. I picked her up and we went to dinner at a Korean place nearby, then she suggested that we go to my house.
We stopped by her parents' to get her car, plus she wanted to get some clothes. So she followed me back to the apartment where I lived with Grandma and we parked, kissed on the sidewalk for a little while, then went toward the complex and went through the front gate up to the apartment. I was excited, this had never happened, and on and on and on and on and on. It was especially great because I knew Grandma had gotten tanked and passed out earlier in the night, so that was taken care of.
So, we were at the front door and she said, Eww, what's that?, and pointed at this softball-sized toad that used to hang out at our complex. I'd named him Henry and it was his second year there.
Anyway, I explained that he's all right, I'd knock beetles off the overhead light for him to eat and stuff. I wasn't allowed to have a pet so he was the closest thing I had and I had a lot of affection for him. She looked down at her sharp high-heeled black dress shoes, walked over to him, looked at me, and, with very intense eye contact, proceeded to quickly stomp on Henry many times over.
Now, at that point, I experienced several emotions. Mostly shock, anger, and rage. Poor Henry.
I shouted at her, Wha! Wha! Why did you do that!
To which she replied, I wanted to make you mad so you'd fuck me harder.
I was speechless, and as I tried to process what had just happened, I told her to get out and leave my property and not come back. A girl's going to do that to someone's toad? Someone's pet? On a first date?
She lost it, we yelled back and forth, I sprayed her with the hose and she finally left, only to show up twenty minutes later topless on the deck in the common area out
back. She had walked from down the road and pulled something like six pickets down from our fence to get in the back yard.
The cops came, she cried her way out of trouble with them, and then left.
Since this was high school and all, there wasn't really anything that the cops could do to her. I wanted her to go to jail, or something, anything, for killing Henry and harassing me like that. I asked the cops, What if she does it again? And all they said was that she probably wouldn't, but if she did, then at that time I could call them and they'd take care of the situation. But, I was like, what good would that do when I'm already in the situation!
What I learned from this is that the cops can't ever really do much. Unless the college administration had decided to cover up the tweaker killings over the weekend, which it seemed like they were doing, there was enough evidence there for cops to swoop in and protect everyone. But unless someone's done something really bad to you, they, the cops, can't do much. Then when someone finally does do something bad to you, something that's worth calling the police over, at that point it's too late. Now that something really bad had happened, couldn't we just agree to get rid of all the tweakers once and for all? Or at lease those living in our complex?
These people know what they're getting into. It even says it right there on the bottle:
May exacerbate selfishness to the point
where murdering someone seems like an
So, screw those guys. It's time for me to just focus on taking care of me and my own.
What I mean about the cops is that, even though there are tweakers around, and even though some of them are willing to do THAT, that thing one of them had done at the college, and even though some of them were very possibly living in our apartment complex, there's nothing we can do about it because these ones near us hadn't actually done anything to us yet.
There we were, innocent bystanders, just wanting everyone to get along, do their part, and here are these freak-o tweakers who, I'm sorry, are not worth a square inch of the fat off Grandma's rear end, and they're doing this thing that only leads to hurt and sabotage and, now, murder. And they might be living in OUR complex! What can I do?
All the police would do, can do, is roll their eyes and drone, Call us when they've done something. But -- they have done something! Right before the camera's very eye! Those tweakers in the school are capable of murder, and so all tweakers are, is how I see it.
Coming home later I pull up in front of the complex and, in my haste to get up quickly to my place, where I can cry and sleep or slap my dick around for a few hours, bang into the curb. No matter. No matter, no matter, no matter. More pressing issues are at hand.
Coming down the walkway to my door I notice someone standing outside on the welcome mat. Dev.
I blow past her and swing open the door, immediately on a search for Grandma. Today she could be at the arboretum, or maybe the pool. Oh boy. I hope they haven't already gotten to her.
I scout all of the rooms, including her bathroom and, satisfied, walk back toward
the front entrance. Dev has followed me in.
-Have you heard from my sister? Or Elvis?
-When was the last time you did?
-Is there something you wanna tell me?
-It's just, I...I came back home the other night, the night after I'd been over here, and my sister was supposed to meet me. Meet me here at home. But she never showed up, and, um, I found this --
She reaches out to me with something small and square-looking in her hand.
-It's her library card. Her keychain card. I found it out in front of my apartment.
She winces. --Yeah. Near where they live.
-Did you try CALLING her?
-Of course. I tried them both. He doesn't pick up either.
She frowns. --They won't...they both got clean two years ago. Off this stuff. When it was weaker.
-Ho, wait a minute.
I need a moment to process everything.
-You're telling me Elvis used to tweak?
-I need a, uh...I need a drink is what I need.
I gotta tell you, at this point, after a few beers, even Dev is starting to look kinda good. I let her stay over again because she still can't reach her lousy sister, and because I'm feeling a little scared myself. I don't much feel like being alone after what I witnessed on the TV today.
It isn't until she heads off to the bathroom and I get up to grab another beer that I realize how tipsy I am. Not drunk yet, just tipsy. I think about her, there in the bathroom, but this time in a totally serious, non-gross way. It would make sense that she's thinking about me right now, as she was just talking to me and is in my bathroom in my house under not quite normal circumstances, but I'm dying to know just what she's thinking. I've been told that people in general don't think about you as much as you think they do, so you shouldn't worry about it too much, but I call bullshit on that.
It seems like whenever I leave a room and come back in, everyone shushes up as though they'd just been talking about me! Whenever I pass by a group of people who are laughing together about something, my just being near them causes them to shut up and feel nervous. And when you're as messed up as I am, you're probably the poster boy for what people think about when they're down, like, “I'm having a really awful day. My dog got sick, and I wanted sausage but the supermarket is out of the only kind of sausage that I like, my favorite type of meat overall, but at least I'm not that Wade guy!”
Sometimes I just wish that there was less of me, like I didn't take up so much space here on Earth. At least then I'd have a shot of staying out of peoples' way and not being seen.
But I'll take it, I don't mind. Like I say, people can think all they want about me. I'll take it. Because I know that there are things about me which no one else can see and which I can't even see yet, and that gives me a lot of comfort. That'll get me through pretty much anything.
How else do I know that people actually think about you a lot? Because I do it! I've been thinking about Dev this whole time. And I know I may be messed up, but I can't be all that different from everyone else out there.
I feel expansive and generous and more drunk when she comes back into the room. She sits down and I look at her with the back of my hand pressed into my cheek. She is so sweet.
-What do you look for in a guy?
-I've been thinking about it a lot, and, I think I know exactly what girls want. Or most of it. Do you think I can help you? Do you want my help?
I sit up, my legs to one side.
-I want to tell you that I find you very interesting. Very, sort of, darling, I guess. And I wanted to know if there was anything I could help you with. Maybe some
pointers or something. Just from one grown-up to another, I mean. I dunno. It's just something I've thought about.
-Yeah. I get the feeling you don't have a lot of experience with men. I don't have a lot with women, and, well, if the conversation were reversed, I'd sure like to have the same opportunity.
She's a nice girl. I'll give her that. My feeling? She probably doesn't want much more in the world than to settle down with a regular guy like me. Someone who she'd feel lucky to be with. Someone who would see past all her ugliness and care about her in a deeper, more complex way. I think everyone wants the same thing, which is to have a nice little life, with a nice spouse, and one or two nice kids, and for things to stay that way forever.
-Well, the first question I'd have to ask would be: how did I get so lucky to have a man, such as yourself, offer me --
-Oh, it's no problem --
-No, really --
-It's no problem at all.
-So, Wade. Do you have a girlfriend?
I put my hand to my mouth to stifle a laugh.
-Oh, wow. I'm flattered. I -- just -- ho, dang -- I'm sorry, I don't think that you, and me, that we --
-I see. So. You think I'm interested in you? Is that it?
I wonder if she's ever had a boy kiss her? Or felt loved? I wish, sort of, that I could be the one to do that for her, but that attraction, the really important thing, it just isn't there, you know? Maybe if she has some questions or some...I dunno...she seems like she's lonely.
She is lonely. I can tell. But I'd like to help her some way, I...maybe...I could help her with her loneliness. I could set her up? I don't have any guy friends, so maybe that wouldn't work. I could help her set up an online dating profile? I'd never do that, personally, it really seems like it's for losers, but I don't have to tell her that, I'd keep mum about it, and maybe she'd actually get something out of it. I’d set it up, she'd find a guy, probably a guy that's fat and gross like her, and they'd both feel like they finally found someone who's like them, and they'd fall deeply in love, and they'd say, Thank you, Wade, and their kids would write me thank you cards every year for getting their mom to finally get off her behind and go out there to find a guy, and maybe I'd even be the best man at the wedding, but I wouldn't want to be too close to them or anything, so I'd probably politely leave after the ceremony. I mean I wouldn't want them to think I'm interested in any kind of ongoing long-term friendship or relationship of some kind...I could just sit by, resting on my laurels, with the knowledge and satisfaction that I'd put two hopelessly forlorn, lost, unappealing people together, had taken something poor in the world and shined it up to something lustrous...and there would be babies because of what I'd done.
-Well, sure. I know I have my problems, but I think you've already started to get to know me and see past them.
-Are you interested in me?
All I can think to do is to avert my eyes. I don't want to be cruel.
-So you think, with all of your problems, that I'd be interested in you. But, there's absolutely no way you'd give me the same benefit of the doubt.
-I've got problems, but I can fix them. And they're not that big of a deal. In the larger sense. I just have so many good things inside me that you'd be able to ignore all this other stuff.
-Other stuff? Are you kidding? Wade. That other stuff...look...that stuff? It's you. That's what you are. You've got these problems the same as everyone else.
-I personally disagree with that.
-If you think you can just be this detestable, gross person that you are and women will be attracted to you anyway, and will fall head over heels in love with you, that it won't matter how you look or act, you -- just -- you need to become a tolerable human being, bud. You are not special. You are not a prince or a genius.
I try to start to talk, but I say nothing.
-Let me finish. Life is not a sitcom. You can't be a fat loser with nothing going for him except an all right job and then have a smart, beautiful wife. If you want a sophisticated, artistic girl, start becoming sophisticated and artistic yourself! Just look at you! I'm guessing you don't want a fat girl --
I shake my head, no, no I do not.
-So why not stop being fat yourself? You think it's all fine for the guy to be fat and unattractive, and to not work out, and he should expect to get a beautiful, interesting woman to take some kind of notice of him? Why would she? You think it's still all right for the guy to be gross and the girl to be pretty? Because that's how the world works? All you're going to do is, if you're lucky, attract women who are just like you. And guess what? You'll still think you're too good for them, and that eventually someone will come along and see your true value. Well, guess what, Wade? I've been married. I've been married six times. And I bet you don't even have a clue what getting to that point takes.
I flick my hand out at her.
-It's amazing how big and yet small your ego can be all at the same time, she says to me.
She gets a scowl on her face and walks toward the door. Before she slams it, she turns and says,
-I think you'd be immune to tweak, if you ever tried it. You're already as self-centered as can be.
Well. This just goes back to what I've always said, that people who are brutally honest are always more into being brutal than being honest.
I wake up in the night to a creaking outside my bedroom door that sounds like a heavy person taking one, two, one, two big deep breaths over and over. I turn on the light next to my bed with the little coolie hat on it and check on the noise.
As I pull the door open, Grandma slumps toward me and almost goes straight to the floor, but I catch her against my chest. Her eyes are rolling in her head and she's having trouble getting any words out until, after asking her what's wrong about fifty different times, she lets out a groan,
I chuck her over my shoulder, start bawling my eyes out, and run to grab the land line.
She smacks me on the back a few times and when I look at her she eyes me pleadingly and croaks,
-No, no ambulance. Idiot. No insurance. No money.
And I'm thinking, great, Grandma didn't sign up for her premium again, and, hello, isn't this what the government is for? So when old people like Grandma are sick
and poor someone can take care of them other than good old Wade who can barely afford himself a bottle of Drambuie every few months?
I've got the weird disorientation that comes after waking up without a full night's sleep. Nap fatigue. So I follow whatever she says. I think about earlier in the day, being in the school, then seeing Dev, and it seems impossibly long ago.
I'm about to say, Come on, Grandma. There's being frugal and then there's this and this is something else. You can't tell me what's wrong but this looks sort of like a life or death situation to me, and you really wanna rely on my driving abilities here, you wanna risk that so you can save a thousand or whatever bucks?
But I've never been one to go against what she says, and I'm not about to start now, so I snatch up my wallet and keys.
The complex tonight is dark and feels sort of off. It takes me a minute to put my finger on why, until I realize that there's complete silence around. There are some shopping carts parked near the bottom of the stairwells, like usual, but the regulars who normally hang out by the pool are not to be found.
We make it out through the front gate and I see an odd thing: three or four cars all parked out disaster-movie-style in the middle of the street. Stopped, not parked, because their engines are still running and the headlights are on. Odis Redding's voice carries lightly through the air from a car's stereo. I start thinking, wow, these are easy pickings, also I could go for a bag of Twizzlers, and what the hell's going on here?, when Grandma smacks me on the back of the head and I snap out of it, heading for our little Ford.
I help Grandma in, laying her down on the back seat, get in myself, and the next thing I know, I hear a bunch of people screaming at me! To start the car! I pop my head up to look in the rearview mirror and see a crowd that's come outta nowhere and is barreling down on us from down the street. I know enough to know that when people come running at you with blood-curling screams, it's best to look out for number one and get the heck outta there, so I pop the keys in and start pulling away. That's when I hear an even worse noise -- this grinding of metal on metal like when your brakes are way old and due for a change, except it's even worse, and it's right there next to me.
As the screamers get closer and closer I see a burst of sparks raining down onto the sidewalk from the passenger side of my car. Grandma is none too pleased.
Now I really need to get away, but when I look in the rear-view again the screamers are practically right on top of us and are now being followed by a whole OTHER group! I can just make out in the dark that they are, most definitely, actually being chased by the other group, and not followed, because the second group, I can see now, is, no doubt about it, comprised of eyebrow-less fucking tweakers.
I quickly get out of the car and run around to the other side as Grandma yells all kinds of new and interesting insults at me from the back seat. Now I realize what I've done. The front tire is totally flat, and the hubcap's all smashed up, I guess because of when I'd smacked into the curb after arriving home from work. So, great. This is, pretty much, a raw deal. And now I have a bare tire rim on my hands that would make a hell of a racket and a show and just come on I can't drive a Ford down the street looking like this.
Ok, so, now how do you feel, Grandma, about skimping on those few bucks? Because now not only can we not get you to the hospital, but we're also being barraged by a bunch of crazed selfish people and we can't drive away and oh God what should we do?
I think the crowd running to us has given up any hope that we could be their salvation with the obvious sorry state of the car, so they go off on a detour which buys me and Grandma some time. She's pretty understandably upset at the little light show I'd put on a second before, but I pull her out of the car and swing her over my shoulder.
I dunno how long this crowd has been marauding around, but it's gotten to the point that they've circled back around and when they see me again they start screaming and coming toward the apartment! With the tweakers in tow. I scramble to the front gate and try to work the keys out with one hand while the other grips onto Grandma as she smacks me again and again on the back and howls at me for, I don't really know what, maybe just for being an idiot.
It ends up being one of these moments where I don't realize for a little while how scared I am, all I know is that I can't get the darn key in the gate lock. Our
apartment complex is cheap and old so we don't have an intercom or buzzer system but that doesn't stop Grandma from trying to page all of the mailboxes, her being in such an odd state and all. And, so, when I say that the crowd is gaining on us, I mean that I flash a look to my left and see them running full speed at me across the driveway. I guess people can run really fast when their life is in danger.
And so anyway, I have Grandma beating up on me, and then now all of a sudden some strangers are, too! The group running away from the tweakers is trying to get into our complex! And shouting and smacking me in the head and calling me a moron and trying to get the keys out of my hand and into their own because, excuse me, obviously someone who doesn't have thirty years' experience opening this dumb gate can do it so much better than I can and, damnit, just as I twist the key and, crack, the lock busts open and I push the door forward in a lunge, the keys are knocked from my hand. And down they go and at this point I'm what you might call “in the moment” with terror so all I can think of to do is to get Grandma back somewhere safe.
So I yank her up and sprint -- or at least what I think of as a sprint -- for the stairs that lead up to our place. There are people pouring in behind us now and there's not much we can really do to stop them. I just have to make sure they don't come anywhere near us. The screamers are trying to shut the door to make sure no tweakers get in, but there are still screamers outside trying to find refuge in the complex, and some tweakers have definitely already gotten through in the mix, so the whole thing is a mess.
Up the stairs we go and it's like a scene out of some action movie down there! Literally just people streaming in! It's only a matter of time before the tweakers start to bust through in full force, so down I go through the hall to our apartment, full speed, and then through the gaps in the railing I look over and see, one floor beneath me, someone familiar. Elvis! And his girlfriend! And nope they don't have eyebrows and holey moley do they look scary and they sort of smile up at me and start to come my way!
Next thing I know, I'm standing in front of our door, trying to yank Grandma's keys out of her fist as she makes me promise not to call an ambulance, and then I look down the hall and see Dev running right at us. She's flailing her arms and crying out like a crazy person, and I can see why a second later because Elvis and his lady friend caroom around the corner. They're going so fast that their momentum takes them right around the corner's edge and into the railing and the girlfriend hits it first and Elvis comes after and nails her so hard she flips over the thing, she's falling to the floor below while sort of pinwheeling through the air from the hit she took, and I'm like, Dev?, Hello?, I think your freaking sister is falling and about to be really badly hurt. But Dev takes one look behind her at what's happened and starts running at me even faster, and now I'm scared she's gonna nail me, and she's shouting my name, Dev is, which I think is pretty cool, and she's my damsel in distress and I've gotta help her, so I lug the door open finally and toss Grandma in, gently, and start running toward Dev.
Then I see in Elvis's face, the face that always seemed pretty nice, I guess, even though it's hard for me to think of him in a good way after how he treated me before in the shop. I don't like to hold grudges, but I do, so that's what I do. But there's his face, and he has no eyebrows, and he's smiling, and I can tell just how bad he wants to get into my apartment and steal all of my stuff and probably beat the crap out of me and Grandma just for kicks, 'cause it'd just be fun for him, and he'd also do it to Dev, probably, and but then I do the only thing I can think of doing, which is sort of based off this thing I heard on Law and Order, from an episode I saw when I was little, and it had this bald Zen Buddhist guy in it. And anyway this phrase, which is, “You'll only be free once you can accept pain,” sort of pings into my head, and so I run at Elvis full-stop ready for anything, and he's running at me, and Dev is close enough that I think probably she can get into the apartment fine on her own now, but I've got this business to attend to.
And that look is on Elvis's face, like he's sorta crazy, and really happy to see me, but it's like the happy face the bullies at school would come at me with, only to show that they were excited because they could go on and hurt me or embarrass me or something. And I know that there's something really, really bad behind it, that look, but...to hell with it. I'm big, and I can take him. I think.
So there's this corridor, and I'm running full-tilt, and Elvis is coming at me, and this is it, but he's gotten bigger, somehow, I don't know, exactly. But I start to think
that maybe this isn't such a good idea, and, I'm ashamed to say, I stop right in my tracks, do a reverse, and start running away.
Now it's back to the apartment, but he catches up with me quick, and at the last moment when I'm about to reach my door and get in there faster than hell, I know that he's right behind me. So I turn around, and he's definitely bigger. Not just fatter, but taller, too. And I'm screwed.
He stands there, stops, and looks at me. And then he laughs, to himself, and I mean he's goddamn guffawing and slapping his knee and shaking his head and all, and he comes toward me, just as I finally get the door open, and Grandma and Dev call out my name, and I look up at Elvis, and he's towering over me, and I do the only think I can think of, which is to jump up at him, and I swing my head up and forward, toward his big stupid lemon-shaped nose, and I do my best to crack it, to destroy it, and then I'm out cold.
Even though it happens all the time in movies and on TV, getting knocked out is actually a really, really bad thing. Your brain isn't meant to go unconscious, even if you get a concussion, and if you stop being awake, it means something's gone really wrong. Most people who hit their heads and black out never wake up. Even if you do wake up, you could have a stroke or your brain could be bleeding and you could end up dead pretty soon. Basically, if you lose consciousness for any more than a split second, and even then, you should go to the hospital right away. This is something movies and TV have gotten wrong for a long time. I learned all this, well, I can't quite remember where.
So I'll tell you that I wake up a little bit later, and it isn't like waking up out of a sleep or anything like that. It hurts like hell, and the look on Dev's face isn't one that's happy to see I've come to -- she's still too horrified that I passed out for as long as I did.
There are still a lotta sounds outside I can make out. People screaming, but not in terror. It's more like, I guess, an excited way. Every time I hear a sound it makes my head throb so hard I think I'm gonna puke. Then I see Dev looming over me.
-We need to get you to an ambulance. Right now.
-I'm awake now...shut up. I'm fine.
-How do you feel? Stand up.
I prop myself up, and then try to push the rest of me up with one arm, but everything in my vision looks like it's whooshing by really fast and I fall over. I also realize that, some time in the last few minutes, I also shit myself. Great.
-What happened? Where'd I go?
-You got him good. Head-butted him and conked the both of you out cold.
-I head-butted Elvis? Where's Grandma?
-She's in her room. She's resting. And yeah, you definitely did head-butt him and you definitely broke his nose.
-We should get you out of here. We have to. You're lucky you're not in a coma.
-How does it feel?
We sit there over the next forty something minutes, listening to the carnage outside. Grandma and I both have dead cell phones, and Dev can't get through to 911. There's a dial tone and nothing else. Then the power goes out.
A couple times there's a tug or a yank on our front doorknob, but then whoever did it goes quiet and quickly passes on. They were probably looking for easy pickings. But there can't be that much more of the complex for them to all go through. I peer out between some flimsy venetian blinds and see people running all around the building. The bodies of non-tweakers lay strewn around in random order.
Some of the ones who are still alive are without clothes, both women and men being chased and taken down by tweakers and forced into all manner of, I'll just say, “obligations.”
The rest of the scene shows mostly what you'd expect -- TVs, clothes, microwaves, artwork all being lifted out of apartments and trucked on down the street, the thieves howling and hooting into the night as they run off with their plunder.
Dev lights some candles and I go check on Grandma. I can't really remember too well what's just happened to me, and also can't remember most of the past few days, when I think about it. My head feels like it's going to explode and now I think I can't talk so good. All I really know is that I'm seeing stars and Grandma looks like shit and Dev is terrified. Then there's a knock at the door. Before I can cover her mouth, Grandma answers.
-Who is it?
-It's me, a voice calls back.
I softly pick up Grandma and set her down next to Dev in the main room. I look at Dev and we both get up quietly, slowly, and move over to the peephole. Standing on the welcome mat is Elvis.
He looks bad. He's sniffling, his eyebrows are gone, his eyes are all gone red, but he does have on this really nice leather jacket. And a whole box behind him filled with stuff. Plus his nose is pretty much you could say inside of his face now. I don't even know how he's breathing.
-You guys should check this out!, he says, lifting up the lapels on his jacket. I've been a barber for fifteen years and I coulda never, ever afforded one of these!
I'm having some trouble getting my words together, so Dev speaks for both of us.
-Elvis, go away.
-I wanna see Dev.
-'Cause I want to, that's what for.
Then I see him through the peephole, for the first time, bring a syringe up to his forehead and quickly pop the needle into his skin, just above one eye, then the other. This gets him juiced up.
-I wanna see that fuckin' fatass now.
I look over at Dev. She's crying. I press myself up against the door and shout, as tough as I can,
-You're one to talk, Mr. Really Ugly Fats-o Jerk!
He pauses for a second and then taps himself on the head.
-Is that really who I think it is?
Dev speaks up, Where's my sister?
-Come out here, I'll show you.
-Yeah, right. Fuck you, Elvis.
At that, Elvis gets pretty mad. He takes a step back, lunges at the door, and when he hits it both Dev and me are sent falling back onto our asses. Grandma has come into the room and she tugs on my arm. She's all pale now and speaking sorta slow. I can understand her okay. Elvis starts up again,
-I'm fucking getting in there. This is the last apartment and it's the one I want the most. Either I'm getting in there or I'm calling up my boys to help out. You fucking hear me in there?
Maybe it's the drugs? Or something? But I can't figure out what the fuck he's saying. Like, the words are there, I hear them -- but -- just –
Grandma speaks to me now, says, Sweetie, you've got to go out there.
-You've got to save us. Go do something.
-You want me to leave you guys?
She starts to sit up.
-If you don't do something now, he's going to come back with a group of men and they'll tear my door down.
Dev speaks loudly now, Are you serious? You want him to? Out there? He'll get killed.
-Better than all of us.
-Grandma, do you really want me to do this?
-Ma'am, that's a horrible thing to say.
-What? Let him do some good for once in his life.
-You're sending him to die.
-He won't die.
-Yes, he will.
-Excuse me, he's my grandson. I wouldn't send my own grandson to be murdered!
-Holy shit, are you a crazy lady!
-Don't speak to me like that. Wade, make her stop. Make her stop speaking to me like that!
All this commotion is making me feel kinda dizzy and I'm having a hard time getting things together in my head. I get up, but then I'm down again. I wake up a few minutes later. There's puke all over me, and now I'm feeling really, really bad.
-You blacked out again.
-For how long?
-Ten minutes, maybe.
-It's all that drinking he's been doing.
-It's because he hit his head.
I sit up, Where's Elvis?
-Still outside. He says more people are coming.
Grandma and Dev are both looking at me like, even though I've probably got some brain damage or something pretty bad at this point, it's still up to me to figure out what to do. So that's what I've got to do.
Dev puts her hand on me, says, Hey, can I show you something?
She leads me back into Grandma's bathroom. I follow her, but now it's hard for me to walk, too. In a straight line, I mean. But I try not to let her see.
She stands up on top of the toilet seat and looks to where a little bay window is carved into the wall.
-Can this open?
-I've never done it.
-Well, can you break it? Or something?
She steps down and offers me to take a look.
-I think I can fit through there. I think your Grandma and I can both fit through.
I stand on the seat and she shows me.
-Look, it's only a couple feet down to a ledge that leads out to the swimming pool.
And I think all of those guys have had their fun out there. It's all trashed and filled with junk, see? If we can get to the rec area, we can use the back entrance way to get out to the parking lot. And from there, who knows, maybe --
-I can't fit through there. No way.
-You kidding me? I wouldn't even get my shoulders through.
She just looks at me and says, I'm sorry.
-I mean, do you have a better idea?
-No, I'm -- I'm having some trouble -- no, I do not.
-Look, your Grandma's sick. She should've been at the hospital hours ago. She could die.
I love Grandma. It's hard for me to ask this question, but I do: But what about me?
-What about you? Look, okay, this is sort of the only thing that we can do right now. We're all alone, and our phones aren't working, and no one's coming to help us. Once we can get somewhere to get help, we'll come back for you right away. We'll probably be back here tonight even. But this is it. It's the only plan.
I look down at my hands and notice that I can't feel any of my fingers.
Grandma's sleeping as I sit down next to her. The floorboards, creaking under me, wake her up.
-Grandma, you're gonna go with Dev. You and Dev are gonna go together. Through the bathroom.
-There's a window in there. Dev's gonna take you out and get you to a hospital.
-What about you?
-I'll be fine. I'll wait here for you guys to get back.
-Honey, I didn't mean it before when I said you should go out there. I didn't mean it because what if we can't come back?
-Don't worry, Grandma. I'll take care of myself.
-How's your head?
Dev, standing by the front door, motions over to me. We look through the peephole and there's Elvis and five or six other guys standing in the hallway. Like usual, they're shoving each other around, laughing, really hurting each other, just for fun, and Dev says she can make out that they're planning on how to break in. A couple of them have guns, I see now, and they're all about to inject into their foreheads, and Grandma is about unconscious by now. I pick her up and walk with Dev over to the bathroom. If I'm going to die soon, which I might, then nothing on my body really matters much anymore, and I can't feel my hands or my feet much anyway, so I punch out the window and pull out the big hunks of glass away to make it safer for the girls.
I want to say goodbye to Grandma, but she's asleep now and probably won't wake up for a while. I tell her that I love her. Maybe if she was awake she'd say it back, but I don't think so. Still, I know she loves me all the same.
Dev gives me a hug and actually looks sort of sweet, like a little kid, with her eyes all puffy and wet like they are now. It reminds me of how the other kids would look when we'd all play out in the snow for too long when we were little. Maybe if we didn't hear the door being busted down she'd stop and say she was sorry for how she talked to me before, maybe she'd say she was too harsh, but there isn't any time left, and it doesn't really matter, anyhow.
Dev hops up on the bathroom seat and is already out the window when I get Grandma cradled in my arms. I lift her up toward Dev, giving Grandma a big fat wet kiss on the cheek. Then I say bye to her. Grandma wakes up a little, enough to stagger along with her arm around Dev. I climb up onto the seat and, just for kicks, make totally sure that I can't fit through, and I'm right, there's no way. But before I climb back down I see Dev, with Grandma clutched to her chest, hopping down off a nearby ledge, then running through some wet patches of concrete surrounding the community pool lit up by moonlight, and then they step into a big spot of black, and they're gone.
Back in the living room, I wish I could turn on Law and Order. I pick up a couple of chairs and the sofa and push them up against the front door, against the barrage of bodies that thunk into it over and over.
I think of my mom, and I think of what she always used to say to me. I can't remember what it was now, my head's all messed up pretty bad, but I remember it was really nice and loving. And I think, hey, that's pretty all right that one person said such a nice loving thing to me at one point in my life, and meant it. Like, sure, maybe it was just my mom, but there's all different kinds of love out there in the world, and some people don't even get what I had, so that's actually something pretty special to hold onto, is what I realize. And plus, someone might even feel okay about dying, is what I realize, if they've had a person say something to them like what mom said to me, because, honestly, other than maybe having kids or saving a bunch of peoples' lives or something, what could be better?
Dying isn't so scary when you think about all the people who have done it before you. So, to heck with it. I'll open the door for these guys. Won't give them the satisfaction of breaking in. I'll fight them myself, to give Grandma and Dev some more time.
And if I die, so what? Believe it or not, when I was a kid, I did have a group of friends. Or at least neighborhood kids I hung out with from time to time. And facing death seems like when all your friends have jumped off the pier into the ocean and you can see them out there waiting for you. I've been brave before, I know that. I've seen pictures of mass graves and dead bodies - they did it. They all made it through death, even the kids, and they can't all have been braver than I am. If they could do it, so can I.
So here I go.