October 4, 2014
This once appeared on The Limitless, an online magazine, that has (it appears) since gone defunct. So I’m putting it here again so everyone can read it.
This is Us.
He’s never who you think he would be.
He was young, well youngish. Maybe late twenties. Perhaps early thirties. Not tall, not fat, not thin, not short, he was quite average overall. A bit of a paunch hanging over layered muscles, quiet business clothes poorly kept.
He had grown up apart from most. Good at math, good with words, did well in the Arts, the Humanities, the Sciences. Enjoyed English, studied history. Never had any friends though; when he would try to interact with others, whether peers or adults, he was always too visceral. Too intense. Too loud, too insistent, too focused. Many saw him and distrusted him; they all thought he was like a robot wearing a skin suit.
He went to a local college, didn’t follow his dream. People like him could never be successful dreamers, only forgotten dreamers. Instead he became an accountant, a numbers man, and was good at it. Enjoyed it. He would offer to do anyone’s numbers, to help them and to secure that desperately wanted social interaction. Such desperation lead him to the wrong groups, the wrong people. He fell in with tough “friends”, friends who taught him how to fight, how to argue, how to lead.
Now he worked with these friends. They ran a halfway successful boxing clinic to hide the thuggery of their day to day operations. He did their numbers. Some liked him. Some feared him. All respected him, and that is all he could want. He always arrives in the same way he leaves; black leather messenger bag, loosely resting in the small of his back, containing small laptop, power cable , cell phone, cell phone cable, two black pens, a blue pen, a red pen, a yellow college-ruled legal pad, small bottle of unsorted medications, all hidden under his business jacket. He didn’t need to hide it under his jacket but he did.
He had taken the bus home that day, as he always did. Two buses, one west three blocks, the other north four and a half. From there he had to walk another half-block north, as the bus turned. While this bothered him, it was of no consequence. That day was particularly jarring for him, with them sounds around him haunting him, following him. They hit hit him in waves of cacophony, unsettling him as the ocean throws a swimmer from his wave. When he walked off the bus he reached down to his belt, a small leather case with a metal clasp, and felt the edges of a balisong, a butterfly knife, through the casing. It was one of his small comforts.
The balisong was a gift from his boss. It reminded him of a yoyo he had owned as a child. A way of metering the world, a metronome for his thoughts. There was the click of it rolling off of his fingers, the swish of it falling, and the snap as it returned to his hand. Click, swish, snap. Just the tiniest bit of pain to solidify it for him, to make the object real. The balisong was like that. The click of the hinge opening, the swish of the knife sweeping open, the snap of it coming together just after his fingers glide out of the way. Click, swish, snap.
The knife was how he came to be feared, even respected, among his compatriots. While he was an accountant, whenever other boxing clubs had tried to rough him up, they had found that he was deadly with the small knife. Two men were hospitalized for one of these encounters.
He walked down the road toward his home, buildings looming above him, seeming to judge him. Everything seemed to warp toward him, as if being pulled toward him. A road became a cave, every wall pouring over him like falling glasses full of the darkest ink. Set apart was one electrical box, brazenly displaying itself like a man puffing his chest. Proudly labeled with a sticker, right across the front, the box inquired, “Do we really know what we think we know?” The balisong was in his hand, he knew not how it got there. Only that the click, swish, snap was keeping him level.
He was opening the door to his apartment, left handed, but this was awkward. He was normally right handed but, currently, his right hand was occupied. The knife danced over it, entrancing but, ultimately, ignored. It was his metronome for now, whispering the soft “click, swish, snap.”
His TV was on. He was inside. He was unsure as to how or why this happened. He was cooking dinner. In the background was the knife. Opening. Closing. Click…swish…snap.
Half eaten, his dinner has cooled near him. The knife is fevered now. Clickswishsnap, as if one word, and the man on the TV is leering to him, leaning over. He says, “You can do it. We can help.”
The phone is clicking onto the base, an old phone. Rotary. The knife blazes around his hand like steel turned to light. The sound is indefinable now, almost an emotion rather than a physical thing. He had heard their voice, the phone number from the sticker (was there a phone number?) they can help him (did they say that?). They knew everything (they did say that). He told them he saw it, the reasons behind everything (he’s always known the reasons, why the music hates him, why the building crush him). He told them that he was being followed (they follow him every day). He told them he has the answer (the only answer). They did not listen.
But he knew. He knew now. He could stop the evil inside of him, he just had to remove it. Excise it. Like his numbers. Slowly he lay down, and he cleared his mind. Readying himself.
August 20, 2014
It was four AM again.
“I am…awake.” I don’t know who I was talking to. I knew I was awake. No one else was there. I stared at the ceiling fan, spinning lazily so as not to shake itself completely from its mooring in the ceiling. So it did not descend on me like a vicious dervish of dust and mechanical fury. I listened to the small insects outside, coordinating with each other to reproduce and eat before their short lives were swept into the sands of time. I marveled at the unique qualities of the air around me – it wasn’t hot but it was definitely too warm, the air felt dry but a peculiar kind of dry that made my skin prick and crawl slowly.
It was four AM again and I was spinning my limbs slowly against the strange, cooler pools on the sheet of my bed, hoping to find a momentary comfort while I talked to myself.
“Ugh.” Normally, I think, I’m pretty witty. But at four AM, while I’m in a kind of mild buzzing pain – not horrid compared to what I’m used to, to be sure, but bad enough to keep me awake – and in a distinctly uncomfortable state that is almost impossible to describe I lose almost all semblance of authority or majesty. “It’s too fucking hot.”
Granted, that assertion is not necessarily true. If it wasn’t so dry, or if I wasn’t always in pain, or if I were more high or more drunk or more something I probably wouldn’t notice. I would just sleep. Instead, like most nights, I was haunted by the shimmering, friendly specter of insomnia.
Insomnia was like an old girlfriend to me. Insomnia is like an old girlfriend to me. We know each other really well and when she visits I feel compelled to catch up with her but, honestly, my life would be easier if I didn’t have to see her again. She has her own life, I have my own life, it doesn’t help either of us to keep meeting and “catching up” as if we’re comparing scores to see who got the better of the breakup in high school.
It was four AM, I couldn’t sleep, and I was uncomfortable. As if on cue, my body started to sing the sweet symphony of stinging and burning pain that reminded me, constantly, that I am both a broken human being and probably a liar. It starts in my toes and knuckles, accompanied by a deep, wrenching throbbing in my lumbar region. It crawls slowly up my arms with tiny, shuddering cramps that felt as if my bones were twisting and trying to dance. The pain in my back, meanwhile, began to be replicated in my legs with on-beat and perfectly off-beat pinching and grinding. I could forestall some of this when I cracked my joints but it was only a temporary measure.
Within moments, my body was a study in pain and discomfort.
I’m not sure, exactly, how I located my pot in the darkness without my glasses on. It doesn’t much matter, really. What does matter is that a deep inhale of the chemicals swirling out of the cannabis freed me. The pain dulled, my mind cleared, my skin stopped crawling.
Soon, it was six AM. It was six AM and I was falling asleep.
Tonight, I finally won. Maybe tomorrow I won’t even have to fight, if I’m lucky.
July 22, 2012
I didn’t know him when I sat down, but by the time I got up I’m pretty sure I did.
I came in around midnight, I’d been driving all night with my boyfriend to get to Seattle in time for a convention we were working at. He was passed out in the passenger seat and I was starving, so when I saw the lit sign just off of the freeway, I pulled off to grab a burger.
At the bar, facing the cook and eating a single piece of pumpkin pie was a man. He was small, broad, and slumped over his plate. Dressed in a pair of slacks, running shoes, and a wool coat with long, knotted hair splayed down his back. I sat a few seats down from him and ordered by burger, than said hi.
He smiled, a weak and soft smile. A heavy smile. I asked him about why he was so sad.
“I’m not sad.” He said, slowly and carefully, as if each word were brand new and still had sharp edges on them. “I’m just tired. It’s been a long, hard road.”