Monthly Archives: January 2012

Following

I don’t mean to do it, I swear to god. I don’t even notice I’m doing it until someone else points it out to me.

Like the other day. I was just walking down the hall. I had my eyes to the ground, hands in pockets, when out of nowhere the dude in front of me asked if I was following him to the bathroom. I’m pretty sure he was joking, but I was still spooked because once he drew attention to it, I realized what I’d been doing. I had even been matching my footsteps to his.

I come from a big family full of big talkers. I guess that’s why I grew up so shy and diminishing.  My dad always used to tease me when we had company over, saying I had run my mouth off enough and needed to let other people get a word in when I had been completely silent. I hated when he did that.

When I was a kid, I developed this little game. I realized early on that the more people talk, the less they tend to pay attention to their surroundings and the more they lower their guard. My mom would forget I was even in the room when she got on the phone, she would smoke (she told dad she quit) and call her mom a prickly old bitch (she once spanked me for saying “butt”) and other tasty tidbits. My parents put a stop to it pretty quick, though. My dad sat me down and told me I make other people feel bad when I stare at them. If I was older, I might’ve rebutted that he hadn’t stopped singling me out in front of company, why the fuck should I stop—no. Not really. Even now I’m still differential to a fault.

I had it hammered into my head from early in life not to be selfish. Even if I didn’t get a piece of cake, even if that meant someone else had taken two, I wasn’t to say anything. My mom also told me not to get mad quite a lot. I suppose after a while it became a habit, but I’m still not quite sure why she started in the first place. I asked her: was I an angry baby? That made her laugh. No, she said, I wasn’t. What kind of baby was I, then?

My mom stopped laughing and looked right at me. I’ll never forget this. Awake, she said.

I don’t have many baby pictures. My brother’s pudgy mug was pasted all over my father’s work desk when I went to dismantle his effects. My sister was on his mini-fridge, clarinet in hand, fist propped on a no-nonsense hip. At the bottom of the junk drawer I found three-year-old me. I clung upright to the bars of my crib, staring.

I never told any of them this, but when I was little I had trouble sleeping. It wasn’t insomnia, or at least not typical insomnia. I was…afraid, for lack of a better word. It’s hard to put into words. I hated the night. I wasn’t afraid of the dark, per se. It was more like…I was afraid that the world that I saw at night was a totally different world from the world in daylight…and the night was the “real” world. No matter how warm and safe the daylight seemed, no matter how hard I tried to sleep through it, the night always came back, more solid than day. I was the only real thing in it, small and alone.

I would lay awake in a pitch black room with my sister snoring in the next bed over (they never let me have a nightlight) and my eyes would probe the corners of the room searching for any little sign of movement. I’m not sure what I was waiting for. No monsters, just…something, anything, moving where nothing was supposed to move.

Then I would get up. I would walk around the house. I would look at my family.

People are completely different when they’re asleep. My father was much less threatening, even his beard seemed limp. My mom lay like a stone on her side, mouth finally closed. I would walk through the rooms, wondering if my family was asleep or if they were really all dead…and did it make a difference? If anything happened to me, it would come to about the same conclusion.

If anything happened to me. Those were the words exactly. I don’t know how or why I remember them so clearly, so vividly, or why I expected something bad to happen.

I was only caught once. My mom opened her eyes suddenly when I was standing in my She-Ra nightie, stifling a snort of surprise.

Honeywhatisit? She phrased it in the form of a yawn.

I told her I wanted a glass of water. She sent me back to bed with a warning. It didn’t really matter, I was back the next night. And the next. And the next…

As an adult, I try my best to be conscious of these lapses, correct my own behavior, but stuff still gets through. Like that guy going to the bathroom. Or the dry cleaner’s.

I swear I was right in front of that guy the entire time. He called seven other people up while I waited patiently. Never once looked at me. He had the balls to get irate when I slapped my ticket down on the counter. Like I had been ignored on purpose.

When we were packing up old stuff at the house for goodwill, I found some of my old drawings. Not in my dad’s stuff. In a box marked hospital.

My mom said honey, we were so, so worried about you for a while.

And yet they didn’t think it was important to tell me?

Some of them were just typical childhood fare. Horses that look like frogs. Lopsided rainbows. A few of them deserved mention, though.

I can’t believe I drew these. They’re so creepy, and my child-self was scared of the Count von Count for fuck’s sake.

The subject was the same in every one. A skinny, tall(I mean house-height tall) humanoid scribble. They had a brown rectangle scribble for a body with black buttons scribbles, then a gap and then a series of black scribbles for hair, I guess. I never drew eyes on the face, whoever it was was probably meant to have bangs covering them. Only a smudge for a nose and a line mouth. Black, too. I used a lot of black in those. I figure the other, more normal drawings got lumped in because they went over their black quota and lost their sunshine happy privileges.

The funny thing is I don’t remember drawing those. At all. It isn’t like I’ve got this big chunk of my childhood missing, no it’s pretty much all there. But something like this…I wouldn’t have just stopped at drawings. Freaky shit like this I would have given its own mythos, I would’ve thought up a cool name like Skeleton Man or The Bone Grinder.

None of it really made sense until I went back to the house. Mom decided the place was too empty with dad gone so she consigned me and my sister and a shit ton of newspaper for the job.(bro moved out of state a year ago, probably saw it coming.) I’m in the drawing room (mom didn’t want me in the kitchen because I’m all thumbs) wrapping the old photo boxes. Kodachrome snaps of my grandparents back in upstate New York, battered senior portraits of my mom with a bouffant and my dad with sideburns.

…and then the one.

I could’ve spotted it a mile away, even cluttered in with the others. It wasn’t the only black and white in the box, but there was this..starkness to it(for lack of a better word) that drew your eye and holy shit you’ll never guess who was in it.

He was pretty tall, but unless he was in a model village I doubt he’d be roof-height. It was actually pretty close to my kiddy portrait, he had this thick overcoat that made him shapeless, with scraggly dark hair and a downturned slash of a mouth that made him seem like he was frowning.

That brought back memories. Mom would always corner me when we were in public places and ask why I was in such a bad mood. I would protest that I really wasn’t, my face just relaxed that way, and it would escalate to the inevitable moment where I would in fact become angry at her for humiliating me in public.

I just kind of gaped at it for a while. If I’d known she was in the room, I would’ve instinctively hid it. She ripped it right out of my hand. That made me strangely upset. I asked her who that was.

She didn’t even look at me. Your real father, she said, and walked right out of the room.

I have no way to know if she was being serious or not. If she wasn’t that was just fucking cruel. I saw her dump a box of paper into the bonfire later that day, the picture was probably in it. I should’ve just walked away, refused to help further until she told me what I wanted to know. But that would’ve been too bold, too selfish. Not me at all.

It was a few months after she escaped to Illinois that I hit upon the brilliant idea of looking at yearbooks from her high school. I mean, reasonably, the guy had to be around the same age. Maybe he was in there!

I was inexplicably excited at this new development. I hadn’t even been thinking about it all that much until that bolt of inspiration. I went to the county library and sifted through grainy senior portraits. He wasn’t in any of the grades.

Oh, I found him. He wasn’t a student, but I found him. There was a big splash page of the drama club, my mom was fifteenth from the front, face half-hidden by someone’s elbow. And there, off in the trees—

I’m not entirely sure what any of this means, even now. I’ve tried asking my mom but she just pretends I’m not even talking when I call her. I fucking hate when people talk over me, but her voice is so big and heavy, it just overpowers mine no matter what I do. I want to ask her why she has a picture of the guy who stalked her, how she got it and why she kept it all these years.

Because he was stalking her. He somehow managed to appear in nine out of ten of the photos in the book, group photos, candid snaps, you name it, he was there. Sometimes it just looked like he was casually out for a stroll, just happened to glance to the side and just happened to let his gaze fall on my mother. Others he wasn’t so subtle about it.

After I was done with that year I paged through the others on a hunch. Yep. Senior years, junior year, freshmen, sophomore, he was there like a bad penny.

I have this memory, really unclear, probably from early in my life, of my dad standing over me like a blond mountain and yelling at me. Not scolding me, full-on yelling at me while tears stream down my cheeks. I look over to my mother on the couch for support and she’s just clutching a pillow and looking off to the side like nothing’s going on.

I still don’t have context for it, but I feel like I’ve got an inspired guess.

I’ve scrounged relatives who still live around me for photos. My mom must’ve called them and told them to embargo any photographic trade with me, but I work around it. It’s easy to get past people when they don’t notice you.

He’s in almost all the pictures of her. Not just after HS, before, too. My favorite was the one from a fifth grade play, she clasps hands with other animal-costumed children, while his face peeks out of the construction paper bushes.

I don’t really know what I’m supposed to do about all this. I’ve found more questions than answers and I don’t feel any more enlightened for it. It’s not like I’ve changed, it’s like…it’s like the world has shifted slightly while I wasn’t watching. It’s dark outside and I’m walking through a half-lit house with nothing between me and the night.

I’ve found that if I stand very still for a while, I disappear completely. People walk right into me and don’t even notice.

It’s hard to resist the temptation to watch people, follow them through their day, but I do it anyway. What would that bring me except more heartache, more longing to be someone I’m not? When I walk I walk heel-to-toe, bring my feet down nice and hard. I talk with my hands, I find a visual cue helps people concentrate. People still drift when I talk to them, but I don’t get mad. It’s not their fault.

I’m trying, I swear to god

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Morchella Senis

floating old man mushroom

Name: Floating “Old Man” Morel

Latin: Morchella Senis

Habitat: church foundations, caves, subway tunnels

Habits: floating appr. 1.5 meters off the ground, sporing when threatened, polite coughing

Reproduction: follows victims around for days, once the victims tires of pursuit and goes to rest, fungus floats above subject and sheds spores.

Edible? yes

Description: The Floating “Old Man” (or “Wise Man”) mushroom is a curious fungus with curious habits. Morchella Senis spends most of its life underground as mycelium. After approximately 90 years it fruits into a body with a rind 3 inches thick that, when cured and ground, makes fine treatment for scabies.

After a gestation period of 30 days the rind splits open to reveal the tender fruiting body, which will engage its hover mechanism to search for prey. In a method of selection unknown, it finds a human with reclusive habits and follows them. Often, these victims are homeless or transient in nature.  Once engaged in pursuit, the mushroom can go for days on end without dropping.

Once the victim inevitably drops from exhaustion, the mushroom with float above them and release spores, leading to a fatal respiratory infection. The purpose of this live “sowing” is unknown, but the result is clear: once the victim is buried (or wanders off to die) mycelium descend from the body and once again the cycle begins anew.

Once shed of its spores, the fruiting body will float aimlessly for days on end, now a dried-out husk, until captured or rained upon. Once reconstituted, it goes well with pasta and white wine and is said to be an excellent substitute for prosciutto antipasto.

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JULIEISMINE

08/15/09
From: jayisschway@[redacted]mail.com
To:  troy250@[redacted].com
Subj: HI

Hey man, dunno if you remember me or not. Its Jay! How’ve you been, man? I was just strolling through the interwebz when I stumbled on your profile. Hell, how many years has it been? Nerding out in Mrs. Haver’s phys class and lazertag every Saturday?

Just wanted to drop you a line and see how you’re doing, man. Ever figure out bodyspray? (lol j/k)

08/15/09
From: troy250@[redacted].com
To: jayisschway@[redacted]@mail.com
[no subject]

FUCK OFF

08/17/09
From: jayisschway@[redacted]mail.com
To: troy250@[redacted].com
Subj: WHOA DUDE

I get that this is pretty much out of the blue, but is that really called for? It was the bodyspray joke, wasn’t it. Forget I said it. The ladies totally go for the natural pheromones anyway.

C’mon, you don’t need to be like this. was it something I did? If it was and I don’t remember it, I totally apologize, dude. I’m sure I didn’t think you’d still be sore about it after all this time, whatever it was.

Hey, remember the time we clocked those douchebags from [redacted] High? you were all “let’s go deathblossom on ‘em” and I was all like “that’s not a real thing dude” and you totally went in and did it anyway? then I went in and scooped you out from under them and kept scoring? Good times.

Let’s remember the good times.

08/20/09
From: troy250@[redacted].com
To: jayisschway@[redacted]mail.com
[no subject]

JULIE IS MINE

08/23/09
From: jayisschway@[redacted]mail.com
To: troy250@[redacted].com
Subj: um okay

Is Julie your new squeeze  or sumthing dude? You don’t have to worry about me anyway, my wolf days are over. Plus I think we’re like, at opposite ends of the country from each other now.

All I want is to talk and be bros, dude, that’s all I want.

08/25/09
From: troy250@[redacted].com
To: jayisschway@[redacted]mail.com
[no subject]

I DON’T GIVE A SHIT WHO YOU THINK YOU ARE, LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE. JULIE IS MINE AND NOTHING YOU CAN DO WILL CHANGE THAT. I’M BEHIND SEVEN PROXIES AND IVE GOT SHIT YOU NEVER EVEN HEARD OF

DON’T EVEN FUCKING TRY ME MOTHERFCUKER

08/27/09
From: jayisschway@[redacted]mail.com
To: troy250@[redacted].com
Subj: really?

Whoa dude, whoa. What’s with the third degree? You don’t have to bust out your CompSCI shit at me, what the hell is that all about? It’s jay, remember? Jaybird? The cluster f-bomb is un-fucking-called for(pardon my French) and if you just want me to go, say go. I don’t have to hang around with people who don’t like me, I get enough of that at home. (lol j/k)

I don’t know who this juli chick is but you’re starting to worry me. Have you been to a counselor or what, it sounds like she’s got you by the scrote and won’t let go. Is she telling you not to talk to me? Cause that sounds like controlling shit you shouldn’t put up with.

Seriously, we’re bros aren’t we? We did a bunch of dumb teenage shit together, i.e. “male bonding” that I thought could survive more of a test than this. you make me sad, dude. Kinda feels like nothing’s worth anything now. Brought me down. Hope it was worth it.

08/28/09
From: troy250@[redacted].com
To: jayisschway@[redacted]mail.com
[no subject]

LAST WARNING MOTHERFUCKER. STOP CONTACTING ME OR I WILL CALL THE MOTHERFUCKING COPS AND HAVE THEM UP YOUR ASS IN A SECOND. I DON’T GIVE A SHIT WHO YOU THINK YOU ARE, JULIE IS MINE AND ONLY MINE.

FUCK OFF AND DIE.

09/01/09
From: jayisschway@[redacted]mail.com
To: troy250@[redacted].com
Subj: WTF

COPS? You’re bringing COPS into this? for what? All that’s gonna do is make you look paranoid, dude, and they check pupils over frivolous calls. Ask yourself, is an internet war really worth it? I don’t think they take kindly to this kind of crap, especially from a former pothead.

Can’t we just talk like normal guys? You don’t have to bust out this dirty harry shit, I know you haven’t gone soft since your DM days(lol j/k), and bring your GF into it. Bros before ho’s, dude. Ask yourself, is she really worth it?

I just wannna talk. Shoot the shit. Like old times.

09/03/09
From: troy250@[redacted].com
To: jayisschway@[redacted]mail.com
[no subject]

YOU IGNORED MY WARNING MOTHER FUCKER NOW I HOPE YOU ENJOY A NIGHTSTICK UP YOUR ASS I JUST CALLED THEM AND THEY’LL BE ON THEIR WAY IN TEN MINUTES YOU’LL GO TO A NICE POUND-ME-IN THE-ASS PRISON SEE IF YOU GET EMAIL THEN HAHA

09/03/09
From: jayisschway@[redacted]mail.com
To: troy250@[redacted].com
Subj: well then

I tried to be civil, but I guess that’s kind of lost on you. I just wanted to be bros, why’d you have to bring cops into it? You flipped out on me with no provocation whatsoever, so this isn’t really on me anymore, is it?

I’m worried about you, man. Like, really worried. I think I’m going to come over and check on you, make sure you haven’t done anything stupid. Be there in about five.

Don’t bother hiding. Old friends don’t hide from each other.

12/05/09
From: jayisschway@[redacted]mail.com
To: brianbransky99@[redacted]mail.edu
Subj: hey guy

Hey Bri, how’s it hanging! Remember Jaybird? The don of the trenchcoat mafia at [redacted] High? It’s been a while!

Wish I was contacting you under happier circumstances, but you know how Troy bit it a little while ago? He contacted me out of the blue just before that, asked me to “take care of Julie” You were a little closer to him then I was, does that ring any bells for you?

Anyway, it’s nice to catch up. Hope to hear from you soon, man.

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