Thomas Denis Gibney

FICTION

|

POETRY

|

SOUND

“I Didn’t Wanna Go to Heaven Anyway”

 

The mother in Jacquelyn knew that your children were only as close as you kept them.

Parenting was about as imprecise a science as there was in this world.

The problem lay in the illusion of balance.

Give ’em enough rope, and they’d see how far it unraveled.

Hold the reins too tight, and they’d cut ’em straight from your hands.

The whole enterprise was implausible.

It was a wonder any child made it out okay.

You did your best to love them, to project your interests on them, to groom them in the cumulative image of what everything your life had amounted to telling you was the right and noble path to happiness.

And then at the height of the input of all this effort, at the moment your ultimate investment of selflessness was supposed to bear all that redemptive fruit, suddenly the rules up and changed right in front of you.

Your children didn’t want the same things as you.

There were deficiencies and malfunctions in the outcomes by which you inevitably measured them.

You had to admit some of them you were more satisfied with than others.

You tried not to think of this as favoritism.

You felt it was best to conceive of their shortcomings as the long-term sequelae of your own personal failures—a scatterplot of could-haves, the hard-boiled evidence of your basic inability to steward their success;

In short, you blamed yourself.

“—Jackie? Jackie are you up? What’s that smell?”

And blame was a bitch to shake off.

Coming through the humongous door, Jack was bearing a grocerysackful of cardstock deer and stenciled ice sphere renditions. Jacquelyn was around the corner: their big high-ceilinged kitchen. Just like the ones in her Southern Livings. Just like the one from home.

[scene: The brownstone, inside/night. The lights are on. The kitchen window is framed by the penitentiary interstices of the fire escape outside it. The LAUNDROMAT is visible down below, over her shoulder blade. Figures shuffle behind the glass; clothes churn soundlessly in dryers.]

“There you are. I was calling your name.”

She looked up from her macerating of a coconut’s meat. The bathrobe was on. “And here I am.”

“Do you know what time it is?” He dumped his work in a chair. “What’s that smell?”

“I happen to be baking a cake,” she informed him.

“Uh-oh. What’s wrong?”

Jack was not an essentially nervous man. But he could tell when his wife got nervous, and above anything else in the world that made him nervous, seeing his wife get visibly nervous made him nervous to a weirdly worrisome point.

“We agreed you wouldn’t bake again, honey.”

The LAUNDROMAT was churning its carcasses down below.

“We all know what happens when you bake.”

The coconut lay defeated on the table, in a dozen pieces and leathery tufts. The mallet beside it seemed exhausted with the effort.

“You know the thing about these Cuban recipes!” she exclaimed between scrapes. “They expect you to shred the coconut yourself!”

“Do—you know what time it is?”

Whatever it was, it smelled good.

“It’s been seven months, Jack. I am worried.”

Now Jack Dunn was not the kind to get worried. He had a fierce belief in his gutsy old self. It had blindly served him for most of his solid, successful life. But he had to admit to himself that sitting on two mortgages for seven months had begun to eat away at that fierce belief.

“You’re worried cause of the email today.”

“I just don’t know what to do about this.”

“The guy is a lunatic. I knew it from the beginning.”

“He’s a hypochondriac, is what he is.”

“He’s full of shit.”

“I just don’t know what to do about this house, Jack.”

Jacquelyn looked like the surprisingly well-aged ghost of Amy Winehouse’s would-be future, with her hair wadded up in an only somewhat senescent beehive. It was kind of hot.

“As much as I’m uncomfortable saying this,” he proceeded to say, “—and I never liked accepting money from your father—you know I always refused it—”

[Was that The Nutcracker Suite coming from the computer?]

“—But now that that—inheritance. Is coming.” [—In January??]

She just couldn’t bring herself to tell him. And this was why she macerated coconuts at twelve-forty in the morning to the Waltz of the Flowers. In some plane of her imagination, she still believed the money was coming. For seven months she had willed herself to believe it. She knew perfectly well how snugly this belief fit the classic contours of denial. And she blamed herself for being so incapable of confronting it. She macerated coconuts at twelve-forty in the morning instead.

“I just don’t understand why it’s taking so long to get the will sorted out, is all.”

The immediate problem was that Jack had taken a job in New York on the same sort of pride-soaked whim that had driven most every decision in his life. In the process, they hadn’t bet that the housing bubble would burst. Specifically, that their two-story white-brick of twenty-three years, up a pavoninely foliaged Forest Hills drive, would sit uninhabited on the lot for all this time, exacting its payments nonetheless. Blame was a spiteful tenant indeed.

“It’s in Erskine’s hands now,” Jacquelyn said with a Pontius Pilate wave of her palm.

Jack found himself navigating the liquor cabinet.

The bottles were not touching shoulders like he’d left them, so he adjusted them. There were always adjustments to be made. You could always work that extra hour, practice your lines one last time, perfect your delivery just a modicum more. Every moment not spent in self-improvement was a forfeiture of the gains you’d made before. You always had to work hard. It was the one thing you could fall back on.

Jack had worked hard his entire life. His parents came from the lower classes—factory hands, blue-collar folk. The 1930s were not a kind time, it was concurred by all. His father was the first of their lot to go to college, but after a couple of years, the draftsman’s apprenticeship that kept him employed proved more demanding or abusive of his time. So he stopped going to college. In that bored sententious voice of his that made it sound as if everything there was to know about the world were self-evident, he maintained it weren’t smarts but just old-fashioned phlegm ’n’ grit that molded him into a decent architect. It was a gainful choice of employment: the Depression birthed the Tennessee Valley Authority and the alphabet soup of government styptics for a hemorrhaging economy. He made his living with the TVA before retiring to open the confectionary shop his wife had always wanted. Dunn’s Olde Country Fixin’s then became the playground for Jack’s children in those twilighting years of his parents’ lives. But the enduring image of his father was not that of his hands wreathed in raw, doughy taffy, frowning like a patchy-haired Elmer Fudd. It was instead the image of him late at night, at his desk, his back strung like a crooked bow, the pewter wall-lamp catching the swift, deliberate strokes of his compass. Jack looked proudly on this image in his mind. He determined to leave a similar image in the minds of every one of his children. And he determined early on that his parenting principle number one would be to instill the value of hard work in his children.

This would be his domain; religion he would leave to Jacquelyn. On the material side of things there were schooling choices, vaccinations, dental checkups, college funds, nutritional provisions, birthday parties, country club dues, tennis lessons, swimming lessons, guitar lessons, harp lessons, clothing purchases, summer camps, National Geographic subscriptions, Sports Illustrated subscriptions, dial-up modem AOL subscriptions, investments in soon-to-be-obsolete technologies, and unspeakable expenditures on gasoline to cart them to each and every hobby, activity, and practice you expected them to excel in. The division of parental labor was something you could get right if you formulated it correctly, he believed. What it took was agreements on the front end. You had to achieve that ideal of cooperation—the sense that you were in it together—without compromising your autonomy in the venture. Jacquelyn’s insistence that she keep her family name was perhaps the most fluorescent example of how stringently she valued the latter. At the same time the scope of the whole operation was enough to qualify as a breach of rationality. It was mind-boggling how much you forked over for your children. In the course of a year—five years—an adolescence—And yet, where to draw the line? If you gave too much, would they take it for granted? If you didn’t give enough, would they hold it against you?

He found himself straightening furniture against the right angles of the floorboards. “When’s the last time you talked to him?”

“Oh, don’t start.”

He was astounded at how misaligned the furniture could get in the course of a day. How was that possible? Millimetrically speaking? “I’m staying out of it,” he affirmed.

She threw up her hands. “This cake has not been worth the effort.” She moved to subdue the Waltz of the Flowers. The oven dinged. She moved to open the oven. The coconut perfumes billowed out. Jack moved to steal a glance at the i-Cloud while she had her back turned. Nothing incriminating. He was disappointed to find that lazy sack Wayland Austin’s email still up on the screen. “What a nightmare this guy has been,” he mused aloud.

“I wish John would call us,” she said out of the blue, but Jack didn’t hear it above the clatter of the baking pan. How much distance to give your children? Was it enough to forever keep the light on for them? To welcome them back whether they deserved it or not? And then her mouth kept going: “Does he avoid us because we weren’t transparent enough? Was it our transparency, Jack? All the books said with boys it’s different. Did we do something to push him away?”

“Wayland Austin?”

“I don’t know,” her voice was going on, “I don’t know where we went wrong.”

On the material side of things, there were cumulative medical bills. Out of court settlements. Physical therapy. Insurance payments. More medical bills. Spurious letters from a hypochondriac or an asshole who blackmailed the family into forking over regular payments for latent accident-related traumas, lest he call up his lawyers and make John’s BAC report from that night magically reappear in a court of law.

Jack moved across the room and put his arms around Jacquelyn from behind. The back of her neck felt warm against his cheek. He found himself gazing out the window again. Out of nowhere, he found himself with an image of Lawrence. As if it had pooled upon the reflective glass before him. Lawrence: at his apiary, in his straw pith helmet and tulle veil, reaching his bare arm into a beehive. Like it just pooled up on the glass and sat there.

He found that she was saying “You don’t have much to say about that, do you” and wriggling herself free. “Huh?” he said. “Oh forget it, Jack,” she went, and slapped the i-Cloud shut on her way toward the bedroom.

Jack stood there with his mouth open looking after her for a while. What in hell was that? he thought. Snowflakes fell at the foot of the LAUNDROMAT. The cake was just sitting there, looking scrumptious.

 

~

 

There are fathers, and then there are sons.

January: the raging of another night against the window. It was winter as he knew it: wind hurling the dark fractal forms of snow around, the corpses of birches pawing at the sill. Spend enough time up here and the land gets inscribed in your skin. Which was convenient, if you were running from the place you came. If you’d all but obliterated that place from your memory. If you couldn’t be sure anymore what it was you were running from. If you just out of the turn of events or out of boredom or out of some grim self-effacing game of psychological brinksmanship stopped caring so much that your long, strong legs took to moving purely on the force of their own momentum. If you’d been doing this for three and a half years straight now: and you’d stopped keeping count of where the dream ended and where the bark-gray morning barged in.

John digs his palm into his eyes, pulls on his triceps to loose the lactic acids. Attacks the keyboard with swift, inspired stabs. His face still wet with sweat, the veins on his forearms standing in bas-relief. The basement suite at Penn’s Hostettler House is but the bottommost pad of one of those intentional living communities that manage to attract precisely the opposite of the intended student: twelfth-semester Van Wilders like Taylor Ozlander; once-red-shirted athletes at the ends of their gloryless careers; putative eco-crusaders vaguely interested in things like “sustainability” and “polyamory”. [A Slovakian exchange-student RA, who was kept out of all potentially incriminating loops.] Owned by University of Pennsylvania regents. Situated off-campus, within pissing distance of a strip of pool bars and cardstock public housing complexes such as the like where Schedule I substances can be procured at non-collegiate prices. Official name: The Hostettler House for Urban Scholars and Civic Leaders. It was disability-accommodating, with ramp access from the ground floor. It was close enough to the boathouses. It was far enough away from everything else.

In John’s basement room, across from the shared bathroom and the kitchen, a music geek’s panorama of fanfare stretches emblazoned over the walls. John’s life can be traced along an arc of what he was listening to at the time. There was the requisite Led Zeppelin poster from his first real phase, his classic rock phase (the Houses of the Holy cover, this one, with all the creepy faceless flower childs scaling some freak post-apocalyptic mons). And next to that, the London Calling poster (the legendary one [the homage to Elvis], the one that has Paul Simonon smashing his Fender P Bass at the Palladium). The Clash was then of course the gateway to his punk and ska days. Hence the post-it note smattering of Operation Ivy patches; Hopeless Records pinups of The Queers, The Nobodys, The White Kaps; tattered handbills for The Slackers at such-and-such a date in Chapel Hill—relics from his high school years, when everyone else on the team listened to Three 6 Mafia, and he shot free throws after practice to the headphone-submerged stereophonics of Rancid’s “Radio,” long after all the others had gone home. [Curiously, the late high school country and bluegrass phase finds no representation on his walls, but he’s practically gutshot whenever a New Grass Revival song tizzies its way out of a pair of i-Cloud speakers.] And then the walls get definitively darker as the Flaming Lips manga-fest of Yoshimi battling her pink robot gives way to the grittier fliers for after hours trip hop DJs and turntablism contests, shadily-advertised loft raves and big-name club nights—all forming a glossy commemorative mosaic above the computer and stretching toward the far wall like the spiral arm of the Milky Way seen head-on from outer space. Yes, he collected all of them. Rabbit in the Moon at Bayfront Park, 2007. Dub Mechanics & Fuckparameter, in some field outside of Philly, 2009. Every show he’d rolled his two big wheels through for the last three and a half years.

Maya Jane Coles seems an unlikely soundtrack for a paid assignment on Indian soteriology. But John finds that your basic mid-tempo house music is the best to write to, its hypnotic 4/4 time signatures affording the ideal lilt to match the tapping of his fingers to the keys. Jungle is too abrasive; electro, too distracting with its swollen synth lines; and dubstep just makes you want to eat some molly and give the big F you to the rest of your evening. A couple Christmases ago John sent Mary Angelica some dubstep and grime mixes with annotated track listings [“lo-fi hip hop for the first half, then gets ravey around 28:15”], mostly as a joke, knowing she would never actually listen to them. Maya’s the way to go though. She has this classicist mixing style that isn’t as polished as all the laptop DJs on the scene these days, and the way she transitions from one track to the next exhibits a judicious feel for the art of the atmospheric cross-fade.

Besides, you couldn’t ask for a bigger breeze of an assignment than an Intro to Comp Religions essay on the varying conceptions of moksha and nibbana within the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, respectively. John could write it in his sleep, if he wasn’t having such terrible nightmares these days. Just to keep her anxious, though, he chose not to answer the frantic first-year’s text on the i-Cloud Palm he reserved for such correspondence: is the paper okya? im going out 2nit and wont be avail. and rely need htis grade pls tell me if ur done thnx [.]

It’s not like he was a prolific bullshitter by nature; plagiarizing just came easy to him. People thought he was good at it. And they would rather pay him to bullshit than expend the mental energy involved in coming up with an answer for themselves.

“Long Johns, my boy!” —he almost heard over the filtered treble.

“Long Johns.”

“LONG JOHNS.”

Benny Branagh’s pie-shaped face is in his doorway.

“What—Benny, what? The fuck.”

Benny Branagh has a dent in his face right around the nose. Like someone put a thumb in his pie-shaped face. “Turn that down, will you?”

[Maya goes mute] The erg is still whistling, low-like, eerie-like. John swivels to face his suitemate. “I can’t see myself coming out tonight, if that’s what you’re asking.”

Benny lets out his trademark whistle. “John Dunn, John Dunn. So reformed these days. So…ministerial.”

John resigned himself to leaning back in his wheelchair because he could see that this was one of those conversations. “I don’t who you’re looking to convert with that sermon, Benny, I really don’t.”

Benny saunters in and makes himself comfortable in the bowl chair. John hates it when he makes himself comfortable in the bowl chair, because it invariably involves Benny fiddling with every which book or contraption on John’s desk and never putting any of it back in the spot it was before. Benny’s fiddling with the wind-up K’NEX robot on stilts. “Whatcha writin?”

“That’s confidential, Benzo. Patient-doctor privilege.”

[shaking his head in histrionic admiration] “So eleemosynary, so magnanimous in his scholarship!”

“For someone with such an AP vocabulary, you are shockingly bankrupt of motivation.”

Right.” Benny flashes immaculate prep school teeth at him. “A-bout that, Johnny m’boy.” The robot lumbers across the desk, to the tune of its mechanized squeaks. “So it’s like, this semester’s a big one, right? And I’m like, you know, planning things out, like a good student should.”

“Forgive me if I don’t believe you.”

Benny leaps to his feet like a real Shakespearean Branagh. “Gentlemen! We few—we happy few! We band of brothers! For he to-day that sheds his blood with me / Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile, / This day shall gentle his condition: / And gentlemen in England now a-bed / Shall think themselves accursed they were not here, / And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks—

“What is it you want me to write for you, Benny? A business plan for your future industrial chemical empire? A financial portfolio? An expository essay about all the poor ducks in Alaska who bathe in the runoff from a federally protected Exxon pipeline and what you won’t do about it?”

“Thanks to you,” Benny Branagh goes, “I passed that class last semester. We’re on to bigger and better things, see.”

“I am only partially lending my ears.”

“I thought you’d never ask!” Benny pirouettes onto an ottoman: a flapping Lacoste-plumaged flamingo. “You see Johnny my man, what I’ve got is this just terribly awful situation. And what’s terribly awful about this situation, you ask? Well I’ll tell you. What it comes down to, essentially, you see, is the person in charge of this situation is not what we’d call especially accommodating of my disabilities.”

“My sister grew up with disabilities,” John interrupts. “You don’t have disabilities.”

“Au contraire! Contraire! [Benny flapping theatrically around—] Mine ears, how scathed! Mine eyes, how disbelieving!”

“Jesus Christ.”

“As I was saying—ahem—this situation leaves little room for—O what do you ducklings call it? wiggling?—such little room for it, I’m afraid.”

“…Are you waiting for me to ask you why?”

“Because this person is a head-on collision on the major track—and the great complication in this equation, Johnny Rocket, is that this person has already singled me out purely on the grounds of my name—and, icy pythoness that she is, has made up her mind that because I am a Branagh, because I am perchance related to a certain Jake Branagh, who may or may not have compromised the quality of her life circa three years ago in this very same Senior Capstone Seminar, after a certain episode that arguably involved an electric shaver and a gerbil—which was largely based in hearsay, may I add, and which just underscores the rift in faculty-student relations plaguing academia these days—”

“I’m beginning to tune out, so you know.”

“—and anyhow the crux of the matter is I just absolutely must clear the fences on this one, Johnny Carson, and with yards to spare. Yards to spare, I say.”

“I don’t do situations that involve personal vendettas,” John answers.

“Oh but you do, Johnny Appleseed, you most certainly do. Because [a pause to adjust his collar for effect], because I have a feeling—call it a hunch! call it an investment banker’s son’s intuition!—I just have this feeling that the going rate these days will see a sizeable bump upon successful delivery of services.”

“Besides, an entire capstone paper?”

“By the way, have you put on some muscle, John Dunn?” Benny concludes.

“Sounds like you’ve got yourself in some shit, Benzedrine. Not the kind of situation a rational, freethinking opportunist would choose to involve himself in. Not particularly the kind of territory a man of such station would be caught dead in. Though I’m sure your professor is nice enough—”

“Miss Naomi Pruitt, Ph.D. And she is a beauty, may I add, Mister Carson. And yes I did say ‘Miss.’”

“Goddamn it, Benny. I didn’t even want to know that. Face it, she’s already got you marked, and she is just waiting for you to fuck up, and you know it. She’s gonna have her fucking laser eye on everything you turn in, she’s gonna scour that shit for every possible hint of plagiarism, she’s gonna set the fucking Google algorithm canines on it, and the J-Board will basically be on speed dial for her for the next three months, if you’ll allow me my two cents—”

“I am so disheartened by the course this conversation has taken.”

“—and in sum it seems that this is quite possibly one of the worst ideas you’ve come up with in a long track record of horrible ideas.”

“A knife to the chest, Johnny-O. A knife to the chest.”

“‘Man’s gotta have a code,’” John replies.

 

 

“Well!” Benny dismounts from the chair. “Why don’t you think it over—” [sidles up, slips a couple fluorescent-pink tablets on the rim of the i-Cloud] “—and meanwhile I’ll be right across the hall, hacking into Chi O’s recruitment database.”

“You do that.”

“All of this while chilling a beer for you.”

“Uh-huh.”

[retreating to the next room] “Whacking to your mother’s profile pics!”

 

 

Next John found himself sitting there, the sweat evaporated on his lip. Next door, another night’s party taking off. Taylor Ozlander tells Michael Benson to put on “Deadly Combination.” Benny Branagh places a couple fluorescent-pink Adderalls under his student ID and crushes them. Michael Benson is a track number kind of guy. Taylor Ozlander says it’s track six for cries sake. Wong Chu bumbles in from upstairs. Wong Chu moves like his head’s in a brace. Wong Chu’s is the legendary go-to party yarn of Hostettler House. Wong Chu, goes the yarn, had one of his epileptic fits in his freshman year and landed in a coma for the following three. Thing was, they kept charging him tuition, room + board, and registration fees. Really. Three years the university went racking up $$ on his tab without seeming to notice he hadn’t attended or let alone registered for a class the whole time. Three years go by and Wong Chu wakes up to find his distraught first-generation Chinese-American parents kneeling by the hospital bed, says what on God’s green earth. And the parents, who’d been so focused on the medical bills they hadn’t even considered that their beloved Wong Chu might still be on the books somewhere, they were astounded to find upon contacting the University of Pennsylvania that he owed six figures’ worth of outstanding charges. Wong Chu & family realized they were sitting on a pecuniary-litigious jackpot. And the University of Pennsylvania immediately cried “our bad” and “let’s settle this quietly” and the Wong family said we’ll see you in court. And now Wong Chu walks like his head’s in a brace and receives completely legal UPS packages from medical marijuana dispensaries in Bakersville and wears chains and sunglasses indoors like a mix between a Chinese Big Poppa and a Dr. Frankenstein cadaver. Wong Chu attempts to rap along.

 

I’m hard, Jehova said I’m barred from the pearly gates
Fuck him, I didn’t wanna go to heaven anyway
But my mama got me on my knees with my hands gripped
Talkin bout some praise the Lord shit
Hail Mary? Fuck her, I never knew her
I’d probly screw her, and dump her body in a sewer
Our Father? My pop stuck up dope spots
Big, black, and mean, with the fifth by the Gabardines
What you expected from his next of kin?

 

He returned to the screen, the flashing cursor. The room was pale and alone without its music. It always made him feel empty to hear his suitemates lifting off on a Tuesday night while he sat just one room over before the i-Cloud and stitched together essays and lab reports and midterms for strangers who texted him a day before the deadline and frantically begged him to save their GPAs. He lost his train of thought staring at the study drugs perched on the keyboard. He opened a Google search. He had promised himself he wouldn’t keep doing this. But precisely because he had told himself he couldn’t go to those shows anymore, the idea of combing the latest listings presented itself with alluring illicitness. {bass shows + philly} > the return key. Links to ravers’ message boards and promoters’ pages. How illicit the pleasure it coaxed in him! He looked over his shoulder to see if anyone was watching—a ghost or a phantom, a djinn or a demon. But the pleasure to be found there was purely the masochistic sort. It were no good hanging around that crowd. John Dunn knew what you got out of that. : A bad taste in your mouth from free love / freak love philosophies gone awry, and a teeth-gnashingly morbid addiction to molly.

A knock at the door. John hid the browser from the knock or from himself. “That must be Taylor Ozlander,” his voice returned to say, “cause he’s the only asshole I’ve ever met who knocks.”

“Lemme get sommayur Brut.” His linebacker’s frame occludes the doorway.

“Still on the dresser. Hasn’t moved from last night.”

 

 

“Christ, Ozlander, you’re gonna set off a fire alarm.”

He sends a couple sprays in John’s direction for good measure. “Someone’s gotta use it.”

“Christ. Don’t be such an ass.”

Because you could only revel in escapism for so long, John had chosen to remove himself from that scene. The bass music scene in Philly was full of cracks. Plenty of space to fall right through.

“You need a girlfriend,” Ozlander goes.

“I need you to stop pumping my room full of cologne.”

“You’re a morbid sonabitch, John Dunn,” he replies.

 

 

Because you could only revel in escapism for so long, John had decided to quit all that. He woke up at 5:25 in the morning to row instead. If there wasn’t anything redeeming to be found in a life of pleasure—despite what the freaks and the ravers swore with drooling mouths—then you had to turn to a life of discipline. Rowing kept him from staying out at all hours and throwing his life away in ninety-milligram increments of ecstasy. What began as rehabilitation, as a way to coerce his legs into remembering that they’d once carried an athlete worthy of the Dunn-Prince name—a true star, a true star—soon graduated into an accidental obsession. But the kind of obsession to be found there was purely the masochistic sort. You dug the oar in because you didn’t want to fall through those cracks, sure—but you dug the oar in because there was so much to purge there too. Guilt was a bitch of a suitemate indeed. And this was why he woke up at 5:25 in the morning, to pile the wakes upon the water like prayers to a silent, spiteful god.

“Hey uh. You gotta extra belt or someping.” Taylor Ozlander is always asking to borrow shit.

“Whatever,” John goes.

The Tantric tradition railed against the asceticism of the purist Hindu sects, he was writing. Tantrics believed that the material pleasures of the world could be used to access the divine. Not so, contended the ascetics; it was only by denying oneself the temptations of the flesh that one could truly rise above the impasse of desire. Desire led to expectations, and expectations led to disappointment, and disappointment led to suffering. It was all so simple. All one big cycle. The only thing standing between you and the divine.

“Don’t be so goddamn morbid,” Ozlander goes. “Lookit. She’s got a friend. Might could pull the Lieutenant Dan card on er. Might could put in a word.”

“I appreciate your charity, but thanks.”

“Could say you were back from Iraq or someping.”

Either way you got to it—pleasure or pain—it was all the same in the end, right?

“Be on your dick in no time.”

“I said thanks.”

“You need a girlfriend,” Ozlander goes again, and leaves.

 

 

Some part of John seemed to remember a time when life didn’t present him with such weighty dichotomies. Desire wasn’t the enemy then, wasn’t the hurdle to be vaulted, the little demon in your ear that you pray St. Michael will slaughter in your sleep. He seems to remember the time he showed up, the lone white kid, for AAU tryouts at East Park Community Center. He remembers a knot in his stomach. He remembers his dad in the driver’s seat as they crossed the bridge into East Nashville. Remember, no matter how good they think they are, [his voice percolates through the memory’s well,] they’ll never match your desire to win. It was a bitch of a knot for a ten-year-old to stomach. There aren’t winners and losers, John. There’s people who want it more than others. He remembers long drives on early Saturday mornings to fantastical, mist-wraithed corners of Middle Tennessee: to aging hardwoods tucked behind cafeterias reeking of fry batters and “Let’s Go Cougars!” emblems peeling beneath rafters hung with the jerseys of long-forgotten provincial heroes. He remembers weird details. The Krispy Kreme with the busted neon crown in front of Holy Rosary. How much the Millwood Middle gym smelled like piss year after year at the Christmas Invitational. The roar of the chapel-sized crowd when he came off the bench and drained one from the corner over Great Vincent’s Gilford Tryles, and how after that there weren’t one kid amongum questioned why Coach up and let a white boy on their team; after that, they all just called him Wonder Bread.

 

 

Liberation, he segues into the concluding paragraph, represented the ultimate goal of both the ascetics and the Tantrics, differing only in the means by which they sought to attain it. For the Buddhists, who posited a life of suffering, the dichotomy became all the more dramatized, despite the Buddha’s original call for a Middle Way to mediate the two extremes. The debate illuminates a peculiar feature of Indian philosophy. Whether formulated in the language of denial, indulgence, or some compromise therein, the schisms experienced in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions have historically centered around an ethical question rather than a soteriological one: what was the right way to live? It is this preoccupation with the here and now that distinguishes the Indian religions from their Western counterparts.

Ehhhh. Not his best, but—fuck it. He had to wake up early anyway.

As the bellows of Big Poppa thunder a room away, he opens his inbox and does the quick eye-scan of Facebook updates, Resident Advisor feeds, New York Times scripts, emails from his mother. On the whole bottom other side of the country, there was his sister, John’s sister, who might have been sitting on a dock, or a beach, or the tin-slab roof of an add-on garage, watching the inconceivable stars. John, if he had thought about it, might have wondered what Kaylee was thinking about then. He might have wondered, if he’d thought to wonder, whether she was wondering what he was thinking too. In the end, there could have been a lot of wondering going on. There was always the possibility that someone else was wondering—that there was a someone who was doing the wondering—and this possibility, even if you hadn’t wondered about it, might have been comforting under the right circumstances. It was a long way from Philly to Florida.

 

fwd: Recent Hospitalization



On January 25, 2011, princejacquelina wrote:



John, hello, it’s your mother. I know you don’t want to see this, but you told us to keep you in the loop. We are trying our best. I hope you call us soon. love, mom.


>To Mr. Dunn or Mrs. Prince or Concerned,

>Recently, I found myself in the hospital again following a series of incapacitating migraines affecting the left and back sides of my skull. I am unfortunately told that my symptoms are consistent with well-documented indicators of post-traumatic stress disorder and may remain with me for a long period of time. I am attaching a diagnosis from my doctor and several X-rays which will have to be paid for. In addition, I fear that the treatment will require me to take unpredictable absences from work for which I will have to secure compensation.

>Please find a summary of the expenses below. You may contact my lawyers with any questions. As always, your cooperation is much appreciated on this difficult road to recovery.

       >Sincerely,
       >
       >Wayland Austin

 

 

Previous Post
Next Post