Radar

June 16, 2020

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You‘re different around people, seldom for the better. For the longest time you believed it was you alone who’d suffered this way: the flutter in your stomach, the faint patina of sweat on your brow and, regrettably, the overcompensation of self. Make men laugh. Turn women on. You had to create an impression… or else.

You had ludicrously sensitive radar, capable of detecting and amplifying all manner of human behavior. The way bats and sharks sense their prey or a dog’s keen sense of hearing. You too were so blessed. Beyond just moods and personality, people brought energy into a room and you’d sense it. Hand gestures, the way a husband touched his wife at a party, or didn’t. Eye movements, when a pretty woman glanced over your shoulder at someone else in the room. Her perfume, his aftershave, and the perspiration it hid. The argument they had before coming to the party… or to work…or to your house. Anywhere. Anyone. You could feel all of it, or so it seemed.

Hating this feeling, you assumed a couple pops might loosen you up, make you more comfortable, more social. A common strategy for others for you it never worked. Liquor didn’t quiet your nerves as much as gave them somewhere to hide. Temporarily. Inevitably, they would erupt from your mind like the roaches in that storage unit. Then you said cruel things or acted out, alarming friends and infuriating loved ones. Booze did not quash the radar. Instead of simply being nervous you became drunk and nervous. Why this had taken so long for you to comprehend was a mystery of alcoholism. You smoked weed for over 20 years, even though it made you uneasy and paranoid. It was the same with Cocaine. In the end, you chose the bottle over people. Alcohol wasn’t the problem, they were. Alcohol wanted you alone. So, that’s where it took you.

Fats (2)

May 28, 2020

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At work, your business partner had taken issue with your daily visits to the Equinox, which was the gym by your office. You’d told him the truth, that it calmed you down and helped you think, that it made you a better creative. It was your lunch hour anyway, you’d said. He’d called bullshit on that and said you always went longer. Ignoring his warning, at noon the next day you marched right past his desk carrying your gym bag. Two months later you would exit the building carrying your belongings.

The gym does more than keep you fit. Working out nullifies the committee in your head, same as opiates and vodka once did. Albeit healthier, working out is still an addiction. It keeps you sane, same as going to meetings.

To be continued…

The Lake (3)

May 4, 2020

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My Michelle

A little drunk and high, you welcomed in the fantasy, letting it take over. Chicks like her were beyond anything slinking around the parking lot. You eyed her like a sniper. Ogling. Yet there was something else. A connection. Like she knew you were watching her. You imagined her coming toward you and somehow you knew that she would.

And sure enough.

As in the curious turn of a dream she herself turned and began loping across the grass in your very direction. It was almost as if you were reeling her in. Or was it the other way around? You felt simultaneously powerless and fearless, a strange alchemy, like during an acid trip. But she was no hallucination. When she approached you, you remained fixed to the ground, fixating on her.

“Hi,” she said. “I noticed you from the bike path. I’m Michelle.”

She noticed me? This revelation should have made you swoon. Yes your heart was palpitating. Your eyes wide open taking in the breadth of her. But absent was the panic. You were infatuated. Desiring her. Yet, you were inexplicably… cool.

“I saw you, too.” You reply. How could anyone not have?

To be continued…

The Locker (7)

April 17, 2020

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Unfolding the letters again, you remembered their secrets. You were surprised your father had shown no interest in reading them, even after you told him what they contained: that his mother (her name was Mary) had unrequited longings for Jack’s brother, Harry. In notes to Harry, dated earlier than ones written to your future Grandfather, she flirted and pined with him. Though modest by today’s standards, you could tell something was going on. Harry had refused her. You have his letters too. And she ended up marrying Jack.

Upon telling these things to your dad, he said only this: “My father always hated his brother.” That was all you got. Your father changed the subject and never returned to it. You knew not to push.

You consider the estrangement with your brother. Wildly different reasons than with Harry and Jack but the result was the same. You met your uncle once maybe twice and have no memory of it. With each passing month, now years, it seems very possible your daughters will forget their uncle as well. The ridiculous feud with your brother upsets your dad. No doubt he draws parallels to the animus between his father and uncle. Maybe the analogy of a chain is a poor one. At times, it seems your family isn’t connected by anything at all.

Placing back the shoebox, you must reconsider your Grandparents as more than old antiques. They were from a simpler era. Things were easier then, cut and dried. Yet, on this hot afternoon, in this crappy storage locker, you uncovered a truth: Jack and Mary had longings that turned into secrets and eventually became lies. Just like you and just like everyone else.

To be continued…

True Crime

March 9, 2020

61mkQAhEFOL._US230_.jpg-The author, Karl Ove Knausgaard

Perhaps the greatest joy of reading, beyond escaping into the story itself, was discovering your self in another person’s words and worlds. Realizing that you were not too idiosyncratic. Not unusually unusual. That others, a certain few, thought as you did, felt things deeply or, as likely, not at all. These characters possessed your attributes and defects. They were outcasts. Geniuses. Drunks. Fathers. Husbands. Monsters too. Books opened doors where before you’d only glimpsed through keyholes. They validated you, even if in unsavory ways. Bram Stoker’s Dracula seduced you as the vampire seduced his prey. Inflamed by Ayn Rand’s iconoclastic hero Howard Roarke, who steadfastly zigged against a tide of mindless zagging. Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea beguiled you. “Fish… I’ll stay with you until I am dead.” Your heart beat madly as Kurtz’s in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. You, too, were “loyal to the nightmare of your choice.” Here, finally, was the other. Here finally were you.

Most recently, you’ve been reading (more like devouring) the auto-fiction of Norwegian writer, Karl Ove Knausgaard. His epic and massive series, My Struggle is, for you, nothing short of transcendent. Beyond memoir, Knausgaard vivisects his persona, revealing the truth about himself and those in his orbit, with intense clarity and unimaginable attention to detail; it is an autopsy of self, but never dour. On the contrary it is lightness itself, like a bright conversation. Somehow, someway, he illuminates the mundane, making it into something incandescent. Hard to explain but easy to feel. Brutally frank, regardless of the pain and embarrassment his admissions ultimately caused to both the author and those closest to him; his revelations strike you as necessary, even inevitable. In doing so, Knausgaard may have enraged his loved ones (you have read as much online), but he helped you to understand yourself, your defects and virtues, as never before. You relate to so many passages, choosing one is like picking out a goldfish at the pet shop. This, from his book Spring (part of a series he wrote just after My Struggle), speaking to his infant daughter:

I’m not good enough at talking to people to have close friends, and then there is also that I spend all my time on myself, which people notice, of course, so that no one takes that extra step. If someone does attempt to get closer, I usually withdraw into myself. That’s how your father is, a little shy of people, not necessarily because I want to be that way, but because that’s what I have become, and because that life, alone in front of the keyboard and the computer screen, is easier.

You could have written this to your daughters, every word. “It’s not a good quality,” he writes, “but it will become part of your life…I am writing this as an apology to you.”

Not sorry enough to change, however. And neither shall you. Some of it is laziness born of fear –call it wariness- but your questionable behavior, you’ve come to realize, is merely accepting the things you cannot change. Knausgaard is, at his core, an introvert and a narcissist, And so dear boy are you.

Interestingly and regrettably, it is precisely these two traits that define so many notorious killers. Ever since reading Truman Capote’s seminal book, In Cold Blood, you’ve identified with pathological murderers and are drawn to the genre because of it. In particular, it is the serial killer you find most compelling. Ted Bundy. Jeffrey Dahmer. Zodiac. Like the vampires you adored as a youth, here were real-life loners who craved attention in the worst way possible. Introverted and narcissistic, each man was an egomaniac with an inferiority complex. Their cruel egos got the better of them. It stopped others cold.