Wild Strawberries: short story – 25 June 2016

Wild Strawberries



Two years ago a man approached me with a stolen laptop. He told me that, if I were to repair it, he would give it to me for a neglible sum. Now, I’m not a total moron, and as this man had won no lotteries, nor worked, to my knowledge, in years, the deduction that the property was stolen was a simple one. Elementary, indeed. No work for 7 months plus drug habit, minus ethics, equals theft. It’s practically an established concept that addiction – ethics = theft. (A-E = T, I suppose).  Now, I had moral issues with this. I want to be a good person. I really do, and did. But a deal’s a deal. I am American, after all. I agreed to the repairs, the neglible fee, and took possession of the laptop. I agreed to fix it and then, whenever I was certain it worked, I told him I would give him the rest of the money. If it was broken, I’d be better off, in such circumstances, maintaining my decency, since no good would come of abandoning it for profit. I went home, booted the computer to the BIOS, and found that it had been registered under the name of Maybelle Seymore.  And, this young man, with his ‘hitting puberty’ mustache, the kind that Leonardo DiCaprio wore in Gangs of New York, he looked like no Maybelle to me. His shambling demeanor and laptop theft suggested that, this miss Maybelle, had been the victim of this hoodlum I was helping. Not only helping, mind. Going back to ethics/theft equation, I made the connection that a Poirot or a Sherlock Holmes would have made to begin with: It was stolen from the elderly, possibly by someone that elderly person trusted, and since he did not appear to be particularly scared of being locked up, I imagined she must be related to this young entrepreneur. We’ll call him Kevin. Now, the notion going through my mind, upon finding this Maybelle and making this connection, was one of the first lines from the Pali Dhammapada, in the book of verses Twins (a Buddhist text):
Just as a cart follows an ox, so does misfortune follow the wicked.When one performs a wicked action, they are lighting a firea fire in which they will one day burn.
I’ve always thought of that as conceptually true, that is, I understood that it was a logical and sound principle, but from my many, and they are legion my foolish actions, it would be easy to suggest that I had lit many fires, fires that, as of then, had not caught up to burn me. And yet, I was party to theft, at the very least, and since I knew that a trusting grandmother would not think their grandson a thief, she would allow her innate goodness (ethics) to lead to the subtraction of the laptop. So, again, twins: but, I did not know this woman, and I stood to gain from it. I think that people hold onto their morals, their beliefs, and code, up until the very moment it becomes beneficial for them not to. So I fixed it, put it into use for myself, and really thought very little of Maybelle. I did not think she missed it, or needed it, or that she even suspected it might be gone.  I expected “Kevin” to turn that money, through a merchant alchemy, into some intoxicant or another (we have our vices, coffee, for some, work for others) but, after I gave him the first half of the money, he forgot that I owed him any more. So, another fire is lit. Why would I help someone, nay, why should I reimburse him? He stole from Maybelle! So, I thought, in some inversion (or perversion, a ‘version’ requiring prefix*) I would undo my karmic demerit by ripping off the thief. To be honest, I thought this was justice. (Instead of calling the police, reporting him, and returning the computer to the erstwhile Maybelle, though this was something that came to mind).
I got the stolen laptop up and running, and heard very little from “Kevin”. I imagined that his habit would only increase to further acts of theft, and, in such instances, I would deal with him when it was to my benefit (selfish is a word that has been used, and it is an apt one) but, in the meantime, I used the laptop to work. I started a story with an ex-girlfriend (it’s complicated) and we began to spend time together, working on it, and I hoped, working on the complications of it. We had dated for a year and 6 months, for 6 months after meeting, for a year after consummation (this is fiction, don’t squirm if you know me and this sounds familiar) the relationship lasted for a further year. I used Maybelle’s laptop to great effect. I wrote her stories and poetry, using this example of wickedness for good (debatable), but we became closer and closer, and she started staying the night. Yes, cue that bow chikka wow-wow if you must, but it was more than that.  It is not merely the pleasant physical configuration of interlocking genitalia, it is the interlocking of persons, of independent consciences, it is not about taking or ‘getting’, it is about giving and sharing, and it’s amazing, it’s awesome; it’s the word that describes most heartily the greatness of something, more-so to be with someone who is not only beautiful and clever and, I’m not going to make the hackneyed list: she knew of my own ethical mistakes. Conceptually, we had broken up by the time we started work. But, in my defense, it was totally my fault. I cheated on her on New Year’s Eve, and then New Year’s Day, and then, to make it up to her, lied about it. She was not pleased (an understatement on par with “peace in our time” but less ironic). She was the opposite of pleased. And we stopped talking. I started to behave in a way similar to “Kevin”. But I did not steal old ladies’ laptops; I had a job during the week and I wrote during the night, the drive to eat is a powerful one, grasshopper.  The drive to make things worse, by lying about one’s infidelity, is also a powerful one. Sometimes the easiest thing to do is the mistake. Being right is not a magical principle of luck, it requires knowing one is doing wrong and thinking, through this wrong, I will make right. I figured, once we broke things off, that I would never see her again. So, to see her again, and to have a laptop and a willing partner to work, I thought we could work on more than the story. I thought the prefix ‘ex’ could be removed through virtue. Odd, I see it as an attempt to re-establish the relationship we had, a relationship that included much more discussion than genitalia exchange. In the span of 18 months, we spent on average 3 hours a day talking, which would add up to (there are on average 30 days a month, and by always 24 hours a day, so 18 months is 547 days (13140 hours), and we talked more or less from the time we woke to the time we slept, usually texting while we were at work, talking on Facebook in the evenings, and then talking on the phone after she got her kids to bed. In the same time period, the amount of hours, by comparison, of sexy time, were inconsequential. It was not the reason for the love.  It was great, by the way (Relax), but we, I would like to think, valued all of our time together, and all the time we did spend together, because for the time we dated, most of that was spent many, many hours away, as she lived in a different state. However, when she moved to the same state, that’s when I began fucking up in earnest. I think lying to someone one loves is not as much an attempt to deceive, despite it being that by definition, as much as it is an attempt by someone to make themselves more than they are and, by doing so, worthy of someone they believe to be better than they are.  This girl, whom we’ll call “Xena Warrior Princess”, was too good for me, and, ironically, I thought that I could make up this by lying my way to glory (something which no successful man or woman has ever said to themselves and went on to achieve, save for Frank Abegnail Jr, con artists, politicians, presidents and dictators, respectively).
When “Xena Warrior Princess” moved to lets call it “Shit-marsh”, we got to see each more and more, and I never wanted it to end. When I think back to specific moments, despite a decent memory, it’s hard for me to remember specifics, as one remembers the various impressions of a book rather than the individual words, as the scenes remain when the dialogue is forgotten. I wanted to preserve that and pickle it, to can it away as the Maybelles did for Y2k, when Skynet failed to take over and people lost their minds and decided the only way to survive the computer apocalypse was to can peaches and buy canned goods. I can’t remember ever seeing someone canning peaches thinking, ‘I can’t wait until the world ends and we see each other again’. But I digress.  I decided that I would pickle it by preservation of another sort, not quite a Horcrux, but in some permanent medium, and then I remembered the Dhammapada and, the notion of being virtuous, and how most of the Buddha’s view was based on what is known as the 3 Marks of Existence. We’ll call them “the Big 3” for brevity (soul of wit, they say). The Big 3 are impermanence, insubstantiality, and insatiability, which, admittedly, is a translation used only because of my love for alliteration. The first of the Big Trizzy is perhaps the most important Buddist notion: impernance. Transience. The times are doing nothing but a’changing, in the parlance of … Bob Dylan. As I had lived, with all intent that is, to be decent, I had regardless made compromises with decency for my own advantage. (See: politics) I told Xena Warrior Princess (THIS IS FICTION) that, some of my greatness was bullshit. And since she’s not an idiot, she told me she knew very well. I was surprised by this. What kind of person looks at another one, sees a frail, lying, weak, and desperate person and goes “I love them”? A person of the highest virtue. While sexy time is great, and intelligence and conversation is wonderful, virtue is as rare as condors, or Amur leopards (cue ‘Another One Bites the Dust’).  All things must pass, even all the particles in the universe. Ultimately, each atom will lose its charge and all the matter in the universe will become cold. This is not a good time to tell you this, but eventually all the suns, the stars, they will all go dark. And the most thorough method of canning peaches will not survive the heat death of the universe. This is a sad realization, the furthest view of this principle, impermanence, this froth on the water feeling. The most grandiose of peoples, their statues and great monuments, will first lose eyes that see and appreciate them, then they themselves will lose cohesion, and like the monuments to Pharaoh and to the gods, will go cold and cease to be.  To be seen, or be capable of being seen; what joy is there to have, knowing that this is ultimately how everything ends up? What virtue prevails when all is dust, no, less than dust, as dust has ‘thingness’ going on for it?  This is why I’m an insomniac, and the long list of things (epithets mainly) one could use as a descrptive factor here. The notion that things live on, in stories, that is indeed an attractive principle. Romeo and Juliet, afterall, those idiots are still remembered. (Oh, she might be dead! Best to kill myself before checking! Yes, this is an idiot. You check the pulse before you go suicide, man. Duh)
Suicide is not a cheerful subject, and living in a Shit-marsh leads to people doing more than stealing laptops from old ladies. They become thieves, and addicts, to sleep if nothing else. And when Xena left, I remained in the Shit-marsh, and made it my companion in degeneracy. There is a word I’m searching for, you know that feeling, when someone asks you a bit of trivia, and you have the feeling that, had the person not asked it, you would have easily provided an answer? I call that ‘cubbage’ – kuh-bidge – because it’s a portmanteau of cunt and cabbage, the former being what you feel like, the latter being what your mind becomes. It’s like degeneracy, but it is a more profound one. It’s not decadent, because I’m American, decadence should go without saying. I’m also partially bourgeois, so, that exponentially ups the decadent factor. No, it’s a more sticky word, a more dissolute connotation. I sought out “Kevin”, finding him hard at work on his practice of immorality, and found him with a laptop for sale. And that’s where the story begins. With getting the laptop, starting the ethical quibble, and then leading up to my relationship with Xena, after the break-up that is.  It’s complicated (see!), but it was, the 13140 hours, the small percentage of half of that would be enough; to hear her voice, the way she pronounced certain words (like ‘I’ became ‘Oi’ and ‘However’ was ‘Ow’eh’vur’), the way she always exhaled and made a unique, soft sound when she was letting you know she was done laughing and it was time to move to the next joke. The way her face changed during a conversational nibble (that is, avoiding what one has in mind by small talk. ‘How’s the weather’ and ‘how have you been’ that leads to ‘let me borrow your microwave’ or ‘somebody is going to kill me if I don’t pay them back’).  Speaking of suicide, I’ve done research, critical research and found an absolutely painless, unknowing submergence, like a giant, cotton, anthropoid pillow that is super excited to wrap you in its infinite, wooly hug. It is more painless and less spectacle oriented than a guillotine crowd (guillotines were invented because of how egalitarian it was with the condemned; in the ‘twinkling of an eye…’); my solution is to soak strawberries in sugar and potassium cyanide. Now, individual results vary. If you are allergic to strawberries (this is fiction!) then you might want to soak your cyanide in grapes (do not try anywhere).
Editor: We can’t publish the bit about potassium cyanide and strawberries.Author: It’s effective, isn’t it? Editor: Too effective. It’s going to be cut. Is this why you named this Strawberry Suicide?Author: Working title.Editor: Yeah, you need to cut this part too.Author: No! Editor: Yep, you can…Author: I’ll make you a deal. Editor: What?Author: I’ll change your name to ‘editor’ and replace the bit about how to actually kill yourself, but, I would like to show the world how virtuous you are, to want to make sure no one packed a jar full of strawberries and soaked them in cyanide. It’s nice that you wouldn’t want anyone to do that. I want people to see that, you don’t even know them, and yet you wouldn’t want them endangered.Editor: God dammit, Brandon. Author: What?Editor: You always do this. Always. You don’t have to include everything. Editor 2: He’s fucking incorrigible. He doesn’t listen. Author: DOWN IN YOUR BASEMENT, EDITOR 2.Editor 2: *Hisses* EDITOR_2 HAS LEFT CHAT Author: As I was saying. RELEASE THE HOUNDS.
Anyway, I digress. I was suicidal and my editor wanted you to know that she cares that you not do so. Who knows, you might have someone care about whether or not you live or die in your own life. Like a Warrior Princess. And, while she was none too pleased with my habits, being ethical, she gave me the chance I needed, the chance I wanted, to remake something. It would defy entropy, the cosmos’ final boss, if only for a time. And, being the fictional character that I totally am, I fucked it up. How? The laptop.
As we started getting together more often (after the relationship ended, and we started talking again, but we were not sharing genitalia which is totally cool I mean, no, it’s not based on that), I realized that the best way to love someone, is to love what they love, and love for the same reasons. I loved her kids, her family (except her mom), and got to actually see them. Something that I knew from my days in the friendzone that she did not expose her children to. Xena’s history had shown her that it was best not to bring people into her children’s lives if she thought they could harm them. And I did not want to. I helped the youngest with his math homework, I helped the eldest with her sight-reading (an aspiring musician), and I was sincere. It is only a true tragedy when something is on the line. Poe thought it was the death of a beautiful woman. The ancient Greeks thought it was an informative flaw, held by all great men, that exists to remind the storytellers of the folly of humanity or something (I’m an idiot).  It doesn’t have to be the loss of a beautiful woman, tragedy. It can be an extremely poor military decision (attacking up-hill at Gettysburg and unclear orders by General Lee), the loss of life (all the people who died because of this man’s fuck up), or the victory itself, since from all great wounds come great scars. Scars begin life as scabs, then fester as they’re picked at, some people pick their scabs just because they enjoy scratching. I pick them because they itch like poison oak, the kind that has a bad crack addiction and is always scratching the under side of their chin, like the guy from Chappelle’s Show when he drank Red Bull.  And scars, like those across one’s head, allow no new hair to grow. So it is a contentious spot, a deformity to the body and the land, it lingers, it seeps into people and to their culture, perverting it, distorting it, and pickling it. Turning it from a healthy organism, the humble cucumber, into a sour, shrunken, more succulent shell of what it once was. It can be a mistake, too, tragedy: it can be leaving too early, it can be forgetting something, it can be intentional, and it can be accidental and intentonal at the same time. It is the long arm of karma that makes sure checks, once written to the universe, are cashed, as they must be. My mistake was multiform, and its results varying: but it started with the laptop, being left at my house, when I was to stay the weekend at her new house, some 45 miles from Shit-marsh.  I left it on the top of her car when I returned to my home to get my valise (a pretentious suitcase that is slimmer and softer), and upon returning, just shut the fucking door like I had everything, and she drove off with my laptop bag on top of the car. Inside that laptop bag was my laptop, my deodorant, and my medicine. This was the biggest mistake I had ever made, and I once slid down a rail nut-first while trying to board slide it after dedicating a year of my formative age to becoming a pro-skateboarder. Yeah, sad, I know.
When we got to her house, that’s when I realized that my laptop was missing. I was frantic. It had all my writing on it, my means of employment, and my dissertation in linguistics and human expression. It also had my medicine, a loose term, which in this case included Tramadol, a semi-synthetic opiate which helps ease low-level pain and headaches and not punch co-workers who still can’t stop let Let it Go go, and Adderall, which helped me focus since I’m allergic to coffee and naturally lazy. But I was most worried about my laptop. First I called my aunt, over and over and over, then, after being informed by my memory she was in the hospital, I attempted to call my mother, who lived not far from where my house was, on the end of the street. After failing to contact either, I began calling friends, after all, I was desperate.  I got in touch with two of them, and at that time, Xena Warrior Princess and I were on our way back to Shit-marsh to try to pick it up, with me looking out the window along the entire drive. Of the two friends, one claims to have never gone by, while the other claimed, as I talked to him as he walked by my house, not to have seen it. I was frantic, as I said earlier, and so began, in my quiet way, to lose my damn mind. Now, I don’t know what happened, when he went by, but when I got there, the laptop was gone, and with it, my sanity and calmness of mind. I was to visit that weekend to work on our story, the one we were writing together, not ‘our story’, the one we were living together. And even after this great loss, she promised she would replace it and I sold her the rights to my publication in art, as an I.O.U. to help me replace the laptop. And instead of working on the computer, we worked together. But when I went to the bathroom, I saw in the medicine cabinet that her son, and daughter together, had replacement medication for what I had lost.  At first I only drank a bit of the cough syrup, and took the ADHD medication sparingly, but as Xena and I wound down the night, I took more, losing count, of her children’s medication, knowing what I was doing, completely violating her trust, and yet it was the best night of my life. We worked in the kitchen, each with a nice, hard drink, and it was so damn wonderful and amazing the way she laughed, the way we were that night, if I could, like Dream in Fables and Reflections from The Sandman series by Neil Gaiman, preserve that night as he did Bagdad in the story Ramadan, if I could preserve one night, minus the theft, it would be that. We ate together, Xena and I and her children, Chinese food, Kung Pao chicken. I helped her daughter finish her homework, I helped her son with a bit of his, and the whole night, I thought, what better life could one live?  She was not my girlfriend, and I did not think of her as such, but she was as much as a girlfriend, more than one, closer than friend, more than a mere lover. I was not in love, or maybe I was, but it was a feeling that was planted, one that had sprung from an accident seed the day we met by accident, as I attempted to contact her sister about a book I was working on. The night wound down and I remember, standing with her on the porch and talking about us, ‘us’ in that sense, and I saw, perhaps for the first time in years, since I cheated on that bygone New Year’s Eve, the first bit of light, the hint of a dawn, one that would clear away the moth-eaten view of the world I had, one in which all happiness was fleeting, all matter, all statues to dissolve, impermanent and transient, just as the Dhammapada said. As it had said, one who commits a foolish acts is as one who lights a fire, surely, one day he will burn. But when you burn is when you learn.  She told me that night that maybe, when she had things straight in her own mind, that she would always be there for me, if not as a girlfriend or more, as a friend, someone who would love me. And I thought that’s enough, what I would not have done to ensure that, what I would do now to go back in time, to undo the falling laptop, the deal with “Kevin”, the theft of Maybelle, the fire that caught up. We slept in the same bed that night, listening to Proust and laughing so hard, making up stupid jokes (my forte), and enjoying life, as much as possible.  I could not sleep. But I lay there with her till she slept, and we were snuggled together. And I decided, if that was all it ever was, if there was no sex or kissing or anything, that tangential love, that love by the transitive property, that was enough and then-some. Had I known, had I been a man of virtue, had I not taken the medicine, had I not put it away, had I not left it on the car, had I been a better man, perhaps I would have now a better life. Perhaps I would not suggest a poisonous concoction of strawberries.
When she woke up, she first prepared the children for school and, after that, one need not be Sherlock Holmes to deduce that she was well aware of what I had done. It was written on her face, the deepest resentment and disappoint, the furrowed brow, the quick and curt replies. I packed my things quietly and the drive home was a long one. We talked about calling the other, and even hugged, but as I felt her arms around me, I felt the lack of deserving them, the lack of deserving, again, of any kindness. I deserved her hatred, and to be cut off from her life. Later that afternoon she called and told me she wanted me to take off the mask, the goofy self I present to the world to hide myself, a defense mechanism common to orphan children. I said yes. She thanked me for not lying to her, and then told me, you know, everyone told me this would happen with you. Her mother had told her.  And then she said, in a moment not dissimilar from the Simpsons’ moment when Bart pauses the television screen to show Lisa the moment when Ralph’s heart broke, that I could never come to her house again, nor see her children again, and that, as far as our story was concerned, she didn’t know if she would continue it. I said I understand, I apologized, until I could not anymore, and she said she would be by later to pick up her daughter’s keyboard, which I was using to make it look like a Mac for her.  I was able to make one last mistake, and oversleep, failing to give it back on time. But, after it was returned, we talked a few times, and then stopped. I checked her conversations, yes, if I was so horrid a man to take from children, graduating to Facebook spying was not out of character. And the things she said about me, those things, each letter cruel in its impersonal, sterile lines, each adding up to the point of a knife, each sentence, after the night before, when I mentioned the hint of light, the pale metaphor to explain the moment when a man sees the possibility of happiness in the future. It was covered, and the sun went black and I went back to “Kevin”‘s way of doing things.
When one commits a foolish act, he is lighting a fire in which he will one day burn.
My obsession with strawberries and burning goes back to my childhood, when, for the first time, I had a whole basket of strawberries. To make them extra delicious, I dipped them in sugar. That night I found out, as the hives rose like fleshy red plateaus along my stomach and my face, I was deathly allergic to the fruit of false promises (I would later learn it was no true berry, either), and later that night it would make my throat swell. My parents’ first response was to put me in a cold bath, because, this is logical: I felt as though I was burning up, as each bit of skin was extremely angry and wanted me to know.  When I hit the water I was paralyzed immediately. It was hotter than anything I’ve ever felt, the cold water, and I was unable to move. I have told close friends about this experience, to be wrapped in what feels like an all encompassing womb of fire, where the amniotic fluid is more flames, and it was like sleep paralysis. The situation where one wakes and is unable to move. There are paintings and old folktales of this, tales which suggest there is a demon sitting on your chest. My mom sat on the toilet attempting to call the town doctor. The first thing he said was not to put him in cold water. Had they called the doctor first, perhaps I would not have been put through such a trauma, one that recurs every now and then, as an acid flashback that wants to murder you and remind you of the deadliness of the faux-berries.
Karma’s reach is a long one, unimpeded by distance, whether in space or time, and its reality is a wonderful horror; the only permanence in a world of transition, is loss. It never goes away. If there is any consolation in that, in that, while we live, in the long shadow of silence, between lines created by shadows, we have only the passing away of things to look forward to. The story we were writing, the one that we were living, was deleted, and Xena moved onto someone less inclined to abandoning trust and love for fear, for anxiety, for anything, and I did not harass her; I wanted her to get away from me, not because I did not need her, not because I did not love her, but it would be more tragic by far for someone of such goodness, of such radiance of character and beauty, to remain long in the marsh with a degenerate such as myself. But, I hoped that I would get to see her again, that one day some mitigating factor, some degree of pity or my own pittance might bring her back. It did not.  I decided to get clean, to take to heart those teachings of virtue which I had previously believed in, having logically understood their internal rightness. It is a different than by far for the mind to know, in principle, that fire is hot. It is another experience entirely to be fed to flames and left to burn, for months, to be known for such failure and such horrible choices. If I were to stumble upon a lamp, as the stories of ancient Arabia – though not originally a part of One Thousand and One Nights – Aladdin and the Genie, I would ask for one wish: not for my pain to be removed, but for anything I did to harm her, for any minute, or any moment, and for any harm done to her children through me, to be undone, only that their lives would not be further marred by their mother’s decision, the wrong one, to think me worth loving. I would wish not for more wishes, but for more genies, and give them the charge of seeing to her concerns for the rest of her life. Removing all obstacles for her and her kids, I would command them to take from her life, through any means, any deceptive rose bush without first having shorn each thorn capable of drawing blood.  I wish that I wasn’t impotent to change, so incompetent in practice that I had recourse to hope, to wish, to bend the laws of nature to undo the most awful of mistakes. To undo the kindling, and the kerosene, which is life, each situation: kindling just waiting for a match, or a fire already lit waiting for a breath of life. But, I digress: to change, that would mean changing myself for the sole sake of decency, with little hope to gain from it. And, if I’ve learned anything, it is a rare flower indeed that blooms only to give unto the world its fragrant smell, or picaresque scenery, a rarer one that loves what would sit, oblivious by, and pick from the living organism, one petal after another, ‘She loves me, she loves me not’. I remember the Mitch Hedberg joke where he imagines this from the perspective of what the flower would say. ‘Ouch!’ and ‘dammit!’ and ‘leave me alone!’ as someone plucked. ‘And he loves you not!’ In the end, I decided to try to get off the crutches I had used, and thereby undermine the possibility of any such repetition, with Xena or with a lesser warrior, for all were lesser in comparison to her, as was the Tramadol and adderral, the sun and stars and other such trivial things compared, if they were, to that night we spent, not a couple, but not separate; in bed, but not; but together, sharing, giving, and in the dark, we lay there, lamenting our inability to write as well as Proust as we listened to Swann’s Way. I talked about how it might be possible to market her underwear to Japanese vending machines under ‘The Bourgeois Vag’, and we kicked our feet like children, delirious from too much sleep and too much refined sugar. We were as two friends on a first sleepover, laying together, we might as well have practiced kissing or talked about the boys at school.  I had the feeling that we had reverted to an earlier age in life, to an age where farts were still funny and the world was new, and love was something to be protected, behind lasers and security systems, every bit as valuable as the Mona Lisa or a Vermeer. Xena’s favorite was Vermeer, as she said, he was the Proust of painters, the way he made such every day, non-dramatic scenes of life stand out as the most beautiful. The blush of a young woman on the cusp of womanhood, reading the words of someone she much adores. Or a woman in a crown of flowers holding a trumpet and an atlas, as though she were the Greek god whom Hercules relieved, briefly, only to trick into taking up the world once more, in the ancient myths. No, I’ve always related more to Sisyphus, the titan who, in trying to trick the gods to save his wife, attempted to capture Kronos, the over-god of time, Chronos, not Zeus’ father, the not-so-picky eater who devoured a generation of gods.  In failing, with his co-conspirator of Hades, who, to be frank, could not be sent to Hell, he was punished to forever roll a stone up a hill, only to get to the top and, to make the point of futility it seeks, the rock falls down the other side. Camus said we must imagine Sisyphus laughing, in his Le mythe de sisyphe. But Albert Camus is absurd.  I cannot imagine such a thing. I carry the memory of one woman whom above all else I adored, and I’d rather anything than carry it. I’d immolate myself as did Thich Quang duc, the Buddhist monk who self-immolated to protest the treatment of Buddhists in South Vietnam. But, in the same tradition, those words that keep repeating, ‘when one commits an evil act, one is lighting a fire in which one day one will burn’, there is nothing of greater instructive value: you may not know it, as I did not know, when I took in Maybelle’s computer, fixed it and then jipped “Kevin” to keep it. In the end, Xena did not replace it, and I went without a computer to work on. I lost the will to quill. Without a pen a writer is less than what they are: it is less extension than prosthesis, and when one loses it, there is a type of phantom pain, a scar that is sure to grow, to be divisive, as one grew up between me and Xena.
Dera Xena I had to tell them the truthYou Warrior Princess, you fountain of youthYou poor man’s Serendipity, you museRemembering Falling? Remember Ballyhoo?Remember all those times you said, without sarcasm,Without dissembling,I love you for all the wrong reasons,For all we share? It never diedIt’s all still there, just packed away, safe from time.
This was a place we invented, a make-believe ballroom where, before we went to sleep, we would talk the other to sleep, so that we could attempt to follow them into their dreams to make our long distance relationship possible. At first we would sync movies to begin at the same time and then shut off the lights and pretend, if Poirot’s lips matched, we watched together, miles apart. We called it Romantic Action at a Distance.  The idea was one night I remembered a song, it was that song, for those who know that stupid truism that there is one song that when listening all one does is think about ways to get drunk. Because for many the images of someone who we loved are flashing over our eyes and sobriety must be stopped. It is an unholy possession of what isn’t there: I sat in the car, put on the song (And this is true: the song was Madame Butterly. Every time I heard Marie Callas all I thought of was her. And every time I saw the Girl in the Pearl Earring I’d have a sort of rush of memory, taking me back to the couch at her house as we sat scrunched together watching war documentaries. It was research. Our book was to be about a great supervillain named Dlina, ‘wave length’, a villain who starts World War III and becomes a universal absolute dictator. The character, at least, was based in part on Xena in her more … imperial moments.  The fantasy was that she would subdue the world, and we would write about the tragedy of peace. The tragedy that winning does not justify, such as the failed campaigns of the villains, the greatest victories, are to some the worst of tragedies. To lose one person must be nothing for the amount of widows made by the greatest of wars, from Ramses II at Kadesh to General Lee Gettysburg, Paulus at Stalingrad, all those orphans made by chance, by the far-off warcry of absentee fathers pursuing glory and virtue, as the marshal Romans did, like Alexander of Macedon or Tamerlane, Genghis Khan or Ashoka.  It is hard, I believe, to learn empathy, to learn it past the conceptual knowledge of understanding that, yes, fire is hot, with the physical and conscious knowing what fire feels like when it grabs you and forces you to bow to pain. That’s the moment artists try to preserve, the moment something is taken: is that not the measure of tragedy? To lose a princess, if only one who is titled this to avoid getting sued, is surely not so deep a problem as, say, the fall of Thebes to the Persian army, when the centuries of cultural riches of Egypt were taken and the city sacked, not as thoroughly as Rome had sacked Carthage, but it was plundered; men were carried off as slaves, women as concubines.  I know, and this might surprise you, the world is larger than what I can see. But when you have, or think you have nothing, something, anything can become the equivalent of a world. I do not try to compare this surgical, umbilical severance to the Waterloo, morne plane. I understand. But it is a different of knowing conceptually that fire is hot, and having to burn, and in that is all the difference in the world.
When I say that it is fiction, I mean that there was no “Kevin” or no Shit-marsh, but there was a man, there was a Maybelle, and in the end, her laptop was returned. After doing some investigation, after the pathetic lamentations of the previous chapter, I found out how my computer was stolen, how I came to the nexus point. A nexus point is when life is greatly altered, after which a previous possibility becomes impossible and a new life that did not have to be starts. A nexus point is an event that knocks down the strongest. The greatest men, have, and so do the greatest women, something that has hurt them. It may have been a man who, as sorry as he is, harmed her children, or it may have been a laptop thief. It may have been a series of events put in motion the moment where I decided it was okay to steal something. I got the laptop that I needed.  It helped me get, not only our relationship started again, but I got to visit, to work on the story, I got to snuggle one last time and hold her. Without it, I would have remained a 9-5 walking embodiment of the ‘those who can, do; those who can’t, teach’. A caricature of ‘tortured artist’, recycling tropes from Edgar Poe. The opiate addiction, the taunting of birds. A raven that said ‘Nevermore!’ and an owl who said ‘Who!’ and, to a schizophrenic, you must agree that this is at least rude. ‘Who’ the owl asked, ‘Who, who, who, who’ — and to a man who wears first the clown mask then the very-serious-aren’t-you mask, this is a trick question. It is like the Blank Man created in the novel L’homme Nouveau by Charles Pinon. The blank man was created by a scientist without any moral or racial prejudices, given the perfect brain and the perfect muscles, the strength, the perfect athleticism. But when the blank man is introduced to gambling, he gets over-competitive at the roulette table.  The idea of chance for a being made of purpose is an intoxication, as is the idea of order for those at home in crisis. The blank man acquires behavior very similar to that of a machine, as Pinon describes: ‘He renamed himself as to throw off the watching security cameras of the casino, wearing his new beret and knit-scarf. He had not come to win; the excitement of gain was an alien one. The idea that order was not constant, or randomness, that was a rush. The meaninglessness for the blank person, programmed to be the perfect person, was a powerful motivator.  As he turned into a middle-aged man, the blank person became very serious with women. But, at the moment it got serious, or the question of permanence arose, the formerly blank man, now going by the name of Theodore [he changed his name for every person he met, reasoning that it would be better that they remember him as he was for them and not as he was by popular reputation, as he hated popular description when it did not accord with his sense of innate purpose, despite his reveling in the chaos of our normal person’s existential horror, his own horror was in the inability of others to perceive him uniformly, only as, what he believed, were a variety of facets of his total person, but as he aged, he lost memory of them, and each facet came undone until, in the end, he was the Blank Man once again.
We were out of touch for a long time, and in that time, I replaced the laptop with a replica, and continued to write. I worked on finishing a collection of short stories, like sane men do. In the meantime, I came to know that the laptop had been found. I had called my family first, then I called two friends. While one had never come by, or so his girlfriend at the time said, the other had, by his own admission, walked by my house. The problem with this is that person would later go onto say some very incriminating things. Let’s look at it from a detective’s point of view. If something goes missing and you want to make sure someone has it, if it is being ransom, what would be the first way to identify the person who indeed has it? Imagine it as one of those, ‘Found: Large Amount of Cash’ situations wherein one must go in and state the exact amount lost in order to claim the money.  This makes it impossible for anyone to just come in and say, ‘I lost a large amount of money’ and take it away, just because anyone who says that can get it. The first thing you want to know who is aware of details only someone who would have it would be aware of? The MURDERER! In this case, the person who took it. Well, I made friend’s with a guy, who was also friends with the other person whom I had attempted to get to come by my house and look for my laptop. This new friend, let’s call him duplicitous, decided he would do me a favor and tell me that the other friend, whom he knew I suspected of having stolen my laptop, was bragging that he had taken my computer.  He was also saying, incorrectly as it turned out, that I couldn’t go to the police because it was stolen. this was an err on his part, because I did go to the police as soon as Xena let me out at my house. I got on my desktop computer and pinged the server on the missing laptop to get an IP address; this would let me get a geo-location and found out where it was the night it was taken but the officer was more concerned with writing up the criminal report that getting back the stolen property. This would be like if a police officer were to arrive at your home after your wife has been shot and, instead of doing everything he can to save her life, wants to get all the paperwork taken care of.  Not only did the person who apparently wanted me to know he had stolen from me said that the computer had been stolen, which implied not only did the new friend, the duplicitous one, know the exact laptop, since it had been stolen by “Kevin” from Maybelle, the hypothetical lady who had misplaced trust in a junkie (I understand you could make the joke that this description could apply equally to Xena, but in my defense, fuck you). This guy always happened to know that inside the bag of the stolen laptop were the two types of medication that were inside the case, the types of medication that I needed, the type that, had I had that night, the nexus point that turned me to a world in which I thought of strawberry suicide would not have happened! He had not taken just a laptop from me. He had taken a future from me. And I don’t care! I don’t care that it comes down to a choice I made! I was put into a position to make that choice only because of this theft, this theft from me! He took my fucking future, he took her, even if through my hands, the moment he carried off that computer. He took away a future, a future where such nights of lounging in bed, of listening to Swann’s Way and talking about Japanese panty vending machines, he took away every moment that could have meant something more than a daily dredge in a lecture hall, or a day alone, a night alone, a night when you have to be Nobody by yourself.  And in the end, Maybelle got her computer back. But the man who stole the computer from me, I never called him out on it. I always made him believe I thought the other man to be guilty, that way I could say such things as ‘what kind of piece of shit would do that?’ in front of the person who did it, to call them a piece of shit to their face in my own very slippery way of getting some petty revenge. We remain friends to this day. Well, I wouldn’t say friend but I’m not, as the Germans say, mad with desire to stick a knife in him.
There is an old joke in my family, by my adoptive siblings, that I was born with a boy’s balls but with a woman’s sensibility. What they mean is that, as a young boy, I cried when I saw things die. Or when I watched a film and, say, someone is hit by a car. They sat with popcorn on their laps and, each time someone hit a windshield, god damn, they’d hoot and holler like drug addled owls let loose in very small space. The notion is that I care too much, or that I let things bother me that I shouldn’t, and the lesson here is that they’re not exactly progressive in the way that they view gender and toughness, despite my adoptive mom having had more balls than the three male children she had, not including the two she would adopt, including me and my eldest younger brother (it’s not complicated at all).  She was a woman for whom I had absolute respect. I would not say she was as tough as nails; nails, to her, would be as soft as jell-o pudding. She could take a shower in diamond and it would not be dry. It would require a Dorothy tipped drill to cut through diamond. And yet, they said I was a woman, since I wrote poetry and thought Egypt and dinosaurs were each the coolest subjects on Earth and I wanted to be a performing clown, like Pagliacci. They suggested perhaps I was a homosexual, and from then on I kept such literary notions to myself, and though I talked to my father, we never talked about how I should be more of a man. My real father, I never knew, and this isn’t hackneyed fiction, it’s hackneyed truth, but I knew my adoptive father, but only for the 8 years in which I lived with him after being adopted. He died when I was fourteen, before I had to shave, before I would disappoint a woman for the first time sexually.  He never told me how to be a good person. But when he died, I took my graduation present and spent all of the money on books on ethics and philosophy. They took me in, and I wanted to repay that generosity. I studied the ethics of men who had no problem with slavery and execution, with philosophers of the highest virtue whose teachings would be perverted within years of the deaths. I saw the great religions of the world and thought, as a typical atheist does, look at all the war and horror caused by this. Of course, at that time, I did not consider that, among the living, there is great comfort, and for the dead, well, as they say, the war is over. I was always a pacifist, more yet, I was a coward. I thought that being without fear meant not being afraid of death. No, it is being afraid of trying your hardest and then admitting that you’ve failed. It’s getting the opportunity through your own choices, and then losing, not because of fate or misfortune, but through choice. And the debates of human nature are myriad, but I think of people much more like the blank slate mate from Pinon’s absurdist novel. They take in what they believe to be guiding principles, think themselves of worth and purpose, and then are somehow shocked when the universe doesn’t seem like it was made to cater to their whims, almost as if it’s silence, if the long shadow of silence is the silence of god.  The silence of absence, of Xena, of giggling in the dark, of the settling of a mire, that, in its miasmatic form, at least, is not locked; transience is not simply the passing of the good, it is the impermanence of the bad. Xena, whom I kept up with, watching as her life became happier and happier, and, I wanted to be virtuous. I wanted her to be happy. Even if she was happy because of someone else. I was Nobody, a little joke we used to make based on a flop of a book I wrote (it was fiction, but the failure of it in this work of fiction is true); I created a character who, being an addict, imagines himself to be a slave and, like the blank man, tells everyone he meets he is a different person until, finally, he does not know which mask is his actual face. So he takes the name Neti Atman, or not self, and Nobody, as a sort of linguist joke between very nerdy friends, became how I would refer to myself in saying certain things that, ironically, sound horrible. I would say: “This is why Nobody loves you” or “Nobody will ever love you”, but with the key to the cypher, it is not saying Nobody, it is a less awkward way for an awkward, very confused man to say I love you, without losing the hint of irreverence that makes the pain of being rejected when in earnest more bearable.
After Xena got engaged, she went to an exotic land, not only because I don’t want to narrow this down so far that the real person can become known because of my tales, but it had also been a place we had talked about visting. And while there she went to 2-21 B Baker St, the Sherlock Holmes museum. My favorite literary ubermensch. She visited Shakespeare’s home (allegedly) and I saw her there, with someone that was not me, and I was okay with that. I thought, the tragedy of my having been in her life has been mitigated, as her virtuous actions have followed, as an ox follows a cart. But, deep down, it’s hard to be happy when a friend succeeds. To see an enemy fail, that is an easy thing to bear. But the success of a friend? Never. But, I digress. Xena always said that a digression becomes a conversation when there’s no end to it, to which I responded by talking about the differences between expressionist and impressionist art for two hours to make a point about the difference between passive and impassive passion. And yes, she spoke to me again.  This is coming now not quite to the end of our tale, but it is within sight. To come up to the present day, it won’t take long. She contacted me, perhaps, because she remembered that when we talked, when I made her laugh those very specific laughs, the ones which earned only a haha were not to be repeated, but those that let out a smattering of laughter followed by the vocal, high pitched end-of-laugh sigh, the voice of a Warrior Princess, a woman of virtue, of nobility, the woman in whose presence I would insert the clip of Wayne’s World with Mike Meyes and Garth doing they’re we’re not worthy schtick, but from what we’ve covered, it’s probably abundantly obvious that this is so. I had studied what was right but had never taken the trouble to doing it. Etc, was the start of it, but I will not digress; I will go forward.  She contacted me a few months ago, saying that her relationship with, let’s call him “Dicknose”, wasn’t working out. She couldn’t talk to him, and he was stupid. And, well aware of my other faults, and they. are. LEGION. She said she had always thought that we had intelligent conversations, not necessarily that I was smart, but us, when put together, were the sum of our parts, not merely two people inhabiting differently fleshy vehicles, but one person divided between them, and I think she believed in this, this notion that, if I was not the one, as a zero, I had come the closest to being the one without going over while Dicknose had been a boor. She told me that her engagement with this man was over, and after that day, we began talking every day again. Within a few days, we talked on the phone. And I talked to her every day, and apologized each time I had a chance.  I would like to think there is a happy ending, that there is now, again, a glimpse of light; in that, that the virtue of one person might make redeemable a person who would be, without them, irredeemable, without any quality to anyone. Someone Nobody would love. We started working on that book of ours again, and working on our story. It’s a rough draft, but I think it has potential. She told me that, when she got in arguments with her fiancée, while he so remained, he would sometimes say, This is why Nobody will ever love you, and when he mentioned Nobody, she thought of me. It’s not quite Cindarella, sure, but I’ll take it.


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Brandon K. Nobles

Brandon is an author, poet and head writer for Sir Swag on YouTube. With 630k subscribers. Since February 2021 he has written for the most important and popular series, News Without the Bulls%!t and the least popular work on the channel, History Abridged. Brandon joined the channel in late January, since then his work has been featured every month in News and History. His novels and works of fiction have also been well received, and he continues to be a proficient and professional chess player. In his spare time he like to catch up on work.

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