One of my stories has been published in Up North Lit! Check it out! This is a pretty sweet early birthday present. Also, a book with my writing in it is available for purchase starting today! Thank you, Universe.
When I got the call and heard that my little brother had attempted suicide, there was that long, false, beautiful moment where my brain decided this was Not Real. This was an incredibly tasteless joke, or maybe it’d been a case of mistaken identity. I’d talked with him the week before, seen him in person last month when I’d flown back home, and he’d seemed fine. Stressed, maybe, but okay. A couple weeks later, he’d downed a bottle of pills and waited for an end that refused to come.
I know that discovery, that mix of shock and relief and disappointment. I’ve been in that position, been hospitalized for it, seen the looks on the faces of the people who matter most to me, and now I couldn’t help but make the same face. Couldn’t help but sort through the years, looking for any clues that this could possibly happen. Regressed mentally until I was a little kid myself, holding my little brother for the first time, just a baby, with no concept of the fact that what was just given to him could so easily be taken away.
When I got off the phone and reality finally caught up, I walked into the bathroom and knelt in front of the toilet. My stomach heaved, mouth stayed open, but nothing came out. Like words left unsaid for years, gathering, with no outlet, no exit, mingled and mangled until they’re unrecognizable and you can no longer say what needs to be said.
I cried. I allowed myself that much.
Powerlessness is an old friend. I knew him well when I was younger, but I thought we’d parted ways for good. I was wrong. How much consoling and comforting can you do from 800 miles away? What can you say over a static-y line that could make all of this go away? To see that kid at knee-height again, tearing through the house and laughing as you pretend to be a monster and give chase? What words can you offer beyond the ones that everyone already says, the words I myself had heard in the hospital, from friends and family and staff?
When I was sure I wouldn’t throw up, I got the number for his facility and called. Hearing his voice was like hearing someone come back from the dead, with every nuance and vocal quality vivid and obvious. I’d never pinpointed the details before, always subconsciously assumed that he’d always be there for me to listen to. I’d taken those things for granted.
What is a person made of? Is it the tiny changes in inflection when they’re making a joke? The glint in their eye when they haven’t seen you in months? For my brother, it was being able to be sarcastic in any situation, including and especially when relaying the facts of a suicide attempt. It was asking about family members and hoping they were okay, as if what had just happened to him was insignificant. It was the way that every “I love you” that came out of his mouth was genuine. True. And always would be.
Later that night, lying in bed, I checked my phone. I didn’t want to call anyone–I had already called them all. So I scrolled down the list, down and down, so fast that I could no longer see the names, just inbound or outbound.
like a kid sitting on the floor
at the Scholastic Fair
debating stealing a book
because he can’t afford it
eats public assistance at lunch
can already see the looks of shame
on the faces
of his parents
when they walk into the principal’s office
so he doesn’t
so he puts it back
and tries to picture imagined worlds
his mind won’t be shown.
like hearing “don’t peek”
from the lips
of his first girlfriend
removing her bra straps
and the space between them is filled
and when they touch
it’s a revelation
and when they finish
he tells her stories
makes them up on the spot
like he did
as a kid
when the only time you heard
was during a game
of hide and seek
like seeing your name
on the cover
of a book
and you don’t know
how it got there
even though you do
the steps that got you
from point A to B
and if you try real hard
you can almost see
the kid that would go hungry
can almost see
the kid with ripped-up
and eyes that wanted
but couldn’t always
and now you’re at the top
of a tall
breathing in the thin air
and seeing all
you can see
Kid Error is the name he decides on. User Error can’t remember what the name of this alternate body he’s now stuck in is, so that’s what he’ll go with until he learns otherwise. It hits him that he’s just a bunch of wiggly little molecules all bonding together and doing their thing in the shape of whatever form he’s in now, and it’s really tripping him out. He wishes he could show Sanford his new digs, but Sanford’s back down there, in the tunnels, alone, probably wondering why User Error won’t wake up. He can tell Sanford’s trying to wake him, because every once in a while an image flashes in front of him, Sanford’s face, giant, with wide eyes and a frown, telling User not to die on him. User wants to go back to his old body just to tell Sanny D it’s gonna be okay, but he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to come back to this body, and he’s still got unfinished business he needs to take care of.
He doesn’t know where the sciencey dude that’s been keeping him in cryo sleep is, but he knows that when he finds him, he’s gonna blast him. He’s never fired a gun before, and this blaster looks super futuristic-like, but he’s pretty sure it’s just a point-and-shoot situation. He leaves the room he’s been kept in, blaster in hand, stolen sciencey overcoat on, and he looks both ways. There are more sciencey dudes wandering the halls, but they’re far enough away that they don’t see Kid Error. He puts his back to the wall like the action dudes he’s seen on faded old VHS tapes, but he stops when he realizes it’s super inefficient and slow-going, so he crouches a little and walks quietly instead.
More flashes, this time of his parents’ faces. He wouldn’t quite recognize them as User, but as Kid Error, he knows who they are. It’s like he has all of the memories of User but is being patched with a firmware update that adds in all of Kid’s memories. But it’s slow, like a crappy Windows 95 PC. It’s going one file at a time.
With the Sanford flashes and the parental flashes, it’s hard for Kid Error to focus on what he has to do. He keeps going anyway, down this hall that seems to go on forever, until he can hear the sounds of people coming from the direction he’s heading in. When he gets to the end, there are double doors that stretch from floor to ceiling, with frosted glass that refuses to show you what’s on the other side. Kid takes another step, and the doors open automatic-style.
In front of him are thousands and thousands of people, in a giant open room that makes the biggest tunnel in the underground look like a claustrophobic drainpipe. He opens his mouth, but he can’t breathe, like a sewer fish that accidentally flopped out of the water and now doesn’t know what in the frak to do. There are scattered shops leading to a huge bazaar where all the biz is going down, restaurants with posters that just say “EAT” on them, and bands playing in every corner of the warehouse-room, all of the sound coming together into one symphony of crazy. All the people are wearing relatively normal clothes. A little futurey, but recognizable. Kid decides his baggy overcoat would give him away, so he tosses it into a garbage can and starts to walk away. A voice coming from behind stops him:
“What in the world was that for?”
Kid turns around. It’s the garbage can. It has wheels at the bottom and a plastic garbage bag sticking out at the top, but Kid now notices that it also has a face.
“That was very rude. I don’t just toss things into your head, do I?”
“Oh, I’m… Shiz, I’m sorry, man. I thought you were a garbage can.”
If Kid didn’t know any better, he’d say that the garbage can’s getting all choked up.
“I was a garbage can. But I’m not anymore. How’d you like it if I called you a fetus, human boy?”
“I’m sorry, really. I’m new here.”
“Uh, I mean, I don’t come around here that much. Just, uh… play video games in my room?”
“A homebody, eh? Well you’ve a lot to learn about manners, human boy. I’ve been around for 400 years, and…”
“Wait, did you say 400? Like 4-0-0?”
“Yes. Are you deaf?”
“So you’ve been on this plane thingy for 400 years?”
“Of course, as has everyone else. You’re a strange child, human boy.”
Kid Error’s stomach drops.
“What year is it?”
“2400, of course. Wait, you’re not committing time crime, are you?”
The garbage can man looks for an authority to shout for.
“Time criminal! Time–”
Kid Error kicks the can man and tells him to shut it. He does.
“Okay, okay, so I’m not from here. But please don’t tell anyone. I need some help.”
Can Man looks around.
“The punishment for facilitating time crime is–”
“I’m not a time criminal, whatever that is, okay? Sheez. I’m originally from the underground. I live in the tunnels. Sorta.”
“Yeah. Look, listen, it’s not important. What’s important is that you help me get out of here. Show me what’s what. Can you do that?”
“Look, you’re a good dude. I can tell. I’m sorry I called you a garbage can, but can you give a weirdo human boy a hand?”
“I don’t have hands. Nor would I want any, what with their gangly-looking fing–”
“You know what I mean. You gonna help me or not?”
Can Man look around again, then turns back to Kid Error.
“Come with me.”
Kid Error follows after Can Man, and the two of them roll/walk away.