At a party, sitting at the dining room table, Jeffrey talks shit to James, asserting that he’s a poser, he’s wrong if he thinks he’s cool, and that, generally, he’s a piece of shit. James sits across from Jeffrey, nodding his head. Jeffrey loses his virginity to a freshman in his best friend’s parents’ bed a couple weeks later, at another party, and the following week, with his best friend on the line, silent and listening in, breaks up with her on the phone. After she hangs up, his best friend laughs and covers his face with his hand. He says that Jeffrey is “so crazy.” Another one of Jeffrey’s friends acquires two pairs of boxing gloves, and for weeks, his friends spend their days after school using the boxing gloves to beat the shit out of each other. Jeffrey attends the first two of these meetings–both times managing not to box–then begins going straight home after school, letting his voicemail answer his friends’ calls, until he finds himself in a situation where both his friends and the two pairs of boxing gloves are present. Jeffrey is pressured into a boxing match with a taller male, never lands a solid punch, and just after the match ends and his opponent is walking away, Jeffrey punches him hard on the back of his head. His friends make fun of him for at least the next month.
Jeffrey’s parents begin thinking about divorce, and do so by Thanksgiving Day, the process culminating in an episode where Jeffrey sits alone downstairs, clenching the armrests of the green leather recliner, sweating and short of breath, listening to his mother upstairs in her bedroom go insane while his father says nothing. By Christmas, Jeffrey has moved into the basement and begun using a separate entrance. He and his friend smoke marijuana behind the school parking lot the day after Christmas Break is over, and James appears from behind some bushes with Robert, who Jeffrey heard once brought a sawed-off shotgun to a church parking lot where a group of kids were supposed to fight and yelled something about killing everyone. James pushes Jeffrey a number of times, calls him a “little girl,” calls him a “bitch,” moves his face close to Jeffrey’s face and “forces” Jeffrey to say that he’s a “little bitch” and that he won’t talk shit on James again. Robert sometimes interjects, calmly, and almost softly, something about notes, passed around in class, that reference Jeffrey’s shit-talking. Jeffrey keeps swallowing involuntarily. He convinces both of his parents to let him switch to a public school that’s closer to his house and does not make any friends there. He discovers the rave scene and tries ecstasy for the first time, eventually resulting in his mother, about a year later, finding over 30 hits of LSD in his car and sending him to live with his father. Jeffrey is grounded and can’t move his bowels for a week. He becomes ill, and during the worst of it, is overcome with sweating and fever, lying in bed with the space heater turned on high, thinking that, in order to move his limbs, he must first activate in his body a number of strings, levers and pulleys that he can actually see. Shortly after he’s ungrounded, Jeffrey drives to his friend’s house, and since his friend isn’t there, decides to wait. His friend pulls into the driveway with James in the passenger seat of the car. Jeffrey runs out the back door and through the neighboring back yard and types to his friend, on “AOL Instant Messenger,” a half hour later, that he saw James in the passenger seat of his car and ran away, and his friend replies that he is a pussy, that he’s laughing, that James and another kid are there, and that they are all laughing.
Jeffrey begins to occasionally wear pajamas to school. This progresses to wearing pajamas and eating LSD at school almost every day. In the middle of his junior year of high school, he wins the school art competition with a black and white photograph of a cactus that he colored with colored pencils while high on LSD. At parent teacher conferences, the photography teacher tells Jeffrey’s mother that Jeffrey has a “gift,” and his mother beams, Jeffrey sitting beside her, and a week later, walking into another party, this one hosted by friends from his old high school, and seeing James standing right there, at the top of the stairs. Jeffrey avoids James until James approaches and says not to worry, that he’s not going to beat him up, and that he’s sorry, because it must suck to have to wear diapers whenever he’s around. James grins and laughs and Jeffrey watches him.
He takes college classes between his junior and senior year of high school so he can graduate at the end of the first quarter of his senior year, and shortly after it begins, the media reports that two airplanes are flown into the World Trade Towers in New York City. All students are let out early. On Jeffrey’s last day of class, no one has any idea that it is his last day of class. He moves into a house with a couple from the rave scene and one day snorts ketamine and inhales nitrous oxide using a large pink balloon while concurrently smoking marijuana, exhaling the marijuana smoke into the nitrous oxide-filled balloon and then rapidly inhaling and exhaling until both the marijuana smoke and nitrous oxide are gone, causing his vision to malfunction and him to perceive the living room he’s sitting in as a compact disc sounds when it skips–a number of frames rapidly replacing each other, so fast that it becomes less and less of a comprehensive sequence and eventually something like a vibrating, silver fractal. The following morning he finds out that the girl he lives with has moved out in the middle of the night.
Jeffrey moves back into his mother’s house and gets a job as a security guard. He is hospitalized three times: once for a skateboarding accident, once for a snowboarding accident, and another for an affliction called “epiditimytis” that is so embarrassing to him that he can easily recall its name after he moves back from Portland, where he moved with a friend, worked at Wendy’s, and attended his freshman year of college.
The summer before his sophomore year of college, Jeffrey drives to Arizona with the same friend to visit another friend, and on the last night of his stay, blacks out from alcohol consumption. It isn’t until the middle of his sophomore year, at a house party, that Jeffrey finds out about that night; how he followed a man and his girlfriend around, accusing them of stealing his hat, until the man slapped him, Jeffrey punched his face, and the man and his girlfriend ran away. It is, coincidentally, at this same house party that Jeffrey sees James again, this time walking through the front door and directly at him, saying to Jeffrey that he had wanted to talk to him, that he’s sorry, that he’s been an asshole, and that he wouldn’t have known what to do if he was in Jeffrey’s situation. Jeffrey says that it’s okay. He acquires a girlfriend, moves into a big house with cheap rent and some people, grows marijuana in the attic, dresses up in a suit, and hosts a cocktail party. James and a large blond man are there, and in the kitchen, the large blond man turns to Jeffrey and tells him that he’s a little girl. He says it again. Jeffrey’s girlfriend says to the large blond man that Jeffrey is her friend and that she wants him to be nice to Jeffrey. Jeffrey says that he isn’t a girl and looks to his right and sees, as if in slow-motion, James staring directly at him, gradually forming a wide, toothy grin.
Jeffrey applies to a study abroad program in the south of Holland and breaks up with his girlfriend on the way to the airport, then flies in to Amsterdam, and on his second night there, after smoking marijuana and taking both sleeping and anti-anxiety pills, faints in the bathroom of his hostel, comes to, and spends over five minutes trying to find the light switch. He calls his ex-girlfriend on the third night, takes a train south on the fourth night, and over the course of that year, blacks out over 20 times from alcohol consumption, smokes marijuana on a daily basis, and spends many weekends dancing to techno, high on MDMA, speed, marijuana, alcohol, or a combination of these at all night “squat parties” that last until noon or 2PM the next day. He sleeps with a number of foreign women, concluding with a German who he becomes romantically involved with, and after moving back to the States, graduating with a degree in psychology, and acquiring a job at a reality television show in Portland, he moves in with her, then breaks up with her after three months. In a gesture of emotional support, his father, who’s in Portland on vacation, offers to take Jeffrey out for a night of drinking with his friends. Jeffrey obliges. After initial introductions are made that night, the first thing one of his father’s friends–an overweight, bearded man in a Hawaiian shirt–does is point at a female bartender and say to Jeffrey, “See that bitch over there? I fucked her on the stairwell of The Hilton last night.” Jeffrey averts his eyes, nods his head and says “Nice.”
Using the internet, Jeffrey acquires a job teaching English at a school in Seoul, buys his plane ticket, calls the school two days before his scheduled flight and tells them that his father has died; that actually he won’t be able to come to Seoul. After moving out of his apartment and into a shared housing situation, he goes home the following Christmas to visit his mother and has sex with a girl he’s known mostly over the internet. He has nobody in Portland. The day after Christmas, he walks into a coffee shop with an old friend and immediately sees James, right there, sitting to the right of the doorway, and his friend is friends with James, so they all sit together. While Jeffrey’s friend buys a cup of coffee, Jeffrey and James talk, a little, about their current housing situations and cultural differences between Europe and the United States. James also says that he installs flooring. Jeffrey’s friend comes back with a coffee and a crossword and suggests they do the crossword together. Jeffrey, his friend, and James all work on the crossword for awhile, then Jeffrey and his friend leave after saying “Bye.”
Upon his return to Portland, Jeffrey finds in his mailbox an envelope containing a professional, black and white photograph of a woman piggybacking his father, both of them grinning into the camera, and in a large cursive font printed underneath, the word “ENGAGED!” Three months later, after the woman in the photograph bears a child named Vincent, she, Jeffrey and Vincent’s father, and Vincent relocate to Kansas City. The woman in the photograph works at a number of law firms, supports Vincent’s father as he makes his way through medical school, and has an affair with a coworker who once impressed Vincent, then 5 years of age, with his soccer skills at a company party to which the woman in the photograph took him. She buys Vincent a bird. A year later, while roughhousing with a friend, the bird viciously attacks the friend in an attempt to protect Vincent, the episode culminating in his friend in a fetal position on the floor, screaming and crying as the bird pecks the shit out of him. Vincent and the bird develop a very close relationship; the bird trusting only Vincent and, sometimes, Vincent trusting only the bird, until the bird flies away the month Vincent enters the fifth grade. It is during this same month that, one day in his back yard, he and his friends expose their pubic hair to each other; the first friend saying “I got a forest,” the second saying “I got a meadow,” and Vincent saying “I got grass.” His face appears increasingly nervous as the day goes on, but Vincent is, to his credit, socially average, and does enjoy hosting the occasional sleepover. During dinner at one of the sleepovers–his friend, his father and the woman in the photograph at the table as well–he spills water on his slice of white bread, immediately soaking it and turning it into a translucent, paste-like substance, and his father stares at him. His father says “Eat it.” As Vincent eats its, he gags a number of times, and no one says anything as they watch.
At the beginning of sixth grade, he suddenly notices that he isn’t as obviously more talented than the rest of his Little League baseball team as he used to be. His confidence begins to diminish after a number of episodes, and he finally breaks down after he pitches his first home run: as the batter runs the bases, Vincent begins to cry, and his father jogs to the pitching mound, takes him off the field, drives them home at a frightening speed, and says, when they walk through the door of their home, “Sometimes… I hate you.” He has three violent experiences: the first after jumping into a pool and accidentally landing on his friend’s older brother; the older brother responding by punching him in the face and Vincent responding by acting like he didn’t notice that he was punched in the face; the second after throwing a rock from the end of a soccer field at a classmate standing at the other end of the soccer field, the rock hitting him on the forehead, knocking him out, causing severe bleeding, and his school to call 911; the third after picking up a large clump of dirt, yelling “Curveball!,” throwing it, from almost 20 feet away, directly into an older classmate’s open mouth, and the older classmate chasing Vincent down, pinning him, and laughing while crumbling handfuls of dirt onto Vincent’s face while he screams.
Vincent attends seventh grade in Denver, Colorado, after being moved, yet again, by his father (reasons obscure), discovers, at a more detailed level than ever before, sex, and in a game where he and his new classmates describe it only through gesticulation, Vincent, for his turn, jumps into a large playground tire, then jumps up and down rapidly. A lot of classmates laugh.
He acquires his first girlfriend in the summer before his eighth grade year, and one night in a movie theater, she tells his two friends that she really wants Vincent to finger her, and doesn’t understand why he hasn’t yet, and Vincent’s friends take him out of the theater and urge him to finger her. Vincent never does, but later lies to his girlfriend that his father beats him on a regular basis; the lie partly a consequence of his friend’s stories of being beaten by his dad on a regular basis. Vincent lies again in his freshman year of high school–this time to his entire social circle–that his family tree consists mainly of Native Americans from the Iroquois tribe, and throughout that year, continues to lie about a broad range of subjects. Everyone begins to joke about Vincent in secret, and then suddenly the joking is open and communal, and Vincent quickly develops a compulsive urge to avoid societal interaction.
His father and the woman in the photograph separate in the middle of his freshman year of high school, and shortly thereafter, the woman in the photograph asks Vincent if he wants his father around anymore. Vincent says that he does not want his father around anymore. The woman in the photograph divorces Vincent’s father and explains to Vincent that, in Kansas City, she slept with a coworker, that she confessed this to his father 11 years later, and that he quickly retorted by telling her that he had been having an affair with a local politician. The woman in the photograph cries as she recalls more detailed information, and Vincent’s face remains neutral the entire time. Later, among a new circle of friends, he exploits the information that the woman in the photograph gave him, further legitimizing his recently developed persona as “fucked-up.”
He has sex for the first time in the guest bedroom of his house in his sophomore year with an eighteen year-old telemarketer unaffiliated with his high school who he met at a “college party” to which a group of seniors had taken him. During the latter part of his sophomore year, his father often shows up at his house uninvited–still having the garage door opener and keys. One day, his father arrives while Vincent is masturbating on the couch in the living room, and having no pants on or blanket to cover himself with, Vincent runs up the stairs as his father walks in, and continues running until he gets into the upstairs bathroom. His father yells, “What are you doing?” Vincent yells “I’m sick.” When his father shows up uninvited on another occasion, a day after Vincent has an argument with the woman in the photograph that ends with her sobbing and running out the front door, his father steps through the doorway, stares at him, repeatedly yells “What the fuck is your problem,” grabs Vincent’s jaws and cheekbones and pushes hard, causing Vincent to fall into the couch and spill the glass of orange juice he’s holding. Five minutes later, his father asks him for a hug.
Vincent’s father leaves the house after he gets his hug, drives to his newly acquired condo, drinks 4 40 oz. bottles of Pabst, calls the woman in the photograph, and after she doesn’t answer, leaves a voicemail saying that he wants to die. That night, he sits in front of his computer and discovers that the media’s reporting that a global pandemic called Megaflu is threatening international security and shutting down airports everywhere. He sighs, lies down on his couch, and closes his eyes. After five minutes, he runs to the bathroom and vomits into the toilet. Vincent’s father returns to work the next day, and over the course of the next three months, he lays off every single one of his employees due to diminishing investor confidence, then lays himself off, sells his kit airplane, his Hummer, and liquidates the majority of the rest of his assets, with the exception of his mini-yacht. He applies for unemployment and claims every week until his benefits run out, additionally consuming, almost every night, 4 to 7 alcoholic beverages, but manages to write a book called Putting the Pedal to the Metal: The Service/Quality System For High-Octane Corporate Performance, which is, via Vincent’s father’s connections in the corporate world, quickly picked up by MacMillan of Canada, initially receiving positive reviews and generating average sales, but soon being accused of being, basically, a copy of a book that had come out twenty years previous (published, ironically, by MacMillan of Canada) called Firing On All Cylinders: The Service/Quality System For High-Powered Corporate Performance. His book never profits and is not reprinted.
Vincent’s father spends the next 7 years existing in relative obscurity, living off his retirement fund and social security checks, sometimes drinking alcohol all day and walking a block to the nearby pub at night, where he sits alone, often pretending as if he’s talking on his cell phone or having a text message conversation with someone; glancing, sometimes, to his left and right, and sometimes getting cut off by the bartender, until, after one night at the pub, he wakes up–somehow already screaming–in an antiseptic white and pale yellow room as a number of quickly moving humans secure his wrists and ankles to a stretcher with metal restraints. He cannot see after this incident. He is hit by a bus and killed, and his funeral is the first instance that Jeffrey, the woman in the photograph, and Vincent are all located under one roof. As they say goodbye to each other after the funeral is over, they plan, vaguely, on meeting for dinner next month, or sometime soon–whenever, perhaps; all of them simultaneously anticipating the event with a powerful sense of dread, concurrently feeling sick of themselves, sick of society, sick of the world, and asking themselves “Why can’t I just be left alone?”
- Brandon Scott Gorrell (b. 1984) is the author of a novella, MY HAIR WILL DEFEAT YOU (3:AM, 2010), and a poetry book, DURING MY NERVOUS BREAKDOWN I WANT TO HAVE A BIOGRAPHER PRESENT (Mummuu House, 2009). He has a blog. He lives in Seattle.