July 2, 2009

Lithe and blonde and a hundred pounds, she sinks her toes into the smooth, silver stones. I watch her. Slipping on her big brown sunglasses, which remind me of fly’s eyes, she sits down next to me in a folding chair. I am on the rocks. She fishes a book out of her purse, a novel—the one I gave her for her birthday—a purple copy of _The Bell Jar_. I’m holding a memoir I just bought. The sky is gray, which makes me sad, makes me wonder if I have Seasonal Affective Disorder. I whip a rock against the boardwalk.

“Could you please stop that?” she asks. No, I think, I don’t want to. I’m bored with my book, bored with this stupid day. It isn’t even a particularly bright day, but I’ve forgotten my sunglasses, and the whites of the pages burn my eyes. Or so I tell her. Really, it’s the meds. The Depakote. The Risperidone. They make it difficult to concentrate. The Risperidone makes reading unbearable.

My feet are killing me. Rocks digging into my backside, dried seaweed stuck between my toes, in what hell do beaches not have sand, anyway? I can’t focus because I haven’t eaten anything since breakfast—my gut’s making noises—and the sun’s in my eyes and my feet hurt. I just want a sandwich—a roast beef sandwich with cheddar and horseradish.

I grab a kidney-shaped stone and chuck it into the ocean. A voice calls from behind me—it’s one of her friends—one that I haven’t met. He’s handsome. And waspy-looking, just like her. I think his name is James.

“Let’s go get some ice cream,” she says, and slips the book into her bag. From there it will go on her bookcase next to her scrapbooks from summer camp. I don’t want to be here anymore. I want to go home.

April 12, 2008

“Smile,” she said, snapping the photo. I had a leaf caught in my beard.

“Ha, your gap is starting to show! You haven’t been wearing your retainer. You’re mom’s going to be so mad!”

“Hush,” I said, taking the camera from her. It was a sunny day in Central Park: kids playing soccer, joggers in college crewnecks on a nearby path. I nibbled her neck—soft, no stubble, not like mine. I tickled her nose with the leaf and snapped a photo.

“Stop it,” she said, giggling, the smell of sweat and chocolate croissant between us. I masked one side of her face with her patterned scarf, snapped another photo. I slipped it off, kissing her cheek, her nose, her coffee-colored eyebrows. The display showed an over-lit picture: an obscured background, straw-colored hair bathed in white, grass blades running along her cheek. She had a slight curl in her lip that made her look mischievous, her kerchief fabric a series of lunar phases, a crescent moon covering the spot above her left eye. I studied her mousy features: her nose, small like the rest of her—it comes to a fine point, unlike mine, which is rounded; her thin Irish lips, which mine seem to envelope when we kiss; her long, blond hair, as far from mine you can get on the color spectrum (at least at our age).

“I like it,” she said.

Passing the Met, we made faces at one another and I bought her a hot dog. She loves hot dogs, which is hilarious, I think. She’s pure New England, very proper, wears Ralph Lauren dress shirts instead of t-shirts, but she likes hot dogs. And somehow I got her.

After returning to her dorm, we made prosciutto sandwiches and borrowed _On the Waterfront_ from a friend. Twenty minutes in, we stopped watching the movie. As she fell asleep in my arms, I realized that for several hours I hadn’t been aware of anything but what we’d been doing. And then I fell asleep.

July 20, 2008

How hard can it be to find a strip club, I thought.

There was something in the road staring back at me, its face illuminated in the headlights. A coyote. So I braked. Hard.

I ripped the wheel to the left. The SUV spun out, and came to a stop on the other side of the road. The coyote was gone.

I put the car in drive and sped away. There was a bunch of crap in the back that I’d bought over the last twelve hours: spray paints, books, adult diapers, condoms, socks, tattered issues of HUSTLER, menthol creams, and a broken Danelectro guitar amplifier (a gift from my grandmother for my eleventh birthday).

I noticed the streetlights and store signs looked odd, as if I were squinting: the lights seemed to bleed over in places they shouldn’t have. It was a scary feeling, because it was like I was drunk, almost, but I wasn’t, I was sober. And from time to time, after passing an intersection, or making eye contact with other drivers, strange things happened that had nothing to do with anything, but _seemed_ to mean something, even made me excited, as if I were playing a game. So I kept driving, faster and faster without stopping, to the point that I pissed myself. I heard these high-pitched tones, like coins in Super Mario World, which I thought were coming from my EZ Pass.

I put on Coltrane’s “Blue Train”, tapping my free foot until the break at the 0:38 mark, when Coltrane rips it. My eyelids started slipping shut halfway through the second track, but I wasn’t worried. It was merely an inconvenience. Much in my life had been an inconvenience, lately, my family in particular. When I returned from an internship a few weeks before, I’d asked of my father one simple favor: to have my guitar tuned.

“But you haven’t played it in years.”

“What the fuck difference does that make?” I shouted. I’ve never been a respectful kid. I wasn’t exactly in the best of places at this point in my life, either. “I’ve been working my ass off. I’m trying to get back to my childhood, Dad, my roots. My grades are up. I’ve got a girlfriend who loves me, and the website is really starting to take off, it’s about time I started enjoying myself.”

I’d invested in a social media site created by a friend of a friend at MIT. While interning in Buenos Aires, I’d been doing a lot of research on Google. That was when I realized that it was all about Page Ranking. I made several calls to my friend Robbie Schwager, the co-creator of the website. He lived in New York. One night, I called Robbie’s mother to tell her I was coming to Manhattan.

“We’ve done it, Mrs. Schwager. I don’t know if Robbie told you about our Page Ranking, but we need to take the year off to work on the site, or at least next semester. ”

“No, he didn’t, but Robbie’s out of town. And we’ve planned a family vaca—”

“Mrs. Schwager, are you familiar with the Chicago Cubs? They’re going to win the Series. Now, I’m not saying the site is going to break any records. I mean, we’ve got Facebook and MySpace to contend with, but we’re attacking from a whole new angle, we—”

“What are you talking about? Are you on drugs?”

“No, I am not on drugs, Mrs. Schwager. I’m just fond of sports metaphors. I thought you would enjoy them. I’m pretty sure Robbie hasn’t realized everything, yet. I’m just excited. I apologize if I’ve been rude.” I hung up.

I quit my internship and was on a plane to O’Hare the next day. That was at the beginning of that summer, before I maxed out my mother’s Visa. Before I’d spray-painted the walls of the basement. Before my grandmother had had the panic attack.

I parked next to a Wal-Mart and took a long nap. My cell phone rang.

“¿Dónde estás? ¿Porqué no llamaste antes?” It was my grandmother. I ignored her incessant questions, and I told her the truth, that I was lost, which I could tell worried her. I myself was worried, because this kept happening. I kept getting lost, even though I’ve lived in the same place all my life. I told her not to call anymore, and then threw my phone out the window. I had a headache. I thought the radio waves were hurting my brain so I turned off the stereo. I drove to a movie theater and asked the cashier what town I was in.

“Crystal Lake,” she replied.

She was far from attractive: her hair was greasy and she was overweight and she had bad skin, but I still wanted to fuck her. I considered chatting her up, but I could smell the piss on my shorts, so I decided not to.

“Do you know where Thumper’s is?” I asked.


“Thumper’s. The gentleman’s club.” She shook her head.

I grabbed some menthol sports cream from the back and rubbed it all over my body. The smell of mint was more pleasant than that of urine and semen, but soon the heat activated, and the inside of the car became a gas chamber. My eyes burned. Snot leaked from my nose. After ten minutes of hell, I felt okay to drive and left. Forty minutes passed before I gave up on my quest. I still had no idea where I was. That was the first time I thought there might be something wrong with me. I’m usually pretty good with directions. Lily’s not. She has this little credit card-sized subway map of Manhattan she pulls out when she’s lost. It’s kind of cute.

July 21, 2008

I pulled up behind another Wal-Mart. Or was it the same one? I parked next to the auto center, and chucked my amplifier up in the air. It made a weird cracking sound when it landed.

Along the auto center were a series of glass-windowed garages, each with a stack of tires wrapped in plastic. I sprayed “Obama 08” on a window, tore open a pack of tires, and picked one up and shattered a window. Then another. No alarm. Then I left.

I turned into a car dealership and emptied the vehicle of the remaining refuse: used condoms, men’s fitness magazines, protein powder, home décor magazines, peanut butter, a copy of the Kama Sutra. I saw fireworks in the distance, not for the first time that night, and my eyes ached and I was cold. I crawled into the trunk, and pulled the hatch down, leaving the window open. I dressed myself in adult diapers until I felt warm. I shut my eyes, still seeing lights, flashing pinwheels of lights, and I pressed the panic button on my keys. I pressed them to my forehead even though I thought the radio waves were eating at my brain.

I was awake, but I was also dreaming. My parents were outside, looking down at me, crow’s feet around my mother’s lips and eyes (everyone says I look like her), gray at her roots, a look of disbelief on my father’s face. My mother, who I realized looked much older than she was at that time, was crying. She didn’t want to leave me alone. I didn’t want her to go. Then they kind of disappeared.

My mind was rushing. I saw the house I grew up in, the jungle gym where I had my first kiss, swings with red rubber over their chains, a chubby-cheeked girl I used to know. I saw the intersection of Carmine and Bedford, the convenience store I spotted a mousy-faced girl in, my friend’s apartment where she would later introduce herself as Lily. My high school calc class with Mr. Shacht, the metal projector, Jenny Romero’s thigh peeking out from under her skirt. The taste of weed smoke and Parliaments, Dave Matthews Band at Alpine: chatting with the red head on the brown wool blanket about Nickelodeon. I saw multi-colored bottles stacked on a shelf in a mirror-walled bar, connected like beads, dark amber rums and cold, clear vodkas, verdant absinthes and pitch black stouts. I felt like I had a vacuum in my brain, sucking out every thought and idea, every memory and expression—it felt like God was in there. I thought of my grandmother when she’d had her panic attack.

“Por favor,” she said. “Go to the doctor with your father. Please.”

“Fuck off,” I said. They took her to the doctor, instead.

The cops didn’t see me at first so I threw my keys to the ground and told them I was lost. When the ambulance arrived, they had me step out of the car.

“Shit, kid,” one of the police said. “Are you wearing a diaper?”

I told the EMR I got lost looking for a strip club. He told me that next time I went to a club, to slip the bouncer a fatty wad, which I learned was a twenty stuffed with ones. I thought, Yeah, if I can find the damn place.

They wheeled me into a hospital in a straitjacket, which made me feel like Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs. After seeing my parents (for real), and signing some forms, they gave me pills, and mentioned something about Lithium, which reminded me of the Nirvana song, and I remembered something about farmers using lithium to keep coyotes away from their sheep.

“You’re trying to poison me,” I said. “I’m not a wolf.” I remembered the coyote on the road, the one that caused me to spin out, and I told them about it. They seemed to listen, but didn’t respond. My brain felt like it was attached to a car battery. I took my meds. I slept.

July 30, 2008

I told the nurses about the website. I told my doctor, Dr. Lyman. I told everyone in group that Obama was going to fix the country and that the Cubs were going to win the World Series and that it was really turning out to be my year, it really was, all this was just an inconvenience. A bald man from group said I was aggressive, that I should stop asking everyone questions about why they’re here and where they’re from (“Really, that’s my personal business,” someone said), and whether they like the Cubs or the Sox (“Neither, I’m from Milwaukee,” someone else said). The rest of the group agreed, which made me very sad. I hated the bald man. I hated that the group agreed. I needed to use a computer but the staff wouldn’t allow it. I needed to check my site’s Page Ranking on Google.

July 4, 2009

We’ve stopped at an ice cream store attached to the side of someone’s house. This guy James is still with us. He and Lily met in Beijing. They’re talking to one in another in Mandarin now; I can’t understand a damn thing they’re saying.

I haven’t been able to start my book on account of my meds—it’s a memoir about the Vietnam War—apparently it’s the real deal; the author spent like twenty years writing it or something, sacrificing plot to talk about how it really was. Of course, I wouldn’t know anything about that. I’ve never been to war. I haven’t even read the book yet. There’s a glossary in the back though with military jargon that I flip through sometimes. There’s even words for civilians—like the word “joady”.

This James guy is a like my own personal joady. A joady is the guy who screws the soldier’s girlfriend while he’s at war. Of course, I’ve never been to war, so I guess I can’t really have a joady. But if I did, James would be it.

I’ve always been fascinated with war and storytelling—my favorite book growing up was Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, which is about soldiers in Vietnam. When I was little I used to wonder if I would have made a good soldier. My dad was one, but he doesn’t like to talk about it; they sent him to guard the DMZ in Korea and he came back okay. I never touched a gun in my life, but I still wound up in the psych ward. The worst part about being there was the feeling of being trapped, trapped with all these glue huffers, bag ladies, and guys with PTSD. There was one in particular—he’d been a vagrant for three years before his family found him and brought him to the hospital. He never said a word to me or anyone else, at least that I saw.

The night before Lily left for Beijing I called her to tell her my parents tried to have me committed that day, this was a few weeks before they they succeeded, they’d taken me to the ER, had me talk to a social worker, then locked me in a room with padded walls after I’d yelled at a cop. The left me in there for a while and I had to use the bathroom so I started pounding on the door, but the nurse just ignored me so I kept pounding and pounding. Finally, I felt like my bladder was going to explode, so I pissed myself, just as the nurse came in and started screaming.

When I told Lily what happened, about how they locked me in the room and how I pissed myself, that they said I’d had a psychotic break and I needed to go to the hospital for a while, she listened, and said it would be OK, but that was all she said. She didn’t say she was coming back. I asked her to come back but she said she had to go and I started crying and I called her a bitch and I hung up the phone. The next day she was on a plane to Beijing.

My memories of our relationship, pre-commitment, are from a fantasy. I dream about kisses, croissants, and Saturdays in Central Park. Bull shit, mostly. None of it’s real, not anymore. I mean look at me: I’m eating ice cream right now with Lily and my own personal joady. This is a nightmare. I don’t even know if I’m going back to school yet and my family is afraid of me. I’ve tried to talk Lily about it, but I can tell that I’m boring her, that she resents me. I’m sorry for the things I did, that I took her for granted, that I was out of my mind. But I was _out of my mind_. That has to count for something. They put me in a straitjacket, for Christ’s sake. God knows what they’re going to say when I get back to school. If I get back to school. _Aren’t you supposed to be studying abroad?_

Last night I dreamt I’d been driving somewhere with Lily, my parents, and my grandmother in the car. It was one of those dreams where you think you wake up but you’re still dreaming. I woke up in a patch of grass and shiny little glass shards. My hands, my face, and my legs were covered in blood. I stood up, and there was my family and Lily, trapped in the car—which I’d wrapped around a telephone pole.

Do you enjoy reading the Nass?

Please consider donating a small amount to help support independent journalism at Princeton and whitelist our site.