Let's Get Killed
When I saw my ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend sitting on my porch and petting my cat, I knew he had come to do me violence.
I dropped my bicycle at the curb and looked around for some kind of weapon. There wasn't anything. I remembered that the guy's name was Kirby and that he used to be a Marine before he came to Austin and joined a band. Kirby was sitting in my lawn chair, perspiring behind foggy wire-rim spectacles, wearing a dirty white t-shirt with cut-off sleeves that showed fresh tattoos up both of his arms.
My cat looked happy. My cat and Kaylee had similar bad taste in men.
Across the street, the old man on social security who always called the cops whenever I threw a party was watering his flowers.
"That guy on my porch wants to do me harm," I told him.
"You young people need to learn to work things out for yourselves," he said. "You can't all be Michael...Madonna. All of this feel-good, everybody-wins bullshit is killing this country."
He turned off his hose and went inside. Maybe he was right.
I stared at Kirby for awhile with my hands in my pockets.
"At least put my cat down," I shouted across my lawn, wishing I had a big steel bicycle lock I could swing instead of a tube of veiny plastic. "She is basically innocent."
Kirby looked up, startled, seeing me for the first time. My cat darted away from him. Kirby stood up and grabbed the banister that separated my porch from my flower beds. He flexed his forearms and leered at me.
I put my hands in my pockets and didn't leave the street.
He opened his mouth to say something, but then he thought better of it. He just stood there, waiting.
Kaylee certainly had a type.
We stayed like that for awhile. He grimaced at me while I stood in the middle of the street with my hands in my pockets. Cars honked at me, swerving around me and then speeding up to prove that that I had forced them to slow down.
Finally, Kirby hung his head, turning so red that I thought he was having a stroke.
Yes – good! I was killing him with my mind! His beard-stubble looked like spray-on clown make-up.
He put his hands to his temples and made a choking noise. It wasn't a stroke, I realized. He was trying not to cry.
"She broke up with me," he shouted. "I know it was because of you. She was always talking about you."
I sighed. My relationship with Kaylee was evidently never going to end. I crossed my own lawn and joined Kirby on my own porch.
"You can come inside," I said. "But I have to warn you, now is the time of day when I do drugs. You may watch if you want, but I keep a tight schedule."
He nodded. I unlocked my front door, checked my mail for bills, and then went into the kitchen. He followed me inside, standing in my living room, uncertain of where to sit. My living room was packed with easy chairs that I had taken from the street. I liked everyone to be able to sit in a nice chair.
He picked a leather recliner while I went into my kitchen to get my supplies. I also brought my computer into the living room so that I could check my email while we talked. I assumed that he was going to ramble incoherently about Kaylee for awhile, and then eventually he would resume his life in Austin as a musician, presumably returning to somebody's couch or possibly the kitchen of a breakfast taco restaurant.
"I love her," he said.
"Okay," I said.
He watched me as I packed my hookah full of sticky brown resin that I scraped out of the bottom of a jar that once held peanut butter. He looked disgusted and nervous.
I took the first hit and blew thick smoke into the room. I offered him the pipe.
"You know all that stuff comes from Afghanistan," he said. "You are smoking the hearts of dead Marines."
"Opium is the opiate of the me.”
"Where do you even get it?" he asked.
"I know a guy over at Fort Hood who knows a country that started a war," I said, smiling.
I could afford to be flippant now. All the violence in him had dissipated as soon as I started smoking. Never hit a guy with glasses, never pick a fight with anyone smaller than you, never hit a guy doing drugs in his own living room. Soldier rules were the opposite of cop rules.
"So why do you love her?" I asked. "You've got no one else? Is your mom also a rage-filled labyrinth full of unsolvable puzzles?"
"I don't know," he said. "I can't think straight. She doesn't want me back. I fucked it all up. I was unskillful. I said shitty things. I lost my edge. I lost my hold. I can't...she won't even talk to me."
He glared at me. My heart was beating fast. I wasn't paying any attention to him. I was excited about the smoke inflating my veins, widening them like tunnels in the side of a demon mountain, halls filled with treasure, dragons, and drunken dwarves. As always, it felt like falling in love for the first time on the last day of school.
Kirby and I looked at each other, and then for a moment we were psychic. We were both thinking about fucking Kaylee. The way she fought you and then ground against you like she was trying to beat you to death with her pelvis. The way that you could do anything to her once you got her naked. The way that she swore at you as she came, and then if you came together, the way she melted against you with a feeling like new blood flowing into an appendage that you didn't know you had, all warm and tingly and good.
"I don't know why I came here," he said. "I'm sorry."
"Sit down," I said. "Are you thinking of doing something else equally stupid? You aren't going to go to her place, are you? Because, trust me, the new guy she is fucking will also be some kind of insane sociopath like us."
"No," he said. "I mean I just came from there. She wasn't home. I thought she might be here."
I thought about Kaylee and the way that she operated.
"Well, she isn't here," I said. "We broke up a very long time ago."
"I know," he said. "But she still says things about you. She hates you, but not really. She hates you the way that gay dudes in the Marines say they hate fags.”
I thought about this.
"Don't worry," I said. "Now you will take my place. Now she is going to talk about you all the time to her next boyfriend and drive him crazy. Now you are a mind-dildo for her new boyfriend to get him going. She will jam you into his mind-ass any chance she gets."
Now Kirby really did begin to cry. His eyes went red and he stared at my floor. I didn’t say anything for awhile. My heart went out to him. I tried to think of something good to say. I put down the hookah nozzle.
"After we broke up, I was pretty suicidal," I said. "I mean: after I got over my confusion and then my heartbreaking insomnia and impotence. After all that, I was pretty much ready to do myself in."
Kirby didn't say anything.
"So then you became a drug addict," said Kirby.
"No," I said. "That came much later. The drug addiction is a temporary reprieve for a separate and unrelated problem that is much more metaphysical and permanent.“
“How long did it take you to get over her?“
“I knew I was over her when I was able to masturbate to old naked pictures that she made me take. That's how you'll know. I hope she made you take some pictures. That is the nicest thing she does."
He opened his mouth and then shut it.
"How did you get over her?" he whispered. “It hurts. In my head. And in my stomach.”
"Well," I said. "It wasn't easy. If you want to know the truth, I went ahead and did it. That was the only way. I gave up. I killed myself."
"Okay," he said. “You really are an asshole, you know?”
"No, it's true," I said. "I killed myself off. Except I didn't do it here. That would be ridiculous. I live here. I work here. Killing myself here would be an act of utter self-destruction and foolishness. It would hurt all the people I really love. No, instead I killed myself in Prescott, Alabama."
"I don't understand."
"I don't know anyone in Prescott, Alabama," I said. "Do you? Nobody knows anyone in Prescott, Alabama. The people there don't even know each other. So it was a much more responsible place to kill myself.”
Kirby closed his eyes in pain as I took another drag from my hookah.
"She was right about you," said Kirby. "You do think you are smarter than everybody else."
"Not everyone,” I said, smiling. “But some. Watch this. I am going to tell you a statistic and you are going to feel a surge of pride that will prove that you still have a long way to go on the road to wisdom. Here is the statistic: men kill themselves twice as much as women do, even though women are hospitalized for more suicide attempts."
"That's because we do what we say we are going to do," he shouted. "And that's because our lives are twice as hard."
"Okay," I said. "Settle down. You are wrong. The reason that we kill ourselves twice as much as women is because we are ridiculous and we don't understand symbols. Suicide is a symbolic act because the pain is in our souls. We want to kill our souls, but instead we kill our bodies. This is ridiculous and it never works."
Again, I thought about what it was like to fuck Kaylee. She used my tendencies toward extreme self-destruction to get herself off. She channeled my psychosis into her vagina, throbbing along with my own self-hatred and pulling my sickness into her, riding my hate for both of us as if she were riding a vibrating unicycle made of dicks.
"It is hard not to take the made-up relationships that you have in your head personally," I said. "But that's what they are: made-up. All relationships with people are fiction. And so you have to kill off the imaginary character who is playing the part of you when the relationship ends. I decided to do this in Prescott, Alabama because it seemed like the shittiest town in the world and it seemed like exactly the place where I would want to go if I were going to become a low-down scoundrel, give up on everything good, and work daily toward my own demise."
"I still don't know what you are talking about," said Kirby. "You act like I am an idiot, and I am not an idiot."
"Maybe not," I said quietly. I sighed.
"Okay," I said. "Here's what happened. I was sitting here in my house about four years ago staring at a bottle of pain pills that I saved up from kidney stones. Have you ever had a kidney stone? It is like a genie appearing in your ureter. The genie sets himself on fire and starts chewing on every nerve in your whole reproductive system. The genie sits there, ripping out wires, and the only way to get rid of this magic genie made of pain is to pass a small rock through a tiny tube the size of a blood vessel while piss trickles out of you like spit from the mouth of a lobotomized horse. You start to fear liquid because you know all liquid will have to pass through a gauntlet made of razors where the genie is waiting. Then you get dehydrated, and this increases the pain, and the loop of pain, fear, and exhaustion tightens around your throat until all you can do is cry and pray. Your life shrinks down to one wish. If you wish hard enough, the genie disappears. It is a bad scene. Anyway, I decided to take all the pills that they had given me and write a note for Kaylee and that would be that."
Kirby nodded grimly, as if he had come to the exact same conclusion.
"But that's not what happened," I said. "Instead I came over to this chair and opened this computer. I logged onto the internet and I looked up the town of Prescott, Alabama, after doing a search for the smallest town with the worst drug problem, the most high school drop-outs, and the most churches. Next, I made a new email address for myself on AOL, opened up Facebook, livejournal, tumblr, and blogger, and I made accounts for myself on all of them, using all of my real information, except using my new email address and claiming that I lived in Prescott, Alabama instead of here in Austin. It was easy. It was trivial. Just like that, I created another life for myself."
"Okay," said Kirby.
"But that wasn't enough," I said. "It wasn't enough for me to just say I lived there. I had to actually spend time there for awhile. I certainly wasn’t in any shape to travel, but it was necessary to move my spirit to Prescott, Alabama so that I could kill it. I started friending people at random who lived in Prescott. I read people's posts and commented on them as if I knew them. I looked up the largest employer in Prescott, Alabama, which turned out to be a Tyson Chicken factory. I said I worked there as a night security guard. I imagined what it would be like to have this job guarding chicken murders, and I even looked up the floor plan of the factory, imagining where I would take my smoke breaks and on which catwalk I would stand, staring out at the darkness and dreaming of oblivion.
“I put up pictures that I downloaded of Prescott all over my house to help me stay in character. I researched the local wildlife and the local flowers. I chatted with people from there and I linked them to all of my blog posts about life in Prescott. All places are the same, you know, so I just changed the names of restaurants and stores in Austin to stores and restaurants in Prescott. It was not a city full of secret geniuses. Most of the people there were lonely and miserable, and glad to chat about bullshit.
“I started making friends. There was Dan Greedle and Andrew Walshak, who both worked at the local Taco Bell. They seemed not to mind that they didn't know me personally. They both liked to hunt and fish, so we talked about hunting and fishing all the time. I even had a girlfriend in Prescott. I found the most unattractive, unfortunate woman who would talk to me, a fifth-grade biology teacher named Gretchen Deets who was a Germanophile and also a white supremacist. I chatted her up and sent her long love letters until she agreed to be in an online relationship with me. I told her that I was too busy to actually go out with her, and she seemed fine with that. I would make dates with her at the Taco Bell and then stand her up, because obviously I didn't even live in the town. Then I would make excuses. I sent her flowers as an apology and wrote her long letters about how depressed I was. I think I unburdened more of myself to that homely biology teacher than I have ever done to anyone, before or since. I don't even think she was reading my letters. She would only send me back one or two sentence replies. She seemed happy to be in any sort of contact with me. I don't think she ever had a boyfriend before, so she had no basis for comparison. She was relieved that I didn't make any personal or sexual demands and that she could keep a picture of me on her desk at school and tell people who I was.“
“After awhile, my posts became more dramatic as I let myself crawl deeper into the darkness. I would be utterly ashamed to write the same melodramatic blog posts about Austin or leave the sort of status updates that I left in Prescott, Alabama. My friends would think I was fishing for attention. But that's exactly what I was doing. I wallowed in self-pity. I felt no remorse about inflicting myself on these people. I wrote extremely bad poetry and recorded myself reading it. I wrote songs and made videos of myself sitting in the darkness, staring at a single candle and reading the final statements of serial killers to the families of their victims. I linked people to pictures of dead animals and holocaust atrocities. Dan and Andrew even tried to have an intervention, trying to get me to come to the Taco Bell so that I could shoot a black powder pistol at aluminum cans in the parking lot. I said I would go. When I didn't show up, they got mad, but they already knew how unreliable I was.
“Gretchen's friends thought I was very romantic, and so they began hitting on me. I broke up with Gretchen and started fake-dating the woman who groomed her dog, a woman named Marinell Debussy who swore she was descended from the French composer. I wrote Gretchen all the angry break-up letters that I never wrote to Kaylee. Gretchen was glad to be rid of me, but the dog groomer and I had a much more volatile relationship. She demanded internet sex with me. I agreed, masturbating sadly into a camera while I wore black eyeliner and wore a noose around my neck. We fought publicly, posting terrible messages to each other that everyone could see, and then getting back together publicly, posting terrible song lyrics to each other. I developed a fictional meth addiction. I would set my alarm here in Austin and post every hour or so, making it seem like I wasn't ever sleeping.
“And then came the fateful day when I couldn't take it anymore. I was fucking sick of Prescott, Alabama. I was sick of my life as a night security guard. I was sick of leaving pathetic blog posts about my favorite bands and about my favorite places to go bass fishing. I was sick of Dan, and Andrew, and Gretchen, and Marinell, and more than anything, I was sick of myself. I told everybody I was going to do it. I don't think they believed me. And then one night I made a video of myself taking pills one by one, reciting a different koan after each pill from a history of Zen that I bought at BookPeople. In the video, my speech got thicker and slower as I swallowed pill after pill. Eventually, I pretended to pass out. I left the camera running for three hours, trying not to move. I posted the video from a different account, saying I was my own cousin.”
“Wow,” said Kirby, hesitant. He had listened to my story with a mixture of disbelief and awe.
“You don't believe me?” I asked.
I typed my own name into Google, along with the words “death memorial.” I showed Kirby the page that my friends in Prescott, Alabama made to commemorate my life. The page played a midi version of “Black Betty,” by Ram Jam, which everyone in Prescott, Alabama decided was my favorite song.
“So you see,” I told Kirby. “It is possible to have all the fun of suicide with none of the regret. Symbols! Everything is symbols. We made the internet so that we could play with our identities. If you want to get through life, you have to keep remembering that you are made of mercury and not made of gold, silver, or glass.”
Kirby thought about it.
“I have always wanted to be a writer in New York City,” he confessed to me. “That seems like a cool place to die. Maybe I could hang myself on the internet after trying to have a career there for a few months.”
“Maybe,” I said. “It's probably harder to make fake internet friends in New York than in Prescott, though. There is something nice about small towns.”
We shook hands. I knew he wanted to say something else to me, but at the last minute he kept it to himself. I guess he would tell his new friends in New York.
As soon as he left, I checked my phone and I saw that Kaylee had been messaging me ever since I got off work. She wanted to come over. She wanted to talk. She had made some kind of a decision, she said. She was always having revelations and epiphanies.
I opened the web page with my death memorial on it again. I read the heartfelt messages from Gretchen and Marinell, letters from women that I had never met but who said the nicest things about me that anyone had ever said, even if they weren't true. I watched the video of Andrew Walshak and Dan Greedle giving me a 21-gun salute. Behind them waved the Confederate flag. I smiled, buoyed upward through life's hell by these tactile reminders of my existence.
I picked up the phone and dialed Kaylee's number, but I didn't press send yet. I stared at her number, which I had memorized because I had deleted it so often. Kirby's instincts had been correct. Between boyfriends, Kaylee always came back to me.
I knew I was where she went to symbolically kill off the part of herself that she didn't like. I was her Prescott, Alabama. I closed my eyes and tried my old self back on, trying to become the version of myself that Kaylee needed, the version that could provide all the pain, frustration, heartache, hatred, contempt, and poisonous love that she needed.
I couldn't do it. The identity was waiting there for me in the closet of my mind, but I didn't want to put it on. My finger trembled over the send button, and I shut my eyes, trying to take my own advice, trying to find my sense of humor about everything, trying to dissolve my soul so that I could play with it.
My cat crawled into my lap. She was skinny, black, twitchy, and made of pure muscle. A killer. But she relaxed there and started purring, her claws digging into my thighs and sending warm sensations all the way to my toes.
I set my phone down on the floor by my feet, my fingers trembling just the same as though I had put down a gun.
(this song, on repeat, forever)