I can now say that my book is available in-store at my favorite indie bookstore. 😱 Just dropped these off at Bookmarks NC in advance of next month’s virtual event, and these are signed! You can pick up a copy down on 4th Street if you’re in Winston! Link is here for that event!
So I just saw that my story “Down and Out Together” (originally in Twin Pies Lit) made it into Literary Horoscopes, the feature that Alyssa Jordan does for F(r)iction! I’m honored and super excited! It’s wild getting recognition from a writer and an imprint that inspire you. 😊
She said I talk like him, even though I never met the man. That I’m a lot like him. Her word was “disposition.” Ours were nearly identical, not the sharp contrast I always saw between my dad and I growing up. My grandma’s only surviving pictures of my grandpa are all black and white, an unfailing reminder of how long ago it was that he died, how much time could stretch between one life and another before common traits can pop back up again, out of the ether.
There are precious few photos of him, and the ones there are suggest a man who’s seeing beyond himself and the photo, maybe even into whoever’s looking. At least that’s the impression I get. How do you come to know someone you’ve never met, someone you’re apparently just like, even decades removed?
He was a dreamer, my grandma said. He was always coming up with new ideas, thinking of inventions or advances in technology that would soon come to pass. In the ’60s, when giant, boxy, wood-panelled, tube TVs were ubiquitous, he saw a time when TVs would be flat and wide, when they’d be able to display rich and vibrant color, and they’d be so light that folks could attach them to their walls, like pictures. He was a dreamer, my grandma said, but it was much harder for him to put those dreams into reality. He had all these concepts and plans, but he never seemed to have the time to work on them. There was always something to do, and he had the needs of his young family to think of.
I spent so long growing up piecing together the idea of who my grandpa was based on who my dad was. I hoped for a kinder, gentler version. Someone who drank less, if at all. A man with the loving kindness I saw in the precious few moments my father let it come through, and without the sudden bursts of anger that would balance them, the yelling, the railing against perceived enemies, the drunkenness and the fighting.
He died relatively young, of a heart attack. The knowledge that I’m only about a decade younger than my grandpa was when he died swirls in and pools somewhere between my chest and spine, tendrils out and settles deep in my stomach. I remind myself that grief is physical, and you can feel grief for someone you never knew. Someone you wish so badly that you knew.
Apparently, our similarities extended to our viewing habits. Well before the age of binge watching, he’d sit the family down in front of the tube for the latest episode of The Twilight Zone. His love for the show was deep, my grandma tells me, and I suddenly remember catching old re-runs late at night as a tiny kid, on my own. Then later, in the binge age, marathoning through an entire season in a day, till my inner monologue sounded a lot less like me and a lot more like Rod Serling.
I aspire to a lasting love like the one my grandma and grandpa had. He died nearly fifty years ago, and my grandma still talks about him as if he were here just yesterday. Her eyes still light up when she talks about him. She will love him until she’s gone, and beyond even that. Regardless of my own beliefs, of the Catholic faith that I questioned over the years and eventually abandoned, I have no doubt about that. There are some things that persist.
There’s only one surviving video of my grandpa, that I know of. It’s an old Super 8 that got converted to VHS and then later digital, so the quality’s not the best, and there’s the characteristic light flicker and jagged motion of old home movies from the projector era. It’s faded from light exposure, and worn, but there he is anyway, in motion, and living color, and if I take a journey into that wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination, same as Rod always said, I can almost see what it’d look like to see him in real life, right there in front of me. But for now he’s up there, on a TV that’s flat and wide, in the illusion of life that is a series of old moving pictures.
I remember back in the day Nick used to try to get to Heaven. Heaven was a glitched-out place in San Andreas where nothing made sense or seemed quite real, and Nick would come home most days, boot up the PS2, and try again to get into it. There was a specific building in San Andreas where, if you went inside and used a cheat code to spawn a jetpack, you could fly through a certain part of the ceiling that didn’t have proper clipping. There was just one spot where you could fly through, a place that the developers had overlooked. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem. This wasn’t something you were ever supposed to be able to come across just walking and jumping around. But if you knew what to look for, and you did everything in just the right way, you could lift off and go through the ceiling. Fly right above the interior. From up there, I remember it looked like you had ripped the roof off a dollhouse and were looking down at its insides. And everywhere around the interior, where the outside world should’ve been, there was nothing but blank gray. Gray as far as you could see, in every direction. The way the game worked was that in order to save resources, only the exterior world or the interior world would ever be loaded at any given time, depending on what the character chose. The developers never intended for the player to see beyond the place that had been loaded for them, but Nick had found a way to clip through. He found a way to explore what shouldn’t be explored.
I remember every day he’d go straight back into that building and continue where he left off. You couldn’t save in Heaven, so he’d have to just repeat the glitch every time. There were no waypoints, no markers, so Nick would fly through gray nothing for what seemed like forever before coming across a new interior, some place he had never seen before. He’d go there and take mental notes of everything he saw, then fly back up through where the ceiling should’ve been and look for another place: a space explorer trying to chart new worlds. He’d find interiors you’d only see in passing in random cutscenes, abandoned test areas, and places you wouldn’t find anywhere else in the game. Many of these places were unfinished, so he’d land there and find himself able to walk through the walls, glide through props. It was like he was there but not at the same time.
And the wild thing is that he committed so much of that to memory. There was no real way to map all of that out. Once you were in the air, there were no landmarks to guide you, nothing but gray everywhere. If you checked your map in-game, it said that you were still at the building you’d originally entered. It was like you had never left. Like you were stuck, even though you weren’t.
I didn’t play San Andreas for years after Nick died. I had the game, had the old system, but I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do a lot of things after he died, but I definitely couldn’t play that game. It got so even if I saw it pop up in a video I was watching or something, I’d have to turn it off. I never really talked about that, but yeah. That’s how it was.
To have a brother gone is like how I imagine it when people describe phantom limb syndrome. It’s the times when you’re not fully conscious yet that it hits the hardest, when just for that tiny moment your brain tells you that it’s okay, that he’s still alive. Then you wake up a little more, and you remember that he’s gone. That he’s been dead now for five years, and that nothing’s going to change that. Sometimes I just wish I could sleep in. Just dream a little longer.
I booted up the old PS2 earlier today. It was too early, and the sun was in my eyes, and I still remembered how to set it all up. And the crazy thing is, Nick’s old save file still worked. I booted it up, and I went to that same old place, and I googled the jetpack cheat. I’m sure Nick would’ve had it committed to memory, but I needed a prompt. I got into that corner, this time from memory, and I flew. Straight up, away and past it all. Into the gray where the world you thought you knew wasn’t really there. And I went.
I wanted to see trees the way that you saw them, not just color and movement, classification and function. I wanted to taste the sun in strawberry, see myself in others and have something like a life before my death. I didn’t manage that, but I have managed to draft this here, now, which will just have to be my consolation. I am collecting all the pieces of me from when I was alive, trying to find the leaves that serve the tree.
I saw you at my funeral. I wanted to say something, but:
1. I couldn’t,
2. What would I say if I could?
Everyone’s words arrived like a fugue, their contrapuntal compositions echoing, and none of them could hear the melodies they were making. I saw something in your eyes then that I’d never seen while alive.
This is not much different than when I was here. There’s not a distinct boundary or separation. It’s a gradual process, and you don’t always know when that process has begun. I was in the process of dying for a long time before they put me in the ground, and it’s still not over yet.
I realize now that I had glimpses of it. Moments waiting in line at the grocery store, realizing that these signs advertising products will be replaced, then will be gone. These people will one day be gone, and the store will be as well. Time will sweep its dust under the rug of the world, and there will be nothing at all to see anywhere. There will be not even the concept of nothing. It’s like that, being dead is. It’s a strong dissociation, but it’s not a severance. At least mine isn’t. It’s seeing yourself see yourself, till it feels like you’re looking into a mirror that’s facing another mirror, reflecting ad infinitum. And I’m pretty much tired all the time.
I realized as I was dying that I didn’t want to die, but it had reached an irreversible point in the process, so I resigned myself to the fact that I was going to soon be dead. It just became a fact.
And then I went away, and my body was a collection of buzzing, brilliant things, separated by color and shape and size and weight, so it was like I was seeing all my composite parts. And there was my idea of you, alone in an unlit room in what used to be my mind. I never saw the fine details, you used to tell me. I’d never miss the forest for the trees, but then I’d never really see the trees at all.
Think of anything you’ve ever seen, and then forget it. Forget that you’ve forgotten. Anything Anthropocene is gone. Anything natural is gone. There’s something there, but it’s more like a vague feeling than an actual presence. There’s not really color. I don’t want to talk about it too much.
If I focus, I can almost see a world outside of myself, outside of what I did. I can almost breathe again.
I dream memories. When I dream, I’m back in the world of matter and color and wind on arms and light in bleary morning eyes. It’s nothing pivotal. It’s the small moments, the ones we shared. It’s waiting in line at the grocery store and eyeing tabloids, dollar chocolate bars, gum, the hum of the conveyor belt and the mechanical hey-how-are-you when it gets to our place in line. It’s crunching through fall leaves, adjusting steps to coincide, and the warmth of the sun past the chill, past the gray, past it all, and feeling that there only is just this moment. Only ever will be.
It makes me so happy to see this. 😊 These 5 out of 5s are huge, especially for indies, and ESPECIALLY for indie debuts. To anyone who’s reviewed my book or plans on doing so: thank you, thank you, thank you!!!
I’m reading up on out of body experiences, lucid dreaming, anything that might get me out of all of this and let me see my dead brother again.
He’s been dead five years, so I’m under no illusions that it’ll be a clear vision. I’m starting to forget his face, and even the pictures don’t help. So I’m banking on an out of body experience. They say that if you lie real still, and focus on your breathing, imagine that a rope is leading out of your skull and up into the ceiling, beyond that, up into the sky and beyond that, that you’re on your way to a bonafide OBE. There are no guarantees, but that seems like as good a place to start as any.
I was never one for meditating, but Nick was. My brother was, and I remember some of what he told me back when he was diving into Zen, going to the temple every week, etc. Sometimes I wonder about mindfulness, about why it couldn’t save him from himself in the end, and then I come back to the hurt, the “why”s that go nowhere, the feeling like you’ve knocked down a wall past reality, and now you’re in grayed-out backroom that hasn’t been rendered yet, the grief puts you out of the world, and it’s just you lying on hardwood in your apartment, trying to imagine a rope leading out of your head so you can see your brother again, and you’re trying not to tell yourself that this is fucking crazy, that this is going nowhere, because Nick always said that right when you thought you’d figured it out, that was the moment you had to start all over again.
When we were still kids, Nick would do stuff like stay awake for two days straight, put halved ping pong balls in front of his eyes for sensory deprivation, just to see what would happen, if he could write about it. He’d go a day or two without food, which, granted, wasn’t hard when there was barely any in the house, but he’d have nothing but water or tea, and that was before the eviction but not much before, and everything was still in boxes from the last place we had to abruptly leave, and I feel like he was starting to unravel then, even though it was still years before the eventual suicide, but nobody knew, and only in hindsight could we see all the distinct signs. I think back to the Other Side of YouTube videos we’d watch, before meme proliferation, before Vine and TikTok, back when you had to hunt down all the weird shit, and it seemed like Nick was always trying to find ways to disturb himself out of what he was thinking, what he was feeling.
I’m still trying the out of body experience thing, but I’m not sure I’m doing it right. My brain keeps reminding me of how he looked in that room, hospital lights too bright, metal table, and when you’re dead they no longer have to worry about comfort. Gray skin, and water bloat, and it’s him all right, and hearing yourself make the sound that you made, and seeing yourself from up in room’s corner is the closest you’ve ever come to having an out of body experience, perspective shift, and if you never have to feel that way again then that’ll be fine, if that’s the only way it’ll come, but you can stay awake in caffeine haze and have the heat off in winter, so the hardwood is ice cold, and it’s starting to hurt, and maybe you’ll see him one more time, face un-gray, un-bloated, like how he was when he was still here, not a body slab on cold metal in hospital light, and come out of this body, come out of your mind and allow yourself communion. Come apart and don’t worry about putting yourself back into that trauma body. You don’t have to remember everything all the time.
And floating now, over yourself, it’s not a rope so much as a hole in the ice bringing you out of liquid cold and into the air, away from where bodies can die and decay and be forgotten. And maybe your brother is in there somewhere, apart from any memories you had of him. He’s just there, inextricable from the way he ended up. You’re sliding out, away from your head, floating through the old mall you guys used to go to as kids, but now it’s closed down, and all you can hear are the hits they used to play, and the speakers are blasting out to emptiness and decrepitude, and there’s the place where you’d buy a pack of Pokémon cards for a few bucks, there’s what remains of the food court, just mold and not-so-drywall, and you can see your brother as you want to remember him, floating above the fountain at mall’s center, and you’re starting to gain self awareness in this thing, whatever it is, dream or real, but you decide to stay a while and watch as he floats, airborne, catching rays, rotating in the air, dancing through it, smiling all the time.
Check out the debut coming-of-age novel that Gauraa Shekhar of Maudlin House says “occupies an important space in the psyche of American fiction,” with prose author Zach MacDonald calls “eye-opening and powerful” and says “showed the mind of a true humanist at work.”
Available here through IndieBound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and more, both paperback and ebook.
Spanning the late 90s to the 2010s, HERE’S WALDO is a sprawling, tragicomic novel that tracks the story of Waldo Collins, a nerdy kid born in a torn-up town in the shadow of Chicago–unincorporated Des Plaines, IL. It’s a story about what it was like to come of age as the new millennium dawned with all its irrevocable changes. A story about the family bonds we’re born with and those we create along the way, and about using humor to find light in the dark. About generational trauma and the continuation (or completion) of cycles of violence. It’s here we follow Waldo from age eight to twenty-four as he figures out his place in the world, leaves his hometown to become a writer, and ultimately comes back to face everything (and everyone) he left behind. Here’s a story of loss, love, grief, guilt, and a search for meaning. Here’s Waldo.