Google has blessed me with a book overview thing! Perfect timing, because I’m told that my physical proof shipped on Friday. That means book glamor shots and the ebook are both coming soon! And yes, I did just follow my own book on Google.
Working with Atmosphere Press and Nick Courtright has been a true joy. They’ve been fast and responsive throughout, Nick is communicative and kind, and he really “gets” the book. Bonus points for having the same name as me. 😂 But seriously, I couldn’t ask for a better publisher. Editorial work is officially underway (coincidentally exactly six years to the day since I started writing this manuscript), and a cover concept is coming soon!
Rewatching all those old videos that we made as teenagers, those short films, is like having a viewable time capsule. Last weekend, I took the time to rip them from YouTube and Dailymotion, set up a shared Google Drive folder so that Matt and I could watch them whenever, so we could save them for posterity. Mostly I did it because I haven’t talked to Chris in years, and I figure it’s only a matter of time before he takes them all down. He already emptied out his YouTube account, so I had to rip the ones I had on mine and find the duplicates on Dailymotion where possible, come to terms with the ones that are now gone forever.
I realized watching them that it’s possible to miss the times you shared with a person while not missing the person you shared them with. To be nostalgic without being rose-tinted, with the years and the fights and the growing, all of it intervening. To miss the person they used to be. And if I’m being honest, how I used to be too. I make it a point every few months to travel back to Chicago–my home. I live a good 700 miles away now, so it’s an effort, but it’s something I do regularly. And there are those phantoms, those half-forgotten places, and the things I did there, but more than that, there are the people I miss.
When Matt and I meet up, we don’t endlessly turn over the past, although we definitely could. There are moody teenagers younger than our friendship. No, what we do is catch up with the way we’ve changed in a sentence or two, a look maybe, and we get back to the friendship timeline like nothing has changed, because it hasn’t. There’s that realization that I’d take a bullet for him, not a realization so much as a simple acknowledgment, and there’s remembering how we got here. The fact that I didn’t hang out with Matt as much as I would’ve liked to when I was friends with Chris, and that icky feeling that came with being mean, something I’d do when I hung out with Chris, and the fact that I knew it couldn’t last, not much past early adulthood, that I couldn’t let it last.
There’s also that simmer of feeling where once there was a boil, and the way it used to put a knot in my stomach but here, now, it doesn’t make me feel much of anything. Life has a way of moving on, a geologic smoothing away of the peaks and valleys that used to matter so much, the words both said and unsaid that would burn in my throat, now harmless and inert–something to be studied.
Sometimes I wish I had a chronovisor, a device with which to look into the past, to experience it without disturbing it. I think of time travel tropes in old movies and comics, and then I remember the comic Chris and I started working on that dealt with similar subject matter. But before it gets too wistful, I remember that I wrote several issues and Chris just never did the art for them.
In thinking of time travel, I forget the very real version we already have–the pictures, the videos. The stories both written and remembered. And even then, it’s the things kept out of picture and memory’s frame, the words shared before and after the shot. There’s the dizzying, beautiful, terrifying, wonderful realization that things truly did work out the way they were supposed to. That I’ve done these things and become this person because of, not in spite of, what happened to me. That had it not been for all of those events in that sequence, I wouldn’t be able to have this Doctor Manhattan vision, this way of seeing the future through the past, of understanding that I’m now surrounded by the people who are meant to be in my life. That I’ve made it without knowing I ever left.
Sitting on a reclining chair with my cat on my lap before 8 a.m., watching the city come to life through my window, hearing its faraway trains blare on horns that from this distance sound more like suggestions, watching the sky wake up by degrees as well, its oranges and blues fading to something more muted, something more mature.
Being used to chaos, you end up craving quiet while not knowing what to do with it once you get it. It’s a paradox. You can do the breathing exercises, you can sit still with your hands forming a perfect circle in your lap, and you can light that incense and wait as the smoke fills the air, all while battles and carnage play through your mind. You learn how to quiet this a bit, or at least make it appear invisible from the outside, invisible to the people who don’t know you enough to recognize, but that deep breath has something more behind it, that tension in your shoulders isn’t just stress from work, and they will ask their questions and you’ll do your best to answer them, all while memories come in scattershot–in sawed-off sprays of light, waking you up when you try to sleep.
Not all of them bad memories, but all of them vivid, even the good ones, the moments you’d forgotten about: running around town at seventeen, shooting a short film with friends, using a crappy old JVC you thought was state-of-the-art at the time, and kind of was, it’s all relative, and you’re kind of glad this was the hobby you guys chose, because you can still find some of these short films on YouTube (the ones that are still up there), and you can download them in case ancient accounts ever get deleted, and you can watch these living time capsules and remember even more.
It’s amazing how much things stick, now more than they ever did before, or maybe just in a different way–the objective versus subjective, digital to replace analog, and the way that you will sometimes not want to watch the video because it will change what really happened, or at least what your brain tells you happened, filling in the gaps with fiction and coloring all the facts with bias, because in this world of data it’s if-then arguments, binary constructs, zeroes and ones–hardly any more sophisticated than the dots and dashes of the Morse code days and yet worlds apart technologically. So sometimes you just want to let the truth have its day. Sometimes you want to keep the memories as they are.
Sitting in the back of the bus with a dollar store notebook on my lap, sketching and thinking about the past. October droplets stain my public transit window, turning the grime to a vertical stream as it passes and changes the passing headlights into alien stars–nothing more than ways to mark my way as I move along.
The headlights become fireflies in fading light, the summer retreating to its chrysalis, nights getting colder and rain and wind starting to claim the treehouse we made out in the woods, not in the trees but among them, sitting on the ground and made out of repurposed wooden fences, branches, and a blue tarp we liberated from a neighbor’s backyard. More branches plotted out the yard around the house, where we’d plant our garden once we had enough money for seeds. We never had enough money.
Playing backlit portable games underneath the blue tarp sky we made, taking our first sips of alcohol–vodka stolen from parental bottles and transferred to empty Coke cans, filling the bottles back up with water to disguise our theft. We were good.
You painted the tarp ceiling like it was the Sistine Chapel, counting sixteen candles and watching as you made a Frankenstein God touch the finger of a Super Mario Adam. You learned quickly that a little paint went a long way when some of it dripped off of the tarp and into your hair. It speckled it like you were a painted galaxy, took days to fully wash out.
You swiped a pack of cigarettes from the corner store when the clerk wasn’t looking, and we only got a cigarette in before we tossed them out, laughing and coughing. Your throw landed them in the creek, and I started like I was going to fish them out, but you told me it was okay. We were going to be enablers of fish addiction. We started a fire.
My pen is tracing lines I don’t know the endpoints of before I make them. It’s only when I hold it out in front of me that I can see the general shape, can make out what it is that I’m sketching.
You said we were going to get married someday, that you’d have my babies. We hadn’t even kissed yet. I laughed, sputtered out an, “Is that so?” Flames played in your eyes. You said, “mmmhmm.”
Midterms and finals and college searches. But you wouldn’t make it that far.
One day you were here, and the next you weren’t. Recited words and lit candles and crying eyes and offers of consolation. Days and nights of empty wandering in my room, thoughts moving from what I could’ve noticed to what I should’ve done. Could’ve and should’ve. Weeks melting like wax from a candled finger in reverse, working up the energy to take a shower, change my clothes, go to the corner store we used to haunt so I could put some food in my stomach, no matter how unhealthy it was.
Taking walks through the woods alone, thinking I saw you walking beside me, like a phantom limb you were, always attached to me. I kept walking.
My stop is coming up, but I have to finish this sketch first. It needs to have an ending.
One night long after it happened, I walked back out to our tree house. The tarp had sagged from the season’s rain, branches bent, but it was still standing. I crawled underneath and sat in there, the moonlight becoming something different fed through the water-blue of the tarp, something new. You were almost there beside me.
We’ve already passed my stop, but that’s fine. The drawing is done. It’s us sitting under the tarp together, the glow of a portable screen on my face as you watch with your head on my shoulder, in a place we both know, back when time stood still.
It’s winter, and I’m sixteen years old. That puts us at 2006. It’s Saturday, 2 AM, and I’m off of work at the theater. The buses don’t run this late, but I wouldn’t want to take one even if they did. I’m walking home.
There’s a hole in the bottom of my right shoe, and theater wages make it hard to get a new pair. I’ve been making my pants last, too. Where there should be a button, instead a paper clip is keeping my pants from falling. I’m supposed to wear black dress socks, but those are too expensive, so I wear regular socks instead. I walk so that I can avoid most of the snow that’s on the sidewalk, but it’s impossible to avoid all of it.
Soon enough, my right sock is cold and wet, and my foot starts going numb. I tell myself this is fine. All of my bandages have come off, and I don’t have to wear a back brace anymore, but I’m still feeling the effects of getting hit and dragged by a car last summer. Still feeling the effects of Tallulah leaving me, too.
I don’t even get to see her at work anymore. I think she switched shifts to avoid me. I said something wrong, and now she’s out of my life for good it seems. It hits me that a single moment can alter the course of a life forever.
In my back pocket is a full bottle of Jim Beam. I found it underneath a seat while I was ushing. I guess whoever snuck it in dropped it without even noticing. They were probably too drunk to notice, to be honest. Company policy is that I’m supposed to turn in all items that I find while cleaning, especially if they’re illicit items like this. I don’t know why I pocketed it instead. I’m not a drinker. I’ve had a beer here and there (mostly under peer pressure from Drew), but nothing serious. Even so, I open the bottle and start drinking.
I know enough to know that this isn’t the kind of drink you’re supposed to chug, but I do anyway. I’ve never done something like this before, so I don’t know how it’s going to affect me. I just drink.
My throat is burning terribly, but I’m already halfway done, so I decide to keep going. Tallulah thinks that drinking is for people who try too hard to be cool. I never told her about the beers I drank with Drew. I just agreed with her.
I don’t even know if she still works at the theater anymore. I wonder if she’s going to follow through with her plan to go to school at the Art Institute. I wonder how she’s doing.
I feel like I’m swimming through the air. My feet aren’t going where I want them to, and at first I tell myself that it’s because of the hole in my shoe, the numbness in my foot. The first time I fall down onto the snow, I tell myself that it was a long shift and my legs are tired, my balance is off. It takes me puking on the snow to admit that I’m fucked up.
The world is split in two, halved. I have puke on my work shirt. Our washer’s broken, so I don’t know what I’m going to do. We don’t even have detergent. I’ll probably just scrub it with dish soap and hang it in my room to dry.
I decide that I am going to lie in the snow. My brain is telling me that this is okay, that this is preferable to stumbling through the snow. I don’t know where the sidewalk is anymore. I drop to my knees and flip over onto my back. It takes a little while for the cold to come in, but it does come. Slow, like pain that waits. I think that I might fall asleep right where I am.
I lie there for minutes or hours, I can’t tell. Everything is cold. I hear a car squeal on its brakes and slam on its horn. I think there’s going to be a crash, but then there isn’t. The driver rolls down his window and yells over at me. He asks if I’m okay. I manage to stand, and I wave in his direction. I tell him no, I’m not okay, but I think I will be.
He looks at me for a while before deciding that it’s okay to leave. I watch him go until I can no longer see him, and then I turn back toward home. I don’t listen to my brain anymore. I just walk.
1944. A year before the end of war. My grandma Joan was ten, and sad, sad because her best friend Crystal was moving away. Crystal lived across the street, and Joan wasn’t to cross. She did anyway.
Joan caught insults on her walks to and from school with Crystal, some older boys saying things she couldn’t make out except for the word “nigger.” She didn’t even really know what that word was supposed to mean, but she saw how it affected Crystal, so she knew it was bad.
Crystal’s mother was institutionalized, so she was raised by her grandmother. Joan’s mother died shortly after childbirth, so she was raised by her father and later her stepmother. Crystal’s grandmother was never home, and Joan’s father buried empty liquor bottles in the cellar’s dirt floor, so the two girls got along fine.
On the day Crystal had to go, Joan took her to the playground one last time. They didn’t get on the swings, but they watched the other kids who were on them. They didn’t say anything, but that was okay. They just watched the other kids swing back and forth, back and forth. And that was the thing–no matter how far you pushed off, you’d always end up right back where you started.