Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Severance Package.

"So is that it, then?"

"Is what it?" I reply.

"That," she says. "Is that it? Is that all you're going to say?"

"Is there anything else that I need to say?"

"I don't know how reasonable it is to say that and then just, you know, leave it like that." She puts a stick of gum in her mouth, a sure sign that she's not taking this too seriously just yet. "It's a little vague."

"How is 'I think we shouldn't see each other anymore' vague?"

"Come on, Stop," she says, starting to get upset. "I'm not a fucking idiot." Yes, Grace, you are.

"I don't think you're an idiot." I do. "I just don't know what else you want me to say."

"How about why?" Uh, because you're annoying and shrill and horrible and you tell your friends everything that you shouldn't tell them and I hate you and I want to give you nothing.

"I…" I pause for dramatic effect. She buys it. "…I just don't know if I can give enough to this relationship to keep it, I don't know, alive." And you spend all of my money and criticize my comic books and think my job is stupid and you thought Johnny Depp was a better Willy Wonka than Gene Wilder---and what the fuck was that about---and you thought that The Grudge was scary and you flirt with all of my friends to make me mad and you refuse to leave voicemails and you drive like a crackhead on angel dust and you don't understand the difference between nibbling and honest-to-God biting and my neck always has marks and I hate wearing turtlenecks to hide them.

"You deserve more," I say. But she doesn't. I deserve more.

"How long have you thought this, Stop?" Damn, I don't know…two years, maybe?

"When we were sitting, watching that play—" and you kept yawning "—and I looked over and saw you looking so beautiful and I knew that—" I wanted more, but I'm going to tell you that "—you deserve more."

"Do you really mean that?" No.

"Yes."

"Really?" Hell no.

"Of course, Grace." Oh fuck, she's about to cry. She's about to---fuck, there it is. She's crying. I put my hand in the back of her hair—her mane, really, as she doesn't know what else to do with it but make it look like she's in a Guns N' Roses video—and I faux-lovingly tap my fingers in seemingly random patterns, even though I know my right hand is playing the piano melody to "Open Arms." She won't stop crying, though, fuck, how do I make her stop crying? Oh shit, she's trying to talk. She opens her mouth but her motor skills won't let her form the words—I can't believe she's this upset, that she didn't see this coming—and she begins that gasping-for-air crying, that awful series of sounds that turns her nearly-sympathetic whimperings into these ungodly inhalations of hyperventilation, these absurd gestures of overdramatic, overbearing sadness and loss that have now ruined my night.

"Do," she begins, eeking out a single syllable between mutilated attempts of speech. I look over at her with false inquisition, doing my best to twist my features into representing something that at least superficially evokes caring that no longer exists. She is just staring at her knees, and it doesn't seem to be making this easier for her.

"Do you still love me?" There she goes. Got out a full sentence.

"Of course I still do." I don't.

"Really?"

"Yes." No.

"That," she says with minimal composure now regained, "makes it worse."

"I'm sorry." Not really. She looks up at me for the first time in minutes and I cringe on the inside while smoldering with the restrained passion of a reticent lover, when in fact it's solely the discomfort I'm feeling. Her eyes are welling up and as I look inside through them and into her mind and wonder what it is I ever saw in this horrible creature, I feel something that, while not guilt, contains several aspects and similarities with guilt and at that second, I feel what can only be called sympathy for this woman, this person who is being taken away from something that she loves and her pain that's echoing in my head makes me want to die—and just as soon as the feeling comes, it's gone, overpowered by the contempt I am feeling for this inconvenience that her grand gestures of drama have necessitated my suffering.

"Is there anything I can do to make you change your mind?" Not likely.

"No, I don't think that there's anything—" I pause, wondering what she might be implying. I give her my best hesitantly poetic eyes and I can practically see a lightbulb go on over her head as she slowly unbuttons the top button of her white blouse that I, in fact, paid $75 for, an egregiously overpriced birthday present about which my feelings were frequently made known, resulting in its frequent use, which pissed me off in its signifying my having succumbed to such a bloated gesture—although, realistically, if she wore it less often, I'd be more pissed that I had wasted such money into something of which she made no use. Oh hell, she's wearing the—I can't believe I didn't see it through her shirt—the black bra.

The Black Bra. I love the black bra. I love the black bra so much that I would be happy to date it alone. I would gladly have it bear my children, biology aside. I love the black bra so goddamned much that when I die I will leave all of my fortune to a local hospital for the building of a new pediatrics wing, so long as it is called the Black Bra Pediatrics wing. This is how much I love the black bra.

She's now down to her third button. Four, five, six, seven…she's done. Seconds take hours to pass by. She notices that my hand is no longer moving in her hair and she removes it and puts it on her face.

"For old times' sake," she says. I comply.

I slept through my refractory period. The sun comes up over the dashboard and I rub the tired out of my eyes. Being asleep for even half an hour in such a small space and in such a contorted position has left the lower half of my body bloodless. I flex to circulate the feeling back into my legs to no avail. I draw a deep breath and let out an industrial strength yawn that opens her eyes and arches her eyebrows.

"Good morning," she says. No, not really.

"Hi."

"Hi yourself," she says, trying to playfully poke me in the side of the ribs. Too early for play. I just want to go back home, get into my bed—alone, mind you—and sleep off the disdain. The sun is too bright to look out the front window, a sliver peeking out just enough to stab my retinas with its intensity. I stretch dramatically and see, out of the corner of my eye, that she's still looking at me. In fact, she hasn't taken her eyes off of me since I woke her up.

"So," she says.

"So." I didn't want to 'cuddle' and I sure as shit don't feel like talking.

"So what's the scoop?" The scoop? When did this become a Katherine Hepburn movie?

"The scoop?" I squirm at my use of such a horrible word in such a horrible way.

"Yeah, the scoop." I squirm again, and I think she notices. "Are we, you know…still?"

"Are we still? As in are we not moving?"

"What?" She's so fucking stupid.

"Still is an adjective. You ask me 'are we still' and I don't know what you mean. The car isn't moving, if that's your question. Although it should be, because I have work in four hours and I need to get some real sleep."

"No, I mean, are we still," she looks for the word, even though she knows exactly what it is, "together?"

I shiver. My discomfort with the whole situation is now manifesting itself in slight involuntary spasms and I have no idea what to tell her. Had I not been clear? Was it my idea for us to go to bed before putting the relationship to bed? No, it was her idea. I will not feel remorse for what I am about to say to her, I tell myself.

"Why would you think that?" Her jaw drops with what I'm sure is shock as to what she believes to be my audacity, but this whole sex thing was her idea.

"Well, I just…" She really doesn't have anything to say. The one time she has nothing to say and my confusion at her lack of understanding prevents me from enjoying it.

"You just what?"

"I thought that, you know, because of…that…that we would stay together."

"Hey, that was all your idea." I say it just coldly enough to indicate my detachment but not coldly enough for her to see the amount of scorn that's gathering on my tongue and trying—nay, begging—to escape and make use of itself, to remind her of all of the social faux pas, the il communicado that nearly became the foundation of our already naturally tedious relationship and I bite my lower lip to keep it restrained.

As she processes the words, as the shrapnel from the bomb I have just dropped on her pierces her brain and she recognizes exactly what's going on, I see the longing and pain in her eyes become immediately replaced with disgust, and while it makes this all a little easier, an instantaneous flash of fault flies into the very back corner of my mind and I wonder if I've done anything wrong. The flash disappears and I dismiss its presence as a fluke, as the devil on my shoulder telling me that I deserve to be unhappy, that I somehow need to keep pushing this boulder up the mountain rather than use the key forged to release me from these locks.

"I'm sorry if you got that idea," I say, even though I'm not, "but it's over." I let the words sink like depth charges. I continue when I think I can hear them explode: "It's probably a good idea if I take you home now."

She says nothing, but picks up her rumpled ball of shirt from the floor and unfolds it into something with which she can conceal her breasts and embarrassment. She opens the side door and gets into the front passenger seat. She doesn't slam the door and she doesn't look angry, but there's an air of something: disappointment, perhaps. But in what? In me? In herself? Fuck if I know.

I climb out of the back and slip into the driver's seat. I fumble for my keys for a few seconds before I remember that I put them in the console before things got too heated and one of us got stabbed by my Frequent Shopper card my keyring held, an accident that had happened more than once. I make several attempts to insert the key in the ignition, but that sun is so bright that I can't see shit and my body is still unprepared for its day and my hand-eye coordination remains sorely lacking.

I finally make it in. I turn the keys, feel the pleasantly familiar rumble of the engine make my chair quiver, and I look to see if she has her seatbelt on. She doesn't. I ignore it. The last thing I want to do right now is lecture her about safety. I pull down my buckle and it snaps in.

As we drive, I use my peripheral vision to see that her face is completely blank. There's an intensity there, certainly, but there isn't anything behind it, at least not that I can see, but there is something, a flint waiting for an emotional spark to set ablaze the entire car with a torrential burst of heated words and nasty insults. I look both left and right as I turn onto the main drag. The sun, now half exposed, blinds me to which lane I'm in, but I correct and stay in the lines. There isn't a soul on the road. I keep going up the hill, straight to the sun.

Reflexively, I turn on the radio and am assaulted by some horrible band that she found on Myspace and positively adores—they're in her "top 8"—and I just as reflexively shut it off by switching it to the second disc in the changer, a country blues anthology I made for her that she, for some bullshit reason, doesn't like. Whatever.

Halfway through the second verse of "Cocaine Blues," I wonder if I should do something to make her feel better. Should I tell her a joke? Is there a good Woody Allen one-liner that could lighten the mood? Should I go completely against every principle I maintain and apologize? Even though I did nothing wrong and every conclusion that she came to was solely the creation of her own dementia? Yeah, maybe that would make her feel a little bit better. Not that I did anything wrong.

It was her idea. It was her idea. It was her idea.

"Grace," I mutter, barely audibly, just to see if she's listening. Her eyes move towards me, but her head remains stationary, like a creepy painting whose gaze stays on you no matter where you go. The effect is simultaneously unsettling and comforting. At least she's listening. The glare from the sun shows in her eyes and it's a little creepy, like the scary kid in a scary movie, but it's endearing and the more attention I pay, the more it becomes a gleam, lens flare on her

"Look, I—"

"STOP!" she screams, and I only have a split-second to make out the oncoming minivan before it strikes us head on.

I awake to noise, a low rumble that is keeping my horizontal body tremoring.

"We're losing blood here," someone says. I try to open my eyes, but I can't. They're swollen shut. I make a feeble go at lifting my hand up to my face to open them manually, but I'm tied down.

"Can you step on it before it's too late?" There are two—wait, three—people talking and I go to speak, to ask where the fuck I am and why I can't see until my tongue runs across the bottom of my lip and find a gash and I taste blood and it's warm and coppery and my concern grows.

I can hear a steady beeping and I can't take it anymore so I summon up every once of energy I can muster and send it right up to my eyes and I manage to open them. The room is small and it's white and there's machinery and something in my arm, but everything is so blurry that I can't make out a single detail. I see two men crouched, one near me and one a few feet away, and oh my god, am I in an—

"This one's awake!" one of them exclaims. The other briefly glances over before looking back down at whatever is holding his attention. "Son," the man says, "you're in an ambulance. Now, don't try to speak. You've been in an accident and—" the pitiful rhythm of some beeping machine stops and turns into a low, sustained, defeated whimper and the other man wipes his brow before doing the stations of the cross on his chest.

"This one's gone." I look down at my leg and see what was once my knee at an inverted 90 degree angle, the lower half of my leg going in a direction in which it shouldn't naturally go. There's a massive gash across my chest that what I now see to be the paramedic is dressing.

"Son, can you hear me?" I can't respond.

"Blink twice if you can hear me." I blink twice. "We're on the way to the hospital. You're gonna be okay."

Am I?

Fuck James Frey and fuck Rush Limbaugh and all those other weak-willed, displacing fucks. I can't believe that drug addiction is caused by genetics or media misinformation or the stress of American culture; the reason people get addicted to narcotics is, as I come to discover, because Oxycontin fucking rules. Accordingly, the next two days are a blur and time both stands statue still and passes by like a Tokyo bullet train and a marginally extended hospital stay isn't nearly as melodramatic as your average movie-of-the-week starring Brooke Shields and Joe Mantegna would have you believe.

I'm supposed to leave the hospital at 5:00 PM. My mom flew out from Orlando to bring m back to my apartment because she doesn't want me taking the bus. Her new boyfriend, whose name and chronological position in what has become her long-running matrimonial relay race remains an enigma to me, gave up two weeks of his paid vacation to come and be with her while she "takes care" of me. It wasn't clear in her voice mail if "taking care" meant shooting me down the path of recovery or putting a bullet in my brain, but I don't give two "accidental" grazes of my attractive night nurses' breast what happens because I am a horrible, horrible person and I deserve to die.

It's almost eleven in the morning when I come back to consciousness and immediately resent my never-failing ability to open my eyes. I use the remote control provided me to close the window shades and block out the sun because it makes me think of a song I used to hear in church as a kid and I don't know if God really exists, but if He does, I'll get what's coming to me. I will be struck down. I don't know if He was warning me with the car rash or if it was just some randomly interconnected series of miniscule events culminating into some large reckoning that destroyed the last semblance of identity I had forged for myself through lies and bullshit by throwing me to die in a cauldron of Grace's spilled blood and stirring it with her broken neck and the graphic witch metaphors and Macbeth allusions are abruptly overshadowed by the far-too-chipper appearance of Diane, the morning nurse.

"Good morning, handsome!" This woman wails. In light of how awful her radiance-in-the-face-of-my-impending-damnation her company is, it's ungodly the noises that come out of her mouth. "Guess what I have for you?"

I look up but don't respond, doing my best to crush her head like one of Gallagher's watermelons, utilizing only sheer willpower. She holds up a small green sponge and a bar of soap.

"Sponge bath!"

I try to respond, but my voice still has yet to rediscover its connection to my mind and I remain silent. Her eyes widen with anticipation and I gave as bold a grimace as I can muster.

As a 22-year-old man, in what some would refer to as my sexual prime, perhaps the only time I would be more susceptible to getting an erection was if I was fourteen and on stage at an Aerosmith concert and in front of a crowd of naked women chanting my name with wanton desire. The sponge bath is a very unfair way for Diane to give me an erection.

It's not that I'm attracted to Diana; she's probably about 45, the width and breadth of her hips indicate she's had at least three kids, and the thong underwear she so inappropriately flaunts looks more like dental floss in a sea otter's mouth than appropriate coverage. In fact, looking at this woman is nearly enough to make me sterile. Nearly.

The problem is that, eventually, she will work her way down to my crotch and begin to dab. See, it's the dabbing that's the problem. The coupling of the dabbing with my borderline-unstoppable sexual drive ends up making the erections much more flattering to Diane than they should be.

So there she is, dabbing my stomach, inching her sponge closer towards The Promised Land, and I start to get a little hard. Luckily, it's nothing I can't control using a little bit of unpleasant mental imagery. I'm fortunate, because all I have to do is simply look at the smirk my assailant is giving me.

"Aren't we perky this morning?" she chuckles to herself. I wince in my mind and die a little on the inside. She winks at me and my chances at reproducing are immediately halved. Thanks, Diane.

She leaves and gives me the same joke she gives every time she comes back—"I usually don't put out this early, but you're sweet" and I laugh just as much as I always do (none)—and I'm finally at rest.

I do not deserve to live.

Four hours later, my mother and her boyfriend, Adam (which I mentally preface with a "Grizzly") sign the appropriate forms, wheel me out of the room, and absorb enough ammonia to make a technician at Three Mile Island cough. They put me in their car and my mother, after asking me just enough questions about my life as to not seem like the wretched, neglectful, emotional Machiavellian as she has repeatedly proven herself to be, announces with a great squeal of delight that she and Adam are totally in love and oh my gosh things are going soooooo well and it's been like, what, five months now and last week he asked her to marry him and she said, like, duh! Of course she will! He's only, like, the greatest guy ever and is like totally perfect for her and they're going to live in his house in the Hamptons and there's like the most adorable room in the basement that I can come stay in whenever I want and the government contract with his munitions company is about to be like renewed or something and so they'll be able to get me a ticket to come and visit like at the drop of a hat because of how much money he's going to have.

I zone them out and look out the window and decide that I will never speak again because speech is a gift that should only be used by those with something to say, and in the deepest recesses of my heart, inside the smallest cavity of my emotional core, I know that I will never, never, never, never, ever have something to contribute to this world. I am a horrible person. If there is a god and if He is just, a car will give my life an ironic ending and follow every rule about dramatic structure that I ever learned and I will become a cautionary tale to all of the cold, selfish bastards in this world that are just like me.

I live another seventy two years before I die peacefully in my sleep. The last thing I see before I close my eyes is the seven-inch scar across my chest.

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