I am supposed to be drunk. I am supposed to be a frat boy/super fly/machismo extraordinaire. I am supposed to be flirty, confident, and sexy especially after four shots of tequila. I no longer want to perform this pantomime of bodily aggression. I no longer want the world to be a stage on which I play Shakespearean fool. I am more a punching bag for my own dysfunctional emotions tonight. I am more longing and pining than lust. I am broken open inside tonight; and it shows.
I am staring up at the stars in the nearly blue, obsidian sky, reclined in my shitty car, smoking a menthol cigarette. All I can focus on is Orion’s belt while the ambient noise of a bonfire and two hundred drunken college students create white noise just over a hillside. Why haven’t I received love in the way I have given it? I ash out the window. Why do I feel so alone among an entire campus of young adults, most of which know my name? I ash out the window. Is it okay to have wanted to die since I was a five year old? I ash. If I am as important as people tell me I am, why do I feel so lost and without meaning? I ash. What good is my life if I am not able to love myself?
I am ash. The wind blows a cinder back in to perch on my wrist. It stings but feels appropriate.
In genetic experimentations done on fruit flies, researchers coined a colloquialism to name a particular gene they discovered while testing. When only partial genetic material is provided by the male fly, or if coitus is interrupted, the female will lay eggs that contain flies that fully form but lack a heart. Scientists’ coinage: “The Tin Man” gene. This reflects the story of the Wizard of Oz, where the Tin Man speaks on how he cannot feel anything. The flies are born dead, unable to function because they lack the vital organ that allows life to circulate.
The primary function of fruit flies is to infest an area to feed, to rid the environment of decaying matter (to act like a very slow colony of maids), and to reproduce. They also become prey.
I have been patient with suffering. I can confess I feel numb. I have lost the ability to feel. Rumors of my heart are overstatements. What good is remorse; what good is a heart anyway? A heart is only necessary to pump oxygen to the lungs and I don’t believe I ever asked to breathe.
In the dark, I watch cars and trucks with lift-kits speed ten miles per hour over the speed limit as they descend a curvy ravine and turn left at the bridge at the bottom of the valley. If there wasn’t so much traffic, I could hear the water turning and flowing in the river on the other side of the lane. Two girls in extremely short skirts stumble into the back of my car. They do not see me. I consider lighting another cigarette when a memory crashes behind my eyes and slurs into my mind. It is my ex-girlfriend and she is slipping on a knee-high floral skirt. We had just had sex and she laughs at something I say while I lay, nude, on the bed. With her pixie cut and round framed glasses, she looks like a very young and modern Aubrey Hepburn. Her smile is wide and radiant. I wrote a poem about it: that she hosted a sun in her throat. Another memory answers: my hand reaching down to find a thong, black lace, just underneath my bed. Another memory stirs: her handwriting on college ruled paper that I pull out of an envelope addressed to me. It read like a diary. It read with affection. It read like a confession. It read like a large, white lie.
A large roar erupts from behind the hill. The DJ plays a song and the partiers cheer. I want to laugh or cry, but I cannot command either to manifest. I remain silent, seat declined, my hood pulled up. I turn my thoughts back to purpose. What is my role, here, in this elevated valley where school is proposed as a priority? Is it to acquire a small, laminated piece of paper to frame and then hang on a wall somewhere? Is that paper going to portray me as knowledgeable in the subject it states I have mastered? Or is it just a receipt for a transaction in which I am to pay back: an IOU reminder that looms like a billboard declaring how in debt I am to a system I didn’t have to enter? Will it get me a job? Will it make me money to be able to live fruitfully? It is all so very doubtful. Might all of this knowledge and experience, if I had been given the opportunity to apply myself, have been gained by reading and implementation? I believe that to be true. I confess: I have never really been comfortable walking through society nor have I wanted to. It is all façade, all production, and all performance. I am exhausted of being this character. I no longer want to portray him the same. What is authentic in a world that can only play pretend? Even the party-goers act: they play college students on the weekend getting hammered and inebriated to project the simulation of happiness to the point they can almost believe they are. I chew the gum on the inside of my upper lip. If you tapped my sternum, you would hear how hollow I am, how empty I am, how, inside me, there is an empty concert hall that reverberates.
In the ocean, coral acts as a base for zooxanthellae (a single-celled algae) to gather. This, in turn, allows the algae to produce oxygen for photosynthesis. This, in turn, creates other secretions by multiple coral types which provide food and nutrients for small sea creatures. This, in turn, attracts larger sea creatures to inhabit and feed in the ecosystem. Every creature within a coral reef has a function, large and predatory, or small and provisional. Each creature moves with ease and confidence via instinct, awareness in a need to survive, and functionality. They don’t mean.
The human species has a common ancestor (supposedly the first singled cell organism that decided to become multi-celled). Every biological result of this creates the natural world around and among humankind. Through evolution (as one theory and tested scientific explanation), life formed through trial and error, randomness and luck, as well as the primal instinct to survive. Humans, too, are a species. A group of animals. A large cluster of primitive creatures deciding to masquerade as a civilization. The human race has but one function in nature: the sweat produced from glands underneath the arms and in the perineal area between the legs act as a breeding ground for bacteria beneficial to the environment. This is largely debatable. Humankind has no functional purpose. All it does is reformat, facilitate, and, primarily, destroy the world around it.
My family and I are gathered around a large dining room table over Thanksgiving dinner. Twenty six family members laugh, prod, jest, and argue in medley and melody of reserved, but gentle, communion. My uncle Terry motions for me and my sister to join him near his side of the table. I am barely a teenager. My sister wears a bow in her hair and scuttles behind me. My uncle holds something in his hand and holds it up in the light to see it.
He tells us this is a wishbone: it looks like a cooked horseshoe with a spike in the vertex of the U. My sister asks why it is called a wishbone. My uncle explains that when two people grab on either side of the wishbone and pull it both people make a wish. The person holding the largest piece when it snaps has their wish become true. My sister’s eyes widen. I remain motionless, curious. He has us hold the wishbone together.
He tells us when. My sister pulls daintily and I pull slowly. It bends but does not give. Soon my sister puts leverage on it with her wrist and the bone audibly snaps. A few fragments of bone speckle the table, and my sister and I hold the bone up to compare. It is obvious hers is longer. A couple family members clap as my sister giggles and runs back to our mother to show her. I turn to my uncle and look at him as if I had just been slapped. He smiles and I ask him what is it that the one with the shorter piece receives?
I learned later there are multiple variations of this custom: some people with the short piece are destined to be married first, while others have to tell their wish to those around them and receive good luck. My uncle, not knowing this, simply replies nothing. What did you wish for?
I say to him I’d rather not say, though the answer was obvious to me. I was the runt in the group of cousins. I was the soft one. I was the shy, intelligent recluse. My wish was simple: I wanted to grow up and be noticeable.
Quiz: A man works as a carpenter. He works every day and comes home to a wife and an infant son. He drinks heavily to relax from the heavy toil and strain of labor in the sun. One unfortunate day, there is an accident and he loses the use of his right hand, the same that he primarily uses most of his tools. After recuperation, his anger festers and manifests itself by lashing out at his wife and drinking even more so than before. One morning, he wakes up to find his wife and son have disappeared: their clothes, toys, and personal belongings have all vanished. He becomes numb and apathetic when he loses his job and workers compensation pay. He later commits suicide. The question is this: what was the meaning of his life? Extra credit: was this man blind or is God willing to let him suffer, grow bitter, and die because He is God albeit sadistic.
We had once, as an entire family, traveled and vacationed at Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. All of my father’s brothers and my two aunts as well as my paternal grandmother went with us. We rented a three story beach house with eight rooms, five bathrooms, a pool, and multiple dining rooms. It was beyond extravagant to a prepubescent boy obsessed with seashells. I collected them every time we visited the coast. There was something extraordinary about them: that something once lived inside of them before outgrowing it and moving to find another. I kept them on shelves in my childhood home for a while, before growing into a teenager and realizing not many teens keep hundreds of seashells lined around their entire room. It was considerably childish, supposedly.
My uncle decided, being a Southern Baptist preacher, that he and his nieces and nephews would have a bible study. I, even did, knew enough from my father (an amateur historian and biblical scholar) that I would not agree nor want to participate in a bible study. I refused. My uncle Tony grew irritated and began to question me.
My father stood in the kitchen behind my uncle, frying freshly caught fish on a stove. I knew he was listening. My uncle asked me why do you think you do not need the Lord? I replied that it wasn’t that I didn’t need him, it’s that I’d rather read the bible, pray, and seek him in private and on my own terms. But you do know who saves you? I stood, red in the face, nostrils inflamed and wide. I wanted to spit in his face. I wanted to tell him I save myself. Only I can condemn, damn, and ostracize myself from God. My father stood silently, but stiff as a four by four beam buried in the ground. I knew my father well enough to know he would have to face questioning from his brother. So, I lied. God does . . . Jesus does.
My father and uncle relaxed. The fish popped loudly in the frying pan and olive oil and charred meat permeated the air. I turned on my heel and walked out the screen door toward the beach. I broke into tears far enough away from the house. I continually break, like most people, only I expect to mend back into entirety. I realized, as I sat there under a moon yellowed like a page in a book I hardly read, such a thing is not possible. We scar over in order to wear the world we love that cannot love us back. I remained there and, partly am still there, watching the ghost crabs scatter like fearful disciples into the black waves.
Samuel J Fox is a bisexual essayist and poet living in the suburban South. He is poetry editor for Bending Genres. He appears in or is forthcoming in Sooth Swarm Journal, Free State Review, Cahoodaloodaling and many others. He Tweets (@samueljfox).