“It just happened for her!” aunt Linda exclaimed, interrupting my navel gazing. “She and her brother were playing around with Grandpa’s handgun from his brief stint in the army when it went off unexpectedly. He would’ve said there should be nothing unexpected with a firearm and that it was just a failure of trigger discipline, maybe that’s even true. But how lucky for Rebecca!
She didn’t have to prepare herself for it. It just happened to her without warning. That’s where the real emotional difficulty is, in the preparation. She avoided all of that! It could’ve been a tragedy if it didn’t hit her square through the brain pan, or if she hadn’t been selected that morning to do it herself anyway. She didn’t even know, she never reads her snail mail, we were going to surprise her.”
Jorge laughed, so I joined in, though it wasn’t funny to me. I only envied Rebecca. There was a cottage industry for some years which offered unexpected assassination as a service, but predictably it was outlawed following the first unintended casualty. It shouldn’t even have taken that, really, people just wanted what they were selling so badly.
Like Lenny, in that book we were all assigned in school. That’s the gentlest way, if you don’t even see it coming. Like any other nice thing we could’ve all benefited from, reckless assholes had to ruin it for everybody by fucking around.
Jorge pushed the bottle on me again. I drank more deeply than before, expecting everything to be over and done with before it could fuck me up properly. Mom got out her slides. I groaned. Dad nudged me. “Your mother loves her slides.”
The first was my baby steps. I wore a red onesie bearing the image of a popular television puppet, struggling to keep my chubby little legs under me. I felt something in me weaken. Mom pressed the flimsy plastic button on the hand controller and the carousel clicked, rotating the next slide into place.
Piano lessons. Anything you force a kid to do, they’re going to hate. If you forced a kid to eat candy and play videogames, they’d hate it. I wore a grumpy little frown as my instructor carefully positioned my fingers on the correct keys.
I found myself thinking that I should’ve taught Mom Powerpoint to make this whole slide business more manageable as her collection of slides increased, before remembering that they’re all of me. The number of them isn’t going to increase.
The next was Summer camp. Space camp technically. It turns out they don’t have to do much in order to call it that. Just spin you around in a centrifuge, photograph you in an old space suit and quiz you about the Apollo program a few times.
I could be seen in a rowboat smiling wide, my arm around the shoulder of a girl I’d breathlessly fumbled my way to second base with the night before, behind the equipment shed. I think her name was Kaitlyn. Despite trading numbers, we never did keep in touch after the camp ended.
I grit my teeth, and my lip trembled. It’s the booze, isn’t it? This shit was supposed to make me stronger. The next slide was me on prom night. God, look at my braces. Didn’t even do any good, I was too dumb to wear the retainer consistently afterwards so my teeth just settled back to how they were. I caught such hell from Dad for that, on account of what the braces cost.
This is really what I’m going to think about as my last minutes run out? I always thought it would be profound philosophical stuff. A fresh tear escaped. Mom stared, the projector controller dangling by the strap around her wrist. “Sweetie, are you okay?”
What am I supposed to say? How do I capture all of it and express it in a way that doesn’t disgrace myself and my parents in front of all these people? “I don’t…I don’t want to see any more.” She clicked ahead anyway.
“Mom, stop it. Please. I don’t want to do this.” Dad nudged me again, but Mom waved him off. Everybody was quiet again. Mom put her hand on my knee. “Life is about doing stuff you don’t want to, for the sake of those you love.”
Everybody nodded sagely. “You do let the slides drag on though, don’t you Helen?” Dad interjected. “We all love your slides, but if the boy has seen enough, he’s seen enough.” This slide depicted the day I left for college, head a big poofy mess of hair, still far more pimples than somebody ostensibly finished with puberty ought to have.
“It isn’t…that I want it to be over” I managed, voice faltering. “Actually I wish it would never end, somehow. If it’s going to end, what was the point of it? How am I supposed to feel? I love you, Mom. I love you Dad. Why does it have to be like this? I was going to build a sailboat. I had all these drawings…Remember when I nearly drowned in the ocean because I didn’t know about undertow, but Dad swam out to save me? Remember how scared I was? I-”
Dad cleared his throat. “That’s quite enough of that sort of talk. That’s first week stuff, I don’t want to still be hearing that type of nonsense, not this far in. Come on, it’s not too late to do it with dignity. No more slides, no more talking, just do it.”
He again opened the box and handed me the gun. The look in his eyes brokered no alternative, so I took it. Another tear escaped as I looked around the room. Nobody would look at me. Averting their eyes this way and that, made visibly uncomfortable by the exchange. “That was a bit rough, Howard.” Mom kissed him on his stubbly cheek, just above the scar.
“It…is getting late, though…” She trailed off, the immense weight of implication squeezing the air out of my lungs. Dad glanced at the clock, so I followed his gaze. Ten forty six. Every trace of the sun long since gone from the horizon, crickets chirping away…the dusk of my life.
They kept watching me intently every step of the way, as if somehow their eyes were forcing me into position. There’s just nowhere else to go. I can’t run. I’ve seen what happens. I want to build that sailboat. I want to dance, I want to sing. I want more.
There’s just…nowhere else. The scene is so perfectly prepared, needing only one last addition to complete it. I knelt on the cushion, taking deep breaths in an increasingly futile effort to calm my nerves.
I glanced at the canvas behind me as if to make sure of something, but really just doing anything at all to buy myself extra seconds of light and sound…before the big black. As if sensing this, Mom assured me that everything was positioned the way that we talked about.
“Alright” I muttered. “It’s just…I’m just…” Dad now stood behind his little digital camcorder, on the collapsible tripod. “No more talking, I said.” I couldn’t even see his eyes now, obscured by the little fold-out viewfinder.
It could be worse. I could be one of the sad sack, thrice divorced, middle aged wastoids who do this on their own. No friends, no family. No cake, no canvas, just a bottle of whiskey and a revolver inside a dingy old minivan they’re living out of.
Jorge looked as if he remembered something important. He leapt to his feet, taking a CD out of his bag and putting it into the tray of the sound system. It was that droning meditation music he talked about. In a hushed voice, someone complimented him on it.
I closed my eyes and started rocking slowly, doing my best to lose myself in the monotonous, bee-like resonance. That’s how it’s supposed to work, isn’t it? You let go of all your thoughts until your head is totally empty. That’s when you do it.
A bead of sweat trickled down my face. When did I start sweating? I gently squeezed the trigger. Not all the way, just getting a feel for it. But that’s all it would take, isn’t it? The same thing I just did, only further. A little bit more force.
Then it will be over and done with. All this unsavory commotion can come to an end, things will be nice and quiet. No more of this emotional tempest in a teacup. Just stillness and quietude, as the blood pools.
Everybody got out their phones again and began to record. This is it. This is it, this is it, this is it. I have to penetrate my brain now. Don’t I? I have to. I have to penetrate my brain now. My whole body quivers, and the little hairs on my skin stand on end.
My breathing quickens. I hear some light murmuring. Maybe thinking that it meant I was about to do it? Really I’ve just become drunk enough that I can’t stop it anymore. Deep breaths don’t work. Nothing works. My body knows what’s coming.
Stay Tuned for Part 6!