If you don't know what you want, you end up with a lot you don't.
On the third day, Tyler returned. Christ-like. (Although I'm pretty sure he wasn't quite so in-your-face about it.)
Tyler returned – but how can you return to something you have never left? Heine argues that one event should always coincide with another, and that no one action is original; Nietzsche argues that time is like a grindstone, and reality its ever-grooving, ever-deepening depressions; I'm standing here in my dockers fishing for something witty to say – Tyler returned and said, "You're looking well."
One of the side effects of shooting yourself in the mouth is that you have to take a lot of your food ground up or boiled soft. The desire to eat hasn't returned to me since I left the Sanitarium... So what am I doing in the kitchen?
"I don't know," Tyler says, flung so heavily against the countertop that anyone would think he was drunk. But Tyler's been pretty docile lately, all things considered. I think the suicide scare must have fuddled his brain a little. Fuddled my brain a little.
I am Joe's losing grip on reality.
Sometimes Marla comes home. It is her apartment after all. She'll come home and we'll sit opposite each other on her falling-to-pieces lounge set. You never notice how loud cutlery is until you're stuck in a quiet room with a total stranger. Marla comes home, but not often, and right now is one of those often days. The days where I have Tyler all to myself.
"Let's go out," he says, slinging himself at me, ticking me under my ribs, "Let's go dancing. Come on." He smells like weed. Or maybe I smell like weed and I'm just projecting it onto him, I don't know.
"Please Tyler," I say, "I'm tired."
"You're always tired. Just go out with me, come on. I'll cheer you up."
I'd like to say that I agree, and that I do go out with him, and we do go dancing. That I ignore the black-eyed service staff and somewhere between our fourth and fifth round of drinks realize that hey, maybe this isn't so bad. But I can't. And I don't.
Instead, I slink back to the bedroom, and Tyler? Tyler doesn't follow me.
In this, at least, we are agreed.
I'd been worried about the money I would need to spend on my treatment once I got out, but the Sanitarium hasn't bothered to call. This isn't odd. Neither Marla nor I have paid our respective rent in months.
Bills turn up mysteriously paid. Checks are made out to me and I don't know who they came from. I'd appreciate the gesture if I hadn't experienced first hand just how they are getting what they're giving me.
My insurance agent, he nods to me from across his long desk, a thin streak of blood splitting the line from his nose to his chin.
"You no longer need to work. You have achieved what you have set out to do. You should feel happy but instead you just feel selfish." This is the Millennial Generation in a nutshell.
"Stop being so fucking moody," Tyler tells me.
I shout that that's easy for him to say. That he's the adverse of me. He's happy, I'm sad. I'm happy, and Tyler... Tyler, you're something worse.
I shout this and I slam the door, but then I'm standing on the footpath outside the house Paper Street. I don't know how I got here. This has been happening more and more lately.
I ask Tyler if he's seen any Space Monkeys at all since I got out.
"No," he says, "No one but you."
I expect that's about to change, but when I push the hulking front door open the mansion is as empty as it was the day Tyler dumped me. As the day I found the bathtubs.
"Where is everyone?" I ask.
Tyler shrugs, spitting out a glob of tobacco. "Gone," he says, "Moved up in the world," and for some reason, this makes my heart ache for him. Tyler is not the sort of person people abandon, but they have. He's been left alone in enemy territory, without a compass or a map. But if I know Tyler, he'll make it work.
I tear through the strips of police paper blocking the kitchen doorway. Tyler says not to bother. We've been cleared out.
This refrigerator doesn't have any condiments to soften the blow.
At my shoulder, Tyler's skin is sweaty and cold, so different to the hot, dry heat I usually associate with him. Tyler says that the point your skin starts to burn is not at the base of the fire, but several millimeters above it. I'd say this is why he's letting me top, but that would be a lie because of the present participle. I have no idea what Tyler would let me do, because Tyler and I stopped sleeping together around about the time I lost my job. Maybe I'd lost my usefulness too, so Tyler didn't thinking fucking me was necessary anymore. That that false sense of security could be taken away. Or maybe he found someone else. Who knows? I don't.
I don't know much of anything anymore.
I see my doctor – Dr. Teller – once a month so he can assess me. Mostly, these meetings go off without a hitch, and I'm left alone. Sometimes, they'll do tests.
One night, the toilet won't flush and for a moment I think it's this elusive weed of Tyler's. The weed that always makes me nervous about my urine samples. Instead I discover that Tyler's been hiding zip-locked bags of cash in the filter tank. Tyler was an Eagle Scout. I never made it past Cubs.
There's twenty thousand dollars in total, and when I ask him about it he shrugs and says, "We might need it for something," but I don't think this is true.
Tyler and I have fallen into what Chloe from Brain Cancer described as 'the first stages of death.' You get up in the morning, you eat breakfast, and that's... it. Domestic bliss. Giving it all over.
So the money will dwindle and then eventually run out altogether, just like everything else on Paper Street. And I will finally, finally fall into the sweet embrace of death.
"You're starting to sound like Marla," Tyler says.
"Shut-up, you fucking druggie," I snap, and Tyler laughs and laughs and laughs like he did the first night I punched him. I wonder: was that it? Was that when I lost him forever? Or was it earlier?
Think Ireland. Think Blarney Stone.
How long have I been Tyler?
How long has Tyler been me?
These are the questions I ask myself late at night, in my blessedly quiet house on my blessedly quiet block. Nights where I know I'm not really asleep on my lumpy mattress, I just think I am.
Sometimes Marla calls, though she doesn't visit. At first, Marla had been pissed that I'd just upped and left without so much as a word, but she's slowly come to accept that this is just part of my 'healing process.' Isolating myself from everyone and everything that ever got me put into the Sanitarium. Which is kind of ironic because technically being here is not at all beneficial to myself. Something Dr. Teller would have called a 'negative choice.'
(See, in Dr. Teller's philosophy, people's lives are made up of positive and negative choices. The negative ones affect us negatively, and the positive ones affect us positively. These decisions lead us towards our goal in life. The Final Frontier. The Promised Land. The cosmic g-spot we have to finger until we hit our enlightened climax. Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Amen. I can't help thinking of Chloe and her pornography).
'Self improvement is masturbation.' Does that make self-destruction the answer, or is it just sex? I know that what I have with Tyler won't last forever. That it's all part of some vicious cycle and that eventually he will leave me like his father left him, and his grandfather before that. He will leave me again and again and again.
Sometime later, when the weed runs out and Tyler stops being so docile, he buys us two first class tickets to Idomeneo. (Meaning I buy us two first class tickets to Idomeneo.) I'd be surprised but, then, it's Tyler.
I see more bruises than I do people as we're lead to our seats; the usher's face is like a modern art piece. Tyler likes theatres because they remind him of his old job with the Union, and of all the fancy banquet halls he used to work in. Dr. Teller says that we feel nostalgic for the pain we have overcome in the past. Too fucking right.
When Tyler props his legs up on the seat in front of him I feel a sharp twist of panic in my gut. Is this me or is this him?
He asks when they're going to roll the previews and I smile because Tyler really doesn't know much about opera. The part of me that knows about opera and poetry and folk music is the part of me I hate, so naturally the very concept of such things is nonexistent to him.
Tyler won't stop wriggling around in his seat, humming and drumming his fingers like he's waiting for something. I start to wonder if this is a coup.
When the fire alarm goes of during the interval, I know it's a coup, and suddenly Tyler's got me on my feet and he's saying, "Oh boy oh boy oh boy," and jostling me towards the fire escape.
The night air hits me like a steam train and I go flying across the rain-slick pavement. And Tyler's laughing, he's laughing, he's laughing…
Lying there on the ground you think back to when he first kissed you. It had been after the acid burn but before Project Mayhem, when the sight of his lips on the back of your hand still made your stomach do somersaults, and all you could think was: I can't believe this is happening, I can't believe this is happening... Is this dream mine or is it Tyler's?
You'd been behind the tank-stand, and you'd both been drunk, and maybe you'd used that as an excuse in the morning but he hadn't. He never apologized for anything.
You'd both been drunk and Tyler, chuckling, had pressed you back against the cement foundation, making like he was reaching for something. Making like he was... like he was... patting you down?
Well, that's one word for it.
You'd both been drunk, and the look in his eye had been predatory, and maybe kissing wasn't so different to fighting. (There were other things that were even more similar, but they would come later). In that moment, it was just Tyler's hair under fingers, and Tyler's hands up your shirt. Tyler's tongue in your mouth.
You suppose Tyler's tongue has always been in your mouth, one way or another. You just couldn't believe it was happening right then.
So when Tyler offers you his hand, you take it, and when Tyler says, "Let's go for pancakes," you say, "Sure thing Tyler."
Tyler says jump, you say, "How high?"
We ate pancakes in the kitchen of a diner four blocks away, the cold metal table freezing my ass through my slacks. The pancakes were of the toaster-pop persuasion, underdone and rubbery, but this New Enlightened Me didn't mind.
I asked Tyler what caused the alarm.
He said it was anthrax.
"Does this mean you're back on the inside?" I'd asked, but what I was really saying was, "Please don't say this means you're back on the inside."
To my relief, Tyler had shaken his head. "No. No, this was just a little fun." He pauses. "A sport fuck."
"Who'd you send the anthrax to?"
"Lead actress," he replied, "Ilia. Flat as a nine-year-old girl."
"Her voice or...?"
Tyler snorted. I snorted too. There's a certain pleasure that comes from dragging people who are, ultimately, happier than you are. At least Ilia seemed happy when she was with Idamante, which is more that I can attest to.
I'm not Tyler's lover. I'm his failed experiment. A volcano at the elementary school science fête left dried up and sodden. A condom with a hole poked in the tip. Other metaphors Marla Singer would probably use. Dr. Teller thinks I have issues with self-loathing, but this isn't true. Me? I'm the vainest person in every room I walk into. Because who else can say they've fucked an idealized version of themselves? Not Tyler.
"Anyone from The Brady Bunch, who would you fight? I'd fight Marcia."
"I never watched The Brady Bunch."
He regards me from across the living area.
"Yeah, really. I take it you did?"
Now it's my turn to regard him.
"You remember Con Martinez?"
Con Martinez was a star player from my old high school lacrosse team; a guy who both awed and terrified me.
"What about him?"
Tyler waterfalls the smoke from his cigarette, eyes flashing in the darkness. "You paid him fifty dollars for the box-set."
"I don't remember that."
What I do remember is turning my room upside down looking for the money my grandparents gave me for my birthday that year; tearfully explaining to my mother and receiving thirty for being honest about it.
"I don't remember that at all," I murmur, and Tyler stares at me and murmurs back, "I do."
The prospect of travel is no longer appealing to you. In the grand scheme of it all, everything is the same, and nothing is original. You have experienced everything there is to experience. Sure, you've never tried three-hundred-year-old fermented skate fish, but you've tried tuna, and how different can the two really be? Every country has its problems.
Tyler once told me that skinny guys are difficult to beat, that they fight till they're burger, so I suppose this is why I don't die when I throw myself in front of a car outside one of Project Mayhem's many company-owned coffee houses.
As I lay there on the warm, sticky asphalt, I think of all those little yellow frogs and of the deforesting that these eco friendly drivers are trying to prevent. The frogs that can wave. I don't know what they're called.
But this isn't a for real suicide. This is one of those cry-for-help things.
Tyler is not in the least bit impressed. His bedside manner has never exactly been gentle, but now he's just being downright vicious.
"We found trace samples of an analgesic drug in your system," the doctor says, and I think, oh Tyler, you didn't, did you?
"There are some men here who need to ask you some questions."
Tyler, you asshole.
"We think you might be putting yourself at risk."
'Suck my dick, Tyler,' I want to say, and he's laughing, laughing, laughing...
I wet my lips. "I have a doctor – Dr. Teller. He can set the record straight. I'm really very ill."
"We're going to give you some pills."
"But pills don't work for what I have."
Think of the 1950s; all those women using the glow-in-the-dark makeup, the irradiated lipstick, eye-shadow. In the same way, I have Tyler.
"We're going to give you a sedative."
I don't struggle as the needle slips under my skin. On a long enough time line, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero. I accept the sweet embrace of death.
When I get to Heaven, there's an angel looking down at me who says, "Wake up, fuckface."
But he's the fuckface, really.
I prop myself up on my pillows and say, "Oh, it's you," because that's the sort of thing you say in a situation like this.
Angel Face looks nonplussed. He pulls me out of bed and hands me back my clothes.
"There's a car waiting round the front," he says, "Be there or be square." And then he's gone.
Behind me, Tyler is draping his arms over my shoulders. Behind me, Tyler is saying, "He's a sweet kid, really."
"He's a fucking smug little shit."
Tyler chuckles into my neck. "You're still Mummy's favorite."
"I see someone's regained their sense of humor. What was it? Heroin?"
"Fuck no! Who do you think I am?" He rests his chin on my shoulder. "I wouldn't do that to us."
And we stand like that for a couple of minutes, listening to the various beeps and boops that so characterize Heaven. I think I hear somebody's life support give out. We watch as the nurses run by with their push trolleys.
"Any M*A*S*H character, who would you fight?"
He's silent for a long while, and I can tell he's thinking deeply, but in the end he doesn't answer. Instead he just says, "Let's go home, man."
We ran into Dr. Teller on the way out. I've never liked doctors, even since before the almost-cancer on my foot, but Dr. Teller is an okay guy.
He asked me if I was okay, and I said, "Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine."
He asked if I was happy and the back of my palm itched.
Tyler and I had stayed in that hospital ward for what seemed like the longest time, neither of us making to move. With my eyes closed, and the length of him pressed against me, I could almost believe that we were two separate people – he seemed so solid and real.
He was waiting outside for me when I exited the hospital. No one tried to stop me, and when I passed through the foyer the security guard had winked at me.
He was waiting outside for me and there was a black Sedan pulled up onto the footpath, Angel Face and two men I didn't recognize sitting inside.
Dr. Teller asked me if I was happy and I said, "No, not really," but when Tyler asks me if I'm ready to go I say, "Sure thing." In this, at least, we are agreed.
I remember kneeling in front of the fridge while Tyler explained about the life line, the love line; him holding my hand on his thigh and me thinking: maybe he's going to fuck me. But he hadn't, and I think the saddest thing is that, even after the chemical burn, I still wanted him to.
We're somewhere outside Pittsburgh now and the light through the front windscreen is blazing white off of the dashboard. The indicator sounds with the hollow click of a magazine slotting into a gun and I don't know where we're headed, but we're turning... turning... turning... and Tyler? Tyler's just laughing.
If you don't know what you want, you end up with a lot you don't.