Discover more from portrait of a body (in pieces)
18. Would you plug in?
June (part three)
This is chapter eighteen. That mean’s we’re exactly halfway. If you’re new, start here.
Present day. Hoffmann is waiting for his answer. Does it matter? He presses his index fingers to his lips. Honestly? I say. I might be a vegetable in a tube hooked-up to life support. I might be a speck of dust on an asteroid hurtling through space. I might be mid-death, watching life play back in real time, beat by aching beat. I might be data on a disk, a tumbling cascade of zeroes and ones. I might be out of my mind on LSD. But this is what I’ve got. I never cared much for reality. So if this is a simulation, it’ll do fine. Hoffmann gives a single clap and keeps his hands there, pressed together, something like prayer. He might be smiling but it’s hard to tell if that’s just how his face hangs.
1991. The year you start junior school is the year the taunts begin. The boys that start them are older, bigger. They call you soft, they call you a pussy. A cry-baby. The taunts lead to fights. You don’t back down. You don’t let anything go. You get beaten up a lot as a result. Your parents, your teachers, the school nurse, they all tell you to ignore it. Don’t give them the satisfaction, they say. But that doesn’t seem fair. Why should they get to do what they want. You start walking around with your shoulders hunched up, braced against the world, waiting for words, hands, both. You are seven-years-old.
2022. On the drive to his house after the attempt that wasn’t, your brother doesn’t say much. You want to explain, but you don’t talk about this stuff. Not to each other. Not at all. You are a long way from days spent riding bikes and climbing trees, the summers you were inseparable. You don’t know how to tell him that there wasn’t an attempt. There was an accident. A lack of patience with existence. You just wanted to sleep. That’s all. And you woke up three days later on the floor of your flat in a pool of your own vomit. You can’t say this. You can’t admit that you fucked up. That you got it wrong. So, you learn to lie, and he learns to say that he believes you.
2014. After a year of separation your wife files for divorce. You receive the papers in June, a month named for Juno, the Roman goddess of marriage. When you tell her, your soon-to-be ex-wife doesn’t find it amusing. You could at least pretend to sound sad, she says, which is an awful lot of irony for one day.
Present day. Okay, Hoffmann says. Here’s another thought experiment for you. Final one, I promise! What if I told you I had perfected the experience machine? Not a vehicle of pleasure alone, but of pain! Of joy and jealousy. Of gratitude and grief. Equally! A device to help you truly experience every corner of existence. A machine that delivers every emotion as it was intended to be felt. A full spectrum of experience! Felt entirely, the good and the bad! A machine that helps you let go of negative thoughts. A device that anchors you in the present! Would you plug in? Hoffman is leaning so far forward you feel he will fall any moment. I already did, didn’t I? you say. When you look up for confirmation, Hoffmann is gone. In his place, a nine-year-old boy, shoulders hunched, traces of the worry lines he’ll grow into already visible in his brow.
2004. The year your brother stops talking to you entirely is the year you turn twenty. At your birthday dinner your parents present you both with a bottle of Champagne bought before you were born. You were meant to get it when you turned eighteen but since you stopped drinking, they saved it. But I still don’t drink, you say when they present it to you. Yes, they say, but we thought your brother might want to drink it, since its his birthday too. He pops the cork and pours four glasses. Just one, he says handing you a glass. It won’t kill you. You shake your head. Peter slams the stemware down, throwing bubbly over the tablecloth. You’re fucking mad, he says. Not even one? For fuck’s sake, man. We’re twenty-years-old. It’s our birthday you prick. We’re meant to enjoy ourselves. We’re supposed to have fun. And you won’t let yourself so you have to fucking ruin it for everybody. What the fuck are you even training for?! You never go anywhere. You don’t even have friends. You’re boring. You’re fucking boring. Fuck off. He takes the bottle of champagne and leaves, the entire restaurant, wait staff, punters, watching him go.
2013. The last game of basketball you play is in a men’s league at the local rec centre. For most of the season you’ve coasted by on defence and the odd glimpse of former glory, but tonight you are sloppy: shooting bricks, losing the ball, missing layups. You resort to pushing and taunting, trying to make up in intimidation what you lack in skill. You are ejected from the game at the start of the second half for calling their point guard a cunt. You enjoy a tantrum as you go, kicking chairs and throwing your water bottle, and when you continue to berate the referee from the side lines, he ejects you from the building. Both teams stand mid court, waiting for you to leave. Your own team looks at you with disgust. Who’s the cunt now. You are twenty-nine. You are never invited back.
2022. Two years and seven months after breaking up with you, and three nights after fucking you in a hotel bathroom, your ex says she needs to not do this anymore. That it would be best for her if you just disappeared. From the floor of your flat, in a place between agony and despair, you begin to dismantle yourself entirely.
17. 37. 12. 29. 11. 21 & 38.
It is 2001. 2021. 1996. 2013. 1995. 2005 & 2022. You are seventeen and thirty-seven. Twelve and twenty-nine. Eleven and twenty-one and thirty-eight. You are standing with your shoulders hunched. Braced against the world. You are running away. You are fearless. A coward. A fighter. A cheater. You are all of these things at once. A line you heard once echoes in your memory: We always remain all the people we have been.
39 & 9.
Present day. The attic is blinding. You have to squint to see the silhouette of the boy standing in front of you. The other meaning of June is from the latin juvenis, as in young people. Your Acid Watch is beeping. It’s time to wake up. You are thirty-nine years old, holding out your hand asking your younger self to come with you. You are apologising to him for nearly killing you both and promising it won’t happen again. You are nine-years-old, running away from the bad man, as far as your legs will carry you, through the gaps in the fence, out beyond reality where nothing can hurt you.
Chapter 19 arrives July 1. And just like that we’re half way through. Writing and editing this novel is a lot of work, so if you’ve enjoyed reading this far please consider upgrading to a paid subscription. In fact, to celebrate reaching the midway point, here’s 50% off:
Thank you for your support. Hit like and let me know what you think in the comments.
A shot lacking finesse or skill that hits the backboard with a heavy thud, as if you’d just lobbed a brick at it. It is the antithesis of the sublime: Ugly to see, hear, or think about.