February 06, 2024

Storytelling (Part I)


The Secret comes and goes, like a book you pick up before bed occasionally, and perhaps you think about what you've read during the day when you're at your desk or riding the bus home from class late at night, and sometimes you get home and you want nothing more than to open that book again, complicit in the ruse, sinking into the story that's being told. And other times you're riding the bus and staring out at the window, at a bus shelter down the block that has been crushed by a wayward car over the weekend, and beside the shelter an old woman is standing with her green groceries, which are most likely freezing while she waits for a bus to come from the other way, and you feel cheated by the story that's waiting for you on the nightstand--it is so much more than what is there.

The Secret is an organic story; he needs me as much as I have come to need him. I don't doubt that the symbiosis appears to outsiders as pathos, which is why I will circumvent certain details, producing my own version of the story. At times, his tales evolve with such a speed that the term "liar, liar, pants on fire" would be an appropriate one for him, the plot twists and incongruencies piling the story so high that it rises like a stalagmite to a point that inevitably must fall. He is always the hero of his tall tales—life might be inexorably fucked up; he may be beaten or bruised, an unwilling passenger in an alcohol-fueled car crash late one night, but there will always be him to tell the story afterwards, slightly aloof. His life is no big deal. He is still invincible, and this is still a movie.

Sometimes he disappears for weeks. I'll call one or twice, aware of my status. If I give up for long enough, a handwritten note will soon enough appear in my mailbox in his immature script--he's been out of the country, in Switzerland, or in Colorado, or there's been an accident, things are crazy, so...

"So" is his preferred method of closing off particular lines of questioning, a speech-act of consequence that is only implied in the silence that cuts off my interrogations. "I've had a really rough week." How so? "Well, let's just say my week has been hell, so..." I've learned to obey the command. I've given up on finding my way out of his stories by way of some straight-and-narrow path toward the truth.

I take note of the sheer number of different vehicles employed to bring him to my doorstep. At first, a huge white pick-up truck with a wide front seat that rumbled at stop lights. He loved it, I could tell. Then, a small black foreign hatchback, brand-new, a six-speed. He hated this, and said he was going to give it away. Then, a strange woman in a red car stopped in the street, and he emerged. Then, a Jeep Grand Cherokee. A couple times, he told me his family's driver, a man named Mr. Edwards who doubled as his family's caretaker, drove him to my neighborhood, though I never saw the black sedan and The Secret arranged to be picked up down the street, at a grocery store out of sight. We're back to the black sports car now. The pick-up truck was totalled, so was the Jeep. The driver and the black sedan have not been mentioned since. He talks about car accidents nonchalantly; according to him, they're a regular occurrence, like trips to the dentist. I linger on his tone; it keeps me up at night. It could be explained two different ways. Perhaps he's really had so many car accidents that they've become banal. Or perhaps he is lying. But if he was lying, wouldn't he act the part a bit more?

Lately, I've found myself cataloguing his stories, and fact-checking each new one against a bank of memorized clues. When he told me his mother was in the hospital here after a heart attack, I asked, "But I thought she moved to Colorado?" His answer comes smoothly--"she was up here partly for work, partly to visit me, so..." I narrow my eyes, unable to further the interrogation.

Weren't we all rather multiplicitous when young? I'm sure his schizophrenia will eventually absolve itself. Right now I can only guess at the various roles he plays, from fast food restaurant manager to sullen son of brutal parents, to the closet he maintains around his straight male suburban friends. Just as he lies to me, he must lie to them as well, and there's a comfort (itself an indication of a dangerous tendency within me to own something of The Secret) that I am not the only one subject to censor and embellishment. There are aspects of his stories that I believe, but nonetheless raise even more questions, whose possible answers stir me to muster a sense of protectiveness, an extremely dangerous position for me to take. If it is true that he does indeed live in his boss's basement, what does that say about intent, desire, or need? He can tell you which suburban public library branches have the best gay fiction sections. He says he envies me and my friends. During a drinking game last weekend, a straight friend had to give him a hickey on his shoulder. One of his best friends, a girl, recently spilled a vat of hot grease on her legs, requiring a trip to the emergency room.

It wasn’t until the other day that I became aware of the allegorical nature to these stories—factually bereft though they might be, they instead employ a cache of symbols only he has access to. When I held him once, he asked me to squeeze him as tightly as I could, explainining his request by saying, “my therapist thinks I like to be hugged hard because I didn’t get a lot of affection as a kid, so…” Before I would have said, “You have a therapist? Why do you go to a therapist? What do you talk about?” Instead I take in his story silently, because he’s telling me something entirely different which has nothing to do with thereapists. There most likely is no therapist for him. Within this schema, the fact that he knows which public library among the northern suburbs has the best gay fiction section means something entirely different that what it states. Car crashes, Mr. Edwards, a childhood in Switzerland become hieroglyphs I've been unable to decipher.

Certain stories we never tell each other, such as our different versions of the time we spend together--what gestures, such as the arms we place around each other, actually mean.

It makes me just as uncomfortable to write about him, and part of me wonders if I'll delete this entry as soon as I post it. Like a photograph, I've cropped out the good bits. Just as The Secret might be a storyteller in order to throw someone off his scent, laying a ring of barbed wire, employing a decoy, so do I turn the phenomenon of The Secret into something more than he is, thus rendering his fictions into my own.

Posted by jason at February 6, 2024 12:04 PM

Gee willikers, jas...

that t-shirt makes him look kinda young...like a boy who just got back from a trip to Duluth with his family. They went to see the B I G boats!

Posted by: mike at February 7, 2024 09:23 PM