“Just keep your mouth shut and let me do the talking”, my lawyer told me. Or rather, my Mother’s lawyer told me. Mom’s lawyers, Mom’s doctors, Mom’s shrinks. They never asked me what I wanted or what I thought. That didn’t matter. What mattered was her reputation. Her career. Her image.
“Jamie, we talked about this”, she told me. “The dress is for cultural unity. If your sister and I wear these uncomfortable suits, the least you can do to support us is wear the dress.”
I used to argue. Used to protest. I’d plead with dad, but he’d just stare at me blankly, wearing the damn dresses. He never had a second thought about it. He’d just wear it and go back to the television. I’d threaten to run away, threaten to kill myself. That only brought more doctors.
“Jamie, where do you think your insecurities around wearing dresses comes from? I suspect low self-image. Perhaps even body dysmorphia. With a few elective surgeries…”
That was the line. I wore the dress. I hated myself for it. Still do. But it was a choice of emasculation in one form or another. A dress wasn’t permanent. I used to have to walk to school every day while others took the bus. I had to set an example. Every passing car looked like a taxi out of hell. I only needed to jump. Aim low. Get blood all over the pretty dress. But I never could. Something about it felt wrong. Ignoble.
Spacing was a popular route to go. When the portals started popping up, no one knew what to make of them. There were these floating black disks with no thickness and only appeared on one side. If you tried to get a view behind it, you’d only see the world as normal. They were tested for years and the only thing they learned was, if something went through, it wasn’t coming back. I remember kids would throw rocks and balls and toys through, there were always urban legends about kids putting in pets or siblings, but it was impossible to know. Once something went through, it vanished.
There was a podcaster who went through, Ulysses “Buck” Reynolds. Most of the time, people went through and left suicide notes. “I can’t keep going like this”, “The drugs don’t work”, “There’s no place for me”. The sort of small tragedies that, when stacked together, become as banal as network television scripts. Not Buck. He was so different. Always was. He never wore the dress. He lived in the woods, on land he owned, probably only a handful or so could say that these days. He read books and talked about them and went on and on about the accomplishments of Great Men, but never sullen. Never elegy. Always as a call to action. I’d sometimes close my eyes and imagine him in front of me, lecturing me on how to be a man and more importantly, why I should choose manhood. So when he announced he was spacing, I felt a deep sadness. But I understood.
“We were meant for more than this”, he said. “Men built this world, took the unknown and made it known. Made danger into safety and now, that safety is strangling us. The world is no longer for us, brothers. Now, the world is a womb. Men have been abolished from this world. Your nature is considered too brutish; your yearning for freedom is a threat to those who crave security. It is difficult for you to understand, but remember, they want the cages. They need them. Those who love the cubical think that they can be themselves in their area. And those who keep the world safe will cede more and more land from him until the only space he has left exists between his ears and he’s none the wiser that that was ceded long before anything else. They do this to stay out of trouble. They like their Netflix, their porn, their shitty minimum wage job. Every day is the same and though you might hear them complain about that, if they didn’t have it, they wouldn’t be able to function. Today, I choose freedom. Today, I am Gilgamesh and I walk into the unknown. Humbaba is beyond and I am afraid. I won’t lie to you, I am more afraid now than I have ever been. But you, my brothers, are Ekidnu and I go forth for you. For those who wish to join me on the other side, I wish you all a happy birthday.”
Then he went in. No pomp, no grand gesture. An Irish goodbye for the ages. I like to imagine that beyond the portal, there’s a dense forest of alien trees and in the middle, a cabin made of their logs with a roaring fire and some sort of weird animal roasting on a spit and Buck is sitting back, living the life that man was built for. I imagine it because I know I can’t be like him. Not as I am now. I’d probably die outside of my cage.
I’m in the holding cell when I hear the lawyer walking over. They painted the cells pink. A special hue of pink that deters aggression. A trick football teams used to use in their opposing locker rooms. Make them docile, feeling safe. Another womb. The desk sergeant opens the cell door, and gave me the “free to go” that I’d seen in so many movies and TV shows. The look of disgust on the Sergeant’s face does not faze me. He sees a party boy who leveraged a get out of jail free card. The kind of thing he’d probably heard about all the time, but never thought he’d encounter. Maybe he hates me. Maybe next time someone like me comes by, he’ll rough him up. He’ll think of me and that will get his blood pumping. I blow him a kiss goodbye to seal the deal. He’ll etch my pressed lips together in his mind and dream of breaking them and the teeth they hide. And some other guy will get it. And he won’t deserve it. But he might, because everyone deserves whatever they get for letting the world get this fucked up. The lawyer glares at me the whole time as he leads me into the waiting SUV. I waited for him to open the door for me because fuck him.
“Where are we off to, Matlock?” I ask. He looks at me like I’m high. It seems my knowledge of old television is an eclectic taste. Though to be fair, where Andy Griffith was warm and grandfatherly, wearing his light blue suit that looked chock full of hard candies and sage wisdom, this lawyer appeared mannequin-esque, like he’d been ordered from Amazon the day before, popped out of his vacuum sealed packaging and came with several different pull string catch phrases. Humanity sold separately.
“I am to take you home, where you are to wait until your mother flies back from the climate crisis symposium.”
The car stops and I’m lead to my apartment. The Penthouse suite of a vertical longhouse. Mom’s money. Mom’s apartment. I keep it trashed. I tell myself it’s a protest. I tell myself that this is me claiming space. But I’m just lazy. Worse than lazy. Cleanliness is an expression of pride and what do I have to be proud of? The next few days are full of drugs, women, and porn. So much porn. Too many women. Not enough drugs. Armando guards the door. House arrest.
I call the style ‘minimalist’, but really, I just don’t find anything worth putting on the walls. Family photos? Good joke. “Here’s the family at the opening of the Bell Hooks Institute in Kabul”, I could tell people. I keep the walls bare white. I think I’m afraid to put anything up. I’ve been in the market for a Goya piece, the one where Saturn is eating his son. That look of horror at what he’s doing. It’s so human. Where a God feels shame, mankind shouts his filicide. At least Neptune got it quick. Man’s sons are ripped apart over the course of a lifetime. But then again, Neptune didn’t get Adderall. If I ever got it, I’d put it in the dining room, too. Goya understood.
I jerk off fourteen times in one day. Previous record was seven. I’ve flushed more children than a planned parenthood. I keep the porn as vanilla as possible. I’m not a creep. I don’t like feet or chicks with dicks. I keep conscious to not fall down that hole. There’s no escaping from there.
The post nut clarity is always the same. “You aren’t alive, Jamie”. This is the price I pay for that bump of dopamine. I open up a dating app and I’ve got a few matches waiting. I keep the profile simple. “Looking to fuck. Great view of the city from my place. IYKYK.”
It’s so easy when you’re famous. Or when you’ve passed through a famous womb. My favorites are the ‘woke’ ones. The ones who have all of these supposed morals and values, but don’t call them morals. That’s for religious nut jobs. Profiles with a black fist and a pride flag. They like it the roughest. One wanted me to drug her and then do whatever I wanted. She said she liked the idea of not knowing what happened. Many such cases. I seldom invite them back for a second go. What would be the point? Vidi, vici, veni.
I like Morphine. I like how clean it is. I like that its named after the Greek God of Dreams. It’s expensive and pure and other drugs don’t hit me like Morphine does. I can just lay back and smile and be happy. I could wear the dresses on Morphine. I like that I need to inject it. Pills come at no real cost. You can just take them. A spike in the veins takes courage. You have to really want it. I’m afraid of needles. More afraid of everything else. But I’m not a slave to it. I don’t need it, like those pill popping degenerates. Brandon was my friend. He OD’ed and died last spring. He liked pills. He thought Buck was a larper.
“Nobody owns land”, he said. “He’s probably just some no necked, Incel, dude. That shits no good for you. He’s just trying to get you pissed off and buy his bullshit. You gotta go out and smell the roses. Touch some grass.” We’d hang out. Smoke weed, eat sugary cereals and watch old cartoons that have been banned most everywhere. Like we were children again. At least, I think so. I imagine that’s what children did. I couldn’t go to the funeral. I was told it would look bad.
There is not one book in the whole place. Books spark conversation, especially the ones I like to read. “Oh my god, you like Hemingway? He was such a misogynist. Does your mother know you read him? Moby Dick is boring and doesn’t have any women in it. McCarthy doesn’t get the Latinx experience. Kipling was a monster. Don’t you read any people of color? You should try Roxanne Gay. I heard your mom do an interview with Patricia Hurst.”
I keep telling myself to work out. Just lift the weights. Get heavier ones once the old ones get easy. Put down the Hostess Cupcakes. Do this like brushing your teeth and you’ll be stronger than most people. I know all of this. I know it’s more beautiful to be in good shape. Beautiful like fine art. Like literature. Good looking people can still be ugly. I’ve known many such cases. Many have come up to this apartment. I just can’t find the will to care. I don’t deserve to be better. I could be beautiful. If I cared to be. Maybe that’s why I never will be.
The orgasm subsides and it’s time to meet with Mommy Dearest. I show up hung over, more remnants of teenage angst. I want her to threaten to cut me off. Force me to live on my own. I’m too weak to reject her money. That means I’m probably too weak to make it on my own. I’m stuck in a trap, smart enough to know I’m a caged animal, but too weak to leave. Post nut clarity.
The SUV takes a wrong turn and after a few hours, we’re out of the city. A national park. Another reminder that chaos contained can be tolerated, so long as it stays in the lines. I never liked coloring books. No beauty in color by number. Nature doesn’t like the cage. Their enemy is nature itself. And they’re winning. I get out and Mom is standing there, a few faceless goons around.
“You’re such a disappointment, Jamie.”
She looks cold, her face is red. Her jacket is thick. Probably down. Hope the cameras don’t catch that one. I wonder if she has the balls to shoot me and leave my body in the middle of nowhere? Maybe she’ll leave me here and force me to fend for myself. No, I bet she’s scared I would, just to spite her. I would, too, I think. I can do anything for spite.
“Judge Walker is going to dismiss your case. Then, I’m sending you to Mexico, where you can drink and whore and get high all the time and stay out of the news.”
“You took me all the way out here to exile me somewhere else?”
“I took you out here to give you a choice. Follow me.”
We walked for five minutes or so and I saw it, the matte black disk in the middle of the forest, like Swiss cheese through reality. I’d read that black holes had an event horizon and that far enough back, you could see an image of the last thing that fell in. This wasn’t like that. This looked like it would shatter if you hit it with a hammer. I wonder what would happen if I peed into it. I laughed, thinking about some poor Buckaroo getting pissed on in Hell. I stopped laughing when I realize that I was about to get pissed on.
“I’ve read your blog. Seen the kinds of filth you write about. The people you associate with. Buck whatever his name was. He’s done more damage than anyone I can think of. Do you know how many ‘Buckaroos’ jump into these things every day? You’ve been brainwashed by that bastard. All of you. ‘Men built the world and made it safe’. Well, I’m keeping it safe, Jamie. Do you get that? Do you know how lucky you are? Do you know how many people tell me they wish they had me as their mother?”
“I fucked a few of them.”
She lets out a frustrated groan. “This is all my fault. I should have stopped at one. Everyone said one child was responsible, but I thought two was more relatable.”
“You shouldn’t have been a mother at all, all things being the same.”
That shut her up. Shut me up, too. I thought it a whole bunch of times, but never out loud. It felt good. Different. Powerful.
“I didn’t think I would. I work and work and suddenly, I’m forty and my body screams for children. Focus groups say that’s a good idea and now I’m sixty-four and I’ve got one model child and one… you. You were always like this. Always climbing trees and jumping out of them. Playing in the mud. Looking for trouble. The nannies were frantic. One had a nervous breakdown when you broke your arm.”
“I wonder where I get it from.”
“I don’t. I was the same way to some extent. If you were a girl, we could have done something with that.”
She’d said some things like that before. It never hurt. For some reason, it hurt now. I thought about the children I might have fathered. Would I have been the same way to them? Did I ever have a chance? Probably not. Born wrong. Raised wrong.
“So what’s the option then, I get to live in Mexico or walk through the portal?”
“I’m giving you what you always wanted. Through there, I can’t find you. No one can. I don’t know where that leads. For all I know, on the other end is some leviathan’s mouth and you’re the latest drive-thru meal. Served for consumption on a silver platter. But I’d respect it more. At least it’s the choice I wouldn’t expect.”
“Why not just have me killed. Why spend all this time and money on me if you hate me so much?”
She started laughing. It wasn’t her political laugh. The shrill, high pitched cackle she saved for late night comedy shows and dinners with the donors. This was genuine and unnerving. I’d never heard it before.
“If only I were the monster you thought I was. You and your friends on the Internet really think I’m Satan. No, I’m just as human as you. You’re my son. I gave birth to you. Call it narcissism, but that part of me that’s in you, is a part that I’ve always loved. So you’ll fuck off to Mexico and squander what I’ve given you and you’ll see your father and sister on Christmas and Thanksgiving and we’ll hug, thinking about stabbing each other in the back the whole time. But I’ll always love you, Jamie. In my way.”
She’s silent. She pulls out a cigarette, fumbles with the lighter and eventually take a long drag. So many bad behaviors. So many broken rules. The worst part is the hypocrisy.
“You should have been a girl. We could have worked with that. You could have been my successor. It would have been perfect. If you’d gotten the surgery, that would have worked, too. You could have been a strong girl. Your sister… She should have been a boy. So calm. So quiet. Always wanting to do whatever authority tells her. She could have been such a good boy.”
I think about my options. I’m starting to get cold. I didn’t dress for this. Mexico is warm. Thick booty Latinas remind me of the maids we had growing up. One took my virginity. She was kind and warm and taught me many things. She called me “High-me” and held me close when I came. That was the closest I’d come to falling in love. We did drugs together and she overdosed. She liked Morphine, too. The next one was just as kind and warm and let me screw her without protection. She called me Papi and it was obvious she was faking it all. I often wonder if Gloriana faked it too, just better. I was thirteen and probably never really had a chance in this life.
“I love you, too, Mom”, I say to her, “Isn’t that sad?”.
I walk in. I can see the devastated look on her face as I go. This was supposed to be a threat. That look of horror in her eyes. Those quivering lips. The hand reaching out to try and pull me back. The most love she’d ever shown me. The disk pulls me in, devours me. But I’m not afraid. I feel strong. Stronger than I’ve ever felt. If I die, at least I lived, once. A bright light forces my eyes shut. Happy Birthday.
I know you left this up to reader interpretation on purpose, but if you were to reveal it, what would be on the other side?