Congratulations! You’ve EASed. Welcome back to the real world!
Here are some things you need to know:
1. Go back if you can.
Majority of service members realize how shitty it is out here and decide to go back. You’ll catch some shit from your ‘peers’ for chickening out of the great challenge that is the civilian world, and your butt-buddy, Lance Corporal Schmuckatelli, who got busted down for numerous stupid shit, will point and laugh at you for coming back in XX days, but it’s worth it.
If you are up to the challenge…:
1. Get set up with your local VA.
You’re a goddamn retard if you haven’t, and a kind soul needs to grab your dumb ass by the throat, strap you down in their car, drive you to the VA, and set you up with a case worker who will help you get your shit together in civilized society.
2. Accept that you’re not in the military anymore.
The way you talk, walk, and your latest fashionable regulation hair-cut makes you stand out like a green dick in a box full of pink dicks… you freak. Not telling you to change yourself, the point of accepting you’re a civilian is to lower your expectations and standards for other people, especially work-ethics. There’s a reason why everyone seems dumb and slow out here, their life doesn’t depend on it, and now, neither does yours.
Then again, I’ve occasionally met people that were squared away beyond what I would be capable of — without having military experience. So keep an open mind about people.
What comes next?
So, you’re all set up? Got a job? Got an apartment? Maybe you went back to your hometown and got back together with your ex, or a high school sweet heart and plan on making little babies? If you are the adventurous sort, maybe you went to a place you’ve never been before. Maybe you decided to drift for a while. Regardless, unless you got some stellar family members that really know what they need to do to support you, you’re going to face some hardcore emotional problems. Hence the point of this informative literature. Emotional Fitness.
What is Emotional Fitness?
Just like physical fitness is about controlling your body, emotional fitness is about controlling your feelings. Yeah, yeah, you’re a tough motherfucker and feelings are for women and children. Unless you’re a sister, then you don’t go in the ‘women’ category, so read on. I know some will think I sound misogynistic, chauvinistic, and other -tics. But I’m sure sisters will know what I mean. Still don’t like it? That’s tough, fuck you.
Why do I Need Emotional Fitness?
Because you’re all fucked up and you don’t even know it. You need to realize that you’ve just been let out into the wild, all by yourself, and it’s either adapt to survive, or go crazy and make the headlines on a local news paper as gossip.
You’re not in ‘the’ brotherhood anymore. When you fuck up, there isn’t going to be Lance Corporal Dick-Face making a joke out of the whole thing, then Corporal Smart-Ass will find you a suitable nickname to commemorate whatever you fucked up on. There isn’t going to be a Gunny Mo-tard coming down on your ass with the wrath of God and punch through your barracks wall like a fat superman to deliver a highly memorable, and unnecessarily descriptive ass-chewing of a life time. Then on a field-op, someone will bring it up again and you all have a laugh.
Out here, no one gives a fuck. Think that’s a good thing? Think again.
What are you going to do with all that anger, anguish, anxiety, guilt, shame, insecurity, and fear you’ve stacked up during your service, now that you’re all alone? No one tells you to “Stick a tampon in it or suck it the FUCK UP!” and no one has the right to. You don’t even see anyone sucking it up, because most people you see, put up an air of happiness and content. Even if they weren’t happy, they can’t relate to you, because the intensity of emotions you deal with are on a different level.
If you don’t feel these things, that’s good for you, stop reading. Oh, and go fuck yourself. To those who do, you’ve always felt these things, but it was manageable when you were with your brothers, I’d be surprised if you’ve even noticed it until some time into your civilian adjustment.
You can try to suppress these emotions, which I’m sure many of you’re already doing, sometimes because you don’t want to appear odd, but a man has limits. It’s going to blow up one day, usually in violence to self or another. Sometimes, it manifests as weird habits that lead to, sleeplessness, hyper-vigilance, and paranoia. I don’t care how bad ass you’re, your brain can’t handle hyper-stress without breaks. You’re going to fall apart. Your mental fitness will degrade, you become lazy, depressed, unable to do anything. Then goes your physical fitness, and you find yourself just waiting to die.
That’s why you need to learn to control these feelings, instead of bottling them up, thinking it’s another challenge you have to overcome. Yes, it is a challenge, but you need to work smarter, not harder.
What People Generally Think you should do:
1. See a therapist and a psychologist.
2. Get meds. SSI inhibitors or such shit.
3. Repeat steps 1 and 2.
Now grab these 3 steps and throw it into the trash can of your mental hard drive. Actually no, try it out. See how it works for you. You get it from the VA.
My experience with it wasn’t that good. Every session I went and every pill I took made me feel like a complete failure. For me, it created a cycle of self-hate, and I couldn’t bottle it up anymore. Anger and hate overflows to people around you, and it got to a point where I had malicious intents for the general public. Then it circles back again to suicidal urges.
What you Should do. Get Emotionally Fit:
1. Express yourself.
Take up a artistic hobby. Painting. Singing. Writing. Dancing. Fashion. Crafting… you know — art. Not manly you say? Get your head out of your ass, masculinity ain’t gonna save you. You need to express your feelings… (god that does sound unmanly) … Grab whatever that bothers you and express it in art, like you’re bleeding that shit out of your system, onto a blank canvas, onto a sheet of music, onto a word document, get it?
2. Communicate effectively and meaningfully in social interactions.
You need to be explicit, honest, and descriptive, when you talk to others. You need to read between the lines, listen, and read body language. Tell them what you think about them, take criticism yourself, and share your raw emotion about what’s happening…
Before you kick some fucker in the teeth in a mild confrontation, think: how can we understand each other better? If it doesn’t work out, oh well, you gave it a shot. I personally give you the green light to kick ‘em in the teeth.
3. Stop hiding who you are and open yourself up for judgment.
You want people that can relate to you? Understand you? Gotta take the risk to meet people like that. ‘Course some people will think you’re crazy, retarded, and lack common sense and decency. Fuck them, what can they ever do for you? Did they hike that godless mountain with you? Did they dig a fighting hole next to you? Did they skate with you on a working party? Nope. Worthless. I’m sure they are worth something to someone. But not your problem.
4. Accept who you are, what you are, and how you change.
The above 3 steps come down to this core idea. Emotional fitness is about accepting yourself. The above 3 are what helps me out. You can experiment, figure out what works for you.
There’s a way to check to see if your efforts are paying off. The proof is how you feel after some human interaction. If you feel good about yourself that’s a sign you’re on the right track. If you find yourself smiling to yourself after an interaction, you’re on the right track. It’s like marksmanship. Do the exact same thing as before, using reference points, then adjust as necessary.
If you are a loner and you withdraw all the time. That’s okay. You need time to get your shit locked on.
You’re a man, not a machine. I tried to be a machine and failed. In Iraq, I used to dehumanize myself and the enemy to be combat ready. I’m sure we all did to make ourselves numb to what we were trained to do. Real strength, a real killer, a real warrior, a real hardcore motherfucker does not make himself numb for the pain. He takes it, knowingly. Accepts all the pain, shame, guilt, at face value, it crushes him and his spirit.
But he carries on for the next fight.
So carry on.
Yes, I wonder about things like that. True nature of things. How things work. Unexplained mysteries of the universe, of being alive, and super nerdy cool stuff like that.
There are patterns, sequences, cause and effect. There is so many of them, sometimes obvious, sometimes insignificant, and sometimes they just appear to be chaos and mayhem. Connections that does not mean anything.
Okay, the real reason I wonder about such things is because I live a dreary life. Not that I am miserable. I simply lack the motivation to do anything, get anything, want anything.
It’s not laziness. It’s not procrastination. Everything is just meaningless and valueless. Calling it depression would be the easy way out.
Death would suit me well at this point, but since I am still alive, I do not want it to go to waste.
So lets get to the point.
My problem: How do I get myself to want something? How do I live?
What I figured out so far about living:
1. Meaning of life is just living.
2. Living is movement.
3. Movement begins by thought.
4.Thought/will comes from desire.
5. Desire comes from awareness.
6. Awareness comes from… unknown.
So, I have awareness, I think, I will, I have the ability to move, you get the point. I have a problem with core point number 5, desire.
Expanding on Desire:
1. Desire is strengthened by uncertainty.
2. Uncertainty comes from the ability to imagine the outcome, which should be reinforced.
3. There are two reinforcers in outcome predictions: positive and negative.
4. Positive is self-interest. Negative is fear. (Thank you, Napoleon)
5. Desire is strengthened by imagining what I could gain, and what I could avoid losing.
6. When both, positive and negative reinforcers are in place, it is that much stronger. Like the total value on a number line. -5 to 5 = 10
Solution to my problem:
A: Stop telling myself I can do or get something, if I put my mind to it. That’s not confidence. That’s delusional. I won’t know until I actually do or get.
B: Imagine all kinds of great things I could gain and all kinds of nasty things I could avoid by getting what I want. Even though they are ridiculous lies. Who cares if they are lies? What does it matter if I get disappointed? I can strengthen a new desire. The point is to live.
So I do this, I start moving, I gain momentum, I keep moving, wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am, happy ending, ride off into the sunset, and all that cool shit.
Hell, I might even live forever.
Thanks for reading. Well… I don’t really care… but I think that’s what people usually say to show that they are well mannered… or something. That they are considerate… courteous, cordial, whatever the fuck douche-bags do.
What I really feel like saying is, “Fuck you for reading. I’m not considerate and I know you don’t care nor understand. I wish you would care and understand, so I can return the favor, but we are all fucked in that regards eh?”
Actually… I think I’m pretty considerate. I would like to think I would save someone just because I can. But seriously, fuck you… Unless you need saving.
Wait, let me be more specific — Unless you need saving, within my capabilities.
“So… you have a gun?” Gary asked tentatively.
“Sure do,” the self-proclaimed gunslinger replied without breaking his piercing eye contact, while his lips curled into a roguish smirk. “Do you need something shot?”
“N-No! … I’m looking for advice.”
The gunslinger’s fox-like eyes narrowed. “That’s not what I do,” he growled dangerously.
Gary froze, feeling stupid and threatened at the same time. An awkward long pause followed with neither of them saying anything. The gunslinger scanned Gary, his gaze darting to Gary’s hands, then the surroundings to spot any kind of funny business.
Only thing that helped Gary regain his wits was a single feeling. Desperation. The desperation he felt after Cheryl left him. After, not during. Gary believed she would come back to him. He thought if he tried harder, she would look at him again, laugh at his jokes again. He tried hard, as best he knew how. He sent her flowers and ‘I’m sorry’ letters. He called and sent texts, only to be ignored. Gary found himself standing outside Cheryl’s apartment, waiting for her, wondering if what he was doing was stalking. That is when he felt it — desperation. This was not who he was. This was not who he imagined himself as. Gary had high ideals for himself. Things in the lines of honor, strength, and chivalry. As Gary began to find himself distasteful, he saw Cheryl’s red Chevy rolling into the parking lot. He turned and briskly walked away in shame, hoping she did not notice him.
While drowning himself in liquor to numb the self-hate at a local bar, Gary saw this man, this gunslinger. Gary instantly noticed there was something special about the man. Something he wanted, and it was not the pretty blonde who accompanied him inside. Gary secretly studied the man and the girl while nursing his drink. He stole quick glances at the couple as they ate the bar’s dinner special. At one moment, the man turned his head and looked directly at Gary, while Gary was trying to get a better look at the man’s face. Gary immediately looked away and raised the glass to his lips to put up an air of nonchalance.
As they left, something inside Gary drove him to go after them. He had to talk to this man. It was probably the alcohol, but to Gary, God had shown him a sign.
When the man identified himself as a gunslinger, Gary knew he was on the right track. This man could help him. Gary had one thing in mind – I want what he has.
“I need your help. If it’s all the same to you, I’ll pay cash for your advice,” Gary said with renewed confidence.
The gunslinger was caught off-guard by Gary’s statement.
“Just help him!” The girl piped from the driver seat of their beat-down truck.
The gunslinger gave the girl an annoyed glance, scowled and said to Gary, “Okay, talk.”
Delighted, Gary explained his situation with Cheryl and how he felt about it. Alcohol helped him be as honest and explicit as possible.
The gunslinger listened quietly, but he had “What the fuck?” written all over his face.
“So what do you want me to do about it?” The gunslinger snapped, dumbfounded.
“Well, like I said, I need advice…” Gary stammered feeling stupid again.
“What kind of advice do you think I can give you? What are you talking about?” The gunslinger pressured.
“… I need you to help me be who I’m supposed to be!” Gary exclaimed in frustration, but soon painfully realized how absurd he sounded. This whole fiasco was absurd.
To Gary’s surprise, the gunslinger’s face softened, his piercing eyes widened in amazement as if he saw Gary as a real person for the first time. The gunslinger’s gaze fell to the ground in thought. Gary’s head went blank, as if his mind had said all it wanted to, and simply waited for a response.
The girl comes out of the truck, lightly tugs the gunslinger’s leather jacket and says softly, “Oh my God… you have to help him.”
The gunslinger lifts his gaze back up to meet Gary’s, the piercing stare was replaced with mild amusement and acceptance, “Okay, I can help you-”
The girl interrupts the gunslinger, “We don’t need your money. But we’d like a place to stay for a bit!”
The gunslinger gave the girl a long incredulous look, the girl mocked his incredulous look right back at him. Then she flashed Gary the brightest smile.
Gary grasped the opportunity, “That – that’s great! I have an extra bedroom and you guys can stay as long as you want!”
The gunslinger quietly stepped into the passenger side of their beat-down truck, rolled the window down and said with resignation, “Well Ga-ry, let’s go.”
“I’m Charlie,” the girl said with a perky curtsy, daintily lifting up her notional skirt, then extended her hand, “Thank you, Gary.”
Gary shook her hand, excited, and hurried to his car. The turn of events jostled him awake from his alcohol induced daze and he felt his head clear enough to drive.
When the trio entered Gary’s apartment, Gary had an episode of insecurity and doubt. He was inviting strangers into his home! Especially a stranger who claimed to be a gunslinger! Something was unreal and dangerous about all this.
“Uh – you guys can use the bedroom right there,” Gary pointed.
“I’ll be using the couch,” the gunslinger gruffly said.
Charlie pouts and mocks the gunslinger while pretending to swab at notional tears, “Aww, is the cute wittle man scared of wittle ol’ me?”
Ignoring her, the gunslinger sat on the sofa, sank into it comfortably, as if he owned the couch all along then turned the TV on.
Arms akimbo, Charlie straightens up, and furrows her brow in disapproval, “You have no manners, you know that?”
The gunslinger takes a deep breath. He was obviously annoyed. Charlie was pressing all the right buttons to make him lose his cool.
“You are being polite enough for the both of us,” the gunslinger scowled, stopping his channel browsing to watch cartoons. My Little Pony was on.
‘My little pony — My little pony –,’ the theme song played.
“Wow, maybe I should be the gunslinger and you can be the little girl.” Charlie suggested.
The gunslinger took another deep breath, turned the TV off, rolled his eyes to Charlie and questioned, “Happy?”
She ignored him and beamed a smile at Gary, “I’d like to take a shower. May I use your bathroom?”
“Yes, of course. The towels are in the closet.” Watching the exchange between Charlie and the gunslinger relaxed Gary. The gunslinger was not as crazy as his chosen profession implied, nor was he as dangerous as his first impression suggested.
Gary watched Charlie bounce happily to the bathroom. She appeared not to have a care in the world, and so full of life. Gary felt attracted and envious at the same time, envious at her carefree demeanor. Muffled sound of running water came from the bathroom as Charlie undressed and stepped into the shower. Gary, not knowing what else to do, took a seat next to the somber gunslinger.
“I wouldn’t look at her like that if I were you, Ga-ry.” The gunslinger had taken a liking to exaggerating the syllables in Gary’s name.
“Oh-uh- I’m sorry,” Gary stammered. “Is she – is she… yours?”
The gunslinger stifles a laughter. “She’s my employer, she’s the one who owns me.” The gunslinger pauses to study Gary, his face still amused, “Now, you’re my employer also. And as long as I’m being paid with the agreed sum of — your hospitality, I protect your interests. And that was my first advice to you. Don’t look at people like that.”
Hearing the outlaw articulate his professional attitude gave Gary confidence to dig deeper into the meaning of his advice. “Oh- why? Is it stupid? Creepy?”
The gunslinger squints and flattens his lips in slight disappointment.”…That maybe. But more importantly, it means you have a problem. A problem of prejudice. That stops you from being what you’re suppose’ to be. Because it stops you from seeing people for what they really are.”
Gary was confused. He always thought of himself as an open person. After all, he had even accepted the idea of a modern-day gunslinger and even had invited him into his home. He always gave people the benefit of the doubt. The way Gary saw it, his problem was not having enough prejudice.
The gunslinger eyes Gary while he is thinking. “It means you pretend to know things you have no idea of.”
“I know what prejudice means!” Gary snapped.
The gunslinger rolls his eyes and runs the tip of his tongue along his canine tooth, “No. No you don’t. Listen, I like you Gary. You’re one of the more honest people I’ve met. With some balls to boot. Let me break it down for you.”
“You like her — don’t you?” The gunslinger said pointing his chin at the bathroom Charlie was in.
Gary remained silent.
“I’m trying to do the job you asked me to do, Ga-ry,” the gunslinger continued, “What do you like about her?”
Gary hesitantly begins to speak, “… Well, she’s pretty… friendly… and… smart… and… alive…!”
“Okay, now prove it,” the gunslinger said.
“What?” Gary did not know where to begin.
“Prove your point,” the gunslinger insisted.
“Uh- well, I think pretty is obvious, she was nice to me, and… “
The gunslinger sighs and cuts him off. “She hasn’t done a single thing of substance for you since you met her and you think she is nice to you? Why? Because she smiled at you? Because she refused your money and instead takes a shower in your bathroom? I’m the one that’s nice to you. I’m the one that’s doing something for you right now. Wake the fuck up!”
Gary listened. What the gunslinger said made sense, but it just seemed wrong to be so calculating.
The gunslinger takes his jacket off to reveal his leather harness that holsters his gun under his left shoulder. He continues his lecture. “Listen, in reality, people all look the same. Two eyes, nose, and a mouth. You make them pretty and ugly. What else did you say? Smart? Did you see her solve a problem? Have you actually seen her being resourceful? Now, I will tell you right now, yes, she is smart. Dangerously so, in fact. But you didn’t see anything of her yet to make that judgment. And… of course she is alive! Just like you and me. We are alive too.”
“That’s not what I meant, when I said alive,” said Gary, flustered at being told he was wrong on everything.
“No. That is exactly what you meant. She likes to flaunt being alive is all. You have no idea what being alive means.”
Gary scoffs, “Are you saying you know the meaning of life?”
The gunslinger grins slyly, “Sure do, I also know what it means to die.”
Gary is in disbelief as he waits for the gunslinger to continue.
“Living means moving, and dying means stopping. That’s all there is to it,” said the gunslinger, matter-of-factly.
Gary raises an eyebrow, disappointed at such a pragmatic answer.
“Truth is always obvious,” the gunslinger continued, “You think she’s alive because she flaunts movement, and you like her because that moves you. Making you feel alive. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, all I’m telling you is to know what the fuck is really going on.”
Gary mulled over the gunslinger’s explanation. It was true. “You’re a gunslinger?” Gary questioned.
The gunslinger gives Gary a blank look. “Yes, I am a person that slings a gun.”
“How do you know all this?” Gary asked.
“I have good memory and I think a lot. It’s why I do what I do,” gunslinger said, a bit annoyed. “Why’d you come to me, if you’re not gonna believe me?”
Gary wants to hide in a hole somewhere. “Okay, I’m sorry. I… I don’t know. If that’s all true, what should I do? I mean, I don’t even kno–”
Charlie comes out of the bathroom, wrapped in a white towel with her hair also wrapped into a turban by another white towel. “Gary, I’m really sorry, but do you have any clothes I can wear?”
Gary notices her flushed cheeks and full pink lips. He quickly looks away, remembering what the gunslinger had said. “Yeah, there should be some of Cheryl’s clothes, left in my bedroom closet.”
“Thanks!” Charlie shuffles like a child in endearing and comical manner to Gary’s bedroom, being careful not to let the towel slip.
The gunslinger sighs. ”I said to not look at people like that, not, not look at them at all.”
Gary fixed his gaze on the TV. Seeing his reflection in the screen. The gunslinger was staring at the ceiling, running the tip of his tongue along his canine tooth again.
Charlie comes out in pajamas adorned with teddy bears, they fit loosely on her petite frame. “I’m going to sleep, guys.”
“I’ll get you guys a pillow and blankets.” Gary gets up to retrieve the items.
The gunslinger grunts in approval as Gary hands him the items. Charlie shoots the gunslinger with a dirty look again.
“We’ll talk more over breakfast,” said the gunslinger, as he positioned himself on the sofa to sleep without giving Charlie a single glance.
They all turn in for the night. Gary stayed awake, staring at the ceiling fan of his bedroom spin about lazily. He felt crazy. Everything was out of control. But in a strange way, he felt strong, as if everything was going to be okay.
Morning came abruptly as Gary awoke to the sound of running water and utensils clanging in the kitchen. Cheryl, she’s back! – He thought. Gary always made breakfast for Cheryl, but one time on his birthday, Cheryl made him breakfast in return. He remembered the sound of running water and pans clanging against each other. Long time ago, his mother used to make the same noise in the morning. He missed the Sunday mornings as a kid, how he laid in his bed, trying to ignore the sun-light urging him to wake up, burying himself under the comforter, as he heard the sound of someone busy at work in the kitchen.
Gary hurried out, fully expecting to see Cheryl wearing aprons and a smile. The kitchen came into view. He saw the gunslinger wearing his shoulder holster. He was trying to scratch his back, struggling over his holster, while frying eggs.
“I’m helping myself to your eggs and bacon,” said the gunslinger, as he scratched his back by using the sharp corner of the fridge, when he noticed Gary.
“Sure… I can’t join you. I have to get ready for work.” Disappointed, Gary headed for the bathroom.
When Gary opened the bathroom door, Charlie flinched and gasped while she was on the toilet. “Oh- sorry!” Gary averted his eyes, about faced, and shut the door.
The gunslinger laughed aloud. “D’you get some fapping material?”
Gary stood, frozen outside the bathroom door, face red, not knowing what to say. Before he turned, he caught a glimpse of the bear pajamas crumpled down against her ankles and the image was etching itself into his mind.
“Careful Ga-ry,” the gunslinger continued, after studying Gary, as he began to eat the plate he fixed for himself on the kitchen counter. “I already told you she’s not dumb.”
“What do you mean?” Gary asked.
“Would you leave the door unlocked when you use the toilet in someone’s house?” The gunslinger questioned in a rhetorical way.
“Why would she?” Gary asked, taking a seat at the dining table.
“I wouldn’t know why. Who can tell what she’s thinking,” the gunslinger continued as he stuffed a whole egg into his mouth. “You’re asking the wrong question. It ain’t important why. The question you should be asking is — what does she want from you… then why does she want it from you”
“I can hear everything, you know!” Charlie cried out from the bathroom.
The gunslinger yells across to the bathroom. “Oh- many apologies mistress! Is your shit going straight back up your ass?”
“I’ll have you know, I am peeing! And I don’t want anything from anybody! I swear I locked the door!” Charlie cried out.
“Whatever you say, ma’am!” The gunslinger yelled back jovially, as he shot a wink at Gary.
The gunslinger proceeds to chomp down on his bacon. “Well, Ga-ry, since you have to get to work, think about this today. A mouse is like a toy to a cat, in reality. The food chain demands that relationship between the two. What would happen if the cat thought a mouse was more than a toy?”
“The mouse might eat the cat?” Gary answered immediately, puzzled at what sounded like non-sense.
“Very good. Now think about what that means,” replied the gunslinger.
Charlie stomps out of the bathroom, brushes by Gary without acknowledgment and confronts the gunslinger.
“How dare you? Who do you think you are!” Charlie demanded.
“I am a gun-for-hire in your service, ma’am,” The gunslinger responded calm and politely.
“You’re no gunslinger. You’re just some nut-job, idiot, living in a dream land!” Charlie pushes her face closer with every insult, right into the gunslinger’s.
The gunslinger’s eyes narrow dangerously, like the first time Gary approached him. The gunslinger squares up to the fragile girl and heavily leans his forehead unto her forehead, peering into her sparkling hazel eyes. “The very same nut-job, idiot, that saved your life and is duped into service in promise of what’s turning out to be a lie!” He growled.
Instead of being intimidated, Charlie slaps him with the intensity of a lightning bolt. She immediately storms out of the kitchen and sits on the sofa with her arms crossed.
The gunslinger looks up to the ceiling and mutters, “God, help me.”
Gary hasn’t felt this uncomfortable, since the last time he witnessed his mom and dad fight when he was six-teen. He didn’t know where to place his gaze. He wants to use the bathroom and get ready for work, but he can’t summon the courage to get up.
Charlie begins to sniffle and dab her eyes with her sleeve. Her lips tremble and her shoulders slightly quake.
“Jesus Christ! Seriously?” The gunslinger rolls his eyes. He takes a moment to examine Charlie from where he stood, bites his lip and says in a tired voice, “well, are you going to have some breakfast?”
Charlie sneers at the gunslinger, her eyes moist with tears.
“I’m going to fix you up a plate, and when you’re ready, you can come over at anytime and eat it.” The gunslinger stated, breaking two more eggs over a frying pan.
“Apologize,” demanded Charlie with her head turned away.
“Don’t push me,” sneered the gunslinger over sizzling eggs.
The gunslinger finishes making a plate for her and sets it down on the dining table right next to Gary. The gunslinger himself takes a seat at the table and leans back on the chair, massaging his canine with his tongue again.
Charlie takes a quick glance to make sure everything was prepared. She goes to the bathroom again to wash her face and sits down at the table.
The gunslinger grinned slyly and said, “Girl, you could be a boxing champion, the way you hit. My face feels like it’s falling apart.” The gunslinger shifts his gaze to Gary.
“You deserved it,” said Charlie, flatly, as she cut the eggs into bite-sized pieces.
“What I deserve is hundred thousand dollars,” the gunslinger glanced at Gary again, then back to Charlie, leaned back into his chair and muttered, “for all this shit I take.”
“You’ll get it!” Charlie looked up from her meal to meet the gunslinger’s gaze, “As promised.” She goes back to organizing her meal. She was even cutting the bacon into pieces and setting it upon pieces of already cut eggs. When she ate, all she would have to do was eat.
“Isn’t that shit freaky?” The gunslinger playfully asked Gary, pointing with his chin at what Charlie was doing with her food.
“Shut-up!” Charlie commanded, while gauging Gary’s reaction with a side glance.
Gary finally got up from the table. “I really have to go.”
“Sure, Ga-ry,” the gunslinger smiled up from his chair. “Think about what mouse eating the cat means.”
With that, Gary got ready for work. As he left his home, Charlie cheerfully waved him good-bye and bade him to hurry back as if the fight did not affect her in any way at all. She was still her bubbly self.
Gary’s spirit was lifted. His step was light and he greeted his coworkers, each with a sincere smile. Watching Charlie and the gunslinger made him forget all about how much he hated himself. He sat in his cubicle, feeling motivated to work. Usually it was dreary to shuffle through logs and paperwork, but today, he felt like he could really get some good work done.
Steve, the supervisor of his department was making his rounds. Making sure no one was slacking off and delegating additional work as necessary. Steve’s glossy red tie glistened under the fluorescent lights.
Steve arrived at Gary’s cubicle. “G’morning, Gary,” his voice ringing clear and loud, “I need you to stay late tonight. Some ass-hole, top-side thinks there was an error in our inventory.”
With that, Gary’s day was ruined. He wanted to go home. Even though he knew there was nothing between Charlie and him, he still wanted to see her bright smile again. It was as if she breathed life back into him. Gary wanted to talk more with the gunslinger. Whether the gunslinger was the real deal or not, Gary never had a conversation like that with anyone, ever. A real conversation. He actually listened to what Gary had to say, and responded without any scorn. Cheryl used to look at him like he was crazy when he spoke his mind to her. She would say, “What’s wrong with you?” or, “Why would you say that?” with, “Are you crazy? How can you not know that?”
The memory of Charlie’s honey thighs, flinching as he entered the bathroom, flashed in his mind. Gary smirked confidently at Steve’s glossy red tie. “Sure thing, Steve. I can have it ready for you within the day actually.”
Steve raised an eyebrow, “Oh- is that right? Everyone’s swamped and you have time to kill – huh?”
Gary felt himself shrink as Steve leered at him.
“If that’s the case, maybe the reason our inventory is fubar is because of you.” Steve accused.
It was unfair. Gary was really trying. All his life, he had been trying. Trying to make his parents happy. Trying to get good grades in school. Trying to make friends by being nice. Trying to make Cheryl smile at him again. Trying so hard to fit in at work. Trying to make small talk at the break lounge. Trying to avoid being out of Steve’s favor. One good thing happens to him in his miserable fucking life, and Steve — FUCKING STEVE — was going to take it away!
Gary suddenly recalled the oddest thing. The gunslinger, scratching his back against the fridge and the way the gun inside his holster dangled, how he threw the whole egg into his mouth and talked with his mouth full, how little chunks of fried eggs sputtered out of his mouth when he did. Odd, because it made Gary numb to what he was about to do.
Gary revolved his chair to squarely face Steve. He straightened his head up, looked Steve in the eye, and calmly and clearly said, “Fuck off, Stee-vo.” Steve’s eyes widened as what Gary said registered in his head. “And you look like a faggot with your red tie.”
Steve’s mouth opened and closed like what a mindless gold-fish does in a bowl all day. Gary remained seated, feeling cool and collected, still gazing straight into Steve’s eyes. Steve grimaced, shook his head at Gary and stormed off.
Gary let out the breath he was holding. He chuckled to himself in delight. For the first time in life, he felt the most strongest sense of pride. He slumped, and just sat there dreamily. Replaying the scene of him telling Steve to fuck off, how Steve looked at him like a fool, how awesome he must have appeared, over and over again in his head. Gary chuckled one last time and confidently went on to check the inventory log on his laptop.
Hours pass as Gary examined where things might have gone wrong. He found the error. Some rookie did not know how to use a spread sheet, and logged the recent shipment out of chronological order. An easy fix, no reason to stay late.
“Gary Fairchild,” the loudspeaker rang throughout the office. “See me in my office.”
All the pencil pushers and paper jockeys peeked over their cubicle to see Gary stroll into the head manager’s office.
The head manager was a gentleman in his 60′s. The word ‘gentleman’ suited him, because he smoked cigars in his office, wore a vest with his suit, and sported a magnificent beard. He looked like what Gary imagined an owner of a Southern tobacco plantation would have looked like.
Gary saw Steve in the room as he entered. Without hesitation he greeted the head manager. “Good afternoon, Mr. Hannigan.” Then nodded at Steve. “Steve.”
“Please,” Hannigan said. “Take a seat, son.” Gary sat as he was told. “Do you know why you’re here?” Hannigan asked.
“I do,” Gary said relishing in his cool. “I’m here to explain two things. The error in the inventory and why I told Steve to fuck off.”
Hannigan peered into Gary, slightly amused, and Gary met his gaze without wavering. “Go on, son.” Hannigan said.
“The error in the inventory was an easy fix. Someone did not know how our company organizes our inventory, and logged it out of order. It is fixed and back up in our cloud-net.” Gary explained. It was like Gary was outside his body, looking at himself from the ceiling. He had never felt this strong in his life.
Steve impatiently butts in and says, “Tell Mr. Hannigan what you said!”
Gary took a moment to cooly study Steve, enjoying Mr. Hotshot-red-tie showing his ass by losing his cool in front of the Big Dog.
“Steve accused me of slacking off,” Gary explained confidently. “And I said, ‘Fuck off, Stee-vo. And you look like a faggot with your red tie’.” As he quoted himself, Gary squared up to Steve again and did it exactly as he said it before.
Hannigan stifled a laughter, but soon began to chuckle loudly. As Hannigan noticed the hurt, from betrayal, on Steve’s face, Hannigan’s chuckle became a roaring laughter. “Your tie is goddamn heinous, son. Where do you think you are? A dinner show in Vegas?” Hannigan said, gasping and snorting in laughter.
“Mark!” Steve whined and Hannigan’s laughter stopped abruptly as he heard Steve call him by his first name.
“Listen here, boy,” Hannigan scowled, his eyes glistening without any trace of his earlier mirth. “Just because Amanda can’t see the lily picking punk that you are — don’t think I’ll condone you over stepping your boundaries at work. If you were in my platoon, back in ‘Nam, I’d leave your sissy ass for the gooks to fill you full of your own blood and their cum from throat to ass!”
Both Steve and Gary stared at Hannigan with their mouth hanging open, astounded.
“Now, get out of my office, boy,” Hannigan held a finger up at Gary, while he still leered at Steve. “I need to have a talk with this man.”
Steve trudged out like a whipped dog, as he shut the door behind him, Hannigan muttered, “That boy needs to stop thinking he knows what he think he knows.”
“Now, Mr. Fairchild,” Hannigan addressed Gary. “You understand I can’t have you two butting heads all the time.”
Gary stiffened. What he had anticipated was coming. Gary took a deep breath. “I do, sir.”
“That boy is green,” Hannigan mused, as he offered Gary a cigar from his stash. “But he’s family. A man my daughter chose to be her husband…”
Gary took a cigar and said, “Thank you.” He waited for his sentence, resigned to his fate. He took the cigar to his mouth. He had quit smoking when Cheryl said it was, disgusting. It felt like a good time to start again. Gary never had cigars before and it felt like a great time to smoke one too. He did not feel as panicked as he imagined.
As Hannigan revealed his relation to Steve, he examined Gary. Gary steadily met the man’s gaze, examining Hannigan, as Hannigan examined him. Hannigan had intense green eyes and his neatly trimmed, but full mustache with a beard hid whatever expression he had under it. The man’s suit was neatly pressed without a single strand of string hanging out at the seams.
Hannigan tossed Gary a banged up, faded brown, Zippo-lighter. It had a barely visible worn etching of an eagle perched up on a globe with an anchor behind it. Gary caught it without batting an eye and lit up his cigar. As he puffed to get the burning going, he set the lighter back on the middle of Hannigan’s desk. Then as he pulled back into his seat, he glanced up to Hannigan and said, “Thank you, sir.”
Hannigan leaned back in his chair and lit up his own cigar. ”I need you out of here at the end of this month,” said Hannigan.
Gary furrowed his brows, puffed his cigar one more time, and got up from his chair as he pressed the cigar out on Hannigan’s ashtray. Trail of smoke curled out of his mouth and dissipated in a haze above his head. At least he was going out in style.
“To relocate to Arizona,” Hannigan said, his intense green eyes crinkling a bit in amusement. “A manager position opened up at our Northern Arizona branch and I’m thinking you’d be the man for the job.”
Gary inhaled the left over smoke and it went down the wrong pipe. He hacked and coughed, bent over Hannigan’s desk.
Hannigan chuckled. “You alright, son?”
“Fine sir,” Gary croaked. “Good cigar.”
“It’s one of the best,” Hannigan claimed, his full grey mustache widening into what might be a grin. “Take it with you, and I’ll have Steve send you the details about the job.”
“Thank you sir.” Gary picked up his cigar and headed out the door.
The paper monkeys all peeked over their cubicles again as Gary came out of the office. He put the cigar back in his mouth and strolled back to his work station.
He sat, in a daze. This must all be a dream, he thought. He pinched his cheek to see if he was dreaming. If it was a dream it would not hurt. It neither hurt nor not hurt. He chuckled to himself. “If it is a dream, I don’t want to wake up.”
Gary wanted to share this with his new friends, the gunslinger and Charlie. Closest thing to real friends he has ever had, even though it hasn’t even been 24 hours since they have met.
He hurried home in the evening, going over how he was going to tell his story to them as he drove.
Gary burst the door to his apartment open, full of energy and glee. “Hey guys! You wouldn’t believe wha-.” He stopped himself short, noticing that no one was in his quiet apartment. It was as if no one had been here in the first place.
Gary felt rage well up inside him. He turned and looked for their beat-down truck in the parking lot. It was gone. Maybe it was never here in the first place. As he stepped in and closed the door to his apartment, rage materialized into tears. Gary grabbed a vase, the clay vase he made for Cheryl when they were still dating. He threw it down on the floor and it shattered, making a dull cracking noise. It was not enough. He grabbed the stand, the stand that used to support the vase and chucked it across the living room. The ruckus caused by it was satisfying.
Gary trudged to the sofa, suddenly feeling tired and sleepy. He imagined, at any moment, the odd couple would come through his front door arguing. The gunslinger would nod at him and Charlie would welcome him home with her bright smile.
No such thing happened.
“It must have been a dream,” Gary muttered to himself. “A gunslinger? Really?”
Gary fell asleep on the sofa. The vase lay shattered and the stand lay with one of its legs broken.
“Holy shit! What the shit happened here?” The gunslinger exclaimed softly as he drew his weapon when he entered Gary’s apartment.
“Is- is he dead?” Charlie asked, pointing at Gary’s still form on the sofa, her voice trembling with concern and fear.
The gunslinger crouched low and sneaked to Gary’s body while he scanned the apartment, fully alert. The gunslinger checked Gary. “He’s okay,” he whispered to Charlie over his shoulder. Then went on to check the other rooms.
Charlie shook Gary’s shoulder, and whispered desperately, “Gary, wake up! Wake up!”
Gary groaned. “Che– Cheryl, I –.” He pulled and embraced Charlie, burying her head into his chest.
The gunslinger came out of the last room he checked. His gun was holstered and he looked peeved. He sees Charlie’s head buried in Gary’s embrace and cocks an eye brow.
The gunslinger leans into Gary and yells, “Wake-up!” — right into Gary’s ear.
Gary sputtered to life, eyes wide and crushing Charlie with his embrace in surprise. Charlie squeals and pushes him away.
“You’re in my spot.” The gunslinger growled.
Charlie straightens her ruffled golden locks with her fingers. “What happened here, Gary?”
“Huh?” Gary stood up as the gunslinger plopped himself on the couch.
Gary spotted the mess he had made. “Oh – that… I did that.”
“Why?” Charlie asked, surprised.
“I– I thought I had a dream.” Gary hesitantly replied.
“What kind of dream?” Charlie pressed.
“… That you guys weren’t real.” Gary said, looking away.
A long silent pause. The gunslinger snorted into laughter and began to snicker.
“Wha-?” Charlie giggled. “Of course we’re real!” She tips her head at the gunslinger while smiling at Gary. Her hazel eyes glittered like diamond dust when they crinkled in laughter. “I wouldn’t think a gunslinger who can’t drive stick is real either.”
“We got lost Ga-ry,” the gunslinger said, as he turned on the TV. “Thanks to the dumb blonde. I didn’t think they were real either.”
“Oh wow! A blonde joke! How original. I’ve never heard that one before. Cheers to you sir, for being the biggest tool-bag ever!” Charlie jeered.
Gary smiled. Everything was as it should be.
“It doesn’t matter. Welcome back. Where did you guys go?” Gary asked, feeling giddy again.
“Groceries,” Charlie beamed, pointing at the bags she dropped by the doorway when she thought Gary was dead. “I’m making mama’s honey fried chicken!”
With that, Charlie gathered the groceries and went to work in the kitchen. Gary picked up the mess he made, pushed it to a corner, and sat next to the gunslinger, who was watching cartoons.
“Do you like cartoons?” Gary asked, thinking it was odd.
The gunslinger gives him a funny look and goes back to watching Tom & Jerry without a word. Gary sheepishly sat there and watched it with him. Few moments later, the gunslinger responded.
“Fictions have more truth in them, especially cartoons,” the gunslinger said, watching Jerry trick Tom into hurting itself. “People tend to be brutally honest about what they are, when they claim to be lying. It’s useful in my line of work to know what people are.”
“Then the ones who claim to tell the truth — are they lying?” Gary questioned after thinking through what the gunslinger had said.
“No, it’s not that simple,” the gunslinger answered. “When people are telling the truth, look for what they are lying about. When people are lying, look for what they are telling the truth about. It’s easier to spot the truth, than a lie. That’s why, to people who know this, liars are the biggest suckers in this world. They think they are being clever, but are actually broadcasting what they are to everyone… Then again, some people like liars, because it makes them easy to control. Makes them less insecure, knowing they have a leg up on the poor bastard. Honest people? You have to be very careful around those. Who knows what they are thinking. They are down right scary to some. It’s irony at its best when liars are easier to read than the honest ones.”
“Which one are you?” Gary asked, eyes gleaming with interest.
The gunslinger chuckles, his eyes crinkling and his lips parting into a wide grin, “Which one do I look like to you?”
Gary grinned back, then grimaced, as he realized he might have been a liar, and remembered Cheryl. “Okay, then what about Cheryl?”
“What about Cheryl?” The gunslinger asked back.
“Did she think I was a liar? Did she think she had a ‘leg up’ on me? Would she have not left me if I was honest?” Gary went on.
“I only know what I think, Ga-ry,” the gunslinger said blankly, “I’d have to see the lady myself to take a shot at what she thinks, but from what I’ve heard, you’re not even in love with her, so what does it matter?”
“What?” Gary’s face went rigid. He was baffled and offended. What would this man know about how he felt about her?
“Why would you say that? How would you know what I felt? I loved her! I can’t stop thinking about her!” Gary snapped.
The gunslinger picks his nose and studies his findings on the finger as Gary glares. “There’s no need to get upset, Ga-ry. When people say they ‘love’ someone, they usually mean they love themselves loving that someone. From what you’ve told me, even though you were the one always trying to please her, you got more out of it, and she got nothing out of you.”
What the gunslinger said about love struck Gary like a spear to the throat. It was true, because it hurt. It hurt to be judged useless to someone.
“Is the world really that cold? Calculating? Give and take?” Gary despaired.
“Don’t be a damn child! Who told you it wasn’t suppose’ to be? Even Charlie over there knows this. She thrives in it.” The gunslinger pointed to Charlie, who was busy clanging pans about in the kitchen, shuffling back and forth from the fridge, the counter, then to the oven. Totally oblivious to the conversation.
“Should I learn to do pick-up then? I read this book once, and it sounds similar.” Gary suggested.
The gunslinger slapped his knee and laughed aloud. “Pick-up? Is that what you think is going to work for you? A man in woman’s disguise? If that’s the case, you should ask Charlie for advice. She’s a genius in the feminine arts.”
“Wh- what do you mean?” Gary fumbled. “I hear a lot of good things about it. Alpha male and stuff. How I need to show dominance. Show high value. They make sense. Isn’t that suppose’ to be manly?”
“Sure, if you’re into closet lesbians, or you think so little of yourself, that you have to have someone love you for something you’re not and don’t want to be,” the gunslinger continued. “Mind games are feminine by nature, Ga-ry. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a useful skill to have in your back pocket, but if you have any real value, people flock to you, even when you don’t want them to. In other words, it’s not up to you, whether people love you or not. Any attempt to influence that — which can be done — is a feminine art. The way I see it, Ga-ry, you don’t have what it takes to be a woman. You’re lacking luscious teats for one… you lack showmanship, and you lack subtlety.”
The gunslinger points at Tom, getting suckered by Jerry again. “You see that cat? That’s masculine. Protecting what’s his. Fuck shit up and never give up. To the point of retardation — insanity!” The gunslinger’s eyes glossed over as if he was in a different world.
“Women? They get weak in the knees, just thinking about someone like that!” The gunslinger claimed.
“What kind of advice is that?” Charlie scoffed from the kitchen counter. “That’s stupid!”
The gunslinger ignored her and kept on. “When a girl like that tells you, you’re stupid, you’re on the right track.”
“What’s that suppose’ to mean? A girl like what?” Charlie demanded.
“Smart and beautiful, of course,” said the gunslinger, beaming a smile at her.
“You forgot kind.” Charlie added, grinning.
“…and kind.” The gunslinger agreed with a nod.
“It’ll be ready in a bit.” Charlie stated, still grinning, and took a seat next to Gary.
“Well, isn’t this cozy. One, big, happy family, watching cartoons,” the gunslinger observed.
“What were you guys talking about?” Charlie probed.
“Maybe you can talk some sense into Gary,” the gunslinger insisted, as he sent his gaze towards the ceiling in exasperation. “He thinks learning pick-up is going to bring Cheryl back.”
Charlie shot a glare at the gunslinger. “Gary,” she softly said, as she placed a hand on Gary’s forearm. “Cheryl’s not coming back.” She paused to study Gary’s expression. “No matter what you do, she’s not coming back. She wasn’t for you.”
Gary shrugged off Charlie’s hand and said nothing.
Few moments later, Gary opened his mouth. “I know,” Gary admitted. “… I just wish I could take it all back. I was such a loser.”
Charlie frowned, saying nothing. The gunslinger broke the silence. “That’s your opportunity, Ga-ry,” the gunslinger confidently said. “That’s where the line between a boy and a man is.”
Both Charlie and Gary looked at the gunslinger, waiting for him to continue.
The gunslinger met each one’s eyes and said, “It’s about taking the hits. As long as the world is beating on you, it means you didn’t lose yet. Boys want it to stop, men want it to never end. You’re a fighter, not a lover, Ga-ry. Get back up and ask the world if that’s all they got. If it is, you win.”
Gary stood up, fists clenched. Without a word he headed for the door.
“Whoa! Where you going?” Charlie asked.
Gary stopped short of the door. “I’m going to see Cheryl,” he answered, without turning to face her.
“What? No! Don’t do that!” Charlie warned.
“That’s not what I meant Ga-ry.” The gunslinger warned.
“I have to.” With that, Gary headed out the door and got into his car.
Charlie and the gunslinger exchanged looks, then hurried to their truck to follow Gary.
When Gary arrived at Cheryl’s, Charlie and the gunslinger parked nearby and hid behind a bush to see Gary ringing the door bell.
“Gary?” Cheryl was confused at first, then a look of disgust came over her porcelain face. “Why are you doing this, Gary? That was you the other night too, wasn’t it?”
Gary just stood there. He knew he had to be here, but he had nothing to say. He searched for something to say.
“Che-,” Gary began, but a burly man, easily a head taller than Gary, appeared from behind Cheryl with his shirt off.
“Is everything okay, babe?” The man asked rhetorically as he stepped out and placed himself between Gary and Cheryl. The man, sized Gary up, then rhetorically asked again, “This guy giving you trouble?”
“Aw, shit,” the gunslinger whispered from behind the bush. He pulled out his gun and handed it to Charlie. “Hold this.”
The gunslinger, without his gun, now just a –slinger, approached the scene as the man shoved Gary straight down into the pavement and threatened him. “Beat it, loser.”
The gunslinger grabbed Gary under a shoulder and helped him up.
“Who the fuck are you suppose’ to be?” The burly man demanded, squaring up to the gunslinger. The gunslinger wasn’t a big man himself. He was of average size, even somewhat lithe. The man loomed over the gunslinger, also easily a head taller.
The gunslinger reaches up, grabs the man’s curly brown locks and pulls him down to his level in one fluid motion. “What did you call me?” The gunslinger hissed into the bowed man’s ear. Cheryl gasped and inched behind the door frame.
Gary grabs the gunslinger’s wrist and tries to pry off the grip he has on the man’s hair. His fingers were surprisingly hard and solid, each like a rod of steel. Gary pried with all his might and it would not budge. The burly man was also trying to pry the arm off, but he was at the gunslinger’s mercy.
“What the hell are you doing Gary?” The gunslinger asked, cocking an eyebrow, and loosened the grip on the burly man. The man pulled free from the grasp, minus some hairs, and fumed like a bull about to go on a rampage.
Gary pushes the gunslinger away, and the gunslinger stumbles back, bewildered. “I don’t need your help! I got this.” Gary snapped at the gunslinger.
Gary turns right back around and socks the fuming bull, square in the nose. The Bull makes a confused face. Then grins menacingly. The beating ensues. The Bull, grabs Gary by the shoulder and punches him again and again. It is like watching a hammer pound a nail in. With each hit, Gary buckles lower to the ground. Gary holds on to the arm that is holding his shoulder, and in a punch drunken daze, kicks and claws, on his way down, all the way down. The Bull mounts him and begins to wail on Gary.
The gunslinger just watched, with his arms crossed, leaning against a fence post.
Gary punches back, weakly. But soon, Gary is too busy covering his head to lessen the blows. The Bull keeps pounding and Gary’s head bounces up and down off the pavement. Gary’s arms fall limp to the side, too tired to even block.
The Bull gets up and spits on Gary’s face. Gary chokes and coughs. His face is a mess of tears and blood. His eyes are already swollen and his lower lip is in two pieces, a small chunk of it dangling by a thread of flesh off his mouth.
Gary rolls over, trying to stand, but for the life of him, he can’t get his elbows off the ground. He sputters and drools blood, coughing. One single thought screams in his head, over and over again, STOP! STOP! STOP!
The Bull squared up to the gunslinger again, this time a bit tentatively, “You want some too?” The gunslinger shook his head and pointed with his chin at the Bull’s feet.
Gary had crawled to the Bull with all he had left. He wraps himself around the Bull’s leg. “What the fuck!” The Bull scowls. In his attempt to shrug Gary off, Bull loses his balance and falls on his ass. Only thing Gary can do is hold him. The Bull stomps Gary’s head while on his ass.
The gunslinger couldn’t even tell what Gary looked like anymore. Gary’s face was just a swollen sack of meat. He couldn’t even tell if Gary was still conscious. Regardless, Gary would not let go of the Bull’s leg.
Panic and fear oozes into the Bull’s eyes. Suddenly, Gary opens his swollen mouth, and bites down — hard — right into the Bull’s ankle.
“Aghhhh!” The Bull screamed. “You crazy fuck! You crazy fuck! You bit me!” The Bull scrambles back up and away from Gary.
Gary, still lying prone on the floor, still crawling towards the Bull, grunts in ragged breaths. “… Da… aw .. woo ga? … Dah –aw — hoov ga? Dah — aw — hyoo — gah!”
That all you got?
“Holy shit…” The gunslinger muttered, amazed.
“Stop it! Right now! I’m calling the police!” Cheryl threatened as she pushed the Bull back inside her apartment.
Gary keeps crawling towards where he thinks the Bull is. Charlie comes out of hiding and rushes over to Gary and hugs him to a halt. ”Dear God, baby. What are you doing? I told you! Forget about her. You’re mine. I love you!”
“No need, ma’am. We’re leaving.” The gunslinger said to Cheryl, as he peeled Gary off the floor.
The gunslinger helped Gary into the passenger seat of his car and hurried into the driver seat himself. Charlie gave Gary a light kiss on his bloody cheek, shut the door, then went to the truck to follow them home.
As they drove home, Gary began to sob. “A– koon s–an uh. A– koon s–an uh… A– koon–.”
I couldn’t stand up…
“Shut the fuck up Gary,” the gunslinger scorned. Then he ecstatically declared, “You’re a goddamn hero! Jesus Christ, a goddamn hero! Everyone fuckin’ heard you!”
They arrive at Gary’s. The gunslinger and Charlie each take his arm and lay him on his bed. Charlie finds a first aid kit in the bathroom, soaks a Q-tip with alcohol and began to clean Gary’s wounds. Gary flinched in pain.
“I guess he won’t be having any chicken tonight,” the gunslinger observed as Charlie snipped the small chunk of lip off Gary’s mouth.
“Tank woo,” Gary said to the gunslinger. “I — nevuh… fight…I phil grate. Dis i– who I am.”
“Shhh,” Charlie cooed, “Hush.” She had the wounds cleaned, and began to apply band-aids on the cuts.
“I guess I’m just gonna have to tell you the answer, ” the gunslinger said. “Whoever that ends up eating, is the cat. Whoever that ends up eaten, is the mouse. The food chain demands it. Anything else would be unnatural and unjust.”
“… I noe,” Gary said, his black and blue face twitching into a smile. “Yoo woon belee– wha happen to — me toda — at — wulk… wha– a crasy day…”
What a crazy day.
Exhausted, Gary trails off to sleep without recounting his adventure at work.
The gunslinger and Charlie, close Gary’s bedroom door and sit at the dining table.
“So… you love him?” The gunslinger asked Charlie with a bemused look on his face.
Charlie imitates the bemused look right back at the gunslinger and says, “You think you know so much, but you sure don’t know much about women.”
The gunslinger rolls his eyes. “Whatever, where’s my gun?” The gunslinger asked, suddenly noticing how empty he felt.
“In the truck,” Charlie answered as she tipped her head towards the door.
“Goddamnit, Charlie!” The gunslinger cursed. “That’s my life! I told you to hold it!”
The gunslinger hurries outside to retrieve his gun.
“Shouldn’t put your life in other people’s hands, nun-slinger!” She yelled out, but the gunslinger was already out the door before she finished.
The gunslinger comes back irritated, sits back down at the table and examines his gun to make sure everything was as it should be.
“We need to go,” the gunslinger stated, still examining his piece. “My contract is up.”
Charlie said nothing and just nodded.
“How’d you help him?” Charlie asked instead.
“I didn’t,” the gunslinger grinned. “He was ready to help himself. With or without me, he would have figured it out. We just happened to be here to see it happen.”
Gary woke up in the morning, feeling refreshed, but his face felt like it was on fire. He was worried how he would explain his face at work, but realized today was Saturday.
He checked his cell phone. There was a text from Cheryl.
Are you alright? Can I come see you?
Gary put the phone back down without a reply. It wasn’t anything important.
He dragged his aching body out of his bed and went to the bathroom. He saw his face in the mirror. He looked like shit. Not just any shit, but holy shit. Like God squatted on his face and took a shit right on it.
He came out of the bathroom to see a batch of ‘mama’s honey fried chicken’ on the dining table with a note attached to it.
Congratulations Gary, you are so hot! You really don’t need that big nosed bitch! – Charlie
Fuck shit up! Never give up! Watch the ladies legs open up! – X <- Idiot!!!
Gary smiled as he read the good-bye note. It hurt to smile, but it felt good. He picked up a drumstick from the batch and went out the door. The sun blinded him a bit as he came outside. The fresh air felt good on his bruised face. It was good to be alive.
Gary gnawed on Charlie’s honey fried chicken as best he could manage with an aching jaw. The only proof they were ever here.
I sit up, breathing heavy with anticipation. I needed a mirror, and into the bathroom I went.
Studying my features in the mirror, I make faces of what I imagine a gunslinger would make. The rebellious scowl, the arrogant smirk, the squint — the squint did not look right. I place a tooth-brush in the corner of my mouth and hold it between my teeth like a cigar. Thinking of Clint Eastwood in “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”, I squint.
‘Guy who forgot how to brush his teeth’.jpg
“Pfft.” The toothbrush falls in the basin as I snort with laughter at my reflection.
Expressions are real, only when it comes from the inside. What really matters here is my skill in gun slinging.
I get on the computer and do some searches on Google, and find military field manuals available for download. Apparently, the military had manuals for everything a person might ever need. Subjects ranged from intelligence warfare, survival, and combat tactics to… “Spelling for Marines”?
I conjure up an image of a Marine using “Spelling for Marines” to wipe the blood off his dress blues after slaying a fire-breathing dragon by bashing it to death with the very same book rolled into a makeshift club.
Focusing back on purpose, I download subjects of interest. Outdoor survival, escape and evasion, counter intelligence, urban and field combat, hand to hand combat, marksmanship principles, reconnaissance tactics, physical fitness, and anything else I might find useful, I save it on my computer.
Historical scholars, artists, and scientists would be so jealous of the internet, if they knew about it. Socrates would hang out on Facebook all day, visiting every profile and asking frustrating questions about life to them, successfully getting his account blocked or ignored.
Shakespeare would post his plays on Youtube and get comments like, “y dont u peeple say proper english? america fuck yah!!!!!!!!!!”
Darwin will be a public enemy to all religious extremists and receive malicious tweets condemning him to hell, not caring or knowing about the fact that Darwin is a man of faith…
They would still find it wonderful though. All manner of human knowledge at the command of their fingertips? Yeah.
One of the files is done downloading, and I stop my musings to skim through the text.
It was not fun to read, ‘manuals’ never are. I was going to need a lot of time to understand all the stuff I downloaded.
Time flies. The night has passed, and the sun has risen. It is ‘high noon’. I stop my reading. I have to go to work.
I get dressed, get in my car, and decide to go to a western clothing shop instead.
As I neared the store, marked only with giant cowboy boots next to its door, I doubt and think about calling work to at least tell Mitch, my supervisor, that I’m not coming in today. What I was doing was irresponsible. I have a contract agreement with my employer, I work, they pay. This is unacceptable behavior, unprofessional, and immature. Abnormal.
Million fingers of shame place their digits on my shoulders, forcing my chest to fall. Loneliness punctures my stomach like a javelin, slightly buckling my knees.
This world is irresponsible.
Peeved at my weak resolve, I reinforce my determination with anger and open the portal to latest gunslinger fashion.
The portal chimes happily, welcoming me in. Pungent aroma of leather wafts up my nose, lingers there, and tickles the bottom of my eyes.
I wonder into an aisle with shelves full of cowboy boots neatly stacked and aligned by style. Some were scaled, some were too colorful, and the ones with pointy toes were too flamboyant for my taste.
I come across a pair of black boots that looked much like modern-day work boots. Other than the toes being rounded, it had all the features of a cowboy boot. That was me. I check the size and take it off the shelf.
I turn the corner at the end to enter an aisle lined with various dusters and jackets hanging on coat racks. I tried on a duster and realized they looked awkward and tacky like a Halloween costume.
A brown jacket, the color of mud, made out of suede caught my eye. It looked like something Fonzie would wear. I check the size and take it off the rack.
Last thing on the list was the cowboy hat.
I looked silly in it and decided not to get it.
The owner, a heavy-set man with a pot belly, rugged face and combed hair, raises an eyebrow as he sees me walk up to the counter. I must not look like any of his regular costumers.
“Your first boots?” He does not wait for an answer. “These are good boots, it’ll last you a long time. Now, it’s gonna feel loose at the heel, but when you wear it enough, it’ll mold to your feet and they’ll be the most comfortable pair of boots you’re gonna ever own.”
I pay the man, thank him for the advice, and hurry into my car. Grinning to myself, I check the contents of my recent buy in privacy. The leather jacket and cowboy boots, they are mine. I am a step closer to my goal.
Since I was ditching work to shop for gunslinger gear anyways, I check my smart phone to find the nearest gun store. Technology has made everything so easy.
I take note of the directions and drive to the site. The store was called American Guns and on the entire face of the building was a mural of a bald eagle, soaring across the American flag.
I buy a .45 cal 1911, I think I saw the model used in a movie once. I buy a shoulder holster, the ones detectives wear in TV shows. I buy, two boxes of ammo, a cleaning kit, magazine pouches that strap on to the shoulder holster, and extra magazines. I sign my name on some order forms and applications. The cashier tells me to come back in two days with the receipt of sale.
I come back to the store as instructed and voilà I had a gun. I had everything I needed. Only thing left to do was to train.
During the two days of wait, Mitch, my supervisor at work called. He said my behavior was unacceptable, he was going to ‘let me go’, and mail me the check for the days already worked. I had stopped going to school. For what I had in mind, it was a waste of time. I was sorry to see the tuition wasted, but I had more important things to do now.
I budget what is left in my checking account. I cut my internet and my phone, I don’t need them anymore. I had enough to last three months.
For three months, every single day, two sessions of physical training, two sessions of weapons manipulation, reading the manuals and experimenting what I read.
At times I felt crazy. I found myself asking, “What the hell am I doing?” But it was too late. I had thrown everything away and if I wanted to, I could piece back up the remains, but for what? So I can go back to talking to my fridge?
Whenever doubt squirmed its way into my head, I just stopped thinking. I cleared my head of all thoughts and simply refused to think. It helped me concentrate on my training. Months quickly passed in such a way.
As I planned, I had trained for three months without rest, I was out of money and today was the day of departure .
I dress up in my gunslinger apparel. As I leave the apartment, I stop and place my hand on the only thing of value I own, the only thing that had been my trusty companion for years, my computer.
“Good bye, old friend.” I push and hold the power button and the computer stops its soft humming. It goes dark. It goes still. Trying to shake off the feeling of killing a loyal friend, I turn to make my exit.
I step out to see the melting snow. It is Spring. The air is still a bit chilly.
Without any hesitation, I get in my car and pull out of the parking lot. Without a destination, letting the roads take me where they will, I drive away from everything familiar.
Good bye, gas station — where I always bought cigarettes at.
Good bye, Target — where I bought inks for my printer.
Good bye, grocery store — where I bought food to stock my fridge.
Good bye, strangers — who walk your dogs, jog, and go on about your business.
I’m leaving to find better strangers.
I had fallen asleep on the sofa. In the morning, I quietly sat up, glanced at the surreal rays of sunlight piercing through the small gaps of my vertical blinds, and noticed something was different.
My resolve to accept emptiness was firm. I had triumphed over loneliness — crushed its skull under my boot-heel. The pain of not being good enough was nothing but a mere phantom. The border between fact and fiction faded and disappeared. Doubts fell away in chunks. I have accepted emptiness. Nothing mattered enough to upset me and nothing mattered enough to make me happy. It was serene. Death must feel the same. I did not exist, instead everything existed in me. God was here, and I was It.
I won. I forgot why it was important to win. My mind anchored in quiet bliss, refused to wonder. So I left the reason forgotten.
Unaffected by the revelation, I get ready for school.
It was the first day of the fall semester. I used to dread first-days because everyone had to introduce themselves and even though I coveted acknowledgment I would mentally fall apart when I received it. I would blush, stutter, mispronounce words — I hated mispronouncing words, then I would sit back down, flustered and angry at myself. It was even worse when someone would encourage me out of pity, then I really felt like jumping off a cliff.
I thought about skipping first days, but then I would have to live with my cowardice. No one would know or care, but I would know and care. So even though I failed again and again, I kept throwing myself at it, hoping I will get it one day. I do not think I got it, but that mattered little now.
I arrive and enter the class. I anticipate anxiety to swarm out of my pores as usual, but it never comes. I see familiar faces, they do not see me. I recognize them, but I do not see recognition in their eyes. I catch myself before I could fall back into my old patterns of begging for recognition. As I have promised myself, I began to look through it all. Then I felt relieved and grateful how they did not recognize and greet me. Is there really anything any of us should talk to each other about anyways?
“Is this seat taken?” I ask as I approach a group of students awkwardly making small talk with each other at a round table.
A tall, obese girl promptly tells me, “No.” She is a life-sized replica of Jabba the Hutt, minus the ruthless, galactic underworld king-pin persona.
She beams a huge smile as I sit down. Without another word, I open up my notebook and begin to doodle.
The class starts and the teacher clears her throat. After a brief pause, she explains the value of networking and kicks off the introduction. I keep doodling. My turn comes and I stand up — absentmindedly say my name and sit back down to continue my withdrawal in the guise of artistic endeavor.
There is a silence, a stillness, and I feel the puzzled gaze of thirty some eyes crawling up and down my body. The plan was to not draw attention.
I cautiously stand back up, panning through all the curious faces examining my every move, and with stoic simplicity, I continue and finish the introduction with, “It’s nice to meet you all.” I sit back down satisfied.
The teacher flashes a smile, eyes crinkling and teeth showing in display of acceptance. I detect a hint of fear in her smile. “So, what do you do?” She asks.
“Nothing.” I blurt out in a matter-of-fact way. The class erupts in laughter. I don’t understand what is so funny. I direct my gaze to an oddly feminine Asian guy sitting next to me. He catches my eye and the meaning with it. He hurries up to introduce himself before the teacher could ask another question.
First lesson was about networking. The teacher devoted two hours into the subject and to my understanding, it could all be said in two sentences. Care about people — if you cannot, act like you care. Then each party uses each other for mutual benefit.
I glance up to see Jabba, smiling at me like a kid in a toy factory, “I like your drawing.” She compliments, cheeks flushing as I look at her blankly. I look back at my drawing. I can’t even tell what it’s supposed to be.
“Thanks.” I say.
“I like your handwriting.” Feminine Asian guy adds.
I look at my writing. They are your standard block letters. What is with these people? Is this their attempt at networking?
I look at his spiked up hair and say, “I like your hair.”
He smiles in response, cheeks flushing like Jabba’s.
Staying invisible was not going too well. More I tried being indifferent, more people became interested. It did not apply to everyone, there were certain type of people who get attracted to indifference. They fling themselves into the void, hoping for… I don’t know, acceptance? Approval? They see the emptiness and think they can plant their roots in it. A menial display of tolerance, and I could give them that illusion. Do they not see how unjust that is? Being led on by the tricks their own mind plays on them? What is it all for?
Maybe it is shame. They feel shame in their life and prefer non-judgmental indifference over turbulent and passionate connections. Much like how Maggie in, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” fawned over Brick or how some people prefer the company of animals over humans.
Maybe this is all a fantasy and they merely get interested in the same way I look at other people when they are not looking.
Too many assumptions without basis. With all these doubts, how can I trust myself? How can I ever trust others?
It does not matter, I tell myself, remembering the resolve to stop judging and measuring. Let it be. If you do not like one or the other, then make up what you like. No one can stop you.
I think of the redhead. They want warmth, like the redhead. Everyone deserves warmth. They want the heat of another body next to them, hear the slurping of bowel movements, and feel the pulsing of veins synchronize with their own. This is my conviction.
The class ends and I stay a minute longer to hurry and finish up the drawing.
As I make my way towards the parking lot, I see Jabba embracing a gangly guy. He looks just like Han Solo. Jabba the Hutt and Han Solo — kiss, hug once more, and go their ways.
Despite my resolve to be indifferent, I find myself surprisingly jealous over the affectionate scene.
Warmth — I want it too.
Weeks pass, and with each passing day, my sense of self and reality faded more and more. Dreams mixed with memories. I would remember events in the past and think it was a dream or have a dream and believe it really happened. It did not bother me — not at all. I would die like this — lost in layers of illusions upon illusions.
Another evening of solitude, I lie in my bed, the girl in the bright room does not come to talk anymore.
Lost in emptiness, a memory bolted through my mind like lightning. It was a long-forgotten memory. Never recalled once.
An old cartoon of an old knight with a grey handlebar mustache, wearing a set of rusted armor, falling off his frail horse, into the gutter.
His stubby squire looking on worriedly as the knight valiantly charges a windmill, determined to skewer it with his rusted lance for demented reasons.
I open my eyes to see the darkened ceiling of my bedroom. What I see is a blank canvas of nothingness, waiting for a magnificent masterpiece to take residence.
First came the memory of a hero. Next came the awareness of potential. Now comes the idea, in the visual form of a vintage photo. Cowboy hat and cowboy boots, a leather coat, and a gun — a symbol of American spirit and individuality, the gunslinger.
I reconsider my resolution of indifference. Blissful death is a promise from God. It is a betrayal of trust to enjoy death, when I have not earned it yet by living. If dying is to have all things exist in me, then living is to have me exist in all things.
Thus with a single thought,