“Hung down with the freaks and the ghouls…”
It was my last semester in college, and I wanted to re-take “Intro to Creative Writing” because I had gotten a C- in it the first time around and I couldn’t allow that on my permanent record. It’s hard to imagine caring about such things in retrospect, but in the early aughts I had it in mind to go all the way to my English PhD, and what kind of doctor of literature would have gotten a C- in fucking Intro to Creative Writing– where the girls write about boys they’re fucking who don’t want to date them and the boys write about girls they like from afar- who are sometimes sitting in the very same class.
It was in this very same class that I met Kasie, who had written very adorable stories about her boyfriend not calling her on Easter and an entire five-pages as a thinly veiled excuse to complain about one of her girlfriends- whom I knew, even if Kasie had changed her name to something innocuous, she included enough catty details that made it obvious. I leaned over to her desk and said, “I know who this is…” and watched her turn beet red- a bold move, unwittingly played to great effect- our meet cute.
I wanted In the Bedroom (2002) to be the opening of a long and ambitious, post-modernist, suburban fantasy novel- think Pynchon meets Ellis meets Final Fantasy II (1991). Where the story would begin as something very narrow and contained- a single character, lost in thought, in a small room with a few friends watching television- and somehow end up large and sprawling- encompassing the entire world and beyond; all while maintaining the minimalism of Ellis and the close attention to language that’s a trademark of Pynchon.
The piece focused on growing up- the place in-between adolescence and adulthood- where people become who they are and relationships change. This was my world at the time. The irony to the protagonist’s refusal to let go was that it mirrored my own- and while writing this, in 2002, I had no idea how difficult the next decade of my life would become; heartbreak, depression- it would be ten years before I didn’t feel metaphorically confined to my own bedroom.
“In the Bedroom”
Ten looked at the table with an almost lively gleam, and after taking a second or so to thoroughly inspect the situation, he blurted out the word “Zenith.” With a slight sense of apathy, I slid a synthetic colored tablet under my tongue. Ten took the appropriate amount of off-white scrabble pieces scattered on top of the muggy bridge table and formed the word. Kristen looked at the new formation suspiciously, like a curious puppy. After seconds, or even minutes, of inspecting and reinspecting, she exclaimed “that’s not a word, Ten,” with the enthusiasm of uncovering a fantastic mystery. Ten fired back, “It is so! Zenith. Triple fucking word score.”
“Well, use it in a sentence.”
“Zenith…another word for God.”
The television buzzed with darkness.
With that, Ten ended the argument. Kristen was satisfied. It was July. It was humid enough to be July, at least. Even in Kat’s bedroom I could feel it blanketing me. My first summer vacation from college was about to end, spent with the people I grew up with. While physically the same, their roles had transformed. Kat was my dealer, Drew joined a band and changed his name to Ten, and Kristen became his pet. Time bound us together. It felt awkward but seemed right. The tablet fizzled under my tongue.
Kat’s room smelled like dirt. The crickets were so loud that I wondered if there were a few under her bed. We always seemed to be waiting. Last week it was for Kitty’s music video. Last month we waited for the Real World (1992) marathon, and tonight we’re sitting anxiously for the new Pepsi commercial.
The spot stars Kitty America, America’s latest trademarked pop-star. Kitty was electronically rendered by some of the top computer engineers across the country. She could change with the times but she couldn’t grow old. She couldn’t get sick, and she couldn’t run away. She could be a logo forever. Kat and Kristen envied her beauty, and Ten was surely in love. The room tilted and swayed. Under my feet sat the broken up scrabble board Ten had destroyed weeks ago28. For a moment I contemplated researching the validity of his “triple word score,” but I let it pass. The bridge table was littered with different words created by scrabble pieces, most of which involved or stood for products available at Wal*Mart.
Kat lied motionless on the couch behind us. She wasn’t saying much, but she never really did. The walls of her room were decorated with different posters and pin-ups of MTV stars. Her most prized artifact was on the wall directly behind her couch, a poster for the film that christened Hollywood’s exploitation of eastern religions, Dude Where’s My Moksha? Soon after, Hinduism was everywhere. Bands wrote songs about it; families celebrated its holy days. Cartoonish looking deity novelties were sold back-to-back with Santa accessories. Kat treated the film as if it were enlightenment itself. The television buzzed, at which Kristen and Ten stared blankly.
A surge came over the group. Immediately it was certain that this was what we were waiting for. The television flickered distinctively. With reborn awareness we watched the screen as it led us, all in the room together singing: “bada, ba ba ba – bada, ba ba ba.” As one, Kristen, Ten, and I all said the words along with Kitty: “the joy of cola.” Our attention suddenly turned to Kat, as she was motioning to speak. Words began to curl off her lips, “The Freshmaker.” We laughed.
I went along with the others; I said the words. It didn’t have the same effect on me as it did on them. There was no reassurance or euphoria. I felt no connection with the television, or Kitty’s lips and eyes. The lights danced. The only thing clear was the door to the room, its knob, and me. Ace Frehley’s solo to a KISS song I didn’t remember pulsated and shot straight through my head. On a rocket ride.
The top was down, the air was cool, and the highway was empty. In the middle of August dusk begins so late. We would drive around the east end for hours and end up parking right up on the water. Kristen would play with the radio. We sat on the hood of my car and threw rocks into the Sound. When our eyes met, it would feel like the night could never end. We wondered where the purple sand came from. We wondered how sand always got in food at the beach. We spoke about the future as if we could write it. She tugged and tugged the sleeve of my sweatshirt until I was close enough. She kissed me. We could feel the wind, we could feel the night. We slept in my car.
There was just me now. Kat was asleep on the couch. Ten and Kristen were fucking while Kristen kept her eyes fixed on Ten and Ten watched MTV. A video from a band called “The Unnecessaries” glared off the set. Their song was loud and obliterating. Ten followed every motion lead from the screen. I felt dizzy and sick.
There were three motions separating me from the outside of the room. Probably hundreds of individual movements just getting to the door. I wasn’t sure what it mattered anyway. The street would be dark, and I would be alone. It could be filled with people. I would see their faces. They could reach out to me; for me.
Everything blurred and colors ran together; iridescent. Kat’s room, my future, Ten’s motions, and Kristen. Sometimes things change before you even notice. My head hit the floor. I could feel Kat’s fluorescent white lights as they blended into buzzing darkness.