It’s a new year,
and time to set those goals for 2016. I’ll talk about what works and what doesn’t with goal setting. And then, we’ll read and critique a section of my unpublished novel The Problematic Virtue…
He considered the activity a form of self-flagellation, but he did it anyway. Brian spent most of Spring Break working on a long-procrastinated project: taking his old photographs and converting them to digital versions via the scanner he had received as a Christmas present the year before. The inspiration came the day he learned about Heather, when he sat down to look through some old pictures.
Brian could devote time to this task with no distractions, since Alex had been gone for several days and left Brian with free reign of the apartment. With multiple days of autonomy, Brian spent nearly all of his time at home, numbing his grief with beer and scanning pictures. Two hundred pictures so far completed, with a couple hundred more to go.
He held a photograph of her, standing on her apartment balcony in the morning, wearing nothing but one of Brian’s long t-shirts. A wry smile sat on her face and her hands cradled a cup of steaming coffee. Innocent but seductive at the same time, a look that Heather had executed well.
Her pictures were the hardest to tolerate, because he had none from the ugly and painful ending to their relationship. Scenes like the one of her wearing his shirt falsely emphasized the good times over the bad. He had no photos of her attempting to stop a nosebleed in the bathroom, arguing with him about something trivial, or having sex with his young, impressionable best friend. Without that kind of evidence, he could loiter in the euphoric recall.
Brian’s phone rang, and as he had done all week, he ignored it. The only number he might respond to would be Megan’s, although he doubted if even then. That situation had not come up. The calls had been from Wiles, Miguel, Graham, Brian’s parents, and some unknown numbers, and Brian had not wanted to talk to any of them. His mother left him a voicemail about a wild-goose chase that she and his father had undertaken when a young man matching Jimmy’s description turned up at an Idaho homeless shelter. As with his parents’ other investigations, their efforts amounted to nothing and he had not the energy to engage their fruitless hunt for their missing son. Brian accepted that Jimmy was not coming back.
He did need to talk to Wiles, because he wanted out. Brian just did not how to broach that topic in a way that would make Wiles listen. The man had a way of forcing his will– as Brian was well aware– and Brian had a history of cowering to Wiles’ influence. Brian thought it best to avoid him for now.
Sooner or later, he’ll just show up, anyway, so might as well let him come to me.
Then a rustling at the door, and a key turning in the lock. In walked Alex, with a duffel bag over his shoulder. He looked pale and droopy-eyed. Probably drunk. “What’s up, Slim Shady? You look like shit,” he said.
Indeed, Brian looked terrible. He had not showered or shaved all week, and had been wearing the same clothes for three days. “Where have you been?” Brian said. “You’ve been gone for almost a week.”
“It’s Spring Break, dude. I had some business to take care of, out of town. No big deal, just had to go do some stuff. I was going to let you know, but then I thought you probably wouldn’t care much no matter what. The end.”
“The electric is due tomorrow.”
“Can you take care of that for me?” Alex said as he pulled out a wad of bills and started counting. He peeled off a few twenties out of a roll that contained at least thirty or forty bills. “I need to go out of town again tomorrow morning. Just for the day.” He tossed the money carelessly, and the bills fluttered and landed on the couch cushions. Brian looked at the scattered pile of crisp twenty-dollar bills. His heartbeat quickened, his palms began to sweat, as he realized now for the first time all week, he would have to share about Heather, and that would make it real.
“Alex, sit down, I need to talk to you.”
Alex dropped his duffel and fell onto the couch. He dug a hand underneath it, extracted a glass pipe and a meager bag of pot. “Down to the dregs,” he said, pinching the small bag. “Shake’s better than nothing, though.” He loaded weed into the bowl then lit it. “Alright, let’s hear it,” he said as he exhaled a plume of thick grey smoke.
Brian sat down next to Alex on the couch. “I need to tell you something, and it’s not going to be easy, but–”
Before Brian could finish even the first sentence of his news, Alex yawned, picked up the remote control, and turned on the TV. Brian snatched the remote away from him and pressed the power button.
“Hey, dude, I was watching that.”
Brian’s patience was already wearing thin, and he had not even started. “Damnit, Alex, this is important. It’s about Heather. I don’t know quite how to tell you this–”
“Heather,” Brian said. “Heather’s gone.”
Alex hit the pipe again before asking, “who?”
“Heather Robson. My ex. She was drunk and overdosed on cocaine. She died in the bathroom of a bar in Denver.”
“Hey, that’s where I spent my twentieth birthday. Back when I had my fake ID, I mean. They never ID’ed me before, but after I got it taken away, they all-of-a-sudden started carding me there every time. Karma, right?”
“Are you listening to me? Heather passed away. The service is tomorrow, if you want to go. I think you should come with me.”
Alex yawned again. “I don’t think I’ll make it. You have a good time, though.”
Unbelievable. This level of indifference was outrageous, even for Alex. “What the hell is wrong with you? Heather. You remember… my ex-girlfriend, the one that you fucked.”
Alex glared at Brian. “I know. Boo-hoo. That chick was on the self-destruct plan from day one. Tide comes in, tide goes out. It’s just the cycle of life. You don’t act surprised when the sun rises in the morning.”
“You selfish piece of shit. Don’t you even care that I’m upset? If you don’t care about her, how about a little damn empathy for me, or is that too much to ask from you?”
Alex tapped out the cashed bowl into an ashtray and opened the bag to load another. “Look, dude, I’ve been out of town, I just got home, and I’m tired. I’d just kinda like to veg-out here for a bit, smoke some bowls and then go lay down.”
Brian wanted nothing more than to smack the little bastard upside his head, but he fought the urge. Not even that would dent Alex’s armor. Instead, the only thing he could do was remove himself from the situation and leave Alex to his own devices. He had nothing left to say. Without another word, Brian returned to his room, and slammed the door.
Brian promptly sat down to write his letter to Alex. At first, the note came out as a bitter piece of accusatory nonsense. Pure venting. After several cathartic drafts, he now worked on version number five, with the older versions lay crumpled in the trashcan. He reminded himself to burn them later, because, for all he knew, Alex went through his stuff whenever he left the house.
Somewhere around draft number three, he came to the realization that everything Alex had become, Brian helped design, directly or indirectly. He introduced the kid to alcohol, and to drugs, and to all the lifestyle that went along with it. Brian had even introduced him to seductress Heather. When Alex saw Brian meeting people and selling them bags of weed, what else could he have learned from that? This epiphany filled Brian with such palpable guilt that he nearly forgot his grief for Heather.
Version five of the letter that he had reframed into an apology began with a recounting of how Brian perceived Alex when they first met: impressionable, curious, and eager to learn. Then he described how Alex appeared now: selfish, self-destructive, and cruel. Brian admitted his own role in everything that happened, and offered to help Alex get off the drugs. He even offered to quit doing everything with him, including the alcohol. The letter became his version of an intervention, and he hoped that Alex would take it to heart. Brian closed the letter, went out to the living room, and edged it under Alex’s door.