by Nick Olson
The last time I thought I saw you was on a night post-brandy, pre-sleep, so I could convince myself that your apparition had everything to do with those conditions and nothing to do with delusion, hallucination, psychotic symptoms I thought I’d conquered and climbed like some king of the hill grade school game.
Do you remember those days, Jeremy? Blowing on the contacts of Mario Kart and trying to get it to start, playing every track except for Rainbow Road ’cause you despised it, then switching over to GoldenEye, forbidding Oddjob as a playable character because of the unfair height advantage? Putting together the moments, the causal chain that forms a childhood?
And then it was puberty, wasn’t it? Comparing scant chin hairs, studying them like portents of our future states. Trading links to porn sites, not really getting it. Watching some of it together anyway, though.
It was moving on after high school, hanging out with other dudes, trying to assemble something like a friend group, but coming back always to that basement, those things we saw on the screen and wouldn’t share with anyone else. It was the beer we stole and shared, the cigarettes, and pulling our pants down, pulling them back up quickly when we thought we heard footsteps. Not talking about it next time we’d hang out, but then doing it again.
And then it was the first time we touched during one of those sessions, and how you paused for a second before pushing me, telling me to hand you a beer. Clicking off the video. Not walking me to the door that night.
And the next time we hung out, going straight to the videos, to touching, to more, and the way my leg started twitching and shaking, an involuntary reaction, and how you laughed it off with me, made me not feel totally stupid. Just a little stupid. Sleeping together that night, attempting a facsimile of what we’d seen, but getting it all wrong. The awkward clashing of bodies, apologies, heated breath. Saving it for later, but putting off the next hangout for next week, then the week after, again and again. And then, of course, it was starting up my brandy habit, drinking without you, drowning all thought and sense, till all my nights were blacked out.
Drifting apart while living in the same town, not even having a cross-country college road trip or anything else to blame it on, unless of course you count the fog of homophobia that blanketed our small town, but we didn’t have terms like that back then.
What we did have were those nights in your basement, then in your bed, before I got the call from your mom, and her hysterical crying with it, before the possibility of your death was even a consideration, could even be. And flying through those days and weeks of mourning in brandy, floating within it, until I’d dump it all down the toilet, trash it, promise my never-agains, then go buy some more a few weeks later.
I’m in one of those never-agains now. It’s been over a month this time. The longest it’s ever been. I don’t know if it’ll last. I can’t guarantee anything. But I want it to be. I really want it to be, Jeremy. I don’t know for sure, but I think you’d be proud of me. I am.
Nick Olson is an author and editor from Chicagoland now living in North Carolina. He was a finalist for Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction Award, and he’s been published in SmokeLong Quarterly, Hobart, decomP, and other fine places. When he’s not writing his own work, he’s sharing the wonderful work of others over at (mac)ro(mic). His debut novel, Here’s Waldo, is available now.
Find him online at nickolsonbooks.com or on Twitter @nickolsonbooks.