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hang your hat at somebody else's house

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Dennis is sixteen

Something is deeply wrong with the world and it’s making Dennis very sick.

The thought that it might be something wrong inside his own head has crossed his mind. . .admittedly many times. . .but he’s brushed it off repeatedly. Dennis is a golden God, worshipped by all who go to his school, fawned over by those with lower class and status than him. Crazy just doesn’t fit into that framework at all. No, it’s the world that has fundamentally changed, become sick and wrong somehow. It has physically morphed into this angular, bright, empty, unbearably noisy place, one that only Dennis, with his superior intellect and heightened senses, can see. It’s driving him to the brink of madness.

On a particularly miserable day, Dennis decides that maybe drugs are the answer. He approaches Ronnie the Rat, the school drug dealer, in his normal hangout spot behind the bleachers. Ronnie and some of his dirty friends are smoking lazily, waving their hands through the smoke to clear it. It smells sharp, but most things do these days. Dennis scuffs his toe on the ground and clears his throat.

“Hey, Ronnie, are you holding any more of that?” he asks.

Ronnie squints at him through the hazy high. “Depends on how much cash you got on you.”

Dennis had stolen $200 from his mom’s purse during a pill binge yesterday. “Will this suffice?” he says, pulling the cash out of his pocket. Ronnie’s eyes widen.

“Dude, how much weed do you want?”

“Um. . .one weed?” Dennis says, unsure of what the market value for this sort of thing was.

Ronnie laughs, and the rest of his friends join in. Dennis winces at the noise.

“He wants ‘one weed’!” says Ronnie.

“Well you’d better give it to him, Ronnie,” says his dirtiest friend.

Ronnie unearths a packet of green stuff, his laughter dying down. “Tell ya what. I’ll give you this much weed, but you gotta smoke it with us and then go back to those other kids you hang out with and tell them that we’re cool and that our drugs are great.”

Anything to get the world to quiet down. “Deal,” says Dennis.

The weed is awesome, blurring the ugly world into something manageable. He becomes a frequent buyer almost immediately, and doesn’t even have to lie when he tells his other friends about how cool Ronnie and his gang are.

Dennis is twenty-one

Weed makes the world more bearable, but it has the unfortunate side effect of hampering his efforts towards attaining physical perfection. When combined with all the binge drinking college requires, he can feel his gut widening. It’s disgusting. Plus, weed has been getting way more expensive lately, and it is taking increasing amounts to get him high. He decides to stop smoking weed, and picks up cigarettes to get him by in the meantime.

The cigarettes don’t make his skin feel familiar and the world seem natural, but they do quash his appetite. Cigarettes and coffee for breakfast, cigarettes and a salad for lunch and dinner. Some girls tell him that it’s like kissing a bony ashtray, so he stops kissing, fucks them rough instead. Fills their mouths with dick so they’re quiet, so they don’t tell him they love him after, so they wander out well-fucked and wide-eyed, bowled over by his prowess and powers of seduction.

The alcohol is a good mediator, and so is the starvation. When focusing on the pangs of hunger or scheduling what he’s going to eat doesn’t distract him enough from how numb he feels, he drinks until he blacks out.

Ronnie (or Mac, now) calls him every night to check in. Dennis can’t remember how it started; it must have been while he was drunk. There are disconcerting gaps in his memory that have nothing to do with alcohol, though, so maybe not.

Dennis makes sure he’s had a beer and a smoke around the time Mac usually calls. He wants it to not be a lie when he tells Mac that he’s fine.

Dennis is twenty-six

Dennis is sitting on his bathroom floor in his underwear, flicking a lighter on and off. It’s three in the morning, and he is outside of his body. Someone else looks crazy; someone else is shaking. He wants to be back inside so that he can stop something bad from happening. His heart is racing. Everything hurts too much.

He isn’t sure why he took a turn for the worse that day of all days, or why the grating, abrasive world suddenly zoomed out into a surrealist landscape. It got worse as the evening went on, and he had to go home from the bar early, barely paying attention to the road as he drove. He fell into a fitful sleep full of brightly lit nightmares, and when he woke up, his personhood had become double vision. The sensation was nauseating and terrifying, like being attached to a corpse. He had bolted to the bathroom and vomited, then stayed there for the past two hours. Behind the toilet, he found a stray lighter and then became transfixed by the flame.

The only things that matter are him and his corpse and the fire. Nothing else is real.

His thumb is raw from the repetitive motion, but he can hardly feel it. He holds it the corpse’s skin, and feels the heat in a distant sort of way. It would be crazy to burn himself, but then again, maybe it’s the only way to get back inside his body. Maybe if he does it, he can regain control.

Dennis moves the fire even closer to the thigh, and it starts to burn. The sensation in his mind is like bursting out of the surface of a murky lake. He is human. He is here.

Dennis is thirty-five

He finds his first wrinkle on his thirty-fifth birthday, one on his forehead that makes him look old. The passage of time is making marks indiscriminately on his skin, and his surroundings fracture and muffle. Someone’s hand is bleeding. Someone has broken the mirror. Someone is crying and screaming. He is not here.

Mac shoves open Dennis’s bedroom door, waxy skin distorting grotesquely into shock. “Dude, what the hell?” he cries.

Someone throws a punch at Mac, and Mac ducks it. He lunges at Dennis, and tackles him to the ground. “Calm down!” he shouts, pinning Dennis’s hands above his head.

Mac’s weight is heavy and warm, like a living, breathing human being. Mac is real. His features become softer with this realization. The feeling of disgust fades. He can hear heavy breathing, and the longer Mac sits on him the more he can tell that it’s his own.

“I found a wrinkle,” says Dennis hoarsely.

“So you smashed a mirror?!” yells Mac.

“Move past it,” says Dennis.

“Pretty hard thing to move past, dude.” Mac’s hands slacken their grip, and he shifts his weight as if he’s going to get off Dennis. Somewhere in his mind, Dennis can sense being in this much close contact with Mac must be uncomfortable with him, but right now he doesn’t care.

“Don’t go,” he pleads.

Mac swallows hard, his face red now. He nods, and presses his hands down hard again, exhaling sharply as he does it. Dennis closes his eyes, concentrating on his breathing and Mac’s. They don’t breathe in synchronicity, but instead alternate in irregular time. Human. Real.

Dennis falls asleep that way, underneath Mac with the warm afternoon sun shining on them through his window. When he wakes, Mac is dozing on top of him.

Like most of the things in their life, they don’t talk about it.