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Like Forgetting the Words

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You’re six years old and your best friend is Jon Emmet. You knew Jon would be your best friend the moment you heard his name, just like you know when the school bell is going to ring in the afternoons, before it ever does. He wears glasses and his favourite colour is blue, and sometimes you get water in his hair deliberately and make him spike it up. It looks better that way.

But he doesn’t like music and he doesn’t like watching movies, and his favourite things (soldiers and tanks and dogs and trains) keep catching you off-guard; it’s like the time you weren’t paying attention on the field trip and suddenly looked around to find that you’d wandered into a different group, and were surrounded by kids you didn’t know.

One day you say something about ghost movies and he turns to you with his hair lying down flat and his mud-brown eyes and his even-toothed grin, and says Ghosts are stuuuupid, Dave, and before you know what you’re doing you’ve pushed him over right on his ass. You watch him go from surprise to pain to crinkly blubbery tears, and you’re crying too, because he’s not the person you wanted after all, he never has been.

 

You’re eighteen, newly-adopted big bro to a science-fiction meteor child from space, and you’re on a quest for diapers and baby formula when you hear the song on the radio for the first time. You stop dead, right in the middle of a crowded mall with angry soccer moms and chains of teenage girls bunching up behind you, the sentimental pop-song beating you about the head like a tinny overproduced wrecking ball.

You’ve never heard it before, but you know how it goes all the same. The singer whines how do I live without you and suddenly that seems like something you really need to know the answer to, like a question on a test you haven’t studied for, a problem you can’t begin to solve because now you know you don’t understand a single fucking thing.

You buy the CD and listen to it on repeat for three days, but every time you listen, the knowledge you almost grasped is further away, until you’re pretty sure you imagined the whole thing. On impulse, you take the disc, score a line across it with the key to your apartment, and throw it out of the window in a wide curve. It flashes light back into your eyes, and you don’t see where it lands.

Later you buy another copy, and don’t listen to it.

 

You’re nineteen and the kid is getting into everything. He’s slippery and curious and faster than a hummingbird on speed. Good thing you’re faster still, or he’d have killed himself a dozen times over.

At least he doesn’t cry much. You can even take him to the movie theatre and he stays quiet, though you bet no one else has a kid they have to keep in a headlock. Most of the time he just falls asleep against your chest, but you can’t be too careful.

You take him to see Con Air thirteen times. You don’t cry, ever, that’s been a point of pride since you were (six) very young, but every time you see that movie, you hold the kid tight, tucked under your chin, and your tears drip down onto his head. He takes it like a man.

 

You’re twenty-four, and you’re staring at a grubby plush bunny like it’s going to have answers for you any second.

You don’t know why you bought it, except that you’re apparently a millionaire now and the thought occurred to you that you had to have this bunny. You were in fact supposed to have had it a long time ago. You had a dream, probably brought on by too much pizza and your six hundred and fiftieth repeat viewing of Con Air, and in the dream you had to give this bunny to someone, only you couldn’t find (him) them, and then when you finally got to the place where you knew (he) they were going to be, you’d lost the bunny and your hands were empty.

The next day – Sunday – you got your poor bewildered assistant out of bed at six in the morning and instructed her to get that bunny for you by any means necessary, because you had developed an overwhelming need to sleep with the damn thing and nibble its ear and stuff.

She is used to you requesting weird things by now, especially memorabilia from bad movies. Maybe she assumed it was for the kid, maybe she had given up making any assumptions about you, but in either case, she is a good assistant, and the bunny arrived within a week. While the kid’s at school, you sit in the ticking pressure-cooker of your apartment and look into its glass eyes and try to remember what it means. The god-awful fucking song plays in your head, off-key, out of tempo.

You put the bunny back in the box, safely guarded in the ‘museum’ with the rest of your treasures. So it’ll be there if you need it. Or if anyone else does.

 

You’re twenty-six, and you make great movies.

And by great, you mean terrible.

No one knows what to make of them. You start raging, acrimonious, months-long debates among film critics. That’s how you like it.

At first, before the presenters learn to be wary of you, you’re invited to give interviews all the time, and you love that, just talking complete bullshit for as long as they’ll keep recording, talking until they get those glazed looks on their faces. The kid watches it all, mulling things over in his own way, more cerebral than you but less self-conscious, picking out what he can use.

For your birthday he builds you a robot that can rap, and you take it to all the interviews with you. Once or twice you let the robot speak on your behalf.

You like it best when people are trying to decide whether you’re serious or not. It makes up for the feeling that even you don’t know half of what’s in your head.

 

You’re twenty-seven and Ben Stiller just gave you a pair of shades as a personal gift. When you opened the blue box and saw what was inside, you had the strongest flashback to a day when you were six years old and you pushed your then-best friend over for no reason. You very nearly do the same to Ben Stiller, but fortunately manage to restrain yourself at the last moment. You think it would not have gone down well if you had acted on the urge.

You put the shades on. Something that has been grating inside you shifts and settles snugly into place, like a coin bounced on the plushest of rumps, and everything feels right, and nothing does.

 

You’ve had computers in the apartment since the kid took an interest, and you’re always the first on your block to get the latest gadgets. The deal is: you fund his technology addiction as long as he takes care of installing it all.

You’re kind of surprised when he starts actually making friends. You don’t supervise him much online; you figure he’s got sense and you’ve never been the type to hover over him, except in the most ironically distant way, but once a month or so you skim through his emails and browsing history, just to make sure. Three handles keep coming up, three names over and over again, and you feel a sudden ache of nostalgia that you can’t explain.

You decide maybe it’s just pride, or relief, because the kid is showing some pretty reclusive tendencies, and you’re glad to see he’s capable of socialising, even at a remove. You wish you’d had the Internet when you were his age. It might have made things easier.

 

You’re twenty-eight, and having some rare downtime between projects. You’re sitting on the couch, flipping through the channels for reruns you can make fun of, and the kid is cross-legged on the floor, rebuilding the microwave. There’s not a single electronic device in the apartment he hasn’t taken apart and put back together, but you figure it’s good he’s got his own interests to keep him busy, and it only freaks you out a little bit when the appliances anticipate your wishes better than you can.

You catch an old episode of Night Court. Your brain is busy filing away bits of ridiculousness for later reference, and then they bring out Judge Johnny Stone, played by John Crocker, to run rings around the rest of the cast. The show still sucks, and not in the good way, but Crocker has this gooberish energy that almost has you smiling. You feel like he might have been pretty cool to talk to.

But he wouldn’t have known you.

That thought is almost as boring as it is weird; of course he wouldn’t have known you, he’s a TV comedian who died years ago and probably never visited Texas when he was alive, and even if you’d been of an age you wouldn’t have moved in the same circles. But your stomach starts to churn all the same, and there’s a drilling pain in your head. You wish you could reach into the TV and grab John Crocker by the stupid lapels and demand, demand...

What?

(How do I...)

You hear the rasp of the screws the kid is putting back in place, the clink of metal on metal; you see him twisting blue and red wires together and you want him to stop distracting you for one fucking second so you can figure out why that unfunny old man with bad teeth personifies everything that’s wrong with the world.

You don’t remember moving. Next thing you know, you’re on the other side of the room with your bloody hand dripping down your chest, broken glass all over the floor, the ruin of the television screen still spitting sparks. The kid is looking up at you, eyes wide behind his spiky shades, his hands gone motionless.

“We needed a new TV anyway,” you say.

 

You haven’t been to visit your museum in more than three years, because it doesn’t help. Sometimes you still have weird dreams about bunnies, among other things, and sometimes you catch yourself staring hard at strangers because of the shape of their glasses or the particular shade of blue they’re wearing. Sometimes the old painful homesickness twists in your gut, like when you’re strifing with the kid on the roof and he attacks you with a puppet, or the time when you saw a crow flying against an orange billboard with something in its claws, or when you take a swig of apple juice and remember that shitty monster movie and almost can’t bring yourself to swallow. But you’ve always been an inscrutable douchebag, even to yourself.

The kid is excited, in his understated way, about some new game that’s coming out. You stare at the red, house-shaped logo for a long time. You sketch it on your tablet, fill the red with acid green instead. It still doesn’t look right. You flip the image turnways. You frown.

Something outside explodes.

 

You still don’t understand, but when the meteors start to fall you’re pretty sure this is what you’ve been waiting for your whole life. You watch the kid doing what he has to do, and he cuts it damn fine, but in the end it goes right. You find yourselves somewhere new, and there’s someone waiting there. Four of them, actually, but you only notice one.

You remember you once had a friend named Jon Emmet, and his favourite colour was blue, and sometimes you’d make him spike his hair up because it looked better that way, and in the end you pushed him down because he wasn’t the right person and you had to hurt him for it.

You remember you once had a friend named John Egbert, who loved ghosts and pranks and shitty movies and you.

But not you. Not really.

You finally tear your eyes away from the boy in blue and look at the other kids, and there he is, shades like yours, cocksure and head-tilted and tiny. Lucky little shit will never have to know what this feels like.

“Hey,” you say.

“Sup,” he says.

“Whoa,” says John. “Dave, it’s you!”