GOB is sixteen
GOB’s staring over the precipice of a cliff just outside Newport beach, an unlit cigarette in his hand. He is looking down at the murky water below. It's quiet here, far from the bay and the noise of the tourists and normal people. Perfect, really, because everywhere else is too loud.
The only sounds besides the swish of the trees, the rushing water, and his thoughts are the coos of a solitary dove inside his shirt. As GOB leans forward over the edge, it pokes its head out of the collar and nips his neck.
“Ow!” GOB cries. It echoes across the cavern, causing small rocks to tumble down and splash into the stream. The dove beats its wings against his chest and calls out in distress. “All right, all right. . .if it will get you to shut up. . .”
He reaches up into his shirt, grabs the dove, and places it on his shoulder. “Stay,” says GOB.
It ruffles its feathers and flies defiantly away. GOB makes a mental note to change the size on the inside pocket to allow the doves more room to rustle around. They get frustrated often in the ones he has now, and every time he carries them on his shoulder they leave.
As he watches the dove fly away, the yellow sky reflecting off of its back, he pulls his lighter out of his left sleeve. He flicks it on, and after a few tries the end of the cigarette glows in a promising way. The lighter disappears back up his sleeve, and he takes a slow drag as he leans over the edge once more.
He’s only been to this cliff one other time, two months previously when he’d been dating. . .his last girlfriend? The one before that? GOB’s been having trouble with faces lately. It was some girl he’d wanted to nail. He’d heard that it was a great place to be alone, so under the cover of nightfall he’d taken her here. They’d sat on top of his car and looked up at the stars in one of the few places left nearby that they could actually be seen. There was conversation that he doesn’t remember, and then he’d fucked her in the backseat.
After, as she lay sprawled and panting across his chest, his brain was blissfully quiet for just a few seconds. It wasn't because of the sex; the idea had simply occurred to him that the car could fall of the cliff just then if the brake gave way.
The earth’s been getting smaller around him for a long time now, caving in inside his head like a tornado. He taps his ashes into the abyss, and kicks at the edge of the cliff with his heel for good measure, just to feel how close he can get to the edge without going over. It’s just a game, he knows that. It’s a joke because he knows he’s going to die early anyway, so he’s teasing with the fact that it could be today.
Smoke curls inside his lungs, matching with the spiky feelings inside of him, like some bizarre Gothic Castle is growing in his heart. He’s sandwiched between something that’s telling him to stay and die a little older and the crushing force that follows him everywhere, telling him to run, telling him to drive fast and far, far away, telling him to fuck and smoke and gamble to escape the dark. Telling him to jump.
The drop to the water doesn't seem as far as it used to. It can't be, or the urge to trip over the edge wouldn’t be so tempting.
GOB is eighteen
GOB is standing in front of the full length mirror in his room. He’s alternately combing and rumpling his hair, trying to get it just right. For whatever reason, it’s not sitting on his head in the way it’s supposed to no matter how hard he tries to change it. He pushes it down flat again. No dice. All that talk of what an expensive birthday present it was from his Gangie, and it doesn't even work. He throws it at the mirror, frustrated. The sharp teeth break the glass. It’s the third time this week that he’s done that. He glares at the comb as he fingers at the damage.
“Fuck!” he exclaims, withdrawing his hand. The glass is more jagged than he expected, and now his thumb has a cut running down the middle. “Fuck, fuck, fuck. . .”
The words echo in his brain as he gives up his hair as a bad job to search for his shirt. He’d chosen it earlier this evening, but in a similar fit of anger had thrown it onto the ground and kicked it away. Something about it rubbed his skin wrong.
His room looks like a storage locker. In a few weeks he’ll graduate high school, so he’s been packing his things to move. Or, at least, he’s been trying to pack. Nothing is fitting in the boxes right; it looks like they’re choking. He keeps tearing the cardboard ones on accident or on purpose or something- anyway, he doesn’t have enough to leave at the moment because they lay in shambles all over his room.
He walks carefully through the wreckage with his bleeding thumb in his mouth, trying to not step on any lighter fluid release mechanisms or sparklers. His magic supplies are as mixed up as everything else, and it’s twice now that he’s set the room on fire while looking for something.
A cool wind whistles through his windows. It’s been miserable and humid as hell before now, but the change in temperature doesn’t feel right against his body either. Everything is knives today, words and sensations alike, cutting through a strange humming in his head that makes nonsense words and songs repeat over and over. They’re so hilarious that GOB feels like screaming.
The reason he’s taking such care with his appearance is because tonight is his eighteenth birthday. He’s not celebrating any sort of emancipation, since his parents don’t give a shit what he does. He just feels reckless because he’s finally of age. It’s making him want to get the hell out of Newport Beach
Or maybe it's something else that's affecting him. Everything is itchy and loud and not in the fun way where the colors are bright enough and everything is sweet. The colors have been too bright, ever since just before his birthday, and he feels like he’s in a marathon against the whole world.
GOB spots his shirt in a pile of laundry, and pulls it on. As he struggles with the buttons, his bloody thumb smears onto them. It doesn’t matter; anywhere he goes to celebrate will be dark anyway.
The wind whistles again, blowing his hair back, and something settles in his brain, telling him that it’s right. He climbs out the window into the dark. It’s necessary to use the window as an escape route for reasons that turn to dust in his head.
He walks out towards the highway, and sticks out his thumb. For a while, the cars ignore him, flashing by in a sea of fluorescent light. Eventually one slows down and pulls over to the side of the road. The driver, a man with a scruffy beard and shifty eyes, rolls down the window.
“Where are you headed, kid?” he asks.
“San Francisco. I need to go to San Franscisco, and be there by tonight. It’s very important. Are you headed that way? I need- I really need to go-“
“Slow down, slow down. I’m headed that way. I’ll take you there,” he says.
GOB doesn’t thank him, but just gets in the passenger seat. He slams the door behind him, and doesn’t speak for a half hour. Instead, he fiddles with a pack of cards from his pants, shuffling them to and fro in his lap. He makes them disappear, runs through his routine card tricks, and concentrates on the smooth feeling of the cards against his fingers.
“You like magic?” the man asks as he fiddles with the radio.
“Mhm. I’m going to be a famous magician someday. Tomorrow probably,” mutters GOB. He doesn’t make eye contact when he responds. The man doesn’t ask him any more questions until they arrive in San Francisco.
“Where in San Fran are you going?” he says. GOB slips the cards back into his sleeve. The world rushes in, a cacophony of horns and reflective buildings and cars.
“Downtown somewhere. Here, just let me out of the car right here, it looks like a good spot. . .” says GOB.
“Hang on, let me park first!” he says as GOB reaches for the handle. “We’re right in the middle of traffic. . .don’t know what you’re on. . .”
He pulls over near some sort of club. As soon as the car stops, GOB pushes his way out of it. He puts a twenty dollar bill on the seat.
“I know this isn’t a cab or whatever but you probably need twenty dollars right? I have sixty so you can have twenty and now I have forty and that can buy me something, I don’t know. Anyway, bye,” says GOB. He closes the door behind him, then looks up to see where he’s been dropped off. It’s a male strip club. He’s never been to one before, but it sounds as good a place as any to have fun. He shows his fake ID at the door, and the bouncer lets him inside the dark, smoke filled club.
The music is so loud he can feel it liquefying his brain. The bartender gives him a drink or three or seven, and it smoothes out his edges like good booze should. The music is angels, the marble of the bar is the smoothest thing he’s ever felt. He tries to tell the bartender and the people sitting next to him and even one of the strippers how he feels, but they’re not listening. They’re going to pay for their ignorance, step on knives that he can’t see, get run over by trucks in the road. GOB is Houdini, he’s going to escape the club and everyone’s going to be amazed. Or maybe not- GOB is better than Houdini. He’s a famous magician today, so why doesn’t anyone care?
He flickers flames at the corners of his sleeves, mesmerized by how beautiful they are. He’s not doing it right; they’re burning his wrists. It feels fine. Anything is possible, anything in the whole world. He could go home with one of the dancers tonight or ten of them. He could be a dancer. He could live forever. Death is imminent.
He's talking to the manager, time warping like aluminum foil, and gets a phone call three days after graduation asking him to join.
He says yes without even thinking about it.
GOB is twenty-six
GOB is sitting on the dirty bench of a small jail cell in the middle of nowhere. The walls are grey and chipping, and outside the cell there is only one desk. The police officer looks like he sits at the desk most of the time. In fact, when the man had pulled over GOB earlier that evening for reckless driving, he looked thoroughly confused by the whole situation.
GOB is fiddling with his hands, imagining them full of cards and pennies. All of his magic equipment sits confiscated on the policeman’s desk. This is the only thing that’s making GOB feel trapped; he actually likes the sensory deprivation that the jail cell gives him. The rusty bars make him feel safe too, contained and boxed. But he needs cards to focus all the way, to feel concentrated instead of woozy and strained.
The police officer clears his throat. It echoes around the room.
“You have the option of either staying here for a few days, or of paying a $200 bail. I don’t know if you have anyone you can call. . .”
GOB wants to respond, but the words are moving too quickly inside his head for him to grab onto them. He puts his face in his hands, willing his mush-brain to just work.
The first concrete thought he’s had in hours pops by to answer his pleas. Cutting through an incessant, repetitive idea of an elephant not being able to use the jump rope overlaid with the best hits of Elvis Presley and the word “Technicolor” said a thousand times, his brain responds.
GOB starts to cry. The police officer clears his throat again. He shuffles papers loudly as GOB chokes out sobs. The crying doesn’t make the thoughts stop, but it does make them change gears. Amidst descriptions of dark clouds and choruses of “It’s Raining, It’s Pouring”, his brain wonders about the last time he cried. It’s been ages, so long that he was with his whole family. It was Michael’s wedding. Michael- GOB has a brother. GOB has a brother.
He wills his thoughts to coalesce around that sentence long enough for him to open his mouth.
“I. . .have a brother. Where am I?” he says.
“You’re in Independence, California. We’ve gone through this before a few times. Do you want to give your brother a phone call?” the man asks, speaking very slowly as if GOB is stupid. GOB wishes the officer would talk faster so that his words would catch onto his racing thoughts and hang on for the ride. Talking slowly to GOB is like standing in front of a train while trying to get on it instead of jumping on from the side.
“Can. . .can I call him?” asks GOB. The officer nods. He picks up the cordless telephone, and hands it through the bars to GOB. GOB stares at it for a moment, trying to recall his brother’s telephone number. He types it out very slowly, then presses the phone to his ear.
“Hullo, who is this?” asks Michael through the phone. He sounds tired; GOB wonders what time it is, and then how clocks are made, and then why they don’t all have hands if the hands are called hands and- “If no one answers within a few seconds, I’m hanging up.”
“It’s GOB.” says GOB. Michael groans.
“GOB, what the hell, it’s four in the morning. Why are you calling from. . .number blocked?”
“In jail. It’s the jail’s phone number,” says GOB. “I need. . .bail. And a ride home.”
Michael sighs. “Again?”
GOB is 35
It’s an hour after GOB’s first major flub in the magic community, and GOB is on fire. He’s sprawled on the living room floor, staring up at the ceiling. His thoughts race through everything that went wrong- the doves were in the wrong spot, the cabinet was locked, the assistant didn’t show up- and it feels as though a weight has crushed all of the air out of him. He can’t move, has to sleep- but he hurts. There are bugs or electric wires crawling under his skin, overtaking his insides. He’s going to spontaneously combust.
GOB snaps his dead arm up into the air and unleashes a fireball. It glows seductively; he thinks it might not be so bad to combust if it would look beautiful like that. More than anything, GOB wants to not be here, to not be himself.
He passes out on the floor, unable to stay awake through his pain, failure, and utter exhaustion any longer.
GOB wakes up in the early hours of the morning. Faint pink light is streaming through his windows, and birds are chirping outside. His stomach churns, extremely nauseous, but he doesn’t get up. He hasn’t eaten in days, so there’s nothing to vomit. Everything hurts as bad as it did before he passed out; his body has rejected his attempts to sleep his way out of it.
His eyes flicker to the knife drawer. An announcer echoes inside his head.
And for my final illusion. . .I will make myself disappear.
He's wheeled into the hospital room at breakneck speed, so fast that he wants to tell the doctors he's impressed except he can't. He can't speak because he has an oxygen mask on his face and deep cuts on his thighs that hurt like hell- god, why did he-fuck, fuck, fuck.
GOB had not thought he could sink any lower than he had already been until he ended up having to call the ER to come get him since he was bleeding everywhere and in intense pain but not dying. He closes his eyes on the gurney, and listens to the wheels squeak against the floor. He’s glad he ultimately opted out of cutting up his wrists or hands. He might be a disgrace to the magic community, but at least he’ll still be able to do illusions on his own behalf.
After they triage team stitches him up, a less frantic doctor comes to visit him. She sits down with her clipboard next to his bed.
“George, is it?” she asks.
“GOB.” he replies.
“Ok, GOB. We just need to know- was this a suicide attempt?” she says.
“Attempt. Failed. Failed, failed, failed. . .” says GOB. She scribbles notes onto her clipboard, and thanks him for his time.
They put him on surveillance, which is a lot like jail only the people are nicer and they take away his shoelaces. He does card tricks for the other patients until they let him leave, and tosses his medications out of a window the next week to return them from whence they came.
GOB is 47
He is spooning Tony tightly after the fourth time they have sex, his front lining up exactly with Tony’s back, touching every inch of him that he can. Tony is breathing easily, sleeping. GOB doesn’t want to sleep; it would be a crime to miss anything that feels this good.
GOB’s relationship with Tony has made his heart buoyant and purposeful in a way that he’s never felt before. It’s in stark contrast to the past five dark and lonely years spent trying to self medicate his shame. He might never need roofies again, might never be in the hospital again, might never stand on a cliff and wonder what it would be like to fall.
Tony isn’t good, but he’s same, and it makes GOB want to swallow him up and absorb his success and fears and dreams. For the first time in his life, GOB is worried that someone will leave him, rather than the other way around.
Even worse, he worries that his brain will go strange again one day and he’ll leave Tony by accident. So he holds him close that night, imprinting himself on someone else’s skin, and wills the universe to work in his favor, just this once.