Low-Stakes Horcrux

My mother went to college with a woman. This woman married a man. This couple had two children. As a result, our families were coordinated as friends years before I was born, and it remained that way for years before I realized I had a say in the matter. A hyper-Christian collective the family made steady appearances in my upbringing which usually meant extra long church services, sometimes even going twice in one week. The announcement of their impending arrival always brought a sense of despondency to our home. Not bad people themselves, just colossal bummers. Something in the way the parents dealt with our family brought to my mind the organized rituals of a buried society.  The days of their visit were scheduled strict enough that completion of the tasks ahead were the only available option for a sense of enjoyment. The rote exercises and events would carry on as though we were paying homage to some distant and uninteresting tribal mentality.

Having been positioned with the youth of this family for my entire life, a natural bond formed out of casual necessity. All persons being polite, and vaguely familiar, a distant short hand of community forms. No trust or intimacy, but a sort of kinship that is normally found with co-workers. Placed together by an authoritative guiding hand, we made the best of our situation, and found the others to be agreeable.

In 2010, one of the children succeeded in their lifelong goal of becoming a park ranger. An apparently very difficult achievement on account of the limited positions available. The evening after receiving this good news, my acquaintance was driving in their car to celebrate at a friend’s house. An hour later they were hit by another car, killing both drivers instantly.

I could not truly mourn this person, lacking any connection beyond the superficial. There is of course always the disappointment in understanding another human being has died, but this person might as well have been a nice Malaysian man who died in Medan. My job now as a dutiful son and moderately decent human being is to put on a somber demeanor. One calculated and honed over years of not being properly sad about something.

I managed to avoid the funeral, but a few weeks afterward my presence was requested at my parent’s house with more insistence than usual. The remaining members of this family were coming. After a brief, unpleasant lunch, everyone gathered in the living room. I was shamed to realize how much the loss of their child was going to make our time together more bearable. Their fervor for discipline and their lord Jesus Christ was abated for the time being. Possibly for good. This didn’t make their company enjoyable, but at the very least I was able to relax in my parent’s home.

The parents sat on the couch, either side of an undecorated cardboard box. After a few moments of reflection from them, and anxious silence from us, the mother opened the box and began removing items from it.

In times of mourning, people react in many different ways. One common approach appears to be that you give away items of the deceased to those whose lives were touched by that person. The items, as best as I can understand, represent a connection from the dead to the living, and can therefore outlive their initial use and stand as a more tangible reminder of the person who has left us.

I watched as my mother immediately began crying as this woman placed her sons scout master badge in her hands. I was surprised to discover my mother had been more involved with this person’s career in the Scouts than I would have imagined. The two embraced, and then attention was returned to the box.

I was next. After understanding that I was about to receive a token of this person’s life, I immediately began to think of the memories I had with the deceased, and though most of the time we enjoyed with each other was in the woods, any of these physical items would have been somewhat acceptable:

The Incedible Crash Dummies Crash Car
A cassette tape of Weezer’s Blue Album
A pair of those orange and green striped socks (unless the was only one)
That sticky hand game that never worked
A photograph of the deceased

The truth is that I legitimately do not recall what they gave me. Being frozen in the moment, having never heard of this behavior, I did not have the tools in place to act properly, or to even know what that might look like. My attempt to appear normal took most of my focus.

After I blurted out some contrived “thank you”, they moved on to my father. They had decided his connection, which was as spurious as mine for entirely different reasons, was to be best represented by an old animatronic yoda doll. Four inches tall, cheap molded rubber, the doll had a sensor in his chest for which any movement triggered the motor, at which point Yoda would open his eyes and deliver a vague, unprompted piece of wisdom.

This was placed in a back room the next day, and ignored for many years. In time, repeated movement stretched the rubber eyelids thin, and heightened the dry rot. The top of his plastic eyes, intended to be hidden forever, were unpainted, and bright white. This gave him an eternal, broken stare into the aether. The degeneration of the doll came in degrees. Isolated in a back room not conducive to the rewards of feng shui, I would randomly remember he was back there, and check in on his deterioration. The battery well past its projected use now gave out a limp effort. His once fluid motions were now a methodical system of grinding jerks and spasms. His blind eyes fluttering through an open REM cycle.

The voice modulator moved out of the range of Frank Oz, and into something electronic and psychedelic. A droning drag of doldrums. A raspy “DOOOOOO OOOOORRRRRRRR DOOOOOOOOOOO NOOOOOOOOOOTTT THHHEERRRRRRRREEEE IIIIIIIIISSSSSS NNNOOOOOOO TTTTRRRRYYYYYYYYYY” sometimes being fired without an apparent catalyst. Sometimes without yoda bothering to move himself. Just staring into the abyss, his recitation adding more vowels with time.

Often when my mind begins to meander down old paths, or I get a huge snout full of cabin-smell, I think about this person I was raised parallel to, and perhaps even lament his passing in my own way. But the yoda doll remains in place a disturbing artifact. Alien in its environment it was pushed to the very back of the room no one in the house uses. An artifact of a relationship stymied by our inability to communicate.

Whatever arbitrary death gift I was given on that day was placed conspicuously in the living room until they left the next morning, and then probably accidentally thrown away at some point. I like to believe that my inability to recall the artifact that was given to me helps my argument, and isn’t just me being insensitive. But the truth is likely somewhere in the middle.

A Remarkably Humorous Conversation I Had Recently



My girlfriend and I were having a late night discussion of various things, when we began heading down a philosophical track. We were deliberating the merits of Objectivism which eventually led me to bring up the concept of Platonic Ideals. When we discuss something, in our minds we are all using our knowledge and past experiences to inform on what this idea is. The gist of platonic ideals, as I have come to understand them, is that there exists a single image or representation of this idea that is the amalgamation of all references to this idea. The best parallel I have would be clipart, although clipart is specifically based in imagery. The point is that there exists a depiction of concepts and ideas, and that to better communicate with our peers, a consensus on what this depiction is has merit.

The concept has its detractors, myself included, but I cannot ignore that the concept feels solid in some indescribable way. I yearn for the right connection that will allow me to talk loudly about the usefulness of platonic ideals despite the obvious glaring issues that such madness incurs. The sooner I make sense of it, the better too. Because I seem to be constantly bringing it up.

Anyway, I am several minutes into the conversation about objectivism, when I can no longer ignore that my girlfriend and I seem to be struggling with reaching each other. We are usually effortlessly in synch with one another. Nevertheless I feel like there is something missing in our exchange this evening.

Fast forward to the very end of our talk, when the penny finally drops. This entire time she has been discussing objectivism as created by author Ayn Rand, and I had been discussing objectivism the broader philosophical concept. As is usual with misunderstandings, if you were to record the conversation and show it to anyone with advanced knowledge of the goings on, we would both look like crazy people.

Which is interesting when you think of how long we carried on like that without stopping or realizing that we weren’t talking about the same thing. And it becomes humorous (finally) when you consider that a fundamental issue with platonic ideals is that human beings are often approaching things from a decidedly subjective position. So I had been touting the merits of platonic ideals for over a half an hour, while talking about a fundamentally different thing than the person I was speaking with.

I am continually amazed that anything gets accomplished at all. Kudos to anyone who stuck with this one until the end.

Short Fiction

Living Alone

It was 3:19 AM when I finally turned off the music, and prepared my bed for sleep. Loitering below my window sill, I saw a strange flying insect that I had never seen before. Black and red, it was too large for a boxelder bug, though the thought occurred to me that it was possible I had never seen a male of that species before. “Please wait here.” I said, as I fetched a book on arthropods that I had recently purchased. After a few minutes of flipping around the text, I abandoned it for the more fun deduction that this insect was special. One of a kind. I would have picked him up to commend him intimately on his own existence, but he had the sort of flitty impatience that comes with insects. The kind of innate energy that gives you the suspicion that this bug will be trouble.

I laid down next to him, and said aloud “Alright special insect, you may stay, but under no circumstance may you fly into or around my ear while I am trying to fall asleep.” Like Eve, this compromise would have had more success had I never put the idea into the little thing’s mind. Immediately upon closing my eyes, I could sense him moving about near my face. I opened my eyes, but could not locate him. I turned over, and began to drift off, when the buzzing of wings could be heard on the other side of the room. A trajectory became clear in my mind’s eye, ending at my auricle. Before I had time to intercept, he was there, filling my mind with sound, like a balloon is filled with air.

This is of course is the worst place for insects to investigate. At least when one Kamikazes into your eye for your sweet, sweet eye juices, the human body has systems in place to remove the foreign article. I shook my head violently and rolled the invaded ear over onto the pillow. Before panic could set in involving the idea of a now smashed insect parts sliding down my ear canal, I heard the beast moving into position to my other ear. I spun on my knees off the mattress and landing in a combat stance raised my arms and voice to this intruder of personal boundaries. “NOW I HAVE TO KILL YOU!”

He reaped the benefit of my sleepiness, as it was several seconds before I had the thought to turn on a light. Watching me standing poised in this darkness, he must have silently flown low and out of the room. For after I spun around and flicked the switch on the wall, I found myself alone. I moved the sheets around on the bed, hoping for a corpse created in my frenzy, but found none. It is wise in times of little rest to not look at your pillow when there is work to do. One glance at that cottony bulge was enough to stop and hold me for several minutes. Just as the idea cemented in my mind that I was going to slam my bedroom door, and use whatever passion was still coursing through my veins to shove my face deep into that pillow, I heard something coming from the hall. A neat clicking noise never before heard in this home.

“IS THAT A CHALLENGE?!”

My priorities back on track, I ran into the hall to shove his boast back into his face, which I had learned a moment ago could be called his “Labium” of all things. I flicked on the hall light, forgetting that the bulb had needed changing weeks ago, and stood stupidly in patient darkness once again. The clicking had stopped.

“I should probably stop saying things out loud.” 

I stalked room to room, turning on lights as quietly as I could. After shutting the window in the bathroom, I sat on the tile and contemplated what I would do if I never found this insect ever again. I needed a corpse for closure.

I got to my feet and moved cautiously into my kitchen in the search for something that I could call bugfood. Closing the pantry door a shot rang out through my nervous system, and aided only by peripheral images I had swung my hand furiously, crushing the bug flat against the painted wood. An assortment of unpleasant stimuli radiated from the epicenter underneath my palm. The squish, the crunch, the splatter and drip of inky fluid. I would need to investigate the latin roots of the word slop were I to name this vermin. And before I had a chance to investigate what the aftermath looked like, I became overwhelmed by it’s portmortem stench. It drifted in an invisible cloud filling my nostrils and the entire room as I staggered away in an attempt to breathe freely.

I washed my hands, and the cabinet. Balled up what was left of the beast in a paper towel, and threw it onto the front lawn. I opened the kitchen windows despite the winter cold, and climbed back into bed. As I lay watching an ordinary moth circling the hall light, I pulled the covers up to my chin, and then further up past my nose as the stench crept its way into my room.