The Whelk – John Leavitt

May 3, 2011

Here’s What Happened

Filed under: Scenes From Nonexistent Novels, Words — John Leavitt @ 12:44 pm

So I read this and then felt the need to write the following:

HE didn’t do well in school. He tested well but had poor behavior, inattentive fugues, was hyper in class. That story. The school suggested medication but his parents refused, they didn’t want their kid on drugs. They tried channeling his energy into sports but he wasn’t, in the words of the Child Study Team, “comfortable in groups.”

His dad got the computer for doing taxes, but the boy made it his. It migrated into his room were, after much pleading, it was finally outfitted with a modem. The internet suited him, even in its primitive 1.0 era. He wasn’t good with the tech side but you pick stuff up, and he picked everything up. Skating, scripting, HTML, bad movies, Japanese TV, comic-book-how-tos The Anarchist Cookbook, mix-tapes, zines, trolling-before-it-had-a-name, all of it. He even messed around doing pixel art for a game he made on a cracked and badly translated version of RPGMAKER2000

That was the ticket. Almost by accident he had stumbled into doing custom sprites for homebrew games. He was popular for the first time ever. He started to expand his skills, staying up til dawn trying to get just the right shading on the alien’s open sores. His vivid imagination was an asset not something that needed to be controlled. His parents weren’t thrilled about it, but at least it kept him busy and out of trouble.

With (token) popularity came (some) friends, mostly online but a few at school. Two people he worked with on other games with started a company almost absent-mindedly and he defaulted into the “art” job. It was senior year of High School and he was nearly expelled for absenteeism. This was right after his mom died, car crash, and his Dad retreated into his model trains, remote as the moon. On the day he was supposed to go to Prom, the three teenagers released their little exploration/adventure game: Sled.

It wasn’t a hit. It was a phenomenon.

He didn’t go to college. What was the point when he was pulling in more then his dad with job offers ankle-deep? The other guys dealt with the business end, incorporating and buying office space and drawing up budgets. Kablooey! Games was the first independent game company to make the cover of Forbes Magazine.

Kablooey! was eventually bought out by Google who wanted to use it as the start an independent developer portal. He retired. He wrote blog points on the purity of Capitalism and Rand and Taking Charge Of Your Universe. He was briefly a Divisive Internet Personality. There was the slick city apartment, the clubs, the coke, the strippers, the suits, the coke, the benders, the adventure tourism, the coke, the MMA fixation, the tattoos, the coke.

He didn’t hit rock bottom so much as hover. He still had the money, his Dad gave excellent financial advise. It wasn’t nearly as much, but his needs were simple. Bed. Liquor. Internet connection. But he turned around and hit 30 and realized he didn’t know a single person he could call on the phone.

On a whim he went to his High School Reunion, rub in all their stupid suburban faces. I bet they’re fat he thought. He hoped they where fat. And ugly. And poor.

And that’s when he met HER

SHE was a very serious student. Her teachers loved her. Her parents loved her. And within her small enclave of other hyper-achievers, she was well-liked. She took college courses in High School and wrote an essay on Civic Responsibility that won her a small but encouraging scholarship. She had her pick of schools and while she started in Pre-Law (her mother’s insisted) she floated toward the Humanities. It surprised her as much as anybody.

She didn’t date until College, not out of shyness but more of a casual indifference. She was always happiest alone, preferably reading or doing research, the thrill of uncovering the perfect anecdote to illustrate a theme, the way some words could you sit up straighter or your heart race. She had a few bouts with equally serious young men with black-rimmed glasses and sweater vests. There was a hippie phase that eventually whittled down to a few small but sturdy affectations: long hair, chunky jewelry, a small tin of dried out grass on the upper shelf behind the tea candles kept for blackouts. She donated to NPR. She used re-usable bags before it was cool. When she remembered, she was a vegetarian, but the world outside her graduate thesis was hazy at best. She didn’t have too much debt but did work a series of jobs. She was a terrible waitress, a competent secretary, and an above-average copy editor.

She nearly married an up-and-coming politician but couldn’t deal with the glibness, the small talk, of having to perform the role of The Wife three times a week to complete strangers. She realized she didn’t really love him, she just liked the way he made her feel like the center of attention. He did that to everyone.

She lived in a small apartment in a large mid-western city done up in Lower Thrift Store and bookshelves. She tried her hand at fiction, tidy little portraits of life in different eras. It was worse then graduate school, worse than her desperate grab for a tenure-track job, the constant never-ending rejection. She’d read her favorite writers over and over again, trying to figure out why they could just turn a phrase and somehow make the world seem so right, so good. How come they can do that and I can’t? What am I doing wrong? Eventually the weight of teaching broke her of the habit.

She had a daughter with her live-in boyfriend, a Non-Profit worker who wrote grant proposals and and liked to do the cooking. She uncovered an affair between him and his loud, jangly supervisor. She let him go quietly, without malice. They kept in touch and shared custody.

If she thought about HIM at all, it was as a vague annoying blur that became famous or something. Something with video games. Figures. She was surprised he had shown up to the reunion at all.

HE looked bad, long and pale in a stylish suit that didn’t fit. Strutting and preening with teenage confidence well into his 3rd decade. He was showing off his tattoos to some guy she didn’t remember much. Morris or something. Big guy, he’d gone in the army right after High School. She thought she’d be nice, say hello, introduce him to her daughter who, even at the age of six still carried around her favorite doll, something that was beginning to worry her.

Later, at the hotel bar, the only thing anyone could talk about was that when HE turned to greet HER he look one look at her daughter’s stuffed tiger and broke out in wailing sobs. Everyone agreed, money or not, he was weird.

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