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Category Archives: Angst

“The Kids Are Alright”

It’s the weirdest, most random thing and if it weren’t happening to them in real life, they would probably change the channel in disgust.

No one even went to that diner. None of them, anyway. They were all there that night for random reasons. Jasper and Raven were working on their applications, getting re-enrolled; Jasper was out late with Lucy after a party. Trevor was actually trying to get work done, a last-minute presentation. He didn’t recognize Declan or Raven until Lucy came in.

Kyle was there because he got a text. He wasn’t sure who the text was from, but there were a handful of students who had his number and it seemed urgent. Or it could have been Tommy. Maybe.

Tommy got a text, too. Wasn’t sure who it was from. When he got there, though, boy, he was glad to see an old friendly face—and his brother there, too?

The real trip, though, was Blake. Remember Blake? He was a truck driver by then, had been for a while, he had lots to say.

It wasn’t till he got there and everything else was in place and Kyle and Tommy were freaking out about their respective texts that I showed up.

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,” I said to my brother and all of his friends, hiding my new redheaded boytoy at the entrance. “You’re probably wondering why I called you all here today.”

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“Cassandra”

I don’t want to talk about my love life. I mean, you’ve already heard it, right? You know about Trevor. I know you probably think we never talked again after that and you’re wrong but not really wrong. It was never really the same again. I knew Angus was getting out of juvie. I’d known he’d be getting out years before he even went in. I didn’t see much of what happened to him on the inside. I try not to conclude from that that not much did because it usually does, I just don’t want to make any assumptions or bring it up.

I wonder what he’d do if he knew that I’d slept with my gay best friend, gotten pregnant and had the abortion. Would he still sleep wiht me himself? I think about not doing it. I think about staying away, not making contact, avoiding him. But he’s, like, my soulmate, right? Even if he is proven guilty, it’s not like there are any other candidates.

Maybe I do have a choice, though. Does it really have to be this way? Maybe I don’t need anyone. Maybe I’m fine just like this. I weigh it all up in my head. Following my visions of being with him versus being alone.

I just stop picking up when he calls me at night. He doesn’t call back.

Will I spend my life alone?

But then one day, I find myself in an old-school used record store and I feel a tap on my shoulder. I hear a voice say “Kassandra?” It’s warm and familiar, I guess? And I turn around…

Sometimes dreams do come true in the way that you least expect them.


“Parisienne Moonlight”

Raven has been having dreams of Declan. I know this because I’ve been having dreams about Declan and because in those dreams, I have been Raven.

In the dreams, they have seen each other across rain-swept alleyways. They have met in moonlit closets that turned out to be crowded dance-floors and they’ve hugged and they’ve kissed and they’ve fucked and she’s woken up not remembering if she was herself or if she was him pretending to be her.

The Acid Monsoon song “Exit Sandman” is about this, if you hadn’t guessed already.

“Come to one of my shows,” he hears from her by text.

“I can’t,” she finds out, “I’ll be clear ‘cross the country.”

She finds that she misses him. It’s a feeling she doesn’t recognize, so it takes her a long time to unpack it. Why do I feel bad? doesn’t work as a question until she tries What will make me feel better?

“I miss you.” It’s a text he doesn’t get to read because she keeps not sending it. She knows she’s acted horribly, treated him with… like… She just has a lot of regrets.

“I still love you.” That one, she doesn’t even type out. She knows better.

“I don’t think I can do this,” she confesses to Caspar June. She’s been sleeping with him casually, off and on, but that’s not what makes it a confession.

“How can I make this easier on you?” For him, it isn’t just the fact that she’s a wonderful singer, it’s the fact that even after a year and a half of modest fame and personal glory, she still hasn’t turned into a diva, which is promising. He does not want to lose that.

They come up with the idea together to try to lure Declan’s Gorgasm band into touring with them.

“And then what?” Caspar June asks her. “You are gonna stay with us?”

“I don’t see why I shouldn’t.”

It takes far too long for him to give in. They try money, they try gigs. They send presents.

“I don’t get it,” he tells his bandmates, because he’s stupid. Because he knows it can’t be true and doesn’t want to give his hopes up.

“Why are you doing this?” he finally asks her.

She has finally managed to lure him to dinner and the question is… well, the question is everything. “I just wanted to know…”

“What?”

“I wanted to know if there was still a chance for us.”

At the dinner, he sighed.

“You know you’re being a shithead, right?” Declan had been casually sleeping with Rachel for a while, but that wasn’t why she said it. “I know you’re still in love with her and you know she’s still in love with you, so for fuck’s sake, Declan!”

“Also,” said Tally, “I kinda want to chase the Monsoon. Those guys are tight as, like, an obscene thing I don’t want to mention in mixed company.”

“A virgin’s asshole?” Rachel suggested.

“Sure, let’s go with that.”

Meanwhile, Raven waits by the phone, at least proverbially.

“Why do I do this to myself?” She hears the voice behind her and at first she thinks it might be her own. “If I could have you, if you would have me back… Why would I keep punishing you?”

She looks at him and shakes her head.

“I don’t want to punish you,” she says.

She rushes into his arms.


“Deer Dance”

Have I ever really been able to tell the future? It’s something that’s always kind of bothered me. I keep thinking, inside each moment as it’s happening in time, as it’s breaking apart, I keep thinking… What if I’m wrong? What if I’m making it all up? What if I’m just rewriting my memories after I see something and thinking “Oh my God, I had a vision of that!” and then convincing myself that it’s real? What if I’m crazy?

As a senior in high school, I have lived with this condition for almost seven years. Most people know by now that I’m weird. A couple know why and how. No one actually knows what it feels like. Then one day, a shooter comes to school.

I’ve known for twelve days that it was going to happen. I wonder if twelve days ago was when he made the decision. I guess I could consult some kind of record, maybe track down the guns, but honestly, at this point, I’d rather wonder.

I never actually see the shooter’s face in my visions. I see what’s happening in the world through his eyes, and there are no mirrors. I see him with the guns, I feel his determination. I catch glimpses of fantasies he has, of who exactly it is he’s going to target. But I’m good enough by now to distinguish these fantasies from actual vision and the only person who’s in the vision, the only person he actually points a gun at, is me.

I should be terrified. I know from this vision that twelve days thence there will be a gun pointed at me. Why am I not freaking out?

Because I can see myself in this vision and in this vision, I am not afraid. In this vision, by the time it happens, I will know exactly what to do.

The details come in pieces. What’s happened to the boy, poor thing, how ladies jilt him, how his parents just don’t understand.

Is he bullied? Everyone is bullied. And if he knew how hard his own bullies had it, maybe they would be friends.

By the time I meet him in the hallway, I know everything that’s happened to the boy and I know everything I’m going to do to him.

I am a bit surprised by his face. When he kicks the door open, no doubt imagining himself some action hero from the latest videogame franchise, an automatic weapon in each hand, I see a boy I’ve always thought of as one of the kindest in the school. Too kind to talk to. Perhaps too… breakable.

No wonder he’s broken.

He wasn’t expecting to find the hallway so empty. He doesn’t know, of course, about the bomb threat I placed from the pay-phone. The entrance he used is out of the way, not part of their procedure. He doesn’t know there is no one here but me. He points one of his guns at me.

He’s confused that I’m not afraid. He’s upset.

“If you shoot me with that,” I say, “one-handed, are you sure you won’t break your arm?”

By the time he pulls the trigger, I’m already out of the way. He had one arm up, so I’m on the other hand with the gun. I’ve had twelve days to practice this one move with the confidence of a psychic, so I break his wrist with my palm using mostly the weight of the gun for balast and then slam my elbow up into his jaw.

“Guns are not the way to solve problems,” I tell him. “You solve them with your own two hands.”

We leave the guns in the hallway. The police will find them when they sweep the school. There will have been reports of gunfire. They’ll check, find prints. They’ll track Linus Phelps to the facility I checked him into. He isn’t violent right now. (More than anything, that’s the part that scares me.) They’ll ask and find out who checked him in. And then they’ll come for me.

“What can I say, officers? I was just at the wrong place at the wrong time and I made the most of it.”

No one was hurt. No one was killed, at least. There was some destruction of school property, but we straightened all that out. Linus is getting the care that he needs.

And I’m getting attention.

Celebrity doesn’t look good on me, so I avoid the rumors from the press, their requests for interviews. I don’t need the world to know. It’s enough for me just to have validation, just to be able to say “Mom, Jasper, I was telling the truth. I really can see the future sometimes and now I’m a superhero,” and have them not be able to not believe me anymore.

But I don’t do that. Because for all I know, maybe I really was at the right place at the right time to be a hero. Maybe I just justified all that by telling myself it was visions that did it. That’d be okay, I guess. It would qualify me as crazy. But at least I’d be the right kind of crazy.


“Sweet Child o’ Mine”

My little brother Billy is younger than Ellie, my niece. I know, I know: weirder things have happened. But it’s still one of those things that always turns heads when it comes out.

“This one-and-a-half-year-old toddling at your feet is Ellie and the infant in the crib is her uncle Billy.” It just sounds weird, doesn’t it? It sounds… off.

But from the moment Billy was born, Ellie was protective of him. I guess that’s the way older sisters are supposed to be? Mine just treated me like a doll and I wasn’t having it. And as for my brother… But Billy and Ellie were inseparable. Are inseparable. Will be.

At adoption agencies, they do their absolute best to keep siblings together. They move mountains. Siblings bond—whether we like to admit it or not—almost as much as children and parents.

“When are we gonna talk about you moving out?” Mom asks my brother one day. It’s after dinner and the kids are in the other room. My step-dad’s there, too: Billy’s father.

The question takes Jasper by storm. I actually can’t remember if I was there, too, or just saw it in a vision, but it surprised me, too. It wasn’t something that I’d ever thought about. I think Jasper had the idea, too, that this was a permanent thing. He’d converted his own bedroom into something like a Master Love Nest we all pretended Lucy wasn’t living out of, too, by the end of our senior year. The kids had Aly’s old room for a nursery, but I’d be off to college soon and one could have mine. I didn’t see what the problem was.

“We’re just looking for a time-line right now,” said our stepdad. “It doesn’t have to be now, but we just want to make sure that we’re all on the same page about our future. Your future.”

“My future’s right here,” Jasper said. “Ellie. She’s my future.”

He didn’t mention Lucy. You can imagine there are reasons for that, but that’s not important now. What mattered was her.

“We just thought you and Ellie might want some privacy,” Mom explained, still treating him with kids’ gloves.”

“Why?”

Were they talking around the subject of Lucy?

“It’s just, if you’re wanting to start a family—“

“Do you want me out of here?”

Our mother feigns surprise. It’s not that the question is unexpected, it’s just coming so early in the conversation.

“It’s not that we don’t want you—“

“Ellie is fine here,” says Jasper. “And if Ellie’s fine, I’m fine. Are you fine?”

Our parents looked at each other.

“What do you want me to do, pay rent?” Jasper said. “I already buy most of the groceries—“

“Rent would be nice, actually,” Mom mused. “That is, I mean, we could use some help with the mortgage? The Property Tax?”

I was gonna be out of there soon. I didn’t need to be a part of this conversation. But it quickly became clear this was gonna be one of those weird multigenerational households that Americans pretend are newfangled even though every society everywhere has had them. Mom with her husband; son with his girlfriend; his daughter and her son growing up together like it’s just the two of them. Just those two…

They’ll fix up the house so unrecognizable when I visit after college. They’ll grow old together—or maybe they’ll part ways when Ellie moves out. Or maybe Ellie will keep the house. This doesn’t have to be a source of stress.


“Creep”

I don’t want to write about Mickey.

I’m not even sure why I have to. It’s not like he was ever that important to me, or to Angst and the people involved with it. He wasn’t really even that important to the Elk. To call him “just” the drummer wouldn’t be fair to drummers: they are an important part of a rock band. But it is fair to him, because… well, that’s kind of all he was.

OK, so he was friends with Kyle. They went way back. I guess maybe I’m writing about Mickey not so much because of the effect that he had on us, but because what they had on him. They left.

They both left; all three of them, if you include Aly, who he had kind of a low-key crush on, because of course he did.

That broke him, I guess. Being left alone. And he never really recovered. I mean, not that he was doing that bad, he was just… stuck.

When they all got back, though, it was even worse. It was worse, because even though they were back, it wasn’t the same, it couldn’t be the same.

“Hey, Mickey,” Kyle said when he called.

“Oh my God? Are you back? My mom told me you were back, are you back?”

“I’m back and I’m not planning on leaving again any time soon.”

“Oh my God oh my God oh my God, this is so cool—are we getting the band back together again?”

“Well, I don’t know if I’ll…”

“No, seriously, though, it’ll be great!”

He started practicing again. He was really bad after like three, four years without touching the drum set. The drums themselves were pretty bad, too. “I don’t know what you expected,” his mom told him when he complained.

He felt like he’d let the band down.

“It’s okay,” Kyle told him. “I haven’t really played that much guitar, myself, in the meantime. Gotten a bit rusty.” But then his friend badgered him into playing for a bit, and he was lying. He still had the voice of an angel and he still had the technique of a Golden God. What the fuck, man?

When Tommy got back, he didn’t even look up Mickey. Mickey didn’t even know he was back until he ran into him at the grocery store. And when he did, Tommy gave him a blank look, like it took him a second to even realize that the person he was looking at was someone he knew, someone who knew him, intimately, from way back in the day.

Have I changed that much? thought Mickey. But no, no, he realized. He hadn’t changed at all. He was still every bit as pathetic as he had been in high school.

Never mind that Tommy had been off to war. Never mind that he was lost in thoughts of his own. Mickey wasn’t able to use explanations of Tommy’s inner life to excuse his own condition.

I need to un-fuck my life. Fuck it down, rather than up. Things’ll be better that way. 

Seeing Aly again, though, was the worst.

Aly had been back in town for a while. It was just that we lived in a different enough part of town that he never saw her. Until one day when he came to his restaurant. It turned out that she’d been there before—she’d been there when he’d been there, he just hadn’t seen her from the back. But this time, he happened to come through on his way to the bathroom and he saw her with some guy.

She was there on a date.

Fuck.

This really upset him, and he spent his time on the john working himself all up over it. Who did she think she was, bringing him here?

Who did he think she was?

Who did he think he was?

He waved at her when he got out of the bathroom (extra careful to wash his hands real well) but she looked confused. Distracted. Distracted by the conversation she was having with this boyfriend? Or by him? Did she not recognize him, either?

It was hard for Mickey to wrap his brain around how much he had changed physically since high school, how much hairier he’d gotten in particular. And fatter. He’d always been chubby, but he was wider now and between that and the beard, it was hard for some people to find his facial features.

The boy Aly was talking to was not, of course, her boyfriend. It was her long-lost half-brother she’d recently reconnected with. But of course Mickey didn’t know that, couldn’t know that. He only knew that Aly was there, at his restaurant where he worked, with a guy and that that guy was neither of the guys he had once been in a band with, and that hurt him.

He kept wanting to go out there and talk to her, try to reconnect, but he knew he would only be interrupting and he didn’t want to interrupt. Some of his kitchen mates had to ask if he was okay and of course he wasn’t okay, but what the hell was he going to say to them? Come off like a whiner? Like a loser?

Well, why shouldn’t he? He was a loser, after all, wasn’t he?

I don’t know if it’s fair to say that was the beginning of the end for Mickey. I can’t see all of the pieces. I guess in a way Mickey was the embodiment of Angst, making up problems for himself that weren’t there. Making up problems for himself and then obsessing about them until they consumed his existence. Turning them inward, turning a lack of confidence into a void where self-worth is supposed to be, and that sucked every emotion, every feeling of goodnessinto a place where it couldn’t escape to soothe the rest of him.

“Mickey?” It was two days later his mother couldn’t find him in his room. “Mickey, are you here?” She went looking for him in the rest of the house, in the living room and kitchen. “Mickey, there’s a phone call for you. I think it’s one of your friends.”

She opened the door to the garage. “Mickey, are you—“


“Butterflies and Hurricanes”

I don’t know that I can say that Declan “thrived” (throve?) after Raven left, but I might say that he blossomed. I could even say “hatched”. He broke out of the cocoon he’d woven for himself with his girlfriend those first couple years in college.

“We should start a band,” he said to his friend Jeffrey. Jeffrey had been in a band in high school, too, overseas in Brussels, of all places. “Anus de Manus” was the band’s name and they were, as he put it after watching Declan’s videos, “even more terrible than your Fear-band.”

“Angst,” Declan corrected him.

“Angst is Dutch for fear,” Jeffrey pointed out. And now, building on that, he added, “I think maybe it’s time you moved past that Fear.”

Jeffrey had an “actual classical education” in guitar, whcih was an unexpectedly huge adjustment for Declan.

“Why are you holding your guitar like that?” Declan asked.

Jeffrey had it propped on his right leg, which looked super awkward and put the guitar at an almost vertical angle, more like a cello. “It’s so I can reach further,” Jeffrey explained. “Or at least, that’s what my instructor used to tell me when she jabbed my thumb with a pencil.”

“You’re supposed to have your thumb there, though.”

“Not where I’m from.”

It was a weird adjustment, too, when it came to sound. “I want to add some violin,” Jeffrey said out of the blue. They weren’t even recording yet. “Guitar is too… There are too many memories for me.”

When school started up again—their junior year in college—they actually picked up a couple of freshmen.

“Don’t you think we need a name now?” asked Martin J. Quindlen.

“Butterflies and Hurricanes,” said Talthybius Jones.

“Sounds more like a name for an album,” said Jeffrey.

The name they decided on, ultimately, was Gorgasm and the Astral Vices.

“Why?” asked almost every girl Declan found himself sleeping with that semester.

“Well, our lead singer, Rachel, has a beautiful voice, so it was gonna be Astral Voices, ‘cause we’re going for something really, like, cosmic and ethereal, but then we got into this thing, the rest of us, about Greek mythology, and went waitaminutewaitaminute, and I can’t remember how, but we went from ‘Gorgon’ to ‘Gorgasm’ and decided that ‘Vices’ was more appropriate than ‘Voices’ then. I don’t know. We’re kinda metal? We’re kinda weird?”

Jeffrey didn’t make it the whole year with them. He was majoring in Physics and it became too much of a time commitment, but he did help set them up with a guy who ended up being their agent: Magnus Murgatroyd.

“That’s the most ridiculous name I’ve ever heard,” said Talthybius Jones.

“I gotta say, guys,” said Magnus upon meeting them, “your stuff, I really found it quite uh… quite moving.”

“Thanks,” said Martin J. Quindlen. “We do practice a lot.” Then Tally hit him. “Ow?”

“You kids got plans for the summer?”

Who needed Acid Monsoon, anyway? Who needed established platform and fanbase?

“Now,” Magnus told them, told Declan personally, closer to crunch time, “there are one or two things…”

There needed to be something in Declan’s look, you see. “We gotta kinda rough you up, audiences expect something kinda, I don’t know, a little bit rougher, a little bit gruffer, you know what I’m saying?”

“No,” Declan said. “It seems to me the audience wants a voice. My voice—or at least, my lyrics, my songs, my playing. They’ll want to know who this person is who’s making this music. Not the plastic thing the agents and record companies mold.”

“Listen, kid—“ He tries to make it sound conspiratorial when he says it, but he’s still kind of a dick. His message here was how people want things, people are predictable, and he was the one with all the answers.

Is that who I want to be? he finds himself asking.

Then he gets a text from Raven.

It’s been a while. Raven doesn’t feel a whole lot of need to come back. Not like she has family here. Not really. Just Declan and he doesn’t count because they broke up.

Does he regret that? Of course he regrets it. You know he does, because theirs is the big love story, the epic showdown. They’re the ones here who bleed for each other. He loves her. He would be in love with her, too, if they hadn’t kicked each other out.

“Playing in Trinity,” she says. “You should come. I’ll comp you.”

Did she not know that he wasn’t going to be in Trin’s Field that week?”

“I’ll be in Alabama,” he texts back.

“Alabama?”

“Yeah, didn’t you know?” He explains his new situation.

“Oh, wow,” she texts back. Thirty seconds pass. “Congratulations!”

“Thanks.”

How could he not have told her? How could they be so out of touch?

The next summer, they end up at a festival together. “You should totally open for us!” she says, then catches herself. “Unless that would be weird?”

“I’m sure the guys’d be thrilled,” he says, wondering if he is.

He assumes that she’s sleeping with at least one of her bandmates.

Not that he hasn’t slept with Rachel a time or two… He wonders why that feels different, reminds himself that wondering isn’t going to make the feeling go away. He needs to just be okay with it. He takes a cold shower, forces himself to think about it, to normalize it. She’s moved on.

“Hey, man.”

By now, Declan is out of the shower and wrapped in a towel. He wasn’t expecting to see Caspar June right there, his ex’s boss and whatever else, but he shouldn’t be as bewildered as he is. It’s not as if they haven’t met before.

“Do you feel awkward around me?” Caspar asks, and of course Declan does—especially after that question. “Can I ask you—is it because of the fame thing, or is it because of Raven?”

Declan doesn’t even need to answer. He knows it. Caspar knows it.

“Listen, I like you,” Caspar says. “I like your music. I think you’ve come really far. I’d like to see you go further. But there’s something that you gotta understand about the Game.”

Somehow, thinking of marketing and imagery as a game with an opponent was not somethign that had ever occurred to Declan. It helped. It reminded him of the campaign he’d run back in high school to get into Raven’s good graces.

“You don’t have to be that person,” Caspar said, “You don’t have to war the mask or the hat 24/7, even out in public. But you gotta treat the camera like a stage, certain people, especially journalists and producers, but even your own agent, they aren’t people and they are not your friends. They are your audience. Your audience wants a character. And a character is the opposite of a person.”

That was the most useful information anyone had ever given him about being an artist.