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Category Archives: Angst

“Wrong”

I actually think it’s kind of a miracle that it took until high school for Lucy to start dating. I don’t know whether it was a self-confidence thing or if she actually genuinely felt a close connection to every guy she ever met, but she could never stop talking about them.

Most embarrassingly, though, she just would not shut up about Jasper.

“He is so cool,” she told me once before leaning in and whispering, “Do you think he might have had sex already? I mean, he is in high school.” We were in eighth grade.

I knew that he had—I am who I am—but I still lied and said I didn’t.

Then of course Ellen Portnoy happened. And my niece. Lucy managed to be devastated and fascinated at the same time. So full of every emotion, as always. And then of course Ellen dropped out of the picture so suddenly and Lucy didn’t know what to do with herself.

“You think about sex sometimes, don’t you?”

Thought about it? I didn’t have to. I knew exactly what it was going to feel like, be like, how it was going to taste and smell and sound, I’d had visions of it for years. I didn’t knew for sure who it was going to be with. (I assumed Angus—at least I did back when I was certain that he was my mysterious redhead.) But I mean, I knew what it would be. “I guess,” I fudged to Lucy, but then realized my mistake.

“I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I mean, I always have, but… it’s like more and more, it’s almost like it’s becoming real. You know?”

A few months after Jasper went off to work at the steel mill, I had a vision that made it a little too real for me, too. It was another one of my awkward my-family-are-having-sex visions, only this time, it wasn’t limited to family.

“Hey,” Lucy asked me not long after, “can I come over and study at your place this weekend?”

I knew what she was trying to do. She knew Jasper had weekends off, that he spent them around the house with his kid. She was triying to insinuate herself into—

“Would that be so bad?” Trevor asked. “I mean, I know he’s your brother and all, but like, why do you care so much?”

I cared because much as I liked hanging out with Lucy, the thought of her becoming my sister left me slightly queasy. Or, I don’t know, maybe I didn’t want my niece getting too attached only to—

“Come on! What is the problem?”

“I don’t want you dating my brother!” I finally blurted.

“Who said anything about dating your brother?”

“You have. For years. For years you’ve been talkign about letting him take your V-card—“

“Oh, honey, that ship has sailed.”

Some psychic I am. Assuming she was telling the truth.

“I just want things… separate,” I finally managed to confess. “It’s hard for me when it’s all… muddy.”

But there was no stopping them. I knew it. It had been in my visions.

“She’s sixteen,” I reasoned with Jasper.

“So? I’m nineteen, and in the state of North Carolina—“

“Don’t give me that bullshit! She is a child!”

“Maybe that’s what I need right now!”

“Are you listening to yourself?”

“Look… I don’t know what to tell you. She makes me happy. And I… I think I make her happy, too.”

Wouldn’t it be ironic, I found myself thinking, if Jasper and fucking Lucy McDermott were the ones to live happily ever after?

But I knew I was just being jealous.

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“Hey, Jude”

Kyle Niedermeyer went off to college when I got to seventh grade and by the time I was a junior, he came back as a teacher.

No one else could believe it. I mean, thsoe of us who had older siblings passed on the legend that was the Elk—to have one of their number in a position of authority? It was too much.

Except, of course, for me. Not only was I the only one not to gasp that first day when he revealed himself, I’d already brought along a nice shiny apple to give to him.

“Sucking up to the new teacher?” he asked me with a smile, careful to make sure everyone else was out of earshot.

“Do you remember me at all?” We’d only met once, which was enough for me, but his eyes narrowed. “Kassandra,” I helped him along. “My sister was in love with you?”

“Oh, shit,” he said, “Llywelyn?”

I don’t think of myself as much different through time. Physically, I suppose, with my hips and my breasts filling out, though very little in the face. It’s hard to really change when you know ahead of time pretty much exactly who you’ll be changing into, or so I still thought at the time.

“It’s great to have you back,” I said and he was gracious about the plattitude. “Does that mean you’ll be getting back together with Miss Kelly?”

There are only a handful of times when I’ve destroyed someone’s world with a revelation. I keep thinking I’ll cherish or even enjoy it, but the awkwardness makes that hard.

“I beg your pardon?” he asks.

“Don’t worry,” I tell him. “No one else knows. I’m kinda psychic?”

If I cared, I could prove that to him further, but there’s something more pressing. “Look, I know you’ve seen her wearing a ring, but she doesn’t love that guy. She still has feelings for you. And you still have feelings for her, which is why you came back. So you should… you know…” I looked down at my gift to him. “Give her an apple?”

He raised one eyebrow, then the other. As he reached for the apple, I bolted for the door.

There, I told my Psychicism. I did what you asked. What more do you want from me? What more could I possibly do? But there is always more to be done, isn’t there? Maybe I should just accept that.


“Heart-Shaped Glasses (When the Heart Guides the Hand)”

There are a number of hard-core revelations that people have once they get to college. Or so I have witnessed from my eagle-eyed view. Some of these revelations are carnal. The lack of “adult” supervision opens up a whole world of possibilities, not just sexually, but alcoholically, marihuanically, and even at the cafeteria. You would be amazed at the amount of pizza an 18-year-old boy can consume without actually exploding.

Then there are the academic revelations. You soon discover that everything you have ever been taught is wrong—or, at the very least, skewed—whcih can be very uncomfortable. It can leave you unmoored: if those weren’t the causes of the Civil War, what else have they been lying to you about? What other lies have they forced you to write in term papers and short answers on tests?

“Are you okay?” Declan asks her.

“I’m fine,” Raven lies. “I just don’t know if I like it here.”

It wasn’t the classes. “I really like that Astronomy Lab. I mean, like, I wish there was an actual lab with, like, telescopes, but I mean, I don’t know.”

“Not too much math?”

“I don’t mind the math, actually?”

“You wanna take more math?”

“I wanna take more music.”

They were both taking music theory. Together. It was fun.

“Theory isn’t enough, though.”

They were doing a musical in the drama department…

“I don’t wanna do that kind of music. Something is just… off. I don’t know.”

“How long have you been with that guy, Declan?” Her name was Natalie—Nattie for short—and she was dressed like a lesbian.

“Since sophomore year. In high school.”

“Is he the only guy you’ve uh…”

“No.”

“But you’ve been dating him this whole time?”

She shrugs. “Pretty much.”

“Do you love him?”

“Look, if you’re hitting on me, just please just come out and say it.”

Nattie looks shocked. “I wasn’t… I mean…”

“I know I come off as damaged and vulnerable, but Declan is a great guy. I’m trying. I’m happier with him than I… It’s not his fault that I’m fucked up. It’s thanks to him I’m not more fucked up right now, so just, please.”

“OK.”

She threw Declan up against the wall outside his dorm room, pinned him, hovered over him, breathing him in. “I don’t think I like college much,” she confessed.

“I think you do.”

“I like the classes. But why do we have to hang out with all these douchebags?”

“We don’t,” her boyfriend of three years promises her.

“You promise?” He does.

But that was never gonna last, was it?


“Basket Case”

Mickey hadn’t had the kinds of responsibilities Jasper had when high school ended. It wasn’t just that he hadn’t had enough sex, statistically, to accidentally knock a girl up (not that statistics really has anything to do with it), it was mainly that his parents were too understanding.

He lived above their garage. He had been living above their garage since he graduated high school. In fact, above his parents’ garage was where Mickey’s bedroom had always been, so really, when it came down to it, it was almost as though Micket was still in high school. Except without the homework.

He did have a job. He worked as a fry-cook. It was minimum wage and, unlike my brother, he didn’t get raises or promotions based on his performance. Add to that the fact that he got fired a couple of times, had to work somewhere else as a fry-cook—also, one place he worked got closed down for health-code violations. He wasn’t considered the most stable person.

He didn’t talk to many people, either. Really, there were only so many people he could talk to at his job, and most of them were assholes in his opinion, as he was in theirs.

His only real ambition was in videogames. He joined a lot of online forums, got off on heckling n00bs, busted some high scores. Mostly first-person shooters. Strategy games were for dweebs, he figured. RPGs were for pussies. Put a gun in his hand, and he’d—

Tommy had joined the army. Or no, was it the army? Maybe it was the navy. He knew it wasn’t the marines, Tommy was too jelly-limbed back in high school for that. And the airforce? He just wasn’t smart enough. Gotta be army, right?

Did that mean he had a real gun? Where had he been deployed? Where did he go to?

What was he doing with his life?

Mickey hadn’t really thought about the drums much since high school. That had been more Kyle’s thing. He’d been friends with Kyle for… gosh… And where was Kyle now? He’d gone off to college, too. Didn’t know where. Hadn’t talked to him much. Hadn’t talked to him… any, really.

Weird. He hadn’t even thought about them in so long.

He hadn’t even thought…


“Harder Better Faster Stronger”

Being a rockstar doesn’t exactly pay the bills. I mean, really, what does these days, right? Or if it does pay the bills, it pays all of them at once. But that’s a pipe dream and Jasper Llywelyn had given up smoking.

He had a daughter now, I had a niece. He had to take care of her. Mom had a new baby of her own on the way by the time they left high school. She could only help so much, and especially after Jasper made the (ironically) educated decision not to go to college, to go to work instead, the pressure was on him from all sides to actually get a job, to get a trade, some certification that could turn skills into money, or at least skills that could turn said certification into a solid credit report.

When he finally found something, he wouldn’t tell us what it was, exactly. I knew it wasn’t anything sketchy (at least not in the legal sense), some kind of steel mill forty miles out of town. Nine to five, he woke up at seven and didn’t get back till after six, holding up dinner. Two hours a day, if that, barely, with his kid, to make ends meet, no wonder fathers are so cold. They never get the warmth of family.

Do I remember how much time our father spent with me?

Do I even remember who he was, by now?

It was some kind of steel mill. Heavy machinery, lots of moving parts, factory work, too fast in my visions for my eyes to track, and he never talked about it. Sometimes I would catch him using terms, we’d be talking about something unrelated, he’d draw a parallel. But then he’d realize and he’d shut down. “No, go on,” we’d say.

“Nah,” he said, “I don’t even wanna think about that.”

Because of course, he was miserable. If he’d still had a wife, if Ellen hadn’t died in childbirth, maybe things would have been different. Someone to come home to who wasn’t related. Someone to help blow off steam. I’d like to thnk she’d have been more to him, I’m just not sure what. He still had so much driving him. So much passion. So much obsession.

Every day, he’d have two hours in the car to listen to music. Other people’s music. He’d whack the steering wheel in time to the beat, sing along, even change it up a bit like was singing a cover, make it more interesting to himself.

He never talked about anybody that he worked with. Made me wonder if he talked to anyone. My brother, the chatterbox. What did he do? Was he really that miserable?

After a few months, he got a raise. A little while after that, it was some kind of promotion.

“Sweetie, why didn’t you tell me?” But I already knew ‘cause of how he looked. He looked worse. He looked more depressed. Any praise he got, any form of recognition, only drew him further into that world and it was a world he didn’t want to be in, a world that wasn’t him. 

But his world didn’t want him. There was no room for him there. So he made his bed every morning and his little girl got up and played on it.


“Lose Yourself”

By the time I actually did fall in love, I wasn’t sure that I wanted it. I wasn’t sure I’d ever want it. And looking back, I guess I can’t really blame myself. I had horrible taste in men. Man. Singular. Fate had horrible taste in him for me. I mean, sure, all I really had to go on was the red hair when it came to Angus George, but I knew that I had seen him in my infamous prophetic dreams and I knew that he was the one for me, the one that I would end up with.

Would I have even given him a second glance, if not for all that? Would I have even…

I guess it doesn’t really matter now. He’s where he is, and I’m here writing this all down, so I guess we can call it what it is.

Something changed at that show. I don’t know whether it was actually him that changed, or if it was just the first time it really occurred to me.

It started off in a pretty standard mosh-pit. It developed kind of spontaneously, as only the best ones do, and actually it was a guy and a girl who started it off together. Rough-housing. Pleasantly matched, not exactly erotic, it didn’t seem like they had quite that kind of relationship. It seemed more like the male pushing and shoving and pressing of buttons that they seem to find so appealing, except that one of them was a woman. I don’t know. But then it changed. Shifted. Other people started bumping in, intruding, and finally it spread over to where we had been standing, to where I had been looking into Angus’s eyes.

What is it about crowds? That you can be around so many people and still feel perfectly alone. More so. I guess you start to go “But if there are so many people…” So it means more. If you’re alone and you’re lonely, it’s the question “How can I be lonely with this many people?” Like they can’t be an excuse. And if you’re alone with someone, it turns into something more intimate, like a secret in the middle of the chaos. An emphasis. Look at all the people and none of them can stop us from looking at each other.

Until he gets distracted.

The smile on his face was different after whoever it was bumped into him. Whoever it was said “Sorry,” like you do on the fringes if you’re polite and not too drunk yet and bumped into someone who was not (yet) part of the mosh. But then you see that smile. He hadn’t been smiling at me a moment before. We’d been in a place where we didn’t need smiles, but now he wasn’t there anymore. He was in another space with another process in mind and he was itching to hit something. That’s what that smile meant.

And then he misunderstood. Not all mosh pits are the same, and this one was rough-housing on a level that he wasn’t used to because he hung out with the wrong crowd. You beat your arms and bump into each other, crash and settle and throw yourself around. It’s not an actual boxing match. Sometimes it is. But not this one. And with that smile on his face, he happily dashed after the stranger who’d broken our intimate seal, who thought he’d roped someone into the party and instead ended up getting punched in the neck and the shoulder with a strength that in context and contrast must have felt supernatural. Surreal. Out of place.

The mosh changed around him, slowly I guess, maybe, bit by bit, as the immediate crowd realized what was going on and got uncomfortable.

I know what you’re thinking: it’s a mosh-pit, it’s not supposed to be comfortable. But there’s a code you follow, more like a contract, any time you start one. You know you’re not “safe”, but safety is relative, and this guy is fucking off his shit.

That was the beginning. Not for him, I’m sure. I mean, maybe, but I mean, come on, let’s be real. He is who he is. It didn’t look like a moment of great revelation for him, not from where I was standing. He beat a guy up, and then immediately, he turned around and blamed them all for dishing it out and not being able to take it.

Maybe he was just used to a rougher crowd, I told myself. Maybe that’s all it was. But it didn’t seem like it. Even if that was all there was to it, he still wasn’t paying attention. He still wasn’t taking cues, and that meant something.

I started paying closer attention to the fights he was having in school. To what he was saying about them. To what other people were saying about them. To discrepancies, and also similarities. To the different versions.

By the time he was arrested, I found I couldn’t be surprised. I was disappointed, but couldn’t convince myself I hadn’t seen it coming.

I know I’m phrasing that in a way that’s confusing, so let me put it differently. I knew he was going to be arrested. I knew it three days after I met him. I even tried to tell him a couple of times, tried to warn him, but my name is Kassandra and no one is ever going to take me seriously about things like this.

And I guess I can’t really blame them. I don’t really take myself seriously, either. I mean, look at me. I get a vision of this guy. I know I’m going to fall in love with him, so I do. Then I get a vision of him being an asshole, getting arrested. And what do I do? I stay. For what? Did I think that I was going to change him? Did I think that he could?


“School’s Out”

Graduation means different things to different people. Did I just blow your mind? Probably not. You probably knew that, because you’re a smart person. (I assume that stupid people don’t read—this, or anything else.)

Typical graduations come in three flavors, depending on how you felt about school. Either it’s a relief knowing that you don’t have to go back there anymore, or it’s an overwhelming achievement that will make everyone who knows you proud, or it’s a stepping stone to something else.

For Kyle, graduation was miserable all around. It was miserable even though he knew he’d be going to college, he knew he’d be studying music and going on to bigger and better things, but think of everything he left behind. Not just the Elk, he’d always kinda known in his heart of hearts that the Elk (Strings, Chords, whatever) was a shitty band, a garage band with nothing really going for it. But those guys… he kind of loved them. And by the time graduation had come around, he’d manage to completely alienate them.

“The band doesn’t suck!” Tommy kept trying to tell him.

“Tommy,” Kyle would reply, and then he’d just look at him, as though pleading with his eyes for Tommy to accept the truth that should have been obvious.

And Mickey. Mickey knew that it sucked. Mickey knew that he sucked. He’d accepted it. Kyle couldn’t help but feel guilty about that, too.

At prom, my sister had finally managed to convince him to have sex with her. It was one of those awkward moments where you get what you want and then real quickly you realize it has nothing to do with what you actually wanted. It wasn’t so much disappointing as… I don’t know, closure? They didn’t speak. They didn’t have to. At least, they thought they wouldn’t. But once they’d committed to silence, they both realized they weren’t on the same page. Their reasons for fucking each other were different and neither was doing it for the right ones. She was doing it to fulfill some, I don’t know, teenage dream? He was using her to rebound.

That was the other thing that sucked about graduation.

Now Declan’s graduation is kind of bittersweet. I guess that’s pretty much par for the course. It’s great to be getting out there, out into the world, he’s taking Raven with him to UNC-Trinity. He has one relatively (for a high school garage band) successful band under his belt by now, he’s confident he could have another if he decides that’s what he wants, if college rock bands are even a thing—

“They must be, right?”

“I wouldn’t know,” his girlfriend shrugs at him, “I don’t know from college.”

He will be leaving Jasper, of course, and Jasper’s graduation barely even registers on his radar. “Sweet,” he figures, “Got that high school diploma out of the way, that mean I can get a real job?” And the answer is yes, of course. Gotta have a real job if you’re gonna be raising a kid.

For Raven, it is an unqualified relief. Not so much graduation, I guess, that’s kind of just the cherry on top. By the time she actually walks across the stage, Raven has already turned 18. She’s flipped her old life the bird, showed it her cooch for the last time and now she’s shaking that ass extra hard so it knows she’s not coming back. Not that she’s moving that far. They’re spending their first year at college in the dorms, separate rooms obviously, because only gay couples get to live together on campus in college, but they’re on the same floor and they manage to break their way into the arrangement-cascade where everyone’s roommate has a significant other—or another bed to sleep on when they break up. That’s another story, though.

That’s as far as we’ve gotten. As far as you’ve gotten, anyway.

I, of course, have gotten further.

My graduation will be tense. I can’t say how yet, I can’t tell why. I can just feel it looming right now, looming with almost some kind of trepidation. Is that vague enough for you? There are some things that I know, some things I can sort of make out and derive. I know that Lucy will be happy. Not that that’s a real surprise, but fine, I’ll take it. I know that Isabella Millar will be a wreck.

And I feel some sense of urgency surrounding Trevor. Like I want to talk to him, need to talk him. But he won’t look me in the eye. He hates me. Sometime in the three years between the end of my freshman year and our graduation, Trevor will come to hate me. Does it have something to do with him being gay? Why does it always have to be that? Did I steal his boyfriend or something? Wow. Original. I don’t know. But there’s something else.

There’s something else and I’m not sure about it. I can’t quite get there, you know?

There’s something else, if I could only…