I watched the blood bud up through the surface of the skin -
No, no wait. The tears spilling down his face -
Not yet, no, don't start there.
Let me start by having a conversation with Thom Brucie.
"You know, stomach wounds actually take a long time to bleed to
death from," he said, "and they hurt quite a bit."
I was in his office, sitting in a fairly comfortable chair, doing my
best to take criticism well. Thom helped a lot. He taught the fiction
workshop I was enrolled in. He had curly greyish hair and a very friendly
face with little round cheeks and soft eyes. He also seemed to like me.
When introducing me to a friend during a chance meeting in a CD store,
he called me one of his geniuses. I was glad for these things at the moment
because it so happened that the story he was reviewing was one especially
close to my heart; based rather truthfully on my real life experiences
three years earlier.
"Well, as for the pain," I said, "they are feeling it,
but they're enjoying it; it sets them free. As far as the time span goes...
well, they've been planning this for a while, so they'll make sure they
have time. Kevin doesn't come around to find them for a while, so there's
plenty of time for them to bleed to death."
Ok, so some parts were only loosely based on my real life.
"Ok, all right," he said. "So what was the intention of
not letting the audience know Sean and Cynthia are dead until Kevin discovers
it? You see them kill each other, but we don't know just what they are
"The language I use there mimics the language from when Cyn and
Kevin are having sex earlier. The idea is to trick the reader into thinking
that Cyn and Sean are having sex and that Kevin is going to catch them
lying in bed together. Then when he finds them dead, it should bring about
a sort of reversal, you know? Then they'll be like, 'What?' and have to
go back and reread what happened, seeing it in a different way the second
time, see what I mean?"
"But," he said, "is tricking the reader really a good
idea? By doing that, you may alienate them, don't you think?"
"Yeah, well," I said, "that's ok, I think it will have
a more dramatic effect that way."
"Ok, I just want to make sure you know what effect you're going
for with this approach."
"No, I do, I do," I said, "but it seems really right for
me. The audience will think Cyn and Sean had sex, but they didn't. Actually,
if you really look, the only thing they ever do is kiss. At the end, they
kill each other, but they're really happy. This is a happy ending for
them. They get exactly what they want."
"Ok, then," he said. "I think you've improved it a lot
from your first draft. You've still got some more things to work on, but
you're off to a good start." He handed his notated copy of my current
opus back to me. "So, have you got any ideas for your next project
"Yeah," I said, leaning in towards him, "but it's a little
weird. It's about a college student who works for Satan, collecting souls,
and Satan tells him to get the soul of one of his close friends, who is
a really, you know, good person. It's kind of about the nature of souls
and the nature of pain and happiness. It should be pretty cool."
"All right," said Thom, "I'll look forward to reading
it. Keep up the good work." He leaned back in his chair. "I'll
see you in class tomorrow."
"Yeah, ok. Thanks," I said, rising to leave, "I'll see
you then." I grabbed my backpack and made my way out of the building.
Once outside, I slipped my earphones into my ears and filled my head with
the sounds of the Vandals as I prepared to take on the rest of my day.
At this point it didn't strike me as a particularly daunting task. I smiled
as I headed in the direction of the dining hall, the music telling me
all about 'The People That Are Going To Hell,' with every step. I lip-synched
along with the song. In my head I was planning my revisions and ways to
begin my new story.
I entered the dining hall and immediately headed for the tables I usually
frequent. Deric McNish and Josh Corin were already seated in the multi-colored
cloned plastic chairs. Deric was one of my housemates. Josh was a good
friend. The two of them were hunched over the table looking at a newspaper.
"Hey guys!" I said.
"Hey," they said.
"I just got back from my meeting with my creative writing professor.
I think he dug my story. I have to revise it, you know, but still, cool." They
didn't really even look up at me. "What's going on?"
"There was a shooting in a high school yesterday," said Josh,
his forehead creased as he read on. I glanced down at the paper in front
of them, upside down to me. It was an article accompanied by a big picture
of a teenage guy, looked like a jock, maybe a football player, just bawling
his eyes out.
"Cool," I said, plopping my stuff on the floor.
"No, not really," said Deric. I sort of snuffed my nose.
"I'll be right back, guys," I said, and I went and got myself
lunch. When I returned the pair were still pouring over the paper, but
another article, about the same thing. "Alright, what's up, guys?
What's the big deal? It's not the first time this has happened. What's
"Take a look," Deric said, closing the paper and passing it
over to me. The New York Post lay on the table before me, the front page
displaying two girls crying, one clenching her head in her hands. Huge
letters announced: 'Massacre.' I opened the paper and began to read.
I won't bore you with the details of the Columbine slaughter. If you
were alive and not on a life raft in the pacific with no contact with
the outside world, you've probably heard more about it that you'd like
to. If you actually were on that life raft, you can go to the library
and look it up, every paper had coverage.
I opened the paper. The first article immediately began by calling the
killers 'giggling gunmen.' This was their first mistake. Not a spectacular
choice of words. Perhaps they weren't counting on me reading this article,
but I hear giggling, I think fun. I think fun and killing in the same
sentence, I'm already in fantasyland.
My own high school had been filled with assholes, like all high schools
are, really. I could imagine it now. I'm walking down the hall of my school.
I have black jeans on, a black T-shirt, a black over-shirt over it, unbuttoned
of course, and I'm wearing makeup. Blue eye shadow and black eyeliner
(both actually clown makeup) and red lipstick that my best friend Màire
put on me that morning outside the school. I'm walking down the hall between
the gym and the caff. The shout of "Fag!" rings out for about
the millionth time in my life (a lot, considering I'm not even gay) and
I just decide that it's over. My big green backpack gives birth to a beautiful
pair of Uzis and I just let fly in the direction of the remark. You know
I would be giggling. Might as well go full circle while I'm at it. No,
no, careful not to hit Mr. Amato, that's it. But, wait... I don't want
to go to jail, do I? Ah well, nothing to live for now. Guess I'll kill
myself. And then it's done; I've just slaughtered my high school.
Quite a few of the people I hung out with were considered 'Goth' by outsiders.
We didn't have a fancy name for our clique, although I had heard us referred
to as 'the freaks' before. A few of my friends wore black trench coats,
black trench coats I envied very much, I might add. I had a rather lame
Columbia winter coat, you know, the brightly colored kind you can take
the liner out of? What can I say, I guess I thought of myself as being
much darker than my parents perceived me as, and since they had the money
I got less of a choice. It really wasn't such a stretch for me to imagine
myself in this so-called 'trenchcoat mafia.' They were outsiders. They
were fed up. They got revenge on the in crowd. I bet there will be a few
less insults to the freaks' faces this year in high schools across America.
Then came the paper's second mistake, bringing the deadly duo's hobbies
into question. I play Doom. It's a great game, you can stalk around blowing
away demons in your spare time and, hey, if you have a network you can
even stalk and kill your good friends. They listened to angry music. So
do I, whenever I'm pissed off. It's loud and you can yell to it. They
watched A Clockwork Orange. I own my own copy. It's a great movie.
So is Heavenly Creatures, one of my favourites at the time. I did a presentation
on it for my class on 'The Grotesque' the semester before. It's a brilliant
New Zealand drama about the true life Parker-Hulme murder in which two
teenage girls kill one of their mothers. The film shows the events leading
up to the murder from the girls' point of view, with narration taken directly
from Pauline Parker's diary. It's done so well; it was nominated for best
screenplay and was on almost everyone's tope ten list that year. It's
a real murder, where a real person was killed, but presented this way,
you understand the girls' motives completely.
So far, the paper hadn't done much at first to quell my initial instinct
Then I moved to the next page, the page Deric and Josh had been reading
when I'd arrived. The football player who had been scared for his life
likely minutes before his picture was snapped by the associated press
was sobbing up at me. The tears spilling down his face in the photograph
looked different right side up. I began to read the words flowing down
next to him. They were words about victims. About some girls in the library,
hiding under the tables, praying not to be seen as black trenchcoats flutter
by. About a boy shocked as the chest of the person right next to him explodes
all over the room and his clothes. About students running through the
halls seeing a teacher gunned down as she tries to call the police. About
survivors seeing things in real life they'd only seen in movies (and Doom
games). About people cowering in fear, praying, crying, wondering why,
and waiting for it all to be over- one way or another.
"I've got to get to acting class," Deric said.
Now it was my turn not to look up. "Can I borrow this and give it
back to you later?" I asked him.
"Sure," he said. "I'll see you at home."
"Have a good scene," I said, barely hearing myself. The better
part of an hour lay before me until my next class. Without trying, I spent
the entire time reading the rest of the articles about Columbine High
and staring at the pictures of the students who escaped and the parents
of those who did not.
My stories leapt back into my mind- and filled me with disgust.
Classes that day went by in a blur. I sat at my desk unable even to draw
the comic book I usually create in lieu of notes. I opened to a page in
which Deric blows my head off because he doesn't like my Spice Girls poster.
My head is completely obliterated from the neck up except for the top
of my head, my glasses, and one eyeball, all of which go flying off in
different directions. For some reason the many graphic gunshot to the
head wounds my comics features lacked their normal humor that day. Even
if I was the victim, which I typically preferred. I couldn't shake the
feeling that had burst out of the pages of that newspaper and latched
onto my jugular. I didn't draw in my comic book at all that day.
I opened the door to our three bedroom apartment, F-32, the temperature
water freezes at. When I told that to Deric he thought I was making it
up. I guess acting doesn't require science classes. The floor of our living
room was strewn with the Nintendo 64 and its paraphernalia, remnants of
a 007 deathmatch the night before. With the help of various power weapons
and proximity mines, I had beat out both Deric and Rhett, which meant
they both owed me blowjobs. For the record, I have yet to collect.
I went straight for my room, marked 'Women.' My bed lay awaiting me and
I launched myself onto it directly. The poster for Tromeo and Juliet looked
upside down on the wall above my head from where I lay. Deric and I had
watched it for the first time earlier in the semester when he had been
cast as Romeo in a production of Romeo and Juliet. Since then I had watched
it quite a few times more, it fast becoming one of my favourites. A modernization
of the classic play 'From the writer of The Merchant of Venice and the
director of The Toxic Avenger.' It essentially has as much sex and gore
thrown in as they could afford. With such beautiful images as multiple
severed body parts, mutant inbred children, a vicious penis monster, and
especially an extreme close-up of an honest-to-goodness female nipple
piercing, Deric couldn't help but squirm. I relished every second. I didn't
hesitate to show it to everyone I knew. To this day, if you ask me, I'll
tell you it's a magnificent work of art.
I shut my eyes to avoid the sight of it.
Everything I had encountered that day, all the little bits of my life
and self, made me want to shrink into myself and disappear. My suicide-as-happy-ending
story, my soul-stealing story, Heavenly Creatures, Clockwork Orange, my
multi-homicidal comic book, the James Bond video game, and now Tromeo
and Juliet... Ever since that stupid newspaper all they did was add to
the case against me; I was a bad person.
I've loved writing ever since I was a little dork thinking up my own
comic book universe complete with teams, arch-enemies, girlfriends, detailed
maps of headquarters, crossovers, one-shots, and no one to really even
look at them. As I grew and my interests became increasingly slanted towards
the ways of the dark side, so too did my writing. Gone were the heroes
out to save mankind, replaced with child-like mental patients, former
rapists with brain-tumors, and, as shown above, people to whom suicide
is a happy ending.
If you'd asked me one day before that newspaper crossed my line of sight
what I wanted my writing to do, I would have told you I wanted it to hurt
"No, really," I would say, "I do. I want to make the audience
unhappy. I want to make them so involved in what I am writing as to be
physically hurt when the ending comes. When Cynthia and Sean kill each
other at the end of 'Couldn't Call It Unexpected,' I want the reader to
be completely thrown for a loop, punched in the stomach. I think my ultimate
goal is to write something so well that when people finished reading it,
they would kill themselves. If I did that I would really know I was a
good writer, you know?"
I remember when one girl, Paula, overheard me say that. She was mortified.
She thought that was an absolutely despicable thing to say. I shrugged
off her comments, smiling with the knowledge that I was superior to her
in my philosophy, like Jimmy Stuart in the first half of Rope. I wanted
to challenge the traditional ideas of 'Happy Endings' by giving my protagonists
what they wanted at the expense of others, whether that meant there would
be suicide, murder, or the complete corruption of someone's soul.
I was in High School, in Trig/Pre-Cal, trying to draw. I wanted desperately
to think of something to sketch so I could stop hearing the teacher go
on about Math. The problem was that Tina was forcing her way into my head.
She was angry at me for something I had said this morning, asking why
she practically didn't talk to me when other people were around.
My cartoon characters begged me to draw them, the teacher (and my grades)
begged me to pay more attention, but Tina ruled my mind with an iron fist.
So I did what I usually did in that situation. I started to bite myself.
I sunk my teeth into the side of my arm, just below my hand and bit down.
I never broke the skin; I just bit down hard enough to leave a good impression.
When I pulled my teeth away from the flesh the impressions of my teeth
were bone white which then they resolved themselves into two little imperfect
crescents in red marring my usually fair skin. Then stuck the fleshy part
of my thumb betwixt my teeth. I glanced around to see if anyone was looking
at me funny. This was a fairly regular event. I would continue doing it
all over my arms as long as I had time to.
Another common practice was to take a pencil and draw on myself. In addition
to the trail of graphite this left, I'd usually use a sharpened pencil,
which would leave the design both reddened and embossed. Sometimes I would
do this when I wasn't even upset at myself, just bored. I thought it was
Without writing an addition memoir, just let me say that during my first
year of college, I was a mess. To give you an example: I sometimes decided
that happiness was a myth that mankind made up so as not to accept the
truth that we are all miserable creatures. The biting continued. In addition
I began to rake my fingernails down my arms, although this technique was
never practiced in public. Once again, I never broke the skin, but while
I could feel the aftersting that lingered in the red lines for so long
after I created them, I felt much less of the loneliness that otherwise
enveloped me. Eventually I took to slapping my arms so hard as to leave
The fact that the evidence of my damage lingered for hours, maybe even
overnight, fascinated me. I sometimes would just sit and stare at the
marks, blowing on them, running my fingers over them. Eventually, though,
the marks would vanish. This was a good thing, since it was in my best
interest to hide these things from most people. I wouldn't want them to
make me seek help... would I? No. No, I don't think I would...
Tromeo and his ilk may have been firmly blocked out of my visual input
by my eyelids, but my brain had no such covering to protect it. Everything
seemed so different from this side of the newspaper, and it all added
up to one Jordan D. White, an inhumanly evil person who shouldn't be allowed
to be what he's been fortunate enough to become.
In my mind-s eye, I had no choice but to pass judgment on myself. I looked
at all the evidence I'd been barraged with recently and decided that it
was really true; I was a bad person. Even more than that, actually. I
was, in fact, a negative force in the universe. Especially as a writer.
If I ever achieved my dream of being a great writer someday I would actually
be corrupting the people who read my works with my ideas. I had to be
stopped. It was then that I decided that I was never going to write again.
I was a bad person with only bad things to say, so I didn't deserve to
be allowed to say them. I also had to somehow make sure that I stuck to
my resolve... I needed something sharp.
I was fairly certain neither of my apartment-mates were in, but even
so I tried to step lightly as I crept from my bed to Deric's desk. On
it was an extra thin box-cutter. It had an orange plastic exterior with
grooves on one side to fit your finger's grips. There was a black plastic
button you would press to slide the metal blade up and down. I could see
the silver glinting at me through the slit in the side of the handle.
I had seen this in Deric's room many time before, and would fool around
with it a lot, just clicking the blade in and out. I took this back with
me to my room.
For a long time I just sat on my bed staring at it. I would push the
blade out, its slanted tip coming to a perfect point, then I would retract
it. I can't say how long this continued, but eventually the blade took
I decided that I would scratch a reminder into my arm, just like I used
to do with pencils. I had to guarantee I would remember what I was. The
blade pressed up against the soft pale flesh on the underside of my lower
arm, perhaps a bit harder than I was used to, and began to scratch out...
B... A... D. It would serve to remind me of why I was not allowed to write.
But something different happened with my scratching this time.
I broke the skin.
It was only a little bit, just at the top corner of the D, but it was
more than I had ever done before. I watched the blood bud up through the
surface of the skin and was inspired. Why scratch... when I can carve?
I took the blade to my arm once more and retraced every line in my self-catagorization
until each letter bled from my body and then I lay back to soak in the
I find it hard to describe the state of elation that swept over my entire
being at the completion of this branding. I think the only term that can
aptly be put to it is insanely happy. Were it not that that particular
term was already used too commonly to mean merely extremely happy, it
would be perfect. I was insanely happy in a much more literal sense. I
became absolutely giddy. I just sat staring at my arm's new adornment
and smiling, laughing even. I may have been physically lying on my bed,
but mentally I was bouncing around the room with joy. I wished that I
had had a camera to commemorate the occasion, to take a picture of that
which was to be my last work of writing while it was still fresh and oozing.
I wanted to tell someone. I decided I needed to call Devon. I had met
her about three years earlier at a summer program, and it was in fact
my summer with her which had inspired the story I had been talking with
Thom about. She lived many states away from me, but for the past three
years we had kept up with each other. She'd inspired most of my writing
since we had known each other and whenever I had had any sort of serious
problem, I would call her and she would be there for me. We'd talk for
hours about our situations in life. When I got to college our calling
became more frequent, and had been gradually increasing since. I needed
her right now.
She wasn't there. So I left a message.
It was about an hour until Deric finally got home. I pushed down my sleeves.
I went into his room and smiled. He was sitting at his desk. "Hey!" I
said, inviting myself to sit on his bed.
"Hi," he replied from his desk chair. "What's up?
"Oh, nothing much," I could tell from the weird color of everything
around me that I was glowing. "How was your day?" I asked.
"It was ok," he said. "Everybody said my scene with Sarah
went ok, but I think it sucked."
"I'm sure it was good," I said.
"Whatever," he said. "Then I had Brit Lit, which was incredibly
boring. I should be halfway through Tess of the D'Urbervilles, but I'm
on page 14. So I fell asleep. Then I came home. How about you?"
"Well, not so much," I said. The fact that I was not cracking
up with laughter at the thought of my day took a lot of effort. "I
read that newspaper, then I went to class and came home. Nothing interesting
at all." But I was grinning like a madman... on second thought; maybe
I don't like that metaphor. Pretend I didn't write that.
Deric's expression became mischievous as well. "What did you do?" he
asked. "Come on, tell me. Did you steal something? What did you get?
What is it?"
"No, no, I didn't steal anything..."
"Then what? Tell me, dude?"
"Ok, but you have to promise not to tell anyone. Not anyone! Ok?"
"Oh, come on, of course! I've never turned you in before have I?" he
"Ok, but you're not going to like it..." I said.
"Just tell me, Jordan." His eyes smiled wickedly, like I was
letting him in on a joke.
"Well..." I said, thinking about what I should say. Then I
opted for simplicity and pulled up my left sleeve, exposing my beloved
etching. Deric's grin left his face. Mine did not.
"What is... why did you do that?" he said.
I blushed, looking down and kicking my feet. "No reason..." I
"Jordan," he said, "Seriously," but he couldn't help
it, my happiness was infectious; he started smiling too. His eyes converted
into upward crescents and he put his hand over his mouth. "Oh my
God... Tell me what happened."
"Well, I kept reading that newspaper," I told him, "And...
I don't know, it just, you know, made me feel like I was pretty much,
like, a... bad person?" He didn't answer, caught up in the sight
of freshly scabbed writing where he had never seen it before. I don't
like to sit in silence. "So, you know, I just sorta thought this
would be a good thing to do. Isn't it pretty?" I held my arm out
for him to get a better look.
"I don't... wow," he said. He couldn't' help but join me in
laughter. "Why do you think you're a bad person?"
"Because of the things I write, because of the things I think, you
know? I try to hurt people. I try to get people to do bad things."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean my writing. If I had written the story of this Columbine
before it ever happened, the killers would have been the good guys. I
would have tried to get the audience to see things their way. I'd want
them to look at good and evil, and see evil as good."
"So what?" he asked.
"So I make things worse. I am a negative force in the universe.
So, I did this, to remind myself how bad I am."
"What did you use to do it?"
I blushed again and pulled his box-cutter out of my pocket. This didn't
particularly amuse him.
"Jordan!" he said, and took it from me, putting it in his pocket.
To this day he no longer tells me where he keeps it. "Do you really
believe all that?
"Well..." he looked down and grew silent. I waited for him
this time. "I know you, Jordan, and I know you're not the worst person
in the world-"
"Well, I know that, but I have to be held responsible."
"That's fine, but if you are a bad person... well, then, go with
"What?" I asked.
"If you really think you're evil, just go with it. If that is who
you are, you have to be true to it. You've always been kinda twisted.
You got me to shoplift with you, you completely desensitized me to horror
movies, even got me to like them, and you did it all just for fun. Not
to mention that you have a collection of souls. If that's who you are,
just be yourself."
"That's ridiculous!" I said. "I can't just go on being
an awful person!"
"What else can you do? Keep hurting yourself?"
"Well, no, I think this will be it. What I'm doing is quitting writing."
"You can't do that, Jordan," he said, "You've been writing
ever since I've known you."
"It doesn't matter," I told him. "I can't write anymore.
That's where I do most of the awful things I do. I have to stop."
Deric puffed his cheeks out and exhaled through tensed lips while he
ran his fingers through his hair. "I don't know what to say," he
said at last. "I guess if that's what you're going to do I'm not
going to stop you, I just... I don't think you should stop writing. If
you're a bad person, go with it."
"I don't think so, dude," I said again. "Anyway, I think
I'm going to just go to bed now."
"This early?" he asked. "Play double-oh-seven first?"
"Nah, you know, I'm pretty tired. You promised not to tell anyone,
"Of course!" he said, "You can trust me. I've never told
Rhett what you do to him while he's asleep, have I?"
"No, you're thinking of what you wish you could do to him. See you
I went back to my room and climbed into bed. Being giddy was exhausting,
not to mention that under it all I still had a solid core of self-loathing
and depression fully active. I've heard that sleeping a lot is a sign
The next day was not incredibly different. At about two or three I was
sitting on the floor of the lobby of the fine arts building, half-heartedly
'reading' Beloved for my Lit Crit class. Ever since I'd moved off campus
I'd spent a lot of time in that lobby. I had a class that ended around
noon, and my next class wasn't till after two. For the interim hours I
would sit on the floor, read, see who came by, sometimes sleep. It was
my on-campus home. Usually after about five minutes, I'd run into someone
My stomach grumbled. I've never understood the people who binge on all
those 'comfort foods' when they're depressed. For my own part, I always
lean towards the opposite.
I wasn't exactly intent on reading right that moment. I was looking up
at every person who passed through the lobby, hoping for a familiar face.
Eventually, Josh came by. "Hey!" I called out.
"Hello," he said, continuing towards the theatre office. I
jumped up to follow, all my things in tow. I followed him into the Grad
office, a room off of the main office with two pretty nice computers in
it. That's where Josh liked to spend most of his time during the day.
I often would join him there for a visit. The room was about the size
of three closets or so with a few chairs and two desks inside. He sat
down at the computer on the right, as he always did. I sat at the one
on the left. I began to half-heartedly check my email.
"What are you up to?" I asked him.
"Working on a play," he replied.
"Which one?" I asked.
"How is it?"
"It's a play."
"Is it a good play?"
"Let's hope so."
"Why do you always come down here to write?" I asked. "You
have a computer."
"There are no computer games on this computer."
"Oh. You're too tempted to play up in your room?"
"Ok," he said.
Silence fell for a second as we continued our respective tasks. Then
I finished my email. I turned the chair to face his direction. "Josh?" I
"What," he replied.
"Can you keep a secret for me?"
"Of course," he told me, turning towards me.
"I want to show you something," I said.
"Something I did yesterday."
I had worn long sleeves again, surprise surprise. I pulled up my sleeve.
Josh looked at it for a while.
"Jordan, why did you do that?"
"Well..." I said, and told him again the explanation I had
said oft in my head, as well as to Deric. I don't think I need to type
it out again.
"But, Jordan," said Josh, "You're not a bad person."
"Well, I think I am."
"But you aren't. You've never done any of those things."
"Josh," I said, "It's all about the intent, and my intent
is not good."
"It doesn't matter if you can imagine killing people, or if you
write about it, as long as you don't do it. And you didn't. That's what
separates you from those two in Colorado."
"But if I had written that story, they would be the heroes, and
that is wrong. That's what makes me a bad person."
"But Jordan, you're leaving something out."
"What?" I asked,
"What you're doing here. What you're saying here."
"What do you mean?"
"The fact that you think doing something like this, or condoning
something like this, is wrong means you aren't a bad person." He
looked into my eyes. I looked down. "If this really affected you,
then you're not an evil person. You want to change. You don't want to
actually hurt people now. The fact that you got upset means you are a
good person at heart."
"I don't know..."
"I do," he said.
"Deric told me that if I was evil, I should just be evil."
Josh laughed. "Deric has... his own point of view. And so do you,
so in the end, you'll do what you think is the right thing to do."
"But if my natural impulse is to do evil, then-"
"Then you wouldn't be questioning yourself this much. The fact that
you are shows that you aren't evil."
"Well, maybe, I don't know."
"Like I said, it's up to you," he said. "You're the one
who will decide. All I can do is offer an opinion, just like Deric, and
hope that it turns out with you ok."
"Well, I'll do my best. But I don't think I'm going to be writing
again any time soon."
"Once again, that's you're choice. But I think you should think
about it some more," he said.
I was lying in bed later that evening doing just that when Devon called
me back. "Devon! Hi!" I said.
"How are you doing?" she asked.
"I'm ok, how are you?" I said instinctively.
"Not bad! It's been a while," she said. "What have you
been up to?"
"Well, the reason I called was, you know, I had decided to quit
writing for good."
"What? Why? Jordan, you can't do that."
"Actually, I'm not going to. But yesterday I did. And most of today."
"Well, you know about this whole Columbine school thing?"
"It really got to me, because, you know..." etc.
"You cut yourself?" she asked, quietly.
"Um, yeah," I said.
"So... so, what happened?"
"I talked to a couple of people. The advice I got is sort of funny,
though. Deric told me that if I was a bad person I should go with it,
and Josh said that the fact that I wanted to be a better person means
I am a good person. They're pretty much the exact opposites."
"But you're not a bad person, Jordan."
"I think I am."
"You're wrong. Just because you've thought about killing people?
Or because you can understand it? That's silly. Everyone feels those things."
"No, they don't..."
"Yes, they do," she said. "I know I can understand wanting
to kill people. And you know the stories I write are just as bad as yours
are, if not worse. Remember the one where Amber tears through that guy's
"Yeah... I liked that one a lot. Actually, that was what inspired
my pool of blood story. But that story wasn't intended to make people
do that for real."
"Neither are yours, Jordan. You write things that make people think.
Like your story about, what was his name, Stuart."
"He kills people, by accident, and you're on his side, but you don't
want him to kill them. You think about it and come to your own conclusions.
You can't stop writing. I love your stories, you know that. If you stopped
writing, I don't know what I would do. I love when you call me up and
read to me."
"And I love when you read to me, but it's ok, I'm not going to stop.
I have an idea now."
"What is it?"
"It's an idea for a collection of short stories," I said, "but
they're not designed to hurt the reader; they're designed to punish them."
"It would involve all the stories I've been working on and a few
more I have in mind, and then this new one I just came up with to clinch
it. The idea would be this; it would start with my Serena story. That
one is a good story where something bad happens and the reader is upset
by it. Serena is a good person, just very confused about things. You fall
in love with her, and then when Danny rapes her, it's awful, you know?"
"Yeah, I remember that one," she said. "I loved Serena,
she was great. She's like a younger, lesbian version of you. I hated Danny."
"Yeah. Then I would go to Danny's story where he is so depressed
and when he gets the brain tumor he is so much happier. Nothing too bad
happens in this one, except the protagonist is the rapist from Serena's
story, so it will introduce the idea of seeing things from the other point
"Then, I'd have the three page story I wrote about Cyn, the one
where she is crying in the corner?"
"Yeah, I remember that one."
"That would introduce us to Cyn so they can see her again later.
The next story will be the one I was going to do for creative writing,
about the college student collecting souls for Satan?"
"Isn't that a true story?" she joked.
"I don't give them to Satan, I just collect them. This guy is much
more successful at it than I am. But anyway, that's the story that will
come next. It's the point of view of this kid, so it has this evil evil
person talking to the audience very casually and with a humorous voice,
you know? So this is bringing the reader along down the way closer and
closer to evil."
"Ok, I guess I see what you mean."
"Then would be the Cyn and Sean story, where they kill each other.
By this time, they will hopefully be on Cyn and Sean's side when they
do it. They'll understand that death is the happy ending here."
"Um... ok. So, what's the trick? This seems like what you used to
"But there is one more story. This is the one that I decided I needed
to write. This is the story that brought me back. It's going to be very
much like the Columbine incident. It's a college student who decides to
kill a bunch of people at the college's spring fling. He brings a gun
and just starts killing people and then himself, but it's all first person
narration from him, so we see why he is doing it, how much he hurts, what
his reasons are, and him killing others and himself is his happy ending."
"This still seems the same."
"That's just the first part of the story. The second half is back
to Serena's point of view. She is in college now, too, and she finally
is happy. She has a girlfriend in a band she's been seeing for a few months,
she's a lead in a play there, she's comforable with her sexuality and
recently came out to her mother. She's basically just really happy for
the first time the reader has ever seen. Then she goes to spring fling
where her girlfriend is playing and she gets shot by the guy from the
first half. She dies."
She was quiet for a second.
"You're going to kill Serena?"
"Yes," I said. "I think it's the right thing to do."
"Don't you see? The readers are going to be slowly, bit by bit brought
from good to evil. They start on the side of an innocent character and
through the goading of the middle stories, they, step by step, come around
to being on the side of evil. Then I bring back the innocent character
and have the evil destroy her."
"But you love Serena! You've always said she was you as a woman."
"She is," I said, "And it will be painful for me, too.
But it needs to be done. I think I understand the idea of the devil now."
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"I never understood the devil. He asks you to be bad, and punishes
you for it. But I get it now. He's not doing it to get people to do bad
things; he's doing it to punish those who do. That's his purpose. He's
not as bad as everyone says he is."
"So you and the devil are going to follow the same plan?"
"I guess so, yeah."
"Jordan," she said, pausing to sigh, "You can write that
story if you want to. It sounds like a good one, and if you are inspired,
go for it. But you don't have to. You don't need to do penance. You're
not a bad person. You're just like me. If you are, then I am too. Do you
think I am?"
"No! Of course not."
"Well, you and I are almost exactly alike. You're a writer and you
like to write about people who do bad things. That's ok. That doesn't
mean you want bad things to happen in real life. If anything, it could
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"The fact that you write this may keep you from doing it," she
said. "And reading it could help other people to not do it."
"What, like a catharsis?"
"A catharsis," I said. "It's like, when a feeling is purged
from you by watching something."
"Yes, exactly; a catharsis," she agreed. "People can read
your stories rather than being bad people in their lives. And that's good.
That is important. Maybe if those boys in Colorado had read your story,
they wouldn't have wanted to kill all those people. Did you think of that?"
"Well, no," I said.
"You see? Your writing is important, Jordan, and so are you."
"You really think so?"
"I know so. I know I wouldn't be the same without you. You're one
of my closest friends and I don't ever want to have to wonder what happened
to you. You are perfect just the way you are."
"You... you really think so?" I asked.
"Yes I do," she said.
"Well... I... uh... thank you."
Another day, another stretch of hours on the floor of the lobby. I prefer
the floor to the benches even if they are cushioned benches. I sit with
my back to the wall next to the bench using it as an armrest. I was actually
able to read today. Unlike the day before, the words easily flowed from
the book to my mind with very little runoff. Mind you, there were still
the traits of the lobby which distracted me, like the tendency to see
people I knew. When Deric came around, for example.
He plopped down on the bench next to my floor-spot. "Hey, Jordan," he
"What's up?" I asked him.
"Nothing much," he said. "I just got out of scene study,
and I did the cross dressing scene. The one me and John did from The Importance
of Being Ernest?"
"How did it go?" I asked.
"Gene loved it," he said. "He said I knew how to act like
a woman. It's so weird being in a dress. It's so... gay!"
"But you are gay."
"Shut up! So?" he said. "How is your arm?"
"Looks great to me," I said. I had still been sneaking happy
glances at it all day.
"How are you doing?" he asked.
"I'm doing a lot better, I think. There's something I've been meaning
to talk to you about, though."
"I'm going to give you your soul back."
"Yeah," I said.
"But, why?" he asked. "I mean, I'm glad, but I've been
trying to get you to give it back for about a year."
"I've decided that anything I do wrong I deserve to pay for. I was
actually considering giving my soul away, being soulless, the man without
a soul, but I decided that only an idiot would give his soul away for
no good reason."
"Shut up!" Deric said.
"You have to admit it was really stupid to bet your soul at bowling
when you knew you sucked at it. You just thought it wasn't real at the
time, thought you were ripping us off. I guess it's good I took it though,
it taught you to appreciate it."
"Does that mean you're giving back Paula's soul, too?"
"As soon as I see her."
A few days later Deric came home to find me sitting on the couch listening
to music and looking through my Horror Movie guide. "How are you,
duder?" I asked,
"I'm exhausted," he said, "I've been rehearsing Romeo
for the past five hours straight."
"Did you do the masturbation scene just like Tromeo did?"
"But of course," he said, "Once you've seen an artist
like Tromeo act the masturbation scene you can do it no other way."
"As I suspected," I said. "So, you're tired, huh?"
"Yeah, I've been up since about nine o'clock. Why?"
"Oh, I don't know..." I said, "I was just thinking we
could... you know... play James Bond."
Deric threw off his bags and jumped onto the beanbag chair in anticipation. "I'm
in!" he said. I can't blame him; it had been days.
We got Rhett to join us, and we death-matched into the night. We played
on the 'License to Kill' setting, and it was a really close game, but
the proximity mines are my specialty, and they pushed me over the top
to win. A bout of indecipherable screaming came on the stereo.
"What the hell is this?" Deric asked.
"Nirvana," I said, "'Negative Creep.' It's great." I
sang a long with it for a minute.
"Was this on the whole time?" Deric asked.
"Not Nirvana, no, but this tape was."
"Is it the new mix you were working on?"
"Yes," I said, grinning. Mix tapes are a work of art for me.
I spend hours on them, planning them out, timing them out, and finally,
making elaborate covers for them.
"Well, let me see the cover!" he said. I passed it to him.
His eyes became upwards crescents again, and he blushed an covered his
mouth; his traditional guilty face. "Oh my God! Jordan! That's awful!"
"What? Why?" I asked, big golden halo floating above my head.
"This is hideous!" Deric said, laughing. "You're an awful
The mix tape was titled 'Carnage on Campus.' It was made to look like
a newspaper clipping. The headline was the tape's title, and underneith
that it read 'Student Gunman Opens Fire At Binghamton University.' Below
that is a picture of crying survivors (yes, lifted from Columbine), and
below that, my senior picture. The songs are listed on the back by saying
that I sang such and such songs as I walked around campus killing people.
The flap says I used a double barreled, sawed-off shotgun and that my
last words were '©1999 Perfectly Normal Records.'
"Oh come on Deric, it's just a joke," I said. "It's not
like I'd ever really do it."
No, no wait. Don't end it there...
I never wrote the story. The one killing off Serena? Never got made.
Not because I don't think it's a good idea; I do. I think someday I may
do it, but it needs to be in a collection, so if I do write it, it won't
be until I'm famous.
Is that the most presumptuous thing I've ever said? How about if I add
an 'as if' to the end of that paragraph? Ok, consider it done, retroactively.
It's just over a year later. I'm in a new creative writing class, one
called 'Memoir.' My final project is 35 or so pages of a memoir on
whatever I choose. We all signed up for a day to hand out 15 or so
pages to the
class to have part of our memoir workshopped the next day of class.
I don't have my memoir even close to done. The sixteen pages I handed
last class are the only sixteen I've written. I'm just past Deric telling
me to 'go with it'.
We discuss my memoir for the first half of class, and things go well
over all. Dion is shocked. That's very good. There were funny parts. That's
great too, maybe most important to me.
Then one of my classmates says, "After reading it, I understand
that you are, I mean the narrator, is intrigued by pain and death, but
why? Was there something in his childhood he noticed? Or was it because
of his friends, or what? I think I need to know that so I can understand
why he does this to himself."
I'm not supposed to respond when they are talking about my piece unless
the teacher specifically asks me to. But I want to. I want to tell her, "There
is no reason. I don't know why this happened to me. I just am who I am,
someone who likes drawing comical violence, listening to weird music,
and especially watching disturbing movies. That's just what I do. I can't
explain it." I don't tell her though. Oh well.
I've made my notes now on everything they said to me. It's time to move
on to the next writer, so everyone passes notated copies of my memoir
back to me. I should put them away and start talking about the next work,
but I don't, I keep them on my desk and try to be subtle reading through
For the most part, I get all the same criticisms as I got aloud, except
a few more in my defense by people afraid to argue out loud. Then I come
to Anna's copy. The first thing she said was to defend my not explaining
myself. Then she said, "This would be bad for people who cut before
to read because the story makes it seem so good. I have a lovely little
ANNA scar on my arm, went through a scene very similar to yours (which
is why I think the story is great an makes sense) and reading this brought
back things, a little 'elation.'"
I look up at Anna, but she doesn't see me looking. I reread the paragraph
a dozen times. My mind runs through a million scenarios. Eventually, I
have to just keep going. I start reading the rest of them, while half
listening to the criticism being tossed about. I'm really biding my time
till the end of class.
When it arrives, the whole class erupts into a bustle of backpacks being
slung on, people looking for the next memoir to read, and the instinct
to get the hell out of class. Somehow I manage to weasel through to get
to Anna. I touch her shoulder lightly; I don't think I know her well enough
to just say 'Hey, Anna.' She turns to look at me.
"I'm sorry," I say.
"Why?" she asks.
"I read your comments," I say, "And I wanted to say I
was sorry. I hope it wasn't too hard on you."
She looks around for a second, then says "Oh! I didn't know you
read them yet."
"Well, I don't think I was supposed to, but I couldn't help it.
But it wasn't too hard, was it? I hope it didn't make you want to..."
"Oh no," she says, "No, not that bad. I just thought it
was a little rough to get through, but I didn't, you know."
"Ok, good," I say. "I was worried it might have made you
hurt yourself or something. Good."
"No, I'm ok," she says.