a conversation provided with no context at all

"So, you're opposed to torture under any circumstances?"

"Uh, yes."

"So, let's say you've captured a terrorist--"

"The fuck am I doing capturing a terrorist?"

"--and he's the only one who knows how to stop a bomb plot that will kill five thousand people. Do you torture him?"

"I'd rather ask politely."

"But the only way to get information out of him is to torture him."

"What if he lies?"

"He won't lie. You can torture him and he'll tell the truth one hundred percent of the time."

"Do I know this?"


"And I know that he's the only way to stop the bomb plot?"


"And, presumably, that he will only talk if tortured?"


"How did I find all this out?"


"Well, I mean. You clearly want me to say yes, right? You've got all these hypotheticals set up so that that's the only clear moral choice, but, I mean, there's so many assumptions there. I can maybe believe all the 'he's the only one' crap but then I have to assume that somehow I've found this out. How did I do that without just figuring out how to stop the bomb?"

"Just answer the question."

"Fine. I let all five thousand of the fuckers die."

"That's kind of a dick move."

"It's my hypothetical revenge for living in a hypothetical world of implausible nested hypothetical situations."

"Fine. Let's try this one. Would you ever kill a man?"


"What the fuck, man? You wouldn't torture someone, but you'd kill them?"

"I said I believed that torture was always wrong. I didn't say I'd never do it."

"I hate you."


static and noise

This never happened.

I don't think I've ever told this to anyone. I guess that will be pretty obvious soon enough. Even now, trying to write about it, I want to get it over with as quickly as possible, rushing over the backstory, providing a bare bones outline of events.

It's about the time I very deliberately betrayed a friend's trust. She'd told me a story--I won't repeat it here, but it's probably still out there somewhere if you know where to look--in confidence, but I want you to understand, this wasn't a "let me tell you a secret" type of thing. We were the sort of friends where she would never have even considered that I might betray her on this one. It was a very intimate and personal story about death, and it's not like it made her look bad, but--and here I am making excuses again. The point is she told me this story in private, and she expected it to remain between us. A story she'd never told anyone else.

I don't know why that story is the one I chose, and I'm not sure I matters which one. We'd had something of a falling out--she called me out on some of my bullshit and I was in the wrong mood for it. There were some other things, I guess--little things, cracks in our friendship that had been growing for a while, but it took me years to admit that it was anything but this stupid argument. I don't even remember the actual thing she said that set me off. What I do remember, with perfect clarity, is shouting at her empty house long after she had left in her car. I remember shaking with rage, crying hot tears. I remember wanting revenge.

So, I wrote her story. No exaggerations or attempts to make her look bad--this wasn't about people thinking she was a bad person. I wanted to destroy her privacy. I wanted people to see this story and write her and call her and ask her about it--I wanted them to know those private moments, where she watched someone die. I wanted her to know that took something sacred and I left it naked and exposed. I wrote it and I saw to it that it was published in her name.

I published it in the lit mag of which my sister was the editor--another betrayal that I had to deal with. It was never widely read, but it attracted notice within our social circles. So she received a trickle of interest. At first she assumed it was a mistake, that someone with a similar name had written something. Then she began to doubt. By the time she had a copy of her own, it was too late, damage done.

I never asked her how she felt about the sudden exposure, of course, but she made it clear that she got the message. I'd never seen her so furious. It was far less satisfying than I had imagined it. Even then I was already having trouble remembering what I had hoped to accomplish--mostly, I think I just wanted her to hurt. But it seemed empty now.

In an ideal world this would end with an apology and forgiveness, but this is not an ideal world. I felt like apologizing was disingenuous--not because I wasn't sorry, but because apologies were not sufficient. I had very deliberately crossed a line. The idea of being forgiven, of being trusted again, was unbearable. So, in what could have been the ultimate act of revenge were she not being so damn sincere about it, she went and forgave me.

Even as I tried to stay, to make it work, because this was someone I couldn't afford to lose--especially not now--I could see the end approaching. One night I deleted her from all my contact lists. I stopped responding to her phone calls and instant messages. I excised her entirely from my life.

The worst part of it was how right it felt, how easily I could just switch off a human relationship. The very next day I found some pictures of us together and I felt nothing at all. Instead of any sense of loss, I felt like I'd discovered something important. I guess it's always been in my nature to run.


grids and patterns

This happened.

This was when I lived in Maine, I think. Alex was visiting for the summer (this is before things fell apart), and it was one of those perfect nights in July or August when the sky was clear and the stars were burning so terrifyingly bright and--anyway, we spent the night outside just watching the stars come in, and eventually I found my eyes drifting closed.

I couldn't sleep, though. At this point I noticed a little red and black grid pattern when I closed my eyes. Which was weird, but I could have ignored it. Then there were these vivid images floating through my imagination.

It's hard to explain how weird that is to most people, but my visual imagination has never worked--certainly not with the intensity at which it now burned. Suddenly my mind was working in a way it never had before, and I hadn't had so much as a drink to explain it.

I panicked. What else could I do? I was no longer who I always thought I'd been. And every time I tell this story I say that Alex helped me calm down, reminded me who I was, but that's a lie. I was too paralyzed to move. By the time I could even will my eyes open and look over at her, she had fallen asleep. I was alone under the canopy of stars, which had changed since I'd closed my eyes. How long had I been frozen there under the grip of panic?

I took her hand in mine and finally found sleep, with that reminder that someone was there. We slept until the storm rolled in the next day. It came with flooding and thunder, and we ran inside, thoroughly drenched, and as we sat there laughing I told her about my attack. It's easier when you're already laughing. That way you can pretend you can laugh about that.

I've never seen the black-and-red grid pattern again, nor the strange vivid images that accompanied it. But that night I was certain I would wake and find that I was a completely different person, and sometimes, when it's late and I'm tired and the evening feels just so, I worry that I did, and I wonder who I used to be, if there's anything left of that former self, maybe in a clearing in Maine, forever trapped in the perfect stars.