Jake had a big bag of ice wrapped around his ankle and he was pissed about it. It was the time when you didn’t know whether to call it night or morning, and he was working on a mix tape. But he couldn’t get to the records on top because of his foot. You can’t make a mix tape with L through Z.
Scooter had cut both his hands open pretty badly. Jake took him to the hospital and committed insurance fraud, ignoring his foot because Scooter wouldn’t do anything about bleeding to death when it would bankrupt the record label. Jake had been scared white the whole time they were at the emergency room. He tried his best not to limp or wince or look drunk. Afterward they split up the painkillers. Now Jake was at home self-medicating and Scooter had gone back to his house to pick at his stitches.
So Jake kept thinking about a middle-aged, gray-haired executive penetrating his asshole in white collar prison and getting shanked in the shower. All Jake knew about prison was the clichés. He wanted to scream. He pressed record before remembering he had rewound the tape to check the pacing, and just like that he had ruined a night’s work.
He pulled the tape out and threw it at the back wall, disgusted. It wasn’t coming together right anyway.
He decided to get on the internet.
Let me tell you something about the internet: the internet is better than TV. The internet isn’t constantly calling you ugly. The internet doesn’t concern itself with your having lots of money, or having the right things, or how much sex you have. The internet loves you for your mind.
That is, unless you’re looking for sex. Then you can find all manner of uninterested, glazed over women doing things you hope your mom doesn’t know people do. They won’t say anything about the uncle that used to touch them when they were young or the gang rape when they were in junior high. Or they won’t say that they were just bored and needed the money. They won’t say that this is the only way they can ever feel, and even now they don’t feel anything. Jake didn’t see the point of masturbation anymore. There’s always too much guilt involved, and he starts thinking that maybe he should be donating to charity, or he starts thinking about the ways he disappointed his dad. Maybe that’s depression—being too sad to jerk off.
Anyway, there’s something slightly off about the internet. It’s like being in a movie set that looks like your bedroom. Almost real life. Almost. It’s why any story that involves email or instant messaging instantly loses any claim to validity.
Jake stared at this little window on his computer screen, thousands of ones and zeros coming together to form words and syllables.
Lex3Goon: its alex
Jake’s eyes grew wider as he stared at those two words with seven letters. The neurons and synapses in his brain took over for the ones and zeros, alcohol and painkillers lubricating the whole thing as they created her image in the room.
She was as stunning as always. Her brown hair had gotten a bit longer, and she was perhaps an inch taller. Her green eyes were shiny, and her face was fresh and new like she had grown up in a world without despair and hatred. She was wearing a sterile white jumpsuit with red piping and a nametag that said “Lex3Goon.” She was made primarily of Lone Star Beer and Codeine, and to Jake she was enough. But I need to assure you that she was fake, as all sterile things are.
She stood there with her arms crossed and her hips cocked, like she used to when she was trying not to laugh at Jake being stupid. When she spoke a little bubble formed over her head like in a comic strip, typing out the words.
“Lex3Goon: how r u?”
Jake was fumbling, trying to figure out what to make of things, what to say. He could plan out his thoughts, craft something wonderful, dynamic. Of course, he didn’t.
“LessThanMe: I’ve been ok, I guess. I hurt my ankle,” he said, gesturing downward, “how about you?”
She smiled, buying his lies. “Lex3Goon: ive been great, im working for a publishing company up here. they pay me pretty well and ive been taking classes at nite”
“Lex3Goon: howd you hurt your ankle”
Jake couldn’t think straight, he was so excited. All he could say was, “LessThanMe: that’s cool.” And then, as he read: “LessThanMe: oh, just being an idiot with a friend.”
“Lex3Goon: sounds like a blast. were you durnk?”
Jake smiled, she still couldn’t type.
“LessThanMe: no just stupid. do you like seattle?”
“Lex3Goon: i love it!!1 its so much fun” She was so beautiful when she was excited. She was pure and simple like ones and zeros.
“Lex3Goon: are you still playing music?”
Jake didn’t remember her ever saying anything about his band, but it had been a long time and she knew it had mattered to him, once. He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t want to sound like a failure, despite everything. But he couldn’t lie about this.
“LessThanMe: everything i made is trite and cheap and a waste of paint, of tape, of time.”
She crossed her arms and frowned down at him. “Lex3Goon: don’t you quote Conor Oberst to me. If you want to get down on yourself do it in your own words.”
Jake had always tried to get her to listen to something good, something she had never heard of. She was always caught up in the latest thing. Maybe she had finally taken his advice.
“LessThanMe: you like Bright Eyes?”
“Lex3Goon: not really. Its awfully pretentious.”
Her face went serious, and she took a seat across from him. This is all happening too fast for my taste, but I can’t seem to come up with anything more. She put her hand on his knee and said “Lex3Goon: well, listen, i just wanted to make sure you were ok. i know its been awhile since… everything. but you cross my mind a lot, and i still remember.”
She knew some of what everything was, but not all.
Jake smiled big. His head was clearing. She remembered him. He played it cool.
“LessThanMe: i’m fine. Its good to hear from you.”
Alex stood up, satisfied, and started toward the door. She called out behind her.
“Lex3Goon: well thats great. listen, ive got to get to sleep. stop by if youre ever in seattle ;)”
She winked as she walked out the front door. It closed with a canned sound file. Kachunk.
Jake called after her. “Wait, Alex! Wait!” and then, softly so she couldn’t hear, “I miss you.” It all faded away and he was in his room, alone, talking to no one. It was how it always was, but suddenly he couldn’t bear it anymore. He had hallucinated some of it or even the whole thing, but to him it was real and it had wrecked everything. He fell out of his chair and cried.
He cried because he didn’t feel anymore, and he was tired of it. He cried because he was invisible. He cried because there was nothing left to do and he was empty. He must have loved her. He must still love her. It was the only possible explanation.