Must’ve been a time of contagion somehow he’d picked up like hepatitis C this morbid fear of dying young and his “organs” being “harvested” ribcage opened up, pried open with giant jaws you’d hear the cracking of the bones deftly with surgical instruments the organs spooned out blood vessels, nerves “snipped” and “tied” your organs packed in dry ice, in waterproof containers to be carried by messenger to the “donor recipient” this sick-slipping-helpless sensation in his gut like skidding his car, his parents’ new Audi they’d trusted him with, on black ice approaching the Tappan Zee bridge deep in the gut, a knowledge of the futility of all human wishes, volition This is it, you are fucked Only twenty-three years old not old no reason to worry about the future, his mom can worry for him moms are experts at worrying, moms are most useful at worrying yet moms should be shielded from knowing too much about their sons moms should be protected otherwise you feel guilt sick-guilt, like sick-worry about dying young he wasn’t worried really, it’s just his mind maybe there’s a tapeworm burrowed into his brain it’s not normal to be aware of your “organs” wakened in the night when he finally gets to sleep by the rude thump! thump! of his heart dazed thinking someone was in bed with him? was it B., she’d just slipped from bed to use the bathroom and would be back stumbling in the dark, giggling and collapsing on top of him the narrow sunk-mattress bed with smelly sheets of his college dorm room in Mackie Hall but no, can’t be, Jason has graduated, all that’s gone once his brain is fully awake he has no trouble comprehending he’s in his own bed, in his own home he’s safe here Only twenty-three yet he has become obsessed knows people his age who’ve already died that is, already he knows people his age who’ve died “head-on collision” “by his own hand” (gun) “mountain-hiking fall” (Ecuador) “drug overdose” it is morbid to dwell on such things but really he’s kind of anxious so much time to think naturally, you become anxious maybe there is a tapeworm in his brain (can’t suggest this to mom, mom would freak) at the same time he’s capable of discussing the issue openly and easily with people, with friends, as he’d done in his ethics class, saying what you’d expect an intelligent person to say Sure I’d want to donate my organs my eyes to some other person in need Greater love than this hath no man, than that he lay down his life for his friends he believes this, kind of he is a Christian, kind of being an “organ donor” doesn’t mean that you die for that purpose but that after you die your “organs” are “harvested” this is a crucial distinction this makes him anxious you start off in a car, never return alive and your organs shunted off to be planted in strangers, your eyes inserted in the eye sockets of a stranger, no wonder he can’t sleep she’d twined her thin arms around his neck, mashed her hot yearning face in his neck half the time he hadn’t known what the hell was she serious? was she joking? it was some other guy she loved, not him? or was it him? he doesn’t sleep with any of them now it’s been seven, eight months living in his mom’s family house in Rye, Connecticut avoid people easier to avoid in August, they’ll be on Nantucket yet he’s eager to contact his friends each morning waking frantic to make contact with as many of his friends as he can as if in the night might’ve lost someone has been lost to someone checks his e-mail immediately before even rinsing his putrid mouth, washing his face that’s a clay mask dried and shrunken his cell phone he’s frantic to call his friends mostly guys from his eating club, and a scattering of girls not so much to talk with them, within a few seconds of starting a conversation he’s ready to break it off, just to see are they there are they still there as he is still here it makes him laugh to think how there’s a final message that will be enshrined, sort of Jason’s last e-mail! next thing I hear he’s dead his friends calling one another, excited flurry of e-mails and attachments, text-messages his friends thrilled, breathless he will be pried out of the wreckage by the “jaws of life” he will feel his chest being pried open the ribcage must be cracked like breaking apart a roasted chicken the first organ to be “harvested” is the heart only a few hours after brain death this organ begins to deteriorate dry ice, an airtight container sometimes by messenger carried on airplanes eyes without lids, very carefully wrapped in sleep mode, unseeing optic nerves and blood vessels snipped, tied this is microsurgery he’s laughing this is truly so weird nobody seems to acknowledge how weird how alone he is, in this knowledge can’t say to mom you are so fucking afraid of dying, it might be better to die and get it over with senior year he’d had lots of friends B. was not Jason’s closest friend B. belonged to Jason’s eating club, they’d taken a popular bioethics course together he’d hooked up with B. a few times during their senior year haphazard and casual by mutual consent (he was certain!) casual after graduation drifted apart B. went to Bangkok to teach in the university’s extension program there B.A., Ivy League university, tuition somewhere beyond forty thousand dollars a year, you’re qualified to teach English “as a foreign language” recently B. has e-mailed Jason out of nowhere out of cyberspace must’ve gotten his address from a mutual friend Hi Jason thinking of you & missing you it’s challenging here but kind of lonely turns out Bangkok is the Sex Capital of the world & a buyer’s market (Germans, American, Japanese males the primary buyers) & at one hundred fifteen pounds I am thirty pounds too heavy & at age twenty-three way too old. Sucks, huh? Surprised by B.’s tone, disturbed and not knowing what B. wants, he’d replied a few times briefly he’d replied wary of too much confiding, that can happen too quickly in e-mail anyway not much news at Jason’s end, job interviews in the city fizzled out summer internship in Hartford a fucking disappointment, not what he’d been promised he’d quit and returned home at Princeton he’d taken economics courses, did O.K. until the math got too complicated courses in environmental studies, ecology played some tennis, soccer like a dream now, it has faded so swiftly the guy he’d been, Jason T., faded so swiftly his friends, too, seem to have changed scattered across the country Mike who’d died (it’s said) in a suspicious hiking-trail accident in Ecuador at twelve thousand feet B. who’s in Bangkok, Thailand feels sorry for B., but God damn wishes she’d cease writing to him sends him all kinds of weird attachments maybe meant to be jokes he’s deleting most of these without reading them it’s like B. is stalking him Christ he’s lonely, too he has his own sick thoughts quick death, that’s the best death, skidding on black ice approaching the mammoth bridge in November sleet S K I D D I N G as if floating, airborne delicious weightlessness This is it, man you are fucked he’d been smiling in fact he’d been paralyzed panicked black ice is invisible in headlights hadn’t died, though only just the passenger’s side of the elegant silver Audi smashed mild bruising from the damned airbag none of this he’d share with B. never share anything with anybody you get naked with any guy knows that like a dream now, the girls Jason had slept with hopes they remember him better than he remembers them smashed out of his mind, some nights it’s O.K., you won’t remember in bioethics they’d discussed cloning / euthanasia / “selective breeding” / “selective abortion” / “organ donors” / “harvesting organs” in certain countries lacking human rights laws like China, organs can be ordered by the wealthy and specimens selected from the prison population and their organs “harvested” logical development of science their professor said what science can do, science will eventually do always, science will do moral reasons will be found for what brings profit to the market “greatest good for the greatest number” there is no code of ethics intrinsic in humankind there is only codified law without law, no civilization without civilization, no ethics thinking of this he’s feeling his heart prepare to thump! sweat breaking out in his underarms, crotch his mom has warned him not to “stress” himself he’s got plenty of time to reapply to law schools that sick-slipping-sensation in the gut at the prospect of returning to school any kind of school a (secret) sensation he can’t tell his mom anxious that Jason will “stress” himself as his father did minor heart attacks then cardiac arrest, aged forty-nine Jason can’t envision himself beyond forty even beyond thirty, he feels very tired the crucial question is who’d want to live that long yet, once you get started, you don’t seem to want to stop freaks him out totally, the prospect of somebody else looking through his eyes for wouldn’t Jason be there, too? somehow, still? in his eyes? wakened in the morning checks his e-mail anxious to see if he has new messages always he hopes for new messages yet anxious to see if B. has written B.’s tone has become openly mocking, cruel B. had not been like this at Princeton Hello Jason it seems that you must be very busy, don’t have time to write to me, what’s it require, 20 seconds of your precious time about 20 seconds is as long as youre good for you self-important white-boy prick shocked, Jason deletes this message stung, ashamed furious nothing you can do for a disturbed bitter person on the far side of the earth looks up Thailand on a world atlas surprised how close it is to Vietnam, Cambodia not far from the Philippines a Filipina woman named Maria had worked for Jason’s family when Jason had been a boy very quiet, reserved Maria who’d been like one of the family Jason’s mom had adored Maria so much more reliable than the Hispanic women she’s had to hire in recent years Jason’s mom is concerned about her son you’d think the university would be doing more for its graduates everybody can’t be summa cum laude Rhodes scholars Jason sleeps sometimes until noon heavy dreamless sleep like a stupor Jason isn’t seeing his friends from school his girl friend, if that’s what she’d been, he’d been seeing in New York for a while, that seems to be over Jason’s mom understands Jason’s anxiety, she thinks Jason’s mom is sympathetic can’t explain to his mom he can’t be involved, getting naked is repulsive to him no he is not “doing” drugs maybe some weekends in New York but now, no God damn B. continues to send him her vicious messages should delete without reading yet can’t seem to resist in revulsed fascination suicidal hints, Jason isn’t going to fall for when i am not who will you be? where i am going will you follow? what’s this supposed to mean, some kind of crap Zen wisdom he isn’t going to print it out, maybe it’s evidence that B. is cracking up, needs psychiatric help fuck he isn’t going to get involved in their bioethics class when suicide was discussed B. was vehement saying suicide is wrong their professor (a world-famous philosopher, a really cool guy they all admired) pointed out that “wrong” is a subjective moral claim and whose claim? by whose authority such a claim over the individual? in the discussion, Jason said he thought that suicide was O.K. in certain circumstances he was a Christian, kind of not a Muslim! you were pegged as a Christian his mom’s family was Roman Catholic, but not his mom not him in bioethics you could see that most of the students were really getting off on it suicide’s a favorite topic an alternative to graduation (joke) morbid/compulsive thinking of such things when you’re twenty now twenty-three makes him feel dazed and light-headed, the prospect of living to forty which you sort of have to do (don’t you?) if you get married, have kids never make forty-nine hopes his mom is gone by that time, a mother should not outlive her son secretly Jason has felt it’s good, dad being gone he hadn’t been living with Jason’s mom at that time, temporary separation (mom said) so when dad died it was in another city out-of-state kind of like dad to get the last word, bad sport playing tennis when his teenaged son was starting to beat him make the old guy run around the court lunging and panting and cursing under his breath, Jason had laughed seeing his father’s flushed-red face thinking Go for it, dad! Cardiac arrest this morning there’s a new message from B. God damn that bitch, ruining Jason’s peace of mind deletes the message without reading seven e-mails in a row from B. he has deleted without reading since last Friday so pissed maybe this a mistake but Jason decides to reply one final time Sorry I don’t have time for games, I don’t like games, I have my own life, get a life of your own on TV that night there’s an interview with Jason’s grandfather Jason has switched on the TV in his room bored and restless surfing channels and there on public TV (which Jason never watches) his grandfather being interviewed by Charlie Rose it has been a while since grandpa has been on TV, Jason realizes mom’s elderly father the only individual among Jason’s relatives to have achieved what you’d call prominence some notoriety, but “renown” grandpa had been a fierce critic of liberal political and social agendas in the 1960s and 1970s nobody at Princeton in Jason’s circle had heard of him well maybe the name something to do with politics? books? Jason himself hasn’t read more than a few pages of his grandpa’s numerous books In a close-up the elegant white-haired old gentleman is peering into the camera that look of disdain handsome ruin of a face a mask of fine wrinkles but the pale blue eyes still alert, combative Jason’s famous grandpa enunciating his words with such care, the most slow-witted in the TV audience can’t mishear I am eighty-two years old I am not in especially poor health I don’t see much reason to continue to live it’s a debased era but no more debased than previous eras I have lived through but I would not commit suicide I am a Roman Catholic and the sacraments are sacred to me so calmly speaking, Jason isn’t certain he’s heard what he has heard his “famous” grandpa on national TV saying such things! Jason listens to the remainder of the interview in a daze as soon as the TV program is over, Jason’s mom enters his room tears glittering in her eyes, she’s upset asking if Jason has happened to see his grandfather interviewed on Charlie Rose just now Jason is embarrassed saying he saw just the end of the interview his mom asks what did he hear he shrugs saying grandpa was being funny as usual, I guess funny! his mom says uncertainly oh yes I suppose so my father is known for his dry sense of humor Jason says, wishing she’d leave, sure mom that’s about all that anybody knows about grandpa isn’t it? next morning Jason does an unexpected thing, calls his grandpa hasn’t been on easy terms with the old man for years but Jason says to him why’d you say what you did last night on Charlie Rose, grandpa! you kind of hurt our feelings, grandpa especially mom the old man is quiet for a moment as if he’s surprised by this then laughs saying Jason you must know that I was just joking my God everybody in the family has been calling me chiding me just joking for God’s sake wouldn’t have thought my own family lacked a sense of humor Jason isn’t going to let the old man off so easily he’s remembering fishing for blue fish off grandpa’s boat, in Nantucket Sound he’s remembering grandpa hugging him, when his dad died saying God damn grandpa you expect grandparents to say things like Life is precious, and this is the happiest time of your life while you’re young you don’t expect your grandparents to say life is shit grandpa is protesting now remorseful-sounding dear Jason, dear boy it’s my pride, I abhor clichés Jason says you had a happy life, grandpa you have money, you’re a famous man all my friends have heard of you, ask about you grandpa is quiet again for a moment then says Jason you are correct my life has been pretty damned good and I like being famous it’s like seeing yourself in a room of mirrors if you’re good-looking especially still if I had to live my life over again, I’d swallow poison grandpa bursts into laughter terrifying old-man laughter Jason is stunned gripping the phone receiver stammering grandpa what? grandpa you’re joking are you? grandpa why? grandpa manages to control his laughter saying why son, you tell me
Rachel Farrell is the Blog & Social Media Editor for Michigan Quarterly Review. Her work has appeared in Jezebel, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Ninth Letter, Pank, and Virginia Quarterly Review. She is a graduate of the Helen Zell Writers' Program at the University of Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @rachelfarrell.
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