X-Men vs. Street Fighter

Originally published in The Seneca Review

MY EYE BEAMS CAN DESTROY MOUNTAINS.

I like to tell myself that I pick Cyclops because he’s the X-Man I most identify with—the quiet, sensitive young man who hides behinds his Ruby-Quartz glasses because he knows his gaze is destructive, that anyone who looks into his eyes will be obliterated by the force of his optic blast—but the truth is, I pick him because he’s the easiest to control.  It’s the same reason I choose Ryu, the most basic character of the Street Fighter franchise, as his teammate on this journey.  I am not a serious gamer by any means.  There are no quest games in my repertoire, no RPGs, no cinematic action epics with long story arcs—I play sports games and fighting games because the level of commitment is minimal.  A football game ends after the fourth quarter; best two out of three rounds ends a fight.  I can see the end more clearly in the games I choose to play.

This is my Junior year in college, and I haven’t been to class in two months because I can’t listening to how self-assured my classmates are when the professors call on them or, even worse, when they offer their insights voluntarily—can’t stand the lulls in discussion, when people look around, especially when they look at me, to keep the conversation going.  The beads of sweat push through my pores like tiny eggs—eggs that burst and run down my face—until I have to take off my glasses and wipe away the haze with my sleep-creased shirt. It’s when people aren’t looking that I can convince myself that I’m not as unattractive as I feel, that maybe things aren’t all that bad.

Maybe if I got a haircut, I wouldn’t panic every time I felt them looking at me.  I could remove my cap, the stained headband stinking of withering despair, worn to hide the coarse hair that sticks up at odd angles because I fell asleep on the couch and woke up at four in the morning, the Aerobics programs playing on ESPN2, programs featuring fit women in tight spandex doing leg lifts on a soundstage constructed next to a beach—their hair, curled in wavy spirals like egg noodles, their Scrunchee topknots swaying in unison with the palm trees in the background.  Maybe if I got a haircut, I could call the girls who knew me before I bottomed out, girls with very low self-esteem who I can only assume came over because listening to me feel sorry for myself was better than being alone with their own thoughts, girls who let me undress them because we both understood that this was as good as it was going to get for people like us.  Maybe if I got a haircut, I’d force myself to shave, to clean my room.  Maybe then one of these girls could come over with a bottle of wine and a copy of Blue Velvet from Blockbuster, and we could sit on the couch, the couch where I woke up and lingered a little too long on those goddamn aerobics programs, and I could explain to them what my life has been like since we last spoke, and maybe they’d feel sorry for me and one of them would let me rest my head in her lap.

The last time I got a haircut, the woman who cut it laughed at the way the clippings stuck to my sweaty cheeks and forehead, while “Peaceful Easy Feeling” played softly through a boombox under the mirror of her station.  Her name was Marie and she was studying to be a medical assistant in Spokane.  She moved into town after leaving her husband in Wyoming, a sad sack who liked to cry and punch walls when he drank too much.  It all sounded like a bad Raymond Carver story, and I never understood why she would reveal so much of herself to a stranger whose black hair stuck to her fingers like ants swarming a popsicle, someone who sighed so much she’d repeatedly ask him if he was okay, someone who would apologize and tell her he was coming down with something when it was obvious he’d already come down as far as he could possibly go.

I remember putting my glasses back on and seeing my reflection, shining with sweat.

You really need to take care of yourself, she said, and she wiped the sweat and hair away with a towel.

I told her she was right, that I did have to take better care of myself, and I knew I’d never get another haircut from her again.  That was two months ago, around the same time I was prescribed Doxepin for my Serotonin imbalance—whatever the fuck that means—around the same time I stopped going to my classes.  One of Doxepin’s side-effects was that it made me so drowsy I slept through the alarm clock.  Rushing into class fifteen minutes late, the baseball cap pulled over my sleep-matted hair, followed by a long walk to an empty seat, just didn’t seem worth it.  This is why I am sitting on a bench in front of the student union building, smoking a cigarette, watching the pretty girls walk past with the benefit of knowing they will never return my gaze.

But at this point, I honestly can’t blame the Doxepin because I stopped taking it three weeks ago.  How does this psychiatrist even know I have a Serotonin imbalance?  There were no tests done, no blood drawn, no brain scan—it all seems like an educated guess.  I tell myself that I don’t need the Doxepin, that my brain will someday produce enough Serotonin on its own—if that’s even what’s truly wrong in the first place—and someday I’ll start going to class again, and someday I’ll stop sweating when people ask me how my day is going.  Someday, I’ll sit in the barber’s chair and laugh and respond without sounding apprehensive.  Someday, the back of my head will rest on the lip of the sink, Marie’s fingernails working the shampoo into my scalp, and the blood won’t rush out of my stomach.  Someday, I won’t let the frantic bullshit race around my head until I hyperventilate.

Or I’ll just kill myself.  I’ve been reading Yukio Mishima lately, The Way of the Samurai.  The Appendix (“Selected Words of Wisdom from Hagakure”) really speaks to me:

I discovered the Way of the samurai is death.  In a fifty-fifty life or death crisis, simply settle it by choosing immediate death.  There is nothing complicated about it.  Just brace yourself and proceed.

There are lots of passages in the book, ones that could be useful someday—Stumble and fall seven times, bounce back eight; In a major undertaking, minor failures may be overlooked; If you wish to excel, invite criticism from others—but these are lessons I can’t process quite yet.  I’m not even sure how many times I’ve stumbled, fallen.  This doesn’t feel like bouncing back.  First I have to embrace death.  First I have to lose my fear of failure.  When in doubt whether to eat or not eat, it is better to refrain.  When one can not decide whether to live or die, it is better to die.  I think about this a lot while I’m smoking in the courtyard, that everything is fifty-fifty.  Something will happen or it will not.  I will succeed or I will fail.  Choose failure.  I will live or I will die.  Always choose death.

After the courtyard clears out, I snuff my cigarette and walk inside, head down—past the group of sorority girls huddled around a table, past the two graduate students flirting in their wool socks and Birkenstocks, discussing Marshall McLuhan like principals in the Woody Allen movie of their dreams—and take the stairs heading into the bowling alley, with its arcade in the front and pool hall further in back, to commune with Cyclops, Ryu, and the rest of the characters in X-Men vs. Street Fighter, the video game I park myself in front of whenever the thought of going to my filthy off-campus apartment with a roommate I no longer speak to, gets to me.  Sometimes, Ryu and Cyclops face the team of Wolverine and the demonic karate master Akuma, and sometimes Wolverine teams with an alternate version of Ryu in a black karate gi instead of the requisite white one my version of Ryu wears, but it’s always the same otherwise.  I push the stool aside and stand in front of the machine, try to ignore the explosion of bowling pins behind me, try not to look over to my left, past the shoe rental counter, at the group of frat guys chatting up the girls at the pool table next to theirs.

I lose myself in the game because it’s the only thing I know to do.  It’s the only way I can hold in the resentment I have toward everyone around me.

I am choosing failure.

 

FORGET ABOUT A REMATCH. PRACTICE MORE INSTEAD.

Two days ago, I told my shrink about the time I was nine and watched my childhood friend put his mouth around another friend’s dick.  She told me this was a normal thing, what they did, that plenty of boys did this all the time, that it was all a part of a young boy’s sexual development.  I told her that I’d never done it, that I didn’t think it was normal.  I told her how much it scarred me, how it helped me form a negative opinion of gay men.  I told her this knowing she was a lesbian.  Then I added that I wasn’t a homophobe anymore.

She asked me why I didn’t think it was normal, and I told her it was because we were kids and we should have been playing with our action figures or riding our bikes.

So why didn’t you play with your action figures instead? she asked, and I told her we didn’t because we’d stolen some porno mags and wanted to look at them in the woods.

I see, she said.

She began jotting notes, and I wanted to know what she was writing.  These were my intimate thoughts she was scribbling onto her notepad.  I had a right to know what she thought.  What if she was wrong about me?  What if she didn’t believe I wasn’t a homophobe anymore?  How could anyone know I had a Serotonin imbalance without running some kind of brain scan?  Maybe she thought I was judging her the way I thought she was judging me.  I didn’t trust her, the way she sat in her black dress pants and purple sweater with her legs crossed.  There were bite marks near the top of her pencil, right beneath the metal band that held the eraser in place.  Was she a nervous person?  Did she chew on her pencils because of me?  If I frustrated her, I needed to know.

There was another psychiatrist in that office, an older man with a shaved head who wore tweed jackets and spoke with a voice much too deep for his small body.  He didn’t ask a lot of questions of his patients when he’d see them in the lobby, the way mine would ask how my day was going, or how my weekend was, or if I found something of interest in that leathery, six-week-old Newsweek I read while waiting for her.  He would simply greet them in his sharp baritone and then ask them to come into his office.  He never even left his doorway, just stood for a moment at the entrance of his office, pink-faced and blue-eyed.  I called him Professor X, the leader of the X-Men, and it’s not very shocking that I wished he was my therapist.  I used to imagine that his office was like the Danger Room from the comic books, the holographic training facility filled with traps and obstacles the X-Men used to prepare for missions, to keep their minds and bodies sharp.  I would to imagine the two of us, me and this tiny bald man, going over scenario after scenario, training simulations, in order to hone my decision making skills.  He didn’t seem like the type that chewed on pencils, didn’t seem like the type that wore running shoes with black dress pants.

The psychiatrist uncrossed her legs, placed the soles of her black New Balance sneakers on the hardwood floor, and ran her thumb along the tooth-marked ridges of her pencil.  She was wearing white ankle socks.

So what do you think really bothered you? she asked.

I shifted on the couch and looked over her shoulder to the leaves outside the window, shimmering in the breeze like sequins, and wondered how I could have any kind of serious discussion with her if she didn’t understand how this could be so bothersome.  How could I tell her that I couldn’t fully enjoy my first blowjob because I kept thinking about those two boys the entire time?  How could I tell her that when the girl asked me how it was, I told her, Not bad?  How could I tell her I felt so guilty, I made out with that girl even though her breath smelled like Big Red and bleach?

I told the psychiatrist I didn’t know.  Then I took off my glasses and the world became a blur, like when the first drops of rain are smeared across a dirty windshield by broken wipers.  I squinted at my lenses, which were spotted with dust and gunk.  I grabbed a Kleenex from the table and wiped them clean.  Everything became clear when I put them back on.  I could see again.

Well, give it some thought, she said.  Try to really dig deep.  Look inside yourself.  You might be surprised by what you find.

She was always telling me that, to look inside myself, and it always made me question her usefulness.  Wasn’t that her job?  If I could find what I was looking for, I wouldn’t need her.  I want to tell her this, that I don’t want to look inside myself, that looking inside myself is part of the problem, but I don’t.

We’ll talk about it next time, she said.

Our time was up.  She didn’t look up once, the sound of graphite subjectively scraping across paper.  I knew there wasn’t going to be a next time because I wouldn’t live long enough to tell her what really bothered me about that day in the woods.  Flecks of sunlight caught the surfaces of the leaves behind her and then glittered across her purple shoulders, and I told myself this was what I wanted to remember when I died—something random, something beautiful, something that didn’t look like shit.

 

YOU NEED TO LEARN THE WAY OF THE WORLD WARRIOR.

There are two guys next to me at the arcade.  They’re always there next to me—ponytailed with goatees and black trench coats.  The quieter of the two wears wire-rimmed glasses and has a habit of sighing through his nostrils.  The louder, shorter one wears a backwards Disneyland cap.  Otherwise, there’s nothing special about either of them, just two dorks playing Time Crisis in the bowling alley, pointing their light gun controllers at the screen, blasting their way through an army of mercenaries in order to save the President’s daughter.  There are a lot of guys like them in the arcade—awkward young men with stringy hair, and mustaches, and weak chins, and T-shirts with the album cover of Rush’s Fly By Night screen-printed across their hollow chests—but these two stand out because they always seem to be next to me, and whenever I scan the room, I see the pretty girls glaring at them and I swear they’re glaring at me too.  I call them Ken and Charlie, after two characters on X-Men vs. Street Fighter.  If the Street Fighter tournament were a real thing, I imagine that anyone seeing Ken and Charlie’s names on the opponent board would laugh and breathe a sigh of relief.  If your name was Cyclops or Juggernaut or Sabretooth, how could you ever be intimidated by two guys named Ken and Charlie?  What a couple of losers these two are.

They vocalize their frustration with a serious of fucks, and fuck this’s, and fuck you’s until the lady behind the shoe rental counter tells them to watch their mouths.  Then they begin speaking loudly about other things—The Re-Animator, Star Wars, and comic books—typical nerd shit.  When they begin discussing who the hottest X-Men are, I imagine they’re doing this to get under my skin, and I stare at Rogue, the Southern Belle of the X-Men, as she performs a six-hit combo on Ryu on my screen, and I want to protect her from these two idiots.  I want to rip their eyes out, so they can never read the comics again, so they can’t take in the vision of her in her skin-tight spandex, flying through the air, dodging bullets and laser beams with her back arched and her toes pointed.

I haven’t had sex in eight months.  I’ve done the math.  And I want to die right here in this bowling alley full of nineteen year-old girls with their nineteen year-old thighs.

 

YOU TRY BUT YOU LACK THE TRAINING OF A MASTER.

So did you get the Southern Comfort? asks Ken.

Yeah, says Charlie.  And a case of Molson Ice.

Cyclops laces his fingers together and swings his arms as if swinging a golf club, sending Cammy, the pigtailed British Commando, flying into the air, and before she can hit the ground, he nails her with a low kick, then a high kick, followed by the Mega Optic Blast, enveloping her body in a thick wall of searing red energy.  She falls head first to the dirt, and then Cyclops unleashes a primal victory scream, blasting a defiant beam of red plasma into the heavens, and I realize how little I’m enjoying this.

So how’s this gonna go down? asks Ken.
We’re gonna get her drunk, dude, says Charlie.  What’s not to understand?

I mean, you know, are we going to go at the same time?

Dude, I don’t want you in the room with me.

I look around, just to make sure no one else is overhearing any of this.  Then I glare at the two of them, but they’re impervious to my dirty looks, the death stare used to keep people away from me, to keep them from staring at me in class, to keep them from asking me how my day is going.  Ken and Charlie stand with their guns trained on their screen, clicking their triggers like a couple of spree-shooters.  Ken’s index finger pushes his glasses up the bridge of his nose.  His nostrils hiss as he takes a deep breath in and out.  I turn back to my own game.

Yeah, but why do you get to go first? asks Ken.
Because I bought the alcohol.  Besides, you don’t even know her.

The frat guys at the pool tables laugh again, cheering as someone sinks a nice shot, and all I want to do is walk over to those pool tables and tell them to shut the fuck up.  I see them doubled over in laughter, leaning on the wooden railing, gripping the felt bumpers, howling and shrieking and having a great time.  I had a variety of reasons I didn’t want to rush.  Most of them were the kinds of excuses that lonesome boys like me used when they avoided large groups of people who seemed to have a lot more going for them than I did.  But one of the reasons was this rumor of a girl I knew from high school, a girl who was a year older than me, who had supposedly been raped while passed out in the back yard of a frat house.  According to the story, the rest of the guys cheered from the balcony as one of their brothers had their way with her limp body.  I told myself at the time that anyone who would condone something like that was not worth my time, even though it turned out none of it was true, just a rumor concocted by a group of bitchy girls with some score to settle.  I turn back to my game, stare at the screen.

Besides, Charlie says, I don’t want you in the room with me, dude.  Do you really want to watch me do it?  That’s fucking gay.

When I was seventeen, I got a girl named Casey drunk and instead of us lying together in my bed while my parents were touring the Bavarian Alps, she spent the night crying until she puked, raging against her father.  Every time I tried to comfort her, she told me I’d never understand, and I’d ask her to stop screaming because I didn’t want my neighbors to tell my mother I had a girl spending the night.  Eventually she passed out and I sat on the couch, oddly relieved, watching David Letterman interview Dana Carvey on TV.

Yet here I am, fooling myself into thinking those guys are somehow beneath me.  Here I am, somehow believing I have more answers than they do when they’re the ones smiling and patting their friends on the back at the pool tables while I stand in front of a video game featuring superheroes punching one another.  Here I am, telling myself they’re the ugly ones, even though I haven’t showered in two days and am eavesdropping on two awkward, would-be sexual predators who can’t seem to understand the depths of their heartlessness.  Here I am, telling myself I don’t suffer from depression, telling myself that I suffer from anger, that I suffer from hatred.

And here I am, asking myself, What difference does it make?

Being lost in these thoughts, I don’t notice when Akuma catches Cyclops with a 12-hit air combo and begins raining fireballs down upon him.  He then performs a move called the Raging Demon, and the screen glows incandescent white.  I can’t see a thing—it’s as though I’m snow-blind—a series of flashes the only indication of the damage being inflicted upon me.  I hate the Raging Demon.  I have no idea how to defend myself against it.

Akuma stands over the fallen Cyclops, then taunts me with these words on the screen, his victory quote:
Do something.  Do Anything.  It won’t work.

I stare at the screen as a timer counts down, telling me how much time I have to insert more coins and continue the game.

I just thought we’d team her, says Ken.

Two basketball players have invaded our space, setting up shop in front of Tekken 3 in their warm-ups, headphones draped around their necks, smelling like CK One, laughing their deep rollicking laughs, affectionately calling each other by that word the rest of us aren’t allowed to use.

Trust me, says Charlie.  Just go wait in the TV room until I’m done.  I’ll come get you.

As the timer on my game screen goes from five, to four, to three, I imagine Ken and Charlie being raped, and I’m there, watching while they’re brutalized by a gang of rough men who laugh and spit on the back of their heads.  I’m immediately repulsed by this thought, but I tell myself I have to own it, so I follow it through to its horrible conclusion.  Ken looking up at me, eyes pleading through shattered lenses—I hate myself so goddamn much.

So what does she look like? Ken asks.

Charlie pauses, and my two turns into one, then zero.

She’s doable, he says.

I walk out of the bowling alley, the CK One smothering my lungs, without saying a word.  Game Over.

 

THE WORLD IS WAITING. I MUST LEAVE YOU NOW.

It’s almost midnight and I’m chasing a handful of pills with a bottle of rum—blue sleeping pills, painkillers, two-toned red and blue like miniature Rocket Pops, white Aspirin tablets, green gel caps—anything that happens to be in the medicine cabinet.  I even take some Doxepin for good measure.

The bathroom door is closed.  I’ve had way too much to drink in the past hour.  My face is bright red, numb, and the fan above me hums, dust hanging from its grates like Spanish Moss.  The lid is down on the toilet and I’m sitting on it, staring at the empty towel rack in front of me, wondering if Ken and Charlie went through with it—if they invited that girl to their dorm room and let her have her fill of Southern Comfort and Molson Ice until she passed out.  I wonder what Ken did in the TV lounge while Charlie had his way with her.  The room is probably full of girls watching Grease 2 on the USA Network, and Ken leans in the doorway, sweating, as he waits for his turn.   His glasses slide down the bridge of his nose, so he takes them off and uses the hem of his shirt to wipe sweat from the plastic nose pads.  The world comes into focus as he puts his glasses back on, but the lenses begin to fog up, so he takes them off again, fans them in the air.  Painfully aware of how much he smells like alcohol, he’s grateful for the breeze blowing in through the open window in the lounge.  He closes his eyes and breathes in the cold air, the bracing mentholated chill clearing his nostrils.  Conscious of his presence, the girls ask him to join them, even though they’d rather he didn’t, but Ken declines, saying he’s fine where he is, and they turn back around and try to ignore him while he breathes heavily through his nose.

I don’t feel anything but drunk, and I begin to wonder if these pills will ever take hold.  I stand up and look in the mirror.  Red-faced, heart pounding—it’s so hard to breathe.  I suck wind through my nostrils, and then I imagine one of the girls, one of the bitchier ones who doesn’t hide her contempt, asking Ken if he could stop breathing so heavily because it’s really annoying.  He apologizes and will never understand why the girl rolls her eyes like that.

I remove my glasses, because I can’t stand looking at my flushed face, the way my lower lip hangs open as I gasp for air.  The world becomes hazy.  My reflection is indistinct, a hologram, a simulation of my face, and I decide I like it better that way.  I put my glasses next to the sink and take a seat on the toilet, put my head between my knees.

There’s a tap on Ken’s shoulder and he turns around to see Charlie, a little flushed, with a wearied look on his face, as if he finally understands what he’s sending his friend off to do.  Ken asks Charlie if he’s okay, and Charlie nods and tells Ken to hurry before she wakes up.

Charlie walks into the lounge and takes a seat on the floor.  His fingers smell of sex.  Recognizing the scent, the girls quietly exchange disgusted glances.  They slowly clear out one by one, until he’s alone.  He changes the channel to the Cartoon Network and sits alone for the next fifteen minutes watching an old Jonny Quest rerun, waiting for Ken to return so they can convince one another that what they did was okay.

But maybe none of this happened.  Maybe they came to their senses and realized they couldn’t go through with it.  Maybe she never showed, and they ended up watching a badly dubbed VHS copy of Aliens that they have memorized.  Maybe they lay in their beds, each boy afraid to ask if the other’s awake, secretly grateful the girl never showed.  But my brain doesn’t work that way, especially when clouded by alcohol and pills and looming death.  My breathing quickens, and I tell myself I’m not going to cry when I think about the girl, she of the Southern Comfort and Molson Ice, what it must have been like for her to wake up groggy, confused.  She sees the boys sitting in front of Ken’s computer, playing Doom.  Ken says hello and she sits up—she can’t believe how sore she is.  She asks them what time it is, and they say it’s four in the morning.  They ask her if she wants to go to Denny’s, and she says no, stumbles for the door.  Ken offers to walk her home.  She tells him not to bother and notices that Charlie, the boy she knows from high school, or marching band, or wherever the fuck she knows him from, isn’t looking at her.  He’s staring into the monitor, his face illuminated by the metallic interiors of the Martian Base.  She walks out, shuts the door, silencing the sounds of gunfire and dying space demons coming from inside the room, piecing it together as she pulls up her collar and shivers into the cold walk home.

I stand up and wash my face in the sink, look up to see a bright pink projection in the mirror staring back at me.  My glasses are wet from the splashing water.  I leave them there and begin pacing.

Yukio Mishima committed seppuku, jamming a tanto blade into his stomach, pulling the blade from left to right, disemboweling himself.  One of the soldiers from his private militia then beheaded him with a katana.  Is this what a hero’s death is supposed to look like?

What the fuck am I doing?

My chest heaves, and I think about that girl whose name I don’t know, and the alleged rape committed by the two boys whose names I made up.  I tell myself that I should have reported them to someone, that this thing that may or may not have happened could have been prevented.  All the sobbing makes me light-headed, and the underside of my tongue swells with the taste of something sour and then there’s a jerk in my guts that pushes air out of my throat over and over like a hiccup in reverse.  I double over and the pills leave my body, splattering all over the floor and my shirt.

I’m on all fours.  My heaves sound more like moans.  I can’t believe how many pills are floating in the puke that covers the linoleum.  I sit on the bathmat and bury my head in my hands.  My roommate Craig flings the door open, and I can hear a beer commercial blaring from the television.  He says we need to go to the Emergency Room.  I pick an Aspirin off of my shirt, squint at it.  It’s eroded, pinkish, with tiny air pockets like a pumice stone.

 

YOU’RE JUST A NOVICE. GO BACK TO THE DANGER ROOM.

We are in the E.R.  Other than the apology I gave on the way to the hospital, Craig and I haven’t spoken a word.  It’s so clean and empty in here, so quiet.  They ask me to fill out a form, which looks more like a barcode because I left my glasses on the sink.  The light fixtures look so fuzzy reflected along the surface of the hospital tiles.

They take my blood pressure and draw some blood, and then Craig stares at the floor while I sit on an examination table sipping liquid charcoal through a straw.  The nurse tells me it’s supposed to bind with the toxins.  It tastes chalky.

My head throbs with the sound of my thoughts, and I think again about that girl, and realize I don’t give a shit about her.  The only reason she matters to me is because Ken and Charlie, with their made up names, put her in my head, placed her at the mercy of my thoughts.  She may as well not even exist—a simulation.  I don’t even remember what I imagined her to look like.  Maybe I never imagined her to look like anyone.  Maybe she was like my reflection, a gentle smudge where a face should have been.  Maybe I didn’t want to give her a face.  Maybe Ken took his glasses off when he did it because a face would have made it all too real for him.  Maybe the world is better without glasses.

I think back to all those months ago, the night this girl told me to leave her alone until I grew up.  Craig and I were drinking on the couch when he told me that I didn’t miss her, but the idea of her.

That’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard, I said, and we both laughed.

But it turns out Craig is right.  It’s the idea of people that gets me going, the way they occupy my thoughts, the way I can manipulate them in a world of my own creation—like the X-Men’s Danger Room, filled with traps and obstacles I’ve devised myself.  I have a Danger Room inside my head—we all do.  I never imagined a scenario where I sat on an examination table, lips purpled from liquid charcoal, the rollout crepe paper crinkling underneath me every time I shifted.

Craig looks up, and it’s like we both realize how much we’ve come to dislike the idea of one another.  I tell him I’m sorry.  He nods and looks back to the floor.

 

WANT TO KNOW WHY I WON? I KEPT AN EYE ON YOU.

A dark-haired doctor with the slightest hint of a face finally comes in to check on me.  He asks how I am, and I tell him I’m okay, I guess.  He then jokes about how the liquid charcoal tastes like shit, and once again I’m told that it will bind with the toxins in my body.  I ask him when I can leave, and he says I need to have a counseling session before they can release me.  He tells me to sit tight because a counselor’s on her way.  The doctor then looks at my chart and asks me about the Doxepin, if I’ve been taking it.  I lie and say that I have.

Then my shrink walks in wearing a black sweatshirt and a pair of jeans.  Craig and the doctor walk out of the room.  She asks me if I’m okay, and I chuckle, shake my head.  She takes a seat, and I’m reminded of the way those sunlight-infused leaves twinkled across her shoulders, and I’m so grateful that I can’t see a goddamn thing right now.  I’m afraid she’s going to ask me to look inside myself again, that I’m going to have to do it if I want to go home.  I imagine Cyclops, looking inside himself, removing the Ruby-Quartz glasses that contain his optic blast.  A wave of red light erupts from his eyes—Mega Optic Blast—obliterating everything within sight, hollowing himself out.  I tell myself there’s nothing left for him to see.  I tell myself he can start over.

The guy who wanted to do this, I tell her, I think he’s gone.

I know you feel that way, she says, but I don’t know if that’s necessarily true.

She asks me if I’ve really been taking the Doxepin, asks me to be honest.  I tell her I haven’t, and her shoulders rise and fall as she deflates herself.  This is all so humiliating.  I tell myself that without my glasses to see these things, I won’t remember them either.

But I know that’s wrong because I’ve already seen too much.