Sunday, January 9, 2011

"All I Ever Wanted To Be Was Numb": A story based on "Vigilante Man" by Bruce Springsteen, as suggested by writer Mike Sweeney (22/100)

All I Ever Wanted To Be Was Numb

My brother Donny was lazy enough that I didn’t necessarily feel bad for him when he went into a coma. I felt bad that he wrecked his car and almost killed someone and almost died himself, but I couldn’t muster more than a shrug when his list of responsibilities shrunk down to the fairly manageable task of “keep breathing.” And even that was mostly involuntary.

Now that I say it, I think it’s kind of unfair to say that he was lazy. It’s more accurate to say that he found a lot of peace in the absence of motion. He wasn’t particularly fond of that shit inside lava lamps or skateboarding or waterfalls and he most definitely preferred to sit himself down in a chair and find new ways to limit his blinking.

He was in for over four years, a time that spanned both his eighteenth and his twenty-first birthdays. Our family spent a lot of time deciding if it was in bad taste to throw his parties right in his hospital room while he just laid there hooked up to all the beeping machines. My sister argued that nobody wants a party while they have a catheter in. It was a solid point. We had cake but drew the line at hats.

When Donny got back into the world, he seemed depressed, which manifested itself in the opposite way it would in anyone else. He started coaching flag football and dancing with girls at bars. He got married and hated it and then got remarried and hated it again. It seemed like every year he’d move to a different town, dragging his stuff behind him in a trailer, doing anything but remaining still. At our father’s wake, we played catch-up and talked about the coma. He was quiet and minimal and I saw little flashes of the way he used to be—slight head nods instead of waves, the faintest rise and fall of his chest.

“Look at him,” he said, pointing to dad. “Is that how still I was?”

“Almost. You just looked like you were sleeping. Dad looks dead,” I told him.

“Dad is dead.”

It’s easy to think that only the obvious things should get talked about, stories about dad and all that, but there’s only so much that can be said. Sooner or later, everything resolves to banality. So, there we were, talking about how Donny misses the coma, how he knew he’d never get that still again.

“I had it. I had it all in there.” He didn’t sigh. “Who cares if people thought I was missing out? All I ever wanted to be was numb.”

I still lived in town, so Donny stayed at my place that night. It was July and just starting to get sticky at night. A thunderstorm woke me up. I went down to the kitchen to get a drink of water and when I passed through the living room, Donny was on the couch, legs out and arms folded across his stomach, the same way dad was laid out in his casket. I held the side of my head over his mouth and felt warm air rush into my ear. I looked at him for a full minute, two minutes. Three four five. I’d spend hours doing this when he was in the coma, just watching him, waiting for him to come out of it.

I thought about raising my hand up to strike him, slam down on his thigh with the bottom of my fist like a club. I wanted to get him up and tell him that he’s finally doing the right thing, that he needs the flag football and the loveless marriage, that if he’s not moving he’s dead in the water, like any other shark. I dumped my glass of water over his head and as soon as his eyes opened I began to pummel him, closed fists to his forehead. Knock out that frontal lobe. When I stopped, we were both where we wanted to be.



Bruce Springsteen is a songwriter from New Jersey. He is best known for trying too hard and singing about girls named Mary. The song "Vigilante Man" was actually written and performed by Woody Guthrie like, a thousand years ago. (There is no evidence that the Dangerous Toys song "Sportin' A Woody" is about him, but I still think it is.) Someone on the internet said that the song is based on The Grapes of Wrath, which I never finished because it was stolen from my car. Who steals Steinbeck paperbacks? Seriously, dickhead, you're an asshole.

Mike Sweeney is a writer from New Jersey. Writing his bio became impossible when Google searches for "Mike Sweeney writer" came up with 172,000 websites dedicated to some schmuck who writes for Conan O'Brien. No matter. The real Mike Sweeney likes to write absurd things, and he's rather good at it. In fact, his short story "The Werebear Who Wished To Come In From the Rain" closes out The 2010 Jersey Devil Press Anthology, a fine book full of other OBCBYL alumni and yours truly. That means you should purchase it immediately. In my mind, Mike hangs out with Danzig, Balls Mahoney, and Kevin Smith all the time, which is the only way to make him cooler than he already is.

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