Aaron sat on the opposite side of the table chewing French fries and I watched him.I watched him the way I watch everyone these days.Not with warmth, not with disgust, not in any way that would suggest I was judging him.No, I was examining him, wondering why he ate like he did, what he may have done earlier that day.And of course, there in the subtle background of my conscious thoughts, I was narrating his actions.
He paused in his eating, looked across the table at me and sipped his coke. I was suddenly aware that I had been intensely observing his manner and that he was cognitive of the fact.Lowering his face, he took a bit of his burger.
“So how’s the writing going?Making any headway?”
“I don’t really know.”I replied.“I’m writing a lot though.Constantly.It’s like when we used to play in the band and we’d write a song and I’d just move on to start another one.”
He smiled and nodded.We had played music together for five years with two of our friends, formed a small following and toured unsuccessfully before breaking up.Aaron, though not blood, was my brother.
He had spent many nights listening to my various guitar riffs over the phone.I knew it had to be aggravating, but he had always listened, and when he had made a great drum beat and called me to play it over the phone at three in the morning, I had returned the favor.
Now, both of us engaged in separate endeavors, we made a point of getting together for lunch once a week.Today it was fast food, nothing special.Except it was always special, because we always talked about what was on our minds and true to our brotherhood, we each listened earnestly to the other.Today he had popped the cork by asking me about the writing, of which I had tried hard to spare him the minutiae.
Now we were both grinning across the table at each other.He knew it was his turn to listen today and I appreciated the ear for all the words I had yet to speak.I took a sip from my own coke.
“You know I don’t mind.”He said.
“I know.It’s just that…well, you asked.”And we both laughed at that.
So I told him.I told him without interruption and like a good friend, like a brother, he just sat there absorbing it, never interjecting or asking any questions, just signaling with his posture and face that he was paying attention.
“It’s weird man.I don’t know where to start, but it changes you.It changes me anyway, I don’t know about other people but I think now when I read, I can kind of sniff out the authors out there that are similar to me, that feel the same as I do.There’s a few out there, at least, that must be like me.
“Writing really affects you emotionally.I remember reading once that author’s write what they know.So that’s what I do.Like the golden rule of metal is to kick ass, the golden rule of writing is to contain your stories within your frame of reference.So I write characters that think like I do. At least that’s what I’ve been doing.
“I write a lot about how I feel about my divorce.Being lonely, being depressed, angry.Most of my characters have deep scars.I don’t always put them in a story about being that way, it’s just how they are in the stories.
“And when I’m going back over the stories reading them and realize how much of myself is in there, well, it gets to me.Sometimes I just have to stop in the middle of writing.It isn’t that I can’t think of what to write next it’s just that sometimes I’m dragging out too many demons and I can’t handle it.Sometimes it hurts so damn bad.Other times it pisses me off.
“Most nights I don’t get more than a few hours sleep.I mean to.I want to.But it’s just that when I sit down and start writing, I think to myself, just a few pages and maybe that’s all I get.Maybe I’m flying and just going at it head on and full steam and I get twenty pages.But it always happens.
“I’ll be sitting there, typing away, and go to grab my drink and notice I need a refill.So I get up and get one.When I do, I usually notice that I’ve been at the computer for an hour, maybe two.So I tell myself, Okay finish this paragraph and turn it off.But I can’t.I never can.
“When I finally do go to bed I’ve usually written one or two pages that are so disjointed, so full of errors and so far from where the story was going that I have to erase it the next morning.
“Of course mornings suck.I’m only getting three, maybe four hours a night and when I wake up I still have to get the kid dressed and fed and take her down to her sitter before I go to work.
“Work is horrible.I remember when I used to enjoy my job, when I felt like I had this career, but not anymore.Now all I think of at work is how much I hate it, how much I want the freedom to just write all day so I don’t have to stay up so damn late every night trying to put together a respectable body of work.
“And I can’t concentrate like I used to.I’m too busy daydreaming about something I’m working on or something I want to write.I have this internal monologue and it’s always going, it never stops, never lets me focus.People talk to me and I don’t hear them.Even when I do hear them, I forget what they said a few seconds later.
“Something else.This really creeps me out.I’ve been getting really withdrawn.I hate dealing with people.The other day I was at the Circle-K and the clerk was making small talk and I just plastered this stupid grin to my face and nodded.I didn’t want to talk.I didn’t even want to ask her for my cigarettes.It was weird.When I got to the parking lot, I ran to my truck.I wanted away from there that bad.
“But when I got home, I started thinking about the clerk.I sat down and wrote a physical description of her.Then I wrote down that small talk she was making, put it together with her mannerisms, and did a short character study on her.I sat around for hours that night just reading the single page I had written about her and thought about her.
“The next time she was working, I asked her if her favorite color was blue and she told me it was, so I felt like I must have had a pretty adept insight into who she was.Then I asked her if she went to live with her mom or dad when her parents got divorced and she just stared at me.
“I couldn’t explain myself to her.I knew I had scared the poor girl.She probably thought I was spying on her or looking into her background or something. I don’t know.But it was just a deduction.That’s all.But the messed up thing is, I know better than to approach somebody like that.It’s just that when I start thinking about writing and characters and character traits, well, I lose all sense of decency.
“Anyway, that aside, I quit hanging out with everybody I used to hang out with, except you.I met this girl a few months ago and we went out a few times, had fun.Well, she had to go to San Diego for something job related for a while and told me she would give me a call when she got back in town.
“Now you know I haven’t been with a woman in a long while.Hell she was the last one I was with and you were the first one I told.Anyway, she called me a few nights ago and asked me if I wanted to come over for the night and of course I wanted to.Of course I did.But I was working on this story.
“It would have kept for a night.It would have kept for a week for that matter. But the thing is, I just made up an excuse for why I couldn’t come over.I told her I had a flat tire and I didn’t want to deal with it until the morning.She told me she’d come over to my place then and I freaked out.
“I don’t know why I didn’t just tell her the truth, I guess because I think everybody looks at me like I’m some poor deluded Peter Pan when they hear that I’m trying a new venture.I mean I’m thirty years old almost.I have a three year old kid.I have a good job.
“Regardless.She wanted to come over and I flipped out on her.I was shouting over the phone about boundaries and decency and I called her a whore and hung up.That’s not right.She’s not my girlfriend.I don’t have any claim on her, no call to talk to her that way.
“It doesn’t matter.I don’t know her.She doesn’t know me.And that’s the bitch of it.I feel like everywhere I go all there is around me are strangers.Just people to be watched and studied and thought about but not interacted with.I’m like that with my own family.
“And here I am, every night, trying to tell the whole fucking world who I am, how I think, what I feel, but when somebody wants to know me, I won’t let them.Oh it’s fine to have acquaintances.People you say hello to.People you can joke with, but just keep your distance.You know?
“I just think I would be a lot happier if I could write full time.Maybe then I wouldn’t always be angry with people for trying to snatch up little pieces of my time.Little pieces of time I could be using to get myself to the point where I can let go of my job and wake up in the morning .
“I could enjoy the fact that I’m waking up because I don’t have to drag my ass to some stupid job where some asshole tells me what to do.I really think that would be something.Free to sit around and think, or to go out and muse, or to sit in front of the computer and just write.Because that’s all I want to do.”
Aaron leaned back in his chair and smiled at me.I grinned back sheepishly, realizing what I had just unloaded on him, grateful for his attentiveness.He nodded his head.
“Keep at it Jon.I think you’ll get there.”