Excerpt from “20 Days I Swore I’d Never Speak Of”
by Xavier X. Harkin
While I attended college, Naomi was something of my creative ally, whose humorous and intelligent contributions regularly punctuated my otherwise negative writing so as to make me less unlikeable to the recipients of our shared dispassionate verbosity through online forums. It has been more than four years since we conducted those kinds of activities together, and nearly all my attempts to locate the records for those discussions have redirected me to inaccessible archives, but all this time I have managed to hold onto at least one piece of advice she gave me:
“The love of your life will appear in front of you unexpectedly!”
To be precise, this advice came in the form of a slip of paper inside a fortune cookie. At the time I was on a date with a girl whose name I don’t recall, but she flashed an excited smile at me after snatching the paper slip from my hand and reading it. I returned her smile as convincingly as I could have under the circumstances of having only a moment before been occupied with devising a way of politely excusing myself from the table and ducking out from the restaurant so as to avoid the embarrassment of having forgotten my wallet and being obliged to her for paying for the meal. I believe her fortune cookie said something along the lines of a heart’s desire coming soon to fruition, which is advice that seems objectionable to me considering the implications for unsuspecting dates such as myself that evening. I suppose the situation was further complicated by the fact that we were newly engaged. However, I was inebriated at the time of asking her, as evidenced by the fact that I hadn’t even purchased a ring to propose with, but in spite of what I would imagine is a very unappealing prospect of joining into marriage with someone as insensitive as I have a tendency to be, she said yes. I had a drinking problem my sophomore year of college, as further evidenced by the fact that I was also inebriated throughout that date at the Asian restaurant, which is my main excuse for leaping out of my seat and planting a kiss on Naomi’s lips when she suddenly appeared as a waitress near our table. It could also be the fact that I am known to be very impressionable and that the fortune cookie took on a new meaning for me with Naomi’s unexpected appearance. Whatever the reason, my date took offense and deserted me, and although I was required to work in the kitchens for the next three hours to pay for my meal, I felt overall that the advice had worked for me. Since then I have been on the lookout for the love of my life (not at the Hampton), but I have found it is difficult to expect the unexpected. It is also difficult to be caught sober in a social situation that requires the delicacy of not being drunk.
The latter point might be misconstrued as a central theme of this book, but I did not set out to carry on for 150 pages about all my drunken misadventures, no matter how much source material I have to draw from. In doing so, this book would not be an entirely autobiographical account, as I would be forced to rely on the input of others for the many instances in which I am unable to remember how events played out. And as many of my former acquaintances refuse to contact me back after I have repeatedly solicited them for money or shelter, writing a book in this style is not only undesirable but impossible in the current climate. I realize that throughout this introduction I have come across as a beggar, but I would not have fallen into such desperate circumstances as I am in at the moment if I still had my car. The last place I drove it was to a friend of a friend’s, who lived in a spacious four-bedroom apartment many miles from the Michigan State University campus where I attended my freshman and sophomore years.
In January 2010 I drove up to the apartment complex in my 1999 Honda Accord with two of my friends, Naomi and Andre, as well as an intruder named Reuben who occupied the seat behind mine only because he was Andre’s half-brother and newly transferred to the university, and not because I was impressed by his apparent disinclination to shower in the week before sharing a confined space with three other human beings for an hour-long car ride. The reputation that floated around Reuben was confirmed to me at least three times on that trip: first, when he insisted on sharing his playlists with the rest of the group by blasting Mötley Crüe from his phone speakers and shouting over our protests with “just wait ’til the next song, it gets better”; second, when he complained about aches in his feet and rested them in between me and Naomi after having removed his shoes and socks; and third, when he admitted to having gone through Naomi’s purse when he thought she had taken his phone and later expressed relief that we weren’t pulled over by the officers on the highway because he had an 8-ball of meth and some fake acid in his pockets.
The streets around the apartment were completely packed by the time we arrived, so I understood the necessity to park creatively in order to avoid a three-mile walk from the car to the party and back, but there are also very few examples of stupidity in this entire book more egregious than the kind displayed that night by the drivers parking their cars obliquely up random people’s lawns. The party was not located in a remote country setting but in a moderately trafficked suburb, so the deep tire-wide grooves we noticed running through a neighbor’s alpine garden could not be interpreted as anything other than flagrantly incorrect, and yet I might not have noticed at first if Reuben had not suggested the very idea to me as I cruised down the street. I declined and suggested to him for the fifth time that he might put back on his socks, but this had no effect.
The only surprising thing about the cops showing up at the party three hours later, therefore, was that it had taken them so long. Whatever else that had transpired in those three hours remains partially a mystery to me. I only know I woke up spread-eagled on the floor of one of the bedrooms, with Naomi attempting to lift me to my feet while raving about the arrests going down in the foyer. I staggered to my feet and the room spun. As Naomi was having to expend a lot of effort just to balance me, I do not know why it would have occurred to either of us that escaping out the bedroom window would be a good idea. It was also unfortunate that we were both too affected to remember the three flights of stairs we had ascended since our entrance to the party, but at least one of those flights returned to my mind when my bare foot graced sharply inclined roofing tile where I had expected a patch of grass or a rosebush. With one leg out the window and one leg in, I hesitated, but Naomi shouted over my protests and I found myself a moment later hugging a sloped rooftop slick with ice and more than twenty feet off the ground. Only after I was fully exposed to the elements did Naomi pause long enough with her head out the window to observe our altitude. While the term “abandon” might be a harsh way to describe what Naomi did afterwards, and it may have been that she really did try to find someone inside the apartment who could help me before she got arrested, I had the distinct feeling of singularity and absurdity sitting there on the rooftop. In scenarios like this, every minute feels like an hour, and though initially my thoughts were fully bent on when I would be rescued, it wasn’t very long before I grew bored and mainly focused on trying to convince myself that the unreality of the whole situation did not necessarily mean I was capable of gliding smoothly to the ground as I assumed Batman would be able to do. I imagined that I looked very much like Batman, perched at such a height in the darkness. Yeah, ketamine can be a hell of a drug. For whatever reason, that moment seemed as good a moment as any for a cigarette, and it was only at this point that I realized I was missing my pants.
If I had worn a long, billowing cape I might have caved to the temptation of dropping off the fourth story. Instead I crawled across the ledge to where several thick tree limbs were snaking up the side of the building, which I tried to climb down. It was a good effort the first thirty seconds, until I fell and landed on a snow bank beneath, which may sound like it would have softened the landing but I actually busted two of my ribs and fractured a bone in my arm. I may or may not have blacked out briefly, but as soon as I could move I limped across the street and found my car in somebody’s front yard (I have been known to be impressionable), with both doors on the left side of the vehicle ajar, a fact which did not register to me at the time. I crawled up in the back seat, collapsed and fell asleep.
If by now you have developed a slight migraine from managing to wade through a foreword many times longer than it has any reason for being, know that however bad this experience has been for you so far, your headache cannot remotely compare to the pain I experienced when my face slammed against the back of the shotgun seat of my Honda Accord. The force of the blow can be attributed to the fact that the driver of my vehicle had been traveling upwards of fifty mph before crashing into a tree standing idle on the side of a lonely country road. The windows busted and rained specks of glass over me as I lay in the near pitch-black darkness in the floorboard of the car, dazed and confused. I thought I heard the voice of God beckoning me into the light, but this was interrupted by a series of grunts and groans of “my fucking head,” which was coming from the front seat and uttered in a less heavenly tone than I would have expected from my benevolent creator.
As it turned out, it was not God but Reuben who had crashed my car, and to this day I do not know when or why he put on my pants that night, but it at least explains how he got a hold of my keys.
I sat up from the floorboard and clasped Reuben by the shoulder as he was bent over the ignition, hoping to spark the engine back to life. He screamed and whipped around, and without taking another second to recognize me first he punched me full in the face with the burliest fist I have ever had the experience of being punched with. As I have been struck in the face at least as many times as I have requested to be struck or as the number of pairs of shoes I have worn in my life, this speaks both to the resemblance of Reuben’s fist to a boxing glove and the force behind his swing. There is still a slight indentation in my hairline that I do not remember having before Reuben’s middle knuckle made contact.
I crawled out of the car as Reuben continued to scream, demanding to know who I was and why I had been hiding in the back of my own vehicle. I suggested a number of things about his intelligence, genetics, and his mother, all of which were as productive of responses as would have been expected, but I am not my most civil with the taste of blood in my mouth. Even after he recognized me, there was a lot of yelling for another half hour while we attempted to restart the car. With no other options available, the rest of the night was spent with us walking back towards East Lansing on the shoulder of the highway. I debated adding a little Hollywood flare to my story here and giving a description of the wreckage of my car bursting into flames at the crash site, or my resemblance to Denzel Washington in Man on Fire as I strode casually away from the ensuing explosion, shrapnel falling down around me, but there is only one explosion in this book and it is not here. Also, apparently it is rare for crashed vehicles to explode or even combust, which is a little disappointing but I suppose things are designed that way for a reason.
As we walked back home, Reuben told me not to tell anyone what happened to my car or else he would burn down my house, but the joke’s on him because I have no way of making the rent next month anyways.
Before I continue with this book I would stress again my preference for a material sum of cash over a check of equivocal value, as cash is more fluid and lends itself easily towards particular purchases which I will, with dignity, not disclose here. In conclusion, I also thank you, humble reader, for allowing me to entertain or offend you for the time it takes to finish this book or put it down in disgust. Everything I’ve written here is true, and as the title suggests, on most of the occasions depicted in this book I was made to swear I would never divulge the truth of them to another living soul, but as it is reasonable to assume a certain amount of controversy and revenue should generate around these contents and I have become even poorer and more desperate than I am likely to appear, I plainly don’t give a fuck. However, as a conciliatory gesture, I am prepared to represent myself here as the least desirable individual one would want to interact with, except in the case of Reuben.