The problem with my friend Johnny was the goiter on his neck, because not only was he self-conscious of his own conspicuousness, but I also found it terribly distracting—it reminded me of the plums on the plum tree in my backyard, which my parents cared for as if it were another child, i.e. a sibling of mine, which is a depressing story in its own right.
When I looked at the goiter I wanted to bite into it and my eyes reflected this and sometimes Johnny saw, and the look Johnny always gave showed a combination of reproach and general futility that reminded me uncannily of a specific, somewhat recent incident in which Gwen caught me staring at her cleavage—Gwen was a friend of mine who had recently cleared the air of any delusion on my part on the prospect of romance.
You know when someone stares straight through you and it is frightening, because you’ve died somewhat inside them or whatever, but also because you’ve just never seen it before, like somehow your everyday POV has been replaced by a film screen and there’s a touch of some horror there and you want to look away but you can’t and like, this is just your life now?
Anyway the thing with Gwen isn’t something I need to recount or spell out—it was just like some recursive nightmare of social erring: offending Johnny in real time and then immediately reliving the incident with Gwen, and in my mind they were each angrier every successive time Johnny caught me staring at his big goiter.
I thought I was gay, it seems stupid now, but something in the chronological overlap of my discovery of my parents’ liquor cabinet and his brother’s pot stash and the development of the goiter, which went from unnoticeable to quite noticeable in only several months, caused an earthquake in me which opened up this big horrible cloying maw of empathy unlike anything I had experienced before. When I went to bed at night I would shiver thinking about him, maybe cry a bit; I would listen to sad music and feel so overwhelmed, like my head would explode and my body would evaporate into the confined space of my bedroom—my sheets still had Pokémon on them.
We were playing video games when I leaned over and pecked him on the cheek. I returned to my position facing the TV screen—a pixelated Stone Cold Steve Austin was celebrating his victory in an endless and silent looping animation—and we just sat there in the whole strange miasma of it until he stood up and threw the controller at my head and said,
“Get the fuck out of my house, dude.”
Walking home was lonely. I sat under the plum tree in my yard and saw one plum on the ground that was rotting a bit and flies were buzzing over it and I thought of Johnny’s disquieting look and then Gwen’s and obviously I thought about what had just happened even though it was difficult.
When I laid in bed that night I was sad but it was fine—I’d been so long with such tapered feelings—and I wondered if things were still all right between me and Gwen. And I thought about Johnny’s goiter.