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I have a history of deeply offending the best people

April 13, 2012

When Brennan took his own life, the girls were shocked.  All four of them dropped everything to join his equally shocked family.  Three were in college classes at the time, I’m pretty sure we had been in the house on Prospect Hill for over a year.  Lani was painting again.  Jono headed up the wagon train with his Volkswagen, Lysee may even have driven along as well.  I had just gotten home from work.  I remember saying to them it was fine, they were the ones closer to him, I would stay with the house and the dog and the cat.  There was a sharp pain for me after they had gone up the gravel alley, headlights first.  I was alone.  The same feeling that drove the man to it.

He must have been twenty seven.  I had met him two years prior on my arrival in southern Indiana.  I had a strange history with him already, as I had been certain the summer earlier that my (then ex-)girlfriend had been interested in him, a few odd mentions of him during the long telephone calls before we had reconciled in Kansas City.  There were a lot of heartbreaks between the two of us that summer, the prominent motif of the relationship for the next four years, as luck would have it.  Anyway, I didn’t know how much I would enjoy meeting someone with whom she may have had some sort of encounter.

He wore glasses.  He wrote hilarious stories with Jono.  He was soft-spoken and deflecting.  He bought us liquor on New Year’s Eve that first year when everyone else was already gone to parties and we were still underage, a bottle of Ezra Williams.  I remember thinking between the label design and  assertive identification it looked exactly  like Jack Daniels’ cousin.  He read us a poem of his that consisted of repetitive cooing sounds and comically sexual syllabic words.  I couldn’t stop laughing.  He had no love interests; the girls always teased him that the youngest sister secretly fancied him.  I had nothing but fondness for old Burt as we called him then.

One night at a dinner party at Prospect Hill, I offended him deeply with something I said, and he left.  Just drove off without saying goodbye or giving an explanation.  I myself have now pulled this exact move many times in the intervening years – I learned later from an acquaintance named Fitzpatrick that I’d been taught how to give a proper ‘Irish goodbye’.  The incident occurred while we were on the porch playing a board game, and I had mentioned in an off-hand way his Jewishness.  We had always known, I told him, whichever bottle of wine he brought to dinner, that would be the wine on special offer at the grocery down the street.  I laughed.  He excused himself quietly.  Later, we put the pieces together, Jono and I, and I don’t recall if or how I offered an apology.  So many people I have offended deeply in the intervening years.

A good handful of months later, he quit his dead-end bookstore job on the campus from which he had long since graduated, and moved back to the house in Pittsburgh that he had quit even longer ago.  He took the job at his dad’s business that he never wanted to accede.  A few months after, we stopped hearing regular news from his new start in ‘Pitty.’  A few months later, I was standing in the backyard with a panting dog and no sense of closure.  They would mourn, share stories.  I just thought about how odd it was, that there would be no follow up to the now-immortal short story, “The Queef Catcher,” no deliberately poor guitar strumming accompanying improvised lyrics.  No Burt Marsh anywhere anymore.

Now, I’m not intoning that I had a fundamental part in his depression.  It is not as dramatic as if I had, say, strode into his only safe place, upset the people who harboured him there, even got them to join me in mocking him, and a year later the path hit its logjam, for want of a less hackneyed term.  No, he was the one who pushed the world around him further and further away from himself, until staring at it from a foreign, unforeseen and uncomfortable place, he thought he noticed how little he had actually been there.  That detachment came from him.  Besides, I’m not so self-important to think like that.

What I am saying here is that I recognise what he must have been doing.  All kinds of alienating feelings seem to fill my own breast lately, crowding up and into my thoughts.  I have a written account of every moment since December 10th last year where I gave away a piece of my world, put it to one side.  Gone.  And I appreciate how easy it must be to pile those up, each one a successively illogical step.

I was in the supermarket when I thought of this.  My friend was stocking up on ‘survival food’ for the next week, and I was painfully detoxing from a week of solidly irresponsible drinking on the cheap.  I saw an over-large canister of Slug Killer pellets.  Active ingredient, something metalhyde, very toxic.  I thought about how easy it would be to spend a pound, disregard the warning on the label.  Would I feel any more pathetic than I do normally, disregarding the units and warnings on the sides of lager tins, themselves full of toxin?  The thrill might be in reuniting with a desire for life again in the final painful, irreversible moment.  Was that the trip I had been on, have been on?

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2 Comments
  1. Dr. Crowbar permalink

    You were a viking at offending people. I also remember a fourth of july party with an angry person stepping on your neck. Then there was the time one of the Poor sisters angrily threw you out of a moving vehicle for something you said. Good times, good times.

    • Oh, but you don’t even know about some of the best incidents, like the time where I was chased down the street in stolen flip-flops, in the wee small hours of the day by a fellow whose house party I crashed, used his bed for drunken sex and passed out; then I tried to throw a very very large rock in through his sliding glass door after he removed me from the house. The real chutzpah? – as I’m prostrate in some grassy culvert, I had to ask him to get my bag for me, I’ve left it somewhere in his house.

      But these all differ from offending people. These are instances of alcohol-induced stupidity and cruelty. Causing offense, or being offensive, is not the same as offending someone’s sensibilities.

      Glad to see that someone is reading all this crap, thank you, Herr Doktor!

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