When I think of my brother, Randall, I imagine Atticus Finch at around seventeen—a young man who carries himself like a benevolent prince—clear eyed, stands tall and proud, no outsized ego. For a boy so gifted, he was bloody down-to-earth. I think that’s what finally did him in—Randall was too good to live on this discordant planet.
Like many creative people, he was in touch with everyone else’s feelings so much he couldn’t bear the weight of his own anymore. A line from his favorite poem reads: “I feel the heartbeats of others above my own, if I am enough of a father, enough of a son.” He did, he was . . . and it drove him nuts. So he left Maggie and me and our dysfunctional, but magical little life. Twenty-two years later we’re still picking up the pieces.
But that was forever ago. Today is Sunday, May 13, 1984, and I am thinking that at the apex of my young career in the ad business, my soaring career actually, I have made a really fucked-up decision. Oh, man . . . seriously fucked-up.
I’m parked at the bottom of the loooong driveway that leads up to the highfalutin mansion of my soon-to-be boss, Ian McDonald. My butt is plastered to the Coca Cola red seat of my brand-spanking new silver Porsche 911 that I bought myself as a coming home present. Home being Atlanta, Georgia. “Jaw-jah” as the Bubbas around here say. Ever notice how southern boys talk like they have a mouthful of chitterlings? Oh, you don’t know what those are do you? Pig guts. Cooked pig guts. You’d call them sausage. We call them “chitlins.” Nasty things really. Ever seen how they farm pigs? Don’t.
Anyway, I could never bring myself to adopt the patois of my southern heritage. Well, that’s not quite true. My sister, Maggie, reminds me that I sometimes say the word—god, I shudder to admit this—“nekked” when I mean to say, “naked.” If you ask the cashier for your money back on this book before you leave the bookstore, I won’t be offended.
As I was saying, my heart is racing, my mind zigzagging in a zillion directions, as I try to get a handle on my anxiety. Most people would settle for a couple of drags on a cigarette, but I don’t smoke anymore. I could really go for a Diet Coke over ice with lime . . . or a somewhat sincere blowjob from any one of several women I am on intimate terms with—or was when I lived in a luxury condo on the bay in San Francisco. Anything to ease these fucking nerves.
OK, time to die. I pry myself out of my car, close the door, and walk down the paved sidewalk towards the bottom of the driveway that leads up to Ian’s castle. Three steps later I get a feeling—that metallic taste in my mouth just before—I stop, careen into the azalea bushes that line the sidewalk, and throw my guts up. Big heaving gushes of vomit spill out of me. Chunks of puke that moments before had been happily ensconced as digesting food in my stomach now display themselves festively around my mouth. A putrescent clown-smile of freshly puked puke.