I Am the Effect

June 15, 2011
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Like most people, I met James Beat in the three months before his death. Nobody really knew him very well before these fateful months, but I guarantee you’ve heard of him after his death. Everyone would pretend they were friends with him and that they were the ones who taught him how to drive or had drinks with him all the time. This is how it works; after you’ve gone up in flames everyone acts like they feel bad for you even though they didn’t care about you when you were alive. Dying was the best thing that he could have done for his life. Elvis Presley, James Dean, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Marylyn Monroe. If they wouldn’t have died at a young age, they wouldn’t be cemented as a pop culture icon because after your dead, with the exception of decomposing, you never change. Alive people lack consistency.

In James’s bedroom it’s almost impossible to tell what the wall color is. The walls are filled with posters, pictures, paintings and drawings that he made. There’s a closet full of clothes that lack color and style. It consists of only blacks and greys and blues and one pair of jeans that are a faded blue with small patches of its original color. These are the kind of jeans that were worn down the natural way and weren’t sold pre-ripped at a higher price.

I know this because I was his only friend. Other people pretended to know him after his death, but I really did. I found him at the airport. James would find out when the flight arrived and he would go to the baggage claim area and act like he just got off the same plane. He would always make a face that looked like he was tired from jet lag. It wasn’t hard for him, he always had bags under his eyes; he never slept. He would spot a suit case that looked expensive and pick it up as if he owned it. If the actual owner of the suitcase followed him and told him that it was actually their suitcase, he would say “oh I’m sorry I thought it was mine, it looks just like it.”
The quickest way to explain how we met is I caught James with my suitcase.
He was wearing an old faded leather jacket and had bruises and bandages on his face.
The first thing I thought was what a horrible last name.
Coincidentally I didn’t have a friend in the city either. I’d just come here to San Francisco from San Antonio.
We had a drink at the bar closest to the airport because there was nothing else to do at one o’clock in the morning on a Wednesday. We sat at a booth in the corner and beat had his back facing the wall because he didn’t like sitting with his back to the door. He was scared of someone sneaking up behind him. He always looked slightly nervous with his hands twitching always scanning the room with his eyes.
“About four years ago” he said while sitting in the shadows, “I finished a one tenths size replica of the statue of liberty. Then I covered it with gasoline and lit in on fire because I couldn’t think of anything else to do with it.”
“Why wouldn’t you just keep it in your house like you would a picture or a painting?”
“Its fifteen feet tall: I had to build it in my backyard. It wouldn’t even fit through the door to get it in the house. Burning it was worth the six months it took to make it.”
He seems to be the most artistic pyromaniac I’ve ever met.
He walked with me outside of the bar where he went to smoke a cigarette. He was a pretty good looking guy that I later found out was due to the breeding of a small town in northern California. Nobody ever left this town and nobody ever went there. It was the equivalent of a boy with a weak immune system that has to spend his life in a plastic bubble. The good looking people had kids with other good looking people in the town which led to very good looking kids. Then the very good looking kids had kids with other very good looking kids which led to extremely good looking kids. James and his family were the only ones who left.
James and I have owned a thrift store for years now. It’s funny how people paid top dollar for these clothes years ago and now they’re just dying to get rid of them. Clothing trends seem to be moving faster than the people are, spending more and more money just trying to keep up. Then we just sell the clothes to people who either don’t have enough money to buy new clothes, or just haven’t moved on from previous fashion trends. Most of the people I see here are lost in between. They’ll combine decades. Eighties Nike shoes, seventies dress shirts, nineties baggy cargo pants, and maybe a sixties hairdo. We cater to nostalgia victims and those who fell through the cracks of pop culture.
I was sitting on the couch in my living room and James was sitting next to me when he got a call on his cell phone. He stands up, walks to the other side of the room and answers his phone. To be honest, I wasn’t listening. Whenever I watch TV I enter a state of mind where I’m not all there mentally. I continued sitting eating chips out of a bag one after another while he was on the phone chatting away. Dozens of TV ads go by. James then seems to act a little strange. He begins pacing angrily and his voice gets louder. At the other end of the room, he hits his head against the cream colored wall and stays leaned with his forehead and his left elbow holding him in place, his cell phone still up to his ear. Then he went silent for a few minutes.
I felt it might be a good idea to stop crunching on potato chips.

I didn’t find out why he was doing this until we were on our way to the hospital. James’s grandfather died of a heart attack. He was having a bar-b-que in his backyard with a few friends when he collapsed on top of a picnic table.
At the hospital I finally met his mother. She looked just like James if he was thirty years older and had long blonde hair. The same long eyebrows, the same circles under their eyes, and the same distinctly defined jaw line. I had to introduce myself because James was very close to his grandfather and was still shaken by his death. The three of us sat in the wooden chairs that were scattered in the hospital waiting room.
“I need you two to do me a huge favor” she said.
“Of course, what would you like us to do?”
“You grandfather was a war veteran. Before he died, he told me that he wanted to be buried in his uniform. He said he had it in a box in his garage. Would you guys mind getting it for me?”
“No I don’t mind at all,” I said “we’ll go first thing tomorrow morning”
I spent the rest of the night at James mother’s house with the rest of his family mourning someone I didn’t even know existed. The people around me were very depressed, crying and hugging each other while I was sitting in the corner feeling nothing. This must be how James feels all the time, always on the outside not feeling the same way as everyone else around him. Alone in the dark, can’t wait to break free.

The next morning around eight o’clock James and I went to his grandfather’s house in a fairly wealthy suburb. Every house down each road looked almost exactly the same. The door was locked, nobody was home. We figured since no one lived there anymore we could just break in. It’s a victimless crime.
All we needed was a screwdriver and a switchblade to pry open the front door lock. Luckily we had these things readily available in the car.
We entered into the garage and found that the walls were covered with shelves that reached from the floor to the roof. Every inch of these shelves were filled with boxes. We went through each box finding nothing but little things that James’s grandfather gathered throughout his lifetime. Things like old pictures, home videos, buttons, mugs, and old clothing that he wore in the fifties and sixties. We got through almost all of the boxes until we finally found a box labeled “WWII.”
We quickly opened the box and found medals, pictures, and a genuine 1942 Nazi uniform.
We’ve had it hung up in our thrift store and it’s been there ever since.

The next day, I worked the store all day by myself. Almost every person asked me about the Nazi uniform. They would ask if it was real or where did I get it. I would give them vague answers that could be argued either way because I really wasn’t in the mood to get arrested for stealing a Nazi uniform.

That afternoon, I heard the phone ring. There was nobody else in the store. There was no one shopping, no one in the dressing rooms, and no one else working. I answered the phone and it was James’s mom. She was panicked and out of breath, breathing in and out with each word.
“You have to come down to the hospital, James is hurt.”
What happened?
“On the way to the funeral he rear ended another car doing sixty five. I think he might be seriously hurt.”

I went to the hospital and sat in the same waiting room we sat in when James’s grandfather died. Imagine the possibility that someone could die while driving to a funeral. Imagine how James mother feels. Her father died and then three days later, her son might die. She was sitting next me in a row of chairs in the center of the waiting room not crying. She was just staring into nothing as if nothing else in the room was there. Not crying, but not calm. Like a rubber band pulled tight ready to snap.

The grey haired doctor entered the room and asked if we were here for James Beat, I told him we were. He told us there was good news and bad news.
“As physical health goes,” the doctor said very calmly, “James is perfectly healthy except for a few minor bumps and bruises that sure heal fairly easily. That’s the good news. The bad news is that he seems to have no memory of anything in the past three and a half years.”
His mother’s heart sunk into her shoes. “How is that possible?” she said.
“On impact with the car in front of him, his airbag didn’t go off and the inertia caused him to slam his head on the steering wheel. it seems odd though, usually a severe non-penetrative blows to the head cause a loss of consciousness or maybe even a coma. This is a type of traumatic amnesia that I’ve never seen before but is certainly possible.”

He was driving on the freeway and fidgeting with the radio at the same time. Three cars ahead of him, someone’s tire blew out and caused them to swerve and hit the car next to them. The car that got hit then spun sideways and screeched to a stop; the car behind him did the same. James failed to notice and looked up at the same instant he crushed the car in front of him. The inertia was so strong he bent in the steering wheel with his forehead. He didn’t even get a chance to slow down.

This means he won’t even remember who I am; I met him in a bar almost three years ago.
The doctor then went on to say that he should stay in the hospital for a few more days to take x-rays and to keep a close eye on him, but we can’t go see him just yet.

I visited him the next day, but a lot of things that I wasn’t quite sure of. I knew he wouldn’t remember me, but I didn’t know if I was going to lose my best friend. I didn’t know what he would do without any friends at all. He’d probably be even more lost now than he was before I met him. A lot can happen in three and a half years, and with nostalgia, his mind would be three and a half years behind the rest of the world. I was afraid that he’d be chasing the present and not living in it. People change whether you believe it or not. We get better or we get worse. I didn’t want him to get stuck and continually be trying to find himself. A lot happened to him in those three and a half years. More things happened to him in those three years than in his entire life.

I went to the hospital the next day to visit him, but he wasn’t there. He didn’t remember the accident and the doctors somehow didn’t tell him what happened to him yet, so he just snuck out. I figured he didn’t remember where his house is or where my house is. But he knows where his mom’s house is.

I went to his mom’s house and he wasn’t there. He’d just left a few hours ago. He just stormed out. All he said to his mother was that he was going to start his life over from rock bottom in San Francisco and that that’s the only way to completely rebuild your life. I spent the rest of the day calling everyone who might know exactly where he would be because his mother told me she didn’t know. Aunts, uncles, cousins, old friends, I must have made about fifty phone calls. Every single person either hasn’t spoken to him in years or thinks he’s dead.
It turns out, his mom told the rest of the family that he died in the crash instead of telling them that he abandoned her and never wanted to talk to her again.

They would all say that it’s a great tragedy and that he was a great man. They didn’t even know him.

The next day I took a flight to San Francisco from San Antonio hoping that I could convince him that I was his best friend and I still am. I hope starting his life over doesn’t mean leaving me behind. He didn’t have to start over, he had a life here.

As I was walking through the airport to the baggage claim area, I saw someone with an old faded leather jacket walking off with my brand new suitcase. I ran, weaving through all the other people walking with bags and suitcases and grabbed him at the door. I turned him around, and it was James with bruises and bandages on his face. “Hey” I said “that’s my suitcase”
“Oh I’m sorry I thought it was mine, it looks just like it.”

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JustKeepRowin said...
Aug. 17, 2011 at 7:58 pm
That was a cute story! It hink you should work on desriptions alittle moe in this store. Like work on building the characters and the settings. I think it would be cool if you did a piece from James's perspective. Good Job!
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