Joey McKeownshort story, fiction

Bits

Joey McKeownshort story, fiction
Bits

I’m crumbling. I’m falling to bits. Pieces of me are coming off.

I lost part of my ear the other day. I was able to glue it back on, but still it’s not very convenient or pleasant to lose body parts. I lost two toes in the shower and they almost went down the drain. I had to snatch them up. Some of my eyelashes have fallen off. Patches of hair are gone though not on my head yet (knock on wood) but my chest and legs are almost smooth now. That’s always the first thing that goes, my mother told me. The hair.

On a date recently my nose fell off. It fell into a very delicious clam chowder with bacon bits I was enjoying. I know I shouldn’t have ordered the clam chowder on a date, since I tend to slurp when I eat it, but I never seem to order the right food on a date. To my regret I usually get something messy or hard to eat. Usually I’m too focused on talking to the other person, getting to know them, sharing my go-to date stories, and end up scanning the menu quickly and ordering the first thing that catches my eye. Ooh, those barbecue ribs look good. Oh this isn’t disgusting is it, biting into all this meat and getting my fingers and face covered in barbeque sauce? This is sexy, right? Or, spaghetti, yes, let’s order spaghetti on a date. I can definitely very gracefully stuff this spaghetti and meatballs into my mouth and still maintain a riveting conversation.

“On a date recently my nose fell off”

But back to my nose falling off. My mother always told me that if something goes wrong in any situation in life if you act like it’s normal and stay calm and even make a joke, no one will know or really mind. So I fished my nose out and said, I didn’t order that, and then said, Excuse me.

I went to the bathroom and stared at myself in the mirror with a hole in my face where my nose used to be. First I washed off my nose and tried to put it back on. I was hoping it would snap on like it was like a Lego but there didn’t seem to be a locking mechanism of any kind.

How does everyone else’s noses stay on so nicely? I said to myself.

A man came out of the stall and looked over at me and I gave a little shrug, like, What are you gonna do?

First date, I said, and this shit happens. Any ideas here? I said, how I could get this back on?

It doesn’t just snap back on? he said.      

I thought it would, but it doesn’t seem to, I said. I wish I had some tape or glue. That might do it.

You know maybe if you just push it up a little bit, here. Is it okay, do you mind?       

Not at all. I handed the stranger my nose.      

A third man from a urinal joined us and looked over.      

“I heard about that happening to a friend of a friend of mine, he said, as he washed his hands. Fell off during his wedding, can you believe it? ”

I heard about that happening to a friend of a friend of mine, he said, as he washed his hands. Fell off during his wedding, can you believe it? The father-in-law was able to get it back on. You have to give it a little twist I think. Here let me give it a shot.     

He twisted it a little in and up and it gave a big pop.    

Is that it? he said.    

Hmmm, yeah, I said, but was having a hard time breathing through my nostrils. I felt congested. I blew my nose into a towel and out came some bacon bits.

Clam chowder, I said.   

Oh yeah, how is it? the man said.    

It’s really good, I said. Well, thanks guys, I thought I’d have to wrap my head in toilet paper but this is probably a better solution.

New Yorkers can be so helpful in a crisis. 

Back at the table, she said, Is everything okay with that?

Yeah, I said. No problem.

I paused for a beat.

Do you have any really terrible date stories? I said. I love hearing horrible date stories.

At work I buckled down. I came in and did my job and didn’t really talk to people. My pinky fell off one day but I snatched it back up and superglued it back on. I was carrying Gorilla Glue with me now everywhere, just in case. In my meeting with my boss one of my teeth came out but I was able to put it in a Kleenex nonchalantly. In the bathroom later I found that it just snapped back in but I also added some superglue to it to make sure it stayed.  

On our second date we went to a movie. Someplace dark, I thought, would be good. We saw La Dolce Vita by Fellini. One of my favorite movies, but upon reflection, perhaps a three hour movie about a man succumbing to his dark side who chased women wasn’t the best date movie. I could tell she didn’t love it. We sat in the back.

He’s such an asshole, she whispered, referring to the main character.

What a douchebag, she muttered.

I hate him, she said. Die, fucker, die.

She went and got more popcorn and another soda.

How long is this thing? she said.

After the movie we went to a bar up the street. We had a pretty good conversation. I don’t remember what we talked about but I know we had some laughs.

“She kissed me back which is always a good sign and we stood there by the corner making out as people passed us by. Then my lip came off. My bottom lip, to be specific.”

When I walked her to her subway stop I kissed her. She kissed me back which is always a good sign and we stood there by the corner making out as people passed us by. Then my lip came off. My bottom lip, to be specific.

Whoops! she said.

I took the lip out of her mouth.

Hey, I need that, I managed to somehow say, which is hard to say with only one lip.

I stuck it back on and it seemed to stay.

Are you okay? she said. 

You’re an aggressive kisser, I said.   

Am I? she said.  

I’m kidding, I said.

I gave her one last kiss and everything stayed on, which was a relief.

She texted me when I got home. Hope you made it home it one piece, she texted. J.

You’re funny, I texted.

I know, she texted.

You’re one hundred percent healthy, my doctor said. At least for a thirty-two-year-old. It’s perfectly normal as we age for our body to not work as it used to. Absolutely one hundred percent normal as we age for these things to happen. Hell, I remember when I was twenty-five and nothing got me down. I could go out all night and feel great the next day. I could stay out drinking, partying, getting it on, and next day, could hit the books and study my ass off and dissect a cadaver and just be on point, you know, completely on point all day. And the next night, I could hit it hard again. I remember those times. Those days are gone. You get older, you know, things don’t work the same way. It affects everybody, everybody, you know what I’m saying. I saw another patient in here who was like, If I can’t get to bed at 9pm and it just messes up my entire week. That little bit of sleep is so crucial for some people who are getting older. Hell, my mom, if she can’t take a nap, watch out! War path!

“It’s perfectly normal as we age for our body to not work as it used to.”

We’re just going to have to wait and see. Take Advil for any aches and pains and keep on sticking things back on because however annoying it is, body parts are pretty important. The super glue you’ve been using is pretty good. What are you using? Gorilla Glue? I used that to glue some shelves the other day and goddamnit that shit is strong. I tried to pull it apart because I’d made a mistake but Jesus Christ that sticks. That sticks real good. So I’d use that if I were you.

Drink lots of water. A balanced diet wouldn’t hurt either. You a smoker? Okay, I got to get real honest with you. Smoking can kill you. It’s possible that even one or two cigarettes can affect cells and cause lung or other cancers. So as your doctor I highly recommend not smoking. By quitting smoking today you can add five years to your life. That’s just today. Five years. Five years. Can you believe that? Five years just by quitting smoking today. Just right now. Just if you quit today. If you quit today that’s five years. I can’t be any more serious about that. Definitely consider it. Consider it very seriously.

I had a cigarette after I left the doctor’s. He had stressed me out with all that talk of cancer and dying and five years. Maybe I should get a second opinion. But at seventy bucks a pop to see a doctor, I didn’t have much cash left. And I was trying not to use my credit card. I was trying to get out of debt. I was trying to be free. I wanted to travel the world. I wanted to see things. I wanted to get out of this rut I was in. I had been in a rut for five years. How do five years go by like that? Most of my friends were married and had at least two kids and I’m not saying I wanted that with my life but I was certainly open to it. I was certainly okay with it. If that happened, fine. My point is, I wanted something to happen with my life.

I always swore when I was young I wouldn’t have a job that I didn’t absolutely love but here I was at thirty-two doing a job I didn’t absolutely love. I didn’t know how this had happened. I fell into this field and ten years later, I was still at it. It was like I didn’t want myself to be happy. Maybe I am really self-destructive. I was on the phone explaining all this to Lauren, the girl I was seeing, the girl who had tried to bite my face off. She also wasn’t happy with her job or life. She wanted something more. I’m not saying get married and have a family and get fat and watch TV all the day—though some days I just want to do that—but try to achieve something with your life, she said.

Exactly, I said.

When you were young what did you imagine yourself doing? she said.

“I wanted to be an explorer, I said. I wanted to be a deep sea explorer. A treasure hunter.”

I wanted to be an explorer, I said. I wanted to be a deep sea explorer. A treasure hunter. Going in a submarine deep sea diving to hunt for gold. I could still do that. I was reading about this guy who is hunting for this sunken ship that was carrying gold in the Bahamas. Like twenty million in gold. So many ships crashed or were sunk by pirates. It just takes the right technology, the right luck, of course, there’s that, and knowing the old shipping channels and how the ocean currents work.

What did you want to do? I said.

I wanted to be a cartoonist, she said. I loved drawing. I studied business in college, though. I haven’t drawn anything in five years. Oh God, let’s get drunk, I hate my life.

It was a Sunday.

It was one of those contemplative days when you wake up and say, I’m going to change my life. I was a little hung-over and decided to go for a walk in Red Hook, where the cruise ships are docked. I liked to look at those ships and think about getting on one. Just taking off. As I was walking on those quiet Red Hook streets—Red Hook is my favorite since there’s usually not much traffic—and thinking those grand thoughts about self-improvement and what I should do with my life, my right foot came off. I had gone to put my right foot down as one does when walking and instead of landing on the bottom of my foot I landed right on the stump, where my ankle was. That hurt, I have to say. Thankfully there wasn’t much blood. I hopped back and picked my foot up and carried it to the nearest bar. Luckily I had my glue with me and the bar was pretty empty.  I rolled up my pants leg to see it better and the bartender saw me and said, Rough day?

Yeah, I said. You could say that.

He poured me a beer. 

“I superglued the shit out of that foot and I put it back on and it went back into place. I tested it out. It seemed to be okay. ”

I superglued the shit out of that foot and I put it back on and it went back into place. I tested it out. It seemed to be okay.    

This shit keeps happening, I said to the bartender. I can’t take it anymore.

He nodded.     

My aunt had a problem like that, he said. Over in Ireland. Doctors couldn’t do a thing. 

I nodded. Doctors are worthless, I said. Wait and see, they say, what is that shit?  

After I finished my beer I was hungry so I went to the Red Hook Lobster Pound. I like looking at the lobsters in the tank even though I know they’re going to be killed shortly and eaten. I look at them and think, I wonder if they know they’re going to die?      

So I ordered my lobster roll and I was looking at the lobsters in the tank and my eye fell out. It fell right into the tank. I tried to catch it but it just plopped in the water and sank a little. Thankfully the lobsters’ claws were banded shut so they couldn’t grab it but they were still curious. They were hitting it back and forth, like it was a tennis ball. I reached and tried to grab it but my depth perception was off.

No touching the lobsters! one of the workers said.

My eye, I said. My eye fell in.

“And I had just gotten a text. Hey you’re a really cool guy but I don’t think this is working out for me. Xoxo, Lauren.”

He came over and looked at my face and I showed him and he said, Your fucking eye fell out! and I said, I know, and he looked in the tank and fished it out with a little net. He placed it in a paper towel. I went into the bathroom and took the eye and put a little glue on it and put it back in my eyehole. Ittook a while before it popped back in place. I could see out of it but I swear, it wasn’t the same. The colors looked a little dull, a little faded. It’s true what the doctor said. I wasn’t as young as I used to be. 

I have to admit. After this happened I was feeling a little sorry for myself.   

And I had just gotten a text. Hey you’re a really cool guy but I don’t think this is working out for me. Xoxo, Lauren.

I took a walk. It was fine, it was really fine. I was fine. It was nice of her to text. Most people would just do the fadeout. It wasn’t so much Lauren I was upset about but the idea of it not working out. Knowing that she was not my person. Especially when I thought we’d had a connection. It meant that I was still alone. That I’d have to go out into that whole dating world. I’d have to go on that fun first date and who knows what would happen.

I started walking. I like walking. I’m a big walker. Let’s walk. And think.

After our second date I’d met Lauren at a bar near her place and we’d gotten a little drunk and gone back to her apartment. We made out on her bed and everything was going great, I might say. I stayed the night. And while we were sleeping with each other—okay, fine having sex—my appendage, shall I say, came off. It was on and working quite nicely and then it wasn’t attached to me anymore. She didn’t notice, I don’t think. I’d rather not get into all the details but I managed to keep her not noticing and afterwards I got up and went to the bathroom. I had to crazy glue that back on. That was a non-negotiable.

I was rehashing all this in my mind and wondering, Did she notice? Maybe she did? Is that why she called it off? I made it all the way to the Manhattan Bridge and I entered the footpath. It’s a good bridge to go over, much better than the Brooklyn Bridge where the tourists and bicyclists are fighting each other to cross over. Here on the Manhattan Bridge I could think and enjoy the stroll on this Sunday afternoon. Try to enjoy, is more accurate.

“I’ve always been prone to depression—it’s something I’ve worked hard to fight—but sometimes there’s not much you can do and it just attacks you, washes over you, crushes your soul.”

I’ve always been prone to depression—it’s something I’ve worked hard to fight—but sometimes there’s not much you can do and it just attacks you, washes over you, crushes your soul. This was one of those days. I was walking over that bridge and I thought, Why don’t you just jump? Why don’t you just kill yourself? It was a voice in my head that said it. I knew I didn’t want to kill myself. I knew it in my soul I didn’t want that, but still when you have a voice in your head telling you to jump off a bridge, that can be discouraging.

I was standing and staring off the side of the bridge, looking at that terrible city Manhattan—brutal, heartless, cold—that city didn’t care whether I lived or died. That city didn’t think anything about me. I loved that city—well, sometimes—but the city never loved me back. I was thinking all these thoughts when my head fell off. It was a startling feeling and I didn’t know what was happening at first. I tried to catch my head as it fell but missed because it’s hard to balance yourself when your head falls off. My head rolled over to the ledge, to the bottom of the railing and stopped.

My body was still reacting and I still had control over it but it was hard to have it move the way I wanted when I couldn’t see very well. I did have a view of my body from where my head was positioned, and I tried to have my body come over toward my head. I was hoping I could pick my head up and put it back on. I had my superglue in my pocket. I had my body nearly there when I stumbled a little and kicked my head. Apart from whatever psychological damage the experience causes you, kicking your own head hurts like a motherfucker. I usually don’t use that word but here I think it’s very appropriate.

“I was hoping I could pick my head up and put it back on. I had my superglue in my pocket.”

I don’t recommend the experience to anyone. That kick was enough to send my head under the ledge and down into the East River. My head fell. It fell for a long time and landed in the water. It was quite a forceful impact and I sunk a little but after a while I bobbed up and was able to take some deep breathes. I was seemingly okay—at least, alive and conscious—even though I did have a nasty headache. I could taste a little blood too.  I spit it out into the water. There weren’t sharks here in the East River, were there? I didn’t think so.

Well, I floated. My body was still back up on the bridge, I believed, as I didn’t see it fall in. The railing would have prevented that. There were some barges and tugboats and ferries that came through and I tried to give a shout but it was taking considerable head muscle and contortions and effort to keep my mouth out of the water. That made it difficult to shout for help. Some of the boats came close to hitting me. The worst though was getting tossed in the wake. That combined with the normal waves of the river—which are normally quite rough—I got a lot of salt water in my mouth, which made me a much less effective shouter. Help, help! I shouted, but no one heard me. I watched as a party boat, full of lights and people laughing and drinking and dancing, passed me by. Help, help! I shouted but no one heard me above the dance music.

I believe I was floating south. The afternoon darkened and soon I saw the lights of Manhattan start to come on. I saw the Brooklyn Bridge lit up in the dusk. It was cold. Very cold.

From my viewpoint I could see the beauty of the Brooklyn Bridge and how massive and amazing it was. I looked at the powerful, thick cables running from side to side, holding the bridge up. I thought about all the work that went into that bridge. All the men who died making that bridge.

A woman I dated once told me a story about that bridge. There was a woman named Emily who was married to a man named Washington whose father was the engineer who designed the bridge. The father’s foot got smashed on the ferry that used to run between Brooklyn and Manhattan and he died so Washington the son took over the construction of the bridge. He’d been a Civil War engineer and over the first few years when they were building the foundations of the bridge underwater a lot of people got the bends—they didn’t know what it was at that time—and Washington also got the bends. He was bedridden. But Emily took over. She essentially became the foreman and his eyes and ears and reported back to him on the progress and helped him oversee the completion of the bridge.

“I had to be strong. I had to survive. I wasn’t going to give up. Someone would come. The police would search for my head. A boater would see me. They would find me. ”

Emily finished the bridge. She was the first to cross it. She strode across the bridge. It was her and a rooster. The rooster was symbolic. The woman I was dating was supposed to tell me what the rooster symbolized but she never did. We broke up before she could tell me. It was Emily’s power of will, her refusal to give up that made the bridge a possibility and a reality. No one thinks of her when they cross that bridge.

I continued to float south. The bridge was disappearing from my sight. I had to be strong. I had to survive. I wasn’t going to give up. Someone would come. The police would search for my head. A boater would see me. They would find me. I still had some glue left. I could glue my head back on. Presumably they would find and keep my body. We’d just have to reattach everything. It could be done. I was sure of it. I would get a new doctor. Someone to help me keep my body parts on. Everything was going to be okay. There was a boat approaching me now. It looked like a Staten Island Ferry. Surely they would hear my cries for help. It was coming right at me. They would help me. I had to believe. Everything was going to be okay. That was my mantra. I had to keep saying it. Everything was going to be okay. Everything.