Cody Wants To Be Human Timothy Day
Mannequin The sitting still before she got there was a part of it, Paige said. It added to the illusion for both of us; me sitting upright on the couch doing nothing, and her knowing that I was sitting upright on the couch doing nothing. This is what it would be like if I was an actual mannequin. I had been like that for about two hours when the lock clicked open and Paige came through the door. I’d had to give her a key at the start of it so that I wouldn’t have to get up to let her in. I tried to keep my breathing shallow as she lingered at my side and pretended to examine me. “How did this mannequin get into my apartment?” She brought her hand to my cheek and ran her fingers over my chin. “Such a lovely mannequin.” She pushed my arms up and I held them there as she removed my shirt. “I think you want to live,” she said, pressing her lips onto mine. “I think you’re in there somewhere, trying to get out.” She took my pants off and then my underwear. “Just make a sound,” she said. “Make a sound if I should keep going.” This was when I was supposed to make a sound. Something small from deep within my plastic shell. “Auehhh.” Paige’s eyes widened. “I knew it,” she whispered. She stood and undressed and straddled me on the couch. The idea was that I gradually became more alive and then my climax made me completely human, but only for a minute. We would kiss each other and cuddle and then I had go still again. At this point Paige would get up and dress and leave the apartment and I was supposed to wait two minutes before moving. This was the fifth
time and I was getting better at it. My eyes didn’t shift once before I heard the clock make 120 ticks.
Nothing & Everything On Sunday morning Campbell and I took a walk through the park. She told me about the overwhelming sense of urgency she had felt lately, as if life was an 800-page book she had to read in a day. I suggested taking a week to do absolutely nothing as a way of confronting the fear head-on. In this same vein, I talked about how since late adolescence I’d had a prickling in the back of my mind like I had an overdue library book and my existence was on hold because of it. Campbell imagined her anxiety was more about her work; she tormented herself for spending too much time in her earlier years with relationships and parties. “But that was living life!” I exclaimed. “And that’s never a waste.” Campbell considered. “Maybe it’s whatever your life lacks,” she said, “That seems most important.” I hoped this wasn’t true. It took me a minute of wrestling with the thought before I had shaken it enough to speak again. We paused and sat on one of the benches. I told Campbell about how in the past week I had felt hyper-aware of my arms and eventually they had grown sore, seemingly just from the awareness. I wondered if this was what being a celebrity was like on the brain, or the soul. Or both, Campbell added, depending on the strength of their connection. Two benches down from us I spotted Eric, the man I see everywhere: at the market, on the street, at coffee shops and bars. I have named this man Eric because I once heard someone call Eric! w hen he was around and even though
they were not addressing him I pretended they were. Eric is older than me, not quite middle-aged but close. He wears black glasses and has a ponytail. I try to nod and smile when I see him because I know he will be present in the most important moments of my life; the person in the corner during my greatest triumphs and failures; the person who discovers my body if I die in public. It has occurred to me that I may be such a person to Eric, and with my nods I hope to communicate that I am there for him, forever. I don’t really have a choice. Campbell rummaged in her bag and took out her drawing for the week: an alleyway filled with hearts hanging from strings. We’d come up with the idea a couple months ago: I gave her a story every other week, and she would draw something she felt matched the mood of it. The next week she would give me this same drawing and I would write a story to match the mood of it, and so on. Our hope was that our ideas would somehow deepen or expand based on what our work inspired in the other, though I wasn’t sure if this was happening or if we were just writing and drawing the same things over and over. Campbell got out her sketchbook and went to work on some scene in front of us and suddenly I felt deeply inert. I waited five minutes, then said goodbye and went back to my apartment.
Campbell Campbell had moved to the city when she was my age and done everything I dreamt of over the course of the next decade. She had acted in movies and made movies. She had written stories and screenplays. She’d had profound relationships and friendships so intimate that giving each other’s earlobes an affectionate nibble was entirely normal, even when sober. She had been to nine countries and lived in five of them. Being around
her made one feel instantly more in touch with the macro hidden at the edges of the micro. She had large brown pupils that penetrated your soul upon eye contact whether you were talking about lifelong regrets or what you ate for breakfast. She said ‘hey losers’ when she met up with people. She was cool without being jaded. She never struggled for what to say. She never held back an opinion. She spoke with such assurance that to have a disagreement with her would put one in danger of questioning their deepest beliefs. She was honest. She was compassionate. Her conversation contained more wit than the script of a critically acclaimed comedy. Her presence made me feel normal and accepted on a universal scale.
The Tape On Monday morning a man came into the animal clinic and said he was Barb’s new owner. He pointed past the reception desk to the polaroid of Barb and all the other cats we treated on the wall. “My dad said he left something here for her,” the man said. “In case he died.” I nodded. “He died.” “Oh, I’m sorry.” I slid my hand across the desk in case he wanted to hold it or something, but he didn’t and I pretended that I was just reaching for a pen that wasn’t there. “I’ll get it for you.” I took the tiny key from under the desk and went to the back room. Inside one of the file cabinets was a series of folders housing messages from owners to their pets to be delivered posthumously, recorded in a variety of forms. Mr. Reece’s message to Barb was on a cassette tape. I blew off the dust and brought it to the
man in the lobby. I held it before him in the palms of both hands, as if it were his father’s ashes. He snatched it and left. The man came back a few hours later. “What the fuck is this?” he said, holding up the tape. “Why would you give this to me?” I didn’t know what to say so I just smiled and nodded. The man threw the cassette over my head and it struck the wall and fell to the floor. I went to pick it up and when I looked back he was gone, the door swinging closed. The tape appeared intact. I put it in my pocket.
Nothing & Everything, Part 2 That night Campbell began her week of nothing. Towards the end of our conversation I’d agreed that I would party every night in return and she called me close to ten and recommended a place downtown that would be busy even on a Monday. Being an inexperienced human in the city leaves you feeling naked in a forest of the heavily clothed. Campbell says that this nakedness is a part of my charm, but I fear it is more like this: people are charmed by me in the same way they might be charmed by a knick-knack in a store window that is passed with a smile and forgotten a block later. I took the last seat available at the bar. Paige was sitting at the other end and I waved and she looked away, shrugging at the woman next to her. After a minute they got up and left. Sometimes when Paige came over I imagined that she had kidnapped me and was keeping me locked in her apartment. This was my own private game, separate from our shared one. In this scenario I had developed Stockholm syndrome and loved Paige uncontrollably despite her trapping me against my will. She was the only person I knew
and could ever know, the only other heart that I could put my hand over and feel beating. Being owned meant that I got to interact with Paige as intimately as any other household object that did not have the option of abandoning her. Paige could be utterly transparent in my presence; nothing she said or did risked driving me away. Any form of self-polish was similarly pointless; Paige had wanted the unfiltered version of me. She had wanted it so completely that she had put me in a situation where any false surface would be impossible to maintain, and now that she had it–the raw, animal item of me–she wanted to keep it forever. I called Campbell and told her I’d given up on whatever I was doing. “Play the game,” she said. “Pick your role and fake it till you make it.” “Did I tell you about the tape thing at work?” Campbell thought there was a tape player in the storage area of her apartment building but she wasn’t sure. I asked her to check; I’d hold. “Getting up and looking for a tape player doesn’t sound like doing nothing to me,” she said. I looked around and tried to imagine myself as the sidekick character in a movie, a strategy I’d adapted to take the pressure off. Things could happen to the sidekick character but it was never that big of a deal; the sidekick was a natural part of the universe and never had to force things. I told Campbell about this and she scoffed. “We’re all sidekicks and we’re all not,” she said. “There’s no escaping either one.” “When are you going to start making t-shirts?” “T-shirts are for quotes that can’t fill a gown.”
“What about conciseness?” “The virtue of concision is a myth,” Campbell said. “Those who live their lives in the name of it inevitably end up feeling shortchanged.” We hung up and one of the bartenders approached me. “How are you?” Numb and afraid that I’ll never know true intimacy. “Fine,” I said. “How are you?” “Good,” she said. “What are you up to tonight?” Earlier I had heard the bartender talking to a coworker about just having ended a long relationship and had tried to feel sympathetic but really I was just thinking about how I hadn’t had such a heartbreaking experience and was unable to relate on a deeper level. “Trying to become a human,” I said. She laughed. “Why would you want that?” “Everyone’s doing it.”
Obliterate the Head The next morning Ryan came into work with sunglasses and a bottle of wine, doom metal leaking out from his headphones. He’d dyed his hair red. After waiting a few minutes I knocked on his door and he lowered the headphones to his neck and waved me in, eyes bloodshot. I told him about Barb’s owner and the tape. “Good riddance,” Ryan said. “Dude was a prick.” “Do you have a cassette player?” “Nah,” he said. “Why?”
“So we could play the tape.” “Why would you want to hear that?” “Just curious.” Ryan turned off the music and approached me. He looked me in the eye and put his hand on my shoulder. “We all have to live without knowing what’s on the tape, like in a grand metaphorical sense, you know?” “I guess, yeah.” Ryan put his headphones back on. “Every problem is this,” he shouted, touching a finger to his temple. “Obliterate the head. That’s what metal’s for.”
Ryan Ryan left a larger veterinary practice a few years ago because they didn’t like him listening to music while he performed surgery. After starting his own clinic he’d put an ad out for a receptionist and hired me on the sole basis that I was the first to apply and he didn’t want to bother reviewing other people. He’d created a menu and hung it on the wall soon after opening: surgery–big money; check-up–smaller but still considerable money; hugs–always free. If he was sad when someone asked how he was doing, Ryan would say sad. People called him weird but he said that it was silly to think there was any way of being that made more sense than another. He had a lip ring and his nails were never unpainted. Tattoos of wild animals extended from his wrists to his shoulders, the outstretched claw of a jaguar reaching up to his neck. His appearance declared him the opposite of a prototype. He did not keep track of time. He smoked weed between
surgeries. He talked to the animals while operating, kissing their unconscious heads when it was done. He was the highest rated veterinarian in the city.
Mannequin, Part 2 That night Paige entered my apartment with a stoic expression and paused before the couch. In a quiet voice, she told me not to acknowledge her in public again. Doing so served to break the illusion, to strangle the energy of what we had. She asked me to close my eyes if I understood, and I did. “Good,” she said. “Now, how did this mannequin get into my apartment?” When it was over I waited two minutes and then looked out the window. Paige was talking on the phone as she waited for the bus. I watched as she laughed about something and rummaged for a cigarette in her bag. She seemed very far away. Later that night Campbell came over and we drank wine and watched Mulholland Drive e ven though we’d both seen it. We played the which-character-are-you game and I said that she was obviously the cowboy. She said I was Naomi Watts’ character and I said in the first half of the movie or the second and Campbell looked over at me and said, “I guess we’ll see.” We got to the second half of the movie and maybe it was the wine but I felt very afraid. The desperation in Naomi’s eyes was my own. Her screams and her hands, curled up in manic terror. When she finally blew her brains out, I felt relief.
Heart Gallery The next night Campbell gave up on doing nothing and invited me to the bar by her apartment. I gave her the story I’d written in response to her drawing and did a quick scan of the bar for Eric, spotting him in a booth with a group of friends. He was smiling and his eyes were half-closed and he looked serene and drunk. The story I’d written was about an art gallery held in a decrepit alleyway. The artist was a woman born with five hearts who had had the extra ones taken out and decided to include them in her work. After all of the surgeries the doctors realized they had made a mistake and she actually just had four hearts all along, but now they were all out of her body. No one knew how she was still alive but she kept on painting and at her next checkup the doctors discovered a newly formed heart beating in her chest. Campbell said it was sweet but lacked subtlety. “Just trying to live loud,” I said. “That doesn’t always mean overt,” Campbell said. I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned to find Eric standing before us. “This guy,” he said. “I see you everywhere.” It took me a moment to collect myself; after all of this anonymous recognition such direct contact came as a shock. “I know,” I said. “It’s like we’re silent universe partners or something.” Eric laughed. “Or maybe it’s like you’re a ghost,” he said. “And I’m the only one who even sees you.” A friend called him from the door and Eric shouted at them to wait up as he left our side.
Obliterate the Head, Part 2 On Thursday night I went to see a metal show Ryan had invited me to at a hell-themed bar downtown. The band had already started to play when we arrived and thunderous reverb dominated the room. Ryan approached the stage and I followed at a distance, stopping behind a man wearing a jacket that read no salvation, only death. T he hush after each song felt fresh and otherworldly, as if the decibel level had wiped the collective slate and we were all there at the cusp of a new beginning. I moved through the crowd and joined Ryan up front. On stage the singer contorted her body in sync with the droning of the music behind her. She lowered herself and gazed into the crowd as her voice wrapped us in operatic doom, the font of existence temporarily bolded. When the song was over I shook Ryan’s shoulders in amazement. “Fuckin A!” Ryan shouted. “This is where we’re meant to live.”
Campbell and the Laser Tag Guy After the show Campbell called me and told me she had a story about her and a guy her sister had been trying to set her up with. “So I went with my sister to one of her work parties at this laser tag place in the middle of a strip mall. Dan was there and he formed an alliance with me early on so we could go around lasering everyone together. Towards the end of the game I thought it would be funny to pretend I was a double-agent the whole time and so I turned my laser-gun on him and said you’ve made a mistake agent Dan a nd I lasered him and he didn’t think it was funny. He said I thought we were a team and I said it’s laser tag a nd
he said why didn’t you call me a nd someone lasered me while I was thinking of how to respond.” I paused. “That’s it?” “Don’t you see the significance?” “Like what?” “Like I’ll never stay interested in anyone?” “I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe you’re just looking for someone who doesn’t take laser tag that seriously.” “Maybe.” I stood outside my apartment building, pleasantly drunk. “I thought you were nicer to yourself.” “What?” “Than me,” I said. “I thought your brain didn’t do this kinda stuff to you.” “Yeah,” Campbell said, “That story they tell you as a kid, with the adult who doesn’t self-criticize?” “Don’t tell me…” “It wasn’t true Cody.” “But you’re Campbell.” Campbell took a breath. “What happens is you learn how to hide it from the world, and then you go home and throw off your armor and call someone who makes you feel safe.” “And that works?” “Sometimes.”
It was late but I didn’t want to go to bed so I asked Campbell if she wanted to get a drink. “Sure.” “And Cam?” “Yeah?” “Can you bring the tape player?”
The Tape, Part 2 At the bar we went out to the empty patio and Campbell set the tape player on the table. I pressed in the tape of Mr. Reece’s farewell to Barb and rewound it to the beginning. I held Campbell’s hand. I took a deep breath. I pressed play. “Hello Barb,” Mr. Reece’s voice said. “You little shit.” For a few seconds there was only breathing, and then he continued. “You always held me back. Couldn’t even set the remote down on the couch without you knocking it to the floor. You fucker. Fuck you. I hope Jake forgets to feed you and you starve and die in a box full of your own piss. Fucking little shit.” The tape stopped with a click and we sat in silence for a moment. Finally Campbell shrugged and said, “I’m sure he didn’t mean it.” We burst out laughing. For a moment, I felt I could forgive whatever amorphous grudge I held against myself. I still felt like I was wrong, but I also felt a sense of being wrong with the world; like maybe I could be wrong in a together sort of way instead of a lonely one. I took the tape out of the player and threw it over the fence.