I can’t believe how drunk I was when I stumbled upstairs to my apartment. The world was all shaking and I just wanted to sit down and wait it out. If it happened once in a while, it might have been okay – but that was the third time that week. Not that I cared. I’d been at a party. Everybody drinks at a party, right?
In either case, I got to my apartment, popped open the door, closed it behind myself and flopped down on the couch. I was wasted. I picked up the TV remote – I was going to watch something until I fell asleep. But then I noticed a huge insect on the remote. It looked like a cross between an over-sized cockroach and a grasshopper.
If I’d been sober, I would’ve jumped. But I wasn’t. I was very very far from sober.
So instead, I put on a cheerful smile and said, “Hi Mr. Bug.”
And then I jumped.
Because the bug answered me back, “Hello, wasted fellow.”
Now, before you get on my case, I hadn’t been doing any drugs. I have no history of psychosis. This is not a normal occasion for me. The way I saw it, I had two options: run like hell, or talk to the bug. I chose to talk.
“You’re probably not really talking to me,” I said.
The bug sat there. I thought maybe he nodded his head.
“But it seemed like you criticized my inebriated state.”
Same reaction. I had probably imagined the first words.
“I’ll have you know, there was nothing to criticize. I was at a party, that’s all.”
For some reason, I sensed that the insect wasn’t really buying.
“Okay,” I said, “So, I wasn’t invited.” There was a touch of light humor in my voice. But the bug just watched me.
“I guess you’re right,” I continued, “I do go to a lot of parties uninvited. It’s not my fault nobody invites me.”
I sat there, wallowing in my own misery.
I couldn’t remember how I’d learned about the party. Somebody must’ve told me something. Oh, yeah, Jon did. I decided to tell the bug.
“I wasn’t really totally uninvited. Jon told me about the party. So I decided to go.”
“Do you know why Jon told you?” asked the bug.
I was less surprised this time. I was kinda hoping he’d open his mouth.
“Nope,” I said, “Do you?”
“Because you’re a punchline,” said the bug.
I was a bit confused at that. A punchline? The bug apparently saw my predicament and decided to explain.
“People hate you. They like to see you miserable. Why? I don’t know.”
My past had been out of the picture for at least five minutes. But the bug brought it swinging back in. I was delighted the bug didn’t know about. First time in a long time that somebody didn’t. I don’t know why. I felt like I shoudn’t tell him, just to keep somebody out of the loop. But I couldn’t do that. For some reason I had to share with this scary-assed bug sitting on my TV remote.
“It wasn’t supposed to go wrong,” I said.
“Never is,” said the bug.
“It was just a practical joke. Sure, it was my idea but Jim was all into it too.”
I waited a moment, and then I plunged.
“Okay, here’s the deal. A few of my buddies and I decided to play a major-league practical joke at school. It was the kind of joke we knew would probably land us in prison, but it was the kind of joke that’d be worth it. It was my idea and I was incredibly proud of it.”
“Go on,” said the bug.
“Well, we brought guns to school. We’d loaded them with blanks. And in the middle of the cafeteria, at lunch, we opened fire.”
“I can’t imagine what would go wrong.” I sensed a tone of sarcasm in the insect’s voice.
“Nothing did, at first,” I answered, “People started running scared, screaming. Literally pissing themselves. The place was total chaos. One of my buddies, Evan, was filming the whole thing with his cell phone. We were having a grand old time. We figured that in about two minutes, people would realize we were the popular kids and weren’t about to go on a real shooting spree. The joke was working like clockwork. And then there was a ‘BANG’ from another part of the room. It sounded deeper and more ominous than ours. We all stopped to look and there was one of the cafeteria staff, Jose. And he had a gun out – a real one. All our reactions were the same – DROP THE F-ING GUNS IN A F-ING HURRY. But I guess his brain had already told his hands to fire his gun again. He pulled his trigger a second time and my buddy Jim’s head just kinda snapped back. And then Jim fell.”
I stopped for a moment. It’d been a moment I’d relived hundreds of times.
“By the time Jim fell, we’d all dropped our guns. We were on him like a flash, trying to see if he was okay. Jose was shouting, telling others to call the cops, that he had us covered. We barely heard it. We were looking at Jim. We were hoping he’d be okay. But there wasn’t a chance. His whole,” I took a breath, “It looked like his whole head had been blown away. The bullet came in right below his eye and it wasn’t some nice in-and-out type. It made a real mess of Jim. He was dead that instant. I turned to Jose, and I shouted, ‘THEY WERE FUCKING BLANKS.’ and he just kinda looked at me, not getting it. I picked up my gun, pointed it at my leg, and pulled the trigger. There was a flash and a bang and then nothing. ‘BLANKS’ I shouted.
I shouldn’t have been angry at him. He did exactly what he should’ve. But then he got what I was saying. He got that he’d shot a kid who wasn’t actually a threat, who was in the process of dropping his gun. I saw it go through his eyes. The shock, the pain. And there, right in front of me, Jose just broke down.
The cops got there a few minutes later. My buddies were arrested. Jose was questioned. I wanted to go deep into a hole and just disappear. My parent’s bailed me out. And then there was the TV news. The court hearings. I was crying my eyes out on a regular basis. And the Judge took ‘mercy.’ He figured it was something I’d never do again. People were shocked. My friends and I were all expelled. Then Jose shot himself – he couldn’t deal with what he’d done. He told his friends that he didn’t know why it took him so long to react to us dropping our weapons. Of course, he’d done the right thing – in the moment. But now, I had two deaths on my conscience. I kept replaying things in my head. I wasn’t wondering what I could have done right, I was just regretting how incredibly stupid I’d been. And then I took to drinking. My parents kicked me out and I’ve been living in this dump ever since.”
I paused for a moment. The bug just looked at me.
“I know people laugh at me. I deserve it. I went to Jose’s house once and just cried outside and tried my best to apologize. I know they were inside, ignoring me and hating me. I deserved it.”
I sat there, on my filthy couch in my filthy room. All of a sudden, I could smell the old vomit on the carpet.
I said to the bug, “Maybe Jose had the right idea.”
“No.” said the bug.
“No?” I said, “Why not. What use am I?”
“Good question,” said the bug.
“So why should I live?”
“I don’t know,” said the bug, “But you should drop the pitiful drunk bit and figure it out.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because that’s what makes you human.”
Now I was really confused.
“Animals can talk, animals can use tools, animals can form complex social groups. What sets you humans apart is mission. You gotta figure out a mission for your life.”
“What kind of mission,” I asked.
“I don’t know,” said the bug, “That isn’t my specialty. But you folks care a lot about it. Whenever you right something truly great, the hero’s have a mission. Look at Finding Nemo or your oldest stories: Gilgamesh, Homer and the Bible. Humans do missions.”
I thought about it. What kind of mission could I possibly do? Nobody would listen to me.
“They’ll listen to your story.” said the bug, seriously.
He was right, they would. I had something to teach.
“You’ll figure it out,” said the bug, “Me, I’ll probably be dead before you’re sober.” His little tentacles moved as he laughed at his own joke.
I suddenly felt ill.
But instead of throwing up on the carpet, I threw down the remote and ran to the bathroom.
It was a start.
When I got back, the bug was nowhere to be seen.
I lay down on the couch and passed out.
And for the first time in years, I dreamt about the future.