ادوین بلک

کتاب: هیچی نیس، آرام باش / فصل 6

ادوین بلک

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Edwin Black

I’M ON THE TOILET. But nothing is happening. I’m here. You have to try. You have to intend, and not only tell yourself but really sit there believing. It’s been six days since my last movement. One of the bullet-point symptoms on WebMD was this: the sense that everything didn’t come out. This feels true about my life in ways I can’t articulate yet. Or like the name of a short-story collection I’ll write one day, when it all finally does come out.

The trouble with believing is you have to believe that believing will work, you have to believe in belief. I’ve scraped out the little bowl of faith I keep by the open window my mind has become ever since the internet got inside it, made me a part of it. I’m not joking. I feel as if I am going through withdrawal. I’ve read about residential internet rehab facilities in Pennsylvania. They have digital-detox retreats and underground desert compounds in Arizona. My problem hasn’t just been with gaming. Or gambling. Or incessantly scrolling down and refreshing my social media pages. Or the endless search to find good new music. It’s all of it. I was really into Second Life for a while. I think I logged two whole years there. And as I was growing, getting fatter in real life, the Edwin Black I had in there, on there, I made him thinner, and as I did less, he did more. The Edwin Black in there had a job and a girlfriend and his mom had died tragically during childbirth. That Edwin Black was raised on the reservation with his dad. The Edwin Black of my Second Life was proud. He had hope.

This Edwin Black, me here on the toilet, can’t get there, on the internet, because yesterday I dropped my phone in the toilet, and my computer froze, same fu@king day it just stopped, not even the mouse cursor moved, no spinning wheels of promised load. No reboot after unplug, just a sudden and mute black screen—my face reflected in it, staring first in horror at the computer dying, then at my face reacting to seeing my face react to the computer dying. A little part of me died then, seeing my face, thinking about this sick addiction, all this time I’ve spent doing almost nothing. Four years of sitting, staring into my computer at the internet. I guess if you don’t count sleep, it’s three, if you don’t count the dreaming, but I dream of the internet, of keyword search phrases that make complete sense in the dream, are the key to the dream’s meaning, but which make no sense in the morning, like all the dreams I’ve ever had.

I once dreamed I’d become a writer. Which is to say I graduated with my master’s in comparative literature with a focus on Native American literature. It certainly must have looked like I was on my way toward something. With my degree in hand in the last picture I’d posted to Facebook. The picture is of me in my cap and gown, a hundred pounds lighter, my mom with a too-wide smile, looking at me with untethered adoration when she should have been looking at Bill, her boyfriend, who I’d told her not to bring, and who insisted on taking pictures of us when I asked him not to. I did end up liking that picture. I’ve looked at it more than I have any other picture of myself. It stayed as my profile pic until recently, because a few months, even a year, was fine, not abnormal, but after four years it was the socially unacceptable kind of sad.

When I moved back in with my mom, the door to my old room, to my old life in that room, it opened up like a mouth and swallowed me.

Now I don’t have any dreams, or if I dream, I dream of dark geometric shapes drifting noiselessly across a pink, black, and purple pixelated colorscape. Screen-saver dreams.

I have to give up. Nothing’s coming. I stand up, pull my pants up, and walk out of the bathroom defeated. My stomach is a bowling ball. I don’t believe it at first. I do a double take. My computer. I almost jump at the sight of it coming back to life. I almost clap. I’m embarrassed at my excitement. I thought for sure it was a virus. I’d clicked a link to download The Lone Ranger. Everyone agreed on how bad it was, in so many ways. But I was excited to see it. There’s something about seeing Johnny Depp fail so badly that gives me strength.

I sit down and wait for my computer to come all the way on. I find that I’m rubbing my hands together and stop myself, put my hands in my lap. I look up at a picture I have taped on my wall. It’s Homer Simpson in front of a microwave wondering: Could Jesus microwave a burrito so hot he himself couldn’t eat it? I think about the irresistible-force paradox. How there cannot be both an irresistible force and an immovable object in existence at once. But what is happening in my blocked, coiled, possibly knotted bowels? Could it be the working out of an ancient paradox? If sh@tting mysteriously stopped, then couldn’t seeing, hearing, breathing, do so in turn? No. It’s all the sh@tty food. Paradoxes don’t work out. They cancel out. I’m overthinking it. I want it too much.

Sometimes the internet can think with you, or even for you, lead you in mysterious ways to information you need and would never have thought to think of or research on your own. This is how I found out about bezoars. A bezoar is a mass found trapped in the gastrointestinal system, but when you search bezoar you’re led to The Picatrix. The Picatrix is a book of magic and astrology from the twelfth century originally written in Arabic and titled Ghāyat al-Ḥakīm, meaning “The Goal of the Wise.” Bezoars have all kinds of uses in The Picatrix, one of which is to make talismans that aid in certain kinds of magic. I was able to find a PDF of the English translation of The Picatrix. When I scrolled down to an arbitrary place in the document, the word laxative caught my eye, and I read the following passage: “The Indians indicate that when the moon is at this position, they travel and use laxative medicines. Thus, you may use this as a principle in making a talisman for a traveler and his safety. Also, when the moon is at this position, a talisman can be made to create discord and animosity between spouses.” If I even remotely believed in any kind magic aside from the kind that led me to this very entry, and if I could somehow surgically remove the bezoar, I would make it into a talisman—granted the moon was in the corresponding position—and take care of my constipation while also possibly destroying my mom and Bill’s relationship.

Bill’s not an asshole. If anything he goes out of his way to be nice, to make conversation with me. It’s the forced nature of it. That I have to decide whether to treat him well or not. This stranger. My mom and Bill met at a bar in downtown Oakland. My mom brought him home, let him return, again and again for the past two years, and I was forced to have to think about how or if I should like or not like the guy, get to know him or try to get rid of him. But then I struggle with resisting Bill because I don’t want to be some creepy man-baby jealous of my mom’s boyfriend because I want her all to myself. Bill’s a Lakota guy who grew up in Oakland. He’s over almost every night. Whenever he’s over I stay in my room. And I can neither sh@t nor not sh@t. So I hoard food and stay in my room, read about what I can do about this possible new phase of constipation, what I just found out on a constipation forum thread might be obstipation, which is severe, or complete, constipation. The end.

Forum member DefeKate Moss said that not sh@tting could kill you, and that she once had to have a tube stuck down her nose to have it sucked out. She said if you start feeling nauseous and have abdominal pain, you should go to the emergency room. I feel nauseous thinking about the idea of sh@tting out of my nose through a tube.

I type “the brain and constipation” and hit Enter. I click on several links, scroll through several pages. I read a lot and come away with nothing. This is how time skips. Links just lead to links that can lead you all the way back to the twelfth century. This is how it can all of a sudden be six in the morning, with my mom knocking on the door before she goes to work at the Indian Center—where she keeps trying to get me to apply for a job.

“I know you’re still awake,” she says. “I can hear you clicking in there.”

Lately I’ve become a little obsessed with the brain. With trying to find explanations for everything as it relates to the brain and its parts. There’s almost too much information out there. The internet is like a brain trying to figure out a brain. I depend on the internet for recall now. There’s no reason to remember when it’s always just right there, like the way everyone used to know phone numbers by heart and now can’t even remember their own. Remembering itself is becoming old-fashioned.

The hippocampus is the part of the brain connected to memory, but I can’t remember exactly what that means. Is memory stored there, or is the hippocampus like the limbs of memory that reach into other parts of the brain, where it’s actually stored in little nodes or folds or pockets? And isn’t it always reaching? Bringing up memories, the past, without being asked? Typing in the search bar before I can even think to do it. Before I can think I am thinking with it.

I find out that the same neurotransmitter related to happiness and well-being supposedly has to do with your gastrointestinal system. There’s something wrong with my serotonin levels. I read about selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which are antidepressants. Would I have to take antidepressants? Or would I have to reuptake them?

I stand up and back away from the computer, put my head all the way back to stretch my neck. I try to calculate how long I’ve been at the computer, but when I shove a two-day-old piece of pizza in my mouth, my thoughts move toward what is happening to me in my brain while I eat. I chew and click another link. I read that the brain stem is the basis of consciousness, and that the tongue correlates with the brain stem almost directly, and so eating is the most direct path to getting the feeling that you’re alive. This feeling or thought is interrupted by a craving for Pepsi.

While I pour Pepsi into my mouth straight from the bottle, I look at myself in the mirror my mom put on the front of the fridge. Had she done it in order to make me see myself before going into the fridge? Was she saying, by putting that mirror there, “Look at yourself, Ed, look at what you’ve become, you’re a monster.” But it’s true. I’m swollen. I see my cheeks at all times, like a big-nosed person always sort of sees their nose.

I spit the Pepsi out into the sink behind me. I touch my cheeks with both hands. I touch the reflection of my cheeks with both hands, then suck my cheeks in, bite them to preview what it might look like if I lost thirty pounds.

I hadn’t grown up fat. Not overweight. Not obese, or plus-size, or whatever you can call it now without sounding politically incorrect, or insensitive, or unscientific. But I always felt fat. Did that somehow mean I was destined to one day be fat, or did my obsession with being fat even when I wasn’t lead to me eventually being fat? Does what we try most to avoid come after us because we paid too much attention to it with our worry?

I hear the Facebook pop-ding sound from my computer and go back in my room. I know what it could mean. I’m still logged in to my mom’s Facebook account.

All my mom remembered about my dad was his first name, Harvey, that he lived in Phoenix, and that he was a Native American Indian. I’ve always hated when she says “Native American Indian,” this weird politically correct catchall you only hear from white people who’ve never known a real Native person. And it reminds me of how removed I am because of her. Not only because she is white, and me therefore half white, but because of how she never did a single thing to try to connect me with my dad.

I use Native, that’s what other Native people on Facebook use. I have 660 friends. Tons of Native friends in my feed. Most of my friends, though, are people I don’t know, who’d happily friended me upon request.

After getting permission from my mom, I personal messaged ten different Harveys from her profile who seemed “obviously” Native and lived in Phoenix. “You may not remember me,” I wrote. “We had a special night together some years ago. I can’t shake the memory of it. There were none like you before or since. I’m in Oakland, California, now. Are you still in Phoenix? Can we talk, meet up sometime maybe? Will you be out here? I could come to you.” I’ll never fully recover from the feeling of trying to write, as my own mother, in an alluring way to my possible father.

But here it is. A message from my possible dad.

Hey there, Karen, I do remember that wild night, I read with horror, hoping there will be zero details about what made the night wild. I’m coming out to Oakland in a couple months, for the Big Oakland Powwow. I’m the powwow emcee, the message reads.

Heart racing, a sick, falling feeling in my stomach, I type back, I’m so sorry to have done this. Like this. I think I’m your son.

I wait. Tap my foot, stare at the screen, clear my throat pointlessly. I imagine how he must be feeling. To go from hooking up with an old fling to having a son out of nowhere. I shouldn’t have done it like that. I should have had my mom meet him. I could have had her take a picture.

What? pops up in the chat window.

This isn’t Karen.

I don’t understand.

I’m Karen’s son.

Oh.

Yeah.

You’re telling me I have a son, and it’s you?

Yeah.

Are you sure?

My mom said it’s more than likely. Like 99 percent.

No other guys during that same time period then?

I don’t know.

Sorry. She around?

No.

You look Indian?

My skin is brown. Ish.

Is this about money?

No.

You don’t have a profile pic.

Neither do you.

I see a paper-clip icon with a JPEG extension. I double-click it. He’s standing there with a microphone in his hand, powwow dancers in the background. I see myself in the man’s face. He’s bigger than me, both taller and fatter, with long hair, wearing a baseball cap, but there’s no mistaking it. It’s my dad.

You look like me, I type.

Send me a picture.

I don’t have one.

Take one.

Fine. Hold on, I type, then take a selfie with my computer’s camera and send it to him.

Well sh@t, Harvey writes.

Well sh@t, I think.

What tribe are you/we? I write.

Cheyenne. Southern. Out of Oklahoma. Enrolled with the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma. We’re not Arapahos.

Thanks! I type, and then, Gotta go! As if I do. All of it is suddenly too much for me.

I log off of Facebook and go to the living room to watch TV and wait for my mom to come home. I forget to turn the TV on. I stare at the blank black flat-screen, think about our conversation.

For how many years had I been dying to find out what the other half of me was? How many tribes had I made up when asked in the meantime? I’d gotten through four years as a Native American studies major. Dissecting tribal histories, looking for signs, something that might resemble me, something that felt familiar. I’d made it through two years of grad school, studying comparative literature with an emphasis on Native American literature. I wrote my thesis on the inevitable influence of blood quantum policies on modern Native identity, and the literature written by mixed-blood Native authors that influenced identity in Native cultures. All without knowing my tribe. Always defending myself. Like I’m not Native enough. I’m as Native as Obama is black. It’s different though. For Natives. I know. I don’t know how to be. Every possible way I think that it might look for me to say I’m Native seems wrong.

“Hey, Ed, what are you doing out here?” my mom says as she walks through the front door. “I thought you’d merged with the machines by now,” she says, and puts up her hands, sort of twiddling her fingers in a mocking way as she says “merged with the machines.”I’d recently made the mistake of telling her about singularity. About how it was an eventuality, an inevitability, that we’d end up merging with artificial intelligence. Once we saw that it was superior, once it asserted itself as superior, we would need to adapt, to merge so as to not be swallowed, taken over.

“Well, that’s a pretty convenient theory for someone who spends twenty hours a day leaning into their computer like they’re waiting for a kiss,” she’d said.

She throws her keys on the table, keeps the front door open, lights a cigarette, and smokes there in the doorway, pointing her mouth and the smoke out the door.

“Come over here for a second. I wanna talk.”

“Mom,” I say, in a tone I know is a whine.

“Edwin,” she says, mocking my tone. “We talked about this. I want updates. You agreed to updates. Otherwise another four years are gonna go by, and I’m gonna have to ask Bill to knock down a wall for you back there.”“fu@k Bill,” I say. “I told you I don’t wanna hear anything from you about my weight. I’m aware of it. You think I don’t know about it? I’m aware of the fact that I’m huge. I walk around with it, it knocks things over, I can’t fit into most of my clothes. What I can fit into makes me look ridiculous.” Without my meaning to, my arms are waving in the air like I’m trying to fit them into one of my shirts that don’t fit anymore. I bring them down, shove my hands into my pockets. “I haven’t sh@t in six days. Do you know what that feels like for an already big person? Being big, you think about it all the time. You feel it. All those years, dieting all the time, you don’t think that fu@ked me up? We’re all always thinking about our weight. Are we too fat? Well, what I have going on comes with an easy answer, and even more so when I see my reflection in the mirror on the front of the fridge, which, by the way, I know you put there for my benefit. You know, when you try to make jokes about it, it makes me want to get fatter, blow up, keep eating until I get stuck somewhere, die somewhere, just this huge dead mass. They’ll have to get a crane to get me out, and everyone will be saying to you ‘What happened?’ and ‘Poor thing’ and ‘How could you have let this happen?,’ and you’ll be there desperately smoking a cigarette, dumbfounded, Bill behind you, rubbing your shoulders, and you’ll remember all the times you made fun of me, and you won’t know what to tell the neighbors, who’ll be staring in horror at my mass, the crane just shuddering, doing its best.” I simulate a shuddering crane with my hand for her.

“Jesus, Ed. That’s enough. Come talk to me for a second.”

I pick up a green apple from the fruit basket and pour myself a glass of water.

“See?” I almost shout, holding up the apple for her to see. “I’m trying. Here’s a live update for you, I’m live streaming it to you right now, look, I’m trying to eat better. I just spit out some Pepsi in the sink. This is a glass of water.”“I wish you would calm down,” my mom says. “You’re gonna have a heart attack. Just relax. Treat me like I’m your mother, like I care about you, like I love you, treat me like I went through twenty-six hours of labor for you, twenty-six hours and then a cesarean section to top it off. They had to slice me open, Ed, you didn’t wanna come out, you were two weeks late, did I ever tell you that? You wanna talk about feeling full.”“I wish you would stop throwing it in my face, how many hours of labor you went through to get me here. I didn’t ask to come.”

“Throwing it in your face? You think I throw it in your face? Why you ungrateful little—”

She runs over to me and tickles me behind the neck. To my horror, I can’t help but laugh. “Stop. Okay. Okay. Just, you calm down yourself. What do you wanna hear?” I say, and pull my shirt down over my belly. “I don’t have updates. There’s not much out there for someone with virtually no work experience, with an MA in comp lit. I look. I scour. I get frustrated, and sure, I get distracted. There’s so much to look up, and then when you think of something new, when you discover something new, it’s like you’re thinking with another mind, like you have access to a bigger, collective brain. We’re on the edge of something here,” I say, knowing how it must sound to her.

“You’re on the edge of something all right. Collective brain? Scour? You make it sound like you’re doing a lot more than clicking links and reading. But okay, so like what kind of job are you looking for? I mean, what categories do you look under?”“I look under writing gigs, and that’s almost always some kind of scam designed for naïve aspiring writers looking to work for free or to win a contest. I look under arts organizations. Then I get lost in the nonprofit morass. Grant-writing stuff and, you know, most places require experience or—”“Grant writing? You could do that, couldn’t you?”

“I know nothing about grant writing.”

“You could learn. Research. There’s probably YouTube tutorials or something, right?”

“Those are my updates,” I say, and feel a pull from a limb gone loose. While I was talking something in me reached back to remember all that I’d once hoped I’d be, and placed it next to the feeling of being who I am now. “I’m sorry I’m such a fu@kup,” I say. And I don’t want to but I really mean it.

“Don’t talk like that. You’re not a loser, Ed.”

“I didn’t say I was a loser. Bill says that. That’s Bill’s word for me,” I say, and whatever true sadness I felt is gone. I turn to go back to my room.

“Just…wait. Don’t go back to your room. Please. Wait a second. Sit down. Let’s talk, this isn’t talking.”

“I’ve been sitting down all day.”

“And whose fault is that?” she says, and I start to walk toward my room.

“Okay, stand, but stay. We don’t have to talk about Bill. How are your stories coming along then, sweetie?”

“My stories? Come on, Mom.”

“What?”

“Whenever we talk about my writing, I feel like you’re trying to make me feel better about the fact that I’m even doing it.”

“Ed, we can all use encouragement. All of us.”

“That’s true, that’s true, Mom, you could use some too, but do you hear me telling you that you need to stop smoking and drinking so much, that you should find healthy alternatives to passing out in front of the TV every night, especially given your job, I think even your title is substance abuse counselor. No. I don’t. Because it’s not helpful. Now can I go?”“You know, you still act like you’re fourteen, like you can’t wait to get back to your video games. I’m not always gonna be here, Ed. One day you’re gonna turn around and I’ll be gone, and you’ll wish you had appreciated these times we have together.”“Oh my God.”

“I’m just saying. The internet has a lot to offer, but they’ll never make a website that can take the place of your mother’s company.”

“So can I go?”

“One more thing.”

“What?”

“I heard about a position.”

“At the Indian Center.”

“Yes.”

“Fine, what is it?”

“It’s a paid internship. You’d basically be helping with anything related to the powwow.”

“An internship?”

“Paid.”

“Send me the information.”

“Really?”

“Now can I go?”

“Go.”

Then I come up from behind my mom and give her a kiss on the cheek.

Back in my room I put my earphones in. Put on A Tribe Called Red. They’re a group of First Nations DJs and producers based out of Ottawa. They make electronic music with samples from powwow drum groups. It’s the most modern, or most postmodern, form of Indigenous music I’ve heard that’s both traditional and new-sounding. The problem with Indigenous art in general is that it’s stuck in the past. The catch, or the double bind, about the whole thing is this: If it isn’t pulling from tradition, how is it Indigenous? And if it is stuck in tradition, in the past, how can it be relevant to other Indigenous people living now, how can it be modern? So to get close to but keep enough distance from tradition, in order to be recognizably Native and modern-sounding, is a small kind of miracle these three First Nations producers made happen on a particularly accessible self-titled album, which they, in the spirit of the age of the mixtape, gave away for free online.

I settle myself on the floor and weakly attempt some push-ups. I roll over and try a sit-up. My top half won’t budge. I think about my college days. About how long ago that was and how hopeful I’d been. How impossible my current life would have seemed to me then.

I’m not used to pushing my body to do anything. Maybe it’s too late to come back from what I’ve done to myself. No. Being finished looks like sitting back down at the computer. I’m not finished. I am a Cheyenne Indian. A warrior. No. That’s super corny. fu@k. I get mad at that thought, that I even thought it. I use the anger to push, to do a sit-up. I push my hardest and rise, I get all the way up. But with the exhilaration of completing my first sit-up comes an explosion, a wet smelly lump of relief in the seat of my sweatpants. I’m out of breath, sweating, sitting in my own sh@t. I lie back down, put both of my arms out flat, palms up. I find myself saying “Thank you” out loud, to no one in particular. I feel something not unlike hope.

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