Every day I wrote in my books.
I drew pictures, too.
That night, I drew a plastic flamingo with a spike coming out of its ass, a grimacing lemur, bottles of wine; and a picture of me with my shorts pulled down around my knees. In my drawing, I was in the backseat of Robby’s Ford Explorer, lying on Shann Collins and some socks and a pair of my best friend’s boxers that were printed with red fire trucks and spotted Dalmatian dogs.
I drew a two-headed baby boy trapped inside a pickle jar.
That night, I sat at my desk until the sky outside began to get light.
I took off my shoes and socks, and my Orwells T-shirt, too. I always write more accurate accounts of history when wearing as little as possible.
It’s difficult to avoid the truth when you’re undressed.
My armpits reeked. I had serious B.O.
That was also true.
Ingrid, my golden retriever, was in my bedroom. She liked to lie down beneath my desk so I could keep my bare feet in her fur. Ingrid, although she could shit better than any dog I knew—a real dynamo—never barked. When she was a puppy, she had a tumor on her neck. It made it so she couldn’t bark, which helped me sneak into the house past curfew countless times.
Our house got robbed twice, too.
“You’re a good dog, Ingrid,” I said. I wriggled my toes in her fur.
Even when I tried to tell everything that happened, I knew my accounts were ultimately nothing more than an abbreviation. It’s not that I neglected to write details—I told the truth about Shann’s room, the staircase leading down to nothing, what the main ingredients of a Stanpreme pizza are. I wrote what it felt like to have my bare penis pressing upward against the cool skin of Shann Collins’s thigh.
That was also true.
I told about Robby kissing me. I described it in detail, down to the taste and feel of his tongue. I kept accurate count of the cigarettes we smoked, and described the things trapped inside the jars we found locked up in Johnny McKeon’s office.
But no historian could ever put everything that happened in a book.
The book would be as big as the universe, and it would take multiple countless lifetimes to read.
History necessarily had to be an abbreviation.
Even those first men—obsessed with recording their history—who painted on cave walls in Lascaux and Altamira, only put the important details down.
We killed this big hairy thing and that big hairy thing. And that was our day. You know what I mean.
My name is an abbreviation.
Three grandfathers back, a man named Krzys Szczerba came to the United States from Poland.
People in America did not know what to do with all those consonants and shit in Krzys Szczerba’s name. They decided to swap some out for vowels, and to take others away from Krzys Szczerba, so my three-grandfathers-back grandfather became Christopher Szerba.
I imagined. Sometimes I drew this picture: An official stone building, a repository for all the consonants and shit taken from refugees’ names when they arrived on the doorstep of the United States of America. It is piled high everywhere with the letters we don’t find useful: Cs and Zs in great heaping mounds that looked so much like the black-and-white photographs of luggage or shoes from World War 2.
History, and the United States of America, can call him Chris.
History is full of shit like that.
Krzys Szczerba came to America when he was seventeen years old.
In 1905, being seventeen years old made you a man. In 1969, when Hungry Jack fought in Vietnam, seventeen years old was a man. Now, I wasn’t so sure. My brother, Eric, who was somewhere in Afghanistan, was twenty-two.
Krzys Szczerba came across the Atlantic with his father. They planned on working and earning enough money so Krzys’s mother, brother, and two sisters could come to the United States, too. People who did that were called Bread Polacks. They came here to make money.
Krzys Szczerba’s father died on the boat in the middle of the ocean.
His body was sent down naked into the water with prayers and a medallion of Saint Casimir.
Krzys Szczerba’s family never came to their son.
Chris Szerba ended up in southern Minnesota, where he met a grocer’s daughter named Eva Nightingale. Eva had breasts like frosted cupcakes and skin the color of homemade peach ice cream. Her body was a soft and generous pillow of endless desserts. Chris Szerba’s semen
found its way into Eva Nightingale’s tummy, where it produced a good, cigarette-smoking, Catholic Polish boy named Andrzej.
Sometimes when I wrote my history, I would slip in pages I drew about Krzys Szczerba and his lonely and sad life in the United States.
It was hard for me, at times, to separate out the connections that crisscrossed like intersecting highways through and around my life in Ealing.
It was the truth, and I had to get it down.
And that was our day. You know what I mean.
I took off my boxers and went to bed.
It was 6:01 a.m.
The end of the world was about four hours old. Just a baby.
Johnny McKeon was picking up two dozen donuts at that moment.
Ollie Jungfrau was waking up, trying to decide if he should masturbate or not.
It was just after three in the afternoon in Afghanistan.
Louis, the Chinese cook at The Pancake House, whose real name was Ah Wong Sing, was taking a shit in the public restroom at the Ealing Coin Wash Launderette.
History never tells about people taking shits. I can’t for a moment believe that guys like Theodore Roosevelt or Winston Churchill never took a shit. History always abbreviates out the shit-taking and excess consonants.
In about a week, the pieces started coming together.
In a week, we figured out history.
Eventually, we would learn this:
The thing inside the globe, the Contained MI Plague Strain 412E, wasn’t anything remarkable unless it came into contact with human blood.
Contained MI Plague Strain 412E really was contained and harmless inside Johnny McKeon’s glass universe.
Tyler dropped that universe directly onto the spot where earlier that day Robby Brees began spelling out GRANT WALLACE MURDERED ME in his own blood.
The Contained MI Plague Strain 412E was happy to meet Robby Brees’s blood.
Robby Brees was my best friend. He taught me how to dance. We smoked cigarettes. He kissed me. To be honest, I kissed him back. Robby was homosexual. I didn’t know if I was anything.
I wondered what I was. None of that mattered. Nobody knew anything about it except for me and Robby.
The man whose scientific company invented the Contained MI Plague Strain 412E died when his plane crashed into the ocean. The plane’s engines were destroyed by billowing plumes of caustic ash. The ash came from a volcano in Guatemala. It was called Huacamochtli. Robby Brees’s dad was filming the Huacamochtli eruption at precisely the same moment that Dr. Grady McKeon’s jet disintegrated on impact with the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.
Water is unyielding when you’re moving at 500 mph.
We were in seventh grade then. My brother, Eric Christopher Szerba, joined the United States Marines that year. At the same moment Huacamochtli was being filmed by Robby’s father and Dr. Grady McKeon’s body was being torn apart by the force of impact, my brother, Eric, was on his way to boot camp. Robby Brees’s dad never came back to Ealing, Iowa. He didn’t want to see Robby’s mom ever again.
We found this out later:
The Contained MI Plague Strain 412E said hello to Robby Brees’s blood on the asphalt in Grasshopper Jungle.
And the end of the world began at about 2:00 a.m., around three and a half feet away from a discarded floral-print sleeper sofa infested with pubic lice in Ealing, Iowa. One time, Travis Pope unfolded the sofa and fucked his wife, Eileen, on it.
Both of them had pubic lice.
It didn’t matter.
History is my compulsion.
I see the connections.