Knives Dark – Chapter 10 – “Pattern”

Allan had been accepted at an elite institution for college, but he had no idea what that meant. It turned out it meant an overwhelming amount of work and stress. He had absolutely no time for the website he loved so much, the one thing that had gotten him through high school.

He made a ton of friends in his freshman year, instantly bonding with the guys in his dorm. In fact, he was rooming with one of the guys he knew from his last high school, Kyle, and one of his friends from high school, Garret, was also living in the same dorm.

That freshman year was intense and amazing at the same time, filled with memorable experiences. It was sophomore year, when he’d lucked out and landed with prime housing on campus, that things suddenly nose-dove south.

The thing that Allan needed, the thing that he missed the most, was the notion of a family to come back to. He couldn’t take living by himself, not back then. All his friends had opted for off-campus housing which was a 15 minute walk away. Allan would spend a lot of time at his friend’s place.

In school, Allan genuinely enjoyed the material that he learned. He just wished there was more time to really let it soak in. He realized that, if he were to continue upon this track, he would undoubtedly want to do research, and be on the cutting edge of technology. Back then, the world felt like his oyster, and university was the gateway that would open all the doors for him. At the same time, something else tugged at Allan’s heart, a deep emotional hurt that wouldn’t stop aching. He wanted to be with Alexa, to see her, to feel her. But she was still out of his life, far out of reach, at a different school. Life would likely only keep drawing them apart.

Confused, heartbroken, alone, and stressed, Allan finally snapped halfway through the first semester his sophomore year. He had a mental breakdown and took a leave of absence from his school. Forfeiting his prime apartment, he went home to his family where, at least, he was no longer alone.

During the following spring semester, he took math classes at SUNY (State University of New York) Geneseo, where his father taught, and humanities and writing courses at Monroe Community College. He took these classes knowing he could transfer them towards his diploma at his alma mater. He also took the only digital microprocessor course the college had to offer. He thoroughly enjoyed every class and attended every lecture, especially the digital microprocessor class he managed to get into.

There, in the digital microprocessor class, he got to program a Motorola 68k in assembly and design finite-state-machines using latches and flip-flops. In the end, he ended up failing two courses — a math proofs course, and a human anthropology course — because he didn’t care about doing the assignments. What a slacker and bum. But, to his credit, he aced the courses he did care about: linear algebra, digital microprocessors, and the 200 level English course that got him a free ticket out of the mandatory Freshman english course at Carnegie Mellon.

Despite his failures, that was the best semester he’d ever had. It also marked the first time he tripped on acid. He’d dosed right before his english class, thinking that it wouldn’t hit until after the class was over. They were playing a game of english-class themed Jeopardy that night anyways, so there wasn’t anything he really had to focus on or pay attention to. (Their professor was seriously, the most chill dude ever. He was awesome. He taught well, too. Allan had written an essay on the legalization of Marijuana, years before the legalization movement had really taken ahold in California and Colorado and other states.)

As time progressed, Allan realized that the acid was hitting a lot sooner and a lot stronger than he could have imagined. He realized that Jeopardy, or in fact any game in which he would be put on the spot, were absolutely terrible. It caused such immense anxiety while tripping. Allan had no idea how he did it, but he managed to help his team score a winning streak and comeback to win that game of Jeopardy. This earned his entire team a whole half letter grade: so an A would be bumped up to an A+. (Allan not only absolutely loved all the research he got to do for his essay, he thoroughly enjoyed writing the entire 13-page essay tremendously, and felt that he got far more out of that than he would have the arbitrary reading assignments in the Carnegie Mellon course. Community Colleges were really… something.)

After english, he really started tripping face. He could only marvel at how beautiful and incredible the world was as he waited for his mom to pick him up. Usually he would drive home, but this time, he let her. He wasn’t an idiot. (he actually was) Along the way, he couldn’t stop thinking about how incredible everything was. All of it: humanity, biology, technology, evolution, life, God.

This was how he fell in love with psychedelics. When that trip faded and he was left sober once more, Allan didn’t know what to do. His sober self was so utterly… empty, so devoid of anything. This is what led him down the rabbit hole.

He discovered DXM was a psychedelic that was legally sold as an antitussive, or cough medicine. More appropriately, DXM was a dissociative that acted on the NMDA receptors and sigma-opioid receptors in the brain, not that Allan had a clue what any of that meant. But he understood the general mechanism by which the drug functioned: by inhibiting communication between certain parts of the brain, it left the conscious self “dissociated” from the physical body, thus leading to the many out-of-body and out-of-this-world experiences that littered the internet.

While DXM did that for most people, it did something considerably different for Allan: it made him… happy. Goofy. Content. In a way that he had never experienced before, he felt contentedness. The void in his chest was temporarily filled. That deep hurt which no human save Alexa had been able to fill, that was something the DXM alleviated. Allan didn’t have to suffer constantly anymore.

If LSD was Allan’s pure first love, then DXM was the abusive lover he kept running back to. It was his worst enemy and greatest friend. It brought him peace and unspeakable agony. You see, Allan began taking DXM to self-medicate. Most people, his parents included, viewed this as an addiction.

But over time, Allan’s reasoning for taking cough syrup wasn’t to get stoned and have a good time. The truth was, it brought him a peace that nothing else in life could. It made everything… make sense, it made things okay.

After a while, it truly was an aid to help him fit into society better. It literally cured his general anxiety, especially around other people. He was able to disconnect himself, to feel positive and uplifting thoughts, to be unafraid to speak his mind and express himself. This little change, no matter how small, helped him to throw himself at the endless scourge of coursework in college with a smile.

He didn’t believe in these academic institutions which profited off education. He didn’t believe in the post-capitalistic corporate agenda that upheld such institutions. He utterly despised the lenders that made a buck and dime off college students by burdening them with crippling debt. But he knew that he had no choice, and as a civilian, he had to make his way this world somehow. University was simply… a stepping stone on that path. Or so his parents firmly believed, anyways.

Sure enough, with friends beside him and LSD and DXM to guide him, he had a splendid fall semester. It was during the cold winter months right after the new year in which Allan once again had another so-called mental breakdown. And for a second there, Allan had felt as though he’d found himself, despite that deep hurt in his chest that made him wish on most nights that he was dead. For the second time, he took a leave of absence, but not before doing one important thing: signing up for a co-op with Intel.

Before he knew it, Allan had a phone screen interview, and was accepted as a digital design intern at the Intel plant in Hudson, Massachusetts. (The plant would later stop manufacturing using an outdated process and become a pure design plant). He was working with the people who designed the microchips in next-generation CPUs. He began to learn about interesting topics in microprocessor design, from domino logic, to clock distribution and skew across a microchip, to the computation of parasitic capacitances that dictated frequency limits, and the application of Ohm’s law at the transistor level. His love for the material only grew.

Then, during his co-0p, he had another mental breakdown He wasn’t content with what he was doing. He hadn’t been able to accomplish something meaningful in his self-defined project to try and extend the cache regression testing tool for his team. He barely understood how to effectively design digital circuits. He felt overwhelmed.

At the time, he was living with a truly generous family, the Junes. His entire situation was incredible: he lived in a home with a family, with parents who showed him for the first time what a truly functional marriage was like. He had companionship from their son, who had just recently graduated from Amherst and was working as a chemical engineer at a company in the region. And somehow, Allan couldn’t keep it together

He fell for a girl from whom he sat one cube over, who he had gotten lunch with once. He didn’t know why, but he dreamed about her. Dreamed about being able to lie next to her, more specifically — the way he’d lain next to Alexa those years ago. He dreamed that he’d be able to find someone he wanted to marry. He began to try online dating, and met someone through Craigslist who was… genuinely a great person. He liked her a lot, and he knew that if he played his cards, he could probably have sex with her.

That’s why he broke it off. Because he didn’t want to treat her as someone to fulfill his own carnal pleasures. That wasn’t what the Quran said to do. Maybe biologically, that was his prerogative, but Allan was so utterly convinced of his faith, he couldn’t bring himself to be so insincere and lead a woman on, while his heart yearned for the girl that sat in the cube next to him.

So instead, he bought his first bottle of bourbon since turning twenty-one, got wasted for the first time, watched a lot of porn, overdosed on sleep medications and ended up in the hospital, then bought himself a Gibson SG and began playing the guitar every single day even though he completely and utterly sucked at it.

***

Allan had gotten into guitar because of something one of his online compatriots from high school had once sagaciously said to him. “Why don’t you? It’s never too late to start.” In ways like that, Ben Roth was an amazing guy.

So Allan ordered a cheap $80 Jasmine guitar off Amazon. He’d taken this guitar with him to his previous semester in college, and would practice chords on it religiously. It brought him a lot of peace to do that, so he learned guitar by his lonesome, at his own pace.

He’d told himself, “welp, if I keep this up for a year, then I’m probably serious about it,” and dreamed of buying himself a sweet professional electric guitar so he could learn how to shred. “Thom Yorke, you better watch out…” he used to joke to himself. He played terribly, he knew it, and he kept on playing despite it, because he loved it. That’s the kind of guy he was.

***

During this guitar stint while in Massachusetts, Allan had his next mental breakdown. He confessed his love to the girl who sat in the cube next to him with a handmade card and an original poem. When she left a note saying she wasn’t interested, he told his mentor that he was going to end the co-op early. He didn’t remember the exact reason he’d given him, but part of him had thought, “I really just wanna play guitar and see how far I can get” and another part of him thought, “I would rather be programming than doing digital design… at least I understand programming.”

By the same grace that had landed him such a wonderful opportunity at Intel, a recruiter in Rochester reached out to Allan. Her name was Kate, and she was looking to fill a junior programmer analyst position at the University of Rochester at his hometown. Without missing a beat, Allan leapt at the opportunity, aced the online technical screen, and flew through the phone screen. He interviewed hardly two days after moving back home.

He nailed the interview, too. It was the first time he’d felt so confident and capable in his life. He knew all the technologies they were working with from his development experience in high school. They were using an open source framework that he knew about, that utilized the same MVC (model-view-controller) principles for separation of business logic and relational data that he had studied and tried to reproduce. The one skill he’d taught himself out of love and passion was paying off — not the university degree he didn’t have.

He loved that job. It was in an old office building overlooking a cemetery, kind of depressing, but it was gold to Allan. He absolutely loved all the projects he worked on, and how he just got to hack away at various odds and ends all day, with no one telling him what to do. He got to make design decisions and code away to his heart’s content. His manager was amazing, his coworkers… well, he didn’t really interact much with them because he had his own office room that he shared with an older woman from another department.

Except, then Allan started to feel it. His job was too easy. He wasn’t really pushing himself, wasn’t really growing, not like he had been at university. For all the stress, he couldn’t help but feel… if he could hold down a job like this, what strides could he make if he got his degree?

So when his initial contract ended, and the University of Rochester renewed his contract but they made him a tester… he decided this was a job he was no longer interested in and that it was time to listen to his parents and go back to school. He’d repaid all his student loans and had a sweet electric guitar. Sure, he was a virgin, but he still had it pretty good despite all the no-sex and the endless depression. Right?

***

There was something he’d learned through his struggles and his reading of the Quran and Tao Te Ching. All people suffered equally, but in different shades. In all their sufferings, people were presented with the necessary ingredients to adapt and survive, to pull through. Thusly, all the shades of people on this earth were hardy in their own way, having survived and grown and clung to existence in their own vibrant self-expression of living. No being’s journey through existence, as the Creation of Allah, was more valuable than another’s. No being had any right to judge another’s existence. Only Allah held the right to Judge all souls, and upon an appointed day, He would do just that.

***

Allan spent the summer months prepping for his return to Carnegie Mellon.

The next fall semester, he arranged an off-campus apartment that he split with his friend from freshman year, Justin. They would be living on Squirrel Hill, a stone’s throw away from the university. In a lot of ways, Allan and Justin were the same, despite coming from two different families. While Allan was Southasian, Justin was of Chinese descent, but both were brought up with the strong familial orientation of their cultural heritage. There were some significant differences, however: while Allan communicated openly and sincerely with his father, Justin’s relationship with his father was much more of the cut-and-dry, purely results-oriented Asian mentality. Justin’s parents had never bought him any video games because they never allowed him any such “wasteful” indulgences. They’d been so strict with Justin his entire life, the moment Justin was free to be on his own, he’d immersed himself in the one thing he always loved: video games.

Allan had always been into video games growing up, but this was moreso from an artistic standpoint. He enjoyed being skilled at games, true, but he also considered the amount of work and effort that went into making them. What he truly appreciated was the love and care that developers put into these virtual worlds. A childhood dream of his was to make games that could bring happiness, such as he’d known in his younger years.

For Justin, it was entirely different. Justin primarily cared about being the best at whatever game he was playing. And Justin was blisteringly good at so many types of games: from MMORPGs to beat-em-ups. The only arena where Allan had any advantage was in console-based first person shooters, because of the controller. These were the games that Justin never played, so it didn’t matter.

Allan genuinely cherished his relationship with Justin. To be honest, he loved Justin like a brother. He was envious of Justin’s abilities, but wholeheartedly loved getting decimated by him in their favorite competitive game, Super Smash Brothers Melee. During that fall semester, when they were living together, Justin confided to Allan that he had actually withdrawn from the university and taken the tuition money that had been refunded to buy a roundtrip ticket to Romania. This was because his girlfriend was in Romania.

Apparently, Justin had sparked a long-distance video relationship with this girl through MMORPGs. She was still in high school, about 16 at the time. Justin would stay up at ridiculous hours of the night raiding with his Romanian girlfriend and their clan, then sleep during the day. Allan could see that his friend was hurting, and he wanted to do something to help.

He’d always enjoyed cats. In Massachusetts, he’d lived with two of them. Justin kept talking about wanting to adopt a cat. Finally, Allan said, “let’s do it.” They found a couple living an hour’s drive away who were giving away a free kitten that hadn’t yet been neutered and de-wormed.

Without hesitation, he flung himself down this path, because he knew that he could not help ease Justin’s suffering, whatever it was. This was because Allan genuinely understood the independent nature of every man’s struggle.

***

It wasn’t until that twenty-second year of his life, living with Justin in his junior year of college, that Allan fell in love again. The woman he’d fallen in love with this time was Anjelica, and it had been that love-at-first-sight. He recalled the first time he saw her at an anime club meeting, she was the social chair and they were playing “Guess Who.” She wore a blue dress that day, and Allan remembered that even as he tried to look away, he couldn’t keep his eyes off her. That was when he began to think, “oh God, not this again.” Sure enough, he went home that night and couldn’t stop thinking about how he could get close to her.

She had created the cosplay club at their university. It wasn’t something Allan was particularly into, but he wanted to be near Anjelica, so he started attending those meetings. He enjoyed her focus, her ability to juggle so many different pursuits and seemingly succeed in all of them, and of course, her cuteness. He couldn’t deny he totally had the hots for her. She drove him crazy, for whatever reason. To him, she was everything he was looking for, the complete package.

He was an electrical and computer engineering major, she was a Japanese major, and later, a business major.

He eventually asked her out, and they went out to dinner at a Japanese restaurant. He enjoyed that night tremendously and the details stuck out in his mind as another brief, glittering moment. Beautifully ephemeral. It was the only time that Anjelica had really treated Allan like… well, like something more than a pile of bricks. And he was, of course, in his own little fairy tale, completely in love with her and in love with the notion of being close to her, even though it was clear to him she didn’t think much of him. He didn’t care and earnestly expressed himself anyways. Too earnestly.

Their relationship only deteriorated from there. She started being cold. Really cold. Actually, Allan kind of liked it. He felt like there was some kind of unspoken honesty in the sort of, almost abusive, uncaring treatment he got from her. This was probably the exact opposite of what she had wanted to accomplish, but… you see, Allan was, in a word… well, how shall I put it? Retarded? Autistic? I don’t know. He didn’t understand women, and he followed his heart. Don’t get me wrong, he was damned brilliant at some things. Understanding women was not one of them.

Still, Allan had somehow, by some unknown course of fate, managed to ask her out on a few more dates, even though she totally did not want to go and she made that abundantly clear to him. The second time, it was completely awkward because Allan had pleaded with the fullest extent of his wit that “this would be it.”

Then he continued going to cosplay club meetings even though she had expressly voiced her disinterest in him. Back then, he was an idiot who thought that determination could change minds. Not a woman’s mind. He’d come to learn that the hard way.

Anjelica was always on Allan’s mind, whether he wanted her there or not. At the time, he was prescribed adderall for his ADHD, which helped tremendously for lectures. He had begun going to the gym regularly with the thought that, perhaps if he put on muscle, he would be more attractive to Anjelica. (Back then, he always thought of himself as fat. It would be years later, after gaining weight from depression, that he’d come to realize how distorted his view of his body had been.)

To aid in sculpting his body to below 10% body-fat, he’d put himself on a ketogenic diet and had ordered DNP from an online supplier. 2,4-Dinitrophenol was a banned substance by the FDA owing to its toxicology and potential to kill people. Biochemically, it interfered with cellular energy production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) by binding with the phosphate ions during the cellular Krebs cycle. Because the body’s ability to generate energy was hindered, it compensated by boosting metabolism and, on a ketogenic diet, by burning fat stores for additional energy.

Going through a two-week regimen of DNP was hell. Yet Allan’s desire to be with Anjelica somehow trumped the sheer agony he went through. It was during his second round of DNP that he’d taken adderall to try and stay awake, and his body went completely haywire.

Maybe it was just an anxiety attack, but it was nighttime and Allan thought he was going to die. Justin was asleep at the time, but Allan didn’t bother waking his friend. To be honest, he wasn’t sure what was happening to him, or if he really was going to die. He didn’t want to wake his friend up with a stupid drug-overdose induced panic attack. Not after the overdose that landed him at the ER in Massachusetts. He’d survived that just fine… so, he would probably survive this okay. And even if he didn’t, life sucked anyways, Anjelica didn’t really like him, so death seemed like a pretty okay option.

Really, he was scared out of his fucking mind. This was one of his first few brushes with death, before he realized that his consciousness was in fact leaping between quantum realities in which he existed.

His calves and feet were swollen and felt like they were freezing with pins and needles going through them. He couldn’t feel a pulse anywhere on his body. Allan thought he was going to die, not for the first time in his life. The first time had been when he had overdosed on antidepressants and antipsychotics back during his sophomore year in a halfhearted attempt to kill himself.

Allan had since realized that his instinct and will to live far superseded his determination to kill himself. Nevertheless, he floated in a no-man’s land where his mind ideated the thought of death, of everlasting reprieve from the struggles of life. Thus, in this second brush with death, Allan did not think death to be the worst outcome, and so, he did not call anyone for help. To Allan, dying alone by overdose in the darkness of his apartment was a preferable end to surviving another worthless trip to the ER.

***

He recalled his night in the Massachusetts ER. He could remember bits and pieces of it. He’d gone for a night drive after dosing on the sleep meds, because, well, he was an idiot. (don’t tell me I didn’t tell you). Really, this was his first time using sleep medications, so he had no idea what their effect would be… and because he was an idiot, he was mixing two different sleeping medications.

The first few pills he took, he waited 30 minutes. Nothing. No hint of sleepiness at all. He took some more of the other drug and waited another 30 minutes. Nada. Nothing. He figured, “ah what the hell, I’ll go for a quick drive, that usually sorts me out.” He let himself out of the house and started on that drive.

Ten minutes in, the the pills started kicking in big-time. He had no clue where he was when he realized he was losing motor control and he couldn’t really hit the clutch anymore. Responsibly, he pulled his car onto a side-street and parked there. He was laying in his car, dozing off, thinking he could just sleep it off, when people who were out walking late in the middle of the night found him.

And like people, they just had to stick their noses in and save him. Why were they even there? He didn’t need saving. He’d checked the LD50 on the sleep meds, he hadn’t taken anything anywhere near fatal. It was a heavy combination of doxylamine succinate and diphenhydramine, sure, but it wouldn’t kill. No, driving the car might’ve killed him, but he’d realized what a fucking shithead he’d been to even go out driving in the first place and decided to calmly sleep it off.

Though he didn’t know it at the time, his flaunting with death, his skirting these dangerous situations without care for his life, the use of drugs to self-medicate: everything was symptomatic, right alongside his age-old depression.

No, Allan wasn’t cutting himself any breaks. He’d been stupid, but not utterly reckless, and hadn’t endangered anyone. Then these people showed up and started knocking on his window. Drugged up, Allan rolled the window and tried to talk to them, but he slurred everything he said. He couldn’t talk straight. He realized what an ass-clown he sounded like. It didn’t occur to him that he sounded like he was completely drunk and trashed.

They asked him if he wanted some fresh air. He said, “sure” and tried to get out of his car — but he couldn’t stand. He couldn’t stand at all. Gravity felt like it had been multiplied by a hundred, because the drugs were interfering with his CNS (Central Nervous System) and inhibiting his motor neurons from communicating properly. That was why he couldn’t hit the clutch on his car properly anymore. So the people did the responsible thing and called 911.

First, an officer arrived. He was a pretty swell officer, or so Allan thought. He would slap Allan’s face to get him to wake up and ask him, “have you been drinking?”

“No.” Then Allan would fall asleep.

He’d slap him again to wake him up. “What did you take?”

And Allan would try and remember the names of the drugs. “Doxyla… sussa… susque… Diphen… diphen…” he’d struggle, before again falling asleep.

The cop would slap him again. “Did you take heroin or cocaine?” This felt like a trick to get him to admit something, but it wasn’t the truth in either case, so Allan had responded, “No, offisah, no, no.” He didn’t do hard drugs like that.

“Did you do crystal meth?”

“No. No. No.” Then he fell asleep.

Finally, the officer decided to call an ambulance. After he’d communicated to dispatch, he got right back on top of Allan, slapping him awake and asking him, “what did you take?”

This interrogation happened for what felt like a half hour. In retrospect, Allan felt like the officer was trying to get some kind of admission of illegal activity or wrongdoing out of him, but during that time, he trusted the officer completely and thought, “this guy’s just doing his job. He’s being pretty nice to me, too… he coulda just shot me.”

The ambulance arrived while Allan slept peacefully on the concrete, surrounded by strangers whose names he would never know. The paramedics got him onto a stretcher, plugged him into an IV, and started monitoring his biometrics. He was conscious for all of this, and during this time, managed to somehow thank the officer for being so helpful and courteous.

In the back of the ambulance, they managed to stabilize him so that he didn’t fall asleep every 30 seconds.

At the hospital, he was tended to by a nurse. He watched as burn victims were rushed into intensive care and thought: “What a total waste of resources. There are people who actually need help. Look at me.”

He felt truly miserable, like a scummy human being.

At the same time, he really wanted to get out of the fucking hospital. God, it was so depressing. It was a nightmare. He wondered how anyone could bear to work in a place filled with messed up people who were hurting. He couldn’t envision himself ever working in such a place. He felt genuinely grateful for the healthcare system in the country, not yet cognizant of the cost and lucrative nature of the industry. All these people, selflessly giving themselves to care for others…

Allan kept buzzing the alert thing to get the nurse to come to see him. He kept telling her that he wanted to see the doctor and he wanted to get out of there. She kept telling him that he had to stay because they were monitoring him to make sure he was okay. She was patient the first time she said it. Not really the seventh time.

By the eighth time, Allan said, “aw fuck this, I’m a man.” He pulled off all the monitors that were stuck to his chest, then ripped out the IV in what felt like a truly epic and titanic show of his self-proclaimed manliness. He’d assumed the wound would be a slight bleed, like getting a shot. ‘Tis but a flesh wound”, he recalled Monty Python and the Holy Grail. He didn’t expect to be gushing blood all over the goddamned place as he stumbled off the gurney and took two steps towards freedom before he realized that he’d probably bleed out before he figured out where the freaking exit was. He may have thought himself a man, but really, he was just a drugged up boy with no plan.

Boy, the nurse was not happy with him. He apologized profusely to her as she brutally stabbed his other arm with another IV. He supposed she was pretty hot, so it was okay. This was the closest he’d gotten to someone he was attracted to… well, in a long enough time that he forgave her for the brutality.

Oh yeah. Allan was an idiot.

***

It was that night, in the apartment he shared with Justin, that he thought he would die for the second time in his life. During that episode, he thought about how little he had to live for. Just his family. That was really it. For all his fear of death and familial devotion, somehow his family, his parents and two younger siblings, did not seem like an adequate enough reason to live. Maybe it was because his family had always been exceptionally dysfunctional, owing to the broken and dysfunctional nature of his parent’s marriage. Or maybe it was just biology. Allan wasn’t really sure.

For whatever reason, his will to live manifested itself as Anjelica. The thought of being able to see her was the only thing that made him feel life was worth living, that it was worth surviving. The thought of being able to see her again was what fortified his determination to live.

He woke up the following morning, alive and normal, with this sense that, he just wanted to be near Anjelica, even if nothing would come of it. In a way, she had saved his life, even if she didn’t know or care.

After that, his mind became apathetic to his studies. They seemed so trivially unimportant. Not soon afterward, he took another leave of absence while continuing to live in his apartment. There was another semester’s tuition down the drain. There was his scholarship going to waste, while he was… growing the fuck up.

Now having more time than he knew what to do with, he started (a) trying to build another website community while (b) he thought about becoming a musician. He also began going to the campus gym religiously, adhering to a ketogenic regimen and drinking enough whey protein to give an elephant diarrhea. He started to get really cut for the first time in his life. At the same time, he threw himself into guitar and drinking.

Allan would practice all day and not get that much better. He hardly cared and practiced anyways. He would drink to numb the pain in his fingers and in his heart, and to have the courage to sing and play, even though he had never sung in his life. His desire to become a musician was heartfelt; his confidence was built on delusion. But he refused to admit this to himself because, all dreams were delusions that people made manifest through their will and devotion.

Besides practicing guitar, he spent the remainder of his time going to the gym to workout, cooking, and on the weekends, attending the cosplay club meetings to be near Anjelica, without ever speaking to her.

He became a functioning alcoholic. Allan had always marveled at his ability to metabolize ridiculous amounts of alcohol with nary a hangover. Initially he’d thought it was because he had a policy of intense rehydration to flush out his system before he fell asleep. Later, he began to realize that, no, for whatever reason, he was just a hard drinker.

It wasn’t until one morning, when he was getting the anxiety and shakes from withdrawal and had to pour himself a shot of gin (he preferred taking gin straight) simply to function that he realized he’d drank half a handle in a single day. That was the moment when he realized he was a functioning alcoholic. That was the first time he went through alcohol withdrawal.

Somehow, quitting alcohol was easy. It was because he kinda hated the stuff anyways. Drinking was forbidden by the Quran to begin with, so it wasn’t anything that any self-respecting Muslim should be doing in the first place. Allan didn’t know if his circumstances really gave him the right to drink, but then, people didn’t comprehend Allan’s emotions or circumstances, so he left that as being a relative gray area. Whatever the final judgement would be, his use of alcohol for either recreation or medicinal purposes or both, that was up to Allah.

***

For whatever reason, Anjelica got him a Christmas present. Maybe it was her way saying thanks, but Allan was genuinely touched. No one had ever done that for him. His family didn’t celebrate Christmas and his friends weren’t really the gift-giving types.

It was a book about how to care for cats. This was because… well, Allan had asked Anjelica about whether it was a good idea to adopt a cat for his roommate. She had answered genuinely that cats lived for up to fifteen years, so it was a real commitment. Then she’d gotten him this book.

She later asked him for a ride to the airport over winter break. Allan was in love with her, so of course he agreed, even if he knew he was being used. Plus, he couldn’t get over the fact that she’d given him a present. It wouldn’t really occur to him that she’d given him the present kind of as an exchange for his chauffeur services until years later. As has been said numerous times, and shall be said many more times, Allan was truly an idiot who did not comprehend women. Truth be told, there were many common-sensical aspects of the world that went way over his head. He was just… genuinely trusting and appreciative of people, to a fault — because that was the sincere standard he tried to live up to himself.

He’d driven up behind Anjelica’s dorm a solid fifteen minutes early the day he was supposed to drive her to the airport. Anjelica had texted him saying that her friend Crystal also needed a ride. Allan had told her “of course.” Why would he say no? Helping two girls was obviously better than helping only one.

Crystal came out right on time with her suitcase, which Allan helped hoist into the trunk. She sat in the backseat and flipped out her iPhone, while Allan sat silently nonchalant in the front seat, listening to music over the stereo.

It took a whole hour for Anjelica to finally come down.

An hour.

An hour, sitting in a car with a kinda cute asian girl he didn’t even know, whom he would glance nervously at through the rearview. Allan only had eyes for Anjelica anyways. He didn’t even try and make small-talk. There was no point. He and Crystal were both comfortable in that silence and anonymity of not knowing one another. It was the same anonymity that college students expressed to each other every day, as they passed each other in their brisk walks to their classes. It was familiar, it made sense.

Anjelica finally came down, lugging this ginormous suitcase that she was having trouble with. Allan got out and helped her thunk it into the trunk. Then they finally started.

As luck would have it, the airport address Allan had put into his Garmin GPS did not corroborate with what the highway signs said about getting to the airport. Like the smart monkey he was, Allan realized that the GPS was being a dipshit. He expressed his consternation to Anjelica who started to try and lookup directions on her phone. Chuckling to himself, he just followed the highway signs.

Partway through the 45-minute ride, a song came on that Allan had loved since the moment he’d first heard it in 1998, as an eight-year-old. It was the year his youngest brother had been born, in the winter following his birth. The song was Hiru no Tsuki, by Akino Arai. It was a Japanese song, soft in its composition, sweet in its tones, poetic and hopeful in its prose. It truly was a beautiful piece, and it was the ending song to one of Allan’s favorite anime of all time, Outlaw Star.

Yeah, Allan had more than a couple things in common with Gene Starwind, captain of the XGP-1, a prototype grappler ship in a futuristic universe.

He’d immediately gone to change this track because, well, he felt kinda embarrassed having a Japanese song play with girls in the car, for whatever reason. And Anjelica had told him, “no, keep it. I like it.”

Allan remembered that. And he appreciated that, even if Anjelica didn’t like him, she actually liked something he also did. It made him feel… that much closer to her. It was more than he could ask for.

They got to the airport in good time, despite the hour that Anjelica had set them back by. Allan saw them off, and felt warm inside for once. The ride back to his apartment was lonely, but somehow, alright.

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