The 616 Diaries: Entry 12 by Kevin Kauffmann
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September 22nd, 2019, 2:49 PM

My parents begged me to stop today. I thought it was Andrew or Renee who had gotten to them, but apparently they both did. My parents made a point of that. That they hadn’t even gotten together as a group, that both the girlfriend and the best friend independently—in their own worlds and words—had expressed the concern that I had gone completely fucking bonkers.

My mom was the one to bring it up, but my dad was definitely the one who ran with it.

He always steamrolls over everything; his opposition, his rivals, the conversation. I don’t even remember a conversation about me where I spoke more than he did. He just has to insert himself into everything, dominate the entire room; make everybody call him “Big Ray.” I’m lucky that he hasn’t been calling me “Little Ray” since I was ten.

He said that once I hit the double digits, I was finally allowed to just be “Ray.”

Well, fuck him for that. Trying to tie my identity to his legacy even though we’re different people, and we are different people. That man is everything I’m not; boisterous, charismatic, dominant in all aspects. You have no choice but to listen to him or tune out, which is why I never see my parents anymore. I don’t want to deal with that; he has nothing to say to me that’s really all that important. I just keep going to these brunches because they’re my family, and that’s supposed to mean something.

But the way they treated me today, I’m not sure it does.

As soon as I got to the restaurant and saw them waiting by the door, I could see it in their faces. The shame, the disgust, a little bit of concern behind all the selfish reasons. Here was their son; losing it, losing his life, and they really only cared about how it affected them. They would forever be the parents with the grown-up crazy son who lost it all.

Unless they stopped me, of course. They probably thought they could. They probably thought that if I shaved, slept a little more, started wearing clothes that weren’t wrinkled and likely smelled—judging from the grease stains I hadn’t noticed when I woke up—they probably thought that they could fix me. They’ve known me long enough, after all; they could hit my reset button.

My dad glowered at me as soon as I got there, but he waited. I could see him building up the argument in his head as he turned to the hostess and nodded, telling her in his arrogant way that we were ready to be seated. He didn’t want to waste his words on the poor girl who was just doing her job. He was just waiting until we were all sat down so he could start tearing into me.

Once we were settled, I could see my mom getting anxious. She opened up the menu, stared at it so hard it should have caught fire; did everything she could to avoid looking at her husband or son. There was no way a confrontation wasn’t coming the way our attitudes were building off each other, the way the tension was threatening to consume the atmosphere. She was barely able to look at the server when he arrived to take the drink orders, and she got all flustered when she tried to order a Bloody Mary and the server told her he couldn’t serve alcohol before noon.

She scrambled to find the rest of the menu, to find something to blurt out, but I couldn’t blame her for wanting to take the edge off. If I had a choice, I would have started the meal with a double of rotgut.

It was about five seconds after the server left that Big Ray crossed his arms and propped himself up on the table, staring me down as if I was a petulant little worm. This time, instead of just raising an eyebrow and sitting back, submissive as a son “should be,” I crossed my arms and glared back. After Andrew and with Renee coming up later that day, I was in a confrontational mood. I didn’t want to back down; I didn’t want anybody to take this fire from me.

Seeing how I reacted, my dad didn’t even try to be subtle. He and I both knew what this meal would turn into.

“You know what you’re doing, right?” he asked, not even bothering to introduce the conversation. My mom cringed a bit at that, stared at him, but they were only spared my venom for a moment. The poor server had come back smiling, ready to answer questions and tell us about the specials, but he was greeted with silence and hostility. Once he dropped off the drinks, I turned to him, said “thank you,” and then told him that we needed at least a few minutes.

The guy left without a word. He just put up his hands and slunk away.

As soon as he was gone, I looked back at my dad and nodded. That was all the answer he needed; now he knew where I stood, now he knew what he had to do to destroy me and set me back on the right path, or at least that’s what he assumed.

“Renee doesn’t deserve this, Ray. Your mom and I don’t deserve this,” he started, and I could not tolerate another syllable from that little tirade. I leaned forward and almost snarled, I was so angry.

“It has nothing to do with either of you,” I told him, all indignant about it, but it was as if I hadn’t spoken at all. Big Ray just kept talking over me.

“After all these years, you can’t have this little crisis, Ray. You’re stable, you have a good job, you have people who care about you, so it’s not just on you when you decide to go crazy and find demons everywhere. Stop putting everyone through this nonsense,” he stated, not even looking at me before concluding and picking up his water, thinking he had already won the argument.

“I’m not putting everyone through nonsense; I’m finally doing something important,” I argued, and my dad scoffed immediately.

“What, finding worthless numbers is important? Let me tell the news, we’ll get you an interview,” he said, chuckling, but that’s when I slapped the table and got both my parents to stare at me, along with everyone else nearby.

“Don’t fucking patronize me, Ray,” I said, drawing out the word to let him know I hadn’t forgotten to say Big. “If you’ve seen what I’ve seen, you wouldn’t be laughing and wasting your time on that bullshit you call work.”

“That bullshit put you through college, gave you food to eat, Ray,” my dad replied, bristling underneath his skin even though he crossed his legs and propped up his arm on the back of his chair to make him seem more relaxed. “I can count on that way more than I can count on conspiracy theories and religious numbers.”

“Do you realize how absurd that statement was?” I asked, laughing at his idiocy. I mean, seriously, he used the word “count” when I’m apparently going crazy about numbers. I shook my head and pinched the bridge of my nose to try to deal with the stress before I replied. “Do you even listen to yourself?”

“Honey, your dad is just trying to make you see reason,” my mom tried to say. Even reached out to touch my arm, but I wasn’t expecting it. I whipped back my arm in pure reaction, and that only made me seem more crazy. When I looked at my dad, he seemed smug, satisfied by my momentary lapse.

It just made my fury build even more.

“I know reason, mom,” I said, keeping eye contact with my dad the entire time. “And I know that what I’m doing seems like the opposite of that, but this isn’t nothing. Every time I look around, it’s right there waiting for me. I learn more and more every day, as long as I pay attention.”

“Oh, and what are the numbers telling you, Ray?” my dad interrupted. “They telling you how to win the lotto? They telling you how to be better in bed? They telling you who God is, what his favorite food is?

“You—” I tried to say, but he just leaned forward for what he thought was going to be the final blow.

“They telling you how to keep your job? They telling you how to keep a relationship which is the only thing going for you? They telling you how to avoid being late for brunch with your parents or how you can stop being a slob?” he asked, one after the other, sitting back and waving at me with the last question. “Look at yourself, Ray. You’re a mess.”

“What the fuck does that matter?” I fired back, my hands gripping the table hard enough that they went white. “What does it matter what I look like, in this world? As long as I’m presentable enough for work, what does it matter what I look like during my free time? I should be able to look however I want, Dad.”

“Honey, you’re not in college anymore—” my mom tried, but Big Ray grunted and stopped her mid-sentence.

“Shut it, Vicky. Damn straight he’s not in college, but that’s just one litt—” he tried, but I wasn’t having it anymore. I cleared my throat loud enough for the entire restaurant to hear, which somehow stopped my tyrant father.

“Don’t talk to her like that. She doesn’t deserve it,” I said, violence starting to build in my tone and—however shocked my father was to see it—I could tell that he found it interesting. He had finally found an opponent in his cowardly son, I guess.

“I’ll tell you what she doesn’t deserve. A son who decides one day to chase a number and throw away any chance at grandchildren, who stops being the son we can be proud of. She doesn’t deserve a child who will have to move back home because he loses his job and can’t afford to be an adult anymore,” he said, and I honestly wanted to hit him. I wanted to take that man’s face and slam it into the table, take his glass of water and break it against his skull and jab shards of glass into his cheeks.

It disturbed me, how violent the fantasy got. I’d never wanted to hurt my dad, but after all these years, I guess my anger and resentment got away from me. Too many years of being the beta male, too many years of being ground down under his heel. Once I had those thoughts, I had to breathe slower, deeper, just to be able to find my center again. I needed the moment to be able to recover from that anger.

Luckily, our server came back to take orders and spared me from my dad’s onslaught for a second. I told him that we still needed another minute, which I knew would be inconvenient for him, but the guy saw something on my face that made him back away. It was odd; I’d never had anyone back away like that—like a dog that was frightened of some greater beast—but that’s what it seemed like, that’s what it felt like. When I turned back to Big Ray, even he saw it. This wasn’t a father talking down to his son anymore.

It was a man talking to a stranger.

“This is my life now,” I said, almost apathetic my tone was so declarative. The fury and disdain had taken a backseat and I was cold and calculating as I talked to my parents. Whatever came out of my mouth in the next few moments would be truth, and so they listened as I continued. “Renee will leave—I know that—but I’m not going to stop her. It’s time for her to go.”

“It doesn’t have to be that way. You can make it work,” my mom said, reaching out to touch my arm again because she hadn’t learned, but I turned to look at her and she stopped midway, her hand hovering in the air.

“No, Mom, I can’t. This is how it has to be,” I said, and I could feel my dad holding back a roar. When I looked at him, it almost seemed like the veins in his forehead were about to burst.

“You’re giving up, Ray. You’re giving up on everything that matters just because you want it all to mean something. What makes you think that this matters? Why do these numbers seem so important, seem worth the sacrifice, when it just isn’t? When you can see that it’s all just NONSENSE?” he asked, spitting out each question. “When you look back at your life and you see it was worth nothing, what are you going to say then?”

“I don’t know, Dad. What did you say?” I asked without waiting for the response, and I stood up and left them to a Sunday brunch that would never include me again. Even though I didn’t feel the right emotions toward them—even though I had never really connected with them—it still felt awful as I walked away from them. I had always been the black sheep, but I had never walked away from them. I had always given them another chance.

But I guess that when they didn’t give me a first chance, they didn’t deserve yet another.

I just couldn’t hold it back anymore. I didn’t like these people; I never really did. They may have been biologically related to me, but they weren’t family. Family holds you up, keeps you going, believes in you, trusts in you, but that had never been the case with these people. I was always just an investment, a person that could achieve the goals they couldn’t, keep the family legacy going. I was a fantasy that never existed. So when he asked me what I would say if my life meant nothing, I knew that was the end.

I came home to a voicemail from Renee. She said that my parents had called her, told her that I wasn’t coming back from this, that I wouldn’t see reason. Through tears—I could hear the sniffling when she wasn’t speaking—she told me that she didn’t believe it, that I just needed help. If everything was put on the line, I wouldn’t give up what mattered, what I loved. She gambled, gave her ultimatum one last time; seemed convinced that at the very end—at the finish line—that I would break and come back to her. She told me to call her back and that we could start over; do this the right way and forget about everything that didn’t really matter when we could still be together.

I didn’t call her back.

It was already too late for me. I was in the mindset that it shouldn’t matter if I sounded crazy. One of the people in my life should have at least tried to see it my way. One of them should have come at me, seen what I was doing, and at least seen that this wasn’t entirely irrational. Instead, they all rejected me, labeled me a nut, and didn’t bother to give me a chance. In the face of all this, I finally know which people in my life truly care, truly believe in me, and which ones just saw me as how they wanted to see me.

And now I know that they never saw the real me. They always just pretended; looked at me and saw the empty shell, the blank slate they could build upon. Half the games I played with Andrew weren’t really all that fun, but I played them just because he wanted to. Half the jokes he said weren’t funny, but I laughed anyway. Most of the time he got in trouble or he was wrong I defended him anyway, because that’s what friends do.

They don’t abandon you when you’re at your lowest, when you’re losing everything because you finally care about something, finally are passionate about something, finally find something that makes it not a fucking waste when you wake up in the morning. Find something that justifies how much food you’re eating or how much air you’re breathing. A friend doesn’t abandon you because you’re life purpose is making things inconvenient for you.

And the love of your life doesn’t give you an ultimatum when you’re not the pushover you were when they met you.

It’s obvious now that she never loved the real me, the one behind the jokes and the nerdiness and awkwardness. When she found me, she must have just seen a pile of clay that she could mold into whatever she wanted, and I was stupid enough to go along with it. I may have loved her, adored her—would have done almost anything for her—but that only lasts as long as it’s even, or perceived that way. I thought she loved me, but if she did, she wouldn’t be throwing me away because I, the skeptic, finally believed in something.

So when she called back and demanded my answer, I told her no. I wasn’t trying to mean about it; I was just being up-front, but she broke down crying anyway. As I listened to her muffled sobs on the other end of the line, I felt bad—I didn’t want to cause her pain—but I don’t know what she expected. I have a backbone now, it seems, and it changed how she felt about me. After a moment of pleading questions—most of which I didn’t answer because I couldn’t hear half the words—she said she was coming over. I told her not to, that it would only be painful, but I only realized that she had hung up after I had said it all.

I waited for her; sat at my kitchen table and nursed a beer until I heard her come up the drive. It was going to be painful to see her, I knew, but I also knew that I wouldn’t back down. It had nothing to do with personal strength, or defiance, or anything related to my willpower. It was out of my hands, this path, and the only way that I would continue to be with Renee was if she accepted it.

Obviously, she does not.

So she came into the kitchen, heartbroken and furious at the same time, and I just looked up at her. She didn’t sit down—I guess she expected that I would stand up to greet her—but I just looked up at her with resignation. I could tell that she wanted to scream a thousand things at me, start blurting out hurtful things, half true, half false, but I had effectively disarmed her. By not begging her on my knees, or even seeming crazy, by just sitting there at my kitchen table with a beer rapidly approaching room temperature, it was obvious that I did not want a fight. I did not want anything from her.

That’s a lie. I want her to love me as I am. I want her to stay with me and believe in me, support me as I’m going down this path which can only have a tragic end, but I just know that won’t happen. I know that she would never be the one to see me to the end, to hold my hand in my darkest moments. It was never her place, and I know now that it was never my place to reach the end with anyone. I am alone, and I will be until 616 reveals its truths to me.

So when she pleaded with me, begged me to come back, to stop being dumb and to just hold her, tell her everything was going to be ok and we were going to be together—everything that couples do when they get back together, I’m assuming—I couldn’t help her. I just shook my head and stared at my beer, waiting for her to give up and leave.

I almost made it, too, almost gave her a clean break. When she wiped the tears from her eyes and tried to sniff back the snot that I had caused, when she stood up and turned away, I almost didn’t say anything. But I did. As she was leaving, just about to touch the handle of my front door, I told her how I felt.

“I love you, Renee. I promise you’ll find someone who deserves you,” I said, trying to give what blessing I could. I don’t want her to be unhappy; I don’t want her to suffer because of me. Even though she doesn’t love me how love is supposed to be, that doesn’t mean that I want her to hurt for it. I had to say it, to give something back to her, but it was a mistake. All it did was make her resent me. All it did was cause her to whimper, to whisper “fuck you” as she left.

And now I’m alone and staring at an email I received forty minutes ago. The subject line says “For the 616 Devotees.”

And as much as I want to tear into this email, to see what I got in return for my loneliness, it can wait til morning. For now, I just want to hurt; to feel the pain I just inflicted on the people in my life, to get stupid drunk and hate myself in the morning.

For now, I just want to be miserable.



Poor Ray, but it looks like he's not the only one seeing 616. See where that goes with the next entry