What was the name of your first pet?
What was the breed of your first pet?
Where was your first pet purchased?
At a going out of business sale. Every pet came with a collar and an Iams bag. Grover was the last dog in the pen on account of his cherry eye, that pink sliver of flesh stretched across the inner edge of his eyelid, muscle loosed by an errant claw. I would’ve taken a hamster, ferret, or cat, but there was only Grover. He was all I needed.
If your pet has died, where is it buried?
Under a magnolia in the garden of my first girlfriend. We didn’t bury him deep enough. Hurricane season came, a storm rolled through the Lowcountry, snapped utility poles, relocated mobile homes. The airtight carry-on lifted from the dirt and ambled away in a storm surge. The answer is: I don’t know. Sometimes I hear the phantom jingle of his dog tag and think Grover’s just around the corner.
What was the name of your first girlfriend?
What color was her hair?
Did you love your first girlfriend?
I think. We were seventeen. It’s easier to say yes so I can say I have known the love of another. Yes, I loved her. I was loved.
Why did you break up?
There’s not a single reason. We talked last year after the hurricane, my nineteenth birthday, and I called to ask whether there had been luggage tags on that carry-on, if anyone had found Grover yet. Delia ignored the question, only said, “You still haven’t asked how I’m doing.” So I guess that’s why.
What’s your mother’s favorite radio station?
What’s your last memory of your Mother?
My mother was a lifelong Phillies fan, born across the Delaware in Camden. She gave me the middle name Schmidt, for Mike Schmidt, expecting great things. We spent one of our last nights together watching a Sunday night game against the Mets. It was May of 2011. We shared a case of Miller Lite, and she said she wished she’d done better with me. That only made me wonder if I could’ve done, could’ve been better. Rounding out my sixth beer in the ninth, I was buzzed and ready to ask, ready to leave with a disappointing answer and return home. Like a corpse flower, my mother opened but once every few years. A chant started at the Phillies game. U-S-A. U-S-A. U-S-A. She raised the volume. The broadcasters informed us that Bin Laden was dead. Extra innings now, the crowd was standing, chanting still. My mother said then, it’s never okay to celebrate another person’s death. Well, except for your father, she clarified; he deserved it, dropping dead in your early childhood. All I can remember is, the day we were notified of his death, my mother bought a sheet cake. “It’s a Boy,” the cake read. I’m almost certain it was raspberry.
What state are you in?
What state are you in? Have you been drinking again?
What’s the farthest you’ve traveled?
I’ve never left South Carolina. Except once, I guess. I was headed to Clemson for Delia. I made a wrong turn, found myself in a North Carolina border town. The air was smokey and unfamiliar. I’ve since learned I prefer to stay within the borders, to compress the world to a size worth reckoning. I only feel comfortable in the smallest of places: closets, half-baths, curled beneath the kitchen sink.
What was your first job?
The summer of my eighteenth year, a convenience store clerk. I filled the cappuccino machine with powder. I cleaned the rollers on the hot dog steamer, ate the leftovers every night. I often imagined how nice it would be to have everything a person might need. Fishing line. Half n’ Half. Umbrellas. Safety pins.
Do you feel safe?
How alone are you?
Last week I nearly choked to death in my apartment. A piece of steak wedged in my throat. I live alone. I was alone. I am alone. So I googled how to heimlich myself, alone. I pressed a fist against my solar plexus, leaned against a kitchen chair, and thrust. The steak bite thwapped against the linoleum, half-chewed and spit-coated. For minutes I panted like a hoarse, thirsty dog.
Do you have trouble sleeping? Are you irritable? Are you fatigued?
Yes. Yes. Yes.
Do you overthink plans and solutions to all possible worst-case outcomes?
I keep a broom handle flush with the baseboard in the kitchen. One day I expected to be robbed and told to lie flat on the tile with my arms outstretched. When the moment comes I will stretch for the broom handle, knock the robber off his feet, and force the broom handle against his throat. I’m curious now what to do if there’s more than one, if there are three, four, five.
How would you rate your moods on a scale from 1 to 10?
From 1 to 10, and then 10 to 1, and then 1 to 10, and then 10 to 1. Like that.
Please, serious answers only.
I am serious.
Why are you afraid to confront your problems directly, Gage?
Because I am nothing without my problems. What happens to people who have solved all their problems? What then? Are you consumed by a white, empty bliss? And are these actual problems? Don’t billions of people wake up with these same feelings each and every day and yet somehow trudge on? Why can’t I? I am afraid to confront my problems because I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I don’t want to. I refuse.
Will you be honest?
Do you love yourself, Gage?
Do you love yourself?