so I finally watched the movie “Room” this weekend. I loved it, but then again I loved the book. At times I was bothered by the prescience Jack as the narrator, but mostly I thought Emma Donoghue did an amazing job with a concept which could have been horrible and uncomfortable without any saving grace. I struggle so much with this as a writer, because what I write doesn’t generally vibe with enough people for it to catch fire. I love doing it, when the flow is in, and when a new idea smacks me in the face. But even then my best ideas almost inevitably feel derivative. As such I continue to embrace the logic of this: all literature is derivative. To ignore the evolution of intellect through literature and knowledge as they wove into and about each other is to be willfully blind. These things give me hope. That the sincere narcissism I express in thinking people who don’t already adore me would care to invest time in what I’m typing isn’t some novelistic form of extended mirror-gazing masturbation. And with that said… I present to you the first chapters of “Hate” – which is my latest response novel. Because that is what I think I am going to keep doing. Writing novels in response to other novels. To carry forward the story.
Chapter 1 – Gone Days
Sometimes I wonder what it would be like, if I were different. Not him. I understand that I’m not him. I get it. I’m not five anymore. But it’s not like it’s easy. Doing stuff. Understanding how I’m supposed to handle things. Figuring it all out. Mostly it’s his fault. I get it. But she fucked it up, too. I don’t get to be mad at her, though. When I try, it’s like I’m back there. Stuck in that small place, with the crack running between the doors and the sliver of light shining down my body, splitting me in two.
I don’t even have the same name. Not anymore. It wasn’t safe to be him, they said. So they made me into somebody else. I don’t think she would have liked that much, if she’d bothered to stay around. Gran is always telling me not to blame her, that she did the best she could. She gave you life, Lucky. That’s not the kind of thing you hate someone for.
It’s what I should have picked as my name. Because it’s what I am. Not literally. I’m not some manifestation of what comes from anger, though I am always angry. Except when I’m medicated, but even that is dicey. Try, Luck, buddy. You want to get better, right? Seriously, Leo? Fuck you. Why don’t you go make some fucking pancakes or do some yoga, or whatever the fuck it is you do these days. I don’t like it when people from Before say my name. Except Gran. There’s always Gran, and that’s about as good as it gets.
“Lucky’s” a great name she said it fits. It’s just different enough that you can write the story of it and leave the bad stuff behind. People will want to know who Lucky is, and that will encourage you not to be J…
I screamed at Gran that day. It was the first time I’d ever shown her who I truly am. The person inside. The real me. Not him. Not her. Not Lucky. Hate.
Don’t ever fucking call me that name! NEVER!
I feel bad, even now, for shouting at her. None of this was her fault, even though Ma sometimes said it was. Ma said all kinds of stuff that wasn’t true, but she also said a lot of stuff that was.
I was happy before this, Jack.
I used to run so fast!
Once upon a time my teeth were white, Jack!
I never really believed it when she said those things. Not at first. How could I? I was fucking five. I didn’t know any better. I’d never seen anything but the inside of that damned room and that wardrobe where I slept and the awful piece of sky that should have made me feel free but never did. I hated it. Even before I learned to hate her. Because it was outside and I wasn’t. Because she was outside and I wasn’t. Because she left me. Even back then she used to leave. What did I used to call those days? Gone days. What the fuck was she thinking? As if I wasn’t damaged enough? As if she wasn’t damaged enough. Gone days. Hate. Lucky me.
Chapter 2 – Room
I never should have made her go back. It’s not like I actually remembered the place. The only stuff I knew about it was what she told me. And Gran. And the movie. The book. The magazines. All that fucking shit that only exists because she told them about it. We could have left it all behind. Moved on. I would have forgotten, the world would have forgotten. If there’s one fucking thing I’ve learned is that the world always fucking forgets.
She didn’t want to go back. Neither time. Gran told me she didn’t want to tell the story either, but that she felt like she had to do it. To let it out. As if her body was like Room, and she was like you, Jack. She had to get it out. I believed that when Gran said it. It made sense. It didn’t make up for her leaving me, but it made sense. When things make sense I’ve learned you have to hold on tighter, for the times when they don’t make sense at all.
I made her go back. Twice. The first time I barely remember. I wasn’t even six yet. I remember how small Room was it. It was like it wasn’t even Room anymore. But something from the TV. Some fantasy. That’s how I felt. I remember that. This isn’t Room. I told her. She laugh-cried. I was such an asshole. Even then. I guess I wasn’t just hers. Just like him, I made her go back to Room. I kept her there, when all she wanted to do was leave. Just like him.
The second time I made her go back I was almost sixteen. It was like a sick little fascination. Gran didn’t want to go, and I’d snuck over there already a bunch of times myself. But it didn’t feel right. I needed Ma to go with me. I needed the closure she should have given me from the start. Like that awful bitch who interviewed Ma tried to make it out. As if Ma should have left him take me, bring me somewhere, abandon me. As if that was the right thing to do. To leave Ma in there, alone. To die. And me to never know who I am, where I came from, or why I could never know the truth. Yeah, lady, that’s the right fucking thing to do. What the fuck is wrong with people?
I should have seen it. The second time. The way Ma started shaking two blocks before we got to the house. She knew the place. I had always believed she never went there, but now I know better. She drove past the place a lot. Trying to make herself go in, back to Room. To break the spell the place had on her. To shatter the last bits of him holding on to her. Needless to say that shit never worked. Still, I should have seen it. I’ve always been good at seeing things about her. Not that time.
I practically had to drag her through the house. I remember thinking: he fucking lived liked this? While we were in Room this asshole lived like this? The least he could have done was be interesting. The house was fucking boring. A ratted old sofa. A tube television. Some exercise equipment and lots of old newspapers. A dining room table with one mismatched chair. Peeling wallpaper and fucked up, moldy carpet. It shouldn’t have shocked me that no one wanted to live in the place. There was gruesome feeling to the whole house and it had infected the houses around it. The whole neighborhood was a dump. I can only imagine what his little backyard addition did to the property values of his neighbors. Whatever. Assholes.
The backyard had overgrown, the weeds and grass and shit was up to my knees. But the shed was still there. All the greenish paint had faded, it had this worn, sort of tired color to it. As though it waiting to fall down. Waiting for the right moment. It’s sick, but I wish I had taken a picture of it. Something to remember the place by, other than my sick fucking memories and the damn magazines Anyway.
The building didn’t look like the photos. Maybe they had some kind of camera tricks to make it look… close? Fuckers. It was bigger than I thought it would be. Ironic, right? Still small as fuck, but the last time I came here Ma says I asked her if Room had shrunk. So I expected it to be smaller. How did we have a whole world in this space? What does that say about our capacity to be something other than the greedy, cruel fucks we are today? I had so many words back then, but I’ve got new ones: rapacious, pernicious, raiders, breakers, ebb tides, and devastation. I walked into the shed, into Room, and ran a hand along the wall. I had to duck to get in past the door jamb. Funny how we grow up towards things and one day realize the limit, realize we have to pass under it, so we can go back to the place where we started. That should fucking mean something.
It stank. Like mold and animal shit and years and years of being left alone, gathering dust and layers of memories and shit. You would think I had retained some sense of the tactile sensation of those walls. The alternating crisp and moist feel of the paper, of the things we put on the walls. I touched them when the first time I made her come back but I didn’t retain any memory of it. The second I made her come back she stayed in the backyard, surrounded by the weeds, the delicate pointed tops of them brushing against her in the wind like some god damned high art or something. Fuck all. She was still pretty even with the false teeth and the layers of dusted care etched into her face. Not that I care about that shit. She’s Ma, who gives fuck shit if she’s pretty? Even if I were that way it wouldn’t matter. She’s Ma. But she stood there, in the weeds, like a statue made of powdered flesh, her arms wrapped around herself in the most sublime fucking way, one hand on a shoulder, the other on her waist, so her arms didn’t cross. Because after you’ve been a hostage all your fucking life you never want to be captive, even though you are. You always fucking are.
I had to go back out and pull her to the shed. Like I said I practically had to drag her back to Room. Part of me fucking knew what I was doing: knew that I was torturing her in some real way. Making her experience this, not that I understand why. Did I want her to be close to me again? Was that fucking dream? That she and I would find ourselves enclosed again with only each other? Would I suddenly know shit again? Feel like I understood the fucking world for the first time again?
That reporter suggested the right thing would have been to leave me, to find a way to get me out of Room as a baby, to sacrifice for me, and I’ve always thought how fucked up that line of reasoning was, but at that moment, dragging Ma back to Room, I kind of understood it. We never really left the place. People never really leave the Room they’re in. They never fucking do. I went back out into the wind and weeds and pull her by the arm to Room.
She shivered as she went under the door jamb. She wasn’t tall. Neither was he. Why was am I so much taller? It must be some kind of human thing, the need to touch. She had to reach out and touch the walls too. But it was only with the tips of her fingers and her hand jerked back, like she had been shocked. I don’t think I will ever stop seeing that image. Like Room had actually fucking bitten her or something. And I brought her back to it. If you ever wonder why I did it, or when it started, other than when he fucking abducted Ma and locked her in Room – that is an obvious starting point, if there is such a fucking thing, if you ever wonder why I did it or when the idea started it was in the moment I watched her shrivel as she touched the walls of Room for the last time. The proverbial fucking butterfly flapping its fucking wings in fucking China that blows the hurricane across the fucking world.
But what in life ever prepared me to make a better decision than what I did? Huh? Fucking tell me that. I still don’t know the answer. All I know now is that she didn’t want to go and I made her. Because I needed to see what those walls meant now. And I couldn’t do it alone. I never could. I still can’t. What I needed was Ma.
What I got was fucking Room.
Chapter 3 – Not Hate
There are some things I don’t hate. It’s fucked up to say that, like it implies I’m full of hate, except for this one or this other thing, which somehow I don’t hate. Maybe at one point that was me. But it wasn’t always me and it isn’t now. I don’t hate Ma. I don’t hate Room. I don’t hate him. So rather than talk about the things I hate, I want to talk about the thing I don’t.
How could I hate Ma? She didn’t just give me life, she insured it for me. She suffered what is to most people both unspeakable and yet oddly mythic in order to make life possible for me. More, she persevered though everything which life, which bare existence, or god or what the fuck ever had put in her way, to give me life. Those people that argued she should have forced him in the beginning, when I was a baby, to let me go. Drop off like some kind of trash at a hospital, in the hopes of a better life. Fuck that.
Because do you know what he would have done? No. You don’t. But I do. Because he told me.
“I’d have smothered you with a pillow and buried you in the backyard. The only reason I let you live is because she calmed down after you came. She let me have her if I let her have you.”
That’s why I don’t hate him. Because though he’ll die in prison, long after Ma gave up the ghost, he gave me truth when he didn’t have to give me anything. When my very presence had cost him everything, both legitimate and illegitimate. I was his saving grace and his downfall, just like I was both for Ma. And people wonder why sometimes why I hate so fucking much. That’s why. Because of the things I don’t hate.