:: Article


By Erik Wahlstrom.

I never wanted to be Charles Bukowski. Kerouac or Fitzgerald, yeah. Faulkner, maybe. Even Hemingway, with a belly full of gin and a shotgun to the temple sounded alright. But not Bukowski. He was too mean, too vulgar and too ugly – way too ugly.

On my 23th birthday, I promised to stop confusing romance and self-destruction. The next morning I woke up with a black eye and a girl I didn’t know.

Later that month I found myself at a drag club downtown and, at the urging of a girl I was sort of seeing, wound up on stage without a shirt, winning a hundred dollar bar tab. Somehow there was a ten person gay bar brawl, I was threatened with a knife, and I came within three inches of a Molson bottle to the head. It dented my BMW. I loved that car.

The girl was Kim. She was a Korean UB student adopted by upper middle class white people. Kim had an unhealthy obsession with Abercrombie and Fitch that filtered down from her brain to her AIM screen name to her general topics of conversation and I wondered how anyone could love any store that much. Even a good one, let alone a perfumed-drenched shithole like Abercrombie.

Kim’s dad was a fat, short man with a moustache and a bald spot, and the first time I met him, in his plastic McMansion in suburban Buffalo, he presented me with a “Contract for Dating my Daughter.” I laughed even though it wasn’t funny but he persisted, pressing the piece of paper into my hands and grinning like an idiot. He had actually wanted me to read and sign the damn thing so I consented, though I really wanted to let him know that I had already violated several tenants of our agreement and planned to violate the rest as soon as possible. I smiled as I handed it back to him and he nodded solemnly.

The Kim thing didn’t last. I had decided the fifth time we had sex that I loved her (having known her for a whole two weeks at this time) and couldn’t stop myself from whispering it, drunk and half-asleep, in her dorm room. Things got weird after that and she disappeared into the arms of some frat boy from Rochester, leaving me alone and intoxicated, calling the Boys and Girls Club hotline at 4am contemplating suicide.

Then I met Kristen. She was tall, taller than me, with reddish-brown hair and a big Italian nose. She was pretty but had a way of caking on makeup so thick we’d sometimes get stuck when we made out. She was a dance major in school and I got dragged along and forced to watch her South Buffalo dance troupe’s presentations. My favorite part of these horrible shows was always the younger kids, as they’d dress up as some sort of anthropomorphic monstrosities and tip-toe around to Disney soundtracks. Oh look, the little lobster girls are spinning frantically to Under the Sea. Adorable.

The first time Kristen and I had sex my dad was downstairs, three hours and eight vodka gimlets into a James Bond marathon. Kristen was terrified of being found out, and the creaking of my bedsprings threatened to expose us. Later my friend John had helpfully offered a suggestion. “Why not just do it doggystyle on the floor?” he said. I told him I’d take his consideration in mind.

Kristen didn’t last either. It was only a matter of time before she saw me explode in slow motion, and she watched in horror as I melted down at her dance party, pounding gin and tonic after gin and tonic and throwing several punches at a republican philosophy major from Syracuse. His nose popped open and poured like a faucet and I had to throw my shirt out after that night. Kristen was displeased.

So I was alone again. I spent my nights stealing my mom’s Amaretto and trying to drink my way into some sort of artistic understanding. I wrote. I wrote and wrote and wrote and it was always shit. Always hamfisted explorations of ideas that seemed way less profound with a headache and a moderately clear mind. But I kept trying.

There were others. There was Amy. There was Kate. There was a different girl named Kristen, this one with black hair and hipster bangs and a thing for Johnny Cash. There was my high school ex girlfriend Carrie, who I somehow found myself in a near-threesome with downtown before she got too drunk, puked, and needed to be driven home. I went back to the other girl’s apartment feeling unfulfilled and lonely.

There was the aborted foursome at the house party on Minnesota, where I tried dip for the first time and a Brazilian boy named Paulo sat by the bed trying to carry on a conversation about the Strokes while his girlfriend undressed and started making out with a girl I’d met the week before.

“I didn’t love them at first, but once I saw them live, I became a fan,” said Paulo.

“Make sure her boyfriend fulfills his nakedness,” slurred his girlfriend.

I nodded nervously and explained that I really didn’t like Is This It at first but now it was one of my favorite albums, occasionally glancing over at the bed.

“It’s ok. Look. Look!” said Paulo.

“I’d rather not,” I said.

They came and went, but I was always here. Always the same. Always seven years old, kicking and screaming, pounding my hands and feet against the walls desperate for attention and acceptance. It’s important to note that I have never broken up with a girl. I’ve never needed to. Bukowski chewed women up and spit them out. I prefer to chew myself up in front of them. They spit themselves out just fine. They were all fucking beautiful to me. Regardless of their flaws, I saw every single one of them as muses. Townie goddesses that I fell for, head over heels.

And what was my excuse. You’re 23, from a good family with no real problems beyond being maybe not as tall as you’d like to be and you’re wandering around an empty apartment maybe wanting to kill yourself. This is your life. Congratulations.

I had read online that the best way to commit suicide was with barbiturates, a bottle of vodka and a plastic bag over the head. This seemed like a startlingly well-orchestrated way to end one’s own life, certainly not ideal for me. I had wanted something passionate and orgiastic. One last temper tantrum in a life built from a million. Obviously I couldn’t shoot myself. Nobody gets quite as sad at a closed casket funeral.

Of course, I didn’t really want to die and anyway, I was doing a fine job of killing myself slowly. I realized this around the time I came to outside a Burlesque show in North Tonawanda, gushing blood out my nose and mouth, asking over and over “Did I get in a fight?” The girl I was seeing at the time (her name was Sarah) stormed away and left me on the side of the road with no ride home.

“I swear this happens every time,” she said through gritted teeth as she slammed the car door.

“But we’ve never been to a Burlesque show before,” I replied, spitting blood with every word.

I had to call my mom that night. She was understandably unhappy. Pulled up in her Subaru SUV and said nothing as she drove me to my apartment and dropped me off. I was careful not to drip on her upholstery.


Erik Wahlstrom
recently finished his first novel, Wolf, and was nominated for the 2011 Pushcart Prize. He lives in Buffalo, NY.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, February 21st, 2012.