Fred Leebron's novels include Out West, Six Figures, and In the Middle of All This. He has received a Pushcart Prize and an O. Henry Award for his stories. Currently he directs writing programs in Charlotte, Roanoke, Europe and Latin America, and teaches at Gettysburg College.
If ever there was a time to figure out what has become of everyone, it must be now, old man. Recall the obits and announcements and scraps of news that have flown past on rumor and gossip. Hunch at the screen and enter names like coins into a slot machine and see the pay line. The spouses they’ve left and the spouses who’ve left them. The children who’ve died. The wave that took Mokie out and the car that took out Ratushewitz. The truck that crushed Ned’s wife. The heart attack Ron survived. The children Jeff had who look and act just like him; Jeff used to keep a detailed notebook on where and when and how he masturbated. Just what is Phil’s job since commercial real estate hit bottom? Which wife does Stanley live with? At the corner of disaster and triumph is another generation that has lived a long time and according to medicine still has a lot of time left. Did you think you’d grow this old? It is really not that old; it is the new forty, the new thirty, the new twenty if you are counting back to cave men. Their life expectancy was thirty-seven. I am making that up. Brett lives alone in San Diego, barren and acclaimed. Mona in Toledo. Richard runs a farm and a printing press in New Hampshire or Vermont. They don’t think about the time you all slept with each other in the cliquey interchangeable fashion you called “cluster fucking.” They don’t imagine you. Who have you seen recently who you haven’t seen in a long time? Shouldn’t it be whom? But it’s so clunky, like a shoe on the wrong foot. The shopping center in the backward Civil War town where you’ve come to rest is now a community college. The elementary school is now two charter schools; the downtown gas station will be a bus station. The bank is a different bank; the Mexican restaurant is a different Mexican restaurant, the third one in that location in the fourteen years you have lived here. Fourteen and a half. Fourteen years and eight and a half months, including all the days you’ve spent escaping it. Who’d have thought you’d spend 27.6% of your life in a town that mainly just reenacts? I made that number up. I don’t have a calculator and nobody does that kind of long division anymore. Was I close? I think I was close. Golden is likely still running a biochemical lab in Philadelphia, and Jester is rumored to be a sports agent in California. Fineberg married that woman the class behind you and they live in a restored farmhouse in Massachusetts. Your beagle was sent away when you left to be an exchange student in Belgium and your father til his death maintained it was to the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm, but you still think they had him put down. He could not be housebroken. In fact he even chewed the cabinets in the kitchen into obliteration, maybe because you tortured him in the way thirteen-year-old boys liked to physically torment anything smaller and relatively mute. Remember the frogs after school on the sidewalk, with the razor blade and the box of matches? But that dog is dead now regardless; dogs don’t live til 37 in human years. That would make them 259. Your kids tell you that soon humans will live well into their hundreds. You don’t believe them, just like you didn’t believe the human growth hormone really grew humans despite what you saw happened with your neighbor’s kids. You didn’t believe in the internet, email, cell phones, laser printing, home computers; that your wife might have an affair; that you would return this morning from another “boys night out” to that feeling of the house emptied of emotion like a fridge bound for the dump, the way you and she have slept as far apart as possible on the queen-sized bed going on years now. You look across that grave expanse too afraid to ask; now how does that shoe feel on the other foot? Old man! Mitchell Brenner you know is still in Philadelphia and you sense is still not married. Poor guy, he knows what he is missing; he runs a glass company. Mark Bryce you know too well but you didn’t know him at all in high school and he agrees; he was always a smooth-talking but slyly cruel son of a bitch and is your closest friend and anathema. Dewey is so rich he gave that school enough money to start a Polish Studies Department; somehow he made it all in Poland. Briggs is probably still in the Pacific Northwest and probably still obnoxiously gay, though a part of you suspects he never made it to the Northwest at all and that is just something you made up. Arn is in Seattle and has stopped acknowledging your shared birthday; he’s a lawyer at Microsoft, there long enough he’s managed to win and lose a fortune and would have nearly returned to your economic level except that his wife is an executive vice president at Starbucks. Weikert is definitively in D.C.; she wrote a righteous expose about someone or something, some huge human failing, and she is far more accomplished than anyone knows or cares. In high school all the boys called her Saddle Bags but she fucked whomever she wanted. Bob Braun you never knew, but he also had the same birthday. Why didn’t you try to get to know Bob Braun; was it because of his baby fat and his dorky spectacles, you social climber, you anti-snob snob? The fortune cookie from last night said, You cannot make two people like each other. Markowitz is married to a bestselling novelist and still hasn’t forgiven you for that time freshman year when he asked if you were like all the others who wondered if he was gay and you answered yes, because really even before Seinfeld we all knew there was nothing wrong with that—except, apparently, when one isn’t. Vincenzo you really don’t think about and haven’t thought about since that time senior year when he scored Mindy without trying and you could never score her even though you tried all the time until you finally gave up. She might also be on the west coast but the girl had a mustache for god’s sake; and he, you learn, has been tried once for extortion and is already retired in Arizona; he is the kind of guy who wears those sunglasses that go ear to ear as if he has eyes in the side of his head. You can’t find anyone who’s been convicted of anything, though there were those trials in boarding school and college when you nearly got tossed for drugs and girls. Why did you spend all that tolerance in those two places? “You disgust me,” the headmaster said, but still they let you graduate. Ben Dressler you haven’t seen since the eighth grade but god that kid was tall for his age and had such a case of acne that he could not stop himself from constantly plucking at his face. Oddly enough you’ve just read your brother’s mini-autobiography on line and he omitted you. Airbrushed you out, so to speak. He probably hasn’t forgiven you for that time when you were six and nearly burned down the house with him in it. Lancer and Schaeffer—are you spelling that right—and Miller, whatever happened to those guys? Your mom reunited you with Mancuso five years ago and you had a few drinks and confessed to him and his wife that in eighth grade you sold a short story to Martin Kreutzel—that boy who wore men’s jewelry and later became an auctioneer--for him to hand into English class for five bucks and a pack of gum, and the wife looked at you so appalled you understood you’d never hear from them again, despite ending the admission with you telling them you did turn yourself in. They did not look like people who valued confession even though they were Catholic. There were others, too, who got away, so much easier to think of the ones from high school and college than later, when you became even more yourself and so were even more responsible for the awful things that happened between you and them; and how is it that you are the only one who cannot remember what you said or did at whatever drunken professional/social/familial event you’ve dragged yourself to over the years? You are not a good person, and ripping yourself up doesn’t make you any better and claiming that no one else is good either doesn’t really help. What about Greenbaum and Cucuza, weren’t they good people? They kept getting all the prizes, anyway, striding up the aisle at the year-end ceremonies, reaching out politely with one hand for the check in the envelope while gratefully shaking the headmaster’s hand with the other; you can’t even find these people on the internet now. Or Arn, Arn was a good person, before he started ignoring your shared birthday in the last six or eight or ten years. Arn! Not Hines, certainly, a closet narcissist who went on to become an alternative rock star before retreating into children’s entertainment. Not Marly, a quiet exhibitionist, briefly seen in a film shot by a famous starlet, currently residing in a trophy house in the South. “We have everything we want,” she told one of those home fashion magazines, “and nothing we don’t need.” Not Whitney, too good-looking for his own good, though once didn’t you meet up in Chicago and wasn’t he awfully nice? Mia; Mia was kind of nice, she was so constantly cheerful it should come as no surprise that she suffered from a depression that was fatal. And maybe Chandra, now a judge in Florida, who you spent a night tracking through every house party, and when you finally found her discovered neither of you had anything to say. Maybe Ted, though he hasn’t spoken to you since you called his ex-girlfriend a cunt in front of fifty of her closest friends. But she was his ex-girlfriend! He was too much of a gentleman to be grateful, and has made a fine hedge fund manager. The gentle and the ungentle, and you know where you fall. If you could somehow figure out how to change all of that—whatever that means--this late in the game, you would. Is it true that as you grow older you have to choose between your face and your ass? Climb into that bed with your ipad pressed to your heart, as if it could suck all the past from you and give you back your future. Oh, man.