COPING WITH STRESS.
As the hovertaxi bound for New Hackensack glided over the formerly tire-treaded tarmac of northeast New Jersey’s roads, Jesse, while monitoring a blacked-out Matt in the adjacent back seat, delightedly studied a series of holographic numbers. To Jesse, the sight of the phone number of Sarah Schale looked like shooting stars that descended from the highest altitudes of the night sky; a beautiful and stunning sight that tugged at the deepest depths of his heart. For the first time for what felt like months, Jesse felt relaxed, and he finally felt a hygienic sense of distraction from the scrutiny and pressure he faced from media, fans, faculty, students, alumni, and family both in and out of the classroom.
After he escorted an inebriated Matt to the living-room and settled him down on the sofa, Jesse retreated upstairs. Still smiling and silently strutting as he reached the top of the staircase, he entered Mary’s room without knocking. He ignored the comic and movie posters on the white drywall, and twinkled past his pink-robed cousin sitting Indian-style on the furry red carpet in front of the matching red furnishings of the bed, and began singing.
“Ugh…what are you so happy about?” a slightly irritated Mary asked as her eyes peeked out from beyond her comic book. “You know I don’t like to be interrupted while reading my comics.”
“Lalaaa…I’m sorry cuz,” Jesse merrilly replied, “I just can’t help myself!” He then began a jig, then sat on the bedspread, wrapped his hands behind his head, and laid back against her polyester pillows. Mary irritably slammed the paperback comic to the floor.
“I thought you were miserable after winning by a billion points,” Mary snarked.
“I’d feel the same if we lost by a billion points, because I have six words for you,” Jesse gleamed. Mary raised her right eyebrow. “Sarah. Schale. Gave. Me. Her. Number.”
Mary thrusted forward in shock. “What?” she shouted. “Get outta here!”
“I’ll show you if you don’t believe me.”
“You asked her out?”
“Pfft. Duh! I’ll even skip the game next Friday if that’s when she wants to go out!”
“And risk expulsion?”
“Mare, I know exactly what I’d be doing.”
“Dad…your uncle, will murder you…”
“And you’d let him do that?”
“I dare him. You know, I’ve always found it funny how others say your personality mirrors his. I don’t see that in any way whatsoever…except in your meticulous attention to detail to comics and whatnot…”
“Actually, I’m more like mom because I have compassion and smarts. But I’m going to ask you something about football, and I want you to be completely honest with me.”
“If you’re going to ask me if I like playing football or not, I do. I really do love the game. I just hate the unnecessary scrutiny that comes with it.”
“You realize that putting on that Everton uniform means more than just being a football player, whether you like it or not?”
“Does it? I mean…” Jesse took a deep breath, then walked toward the open window on the opposite side of the bed and peeked out toward the misty late-summer night sky. “While riding back with drunky pants, you know what I saw? Tents along Broad Street. Mary…a freakin’ tent city is springing up in New freakin’ Hackensack! I always thought these were confined to the major cities.”
“Lamentably, no. Must be why Bob and Stacy glide along select streets in this town, but…it’s happening, Mare. I mean, all those tents, fire barrels, semi-boxes like the ones on the Brooklyn Bridge…it almost seemed inevitable they’d spring up in small towns as long as the income gap continued widening! If those rumors about the shantytowns in the abandoned subway tracks are true, God help those people finding outdoor shelters…at some point they’d have to relocate close to the Marva fallout zone near Washington. Can you imagine if we were pryvies?”
“Jess, you know that’s never, ever going to happen.”
“I know, but that’s not the point. My question to you is: is winning a football game more important than knowing a large segment of the population will go to sleep on concrete, or some expectant mother can’t afford a simple bed for comfort? What if you-know-who wants that? Heck, he and his sycophants repealed the 7th because they missed out on a few million dollars in order for us all to have healthcare!”
Mary signed and raised her right eyebrow as if to acknowledge agreement. “You know,” she began, “I don’t take the time to study the DRF’s economic structure and its fallacies; however, I do wonder about you-know-who’s intentions behind maintaining the nine-percenter structure whatever the cost. He’s no scramble-static…man, I hate that term, darn TV…but he’s smart. It seems he knew exactly what he was doing. It’s like how Batman got his motivation for cleaning up Gotham and fighting crime – a gangster killed his parents, so it affected his life choices, right? What happened in you-know-who’s life to make him so vengeful and spiteful toward those less fortunate?”
“And what made him so sensitive? The third indentation is the greatest vanity project in human history.”
“He’s the antithesis of Bruce Wayne. He’s filthy rich, but he’s not charitable or generous. He wants us all to suffer as he has suffered.”
“Yes! All those big blue Freedomian dollars would have he and Joshua’s image printed on them if he had his way. He can pretend to care about our war veterans like the ones printed on the hundred dollar bills all he wants, but it’s all a front. He won’t be happy until he attains total domination, but when he’s on his deathbed, he’ll still be griping about something.”
“That’s human nature.”
“Sadly. Think about how many Freedomers are jealous of me. Why? They want the nine-percenter lifestyle, the physical gifts, the astronomical IQ, the money, you name it. But they want it because they think it’s cool. Keyword: think. They don’t know the truth. Think about Michael Henry, the most famous actor in this country’s history. He won every single major award imaginable, he gets the hottest supermodels, got everything one could ever want! Commits suicide at thirty-one because he couldn’t handle fame. Mary, fame is a cancer of expectation.”
“This is why you’re so unhappy?”
“That’s part of it, yeah. But why do you think I’m such a smartass sometimes? It’s the best way I know how to deal with stress, and it’s a damn good one, by the way! What comic are you reading?”
“It’s called Sir Wrath, about a twenty-something Brit who was bullied mercilessly for his lisp. He uses his anger to beat criminals to a pulp as a stress release, but immediately after, he feels remorseful, then berates himself for letting his anger overtake him. Yet, he goes out again and does it anyway. Basically, it’s a glorified psychological study, as are most comic books. Every villain is complex, but every hero is even more complex. Can humans ever truly understand their own flaws? If so, can we come to grips with it? Or are we just too intricate for reclamation?”
Jesse returned bedside and sat down next to Mary. “You know what I find funny, but sad at the same time?” he asked.
“What?” Mary asked.
“Your brother has already figured out how to handle life – like a satirical story! Laughs at himself, sees the humor in everything, and doesn’t take himself too seriously! Are we sure he isn’t adopted? He’s nothing like Bob or Stacy! He’s more like…my dad, based on stories I’ve heard, at least.”
Mary chuckled, but cut herself off. “You don’t think he’s going to become a canian?” she asked. “I mean, I hear all kinds of things about harlowcane, but…”
“Let’s be real, Mare. He’s already exhibiting signs of it. It’s how he manifests his resentment toward his father, kind of like how you cope with stress with your comic books.”
“And what’s yours? Jess, maybe instead of reading all of those interlink conspiracy theories, which clearly feed your anger, maybe you should try just channeling your anger on the football field? Or better yet, read some comics with me! They’ll inspire you in a positive way!”
“I only read one conspiracy site, Mare. You know your comics hint at some, too.”
“But comic theories are just entertainment. You believe your theories are real.”
“I think I’m educated enough to know that not everything you’re taught in school is the truth. You ever hear of the Diary of the All-American Marine?”
“What is that, one of those crackpot manifestos from that interlink site?”
Jesse leaned toward his cousin, almost nose-to-nose, and murmured: “Nope. Trust me, it’s better than any comic you’ll ever read. If I can ever obtain a copy, we’ll discuss it.”
“You don’t own one now? If not, you can’t just buy one?”
“That’s the thing. You can’t do either.”