Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Too much to bear. J.P. Bowie

ANGST - a feeling of deep anxiety or dread, typically an unfocused one about the human condition or the state of the world in general.

Sometimes when I read reviews of  books by my fellow authors I am amazed at the number of times I read comments like - way too much angst, these guys were wallowing in angst, etc. I wasn't really aware of the word until well into my writing career, probably because I didn't actually persecute my characters with that kind of negative emotion. Conflict I could understand, but this seemingly useless negativity sort of had me stumped.

However, in my latest opus, not yet published, still in the edits stage, I have to admit that I have actually created a character filled with uncertainty - unwittingly I had imbued the poor sucker with - of all things - angst. At least I think I have...

This is from Every Breath I Take, the sequel to All I'll Ever Need.

When Troy arrived at the multi-plex, still on a high from the positive reinforcement some of the other men at the meeting had exuded, Kevin was already waiting for him outside. Troy paused for a moment, wondering if he’d made a mistake keeping this appointment. Kevin was a nice looking guy, tall, slim with neatly cut auburn hair and brown eyes, but from the look of his body language even while standing perfectly still, Troy could tell he was wound tighter than a coiled spring. 
 Troy walked toward him, acknowledging Kevin’s small wave as he approached. They hugged briefly and Troy could feel the tension in Kevin’s body.

“Hi, are you okay?” he asked.

Kevin nodded yes, but the crease in his forehead told Troy otherwise.

“What’s wrong?”

“Oh, just about every fuckin’ thing, now that you’ve asked.”

Troy fixed him with a level gaze. “You want to go somewhere we can talk rather than see a movie?”

Kevin shrugged. “How much do you really care, Troy?”

“What kind of a question is that? It’s obvious something’s troubling you and I’m willing to listen if you want to unload whatever it is. I’m not saying I can fix the problem, if there is one, but I can listen. That’s what friends are for, right?”

“Wow, will the real Troy Kendall please show himself, ’cause I don’t know this guy.”

“C’mon, Kevin, don’t be an ass. I know I haven’t always been someone you could count on, but I’m trying to be that person. If you don’t want to talk about it, we can go see a movie. Which one did you have in mind?”

Kevin sighed and his shoulders slumped. “I really don’t want to see a movie. I just… well, I haven’t seen you in weeks ever since you and that cop started dating. I thought we were friends, then you move out on me. You and Edward, and everything seems peachy for you guys, and I’m left out in the cold.”

“You have a new roommate.”

“A total dweeb. I’d rather put up with you and your druggie ways than Roger telling me to clean the bathroom after every time I use it and not to leave the fridge door open and… oh, there’s a fucking long list of dos and don’ts from Mr. Perfect. You’d think I was the new roomie, not him. The guy is a total pain.”

Troy chuckled. “Sounds like he’s a character. But let’s get a couple of things straight. That cop’s name is Mark, and I don’t do drugs anymore. You haven’t been left out in the cold, Kevin. Edward and I just moved on. You could do the same thing.”
He took Kevin’s arm and steered him in the direction of the coffee shop just inside the multi-plex’s entrance. He ordered a regular coffee for himself and a latte for Kevin, his favorite drink.

“In addition,” he said as they sat at one of the crowded space’s small tables, “I’ve called and texted you a couple of times since I moved in with Mark. You didn’t return any of them. So what am I supposed to think?”

Kevin looked at him for a long moment without saying anything.

“What is it, Kevin, what’s wrong? It can’t just be Roger the lodger.”

Kevin’s brown-eyed gaze lingered on Troy for a long moment before he said anything. “I went home last week.” His voice was subdued when he finally spoke. “I had this, now when I think about it, really stupid idea that I could go back to Plainsville, move back in with my folks until I got my own place, find a job, look up old friends—start over, I guess.”

To say Troy was surprised was an understatement. Without too much trouble he could figure out how that had gone down without asking, but he felt he probably should. “So, how did it go?”

“Worse than you could imagine, but it cleared one thing up for me—I could never live in that town again. Remember what Edward told us about why he left home? This was like a repeat performance of everything he said.” His eyes glistened as he stared at Troy. “Not so much my parents, although they’ve never been entirely overjoyed about my being gay. They just don’t talk about it.

“ But Troy, my sister, Joanne, told me that if I did decide to move back home, I’d never be allowed in her house or anywhere near her kids in case I infected them. I would have to renounce my homosexuality, and live like a normal man. Those were her exact words. Jesus, Troy, I just couldn’t believe her. She’d never said anything like that before to me. But Mason, the guy she married a year ago, after she divorced Brett, has twisted her mind with his Bible thumping. They go to this god-awful church where they actually have a sign outside that says, God Forgives Everyone—Except Homosexuals.”

Troy winced. “I’m sorry, Kevin. I know you and Joanne were close at one time.”

“Yes, we were close. We shared so much, all our dreams for the future, that kind of thing. I never thought my big sister would turn against me like that. She wouldn’t even meet me for lunch or a coffee. Just told me over the phone not to bother coming by… that Mason wouldn’t approve.”

“Why would you want to go back there anyway?” Troy asked. “You’d have to hide who you really are, or risk getting beat up. We had enough of that crap in high school. At least here in West Hollywood there’s more of a life for you. You have a good job and a fairly decent place to live.”

Kevin sounded wistful. “It was better when you were there.”

“No it wasn’t. I was a terrible roommate, Kevin as you well know. You washed your hands of me when I was on drugs. Not that I blame you. I know I was a total pain in the ass, not to mention, stupid, nearly killing myself a couple of times. But things are different now, and they can be for you too.”

“Right.” Kevin curled his lip in a sneer. “Like I’m going to meet some hunky cop or a guy who dines with the stars. You and Edward hit the jackpot. That’s not going to happen for me.”

“How d’you know that? If you’d told me I was going to meet someone like Mark, I’d have laughed in your face. Him a cop, for Chrissakes, and me, a drug addict. Any other time and he might have been putting me in jail. Sometimes things have an amazing way of turning out for the better.”

Kevin didn’t appear too convinced. “Yeah, for some people.”

“Come on, Kevin.” Troy was trying to keep the conversation upbeat, but it was difficult coping with Kevin’s long face and negativity. “I know, why not come out with Mark and me one night. You haven’t really spent any time with him. Who knows? He might know someone who’s single and looking.”

Kevin finally managed a grin. “What’s this? You want to set up a lonely hearts’ club for gay cops now?”

“Mark has friends outside the force, and Edward’s broadened his social circle too. I’m sure we could set you up with some hot guys.”

“Edward’s not going to introduce me to anyone of his new friends. He doesn’t like me very much.”

“He didn’t like me very much either in the beginning if you recall—and I wasn’t crazy about him—but that was then. We’ve evolved, and you could too, Kevin, if you’d try.”

Kevin shook his head. “Man, you have really changed. Where’s the Mr. Nasty I used to know—”

“But not love,” Troy said, interrupting. “Maybe our problem was we fed off of each other’s nastiness and negativity. Since the counseling and going to the meetings, I’ve learned that’s not the way to live. Okay, you don’t want to hear me preaching, Kevin, but I have to tell you, getting clean has opened my eyes to a lot of stuff I never gave a fuck about before. I’m far from being perfect, but what I am is someone who wants to do better. I never thought I’d be BFFs with Edward, but I am and it’s great, and with Mark in my life… Well, I know it probably sounds sappy to you, but I love him, Kevin, really love him.”

“And this is where I’m supposed to say, I’m happy for you?” Kevin rolled his eyes. “Spare me. You think you’re living the dream right now, don’t you? But dreams have a habit of falling apart, and all it’ll take for that to happen is for ‘Mr. Right Now’ to walk out and leave you high and dry. You’ll be back in the habit before you can say—crack!”

Troy sighed and sat back in his seat. “Sorry you feel that way, Kev. I had no idea you were so bitter. But I can assure you, if Mark were to dump me tomorrow, drugs are not what I’d turn to. When I was lying in the gully so fucked up I didn’t have the strength to climb out, and later in the hospital when I had a lot of time to consider what could have happened to me, I knew there wasn’t a drug in the world worth giving up my life for. So don’t worry about me having a relapse, ’cause it ain’t gonna happen.”

Troy crossed his fingers out of Kevin’s sight. Brave words, and he was saying them as much for Kevin’s benefit as well as his own, maybe to have him believe all things are possible if you just try hard enough.

For a moment Troy thought he’d maybe helped Kevin reconsider his cynicism but the sneer was back on his face. “Good for you, good for you. Well…” He pushed his chair back and stood up. “Thanks for Life Lessons 101 by Troy Kendall. If I need a refresher course I’ll be sure to call you first thing.”

“Kevin…” Troy got to his feet. “Don’t take off in a snit. I’m not telling you how to live your life. I’m just saying it could get better if you’d just look at things more positively. You’re in a bad place right now, and I want to help.”

“Well, you can’t. And where did you get the idea I needed help finding a date?”

“I didn’t mean to imply that at all. What I meant was—”

“Oh, who the hell cares what you meant. I’m outta here. Good luck with your happy happiness and all that crap.” He brushed past Troy and pushed his way through the coffee shop door out into the crowds waiting to buy movie tickets.

Troy started to follow him, but decided there wasn’t much point. Maybe when he’s had time to reflect on things he’ll realize I was just trying to be helpful… or not. I’ll call him in a day or two to make sure he hasn’t gone off the deep end.


 Kevin pushed his way through the line of people, trying to hold back the flood of tears that was almost blinding him. The sound of laughter and the loud music around him seemed to taunt him, adding to the misery that enveloped him like a cold and heavy blanket. He’d been an asshole back there with Troy. He knew it, yet he’d found it impossible to let himself share in Troy’s obvious happiness.

His trip home had been the low point of his life. His sister’s coldness and self righteous condemnation of him had hurt more than he’d ever believed possible. He’d always considered himself to be impervious to what other people thought of him, even his parents, but Joanne’s words of disgust had pierced him to the heart. Even the memory of the moment she’d quoted from the vicious sign outside the church she attended filled him with a depression he found hard to shake.
He’d called Troy hoping to rekindle their somewhat tenuous friendship, looking for support, he supposed. And Troy had tried. He couldn’t deny that, and when he thought fairly about their conversation, Troy hadn’t been all that smug about the changes in his life, and he had offered to help.Why then had that made him feel even more disconnected than before? Was it just cold selfishness that made him so he couldn’t bear it when the people he knew did better than himself?

What the hell is wrong with me? Why can’t I drag myself out of this pit of self pity I’ve dug for myself and get on with my life?

He finally broke free of the masses of people flocking to the multi-plex and found his car parked—illegally—on the street. He was surprised there wasn’t a ticket shoved behind the windshield wipers. That would’ve made this rotten day even more fucked up, but the fact he’d parked where he knew he shouldn’t was one more indication of the ‘nothing really matters’ attitude he knew he’d been throwing around since he returned from Texas. Or was it really since Troy had moved out of his life?

He wasn’t in love with Troy. God forbid, he mused, as he climbed into his car and stared out at the traffic moving slowly by. Troy was a crazy person, or had been in the past. He found a tissue in the glove compartment and wiped at his eyes. Troy and he hadn’t even been friends, not really. More of a convenience when they both needed company and a place to live. But, dammit, he missed the guy and his wild ways. He kind of missed Edward too. He hadn’t really got to know him that well, but through the drama with Troy’s drugged out state, he’d remained calm and organized… sensible, he supposed.

He let out a long sigh and slumped back into his seat. Well, he’d most likely blown any chance of rekindling what passed for friendship with Troy. He started the engine then pulled out into the flow of traffic when a space gave him the chance. Nothing for it but to head home. Hopefully Roger would be out with whomever and wherever it was he went when he wasn’t working. He didn’t think he could handle Mr. Perfect on top of everything else the day had thrown at him. 





  1. Good trade-off of emotions there, JP. Well-renderd! Thanks for that.

  2. Yup, that excerpt sure highlighted angst. It's not unique to any sex or predilection, since we have all felt the blues before. Angst is blues multiplied infinitely, until you're not just stressing about the pile of steaming shit on your own plate, but on the plates of everyone else in the world, with no hope of anything better appearing for any of us.

    Whenever I think about how much money we owe just for living, and for helping our kids through college, I want to sit and cry. Then I see some guy's picture on-line, and he's a multi-gazillionaire because the headline says he took a 6-week surfing vacation and came up with a great idea that made him the world's richest CEO, and my angst knows no bounds.

    Somehow you have to get past that, or angst will eat you from inside.

    1. Fiona, you don't know that gazillionaire guy's life. You may have a lot more of what counts -- love, support, laughter, talent, sex...

    2. But the sole thorn in my happiness is our lack of money to even pay the bills. It seems so unfair that some have enough to waste, willy-nilly, while we have trouble paying the taxes. I don't begrudge anyone their good fortune, especially if they worked for it, as opposed to inheriting it. But when I'm working multiple jobs and my husband keeps his nose to the grindstone, and all of our kids have at least one job, and still we have to cancel our annual vacation, due to husband's job telling him he can't take the time, and him realizing we can't afford it anyway...I just get so bummed. I'll get over it. Eventually. I always do. Until the next crisis.

  3. This feels so real, JP. It also highlights the fact that angst can be in some sense justifiable. Certainly Kevin has a right to be hurt and pissed off.

    It also raises some questions about the relationship between angst and self-pity. Kevin's valid hurt is magnified by his stubbornness in holding on to it.

  4. Believe me Fiona I've been there too - I know exactly how you feel. A few years ago I was down to my last cent. I'm just thankful I have a loving partner who can see me through the bad times as well as the good. lack of funds is a blight that can be hard to deal with...

  5. I hadn't thought about the connection before, but Kevin's state of mind made me realize that angst could be described as depression on speed.

  6. The review comments you point to are really interesting, because if there wasn't enough angst in a story people wouldn't like it either. One has to spice things the right amount, I guess. Nice excerpt!


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