Nobody dares say it aloud but there’s a sense of appreciation surrounding Clyde’s death. Which is a horrible thing to say, but nobody says it. We think it. Feel it. Tell ourselves, walking home from school on long, thin October days, that these are the same trees he used to walk past, the same dark-eyed houses, the same sightless stone cherubs, balancing bird baths on their hideous heads. We make pilgrimages to his parents’ house, pretending to have been his friends. We make up stories. Paint him as the reluctant hero, the well-meaning villain, the inciting incident in tales of junior-year bravado. His parents never notice the plot holes in the homespun mythology. It must make them happy to imagine their son was so loved – that the secret sadness inside him wasn’t so gigantic that it eclipsed everything else that he was.
Sometimes we’re taken up to his room, preserved exactly how it was the day-of. Bed unmade. Heartbreaking participation trophies with cheap-plastic divers dangling forever. Family portrait, Clyde-age-twelve, looking out at the camera with a sullen expression, like he somehow suspected that this picture, the zit on his chin, would last forever. For some reason, we always let ourselves think that this time the mysterious glow around Clyde’s death will be bright enough to blot out the truth of his life, which seemed normal and boring and sad and a little too much exactly like ours. Clyde’s parents will cross the room, hovering lovingly over the framed photo, leaning into each other, oblivious to our quick fingers sliding a GOOD EFFORT ribbon off a nail in the wall or an ossified fortune cookie off the dresser. Fresh produce for the Clyde-economy, which is still thriving, still flooded with counterfeits.
The only way to tell what baby tooth or pencil-mauled-by-bitemarks is the authentic article and which was a cheap imitation is by the stories they come wrapped in. The Zippo lighter Clyde won in a bet. The cathedral in a snow globe, from some trip to Europe his family took, which Clyde confessed, high at a party he probably never went to, was the first and last time he ever felt he belonged somewhere.
The best way to make a Clyde story sound real is to simply insert his name when you’re telling a story about yourself. The time you shot a bird with a BB gun and felt so wretched afterward that you spent all day and most of the evening trying to find her nest and eggs, never once questioning if she had either or if she was even a she. The time you hid in the clothes rack at a thrift store to see if they’d lock you in at closing, and the terror you felt when they actually did. The real way you got fired from your first summer job, not the story you told your parents to save face. You got to see which sins were forgivable. You could finally feel free after puking it out of you. It didn’t matter what you’d say, how humiliating or inexcusable it was, because it wasn’t you, it was Clyde, and Clyde’s fucking dead.
His final moments were bad and slow, if the stories were to be believed. Bad and slow and lonely. It’s common knowledge, even among some adults, that if you manage to sneak into the indoor pool after-hours you can see Clyde, pale and transparent, caught in an endless swan dive towards the bone-dry bottom. Or that his face lingers in certain bathroom mirrors. Or that if you pick the right booth in a certain Chinese restaurant after sunset, you can feel cold fingers brush yours as you reach for your fortune cookie. We don’t tell his parents those stories. Those are for us. We need them – especially these days. When knock-offs and relics of the one-true Clyde have accumulated in our own houses for so long that we can no longer tell which had once been his and which had been ours all along. Or when it’s late at night, when we’re stuck awake with the sound of Clyde’s bare feet springing up and down on the diving board, those stories really help. Which is a horrible thing to say and the reason nobody says it. We just think it. Feel it. That, if this is what happens when you die badly enough, then maybe there’s hope for us all.
Gordon Brown grew up in the deserts of Syria and now lives in the deserts of Nevada. Since arriving in the New World, his work has previously appeared in Hunger Mountain Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Nightscript, and elsewhere. He spends his time writing feverishly and looking after his cats, of which he has none.