[Author's Note: This is a side story for my webcomic 'Metanoia'. Although there are some references to events in the comic, it isn't spoilerish, and can stand alone.]


Letters to River



Dear River,

If you are wondering why you got this, it's a thing they're making us do for English class. Remember how they taught us how to write letters in like 4th grade? Here in Juvie they think we are all retards, so it's 4th grade English all over again. I said look this is dumb can I just do a book report on Dostoyevsky or something and he just gave me a Look. Which is fair since I was being a smartass actually. Anyway, I told the teacher I would not write to mom so he grilled me who he could make me write to until your name came up. Sorry to bother you. He said some boys have no one to write to so be grateful. The word of the day is FATUOUS.

You might notice my spelling is much better than before. Do not blame the school here, it's all me. All the boys act like doing anything right or learning anything is the same as being a suckup. It is just basically being lazy and I tell them so which is why my hand writing is kind of wobbly. Because I hurt my wrist punching a kid. I wasn't even mad really, he was just being stupid and it made me want to hit him so I did. Anyway there's this secret rule against spelling anything right or using the right grammer, so I do it as much as I can. Like the second day here there was this paper to fill out and I said "I'm not sure whom I give this to" and some boys will still go "WHOM WHOM WHOM" at me like it's suposed to bother me.

How are you doing? I hope everything is okay. I hope now mom will not drink so much, tho I'm worried she's going to drink more instead. She does not handle stress so well. This is why I said I won't write to her if they make us write to somebody, because if getting a letter from me makes her stressed out, I don't want her taking it out on you. You have to take good care of her okay? Even tho she's not easy to handle, because she is our mom and she has had a hard time too, and you have always been steady.

Love,

Star.

PS if they do make us send these you don't have to write back.


Dear River,

Miss Bean is concerned about my mental health, so I'm sposed to write you another leter and not send it. She said she won't read it but I don't beleve her. They are all up in your business 24-7 here.

Here is what happened. Mr. Sikes the English teacher made us do thos letters, and then the people who wouldnt send thers he made read in front of the class. which I wouldn't do no matter what an I tryed to rip mine up so he took it. and sent me to miss Bean.

Forgive my spelling as I am a little aggitated and they dont let me have pencils now only felt pens.

Okay so there I am sitting in Beans office with steam coming out my head and i am ready to pound on somebody or put my face through a wall or i don't know what. Sikes gies her the letter and she reads it right in front of me, and wile shes reading, sikes is telling her what i did. O MY DIRE TRANSGRESHON OH OH such a bad boy who thinks his family troubles is nobody's bisness around here! cuz here, you know, they want you to tell all kinds of people all kind of personal shit. They are always asking personal questions, mostly about inapropreate touching.

I said it's me who does the inapropriete touching ma'am, for which I got a day of lock in, but that is another story.

Right so anyway, Bean tells Sikes to fuck off basically, I mean she used shrink talk but it was like, "I don't think it's apropriate to use me as a disciplinery threat mister Sikes, so if you are going to send boys here please understand I will do my job as I see fit. THANK you." Brrrr. I wanted to clap but I thought that might get her in trouble. After Sikes goes, Bean tells me if I don't want people to know stuff, don't write it in an asignment. Which is only good sense and I toll her so. I said "I know better than be honest with anybody here, cuz you never know if they will take something wrong and use it to put you on medication or something."

She goes "is that why you are so uncomunicitive Star?" Tilting her head like she just now thought of it, so I said "duh!" Then she tells me to write those things down but not show them to anyone. I'm like UH UH NO WAY because I have no rights or privacy here. What if some staff goes in my room and reads it to everybody on the hall? there is nothing I can do, I have no legal recorse against that sort of thing. She tries to change my mind but I won't budge.

Which is when she pulls out the big guns. "We're very concerned about your mental health Star. If you continue to resist treatment we have the option of putting you on medication with or without your consent."

It is no good telling her there is nothing to treat, as it was other people being insane that got me in this situation in the first place. So now I have written a whole letter telling them nothing they didn't already know, how this is sposed to be therapy i have no idea but there it is.

Dear River, if I was really going to write to you it would not be all bitching about this stupid place, I promise. Fuck you Mr Sikes, fuck you miss Bean, fuck you State of South Dakota and fuck me blind for even trying this bullshit idea. I should just take the free drugs. Fuck.


Dear River,

Sorry about all those letters about the food and classes. Or I would be sorry if I was actually sending them. If I was really writing to you I'd say sorry about all that boring shit. It was so I could have something for people to find if they went looking. Which they did, in fact. This big hairy retard of a staff who always gives me shit in the morning cuz I don't get dressed fast enough. He started pulling out the drores in my dresser and throwing my clothes on the bed and he found the letters. He's all "What's this, a little diary!" and started reading out loud, and there were all these guys in the hall, like sticking their heads in the door like it was gonna be something juicy. They laughed a lot at the first or actually second one about how Miss Bean was making me do this, and then they got bored cuz it was all about how the food sucks. I didn't even say one name of one person, so they just sort of walked off. Hairy Retard Staff looked pretty fucking stupid around then. He dropped the notebook on the floor and said "get dressed" and stomped out. I was laughing so hard I was late for morning call and got a half day lock in, but it was so worth it.

By now I am pretty sure nobody is going to read these. The funny thing is, now I can write whatever I want, I have no idea what to say. I don't know what I would say to you if I was really talking to you.

Sometimes I try to think what you look like, but I can't remember your face anymore. When I try, I see your green striped shirt that you won't let mom throw out even though it's more holes than shirt. Or I see the top of your head. Or that little diamond shape on the corner of your glasses. I think in the cartoon of my memory there's this little sign labelled "brother" walking around instead of you. Should I be sorry for that?

You see I finally learned to spell "though". I knew it was like "tough" with another h but I could not for the life of me put the h in the right place. I don't know why.

I can't think of anything else to say so I guess I'm done.

Love,

Star.


Dear River,

Miss Bean is okay after all I think. She wanted to see the letters, but she said "not read them, just see them. I will flip through real quick to see that they're actually letters and then give them back." I left that last one out just in case, but she did what she said and didn't read them. She didn't even look at the whole page, just the corners to see there was writing on the paper. Then she asked if I felt like writing to my brother helped me open up a little.

I said "what do you mean open up." She said "Whenever I ask you how you feel about something, you give me a non-answer. You're very evasive, very defensive. What I'm hoping is that you can share your feelings with your brother, if only in your mind."

"That doesn't even make sense" I said. "If it's only in my mind how am I sharing it with him?"

She just sighed and said to keep writing the letters. She said I seem to be calmer anyway, so that's something.

Maybe it does help a little. It's easier to do if I think about what you would say. It makes me feel kinda lonely to think about that though. There's a feeling. Look! Sharing! I don't see what good that's supposed to do. Some guys write poems, actually. Seriously, kind of a lot of them do. The teachers go fucking EXTATIC over any dipshit who can throw down a halfass rhyme about "dark is how the future looks to me, but it's me who's in control of my destiny" and blah blah personal responsibility miss-my-baby-mama and a dash of Jesus. (Can you believe these redneck fucks say baby-mama? I told one guy you can not try to talk ghetto if you can't even tell me which color bandana is which gang, but he just stared. And I was like, okay, but if you even once say 'my nigga' I will feed you your teeth, you cornbread motherfucker. You guessed it: lock-in for Star!)

I wrote a poem for class when they were making us do poems. Like it's not bad enough half the guys here do it anyway just to suck up or try to act deep, but then the teacher tries to milk out another crop of these stupid rhymes. This was when I was still writing you about the food, so I guess I was like aching for expression or something, cuz this is what I wrote:

Snapshot

This is only a little hurt.

It's only a little beneath the skin.

It only left a little mark

and you can hardly tell

unless I point it out

that it's permanent

Sikes wanted to know what it means. I told him if you have to ask, you'll never know. A couple of the guys were nodding, which kinda weirded me out, but Sikes just said we're not only here to express ourselves, we're here to learn, and I have to explain it. So I said the message of the poem is "little shit adds up" and he gave me a B-. I guess it could of been worse.

A guy who was nodding in class came and found me later. He never paid me much mind before, which was okay by me, but he said "sorry I never talk to you." I said "no problem, folks who don't have to be in my business are rare and precious round here" and he laughed, like "you got that right." Then he said "there's a reason it's called snapshot, isn't there. Like there was a camera."

I just kinda stared at him for a while. My fingers were buzzing and my brain was sorta whiting out. I don't think I said a word or nodded or anything, but he knew. He said "did you ever get the pictures back?" and I must of shook my head cuz he said "me neither". That REALLY weirded me out, so I made an excuse and took off in a hurry.

Next time I see Miss Bean I'm gonna tell her I "opened up" by total accident to a guy who's a few hubcaps short of an Oldsmobile, and now I want to scrub my brain with bleach. Thanks a lot, bitch, there's a REASON why I'm "defensive". I would never tell my real brother this shit anyway. He's only 11 for God's sake.

Oh fuck actually he's 12. Oh fuck.

Jesus. I am

bawling like a fucking baby because I

missed my little brother's birthday

this is fucking retarded

I hope nobody comes in


Dear River

Okay I'm really taking a leap of faith here and trusting nobody finds this, but I have to tell SOMEBODY. So you know that guy who freaked me out about the poem and knowing about people taking pictures? Well I got to talking to him more and he turned out to be really pretty nice. He told me a LOT of personal shit. Oh my god he has had such a fucked up life. I'm not gonna say his name here just in case, I don't wanna get him in trouble. Or actually I'll make up a name. I'll call him Russell which is a name I just took off a book on my shelf and sounds nothing like his real name. Anyway. He's been through so unbelievably much shit, I could not even start to tell it to you, it's like he never had one good day in his life. I told him I wish I could give him a good day. Like a present, put it in a box and give it to him, and he could use it or just take it out and smell it sometimes, like a jar of jam. Obviously I was babbling like a dipshit at that point, and you know how I mentioned before how he's really good at reading me? Well right then he leaned over and kissed me on the lips. We were sitting on the back stairs by the gym, so anybody could of come by and seen it, so I kinda jerked away and rubbed my mouth. It was just a reflex.

He must of thought I was grossed out, cuz he ran off. So I go running after. I'm all "Russell for fuck's sake stop and lemme talk!" but he wouldn't until we ran into Frank, who is like the mount Everest of staff but is actually all right. He wanted to know why Russell was running and crying and I was running and yelling. Obviously Russell couldn't think of a single thing to say, he was just fucking distrawt, so I go "I said something really mean but it was totally on accident and I didn't mean it at all." Frank goes "Russell is that right" and Russell nods so Frank says "go wash your face and calm down" and when Russell goes to do that, I follow him.

There's a corner in the room where they can't see you from the window in the door. There's a bookshelf there but it doesn't take up the whole blind spot. Russell goes into his room and goes to his sink (we each have our own little sink and crapper so they don't have to let us out of lock-in all day) and he's washing his face. I shut the door and he jumps. I grab him and shove him in the blind corner and kiss his stupid face off. Which was pretty swauve I guess, but then I couldn't think of anything to say but "There!" which spoiled the effect a little.

So now things are really weird but at least it's something to do. Russell is crap at lying so I have to avoid him all day, cuz otherwise he'd be making cow eyes at me and give the game away. But he had no experience of consenshual sex activities of any kind before, so he forgives anything I do. I could probably take out his liver and eat it in front of him and he'd forgive me. He's not very good looking and his higene could use some work but he's nice. And like I said he's really good at reading me.

Which is the point I guess. Everybody is asking these personal questions all the time here, but the thing is, they do not give a fuck about the answers. It's just to find out which path to rout you down in their little burocratic maze. I don't tell Russell a damn thing, but he knows anyway, and I think it even matters to him some. It's kinda like how you used to sit and make these big gloms of a zillion legos and just listen to me talk, and I knew even though you didn't look at me I knew you were hearing what I meant instead of what I said. I mean, not to compare you to the guy I'm fucking in any other way besides listening skills, because ew. But anyway that's why I don't care if Russell has zits and his feet smell like fritos.

Also of course we were dying of sexual frustration after almost a year inside. I think he is probably straight, so he's going to pretend it never happened once he gets what he needs from me. Which is okay. I wouldn't want to see him after I get out, I don't think. Here in this little fishbowl, I can be extra nice to someone for a while and give him good days and make him feel special. But out in the world, I know I'll go back to how I was. Only worse, because you can't take back killing somebody.

If I was writing to my real brother I would never say ANY of that shit. So who the hell am I writing to? Me, I guess. I guess this is a diary after all. Can you believe I only just now realized that bitch tricked me into writing a diary?

Do you sign diary entrys like you do letters?

Laid,

Star.


AAAAAAAAARRRRRRRGH THAT STUPID FUCK

FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU

YOU FUCKING FUCK

FUCK!

Stupid fucking pieface asshole, I hope that big zit on your cheek turns into a giant fucking absess and gets maggots in it and they eat into your brain and you DIE.

Okay. I'm calm now.

Stupid Russell fucking TOLD.

I don't know if I should even bother using his fake name here anymore. Only there are some guys who if they knew they'd totally kill him, and if anyone's gonna kill him it's ME. He told Miss Bean how him and me have been hooking up for a while, and he must of made it sound way worse than it is, cuz you know how I found out about it? Miss Traitor Bitch Bean calls me in and tells me they're delaying my release so they can put me in an appropriate home. And I'm like "what do you mean appropriate, what's wrong with the guys I was gonna go to?" And she's like, "We think you need a special kind of family, Star. One that can deal with prematurely sexualized children. It was a hard judgement call to make, but I think this is the right choice for you."

Prematurely sexualized. Jesus fuck. Okay, thing one, prematurely sexualized was when I was fucking ELEVEN and nobody wanted to hear it, where was miss fucking bean and her fucking judgement calls then? And now I'm 14, I'm more than halfway to 15 and she hears I gave some poor asshole a couple of blows in the bathroom so he can get to sleep, totally as a kindness and a favor and possibly a moment of human contact or something, and suddenly quality is job one. FUCK YOU ALL.

Now I can't talk to ANYBODY. Russell tried to apoligize but I cant even look at him. What the fuck kind of people ASK for "prematurely sexualized children"? I'm thinking there might be video cameras.

Jesus, River, I wish I could really talk to you. I'm so motherfucking lonely. Why didn't you ever visit me? Counting the time I was here waiting for my trial, I've been here one year and three weeks. Nobody visited me. One year and three weeks nobody visited me. I saw how scared of me you looked at my trial. I just wanted to lie down and die when I saw that look on your face. And mom couldn't look at me at all. Which is all I deserve, but I feel so low now, I wish I could think of one second when it seemed like maybe you could forgive me.

Star.


Dear River,

It seems like a long time since I wrote last, but I guess it wasn't really that long. I only lasted 2 months at that foster home. It was kind of a laugh actually. Now I'm on a bus to Minneapolis, and if the bus is faster than whatever minutemen Juvenile Services can muster to check busses, I'm off into the wild blue yonder. I feel like I ate a bucket of junebugs, my stomach's jumping so much. It's kind of awesome.

Turns out the kind of people who get a reputation for taking 'sexualized' kids aren't running a porn studio after all. They're religious nuts. I couldn't really say which is worse. It was pretty heinous. That's today's word: heinous. I would've written all about their hilarious heinousness, except the first thing they did was search my bag, and the second thing was confiscate my letters. Wait, no, that was the third thing. The second thing they did was read them. And then these wacko fundies, this Paul-and-Cheryl unit from outer space, they looked at me with these big glassy eyes and Cheryl said, "You may be angry at us now, but the time will come when you're glad to put this kind of thing behind you."

I bust out laughing. I was like, "Oh my fuck, Stepford Family. I'm gonna die." And their kid goes, "You will not use that language in front of my mother. " I'm serious, he actually said that.

Oh, their kid, what can I say about him. He's big and dumb as a man can come, but he's stronger than a country hoss -- and there we diverge from the song, because anybody who could call Paul Junior 'Boss' is a sad sorry little fuck indeed. I have never met such a giant nelly. Words that come to mind are 'prim', 'prissy', 'uptight', and 'repressed'.

So the nightmare began. They made de-queerifying me a full-time job. They could not open their mouths without working the topic in somehow. "Would you like some more mashed potatoes, Michael, and remember there's forgiveness for all sinners, even if they THINK they like sucking cock, which they really don't, they were just abused in childhood." Okay, that's an exageration, but not by much.

They called me Michael. I guess they thought Star was a gay name. I got into a yelling match about it with Paul Senior. It was the only thing I even bothered fighting, but I was not budging on that one. Okay, you have custody for a year, there's no law against jawing me to death about your pet issue, and stealing a ratty spiral notebook is hardly grand theft auto. I can handle it. But you do not get to change my fucking name. He goes, "I can't call a boy 'Star', it just sounds silly."

"It sounds like my NAME, which it IS. You know, LEGALLY."

"Michael is your name too. Star is just so... Broadway."

"That's all you, Paul Senior. I think we've determined by now that you have that on the brain."

"Don't you take that tone with me."

"It's a verified fact that you think about gay sex more than I do, sir. It's about all you ever talk about. You say 'ho-mow-sekshul' more often than you say Jesus. I counted."

"You need to go to your room now."

I refused to hear Michael, they refused to say Star. It got stupid real fast. Junior finally solved it by starting to call me Carrots. Oldest and most retarded nickname ever, and my hair's not even that red, it's more like rust brown, but fuck it. Carrots, I can answer to.

But don't get the idea that Junior was a regular guy underneath it all. No, he was a prissy, uptight twat to the core. He didn't even have the balls to be a bully, he was just bossy, like a 6-year-old girl playing 'family'. "You stand there. No, you have to hold it like that. Look at me when I'm talking." He tried to teach me to play baseball. Yeah, ME. It was no use hitting all his pitches over the fence, he had to correct my fucking form. The worst of it was, he obviously thought he was doing his Christian duty for underprivlidged youth by dragging me to the shitty little neighborhood sandlot every day after school.

Oh, and they gave me a military haircut. In the bathroom, with a manky old electric clipper. In fall. My scalp is going to freeze crispy and fall off my skull in about a month here.

So I'm confined to my room pretty much all the time when I'm not getting 'baseball for prissy little cunts' lessons. I'm hardly bothering with school, there's no point getting to know anybody, they all know who I'm fostering with and they're like OMIGOD RADIOACTIVE TERRORIST AIDS ALIEN! They actually did turn and stare at me in the halls the first day, like kids did in those 80's high school movies when some kid had a bad reputation. It was fucking surreal. I figured what the hell, none of it matters, so I used that phrase when the principal cornered me. "How are you adjusting, um... Star?" "It is fucking surreal here, sir." He just blinked at me and walked away. It was such a shock not to be put on lock-in that I felt like I had an untied shoelace in my brain for the rest of the day.

Anyway. Nothing to do, nobody to talk to, and unlike Juvie, there wasn't even the daily soap opera to witness. No fights, no posing, no shoving, no secret handjob exchange programs, NOTHING. Paul-and-Cheryl-unit don't argue, they don't converse, they just exchange sound bytes. And they don't believe in TV or movies. These people are like store manikins with tape players inside. So I just read a lot of books. I read like three or four books a day. I read in school too, I totally ignored the teachers, they didn't care. They probably thought if they made eye contact I'd explode. It actually wasn't that bad. I could've handled that for a long time. Kind of a monastic retreat, like the kung fu guys do.

Until they took my library card away.

Yeah. Logical, right? You get this kid, you hear he's a real bad apple, manslaughter conviction and a mental health watch, you think he's maybe gonna murder you in your sleep. Then it turns out he is absolutely NO fucking problem as long as you, A, call him by his actual name, and B, let him have lots of books. So what is the logical next step? Leave him be, let him educate himself, feed him plenty of veggies, and take him to his state-appointed shrink nice and regular-like?

No, apparently what you do is you decide the state shrink isn't religious enough, so you take him to a special religious shrink, who talks the exact same line of bull he gets at home, you call him by his middle name no matter how much that bothers him, and you TAKE AWAY HIS LIBRARY CARD.

Whyfor do they do this stupid thing, you ask? They caught me reading C.S. Lewis. Not his kid stuff either, but the real meaty shit. It was great, it really got me thinking. Which is exactly what they didn't want.

That's right. These nutballs catch me reading Christian theology, and they blow a fucking gasket. I wish I could remember the Paul-and-Cheryl-unit's rant about lukewarm liberal so-called-Christians and how that was somehow worse than outright Satanism, it was a goddamn masterpiece of doublethink.

Great word, doublethink. Double plus ungood, my droogs. Yeah, they didn't want me reading Brave New World or Clockwork Orange either. They grabbed my whole stack of literature and searched my room like I might be hiding more. So I'm like, what the hell do I read then? And they give me this doorstop called 'Answers To A Child's Questions About God'.

So I seduced Junior and then cleaned the place out and ran.

I know, I know, I made a big long thing out of the boring shit and then skipped the adventure. I'm really damn tired though, I don't think I've had two hours of sleep in the past three days. Sorry about that. I'll try to expand.

See, I'd noticed how Junior liked to correct my batting form. Oldest trick in the book, get behind your target and reach around him to show him where to put his hands. And Paul Junior was not what you'd call subtle. He'd accidentally-on-purpose grind up against my ass and forget what he was talking about. I don't think he was actually gay, I think his folks just talked about it so much he couldn't get it out of his head. And he was sixteen, so he was at least as horny as me, and I don't think he even knew how to jack off. All I had to do was get him alone, grab his crotch, and tell him "I am REALLY good at keeping secrets."

All he was able to contribute was a bit of awkward, guilty groping, and he really didn't deserve the blow I gave him, but it was all part of my plan. Because after that, I could make him do ANYTHING. He was convinced his parents would have my stomach pumped and analyze the DNA evidence. For all I know they would've, if any doctor in the universe would've agreed to it, but the important thing is that he believed they would. So he got me into the family safe, cleaned out his piggy bank, told his folks he was taking me out to his cousin's farm to pick apples, and we got in the car and left. I dropped him off at the mall with five bucks for coffee and hit the highway. I think he probably even held up his end as far as not going home or reporting the car stolen for at least four hours, because he was that kind of sucker. Not honorable; just scared.

That was a semicolon I just used. I think it might be my first. Go me!

I ditched the car in Omaha and caught a bus. I had enough on me from the Freaky Fundie Family Vacation Fund to go all the way to California, but I was also kind of thinking about Minneapolis. Cuz it's fall, so maybe going someplace warm would be good, but all the runaways go to Cali, and it's expensive to live out there. I decided I'd take whichever bus left soonest. When I got to the station, the Twin Cities bus was boarding. I had five minutes to get my ticket and hop on. Fate? Or the fact that they run two busses up to the TC every day, and only make the Cali run twice a week? Yeah. Science wins. Goodbye illogical wackos, hello freedom!

Oh yeah, and I found my notebook with my letters to you in the safe with the vacation money. I don't know why they didn't throw it out. I think possibly late at night they would read the swear words to each other as a form of foreplay.

Off to see the wizard,

Star.


Dear River,

It's been more than ten years since I wrote to you last. I don't know why I stopped. Maybe I didn't want to think about telling you what I was doing. I've done some bad things, bro. Bad enough that I don't think I could face you even if I knew you forgave me.

You're not real to me anymore. I know you got married and have a little girl. I found your wife's blog. She seems nice but kinda boring. Pretty, though. Your daughter is real cute. It seems weird to think of her as 'my niece'. It's gotten to seem weird to think of you as 'my brother'. As if the lease of our brother-ness has run out, and we're no longer related. Do those things expire?

I read on the blog how much it bothers you all when I send you money. I'm sorry. If I dared to really talk to you I guess I could tell you where it comes from, but it looks like you've got the right theory.

That's the story of my life, isn't it? If I dared to really talk to you.

Hell, if I dared to really talk at all.

People like to pretend there's no downside to sharing your feelings all over the place. That's utter bull, though. They really can use your words to take away what's important. They actually do stop respecting you, they actually do save up ammunition for later and use it on you when things turn sour. I've seen it happen so many times. Besides, nobody's earned the right to hear what I have to say. Not even you, bro. Not anymore. I ran too far for too long.

Now I have a new job where I don't have to do so much crime. It's this kind of private detective gig. Actually it's more like superhero shit. It's weird. But better than pretty much anything I've had since I was a little kid. I mean, it's just starting to sink in, deep down, that none of these people I work with are going to steal my shit, try to kill me, get arrested, call the cops on me, or go off their meds and decide the roof is transmitting brain-destroying harmonics and has to be torn off and replaced in the middle of winter.

Wow, I'd almost forgotten. Do you remember when Dad did that? You might've been too little. I was eight so you would've been six, I guess. It was before Mom was willing to admit what was happening to him. She was still pretending he was just having a bad patch of depression and he'd get over it. I think she still had her job, but it was after we sold the house, cuz this was when we were in the trailer. He got this idea that the roof of the trailer was making a noise, and he'd take me around and make me listen. "There! Listen!" I'd listen and listen, and eventually I started to believe I could hear something. HE sure heard something. He had this massive, byzantine theory to explain it, I can't remember what his theory was. And then one day he borrows Stan Horton's saws-all and takes the roof off the trailer. We had a green plastic tarp for a roof until almost Christmas. I remember telling you we were camping. I didn't understand any of it myself, but I thought I had to explain it to you anyway.

That was always how it was. I never understood what was going on, why people were the way they were, why I was the way I was. But I had to make it all sound normal to you. Make it okay for you. And the day when it all ended was the day I just couldn't make it okay anymore. I knew it could never be okay for you again. Can you believe it took me ten years to realize it was never okay to begin with? I think you needed to humor me and pretend to be comforted just like I needed to comfort you and pretend I could protect you.

All that complicated shit we wove around ourselves to keep our minds occupied. My God. We needed it to be so very complicated. Had to keep our thoughts busy, so we wouldn't have to look at the stark truth. Which is that we got the short end, shit happens, no one can fix it, and nobody cares.

I think I want to believe you never saw that truth. That you still believe the universe owes you a happy ending and it's going to pay up one way or another. And I hope you do get that happy ending. I hope your wife stays nice, I hope your daughter grows up sweet and smart, and I hope that truck driving thing pays off for you. You're the only one I'm willing to have hopes for. Hope is a scary, dangerous thing to have to deal with, and you're the only one I'll do that for. You and maybe, sometimes, a little bit, me.

My partner at this job is kind of uptight and he doesn't get me at all. He looks too much like somebody I don't want to be reminded of, and he has shitty taste in music. He's pretty hot, but he's got like this vow of celibacy thing going on. So that's an insurmountable wall of Suck right there. But he's a gamer, and I'm a gamer, and he rolled a new toon on my server to see if maybe that would be fun, and you know? It kind of is. I can't have a civil conversation with him to save my fucking LIFE in meatspace, I either get mad or I flirt or I piss him off or we just end up staring like 'what language are you speaking?' and it all goes nowhere. But we can game together all damn day and it's just peaceful.

So maybe I have a little hope. Don't know what I'm hoping for exactly. Probably not a romance, those never work out for me. But then, hope is stupid, and I keep having these mad realistic wet dreams about him, so maybe romance after all. I don't know. But I think what I really want, whether there's a hookup in it or not, is just to make contact with somebody. The kind where I don't have to rip open my ribcage and serve them slices of my heart; the kind where they just... know. Like that poor 'Russell' kid in Juvie did. Like you always did. When Zan and I are talking face to face, it seems like no way could that ever happen; he has no goddamn clue, we can't communicate worth a damn. But when we're gaming, or watching a movie or doing some research for work, or anything where we're focused on something besides each other, I feel like we're sort of leaning against each other and keeping warm, even if we're in different rooms.

Seeing that written down... maybe that's what everyone's looking for. I hope you have that with your family, bro. And I hope the kids in Juvie got it, I know most of them probably didn't, but since I don't know, I can imagine maybe they did. And all the sad sacks and mean bastards and poor joes just getting by, everybody I've hurt and used and left behind, I hope they all can get that leaning-on-and-keeping-warm feeling sometimes.

Maybe that's why I'm writing this 'letter' after all this time. Because I needed to put it on paper before I could realize writing it down isn't what I need to do. My work friend and I are kind of in a weird state right now so we're avoiding each other, this happens every few days, and I always think it's a big deal. Like this'll be the time he says fuckit and tells our boss to get him a different partner, or quits or something. It's NOT a big deal, though. Once again, I'm making things complicated and important and huge so I won't have to look at the naked little truth. Only in this case the naked little truth is: I need that contact, because I'm human, and humans need that. And Zan is human and he needs it too. So who cares which of us was out of line and who's mad at who?

I'm doing okay, River. There are a million ways I could say everything's broken, everything's fucked up, it's all death and decay and horror and existential angst, but there is this one way in which I am really okay, and I think that's the deep down one that matters.

I hardly remember you as a real person, but that doesn't make you any less my brother, does it? When you looked so scared of me, the last time I saw you -- well, any kid would be scared under those circumstances, wouldn't they? You were wondering if I was going the way Dad went. You were realizing I couldn't protect you now. You didn't hate me, you just didn't know me anymore. And how could you have visited me, not knowing who I had become? How could you have asked a neighbor or a teacher to take you to see me, when it was always me who goaded you into asking people for things? It wasn't fair of me to believe you hated me, all this time. I really should've sent that first letter I wrote you. I wonder if my life would've been much different?

Well, I'm gonna go talk to my roommate work-friend guy now. I'm gonna see if he wants to kill monsters and take their stuff. He'll say sure. Won't make things any less weird between us, but for a few hours, it won't matter.

I love you, bro. Someday I'll get the guts to write to you for real.

Star.