(IN THE BEGINNING THERE WAS RYAN.)

we were children of the darkness
me, sam
sam, the little one
the see-through.
i, the fragile
the human painting.
once, we stood.
together, we fell.
divided into a thousand different pieces.
broken sam, shattered on the floor.
his face: indifferent
but i had heard him (pathetic! worthless!)
as a victim, and as an accomplice.
the next night, a new sam.
colder than the old one
a replacement
but otherwise the same.

"What now?" I answer the bottle happily. A whine, made better by laughter. Wine, made better by being alone. Rum, made better by the swallow.

"Had enough yet?"

Foolish questions spilling into my mouth and out my ears, I find the counter. Set the glass down, set the bottle down, figure this out, I tell myself. My palms kiss the counter and my eyes shrink, crinkling into a smile. Before Captain Morgan can say another word, I inhale my lungs again. I grin at him and whisper. "Never, never!"

"Sick of me yet?"

I find his eyes and track how they move with me, tap his glass prison and watch him swim across the ocean, ease his mind and tell him, "I know you don't mean to." I sigh, letting my fingertips drag across the counter, through icy sweat that pools in rings and dirty cockroaches who waltz in step to my heartbeat.

"Are you happy yet?"

"Yes," I nod avidly, "of course!" My head breaks off of my neck and lies pour out of my throat. Before my eyes, a single bottle, filled with falsities and future sickness, tries to catch them all. Giggling words out into the palm of my hand, I show the Captain and we admire them. "Absence," I read, "Failure. Weakness. Dis…Disa…"

"Disappointment."

I look up with a smile bleeding down my face. "Everything sounds better from a glass mouth." When we are both whole, it is only a matter of time. When we are both whole, we are never happy. (Where happiness is: a mirage at the bottom of the glass. A reflection in the eyes of those who condemn us.) "In-sti-tu-tion," I sound out, continuing the game.

"What have they done to us? What will become of us?"

The glass leaps from the counter to my hand, from my hand to my lips, with a weak, innocent kiss (goodbye). With rum sliding down my throat, secrets become dislodged and slip into my stomach. They hiss and claw like squirming seafood against my insides. I laugh, and words perk their little ears. My mouth stretches open with a mind of its own and I hear something familiar.

My voice, trapped in a bottle with Captain Morgan staring back at me.

The glass crashes towards the ground, but makes no sound. When Captain Morgan sets sail, we keep eye contact until the end, but it doesn't make a difference. We have always been opposing forces in motion, stumbling towards a poorly written conclusion. My voice, tearing apart Captain Morgan on impact and sending the pieces everywhere.

My voice, shouting, "I'm sorry." My voice, shouting excuses. "I'm going to bed right now, I swear. I just couldn't sleep. I swear, please. Just let me go to bed. Let me go to bed, I'm going." My voice, echoing a chain of negatives and pleases.

"Had enough yet?"

"No," I choke out, "No."

this is how eight hundred hours starts:
hunger and sleepy yawns and giant red numbers
and my eyes go wide, care just as much as i do.
shock. fear. nausea. anger.
something different.
the theme for the day is sarcasm!
brought to you by the letter R and the number of minutes R has left before he loses it.
it's not going to be long…
it's an equation, and math i can do. math is logic, is logic
is straightedge, is drug free. is ryan plus failure and that's me.
is grade percentage and "what do i need on this next test…"
is the calculated graph of suicide rates in the united states.
is the amount of begging i would have to do to avoid crying through another
human painting.
i am the uncertain student, wasting your time.
the answer is not important to anyone except a prototype self.
it's like a past lover or a former friend; over and out.
you rang before the bell.
this is what's called "returning the favor."

"Yes," I say, clutching my words, "yes, there's a problem." Three screaming lines in screaming red, an ugly "F" biting the paper and eating the ideas upon it. "I just want to be able to rewrite this. Just one day. I can't bring home another F, I can't."

From behind the big metal monster lip, a filthy, fat tongue waggles out, "We worked on this paper for two weeks. I can't waste time trying to get you caught up. Sorry, Ryan, enough is enough." S-s-sorry is a word I know. Sorry is a familiar word with a meaning he doesn't understand, a word chemically altered by his breath.

Chances are plucked from my mind, but I can reel them back. Each opportunity I miss can journey back again with the right words, I know, with golden words I practice in my head. "I've been sick, Mister," I mention quietly, an excuse that is like stone, an excuse that is solid and will buy me more time. At home, I pack time away in the freezer. I come back to find distress and sadness: time, melted away the second it's tasted.

"You've missed thirteen days this month." Time is dripping through my fingers, I think. Time is a lie, told over and over to keep people moving. Time itself is just a word.

Excuses from my mouth are always lies, told over and over to keep people in the light. "Well, I've been really sick." I am a superhuman living an average life, I want to tell him. I am held back by a two-faced illness who is cordial only during parent-teacher conferences. Against the metal monster mouth, I tap out my story in made-up Morse code.

The room listens to my story and laughs, but Mr. Condescending cannot understand it and instead says, "I talked to your father this morning."

"What did he say?" I ask, my words trailing out with my blood to find my fists. Red anger in my cheeks falls, pulling my perfect golden words down my neck, into my chest and over rivers, into my arms and through the woods, through paintings of leafy black forests and blue branches, all to the tips of my fingers. All the blood in my body inflates these fingers, which are clenched against my head line and heart line. The heart in my chest smiles a throbbing grin and sings, "Go on."

"Did you tell him I got an F? Did he sigh and call me pathetic? Did he sound mad? Mr. Halvorson, he's a liar," I tell him, glancing at the shaking clock, "Whatever he said was a lie."

He turns his ugly grey eyes into pools of pity and frowns when he throws up a disgustingly optimistic thought. "An F isn't the end of the world, Ryan," says Mr. Halvorson.

The hand holding my words slams them down, feeding them to the desk, to the ugly monster mouth with the ugly monster tongue, and letting them go. My teeth try to pull words out of my bottom lip and the inside of my cheeks, but they find nothing worthwhile. "You don't know that," I correct him, the only one who tells lies for a good reason, and I whisper, "No. No." Heavy feet attached to my legs pull me backwards, muttering to get away. I listen, but I am the only one. Crying the truth, my voice breaks. "You're liars, both of you. Everyone lies," I think I say as my mind burns. "This is what you look like when you lie, wrinkled and empty. Lying is pulling the life out of you, Mr. Halvorson. You never talked to my dad, did you? Because if you did, you would know. You wouldn't be this ignorant mess of false ideas and critical eyes, you wouldn't be you, and you would be -"

"Ryan," he says.

"What?" I snarl at this man, who is no longer a man, but an obstacle, a detached figure between me and the rest of my life, "Can I rewrite it now? Can you tell me what he said? Did he sound mad?"

"You already asked me all that, Ryan," he says, but I know what he's doing, trying to make me sound crazy, and I can't take it, can't take his lies and diverted answers.

I tell him that in two words, repeated, "Shut up! Just stop!" then more and more. "Stop talking to me, I don't want to hear it, I don't want to hear it, just answer the question, please, what did he say?" The glazed, acid film over my eyes tries to take away my insight, but I squeeze my eyes shut and trap it all in, open them again and don't feel any better, bite my lip and kick the metal monster when I know I can't win. "Thanks for fucking up my day, Mr. Halvorson."

"Watch your mouth," he orders, but I try to breathe instead, try to close my eyes and count one-two-three and take another breath. "He said you needed help, Ryan. Do you think you need help?"

Finally springing to action, a fist collides with the inhuman skin of the world and I'm finally able to pretend I'm as happy as I wish I knew how to be, finally able to evade the obstacles as they chant, "Hey hey hey! If you don't calm down, I'm taking you to see Mr. What's-His-Face (a name I don't remember, I won't remember). Maybe he'll know how to handle you when you're like this… Knock it off, Ryan! Ryan, enough!"

"Am I pathetic now? Am I?" my voice growls over my thoughts and my voice cries and breaks out a strangled, "Answer me!" In my hands, I take the cardboard world with its cardboard oceans and cardboard land, and end everyone's cardboard life.

The monster roars once more, feebly, "Ryan, listen to me! You have to listen to me!"

As I hurl the world into his open mouth, tears claw at the skin on my face, down my neck, and someone roars back, "No I don't! You can't make me!" Words choke themselves in my throat, committing suicide against my taste buds as they watch others fall past my teeth into the poisoned air, unable to be saved. Unable to be saved in a fight that can't end until a side surrenders, a fight where both sides might die, where nothing gets done and nothing ever will. In a battle where a single sentence is a sword with a double-sided blade that bends and wraps around your neck when you try to take a breath, I push away my title.

Before the white flag behind my eyes can wave, the beast sinks his claw into my shoulder, to drag me into his lair, cutting out one last cry from the blood beneath the skin. A loud, "You did this, Dad, you did this!" beats the air, "You made me this way! Stop it! Stop it! Don't touch me!" I race past this voice furiously, leaving it in the light with everything, everything else.

At the finish line, I breathe in and breathe out with my hands pressed to my jagged knees. "Where is everyone?" I ask the mad tortoise.

He laughs, a familiar, foreign sound. "Can't you see them?"

"All I see are shadows hooked to my feet."

He pauses for a second. "Have you had enough yet?"

"No," I sigh, "It will never end."

"Have you had enough yet?"

"No," I answer, "I don't know who I am."

"But you can see them."

"Yes," I defend, pulling shadows from my shoes, "but I don't know how to stop them."

We look behind us and see our past, losing the race in slow motion. "Have you had enough yet?" he asks seriously.

"I don't know," I offer, "Have you?"

He laughs, "No. It will never end."

I open my eyes, but he is gone and I don't know how I got here.