High Conversations on Cosmic Inflation

Chapter 1

There's a sub-field buried somewhere deep in the realm of neuroscience – not under any circumstances a specialty of mine, but intriguing all the same – that deals with the human perception of time. Not like in physics, it has nothing to do with relativity or time dilation or moving at the speed of light, no, time perception deals with those strange little occurrences when time just seems to change speeds, like when you're a kid on Christmas morning and it feels like it takes a year and a half for everyone else to wake up. I don't know anything about psychology, I took one class my freshman year to fulfill my gen-ed requirements and got out of there as fast as I could, but I do know a little something about numbers and…the numbers are looking bleak.

When I was a year old, one year was equal to 100 percent of my life. 100% as a fraction is 1/1, so when I was one, one year was 1. When I was two, one year was 1/2. Now that I'm 24, one year is 1/24, and at this time next year I can look back on this moment and know that the time in between was 1/25 of my life. It's not advanced mathematics.

The more advanced part comes in when you look towards the future. The average life expectancy for a male living in the United States is around 77 years, so that gives me 53 more. Seems like a good long time, doesn't it?

But that doesn't account for time perception. So far I've lived 1 + 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/4 + 1/5…and so on, all the way to 1/24 of my life. If it went on forever this would be a divergent infinite series, but it doesn't go on forever, it ends with death, and probability states that my series will most likely end at 1/77.

Out of sheer boredom during my senior year of college I added up the numbers, all the way to 1/21 which is how old I was at the time, and came up with a very arbitrary looking fraction that divided out to roughly 3.6. Then I got high, fretted over my own mortality and the fact that my life was not destined to be anything close to a divergent infinite series, and added them all up, from 1 to 1/77.

The ridiculous fraction I obtained at the end of it all boiled down to something like 5.

Fucking 5.

That's the answer you get when you add up your life. The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything?

The more disturbing thing is that 5 – 3.6 = 1.4

By the time I was 21 my life was perceptually beyond halfway over.

This strange sense of the compression of time scares me even more than ghosts and serial killers and spiders. It scares me because I can sense it. When I was a kid waiting for my birthday or summer vacation or something like that it was always long, torturous, agonizing. Now I barely notice when stuff like that happens. I blink twice and all of a sudden it's December and I have to buy my little cousins Christmas gifts and get my car inspected, and then about ten minutes after that it's April and the lady from my dentist's office is calling to remind me that I have an appointment coming up even though I could swear I was just there a few weeks ago.

But I wasn't. Time is just crunching up on me.

You would think that someone in my position, someone with a rational, mathematical mind and a constant awareness of the imminence of death, would have better things to do than sit around smoking weed and watching nature documentaries in the downstairs mother-in-law suite tacked onto the side of my uncle's suburban home, but I don't. Sometimes I play piano with stunted, clumsy fingers and I read mathematics journals from time to time, try to keep up with what's going on in number theory, but I feel it all slowly slipping away from me, my brain dissolving into useless mush from all the neglect.

It's easier sometimes to ignore the fact that I'm ignoring my potential. It's easier to pretend I'm a divergent infinite series.

Ella Fitzgerald croons at me flirtatiously from the coffee table and I pause the TV, operating as few of my joints as I possibly can in the process. The Himalayan brown bear frozen on the screen gives me a doleful look with his too-big head, and I try to feel sorry for him because his species is endangered, but I can't tell if I really do or not.

"Yeah?" I say into the phone.

"Braden, you have got to open a window, man."

"Shit." I heave myself off the couch and cross the room to open the big picture window, the one that I always forget to open because the blinds are always closed because I don't want anyone to see how much I don't do with my life.

"You know I don't care if you smoke, but I don't really like coming home to my house smelling like Burning Man. Get it together."

"I'm sorry," I tell my uncle. I really am. He doesn't have to let me live here, I've probably long overstayed my welcome, and he says he doesn't care but trusting people is not one of my stronger suits, because the things people say and the things they actually do don't always tend to coincide.

"Listen," he continues, "I've got a job for you tomorrow if you're interested. This kid I've been working with for the past couple weeks, goes by Jase Clef, if you've heard of him."

"Nah." If he doesn't have a PBS special I wouldn't have heard of him.

"Alright, well, he's a pretty cool guy, really talented. It's mostly kind of low-key dance music, but he's a drummer by training and he's been laying down some pretty complex like, jazz fusion type beats. Not so great with keyboards though and he was asking me about getting someone to fill in the empty space with some interesting chords."

"Mm," I grunt in reply. I can't reply with words because I'm holding the phone against my ear with my shoulder while I take another bong hit.

"I mean, I can do it if you're not interested," he continues, "but you're the one with the jazz degree so I figure you guys would vibe pretty well."

I exhale, cough, halfway sneeze, and wipe my face on my t-shirt. "What's the pay?"

"Session time, plus possibly a producer credit if he uses a lot of it."

I feel my eyebrows lift maybe half a millimeter, which doesn't sound like much but when you've been taking Snoop Dogg hits off the ice bong all night it's kind of an accomplishment. "Producer credit? Since when was that your policy?" I have never gotten a producer credit in my life and I've played on at least 50 different albums.

"Not my policy, that's just what he said."

I can hear him going up the stairs through the wall next to me. It's bedtime for people with normal lives. "Expecting good royalties?" I ask.

"Uhhh…" Distracted sounding rustling on the other end. "I mean, it's his second album and it's always kind of up in the air on that, but I know he played Electric Forest and a couple other pretty big festivals this year so marketing is clearly doing their job."

I don't know why I asked. I don't give a shit about a producer credit. It's probably better for this guy to keep my name off his album anyway. "What time?"

"Nine."

"Fuck." That doesn't allow nearly enough time for my typical ten hours of sleep, then getting up to piss, then getting back in bed for two more hours until I'm so hungry I just can't lay there any longer routine.

"Are you serious right now?" I can basically feel him glaring at me through the phone. "It's not that early, and even if it was it's still work. You haven't worked in nearly a month, and I know you've got royalties coming in from a bunch of other stuff so you probably don't need the money, but you need to get out of the fucking house, dude."

When I was a little kid in my old neighborhood there was this one creepy house on the corner with paint peeling off the shutters and overgrown vines in the yard. There were never any lights on, was never a car in the driveway, never any signs that anyone lived there. My older brother tried to tell me it was haunted and dared me to go in it, but I've always been way too chickenshit to go inside anything that might possibly be haunted so I asked my Nana if she thought there really was a ghost. She said no, it wasn't a ghost, it was an old man who didn't like visitors and didn't have any friends. Once a week a lady from the bank came and brought him groceries and took out his trash. Other than that he didn't have any interaction with people. He was a hermit, she called him, like a hermit crab.

Back when I was a kid I remember secretly thinking he had the right idea.

"Are you listening to me?" my uncle barks.

"Yeah, sorry. I was thinking about that hermit that used to live on Nana's street. Do you know if he still lives there?"

"I mean, I don't know, dude. He's bound to be dead by now, isn't he?"

I shrug. Probably. If he's older than 77 that is.

"So are you really telling me that you're not going to come do this job tomorrow because it's in the morning?"

I can hear an overtone of disappointment with every word he says, and that really fucking sucks. It sucks because he's never been disappointed in me in my life, not when I told him I wanted to quit soccer in ninth grade, not when I came out to him and made him swear to keep it a secret and was too scared to tell anyone else for another entire year, not when I got his front bumper ripped halfway off in the mall parking lot because I'm a shitty driver, not even when I called him in the middle of the night, sobbing and hyperventilating so badly that I was barely coherent, to tell him there was a video of me half naked and drunk, getting fucked into oblivion by my ex on at least six different websites that I knew of…but I disappoint him by not wanting to get up early.

That's a lie. I disappoint him by being an antisocial, unmotivated, slug of a human being.

"No, I'll do it," I tell him.

"What time do you want me to come down and wake you up?"

As someone who is about 31.1% of the way through his life by actual time and roughly 72% of the way through by perceptual time, I should probably be competent enough at adulthood to wake the fuck up in the morning, but I have a bad habit of completely ignoring alarms, incorporating them into my dreams for hours sometimes until my uncle's middle-aged, sour-faced maid Luisa starts pounding on the door, yelling at me to turn it off, and then tracking me with judgy eyes and pursed lips over her caddy of cleaning supplies when I finally emerge, like she can't believe anyone actually lives this way.

She never cleans my room.

"Eight should be good," I tell him.

"Okay, we need to leave the house by eight-thirty. That's going to be enough time?" he asks.

I'm reminded of the old days, when he was in charge of shepherding me and my brother off to school every morning. I was good at waking up then though, Riley was the one who pissed Luisa off by sleeping all day, but now he has his own house where he can sleep however late he wants with no one to judge him and what the fuck am I doing with my life?

"Yeah, I'll be ready," I promise.

"Sweet. Well, get some sleep, dude. Close the window when you go to bed, open it if you're going to smoke again."

"Copy that, Captain," I tell him, reaching for the remote so I can check on what's up with this bear. This conversation has been entirely too long, and while I love the guy easily twice as much as anybody else on this earth I am running out of both patience and words to use.

"Alright, man. Love you, night."

"You too."

As soon as I hang up I set my alarm for 7:57, because I really am not stoked on getting up any earlier than I have to, but maybe if he comes downstairs and I'm already awake he'll remember how to be somewhat proud of me.

22/77 = 0.28571 = 28.6% dead

It was by far the worst text I've ever gotten. Exhausted and jetlagged and alone in Portugal at 2:00 a.m. is not really the time you want to receive a text like this, but it wasn't like I had a choice. I got it when I got it.

The first one wasn't so bad. It was from Riley, it said You aight bro?

I remember rolling my eyes at that. Anyone willing to take the time to spell out 'you' should at least have the decency to include all the necessary letters in 'alright' as well.

I've been better, but I'm making it, I responded. Why?

I hadn't told anybody yet, but I had finally broken up with Shiloh. Fifth time's the charm, right? He yelled, he cried, he told me I was breaking his heart, told me I was going to regret it, I'd never find someone like him. That was fine with me, finding someone like him was the exact opposite of what I aimed to do. I'd had enough of him.

After that he attacked from a different angle. Told me I was a shit musician, lacked creativity, told me I would never have been anything without him and his stupid band. I didn't care, I was tired of his shitty music, flowery lyrics full of big, fancy words and abstract, nonsensical imagery disguised as art. I was tired of standing at the back of the stage with one hand hanging uselessly at my side while I played boppy little five note riffs on some inane synth setting, listening to his reedy, whispery voice that I guess he thought sounded mysterious, but really just sounded lazy and weak.

The money had been nice, the tours in Europe, the sort of halfway celebrity status that comes with playing second fiddle to someone with a much more recognizable face. The sex had been good too, for the most part. There were times when it wasn't the best, times when there was too much alcohol involved or high voltage emotions circuiting endlessly, but for the most part it had been fine. No, I was just done. Through and through, I was done. I was done arguing with him and feeling bad for him, I was done missing my family, I was done playing music that I hated, I was done walking on eggshells every day because everything I did got on his nerves and everything he did got on mine.

The first four times he had the right argument. The first four times I tried to break up with him he got sad, teary, despondent, asked me what he could do to make it right. He sweet talked me until I felt so much empathy for him, the poor, lonely, tortured artist with no one to care for him, that I caved and said we could try again. Four. Fucking. Times.

The fifth time he just got pissed though, I guess he was tired of having to put on a show, and that made it much easier. I tried to be an adult about it, told him I would always care for him and wished him the best but I couldn't be a part of his life anymore.

He told me to go fuck myself like the little cock hungry slut I was, so all-in-all I felt pretty good about my decision.

Riley texted me back. The whole sex tape thing. Did you not see that?

It was the third and fourth words of that message that got me, hit me just like a punch to the gut. Sex tape.

That motherfucker.

It wasn't my idea, I'm the last person on earth that would ever make a sex tape besides maybe like, the Pope or something, but a couple weeks previously Shiloh and I had been drunk past the point of rational decision making and he commented that it would be hot to film ourselves fucking. Even drunk I wasn't a fan, but it didn't matter because somehow I let him convince me after he promised it would only be for him and he would delete it soon after and it wasn't a big deal.

It became a pretty big deal though when I typed "Shiloh Slater sex tape" into google and was promptly greeted with the sight of myself gagging on a dick.

That was how it opened. None of the other stuff that I knew had been at the beginning was there anymore, the giggling and making out and you're sexy and I love you, no, the very first frame was my drunk self with Shiloh's dick down my throat, his hand on the back of my head forcing it to stay still, and then I was choking and sputtering and spitting it out, with watery eyes and thick, stringy saliva dripping from my mouth.

I tapped the pause button.

I stared at my own slutty face staring back at me.

I went into the bathroom of my cramped, seedy, last-minute Portuguese hotel room, shoved two fingers down my throat, and made myself throw up four times.

Then I called my uncle.

"Hey, hey, calm down," he urged, once I had finally pulled myself together enough to explain. "It's going to be alright, I'm going to take care of this. I'll get you a lawyer, we'll get it taken down - "

"No, it's on the fucking internet!" I protested. "It could be on a hundred different sites by now, there's no way to get it completely taken down! It's just going to keep getting copied and copied and - "

"Hey, breathe, kid. Let's not jump to conclusions, we just need to talk to a lawyer first. At the very least I'm sure you have grounds to sue him."

"I don't want his money!" I gasped through a strangled sob. "I want that fucking video to disappear! I want no one to have ever seen it to begin with!"

"I know, and I'm so sorry, dude. That was such a shitty thing of him to do, and I want to fucking kill him, or at least come up with ways to get him thrown in an Eastern European prison, but at this very moment I'm more worried about making sure you're okay."

I took a gasping breath and felt myself wheeze on the air. "I'm not okay! How the fuck could I possibly be okay right now? I can't believe I let him film that shit, I'm such a fucking idiot…"

"Hey, listen to me," he said sternly. "I know you're upset, but I don't want you to blame yourself for this."

"Who the fuck else can I blame?" I demanded. "I knew he was crazy but I didn't know he would go this far! And he's going to say he didn't do it, you know he is! He's going to say it got leaked somehow, that someone hacked his computer or something, but I mean, he's the only person who had access to it! What the fuck are the chances that it just happened to get leaked on the exact day that I broke up with him?"

My uncle could tell I was in a bad state, he had to be able to. He knew me better than anyone, and he knew the only times I ever talked that much were when I was in a complete panic. "No, I know, it's not likely," he agreed, "but I told you, I'm not worried about him right now, I'm worried about you. Where are you?"

"Fucking Lisbon," I moaned pathetically into the phone, tears streaming down my face. I had never been so humiliated and adrift and isolated in my life. "I just want to come home," I added in a small voice. "I mean…if you'll let me."

"Braden, what the hell are you talking about? Of course you can come home. Why would you think you couldn't?"

I buried my face in the musty old hotel blanket. "Because I'm a huge fucking slut," I said flatly. "You've seen the video. You know. Everyone knows."

"Okay, first of all, I have not seen that shit. Why the hell would I watch that? And second of all, you are not a slut. You had sex with a guy you dated for two years, who you trusted to respect you, and then you respectfully broke it off with him and he reacted like this." He paused for dramatic effect while I sobbed and slobbered all over the bed and wondered if the technology for face transplants existed yet.

"That looks bad on him, dude, not you," he continued. "You didn't do anything wrong, you didn't do anything that tons and tons of other people wouldn't do, it just so happened that you did it with a person who's moderately famous so of course it becomes a news story when it gets out. It'll blow over though, I swear. He's not that talented, he's not going to be around long, especially without you."

I had no response to that. I couldn't do anything but just cry and wallow in my shame because if he hadn't seen the video then he just didn't know, and how could I tell him? He didn't want to know the details of my sex life, nobody wanted or needed to know that, but now anybody in the world with an internet connection and even a shred of curiosity could know all about it with nothing more than a tap of the finger.

I wished I was 77.

"Look, I'm getting you a ticket. Let's get you home, we'll figure everything else out from there. How soon can you be at the airport?"

I repacked my shit and left the hotel ten minutes later, and even though I knew the elderly Moroccan cab driver who picked me up there was very unlikely to have an interest in American celebrity gossip, especially not the kind involving sex scandals among obscure indie performance art groups, I couldn't keep myself from dwelling on the fact that he could quite possibly have seen me bent over the back of the couch, drunkenly whining to Shiloh to go easy because he knew I didn't like that position, while Shiloh told me to chill the fuck out and bite a pillow if I needed to because he was almost done.

Slut.

That was what he always called me, and for some reason I used to think it was hot. I would grin and wiggle my ass and tell him of course I was a slut, but only for him, and he would kiss me and tell me he liked it that way, but now all of a sudden I was a slut for the whole world, and it was because he chose to make me one. I didn't understand.

When I finally made it back to California the next day, sweaty and bedraggled and exhausted to the core, my uncle met me at the airport. He put his arm around my shoulders and steered me through the crowds at baggage claim while I kept my head down and prayed with all my might that no one would recognize me, and then when we got back to his house he sent me off to shower and sleep and told me not to worry about anything, he already had a lawyer working on it.

I went to bed like he said, but I didn't sleep. I got on twitter.

BradenJackson can't suck dick to save his life LMAO

ShilohSlater BradenJackson Ya'll call that a sex tape? Wtf was that hot mess? Lay off the booze, boys…

BradenJackson aww, poor baby, come let daddy teach you how its done… ;)

BradenJackson Good sluts swallow. Jus sayin.

I turned off my phone, rolled over, and stared at the wall. I was never leaving the house again.