Me and Marilyn
Season Harper-Fox

My brother Chris was allowed phone calls and though at first he seemed reticent to answer them he eventually came around. Boredom, maybe. Or could be he actually had something to say. I called twice a week and pictured my kid brother ambling down the hall, settling into one of the cushy chairs in the lobby next to the nurse’s station. He’d light up a hand-roll and smoke like crazy through the entire conversation. I just listened most nights, let the words go through me and around me like so much blather. Some evenings found me curled up on our deceased mother’s sofa. I’d pull out my Kools, blowing smoke rings through the dimly lit studio. On clear nights you could look up through the skylight at the stars.

“They’re trying to ban this, you know.” Chris exhaled. “Bunch of us nut bags smoking like—we need this, you know. Need it—and they want to make it illegal in mental facilities. Ban this shit and you’d have that many more of us cruising the streets. Ban smoking? In here? I ask you, dear sister. How crazy is that?”


“Uh huh. Pretty sharp, though, these guys. Perty quick. I mean, they don’t think we get it, but we do. At least I do.” Chris laughed, then adjusted his volume, spoke at a near whisper. “Scoped out the room situation right off. First thing I notice is the water.”

“The water?”

“They regulate the temperature. So we can’t, you know, scald ourselves to death. And the toilets. Bolted to the goddamn floor. Bolted to the floor. And no lid. Wasn’t that on some old movie? Guy whomps himself—suicide by toilet seat.”

I actually spent a moment considering this, conjuring up toilets. Wasn’t bolted to the floor just normal? If I asked there’d be a lengthy explanation and, man, I didn’t feel up to a lecture on psych room plumbing. “You don’t have to stay there,” I said. “You’re fine. I don’t even know why you’re there.”

“Would you listen to yourself, Sissy? You sound like a freakin’ civilian. We both know better.”

He tried every time we spoke, it seemed. Tried to get to me, to piss me off. I refused to let it happen. “You might like to think you’ve got problems.” I gripped the cordless tight. “But if everyone with something a little—off—if we all—”

“We. Exactly. Why don’t you just say it? Always skirting around the issue: ‘Chris and his problems. His delicate little slightly a tiny slip of tad bit offness.’ Just say it, for Chrissake. Nuts. Wacko. Mental. It’s OK. Planet’s not going to wobble off its 23.45 degree tilt—that’s approximate—because Sissy Marks called a kettle an ace.”

“I don’t even know what that means.”

“And the sad part is it might mean absolutely nothing.” Chris grew quiet then, and seemed to wait for an answer.

What I should’ve said was beyond me. What I decided on I’d never understand, but it felt right at that moment. “I want to know why you gave me that book.”

“What book?”

“You know perfectly well what book.” Marilyn Manson’s The Long Hard Road Out of Hell. “You never forget anything, Mr. I’ve Got a Photographic Memory.”

“I do forget things. That’s not what photographic memory’s about.” He tapped on something, or someone nearby did. A strange, metallic sound.

There was never any getting used to the background din, the noises I’d try to ignore, yet found myself always wanting to interpret. “The book,” I said again.

“Because there’s more to this guy than meets the eye. Because everyone’s got him all wrong.”

“It’s Marilyn freaking Manson, Chris.” As though that explained everything.

“Exactly. And he’s perfect.”

“His irony. Is that what you’re getting at?” I wasn’t stupid.

“No, no. The identity thing.”

“What’re you talking?”

“Identity and Psychological vs. ‘Real’ Reality. I saw it on your wall. In your dorm.”

Dorm. A research paper, maybe. Or the theme of a story. I couldn’t recall. “Jesus,” I said. “That was twenty-some years ago.”


OK. So he had me there. “What’s Marilyn Manson got to do with it?”

“Nothing, really.” He paused. “Everything.”

I scrunched farther down in the couch. God, my brother was exasperating. “What the hell am I supposed to do with that?” It reminded me of when we were kids. Chris discussing the theory of singing planets, the rate of hummingbirds’ heartbeats, me popping another of Mom’s nervous pills.

“What you do with it—” Chris covered the phone. Muffled voices. Clanging. Chairs moving around, maybe. “Sure. Sure. My time’s up. Got lights out in a minute. What you do is you read into it.” His voice took on a slow, professor-on-the-lecture-circuit emphasis. “You identify with another human being’s experience. You bond.”

I couldn’t stop myself from laughing. Bond with Marilyn Manson. “You’re saying I’m like this guy.”

“I’m saying you’re a lot alike.”

Chris hung up. And me? I smoked my last Kool. Smoked it all the way down to the butt. Then smoked some more just to get that acrid, horrible taste one gets when sucking the dregs of burnt cellulose.

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