Chasing the Ethereal, Part Five: Gentleness and Emancipation

by Shaun Terry

Part one
Part two
Part three
Part four

When Lexie arrived at the get-together, she sought Edwin. It was his house, after all. Edwin was kind and aware. Lexie liked Edwin, but he had a girlfriend, so she never considered whether she was attracted to him. Edwin was a very good musician and was starting to find work in the music scene. He’d come to Nashville for that reason, and like many Nashvillians, he’d been very Christian. He’d spent nights reading Christian apologetics and arguing on internet forums before coming to Nashville. When he got there, through recognizing some peculiar behaviors of people he’d surrounded himself by, along with what some of his professors had to say to him in lectures and in office hours, he’d realized that the world seemed a lot more complicated than he’d sometimes been led to believe. Some of the more conservative Christians around him began to really frustrate him, but he was always patient, generous, and thoughtful.

There were about 20 or 30 people at the get-together, and everyone seemed to love Justin. Everyone seemed to love Edwin, too, and it was easy to see why. Edwin and Justin had become good friends, in fact. At one point, Justin had been out of work for a few months after he’d suffered an injury from an electrical mishap on a job. After leaving the hospital, he’d gladly come back to the house to have fun with the guys.

Justin had practically lived there, at times, sleeping on couches and in random places and at random times. He’d done so between cans of beer; glasses of Faygo; random, greasy food concoctions; and occasionally drives back up to Hendersonville to change clothes or for a booty call. He’d been irreverent but socially adept. Justin was hilariously clever, but deceptively and simply so.

“Aphoristic,” Alex said.

“He was one of the wisest people I ever met. I’ve never known someone who understood things the way he did. He was really special,” replied Edwin. His girlfriend held him close, wanting to help make Edwin feel better and wanting to be close to someone, herself.

Lexie got to know several of the housemates and they were kind to her. She heard energetic stories of a man they’d all loved, but despite how welcoming everyone was, she soon felt tired and out-of-place. Even Edwin’s girlfriend went out of her way to talk with Lexie a good deal and to say that she admired Lexie’s style. They felt instant rapport and decided that they’d see each other soon, and not just in Lexie’s bar.

She went home that night, got out her planner, her books, her laptop, but she held no illusion that she’d be getting much work done. She lie with the laptop on her queen-size bed. She went to Facebook’s search bar and typed in “Justin Charton.” She clicked on his page. It was littered with people giving romantic depictions of whom Justin had been, what he meant to them, how admirable he was in how many ways, and so on. It seemed that almost everyone had a picture with Justin, and everyone seemed glad to have known him and to have had a special relationship with him, somehow. How’d he have time to be EVERYONE’S best friend? Lexie wondered.

Justin was as people had described. He looked Southern. He was maybe a little short. He was fairly handsome, but he couldn’t have been a model. Lexie scrolled through his photos: an assortment of photos of him with other people, photos taken of him without his knowledge, and funny memes and images that he’d collected.

His admirers seemed to have been other construction workers, family, old school friends, and some of his hip Vanderbilt friends who seemed completely out of place among the working class Tennesseans.

She scrolled down his page.

Justin Charton

anuthr customer canceled guess ill sit on the couch watch yojimbo. gud

Yojimbo? Lexie didn’t know the movie. Maybe she’d look for it. She scrolled some more. Several people were playing mindless internet games with him. Apparently, Justin had earned lots of free coins. She passed music videos from Cinderella, Insane Clown Posse, Pink Floyd, Devin the Dude, and others. There were advertisements that Justin was trying to take advantage of. Someone called him “Jussypoo” when saying happy birthday, while another person called him “Boss Hogg.”

Justin Charton

see yall in the morrow

The morrow? What is he—old Gaelic?

Justin Charton

hot hot pocket

            Jim Gaffigan joke?

Justin Charton

“u cud put sum salsa on my burrito”

I wonder who he’s quoting.

Justin Charton

i luv overhead light

Justin Charton

this morning it was 45 and now its 85. thats the thing about weather I guess. it changes

Justin Charton

beer beer beer beer beer beer beer beer beer beer beer beer beer beer beer beer beer beer beer beer

beer beer beer beer beer beer beer beer beer beer beer beer beer beer beer beer beer beer beer beer

beer beer beer beer beer beer beer beer beer beer beer beer beer beer beer beer beer beer beer beer

Well, at least he wasn’t hiding it.

Justin Charton

that sux

Lexie realized that this post had been a few months ago. Had it been just after his work accident?

Justin Charton

home alone gettin hammered n jammin out 2 the police can it get n e better

This seemed sad to Lexie. Had Justin been sad? Why was he drinking alone? Why hadn’t he gone to Edwin’s house? Lexie felt that it would’ve been nice to have had a beer with Justin. People trusted him. He was kind. He was different, but maybe he was humble. He didn’t seem to judge people too harshly, even though he was hanging out with stupid Vandy kids all the time. Maybe it was Lexie who’d been pretentious. Maybe the easy answers her parents had given her weren’t always the right ones. Maybe it was a bit more complicated. Maybe she should pay more attention to people like Justin. Maybe everyone deserved that we not be so strict with our societal rules.

Lexie curled up like a caterpillar, her long brown hair spread over the quilt that laid on her bed. She began to cry. She wondered why she was crying, but she didn’t care. It began quietly, before growing to a whimper and an all-out bawl. She was like a wailing siren in her modest bedroom, until she realized how loud she was being. She suddenly stopped and picked her head up, as though someone might’ve been watching. Why the fuck am I crying? she thought. She started laughing and sniffling.

I’ve spent the last few days mourning someone I never knew—a 28-year old man who had a crush on me and either didn’t have the guts to hit on me or was so concerned with harming others that he didn’t want me to know that he existed. I can’t tell if he was some dumb hick creep or a sweet humble sage. I guess that he was a little like everyone, maybe he was like me. Who was this man? Why do I care so much? What am I looking for? Did he have it? Did he have what I need? Did I lose someone who would’ve been good for me before I ever even realized he existed? How many times did he come in my bar, look at me, and smile? Maybe he did something nice for me without me having realized it. Maybe I fucked this up. What if I’d been nice to him, too? Would it have changed anything? Fuck.

Lexie crawled across her bed and extended her muscular brown leg until her toes reached the floor. She walked over to the door near the corner of the room, just past a poster of Jake Gyllenhaal, and she entered the bathroom. She stepped on the neat white tiles with their pale pink-and-green floral arrangement and she looked at her ceramic sink. Next to her fluorescent pink-and-green ergonomic toothbrush lay a small, shining sheet of metal with a beveled edge. She grabbed the razor between her manicured fingernails and stared at it with her mouth slightly ajar. She looked at herself in the mirror, her mascara blotted in little constellations on a path toward the bottom of her face. Her head tilted down so that she could see beneath the sink, and she threw the razor into the trashcan below.

Lexie lay on the bed again, face-up. She closed her big, hazel eyes and began to rub her upper arms, feeling the out-of-place bubbly skin that formed the horizontal rows beneath her fingertips. She imagined if Justin had been lying there next to her. Maybe he’d tell her a joke. Maybe he’d say something sweet. Maybe she’d tell him that it was okay for him to be who he was and that he could be honest with her. Her hands moved about her arms, her torso, her hips: back and forth across her body. She imagined Justin kissing her gently on the mouth. She imagined that he might’ve been a sweet and gentle kisser, that he might’ve been attentive to her needs and emotions.

That night, she fell asleep in this position, above her covers, lying on her back, with makeup smeared across her face, having done nothing productive.

Lexie awoke the next morning feeling refreshed and guiltless. She hadn’t felt so good in several days. She grabbed her phone to check the time, and noticed a text message from her mother. It was a lone emoji with a tongue sticking out. Lexie set the phone down and went to the bathroom to pee. She mindlessly grabbed her toothbrush and began stroking it between her fingertips as she looked in the mirror. It was awful to look at. The colors were garishly bright and they endlessly wound around the toothbrush, but the bristles on the head always seemed to look brand new. It didn’t look as though anyone had used the toothbrush at all. This always amazed her. She brushed her teeth and thought about the previous night. She thought about her mother. She realized that she couldn’t do anything about Justin, that she’d never known him, and that she’d eventually stop obsessing over him, even if not soon.

She walked back into her room and grabbed the phone. She typed, “Nice tongue sticky outy face, mom. (winky emoji)” She pressed “Send” and walked through the living room and out the front door to leave the apartment, distracted by happy thoughts of her beloved stranger.