Vanessa would set people on fire. That was her greatest gift. Didja know 'gift' used to mean poison? Yeah, me neither.

I know she fell in on this one hipster artist in Chicago, pretty famous girl. Well, she's famous now. Did concept art, projections on the sides of tenements. These surreal animation loops, like snow falling upwards and shit. Once had a shot of a naked, fat chick slamming into a wall, like some sort of porno/Punk'd combo. That got her in trouble, I remember. But not big trouble. Not until Vanessa. She did different kinds of projections after Vanessa. For Vanessa, maybe. Weird ones. She got awards and stuff like that--big favorite with the bloggers. Then for her last project, she pointed a camera at her face, had it stretched up a twenty-story building, top-to-bottom, and blew her fucking brains out. They kept rolling the clip on the news--her, her face, her face on the building, her bringing the pistol up, her putting it against her temple. They stopped there. You could download the rest.

I didn't find this out till later. I found out when Vanessa'd already busted up my life so bad I didn't have any pieces big enough to put myself back together again. Except her. She broke everything just to make herself look less cracked up in comparison, I think. She was my crumbled up keystone. So I couldn't just ditch her when I heard about her last fling. And I mean 'couldn't' as in 'not able to.' Damn would I've loved to.

Like, here's an example. I've got these pills I take for depression. Been popping 'em since high school. They don't do much, but my insurance covers it, so I figure what the hell, can't hurt. Turns out it can. Vanessa told me I needed to get more excited. "Be enthusiastic about life, carpe fucking diem, man. Follow your bliss. There's like fifty things you could do today, fifty people you could do today if you'd just chipper the hell up a bit." I'd nod and smile as a polite way of saying 'fuck off.' Well, one day she decided that since two hundred milligrams of wellbutrin keeps me from chucking myself off the nearest bridge, then five thousand milligrams'll have me doing jumping-jacks for joy. So she'd grind up pills and pour the powder into my beer when she thought I wasn't looking. I knew she was doing something. I didn't know she was doing that, but then I couldn't be bothered to figure out in any case. Not until they trucked me into the hospital convulsing.

She cried and told me she loved me when she burst on in after visiting hours. She was crying so hard she started hiccupping. She didn't apologize. I told her to get the fuck out so I could take a shit in the bedpan.

That's the worst I ever was to her. That was my crowning achievement in assertive behavior. Telling her I needed to crap myself. Cause the thing was, when she wasn't around, everything'd go all flat and colorless. She'd screw me like her life depended on getting off as quickly and painfully as possible, but when I woke up the next morning and all I was sharing the bed with were caked up spots of blood from when she'd dragged her fingernails down my back, it was like I'd lost all depth perception. Nothing moved, nothing happened, things just shuffled themselves around. I'd be all skin and no gut, nothing to touch down in deep, like one of those live-size cardboard cut-outs of Elvis or Jean-Luc Picard or something. She burned me so bad I couldn't taste anything but her fire.

She once took me to this underpass to see a salt stain that looked vaguely like the goddamn Virgin Mary or something. And Vanessa the raving athiest, the wild-eyed femicommie fell to her knees right in front of all those dollar-store candles and wilted flowers and just started chanting in screams. Just chanting, not English, not any language at all, 'cept maybe Crazinese. Scared this poor old Latina grandma so bad she started crossing herself like she was having a seizure. And I swear, I almost hit the ground and started screaming right along with her. What else could you do? You were with her or you were against her--and against her was like trying to suck in your breath and hold it till you didn't need to breathe anymore.

You didn't interact with Vanessa. You reacted with her. Take the punch, hit back, dodge out of the way, do anything, but whatever it was you couldn't hold your own. With her or against her. That was all you were.

So, you know what's coming. She was gone on a Tuesday. Her, and the car, and my high school yearbook, and my teddy bear, and twenty-thousand three-hundred and seventy-four dollars and ninety-two cents from my savings. But she left me with a gift. I'd learned charm from her. I'd learned manipulation. This has come in handy.

I'm dating someone new now, Madison, this sweet, ditzy Asian valley girl. I'm spicing her up, bit by bit, burn by burn.

I am going to make her taste like Vanessa.

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