Written by Josh Breidbart

The 3/4ths Theory

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2016/09/22/09222016-a-real-conversation/

So, I’ve got this thing I call the 3/4ths theory.

When writing, I usually start with a lot of steam and energy. The momentum of a new idea is like rocket fuel, propelling me through the setup and into the world of this amazing thought that has captivated me so much that I have to give it form. But as the story progresses, all the compounding information, things I’m setting up, and detours I’ve made take their toll. Running on fumes, slogging through a slough of inconsistencies, and only halfway through the damn thing, I limp along slower and slower. But when I push through, suddenly a path appears from nowhere, revealing not where I’m going, but WHY I’m going there. It’s a destination only visible when it’s ready to be seen, and with it comes a vision of what will be. And sitting on that road is just a little extra fuel, just enough to make it the rest of the way there.

That is the 3/4 point. It is, in my opinion, the closest we get in life to divine clarity and closure to something internal made physical in the external.

I’ve arrived at this theory because it’s happened to me so often that I can’t not see a pattern. And I’ve seen it happen to others: in order to get to the end, that moment of revelation must be had. To see not what you wanted the story to be, but recognize it for what it is. I have reached this point in every individual script I’ve ever written, each chapter of Unlife included. And now, as I look at Unlife’s 7+ chapters as a whole I realize…

I have reached a similar point in the totality of Unlife’s story.

Rather, I am on the brink of it, slamming my fists into the wall in a vain attempt to break through it, ending up with bloody knuckles instead. I’ve taken longer than normal break in the writing process, hoping to come back with fresh eyes, only to realize that the cracks I made are not as big as I would have liked. It’s still progressing; I understand where the rest of the story is going, but the actual writing of it is always the toughest part. Making that notion of the future a reality is always more difficult than the realization of what needs doing. And it’s mostly because all attempts to realize that vision have felt… dishonest, I suppose, which is something I abhor and avoid in writing.

Writing needs truth to it, and even though James’ story has never happened in the most literal sense, an improper execution would still ring false. I’m being especially naked here because I don’t want to lie and say I’ve found that path to follow the rest of the way. I’m still in the dark, clawing for some sort of answer as opposed to lying and saying I’ve known which way to go all along. Unlife is the longest running story I’ve ever told, and most stories I’ve told need a rewrite before I can call it done. But there are no takebacks here. No second chances to write this story. It’s already out there, a part of the consciousness of others, evolving and growing into something else.

I am here at the 3/4 point of this post, where I normally posit a solution, where I explain how to get to the end. But for the life of me…

I think I’m still lost.

Ooo, Child, Things Are Gonna Get Easier

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2016/09/20/09202016-the-truth/

My commute is a long one, a little over an hour on two different trains. The New York City subway is efficient, but not exactly luxurious, and not my favorite place to kill so much time. But at least I live at the beginning of the line. Comfort notwithstanding, I always have a place to sit, eat, and work on these blog posts, which usually makes for as relaxing ride as a subway rider can expect.

Not today. After pulling away from every stop, the train would jerk violently, tossing the passengers around the car, whether seated or not. More than once I had to apologize to my neighbors for almost dumping my breakfast into their laps. Writing was out of the question. A book or a phone would just end up on the floor. Those who had the time could get off and wait, trying their luck on the next train, but for us commuters this was it. There was nothing any of us could do but brace ourselves for the next impact and, probably, work out how we’d tell the story to our co-workers. It was irritating, but not the end of the world – at least for most of us.

A little girl who couldn’t be older than six with wet eyes, apparently already at her wits’ end this morning, boarded the train. She was accompanied by her mother, perhaps on her way to school, definitely bound for a destination she wasn’t happy about. A passenger in every sense, with no say in her destination and no control over the bumps along the way.

At the first jostle, she squeaked and hid her face. Obviously still raw from whatever had upset her previously, she made an effort to hold it together, biting her lip. I thought a smile or a goofy face might cheer her up, but she was as unamused by me as she was by the train. She found a seat, which appeared to momentarily assuage her feelings for a moment, before another jostle nearly sent her flying. And that was the end; this little girl had had enough of being shaken against her will, tossed into things unpredictable and frightening. She threw herself down, sobbing into her mother’s lap. It broke my heart. She couldn’t take it, being out of control, shaken on this scary train. When would it stop? When would it stop being scary?

She calmed down soon enough. She nearly broke again when the train came to another erratic start and stop, but she bit her lip again. Begrudgingly, she got used to being jostled. Finally, she figured out how to brace herself for the next one before it happened. But it never came, because we’d arrived at her stop. Holding her mother’s hand, she got off, shaken but prepared for any future quakes that came her way. I hoped the train was the worst part of her day.

The first jolt life shakes you up with is powerful and surprising. But it’s that second one, the one that makes you realize that this is life – that’s the one that’s scary. You realize it’s unpredictable, inescapable, and never ending. But what’s even more surprising than life’s tremors is how fast you get used to them. How much better you get at dealing with them. And in turn, life gets nicer and stops shaking you, if not just for a few moments.

At least, that’s how the rest of my commute went. I can only hope for the same on the ride home…

Fast as a Shark

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2016/09/15/09152016-the-prop/

The other night, I went out for Chinese food with Jena. Uncharacteristically cold for a summer night in New York, it seemed appropriate that she wear a hat.

2016-09-14

This particular hat has often served as my accessory of choice when I’m feeling mentally fried from a day of too much writing. But I save it for indoors, not the eyes of others. I am fairly confident I don’t need to wear it outside to convince my neighbors I’m a weirdo, but I still hold onto a few fears from more insecure days. Back when I would hesitate and lie about what was playing through my headphones, not wanting to admit that I never knew the latest cool band, and instead listened to anime themes and my favorite video game jingles.

But Jena needed a hat, and here one was, and she confidently pulled it on and went outside. If I wasn’t already married to her, I would have established an immediate crush the moment I saw her happily embracing her weirdness, brave and self-assured enough not to care who knew it.

I used to love Tim Burton movies, because it felt as though they were for me. His narratives are always on the side of the “strange and unusual” characters, and I identified with that. But then I started to recognize a pattern. Inevitably, Burton movies conclude that it’s better not to ask to be accepted, that instead you should take your toys back inside because the world is too stupid to see how great the weirdos are. His oeuvre is about cultivating a sense of superiority via eccentricity, as opposed to coexistence. And I don’t buy the idea that weirdness makes you better than others – it’s the thing that makes you unique, not exceptional, and there’s definitely nothing exceptional about hiding in your own echo chamber of superiority. Besides, if being an oddball is so great, why selfishly keep that in the house, to yourself, or contained to your own headphones so that no one else will ever see it?

I think weirdness should be shared. Of course, sharing is scary. There is a pressure to conform in society, even if it’s lately been somewhat diluted by nerd culture. When you’ve spent years in a defensive crouch, hiding what makes you different, it’s a hard habit to break. But I have a dream job, I’m married to a wonderful person, I’m writing an amazing webcomic. What have I got to hide?

We walked down the street and got our food from the local Chinese grease spot. No one batted an eye, no one questioned it. Jena was just who she was and went on her way. And when she got home, she took off the hat and ate like a normal person (as opposed to a certain writer she married, who chews like a cow).

I guess in some ways weirdness is an outfit. It’s something you can put on or take off. But in the end, if it’s your favorite thing in your closet, there’s nothing wrong with wearing it with pride.

It’s just you.

Acting Out

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2016/09/13/09132016-spell-it-out-for-us/

Sometimes, what goes unsaid can be deafening.

Back in my high school drama club days, I always wanted the biggest part with the most lines. Lines translated to importance. Yes, I was shit at memorizing them, but I still wanted them. I wanted the stature. The more I had to say, the more relevant I thought I’d be. I even went to acting camp in pursuit of this vanity. But whether it was favoritism or the fact that I was always a performer rather than an actor, more often than not, I was left saying little to nothing. I was set dressing.

I always tried to make the role my own anyway. I’d give my character an inner life and a rationale for his stoic silence. It helped figuring why I liked to be silent in real life. But whereas in everyday life it was a choice, I had no option but to say little to nothing under those bright lights.

Eventually, I started feeling as though I wasn’t good enough. And maybe I wasn’t. The world doesn’t have to give me everything I want just because I cry for it like a baby. Besides, it wouldn’t be fair to the people who actually deserved those roles, who had the dream and the talent to go with it. Still, to be told over and over through auditions and interviews that I was not worthy of more lines, that I was not allowed to say a word…

Acting was a passion for me back then, just as writing is now. It’s hard to remember because it was a long time ago, but for a while, it was my everything. Eventually, I left it behind when I realized that what I really wanted was to be able to communicate with people and have them listen. To be able to command attention and make a connection. If I had been assigned a voice, if I had been given that chance, would I still have turned to writing my own lines? Would I have been satisfied with simply being heard, not thinking about what I wanted to say? Or would I have gotten tired of telling stories that were never my own?

Maybe that’s why I started writing what to say for myself.

Full House

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2016/09/08/09082016-not-again/

Kids. They change your life.

I’ve never had a kid, but I’ve created stories that meant a lot to me. I’ve nurtured characters and tales and watch them grow from the pinprick of an idea into universes with themes and order and understanding. And each one meant so much to me, not just because it was a part of me, but because I got to be a part of it. Until, eventually, it left my hands to begin its own life out in the world. My children have only barely moved out of the basement, but they’re getting there. They’ve grown up.

By the way, if you think I’m a dick for comparing raising a living being to banging my head against the keyboard in a Starbucks, then… you’re right, probably. But still, without a rugrat of my own, I can only equate the experience to one that feels pretty darn similar to me. My stories are both an extension of me and their own creatures in the long run of their life in the world and the people who encounter it. They are my pride and joy.

A while back, I wove a novel called Uncanny Valley, the central concept of which was the idea of stories taking on living shapes and forms. I have yet to revisit it, though the idea still holds a certain power for me. Stories have presence, and like any living thing, they are shaped by how they’re perceived and why they’re conceived. They exist in the relationship they have with their creators and with the people they touch, known and unknown. They have personalities of their own; if they could talk, their voices would be distinct. Our stories, our extensions, our children, can come across as matter-of-fact or snobbish or brooding or silly. And though through writing, I take a much more direct hand in the formation of that persona, it’s hard to deny the supreme impact a parent has on their child as well. And that kind of power is scary: to have so much power, and yet be so powerless over the result. To fly blindly, hoping you haven’t screwed up too much.

Uncanny Valley became something very personal for me. When I let the story move through me, though I had outlined in advance, I was surprised at how raw and deep it went and where it took me. It exposed not just my ideas, not just my pride in everything I wanted to share, but also my terrors. It was a living and breathing mirror that held more power than a 664KB document should. Because it was more than that, especially to me. It was something I was trying to nurture and raise, and the idea that I had instilled so much that was good, but also so much pain, broke my heart. And to do it over and over with each child I create is sometimes too much to bear.

I wonder how much I would put myself into my kid. What lessons I would impart, how I would help them, and how I would unavoidably screw them up. But the thing about a kid is that if you can do right by them, then you hope they will, in turn, do right by you. And writing is just me talking to me. I only have to trust myself. To trust someone else entirely, that takes courage. A leap of faith. And a shared history.

… So maybe it’s only a little different.

There’s No Place Like Home

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2016/09/06/09062016-mementos/

There’s no place that feels safer than home.

The other night, Jena and I rolled into the city from our anniversary trip. Six hours each way, we’d locked ourself in the familiar confines of a family car, itself a home of a kind, landing in the grafitti art museum that is Montreal. Gone were the familiar movie posters shilling reboots and sequels, and gone were the ubiquitous billboards touting the latest must-have makeup or a zesty new flavor of cheeseburger. The spaces usually occupied by these advertisements were instead bathed in the warmth of artistry, almost every wall a canvas for imagination, celebrating creative talent rather than moving our ADD culture onto the next thing to buy. And even though Jena and I were only passing through, the place created an unusual kinship and connection with us immediately. Especially bizarre since I couldn’t speak the language – just parking the car was a challenge. But somehow, it seemed only natural to make our home for a few days on this strange planet named Canada.

We explored, we talked, we ate, we drank, we slept, and we survived as if Montreal was where we belonged. We were in a separate world, one where we had outpaced our problems, where we were in a constant state of celebration and happiness. We were in pure bliss as we savored a banquet of delicious foods, summer ales from our favorite brewery, “Dieu Du Ciel!”, and every inch of the city that we could explore. Though we enjoyed the same intimate talks that have come to typify our trips, our adventure really was what I had hoped No Man’s Sky would be: exploring an alien culture that felt more inviting than my own. We often fell silent in wondrous reflection, and for a change, there was no funhouse mirror waiting for me when I looked within. Instead, I found I liked what I saw, and instead of the insight I normally glean from these talks, I found a new ability: to hold onto that feeling of self and bring it back as a souvenir (along with art, beer, and a new dresser).

All too soon, our trip had reached its close, and we packed our bags and returned to the safety of our car for the trek home. We considered not going back so soon, hoping to retreat for one more glorious day in a place that had been such a magical experience for us. But real life called.

When we returned, New York was waiting, decked in all the grinning emblems of capitalism I had momentarily forgotten. We spent almost an hour failing to park our car, eventually settling in a lot, as though the city didn’t want us back unless we paid for the privilege. It was nice to return to our familiar apartment with our own bed and our own AC, but the city otherwise didn’t feel as inviting or homey. I felt more like the mouse I’d seen scurrying across the floor weeks ago – scrounging and surviving instead of living.

But the thing that never changed the entire trip, whether I was in the car, Montreal, or anywhere else, was the safety of that magic circle that was wherever Jena and I happened to be. That bubble of wonder that I brought with me on the trip. That sense of self, the one I hoped to preserve, made it back intact from the rough terrain outside. I had made it home.

Because I had never left.

Just Like a Duck

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2016/09/01/09012016-the-proud-mother/

I apologize if this is a bit late, a lot of these emotions reflective of how I felt post the Democratic National Convention. Still, it seems to apply all the same…

A while back, I knew someone suffering from depression who had a dangerous accident with nearly fatal results. It was scary, something I wouldn’t wish on others to experience. I say “accident” because they claimed it was accidental, but I was never sure whether that was true. In my opinion, if something looks like a duck, acts like a duck, and exhibits other duck-like qualities… well, maybe it’s still not a duck, but you can’t blame people for treating it like one.

With that said, I want to talk about this election this one last time (ok, probably not the last time. This election cycle still has a few centuries of frustration ahead of it), and call a spade a spade.

Look, I am not here to tell people how to vote and what is right. That is your choice to make, and making a choice is the most important part of voting. Personally, I will be voting for Hillary Clinton. I don’t feel it necessary to defend my opinions to anyone who disagrees (though, if you are curious, my good friend Chas Andres articulates it far better than I can here), and if you truly feel that I am wrong, to quote Ted Cruz, vote your conscience. No judgements.

But not voting is also a choice. Complaining and holding up the process is a choice. And I’m sorry, but those choices are bad choices, because it does nothing to help.

I believe in working with the solutions at hand to bring about change, as glacially slow as it may be. I believe in the pursuit of a brighter tomorrow. Not everyone has the same definition of that tomorrow, and that’s fine. I reserve my judgement for the people holding up the conversation with hate, bile and a halting of solutions. The people holding out for a candidate who’s not even running (you know who I mean) or a party that doesn’t exist as they want it to anymore (you know what I mean). Should you get mad and do something about it? Hell yeah, you should. But if you go to Burger King, standing at the counter and screaming Big Mac or Bust won’t get you your way. That’s not productive and it’s not a plan – and also, at some point you’re going to have to order something or else pass out from hunger. Or even worse, you bring everything to a halt, and the person in line behind you dies of starvation as a result. Because this doesn’t just affect you. This affects everyone.

Just now, in the coffee shop I frequent, I had a long conversation with a self proclaimed fiscal republican and social democrat. Someone who was more positive about Trump, but open to discussion. It was a friendly talk. We both described what kind of country we thought each candidate could make the US into, without leaning on the crutches of “He’s a racist” or “She’s corrupt”. Honestly, we both were underwhelmed with our choices, and concerned with how this has created such animosity between the people both parties want to lead. But we chatted, we smiled, and we didn’t hate each other by the end. No one’s mind was changed, but at least we were communicating.

My point is that if you remove yourself from the conversation and wall yourself into an echo chamber of your own beliefs, you’re telling yourself that you are not a part of the larger community. But you are. And neglecting your community can significantly, and negatively, affect the lives of those around you. Inaction is a choice. One of the best things about the more radical candidates this year was that they amplified the conversation and got more people involved, voicing their opinions more than ever before. That’s a huge fucking deal, and not one to scoff at. But just chanting something’s name and clapping your hands doesn’t bring it back to life like it’s Tinkerbell. It’s just stopping the conversation. And if we stop conversing…

Well, that’s how we end up with those fatal results.

Big Bang Attack

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2016/08/30/08292016-such-a-wonderful-person/

Okay, apologies in advance, but I need to DBZ out a bit. I just need to, guys, and for that I apologize. It’s like a kettle boiling with nerdy pressure, threatening to explode if I don’t talk about one of the silliest and yet most engaging pieces of fiction in my entire life. And this time, I need to talk about the bromance that is Goku and Vegeta. And by bromance, I mean Vegeta’s all-consuming obsession with Goku.

I want to be perfectly clear on this. Vegeta and Goku’s story is not a friendship forming through martial arts and a red-hot rivalry. They express their emotions through battle because they’re Saiyans, but if they were human, their relationship would be a different kind of physical. As in: those two would be humping constantly in the most toxic relationship you’ve ever seen. (If you have feelings about me talking about childhood icons boning like BDSM rabbits, go ahead and hit the brakes on this and I’ll see you next time.)

The Saiyan race were alien warriors, plunderers of the universe. They were fighting machines, and they didn’t do it to rule. Instead, an insatiable lust for the fight drove them. And even more than fighting, I’d argue that they loved winning. There’s nothing that overjoys a Saiyan more than reveling in an enemy’s defeat. To laugh and gloat over their accomplishments and how thoroughly their opponent was overcome. It’s not enough to beat them. They want them to know how fucked they were from the get-go. It is what drove, sustained, consumed, and eventually destroyed their race over the years.

And if there’s one real world equivalent to that for humans, it’s sex. Sex sells. Sex motivates. We do the craziest things in pursuit of it and in the name of it, its siren song driving people mad. We put our lives on the line for its sake.

So, taking all this into account, let’s talk about Vegeta, the last prince of the Saiyans. Though technically King with his father gone, Vegeta is unable to let go of not just his previous position, but the creed of his people. Most of the series details his inability to let go and his very, very slow ascent into selfless heroism. But at the start, all he wants is the central obsession of his race; fighting and domination. Even the mighty Freiza, destroyer of the Saiyan race, is in his sights as an eventual conquest, though Vegeta knows to bide his time with such large prey. But on the way towards that goal, he fights Goku, the only other pure-blooded Saiyan left, who has abandoned his Saiyan heritage and embraced a more human lifestyle (though even he can’t quite shake a few Saiyan instincts in his heart of hearts). They fight and the once mighty dominator is DOMINATED. The defeat is made even worse by the fact that, if not for his cockiness, he probably would have won. His very nature is his downfall. Not only is he felled by Kakarot, but he is left to live and seethe.

From there, the obsession takes hold. The pursuit of a rematch consumes Vegeta, something he never gets until near the end of the series. The destruction of Freiza, his eventual romantic relationship, and even his journey into fatherhood all pale in comparison to the importance of his relationship to Goku. That desire for a rematch, to prove that he can be the dominator, consumes him. The defeat of Goku becomes his obsession. In human terms, Goku was supposed to be a one-night stand, but he surprised him with the best sex of his life, and for the rest of the series Vegeta is left desperately trying to win him back.

Vegeta’s pursual of Goku changes him. It ignites a desperation to prove something to himself and his opponent. That he’s not the second stringer, not Goku’s understudy. That nothing has changed and that he is still the prince of Saiyans, its rising star, ascending into glory. His obsession pulls Vegeta out of a static existence and thrusts him into an adventure greater than he could understand – and he rises to the occasion. Sounds a lot like love to me…

I always wanted to do a… sort of “remake”, or send up or tribute to DBZ, but never found the right formula. I didn’t want to just retell it – aside from it being illegal and unethical as a writer to do so – but to put a new spin on the story and the ideas it presented. One of the ill-fated thoughts was how I could make it about sex, and how applying the fights to romance and that other physical confrontation could hold a new filter to frame the experience. It didn’t quite work, considering the obvious implications of adding sex to that much violence. Sex is a loaded gun in terms of presentation, and I want to write a story, not porn. Still, that element exists and the similarities are there.

To quote Oscar Wilde, “Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.” And what’s more about power than Dragonball Z?

Pain and Gain

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2016/08/25/08252016-inappropriate/

Whenever I’m getting cooped up and feeling laggy after a day of writing or househusbandry (that’s like housewifery, except without its own dictionary entry), I like to force myself out of the apartment and into the harsh light of day. I don’t want to, but I recognize the difference between wants and needs. Truthfully, it’s an uphill battle just to get myself out the door because I don’t like to stop. Not when I’m working (and I’m always working). I push myself without ever feeling like it’s enough, because if it was, I’d be rich and famous. It’s not whether I can or can’t take it. It’s that I want to take it and more. Blame it on the endless hours spent watching DBZ, but the need to push myself to get stronger and reach greater heights is constantly on my mind. And though I have no ten times gravity chamber, I do own a pair of running shoes. Sometimes, the best way to force myself to back off is by doing more in the form of a workout.

Yesterday was such a day. I finished my lunch, changed into my running gear, forewent the headphones in the hopes of reconnecting with the cacophony of sound that is New York City, warmed up with a nice walk, and broke into a jog, when –

I cringed in pain and the entire thing came to a halt.

I forgot to mention that lunch was a huge burger with blue cheese, a packet of cheddar goldfish, and three large glasses of water (water-flavored… but I backwash, so also blue cheese and cheddar). Between my overextended gut bouncing up and down so hard it threatened to slap me in the face, and the knife-like stabbing of cramps, there was no way to maintain the sort of speed necessary to complete a jog. I had to stop. It just hurt too much to continue. I considered heading home, the thought of Overwatch on the couch much more inviting than the pain and punishing humidity.

But instead, I kept going. Slowly, but onwards. It was more important that I continued on my running path, regardless of my pace. And any time the thought of video games or hiding back in my dark cave resurfaced, I tried running again, as if to punish myself for daring to think such weak thoughts.

I think it’s important to finish what you start, no matter how painful it is. Honestly, pain is a good motivator, though I’d never recommend the physical variety, especially against others. It’s more to remind yourself how bad you can feel. How much you need to push through, by whatever means, even when it hurts. Especially when it’s hard. You have to finish. You can’t stop. Never stop.

I have often considered quitting writing, as many writers have tried to convince themselves they are capable of doing. By shifting their focus to a field they have no interest in, or putting their writing prowess towards something they don’t believe in because it pays the bills. And I keep thinking, maybe this time. But without fail, I find something else to cling to, another blog post to write, another story to tell, another piece of my soul I want to bare in the most creative way I know how. And what starts as a slow shamble becomes a rush to the finish with pure abandon. No matter how unhealthy or how wrong the timing is, I bound forth, hungry for more.

Until the pain brings me back down to earth. The cramps set in, the task I’m attempting so much harder than I thought it could be. The desire to stop and give up can be overwhelming, especially seeing how long the course is, and the time it will take to traverse it. But to me, it just teaches you what your settings are. It took longer than I wanted, but I finished my running course. And the same goes for all the other projects I’ve begun.

Every project that has meant something to me, I have put my mind and spirit into finishing, no matter the extra work or the toll it takes. Because I can’t stop. I have to finish, no matter how slow I have to move or how long it takes.

Because once I finish, I can start the next one.

Brixby Begins

Originally posted at http://unlifecomic.com/2016/08/23/08232016-smashed/

I yelped as I saw a shadow dash across my living room floor. Oh no, I thought. Please, God, no. But then a tiny tail whipped around the other side of the table. When Jena came to see what the fuss was about, she admitted that she’d caught our new roommate scouring the stovetop in the middle of the night. It was dark, and she’d told herself it was just a shadow. But this was evidence we couldn’t deny.

We had a mouse in the house.

I sat at my computer, poring over possible responses to the situation, hating how cruel the whole thing felt. A part of me wanted to name him and make him the official house mascot. A friend to help clean up the food from the floor and sing jolly melodies with. Considering my Disney upbringing, you can’t blame me for being tantalized by the idea of a pet mouse in New York city, collecting breadcrumbs, tugging heartstrings. And I think it’s this same child-like flight of fancy that makes me so upset about what I know the future holds for little Brixby (goddammit, I couldn’t help myself – I named him). But the thing is that, at the end of the day, he can’t stay. It’s either him or me. And it’s going to be me.

And that just breaks my heart.

Apparently, when I was about two or three, I spotted a mouse in our living room. My grandfather assumed my exclamation of “Mouse! Mouse!” referred to a certain character of Disney fame, and perhaps that’s who I thought it was. My mother knew differently when she caught a glimpse of the rodent for herself. When they finally caught it, its screams ringing through our tiny Queens apartment, my mother had to take me downstairs because I was crying too much. The mouse’s suffering was heartbreaking, all the more so for someone who cuddled his stuffed Mickey every night…

I don’t remember it, really. I had to be reminded of this story, but it feels so me that I’ve readopted the memory. Since spotting Brixby the first time, I’ve whispered tiny prayers. I’m not someone who usually does that, but I’m not petitioning a higher power. I am begging Brixby not to get caught. To enjoy the limited success he had here and move on. To just get out and never come back. Please. Please please please. I don’t want to kill you. There has to be another way. Just hear me, get scared by my initial scream at your discovery. Just don’t come back. Don’t let it come down to this…

Days went by. He never left. He would keep himself mostly hidden, but at night, I saw him crawling under the table and back behind the fridge and stove top. We started getting familiar with his patterns and put down glue traps. This went on all week when…

Saturday morning, I awoke to sobs. Jena had checked behind our couch, from which were issuing tiny cries, and found that Brixby had finally fallen victim to one of our traps. Though the vegan of the household had taken a surprisingly stoic position on this until now, she seemed as distraught as the mouse himself, not wanting to hurt him any more. But he couldn’t stay.

So we took the trap, and Brixby, down to the park about half a mile from us, along with a bottle of vegetable oil. We poured some oil over the glue and sure enough, he scampered free.

Some people would call Jena and me foolish. Most people would have chosen differently. It’s certainly not something I would judge anyone for. Rather, you have to decide what you want and are capable of. Jena and I weren’t capable of killing him. His cries were too reminiscent of our own.

I don’t know what our former guest found in the park. It probably wasn’t where he wanted to be. But as James might tell you, sometimes being right where you planned doesn’t turn out so well. Some fates are worse than the ones visited on Brixby.