Matthew Lykins lives and works in Oxford, Ohio, as a husband, father of three, and high school English teacher. He received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from Miami University in Oxford and liked the town so much he made his wife stay with him and live there, presumably
forever. He has been published in Pif Magazine, Fugue, Metazen, and Spittoon Magazine, which chose one of his essays as the best nonfiction of 2012. For more information check out his blog, 50percentfinished.wordpress.com.
I guess we probably shouldn’t have touched him, but we had to cut some of the tape off just to see what he looked like underneath. Had to be rolls and rolls of the stuff. Duct tape, the good kind—name brand shit, none of the stuff you get from Dollar Tree that won’t stick to anything.
We were careful, and we used really sharp scissors. My buddy Rod did most of the cutting, because he played computer games all the time and had really steady hands, but it was on so tight we ended up cutting into the guy’s cheek a little bit, so when we peeled back the tape from his face, it ripped his face and we could see his back teeth too. Gross shit.
He must’ve tried to shower with the tape on because the glue seemed kind of rotten inside and there was mildew on his skin we couldn’t wipe off. Bright emerald, and Kerry whispered “I’ll get you my pretty,” and we all cracked up in the kind of way you do when someone says something inappropriate at a funeral or in some poor fucker’s garage when the poor fucker’s lying there dead because he decided to wrap himself in thirty rolls of duct tape to keep the world out.
That was Rod’s theory. That it seemed like the guy just wanted to be alone, and this was the way to do it. “He could’ve bought a pair of headphones,” said Kerry, “or driven to the goddamn Mojave.”
“This is cheaper,” I pointed out.
“A little drastic, though.”
There wasn’t a note, and when we finally called the squad and they came and we told them we found him, they gave us forty kinds of shit for trying to cut him out.
“We were trying to save him,” said Rod, and their looks changed, like they were considering the lie but we knew they really didn’t give a crap and it was weird enough anyway and why drag the three of us into the whole deal?
For a while, we would try to come up with some story that fit why we found him like that. Rod, because his old man fought in the Gulf and spent most of his time drinking Pabst on the back porch and yelling at his wife, said he figured the guy must have PTSD. Kerry was sure the guy was some sort of Internet sex freak and found some bondage deal on Chatroulette that offered new and improved auto-asphyxiation suggestions and I have to tell you the explanation Kerry gave was so out-of-my-element and specific I was pretty sure he had some deal he was projecting on the poor bastard. I’m pretty sure Kerry and I weren’t going to be friends for much longer.
My stories were pretty lame. Some abuse from his past, maybe he was a scientist, maybe he really thought the stickiness felt good or he liked the smell. Lame.
But I knew the real story, and even though I’d—probably because I’d—cut the dude up and broke into his garage I thought it’d be best to just keep it to myself. You don’t get a lot of neighbors in your life.
Because the dude, whose real name was Kevin, would stop me on my walk home from school and ask me to read some story to him. He’d hand me his iPad and be like, “Read this.” Once it was a Judith Krantz book and another time it was Fear of Flying and the last time it was the Bible. And I would, and I’d never get past the first few lines and he’d say “Is that what it says?” like he thought I was making it up on the fly, and I’d say “yeah,” and look at him probably like he was an assclown, and he’d grab the iPad and look at it and he’d say “OK, dude, whatever you say. It said that a couple of years ago to me but now it’s different.” And I’d say whatever dude and walk home.
Later he’d make me come into the house and he’d play me songs like “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” or “Tumbling Dice” off his computer and I’d be like “That’s Stevie Wonder” or “That’s the Rolling Stones,” and he’d start it over and just stare at me like he was trying to give me cancer with his brain and I’d say it again. “Dude, that’s Stevie Fucking Wonder” or “Dude, for Chrissakes, it’s the Stones, man,” and he’d slap his computer closed or, once, he used his iPod and I watched him break the fucking iPod in half with his face.
The last time he made me watch an entire episode of M.A.S.H. on Netflix, the one where Colonel Blake gets killed at the end, and the whole time I’m like “this is M.A.S.H., asshole,” and he was all like “It used to be, it used to be,” and he’d scan it back to the beginning and I couldn’t take the opening number again so I took off.
But I started to worry, because the guy was nice and he helped my mom move her big potted plants out of our yard and up into our front bedroom every late fall before the freeze because my dad was too lazy to help and secretly wanted all her plants to die, I think, and he always made popcorn balls on Halloween just for my sister and me and gave all the other kids Bit-O-Honeys or Dum Dums or some other cheap piece-of-shit candy he picked up at Big Lots. So a couple weeks after the whole M.A.S.H. thing I knocked on his door and he answered and he was wearing clothes but also he’d taken duct tape and wrapped it around his ears and eyes like some skank headband from the seventies he was wearing wrong or like he was some retarded superhero, and I asked what was up and he just stared at me except he probably wasn’t staring at much of anything and he said “Hey, you used to be that kid, Eric, right?”
“I still am,” I said, and it scared me, I shit you negative, the way he looked and talked. And he said, “No you’re not. You’re not him. Nothing is.”
And I walked home, and my legs were shaking, and I tried to tell my pops what happened but he was watching a rerun of Barney Miller on his Kindle and not really listening and all he said was “Stay away from that fucktard,” and I said I would and meant it.
And then I guess it was months, because it was summer when we found him and in between that time he answered the door and the time we found him in the garage I’d got a real girlfriend who let me touch her tits under her shirt and bra and that’s the kind of thing that lets a guy forget what’s really important. One night, though, I tried to get a hand into her undies and she smacked me and that was basically all she wrote. It was OK, ultimately, because I hadn’t seen Rod and and Kerry for a while and they said they’d missed me.
Still, I should’ve checked up on the dude. But you get busy.
That night, after we found him and the squad came and the neighborhood was standing out in the yard watching them cart him away, my old man put a hand on my shoulder, which was weird because he wasn’t much of a toucher, and he said “Eric, let’s check out what’s on the DVR.”
And I did. Because what the hell else was there to do?