C. James Bye is the co-founder and Managing Editor of Knee-Jerk, an online and print literary journal. He is also, along with his wife, the co-editor of The Way We Sleep, an anthology of prose and comics about beds and sleep published by Curbside Splendor in 2012. He was previously a freelancer with Milwaukee’s Shepherd Express for seven years and a staff writer at Milwaukee’s Riverwest Currents. His music
(some of which was recently featured in The Chicago Shakespeare Company’s production of en route) can be found at
Age 16: When Noel’s mom got me my first job which lasted one day and consisted of clearing off tables at her company picnic, and how I spent most of the time behind the dumpsters with Mojo the Clown who performed magic tricks in trade for the cigarettes I bummed him. And then that night I had a party stocked with beers I’d taken from the coolers set around the pavilion, stuffed into a garbage bag, and thrown into the bed of my dad’s truck while I was supposed to be taking trash out back. That night Abby told me she was going out with Bo, and they cuddled on my parents’ couch with the lights off watching horror movies. At my party, in my house.
Age 14: At Bo’s fifteenth birthday party when we all ran around in the woods and smoked stolen cigars and caught salamanders and snakes and placed them in a bucket, and Bo caught the longest snake of them all and then held it up and said, “You think he’s long now?”, grabbed it with two hands and began to pull, and as I heard the stretching skin I wanted to say, “Stop” or “Don’t” or anything, but instead I just watched it snap in two.
Age 26: The night my fiancé renamed all of the superheroes on my Justice League of America poster, because she didn’t know the real names (so: The Atom became “Sir Shrinksalot,” because he was tiny, of course; Black Canary, “Acrobatics Sally,” because she was doing a flip; Dr. Fate, “The Yellow Klansman,” because his helmet kind of resembles a yellow KKK hood; Green Lantern, “Skippy,” because I think she was getting tired of the game). Were I to write it, I could use these names as the basis for a satirical parody.
Age 20: Shaking David Crosby’s hand when I met him after a concert and thinking, “That’s the hand that made Melissa Etheridge’s baby,” and then, “What a life that man’s lived. What a life.”
Age 25: Meeting the guitarist from Staind in a bar after going to see Polvo at a venue across the street, how he called their music “pussy-rock,” oblivious to my just-purchased Polvo T-shirt strewn, plain to see, across our table even when he then casually tossed down a plastic bag on top of it and asked if my friend and I wanted to “roll,” and we kindly declined only to see him five minutes later smoking a cigarette outside and dropping a few tabs of E into a Styrofoam cup held by a homeless man who had approached him for money, and I thought, “What a dick,” and we went home and smoked and I think went to a midnight movie knowing we were having a better night than Staind.
Age 22: The time I hung out with Eddie and some friend he had just made and the friend started talking about his experience with cancer and Eddie thought he was fucking around so he kept saying things like, “Yeah, right, you had cancer,” and I could tell the friend was serious but I didn’t bother to say anything, so his friend kept calmly talking about it even when Eddie asked, “What—was it in your balls?” and yes, actually it was testicular cancer, and Eddie kept goading him with, “So, what—you only have one ball now?” and yes, his friend did only have one testicle now, and it finally sunk in with Eddie when his friend became frustrated and said, “Yes, I had fucking cancer. What?” and Eddie deflated and his face went all red and he tried to say something, started, “Well...” searching for words and finally settling on mumbling, “We all have to get cancer sometime.”
Age 17: The time I got into an accident in my dad’s truck twice in two days but he only ever found out about the first one, and then there’d be some sort of meta, self-referencing bit at the end about how, now that this was published, that probably wouldn’t be true anymore. My dad’s a good guy and takes interest in what I do.
Age 16: The time I didn’t hear my sister and some friend of hers get home and they walked in on me crying in the dark in the living room because I’d just seen Easy Rider for the first time, because the ending is very moving and hit home to me as a teenager, or at least that’s what I told myself, even though I never explained that to my sister and, even if I had, my sister hadn’t, I think still hasn’t, ever seen Easy Rider, so that really wouldn’t be much of an excuse, plus really it wasn’t the movie, but because earlier in the night I had talked to Abby on the phone for an hour and we fought because I told her she should dump that guy she met on the Internet who lived in New York so she could go out with me, but she wouldn’t, so I wrote a song and was going to go throw pebbles at her window and sing it to her, but instead I just let it finally sink in that she didn’t love me and never would.
Age 21: In college when I was working at the Teen Center, fell asleep on the job, and was woken up by my boss who had come in to give me a Christmas present and to thank me for all of my hard work.
Age 18: Senior year when Danyell (who I really liked) asked me to the Turnabout dance, but then had to back out when she couldn’t afford a dress because her dad was out of a job, and then I decided that even though I didn’t have a job either, I had some money saved up that I could use to buy her a dress myself and that would be noble and a good thing for a good man to do, but I realized that then the money I had been saving would be spent, so instead I accepted her apology for having to break our date and I asked Liz to go (even though the guy wasn’t supposed to ask the girl, but, you know, it was getting down to the wire...) and she said, “yes,” so I ended up dating her for six months and then broke up when we went to different colleges.