Birds of a feather, that's why I'm here. I always cringe watching movies where the protagonist - or anyone really - gets mixed up with a bunch of assholes. Even if you're not an asshole yourself their asshole ways will cost you. "Can't you see that?" I silently scream to the screen. "Those twits can do you no good." Why doesn't that guy see what's so obvious?
Seems some things have been lost on me as well. 'Cause here I am stuck in a one room apartment alone with Cotner and I know he's bad news. Cotner has always been some kind of dangerous. That makes him attractive to women and I'm sure that's part of the reason he sticks with that persona. The other part I'd just as soon not know. I don't need some asshole in my life playing dueling banjos with his insecurities always trying to prove something. But he's an acquaintance of an acquaintance and that's how I ended up here.
I was a little bit scared of him too. I wasn't really sure what he made of me. Since I hold back myself people have a tendency to hold back around me as well. Drives me nuts. Truth is, I wasn't sure if he respected me and I didn't want his idiot ass acting out, trying to play me. I couldn't match him physically with his athlete's build. All my darts would have to be mental - and mentally I was loading my gun, preparing for bear. Then I spied an opening that I thought would allow me to take the offensive.
"Dude, is that a flute?"
I recognized the battered blue case because my sister played one in school. The idea of high strung Cotner with a flute was so incongruous it was laughable. With it I could perhaps imply he was a pansy and get him thinking more about himself than my own faults and frailties. (It's a dog-eat-dog world out there!) I was hanging by the skin of my teeth and I hoped he wouldn't notice my nefarious motive.
"Shit, yeah, it's a flute!" Then he strums over, gets it out, and starts assembling it excited as all hell. Aw, fuck!
Not only was he not embarrassed by it, he was anxious to show it off and - far, far worse - perhaps actually play it! Harry, you moron, you really stepped in it this time. I'm not one who gets drooling satisfaction watching people make fools of themselves on American Idol; a stomping and giggling spectator like some savage Roman at the Coliseum. Were I a dictator I'd ban those shows. I had zero fucking desire for this emotional cripple to display his so-called talents for me.
"Oh, uh, I was just wondering," Back out! Back out! "My sister had one so I was just, uh..."
"Had this since high school. Still plays great. Wanna hear?"
GOD FUCKING NO! "Oh, uh, sure, I guess."
"What do mean I got no talent??"
I was very uneasy. Would he explode if I reacted negatively? I thought back to the stories I heard of him and his girlfriends and the stormy relationships he had. I wondered just how far his violence might go. On one thing I agree with cops on one hundred percent: you never ever want to inject yourself into a domestic situation. And that's exactly how I felt right now, that I'd be exposed to all this guy's female insecurities. Get me out of here! When will the guys be back so I can go???
Then a miracle happened. "Do you know 'Strange Way'?"
The Firefall tune? Of course! I love that haunting song. Was this a prank? In this day of hardcore rap and pretentious sentimentality few have the courage to admit liking the sensitivity of a melody like that. One thing I also knew: it has one wicked flute solo almost impossible to master live, off the cuff. Nah, couldn't be...
"Firefall?" I confirmed. I thought perhaps there might be another one, an NWA version. He nodded his head, bringing the instrument up to his lips as I prepared to wince and lie honestly.
"Yeah, there's a flute solo in the bridge that rocks."
I know it well, note for note. But he didn't wait for me to respond. Thinking back later I could see he was anxious to have an audience, afraid I was going to leave or stifle his request before he got a chance to play. All sorts of things were running through my mind at that moment as I was dreading the exposure of his self-deceptions and unwarranted confidence. I flashed back to an Idol scene I'd seen in passing, of a girl throwing a major fit at the judges' ruling. Time slowed to an infuriating crawl.
But then came sounds of magic. I was spellbound like Salieri before Mozart. The moment turned surreal as goosebumps involuntarily raised on my arms and legs. Jesus, who suspected this was inside him? I didn't want it to end, the sorrow and the pity. God had spoken right here in this shithole apartment with its tacky decorations and gaudy sex. Hearing this solo for the first time in person blew me away. The power of music speaks as loudly as any Old Testament prophet.
Cotner was standing by the chest of drawers where he'd picked it up, his oblong face beaming like a child to a parent. I was sitting on the couch trying to compose myself, not letting him know how much he'd gotten to me. But I think he could see how much it affected me as he was smiling irrepressibly. I got the sense he rarely got an audience whom he trusted to appreciate a performance like that. He was probably right.
"Damn, dude. That was great. How long did it take to master that?"
"I was first chair all the way through school. I don't get to play it much anymore."
His eyes were open but closed inward. I could see a hidden regret rested in that flute, of dreams lost. Cotner was desperate to prove he was more than anyone thought. To be fair, I'd thought him a borderline thug, maybe even an abuser. At times, perhaps he is.
Like most people, I tend towards pigeonholing others and it really chaps my ass when they don't stay in there! I was struggling mightily to keep my moral superiority over someone whom I had labelled a surefire jerk. Cotner was human after all. Shit. I prayed he didn't notice my crime of unfairness, of prejudice and cowardice - not like girls haven't brought out my ugly side too. There wasn't one part of me that wasn't uncomfortable in that squirming moment.
Afterwards, anytime Cotner saw me his face would light up. He knew I understood his plight and in the sharing of that he found solace. He never suspected what a jerk I'd been or even that I was trying to be a jerk just pointing out the flute! It conflicted me horribly when I heard he'd slapped his latest girlfriend (And by God, they were always hot. I saw one, a brunette with perfect legs I've still not forgotten.) Part of me wanted to get up on my hind legs and point all holier-than-thou, "not tolerating" and "making a stand" and the rest of that bullshit so I could supposedly "put an end to domestic violence".
But that's not my true job. My job is to maintain my human connection with him, to remember the joy and excitement of his dreams, no matter how badly damaged. To stand in judgement of him would be violence in the name of preventing violence - which is par for the course in this wretched world. I know the truth now: it is his talent Cotner is abusing. He lives in dire fear his women will leave him over it.
One thing else: I need to remember the courage to be human to me too if I'm to find peace.