Pairing: Gen, Tyler/Jack
Rating: High R
Word Count: 2,666
Warnings: Rape. Violence.
With insomnia, nothing is real.
Everything is indistinct. After spending all your nights staring up at your bedroom ceiling or the dull glow of your television set, everything you look at burns into your retinas. Your life is just one afterimage after another:
You go to work–blink and
You beat yourself up until you’re sure you feel your brains dripping out your nostrils–blink and
You leave work with your boss’s silhouette still ingrained heavy on your retinas–blink.
Blink too many times, and it’s over.
Maybe what you call liberation is only a recycled form of monotony.
Blink again and you’re at fight club, fluorescent lights blaring down at you, and you're trying to peel your $100, insured, shoe-shined loafers off the gaping wounds on your ankles. Tyler’s hovering over you like some perverse kind of guardian angel, and when you look up and smile, Tyler spits red on the concrete floor and tells you, go home.
Tyler tells you, go home.
Your boss tells you, go home.
Your dad tells you, get married.
Everything is just a copy–of a copy–of a copy.
When you have insomnia, Tyler’s dick in your ass, that’s not real.
That’s an illusion. That’s a sensory malfunction. That’s a little gift from your sleep-deprived mind, pounded so hard into the concrete every week you’re sure your MRI looks like Phineas Gage’s. Phineas Gage, Tyler once told his rapt crowd of space monkeys, had a spike jammed in his brain from a construction accident. Phineas Gage, he’s the backbone of corporate America.
Imagining Tyler doing this, maybe it sounds like the psycho delusion of a guy who’d stare straight at his boss and threaten point-blank, suicidal murder, but it’s not. Crash victims report the same thing all the time, only they call it phantom pain. Phantom pain is pain in a limb that’s already been cut off. Phantom pain, you can’t record it on the accident reports or police records. For all intensive purposes, phantom pain doesn’t exist.
You’d said, Tyler, cut this out. Blood dripping down your chin, limping on one shaky leg, you’d been aching for another fight so badly you felt your heartbeat reverberating in your skin. You wanted to feel the blood rushing to your head, the heightened burst of adrenaline that made you lose yourself and forget everything.
You wanted a fight that would ring in your ears for days.
Tyler looked at you, and you didn’t see anything in his eyes.
He said, “Get out of here, man.” He stepped closer to you, lurking in a way that would make any sane man want to step back. “We don’t need you.” Like he’s talking to Lou. Like he’s talking to his boss. Like he’s God, cutting loose his only son.
You didn’t step back. You slugged him, hard. Already, the static in your ears was drowning out the background noise.
Tyler said, voice low, “All right. If that’s how you wanna deal,” and cracked his knuckles, stretched his shoulder muscles.
The circle of spectators widened around you, and your blood was boiling, breath getting heavy, and you went for his abdomen almost without thinking. Tyler got you square in the jaw, tried to shove you over, tried to get his hands around your neck. You let yourself go to the animal instinct that pounded your fists into him while the rest of you just watched, while your brain was ten seconds behind your body and struggling to catch up.
Tyler’s fist drew away bloody from the bone above your eye, silent, painless, like a television on mute. You don’t have to hear in fight club. Your other senses are more important.
Red smudged in front of your vision, dancing in front of your eyes. You tasted iron, and lunged back.
Maybe after it’s happened your ears will pick up the slam of Tyler’s fist to your forehead, but after the fact, it’s irrelevant.
Tyler slams you down, leaving a deep purple bruise on your arm. Your mind only barely registers the pain, anymore.
You’ve seen guys pleading, stop, stop, with the other guy only putting it together minutes later.
Blink and you wake up outside Lou’s by the dumpster, heavy wave of a concussion washing over your mind. It takes three tries before you can lift yourself up.
Tyler comes home after midnight. You only know he’s home because you hear the door hinges creak, calculatedly quiet.
You put down the ball of bloody, frozen collagen that you’d been pressing to your forehead and ask, “Tyler?”
Your ears pick up the click of Tyler lighting a cigarette. Nothing else. No swearing, no pacing, no pounding the floor with pushups.
Tyler is the kind of guy who has to work hard to keep himself still. Tyler is the perfect example of human inertia: when Tyler stops moving, all he’s doing is building his potential energy.
Tyler’s quiet is the calm before the hurricane.
You tell yourself, I’m not really feeling this.
Your breathing’s getting slower. During support groups, they’d give you hypnosis, guided meditation, mindfulness exercises. They’d always tell you some bullshit like, “You’re being guided to a place where you’ll feel healthier the farther you travel, until you’ll think the hurts you felt were just a dream.” Only in real life, the higher your mileage is, the less time you’ve got left.
They always said that: the hurts you felt. They’d never call it pain, suffering, cancer. Imagine your hurt evaporating. Imagine it condensing back into a glowing ball of healing light.
Support groups try as hard as they can not to say the word pain. You know why: At those support groups, the minute anyone complained, it spread through everyone like an epidemic. You have to see everything as a threat when you could be staring up at your coffin lid with one blow of the wind. Marla, she’d lean back in her chair, lift her cigarette from her lips and say, “I think I feel a faint coming on; it’s probably nothing to worry about, just a reaction to the carcinogens in this coffee,” and suddenly they’d all be slumping over in their chairs, wobbling through the room like huge, cancerous lemmings.
Pain is as easy to manipulate as healing, and right now, you’re manipulating it. You’re imagining it. Nothing you’re feeling now is real. You breathe out, as deep as you can through the gag. Inside your cave, you watch the molecules in your breath condense.
Everyone these days, we’re meaningless. In three thousand years, the sun will burn out and erase us all. Even the people who make it into the history books, they’re burning up with us. We’re all doomed to disintegrate in the soil until the sun takes everyone down.
The things we do now don’t matter. Even the people we are now, they don’t matter.
You hear Tyler’s voice, echoing deep. He tells you, “Listen closely.”
He jerks your blindfolded face toward his, hard. You tell yourself, I’m not blindfolded. You’re staring straight at a stalactite.
You lost your job for Tyler, then he flicked his cigarette in your face and said, I don’t need you.
He says, “In the big picture, you’re nothing. If you’d never been born, the world wouldn’t miss you.”
The icy walls are caving in around you. You hear the surprised yelp of your penguin, crushed under the ice, dead.
Tyler’s nicotine-drenched breath is hot on your face. You can smell the iron of his blood. The almost nauseating brown sugar of his soap. The old-coin scent of his pistol.
“What you don’t get is, you are dispensible.”
Your cave, it’s gone now. You can’t stop yourself from feeling the fleshy ovals of Tyler’s burnt off fingerprints against your skin. You can almost see the pupils of his eyes as he stares down at you, even with your visual pallet reduced to black.
“You think you’ve gone through this big transformation. Metamorphosis, shall we say. Well, you haven’t. I did it for you. That was all me. You’re the same corporate slave you always were. You’re a bee who thinks it’s free just because it moved to a new hive.”
You used to think that look in his eyes was enlightenment. Now, the Tyler you can’t see reminds your more of a serial killer, of some drug-addled maniac.
“I could’ve chosen anyone’s condo to blow up, anyone who was buying stock in consumerism. Anyone pitiful enough to think that in their unenlightened, capitalist lives, they were hitting bottom.”
The look you saw when he creaked up the staircase and peered into your room, that was nothing but cold-blooded. That was lifting the hairs on the back of your neck. Tyler saying, “You’re not going to come to fight club again,” that was the tone of voice of an assassin. The scuffle you had when he brought out the gag and pushed it into your mouth until you dry heaved, that wasn’t the same as Tyler punching you in the parking lot and whooping. That left you gasping for breath and covered in cold sweat, watching his foot crunching down on the knuckles in your fingers. Your veins and sinew and muscle yielding under the pressure, creaking like tree branches straining under too much snow. You heard your knuckles pop like beer bottle caps. Tyler was wearing shoes, heavy black boots. That’s when you really know, this isn’t fight club. This is a massacre.
Tyler ground his heel down into your fingers one last time, and then he put his foot down on your chest. Tyler said, “Allow me to demonstrate what you mean to fight club.”
Tyler continues, nails digging into your jawbone, “Do. You. Understand.”
No, you don’t understand. You’re squeezing your eyes shut behind the blindfold and you’re trying to slide into the heart of your cave. You’re trying to stop your ball of healing light from bursting. The further you get into your cave, the closer you are to sliding into what they call your control room. Inside your control room, there’s a lever where you can turn your hurt on and off.
On and off.
Like it’s that easy.
He says, “I said. Do. You. Understand?”
You grunt as loud as you can through the gag in your mouth. You don’t even try to talk, anymore. Tyler, whatever you say, he’ll twist it however he wants.
If you can count to ten, you’ll be far enough into the bowels of your cave to see the door to the control room. You count, one.
You wonder if maybe Tyler’s doing this to you to show you how it’s been all your life. Maybe after he comes inside you, he’ll ease your blindfold off, take a long drag on his cigarette, and then say, “Now you see how the government fucks you over every day?” and he’ll laugh.
You count, two.
Maybe when this is over, you’ll be Buddha, you’ll be so enlightened your spirit will be freed from the tethers of this earth.
Right after the accident, the doctors all said Phineas Gage was perfectly normal. These days, they say the accident turned him insane. He used to be a medical miracle, now he’s just once-living proof of frontal lobe functions. In retrospect, the doctors said, they knew it all along.
For some people, the means justify the end.
Sigmund Freud once operated on someone’s nose to cure her hysteria, and called the whole thing a success. The reason he chose the nose is, he thought her neurosis was connected to masturbation. And you used to think the hordes of furniture in your condo meant you were successful.
Tyler says, “Pay attention.”
You hear the crack as his fist meets your jaw. If this was fight club, your veins would be coursing with adrenaline. If this was fight club, your blood would be steel and you would be so alive you couldn’t stop yourself from joining in the choir of garbled, instinctual war-cries.
As it is, the blood you taste burns when you swallow it. Your head is throbbing. As it is, you feel more dead than alive.
Tyler says, “I mean nothing to you. I am God’s forgotten child.”
You’d tell him he’s got it all backwards, only with the gag you might as well be egging him on.
Tyler used to say you always hurt the one you love. You say maybe he’s got that backwards, too.
Maybe Tyler’s life is all just a big game, only he’s using Battleship pieces on everyone else’s Monopoly board. While everyone else is rolling the dice and hoping they’ll land on free parking, Tyler’s bombing Boardwalk.
Tyler says, “I said, pay attention. I still don’t think you understand.”
Running a hand down your cheek, pressing something small and cool against your temple, Tyler says, “This isn’t about us.”
He says, “Fight club was never about us.”
The gun pressed to your temple clicks.
He’s curling his hand around your cock,
and your whole brain,
Tyler says, “I know you understand.”
The voice behind your gag goes limp. Taps out, and nobody steps forward to take its place.
Tyler says, “I wanted you to fall for me, and you fell for me.”
You’re hitting a bottom so deep beneath the earth you never knew it existed.
He says, “I wanted you to form some pathetic little crush on me, and that’s right, you did.”
Tyler saved you from consumerism, now there’s nothing to save you from Tyler.
You realize, all this time, he was loading your loyalty into the freezer next to Marla’s collagen. Test-driving his ideas on you to make sure the end result wouldn’t be Project Mayhem’s braces melted to the ashtray.
Tyler says, “But this is enough. It’s over.”
This whole time, you thought you were Tyler’s right-hand man when you were really just his crash test dummy.
Tyler says, “You need to realize you are nothing.”
In retrospect, you knew. In retrospect, you felt Tyler’s calculating, self-obsessed condescension with every nerve cell in your body.
He says, “Hate me the way you hated Marla Singer. Come on, you can do it.”
He says, “I am your malignant cancer. I am your death, and I mean nothing to you.”
He’s pushing you down hard, thrusting into you faster, and your blood is boiling. You shove him back, and your fists feel weak. Your muscles feel sore. Your breath is coming out shaky.
Everything is transient.
Tyler’s hand is spanning the width of your throat, fingers tightening around your neck.
You’ve gone through entire nights of fight club where you felt numb. Where the pain only started to sink in as you stared up at the fluorescent emergency room lights.
Tyler’s dick thrusting hard inside you, Tyler’s hands crushing your throat closed, you feel nothing.
When your whole life is afterimages, you can’t be expected to really live it until after it’s over.
Phineas Gage had a three-foot-long iron bar through his brain, right up through his jaw and jutting out the top of his skull. All you have is Tyler.
You open your eyes, and the blindfold’s gone. You open your eyes, and you’re alone. You let out the breath you’ve been holding in.
Phantom pain is when something hurts you that isn’t really there.