Jawbreaker By D.I. Jolly

“You’re pathetic. There, now you can be offended. It’s not going to change anything, but at least now you have a reason. Something to latch on to so that you don’t have to think about, or deal with any uncomfortable questions. Which, for the record, are only uncomfortable because you don’t like the answers you have. It actually has nothing to do with me, which brings me neatly back round, to you’re pathetic.”

What had started as a seemingly harmless but incredibly badly timed joke had quickly escalated into a full and brutal character break down, that left James in emotional ruin and Jarod the technical victor. But also the man standing over his friends’ humiliation. It had been swift and brutal and, at the end of the day, everyone had lost.

James felt like he’d had all his dark secrets and mistakes unceremoniously dragged into the light for everyone to see. Then each specific flaw pointed at in detail, and finally, the assurance that none of them where actually secrets to anyone other than him. He sat for a moment and stared at nothing, heard nothing, thought nothing and then went home. He wasn’t even sure that he’d made the decision to do it. There had been no thought, no conscious formation of words or feelings. He just went home. Lizard brain had taken over his body, and he went home.

Jarod felt vindicated in his character assassination. He felt provoked and justified, for about 15 seconds until the adrenaline wore off, and then he felt absolutely nothing. They had been sat around a table with a few friends, which included a girl he really liked, and after James had gotten up and left, he realised that no one had said anything for over a minute, and that none of them would look at each other. He opened his mouth to say something, perhaps that he would leave, but a voice in his head told him that he’d said quite enough for one day. After another minute or so he reached into his pocket and it felt like his fingers creaked when he moved them, like a door that hadn’t been opened in years. He pulled out his wallet and put down enough money for both his and James’ drinks. Then cleared his throat, decided again that he’d already said enough. And he too went home.

It took James no time to see how the whole night had turned so sour so fast.

“This is funny to you? This kind of school boy bullying bullshit?”

“Oh come on, it was just a joke.”

“Oh, oh ok, so that’s fine then. Because you’ve said it’s a joke, I now just have to bend over and take it. Nice, I guess that makes everything fine again. Thanks for clearing that up.”

“Jesus man, I’m sorry ok? But, don’t you think you’re being a bit dramatic?”

“No, I don’t, I think I’m being the perfect amount of dramatic, thank you for your opinion; it means practically nothing to me. Now how about you? Don’t you think…”

James let the memory fade, he was not yet ready to rehash the whole argument again and again. But it was clear now that something else had been wrong; something had happened before Jarod had arrived, and he had missed it. So, he pulled his friends chair out so that he hit the floor. Then teased him about the ‘old man sounds’ he made while he got up. The, poked him again when he ordered ‘a girls drink’. In short, before he had asked how he was, he’d embarrassed him in public and then effectively told him to just calm down.

Still though, no one present, Jarod included, was sure that that really justified what happened next. The dark thoughts in the back of Jarod’s mind bubbled up. All the worst traits, all the quite whispers of frustration that were usually reserved for 4am on a Tuesday, when you couldn’t sleep because you’d picked a fight with yourself, started to tumble out of his mouth and onto the table.

“Now how about you? Don’t you think that instead of making jokes you, and I’m not the only one who’s thought or said this before, but if you started taking some responsibility for yourself, like maybe not drinking 4 nights a week and 3 on weekends. Maybe if you put some effort into anything, literally anything, you wouldn’t still be living at your mom’s place? That maybe you could maintain some kind, any kind, of relationship? I mean for, fuck sake, you’re what… 27? Of course Erika left you. Your idea of date night was asking your mom to make extra lasagna. The literal only person who was surprised she left, was you. And that was what, 8 months ago? And yet, you still get weepy after 3 beers, like you think the rest of us don’t know what was really going on. The only one who doesn’t know why she left is you; everyone else knows. Because it’s painfully fucking obvious, that you were the problem. She left because you are not worth being with.”

And if it had stopped there, it still would have been too far. But like a siphon, when you get the flow started, unless someone stops it, it’ll keep going until the tank is empty.

“What did you think it was? Look at your life. You enrolled in university but attended like two classes and then what? You make your mom continue to pay the fees and never go. But, you still try and justify it by saying you get a free travel pass. Like none of us know that your fees are at least 4 times the price? Like you think we’re all stupid and don’t realise that you’re just too scared to go, and too lazy to drop out. You keep talking about these things you’re doing, but you’re doing nothing. We all know you’re doing nothing; and just thinking about it doesn’t count. You’re going to make it one day; you just need your chance but buddy, you can’t win the lottery without buying a ticket, and you can’t make it one day when you don’t make anything. You brag about being lazy and complain about simple chores to people who have full time jobs. You act like a child and now you’re looking at me surprised that that’s how I’m treating you. Like you expect people to just not talk about it because you don’t like to face up to reality and that that somehow means that none of the rest of us are allowed to? Have you ever considered that the reason you never see all your friends at the same time isn’t because we’re not all friends, but because we take turns hanging out with you? Like we’re babysitting? Because you’re a liability not a real friend? You’re the chore we all inherited after high school. I mean, seriously, real talk, do you really, honestly, actually, think any of us give one single fuck about a 15-year-old cartoon idea that was bad at the time and that you’ve still never started working on? If you really want to pull the chair out from under me? Really want to give me a jolt? Get a fucking job, any job. Pack shelves in a supermarket, and buy your own God damn beer.”

Jarod had managed to catch the next line, but instead of letting it end James found his voice and tried to defend himself. But he was so wrung out that few words came to mind.

“How dare you talk to me like that?”

He wanted to sound hot and angry, but it came out lukewarm, like a simple question and all it did was prompt Jarod to continue.

“Are you fucking kidding me? What are you offended that someone has finally told you the truth? Do you really want everyone around you to just keep lying to you? Sure, no problem. I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean any of it. It’s always such a pleasure to see you and I’m really glad I came out tonight. Can’t wait for the next time we can all get together. There, that make you feel better?”

He let the question hang in the air for a second, then finished him.

“You are an embarrassment to yourself and everyone who’s ever stuck up for you. You’re pathetic…”

Jarod lay in bed and stared up at his ceiling. He ran over everything he’d said, running the gauntlet of regretting how he said things, but not necessarily the things he’d said.

While James stared at a poster that had hung on his bedroom wall since he was 14, and tried to remember how cool he thought the character was so that he wouldn’t keep cycling through everything Jarod had said, again, and again, and again. But, of course, it didn’t work. He tried to think about how the character would have reacted to someone coming at him so aggressively. But the dreams wouldn’t stick, because he just couldn’t make himself believe that anything Jarod had said was actually a lie. He knew that he was right, but desperately didn’t want to admit it. He couldn’t denounce it, but he couldn’t own up to it either, not yet. He had been beaten down by words and now everything hurt. He needed time to heal before he could fully wrap his mind around what had just happened, and the old comforts wouldn’t help. The old escapes had been closed, probably permanently, so he was just stuck in emotional burn-out limbo. And when he looked at his phone, all he saw a list of people who were tired of his bullshit. A list of people who were over dealing with him. For a moment he thought about going to tell his mom, but just the thought sent a ripple of goosebumps over his body and a very clear ‘no’ sounded in his head. So, he climbed into bed, and decided to wait until the emotional bruises had healed a little, and then decided to try again.

Jarod on the other hand wrote and deleted apologies on his phone every few hours for the next few days, then gave up and decided to wait and see if James would ever reach out to him again. And he waited, and he waited, and while he waited… Life moved on.

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