Now You See HimA Novel
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2008 Eli Gottlieb
All right reserved.ISBN: 9780061284649
At this late date, would it be fair to say that people, after a fashion, have come to doubt the building blocks of life itself? That we suspect our food? That we fear our children? And that as a result we live individually today atop pyramids of defensive irony, squinched into the tiny pointed place on the top and looking balefully out at the landscape below? In such a time of dark views and darker diagnoses, I'll forestall all second-guessing and declare it up front: I loved him. I'd grown up across the street from him. In my own way, I worshipped him. With the slavish adoration of a child, I'd tried briefly to be him. Although we were both boys the same age and although we chaffed and teased each other constantly, below it all ran an awareness on my part that there was always something quicksilvery, musical, more sharply drawn about him that set him apart from the rest of us.
His name was Rob Castor. Quite possibly, you've heard of him. He became a minor cult celebrity in his midtwenties for writing a book of darkly pitch-perfect stories set in a stupid sleepy upstate New York town. Several years later, he murdered Kate Pierce, his writer girlfriend, and then committed suicide, causing the hot lights of the media to come on with an audible whoosh, and stay there, focused on his life, the town of his birth and, by default, we his friends and neighbors. In truth, it was fascinating, in a somewhat repulsive way, to watch how a lone wireservice story spilled outward, and the newsweeklies picked it up, and then, when it hit television, everything exploded in a bright and twinkling cloud of coverage. In the control rooms of America, apparently, they'd made the collective decision: this is the one. So within six days of the event, TV people were driving up from Manhattan and bivouacking in the Dorset Hotel, along with the big trucks with their sleek antennas and dishes, the over-made-up on-camera host women and anchormen looking all of them like something struck from the Stone Phillips mold and oozing a special kind of major-market insincerity.
For those of us who were his friends, even if we hadn't been in touch with him much these last years, there was the inevitable shock, followed by the inevitable (in my case) sorrow. For the rest of us in town, it was more about the transforming wave that ran through us on the heels of the media attention: that hot bolt of change that left us keenly aware of the way our bodies and faces might look in the rare air of television. By default, it seemed, we'd all become actors on a reality show dedicated to showing the rotten underbelly of innocent American small-town life. Except there was no rotten underbelly. This wasn't Columbine High School. This wasn't that sandy sad place where poor David Koresh preached and died. This was Monarch, New York, a trim, proud little town on a hill far enough away from the major urban centers that people still pause a second to consider before they speak.
But no matter. The weather was turning crisp, the apples had already swelled, reddened, and fallen from the trees, and suddenly too many of us were outside braving the cold while wandering the streets of the town in pretend idleness, hoping to be on the nightly news. It was undignified to see Major Wilkinson, our World War II vet and a man rumored to have squirreled away millions in silver coins, buying a whole new wardrobe (at eighty-five years of age!) and posing in a photo op each morning at the entrance to the Krispy Kreme like a Wal-Mart greeter gone mad. Old diaries and dusty storage boxes were ransacked for sellable artifacts, and there was a kind of unspoken lottery that was won by Hilary Margold, who unearthed a tattered browning piece of paper with Rob's unmistakable high school penmanship forming the words "question authority." It was authenticated, publicized in the local press, and in tribute to the perennial American hunger for morbid memorabilia, ended up on eBay, where it went for a pretty sum. All of us, whether we'd known Rob personally or not, walked around with a strange lifted feeling, like a freshening wind was blowing, and maybe that wind would bring something live and new into our lives.
For my part I participated in almost none of it. I was stunned by his death, and then doubly shocked by the extent of the pain it brought with it—a sharp piercing ache in a private place, way up inside, that hadn't been touched in years.