I’ve seen Bride of Frankenstein so many times since the seventh grade that it’s hardly a movie experience anymore so much as a part of my personal history. I don’t really feel like just explaining why I enjoy it or recounting trivia, like the fact that Elsa Lanchester’s (the Bride’s) hair was structured and held in place by a cage, or the fact that Boris Karloff was salaried at about $2k a week. Nor do I feel like adding my voice to the already-rich chorus of writers who’ve explored the film’s themes of sexuality, of God and parenting and purpose. What I wanna do instead is use Bride of Frankenstein as a lens through which to look at this friendship I’ve had for years with a guy named C. who, even when we were kids, said that he had no real professional ambition and that he just wanted to work at whichever job paid the most while demanding the least. His life was the sum total of things he did to pass the time. He didn’t seem bothered with questions of purpose, or calling, or belief. He was private about his feelings, and it was only from his relatives that you’d hear how devastated he was from a recent breakup, a loss, et cetera.
A bunch of us went our separate ways after high school but we kept in touch. C. and his girlfriend, a highschool sweetheart, seemed attached at the hip even though they broke up every other week. She once broke up with him because she found porn on his computer and then insisted, tearfully, that it was the same thing as cheating, and he agreed with her, not knowing what else to do, and became – as a result of his subsequent vow to abstain – way more fervent a supplicant at PornHub’s altar. When we got into our twenties I started hearing about the spectacle of C.’s drunkenness at one place or another. Seemed innocuous at the time. We were 21 and 22. Who wasn’t wasted?
Eventually we got back to seeing each other somewhat regularly. One night he was dog sitting for one of my neighbors and invited me over. We sat on the patio because I smoked at the time and we were listening to stand-up comedy on his phone, some routines he’d wanted me to hear. He’d fixed us both drinks from a brand new handle of Smirnoff in the kitchen. Modest pours. After a while of comedy he excused himself to the bathroom. He was gone for a while so I assumed he was taking a dump. When he came back he dropped hard into his chair and looked sullen. I asked if he was OK and he just nodded. We kept listening to stand-up. I noticed he was staring at me, not in a friendly way. I ignored it, but braced myself to move. There was something weird in the air. He kept staring at me and picking at the lid of a huge green plastic Flannigan’s cup.
Then, suddenly, he was asleep.
I said his name, no answer. Called it, no answer.
I went over to his seat and took the cup from his hand, went to set it down, got slapped by the smell and so I looked closer and realized it was filled to the halfway point with straight vodka. Maybe a splash or two of water. I put the cup on the coffee table, where his phone was still streaming comedy, and shook one of his shoulders gently, saying his name, until eventually he opened his eyes and looked up at me, then around the patio, disoriented.
I said, “You can go to bed if you want, I’m heading out.”
Wordless, he nodded. He planted his palms on the arm rests to push himself up but one palm slipped and he lilted to the side. He tried again. His head was hanging and he couldn’t do it. I took him by the armpits and helped him to his feet and he crumpled onto me, hooking his arms around my shoulders and dragging me down while we sidestepped toward the pool, nearly into it, scrambling for purchase with our feet until eventually I was holding him up from under a shoulder and we were able to amble, together, into the house. We passed through the kitchen on our way to the master bedroom and I saw that the handle of Smirnoff he’d cracked open and poured us drinks from when I first walked in, not even an hour ago, was now down to almost the halfway point. I realized that if he’d gone to the bathroom it was to chug vodka.
His feet were fumbling and he kicked over the dogfood bowl and splashed some water on the floor so I ignored the Smirnoff and focused on our direction again. In the master bedroom I walked him to the edge of the bed and then pivoted so I could drop him onto the mattress. It was the first time I saw somebody actually fall asleep before hitting the pillow. I rolled him onto his side. It was 9 p.m.
I wandered around the house, flipped through my neighbor’s books, checked in on C.
I was still seeing Marianne at the time and so I texted her about what was happening. She got out of work a little later and when she called I invited her over, and then I went and checked on C.
The dog had joined him on the bed and they seemed content.
Marianne came over and we chatted in the kitchen, helped ourselves to some of the vodka and the Triscuits in the fridge and when I checked on C. again he was snoring, and the dog was on him, so M. and I went to the guest room for a bit and afterward she left. I lingered in the kitchen for a while. At 4 a.m. I went to the master bedroom and shook him awake.
He sat up immediately, sharp and clear-eyed, “Yeah.”
“How do you feel?”
“Fine fine. Fine. What’s up?”
“I’m gonna head home, OK?”
“Yeah no, cool, it’s fine. Did you drive?”
“OK good. Are you sober enough?”
I said, “Yeah.”
He said, “Alright. Lock the door when you go.”
So I left and didn’t seem him for another couple days until his mom called me while I was at work, around 7 p.m., crying and saying that she couldn’t find C., that he’d gone out to get a pizza for the family about two hours earlier and hadn’t come home, wasn’t answering his phone. She asked if I could stop by my neighbor’s and see if his car was there.
I left work early and drove over to my neighbor’s house and saw C.’s car in the driveway. It was dark out, and all the lights in the house were off. I went and knocked on the side door. No answer. I knocked again and again. After a while I went around to the front door. I knocked and, somewhere inside, the dog barked.
Then it stopped.
I got creeped out and so I went to the driveway and dialed his mom, said that his car was here but the house was dark. Her voice was shaking but she seemed a little consoled to know at least that his car was there. I figure she may have also been accustomed to his drunkenness, his disappearing. She thanked me for checking and said we’d have to just wait it out.
We hung up and I stood there in the driveway for a moment, wondering if I should leave, when suddenly his taillights blinked once. All that silence and darkness and calm ruptured in a flash that, for a couple second afterward, seemed like it maybe hadn’t happened. Then the horn beeped. This, coupled with the weird silencing of the dog, creeped me out enough that I crossed the street and called the local cops and asked if somebody could just come by and help me look around.
A cop showed up three or four minutes later, I explained the situation, and he asked what I wanted to do.
“Well I was hoping you could help me check the backyard and the patio.”
He said, “You didn’t already do that?”
“I was kinda freaked out by the car thing, to be honest.”
“Ahdunno…” he stroked his chin.
“That’s not breaking and entering, right? If you just look in the backyard?”
He gave me a look like I was an idiot and said, “I’m not worried about breaking and entering, I’m worried about getting shot.”
I reminded him, though, that there was a good chance my friend was dead inside and he sighed, stood there a moment longer, then drew his gun and his flashlight and went through the side gate at something of a crouch and disappeared, shouting C.’s name and announcing himself as police. Maybe thirty seconds later he came back out and said he’d checked the patio doors and they were locked. Said it was dark inside, no sign of my friend.
He went and sat in his cruiser and started doing something on his computer when C. called my cell phone from inside the house, sounding groggy and annoyed, asking if I was shining a flashlight through the windows. I went to the cop and told him my friend was alright and he shook his head, said, “Get a new friend, kid,” left.
When C. came out of the house his hair was all scrambled and he reeked of vodka and he was grumpy, asking why I’d called the cops, whereupon I let loose with “your mom’s freaking out, you said you’d be home, you blinked your fucking tail lights…” and got kinda worked up. Eventually we got to laughing about it somehow. He promised to call his mom, and I left.
I’ve seen him four or five times since that night. Three years. He comes to mind now because there’ll be spells here and there where he drunk dials me for three nights in a row, texts me all day, saying he wants to hang out. Eventually I’ll make the time and we get a beer and it’s fun. We talk about the past, tell jokes, recount work and dating stories. But I don’t want any more nights like those two at my neighbor’s. When I hang out with him I’m scrutinizing how much he’s had to drink and I cut the outing short if it looks like he’s gearing up for a fourth. Tell him I’m tired or something. And as I’m leaving I get to thinking of the two or three years after college, working part-time and slogging over a massive book that would never get published, where I’d go out three or four times a week with the intention of getting plowed, how lonely and aimless those years were, and I figure now that they were problably so lonely because my life dind’t seem to be moving forward but also that people just didn’t wanna be around me because of how I was behaving. Nobody wanted to deal with it.
The comparison here that I’m reluctant to even articulate, it sounds so awful, is the idea of Karloff’s Monster in Bride wanting a mate. He lobbies for it, pleads and threatens, weeps with a vague and all-consuming sadness when finally one kind soul, a blind man in the woods, embraces him. The portrait of a lonely monster. And then, when the monster gets his monstrous companion, the companion rejects him because of how ugly he is. The mate runs away from the ugliness that they share, hissing.
I’ve been that lonely monster looking for a mate, not finding one, destroying things by accident along the way, hurting people, wanting to disappear. And here, now, I see an old friend in that similar boat, and he’s been there for so long, he’ll be there for a while yet.
And what do I do? I hiss. Recoil. I distance myself from the same woundedness I wore for so long and my heart bleeds for it but I know, at the same time, how it reels people in. I know my own propensity to slip back into it.
I feel awful to say this but, old friend, I think it’s best we not meet.