Ben Tanzer is the author of the books My Father’s House, You Can Make Him Like You, So Different Now, Orphans, and Lost in Space, among others. He also oversees day to day operations of This Zine Will Change Your Life, directs Publicity and Content Strategy for Curbside Splendor, and can be found online at This Blog Will Change Your Life the center of his growing lifestyle empire.
Freddie went and hugged the flood.
Freddie floundered in the mud.
Freddie went crazy in the head.
And now Freddie Flounder is dead, dead, dead.
This is the song we drunkenly sang after the flood and after Freddie Flounder was dead, and no longer around for us to mock and tease.
He wasn’t there anymore for us to pour milk in his locker or clap his ears with our hands when we sat behind him on the bus.
We couldn’t call him fag or snap his alabaster ass in the locker room with our towels. We would never follow him down the street threatening to rape his sister or set his house on fire.
No one would be able to call his home to let his mother know that his father had died in a car crash on the way home from work, was being accused of molesting children, or had left her for another man because she was such a fucking whore.
He was no longer there for us to plan his imminent demise as we took long bong hits at parties in the endlessly empty houses where our parents were not around, and would not be around, until some magical time when they sobered-up, cut down on business travel, or merely came home from whatever secret debaucheries they engaged in when we had no idea where they were or what they were doing.
Did we care that they were not around?
We did not.
Did we think our behavior was wrong, or feel anything approaching empathy for fucking Freddie Flounder that pale-faced fuck, and the torment he endured?
Not at all.
He deserved it. He had earned it. And not just by the mere dint of his birth or presence, and the unfortunate twist of fate where someone is chosen to be bullied because they arrive fully deformed with a target on their back.
No, fucking Freddie Flounder had earned our ire.
Now was it true that no one would quite remember what he had done to earn it?
It might have been the time he let his clothes fall of out his locker in gym class and his underwear clearly had shit in it.
Not that we were definitely sure they were his clothes.
Or, maybe it was that time he tried to talk about jerking-off in homeroom. Who does that? Well, who talks about it anyway?
No one, and it’s possible he wasn’t really trying to talk about masturbation? Maybe we misunderstood what he was saying, but what the fuck Freddie fucking Flounder?
It could have been because of his pale, nearly translucent skin, the subtle swish in his walk that we were all sure we saw, the fact that he never wanted to look for tit during movies on HBO, or how he talked to our mothers at sleepovers, our fucking mothers, once telling one that he wondered what it was like to get pregnant?
Assuming that last part was true, because were our mothers around for sleepovers? And did Freddie Flounder ever actually come to one?
It didn’t matter, but it definitely could have been any of that, even if no one could totally swear any of it was technically true.
What we were sure of though, is that one summer at the pool when we were all jammed together in the changing room, talking about all of the pussy we had never seen, but would, Freddie Flounder popped a chubby, right there for everyone to see.
A chubby, fuck no, Freddie Flounder.
Fuck yes, and sure, he tried to cover it up, but he wasn’t fast enough. It was impossible, and the damage was done.
When rain came to Two Rivers, they said it might be the flood of the century. The Susquehanna River rose so high that it sloshed over the highway, something no one could ever remember happening before. Power lines were downed, trees felled, and even the parking lot at Robby’s Liquor Store was under water.
We were all told to stay-in, lay low, and ride it out.
Which was fine with us, no school, yo, awesome. So we hung out in our empty houses, the windows boarded-up, and we drank our Yuengling and smoked our bowls, until our heads throbbed in a sloppy, Jell-O mess; our lips burned, all tingly and chapped at the edges; and we found ourselves nodding off, stuporous and fucking stupid.
Everyone that is, but Freddie Flounder.
His windows were boarded-up too. And his parents knew what everyone else knew. They were even home playing cribbage or some such shit.
But Freddie Flounder still got outside.
He walked down his front walk, dodging power lines and branches, bracing against the wind, and then he waded into the ever-climbing flood waters.
As he walked along, he gathered stones, and he crammed them into his pockets until they began to bulge, and the water started rising up to his waist and beyond.
I wonder what he was thinking then and whether he was scared, knowing that soon the water would rise to his chest, creeping up his neck and over his mouth, his nostrils still uncovered, as the air became more and more limited, and he began fighting to breathe.
That’s assuming Freddie fought at all.
Maybe he was resigned to this fate at that point, embracing his choice, thinking that the freedom that awaited him was far preferable to anything that would come after the flood.
Was there a moment though where he questioned his decision? Did he stop to consider that maybe there wasn’t a different path? That this was in fact a temporary solution, and that things get better?
I hope he did.
But I also hope that he didn’t suffer much, that he wasn’t battered as he was pulled under the water and all those tree branches coursed and bounced along with him.
And I really hope that he wasn’t too scared, because the idea that he might have lingered, trapped in the blanket of water around him for anything longer than it took to feel the freedom he sought is unbearable to me.
Later, much later, and way after the flood, when we saw each other at reunions, weddings, and on work trips, no one could quite remember when the incident at the pool actually happened. Or if it was even at the pool, maybe it was actually the ice rink?
But if it was the ice rink, why would Freddie Flounder have been changing? That didn’t make sense.
Nor could anyone even really remember who was there when it happened. Maybe it was someone’s older brother? Maybe that’s how we knew about it?
Or maybe it was someone else entirely, and not Freddie Flounder at all?
No one was totally sure anymore, but that didn’t matter by then, Freddie Flounder was dead and he had taken the answers to these questions with him to his watery grave.