Abuse of Power

2020 / 6667 words

For his fifth birthday, Andy’s dad hit him twice. The belt coming down with a snap across the fat over his gluteal muscles, then the words, “This is life. It’s just life,” then a second snap. Andy held back tears until he was allowed to go back to his room. He laid in his bed, in the dark, and cried softly so no one would hear. Not his father, not his mother, not his brother. He laid there and prayed to be taken far away, to not feel lonely, for the stinging on his ass to stop.

The next morning his dad was sitting at the small kitchen table huddled over his coffee, hands shaking, bags under his eyes. He motioned Andy over. Andy’s heart raced as he took each fearful step. As he got closer, his father picked up a pocket knife off the table and held it out to Andy. “Happy birthday, buddy, it’s time you learned how to use one of these,” he said, and Andy took it. Both of their hands trembled from fear.

Later that night Andy put the knife in his bedside table drawer, shut it, and crawled into bed, grateful his dad wasn’t yet home from his evening devotions.

Now Andy stood in his childhood bedroom, staring down into the open bedside drawer at the rusty knife. It had not moved in twenty years.

Andy stood there in his old room. It was dirty. It was dusty. It smelled wet. There was a dark streak of mold climbing the wall. For whatever reason, he had gone straight for the bedside table and grabbed at the drawer pull.

Now he stood frozen, looking down at the knife, that 24 hour period in which he received it replaying in his mind like a 4k video. He reached down and picked up the knife. It had never been opened. He did not open it. He placed it in his pocket like it was an afterthought and looked around the room. Nothing had changed: the same posters still haphazardly hung, the ratty furniture in the same spots. Andy wondered if there were still clothes in the dresser but dared not look. He imagined how much cockroach shit was piled in the nooks and crannies and he shivered. Nothing here was worth keeping, nothing worth redeeming. Just like when he left.

He walked quickly back towards the front door, purposely not looking at the bloodstain on the floor. He strode out of the still-open door and slammed it shut behind him with a single flick of his hand. He got into his car, pulled out his phone, brought back up the search results for “biohazard remediation”, and tapped on the first result.

On his tenth birthday, no one acknowledged Andy. No one was home. He made himself his usual peanut butter and jelly sandwich, read, and went to bed. The feelings of neglect were counterbalanced by the schadenfreude. None of them were getting away with anything tonight.

The next morning, while he was eating his breakfast cereal, his dad got home. Andy saw him as he climbed out of the back of the cab and shuffled up the walkway towards the house. He had his coat in one hand and some papers in the other. Andy tried to escape out the back but, delayed by the gathering of his school supplies, he was too late. As his dad threw him against the walls of the narrow hallway and slapped his face, first with the back of his hand, then his palm, hurt, sting, hurt, sting, he said, “You think you’re so smart, Andy? Well, this is life. It’s just life,” shove, hurt, sting, hurt, sting.

Andy’s face wouldn’t start really swelling until about the third period. He wet a gym towel with cold water and held it against his cheeks every chance he got. He avoided the bullies. Sharks could smell blood.

As he sat in his car listening to the phone ring Andy felt the cold winter air sting against his face as the wind blew through the open window. The ringing stopped with a click, then, “Peaceful Cleaning, how can I help you?”

“Uh, yeah. I have a house that needs…cleaning?”

“Yes, sir. What is the nature of your need?” She sounded like a nice woman.

“You mean, like…? There’s blood.”

“Ok, no problem, sir. Let me check for the next available time with our biohazard team.”

“There’s also…a lot of mold and stuff.”

“Ok, that’s typically a different team, is it ok if we make two different appointments?”

“Yeah, that’s fine.”

“We can contact the police for you and handle working with them. What’s the address?”

“I think the police are done.”

“Ok. Like I said, we contact them and make sure we’re clear to begin our work. What’s the address?”

“1975 northeast 50th.”

“Ok please hold.”

Andy started the car, turned up the heat, and closed the window. He sighed.

When he was twelve, Andy wished his dad was dead. He didn’t think it would take thirteen years and be such a pain in the ass to deal with when it happened.

The phone clicked again. “Ok, sir, we’re all clear to begin work. We can be there tomorrow morning at 8 am. We can provide an estimate once our team lead has assessed the situation and we’ll need to arrange payment before we begin. If you’d like I can call your insurance company this afternoon on your behalf.”

“Ok, no problem…and…I don’t know what the insurance situation is, and I’m not sure I can find out by tomorrow…”

“If you’re ok with it, sir, we can provide you all the paperwork you’ll need to file the claim yourself later on.”

“Ok, great. Thanks.”

“I’ll need just a bit more information. Is this Mr. Ducksworth?”

Andy was already hanging up when he heard the question. He wondered if she was going to call back. He was too exhausted to answer any more questions. “Please don’t call back,” Andy said out loud and his phone immediately shut down. He pressed the power button but the screen refused to come to life. He sighed again and threw the car into reverse.

When he was fourteen, between 6th and 7th period, Andy told Jimmy Flicker to drop dead. Jimmy punched him hard in the stomach, and Andy fell to his knees. After school let out Jimmy would finish his work on Andy in the alley next to the 7-11 on 12th street. It wasn’t the first time and it wouldn’t be the last.

On his way back to the motel Andy stopped at the 7-11 on 12th street for an energy drink and coconut water.

Back at the motel, he opened his laptop and instinctually loaded Facebook in a new browser tab. At the top of his newsfeed was a post about a former classmate. He had jumped off the top of his highrise apartment building a few states away. Andy remembered Jimmy, the bully that tormented him throughout middle and high school. Andy felt sad for him and wondered what had happened in his life since high school that caused him to decide to jump off a tall building.

When he turned 21, Andy’s friends took him to Vegas. It was nerd road trip heaven on a Greyhound. They played Nintendo DS and cards, read science fiction and fantasy novels, and talked into the night. They arrived just in time to hit an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet.

They spent their first day in Vegas taking full advantage of Andy’s ability to legally consume alcohol. They lost more money at the blackjack and 5-card stud tables than they would have spent on alcohol, but drank enough free drinks to make it feel like a wash. They laughed and spoke too loud and were throwing up in the lobby bathrooms by three in the afternoon.

They took a break around six and ate bad steak at another buffet. They began to sober up with every intention to crush their livers once again under the weight of late-night drinking. They wandered the strip and explored every dark corner. Vegas was so bright that it was only in the shadows that it felt like there was any adventure to be had.

It was on one of those adumbral streets that Andy was mugged. His friends got away, but Andy didn’t run. It was either his stubborn nature or his behavioral response to years of beatings but he just stood there looking almost bored at the knife pointed in his direction. When it plunged into his body just below his ribs, the sensation was almost a relief. What a novel feeling to such a familiar turn of events.

In the very early hours of the following morning, Andy laid on his hotel bed, midsection carefully wrapped in bandages by the ER nurses, head swimming in painkillers. His friends sat around him, feeling guilty, amazed, and in awe, asking questions, laughing at his nonchalant answers. Andy was the king of his world.

“All I know is that after all this, I better win big tonight!”

“Yeah, you better!” his friends agreed.

They all slept until the afternoon. Andy popped an extra pain pill, cleaned himself up as best he could with a wet washcloth, gingerly changed clothes, grabbed the rest of his cash and an expensive bottle of hotel water, and headed downstairs for the free hotel drinks.

That night, at the same blackjack and 5-card stud tables, Andy turned five hundred dollars into ten grand.

It felt good. Really good. He regaled his friends again that night, into the darkest hours of the morning, and soon after the sun rose they made their way back to the Greyhound station.

On the way, they stopped by a 7-11. Andy said, “Grab whatever you want, it’s on me!”

So they did.

And then they were headed back home. They filled their bellies with honey buns and Ho Hos and orange Fanta and slept better than any Greyhound passengers in history.

Andy’s phone turned back on the next morning and he headed back to his childhood home, hoping the cleaning crew was still coming. They showed up on time and after he filled out a stack of paperwork and let them run his credit card, Andy unlocked the front door for them and they got started. Andy got back in his car and went for a drive.

The rental car smelled of both cigarette smoke and the terrible stuff car rental places spray on the upholstery to cover up cigarette smoke smells. It was still cold outside but Andy rolled down the window. He tried to not think about his family but it was all too present. He stopped at a 7-11 and realized he’d left his wallet at the hotel.

“I’m going to need to get away with stealing some snacks,” he said as he got out of the car. He wandered the store and put some Twizzlers and an energy drink in his pocket. He had the thought that he should probably steal healthy food but was too lazy to put the sweet stuff back. He looked at the cashier, said hello, and walked out the door.

As he pulled out of the parking lot, he bit a Twizzler, hoping the flavor of his youth would assuage the guilt he couldn’t help but feel.

After Vegas, Andy wondered. He used his winnings from his first trip and bought a plane ticket a couple of months later. He stuck to the blackjack tables, didn’t drink too much, played in exactly the way the internet said to play to win, and lost a thousand dollars.

That night he laid on his hotel bed and pondered the circumstances of his previous winning day those months prior. He considered going on a late-night walk, getting lost on purpose, and trying to find someone to stab him. He fell asleep instead.

The next morning as he walked out of the elevators he whispered, “I need to win today.”

He won ten grand again that day. And it started to click.

Andy flew home later that night. He bought an upgrade to business class. He pulled out a small notepad and pen from his backpack and began to write.

Don’t go to the same casino twice. Don’t go more than once a month. Go to other places besides Vegas. Don’t tell anyone. Save the money. Move into my own place. Test with other things.

“I need a drink,” he thought out loud. A few minutes later the airline stewardess came up to him and informed him that he was the recipient of a free drink coupon.

Andy began making his rounds. He started back in Vegas, at yet another new casino. He only stayed one day.

The next month, Reno. Shreveport. Atlantic City. Back to Vegas. He’d never been to West Virginia.

He started with blackjack, then five-card stud, then five-card draw. When he got bored he would hit the slots. When he felt more social he would find a craps table with a modest crowd.

Sometimes he would lose and think, “This is it.” But then he would win again. When he won too big he would immediately cash out and wander the city until his flight home.

Andy bored easily. He also became paranoid quickly. Both were hard to keep at bay.

“This is a job,” his shoulder devil would say.

“No it’s not, idiot,” his sardonic shoulder angel would say.

He made a road trip around Oklahoma. All the Choctaw. All the Cherokee. Then he felt guilty.

Then he realized he could do horses. And small lotteries. He considered a trip to Miami. He was always intrigued by jai alai.

Initially, his paranoia kept him off the online options. Then one night he got bored, connected to his VPN, and went for it.

For some reason, gambling online felt like a bigger moral failing than playing at all those casinos did. It also lacked the aesthetic nuance that Andy had come to enjoy. He nearly rolled his eyes as he logged in with his newly created account and said his magic words, “Let me win tonight.”

And he did win. Sort of. Something about the mediation of the experience made Andy more audacious. He won once or twice at his normal bet size to test the waters, then bet his entire pot…and lost it. He deposited more money and continued to win…and lose. He was used to losing some, but historically the tides were always in his favor. This time, after two hours on the site, he was pretty much just at break even. Not terrible, to be sure, but he was used to the near-constant rush of winning. After a couple more hours and no major gains, he cashed out and logged off.

“Well…that was weird and unfulfilling,” Andy said out loud to himself. He cracked open a Coke and watched TV for a while, but couldn’t shake how disconcerted he felt. Had his “lucky streak” come to an end? Something else felt off, and he couldn’t quite put his finger on it.

Andy realized he hadn’t been terribly scientific about this whole situation, and immediately considered that a shortcoming. He was studying science, after all. He decided to give the online gambling thing two more tries, for another two hours each. Not a great sample set, but he didn’t enjoy the experience in the first place so he figured why torture himself.

The next two nights he logged on, loaded up his account with his normal amount, and played for two hours. Both nights were repeats of the first…winning and losing but with a slightly and, at this point in his career, really annoying edge to losing.

That made three identical experiences with online gambling which were all in fairly stark contrast to his nearly one hundred experiences in casinos and with other forms of in-real-life gambling. He decided that was enough. But it still bothered him to a degree he could not shake.

He returned to his journal. He hadn’t been great about writing about his experiences during this time, but like any good rational scientist, he had taken some notes. He turned to the first page.

Don’t go to the same casino twice. Don’t go more than once a month. Go to other places besides Vegas. Don’t tell anyone. Save the money. Move into my own place. Test with other things.

He’d done all the but the last one. He’d been so focused on both the narrow circumstances of his first discovery of his abilities–and on making money–that he had forgotten his first instinct to try other things besides gambling. He decided to go for a walk.

For a college town, where Andy lived was relatively quiet. He headed towards campus, a thirty-minute walk away. It was a pleasant evening and the streets were empty. For the first time, the oddness of his situation dawned on him. He laughed out loud.

He still had no ideas about how to test this thing. The first thing that came to his mind made him laugh again. He decided to be really scientific and try different variations based on what he knew so far.

“Trip me,” he thought. Nothing happened.

“Trip me,” he said out loud, chuckling again at his choice of test and bracing for impact at the same time. Nothing happened.

“I want to trip,” Andy said, then realized if this worked maybe it just meant he was going to try acid someday. Then two steps later his toe caught on a piece of uneven sidewalk and he went down.

Brushing himself off and assessing the scrapes on his palms, Andy sighed and said, “Ok…”

When he was 22, Andy’s mother joined a suicide cult. She didn’t realize it was a suicide cult at first, of course, or even that it was a cult at all. Susan just needed a place to belong, and to escape to. She’d read enough Facebook posts that made the things she was taught at her church seem downright logical. After a while, though, she did delete her Facebook account, as instructed.

What people often do not appreciate about cults, even suicide cults, is that if any of its members thought they were part of a cult, they wouldn’t be there. If they knew that drinking poison was the final goal of their organization, they probably would not have chosen to be a part. Self-preservation instincts are strong. They must be tricked into thinking that the poison is just the next logical step along this path on which they have been led.

The first step is the feeling of acceptance. The feeling that, finally, one belongs. The next step is the teachings. Of course, that is why things are the way they are, it is so obvious now. Then comes the isolation. Those outside this circle of knowing, it’s not their fault, but they can’t be trusted. Then the behaviors. When each new behavior is so much like the last, the change is imperceptible. But each takes a small step towards the gallon jug of laced iced tea.

Andy drove around town, eating Twizzlers and guzzling an energy drink. The fog of the morning lifted from the roads and from his mind. His mind wandered like his car, left and right, pausing to remember when it passed by a landmark. Every school, 7-11, cemetery. Every old friend’s house. Every old bullies’ house.

Andy thought about how he escaped this town on an academic scholarship, moving just a few hours down the road as a freshman and never looking back. A few hours’ drive was all it took to change his life completely. He thought about Vegas. He thought about all the money he’s won at casinos all over the country. He thought about all the tests he aced, all the food he stole, the postgraduate program he was accepted into. (Surely that was by merit, but why leave it to chance?) He thought about the plans he made. Plans for himself and his mother.

Just before he made the final turn to head back to the hotel, the car stopped almost as if by itself. In a nondescript neighborhood, in front of a nondescript house. The forested area behind it, unchanged for centuries. The for-sale sign in front of it, unchanged for years.

There it was, the house in which his mother died.

When he was 23, Andy’s mother committed suicide. Not with the rest of her suicide cult, though. The particular poison the leaders of her group had chosen didn’t form a solution with iced tea. Its molecules were hydrophobic and sank to the bottom of the jug. They poured the tea into small cups in reverse order of indoctrination, making Susan one of the first to have her’s dispensed. Then they drank in the opposite order. When their leader collapsed onto the floor, his deacons barely flinched. No one rushed to his aid. The other leaders followed soon thereafter. Susan was only halfway through her glass; she was always a slow drinker. She was also not that naive. But she thought, “Fuck it,” and drank it down. When half an hour later the four newest recruits were still sitting in their chairs looking at each other, she took in the scene, and looking down at the bodies all over the floor said, “Shit, I can’t do anything right.”

Not dead, not willing to go to jail, she called 911. Five minutes later she calmly let the cops in. Ten minutes after that she was explaining everything to an overly nice, young detective. Six hours later she was in the intake room of the closest mental institution.

The thing about mental health in this country is that forty years after One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the cures are still nearly as damning as the ills. And Susan had been through too much in her life to put up with this kind of bullshit. She muddled her way through the month of state-mandated institutional therapy, dutifully took her pills, and counted the days until she could get her phone back and play Words with Friends again.

Susan had no place to go. She had a car and enough cash for a few weeks at the weekly rate motel. So that’s where she stayed. She sat outside her room, smoking her menthol cigarettes and contemplating life. One day, about a week into her stay, Andy’s father pulled into the gravel parking lot. He parked across the way and walked over.

“I heard about what happened.”

“How could you have not?”

“Well, I’m glad you didn’t die with the rest of those freaks.”

“They weren’t freaks.”

“Ok, weirdos. Whatever.”

“What do you want?”

“I just wanted to see if you were alright.”

“I’m alright.”


With that Andy’s dad turned on his heel and walked back to his car. He had needed to go by the package store anyway.

Besides sitting outside her room, Susan liked to go for a drive. Her car was old and big and the weather felt good with the windows down this time of year. She’d meander through the roads in town, then out to the country, then back into town.

It was on such a drive that Susan encountered Treasure. Susan was headed down Meadow Lake Drive, which was nowhere near a meadow or a lake when her wandering thoughts were interrupted by the sight of a large woman motioning out of her open window on the far side of the road. She strained to determine what the woman’s gesticulations meant.

It was then that a young girl ran out in front of Susan. Despite smashing on the brake pedal, her large vehicle struck the girl, who bounced off the chrome bumper like a rubber band. The girl straightened herself as she flew through the air, feet just inches from the asphalt. She moved a few feet before her body fell again hard against the road, her head finally landing with a stomach-turning thud.

“Treasure!” The large woman lurched out of her car as fast as she could, running to the side of her daughter. Susan’s blood rushed to her head in one instance and back out in the next. She felt nauseous.

“Treasure’s still in a coma, Andy,” Susan spoke desperately into the phone.

“It’ll be ok, mom,” Andy said in his most reassuring tone.

“She just ran right out in front of me, Andy,” she said, almost crying…again.

“I know, mom,” Andy said. “Mom, I’m going to come down this weekend, ok?”


“I have some money for you.”

“You’re my sweet angel, Andy. My grown-up, capable little boy.”

“Thanks, mom.”

“I remember when you were a helpless, defenseless little baby. I took care of you. Now you take care of me.” There was a pause, and Andy didn’t know what to say. “Babies are so innocent!” Now she was crying. She tried to hide it but Andy could hear it in her breathing. There was an even longer pause. “Did I tell you the cop who was first on the scene was the same cop from the house?” Andy took a second to realize she meant the “religious” house.


“Yeah. He looked at me so…weird.”

“He’s just a cop.”


“Ok mom, I’m going to call tomorrow, and I’ll be there Friday night, but late, ok?”

“Ok, baby.”

“I’ll see you then.”

“See you then.”

“I love you.”

“I love you too.”

Andy hung up the phone and said, “I need Treasure to be ok. I need my mom to be ok.”

When he was 23, Andy’s mother committed suicide. She’d survived an abusive, alcoholic husband. She’s survived a suicide cult. But she couldn’t survive Treasure.

The next morning Andy’s phone rang. It was that same police officer. Andy couldn’t believe the words he was hearing.

In silent cooperation, Andy and his father collected his mother’s belongings from the hotel and drove the car back to his father’s house. In the only time in their lives, they would work together, making arrangements for his mother. It was as traditional as their budget allowed. Andy still wasn’t going to let his father know he had money. He contributed three thousand, about half, and said it was leftover scholarship money. His father was too dazed and too ignorant to know better.

Andy was leaving town straight from the cemetery but made one more stop on his way back home. He bought a small arrangement of flowers and balloons in the hospital lobby and took them up to Treasure’s room. She was doing well. Sitting in that hospital bed, one would never know she’d emerged from a coma just three days prior. Andy avoided introducing himself and said he had heard about Treasure on the news. She was charming and gracious to a stranger. Andy saw Treasure’s mother wipe a tear of joy off her cheek.

When he was 24 Andy got his first professional job. It had been less than a year since his mother died. It had been six years since his last job. He had subsisted off of scholarship money until his discovery and had made plenty of money gambling since then. But he was bored and had a computer science degree.

As he got out of his car he said, “I want this job.”

“I don’t see any extra-curricular activities on your resume. What else did you do while you were going to school?”

“I gambled.”


“I am really good at gambling. I made a lot of money. I also traveled.” Andy had an out-of-body experience as the words came out of his mouth. Why was he saying that?

His interviewer laughed nervously. “I like to watch the World Series of Poker on ESPN2.”

“Cool.” This interview was not going well. Andy wondered if that even mattered. Why couldn’t they just ask him to write a bubble sort on the whiteboard? There was a whiteboard. It was covered in nearly illegible words, some circled, lines connecting the circles in imprecise arcs, cutting through other illegible words. Evidence that important deep thinking had occurred in this room.

Andy got the job. In college, he had written an entire web search engine in just one of his classes. Now he was copy-pasting marketing copy into HTML and cranking out JSON APIs for front-end developers in another country.

“I need to do something more interesting,” Andy mumbled under his breath one day. The next day his manager stopped by his desk and informed him that there was an emergency situation at a client site in Omaha. Andy was to learn about that particular system overnight and fly to Nebraska in the morning.

“I need to remember all this shit,” Andy said with disgust as he settled down with the company wiki that night and checked out the repository for that product. And he did. He’d later wonder to himself why he’d never tried that in college. The answer was he had never thought to. He’d never needed to.

“I need Omaha to not be boring,” Andy quietly said as he boarded the flight.

“I need these customers to be cool,” he said in the Uber from the airport.

“Yeah?” his Uber driver asked. “What are you doing in Omaha?”

“Working,” Andy said. “I need to get better at small talk,” he told his driver and the universe simultaneously. That lead to pleasant conversation. He couldn’t remember ever having a congenial conversation with a stranger.

Andy discovered and remedied the problem by lunch. He still couldn’t believe they paid $2000 plus his expenses for him to work half a day, all because they refused to make the machine accessible from the outside.

“While you’re here,” his customer point-of-contact, Bill, said and pulled him into a meeting. There was a heated discussion, and Andy listened. Finally, after an hour, Bill said, “Andy, what do you think?” Andy suggested his company’s new cloud offering might solve the problems they were having.

“No, no. Sam would never go for that,” a woman across the conference table said. Andy had heard that name a couple of times throughout the meeting. He wondered who this mythical Sam person was. He imagined him sitting in a dimly lit room at the end of a long, dark hallway. Company minions were sent down that hall to extract signatures or opinions. They would shake and wince the entire way.

“Let’s call her,” Bill said and reached for the conference phone in the middle of the table. The air thickened. Eyes widened. He hit a button on the phone and the electric dial-tone screamed like a cheap alarm. Then he hit the buttons, slowly and methodically. 3. 2. 7. 0. #. The phone rang.

Andy listened to the call between Bill and Sam. It did not go well. Andy really wanted to leave. He wondered if there was a parallel universe where he could and did leave. Where he just stood up and walked out the door.

It was painful to listen to. Bill mercifully did not direct any of Sam’s ire towards Andy.

Bill hung up. His face was bright red but he smiled. “She…she didn’t hang up on me.”

“I know!” someone else said. Andy couldn’t remember his name.

“That went really well,” Bill said. He turned to Andy and said, “I think we have you back in the next couple of weeks to discuss your cloud offering in more detail, and we’ll see if we can get Sam in the room.” Andy was so confused. And definitely did not want to be in the same room as Sam as she eviscerated all his arguments for his company’s products. He didn’t believe in them that much. And he didn’t understand why it was worth having him fly to Omaha again if that was the inevitable outcome. He sat for a number of beats in stunned silence, trying to find the right words.

“That went really well?”

Bill laughed nervously. “Yes! And as for our next meeting with Sam, we can’t have your salesperson here, just you. She’ll never budge if there is a salesperson in the room.”

“I need this meeting with Sam to go well.”

Andy was dutifully sent back to Omaha two weeks later. The meeting was set for pretty much the moment he arrived at their offices. He was nervous.

“Well, Sam, you have the final word. What do you think?” Bill asked.

“I don’t know why I bother, you’re just going to do this anyway. Approved.” Sam’s first words to the room full of middle management were blunt and to the point. Andy had given his presentation, there was a short period of discussion and then Bill had laid it up for Sam. Her response evoked a huge smile from Bill. He had won the impossible, and he had no idea it was because of Andy, and Andy had no idea if it was because he had asked or because Sam was simply tired of fighting the good fight. Her stable system that had served the company well for twenty years was going to be replaced piece by piece with new tech hastily developed within the last five years, advocated by MBAs who wouldn’t know a compiler from a wrinkle-free oxford and made technical decisions based on other MBAs’ Medium posts. Andy was just a political tool, and he felt acutely so as he watched Sam get up and walk out of the conference room.

When Andy was 25, his dad killed himself.

He had just landed from his Omaha trip and turned his phone off of airplane mode when he got the voicemail from the police.

He called the police back.

He spoke with the police.

He picked up his bag from the carousel.

He hailed a ride home.

He threw his dirty clothes in the hamper.

He packed clean clothes.

He brushed his teeth.

He grabbed a Coke out of the fridge.

He drove to his home town.

He drove to the police station.

He followed the police officer to his childhood home.

The police officer unlocked the door and handed him the keys.

The police officer got back in his car and drove away.

He stood just inside the front door, eyes immediately drawn and glued to the bloodstain on the floor. Then the dirt. Then the cobwebs in the corners. Then the water stains on the walls.

Andy’s dad had not fared well in the end. He was too busy with the drink to care for the house, and with nobody else living in it, why? Then the drink started to put thoughts in his head. They were not good thoughts. Then the thoughts started to get the sawed-off shotgun out of the closet. Then put it in his lap. Then put it in his mouth.

Now Andy stood in his childhood bedroom, staring down into an open bedside drawer at a rusty pocket knife. It had not moved in twenty years.

He walked quickly back towards the front door, purposely not looking at the bloodstain on the floor. He strode out of the still-open door and slammed it shut behind him with a single flick of his hand. He got into his car, pulled out his phone, brought back up the search results for “biohazard remediation”, and tapped on the first result.

As he sat in his car listening to the phone ring Andy felt the cold winter air against his face as the wind blew through the open window.

When he was six, Andy’s family took a beach vacation. While his mother slept and his father took swigs from his flask, Andy walked into the ocean. An unusually large wave arrived and swept his feet out from under him. The weight of the ocean was enormous and unexpected. His mouth and crotch filled with sand and saltwater. It held him under for what felt like an eternity. He crawled back out of the sea, gasping for breath. It was the closest he would ever feel to death until now.

Andy sighed. It was all too much. The waves of depression came crashing on the shores of his mind. He wasn’t being hyperbolic or cliche. It felt exactly like that trip to the beach. He wondered why the death of a man he honestly hated was affecting him so much.

“I wish I had never been born,” he said.

He let a beat pass.

“Ah, right. Probably doesn’t work on the past,” he said out loud to no one.

The ringing stopped with a click, then, “Peaceful Cleaning, how can I help you?”

Andy arrived back at the hotel after the short tour of his hometown. Despite all the sugar and energy drink, he was exhausted. He laid down on top of the disgusting hotel blanket and fell asleep.

The phone rang. Andy awoke disoriented. It was dark outside.

“We’re all done. We normally do a walk-through afterward, but given the hour and the fact it’s already after dark and the electricity isn’t on at the house, I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind just calling us in the morning if there are any issues.”

“Sure,” Andy said.

“Thank you,” said the much-more-awake voice on the other side of the line.

He knew he was going to be up all night now. He cursed his terrible sleep habits. He blamed the schedules his gambling career forced him into.

He decided he wanted out of this curse. He didn’t need money. He didn’t want more success. He didn’t want to think about every sentence that escaped his mouth. He wanted people to stop dying.

He took a long shower and thought. He took a long walk in the night and thought.

“I don’t want this anymore,” he said as he walked back up to the hotel, “whatever this is.”

Andy returned to his house the next morning. He assumed it was his house now. It was cleaner than before, that was for sure. The bloodstain was gone from the carpet. The mold stains on the walls were still there, still noticeable, but at least they weren’t giant Rorschach tests anymore. Nothing a little paint couldn’t fix. The floors and baseboards were free of their eighth inch of dirt.

He went into his bedroom. The furniture was still just at ratty as ever, but at least there weren’t cobwebs all over it. He pulled open a dresser drawer. They hadn’t opened the dresser drawers. He decided that was ok. He could throw away his own old clothes. Maybe he would build a bonfire out back.

The following days passed quickly. He met with the only real estate agent in town. He built that bonfire. He arranged to have the furniture taken away.

“I need this house to sell fast. I need to be done with this,” he said.

Nine months later, he picked up the phone to check in once again with his real estate agent. They’d lowered the price of the house to the value of the land it sat on, hoping someone would at least pick it up just to tear it down. Andy thought about tearing it down himself.

The entire process was stressful and time-consuming. But it was his process. It was his experience to live through. There would be no more gambling. No more messianic work trips. He had to work through particularly tough system bugs with time and frustration, just like everyone else at work.

That Thanksgiving Andy sat alone in his apartment with nothing to do and no one to call. He felt a little bit sad. He felt more than a little bit lonely.

But he was free.