By Travis Bill

It started with a few leaflets. Maybe a business card here and there. I really wasn’t inspired to become the type of entrepreneur that I suppose I’ve actually become, but I was somewhat inspired by the illusion of relevance that “aiding” or “comforting” or any number of separate participles seemed to provide for a derelict mid-twenties shithead living off processed food and Valium. It was romantic, gratuitous ambition siphoned through desperation.

It seems that from the time I knew how to feel I had fetishized sadness. Though I left that part off of the business cards.

My first customer was a man whose girlfriend had left him after almost three years of steady dating. In his words, she had “started fucking her yoga instructor on a goddamned island in Borneo and sent me a fucking postcard to break it off.” She had brown hair and hazel eyes and a smile that could stop a construction worker dead before he even had the chance to whistle. Our working relationship began with a few bowls of cereal and some reruns of Cheers, but soon enough I was taking these gems that Rod was feeding me with the excitement of a kid who had just unwrapped a new bicycle on his birthday. I wrote attributes and emotive outbursts down in a journal of human suffering that I kept on me at all times; the type of journal that wasn’t secretive in purpose but was rather kept as a talisman that underhandedly encouraged its viewers to ask what treasures were kept within. I told Rod they were the notes that allowed me to keep my service sharp. He didn’t ask to see them more than once.

You see, what I do is provide people in need with a hand to guide them away from the pill bottle or knife for just long enough to get them back into their fully functional societal functions. I’m a temporary replacement for the girlfriend, boyfriend, classified lover or, occasionally in recessions, even grossly overvalued pet that for which its other half desperately longs. I sit silently as the one who was left behind recounts the countless interactions he or she has had with the one who got away. I have a doctorate degree in nodding politely and affirming neuroses.

I am putty wrapped around splintering human hearts.

The specifics of the service I offer, I tell my customers, are a bit difficult to explain. This is mostly because as any young business troubadour understands, it’s important to be flexible in your process yet firm in your performance in the early years of your business. I had gotten into the human dependency detailing industry as an outlet for my own innate ability to serve. While most customers generally wanted the basic package of silent listening, reassuring pats on the back, physical presence and visage of contemplative understanding (the contemplative portion being important, as it seems nobody wants to be blindly agreed with), a good deal of improvisation was necessary. I found that among my first batch of customers, it was common to want what I’ve termed “behavioral re-enactments.” They wanted me to cook them the same recipes that they used to eat with their exes. They wanted candles next to the risotto, decorative place settings that complemented the ambient lighting. One woman even asked me to take ecstasy with her, put on a leather jacket that her ex-girlfriend had left behind, and roll both figuratively and literally on a green and tan area rug while she slowly moved her hands up and down my back.

They wanted you to wear sweatpants too. As it turns out, an open mind to the depths of relational suffering require lots of excessively baggy cotton.

Within three months, I barely needed an apartment of my own because I was constantly playing temporary roommate to the desolate and despairing all across New York City. I could usually take on two to three clients at a time, and their various couches became my personal landing grounds. From Yonkers to Queens, I had an air mattress and a shower at worst, a guest room and sauna at best. The beauty of it all was that, of course, even if I didn’t have a client in need of an overnight nursing visit, I always had a rolodex of formerly jaded lovers who would remember the one friend who stuck around during their darkest hours, even if the friendship was accompanied by a contractual agreement. Some romantics chose to hop trains across the great unknown. I chose to write idiosyncrasies and frailties in a little brown notebook that burrowed close with me in the left breast pocket of a wrinkled denim shirt.

By the end of the first year, I no longer needed to hand out any business cards. My name was flippantly passed around affluent circles by friends who couldn’t afford to help their comrades in heartbreak. They saw the value in one who kept the suffering mentally competent enough to perform their daily tasks without falling into anhedonia. I became a bit of a lifestyle brand of sorts. An aging hipster who had listened to too much grunge rock hauling a similarly aging briefcase around Gotham full of names and tactics to make the pain stop. It would have been perfect for a write-up in one of the weekly rags full of marijuana dispensary and escort advertisements. In a way, we were all in this struggle together.

After almost five years of business I’ve accrued so many stories and customers that I’ve begun to forget their personal sorrows. Their names in my notebook lack the accompanying faces of anguish that would allow me to tell them apart. Yet after all this time, my favorite part of this business is the same moment that I had originally shared with Rob. In the earliest stages of our relationship (which is usually the middle-stage of the breakup, as most customers believe they can handle it on their own at first), almost every business partner I’ve had took on a heavy diet of alcohol and insomnia. For the first few nights we’d stay up drinking and recounting stories about various exes, trying to place the most recent trauma into a larger context of unfinished sentimentality, grasping at straws for theses that would explain why the fuck he or she felt the need to leave.

By the third or fourth night, the customer was almost always ghastly tired, the dim glow of a sallow face unaccustomed to the combination of sorrow and liver abuse permeating the palpable tension that often follows days of calculated emotional dismantling. A B-movie marathon would run uninterrupted on the television as the donor of aborted ideologies would fall asleep listlessly in his favorite chair. All the Rods and Sherrys and Maximes asleep far from the touch of the ones they longed for most. My pupils would widen, fixated on the blues and greens of Clorox commercials, photographs and cursive faintly illuminated on yellowed pages sitting in my lap. Uninterrupted by ambition or faith we’d sit alone, together, and before the slow fade of sleep I’d sigh and smile at the masterful brokenness of it all.

Back to Fiction.

Back to Issue 3.