They were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. ‘They’ being good ol’ mom and pops, of course; mom at the wheel and going into labor, pops within moments just about halfway to heaven or hell or otherwise hoppin’ plain out of his mind in the backseat of the Ford Camaro, or a VW Beetle, or a Mitsubishi Galant -- does it matter? It was late in the 70s and soon, suddenly, there was gonna be a terrible roar all around them and the sky would be full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about 100 miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas -- so it didn’t matter; not much did at the time. Good ol’ mom and pops had to find a wedding chapel or a hospital or maybe one of those inflatable backyard kiddie pools, and they had to find it fast. Ideally the chapel first and foremost or little Byron Cleveland Brandt was gonna be born out of wedlock.
Byron Cleveland Brandt was born out of wedlock. By approximately 4 hours and 20 minutes. On September 10th, 1978. That’s math for “the dude’s old” which also equates to “mid-life crisis trigger warning” which could also just be me here trying to take shortcuts in summarizing 38-and-a-half years into a few paragraphs before my time’s up.
For the first 7 years or so of Byron-- That’s a ridiculous name. His parents were high. They were also from Cleveland and hence the just as ridiculous-sounding middle name, so really you can just call this protagonist Ron, or Clive, or Brad, or Bill, or James-- For the first 7 years or so of James’ life, things were pretty much regular as far as pretty regular childhoods go. Gary was, around then, a non-tenured Associate Professor of Comparative Religion with specialization in what he fondly referred to as “eastern mysticism and voodoo and hocus pocus” and he did so not without the necessitated hand flourishes of a mad magician who’d traded his wand for a piece of chalk; Barbara, in a smaller mouthful, was a high school English teacher with an occasionally professional penchant for dramatics both on and off the stage in local theater groups. Both were recovering hippies and failed explorers of the universe. Grandma was dead. Grandpa was an undertaker, possibly even THE Undertaker, the baddest badass in WWF history. And some children grow up knowing only of their paternal lineage.
Around the age of 7, Brad discovered he had about 8 other grandparents and no actual friends at school. He was the weird kid, yeah. He talked to himself sometimes. He told stories about why he couldn’t come out from under his desk -- he was a vampire and the sunlight would melt his skin off -- and why he couldn’t play cops and robbers even with sunscreen on -- he was a Native American warrior who couldn’t be kept behind imaginary bars because all’a the cops’ imaginations weren’t strong enough to hold him in -- and, among many of his other recurring tales, why his dog ate his homework -- he had 9 grandparents and each of them had trained their dogs to fetch homework instead of newspapers. Gary was somewhat concerned by this stage. Barbara gushed that it came from her side of the family. Bill’s active imagination eventually mellowed out. Dear ol’ grandma had taken care of it.
High school was a breeze, a walk in the park, an endless day sprawled burning his skin off on the beach -- during which, Ron met a girl. She dies pretty tragically in the next paragraph or three so we shan’t name her, but as high school hopes and hormones go: They fell, ultimately, pretty tragically in love. The love of his life, he called her. Lohl for short. They finished high school together, enrolled into Boston University together, moved to Boston together, got married together. And before you wonder if he had made her up too -- he hadn’t; she was as real as shit gets. She made college bearable; she was everlasting sunscreen and it seemed like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era -- the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run... but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant.
Even if it meant, at a certain point, that they dropped out of college one-and-a-half semesters away from the final finals when Lohl missed her period. It was a false alarm but by the time the baby bump never arrived, together they had already bought a crib which came with a monthly mortgage and Clive had taken up employment as a private investigator. Assistant private investigator, technically, but business in Boston was uncannily good for anyone willing to get their hands and the tips of their noses dirty spying on whoever kept leotards in their closet or was living some double life in general -- also, the man he worked for was dead. Like for real dead. Clive had waltzed into the office for his job interview one early autumn morning and found his would-be employer shot through the chest with a .30-caliber bullet, lying on the ground covered in sawdust. Supposed baby on the way, severely strapped for cash and pretty darn desperate, Clive didn’t have much of a choice but to tiptoe around the body and clean out the guy’s wallet -- which then made him feel bad a few days later but this is a long winding part of the story and we’re all holding our breaths because human decomposition reeks and there’s another dead person part of the story to get to so let’s just say there’s a missing person file tucked somewhere with the Boston PD and a personally investigated cold case file Clive still keeps at the bottom of his bedside drawer. (Found the period. Cue the collective breath.)
Skipping to the chase: During the time Ron was running his swanky new business, Lohl was murdered. Someone hadn’t been pleased about being spied on, some thugs paid an unsolicited visit to their home, the wifey was grilling cheeseburgers in the backyard, the thugs came in through the back gate, this protagonist didn’t trapeze down the stairs quick enough -- typical ‘the good die young’ stuff. Plus maybe a helping of brutality and grisly details. This is a hasty paragraph. The next one will be short too because grief is eternal, there’s really not much else to say about it.
Byron Cleveland Brandt grieves eternally. He won’t show it, but one lifetime has become an infinite moment between a life poorly lived and the agonal state of death.
He’s since quit the sordid profession of peeking behind locked doors. He’s also since taken an interest in booze and parkour, with separate schedules for both pastimes. Usually. Attempting death-defying stunts while intoxicated and despite only being a wannabe American Ninja Warrior turned out to be a great way to compensate for his existence. Another way was to throw himself off a cliff into the most demanding profession he could not so soberly think of: dealing with everyone else’s life mishaps. So as of late 2016 -- approximately 4 years and 20 days since the murdered wife thing -- Dr. Adam Martin Nealson has become the semi-begrudging sole proprietor of a legally registered web therapy service.
The service itself is completely illegitimate, of course. Brad was a philosophy major not a neuroscientist; none of his grandparents were neuroscientists. All he has for any sort of qualification are his intuitions and his perceptive read on people, a knack for telling stories and occasionally a somewhat too compassionate ear -- when it’s not listening to the many voices of either profound reason or debilitating delusion. But who cares about spoofed credentials on the internet! Yep, it’s on his website, it’s true: You just register, pay a small monthly fee; and in complete anonymity he’ll listen to all of Boston’s problems, conjure a few cockamamie diagnoses from out of his crystal speedball, and then medicate them with healthy doses of superduper professional advice.