Any Other Name
A Short Story by Geneva Chao
Written using the suggestion "Why on earth would a man raise his hand against himself."
Originally featured on 12-09-2010
As part of our series "The Benefit of Doubt: Stories Written to Explore Domestic Violence and Abuse"

Felix has a black eye again.

What do you mean, again?

He had one last month. Right after midterms. He wore a baseball cap to class, but I saw him outside, in the sun, the sun was coming through all the winter-bare trees and it hit him just so, on the side of the face. I saw the scar where the cat scratched him, remember, a couple years ago, a long narrow scratch from his cheekbone to his jaw. It’s white now. And I saw his eye, which was all purple and yellow and puffy. I didn’t say anything. He didn’t say anything. But it was definitely a black eye.

Have you ever had a black eye?

Sort of.

?

That time I got in the middle of a bar fight, the one where your old roommate’s boyfriend thought some dude was hitting on her but then he turned out to be gay. I caught a shot glass to the temple. I thought it was gonna be a black eye but it was more like a watercolor. A blue-grey spot the size of dime bleeding downward. I just put matching eyeshadow on the other one and nobody noticed.

Oh, when you looked like Siouxie.

Yeah.

I thought you just wanted to look like Siouxie.

You know I don’t go in for that Eighties goth shit.

You were Elvira for Halloween that time.

That’s because I already have the hair, not because I’m a goth.

So what?

So I’m not a goth, for fuck’s sake. I’m wearing a blue sweater. Goths don’t wear colors.

Whatever.

Whatever.

So where do you think he got it?

Bar fight, maybe, except he’s barely been out for a couple months.

New girlfriend. He’s busy staying in.

Yeah, staying in and eating tofu. Apparently the girlfriend’s a health fanatic. Won’t touch anything that’s not organic. Won’t be in a room with smokers. Won’t shop at the Sentry. Won’t eat in a regular restaurant. So there’s nowhere in town they can go, except Moosewood, and she has him drive out to the farm co-op in Lansing.

Farming accident?

He’s buying the food, not growing it. Jeez.

Whatever.

Maybe a tennis accident, too, except that Damon told me he hasn’t played in weeks. Felix is always busy when he calls.

He’s a big boy. He can deal. Probably pissed off a frat boy or something.

Yeah, maybe. Except…I don’t know. I just get the feeling that if one of us got beat up by a frat boy, we’d all know. But there doesn’t seem to be any other explanation. Unless he’s got an imaginary friend. I mean, why on earth would a guy raise his hand against himself?

Heh. Maybe he has BDP.

BDP?

You know. The personality thing.

Which thing?

Where you have imaginary friends because they’re the only ones good enough.

Seriously. What?

The thing where you think people are perfect and then you hate them.

Oh, BPD! Not BDP. I thought you meant BDD. But you mean BPD.

Whatever. Maybe he has that. Maybe he punches himself in the face.

I highly doubt that.

Sometimes I want to punch myself in the face.

Don’t. That would be a turnoff. Big-time.

Yeah? You don’t like dudes with shiners? (...) Sometimes I want to punch Felix in the face.

Why the hell would you want to do that?

He’s so earnest.

He’s a nice guy.

He’s so goddamn sincere, and none of it is even his idea. He’s a follower. He just goes along with whoever comes along and tells him what to do. Like this new girlfriend thing. What the fuck? He’s disappeared, he suddenly can’t eat regular food and has to make special trips to the organic tofu store, he doesn’t hang. I could punch him in the face.

Don’t be an ass. Anyway, somebody beat you to it. He’s got a major black eye. Huge. Other eye this time.

Sometimes I want to punch you in the face.

You do not.

Do.

Shut up!

Donkey punch.

That’s fucking disgusting.

Babe. Just trying to keep things interesting.

Donkey punches aren’t to the face.

?

They’re not!

?

They are in Donkey Kong.

I don’t even know what you’re talking about anymore.

Just kidding, baby. Kidding. I don’t want to punch you. I might want to smack that ass a little.

Jasper.

What.

You want to wake up tomorrow with a smile on your face, or you want to wake up on your couch with an empty six-pack and a raging headache?

You gonna tell me what you want me to do?

Talk to him.

Talk to who?

Talk to Felix. I’m worried about him. Seriously, two black eyes in a month?

Five weeks.

Whatever. Hey, so you did notice. So talk to him, ok? Maybe he’s depressed. Or maybe his organic girlfriend is driving him to drink and he’s overdoing it. Or maybe he’s got — a brain tumor, or something, something that’s making him clumsy.

Yeah. Look, it’s not a big deal, ok?

It’s not a big deal? Would you think it’s not a big deal if I had two black eyes in a month?

That’s different. You’re a chick.

Would you think it’s not a big deal if I had a brain tumor?

Jesus.

What?

Christ.

Jas.

Yeah.

I’m worried about him. It’s weird to have two black eyes, in quick succession, like that. It doesn’t make sense. There’s not any way I can think of it where it makes sense. And, you know, it’s like he’s not even here anymore. It’s like he’s disappeared. The last time I saw him, when I noticed the black eye, he told me he was on his way to meditation.

So?

So why is he fucking meditating if he’s so drunk or off balance or confused that he keeps giving himself black eyes? Or maybe he’s like Russian royalty. That’s possible, right? Though I think I would know if he were hemophiliac. I mean, he was co-valedictorian with me.

I take it back. I do want to punch you after all.

No you don’t.

Do.

No you don’t.

Whatever.

I am worried.

You get some kind of health certificate from your co-valedictorian? I wasn’t aware that sharing medical records was part of the honor.

Shut up.

Fine.

Are you worried?

--

Well, are you?

Fuck, Lilah. Can you just drop it? Can you just drop it for ten seconds? Can you just stop treating Felix like he’s your brother or your puppy or your favorite doll? ‘Cause he’s not. And I’m pretty sure he doesn’t want to be.

Fuck yourself, Jasper. Felix is my friend. You may have forgotten the meaning of the word, since you’re too busy writing code and smoking bowls to actually interact with other humans, but Felix is my friend. I’ve known him since eighth grade. We alternated as Mathletes captains of all through high school. I set him up with my little sister for the prom. I care, okay?

Fine.

What, ‘fine’?

Fine. I know. I know you care about the guy, ok? I know you have this lingering adolescent fondness for him. But just chill the fuck out, all right? Just let him live his life. Don’t embarrass him.

What do you mean, ‘embarrass’ him?

Just…don’t.

Jasper.

Lilah.

Jasper.

What?

I love you.

Timing, Lilah.

I love you.

I know.

Jasper!

What.

You’re not Han Solo.

Shit, really?

--

OK. I love you too. But you’re not his mom. Lay off Felix, Lilah. He’s a big boy.

You’re right. I know you’re right. I just need to know that he’s okay. I need to know nothing bad is happening. I need to know he’s safe.

He’s not gonna be any safer if you know.

But he might need help.

You can’t help him.

Sure I can help him. If he’s getting beat up, I dunno, maybe he’s got an angry neighbor or a crazy stalker or his girlfriend has a jealous ex who’s trying to go all Scott Pilgrim on him, you know, I can help him. We can help him. I just need to know. I need to know what to do.

He’s not gonna…aw, fuck it. Where’s your lighter?

Give me one of those.

Give you cancer.

Ooh, I’m scared. Give me one.

No.

Jas!

Fine.

Thanks. Jas.

Lilah.

He’s not gonna be any safer if I know what?

--

WHAT?

Nothing.

Jasper.

If you know what’s going on.

What’s going on?

Nothing. I gotta go.

I’m gonna call his girlfriend.

Good luck, baby.

Maybe she can help.

Maybe she can’t.

What do you mean she can’t? Of course she can.

I mean maybe she isn’t.

She’s got to realize there’s a problem.

Lilah. Not everybody is you. You’re the kid who brought home the sparrow with the broken wing and made your mom put it in a shoebox. You’re premed because you want to keep doing that shit forever, putting people in shoeboxes, tucking them in, and don’t get me wrong, it’s great, the world needs somebody who gives a shit, but you can’t — maintain Felix like he’s a pet project of yours. He’s trying to get out, do something himself. Let him. Even if he fucks it up. Not everyone has such a huge capacity to butt in to other people’s lives.

It was a robin.

What?

I brought home a robin with a broken wing.

For fuck’s sake.

I just want to help.

Maybe you’re part of the reason he’s in this mess, did you ever think of that? Maybe your big sister routine and your let-me-help-you-Felix routine and your I’ll-get-you-a-prom-date routine aren’t doing him any favors. All the guy does is what you tell him. You and any other girl. So he finally has this girlfriend, a girlfriend you didn’t introduce him to — and from where I stand that’s a fucking first — and now it’s her turn to push him around. Maybe he needs that. Maybe the only way he’s going to grow a fucking spine is if he figures out how to stand up for himself instead of letting some chick tell him what to do and what not to.

I don’t think that’s fair.

It’s not.

Do you think I’m awful?

At least you’re a benevolent despot.

As opposed to?

Nothing.

You don’t like her, do you?

What’s to fucking like?

What’s wrong?

Nothing. It’s just pathetic. He needs to grow some balls.

He’s just a really sweet guy.

With no balls.

I don’t see what about him is so bad —

She talks to him like he’s a little kid. And he lets her.

We’re not all alpha males, Jas.

I don’t really blame them.

Who?

Whoever punched him in the face.

Don’t be a dick.

At least I have balls.

--

I just don’t think you can fix this, Lilah. He’s gotta figure it out.

Okay. Okay. You’re right.

I hope so.

Jas?

Yeah.

It died.

?

The robin. It died.

Read More By Geneva Chao

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