Justin Courtney Pierre Bio
A long time ago — long before you were born — I was a little boy who fell in love with a grown woman. She was something else, unlike any of the other humans I had come across in my short time on this planet so far. I was fully interested in all she had to offer, and she willingly gave of herself without pause. She was so incredibly wise, and I constantly looked for excuses to bump into her, just for the opportunity to talk. I fell so deeply in love.
Eventually I confessed my love to her. She knelt down to me and gently took my head between her hands. “If only you were all grown up,” she said as she kissed me on the top of my head. So I did what any young boy would do — I researched how to grow up faster. As you know, I’m not a technical wizard of any kind. And being an orphan of the world, I didn’t have a whole lot of instruction on how to approach this ambitious task. Fortunately, I met a man who possessed the ability to change matter over time. He was an odd sort of fellow who believed in the power of positive repetition. He gave me many mantras to study, told me to look inward over an extended period of time. He told me if I were truly focused—and lucky— I might reach my goal within a few decades. Obviously I was impatient, so I ransacked his laboratory one night after he had turned in, and absconded with a book of spells. One spell had the power to lengthen; another, the power to strengthen. One spell could manipulate the weather, and yet another had the power to reverse time.
I found an aging spell. I wanted to grow up quickly in order to be with the woman I loved. I followed the instructions and gathered the bizarre ingredients — a salamander’s claw, ten tears of pure joy, a flamingo’s kiss, frozen thoughts of the future, and a black rose. Given the vague units of measurement associated with most of the items, I had to use my best judgment to measure and make the potion. I mashed the items into a mushy paste, spread it on a piece of toast, and gobbled it up. For several hours, nothing happened. I was angry. I threw the odd man’s book of useless spells in the river and watched it drown. Then, I went to bed.
I woke up on fire. Not literally, but every cell in my body felt as though it were stretching, breaking apart, folding in on itself, and being born anew. I looked down at my body. I hardly recognized it. Every inch of me tingled and my skin moved as though a thousand worms were delivering mail on a deadline just below the epidermis. I rushed to a mirror as soon as I could stand to do so, and I saw one of the most glorious sights I’ve ever gazed my lonesome eyes upon. I was suddenly staring at a handsome man in his late twenties. He looked like me, but he also didn’t. He had facial hair and muscles — things I’d never experienced before. I stripped off my clothes and took it all in.
But my happiness was short-lived, for I soon began to notice wrinkles appearing on my forehead and at the corners of my eyes. My muscles softened. My stomach grew large. My hairline started to inch its way backwards. My hair began to turn gray. Soon I was staring at a middle-aged man. I had gone too far. In my excitement to change what was, I had failed to consider the possibility that I may no longer recognize what is. I felt like a monster — a little boy wearing a suit made of man.
It took a long while to bring myself to tell the woman whom I loved that I was now no longer a boy and to show her what I had become. I was afraid she might run screaming from the sight of me. But instead, she took my head into her hands and kissed me on the mouth when I stood in front of her. “I do,” she said. And we were married.
The next few years were a total blur of learning how to exist in a body that felt foreign to me. Eventually, I got the hang of it. Things were good. And soon you came along. And things were both good and difficult. I wanted to show you the ways of the world. It was not lost on me, the irony of teaching lessons and skills I had neither learned, experienced, nor understood. Somehow, despite this absurdity, a paradox occurred. You learned how to be far more human than I fear I ever will, and this fills me with a forever kind of joy that I can tap into whenever I need to scrape myself off the floor.
I know you’re not a fan of my stories. “They all have such terribly sad endings,” you’ve said on occasion. But I think this next one encapsulates the gist of what I’m trying to say.
There once was a father and daughter who journeyed across the snow-covered land they called home. They traveled on sleds led by very large dogs. This traditional crossing was made every seven years. This was their first crossing together since the daughter was born. In preparation for the journey, the father told his daughter as much as he could about the adventure ahead but omitted some of the danger that would disillusion the child’s innocent view of the world. The journey was only supposed to take around three to four weeks. For the father and the daughter, it did not.
At first, he thought perhaps his math had been off. He started rationing his food at week six. He maintained the facade and made sure nothing in his daughter’s routine changed. He feigned optimism and gave her his portions of food. When the first dog died, he hid that fact from her. He lied — his first to her — a lie about a canine wedding in the middle of the night. “They eloped and ran off,” he shrugged.
He tried to shield her from the horrors and struggles as long as he could. At last, around year five and several dogs later, he leveled with her. But she already knew. Well, if not the details, she already had the feeling that something was off as far back as she could remember. But none of that mattered.
“Teach me to hunt,” was all she said.
They spent the next few lost years getting to know each other more. The father would impart all his knowledge upon his daughter. She in return would take that knowledge and improve upon it. Somewhere in the eleventh year of the journey, the last of the old dogs died. They were still very far from home. The man, now older and weaker, rolled up his sleeves and got in the dead dog’s harness.
“Well… if that dumb dog’s gonna leave us up fuck creek… Well…shit,” was all he could say.
And so he pulled his daughter through the snow, because that’s what fathers do. Despite her constant protests to pull her own weight, he continued to spend each hour in daylight trudging through snow with the weight of his world on his back. Each day got increasingly more difficult, and yet he persevered. Until one day he couldn’t.
“It’s ok,” his daughter said, “we can walk from here.” And she pointed toward the horizon. The old man could see the tufts of smoke rising above the treeline, signifying signs of life. They shared a knowing look.
“How long have you known?” he asked.
“My whole life, I suppose.”
“Then why didn’t you say something?”
“I just wanted to see what would happen,” she shrugged, taking only what was useful to her from the sled and began walking toward the world.
“What’s worse?” the broken old man pleaded. “The idea that I’m incompetent, or that I just wanted more time with you?”
“What difference does it make?” she said over her shoulder. “Either way it was always going to end like this.”
As we grew older, Charlie became like a second kid to my family of 2. He always seemed to know when we were eating because he'd show up just as we were sitting down to dig in. It got to the point where my mom would just start setting an extra place at the table in anticipation of him. The two of them would go through this 1950's black and white tv sitcom routine at every meal, with her asking “Don't they feed you over there?” and he'd smile and reply, with his usual charm, “Yeah, but my mom's cooking isn't nearly as good as yours, Mrs. P.,” and then he'd turn to an imaginary camera and wink, and an imaginary crowd would burst into laughter and applause. I hated him for how easily he was able to manipulate my mother. It almost seemed to me as if she even preferred him at times.
We went to Catholic grade school together at St. Jude Of The Lake in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. I remember my 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Gibson, had a nervous breakdown while reading the end of 'Bridge To Terabithia' to us, because (spoiler) when the kid dies at the end Charlie burst out laughing. She lost her fucking mind and screamed at us about not respecting the preciousness of God's gift of life. Charlie said something like, “It's just a book, Lady,” and she threw it at him. He ended up having to get stitches above his left eye and she was quietly let go. Our principal filled in for a week or so and his first act as 3rd grade substitute was to liquor us all up on milk and donuts and tell us that Mrs. Gibson had had another miscarriage, and that's why she reacted the way she did. Fuck Catholic School. I got into so much trouble because of Charlie. He used to fart real loud in church and then dramatically scoot away from me, gasping for breath. He knew I had a tendency to faint in church, and without fail would silently reach around and kick me in the back of the knee at some point in the service, instantly toppling me over. I had so many welts and bruises all over my head from years of repeatedly hitting it on the pew in front of me on my way down. My mom even wrote the school notes excusing me from having to go to church at all, but the teachers always made me anyway. I'll say it again: Fuck Catholic School.
I don't know why I was friends with Charlie. He was kind of a piece of shit, now that I think about it. All we did was fight. Or rather, he pushed my buttons to the point where I'd lash out, and then I'd get in trouble, and he'd just enjoy the aftermath. The last time I saw him was in 4th grade. We were all gathered around the television watching The Challenger Shuttle take off. And then it exploded. And then it was quiet. And then there was an announcement. And then it continued to be quiet. And then the teacher turned off the tv and said we could do whatever we wanted for the rest of the day, but everybody just sat quietly at their desks and stared blankly out the window. And then Charlie screamed. He let out a wild guttural scream that ripped through us as violently as a tornado siren. He continued to scream as he stood up and flipped his desk over, spilling all the contents within. He continued to scream as he walked out of the room. I could hear his scream slowly fade as it made its way down the hall, turned the corner, and exited the school.
I never saw him again.
Shortly after the incident, my mom put me in therapy. I don't really remember a whole lot about that particular time in my life, other than the therapist was a big woman who gave me pretzels and popcorn whenever I participated in the session. I learned to manipulate her, in order to acquire a handful of snacks, purely out of boredom, which in hindsight is what probably kept me in therapy for several more years.
I'm not sure if everyone has had a version of this experience, but a few years back my mom started cleaning out the attic and began gifting me random boxes of all the old garbage of mine she had collected over the years. Boxes containing old G.I. Joe action figures, Hot Wheels cars, report cards, shitty finger paintings, class photos, old Guitar Magazines, cassette tapes, Hardy Boys books, address books, and journals. I kept a lot of journals as a child. Or rather I had a lot of half-finished journals that all started with a similar version of the same promise, “This time I am going to write every single day...” It never happened. However, I was reminded of Charlie while reading through my journals from the early '80s. A lot of the aforementioned scenes above, that I hadn't thought about in 30+ years, all came flooding back. One night I was having dinner at my mom's house and my daughter and I were playing with some of my old Hot Wheels in the middle of the living room. I told her the story of how I used to trade my brand new ones for Charlie’s old beat-up ones and how that really upset grandma Debbie. And then I felt the room go quiet.
I've never seen such a vacant look on another human before. It was as if my mother went away and was instead replaced by a husk of herself. She had a faraway look in her eyes. She was somewhere else. I asked her what was going on. She instantly snapped back from wherever she had gone and took a gulp from her wine glass. “Whatever happened to Charlie?” I asked. “It's like one day he just up and vanished.” My mother instantly went faraway again and mumbled something under her breath that sounded like, “His dad got a job out of town and they had to move away.” She spoke in slow motion monotone, as if reciting a poem she had been forced to memorize as a child. Then just as suddenly as she had disappeared, she snapped back into the present moment, and looked over at my daughter for a good long while. Then she looked at me. She smiled, but the damaged landscape of her face, due to the emotional weathering of the past, convoluted her intended expression. Carefully, she asked, “Does Maxtalk to any friends?”