The most dangerous thing I ever did was tell a grown man my
real name. I typed it for him. Lynn Marie Sugrue. When it
happened, it didn’t seem like anything at all. Hardly something
worth worrying over. Me and my best friend Dani were down in
her basement bedroom on a night hot and thick enough to push
in against the window screens. We were playing our favorite game
of the moment, a sort of online combination of crank phone call
and blind man’s bluff, but it was really more of a scheme to try out
being bad in a place we thought it wouldn’t count. We just never
expected to be the ones wearing the blindfold.
So this is August of 2005 in Metter, Georgia, population half of
nothing. A million miles from anywhere good. So this is me and
Dani, just turned fifteen and a couple weeks away from our sophomore
year at Metter High. So this is me fucking up my life like you
wouldn’t believe.New Identities
The trouble started with a gift. The day after my friend Dani’s
birthday, I found her moping down in her bedroom beside
a pair of huge boxes. Dani’s dad owns that used car lot out where
Lewis Street meets the county highway—Big Dunham’s it’s called,
the one where in the commercials a girl in a bikini goes around
popping balloons on windshields, saying, “We’re popping prices
like you wouldn’t believe.” He’d been promising for years to buy
her a car when she turned fifteen. Dani wouldn’t be able to drive
without an adult sitting next to her for another year, but this hadn’t
bothered her one whit. “I’ll get to have plenty of practice for the
license test,” she’d say. A few weeks before her birthday, though,
something happened to change Dani’s mother’s mind, something
not even Dani would tell me about. Whatever it was she did, it
made her mother decide poor little Dani wasn’t quite ready for a
car of her own. Instead, she got a new computer.
I took a beer from my backpack and waved it in front of her face
to get her attention. “Cheer up, there’s more naked men inside that
plastic box over there on the floor than you could ever possibly
Dani closed her eyes and shook her hair so hard it twirled around
her head like a skirt, but she snatched up the beer all the same.
“Well,” she said. “For scientific study.”
“Sure,” I said.
Dani had used the wholesome notion of scientific study as a
means of investigating all manner of nasty things over the years.
We’d spent a good deal of the summer watching dirty movies filched
from her dad’s footlocker in the garage, pausing at the stranger
parts and studying them like scientists. Once, she even got her
mom to buy Judy Blume’s Forever with the excuse that she needed
to write a paper on the mores of suburban adolescents in the 1970s
for her social studies class. I still shake my head in wonder over that
bit of bullshit.
It took both of us to tug the computer free. The Styrofoam
squeaked like a stepped-on mouse.
How could I have known then the kind of craziness that would
come out of that box? Or that on that same exact day, maybe right
around the same time, the boy who’d change everything about me,
right down to my last clean pair of socks, was opening up his own
box of trouble? Inside his box was the decision to leave his job,
his home, his whole life. Inside his box was how he got caught
sketching a stray dog on the back of a pink requisition form and
was now pushing a mop as punishment. No more of this, he told
himself. No way. I’m through. And I remember thinking how a
new computer smelled like clean.
Dani tossed the instruction book and called her next-door
Wynn was a year above us. He was bony and stooped and had
M&M-sized whiteheads on the back of his neck. He smelled like
fresh-cut onion. As he sat at the keyboard, going through the startup
instructions point by point, I made a shadow-puppet alligator
crawl across his back, showing Dani how any one of the whiteheads
could burst at the slightest touch, like a grenade with a loose pin.
“I’m going to leave you two lovebirds alone,” I said.
Dani pinched my arm, hard.
“And I’m going to stab you in the arm with a fork,” Dani said,
making an irritable V with her eyebrows.
But I didn’t leave. I sat on the woven rag rug that covered most
of Dani’s floor. Hers was the kind of bedroom you’d expect to see
on some Nickelodeon teen sitcom. It was the size of my living
room and decorated in a color scheme of teal and silver. Dani used
the word teal, anyhow—really, it was plain blue. The four-poster
bed was blue, with blue sheets, and her two beanbag chairs were
silver. She called this the hanging-out area and had hung posters of
her favorite bands. In most, the musicians all had the look of longdistance
truckers loitering in the parking lot of a Waffle House at
two am. But in the newest one, there weren’t any people at all, just
a big blue box with the silhouettes of tan and white weeds. Dani
had become obsessed with a band called The Shins. Jingle-jangle
guitars, sad whispering boys, and the occasional rim shot. Humalong
music that snuck up on you and stayed in your skull.
When Wynn told us we were online, Dani stared through the
wall and tugged at a strand of hair as he set up an e-mail account
for us and bookmarked some sites he said he thought might be of
interest, so I could tell something was on her mind.
“You like celebrity gossip?” Wynn asked. “Gaming news?
There’s this one site that’s really great that has all these funny alligator-
eating-pet stories from Florida. You want to see that?”
“Really,” I said. “Florida?”
“Oh my God,” Dani snapped, “will you two shut up about
Florida? Look—” She squeezed her eyes shut until the lids
wrinkled. Whatever it was she wanted to say seemed to be trapped
like a hairball in her throat. Finally, she coughed it up. “Why don’t
you bring us to a site where we can . . . mess with people.”
“What do you mean?” Wynn asked.
“Pretend to be someone else,” she said. “Talk to them. Get
inside their heads. Just mess with people, you know?”
Wynn wiped his hands on the back of his green corduroy cutoffs.
“Who do you want to be?”
She looked for a few moments over at the posters in the hanging-
out area. “I could be a singer in some band from Scotland.”
“Come on, Dani,” I said. “Think big. Why not a fifty-year-old
gay guy with gorgeous pecs from Dothan, Alabama.”
“Or a pretty girl from Metter, Georgia,” Wynn said. There
were beads of sweat collecting in the wispy, little grandma mustache
he looked to be trying to grow. It was gross and I really wanted
him to wipe it off, but I didn’t say anything. Dani had flung
enough mean at him for three people. Earlier she had asked him
if he thought about me when he jerked off and I thought the boy
“Oh, please,” Dani said. She let loose with a lip-flapping sigh
and made what I thought of as her fat face. She’d kill me if she
ever heard me say this, but she had one of those Cabbage Patch
Kid faces. Round and plump. And when she frowned, like she was
doing now, she’d push her chin down and the fat would wrinkle
up under there, making it look like she’d suddenly lost her neck.
Dani wasn’t what you’d call fat fat, but she wasn’t even close to
skinny either. She had beautiful black hair that came down to her
shoulders and curled up at the ends in a flip and a button nose
that turned up at the end too. When I was mad at her, I called her
“pig snout” in my head, but the truth was she had a pretty nose.
I wouldn’t mind having it. Mine had a big bump on the bridge I
hated. But her best feature, in my opinion, was her eyes, which
were the color of a Rolling Rock bottle that’d been smashed on
concrete. Green with silvery splinters.
“But why would you want to be someone else?” Wynn asked.
Dani caught my eye and grinned. Wynn looked back and forth
between us, wearing a smile that looked like it hurt.
“What?” he said. “What?”
“Alright,” Dani said.
“Alright, what?” Wynn said.
“Make me a fifty-year-old gay guy from Dothan, Alabama, The
Peanut Capital of the World.”
“With gorgeous pecs,” I added.
And so Wynn showed us how to become a fifty-year-old gay
guy from Dothan, Alabama. We were never quite ourselves again
My mother is a nurse and my father is an asshole. He left
us when I was six. For the first couple of years after the
divorce, he lived in Savannah and came up on weekends to see
me. He paid his child support. My dad was an accountant at the
Gulfstream airplane factory. “Your father makes a pile of cash,”
my mom would say whenever I asked her to get me something.
“Ask him for it.” Or she’d say, “You can go see that movie with
your father if you think you can shake ten bucks out of him.” Or,
“If your father had half a heart, he’d get you some decent shoes.”
“Your mother has an active imagination,” is what he’d tell me
when I asked him. “Rich, my ass,” he’d say. “Gulfstream doesn’t
even have a union. At least not for accountants.”
The last time I ever saw my dad was the Saturday he took me
out to Tybee Island. In the parking lot, he swiped me a ratty orange
life vest off of someone’s boat trailer. He reached in and grabbed it
and just kept walking toward the beach.
I was three weeks away from being eight years old. When
Dad didn’t call on my birthday, my mom tried to reach him and
found his phone had been disconnected. She called his boss out
at Gulfstream, who said he’d stopped showing up for work three
days ago and hadn’t left a forwarding address. He and my dad had
been friends since high school, so my mom thought Mack—that
was the boss’s name—was covering for him. She said she hoped
his wife did the same thing to him one day and for him to go fuck
himself. She wrapped the phone cord around her fingers so tight
they turned yellow.
The next day, Mack called back. There was a problem with
Dad’s accounts. The day after that, the police came to our house.
I asked what Dad had done to make everybody so mad at him.
My mom said, “Your father’s an asshole. He did what comes natural
to assholes. He shit all over everybody.”
The year I turned eight I learned how to do laundry, make Kraft
macaroni and cheese out of a box, and smoke cigarettes.
I now divide my life into two parts—BDD and ADD—Before
Dad Disappeared and After Dad Disappeared, and more and more
I don’t remember a lot about BDD.
I do remember Tybee Island, though.
He must of known he was leaving by then.
I wonder if he’d planned to tell me.
Or maybe he didn’t know yet. And when he figured it out, it was
too late to say anything.
His hair was curly and red and very thin on top. The sun turned
his scalp the color of boiled shrimp. We treaded water out past the
breakers, the gulls calling out threats to one another and the sunlight
smashing into millions of pieces in the choppy water.
Excerpted from Caring Is Creepy by David Zimmerman. Copyright © 2012 by David Zimmerman. Excerpted by permission of Soho Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.