I have a friend whose internet alter ego is a poorly-executed play on your name. One night many years ago, I drunkenly challenged this friend to eat only Hawkins Cheezies for a week, figuring he would laugh it off and we’d both forget about it. But he didn’t. He took me up on it, and after some discussion, I was provoked into joining him, but in my case I had to live off Twizzlers Super Nibs alone for the decided time of 127 hours. The event began as a trivial dare, but it grew into something else, tangentialized in a way I never could have predicted, especially the extent of the eventual destruction it would cause. The five-plus days of the bet was, in all honesty, the most harrowing experience I have ever endured. I lost thirteen pounds, sure, but more than that I lost my will to live. My girlfriend, who had never considered my brain to me in the tip-toppest of shapes, only grew more confused and saddened when she got wind of the challenge. Fortunately, as I explained to her, I would not be the one to give up first. I am proud of very little, and adept at even less, but determination has proven to be the one positive quality I possess. My stubbornness would not allow me to quit, no matter how much I wanted to, how badly I needed to. My body’s deterioration began and continued quickly and painfully.
Within a day I was vomiting constantly, with a seemingly endless supply of red gelatin being evicted from my mouth in between periodic full-body convulsions. Exhaustion took over, and I was bedridden for most of the week. After an unproductive day of work on Monday, I called in sick the next morning. I only needed one day to recover, then I would function normally again, I tried to convince myself. But it only got worse. After several sudden outbursts about how she didn’t understand me and never could, my girlfriend made me choose between her and the Nibs. At the time the choice seemed easy enough. Nibs have never given me an ultimatum. They were on my side. She stayed with her sister that night, and I have not seen her since.
In the Wednesday evening, I disappeared. I have no recollection of my lost time. Early the next morning, I was discovered by my roommate, hitchhiking in the middle of an abandoned building near my house, contemplating all manners of words with consecutive aitches. At the time I was laughing unapologetically to fend off the rats who claim to be better than me. I was taken to a hospital, where a nurse attempted to provide me nutrition intravenously, even after I incoherently explained to her that I was not allowed to ingest any foreign substances. According to unofficial reports, I then shoved her against the wall while yelling at her to respect my beliefs and to keep her grubby paws off me. I walked out of the hospital of my own volition after the contest’s final hour, having succeeded in what I set out to do. I survived the ordeal, and I became stronger because of it.
Unfortunately, about a brief respite, in which I vowed never to reference Nibs or any liquorice product for the rest of this life and the next, I was contacted by a writer for Vice magazine who was writing a piece on our challenge. He, like many of you, was oblivious to what I had actually gone through and knew only the lighthearted side that was posted on social media by the Cheezies friend. He asked me if I would be open to an interview, for a human interest story. At first I refused, intent on leaving the past where it was. But my friend agreed to share his side, and he convinced me that maybe if I spoke about my experience it would be cathartic and on some level could even help others deal with similar issues. The interview lasted about ten minutes. I answered each question as honestly as I could. He tried in vain to dissuade me from talking about my psychotic episode and failing body. In the end, I at least felt that my voice was heard. Until I read the article. The writer took ridiculous liberties in altering what I had told him. Apparently he didn’t want the story to upset his readers, who are baited to click by looking for an escape from the reality in which they live. They want an easily-digestable tale, something to laugh at briefly before moving on to the next link in the limitless reservoir of the internet. It angered me. I was upset not only that I had been misrepresented, but that an entire segment of the population was not given enough credit by a so-called journalist to hear a factual story meant to serve as a cautionary tale.
I tried to write my own rebuttal explaining how I really felt, but I was at a loss. My brain prevented me from typing my thoughts, if they were there at all. In the end, I decided it was best to let the article run its course. But it wouldn’t. His version of our challenge resonated with people. A lot of people. It made its way to the front page of several popular social news sites, and from there it exploded. Interview requests poured in from all over. I tried to dismiss them, but the allure of a small dose of fame grew too great. I told my story to whoever wanted to hear it, and eventually to whoever would listen. I appeared on several late night talk shows, basking in the attention, wondering what my next move would be.
But in an instant it was all gone. I was forgotten. I barely recognized myself. I am not myself.
I awake as Robert Henley. I am as of now unsure about the identity or life of my communicator, but I realize that I have been informed enough about this man to be him. I instinctually know much about him, how he thinks and behaves, but I know that I will be forced to discover most of him as I go. Glancing around quickly, trying not to display my necessary attentiveness, I notice the people that my current brain chose to be around before I arrived. The environment, these surroundings, this is what allows my body and mind to function to its potential. As long as the others before me lived as they were supposed to. I must maintain the facade, of understanding exactly who I am, how I arrived at this point of consciousness. I need to keep it up to make the most of this day, until I fall asleep and disappear from this body forever.
Smile, Bobby, show them you’re comfortable. It would have been easier to wake up alone, of course, but I did not choose how he ended his night. There are several other people in the room, but none of them seem to acknowledge me, or each other, even though their interconnectedness is vital to the situation. This place is a mess, but I don’t feel dirty. These people had fun last night. I had fun last night. Right now my body doesn’t feel so strong. I haven’t landed in this situation before, and it isn’t familiar. But this is how it goes.