Considering that I’m such a regular guy, it’s funny how fortunate I’ve been in my friends—I belong to a little band that is unusual, both for our numbers (there are about twenty of us who have known each other for years), and our closeness. I bet that there aren’t many people who can claim twenty friends, real friends, although I suppose there are lots of people who think they can.
Having known each other so many years, we can’t help but be a little clique-ish. It isn’t that we want to be, but things just happen that way. So it was kind of a cause for celebration when we made friends with this new guy, Hank. It may sound silly but it was almost like getting to be young again, like getting an infusion of fresh blood.
It’s really nice because, on the one hand, Hank fits in with all of us so well, but on the other hand there are things about him that are different. For one thing, he’s black. Not that that’s important, but, let’s be honest, you do notice it.
After all six, or seven, of us have bled into the bucket, Hank goes into the kitchen and drinks the blood. I don’t know if he picks the bucket up and brings it to his mouth and then tips back both bucket and head—I’d think that would be awkward, physically. Maybe he gets on all fours and dips his head in to drink, like a dog.
Also he’s a vampire, but that doesn’t make as big a difference as people assume it does. He’s perfectly able to come out during the daytime (he does wear sunglasses, but just as a style thing). He goes to church occasionally—mainly for family events, but, still, there goes the old ignorant assumptions about vampires and crosses. If you met him, the only thing that would be likely to strike you as unusual about him would be what an unusually fun, cool guy he was.
In fact, Hank is one of the gentlest souls you could ever meet. But he is still a vampire. This leads to certain biological needs, the most important of which I don’t think I need to mention. I mean, of course, his need for human blood. It’s not like in certain books and movies, where the good vampires choose to feed off of animals. That’s very nice for a story, but real life is messy and unfortunately things don’t often work out so painlessly.
So the twenty of us have kind of banded together to help Hank out. All of us are more than willing to donate our own blood, if that’s what it takes to keep Hank alive (well, not exactly alive, but you know what I mean). Hank needs quite a few pints to keep himself going, so the twenty of us take turns, six or seven of us each giving every third day, so that Hank has enough, and we have time to replenish our supplies.
Of course, all of us have donated blood the regular way before, so we’re not exactly squeamish about that. But feeding Hank is different. I mean, we can’t just pop into a clinic and explain what we need to a phlebotomist. So instead we have to kind of harvest the stuff ourselves. What we do is, we each take a box cutter, hold the blade in the flame at the stove to sterilize it, and then take turns stretching our tied-off arms over a big blue plastic bucket and cutting a vein. Then we bleed into the bucket for as long as we feel comfortable doing so, and then staunch the wound. Then we go out of the kitchen back to the living room (we always do the cutting alone), and let the next person take their turn. Even though we always sterilize our box cutters, we still make sure that we each have our own.
After all six, or seven, of us have bled into the bucket, Hank goes into the kitchen and drinks the blood. I don’t know if he picks the bucket up and brings it to his mouth and then tips back both bucket and head—I’d think that would be awkward, physically. Maybe he gets on all fours and dips his head in to drink, like a dog. Anyway, we don’t concern ourselves with the minutiae of how he choreographs it, because it’s none of our business. It would be like trying to figure out exactly how a friend goes to the bathroom. I’m sure it’s not the part of his day that he’s proudest of, but that doesn’t reflect on him. We all have our embarrassing little physical tasks.
There’s nothing to be embarrassed about in anything that I’ve recounted above, of course. We’re just people helping out a friend who has an unusual, but not unheard-of, physical need. But there is another aspect of the whole situation that does have an unwanted emotional heft. A few of us have talked it over, after having gingerly broached the subject, and have found that we share the same misgivings. There’s a certain communal comfort to be found in that, I guess. . . . The frustrating thing is that, rationally, this aspect of the situation has nothing to do with the thing with Hank.
Well, this is embarrassing, but I may as well take the plunge: nowadays, all twenty of us—Hank, too—are level-headed professional-style people. But naturally all of us were adolescents once, and at least a few of us, myself included, used to cut ourselves. I used to sit fascinated with a box cutter not unlike the one I today use to feed Hank, and I would trace out welting red lines upon my body in places I could hide under my clothes. Who knows why? Some desperate sophomoric dare to the universe; I didn’t believe that anything was real but I craved being free of my teenage nihilism, and I thought that cutting my body could be a way to introduce fleshly consequence into reality. In those days I also would hold the blade in the fire, but not to sterilize it—afterwards I would press the flat of it against my skin.
It’s unfortunate that I have this history, that some of us do. It’s too bad that the halo of it has to infect the nice thing we try to do for our friend Hank (of course none of us would ever mention this pecadillo to him). Cutting yourself up, even if it was when you were a kid, is not like going to the bathroom or being a vampire. As willing as I am to forgive myself, I can’t help but feel that being a cutter really is something to be at least a little ashamed of.
Now, if you’re an at all savvy reader then I know what you’re thinking. This little story is full of all these loaded concepts, like childhood, blood, violence and muted violence. Then there’s what some of you would probably think of as a bizarre or absurd element, that is, Hank and his vampirism. What’s it all mean, you’re wondering? How do all these symbols fit together? You’re thinking there must be some psychological, spiritual, social pattern out in the real world, which the artificial pattern of this story is meant to resonate with. In that resonance, you probably figure, lies the “meaning” of this tale.
But that’s really not it. The truth is that there isn’t any special significance to any of it. We just happened to meet this guy Hank who was a vampire, and because he was a cool guy we just happened to become friends with him. Vampires need blood to live on—I mean, that’s just a mundane fact of life. And we give him the blood because, even with all our flaws, we’re basically nice people. But some of us have this embarrassing memory from when we were kids, and giving our blood to Hank stirs that memory back up. I don’t think there’s any special connection between our memories of when we used to cut ourselves, and the thing that we do for Hank. The two things have a coincidental, superficial similarity. But it actually really doesn’t mean anything.