A Story About Queer Teens Trying to Reach Out
‘It Helps With the Blues’: A novel about looking for love and friendship
It Helps With the Blues is a short novel by Bryan Cebulski to be released April 11 through tRaum Books. It is about gay teens. Gay, in an expansive sense. (By the way: “Gender sucks. We should get rid of it.”)
The angst centers on a kid named Dennis Tucker who dies by suicide. First of all, as a disclosure, I have to let you know that I am Dennis Tucker. I mean, I am Tucker who is right now on a beach in Dennis, though this fact may be insignificant, as perhaps we are all Dennis Tucker at varying moments in our lives. Perhaps you, too, right now, are Dennis Tucker. Or you are someone who wants to spend the evening talking with him and no one else. Or you resent him for ruining the night with another person you really wanted to talk to.
Dennis Tucker is not the cause of anyone’s identity crisis or unhappiness but he does ignite a hundred questions.
Upon reading It Helps With the Blues for the third time, I have a deepening idea of its meaning. It feels as though I’m remembering a spot where I once was.
One scene in your life might, if you perceive the world according to “cinematic convention,” looks like “a bittersweet goodbye, of two people meaningfully parting” — but you’re reading in some meaning there, aren’t you? Someone is walking out the door. It means only this: “how fast people come and go from your life.”
One person expels the other from their space:
“I never want to speak to you again. It’s not out of hate. It’s just you’re part of one book and that book’s over. As much as I’ve enjoyed our time together, I’ve especially got to move on from you.”
Not only crushes. Isn’t it strange that friendship, too, is “transient” such that “you can leave a friendship at any time”? Or it might suddenly occur to you that “you only have one friend and that friend isn’t really your friend in the same way back.” It’s not quite that they are leaving, in their mind; it’s that they were never going to fulfill whatever fantasy you expected of them. Maybe you are that friend, in which case, from your perspective, you don’t want “to feel like you owe someone something that you can’t provide to them.”
For some people, alcohol can dredge up unpleasant memories. Does it help? I don’t know, I don’t know. Have a drink and tell me.
Writing one’s own story is “exorcism,” one of Cebulski’s characters says. What we’ve exorcised is something we may want to share. I’m unsure if that’s intuitive or counterintuitive, but there it is. We excavate something unpleasant from our closet, and we call our friend: So let me tell you— Imagining that at least one person will read the story, the character goes on, can make writing feel like the act of giving.
Grabbing at the Past
In one of my teenage journals, I wrote: Just as I turn to face the murmurs and shrieks from my past, they’re gone. I don’t even get to see what all the fuss is about. In my ignorance is a discovery of my helplessness. Others are suffering too. I can make a blanket apology—for everything in the world, including others’ pain that I had nothing to do with and cannot possibly understand—but how does that solve anyone’s problem? It doesn’t. So what do I do with those murmurs and shrieks from my past?
A challenge—so I explain it now, upon reflection—is that some unhappinesses are grounded in real disappointments or offenses we have suffered, so we may need to feel, express, and address our dissatisfaction to solve the problem in the real world, while other unhappinesses are made up by our overactive imaginations. We have to process each situation and our feelings to distinguish what’s what. Unfortunately, by the time we grok it, it’s in the past. By then, it may be too late. There’s nothing to do: the past can’t be changed, the future can’t be seen, and nothing can be extracted from the present.
Who Are We Going to Become?
Who will we become? Seen from a teenager’s perspective, I mean. It Helps With the Blues is about self-discovery and a longing for personal connection, stained with an existential indignance that our school yearbook portraits have been spit out askew and we can’t keep reintroducing ourselves to those people because it is time to move on.
What have we been doing, and what demons must we exorcise? Why are we reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and Damned? Why do we leave town? What will we remember? What vaporous balm do we ever expect to find that helps with the blues?