The Problem With Hank
by Tex Gresham, 3.24am July 10th 2021
She isn’t famous -- not really. Not the kind of famous that makes people become obsessed. But that didn’t stop him from printing out a bunch of screenshots from her Instagram. Didn’t stop him from stapling those pictures to his flesh: chest, thighs, arms, neck, gums. Didn’t stop him from jumping off the roof of a four-story Barnes & Noble. The impact of his body against the pavement knocked one of the pictures free. Wind caught it, carried it over to a by-stander who looked at the screenshot. And because there was no username in the picture, the bystander said, “Who is this?”
I should’ve known he was going to do something like that. Still, it’s hard to picture the ways obsessed people will release the pressures of their obsession. I’m just glad he didn’t go and kill her, become another news story about a sad, desperate white guy’s mental breakdown and the resulting murder it hoped to resolve. Maybe I’m not glad -- I’m relieved. In this case, self harm > harming others.
The only thing that doesn’t make sense is why a Barnes & Noble. Maybe the vague connection of books and writing. That she’s a writer and having a book in Barnes & Noble is what people think every writer aspires to. Maybe that’s the connection. But that’s a stretch. I keep saying “she” but you should probably know who she is.
There’s a small-ish community of writers. A little incestuous, but I guess that’s kind of how it has to be. A defense mechanism against the tyranny of the publishing industry -- that’s probably how some see it. But I somehow found myself in this community after publishing a book about a woman who was born with a piece of shit for a nose and who could only speak in fart noises. Weird, stupid stuff, but the community welcomed it. And it didn’t take long to realize that everyone in the community gathered moth-to-flame to a woman named Alissa Obassa -- everyone called her Liz. When Liz read my book and posted about it on her Twitter and Instagram, my membership to the community was printed, signed, and laminated -- now a card-carrying anti-Big-Five indie-lit guy.
Which was good because I’ve always been desperate for recognition.
So was the “he” who jumped off the Barnes & Noble.
The “he” was a guy I had gone to grad school with who was part of this community as well. His name was Hank but he published under the name HUNKY FUNKY -- would write everything in all caps. His work always hit a connective note in me and I was pleased that he and I were mutuals. But I wanted to be published in The New Yorker and Hank was happy being published in Suck A Nut Zine Vol. 44 or some shit like that. Still, we always supported one another. But the problem with Hank was that he always complained about Liz not reading or interacting with his work. I’d say: “Dude, who cares? She’s not that important.”
And he’d say: “Dude, you don’t understand.”
I really didn’t. But I also didn’t think it was an obsession that controlled his life.
Hank functioned and wrote and published. He had a poetry book about working as Pluto at Disneyland -- it wasn’t a nice book. Mostly about how he had a fuckship with Cinderella, Snow White, and Captain Hook and how his experience was warped through his continual huffing of model airplane glue. And Hank interacted on Twitter and all that, had people like and retweet and follow. It seemed normal.
I don’t know. I feel like I ruined this by telling you what happened to Hank at the start. I mean, who cares how it happened? Do people really care about the moments that make up a tragic event or are they just ingredients tossed in to make a final product? No one professes the love of the ingredients of a cake -- they just say how good the cake is.
If I were to bake this tragedy into a dish, the recipe would look like this:
● 1 depressed writer
● 6 attempts at getting a follow back from Liz on Twitter
● 2 retweets that went unliked
● 19 pieces published in a year
● 8 conversations with me about Liz
● 72 downloaded photos of Liz from Twitter and Instagram
● 1 unanswered emailed regarding a book review
● 2 unanswered emails regarding a collaborative project
● 48 tweets about why no one would accept his new poetry book
● 4 profile picture changes
● 1 fake Twitter account created to shout angrily at writers he didn’t like
● 13 rejections from the lit mag Liz ran by herself
-- Place in the oven of a madman’s head for around six months to a year.
-- Bake with an absurd amount of huffed glue and cocaine.
-- Top off with a friend who didn’t see the warning signs -- or maybe who got tired of seeing
them. Yeah... that’s me.
That’s how this all went down. And then he went down. And then word got around that Hank had stapled pictures of Liz to his body. I thought people would talk shit, would make him look like some psycho. But the overall response was dismissive and shoulder-shrugged -- might’ve had something to do with the fact that almost everyone in the community has depression in some form or another. Myself included there. So people seemed to understand and not really care.
And then Liz tweeted about it. Went something like:
so gross that i can’t just exist
(No one in the community ever capitalized anything for some reason. Maybe it was apathy against the construct of language or maybe it was an aesthetic or maybe they were just too lazy.)
But the second Liz sent out the tweet, everyone started to jump on her train of thought. Wasn’t long before that shoulder-shrugging turned into an all-out mob for the deletion of everything Hank on the internet -- every story and poem, every retweet, every prospect of his name living on beyond his personal prism of network property. Anything associated with him was like spilled nuclear waste. Toxic, cancerous.
I’m really painting myself into a corner again because there’s not really an end to this that satisfies some kind of narrative idea. It just kind of ends and I’ve since put it in the past so I keep trying to make these narrative turns that don’t really pay off -- and they won’t. So if you stop reading now, you’ll get the same thing out of this story as you will if you continue reading. It’s really just more words, more moments. So...
Anyway -- I messaged Liz the day after she sent the tweet and asked her what she honestly thought about Hank and the pictures and all that. She told me to call her and gave me her phone number. Just like that. We didn’t really know each other and here I was, about to call her, now in
possession of her phone number. I hate talking to people on the phone, but this felt a little more important than the boring neuroses that drive my daily existence. She picked up on the first ring.
“It makes me mad.” No hello or anything. Just right into it. And her voice didn’t sound like I expected it to: overloaded with vocal fry, Barbie on Percocets. This was husky and raw and almost masculine.
“Makes you mad?”
And then she went into this long thing about how Hank took her freedom away, how she can’t post or think about posting now without it somehow connecting back to Hank -- would this be one of the pictures he printed and stapled to his gums? And she talked about how it was abuse and how no one would be able to separate the two from now on -- and she didn’t even know the guy.
I said, “That’s understandable.”
Which it was. But a part of me was disgusted with the world, what we had all become. Putting the image of self before the image of others. Making Tik Toks about dick appointments and acting like that content is a truly soul-deep expression of self. Putting our imprint into the voice of the network and expecting the delivery of some gratification in the aftermath -- like we’re having our self-worths delivered via GrubHub. But saying that kind of shit out loud makes me sound like some kind of Boomer or whatever the deathly unhip are called these days. And to say that to Liz, to have Liz relay that back to the community and have them all know how I felt, would be a form of suicide unlike Hank’s in that it wouldn’t be physical, but like Hank’s in that it would be the end of my existence to the only group of people who give me validation for my work -- which is really all I live for.
So instead I said, “Totally.”