2023-11-10 • saddle-point fiction

Each night, upon returning home from work, Albert would take one ten milligram edible, and masturbate to online pornography. And each night, Albert very much looked forward to it. He began with an exploratory phase, lasting one to three hours, where he would open sixty to seventy videos in separate tabs. During the exploratory phase, he often felt connoisseur-like, considering scene composition, body composition, mixing, emotional authenticity, lighting, set design, pacing, plot (if included), and the almost spiritual quality of the video "just feeling right".

Albert was only slightly turned on during the exploratory phase. While his pants were unzipped, his expression was gentle and quizzical, as if browsing an online store to select the right gift for a friend. The search for the right video was an intuitive, psychic process. Albert could glance at twenty thumbnails and know intuitively which videos were promising. Some wouldn't be watchable in themselves, but would serve as stepping stones, leading him in new and unexpected directions, expanding his horizons, and teaching him more about himself and his sexuality.

On Memorial day weekend, Albert went upstate to visit his parents. And so the night of May 27th, rather than masturbate in his studio apartment in Midtown, Manhattan, Albert, masturbated in his childhood bedroom in Monroe, New York, surrounded by Lego castles and old stuffed animals.

The following morning, Albert showered, and joined his parents for breakfast. Albert's dad asked him, "So, how are the girls out there in the city?"

"I don't know." Albert said.

"What do you mean you don't know? You can see, can't you?"

"I can see."

"So I'm asking you what they look like."

"They're fine."

Albert's dad put his fork down forcefully. "Everything's just fine with you. Everything's 'I don't know', 'I guess'. Learn to take a stance, Albert! Say 'they're great, Dad!'? Or 'the girls in New York are all wily whores, Dad! I hate them!' I don't care what it is! Just give me something!"

"Jim, please." Albert's mom intervened.

Albert focused on his potatoes.

Jim turned to his wife. "He's paying $2000 a month in rent! For what? To play video games, alone? Albert, you need to get out there. You'll regret it if you don't. You'll regret it when you're 36 and still single. You're gonna feel like a loser, I promise you. Save yourself that pain."

Albert knew, intellectually, that he was already a "loser", but did not feel actively bad about it. It had become a part of his identity, like his love for masturbation. And so his dad's words did not affect him. He did not fear becoming a 36 year old virgin. It would simply be more of the same. It was true that Albert was lonely, it was true he wanted a real relationship, it was true he wanted to be looked at with real eyes, and to be intimately known, and to make a woman laugh and touch his arm spontaneously. It was true he wanted all those things and, actually, he used to want them badly. When he was younger, he would try to "get out there". He spent many months on online forums studying the social dynamics of flirting. He stepped outside his comfort zone. He spent $200 on selvedge denim and $60 on artisanal pomade. He attended swing dancing classes. But there, he shook and sweat so profusely, that his instructor took him aside and said, "Albert, Midtown Swing loved you, but you might want to join a little later. Maybe work up your confidence in easier ways first." And this was ok with Albert, because the dread on girls' faces as they touched his moist hands and bore his spastic movements was simply too much for him anyway. And so, as his desire for a relationship became more and more untenable, it burrowed itself deeper and deeper into his subconscious, where it wouldn't bother him as much, like a benign parasite, that learns to co-exist with its host in a more considerate way.

As Jim said all this, he too felt hopeless about his son's prospects. He felt Albert was deeply "off" in some way. Weird. Strange. Repulsive, even. Albert did not have any hideous boils or scaling. But it was this aggregation of all the ugly little things. Little things, like the way one eye sat lower than the other, with the eyelid always drooping, and the way his hunched and sharp shoulder bones protruded through his t shirts, and the way he walked with his head down, and a slight, wobbling, limp, and his voice, which alternated between a meek, monotone, rasp, and, if unable to be heard, a strained and irritated tone, like he was fighting against himself to say something. Features like this, Jim felt, made Albert into the human equivalent of low quality insect repellent. People could maybe come near him-- even talk to him, if necessary-- but they'd be uncomfortable, and want to minimize contact.

Jim often felt the urge to bully Albert. And this was the spiritual arc of his adult struggle. Though he often yelled at Albert, he never laid a hand on him, and felt proud of his self-restraint in this manner. Violence, he felt, was quite a natural urge, and so it was not wrong for him to feel such urges. It's just that times were different now. People were weaker-- "more sensitive". And while for a long time he tried to fight this direction of things, he eventually realized that he could have much fewer arguments and therefore much more sex with Albert's mom, his wife, if he let go of some of his stubborness in this regard.

Jim asked Albert to pass the green beans.

Albert picked up the plate with a flat expression. His dad watched the mangled angles of his limp wrist and fingers, as the plate balanced on his bones.

"Why aren't you eating your eggs?"

Albert was silent, knowing Jim knew why.

"He can't eat dairy." Albert's mom said with a false innocence. "It causes inflammation."

"Ah, yes! The 'inflammation'. My apologies." He was going to say something else, but Albert's mom cut him off.

"Anyway enough about diet. It's so drab. Albert, how's work going?" his mom asked.

"It's fine. Boring, I guess."

Jim restrained himself. Albert's mom continued, as if they had been having a normal conversation and would continue to have a normal conversation. "How about friends? Any new friends?"

"I don't have any friends." When he was younger, Albert would say this with bitterness. He wanted to shock his parents, shock them into intervening. But as he got older, he began to feel silly wanting this, because he could not imagine a way they could intervene productively. But now, soberly realizing his parents could do nothing to help him, he stated it very plainly, as an indifferent fact of his life.

Albert's mom returned to her eggs. She had just listened to a podcast on the Buddhist practice of "loving-kindness meditation". She tried it the previous night, after a fight with her husband. (He had given her an expensive kitchen knife for her birthday, but she never used it, because she felt it did not cut as good as her existing knife).

The first step of the meditation is to send loving-kindness to someone you find it easy to love. Albert's mom immediately thought of her childhood Golden Retriever, now deceased. But then worried: "Will the meditation work with animals?". She tried to Google it, but found no definitive answer, and so continued cautiously. The meditation then says to send love to someone you find it "a little harder to love, maybe a stranger". Her mind went straight to Albert, and this caused her so much guilt and shame that she turned off the meditation.

Albert's mom loved her son deeply from ages zero to nine. But from ages ten to thirty-five she found it difficult. She often tried to share with Albert insights from her decades long spiritual journey. She told him about the power of positive thinking. She sent him podcasts from Oprah, and videos on the Law of Attraction. But Albert could not take her seriously, because despite all of her positive thinking, she was still married to Jim, a man who often smelled bad, and scratched his balls in front of her friends. And because she gave birth to him, Albert. And so her life was living proof that it did not matter how badly you want something. Life is not a genie in a bottle. If it was, there would be more mansions in the world, and more happy marriages. Albert did not want to tell his mom this directly, but would send her links on cognitive fallacies, like "survivorship bias" and "confirmation bias", which she promptly dismissed.

After breakfast, Albert's dad put on Terminator-like, Oakley sunglasses, gym shorts, and calf high socks, and went to play tennis at a Tennis Club. Albert went to his room and looked at his laptop. Albert's mom, feeling depressed from breakfast, asked Alexa to play Oprah's Super Soul Sunday, and began to vacuum restlessly. She vacuumed the kitchen tiles, under the tables, and then pushed on to the living room. But the cord of the vacuum was not long enough and was yanked from the outlet. Albert's mom, irritated, started towards the outlet, but then smashed her pinky toe on the dining table. She whispered "Fuck. Shit," then bent over, which caused her left AirPod to fall out of her ear and roll underneath the fridge.

Exasperated to the verge of tears, she felt an urge to lash out. She moved to the vacuum and wanted to throw it at something. Maybe the wall, or the window. Conditioned by various movies and TV shows, she vaguely felt that it would make her feel better. But when she put her hands on the vacuum, it felt much heavier than expected, and she lost her drive to lash out. She felt silly, then pathetic, wishing she had more "spunk".

Albert's mom stood alone in the kitchen, wondering what to do with herself. She then began to doubt. Was she really the creator of her own reality? Why did she create this life for herself? Why did she create Albert? Why did Jim's parents create him? It made no sense. She began to tear up. What was the lesson? What was the blessing? She cried. What if Albert was right, and the world was only atoms and indifference?

But then, by divine providence, she heard a voice from her right AirPod, "...deep breaths, deep breaths". It was Oprah. Albert's mom listened. "It's going to be okay girl. Deep breaths, deep breaths." Albert's mom began to take deep breaths. 1... 2... 3... 4. She inhaled, held, exhaled. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Longer. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. She counted, then to 12, then to 16, surprised by the size of her lungs.

Then, feeling aligned to her higher self, Albert's mom assessed the situation. Would she pretend nothing was wrong, as she usually did? Or would she take the high road, and "meet the moment"?

She would meet the moment.

Like a strong gust of wind, she strode to Albert's room. She felt like a strong gust of wind. She did not know what she would do, or say, but knew that whatever came out of her mouth would come from a place of love and clarity, and therefore it would be good. She thrust open the door to Albert's room. "Albert," she said, resolutely-- as if about to win back a lover.

Albert was in his room, which was dark with the blinds drawn. He was sitting in an office chair, illuminated only by the glow of his monitor, wearing over-sized gaming headphones. He was without pants, or underwear, and masturbating to a pornographic video entitled "Big ass Latina Teen gets surprise Morning DICK". Headphones still on, he looked at his mom. The video continued in his ears.

After a long silence, Albert's mom whispered: "I'm so sorry." Then she closed the door and began to vacuum.

Albert looked back at the screen and fondled himself pensively. He considered continuing to masturbate. But then he heard a jarring, unnatural, moan from the Big ass Latina Teen, and his heart was filled with an anxious doom. "Oh my god," he whispered, quietly. He put his face in his hands for forty seconds or so, then tilted his head, so one cheek rested on his palm, and looked back to the video. Avoiding himself, he began to scroll through the comments.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Albert's mom got sick of vacuuming and decided to ask an AI chatbot for help. "My son is depressed and watches porn after breakfast. Reply as if you are Oprah."

The chatbot replied:

"Ok, honey, let's sit down and have ourselves a heart-to-heart. Your son, bless his heart, is craving a little retreat in the world, and it just so happens to be after he starts his day. Now, that tells me he's got a story that needs to be heard, feelings that are looking for a way out.

What he's doing is not uncommon. We all have our ways of cushioning life's edges, of finding a nook where we can let the noise of the world fade away. But what he needs, more than anything, is to know that his story, whatever it is that's weighing on him, is important. He needs to feel that unconditional love that only a parent can give.

So, here's what you're gonna do. You're gonna reach out to him, not with worry or frustration, but with that open heart of yours. You're gonna say, "Sweetheart, talk to me. Tell me what's on your spirit." And you listen, really listen. You don't have to fix it right then and there. Just be present with him.

Life is all about finding that balance. A little porn is like a little spice – it's fine in moderation, but you don't want it to overpower the dish. Encourage him to mix it up. Maybe find a video you both love and make it a date. Discuss it, laugh about it, let it be a bridge to all the other conversations you could have."

Albert's mom smiled gently.

In his room, Albert continued to read pornhub comments. He did this meticulously.

CAm_ooo: Sexy Ass fuck

He carefully sounded the words in his mind.

Rickhbb: A chill from my loins every time i hear you breathe. it feels like my breath. sacred. I shower every day before wathing your vid

LoveChrist96: If you're reading this, Christ loves you. He loves you, and because he loves you, He does not want this life for you. Turn to him, and He will save you. Seek and you will find. Know and it will be opened for you. He will return unto you the glory that is yours. He will hear your prayers and He will heal you.

Albert stared at this comment until his monitor went to sleep and the black screen mirrored his wretched face.

Then Albert said "Oh God" and put his hands in his face again. Albert had never prayed before. Nor did he believe in God. Nor did he spend much time dwelling on the question of the existence of God. God was, to him, obviously an artificial human construction. But at that moment, he felt like he was in a movie. And so, self-aware, in a semi-ironic larp, he kneeled on the floor, put his hands together, and prayed:

"Dear God, if you exist, I'm sorry." "Dear God, if you exist, please wipe my mom's memory." "Dear God, if you exist, please give me a girlfriend."

He paused.

"Dear God, please bequeath me a girlfriend." "Dear God, please guide me to a girlfriend." "Dear God, please grant me a girlfriend." "Dear God, please, give me a girlfriend." "Dear God, please." "Dear God, please, help me." "Dear God, please help me." "Dear God, please help me."

He repeated this last phrase, in his mind, over and over again, until he was screaming it silently.

"Dear God, please help me."

The mental screaming turned into a passionate tremble.

"Dear God, please help me." "Dear God, please help me." "Dear God, please, help me."

Albert felt a great pressure in his throat and began to cry. Then he heard a knock on the door. "Albert? Honey? It's me. I'm so sorry for earlier. I should've knocked. Are you there?"

The doorknob turned, light peeked in. "Albert? Are you still... you're not still... are you?" Albert's mom took a deep breath and opened the door fully. And there she saw Albert, quivering, kneeling on the hardwood floor, still exposed, looking at her. She rushed to him and cradled his head to her chest. Albert felt her warmth and his mom stroked his head and hair and cooed to him as if he were a child.

"My baby, my baby, it's ok, it's ok. I love you, I love you."

They continued like this for a while. Thoughts such as "what the fuck?" sometimes rose in Albert's head, but he ignored them, savoring the comfort of being held.

More time passed. Then Albert's mom finally asked: "So what were you watching before?"

Albert looked at her, incredulous. She continued, "Maybe... um, maybe... we can watch together sometime?" Then she remembered the words of AI Oprah, and gained confidence. Firmed, she said, "Albert, I want you to know that I care about your interests-- whatever they may be." She looked at him with blazing eyes.

Albert looked at his mom. He felt the earnestness and seriousness of her expression. And then he laughed-- a genuine, tender laugh. A laugh from the belly. A laugh that made his shoulders move up and down, and made his stomach ache, but in a good way, like he was exercising muscles that had never been used.

"Absolutely not. Absolutely fucking not." Albert said gaily. Then his mom laughed, and they both laughed together, laughing to tears, and then they both sat up on the floor, in tears, and mucus, and moisturizer, laughing, until Albert got up and said, "I'm going to go put on pants now."