The Bitter Taste of Dying [EXCERPT]
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The Bitter Taste of Dying [EXCERPT]


bitter taste dying

This post was originally published on July 28, 2015.

One fine, smoggy morning, I awoke from a Xanax- Fentanyl-Percocet blackout and realized I was three days late for work. I panicked. I scored a small bucket of pills the previous Friday (payday), with the intention of staying passed out on my couch all weekend. By the time I came to, it was Thursday, and when I jumped up to rush to work, I immediately fell down, unable to put any weight on my right leg. Looking down, my ankle was swollen to the size of a softball.

What the fuck did you do, Jason. This is not good.

I had a vague recollection of going out and riding in a taxi, before coming home and falling down, smacking my face against the side of a chair. But that didn’t explain what happened to my ankle. Once again, my wallet and cell phone had been sacrificed to the Xanax gods.

I had no time to backtrack—I was three days late for work.

Making things worse, our school had an event planned at a local park that day, to recruit families and sell Leviathan English as a safe, nurturing environment where their child could learn the English language. I wasn’t only three days late for work, but the work day was half over, meaning the event was well under way by the time I rolled up. I was still about 60% high, which isn’t a great number to be at. I was high enough to be noticeable, but not high enough to not give a shit.

As I limped into the event, I tried to play it cool as if I had a great explanation as to why I was in the shape I was in. My khakis were wrinkled, my blue polo unwashed with an awful smell, and I hadn’t shaved in five days. But still—the parents were looking at me, horrified, like some American monster who’d arrived to steal their children. They grasped their kids tightly, while my school’s teachers kept their distance and stared, mouths open, trying to figure out just what in the fuck was going on.

“Sorry,” I tried to explain, “I just got out of the hospital. I ate some bad food or something.”
Honest to God. That was my excuse.

I wish I had an aerial shot of me on that day, because I’m pretty sure such a mass of people has never moved in such fluid unison as they did while trying to avoid me. Everywhere I went, they weren’t. Some looked afraid, others looked entertained, but they all were in agreement that something very peculiar was afoot in the park that day.

After a half hour of being the personification of persona non grata, I heard someone yelling from behind me.
“Jason! Jason! Jason, what are you doing? Jason!” It was Nick, the guy who hired me over the phone.
He snapped his fingers and pointed toward our school building, which was half a block away. I followed behind from a safe distance of twenty feet until we got to the school. I felt like a small child being reprimanded, when in reality I was an executive about to get a stern talking-to about The Leviathan and its “Brand.”
I followed Nick into my office, where he slammed the door and just looked at me for what seemed like minutes.

Silently, he stared through me, as his eyes traced from the top of my head to my shoes.

He was waiting for me to say something.

“Hey, Nick how’s it going?” were the actual words that came out of my mouth.

“Jason,” he barked out, and then fell silent again. “Nick…” I replied. 
“Jason, why is your hair blue?”


“Your hair,” he said, mouthing the words extra slow to establish an appropriately condescending tone. “Why is your hair blue?”

Fuck. My hair is blue?

I realized in my rush to leave my apartment, I never looked in the mirror.

“Well, Nick, you see… I was in the hospital. I think I ate something…”

Drug addicts may be great at storytelling, but we at least need time to prep. I was caught off guard.

“Jason, I’m going to ask you one more time. WHY-IS- YOUR-HAIR-BLUE?”

“Uhh… I… well… fuck Nick, I really don’t know,” I said, giving up.

“You don’t know,” he repeated. “You don’t know why your hair is blue.”


Suddenly an idea came to me. “Oh, shit,” I burst out, “the event! I dyed it for the event! I thought it would be good for the school, ya know? Fun, learning, English, you know… The Leviathan…”

“Jason, stop,” Nick said, cutting me off.
He stared at me again. “And your eye? Why do you have a black eye?”
Fuck. I have a black eye? 
“My eye? Oh, that,” I said, stumbling over my words. “You see, my eye… did I tell you I went to the hospital?”

“Did you get in a fight?” he asked, the question made more surreal by the giant cartoon Leviathan mural behind Nick watching this whole scene unfold.

“Actually… the eye, I think I can explain,” quasi-honesty giving the faintest feeling of relief in this awkward conversation. “You see, I fell and hit my head on a chair…”

“And your leg?” he continued. “Why are you limping?”

“Ok, now the leg—well, technically it’s my ankle—Ok, the leg I don’t really know, but I think I hurt it in a taxi.”

As I said the words out loud, hearing them made me laugh, making things far worse than they otherwise would have been.

“Jason, you think this is funny?”

“No, man, it’s just…” I stuttered, trying to keep a straight face. I couldn’t stop laughing because my life was just THAT fucking absurd. “I don’t know, man, I mean, ok, seriously, I’m being serious now—I literally have no idea why my hair is blue.” I did my best not to crack a smile, but couldn’t help it. “I have no explanation for the blue hair. Or the black eye. Or the hurt leg—I mean ankle. Fuck.” I wasn’t sure why I threw that last “fuck” in there, but it happened.

He looked on, like he was going to burst out of his small, five-foot, frame. He was clean-shaven, wearing pressed khakis, an ironed blue Leviathan polo shirt, and here I was, 6’2, wrinkled to shit, just woke up out of a blackout with the beginnings of a beard, a black eye, blue hair, and a limp.

“That’s all you can say, Jason? The F-word?”

This made me laugh harder, since Nick couldn’t even bring himself to say the word “fuck” while dressed in his blue Leviathan uniform.

“Jason,” he said, condescendingly, which pissed me off, “this is not OK. This is a problem. This company has a brand. The Leviathan has a brand, and…”

I cut him off and abruptly stopped laughing, immediately dead serious: “Then maybe you should have done a fucking background check on me, Nick. Shit, I’m fresh out of jail on drug charges. I need help, man. I’m a fucking mess, Nick. A goddamn mess, to my soul, man. Do you think I give a fuck about this company or its ‘brand,’ or this over-priced school or its under-qualified teaching staff? Do I really look like I’m in the type of condition to possibly give a fuck about any of this? Because I’ll tell you right now, Nick, I couldn’t possibly give less of a fuck about the brand, or you, or me, or life, or any of this shit, man. It’s all a fucking joke. A really bad, fucked up joke, so yea—forgive me for laughing at it, but at this point, that’s about the only thing I can do to stop me from putting a fucking gun in my mouth.”

Nick looked at me, emotionless. He turned around and walked out of the room without saying a word. I went home and looked in the mirror to confirm that I did in fact have blue hair and a black eye.

My termination papers were in-hand the following day, along with a plane ticket home.

This is an excerpt from The Bitter Taste of Dying, published by Thought Catalog Books. All rights reserved.

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About Author

Jason Smith is the author of The Bitter Taste of Dying. His work has been published extensively in both online and print media.