All These Questions Feel Like High Carbon Hammers

Cameron Gleason

The noise was conclusive and bleak in its factuality and mostly just sopping wet. I couldn’t understand how you were laughing at this shit. But a week ago you were firing guns from through the inside of your home and out into your mom’s garden in broad daylight, well within striking distance of Route 15 (or any one of your neighbors that lived on either side of you for that matter). So I just kept my mouth shut and hoped that whatever laboratory whose petri dish you’d spawned from had been permanently shut down by some government agency due to scientific malpractice. And besides, we were cool. It was easier this way.

DX’s small hand coiled around a mouse that skated over the plush fabric of a Bugs Bunny mousepad. His index finger operated the scroll wheel and he punched down on some letters from the keyboard. He made a few clicks. I was young enough at this point in the early 2010’s to still have a Bugs Bunny mousepad but still old enough for anyone who saw it to fully clock that I was a fucking lame. DX pushed play and a video started.

Bizarre extraterrestrial looking flora carpet bombed a tropical landscape that coagulated and confronted every square inch of digital Earth captured in the gritty VHS footage. The wobbly camera work reminded me of The Blair Witch Project and the overgrown jungle reminded me of Predator. Maybe I’d reflexively tried to associate the footage with works of fiction because whatever this was going to be was obviously not going to be that, and that was apparent. Orange monkeys hooted in the distance as they nutrified the land with human sized logs that fell from their human sized holes. I’ve always heard that monkeys like to throw their shit around, and maybe that’s what DX was doing.

“Shut the fuck up. My brother showed it to me.”

So, yeah. Without going into excruciating detail, three guys mashed a whimpering man, the star of this video, into an indiscernible gunk with high carbon hammers. A microscopic jungle mite scaled the waxy coat of a banana leaf that surfed in the mellow adhesive breeze. Bugs Bunny quietly vomited semi digested carrots into his gloves on the mousepad. We sat there and we watched the murder video that DX had felt so very compelled to pull up.

The wingspan of the 62 foot London Planetree across the street from the apartment I just moved into last month smears itself over the foreground of most of the Roman Catholic church tucked just beyond it. The church can seat about 150 Polish churchenjoyers from around the neighborhood per service. On average, this place can hold a daily average of roughly anywhere from 1,350 to 1,425 Polish sins. From the vantage point of my bedroom window the only characteristic unblemished by the dense swaths of the tree’s foliage is a weathered stone cross that garnishes the steeple’s pointed roof like a dramatic gothic maraschino cherry.

I look into the dramatic gothic maraschino cherry that levitates above a daily average of roughly anywhere from 1,350 to 1,425 Polish sins while a purple loading bar begins filling itself up on my laptop screen. A slew of cautionary disclaimers populate, such as:


26%. 27.4%. 28.8%.


I watch the Polish sins crystallize and dissipate into the froth of the atmosphere. They drive further perforations through the onion dome of our ozone layer. I watch the warnings continue warning on my screen.

I remember how DX’s acne scars excavated trace patterns along the high pile of his cheek bones, and how his lips were always bloody and raw because his braces had constantly grated against them. These were attainable truths. I studied these physical truths almost 20 years ago now after he had excitedly pressed the play button and thought about how/why we were so starkly different from each other. That was an unattainable truth.

The internet by design is the ultimate teacher. But I don’t really treat it this way; I’m just kind of like, on it. There. In the endless information continuum I’ve opted for memes, and hate follows, and dating apps, kittens, monkeys, reels, TikToks, shitty pop-up details, armchair diagnoses, and polenta with wild mushroom ragú. In the space that houses enough information to blow my carotid, I’ve opted to sit down cross legged and quietly piss into my jeans while gurgles of shaky breath come and go through my open mouth. An infinite laser of radical connectivity has, for the most part, only really connected me to the dead ends and cooked days. I watch my thumb scroll a timeline. It moves in a digging motion. You only dig to find something or to forget it ever existed.

I don’t really know which of those two categories I fall under. I feel like I don’t really know anything at all. If you asked me where I’d hope to find myself in five years I’d tell you hopefully in the late stages of a series of groundbreaking transformative cosmetic surgeries that have effectively morphed me into a mollusk.

“ARE YOU SURE THAT YOU WISH TO CONTINUE?” the site asks. I do not know if I wish to continue. I just said I don’t really know anything at all. I just said that I wanted to become a snail. All of these questions feel like high carbon hammers.

The loading bar is full. The files reach 100% completion. They are viewable in a zipped folder.

Fistfulls of years have torn by and we have busted our bones and our stupid fucking hearts alike, and some things have been bad, and others things good. I have spent so much time lately mentally combing through my experience with DX and that video well before it was something I decided I wanted to write about.

At the time I thought next to nothing about it. I left DX’s and I drank a glass of cold milk over dinner with my family because that’s what we did. We drank our milk. We talked. We ate our food. That’s just what we did. There were no internal emotional transmutations. There were no festerings or percolations. And if there were, my parents being the bloodhounds that they were, and I, being utterly incapable of masking my sensitivities (still can’t), would have either had any relevant information sniffed out and surgically extracted from my bowels like a benign lump, or voluntarily spilled out across the dining room table like, well, cold milk.

But in any case and maybe more interestingly so, even though I wasn’t necessarily moved by this video in one direction or another, why has that afternoon randomly squelched through my oily brain pores blimping to the surface like a ripe zit? I honestly forgot that it happened, and now I’ve been obsessing over this idea for weeks.

I post a question on a message board. Have you accidentally stumbled across anything online that has traumatized you? 66% of responding voters say that, yes, something on the internet has effectively left them traumatized. As some users point out within the thread, in some cases however, the content wasn’t “stumbled upon”, it was deliberately sought out.

“It’s like you’re in the room there with them,” says S. while we bike through Roosevelt Island on arguably the most beautiful day of the summer, discussing the most heinous digital atrocities we were subjected to as small children. “It shaped my worldview.” The sun was warm and shining, the birds were chirping, happy families walked hand in hand through the promenade, and we covered gore, and filth, and smut.

When you consume shock content of this caliber, whether it be by accident or by choice, the lines dividing consumer and consumee, product and producer, and where your physics lie smear; you become stripped and abducted like a catalytic converter. Clipped from the safety realm. There. I can understand how that could break you, or at least, break some parts of you.

All that said, when you’re a kid you have the processing power of extraterrestrial military grade machine learning technologies. When everything is fresh you bullet train through life testing anything and everything to fill your sponge. Some things become totally lost on you, never coming anywhere close to nicking the hard drive. I guess that’s what happened in my case. I was busy and moving fast. Of course, I understand that this is subjective. Of course, I’m aware that I’m generalizing. And of course, I probably should have been whacked with amphetamine salts.

I try to pinpoint the outliers within the comments that sparked discussions in the thread. I reach out to the users via direct message in hopes of attaining insights, further elaborations, and video interviews. Of the twenty or so individuals contacted, and of the small bunch that answered a few of my questions, one user agreed to a video interview but fell off as we began moving forward to schedule. There’s a certain layer of unaccountability that lends itself to any comment section across the web. Everybody wants to be heard, nobody wants to be seen. We love our anonymity; we love who we could be, but “irl” we’ll never cash in those chips.

The first comment in the thread reads, “Traumatized is a pretty strong word. I’ve run across stuff that disturbed me but not traumatized.”

A user by the name of TheKingOfToast who I’d later connect with replies, “I used to feel like that, too. But then I realized I’m constantly scanning for exits in crowded areas and ridiculously aware of fire safety. I think people tend to downplay their own trauma because they're able to otherwise function normally.”

A user named StreamKaboom jumps in.

“If you think trauma means looking for fire exits, that’s an insult to people with real trauma.” The two wrestle in the virtual sandbox.

“A lot of people are pussies,” StreamKaboom continues. “Some people truly have horribly trauma (I'm not one of them) but people who claim to be “traumatized” for ridiculous things (like watching videos of houses burning down so now they keep an eye out for fire exits?? Like what??) Are giving "trauma" a weak name. It's extremely serious, and people act like they can get it from anything. A lot of people are pussies.”

I ask KingOfToast for an expanded take on this pretty agro (and typo heavy) comment aimed at his head, and for further clarification on his hyper attentiveness to fire safety.

“Trauma is damage, and people don't like to admit that they're damaged. If they acknowledge a certain thing as trauma, then they'd have to admit that they, too, have trauma. I'd guess that these people either feel the need to appear tougher than most, or they've experienced a trauma and are ashamed of how it affected them. People don't understand that other people can be affected by the same thing in entirely different ways. They've never been traumatized by something they've seen, so they assume everyone else is just exaggerating or looking for attention.”

Toast goes on to describe a video filmed from the inside of The Station, a nightclub in Rhode Island that burned down during a concert in 2003 leaving 100 people dead and 230 injured. What stuck with Toast was the audio captured in the footage. But even after seeing this video, and others like it that reached dark virality (he cites BME Pain Olympics, Two Girls One Cup, and cartel beheading videos) and experiencing “anxiety” as a result, Toast was still of the belief that the internet couldn’t leave you traumatized.

“That was until I was bitten by a dog nearly through my hand. People make the argument that you can't be traumatized by something on the internet, but I think fewer of them would make the argument that you can't be traumatized by a dog bite, yet having experienced and been effected by both, I can say that I experience similar stress when confronted with related situations,” writes Toast.

We go on our separate ways, off to consume more content from the bottom of the swamp, eating whatever loose pills present themselves to us on the e-sidewalk.

I’m not sure what I’ll be met with when contacting StreamKaboom, as he seemed pretty confrontational in the thread. And when the first words of his reply read, “Well hello there!” something about the jovial disposition coded as sarcasm, and I braced myself for the standard set of half baked ribbings you might come to expect from the standard set of incel-adjacent terminally online weirdos. But I was wrong. He seemed genuinely excited to be heard, and perhaps, to be heard differently. He painted some motifs of war and imminent danger and insisted this is what it takes to know trauma. While his illustrations may have been grandiloquent (as well as just being mostly bullshit), and while the use of traditionalist aphorisms were predictable, energy was applied. He wasn’t the same guy he was in the comments.

“I don't claim to have all the answers, and I have some issues with things that I really shouldn't have issues with. I openly admit that.”

I chalk most of the comments up to just being noise. We are not accurate portrayals of ourselves in the public eye of the internet. We become knee jerk reactions caricatured by fractals of light, cosplaying some distant versions of ourselves. For the third time, I don’t really know anything at all. And even though you exist in the era of peak information accessibility, you don’t either. I will not find the answers that I’m looking for in the throbbing hub of the discourse. There are no answers, only lasers of connectivity that tackily sew our pixels together for better or for worse. Maybe in some ways that’s illumination enough if you can stomach it all.

I never knew how he died, but I heard rumors. DX’s death records are 100% downloaded and ready to view. He is no longer here, we are no longer connected. He’s somewhere beyond the threshold of the zeitgeist, the endless information continuum, and anything that we can say for certain. So what’s the point? I dangle the files over the Trash icon, release, and close the window. There are no answers, and that truth may shock you — RIP, DX.

⬡ ⬡ ⬡

Cameron Gleason is a 29 year old Brooklyn based writer whose work has been previously published in the New York Times Metropolitan Diaries. Cameron is currently focused on creative non-fiction essays. Instagram: @c_gleason; Substack: