Maury | Matthew Dunko

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You know that feeling you get when you lose one of the friends you love the most? I did. I lived with that feeling. I thought about her all day, every day. I thought about what I did, even though I didn’t know what I had done. All I knew was that it was wrong, whatever it was, and when you get to that place, your mind is always racing, trying to think of ways to make everything right, if they can ever be right again.

So I texted Maury about it. And a few hours later, he texted me back. And within moments, I heard him on the other end of a phone call.

“I’m interested in your case, Arthur,” he said. (My name is Arthur.) “I would like to have you and your friend, or ex-friend—whatever you wanna think of it as—on my show.” (His show is called Maury.) It was the happiest I had been in two years, three months, and forty-two days, so naturally, I said yes.

“Just so you know, though,” Maury continued—and thank God he did, and that I could remain at the mercy of that golden voice—“my show is ultimately still a reality show. We take some degree of creative liberty with the stories we feature. We’re committed to bringing you and your friend back together, but the audience wants drama, so we give them drama. It’s just a television thing, which you would understand if you were in my position.” Indeed, I couldn’t, as I wasn’t. So I agreed.

The next day… my friend called me. My heart swelled as much as it jittered. I hadn’t talked to her for so long, and I’d always dreamed of this moment. It was a chance to make everything right (not as right as Maury would in a week, but still). My hand shook as I picked up the phone.

“What the fuck have you done?!” she screamed. It was so good to hear her again.

“I’m making things right,” I responded.

“They won’t stop calling me or texting me. I block their numbers and I just get more. You’re such a fucking child, you know that? Why can’t you just move on with your life?”

I could tell she would be a natural for the show. I told her that I was sorry, but secretly I was elated. Maury was gonna save my life.

“Alright, Arthur, here’s what our writers have worked out,” Maury said. He went on to unfold a different take on our narrative, while preserving some key details: we had become close friends over the past five years, we cherished each other, and due to a tragic altercation, our friendship fell apart. Now this altercation, both me and Maury agreed, was something of a point of contention; it’s a very nuanced situation that was hard to deconstruct in a fair and concise way for a program of Maury’s character.

Indeed, I don’t know how much I want to get into it right now, so I’ll stick with the dramatized version that Maury presented me: when I went to visit her for a weekend, I recorded a video of myself rubbing my testicles on everything in her house. (He assured me little clarification for my motives were needed for his audience.) Since my friend gave permission to this account of our backstory, I complied. I am nothing if not flexible, after all, in the name of resurrecting friendship.

We were the second guests on the day’s episode after Maury caught up with that fat kid who ate sofa cushions, so I knew a lot of people would tune in. I could tell from our fortunate placement that Maury, indeed, cared about my case. For me to be so vulnerable with him, I theorize, was what drew him to me—it is the mark of a good human to see someone struggling and offer them the compassion and privilege of appearing on a widely-syndicated daytime talk show.

Even so, backstage, I was nervous. When you’re in that studio, it’s like you’re taken over by a spell. Every word earns you woops or jeers from the audience, and no in-between. I also think it’s fair to say, within me and my friend’s new narrative, that I was cast as the ostensive “problem,” a serial ball-rubber, which is perhaps not the most ideal position to be in. And as I listened to the audience shriek at my friend’s recount of the story, and then holler at the video they filmed of me rubbing my balls all over her apartment (it was a fake apartment that I went to for the shoot, don’t worry), the fear just kept sinking in, more and more. All I could think was, what am I doing? And it’s silly, in those moments, how anxiety can blind you and convince you that you’re doing the wrong thing, even when it’s so obviously right.

Every muscle in my body quivered as I waited behind the curtain to step onstage, and to face the ire of this committee. But when it was my time to shine, I realized that the only way to win this audience, and indeed rectify my friendship, was to be exactly who they wanted me to be. I embraced the narrative; I walked out to boos and hisses as I yelled for the audience to shut their bitch-mouths. I taunted them, I told them that they don’t know me, and they didn’t understand my life story. It was a spectacular performance,

fueled by complete devotion, for if I refused to commit to this, how could my apology be interpreted as sincere? I did this for her; even if I acted as if I were hypnotized by the sensory pleasures of a good ball-wipe, my remorse was sincere. And to her credit, she played along too: she responded to each of my words with the sort of superbly-acted recoil that strikes one as deeply naturalistic. We were brilliant scene partners.

At a certain point, I saw some people waving off-camera, and I knew that our segment would soon be over. Maury dialed us all back in with a simple question, guiding us to our denouement: “Arthur, I think it’s clear that you’ve made an absolute scene for us, and you seem to show little regrets about your action. So why are you hoping to apologize for your actions?”

I thought for a moment. Was it to make things right with my friend? Of course it was. That was all that I wanted from the start, and all I’ve wanted over these past two years, three months, and fifty-one days. But at that moment, all I thought was that I had to make the right character choice. I sat back in my chair and cocked my head to the studio lights. “Because I have the balls to apologize.” From the corner of my eye, I saw Maury nod, beaming an understated but celestial smile.

It was there, though… that moment haunts me a bit. Why did I say that? Did it even make sense to say? Was the pun worth it over just… breaking from the narrative and speaking my heart? I felt the progress that I’d made with my friend burn to the ground. Was I enabled by Maury and the audience? Arguably. But I pin the blame to myself. I let the fiction supersede the reality—it was as if losing my friend all over again.

Of course, contractually, she had to accept this apology for our segment to properly end, so she did. She told me she wanted me back. She told me that she had never stopped thinking about me, either. Even if I knew she didn’t mean it (she made few deviations from the script), I heard those words in her voice, and we exchanged a hug as Maury and the audience applauded. I knew it was fake, but for a second, everything felt real.

We never talked again. I stopped trying to reach out. But sometimes, on a particularly rough day, I’ll pull up that Maury episode on my DVR, and I’ll fast-forward to that moment. I’ll hear those words, and I’ll rewind, and I’ll hear them again. It’s strange the sort of things that mend the heart. It’s strange what makes you feel okay in the end.

in loving memory of Maury (1991-2022)

Matthew Dunko is a comedy writer based in Chicago. You can follow them on Instagram @mattdunko.

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