Do you remember being younger, and playing in all those public pools in the summer? There was one of your friends, the really beautiful one, that you were always bashful in front of. It was a beautiful time, your heart thumping hard, fast, when you talked to that one.
And wow you were young. Remember that? Your body raged, fought against the gravity of the earth, the resistance inherent in the air, the clocks that told you to be tired, to be awake. You were in control, back then. But that’s okay, because everyone gets their turn at being young and that was yours. Now you’re older, and your joints creak a little when you move them, and you get a stiff neck now when you sleep funny. That’s okay, too, because right now it’s your turn, just as it was then. It’s always your turn. There’s no waiting in line when you’re okay with the present. And yes, there are some waiting in line, for some grandiose time in the future, and there are some who still reminisce and miss all those kiddy rides. Now you look at the kiddy rides, some small airplanes that turn around in a circle and lift off the ground maybe a few feet and then return towards the ground and then lift up again, and wow, pretty fucking lame! Now you’re on the real rides:
The constant struggle
Whatever you want.
Shit, those are pretty fucking heavy, huh? But hey guess what, it’s your turn
He drove north on Interstate-95, looked at some nondescript forest towards the horizon and thought of all the places on earth he wouldn’t see, wondered at what lay behind that far off curtain of branches that stood frozen in time. He thought of Italy, and how he had never been on an intercontinental flight. There was Memphis, which he had visited long ago, and thought of larger cities, all those millions of people he would never meet. There were books too, that he would never read, and as he drove down that monochrome interstate he longed to be reading.
Beyond books, there were times he would never see. Moments he would never hear or read about. There was Jesus, somewhere in the past, and then there was his family somewhere in the near future.
The love he had received through his life made it all okay, he thought. So long as he had love he could make do without the rest.
The desert in Arizona had been his favorite, on that long trip so many years before. He had been 9 and got to trip across the country in a camper with some of his extended family.
“Youngest kid to ever cross the country on that trip.”
His grandma would say.
He thought about death, but also about life, and what lay between. Every moment in time could be extrapolated infinitely in description, he thought, but how maybe there aren’t really words to describe what’s really happening beneath the physical moment. He thought of all the memories he had, and wondered where they would go when he died; all those secrets that make life so sweet. He didn’t think too hard about it, though.
He was focused on thanksgiving dinner, a respite from the monotonous hum of driving and the unyielding sense of yearning it brings.
“Not everything needs a deeper meaning.” She said with a faint smile.
The sun was setting and the air was cold. They were in her father’s backyard. A few feet from the hedges that divided his lawn and his neighbor’s, a door frame stood with some stairs leading up to the door and other than that there was nothing. The door was white, but had some blue paint marks on it, as if a couple brushstrokes into changing its color the painter changed their mind. White is a good color, clean, barren, familiar. Good if you’re into that kind of thing. He enjoyed it.
He stood there, very aware of his breathing, staring at the door, and then walked up to it, felt the dry splintered surface.
“You don’t have to think everything to death, you know?” She said, having possibly mistook his silence for offense to the previous statement.
“Maybe you’re right. But it is fun.”
She showed him around the house. There were pictures on the walls, pictures of her and her father, and pictures of her father and her sisters. There were posters of famous jazz musicians that he had worked with, back in the day.
you can’t remember if what had happened the night before
had really happened or
you just wished it had happened.)
(And much like trying to remember dreams, these moments quickly slip from your grasp.)
“How are you doing?”
She asked me. We were on campus in the rock gym, where climbing enthusiasts gather to climb and the rest of us gather to watch other people climb. It was an alright question, it was just the context that threw me off. Here is a woman that changed everything and right now is the last time I will probably ever see her. She’s going to Oklahoma next semester, I’ll stay here. The first time we hung out I drove from work to her place on a road I had never driven before: a long winding piece of shit named Forest Ave. It was 9:30pm and on that first drive out the speed limit said 45 miles per hour but I figured I would have died going anything over 35. About two miles into Forest Ave there were 15 or so cars parked along the side of the road, and countless people conducting some kind of search: plenty of reflective vests and flashlights shining light all over the marshes hugging the road. It was all surreal. She had made a cake without using sugar, she had substituted in red wine, somehow, I don’t know how. We talked at her kitchen table and then watched a movie and I spent the night, it was all really nice. Everything tends to be at least a little weird but this wasn’t at all that. New people in your life tend to be either really great or you tend to fuck up too many times for them to want to talk to you again. Maybe friendship grows slowly, it just takes a long time. She had dreadlocks and brushed her teeth with baking soda. She was really special. Oh well.
“I’m doing well, really.”
A friend once asked me if I got nervous when I talked to this girl. I told her I’m nervous every minute of my goddamn life. Imagine Woody Allen’s character in Annie Hall, only less Jewish.
It can be charming, to some, I suppose. I mean well, and I’m always trying. There’s something you can say about a man who doesn’t achieve much but at least he tried, right?
But, anyways, the last two months of that semester melted into a calm sea after that night driving down Forest Ave.
I could go into every memory I have regarding those last two months, but they’re probably not anything special to anyone but me, so I’ll move on.
I told her, “I hope you have a nice time on your hike, we’ll keep in contact, ok?”
I hugged her, and I guess that was that.
Portrait #2 (Landscape)
That night after saying goodbye, a short while before my 6pm final, I was skateboarding and fell and broke my toe. I tried an ollie on a little incline in the pavement and overshot it and fell and rolled, swinging my foot around and punting the pavement. It’s always the easy tricks you have to watch for. You get cocky and lose respect for their power. While taking my test the right half of my left foot was goddamn numb. I actually was afraid to look at the damage, so I put it off until I was done the test. It was my last final, on that Wednesday night, and so I started another Summer right then.
I started a May term class that following week: Intro to Partial Differential Equations, 4 hours, 9am to 12:30pm Monday-Thursday. I enjoyed it. We learned a lot about waves and their behavior and mathematical relations to sound and tension, including something called Huygen’s Principle. If Huygen’s Principle was not true, sound would continue traveling infinitely, words would never go away. At all times, you would hear faint and even fainter echoes of things you had heard and said years ago. If Huygen’s principle was not true, I imagine talking would be illegal, and all vocalized thoughts would be noise pollution. You could write the ideas down, but then you would just hear the etching of a pen on paper forever.
There was a friend in the class and so we would have lunch every once in awhile. Afternoons, I would go into the chemistry building, Aubert Hall, and start work on my research project.
Turns out “that” from before wasn’t just that, and I actually missed that one person from the first portrait a lot, and I still do, seeing as how it has been months between it happening and me writing it down here and I’m still almost getting teary eyed. I mean you get a good thing going and you just don’t want it to stop. It’s just too inconvenient. I’ll have to go through maybe 15 different women to get to the point where I had already been with that one. It just seems impractical. Maybe not 15, though, I’ve raised my standards a lot and won’t let just anyone in.
I’m an alright person I just get down sometimes. And I hate feeling pressured to fill the silence. That’s what I like about the people I like, just talk when you have a nice thought. I’ve said so much meaningless shit because I thought a silence would make people feel uncomfortable. I would be fine with a silence at any given moment, but I imagine what they might think and start to feel shitty. I just want people to enjoy themselves.
When I think of memories, I usually feel sad that that moment has passed. I’ll be right here in this present moment and start feeling shitty that it’s about to pass. I don’t feel this way all the time, just enough.
Well, I had started smoking a lot again once the semester had ended. It just kind of took away the loneliness. I don’t really know how to describe it other than that. I had mainly my class and my work and many of my friends had headed out for the summer. I worked weekends at the same job that you go down Forest Ave to get to from campus. Every time, I teared up thinking of how I was going to work instead of someplace else, remembering that search party from long before. I just felt so lonely. I started drinking a lot, too. Oh yeah, I saw that one person from before as a lighthouse, in a way. I had been going through a lot of shit before her and it was nice to know that I was still close to the shore in this figurative sense. She was only temporary, sending out a few pulsating beams of light, but that’s all that it took. I don’t want to talk about her too much more, truly.
This past winter was the first time I, at one point, just got really tired of living. Every day just seemed to kind of fly by and I didn’t really have a choice as to how I spent each day. Everything was scheduled: class, classwork, homework, work-work. It’s alright when you get to fill the cracks with something nice, like flowers stemming through the cracks of pavement, but when you just kind of have to go home early so you can be up early the next morning you just get really tired. You have to, get tired I mean, because it’s your body getting used to not enjoying your time. It’s a defense mechanism: you try to make yourself as unaware as possible that your time is being wasted, so you get tired, because being awake is as productive towards your dreams as sleeping.
One of my best friends had just kind of left my life, and I really thought she was going to kill herself. I really only had two people I trusted my deepest thoughts with, and one just dropped out of my life. It’s ok, she had her reasons, and we recently became friends again, it was just hard.
No one ever really tells you about this period between adolescence and adult life. No one even talks about it. I’ve seen this transition period as little more than accepting that things usually don’t go your way. You just kind of keep hoping things go your way, and then sometimes they do but usually they don’t. You can give yourself the best odds, but sometimes you just fuck it up when you need it most. But by then, you’re pretty used to it so it’s not too hard to just move on.
I really hope I don’t sound too whiny. I know things get better, I’m just wondering when.
You really start to respect people and their own lives. They’re going to do what they want to do in their spare time, and you are going to do what you want in your spare time. It’s hard to get out of a friendship you don’t want to be a part of. With dating, or marriage, there are set rules and protocols to follow. With friendship, you kind of go through a period of ambiguity, unsure of why they’re not talking to you as much; a subtle decrescendo of presence. When someone wants you to leave, the least you can do is leave. You don’t have to make such a fuss about it,
Portrait #5 (No Hope; No Future)
I got out of the lab at 5pm on a Friday afternoon and had to be work at the weekend job by 9pm. I drove downtown and ordered a burrito and then drove down by the river. There’s a spot I love where you can venture out into the river fifteen feet or so by walking on these huge rocks jetting from the shore. Once I parked my car, I popped open my trunk and opened up my travel coffee cup and then a bottle of beer and poured its contents into my mug. The thing fizzed like no other, so it took maybe two or three minutes to pour the whole thing in there. I secured the cup’s cap and walked down onto the rocks. Sitting there, watching the river while the sun set slowly. The current was passing through weeds piercing the water’s surface. I wanted to jump in and float downstream, I remember. I spend a lot of time feeling like I should be thinking of profound things, but usually nothing comes. I think it’s good to be alone sometimes. I was very alone as I sat on that rock, watching cars pass over a bridge and I wanted a cigarette. Do you ever work so much that when you finally have time to do what you want, all you want to do is nothing?
My whole family has been going through that for quite a while.
I drank the alcohol and then decided to walk around downtown, just to see some life before heading out. I walked the streets with a pink sky overhead, stopping at various green benches with concrete supports to sit for a few minutes. There were people my age, older, younger, all walking around with other people their age, older, younger. They were laughing, only outside to walk from one location to another, all disappearing into different buildings and businesses. I started to feel lonesome. Solitude is beautiful, but it can dissolve into loneliness so easily (I started to dissolve). I walked to the bridge and noticed that over the railing was a whole natural museum of beautiful spiders spinning different webs. There were literally hundreds down the stretch of the bridge, and I looked at each one of them. One in particular had a beautifully spun web, and I was able to watch it string together the characteristic circular patterns that connect together the single skeletal strings necessary for the web’s support. What it would do is jump from one strand to the next with a string of web behind it, and then spool out enough to tie a knot, and then travel back over the small bridge it had just made with more web behind it and tie another knot from where it had initially started, to double the strength of the connection.
“You are just some architect, aren’t you? You are beautiful.”
I watched another spider take prey that was spun up in web and eat it. It inserted the sad sap right into its central cavity from the bottom up.
I walked back across the bridge towards downtown and started feeling down again. It’s just hard to look forward to driving to a house where you’ll be mostly alone. I walked down one street and up another. Each street has so many memories drawn on it. I saw a purple house that was mostly empty now but used to house my best friends. Even worse than seeing places that held memories was seeing places where I wished memories existed. I have so many things I wish I had done, but was just too busy. It’s really not so bad, it just feels that way to me sometimes.
Time for work: I started walking down the street to the river and just started to tear up. I don’t know. My forehead was on fire. I just wanted someone there beside me. I have a picture of a life I want to be living in my head and it’s just taking a while to get there.
Opened car door; closed car door. I put on Arcade Fire’s Funeral and just kept crying, Jesus. I drove up a short hill, took a right onto a street, a left onto main street, and then a right onto Forest Ave. I just missed that time of my life before the semester ended: a stark confidence and hope that everything was alright. I then put on The Cranberries Linger, which was a big mistake but I just had to let it out. Traveling past where the search party was those months before, I hoped they had found whatever it was they were looking for.
“You need to get your shit together, Elias.”
I had only fifteen or so minutes before my shift started. That would be enough time to decompress.
Missed warmth; missed waking up there; sunlight passing through window shades to shower that person in sunlight. I remember staying up all night there once because I didn’t want the moment to pass.
I never sent this letter but I wrote it all the same, a few years ago.
I remember freshman year, you picked me up from my dorm as the sun was setting. It was cold, January if I remember correctly. As I ducked into your car the streetlights were starting to chirp to life in the twilight.
You asked me, “Are you ready, man?” with a flame of enthusiasm in your words.
I said, “As ready as I’ll ever be.”
My words passed through a mouth that was smiling, then.
You pulled out of the dormitory driveway, speaking now with subdued passion, “I’m so happy Steve is finally 21. Did Diane tell you what he got?”
“No, what did he get?”
“Oh, I meant that as a question.”
“Ah, no. I have no idea! I’m probably not going to drink too much tonight.”
Your left blinker was ticking the time a little too fast. You turned his head left and right, left again, as cars passed. A red jeep had its gas cover open. “Jackass,” you muttered under his breath, and then you said, “You’re not getting drunk tonight?”
“I just don’t see the point in it, man. I like staying in control.”
“Hey man I get that. You can babysit me tonight.”
“Oh, haha, sure.”
Everywhere was white: the street, trees, fields, cars, all white, pure and clean. I had an ache in my heart. I was in love with Diane (I don’t remember ever telling you that) but she was with Steve, and so that was that. They had only been dating a few months then. She had been single while I was in my last relationship, and by the time I was out of that mess she had taken a liking to Steve. Hanging out with those two was like watching fireworks go off. They really were nice together, like sunrise and coffee, a cuddly cat and a nap.
“I have to stop by Elaine’s, is that cool?” You asked.
“Sure, of course.”
“I left my camera there.”
“Wait, who is Elaine?” I ask after a moment of listening to tires churn snow on the roads.
“She was in my photography class. I thought she was cute so I asked her out. She said yes, but she just wanted to hang out and smoke weed.”
“I’m sorry friend.”
“I just don’t understand. Why are people so afraid to connect with one another? We’ve traded intimacy for fucking. Not even that, getting drunk beforehand so we can laugh off the fucking afterwards.” You talked with your hands even while driving, which always worried me but you were generally keeping one hand on the wheel so I focused on your words instead of worry.
“Did you guys…?”
“No. You can’t sleep with nobody.”
“Oh I sleep with nobody most nights.”
You cracked a smile and recomposed yourself, serious, “You can’t make love to nothing. You can’t even make love to most people who are into you. That’s just the way it is, it seems.”
You went on, “I can’t even stand half of these women. I walk up to a woman and start conversation because I like the way she looks. What does that even mean? I am judging who I want to spend time with based on their physical appearance. It’s not fair, but I feel programmed to think this way. I like knowing before I talk to someone there will be some connection. Elaine and I talked about photography but it was shallow and then she hopped on my lap and started making out with me. No, making out at me is more like it. I thought that was what I wanted, but as soon as I got a taste I realized behind the curtain was just some woman interested in a physical connection. Oh, and she had been drinking. Go figure.”
Your sentences were showing signs of stress fractures, disjointed at times and invoking pain.
I chimed in, “I think it’s just a patience game. Sadly, I think sometimes you just need to wait for the right one to come along. Don’t stop looking, though.
“Yeah you’re right. I’ve just been sifting through fool’s gold for the past goddamned eight months.”
I thought then of the other ones, the ones picked from the river that glistened in the sun but who were all just iron pyrite in the end: Lauren, Jenya, and Kate. I decided not to bring them up.
“Are you doing ok, though?” I asked.
“I think so. Life’s just been hard but I know I’ll get through it. Failing out of my mathematics program really messed me up. I had never failed a class before, but I’m happier now. I think economics will be a good fit. Enough math to keep my brain busy, and if I want to go to law school it’s an option.”
“That makes me happy, that you’re happier now.” I said.
You grimaced and flicked on your right blinker. We turned into a driveway of an older dark blue house, some of the blue paint was chipped to reveal the dark brown and moist natural finish underneath. No cars were in the driveway.
“God damnit. She said she’d be home.”
You texted this no-one-person and got a reply almost immediately.
“Five minutes.” You sighed.
I wanted then to let you know how little all of this mattered, that it really wasn’t worth stressing over. People come and go and if you let go of the ones that do you no good one day you find yourself surrounded with great people. I thought that you didn’t really want Elaine but rather the idea of Elaine. I knew you probably thought of all these grand reasons for why Elaine was truly great and special, but upon piercing beneath what you wanted her to be there was little substance, at least compared to what you wanted. I knew this because I do it too.
As we waited in your car (you left the car running) your speech turned laconic, as if you just wanted to get this whole thing over with and be done with it.
Finally, a red Chevy pulled in beside us. I smiled at her briefly and politely as she got out of her car.
“Be right back.” You told me, as you opened your door.
You two walked down the walkway towards her side door, small talk filtering through the driver’s side window you left cracked open.
“I’m really sorry about this.” You told her.
“Sam, it’s really ok. I’m sorry about how this all turned out.” She fumbled with her keys.
I saw you two continue to talk but you were out of earshot. Come to think of it, I don’t have to tell you what you talked about. You were there. I rolled down my window and let the cool winter air into my lungs. I inhaled that familiar crispness. Elaine’s neighbor arrived home, smiled and waved at me politely when she noticed me. It was Friday night so I expunged my brain of the responsibilities I had for the weekend (mostly homework and studying for a chemistry test). I looked at my fingernails (they were clean). A shiver rippled through me and so I rolled up the window. By then you had been inside for nearly ten minutes. Elaine looked pretty, her figure obfuscated by her winter jacket but she was skinny and had brown hair with faint streaks of lighter brown, probably leftover from the distant summer sun. I could see why you would want to approach her. Her voice was delicate and soft with an underbelly of emotion that contrasted starkly with the cold weather. I thought of how perhaps the Elaine she was during the day was very different from the Elaine she was during the night. Maybe. Personality is largely a product of its present environment. I really didn’t have a lot to go on to accurately assess Elaine as a person, but I had nothing better to do than think.
Nothing was truly too exciting in my love life. Too many prospects, not enough pursuit. I thought of my friend Jessica. She was a third-year student my freshman year. She had a boyfriend but they had been off-and-on. We were very close and I loved her, too. I had kissed her a few times. She was talented in making very human, very real, intimate moments. As I sat in your passenger seat I thought of the time she cut my hair in her bathroom. She had been trying to persuade me for months, and finally one day I decided to not go to a barber but instead to Jessica’s apartment. Her fervid smile didn’t just light up a room but also had the potential to blind you. Whenever she smiled I found myself squinting with a smile back. That’s something I’ve noticed about my family: when we smile, we smile with our eyes, too.
She cut my hair in the reflection of her bathroom mirror and I sat on a hard wood chair from her kitchen table. I liked the way she was assessing me, pulling softly at parts of hair, surveying my physical form with her eyes and fingers. She had taken my glasses off my face and so during the haircut process I was entirely at her will. I asked her questions like, “How’s it looking?” and “Should I shift my head?” At times, she put her face beside mine to gain a better vantage point. She smelled of sage. God, I remember thinking how I could just drown in her. She ran her fingers through my hair, messing it up and testing it.
“Okay, I think I’m done.” She said as she slid my glasses back on. In the reflection was a boy who had been shaped by Jessica’s hands. I really loved her for that.
Another time we walked into the woods and smoked weed out of an apple. One night we gave each other backrubs. She was on her stomach with semi-loose, comfortable washed-out green pants. Her shirt laid on the desk beside the bed. I traced her muscles with my fingers for a minute, tripping over her bra-strap.
“You can take that off, if you want.” She whispered.
But her heart was not only in my chest but danced from person to person because it was hard not to fall for Jessica. For as long as she exists I’ll live on somewhere in the white matter of her nervous system, waiting to be brought to life by neuronal pulses of electricity recollecting memories of us.
I was staring at the dashboard, thinking of how I would ask Jessica if she was free this weekend, when I heard a door shut. You walked back to the car inspecting your camera.
“Sorry about that, man. Let’s get out of here.”
I didn’t ask about what went on in Elaine’s house because I knew you would bring it up if you wanted to talk about it. Instead, I told you about how the chemistry class was going that I was in, the one that you dropped.
I had a limited amount of money from my part-time job but I offered to buy us pizza. You told me we would split it. You weren’t talking much in the car-ride.
“I feel like you want to tell me.” I said with a mouth half-full of pizza.
“I do. I’m just still processing everything.”
“Was it really that bad?”
“Well today, not really. It’s just all of it, man.”
“I’m sorry. You’ve been through a lot this year.”
“Yeah, and Kate is texting me again.”
I sighed, “You know that’s not a good idea.”
“These are extenuating circumstances.” You replied in a defeated tone. Defeated, that’s the word. That’s what you’ve been and that’s what I’ve been hiding from you and the others.
You continued, “I don’t know. I’m tired of being miserable. Let’s eat this pizza and start over.”
“Is Diane and Steve going to be able to make it?”
“Oh!” I checked my phone, “They should be here in ten minutes or so!”
I asked the waitress for more water. You checked your phone, texted someone briefly, stared out the window towards the street lit up by the lights from various businesses.
“Ah!” Diane winced, slamming her glass on the cheap wooden table. Her apartment was freezing, and only when I looked behind me did I see a curtain behind pushed by the wind.
“Who left the fucking window open?” I yelled into the abyss.
“Oh,” Steve answered, “haha, that was me.”
“Jesus, Steve, you’ve lost it, man. You’re too far gone.” I said in my best Hunter S. Thompson voice while shutting the window.
“It’s only because I was bringing that fucking fire.” He said.
And this was true. We were all playing a drinking game in Diane’s apartment where you laid a sheet of paper on a table and flipped a quarter onto the piece of paper. If the quarter landed on a blank spot of the page then you traced a loose shape around the quarter and filled it with a challenge. Steve was particularly good at “rhyme” where you choose a word and go around the circle and each person must say a word that rhymes within 2 seconds or you lose, and must drink. If you flipped a quarter and it landed in a circle on the sheet, then you did that challenge. You could also put a dare in your circle. There was really no way to win the game, but there was an assured way to lose.
It was your turn and you brought your head eye-level with the table, meticulously studying the topography of the flat sheet of paper lying on the table. You flipped the quarter onto the “Dogs” circle.
Later on we took Diane’s puppy outside onto the volleyball court of the apartment complex. There were hundreds of people out and around the complex. No drunk person can resist a puppy and we took advantage of that, quickly ending up in a group of three women. We made small talk, and they invited us back to their apartment. Inside, there was a man playing Call of Duty Zombies, and you played a quick round while I laid on their living room floor on soft carpet beside Katherine, who happened to be one of Diane’s friends. I remember talking to her about the abundance of holidays in this day and age, and how I wanted to make my own holiday too. Someone offered you a drink and you took it, drinking it while appearing comfortable but at a pace that suggested you were nervous. I couldn’t tell if you were running to or from something, but I watched you talk to some girl and you seemed happy, laughing. “Well, it’s been nice,” you said at one point, “but we should probably get going.”
We headed back to Diane’s and continued the drinking game. You had a regular glass and filled it with two inches of rum. You had to finish your drink and you did, two inches of rum in a regular glass entering your body at once. Within twenty minutes you were belligerent, yelling in French at Diane’s roommate in a friendly but manic manner. I thought it was funny at first but realized that you were slipping further and further from yourself. We put you on the couch and you fell asleep instantly. You were lying on your side and while I put a blanket on you your body convulsed and released pale yellow vomit over the couch and onto my hand. You kept vomiting, and Diane ran to grab a trash can. We finally had your head buried in the trash can, your whole being reduced to zero. You were unconscious, so we rolled you back onto your side and you slept.
I remember you looked dead.
Your chest was rising and dropping, but my best friend was nowhere in that body. I was scared. You kept vomiting. Diane took care of you the entire night, and at 3 A.M. told me to go to bed, that she could handle it. I fell asleep, crying lightly because I couldn’t take care of you.
We should’ve taken you to a hospital, just to be safe.
The next morning, I woke up at 7 A.M. to find Diane had stayed up all night caring for you, just to make sure you were okay. You woke up around nine. You were in pain, shriveled up and dehydrated. We all ate breakfast together, discussing what you had no memory of (you couldn’t eat much). I only had my permit then, but I drove you home (illegally). I remember you telling your parents, and how they told you we should’ve called them, we should’ve taken you to the hospital. People die every night from alcohol poisoning, they said, no one is invincible.
I want to tell you I’m sorry, sorry that I couldn’t fix you, that I didn’t stay up with you, that I didn’t deny you that last drink. I felt I had failed you, and I know it wasn’t my fault (you chose to drink while sad and lonely) but I could’ve done so much more.
More than anything, I’m glad you survived that night, and that you’re alive today.
You stopped drinking rum after that, for a long time. You stopped drinking for a while, actually.
I wrote that letter a little after that night but felt weird giving it to you, so I didn’t. I don’t know what made me want to send it to you now. I hope you’re enjoying Quebec and you’re meeting new and exciting people there. A semester can seem like the longest shortest time. In the throes of it you feel the days stretching endlessly but before you know it 3 months have passed and you’re taking finals. So, until the end of the longest shortest time.
The beginning of the end, or perhaps a draw closer to the inevitable climax: I am seated in a bar in Orono, Maine writing a letter to no one in particular instead of talking to those around me (I know no one here but the bartender). There was a cute girl with glasses at the bar that laughed at one of my jokes but I was too scared to sit beside her. Perhaps the fear of failure has rendered my life into one big compromise. Perhaps not (but probably perhaps).
Writing makes me feel better, gives me a sense of control over the matter of communication but perhaps the magic lies somewhere in the insanity of uncontrolled communication. Hm. I hope the move to Portland pushes me against a wall and I must learn to fight back, fight against the insecurity and the fear. Speaking of the fear (and loathing) I have been reading The Proud Highway, a collection of letters from Hunter S. Thompson (’55-’67). What a fearless spirit. His honesty in his writing is at times almost overwhelming. Here is a quote that struck me violently today
I have found but one advantage to being here: I am completely alone. I work for three or four hours for five days a week, and then I return to my apartment—on top of Regan’s Taproom—and either read or write. Loneliness is for people who can’t see themselves except through the eyes of their compatriots, and all evidence points to the fact that I’ve passed that stage.
I feel that boldened section strongly, live it. I am sitting at a bar spending $8 on beer doing things I could’ve done at home drinking $2 worth of beer. Ah well. The constant hum of activity behind me keeps me writing; keeps me compelled to prove something perhaps to no one in particular. I feel only comfortable when people introduce me to people. I can never introduce myself to someone new. Are people at bars to talk to people? I think I find the idea of talking to someone like myself a bit abject and instead feel people would be happier if I didn’t approach them and strike up conversation. But I want to. Right? I have no idea. The fear of rejection takes me. I feel insecure in my persons and one validation could ruin me. Not to be melodramatic because life is a sort of game you get to play and I am young and Hunter S. Thompson said in a letter not to waste your youth depressed, because these are the golden years. Almost 23. Almost past my peak physical attraction. Peak physical attraction encasing a scared individual. Tragic, but hilarious.
I heard a man outside the bar talking on the phone to his mother and it made me smile, that innocence lying just outside a den of depravity and sorrow.
Anyways, in short. I want to be braver. I want to be happier.
“Have you tried focusing on the living?” Eve asked.
“I find I usually do.” He replied in an off-guard, puzzled tone.
“No, no. The living are you and me right now, in this moment. Whatever happened in the past is dead.”
She was very high. Sitting on the couch at another one of James’s parties her eyes were half-shut but staring intently at Evan, who was sitting on the floor beside the couch.
“But every moment led up to this one, so there’s no way they’re dead.”
“Yes, but, what are you when you’re stuck thinking about your past?” she paused for effect and then pushed against his chest, “You’re dead.”
The music was loud but he could hear his heartbeat. Eve kept her hand on Evan’s shoulder, her face held closer to his.
“You have to stop this, Evan. I’m saying this because I like you. She’s gone, Sam’s gone, Diane’s gone, but,” she looked around to all the people surrounding them and returned to Evan, “we’re all right here with you, now. See?”
He moved his gaze down to his shoes.
“Hey,” she said, “you have the chance to have a good night tonight. It’s your choice.”
He returned to Eve’s eyes, “No…no…you’re right. It’s just a little overwhelming is all.”
“I know. It’s not easy. I know you really cared for them but…you’re a good person, and you deserve to be happy.”
He felt he knew what it would take.
“Thanks, Eve. Really.”
He walked to the kitchen and put an open bottle of Malbec to his lips. That burning burgundy struck something inside of him, dominoes that winded from his throat to his heart to his brain, tumbling over themselves clumsily. He saw people talking to each other but couldn’t make out the words they were saying, the sounds forming a fog that left Evan lost. What were they talking about? He stood in the kitchen with the bottle in his hand, watching a game of beer pong through eyes that were filling up with seawater.
“Shit.” He whispered to himself. Walking outside into the darkness with his bottle he felt a deep weight within his chest. The weight pulled him down onto the soft grass at the edge of James’s driveway, where the music from inside was low enough so that he could think.
What if Eve was right? Why did he wake up each morning thinking about some far off better time? He hated how he was afraid of talking to new people. The prospect of failure loomed too great, and he would get stuck in its shadow trying to find other souls in the darkness.
He sipped the courage potion until he was convinced it was a dud. It just wasn’t coming. He was becoming existential, what his friend Ally called “Louis C.K. drunk”.
The thoughts and questions crashed into each other until they no longer mattered. He didn’t feel entirely better, but things seemed to calm down inside him.
He left the empty bottle on the edge of the driveway where the dirt met grass, and walked off towards the river.
On the walk there, the sidewalk stretched ahead of him, parts reflecting and shimmering the light from the streetlights and cars driving past. There were homes with some rooms lit and others completely dark. He thought of the families in those houses, wondered what they did, if they had kids maybe how their kids were doing, if the parents were happy with their lives. The alcohol was really starting to set in, as Evan found himself floating along the pavement towards the water.
The water was soft and sweet but Evan felt lonely there standing in what small light the streetlights afforded him. Deep beneath the black water in that dark expanse was a time and place where Evan felt happy and he wanted to travel there but knew it couldn’t be so easy. In his chest his feelings were a low furnace, warmth radiating from the center out towards his extremities. The cool air felt good, he thought, and he reached his hand down into the icy water. He stood back up and traced some of the water onto his cheeks and his neck.
Evan walked back downtown, past the bars, past Diane’s house, past where she used to work. Each place was stuck in one place and time for Evan. Those places, like bugs in amber, seemed to be suffocating from the inward pressure of frigid complacency. Those places were still alive, but Evan could only see them as if trapped in a photograph from months before. The photographs in his mind made him recall the past and he wished to return there. He was focused on the dead. Eve had been right.
Evan opened the back door to James’s apartment and found that most of the people had since left, save James, his roommate, and his girlfriend. It is 2 AM.
He heard the roommate yell from down the hall “That is not my problem.” as she walked from her room.
“What’s going on?” Evan asked.
“Someone is puking in the shower.”
“Ah, Jesus. Let me handle it.”
He walked into the bathroom and saw Nick sitting on the shower’s floor. His head was between his knees, and there was vomit leading from between his feet to the drain of the shower.
“Oh no. Hey man, how are you doing?” Evan asked in a caring, maternal, tone.
Nick, with his eyes closed, croaked out, “Shit, man. Not too good.”
“I see that. Here let me help.”
Nick groaned as Evan helped him sit back a little further on the shower floor. Then he helped him sit onto the side of the shower.
“Here, sit on the toilet and I’ll get this cleaned up.”
Nick gagged and threw up into the toilet a little.
“Aw man, I’m so sorry.” Evan said.
Evan turned the warm water on and pointed the shower head in various directions to clean up the mess. He put his hand in the stream of the water coming from the showerhead and rubbed some of the water on the back of Nick’s neck.
Evan remembered that Nick had biked there that night.
“Hey, I’ll give you a ride home, ok? You stay here and I’ll try to get the bike into my backseat.”
“Ok,” Nick replied, and then gagged some more.
“Do you want any water?”
“No, no sense.” Nick replied. Good point.
Evan walked to the front door, and down the stairs where Nick’s bike was resting against the handrail. It was a dark blue road bike, with the skinniest bike tires he had ever seen. The handrails looked like the curved horns of rams. Evan imagined packs of these road bikes rolling around in fields near towering mountains, ramming into each other to establish dominance and have mating rights with the mopeds.
He examined the wheels, and saw that the first one could come off with a simple lever release and a little unscrewing by hand. Evan’s back seat was messy and jumbled. He fumbled with the thin metal and wheels to get them to fit just right. He ended up rolling down one of the windows and letting some of the handlebars hang outside of the car.
After he had shut the door with the bike inside, Evan listened to the river roaring nearby. The night had gotten a little colder, and that made him feel alive. When he hated himself his freshman year in college, he used to go on long runs in the freezing cold in winter wearing only shorts and a t-shirt. It was self-harm, but it made him feel better, at least at the time.
Evan walked back to the bathroom, where Nick had his head hovering over the toilet. There was a small amount of red vomit on the toilet seat.
“Alright man. Let’s get you home and asleep.”
Evan asked James for a plastic bag for the road.
Evan walked with Nick’s arm over his shoulder to the car.
“I have to get my bike…”
“No it’s ok. I put it in the backseat.”
“You just relax, ok? Just keep your head in the plastic bag, and I’ll handle the rest.”
Nick was despondent. He was still gagging but throwing up very little content. It was as if his body had staged a military coup d’état against the reign of the liquor and once regaining power was destroying a little extra just to establish their message.
“Alright man, where do you live?” Evan asked him.
“Ugh, um, 142 Park road.”
“Alright man, that’s not too far from here.”
Evan backed out of the narrow channel of James’s driveway. The streets were empty. He drove to where the GPS told him 142 Park road was, but it landed him right in the driveway of the University. No good.
“Hey, hey Nick?”
Nick was mostly asleep. No response.
Evan pulled into the driveway adjacent to the University’s.
“Nick is this your house?”
Evan shook Nick’s shoulder lightly.
“Is this your house?” He said, with a tinge of frustration.
Evan got out of the car and left it running. He walked up to the vehicles in the driveway and surveyed each bumper. He found one that had a “Bagel Metro” bumper sticker, where Nick worked.
Evan took the bike out from the backseat and locked it to the staircase leading to the back door. There was a man smoking a cigarette on the steps.
“Hey man.” Evan said.
The man just nodded.
Evan went back to the car.
“Nick, you’re home man.”
He was completely passed out.
“Fuck damn it.”
Evan shook Nick’s shoulder again.
“Nick, you’re home.”
He kept groaning with each shake.
“C’mon, man. Let’s go.”
Nick finally lifted his head and mumbled, “No. No, I live on 35 Forest Ave. I’m sorry.”
No he doesn’t, thought Evan. He had picked Nick up from 35 Forest Ave once before for a concert and that was his family’s house, maybe 30 minutes from where they were currently.
“Damnit, Nick. Is this your house or not?”
“Nick, is this your house?”
“God damnit.” Evan said, while he pulled out of the driveway.
“I’m taking you to my house, alright? You can spend the night.”
“No, no. I have to work at 7 AM.”
“That’s ok, I can drive you in.”
Nick fell back asleep.
Evan had always loved late-night drives. It was when he felt most at-ease, peaceful. He knew it was dangerous waters, at night, with all the Goddamn drunk drivers out and about, but he kept to his own and drove defensively.
His apartment creeped up into view, closer and closer, until he was driving right up to its front door.
“Alright man, let’s go.” He said, in a tired voice.
Evan opened the passenger door and pulled Nick from the car. Nick caught himself on his own two legs, two legs of jelly matter, so Evan helped him up.
Nick stood up on his own, slightly offended that Evan had just pulled him from the car.
The door handle was cold to the touch. Evan flicked on the light that lit up the stairwell up to his second-floor apartment.
Evan looked back and saw Nick leaning against his car.
“Alright man, come up when you’re ready, ok?”
Nick just looked down at his feet.
Evan walked up the stairs through the door and into the kitchen. Evan set a towel down around the toilet, so that Nick could purge his system if need-be.
He saw Jane’s door slightly ajar, and walked in.
“Hey Jane.” He said, in a piercing whisper.
“Hmm?” She moaned.
“I’m going to let my friend stay the night. He drank too much. If he starts throwing up too loudly I can play some music for you to drown it out.”
“Oh…Oh ok.” She said, in a half-dream state.
Evan walked back to the stairwell and saw Nick at the bottom.
“I have to go home man.”
On the drive back to Nick’s home (142 Park road), Nick leaned comfortably against the passenger door window and rested.
“I’m sorry.” He said.
Evan helped Nick up the stairs and into his room.
“I’ll get you some water, ok?”
“Have a nice night, man.”
“Ok. Thank you.”
Evan sank into his bed by 4:30AM. Colors flashed and jumped about behind his closed eyelids. The world was asleep beyond his window and he yearned to join those tired masses.