look at the image i've chosen to start off this post. does it make you feel squeamish? then chances are the rest of this short story will too. please conduct yourself accordingly.
I think Martin’s dead. He was grey when I left this morning. I didn’t want to touch him because, if he is dead, I don’t want to know. I don’t want to be bound to anyone dead. Hits too close to home. If someone dies in the same room as you, it brings that angel just a little too close. I’d rather have it be a question mark in my mind. I’d rather not know the right answer. Not that I think I’d mind death. Being dead would either be fine or it would be nothing, which is nothing to be afraid of. What I would mind is the dying part, where you feel yourself shutting down, feel everything that is your insignificant life rushing out of you. I hope I go quickly when I go.
I didn’t really know Martin, but I can’t stop thinking about him now. I’d like to stay the hell away from that place for a few nights, even if it is convenient to sleep there. A few days in this heat should be enough to do it. Then someone, some poor bastard who’s been unfortunate to land the job of keeping an eye on some rich bastard’s empty building, will figure out that he’s in there. He’ll be able to smell it and he’ll call the police to come and fish out the remains. If people didn’t have an aversion to corpses, the police would never know that someone like Martin had died. Who’d go through the hassle of calling them? But no one wants to be the unlucky fucker who gets to take the four-day old corpse from the condemned building. It’s not just me that has a dead body problem.
In order to get my mind back on my regular routine, I went to get cigarettes after I left the place this morning. I puked on the clerk. It’s not something I feel good about and it was my own damn fault. I’d given some guy a blowjob in some bushes for twenty bucks, because it’s a hell of a lot faster than asking people for change. I haven’t kept anything down in about six days, because if it stays there, I’ll chase it out with vodka, and even back when I was healthy, I hated the taste of cum in my mouth. It was so hot and the tastes were all mixed, this guy’s cum, the couple of gulps of vodka I had left over from what Martin and I got last night, vomit from yesterday… everything stays when you don’t brush your teeth. This is what people used to taste all the time. I got to the store and I just wanted cigarettes, but I could feel everything churning, these vile tastes coagulating in my mouth and I needed to get that out of my body as fast as possible. I felt it coming too late.
This poor clerk was probably only a couple of years older than me. She probably has a normal life and a plan, or at least a vision of her future and up until a few hours ago, it did not include getting hit with vomit by some homeless teen trying to buy smokes. She wanted me out of the store so bad she gave me the cigarettes for free, just told me to take them and get the fuck out of her sight. Under the circumstances, this was probably the nicest reaction I could have expected.
I walked about eight blocks away, in case she called the cops, and then I took a long drink from the beer I’d stolen from her. Thinking about this poor blonde girl’s face as she registered that I had just thrown up on her, I feel badly for stealing the beer, especially since she gave me the cigarettes I had anticipated paying for. At that point, the beer was already tucked away in my pocket, so I couldn’t just give her the money for it without her knowing that I had been going to steal it.
A little of the puke got in my hair. I can still see it there in a crusty lump. I wonder if anyone who knew me a few years ago would recognize me now. I was that little rich bitch you probably hated. My parents had a second car that was basically mine. I’d drive to school. I’d drive my friends around. I dated football players. I wore make-up and had a lot of clothes. I don’t know exactly what I planned to do, but I know it involved going to college, to university, having a home, having friends, having a boyfriend and eventually a husband. That was what happened when you got out of high school.
None of the thoughts I had were of any consequence, up until about three months before I graduated. I can’t even remember them now, so unimportant they were. What I’m thinking about now isn’t of any importance either, but before, I wasn’t aware of it. Back then, I thought that the world would end if I didn’t get a date with the guy I wanted, or if I didn’t improve my chemistry marks, or if I got a scratch on my parents’ car. Blissful ignorance, I think they call it.
What I can remember very clearly is being at a graduation party. I don’t know who was having it, but it was huge, a whole house crawling with people. There were all my friends, all of us drinking beer and wine coolers, screwing in the bedrooms that were supposedly off limits and doing an excellent job of destroying someone’s parents’ expensive furniture. I was sitting with my friend, Kelly, both of us with our bleached-blonde hair and our pastel tops, talking about something, talking in slurred voices and laughing a lot. We were so wrecked. Kelly passed out while we were talking and slumped right down on the floor. People were laughing about it, but no one seemed very worried. I was annoyed because I felt like I had to take care of her, like I couldn’t just go back and enjoy the party. If I didn’t take care of her, she could choke on her own vomit, or she could slip into a coma. And she had to get home at some point, whatever her condition happened to be. I tried moving her, I tried struggling with her to get her to her feet. The human body is a strange thing. It can be completely inert and yet when you try to move it, arms and legs keep springing out at the most awkward angles. While I was doing this, I guess I disturbed something, because I suddenly felt this hot liquid on my foot. I’m trying to help her and there is Kelly, unconscious and peeing her pants on the tile floor of some rich kid’s basement. The idea of it happening to her, little princess that she was, was funny. The feeling of urine on my leg, less funny.
That is the most vivid memory I have of high school, that warmth and the smell, the ammonia fumes that puffed up from the crime scene. I dropped her and retreated to the bathroom, wanting to get the stuff out of my shoes and my pant leg. There in the midst of this drunken orgy, people crashing into walls and screaming out towards their brilliant futures, here I was, alone, in the bathroom of the basement of this big house, trying to wash away the urine. A girl who has been my friend for a few years, who I realized, as I’m washing her stain out of me, that I hardly knew. Why should I have felt like taking care of her?
I stood and I scrubbed and watched the people I could see outside the bathroom, through the crack where I’d left the door just a little ajar. I could hear their roar and I see them staggering past in little clusters. I could see their lunges for each other, some successful. There I was at the zoo and one of the animals has soiled me. This is the sort of incident that snaps you back into sobriety. I was the queen of a very small world when I got to that party. Then, I’m just a confused girl standing in the lavatory washing someone’s piss off her clothing and watching her peers. They’re filthy and they’ve stained me with their filth. I can’t get that mark off me, no matter what I do. It won’t come out.
What were they looking forward to that they were so raucous and pleased with themselves?
What was I looking forward to?
I got sick in the bathroom looking at their red, grinning faces. I didn’t even bother to aim that well, because no one else seemed to be bothered by this mess. I just puked, wiped my mouth and left.
That is my moment; Me becoming self-aware.
I’ve spoken to other people on the streets and they all have a moment where they knew that this is where they were headed. Most of them have stories that are more understandable, more direct than mine. I talked to a woman once at a diner who told me that she’d left her husband of 18 years. He’d beat her two or three times a week, landed her in hospital, fractured her arm so she couldn’t move it all that well any more, cut her leg so that there was a big ugly scar most of the way down her thigh. One night, when she was six months pregnant with their fourth child, he knocked her down a staircase. She’d lost the baby. Its name was Ethan, because she knew it was a boy and she’d always loved the name. She had the names of all of her children, including Ethan, tattooed on the back of her shoulder. Ethan had a little black teardrop next to his name. So did two of the three others. Those two lived to be teenagers, but they died from heroin overdoses, less than a year apart. When I talked to this woman, Maureen, was 57 and she’d been on the street for a decade. She was decked out like a dollar-store version of a French can-can dancer, they kind of old slut you’d cross the street to avoid, because you know she’s crazy. But she didn’t bother me so much. I thought of her and, because I hadn’t been on the street that long when I met her, I thought of the people at the party. I’d rather be like her. At least she wasn’t pretending she was clean.
To this day, I can still call up the feeling of Kelly’s piss on my leg. I thought I saw her once, climbing out of one of those monster SUVs with a guy who looked like an underwear model. I’ll bet she doesn’t get too drunk around him. Or maybe he’s into that. I waited until they went inside and then I snuck up to the lawn and pissed on the SUV’s front wheel, giving back the stain she’d given me. Or, if it wasn’t her I saw that day, I’m passing the stain on to someone similar.
The night of that party was the first night I remember feeling that sickness of other people. That revulsion at everyone around me, so proud of the fact that they were getting so out of control, proud that they could make a mess and someone else would clean up, proud that they were acting so crazy.
You want crazy?
I left my parents house over nothing, not even a fight. The last words I said to my mother and father were that I was sorry I forgot to make my bed. They didn’t much care, although they might have been surprised that I bothered to mention that I hadn’t made the bed. I never made the bed. I never apologized. But they probably missed what I meant. I was sorry I hadn’t ever made the bed. Because they were simple enough that such a stupid easy gesture would have made them happy. They’re easy to please, my parents. After I left, someone probably came around and made them a nice dinner and that would have been enough to make them forget that their daughter had run away. That depth of emotion was what I was raised with. That depth of emotion was what I had, until some girl I called my friend brought out that dormant anger.
You want out of control?
There’s a bar I go to sometimes, when I can afford it, that sells beer for a buck a pint from seven until eleven. The last time I went there, I’d had a good day. I drank so much I must have passed out, but I don’t remember that at all. I woke up with some guy in a leather jacket pounding my head into the bar, while another guy went through my pockets for whatever change I hadn’t spent. I’d never met them before. I could see white explosions, like stars going supernova, on the insides of my eyes. I didn’t know if I should tell him I was awake or not, but I decided it was better to play dead. He stopped eventually and he and his friend left. I still have bruises from that. Maybe a concussion, too.
In high school, I remember seeing a guy groping one of my friends when she was passed out drunk and no one called him on it. This guy is probably a lawyer or something equally respectable now. You can do anything when you don’t get caught.
I never figured I would make it this long out here. I didn’t want to be a part of this disgusting, dirty world, but I still am. I gave myself a month before I fell down in front of the bus, or my liver gave out, or something. It’s been two years. I feel like I missed my transfer. I’m waiting for it, that instant when I can see everything clearly again, when the wool comes off my eyes, when the narcotic haze is lifted.
I’ve envisioned it, that epiphany when the world makes sense to me again, when I know I can let go. I used to imagine it when I first got here, when I was expecting it every morning when I awoke with my greasy hair in my mouth and the smell of cigarette butts around me. Then, when I realised it wasn’t coming, I got angry. It wasn’t like I wasn’t trying to cross over.
There’s a trick I like to play on all of us, but mostly on myself. I get enough change to take the subway, or I just walk. I go back to the neighbourhood where I lived, where the rest of my family still lives. I hide between houses and watch them, those people who raised me so carefully to be their next generation, who raised me to fit in and be happy. I wonder what they would think of me now. I wonder what would happen if I walked up to them and offered my hand. Perhaps they believe I’m dead. I’d want to, in their position.
Today, my father is watering the lawn. He shudders just on the cusp of middle age, his body at that point where he can no longer pass for a younger man. From here, he will expand, his hair will molt away, or withdraw and reappear somewhere else. The pinkish flush of his cheeks will darken to a ruddy stain. I can see it happening, like watching a video sped up.
This is where I grew up. This is where became who I am, for whatever reason. I have spent more time in this place than anywhere else. I am made of the people a few feet away from me. Just another man with thinning hair in front of a white house with shutters.
There’s no place to go but back. I don’t even care if he’s still there. The squat where I woke up this morning is the only place I know I can go. Perhaps someone will have found him. If not, can I sleep in there, knowing he’s so close to me, knowing that he’s breaking down, going back to his elements? I don’t know. But I don’t have another place where I would feel any safer.
I’m climbing up the stairs, feeling them strain under my weight, when it reaches me. Not a thought, but just a weariness. Such a physical weight that I expect the staircase to splinter underneath me. It’s not the walking, or the sight of my father, or the sickness that still clings to me. Perhaps this is the only epiphany that will come, that we are all weighed down. No freedom, but only pressure.
There are no signs that anyone has been here, and so I avoid the room where I suspect Martin is still waiting. I crawl into another space and press my head into my legs. This is where I would cry if I had tears in me. Instead I just think about it, the pressure of my head against my thigh, the heat of it. Wherever the other people who helped me along the path are, this is where I am. No matter what they may tell themselves for comfort, this is what is real. I wait for sleep or an instant of clarity. One of them will reach me, eventually.