I’m laying in bed, not so much a bed, a bedframe with a memory foam mattress that accelerated my spinal problems all through adolescence. The scene is familiar, it’s nightime, the yellow light bounces off yellow walls and reflects off the window and even the moon shies away, and there’s a ladybug making dumb circles around the room, droning like the teeniest fighter jet. My carpet is nasty -- I never bothered to vacuum all the years I lived here. Old drawings from high school are tacked up here and there, pretty faces distorted by an amature hand. I thought they were so good when I first drew them. Now I see how the features lean into each other, crowd each other out on heads too small.
And the worst part is, I feel absolutely defeated. Like a dog that keeps running away, keeps getting caught, put back in its kennel, forced to think about what it did wrong. The dog no longer wants to run, submits to the kennel. I’m in this room once again, and I’m going to stay in this room, it seems, forever.
That’s a bit dramatic on my part. It’s not that bad. My parents’ house isn’t homey, warm, inviting, but it’s big, it’s well air-conditioned, with food stacked in the fridge and a blaring massive TV. It’s comfortable. But I want more. You’re supposed to want more, right? Adventure and love and heartbreak and everything terrible and beautiful that explodes inside the gut like tiny fireworks. When I was younger, a teenager about to leave for the first time, I thought that’s what life would be like on the outside. And it was, I guess, sometimes. Most of it was just as bland and confusing as the first eighteen years spent in stifling yellow comfort.
I wanted out so bad back then, though. I took any opportunity I could, meeting with friends, acquaintances, people I didn’t really know or like. I seemed to live outside the main pulse of life, forced to sit on a riverbank while everyone else splashed in the current. Being able to even dip my toes in there seemed an excitement almost too overwhelming. But time and time again, something would come in to pull me out of the water -- commitments, obligations, scheduled time with this or that dusty relative. They all splashed on inside the water, and I withered away, dry as a bone.
Now it seems too much an effort to even inch myself closer, to create anything exciting out here. I fear the rawest, truest, purest moments are already behind me. At least I’m a writer, thank God, at least I can taste these things twice, even sweeter the second time around when I clack clack away, trying to my my fingers over the keyboard as fast as my brain conjures up image after old image, sunsets and woods and train tracks, faces half-shaded under porch lights, fingers passing around grubby joints, pools thick with chlorine, moonlit sidewalks drunkenly stumbled over, friends and people I considered lovers, believing myself mature enough back then to use a word like “lovers.”
What else is there to do now? The book is published, and I am growing old. I ought to get a job now, I guess. It’s embarrassing by this point, even with my new shiny “author” title, living broke and single and more uncertain than ever in my parents’ suburban house once again. They’re nice about the whole thing, bless their hearts, not uttering a peep of criticism, of Gen-X finger-wagging about how I should have been smarter with money. They support my writing now, even if the general public seems disinterested in buying even a single copy of my book. They insist one day it’ll take off, I just need the right person to see it.
Truthfully, I couldn’t give a shit if no one read it. It’s not for them. Its creation was a purely selfish procedure, me amputating a tumor, desperate to remove this thing, this monstrosity, the mewling half-child from within my body. It was a long and painful birth, more colonoscopy than artistic creation, but it was done, it was out of me, and I could move on. Move on where? All I know is writing.
The ladybug still circles around the room. I want it to leave. It’ll die in here otherwise, just going on and on and on. I decide to take a little risk. I did it all the time when I was sixteen, and it always turned out okay.
In the morning, there’s a tentative tap-tap-tap at my door. My mother peeks her head in:
“Honey? Your father and I are going on a bike ride, wanna join us?”
“No thanks, I’m good.”
“We’re going to the grocery store afterwards,” she sing-songs, as if it’s some irresistible tourist attraction.
“Want us to get you anything? Some ice cream?”
“Nah, I’ll be alright.” I don’t need to raise cholesterol levels on top of everything else.
Once they leave, I leave too, ostensibly on a walk, down to a local park. The park really is more a patch of grass with a few swings on it, some skinny trees. I sit on a swing, and try not to look suspicious. I’m waiting on someone in a car, I don’t know who, whoever the person I texted last night decides to send over with my little bag of weed. I know, getting your drugs hand-delivered through text message, how 21st century, how lazy, but this is the way I’ve always done it, how I spent my evenings back in the day, huddled in the backyard, heart pounding lest the neighbors see me, or more likely smell me, doing what I was doing. I didn’t like it, still don’t -- it makes me panicky, clouded then all too clear. But it’s something to do, an experience in a time of monotony.
We agreed to meet at 11 am. 11:30, and still nothing. I text the number again. These things are never punctual, and I understand they’re busy people. But I’m growing impatient, and then it’s 12 o’clock and I’m still just sitting here on the swing, grass tickling toes through my sandals, back arched horribly, sun peeking out and reddening my forehead. I don’t want to to call the number, much too anxiety about phone calls as is. I try texting again. No reply.
The sun shies away behind some clouds. I expect it to peek back out once the wind moves the clouds along like an impatient shepherd, but they gather instead, condense, a gray blanket woven right overhead. The skinny little trees around me shiver -- they’re expecting some unpleasantness. But other than that, it’s so still out here. Just the same familiar houses, roads with their dry cracks spreading out like salty deserts, no cars, no kids, no life, no action, just me here.
It’s been an hour, and then the rain comes down, not torrential, just annoying, the droplets sliding down my face like persistent bugs. No one’s answering. I decide to call it quits, to head back home. 15 dollars wasted.
There’s something on the sidewalk, a clump of matted hair. A dead cat, flattened by the careless wheels of someone’s truck soaking up the smell of rain-damp pavement. Younger me would have given her a proper burial, flowers and a deep dirt hole, but now I’m much too concerned with the germs a dead body could carry.
The rain feels good on my scalp. I shaved my hair off recently, and it was much less exciting a transition than I expected. The storm is picking up, going harder. I’m worried about my phone getting wet out here. My clothes begin sticking to skin, and even in these summer temperatures, I’m shivering. It’s a good feeling. My chest, my back, my legs, they tingle, as if the flesh suddenly remembers it’s alive, that there’s still blood and oxygen and invisible electricity holding down the nerves.
I’m near my house. I pass the neighbors’. They keep both their cars outside. That practice never made much sense to me -- what’s the point in having a garage then? -- but at least now the exterior is getting washed, layers of sticky pollen dissolving. That pollen’s something mean in Georgia in the springtime, a fine yellow layer that coats everything, windshields and roads and lungs. The green car is scratched up, more than usual it seems, as if there were words carved into the old paint. There is a word actually. “Cheater” has hastily been etched into the hood. Cheater? Who knew Robert and Amy were having problems like that? They seem like the most cohesive couple out there. Maybe I’ll get to watch them fight out on the street from my bedroom window.
The air-conditioner is especially cruel inside the house, an arctic blast to my wet legs. My parents have returned all sweaty from their bike ride, and I pray they remember to shower before dinnertime.
“There’s ice cream in the freezer,” mother calls out as I run up the stairs, not wanting her to see the puddles dripping from my shorts, like a child fearful of parental reprimand, like a teenager sneaking in high. After I change, I decide that I will have some ice cream. It’s a shy attempt on their part to make me feel better about all this -- what they struggle to say with words they say with offerings of junk food, the sort of treats I could never ask for as a kid. I know I said I didn’t want any, but now that there’s a tub in this house, I’ll probably eat it all before the day is over. Today’s pleasure is tomorrow’s stomachache, but fuck it.
Coming downstairs, they’re both in the kitchen, and either don’t see or just ignore as I grab only a spoon and not a bowl. They used to yell at me for eating ice cream straight from the carton, but now I guess it doesn’t matter. I suck on a spoonful of creamy, sugary, chocolate sludge, forcing myself to eat slow, but I can’t help it, I speed up, sucking up more and more as it melts. They pretend they don’t see the sloppiness. A crack of thunder outside, a celestial whip brandished right overhead, and I realize I might write another book. What else is there to do?