I sat up nursing beers and sighing at the streetlights until five. It had never really occurred to me why they referred to the latest hours, before dawn, as the 'watches of the night' until then. But what else had I done, but watch the night for signs of the enemy, Hope? Vigilant as any soldier, I crushed every ray of hope until my mind hurt like the fists of a gloveless boxer. Allowing myself hope, after that much beer and that much emotion would just be setting myself up for a bigger fall than I had as yet taken. The thought that I was dragging myself down with beer rather than pumping myself up with hope occurred to me, and I remember that I smiled. There wasn't much real amusement in it, but the expression fit the general description of a smile.
My mistake had been thinking I could effect a change in someone that did not want to be anything but who they were. Over the last year and a half, I had been giving much serious thought to my need to accept the consequences of my actions. At five in the morning, with a beer in my hand, I stared down that particular line of thought like it was the barrel of a gun and smiled like a sick clown.
Nothing but love can put a person in a place like this and nothing but love can ever make them want to get out of that place. Love is another synonym for masochism and the only difference between the two is in the spelling. Nothing can make you seek out more pain, or endure more shit. The less bitter half of me says that nothing else is really worth it, either. Worth it or not, it does not hurt any less. Love, in the small amounts I allowed myself, was pain. The antithesis of your classical drugs, love in anything but a killing dose is a somewhat ridiculous exercise in futility. With love, the more you inject, the easier it is to keep on living.
I sat on the low concrete step of my front porch, my beer between my feet, still wearing my work uniform, a pair of khaki pants and a black polo with "Ranch Bowl Entertainment Center" embroidered tastefully over the left breast. Why anyone who works in a bowling alley should dress like a yuppie is beyond me. Maybe it's a subtle joke. I do not know. Lifting the beer bottle from between my feet, I took a swig and did my best to concentrate entirely on the taste of the beer.
Alcohol is a dubiously effective way of forgetting, at best, and the taste of beer does nothing to really erase the thoughts that bother you. Yeast and hops cannot make you forget the sight of cocaine being freebased by a woman you have loved for three years. It does make a continuation of the living process slightly less difficult.
Spoken like a true alcoholic. Maybe with a little practice...
I would love to just up and judge myself a complete asshole for lacking the gumption to yell and scream and cause a scene, for lacking the ability to show up at her house every day and sit with her, talk to her, until she got disgusted enough with herself to quit on her own. It is, I think, too bad that life does not follow the same logic as the stories I write. If it were a story I had been thinking of, I would not have had such a dearth of strength. This year has been the most difficult yet, and I am left weak. If I go to hell for anything, it will be that. Perhaps one day, I will be a good enough person to destroy myself for another. But on the porch, with a beer in my hand I wasn't that cool.
The argument I use to console myself is that if I cannot be strong enough for myself, how can I be strong enough for someone else? The thought pattern strikes me as something very much like bullshit. It's in our makeup to preserve ourselves with bullshit, though.
I said that my mistake had lain in, 'trying to effect a change in someone else,' but that makes it sound like I was trying to break her down and rebuild her in my own image. Really I just wanted to make her want to change herself. How much more noble that sounds!
I went inside and puked until every muscle in my back felt like it was going to tear itself out through my skin and dance away in a waltz of pain. Staring at what was left of my stomach all over my hands and in my hair, the idea that I had to get a new hobby struck me with amazing clarity. I rinsed off my hands and went into my room to stare out the window.
Seven in the morning and everything is painted with the blue of dawn. All I want, right now, is to fall in love, hard. I want to lose myself in a girl, to live on the smell of her skin. I've spent my whole life falling in love with women ten minutes at a time, as I walked down the street or sat in restaurants. But I'm looking for something requited, something that doesn't leave me staring at a glass pipe and a lighter, feeling betrayed.
There's got to be something else, somewhere else, but I know there isn't. I rub the hangover from my bruised, puffy eyes and stare at the ceiling. Sleep would be good, but still I get no rest. It doesn't feel like there is any escape. That's the joke, though. People bitch about how terrible their lives are, here in our wonderful fucking country, while people starve to death, or something equally horrible, somewhere else. I'd love to believe my life was terrible, but really I'm just dissatisfied. I could be dead, but I'd rather just bitch about all the opportunities in front of me. Welcome to America. Give me your bland, your bored, your oppressed of spirit. Ha, ha, ha.
Eight in the morning, and I should sleep, but I can't. After drinking all night and coming to the realization that I would give up many of the things that I have simply to fall hard for a woman, it would be really nice to just fall down and pass out. I get the sneaking feeling that it's not going to happen. My hands still smell like vomit and as I rub my face, washing it with dry skin, the stench of them makes me want to rinse them in bile again. I don't, because I'm not that drunk, anymore. Sometimes I wonder if I put myself in positions that would disgust me, were I sober, on purpose.
Everything has the hazy, undefined quality of a nightmare. You know what you need, what you have to do, but you just can't do it. I want to cry. God, I just want to sleep in a woman's arms that I love, again. Falling in love and watching her walk out of the restaurant, pass me in her car, walk away, run down the street, is killing me. No one would believe that a man who can call someone a 'fucking cunt,' with a totally straight face is concerned with love, or is lonely, but there it is. Right in the center of me like a hole that I can't fill with endless pretty faces. A hole that I can feel the wind keening through in the cold watches of the night. We all want to be understood, but what's to understand, really? My laughable problems match your laughable problems match everyone else's ridiculous trials. I haven't heard an original story from any of the late-night people I hang out with. Not even my own, though I tell mine a little differently. It's my knack for self-deprecation that does it. Sometimes, I feel as if that is all I have going for me. It's certainly the reason I get dates, at all. Chicks like a man who will make fun of himself. It saves them the trouble. I hear, so often, that men are assholes, and I wonder if I really am such a prick, or if I'm just playing the role that's been handed to me. I'm probably just a jerk with an overdeveloped sense of what I should be, but I might be a romantic dipshit just looking for the right something or other to tide me through until next whenever.
So tired. I go to bed with the light shining in around my curtains and a light fog coming from my mouth because I haven't turned the heat on. Staring at the ceiling is not quite as effective as counting sheep, but I could never force myself past an irrational fear of getting shit on by the goddam sheep.
I wake up and stare at the ceiling some more. The only bright thing I can think of is that I can't be in the grip of depression, because I can't sleep. Depressed people sleep all the time, right? That means I'm right as fucking rain. Doesn't it?
I stare at the ceiling until the sun goes down. They say night falls, but I think it rises. Much like that stupid question about the glass being half full, or half empty, it's really neither. Half a glass of water is half a glass of water and the arrival of night is just the world growing dark. A very rational way to look at it, I suppose. But, I like to think it rises – That's how it feels, inside. As the darkness increases, so do I. I can smell the promise of night like a fresh breath of air through a stifling room. Every evening makes a new promise, and every dawn leaves me feeling like I've missed something, maybe only by inches. Maybe I just miss the sense of accomplishment I used to get from staying up all night specifically to watch the sun come up. I don't know.
Seven thirty two in the PM time, the clock says. The moment of my birth and that just makes this feeling worse. I know there has to be more for me. It's a uniquely selfish point of view. I'm a uniquely selfish person.
Seven thirty two, and I tell myself to get up, get moving, and do something. But what? Always expectant, never inspired. I can't sleep at night. I can barely sleep during the day. The restless feeling of impending destiny keeps me pacing, waiting for the door or window, or whatever the fuck... Waiting for opportunity to come and sweep me up, take me away. Bored intensity. I sometimes wonder if it would be more interesting to be insane. At least then I'd have company, real or imagined.
I'm up pacing, now, and that's how I get myself going. Move the legs, work the muscles, try to shake the feeling that I'm wading in oatmeal.
I used to feel incomplete if I didn't get nine or ten hours of sleep. Now I'm lucky to clear six and I wonder if that's my problem. My dad said it's because I'm getting older. I think it's because my brain is tired of rehashing my problems in my dreams.
Let's talk about nightmares - I used to have one a year. Now I have three a week. I don't wake up in cold sweats, or screaming, just with a vague sense of unease, as if there's someone standing over me, in the dark, and even though I can't see them, I know they're there. Half awake, after a nightmare, I don't feel fear, just a reaffirmed bored intensity. Brutal, hacksaw murder or not, at least it would be a little action.
I try to want not to go to the bar on my night off, again. I'm barely twenty one and already I've come to this. It's my choice, though, every time. Understanding the cause and effect of personal responsibility is not a guarantee of happy living.
I still smell like puke and that's what decides it. I throw myself into the routine. The water hits me like rain from heaven and the shower is a moment, just an instant, where I'm concentrating more on what's going on around me than the riotous, neurotic milkshake that keeps getting blended and reblended in my mind. I think about how in 'Bringing Out the Dead,' the main character washes his face in that girl's bathroom with three different kinds of soap, "each one smelling like a different season," and I smile, because I thought I understood when I heard that. Maybe I did. I don't know, anymore.
I didn't bother with shaving, because some days it's just too much fucking work and I always cut myself. I step from the shower, squeaky clean and cold in the winter air, steaming like a baby just born in the arctic, minus the afterbirth. And the beautiful spiritual moment when those around you realize that you have your whole life ahead of you, the appreciative awe, that first instant when you really have ALL of it ahead of you. Then the second hand ticks and it's already started falling behind, it's all downhill, now.
Dressing is a matter of finding something I have not stepped on with dirty shoes, something that's not too wrinkled, just enough to fit in at the bars I go to. Jeans, a t-shirt for some group that passed through the place I work.
I drive to the bar, watching the streetlights pass by, feeling like I'm driving through the mouth of some great, technological creature and all the evenly spaced lights are teeth waiting to crash down and crush my clean, efficient little imported car. The people I pass are headed home, headed in, but I'm headed out with half a tank of gas and a pocketful of useless observations. At stoplights, waiting for the signal to go like stressed out greyhounds, we look over at each other and the difference is almost tangible. It hangs between us like an invisible divider and I have my boot over the gas pedal, my leg straining in the air, waiting to let off the brake with my other foot and jam that fucker through the floor. Sometimes it feels like I am the only one not headed to, but always headed away.
In the parking lot, everyone's getting high but me, out on the fringe. I can never bring myself to do it, with them, because I see the term itself as the lie inherent in their lives. "Getting high." It sounds like you're rising above it all, but really it's just getting comfortable with where you are. I never want to be comfortable in this place. That would be giving in. That would be losing.
Inside, it's loud noise, the smell of beer, a hundred clouds of beautiful women that I dress not to attract. Fleeting moments of contentment as I drift towards the bartender, half a step in one girl's perfume, half a step in another's. They never get beyond pretty in sight and smell, because that would destroy the illusion that I have been building since I walked through the door. That I don't need anyone. The beer is cold and cheap, because even if getting drunk in the place you work means you have to be somewhere that for forty hours a week, you dream of getting away from, at least you get an employee discount. The Ranch Bowl might suck mightily, like a practiced hooker, but two dollars for any beer and the possibility of a good band any night of the week is too much to pass up.
And I'm poor.
I sit with the people I get drunk with and I get to be the quiet one, the one that sits somewhere he can watch the door. We drink and it's my night off, again. Waiting for the right one to walk in the door, expecting to know which one it is, But midnight rolls around and it's one hour to close and I'm tipping the bartender the last dollar I can afford to and walking up the hill that surrounds the parking lot, towards the gas station and it hasn't happened, yet.
In the gas station, I buy a couple packs of cigarettes and a twenty of Bud-Light, because it's cheap and just as effective as good beer. The mouth that tastes like the bottom of a birdcage morning-after thing I could do without, but when you only make eight-fifty an hour, there are some sacrifices you have to make. The attendant knows me and we talk about nothing.
"So, what've you been up to, tonight?" I think that he looks to smart to work here and I'd laugh if I didn't work in a bowling alley.
"Getting drunk, same ol'. You know." I grin while I pack my cigarettes and he does something esoteric and gas station attendant-like. It seems like his whole job is a clip-board and a checklist that I'll never understand. "How's your night been?"
"Same ol'. Drunk people from your job making mine hell." The kids that get drunk in the parking lot, illegally and the kids that get drunk in the bar, legally all tend to migrate up to the gas station at some point in the night. Good for business, hard for employees.
"Yeah, they do that." I've unwrapped the cigarettes and I tap one out of the soft pack and jam it behind my ear, in case he wants to talk some more. I just want one ready for when I get outside. It's cold and I never wear a jacket. Like smoking will warm me up. I search for something to say and, "Business as usual?" flops lame and dying from my mouth. He laughs, either because he understands or because it's expected. That chuckle between friends.
"Same ol'," he says. It's our inside joke, I guess, not to put the second 'Same ol'.' in there. Like we, at twenty-something, have been around long enough not to have to.
He's about to say something else, but he's cut off by a customer walking in, some lady who's gotta know RIGHT NOW what the cheapest pack of cigarettes is, as she counts out a stack of quarters on the counter. I grab the twenty with one hand and reach for the cigarette behind my ear. The attendant (What's his name? What's mine? We don't care.) gets a knowing smile as I back out the door and swing towards my car.
I put the twenty in the back seat and pull one out as I get in and turn the key. The bottle cap goes into a glass I keep in the console, clicking against about fifty others like it. I keep it there, out in the open, because I wonder how I'll explain it all, if I get pulled over. I drink the beer on the way to Denny's, defecting to where the defectives defect. In their parking lot, I drink another beer in my car, next to a guy and girl who are drinking one in their car. We toast each other silently through the window and she laughs and he smiles. I wait until they finish and go inside, nursing my beer and trying to look happily relaxed. Getting out, I throw the empty bottle over the row of cars, to smash against the cement wall that surrounds this parking lot. There's always a cement wall, or a hill and I shake my head. From nowhere, I want to key the happy couple's car, but I don't.
Inside is another group of friends. Fifteen or thirty people, a random collection screaming at the top of their ideological lungs that they are different, they are individuals, they are like no one else in society. Yet, they gather in this coffee shop so they don't have to feel alone in their difference, so they can feel different, like other people. I don't understand them, all the time, but after the bar is a long, empty time and it gives me something to think about.
Why do we have to single people out? Why isn't a roleplaying, vampire wannabe geek attractive? Why can't I fall in love with all of them, make them mine, all at once, sit above the world and love everyone because they're ugly, for hating themselves, for treating themselves like shit? One at a time, trying to piece them back together. Because it would kill me, so I label it bad and let it go. Part of me rattles it's cage, wanting to get out.
Why is anything beautiful? Why prize something above something else? Anything else? What if it all makes you sad, because it isn't perfect and that's wonderful? Why are flaws bad? Overweight, stretchmarks, buck teeth, a goofy eye, too big a nose, too generous a mouth, too much red paint, not enough black, for contrast, where's my beamer, who's piece of shit is that, why can't it all be wonderful? Why can't ugliness be pretty? War, famine, death, it all sucks, but why can't that be pretty, too?
Bad manners, rudeness, acidity, abuse, alcoholism, aggression, blasphemy, barbarism, why is it different? What makes it different?
They talk about physics, and then magic, and then a girl I don't care for at all begins whining about how everyone hates her and an uncomfortable silence descends. It's quiet like paragraphs, at our table, each person adding an unspoken sentence to create it's own story, "We Don't Want to Get Into This; An Essay." But I'm bored and I tell her she's right, shut up, I've got a headache, even though I don't, really. She starts in on me, and what an asshole everyone thinks I am and I feel it start, inside. The quickening heartbeat and everything's too bright so I know my eyes have dilated and I wonder if I'm going to explode and scream at her, watching myself tear her down from a place inside me like a mountaintop overlooking a thunderstorm, but again, I don't. I just tell her that if I wasn't an asshole, I wouldn't fit in here and she has nothing to say to that. I would bet she's confused, but I'm not that worried about it. She shut up and that's enough. In my head, the whole scene is filed under, "Fun With Passive-Aggression."