Monday, December 27, 2010

A Good Cry

I have a morning routine. It works for me and so I've stuck with it for 38 months. On weekdays, I start with 40 milligrams of Micodine, then I put the coffee on and take a shower. By the time I'm dry the coffee is ready and that helps wash down the Lamictol, which are big pills. Two hundred milligrams and then I'm stabilized.

I drink the second cup of coffee after I'm dressed -- usually a button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up and pressed trousers. It's cooled down a few degrees and I can gulp it down in no time. Sixteen ounces of coffee to start. I'll have another 16 at the office.

I pop a Klonopin in the car, two if traffic is heavy, and flip through my mp3s -- over 16,000 songs loaded. On days when I'm feeling good and agitated, I'll put on some classic Stones or Zeppelin or maybe even Blondie if it feels right. On days like last Tuesday, when everything seems poised to crash and my eyes are drooping and my teeth are grinding, I'll pick something more mellow. Maybe Leonard Cohen or one of the more drugged-out Neil Youngs. Something to keep me sharp but settle me into the mood.

This was one of those Tuesdays; I could already tell. I put on Nico, stayed in the right lane, and took the freeway at 35.

The office was starting to fill up and I shuffled quickly to my desk. I had to close my eyes and think about whether to put down my bag and turn on the computer first or to leave the bag on and walk to the kitchen for coffee. I compromised, dropped my bag and turned, and my eyes stopped twitching.

The drip coffee is shit, but if I supplement it with a long pour of half and half it becomes bearable. I was at the office early this Tuesday, so I got one of the big mugs and a tall glass of ice water, to which I added some Sweet & Low.

My desk is positioned perpendicular to the window and faces the entrance. Thus, only people standing directly behind me (or out the window) can see my screen. Even if I am dutifully working, I don't want the scavengers watching me.

As I said, I was somewhat early on this Tuesday, but the office was starting to fill up, so I nodded my head to new arrivals while the computer booted up. I don't sit still and I don't like looking unimportant, so I flipped open the notebook that always sits on my desk and started writing sentences. Anyone passing by would think I was on to something or had remembered an idea from the night before.

Once the newcomers settled down, I got on Google and typed in "bourbon cocktails." I was normally a scotch drinker, and wanted to do something different after work. I wouldn't have the opportunity, of course, but I didn't know this at the time. I marked down a few variations of the Old Fashioned and then closed the tab. I pulled up Facebook and scrolled through the list. Most people were at work, like me, so it was busy. Girls were excited about stupid things like lemon cookies and seeing Thom Yorke at the mall. The guys on my list were posting articles that confirmed their point of view. I kept scrolling. It wasn't even 10:00 a.m. yet and I was already bored.

That's when Chloe came over to my desk.

"Hey Blake, at 1:30 there's going to be this guy, um, this guy named Cookie. He's having Share Time across the street, you know in the Chili's parking lot?"

Chloe was a real nice looking girl, but I tried to avoid her at the office, as she had some of my same daily proclivities, and I didn't appreciate attention my way.

"Oh, really," I said. "Come with me. There's a fresh pot of Caffe Verona in the kitchen."

We walked and she talked and I tried to keep her straight, euphemistically, until we were alone. Then, in the kitchen, I did indeed pour myself another cup of that shit Caffe Verona and pulled her to the side where the pretzels are and asked for further details.

"This is a big Share Time," she said. "It's almost too overwhelming. That's why I'm telling you about it. I don't want to go by myself. If it was just the normal thing with a few groups milling about, I wouldn't mind so much. But this is a big fucking event, so I hear, and I think I'd really like you to be there with me, if you're okay with that."

I should explain why this exchange with Chloe was riling me up so damn much. I take great care to procure my goodies from reliable sources without attracting attention. I like sharpening my focus on life without consorting with folks like Cookie and certainly without discussing the peculiar particulars with an attractive but disjointed girl.

Despite the irritables, however, this Share Time had my attention, as one could often find hidden gems at these sort of events, the way you might discover an old, cherished record at a garage sale. I agreed to venture out with Chloe around 12:30 p.m., under the guise that we would be walking to Isaac's around the corner. (Isaac's was a sandwich place around the corner that we all knew but nobody ever went to, as the sandwich quality was spotty at best.)

I took a quick trip to the restroom when I was confident nobody else was in there. I locked myself in a stall and snorted a few quick hits of frost. Goddamn, I thought, I need to cut my fingernails.

At 12:58 p.m. Chloe and I were out on the street and I noticed it was sunnier than earlier. I felt almost out of place in my navy blue button-down, but I shrugged it off and kept my shoulders rotating as we walked. Chloe talked a lot.

"Are you thinking about getting something to eat while we're out? It'll seem natural that way though I suppose nobody will care either way."

"I'm not hungry," I said, and ran my tongue around the circumference of my mouth. From molar to roof to molar, down to that pit below the bottom-front row, and back again. I had a tendency to do that. Chloe probably didn't notice but there's no way to be sure.

Chloe talked about her boyfriend or someone she was sleeping with who wasn't her boyfriend. She referred to him as "the boy" which annoyed me to no end.

We arrived at the Chili's or, rather, the Chili's parking lot. There were plenty of people milling about, some of them with toothpicks in their mouths, having just eaten. I assumed they were all there for Share Time, though to go through the pretense of eating a Buffalo Ranch Burger or whatever the fuck seemed an unnecessary obstacle.

The sun was sitting high above us and a few of the loiterers backed themselves to the Chili's awning to stay in the shade. I wanted to stand out in the sun and cook. Chloe stood with me and I caught sight of the some of the freckles on the back of her neck. Her skin looked creamy and white with these faint little spots, almost invisible to the naked eye, like they were little stars in a faraway galaxy that nobody else could notice. Nobody but me.

Christ, I thought, when is this shit going to get started? I got a little itch behind my eye. My lips were dry. I was really starting to notice things.

A blue sedan from the early part of the decade pulled up and parked in the far corner. The engine stayed on for a soft minute and then quit. We all starting heading over; the people from the awning stood up hesitantly but I just went right over to the car. Nobody was watching. Nobody cared.

A black man got out of the car. He was skinny as hell and wore a baggy tank top that bore the logo of a team I couldn't recognize. He put his hands up in the air opposite each other gestured to all of us in a general way to gather around.

There were two women in the backseat of the car smoking cigarettes and talking to themselves. One white and one black. They didn't seem concerned about the crowd forming around their car.

The man started talking; again, without any real direction, but clearly at all of us around the car.

"Two things, two things," He said. "One, I don't negotiate. It's cool and you'll be happy, but if I tell you what we're getting and you aren't interested you turn and walk away. Don't fucking matter, you feel me? But, if you happy with the quote you peel off some bills and get them by the window. One of my girls help you out there. We happy to share, that's how everyone stays happy. Sharing makes us happy."

I thought about this last part. Sharing was, indeed, occasionally fulfilling, though "happy" was a bit of a stretch, I thought.

-------

Chloe and I didn't go back to the office right away. She asked me first if I wanted to get a drink.

"I don't think so," I said. "I really don't want to go inside this place." I meant the Chili's.

"No, not here," she told me. "I live a few blocks away. This was quick and I don't want to go back yet."

So we walked to her place. I thought about her and her freckles and how they would spread and her body would get paler and wrinkled. I'm glad I know her now, I thought, when she's young and attractive.

In her apartment, she poured me a glass of tequila straight. She had a few limes lining her kitchen counter, and she sliced one and hung it around my glass.

"Just like at a nice bar," I said.

This made her smile and she stuck her tongue out in a real cute way and poured herself a drink and then bounced over to the couch and sat down next to me.

I had barely opened my package and popped a couple before she started kissing my neck. Wild, I thought, just wild. I sat there and felt her lips pecking around me. It was tough to feel it that much at this point but the contact itself was good enough and I closed my eyes. She did good by me and didn't try to escalate things too much right there. She just kept running her lips and tongue around my neck and my cheek and my eyes were closed and I thought.

I went deep back in my mind. I was in fifth grade and I'd written a book report on a Neil Armstrong biography. I was reading it aloud to the class, and talking about how Neil believed that life was about discovery and we all had a duty to go discover, whether it be a physical place like the moon or just a place in a book buried in the back of a library. We all were looking for things and had to discover them. This was our purpose, I told my class.

The teacher told me that I hadn't followed the assignment. That I was supposed to talk about the written style of the book and how the style influenced what was being said. But, this was just a silly book about Neil Armstrong and how he'd become an astronaut and gone into space, and that's all I'd talked about, space and the moon and discovery and things like that.

This was where I went when Chloe was kissing my neck. I must have really gone there, really deep inside, because I snapped out of it when Chloe pulled away and took my face in her hands.

"What's wrong?" She was very concerned.

I shook my head because I really didn't know why she was asking me that. She put a hand over my eyes and I felt wetness come off my face. She showed me her palm and the few small dots of tears.

"It's not okay," I said.

"It has nothing to do with being a real man, you know." This is what she said to me. "You're allowed. I mean, that's why we came here instead of going right back to the office. Refill?"

I looked at the table. My drink was still there. I hadn't had even a sip, so I told her no thanks.

Then a horrible thought crossed my mind. My routine was shot. This is not how I kept myself going in the early afternoon. One gets through the days by having a plan and sticking to it, even if it means a lack of adventure. Deviation meant disruption.

She rested her head on my shoulder and rubbed her hand back and forth on my chest as if it were a tabby cat.

"Stop being so sour," she said.

I closed my eyes again but made sure I was just staring at that amorphous darkness on the back of my eyelids. I sure as hell didn't want to go back to that place I was before. I just wanted to stay here, in this dark, comforting purgatory, away from the lights and signs and nonsense that had become the world.

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