We were boys once. Teens. We ignored signs. Rajeev always looked distant, lost. It wasn’t until we read his obituary that we knew.
“What are you doing?” Regina said over the music.
“I’m watching the purses,” I shouted, “this place makes me feel uncomfortable.”
“Are you scared of being in a gay bar?”
“No I don’t like clubs that much. The noise, it’s killing me.”
She grabbed my arm and mouthed I’m sorry.
“Come on,” she said pulling me. “Let’s get back with Ri!”
I tried to point to her purse again but at this point it didn’t matter. She pulled me in close to her and brought her hands against my back, before yanking them away.
“Why are you sweating so much?” she asked.
I didn’t realize I had. I touched the back of my shirt and felt the sweat drip from my clavicle to my lower back. If my back felt like a torrent, my forehead must’ve been worse. I muttered some apology but she was already shaking her head, dancing to the music and swaying along. I tried to say something else but already she wasn’t listening. She was somewhere else in a trance with the music. At one corner of the club, Ri grinded with a tan boy with chiseled abs and jelled blonde hair. His friends made a semi-circle around them, cheering him as he took his t-shirt off and twirled it around in the air.
I looked away and swayed with Regina, keeping up with her movement and the heavy beat. My eyes darted back and forth between Regina, her purse on the table, the DJ, and the flashing lights. I wondered how long I could keep this up. The liquor had flown out of my head a long time ago and the darkness engulfed me, like pebbles streaming down my head. I closed my eyes to turn away from her. When I opened them, I spotted the Soldier in the crowd dressed head to toe in full battle rattle. He was late but at least he showed up, as he always had for times like this. Nights like this. Same guy for five years straight. ACH with the PASGT attachment, body armor, combat uniform pants, and standard issue boots. He stood there with his rifle on both hands, rifle pointing down, flush against his chest. He looked at me and I looked at him. His face was ashy, caked with dirt and spots of blood that stuck out from his normally pale, pink, skin. Part of his sunglasses was broken to the right side and I could make out his blue iris. He lifted his head at me and I nodded back.
Regina grabbed my arm and dug part of her nails into my skin.
“What do you want to drink?”
Regina laid across from Nathan on her queen bed, facing him. He slept with his eyes closed, ignoring the music in the background. The Internet tapped low on her laptop, a few feet away.
I can’t help but feel like I’m wasting, precious time in my life.
She rested her head on the pillow and brought her hand against the side of his small ear lobe. She caressed the front and back with the tip of her nails, tracing the soft edges of his skin. His body was warm, all the men in her life seemed to be good for, and his breathing was slow. She wondered how she could sleep with him tonight, knowing full well that she fidgeted in the night and sometimes gasped over a silly dream or a thought from her past. She wondered if she should tell him this, give him a warning, or a last chance for him to back away now before it was too late.
“You make me happy,” he said with his eyes closed.
When she tried to let the words slip from her mouth, nothing came. She let out a small, “Ah.”
His breath smelled faintly of whiskey but she didn’t mind. Hers must’ve smelled like rum. It was the statement that gave her pause. Happy? He might as well have said Love or Liked or Marry and she would’ve still be just as taken aback. She had only known him, REALLY known him, for two weeks. What did he know about happiness?
It was the whiskey, she determined. She smiled, hoping he could see it, but in the morning she would let the statement go and hope he’d never say it again.
But look I need you to know (it can only get better from here)
It’s under control, I got it. (I got it babe)
And as it unfolds, I got you, I promise
“Do you feel vulnerable when you’re in bed with me?” She asked.
He opened his eyes and leaned in to kiss her on the cheek.
“Yes,” he said.
For Tad, Amanda’s departure was not only surprising but inevitable. It confirmed his word view. Your heart-break is just another version of the same old story.
From Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney (Page 116)
You are reading a book. Somewhere else in America, someone is writing one. For now, you’re reading a story that someone else read a year ago and thought it was good enough to spend money on to convince others to read it. So far, it’s not bad. You don’t read it so much for the story as much as you have to read the prose. Why? Because you’re a writer yourself and a year from now (you hope sooner) someone, somewhere, in America will say that your prose is halfway decent and maybe they’ll throw a couple thousand dollars to convince other people it’s worth reading too. You read in your room. Coffee shops are crowded with glowing screens, Spotify indie band playlists, screaming children, and dogs. Too many distractions. Next to you is a guy with a busted looking laptop, typing loudly and whispering to himself over a mug of coffee that was long gone over an hour ago. He’s writing. Probably a term paper or maybe it’s a novel about being 20 something in a popular city in America while experimenting with drugs, alcohol, and a newfound sexuality. It’s probably the latter and more of a reason for you to not read in coffee shops.
So you read in your room. Your computer’s shut off and you close the blinds to your window, even if it’s one in the morning and no one’s awake on a Tuesday. You’re living as you will one day die, alone. For now that’s a good thing. It’s time to concentrate. To study. To see what others have done and what made their story work to get from Microsoft Word to printed page. You reach page three before you hear a knock on your door follow by the turning of a knob. She’s standing there in an oversized t-shirt of her grandfather’s retirement party and leaning against the wall with a look in her eyes. Nothing else.
“Can you read me something tonight?” She asks.
Fredrick scanned his left and right limits thinking about the first poor soul with hostile intent that would pop into his view and get his head blown off with the squeeze of his trigger. The M4 could do no less. Fredrick thinks his head would pop off because he shot expert, and that had to mean something in 19 years of life. He scanned for hours alongside his battle buddy Joel, trying to forget the heat with run off Family Guy references and Kevin Hart one-liners. He chuckled but held his sight and let his mind wander elsewhere. Thoughts of another state, with friends and real American women. Women who asked questions that didn’t involve the next hard time or mission tasks. Stateside, The women would ask the same question a dozen different ways: “Are you happy where you are right now? I mean really happy?”
And of course Fredrick never said a thing, he was still scanning for trouble. He was always scanning for trouble. That’s all he was good for.
While Marty confessed that he had fallen in love with Alice, the girlfriend of our friend Jim, I listened to the radio. We switched our Queens of the Stone Age CD with a Tina Fey memoir And she was talking about working in the YMCA in Chicago when she was just starting out. During her off hours she did improv with the Second City and found work where she could. It was a rough time and the YMCA sounded like a shithole.
I cut him off at one point and said that Jon Hamm of Mad Men was homeless for a few days at one point in his early career. Marty didn’t hear me. He kept talking. Said something about the way she looked at him and actually listened to him speak.
Maybe that’s it. You have to really suffer at a young age before you can make it anywhere.