Monday, August 18, 2014

Exercise for Aliens

It is a feeling of melting. Slip into the darkness and wash over in the all-consuming sense of dissolution. And then I came together on a hospital gurney in a cold, brown room and I see the face of my mother and we are sobbing. And then there is a couch and I am laid across it and there are voices all around me and a television and then I am on a bench in a courtyard and I have a cigarette in my hand.

It was on that bench in that hospital and to the sound of Eli’s voice that the world got right up on me and that is where it stays. No matter the distance between me and a thing, there is the space in between and there is me and the thing and me and the space in between is all one thing. And me and my thoughts. They are all one thing too. Me and the world and my thoughts and all the spaces in between are one thing and they all talk and because of it I can not sleep. I can not make my thoughts come. I just float perpetually awake and bullied and beat by my mind and it happened there on that bench. And she was there and speaking and I wonder if I did not die and Eli was some sort of angel, or some sort of demon, or some sort of ghost.

She said hello and I am pretty sure I said “Hey,” but really I was not looking or hearing because I was submerged in the liquid, breathless mire of trauma. Trauma or drugs. Or both.

When I did look I saw her unnaturally humungous eyes, and they were blue and underlined by her red, kittycat smile. I thought I would cry. Skin like a song, my song, just alive at a point I thought and felt and knew everything was dead. That was because my mother and my sister had come to visit me. Its the first memory I have after I woke up. My shirt is bloody and I can barely stand up. I am so doped up from the black film canister my body is made of rubber and mud. They are crying like they are morning me. Like the pain of it is too much to bare. Like I am witnessing my own funeral. A cold corpse stumbling too stupid to recognize its own death. Too loaded to do what souls got to do to be dead. Blacked out and missed where to go. But I could still taste the loss. I was dead and the world was not set right. For days I wondered to bed out of bed to dinner to smoke to take the medication and to the silence. Then she said Hello and I think I said Hey and she asked me if the cuts on my wrist hurt.

My song. Something like doubt. The world was right up on me.

The world was all one thing.

Until then all the things around me were not one thing but a million and I was all separate, just a pair of eyes, and the world floated around me like I was remembering memories. Memories I could touch and smell and taste. Memories with voices. Memories that were hot or warm or cold or frozen. Memories that cut my skin open and let my blood spill out.

And then I took a black film canister full of pills and I cut my wrists and fell into some formless black like the very beginning of the universe. And then I woke up. And then I wasn’t remembering anything at all. I only came up for breath but couldn’t breathe. Maybe I was waiting to breathe. Maybe I was surprised by it all. I don’t really remember that part too well.

But I remember her unnaturally humungous eyes and the red kittycat underline and her songvoice. Her songskin. And of course she did not belong here. She just took too much of her thyroid medicine. Her parents freaked out.

“Do you still want to die?”

“I don’t know. Kind of hard to think, really.”

“Yeah, its the drugs.”

I look around at all of us out there in the courtyard. I look at all the cigarettes smoking and the hands shaking.

“I think everyone is here for drugs.”

“Then they just give us more.”

“Oh no, honey,” her mockery drawls, “its medicine.”

And she laughs and I laugh and I breathe and the world is right up on me. It was all one thing. Maybe I would have disappeared into it, the one thing, the world and me, had there not been all the guilt.

“Why did you want to kill yourself,” she asked and her eyes filled with the absurdity of the words but she did not take it back, only squinted over the determination it takes not to.

“I don’t know.”

“Did that hurt?” she asked the bandages around my wrists.

“I don’t remember.”

“Don’t remember?”

“I don’t remember doing it.”

“Oh, well, I don’t remember my thing either.”

The courtyard is round, surrounded by the building where we sleep and eat and meet to tell our stories. Every angle can be seen through the tinted windows that line the edge of the grass where we smoke and stare. At one end there is a gazebo where redhot coils of electric lighters are mounted on the roof posts because they will not let us have lighters. There people sit. Us people. Recovering people. Dead and waiting people. There people sit and they tell each other their thing. How they did it. What happened. And like sacrificial altars around the courtyard are wooden benches worn shiny and smooth facing in toward the grassy center, and in the center of it all is nothing but grass and sunlight and no people.

Eli and I, we are bench people. It is too hard for me to listen to the dark-headed boy brag about how many klonopins he was able to take before he slipped into a coma for three days. Or how the blonde girl in the tank top with purple stretchmarks like clawmarks down her belly can explain in such detail of how you have to cut down from the heel of the hand along the edge of the vein to really get the blood flowing or how the girl beside her with the haunting green eyes knows if you get into a hot bath you can bleed to death just by pricking your fingers, given enough time. Eli and I are bench people because I can’t sit and listen to the one girl talk about sex with her father like it was a bad grade in school and Eli, for some reason I can not fathom, just wants to talk to me.

“What’s the first thing you remember?” she asks.

She is wearing a man’s plaid shirt and she has her curly not-blond not-brown hair cut like a man’s.

“The emergency room. I remember my mother coming in. I just say I’m sorry and I start to cry.”

“Why did you cry?”

“She looked like her fear coming true.”

“Its ok,” she says. “All boys cry when they see their mothers like that,” and she smiles a very sympathetic smile.

“But then I remember waking up here too. Its my mother again and she says my name. I was on that black leather couch. I didn’t have any shoes on. There’s blood all over my shirt and I try to stand up when I see her, but I could barely use my legs. I was so doped up.”

“I remember throwing up,” she says. “It was all dark and I could hear myself throwing up. You know that sound like rushing water. Then I opened my eyes and I could see it all coming out of me and that feeling like your stomach is flipping inside out. Like your whole body is turning inside out. I was in my boyfriend’s car and he was taking me to the hospital.”

I ask her if he knew she had tried to kill herself and that was when she told me she didn’t try to kill herself. That was when she told me about her thyroid medicine and her parents just freaked out.

We couldn’t sit on benches or in the gazebo all day. We couldn’t just smoke cigarettes and talk about our thing and how we did it. Not all day.

We had to get some exercise.

The exercise room was like a highschool gym and a highschool auditorium smashed together and half the size.

It was like going to lunch getting there. A series of hallways I couldn’t keep up with. A series of faces distracted by the papers in their hands or the phones in their hands or the people in their hands. No one talked to each other. Up one hallway, left turn, down another, through this door, through that. Then we got to the room. It was a halfcourt basketball court with three rows of pullout bleachers on one side. On the other was a stage with a brown, velvet curtain pulled back by thick satin ropes. The stage was the old hardwood kind, just like highschool, permanently dusty and creaking loud. There were windows high above the hoop and backboard and shafts of sunlight shot down onto the basketball-orange paint that coated the floor.

Exercise consisted of walking around in circles along the perimeter of the halfcourt. Just like in highschool, people grouped up. A trio of girls still talking about there thing and how they did it and who was to blame. Two boys, the darkhaired klonopin kid and the man Kenny who was my roommate and everyone knew about Kenny who cried himself to sleep and was so medicated he couldn’t get out of bed in the middle of the night and just pissed his pants. Kenny shuffled and the klonopin kid tries to get the girl’s attention by making fun of them and Kenny tried to laugh. There were the two older women who shook their heads at everything the klonopin kid did and everything the trio of girls said, and there was Eli and I. We just listened to all the others as we walked and then we got tired of walking because it felt like cows being herded so we sat on the stage.

“Come on, guys,” our handler, whose name is also William but he is called Bill, says to us. “Lets get that blood moving. You’ll feel much better.”

I leave the response to Eli and she just has to look at Bill because thats how girls like her are with guys, and of course, Bill just waves us off and walks away.

“He’s going to break out a basketball,” Eli says.

“You think?”

“He’ll break out a basketball and the kid will step right up to play. He’ll get Kenny to play pretty easy, then he’ll try to get you to be on Kenny’s team. He won’t even ask any of us girls to play.”

“Why would he put Kenny on my team?”

“Because he thinks you are a loser and he thinks Kenny is retarded and he is going to make fun of the both of you the whole time to look good in front of that gaggle of girls.”

Her voice never gets excited. It never raises in pitch or dips down like she is merely repeating a script. Like the whole thing is just sooo boring.

“You seem so sure.”

“Boys are very predictable. They are the same at twenty as they are at fifteen and they are the same at forty as they are at twenty. Manboys, really.”

“I don’t think that is true,” I have to say.

“Of course you don’t. You would be pretty fucking weird if you did.”

I looked at her to see if she was being serious but I didn’t that. I saw the slope of her neck. She looked at me and I could smell her, something between flowers and sweat. She smiled and pushed into me with her shoulder and said “I’m just kidding,” and I said, “I know.”

Bill disappeared into another room and when he came out with the basketball Eli said, “Told you.”

He began dribbling the ball. He walked a bit taller and unlike before his head swayed back and forth like when a duck swims. It was in sync with his feet’s long stride across the halfcourt and in sync with his dribble. Before he was gangly and though he stuck out his chest and tried to strut it was more like a really awkward, goofy guy trying to puff out his chest and strut.

“Fifteen years old,” Eli says.

He was very tall, at least 6’5’’, and he had a long, hooked nose. He was pale and freckled and his red hair was thin and curly and you could see his scalp though his hair wasn’t all that short.

“He’s been working on this routine a long time,” Eli says.

He is still dribbling the ball but now he is holding out his other hand as if he were expecting applause. By now everyone has stopped walking and is uncomfortably watching Bill strut and dribble. Except for the klonopin kid who has backed up toward the hoop and has started to take his shirt off.

“Jesus Christ,” Eli says.

“Who’s up for a game?” Bill announces.

“Hell yeah,” the klonopin kid says and claps his hands and holds them out asking for the ball.

“Alright,” Bill says, “there’s one,” he says and bounces the ball to the kid without looking, and he says, “Who else? Kenny?”

Kenny only smiles and starts to back away, and Bill says, “Awe, come on, dude,” and he claps his hands too.

“Amber,” he says to the blonde stretchmarked midriff girl, “you wanna see Kenny play, dontcha,” he says and she laughs and says, “Oh yeah,” and the other two laugh too.

“Told you,” Eli says.

“Come on,” Bill says to Kenny, “let’s shoot some hoops. Let’s get that blood going. Show these girls what you got.”

“See,” Eli says nodding to the trio of younger girls. “Just like they are supposed to,” she says because the three girls walk across the court to the bleachers and the two older women do too.

“Yo! Ball!” Bill says to the kid.

The kid bounces the ball back to Bill as hard as he can. It rockets halfway across the halfcourt and Bill barely catches it, wincing at the rubber smacks against his soft, pale hands.

“Easy cowboy,” he says. Then he turns to Kenny and bounces the ball to him just as hard but Kenny only makes a perfunctory effort to catch it. It bounces off his hands and back to the kid who picks it up and rolls it to him along the floor.

The three girls laugh. The older two shake their heads and one of them says she wishes they could smoke in here.

"Do you ever feel like an alien?" Eli asked and I laughed.

"I certainly do in here."

"Will?" Bill says with his head cocked to the side in a questionmark and his one hand index finger extended and thumb up like a gun and he makes that gun hammer cocking clicky sound.

"Told you," Eli whispers.

"Kenny needs a partner," Bill says. "Let's see whatcha got."

I look at him for a moment with no answer and he just stands there holding up his finger gun and his head cocked and I wonder if I don't ever answer will he just stay like that.

"Aye?" he asks and turns the finger gun into an open palm doubling up his questionmark head.

I only shake my head slightly and mumble out "I don't think so."

"Aw, man, don't you-"

"We're busy," Eli says with that exasperated, disgusted tone that always shuts a man up and makes him turn away wordlessly when it comes from a woman.

"Alien," she says to me.

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