July 8, 2009

Pedestrian Right of Way

“I have no real recollection of how we met. It seemed as if we had always been best friends. He was my best friend. We were always together. I don’t know how it all happened.”

“You’re gonna have to slow down.”

The people from the suicide hotline, the ones who had been there for a while, knew me by name. I always ended up calling some hotline, some voice. If not them, the teen crisis pregnancy line, or Hope, the spousal abuse line. They all knew me.

But this time it was for real. I needed help. I needed help badly.

I was hoping to talk to Angela; she was always so nice to me, almost my friend. I couldn’t wait ‘till her shift started at two in the morning. I needed help now

“And what exactly is your problem? What are you feeling?”

At the suicide prevention hotline, (1-800-PREVENT) they give the new people cards to work off of. They’re all volunteers, no real training, but they have hearts of gold. They want to help.

I hate talking to the new people. Maybe I should have waited until two.

Fuck that. After tonight, what just happened, this new guy has to be better than nothing. I just need someone to talk to. I need a friend, but looking around, I realize that I really have no other friends.

I slammed the phone down. I needed some direction in my life. I need some direction in my life. I need to quit defining who I am by who my friends are. If I do that right now, I am no one but a disembodied voice on the phone.

The razorblade in my fingers glimmers from the bare light bulb hanging from my ceiling.

I was once a god. In Pennsylvania, out west, in the smaller towns, they make gods of their young men, their athletes. But I suppose they do that in all small towns. I could walk into any little store, any restaurant and not have to lay down any cash. Everyone knew me.

Fuck. I can’t even think straight.

I was a god. Yes I was. And here I am now. The bare light bulb shining. God, I need more decorations in my apartment. It’s not even an apartment, just one room. I sleep on an army cot; it was what, twenty dollars. Only thing in the apartment I actually bought. Everything else is made of stolen milk crates. That and the stuff I got away with, but that doesn’t amount to much. I have nothing sentimental really. Maybe the charm on my necklace, the golden “J” counts. The one my parents gave me the Christmas before I graduated.

My parents. When I left I had my own car. It was packed to the windows with all my crap. My mom cried as I hugged her for the last time as a child. I was leaving as a god. No one in the family had ever graduated from college before, and it was a big deal that I did. Coach Steele said I had a promising future. He gave me a scholarship, and his word that I’d see action.

Before the first game, I came home to visit, the big conquering hero. I was at some guy’s farm. It was a big party, and I got all sauced up. I fell off the guy’s porch and blew my ACL.

That was a bad thing. Missed the whole year. Next fall, second practice of full contact, during some half-assed tackling drills, some fat lineman rolled onto my knee.

Pop. Same knee. No more sports for me.

God, whoever, somebody, was trying to tell me something. At least that was what I thought at the time, so I worked hard for my 2.96 GPA.

No more sports meant I could concentrate on classes. Well, girls, and then maybe if I felt like it, classes. I made a 0.4 GPA that semester. Like it mattered. What was I going to accomplish as an English major anyway?

I hate thinking about my fall from glory. It’s too damn depressing. I need happy thoughts, bunnies running through the fields. Bunnies. Liam would made something sick and perverted out of that if he were around right now.

The old digital clock on my milk crate nightstand read 11:59. Thank god this night is almost over. I need a renewal. What the fuck happened to this day anyways. It seems not 20 minutes ago Liam was throwing shoes at me to get me out of bed. At least he didn’t do his “good morning, if you don’t wake up, I’ll urinate on you” thing. That really pisses me off.

I hate it when I make puns inside my head. That wasn’t even intentional. Fuck, I am a horrendous dork.

He was on something this morning. What it was, I have no idea.

Liam’s an amateur chemist. Sometimes he would tell me not to come home, he would be cooking in the tub that day, and he worried the fumes would get to me. That’s how we made our money. He cooked Ecstasy and Crystal, and he had ways of obtaining LSD. I sold to small time dealers, mostly college kids that needed the money; the acid went mostly to this high school kid. We had a nice little general store thing going on, a mom and pop corporation out of our apartment.

When two unemployed slackers have over a hundred thousand dollars invested, people notice. And these nice people notify the proper authorities. Thankfully, we had friends who watched our backs, and we became on edge, waiting for things to blow over.

Liam drank only Bushmills. I was a beer and Jack man, but being around Liam all the time, I developed a taste for Bushmills. Our favorite game we called “The Gauntlet.” We would get the Bushmills, fill up our forty shot glasses, and see who would finish their twenty first. Whoever lost had to take double the amount of shots left standing on the table. It goes without saying that Gauntlet fucks you up.

The proper authorities, oh, yeah, they’re assholes. We were on round three of gauntlet, and in the distance, sirens. You usually don’t notice them, especially after the first round. But we were tied at one all, and we had a score to settle. The sirens got closer and closer. I was on number eighteen when I heard them screech to a stop, three floors down.

Ok, I may have panicked, but I grabbed an old gym bag and stuffed it full of stuff nearby. In my foggy alcoholic reasoning, I grabbed a pillow, my sheets, and the old digital alarm clock, and hightailed it.

The next morning I woke up in a dumpster behind a Chinese restaurant. Liam was curled up in the fetal position, his head resting peacefully on my lap. In my drunken rush, I had forgotten my wallet. Wallets have everything in them, from your money, to your identification. Wallets prove that you are, that you exist.

In a way, I didn’t exist anymore. But I did have that old alarm clock and some bedding. I suppose sometime the night before we had decided that this dumpster, out of all the other dumpsters, seemed a good place to stay the night. The only thing that really got to me was that there were various skins of cats, but they were all mutilated in the same manner. I guess there is only one way to skin a cat.

I couldn’t believe how far I’d fallen in a day. I went from high living and the Gauntlet to a dumpster full of dead cats. Well, just the skins of dead cats, but that’s bad enough. Liam didn’t pack anything: he finished his gauntlet. I owed him four shots. Asshole. He still slept like a baby; his head snuggled into my lap

The dial tone in my ears was louder than cannon fire. I needed help. I needed Angela, but there was still an hour and a half before she even came on. Once she came on, I would be lucky to get her. Usually, you have to call like 10, maybe 15 times to get the person you want. Why must she work so late?

Who volunteers in the middle of the night?

Why am I calling now?

Will the night ever pass?

Homeless shelters are the first place the proper authorities look, at least Liam was convinced of that. I’d follow him anywhere, so instead of a warm bed and a hot meal for breakfast, we decided to hang out in the dumpster.

The Chinese language is beautiful, lyrical, and flowing, almost like a song. This is true even when you have some old Chinese man yelling at you for hanging out in the dumpster. I have no idea what he was saying or anything, but it was unspeakably beautiful. Later Liam would tell me that he knew a good amount of the Mandarin dialect, but this man was spewing Cantonese. It didn’t matter, it was all Chinese to me, but we got the idea that he didn’t want us hanging out in his dumpster.

Being homeless is no fun. I know the media glamorizes it, but god, it sucked. Now, I’ll eat pretty much anything. We always had something to eat growing up. It may not have been the best, but it sure beat hanging around Burger King hoping that someone would throw away a half eaten Whopper.

The only redeeming value of homelessness is that people pity you. You make friends with the rabble, the punks, the brigands or whoever, and you sleep on couches. You experience a lot of couches. When the streets are cold, you can relate with a lot of different people. They give you food. I ate like a French king just cause of my snappy observations on human nature. Liam held court, talking out of his ass about many various sundry subjects and people would stop on the streets to listen.

Some of these people were well-off rabble. There were some nights that we slept on leather. Not pleather, but real leather. I’m talking dead cows here, animals raised to become steaks and baseball gloves.

Sobriety kills. After living in a chemically induced wonderland for a while, the real world just lacks pizzazz.

Some days we would sit around, asking for spare change. People are really pretty kind at heart. Doing this, we were able to get bus tickets to another town.

One-way tickets for a bus are for people without hope. This is even truer when you tell the receptionist that the destination doesn’t matter, you just need to get away. You feel pretty pathetic. No, check that. You feel really pathetic.

“If you can dream it, you can achieve it.” My high school English teacher had that on a poster in her room. It may sound all inspirational, and make you want to do good, fun things, but thinking about it, what did she know. She was an English teacher in the back hills of western PA. I highly doubt that she dreamed of her current position in life.

The only sure thing is this was not in my dreams. On the bus, on the way to Cleveland. One way to Cleveland. I was supposed to be a football star. Now, I couldn’t run 30 yards without searing pain in my knees. I wanted to write. Hell, now, I don’t even have anything to write on, even if I had something to write about. Instead, I was sitting there, alone with my thoughts, and my best friend passed out against the window, his drool dripping on his shoulder.

There’s not much to say about Cleveland. I’m sure people from the area take pride in it, but I’m sorry. Drew Carey’s full of shit. Cleveland does not rock.

I need to get my shit together. I need a change. No. I need a girlfriend. Wait. Love is wrong. Girls are fucking evil. All I need is laid. That’s kinda hard when you share a one-bedroom apartment with another guy. Girls get kinda sketchy about that.

God my life is pathetic. I need to talk to someone. I need someone to understand me, someone who knows me. What am I talking about? I don’t even understand me.

I need to put this damn razorblade down. I’ll end up doing something I regret

Liam was always doing stupid shit. The kinda things you would do if you didn’t worry about silly little things like consequences.

Like the time at our old place. His kid sister was in town. Naturally we were drinking. Now, this kid, Colleen, couldn’t have been older than 16. I know there’s this stereotype about the Irish, and how they can out drink robots, but this girl could not handle her liquor. We were just sitting around, watching Fight Club, drinking Bushmills, on the rocks. We were nearing the end of the bottle, and right about the time where Ed Norton’s character is finding out he really is Tyler Durden, this kid leans over and kisses me. Not some wimpy kiss either, but a full on, “I want to fuck” kind of kiss. I looked over to Liam, for permission, more or less. Then he floors me.

“Where’s mine sis?”

He’s the kind of guy who would defecate on his mother, or something else horrendously in a shockingly amusing sort of way. I usually expect odd actions from him, but I could not believe that night. We both had fun, but she wasn’t my sister. She was a little under-aged maybe, but she wasn’t my goddamn sister.

That would be a fun t-shirt. On the front put “My little sister had an abortion,” and put something like “she didn’t know if it was mine or my best friend’s” on the back. No, maybe that’s a bad idea. It might anger all those pro-lifers. Oh, and some people look down on incest.

Fuck. Where has my mind been? It’s well past two, going on three.

The phone is one of those old fashioned rotary ones. The kind of phone your grandma might have. You have to pick out each number and rotate it to the finger catch thing. Thankfully, I could dial 1-800-PREVENT on this phone blindfolded, upside down in a vat of puppy scalps. Maybe not. I need to quit exaggerating so much.

After lifting the phone from its cradle and picking out the numbers, the rings take too long in between. Most hotlines like this, they’re not allowed to give out personal information. You know, the names of the operators, where they’re located, or anything. My favorite came out of Tacoma. Why Tacoma, I have no idea. Maybe they’re easy on the taxes in Washington. The basic thought is that a lot of crazy people call in, and no one really wants crazy people to know their names, let alone their general addresses. Hell, if it weren’t for crazy people, these lines wouldn’t have any existence.

Finally, a human voice chimed in instead of the dull ringing. Thankfully, they figured out who I was a long time ago, and everyone there knows my name. Its kinda like Cheers without the fat guy and the mailman. The best thing is, its human companionship without the cost. I never have to buy anyone a drink, or remember anyone’s birthday. But somehow I know that this June 14th, Angela turns 28.

“Thank you for calling the national suicide prevention hotline. How may I help you tonight?”

I recognized Steve, but his masculine voice was the equivalent of a wrong number or a busy signal. “Is Angela on yet?”

“Oh, Jeremy, Its you. No, actually, she’s off. Did you really think she’d come in tonight?”

“I was hoping. I need to talk to her.”

“On her birthday? You have to be kidding me.”

When you’re unemployed and out of school, you really lose track of the days. And I mean really.

If I could only talk to someone about tonight, about the four-lane highway, about how our game of “pedestrian right-of-way” went totally wrong tonight. Maybe he can help.

“My best friend and I have this game, where we play in traffic. We jump in front of cars and see if they’ll stop. They usually do, and if not, you can get out of the way.”

“What?” I could hear the audible shock and disbelief in his voice.

“Hold on damn it, let me tell you. Tonight he said he was Superman.”

“Get to the point”

I guess if you’re a regular to the suicide hotline, they’re allowed to be rude to you.

“Ok, I will. Tonight, I dumped my best friend’s body into the lake for 40 bucks.”

The contempt he felt for me was pretty clear when he asked, “Jeremy, what is wrong with you?”

Shit, what is wrong with me?