I wake to the sight of white. Lines cut across the white. Most of them are perfect squares but some bend and twist, searching for a destination. On these lines there will be things, things too small for me to see, but I know they are there and go about their lives in the same way that I left them.
“Welcome home, Mr. Scott.” The woman hands me my passport.
In the taxi the driver is quiet, which I’m grateful for, and I fall asleep with my head against the window. The taxi stops in front of a large brick house enclosed by a black gate. Home looks the same as when I left, except there’s a new Lexus in the driveway and snow on the ground. White Christmas lights pop against the perfect pine-tree background. The lights’ warmth has melted small areas of snow, and I can glimpse the living tree beneath.
The arched front door is locked so I go around to the back. There is a cleaning woman in the pantry, someone I have never seen before, and she makes no sign of noticing me when I walk in.
“Mom…Dad…I’m err… home.” I hear footsteps coming down the spiral staircase in the next room. It’s my brother.
“Hey Kyle.” I reach out to hug him with one arm. “How was your trip back?”
“It was all right.” I slip off my bags and feel the burn on my shoulders. “I took some Ambien and passed out for most of the flight.” I look past him into the hallway to see if anyone else is coming. “Are Mom and Dad here?”
“Uh no, they told me where they were going. Maybe Virginia or something,” he shrugs and I don’t persist.
I stare at the floor until he hugs me again. I reel backward and almost fall over my bags. When I find my footing I hug him back, and I can tell that he is glad to have someone to share the house with.
“Sorry about that,” he says when we separate. I look past him. “Need some help?” he asks, pointing at the bags.
I’m staying in the attic which is empty and clean, and allows me to spend my days in the light of the large, circular cut windows.
“So, tell me bro, how was it?”
“I can’t really describe it.”
“Shut the fuck up. Tell me how it was.”
“I don’t know how. If I start, I’ll just keep going…I haven’t given it much thought, but I was happy.” I stop walking up the stairs and stand in place, “I felt at home…I didn’t know it until now, but I finally felt at home.” He notices me glance around the house when I say this. I smile, swing the strap over my shoulder and continue walking up the stairs.
When we get to the attic we sit on my bags and talk. I’d missed my brother. I tell him about living abroad, and he watches me wide-eyed, silent except when I mention women. I ask him about high school, but he has little to say. He is taller and stronger than me now. He leaves and I fall asleep. I wake up and it’s three in the morning. There is a film covering my teeth and my clothes stick to my body. I change, clean myself, check my email, and try to go back to sleep, but can’t and instead watch Brick, and Ghost World until its morning.
When it is late enough, and the sun is full in the windows, I leave the house. I take my dad’s Benz and drink coffee and drive around the city. There is a craving and the coffee gives me a tingle and minor high. I try to hold the feeling but I know it will fade like everything else I do in the city. Downtown is busy. People and cars crowd the streets and push the fresh snow into the ground until it forms a dirty layer of ice over the asphalt. I go into a used bookstore where the clerk knows my name. He asks me where I’ve been, and I tell him.
“That sounds like a really great time, I’m jealous. I had the chance to go abroad. I should have, but I was worried I wouldn’t graduate on time.” I nod because that’s what I do when people say this. “But now you have to return to the real world.” My mind wanders from the conversation and I tell him what he wants to hear about hardship and careers, and let the conversation collapse.
I buy Faust and The Metamorphosis even though I don’t think I will read either. The day has become warm for January, but not warm enough to melt the snow. My coffee high has worn off, and as I walk the streets I realize there are no homeless in the cold. I’m disappointed because I think giving away some money would make me feel better. Eventually the cold creeps through my jacket and I leave the streets to take the skyway. I walk down the wide hallways of bustling life connecting the skyscrapers, which reflect everything in their blue glass. They hold people inside, safe and warm from the white winter.
That night I call my friends from high school, and we get drunk on wine from a vineyard that my family owns. Our dealer doesn’t answer so we pop all of the Vicodin and Tylenol 3 that we can steal from our parents. Blitzed and numb, we go to a party thrown by some kid from a neighboring school. We break his hot tub by stuffing jumbo tampons in the jets, and I’m thrown out after I throw up red and white in the living room, and pass out in his twelve year old sister’s bedroom.
I have no car so I take a taxi to a former girlfriend’s house. I give the driver a hundred, and he tells me, ‘thank you’, and gives me his business card and says that I can call him any time, ‘day or night’. I look at him with skepticism but take the card anyway. Getting out of the cab I trip on the black protector inside the door and fall onto the curb, where I start bleeding from my elbow. He helps me up and takes me to the front door. I tell him thank you and promise him that I will be all right. He continues to ask if I am fine until I tell him that I will call his, and only his, card if I have any trouble. This seems to satisfy him and he leaves me standing in front of the two high wooden entrance doors.
I try ringing the doorbell but nobody answers so I begin throwing rocks at a window on the third floor but I can’t hit it, so I give up and lay down. I call the girl’s cell phone but there is no answer, and I try to stop myself from crying, but I can’t, and I don’t know why. When I wake up I’m on a couch. There are bits of grass in my mouth, which I must have been eating, and mud stains on my pants. Looking around, I try to take in the situation. It’s not my former girlfriend’s house, but I’ve been here before, I just can’t place when. After I sit up I begin to wonder whether someone brought me in the house or if I committed a felony to get in. The last thing I want to do is stay and deal with the drama of finding out, so I get my shoes, which are waiting for me neatly beside the door. When I’m outside I stop in the front lawn and look the house up and down, then glance down each street. The house belongs to my former history teacher, and I leave a note saying thank you, hoping he will be able to understand why I’m writing it.
The walk home is long, but I don’t mind; I want it to stretch on for hours. I stop once to throw up in a sewer drain, where I confirm that I did in fact eat grass, from the half digested green chunks that get caught in my teeth. At home I wash out my mouth, brush my teeth and go to bed. When the sun forces my eyes open its noon. I look for my brother but he isn’t home, so I check my e-mail, but there isn’t anything I’m hoping for. I stare at the computer screen unmoving and unable to think. I slide down into my chair and stare at the ceiling. Hours pass, and I can’t tell if I fell asleep or simply stared at the ceiling. I take some of my dad’s Klonopin and begin to read The Sheltering Sky. I read until its dark outside and then doze off.
I wake up to my phone and I answer it without checking who is calling. It’s my ex-girlfriend. Her voice carries a mixture of frustration and concern, and it’s obvious she has been waiting all day to call me.
“What the hell were you doing last night, KYLE?”
“What do you mean?”
“What the fuck do you mean, ‘What do I mean’? I’m asking why you were outside my house at two in the morning crying and making a scene. You know my parents woke up from that.”
“Well, I wanted to see you; I would have thought that was obvious.”
“Don’t you dare patronize me Kyle! You’re such a child, you know that? I knew this was how you would react but I called anyway because…well I don’t know why, but that doesn’t change the fact that you are incapable of handling anything like a grown-up. And when anyone tries to help you, you don’t even make an attempt to listen. That’s your problem-.”
“Help? Who’s helping anyone?” I say, beginning to lose my patience.
“Yeah Kyle, that’s what I’m doing, I’m trying to help you. Why else do you think I called?”
“Because you felt guilty about not letting me sleep in your house last night.”
“Fuck you, asshole.”
“Well I was hoping we could have done that LAST NIGHT.”
“You know what? That’s it. I don’t know why, but that’s it. You’re hopeless; I don’t know what I ever saw in you. You’re a complete waste of a-”
I hang up the phone before she can finish and get a beer out of the fridge. I contemplate renting some movies but instead watch The Dreamers, and Igby Goes Down which are covered in dust and lying on top of my television. I check my email. Around ten my friends call, and they tell me to meet them downtown. I drive despite the fact that I’m pretty worked.
Downtown we go from bar to bar, trying to get wasted on dirty martinis and grabbing at anything that comes within arms length of the table. We meet girls who take us to get high in the bathroom of a fashionable Asian-Mexican fusion restaurant. They are annoying and chatter away like monkeys while we smoke. Eventually the restaurant manager shouts into the bathroom about police being outside and how charges are going to be pressed. We walk out and threaten to sue him for assault after he grabs us, to prevent us from leaving. He lets us go and raises his hands in apology, and when he tries to ask us questions we destroy them with a mixture of extreme aggression and accusatory defensiveness. I can hear the girls that we have left in the bathroom crying.
While the police go in the front of the restaurant we dump garbage on all of the employee cars in the back and let the air out of the tires of several more. My friends get bored and leave, but I throw a trash can through the back window of a luxury car before leaving. As we walk they try to convince me to go with them to a strip club, but I don’t want to, so we walk around looking for something else. I suggest we buy cartons of milk to throw at oncoming traffic. We look for a convenience store but nothing is open, and I agree to go with them to a strip club.
The only light inside of the club is blue light. I break dance with the strobe to my friends’ laughter. On the sound system rap music is blaring, and I climb on top of a table and dance like a ballerina while my friends clap. One of the bouncers takes me down and tells us to behave so we take a seat at the end of the stage. Only drunk blue collar workers are still in the club, so when the first girl comes out she immediately walks toward us. She has a long face but her pole dancing is good, and we whistle and clap to cheer her on. One of my friends calls her over, and she dips herself low while he puts both hands on her ass as it bounces with the music.
“I love this place,” he calls over to me. “It’s so ghetto.” When he says this he moves one of his hands over the small line of fabric separating his fingers from the inside of her.
More girls come out, and I’m enjoying myself while I drink whatever beer we are buying. The girls are mostly short with big fake tits, but I don’t mind because it’s what I want to see.
“I’m going to get a lap dance, you want one?”
“Fuck yeah,” I say.
While girls move up and down with their chests in our faces we talk about being abroad and the hot girls we slept with, the shitty food we ate, and the foreign drugs we ingested. I describe to him the live sex shows. He tells me about being beaten and arrested after urinating on a military building. I complain about the over-abundance of hash and lack of weed. He tells me about ‘accidentally’ defacing a painting in one of the castles he toured. While we’re talking the stripper begins to rub me until I’m pushing up against my jeans.
“Do you like that sugar?”
“Sure, of course.”
“Good, I was worried you were more interested in your friend than me.”
“No, that’s not true.”
She laughs, “You’re a cutie.” I thank her and she continues to dance on me. While pressing her tits against my chest she begins to unbutton my jeans. I stop her.
“That’s ok,” I say trying to smile.
“I like you, sugar,” she tells me. “You want to go to a VIP room?”
I think about it, but it doesn’t excite me and I have no condoms. I tell her, ‘no thanks’, but the girl is persistent and continues to rub her hand over me while looking directly into my eyes. She tells me how pretty my eyes are. I tell her thanks. She asks again if I want to leave to a VIP room, to which I respond that ‘I would love to, but can’t,’ which is half a lie. I want to save her from the embarrassment of rejection, but she doesn’t get it, and goes on to tell me that I there is nothing to worry about because she is, ‘totally clean.’
I’m starting to get bored and annoyed so I tell her, “I would but my herpes are active right now.” When I say this she goes stiff and takes her hand away. While trying to climb off me she loses her footing and falls over, I don’t laugh at her and stand up to leave.
“Hey, Kyle what’s wrong, you don’t like her? Want an Asian or something?”
“Nah man, I’m done… I’ll call you tomorrow,” I’m trying to wipe the glitter off my clothes as I walk through the blue light. Outside the air burns my eyes and the temperature has fallen below zero Fahrenheit. I hide in a storefront looking up and down the street for a taxi. I bury my hands deep within my coat and find the card from the previous night.
“Yeah this is Tim,” the voice on the other end informs me.
I check the card and confirm that Tim is the name of my taxi friend.
“Hey Tim, are you driving right now?”
“Yeah, who is this?”
“I don’t know if you remember me, but you gave me a ride last night. You told me to call-”
“Oh hey, of course I remember. Do you need a pick up?”
“Definitely, it’s pretty cold right now.”
He laughs, “Just tell me where you’re at. I’ll be right there.” I read the name of the strip club off the sign. “I know it; I’ll see you in a few.”
I drink from my flask until I’m warm enough to wait beside the road. In five minutes I see Tim’s taxi coming toward me. He flashes his brights to let me know it’s him. When I step in the car he greets me with a smile and asks how I’m doing. I tell him ‘good.’ He asks me again how I’m doing, and I tell him again that I’m doing ‘good.’ He looks at me with skepticism but doesn’t ask a third time.
“So do you want me to take you to the same place as last night?”
“No, that place is dead to me,” I can feel that stupid grin plastered to my face. “If I ever ask you to take me back there, don’t do it, no matter how much I beg, just don’t do it. That place is dead, like a ghost, ok Tim?” I pause. “Ok Tim, ok, ok, ok?”
He turns around and smiles, “Ok, it’s dead.” I settle into my seat and try to watch out the window, but it makes me feel sick so I stop. After a few moments Tim breaks the silence.
“So where are we going, kiddo?”
I tell him my address and he turns the car around in the middle of the street.
“Hey, I know it’s not my place to ask, but honestly is everything alright?”
I’m lying down in the back seat and have to struggle to lift my head. I try to say something but stop. He waits until he realizes I’m not going to comment. “The reason I ask is every time I see you, you’re just so fucked up.”
I nod my head but remain silent.
“That was too harsh, but honestly what were you doing these past two nights?”
“I was out with friends,” I say.
“I’ve never seen you with friends.”
“You’ve only seen me twice.”
He responds in affirmation. I’m looking at the stained upholstery. “Tonight I left early.”
“It’s almost four o’clock in the morning,” Tim says. It doesn’t seem right and I don’t believe him. I can’t read the hands on my watch. I need to keep down the vomit.
“Well, anyway, I was out with friends, what’s your excuse?”
He laughs again, “I’m working. This is what people on the other side of the world do.”
“That’s bullshit, people on all sides of the world work.”
“It’s an expression.”
“Yeah well humans aren’t made for the night, so what’s your excuse?”
“I like the night-time, I’m an insomniac.”
“Uh-huh, and I bet you work long hours too. Maybe every day of the week, you educated bastard. What did you get your degree in Tim, history? Yeah…I bet you did; I bet you did, and here we are talking in a cab at four in the morning.” I emphasize the last words with obvious sarcasm. He doesn’t laugh this time; instead he shifts uncomfortably in his seat. I lay back down on the seat. “We all have problems Tim, not just me.”
“I’ll tell you why I’m here if you want to know.” Tim says.
“No, not right now Tim, I just want to go home.”
After a minute I tell Tim to pull over and I pull myself out of a car. Propped against a light post I dry heave until my throat is burning and I can taste the coming bile and fresh blood. I steady my breathing and stop myself, and once I’m composed I get into the cab.
Tim asks me questions when I get into the cab but I can’t answer, only hear the voice’s steady tonality. Lying down, the bumps in the road go through my stomach and I pull my body up. Unsupported my weight presses my head against the window. My hair mashes into the window and against my forehead, and as I struggle it makes the sound of stepping on dry leaves. The cream in my hair leaves a stain on the window when I pull it away. I try and use my finger to draw a shape in the stain but the cream doesn’t move right on the glass.
“You want to go do something, Tim?”
His voice cuts clear this time, “Yeah what do you want to do?”
“Well actually… I need you to pull over again.”
I barely get my head out of the car when I lose everything in my stomach. The smell is wrong. It is too rich, not sour enough, and I know that there is blood in the vomit. I have the desire to drink salt water and feel the distress as the water burns on my exposed throat tissue. Tim gets out this time to check on me and I tell him to go back into the car. He looks worried but I tell him that I’m feeling better and that gets him to sit in his seat with the door open. The cab is freezing with the doors open. Tim drives once he is sure that I have recovered and my coughing takes a more healthy tone.
“I need to go home Tim, it is too cold not to be home tonight.”
“I know Kyle, we will be there shortly.”
“If I were to sleep outside I would die.”
“We’re going to get you home, it is too cold tonight.”
I breathe on the window and write my name in cursive.
In the morning when I wake up, I’m in my parent’s bed, rolled in the comforter like a sleeping bag with my head in the pillows that are for decoration. The embroidery on the pillows leaves lines on my face. In the kitchen my brother and a girl are eating breakfast. The girl has on a small black dress but her hair is matted. We greet each other and I pour cereal and start to eat it slowly but my stomach doesn’t feel good, so I chew on Tums and dump out the cereal.
The two of them are talking about nothing, and I sit there in silence looking at the snow outside. It seems bright and sunny but the snow does not melt, and I know it is sharp and cold in the way that your breath stops and your lungs are rushed clean.
“Kyle, what are you doing tonight?”
I turn when my name is said. They are both looking at me, “No plans, I will probably go out, but there is nothing for sure.”
“If you want you can come to a party with us tonight. It should be a pretty good one.”
“I think I’m a little old, I don’t want to be that creep.”
“No, it’s her party, not mine.”
The girl with matted hair looks at me and nods her head, “Yeah, its downtown being thrown by a friend I go to the U with. Her family bought her a really nice loft, and we party there all the time. You are totally more than welcome to come over.”
“Thanks, I’ll think about it. I may have plans.” I leave the two of them and go up to the attic. It is warm in the attic and I begin to unpack my bags. I put my clothes in piles on the floor, jeans in one, shirts in another, sweaters in another, and the largest pile of unsorted clothes that needs to be washed. These I dump into a basket and put by the edge of the stairs. When I pull off my shirt I can smell myself so I shower and then dress in clean clothes that are loose when they should be tight.
The computer waits for me when I finish putting myself together. My email loads quickly and I sort the inbox and see a message with no subject. It’s what I’ve been waiting for since getting back, and it makes me smile, just a simple smile that can’t be faked.
Ahoooy Kyle,i hope your flight to USA was good.I just want to tell u,that it was so nice to meet person like u and i had the greatest time with u.
Now i am sitting at school trying to write some homework , but i am not so succesful the person,no better say animal,u should see him or her,i didnt recognise yet, if it is woman or man,only god knows the thrue..but ok is not important,but he is smelling like something what never used bathroom before..and he is next to me, makes really weird sounds…so i can not concentrate because i am feeling that i am in zoo in cage with monkeys.
Anyway, Kyle i really miss u,ever since u went away and i really want to see u again…i am not professional at expressing feelings,but i think u know..what i mean..
Ok i am going to escape from this zoo,i hope u write me soon.
P.S.drink milk every day,eat vegetables and fruit (due to vitamins..),go to the church every sunday,never try alcohol,drugs and sex..and don’t be bad boy!miss u.
The message makes me laugh, and I have that feeling in my chest that keeps you up at night, but not an ache, one of fullness. I try and write a response but I’m not sure what to say and I just lie on the floor and let it all sink in. It had been healthy and fun. It was easy but it had been over from the beginning, and it wasn’t anyone’s fault but the circumstances, still I was the one that boarded the plane. I could have stayed, it would have been a mistake but I could have made that mistake for her. She would never have asked and because of that I would have done it for her.
I go downstairs. The girl has left and I feel hungry again so I try to eat but my stomach still has pain and I stop. I drink milk so that my body has something to feed on. It feels good and I drink more and then I eat yogurt and it feels good too. I try to eat bread, chewing it thoroughly until it is like a paste in my mouth and it is alright.
“Hey man, are you busy? I need to get my car,” I say to my brother.
Also published on Medium.