Plato once said that all that was real was unchanging.
In my mind, nothing was real.
Life was on its head, upside down and twisted inside out. A dropped jack-o-lantern with its leftover insides and hot wax spilled across the sidewalk, irreparable as scrambled eggs.
I sit on the subway and wonder why I didn't supply my costume with a jacket. The pink sweater was deceptively thin and overly revealing. It spoke of weakness and softness and the submissive dog at the bottom of the pack. It looked rich and absolutely screamed easy target. I'd left on the blond wig, I didn't know if that was good or bad. But it was my choice.
I had thought I was on easy street when I discovered my city pass and twenty bucks stuffed in my bra, disturbingly white and lacy. Nothing like anything I'd ever thought I'd buy.
I'd hopped the nearest underground heading back to my sweet little bohemian micro-apartment, desperate to be in familiar surroundings. Somehow I'd found my way to a hospital that was far out from my home but nonetheless on the same main route. There was a hospital nearer to my home, and a small clinic I could have easily gotten stitched up at. Why had I gone so far? Had I been at a party? Surly I would not stay home on the eve of my favorite holiday. I must have been out in the inner city partying it up at a bar.
But why in this stupid blond frosted pink cupcake of a costume? What joke was this, what dream, what new life?
The train eases its way through ground out tunnels like a snake in well-known dens. It whistles and screams with speed, echoing in confined spaces and darkness. The compartment is empty and otherwise silent but it grinds at my brain.
I can imagine the bruise darkening and ever swelling over my high porcelain cheekbone, spreading past my orbital to meet the stitches on my eyebrow that would be crusting with dried blood.
The wound pulses and stretches and stings like a living thing, sending a deep ache inside my scull to my brain. My eyes ache with the bitter green tinged light of the fluorescents, devoid of the spectrum of light, creating their own realm of false colors.
The wheels chunk and clatter below me, the sway of the train seems violent, letting me toss forward then back like a rag doll in my hard plastic seat.
I shiver with cold and sickness and fret and am glad for my lonely journey on this train because I think I'm about to discover what I've eaten recently with Technicolor brightness. My stomach churns and rolls over as quickly as the train, and I lose control and its contents, spilling over the cold plastic floor of the tram. I cough at the awful taste and try to steady myself after the sudden onslaught of nausea.
I get up shakily on pink Barbie princess high heels, and holding onto the rail as if I'll die without it, I move to the far end seats, away from the embarrassing pathetic mess I'd made. I berate myself for the loss of control and the god-awful mess I'd made and would likely not even try to clean up.
My legs shake for a moment but it ends, the cold sweat that had sprung up so fast evaporates. My body feels better but my head feels a thousand times worse. It has gone from stinging and aching to full blown headache. My ears ring, my brain is in a vice and the light makes me wish for an early grave.
And yet the questions race through my head.
What had happened to me tonight?
Where had the last months of my life gone?
Why could I remember nothing, nothing at all, not even darkness, no matter how much I grasped and tried?
Where has my mind gone?
I shiver again and rub at my arms, my eyes shut tight. I'll be home soon; there will be a trigger there. It will make me remember and then everything will be normal. Life will come back like it was never gone, and these few hours of nightmares will be over. I'll call a friend, a teacher, the bar I worked at. I'll knock on a neighbor's door and they'll kindly fill me in. I just need rest in my own bed and an aspirin. And maybe a damn strong drink.
I'd remember in the morning, right? I'd wake up and there would be memories to go with the stitches.
The train lurches again and I look up, lit posters flashing by the windows as it grew brighter, brighter, hurting like a fucking bitch as it beat into my eyes and strangled my pain tolerance.
The train slowed and screeched into the station, two off from my desired destination. The light of the stop assaulted me and I began to feel like I had the worst hangover of my life.
I wanted to decapitate myself just to get away.
The door opens with a hiss that drags through my brain.
Two pairs of boots, heavy clunking evil things, clatter onto the tram. Their owners are loud and offensive and appear to be having fun but my brain screams in agony.
Be quiet, you're hurting me, don't you see?
They laugh, they stomp, the stumble around my puddle of puke, laughing about drunk bastards like themselves. They don't suspect me. They wander down to my end of the train and within my aching brain I'm begging them to back off and go away. I know I look like prey and they smell like wolf to me. I'm in no mood for fight or flight.
But they simply plunk down across from me, only hurting me with sound. They're all black leather and dark hoodies and plaid and studs, looking like 80's cheese but without the safety pins through cartilage and flesh. Mohawks that a peacock would take offence to jut up from their shaven heads, defying gravity.
It's a touch that leans to reality and a lack of costume.
One of these skinny mosh boys looks at me with his blackish eyes, bites his pierced lip, and then leans forward into my space.
"Damn that's some costume." He says with an air of confidence and knowing. I don't know him. Do I? Is he being bold? I know nothing anymore. "You okay little quade? You look to be a long way from home." The sentence didn't seem a threat, though it could be constructed as one. For that matter, what kind of crazy term was quade? It sounded almost Latin or industrial. It sounded masculine. Where was the usual 'hey you' or 'girl' or 'buddy'? I look at him closer, trying to place him in my mind.
I err on the side of politeness.
"Nah, I'm fine. Just…" His eyes slither over my breasts, hugged tight in this awful sweater. I'm cold and I wonder if my nipples are sticking out. His gaze tracks up to my eye and its injury. My heart beats faster as I feel him weigh my weakness. "Just grabbing a midnight snack on the way home." I smile and try to act confident and distant.
"Yea cool." He replies, leaning back, trying almost too hard to act nonchalant. He seems excited, like a puppy, but hides it to remain aloof. What was I to him?
The train bumps on, swinging through to my stop. I hadn't even noticed the last stop go by. I get up almost too soon, almost losing my balance as the metal worm slides to a complete stop. I keep my eyes on the door; trying not to look like an easy target, but before my second step falls the punk who had been talking to me stands in my path.
Oh god, not tonight. My head was killing me, I was freezing, I was going to throw what bile was left in me everywhere. There was no one around to help me, nowhere for me to run to.
He tosses off his studded leather jacket, the prize of any punk, and zips off his kangaroo jacket. I don't know where he could be going with this.
"Yo, you're freezing to death in that. Take this." He holds it out to me and I try not to be stunned at the offering. I must know him then, I'm not that hot, even in this sad little number. He shoves it at me again. "Don't worry, I'll get it back at the next show."
Take it? It was warm; it was more to my style. I wouldn't look so much of a target in this angry worn death-black offering.
The train hisses, ready to leave. Telling me its time to decide.
"Uh, thank you so much." I grab it from him and run for the door as it slides closed, managing to squeeze out in time. I turn to look at the leaving train and see him waving from the window, this crazy smile on his face.
It just processes through my brain now, what he said to me.
I'll get it at the next show.
Was he a concert buddy? Why didn't he call me Erica then? Did we have nicknames for each other? But it seemed like such a cold conversation. And he obviously didn't know where I lived, since he said I was far from home.
I shiver again, the chill air drifting down from the surface even colder than the train.
I pull on the donation and it smells like boy, cologne, sweat and musk that mix in such a way it makes me feel safe. The fuzzy inside is still body heated and its like someone is holding me in my delusional pain addled mind. My stomach aches and my head is softly killing me.
It's time to leave this underground and join the upper crust of the world.
At least it would be dark there.
I click up the cement stairs, but then I'm slowing, turning back around, almost unaware of the movement.
I'd never seen this particular station so…bare. The posters are worn and torn; the regular newsstand is gone. Usually they just lock up airtight at night, not leave altogether.
There are no buskers with guitars or small drums. There are no portrait drawers, no jewelry laid out on a blanket. No people begging for money with nothing to offer.
Even though it was the dead of night, someone should have been down here. Someone with a guitar. Someone coming home, or leaving home. Someone sleeping, without a home. But there wasn't a soul here.
The silence echoes, the train long gone. An icy breeze skitters down the stairs and chills my legs, a sharp contrast to my warm torso. The emptiness chills my soul to ice, and I run up the stairs like an invisible demon chases me.
That's all I've done tonight, run and be scared, familiar is unfamiliar, I remember nothing at all.
I almost trip on the top stair in my rush into darkness above ground. The streetlight directly above is burnt out and I stand between glowing circles of light, out of reach.
My eyes welcome darkness but my body shivers as wind whips around my bare legs, lifting my plastic hair and eating at my neck. I push my hands into the pockets of the jacket, once again thankful. I hope I do see him again, he deserved more thanks for his gift.
I click forward in these awful heels that have begun to chew at my feet without mercy. Just a hop skip and a jump home, just around that brick corner. Just fifteen minutes and I'm home, my sweet little artsy home, so cheap with rent control and so full of personality.
I unconsciously speed up, wanting it so badly. Home, memories, familiar things. Just anything but this.
I turn the corner into the next dark street, shivering badly. I'd lost weight lately, I was sure of it. I look farther ahead then the pavement squares in front of my toes, I'd looked down from the wind.
It was dark on this street, and dirty, with garbage and paper strewn around. I look up and down the line of seemingly abandoned streetlights, dark and un-powered. Theses were always on, this was a street into china town. I look across the street towards my home to see if the power outage continued…
The streetlights were gone.
The street was gone.
The buildings were gone.
There were orange demolition machines behind a metal fence. But no buildings.
I feel my knees gelling as I slip to the ground, unable to stand, unable to tear my eyes away.
Rubble. My home…my street…rubble.
My home. My fucking home. It wasn't here anymore.
I look around, for street signs, for something to tell me I was on the wrong street. I had to be, they wouldn't knock it down. No, it was people's homes, even if they were ancient and halfway falling down on their own. There would be protests. There would be news coverage.
I would remember my home being destroyed.
I would remember this.
I don't know how long I sit there, staring at the empty spaces, my heart pounding away. Long enough that I don't feel the cold anymore, long enough that the sidewalk feels comfortable, as does the brick wall I slump against, long enough that my eyes adjust to the dark. But my mind won't adjust. It won't accept this madness.
My headache has faded away into the empty silence of my stunned brain.
Nothing. No memories, no home, nowhere to turn to.
I force myself up to my feet, my dead legs carry me farther then I thought they could. Down the street, on and on until I can't feel the straps dig in and the cold lick at me.
I ignore the computer generated posters of the god awful corporate created strip mall that will sit were my home used to. I don't want to know what they destroyed those buildings for, what brand spanking new place the sheep would gather.
Only a few months. How, how? It had to be more. A year and a few months more like.
Enough to lose my home and start over, to wear this and grow hair and be friends with punks. More time, more loss.
It wasn't easy and that's what I wanted. An easy explanation, a few days, a dream. A short coma where my mind made up these horrible images of insanity.
Finally red glow hits me from the left, attacking me from down the street.
It promises heat, food, Chinatown.
Or maybe the construction bastards tearing down another not-so-profitable part of town, in ignorance of its beauty and history.
But I turn to it anyhow, both physical and mental wounds bleeding fresh. I should have gotten the nurse to gauze my head, I always was a bleeder. I wonder if the cold has something to do with it.
I wander down and the light gets brighter, bringing night-noises with it. Language that is familiar in its patterns and sounds but not one I understand.
I enter into something I know for the first time tonight, I always eat at these little stands. The shops surrounding them are closed for the night, and the food stands are just shutting down. It must be going on three am.
I walk farther into the half lit street, my stomach announcing a want for food now that it's emptied itself.
There, and open noodle stand.
I click up, completely unaware of what I must look like. White chilled skin, blood running down my face, my makeup probably running. I had stared crying at some point without realizing it.
I sit at the worn stool, unspeaking. A bowl finds its way in front of me without an order asking for it. I look up.
"Sorry hun, all we got is the ends of the day. But its still good food." The wrinkly old man behind he counter says. He looks concerned, or curious, but doesn't ask. He's no bartender.
Bartender. My work, I'd go ask for help there. Or at least my new address, if I had one.
I had a tendency to keep a job for months on end, even years if the money was worth it. I wasn't one to jump from job to job.
I don't even notice what I'm doing but my fingers find their way around chopsticks, and noodles meet my mouth. They're a spicy no-flavor, probably six different things mixed together from the ends of the day. But it's hot, and good. I'm so hungry I couldn't care less if they were burnt to a crisp.
They're gone before I realize I've eaten them, but I still feel empty and cold.
"You want any more hun?" He asks.
"Where's a main street from here?" I return a question, shaking my head no to his. I pull out money from my bra, feeling dirty as I do it. I'm too unsure of myself now to be confidant enough to pull it off.
He waves it off as I try to hand him the twenty, leaning over the stand and pointing farther down the street.
"If you want a taxi or a train, you'll find them just down a couple a blocks. You keep your money girl, just promise to come back when I can feed you something good." He leans back, smacking the sign above his head. "Best noodles in Chinatown." He says proudly, and I can only assume that's what the characters say.
"Thank you, very much. I'll come back to try them fresh." What else do I say to the man? I tuck the money back in my bra and zip up the hoodie the whole way.
The noodles start to warm me from the inside out as I head down the direction he pointed.
I know there are openings into the subway behind me, but I just can't go back there, can't face that mess that used to be my home block.
I don't feel so bad now, though I'm thrown off. My mind hasn't returned to me yet, and there have been a dozen odd happenings tonight. With a familiar noodle dinner in me, and a direction to go my legs don't shake as much though. Between the buildings I'm protected from the bitter autumn winds though the cold still finds me.
Down winding streets and colorful signs I don't see a soul, though I hear parties going on. Venders are empty, stores are closed, people are doing their own thing tonight.
Halloween was for children to go trick or treating and adults to stay home and hand out candy, for teenagers to go drinking and finding parties. At least, that's how it worked back where I was from. But that was a smaller city, maybe it wasn't the same here.
I sniffle a little, a reminder of my tears. I reach up with my hands in sleeves, scrubbing at dried tear tracks, then more tenderly wiping at the little bit of escaping blood. I rub at my eyes, trying to get rid of shiny pink powder. I gently pull off the fake lashes, the glue weak. I must have been wearing them for some time. I must have been this lie all day. The shining glossy lipstick is long gone with the noodles.
It'll be okay, I tell myself.
I reach up, wanting familiar things now. Not this blond lie. I pull off the wig, and all the little bobby pins holding down black hair. Save one, an old habit makes me stick it behind my ear. Old habits die hard, and sometimes never.
Black bangs flop forward into my face, streaked with blond chunks. Very…punky. It didn't seem like me either, but it was a closer hit then this awful costume.
From around my wrist I pull the diamond tennis bracelet, letting it drop to the ground with the wig.
Little diamond stud earrings follow, sparkling on their trip to the cement.
I snap off the necklace too, throwing it more vehemently.
I was not fake, even on Halloween. This was a lie, a joke, and disturbingly well executed.
I reach to pull of the fake ring as well…but stop. I look at it in the dim lamplight, at how it sparkles. It's something that would come out of a crackerjack box. It was worn, the finish on the 'metal' chipped. It sat happily in a grove on my finger that spoke of many months of wear. It felt like it belonged there.
I left it.
I wish I had different shoes, a pair of pants. The sweater didn't matter, it was hidden.
Finally I reach a busier street, on the other side of this offshoot of Chinatown. Here I find people, teenagers wandering the streets in clumps. They're bar-hoppers and partiers. I can't tell which are in costume or which are lifestylers, the street is full of punks and Goths. There are classic costumes of angels, devils, zombies and witches. It's a bar street, and makes me realize I don't have to hop a train to get to work. I'm already here, I'd walked the equivalent of two or three stations tonight. No wonder my feet were killing me.
The bar would be in full swing, it's Halloween and what better time for a vampire club?