It seems like a while ago when I learned that Jack Daniel's shouldn't go behind the wheel with me. Not because I was drunk. Because the glass cut up my legs pretty bad. Like a tattoo. Don't want to show scars like that to your grandkids. Anyways, I didn't really feel it. Your body drugs you out fast. I remembered that.
That shaking as blood pumped through my throat, fingertips, stomach. Felt like I was exploding.
The car almost did.
I could tell that Janasha was jealous of me. The boy she'd brought was staring at me and she was still batting her clumpy mascara eyelashes. I cringed and gave a little smile. Janasha had a smoker's voice. It was attractive. If you like smokers. "He likes blondes the best."
I smiled through my teeth and watched her flip her chemically straightened, champagne colored hair over her shoulder. Who was I to judge?
Anyways, her new boy was cute if you like broad-shouldered, shaved-head Nazi types. I looked to find Gino. This party was a waste of time.
I found Gino on the back porch. On the phone. With his girlfriend. Of all people to call from a house party in Malden, he picked his girlfriend. Smart one, Gino. He looked at me, put a finger to his lips and looked back at his shoes. I could faintly hear her whining about something on the other end. I leaned back against the railing and looked up.The lights from the city were blocking out almost every star. There was maybe one star that broke faintly through the haze.
I went back inside. Bummed a cigarette from this gay boy. I mean, quitting only works when you have someone telling you not to smoke. Five fucking days without a cigarette. Turkish Blend. Just then someone put their hand on my shoulder. A big hand. My heart went faster.
I turned around. Oh. It was German boy. No worries. I lit the cigarette calmly and blew out. "Do you have a cigarette I could have?" His voice was a real man voice, deep, hard and filled with surety that everything he said was right.
I shook my head. "Just bummed it, dude. Sorry." Inside I was laughing. This cigarette was delicious.
"No worries, no worries. So I never saw you at one of Joey's parties before. Where you from?"
I smirked. Typical, that Janasha would bring a boy like this out with her. "I used to live in Beverly. Then I had an apartment in South Peabody. Now I'm in Salem."
"I got a tattoo done in Salem. You know some kid named Jude?"
Surprise, surprise. "Jude's my roommate. I came out to Malden tonight 'cause he was having a party and all those little skeezes were showing up and putting out. Can't stand that." Janasha was staring at us. I smiled over at her and dragged long on the Camel. Took a flirtatious step closer to him. He grinned. I stood on tiptoe and whispered in his ear, "Not that this place is much better." Janasha looked pissed. He looked confused. I put my cigarette out with the toe of my sneaker and went to find Gino. I wanted out.
The apartment was trashed when I got back. I wasn't about to clean Jude's mess up. Again. So I left it for the morning. There were still some packs of Ramen on top of the fridge. Dinner in our house is a free-for-all. You want to eat, you eat. You want to be lazy, you starve.
Waiting for the water to boil, I grabbed a can of Coke. Jude had taped an envelope to the fridge for me. I opened it. Oh, it was from Lena. Lena's my mom. She's in a program in New Hampshire. She's getting fixed. They said her whole mind was shot. Gone. Out the fucking window. I put the letter on my bed. Can't read depressing two-year-old letters from my mother. Not tonight. Jesus, already four in the morning. I dumped out the lukewarm water and left the Ramen on the counter. Where was a pack of fucking cigarettes?
I opened Jude's door slowly. "Hey, dude, you still up?"
He groaned and sat up a little. "What the—what do you want?"
"You got some cigarettes?" I watched as he reached slowly into his pockets. Pulled out a crumpled pack of Reds. Tossed it at me.
"Just one left." He rolled back over and pulled the blanket over his head. I grabbed the pack from the floor and took out his lucky. Lit it up quick and left the room, closing the door softly.
I wondered if the neighbor was using her wireless. I wanted internet. I turned on Jude's laptop in the living room and clicked the little icon for internet. It popped open and turned green. I grinned to myself and dragged on the lucky. Couldn't get much better than this.
Some kid had sent me a message on Myspace. I looked at his profile. Of course. Hitler boy. "hey girl met you at joeys wanna chil?". Great, he even knows how to spell. I hit reply.
"Do I even know you?" I hit send and took a drag. What a waste of breath.
I slammed my finger in a door once and broke it at the knuckle. It hurt worse than anything I'd ever known. Pain shot through my bones all the way through my heart. Burned out from inside. My breath stopped. My hand throbbed. I felt shattered.
Take that pain and multiply it by a million. That's a crash.
I work fulltime at Dunkin' Donuts. The 24 hour one. It's a pain. Demand, demand, demand, mess. I'm a good worker, I guess. But Morgan works with me and together we take too many cigarette breaks. She gives me her Camel 9's. She is blonde, after all.
Anyways, when I went to check my phone on break it had a missed call. Some 617 number. I went outside and lit up. Called the number back.
An assured, strong voice answered, "Hello?"
"Yeah, someone called me from this number?"
"It's Chris. I'm that dude from Joey's?" He sounded like he expected something.
"Oh. I'm at work." I wasn't about to let go. I don't want somebody now. I don't hold grudges but the past was a mess. I was a mess. Got to be over it, though.
"When we gonna chill?" He shatters my memory.
"You know, you and me, see a movie or somethin'?"
I shrug, sneer, drag, "I don't know. I'm pretty busy with work and everything."
"Give me a chance, girl. I swear I'll be good to you. I'm not sure what you're so fuckin' afraid of."
"Afraid?" I grinned.
"Yeah, you sound like you're just too innocent for me anyways."
Oh, he thinks he's going to win the game. Nope. "You don't know the half of it. Yeah, I'll give you a chance."
"Can I pick you up tonight at like 8?"
What a player. "Fine. You know where the chinky store is on Congress?
"Just call me when you're there. Hey, and can you grab me a pack of Virginia Slim's?" Nothing like a stupid boy when you need a free pack.
"Whatever you need."
"'Kay, bye." I shut my phone and looked at my cigarette. Fire safeties kill me.
Jude was home for once when I got back from work. He had chicken fingers. "Wanna share?" I asked with a grin.
He looked up at me and gestured to the plate, "Take it, I don't care. Anyways, where'd you go last night that you were out so fuckin' late." Jude doesn't talk in questions. He says what he wants to say whether or not you understand it.
"Gino drove me out to Malden. It was stupid. Then again, I didn't want to sit here listening to the Limited Too girls chattering in my ear."
Jude laughed. "That's true. You should have seen the lesbian Keith brought over though. Sexy as shit."
"Gave you somethin' to think about last night?"
"Yeah, yeah, whatever." He lit up a butt.
"So I'm going out with some kid tonight. Don't worry though I'll be back way before four in the morning this time. Kid's dumb as shit."
"Why would you go out with him then? Don't lower your standards just 'cause you feel lonely. That lesbian can come keep you company. If I can watch." He smiled at himself being clever.
"Guess not. I gotta shower."
"Don't use my body wash again. Just 'cause it's what your fuckin' ex used doesn't mean you need it too." I flipped him off and shut the bathroom door.
When my mom started getting sick, I was 17 and about to be out of the house. Old enough to know exactly what the prescription labels said. I saw her eyes when she was out of it. Bloodshot and twitching with some kind of pain that stems from bad blood, maybe. Her hands were always unsure of the next step. Her mouth would open in shock and then shut as if words had never been invented. I could kiss her forehead and feel like I was kissing ice. She'd clutch at me. Grab. She looked at me like I was something else. Like I was the sickness. Then she'd get scared of the hurt and stare back up into the imperforated ceiling.
Adrenaline makes me sick. I wonder if it makes me look like her.
Chris was letting his engine run outside the convenience store around the corner. I could hear the bass pumping from the car as soon as I left the apartment. I hoped he remembered to get me that pack. I opened the passenger side and smiled. He smirked and nodded. "Did you get me those Slim's?" I asked. He tossed me a plastic-wrapped carton and I caught it quick. "Thanks." I packed them against my wrist hard. Got to prove I'm a strong one. Can't play me. Not now, anyways.
He started driving. This kid drove steady. Left hand secure on the wheel. Right hand holding a cigarette gently. He turned down the music. "Revere movie theater okay?" I nodded and lit a Red. Smoke hit me like sweat.
We started to talk. The conversation was more than I expected. He took off his hat and threw it in the backseat. Rubbed his buzz cut. More like a blue-eyed American soldier than one of the Germans, I guess. I tend to judge people too harshly. Anyways, he wanted to know about Rick. Wanted to know the whole story.
So I started. Smooth. With my cigarette only halfway done and my hands steady. Told him about dropping out of school for true love. About drinking. About figuring out that true love is unfaithful. About drinking some more. About leaving true love. About getting an apartment with Jude and pretending true love doesn't exist. About never drinking since.
I was on my fourth cigarette by the time I finished explaining Rick and me. Chris looked at me. We were on Route 1 by now, and the movies were close. "I would never do that."
Oh. Would never do that. Well neither would I.
I brought Chris to the apartment a week later. Jude and him shook hands and exchanged words. Jude looked him up and down. Looked at the tattoo. Decided they could be friends. "I'm havin' a party tonight, Marie. Will you run to the store and grab some Jack's?"
I knew Chris was looking at me. "Yeah, no doubt. Walk over with me?" Chris nodded and followed me down the street.
"I thought you never drank." He looked angry. Whatever.
"I don't drink the way I used to. I'm helping Jude out right now. Don't worry about shit that isn't your problem." I get cold when I'm angry. Chris grabbed my hand. I looked up at him and realized that a soldier boy was just going to leave me sooner or later anyways. I could let this go for now.
The doctors said my mom would be better off in an institution. Four big walls. Concrete. Hard as anything. Can't break out of the outside, can't break out on the inside. I don't think Lena lost her mind until then. But by the time I got around to visiting her. (Yeah, it took me a while to visit my own goddamn mother.) By that time she was lost like a child. She had lipstick on her teeth. A necklace in her hair like a crown. I didn't cry.
Don't we all go back to the beginning anyways?
Some relationships get marked by the first time girl and boy meet. Marked when girl and boy fuck. Marked when girl and boy have that first big fight. Marked when girl or boy cheats. For me and Chris, we were marked from the minute he told me he had fallen in love.
I mean. For God's sake, who the fuck falls in love anymore? I don't want to be in love. Don't want the obligation to accept the other person for who they are. Don't want their care to save me from whatever future I chose a long time ago. Don't want to be saved at all. I didn't say this. Didn't say much at all. My mouth was heavy. Chris glanced at me. "I should probably drive home tonight. Do you want to come meet my mom? She's wanted to meet you ever since I told her that you have the same name. She loves that fate shit." I blew out smoke and nodded. Grabbed the half-empty bottle of Jack's from the counter. I'm not good with parents.
"Jude. I'm going out for the night." He looked over at me through the smoke that filled the air of the apartment.
We had to stop at the store. Needed cigarettes. Well, I needed cigarettes. Chris shut off the car and got out. Some kids were standing outside smoking coolly. I glanced up at them and then back at my hands. There was a knock on my window. I rolled down the window. "What's your name, mami?" The boy was young looking. Hispanic. He needed to shave.
"It's not really your business." He put his fingertips on top of the glass.
"It's all about me, baby." I saw Chris coming up behind him. The other kids backed off.
The boy whipped around when he felt a hand on his shoulder. Fell as Chris' strong knuckles cracked into his nose. Blood sprayed. The kids took off running. I tried not to smile. Chris shook his hand. Studied each knuckle individually. "Marie, I think I fucking broke my hand." He looked shocked.
"Broke it? Maybe 'cause that kid had such a thick head."
He grimaced. Halfway through a smile emerged. "It's fine. Can you drive me to the hospital? Salem's fine."
"Yeah, of course." I climbed out of the passenger seat and held the door for him. He sat down, holding his right hand in his left gingerly. He had some of the boy's blood on his shirt.
I turned the key in the ignition too hard. I hate driving. I mean. I learned to drive. Got a license. I'm not half bad. But in the dark all those headlights come at you and I'm like a deer. But this one time. For Chris. Putting the car in reverse, I began to accelerate. Backed out easily onto Congress St and started heading for 107. Passed the one way's and some more kids hanging out the corner. "Thanks for protecting me. No one did that shit for me ever." I looked at him and then back at the road.
"That's what I'm here for. But fuck this hurts." His voice was pained. I watched him gulp down some Jack's and hand it back to me.
We hit the five-way stop intersection. I came to a full stop. Set back. That's what it's called. Started to accelerate since there were no other cars. Vaguely, somewhere, I heard the sound of an engine. From the other side of the intersection. The brights gained and then were shining through my windshield. I thought of a halo. I realized then, my lights weren't on. Chris was holding his hand and staring straight ahead. The bottle was between my legs. I hit the brakes. Slammed. Heard squealing as the car started to spin. The truck in front of us was still going, wheels spinning as metal ground against metal. Our car stopped. Slammed. Crushed into the parking garage wall. I felt alcohol burning my lips. Chris' nose was bleeding. I wanted to fix it. Somehow, my legs looked cracked. Like burned paper. There were flames under the hood. I looked at Chris. Pushed at the door handle. Pushed until it let me out. I crawled out. I saw him lying next to the car, almost under it. At least he wasn't inside.
There were sirens. I felt my body shaking as adrenaline fueled every single beat of my heart. My eyes went blurry. I wanted to be held. My pulse was going to rip my throat out. I could feel my voice emptied of sound. That was when the pain hit me. It was like crashing all over again. Felt like the headlights were exploding into fireworks all over my skin. Felt like tires were burning tracks into my veins. Felt like I was falling in love.
My wrist broke because I refused to quit holding onto the steering wheel as we crashed. Unable to smoke, I forgot what it felt like. I went home from the hospital after three days. Chris had already been released with a broken hand and a mild concussion. My legs looked like broken cement. He stayed with me most nights once I was out of the hospital. Life was lonely without cigarettes. Jude was nice about having the extra person in the apartment. Chris kept to himself mostly. Cleaned up his shit, even if Jude didn't.
It was two days until Christmas when I got the second letter from Lena. I realized, ripping open the envelope, that I had never read the first one. I unfolded the pink paper. It had a flower print border.
"My Darling Marie,
I am getting better. They say I am making very good progress. How are you? See how much my handwriting is improving?
I Love You Very Much.
Each letter was shaky but carefully sure in where the lines should go. Her name was a scrawl that filled half the page in what was presumably her cursive. Chris leaned over my shoulder. "What is that?"
"My mom. She sent me a letter. I want to visit her. Will you go with me?"
"Of course. We can drive out there whenever you want. Do you have work tomorrow?"
I nodded slowly. Getting in a car still gave me a huge rush of adrenaline. I had almost started to crave fear. "Let's go Friday."
I nodded and sat down on the couch next to him, letting the letter fall to the coffee table. Chris put his hand, faint scars running across his hand, over my leg. My scars were starting to heal over. Just pure raised skin now. No more blood, no rush to the head every time I was touched.
It was almost a let down. Sometimes forgetting things feels like losing a game.
It seems like a while ago when I learned that Jack Daniel's shouldn't go behind the wheel with me. Not because I was drunk. Because the glass cut up my legs pretty bad. Like a tattoo. Don't want to show scars like that to your grandkids. Anyways, I didn't really feel it. Your body drugs you out fast. I'll always remember that.
That shaking as blood pumped through my throat and I lost my words. Through my fingertips and I couldn't feel a thing. Through my stomach and I wanted to clean up this mess. Felt like I was losing everything I had ever known.
I almost did.