Written and performed for The Not-So-Silent Planet Open Mic, November 20th, 2018
The clock on my dash reads 11:52. The blood vessels in my head are squeezing my brain like a hand clutching an overripe piece of fruit just hard enough to bruise the flesh. I get migraines all the time, but it’s bad today. Like someone screaming in my head. Screaming so loud it makes me nauseous and every source of light bewildering and harsh. Lucky me, I’ve got the whole show going right now, and it’s clawing past the back of my skull down into my neck and shoulders. I rub my temples. My jaw clicks and pops as I grit my teeth. I can taste the blood in my mouth.
I fidget with the vape in my gloved fingers. I hate hangovers. I hate this damn holiday. I hate pretty much everything right now. The bones in my wrist throb weakly. That’s not the withdrawal, that’s just arthritis from working on a computer forty hours a week. Christ, I’m a mess. Even the smallest parts of my body can’t deal with any amount of stress.
At least I’m not shaking. Granted, I need to have the air on full blast at eighty degrees to keep me from shivering with the frigid despair of total existential ennui, but this is America. We do what we need to do to survive. That’s the heritage we’re meant to pass down today, right? We have a God given right to manifest our destiny until we’re all so sick of the conquest we’d rather kill ourselves than exist for another fucking minute.
Sorry. I’m spiraling again. My therapist warns me constantly about these kinds of thoughts. I believe her exact advice was ‘to be cognizant of the negative speak and flag it as an unsubstantiated judgment’. Sounds like a legal procedure. Does that make me legally broken?
Alright, alright, enough of that. Nobody can stand a pity party. You’ve got plenty going for you, Taylor. For example, you have drugs, and drugs are pretty neat, right?
I take a bite out of the granola bar in my right hand. These were mom’s favorite. These cinnamon streusel Fiber One bars. She really knew how to pick snacks. Dessert that makes you poop. Genius. If I’d had to deal with me as a child, I probably would’ve cut out the middleman and just laced Fig Newton’s with industrial grade laxatives. I’ll have to put it on the list for Friendsgiving next year. Everybody likes a good prank. Nobody did more than Mom…
I grimace and bring the vape to my lips, though I don’t inhale. It’s snowing outside. The cemetery looks almost peaceful. I can hear my brother giving me shit about looking so glum. I hate that word. Glum. So stupid. Matty knew this, which is why he called me it every chance he got.
The pit of my stomach drops. I turn the vape over against my chin and cycle through all my usual justifications . It’s only a fifteen second trip. No one will even notice you’re gone. It might bring you some closure.
I do need some closure. Even after three years, it’s all I hear from my friends. Maybe this’ll set things straight. Maybe this time it’ll be different.
I take a hit off the pen. A long, meaningful suck, at least ten or fifteen seconds. If you don’t break through on the first go, you can be stuck with visual hallucinations for up to an hour. No Bueno.
The vapor is acrid and musky and chafes against my lungs on contact. I swallow the reflex to cough. Not yet. Not yet. The thrum of an engine begins to whir in my ears. The ache in my head bursts into a ring of wriggling tendrils. They engorge and flail like aggressive, serpentine penises. I’m allowed a split second to realize I’m no longer in control.
Then I hack out a dusty cloud of olive colored smoke. My eyes roll up in my head, and the world flips inside out.
“Finally, you’re back. I’ve been waiting forever.”
Matty’s sitting beside me on our old sofa. The blue one that smells like chocolate cake batter and has lines that run through the cushions like corduroy pants.
“Sorry, got caught up on the way in,” I say to him. He’s wearing a Fortnite hoodie and his old dingy grey sweatpants. Just like I remember him. “Weekend uniform again, I see.”
That’s Mom’s brilliant term. What else is there to do in the winter as kids but be cooped at home, playing Overwatch or watching Mystery Science Theatre for three nights straight? I remember I once made soda shoot out Matty’s nose by making sex noises every time this one space monster was on screen. So stupid.
Matty rubs his nose and nudges a controller over to me. “C’mon, let’s play a few rounds of Rocket League before the turkey’s done.”
“Matty,” I say. The room jiggles like a bowl of cranberry sauce. Matty suddenly flattens like someone’s taken a paper photo of him and pressed it against a wall. I can smell Mom burning the bird from back in the kitchen.
“Mah,” I call out. I turn around and they’re sitting there eating. Just Mom and Matty. The light over the dining room table is warm. The light’s that soft orange you only find with old incandescent bulbs.
“I know, I know,” Mom says as I walk over and take the place set for me. “Science says they’re worse for the environment. It’s just…”
I know what she’s going to say before she says it.
“Some old things are harder to part with than others.”
She looks up at me.
“I know, Mah, you always used to tell us that.”
She smiles at me. “You’re getting so big.”
Fuck. I shake my head. This isn’t right. I shouldn’t be doing this.
“How late you staying tonight?” Matty asks me. “Do you work tomorrow?”
“Uh, no actually,” I tell him. “I got a new job. 9-5. Weekends off now.”
Matty nods. “Sweet, we should marathon some anime.”
“Sure, sounds fun,” I say. But I’m wringing my hands together. Sweat trickles behind my ear.
“Want some more turkey, hon?” Mom asks.
It’s too much. I know it isn’t real. Why am I doing this?
“I miss you guys.” My voice cracks. A low pressure rustles around me like autumn wind. I can’t hold on. Not for very long.
“We know, sweetie,” Mom says. Gentle and affectionate. “We’re thankful you’re here.”
The rising gales whistle through me. Reminds me of the chickadees that used to chirp from our birdbath in the front yard. Mom used to sing with them in the morning sometimes. Good practice for an ornithologist.
The table’s gone now, and the room is dark. I hold myself and cry. I can feel Mom running her fingers through my hair. I can see the fire catching from the stove top to the nearby rag on the counter. Hear the gas running at full blast. She got distracted making coffee and forgot to shut it off.
“You are so loved, Taylor. So loved.”
And that’s when Uncle Jeff chimes in with a knock at the driver’s side window. I blink my eyes open and wipe them. Dashboard clock hasn’t changed. 11:52. Like always, I don’t remember anything. Just a longing for more.
More of what? I dunno. Maybe I’m not supposed to know. Maybe it’s better that way.
I roll down my window. Uncle Jeff’s wrapped up in his pea coat and nice wool scarf. He’s got flowers cradled in his right arm.
“Are you ready, bud?”
I sniff. My headache’s still pounding away. “Yeah, Uncle Jeff. Thanks.”