“Jesus! It’s bright out here!”
I shielded my eyes, in what must’ve looked like an epileptic fit, as the sun gleamed brightly, and I realized that I hadn’t seen it at this angle since last summer. I felt like a goddamn bear waking from hibernation, the world so vibrant and offering, and I … was … ravenous!
My eyes adjusting, I strolled to the metal guard rails, which protected all of Satan’s little children from taking a four-foot header into the afterschool car pick-up lane. I leaned my upper body outward, all the while feeling the tobacco-colored paint chips from the rail push themselves into my palms. It didn’t matter; the world was a different place now.
Only for a moment, I was drifting on a cotton cloud eons away, that special place in life of which we’re allowed glimpses in that instant when all the world makes sense as it balances delicately on the tip of our tongues. At first I thought my squiggling peripheral was a result from the marker hit, but an American-made SUV whimpered its way into my path. It had the look of administrative pay grade. It took a minute before I recognized the oblong head that leaned across the passenger seat mumbling something incoherent. I’d rarely seen him outside of his office. Mr. Muff was as nice as a prick could be in that smarmy, used car salesman sort of way. His weak leadership skills garnered little respect, but his ability to shirk responsibility did leave something to be admired.
“What?” I snapped.
“I asked if you were alright.” His version of a shout sounded more like a whistle getting a blowjob.
His awestruck expression seemed confounding until I remembered the surroundings. “Excuse me?” he whistled.
“Oh, um, yeah, yep. Doin’ fine.”
“OK. Well, don’t you have a class right now?”
“And where are you going?” I responded. There was no relevance or care, but it was still a loaded question. As its shock and awe reverberated across Mr. Muff’s face, causing him to wonder just exactly where this conversation had turned, I used those dense moments to start on my way. Not that I was running from conflict; it was more of an attempt to avoid an unwanted conversation where one party would be emotionally invested while the other had no plausible way to explain that he didn’t give a shit.
The true question was, in fact, “Where am I going?”
I don’t know, but it’s damn sure not here.
I knew there was no truth or justice within those walls.
Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate.
And everything beyond that was incoherent.
* * * * *
My bungalow was just a few blocks away from the school house. I hoofed it there on autopilot, taking in the light, breezy afternoon air. I felt like a fare on that terrorist Aladdin’s magic carpet taxi.
“Sir, that will be five dollar.”
“What? You son of a bitch that’s a rip-off!”
“Sir, sir. I must make living in new country. Please, no hurt me.”
Bastard. But that twisted scenario playing itself out in my head ended as I turned on to Whippoorwill. My front yard looked like Vietnam before the napalm fell; however, through no fault of my own.
Wasn’t in my contract to manicure this place, and I’m a teacher. Do you think I can afford yard equipment?
I waved off the limping vines and overweight branches jutting from the bushes, and made my way to the battle-scarred door that bared signs of many a drunken tangent. I never locked it, being as there’s nothing inside worth stealing, so a quick jiggle of the handle opened up paradise. I stood in the doorway for a moment, enjoying the juxtaposition of fine, earthy air from outside mingling with the unfiltered, dank air that only a renter could enjoy. The moment passed and I pondered what to do.
I made my way to the papasan my grandma gave me for high-school graduation, probably my most prized possession. As I plopped down, sparkles of dust coughed their way out and its base creaked in complaint but held. Positioning myself in the proper meditative stance, I leaned over and opened the stereo cabinet, reaching behind outdated electronics, to pull out “Pink.” Named after Floyd, not the color, the bong had seen me through thick and thin since college. As a casual toker, I learned long ago to pre-pack and save myself the trouble.
Oh, what? You don’t think teaching 120 fucking kids everyday qualifies as a medical illness? Don’t judge me.
It wasn’t so much getting high that I enjoyed, as it was the appreciation I held for the way that time slowed and moments of clarity were more like minutes. And I needed clarity. It took the lighter three flicks before finally producing precious flame.
Suck, suck, suck! Hold, hold, hold, hold. Don’t cough you son of a bitch … and release!
It takes marijuana roughly 10 seconds from inhalation to react with the human brain. The shit I have takes five. Another for good measure, and then I tucked Pink safely back into its resting hole, leaned back, and listened to the wood structure creak and pop like arthritic bones.
The silence was maddening. The drug and adrenaline concoction created an evil dialogue in my head but neither provided answers, only more anxiety. In the climax of crisis, just as I was contemplating darting headlong into traffic, came my moment of clarity. I have very little décor or things, but not too long ago, I was stumbling through Centertown’s Saturday Flea Market when I crossed an old Wiccan selling her charms and art for humble change. Fingering my way through eclectic memorabilia, I did a double take. I can’t say what it was for sure, only that sometimes things call to us.
I snagged it from the market, hung it in the house, and paid little mind to it throughout the endless days between. Now, it was calling again, the picture of a city I’d never known, whispering like a lover at dusk, a sensual mix of lust, exploration and the unknown. If a dream were to be found, it would be found there.
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