By Andrew Tobolowsky
The sun rises and I suddenly wish I were somebody who could hurl a whiskey bottle against a wall. I hate noise and mess, and I don’t know what I’d do if I hurt somebody. I live in fear of hurting somebody, every day. Some green glass fragment would bounce off a wall and take somebody’s inner ear and there they’d be, spinning around and around, no more balance, and they’d be yelling at me “Caitlin, I’ll never feel safe holding my baby in my arms and it’s all your fault”.
I never will, I say to my knees, around which I’ve wrapped my pale skinny arms, pebbling in the early chill. I feel like my skin is too thin to hold me in it, I feel like I don’t weigh enough to stay on Earth. I smoke, constantly.
The sun rises and mostly I wish I wasn’t watching it again. If I could sleep, I wouldn’t miss it, I swear. I swear to god, I wouldn’t ever call a sunset beautiful again if I could just sleep.
But I haven’t chewed my nails in several hours and in an hour or so I can call my mom so I can barely breathe but I think I’m going to be alright.
I don’t think anyone in my generation sleeps. If I don’t see the sunrise, just from the sheer force of coffee ratting in my veins, like, at least once a week I feel something missing. Sometimes coffee. Sometimes adrenaline, sometimes anxiety.
Texts from the blog, emails about issues, awareness drives for divestment and fair trade, my phone is on permanent vibrate. And so am I.
I got tired today. Hasn’t happened in a while. Maybe more than tired.
Honestly, I know it’s weird, but for the first time in my life I think maybe like… old fishermen had it right. Like not even selling fish to anybody, but just feeding yourself and adding to the cycle of people who can eat. And the people who eat from the place where something came from, not magically dropped into our stores like by a helicopter that came from another planet.
When I think that, I feel like I’m standing on the edge of some canyon, looking down.
Maybe hungry people could feed themselves, if we let them by not channeling every the earth grows only in the direction of places where they can be bought, like it’s a fucking crime for there to be an apple tree no one owns once in a while.. Maybe everyone would feel better worrying about where their next meal comes from, after all, but not worrying because you just have to go get it. Small diets, but plenty. Dogs make do with dog food every day. Right?
I know I’m one of those people. But I don’t want to be near the Earth in some fucking hippy way. I just want to be on the Earth, because it feels like I’m in fucking outer space because food just shows up in stores and highways just carve through space and planes burn the shit out of maps, and….
You know what it feels like? Forget the canyon. It feels like there’s an alternative. Not like the stuff you can think of to do, canned alternatives, slight variations in the theme of bullshit, vote for this patriarchal bullshit deriving power from the status quo, occasionally appropriating a pretend populism when useful, buy this product that’s “natural” and “organic” and oh, yeah, secretly owned by the same six corporations who own everything else, pretending to compete with themselves so they don’t have to let ANY market share go anywhere else…like a real alternative. Wouldn’t that be something?
Like I could live, catching and eating fish, or selling fish directly to people who will take it home and eat it, from the ocean to me, to them, like I’m attached to the surface of this ball moving through space not floating above it, eating Australian fruit and South American rice like there weren’t even any goddamn oceans. Like there was an expressway from Australia to the freezer section of the supermarket.
Fuck that one power line that’s always your way so you can’t even close your eyes and imagine you’re looking at a planet that was even fucking there 100 years ago. Fuck.
Nobody sleeps. What’s there to sleep about?
Serious question: Do you think we surrender life gladly?
I mean we all fight, for as long as we can, but do you think if it’s not sudden, if you have a whole moment to realize you’ve lost, do you think you’re glad?
I don’t think of me dead, I think of my phone dead. I’m 100% serious. And they should bury the goddamn phone, too, and not me, let me be among the goddamn stars and don’t even pretend this fucking thing I’m haunting, this body, is who I was for even one minute, I’m taller than the sky.
My phone is buzzing. This time it’s Caitlin. Fucking finally.
I buzz her up. Buzz, buzz, buzz. You see?
Last night I dreamed of a deep, grey sound lapping on the shores of a dock, stars vanishing in its depths. I stood on the dock as the sun set, but it didn’t get dark, it just grew grey and light, no more stars. So deep, so gray, so beautiful, but forever, and dangerous. I don’t think dreams mean anything, but it was peaceful there. When I woke up, I knew I had to see Becky. I still can’t just come over. It’s a thing we do in private, something we plan, or something we do like we’re overcoming our better instincts, but it’s a joke. These are the best instincts I’ve ever had, and I think she feels the same way. We just feel better. Does that make sense? Like our own cabin in the woods, cause we don’t tell anybody about it?
Sometimes, at night, my fierce Becky cries and I hold her. She never says why and I never ask. But in the morning, she’s all fierce plumage and fire, my phoenix, but she lets me hold her then, too. And then I leave, and we don’t speak for days. Until we have to.
I take back what I said earlier. It’s not only dumb people who aren’t angry. The very kind, I think, aren’t angry either. It’s imaginable to be so kind that the world gets into you, and falls out, and all you feel is kind. Like being a doctor on the battlefield. And I can imagine that, but I am not that. Maybe no one is.
It takes a couple days for Becky to rub off, and for me to get lonely and think about everything I don’t have, like somebody else living inside of my skin. Then I need her, and I call her, and she lets me in.
The smell of sweat and sex. The coziest bed. A place I call home. I don’t visit too often, so it’ll always be there.
I’m lying in bed under a scratchy blanket. Becky’s asleep next to me, whatever she’ll say about it in the morning. She’s so blessed, it’s like somebody spilled strawberry gold across her pillow.
Growing up, my mom would always talk about the golden rule, treat others as you want to be treated. It took me a long time to realize it was a bunch of shit, you just end up blaming people for not treating you like you want to be treated because you’re super neurotic and they’re healthy and normal and it never occurs to them. They’re nice and polite and smart and savvy and they include you, but even though you’re an atheist you hate when people talk bad about religious people because of the priest back home, and you never want anyone to thank you because gratitude makes you uncomfortable.
But if I could, I’d wrap myself in a blanket and store myself in a closet so I’d always be there when Becky needed me. She’s perfect and gorgeous and I just want to be perfect for her. It’s the only thing that’s ever made me want to keep myself safe.
Becky’s fast asleep. She’ll lie about it in the morning, and I’ll let her.
It’s 2 am, and I’m writing an email to Caitlin, I’m telling her it’s bullshit what I’ve been doing, that I keep her on some schedule like I’m a fucking animal trainer but because I’m afraid of what this could be, and I don’t want to do it anymore. Keep her on a schedule or be afraid. Though I only have a choice about one. Okay, it’s not the most coherent email, it’s goddamn 2 am and the screen is blaring at me in the darkness like a strobe light. I ask her to move in with me. Yes, by email.
Okay, I’m lying. I wasn’t thinking about me as a kid. That just sounded smart. I was thinking of Caitlin in the parking lot, when I got that flat tire. I was watching her, watch that woman on the cell phone. I never would have. If I had a problem to deal with? I’d never have noticed whose parking lot we were in. I’m not an asshole, I just get really focused.
And just for that one second, watching Caitlin watching her, I felt like Caitlin feels, at least I think I did. I knew what she was thinking, anyway.
We’re driving and something happens and the car starts rattling as if it’s going to break apart. I don’t know what it is, but then I do, a flat tire, but who would think a flat tire would do that? We get off the highway, but there’s a nervous moment where the exit ramp merges with another exit ramp at the top of a hill, and once below the crest we’re going way slower than we’re supposed to be and we’re invisible to anybody coming up the hill, flying off the ramp, they won’t be able to stop in time.
Becks is getting nervous, I can tell and I want to comfort her but I’m no good at that. What’s comforting me is that I know we’ll die if we’re unlucky, and I know that all the time. It doesn’t matter, school shootings, bombs, I’ll admit that after that movie theater shooting I got really scared, sitting there at the next one I saw thinking this is the last way they felt, or this is the last way they felt.
It is something to know that if it happens right now I know exactly what the last thing I’ll see is, somebody’s car, somebody’s scared face, maybe the guard rail. I can’t really see it, but I can see it.
We make it off the highway and pull over into a parking lot. Becks calls someone, triple A or someone she knows I can’t tell. I set in the opened trunk and slowly I realize we’re in the parking lot of a cancer treatment center and I start feeling bad, really ad, thinking about how bad I thought my day was. Becks gets off the phone and smiles at me.
“Close call, Tiger,” she says, and I try to smile. I see a woman walking around the hospital like she’s taking laps and I know someone’s dying in there for her. Becks sees the look on my face, kisses me. “Hey, Cait, we’re okay now. It’s over.”
I smile at her wanting to take care of me , and I touch her arm, a comfortable warm jolt travelling into my shoulder. “I know,” I say. I want to say I love her, but I don’t. She sits down on the trunk next to me and blows her hair out of her face, lean and long like an athlete. There’s so much I want to say, but I can’t say anything.
“At least it’s not raining,” she says and I laugh. The woman is back on another lap, I see her drawn face, ash complexion. Who is it, a husband or a son? A mother? She seems too old. Maybe a woman like me, like us. I feel a shudder thinking of the Earth swallowing Becky, thinking she won’t live forever, which I can’t stand. But I know I’m doing it again, I’m wearing someone else’s face as my mom says. I’m that woman and someone is dying for me, rather than me ,safe in this trunk with my beautiful Becks. My edges are blurry and I’m always missing them, I can’t stop, and sometimes I can’t even remember which one I am.
The sky is a hard, hard blue. lay my head on Becky’s shoulder and she puts her arm around me. We can’t die, and we won’t. Nobody’s ever been alive like this. We’ll die if we’re unlucky, but we’re lucky.
“Aren’t we lucky,” I whisper. “Mmm?” she says, somewhere else. “Oh, yeah.” Then she hears me, and she kisses my forehead. “Lucky,” she says.
Andrew Tobolowsky is a PhD student studying the Mediterranean. He grew up in Texas, but has been to other places as well. He lives with his fiancee and a schnoodle named Pancake.