I smoke a cigarette in the parking lot behind the therapy joint.
I'm sliding-scale fucked up.
I smile as I think up that line, blow a beam of smoke up at the thunderstorm hanging tight to the sky.
I look around and wonder which car might be my therapists' car. I've never met her. I don't know who she is or what she drives. I don't know anything about her at all.
Jetta, I figure. Maybe a newer Pilot, came with the satellite radio. Heated seats. Heated fucking seats. Whatever. She has no idea. She's gonna ask me the same stuff they always ask you at the start, the things I guess they have to ask you. How do you start it all out, you know? How do you get to know a person who desperately needs you to get to know them as quickly as possible.
"Do you ever have thoughts of hurting yourself or others?"
I stand out there in all that college town humidity and I drag so much smoke down into my lungs that a year falls away from my life just like that. I get cancer right then and there. One drag/boom/done deal/I can feel it kicking in. I exhale and this time I let the smoke come out of my face all astronaut puke. It falls out of my nose and my mouth and rises up slow, gravity free. For a second there I think to myself that I should have taken a selfie. That would have been a cool catch, me and all that smoke in my eyes.
I've got three minutes. I'm a little early for the first visit paperwork. That one question keeps popping off though.
"Do you ever have thoughts of hurting yourself or others?"
Christ, what a zinger. What an M-80 lit up in my hands. No one answers that the right way. It's impossible. You say no, you're lying. You tell the truth, you're messing everything up before you even kick it off. There are levels of truth in this world, and most of them are way beyond standard human capability. We talk mostly jive. We don't say anything to each other for years on end, until the mere idea of saying something honest or real, of revealing ourself in a moment of raw truth is enough to make us crazy in the eyes of someone else forever.
"Yeah, I do," I should tell her. "Sometimes I crawl up into the warmest blankets of a shotgun blast to my skull. I know that sounds a little wonky and all, but c'mon. You know how it is! You hear the damage. You listen to the honest lies for a living. People talking, blah blah blah, getting off on their own voices and the kick of release."
She'll just sit there, twirling a pen, straight face covering up the loudest OMG in the history of the world.
"This guy is fucking CRAY CRAY!" That's what she's screaming back behind her Master's smile. And I get it. My God, that's the whole point, isn't it? The money is exchanged/the deal is done. There will be no straight-up telling you you're nuts. It will be so much more subtle than that. There is a dance to be danced and it will never end.
"Sometimes," I'll tell her/my eyes boring into her nose bridge, "Sometimes the most relaxing beautiful thought in the world to me is the embrace of the out. I think long and hard about the crossover point. A shotgun shell. My childhood memories. The little bass I caught. The baseball I used to keep in my glove to form a pocket. Looking down from my Huffy/looking down at the street flying by underneath my body/I remember everything/the swish and the whir/blind rider racing down the 9th Avenue hill/the brief cool of my sweat in reverse/the heart in my chest/my heart/my young awesome heart/pounding/free/pounding/free/no one would ever understand/forward/into the mystic/into the biscuit/me kissing this girl/me kissing that girl/the money I spent on the internet/the moment I saw her crown/my little baby being born/my promise to stop smoking on the day she arrived/me smoking a week after she arrived/I'm headed towards the curb in a flash of pale evening chrome/I have no friends/my body is so gross/I wanted so much more/how could you leave me/where is my father/why am I doing this/why have I waited so long/why now/why not/I remember the deer in the spotlight cornfield many years before you ever saw a deer's eyes like that, motherfucker/I was young and wonderful/I am older now/and wonderful in all the wrong ways/I raise my head and I slam my brakes/and I'm 11 again and I'm swerving the curb and the air is so clean and clear, so much oxygen slamming up into my brain as the buckshot moves at the speed of light and I scatter myself like autumn leaves across the interior of my dumbass CRV/everything at once/Jackson Pollack/stop calling this number/he can't pay off your credit card, dude/he took the easy way out/he took the hard way in/he is gone gone gone/so fuck you/stop calling/he is out riding his bike until the sun burns out/at least that's what he told us/so we gotta go with that, I guess."
Then I'll take a big old autumn morning out on the deck fuck you sip of my Starbucks and smile at her gently.
I might even light up a smoke right there in the office.
Because, like, honesty- real honest to God honesty- it cancels out all the other rules. No smoking means no smoking until you're really speaking the truth. At which point, let's be honest, it means:
LIGHT 'EM UP, Y'ALL.
I don't trust my own heart.
Do you trust yours?
I can't hear your answer because I'm not listening. But if I could I know what you would say. You would smirk at the question.
Or you would change the subject.
Or you would tell me you do. Or you don't.
And none of it would make any sense to me.
At Macy's I buy a couple shirts for the fall. They're cheap enough and my old shit has holes, stretched out necks. I need new duds. I take that plunge.
The girl at the counter is young, 20's, and right away we're flirting. This comes as a surprise, but you have to roll with this stuff when it comes your way. You can live for years sucking on the tit of a moment in time. I recognize that as soon as she starts asking me stuff. We talk about Philly. We laugh and we smile.
I decline the offer to open up a Macy's credit card account which would give me 20% off my purchase today. She gives me the discount anyway. She could get fired, I figure. She's a good person. I imagine spending my life with her. But we'd crash that plane in a matter of weeks and we both know it.
This is all we've got. This right here, right now. Some shirts and all this super-charged electricity and my discount and her brown eyes that hold each look for that extra second or two.
I walk out of there feeling sick about spending the dough. I can't escape that one, man. But I also have this feeling of invincibility for a few minutes.
Crossing the parking lot, I am many miles away from anything sad or mean.
I light a smoke and smoke it by my open car door. I stare up at the green summer mountains and I understand that I am going to be fine.
You'll be fine, FuckFace.
You're so alive it's scary.
The four of us are out in the sunshine of the yard. Charlie wraps his two-year-old paws around his broken green watering can and he dumps the water I gave him to dump on the flowers all over his grubby sneaks. He doesn't give a damn. He's fluid/I meant to do that/he misses no beats/and he looks up at me and smiles.
"More water! More water, Dad!"
He thrusts his can my way and I slam some more water down in there from my Hawaiian Punch jug. Charlie wastes no time. He has no regard for plants or flowers. He tips the water all over his kicks and is back asking for more.
I light a smoke and sit down on my block of wood. Henry and Violet are doing the swings, using their feet to launch them, using their feet to drag them down. We are in a pool of light right now. It's a little after 5 and I'm killing time because I'm kind of tired and it's too early for dinner.
Mowers buzz in the distance. There are vultures floating out past the woods behind the crick. I'll probably microwave some potpies. Pretty soon, I think to myself, I'm gonna be done with all this microwave bullshit. I want to feed them better stuff. I need to make them casseroles or bake a damn chicken in the oven or something. The tired will go away, I tell myself. But it could be more lies, me saying that.
I don't know if the tired ever goes away. Once it starts, I have no idea if it ever stops. People probably tell themselves what they need to tell themselves just to survive. Who knows. Who cares.
The sun is shining down.
The sun is making us all look so perfect out here in the yard. I don't know what I'd do without them.
The sun is always lighting up their faces, you know? They've got smears of ice cream down their cheeks. They've got dust from the car doors war-painted down their noses. In the crooks of their lips: Cheez-It crumbs: tiny boats/hidden coves.
I take a drag. Holy shit. My smoke forms a word as I blow it out my nose.
Okay, two words.
I don't say any of that crazy crap I was talking about before to the therapist. I don't need to. It's gone by the time I hit the AC of the lobby and start filling out my paperwork. Everything is clean and cool in here and I roll with it. I'm here because of love. I'm here to be better for them, for the kids. And for me. So I can step outside my self a little bit, maybe take the edge off of some lingering blues.
She's great. I'm great. I'm sliding scale great, anyways. But whatever. I'll take it. I'm happy to swing low. I'm happy to swing at all.
We have to. It's me in here, you know?
There's a lot to laugh at.
The kids are gone, over at their mom's.
I sit on my block of wood after I water the flowers by myself. I kick it solo. I light a smoke, lean back against the wall, and in the darkness of my squeeze-shut eyes I can smell the dinners rolling out of all the houses I blow by. I never touch the pedals, remember. I don't have to. The hill is all you need.
The rush and the buzz.
I smell pork chops. Corn nibs. I smell salisbury steak. I smell pizza from Tony and Joe's. I smell big plastic cups of Pepsi/I hear them fizzing in their final moments/the ice cubes cracking and popping/the TV set to the news.
I slam through the shimmering walls of long ago meals and I can feel my handlebars wobbling at the edge of safe. Even an old spark pug or some fat stone, even some rough and tumble dog piss stain in the street would probably hurl me to my death.
But I don't care.
I am speeding towards the park at the bottom of 9th Avenue. And I have been here before. And I will be here again. Even if that's not really true at all.
Look at me go!
Look at me!
Look at me taking that hill!
Through spaghetti steam, I fly with the quickness!
Through burnt lasagne smoke, I'm blind but I smile!
Down through cheeseburger grease/through fried chicken heat/through ten thousand miles of scalloped potatoes/I whizz past the doors of strangers/some long dead/some still out there/hurling myself at the curb that could kill me/just for one last chance to swerve it one last time at the very last second possible!
And I do.
I kill it.
I swoop back in a slow circle, the cheap Huffy in flames under my ass as I open my eyes and look out at the park, look back up at the hill, look down at my Nikes resting on the pedals, look at the birds in the sky, look at my brother on his bike behind me, look at the years to come/the mad and beautiful years that will try and wreck me as I try and wreck myself, and once again, in my slow, loose arc, I am a kid on his dirt bike, and I am heading for home with a satisfied mind.
Whatever that means.
Whatever that means.
Whatever that means, through the steam of green beans.