I have convinced my plant—a rebellious little ficus—to curl at the mention of my ex’s name. Nevermind the sun; relationships tell her to stretch or wilt.
And on Sundays, when I curl up at the window pane with sad six packs of senseless beer, I look at her and realize: she’s quite sensitive for a plant made of rubber and plastic.
You think I joke but I don’t. I live on the corner of Central and hell, near a 7-Eleven which screams with crazies after 10, above four bearded homeless women who have a fondness for Jack, and next to an ex-gay veteran with a peculiar love of Axe and ketosis. He eats nothing but chicken and hard-boiled eggs. I gave him a leftover peanut butter cookie from Safeway once and he threw it in my face. We don’t talk anymore. Much.
On the one hand, I have an excuse for not getting my homework done. On the other, I’m tempted to leave—n the middle of the night. Except, nobody cares in this city, after 12, near a weeded old bus station, if black people get raped. I’ve seen it twice, you know. I’ve been asked to participate—hold her down, keep him tied up. Nobody can see, they say. The bearded vet, the octoganarian. The street lights are dimmer than people think.
You have to understand, I grew up in Kansas. On a farm. The kind John Denver likes to sing about—or did, before the fucker smoked his way to the grave. Sunshine on his shoulders, one last time.
It was sunny every day. Happy every day. Pigs and cows and corn every day. Nothing ever changed. Even the dogs sensed boredom and buried their mangey mutt heads in the hay. I came to the city to get away from all that. But I think I got more than I bargained for. I’m not sure I’d go back, though—not yet.
Two days ago, I left class in a storm of fury. I failed a test—one of the many I spent hours studying for above the Jack-loving bearded women, next to the red-hot vet, inside a dilapidated old hole on the corner of Central and hell. It wasn’t just any test. It was the GREs—the kind of white boy bullshit you put up with in towns like these. In countries like these. And I failed it. In other words, college was where life stopped for me. 34 years dreaming of being a college professor—of those frayed tweed jackets and unnecessary umbrellas, of telling know-it-alls they don’t know shit—and it all disappeared.
It was a quiet night that Thursday. The sky was black in the middle of winter, dark beyond recognition. And the street lights, dimmer than dim, couldn’t outline a face if they tried. At first I bummed a cigarette off a hobo. It had been through the rounds, sucked into lungs more weary than mine. But I saturated every last stench of tobacco.
Then liquor—anything alcohol. As I walked up Central, I stumbled by a homeless man, half asleep, half drunk, half dead. He clutched his half-empty bottle of Jack like an ill-gotten child. But I snatched, and ran. In a semi-straight line. I splashed my face with the whiskey, racing with my heart toward the corner of Central and hell.
I saw the bus stop come into view. It was early—8 or so—but it was dark just the same. Everything was the same. Always the same. And who would come to that stop anymore? Where weeds grow through the slats of the bench and the sign was scratched away by wind and hail. Who would risk their life for a bus?
I hobbled over to it, somehow soaked in the alcohol, and feeling a rush of adrenaline. I saw the old man and the vet pin her down, pin her straight against the slats, pressing down against the persistent weeds. I walked up to them both and I stared.
The darkness shrouded my thinking. And the alcohol cloaked my better self, so I followed their hands when they motioned. I walked toward them. Behind them. I watched them spread her legs for me, watched them hold down her bruised arms for me. I saw their smiles faintly glimmering in the dim street lights, the beard shaking in black and gray, the fiery red eyes coaxing me toward her. I looked down, barely able to stand upright, and I saw what every teenage boy wants to see. There, in the flash of a moment, I ran through memories and wishes on the farm, I ran through fields lusting, I ran through moments sitting in the high stalks where I found my manhood. And I dreamed of something like this. Something. Like this.
When I looked up to see the sky, I felt my stomach lurch up through my body and spew out over woman and bench, old man and vet, weed and cement. The last thing I remember, I spun around in a whimsical circle and collapsed on the dimly-lit pavement. When I woke in the frosty morning sunshine, my eyes crept up to my window where the ficus was sitting, curled and dead.