Essential.

Essential”
a fiction piece,
By Nicholas Hawkins

Phone, keys, wallet, cigs, lighter. Quick little wake up shot. Check the phone. Marcus is up – omw. Shit, it’s starting. Where’s the cash, fuck not enough, enough for now. Ughhh ok ok ok ok. The drive is the worst part, but at least I still have the car. My mom’s old bucket. Still can’t believe she hasn’t reported it stolen yet. 

You up? 

Yea omw to the city. 

Scoop me. 

Be outside in 5. I’m hurtin. 

Quick quick quick. Let’s go. The drive is always the worst when you’re sick. That’s when all the traffic is out. When you really need to be somewhere quickly. It starts as kind of a bubble, low in the stomach, and as the bubble gets bigger it starts to eat your insides like some parasite that feeds off of misery. The bubble grows and grows twisting and tearing at your insides. Steering wheel starting to get slick with sweat. Light a cigarette. It helps. The usual back and forth of who can get the most out of whom occurs the entire drive. I win because of the car, but only after I threaten to not provide a return trip. Marcus gets the better deal but we sort it where both of us feel like we won, and really that’s what it’s all about. Who wins or who thinks they won.

This part of the city is dying. It’s not dead yet, and when something in nature dies plenty of other things find a way to feed off of that. Red brick forming boxes around living corpses. Here to do our part. We pull into the usual spot. 

Here. 

Quick quick quick. The return trip is always the best. The city isn’t quite as depressing on the way out – I guess that’s why people who stop leaving the city are always dying. They miss the hope of getting out. If I did get any real hope upon leaving it doesn’t last long.

Quick quick quick. Stop at the McDonalds to take care of myself. Fuck there’s a line; I’ll do it in the car. This makes the return trip less fun, but I tell Marcus he has to do me first in the car on the ride. It’s tricky and the hardest part is not dying. The trick is to not close your eyes. But fuck is it hard not to. That’s why I have to go first, that way if I do close my eyes, he can slap me.

It works, the bubble goes quiet, my torn parts start to heal, my eyes get heavy, and my entire body ceases to exist. Everything goes numb, just like it’s supposed to.
———————–

i don’t know how i got here – he isn’t me, i am not him, i am hurt, scared and angry with him and with me – it doesn’t make sense why did we do this to me?
————————-

We meet on a late summer day. Tommy is my neighbor and a year or two older than I am, but that doesn’t seem to matter. We play basket-ball and although he is bigger and better than I am, he makes it fun. Tommy shows me his crossover move but I can’t dribble like he can. He tells me about the other kids on the street. He doesn’t go to the school I will go to. He goes to Catholic school. After we play basketball he invites me inside to play nintendo. He has all the newest games and a finished basement, which is a big deal. He invites me to stay for dinner, and I think my mom is happy about that. I think she wants a break. I was being difficult with the move, but I didn’t want to go. I liked our house with its faded yellow paint and black shutters, the crawl space underneath the back-porch, the big and wild backyard with its thorn-bushes, and of course my friends. So, I go to dinner. I have cous-cous for the first time. They all eat together – his whole family, a total of six, two parents, four kids, three girls and him. I can’t imagine all of that all the time. It’s better our way, with just mom and me. You don’t have to fight to talk over anyone, and she is always there listening to just me. I leave feeling I have gained a new friend and feel immensely better about the move.

The next week we officially move in. While Mom is setting things up I go outside to play. I meet all the other kids my neighbor told me about, and there are a lot that live on my block. Tommy was acting different though. We are playing football in the street, and I am not very good. One of the other kids, who is a couple of years older throws the ball too hard. It hits my hands and bounces to the ground. He laughs and then, they are all laughing. Tommy is standing next to him and they joke about how bad I am. We stay in the street playing games till it begins to get dark. I sit on the side and watch. As dusk settles onto the neighborhood, one by one the parents call the kids home for dinner. My neighbor walks over and we move toward our houses together. He never invites me over for dinner again.
————————-

Waking up in a new place is odd. At first I tremble with groggy eyes at the sight of the oppressive color of the wall paper. After a moment I relax into the familiar Space Jam sheets. Micheal Jordan’s face is crumpled in a heap at the foot of the bed, pillows are strewn across the galaxy, and dread begins to warm me like the sun on my back. It weighs as much as a thousand planets. Too bad Bugs isn’t here to help me through. He would play it cool, knowing all the right things to say and when to say them. I bet by the end of the day Bugs would be the most popular bunny in school. The room doesn’t want me here. It is bigger than my old room, but the light is different. The call is louder this time. I swing my feet off the bed and the fuzzy floor startles me. It is not the cool, dark hardwood that makes me feel secure, that helps me stand upright and tall, that provides a solid base from which to build upon. Instead, it is warm, soft, and slightly scratchy. It invites me to crumble into it, to vanish within its tiny gaps where no one will find me.
—————————


i didn’t know who i was but i knew i wasn’t like them. i didn’t know anything but i knew that meant something. i didn’t know what i wanted to do with my life but i knew i didn’t want to do what my mom had done. i didn’t know how lucky i was but i knew i was luckier than most. i didn’t like homework and rarely did it, i didn’t do well on tests because i rarely studied and i didn’t show up because i knew i had better things to do
—————————

One day, while sitting in my bed, I had the urge to write. I don’t know what I am going to say, but I just finished smoking a huge joint, and I lay on the bed wanting to weep. It’s cloudy and gray, a chilly fall day that is begging me to take an afternoon nap, but all I can think about is this insatiable urge. I have no idea what for, but something told me to write about it –this nagging, clawing, tearing weight. It pulls me into myself, and I want to cry. I look around my room for something, anything to distract me from my plight –books, video games, television, porn, more weed. Finally, my eyes fall upon the small metal sculpture on my bookshelf. My mom gave it to me as a gift one christmas. The statue is a small metal cat with ears of welded steel lightly brushed with warm orange, a body twisted and creased into a sitting position, again, lightly brushed with bright florida orange, paws expertly crafted and studded with claws sharp enough to dissect a fleeing mouse if need be, and a tail, a magnificent, cold, tube of orange and white stripes effortlessly curled into curiosity. My mom gave me the sculpture, as a gift one Christmas, and I do not want to write anymore. Just cry. When everything else is gone, I can sit and look at the sculpture. I can dream of somewhere else, and be someone else, someone who didn’t want so much, someone who does not need so much.
—————————-

time goes on and i make choice after choice until it’s no longer a choice – i need it. i need it-  i think i always needed it – most of my other shit is just to help me get it and when i feel absolutely devastated thinking about how my own life revolves around it, i need it even more – life continues
———————— 


We meet at a bar. We have one of those magical millennial romance stories. We met on 
the internet, but Hinge -so it’s classy. Her name is Caroline. We do the usual back and forth, I make her laugh, I think. I’ve always been decent at that. I ask for her number, and we make plans for later in the week. She is cuter than her pictures, and I am shy. She asks me questions about school. We both study English. We drink beers till the bar becomes noisy, then we switch to whiskey. She is wearing a pair of faded high-waisted blue jeans with frayed bottoms and black leather boots, a tight green and white striped shirt and a small silver heart around her neck. We drink until we’re drunk. We smoke a cigarette outside waiting for her car to come. She takes puffs of my cigarette. She tells me she doesn’t really smoke, only sometimes when she drinks. She passes the cigarette back to me and we both fall silent. Her car arrives, I open the door and walk home in the chilly night. 

Our second date is also at a bar. I got off work early and Caroline texts me she could use a beer, and I could use one too. We meet on the upper west side at a quiet dive bar where you can get a shot and a beer for five dollars. We talk about nothing, but in a good way because we stay for hours. Last call comes and we head out into the cold. The first snowfall of the year is quietly drifting down, and I offer to walk her home. We stroll along the park, taking our time, making jokes, smoking, laughing, and enjoying the briskness, fighting the drunk warmth on our exposed skin.

Caroline tells me she wants to be an actress. She doesn’t care if she is famous, she just wants to make enough to live. She’s applying to grad school, and preparing her monologues. She says her strongest monologue is Romeo. I ask to hear it. She makes me stand on a bench as if I am Juliet in the balcony. Oh that I were a glove upon that hand! I reach down and pull her on top of the bench with me. That I might touch that cheek. As she says it, I move her hand to my cheek. Her fingers are freezing. We kiss.

I walk home feeling giddy. I text my friends to tell them that I have peaked romantically. That no other kiss will ever compare.
——————- 

And now we’re here.

Sitting at one of those flimsy metal tables with flimsy chairs outside the airport starbucks. All these people guzzling down their jet fuel only so they can obnoxiously get up and pee five times on their two hour flight to sunny Florida. These are the type of people who are on a nine a.m. flight to Miami in the first two weeks of December. The obnoxious kind. The kind that can escape the cold of New York for a winter spent in the sunshine state. The type that drink iced caramel oat milk lattes and have designer pet luggage for their emotional service dog. Don’t get me wrong I fucking love dogs and by no means am I ever mad about there being a dog anywhere I happen to be. I just don’t want that dog to be better dressed than I am, or have a carrier that costs double my rent to piss and shit in.

Anyway all these terrible people and Caroline. 

I guess she’s kind of terrible too. Terrible in a way that is entirely human. Terrible in the way that her plan for life didn’t match up with mine, and to be happy one has to follow their own plan.

I’ve never made a real plan. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to deal with her plan not matching mine because I really didn’t have a plan and was just going along with hers. So, when this job offer came that involved her moving to Los Angeles, I just figured we’d sort it out. I would go along with the plan.

Problem is, when you don’t make a plan, someone else does. And she did.
I just didn’t happen to be in it. 

Caroline says I don’t listen. I am not present. Not that I’m not physically present, but emotionally and mentally. She says she knows I am using more, and that’s why she can’t stay and I can’t come. I need to figure it out, she says. If I don’t love myself I won’t ever be capable of loving or receiving love.

She says I love you, gathers her bags and neck pillow, and walks toward the gate.

I hit the bathroom to celebrate the freedom from expectation and mourn the loss of love.
———————-

he was good everyone else had problems but not him, problems with the way he treated them, problems with the way he spent his money, problems with the way he spent his time, problems with the people he spent it with, that’s why they were in this musty dilapidated building- it used to be a post office, now old paper littered the floor decomposing as its tenants slowly died in the dry corners – the good times of cars, money, girls and fun were gone now. the only thing he had that was worth anything was a heavy coat- it was important to have a heavy coat with lots of pockets – sometimes he would fall out in strange places and wake to people searching through his clothes, he couldn’t muster the energy to fight them off so he needed good hiding spots
—————————-

When they bring you back it’s the worst.

All those terrible feelings and the bubble come back instantly. Sweat immediately begins to pour out of you and other fluids aren’t far behind. 

He was so mad. Why did you bring me back? He demanded to know. I do not want to be here anymore.

Unfortunately, he no longer had options. He had closed all the doors because he needed to. If other doors had been open, he would have been tempted to walk through them. the part of his life he kept to himself forced him to put all of his energy into one door that led nowhere. A door that opened up onto a black abyss that held all the promise of the unknown and all the emptiness of nothingness. He had to find out though, had to explore that darkness and find nothing for himself. Problem is, when you find nothing, you don’t know you’ve found it. You think you haven’t found anything and keep searching for something. He kept going back and prodding the darkness, hopeful he could stir something into existence. He wanted to keep going, but when he woke his mother was there. 

She told him she couldn’t watch him die. I felt the pain inside me. He scoffed, told her it wouldn’t happen to him. He knows what he is doing. I don’t know. His instincts know what to do. It’s easier to give up control to him.

She read a letter she had written. Her therapist said it would be helpful to write out her feelings and tell him. She had long cut him off, but couldn’t completely let me go. I couldn’t let go either, but he could. He needed to go back into the darkness where no one could see him, and only he could judge himself.

When I left the hospital that time I died, I knew it was the last time. He wouldn’t let me go back. We couldn’t go back. The only thing left to do was to go deeper into the darkness.

 

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