The downstairs is scary in the dark and empty. A boy whispers this in my ear, leaning in, it’s summer, he’s drunk, and I’ve been coked up for about a month, haven’t slept in a week, my feet hurt, my toes mostly, my nose too, and I nod when he says it and we stand there staring past each other. I’ve seen him before, he works at some store in town that sells videos, it closes at 9:00pm every night, and he looks like a guy from one of my previous classes, the one about Sylvia Plath, maybe. He also looks like someone I saw on vacation, with my family, in South Carolina, 3 years ago, at a restaurant on the beach as the sun was setting. A little like my father, and maybe someone from middle school too.
Summer. I spend a lot of time driving because I don’t want to go home. I always have the radio on and I switch stations when the news comes on and one night I drive on a road surrounded by corn, it looks like a tunnel, my headlights spreading out in front of the car, terribly smoothly, my windows down, it’s humid, sweating, thick, I fall asleep at the wheel for a couple seconds, and I feel like I’m falling. I wake up, see myself in the rearview mirror, my eyes are hollow and sunken and black, my face stark, pale, vacant, blank, barren white, I’m cold, the air dry and lifeless, and I think I’ve died and become a ghost. Drifting. I’m frightened. I drive home. Stare out my window. Dog barks. Breeze.
I drive to an amusement park in Ohio, to meet somebody, it’s early and the sun hasn’t risen, the sky just beginning to lighten, it’s pink, the song finishes and I forget to switch the station so I hear about a boy, 18 years old, found cut up in the woods in southern Indiana, stabbed 17 times, missing a hand, they think it’s drug-related, and a girl jumped off some bridge in Kentucky, survived but broke all her bones and for some reason can’t speak anymore. A man released from prison after 6 years of being wrongly accused killed himself. I look in my rearview mirror again and my eyes are red and scratchy and empty-looking. I’m crying. No great loss. Keep going. Red eyes are scary in the dark and empty.
In a bathroom, there’s writing on the stalls and some has almost been completely rubbed off and it’s suddenly very important that I find out what it says and I sit and stare at it for a long time, hours, months, years maybe, but I can only make out a few letters and the word “sending” so I pull out a sharpie and write “love” so it says “sending love” then I leave.
I have a recurring dream, once a week, or maybe it’s once a night, where I run under a red sky through neighborhoods and playgrounds and school parking lots and corn fields and highways and cities for years and years before ending up alone, at the top of an empty dirty gray parking garage, looking at a black sky. No stars, no clouds, no…In the dark and empty…I also dream I get swallowed by an octopus.
I get a call from…Don, a boy from college, great teeth – clean, shiny, neat, straight, white, and at some point I say “show must go on” and he says “I’m trying, baby”, and I don’t know what he means so I don’t say anything and we’re silent, breathing, then he asks what classes I’m taking next year. I’m trying, baby.
Get up one night and walk to a bridge. The water is too fast. Come home late and my mother is sitting in the living room, smiles at me, doesn’t say anything. Walk upstairs.
I light cigars that I find in the back of a drawer in my room. I stole them from my grandparents’ house in 7th grade, and I don’t smoke them, but I let them smoke because I know the smell will piss off my mother. No great loss. She told me one of my friends from elementary school, Ashley, died of cancer while I was away at school, I remember in 4th grade I told Ashley that she had really beautiful handwriting, but when my mother tells me all I can think is, “Why are you telling me this?” I now think of a boy, Anthony, who in 7th grade science class told me to “never change”, and I was never sure what he meant by that, but it always made me happy anyway, though I wonder if I have changed, or if I should. I hope Anthony is very happy. I’m trying, baby. I don’t know where he went. I worry. I think he may be dead. Probably dead. If not now, soon. He was sad in high school. Why are you telling me this?
I meet a short, pretty girl from St. George, Utah, who says she is here visiting her Aunt and Uncle because her father’s getting off drugs or alcohol or something, and she tells me she once went to a haunted farmhouse where she felt crazy alive but she’d never go back, and she’s always wished people would pay more attention to the clouds, and I hang out with her for a couple weeks. She tells me she thinks the movie Fright Night is fantastic because “it gets the vibes of a lost and unloved generation that never learned and never grew up” and I stop talking to her. I hang out with a guy with insanely curly hair and glassy blue eyes from Lafayette, who wears leather jackets, black skinny jeans, rides a motorcycle that he once crashed because he was going too fast in the rain, and after we sleep together he shows me clusters of little pink scars all over his body where bone chips and glass and gravel were picked out of him piece by piece in a hospital under bright fluorescent lights with his mother, crying, sitting in a plastic chair, him lying on a cushioned table, laughing, the neat, handsome blond doctor (I know this because he tells me) slowly extracting evidence of the event from his soft white penetrated flesh. He says he liked it, loved it, wished it’d been worse, but he looks sad. Scared? Dazed, mostly dazed, glassy, when he says it, and then he says he never wants to die…What will he do?
Dazed. Jumpstart. Melting bones. I ride on the back of the motorcycle with him, feeling free then feeling nothing. Never see him again. A girl, Margaret, maybe Marie, with long blonde glossy hair, who wears bell-bottom jeans, the bottoms torn and dirty, who likes to paint flowers that are flat and quite ugly, who reads poetry by Mary Oliver, who thinks James Dean is pretty cool, gives me some acid, and I see Satan in my mirror and he tells me not think about the water buffalo, tells me I should just try to roll, rock ‘n’ roll ‘n’ roll ‘n’ roll ‘n’ roll ‘n’ roll, and I say, I’m trying, baby, trying baby, trying baby, trying baby, then we stare at each other in the dark, eyes glinting, breathing heavy, and I’m sweating, shaking, panting, until the girl bangs on the bathroom door and he disappears. Later the girl asks if I like her paintings and I say, “They’re beautiful,” and we both know I’m lying but she seems satisfied and we both smile and laugh. She’s nothing. Water buffalo? Blurry. I talk to a boy wearing a punk band T-shirt who asks me if I’ve “ever thought about the way buildings deteriorate without anybody trying to fix them” and I sleep with him in the back of my car. Heavy breathing. I think about Holden Caulfield hating the word “fuck”. I fuck a guy who wears red high-tops. Guy I know from high school, from AP English class, nice eyes, goes to school in Wisconsin, takes me out one night and we sit in his car in a parking lot under a streetlight, he’s studying Psychology, and I ask him about dreams and he says, bright green eyes looking at me, that dreaming about parking garages symbolizes despair and lack of possibility, and running in dreams means you’re trying to escape your reality, your waking life, then he turns, and looking out the window at the woods, or maybe at his reflection, or maybe at fireflies, laughs bitterly, says, “But, I guess we’re running in real life, too.” He sighs, laughs again, wanly this time, and says, “Reality. Dreams. All bullshit, anyway, isn’t it? Ha. Isn’t it, darling? Ha.” Yes? Nothing…
At a party someone says, “This is just the beginning.” Someone else says, “Yeah, you drag them along.” Another says, “I’m just trying to roll.” Another says, “Well.” Another says, “Who was the man? That motionless man?” Another says, “Comes in threes, am I next?” Another says, “Are we all gonna make it?” Another says, “
Someone told me once that…I said that…Didn’t know? Never cared?
I lie under the stars one night and try to fall asleep, but the wind sounds strange, the trees start trembling, shaking, I’m scared, I go inside, stare at my ceiling for hours before drifting into sleep. I wake up every hour or so. I get up once and stare at myself in the bathroom mirror, stand in one place, motionless for so long that I can’t feel my legs anymore, I’m floating, and I go back to bed and stare at the ceiling again. I have become like a bird alone on a roof. I spend a whole day walking in one direction…There’s a deer lying dead on the side of the road, but I don’t look, I quickly turn away, seeing only a flash of red and a long pink tongue. Trembling. A bee crawls on the hot metal picnic table in front of me and it’s dying so I bring it a dandelion and it slowly climbs onto the yellow weed, lies down and dies. Then I’m sobbing, people looking, staring somehow harshly, and I’m afraid to get up, to stand up, to leave the table, so I just sit and cry and look at the bee but it starts raining, pouring, hard, everyone runs to their cars and I do too. We sit and watch. Drifting. I hit a fox and I get out of the car, wondering if I should do anything with the body, guts spilling out, falling out, pouring out, cooking on the burning black asphalt. Quivering. Coke. Motel. Outside. Cigarette. Drive. Drive past a barn that’s been set on fire, orange, yellow, red, smoke rising in the middle of a field, green sky, storm rolling in, thunder. Wavering. I pass a couple making out at a stop sign and I briefly, vaguely, wonder if either is a vampire. I go to the movies. I go out to eat. I go hiking. I read a book. I read a poem that makes no sense. No great loss. Sit by a pool until my skin burns and peels away revealing more of the same. Go to a party. Another party. Another party. Another party. Smells like mud. I take my little sister to ice cream after I find her crying in the kitchen and we don’t speak. I keep going.
I’m in a car with someone and I ask them where we’re going, and they say it doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter.
People are scared of the dark and empty.
I’m trying, baby.
“…nothing left to do but run, run, run…”
Summer’s almost gone.
Blessing Culver was raised, and lives, in Indiana and is a student at Hanover College. She is studying Art and English and hopes, one day, if possible, to make a living doing something creative.