It’s strange that in just 10 short years, an ostensibly modern era can feel so separate. There’s a generation of people who can now say they’ve grown up with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the anointed New York early-2000s indie-rock scene had a defiant, exciting sense of nowness. But in 2013, with Karen O in her mid-30s, Fever to Tell has become something we can look back on. Those songs don’t just hold our attached memories, they represent an entire bygone world. Whether these feelings are invented or organic, Fever to Tell already seems so distant, and up for our interpretations.
Feature artwork by Cap Blackard
Click the arrow to continue to the first story…
BY LUKE WINKIE
Man I’ve got a fast car. You don’t even know. It’s got spikes and chrome and big black wheels, I soak up the asphalt like a bruise. That’s ‘cause I’m rich, I got the stars and the moons jingling from my keys. I feel them on my leg, and I feel you getting smaller and smaller in my mirrors. I pump up the volume and shift back the seat, drink a little something from a Styrofoam cup. Don’t even start with me, bro, I’m rich.
That inheritance is coming. Just a couple more years man, it’ll all be mine, at least it’s gonna be. Those other cats think they got a fortune delivery, but those other cats ain’t rich like me.
Got my girlfriend now. She’s all dusky and red and full of flirty little chemicals, I like the way she looks at me, she likes the way I mold her skin. She keeps scratching on my thigh with her baby index finger. She likes those other boys, but she loves me the most. That’s because I’m rich. I make her rich all day and night.
Haven’t moved for the last 12 hours. Took a mulligan today, curled up in the darkness and blasted off. Need to remember to close my eyes. Need to remember to touch the water. Need to remember to breathe. Roommates making a ruckus, they’ll be first against the wall when I’m rich.
A rough couple of nights, a rough couple of days, hard to feel my face. Toes are tingling. Hazy where I fell asleep, a total mystery where I woke up. Can’t wait for that inheritance, gonna stack my coins like pillars on the table.
I’m in the club, I’m always in the club. You just gotta be rich – shrink down and slip on by. See my girlfriend doing her thing. She ain’t looking at me right now, but she will be soon. Order a coke and rum, spend $16, it don’t matter I’m rich. Wait for the girl to come over. Still not looking at me. I wave. Still not looking at me. It’s cool, she’s doing her thing. Sometimes that’s just how it be.
Walk out of the club, feeling dizzy and clean. Sky opens up and speaks to me, get down on my knees. I’m the commissioner of this alley, it’s holy matriarch, I say a few prayers and watch the world smile back. I get these blessings on the regular, I deserve them, I’m so fucking rich.
Scream bloody murder. I don’t got a gun but I look like I do. Can’t get the register open so I pull the whole thing out with me. A handful of sweettarts too. A handful of glazed donuts too. Hands are goddamn freezing. Throw the cash machine in the side door. I’ve got a fast car. You don’t even know. Blaze through the streets. Heading to Johnny’s place. Turn up the radio, Johnny’s dead. Things are popping off now. Things are getting tense now. Chopper looking at me weird, lights all around. Cuffs around my wrists now. Headed toward the impound.
Don’t know any phone numbers, don’t have any friends. Can’t believe that Johnny’s dead. Little concrete box and a shrinkwrapped bed. I’m so rich though, they don’t even know. Blue-suits passing by, they can’t take my inheritance. Just thing about the inheritance. Always thinking about the inheritance. Curl up in the darkness. I’m so rich.
“Date With The Night”
BY ELI WATSON
Gloria Morris stares at a fire she helped create. Pieces of burnt paper ascend into a night sky. Gloria inhales slowly, as if these breaths were her last.
Maybe they were.
Maybe they were the final breaths of an adolescent girl coming into her own. Introspection is interrupted: “Gloria! Come on girl!” This voice, calm and assertive, was not familiar to Gloria. Where was the girl whose timid voice often disappeared in crowded hallways where lockers slammed, chiseled-bodied athletes bragged about their “fuck of the week” and teachers cheered on students “to finish the year off successfully”?
Gloria jumps in the backseat of the girl’s blue and white Mini Cooper. The girl steps on the pedal as another girl in the passenger seat smiles at the orange and red flames roaring in the still night. The tires screech, the speakers pop — not a word is said. “The night isn’t over yet y’all,” yells the girl in the passenger seat.
It’s 12:00. “Usually I am asleep by now,” Gloria thought. Pages upon pages of class notes and assignments, along with her mother’s sternness, had essentially made Gloria a recluse. But this was not involuntary — Gloria never found herself curious by the weekend recaps discussed every Monday morning. Even the most detailed retellings of a friend vomiting on a party host’s parent’s luxury car, received unenthused responses from Ms. Morris. However, curiosity had finally presented itself: what would the rest of this night hold?
The Mini Cooper rolls to a stop before a red light but Gloria’s mind continues to race. Scattered parts of the day disappear as quick as they appear.
“Fuck, finally this year is done. Graduation and summer time bitches!”: Clark Madison, all-star quarterback, high school superstar and “sexting” mastermind. (It’s rumored that he has nude pics of every senior cheerleader on his phone.)
“Gloria, I expect greatness from you. Your mother must be so proud of you graduating valedictorian, and going to college on a full ride. I look forward to hearing all about your successes.”: Mrs. Hill, English teacher, devout optimist and diehard Radiohead fan. (“If you think about it guys, Hail to the Thief is essentially a dedication to George Orwell’s 1984.”)
“Glory! Come to my party later tonight. You never go out–always have your head in a book. You’ve worked your ass off, now it’s time to celebrate!”: Elias Pitt, weed enthusiast, “the guy everyone is cool with” and my crush since freshman year.
“All right girl here’s the plan. Lily brought her car 2 school 2day, so you’ll tag along w/us once the bell rings. Ask ur mom if u can spend the night at my house. We’ll just hang out until it’s time to go to Elias’ party. Girl…U KNO HE WANTS U RIGHT? LOL JK OK NOT JK’ING!”: Eleanor Reese, competent speller (her text messages can be misleading), mischief maker and one of my best friends.
“Of course you can spend the night, darling! You have earned it. What time should I expect you home tomorrow? I bet Lily and Eleanor are so excited to finally get you out of the house. But you’re living proof honey–hard work does pay off! XOXO”: Danielle Morris, slow (but getting progressively better) texter, my greatest enemy and my greatest friend. (And my mother, obviously.)
“Hello Ms. Valedictorian! Come on! We got some thangs to do before Elias’ party.”: Lily Ruth, soft-spoken angel, occasional drinker and my other best friend.
The light flashes green; Gloria is welcomed back to the present. The wheels begin to roll again, just as Gloria’s mind finally comes to a stop. She looks at Eleanor, who’s on her phone sending a picture of the fire they made, to some guy named “James Babe.” (Gloria correctly assumes that James’ last name is not “Babe.”)
Eleanor’s phone screen flashes, illuminating her cherry-red lips. “It all happened so quickly,” Eleanor thought to herself. It wasn’t planned. It just happened.
“PARK CLOSED BETWEEN THE HOURS OF 10 P.M. – 4 A.M.,” read one park sign.
“NO CAMPFIRES,” read another.
Leaves and small twigs broke underneath the weight of the Mini Cooper, as Lily drove to a more-secluded part of the park.
Lily parked the car. The girls stepped out. They took several steps before sitting around a self-made fire pit. (James is quite the handyman.)
Pieces of burnt wood took up the pit’s center, most of it still burnable. Lily remembered she had a half-full container of lighter fluid in the trunk of her car (“Thanks, Senior Ditch Day”) and went to get it. Once Lily returned she sprayed the fluid on the wood. Eleanor immediately lit up the wood with a match, the fire crackling loudly as if to express its sovereignty over the pieces of lumber.
They talked: “I am going to miss you guys so much,” “Oh my God, Eleanor! You did that in class,” “Remember when we shared the same profile song on Myspace?” They laughed, staring at each other with admirable eyes. Eyes that provided a much deeper and unspoken conversation. A conversation of worries, fears and uncertainties about the future. Will we always be friends? Blink. Will we never grow apart? Blink. Will we still call on each other when life becomes too much to handle? Blink. Will we ever have a moment like this again? Blink.
The fire began to die out. “Yo, I’m not ready to leave yet,” said Lily. “Do we have anything we can burn?”
Without thought Gloria stood up, ran to Lily’s car, grabbed her backpack and returned to the fire. Inside her backpack were those pages of class notes and assignments, that took precedence over her social life. (And took refuge in her school locker.) She started from the bottom, throwing about 20 papers in the fire, papers tainted by large and blood-red A’s and B’s. The fire could care less about the grades; the sacrifice was enough to keep it going for 10, maybe even 15 minutes.
But Gloria could not stop. It was as if she was possessed: one, two, five, 10, 18, 29, 35. The papers fell gracefully into the mouth of the fire, overwhelmed by the relentlessness of the flames. Lily and Eleanor ran to get their backpacks and immediately joined Gloria once they returned. Valentine’s Day letters, class doodles, documents with forged parent signatures, crude drawings of teachers, incomplete assignments–nothing was not fed to the fire.
It almost seemed as if the paper genocide would never end. But what began with Gloria would end with Gloria. In her hand was the final paper: a letter from her school declaring that she was this year’s valedictorian.
She hesitated. This document essentially encompassed all that she had worked for, and all that she had sacrificed. It was worth it, right? Right? Gloria’s indecisiveness frightened her. She had adhered to the rules bestowed upon her by her mother and teachers. And in her hand was the result: this paper that several years down the road no one would probably give a shit about.
Gloria couldn’t understand where this newfound skepticism came from.
But Lily and Eleanor knew. They could see the answer in Gloria’s troubled eyes: devotion. Gloria had devoted all she could to receive what was in her hand. In four years she had learned about everything that didn’t matter, and nothing that did matter: herself.
But a solution began to present itself in a smile appearing on Gloria’s face. She let the paper go; not out of anger or frustration, but curiosity. She watched the final paper burn, remorselessly engulfed by the dying flames. The paper was gone but she continued to stare into the fire. “What’s next,” Gloria asked herself. “Where do things go from here?” There were no answers to these questions. No book, no class, nothing that could provide an answer for Gloria’s existential inquiries. And yet, the 18 year-old, soon-to-be college student found comfort in this. Comfort in questions that would take her entire life to answer. Comfort in the unknown.
“Gloria! Come on girl,” yelled Lily.
“And now we’re here,” Gloria said aloud, smiling at the image reflected in her mirror: Elias’ house. It was quiet. A few rumbles from speakers inside the house would occasionally escape to the outside, and some conversation from the backyard could be heard. But for the most part it seemed pretty tame. (Which made sense. Elias’ neighbors were notorious for reporting parties. “Most of them are old ass people that probably just eat Raisin Bran,” was how Elias described them on more than one occasion.)
Eleanor knocks on the front door.
A few seconds pass. Then, reluctantly, Elias opens the door. “Well, look who it is,” Elias says with a relaxed smile. “And here I thought you were a group of party-crashing cops.” The girls laugh and enter. Gloria enters last, batting her eyes coyly at Elias. The inside is fairly full: seniors from our school and other schools talking and dancing. Elias leads the girls outside. Everyone looks up but only Clark is brave (or drunk) enough to say what is now on everyone’s mind: “Holy shit! Gloria is at a party? Ms. Valedictorian is here?!” The addition of several I’s, A’s and N’s in “valedictorian” confirms to everyone that Clark is drunk.
“Yes, I am here,” says Gloria coolly. “This is history in the making. Cement it in your memory, or right next to my picture in your yearbook. Take your pick.” Everyone laughs; Elias hands Gloria and her friends a beer. The eyes of many are still on Gloria as she sips from her can. Her presence was a distraction; the recluse had emerged from somewhere unfamiliar to her peers. They knew something was different. But what?
“It’s her look,” said Penelope Jones (the school’s cheer captain) to Jane Smith (the school’s co-captain and Jones’ gossiping cohort). “The black boots, the charcoal black pants, the band t-shirt (it’s the album art for Sonic Youth’s Goo), the red lipstick, the hair down and no glasses. She cleans up well,” evaluated Penelope.
Gloria was unaware of the eyes watching her every move. She was only focused on one person: Elias. Of course she found Elias handsome: semi-long black and straight hair, hazel eyes, a semi-muscular build and dime-sized gages. But she always enjoyed their conversations, whether they be amusing (“Who do you think Madonna preferred kissing more? Britney or Christina?”) or mundane (“Fuck this invasion of Iraq.”).
Tonight’s topic: “Have you ever thought what comes after this? What comes after high school,” Elias asked Gloria. Gloria, who drank her beer quickly (and was requesting another) turned to Elias in a surprised manner. Did Elias know? Was his intuition that great? Am I only thinking like this because I’m drunk? Am I drunk? I might be drunk. Whatever.
Outward, Gloria kept her cool. “I actually thought about this before I came here,” she responded. “Ideally, success will come after this. A life of happiness and prosperity. The stuff people usually want, you know?” She must have said something correct; Eleanor handed Gloria another cup of beer while making a “ding” noise.
Elias laughed. “Honestly, I’m a little bit scared. I mean, the real world is a horrible fucking way of describing this next part of our lives. But whatever it is, I’m actually nervous about it.”
“Me too,” replied Gloria. “Me too.” Before the two could continue Clark and his “fuck of the week,” a girl by the name of Jamie Ross (supposedly a first-year college student), asked them if they wanted to play beer pong. “Are you game, Elias,” teased Clark. “Sure. Just hope you’re ready to get that ass whooped,” responded Elias confidently. Elias grabbed Gloria’s hand and followed Clark and Jamie inside to the kitchen.
After this the rest of the night became a blur for Gloria. According to Lily, the most sober between Gloria and Eleanor (and probably the most sober person at the party), Gloria did the following in no particular order: lost to Clark and Jamie at beer pong (who becomes a beer pong MVP after drinking the “right” amount, apparently), snatched a cigarette from Eleanor, kissed Elias, drank eight beers, told the DJ to put on some song by some band named the “Yeah Yeah Yeahs,” kissed Elias and almost threw up in Lily’s car.
Of course pictures would end up on someone’s Myspace some time today. And conversation of Gloria’s night would be retold and discussed through hazy memories. But Gloria wasn’t worried about that. And even if she was, the early symptoms of a hangover would serve as a distraction.
“But did you have fun though,” asked Eleanor, handing Gloria a cup of water.
Too weak to talk, Gloria motioned her head back and forth, which only added to the pain in her head.
The world is a fucking hangover waiting to happen. The thought made her laugh.
It was a laugh like none she had before. A painful and joyful laugh. A real laugh.
BY ANDREW UZENDOSKI
Sometime between Everclear and the Decemberists, Jeff Hartnett booked concerts for various regional record labels throughout the northwestern United States. A couple of the labels are still around, but I don’t think he has promoted anything since an ill-fated Dwarves tour in the mid 2000’s. These days he mostly distributes wine to regional Costcos. In his off time, he curates his Portland home as an archive of orphaned, out-of-print, mid 90’s college rock CD and Vinyl catalogs, the forgotten cousins of the Silver Jews and Yo La Tengo. But he still sleeps with baristas and bike mechanics — an indie rock pension of sorts — which, I guess, includes me.
Jeff insists he still has contacts. This spring he convinced me to let him book a tour of the “Northwest,” my first solo tour as Hannah Cass, while skipping Washington and Oregon completely. My Facebook bio says that I am a steward of a supposed Northern Pacific coast tradition of folk singers spawned by punk parents. Somehow, Jeff says, it sounds more punk than “punk rockers spawned by folk parents.” (I guess by being less accurate.) So Jeff and I embarked on our GREAT MIDNORTHWEST TOUR OF AMERICA: Idaho, Montana, North and South Dakota, and then back around through Omaha, Denver, and Salt Lake City.
The long flat stretch from the city limits of Billings to a couple hills just above Fargo must be the worst straight line that the Federal government ever commissioned. At least the desolate stretches between Nebraska and Nebraska have Bruce Springsteen songs named after them and the occasional large boulder to look at towards the west. But on Interstate-94, you drive through — not past or around or underneath — but right through Theodore Roosevelt National Park and you don’t see a thing. Not one tree. Not one, I don’t know, prairie dog or prairie dog hole. Not even one stump. You just see a sign off of I-94 that says “Welcome to Theodore Roosevelt National Park” and a few mounds of rolled up soil. That’s it — and a national park passes by your window somewhere behind junior glaciers of dirt.
But we didn’t make it to Denver. Not even Bismarck.
A series of knocks against our car woke us up early in the morning after our show in Dickinson, North Dakota. We had slept in the parking lot of “Legends of the North” the venue we played the night before. It was billed as the premier hole-in-the-wall bar on the outer margins of the Bakken Shale oil reserves. The knocking was all in stereo: multiple fists against both passenger’s side and driver’s side windows.
“Don’t move,” a man directed at us from outside the car. He repeated the words: “Don’t move.”
Jeff was sleeping behind the driver’s while I was lying in the back, my legs curled beneath his reclined seat. My face was buried in the crease of the back seat, avoiding the sun’s early morning bleach.
“Who’s there?” I asked into the crease.
“I said don’t move,” the man said again, POLICEMANlike in his agitated patient repetition of authority. “Do not move.”
I remained there with my head buried in the seat when I heard the driver’s door open and Jeff was forced out. I then felt the reverberations of his body pressed against the outside frame of the car. Finally the back door on the opposite side of the car opened and the voice asked me to show him my hands and then exit the car.
There were half a dozen policemen in the parking lot. A couple of them had Jeff’s body splayed against the side of the car while a few others searched the car. POLICEMAN, the one who had been doing all the “do not move” talking, was standing next to me.
“So, what was he planning on doing with that gun?” He asked with his hand was on my back. He was looking at me as I looked through the passenger side window at a gun lying naked on the seat. POLICEMAN explained that some old man had called the Dickinson police department to report a suspicious car outside of “Legends of the North” with a man sleeping inside of it with a gun. The gun was usually out of sight — in the glove compartment or underneath the seat or in the trunk — but on nights where we couldn’t find accommodations, Jeff kept it close to him while we slept in the car.
Jeff looked over at me from above the car’s top as a policeman interrogated the lower half of his body. “It was for protection,” I answered.
POLICEMAN walked me into “Legends of the North,” not more than seven hours after I finished my set last night. Apparently they served breakfast as well as beer. He offered me a seat at the bar, where he instructed me to remain patiently. POLICEMAN said they would likely have to take Jeff back to the department and hold him at least for the night. No permit, carrying a gun in public, some other minor offenses. But we might still be able to work something out, he added as he left me at the bar.
The bar was almost completely empty.
“He’s going to ask you to fuck him when he get’s back.” I looked up at the bartender. She was the same one who was working behind the bar during our show last night. “But maybe you’ll just have to suck him off.”
She didn’t need to put it in writing for me, not this early in the morning.
“What, do you sleep here in the back of the bar?” was all I could say in response. I ascribed her unsolicited assessment of my POLICEMAN situation to lazy provincialism and an off-white tank top worn three days in a row.
“You should know how things work here,” she countered. “Most of the local cops left the department to work for the gas companies. And now we’re stuck with Frank.”
“And I sleep in the Green Room.”
The “Green Room” at “Legends of the North” was the back seat torn out of a Dodge van placed in a storage room full of discarded kegs and milk crates.
“You sleep in a closet.”
“I painted it green.”
So I drank the rest of my coffee to fill the silence. She refilled my cup.
“Do you sleep here every night? Or just on doubles?”
“My Dad rents my room out to a pair of Oklahoma state graduates working for the gas company.”
“Does he share your cut?”
She shook her head. I thought about gulping down another gulp.
“Did you at least like my set last night?” I offered.
“I don’t know. I didn’t hear much over bar. What style was it?”
“You know, punk folk…folker rock…gypsy folk rock.” God, that last one sounded horrible out loud. For some reason it looked better on Facebook.
“Yeah, we don’t get gypsy folker much around here.” She said, paused, and then pointed across the room to the only other patron in the bar that morning. “That’s the man over there that called the gun in. Said the gun was just sitting on the seat, the man completely passed out. The cop cars scared the rest of our customers away this morning.”
“Thanks, old man,” I yelled across the room. He only looked me in the eye for half a second and then returned to reading whatever looked like what the Dickinson local paper of record would look like.
FRANKTHEPOLICEMAN reentered “Legends of the North” and sat back down beside me. He brought Jeff with him. “How’s the morning, Miranda? Sorry about the commotion. I’ll tell the boys to tip you extra well today.”
Then he turned to me. He took his time setting the stage for his proposal. FRANKTHEPOLICEMAN pushed a spare set of silverware aside and placed his badge on the counter. “Mr. Hartnett says you might be willing to make a deal,” He said while nodding to Jeff.
Jeff was staring at a coffee mug that Miranda had instantaneously instinctively poured for him.
He gripped the coffee cup without bringing it to his lips. I couldn’t bear to read the font happily brightly spread diagonally on the cup’s side. Welcome to Dickinson! Or Theodore Roosevelt Park! The World’s Largest Fracking Nature Reserve!
“It’s up to you,” is all Jeff said.
“I’ve got a room in the back,” FRANKTHEPOLICEMAN eagerly added. The Green Room.
“I don’t think sucking him off is going to do it this time,” Miranda said, prompting FRANKIEPOLICEMAN to pound his fist on the table while the old man in the corner kept reading his paper.
FRANKIEPOLICEMAN looked between Miranda and I: “Look, we risk our lives here everyday. I had a friend, John — Miranda, you remember John Larsson, right? He got hit by a drunk driver last month while giving a ticket to a snowmobiler. A fucking drunk snowmobiler. He was standing there in the snow writing that ticket when — bam — out of nowhere, get sideswiped by a pick-up truck. The drunk snowmobiler had to call the fucking thing in. He had two kids, John that is…not the snowmobiler…we didn’t have to time arrest him…All I’m saying is I’m willing to let this minor offence slide, but we got to work something out…Look, the other day I got a fucking knife pulled on me over at the Terminal Bar. No, it was two fucking knives!…all I’m saying is we could handle this like a couple of decent human beings.”
If there was any logic at all to his monologue, FRANKTHEPOLICEMAN was the only of us that knew it.
I turned back to Jeff, who just his line to repeated himself: “It’s all up to you.”
Over breakfast the following morning at “Legends of the North”, Jeff and I were back at the counter bar. A young man refilled our coffees for what must have been the fourth time.
Jeff had been almost completely silent the whole morning, beginning with the ride from police department back to the bar. He was waiting to say something, but he had never known how to ask questions.
“Did you have to sell the car for bail? Did you really have to sell my fucking car?”
“You needed two grand for bail. How else were you planning on paying it?”
After breakfast, I gave him his bus ticket as I walked out of the bar. Miranda would have more than enough time to make it to Portland in her new car and load up more than a few trunks full of valuables from Jeff’s dead Indie Music emporium.
BY JONAH BROMWICH
The prospect of missing anything makes me nervous. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like to miss a single one of the previews at the movies, who gets to the airport with more than an hour to spare.
We were supposed to go uptown, to see one of my friends who was visiting. She was a difficult friend, the kind who wanted everyone to work on her terms, despite being a guest in town. So I was kind of nervous about seeing her and I was happy that John was already at my house. Our natural inclinations would counteract each other and we would get there on time and Jess wouldn’t throw a shit-fit and would be her best, most fun self. And everybody would be impressed because my boyfriend really was the cutest. A good night was ahead.
He was still napping when I got up to get ready and I shook him awake, made sure he was speaking in complete sentences.
“John! You’re up, right?”
“You need to get up, we’ve got to go in like twenty minutes.”
“I am going to start tickling you and will not stop until you say, ‘yes, I am up.’”
Potent threat. He sat up in bed, green eyes wide open, though partially concealed by his hair. “Yes, I am up.” He was enunciating clearly. Satisfied, I went to go get ready in the bathroom. He appeared to still be sitting up when I snuck a glance at him from the angled bathroom mirror where I was doing my makeup.
My phone buzzed. Get REady NY, IM HERE!!!!
A text like that meant: get to 93rd street now. I decided to forgo mascara and ran back into the bedroom.
John was still sitting up in bed, naked. He had fallen asleep.
“Never let anyone say you don’t have your talents,” I muttered. Then I yelled his name.
He came to again. “I was up!”
This was so annoying. Maybe I hadn’t warned him that I was going to be stressed, but I clearly was.
“John, I’ve told you about Jess. I really want to have fun tonight and it won’t be if she’s pissed. Could
you please get ready? Like, now?
“Ok lady.” He was making a cloying effort to be cute now. Without moving his lower body he leaned over the bed and rustled through his backpack and grabbed a T-shirt and pulled it on.
“Absolutely not,” I said.
The T-shirt was neon yellow. It said LEAVE ME ALONE in large block letters.
“This is my lucky shirt.”
“It’s not lucky to put that kind of energy out into the world.”
He smiled at me. “You’re sexy when you’re mad.”
Shut up, I hate you, I said in my head. “You really think so?”
Twenty-five minutes later I had missed five texts from Jess. The last two just contained ellipses.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck, she is so mad at me,” I said, hustling back into my clothes. “Do you have any other shirts? What about the one you wore over here?”
He held up the undershirt that he had been wearing when he had arrived. It had yellowish stains in the pits and pen doodles on the cuff of one sleeve. I put it to the jury: At what age is it still appropriate for an adult man to doodle on his shirtsleeves?
“I’ll raid Ryan’s room, I said. “Brush your teeth.”
“Don’t tell me what to do,” he said, in a monotone, picking at his teeth absentmindedly.”
“Sry, coming now!” I texted Jess. “#slowboyfriendissues”
Ryan, my roommate, liked to keep his clothes on the floor of his room. He had exactly one (1) button-down hanging in his closet. It was a pink American Eagle shirt.
“I don’t wear shirts with logos,” John said, when I tossed it at him.
“Since when do you take a stance on anything?”
He didn’t answer.
“Fine. You know what, I’m leaving. Feel free to stay here, or whatever. I don’t care.” I was glad I hadn’t put on mascara. It would have been dangerously close to running at this point, given how close I was to angry tears. The last thing I needed was to look like some deranged starlet, though at least it would grant credence to my hashtag once I showed uptown. The only thing that could satiate Jess’s anger was drama—if I appeared upset, she’d get to be angry on my behalf.
John had gotten up from bed, and had found some jeans. He passed me on the way to the bathroom, holding the shirt in front of him like an alien specimen. He closed the door behind him and I spent thirty seconds deliberating about whether or not to leave, before he called from the bathroom. “Hey!” he said. The door opened. “I look pretty good in pink.”
Ugh, he fucking did. Even in wrinkled pink, with a stupid eagle logo. Shit.
I think that when you’re happy with someone, there should always be a fear of loss, that fear that they might break up with you. If that’s gone, then maybe you should start thinking about breaking up with them. After a few months I had quit worrying that John was going to break up with me. He would never do anything that strenuous. I had thought about breaking up with him half a hundred times since that revelation.
I didn’t talk to him in the cab, because I was worried that I would just scream gibberish at him. I just stared at the little tv, as if I had never beheld the wonders of NBC programming. He didn’t seem to take the silent treatment as a sign that anything was amiss; at one point, he looked like he was about to drift off again but I whacked him in the stomach with the back of my hand before that could happen. He muttered a protest but I ignored him.
When we got uptown, Jess was already too drunk to be mad. She threw herself at me when I walked into the apartment. This was acceptable behavior when we were eight years old, but Jess was like 5’10 now. I was already trying to recover from six flights of stairs, though I’ll admit that pounding up them had been a good outlet for my anger. But Jess’s body was an almost insurmountable setback for my lungs. Her dyed black hair whipped me in the face.
John appeared in the doorway. He had not hurried up the stairs. I wondered momentarily how he had known which apartment to go to.
I was still panting and Jess was still clinging to me. “Jess, this is John.”
“Hiyee John,” she sang without actually looking at him.
“Hey,” he said.
“Oh my god, so glad you guys are finally here! Come meet everyone!”
I was still waiting for that moment when Jess would take a good look at John, but she had already raced back into the main room, to hug some of her other friends and take more shots and be loud. (Jess and I were old camp amigas and I didn’t know her other friends at all.)
I had been relying on John taking Jess’s attention. Her being infatuated with him. Me getting to preen while my pretty friend admired the best looking guy I had ever been with. The whole night was supposed to just be me relaxing, smiling and impressing everyone in sight.
I turned to my left to say something to John, (something funny? something cutting?) but he had left. I found him rooting through the refrigerator, in the kitchen. The kitchen, where no one else was, in a stranger’s house.
“There’s beer in the living room,” I said. “Come on, let’s go meet Jess’s friends—I think there are some guys watching basketball in there.”
“Not looking for beer.”
“What are you looking for then?”
“Food. I haven’t eaten today.”
I swear, I’m not a dramatic person. I try not to let my being uptight affect people. And I haven’t lost my temper since Darren McFadden pulled down my skirt in front of everyone in seventh grade. Or at least I hadn’t.
“You can’t do that,” I said.
“Don’t tell me what to do,” he said.
“Get the fuck out of here,” I said.
“What did you say?”
I heard the chatter in the other room die, as the person who was also me who existed outside my body watched the person in my body shriek at my soon-to-be ex-boyfriend. Caps lock is so undignified, but it went sort of like this: “GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE. GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE. GET OUT. GET OUT. OUT.”
“Jesus,” he said. “Calm down. You’re embarrassing yourself.”
I was out of breath again. “No,” I hissed. “No. You’re embarrassing me. Just leave.”
“Fine,” he said. “I don’t like basketball anyway.” He left the kitchen, trying feebly to conceal a hunk of cheddar cheese against his stupid pink shirt.
A couple of Jess’s friends had gathered at the door of the kitchen. They were wearing blank expressions and a lot of make-up. I could see Jess looming behind them, looking shocked. “Poor guy just sleepwalked into that one,” one of them said, and they all laughed, but they stopped laughing when I turned to stare at them. They were obviously scared of me. I smiled, enjoying my brief role as someone totally unhinged and I walked out of the apartment, waiting until I couldn’t hear John’s footsteps anymore before I started back down the stairs.
BY ANDREW WINISTORFER
When I was a senior in high school, this sophomore got dumped by his girlfriend. He was pretty broken up about it. He was probably punching above his weight class — she was way hotter than him — and after he tried for a few weeks to get her back, he decided his life was on the downward slope. So he got his dad’s gun, and shot himself in the mouth. But the gun bucked, and he ended up blowing off half of his cheek.
He was in the hospital for two months, and after he got plastic surgery, he ended up coming back to school like nothing happened. It was really weird; he was like a celebrity. The cynical amongst us wondered how much of a fuckup you could be to shoot yourself square in the mouth and miss. He carried himself in a weird way; he sort of seemed like a ghost. A dude who should have been dead was alive, taking English 3.
But here’s the thing; this guy’s girlfriend took him back. She felt so bad for him, she gave him another chance. And according to my Facebook timeline, he is married to this woman now and they have kids. This guy got everything he wanted by trying to kill himself. It was maybe the most successful message of his life. She understood how sad he was, and how much she meant to him, and he got everything he wanted. And that seems fucked up and unfair to me for some reason.
Why does it seem fucked up? That seems like a really sad story to me.
It is kind of sad I guess. But that kid won in the end. He got everything he wanted by taking a gun and shooting himself. Life shouldn’t work out that way. It doesn’t seem right somehow.
Because of what happened the year before.
When I was a junior, there was this kid in my class who wanted nothing more than to be accepted into the “popular” kid clique. Circa 2003 — which is when Fever To Tell came out, coincidentally — this meant wearing Hollister and going to Homecoming with a cheerleader. It’s all that kid wanted; he followed the popular kids around, he carpet-bombed the cheerleaders with date requests, and he wore his one Hollister shirt all the time. But nothing he tried worked and he was rejected daily; I remember seeing the star basketball player call him a bitch in front of like 200 people in the commons. It was brutal.
So this kid went home one day after getting rejected for the millionth time, and decided his life was on the downward slope. He took his dad’s gun and shot himself in the mouth. Unlike the other kid, he didn’t miss. He didn’t live, and the cheerleader didn’t go with him to Prom. The principal announced it on the announcements the next day like it was part of the lunch menu.
But the weird thing was that when the school found out, all the kids that didn’t give him the time of day when he was alive claimed he was a “really great guy” and “it hurt so bad” to know he was gone. They had an assembly where kids could go talk about him and “get out the feelings,” and it turned into how all of those people were affected by him killing himself. No one mentioned how the kid was picked on daily, and how he got made fun of for wearing the same Hollister shirt everyday. They acted like they knew him, accepted him, and were his dearest friends.
So, his message—that you people have made me miserable and there is no other option for me than to kill myself, and that he was lonely and didn’t think his life could go anywhere—was a failure. He tried so hard to make them understand in the end, and all they did was make sure people saw them cry in public. That kid’s life was a real tragedy, and no one noticed.
Why did that kid fail so miserably? He was unlucky in life, and he was unlucky in death. His suicide made me think that no matter how hard you try, people are never going to understand you the way you want them to. The medium can be the direct message, and people will still fail to understand you.
But then this other kid is out here, living a seemingly happy life, married to a woman he killed himself over. I don’t know the connection between them, but I feel like there’s something there, you know?
BY DREW MILLARD
Friday Thinks With Luke Winkie
Friday Drinks With Luke Winkie
Fry Day Shrinks With Puke Plinky, M.D.
Fry Day Barbecues At Luke Winkie’s House
Have You Ever Been In Therapy Me Neither I Was Just Asking To Make Conversation
No It’s Not Weird To Ask A Stranger If They’ve Been In Therapy
This Is America
Shut Up Dad
Friday Thinks WIth Luke Winkie
Friday Thinks With Luke Winkie
Friday Thinks With Luke Winkie
Hey Bro Do You Like Kraftwerk
Me Neither I Was Just Asking
Friday Things With Luke Winkie
This Is Luke Winkie’s Thing
It Is Oblong
It Is A Copy Of Harry Potter
Bitch I Think I’m Nick Dierl
What If Seinfeld Were Still On TV Today
BY CARTER DELLORO
The steam billows off the pavement as I whip past. It’s hazy and thin, a symptom of the day’s oppressive heat, and decorates the fringes of the windshield as the sun sets behind the mountains in the rearview mirror.
San Francisco hadn’t been that hot when we left this morning. It was already an unspeakably beautiful day when I woke up. I slid out of bed quietly, but the rustling of the sheets nevertheless roused Amy.
“Where are you going?” she’d asked.
“Just getting the coffee started.” It seemed to satisfy her, as she turned away from me contentedly. Seeing her lithe body curled up in the daggers of glowing sunlight had always been a comforting sight. It had always infused me with confidence in myself, in us, in life. This morning, though, it generated in me more of a feeling of sterile relief. I knew I’d have time.
I put the coffee on – I don’t know why – and grabbed my keys. The backpack was waiting by the door where I’d left it, and it slid on easily as I stepped outside. The sidewalk’s glare stung my eyes, but I didn’t want to turn back for my sunglasses; my car was just around the corner.
I knew the route to Jenny’s apartment well, and so the streets just melted away under my wheels. My eyes were catching dogs, frisbees, and baby strollers, but hardly any of it registered. Suddenly there she was. Sitting in my passenger seat. She was laughing and smiling, waving goodbye to her roommates, pulling granola bars from her own backpack. And there I was laughing and smiling back. She has a sort of magnetism about her, Jenny does, and it had caught me in its rays from the moment I met her. Life just seemed like more with her around.
We had met a couple of months before when she handed me that IPA. Almost instantly, the chatter, the jostling, and the neon advertisements around the bar receded into a blur. We managed a few snippets of conversation that night, but the next night I came back earlier, before the crowds. Amy was engrossed with her case studies and was grateful for the time to concentrate. When Jenny asked me to dinner, it was easy to find an excuse, and as we sat on Market Street, eating the best burgers in the city, her inviting eyes pulled everything out of me. The fights, the boredom, the despair. The need for a jolt of inspiration. This adventure was her idea, her seemingly appealing nostrum that would deliver everything either of us had ever wanted.
And in those first few minutes, with the Bay Bridge humming under our wheels and the water glistening below us, it really did feel like everything had changed. “Where will we stop tonight?” We were both intoxicated by the promise of the open road before us.
“I think we could make it to Salt Lake City shortly after sundown,” I had hopefully responded, and we barreled ahead thinking no further than that night’s bed.
While my thoughts gleefully elided the future for the first time in forever, they settled on alternative presents. As we rolled through Sacramento, I pictured Amy and I sharing the cornbread at Dottie’s like we had for so many other brunches. As Jenny and I climbed the mountains just west of Reno, I thought back to the Sundays before when I was climbing the hills of the Presidio with Amy. I tried to remind myself that these memories were from earlier times, and that this particular Sunday would probably have been filled with silence while Amy immersed herself in her work and I again played Call of Duty on mute so it didn’t disturb her. I caught peripheral glances of Jenny next to me, voraciously consuming the passing landscape, and tried to place her into those memories instead. But the images were fuzzy. I couldn’t hold onto them.
She’s asleep now. The Nevada desert will do that to you. To stay awake, I tried to enjoy the purples and pinks that slowly engulfed me while the sunset. I hung onto every last scintilla of fading color like it would somehow affirm my decision. Jenny, though, focused on the landscape, with its punishing mundanity, and allowed it to lull her to sleep. She missed the way the distant ebbed and flowed through the skyline, and the subtle variations in the brush on the roadside. And now it’s invisible even to me.
There are no streetlights on this highway. I’m not sure what purpose they would serve, except to emphasize the emptiness of the road. The sun’s aura has faded behind us, and all I’ve got to look at are my headlights. They illuminate the next 20 or so feet of road, and they catch the steam twisting and curling up from the edges of the pavement. I can’t tell whether the steam’s once-colliding molecules slowly dissipate into the indifferent night air, or if it just drifts out of the headlights’ jurisdiction, intent on some small adventure of its own.
My cell phone, lying in the cupholder, lights up once again. I reach forward and silence it without even checking to see who it was. Instead, I keep my eyes focused on the light, transfixed by the unending transformation of the darkness ahead.
“No, No, No”
BY SUSANNAH YOUNG
Not your current location? Correct it.
Maps are unfair. They take things that render people speechless in real life and turn them into a nest of letters, numbers and lines. They make the sublime accessible — which, if you think about it that way, is a completely depressing proposition. In order to achieve this scale-down, you’ve got to constantly negotiate and re-negotiate the value of something, breaking it down until it can’t be broken down anymore. It’s a recipe for making everything underwhelming.
In the real world, entropy is king. Hills erode, and so do beaches. Rivers rise and fall. Maps are static, a snapshot of one moment in time. So they’re never really accurate, are they? They claim to show you where you’ve been and where you can go, but the image was only really accurate for one split second in time.
4389 W Nulles Street
In one spot on the internet, we’re forever a couple — or at least until the Google Street View car makes its next round through that neighborhood, then we’re relegated to the Wayback machine with the fallen Xanga accounts and Friendster profiles and all the other embarrassing things we thought were gone forever.
There we are, standing on someone’s sidewalk — three days after we met, four meals, one coffee, two hookups (same afternoon, one awkward, one amazing) later. Your hat is awful and the bones in your feet look delicate, even from the Google car’s pixelated eye. You can’t zoom in far enough to see it, but I’m trying my best to do the eyes-only smile, a trick that never works in real life no matter how many times Tyra Banks scream-assures those nervous, hollow-eyed teen Iowans on America’s Next Top Model that they can do it. You were bragging about running track in high school and decided to race me.
“Don’t trip me! I swear to God.”
I did anyway, and you smacked me on the ass in front of this person’s house—should’ve stuck around a second longer to catch that, Google. And sorry, residents 4389 W Nulles. Accept my apologies for the past from the future.
“My friends are jealous.”
“That’s because you’re one of those awful people who drops his friends as soon as he finds a girl he likes. Kidding, but not kidding.”
“I’m not that per!—“
“No one thinks they’re that person! But you totally are. Anyway, I don’t mind it when people are selfish as long as I benefit from said selfishness.”
“By being my girlfriend?”
“By being the target of your undivided attention. Whoops, did you just make this official?”
You thought you stumbled into what you wanted and chalked it up to talent and good luck, but honey, I was throwing breadcrumbs constantly.
The route from your place to mine is etched on my brain. Left, right, up the alley, cut between the bins. Every time I did the latter I thought about this girl I knew in college who got a raging staph infection from gently scratching her arm on a trash can while walking her dog.
Three months in, I could see things not lining up correctly. Dropped stitches, holes in the seams. I had anticipated at least ten possible ways we might break up, detecting a series of incompatibilities that I knew would set our fault line rippling. I never wandered, but my eyes did. You were restless too, and it stemmed from being always way too satisfied with things at the outset, then quickly getting bored. It took me a while to realize that’s also a trait endemic to toddlers, but by the time I realized this particular quirk was childish instead of endearing it was a little too late.
Every time you smoke a cigarette on your balcony, I watch you and feel creepy but I don’t care. You lean into the sun, you turn around and smile.
2150 Lincoln to 7893 E Hassell; 3158 Alder to 7893 E Hassell
“Why do people wait until the relationship ‘honeymoon’ is over to move in together? Wouldn’t it make more sense to move in right away, then go British aristocrat-separate houses-style six months in?”
“Are you saying you’re sick of me already?”
“I’m just saying you seem like an actual person now—not like, a perfect picture of someone.”
“I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t want to. I’m not moving in as a charity case.”
“Why are we fighting about deciding to spend our lives together?”
We’re both selfish and impossible. We’re both hardheaded and smart. We bring out the best and worst in each other. It’s exciting and frustrating and exciting again, but too exhausting to sustain indefinitely.
Turn right on Hassell. Destination will be on the right. 7893 E Hassell.
In a year’s time, we were captured twice by the army of cars Google deploys to chart every inch of the navigable world. The bookends of our time together are available for the entire world to see—or anyone who might be mapping a route from 4389 W Nulles to 7893 E Hassell, at least. We were arm in arm, flushed and happy. Now we’re keeping a respectable, awkward distance, you’re turned away, my arms are crossed. I think this is the moment when you’re leveling a bunch of breakup platitudes on me. I wasn’t listening. That was always part of the problem, which makes it a little ironic that I was the one (maybe the only one) who eventually discovered the internet had kindly charted the course of our relationship for us.
Our beginning and end exist simultaneously, but only in memory and (at least for the time being) on Google Maps. I’ve got one tab open to the start of our relationship, one tab depicting our breakup. I’m hoping if I toggle back and forth quickly enough, I’ll end up somewhere in the middle, like one of those phenakistoscope optical illusions that uses movement to trick your stupid, persistent eyes into seeing two different pictures as something complete. There we were, here we are. Here we are, there we were. A year in two points, a year to travel two miles.
BY LAURA STUDARUS
Out of the two of them, she was most sober, so she drove. It was a matter of degrees. He was in no position to argue. He left the party holding his breath, head in his hands. Unable to look her—or anyone else—in the eyes, he concentrated on the shuffle of his feet against the broken sidewalk, cracks seemingly jumping under his foot with each step.
“Pack up, don’t stray,” he sang softly.
No. That wasn’t right. He murmured rhythmically, hunting for the correct words as the world swam around him.
“Break your mother’s back,” he corrected himself, bursting into a dirge-like singsong. The contrast to the silence cracked him up. He let out a sharp giggle.
The noise stopped her dead in her tracks, hairs prickling on the back of her neck. She inhaled sharply, keys in her hands jingling as she turned suddenly to look at him.
It freaked him out. Exactly how much had he had? The night suddenly seemed a lot denser on this side of it.
She slid into her low Trans Am, leaning over to unlock his door. He opened it and entered.
“Seatbelt,” she sang.
He obliged, clicking it into place with thick fingers.
She skittered into traffic, weaving in and out of lanes on Figueroa. She looked over at him, head rested against the doorframe. His long, light brown hair fell into his eyes. Under the strobing streetlight, he looked like a chubby-cheeked child. Despite everything, the thought made her smile.
He let out a wet burp.
She grimaced. Fantasy broken, she gunned it, and headed to the 110, the lights of the Coliseum dimming behind them. She stole another look at him. No radio. He needed his rest.
The roll of the wheels kept time with the staccato thought echoing on a loop through in his head.
“I should have never come here. I should have never come here. I should have never come here. I should have never come here. I should have never come here. I should have never come here. I should have never come here. I should have never come here. I should have never come here….”
To distract himself from the rising bile, he fingered the creases of the letter haphazardly crumpled in the kangaroo pouch of his USC sweatshirt. It was from his melodramatic girlfriend. She had given him both the sweatshirt and note to him on their last day together in Brooklyn. When she begged him not to go.
Girlfr- Wait. No. Ex-girlfriend.
He hadn’t gotten past the first line. Thinking back to it kicked up another firestorm of self-recrimination. He swallowed hard, any hits of moisture vanishing from his mouth.
“Dear Jonathan, they don’t love you like I love you.”
The tires squealed as she barreled up the onramp.
“Trans Am, low center of gravity,” she murmured soothingly. She saw him clutching his stomach, surreptitiously rubbing his stomach inside his sweatshirt pocket. “It’s cool if you’ve gotta puke.”
He took a shuttering breath, the back of his throat growing hot and heavy. The thought had not occurred to him.
“Wait. Don’t,” she snapped, immediately regretting it. He hadn’t so young when she plucked him out of the back room.
“It’s okay, she recanted, choosing her words carefully. “The first time is always the worst.”
The observation hung heavy in the air between them. Feeling the weight of her words, he feigned sleep, letting out a low, unconvincing snore.
She increased speed into the turn, briefly hydroplaning in the late April rain as she rounded the corner into downtown. The area’s skyscrapers blazed, bright even against the rapidly lightening sky.
Tired of choking on the silence, she flicked on the radio. In the early, pre-news reporting airtime, a KCRW DJ was playing yet another in a string of hipper-then-thou Brooklyn bands. Despite herself, she sang along, tapping the steering wheel in a desperate display of causality.
She flew through downtown, gaining speed as she headed for the hills, twisting through Mount Washington. She had driven through the tunnels so many times she could have done it on reflexes alone. A twist here, a lane-change here to avoid an over-zealous commuter headed to the 5. It gave her time to study John, who continued to rub his stomach and stare out the window. She alternated her attention between him and the road, filling her vision with him and the task at hand like some sort of perverse child’s flipbook.
She told herself that she didn’t need to justify it, that even though it didn’t make sense she was okay with it. The brief meeting turned obsession. No it wasn’t that.
He was her kind.
“Tell me something about yourself,” she said, breaking the silence. “I need to keep myself awake.”
He snored. His head rolled to the side. A glistening trail of saliva trailed its way toward his chin.
The freeway ended, dumping them out in Pasadena. She came to a stop, tires screeching as she stopped several feet in front of the limit line. His head was flung forward, but he was still out cold.
She drove slower now, weaving her way through the quiet residential streets to the northern half of the city.
He came to as the car slowed to a stop. The chirpy, semi-British voice of the GPS announced, “you have arrived.” Like she knew.
He sat up, hand on the door, other fumbling for his twisted seatbelt as prepared to wordlessly make his exit.
Her fingers lightly grazed his wrist.
She handed him a small white pill, sampled with a small white heart.
“Is this love?”
The words slipped past his tongue before he could catch them.
She smiled, eyes cast demurely downward.
“Close enough,” she said, suddenly stuttering.
He looked down at the pill in his hands. Finally, he returned the smile. She shook a similar pill into her hand.
Together, in the early morning light, they swallowed.
I never thought the last place I’d see him would be the same place where it all began.
I met Jonas as a seedy rock club about two years ago. He was standing up against a pillar, looking stoic and lost in thought–the same detached face I’d come to recognize in the months ahead. At the time, I just thought him mysterious which, to me, only enhanced his attractiveness. I wasn’t normally the type to initiate a conversation, but the cup of booze in my hand gave me the courage to try and crack that stony exterior.
“You look lost in thought,” I said, trying to get in his line of sight, smiling bashfully. I felt my smile start to crawl back into my mouth, almost instinctively. He hadn’t budged from the pillar, but he had clearly heard me. His silence and severity started to make me feel nervous.
“What do you want from me,” he snapped. He was annoyed by my presence, yet I could hear faint undertones of interest.
“Oh, uh, sorry. I was–”
“I am so fucking tired of girls thinking they can get free drinks if they so much as bat an eyelash at a dude. So you deserve a drink now? Because you’ve got the balls to bother me?”
I didn’t know what to say.
“Please. I’m here for the music,” he scoffed.
“Yeah? So am I,” I said firmly, offended by the implication that I somehow wasn’t.
This guy was an asshole, but for some reason, I didn’t want to storm away from this exchange. Something kept me there.
“Come outside and smoke with me,” he ordered. I was caught off guard by his demanding invitation. Wasn’t he just now telling me to fuck off?
Curiosity told me to follow this guy outside the venue and smoke with him, so I did.
By the end of the night, we were both wasted and energized by one another’s presence. My lips were brushing against his lips. His hands were working their way down my shirt. I didn’t care. He was mysterious and magnetic. Never in my life have I been so physically and emotionally attracted to an asshole.
I got drunker and he got even more impatient. He convinced me to go back to his apartment with him.
I don’t remember the rest of the night. Jonas told me the next day that we’d fucked. Was I raped? I didn’t think of it that way at the time. I tried not to intellectualize it, but I now realize that I was actively hiding the truth from myself.
It’s funny: looking back on it, that first night was like a condensed Cliffs Notes version of our relationship. That same mania and confusion and violation played out over the next 26 months of my life–slowly and painfully.
Jonas and I had broken up and made up over six times within that 26 month-period. Each time, the level of violence and manipulation would ratchet up a notch like some kind of challenge, almost as though some malevolent force was masterminding the entire thing, saying, ‘Oh, that was nothing. Wait ‘til you see what comes next…’ I daydreamed about leaving him, but I always let him crawl back into my arms because I knew he was the product of an abusive childhood, and I felt overwhelmingly, unreasonably sorry for him every time he sobbed in front of me, begging me to take him back and forgive him because, according to him, no one else had ever understood him the way I did. But I decided that I was done waiting around to see the glimmers of goodness in Jonas because the good would never prevail, and believe it or not, this epiphany hadn’t really come to me until our last blood-slinging fight. I was going to leave him–for good this time—but you can’t just walk away from a guy like Jonas. You need to create an escape hatch that you can neither enter again, nor exit again. It must seal shut forever.
Three weeks ago, I had come home late. I’d been working at the restaurant until close, and I had to stay after closing to help out the cleaning crew. Staying later than business hours was very unusual for me, but I had offered to help, and I needed the money. After an hours-long cleaning session with some of my coworkers, we celebrated our hard work by opening a few beers and chatting the night away. Before I knew it, it was almost 3am. I’d forgotten to call Jonas. My phone was dead.
Shit, I thought. He had a history of blowing up over my prolonged absences. I did not need a fight tonight.
As I walked up the stairs to our apartment, I felt the most sinking sense of foreboding. Instinct was trying to tell me to run the other way. Go stay the night with a friend. Check into a hotel. For the love of God, anywhere is better than where Jonas is. But the part of me that was used to Jonas and his violent tantrums told me that running would only make things that much worse. I could either face punishment now or die later.
I got to the door and slowly turned the key and pushed my weight against the door. My intention was to open the door as quietly and slowly as possible, like a teenager tiptoeing in at 5am, avoiding the wrath of her parents. But the door—this door—felt so heavy.
The door flung open in front of me with a force so hard that my arm, still attached to the doorknob, nearly dislocated itself from my body which was falling face-first toward the tile in the threshold. Suddenly a hand grabbed me by the back of my neck, shoved me hard over the arm of the couch, and the door slammed shut behind me. It was dark, but the dim light from the kitchen illuminated enough. Jonas was hovering over me on the couch. The kitchen light was making his eyes look wild and monstrous. They were wild and monstrous. I was sure that I would die tonight.
“WHERE THE FUCK WERE YOU?”
“WHY DIDN’T YOU CALL?”
I resigned early—earlier than I usually do in our explosive fights. I knew that no matter what I explained, no matter what I did to prove my whereabouts, he would twist it. I started sobbing. “I just…had to stay late….to help clean….”
He stared at me for a moment. He looked confused. He bowed his head and started laughing to himself. In a malicious whisper through gritted teeth, he asked, “Is that all you’ve got?”
“It’s the fucking truth, alright? Why can’t you just accept it?”
Mistake. In what seemed like a singular movement, he stood up and took my ankle with him. My body cascaded off the couch and hit the floor, hard. He dragged me inside the bathroom and slammed the door behind us. I knew he didn’t want neighbors to call the cops on us, which they had done before. As quickly as I could, I climbed to my feet, ready to defend myself, but before I could say or do anything, he wrapped his fingers around my throat. I struggled against him. The grip got tighter.
“Listen, you slut. I know you’re fucking your manager. I saw your texts to him.”
“What texts,” I choked out. My mind raced. I absolutely had not been having an affair with my manager, but what texts could Jonas have possibly thought were suggestive of that? I know I’d recently sent him a picture of one of my costume ideas for a Halloween party that we’re having at work next month, so the skirt was a little short, but I didn’t think the picture was at all sexual. If I’d thought it would send Jonas into a blind rage, I would have deleted it.
But I knew this wasn’t really about whether my texts were suggestive. This was about control.
I could feel myself getting lightheaded. I was more interested in fighting for my life than explaining myself. I summoned the strength to hit him in the stomach, but the blow wasn’t hard enough. That was it. My audacity had sent him over the edge. Planting his entire hand over the span of my face and burying his fingers into my temples, he yanked my head forward and bashed it into the mirror behind me. And again. And again. I screamed. Without even giving me a second glance, he stormed out of the bathroom and slammed the door behind him. I sank down onto the cold linoleum floor and felt the back of my head. It was wet with blood. But I couldn’t go to the hospital now.
And right then, the helplessness I felt—the very idea that I was too afraid for my life to seek medical attention even though my life was already in danger—was the most sobering moment of clarity I’d ever had. The son of a bitch had just bashed my skull into a glass mirror, all over his twisted desire to control me—was I to let death be next? I couldn’t give him that satisfaction. I had to get out, and I didn’t have long.
It was only fitting that my plan would be executed at that same seedy rock club where Jonas and I began. He needed a loud, busy distraction, and I knew that music was the one thing he cared about the most—far more than me. I was going to have a cab waiting outside ready to take me to freedom. Jonas had no idea that I had recently reconnected with one of my oldest friends from middle and high school that’s living in Boston. When I told her about my situation and confessed that I was planning on leaving Jonas for good but needed a safe, clean break to ensure he couldn’t track me down, she was kind enough to offer to let me stay with her for a few weeks until I could find a place of my own. This was my only chance at truly getting out—Jonas knew all my friends in this city. He would know all the places to find me. I knew the betrayal of leaving him and revealing to our mutual friends that he was a psychopath would be enough for him to hunt me down like a vampire in the night and silence me forever.
The opening band had left for the evening and the headliner was getting ready to come onstage. Their roadies were toiling away at the gear and the crowd was bustling with chatter. Jonas was talking to two venue regulars to his left while keeping an arm around me, occasionally looking at me – not affectionate glances, but watchful eyes, making sure I was behaving in public. I knew the routine—Jonas acted like everything was fine between us and he expected that I act the same. He didn’t want his friends to suspect there was trouble in paradise. As he became embroiled in some lively debate about black metal, I stared directly in front of me, not looking at anything in particular, but he tried to engage me in conversation by tossing in, “right, babe?” and maliciously putting the nape of my neck in a scissor-like chokehold, an all-too familiar little cue which meant I’d better talk and at least look like I was enjoying myself or I’d face his wrath at the end of the night.
But I wouldn’t have to anymore. Upon realizing this, I smiled, wider and wider still. If he had looked over at me in that moment, I’m sure he thought I was obliging like a good girl. The joke was about to be on him.
To my advantage, the venue was more densely packed than usual—this would be good for distractions and logistical maneuvers. Only problem was I had to get Jonas more drunk if I wanted his distraction to be long-lasting. I slipped out from underneath his arm and gestured to the bar. He nodded back and continued talking to the people around him, very obviously annoyed by my interrupting him. I probably could have slipped away right then, but it wasn’t time for my cab yet, and I needed Jonas to not only be as absorbed as possible, but his memory murky and attentiveness lost. I asked the bartender for a whiskey straight up, never more grateful for Jonas’ preference for hardcore alcohol. I once hated it because it had fueled many a violent argument, but tonight, it was a friend aiding in my escape. I shoved my way through the crowd and slid the cup right into his hands. No gratitude, not even a glance at me. He carried on like he had been holding it the entire time.
The lights went down again and the chatter transitioned to applause. The band members came out and took their positions. I looked down at my phone clock. It was 10:04—a little under half an hour left until I was free forever.
The show’s energy was escalating. Jonas looked absorbed and slightly drunk. It was now 10:17, so I wouldn’t have time to buy him another drink, so I could only hope that the show’s energy and his talkative friends could keep him distracted long enough for me to get out of the venue, into the cab, and get the hell out.
I was checking my phone clock obsessively. At 10:22, a mosh pit started to break out directly in front of me. Jonas was on the fringes at first. Someone from inside the pit was bounced to the edge and pushed Jonas in a way he didn’t like. This pissed him off, so he dove in after the guy and started swinging wildly at no one in particular. But of course nobody felt threatened because this was a metal show, so he continued to dance in the middle of a sea of swinging fists.
And right as I started to believe everything was working in my favor for once in my life, he returned a few moments later when the song was over. My cab was coming at any moment. I couldn’t afford for him to not be distracted.
The band’s lead singer, an imposing man with stringy black hair, bellowed into the mic. “ARE YOU ASSHOLES READY TO FUCKING RIOT?!” The crowd affirmatively accepted his challenge and pumped their fists in the air. Drunk Jonas joined in, as if he needed to release his aggression more than he already did. Whatever. I wasn’t going to be his literal or figurative punching bag tonight or ever.
It was 10:28—almost time for the main event. I tapped a rowdy Jonas on the shoulder. “I’m going to the bathroom,” I mouthed to him.
And just like that, the last thing I would say to him was not, “fuck you, asshole,” not “I love you, but you’re horrible to me, and I can’t let you keep ruining my life,” but a proclamation that I was going to the bathroom. I had fantasized about this moment many times, but I never thought it would be so mundane. I always envisioned myself giving some impassioned speech in front him somewhere, outlining all the ways he’d made me feel like less of a person and stripped me of my ability to trust and love. And it’s not like I never loved him or we didn’t have good times in these last two years. But he didn’t deserve another second of my time.
I slogged through the oppressive pit of leather jackets and made my way to the back of the venue. Fortunately the bathrooms were in a dark hallway at the back corner of the venue, so Jonas couldn’t see whether I was waiting on line. The bouncer at the door tonight wasn’t the usual bouncer, but he recognized Jonas and me well enough to potentially blow my cover. I shrouded my head with a scarf and pulled my hood up before I walked past the bouncer. He didn’t seem to notice me—he was talking to some roadies when I passed him. I looked up and saw two taxis waiting by the curb. Which one was mine? I checked the venue door behind me to see if Jonas was stumbling out into the street, looking for me. It wouldn’t be long before that became reality. I had to move fast. I could hear the set still going, guitars and audience wailing and screeching in tandem, so hopefully Jonas’ night watchman instinct was being delayed by hard-partying metal dudes and the effects of alcohol.
I ran up to the first cab in front of me. The driver yelled out of a rolled-down window, “Are you my 10:30 pickup?” “Yes,” I exclaimed and scrambled into the cab. “You’re going to the train station,” the cab driver said, reviewing his info. “Do you have any luggage?”
“No,” I said, dejected. All I had was a single change of clothes in my bag. Obviously I wanted to bring all my things with me, but that wasn’t an option. Saving my life was main objective.
“Oh, alright,” the cab driver responded. He pushed a button on his meter. Thank God, we’re moving, I thought. Still paranoid, I looked out the back window as we rolled away from the venue. No Jonas to be found. I hoped he wouldn’t check the train station first. I just wanted him to forget about me forever.
I had been on edge all night, and I finally felt like I could relax, even if for a few minutes. I rested my head on the back of the seat and looked out at the city. Light rain started coming down, peppering my view of the world outside the cab. This was the first day of the rest of my life. I could stay out late if I wanted to. I could text who I wanted to. I could look uninterested in a conversation if I fucking wanted to. He stole me from myself, and I gave myself back to me. Upon realizing this, a single tear rolled down my cheek. This was the happiest ending I could have ever envisioned for us.
If you or someone you know is in a domestic violence situation, please tell someone. You can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
BY JORGE MIR
“Are you actually going to bed?” you asked, “I know you were up last night watching porn.”
I just laugh and nod my head. “Not even going to try to deny it.”
You laugh too, “Nailed it. It’s cool.”
I try to hold it back, but I can’t; it’s been on my mind too long. “Well there was a point where you just gave up.”
The mood changes. Even through the computer screen the atmosphere is no longer the same. And I can see it in your face.
“Wow. I think we should just say good night.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t me-”
“No, I just want to say good night now.”
“Okay, good night. I love you though.”
“I love you too.”
It’s been three and a half years since we started doing this. Three and a half years since the moment when we committed to what we knew was going to be the hardest thing we had ever done.
It wasn’t the plan. We hadn’t agreed to it. The first year was gruesome, and my family was moving back. It just didn’t make sense. Neither of us wanted to but it was for the best. So we had set a deadline: we would spend some time together this summer, have a last hurrah and then go our separate ways.
“It’s a mistake,” I was told. “It’s better this way,” I would reply. Both were correct. It was the best summer. We met our favorite band that summer, do you remember? It’s still clear in my mind. I remember waiting in line, the anticipation building. I remember your reaction after we left, a few soft-spoken words exchanged. I remember being happy.
I remember staying out late and seeing the stars. I remember getting in trouble, having fun. I remember imagining that it would go on forever. But I also remember a race against the clock. Every moment was one step closer to what neither of us wanted. It was thrilling. It was terrifying.
Maybe most of all I remember lying in your bed at your mom’s house, having snuck there when we weren’t supposed to. It was August, there was no more time. The summer had brought doubts to our mind. What if there were some other way? What if the end wasn’t the end? No. We agreed. It wouldn’t make any sense.
But I remember lying in your mom’s bed and my feeling my heart break. I remember lying in your bed and not caring what made sense or what anyone thought or how hard it would be. I remember losing it, sobbing. I don’t think I’d ever felt anything like that before. I don’t think I’ve felt like that since. “I don’t want to lose you,” I said. “I don’t want to lose this.”
It was in that moment that everything else stopped mattering. I knew what I wanted, no matter the cost. I don’t know if it’s what convinced you, or if you already knew, but that was the first day of the rest of our lives.
It’s been three and a half years since we started doing this. Three and a half years since the moment when we committed to what we knew was going to be the hardest thing we had ever done.
We’ve been to hell and back since then. We’ve both made mistakes. We’ve both had doubts. We’ve laughed and we’ve fought and we’ve played and we’ve cried. We’ve agreed it was the right thing to do. We’ve agreed it was the wrong thing to do. We’ve said the right things. We’ve said the wrong things.
I still say the wrong things. I still say things when and where and how I’m not supposed to. Even last night. But I’m sorry. Let’s forget it. Let’s keep going.