Crash

There weren’t many thoughts or flashing memories during it, just a spiraling car heaving into lanes as most cars avoided an alternate present.

I don’t know what happened, everything was fine. There was a puddle. I hit it, hydroplaned and jumped a curb. Jerked the wheel back to the highway. Then the spiraling. I can’t control the car anymore, it’s a lump of metal streaking around other cars. When we hit the first car, both of our heads jerked to the left, John’s cushioned by the conditioned air from the passenger’s seat, my temple colliding with the seat belt adjuster.

You’re fine, get up. You’re faking this. You’re fine.

I’m so tired.

You’re not. Get up. Get up!

“Ant? ANT!” My hands are slipping into my lap, I can feel everything draining from my body. My head slumps forward onto the wheel. No memories. No slow motion.

Nothing but darkness and my voice.

Get up! You’re fine! Stop faking!

I want to but I can’t. I’m helpless. We smash into the rear of another car, hurdling us across another lane. I just want it to stop. I just want to sleep.

My vision is closing in on me, I can only see my own lap. The road has become a mystery; I’m just not there anymore. I swear I’m trying to level my head, trying to get myself upright and get us back into a lane but no matter how much I try, the strength isn’t there. Have I given up? Inky black begins at the corner of my vision, filling up my eyes and finally taking over everything.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry, John.

“Ant? Ant are you ok? Oh shit. ANT?!”

“Imuhkay.” My eyes aren’t opening but we’re stopped. I still don’t feel anything, I can’t see anything, and John’s voice is muffled behind the intense ringing;

but we’re stopped.

“Whuhappen’d”

My thoughts are slow to the situation, every word is practiced by moving lips before uttered to John now on my left side. I can feel the breeze come through the opened driver’s door. We’re stopped.

“We hit two cars. We almost went into the swamp. Are you ok?”

I know he’s talking but I can’t hear it, I can’t understand it.

“Imuhkay.”

My eyes still aren’t open; my hands are still in my lap. I’m a prop. Without my words, I’d be dead.

“Ijus’needtuhsleep”

“No! Ant, No. Gotta stay awake man. An ambulance is coming, you’ll be fine. Just stay with me, man.”

I can’t be in too much danger. I can’t be so bad. I’ve read the stories. There’re white lights and memories. There’re pictures of everyone you love. There’s forgiveness and apologies, maybe even God. All I saw was darkness; smothering and eternal.

This voice isn’t John’s. It’s somebody else’s.

“What’s your name? Tell me your name?”

I can’t. My lips move but nothing comes out at first.

“34 Garden Court South.”

“Where are you from? What’s your address?”

“I, uhm, Ijus’needtuhsleep.”

“NO. You can’t sleep! What’s his name?”

“Anthony.” There’s John’s voice. Why won’t my eyes open. Why can’t I just go to sleep for a little.

“Anthony, listen. You can’t go to sleep. You have to stay with me. You hit my car, an ambulance is on the way. Stay with me, ok?”

“Ok.”

I can feel myself slip. I can feel the dark waves crashing over me and his pulling me back to shore. I don’t know who he is. I can’t see him. I can’t see anything. I know I’m in my car but I don’t know where we are. What did John say? A swamp? I forgot. Doesn’t matter. Darkness. The force is hard to deny, it’s relaxing. Like going to sleep. Sleep. Just a nap. We’re stopped. Sleep.

The first time my eyes open, I’m surrounded by people in white wearing masks. I can’t think. I don’t know what to. Don’t have time to. A mask is placed over my mouth and nose and I’m put back into the dark. The Nothing. Where are the memories? My family? Friends? Where’s God? I can’t be that bad.

When I come to the second time, my family and John are at the foot of the bed watching me. I’m hooked up to machines. I’m tired.

“This sucks.” They laugh. I must be ok. I fall back to the pillow again and sleep. We’re stopped.

“You suffered trauma to your head. We’re going to keep you over night and perform a CAT scan in the morning. How are you feeling?”

Everything aches. My back feels stiff, my legs are rubber. I can sit up, but barely. My eyes are open but still shifting between blurs and separated colors.

“I’m ok.”

They wake me up every 3 hours. They give me a shot and let me fall back asleep. I’m wheeled down a few floors and given a CAT scan. I have to stay still, that’s easy. It’s loud. I can still barely see.

I’m released the next day, told to take it easy for a few days and I should be fine.

I try not to think about the incident.

Whose voice was that? Was it me? Who kept me awake?

I don’t know who to thank. I don’t have a face; just voices. The one in my head.  John’s. The man we hit. I don’t have memories; just the car, my lap, my darkness. I saw my family and John, but only when my eyes were finally open. Are they open now? I think they are. It doesn’t matter. They were there. I was there. We kept me awake. I’m awake now. I don’t need sleep now. We’re stopped.

You’re okay.

I’m okay.

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Deadbeat

My days are typically OK until I walk to the boxes, plug in my key, and take the mail back with me to my place.

Dear Patient,

After many failed attempts to reconcile your balance, we have not received a payment in quite some time. We have been patient allowing you to pay off this balance, however since payments have not been consistent, THIS ACCOUNT MUST BE PAID IN FULL. Please be advised that if payment is not received by 4/20/13, YOUR ACCOUNT WILL BE PLACED WITHIN OUR COLLECTION AGENCY AND WE WILL NO LONGER BE HANDLING IT.

Fuck them.

I’m past due on another credit card owing 7hundredsomething. I don’t have the money, shit, I don’t have ANY money. My student loans will be horse kicking me in the stomach soon too, maybe I can give the degree back, get a refund. Two quarters slide into my leg when I sit on the bed; the current balance of my total savings, without looking at my bank account. The last time I took a look, I had -.67 cents in it. They’ve probably closed my account by now; I haven’t received any mail with red and yellow “urgent!” and “sign here” stickers everywhere at least.

Christ. I think I’m a deadbeat.

I run a hand through my unwashed hair, slide it down my face, and try to soberly figure out a way to make enough money to pay back this shit. I could have had the money but I have too much pride. Quit my job because my boss is a child, a pretty dumb reason. The quit made my waterfall income a quickly depleting pool. The dry season is forcing me out of the apartment soon if I can’t think of something. I’d probably be at least tempted to shoot myself if I had a gun, but unless I can rent a gun for one quarter and buy a bullet with another, I’m shit out of luck.

I toss the mail from my lap to the far edge of the bed, I don’t want to think about it. I lay back on the mattress,  a little too firm for me. I’ve had it since I moved into the place about 6 months ago; my father helped me buy it. I picked it out hastily, as I did the apartment. There’s cockroaches in the room and the bed is too hard. I guess it worked out for me though; I don’t have a desk so the bed has been my desk, dresser, office, and dining room table. One night when I came home shitfaced it was my bathroom. Can barely sleep on the thing but at least it’s multi-purpose.

On the floor is a half emptied bottle of 7 dollar Moet and an empty glass that smells like stale wads of bubblegum; a deep red layer of sugar and nastiness from the wine sits unmoved at the bottom of the glass even when I pick it up. I pour a half glass, hold my breath while lifting it to my lips, and chug. Ugh! Jesus! The red stickiness is still at the bottom of the glass; doesn’t even look wet. Next to the Moet is a bottle of mostly drunken water. When I pick it up I knock the wine over onto the carpet and my computer bag. Oh god damn it what the fuck! I have carpet cleaner in the room somewhere. I use it when my cat pisses on the floor, or when I piss the bed. I’ll find it later, fuck this. I turn off the lights, it’s time for sleep. At 4 in the afternoon. Fuck it. I’m a deadbeat.

Strangled

Time rolls slow as freight trains through Garfield. Used to notice them, but the whole city’s been trapped by tracks for so long the whistles became silent. There’re signs everywhere warning people about them; they put up a fence down the tracks so people might not walk down them anymore, like I used to. They just put up some more signs. This time the kid didn’t see it coming; he had earplugs in and was trying to cross with his bike. The gates never came down. I think he was 11. Now there’s a little memorial leaning against a phone pole next to all the signs; some flowers and candles, a little framed picture.

I remember when the teacher walked in front of the train; it was a big deal in the city. He was flirty with the girls in high school and maybe took it a step or two too far; never got the trial, never found out. The day he was supposed to be arrested he took his final step. Police were searching near my house looking for missing parts. I never saw any. His corpse was given a parade around town, the girls were ignored. Before him it was a teenager. After him a man in his 30s. I guess we average ‘bout 1 a year.

Once it was a guy who got into an argument with his girlfriend and made a decision. Another time it was a grandmother who was hard of hearing, gates malfunctioned and didn’t come down; no warning. A long time ago it was a friend’s brother, choice.

Read an article once about the tracks, how the conductors call it “Suicide Alley”. They hold their breath while driving through the 2 mile steel noose, hoping it doesn’t tighten around them.

The whole town gets quiet when it happens. People whisper what they know to each other, afraid it’s true.

Not again.

 I heard. Oh, no.

I used to walk down the tracks to get home from school or just to walk; there were some old train cars near the baseball field where I’d go and be by myself when I was 15. I’d sit on top and watch them pass, or put some rocks on the tracks and watch them fly. Other days, with other people around, we’d put pennies on the track and search for them all flattened and hot once the trains left. Maybe a few times I thought what it’d be like to get hit by one but never thought to do it.

Wonder what it takes. Wonder what that little boy thought, if anything. The last thing you see is a bright light and steel. Last thing you hear’re howls from the silent whistle; it’s a helluva thing. Wonder how the conductors doing. Wonder if any cars were passing when it happened, or if anybody was nearby at all. Can’t imagine any of it. Just think of words and darkness and my own memories. But not that.

Every time I’m caught by these gates waiting for the train to pass, I can’t help but stare at that memorial. Picture in the frame looks faded from the car, can’t keep all that rain and snow out; too many seasons passed. People still come by, I don’t see them though. The flowers always look fresh. Candles are lit half the time. Gate rises, I go. Maybe tomorrow I’ll take a different way, cross the tracks at Van Winkle. Look at a different memorial. Caught by the same memories. Maybe I won’t catch the train. Maybe I won’t have to think.