Monday, February 14, 2011

Red Lights

The winter wind was particularly dangerous that night, whipping through my hair and beckoning me over the edge. We took the back roads home for fear that the interstate would be too intense and laden with cops ready to pull us over. With each twist and turn, Paul kept asking me if I was okay. I told him I was fine even though I felt so crazed that I couldn’t even tilt my head back on the passenger seat. The world was just a bunch of moving pictures dancing in front of my eyes.
    It had been the second time I’d smoked but the first time I’d actually gotten high. The first time had been a week before in Paul’s best friend’s room. After we’d passed around the circle a few times, I noticed everyone had the same laugh. I was shaking and afraid I would look like an amateur so I barely inhaled a thing. Even so, I coughed enough to require a bottle of Dasani as a suppressant.
  That same night we went for sushi, listening to Jay-Z’s “My First Song” on the way there. Although I kept claiming that I wasn’t high, I stared at the table intently, examining what appeared to be three-dimensional glitter floating amidst a myriad harbor of black.
    “Stop it,” Paul said, punching my arm.
    “Brooke, if you saw someone staring at a table, like you are, what would you think?”
    “I would think that they were enjoying the scenery... Have you seen this table?!”
    Paul rolled his eyes and started laughing. He knew he couldn’t be mad at me.   
   “I can’t take you anywhere,” he said.
   Since there wasn’t much else to do except eat, we went for ice cream. And cake. A disgruntled employee named Chip took our orders with nary a smile. His behavior convinced me that the visor he was sporting was stretched a bit too tight. I wanted to say something delightful like, “Thank you, Chip! You’ve put me in a chipper mood!” but alas, I refrained. Tonight wasn’t the night to be an asshole.
   Paul affixed himself next to me on a red swivel-style stool at a long table out-looking the dark street. His eyes were careful and reminded me of our last New Year’s together when I asked him to play Joni Mitchell. I’d finished a beer, a bottle of wine, and a few glasses of champagne before I started crying and asking him questions about God. He played my favorite song as I mimicked every word in my best folksy tone.
   “...I met a womaaaann, she had a mouth like yours, she knew your life, she knew your devils and your deeds and she said, gooooo to him, stay with him if you can, but be prepared to bleeeeeeeed...”
   I could feel Paul’s fingers on my neck inviting me into his mild embrace. It had felt like years since I’d truly slept.
    Paul spun his feet around in his swivel chair. “Whatcha thinkin’ about?”
   “Oh nothing,” I said, “Just memories.”
   That night, I starting laughing on the way home in Paul’s car. Here I was, this scholarship student with grades that qualified for the Dean’s List every semester. Even in high school I’d been diligent, almost to the point of being antisocial. I had a group of a few close friends but pretty much only allowed myself out of the house for a special occasion like a birthday or something. The thought absolutely tickled me that a personality as anal-retentive as mine would ever participate in mind-altering activities.
    Our high, or whatever it was I’d experienced, had worn off by then. I felt kind of gypped. I didn’t ask anybody questions about life. I hadn’t attempted to write poetry. No infinite truth had been revealed to me. The only thing I’d gained was unsuppressed hunger and a couple of pounds that would be gained in response. I decided that I would smoke again but the next time around I would ask questions. And write a poem.


    A week later, I found myself in the booth of a dimly lit bar, tequila sloshing in my condensation-beaded glass. My wild chestnut locks were a stark contrast to the primness of my black cable-knit cardigan. It had been a long week at school and work and it was nice to remain stagnant for once. One more five hour shift and the weekend was mine to claim. Since I worked so much, I tried to do all of my homework for the week on the weekend. That meant hundreds of pages of reading, more than a few papers and responses to write, quizzes and tests to study for... my head was spinning. What happened to high school where your homework was to read a section in a textbook instead of an entire chapter?
   It had taken me so long to finish my margarita that Paul had gotten up for another beer. When he returned, I smiled at the proper way he set his Guinness with care upon the white square of a napkin.
   “Brooke, we should play some pool.”
   “Um, do you remember the last time I played pool? The number five ball went flying off the table towards that bulging blonde woman with all those arm tattoos. She was pissed.”
    Paul chuckled, “That was pretty funny. I don’t think she was pissed... c’mon, please?”
    Standing up from the table, Paul followed my silent yes over to the table where he inserted a few quarters. The sound of smooth polished granite, crashing and rolling together, resounded throughout the pool table’s core. Paul arranged the balls accordingly and pushed the filled triangle up and down upon the green felt until he was satisfied that they would remain still. With the opening break, Paul sent the colorful little spheres reeling.
  We were both distracted at the buzzing of his cell phone, which alerts the recipient of any message with a reverberating vibration and the glow of a red light. I leaned against my pool stick, watching a smile form as he read the message.
   “If I were able to obtain some Mary Jane tonight, would you be willing to partake?”
   Leaving the bar, we headed towards a small house in an abandoned-looking field. It struck me as the sort of place that could very well have a barn containing rusty blades hanging from the ceiling. I half expected Jessica Biel to come running around the corner in a bloodied white wife beater.   
   We acquired what we came for and promptly began to smoke it. This time my lungs were greedy and I inhaled as much as I could hold at one time. I held my breath like an Olympic swimmer (no Michael Phelps pun intended) until I was ready to release the smoke into the atmosphere. Everything felt the same except time, which felt like it was moving painfully slowly. I was disappointed until my knees buckled when I stood up. I leaned on Paul for support as we made our way to the car, blazed out of our minds.
    “I feel so funny,” I said, staring straight ahead, unable to move my neck.
    “Are you sure you’re okay?” he said, looking at me with concern.
    “You’re worried about me again, aren’t you? I terrify you, don’t I?”
    “No. Well, you did at one point. I didn’t know if you were doing things for your own reasons or because you wanted to rebel against your parents. You are doing things because you want to, aren’t you?” His voice sounded like a counselor.
  “Yeah. Over this break, I realized that I’m tired of being afraid to act a certain way because my parents want me to. I’m not the Republican Baptist doctor they painstakingly hoped I would become.”   “I’m glad you’re not a Republican Baptist doctor. I don’t think I would’ve liked you if you were. I like who you are. I like how you think.” He smiled and looked over at me. “I thought you were a Republican when I met you.”
   “I’m a Virgo,” I contested with conviction, then succumbing to laughter. Paul was a Libra, always seeking balance.
   I rolled my neck to the left, head still posted on the back of the passenger seat headrest. Through childlike eyes I spied Paul’s right profile. “Why do you think I’m pretty?”
  Without taking his eyes off the road, he reached for the mirror protected by those little sun-blocking flaps on both sides of the vehicle. “Look at those blue eyes,” he said.
   I looked up with a limp vigor. “Do you like blue eyes?” I asked.
   “I like your blue eyes.”
   Smiling, I popped open his glove compartment in search of paper and a pen. A moment like this would most certainly produce an inspired piece of poetry. I observed the world around me and wrote down everything I saw. The car stopped moving. After stumbling inside, I fell onto
my bed and into the delicious slumber I had been craving.


    The sun wrapped its arms around me the next morning, rays brighter than I had ever imagined. I held my hands out in front of me to determine whether or not I was real. Everything felt warm. I had to be real. With this apt conclusion, I turned to an awake and amused Paul.
    “Do you remember writing a poem last night?”
    “Of course I do. Let me see it.”
     On a white sheet of paper in bumpy, inky letters were the words, “RED LIGHTS!”

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