Authors: Pete Wentz,James Montgomery
Tags: #Coming of Age, #Biographical, #General, #Fiction
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TO: B.M.W. AND ANYONE WHO HAS EVER GOTTEN LOST TO FIND THEMSELVES . . .
late at night in the hotel room, after the lights have gone out and the mistakes have already been made, when it is heavy and silent and still, I lie awake and listen to my pulse on the pillow. It’s the only way to get through this. “Let’s start this at the end.”
That’s how it goes, like a feather on a drum, bristling and quick, barely there. It’s a microscopic sound, elusive, somewhere between my earlobe and my neck—a matter of nanometers—and I almost have to strain myself to find it, closing my eyes and holding my breath . . . feeling for it without actually
for it, because the slightest movement disturbs the rhythm, makes the blood slosh around and the heart stutter, turns the whole thing into a giant
which is precisely what you
want in a situation like this, lying in the dark with someone next to you, in some city somewhere, unbearably sad, tethered to the leaden silence of moment, sinking into the darkness. I am an anchor for an anchor.
Because then the anxiety comes, or the guilt (usually
both), and I start to think that I’m living in the middle parts of
right before things go really wrong for Pip, and of course I’m Pip, because it’s my tiny violin playing this one, because everything has to be about
. And that makes
angry, makes my head pound and my blood foam up and all I want to do is rip off the covers and
only it’s my hotel room and there’s really nowhere else I can go, and even if there were, it wouldn’t make a difference because I’d just be running from myself, and you can’t do that no matter how hard you try, and trying hard is what got you in this predicament in the first place.
And then there will be sweating and rolling, pitching fore and aft. Seasickness in a dry-docked vessel. I will probably vomit. I’m an insomniac, my mind works the night shift.
• • •
So you have to be careful when you’re trying to find it. I’ve had years of practice at this point, so it’s not that scary. I’m an old hand, a professional. I don’t move, I don’t breathe, and eventually, I hear it: the soft, muzzled beat of my pulse, against the pillow,
ffft ffft. ffft ffft
. I focus a bit—carefully—and it grows louder, firmer, until the sound fills the room, blocks out the world.
. There’s something comforting about it, because it always sounds the same, no matter what city I’m in, no matter how far I’ve drifted from home. It beats in perfect biological rhythm, blood vessels and capillaries thumping in precise, sanguinary syncopation. My body is a
metronome, keeping time for the universe, the maximal and the minimal. All of it. It makes me feel less alone.
I think of phrases like
stuff from science class, and I can feel my body slowing down.
I think of the planets and the veins of stars, stuff from movie theaters and planetariums, and I can feel my head lifting toward the heavens.
I think of sleep, for the first time in weeks.
And then, as if on cue, she wakes up, the stranger lying next to me. My insomnia isn’t entirely my fault, after all. Strange, stranger.
She’s got her chest pierced. It’s gruesome. It’s gorgeous. Even now, in the middle of the night, her black hair falls over her eyes just right. She sits up in bed and is fumbling for something. I feign sleep, but she knows me too well. She flips on the light, pulls her knees up to her chest, and lights a cigarette. Her smoke rings are wide and gray, almost big enough to climb into. Like life savers off the bow of a sinking ship. She’s trying to tempt me now, or talk, and I’m really hoping it’s the former, not the latter. Actually, who am I kidding? I don’t want it to be either. Because this is a giant
now. This has all gone to hell.
“Hey,” she whispers, brushing her hand on my shoulder, “are you awake?”
I hate her. Really I do.
Of course, hours ago, in the back room of a bar, this wasn’t the case. She had on nosebleed heels, her knees and elbows were as sharp as knives, and that piercing. She was across the room, sitting on one of those black
leather couches they always have in rooms like this, ignoring the advances of the kind of guys that always find their way back here. Her knees were locked, keyless, and she looked at her hands the whole time, in a way that made it obvious that she was trying
to look at me. But she was. The hardest part of watching someone watching me is making it appear that I’m not watching.
It wasn’t the case at the after-party, either, when we finally spoke, after a few hours of doing stupid, arbitrary avoidance maneuvers. Shifting glances, wan smiles, F-14 barrel rolls like in the movies. They were stupid and arbitrary because we both knew what we wanted out of this situation. We huddled in a dark corner, I made a joke, she laughed. It wasn’t funny and her laugh was annoying. This is routine by now. I could bring this ship into port on autopilot, could go take a nap belowdecks. In fact, I probably do. My life is so fucking predictable, my nights even more so.
She’s got a mound of red cocaine, cut with strawberry Quik. They’re all only here because I am too.
The cocaine was largely symbolic.
Phenylethylamine (PEA), the chemical responsible for the swooning and feelings of adoration, is structurally similar to cocaine. However, when given the chance, many people choose cocaine over love.
I wouldn’t say that’s a bad choice.
The endorphins released during infatuation are similar to heroin. OxyContin, “the cuddling hormone,” most often found in new mothers and newlyweds, is like ecstasy; every touch tingles.
I think I read that somewhere.
Love exists in powder. Love exists in pills
. We are all addicts.
My head is swirling when I pass her my hotel-room key, surreptitiously as if it were a promise. It’s passed like
taking the new communion. I whisper for her to go wait for me there, and she does. It will be more than an hour before I even leave the bar, mostly because I like the idea of her sitting there, back in my room, bee-stung knees on the bed, waiting. Maybe she’ll go through my shit, take something. Maybe she’ll rethink it all and leave. I don’t care either way. My moral compass is spinning next to the magnet that is all of my desire.
When I finally get back to the room and open the door, she’s sitting there, just as I’d imagined. Knees locked, elbows sharp, the piercing in her chest jumping slightly. She’s nervous, doesn’t know whether to stand as I approach her. We don’t talk. My head is still whooshing, but everything’s slower now, sludgier. I push her back on the bed, kiss her neck, make my way down to that piercing. Her knees unlock. You can pretty much imagine what happens from there.
But now, she wants to
sitting up against the head-board, knees drawn tight, smoking that cigarette. This is her confessional. She explains how she ran away to LA or was addicted to OxyContin or something. It’s all the same to me—a fucking red flag emblazoned with the words
DO NOT BECOME EMOTIONALLY INVOLVED WITH ME,
and this bed is barely big enough for my own baggage. I ask her about her family because it seems to be the kind of question I am expected to ask. She tells me her mother is “a French whore.” She says this as she’s stubbing out her cigarette, showing the tattoo on her lower back. I don’t know how I didn’t notice it before. It’s something written in French, in dagger-sharp script. I laugh, she doesn’t.
“No, seriously, my mom is a fucking French whore,” she says, looking at me with wide eyes, searching for some kind of response. She has rehearsed this, delivered that line in front of a mirror while she put on lipstick. I hate her. I don’t know what she wants from me, so I just roll back over, feign sleep again. She sits there for what feels like an hour, knees up against her chest piercing, then she turns out the light. I don’t know if she’s asleep, but I hear her breathing in short, little sighs. I imagine her chest piercing rising and falling, like ancient Roman empires. I think about her mother, the French whore, who probably isn’t anything of the sort. At least I hope she’s not.
In the morning, as she’s leaving, I get another look at the tattoo on her back. It reads
JUSTE COMME MOI
. Hours later, riding to somewhere else, I look up the translation. It means “just like me.”