It's 2am and the air outside is cool and tastes moist, tastes slightly of rain and of childhood walks to school. The grass, where it exists, is covered in drops of dew. Sky as big as your head, as big as big, filled with masses of layers of pinpoint stars, suns and galaxies and every sort of generation of man. The world itself seems hushed, stilled, only the occassional car or airplane, lonely travellers all temporary members of the same loose club.
I'd rub my eyes, weary and half-dead from the sheer effort of my hours. I'd pull a box of smokes out of a pocket, put one between my lips, and pause.
Maybe I should give these things up? Spark, light, inhale, relax. Chemical warfare raging, cancer trying to take root, lungs baked hard and crystalline. Exhale. The world turns, observed. Moments pass.
It's what made me then. The writer writes. Sometimes the writer has a muse that comes from the lack of defense a bottle of whiskey can provide.
Before that, it was any excuse to party. All of it escape. That high speed high octane burning need to jettison the world in our wake, succomb to the death trip, the glory and beauty of giving up and giving in. Shed the dusty hard worn clothes and just fall face first into a vat of poison. Nights at Ralph's in Worcester, funding Richie's kid's future college years with heavy tips and hours and hours of alcohol-induced wisdom. Parties with Dell folks, all of them, every last one a heavy drinker and a heavy partier because what else can you do when you're in that machine? Numb yourself, find solace in dizzy spinning air.
Escape was fun because it was manic and necessary and it required walking on an edge so thin. It was a cheap, easy, self-indlugent thing, fast medicine, weak and unruly. Fun because of what it fueled, fun because it amplified every moment, made the grinding of the machine fade into a low hum.
One time, I found myself (at 18 years of age) at a party filled with gang members, tattooed and hardcore, me the only guy who didn't speak prison spanish. By the end of the night I was sitting on a porch with four of them, deep in conversation, a team.
The strangest things made their way up through the vapor. I'd fall in love a hundred times a bottle, the emotions so ready to come spilling out.
If you fuck up, you die. At the minimum, you are injured in ways you don't want to think about. At the minimum, 300 pounds onto your chest from 3 feet is a bad idea.
Staring at the bar, arms hanging off to the sides, stretching the chest, getting blood into muscle, breathing deep and slow, I'd lose focus. I'd lose the room. Noises gone, no yammering from the spandex and curler set, no grunting from the reps in the mirror set. I'd lose my focus, relax for a second. Then, breathe in. Hands out, slightly wider than my shoulders, grasp the bar. Grip it, find the balance point of the wrists by pushing slightly, rotating until the weight feels transmitted into bone. Breathe in once more, then before I'm ready, push.
Off the bar, weight in the air, every millimeter of correction a waste of energy that will be needed on the way back up. Every mis-calculation in time and space a chance to crush the lungs under the weight. Pull down, an active motion, the weight doesn't just fall. It is steadied down, slowly. The bar just grazes the chest, and that's the trigger. You push, explode, try try try try. If you don't make it, no spotter, you have to dump the weight. If you don't make it, you might snap your arm off in the recoil of dumping 150 pounds off of one side. Push push push, the last few inches coming hard now, you can feel the giving up right there, you can feel the weakness, the lack. Like a relief, like a lake of cold water, you can feel the last of your strength leaving you, prickling nerves firing their last, hands numb, dead.
There was that one trip to Albuquerque from Las Cruces. It's about 220 miles. The bike in question was a borrowed sportbike, a friend's ride. The destination was chosen because the girlfriend was a counsellor at a camp that was buried deep in the forests of northwestern New Mexico, and she had a weekend off, and Albuquerque was the closest middle ground. I'd packed a backpack and a tankbag with a weekend's worth of stuff. Then I'd hopped on the bike in the pre-dawn dark of a Friday morning.
I made the trip in a very short period of time. That long straight road, a few side trips to twisty county roads, fast as hell in some spots, faster than that in others, relaxing and rolling off the throttle on my own schedule, I put in hours and hours of time just soaking in the feeling. It felt like naked nerves, like wind and rain and creation. The desert in deep summer browns, the storm I had to pull over for, the back roads and tiny towns and the living breathing One. Just me coupled with everything. Just all of us, there. Fast and alive and stupid and young and possible.
Not that I've given up women, since I am married to one and she's the very best woman I have ever known. But there was a period of time when women gave me ups and downs like a good bad drug habit. Like the world on fire. At nineteen years old, already heading for a headful of ashes and whiskey, my eyes bloodshot with premature angst, I found myself working in an office full of divorced or nearly divorced disfunctional legal secretaries. Packed into an office: twenty women between 25 and 50 years of age and ten lawyers who were the perfect antithesis to my youth and wreckless vitality. It was an atavistic office, a time warp into Eisenhower-era suits and furnishings, dark and wood paneled with men who still expected dinner on the table, dog with slippers, pipe loaded and ready.
And me, poor and angsty and starving at times, sometimes single and sometimes didn't care. Imagine the consequences.
Some of them, it never got physical. I'd just hang out with them, be with them, talk with them until breakfast. Careful and considerate. I wasn't interested, really, in sex without consequence. And though the opportunities presented themselves, and though my friends laughed about me being a slut, I was rarely involved at that level.
It's amazing, really: most women just wanted someone to share time with, whether it was crazy drunken dancing and screaming out of car windows at the world, or a quiet night with a movie and bad microwave popcorn. The sex was offered, sometimes accepted, normally refused. I held myself to a higher standard of behavior whenever possible, whenever my morals weren't compromised by the drink or the cadence of my life. I tell this to people, and they don't believe me, or they do and call me a fool.
Sometimes I agree with them. For the most part, though? I got to enjoy more than just the hormonal rush, and all without any sort of baggage the next day at work.
That energy, those women, they helped raise me. Helped shape how I am, who I am. And prepared me for life with a woman who is all the things women are: deeply passionate, smart, funny, loving, emotional, and completely...totally...goddamn crazy.
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