Cold Night College Boy

The day before he died, Guy Dunn woke up from a nap.  Pale blue twilight trickled in through the broken blinds of the small window in his cramped dorm room.  He heard garbled voices in the common room beyond his paper-thin door.

‘Pack it again.’

‘Your phone’s ringing, Joey.’

Outside, the once heavy white sky had quickly become darkening grey.  Guy peered out beyond the dusty windowsill and could see the crispness of the air, the silent footfalls of layered students striding towards home, class, or nowhere.

Guy peeled himself out of bed and down the small ladder leading to his top bunk, groggy and more sleepy than before his nap.  His green Habitat for Humanity 2007 t-shirt hung too short on his long frame.  His black “Starter” brand basketball shorts bunched.  He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands, seeing little violet and reddish pink sparks in the darkness behind his eyelids.

He sat down at his desk.  His small black scheduler sat among various spiral notebooks, a cup of pens and pencils, a few paperbacks, miscellaneous fliers for campus events–an electric rainbow of neon paper.  He flipped open the scheduler.  Today, Thursday, November 11, 2010, the only event was a screening for his David Lynch course.  Violent blue ink on lined, cream-colored paper: “Inland Empire?! 9pm.”  He looked at the clock mounted on the wall above his desk.  5:23pm.

Guy ran his fingers through his dandruff-riddled black hair.  His left index finger felt numb.  He recalled a quick cut on Dom’s razor blade the other morning.  An accident.  Simple negligence.  Or so he told himself.  The day-old, blood-rust colored bandage covering his injury was losing its adhesiveness.

He opened the drawer of his desk and removed a Newport.  He walked over to the window, cracked it.  He lit the cigarette, inhaling deeply.  The scent and sensation brought him back to a recent summer afternoon, driving his mother’s little Nissan around winding roads.  A dreamy pewter sky peaking out from behind puffy, lazy clouds.  Endless pines hugging the road.  The radio shouting good music, smoke twirling out the cracked car window from the end of a long cigarette.  In that memory-world, he felt light, free, refreshed.  Newness in nostalgia.

Outside his real-world window, he saw Karen and Jess talking seriously in matching loose ponytails, thick sweaters, and those wraparound earmuffs that gently cup the back of your head as they walked towards the dining hall.  He would have called out . . . had he been that kind of person.

He finished his smoke, dabbing it out on the windowsill.  He undressed, wrapped a towel around his waist, slipped his feet into old Nike flip flops, grabbed his shower caddie, and headed out the bedroom door.

In the common space, his suite mate, Joey, was pacing and holding a joint in his hand.

‘No fuckin’ way dude.  We’re going to Tim’s.  He has my shit.  We need to go over there.’  A dumb dilemma about drugs, most likely.  And Guy was interrupting.

Joey tossed a throwaway pleasantry at Guy as he passed by: ‘What’s up, man?’

‘Nothing.  ‘Bout to shower.’

Joey nodded slightly and kept on chattering to the two faceless strangers sitting on the couch.  Didn’t even make eye contact with Guy.  Didn’t break his mental stride as he bore down on whatever impropriety had distressed him.

The common space was spartan.  A standard issue couch, chair, entertainment stand.  Guy’s TV on the stand, displaying the pause screen from a racing video game Joey started playing two days ago.  A black folding table in the corner, covered in translucent orange prescription bottles with white twist caps.  An old pack of cigarettes gaping sadly at the outside world as it sat in the window with the broken screen.  A minifridge sitting on the floor beneath the window.  Inside the fridge: a bottle of vanilla-flavored vodka and some empty or half-empty beer cans.  An old gym sock was wrapped around the smoke detector in the center of the room’s ceiling.

Guy exited the room and walked the ten steps down the hall to the communal bathroom.  Inside, Guy found the middle shower unoccupied.  The left shower heaved steam, two green flips flops with large black toes could be seen from the urinals.  The right shower was out-of-order.

The shower head sputtered at first, but eventually spit out a stream of tolerably hot water.  Guy showered quietly and quickly.  Guy felt more alone showering two feet from another person than he had in his bedroom staring out the window.

He toweled himself dry/damp behind the shower curtain.  He exited smelling allegedly like a ‘cool breeze’ if a cool breeze was sharp and chemical, yet in a genuinely fresh way.  The green flip flops and steam remained in the left shower.

Back in his bedroom, Guy dressed in a white pullover, his favorite dark-colored jeans, and his cousin Nik’s old brown leather boots.  In the small mirror by his closet, Guy spent a good ten minutes fixing his unruly hair.  His brown eyes had small dark circles hugging them.  Or so it seemed.

Guy pulled on his olive-colored bomber jacket.  He shoved his wallet, keys, and flip phone into separate pockets.  He had to double back for the cigarettes.  The clock read: 6:17pm.

Back in the hall outside his dorm suite, Guy saw no one.  He walked down the stained blue-ish carpet to the sounds of loud male voices, TVs blaring, and interior doors closing.  One woman passed him, looking lost.

Down the industrial/clinical looking stairs, Guy exited the building into a blast of cold, late-fall air.  It was that lonely time of year between the joyous autumnal run-up to Halloween where the natural world shows off the range of its beauty and the anesthetizing holiday season where society papers over the start of the long, frigid winter with big tent events a lot of people dread.

Outside, the grey world seemed depressed.  Few people dotted the otherwise stunning, carefully manicured campus.  Not much buzz percolating around; just silent stasis hanging in the air.  Most kids, hustling to catch up on work they should have done months ago, were in hiding.

Guy walked alone to the dining hall, in the Olgethorpe Building.  There, he entered the hall through the main doors and approached the swipe-in counter.  The woman behind the counter looked much older than she was.  She had dark auburn hair that was visibly thinning even beneath her black ball cap.  She smiled an uneasy, forced smile displaying staggered, stained teeth.  Her face wore strain and loss.  Her eyes gave away her age — still clear and quick.  She might be 30-something.

This poor woman, who likely lives nearby in the cheap, dangerous apartments just beyond the perimeter of houses the school purchased for its $54,000 a year tuition-paying (or scholarship receiving) students, has to accept artificial currency from children who look down on her every single day.  The thought weighed on Guy’s mind as he swiped, forced a matching smile to her polite “have a good dinner” grin, and moved into the hall proper.

The dining hall was shabbily decorated.  Black and white linoleum tiles covered the floor; plain square tables and round high-tops rimmed in a scarlet or maroon color scattered in the two rooms off the hall.  Fake plants near the entrance.  Wall-mounted TVs installed at angles in each of the larger room’s four corners; each playing the same 22 minute loop (+8 minutes of commercials) of sports info-tainment.  Basically, just a couple middle-aged white dudes with cheap haircuts and ill-fitting suits inserting youth-jargon into color commentary about the athletic prowess of the greatest athletes the world has ever known.  Almost like having your friend who paints sometimes giving real-time criticism of Dali in his prime.  Pretty much Twitter.

The food options are neither appetizing nor healthy.  Day(s)-old pizza living out its post-usefulness retirement under the oppressive gaze of a heating lamp.  Unsalted, plain, room-temperature penne.  Two sauces beside it ominously labeled only “red” and “white.”  Burgers, hot dogs, fried chicken in little metal bins next to the stove on which another local indigent sweats out his 37.5 hour per week “part-time” gig at $8.35 an hour.  A sad salad bar thrown together with such obvious indifference that whole hard-boiled eggs are still included along with the other “toppings.”

The whole place is lit with those long, tubular, mercury-vapor gas-discharge lamps that flicker and buzz every so often.  Fluorescence sounds like a disease; probably causes some.

Most students eat in packs with unconscious uniforms.  The lax bros with their hooded sweatshirts emblazoned with the school logo scissor-cut at the neck to fit more loosely, casually.  Their long, great hair drooping lazily, but attractively.  These guys are always talking, never saying anything.  Nothing ever done with intent and so they believe they are blameless.  Still, they are reckless and careless; and most wrongs are committed with something less than intent.

And there’s the sorority sisters in gaggles, loud and messy and pretty, always befriending the staff and always seeming to share important secrets.  The nerdy types who don’t really belong kind of globbing together out of residual necessity.  The loners, too overwhelmed by how different this whole place turned out to be than they had thought, sitting by themselves facing the TVs to avoid conversation or interrogation over their isolated, solitary status.

Everything in adulthood is childhood repeated.  High school, the prologue that portends no plot, but is just reimagined in remake after remake after remake.  Everyone having their moment as homecoming royalty, as bully, as victim, as success, and as failure.  Just give it time.

Guy took his tray of rubbery pasta with red sauce, salad, and a thick slice of what looked like carrot cake over to a small table by the wall facing the TV.  As he ate, Guy heard voices all around him, but did not make out many words.  He ate solemnly like a traveler passing through an unknown land, trying not to disturb any prey or alert any predator.  Survive and advance.

As he was eating, Luis stopped by Guy’s table.  Luis, a Stuyvesant product destined to become someone important, seemed to take an unjustified liking to Guy.

‘Hey brother.  How’s it going?’

‘Good.  You know, another day in paradise.”  Guy had been using this line in almost every social setting he had experienced and it always worked to disarm and project humor since, no matter where you are, most people hate it to some extent.

Luis laughed.  ‘I get you man.  You talking Professor Zaita’s symbolic logic course next term?  Been looking at a minor in philosophy.’

‘Yeah, I think I will.  I’m probably going to end up double-majoring.  Not sure though.’

Guy could actually feel himself loosen up and engage in these purely forward-looking conversations.  Planning for achievement was a pleasant, warm-feeling experience.  Like talking about a really nice vacation you want to take someday.  Or some substance you’re about to score.  It felt social, but meaningful.  Real and non-bullshitty.  Although, of course, it was just another different form of gossip.

‘Really?’  Luis seemed interested in this conversation too and so he sat down.  ‘So, what are you thinkin’ about for post-graduation?  Law school or something?’

‘No way am I becoming a lawyer.  I think I want to write or maybe teach.’

‘Gotcha.  I’m thinking of going into the law.  Do some patent or IP work.  Make money!’  Luis exclaimed and laughed at his own outburst of honesty.

Luis was a well put together guy.  He only dressed alright (for a college kid), but he carried a calm, independent confidence that was rare in this place where so many are here to carry out the wishes of a parent or to follow sheep-like the path blazed before them by so many generations of their families that the luster of becoming a doctor or hedge fund manager must have been lost long ago.

Luis had black hair, brown skin, and light cheery eyes.  He was born and raised on the lower east side of Manhattan.  He was into Super Smash Brothers, anime, and all manner of nerdy pastimes.

Guy liked Luis well enough, but Guy didn’t crave his approval.  And in the strange world of perception, posture, and status, a person can only do so much for a friend when he’s gotta give every ounce of energy to his afflictions.  So, Luis and his bright future chatted a bit longer than Guy wanted him to, then left Guy once again alone as the opening segment of the sports show started up for the second time during Guy’s lonely dinner.

Guy finished up, cleaned off his tray into the labeled bins (recycling, compost, trash), and placed his dirty dishes in line for yet another poor local to take care of.  Guy, who was himself a local and who worked in a restaurant on the weekends, always felt an extra pinch of resentment and guilt over the dishwashers.  They always seemed older than they should be for that job and so unkempt in comparison to the pristine products of good genes and money that waltzed around the grimy cafeteria.

The juxtaposition turned Guy’s stomach.  The impoverished catering to the wealthy off at “college,” which was really a glorified, four-year summer camp.  And here he was, an impoverished in wealthy sheep’s clothes.

Exiting the yellow glow of the dining hall, Guy entered the chilly, night-time campus.  He checked his phone.  No messages.  7:11pm.

Guy called home as he walked over to Sharon’s.  His dad picked up.

‘Uh yeah, hi.  I’d like to order a large cheese pizza and some wings,’ his dad joked.  Guy could practically see his dad’s smile at this common opener.  Guy’s dad always playing the light-hearted goof, full of worry.

‘Hey there.  How’s it going?’  Guy deadpanned.

‘Good.  Just got back from the gym.  Shoulder’s been acting up.  But I am going to the specialist next Tuesday morning for an MRI so we’ll see.  I also have that sleep study next Wednesday.  I’ll see what they have to say.  They said they would put it in as a different code for my insurance so it should be approved.

‘And your mother had her appointment today and she’s . . .’  And on and on like this.

Over the past few years, Guy’s conversations with his parents had become almost entirely one-sided medical updates.  Guy knew his dad was paranoid, worried, and absorbed by his deteriorating body, but he also knew his dad buried all that deep down to play the jovial, yet stoic parent.

Most college kids end up becoming close friends with their parents, or so it seemed to Guy.  They would call home and both would share stories of going out with friends, drinking, romance, mishaps, etc.  Parents would let down their paternalistic guard and start treating their college kids as equals.  A kind of egalitarianism would take hold where the parents and their adult kids could share life fully rather than through filtered lenses of imposed hierarchy.

But that tidal shift never occurred for Guy.  Perhaps, it was a product of Guy’s circumstances.  He was the youngest child of four.  His parents were older.  Guy was the first to go away to school.

But, to Guy, it also seemed like his parents weren’t really full people.  They kind of always did the same things, never surprising Guy or anyone else.  They trudged through life like it was a chore rather than pirouetting and twirling and pausing as everyone else in the liberal arts college bubble seemed to do.  And maybe this place infected Guy’s perspective on his otherwise normal parents.  Who knows?

Anyways, Guy wrapped up his call home on the porch of the house Sharon rented with some friends.  The call duration stated: ’20:33.’  Guy probably spoke four or five times.  His mother spoke for 45 seconds.  The remainder?  Medical/other semi-ominous updates delivered in a sloppy, roundabout way by his dad.  He said his good-byes and closed the phone.

It was 7:32pm when Guy turned and rang the doorbell.  Guy heard movement.  Then, Sharon opened the door.

‘It’s fuckin’ cold out there.’

‘Yep.’

With that, Sharon turned to let Guy in.  Sharon was a tall, older–some glowing college PR rep would use the term “nontraditional” with way too much pleasure–student.  She had shoulder length black hair and a wide mouth rimmed by naturally dark lips.  She grew up about an hour away and so could sympathize with Guy’s localism.

Guy met Sharon at a party at her house where the cops got called for underage drinking.  The cops only ever get called for off-campus stuff; on campus, it’s a free-for-all.  Guy was being questioned, as he was underage, when Sharon intervened and gave a statement that Guy was not drinking and hadn’t been there long.  It was heroic in a typical way.

Guy and Sharon were vaguely romantic.  They slept together a handful of times.  Mostly, they just drank, smoked, and snorted pills together.  They kind of enjoyed each other’s company.  Mostly, they found each other not intolerable.

Sharon asked, ‘So what’s going on back up the hill?’  Sharon’s house sat slightly downhill from campus.  It squatted on the corner of Lincoln Terrace, which the school effectively owned and operated, and Crescent Avenue, which the city neglected.  Geography being destiny, the front facade of the house was immaculate, but the side facing Crescent was in disrepair.

‘Not much.  Joey’s selling coke again.  Two guys there I’ve never seen before.’

‘He’s probably sleeping with one of them.’

‘Yeah, I’d imagine so.’  Joey had a kind of on again, off again relationship with sexual fluidity.  ‘He’s heading out for the night so that’s good news at least.’

‘For sure.  What’s on your agenda for the night?”

‘I have that screening for Professor Lew’s class.  Around 9, I think.’  Guy remembered precisely.

‘Mhm. What are you watchin’?’

‘Some David Lynch movie…er film… Saying film makes me an asshole, huh?’  Guy laughed at himself.

‘Sure does.  Right up there with people who spell theater “re” and anyone who knows what IBUs stands for.’

‘Speaking of drinking . . . you still down to come with me and get sauced?’

‘Uh. . . I don’t know.  It has been a long week.  Kinda just want to lay down and listen to the Shins until I fall asleep.’

‘Look it will be worth it,’ Guy said with what he thought was a twinkle in his eye.

Sharon shook her head in a tight, slow motion.  ‘Nice offer, but I think I’m just gonna stay in.  Besides, the only alcohol in the house is Tom’s gin.’

‘Well, let’s just drink that straight.  Used to do that with my brother’s stash.’  Guy suggested.

Sharon gave Guy a look.  ‘I have to live with Tom.  I’m not stealing his shit.’

‘Let’s go get some forties or something then?’

‘No money, no gas.  I’m tired.  Another time.’

Here’s a secret: blue balls are not real.  It’s a psychological thing.  When a person really, desperately wants something, has been planning for it, building up the expectations in his head, the fallout from being denied his castle-in-the-sky is a rough comedown.  This comedown can drive people to anger, violence, depression, wild behavior, etc.  Especially, when chemical substances and the brain are involved.  So, denial of sex, drugs, booze, vacation, leaving work early, sleep, food, medicine — all of this can lead to mental distress that jocks have inaccurately called ‘blue balls.’

Sharon’s repudiation pissed Guy off.

‘Fine.  Whatever.’  He pulled on his jacket and left Sharon sitting alone on her bed in her dark room.  Guy imagined Sharon was stung by this, hurt by his coldness.  In reality, Sharon could give a fuck.  Guy was just a passerby in her life.

As he slinked off, Guy grabbed Tom’s bottle, tucked it in a inner pocket of his jacket, and walked out of the house.  Indifferent to this consequences of this trespass, Guy rode the emotional roller-coaster of transforming disappointment into resolution.

Guy was probably an addict.  He believed his three older siblings (and likely his mom) were too.  Still, he was young enough to camouflage it.

The real problem with addiction is not the substance, but the void it fills.  Addicts only have the thing to live for.  Otherwise, their lives are composed of a mundane and constant pain–a background static of discomfort and shame.  It is the substance or thing that punctures the constant stream of dull, yet loud garbage the whole rest of the world seems preoccupied by.  Without the substance, life is not just meaningless; it is only hell, cold, plodding, and oppressive.  The thing is the escape hatch.  The thing is the door out of the labyrinth of injustices that is life to so many.  The thing is an umbrella protecting against the shitstorm pummeling the world.

Guy walked out into the darkened evening air.  His breath ghostly visible.  He pulled out the stolen bottle, unscrewed the cap with one hand, and took a sip.  The liquid felt heavy and metallic in his mouth.  The burning sensation followed quickly by a wave of nausea, then a calm pause.  Guy coughed and wiped his mouth with the back of his free hand.  Onward, he thought, into the cold night.  It was 8:09pm.

Guy trudged up the large cement stairs leading to the parking lot full of cars other students’ parents had bought for them.  Mercedes, Lexus, BMW.  Large SUVs with stickers from four or five liberal arts colleges across PA, NY, and MA.  VW Beetles, for the ironic; Japanese trucks for the granola crunching, hiker-types.  Guy standing in the middle of the dark lot as a soft snow fell.  His brother, Joe, having totaled their shared car years ago.  He looked down at his beat up hand-me-down boots, his only mode of transport these days.

The chill in the air was biting at Guy’s exposed flesh: his nose and ears on fire with the cold.  He headed towards the student union half a mile up-campus.

Along the way, he passed by the large buildings that served primarily as housing for students, but also hosted some classes and school-wide events.  At night, the big buildings glowed at large, empty spaces.  A few lights were on.  Most were off.  So very quiet and still.

As Guy moved along, he kept his head down to block the wind.  He knew the way without really paying it much attention.  In this down-facing stance, Guy almost ran over Kristina.

‘Easy there, killer.’  Kristina flashed a quick predator’s smile at Guy.

‘Sorry! Wasn’t looking.’

‘Where you off to in such a hustle on a cold pre-winter’s night?’  Kristina’s eyes laughed for her.

‘Grabbing some coffee.  Have a screening for class.  Kind of fading for it.’

‘Fading?  How fading?’

Fading like a small sail boat into the sky-wide ocean, bow towards the horizon.  Fading like starting to disappear down the escape hatch you dug out of the prison that is your life.  Fading out of here to arrive in that distant there where there is peace.

‘Just some gin, I scrounged up.’

‘Mind if I tag along?’  Kristina suggested and teased simultaneously.  Kristina was a short girl with small, darting eyes.  She was generically odd.  The kind of sorority girl who is only in it for the drugs and fancied herself an artistic spirit.  She cannibalized her friendships for her own advantage with only a little bit of regret.  Guy really didn’t like her, but the prospect of some companionship and, perhaps, some better stuff than some cheap, stolen gin enticed him.  Onward.

‘Yeah, no.  Uhh . . . come on.  It may not be fun, but it will be weird.’  Guy winced at the clumsiness of this attempted and unintended/unconscious flirt.  Always trying to impress the people we do not like.

The duo entered the student union.  Guy felt warm from the gin and the hot air the furnaces were pumping out.

Inside the small, faux-convenience store the school operated inside its bookstore, Guy filled up a cup of coffee and grabbed some prepackaged popcorn.  As he went to pay, Kristina threw down two large bags of gummy bears and worm-shaped sour candies.  She winked at Guy knowingly.  Predator becomes parasite.

The young black kid behind the counter was a student.  A student acting as a cashier employed by the school for minimum wage as part of a “work-study” program aimed at defraying the cost of the privilege of attending a place that only half a century ago would never have admitted him.  Everything about the school and so many like it around the country, when you stop to think about it, is powered by the labors of underpaid, impoverished locals and monetized, objectified, and tokenized poor students.  College, the new plantation.

Back into the cold night, Guy and Kristina walked over across the rolling green space between the student union and the library plaza.  The library faced out across the exquisite campus landscape.  It’s wide stairs leading to two heavy doors.  On either end of the library was one academic building: on the south end, the new economics building; on the north end, the old humanities building.

‘So, what’s this movie about?’

‘I don’t know.  Supposed to be something abstract and strange.  Something to be interpreted.’

‘Mmm.  Not really my thing.’

‘I like it to be my thing.  But yeah, not my thing either.’  Guy said it like “eye-tha.”  Sometimes, after getting a little buzz going, he had more of an accent.

‘Well, you want to get a little more medicated, friendo?’

Guy smiled.  Drugs made him nervous sometimes, but he also enjoyed them in a deep and shameful way.

‘What do you have in mind there, pal?’

‘Oh just a little weed and a little Vicodin.’

‘Killer combo, I think.’

‘Excellent.’

Kristina took charge and led Guy to the far side of the humanities building.  There, she opened her purse and took out a small glass bowl that looked like a globby, glass spoon with charred black stains in its mouth.  Kristina also unzipped a small pocket in her purse with a gold zipper and golden teeth.  She extracted three cylindrical white pills.  She snapped one in half and pressed one and a half pills into Guy’s hand.

‘Bottoms up.’  Kristina dry swallowed her share.

‘Thanks,’ Guy said awkwardly.  Then, he popped his pills into his mouth and downed them with a gulp of gin.

‘And now, for liftoff.’  Kristina packed the bowl from a small plastic packet of what appeared to be tiny dried out pieces of broccoli with streaks of gold.  Guy sipped some more gin.  Pot gave him anxiety.  Alcohol helped sometimes.

Kristina flicked a black Bic lighter.  The small flame pulled down over the bowl in a little arc.  The weed glowed.  She exhaled triumphantly into the inky night sky.

Guy accepted the bowl from Kristina and repeated the act.  He exhaled and coughed.  Kristina laughed at him and took another hit.

‘Do you like it here?’  Guy asked as Kristina passed the bowl back to him.

‘It’s fine.  Some good, some bad.  I have fun.’

‘Yeah.  I think it’s good, too,’ Guy reflected unthinkingly, maybe thinking too much.  Guy felt like this place had some merits, but mainly was just the next step along the bridge of life, leading to somewhere.  Kind of an absence of feelings.

‘It’s not how I pictured college.  I always thought college would be parties full of smiling people with good lighting.  Warm, open-hearted invitations.  Embracing everyone.  I think, most people only like people like them.’  Kristina philosophized.

‘I think everyone just sucks, most of the time.  And here, the worse you suck, the more you are rewarded.  So, the good people are the dredges and the evil run the show.  Like high school all over again.  Or maybe like prison, not that I’d know.’

‘Hm. Probably.  Should we go in?  It’s 8:51.’  Kristina had moved on from the conversation.

‘Yeah.  Let’s go.’

Inside, the humanities building was dark except for a few low-energy flood lamps placed every ten feet or so along the hall.  The whole building smelled like old wood and chalk dust.  It had an atmosphere of abandonment.

‘The screening is in 4B downstairs.’

‘Alright.  Lead on.’

Guy walked ahead of Kristina, feeling light, woozy, out-of-body.  He walked past the empty classrooms with their ominous and empty desks peering out at him.  Something about auditoriums, classrooms, or stadiums that gave off the impression that they are watching you even and especially when empty.

In the center of the hall was a set of dark wooden stairs.  Right side going up, left side down.  Guy walked down feeling like he was going to fall into blackness, but also walking just fine.  Internal life’s conflicts with the external world give rise to consciousness of self.  The self necessitated by cognitive friction; there must be a me if there’s a difference between how I feel about my body and what my body does.  And so on.

Down the stairs, Guy opened the a heavy metal door on an industrial, rusty hinge with a small rectangular window spidered with a criss-cross pattern of something (metal?).  Down the empty hall all the rooms were darkened and closed except for 4B, the third one on the right, glowing blue.

Guy walked on.  Kristina followed.

Inside the classroom, there were eleven or so other students all idly occupying themselves as they waited for the movie to start.  Professor Lew stood at the front in casual clothes–jeans, an untucked flannel-like button-down, black-rimmed glasses, an unblinking, toothy smile.

Guy sat down next to an empty desk.  Kristina sat behind him.  Guy would have been puzzled, but the mixture of marijuana and opiates and alcohol had wrapped his waking mind in soft, warm blankets.  The blue light from the DVD pause screen washed over Guy’s face.  Guy felt like he had reached a quiet outpost at the end of the world.  He was certain he had found bliss and he would never leave.

He saw Lew face the students and saw some things about the movie.  He blinked slowly.  He saw Lew go back to the computer running the projector and click something.  The screen shifted from blue to black and then started playing the movie.  Guy took another blink.  Softly this time, quietly.

The movie played and played, but Guy didn’t focus on it.  He kept sneaking little sips of gin and turning back to see if Kristina was still there.  He just sat and existed and felt calm nothingness.

All Guy knew about the movie as his eyes watched it was that it was strange and felt too long.  Of course, even long things eventually end.  And so it did.

Guy and Kristina exited the humanities building at 12:28am.  They went back to Kristina’s room in the old building on the corner of Hill and 13th.

Flashes of an old Dutch-style manor house.  Large, elegant stairs.  An old paneled bedroom door.  The room smelled like too many candles.  The bed was unmade, blankets strewn and bundled in tangles.

Kristina packed another bowl, which she and Guy shared.  They each took sips out of the gin bottle.  The pills feathery mark on their minds had lifted slightly.  The booze and the weed helped them stay afloat.

They sat on the bed, leaning into each other.  Out the window, tree limbs swayed.  A light orange glow from a street lamp.

They mumbled nothings to each other.  It was 2:11am.

Kristina turned to Guy and pressed her mouth against his.  She pulled back for a moment to pull off her shirt and her bra.

Guy wanted to and didn’t, but the reptilian part of his brain urged him.  Onward.  A murky meadow of feelings and thoughts punctured by timeless cosmic power.  Despite his conscious internal ambivalence, Guy met Kristina’s enthusiasm.

Later, in the odd twilight of a half-stranger’s bedroom, Guy walked naked over to the desk.  He sat and looked out the window.

A whole world of possibility out there.  A vast expanse of peoples, actions, objects.  A tapestry of motivations and dilemmas and solutions and accidents so intertwined and complex, a person could never grasp it all.  Beauty beyond words.  Living a life, a magnificent creation, experience, and performance.

Then, the empty creep of another day panged in the back of Guy’s mind.  Another day of being here.  Here, a world of boring, slow pain, only the threats pushing you onward.  Another day of trying to do so much that he hated, that bothered him deep inside his heart.  The void expanding.  Life was waiting for a train that would never come.

Guy saw Kristina’s purse on the ground.  He thumbed it open and stuck his hand inside seeking out the little, golden mouth holding the keys to the prison he was so desperate to escape from.

Guy found the pills and pulled them all out.  About a dozen.  He took two with a sip of gin.  Then two more.  Then two more.  Then two more.  And so on.

~~~

The first burnt rays of daylight pierced through the heavy morning sky.  A bird chirped to an empty street.  Kristina woke up and rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands.  She saw little violet and reddish pink sparks in the darkness behind her eyelids.

She opened her eyes and saw Guy naked on the floor beside her desk chair.  She walked over to his motionless body.

She touched him softly.  No stirring.  No breaths.  Kristina looked once more out the window, the limbs of the tree swayed slightly.  It would be a very cold day today, she thought.

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