“OK City”

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There is no reason to believe that the noise pummeling into your room is not a shoddy headboard rhythmically banging out the amorous-undoing-cadence which only a subset of souls can confess to having experienced at 3:00 a.m. Now you are one of them, though this inclusion does not particularly light you up with joy.

The bowels of this city are rife with stimulation and you never suspected a thing, blearily pulling your Jeep into that Midwestern parking lot five hours ago. The directions you found online that afternoon failed you not once, but two times in less than a five mile stretch of steaming interstate. Thank goodness for the humanity of the locals helping to reset your course to the hotel. However, you must cautiously admit that it does not ease your state of mind when the young lady at check-in boisterously advises, “you gonna wanna park on this side of the building tonight. We get alotta break-ins and they’s light on this side. Not on your side, though.” You certainly heed this warning, feeling a tenuous camaraderie with this person. Walking hastily to your second-floor room, the asphalt sucks the bottoms of your rubber-soled shoes closer to it than necessary and there is no question that you are smack-dab in the heartland of America.

Leaving Texas earlier that day was raw: a pulsing belt of stripped-off skin exposed like a chafe on concrete. But after what you are now convinced you inadvertently know of Randy, there was no choice but to beg off staying for another moment and jump in the Jeep, allowing him to go on believing that you will be back as soon as your affairs at home in Colorado are in order. A considerable part of you embraces the anesthetizing hum of the open road: it quiets the shrieking behind your strained eyes, the smoldering in your churning mind. You decide that you almost don’t even mind the fact that by tomorrow evening, you will be over a thousand miles away from Randy. For now, you have paused for a bit. To recuperate. Maybe even cry.

“Oh my GAWD!” a throat stripped of all inhibition bawls, sears through the moth-wing thin walls and collides at top-speed into your reverie. You silently hope that this means the enthusiasts next door will pause their extracurricular endeavors for the evening; perhaps even long enough for you to succumb to a couple hours of sleep. At this juncture, it’s the most you can hope for.

***

It’s not as if any part of the past two days preceding this leg of the drive had been particularly easy, either. Neither you nor Randy had relished the time when you actually had to say good-bye. Whoever could have imagined that you could have become so rapidly and unwaveringly attached to someone you met on the internet and drove across the country to meet? Now, leaving was so much of a necessity for your state of being that lingering in Texas any longer was enough to almost completely crush what remains of your heart. For more than one reason. Instead, you over-filled each aching moment with banalities never considered if you were to be together for another day, or under less daunting circumstances. Together, but already falling apart, you held on still tightly, dancing clumsily around the inevitable. 

“What do you want to do? Eat?”

“Do you want to go get breakfast somewhere?”

“I don’t know. Honestly, I’m not really that hungry.”

“Yeah, me either. Should we just get beers instead?”

You laughed then: awkwardly, out of relief, as a response instead of words lest your voice betray you. Alcohol would numb you just enough not to break down in front of Randy, telling him what you saw. What you know. Shunning breakfast, you climbed into the Jeep together and tried to decide where to go to get that one last beer. By the time you languidly pulled yourself from the air-conditioned cavern of the car into the onslaught of Texas sunshine, in a part of the city you didn’t know, in front of a bar you had never seen before, it was well past noon.

***

A new sound has usurped the passionate tussle in the room next to yours. And this one might even be more unsettling than the first. You’ve been in plenty of situations where numerous people were doing a number of things that were deemed as less than savory to you. And though you’ve only actually experienced it via a television screen when watching those addiction documentaries, you are absolutely certain that the noise you now hear through the wall is the conscientiously paced tapping of someone working to make their veins bulge tautly through their skin, in order to more easily inject something into them.

“Fuck.” An utterance only to make sure your voice still works. Your word is punctuated by a CRASH from the parking lot below and a cacophony of car alarms begins to whine aloud its tortured ballad. There is no way you are falling asleep anytime soon. How could anyone possibly bow before the dream-gods with this much racket going on, and the mounting panic that every passing moment elicited? Maybe if Randy had been there, he would have been able to allay your alarm. After all, he is the one with the experience in dealing with this kind of situation, not you. Of course, he swore that that part of his life is distant past and you never have to worry about an insurgence of those days upon your blissful life together now. Jesus. How could you possibly have been so oblivious? Oh right. Love. That demonic brute masked in such beguiling shrouds called ‘hope’, ‘togetherness’, ‘possibility’. When said shrouds swathe your eyes, all you see is love in every direction, and all you do is believe in the ephemeral exquisiteness before you.

You remember the pill Randy gave you to help you sleep, aware of your persistent insomnia, and decide that despite the fact that your trust in him has ebbed to the brink of complete nonexistence, anything that might aid in blocking out this excruciating night is worth a shot. Pawing through your laptop bag, you locate the tiny, perforated, off-white pill and swallow it easily without liquid.

Not yet being privy to this form of pharmaceutical, you have no clue as to what you should be expecting in terms of duration before your consciousness is seized and you are rendered blissfully incapacitated. You hope the wait is brief and the promised sleep thick and impenetrable.

Just like you now are. You are an impassable body of fortified wood, a boulder, a fucking mountain! Yes, that feels right. You are an iron girder, steeled tautly against this big, mean world and its pulsing aches. No more tender emoting tonight; to get through this, you are a docked barge in a tranquil harbor…you adore, you welcome those friendly waves lulling you into this serene…measured…rest…

BANG BANG BANG!

Is that your door? Through the already-murky daze of the drug, your mind lacks the usual clarity on which you rather pride yourself. No one knows you are here. Well, except Randy, since he was there when you booked the reservation. And he couldn’t be here…could he? Or maybe he knows what you know and told one of his old comrades about you and they have come to confront you…

“Open the fucking door!”

A resounding command and definitely not Randy. Male, tinged with a lilting accent so you assume he’s not Caucasian, doesn’t sound too friendly. Making demands of you, and cussing, and that. Should you open the fucking door? Is it your fucking door he’s knocking on, anyway? Good lord, what if Randy DID send someone to find you??

In all of your worldly travels, you have never stayed in a motel with walls like addled parchment-paper, so scarce that you can genuinely hear your neighbors’ sexual and drug-riddled deviance…perhaps your visitor is seeking entry into that experience? The alluring disharmony of car alarms continues to croon loudly enough to mute the neighbors’ activity, for the moment. But yes, of course, that makes more sense, indeed. No party in this room. Try next door, please and thank you, for a good time. Your neighbors sure seem to know how to celebrate the day’s end; all you want is to forget that the past 48 hours ever happened.

Sleep ekes away into the past and for some stupid reason, you wonder what time it is now.

***

“Do you want anything from the store? I can stop on my way back,” Randy asked softly, and you were sure he was on the phone at his desk and trying to be sneaky for fear that the boss might catch him.

“Ummm, no, I think I’m good. Just looking forward to our last night!”

“Don’t say that,” Randy said. “That bums me out. Seriously.”

“I’m sorry. You know I’m not happy about it, either.”

“Yeah.”

“At least we are going to have an amazing time tonight!” You aimed to hold his chin up for him; you, already complacent in your role as the optimist of this twosome. Don’t worry, Randy, everything is working out the way it is supposed to. You have to settle affairs at home, pack up your small apartment and your big dog, and then you will come back to him. For good. He is the one, he says YOU are the one for him, and you are going to really give this thing a go together. Randy still had not said anything, breathing softly into the phone.

“Just hurry and get off work, will ya?” You tried to lighten the mood which was rapidly dimming with each ticking second. You were excited to be with him then, to have a boozy, reminiscing dinner and probably more drinks following, then hitting the mattress entwined and determined to make the most of the last night you would be together for a few months.

“Ummm, yeah…I will. See ya soon.”

“Bye, Randy.”

“Bye.” He would be getting off work within the next fifteen minutes and his drive back to the house only took about five more–perfect chance to jump in the shower and start getting ready for the night ahead. The night before Randy brought home your favorite local pizza, so what should you choose for dinner? It would be a while until you could indulge in true Tex-Mex cuisine again, yes, and lathering suds over your skin, you decided that you would tell Randy that you wanted to dine at that little place on Third and Teri Street.

Stepping out of the tub and onto Randy’s threadbare bathmat, you heard what sounded like the tell-tale rumble of the engine in Randy’s old pick-up. But it was too soon. You had only been in the shower for five minutes or so; he wasn’t due back for at least another fifteen. Ignoring the need for a towel, you hurried to the window and parted the blinds just enough to see if Randy had pulled into the driveway. It was him! You felt a familiar tug of warm thrill in your guts as you waited to glimpse his lanky body emerging from the truck.

“C’mon,” you muttered, feeling the anxiety grow as the seconds bled into a full minute. And then another minute. Randy still sat in the truck. From your position in the house and desire to remain inconspicuous in your spying, you could not quite distinguish Randy’s face. The feeling in your stomach sloshed sorely from elation to apprehension; bile pooled darkly in the back of your throat and clogged your ability to breathe without a slight choking sensation. What was he doing out there? Why didn’t he come inside? It was your last night together, and he was there, RIGHT THERE, but sitting in the goddamn truck. Maybe he was talking to someone on the phone? This didn’t seem likely, Randy HATED talking on the phone, but it was possible. What else could he be doing?

And suddenly a new, increasingly disturbing thought leapt into your mind. What if, for some reason, Randy had not been at work when he called you? He could have been anywhere, really, since it had only taken him about five minutes to get back to the house. Oh please, you told yourself. He was probably just able to sneak out early so he could see you. Quit being ridiculous.

All at once, the truck opened. Through the thick glass pane, you imagined you could hear the familiar creaking of the aching machine on the verge of collapse. Still more weighted moments passed before you finally saw Randy’s slick shoes touch the driveway below. Clearly, something was amiss, you knew this and could not shut it off—you felt it mounting within every cell of your body—but you could not yet place what it was.

Randy shut the truck door and slowly walked around to the front of the truck. His deeply tanned face was locked away from you, concealed beneath a grimace. For the first time, you let your eyes slide away from him and to the grill on the front of the truck. Though Randy had parked a bit further from the house than normal and was blocking part of the hood with his broad frame, you still saw something there. Something wet. Something dark.

***

The pounding outside your door abruptly ceased. One by one, the car alarms were sealing their gaping mouths and falling back into their respective slumbers. What had Randy done? Where had he been? Groggy confusion and pain finally drizzles down your warm cheeks; you can no longer dam the surge now bursting forth in torrential streams. You thought you knew him; you were going to take a chance on forever with him! What did you really know at all? Two weeks spent zealously rolling around together, professing sugar-tinged nothings of promise and hope does not showcase a person’s more sinister attributes. What had he done?

You replay in your mind watching him grab the green hose from the side of the house and fervently spraying the grill of the truck. At the time, you told yourself he must have hit an animal on the way home, rushing to see you, to spend as much time together as possible before you had to depart. Which was before he finally came into the house, breathless, flushed, even trembling slightly? You had waited for him to tell you all about it, the armadillo, dog, or fox that was no longer alive, but he breezed in, merely saying, “hey you,” and heading right into the shower, clicking tight the lock within.

A bleating siren begins to scream. Was that outside the hotel? No. It had been outside of Randy’s house. No! It is outside, exactly as it had been at Randy’s house yesterday evening. You had glanced toward the locked bathroom, and footed it back to the window just in time to catch three squad cars barreling up the street, lights dancing ablaze. This is too much. You know and don’t know what Randy did and you can’t ask and you left him thinking you loved him and would be back to start a life together. Which you won’t.

Jesus, this city is dreadful. Everything is bad, feels wrong, makes you want to scream. You suddenly realize completely that you will not be going to sleep tonight The sirens moan and your eyes drain and your mind replays, yet again, the wretched moment when Randy stepped out of the bathroom, devoid of natural coloring in his face, despite the warmth of the shower tumbling out behind him. And you just knew.

“Did you pick where you want to eat?” he asked, like nothing whatsoever was out of the ordinary. The unnatural pause you allowed then felt cavernous, as if you were wilting inward onto yourself. But you couldn’t let him see this; you were the rock!  You ARE the rock. So you had smiled, larger than life, pulled him close to your body, and forced him to accept that everything was okay, everything was exactly how it should be.

            So dinner happened, you bought a six pack afterward, and returned to Randy’s to drink and fuck. Throughout the evening, you sensed his overcompensation but did not let on that you felt it. You kept drinking, you let him grasp your body in what had become a familiar way, and after he collapsed, sweating and gasping next to you, you allowed him to believe you had fallen quickly asleep. Soon, you heard him snoring lightly and still you did not cry.

And right now, since sleep is an impossible want and this hiatus in the journey has lasted much longer in your mind than in real time, it is time to get back on the road. This chapter in your life should only exist forevermore in your wake. You simultaneously rub away the wetness of your inane tears and slowly push your body into a sitting position. Glancing about the room, knowing there is nothing of yours to collect and bag up, you start making the great effort to switch your brain back into driving mode, sniff dramatically, and head for the door. 

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