I find myself scared too often for no reason. I feel tears forming up in my eyes too many times for absolutely no reason at all. Maybe I remember something from years ago or my chronic deja vu pours a cup for communion and nostalgia throws it right back in my face, like so many girls should have. I was never really the outgoing type, even when I drank. Always too nervous to spark up the flame of conversation and that’s probably why I hate small talk, because I was never really good at it.
Here I am on the road now to Chicago with my three older cousins. I have no idea why I tagged along, I don’t have any idea what to talk to them about. I have a vague idea how their favorite football or baseball teams are doing even though I don’t follow either of them relatively closely. After middle school I was never interested in sports much. It might have something to do with me nearly blowing out my knees due to the intense training I did as a 13-year-old track star. Maybe it had something to do with me focusing all of my attention on my first guitar, which I had gotten for Christmas that same year. But, mostly I think it has more to do with who I ultimately surrounded myself with as a teenager entering high school and my desperately longing to find somewhere to fit in and never say the wrong thing. That’s why I don’t speak unless spoken to, the intense judging eyes and awkward silences that can burn holes through my psyche and tear down any self confidence I pretend I have.
I’m not really sure why we’re going to Chicago. Don’t get me wrong, I love the city and would make any excuse to go there if I had the means to. But, why now with my three cousins? They all have wives and children at home, which is another conversation I have nothing to contribute to. I am never really given an answer for this as I ask them to drop me off at one of the many multi-story department stores that line each side of State Street downtown. They say they need to go pick something up and that they’ll meet up with me later. I wave goodbye and head inside to wander the fluorescent lit isles and carefully crafted displays filled with things that I think I need but probably don’t. I make friends with the mannequins as we try our best poses out on each other, but they always seem to win whatever contest I had made up on the spot.
I finally realize that the stores are empty except for a few employees stuck behind cash registers and staring straight ahead like it was their final resting place, forever trying to compete in the numbness of an ever apathetic, automated world. The deafening stillness eventually drives me to the brink of delirium and I make for the glass revolving doors to escape the quiet madness of the collapse of capitalism.
As I step out onto the bleak, desperate, dreary streets of an overpopulated utopia, I look up into the outstretched arms of the skyscrapers around me and get lost in the stillness of everything pointing up to the heavens, covered now in a dark shade of blue, barely touched emptiness. For that moment I forget about all of the robotic arms of the strangers striding by and wonder what I am going to do here, lost in a sea of a million of empty souls, not knowing the name of a single one.
I begin wandering toward Michigan Avenue and past that, toward the giant, sea of a lake by the same name. I find myself lost in a giant empty green field covered only by the shadows of the concrete mountains on three sides of it and a vast blue body of water to the east. I approach a famous fountain and suddenly a mass of structure appears in the lake. It looks as if one of the over sized buildings had toppled over and the top half of it had plunged into the cold waters, standing upside down like a dart thrown down by the hands of God.
I watch as people swim from the beaches to the mass of steel propped up a hundred feet from shore and look up to see tiny figures jump from one of the open windows to the rippling pool below. It’s then that out of nowhere my cousins appear behind me, looking up in at the structure and holding half empty beer bottles and asking if I’m ready to make the jump. I stare at them like they had just proposed the bombing of the entire city and walk slowly away from them like I’m backing away from a mugger on one of these murky streets at night. They follow close behind, offering me some liquid courage knowing full well I had quit drinking over a year ago.
“Come on!” one of them says, “We’re all going to do it once we have enough booze in us!”
I’ve made plenty of bad decisions in my life and I know if I go back to the bottle, I’ll fall down faster than if I jump off of that thing protruding up out of Lake Michigan. But, I have nowhere to go. I’m stuck in this city unless I find an escape by some other means. It’s then that I realize that I don’t have my phone or wallet. I had either not brought them with me at all or left them in the car we drove in. I’m really stuck now, stuck and tormented by the demons in my head and the pressure put on me by the ones that are supposed to be my family. It’s not supposed to be like this, is it?
I scream silently in my head and the next thing I know, we are in some dingy bar and there’s a full beer sitting in front of me. I can no longer stand the constant hum and voices playing on repeat in my bursting mind. I take pour the poison down my throat in hopes to quiet the sounds inside my head. It’ll all be over soon, I keep telling myself. I didn’t know how right I was by thinking this because a few minutes late I am completely trashed and standing on the top of the upside down tower staring and the dismal deep of the water below through the fog that rolled in. I turn around to see my cousins standing there, egging me on to make the jump as If I was the test dummy in the world that is about to come crashing down around me.
Maybe it was my drunken state or the panic attack setting in that would’ve brought me to my knees but all of a sudden I hear myself saying under my breath, “Fuck it.” I than launch off of the platform that others before me had put in place. I feel the wind of the city as I watch the skyline in front of me as I fall. The buildings are all full of smoke now with flames fluttering through the dirty evening air. I pray for an easy landing as I fly through the air, closing my eyes as I feel my feet hit the icy water. I plunge deep into the dark water and only open my eyes again when I feel myself begin to float back to the surface.
As I swim through the icy deep of a pool of water I’ve never stepped foot in, I notice that I’m now dragging the dead horse through the water that’s I’ve been beating day after day for as long as I can remember, living a wandering, shamelessly shameful existence. As my head reaches through the surface of the tides, I suddenly realize that I am no longer in Lake Michigan, but desperately trying not to be carried away by the currents of the St. Lawrence River.
As I pull myself to the frigid shore, shaking the drunken bitter strife from my collective reassurance that I keep close inside my front pocket, I tie the rope of my dead horse to the banks of the river and look over what once was the vibrant and beautiful streets of Montreal. The once bustling sounds of a bright sunlight culture that was counter to anything I could describe on the decaying avenues of the united states of the americas is all but gone. I crawl through the snow ridden streets in search of any sign of anything left. I thought I would never see them at all due to my history with the law and the Canadian government’s frown upon my old bad habits.
I suppose it’s poetic justice to some extent that this would be the prize given to me at the end of some long drawn out circumstance that I kept putting myself through time after time. But, where are the Barr brothers and the Butler brothers? I try desperately to find the last remnants of something beautiful in the french gem of the great white north, pushing open abandoned apartments building doors and climbing through the broken glass of the display windows of empty shops only to find a straggler or two that didn’t get out in time or that got left behind to be apart of my post apocalyptic, inebriated nightmare. C'est la vie, I suppose.
The swirling, black clouds float along with me as I trudge along the cold and wet pavement of the empty streets. The scattered out heart of the city has no love left to give me now, the buildings stand barren as the overcast stories of the past seem to be bleeding down their crumbling brick walls. Wanting more of an answer to the questions posed by the state of decay in a life once so full of resurgences and rebirths, I crawl up the cracking stoop of an old walk up apartment building and drift through the already wide open door, barely hanging on for dear life to the hinges that once held on so tight.
I’ve passed through many abandoned buildings before. As a child on the plains, there were plenty of old farm houses and school buildings left in disrepair and offered up to the elements and bored teenagers such as myself. I’ve seen ghosts float across rooms and felt eyes on my neck with no one around. This was different, it was like everyone was gone, even the spirits that haunted the walls. I had never felt so completely alone in my entire life. It was a disconcerting confort so rare I can only imagine it must be what a lone survivor of a downed ship must feel like in the middle of the ocean with nothing but his thoughts to drive him completely mad.
I callously make my way through each dead and dying room on the first floor and then head up the scantily standing staircase to the second and then the third and final floor. There were only a few giant lofts at the top of the escalier. The first was locked, though I’m not sure why because I have not seen another single soul since swimming to the surface of the deep blue waters surrounding this now deserted island of a town. At not having enough motivation to see what was worth locking up to keep the rats out, I turn toward the second door behind me on the opposite side of the withering hallway. This door is unlocked and actually left slightly cracked open to the elements. I push my way through to what lies across the threshold with the crying of the hinges boring it’s way into my drunken, manic mind. I stand before a scene set up for a party, streamers, crepe paper and deflated balloons surround a table full of half empty liquor bottles, some left open in the haste of the host’s leave of absence.
I don’t see a reason anymore to celebrate. The fact that I am all alone at some else’s celebration is somewhat ironic and bitter sweet. It’s how I’ve always felt, and always remained feeling, never knowing how to change my demeanor except by drinking as much as I possibly can in order to loosen the clench on my jaw and let my words flow freely to strangers that the alcohol had turned into my friends for a few hours. Knowing now that doing that is no way to truly feel alive, I find myself falling for the same old trick that my brain has played on me time and again. The booze is already there and it needs company whether it’s possible for me to gain anything tangible or real in the process. I guzzle down drink after drink and blow a party horn I had found near the bottles each time I feel my mind getting lighter. I continue on this path until the gray clouds outside turn black and my eyes slowly followed suit and I fell to the dusty floor, bottle still in hand.