It rained on the day we went up to the mountains. It rained and we stayed in our car for the most part, eating takeout from a nearby restaurant. We planned to eat it by the waterfall, but our sandwiches would’ve been soggy. We sat parked on a cliff-side, overlooking the mountains, the greens and reds and oranges and yellows of the treetops swaying gently with the breeze. We sat silent for a while as we took in the overwhelming feeling, the largeness of it all. We ate our takeout, but we didn’t feel worthy to be there in all the beauty. This moment was bigger than us. And I remember you said quietly and defiantly, “Someday, this will be home.”
We told ourselves we wouldn’t care if the world ended. We said we wouldn’t care because we’d be spending our last moments with each other. And it was late, it was so late, but we couldn’t go to sleep yet, we had to be up for the sunrise. We promised ourselves we’d stay up and watch the sunrise together on our first night of living together. And we realized it was a silly idea, but we both took a week off work to get settled in our new apartment- which might’ve also been a silly idea, but we didn’t care.
We stayed up for the sunrise and we fell asleep right before it happened out our back window. We fell asleep on the couch around 5 am and didn’t wake until noon. We laughed about it when we woke up and realized we missed the sunrise. But we didn’t care. Our favorite show was paused on the living room TV while we got up and made breakfast.
You made a joke about missing the sunrise and I said it was a silly idea to begin with. I hadn’t been up that late since college, and you hadn’t since you started your first real job. You made pancakes and I made coffee. It wasn’t anything huge, but I felt closer to you than I ever had that morning. You resumed our favorite show and we spent the day unpacking while it played in the background. We were finally where we were meant to be.
And someday we’ll find ourselves in different places, in different homes, with different lovers and we’ll decide to reconnect. Maybe we’ll see each other on the street, or someone will mention something that reminds us of each other, and we’ll reach out and we’ll reconnect.
You’ll tell me about how you’re happier now than you ever thought you could be. I’ll tell you what I’ve been up to and you’ll listen. We’ll make jokes and remember what it was like when we were once so close. We’ll wonder why we ever drifted apart, conveniently forgetting what happened between us that day when we thought the world would end. And I remembered it for a while, and I cried for a while, but I got over it, and I got over you.
But it wasn’t like I didn’t think about you, and it wasn’t like I didn’t look for you when I went by your old house. You told me you moved two years ago. I’ll say, “has it really been that long?” and you’ll say, “it’s been six years, man.” And I’ll feel sad. And you’ll feel sad. And we’ll agree to stay in touch, but I’ll tell you I’m only in town this week then I’m going back to the city, and you’ll look at me like you’re proud, and I’ll feel like crying.
And in that moment, I won’t be able to even think about what broke us apart. I remembered us staying friends for a long time. And we were there for each other through everything. And somewhere along the way, we separated.
We’ll be reminiscing about our conversations and I’ll be surprised by how many details I remembered, and then I’ll remember that we stopped talking because of something so stupid and so trivial that I laugh out loud in the coffee shop. And you’ll ask me what I’m laughing for and I’ll tell you. And you’ll look at me, chuckle once, and shake your head.
“Foolish,” you’ll say, and I’ll agree.
They sat across from each other in a vacant diner at midnight, high out of their minds, and pancakes in front of them. The pancakes, had the couple been sober, were bad. They sucked. No one comes here and orders the pancakes, especially not in the middle of the night. But to them, two stoned 21-year-olds, they were the best pancakes they’d ever had.
The man, tall, about six foot, unshaven, stomach just about reaching the table in front of him from where he sat back on the booth, made a joke about the pancakes and the woman, despite her best efforts, laughed. She didn’t think the joke was funny, in fact it might’ve even been the worst joke she’d ever heard, but she had the social obligation to act like she cared about him.
And he thought she cared. He was so certain that she cared because he lied so flawlessly whenever she came close to catching him. He was so convinced no one would ever catch his lies; he’s been doing it his whole life, at this point change his name to Lyin’ Brian. And she didn’t want to believe he would deceive her like he did. He was so nice, and so caring, how could someone be so heartless?
So, she had her suspicions and he had his bad jokes, and together they had bad decisions. They both thought they were made for each other, how silly that seems to them now. Because when it came down to it, she could only manage a laugh with him when she smoked, and he could only exist in the world when he did. And what kind of life is that?
I left the house in a rush. In one burst of manic energy, I packed for a couple days. I was at the point where I couldn’t think about anything but getting away. Anywhere was better than here. In a perfect world, I would’ve thought for months about this trip, but the fact that I didn’t have a plan made it more exciting.
It felt like everything that happened these last few months, all the pain and exhaustion, it was all leading up to my break anyway. This was bound to happen. I wouldn’t consider it a break, but my best friend called it that when I showed up at her door with a text, “Hey. You’re coming with me. We’re going to the mountains.”
“You’re crazy,” was her answer. I wouldn’t have expected any less. She packed her bags and was down in fifteen. From the driveway, she looked insane. More insane than I was. Her black hair was put into a messy ponytail with flyaways illuminated by the midday sun. She wore a gray sweatshirt and black leggings. Her backpack, stuffed full of clothes and camping equipment, was a forest green and held her sleeping bag atop it.
“I need this more than you do.”
She told me that as she threw her backpack in the backseat of my SUV.
“Hold on, do you have a tent?”
I hadn’t thought of that.
“Uh, no. Don’t you?” I replied.
“My brother is using it this weekend.” She groaned. I rolled my eyes.
I wasn’t sure when it was that it set in that I was an insane, spontaneous person, but by the fourth hour of our road trip, it had crossed my mind a few times. Emma loved me for it. She could always count on me for a last-minute mania induced trip in which we find ourselves, only to lose ourselves when we come back to work the following Monday.
We laughed. We laughed a lot. The entire drive was filled up with conversation, never a dull moment. Never a moment to think about just getting stood up or not getting that promotion I really could’ve used to fuel these trips. I didn’t think about the date I was supposed to go on until Emma had fallen asleep and as I laid on the hard ground, the only way to distract myself from the pain my back felt was by thinking about the pain my now-ex caused.
I realized a while ago that I shouldn’t let myself get wrapped up in someone like him, someone still obviously going through his partying college days even though he dropped out two years ago. I knew he was bad news, Emma tried to tell me, but I didn’t care. I liked the way he looked at me when I told a story, and I liked the way he laughed too long when I told a bad joke. I liked how his hair looked in the morning before he showered, and I liked how he’d cook breakfast for me.
I knew the mountains wouldn’t have an answer, and I didn’t care. It was a distraction at least and at most it would be another story to tell: two way-too-stressed 20-something’s go on another spontaneous trip in attempt to find themselves, only to find themselves with smaller bank accounts and bags under their eyes.
The wind was harsh, cutting into our faces like daggers, leaving us red in the face and nearly frostbitten. The dead of winter never felt so dead as we trudged down the road to the gas station to pick up hot chocolate mix. It was ironic, the heat wasn’t kicking on at our apartment, so we nearly got frostbite trying to buy something that’ll warm us up. If we make it, it’ll be a story to tell, but for now I just want to get out of the snow. The snowshoes we dug out of the closet were sinking into the snow more than usual.
“I think it’s time to get new snowshoes.” I yelled through the tunnel of wind.
“What?” Eva yelled back, squinting to see me through the snow still falling.
“Need new snowshoes!” I said simply.
“Yap!” Eva said, or that’s what it sounded like. She said something else, but it was muffled behind the snow.
I paused, turned around, and squinting said, “Huh?”
“Never mind, go.” She put her hands on my shoulders and turned me around, patting my shoulders before letting me go.
Though the cold tried to break through my spirit and render me useless, having Eva with me to make this two-mile trek kept me warm.
A cool wind blew through Vin’s frizzy, auburn hair, sending chills down his back. Vin didn’t flinch though, the breeze instead filled him with a confidence he thought he had lost when they began their trek.
“I’d still have one,” Robin retorted bitterly, “if that monster didn’t swallow my fucking longsword whole like thanksgiving dinner.”
He chuckled sourly.
“You don’t have to tell me twice. That thing broke my shield.”
“Vin, we need to find new equipment.” Robin sighed, “All I’ve got are these throwing spears and I was hoping to save them for emergencies. Should we go back? Find new weapons?”
Vin turned to Robin, a look on his face she’d never seen before. It was as though he asked her to sacrifice himself for her- backtrack? Like he’d ever be caught dead backtracking.
Vin spat at the floor, wiped his face, and grunted. He began heading down the path they had been going, leaving Robin to watch him, flummoxed. She understood. All he was missing was a shield; anything could be used as a shield and with enough precision and skill, a shield is not necessary. And they made it clear at the beginning of the trip that neither would wait for the other. They are on this path together yet separate. When it ends, it will not be the two of them rejoicing in their victory, it will be them nodding to each other and departing their respective ways.
Yet it still remained true that Robin needed a weapon. Guards, monsters, enemies all roam these caves freely and with a purpose: to destroy anything which threatens their caves. So, naturally Robin searched her immediate surroundings while keeping an eye on Vin.
It was true that Robin and Vin were captured while attempting to defeat the emperor that ruled their land, but that doesn’t mean Robin and Vin are bad people. They live in a world where reason does not rule, satan-like criminals do and they’re ruthless, especially towards women or men who treat women like equals. The duo met in the prison they were captured in five months ago. They had been planning this escape ever since Vin saw Robin defeat another inmate in their illegal sword fights held under the bridge at midnight.
The swordfights were not allowed at the prison for obvious reasons, which was why they were held overnight and only few watched. It was a way for the prisoners to make a name for themselves. They occurred outside Vin’s cell, he studied adamantly through the barred windows. He watched Robin dominate everyone who attempted to fight her with an elegance he’d never seen before. He knew she would be the one to help him break out.
People are good. But people are selfish. They want to help others, they want to do the right thing, but only for their own selfish reasons. Whether they believe in karma or they just want someone to owe them one, people don’t genuinely care about each other. Now, a disclaimer: this is a broad generalization. I know that. And it’s my opinion. I know that, too. Feel free to disagree, I’m just saying how I’ve perceived people for the last 26 years.
I prefer to people watch. It’s easier on my heart. I know what love feels like and I know what heart break is, I’m fine living the rest of my life never feeling either. Now, I know what you’re thinking: but Shan, what’s the point of life if not to feel? If not to see someone you love’s car drive up your driveway and barely make out their smile from the front seat as they turn their car off, collect their things, and amble on into your house? Is the whole reason we exist as humans not to feel? To love? To hurt?
My counterpoint: you don’t need other people to feel love. Or pain. Or any fleeting emotion you so desperately crave. All you need to feel is an open road, a full tank of gas, and a playlist of your favorite songs. The right song can make you fall in love ten times in those two and a half minutes. An empty road at dusk in the middle of the summer, windows down, the sun setting in front of you, hair blowing through the wind as your arm drapes down, out the window- that’s what I live for. If I could propose to the feeling that gives me, I would. Believe me.
I have friends, I know that’s hypocritical and makes what I said kind of shitty, but they’re the same way. We drift in and out of each other’s lives, it’s kind of funny. We drive. That’s what we do. We drive anywhere our hearts desire. And once in a while, we’ll be in the same place at the same time and we’ll reconnect. Have a few beers. Share a few new tunes. Give each other tattoos to commemorate the feeling.
That’s how we make money. That’s how I can manage travelling across the States, a new county every day. I wouldn’t call myself famous, but if you’re in the tattoo-scene, you follow me on Instagram. That sounds douche-y, but it’s hard not to say “hey, I have thousands of followers and dozens of them send me money for my services every day” without sounding incredibly douche-y.
I have a route that I follow. It’s not like I just go wherever. Well, route is a bad word for it. It’s more of a road-trip. A never-ending road-trip. Where I get paid at each stop. I’m an artist. I’ve been called pretentious by people who’ve asked the wrong questions at appointments, but I don’t care. I’m a nihilist. It’s not deep. I tattoo, and I drive. If you take anything away from this, it should be that.
My car isn’t anything special. I gave it a new stereo, that’s about it. It’s reliable and comfortable. It’s not too big and it’s not too small. It fits me and my equipment. A comfortable two-seater with a trunk just big enough for the essentials. I travel alone. No one else has been in my car since Julie.
I won’t lie to you. That’s a big part of my beliefs. Lying is pointless. People lie when they’re ashamed. I don’t feel shame.
So, on the topic of truth-telling, I’ll tell you who Julie is. Well, was.
Julie was my girlfriend. We were going to get married, she proposed back when gay marriage was legalized nationally. We were engaged for a year before it happened. She used to sit in the seat right next to me, queueing up songs on my phone for our long trips between tattoo parlors. She was larger than life. I’d never met someone who made everyone love them so easily like Julie. All she had to do was smile at them and they’d fall victim like I did so many years ago. She was a metaphoric light at the end of the tunnel. A happy ending. I’d been so depressed before I met her. Then one day she asked for a tattoo and I fell. It was as though any pain I felt disappeared. I laughed later on, after we had been dating for a month, about how as I was tattooing her that first day we met, I was causing her pain, and little did I know she’d soon take all mine away. Blue skies and open roads for four years.
But with every positive feeling comes an equal negative one. And it made so much fucking sense to me, how could I not see that if someone could make you feel so good, they can take that all away in the blink of an eye, the turn of a wheel?
I don’t blame her for what happened. It wasn’t her fault. I shouldn’t have let her drive. We should’ve called a Lyft and gotten the car in the morning. I never even got my things from that hotel room, either. I couldn’t bring myself to go back after the accident. I called the hotel. Told them I’d be checking out early. Didn’t even wait for an answer.
If you’re thinking her death was the reason I’m a nihilist, you’d be wrong. I was a nihilist before I met Julie, she just took that part of me away while we were together. She was like a cold ice pack resting on your forehead as you feel your pulse thumping at your temples. She soothed me in a way no one ever could. I didn’t think it was possible to feel that kind of relief, but she knew all the right words to make any bad feeling go away.
When the doctors told me she wasn’t going to make it, I laughed- of all things. What else would it be? I thought bitterly. Happy endings are just stories that haven’t ended yet. This story ended with an ambulance and flooded comments for weeks. Hardly any of my DM’s the weeks to follow were about appointments, they were all about Julie. She wasn’t a tattoo artist, but she was the fiancé of one that tagged along to all her appointments. And she lit up any room she was in. People knew her name. People knew her face. They knew her aura. Of course, they asked about her afterwards. They felt bad. Not for me or for our families. For themselves. People felt bad because they would never see Julie again. Someone they’d only met once or twice.
That’s the reason I’m a nihilist. Like I said, people are selfish. It makes me bitter. They only care so they can score points to redeem later on something they want They suck-up to me because they think it’ll get them a discount. It doesn’t. I have bills to pay just like everyone. I live in hotel rooms. It gets expensive.
Someday, I’ll settle down, get a house, a dog, maybe stick to one tattoo parlor. That day isn’t today. When things get tough, I turn to the road. I turn up my music. And I drown out the bad. As I drive down an unfamiliar road, 7 pm, mid-July, after a long shift, I ask myself: why? I’ve been on so many goddamn roads, why do they all remind me of her?
Jakey had enough. The relentless screaming matches followed by forced tears and attempted apologies from his parents had finally broken him. He took nothing but the clothes on his back as he marched determinedly towards Monument Pier.
It was late, Jakey was unsure the exact time, but the sun had already set. The only light source was the streetlamps intermittently illuminating the sidewalk. He was lucky, well, lucky was one way of putting it, to live only a mile from Monument Pier. Lucky because that was his escape, he felt free at the pier. He could sit with his legs dangling off the edge of the boardwalk and listen to the tide push and pull, the commotion of Boston Harbor echoing softly. The occasional horn of a boat leaving the harbor would carry down towards Monument Pier and Jakey would daydream about what the boat had planned. Were they a rescue boat out to save someone drowning? Or were they a transportation boat, just making their rounds?
Jakey liked to imagine it was pirates. He was always fascinated with pirates. He had his own spin, though. They were never bad pirates. They didn’t steal or loot or kill, they just lived at sea. He was always interested in pirates, ever since he was a child. Before his father turned to alcoholism and was forced to retire, he was a ship captain for the Monument Pier Security. He would tell Jakey about the criminals they caught and Jakey would imagine they were pirates because he was 10 and what other criminals are out at sea besides pirates? Jakey loved hearing his father’s stories and he wished nothing more than to be able to hear one again, but the most his father does now is complain about the TV not working or the alleged rude cashier at the liquor store.
His father was lucky enough to have the savings to retire, Jakey was too young to understand how hard that is for people nowadays. His father had been in the Marines for ten years before being ship captain, he was discharged when Jakey was 5 and struggled a lot. That was when the yelling started.
Jakey made it to the pier, fighting off tears along the way. His head swimming with angry thoughts and suicidal ideations as he sat down at the end of the dock. A few fishing boats lined the dock, Jakey wished he brought his phone so he would know when to expect the fishermen. The last thing he wanted was to be around anyone, never mind his nosy, upbeat fishermen neighbors.
The dock was wooden and uneven, various nails sticking up and loose boards throughout. Jakey knew sitting here for too long would get uncomfortable, but he didn’t have anywhere else to go. The coffeeshop he frequents closed at sunset and this was the only place he could ever truly be alone.
He sat and listened to the waves crashing, looking out at the city skyline. It was beautiful, he couldn’t deny that. The city at night was incredible. Almost enough to stop the recurring thought in his head that uttered those two words repetitively.
“Jump in, jump in, jump in,” his depression echoed.
“Stop,” He spoke, tears welling up.
“Jump in,” It didn’t even sound like his own thought, as though coming from a demon possessing his body with strictly bad intentions.
“I can’t.” His voice cracked, mouth going dry.
“You must. It is the only option.” The voice hissed. He couldn’t argue any more, his voice of reason gone, all he could think of was how cold would the water be? And his clothes would get all wet. Should he take his shoes off first?
It seemed to happen in slow motion. Effortlessly, like he was being dragged in by an invisible force. Before he knew it, he was completely immersed. He didn’t even take his shoes off.
“What happens now?”
“You can go.”
Where was I supposed to go? We were sitting in his car, in a parking lot miles from my house. I didn’t move. I couldn’t remember how to. I wasn’t sure I had control over my body anymore.
He shifted into drive and brought me home. The drive was just a few miles, but it felt cross-country. We sat in silence the whole way. The radio had been playing quietly, but he shut it off without saying a word.
“Ok.” He said softly, barely audible.
I opened my mouth to speak, but found no words. Nodding, I left.