Life and Parking Lot

Life and Parking Lot

I first met him four and a half months before I was scheduled to graduate from college. I hadn’t been attending class because I didn’t like spreadsheets. Who the hell likes spreadsheets? I swear to God, I felt that if I had to look at one more goddamned spreadsheet I would have lost my mind.

When I first met him, I was on one of my ‘unscheduled leaves,’ as I had begun calling it when I was visiting my hometown, the one I moved away from and tried to forget about. That’s what I told myself, anyways. Of course, it was a lie. I loved it there. I loved it like a younger brother; the kind of love where you beat the hell out of him and get pissed off and he steals all of your stuff, and you keep beating the hell out of him, until one day, you realize that he’s bigger than you and he beats the hell out of you, but you still feel obligated to use that word “love.” That’s how I felt about my hometown. I used to beat it up and call it names and now it leaves me with a bloody nose and DUI and a bunch of drunk friends. “The gateway” it was called by everyone; just the gateway to something that I wasn’t sure existed or not. It was like standing in front of the gates of heaven and it being the most beautiful thing in the world; something that you never in your sane mind thought existed. You walk up to it and ask the guy at the desk if you can go in but he just keeps ignoring you talking on his Bluetooth. So you step forward and he stops you. “Where are you going?” “Into heaven, at least I thought.” “This is heaven” “Heaven is only a gate?” “Yes” “What’s the point of a gate if you can’t walk through it?” But he stops listening and goes back to talking to no one, and you think to yourself, “Well, it’s not the worst way to spend eternity.” But after a while you just wish you could go home, wherever that is.

That night, when I met him, my ex-girlfriend at the time was standing next to me. Kar promised me she was leaving for Denver as soon as the semester was over to get away, because she couldn’t, “she just couldn’t take it anymore.” I went to high school with Kar and fell in love with her and then she fell in love with me in exactly that order. We were just like that for nine and a half months, until I realized—well I realize now, it took me much longer to realize at the time—that no matter what, there was no way in hell that this would end in any positive way. But we pretended for three and a half years until she finally worked up the courage to do what we were both thinking and dumped me in a sobbing mess of existential bullshit. I was touched really. She hadn’t shown that type of emotion in two and a half years. That first day, I was fine. I was free, she was free and I felt good. I played video games with my roommates and drank cheap beer and went to sleep happily. Then I woke up at 5:30 the next morning and couldn’t decide whether I wanted to kill myself or watch baseball game reruns. I decided on the latter, clearly, because you’re reading this right now (unless of course the nice man at the desk at the gates of heaven allowed me to use his computer to type this up). I struggled with that decision for the next three weeks or so. I still haven’t determined whether that was the right decision, but you could say I’m pretty happy with it now. Regardless, I watched a lot of baseball that month. And I drank a lot.

That night, I had had sex with exactly three girls since Kar and I had split. The first girl was an emotional brunette who was drunk and doesn’t remember a thing. The second had a southern accent and always called me “baby,” which I couldn’t stand. One night, I told her I’d meet her at a local coffee shop that my friend owned (of course, that was a lie) but I got too drunk and didn’t show up. Now, every time I see her, she turns and walks the other way. I met Cate at the grocery store one night. Cate was a blonde nursing student from some small town somewhere around school. She had, long natural blonde hair and big eyes, but with that crazy girl look in them. I always liked looking in her eyes. She walked around like a model, but she didn’t give you the impression she was doing it for anyone else. But she talked way too loud and I really had nothing in common with her. Her father was a racist and a republican. Her whole thing was that she was a “cool” girl who understood what a “girl’s place in a relationship was.” I didn’t buy it, and I hated sleeping with her, but I liked the company and I liked the sex. One night, I looked her in her eyes and told her that I thought I liked her. I hated myself for saying it and regretted it as soon as I spoke. She had sex like she had something to prove; like that moment in that specific time and place was all that ever mattered. And I hated her for that. I continued sleeping with her for a few months in her college dorm room, and she visited me at home occasionally, where my friends would make fun of her because she got so sloppy drunk. I felt bad when they made fun of her, but I wouldn’t stop them. One night, I was feeling rather heavy-hearted and looked her in the eyes and told her we couldn’t keep doing what we were doing, that I felt horrible and that I knew nothing was going to come of this. It was the first time I had been honest with her. I really felt bad for hating her so much. She just looked me right in the eyes and said I would be crazy for not going home with her. She really did have nice eyes; big, dark blue, like the water in those shark documentaries they always play at four o’clock in the morning. I felt like I could dive in and drown in the silence. So I did. I went back to her room and slept with her that night and looked in her eyes and thought that maybe I felt something, something that I thought had been dead since I watched baseball reruns every 6am the few months before. We fell asleep, and when I woke up in the morning, she was gone. She’s ignored me ever since.

The night I met him, I still hadn’t realized just what it is about life that makes us do those things; those fucking things that we all do and then don’t understand why we do them afterwards.

The night I met John Davis Sullinger, which was his name, he had too much blow, mumbled something to himself and fell out of his chair, hitting the dirty carpet like an under-filled water balloon.

***

I walked into 5704 #2 Pleasant Street, already feeling drunk from the dirty green overhead lights. I was greeted simultaneously by the hellos of friends who I couldn’t remember the name of and the smell of stale beer, cheap liquor and mildew. A reggae song was blasting in the living room, the bass seeping through the walls in rhythmic pulses. The house was old, ancient even. The floor creaked and sunk under my feet. It had been “passed down” in recent years by graduates of the local high school and other aimless college dropouts, and was a haven for underage girls who could sneak out of their parents’ house, washed up high school athletes now pumping gas and taking community college classes at night and any other type of townie reject who claimed to know anyone who had ever lived there. It now belonged to two or three pillheads who resided in the upstairs bedrooms, Sal, an Italian kid who had to have been thirty-two years old by now, and Jimmy.

“I’ve told you once. I won’t say it again. You aren’t allowed here,” Jimmy said, grabbing my shirt collar. I had known him since we were twelve. He was more of a brother than I had ever had, and yet, I could never tell when he was kidding. He looked in my eyes angrily, his dark hair hanging over them. He was wearing a tight, dirty gray sweatshirt. I smiled. He smiled too. “I hope this becomes a regular thing. I get to see you two weeks in a row?” He hugged me, wrapping his arms, squeezing my biceps. He smelled like cheap aftershave and cheaper beer. He was always hugging everyone.

“You would like that, wouldn’t you Jimmy?” He just stared at me, smiling.

“I missed you, man,” he said. He was quiet. I could tell he was thinking about something, like he always does. He graduated top of our class in high school. They gave him a full ride to Northeastern doing medical engineering. His first semester of freshman year, they arrested him for pushing coke. They let him continue to take courses, where he earned a 4.0. His junior year, he led a team for some small medical startup outside of the city in developing some new medical device that would hold the heart in place during transplants. They inked him to a head position for as soon as he graduated and gave him a “modest” signing bonus, as he called it. A month later, when the money was all gone, he was arrested again for beating the hell out of a guy who may or may not have been talking to a girl he had been seeing. He spent a few months in jail and never gradated. He now did research for one of his former professors under the table a few times a week.

“I just saw you last week,” I said. “Get me a beer, will you?”

“Get your own beer, you son of a bitch,” he said laughing. I followed him past a table of a few sketchy characters I had never seen before into the living room. One of them, sitting at the front of the table in a white baseball cap, caught my eye. He was staring at everyone around the table wide-eyed. A girl leaned over and was kissing his neck. He paid no attention to her. Jimmy handed me a lukewarm can of beer. Miller came in from the front bedroom with red eyes and short, messy hair.

“Whoa, Michael Anderson Cooper,” he said slowly, nodding his head and awkwardly fidgeting his hands. “I haven’t seen you in a long time,”

“That’s not even my middle name,” I said, laughing. “It’s been a while,” I said. I had seen him three weeks earlier. Two years ago, his younger brother was killed when he wrapped his Ford Explorer around a guardrail. His mother tried to overdose on sleeping pills and was put in a psych ward indefinitely. “How are you doing, Alex?” I asked him. I didn’t like asking people that question, but I always felt that I had to around Miller.

“I am unbelievable, man. I met this girl, she’s great. And I’ve been writing again. There’s something I want to show you, a song that I wrote. I think you’ll love it. And I have to introduce you to my girl. She’s unbelievable,” he continued, snifflng his nose, bobbing his head, as if trying to stay conscious. “This is how life should be,” he concluded. “I couldn’t be any better.”

“That’s good, Alex,” I said, patting him on his shoulder.

“It is good. Everything’s good. Life is great,” he said, forcing a smile.

“Yes it is,” Jimmy said, interrupting him. He gave me an uncomfortable look. We stood there for a while, talking about the same types of things. I looked at the people around me, many of whom I didn’t recognize. The kid in white baseball cap was still sitting at the table, watching everyone around him excitedly. I think he was doing a magic trick, holding up a handful of cards and showing them to the girl sitting next to him. Who was that guy?

I walked into the other room, chatting with a few people I knew. Kar was standing in the corner with a few of her friends. She had brought a boy from school. I didn’t care. She smiled at me from across the room, waving, running her hand through her short, brown hair. I waved back. She mouthed “Hi.” I raised my eyebrows and smiled. She didn’t look like she belonged at the house. She wore a short green dress, floral, with little vines and blue flowers and flats. She made me sick. I tried walking away but she came up to me.

“Thanks for saying hi back,” she said sarcastically, hugging me.

“I did say hi back.”

“Yeah, barely…” she said, letting hints of her usual annoyance trace into her voice. She made sure to smile at everyone who was looking uncomfortably at us.

“Jesus, I feel like the music stopped and everyone’s looking at us,” I said.

“I don’t mind,” she said smiling at me. She had already had quite a bit to drink. I could smell the fruity beer and moscato on her breath. “Do you want me to introduce you to my friend? He’s a music producer. I showed him some of your stuff. He really likes it.”

“Why the hell would you do that?” Kar’s face dropped and quickly turned angry.

“You know, that’s just like you to not appreciate what people do for you,” she said quietly. “I was just trying to help.”

“I don’t need your help.”

“Yes you do,” she mumbled under her breath.  “It’s just like you…”

Jimmy came up behind us and put his arms around both of our shoulders. I shuffled out from underneath him but Kar huddled up close to him, looking at me.

“What’s wrong with him, Jimmy?” she asked, looking up at him. “Everyone’s always trying to help him and he just gets pissed whenever somebody does anything nice for him. I don’t get it.”

“Come on Kar, he’s not that bad…” I stopped listening to them, looking around the room. I tend to zone out whenever anybody talked about me. Somebody had changed the music to a top forty station and the music was shaking the panes of glass. People began dancing in the room next door. I realized I didn’t know as many people as I thought that I did.

Then, something strange happened. I turned around and heard a chair hit the soft floor. A white baseball cap rolled over and settled at my feet. The bass was pounding from the room next door. A girl at the table in a little skirt stood up. “Jesus, I think that guy’s dead…”

The guy who was sitting at the table who at one point was wearing the white baseball cap, was lying on the floor, his left arm twisted around his neck and his legs crossed over themselves like some horrible yoga position. I thought for sure he was dead. Everyone stood up and just stared down at him like he was some rare animal at the local zoo, waiting for him to do something, anything. Being the quick thinker I was, I stood staring and mumbled to no one in particular “is that guy okay?” Jimmy ran up to him and stopped, staring at the man on the ground.

“What the fuck happened?” No one said anything. “Somebody call an ambulance.” Kar knelt down next to him and put her ear to his chest. The music turned off. People crowded the entrance to get a view of the scene.

“Somebody pick him up. We’ll bring him to the hospital.” Now people started moving and somebody was unsuccessfully trying to give him CPR. They picked him up and, hanging limply over someone’s shoulders, brought him outside into the cold air and put him in my backseat.

“In my car?” I asked raising my hands, to no one in particular.

“You drive,” Kar told me. I stood looking at her, rolling the keys in my hands. “Get in the fucking car and drive to the hospital!” I looked at Jimmy, who was sweating. Kar got in the backseat with him, listening for a heartbeat again. She sat still for a few moments trying to hear. She started crying. I backed out of the driveway, scraping the side of a snowbank, and drove away.

‘Holy shit, this kid is gonna die in my car’ I thought to myself. I was strangely intrigued by the situation. Kar sat in the backseat silent, crying. The guy was slumped next to her, chin on his chest, looking bloated like a dead fish. I didn’t know what to say. I felt like it was happening in some far-off place that I’d never heard of, and that I was reading about it in some newspaper or weekly magazine written in a foreign language.

Suddenly, the guy coughed once and opened his eyes wide. He sat up quickly and put his hands on my headrest looking around, and then calmly laid back down. I was speechless. I thought he was dead.

“You ever think about what happens when you die?” he asked calmly.

“Sure,” I stammered, feeling like I was talking to a ghost.

“I don’t,” he laughed. He closed his eyes again and slipped out of consciousness.

 

I woke the next morning in a hospital waiting room. A TV was mounted on the wall, muted, playing a documentary. Kar had her head on my shoulder, snoring. I had that sick feeling in my stomach again from every time I had ever looked at her. I stood up and looked out the window at people in scrubs wheeling empty wheelchairs around. It was February and the snow on the ground was being swept away by a light, gray rain. A nurse came in.

“He’ll be okay,” she said smiling, like she had just won the Nobel Prize for science. She had a sort of mousy prettiness to her in her polkadot scrubs and a messy bun. She must have been a new nurse, still with the glossy demeanor in her eyes, surely thinking that every life counts, even one of a kid who OD’s on coke.

“Great,” I said and nodded. Kar woke up smiling.

“That’s great news, thank you nurse.”

“You can come see him now if you want,” she said starting to walk away.

“What’s his name?” Kar asked before she could leave. The nurse looked at her confused, and then checked a piece of paper.

“John Davis Sullinger,” she said before walking out of the waiting room. I stood awkwardly for a moment and shrugged my shoulders, starting to leave.

“Where are you going?” Kar asked.

“You don’t even know who he is. Why would he even want to see you?” She didn’t say anything. “I’m sure he appreciates us saving his life.” I picked up my jacket and started to leave. “Do you need a ride?” I asked her. Kar stared at me with her mouth closed tightly.

“I’m going to make sure he’s okay,” she said.

“That’s what nurses are here for. Look at them all,” I said starting walk out. I stopped at the door. “Do you need a ride or no?”

“No,” Kar said pouting, trying to look disgusted, her eyes just starting to fill with tears. I walked out of the room and waited at the elevator, pressing the down button at least seven times. The elevator never came. I walked down three flights of stairs in a graffiti’d  backroom stairwell. Reaching the bottom floor, I stopped at the sliding doors. A nurse came up next to me and looked out across the parking lot, then at me. She was older, in her forties, but she was smiling.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“Why wouldn’t I be okay?” I replied. She had caught me off guard.

“You know, everything happens for a reason,” she told me smiling and touching my shoulder. “Everything will be fine. You know that, right?” I stood staring at her for a few moments before she walked away gracefully. I stepped out of the sliding doors of the whitewashed hospital and into the hazy gray of life and parking lot.

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: