I spent last weekend in a time share on the coast of New Hampshire, snowed in on Sunday, waiting for a “bluebird” sunny day to make my drive safe, so I could move a little farther from where I really wanted to be, trailing the wisps of tastes and smells and the remnants of reluctant release that helped me finally embrace the realization I needed to bring this out.
When it was time to go, the wind cut grueling and heavy, how a dull saw blade would tear at flesh. I began the drive with a broken radio, nothing but silence for six hours, back to Ithaca, back to a place I call home simply for a lack of better words, where my dog awaited me and the bleak solitude of my cave cradled me into the clouds of words that have taken the shape of these paragraphs.
The nightmares return. I wake tense and vigilant. I go on about my day mired in logical fallacies of the ignorant, the not-so-bright, the critical, the insipid, the fucking sows of humanity who won’t budge from the gates of clear perspective. I shamble through the mundane routine of my day, the minutes packed with things I can’t accomplish in an hour, reading until my eyes are strained, hoping that when I sit down to write, I’ll find the words I’m waiting for. I reach for those words in the dim light of sanity, but most of what I find to cultivate enough syllables to quilt the fabric of what my life’s become I find in darkness.
For well over ten years I’ve made driving trips across this country. Early morning delirium has warped my vision as the hues of sunrise crested over the Shenandoah Valley, twelve hours of driving behind me, ten to go. I’ve driven high on ephedrine, wide eyed and unblinking until I began to hallucinate and the road spread out like a tongue stretching from the mouths formed by overpasses. I’ve become lost in a gaze—brake lights slithering along the far stretches of road ahead of me, and I’ve been shaken awake by the rumble and growl of eighteen wheelers passing like monstrous, roaming beasts from an ancient time. Each trip, though, I’d managed to shake off the drone of night—the tires of my car humming over hard packed tar. I’ve made those drives alone, whispering words to write when I stopped moving, when the stimulants wore off, when I could find my balance after the labors of the journey were over. Despite the shortness of this drive, the search for balance was greater.
I’ve lost my desire to shelter my words. I’ve developed a habit of stating things that need to be said, when I need to say them. I’m selfish that way. Go fuck yourself, can roll off my tongue just as easily as I love you, but with a conviction of equally promising violence or passion. I’ve lost the ability to let go of a past that has molded a perspective I can’t change. I think back to the memories that rip me from sleep, the reasons I punch words into paper as if it’s an adversary who’ll surely defeat me if I stop. I think of the cars I used to ride in, the boys who drove them, and where all of the words I write originated.
I can smell the burning cigarettes they smoked. I can see the spark in their eyes when they got excited, angry, when they were ready to unleash. I always wondered why I was riding with them, why they let the kid tag along. I wondered until the first time I smashed out a window with a brick, the first time I emptied the clip of a pistol. I can remember the smell of dirt kicking up the first time I used my fists to shatter the bones in another man’s face, until I felt his cheekbones go soft under my knuckles. I can remember the boys around me chanting, laughing, the subtle growl in the back of my throat. I can remember how I could feel, for the first time, control of my pain. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered where that came from, until those boys had found their way to the grave or prison, that we all had something we needed to get out, some pain we could never end.
We weren’t products of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. We were the mistakes our mothers never wanted.
We weren’t the boys you could coach or nurture into compliant citizens. We were the boys who grew up riding in the back seats of cars with dangerous men learning how to steal, hurt, and murder because the only language we knew to express our pain was violence.
We weren’t the boys who feared monsters. We were the indignant fucks you created.
Then you take a man, with that boy still somewhere inside of him, and tell him to behave. You tell him to put his hands in his pockets and walk away. You tell him to shuffle along because you don’t want to be shaded by his darkness. You clutch his face when the torment is too much and he drains what’s left of the compassion in his soul into the palms that you pull away from his tears. Then you tell that shattered motherfucker that he can’t do what’s been done to him.
Sometimes, these memories come back in my sleep and scream into my ear, shrill and with the promise of eternal agony. Sometimes, there’s a voice that calls, a whisper as soft as a million flakes of snow falling, and I’ll search; cold, shivering, lost, alone, and in the dark to find the kiss of inspiration, the perfect sequence of letters, the unrivaled alignment of words only to find that someone has already said or written it better, so I sit in the blizzard, shirtless and in pain, weeping for a loss I can never regain.
I spend long drives and nights alone remembering my past, trying to make sense of my survival. I make attempts to salvage grace. I want to blame the nightmares and the steady stream of words behind my eyelids on someone or something. I try to cut through fiction as if there is a cure there somewhere that will fix the ailments. I sift through the ash floating in the darkness to find serenity. I wake up a boy and I lean over the bed. I lift the sheets and peer beneath it, and finally I see the truth, the blame. I am the monster under my bed.