So, yes, for a while the only things I really knew about her was her name, that she lived in Montreal, and that I loved her. And, moreover, yes: I would lay awake at night, high for the I-don’t-knowth day in a row, craving a cigarette in spite of all that had already dried out and blackened my lungs that day, and drunk, too, off of Old Crow, likely because I had gotten in from gig driving some hours prior and immediately walked to the Kroger for a thing of Old Crow and thrown on an Elm Street movie, with three/four/five being my favorite, being all in all frankly quite an underrated little trilogy plopped right in the middle of the too-big and because of such fact oft-overlooked franchise, and they were movies about being killed by your dreams, being killed by the dreams your parents had embedded within you, which was to me surprising that no one seemed to have put this together before, and had then written some tired Mark Fisher wannabe essay about how, about capitalism and those ways in which it nurtures desire and then punishes you for it, and then drank probably half the thing of Old Crow and played with the cat a bit, as best I could, coming down from the two Adderalls I’d had that day and smoking cigarettes inside, at least not texting around for opiates, I justified to myself, and then walked to the bedroom and stuffed the Old Crow in the top dresser drawer and crawled into bed at about three or four in the morning and then and there wanting a cigarette but staying inside would then gaze at my phone and at her twitter account to see if she’d posted anything new and think about her name, how I loved her, and, moreover, yes: I would think about ways I could go about bringing us together, methods of shortening the distance unfairly assigned us, schemes, plots: modes of crossing the unspannable gulf between us, of delivering myself to her, of claiming poise and offering calm.
The first requisite step would be to obviously move to Montreal. For I was in Columbus. Still. But looking to leave. My former velleity to leave had, with the introduction of her account into my life, evolved into a total need; dispersed throughout my whole body, it acted as an ache flickering from within my muscle tissue, felt in the facilitatory joints between my bones, coursing through my veins slow and thick as pitch, affecting little things, this ache did, affecting bodily trajectories, this ache, maybe I grab a glass of water in a slightly different way, contorting my hand into a claw to circumvent that sharp throb in my wrist, maybe I sleep on my back now instead of my tummy, to account for the strangled wheezy way in which I breathe in certain positions, sounding sick and mechanical like a robot with sleep apnea, or maybe I can only sit in this corkscrewed twisting sort of way to avoid straining my spine and central nervous system more than it already is, so on, and so on and so forth, but, and though minuscule as these adjustments are in the moment, they coalesce, these little behavioral corrections, they coalesce and acrete and press in on me, and these little changes coalesce and add up to a change the size of a life. And that was how she was to me.
At the time there was nothing to do aside from do drugs or get drunk or drive around and listen to songs by The Smiths. Doing the same thing I was doing when, at fifteen, the older kids, the recent-ish high school graduates, with whom I had associated before their graduation, would pick me up from behind the football field after I’d sneak out at lunch, not even sneak, really, just kind of leave through the cafeteria doors and not be stopped. They were nineteen but to me seemed the arbiters of all that was cool, all that was alternative to conventional firm-handshake yes-sir masculinity, all that I wanted to be, albeit I imagined myself more successful, and, albeit, not so desperate for attention and admiration as to hang out with someone far younger. They’d pull up to the curb across the street from the south side of the field; I’d look both ways and run across, pretending to be in a spy movie, my cover had just gotten blown, and I’m running, quick as I can, before my pursuers have the chance to catch up with me. Sometimes the older kids would play along, the one in the front leaning back and twisting around sort of to the passenger side rear-door to open the door for me, yelling “Move! move!” and another nineteen-year-old in the backseat scooching over against the driver side back-door window, making room for me, catching me as I dove in, pulling me back as I angled upwards to slam the door shut before screeching away, not even given a moment to stare back at the wreckage from which I had just fled. I lay back, my head in her lap, theatrically gazing into her eyes, a wordless dramatic thank you, play-acting as dazed and shellshocked in the hopes that maybe she’d ironically stroke my cheek, but she usually just laughed; but though she usually just laughed, she also let me leave my head in her lap, my overgrown legs and knees all awkward in this cramped horizontal position. She’d give me a Marlboro Light and an empty can of Diet Coke to ash in, would let me lie there while we all smoked and riffed, giving my anterior deltoid a squeeze whenever I’d say something funny or insightful, which always, every time, sent a current through me, like a dipole whirring around inside of me was briefly overstimulated by a brief electromagnetic surge from the summer sun.
Once, late at night, we were, the four of us, watching The Exorcist III together. One of the older guys had read something about it being a secret masterpiece, that it was enthralling and brilliant, that everyone was of course familiar with the famous jump scare that frequently topped lists of the Top 10 Scariest Moments In Movie History, but that the rest of the movie was even better. This same guy had also scored a gram of blow that night: it was to be my first time doing cocaine. We had already been drinking a hefty amount, back and forth between Miller Lite and Old Crow, before he casually yawned and stretched and then, grinning, reached his hand into the front pouch of his hoodie. He pulled out a baggie of white powder and, dangling it between his thumb and forefinger, jiggled it around; it looked like a worm bleeding life on a hook. Macrocephalic in many ways but also simpleton in many others, I asked if that was crack. Everyone laughed at me and I felt myself growing hot, before insisting that I was just joking.
“Have you ever done this before?” She asked.
“None never,” I replied.
“Come with me. It can be a little scary doing it the first time.”
She rolled her eyes. “You know why. You’re told all your life it’s one of the big bads. It probably feels like a passage of sorts.”
“I don’t think it feels like a passage.”
“Okay, shithead. Fuckface. Like a stepping stone. From smoking weed to drinking beer to smoking cigarettes to doing blow.”
I nodded, but pursed my lips as if to say whatever, not a big deal for me.
She angled her head down a bit, opened her eyes a bit wider, giving me a look of total incredulity. “You can admit to me you’re scared.”
I felt myself turn hot at this comment. It was an acknowledgement of something. Of something between us. Or, at least, of something felt by me towards her. And if it was acknowledged by her then that meant she was allowing it to continue. And, since she was allowing it to continue, then maybe it would develop: would not perpetuate as the same static droning chord it had been the past little while, but would reach catharsis, a moment of variation, of percussion and arpeggiation and harmony.
The others around us ignored this last comment the way I did.
She laughed. “C’mon, let’s go out back.” She grabbed the baggie from him: “Can I take this with us? We’ll be . . . seven minutes. Not a moment longer.” He laughed: “What if you are a moment longer?” She responded with mock aggravation: “Oh my god, then I will buy the next time.” His eyes went wide: “Deal”; then, as we walked out: “Pleasure doing business with you!”
We walked out to the back porch. As the door closed the anticipatory shouts of the others muffled.
“We don’t have much time,” she said. I wasn’t sure if she was aware of the valences of a phrase like that, because I immediately felt woozy, ontologically woozy, that is, not the wooze engendered by alcohol.
She pulled out a pack of cigarettes.
“Oh hey, these aren’t the usual.”
She realized I meant that they weren’t Marlboro Lights, but Parliaments.
“Oh yeah. Check this out.”
She pulled a cigarette from the pack. Flipping it backwards to the filter side, she indicated the little reservoir present where typically in other cigarettes the filter is flush with the rolling paper.
“The little . . . absence?”
She threw her head back and emitted one sharp loud chuckle. “The reservoir, fuckface. Shithead.”
“Yeah, whatever. The little reservoir. What about it?”
The night was cold. We were standing underneath a little sconce situated above the back door. She sat down on a flimsy fold-out camping chair next to the door and, after squeezing the bag between her fingers, breaking up any large clots, she then cracked open the small rectangular baggie. “Give me a key,” she said. I gave her the housekeys I kept clipped to one of my pant loops. She dug the key around for a spell and then extricated it with a diminutive mound of blow perched precariously at the tip. She held the cigarette vertically, the reservoir facing towards her, facing up towards the stars. “Careful . . . careful . . .” She delicately shuffled the blow into the cigarette.
I inched closer. Standing like this, my knees were level with hers and I scooched a centimeter closer so that our knees were faintly touching, the fabric of my black chino brushing the fuzzy worn denim of her lightwash thrifted blue jeans.
I thought I saw her smile a little, but I wasn’t sure.
She had applied force to the top of the uneven little mound of blow, piled up in the reservoir where the filter usually is, pounding it flat the way you do with espresso. She stood up. I didn’t adjust my position. I’d never been this close to her and though my eyes I hope remained calm, in the space immediately behind my eyes I felt plugged into some circuitous formation perpetuating itself into inevitable blue fire destruction. When she breathed I felt it, felt as if I could imagine what her breath tasted like, and she carefully put the cigarette into my mouth, the reservoir full of coke now in between my lips.
“Careful not to tongue it all out,” she said. “Save some for me.”
She lit the cigarette. The tip of it glowed orange against the dark blue of the night, as if just another star that had fallen to earth, and I wondered which constellation the loss of this star would destabilize, and then wondered if the constellation would cease to be a constellation at all or if some enterprising young person would identify a new and hitherto unimagined tracing from this cluster of stars. And that would mean, that this would, the consequences that this would bring about, a new name from the snuffing-out of just one, just one component or element, and then a total restructuring of the organizational matrix, and then this new-fashioning, this divination, this theater production made out of loss. I kept puffing, my gums numb, the back of my throat numb and heavy, a presence without any delineable outline. She was wearing a Carhartt toque, one of the classic burnt ochre ones. Her hair was in pigtails, the auburn braids hanging like stalactites down either side of her face. She was wearing fingerless gloves that she claimed were ironic but it had been a while since we had seen her without them. She reached out and took the cigarette from me. I felt rewired. I felt as if there were secret cities beneath my feet. Temples and ziggurats and brothels and markets. Networks of winding roads traversable by foot or by carriage and all the graffiti’d religious icons in tribute to and in deference of something that looked like either a spider or an octopus, and nights before bed the constituents of this secret city beneath my feet would burn rotary candles and effigies before strange altars, altars that were not safely a simple geometry, not just a singular flat-topped rectangular block, but looked rather like eight different podiums of various sizes jutting up from the ground, no pattern to their placement, all different sizes, like the blooming of a fungus through the rhizomorphous mycelium lurking below. She finished her half of the cigarette and held it out to me: two puffs left, she said. Why don’t you take them. I nodded and grabbed, breathing deeply the cold December Midwest air and then sipping the last of the cigarette. I asked her if I could tongue. She nodded and I tongued the rest of the blow into my mouth like the dregs of a pixie stick. I realized in my reverie I had accidentally backed away a few steps and after realizing this I walked back to where I was before, right in front of her, inhaled the last puff of smoke, held it in my cheeks like a fish and then gestured towards my lips and widened my eyes and rapidly shook my head up and down with these quick swift little movements as if vibrating and she, lowering her head, looked up into my eyes, and then raised her head again, opened her mouth and closed her eyes, and I leaned in and blew the rest of the smoke into her mouth in a steamy tendril, she breathing in and swallowing it all the way down, opening her eyes back up, exhaled back into my face, and I knew I had never before in my life felt the way I felt about the nineteen-year-old, which was something I knew abstractly, intellectually, a crush that I was obviously more than aware of, but then, at that moment, there, then, it felt like an object, a pure object that I could grasp and hold in my hands and carry around with me forever, and put it into a drawer one day and maybe even forget about but then like an old toy or cracked picture accidentally stumble upon it in a fit of spring cleaning and react with viscerality, with an embodied viscerality, and then next thing I knew she had wrapped her arms around my shoulders, had buried her head in my neck, she was breathing deeply and I let myself press closer to her, feeling her chest pressed against mine, mine that was all bone, sharp and jagged and rigid and contorted, my ribs overgrown and cagelike, and, feeling her body and its warmth so near, felt her breath go in-out-in-out at a stable sluggish consistency, the complete opposite of her heart, which I could also feel, its systolic–diastolic process breaking landspeed records, but, and it was this, this contrast between the two, between her breath and her heart, that was all I could focus on for what felt like minutes on end, until I remembered to wrap my arms around her in response, and then we went inside afterwards and everyone gave us shit because we were outside for eight minutes instead of seven. How was it? they all asked me. And I widened my eyes to a comic extent and vigorously nodded my head up and down. Everyone else laughed and then we chopped up proper lines onto the coffeetable. An hour later we started watching Exorcist III. We reached the part, an incendiary part in a film that is always already so completely memorable, we reached the part where George C. Scott is talking to his priest-friend about the carp living in his bathtub at home, the carp his wife buys in preparation for a big dinner but then keeps alive a few days beforehand in their bathtub, and is talking about how it blindly swims up and down the length of their bathtub, nothing to do but centrifugally toil the tub’s circumference, and how looking at it nauseates him, infuriates him, and how he doesn’t want to go home, not that night, wants to stay out as long as possible because when he goes home and goes into the bathroom and looks down at the unctuous glaucous thing slither-knifing through such a crystalline fluidity as can only be offered by bathtub water, he tells his priest-friend that if he has to look down and see that, he’ll kill it.
She is next to me on the couch, the two of us under a blanket together, her knee touching mine, and I can feel the heat of her hands, and I can’t help but imagine the skin beneath her pants and I start to feel woozy, and after the movie she’s the one who starts calling me Carp, and it sticks, and the rest of the nineteen-year-olds call me Carp, and I try and get the scarce fellow fifteen-year-old real-life friends I have to do the same, and they do, though reluctantly, but my friends online, on IRC, they immediately take to this new nickname and to the story that mediated it, and then I introduce myself as Carp from then on out. During the especially frightening moments in the film, the ones where Brad Dourif yells about how he’ll RIP and TEAR and MUTILATE the innocent, she squeezes my thigh underneath the blanket, and one time she squeezes too far up and encroaches on the taut fabric close to the crotch, close to the erection I have had for what feels like an aching eternity, and after the frightening moment has passed she relaxes her hand onto the fabric, not moving up any further, but rested there on the, on the fabric, on the external expression of something deep and embodied, obviously aware of what that taut denim signified.
After this night I will text her a few weeks later. “yoo we should get another gram just me n u” “lmao okay i can make that happen. no other ppl?? what do you want to do thats a lot of blow for two people” “lol ya just us, n idk but mayb we can talk abt what we r reading or writing” “lmao ~romantic~ ya lets do it tho” In preparation for that night I will spend hours on literature forums, will spend hours using Google Chrome plug-ins to circumvent the Jstor subscription fees to skim academic papers. When it comes we will do all the blow over the span of six or seven hours hours and drink eight or nine Miller Lites each, the blow undoing the proper shellacking that the Miller Lites should be enacting on our young and uniquely malnourished bodies, talking about everything we’ve read recently and are planning to read, how we think it will inform our own work, her amazed at how well read I am at fifteen and me amazed that she had the good grace to enter my life. We will wind up lying next to each other on the couch, gazing into each other’s eyes, and I will tell her that I want to, more than anything, have sex with her, or kiss her, or put my hands in hers, just do anything that will bring me physically closer to her than I already am, and she will laugh a bit to herself, and then lightly close her eyes a bit and look down and then open them back up and, affecting a determined look, a hardening of the lips, a slight flaring of the nostrils, a straightening of the brow, she will look back up at me, right into my eyes, and say whatever it is that she says next, and then from there we will together do whatever it is that we do next. A few years after this I am maybe twenty or so. I’m playing guitar in a noise band and as we drive back and forth across Ohio to play dingy house shows in myriad basements in between undergrad classes, I am nightly wowed by the networks of wires me and my bandmates are able to stretch across the floor, wires carrying signals, all working together to convert sound into electricity and then back into sound, and how the rearrangement of just one of these wires can fundamentally alter or augment these signals, and how, even though the input remains unchanged, insofar as you are still plucking the same string, the trajectory by which the input becomes output can so totally affect the final product. Control has been totally relinquished; our goal is to identify the parameters by which the controlling force controls, and then wrangle these parameters to our benefit, to write songs, or something resembling songs, at least, to at least produce something visceral and physical, something you can feel deep within your blood, and hopefully our vocalist, a weird fucked-up scary-looking guy but who’s actually all in all completely harmless and it is in fact indicative of the ableism of the ostensibly accepting DIY punk scene that they have all decided to be wary of him simply because of his manner of avoiding eye contact and speaking slowly and responding in whole seconds after you have asked him a question or tried to engage him in conversation, and hopefully he doesn’t say anything to freak anyone out tonight during the performance, because I don’t have it in me to again defend him from some LARPing trust fund kid, and hopefully, in this noisy jam session with spoken word delivered atop, hopefully something catchy is identified and then, later, in practice, we can extrapolate these moments into writing actual songs, into writing and then recording and then releasing actual songs with a recognizable structure that people may actually have an interest in listening to. This band I’m in is playing a house show one night in Dayton. After we’re done playing I stand around with the guy I’m seeing at the time; he drove out from Athens earlier in the evening to see us. We’re having a friendly and half flirty conversation when I spot her out of the corner of my eye. I am immediately seized by something and everything I say to him from that point forward is trammeled and stultified, like I am suddenly aware of the part I am playing as an object of desire and, with that awareness, I begin botching the performance, making it something stilted and awkward and my lines are being delivered through an ear-piece on a delay. Later she and I are standing in front of one another out front, sharing a smoke on the front porch; we’re both holding Genesee tallboys; in catching up I say something funny and she throws her head back and emits a sharp chuckle. She pauses and smiles a bit and then tells me it’s great to see me. It’s great to see me doing well, she then specifies. Am I doing well? But I tell her thank you, and that it’s great to see her in a similar place. I think she thinks the same thing I thought when she said that to me. There’s a pause. She asks me what I’ve been reading lately and I tell her I’ve gotten really into this guy called Bolaño, and then explain his thing to her, his politics and the deposition quality to his work and the total lack of revelation. Next she tells me about whomever it is she’s reading. I forget as soon as she tells me. She’s applying to MFA programs, she tells me. I don’t say much. I don’t know how to speak with her anymore, which freaks me out. The next day she messages me on Instagram and tells me that it was great to see me last night. I respond and confirm that the feeling was mutual. In the interest of niceness I ask her to remind me who that writer is she’s really into at the moment, because I’ve forgotten. She tells me it’s Rachel Cusk. I thank her for the recommendation, not expecting to ever read her. She then messages me again, saying that she likes Cusk a lot because, contrary to what her detractors may claim, her work isn’t about the characters populating the novel, said characters being largely insipid and boring academics: it’s rather about the central character’s interactions with these characters. She apologizes in advance for dipping into narratology then, continuing on, tells me that Cusk’s Outline trilogy in particular is a masterpiece of free indirect discourse; that is, those ways in which the narrator chooses to re-present these conversations tells you so so so much about the speaker in such a nuanced, subtle, and, frankly, super fun and clever way: while also telling you really not that much at all about the people with/to/at whom she’s speaking. She then told me that she thinks people who don’t love that trilogy just see them as clinical novels that coldly recount conversations, which she didn’t see them as at all.
— Cobi Powell is a writer from Columbus, Ohio. He currently lives with his cat in a room in Toronto, Ontario. He has written for the Cleveland Review of Books, EXPVT, and surfaces.cx.