Taking a few seconds to look back to the past doesn’t really do much good. When I think about the last few years, they mostly just smear into a mess of colours, and emotions that just put me in a place that I don’t want to be in.
I look at the course my life has taken as more of a road of destruction than anything else. Like a runaway train, blazing uncontrollably, and demolishing everything in it’s path, including itself.
I pinch the filter of the cigarette in between my thumb, and forefinger; the smoke curls like a white warm snake around my fingers, and disappears into the warm spring air. I am standing under a bridge, an overpass. I can hear the cars rocketing by above me. It smells like wet concrete, and piss. There are a few other people cast about, laying in corners, and bundled up in oily sleeping bags.
I look at the blotted and ragged tattoo of an eyeball located on the top of my hand. It sits in the spot where my thumb and index finger connects. They eye stairs back at me as my hand holds the cigarette, and directs it to my face almost involuntarily, like something else is controlling it. These tattoos, these marks, are like maps and scars left over from some of the moments I have lived through – endured. They make up the ragged pastiche of my so-called character.
For a long time, most of my lifespan, people have looked at me, and passed their judgements. It was what I always yearned for when I was young, and it never stopped, even after all these years. I made sure of it by constantly keeping up my shock-factor. A new tattoo here, a piercing there, a shaved head, a dog collar, whatever it took to put me somewhere no one else was. I had transformed myself into a visually idyllic metaphor of the anti-social.
Now I was 50. I still kept up appearances, but now I didn’t look intimidating in the context that I had originally intended. Now I looked like I would either be operating a midway ride at a carnival, playing in a greased up 80’s punk band, or someone that would try to get your teenage daughter to come out back of the pool hall to smoke her first joint, and learn a little bit about what bad girls did.
That pretty much summed it up, beyond the fact that I sold pot to whomever would buy it from me. I didn’t have a fixed address, had never been married, hated pretty much everyone, had only been in Toronto for about 42 hours, and, last night while on a bender I recall hitting some skid in the face with one of those solar garden lights people stick in their flowerbeds to light up their pathways.
I arched my back, and felt all of the sore spots left from sleeping on the sharp rocks under the overpass. My leather vest provided some padding, but not enough. I needed to take a piss, and my head felt like there was a large metal muffler clamp constricting tighter, and tighter around my forehead.
My tongue was involuntarily rubbing against a broken tooth I don’t remember having. The sun was cutting into my eyes, and pushing on my temples. I wretched a few times, and choked on the cigarette smoke. I threw the short end of it away, and noticed the blood caked on the knuckles of my right hand. It was swollen, and sore, the pain seemingly heightening after I became aware of the injury.
I started to walk out from under the bridge, destination unknown, As I did so, I pushed my sore swollen hand into my front jean pocket to see what was left of the wad of cash I had on me last night. It seemed to be in tact. There was also a good supply of pot in my back pocket, my wallet, and cell phone. I seemed somewhat ok. It lit my spirits a little as I slipped/staggered up and over the curb, and onto the street. I thought about smoking a joint, but figured I would wait at least until I found a place to sleep in the sun, and had gotten myself something hot to drink.
The birds were singing, and people were emerging from their homes to find their way to work. I hocked up whatever I could scrape out of the lining of my throat, and spit my lungs our on the street. As I did so I made eye contact with a well-dressed woman digging in her purse for something outside her parked car. I saw the disgust in her eyes. In another life I may have had a chance with her. She looked at me as if I was road kill or a car accident. Her posture pulled tight, and I knew that I was just as revolting as she was thinking I was.
I staggered on, my body stiff, and resistant to movement. At 50 it was a bit of a task to sleep under a bridge, and wake up with a raging hangover, to survive some sort of fist fight the night before, and then get up early, and roll with it. It was like trying to stand with no legs or light a cigarette without a match.
The world was lead-heavy on me, and it took all I had in me just to keep moving. If I had a flask on me I would have hit it straight away, just to take away a little of the 50 years of pain that had consolidated on every passing second of the morning.
The bite of warm bourbon would heat the belly, and put me back into gear. It would clear out the blood, slime, stale smoke and sour saliva in my mouth, and cleanse away the unwashed feeling I was having. Alcohol really was a dandy cure-all on the best, and worst of days.
I kept moving, and thought about dipping into that wad of cash, getting my hands on a fifth somewhere, but it would turn the morning upside down, and then transform the day into a bender before noon. It was too dangerous to get started so early. Besides, I could feel my heart pounding in my chest, beating on the inside of my ribcage like it was trying to escape. It was working harder and harder lately, and it made me wonder more than a few times.
The ER had told me there was a problem, but that was over a year ago. I had lived through a lot since, and hadn’t died yet, but at times like this, things just felt a little different. I arched my back ,and thought about getting some food. I was walking slowly, and sweating fast. A cold wet sweat that came up out of nowhere, it smelled like booze.
As I meandered through the garbage stacked streets a woman squatting in a nearby alley pissing out the night before caught my eye. It was Thelma. I knew her name, recognized her right away. I could hear the sizzle and spatter of her piss as she eyeballed me mid-stream. Her mouth opened with a broken toothed grimace, and she grunted at me, making me wonder if it was a grunt to push out the last of her piss, or to acknowledge my presence. I had stopped walking, and just stood there watching her piss.
“Hey Jimmy, give me a smoke will you?”
This woman was a half-wit that I had somehow known from last night, seeing as how I had not been in town long enough to have met her earlier. Unless I had met her in Boston, Vancouver, or Seattle.
“Thelma, you crazy bitch what are you doing?”
“Heeeee, heeeee, heeeeeeee!”
She was rearing up from her squat now, and had taken a few steps away from the still steaming black pool of urine to ensure her rotten hole ridden Converse high-tops didn’t get wet. She drew the back of her hand across her mouth, and dug deep into her vestments to proudly reveal a half-flask of vodka.
My mouth watered at it on sight like one of Pavlov’s dogs. I held up my crushed pack of smokes to reel her in. She walked over with invisible crutches, and after her first two steps I thought she was going to collapse before she made it over. I didn’t care about her falling; I just didn’t want her to drop the glass vodka bottle.
As she got closer there was a strong smell of piss, armpit juice, and bleach. It surrounded her like an invisible aura, her cloud of protection. My guess was it kept the mosquitos away, and pretty much everything else that got near, or down wind of her.
We traded goods, and I took a hard swig of the oily Russian vodka. It hit hard, but felt good. Bad decisions always felt good when you first made them. It was the time afterwards that changed your mind.
My heart was still banging inside me. Bouncing around like a hard rubber ball trapped in a small concrete room. I took another gulp of the hot clear liquid with my eyes closed, and felt it go down. I lit a cigarette and took a big drag. The pull of smoke made me dizzy, and I looked up at the sky as my head seemed to get too light for me to keep my balance.
I wavered there for what seemed like a very long time. My heart banging its tin cup on the steel bars of my ribcage, rioting against all of the injustice it had witnessed, and was witnessing.
Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. I blinked as it boomed, and I felt deeply connected to its urgent, and intense behaviour.
“Hey Jimmy you going to make it? Give me back that bottle.”
I heard her clearly, but she was low, and far from view. She sounded like she was yelling at me from outside a closed up car that I was laying in on the back seat. Doors locked. Windows up. Stuffy, and hot.
The ground came easy, and it felt good. The back of my head burned a little from the hit on the pavement but I liked the rough feeling of the hot asphalt as I pressed my outstretched palms down on it.
It was good here, I was tired. I just needed to sleep.
My heart boomed a few more times, and then it slowed itself down, and I couldn’t hear it any more. Things got tight in my chest, and it made me stiffen up a bit.
Then everything just let go, and as I started to drift away I got one last whiff of Thelma.
Jesus I hope she’s gone by the time I wake back up.