The Nebrasketball Diaries

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic

My misadventures.

The hotel door had been knocking and rapping for over an hour and both of my cell phones were blowing up. I had no interest in answering either one. Due to a creeping hangover and an overall misery I found from being in Nebraska, I had no interest in going to work on the cornfields at all. It wasn’t so much the work that bothered me, rather, it was the fact that I just didn’t like the man I worked for anymore. His name was Richard but everybody called him Dick. I suspect they called him that because he truly was a dick. 

Dick was a hardworking man, baling cornstalk, grass, beans, and hay. He raked. He planted. All hours of the day and night. This work ethic of his earned my respect immediately and was quickly lost because of the verbal abuse I endured day-in and day-out. There were only so many times I could be called a ‘retard’ or a ‘cow-pie’, or a sociopath, or a screw-up, a con-artist, etc. There was only so much I could take before I truly snapped.

I am an alcoholic who finds myself mathematically calculated to go on benders about every other week or month or so. When things get bad, the benders get more and more frequent and certainly more intense. This experience in ‘Aksarben’ was no exception. In order to cope with my discomfort and anxiety from Dick’s torture, I found myself crawling inside a bottle of vodka accompanied by a six-pack, chain-smoking, and crying into my pillow.

Because of my drinking, I had become financially destitute and utterly alone. My girlfriend of four years left, my friends stopped calling me, I couldn’t keep a job, I was incapable of taking care of my dog, and I had not paid rent in three months. So, my newlywed landlord came up with a solution: come work it off in Nebraska.

Nothing was keeping me in California at this point and the ghosts of my breakups and isolation of my friends and family haunted me down every street-corner. All I wanted to do was drink, smoke weed, and watch The Simpsons. I had no interest in anything other than wallowing in my own self-pity. 

I had lost all interest in physical and emotional hygiene. I rarely showered, stopped shaving, never ate, never left my bedroom, and found myself getting increasingly frustrated with my dog’s desperation to run and play and go outside and sniff. 

I had to get out. It was a truly ugly situation. 

I packed up all my belongings which ended up being stored in a trailer. I had a piece of luggage and a backpack and got ready to go to Nebraska. 

Before I left I went to stay at my friend Andy’s house for the week before my departure. During that week I wound up stealing his liquor and stumbling around his house late at night waking his wife and him, screaming at people on the phone, and crying. Needless to say, he and his wife got quite sick of my behavior right away. So, right before I left for Nebraska I created a truly ugly scenario between my best friend and me. 

The only thing that was keeping me going was I started seeing a young girl named Isis. Dating a twenty-year-old kind of boosted my self-esteem…but just a little bit. We found ourselves going out to dinner, renting hotel rooms, and screwing all night long. It was a good way to get out of Andy’s hair. However, that was short-lived, since I was leaving soon and my awareness that I had destroyed every relationship I had ever had. So, out of protection for her, and my heart, we did not get too emotionally close.

It was about four in the morning when Toni and I left for Lincoln, Nebraska. It was raining. Toni thought that that was a good omen. Looking back on it, I’d say it was the opposite. The drive to the airport took twenty minutes and the flight to Denver was only about an hour-and-a-half. Denver International was a freaking zoo and in the back of my mind I knew this Nebraska thing wasn’t going to fly at all, which caused a general nervousness, which stimulated a panic attack, and when you suffer a panic attack at Denver International, you just kind of want to die. 

The flight to Lincoln from Denver was only about an hour. Stepping off the plane I immediately regretted coming. Endless, lifeless flatland was what I saw, an overwhelming stench of cow-pods was what pervaded my sense of smell. It immediately made me nauseous.

Dick picked us up at the terminal and we began the three-hour drive to Alma. I sat in the backseat, smoking a cigarette, looking out the window at the most boring landscape I had ever seen in my life…and being born and raised in New Mexico I’ve seen some truly boring landscapes. This place took the cake and the manure aroma was making me sick as a dog.

I just wanted to get out of the truck and to my hotel. Dick had to stop at almost every farm and tell us the story of who owned it way-back-when and how-they-came to own the field and how-they-came-to-pass and whatnot. The stories were boring, I’d say. 

Now, this was problematic from the get-go. I realize that. Many people love Nebraska, especially Nebraskans. I was not exercising any interest since day one. Rather, I found myself immediately regretting my decision to be there and amazingly disinterested in the stories of farmers, the landscape, and the entirety of the state in general. It deserves a second chance in my book but at the time my state of being was too broken to appreciate any of it. 

Dick stopped again at some field covered with cows and he sat there and explained which ones were merely pregnant and which ones were ready to pop at any second. I was generally unimpressed. Being a California boy, it just wasn’t anything I found fascinating nor conversation-worthy. 

Again, Dick stopped at a cornfield, got out of his pickup truck and had a lengthy conversation with a farmer who had gotten out of his tractor to make some sort of verbal agreement. I sat in the back, lighting another cigarette. Dreading.

At this little town of Orleans, a little one-horse town in the middle of nowhere, we stopped at a bar for a beer. A Coors. Now, being an alcoholic for an acquired taste for an upscale brew, I was rather disappointed with the lack of selection. Coors is like water to me. There was a handful of farmers at the bar drinking the watered-down, boring beers. They were having a lengthy conversation about how nobody was going to take their guns away, liberals were all nuts, and God bless President Trump. Immediately it became apparent to me that if I were to survive in Nebraska it’d be in my best interest to just keep my mouth shut. One of these guys was completely wasted and bragging about how he’d been drinking and driving since sun-up. Not just beers, but hardcore tequila. Two of the other farmers began making jokes at his expense, which resulted in a fistfight. It became apparent to me then and there that I would not want to be frequenting any bars in Nebraska and I’d be doing my drinking alone in my hotel room.

Finally, we arrived in Alma. It had the same one-horse town sort of vibe. There was a gas station, a market, and a few hotels, and a bar within my immediate vicinity. The hotel was rinky-dink. One that didn’t provide you with shampoos in the bathroom. Thank the Lord they had Wi-Fi or I would’ve lost my sanity a lot sooner. 

Toni and Dick went back home and I was left to my own devices. I walked to the gas station and bought myself a six-pack and some smokes, one of those microwavable burritos, went back to my hotel room, and turned on the TV, laid in bed and drank and smoked and drank and smoked. Still sober, I went to bed at nine, knowing I’d have to be awake at the buttcrack of dawn. 

 

Dick picked me up the next morning at five. We drove the barren road to some town of Holdrege, got into lengthy discussions about ethics over breakfast in which he gave me lots of self-coined proverbs.

He’d say, “Success is the personal realization of a worthy goal or ambition,” or, “There are three kinds of people in this world: those that make things happen, those that let things happen, and those that ask what happened? Which one are you?” and, “Every morning when people ask me how I’m doing I say Outstanding, but improving.” also, he’d say, “Every morning I wake up the luckiest man alive, I have a list longer than my arm and not enough time to do it.” or, “There are enough hours in a day, but not enough days in a week.” along with, “I’ve never worked a day in my life, the sandbox just gets bigger and I get more expensive toys to play with.” and lastly, “If you can sell ice cubes to an Eskimo or sand to an Arab, then you’re a con artist. A salesman finds a need and solves it.”

I didn’t know what to make of all of it. It’s not like I disagreed or anything, but I wasn’t quite sure why I was being given a self-help sort of sermon at five in the morning over eggs and hashbrowns. 

On the way to the field, I became curious about the ‘nature’ of Nebraskans. They wave at every passerby car. It’s not a proper wave, it’s just your index finger raised up and pointed at the driver. Every single car that passes, they do the one-fingered-wave. 

I found Nebraskans extremely intelligent, but simplistic. In other words, whereas they were perfectly capable of holding stimulating conversations, they just simply didn’t, and rather, they discussed the weather and their farms. 

Nebraskans are also extremely friendly and polite. Every single person you’d pass on the street would ask how you were doing, with a sense of genuineness behind the question. They really did want to know how you were doing, and they spoke to you as if you were a friend they had known all their lives. They’d comment on the weather, reveling in how beautiful the day was, and then wish you all the best as you continue on your way that day onward. This oftentimes would just be a conversation I’d have standing in line at the gas station markets. 

Nebraskans say they don’t have an accent, but they certainly do. More like a cadence, to be fair. There’s a subtlety of twang or perhaps a drawl in their speech. But more interestingly was the words replaced with the ones I was used to. Sit was “set,” creek was “crick,” two-by-four was “tuba-fur,”  and soda was, “pop”. 

We pulled up to the field and Dick filled up his New Holland tractor with off-road diesel as other workers pulled up in their trucks. Jack, Barry, and Avery. The morning was dry but freezing, and I wished I had worn another layer of socks. 

I started out on the tractor. The way it works is such: you swathe the field, which is cutting the corn stalks, then Dick takes the rake, drives around the field raking the corn stalks so the baler can make bales, once the bales are laid out along the field, a loader goes around setting the bales in sets of two so they can be loaded onto a semi or a trailer and then the bales are taken off to feed-lots and weighed, a ticket is collected, and then payment. 

So they started me off on the loader, driving around, picking up a bale and setting it next to another one so the bales can be picked up in sets of two.

I’m a bit dyslexic. Not in the sense of words and numbers, but in up and down, left and right. I’ll explain this the best way I can: it makes no sense to me that we write from left to right. That is the right way to write, so if I’m writing the right way, why do we start with the left. In my mind, the right should be left, and the left should be right. The way that a lot of machines work is inverted which is troublesome for me because if I want to go down, I think I should push the pedal or the lever down, and just so for up, that is. But, since everything was inverted, you could imagine my trouble from the very start. 

Everybody knew it was going to be a rough start. There were no false pretenses in that regard. A California boy who’d never driven a tractor in his life and never worked on a farm was going to be slow-going. That was established in the beginning but that, from the beginning, was not carried out. 

The other workers knew it, and they were patient and friendly about it and explained it to be the best they could and let me make mistakes. Dick, however, lacked any sort of patience or understanding, in my opinion. There was a lot of “what in God’s name are you doing?” and “why in God’s name are you doing it like that?” My favorite was--“Why are we doing what we’re doing right now?”

The loader is a basic tractor with a bucket and a wrist with spikes on the top. You drive up to the corn bale, line the bucket up, and jam the spikes down into, wrist it up, and raise it up high, drive over to the next bale and lower it down, wrist it down, disengage the spikes, then you just let it drop. 

This took me a while to get, all the different components of the loader had different pedals and levers and I was trying to get the basics of it, constantly picking it up when I meant to lower it, or lowering it when I meant to raise, disengaging the spikes when I meant to do the opposite. All the while Dick is standing behind me in the tractor screaming, “No! No! No!”

Well, eventually I got the hang of it…in a way. They let me loose. Dick got back in the rake, and the other guys started loading and hauling the bales while I drove around for twelve hours making ‘sets’. And this is where I truly destroyed everything because I was watching the gages the whole time and noticed that the fuel was getting extremely low and I thought nothing of it and didn’t bother to do or say anything about it. Stupid, am I right?

Around seven-thirty Dick drove down to my end of the field to pick me up. I got out of the loader, lit a smoke, and he went inside to shut it off. That’s when he panicked.

“What the hell is wrong with you? You didn’t see the fuel gauge? Is it that you didn’t even bother to look or you just didn’t care?” Well, I didn’t answer that truthfully. Most likely I didn’t care, and it would’ve been stupid to respond saying I didn’t notice, so instead I just kind of stared at him like a cow stares at an oncoming train. “Who the hell taught you about vehicles? Don’t you know if a diesel tank runs empty you’ll completely destroy the engine? Had you been going downhill you would’ve started freewheeling! You’re going to get somebody killed!”

My knowledge of cars was self-taught through a lot of trial and error. I didn’t know the first thing about diesel engine tractors, nor had I ever bothered to ask. We got back into his pickup and started the long drive back to my hotel, him giving every passing truck the one-fingered wave.

“You’re scaring me,” he said. “You’re not asking enough questions. Do you know why you’re not asking any questions? Because you don’t care. I could be the best teacher in the world but only if I have the best student…and you’re being a bad student.”

That was a statement I wasn’t ready to face. So, instead of facing it I just went back to the gas station market and bought myself a bottle and more smokes and crawled into bed watching cartoons knowing if I didn’t improve--and soon, at that--every single day was likely going to be like my first, which was going to be absolutely miserable. 

Which it was. Absolutely miserable. Dick had me do the same thing with the loader: make sets. I turned the tractor on, let it warm-up and without even thinking about it, I didn’t lift the bucket and ended up scraping it along the ground, wondering why the darn machine was being so stubborn in its movements. Dick pulled me over and had me get out and take a look at the damage I had done. There was a long track of completely overturned mud and dirt.

“If you had been driving ten miles an hour you’d’ve completely flipped the loader over and you would’ve been killed, or worse yet, killed one of my guys. What is wrong with you?”

“Sorry.”

“You are going too fast! You need to slow down and think about what you’re doing. If it takes you all day, then take all day. I don’t care if you make only one set! Just do it right!”

I went back to it and started making sets. This time always making sure that the bucket was raised when I was moving around. There was something that happened between the day prior and this day. I just kept busting bales. The spikes would bite into the bale and I’d raise it up and the bale would just rip in half and fall to the ground. I’d try another one. Same thing. 

Dick flags me down again and I get out of the loader and let him start screaming at me again.

“Do you know how much a bale is worth?”

“No.”

“Fifty dollars a bale,” he’d started shouting. “You know how much a busted bale is worth?”

“Nothing?”

“It’s worth less than nothing! It’s worth negative money because I now have to figure out a way to dispose of it, which takes time and my money! Do you know how much my time is worth?”

“No.”

“It’s worth a hundred dollars an hour!” He’d scream. “You know how much your time is worth?”

“…Nothing?”

“It’s worth less than nothing! At this rate, it’ll be a hundred days until your worth is worthless!”

He sped off in a sputter of ire and I was left to try it all over again without busting bales. What I hadn’t realized is one side of the bucket is razor-sharp, so if it’s raised too high up it’ll slice the bale in half, so you’ve got to make sure to pick it up just right. Which meant I should’ve been asking questions. It had never occurred to me. I didn’t know what questions to ask. 

For hours I made sets and the other guys would come down and pick up the sets and load them onto a trailer and haul them off. When I finished making sets for the day I waited for them to come back to pick up another load.

“Yeah, we need you at another field,” one of the guys said.

“Alright, so, am I going with you guys in your truck or…?”

“What? No,” he said. “You’re driving this tractor.”

“Oh,” I stuttered. Holy crap. Oh God, no. “Where am I driving it to?”

“You’re going to drive it five miles west, then when you get to the interstate you’re going to drive it another mile or so north, then you’re going to get to Rd 745, head east again and it’ll be on your right another mile or so…on your left.”

In California, where I’m from, this is not how you give directions somewhere. In Nebraska, everybody does. I’d never heard this mile east or half a mile to your left kind of navigation. Usually, where I’m from, ‘go down Higuera street, make a left on the highway 1 exit until you get to Sunset Avenue, and then make a left at Johnson’ or something akin to that. But, Nebraska is all 735 Rd, 745 Rd, A Rd, Q Rd, and it’s always going, ‘east a mile go west half a mile’. I was a California beach boy, this was foreign and quite terrifying to me. I’ve never driven a tractor before much less alongside an unfamiliar highway. 

I asked them for what road number the field was on exactly. They said they didn’t know. Even if they did know, my cell phone had no reception so I couldn’t even enter the coordinates in my GPS system. So they drew me a map. Now, I’m no dummy and anybody could read a map…if it’s a legitimate map…I received a hand-drawn map with no realistic illustration with directions written by somebody who I’m sure didn’t read nor write. Well, that’s a different beast. And I’m not trying to be insulting saying Nebraskans can’t read or write, I’m just saying I’m sure this Nebraskan couldn’t read or write. If you’d seen the map he gave me, you’d make that assumption, as well. 

“Now,” he said. “Just go real slow. Take yer time. If somebody comes up behind you, slowly drive to the edge of the road and let ‘em pass you.”

It sounded easy enough. 

It was absolutely terrifying. At max RPMs, the loader only drove about fifteen miles per hour. I surely didn’t want to pull over towards the side of the road to let somebody pass me because if I did it’d flip over into the bank and the loader was so wide it could hardly fit into my lane. So, instead, I stubbornly refused to pull over, which resulted in a lot of angry farmers screaming and honking at me as they’d race past me. 

Nebraska is vast and the roads are long with many stretches of absolutely nothing. It was a two-hour drive going fifteen-miles-per-hour in a constant state of panic. 

I managed to find the field easily enough and began again making sets. 

After two or three hours I got picked up again by some guy I never met who told me he was going to drop me off at another field to pick up another pickup and haul its trailer back to the field. 

This man had five guns in his car. I am not exaggerating. Two rifles and three handguns. One of the handguns was on the dashboard in front of me. A rifle was placed on my left by the seat belt, and the others were on a rack. 

“You can move that pistol if it makes you uncomfortable,” he said, spitting out onto the highway as he drove. Hell no. I’m not touching that thing. He then went on to talk about how liberals are stubborn, absolutely insane people who were impossible to reason with and were too dumb to know that Trump was the greatest president America would ever have and no God-fearing Christian was going to take his guns away and if he saw a Mexican he’d send them back to the shithole country they came from and couldn’t wait for the construction of the wall.

Nodding my head in agreement, I certainly didn’t agree, but I wasn’t going to say anything about it to a man with five firearms in his vehicle. I was no liberal, and definitely not a conservative, really, more of a middle-of-the-road kind-of-guy who took from each party what I wanted. Mostly, I sided with libertarianism. His talk to me, however, was nutty.

Trailers were not my specialty. I’ve driven a truck with a trailer before. A small one. This trailer was a monster. It specialized in hauling corn-bales and was about the length of a school bus. Once again I found myself driving something I was completely unfamiliar to an unknown locale and this all resulted in an anxiety attack. 

At this moment in time, I questioned what I was doing here. Well, I had nowhere else to go. I questioned why I wasn’t expressing my concerns and reserves. Because of fear. Fear of humiliation. Fear of Dick. Well, that and Dick being a dick. So, instead, I figured the best thing I could do was buck-up, be a man, drive this truck and haul this trailer come-hell-or-high-water. 

Now, I’ve operated a stick-shift before but there’s just something about those five-speed but yet, seemingly four-wheel-drive Diesel trucks that just completely ruin my life. Finding second gear is just a baffling mystery to me and I blew blood-vessels over completely burning the clutch driving near-on twenty miles hating life every time I came to a stop sign and would have to make that ‘what felt like an impossible journey from first to second gear’. Once I found second or managed to keep momentum after somehow accidentally popping it into third, it was a bit more stress-free. A little.

 

Some days I lucked out and I got to work data entry with Toni. This was something I felt like I was actually good at. It was just taking tickets and entering the information into the system. How many tons were weighed, what the net was and how much money was grossed. Sitting in the office, drinking coffee, I’d rack the numbers into the computer with a calculator at my side, searching for mistakes and fixing them. Applying more effort, I’d even take Dick’s expenses for truck repair and fuel and try to give him ideas of how his monthly expenses averaged. I wanted to be so good at this I’d actually impress him and he’d decide to take me off the farm for good and stick me in the office permanently. This was a job I could handle, and enjoyed, and strived to improve. This, I felt, would make me not so worthless but instead perhaps a little worthwhile. 

Some days I lucked out again and got to help Toni apply wallpaper in her and Dick’s bedroom. I’d go about with the sander, sanding the wall into one clean and smooth piece of drywall. She’d send me out to collect mail, shop from mundane grocery items. I’d collect checks from the feedlots and go to hardware stores or I’d go to the auto parts store and help her work on her mom’s car. Simple things, to me, it seemed. Just checking fluids, plugging up tires where there had been nails or simply airing up tires. Between the data entry, wallpaper, errands, and helping out with car stuff, I was a lot happier and in my element, and not feeling an incessant need to be completely wasted all the time. Every day I did this, however, it still lingered in my mind that soon Dick would be calling me to come back to work on the fields and my heart filled with dread.

The day soon came and I found myself picking up a two hundred and fifty-gallon fuel tank, hitched it to the back of one of Dick’s many pickup trucks, and taking it to the fuel station and sitting around for nearly a half-hour waiting for the darn thing to fill up. Two hundred and fifty gallons can take a long while to fill, especially when it’s one of those old-timey pumps from the 1970s. I sat twenty-five feet away from the pump, smoking cigarette after cigarette, trying to admire the manure-stenched flatland that stretched on and on with feedlots and elevators. 

Once the tank filled up, I was back on the road for another twenty-mile stretch with the directions of fifteen miles east then two miles north then one mile west then two miles north, etc. to drop off the fuel tank and I most assuredly got lost because he told me to go east when I should’ve gone west, and told me to go west when he meant east. So, I’m out on some barren dirt road in the middle-of-nowhere with no phone reception and just utterly, utterly confused. What was worse yet, is the fuel tank just couldn’t back up. When I’d pop the clutch and go into reverse every single time the fuel tank would turn sharply to the left. So, I’d pull forward and pop into reverse again and try going the other way and the fuel tank trailer would turn sharply to the right and eventually smack into the pickup. I didn’t have room to go further, either way, or the fuel tank trailer would certainly fall into the ditch on the side of the road and, as we all know, that wouldn’t be good.

So I said, Screw it,and drove forward until I found a turn and circled around and headed back in the right direction. Once I got into Loomis I got myself back on track and had to make a sharp turn, and as I did so, looking into the rearview mirror, I saw the fuel tank wasn’t following me the way I wanted, went onto the curb and smashed into a crosswalk pole. It made a loud BANG and my heart sank in absolute fear. I realized it was just the loud sound of metal on metal but neither was damaged. Phew. On I went, down the road, searching for Rd 227 or whatever it was. A moment later I get a call on my cell phone. It was Dick. 

“The person driving behind you says he saw the fuel tank ride onto the curb and knock into a pole.”

Does this guy know the whole stinking state? I thought to myself. 

“Yer gonna get yerself killed! Or worse yet, somebody else!”

Why was it always worse if somebody else got killed, I wondered. I didn’t want to live my life knowing I’d be responsible for someone’s death, but I certainly had no strong desire to die. Not yet, not at this point. It was always the way he said it, too, like if I died that would be, at best, an inconvenience, but if somebody else was the casualty, then that would truly be a tragedy. When I found the field, Dick went into his usual spiel yet again filled with conniption fits.

“Yer scaring me,” he said. “Yer not asking enough questions. Do you know why yer not asking any questions? Because you don’t care. I could be the best teacher in the world but only if I have the best student and yer being a bad student. What is wrong with you? Yer going too fast! You need to slow down and think about what you’re doing. If it takes you all day, then take all day. Just do it right! Do you know how much my time is worth? It’s worth a hundred dollars an hour! Do you know how much your time is worth? It’s worth less than nothing! At this rate, it’ll be a hundred days until your worth is worth anything!” 

Once again I completely froze up, staring blankly off into space. 

“Why do you not care?”

“I do care but--”

“Bullshit,” he’d yell. “You only care about yerself! This work puts food on the table for starving people! Don’t you care about feeding starving people?”

“I do but--”

“Bullshit!”

If a man provides and a man feeds starving people and a man puts food on people’s plates and keeps getting told he’s worthless and told he’s going to get himself killed and kill others and that there’s something wrong with him, well, I think that man will eventually say, Screw it,and walk away and only care about feeding himself. Now, Dick had some good points that he was making, and I wasn’t thinking that he’s wrong, but I didn’t sign up to be insulted and some sort of involuntary therapy. You can’t force a man to do things…that’s called imprisonment.
The ride home was wearisome, sitting in the truck, staring out at the land. To my left the moon was rising, to my right, the sun was setting. I felt like a stranger in a strange land. Like a martian or Kryptonian who lacked all powers. Inside I was screaming, outside I was silent but frustratingly stoic. 

“You need to tell me,” Dick said. “Are you retarded? I can work with that if you are, but I need to know.” I wanted to just punch him. “Were you born with some sort of attention deficit? Dyslexia? Have you been diagnosed with some sort of learning disability?” I just wanted to end him right there and then.

“No,” I sighed.

“Well, if that’s the truth, then yer lyin’ or yer jus’ a real son a bitch.” 

Returning to my hotel room that night I just drank and drank and smoked and I smoked and I screamed into my pillow and I drank some more and I panicked and I called my friends to no avail I called my family but nobody picked up. I ended up texting my ex-girlfriend. What I said I can’t quite remember but she called me instantly and told me she missed me and thought of me often and wished we could be intimate again. She told me she was frustrated and lonely in San Diego and was having trouble making friends. We ended up having a long conversation about wanting to be together again and knew it wasn’t possible due to the long distances that separated us. She asked me to fly her to Omaha and she’d come to visit me for a weekend and we could have one last hoorah and eat Omaha steaks and go out dancing and act like we were a couple one last time. She told me she loved me and I told her I loved her back.

I was overjoyed talking with her throughout the course of four days and saying I love you and I miss you every time we’d hang up the phone or end our text conversations. We’d face chat and it was delightful to see her face again. She’d gotten a haircut and straightened it. Talking with her made the stress and abuse I suffered throughout my workdays that much more bearable. There was a feeling of passion at the end of it. She found out about this younger girl I had been seeing shortly before I left for Nebraska and recommended to me that I text her explaining to her the situation of her and I became intimate again. I had my reservations about that prospect but I dutifully obliged. Luckily, the young girl was more than understanding, reminding me that she and I were not really in a relationship and I was miles away and we only saw each other for a week and totally knew how messy feelings could get with exes. I was grateful.

On the morning of the fifth day, I received a text. My ex said she was sorry but she had a long time to think on her drive home from San Diego and she had made a mistake and it was best we stopped talking and being intimate and she was scared we were returning back to our old patterns and she’d understand if I never wanted to speak with her again. 

At first, my response was civil and told her before she does this sort of thing to somebody again, perhaps it would be best if she took a long nice drive to think about it, because obviously, that’s what she does to make a decision. I told her I was disappointed and I didn’t want to offend her but she was a bit of a heartbreaker and I told her I hoped I was the last person she ever did that to. I wished her the best of luck in life and in love. However, I am a very angry person who’s never actually learned how to deal with my emotions and because of my years of feeling enraged I self-medicated with hard drugs and lots and lots of alcohol and slowly through the course of the day that hurt and that sense of abandonment and feelings of being made a fool of just began to brew and boil and I could hardly control it. I can’t even remember work that day. I remember getting back, buying a huge bottle of vodka and a six-pack and more smokes and then the fireworks began.

I said some true things that could never be unsaid. I ruined everything in one fell swoop. I burned every bridge with just one match. ‘I hope you die in a fire,’ or ‘You know what the problem is with your left and right leg? They’ve spread so far apart they’ve never met,’ and ultimately, ‘If I ever see you again, I’ll spit in yer hair’.

 

The week and a half that followed was sorrow stacked upon a sense of suicidal tendencies. Many times I stared up at my ceiling fan and pondered how much weight it could bear. Sometimes I thought that Dick had plenty of rope in his pickup truck. I figured maybe I could tie a noose around my neck and then tie it to the door handle, sit on a chair and wait for housekeeping to jerk the door open and strangle me to death…I knew this wouldn’t work. None of it would work. I couldn’t jump out onto the road in front of a truck ‘cause they just drove too slow. It’d only injure me, and then I’d be paralyzed and more miserable with the incapability to end it all. Unless it was a semi-truck. Like a Mack. That could work. But what it boiled down to was that I was just too cowardly to go through with any of it. Or perhaps there was a deep-seated desire to live. Or to survive. What did I need more, a violin or a shotgun? I found myself hoping I’d just get stabbed along the street by some street-thug who simply wanted my wallet. Fat chance in the middle of nowhere. Too tired to live, too scared to die.

I ended up grabbing my pocket knife and dabbling with my wrist. Making ever so tiny little slits right before my wrist. My tolerance for pain overtook my ability to really commit. Just like everything else in my life, a true lack of commitment. I called my friend Jerry to relay my woes and my thoughts on ending my life but absolute cowardice. He told me what I needed to do was figure out a way to externalize my pain. His instructions were to take a lit cigarette and place it on the space between my forefinger and my thumb and keep twisting it back and forth until it became completely extinguished. It stung like hell and resulted in being a semi-infected hole in my hand, oozing and red-ringed, and always in a severe amount of pain.

One day I ended up working on the field with Toni. She was running the swather. A big machine that cuts the corn stalks down to an inch. There was something about the way that she explained it that I could easily understand. The mechanics of it made sense to me when she was teaching. How to turn on the blades, the weight of the bucket, the steering of it. Take out six rows, leave four for the rake. The steering of the vessel was a bit tricky, but once one got the hang of it it became second nature. She and I swathed the field, with her driving whilst I sat passenger, and then we’d switch. For the first time in a long while, I found myself actually enjoying myself. Actually laughing and smiling. It was a foreign feeling. There was a soul reemerging. Life was returning. For the first time in a long while.

Not long after though we had to drive to another field that Dick had instructed us to go to. Dick gave Toni and me instructions, and she was in the same boat I had always been in. Go two miles east here then make a right and go five miles north here. I was hoping she was beginning to see what I was seeing, what I was experiencing. So, with Toni in the lead driving the swather, me following Toni behind, and onward the convoy went. We got lost several times. We both tried using the GPS on our phones but we were so out in the middle of nowhere that there was no reception to guide us. We’d trek on and every now and again Toni would almost swerve off the road due to the complications of steering the darn thing. I did my best to keep the distance so as to avoid an accident of some sort. Eventually, she just gave up and came to a stop and called Dick on the phone. There had been no answer. Lo, and behold, Dick in his gigantic rake appeared. My GPS started working so I called Toni ahead of me and told her she needed to make a left. She didn’t answer. I guess Dick was trying to get passed me, ‘cos he’d try to go to my left, and realize he didn’t have enough room, then he’d try to go to the right, and that didn’t work either, so I decided to get out of the truck and up to the swather. I told Toni my GPS started working and I think she had to make a left. She made a left. Dick gets out of the rake.

“No! No! No!” he screamed. “You just sent her in the wrong direction!”

He ran down the road, flagged her down, and she turned around, pulled over to the side of the road and waited for the rest of the party train as Dick came marching up to me, red in the face.

“We’ve discussed this,” he shouted. “Yer s’posed to answer yer phone!”

“Yeah,” I said. “But you didn’t call me.”
“Are you callin’ me a liar?”

“No, but--”

He flipped his phone on and showed me his outgoing calls. “See!?”

I flipped my phone open and showed him my missed calls. “Yeah, see, I don’t have any missed calls. See you were calling me the same moment I was calling her and--”

“I’m goin’ to get the duct tape!”

“Why are you getting duct tape?”

“To tape the phone on your stinkin’ forehead!”

“You’re not going to duct tape a phone on my forehead, Richard.”

“Just watch me,” he said. “And another thing! If I ever see that truck parked on the side of the road you’d best be standing outside of it taking a look around! Did you even see me? I was trying to get passed you! Yer just sitting in the truck lollygagging around and--”

“I saw you, but I just didn’t--”

“Don’t interrupt me! That’s my wife and I care about her deeply! I don’t ever want to see her sitting on the side of the road like that!”

“I know, Richard, I’m sorry,” I said. “She’s my friend and--”

“Pull yer head outta yer ass!”

As he walked back to the rake I found myself muttering between my teeth. “I want you to die, I want to kill you, I want you to die, I want to hurt you, ya dick,” because everybody deserves to get to a point where they say Screw you, pal, forget this. Everybody has got a breaking point. I, however, had nowhere else to go and not enough dignity to stand up for myself. So I just took it. I had been taking it for nearly a month, so I figured why not take more? I’ve already been hit so low with my ex-girlfriend and my hand was stinging like madness from the cigarette burn. I’d endured a lot of different kinds of pain and whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, right? Maybe. I guess so. It doesn’t feel like it at the time. 

I got dropped off by Jack at another field to go get another pick-up truck, pick up the fuel tank, and drive it on over to the field they were working on. When I got there the swather was dipped down into a ditch and stuck. I guess Toni didn’t lift the bucket up enough in time and had dropped and got stuck. Of course, Dick wasn’t screaming and yelling at her, ‘cos that was his wife who he cared about more than anybody else in the world and I was worth negative nothing. I got underneath the swather to watch him work, trying to release the safety switch that turned the swather off. He was pulling and prodding with wrenches. Me, the whole time, asking, “What happened? What are you doing? What’s that? And what’s that?” He, the whole time just grumbling and mumbling. I was trying to be a good student. The best student. I was trying to ask questions. I was trying to care. I could tell Toni felt bad enough. 

The next day it snowed. Work was canceled, thank the Lord, due to the swather being busted and Dick needing John Deere to come on out and fix the swather. 

The morning began with drinking excessively. Vodka and cigarettes vodka and cigarettes. I felt an unbearable pain from the experience with my ex and the horrific insults being thrown at me consistently day in day out. To make matters worse is the next day would not only be Easter Sunday but my birthday as well. I had a feeling there would be no celebration but rather work work work. The swather would be fixed and I’d be hungover and swathing while Dick screamed at me and all I’d be able to think about was my ex and how much I had sabotaged everything good in my life. I ended up walking the streets of the town, stumbling around with a wet brain and talking to myself. Eventually, it got so bad that I was lost. Physically and spiritually. I had no idea what to do or where to go. I knew where I wanted to go. Away from Nebraska. But, I didn’t want to go back to California, nor could I afford it. There’d only be ghosts along the streets. Memories of my ex and I, the friends I had pushed away. I didn’t want to go back to New Mexico, ‘cos I never quite cared for it. I just didn’t want to be a farmer in Nebraska anymore. 

I’ve grown an appreciation and respect for farmers and what they do. It is hard, daunting work and they make the nation go round. They tirelessly provide food for our tables and in many ways, it is a thankless job. 

With each passing day, I started to accept I would find no love in Nebraska. In a town of about one thousand, all the women were happily married, insane, or ugly. Located where I was inward, a relationship should not have even been on my agenda nor a priority but I didn’t want to feel alone any longer. It was just not my kind of place. I was not raised a gun-lover with conservative views and the smell of cow manure was making me physically ill coupled with the overabundance of alcohol coursing through my veins. I wanted a way out but I had to create a way for me to get out. 

Day next and it was my birthday. And Easter. I’d been in Nebraska an entirety of twenty-two days. I arrived cocky and thinking not that it would be a breeze but that I was a quick learner and I’d impress people. That had not been the case. Quite the opposite, in fact. Rather,  I found myself getting other people frustrated time and time again. When I had left California, my life was basically in shambles. I had no job, no money, I was in debt up to my eyeballs, I had no car, and I was losing my friends left and right. None of my friends talked to me anymore, including my alcoholic buddy who had the grandiose idea of self-mutilating myself with a lit cigarette. The endurance of me and my ex’s relationship came to a quick halt around Christmas. I had destroyed it all, many times. Basically, she got tired of me going to jail over and over, which would’ve been alright had I not had a direction in my life. I also was an absolute friggin’ genius one day and took our dog for a walk and ran into someone I thought was my friend named Mason and it was over for my ex and me. Once I ran into Mason we just went bar hopping and drank all day. I decided to hang out with him for the day, went to his house out in the boonies where there was no reception and didn’t even bother to tell her that part…So, she was worried, scared, confused…and done.

 

Predominantly I worked from the sun come up to sun go down. My birthday would be no different. Dick picked me up and told me I smelled like a brewery. Which I knew was true. I can’t remember if I simply hadn’t showered or if I just decided to start drinking the remainder of what booze I had left. Either way, it was a long morning sitting in Dick’s car and him trying to psychoanalyze me. He explained that since he was a salesman for five years at a vacuum company that he had the equivalent of a master’s degree in human behavior. I don’t know about that. I asked him what his diagnosis of me was and he wouldn’t tell me. He gave me some books about stupid things all men do that completely destroy their lives. He told me he didn’t think that I was stupid yet I merely didn’t apply myself. I didn’t give it my all. On and on he went with his diatribes about him being the best teacher if he had the best student. And for the love of God, he just wanted me to stop drinking. 

We drove out to the field and he picked up the swather and I picked up the New Holland tractor and we drove about thirty miles to another field. Going only fifteen miles per hour, I’d say it took over three hours. I was hungover and loopy, the sky was overcast, it was cold outside and I found myself chain-smoking yet again. When you get to be thirty-two, birthdays mean less and less, I had been scolding myself on the drive for being so childish, the entire time thinking to myself What a way to spend a birthday. I was a man grown. Birthdays shouldn’t matter. I left my cell phone in my hotel room because I knew I’d just keep checking it and checking it, hoping that I’d get some sort of Happy Birthday from my ex. I knew it’d distract me. I was better off leaving it behind knowing that at least that part of it was out of my hands. The drive was inexplicably boring and in a way maddening. I’d had loads of lonely times in my life but this was by far the most rock bottom loneliness I ever could’ve imagined. The loneliness was beginning to become my only friend. 

We stopped halfway for lunch at a gas station and ordered burgers. I must say the beef in Nebraska is good. Dick knew every single person in the town. Everybody had to stop and say hello and he’d chat away. People he’d gone to elementary school with, people he’d been born in the same hospital with, people whom he had known since they were kids and he knew their kids and their grandkids. It was becoming more apparent to me that Dick was the town. I was nobody to these people. Not one hello, not one gesture. They knew I was an outsider and therefore not welcome. The friendliness and politeness I experienced my first day in the state were withering quickly and I just wanted to get to the field and get the day done with as soon as I could. 

When we got to the field he had me run the swather. He stood behind me watching me run the machine, lacking any sort of patience or understanding, in my opinion. There was a lot of “what in God’s name are you doing?” and “why in God’s name are you doing it like that?” It was a complete opposite way of explaining it to me that just didn’t make sense. Not in the same way that Toni made it make sense. I swear I was doing it just like she had taught me, and then he had to throw in this new spin on the method and question everything that I was doing it and that way I was doing it and the ‘why’ of I was doing it. It was maddening. Eventually, he let me loose and I encircled the field clockwise and started cutting, making sure I wasn’t going to fall into any ditches with the swather, making sure I was taking six rows, and leaving four as he followed me around on the rake. Dick got out not half an hour later and flagged me down. I didn’t even bother to get out of the swather, I just popped the sucker in neutral and waited for him to come and yell at me. He made me scoot over and he drove the thing further up the field. 

“You went around here…you left four rows…and that’s fine…and then you came over here and you left three rows…that’s also fine…but then you came over here and you count ‘em! Five rows! What the hell is wrong with you? What did I say!? TAKE SIX, LEAVE FOUR! TAKE SIX, LEAVE FOUR! TAKE SIX! LEAVE FOUR!”

“Okay, I’m sorry--”

“WHY DID YOU DO THAT?”

“I don’t know.”

“I DON’T KNOW EITHER! THAT’S WHY I’M ASKING YOU! WHY DID YOU DO THAT?” I became stoic composure, perhaps a bit too much sangfroid. “I’ve got all day,” he said. “I can wait all day until you come up with a good reason why you did that!”

Searching within my mind, I couldn’t find a good reason. None at all. I didn’t know what to say. To me, it was all messed up from the beginning because the rows would go for a little while and then turn at a sharp angle where a new set of rows would begin. I’d noticed I messed up here and there and figured I’d go back and get them later but it was smarter to swathe as much of the field I could. As I tried explaining that to him, he just screamed at me more. Even though I remember him saying ‘an ounce of caution and an ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure’. However, Dick wasn’t having any of it and supposing he just wanted to hear what he wanted to hear.

“Because I wasn’t listening. Because I wasn’t paying attention. Because I don’t care.”

“Good,” he admitted. “Now we’re finally getting somewhere.” And yet again he explained how he’d been a salesman for five years with a vacuum company and how because of that he had the equivalent of a master’s degree in human behavior. Once again, I don’t know about all that. I asked him once more what his diagnosis was of me and he just scoffed. “Is there anything you’re good at?”

Instinct works in funny ways. For some reason, explaining to this conservative farmer type that I was an artist just wouldn’t fly. Perhaps some would say I should’ve been proud to say, “Yes, I’m an actor. I got an award for Most Outstanding Actor in a Musical presented to me at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, I’ve been nominated for an Irene Ryan Scholarship. I’ve received several scholarships, actually. I’m a musician, I’m a songwriter. I’ve played in bands with me as the lead songwriter. I’ve written novels, poems, and I have a flair for studying literature, film, and lighting design.” I could’ve said all that. Should’ve. I didn’t. If I had, he’d just say the same thing he always said, “Well, if you’re so good at it then why aren’t you rich?”

He asked me what other jobs I’d had in my lifetime. Lots. Loads. I’ve been working in kitchens all my life, I worked at a full-service gas station, I’ve been an auto service writer, I’ve made yogurt, I’ve worked in warehouses, I’ve worked as a caretaker for a man with severe MS, I’ve been a paid actor and musician, I’ve been a waiter, a barista, a filing clerk, a video store clerk. I’ve done a lot of things. Then he asked me how long I kept those jobs. Not long. Why? Because I was on drugs or I was drunk. Had I ever been a manager? No. Why? Because I don’t like authority and certainly don’t want to be in a position of one. He asked me if I had ever asked for a raise at any of these jobs. I told him I never asked for a raise I always asked for more hours and more responsibility and raises soon followed. He asked me if he thought that I should ask a raise or more hours from him. I told him I was worthless. Worth negative nothing.

“Good,” he’d always say. “Now we’re getting somewhere. You know, I don’t always think you’re stupid. In fact, there’s no doubt in my mind you’re smart and capable. Any idiot can do this. It’s not your aptitude but your attitude that determines your altitude. You need to give one hundred percent. You need to slow down. You need to ask questions. Happy birthday, Toni’s made you ham and sweet potatoes. Let’s get out of here.”

Not knowing what to make of any of that, I followed Dick in silence along the long strands of wheat that grew up past my knees. The sky was pink with sunset. The quiet was still and foreboding. The cold was real. A man who’d just been screaming at me and for weeks had been implying or inferring I was a moron was now admitting he didn’t think I was stupid after all. Just lazy or something. Supposing I was, I just kept to myself on the long, cold walk back to the pickup truck and back to his house where Toni had made Easter ham and sweet potatoes. Feeling hungover still, I chugged water like it was my best friend. Which it was at this point. The first warm, home-cooked meal I had in twenty-two days was like heaven in my mouth. Toni gave me a bottle of shampoo for my birthday. Thanking them for dinner, I got back into Dick’s truck and he drove me back to the motel, and soberly, went to sleep.

Over the next three days, we drove back and forth to the field. The mornings were windy, cold, and bitter. Every time I was placed in the swather, Dick would have some problem and say that I was doing it wrong and that I wasn’t listening and that I didn’t care. The day prior he had me follow his rake while I drove his pickup truck behind him. He wanted me to be a semi-truck and a half distanced away. This would’ve all been well and good had I not had so many issues with that Godforsaken second gear. The truck stalled many times, or I should say, I did. The stalling got so bad there were a few moments where Dick was a mile or so down the road from me. These dirt roads that go up and down and you have to be a certain distance away from another vehicle make shifting difficult and driving overcomplicated. When we got to the field Dick had me attach the fuel tank trailer to the truck and drive it on over to where his rake was. 

Then we had the Mexican standoff. He screamed at me for over an hour about how he was tired of me smelling like a brewery, how he was tired of me leaving his wife stranded on the road, how he was tired of me not listening or me not asking questions. He was tired of my attitude. He felt deceived that I told him I was a quick learner when in fact, in his opinion, I was a very slow learner. He said I didn’t care and that I was sociopathic. Perhaps it’s true. He told me he was disgusted that he gave simple instructions to follow him a semi-truck and a half distance and I was well on a mile away. He said it’s roughly forty-five feet. He then made me march in the snow heel to heel, the wind blowing in my face, the humiliation keeping me warm, the insults bombing me left and right, while Dick was counting all the way, “ONE! TWO! THREE!…SEE! THAT’S FORTY-FIVE FEET! THAT’S WHERE YOU SHOULD BE! ANYTHING UNCLEAR?” 

The rides home were arduous. Dick liked to go on long diatribes about the Natives. There was this long history lesson about how the natives were disgusting people when the Europeans found them. A people who bathed in their own fecal matter, raped and enslaved all their women. I don’t know how much of this is true. I remember learning that in Mexico when a lot of the conquistadors came by that the natives had well-established cities with functioning apartments and aqueducts, I remember learning that the Europeans were the ones who were unbathed and absolutely disgusting, and I’m rather sure the European settlers don’t get a free pass on the whole rape subject, not to mention the diseases they towed in with them. History seems to be multiple choice these days. One guy says this, another that, and who’s to say what’s true? I didn’t have the energy to argue with the man. He told me not to believe anything I read in history books, and not to feel any sort of compassion for the natives because they were all alcoholics sucking off the government teats like me. 

The day after that Dick asked how good my electrical wiring abilities were. Plenty of none. The winds were raging at probably thirty miles per hour with a sharp, biting edge, dust spewed to and fro into my eyes, invaded my nostrils, and raped my mouth, cracking my lips. It was horrific. Laying underneath the pickup, I ran through all the wires with a circuit tester trying to get the clearance lights to work again. Managing to find the juice was easy enough, connecting that juice to dead wires and powering up the clearance lights was another matter. Dick told me it was easy enough and I should have it done in less than an hour. It was easy enough if you knew what the hell you were doing, I, however, did not. Searching the web on my phone for any sort of tutorial aided me very little, if at all. I suppose I was glad to be out of tractors and swathers. Even though I had no clue what I was doing, I found solace underneath the pickup truck in the wind with electrical tools and trial and error. 

Throughout the day Dick would have me pick somebody here and drop somebody off there. Being a chauffeur was also an easy enough job for me. Dick still found a way to bitch at me, however. I’d taken a guy named Barry to go pick up another tractor and a baler. He wanted me to hook up the baler to the pickup and drive it back down to the field. Barry had his truck at the field with the baler and thought it’d be easier if he’d do it. Easy. Well, Dick still had issues in what order I did what. “I wanted you to pick Barry up first, then have you move the baler, not him.” Then he’d send me back underneath the pickup to get the lights working, and I could just see the foam seething from his mouth in impatience.

I worked on the sucker all night long and just couldn’t get the darn lights to turn on. Somehow, somewhere along the way I messed up royally and completely cut a circuit that totally blew a fuse. Now there were no lights on. When Dick came up to inspect what I had done he noticed I forgot to put the truck into 1st gear. The whole time I’d been working I’d had the pick up in neutral. Dumb. There was screaming at for both of those things. I was beginning to really question my mind. Was I stupid? Why was this happening? Where was my caution? 

We’d spent almost half the night looking through a box of fuses and searching both the fuse boxes in the truck to replace whichever one I’d blown. It took a few hours but eventually, we got it and what lights work finally came back on. The ride home was silent and deadly, and every day continuing on and every ride home thereafter was silent and deadly, it seemed to me. All-day, every day, me laying underneath that pickup drowning in electrical cords, just trying to get the darn lights to come on getting ever more frustrated, impatient, and questioning my intelligence. Every day being shadowed by proverbs and lessons and being psychoanalyzed by the farmer who I’m rather sure I heard calling some black guy the N-word midst mid-conversation. Day in and day out of the humiliation, the drinking and the suffering. Which is what brought me all the way back to this point: 

 

The hotel door had been knocking and rapping for over an hour and both of my cell phones were blowing up. I had no interest in answering either. Due to a creeping hangover and an overall misery I found from being in Nebraska, I had no interest in going to work on the cornfields. 

The shouting and arguing lasted near on an hour. I got to the point of breaking. The banging on the door wasn’t going to stop, the phone calls weren’t going to stop. I had to confront the beast at the door. 

Dick busted in like a bull as soon as I opened the door. The anger on his face was palpable. The essence of fury. 

His diatribe was long and nonsensical. He went on and on about me owing to his wife five thousand dollars or something to that effect. Now, I know that I owed Toni money but I was damn sure it was nowhere near five thousand dollars. I wasn’t going to speak to this man if he was going to give me a baseless argument that was unfounded in its integrity of a realistic monetary value. 

Confrontation is not something I deal well with and I try to avoid it at all costs. I avoid it predominantly because once I get angered I become violent and sharp-tongued, resulting in remorse and regrets and everything else in that family. 

  That didn't stop him, however. To me, it seemed as if that was the point he was trying to get to.

“You want to hit me?” he asked, pointing at his chin. “Hit me. Go on. Take your best shot.”

I would have loved nothing more than to slam him right then and there. Right on the kisser. However, this man didn’t just own the town, he was the town. I felt as if I had even looked at him the wrong way, it would’ve resulted in some jail time. Which, in hindsight, couldn’t possibly be true, because I gave him some very nasty looks during our intimate relationship.

“Grab your shit. Pack up,” he screamed. “You’re outta here!” 

The way he said it annoyed me even more. It was said to me as if it was some sort of a consequence. Like I had just missed out on some sort of gigantic opportunity. It was said as if I was going to be royally disappointed. Deep down, I had no idea I was screaming inside to just be let go. I wanted nothing more than to leave that Godforsaken shit box of a town. No longer did I want to even tolerate being a farmer. 

He watched me closely as I stumbled around, collecting my things, folding my clothes, shoving it all into my luggage. Keeping all my rage inside, I did my absolute best to just ignore him as I could feel his breath upon my neck, taunting me with his eyes. Yelling at me, “You got any booze here? Don't forget your precious booze!” I did have some beers in the fridge. But fuck that. Fuck him. I left them inside the fridge and told him he was welcome to them if he found it worth his ‘hundred dollars an hour’ timeframe to climb down off his high-horse. He continued on about how I owed his wife five-thousand dollars and about how I was worth negative nothing and on and on. Yeah, yeah. I was a mess with no hope for improvement. He called me a son of a bitch. Whatever. I’ve been called much worse by better people I respected much more than Dick. 

“You have a choice,” he told me. “You come and work for me right now--and I mean work. Or--you get yourself packin’ an’ get the hell out of my town…”

Well, the answer was rather easy for me to succumb to: “Fuck you.”

He didn’t like that. Not one bit. The amusement was solid for me. Here was a man who was following me and standing so close to me he might have well been a part of my butthole. Here was a man who was begging for me to hit him, knowing if I did I’d end up behind bars. This same man now had a look on his face as if he was about ready to absolutely destroy me, physically. I suppose he didn’t hear ‘fuck you’ very often. 

He shoved me. Hard. I hit the wall and everything in my hands fell to the floor. I almost fell to the floor from the impact, had the wall not been there to support me. All the same, I was embarrassed and very vulnerable, hungover, and at my end. As I grasped my footing, I rose up, face to face with Dick, an old, old man who just shoved me against a wall. 

“You want to hit me?” He asked again. “Go on. Hit me.”

I don't know why I said what I said, nor do I know what inspired me to say what I said. I don’t remember my thought process or any of it. Maybe I have just been raised a certain way because I remember the rage that was building inside of me. I can recall the violence spinning its webs in my brain, the desire to destroy. The anger was so vivid it was tangible. But, instead, for some reason, all I said to him was, “…I’m better than that.”

My response seemed to throw him off. There was a strange look in his eyes. They opened wider and had a cloud of confusion sweeping over them. I suspect he wasn’t expecting that. With that response, there was a complete shift in his body language. His puffed-up shoulders relaxed, his tense fists loosened…it was almost as if he gave up.

“I wish you the best of luck, Nik,” he said. “I truly do…You need help.”

Then he left. Gone. Outta there. 

I stood there perplexed, annoyed, savage. What the hell just happened? I don’t know what happened, still, to this day. But he left. He just walked out. It was as if I was being handed a gift. God opened the skies up and said, ‘Here, take this route’. 

Wasting no time, I packed all of my stuff inside my two pieces of luggage, I grabbed my backpack, my pack of smokes, my wallet, all of that. I opened the doorway of my hotel room, stopped, looked at the mini-fridge with three beers still inside and said, “For you, Aksarben.”

…And I left. 

The first thing I did was call my mother. A thirty-year-old man knows he’s at the end of his rope when the first thing he does is call mama. There could not have been a more telltale sign of ‘nowhere to go’ like me at that moment. I wasn’t going to go back to California, I certainly didn’t want to remain in Nebraska, and DC was completely out of the question. There was really only one answer. The last answer: New Mexico. Go back home. 

Excuse me when I speak of New Mexico. For many, many people it is gorgeous land, rich with history and culture. Well, I was born and raised there. I went to school there. I met the children from there. It is also an angry, haunted land. It’s a rattlesnake infested hellhole. There are ghosts everywhere. The landscape’s ghosts, your ghosts, and mine. I swore to myself at a young age that I would never, ever return to the Land of Entrapment. 

It was the last option I had. Not last. Only. It was the only option I had. I suppose if you only have one option, it’s not really an option. It was the only thing I could do other than be a wandering homeless man in the middle of buttfuck nowhere Nebraska. 

There was still enough money of mine that I could rent a hotel for the night. Luckily for me, there was a Super 8 right across the street. Mom was generous and helped me pay for a plane ticket from Omaha to Albuquerque. My aunt had to help, too.  So I rented a room for the night. I met the manager when I was checking in. Nice guy. Gay. Very well-groomed and presentable. He knew Dick, as well, but chose not to speak about him. That sung volumes to my tunes. 

Inside my room, I remember just dropping my bags and dropping to the floor. I lay there a good fifteen minutes. I wasn’t thinking, I wasn’t feeling. I was merely existing. Breathing. That was the total amount of my presence in that room for those fifteen minutes.

If you’re an alcoholic, you’re going to drink either way. If you’re in shock and happen to have a routine of drinking, you just might find yourself wanting a drink. It doesn’t matter the circumstance it’s just ultimately what the result comes down to. I decided to drink. After fifteen minutes on the floor, staring off into the bland stucco of the Super 8 walls, I opted for drinking drinking drinking.

This wasn’t the kind of drinking where I just wanted to placate myself for a  bit. This was a drinking urge to end it all. This was to be the fuck you of drinking. I wanted to shuffle off the mortal coil, so to say. I was done, done, and even yet more done…Can’t finish a sentence so how done am I?

The journey to the gas station was nihilistic. It was a wasteland of dead emotions. Inside, of course, I saw Jack, who saw me, purchasing a pint of Vodka. He had the dignity to acknowledge my existence with a head nod, which captured his true emotions afterward with a head shake that insinuated disappointment and disapproval. I gave him that sort of look that personifies, “Yeah, I’m buying booze, and in a few moments I’ll be blasted, ya piece of crap.”

I wasn’t allowed to smoke in my hotel room but I didn’t want to walk outside. So I smoked. A lot. Cigarette after cigarette I smoked, laying naked on the floor, calling every single person on my contact list with the exception of my wishy-washy whore of an ex. 

Sally was rather impatient and upset with me. Calling her day after day, it’s easy to understand why she was just plain ol’ sick of hearing from me. Jasmine, Brian, my mom, my aunt, people I had not spoken to in years...calling them in a drunken, masturbatory state must’ve been such a pleasure. That’s sarcasm.

People were concerned. Most certainly. I received many phone calls from a lot of well-wishers who only wished to see me be happy and healthy and thriving. 

It made no matter. In states of addiction, you don’t really care who loves you, you only care about ending the pain. All of it. There is no resort, there is no destination, there is an only loss. A lot of it. Remorse, regrets. The answer is so simple for others, but for yourself, the addict who chooses to be a ‘victim’, there is no solace, no respite. There is no desire to better yourself, nor is there any care about the consequences of your actions. There is only greed, selfishness, and a desire to die. Of course, you sober up in the morning and regret it all.

Very much like my mornings, I always woke up with shame and fear and confusion as to what led me to such a downfall of emotion. Why was I so depressed? Why was I so suicidal? I really don’t know. I loved the idea of living no more than I loved the idea of death…that’s a complicated place to be.

The day after checking into the Super 8 was very much like anybody would expect it to be. I had been screamed and yelled at by the manager for smoking in the room. I am not quite sure how it happened, and I’m not quite sure what I physically looked like. I just remember saying, “Buddy, after the past couple a’ days I’ve had…you’d be smarter to back the fuck away from me right now.”

…And he did. There was no response, no smart-alecky thing to say…He simply looked me in the eyes and backed away…I’m not stating that he turned around and walked away, I’m saying he kept his eyes on mine and backed away, like backward-like. Transfixed. And scared. Which was a worse sort of feeling? I didn’t want to mess with anyone’s head, but, I did want to be left alone. Completely. I burnt every bridge that I had ever known in this world.

My mom was terrified, of course. She probably called every single person in the stupid town. Well, she found someone. I am glad I can’t really remember who she was, what she looked like, what her name was…the whole thing was perfect and I want to keep it that way.

The lady picked me up. She told me about herself. From the same area of California as I was. Rare, in the buttfuck shithole random-ass middle of fucking nowhere Nebraska I end up meeting a lady who lived not two towns away from me at one point. She was extremely…perfect. Went through alcoholism, hated Nebraska, hated life sometimes, escapes everything to find something…We talked. My God how we talked…This beautiful, kind person just understood me…maybe. Probably not. It’s more like she was just listening. No judgment. Nothing. Just there. Listening. I hadn’t had that in months. It was insane to feel like a person again. Like I was justified to feel what I feel, to think what I think, with no reason to hide my thoughts and feelings, to not have to mark my tongue to make sure nobody would hear the wrong thing.

“I’m going to give you this book,” she said. 

This is something I will never forget. For the rest of my life…I wish you could’ve been there. 

“I’m going to give you this book,” she said. “You need this more than I do. To me, it sounds like you’re suffering some sort of trauma, which might be why you drink. I hope you find yourself again. I know what it is to be lost.”

At the moment in time, I was well aware of me being lost. I don’t mean lost physically, just lost in life. I wasn’t aware of any sort of trauma I was being faced with day-in-day-out. I figured I was just suffering, due to my own choices. Which is also true. However, there was some sort of salvation to this woman’s words. It was the first time in weeks that I was being spoken to like a person, or more, like an equal. What the fuck do I know? I’m a thirty-year-old white male born in the United States. I know nothing.

I’ll say this, though. Feelings are feelings and pain is just pain. At the very end of it all, somebody who wants to die is simply somebody who just straight up wants to fucking die. We’re all the same, unfortunately. My God, the grief and pain and torture and torment we all feel…well, it should bind us all at the end of all of it, rather than separate us all.

It does not matter who are, what you are, nor does it matter how or why you are…it’s all the same in the shitty end. We’re all just scared and confused all day, every day, and then sometimes a few things make some sense. When we’re all in the depths of pain and misery, we all feel joy the same way.

 I felt some joy. It was the closest thing to the joy that I felt in a very, very long time.

Nothing extraordinarily good was happening, other than some random lady handing me a metaphorical life-preserver, which wasn’t the book, it was the act of giving me the book that changed my life.

It would do no justice to explain about the book since I didn’t read it at that moment. I actually just tossed it amidst the rest of my belongings. Destitute of emotion and barren of feelings. Nonetheless, I appreciated her, despite not knowing what book she had just presented me with. She was the first person I had spoken to in a very long time that was well-spoken, open-minded, gentle, and patient. We had a long talk about California and an even longer conversation about Dostoevsky. We talked a lot about Nebraska. We talked a lot about how we were not from Nebraska, and how we could never understand such a place. 

  The rest of my life, at that moment, for the first time in a while, it was the rest of my life.

Simple words. Not much to it. I don’t know. Perhaps at that time and place, it was absolutely perfect. She said it in such a way that it wasn’t going to change my life, my world, or anything like that, it was just so apropos at the moment, it was just what I needed to hear…some sort of hope, some sort of mutual understanding. I am so glad I only knew that woman for that fifteen minutes. It was a dream. A complete stranger in the middle of nowhere at this random point in place and time and for her to just not really judge, but rather, observe, and have something to give, without it being asked of her.

I was dropped off at the train depot and I said my goodbyes to the stranger. If I could remember her name today I’d probably thank her. Or perhaps I wouldn’t, out of some misplaced pride. She wished me luck and drove away and at the moment it felt like I was watching the last friend I had ever had, leaving me alone in the middle of nowhere Nebraska. 

My train took off at some ungodly hour early in the morning. I believe it was somewhere between 3 or 4 am. I had not just an entire day to wait around, but more or less, an entire night that followed. Doing what any alcoholic with nowhere to go and nothing to do always does, I drank. 

I drank and I drank. I bought myself a pint of vodka and I sat in that empty train station, pitying myself, hating my life, questioning if I had the strength to go on, or if I had the courage to kill myself. I had neither. It was a sort of purgatory. I’ll tell you this, nothing is worse than being stuck between those two concepts: too tired to live, too scared to die. Perhaps that’s where the soul comes from. Perhaps there was a part of me that made me keep on going, whether or not I wanted to. 

When I got bored of sitting around the train station and drinking, I’d stash my luggage under a bench and meander the streets, drinking and smoking. The entirety of Nebraska smells like shit. Quite literally the entirety of Nebraska reeks of some kind of mutated cow manure. It smelled like how I felt. No matter, though, as long as I had my booze.

I had enough money to rent a hotel, but when I went inside to speak to a concierge about a room nobody came to the desk. I called the hotel from my cell phone and heard the phone ringing from where I stood and still, nobody came down. It was bizarre. It made the world so much more ghostly. I am not sure if small-town Nebraskans really experience very many drunken, broken men wandering their streets. I felt so invisible. Nobody in the hotels, empty train stations, and as I stumbled the streets nobody would bother to even look me in the eye.

There were a few bars I tried to go into but I was refused service due to my intoxication. It made no matter to me about the booze, really, since there were booze aplenty in my pockets and any convenience store would readily sell to me when I wore sunglasses and focused on my speech. For me, it wasn’t about the booze, it was much more about making a human connection, having a conversation. 

There were a few bars, but no library. There were no bookstores. The only thing that closely resembled a park was the lawn back at the train station. That day I lived off of vodka and mini Hot-n-Ready pizzas that were only five bucks. I can’t remember how many of those I ate. Too many. 

When I got too wasted to be stumbling around I went back to the train depot and slept on a bench for a few hours. After I woke up, I’d go back out, buy another pint of vodka and continue on with the routine, going through all of my money, and quick. My stomach was filled with vodka and pizza and I couldn’t even keep my eyes still enough to suffer reading a book or scrolling through my phone. So I wandered and wandered the streets of shit-town Nebraska, lost in every way conceivable. 

Boredom had reached its max and it began to get dark so I slugged back to the train station, laid on a bench and sat on the phone talking to people for hours, drinking, smoking cigarettes, crying, laughing, all of it. That day alone seemed like a lifetime and the night had hardly fallen yet. The long wait in the dark was just about to be, and that’s when I fell asleep.

The chugging of the train approaching woke me in a blind stupor. I was loaded and reeked of drink as I stumbled and shuffled, collecting my bags and rushing out the station doors in a drunken hurry. In my gut, I was terrified, desperate, and had no reason to feel like a refugee, being an all-white thirty-year-old American male, but there you have it. The anxiety was palpable.

As the train came to a stop, I stood there with luggage in my left hand, luggage in my right, and hardly able to stand. The conductor stepped off of the train to collect my ticket. At that moment, I knew I was fucked. 

“Name?”

“Johnson.”

“You have too much luggage. You can only take one item,” he said. “Not two.”

“But this is my stuff,” Confusion was sweating out of my pores alongside the alcohol. “This is literally everything I have in the world.”

“It says on the website,” he shook his head. “Your ticket only validates you for one bag.”

“I can’t leave this behind.”

“Mr. Johnson,” he said. “I can’t allow you on this train.”

“Fine, give me a minute--” I said, dropping my bags and opening them up to consolidate everything into one bag. “I’ll figure this out.”

“You misunderstand. I can’t let you on the train,” he repeated. “You’re too intoxicated.”

“I NEED TO GET ONTO THIS TRAIN.”

“Don’t you scream at me, young man,” he said. “I cannot hold this train to wait for you to get one bag together, and even if you had only one bag I can not allow on this train due to your inebriation.”

“Please--”

“Stand away from the platform, Mr. Johnson” He pulled out his transceiver and said some sort of code into it and the train started to chug away as he stood on the steps of the train, watching me stand there in complete shock. Being drunk as all hell, I’ll still never forget that man’s face. The stupid glasses he wore that I wanted to break into a million pieces so badly. 

Suddenly the streams of “Fuck you!” came oozing out of me, as he got smaller and smaller in my view as the train sped further and further away. I was in rage yet again.

The first thing I had to do was call my mother to tell her I missed my train due to my luggage. She was furious. She was even more furious when she called Amtrak asking why they wouldn’t allow me on the train and she found out I failed to mention how the conductor found me much too inebriated to allow me to board. I received some well deserved screaming from my mother. Luckily, she managed to talk them into changing my ticket for the next train that would arrive in 24 hours and I’d only be allowed to board under the condition that I was sober. 

Returning back to the inside of the train station, the walk was defeated and slow. Fortune smiled upon me because I didn’t have enough money for booze and I still had enough cigarettes to see me through until the next day. Darkness lingered in that train station like a deep, hollow cavern and only the shadows thrived. I slumped onto a bench, too exhausted to be angry anymore, and what feelings of anger I had were washed away with an overall feeling of numbness and apathy. All I could try to do at that point was sleep and hopefully not wake up for another entire day.

Of course, that’s not what happened. Sleep came hard, and infrequent, and troubled. Nightmares were in my sleep and in my waking life. My hands were shaking as I scrolled through my phone, mindlessly scrolling through Facebook or any other social media platform, checking in on friends that I no longer had and missed deeply. I recall falling asleep and waking up again quite irregularly. 

To be sure, there was definitely a lot of thinking, ‘This shit needs to change’, or more like, ‘I need to make some changes.’

There were things I’d do in my life, such as trying to do things exclusively with my left hand like writing, eating, smoking my cigarettes, all in hopes that one day I’d be ambidextrous. Why? Not for any other reason other than I wanted to be neat. I’d try to learn languages I would never end up speaking, Greek, French, Swahili. Not for any other reason other than wanting to be cultured, perhaps. I’d completely change my diet and decided to be a practicing pescatarian or a devout Catholic, or I’d start lifting weights. 

I came to the conclusion that night that really I just wanted to be a different me. I wanted to be somebody else. All these things that I yearned for in my life weren’t for any seeking out the difference in culture or perception, not to better myself, but rather, not to be myself as I was anymore. I wasn’t really trying to change anything about me that truly needed to be changed. The lying, the stealing, the abuse. Deep down I wanted to remain angry and sabotage every good thing in my life until I ran out of good things. I was selfish because I thought I was a victim. I realized I was a narcissist just like my father. That thought really disturbed me, becoming somebody who truly bothered me, or maybe I even hated. 

There was no self-respect, self-care, self-love anywhere left inside of my soul anywhere and I had nobody left to blame but myself.

Writing this right now I can’t help but think, ‘Am I writing this to inspire others not to make the same mistakes or do I just want attention?’

And oh, the things I’ve learned along the way that are utterly useless that I had never bothered to properly think of in the correct way. When I was just a freshman in high school I read Les Miserables and what came out of it was no real realization of the poverty that people live in, the misery that stems from incarceration and its cruel and unusual punishments, I failed to grasp the desperation that comes from starvation. No, what I got from the epic-novel was ‘What a lovely, lovely writer this Victor Hugo is. I want to write great novels such as this’.

The more you do morally questionable things, the more people you hurt along the way, the more family and friends begin to call you ‘asshole’ and ‘jerk’ along the way, the more you begin to feel numb and dead inside. Normally these words would ache and bother you, get under your skin, make you question yourself, and if you don’t make the turn around toward some sort of redemption, the more like you’ll fall into a state of complete apathy. Suddenly those people that you love that are calling you a ‘jerk’ and ‘asshole’ or ‘selfish’, well, those words become just that: words. They don’t matter anymore, they can’t hurt you, and you don’t care if people think that of you or not. After a while, you get used to it, and it won’t hurt your feelings anymore, because words have nothing to do with survival. You can’t live off of words people call you, so, it makes no difference. When you’ve reached a point where you’re running off of selfishness alone with no compassion for others, then their opinion does you no good whether it is positive or negative. It comes to a point where there are so many regrets and a lot of loneliness, the only way to survive any of it is to just turn off any sort of emotions. That is depression at its finest. There’s a misconception that depression is sadness. Depression is more like being numb. Not caring. Not feeling. Everything is just blegh.

I was definitely on the train to apathy in my heart and soul.

The train depot was unmanned. Its door was opened by a timed locking mechanism as well as the lights. I was the only person in the train depot that day, and to get in and out to smoke I had to prop the door open with my luggage. When it got dark out I sat in the cold, pitch black with only the bathroom for a light source when I cared to walk in and turn on the lights and drink water out of the tap. 

After a few hours of sleeping in the pitch black, I awoke to shadows peering in through the windows of the train depot outside. Frozen in fear, I lay on the bench, staring back at the dark shapeshifters, not quite sure if I were awake or dreaming, but certain that I was terrified. When a few minutes had passed, it dawned on me that they were just passengers waiting for the doors to unlock and the fact that all the lights were off only served to perplex them. 

Getting up and opening the door for them, a family that all seemed to have down-syndrome shuffled in, all smiles. The beaming friendliness emanating from them seemed to cheer me up a little. Just a little. We all sat there in awkward silence in the darkness and the cold. After a half-hour or so, the lights flicked on and a large click was heard. The depot doors had automatically unlocked. The train would be arriving shortly. 

Washing my face and my hands in the bathroom, I shoved my ugly mug under the faucet and guzzled up the nasty tap water for ten minutes straight, brushed my teeth, and checked myself in the mirror. Intoxication had left my body yet my mind was still cloudy and I was devastatingly hungover. 

Once again, the chugging of the train approaching made me perk up with semi-alertness. No longer quite reeking of drink, I hungoverly stumbled and shuffled, collecting my bag and rushed out the station doors in a blurred hurry. In my gut, I was terrified again, desperate, and had no reason to feel like a refugee, being an all-white thirty-year-old American male, but there you have it. The anxiety was still very palpable.

As the train came to a stop, I stood there with my luggage in hand, ticket readied, and hardly able to keep composure, not due to a hangover but more due to exhaustion. A different conductor from the night prior stepped off of the train to collect my ticket. At that moment, I didn’t feel as fucked. 

“Name?”

“Johnson.”

Looking me in the eye, and then up and down, it had become apparent that this conductor had heard of me, that was for sure, as he leaned in close to me to check my eyes, my hands, perhaps get a scent of my aroma, making sure I wasn’t blitzed and ornery. 

“You got one bag this time?”

“Yes, sir,” I said, defeated.

“You sober this time?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I won’t have it, you understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

Stepping aside and clearing the way for me to get on the train, he said, “…Well, welcome aboard, then.” 

Boarding the train, I entered the dark aisle of sleeping passengers. It was quiet, almost serene. A feeling of hopefulness for attaining sleep gave me somewhat of a smile on my face. I threw my bag down and reclined in my seat and closed my eyes. Everything was turning for the upside until somebody set next to me, a rather obese man who clearly could not tell that I didn’t want to talk but would much rather try and get some shut-eye.

Friendliness was not the issue, exhaustion was the issue. Whereas normally I would be intrigued to hear his whole story on how he found Nebraska extremely racist and could not wait to get back to Milwaukee where there was somewhat of a black population and how Holdrege didn’t have a colored person for hundreds of miles, I was simply too tired to care. Removing his sweatshirt and shoes didn’t help the matter, either, because it reeked, and I wanted to do the same but figured I probably smelled the same, if not worse, and I really didn’t care to have the entirety of the train hating on both of us, so I remained uncomfortable both in clothing and in conversation. Smiling politely, and trying to maintain friendliness and engage minimally in conversation, I gave up any idea of sleeping and labored through our social engagement.

Funds in my wallet were now minimal. Any hope I had for paying my phone bill was impossible, and all that remained was a few bucks for food and a metro ride from downtown Denver to the international airport, and a pack of cigarettes would have to be sacrificed. It was the worst timing ever because the one time I absolutely needed my phone to work was when it was shut off due to lack of funds, so text and phone calls were not an option in case I got into an emergency. At best, my only hope was to find some sort of wi-fi and send emails or something close to that, perhaps a direct message via Facebook. 

Anxiety was beginning to dawn on me alongside the sunlight. Everything seemed so up in the air, nothing was definitive. There was no certainty the train would arrive in Denver on time, no certainty I’d make it to the airport on time, no certainty I’d make my flight, no certainty my plane wouldn’t crash somewhere in the Rockies. There was no control over any situation. So, I watched out the window, and I waited, looking out at the dull, uninspiring landscape. 

When the Amtrak train pulled into the station in downtown Denver, I hopped out and checked my phone. No wi-fi and my battery was at a pathetic twenty percent. It was almost dead and I had a small chance of finding a place to charge it, not like it would do me much good if I did. 

Essential to getting to Albuquerque was getting on the metro that would take me to the airport. Standing in line for the kiosk to buy a ticket, and I pulled out my wallet and my card, praying and hoping and wishing that I’d be able to afford the one-way, one-time ticket to the airport priced at ten dollars. I got up to the ticket kiosk and inserted my card: Declined. Shit. I tried again and again: Declined.

Nobody to call, not sure what to do, I almost bellowed out in agony in the middle of the train station but I had to contain myself as the station was swarming with cops. People behind me in line were beginning to get aggravated as I had been standing there, holding the line up for an insufferably long amount of time. Getting out of the line and standing in the middle of the trafficked hubbub, I sighed and thought of bumming a cigarette from somebody, but unfortunately, I had never seen so many ‘No Smoking’signs in all my life which were accompanied by police nearly everywhere. Not a good idea. 

Standing there, observing passengers getting on and off, on and off the trains, I noticed that one didn’t really need to insert the tickets anywhere, there was nothing really preventing anybody from getting on these trains. Systematically, police would get off and on the train with the passengers, and once the train was in motion, the police would scan the tickets, and I assumed if somebody didn’t have a ticket they’d be booted off at the next stop. This, I thought to myself, just might work.

So, I got on the train, ticketless, dodgy-looking, nervous, and I went to the very front of the car, noticing the police entered at the back and worked their way up. A horn blared and the train went into motion and I kept my head low to the ground, pretending to be on my phone. I had a few stops before the airport would be reached and I knew I wouldn’t make it long enough until eventually, the police marked their way forward up to where I sat. There was no possibility for me to start moving backward, either, in hopes I could kind of sneak passed them. They made their way up to the front car, where I sat in the middle, and just then, out of some strange stroke of luck, the train bumped a bit and some old man with a luggage on wheels lost its grip and his suitcase went rolling down through the middle of the car and knocked some old lady down and knocked a police officer in the leg and shoved him onto the side of the car. There was chaos, and without even thinking, I bolted up and walked quickly toward the cars in the back while everybody was helping the old lady up to her feet, officers were checking to see if their fellow’s leg was injured, and a couple of young men chased after this rolling suitcase on wheels. I made it to the next car and kept my head low to the ground once again.

Sometimes we question if there is a God, and when we realize that there very well could be, he certainly shows his existence in some very strange ways.

We came to a stop called Airport Road or something like that, and I jumped out as quickly as I could for fear that I’d be found out for not having a ticket, which was an extremely stupid thing to do in hindsight. It was the wrong stop. It had the word airport in its name, sure, but it was definitely not the airport. As soon as I realized this the train was already chugging away and I stood in the middle of a near-empty parking lot in the middle of buttfuck nowhere, way out of Denver, and nowhere near the fucking airport. 

There was a half-smoked cigarette on the ground, I picked it up, ripped off the filter (God knows who was smoking it before me) and lit it up, thinking. Looking at the train stops, I realized I got off a stop too early. What a world. Just make the airport stop the airport stop, quit confusing people with multiple stops with the word airport in it. There can be only one.

“Well,” I mumbled. “I guess I’ve no choice but to try this again.”

Twenty minutes or so had passed, twenty more minutes of no certainty the train would arrive at the airport on time, no certainty I’d make my flight, no certainty my plane would make it to New Mexico. There was no control over any situation. So, I watched the tracks, and I waited until finally, the train came slithering along the railway. 

Hopping aboard, again the back car, I returned to keeping my head down, assuming my luck wouldn’t be in my favor for a second consecutive time. However, the good news was, if I was to be kicked off the train at the next stop, that would be my destination either way. All I could do was pray that that would be the one and only consequence to not having a ticket. 

Cops shuffled up to the front car, where I stood in the middle, close to the door, my head bowed down low, sweating. 

“Ticket?” A cop asked me. 

I looked up into his eyes, “I don’t have one.”

A brief moment passed and it seemed like he was going to chew me out or tear me a new one, or yell and scream at me for wasting his time. Surprisingly, he sort of just sized me up, took a gander, and knowing the answer already, he just asked, “Bad day?”

The smirk that spread across my face was uncontrollable. There was no intention of being disrespectful, I was just very, very amused. I said, “Day? That’s singular. I’d go with the plural sentiment.”

Amusement seemed to be the theme at that moment, because he just kind of smirked back at me as his eyes directed mine out the window, and the airport was right there and the train was slowing to a halt. 

“Well,” he smiled, nodding his head. “Maybe your luck is starting to turn. Have a good flight, sir.”

“I will, Officer,” I said. “Thanks.”

Airports have always been a familiarity for me, having been to many, many of them. That being said, there is nothing, and I mean nothing quite like the Denver International Airport. It’s easily the size of a city and it is utter chaos.

Escalators packed like sardines with travelers rose higher and higher up to the intimidating building. There was no feasible way to move once you stepped onto that thing. Once you stood on those ascending steps, you were stuck, and you just had to wait what felt like five minutes too long to climb to the sliding doors.

Inside, I rushed to my terminal and found a kiosk and entered my confirmation number: Flight canceled.

I couldn’t believe it. I just couldn’t.

Not wanting to be that crazed, screaming man standing in the middle of an airport kiosk for fear and risk of being arrested for terrifying people, I stifled a maddening scream in my baritone throat, bit down my lips whilst nearly collapsing and near-on giving all up, and knowing my cellphone was out of service--and my mom, having no way to contact me, and probably had been attempting to all day long, was panicked by this time, as was I. With the ravishing stridence of Tarquin I rushed into the fray of the airport, dashing to and fro, bobbing and weaving in some sort of sad, pathetic attempt to find a Customer Service Desk or Info Booth of some sort.

Finding one, I was frantic, and blurted out mad-dashery words, leaving the poor service clerk behind the desk completely stunned at my: “Me--Emergency!--No phone!--I’ve got no phone!--Flight! Delayed! Need to call! Now! Emergency!”

Not saying much of anything the service clerk merely climbed his arm over my shoulder and pointed behind me. Spinning my head behind me, I saw a pylon of phone booths (with no charge) glowing from the light of heaven above…or the fluorescents. 

Speaking to my mother on the phone was a sweet sound. “Just talk to the airline on the desk, they’ll get you home as soon as they can. Call me again when you have it figured out.”

Truth rang in her words, of course, for it was true that now I had no need to worry about missing my flight. Worse, however, was how long the wait for the next flight might be. 

Standing in the labyrinthine line in front of whatever godforsaken airline it was, I slinked and slunked closer and yet closer to the person I needed to speak with. Turns out, there was a major snowstorm in Minneapolis where my plane was departing from to arrive where I was in Denver. An unauthorized, involuntary twitch began to make rhythm with my eyelid. I’ll never forget the airline attendant’s words: “The soonest I can get you to Albuquerque won’t be for about another twenty-four hours. Here are a few meal vouchers.”

Whether or not any more words were exchanged, I cannot recall, perhaps there were, but if I remember correctly, I sort of just sauntered off with the new ticket, luggage, and meal tickets in tow, feeling defeated and confused. Staring at the weird tile on the floor and at the strangely painted murals placed all about on the walls, I could only continue to ask myself one question and one question alone: “Well? What do I do now?”

Searing, the answer burned into my face: “Well…Just…Chill…Hang out here…I guess.”

Gawking nonplussed at my new ticket and my four meal vouchers, there were but few hypotheses I could comprehend. I was in the right place. I was early. That part was good. Nowhere to go. Nowhere to sleep. That part was bad. No cash. No cigarettes. Nothing. Restaurants and what-not that were pre-security consisted of a donut shop and a pretzel wagon. So, I’d have to go through security to get to the good stuff and turn my meal vouchers in there. Once through security, I couldn’t just leave and come back again. Actually, I could. But how many times? Looking at the security line, I could feasibly go in and out fifteen times in the next twenty-four hours, but given how shady that would look, I could probably limit to five…to be safe, three…tops. 

At that moment the choice was simple and I headed back outside toward the ashtrays and bummed cigarettes, lifted up half-smoked ones and whatnot and just sort of existed only for some hours, just breathing, inhaling smoke, blinking my eyes, eye still twitching, moving my body only to smoke a cigarette, but all else was gone. Devoid of emotion, too exhausted to be tired, bereft of thought and emotion, I sat and smoked and smoked and smoked. For how long? I’m not sure. Perhaps six hours or so…It was a while. Airports don’t really have ‘time’. There are clocks everywhere and one is trying to go to a certain place with a different timezone but when merely sitting in an airport all day and night just waiting, waiting, waiting--time suddenly becomes irrelevant.

I know it was dark before I finally went inside to find some benches to sleep on.

“Sir, you can’t sleep here.” My morning wake-up-call. Six in the morning, or near-so. Kicking and my feet and gently tapping on my shoulder, the security guard had me standing on my feet and shuffling off with but a speck of bother.

Slinking slowly I stepped outside and smoked a few more bummed cigarettes and snipes, conversing with others from all over, Washington state, Sydney, and others. Stomach grumbling with forceful tenacity, luring me closer toward the food court, I resigned to appetite and braved the long, arduous security check. 

Of course, I, looking homeless, or, was, in fact, quite literally homeless--of course, was given the special treatment. Hell, they wanded me with their special airport batons, or they’d swab me, grab my scrotum, the whole merry-go-round. No blame thrust upon them, for they were only doing their jobs, and I was too loopy by this time to care. Once through, those meal vouchers were a Godsend, as I sat with my two meal tickets left to dine on overpriced garbage burgers and tiny-sized, lackluster, shit-stained salads. Still, my stomach felt more secured. My flight was on time, I had three hours to kill and thus set my alarm on my phone and slumbered. 

Slugging into the boarding line I waited, waited, waited to board the feckin’ plane and just get the whole thing over with. Inside the plane, finally, and breathing normally, I threw my luggage into the overhead compartment and fell into my seat and just dozed off. 

Turbulence woke me with a jolt akin to the turbulence itself. Somehow I managed to fall asleep amidst take-off and all else, and thus, I found myself awakened in a shaking plane, miles above the earth’s surface. No cause for alarm just yet, the plane was still quiet, everybody traveling was clearly nervous but doing all the best to not show it. “Well, if this is the end, if that’s how I go out,” I thought to myself. “All’s well, I suppose, it serves me right, an’ ‘tis a good death.” Within moments I expected the airplane to just start spiraling. But no, no it steadied after fifteen minutes or so. Some flight-attendant was handing out snacks and sodas just before got to me but had to stop after the turbulence hit…and then we landed. We touched down on the tarmac and I was back in the Land of Enchantment after a decade. 

Waiting is a bitch but sometimes we have to do it and I had, I felt, already endured so much that I just waited for all the passengers to passerby me before I collected my luggage from the overhead compartment. Before breaching the door to the outside world, I dropped my bag and nearly hugged, no, embraced the flight attendant. I stopped myself and smiled. I was so happy to be somewhere

Rushing through the gates and flying down the escalators, I found my mom waiting for me beside the baggage claim. She was happy to see me, as I was to see her. We hugged. The first physical contact I had had in a long, long time. There weren’t any tears. Inside, I needed to flood, but it just wouldn’t happen. Getting into her car, she handed me a pack of smokes, for which I smoked one, happily, once handed, and then getting back into her car, she drove ever northward back home, and into the sunset and I passed out once again before reaching some sort of familiar, familial setting.

 

If there is a point to make from my story that I personally would like to believe is that we create our own hell. Journeying to that realization was a long one. Accept that misfortune is not a circumstantial windfall. Not always. If I bought a house in Hawaii and a hurricane hit and my house were gone…that’s predominantly circumstantial. Nonetheless, why did I buy a house in Hawaii and get so surprised that a hurricane took my house away? Sometimes, however, we are the hurricane. You can’t be a victim of violence if you live a life of destruction and recklessness. The majority of misfortune that has befallen me is the product of my choices and my actions or my lack thereof. There is no sympathy for myself anymore. I cannot afford that. Questioning why these things happened to me isn’t a big mystery. Conclusions are quite easy to draw from all of this. I created my own living nightmare.

So, please, love yourself. Love yourself enough to take care of yourself. Be the best version of yourself that you can be because you do deserve it. We’re all entitled to some happiness, I think. You certainly don’t deserve to be stumbling blindly through this world confused and broken and just hurting yourself over and over and over. Don’t burn all the bridges before the rivers become too big to cross all by yourself. Love yourself. Whether anybody else loves you is not as important. You can’t love others unless you love yourself. You will be incapable of taking care of others if you can’t take care of yourself. If you need help, ask for it before it’s too late. There’s an importance to realizing when you need help, as well. Be honest to yourself. We live in a world despising dishonesty and never actually tell our own self the truth. We can’t all walk around pretending things are fine because oftentimes, or more often than not, things are definitely not fine

In the past year, after returning from Nebraska, I’d love for you to believe that everything’s been fine and things are alright now. They’re just different. The drinking still happens more than I’d like, the financial disparity still lives, the reconciliation with heartbroken friends has never happened, and the general confusion and frustration is ever-present. The struggle continues. I’ve made an effort to fix these things, yes, and I am still working on them to this day and will continue to do so. It’s very important to establish that nothing has been wrapped up tightly into a convenient package. The struggle continues. Mistakes that I’ve made will take me years to fix. Point being, I refuse to be a victim anymore. If I shoot my leg off, I’m not a victim, I’m a fucking idiot. Even if it was an accident, I’d still be moronic and I’ve got to question how a firearm was aimed at my own limbs in the first place. So don’t be a victim. Don’t be a victim of anything. Especially yourself.

Before this comes to a horribly depressing and terrifying endnote, I’ll flip things around a bit and leave you with this: There’s hope. There’s always hope. But it needs to come from you. Friends, family, all of us can help, and we can try to fix, but the only person who can truly fix it is you, and you do have the power, so absolutely do not give up on yourself. There’s a beautiful person in there and you can find them, and your happiness, and your own self-worth. It takes work but it’s worth the effort. There’s always a way out and that struggle can be difficult and very scary, but you’ll be much more proud of yourself than anybody else could ever be. 

Self-loathing and depression is very common and very normal and you are not alone. Substance abuse is very common and very normal and you are not alone. Fear is a daily endeavor, lying to ourselves is a habit, and love needs to be our biggest priority. Love is more important to give than it is to receive, compassion needs to be commonplace, and forgiveness has to be all-inclusive, or else all the things we desire will remain a huge mystery to us. 

There’s an essential thing that I’ve begun to philosophize over the years, and that is, as human-beings, supposedly, the only thing we’re born instinctively born knowing how to do is how to breathe and be scared of heights…Dick taught me that. That, as well as ‘observe and repeat’. This is not necessarily all that is instinctual. I believe we are born instinctively knowing how to love and knowing how to celebrate life. We are born with a natural appreciation and wonderment for all that is beautiful in this world. Hatred is taught. Our instinct to love gets bogged down over the years due to the condition of the world we live in, but, it’s still there as much as our natural instinct to survive, and love is crucial to our survival. So love. Love yourself, love others, love life, give, accept, move on, and don’t for one moment ever believe others implications that you are unworthy of love, undeserving of happiness, and don’t believe yourself when you’re telling yourself that there’s no way out and that you’re hopeless, because you’re not. When you’re scared, it means you’re real. When you’re lost, it’s because you’re real. When you feel pain, that’s because you’re real. You are very, very real. Allow yourself to be real because I’m sure you don’t want to be fake. When you make mistakes, learn from them, and move on. You’ll figure it out. You’ll be alright. I believe in you, even if you don’t believe in yourself right now. You’ll find your way. I do believe that. 


Submitted: July 02, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Nicholas Coffey. All rights reserved.

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