Never posted such an incomplete piece, but I'm fulfilling the request to share works in progress. This is an on-again-off-again thing that I sometimes add to. I'm really not sure if this is even interesting enough to keep going. Maybe you guys could throw me some input. It's in a voice I've never worked with before, too. Thanks.
I was named after the Blessed Mother, who I haven’t believed in since I got my braces off 3 years ago. I think that Mary just had a dick shoot inside her, and she got knocked up, just like the rest of the mothers on this planet did. Just like someday I would. And granted, the kid that came out of her ended up being a really nice guy who did a lot of really nice things, I’m not going to dispute that, but the son of God? What God? I had found none.
In high school a lot of people called me Mary Mary, like after the nursery rhyme. I liked that. I thought it made me sort of fantastical in a way, having a name passed down through ages in type. But this wasn’t high school anymore.
This was college. We were a month in. I hadn’t talked to many people. I stayed in my maple-lacquered bed and listened to The Pixies on the record player I had bought right before moving away. I thought it would make me cool, different. Mark came by and recognized “I Bleed” one day. He knocked lightly on the cracked open door that was decorated with flowers and had a dry-erase board adorned with flirty messages from sweaty boys to Amanda, my air-headed roommate.
“Hell-hello,” he stammered. His voice was meek, but still vibrating in the heavy dormitory air. I swung my head from over the side of my bunk and stuck it in front of the dividing curtains that separated the kitchen (a dirty sink and mini-fridge) from the bedroom (bunk beds and white tile floors). But I didn’t open the curtains. “Anyone in here?” he said.
“Hi,” I said, more polite than usual, wanting to be noticed. When he heard my voice, he stuck his hand through the curtains and parted them like thick hair. His hand was worn and strong-looking, looked like it had endured a lot of self-induced punishment. Hard manual labor type summer jobs, probably. It gave way to a sturdy frame, clad in a tight Nirvana tee-shirt. His trunk was complete with wide shoulders and it shot down to short, thick legs. His face was rigid, but his lips were full and solemn. He didn’t fuss with his hair, the black curls hung into his face. He had bushy, unkempt sideburns that ended with the pronounced curve of his jaw line. He was cute. It dawned on him that I was in bed and obviously in no position to entertain any guests, let alone suitors. He took a couple steps back, let the curtain fall closed. But I didn’t want the play to end.
“No, it’s okay. I was just resting before my next class.” Curtain slowly opened again. I was smiling. Blinking a couple times.
“Oh, alright. I just heard…uhm, I heard the Pixies playing from in the hall when I walked by; I wanted to see what was up with that.”
“Yeeeaaah, I’m listening to ‘Doolittle’. It’s my favorite one.”
“Really, yeah, I like that one. I didn’t know anyone else around here was into them,” he said. He licked his lips and snorted in a quick breath.
“Oh, yeah. Love them.” Neither of us said anything for what I perceived to be enough time to make the situation awkward, but fun-awkward, not awkward-awkward.
“Yeah? Cool to meet you, Mary. I live upstairs. In 210.”
“Cool,” I said. He was speaking nervously, but he wasn’t nervous, the opposite, actually, but his voice was meek and that made it alright. He swallowed hard, over his vocal chords.
“Yeah, I just wanted to check it out.” There was the pause again. “You like it here?”
I didn’t say anything but I made a tiny groaning noise and he got the point. He changed the subject.
“Who else do you like?”
“What?” I asked.
“Other than the Pixies. Who else are you into? Music.”
I panicked, wanted to sound cool.
“Uhm, idduno, I like a lot of stuff.” There was the pause. “Nirvana’s good.” I pointed to him and put my finger on the logo right in the middle of his chest, kept it there for just a little longer than what could be called comfortable for a first time meeting. Then I traced a line up to where the shirt ended and the flesh of his neck began. My voice didn’t change its tone. “Who do you like?” He was a little startled. So was I. It was the first time in my life that I had done anything that could have been perceived as a pass. And after the world didn’t explode, I realized that that was something I could do a lot more, making passes. It was what I wanted to do more than anything, so I did it. He didn’t seem to mind.
“Oh, uh, Nirvana, I guess.” We both shared a completely nervous chuckle. “Yeah, so,” he continued, “I just wanted to check out what was going on in here. I haven’t seen you before. You should come out more.”
“Yeah, I guess I just like listening to The Pixies too much,” I said.
“We hang out in the middle of the upstairs lounge, usually late, like after everyone comes back from homework or partying or stuff. You should come out, hang.”
“Yeah. Maybe I will.”
“Cool. Yeah, well, you should. Well, I’m going to get out of here. It was cool meeting you. Come hang out.”
“Cool meeting you, too.”
He let his hand close the curtain and he shut the door behind him. I turned back to the record player. “Doolittle” soared. “I Bleed” had ended and the next track, “Here Comes Your Man” had taken its place.
They had put me in Beech Hall. It was right next to Birch Hall, which was beside Oak Hall. All of the dormitories were named after trees or some sort of foliage. I think it was because there weren’t any around. Beech was the dorm that hadn’t been touched in years. The school had implemented a plan several years ago where they had set to renovate one hall per year, their first overhaul since the mid-70’s. Beech was the last hall to be touched, and wouldn’t receive treatment until I would be a junior and long out of residence there. It smelled of a million beers spilled into the short brown carpet-like fiber and a million showers opted not to be taken in favor of twenty extra minutes of sleep, two punches on the snooze button. The floors were hard and engrained with grime from the countless alumni.
Not long after I moved in, I discovered that my roommate Amanda and I weren’t destined to progress any further than being thrown together as roommates. She was short and had curly hair, had a really girly-girl persona. She was the opposite of what I was. Her side of the room was chiefly pink in color and her wall was decorated with a universe’s worth of pictures that came from the tabloids and drunken nights in her and her friends’ swanky houses. There were little magnets under some of the pictures that sported female speak clichés, such as “So hot!” and “Love my girls!”. She had a small stack of teen magazines at the foot of her bed. She wore sweat pants with phrases like “Cheer!” and “Hott” written across the backsides of them. She was simple. It was disheartening because I had somewhere along the line convinced myself to actually blindly anticipate a friendship with whoever ended up being paired as my roommate. I was banking on it, actually. I wasn’t a hard girl to be friends with. Never before in my life had I any trouble finding, maintaining, and cultivating friendships. Finding friends didn’t seem like something I had to worry about. Instead, I concerned myself with more important things, like the purchase of the record playing, and all of my favorite albums on vinyl.
Amanda and I didn’t clash with each other, but we did fail to make the base level identification with one another that was needed for any sort of friendship to sprout. She just didn’t make the effort. She came into college holding hands with at least four of her friends from home, and I wager that she just didn’t see any point to expanding her tightly knit group. She can’t be blamed, though. I didn’t make any effort, either. I suppose I just suspected it to fall into place, like it did for the guys upstairs.
There was Mark and there was his roommate Drew. Neither of them had known each other before getting to Beech. I didn’t know that until long after I had met them. I had assumed that they had been lifelong friends, wasn’t the case. By the end of that first month they had become inseparable. Maybe it’s just easier for guys. Maybe they just overlook a lot of the sand grain aspects that girls don’t overlook. They both smoked a lot of weed. I bet they bonded over that, and just let all of that other junk back in their hometowns. They didn’t come to college with it, holding hands.
So most of those first weeks at school, I just laid in my bed and dreamt about being Kim Deal, playing bass and spitting in faces. It wasn’t hard for me to make friends once I conjured the effort, but the hard part was that conjuring. I went to a few classes, I didn’t go to others. I hadn’t talked to any of my girl friends from home in over a month. That didn’t bother me. It didn’t bother them either, I wager. I listened to my record player all of the time, and that drove Amanda out.
“Don’t you have any albums that wouldn’t make me want to slit my wrists?” she’d say. I would force a chuckle.
I listened to “Doolittle” a lot and thought that I had seasonal depression. That album came out in 1989. I was five-years-old when it came out. I could have been listening to it for fourteen years. I hadn’t heard it until last year. That depressed me. The landscape on campus had become barren, and so had my advanced association with any other humans. That depressed me, too. So I took Mark up on his offer.
It is easier for guys, to put all that grainy aspect stuff aside, I mean. I found that out.
“Hey, Pixies girl!” Mark said. I had just turned the corner from the hallway that led to the lobby from the stairs. His eyes were small and glassy. I clutched a book by Noam Chomsky to my chest with both of my hands. I hadn’t started reading it but I had a bookmark placed about a third of the way through.
“Yeah, Mary,” I said, reminding him.
“Yeah, Mary,” he repeated, “what’s up?”
“Not too much. Wanted to read but it was too loud in my room.
“Cunning linguist, are you?” Mark said. The other people at the table laughed a little.
“What?” I asked. No one replied. I got nervous. “Yeah, I wanted to read but my roommate is playing a fucking Beyonce’ album.” Soft chuckling from the crowd. The lobby was arranged into a giant square by means of couches. There was an oval oak coffee table sitting in the middle of the square. It had a multitude of dents, nicks, streaks, scratches, and chunks taken out of it, all chronicling different nights of too much drinking and not enough sleep. I sat down on the couch adjacent to Mark and his roommate. There was a boy that I didn’t know sitting on the couch beside me. He had large headphones on that looked like grey earmuffs and he was bobbing his head to the beat they were producing, alternating his eyes from closed to open along the way. “What’s going on with you?”
“Yeah, same. We’re just hanging out. Mary, that’s Drew. He’s my roommate,” Mark said as he grabbed a hold of Drew’s shoulders and pushed him forward.
“Hi, Mary,” Drew said. He extended his hand and I shook it lightly. His grip was feeble and it made me laugh inside.
“Hey.” Drew had short cropped brown hair that lay down on top and he was as skinny as an aluminum tent pole, like I was. I could tell that he was tall, like I was, because his legs were bunched up and perching crossed on the coffee table. I peered at him over his bright white tennis shoes. He had a metal bar with metal balls on the ends going through the top part of his left ear. He was cute.
“That’s Martin,” Mark said pointing to the headphones kid. He didn’t see that we were talking to him.
“Hi,” I said. He didn’t break his head-bobbing. I chuckled thinly. Mark and Drew let out more hearty laughter. It echoed off of the old concrete walls. A boy that was studying down the hall looked up from his book and at them. He looked thoroughly irritated.
“We just met Martin tonight. He smoked us up,” Drew said. His voice was higher than I thought it would be. Then he broke into a whisper, “He’s kinda a little weird.”
“Smoked you up with weed?” They looked at each other. They shook their heads in tandem. I rolled my eyes at them, trying to be disapproving, but secretly fascinated. I hadn’t been around it before. Back home, everyone just drank to get stupid. Everyone said smoking was too bad for you back home.
Drew had on a shirt that was plastered with a nice sized picture of a horse. It wasn’t the forced irony kind of picture, though, it was romanticized and tasteful. He saw me looking at it, and pulled his jacket over to cover it.
I put my hand up to my mouth, in case Martin was a lip-reader. “Yeah, he looks like a dweeb.” They laughed. I exploded inside a little.
“What did you do tonight,” Mark asked, “let me guess, listen to records?”
“Yeah, so? I started writing a response paper I have to do for class, too, but I got bored.” My hair was pulled back into a pony tail. It was tied with a gum band, sixth grade style. They could still tell it was curly if they were looking. I think they were looking, too. I bet I looked really young, but that was okay because my skin looked really smooth that night.
“What class is it for?”
“History of Italian Architecture.”
“Whoa, smart girl,” Mark said. Drew’s eyebrows rose.
“No, just a gen. ed.. Not my choice.”
“You always take the broadest gen. ed. courses. Surveys, hun. Survey of Pre-history, Survey of Contemporary Lit, Natural Science. Broad.” Drew made the motion of stretching something, like a piece of rubber, out with his hands. “That way you barely ever get into specifics,” he said. He called me ‘hun’. I liked that. It made me have a little lump in the back of my throat. Mark was staring at the ground beside the couch.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” I said.
“What are you here studying?” Drew asked me.
“I don’t really know yet.”
“Well, what do you like?”
“Uhm, I don’t really know yet. I like music a lot, but I don’t play anything. I just like listening a lot.” Suddenly, I got really self conscious about my ears. They were really big, and they were exposed tonight because of my choice of hairstyle. It felt like they were the foiled wings sprouting out of the sides of satellites in space. I lowered my head, and stared at the ground, like Mark was doing.
“I’m doing business. Management. But don’t worry; you have some time. Mark doesn’t know what he’s going to major in, either.” Mark didn’t break from his stare. It bothered me a little that he wasn’t paying any attention to me. I slid down in the couch a little and ran my hands over my jeans, around the tops of my thighs.
“Do you have any ideas, Mark?” I asked. He looked at me.
“What?” he said, slightly startled. Before I could reply, he answered, “Oh, not really. Maybe journalism.”
“Oh, that’s cool,” I said. He went back to staring at the ground and Drew kept talking to me, late into the night.
Two weeks later I was dating Drew. I knew that he liked me right away, and him liking me made me feel a little more comfortable roaming Beech Hall’s halls. Everyone was always running into everyone else, and I tried to stay out of my room as much as possible because of Amanda. She had a habit of watching Disney movies or Reece Witherspoon movies every night while she studied, and I couldn’t handle that at all. I felt uncomfortable being in there because it was so bright, and Amanda couldn’t stand the silence that I thrived off of. She always had to be asking me about some measly aspect of meaninglessness that felt like a chore to answer. I did most of my homework in the hallway. I did sneak in and listen to records when I knew Amanda was in class, though.
A couple of nights after meeting him, Drew walked me to my room. Our group always disbanded around 3:30 to try to smash in a few hours of sleep before waking for class the next day. He said he was going to walk me to my room and that was very peculiar. He walked closely behind me, and I could feel the warmth of his breathing on my neck, exposed from having my hair put up. He leaned in as I turned the door knob and kissed me on the cheek. He looked like a guilt-stricken child and I stared back at him and bit my bottom lip at the surprise of the gesture. He put his arm against the door, trapping me and leaned in. I felt like I was in a mammoth trash compactor; like birds could build their nests between these arms. He kissed me on my lips; I opened my mouth and felt his tongue intrude. It all felt cinematic, and that had never happened to me before. Then he weaseled his way down to the side of my neck, and the nerve endings danced back there. I threw my head back, eyes closed. I palmed the back of his head with my hand, let it comb the spry hairs, my fingers sprawled. My other hand fumbled for the doorknob, found it and turned it. The door gave way and I fell inside.
“Good-night,” I said, quickly shut it. I watched through the peep hole as he blinked a couple of times. He ran the sleeve of his sweatshirt over his lips and through his hair and his eyes squinted up and he walked away.
And thus we were hurled into this great jostling of ourselves. All at once days and nights stopped having their respective boundaries and time did slowly sludge itself into him being around and him not being around.
If it hadn’t happened exactly when it happened, this would be a drastically different account. Death had been expansive in the days right beforehand, and it had begun to slowly snake its way to be fully on top of me, constricting. From every angle surrounding, the campus resonated some deep sound of failure, aggravation, grinding missteps and rotting despair. I would look around; I would see the mud on everyone’s shoes. This feeling had chilled the city walls most definitely in those days, the college was covered in it, and it was beginning to seep into my own lungs, as well. I was lying down and I was blending myself into the wet pavement, as everyone else just kept their eyes strategically averted.
We got high almost every day, and I started not going to my classes as much as before. The school stuff piled up but I let it pile. The first couple of times they had asked me to smoke I had turned them down, but it didn’t take long before I caved. I had only resisted because I was afraid of getting caught, but Mark and Drew had worked out this complex system of masking the aroma and making any aspects of any marijuana smoking in their dorm room nonexistent. Mark was crafty when he was stoned, usually sitting over the edge of his top bunk bed constructing some new apparatus for weed use. Drew played video games. Mark made spoofs, ugly bongs, lungs, gravities, aluminum bowls, bud grinders and all the like. I didn’t know what they were, but sometimes he’d tell me about them and I’d listen intently. He focused on his tasks with great concentration while I would lie next to Drew in his bed with my elbow cocked to my head and my hand buried in my cheek, just watching. He retreated to another world while working on those pot crafts, and I just watched. He liked to listen to cassettes from old grunge bands like Helmet when he was smoking, and the way that the guitars sounded stoned to hell coated the room in sandpaper. Drew cursed at the television a lot, and I could tell he didn’t pay attention to the music.
We were ripped one day in the cocoon of a room.
“I finished it,” Mark said and he looked over at me with blood eyes. “It’s going to get us so gone.”
“What is it?” I asked.
“New contraption. Takes the keef flakes out and puts them in a nice little pile for you. You can sprinkle them on top and take off.”
“Yeah. I don’t want to use it until Sunday, though.” On Sundays we took nice long car rides past the city limits and through the outlying woodlands. It had become ritual. I loved it.
“I’ll probably ask Jess to go.” On the car rides, Drew would drive and take me, Mark and weird Martin would sit in the back and the fifth spot was always revolving for another girl Mark would ask to go, in the hopes of sparking a romance. It never worked. “Hey, Drew, look at this.” Mark tossed the contraption across the room and it landed in Drew’s lap. He paused his video game to look at it. He studied it for a while; his eyes carefully examined every facet. I looked at it, too. It looked like a red amulet with etched lines on the top and sharp projections like a possum’s teeth on the underside.
“Cool,” he said and tossed it back.
Weird Martin had rolled up two hefty joints for the Sunday car ride. They clung behind both of his ears with an amusing grace. We all had stumbled back from a sloppy brunch meal at the cafeteria, and had gotten our fill at making fun of the entirety of the attendees for moving in tiny motions, nursing crippling hang-overs. The girls would still be in their pajamas with their mascara clumpy from an alcoholic deep sleep, and the guys would be in sweatpants, keychains sporting the university’s anagram hanging out of their pockets. They would be arguing with each other about who finished their case the fastest or what team remained at the beer pong table the longest. We laughed at them all. While the girls would heavily saunter rubbing their heads and dig out a big bowl of ice cream from the white freezer, Drew would perk up and make disapproving sounds like “Huh-uh” or like he was getting punched in the gut and the girls would sneer at him. I would laugh and act like he was bad for doing it, hitting him playfully with a fist to his thigh under the table.
“They don’t need it,” he’d always say.
Weird Martin also always drove us on Sundays and that was the worst part. He liked to listen to dance music, like fluffy synthesizer and robotic drum kinda stuff. It was terrible. When we’d start smoking he would turn the car’s stereo up so much that each bass hit would rattle the speakers inside and it would make this terrible fluttering sound, like paper being ripped apart inside your eardrums. I also didn’t like that I would have to sit next to Mark’s partner of the week. He would make her sit in the middle to collect the most smoke from inside the car. He wanted to get them really high.
It was about a fifteen minute drive out of the city. On the last red light before the bridge, there was always a collection of bums waiting to wash down your windows. They would notice the young girls in the car and would stare at us, I didn’t care much. Usually whoever Mark brought would make note of it, though. Weird Martin cracked the window and put his lips to the opening.
“College kids. No money. Poor as you. Go away.” He turned around for approval, but no one said anything. We just smirked and Drew shook his head. The light turned green and Martin gunned it over the bridge. He fumbled around under his seat for a particular CD.
Leaving the city was leaving a concrete hamster cage. As soon as you crossed the bridge, there were no more high-rise apartment buildings, no skyscrapers, no swanky restaurants or mass-produced quirky sculptures. There weren’t any flashing lights, no car horns, no vagrants asking you for your phone number on the walk to class, no pedestrians flooding the streets talking obliviously on their cell phones. There weren’t any of those things and that’s why we did this every Sunday.
When we crossed the bridge, Martin took the joint from behind his ear and put it into his mouth. He didn’t light it immediately, but instead put the CD into his player and turned up the volume. It was some shitty female voice belting a single line, “Don’t come to lay me if you ain’t gon’ pay me.” Over and over again on top of a single note bass-and-drum line. Excruciating. We all were getting antsy. We drove for a couple more miles. Martin made the right hand turn and we entered Billing State Park. Drew leaned across the center consol and skillfully turned the volume knob down with his stray hand while he put an orange flame into Martin’s face with his other hand. The car started filling with smoke. I took a deep breath, let it sink in. My eyes glazed over, and I pushed a tuft of hair from them.
Mark had brought Jess this week. She had come with us once before, and she was reluctant to smoke the last time. Then when she did, she didn’t stop laughing until we returned home. It was so goddamned annoying last time. We all stared out of our respective windows. Jess stared straight ahead, moving her head with the music. The trees had lost all of their leaves a few weeks prior, and now they all blanketed the ground in a fantastic mosaic. There were just tiny bits of warm color blanketing the ground. I tried to focus my eyes on a specific leaf for as long as I could as we drove by. I tried to see how long I could keep it in my view before I would never be able to pick it out again. Then I shifted my focus to the trees. It was great to trace a specific one from root to tip and to see exactly where its skinny twig branches reached for against the expansive grey sky. They tried to reach so hard and they moved with each gust of the wind. The joint came to me and I took a long drag, held it in my lungs. I exhaled slowly and took another pull. I could hear the quiet crackling of the marijuana burning up in front of my face. The cherry glowed a metallic orange. I passed it to Jess and she took a tiny drag and coughed for two minutes straight.
Martin pulled the car to the large shoulder of the road, and eased it against the guard rail. The brakes screeched with the car’s final motion. A sign said “Picnic Area” in large yellow letters. Underneath it, it read “Please dispose properly of any and all waste materials.” We came here every week, too, to finish the other joint. We walked single file down the trampled path, crunching leaves beneath our feet. I was behind Drew and in front of Mark. Mark was wearing a big brown sweatshirt with the hood up. It covered most of his face, but he let his black hair curl out from the top. It made him look like he was a child. Drew had on my favorite jeans of his, they were tight. They accentuated his calf muscles, which were the only pronounced muscles that he had on his entire body. We made it to the Adirondack enclosure and sat at our picnic table. The table was rough, almost white from age. There were many engravings and carvings into the table’s surface, my favorite read: “Setting sun, may I ask for some more?”.
The breeze was heavy. It wasn’t conducive to lighting a joint at all. I loved how the breeze carried the smoke into the woods, though.
An old white Jeep Cherokee with red and blue roof lights had crept up behind Martin’s car. Two officers clad in tan uniforms and black jackets with badges on them scampered down the path. They had flashlights drawn but not turned on yet. We were in the middle of smoking the second joint, just staring out into Billing Lake. I watched large golden birds flapping across the surface. They were high in the blank sky but the calm water made for a perfect mirror. If I were standing on my head it would have looked the same.
It wasn’t the first time that people had wandered down the path during our time there, so at first, it wasn’t as alarming to us as it should have been. We heard the crunching of the foliage that came with each of the officers’ steps, and went into our practiced ‘interruption scenario’. Drew took a final hit from the joint and held it underneath the picnic table as he breathed the smoke into the air. Mark turned around; I saw his eyes get wide when he realized the intruders were uniformed.
“Fuckin’ cops, guys,” he whispered.
Drew snapped from his daze. “What?”
“Cops, man. Be cool,” Mark said. He hurriedly plunged his hand into his sweatshirt pocket and it emerged holding a cigarette. He put it into his mouth, lit it, took frantic breaths, exhaled all of the smoke that he could. He tossed the cellophane from his cigarette package to the ground beside him. The flashlight shone directly in his face, he squinted, looked cute.
“You can’t do that,” the officer growled, face veiled in shifting shadows like ink in water.
“We weren’t doing anything,” Drew said. His voice punched through, an unwelcome quip. Mark shot him a quick ‘shut-the-fuck-up-now’ look.
“Yes, you were,” the officer said.