One Last Night

As we sat on the yellowed grass next to the crumbling remains of your childhood home, you with your fishnets and Converse, me with my combat boots and rolled-up jeans, both of us with our shades on against the setting sun, we both took in this time we had together, this one last night before you’d move several states away to go off to art school.

They’d fenced off the house to keep mischievous kids from getting in and having the place collapse on them. They’d been planning on knocking down the house and building an apartment complex in its place, but they’d run out of money during the demolition, and so there it sat, half-crumbled, waiting for someone to put it out of its misery. We made so many memories in that house–hide and seek in the dark, laser tag with flashlights, sledding down the stairs on pillows–and here we were now, watching the light go out from the sky like a campfire that’d reached the end of its life, knowing that soon I’d have to go home and you’d have to go out on the road.

I couldn’t afford art school, not even with financial aid, but you could. I tried to stay cool about it, but I knew you could tell I was at least a little jealous. I tried to be happy for you, tried to smile and get excited in all the right places, but it was more than a little forced.

Our art grew along with us, everything from doodles and comics to portraits and landscapes. You always said I was better than you, and I always disagreed. Now, just to make myself feel better, I let myself agree in my head.

“So you’re all packed to go and everything?”

“Yep. Roscoe totally knows something is up. He keeps whining and pawing at the boxes. It’s funny.”

I pictured Roscoe fussing like that, your big orange tabby perennially looking to me like a kitten even though he was thirteen years old.

“Is your mom still giving you shit?”

“Of course. You know her. She and dad are still trying to get me to reconsider. Stay home, go to community college, go into business, something. They keep telling me there’s no money in art, as if I was doing this for money in the first place.”

“That’s shitty.”

“Yeah, I know. Whatever. It is what it is. And I don’t give a shit, I’m going.”

We both shared a laugh, and it got sad at the end of it when we both remembered that this was our one last night, when we realized this could be one of the last laughs we’d share together.

“Have you gotten your schedule already?”

“Yeah. I’m taking mostly gen eds to get them out of the way, but I’ve got a couple of figure drawing and art theory classes, and I’m taking a class on sexuality.”

We looked at each other and shared an awkward smile. There was a silence that was midway between comfortable and uncomfortable.

“I bet your mom loves that.”

You laughed.

“She doesn’t know, and she’s not going to find out.”

“I could just imagine her turning red and telling you that the Lord is watching.”

You laughed again.

“Yeah, she’d have to do a dozen Hail Marys just to get the impure thoughts out of her head.”

We shared another awkward smile, made eye contact that went on a little too long. I broke the silence:

“Do you remember when we used to play spin the bottle out here at night when your parents were asleep?”

“Yeah, and that one time I had to kiss Robbie Stevenson. Dude was all tongue and mouth, I thought he was gonna eat my face. Freaking gross.”

“Yeah, I remember. I like to think I was the best kisser. No big deal.”

You laughed. I thought I saw your cheeks get red, but it could’ve just been the rosy sunset.

“Yeah. You totally were.”

It got quiet again. The sun was past the trees now, nearly below the horizon.

There was no way of knowing who initiated the kiss. It just sort of happened. When it was over, you scooted over and rested your head on my shoulder. I reached over and started stroking your hair. The neighborhood looked to me like it was coming through a fishbowl on account of the tears that were forming. I closed my eyes and smiled.

Wake Up

It started with a song, as these things all too often do. “Wake Up” by Arcade Fire. We were seventeen going on eighteen, and we’d jam to it on repeat to celebrate having graduated high school, all of us trying to figure out what it was we were going to do next.

Topher would storyboard Wallace’s ideas for new short films in between inking his own comics, paying out of pocket to get those first comics printed so that he could see his work on paper. He’d sneak them onto the shelves at all the local comic shops, load each issue with several business cards so that fans could follow him before he got his big break.

Wallace scripted out short films like crazy, relying on guerilla filmmaking to bring them to life. His budgets almost never exceeded $0, and he’d get the lay of a location before sneaking in and getting the shots he needed without getting caught. We snuck into hospital rooms, the back of a bookstore, a small concert venue, even bars so that we could get the shots we needed. It paid off, too–although the scripted dialogue left much to be desired, the locations looked professional and lent the productions an official look.

I kept my stories to myself at first, but soon enough I was showing them to Topher and Wallace, the latter adapting them into screenplays and the former drawing out characters and storyboards. Topher was talking about staying in Chicago to capitalize on the burgeoning art and comics scene, Wallace was serious about moving to LA and pursuing a career in film, and I was considering moving to New York City, the hub of publishing, to try to make it as a writer.

As the months went on, though, we drifted further and further apart. The stress of applying to colleges out of state and committing to our respective artforms was too much for us. The group fell apart, but the song played on:

“If the children don’t grow up,
our bodies get bigger but our hearts get torn up.
We’re just a million little gods causin’ rain storms,
turnin’ every good thing to rust.”

Topher moved into an apartment in the city, Wallace took a road trip to LA that he never came back from, and I flew to NYC. We stayed Facebook friends even though we stopped talking, and so we’d get glimpses here and there of what the others were up to. College was a challenge, but it seemed like we were all rising to the occasion. Every time I got a story read in class or performed at a cafe, every time I saw Wallace casting for a shoot or Topher putting out another issue of his comic all on his own, I wanted to reach out, wanted for us to come together like we used to, to share in our successes together. But the song continued:

“I guess we’ll just have to adjust.”

Years passed. As they did, I imagined just how many times that song came up on shuffle, how many times each of them got its lyrics inexplicably stuck in their heads. I wondered what they thought every time it happened, whether they thought of me or not. I knew they were watching just as I was–I’d occasionally catch Wallace liking one of my posts before realizing his mistake and unliking it, not fast enough where it wouldn’t show in my notifications. More years passed. We graduated. Wallace placed in a film festival. Topher took a junior position as a colorist. I published in a handful of magazines and was brought on board at a separate litmag as a reader. We were all hearing these lines playing in the background on repeat:

“With my lightnin’ bolts a glowin’,
I can see where I am goin’ to be”

We ignored what came after, though:

“when the reaper he reaches and touches my hand.”

Over the years, I’d return to those simpler times. I’d tell coming-of-age stories about what it meant to come into your own artistically at the same time that you were growing up. How these individual growths come to inform each other. Truth be told, if I hadn’t met Topher and Wallace, I might not even have taken writing seriously in the first place. But seeing them sketch and shoot constantly brought something out in me that I didn’t know I had. Now I stood on the cusp of breaking out as a writer, and I wasn’t even on speaking terms with these guys. All I had were the memories of reckless abandon, of being free from the clutches of high school and having our futures open wide in front of us. Now I was happy, I was settled, and I’d found someone to spend my life with, but I needed to write this final chapter. As I thought about how to approach this, the song’s beginning came back to me:

“Somethin’ filled up
my heart with nothin’.
Someone told me not to cry.”

And the song went on in my head, telling me that now that I’m older and my heart’s grown colder, I can see that it’s a lie. I heard the line that told me to wake up, to hold my mistake up. So what did I do? I started a group chat between the three of us. I agonized for ten minutes over what to say, whether I should type out a long message or not, but finally I just sent:

“Hey.”

And there was the end of the song again, instruments building to a crescendo, picking up speed, and the lead singer shouting out:

“You better look out below!”

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Show Me the Way to Earth

Chicago, Summer 2007. The Dark Knight was still a year away, but that didn’t stop us from running all over the city at all hours of the night, hunting for film sets. I was wrapped up like a mummy, complete with burn bandages and plastic back brace–the result of teenage stupidity telling me that car surfing after getting off work at the local movie theater would be a good idea.

We scrambled around downtown at two, three, four in the morning, me at sixteen years old, ignoring calls from my mother until the calls dropped off altogether and she let me do what I was going to do. We belted out songs as we hunted for sets. It was usually something from the Velvet Goldmine soundtrack, one of the few CDs sitting on the floor of Eric’s Jeep that wasn’t scratched to hell, having to dig past fast food garbage to get to it. One of our favorites was “Baby’s on Fire.” We had a choreographed dance and everything. We’d pretend to row invisible boats at “rescuers row row,” wiggle our arms at “blow the wind blow blow,” and click the shutters of invisible cameras at “photographers snip snap.”

We found an empty set on the edge of Lake Michigan that was cordoned off with caution tape, green screen behind it that would stand in for ferries in the movie. A security guard told us to not even think about it, but we snuck in the second he wasn’t paying attention. We found a half-full water bottle and speculated that Christian Bale or Heath Ledger could’ve drank from it. Considered putting it on eBay, but didn’t.

This was years before I’d end up going to film school, before I’d graduate from film to fiction, before I’d publish, so I took mental notes as Matt and Eric hashed out ideas for short films, did my best when I was cast in one of Eric’s shorts about two hitmen trying to figure out what to do with a dead body in a trunk, Tarantino written all over it. I played Batman in a fan film we shot in a single day, sweating to death in a slapped-together batsuit as we filmed in Eric’s sweltering basement that was meant to be an interrogation room.

I smoked my first cigarette that summer, hated it. Tried weed for the first time, didn’t hate it. I never anticipated myself doing these things, but then I never anticipated my parents getting divorced either. So I rode around with Eric in his Jeep for hours, neither of us knowing where we were going but neither of us really caring. There was that time we fell asleep in a Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot, windows open, music playing. That time we snatched a couple bikes that hadn’t been locked up and rode them down a hill that was tall and steep enough to cause serious injury if we fell off, which we miraculously didn’t.

I was invincible, as evidenced by the fact that I’d somehow survived hitting pavement at 30 mph and subsequently being dragged by a car. Right after it happened, I was covered in blood, my clothing in tatters. One of the witnesses on the scene was a guy who’d just walked out of a screening of Hostel: Part II, and the irony of this fact was not lost on me. Sure, I had to go home once a day to change my bandages, sure I had to take a shower sitting down, and sure I had to go to physical therapy, but I survived, and that was all that mattered. Nothing could stop me.

In terms of romance, it was the age of flirting over Myspace and making out in darkened theater auditoriums. My friends acted like I was a wounded puppy only when it would help me get a girl’s attention, otherwise not really bringing up my injuries, not treating me any different because of them.

I let my hair grow out, my idea of sticking it to the man before I’d have to go back for my junior year and adopt the clean cut look that my high school’s medieval dress code demanded. Decked myself out in every Batman tee I could find at Hot Topic before I’d have to go back to tucking polo shirts into khakis at school. I was a rebel with an expiration date.

Even as summer drew to a close, as my wounds healed and I prepared to go back to school and work both, we still found ourselves riding around in Eric’s old Jeep late at night, belting out the lyrics to songs by Shudder to Think, T. Rex, Brian Eno, and others, planning out our next short film in between CD swaps, wondering aloud how awesome The Dark Knight would end up being, quoting all the lines we’d heard in the trailers in the meantime.

We’d always seem to work our way back to one of the more soulful numbers off the Velvet Goldmine soundtrack, “The Ballad of Maxwell Demon.” The guitars would sweep off and into space as only good glam rock guitars could do, and we’d all belt out the opening lines together:

Got tired of wasting gas living above the planet
Mister, show me the way to earth

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End of the Line

When the sun finally decides to come up, this moment in time will be taken from us. But for now it’s night, so everything is still ours.

We do not care. If we were to be asked how many fucks we give, the answer would always be zero. Social norms are like suggestions to us. Etc.

We’re here at the end of our seventeenth summer. The previous sixteen were test runs for this one. Your face in the fading light is minimalistic: the smoke of your eyes, the cherry of your lips. Slung around your neck by twine, over the blossoms printed on your dress, is a stop sign with the S scrubbed away so it just says top. I ask if it’s meant to be a postmodern self-referential thing or what and you roll your eyes at me, lace your hands and do a boy band heart pound. I do the move in unison with you and smile, but I’m leaving for college in the morning so the smile ends up being a sad smile.

We walk until you stop to balance an acorn on the laces of your red Converse. The top sign scrapes pavement and sends up sparks in a pattern we can’t identify: some jumbled up version of Morse code. You become one-legged. You hop. You balance the unborn tree on your shoe. You tell me I am to clap along, maybe do that one Russian dance, the one that involves crouching and kicking. I do these things. We sing a song for the tree fetus and when we’re done you kick it in the air. When we’re done you catch it in your mouth like a tossed popcorn. When we’re done you immediately regret your decision. I give you a wax bottle to wash the taste of dirt out. I hold your spun-gold hair back as you spit tiny grass blades onto someone’s lawn.

For a second there, everything becomes the last time we’ll do it together. This is the last time we’ll see who will say penis the loudest. Here’s the last rock we’ll sling at a McMansion’s bay window. Etc.

I laugh too loud at your next joke to cover up the choking sound in my throat and we make forcefield cars together. Forcefield cars are when you snatch a sprinkler and put it on a car’s roof. The forcefield’s only water, but it’s super effective: most people will chase us but never stop the sprinkler. It’ll go all night like that.

We find the Switzerland car (always neutral) and force it into conflict by rolling it into the middle of the street. We go through a drive-thru in an invisible car. We make Our Lady of Piety’s sign say that righteous men follow the word of dog. We cannot be stopped.

When you eye me with that look I know what you want to do before you say it. It. The grand finale. Our little pièce de teenage résistance. The masterpiece we’ve been planning all year.

We get there right on time, while the driver’s still scarfing down his burger across the street. We look at this idling bus, door open, and we remember to breathe. You get in the driver’s seat and pass me the driver’s jacket. I put it on, apply adhesive to my upper lip, and stick on the fake Luigi mustache I used last Halloween. With aviators on, I could be your supervisor. You bite your cheeks to stop smiling. Clear your throat to stop laughing.

I shield you from view when our first customer gets on; insist you’re doing fine in a voice I hope sounds adultish. Two more get on at the next stop. You’re doing fine. Good job. I’m okay. I mean you’re okay.

No one says anything when you go off course. They don’t speak up till the bus stops outside some concert in the park summer series, till my mustache tells them this is it, last stop, end of the line, everybody out. Some mutter, but this is Chicago, and the shades and mustache make me look like Coach Ditka. All Chicagoans respect Coach Ditka.

I funnel them out the rear door just in case. Some crowd the stop for the next bus. Others spill into the concert. Some just walk home. I watch your face pulse in the Morse code of streetlights as you drive away.

We park in the lot of a forest preserve; turn the lights off so we’re in stealth mode. We push the emergency hatch that opens onto the roof and I give you a boost. Climb up after you and ditch my Ditka disguise.

You lie on your back and I copy you. We look up into the splattered canvas of sky, white dripped on black, and listen to a faraway car alarm that just started up. We do a boy band heart pound in unison. We don’t plan it. It just happens.

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Too Easy

Toenail

When you get back inside with the toenail in your hand the blood will leave a picture of Jesus in the carpet. You’ll tell your mother the nail came off after a botched kickflip. You don’t skate. She’ll bring a bag of peas and take pictures of the stain for Ripley’s Believe It or Not. You will think yourself a holy child. The peas will stick to your nail bed. Blood will pool at the bottom of the bag and melt frost off a couple peas.

Bird

Sharo will find the bird first, in the street. He’ll ask if you want to lose a fingernail this time and you’ll assure him you do not. Tiny spectators will gather. They’ll pantomime the bird’s movements for those without a good view: Lloyd will bug out his eyes, connect his left ear and shoulder, open and close his mouth robotically. Obe will twitch his left arm, flap his right. There will be a bucket of water. The kind you’d spin to illustrate centrifugal force. Sharo will say: Your head or the bird’s. Pick, faggot. You will pick the bird’s. Lloyd will pantomime your cries.

Nail Nail

You will lose a fingernail, but not by Sharo’s hand. It’ll be wedged in the back door on the way inside to wash a carrot from the garden. Your father’s hand on your shoulder will be warm and the ice water will be not warm. The pain will erase the word “cold” from your brain. The nail you lose will be the nail of your middle finger, so you will get away with flicking people off for several weeks. Inside you’ll nail the nail to a secret corner of bedroom wall and call it your nail nail. You’ll consider starting a collection.

Congestive/Digestive

The hospital room’s Pokémon rerun will be too loud, so you’ll hear “digestive heart failure” and imagine your father’s heart slowly descending to his stomach by way of peristalsis. You will have just learned the word in science class and will remember it by turning it into a name: Perry Stalsis. You’ll ask your dad if he wants to play Who’s that Pokémon, but he’ll already be asleep. It’ll be Pikachu. Too easy.

Flooded Meadow

The storm will knock out the power for three days. During this time you will subsist on Mickey D’s and sugarfoods. Meadow Lane will be under several feet of water. You’ll have just seen Waterworld and will pull back your hairline; scowl at things. You will strip down to your undies in broad daylight and swim down your street. You’ll imagine barnacles on car tires, tiny submerged cities. Only once will you open your eyes underwater. You will immediately regret this decision. Your eyes will burn till the power comes back on two days later.

Boxing Match

All the block’s tiny humans will congregate for the main event. The combatants will be four and five. The gloves will go up to their elbows. You’ll say: I don’t think this is a good idea. Sharo will say: nothing, because he’s just spit in your face. It will have somehow gotten in your nose. When no one laughs, Sharo will say: Just kidding. So there will be spit in your nose and blood in Lloyd’s. Lloyd’s dad will come out with no shirt on. He will say: Give me the pucking gloves. The kids will say: Ha ha ha. His exposed stomach will say: I’m hairy.

Spider-Man’s Eyeballs

Spider-Man’s eyeballs will be made of bubblegum. His severed head will be on a stick and will be made of ice cream. Everyone will have a father except for Cal. Cal will have no father and no money for ice cream. No one will know where Cal’s father is, not even Cal. The ice cream man will hit a pothole. He will get out and swear and hit his head hard on the truck’s undercarriage when he’s done checking the tire. Cal will say: Are you okay? Ice Cream Man will say: Fuck off. Everyone except Cal will get ice cream. Sharo will say: Niggers don’t get ice cream. You will split Spider-Man’s head and give Cal the sticked half. You will surgically remove one eyeball and give it to Cal.

How It Ends

Years will go by. Your father will die and be buried. Sharo will die and be buried. You will attend both funerals. Your father’s face will be ashen, and you will see that he’s become a gray alien. This will be fitting because your father would always talk about gray aliens and Area 51, codename Dreamland. You will tell your father’s ashen body that it is going to Dreamland. You will remember that fake alien autopsy video, imagine what your father’s innards look like, and get sick in his casket. He’d always remind you it’s “get sick,” not “throw up.” Sharo’s mother will clutch you to her like a child would a teddy. She will insist you and Sharo were best friends and you’ll agree. There will be kabobs after. The kabobs will be good and the flight home will be long. When you get home you will kiss your wife passionately and watch a Pokémon rerun with your son. You will both guess Pikachu when the time comes. You will both be correct. Too easy.

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BENEATH THE SICKLE

The thoughts that dominated his mental landscape as he sat out on the football field’s empty lawn at night with the moon above nothing but a sickle and the early Fall breeze nipping at his sweatered self was one of those nameless, shapeless thoughts, the ones that lose all meaning precisely when you begin to describe them.

But he was out on the lawn at midnight, and very thoroughly alone, and he believed he had some time, so he decided he’d name the nameless and give shape to the shapeless.

If he had to give it a shot, he’d begin by classifying it as a thought that entered into The Nostalgic Zone. It was a sweet sorrow, an innocent remembrance tainted by intervening years and perspective. It felt like missing a time that was never yours, remembering good old days that happened years before you were born.

But that wasn’t right either, so he started over. He had time before the arrival, if there would be an arrival at all.

Maybe he wouldn’t have to describe it. Maybe remembering the reason why he was here at all, sitting in this empty football field at midnight on Halloween would classify the thought for him.

As dear as that first memory was to him now, it remained incomplete; frayed at the edges. Her costume was a blank, and so was his. He could only remember the way her face glowed in the night, the way the lamppost light caught her Halloween-shadowed eyes and seemed to stop him in his place every time their eyes met.

How he took her around the old block, showed her the houses you could count on for a good haul, the ones that were prime egging targets for a very different type of trick-or-treater.

How they feasted on sugar and laughed at the moon, the years ahead of them indistinct and so not real, not any more a marker of who they were than the costumes they were wearing.

They made a pact then on that first Halloween, as they sat there beside each other on the ample field, the lights that were usually blinding on gamedays now off, and so looking like mechanical husks of towering monsters that once were. The moon was a sliver on the night that they made the pact.

It was a simple pact, the kind that only the innocent and youthful can make, a promise so seemingly simple and yet so hard to keep. Every Halloween, at midnight, they’d meet right here at this spot. It didn’t matter how old they were or where life had taken them, the pact was binding and final.

And for a few years, that’s exactly what it was. They’d meet right at midfield, their pasts and futures equidistant as they’d sit, and chat, and share candy, and after a few years had passed and pubescence took its toll–kiss.

Junior high came and went, and still they had Halloween night. Districts had them in different high schools and friends kept them busy, but they had their night, and their sliver of a moon, and their nocturnal time kept bubbled and safe from the effects of ordinary passage.

The apology was enough the first time he missed it. Campus was far away from the old hometown, and not just spatially. He’d make it next time for sure and make it up to her.

The year that followed was swift and brutal, without the amniotic bubble of their time together beneath the sickle to give any sense of what had come before and what was yet to be.

In a matter of seconds he’d graduated. Five minutes past that and he was out on the coast, struggling and searching and rarely finding. Ten minutes beyond and he was on the other coast, with no equidistant place to keep it all together. A half hour later and he was on the flight back Home, knowing that if he didn’t find her beneath the sickle now, he never would.

And so here he was, the past as hazy and indistinct as the future once was, checking the hands of the Timex he wore Back Then, a token of a past time where not knowing where to go was exciting and not suffocating.

He didn’t have to figure out the thought that took up so much of his mental landscape then, or didn’t want to. Maybe both. Those hazy remembrances told him more than a nameless, shapeless thought ever could.

He took in the air and the moon, the hulking mechanical wrecks and the distant endzones before and behind. He took one last breath and got up. Turned to where he’d come from.

Way out in the shadow of the night, beneath the sickle of a moon was a shape. A glimmering shape even in all that night, a shape that the years couldn’t hide from him even if they tried. And as the shape approached and the sickle’s glow gave it form, all thoughts of labeling it vanished. He saw, and he knew.

They walked out to midfield together in silence. Took their time with each step, decompressed before they’d come up and out of all the intervening years and reach air. They had no costumes on, but it was still their night. Their time. They sat down in the grass and looked at each other then, both of them captured still and weightless there beneath the sickle.

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SEEN AND BELIEVED

Down the roads that are more pothole than street, past the boarded-up windows and the year-old for sale signs and the gravel swept neatly from faded old welcome mats, there are memories that come only with the arrival of their bearer.

These are sights that stop existing when they leave the field of vision, places that fill up the heart but not the mind. They need to be seen to be believed.

He came bearing a bike he would’ve stolen as a child, eyeing suspicion that he’d scoff at back in the day. You could have told past-him this, but he wouldn’t have listened. His present self, too, needed to be seen to be believed.

There was the wreck of a rec area, more weed and mud than grass and dirt. There were the monkey bars he chipped his teeth on, the playground where he got in his first fistfight.

Eyes followed as he rode past–hungry eyes, but eyes that knew they couldn’t push too hard. This was obviously someone who didn’t come here often. They had no idea.

Here was the block he once rode around with no hands, with nothing but his ass to steer the circles. Here was the net-less hoop he used to play on, that same corner of backboard that had torn off years ago after an aborted alley oop attempt.

His work’s khakis were getting frayed and wet from the loose gravel that shot up from the bike’s chain, but he didn’t mind. Here was the old block. Here were the memories.

Here was the lake he fell into after misjudging the thickness of the ice. Here was the alley he’d found the used condom in, the one he’d thought was a strange, wet balloon.

The creek that always died out before reaching the lake, and the pipe it fed into, the one he got stuck in and had to holler for help to escape from during a game of hide and seek.

And there was the old neighbor, his eyes not used to seeing this young man in khakis and dress shirt, and so not seeing the boy he used to know. The boy in torn-up jeans and hand-me-down shirts.

Here was the park where he’d first kissed her, when he’d thanked the moonless sky for covering up his blush. There’s the forest preserve where they walked and talked for hours, where he first told her he loved her.

His throat was dry and hands shaking on the handlebars, but there were some things that needed to be seen to be believed. And until he saw her, he couldn’t leave. Not now and not ever.

There was the doorstep where he’d cried for as many hours as they’d talked all those years prior, where he said someone else could take the scholarship, that he didn’t need it, and she’d insisted he couldn’t pass this up.

There’s the bus stop where he said goodbye with a “see you later,” knowing at the time that he was likely lying. But he’d make good on it now. He had to.

There was her old apartment, the numbers still nearly falling off and name still spelled wrong. He got off his bike and set it down where they’d first looked up at the stars together. He didn’t bother locking it.

To the door she’d pushed him up against all those times with rough kisses and the delicate ones to soften the blow, too.

He knocked. And he watched. And he waited. And he turned around to the bike with his khakis and his dress shirt. And he took a step toward it.

But the door’s creak stopped him. And he turned. And he saw her.

Some things need to be seen to be believed.

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OUT HERE

Out here the sky’s as big as the world, and all the rain’s a drop of you and me and everything we see.

Out here the wind blows skyward and takes a piece of us with it as it dances in the field.

Out here there’s room for dreams and wishes, love abounds and glitters on the lightning bugs’ wings.

Out here there is no lost, no posted flyers for the world to see.

Out here the sun laughs as it rises, it kisses the pregnant clouds as they drip their dew.

Out here there’s elephants in trees and sounds in your hair, bright sounds that smell of cinnamon.

Out here there is no could have or should have, but only the breath of the bugs on the grassblades.

Out here the world doesn’t stop or go, and what you see is inside you.

Out here the flickers come from your fingertips and linger a while like pixies on the moon.

Out here there’s water on the wind and rivers in the sky, ten miles long and twisting things.

Out here the mud will clean you and the water will muck you up.

Out here there are sights to see and people to be and it’s all just over there.

Out here you can climb on the air and sing on the hills, the only one who will stop you is you.

Out here the clocks drip slowly and flutter away when they’ve had enough.

Out here the books line the streets and call out to you when you pass them by.

Out here the souls are crisp and line-dried and chamomile-scented.

Out here there’s a buzz in all the people near and far, a silly little hum they look at from time to time.

Out here the sprouts shed their seeds and let them float off beside them for another one to catch.

Out here there’s a willow branch on a man’s head and it’s just as tall as can be.

Out here there’s room for it all and more, and the sunshine evaporates on your tongue.

Out here the childhoods rush back like waves, but calm against the break.

Out here you are who you are, whenever and wherever you are.

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WE

We are here.

We make decisions, we mend fences, we live and breathe.

We are still.

We wander in fields, we climb up trees, we eat till we’re full.

We expect things.

We feel our way around, we think of all the ways, we sit beneath the stars.

We tell stories.

We dig under the snow, we play tag on the blacktop, we think of one another.

We laugh sometimes.

We heal our wounds, we dance in the rain, we watch as the water becomes frozen.

We trade cards.

We empty out tanks, we collect all the shells, we wonder who’s out there.

We sing songs.

We run till we’re tired, we jump into puddles, we breathe in the helium.

We clap hands.

We get the chores done, we color inside the lines, we dip toes in the pool.

We hammer nails.

We fold over the pages, we drown waffles in syrup, we scratch off fake tattoos.

We smile within.

 

COME ON AND SLAM AND WELCOME TO THE JAM

Chris had been maxing out on all things nostalgic, thoroughly satisfied with his decision to have a ‘90s Day. He’d just beaten Aztec on Expert in Goldeneye, his belly was full of Pizza Lunchable and Mondo, and he was fanning out his Pokémon cards like they were hundred dollar bills.

He went on youtube, watched intros to the shows of his childhood. He didn’t care what anyone said, the theme to Duck Tales was a serious musical achievement. Chris was just about to turn off his computer for the night, satiated with his ‘90s fix when he saw it. “Quad City DJ’s – Space Jam for 10 hours.”

Now that was it. Space Jam had to be the pinnacle of ‘90s movies. Sure, he was a bit biased being from Chicago and living through the repeat three-peat, but come on now. What mentally sane young adult didn’t have fond memories of that damn movie? No one, that’s who.

He clicked the link, waited for his slow internet to load the abnormally long video. He perused the comments to pass the time. Among them: “DO NOT LISTEN TO THIS ALL THE WAY THROUGH. PLEASE, SPARE YOURSELF THE TORMENT AND MENTAL ANGUISH. THIS WILL FUNDAMENTALLY CHANGE YOU AS A HUMAN BEING. THE JAM WILL BE ALL YOU KNOW.”

Chris couldn’t help but smirk. Clever posts like this made it almost worth sifting through the illiterate muck that was youtube comments. Right then he decided that he’d do it. He’d top off the night by listening to the whole damn thing. Even if he had to stay up till 8 AM to do it.

The video loaded up. The song’s crowd cheered as that nearly monotone female voice cut in:

“Everybody get up, it’s time to slam now. We got the real jam goin’ down, welcome to the Space Jam. Here’s your chance, do your dance at the Space Jam… alright.”

And just like that, Chris was back in 1996, bowlcut on display as he watched Bugs and the rest tear up the Monstars on the blurriest of VHS tapes. He snapped back from his reverie and popped open a Wonderball, too distracted by the greatness of Space Jam to even wonder what was inside.

After five hours, Chris’s mouth was covered in chocolate, which chocolate smeared up perilously close to his eyes as his hand awkwardly propped up his half-asleep self. He was very soon passed out, the song still playing on without him.

What followed that morning was by far the stiffest and most uncomfortable of wake-ups that Chris could recall in recent memory. He smelled like Capri Sun and chocolate, spent Baby Bottle Pops stuck half-eaten to his socks, and he had spilled Lunchable pizza sauce on his fossilized, first edition, baby Raichu card.

Chris got to his feet, kicking away his sticky candy adornments and made his way to the fridge for a non-diabetes-inducing meal. He opened the fridge, and: nothing. He’d have to pick up some groceries real quick.

He made his way to the supermarket, cartoon theme songs still playing in his head. He walked in the door only to be greeted by a strange noise. It almost sounded like a crowd cheering. But just as soon as it appeared, it was gone.

“Welcome to the Space Jam.”

Chris’s head whipped to the source of the quote. A rather chipper employee stood smiling at him.

“What’d you just say?”

The employee’s grin faltered.

“Welcome to Trader Sam’s… Is something wrong, sir?”

Chris shook his head, more to wake himself up than respond to the employee. He headed over to the cereal aisle, trying his best not to jump to conclusions. Something caught his eye immediately. Among the cereal boxes stood a jar of jam that someone had left behind.

Chris grabbed the jar, incredulous. Behind it, none other than Michael Jordan’s smiling face greeted him from the cover of a Wheaties box. Chris dropped the jar, shattering it. He came to his senses almost immediately, shocked at himself.

He bent over to clean up the mess when a worker who saw the whole thing approached and politely brushed him aside.

“Don’t worry about it sir, I’ve got this. Just work that body, work that body, make sure you don’t hurt nobody.”

Chris blinked rapidly, as if that would alleviate the strangeness of whatever the hell the employee just said.

“Uh, what?”

The employee just smiled, returned to his job. Just then, the store’s muzak cut out abruptly. An intercom voice flooded the store.

“Attention shoppers, down in aisle nine you’ll find we’ve got a real jam going down. Welcome to the Space Jam.”

Chris backed away slowly, not even noticing as he knocked over a nearby display. Several toy basketballs fell from their perch on the toy rack, their bouncing noise somehow heightened, louder. The employee stared at Chris as he wiped the same spot on the floor over and over again, smiling all the while.

“Wave your hands in the air if you feel fine. We’re gonna take it into overtime.”

Chris was now officially losing his shit. He turned away from the creepy employee and started to briskly walk away from the whole jam situation. But standing there blocking his path was a mob of customers, their carts boxing out any possible escape. They all sang in unison:

“HEY, YOU, WHATCHU GONNA DO? HEY, YOU, WHATCHU GONNA DO?”

Chris turned around, toward the creepy employee. An even bigger mob of managers and employees had already appeared, joining in the chorus. They all slowly approached as they sang, arms outstretched. Chris opened his mouth to yell.

CRASH

Chris’s hand slipped, making his head smack against his laptop’s keyboard. The Space Jam loop had just started. He had the feeling he’d just had the weirdest dream, but couldn’t for the life of him remember any of it.

Chris shut the video off and went to bed, satisfied with his very successful ‘90s Day.

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