The CTA runs thousands of miles each day. Elevated rails weave through Chicago like the tangled strands of a nightstand hairbrush.
There are two stretches of underground track that run parallel to each other, cutting across downtown. These subways are caverns of light mildew, pothole puddles seep through their ceilings. The squeaks and screams of wheels on rails take priority over anything else you’d hear.
The last one I had was on the weekend of December 6th. On one of its nights I started thinking about my dad and stopped catching my sobs, I cried and cried about him even though it’d been twelve years since I saw him hooked up to tubes and machines in a Venezuelan ICU, his lungs charred and kept together by a respirator.
The last one I had was a Dunhill from a nearly full pack that I stole from a stranger outside a café. I smoked it outside a bar, while watching a girl projectile vomit into a dumpster.
I walk with ants around my ankles whenever I am near you. There is an urgency, the itch is always there.
The apartment is small enough to let the scent of french roast stick to pillowcases. It happens most when it’s too early for coffee.
I want to tell you so much whenever I smell your shampoo. Staring at the ceiling spackle, with you still buried under a day-fresh comforter, I wonder if the gray up there is a shadow, dust or mold. I feel simple, monumental statements to you thumping against my sternum. Before they snap the sinews I swallow them with tap water until they become, “hey, hi, hello, good morning.”
There were yellow tulips from the market whose stems rested against the lip of an empty kombucha bottle. I studied them while sitting at the breakfast table by the broken window, then texted a friend who liked writing songs about wanting the kind of girl who would cook him pancakes in her underwear. You were at the sink, cleaning your frying pan and spatula. I told him where I was, but not how it felt. I’d keep that to myself for months.
I watched you cry in the orange dark of my bedroom, your forehead against the wall. I wanted to say so much more to you between your sobs, but I stopped myself. I thought anything else would linger in the air like dust, I thought you’d think them weightless.
"It’s okay," you said, the night before I quit smoking cigarettes. "It’s going to be okay," you said as I sobbed in front of a parked car, thinking about my dad. You held my arm tight in your hands and it kept me walking. "They killed him," I said, groggily, eight hours later. "Those things killed him, you know," I said as my palpitations lost themselves in the early mist.
You listened. Thanking you wasn’t enough but I lost the nerve for anything else before we even had breakfast.
I’ve spent enough time lodged between my throat and spine.
63789 - Three, Five, Thirteen
My uncle died in early May. I didn’t talk to many people about it.
He died two years after he was only just barely able to recognize his wife’s face. He laid gaunt on a hospital bed and his liver failed in the early hours of the morning. I imagine the sky in Jakarta that day to be close to orange but it was likely more of the smog-infested purple I was born into.
The first thing I ever really wanted to get for my apartment was a nice, big, comfortable couch. Even before a bed or even an inauguratory case of Shiner Bock, I wanted wherever I would live to have a place to sit that could also be a place to sleep. For the first six months of living at my apartment, the closest thing I had to that was an inflatable mattress.
It was “borrowed” from my mother’s house because the Mattress Firm gave me damaged goods and needed another few days to replace it. I set it up in the middle of my living room, threw a brown sheet onto it and slept there until my actual mattress was replaced.
I fumbled around for the wintry CD case for Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm at a fresh red light. It’s my second copy, given to me as a Christmas gift my freshman year of college by someone who frustratingly moved to a undying city far away from where I lived. She knew my sister lost my first copy. She didn’t know I blamed it on my previous theft.
I was fourteen when I bought it at a Wherehouse Music down the street from my mom’s house in Houston, pleading for an extra twenty dollars of allowance to indulge in my obsession with their song, “Banquet”. I spent that entire afternoon and night locked onto the couch with a Discman I stole from my brother. By then, he was on the tail end of his collegiate career and working at the university’s hotel. This meant he did silly things like buy cases of Rolling Rock and splurge on an iPod mini and leaving a lot of his things at my mom’s.
Bloc Party became one of my favorite bands at a little over the album’s 20 minute mark, when the twinkly guitar and cymbal hits of “This Modern Love” graced my pubescent ears and proceeded to reduce me to a pile of salt. The afternoon was turning blue I laid down on my couch and listened to the entirety of the album in one sitting. Then I listened to it again, skipping ahead to track 7.
Yesterday I chickened out on a yellow light and flung most of my back seat into the cupholders. Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots smacked itself onto the steering wheel lock that I seldom use. and my heart preemptively broke if that meant the end of my belting “Her name is Yoshimi, she’s a blackbelt in karate.” to the windshield.
I “borrowed” that album from my sister the year my mother and I moved to the States. She was a dead broke college grad and I spent a lot of time sitting around her apartment watching anime on VHS and listening to her music collection while they were out finding us an actual home and a car. When we were moving, she gave me a few things to pass the time: her old laptop, her copy of Diablo II, her crappy Dave & Busters won boombox and a few of her CDs on the grounds that I’d give them back eventually.
I’m 0 for 4 on those, but I’d like to think the statute of limitations has passed on that bit of being an obnoxious kid brother.