It's so stupid. Stuff like this always is.
But fuck it.
Sometimes stupid is exactly what you need, right? When the monsters are screaming just behind your heart, when the nightmares are whispering just inside your ears, taunting you, daring you to fall asleep.
Just a quick trip to the grocery store, had to get some cereal. You wake up in the morning, your stomach's such a mess that you've got to dump something down on top of it as soon as possible. Milk helps. Whatever it is that goes through your mind while you sleep, it causes the acid reflux to act up something terrible. Breath like a tripped fuse, foul; almost electrical in its stench, and brushing your teeth when you're in that condition can make you cough bile for a solid five minutes before your stomach realizes that there's nothing in there.
But just before bed, I realized I was out of cereal, and my bread had mold on it. The milk smelled funny, probably drinkable, but since I had nothing to go with it, I might as well get some more while I'm at the store. Short list, quick trip.
Running late for bedtime, though. I still get nervous about bedtime, just like I always did when I was a kid. Ulcers in sixth grade, worried about good grades, worried about not waking up in time for school, worried about if I was going to wear the right thing, did I forget any homework, was there a special even that I had forgotten. So much bullshit, enough to eat a hole in my stomach and fuck up my digestive system for life.
It's not that bad anymore, the worry. I keep myself on a strict schedule, though, and when I get off track, it always feels a little weird in the pit of my stomach.
Hell, I spend ninety percent of the time with that weird feeling, so I guess it doesn't matter much.
Just a quick trip.
I run the air conditioner even though it isn't all that hot. You roll down the windows, you end up sucking diesel exhaust from the ancient buses that roam the streets. So I run the air conditioner instead.
Eight blocks down a dark street, and then an oasis of parking lot lights, the springtime bugs clustered like snowflakes that refuse to fall.
The speed bumps are ridiculous, practically vagrant curbs, you can tell they jack your car's shit up no matter how slow you take them. I pass by the security guard on the outer limits of the parking lot, some kid barely out of high school, parked in his little golf cart, I glance over and catch a glimpse of naked breast on the screen of his cell phone.
I avoid as many of the mutant speed bumps as I can, and he steps out onto the asphalt. "Come on, man," I mutter, "Get out of the road."
I'm suddenly wondering if that's the right word. When you get into a parking lot, you follow the directional arrows, you bounce over the speed bumps, what's that called? It's not a road, is it? Is it a street, if it's in a parking lot? It's a path, kind of, for cars to use.
The guy's walking right in the middle of the car path, just on my side, walking directly towards me.
He's got two cases of Milwaukee's Best held up on his shoulder, and he's carrying a plastic bag full of Vienna Sausages. Fucking trailer trash shithead. Sleeves ripped off of his white t-shirt, giant handlebar mustache, Wranglers. A mullet, seriously?
I forget people like this really exist. So stereotypical it makes your brain hurt. I shake my head in disbelief, in disgust, in superiority.
Just a quick shake, accompanied by a brief chuckle as my headlights wash over him. The bastard's right in front of me, I've had to come to a complete stop as he walks just my-side of the car path. Three feet in front of my bumper, he finally steps to the side, and I see him peering in at me.
Whatever. I take a left, creep down another car path until I find a spot. Headlights off, door open, dome light illuminating me to the world as I check to make sure I have cash, make sure I have my keys. Make sure the doors are locked, and I make it a full three feet before I have to go back and double check.
Pull the handle, the door refuses to open, I'm safe to go in for the cereal.
I turn, and there he is. He's not holding his beer anymore, and instead of a bag of Vienna sausages in his hand, he's got a cigarette.
"You gotta problem, bud?"
Do I have any Pepcid at home? My stomach hurts so bad right now, and it was really only a matter of time. All day long I've felt a little anxious. Sundays are always the worst. Sunday evenings are brutal. Pepcid, Tagamet, Zantac, something. No way I can be out of all of it. There's a pill somewhere, in the pocket of a pair of jeans, in a travel case that I still haven't unpacked since my last trip, or maybe on top of the refrigerator. Somewhere there's a pill I can take, but I need to get some more, I hate being this low, and I can't believe I'm just now thinking about it.
"No, man," I say. I give him a friendly nod, and my glasses slip down my nose just a bit. Just enough so that I have to push them back up. Fuckin' Clark Kent, being all meek, but I'm no Clark Kent and I'm no Superman, and Christ I hate wearing glasses. I wear my contacts pretty much all day, I only take them out when I'm done for the day, when I'm about to close my eyes and go to sleep.
I was so close, just went to fill up my water glass. Sometimes I wake up in the night, coughing for no reason, or I have dreams where I'm suffocating, or dying in the desert. I keep a glass of water on the nightstand. It helps.
I just went to fill up my water glass, and when I was getting a glass out of the cupboard, I saw the empty cereal box sticking up out of the trashcan.
I should know better. I should know better than to wear glasses when I leave the house, I should know better than to think I can make a quick trip to the grocery store, I should know better than to think that a friendly nod is the way to handle this situation.
"I saw you laughin' at me, shakin' yer head at me. You think you're better'n me?"
It's stupid. So stupid. Stuff like this always is.
But fuck it, sometimes you need stupid.
"Yeah," I say, and the look of surprise on his face, it's better for the stomach than cereal or milk or fuckin Tagamet or whatever. "I am better than you, you redneck inbred tobacco-drooling sonuvabitch. I'm so much better than you it'd make your daddy's balls hurt, if they weren't so deep in your mouth."
What? I know it doesn't make sense, but whatever. Fuck him. Fuck you, too. Fuck everything right now.
The muscles under his face-skin do this weird dance, surprise, rage, he doesn't know what emotion to show. The Camry-driving douchebag with the Polo shirt and the khaki pants and the sliding-down glasses, he isn't supposed to say stuff like this. In real life, Clark Kent is never really Superman, he's just another pussy who gets his ass whipped in a grocery store parking lot.
He's not scared. I don't know if he gets points added for that in the bravery column, or points subtracted in the intelligence column.
None of it matters, though, not four and a half seconds later, when he decides that he was right to come over and teach me a lesson.
I should know better.
You don't wait.
Fuck it hurts, that fist catching me just at the top of my nose, right by my eye. My glasses snap, the cheap plastic stabs into cartilage and tears skin as it slides, but that's not really the issue, it's not the real pain. The pain's at the top, where this motherfucker's knuckles are, crushing into my face, causing supernova-pain, bright and hot and thought-burning.
Eyes watering, and all the brain will process is the word "thud." And fuck you, brain, really. You've never been my friend, you've never helped. You've betrayed my entire body, telling my stomach to produce too much acid, telling my muscles to cramp, telling my nose that a single scent can make me relive the entirety of my mother's funeral, and a song can make me re-experience a broken heart, and a smell can send me right back to the first day of school, when I cried all day, fighting to suck back snot and tears and humiliation, and failing. You're a no-good jerk, and you deserve thud.
But everything else, everything that knows the truth, and hasn't been broken down by rules or social graces, that's what works.
That's what doesn't give a shit about thud, or broken glasses, or Tagamet. Seriously? Tagamet?
As my discount plastic frames snap under his knuckles, my hands move, my muscles tense and release, and my fists drive into him, just at the bottom of his ribcage, just where bones will break and air will be forced from his body.
I can't see.
He can't breathe.
The thing is, I don't need to see. I can smell him--a strange combination of steam-cleaner vacuum fluid and cigarettes--and I can hear him huff out his nicotine-flavored grunts of pain and frustration, and I can feel him.
I feel him as my free arm wraps around the back of his neck, that's physical and real, but when I feel him as the angry loser who picked the wrong easy victim, it isn't any less real.
I want to hurt this man. I want to break him, destroy him, ruin him.
The first uppercut doesn't lay him out. Instead, he staggers back, drops his cigarette, and laughs.
He doesn't try anything fancy, just rushes me, arms flailing, and his fists miss, but his shoulder catches me right in the gut. No broken bones, but I'll be sore for a while. I'm lifted off my feet, and my elbow is hammering down, on his back, on his neck, on the back of his head.
My knees are doing the same thing, looking for whatever target, I just want to hit something soft. His shriek lets me know that I got him in the balls, but this is real life, not the movies. You hit a guy in the nuts, he barely feels it until later, not if he has the rage adrenaline pumping, or the fear, or the excitement of being alive.
I get my arms around his head somehow, I don't even know. I just know I'm smashing his face against metal, that little corral for the shopping carts, I'm ramming his face into it over and over, and I swear I can hear music, it's so beautiful.
The lights, that's what draws me, that's what draws focus. The music fades into screams. The girl. Barely even noticed her earlier, because she was walking along the sidewalk like she was supposed to, not being a dick. Trailer trash, too. Pregnant as fuck, Marlboro hanging out of her mouth as she screams at me to leave 'im alone, leave 'im alone, the law's on its way, just leave 'im alone. Leave who alone? I don't even know, until I look down.
Bloody fucker, sucking in wet breath.
The sounds, man, that's what gets you, that's what reminds you. Like an old lover calling to say that you fuck better than anyone else. Fists against flesh, scratch-slam against a hairy face, that sound when you punch the air out of someone. Grunts of anger and love.
Because it's freedom, even when you're getting your ass handed to you. Or when you know you're better than this, you've left this side of yourself so long ago.
The lights that pass in the distance, red and blue and emergency, they're too close now.
Another solid hit, right on the back of his skull and he tumbles face-first onto the asphalt, and you don't give a shit what it's called. Street or road or car path or whatever, it can go fuck itself, he's a wet painful mess and you made that, it's a work of art, but it's time to go now.
The red and blues, you see them recede in your rear-view mirror at the end of the corridor of dark street as you drive back to your shitty apartment, and you still didn't get cereal.
I swallow a mouthful of blood and I laugh. Because tomorrow, I'm gonna wake up, and I'm not gonna puke or feel sad or scared or whatever the fuck I always feel when I wake up on a work day, and I'm not gonna give a shit that I don't have breakfast.