Authors: Jessica Sorensen
19 years old…
I think I’ve finally become invisible. That I’ve somehow faded into a ghost just like I pretended to do when I was a kid. It was number two on my list of superpowers I wanted to have, right before X-ray vision—mainly because I wished I could see through Tina Bellonte’s shirt—and right after wishing how to fly. I’m pretty sure the invisibility parts came true. X-ray vision got scratched off because I can see underneath women’s shirts now pretty much whenever I feel like it. And flying… well, I’m fairly sure I know how to fly right now. I swear to God I do. I just need to get the balls to test the theory. Take the last step.
“Tristan man, get down from there. You’re fucking tripping,” Dylan calls out from three stories down where the bottom of the apartment reaches the concrete, proving that I might have been wrong about the invisibility because apparently he can see me. But then again, being seen by Dylan isn’t that great of a thing. I wouldn’t necessarily call him a friend, but probably as close as I’ve ever got to having one. He doesn’t talk much, doesn’t ask me questions about my life, which I like. Although he is kind of a douche, but hey, aren’t we all at some point.
“Leave me alone,” I holler back, the night sky above me, so far away, yet when I reach my hand up, it feels like I’m touching the stars.
“Not until your dumb ass gets down,” he shouts, then takes a swig of his beer.
I shake my head, cigarette resting between my lips, arms outstretched to my sides, the wind in my hair. One more step and my flying theory will be tested. “No way. Not unless I jump. It’s the only way.”
“To see if I can fly.”
Dylan shakes his head. “Not that shit again. Jesus, you do this every time you hit acid, man.” He chucks the beer bottle out into the parking lot, annoyed.
“I’m not even that high anymore.” Sadly, it’s the truth. I’m up here of my own free will. Because I was sitting in a room full of people, laughing, drinking, doing drugs, and I was just there, existent, but nonexistent at the same time. It’s been that way forever, me just living life in the shadows while everyone else seems to be in the sunlight.
“Tristan, the last thing anyone needs here is for the police to show up because your dumb ass couldn’t handle his high and decided to try and kill himself,” Dylan says, getting really pissed off now.
“That’s not what I’m doing.” I stare straight ahead at the trees across the street. I’m not lying either. I don’t have a death wish. I’m just confused and trying to sort stuff out, trying to find a point to all of this. Life. It confuses the hell out of me. People, they confuse the hell out of me. Hell, I confuse the hell out of myself.
I’ve been confused for years, the feeling only amplifying the day my parents found out my sister, Ryder, died in a car accident. A car accident where my cousin, Quinton, was driving and crashed into another car—not his fault, just a freak accident. My parents blame him for it though and have been focusing all their energy on making sure to hate him every single day of his life since it happened. They’ve been telling me to do the same, but I’ve never been one to hold grudges. It takes too much energy that I don’t have. So when Quinton called me up, asking for a place to crash this summer, I said okay without much hesitation. Granted I was fucking stoned out of my mind, but still, I’m sure I would have done it sober too. Besides, from what I’ve heard through the family grapevine, Quinton’s been paying for what happened through his own depressing, drug-induced life. So why should I add to his misery?
When I told my parents he was staying with me, though, I officially got shunned by the family. I’ve been shunned by the family a total of nineteen times or so. It’s nothing new. Being alone is nothing new. I’m sure eventually they’ll talk to me again and I’ll let it all go, because that’s what I do. I’m not even sure why I care to have them in my life. They’ve barely acknowledged me ever since I turned sixteen and started getting into trouble, doing drugs for no other reason than I felt lost in life and alone and drugs temporarily filled that void. I couldn’t find a purpose in anything. Couldn’t find friends. But drugs numbed the confusion and made the people around me doing the same thing relatable enough that I could pretend I had friends. When I’m stoned, I’m not so alone, or at least I can see it that way.
This has been my life for the last few years. Getting stoned, drunk, trashed, and each time I got busted, my parents ignored me even more. I became more invisible. After Ryder died, it only got worse. She was “the good one,” according to them. And maybe she was. She did well in school while I wasted my “intelligent mind.” She didn’t get arrested for being a minor under the influence and get put on probation. Didn’t move out of the house to live in a “shithole trailer park to deal drugs.” And they’re right. She was the good one. I’m the bad and I can’t change it. I am who I am.
“I’m going to fucking do it this time,” I yell to Dylan, taking a few massively deep breaths, psyching myself up as I inch my feet closer to the ledge. “I swear I am. And just watch. I’m going to make it.”
“Come down and I’ll get Mallory to fuck you,” he entices.
“I don’t want a pity fuck,” I say. “I’ve had way too many of those.”
Dylan shakes his head and then throws his arms in the air, exasperated. “Fine. Do whatever the hell you want. It’s your funeral.” Then he storms off toward the entrance to the apartment, leaving me alone. There’s nothing stopping me from jumping off the ledge.
Just move your feet. Do it! Stop being such a pussy and fly.
I wonder if I fell off the roof, if anyone would see me. Or if maybe I’d just fly away to the stars, never to be seen again. I could do it and find out—I
do it and find out. But after standing there for what seems like hours, I realize it’s not going to happen and I step back.
Instead of flying for the night, I settle on climbing down from the roof and going back into the house to take another hit. I hang out with people who don’t see me. Sleep with a girl who doesn’t know my name. Then I pass out, knowing that when I wake up tomorrow, I’ll do the whole thing over again. This is my life. There is no meaning. And I wonder if this is how it’ll always be. If I’ll always feel so dead and disconnected inside. So alone.
4 years later…
My life is one bumpy roller coaster. The last few years I’ve been getting high, getting sober. High. Sober. High. Sober. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve gotten clean. I want to say I’ll never do it again, but I’d be the biggest fucking liar on the planet. I’ll probably do it again, because I struggle to find motivation not to do it and being sober just makes me focus on life. You’d think after spending years on a downward spiral, almost OD’ing, losing my sister, falling in love with a girl—Nova Reed—who ended up falling in love with my cousin—Quinton—getting hepatitis C and having to go through a bunch of treatment to get rid of it, that I’d finally point the finger to the drugs and say that they must be doing this all to me. Sometimes I can see it, how fucked up I am on them, and so I try to stop. But I still always fall back to them, the pull too strong, the need to block out too great. I’m an addict. Plain and simple.
Right now, I’m supposed to be a builder. I’ve been spending the last several months on the road working for Habitat for Humanity. It’s actually more Quinton’s thing. Ever since he got sober, he’s been all about helping the world. I think he thinks if he is always doing something good then it’ll make up for the accident, which maybe that’s the case. And I’m happy he found his sanctuary, the place that makes him feel whole without being jacked up on heroin and methamphetamine. I think Nova helps with that too—helps him stay clean.
Me, well I’m not that strong. I don’t really have anyone but myself, which makes it easier to disappear and fall off the cliff again until someone convinces me to climb back up for a little bit. Which is why I’m here. Well, sort of. I was basically dragged into this because Quinton and Nova thought I needed a good distraction from my life of misdirection and bad choices. And they’re probably right. I just wish I could focus more on the distraction instead of the addiction.
“Hey, hand me that nail gun, would you?” Quinton says while messing around with one of the cupboard doors. The house we’re working on right now should be finished by tomorrow and then we’ll be on the road again, to I think Georgia.
Quinton wipes some sweat from his brow as I reach down and pick up the nail gun beside my feet with the hand that’s not holding the cigarette. I give it to him and he shoots a few nails in the side of the house. “I’m fucking hot.” My shirt is soaked in sweat and sticking to my back. “When are we quitting today?”
Quinton sighs. I’m sure he’s getting irritated with my lack of motivation. But he’ll never say anything because of my sister. I think part of him will always blame himself for her death, and for some reason he thinks he needs to be nice to me even when I might not deserve it. “You can take off if you want to, but I think Nova had something planned for tonight.” He puts the nail gun on the ground and picks up a bottle of water. “To celebrate you being hepatitis free and all.”
I shake my head. I just found out yesterday at my doctor visit that I’m officially disease free again and I’m glad. “She knows it’s not normal to celebrate something like that, right? It’s not like I was cured of cancer or something.” I grab my own bottle of water that’s beside the cooler. “I got the disease because I was a fucking idiot and shared needles with a bunch of druggies.”
He scratches the back of his neck, looking uncomfortable, then takes along sip of his water. “Look, man. I totally get the self-blame and everything.” He raises his eyebrows as he puts the lid back on the water. “But trust me, just be grateful you’re clean and healthy now. We can celebrate that, right?”
I want to point out how many times I’ve slipped up on the clean part—the last time being only three weeks ago, a day when I did a line of meth—but I decide to be cooperative since he’s letting me bail on building early. “All right, I’m down for celebrating, but what I’d really like to do is get laid. It’s been a long time.”
Quinton rolls his eyes. “Only you.”
I hold back a smile and shrug, start packing up my tools, thinking about how I’ll go back to the hotel and sit there in the silence, wondering how long I’ll let the empty feeling go on. Maybe I’ll turn on some television, but not to really watch it. Just to hear the noise so I’ll try not to think about all the hell I went through and how much I want to fall back into to it.
But in the end it’s all I’ll think about, no matter what I do.
It’s always been a little awkward being around Nova Reed because we have some history together and now that she’s with my cousin, it’s just plain weird. I’m not even sure when I actually started liking her to begin with. I think it was around when I was eighteen and we had this really hot make-out session, or at least I thought we did until she started crying and then ran off. She was just always such a nice, good person and cute as hell and she saw me for some reason, although always as a friend. I’ve gotten to know her over the last few years and she really helped me out for a while after the first time I got clean. I managed to sneak in a few kisses here and there, but she never really reciprocated them. Then she fell in love with my cousin and I permanently went into the friend zone. Yeah, I’m that fucking cool. Seriously, it’s the story of my life. I’ve never really been in love, although I got close to with Nova. Never had a real girlfriend. Just screwed and screwed and screwed.
But I’m over Nova for the most part and happy for both her and Quinton. Well, as long as they don’t make out in front of me. That gets old really fast.
“So where are we going to go celebrate?” I ask, digging through my bag for a clean shirt. We stay in motel rooms when we’re on the road, living out of suitcases. The motel rooms are usually pretty crappy, but anything’s better than the run-down trailer homes and crack houses I’ve lived in over the years.
The motel we’re staying at right now has got a nice view of junkyard across the street, but it’s only a couple of miles from the house we’re building so it makes it easy to walk there. Nova and Quinton share the adjoining room next door, which allows me to hear noises I’d rather not hear. Right now, he’s wandered into my room and seated himself at the table near the window.
“Nova wanted to try that restaurant out on the north side of town.” He’s smoking a cigarette, the window cracked open so the smoke mostly goes outside.
It makes the need to feed my own nicotine habit rise and I take one out of my pack and light up, breathing in the sweet taste that feeds my craving. “A restaurant.” I frown, picking up the ashtray on the nightstand. “Seems kind of boring.”
Quinton sighs as he puts his cigarette out in the ashtray and gets to his feet. “Look, you know there’s no way she’s going to let us both go to a bar.”
“Well, she technically can only tell one of us to do stuff.” I make a whipping sound and motion my hand, pretending to crack a whip. It’s all fun and games, although I kind of mean it. He is whipped. I remember the days when we’d just sit around and get high and do nothing. I sometimes miss it, miss the stillness, and the lack of responsibility to do anything. Day by day. That’s what we did. But then again, we were kind of lucky to make it to the end of the day alive.
He rolls his eyes at me, but doesn’t argue. “Whatever man. You know as well as I do that you’ll come out with us.”
I balance my cigarette on the ashtray so I can tug my shirt over my head. “Fine, what time are we leaving?” I ask, picking my cigarette back up.
He checks his watch and then nods at the door. “Let’s get going now. We have to pick up Nova from the site and then we’ll take a cab downtown.”
“Fine, give me just a second.” I put out my cigarette, go into the bathroom to put on some deodorant and cologne when my phone rings from my pocket. I check the screen and see it’s my mother. I hate talking to her and I almost ignore it, but then realize that if I do, she’ll excessively call me all night.
“What’s up?” I answer, balancing the phone between my ear and shoulder why I spray on some cologne.
“Hey sweetie,” she says sweetly and I can tell she’s on her meds by the sound of euphoria in her voice. It’s Ryder’s birthday tomorrow and she always gets overly emotional during it and ends up having to take a few sedatives over the course of the week until her emotions pass. The first time I got high was actually from her stash. “I was just calling to see when you were going to be home.”
I grab my wallet off the bathroom counter and tuck it in my back pocket. “I already told you, I can’t make it out there right now, Mom.” I fuck around with my blond hair, trying to get it out of my face, but it’s gotten too long and keeps falling into my eyes, so I give up.
She gives a really long, drawn-out sigh. “Tristan, you have to. It’s Ryder’s birthday.”
“It was my birthday a couple of weeks ago,” I remind her. “And you didn’t even call me.”
“I’m sorry I forgot… but this is important. You need to be here.”
“It’s not that simple,” I tell her, leaning against the wall, staring at the mirror across from me. I can see me so should she, right.
I do exist.
“I’m in North Carolina right now.”
“North Carolina? Why are you way out there? It’s so far from Wyoming.” The longer she talks, the higher she sounds and the more pointless I realize this conversation is. “Look, I have to go, Mom. I’m headed out.”
“With who?” She pauses. “You’re going out with
, aren’t you?”
I should just lie to her. It’d be easier if I did. But I hate lying and I hate that she wants to push me to hold grudges against Quinton. I’ve made my peace with it. Accidents are accidents. Shit happens. And holding on to it is tiring. “If you mean Quinton, then yeah.” I head toward the door. “Look, we’ve been over this. You can stay mad at him if you want. Do what you have to do, but I’m choosing to let it go.”
“Let your sister go,” she gasps. “Tristan Morganson, how dare you. Don’t you say that. Don’t you dare.”
I stop in front of the door and press my fingertips to the bridge of my nose. There’s no point in this conversation. We’ve had the same one for years and it’s becoming a broken record. “Look, Mom, I have to go. We’re going out to celebrate me being disease free,” I say, knowing she won’t acknowledge it—anything related to my drug days she won’t, because she’s ashamed of me. I open the door. “Call me tomorrow if you feel like it.”
“You’re a terrible son.” It’s her last attempt to make me feel guilty, to lure me home.
“I know,” I say, slipping on one of my boots. “And I’m sorry for that. Tell Dad I said hi.”
“Tell him yourself,” she snaps. “I’m not your messenger.”
“Bye, Mom.” I hang up the phone and stuff it into the back pocket of my jeans before I put my other boot on and step outside. It’s still hot and muggy, but that’s June in North Carolina.
Quinton is outside smoking, sitting on the curb just in front of the door. I’m surprised to see Nova sitting beside him, since we were supposed to be picking her up. She’s talking to Quinton, her blue eyes are all lit up, so she’s excited about something. She’s still wearing her work clothes, jeans and a black tank top, her brown hair braided to the side. Her face is sun-kissed and she looks gorgeous, but she’s not mine and I shouldn’t be thinking about her that way.
When she leans in and kisses Quinton, I almost back up and sneak into my room, pretend I’m sick, just so I won’t have to see it, but mid-kiss she must sense I’m there because she opens her eyes and smiles at me.
“Hey you.” Her smile brightens as she stands up and walks over to me. “Congrats, by the way. I’ve been meaning to tell you that all day.”
Leave it to Nova to congratulate me on being disease free. “What, just congrats?” I joke. “What, no card?”
She lets out an exaggerated sigh, her lips quirking with amusement. “Sorry, but I couldn’t find one for your exact situation. I think I’m going to call up the card companies and suggest that they need a hep C-free line.” She grins.
“Oh, I’m sure that’ll go over well,” I say as Quinton joins us, handing me a cigarette as he lights up one himself. “I can just picture it now. A needle on the front and inside ‘Congrats on not being a disgusting user anymore.’ ” Just talking about the needle makes my veins throb with need.
Nova’s face instantly falls and Quinton shoots me a warning. “What’s wrong?” Nova asks. “You should be happy, but you’re not.”
She’s right. I’m not. I don’t think I ever really have been. Half the time I’m not even sure why, but today I know. My mom’s got me feeling guilty about Ryder and her birthday. I envied the high I could hear in my mom’s voice, not just because it’ll take all the emotional pain away but because it’s easier to deal with being so alone when I’m out of it. But I’m good at faking being happy and I plaster a smile on my face. “Sorry. I just didn’t sleep very well last night… I had a lot of stuff on my mind.”
Nova leans in closer. “You want to talk about it?”
I shake my head, popping the cigarette into my mouth and then reaching into my pocket to get my lighter. “No, I’m good, but thanks.” I inch away from her and light up as she leans back. “I am fucking hungry, though. So how about we go eat.” I say it because it’s what she wants to hear and it’ll get her to leave me alone so I can sulk in my own head because what I really want to doing is snort lines. I know it’s wrong. Know I’m fucked up for not being able to stop. But I’ve accepted that I might always be that way. An addict and I’m about to fuck up again, be the loser I am. But I tell myself I need it, that I can’t live without it, because it makes it easier to do.