Swimming in Thin Air

Sitting on a thin patch of carpet against a wall that seemed to be sweating with the overwhelmingly tangy odor of Polo, I could hear Dire Straits Walk of Life blaring from some old wooden tower speakers in another room. It was rich and cool in my ear. I couldn’t hardly feel my legs, shit in fact I couldn’t really feel much. And I liked not feeling things then, not the shame as my father beat me, or the loneliness of watching my mother drift away into her scotch filled tumbler. I took another toke of whatever magnificent smoke I’d taken from the chic lying in my lap before passing it to someone next to me.  I felt the warmth crawl down into my lungs, it burned at the bottom, I held my breath for a bit, resting my head against the wall with my eyes closed. It felt like I began to meld in with the wall, it didn’t matter that I couldn’t feel my legs any longer because I think I began to float up to the ceiling, I watched as I slowly let the smoke escape through my nose, it was a dirty yellow color, I looked pale and sick.

I seeped back into my body and tried to open my eyes but they were so heavy. I pushed the girl in my lap off onto the floor and climbed up the wall like it was Everest. When I was standing I felt as though I was on some old tug boat on the water and called out for the captain, but the captain never answered. The girl hollered “hey, where are you going man?”I ignored her and stumbled across the floor, littered with others, with beer cans and great big amber colored glass ash trays. I looked around for someone I knew and spotted one of my roommates in a corner smoking the filter end of a Marlboro Light, gawd he must’ve been stoned. I tried to laugh but choked, my lungs hurt almost as much as my head. I’d smoked some great stuff I thought but the shit I just inhaled wasn’t Sensimilia or Mexican Red, it must’ve been spiked. We were in a Frat house on Snelling Avenue, I remember now. Suddenly someone grabbed my leg and when I looked down at the couch behind me it was buddy from the Booth Brown House, a youth shelter we both stayed at for a few days last year.

“Dude” he exclaimed, his eyes red, swollen and glassed over, “You can’t leave dude, you are too dusted”. Fuck! I yelled, I’ve never smoked Angel Dust before, but that explains a few things. I turned the corner to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. After a while of staring at myself I splashed some water on my face and that felt so fucking weird I had to do it again, and then again what the hell. At that point I heard someone yell out “Cops”. I struggled against the flow of zombies to get back to the living room where my friends were and once I got there I grabbed them and pulled them along to the back door with everyone else. By the time we fell out the gate to the alley I could hear screaming and yelling from inside the house. My buddy from the shelter ran off and it was just me and my roommate. I rolled over to my hands and knees and saw Wes Standing in front of me, he pressed his fingers to his lips and tried to shoosh me but spit instead as he looked North down the alleyway. When I stood up and looked to see what he was staring at I saw the glow of flashlights pouring through the lilac bushes next door.

I said “We have to go Wes, we have to get outta here, we don’t have a ride so we are gonna have to find a bus”, suddenly someone came crashing through the bushes at the end of the red cedar fence we stood against, he landed on his knees and one hand and as he attempted to stand up there was a gun shot. My ears rang and I watched as he looked at us and fell straight to his face and rolled over onto his back. He didn’t move then, his right arm just awkwardly fell limp to the crumbled asphalt. Wes grabbed my shoulder and tugged as he started on a dead run in the opposite direction, and I joined him.

I hadn’t run so fast for so long as I did that night. We finally found ourselves lying in the grass behind somebody’s house in the remnants of the old Rondo Neighborhood. We laid there for a while, I was having an ever increasingly difficult time focusing, I felt like I was barely breathing anymore, and I felt like I was wearing snow shoes. Wes hadn’t smoked any of the weed that was passed around, so he was just drunk and was trying to pull me up to get moving, but I felt so heavy all over.

We finally did get to a bus stop, it was somewhere on University Avenue, somewhere deep in the night. It felt like we sat on that cold bench for hours, my eyes hurt like they were under lots of pressure but I couldn’t stop staring at everything, and Wes was falling asleep. We were far from home; we were living in a small store front on Martin Luther King Park in South Minneapolis. About a week before a girlfriend of one of the Crypts or Bloods was stabbed to death during a fight between the two gangs in the park, it was not a good place to live we could afford it.

It was a rainy night, it was drizzling as Wes and I sat on the curb outside of our place across the street from the park in the glow of the security lights of the Red Owl next door. We were tripping and watching the raindrops float to the asphalt when we heard voices coming from the shadows among the trees across the street. If we could have managed to get to our feet we might have investigated. But it wasn’t until we heard police sirens that we jumped up and ran inside for the night.

The days during that part of my life slowly passed like a Sunday afternoon. I was almost never sober and constantly trying to stay in front of the hurt. But sometimes late at night when everyone’s asleep and it’s so quiet you can hear the buzzing of the street lamps, it’s all about surviving. And surviving isn’t what the naked folks do so dramatically in front of the television camera. Surviving is swallowing enough water while you struggle to stay at the surface to give you an idea what it might feel like to drown, and just enough to take the focus off the pain for a moment, but not enough to stop it. We need the pain, to feel it; it’s the only thing real enough to hold onto.


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