The edible kicks in right as I’m sitting in line to park my car and I have this rush of inertia, this slide toward the maniacal, and for a moment I can see myself leaving my car, running away from the mess to the highway, leaving the Bluetooth on, my phone still connected, my mother talking to me about my mental health, promising new tomorrows, as I gallop beyond the swollen burnt hills outside the city.
I do not do this.
I pay $20 dollars to park and then sit in my car and listen to Volume 3: The Subliminal Verses very quietly as I grow higher, begin to contain multitudes—
Guys play Frisbee all around.
Cornhole Games. Funny Boy Shit.
In the parking lot, as I walk by, a man calls me something. Or calls his friend something. The edibles are too much, man. I never know who’s talking to me.
I wonder if I’ll be arrested for Being High—even though weed is legal now—because Being High always makes me think people care about the fact that I’m Being High.
Buying edibles is just buying an injection of steroids for your Main Character Syndrome.
$78 dollars at the dispensary over in Holyoke. The girl who sold me the stuff was redheaded and wore a non-crucifix cross necklace made of what looked like pewter. Her mask was halfway off, so I could see the forbidden fruit of that lower hemisphere of her face. Pale with acne. She was radiant. Like Jennifer Lawrence, but less clean. Tired. Something. Something silver-screen, something 90s.
Something familiar and tangible.
“I like your shirt,” she’d said. My shirt had Phil Anselmo’s face on it.
I am going to Slipknot and I have an extra ticket because my fuckhead friend bailed on me to get laid I wanted to say come with me come with me come with me come with me come with
“Can I get the one-gram blunt of Alien Nightmare?” come with me come with me come to Slipknot come to Killswitch Fucking Engage come
She got it.
“I’m going to a show,” I tell her.
Do you like Killswitch they’re from Mass. You’re from Mass. We’re literally in Mass. Come to the show wear your apron wear your weed hat wear all your weed things to the weed show come rednecks are terrifying, slogging apes, don’t make me be alone in the epicenter in the COVID crockpot don’t let me chug all the respiratory droplets in the pit alone don’t
Past security, past everything, at my seat, stoned to the point that everything I hear is a twinkling message for me.
I get up. I piss in the bathroom while staring at a man to my right. He wears a cowboy hat. Eye contact is thick and unceasing. I piss hard and with purpose.
Everyone is with someone. Black-paint-lipped couples kiss. Nordic zombies slathered in makeup cake. I am conspicuously alone.
I am surrounded by many tough guys. Tough guys and monsters. Every woman is crunk and every man is crunk and built like a brick shithouse.
People scare me. Absolutely, they do.
This is like Gathering of the Juggalos, but with less family and more abject racism.
If I saw myself sitting here, pretending to be okay with my solitude, I’d assume I was some kind of threat. Someone waiting for a moment. I’m waiting for something, sure. But passive-waiting. I’m merely here.
Aaron should be here with me. We bought tickets together. He bailed to stop his girlfriend from sleeping with someone else at a wedding. A valiant effort. I’d do the same.
Brothers in paranoia.
I am the Alien Nightmare.
There are entire families at this Slipknot concert.
The man in front of me has eyes tattooed on the back of his neck. His kids dance to Code Orange when Code Orange takes the stage. The kids have smeared juice on their mouths and look like the kind of kids whose parents always pick them up last from everything.
It’s hard to dance, so they slam.
They are so young. 7, 9. Maybe 6, 8. Before the Fall. The music to them is sounds. The music to them is not a substitute for suicide.
The dad drinks heavy-heavy. Big beers, before the band-before-the-band-before-the-headliner has even gone up there. I wonder how they’ll get home. If they’ll get home. I could be watching their lives extinguish with every drop, every foul note thrown up in the crisp swirling wash of October firenight bringing them a breath closer to finality. That goes for all of us, sure—but it’s less tragic when adults parish.
Sitting here, thinking about how kids are good and adults are ugly. I am Holden Caulfield. Holden at thirty. Simple, flagrant.
I want to sweep the youth from the edge of what’s next. I am so high. Isolated. Light, dark, music, dark, music dark, flood of house lights.
Holden when none of it’s cute anymore. When it’s called psychosis, not angst.
The blunt tastes like chocolate. I smoke it alone up by the fence and look at all the people in the fading light, milling around, searching for fulfillment on a slab of empty land. It is something beyond the stonedness I paid for. I think of my parents, somewhere, of the girl who was mine but who is now somewhere else, of the fact that I am the last man on earth without a wife. I think of all the gorgeous, brilliant, nurturing women I know who are engaged to marry other humans. The bride token has been paid. Transfer of goats complete.
Thinking of my place in the world. If that’s a real thing. Of the fact that, by your late 20s, you’ve missed the boat on First-Gen-Romance. You’re surfing the night on dripping-melted hope from which you’re a decade removed, spiritually freezing your heart cryogenically, waiting to unthaw for the first round of divorces.
Killswitch is brutal.
The lights are such that I wonder if I’ll have a grand mal seizure like my friend, Alyssa, who went full-Exorcist when we saw Kendrick Lamar here in the past, dropping to her knees under the strobe light, eyes faded blank like those of an old doll from eleven decades past.
Years and years past. Like all my stories at this amphitheater, it is dead and gone.
Saw Lil Wayne when I was young and cared about nothing. Saw Weezer and Green Day and Coheed and Slipknot (the first and second times) and Lamb of God and Rob Zombie and Manson here back when I was young and cared about nothing, drove drunk and cared about nothing, hooked up in public and cared about nothing, got my kidneys shifted in the pit and cared about nothing, sweat and yelled and was lost.
Now I care about everything. I feel tinnitus setting in from the first moment Killswitch Engage starts playing. I wonder if the novel coronavirus will enter me. I am the only person wearing a mask in my line of sight. I am so cooked that I stand here and contemplate waking up and going to church the next morning. It won’t happen, but it’s a thought.
I am careful not to blow smoke on kids.
Killswitch Engage finishes playing. Brutality, yes. Their guitarist says ugly things. Rape things. People cheer. He is so good at guitar. His face is punchable.
I go to piss. Men are chanting in the bathroom:
“Fuck Joe Biden. Fuck Joe Biden!”
The men here wear shirts with American flags and skulls. Trump business. Big Don T business. They are chanting in the can, then they are chanting in the arena. These drunks want to carpool to the Capitol after this. They want to shit on AOC’s desk. They got drunk during Killswitch. There are no Black people here. This is what they dream of every goddamn night, only to wake up furious they’re still in the rustling evolution of a species growing together, progressing.
Later on, these Patriot Drunks try desperately to keep a straight face when Corey Taylor starts preaching equality between songs. They try to ignore the fact that he probably voted for Joe Biden. They want him to be like them. They are sad he loves humans. This is hard for them.
A face I know by the bathroom. Emily. I knew her in high school. The first girl who ever got me high. The art girl with the black-ink drawing from 2008 that I still secretly want tattooed on my body. She’s hugging me. She is kind. I cannot believe it is her. I am unsure. I look at her. It is her.
When I was twelve, my first girlfriend was Ashley. We met on the cross-country team. I was forgettable. She ran miles and miles. She was a champion. Azure eyes set deep in dark sockets. Midnight hair, flat on pale shoulders. She is here, next to Emily, and she is the same, but grown, real. It has been more than a decade, singular, almost decades, plural.
“Ryan,” she says. Dressed head to toe in black. Skin like bleach. I am almost too high, I can’t speak, then I can. Words lift up to me from her small mouth, down out of mine back to her. I don’t know what they are. I know I’m saying dumb shit, but she doesn’t seem bothered. I learn she is a therapist.
I want her to be my therapist. I think I have a lot to talk about.
I stare at her and hold her eyes in mine. I’m not being romantic. I simply can’t look away. Edible-Anxiety and Alien-Nightmare-Blunt-Anxiety mix with Hating-Myself-Anxiety and Middle-School-Return-Anxiety. It’s all there. It swells. It is greater than the sum of its parts.
Her look is arresting, even without my own inner cataclysm. Ashley is made of birch trees and ice. Regal.
I want to vomit. I hug her, once. Then he is there, from nowhere, a Tall Man. Kisses her. An understanding is before me. I am back at my seat. It is Slipknot time. But I just think of being young, of the feeling I got way back when she said she’d be mine. How, back then, it wasn’t so fucking scary.
How she knew me before I learned about myself and about being alive, before I was nose-to-nose with the daily flagellation of unceasing incongruence with the world laid stark before me.
Pump-up music. AC/DC. Metallica. Pantera. I bang my head, alone. Another blunt. Fuck the kids. Isolated, I swing—pendulum back, pendulum forth—I rollick. I think of concerts with The Boys in the past. Now I am me. The Boy. Singular. One of none, laying claim to intangibles.
I wonder if her boyfriend knew her before the world dug its nails in, too.
Slipknot fucking rips.
I am watching music and the birds’ nest of pulpy limbs rising and falling before me in the pit, an entire orchestra of sweat unleashed among the great unwashed spread all throughout the open floor.
It is profound, somehow. Either that, or nothing is.
They play “Duality.”
They don’t play “Snuff.” They don’t play “Custer.”
They play “The Heretic Anthem.” I almost throw up from headbanging when they play “Psychosocial.” In my mask, I feel like the 10th member, out in the nosebleeds.
After the encore, I see him in the bathroom. He doesn’t look at me. I stare. We piss. I leave first, driven by the God-fueled purpose of asking his girlfriend out to a moderately-priced chain-restaurant dinner in the next one-to-three weeks. She is out there, high-octane in the rumbling drunkenness she’s amassed since the last intermission, swaying just so, looking innocent and doomed like JonBenet Ramsey amidst the endless swath of pink-red manflesh in her orbit.
I step toward her. Her eyes settle on me after a long flutter. Azure, like I said. Not Cerulean. Not Sky-Blue. Azure. Look it up.
I want you to know her. I want to do more than I usually do, which is just cheat and compare a girl to an actress* or an archetypal character (for a reference, see my sloppy description of the Holyoke dispensary girl). I want you to know that her legs are marble and unburdened and sculpted in their ultimate whiteness; on such a short girl, her legs are power. Her tiny feet pushed into black leather boots, her black leather pants torn up thoroughly and paint-tight, her crop-top revealing the kind of avian body where you can see every sliver of muscle, the soft push of every little bone against unblemished skin.
Makeup, very black. Hair. Nails. Black/White contrast all throughout. She looks like expensive art someone dreamt up.
Minimalist. Greater than the lines on the canvas.
The drunken stare makes my mouth water. Deliverance. The cool hand on an arm in a hot crowd. The feeling of years gone. The moment where time lays itself bare as an obstacle, not a constant, and lets you walk all over it, stepping in and out of flesh and cells you thought were long burned away back over too many slow-blown evenings of orange leaves swirling, of a world burning hot and pushing sharp toward the wetness of Halloween and the frigid era beyond it, the reemergence of gothic woodland winter romance.
“Maybe I can see you, sometime,” I say, meeting her eyes again, deliberately, controlled, a little less high, sorta, while Loverboy pisses out all the night’s rawness in the men’s room.
“Of course,” she says, close to me. Gentle, her breath and words. My body tenses beneath the numb weight of hours of headbanging and pot smoke. I am alive in this moment. I can’t prove this, but I think our breaths sync up. I look up at her. There is a stillness to her.
The steamrolling backwind of my slightly-manic flair hiccups, briefly. I am on the precipice of a new feeling. I brace myself upon its velvet cusp.
I don’t know where the business card comes from. It’s just in my hand and she’s pulling her hand away and looking at me, soft, swooning. Sleepy.
“Just call my office and make an appointment,” she says, touching my face. “Ask for Stephanie at the desk.”
Then, lower: “Things will be okay. Emily told me.”
The night is over, right as I feel it starting.
An understanding is vast and comes over me in layers.
In the parking lot, two rednecks fight. I watch them fight. One starts to bleed and I leave.
I chant “Fuck Joe Biden” in my car all the way home, loud and forceful to get through the crescendo of tinnitus in my ears, even though I voted for the guy. Even though I actually think he’s okay. I do it just to understand, a little. To belong. To be a part of something larger than my own mess. To try and be something a little more than the basic sum of my basic, misshapen parts.
*I didn’t do her justice. Alexandra Daddario. That’s the actress. The eyes. It’s in the Atlantic Ocean evening of her eyes, flashing like strobes. All that. Google her.
R. Jones is a writer based in the northeast. Read more of his writing in the Expat Literary Journal, Misery Tourism, the Unpublishable Zine, and here in The Daily Drunk Mag. Shout at him on Twitter at @jonestown00.