You can only be on the road so long before everything starts to look the same. All the fast food joints, all the gas stations, the cars, and the people begin to blur into a gaudy smear of color on the horizon. It gives you this tired feeling, being so alone while surrounded by so many people. It’s this lost feeling, like the feeling you get in the middle of a cross-country race. You’ve been running for a while but you know there are miles more before you can sit down and eat bananas and bagels with the rest of your teammates at the finish. You know you can run it. You’ve done it many times before but you don’t know how long until you can stop, and you feel deep down weary. You suddenly wonder if you’ll make it this time.
My short dreads fall in my face again blocking most of my view of the road but I don’t bother to brush them away anymore, which signals it’s time to get off the highway. I stop at a cheap motel and rent a smoking room in the back on the second floor. The responsible thing to do is stay in, watch tv, and turn in early so I can get a good start in the morning, and I start making myself comfortable. I drop my bag on the table and take my shoes off. I know that a motel as cheap as this doesn’t wash the comforter regularly and it’s probably covered in cum and piss.
So, I pull the blanket off the bed and leave it in a heap on the floor before lying back on the smoky sheets. The heat of the road and the cloying humidity that pervaded the car melt into the silence of the room, making it seem like it was a bad dream that I’ve suddenly woken from. I turn on the tv and flip around for a while trying to find something I can zone out to. I settle on cartoons because everything else just makes me angry, but ten minutes in, I realize I can’t do it. If I sit here and watch tv, I will smoke all ten of my cigs in two hours, and the thought of trying to fill the rest of the time makes my stomach squeeze up. So, I take a shower and say my mantra to myself as the water washes off the film of sweat and frustration. I feel better but the shower has taken all of seven minutes and I’m back in the same predicament. I decide that I need to get out and do something, but it’s a new city filled with anonymous people living bullshit lives that I’m not invited into, and I can’t think of anything. I need a drink, and I need it bad.
I drive into town and see a nice place that advertises its great selection of beer so I pull over and walk in. It’s dim, but not comfortable bar dim. It’s fancy, planned dimness augmented by soft blue lights set into the wall. The waiter on duty sees me standing awkwardly at the door and comes over to prevent a possible situation. He asks what I need and slowly pulls out a menu. I’m suddenly aware of my blackness. I wonder what he’s thinking. I wonder if he can smell the soul-sickness lying heavy in my clothes. I wonder if maybe I don’t belong here.
He takes me into the dining room, and we both search for a place where I can sit down and disappear. He asks me if I want to sit on the deck and I hurriedly answer yes. He takes me to a back table outside and I sit down and force all of my attention on the beer list. I order a beer and look over the menu as he leaves. He brings the beer, and as I sip slowly, loneliness creeps up from behind me sliding into the seat across from me with that old grin. He has choices since all five chairs around the table are empty. Even though the import in my hand cost me as much as a six-pack, I throw it back and toss a few bills on the table. I go back through the main dining room trying not to bump into the waiter again. I pass him and don’t meet his eyes hoping it comes off as arrogance. I get back into the car and some part of me wants to cry but I know I won’t. Those tears dried up long ago and they’re never coming back. I turn the key in the ignition, throw the car into gear, turn up the music, and shut off the people into an impotent blur beyond the windshield once more.
I stop at a red light and roll down the window, and call out to a passerby in the crosswalk.
“Excuse me, where’s the closest liquor store?”
I get a blank stare, so I turn down Sam Cooke’s moan and ask again getting a shrug this time.
“Thank you.” I roll the window up and turn the volume knob until it stops.
I drive back to the motel, but stop on the road that leads to the parking lot. I remember the room, how small it is, the smell of old nicotine soaked into the walls, and I can’t. So, I turn the car around and go to the gas station down the block. I jump out and ask the cashier about the beer situation in the county. He tells me everything’s closed, so I ask to use the bathroom key and go around the side to the john. I take a long time to pee, breathing hard and slow, repeating my mantra while reading the graffiti on the walls. I look at myself unblinking in the mirror as I wash my hands, but I feel nothing but how much I want a drink. I return the key and the cashier tells me that the bar down the street has carryout. I jump in the car and speed down the route he described pulling deep drags from my cig. My mother texts me with a petty question and I respond politely back, but I curse bitterly to no one as I do, surprising myself with how angry I am. I jump out the car and walk to the front door. My cig is only halfway to the filter and I’m down to a quarter pack but I stub it out anyway and walk in. I ask for a sixer and drive back to my motel room once I have it safely in the paper bag under my arm.
I lay down on the bed and turn on the tv once again, ready for it all now that I have my liquid armor. I play drink-a-beer-smoke-a-cig until the screen blurs, and then pass out hard. I wake up four hours later to late night infomercials and an empty can lying in a wet spot next to my head. I upright the can and put it on the end table before getting up to brush my teeth and take off my clothes. Once I turn off the lights, loneliness takes his seat in the corner of the room with that same grin, awful in its smugness. He asks the familiar questions that I’ve never have good answers to, but I’m too tired to talk, and turn over to fall into a dreamless sleep.
And there’s the night.
But what about tomorrow?
Micah Shelton is a writer, thinker, and researcher with a professional and personal interest in understanding the ways the mind works both when balanced as well as when it isn’t.