I’m engulfed in Kool-Aid. A wave of cherry-red pulls me under, into a whirlpool. As I spin I taste it in my mouth, that kindergarten favorite tickles every taste bud as it consumes my whole being. It’s almost silly how much I like the sweetness, shameful that I start chugging it, embracing its takeover. I suppose I was too resolved to taste it to care that it was embarrassing to drown in Kool-Aid.
Monday morning reminds me of my parents’ divorce. As I put on my dress shoes I get caught up in those memories of Mom telling me that Dad is a bad person, which of course has always made me wonder, does that make me a half-bad person? My hair is half-blonde because of him, maybe my morals are half-corrupt because of him. On the walk to work, the smell of coffee reminds me I’m tired, exhausted, like I have been for years. I spend too much money on an Americano from the stand outside my office building and take a sip. That sip reminds me of chugging Kool-Aid. It taste its sweetness, I wonder how its memory could be so vivid.
My office building reminds me of my dead girlfriend. She’s been dead for months, I wonder when this place stop smelling like her.
“Morning, Kirk.” Says Jim from the cube over, he’s a better salesman than me, and for some reason I’ve always just assumed he was a better person than me. I say hello back. He asks me how my day is going.
“Well, so far so good. Though, is that meeting with Jose today?”
“Yup, one o’clock in the conference room we all get our scolding.” He says this with a chuckle and sits down.
We both get to work, putting people’s names in spreadsheets and thinking of them and their loved ones as dollar signs. I work for three hours, when I look up at the clock I smile a little, thinking of how productive I’ve been, how much money I’ve earned. Thinking of the minutes as dollar signs, thinking of my day for its production value, thinking of my lunch for its calorie content. Numbers remind me of kindergarten, when I wasn’t any good at them. When I used to think that you had to start with zero every time, always ending up one off from the right answer. As I eat my turkey sandwich, I think of my dead girlfriend, and her healthy habits.
Jim walks in and sits down next to me, he makes some joke about the lighting. He says it sets a refrigerator mood, he takes a bite of his salad. I look up to see the room, the lighting does make me feel like a jar of jelly that’s been sitting in the breakroom refrigerator for years. We walk to the meeting together; me still feeling like a jar of jelly, still missing my dead girlfriend.
The rest of the day I work like I normally do, focused and productive. Completely aware of the pennies I earn per second, soaking up every dime. On the walk home I’m reminded of the walk to work, I taste Kool-Aid again. And suddenly I’m craving one of those girly drinks, I just want to chug a liter of Jungle Juice. I just want to drink alone and feel sorry for all the memories I’m cursed with.
I enter the next bar I see and sit at the corner. Drinking some fruity concoction, I feel better. Just slightly, just enough to think that the waitress is pretty, to not pay any attention to the man who sits down a few seats away.
“Would you rather cut off your leg, or get facial reconstruction surgery to look exactly like your mother?” The man who just came in is looking right into my eyes, so unafraid of my reaction to his question, just waiting quietly for the answer, as if he needs the advice.
“What?” I say the only thing that’s echoing through my head.
“Would you rather cut off your leg, or get facial reconstruction surgery to look exactly like your mother?” He says it again like he’s just asking how my day was. I must have sneered or something before I answered, but I finally coughed up:
“Cut off your leg.”
“That’s good, I might steal that.” He chuckles. “Do you always drink like a 18-year-old with a fake ID or are you celebrating?”
“I’m celebrating.” I say entirely unamused.
“Me too,” He holds up his glass, gin and tonic, “That life is not worth living.”
This guy reminds me why I don’t talk to strangers, he reminds me of when I was younger and didn’t know what to say when the cool kids asked me questions. I don’t want to keep talking to him, I don’t want to be near him, but he’s got one of those smiles you just have to know where they came from. I like to think I stick around because I wanted to know where he came from, but I think I just wanted to take whatever he was taking. So, I asked:
“That merits a celebration?”
“It merits something doesn’t it?” He took a gulp of his drink. “What are you celebrating?”
“Forgetting.” I took a final sip.
“Aw, so you’re celebrating something you forgot?”
“Something I hope to forget.”
“Oh I see, you have to celebrate now because once you forget you won’t remember to celebrate.”
“You’re brilliant.” I waved over the waitress for another drink.
“So, what else are you going to do to celebrate?”
“Oh come on, you are handed the opportunity to do something knowing you will forget it, suddenly there is no shame, no worry, no regret.” He moved to the stool right next to me.
“I don’t have anything I want to do just to forget, seems like a dangerous night.”
“To do something knowing tomorrow you will choose to forget it? Seems like every bastards dream.”
“What would you do?” I choked out after a few seconds of silence.
“No really, they say it’s the most pure feeling you can have, but that you are near instantly addicted. If I could just know what it felt like for just a moment and not ever remember it, I wouldn’t find myself addicted, only experienced.”
“Makes sense I guess.”
“Still got nothing.” I thought another second, then added, “Heroin, I guess.”
“Now would be a good time to offer you heroin.”
“Look I wa-”
“I’m kidding, I don’t have any drugs on me.” He cut me off with a smirk, then took a drink.
There was something about him that I found relaxing, it didn’t seem like he wanted anything from me. He wasn’t trying to prove something, he was just talking. Just making conversation with a stranger.
“So, why isn’t life worth living?” I asked embracing his company.
“Eh, no reason really. There’s just nothing here, and the vague promise that there is something after is distant and unconfirmed. I’ve been living my whole life with heaven in mind, then all the sudden, it occurs to me that if I’m wrong, which I might be, I’ve lived my life based on my death.
And if life really is just about death, then it’s not life worth living, it’s death worth dying. If there isn’t anything after this, then I’ve wasted my whole life on a void.”
I didn’t know what to say, he was right in all regards, and I wasn’t the one with any ideas on the matter. I offered a simple: “So you’re questioning your faith.”
“Nah, I’m just starting to pay attention to it.”
“Well, I’m not really the guy to talk to about God.”
“You don’t have one?”
“I mean, sure there is one, but I don’t know much about him. So I don’t know, all your questions are right, I just don’t know what to tell you. Decide to believe in one and go with it.”
“It’s not that easy.” He set down his glass and looked right at me again, with those sharp green eyes. “It’s not what you choose to believe, it’s what you believe. You don’t get any say in the matter, it’s in your veins and you just have to go with it.”
“So what’s in your veins?”
This guy reminds me of my dad. My mother once told me that there are some people you meet that you get swept up in. You don’t mean to, but you say hello and suddenly you find yourself a part of their chaos, and you find yourself willing to experience a part of this world they carry with them. She would also say that if you can, you should avoid these people. They tend to destroy things in their path, and that chaos is deadly. My mother married my father because she fell enraptured by his storm, the story he told that everyone stayed up late to hear, she could be a part of it. My mother hated my father when he died. She said he spent his whole life as a tourist, living the best life he could muster then moving on to a new town. This guy reminds me of my dad, but with a softer smile, with a kinder storm, with a story he doesn’t even know he’s a part of. I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing. He filled the silent space.
“Would you rather fall in love today, or tomorrow?” He asked.
“Tomorrow. I still have forgetting to do,”
“Me too.” He paused, “if I make it that far.”
“You plan on dying in the next six hours?”
“I don’t plan on much. But you seem like you could help me figure it out.”
The man then stood up, put on his jacket, paid for his drink, and walked out of the bar. Afraid and confused I sat there, trying to recall an explanation. Certain I was not given one, I followed him outside, to the street that reminded me of Kool-Aid. He’s getting into an old truck up a few cars.
Suddenly, I’m engulfed in Kool-Aid. A wave of cherry-red pulls me under, into a whirlpool. As I spin I begin to taste it in my mouth, I begin to think of how to get out of this chaos, I begin to search for something that makes sense to do right now. I walk up to the truck, and get in. I cling to his chaos in order to calm my own. I suppose if I’m going to die, I may as well go with the taste of nonsense on my tongue.
In this ’84 pickup there is no sign of wear, no sign that it’s been anything but a waste of space. He blasts some song about drugs and drives us south, towards the end of the valley. The drive reminds me of my brother driving me to school in the morning, the shitty punk filling any space that could be used for conversation. I’m too involved with my memory to ask any questions, as if I’m too resolved to die to care if it will hurt.
After about twenty minutes he turns onto a dirt road. Drives another ten, and stops on a ledge.
The cliffs outside the city are taller than what I expected, and looking down feels more like a castle than what I pictured. We look down on this little city. It’s hypnotizing sparkle that gets in the way of thinking anything, its size shrinking every time we blink.
“Fall in love with this and it will never leave you. Love the mountains and they will never betray you.” He says, staring blankly.
“If this is what you mean, then I’ll fall in love today.” He then turns to me, looks me right in the eye, the same way he did that first time, undaunted by my existence, his stare occupying more space than I have seen a man do before.
“I’m going to jump from this cliff and die at the bottom. You call the police and tell them what you know about me, they will clean it up and let you sign your name on the report.”
“What? No, I’m not letting you jump, no. That’s not wha-” I feel myself pull away from his stare, as I do he moves further from me. He steps away and again looks at me with defiance, unwavering confidence.
“What? Stop, no I-” I reach out for him again, feeling his body get further from mine, closer to the ledge. For the first time since I have met this man, I see him smile.
I see him fall. I do not see him. I see the sparkle of a small city waiting for my return.
This moment reminds me of that helplessness I have felt only once before. The death of my girlfriend, one glance of her driving off to her friends, the next of crime scene sob stories shared around her mutilated car, her mutilated body. I kept waiting for someone to explain to me what happened, unsure as a child standing in the same place, never having seen such tragedy, looking for someone to give it a name, tell me how it ends.
Standing on a ledge overlooking the city that took her, the city that takes me to work every morning, the city that rocks me to sleep every night. This moment reminds me of Kool-Aid.
Of being engulfed in Kool-Aid. Of a wave of cherry-red that pulls me under, into a whirlpool. Of spinning and beginning to taste it in my mouth, that kindergarten favorite tickling every taste bud as it consumes my whole being. I am reminded of how silly it is that I like the sweetness, almost embarrassing that I start chugging it, embracing its takeover. This memory of taste pulling me into someone else’s whirlpool, pinning me to someone else’s addiction to chaos. Swept up in a story you don’t belong in, watching my mother whither at the side of my father’s novels. Tasting a nostalgia you do not crave, the tainted memory of drowning in someone’s pre-mixed masterpiece of entertainment. Helplessly entangled in the past, I begin to drink the Kool-Aid with the belief that every ocean has ending, perhaps I can swallow my fate.
I waited until sunrise to walk the twenty minutes to the gas station. I called the police and waited there for them to arrive. I signed my name at the bottom of a long report. It said that this man had a disease that made him two people. One with the craving for life, one with the craving for death. The report did not mention the fights the two must have had. The report did not mention his stare, it did not mention his desire to fall in love tomorrow. It mentioned some name he had worn his whole life and a series of phone numbers connected to people who had seen him most.
Wednesday morning I wake up engulfed in Kool-Aid. Drowning in a cherry-red concoction banned by my mother for its sweetness. I am reminded of her lectures about cavities, and how I never got one. I am reminded of consumption, of the few things in life that have taken my body in its entirety.
I think of the love I felt for my girlfriend, how much I wanted to stay with her until the world shrank beneath us. I think of helplessness, the feeling that replaced love pulsing through my body, waiting for someone to explain what happened. A wave of red pulls me into a whirlpool. As I spin I begin to taste it in my mouth, I begin to let it seep through my teeth and into my throat. I think of standing on that cliff, watching a stranger disappear just as simply as he had appeared. It’s silly how much I like the sweetness, embarrassing that I start chugging it, embracing its takeover. Letting helplessness become as much of me as the devastation that has exhausted me for months.
As I drown in my bed on a Wednesday morning, I am reminded of nothing. The taste is not familiar, the feeling is new. I cannot recall the man’s face or my girlfriend’s hands. All that could have been memory is replaced by cherry-red Kool-Aid pumping in my veins.
I walk to work the next morning and smell an office building, I drink coffee, I meet with Jose. The walk home from work reminds me of liquor, which reminds me of little fruity drinks waiting for me at the end of the bar.