“This is the place where you let everything go,” he said. I swallow hard, the pill is stuck awkwardly in my throat. I lick my lips a few times with my cotton tongue.

      I told him I need an escape. The roads are too long and I feel like I’m going nowhere. He took me here. A place hidden between the laundry mat and the liquor store. He asked my name—Cheri—and that’s more than a reader even needs to know.

      There is a drunk woman hanging off the arm of a man. She’s screaming to another man about how unattainable she is. The other man is smoking a camel filter cigarette and pacing:

      “We’ve heard this one before, Johnny. We all know you’ve never stepped one foot outside of the U.S.”
      “And why should I?! No one has it better than us.”

      A young girl is vomiting in the corner. A man is impatiently lingering around her, waiting for her to finish. A girl equally the same age, one can only infer she’s her friend, is screaming for her to not go home with him.

      “She’s a big girl,” he said. “She can handle me.”

      Human ears are not built to hear everything. They’re built to focus. When all of the chaos floods in at once, it’s difficult to hear a single thing. They never see me; they never hear me. Just another face in the crowd. Just another silent witness to their vices. Nobody ever tells them the world is listening.

      “You see that star? I own it. I bought it online. That star.”
      “How do you know it’s that star?”
      “Because I want it to be. And that’s enough for me.”

      The asphalt is the darkest shade of black I’ve ever seen. Scattered with cigarette butts. My legs are becoming lighter. The voices are harder to synthesize.

      “Get my daughter a job!”
      “Let me tell you what Obama is doing wrong.”
      “I drove my truck all the way up the mountain in the snow with no chains.”
      “I don’t know, some idiot smashed a bottle over his face.”
      “This country is beautiful.”
      “Why are you squinting? Stop that, it’s a bad habit.”
      “I love the smell of your hair. Can I hit that?”
      “My hair?”
      “No, the pipe. You’re funny. You’re so funny. Can you believe this girl? She’s so damn funny.”
      “I’ve got what you need.”
      “You just need to learn the art of leaving.”
      “I like you better when you’re coming.”
      “Easy now.”
      “I can’t find my balance.”
      “My feet are killing me.”
      “I’ll put a bullet between your eyes.”
      “I don’t know, I’m fucked up. Come home with me.”
      “Fucking pigs.”
      “This is America. We don’t take shit from anyone. You wanna fight? You want a fight.”
      “It’s an abuse of power, is what it is.”
      “You. Me. Right now. Put your goddamn fist where your mouth is.”
      “It’s Tuesday?”
      “Don’t look at me like that. See that, you’re staring.”
      “That’s it. Right there.”
      “It’s got me feeling sooooooooo good.”
      “Big Brother. That’s who’s watching.”
      “Let’s go for a ride. I’ll show you a life you ain’t even dreamed of.”
      “Let the fucking pigs have me. They’ve got nothing on me—nothing.”
      “Carpe diem. What’s it mean? It’s Latin for people who quote shit in Latin are pricks.”

      And now I’m indoors on the floor. My body is screaming YOU HAVE TO BE LOUD. OR ELSE WHO’S GONNA HEAR YOU? The American cocktail of red blood white pill and the blues has gotten me down. So far down. And the ceiling is miles away. Don’t squint it’s a bad habit. And the room is dark, but there’s a light somewhere off in the distance. The back porch of heaven I’ve got what you need. and I’m underwater and the bass moves through my body like a messenger of sound and the freedom is so loud and the exposure is so long and the lines are blurred and there is a hand in slow motion.

      “What’s this place for?” I asked the hand of freedom.
      “A place where we aren’t alone with our vices. Everyone is just looking for comfort.”
      “Do they ever find it?”
      “See, most people come here wanting to see it. Humanity at its rawest. But you can’t be raw here. It’s what they want. And we don’t give them what they want.”
      “Why not?”
      “Because they’ll never come back. People always think they want to see the raw, but then when they see it, they don’t know how to take it. Physically, mentally, no one wants the truth. They want a watered down version they can swallow. Now get up, get tough, and don’t you dare let the world know you’re human. Don’t let anyone know you’re capable of falling.”


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