If I could smoke fear away I’d roll that motherfucker up.
More than a year and a half after my last sip of alcohol, I still get nightmares about drinking again. And they are nightmares, despite the scene being only in my little kitchen, me standing at the sink, swirling my icy glass around. It’s always a cup I do not own, one with glass edges squared at the base and a round wide rim. And that’s it. That’s the whole thing, but it’s still a nightmare because with every sip I take in my subconscious I can hear my waking self say the very next time I drink will be the time I die. That’s why I drank at all, waiting for the time I would die. When I finally got to stare it in the face, I could do nothing but run.
Since then, I have drowned myself in juice, trying to find something to replace the old habit to keep me from returning to it. Every week it’s a bottle of pure peach, some blueberry lemonade, a glass of watermelon kiwi fruit punch glee. All the sugar makes me break out and sometimes I make myself sick off it. Not much has really changed, but I don’t think juice could ever kill me.
But what I’ve lost, that might kill me. Since telling my friends I can’t emotionally handle them getting shitfaced in my apartment, my home has been a vacated lot full of crabgrass and cracked concrete. No one came for my one year sobriety mark.
I see myself in my high school gym, wearing my ill-fitting uniform, lined up against the girls whose uniforms do fit them, waiting to hear my name called by the team Captain. She calls everyone else and my uniform becomes more and more tight on me until I cannot breathe and when I am standing alone the Captains reach into a cooler and pulls out a couple of Bush Lights instead of picking me and that’s it. I’m left alone.
I’m left alone.
I have defied Gods and Demons,
I am your shield… I am your sword,
This is the way the world ends.
-Cortana, Halo 3
An Elite saunters from the sliding doors, invisible armor-clad but still stomping. His grunting alerts me first, because he is only a blur of the background. He unsheathes his sword, unaffected by the invisibility power-up, and I feel its electric blue color run down my spine. Held in his invisible blurry hand, it looks like lightning searching for something to ground on. I am that something.
I throw a grenade, miss, shoot, miss. Only one shot lands so his invisibility wears off for a second. His armor is pale, not dark blue and purple like the others. I am seven feet tall but he is three feet taller than me. He lurches towards me, I shoot, miss.
I am backing up, backing up, backing up, but he is still coming at me. He is feet away from me, draws his sword, holds it above my head. I can see in his jowls the way it will taste for him when he slices me in half. He brings the sword down, down, down. I pause the game, throw the controller down, cover my face.
“You always pause right before you die,” I hear my brother, Hunter, say. His gelled mohawk shakes as he talks. I can only play the game in bursts, when my mom isn’t home. I am not old enough for how violent it is.
“I don’t want to die,” I respond, looking at the blue screen that, if it ever moves, will mean my death. My brother just shrugs and walks away. After minutes and minutes pass, I pick the controller back up. The curve of the black plastic is awkward in my too-small hands, and I often blame it for my inability to play the game well. I take a deep breath, feel my legs shift, and unpause the game.
The sword hits me square and kills me instantly.
You remain among the accursed.
-Prince Lothric, Dark Souls I
I am feeling dramatic in my pink bathroom.
“Do you feel cursed? Do you feel fear coursing through the amygdala at the base of your brain? Do you wish to tear it out? I wish I could show you how.
“By now it’s gone, into where you know to freeze without thinking it, deep inside your brain, and then to the hypothalamus to force you to choose between fight or flight. But what do you do when your brain wants to fight itself? When you want to rip your heart out and use the veins to choke your own brain? I bet you wish your brain had a throat to choke or a stomach to stab or a knee to break. I bet you wish you could run away”
I leave the bathroom mirror.
A dull and aching void was left
where careless hands had reached out to destroy
my silver web of happiness.
I wake up with an empty hand. I wake up every morning with an empty hand but it is significant because in my dream it was not empty. In my dream I held Ben’s hand. I still know he is dead, even in my sleep, so the dream is covered in a sandstorm mixed with mud. I have this dream every night, and it is always the same.
We are sitting watching a movie in a house neither of us ever lived in. He still has the rat tail he had in first grade, even though I know it has been cut off. Sometimes he wears a karate uniform despite never doing karate. He is always alive until he touches my hand.
And he always touches my hand. And I feel it. I feel it sometimes even more than I do when my fiancée touches my hand in real life. The moment it happens, the moment I feel those tiny knuckle hairs, I remember he is dead. I clutch his hand tighter. In his hand I feel the wood chips that covered the ground outside of our school; the grass we pulled up while sitting, exhausted from chasing each other. I feel myself wanting to forget these things.
In my dreams I want to love him, but I don’t. I can’t. Maybe I did a long time ago, when he had the rat tail, but that was so long ago I can’t prove that it’s real. So I don’t love him. But he loves me, and he won’t let me forget that he loves me, and he won’t let me forget that he wrote my name over and over in a journal until it was filled up and then hung himself. That’s why he touches my hand every night. So I can never forget.
I have to weigh myself down with blankets to keep myself from running.
Ronny Ford is beginning his first year as a PhD student studying Medieval Literature at Michigan State University. He obtained his Bachelor’s from the same university in the subject of creative writing. He has one poem published in Sagebrush Review XII (“God can’t always be God”), and one in Vagabond City (“on my gender being illegal”), one in Junk Drawer of Trans Voices Issue 3 (“Christmas Snow”), and one in OCEANS AND TIME BLOG (“laundry room surgery”). He has another forthcoming in Cerurove Press Issue 4 (“On Being Baptized in a Drought”), and one in Picaroon’s web journal (“I’ve Killed Things”). He is transgender and uses he/him pronouns. Find him on Twitter.