I’m sitting in my car in the parking lot of a Walgreens across from a Burger King, opening a package of NyQuil and this bottle of cough syrup I just bought.
If I were a Burger King, I would be closed right now.
If I were a Walgreens, I might still be open because some Walgreens are open 24-hours a day. If you were a Walgreens, you would be the kind that sold alcohol.
If you were a Burger King, you would also be the kind that sold alcohol. You would be one of a kind.
You would be the only one that does what you do.
It’s cold today. Cold like yesterday and probably tomorrow too. My car is freezing and I’m sitting here rubbing my hands together, coughing up green mucus and thinking about earlier today when we talked on gchat.
I told you I hadn’t seen Brian lately.
“i was going to this weekend but i got sick,” I said.
“hes so married anyway.”
“so married lol,” you said.
“guy works like 90 hours a week. like 90 high school english teacher hours a week,” I said.
“hard life,” you said.
“so all his free time is married time,” I said.
“when are we getting married ;~)” you said.
“yeah its terrible it sounds absolutely awful the more i saw of what that job is actually like the more i was like uhhhhh,” I said.
“lol we arent getting married,” you said at 7:53 PM.
“yeah i guess i dont see u with that kind of life,” you said at 7:55 PM.
“u dont love the kids enough,” you said.
“u have to give your life up to them.”
“i dont love everyone. i dont have a savior complex and i dont want to Save The World,” I said.
“you sure dont” and “ha” you said.
I told you I meant it and you said you knew.
I said I thought most people didn’t want to save the world and you agreed.
I told you I thought you didn’t either and you said that was true too.
But you told me I had changed a lot, that when we met I was ’super zen zen free world’ and now I wasn’t.
“i was going thru a phase I guess.”
You said I am always going through phases.
You said I am constantly changing and that it was fine if that’s how I needed to be but that it was hard for you.
You said you would probably never really know me.
I am sitting in my car in the Walgreens parking lot across from the Burger King and I don’t have anything to chase my NyQuil with, so I am being efficient and taking swigs of cough syrup with each pill. I’m guessing I have a fever of 101-102 degrees so I’ll probably need three NyQuil.
Cough syrup tastes like something you shouldn’t be putting in your body, is my first thought after cough syrup enters my body. It feels like a feat of strength to force all three of these big green gel-disk pills down with the synthetic red-flavored goo. Swallowing them is equally as unpleasant as the taste of the syrup, but I feel a sense of accomplishment having stomached the last pill. This good feeling abruptly turns to something along the lines of fear and shame as I realize I have drunk three-quarters of the bottle on accident.
I’ve known people who have drank cough syrup recreationally. They seemed shitty. I feel pretty shitty right now. This is the reasoning I use to justify drinking the rest of the bottle. I am going to get shitty, I guess. This will be a heinous adventure, maybe. ’When in the shit, get shitty,’ I guess.
Syrup coats my throat as I start driving with a sense of urgency, heading instinctively in the direction of the mall. The mall is warm. You can sit still in the mall. The people are at the mall.
As I drive, I make an effort to recall what I know about the psychoactive effects of over-the-counter cough medicine. It’s a dissociative, I remember. People who drink it walk around like robots because they feel separate from their body. I saw a guy do this at a party once. He seemed weird and shitty to me, but he appeared to be ok with it.
Dissociating from your body and mind could be an invaluable experience, especially today. I am ready to go outside of myself right now. I didn’t want to be here anyway.
It takes about 35 minutes to get to the mall. I pull into the parking lot outside of Sears upon arrival. My stomach does not feel good. Starting to feel like I am pregnant with poison and my newborn child will be a terrible nightmare baby. Cough syrup anti-Christ child of shit. Feel like my baby will be born violently into this world out of my own ass in the Sears bathroom in t-minus 5 minutes or so. I’m also noticing that my cough is gone. I try to be grateful for this for a minute but my stomach won’t let me.
I move to exit my car and am immediately struck by an intense gravitational sensation. As I stand up, I feel like I’ve left every part of myself but my rotted stomach in the front seat. I am a floating brain and little cartoon bubbles may or may not be popping around my head right now.
There is no time for cartoons. I leave myself in the front seat and hustle like a goblin toward the pearly department store gates.
“I am so demon right now,” is a thought that slips into my mind somehow.
My body reacts by laughing, which is even more surprising. Definitely very demon right now. Better keep it together, floating demon, I think, nearing the entrance.
These people will eat you.
The pronounced ‘woosh’ of sliding doors announces my arrival at Sears. Frigid breeze meets stale air-conditioned warmth as I march forward with purpose.
“This club can’t even handle me right now,” is a thought that passes through my mind for some reason.
It goes without saying that if Sears were a club, it would be a piece of crap club, but I am saying it anyway. Sears is a piece of crap club. Everyone in here is dead, I think, as muscle memory directs me toward the first floor bathroom. I have known this place in a previous non-goblin life.
An old lady on a motorized scooter stares at me as I make my way down the aisle. We exchange knowing glances that last a tiny eternity and I feel reassured as I enter the restroom.
The bright fluorescent light bathes me in a sense of relief. I am born anew.
I am America’s sweetheart. I am a pure being of light.
I am an American Bad Ass. I am Kid Rock’s step-dad.
I emerge into my new surroundings, refreshed yet feverish. Everything is buzzing a little. My vision is strobing at a reduced frame rate like a lagging video. A soft glow colors things a bit. I go with the flow of the department store stream, moving through the designated pathways until I’m released into the open waters of the adjacent mall.
I have made it back to my natural spawning ground using only my intuition, I think. I swim on through the wide-open brightness in the direction of the food court, also by intuition I suppose. The intensity of light and effect of reverberated sound against the floor and walls of this big open space is intense.
An unexpected wave of excitement rises in me abruptly and it shatters my nerves for a bit, sending a stiff tingle up my spine. I instantly remember how sick I am. My forehead is burning up and I suddenly feel very weak. Fever and drugs have a deep hold on me but I must voyage on. Adventurers cannot be afraid.
Walking toward me is what appears to be a family—a mother with three children. The mother is carrying one of her children, a young girl, in her arms. She is visibly struggling, sweaty and agitated. With her is what looks like her son, having difficulty carrying another young girl. The girl doesn’t appear to be much younger than he is.
“She’s heavy,” he complains.
“Then you need to learn to carry her better!” she shouts back.
I simply can’t process this right now. After a moment’s reflection, I decide it’s probably best not to. Mother and son shuffle by me carrying the girls while I walk past them robotically, just trying to remain calm.
Then I see it. The mall fountain. It is embarrassingly beautiful.
I approach it cautiously, careful not to get my hopes up in case it turns out to be some sort of mirage. I sit on its edge and carefully dip a finger in. I feel the water and it’s so wet. I briefly survey the scene, then dunk my whole hand in.
Cool liquid touches vaguely familiar skin and I stop thinking about myself for a minute. The moment is fleeting. I begin to feel somewhat creepy, imagining a nice family watching a man get sensual in a public fountain. I imagine the girl-carrying family watching me. The mom is not pleased. She covers her son’s eyes with one hand while holding her daughter with the other. The son covers the eyes of the girl his mother is holding with his free hand, struggling to hold onto the girl he’s carrying. The girl he’s holding has no one to cover her eyes, so she just watches me feel the fountain. I’m not sure how she feels about it.
I’m drying my hand on my pants when I’m struck by a sensation of longing. I can’t pinpoint where it is coming from exactly, but it is persistent and unpleasant. I feel like I need something, but I’m not sure what. Everywhere around me, there are things I could have. I could put these things on, in, and around my body. These things could make me happy.
I decide that I want a thing but as I get up to leave, I feel conflicted. No sooner than I find my shrine, I abandon it in search of a burrito or something. While I’m taking the escalator down into the food court, I watch the fountain splash water upward, my brain receiving glitched images in fragments. I can see the fountain behind a cell phone cover kiosk, the water appearing to move through the air in an irregular, syncopated rhythm. Less and less of it is visible until the fountain is gone from sight and I have been placed at the foot of the moving stairs.
In the food court, I try purchasing a burrito without saying anything but fail when I’m forced to tell the person in charge of the burritos that I want one. She hands me a bag of food and tells me to have a nice day. I wander off toward an arrangement of tables and chairs wondering if I have received the love I need when I see something else.
There is a carousel in the middle of the food court. Children wait in line to ride with their parents by their side. The carousel seats are all shaped like animals. There’s a panda and a lion. There’s a giraffe. I wouldn’t mind sitting inside a giraffe, I think, crinkling the bag of food with a shaky hand.
I find a table close to the carousel so I can rest and watch. The machine isn’t operating quite yet. Kids are scurrying around, picking out which animal they want to sit in. I am rooting for the giraffe. Everyone gets settled and the ride begins. Music plays as the contraption slowly begins to revolve. I unwrap the burrito and watch the ride go round.
No one chose the giraffe. Seems pretty messed up to me but I try to accept it. I honestly don’t understand what goes on in others people’s heads sometimes or ever. From where I sit, in a mall food court with a neglected burrito lying in front of me getting staler by the minute, it seems as if you can never really know what is going on in another person’s head.
I am thinking about what you said to me earlier on gchat.
You said that you would probably never know me.
A few minutes ago, I bought a fresh burrito but eventually the ingredients inside will rot. They will get mucusy and gross and the tortilla wrap will harden into a tough shell. Everything is always changing. I guess I am too. So are you. I watch the carousel turn, my clipped vision sending irregular images to my brain like a series of postcards. Wish you were here, my brain says. I appreciate its concern.
A panda passes by with a happy toddler and it’s mom in it and I feel a little empty. This uneaten burrito seems like a minor tragedy happening in slow motion right in front of me and I turn away because I just can’t bear to watch any longer.
Sitting at the table next to me are a group of teenagers talking to each other and eating fries. I overhear some of their conversation.
“What I want to know is who changed my facebook status to ’I’m Gay,’” a boy says.
“It was up there for like a year because I don’t go on there that often.” His friends laugh.
“Do you guys know who Dave is?” he asks. They don’t.
“He recently came out of the closet and posted this long rant about how the pope said something against gay marriage and the only comment was ’You go, Glen Coco!’” They laugh, but less than last time.
As I get up to leave, I hear the boy call out to me. He says he recognizes me. I recognize him too. He asks me if I had been a student teacher at his school and I tell him no, I hadn’t.
He says he’s pretty sure he’s seen me. I tell him I’m not sure how that could be because I’ve never been a teacher, but I’m lying. I had taught at his school. I recognized him from class. His name was Nick. He always wore the same purple hoodie to class and drew a pot leaf with a dollar sign on his desk in pencil one time. As I turn to leave, an empty giraffe passes and I stop.
“Can I ask you guys a question?” I ask.
They say yes.
“If I was a teacher, I mean, I’m not, but if I was…”
A passing lion catches my attention, distracting me. It has a mother and two children inside it.
“Do I seem like I’d be an OK teacher to you? Like, do I look like I could stand in front of a class and teach it?”
They look at each other and don’t seem to know what to say. The girls start giggling. Nick finally speaks.
“To be honest, you seem kind of fucked up to me, man. I mean, I’m sorry, but yeah.”
The girls laugh and he grins at them.
“Sorry man, I dunno,” he says and starts laughing too.
I sigh and look off at the carousel. It’s stopped and everyone is getting off. I turn back to them and stare at Nick’s face and eyes. He stops laughing and looks back at me. I feel like I want to say something important to him but don’t know what I should say.
“Sex is real and it affects the future,” I say, pausing a moment for effect before leaving to return to the fountain, taking my burrito with me.
Back at the fountain, my mind is at ease but I still feel like I need something. I take out my phone to text you.
“hi bb,” I send to you.
A couple is sitting on the edge of the fountain across from me. The woman has a lot of shopping bags. She’s on her phone. Her boyfriend isn’t.
“i want to carry you around like this family I saw at the mall today,” I send to you.
“they were carrying their kids and i want to carry you through the mall forever.”
My phone buzzes a few moments later.
“lol,” you sent to me.
I take a picture of the fountain and send it to you.
You send me back a dolphin emoji with three shooting stars and then a series of watermelons.
The couple across from me isn’t speaking. They aren’t watching the fountain either. The woman is looking at her phone. The man is looking at her shopping bags.
“<3,” I send to you.
I toss a quarter into the fountain. Nothing.
I toss my burrito into the fountain. Still nothing.
I jump in.