Sometimes taking the smallest step down an unfamiliar path can make you realize that you don’t have to keep walking in the wrong direction anymore.
I met you at a party. Actually, it wasn’t a party, per se. It was an art show in a smoke-filled warehouse, adorned with obscure graffiti writing and paintings of mysterious looking creatures. The concrete floor was covered with fake “bodies” sculpted out of cardboard and tape along with piles of garbage (I would later learn that this was in fact supposed to be “art”). An abandoned trailer was somehow plunked right in the center of the dimly lit mess.
I came here with a work friend who hung out around the art crowd. I didn’t even know an art crowd existed, as I can barely even draw a stick figure anymore. In high school, my friends were the pretty, popular girls and all I ever wanted to do was fit in. I always knew that I didn’t. In college, it was the same old story, only even richer girls who swiped their fathers’ credit cards for boob jobs or whatever (mind you, I was living in Miami at the time).
Even after college, I surrounded myself with the same types of people. My friends would party on rooftop bars back in New York City and hook up with post-frat life finance snobs. I willingly did the same.
Until I met you.
I remember seeing you, amongst a crowd of hippies swallowing shrooms. Your chin length dirty blond hair was tied up into two pigtails, your clothes were covered with splotches of spray paint, and you had a wilted pink flower in the pocket of your button-up shirt. You were puffing on an American Spirit, smiling, when I approached you from behind.
“Can I have one?” I asked politely. For some reason my inner freak was liking this warehouse scene. (I must admit, the people there were very welcoming).
“You’re not supposed to smoke in here,” you replied, almost cockily. “But you’re kind of cute, so you can.”
You stuck your soiled fingertips, stained with some sort of black paint, into your shirt pocket. Offended by your arrogant nature, I took the cigarette and went on my way, back into a trash pile that accommodated a few people hazily drinking PBRs and gorging on pot brownies like it was Christmas dinner. It really wasn’t hardcore in the slightest, but whatever.
Actually, it was quite chill compared to its junkyard ambiance. As a closeted weirdo misfit at heart, I never had a problem with the art types. In fact, I’ve always found them kind of fascinating.
Later on, you came up to me and apologized for coming off rude. We danced to “Bennington” by John Maus, and no, not the way you would grind up all over each other at a club. We just danced, in the middle of the cardboard and tape bodies.
You told me that you were moving away in seven days.
I wasn’t really sure what I liked about you. We started heading around the trailer towards the back of the warehouse. I peaked behind me, thinking you were following me, but a girl had grabbed you to start a conversation. I glanced over at a propped up skeleton with a cigarette hanging from its mouth in a busted armchair. “Oh well,” I shrugged at the set of plastic bones and proceeded up the dusty wooden staircase to the bathroom, covered in drawings of hot pink penises.
What was I thinking? I laughed to myself as I left that party. What was I doing even considering hooking up with some dirty artist who looks like he shoots up heroin for a living? Actually, I’m pretty sure that’s what he used to do. But I heard dope is pretty fun, so I’m not going to judge.
Typical me, always looking for an escape from my own reality that I was never happy with (which isn’t what this one is about, so back to the point of this.) Less than 24 hours later, I found out that you actually lived in that warehouse with a friend.
The next day was the Super Bowl. You texted me, and we ended up going to a “hostel party” in downtown San Diego. This “party” was located on a random floor of this grimy hostel, and the first thing I saw when the elevator doors chimed open was a bunch of people circling around two guys rapping. There were even babies in carriages at this thing!
Where was I? I looked out of the window and saw my favorite downtown bar right across the street. How have I never noticed that this hostel was even here? It was strange to watch the people from my social world enter that fancy bar I went to every single weekend, while I stood directly across the street at a place I didn’t even know existed. I didn’t think about whatever everyone else was doing on that evening of the Super Bowl.
It was off to the races from that point on. We were together every day until you said your goodbyes. We talked a lot, you and I. We even argued like a couple! We started walking your rescue dog in your ghetto neighborhood. You started taking showers at my apartment. We drank in the company of graffiti, murals, I guess, and you told me about being an artist. You were the normal one. My mind was crazier than the rubble you chose to live your life in.
During that week, if it’s weird and you name it, I probably woke up next to it. I opened my eyes and realized I was laying on piles of garbage and approximately 40 empty cigarette packs. I even almost forgot about the superficiality consuming my own life. None of it mattered. Currently, I have about nine empty packs of camels in the passenger seat of my Acura. I guess I’ve always lived like this to some extent, but I did it alone and told people that it “wasn’t my car” if they asked for a ride.
Needless to say, I was mesmerized by you. You told me how working inside of a cubicle like most people do every day was a waste. You told me how you bounce around from state to state, making art, and how you were going to die with a story. You taught me that life doesn’t have to be like everyone says it should be. Creative people are just so cool, man. I wish I knew more of them.
One night, we were walking through an alleyway when you spotted some piece of junk.
“This is awesome!” you’d exclaim, genuinely excited by something that a person just willingly dumped on the street without a second thought.
“Everything is art,” you’d say, as you painted on whatever the broken object was.
“No, not everything is art,” I would counter, confidently.
I avoided social media for those seven days. No more “influencers.” No more Instagram models in bikinis trying to coerce me into using their discount codes. No more comparing my life to everyone in it and around me. None of the content online covered with filters and fake facades making life seem “perfect” interested me. Now, I was seeing this new world I hadn’t yet seen before, unedited and in real life.
Now that you are gone, I am back to the “everything matters” mindset that I’ve always been in. Sometimes, when I’m sitting in a depressed fog in my (new) cubicle, picking apart my past, I’ll blare “Bennington” through my earphones.
I’ll fantasize about how life doesn’t have to be this way. How everything can be art if I let myself see it. Maybe, to someone, I could be that broken toy in the alleyway that is worth noticing. How maybe whatever I am really searching for in my life is right there, across the street, but I just haven’t looked hard enough to spot it yet.
I’ll think about those seven little measly days out of the approximate 92,000 ones that I’ve lived. It’s funny how someone can just step into your life for one single week and show you what the purest form of freedom really feels like.