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Wet Hot American Bummer!

by Jon Hastings 5 months ago in Relationships · updated 5 months ago
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Love and Loathing in North Carolina

my best friend died when we were twenty-four.

trouble was, i wasn’t there at the time. i was off 'round at mine, which is in part why i felt so bad about it. i couldn't do anything to save him. not that i knew what was going on. that and the fact that it wasn’t his fault. got caught up in a dui. the person who did it never came forward. they found him the next morning. said he would’ve lived if they called the cops. ended up haemorrhaging to death behind the wheel. coughing up blood and choking on it until no end.

we were friends since the start of uni. there was nothing much to our encounter. if anything, i didn't really like him at the time. he had a bit of his father in him: good, old straight boy. he had the handshake mentality too, charming smile. i kinda didn’t want to let on too much. he was a nice guy, but you know me, there's no going back after his handshake turned to a hug. and that smile. it sort of just stuck with me.

i didn’t get to see the body, closed casket. parents didn't really want anyone seeing him, or at least they didn't want to see him again. the morgue was probably too much for them.

i think it would do the same to me, given i didn't see him. though, i was kinda pissed off with them. i would’ve been nice to see him. i can't really remember what he looks like anymore, ‘cept in the pictures. we didn’t get many pictures together though, so it's a compilation of birthday shots and nights out of him. it’s sad. sadder that i kinda fell in love with him.

think the worst thing about it was how lonely he would’ve been. alone in that car. dying like you do. it still kills me. it really does.

love does weird things to you. makes you miss a person before they die, before you know it’s the end. makes you miss a person when they're right there. crippling you after.

i hate how lonely you were before it all happened.

i hate that i wasn't there.

i hate that i don't even know what the last thing you thought was.

i don't even know what passed your lips last.

i still look at the last text i sent you.

*

i started at the camp the summer after. soon after. like, i didn’t really know what to do after it all. too caught up in the idea of him and how he didn’t even know what was going to happen. it all felt too far away. needed to get away. it was horrible. even at parties, i would find myself thinking about him. stuck at the back of a room wishing he were here to calm me.

southern comfort and lemonade. him. a song came on that we listened to while getting stoned. him. the reflection in a mirror, and it was him. it was always him. you know how it goes. i would stand outside for ages, chain smoking tabs, pretending i felt like i would normally feel. but he wasn’t there.

so i flew out to america. like i said, summer camp. sun, lakes, mountains, green. away from it all. hoping to help with the mounting depression that was hovering over me. the worst thing was, for the first couple of hours of the flight to north carolina; i was sobbing so hard, the girl next to me kept asking if i was alright. and i just kinda shunned her off and got something to drink to take the edge off. or maybe, i was just drinking because it was easier to do after all this time. something to think about. something to feel numb to it all. something to remind me of him.

i guess, i got there though. to the sound of silence and the wind rushing through the trees in the distance. and, for a moment, it all sort of stuck with me. for a moment, it all sort of felt perfect. for a moment, i could feel you here.

for a moment.

for a second, i forgot that you were a part of my life again.

made it worse though, like he never existed at all. ‘cept my memory. like all those little moments were all lost. seeped into old film. like tears in the rain. and the smell of you still vanishes. i don’t understand it. like the couch still depresses like it did. i can still feel you next to me.

i don’t want you to fade out.

but, dying kinda gets you like that.

keeps you questioning if any of it were real.

the sun was nice though, summer. we were there before the kids turned up, the group of us. made me feel kinda peaceful. how everything went down. sort of simple and tragic. i used to spend my mornings, six am, listening to the sound of the world before having another couple of hours out and about. a last tab. watching the sunrise. refusing to fly the flags with the anthem. back to bed before we started planning activities.

there was the chief there who would always be in her cabin, looking over paperwork and kicking back sunflower seeds 'cause she stopped smoking just before this season and got into the habit now. apart from her, there were only a few others. jany, pigtails and doing this to get some inspiration before she took on new york to be a writer. we talked a lot. matt, one of those guys who talked about going to the gym and had little else to add. i hoped he had, but i tried to keep contact down to a minimum given his fascination with gains. then there’s garry, with two r’s. nice smile, nice hair, soft and swooping, and that beard. he’s kinda alright. he's pretty fit actually. made the uniformed blue and yellow polo look good. even the shorts.

that was it. a couple of people left over that would be knocking back in a week or so. had some issues with their flights, or paperwork and that. if they were coming at all.

so most of the time, there was very little going on.

i was sat with jany after missing breakfast for sleeping in. though chef tells me if i wanted anything to just drop in. but breakfast was never really on my mind most of the time. a coffee. or the scenes. or a run - yeah, got into it recently - were more important. it was nice out most days and it passed the time. started to see my stomach getting smaller after the years of drinking every night. just one of those, i guess. found a nice spot looking over it all.

so, yeah, now i’m sat with jany, out down the pier. this little outstretch of wood that cuts into the lake so perfectly. the sun’s so nice that you can see our feet sort of hanging over the edge in the reflection. and when you look over there’s just the infinite sky and us existing there.

yeah.

'what do you think those two are doing?' i start to swing my legs a little back and forth. the slightness of them brings ripples to the top of the water. it’s still a little murky, but there's mountains in the distance and we're both eclipsed by trees. silhouettes and all pulsing long against the soft dirt.

‘sports? jerking each other off behind the cabins?’ jany mutters.

‘yeah, i wish.'

‘course,’ she smiles. 'they seem too straight to actually be, you know?’

'can’t get enough of themselves though.'

'glad you’re here.' she throws an arm around me and it still takes me by surprise ‘cause he did it. he used to do it all the time.

'it’s nice to have someone else here…'

'with the same predicament.'

'yeah.'

death and queerness can kinda get you down out here. just the way it goes most of the time. it's all fun and rainbows and stoning and outlawed in seventy-two countries. after a while, you just sort of accept to live with it. the way it all goes.

'it gets easier.' she must have noticed how drained i look, more than usual.

'don’t know how you do it, parents so redneck as they are.'

'they’re not bad people. just religion and cans runs through their veins. homophobic. it’s sort of harrowing after some years. but you get used to it. brush it off.’

'do you?'

‘umm… why do you think i’m out here?’

she looks off at the horizon. i look the same way. trapped by the sky and how the clouds just whistle away and curl above us. it’s too much to take. most of the time. too much to take. i breathe a little too much and she adjusts her arm so her fingers dig into my shoulder. and it's enough to turn me.

'what’s left after this?’ i ask.

'what do you mean?'

'what’s left after all of this?’

a pause.

'just the slow earth. and everyone we’ve touched.'

'sorry, i'm just…’

'i know.'

'i know you do.'

'it gets easier.'

'i don’t think it does. i'm scared we just keep losing touch with people until there’s nothing, no-one left.'

'it gets easier,' she pauses and the way everything is all settling into each other. the lake lapping at the roots and the roots spelling into the trees and the leaves bristling in the morning heat and the little mist pooling off and slipping the air above and it all feels so calm and beautiful and i'm going to cry again looking at the slowly rising sun and the sky and the shouts in the distance blanketed by the wind on us and the prickle of the mountains. ‘you forget everything in the end.'

‘i don’t think i can,’ i say, wanting to believe it.

then the touch and the breeze and how…

having him around sometimes.

imagining him around sometimes.

i jump in the lake.

*

it’s days later and everything feels sort of deflated. when it happened, i sort of retreated and drank too much and it was all too much too much too much too much too.

stop.

my eyes are sore. it keeps coming back, though. i miss him like i can’t even see his family anymore. i miss him like i did back then.

still.

all the time now. like i know it’s getting late. i remember when i met you. same sky. stars. i hate it. everyone is exactly the same though. i hate that it’s the same though. it’s all in my head, and i can’t sneak anymore booze out of the chief’s room. hidden. i feel sick.

keeps me sane though, like the caps kicking in.

like it used to.

like you used to.

watching you spin around and around.

smile the way it was.

light the way it was.

i must look out of it, feel out of it, ‘cause jany comes over while i’m pissing off work again. looking out of the long windows in this cabin. sitting so softly on one of the wooden blocks. they store things under them over the winter, lilos and fold-up chairs and that.

'how’re you feeling?' i look up at her. she has a face-on and i feel bad because the chief had her up early setting up the rec hall with garry. tables, chairs, flags, decorations, and that. i’m having a moment. been with matt in laundry, ironing the bed sheets for some time and distributing them around camp.

'aye, good. you finishing a cuppa?’ she says it like me and then sits down next to me, shuffles a little. 'you good?’

umm…

'i thought this place would be hard work, but fuck me. i don’t get paid enough.'

'thought that would be enough for the experience. but so far, it’s just been sweat, mosquito bites, and period cramps.' she raises her shoulders. 'they only have light tampons here and i ran out of my super. how are they expecting a girl to go on like this? i go through like four a day.'

'there’s gonna be none left for the campers when they come,’ i try to laugh.

i try.

'how're you?'

and she pauses long enough for the birds to regain their sound. a subtle wind. something about the way the sun glistens through the windows, highlighting the edge of the tree leaves. pretty lights drifting in and out; it settles me. 'yeah, ok, only a week left until the campers come.'

'i know. i thought it would be more like parent trap,' i huff a laugh out, all short. don’t know why, probably the exhaustion. there's only four of us and i'm so tired all the time. the fresh air is doing me good though. i’ve stopped smoking at least. didn’t really want one, another one, after his pack ran out. it was always our thing. 'but it’s pretty small. don't know how i’d cope if there were like, a mountain of kids.'

'it’s why i took this job. it’s a little smaller. less hassle and allegedly less restrictions.'

'don’t think i would be able to do any longer than a month.'

'i know what you mean.'

there it goes again. nature all coinciding. i remember the dry fog from the morning.

'oh, so this is where you are.' garry comes in like he does. says something else, like he does. it's attractive though. topless. has hair sprouting all over his chest. still has that glisten from his swim. 'where's matt?'

'said he was going back to bed for a bit.' i look over at him, try to hide a blush, then i look at jany: all doughy eyed and that, like she knows i fancy him.

'i'm gonna get back to work,’ she smiles at me all soft and i feel like she's going to start laughing. she says i have poor type. it's true. i fall for all the straight lads. cheeky, nice smile, and some body hair is all i'm after really. doesn’t do it for most people. just the ones i want to be with.

‘ok,' i smile at her just as garry gets up next to me.

'don't be a stranger,’ garry waves to her.

it's only when she's gone that he clips me on the back, 'how are you holding up? chief keeping you… god, you're tense.'

he places two hands on me, and the weight of the warmth sort of takes me by surprise. i almost jump out of my skin.

'calm down. god, you're tight.' i almost start laughing, but i just put my face in my hands. 'you've got knots all over. do you mind?'

‘no, not at all.'

he keeps talking for a minute while he presses on my back and he talks and it feels so delicate and i can't stop thinking: god, that when it's all over, will he ever touch me again?

and for a while, it's almost like he's here somehow.

i feel sick.

i don’t want to cry in front of him.

*

i'm out back watching the way the world sort of glistens so peacefully between the stems and the open air. sort of stills me. i listen for everything. anything.

and the distinct lack of cicadas. i don't even know if they're around here. but it would be nice. they remind me of summer. they remind me of walking through japan. they remind me of everything and how the tarmac gets so soft in the heat. how it takes so long to get anywhere.

i'm out sweeping, cleaning the paths and watching the sky as it tucks me in. the spires as the contrails trickle against everything. it seems like there should be a soundtrack for these moments. absolutely. but really. it's everything, and everything seems to settle so quickly. i think the smell is what really takes over. the flap of the flags around camp. pulsing red and blue. dead. the beach surrounding the lake. med. beautiful in this sunlight. gentle.

having him around sometimes. again. moving like he was hexed. all down his neck.

'shouldn't you be at work?' it's the chief, all solid and post-army, the way she does. the way she walks and the way she sort of struts. so precise. it takes too much of myself to really hold back. loss of free will really gets to me. it's more than this job really requires. perfection doesn't work if it's just some toxic straight writing it all.

they don't understand anything at all.

'i am.'

'looks like you're slacking off.'

i walk off.

‘you can’t keep taking my booze. i know it’s you.’

‘don’t make it so easy to break into.’

she says something like, 'you'll be fired by the end of the week.’

i think, like i do.

then i speak:

‘you won't survive without me.’ a pause. ‘no-one else is coming.’

*

‘chief?’

'that obvious, huh?'

it’s garry. walking like he does, with so much purpose. and it’s his smile, all curling up his face, pressing his stubble into this wonderful forever.

'that obvious.’

he sits down next to me, we’re in the woods. pretty far up. the view is so nice out here. everything sort of coalescing. the colours. burning into me. he would love it.

'how did you find me?'

'you always come out here.'

he lives like he does.

'i thought it was secret.'

he wraps his arm around me. i feel infinite again.

'i notice these things.'

we stay like this for a bit. and even though he’s here. i can’t stop looking at the view. the way the world sort of wisps like it does. the sun duplicating the world on the lake into this odd multiverse. the soft silence with our breaths.

i miss home.

i hate myself.

we should go out.

like we used to dance.

‘i’m sorry.’

‘what for?’

i start crying. garry just keeps his arm on me.

*

i’m out checking that all the lake inflatables are okay. blowing them up. testing them for holes. dipping them in the water. and the way they sort of hang so delicately on the surface, rippling all up on a tide.

soft.

and it’s all quiet out, except for the whoosh. the harsh air. in. out. in. out. heavy. light. heavy. the sky and the trees pointing and swaying so delicately.

i stop for a while. watching the lake. i look back at the four cabins and how they sit so delicately against the green. doesn’t feel right. it’s not like the ocean. though it is so calming, the lap of the water. but no-one is connected the same. like what the sea does.

i should go home.

sitting down. laying down. the sky. i think of him. i think of everything. how we’ll never be young again. how he’ll never get this old again. garry. him. the plane. the pain. the soft way it all sort of feels when the grass touches my body.

i want a drink.

i see jany on the horizon. i wave. tonight, i’ll wait until the chief leaves her cabin for her nightly checks. we'll sneak in. hack her safe. get some gin again. we don’t really care. jany’s just there for me in times like this.

*

'when is the first time you got laid?'

it's matt. he’s drank far too much since we got here. everyone has. not sure why we shared it with him. fired up. but honestly. i was right. she can’t do it without us. kids are only a couple of days away. it’s fine though. we’ll be missing out if not. and we’ve done everything we need to do.

we all get like this when we want to explore, all stuck alone. and now i’ve done it. jany’s done it. and the way garry’s looking my way. of course he would do the same. to feel like this. he’s smiling. like he does.

'we're not getting into this,' jany says, 'cause she looks at me and she's right. it's just some stupid conversation that shouldn't exist. i know we're drinking shit. but it's never this. this is the sort of stuff you talk about when you're alone with someone.

'why?'

'the first time is always the worst, and virginity is a social construct.' i'm surprised that garry says it first. i look over at jany and she smiles like maybe he's one of the good guys. guys, like maybe he actually understands what's going on.

'okay then, how old were you?'

'does it fucking matter?' jany has had far too much and honestly, i'm here for it.

'whoa, i was just asking a…'

'it's not a question,' i say, tracing circles in the soft beach. it feels nice at this time, and i almost forget that i'm in the middle of a conversation.

‘okay…' matt sort of goes quiet. he takes another sip of his drink, finishes it off, wipes his chin and that for the bits that dribble down. 'i was just asking.’

‘bit insensitive.’ it’s garry.

matt shrugs his shoulder, then: ‘right, i’m off to bed,' he coughs and the three of us sort of look at each other like i guess we do now.

‘night.’

‘night,’ he says, making a stand and when did garry stop liking him. is it because of all the shit i told him about overhearing matt and the chief talking about confederate flags and abortion laws and how it all doesn’t really sit right with me.

i don’t know.

but then, it's just the three of us and the sound of the world around us. this is what i wanted.

jany looks at me and then the campfire and takes one last sip of her drink.

‘right, i’m going to hit the hay…’ jany sips the last of her glass even though there’s nothing left. just to get the dregs out.

‘see you in the morning,’ we both say.

i watch as she faces out. it’s so quiet as the twigs snap underneath her feet.

‘it’s so nice tonight,’ he says.

with the fire tickling the air, brushing orange light onto the trees, and the slowly breeze whispering in our ears. it is nice out. the moon. the pinprick of stars and he looks so fit in this place.

another sip. another look. and i’m thinking like i do again.

then i… 'i'm scared all the good memories will fade out.'

i look at him in the eyes and he smiles all soft. he looks gorgeous next to the glow of the campfire.

'i'm scared i'm missing out. and that nothing will feel the same again.'

he places his hand on my leg and i can feel myself sinking under.

'i'm…' scared of losing everyone and he's stroking my leg and it was so hard to feel like i could get over everything and he looks so beautiful. i miss how everything used to be and he looks like everything i want him to be. the heat. the truth. the air. i'm missing out.

i smile. take a sip. drink. watch the fire burn into the air and there's not much time left. whatever that means.

he kisses me.

pulls away.

and i go in, to kiss him again.

*

it's after, when he's asleep, and i’m scrolling on my phone, and i look at the last text from you.

still frozen on the white screen, the pops of blue and grey and blue and grey and blue and grey and blue and then:

'come over, i need to speak to you. i think i’m in love with you.'

Relationships

About the author

Jon Hastings

Creative Writing Masters - Newcastle University - UK

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