I walk into my building and run up the stairs, because apparently someone’s cat has died in its own feces again. Once I’m safely in my room, I exhale in relief, my breath still heavy with Fernet. I sit down on the end of my bed, take off my boots, and toss them into the corner. They hit my trash, and a Heineken bottle falls into one shoe, dripping the last of its contents inside of it. Goddamn it. The way my feet smell, now with beer. Frat boots. Yum. I’m about to change into pajamas, but I hear music coming from the room next door.
Normally, I don’t really pay attention to the sounds from beyond the wall, because it’s just unfortunate that the walls are so thin. I would rather consider the voices part of the nature in Queens than invite the details of strangers’ routines into my own. But this is different, because I’ve never heard music coming from next door. It’s always just banter. The song is slow and haunting, and although it has a familiarity to it, I’m sure I’ve never heard it before. While I know it’s strange, I feel the need to find out more about it. It’s possible I’m still a little drunk, but that’s never stopped me from doing anything.
I open my door and walk into the hall in my socks. My toe pokes through the right sock onto the cold tile in the hall, and it bothers me. The hallway floor in our building is no place for the toe of a lady. I bend it to shrink it back into the sock to little avail. Another song has started, and it sounds something like the first one. I walk a few steps and put my ear to the neighbor’s door. And maybe I’m just a bad person…well, baby, I know…my curiosity trumps my hesitation, and I see my fist rise up and knock on their door. Fuck. I think about running back into my place, but that seems stupid, so I wait when I hear footsteps approaching.
The door opens, and a pale, skinny guy with stringy brown hair opens the door. “Hello?” he says.
“Um…Hi. I’m Gretchen…” my face turns red, betraying my determination to play it cool. “I live next door. I heard your music playing, and I thought it was great, so I was just curious what it was.”
“Because Shazam doesn’t exist and all.”
“I’m kidding—just being an asshole. I’m Jed. Want to come listen?” I look past him into his dim apartment. For being next door, it looks far more dismal than mine, but I spot a record player behind him.
“Oh, it’s vinyl?”
“Yah…Of Monsters and Men. You don’t know them? Their song “Little Talks” was wildly popular like two years ago.”
“Oh, that’s why it sounded familiar. Weird. OK, now I look like a total retard. Yeah, I’ll come listen to some.” He opens the door, allowing me to walk through into his room. It’s a studio, which surprises me, because I only ever heard about two or more bedroom apartments in the building. He flips the record and starts the other side as I glance around to size up my surroundings.
The glass over the light on his ceiling is cloudy and has little shadows in it suggesting an insect graveyard, and the air is slightly more humid than in the rest of the building. The smell of tobacco, weed, and sweat hang in the air, reminding me of the time Hem and I lived in a room in a frat house our sophomore year of college. Jed seems about thirty-five, so I briefly wonder how he’s never heard of air freshener, windows, or even deodorant. Strange. “So what do you do?”
“I’m an actor.”
“Kidding. I dropped out of NYU ten years ago and I’ve been working at the corner grocery ever since. That’s kind of just something to do. I’m living off the money I got when my parents died.”
“Jeez, I’m sorry, dude.”
“Thanks. I’m OK—it was a while back, while I was in school. They were on this plane home from California, and something went wrong with the engine of the plane. Only a few people survived the crash. They thought my dad might make it, but he didn’t pull through the surgeries in the ER. Anyway, not trying to air my sob story, so how about listening to the music?”
“Yeah, sure.” After a song, he sticks his hand in a drawer in his desk and pulls out a small, lacquered wooden box. He opens it, and holds it out:
“Dude, what the fuck is all that shit?”
“Whatever you want.”
“Are you the one who gets little packages in the mail downstairs all the time? I always thought it might be some sort of Silk Road type situation.”
“Those are my packages, but all that shit is actually collectable Pokemon merch.”
“Yes. All this shit is from my boy at the store. Xanex, Klonopin, molly, I have some weed over here if you prefer something a little lower on the guilt spectrum.” His face is pale and drawn, and I suddenly realize I’m hanging out with a total junkie. Awkward. “If you’re into the harder stuff, I’ve gotta say, I’ve been listening to this music on heroin lately, and it’s like the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
“Fucking heroin? Are you serious? Like, the last thing I need in my life at this moment in time is to a) get addicted to heroin, b) overdose on heroin, or c) all of the above!” He looks slightly embarrassed.
“Sorry…I…we can just listen…I smoked too much weed before, and, um—“
“No, it’s OK. I’ll smoke some weed and listen to the other disk with you. Sorry for being a drug prude, but just no in regards to heroin in general. I would probably tell you that you should stop, but I’m not like your mom or anything. Fuck….um…sorry.”
“OK, let’s just stop talking and smoke some.” We take a couple hits from his bong, and he puts on the second disk. I’m starting to relax after all the excitement from the events of the day, but I’m still trying to avoid thinking about whether or not to go back to work. Curiosity gets the best of me after a while, and I re-open the conversation.
“Do they make your situation easier? The drugs and shit?” Jed looks up, eyes a little glazed. He looks like he would be handsome if he took a shower and changed his shirt, and that makes me sad.
“For a little. But it never goes away. I’ve made my peace with it, though. Hard to do, but I did.”
“God, dude, I couldn’t imagine what that fucking takes.” I take another big bong hit and hold my breath while he begins to talk.
“Shit got so bad after they were gone. I left school, I didn’t have any money, I lived on the street for a week. But then my extended family found me and set me up here with the money my parents left me. I wasn’t totally alone, but I wanted to be for a while. I spent the first year in here just thinking it all through. Trying to understand where to go from there. I never really believed in religion…to me, the idea was that god was like some excuse…like just some sort of…”
“Like a scapegoat.”
“Yeah. So after they were gone, trying to grapple with having no faith in heaven and knowing that they were gone-gone. Forever. Finding out that loss is permanent, not temporary. That no one is ever ready to lose, but it happens, and that’s it. Like, it changed the whole world for me.”
“I don’t keep anything now. Everything I own, I consider a rental, and everything I buy, I throw out after a bit. I delete my pictures, documents, whatever. Being ready to lose everything at any moment feels more sensible to me.” Fuck, this is some heavy shit I walked into.
“I understand that. People love things and each other, and losing is such a major stress. Like, losing people is terrible, but we maybe shouldn’t be so wrapped up in attaching ourselves to material things only to stress when they eventually break, get lost, stolen, et cetera?”
“I’ve never lived that way, but I am one for living for today over the future. I don’t plan. Just take each day as it comes and trust the adventure.”
“What do you mean ‘trust the adventure’?”
“Just to know that all good things in the past occurred on random days when maybe they were least expected, and that will continue to happen at any random time. So if you trust the adventure, you accept that life could bring anything to you at any given time. Bad or good. And it’s a dead end, literally and metaphorically, because there’s no end-game to trusting the adventure. We all end up in the dirt. But it’s sort of like being open to existing, because all other methods of living involve goal-orientation, waiting, and future-living. And we both know the future is highly uncertain.”
“I see you’ve thought a bit in your day. How the fuck old are you?”
“Old enough to know better.”
“Twenty-four,” I grin.
“Well, twenty-four-year-old-Gretchen who trusts the adventure, what would you like to do today?”
“Today? I was gonna go to bed before I came here. It’s two AM now.”
“Night is a technicality, isn’t it?”
“Well, yes, but I’m actually really stoned now, and I’m tired as fuck. I can’t believe I’m even talking right now.”
“Would you like to go to Canada tomorrow?”
“Canada? I just lost my job. I’m broke. I mean…”
“I have a lot of money. Let’s go. Just like a week. All of this trip is on me. You can teach me to trust the adventure.” I’m not entirely sure what to say, especially considering how high I’ve gotten, so I agree. What else would I do during my indefinite unemployment?
“Alright, let’s talk in the morning. I’m so fucking tired. I’m going to bed, but if you still want to be my vacation sugar daddy tomorrow, text me.” I put my number in his phone and say goodnight. “It was nice to meet you, Jed.”
“Mm.” He is smiling with his eyes half shut, slouched to the side in his navy beanbag chair. I walk out of his place and shut the door, and I feel the cool tile on my right big toe. Ew. I walk into my place, lock the door, and face-plant onto the couch. I don’t remember the last time I felt so tired. And a little sad. I drift off to sleep, and the little pit in my chest dissolves into the night.