A stranger’s car bumps with bass and gravel roads. I sit on the back seat’s windowsill, my palms outstretched towards a glowing cross. The distance taunts me. I pray for infinite youth. I breathe in the stench of second-hand oxygen and release carbon. Someone roughly pulls my leg, urging me back in the car. My lungs rise– in and out, in and out. I’m so close to god here but—
The sheer, white curtain shifts in the breeze. It’s fall, but nothing is falling. Nothing but chips of white paint that children scrape off from the arctic of their classroom’s sun-faded globe. But I was talking about the leaves.
Maybe the leaves prefer their branches to the wet, grim ground. Maybe they take pride in embellishing a skeleton. Maybe we all revel in the fact that we are nothing but bare bones encased in a stylish skin suit, that everything we have inside we were born with.
But I was talking about the leaves.
It’s hot for fall– too hot. That is a fact.
The sun is a heat lamp, and under it, we all bake like soft, scaly cookies. The Earth is dying as I drive to the fabric store. I buy white lace. Across town a lover is making funeral potatoes. What a waste of gas and electricity and water and oxygen for a dish that is meant to be enjoyed in memory of the dead. Tonight we eat, for our Earth is dying. After, we will set fire to a tea kettle and wait for its shrill cry. We will burn throats on peppermint tea and regurgitate questions of "when did it get this bad?"
What a waste of gas and electricity and water and oxygen for a question that cannot be answered.
My car rocks with the hot wind of each passing vehicle on a narrow shoulder two miles from an exit. The Earth is dying because we suck its life force and exude its fluids from the dead at such high quantities that we are boiling from the inside out. But I am young and unprepared and I have run out of said liquid. I’m stranded on the highway during five o’clock traffic, 20 miles south of Salt Lake City.
I’m a goldfish whose bowl has begun to bubble beneath the blistering sun.
I’ve run out of gas once before– when I was newly licensed and I drove a little old Jeep with tan seats and doors that creaked when pried apart. My little fish bowl only steamed then. I’m older now, but like most people, I have trouble learning from my mistakes. Yes, I may be bigger, stronger, can run for longer, and my hair touches my stomach instead of my collarbones, but my hands are shaking and I can’t correctly press the numbers 9-1-1. For the last few months I’ve awoken in sweaty sheets from dreams where my fingers kept dialing 9-1-3. I was younger then. Smaller, weaker, my nails chipped off, and my hair came out in tangled clumps at the sound of my father’s voice.
But I’m older now.
Remember Hailey, it’s 9-1-1 not 9-1-3. The voice comes from a distant place inside me; I meet my wild eyes in the rearview mirror.
Hours after my rescue, I flip through cable channels while resting on well worn white sheets, scarfing down cheese pizza and semi cold beer. My pulse has yet to return to a steady beat. The sounds of Naked and Afraid fill my ears. I may have been afraid, I think. But at least I wasn’t naked.
I fall asleep to the sound of my fish bowl bubbling.
Or maybe it was the incessant drip coming from the bathroom sink.
The Earth has been dying long before my conception. Just as it will continue to die long after I am dead and gone.
My mother always tells the story of my first birthday. It was so hot for a November day that a little yellow sundress hugged my chubby arms and my ringlets sagged from the muggy Nampa air. I fisted cake and gazed wide-eyed at the flashes of cameras, unaware of the condition of the world I had been born into. My mother held me tight as she watched skyscrapers fall and burn on live TV; my father’s rough hands pushed my bicycle seat as I wobbled without training wheels; mounds of holiday wrapping paper were tossed in gray bins, and the smell of exhaust from every road trip coated the asphalt.
Decades from now, there will be another little girl whose family celebrates her aging with helium and dry cake and cheap plastic toys made overseas. They will don her in a colorful sundress to conceal their fears about the heat. The girl will smile and cry and shit, just as billions of children have done before her, and the parents will ignore the conditions of the world in which they’ve left for her. She’ll make her own way, they’ll say, trying to swallow their guilt but the bile tells the story of cruise ships, private jets, the rising price of food, rent, and cigarettes.
The girl smiles in child-like oblivion.
September. October. November. A fall between seasons—a liminal space. What will fill this cavity when our fishbowls have become barren and dry? When the earth no longer has such a sacred element to get us to and from kitschy family holidays and sporadic Vegas trips? What will become of us when we’ve wasted life on green, green grass and bubble baths and ice cubes in summer mojitos? When we’ve filled this place we call home with broken mattresses, forgotten toys, and items we can no longer stand to keep? I feel like a child tugging at the hem of my mother’s sagging t-shirt; the cotton strained one too many times with the weight of my questioning fist—mommy, when will the leaves change?
Will we learn to adapt to this ever changing world? Or will we be at a stand still, tugging at the hems of our own shirts in search of a comfort inaccessible to us?
The solid cream curtain in someone else’s room sits at a standstill—parted enough for me to see yellow leaves. A window AC unit rumbles somewhere in the background, a peculiar sound for so late in the fall. There are no doors on the closet, leaving the bare plastic hangers to dangle like a bad omen. It took hundreds of gallons of water to make the "jesus, please holla back…" t-shirt hugging my chest. Hundreds of thousands of liters of precious elements crumpled on the wooden floor in the form of replaceable cotton and linen and denim. My ears ring.
When did it get this bad?
But I was talking about the leaves.
There are still dead leaves gripping onto their barren home in February. The afternoon is abnormally warm, so much so that I shed my jacket on the walk home. A few hours later it begins to snow. "Welcome to Boise," someone says. I read between the lines.
Everything is a blur.
Welcome to the beginning of the end.
My boots leave a singular path in the snow, footfalls muffled by winter’s silence. The ends of my toes go numb with cold as I watch each heel toe, heel toe of my steps. I look behind and realize that mine is the only path in the snow. Walking alone, watching, waiting for tomorrow, for summer, for the day when it will be warm in January and snow in June.
The sky is black but in the distance the night glows with the gleam of a cross.
The light inspires me. From the comfort of my kitchen I write a poem about fucking god and seeing the end of me. About taking comfort in the beginning of the end because it allows me to be everything I want to be all at once. About smashing glass over the kitchen sink, tequila sunrises at sunset, and a bad fiction piece.
Out the window, I watch the wind blow snow flurries over a covered pool, the still water atop the black cloth collecting fall’s forgotten leaves like a decrepit fish bowl.
The thin plastic blinds flutter against one another in a gust of winter air. It’s 20 degrees out but the window next to my bed is open. There’s something comforting about relying on your own heat. It’s something I learned from a lover who only opened their mouth to spit vulgarities into my own and whose chest felt like a space heater. A box I never unpacked sits on the floor. On the nightstand, there’s a mug of peppermint tea that has long since gone cold.
When will it get better?
16 and walking to the gas station with my little red can.
17 and shifting gears in the passenger seat of a burnt red Tacoma.
18 and drinking Coors Light in a humid dorm room, repressing the childhood memory of garbage bins filled with the same cans.
19 and playing a game called life, my character’s name was housewife but I lovingly refer to her as housefly.
20 and learning how to open the door when loneliness knocks.
21 and the ringing of a pinball machine, watching the colorful lights reflect off their eyes.
22 and trying to make sense of it all.
A note falls from between the frame and the door when I open it. It’s from maintenance– please no non-food items in the kitchen sink. I chew on my lip because I know they are referring to the glass I smashed over the kitchen sink last week.
I shrug on a jacket I’ve never washed– the sherpa lining still littered with white and brown pet hair, even though my dog died 5 years ago. I’d choose sentiment over cleanliness any day. I roll my eyes at people who try to critique. When I step outside, I breathe in the stench of dryer vents, holiday desperation, and a world at war with itself.
It’s Valentine's day, and soon landfills will devour chocolate wrappers, last minute teddy bears, and tear-stained tissues.
Bass blares from my headphones as I try to muffle the battle raging within myself.
A cigarette crackles with every inhale. The grass sparkles with midnight dew. In the distance a lamppost’s light blurs. I try to begin to write my bad fiction piece, but my hands shake with drink. We’re packed like sardines into the backseat of an acquaintance’s car, skating across yellow lines and oil stains as I stick my head out the window.
Conversations flow, but I’m just trying to make sense of it all.
Every block of this city has memories.
Here’s the park where I walked with a friend after my first break up, down by the river is where he kissed me. Cross a few streets, and I see me as a frizzy-haired teenage girl streaking through sprinklers. Over there lies a two story house with a balcony— I used to sit above the neighborhood talking about everything and nothing. Up the hill is someone’s home, hallways mapped on the palms of my hands, but I don’t know them anymore. Down that driveway is the place I grew up, but I never lived there at all.
A new memory—
Music thumps with the heartbeat of a crowd too fucked up to know their own addresses. Lights beat off of the eyes in front of me. My friend whips their head too hard and a pair of glasses go flying.
I meet wide eyes in the bathroom mirror and flinch when I recognize them as my own.
I wave goodbye to the bar from the backseat of a stranger's car.
When I finally curl up in bed, I realize I’m too drunk to reminisce on all the memories.
There’s just one-
Morning birds hidden in fog, but their presence is known from their song deep in the treetops. Steam from a coffee mug and a friend’s mouth. Youth's vitality flowing through our veins.
I don’t know what will come first— my end or the Earth’s. My end or the memories. I suppose they die together, like lovers, because without me, they have no vessel to exist. Just as we have no vessel to exist outside of this world we so carelessly inhabit.
One day, we will come to find that the previous day was our last. That tomorrow never came, instead, a nothingness took its place. Isn’t there something beautiful in the uncertainty of it all? We can be everything we want to be all at once because this is all we have.
In the end, all we have is the memories.
But I was talking about the leaves.