Hellbent and Chapstick
Tins of lip balm impress ovals into the backs of my khakis. My lips look like streets after earthquakes, the way my tongue attacks them, and in my younger years they called me “Pitbull” because of that habit. But I no longer buy Chapstick. I can’t stand the smell or look. It makes me break into sweats even when my wife or someone in one of my classes put on lipstick. I have to sigh and say, “It’s a mirage, Conner. Hold onto yourself.” When they do this, I turn around and bite my lips.
I’ve thought about sewing pockets in my coats. Secret ones to hold my balm like Kennedy’s barbiturates.
My vision is failing now. I don’t wear Clubmasters anymore. I wear horn rims and plaid and corduroys and grey flannels. I stand in front of the mirror some mornings, knowing long ago I’d have called myself a faggot.
I totaled two cars in my youth: one a cherry red Cavalier I drove into the side of a mountain, high more off the frenzied death beat of the Sex Pistols “Pretty Vacant” than any chemicals, despite my Ritalin and stale beer bender the night before. I totaled another car with a golf club. I thought killing his car would drive his lust farther away from whatever girl I too lusted for and into his hands or the sewers. I was hell with golf clubs.
The car I loved the most was a Japanese something, its skin looking like it caught a venereal disease. I brought violence to the gas pedal, angry at its insistence on tempting me.
I don’t know what made me like that. I grew up in a nice little house with an apple tree in my front yard. I played Little League baseball. My high school was neutral regarding me. I still remember the first violent act I ever committed, but I elect not to speak on it; we all believe our first time we made love fascinating. It was the same each time – the subject plain: a girl whose aroma reeked of polyester that took me into the boiler room at school (there are marks on my back to prove it) or a snotnose who kicked my favorite Tonka truck into a creek. After each, I desired to stand atop the nearest building, proclaim myself God of the place, and smite my challenger. It was all proving. You had made it into a club of fist fighters and fornicators, of tough, salacious bastards.
So I chased that feeling; that desire to stand high and scream who I was and why it should be known, to make myself a suzerain and sultan of nothing in particular. Allow me to point out I was no sociopath. I hit men when reasonable; they knew it was coming, and I never hit a woman. It was stupid behavior. But it was logical. This was my third birth, my heart pumping the pure speed Ritalin highs could never touch. Society didn’t reject me. I simply left. There were things I wanted and people attaching clanging, taunting bells to them. I wanted to please myself and hurt no one so on nights I was alone I could look in the mirror and say, ‘I did okay.’ I wanted a life without regrets. I wanted them slow when the desire to go fast ceased. The regrets come now at the sound of Johnny Rotten’s siren yell or revving engines. Or when I see a pair of Clubmasters or Chapstick.
I was big and lovable with an undercurrent of brutality. The understanding was this: I would clock anyone who stepped to or looked like they would. I took nothing from no one. And when I gave it to them, it was with two well worn Chapstick tubes in each palm, never used. And in the winter, when I kept my lips wet with my tongue, I convinced myself someone was coming for me or attempting to give to me something they might just regret.
There were many girls I wanted, plenty I had, but only Heather Thacker matters. She was tan, blonde with claimed Native American roots. I had heavy interest in her. We went to the fair the week before, sharing funnel cakes with dust trapped in the weaves and watching ducks at the farm exhibit walking up and down the little steps to slide down into the dirty pool. The cotton candy looked like an outgrowth of her lips. Some nights I’d dream I’d go to her house and men were all around, and I’d look up at the full moon and watch my hands splay, my nails curve, and my face get long. And out my mouth would come a deafening howl as I threw a man into the woods, and then I would wake, aching up and down, and my mouth dripping. We’d lie in bed together, and I’d tell her my dreams. She smiled.
I went to her house one day. She left her door unlocked, and I walked inside. They kept their washing machine and dryer in the kitchen. She wore bad jeans and a worse sweatshirt. “Hey.” Two sheets, crimson with spots of cream.
“Jesus!” I shouted. “What happened to those!” I knew her answer would be either ashamed or awkward with an excuse.
“Oh, you know. Nothing.”
Her face went red. “Randall McCoury came over.” My nostrils flared, I imagined my fingernails getting longer. “I see. And you’re washing those sheets why?”
She looked down, grabbed detergent, and acted as she had never seen it before, reading the instructions carefully. “I can’t talk about it.”
I wanted to howl but instead I said, “I don’t like this. I should leave.” I drove away from her house, my hair looking a bit longer in the mirror. I drove around until I found a big house on a hill with boarded up doors. I laid waste to every window with a golf club, hoping the sky would go mauve and then velvet purple and I could scream and eat the dead wood. I slept in my car with my clothes covering me. Mom knew I was wont to come and go, and I got a friend to call me in that favor. The next day I awoke, dressed, lusted for red meat. I went to Dice’s on Main, a diner. I walked inside, seeing the old men in golf jackets and windbreakers. A Pepsi sign behind the count missing the S sat like a crown for Old Man Dice himself, who stood smiling. I liked to believe he expected me.
“Hey Conner!” he shouted. I sat down.
“I’ll have three hamburgers and a chocolate milk.” The second I said milk, Randall McCoury walked inside. I knew him and nothing had changed about him since I met him: he still had his typical bucked teeth which he may have made up for with great endowment. He wore a Yankees hat low and gauze around his wrists. He sat beside me.
“How are you, McCoury?”
“Rough. Were you been?”
“About. Burning up roads.”
“Yeah, you getting any lately?”
“I’ll tell you if you tell me.”
“I been seeing some people.”
“Look at you, you big bastard! Anybody I know?”
“Yeah, I’d think so.”
My chocolate milk sat on the table. I took a drink of it. “What do you think about Heather Thacker? Thought I’d get your opinion.”
“Yeah, she’s cool.” He said. I fished my Chapstick out of my pockets. With a single quick movement, I took the back of my palm against the bill of his Yankees hat. Bloody bandages covered the top of his head.
“Funny, I went to see her earlier. Her sheets looked like a pig got stuck on them. And she mentioned you.”
He shrugged. I put the Chapstick down and I tore the tape off of his head. “OW! FUCK!” He shouted. Tiny cuts covered his temples. He ran to the bathroom, so I followed him. He stood at the sink. He took the bandages off his wrists. Blood flowed freely and his mouth quivered ‘God kill me.’ These weren’t cuts. These were holes.
I left it to God without paying, Chapsticks in my hands. One look at them, and they flew across the street.
I don’t understand entirely how I got here, but I felt deep in my gut a thirst for words to describe McCoury’s wounds. I sicken myself when I look back, hellbent on another’s blood when they possibly couldn’t control a thing.
And nights when I navel gaze so long I get sick, I lay to dreams of Randall McCoury, holding a flaming sword and wearing a white cloak, knocking me into dead woods while I beg for God to kill me.