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Ashes, by Kevin Wilson

The day of my tenth high school reunion, a bunch of us decided not to go and instead just bought a keg of beer and sat in Danny Painter’s basement and played darts. We were all still living in Coalfield, and it seemed weird to show up at the high school gym and act like this was some unique experience for us, to be back in town. Besides, the people we wanted to see would not know who we were.

I wasn’t drinking because I had stopped drinking four or five years ago. I’d never had a problem with alcohol, but I had worse problems, like the constant urge to set myself on fire or daydreams about killing everyone at work or cutting up my mouth with a piece of glass and then spitting all of the blood into a hole I had just dug in the ground. I was on heavy medication and it reacted badly with booze, so I gave it up. It was better, I surmised, to be sober and not killing everyone around you than it was to be slightly buzzed and covered in gore. My therapist said this was an important distinction and that she was proud of me. It made me happy even though I knew, from the few times we’d run into each other in public, she was a little afraid of me.

There was a guy, Alvin Cathey, who had come back home for the reunion, but had almost immediately been kicked out for doing coke in the bathroom. He had found out about our little gathering, even though he had only tangentially known us, and was taking over, talking about the stupidest shit, all the women he had planned to fuck at the reunion, how the government was turning us all into sheep and that we were pretty much slaves at this point, and how terrible the coke was in Coalfield. He threw the darts with such a lack of concentration that they constantly clanged against the cinderblock walls and fell to the floor. It made me grind my teeth, the sound of the metal tips of the darts getting dulled with his poor aim. 

I took a little tab of Klonazapm, broke it in half, and let it dissolve on my tongue. I felt the satisfaction of the drugs calming me. In group therapy, once a month, people complained all the time about how the drugs dulled their senses and turned them into zombies, and I was always too timid to speak up and say that I appreciated that state of being, of always being three or four steps behind the rest of the world. It was that distance, I felt, that kept me safe. If I did reach out, god forbid, all I would grab was the air.

Alvin finally sat on the sofa next to me and studied my face and then broke into a wide smile. “JT!” he shouted and he punched me in the arm, but I could barely feel it. I noticed that Alvin had heavy dreadlocks and that they smelled like sandal leather. “I haven’t seen you since high school,” he said, as if this was the craziest thing in the world, and I nodded. He kept leaning toward me and I felt like if one of those dreadlocks touched my body, I would dry heave for an hour.

"I have a weird secret to tell you," he said.

"I don’t want to know what it is," I said.

"C’mon. Come outside and smoke a cigarette with me and I’ll tell you."

"I don’t want to go outside. I don’t want to smoke a cigarette," I said.

"Okay, fine. I’ll tell you right here, then. You dated Cammy Schneider, right?"

Cammy Schneider had been my girlfriend in the loosest form of the word. She fucked around with lots and lots of guys, but she liked having me around. I loved her so much, mostly because she was damaged bad and was the first person who talked about awful things with the same kind of intensity that I did. Everybody we knew in high school was really depressed or angry, and most of them were on drugs, but I had killed a turtle with a hammer and Cammy had fucked one of our teachers and then bit off half of his ear. We were messed up in ways that kept us separate from other people, but we could share the secret, awful things we did with each other. Finally, senior year, she drowned herself in Fringe Lake; she had asked me to do it, too, but I couldn’t go through with it. I hid beneath the window in my bedroom while she honked the car horn three times quickly, our signal to meet up. My mom finally went out there in her nightgown and told her to go away. The next day, her mom called me to tell me that she was dead, and, in that moment, I’d never felt so happy to be alive. Of course, that feeling would burn off in just a few seconds, but it made me think that being alive was still better than being dead.

"Man, one time, right after graduation, I was at her house with her younger sister, we had a thing for a little while, and I was bombed out of my mind. It was really late, and her sister had passed out and her parents were out of town, and so I was just wandering around the house, looking around, and I found Cammy’s ashes in a urn on her parents’ dresser."

"Yeah?" I said, my anxiety turning the medicine inside of me to vapors, my legs jittery and spastic. I wanted to run through a wall, but I just sat there and listened to Alvin.

"I opened the urn and, man, I put my dick in the ashes."

"What?" I said.

"I know, man, right? I don’t even know why I did it. It was the weirdest feeling. It was symbolic or something."

I could feel emotion seeping into my bones and animating them. I could feel fire on the very backs of my eyeballs. I could feel, this is the point, and it was distressing to me.

"I don’t want to hear about this," I told him, almost crying now.

"Shit, man, I just wanted to tell somebody. Being back here is stirring up some weird things inside of me," he said, not stopping, not even aware that I was next to him. "We were so fucked up back then, weren’t we?"

I wanted to tell him that I was more fucked up now, that in high school you have the excuse of youth. I could almost feel my mouth forming these words, but instead I grabbed one of the darts that was on the coffee table and I jammed it into his cheek, grinding it against his face until it broke the skin and just kept going. He started howling, his dreadlocks whipping around his face and I ran up the stairs of the basement, out of the house, and I just kept running down the sidewalk back to my mom’s house.

I was not used to strenuous activity and my heels were already aching, so I forced myself to walk, to swing my arms like a normal person, and I put distance between myself and the awful thing I had done. It felt good, to believe that all of the evil inside of me had been concentrated into that act of stabbing Alvin Cathey, and that, as long as I could keep moving, it would forever be lost to me. I thought about Cammy and how she would find this theory to be ridiculous.

"We’re bad," she would tell me, all the time, her mantra.

"No," I would say, resisting every urge I ever had or would have.

"But we so are," she would say, smiling. She would rub against me like she was trying to erase me, and she would keep doing it until, finally, I agreed.

"We’re bad," I admitted.

"We’re the worst," she would then say, and I would be forced to agree. "Every single bad thing, we deserve it," she would say, and I would whimper and nod and let the darkness seep into me.

I thought for a brief second about walking over to the reunion, of stepping into that time again, but I reminded myself that I needed less space, not more, and I put my head down and walked back to the place I had come from, promising myself that I would never again leave, knowing I could not be contained.

Notes

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