My name is Lyle. I’ll leave it at that so far as ID. I’ll go on however to say that, if you’re feeling generous, I may contain multitudes. I may be dense with potential. I’m a failure in so many words. I’m tired of feeling this way and so I’m trying to contain those words myself, to write them out. I want my feelings to be expressed so I might move on from them. I want to put some distance between myself and this place wherein I find myself. Other night I went to the gas station only to find half of my face still caked with black makeup. I live in sorrow. My days are full of thorns, people and bosses. I tend toward the sad, the weary. I’m an avid person though, romantic. I want to contain the world. I am a male but I would like a womb to contain the world. I should be so lucky.
I think I’ve slept for most of my life. I don’t mean it literally. I mean that as I graduated high school, as I saw my youth pass, I had these glazed eyes and didn’t care to open them beyond mere ability to see. Sometimes this can happen. Sometimes people aren’t meant to express themselves in any recognizable way. My father was, by and large, this way. He had nasty tendencies, though. He’d hurt my mother loudly. I think this is what happened, anyway. I was sleeping.
Lately I’ve returned. I work now at the high school where I used to hide away. When you’re young everybody’s terrible. When you grow up everything’s terrible. Something changes between these in that things get worse, darker. Mostly, however, they are the same.
Each day I put on gray coveralls that you have seen. I push a cart that was given to me by an old man. This old man, my predecessor, had lost his wife. His kids were away, succeeding. This old man had lived a full life before this work. Then, losing his wife, his children, he found himself wanting. This old man sought work and found the position he’d occupied for seven years before I took it on. He trained me for a few weeks and then supervised, then left entirely. I think he might be dead.
The cart holds a garbage can that I’ll fill three or four times each day, depending. Kitchen staff attend to their cans and I’m grateful for it. Some days, events or come what may, I might focus primarily on trash. The school isn’t large. It would take an event or more to fill my can beyond three or four times each day, I’m saying. I remember when I was younger, going here, and we’d attempt to fill the can from distances with paper cartridges of milk. These were shaped like ships or small homes. We called them cartridges, and lofted them into the janitor’s can as he’d walk by. Looking back he’d never register this, even once maintaining composure when my cartridge of chocolate milk pelted his chest and landed. I’m now more understanding of his intimacy with death and suffering.
So anyway, I don’t live in my father’s basement. So anyway, I’ve got my own place. I’m fairly certain the person who lived here previous was a criminal, a felon. He left quickly and so far as I can tell the rent plummeted. My neighbors pay dearly. I pay a pittance because some crook likely opened his scalp where I eat my dinners. Give and take, sure. I spend my days when not working walking around this area. I like to grab a pizza, maybe, or Chinese, and sit with it staring off. I’d like to say I appear as some kind of threat. I hate this town, is all. I don’t think that’s what happens, though. Sometimes people recognize me and laugh. The worst is the high school kids. They’ll get pizza themselves, sure. Chinese, whatever. They’ll be out to eat and talking, talking and building their lives together. They’ll look over and see me, it’s often tough to stomach.
Then, after this, then, I’ll often try to make for the city. You understand, I hope. This town where I work is small but aware enough. They talk, you see. They’ll talk, each and all of them. I’m not a fan of talkers. I’m a fan of light. So what do I do?
In my room I go to the closet. There I’ve hung them, and others. Most nights I’ve got these leather pants, sure. I’ve got my T-shirts. I’ve got my boots, they shine a bit. I’ll put these on and sort of air my hair a bit. Somewhere when I was younger I loved KISS. Now they’re just O.K., mostly morons. I think maybe that’s where it started, though. So I’ll put on black lipstick. I’ll put on eye makeup and smear it down. I’ll light some Salems and put on my music. I’ll put on Pentagram. I’ll put on Venom. I’ll put on Saint Vitus and sort of air out. I’m tall, you see. My outfit’s black. My pants are leather. Living when I live, then, it can be tough to feel free. So where to go? I’ve found some places. I like the leather bars on karaoke nights. Mostly people there will want a pickup. It’s fine, sure. I’ve made it with men and women. I’ve dated a bit. I don’t go for this, though. I like the sounds. I like to feel a speaker press my body. Sometimes a burlesque, maybe, but often I’ll worry about teachers on a whim. Bored depressives with throbbers. Have at it, I mean. I’m O.K. with all types. I just want noise.
My favorite kind of blurs the whole bit. These barflies from the ’70s and ’80s had taken it upon themselves to give strange metal bands and such their due. Having no patience, however, for meatheads and fascism, they catered to groups of outsiders who’d play pool and dance, drink and come together, take drugs or write their names on walls. Some performance endeavor rumored to have been Prince’s fallback had his tenure at First Avenue, proved too tame, and these lifers took it upon themselves to keep his assless chapseat warm. Good citizens, all.
I’d like to state, however, a pressing thing: it took me fucking years to find my way. Where I worked, forget it. You find all sorts of lonely gentlemen after handjobs in parking lots. I partook. I’m grateful I partook as I was lonely too, but something always missed. I sat in audiences at drag shows and queer karaoke nights in otherwise square bars with no sense of welcome. I wore out my eyes on the internet until having eventually to masturbate myself to stupor. It took me fucking years.
I used to read a lot about New York and want to go there, before AIDS and before David Wojnarowicz had to sew his lips shut and before the murder and definition and language seeped through everything. I wanted bodies in rooms and their voices muffled against what? A shoulder or bathroom divider. It was my way home of seeking peace I think. I was always performing. I don’t know that this is a bad way to live. We have jobs, right? We have accounts and ways of being sought and keys to apartments and homes. We have children and responsibilities and worlds. I feel that we earn performance through this, even brief stints of fucking in cars, bodies blurring. The more I worked the more I drenched myself in black.
One day in question I had found myself hiding frequently at work. This happened often. I became tired of the same faces staring at me as I pulled their stuffed plastic bottles of trash from drinking fountains and whatever else. I’d clean the bathrooms thoroughly then. I’d work my way from floor to ceiling with bleach and whatever materials I had in decent supply as all of this was fairly unnecessary. Students were superficially disgusting. Teenagers were superficially disgusting. They’d cake layers of themselves onto the tiles but this was easily removed. What I was doing didn’t matter, but looked appropriate enough. I had let life reach me and get to me and all I wanted to do was curl up someplace institutional and weep. I couldn’t weep, though, so I did as I’ve suggested. I put things off as long as I could to get my work done. I smiled at my boss and I made sure every bathroom looked excessively clean and jotted somewhere that I’d done something of necessity.
At night, however, I might be free. I went to the gas station near me on walking home and purchased a tall can of cheap booze. I don’t often drink before arriving in the city but I was feeling rotten. On arriving home I removed all of my clothes from work. I paced around my living room smoking and cursing the day before opening my booze. My bathroom is small and dimly lit. My body looks alright in dim light, I’ve hoped. I looked at myself. I pulled my hair back and made lips at myself there in the dingy mirror. I ran my hands up the sides of my frame and felt my ribs, warmed a bit with pleasure or sex. I put liner on my eyes and smeared it down, kissing the mirror and leaving the day’s worker grease. I put black lipstick on and stood briefly on the tub’s ledge staring, then pulling on my leathers and a too-small shirt from when I played baseball as a boy. The shirt rose up just above my navel and as I hunched over to pull on boots I felt it stick first then rise above my spine, my lower back. The feeling of new fabric against me that smelled like smoke and perfume was enlivening. I wanted more.
I think about stories I could tell. My father could tell stories, could lie. I wonder about this. What creates a tendency toward fabrication? Is my split a fabrication? Would I be better off in therapy than writing out my thoughts? Where do I start and end of my need for writing is purely selfish? I do not have answers, but in the car I listened to Whitney Houston. I find what I think of as her transmitted vulnerability empowering. I left town and drove to the city amid lights and drank at my can of booze. I’d ease my arm out the window and let it sway there on wind. I’d smoke with the other as the can cooled my crotch. I felt feral. I felt set free. I felt my body boiling up with all the misery of my days and the stares of the students and I ran it out my hair, stared at myself in the sundown mirror and the running makeup, performing.
I wanted to quiet my head further so on arrival I drank several vodka tonics and sat sneering from the bar. I felt the booze warm my gut and my mood began to lift, yipping maybe toward a nice oblivion as the room filled up with nary clothed bodies kissing and sucking at each other. Men running hands over one another or women twirling hair to rhythms. Everyone reaching some fluidity and pushing to the edges of abject fucking on leather and neon fabrics only to be pulled back. I sat and watched until the pulse of it warmed me over.
I went into the bathroom after writhing against some fleshy bits and denim and found two gentlemen fucking. They were taller, like myself, so it wasn’t much to see them in the stall pressed to the wall and howling. The music in there was slightly quieter and thus I heard their groans as I stared into the mirror and ran the sink to wet my hands. Eventually I noticed someone crouched in the corner of the space and turned to see.
I haven’t made a point of meeting many people where I work. I don’t care for them nor they I. This is as it is. I am O.K. under these circumstances. This person I’d seen perhaps helping around the office, perhaps guiding buses toward the end of day. I can’t and couldn’t recall, but I knew her and knew her from work. I walked to her and registered a horror peeling the skin of her face back at being alive. Her eyes bugged out. The swelter of the room became heavy and miserable then. The gentlemen the stall over persisted in their fucking. She looked at me and didn’t seem to register a likeness, a fellowship in being human. I went to the sink for water and wetted a paper towel, returning and pressing it to her forehead. Her skin was pale. She was sweating incessantly. She smelled medical. I tried to touch my hand to her cheek to check the temperature there, encourage some level of identification. She grabbed my wrist and began pulling me toward her. I stood and she came with me. We stood together and she seemed barely to note the gentlemen in the stall near us. I don’t know or care much for drugs. I drink and have partaken, little more. This was something horrific. This was all the world pressing at my chest. I felt my fingers. They were dried up. They were shriveled. I couldn’t make sense of it. I’d run them under water awhile. I’d been sweating. I felt my chest heave and wanted to collapse.
The girl wanted to leave. I could see it. She wouldn’t vocalize. She grabbed my wrist again. We walked together through the black and swelter, the light and drink, until the cold night air shocked something into us. I felt myself coming together. I felt myself falling apart. I vomited there, or somewhere, walking toward my car. I vomited and it hit the knee of my leathers and I only know it in retrospect. She pulled my wrist. Next day, maybe, I noticed redness there. She was quiet. Her hair was short, brown but slicked in spots against her skull. Her shirt was white and not ripped but mangled against her chest, small gut and arms. She wore a coat and dressed in pants and shoes as if she’d only just left the school to come here. Her hands were shriveled and I felt them abrade my wrist and slither. I suppose she had a car as mine was only caked with my debris.
I don’t remember fucking then. I remember laying back or being fully prone on her backseat, our legs however they needed to be to mash us there. I remember staring up at the back window and feeling calm through its fog, its slightly frozen coat and her hands against my ribs. I do not think that she and I in fact fucked. Both of her cold hands, though, these pressed against the sides of me and held me there and she made no recognizable sounds. She made groans, sure. She perhaps whispered things against me and sweated through her clothes and mine. I felt the sickness of bile at the back of my throat and through to the next day. I can still feel the cold of her seat against my head. I remember knowing something. I remember the sounds of those gentlemen and wishing life could be that simple. I recognized her and felt pulled to her. I don’t know what my sense of responsibility was that night. I might’ve called 911, though I found no evidence the next day. We might’ve fucked, sure. I have experienced memory loss. I have missed days of my life staring off, asleep, not caring. I can piece together fragments only. Fragments of her wrists, say. Fragments of her hair and its slickness against my cheek, my mouth. The whispering and grunting at my chest, the howling even. These are my memories. This was an anomalous moment, a night that doesn’t fit. I found myself in complete lack of control and things seemed to spiral out in front of me. Perhaps she wanted to die. Perhaps she’d found that room to hear people fucking nearby so she might die near them. This makes sense to me. I can appreciate this impulse. Perhaps someone drugged her and she barely escaped. I trust the people there but I have a male body and there are differences, bars and clubs vary in degree of insidiousness or threat, perhaps. I’m uncertain how to piece anything together in retrospect. I only remember the window. I only remember the gloss of night and the armor of our coats around us as we held there against whatever death.
I woke with her stomach’s skin against mine, cold but for the small strip where we touched. I worried she was dead, then my head felt like it was being crushed beneath the sea, then a drunken bubble rose and I smelled vomit. I must have spoken with her but all I remember is her mumbling. I must have sat up and tried to figure things out but all that stands out are the lights on driving home. I think I spoke to her. I think I sat her up and made sure she could function well enough. I would’ve looked for something to straighten her out, a bottle of water maybe or a bit of food. I would’ve tried to do these things. I’m not sure which things I did and didn’t do. I hoped that I did everything. I woke later and hoped that I did everything.
I don’t know how to advocate or speak for another. I couldn’t have made her situation better or worse. She looked like me: her hair was matted in memory, her clothing a messy sprawl of unkempt materials, I remember all of it looking like escape, the both of us seemingly wanting to flee. I don’t remember what we said or whether we touched more on waking. I don’t remember if she was O.K. that night or what. I don’t remember feeling any relief or vomiting in my walk to my car. I only remember the lights as I began to surface driving across a bridge to my town. I remember sitting at a McDonald’s terribly early and drinking cup after cup of water and coffee, slowly putting myself back together only long enough to return to my small home and fall asleep caked in sweat and ugly smells until the afternoon.
Later on that week when I saw her outside of school as I walked my can toward the large dumpster I felt nauseous. I doubt if she recognized me. When I woke up from that night and looked in the mirror I might’ve been any anonymous body soaked in strobe and the mud of people. It didn’t matter if she recognized me. I walked by and felt my anonymity. I felt myself return to my youth in that hell and was calm and glazed over by the notion; asleep and it started at the eyes. Bells rang and children abounded. Groups assembled themselves at the doors of classrooms wherein they’d make minor messes throughout the afternoon. That evening two shows were being put on and I was asked to keep things orderly afterward. I’d accepted gratefully as things had felt amiss since waking in that car. I was always fairly close to death, I figure. I had never seen someone OD and this was something to process, maybe. I was feeling my whole world curl in on itself and become ruinous. I tended to ruin. I was a ruiner. I moved the can across the sidewalk having left a numbered door and made my way past the lot of them leading to lives filled with people. That night I might dress myself and lie on the floor naked to feel my limbs sprawl out. That night I might drink myself stupid and feel aligned with planets. I wasn’t sure. I walked by and felt the identifying touch of stomach as I passed her. Everything seemed O.K. Everything would be O.K. for me in turn. This has always been my problem. These have always been my problems. I am always gnashing my teeth against the low guts of life only to rise again to my mediocrity. I await the weekend when I’ll flee.
Grant Maierhofer is the author of Postures, GAG, Flamingos and others. His work has appeared in LIT, Berfrois, The Fanzine and elsewhere. He lives and works in Idaho.