Most of the sounds outside don’t usually bother me. I could sit in there and smoke all the cigarettes I wanted and drink all the beer I wanted without the sounds bothering my boredom. Skateboarders hollering outside or the wood of the boards hitting the concrete couldn’t have ever make me bat an eye.
But at night, when the cold air pierces my skin, when the skateboarders have all went home to their warm, made beds, resting for work the next morning, I’m up. Because of that damn freeway above us. My “roommate” is snoring on the other side of the room. I don’t see how he can sleep when cars are constantly rushing above us.
Maybe I need another cigarette. They’re lined up on the edge of the sink next to the remaining beer cans, organized by length from longest to shortest. We went out to scavenge them earlier today. Some look worse than others. Some are Marlboro, some Camel, some are menthol and some aren’t. They’re just what are hands could pick up today. My hand is hovering above them, my fingers twitching, fiending for a little nicotine. I snap my wrist back away from the organized line. No, no, I’ve already smoked too many. There are only a few more left, and I should leave them for him.
Maybe I need another beer. There are three empty Modelo cans laying on the floor. One of them is crinkled up. There are only three left. I’ll drink it. No, just half. No, I really shouldn’t. I have to wake up at six tomorrow morning. School. Damn.
The freeway is always bustling. No matter what. Christmas, it was just as busy as a Friday night. Or a Wednesday morning. Or a Sunday afternoon. What the hell do the cars do up there anyway? Where are they going at this time at night?
I slip down the concrete wall and look around. The light switches on from the motion sensor on the ceiling. My roommate, Ramone, is laying on the floor peacefully surrounded by cigarette butts smoked down to the filter. He only has that one brown blanket over him. The bathroom has no insulation from the cold outside. I’m sure whoever made the bathroom didn’t think there would be homeless people living here. January is always harsh for us.
I lay down on the concrete near him and grab the sleeping bag next to me. There are cigarette ashes all over it. It doesn’t really matter too much I guess. I’m already filthy.
The walls around us are all grey. Even the ceiling. Even the floor. There’s spray paint on the walls. It said, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy!!!!” Yeah, I’m trying. The walls never really brought much comfort to read. Occasionally when me and Rome are out we’ll come back and find new art on the walls. That, or our belongings are stolen or messed with.
A big truck passes by outside. I know because I memorized that sound. They sound big, like distorted thunder. And the sound doesn’t even really stop, it just keeps eerily slipping into silence. I hate those trucks. They’re awful. I know what all the cars sound like. All the trucks. I can differentiate a Honda from a Volkswagen now too.
But the sound I hate most are the trucks that take pigs to the slaughterhouses. They have a deep, hollow sound when they roll by. I relate to the pigs in a lot of ways. They’re cold. I’m cold. They’re scared. I’m scared. They’re in an unknown place in life. So am I. They’re just born to die. So am I.
I turn on my side, facing the sink and the toilet. It stays silent for a couple seconds. A Volkswagon passes. Wait, is the door locked? The lock is facing up. I sigh, toss the blanket off, stand up, turn the lock, and stay there, standing still. It’s 1:26. I have to “wake up” in about five and a half hours.
“You straight?” Rome rubs his eye with one hand, sits up and grabs a cigarette and the lighter with the other without looking at the sink. Such grace.
“You didn’t lock the door again,” I grab a cigarette too, one of the longer ones, “you really gotta lock that at night. You’re gonna get your phone stolen again.” I feel stupid because I couldn’t control myself. I grab the orange Bic lighter from my pocket and rub my thumb over it.
He takes a deep puff and stays still, letting smoke rise up. God, nicotine must be so satisfying on nights like this. I light it slower than usual. Maybe it was because I was tired. Maybe it was just the dissatisfaction with myself I got when I couldn’t resist picking it up. I sit down, smiling a little bit.
Smoke foams out of my mouth like a mad dog with rabies. I always feel like such a disgusting feind when I smoke cigarettes. Asking people on the streets for one is not something I respect in myself. I always feel a rush of sharp embarrassment when I pick them up from the ground or public ashtrays. It’s not a habit I’m proud of, but nevertheless, it’s a way to cope with current situations in my life.
“Yeah. I will. Sorry.” I forgot we had a conversation when I heard his voice. I was too focused on my addiction. I flicked the butt onto the floor and sat back down. I had no desire to go back to sleep. I knew I wouldn’t be able to.
“You shouldn’t worry about things. I’ll take care of you. It’s alright. Things’ll be a lot better soon, dude.”
Why does he sound so sure? It admitibally pissed me off to hear him say that. Things are not ok, and it feels like things will never be ok. Why would he say that just to make me feel better about things?
“What makes you say that?”
“I don’t know. I just feel like it’s gonna get better for us soon.” He grabbed a piece of bread from the bag under the sink and stuffed a small piece in his mouth. That’s the last of the food we have until the next time we find some. “I really hate seeing you worry so much about us,” he said while chewing.
Another truck carrying pigs passes by.
“Rome, are you high? Why are you so positive lately?” I curl up with the sleeping bag and stare at him. He’s been wearing the same Punisher hoodie for the four months I’ve known him. His brown eyes were focused on the rest of the bread in his hand. His fingernails were dirty and long, but somehow very graceful. He had small cuts on him, scattered around his arms and hands. His hair was mostly hidden under his beanie, but a single brown dread was hanging out the back.
“Seriously. Just take it easy for a while. We’re gonna be a-number-one.”
“Alright dude.” I closed my eyes and surprisingly, after about fifteen minutes of deep, pre-sleep thought, I went to sleep.
My alarm woke me up at 6:00am. I sat up and look at Rome, who had oddly always been able to change positions ridiculously when he slept.
When I woke up I realised I didn’t dream last night. Usually I have nightmares about this room. No. Not last night. It was a very still and dark sleep.
When I got home from school that day, Ramone was sitting against the wall smiling with papers in his hands when I came in. I locked the door behind me and smoked the rest of the cigarette in my other hand.
“Why are you so happy?”He stayed very still and very quiet for a long time. He was smoking a cigarette very slowly. It felt like an hour before he took in a deep breath and opened his mouth again.
“I got approved for an apartment. We’re not homeless anymore. We’re moving out as soon we want.”
My heart sank. The nicotine suddenly pulled me down to the concrete floor. I couldn’t move. My mind went blank. Was it blank? Or was it rushing with thoughts? I couldn’t breathe. I would never hear the calm rush of the highway above us again.
Jeffersonville High School, 2019