Before the photojournalist and I said our final goodbye, he offered me some insight in the form of a story.
The story was about a soldier who’d returned from war and found himself unable to feel in the ordinary sense, the result of adapting to such heightened conditions in his years away.
He pretended, in the presence of family in friends, to be grateful to be home. But behind this facade, he was in fact tortured by his now-mundane existence.
In his doomed apathy, he secretly invited disaster. Some interaction that would allow him to feel again.
“Being alive, in the most simple and basic sense, was now somehow a fate for him worse than death.”
I recognized, of course, that the photojournalist was referring to himself.
But as it turned out, there was slightly more to it than that.
As was always the case with the photojournalist.
After he told me the story, he drew the shades in my hotel room and placed a cold washcloth over his eyes, over his scarred face.
I was restless, felt the need to move. So I left the room and circled the city block a few times, the steady disquiet the photojournalist inspired in me amping itself up as I did.
“What did you think about while you were gone?” he wanted to know, when I returned.
I loved the photojournalist for more reasons that I can cite, but this type of professorial probing was high among them.
“I thought about your story,” I answered, honestly.
“I’m going to steal it from you.”
“Of course you are.”
“That doesn’t bother you?” I asked.
The photojournalist condemned me with one of his arrogant looks.
“It’s your story, you dolt,” he said.
The smile I offered in response held a confused mixture of flattery and sadness.
“How many more years are you going to spend hiding?” he asked.
It’s a funny thing, when one’s unconscious motivations are exposed.
It strips them of their mysterious intrigue.
Shortly after the photojournalist left, I met up with a dark and handsome man that I knew was not good for me.
I was bored and lifeless, and going through the familiar actions that had previously provided temporary relief to my sense of monotony.
But this time was different.
This time I recognized exactly what I was doing.
“Let’s drive to the canyon,” the man suggested. “There’s something I want to show you.”
I got in his car and stared out the black window as we drove miles from the city, and down a long, isolated dirt road.
He stopped the car. I turned to him.
“What was it you wanted to show me?” I asked.
The man unbuttoned his pants and pulled out his dick.
It did absolutely nothing for me.
I was as dead as I’d always been.
The prior potency of this scenario was lost, replaced as it was by an absurd transparency.
“Put that away,” I told him.
Predictably, my lack of interest did nothing to deter the man, who instead began fervently groping himself.
I put my head back against the headrest and closed my eyes.
“I want to go home now,” I mentioned.
The man grabbed the back of my head and thrust it towards his lap, tried to force himself into my mouth.
I braced myself, hands on his legs.
It sounds strange, but it occurred to me that this man cared about me not at all.
Simultaneously, it occurred to me that I could give him what he wanted and be home that much faster.
Which is almost what I did. Which is even what I started to do.
This is why his firm grip on the back of my head loosened.
But meanwhile, a reel of my life was playing in the private theatre of my mind.
The montage of memories started with the photojournalist chiding me for the choices I’d made, and then cycled back to the many times I’d been in this very situation, dating back to the first time, when I was 13.
It was uncanny, how close I still felt to that girl.
And for the first time, I wanted her to define herself rather than give in to some destiny that seemed to have been bequeathed to her at random.
The man in the seat next to me was so caught up in the sickness of our circumstances that it didn’t even prove all that difficult to break free and exit the car.
“I’m going home,” I told him, before I shut the door.
Yes, it was a ridiculous. I was in heels and a thin dress and whatever fate befell me in my attempt to traverse the endless road ahead had the potential to be far worse than the scenario from which I’d just escaped.
But oddly, I felt a surge of incredible joy.
I was free.
Oh God, finally, I was free.