By this point, it had nearly been a year since I’d moved into the new apartment. I’d loved living at the “Zoo” house with the girls, up until the smoke had cleared in the aftermath of losing Flash. The initial shock held strong, like a giant shot of lidocaine to my nervous system, numbing me for days. It was preparation for the storm ahead.
Once the fog was lifted, my mind and body immediately went into a panic as if under attack from a hidden force—something that still lingered in the shadows of my self. It was an emotional ambush of anger, betrayal, sadness, everything I’d felt after opening my apartment door to the smell of sex, lies, and video games, to the time each of those feelings were first conceived—middle school.
For someone with an emotional IQ of an eighth grader, living in a house with three 20-year-old women had become somewhat of a problem. But fortunately, I was familiar with a way of solving such a problem.
Crack did the trick. Until someone I’d almost forgotten about, dialed my number and walked back into my life. Brianna pulled me out of the stale, cocaine-induced illusion, inviting me to seek refuge away from the negative energy I’d manifested at the Zoo.
I had to get out. Yet, I felt like such a child as to why. Thus, I lied to my roommates. I placed all blame on the constant flow of various people coming and going, drinking and partying, making it hard to get any studying done. And that the only quiet room in the house was mine, but it was upstairs and acted more as a furnace than a bedroom. Not to mention, having to leave at least an hour before class started, being all the way south and my school a few miles north of Austin. These were all true, daily occurrences, but I’d played them as excuses to back up the lie of why I had left.
It couldn’t have been anything other than sheer fate that I’d managed to live in the same apartment complex as Brianna, only two floors below. For, unbeknownst to me, this was all going according to a higher plan, which was behind the formation of a pattern that was now becoming more distinct.
Whenever my life seemed as if it couldn’t be at any greater height, someone or something would enter the picture. Whatever it was would present me with a decision; a decision that would catch me off guard. I’d be blinded with feelings of joy, nostalgia, love, and/or anything I desired. I’d never see the illusion of it all—that I was being tested.
The distinction of this pattern would become evident and more convincing when I inevitably made the wrong choice. And that’s exactly what happened with the test in my apartment.
And the word I misspelled in the State Spelling Bee… was the word ‘Failure.’
I allowed heroin to infiltrate my body, again. It had been two years since the last time I’d felt the rush of warm relief fall over me from that dark, sinister substance being injected straight into my veins; straight into my life; much like an angry mob of feminists who’ve penetrated their way inside the Playboy Mansion.
• • • •
Once I recognized the ghoulish figure dressed in rags was in fact Josie, my foot smashed into the brake pedal. My body lunged forward, pulling on the seatbelt strap before snapping me back in place. I felt like a carelessly misfired marble in a slingshot. It was anticipated; thus, no harm done. However, the screeching brakes from the car behind me instantly had me grab the wheel with both hands, preparing for an impact.
Nothing. Honestly, it was a little disappointing.
I didn’t have time to think about it though. My body went into a conscious state of auto-pilot. Behind the wheel was a powerful urge in control, much like a wave of anger or sadness; yet, it wasn’t any sort of emotion. It was more of a feeling of responsibility.
“Josie?” I asked, making sure it was she.
She turned back toward me. I could see the result of what a mix of pain and suffering had done to her once beautiful, blue, almond eyes. Drugs stole all of that away from her, only leaving two sunken caves in their place.
As she walked in my direction, a blaring noise shook throughout my body. The car horn manifested into a hand around my heart, squeezing it until the feelings of responsibility and rescue quickly flipped to anger and rage.
I assumed it had come from the car right behind me. Standing up as high as my seatbelt would allow, my head and shoulders flew through the open window frame. Once my eyes locked onto the driver inside, my fury unleashed itself—
“Hey, You! Calm the fuck down, this girl needs my help!”
“Woah… what?” Josie asked, now standing at my window.
In a calm, but shaky voice, I asked, “Josie, will you get in the car… Please?”
As I asked this, the guy behind me was yelling something, but I didn’t pay him any attention. I would have sat there all day trying to get Josie to come with me, but by the look on her face, it was looking like that might not happen.
“I can’t, I.. I.. I gotta make money. Wh.. Why? Why do you want—?” A car horn twice as long as the previous, interrupted her.
I stuck my head back out to continue my attack, on until…
“Look, just go the fuck around, shithead!”
My eyes widened at the sound of Josie’s old voice sliced through the air, sending a chill down my bony back. I couldn’t help but smile, hearing that voice again.
The urge to help had doubled, as well as my confidence in pulling her out of that homeless underworld. I took off my sunglasses and peered up at her in all-sincerity. “Please…? Just for a minute.”
Her hollow eyes glared back, intimidatingly, but I stared right back letting her not I wasn’t going to budge. It wasn’t coming from sense of defeating her, but of love and empathy. The stare down only lasted a few seconds, but without even an answer, she gave in by looking down at her shoes and nodded. Next, she picked up her two backpacks, now black from the dirt and grime that came with homeless life, and walked around the front of my car.
As she sat down in the passenger seat, her bags on top off her, something followed her in as she closed the door. It immediately reminded me of a distinct characteristic I’d forgotten about homeless people. I had to reach down to twist the knob for the outside air to ventilate the smell of what I could only compare to a football locker room being left alone overnight with the heat on.
Doing this, I watched the driver behind me slowly pass by, giving us the finger. Josie gave it right back as I made the inconspicuous switch. She wasn’t stupid, though, and reminded me by rolling her window down too. Even with a new air flow there was still the lingering smell of a sweaty gym bag. It was bearable though.
Fortunately, my apartment was right around the corner, but I made an extra stop at my bank’s ATM. It was in the same parking lot of the pharmacy store where I parked the car.
I held up a 20-dollar bill. “Here. I already have shampoo, toothpaste, and all that, but get what you need.”
Josie’s eyes were wide and glaring at me like I was out of my mind. My heartbeat quickened, feeling awkward and hoping she wouldn’t hit me. I wasn’t trying to be rude, and I prayed she knew that.
My eyes wandered from one thing to another, anything where I couldn’t see her face. The silence between us seemed to last hours, even though it was probably only a few seconds. I couldn’t take it anymore so I prepared myself for a slap across the face.
Instead, she met me with watery eyes and something I hadn’t seen in some time—the color in her face returned with a bright red. An all-too familiar chain reaction set off, starting with a pain in my chest, followed by a feeling of my throat blocked.
Before anything could leak out, I said, “Go on. I’ll watch your stuff and’ll be right here.” I waited a second but she didn’t move. “Go!”
“Thank you,” she whispered.
I pressed my lips together into a straight line, giving a nod, while never looking up. Until I heard the flap on the visor open. Then I watched as she wiped away what I hoped would be the last tears she’d see for a while.
Josie stayed with me for a week, before she introduced me to the lost soul who would take her place. I assumed she didn’t want to impose by overstaying her welcome. That wouldn’t have been possible.
She and I got along fine. While I still went to class, she would try to make money. Then we’d both come home at around the same time, where she’d have enough money for us to get well and get high. Every night would later become a smear in my memory; a blur of sitting on the couch watching TV. We never hooked up, though.
The two of us never spoke about, nor even flirted with each other. I believe there was an unspoken agreement or mutual understanding to not get involved. There was no telling where she’d been, nor what she’d picked up doing her thing trying to survive on the streets. It seemed like she knew that too. However, any contract we’d agreed upon was tossed out the window the night she’d introduced me to her dealer; the next, but also last homeless roommate.
Whenever Josie and I went to get dope, she would run and get it and come back. However, this time, she came back with a secret mission of her own.
“All good?” I asked.
Right then, I knew something was wrong. Normally, I’d receive an “affirmative” or a quick “let’s go.” Instead, Josie made a quiet noise, which made me turn to her for a firmer confirmation. All I got was a slight nod with her head.
“Oh,” she moaned. “It’s just that Dante kept trying to get me to let him stay at my place tonight. And… you know…”
She gave me a disgusted look. I knew what it meant, Not a chance in Hell, you creep!
Not a second passed before I knew what this meant. Her implication couldn’t have been louder and obvious. As I tilted my head back, blowing out the steam of my Higher self’s bells and whistles trying to get my attention. The feel of her blue puppy dog eyes seduced me to turn my head and meet her gaze. Josie had me right then, but I can only assume she needed a guarantee. Guns were already out and on the table, but to make sure I wouldn’t back out, she pulled out a hidden grenade; every woman’s way of getting a man to do what she wanted.
I hadn’t noticed her hand had secretly maneuvered itself onto my knee, until the gentle touch wasn’t so gentle as it slid up my thigh, sending the rush of blood to the projected places she intended.
I should have declined and made something up, like my parents were coming to visit—anything not to let a complete stranger stay at my place.
After the beat down my heart had received just two years ago, it had recovered enough to show enough sympathy to blind me into falling for her bullshit story.
According to Josie, Dante was a “hardcore dealer.” She promised he would have pretty much whatever I wanted and if not, he could definitely get it. I wasn’t high yet, so the thought of this intrigued and excited me. I knew this was true. Not to mention, I’d make him give me some for letting him stay.
Josie’s smile revealed that she knew exactly what I was thinking. All this outweighed my lying and not letting him stay. Then she announced that she would hop on a train the next day.
Right as she and I had become close friends, she was ditching me. I didn’t want to be alone again; I couldn’t. I was still avoiding Brianna every chance I could, too. So going back to her wasn’t an option. We weren’t fighting or anything like that. I was trying to do her a favor. That had started a few months before I’d seen Josie on the street corner.
Josie wasn’t the first homeless person I’d taken in, but she had been the most considerate. Before her, it had been Mickey, who could have been my druggy doppelgänger.