Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language and mature content.
“If I am worth anything later, I am worth something now; for wheat is wheat, even if people think it is grass in the beginning.”
He was a Kentucky summer sunrise, all golden hues and cotton-candy pink sifted across a blue sky; the reminder of mistakes, last night’s sins washed away with sun soap, he looked through his window at the rising dawn and listened to the birds chirp, he wished he was one of them, on his way to better days, migrating somewhere new, somewhere better, anywhere but here, he hated his home town, like we all do, a mere twenty-something year old, lost in life, he hated everything, hated himself, his yellow teeth and the bags under his eyes, his stringy, dandruff-full hair, he was too skinny but he kind of liked it, the way his bones jutted out, it made him feel less gross, he stared out of the window and shivered, his breasts hurt, his chest ached with a visceral yearning, he was homesick for a place he wasn’t even sure existed, he was filled with overwhelming sonder, everything hurt, his skin crawled, he felt dirty, like he was poisoned from the start, never good, never wanted, never able to be loved, like everything everyone had ever told him about himself had been nothing but a lie.
Rhys Hartman lit a cigarette, taking a few draws before sitting up. After a few moments, he took a deep breath and stood, reaching down and pulling his binder off the floor before slipping into it. It was followed by a stained, off-white t-shirt and sweatpants; satisfied, he ran a hand through his shaggy hair, made a mental note that he needed to shave his head again, and opened his bedroom door.
The two-bedroom apartment he shared with his brother was distinctly empty; it was a little too quiet, too still, and a sense of discomfort overcame him as he shuffled out of his bedroom to the galley kitchen. He opened the fridge, extracted a can of Dr. Pepper and opened it, flicking his ashes into the ashtray on the counter before leaning over the table to read the note Ethan had left for him. Today his brother was working another triple shift at the diner, wouldn’t be home ‘til late; the note reminded Rhys of his therapy appointment at three, and informed him that leftover pizza was still in the fridge if he got hungry. Rhys scrawled a smart-ass response – something along the lines of ‘no shit, Sherlock’ – onto the stained legal pad, threw the pen back onto the equally stained, marbled kitchen table, and returned to his bedroom to skulk.
His room was a fucking disaster. It was one of the rooms where one saw the floor only on a good day – the rest of the time, the carpet was trapped beneath the mess strewn everywhere, dirty clothes and the garbage-filled fast food bags, papers covered in his chicken-scratch handwriting, used condoms from various hook-ups and tricks, coffee-stained books, all remnants of his latest manic episode; a bong stood in the corner next to his desk, which in turn was covered as well, with his record player on one side, his journal and cheap laptop on the other; the bed, as always, remained unmade, nothing but a bare mattress with a few lumpy pillows and a single, fuzzy blanket. Rhys picked up the bong and set it on his desk, making his home on the desk chair before he started to pack a bowl.
Today felt odd. Nothing was new, or changed, or different than usual; he was still the same steaming pile of hot garbage, still a walking mix of vomit and nicotine and hatred, and yet, and maybe it was the visceral yearning, he felt awakened, almost hopeful; like it was the first day of his life, as if he had just been born, as if the world had yet to stain him.
He leaned forward, lit the bowl, and took a fat rip.
He exhaled the smoke slowly, feeling fuzzy as he watched the birds and squirrels idly through the window. He leaned back in his chair, extending his legs, moving his feet in circles before taking another hit. He checked the time – an hour and a half before his therapy appointment, which gave him half an hour to get high and get dressed, plus forty five minutes for the bus ride to the office, which put him arriving fifteen minutes early for paperwork. He took another hit from the bong, exhaled the smoke as he stared at the ceiling, then got up.
He crossed the room to his bedside table, shedding his sweatpants as he did so, pulling his packer from the topmost drawer and stuffing it into his boxers, adjusting it as needed. He stood there for a moment, one hand on his silicone dick, looking around until he spotted a pair of relatively clean jeans on the floor and pulled them on, buttoning them over the bulge in his underpants with practiced ease. He stood there another moment, staring unseeingly at the floor, until he managed to find his favorite hoodie among the mess and plucked it from where it lay. He pulled it on, finding comfort in the worn fleece, every hole covered by different patterned patches, sewn on by Ethan over the years. He thought, oddly, about Jason, then shook his head to clear the thought away.
He took another hit from the bong, then lit a cigarette, grabbing his keys off of his desk before leaving his room. He grabbed a fresh can of Dr. Pepper from the fridge, then let himself out the front door, locking it behind him. He bounded down the stairs two at a time, let himself out of the front door of the apartment building, then began his way down the street.
It was gray outside, looked like it might snow – typical for a Kentucky November. The cold threaded its way through Rhys’ light hoodie – but he would rather freeze to death than wear a heavier coat, one of the many ways he rebelled against his older brother. Winters in Kentucky were a roll of the dice, anyway – some years unseasonably warm, other years cold enough to kill. Flowers Rhys didn’t know the name of stood dying in window boxes of the houses he passed on his way to the bus stop. After coming to a halt next to the bus post, he pulled a few dollars and some change out of his jean pocket, counting it. Just enough for a coffee, a treat to himself after this therapy appointment.
He lit a fresh cigarette, inhaling the smoke sharply as he stared down the street. He wished he had brought a book with him, something to do to kill the time as he waited. In the meantime, he pulled his wallet from his back pocket and extracted his bus pass, a ‘gift’ he had gotten from Ethan after he had taken the bus out to a trick that went south and been stranded out on Dixie with no money for a bus ride back. He put his wallet back and then fidgeted with the card, tapping it against his thigh impatiently, sighing in relief as he saw the bus barrel down the road towards the stop. He threw his cigarette into the street as the bus came to a halt, got aboard, and swiped his bus pass in the machine before taking his usual seat.
He leaned his forehead against the cool glass of the window, watching as it indeed began to snow outside. His mind drifted to Jason again and this time he let it stay there, letting his mind wander to last year, he had seen Jason come home, the blood on his hands, the certainty in his eyes, the stillness of his frame, his calm. Ethan had been the one to call the police.
His high was starting to settle, and everything felt good. Fuzzy, like a blanket wrapped around his brain, like he was floating, and that made him smile a little. When he was high on pot, it was like all the little cracks in his porcelain skin were taped over with band-aids, a temporary fix for a permanent problem; like the burning of his lungs only meant that he was alive; that his heart beat a little stronger, a gentle drumming, the soundtrack of his life with the backdrop of the city behind him, it was moments like this he felt whole, felt himself growing, felt divine; felt the power of himself, of his story, felt himself rewriting it in that very moment; like looking in the mirror and seeing God staring back at you; the master of your own destiny; he wasn’t lost, in moment like these – the pot helped him achieve higher understandings, made him see past the ever-present gloom that hung around him, draped like a cloak around his shoulders; it opened his mind, made him human.
He leaned his head against the headrest and grinned to himself as the bus made its way to the Transit Center. There, he would transfer; step off bus 43 and step onto bus 13, taking the latter out to Bardstown road.
The bus screeched to a halt in its designated spot along the curb of the Transit Center, the doors opening and letting in the sharp bite of the November air. Rhys stood, stepped off the bus, and lit a cigarette as he waited for his next bus, scrolling aimlessly on his phone as he did so. After a few minutes, bus 13 pulled into the Transit Center, but Rhys lingered on the curb. It would be another ten minutes or so before the buses left again, and he wanted to finish his cigarette.
When the cigarette had dwindled down to its filter, Rhys dropped it to the ground, crushing it with the heel of his boot before striding toward bus 13. He climbed aboard effortlessly, just before the doors closed, and then, once again, he was off.
He got off the bus at the corner of Bardstown and Jefferson, pulling his hood up over his curls as he began his way down Bardstown. It was a quick walk; only about ten minutes, until he came upon the quaint house that served as the office of his soon-to-be therapist. It was a small, red-brick, squat little building, already decorated for Christmas even though November had just begun; with a large wreath on the front door, and Christmas lights strung over the hedges, and a Nativity scene settled in the corner of the square porch. The blinds were down, and the inside of the building emitted a soft, orange glow; Rhys twisted the knob, and the door opened obediently to let him in.
He was met with the check-in desk, behind which sat a plump, kind-looking woman in scrubs, who took a moment to look up from the computer in front of her as Rhys approached the counter.
“May I help you?”
“I’m here for an appointment with Dr. Cooper.”
Rhys bit his lip, averting his gaze for a moment. “Amelia Hartman.”
The woman tapped a few keys, then flashed him a smile, handing him a clipboard with a few papers on it and a pen. “Fill out these forms, please.”
Rhys took the clipboard and found his way to one of the seats in the waiting room, tapping the pen against his thigh as he looked the forms over. Name, age, sex, insurance, consent to treatment; he ticked all the boxes and scribbled his signature at the bottom, flipping the page over to reveal the one underneath. He sucked in a breath – a list of symptoms; did he harm himself? Was he skipping meals? How many days out of the past two weeks had he felt hopeless? Sad? Tired? Uninterested in usual activities? Did he use drugs to cope?
He circled ‘every day’ for each one, then stood and returned the clipboard to the woman behind the counter.
“It’ll be just a few minutes.”
Rhys returned to his seat without replying, picking his nails as he sat and waited. The waiting room was deserted save for him; that made him more nervous, and the picking intensified until he was pulling skin away and bleeding. After several long, eternal minutes, a woman dressed in a flower-covered blouse, black skirt, and black flats appeared, smiling at him.
“Rhys,” Rhys corrected, “I go by Rhys.” He stood, hesitating. She only smiled wider.
“Right this way, Rhys.”