You didn’t have a house. Just a white GMC cargo van, with California plates, that looks like it belonged on the cover of a season of Arrested Development. You came to visit us because you were in town, and you were Rachel’s friend, and she had lived with you in the van for a couple years. With four others and five dogs.
The night you got here was the night of the zodiac change, and you all went to an Aquarius vs. Capricorn party. The moment of time between the 19th and 20th of January, the vastness of that single second, has to be a throw-down. At an anarchist colony south of Snow Camp. Naturally. Where you got a little sideways and forgot about your giant pit bull, whom you named Reptar, after the dinosaur from the Rugrats, and whom you left at the house with me.
Reptar tore up Rachel’s door during the night because he was having separation anxiety. I stumbled out of bed and let him out so he wouldn’t tear down the place. (We’d never have gotten our security deposit back.) I let him into my room and pointed at the wood floor, said, “Down, Reptar!”
He jumped up in bed with me.
It was a twin bed, and he was a big dog. And dirty. And unfamiliar. I had a cream colored douvet. Until that night. But he went to sleep eventually.
The next day, you looked up at me shyly from under the bill of your baseball cap, and held out your bottle of cinnamon whiskey. “Would you . . . like some?” A peace offering. I accepted.
You took a long shower and came out several shades pinker. Transformation, after weeks on the road with no running water. Rachel cooked for you and Evan: fresh mozzarella pizza, and eggplant, and wilted kale with onions. You and Evan ate the pizza. Rachel ate the eggplant, and nobody ate the kale. You sat at the dinner table and talked about the Russians in general, and what you know of physics, and about kaleidoscopic celestial beings that you talked to the last time you did DMT. Rachel was skeptical. But you said, “You can bash all the other drugs I do, but don’t bash DMT. That stuff is a real positive experience that you actually get something out of.” You swore it made you more mentally prepared to see your dad after he had had his stroke. You said when you’re on a DMT trip things about the universe suddenly make sense, but you have no way to write it down for later. Unfortunate fact of life.
You had a tattoo of Lemoncrab from the Adventure Time cartoon on your right forearm with the word UNACCEPTABLE! scrawled underneath it. Your newest one. “Dude, did you see this?” you reached out your arm and pointed to it. Rachel and Evan threw their hands up in the air and said “YES!” and laughed. (An inside joke, apparently.) A full four-masted schooner sailed perpetually over your left shoulder, and an incomprehensible word undulated across both sets of knuckles when you moved your hands. You had holes in your ears from gauge-piercings abandoned who knows how long ago.
You want to know what towns around here will be good for panhandling. You and Rachel and Evan might go play some music downtown for gas money. You need gas money, and you need band members to actually make gas money, because you can only play the spoons. You can play them hella well, but it’s not the same without the fiddle and the mandolin, or Janice to sing, if she’s around.
“What are the middle-class towns?” You ask. “You have to be careful, because sometimes in the richer cities, people pay to keep the riff raff out and stuff. The police will be all over you. Like, the cops on Franklin illegally searched through my backpack and asked if I was stealing because they saw the plastic grocery bags. I was like, ‘dude, I’m picking up my dog’s poop.’”
You said that the most unexpected people are good neighbors. Like the guy in a pick-up who flew passed you, and then slammed on his breaks and backed up the on-ramp of the highway when he saw your sign, and gave you a couple of nights of housing and beer in exchange for you tiling his kitchen floor.
“We had been stranded on that ramp for like seven hours until we made that sign,” you said as Rachel tried to describe the piece of cardboard that read, “I Won’t Kill You,” and featured hand-drawn bumble bees, and butterflies, and flowers. “That sign got us out of Kansas,” you said.
You’re headed toward Raleigh in the morning, and then on to the coast. You might be back around Christmas. If you are, the door is open. It’ll be cold, and you might want a shower. Bring Reptar. Bring whiskey. Until then, I’ll double-take at every white van I pass on I-40, and wave if it’s you.