I started drinking while the Wyoming sky was pink and you could still see forever. Earlier that day I found just enough smack to keep me from being sick. It got me moving. It got me out in the sun. It was the first day of summer, the longest day of the year, my mom’s birthday. I met John for drinks at the Albany, by that time the sky became over-ripened and the stars brilliant. There were two girls in the bar that stood out, one whose face I can’t remember, and one who wore a blond ponytail. I could tell her blue eyes had never seen the blues, but she was still pretty, pretty doesn’t happen very often in Cheyenne and if it does they are usually already taken. “I’ve never seen you here before,” I said.
She looked me up and down—pouty lips pulled by gravity towards the floor, her nose up, tugged by her own self-importance. Maybe I smelled or maybe she had a kinked neck. “As if,” she said under her breath, her friend laughed and they walked away, blond ponytail bouncing in jest. That’s the only excuse I needed to lick my wounded pride, shot by shot.
After our fill there, John and I beat it for another bar, stepping like toddlers learning to walk in poopy diapers. The Union Pacific depot loomed over us in the shadows of the moon.
We made our way to the Crown Bar two blocks away. When I think back to that night I mostly see darkness and swirling lights. I remember certain scenes spliced between black frames, like a Morse code of memories. Dot, dot, dash-faces, voices, lights, black- black- black.
Those two girls were in there and I was staggering towards them. They didn’t seem to recognize me. I looked at the blond, “You know what I like about you?” I asked, heavy on the shit-faced charm.
She smiled like I was going to tell her how beautiful she was, something she hears every single day of her life and has learned to work it to her advantage. “What?” she asked.
“Nothing,” I said and walked off. This time it was my friend that was laughing as she stood there with her “as if” face, clueless.
Ten minutes had passed. Me and John were in a corner booth. He got up to go take a piss. Two corn-fed country boys wearing bent billed ball caps, cargo-shorts and puka-shell necklaces tight around their thick necks approached me. “Is this the guy?” one said, pointing at me. Over by the bar the blond girl nodded, that stupid pony-tail bouncing in the beer lights. I knew what was going to happen next. I was outnumbered, cornered and drunk as hell. There was no point in talking, there was nothing to say. I swung on one of the heroes before they had time to do it to me.
Everything was like heavens’ supposed to be, like no other dream I had ever dreamed– so deep, the colors so vivid. My life was usually so Requiem for a Dream, but now it was so What Dreams May Come, without Robin Williams. I could feel this one coming to an end. The noise of the bar faded back in–hard rock playing loudly, glasses clanking, people screaming over all of it. I opened my eyes. I was on the floor, circled– strange, blurry faces looking down on me. John’s face, with his thick eye brows and large nose came into focus first because his voice was the only one I recognized. “You okay?” he asked as he tried to pull me up.
“I had the best dream ever,” I told him. as I was yanked to my feet. Before I could utter one more word I was yanked to my feet and tossed out on the sidewalk by the bouncers.
“Be careful with him. He just woke up, he’s fragile,” I heard John say before my bony ass landed on the concrete.
He sat next to me on the curb. “I came out of the pisser and saw you swinging on those guys. One of your punches missed and you hit the waitress in the face. Then one of those guys put you in a sleeper hold. You were knocked out on the floor. I got a couple punches in too.”
“That was the best sleep I ever had. I want to go back to that place. Is the waitress okay?”
“Her eye is swelled up real good. Hey you wanna’ get some breakfast at the Village Inn?”
“Let’s hop a train down there.”
“But it’s only three blocks away.”
“A train is funner than walkin’ though.”
“True,” I said. “Let’s go.”
My legs shook like a calf climbing from its own placenta. I was still dizzy. I didn’t know if it was from being knocked out, the alcohol, the heroin, or all of it. Black-swirling lights-black- a train’s horn leaving the yard-John’s grin under a street light-black.
We snuck through a hole in the fence behind the depot. The red, white and blue of the Union Pacific sign glowed and the same colors on the flag snapped in the wind like naked homophobes in a locker room snapping each other in the ass with wet towels. We were on the back platform of the depot, one more fence to climb. This one was a little taller, probably eight foot with exposed barbs at the top.
I remember running alongside a box car, counting the bolts on the hub. I read somewhere that if you are able to count them then the train is moving slow enough to jump on. I grabbed the ladder and climbed up. The next thing I knew everything became quiet and peaceful again. I was on my back looking up at those brilliant stars.
“Get up,” John yelled. “We have to get out of here; the bull will be coming soon.”
I tried to push myself to me feet, I couldn’t.
I was lying in the rocks five feet from the train track. John came running, “Get up.”
I tried again, “I can’t.”
He tried lifting me up by my arm pits, but I couldn’t bear the weight. I looked down and saw my left toe pointed behind me. This is when the pain started crumbling my opiate wall. High voltage currents swam through my nervous system like hydro-electricity coursing through the turbines turning on the lights in the valley, synapses firing at an alarming rate, something was wrong. Sound the alarm motherfucker, sound the fucking alarm.
“Fuck, fuck, I need to go get help. Just stay here, I’ll be right back.”
“Okay, I’ll stay here, since I can’t walk anyway,” I said as I lay back down in the rocks. He ran across the street to the Albany to call an ambulance. While he was gone I had a conversation with an old time hobo holding a stick with all his belongings hanging from the end. Picture a hobo, well that’s the guy. More tramps warmed their hands around a trash can fire. He asked me for change and told me about how he knew God and disappeared into the stars. After a few more conversations with ghosts in the tramp parade I saw the whirling lights and sirens. It was an ambulance, the city police and the Union Pacific bulls. By then about twenty people who were drinking at the Albany had collected on the other side of the fence to watch the train wreck that was me. You know how stereotypical moms always tell you to wear clean underwear in case something bad happens? Well, of course I decided not to wear any underwear that day, so when they cut my shoes and pants off my mangled body my dick did not go gentle into that good night. The crowd got to see everything, not like they hadn’t before, but this time it wasn’t my choice. The EMT gave me a shot, ten milligrams of morphine. It didn’t touch my pain. I usually did at least a hundred for fun. “I need more. Please give me more,” I begged. He gave me another one. I begged again.
“I can’t. You have to wait until the hospital,” he said. I was loaded into the back of the ambulance and for a minute it was just me and him back there. I played the pain worse than it really was. I think I even summoned some tears.
“You can’t tell anybody about this, I’ll lose my job,” he said while sliding the needle into my arm. If they would have known how much I drank and that I was already on heroin, not to mention that I lost oxygen to the brain, they would have broken my other leg. I drank way too much back then. I did way too many drugs. I got in fights all the time. I lied to people. I never thought I could die, nor did I care.
It was around 3am when we arrived at the hospital. John was there with me. An orthopedic surgeon with gray, disheveled hair walked through the door, sat down and asked what happened.
“We tried to hop a train to get some eggs benedict. I was climbing up the little ladder on the side of the box car. You know those ladders I’m talking about? Well, somehow I slipped and fell and then a hobo came and talked to me and told me about his good friend God and asked me for change,” I explained.
“Wait, you never made it to the train. You think you rode the train?” John said. “Somehow your foot got caught on top of the fence and you fell. I just saw you lying on the ground.”
“What are you talking about? I remember being on the side of that train.”
“We never made it to the train.”
The doctor looked at me over his glasses, “I’m going to look at the x-rays. Sit tight.”
I turned to John, “So were those people I talked to by the track real?”
The door opened, the doctor holding x-rays walked in. “Well, it looks like you broke your left leg in six places between your knee and your ankle. And your ankle is shattered.” He pointed to my tibia and my fibula with a pen and explained, “We are going to wait until tomorrow to do surgery. Right now you have too much alcohol in your system. You know, you could’ve died tonight? That was really stupid.”
“Yeah, I do stupid things sometimes.”
John called my dad to tell him the bad news. I called my mom to say happy birthday.