Dear Person 33: to an old roommate

by austin beaton

Dear Interstate Motel Lobby,

I remember you through smell. Our place stunk like a humid motel closet.

How many times did you shower? Once, twice a month?

If she’s down with the smell, she’s down. If she isn’t, then she’s not down with me, you’d say, smiling and shrugging, flexing your shark tattoo.

Remember when I’d come home from work and tell you I fell in love for a moment with a woman I’d saw?

That was my first nasty breakup. My first job job. You were painting houses and taking community college classes. I remember the mushroom drawings under the coffee table, the spaghetti noodles caked on the dishes, the tie-dyed Led Zeppelin poster and the Coleman torch that made us look like meth heads.

We called the four of us fishes. The Fishbowl, our apartment.

I’m glad we all survived it.

Still I’m catching myself walking into dark, cracked spaces.

I saw in you a sort of a brother. I don’t know where you live, but we’d probably both agree that isn’t the worst that could happen.

Sometimes you gotta rinse.

Remember when you punched him, the purple of his eye, the Ziploc bag of empty capsules?

That place was the sweetest, most awful place I’ve lived.

When we moved in we joked about how there had to be a catch for the 250$-a-person rent: a faucet that spit water thick as ketchup, an ax murderer neighbor who’d hide in the closet.

Turns out the price was how we inhabited.

Do you ever think how crazy of a time it was for all of us?

You got sent back up the interstate and another fish experienced the un-repressing of memories that were abusive. I started anxiety, panic, the floating outside of my body and the obsessive fear that I was on the verge of death (more than any of us are).

Some of us saw psychiatrists. Others, prison.

When I tell people about my first months out of college I never mention boredom.

Just a restraining order, the walking in and out of hotel lobbies in Montana and Bend, San Diego and Texas, a power ranger with alcohol poisoning, a punk rock kid too distracted to set up his room out of the boxes.

What we meant to each other doesn’t have to be labeled negative.

How can you categorize a roommate bearing witness to your mental breakdown, in language?

The morning I woke up a different person, staring at the white wall and laying on the mattress I still hadn’t outfitted with sheets, you asked me to front you cash for that month’s rent.

You’d blacked out and lost your wallet and paced through the apartment, shirtless, frantic.

I was coming down from the first and worst anxiety attack I’d ever had, the one I didn’t know was panic.

We were becoming people that wouldn’t talk much again.

At least we paid cheap rent.

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