I got COVID. I never tested positive, but I could feel it, the same way I felt the vaccine the instant it went in my arm. I have a connection with COVID 19. Ancient versions of our genetic coding must have fucked with one another, maybe back when I was still an amoeba, fat and happy. Its evolution to its current, more powerful state has mirrored my own. I don’t want to make light of something that’s killed and badly sickened so many, but it wasn’t until the world shut down and I invited myself over to Odious’s place that the flat grey loneliness I’d felt for my entire life finally went away. So, when it entered my body, I tried to welcome it. I tried to love it as it tussled with my immune system. After all, it was only trying to live like the rest of us. It didn’t ask to be injected into this illusion. I didn’t tell the Babies as they would have only made a fuss. I remained locked away from the world in my room at the SGH as they prayed I’d stay dis-ease free: I read and ate fruit and slightly stale superfood crackers; I used my pee funnel when the coast wasn’t clear to escape to the bathroom and stared into space listening to synth alpha waves on my headphones as I mutated into a newer and possibly scarier variant of myself.
But first I had to purge: I got a fever and I got chills; an invisible vice grip closed around my neck, causing pain to radiate upwards, making my jaw and the sides of my head throb. I had lucid dreams that were nearly identical to real life, a fact I was aware of while I dreamed. There’s another world, I’d think as I woke up, only to feel confused that it was nowhere to be found. In one of these dreams Jesse and I were in the kind of lowkey diner we used to go to on the road. The booth was crooked and the table was pleasantly sticky. I was trying to decipher the complications of the menu because Jesse was too messed up to see straight, but I was so tired my own eyes kept closing, despite how I fought to keep them open. Then it switched to both of us with Odious at their place. The golden late morning light was familiar and welcoming, just as it always was. The TV played static and beyond that the beaded curtain was pulled back to reveal the glow of the bedroom, the sacred sanctum where Heir Max was waiting in an old sticker covered MacBook under the futon. I felt embarrassed and confused, uncertain as to why Jesse was there, and why he was acting like he couldn’t see Odious. I started yelling at them both, letting them know how deeply they had hurt me, how they had let me down by leaving me when I needed them–Jesse by going to his family and Odious by isolating themselves at the solstice. I went on and on and they just stared at me. It was all very normal except I never lose it to that degree in front of people, especially those two. I’ve been emotionally wrung out before, with a sadness that sprawls in the background like a faded theater set, but in the dream I was angry and screaming to the point where I could feel the blood vessels pulsing in my forehead like a bad meme.
I woke up exhausted, my throat strained and my voice hoarse. But I was lighter, my mind unstuck from its usual loops. I was also startled: the dreams revealed to me how much I’d come to rely upon Odious and Jesse, despite neither of them being the sort of person who took care of others.
And it wasn’t their fault, I realized, the anger I’d felt deep down dissipated with the smoke above my head. If it was anyone’s, it was my own, for wanting them to give me what I can only give myself.
I let it go, I’m letting them go, not forever but maybe not not forever. (I know they’re reading this, of course, so that’s all I can say.)
I slept for five days, getting up only to keep my blood from clotting and to check my phone. It’s the first time in many years that I’ve slept so deeply, no dreams, no 3AM soul shakes. I drank only water, sometimes with a little salt sprinkled in, and I ate my fruit and crackers and wanted for nothing else. I stood at the closet door, smoking and staring at the VCR tapes I’d taken out of the bag and stacked in order according to the dates on their labels. I won’t forget you, I promised, I will find a way to play you. I stepped out of my room and met with the Babies downstairs. They scrambled for masks, but I waved my hand. I was sick and now I’m better, I announced as they stood among the cardboard fruit and vegetable boxes that covered the kitchen floor. They were either emptying them out or filling them up or a mix of the two, I couldn’t tell. Bright piles of fruit were everywhere: apples, lemons, squash, tomatoes.
“I love you all and I love Jesse and I love Odious, but I need to concentrate and be away from them for a while.”
There was a moment of silence followed by whispers that the old me would have strained to hear, but now it was just another noise in a city of noises.
“What about us?” asked tiny Em, her eyes filling up her whole face. She was among the growing contingent in the house who had taken to wearing their matching satin jackets inside out, after I admitted that I found the stoned goat’s face to be upsetting. Despite her quiet demeanor she was known for having pulled people twice her size out of harm’s way in tear gas blasted piles at protests.
“What about you?”
“If you’re leaving, take us with you.”
“I never said I was leaving,” I said.
“Jesse’s on his way back,” someone, I think it was 9-9, called out. “He messaged last night on the group chat.”
I looked down and realized my phone was on airplane mode, and probably had been for 12 hours. I must have done it in my sleep. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been so out of touch.
“Ok,” I said, smiling and laughing.
“What do you want us to do?” Em asked, as she placed her warm hand on my forearm. Her fingernails were filthy, but her skin glowed with an inner light.
I looked up from her hand and realized I was wearing a tank top, no bra and a pair of high waisted baby blue joggers. My feet were bare. Normally the act of being so undressed in front of others would have freaked me out, and it nearly did–out of habit–but when I stopped to check in there was no real feeling of discomfort to be found.
It’s like a dream, I thought, and there’s no shame in a dream.
“We’ll move his shit out,” someone called from the hallway, their tone shrill and strident. Is that how I used to sound? I wondered. There was more discussion. Jesse owned almost nothing. The only things that were here were the larger pieces of musical equipment and a reusable shopping bag stuffed with smelly summer clothes.
“He’s coming through to finish the album,” one of his band bros called out, their jacket worn in the OG way.
“It’s nearly done,” someone else chimed in.
I looked down at my feet, doing a quick search to see if I felt any way about any of this.
“Not that it matters, but you do know that those songs are as much mine as they are his?”
“You wrote the lyrics,” the same voice called out. I still couldn’t place it–perhaps because more than one person was speaking. They were standing in the back with their shoulders hunched and wearing masks.
“Nah, dude. It was more than that. I came with the melody; I came feeling a beat where there was none. I walked across a hotel room like it was a stage. You know the kind of walk where you really step and feel your toes spread wide as you push back on the floor with the muscles in your leg?” I made a quick demonstration, taking long deliberate steps like a crane.
I could feel all eyes on me. These were the kids who first met me as the couch surfer, the silent entity watching as my own creation was usurped in front of my eyes, just like it had been a thousand times before.
But some of them also knew better. They knew what I knew. They knew that I could throw pearls to swine–even a pig as big as Netfl*x, and still have a fat sack of wisdom left untouched.
“I’m not going to front and get into what is already history. Make the album if you want...or, you know, go outside for a walk. Or sit inside playing games, whatever feels like what you want to do. Inside and outside is what you make it.”
There was a silence, and by that I don’t just mean it got quiet, I mean there was a heavy feeling that came down.
Em handed me a blunt which I lit by leaning over the ancient stove.
“I know all about it, peeps. I’m here with you, the new artist in the new era. Used and abused by our own minds as well as anyone else who got close. I know it, I show it. I lived it. I grow it.”
“How do we know that we can really trust you?” Someone said from another corner of the room, their voice distorted by an ancient version of auto-tune.
Suddenly inspired, I pulled down the hospital blue joggers and flashed them.
“If you have to ask, you’ll never know,” I shouted. Half the room cheered in response, and it was at that moment that I knew the Babies and I were going to leave the city.
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