The people here know me much too well, even after months of my absence. “You need a coffee and a water. Right, sweetheart? Cream?” “Not tonight.” “Uh-oh. You only drink it black when something is up.” “I just like the taste of tar.” “Haha, alright, honey.” She leaves the pot sitting on the table. She’s seen crisp white pages and knows that I’ll be here awhile. “Let me know if you need anything, darlin’.” Will do, Rita, will do. Last time I was here I thought I’d found the end. This is one of my places. This is my last resort. The letter I wrote Drake that night is still in my wallet. I wrote it on cheerful yellow paper. It wouldn’t have softened the blow any. It’s not dated, it’s not timed. That’s so unlike me. “I really hate to do this to you, I’m sorry.” There was no other answer, not one that I could see. “I never got around to trusting anyone as much as I trust myself, except you.” This guy is my brother. The family we make, not the family we’re given. That’s how the saying goes or something like that anyway. I say all that now because that’s what tonight feels like. There’s no reason for it to feel like that. Writing all this feels so final. I don’t know why I was drawn to this place. Well…that cigarette put things in perspective. I can see my breath outside, but I cannot feel cold. This is the third cup of steaming hot sludge, but it doesn’t burn my throat. Twenty seven minutes have passed, but it seems to me like seconds. These cheap Pall Mall menthols aren’t making my throat raw the way they usually do. This morning all my muscles were screaming sore, now they don’t bother me at all. Physical feeling has ceased completely. That can only mean one thing, emotional shut down is not far behind. I hope it hurries, I can’t stand to feel this way for no reason any longer. God is cruel. Why should a man be dropped to rock bottom, why should he want to die without cause? Just because a man dies for something doesn’t make it true (Oscar Wilde), but why should he want to die for nothing. Hello, smartass iPod. Glad to see you’re still in the spirit of being an ironic dick. “You sure do act like you ain’t got a thing to lose, but every car you pass might be the ones you take with you. You give your last breath to your wife, take a bullet for your kids, lay your life down for you country, for your Jesus, for your friends. There’s a lot of things you say you’re living for. You’ve got to fight it somehow, stop and turn around, ’cause this ain’t nothin’ to die for….The graveyard is full of folks who didn’t have time to die…You hear a sweet voice sayin’, just this side of the other side…You’ve got to fight it somehow…’cause this ain’t nothing to die for” (Tim McGraw, Nothin’ to die for). Thanks, you fucking ironic fucking dick. Sludge tar cup number five. Still nothing. Except maybe that I have the shakes, but I think I’ve had the shakes since I got here. Probably well before that. I’m increasingly thankful that, in a place like this, no one pay too close attention to anyone else. Well, except Rita. “How ‘ya doin’ tonight, baby? You don’t look so good. Tell momma what’s goin’ on.” She plays mother to the lost and the alone, truck drivers and drifters. You walk in here alone and they sit you with Rita. She’s an angel to the broken, damned, lonely, and confused. My best guess is that she’s somewhere between sixty and one hundred, but you never ask a woman her age. Well, not if you want to live until tomorrow. She just drops in the booth across from you and pries out the reason for that pain in your eyes. One night she saved my life. I can’t imagine this place without her. There’s no answer to my pain tonight though, it’s as bottomless as this coffee pot. So, I sit here with my headphones on. She’s jerked them off my head four times now. “There aren’t any words tonight, momma.” She rolled her eyes at me. “You’re puttin’ plenty of ‘em on that paper, son. somethin’ tells me you ain’t in here tonight workin’ on that book of yours.” “I think I’ll write you in it.” “Good, make me the evil villain!” How do you turn an angel into the devil? Don’t act like you don’t know the answer to that, you manipulative bastard. “Haha.” “You’re wearin’ a weddin’ band now, son. Where is the little lady? Or did she walk out and send you here?” “She isn’t going anywhere, momma.” She nodded like she already expected me to say that. One of those sage nods. Infinite wisdom. “Finally found a good woman to take care of ‘ya. She keep you on the good path, boy?” “Of course, momma.” “She love ‘ya?” “Of course she does, momma.” “Ah! Your eyes light up when you talk about ‘er. You love ‘er too! That’s not a question, son.” I just smile and she goes to bring more coffee. I already know she’s not done. As relentless as a bulldog with a bone, she won’t let me walk out of here feeling like I feel. That would be unacceptable. She works the overnight. She’ll be here until dawn and I will too if I don’t pass her test. I call her my roadside angel and she laughs. I wonder if she’s heard that before and I bet she has. She brought cream this time. “Lighten your coffee and lighten your mood, darlin’.” “Didn’t know you could lighten tar.” That earned me a swat to the back of the head and a friendly chuckle. The more I speak the more I can hear the walls. Every front I have is laced through my words. that shut down is coming. I’m already manufacturing the things people expect to see. Except I can’t hide the truth from my eyes. “Your eyes are so expressive, they speak even when you don’t.” Which is why I’ve made best friends with a set of mirrored shades. “Your eyes always give you away.” How many times have I heard that? Those infamous frames of mirrored glass are the red flag waving, but what I’m hiding is so unclear. I’m the world’ greatest actor. I can put on a show to hundreds and they eat every word of it. I am that silver-tongued devil. Oh, fuck you iPod. Goddamn smartass, ironic bastard!! “Little girl, don’t you know he’s the devil? He’s everything that I ain’t, hiding intentions of evil..under the smile of a saint…” Hm. Rita is back, fresh coffee and more questions. “I seen you outside, smokin’.” “I think cancer is my God-given choice.” “You look like a ghost, just a-hauntin’ this old place, boy. Them truck drivers just smile and say hello,” did I mention that truck drivers are the coolest and friendliest people on the planet? It’s like a whole bunch of backwoods southern folks with 18 wheeled mobile homes, “and you do the same in kind, but it is so sad and empty. You’re all empty, son, all but them twelve cups of coffee you done sat here and drank.” I guess if you work in a place like this long enough you become a pretty damn good read of people. “I’ll be back, darlin’. You think good and hard about what I just said.” Alright, Rita. They closed the downstairs bathroom. I’ve never been upstairs before. I found the showers. I found the lounge. I found everything one might need. I could live in places like this. Driving from one to the other. Lighthouses of salvation in the night. Just another drifter. That part of my soul that longs to roam will probably never quiet down. That part of me that wants to run from everything. Except from her. That scares me and not much scares me. Truck drivers are also the curious sort. “That young kid. What’s his story? What’s he writin’ ’bout?” “No one knows for sure. Rita says he’s writin’ a book.” Sometimes I am. More often I’m just filling up pages with observations, life lessons, soul confessions, or the meaning of life. Another good point is that just because I have my headphones on my head doesn’t mean that I can’t hear the conversations about me that are going on a table over. It only looks like I’m listening to music. My phone won’t let me open these picture messages. Why does my sister keep sending them? Also, “you’re quite a guy.” Am I? I’m just me. I need to think about that one. “That’s all you need.” Good, because that’s all I got. Hah. Ain’t that the truth? I can be nothing but what I am. I used to think that it wasn’t enough, but now I wonder ‘not enough’ for who? Then again I used to live for everyone but myself. You can’t please everyone. I’ve learned that. It wasn’t an easy lesson. Sometimes people get hurt. Sometimes you can’t save everyone. Shit. Sometimes you can’t save yourself. Ironic bastard… ”Sometimes love ain’t enough and there’s times when just giving up is alright. No matter how much you want it to work, someones going to get hurt. Sometimes, it ain’t about who’s wrong and as bad as you want to hold on, the right thing to do is get out, right now, before it’s too late. Yeah, the hardest part of leavin’ is pickin’ up the keys and findin’ the nerve to start that car. The first night is the longest, you’re waking up alone and you find out how strong you really are. The rest is the easy part. Before long, the phone is going to ring and you’ll want..to answer her call, but boy don’t. Don’t have the same conversation over and over, just let it be over…There’s an open road, there’s a lot ahead, and even though you can’t see it yet, just take the chance. Pick up your keys, find the nerve, start your car, the rest is the easy part.” There is coffee on my paper. There is coffee in my veins. They say the key to being a good writer is to open up a vein and bleed on the paper. Connection? Maybe. Maybe. Dear Lord. I’ve got the shakes so bad that it’s affecting my already shitting handwriting. I think I need to lay off on the coffee. This last batch was bottom of the pot strong. My favorite. I think I could stay awake for the next six months or so, Jesus. Oh well, at least I’m not drinking liquor like it’s water. God knows I wanna. Maybe it’ll counter all this caffeine. Haha. Bad plan, Chance. Smoking, drinking tar, pacing, thinking. Thoughts. All kinds of thoughts. Shit. Fuck. Goddamn! No. No. No. I pushed myself from one extreme to the other with the high application of large amounts of caffeine. I thought I was down too far for that or I’d have been more careful. Okay. Breathe. You’re not manic, you’ve just had too much coffee. Right, right. Okay, welcome back to planet Earth, space cadet. It’s under complete control. That means it’s coffee and not mania. This is good. Oh, Rita is back. Bad timing, momma. “Alright, hunny,” why does she have to call me that? “If your old lady ain’t steppin’ on you, then you must be back in that ‘ole past of yours somewhere. Talk to momma. Why you torturin’ yourself, baby?” Am I torturing myself? I do tend to do that a lot. Daily. Hourly. Shit.”Everybody in here has regrets, Rita.” “Not ever’body in here can’t sleep at night and they ain’t been sittin’ here for four damn hours drinkin’ this shit.” “Three and a half.” “Don’t you go gettin’ cute with me, boy! Don’t you go changin’ the subject on me neither. What’s on your mind, son?” “You’re like a dog with a bone, momma, you don’t know when to let it go.” “Boy, I’m a stubborn old woman, no you think real hard ’bout what’s botherin’ you and then you think real hard ‘fore you lie to me again.” She’s always telling me to think real hard about shit and then leaving me to do it. I don’t know what to tell her tonight though. Momma, I’m crazy. Just let me sit here and go silently insane? It’ll pass, momma, just as soon as I kick my own ass for every misspoken word, every misdeed, wrong done, and broken heart? No, unacceptable. You’ve got to live for the moment at hand, son. I can hear it now. You got to stay outta your past and don’t look to far ahead. Look at what is right here. Ever wonder where I got that life theory at? Now you know. Late night, truck stop waitress logic from a long and hard lived life. So, who are ‘ya, kiddo?” “Chance.” “No, that’s your name. Who are ‘ya?” I don’t have an answer for that, so I just shrug. He looks sad. “Lost, are ‘ya? No wonder Rita won’t leave ‘ya be.” I think he’s from New England. He’s got that Bostonian accent. He hasn’t said and I don’t ask. “Going far?” I ask that instead. He tells me he’s going to Virginia and asks me if I want to go. I do and I don’t, so I shake my head. He nods like he understands the conflict behind my eyes. I hope he does, because I do less and less. “See that you’re married, kiddo.” He gestures to the silver band on my left hand. “Kids?” I shake my head and nearly laugh, but manage to not. “She waitin’ for you at home?” I shake my head again and let him draw his own conclusions from that. He looks sad again. I’m beginning to think he feels sorry for me. “It’s not exactly like that.” But that explanation only furthers the confusion in his eyes and I let it go. “Where ‘ya from, kiddo?” “Columbus.” It’s not the truth and it’s not a lie, he only nods. We go to smoke and he tells me it’s getting colder. Maybe it is. I can’t tell. When we come back he pays and leaves. “Time to move on, kid, you too prob’ly.” I shake my head and wish him Godspeed. He shakes his head and goes. It’s getting later, but this place feels so much like home. Out there on the road, we’re all just lost. We’re all just looking for home. That’s how we end up in places like this. We’re all complete strangers. We’re all family. “It’s about that time, momma.” Maybe that old driver was right, maybe it’s time for me to head out of here before I drive myself further insane than I was when I walked in. “Where else you got to go, boy?” “Home, momma.” She knows it’s a lie just as sure as I do. There’s no getting anything past her. “You won’t find home at the bottom of a bottle, son.” “I know.” “So, don’t go lookin’ there for it. Be safe.” She kisses my forehead and takes my bill and card. I can see my car out the window. It looks like freedom and it looks like my prison. I am my own jailer and I’m going to the house.