“The Strattera Sargent,” I said aloud and smirked, remembering how I would so ache for the uppers. It’s the Adderall Admiral. Christ, the Ritalin Redeemer. And oh for a reliable source! The candy man was no longer making the rounds, leaving me nothing but a teeth-chattering habit and an endlessly chit-chatting melon. All I had were no-good No Doz. I popped the two but they proved hopeless. I’d be seeing purple and black soon whether I wanted to or not. Yeah, yeah. I was putting it off.
The bristles on my neck and face were recent but the hair atop my head was at a year’s growth. Lord knows I have enough hair on the inside of my head. So, I grew it out. My hair, once straight and shiny, was now frizzy and pepper and even lengthier than the salad bowl cut of the fourth grade. I examined an old clip from the paper in order to track the progress of my locks. Dangerous Knockout Game Hits Philadelphia. Above the opening line, “It’s a new nasty trend: random attacks just for fun on people just minding their own business,” black and white pixels form a slack body, my body, me. Max Marzolf. I was sound asleep and slobbery in the street of Fishtown, but my hair was high and tight. Getting coldcocked that winter taught me to use the buddy system after nine. I couldn’t leave unless I was with someone.
I grabbed hold of the fridge handle fortified in duct tape. Besides a few elderly plums, two eggs I was saving for morning, and an Arrogant Bastard Ale, it was empty. Just like my EBT card. Fresh out. If only my grandmother were looking down on me then. Oh, Nana! Mi dispiace, Nonna! I’m sorry I inherited my dad’s genes and I’m sorry I can’t find the right job and I’m sorry I never loved a real person and I’m sorry you were Catholic! You came from Toricella to make sure your kids and grandkids would live fruitful lives here in Amurrica. Instead you ended up with three average grandkids and an unstable one. I buried my scruffy blubbering face in my cushy hands and leaned over the kitchen table, which also doubled as my cutting board. “But she likes me, Nana!” I shouted at the air. She liked me. Even when I was out of toilet paper and she had to use the classifieds and even after I choked her during missionary. And I am perpetually in debt and she has no idea. And she has no idea how it feels for me that she has no idea.
She never asked me, “What are you thinking right now?” like my mentally deficient ex. Thoughts are personal. She respected that. Still, she sensed the anxiety. She knew my heart was aflutter for someone else. She told me, “Call after whatever you have to get resolved…is resolved.” It made no sense that she dug me. Marzolf, the bastard, the stooge, the skunk. Yet, she was the only healthy part of my gross world. So, it became more and more clear. I had to save the healthy relationship by breaking up with the girl of my dreams.
Headphones covered my ears and my palms cradled the back of my neck. The plastic of the air mattress stuck to my skin.
The black sheep runnin’ with a pack of wolves, diamond in the rough, tell Brock I need a pack of woods. Two white cups full of codeine. Plus I got two white sluts down to blow me. Can’t you see I’m floating?
I walked beneath the purple sky through twilit darkness. The geezer who was all gums and warming his filthy mitts over the burning barrel smiled in a way that threatened to split his face in two. He cackled, “You dirn’t gonna find ‘er this time!” He hobbled over to me. I stopped and stared at his sooty nostril hair until he roared in laughter. Ugh. Bum germs.
I marched onward past the downed airplane. Shots were fired and I ducked down and covered my head.
A bumbling man tapped me on the shoulder, saying “And they never killed Bin Laden…” It was my uncle in his tattered army coat, “oh no, they got his double, it was all so convenient, huh? And why weren’t the official photos ever released and why did they just dump him in the ocean, eh? The medication comes once a month, Max, and they give it to me to shut me up—they know. They know I know nine-eleven was an inside job and they’re drugging me up so I can commit the next assault…”
I stiff-armed my quaking uncle to the side. Run, I decided.
I ran toward the green and pink glowing Bonnaroo arch when, out of nowhere, a kid’s size two tripped me up, giving me whip lash as I hit the dirt. Brad Fish. I got up and towered over the little bastard, pointing a stiff finger at his stupid, innocent looking face. I grabbed him by his Animaniacs t-shirt, gathering it up in my writhing fist. Little fucking snot-nosed bully with a fucking stupid-ass haircut and man I just want to slap around your stupid little face, and I did. I smacked his little face back and forth, back and forth until he cried out, “Enough! Please, enough! I’m sorry, Dad!”
“L-Look,” I said taken aback. “You were such a bully to me. You made moving to Bensalem a living…” It didn’t matter. I closed my eyes for a second and he was vanished.
I knew where she’d be.
I went into the woods past the owls a-hooing and the dwarves snickering to a carved out, circular open patch of grass so pristine it could’ve been the outfield to Mile High Stadium. There she was in the middle of it. Her hair was so golden, so deep and clustered. The edge of her twirling sundress had the same effect of Fourth of July sparklers, leaving gold streaks behind in my mind’s eye. She saw me. Don’t come right away, Stella. Let me sit here for a while and become re-accustomed with your saintliness. Leave me alone while my mind travels the infinite cosmos that are your splendid glory. Her body came into mine and she twirled me through nature’s cool breath, kissed me the way a boundless beauty in love ought to, and in a Ukrainian accent, said, “Boy, you don’t leave me again.”
I stepped back and stared at the few freckles on her cheeks and nose. I remembered her brown nakedness, how we made love while floating amidst the dazzling green northern lights. I saw myself pale and sickly when I reflected back on our Scrabble date on a park bench in outer space. Stella. The sky was full of her. Even then, the stars were shooting all around us.
“Bebe,” she said. “Take me to Brazil. Behind the falls of Serra do Cipo and make love to me.”
I said nothing. She ran a magnetized hand through my frizz ball of hair and asked me what was wrong. A tear etched its way through my stubble.
Stella. Our love transcended time. We were David and Bathsheba, a love that made me feel guilty and empty. But oh, was my love undying! The woman who removed the sweaty Galea from my head and held me as I was dying on the Roman battlefield, the girl who held my hand as we swam through the Bioluminescent algae.
“Tell me!” she demanded.
“I…we…can’t. It has to end, Stella, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I love you, Stella.”
She knew about the relationship in my waking life. She knew about it and didn’t mind. She wanted me to share my love with the world. She wanted me to be happy.
“Oh, Max. Don’t you see? This life is more fulfilling than your waking life. Why, Max? Why pull yourself away from me, from this life we have?”
I pulled her close to me again and smeared my wet face into her shoulder. She rubbed my back and told me it was okay.
“Why can’t you be real, Stella? Why can’t you come to me in reality? We can watch after our babies until they lose their baby fat and we can die together somewhere in the mountains of Abruzzi.”
“Max, I am out there in your world. You need to be patient. We will cross paths and we will know each other like we know each other now.”
I stared into her blue eyes which reflected the planet Venus. It made me sob again.
“Do you even love her?” she asked.
I didn’t, yet. We cared for each other, took turns washing each other, cuddled together while watching films, but I couldn’t bring myself to love Sandra. I was comfortable with her. I confided in her, though my soul never escaped me when I felt the cool wetness of her mouth. I knew I could never love her like I have loved Stella for nearly a decade.
“Stella, I don’t want to do this. I have to do this. If I ever want a shot at a normal life, I need to try to forget you. I need to focus on her. I’m thirty years old for fuck’s sake. When my grandmother was alive she told me to have children!”
“But you’ll never be truly happy.”
“I need to try.”
The crickets chirped all around us and we cried together. Her fragrance swirled around in my nostrils, my brain. Please, Stella, let’s stay like this a little longer.
“So, this is it,” she said, reluctantly. “When I let go, you won’t see me again.”
I cried harder.
“I love you. I’ll always love you,” she told me.
“No, wait, Stella, don’t go. I’m not sure.”
But when I opened my eyes, she was gone. I was talking to the wall and holding my pillow. Regardless, I talked on. “Stella…Stella… I made a mistake! Stella…please, in my next dream, come back to me, and then the one after, for a total of two dreams, Stella, and then I promise, you won’t have to see me again after that!”
I talked and talked aloud, but in my heart, I knew she’d never come back.