Baselines

I can hear the soft click of my shoes against the cold concrete, walking away from Nina’s car. The air is crisp but calming. My breath hangs slightly in the sky above my head. Our friend Elise is in tow, cracking a joke as she walks just behind us.

We enter Schuba’s and are immediately greeted by people we all know, spending our first minutes at the bar giving hugs before ordering our drinks. Ian is on stage preparing for the show. He looks pensive, like he usually does before he begins a set. The night I met him, he looked just liked that.

***

Lex is dressed up like she’s ready for a wild night, but we’re just going to see her ex’s band. She wants to look hot to give him a taste of what he’s missing. I’m there for moral support but am not necessarily on board with the reason that we’re going. I like the point of past. I like having the capacity to leave things there if you want to. I like wanting to, but Lex doesn’t. She’s like a baby with feces or an ocean with with pollution. She wants to regurgitate her waste to make it useful but she doesn’t recognize that shit is toxic.

Even still, I watch her get dolled up, and give her pointers on her outfit. When we arrive at the venue, we scan the screen looking for potential paramours of his, sipping our PBRs, judging the scene much more harshly than we should. Out of the corner, a long figure in dark skinny jeans approaches us. He and Lex politely hug. He reaches his hand out to me and offers a firm shake.

“Hi, I’m Ian.”

***

We hug now. I can feel his jitters underneath his leather jacket. Being surrounded mostly by friends is making him more nervous I think.

“Thank you for coming out kid,” he says to me. He knows that with a 10PM start time, his show is will go past my bedtime on a work night. “Don’t rage too hard after okay?”

Behind us, the crowd gathers waiting for things to start. Once he’s back on stage, we all follow in. Elise, Nina, and myself gather at the front.  I turn around and look at all the people here to see Ian play- most of which I consider friends. People who I met through Ian-Ian who I met through Lex.

***

When I was looking for sublets after I arrived to Chicago in the summer of 2013, one of the ads I responded to was Lex. We hit it off instantly. She asked me to be her roommate while I was on my way back to the place I was staying. She helped me move in two weeks later. While I found her initially intimidating, I was almost entranced by the way her energy colored the room. She sparked like cubics zirconia. She loved the debonair. In many ways she was ahead of her time, but in many others she was behind.

That fall, she introduced me to Ian, and strictly for loyalty’s sake, I denied his innocent advances to develop a friendship. Gradually over the next few months, I learned the depths of her addictions. The month of her birthday the following spring, I realized that her kind of illness was a permanent guest I couldn’t live with. I moved out shortly after. Ian and I remained in touch, enough to consider each other teammates, but hardly enough to drop the gloves.

Almost a year after I met Ian, two days before his birthday, Lex died in her sleep of a rumored overdose. The next week we were hurricanes of booze and sleepless nights, spiraling soundlessly, low to the earth but just beneath the stars- the impending November biting our throats like we owed it something.

But it owed us something. Those days took one of our people away from us, and we lashed out accordingly. While we weren’t in close contact with her at the time of her death, she was still someone we cared deeply about. Because of her, we had someone to hold on to when she left.

****

Ian’s base is dark and raspy. His voice is cleanly honest. When I see him, I see our first day and all the days that followed. I see the long phone calls talking about our art. I see his trash bin filled with beer cans. I see a stranger who time made me a brother. I see all the people he introduced me to, people who I grew to love.

His music crashes over the crowd and I’m floating with the sound. Out of the corner of my eye, an empty space forms slowly behind me. I picture Lex pushing her way there, a vodka something in hand, making her entrance more noticeable than the act on stage. I picture her signature red lipstick blot on the rim of the glass, looking ultra violet from the spot light.

The past forms in my lower eyelids, and smudges my makeup. I wipe it with the sleeve of my leather jacket. The present sips from my can of beer. The future, like baselines, rumbles in my heart.

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