I tore out the back door and into the yard. A mist had settled as the evening progressed, the humidity of the June night forming premature dew droplets on my parents’ roughly manicured lawn. I took a breath. Fog rolled into my lungs and settled there.
Padding down the driveway, I broke into a light jog, stepping into the street. The only sounds were those found on languid suburban summer nights: the distant wheezing of car engines, street lamps buzzing, skittering gravel. The gravel of the pavement scored the bottom of my bare feet, nicked my heel and settled in between my toes; and even though the calluses I developed as a child running rampant through the neighborhood had faded with time, I walked at a normal pace, relishing the pinprick sensation, the slight pain underfoot.
I walked to the corner the empty street, then turned. Yellow lights stood out in windows up and down the road in a kind of crossword puzzle against the black silhouettes of two-story houses. The humidity did nothing to help the crawling sensation I felt close to my bones.
I positioned myself in a sprinter’s stance. In the distance, or maybe in the back of my mind, a shot went off. I launched forward.
People say the energy spike from adrenaline is the powerful enough to lift vehicles and fight off bears. My arms began pumping and my legs, spinning, I felt like a wind-up toy. Sheer momentum propelled me further than the strength of my own limbs.
Red cups littered the floor of the apartment and the back yard. Speakers had been brought in and placed haphazardly on the shelving next to the sliding back doors. Swee and I had smoked half a pack of Marlboro’s next to the drainage pit out back. We liked cigarettes when we were drunk. Kraken and cigarettes seemed like a natural combination.
I fell stumbling through the back door, desperately searching for Alejandra and Dhany, who were pouring drinks for their guests in the galley kitchen at the front of the house. I waited impatiently as Dhany joked over tequila shots. I poked Alejandra on the shoulder repeatedly.
“What is it,” she asked.
“Swee. Swee just told me that she wants to kill herself.”
“Oh, we know,” Dhany said.
“That’s common knowledge,” Alejandra said.
“We deal with this on a daily basis, don’t worry. She says it all the time.”
I smoked another cigarette upstairs in Alejandra’s room, alone. My roommates were outside and wouldn’t notice if I was gone. I crushed the butt on the windowsill, grabbed my jacket, and ran for the bus, jogging down the drive in my heels.
At the bus stop, I watched the sky, discerning stars from satellites as they wheeled overhead. I wanted to live. The running felt like adrenaline. The alcohol felt like Valium. The cigarettes felt like youth immortal.
I was sitting on Nick’s porch, smoking a cigarette with his girlfriend when he found me, cigarette dangling from two fingers.
“I can’t believe someone like you smokes,” he said. “Can I have one?”
“I gave the last one to Anna,” I said, gesturing to his girlfriend.
I would never smoke indoors because if I did, my roommate would smother me with Lysol spray. I smoke in public as a destruction of my own image. White girl, dull brown hair, jeans and a shirt, the sour-sweet smell of suburbia. I like to see the looks on their faces. I like to blame the habit on an ex-boyfriend. I could destroy the part of me that weighed like a ball and chain to my own cautious existence. I liked burning bridges. I liked looking the devil in the face with blissful disregard. I am young. I am invincible, I tell him. Your fumes and soot and brimstone can’t harm me.
I could burn every bridge across the Delaware River and still not be able to run fast enough to escape the smothering fumes. Is this youth? Destruction of oneself? The pathological crawling sensation, wanting to shed our skin, running blindly? A limbo of sorts, fighting like hell until we see the kids who have come after us, and we wonder. Is that what I look like?
Annemarie Menna is an undergraduate student in her last year at Syracuse University, where she studies cultural anthropology and writing.