driver, surprise me

R: So what would you say if God gave you a moment to speak? I was thinking about this driving to Jenny’s party Jesús is driving and Jillian is there and Brendan is there with me in the backseat and I was thinking about, what I would say like to God you know, and all the windows are rolled up and we’re playing Bob Dylan stuck inside a mobile and we sing it really hard. We sing it hard and like we’re in love and I was thinking what I would say to God and I think I would tell him like a love story, I think if I ever see him (inaudible) I would just say a love story, and I was thinking about this boy named Julius you know and Julius is not at a place he wants to be. He’s like in the desert and it’s not the desert where people will have, they don’t romantized, they don’t find the setting to be romantic he’s not living in this romantic desert, he’s living in an evil part of town, he thinks, everything is too dark and deaf and the, that’s just his life. But he finds some solitude in reading and this boy Julius wants to be in love but he thinks he has to figure out what want is, what to want.

The one time, you can call him lucky he was reading a book by Milan Kundera and felt incredible bravery I guess sitting in his theatre class and then he sees a girl a very pretty girl she’s wearing a purple shirt and her hair is red and he’s scared because he knows her name, he’s seen her around in the hallways her name is Jennifer. So he knows Jennifer, Jennifer doesn’t know a goddamn thing about him but he knows Jennifer and for some goddamn reason he threw the book down without keeping the page and he walked up to her, he walked up and he said hello and she said hello back and the rest of the class or even the rest of the week he doesn’t really remember a damn thing because I think he went over this weird blink of who he is and who he’s becoming this wonderful cocoon stage, because he doesn’t remember but when he comes together when realizes his life again, they’re meeting for coffee. She picks him up she drives a shitty car and he loves that and she, he notices that she always turn all her heaters on inside the car is this hot air, suffocating air but it’s so warm. It’s warm like how winter should be warm when you try to protect yourself from it and that’s what the girl was doing, she hates being cold she says so and he says he doesn’t, he doesn’t like it either and they drive off and that is, that moment can be repeated a hundred times over that year that was his relationship with this Jennifer and Julius never felt more alive. One time Jennifer calls him and he is just doing whatever he would be doing he’s eating he’s cooking he’s reading a book he’s doing his studies and the phone rings. And the first thing he hears is her crying her feeling frantic and he’s asking what’s wrong what’s wrong, like what’s going on with you? and she can’t say much she’s just crying and she says come over please. She says it with this bravery or this complete human need because I think (inaudible), because she trusts humanity and Julius he trusts humanity too, so immediately he says I’m coming over right now and she does this, she says thank you she says thank you for everything. She doesn’t say that, she just says thank you which means everything. and so wait Julius doesn’t drive a car he’s very poor so he has to find a way over there. He ends up walking twenty blocks with his cell phone in his pocket just to make sure she knows, you know you can call me, I’ll be here I’m on my way, he gets there takes him about an hour and a half to walk and when he finally gets there they, I mean what happens then? She invites him in and they you know, they huddle like lions, it’s a first moment of need he responds to and Julius again felt more alive then he ever did and I was thinking about what God would look like when I’m telling him this so far and I would look up to God and he would look at me just waiting. I don’t know what he looks like. I don’t think. I can’t see him. But then I would play with him saying do you want me to keep going? and I imagine God would say keep going and so Julius and Jennifer kept going. There was a night three months into their relationship well beyond the first kiss the first fuck the first time they see each other’s buttocks in ugly lighting and know what love is. They’re past all that. There’s a particular time where Jennifer was incommunicable she was outside society, she doesn’t feel like society she felt like an animal she didn’t know why and this bothered her and Julius was only bothered because he was locked out, he couldn’t do anything about it and so, what did he do? He remembered the first time he remembered reading that Milan Kundera book and then so he went back and he reread the book in a day, just to find something and he didn’t find anything but he left that night. He stole his father’s car which is this Toyota pickup truck this shitty white truck and he stole it and he drove and he cashes his paycheck which isn’t much, I don’t know let’s say two hundred dollars and goes to a store and a Walmart and Target and he buys all the dishes he could, all the glasses he could everything brac able, brickable. Anything that can break he buys them all he has about six bags full he spends his entire paycheck he drives over he knocks on Jennifer’s door and she’s surprised, you don’t have a car. Why are you here? And he says come here and then all is realized she knows what that feels like and she runs with him and they run in this way that you can see in films, in this way where he leads she follows their hands are tied together and they run as if music is playing and they go in the car.  (Richard is talking to God right there). But Julius is, he’s just driving and you know where is he driving? he’s drives underneath this freeway this place where they’re doing construction and it’s vacant now it’s after dark and they go there, and she’s curious she doesn’t know what’s going on she’s still going through a weird time but she’s fascinated you know? He gets out of the car he evens opens her door and that’s weird and she finds that to be silly and they go underneath the bridge and he shows her what he’s bought, he says hey, I bought you something. And she looks in the bag and she looks at one on a very large white plate she could even see her reflection, and she says what, what is this? He’s like I don’t know. And then he reaches deep inside the bag for these fancy wine glasses he’s found at Target and he just chucks them towards the concrete walls and he picks up another and he just chucks it and then he looks back to her and says this is all for you. I bought this for you.

And then she picks them up. She throws the dishes across the freeway and she didn’t know what she felt. She felt like levitation. She felt as if you’re hovering above animals and they can’t touch you or you’re not in danger you’re never going to be in danger again and there’s something about in that moment where they’re just throwing these bric-a-bracs these glasses, you hear these sounds of things being broken and then you hear, you hear Jennifer and you hear Julius and you just hear them become visceral through like, I guess their scent. The way their eyes look now, the way that if they’re close standing close or standing apart it makes no difference they are tied and they get through the bags of glass everything is gone, they drive home and frankly, they don’t remember the drive home they don’t remember much two days after that because it was just that night.

Okay so Julius is a few years older, I tell God, and you know, I tell him what happened. Jennifer didn’t work out something happened it was a misconnect he doesn’t want to talk about it he doesn’t want to explain it but it didn’t work out between Julius and Jennifer and they both graduated high school and went off into different states and all he could say to his friends is, she’s stopped talking to me. I don’t know what to do but she’s stopped talking to me I’m not going to fight that (inaudible) Julius even has some friends like, why aren’t you fighting for that? He says because I, why would I fight for that? That’s her choice man, I’m never going to fucking interfere with that he says. I’m not that guy. And the friend understood and now Julius is a few years older what is he doing now you know? he’s in college he’s living a good life but he’s tired of calling it a good life when friends ask him how are you doing? He says it’s a good life, you know, he’s doing everything he wants he’s writing he’s being recognized and Julius is on (if we had) to be objective he has a good life and he smiles for that everyone morning when he listens to songs or when he smokes a cigarette or when he’s hanging out with friend he’s living a good life but then he knows God, and I’m telling you God, something is missing. Something is missing and that’s what Julius is thinking about. One day he doesn’t know why he goes to his school library and he goes to a floor he never goes to, I mean why not you know? He’s listening to C’mere by Interpol on his earphones and he just feels this sense like. He just feels this sense of fuck it so he goes to the top floor and he never does he walks through the aisles and just experience color, experience a life experience these people inside books and he picks up one he doesn’t know why, but he picks up one and it says Come Here, the title of the book is called Come Here, and you know that intrigues him he has a history with that, those two words. Those two words mean to him more so than his first and last name so he picks up the book and he begins reading and what does Julius do? He skips the next two classes

to sit down criss cross applesauce and read this book, it’s the most perfect thing it’s the perfect book and then what does he do? he gets frantic. He’s alive he’s in love with an inanimate thing that should not be inanimate, he’s in love with emotion and he turns around to look see who wrote this book and it’s this girl named Jennifer. And that scares him because is it? and then he looks at the picture and it’s not his Jennifer and there’s this sense of relief but also this sense of attraction and strange (territory), he feels like he’s among serendipity and he feels silly and ridiculous but he feels like he is having serendipity this girl Jennifer wrote a book called Come Here and it’s perfect. Suddenly he appreciates her as an artist and also as a person suffering. (And I don’t know). He’s always had a thing for names. Every time Julius has met someone named Julius there’s this affinity as if you know exactly what I went though or you, you just know. Because we respond to these same sounds and you also have lived of Julius and then Julius is sitting down in this library missing all his classes and not caring and he sees that the author Jennifer lives only a thousand miles he thinks she lives up north. And then he always kept that in his head, she lives up north.

And then let’s say Julius is a year older, God, I would say to God. A year older, something happens right? and he doesn’t want it to happen but something does a close relative past away an aunt, it’s this weird absurd event something that makes him feel too much like a narrative but his aunt dies and he gets a small, a very small amount of money and Julius works part time barely has any financial aid and he’s never known this woman and he’s sad that she’s died and now suddenly he has a check for two thousand dollars. One of the last things Jennifer had told him before they stopped communicating she told him, and he remembers this while he’s holding his check because he’s both fearful and scared and kind of heartbroken, when he’s heartbroken he thinks about his ex girlfriend Jennifer from high school and he remember when she says why can’t you be the people inside your poetry? Why can’t you be the people inside your books? Why can’t you be brave? and that thought resonates and vibrates inside him like deep red bells like the Neko Case song and decides to cash the check he quits his job he takes a quarter off, what, he doesn’t know? He spends a day doing all those things with this check changing his life for three months and then he spends money to travel north, travel where he thinks this Jennifer lives, the one that wrote Come Here and then he finds nothing he finds work he becomes a bartender and a barkeep and he sweeps up, mostly he sweeps up the place but now he’s up in Portland living this completely strange life, who chose this for him? He can only think himself but right now I think he was just going with chance and the fact that he can try to be beautiful try to reach, because last time it went horribly wrong. Again Julius is just a boy who wants to be in love and he wants to know how to want and he doesn’t know how yet he thought he did and it’s confusing when apathy takes over when it doesn’t work out when your reliable point in the world becomes (inaudible). Becomes quicksand. But he’s up there and then what the fuck? How does this happen? He sees Jennifer the author of Come Here and I can see God looking at me and I tell him just listen this is really happening, God. I don’t know if you remembered it but this happened. Julius sees Jennifer and he knows it’s her and then she orders a hot coffee a hot vanilla coffee and she sits down next to the window as if she’s the only person in the room in the café and she just takes her drink she even lights a cigarette and she begins reading a book. Julius doesn’t know what the book is. He goes up to the barista and he orders the same drink because he has been drinking it the vanilla latte he enjoys the steam and then he sits at the table right across from her just so he could look at her eye to eye, he does that.

So that’s the love story. There this man that lost everything (Jesús has a line) I have a line that Jesús loves that I wrote once, I wrote love feels like a thing people learn to eventually live without like God or tonsils and then something else happened where I believed it and then I didn’t believe it but in this story, he believed that he was supposed to be there not because of fate or whatever because he had nothing else to do there was literally nothing else to do but sit at this café with this beautiful writer that he is already in love because of the book and he has a coffee with her, two tables away. And she’s done she puts a bookmark in her book and she gets up. She looks at him she says hello and he smiles he says hi. How are you doing? She says I’m doing okay how are you doing? He’s like I don’t know, I’ve been better but today is pretty better and she laughs, she’s like today is pretty better? I’m like today is pretty better. I wouldn’t say. I don’t like to speak grammatically in moments like these and she’s like, you don’t? and he says of course not, you know? We’re not on the page. And then, what does she do? Jennifer cowers a little bit she is curious so she gets a little closer, she doesn’t sit in the booth but she leans over the bar stool near it and then she’s just waiting for him to say something. And what does Julius do? He says this, he says you know one time a girlfriend told me, like why can’t you be the person in your poetry why can’t you be the person in your prose like why can’t, why can’t you be fucking brave? and Julius says that and he feels like he is consciousness exploded. It feels like, he feels incompletely intangible and not necessarily enlightened because there’s not this blank thing about him, it’s just, he is, he’s on fire that’s calming himself down and she looks at him and she asks him so you’re a writer and he looks up to her and he’s laughing because he’s lost in his life and he doesn’t care but he says, yes I am and you are too. And then they talk.

And I think that would be the story that I would tell God, I don’t know what God will say but that’s the story.

I was thinking about that on the way to Jenny’s party in the car, and because this is what I think about while in transit in a car and we get to Jenny’s party and we’re all just standing around we feel bad because most of the time Jesús and myself and other guests we just stand out on the balcony and you know, we enjoy going over to Jenny’s she’s a wonderful person but that was the night (inaudible) we has a discussion on vampires and werewolves and whether or not you want to be either. I said that I would be a vampire Jesús said he would be a werewolf and we talked about why and I think some of the people around us expected this laugh, or a conversation that is a joke but with Jesús and myself conversation is never a joke even though we laugh immensely conversations between us feel like birthright so we, we become who we are supposed to be and we talk and I tell him dude I vampires. For me they’re tortured right? So they’re tortured. (inaudible) but there’s thing about vampires I think writers have where you suffer you see this perspective and, my favorite thing about vampires is that you could communicate that like there’s this communication honestly where you can talk to humans and at least express it and work with it and figure out what is going on in this strange world we live, where literally I cannot as a vampire coexist. Jesús like agrees and then he talked to me about the pureness of devolving into a werewolf the moment of pure where you’re let loose of humanity let loose of obligation let loose of love because you become love, he talks about that moment of pure. And I tell him I can never be pure man I won’t be able to remember it, you know? My life works because I fail at everything I’m supposed to, at language at communication but because I’m doing with that, I have to reach out what I love the most about myself and about everyone is that we have to try to reach that is the verb to reach. We finish our drinks and I say goodbye to Jenny she says hey Richard and I say I’m sorry, we spent most of the time out on the balcony and she said that’s okay, you guys have your spot out there and then we tell her goodbye and then we get in the car and we drive home listening to Dylan and then I’m thinking I wonder if God is laughing I wonder what he is thinking and then I laugh because he’s, I don’t think he is. We had a good night.

(Richard Chiem:  Above all he believes there are lovers. The co-founder of driving home press and the editor of Vertebrae, a literary poetry and comics journal, Richard is currently a director for a virtual reading series, the eye reading series, and a co-director of a real time reading series, the Friends in High Places Reading Series. He was selected to read in the New Writing Series in 2007 and won the UCSD Stewart Award prize for poetry in 2009 and the DimeStories Competition 2009: SDSU vs. UCSD. His work has been published in the Purple & Gray and on Linh Dinh's blog, Detainees. He blogs at: