It started at a bar. Sleazy, dark, and smoky, the bar was home to a plethora of galiant free spirits that come in with only one intention, and leave forgetting they ever graced this establishment with their presence. They cruise in with unwashed hair and bitten nails, cheap liquors and sharing stories. Stories they will never remember who told them or where they were when they spilled words like grains of sand. Yet, phantoms of these stories will haunt them in the back of their minds. After sipping college-budget-friendly juices, they disappear like dust being thrown into glowing air. Gone, but they linger with you for a while.
Some like to carve once relevant phrases into the bar, such as "Jenna and Debby 4EVA" and "For a good time, call 555-0367, ryan xoxo" Some of the more academic and creative drunks will compose tipsy pieces of literature to reminisce in the wood until smoothing down. Some are love poems, some are words people wish they said, some are beautiful, some are painful, some are praising life, and some are suicide notes. I've read each and every one, but one sticks with me, no matter what.
Carved in the center of the bar, a simple quote lives, birthed by slanted writing and too much gin. The poem recites "When I die, my rotting body will grow into flowers, and I will be them, and that is eternity."
There is a story behind that tattoo on the scratched up bar. It must have been 3 years ago, when the thin boy sprinted into the bar. He had loose shorts on exposing his bruised knees, a thin shirt showing off his lithe body, and boots as banged up as the bar that sat between him and me. His hair was mussed up yet fluffy; a soft chocolate colour.
His fingers were short yet delicate, but stained red. I looked up, and his collar bone was distorted. His breathing was ragged, and his neck had bruises the shape of an aggressive man's hands on it. Still prominent over the hand-shaped bruises was a single hickey.
I had to count to ten before I could even attempt to look at his face.
His face was slender, young, and near angelic. At least that's what it would have looked like if it wasn't beat to a pulp. Both of his chocolate eyes were black and blue, his nose was dripping blood the same colour as that on his fingers. His mouth was soft, but kissed a dark purple shade. He should have had tears pouring out of his doe-like eyes, but his face remained stone cold.
I wanted to ask what happened. I wanted to help him escape whatever he was running from. I wanted to keep him safe.
I don't know if it was all the pot I smoked in high school or the shot of vodka I took with some wine-mom that night, but I couldn't get myself to help the poor boy. I couldn't even ask him if he was okay.
I was more terrified than he was.
I didn't even card the underage boy. I asked him what he wanted to drink and he spat "You know what I want." With shaking hands, I poured him a gin and tonic.
He drank his poison, keeping his stone-cold and barely-there stare, pulled out a quarter, then carved his message into the bar. Without another word, or paying, he got up and left.
Tracing my fingers over the poem, I bring myself back to reality. Tonight was a quiet night at the bar. I usually worked alongside Pete and Patrick. Pete was a recovering alcoholic who talked too fast and nearly knocked over drinks with his hands during every conversation, while Patrick was a quirky yet seemingly innocent boy who loved fedoras and Pete a little too much.
I was used to hearing them flirt, Pete do his deep booming laugh, and Patrick let out high pitched giggles at anything Pete did. And of course, I was used to hearing Patrick scream as Pete drilled him in the backroom. Tonight, however, I was alone at the bar.
I've been working at this dirty bar for nearly six years. Six years' worth of people coming in and unknowingly telling me their stories. Who they were, where they were from, and where they attended university. I mean, that isn't really their story, per say. More of them just making drunken small talk to help them from drinking alone.
Although, more deep individuals give me those stories I'll remember for a while. For example, the Abused Poet. Sure, we never spoke, or let alone met eyes, yet I feel like I could pick him out of a rioting crowd. The simplistic words, the sharp, slanted writing - I could tell he was a mastermind, a pensive individual, an artist who was beautifully morbid.
A clearing of the throat reminded me that I did indeed have a customer in the quiet bar. Tuesday nights were always slow, except for a few regulars. A short blonde who talked way too loud about her kids with her more plump friend, a greasy Armenian man who definitely ran a drug emporium, and a Uni professor who is cheating on his wife with one of his anatomy students. Pete, Patrick and I all know that he is helping her study the human body. Another regular also comes, but he doesn't deserve to be classified with those messes of matter.
He was by far my favourite.
Looking up across the bar, it was ironic enough that my favourite was sitting there looking ethereal. He doesn't talk much. At least not to me. Like ever. Sure, he orders his drink, politely thanks me, and then doodles in his little moleskin as he drinks the bar dry. Then, he calls a cab, and calls it a night.
He only started coming 5 months ago, but spends more time in the bar than any of the other regulars. It almost offended me that, for the amount of time he spends here, he never even told me his name, where he went to university, where he's from, all that shallow knowledge I shouldn't even care about.
One thing I did know was that he could drink more than the professor and Armenian man put together. He couldn't weigh more than 120 pounds, so it was pretty impressive with him being so little.
"What can I get you?" I rasped, looking down at a carving of "Want some? Come to the ladies room for fun xx." Classy. Glancing up, I see his soft lips purse into the closest thing to a frown, but a smile hid underneath his angst.
His lips were so, so soft looking. Same with his short, fluff of deep-chocolate hair that was made for fingers to run through, and frequently found itself home to twitching and anxious fingers. And he had these big doe-eyes that replicated the shade of bar that separates us.
He was so soft and gentle looking, but everything else was sharp enough to cut glass. Cheekbones, jawline, eyebrows, collarbones, but a pixie nose artists could only attempt to perfect in their work.
He was a walking oxymoron.
"You know exactly what I want." Sharp tongue, too. He was right, I knew exactly what he wanted. He wants what everyone else wants. To forget old memories and make new drunken ones. To replace the recent, gloomy ones that lurk in his complex mind. In simple, non-poetic words, he wanted to get shit-faced.
Every night, he comes in, drinks for a couple hours, gives me suggestive glances, and doesn't say a single word. As I've said, I don't say a word to him either. Although he is a few inches shorter compared to my height, he utterly intimidates me. It has to be the way he carries himself -somber, relaxed, yet coiled tight. Quiet, yet has a story.
A story in which you need to pick each petal off of him to get to his tender core.
I want nothing more than to be that florist.
Following his blunt orders, I pour him a vodka soda on the rocks. He does this little routine every time. Suck a piece of ice, draw a flower on the dew of his glass, and then sips his devil's juice with a grimace on his face. It was terribly cute.
"You weren't here last night." I remarked like an idiot. My favourite wiped his sweet mouth with the back of his hand. "You always spend Monday nights here. You bring that little brown notebook thing and write in it." God, I am such a damn creep. Who says that? This adorable, mysterious boy probably thinks I'm a damn stalker. If I saw my dopey face, with my stupid nose piercing, grinning like a moron, I would have nailed myself straight in the mouth.
Favourite stiffened, took a sip, and then sighed. "I have commitment problems, I guess." He shrugged and dug his blunt nails into the bar. "I was fighting with my boyfriend-er-ex boyfriend, Brendon. He was too pale, too mouthy, too clingy. Apparently, you aren't supposed to sleep with your married boss when you're in a relationship. Is that a rule or something? Well, he saw my boss and I frenching at Red Lobster, so we broke up. Anyways, I came here to drink to forget my commitment problems, not remember." He ran those twitching fingers through his hair, then took a big swig of a fresh drink I poured for him. "You know what? Liquor might just be the best boyfriend a desperate thing like me can get."
Wow. Wow. That is really all I could say. I've never really heard anyone open up like that. I mean, I've heard all types of stories, but this one seemed the most honest. I thought he was some sort of mute-sociopath, but apparently he held nothing back once you actually talked to him.
"Are you an alcoholic? I-well, not to be rude. But there is an under-the-table rule that the staff here can't pour more than two drinks to anyone who talk about drinking problems." He responded to this by tipping his head back and letting out a beautiful, harsh laugh that I will cherish and play like music in my head while I work on day-to-day chores.
"I'm not committed enough to be an alcoholic. See, commitment problems." He seemed less intimidating, more relaxed, now that I've picked a petal off the flower.
"I hate committing, being tied down. I like walking in the rain when I want. I like to climb fire escapes when I want. I like to be alone when I want. And I really like to pick flowers and tie them in my hair whenever I feel like it. It sounds pretty effeminate, but frankly, gender formalities don't work with me."
I noticed a little wild violet tucked in tousled hair, tied to another, continuing in an endless circle of nature, crowning him like an ethereal nymph. A fawnlette, I think that's what Vladimir Nabokov called boy nymphets. He was a fawnlette that never grew out of his boyish charm, but received far too many bruises as the years passed by.
"I love violets. They are my favourite flowers." He noted. I kept that in the back of my mind, just in case I ever get the chance to buy him flowers.
"And I hate committing when I comes to the people I have sex with. I have about 14 partners right now. And I'm not a whore, I just like sex. Why should I be stuck picking only one flower, when there are so many different ones growing? Soft ones, prickly ones, white, coloured, thick, thin, ugly, graceful. Some are domestic. Some are wild." He catches his breath after his little rant and take a shot of tequila without even making a face. "I think I'm a wild flower, I don't like growing in one place."
I couldn't agree with him more. He was a wild flower. He thought free and did what he wanted; sadly he just grew into the wrong places, like this decrepit bar.
"Everyone that comes here thinks they are a wild flower." I reassure him, "They come in, drink, and then leave for their next journey." He taps on his shot glass, indicating that he wants another hit. "You, you are just a wild flower that gets watered a bit too much," I tell him.
He downs another shot and wits back "Why do you want me to stop drinking? It's your excuse to look at me, and my excuse to look at you. We both don't have issues with this, do we?" That sharp tongue will always be the victor between us.
A familiar song twinkles though the radio, causing both of us to sigh. "You know, wild flower, I never caught your name." I stated as I poured him another shot.
"That's because I never told you. This is the most you ever talked to me." That tongue is like razors. He fiddled with the neckline of his cable knit sweater, then scratched his drunk-rash stained collarbones. "It's Tyler. Well, it is really Tyler Robert Joseph."
Tyler. I say it out loud on accident (on purpose), loving the way it simplistically rolled of my tongue, yet spat off his knife like mouth. Tyler crinkles his precious nose, making me glance down to realise I was indeed overflowing the shot glass with some other vapid liquid.
"Well Tyler, I'm Josh, but it is really Joshua William Dun." Damn I am so smooth when I don't think about it. That makes up for the pool of alcohol accumulating on the bar. Tyler reaches forward, brushing his thin, clean fingers over the writing I worship.
"Josh. It suits you. Sturdy, dependable, but still a little strange." He tips his tan neck back and downs his 4th, maybe 5th shot of the hour. "Damn, this wild flower has been watered far too much." He slurs adorably, giggling a bit at how tipsy he was.
I hesitantly called him a cab, never wanting him to leave my sight again. I don't want him to keep growing, a flower that grows into the arms of bad boyfriends and the beds of 14 married men. I want him to grow and become domestic in my garden.
I pour him a cup of coffee to help him sober up a tad. Licking his lips, he goes "That poem, who wrote it?"
"The poem you have been looking at more than you've been looking at me." Sharp tongue, like always.
"Oh, this poem. A few years ago, some boy came in and wrote it. He was pretty fucked up. He looked like he got the shit beat out of him."
"What month was it? When he came to the bar?" Tyler asked.
I vaguely remember snowflakes dusting the boy's hair, and his clothing seeming way too summery for the weather. More cleared up in my foggy brain. Twinkle lights were wrapped around the bar, and Pete, Patrick and I were wearing our worst sweaters. Pete was kissing Patrick's neck and handing him a gift wrapped in pink paper.
Cute little bastards.
"Josh? Wake up Josh. Wake up." Tyler called as he snapped his fingers in my blank face.
"Sorry. I zone out a lot. It must be the weed I smoked when I was younger." Tyler raised a thin eyebrow at my justification. "It was Christmas time, and he seemed to be running away from something."
"He was running away. He had commitment problems." Tyler mumbled, licking the rim of a shot glass. "I hate Christmas. I came out to my parents on Christmas eve-eve three years ago. Last time I saw my parents."
"..and I never really got a good look at him. I hope he comes back some day, I think he would be a wild flower." I continue.
"He is." Tyler softly informs me. "I can tell, no sedentary flower could ever think like that." He reaches for his hair, and unties a wild violet. You know, those little purple violets you see while you hike in parks. The little ones that grow in the cobblestone of streets. The delicate ones that juvenile girls play "he loves me, he loves me not" on, hoping a petal will remain for "he loves me." Taking the little piece of himself, Tyler sets it right where the poem ends.
I'm touched, honoured really. I don't know if I wanted to touch it, frame it, kiss it. Tyler adjusts his crown in his perfect fluff of hair. God, he is gorgeous.
Tyler was reaching in his skin tight jeans for an empty wallet before I interrupted him with "Stop. It's on the house."
"Really? I drank the place dry." He really did. Remember, the kid could drink more than the Armenian and creepy professor put together.
"No, really. This is all you owe me." I picked up the violet and smelled it for the first time. It smelled fresh, yet soiled at the same time, much like the angel in front of me.
Tyler gave me a smile. A genuine, sweet, toothy smile with white bricks building a home, his bottom teeth crooked and overlapping a bit in the most adorable way, and canines a bit pointy, begging to dig into something. The smile, the story, the flower, and the name. They could pay for a million drinks.
Tyler doesn't thank me verbally, but gives me a quote. Or more of a warning, that I intend on carving into my skin someday.
"Dear Joshua, my words will grow flowers in your lungs, but when they get too big, you won't be able to fucking breathe." Then, he left.
I kept the flower in my pocket, I read the poem every day, and I did carve his farewell into the bar. Tyler Robert Joseph didn't return, for that he has grown into another field, with another married man to kiss at Red Lobster and more commitment problems.
However, the day after we shared stories, I did notice a new poem written on the other side of the bar.
"Flowers do nothing wrong, but we rip them from their homes, and give them to people who will never love us."