“It wasn't too bad,” Mike says. “It wasn't that long. And I think I might've...what, dissociated it, like it feels like it happened so long ago that I don't even remember it that well.”
It wasn't too bad. I wasn't crawling out of my own skin every second of every day, paranoid at every phone call, terrified by every gust of wind, every barking dog and changing traffic light. It wasn't that long. Every minute wasn't an eternity, all the time in the world somehow still never enough. I didn't lie awake at night, watching the sun set and rise and set as everything I am was stripped away piece by piece, burgled by that inevitable passage of time until there was nothing left to hold me up above the fire.
“You're probably better off.”
Mike smirks a little, a gentle breath of laughter at nothing particularly funny.
“And then other times I feel like I've just climbed out of hell.”
Does it follow you? Do you see it when you sleep, do you see it every time you close your eyes? Do you live there still, a little piece in the back of your mind stuck behind the bars, caught in the chain link fence wrapped around you, pinning you down underneath the big blue sky, butterfly under glass?
Mike presses his hands to his face, the heels of his palms to his eyes, and takes a rattling breath.
It's okay, you know. If you want to cry. I don't mind.
I'll be here.
“I want to talk to her,” Mike says. “I want to tell her how I'm feeling, I want to tell her that it—it hurt then, it— I know it wasn't much, I know it wasn't—a lot of days, but it was still hard, and it still hurts. I want her to understand.”
That thing you're talking about, I lived it, too. I've felt the things you feel, I've hated the places you've been. The pain you have inside of you, I'll never forgive myself for that. But I know it's real. I know.
“I'm sure she's doing the best she can.”
Mike raises his folded hands to his mouth, shaking his head and staring out into space.
“She just wants to pretend it never happened.”
Pretend you don't wake in the middle of the night with sweat drying on your freezing skin, pretend you don't dream yourself dying a million different times, pretend that nothing lasts forever and none of this is real. Pretend that none of this has changed you, pretend it doesn't hurt to put on the same face as the one you used to wear and promise that it still fits, that everything can go back to the way it used to be and we can start over again from where we stopped. Fast forward, pause, play.
“You can talk to me.”
Mike nods, staring ahead with his eyes all full of nothing.
We're all on the road to becoming better people. Put together piece by piece, built out of all the things we see, the things we hear, the things we know and those we don't.
The best parts of me are made of you.
“This is killing me,” Mike says. “I— I don't know how much longer I can keep going on like this, I don't know what to do.”
You fight, is what. You fight until you can't anymore, and then you make your pain into armor and you come back harder, stronger. You fall down and you pick yourself up and you keep going, and going, and going, because you've come too far to give up now. You stand in the face of a world that's so unfair and you shout it down, and you keep marching on into that future, the one that's waiting for you on the other side of all your suffering, because it has to be worth it, it has to be worth something.
And when you run out of road, you lean on me, and I'll carry you the rest of the way.
“You're a survivor,” he says. “You'll figure something out.”
Mike doesn't laugh this time. He doesn't laugh, and he doesn't smile.
It's true, isn't it? Isn't that how we've gotten this far, isn't that what you've told yourself all these years, all along? You'll get there because you have to. You'll get there because you don't have a choice.
Mike shakes his head.
“I can't keep living this way.”
This life that's taken such a wrong turn, this world of mine that's tipped over on its side, I don't know how to put it back where it belongs. I don't know how to set things right.
“Tell me what you need,” he says.
Mike looks at him, at all the broken pieces, the chain link fence and the prison bars that he tied around his ankles before he left, all the things he was supposed to leave behind that follow him still.
Tell me we might be something beautiful.
Life can go back to the way it used to be, when all this is done. If we just keep trying, if we find the gaping holes we missed as we walked on by, if we fill them in and patch them up, everything can be just as it was before, like none of this was real. Like we haven't learned a goddamn thing.
They say it out loud, even though they know it's not true. Then they say it again, and you never know.
By the hundredth time, they can't be sure of anything.
“You're letting your hair grow,” Mike says one day.
Harvey reaches up to scratch behind his ear. “I've been a little distracted,” he says. “I'll get around to it soon.”
Mike tilts his head a little. “I dunno,” he says. “Looks fine to me.”
Harvey smiles idly. “You've got pretty weird taste.”
Mike nods. Maybe so.
When he reaches out to cradle Harvey's face, they decide that they've always known this was going to happen. They saw it coming, so don't worry, it doesn't mean a thing. Everything is inevitable.
When he leans in to kiss him, they tell themselves they believe it.
The thing that anyone who knows anything or nothing at all will warn you about lying is that once you start, it's almost impossible to stop. It becomes a way of life, they'll tell you. It becomes second nature. It becomes who you are, they'll say, and you'll forget why you ever bothered with the truth in the first place.
The thing people forget to warn you about lying is that once you start, you'll never want to stop. The thing people forget to tell you is that when the lie falls apart, because it will, when the lie falls apart, you'll destroy yourself to find a replacement, a fresh start, another try. Anything to fill the void, anything to feel that rush, to inject your veins with that liquid high.
Every time, you'll find another excuse. Every time, another reason.
“I don't know what I'm doing anymore,” Mike says. “It's like everyone's a total stranger.”
I know it. I know. You've made me into a stranger, too.
Harvey hums softly.
“That's what happens when you take the road less traveled.”
Do you know where you're going? Do you remember all the wonderful places you've left behind?
“It's like, I... I want to scream as loud as I can, at everything, but every time I open my mouth, I just...”
You see the filth that surrounds you now, is that it? Do you see the terrible things you've done to me? Do you tell yourself that the secrets we keep between us are the only things holding you together, the sunlight only we can see? The words that only we know?
Harvey threads his fingers gently through Mike's hair.
“You'll figure it out.”
Do you hate us like I do?
Mike closes his eyes.
Today is a good day. Today they sun reaches out for them, the clear blue sky, asking to go somewhere, go somewhere far away from here. Nowhere in particular, nowhere anyone might be able to guess, but out on the open road, surrounded by water and trees and other pretty things that don't have much to say.
“Do you want to stop somewhere?” Mike asks as they drive down the highway, past an off ramp with a sign pointing to Exit 7A, Passenger Cars Only.
Harvey smiles. You want us to pull up at some rundown motel? Idle in an empty parking lot? Come on now; you know that's not what this is about.
Mike leans his arm against the windowsill.
“We shouldn't,” he says.
We can't, you mean. We can't stop running. Can't pick our heads up and look ourselves straight in the eye, can't admit that we know exactly what we're doing. Can't admit that we've known it all along.
“Guess not,” Harvey says.
The lie breaks off in pieces, but it always falls apart in the end.
And today was such a good day.
Things get better, in time.
Remember that mess we were trying to live before? That stupid game we tried to play? You remember, don't you, the game that was so much fun until it wasn't, that was such a thrill until it stopped. You remember that day? The day our lives ended?
Harvey lies on top of the covers, his jacket unbuttoned, his shoes still on. Still tied, neat little bows.
Mike lies with his head in his hand, propped up on his side. His shirt is unbuttoned, the top two. He wears black socks with holes in the heels.
You remember that day? The day we started over?
Harvey looks out the window.
“Maybe I'll drown myself,” he says.
Mike sits up and buttons his shirt, the top two.
“I'd be sad.”
I think I would be, too.
I won't do it, you know. You and I both know I'd never leave you.
And so how about you? How much longer are you going to drag me along behind you, how much longer are you going to play this game? Cast me in this charade you insist on putting on day after fucking day? How much longer before you break this addiction you have to me, before I might start to do the same? How much longer before you realize that we've already ruined each other, that there's nothing left to destroy? Nothing more to be done?
Things will get better, in time.
Harvey lies on top of the covers and looks out the window.
After a minute, Mike takes his hand.
“We have to stop,” Mike says.
Of course we do. Of course we will.
So do it, then.