You’re Little More than an Apple Core
Eyes closed, you press your palms against the road and breathe calmly. Around you, the black asphalt is nearly white in the sunlight, interrupted only by the car's shadows flickering past your own. Each vehicle barrels down the highway, leaving a signature of toxins and the grinding of wind. As they pass, your hair tosses around in the shrapnel-like gust.
You envision the confused drivers staring. Their thoughts probably swarm with questions about the twenty-something they see swarming like the bugs they assume are in that wild head of hair. What else will they think when they see someone sitting cross-legged on the side of the highway? They'll continue driving and eventually their minds will shift from you to their next list of tasks. You pity them. Errand after errand, assignment after assignment, they are unraveling.
You quietly giggle at their foolishness and continue to revel in the midday sun.
The heat enters your skin and permeates every inch of your muscle.
Here, sitting on the edge where grass meets concrete, you feel complete. It's why you return day after day, sometimes even sleeping on the hard ground. It's why walking miles to make it to one spot on the interstate has become as necessary as breathing. Your way to make sense of the world, your faith, your church, all resonate here, not far from an apple core. Though it looks to be carelessly discarded, you know the truth about that piece of fruit and why it’s really on the ground. You smile, remembering your mischievous grin when you realized there could be no clearer epitaph than a rotting piece of fruit on the very spot where your head had hit.
You remember so little about the accident—the single most pivotal moment in your life. You tell yourself the lack of memories is not from the supposed "brain damage" the doctors keep trying to shove down your throat. Their fancy degrees mean nothing. If someone wanted a signifier of intelligence, they could just stare at your forehead! Instead of being smudged with ash by a priest, you have an intricate scar given to you by the road. No one can tell the difference!
See, unlike all the quacks and oglers, you understand the blankness is from looking at memories through the eyes of another person. That person, with the well-matched clothes and the slick hair, is not you. That person leaving the club, the one who put the keys in the ignition and tried to drive home in the rain, that person was no longer with us the moment the car hit the barrier.
When your head hit the pavement you were already someone new.
After you stopped tumbling and sliding across the ice-black ground, your eyes remained shut for a moment; as they opened the scene flickered into a convoluted view. The rain pelted down and left you with a spine-chilling cold that permeated your skin, determined to rip you to pieces. Each violent droplet of rain pounded on your back and caused all the broken bones, bruises, and gashes to scream. You felt the rain beating down on your mangled body, but you smiled. The blood did not last long. It mixed with the rain and left a friendly pink color swirling away. The shards of glass hit the ground crisply. They floated down from the sky like confetti. You noted how affirming the concrete felt beneath your mangled face. How affirming it was beneath your mangled body. How affirming it was beneath your mangled mind.
Your consciousness ebbed as you lay there. Minutes or months later the police showed up. Their rhythmic lights were beautiful. They flashed red then blue, transforming you into a child staring at a mobile above.
Red. The hard pavement was your favorite blanket.
Blue. The police put up festive yellow banners.
Red. More people stopped to join the party.
Blue. "The paramedics will arrive soon!"
Red. Your smile grew.
Blue. The rain pelted your broken ribs.
Red. A white vehicle arrived.
Blue. You became their antique doll.
You resented them for taking you away. Nobody asked if you wanted to move. You supposed it didn't really matter—you probably wouldn't have been able to speak anyway. (The quacks said it was due to shock but you know it was really enlightenment.)
For years to come, people close to the old you asked how intense the pain was.
"Far away and mind clearing," you would reply.
Most would look uncomfortable and stare with concern.
The same supposed friends came to see you in the hospital. They looked at you sympathetically, only noticing the bandages circling your head, the IV needle sticking into your arm. They didn't know they were staring directly at a stranger. You gave them credit for trying, but as you slowly healed in that hospital bed, all you could think of was the road. All those bright flowers, the quirky cards, the little "Get Well" trinkets, they meant absolutely nothing. All you wanted was to return to the scene of the accident. You wanted peace with the pavement once again.
So you allowed the doctors and nurses to do whatever they needed to heal your broken bones and ease the throbbing. They constantly asked questions about how you were feeling and your thoughts on treatments. Usually you didn't respond. Sometimes you lied.
Finally, once released, you had a mind full of new thoughts and a body full of pins and stitches. You also had a plan. You would wait for the family to leave so you could take the car. (Supposedly the pain medications you'd been prescribed prevented you from being behind the wheel. You didn't care.) The moment you had an opportunity you took it and drove hastily to the scene of the accident. You parked, heaved yourself out of the car, and stood looking at the beautiful blacktop beneath your feet. Your eyes welled with tears as you sat down, placing both hands on the road beneath you. You closed your eyes and your face broke into a wide smile. You sat there for hours with your eyes closed, feeling the temperature drop as the late summer sun set. The feeling of contentedness from your accident returned. Your mood changed only when a horrified family showed up. Apparently they had been searching frantically. They had no idea where else to look and decided to try the scene of the accident out of desperation. Their terrified faces shifted to looks of unease as they observed your calm unchanging face. They bombarded you with questions about why you ran away.
“I like it here," you said.
They forced you to return home. You complied. Just as you had allowed the doctors to prod you with needles and cover you with bandages, you allowed the family to drive you home. You allowed them to think you were trying to sleep as you stared up at the unchanging ceiling.
You rose and walked out of the house. Limping down the road, pushing against the immense soreness, you stumbled towards your heaven. It wasn't until a random driver pulled over and offered a ride that you broke your glassy stare.
By the time you made it to your coveted spot, your feet were aching and your head was throbbing once again. The first morning rays were beginning to show themselves as if welcoming you back home. You did the same thing; you simply sat on the ground with your eyes closed and felt the ground beneath you. That deep-seated feeling of calmness returned. To everyone's dismay, the cycle repeated itself. The family located you much more quickly the second time. Again, you obliged and quietly found your place in the car. That night your father stayed in your room while you slept. Once he dozed off, you quietly snuck out and began your journey all over again.
Again, you arrived at the highway knowing your time would be cut short by the nosy family who claimed to love you. On the night of your accident only the pavement was present—there was no one who had made empty promises. The road was no longer something beneath you that you drove on carelessly. It was sacred. When you came back it welcomed you in its silent, unmoving way. Your family did not feel as welcomed. This time when they found you, they forced you into the car despite your compliance. Before you knew it, you were in the emergency room—then the loony bin.
While institutionalized, you were surrounded by people who seemed eternally beaten. You met one woman with sizable bald spots littering her dirty blond hair. Despite being dressed in comfortable sweatpants and an oversized t-shirt, the woman's clothes seemed vastly out of place. Somehow her frail body begged for something more formal, as if she was constantly on her way to a meeting. In group, she explained to everyone how she had managed to fix her hair in a way that covered her hairless spots for the days she appeared in court. Stress would cause her to pull out her hair, strand after strand. She mentioned her name, but you made no effort to remember. In fact, you instantly discarded any names you heard. You didn't know what to call the man who saw strange apparitions at night; or the college girl with the cuts scattered on her arms who'd been beaten by her boyfriend; or the soldier who stopped making eye contact after Afghanistan and cried after hearing loud sounds. You felt a deep sense of sadness for those people who would probably never find their sense of freeness like you. They would become casualties of condescension being shot down by confused looks. Hopefully Sisyphus' boulder would slip off the mountain and roll over them. You could only hope.
Your time to speak in groups afforded the sessions with a dose of awkwardness.
"Do you have anything the share with us today?" the staff probed.
Your only reply was silence.
More questions would follow. More silence would permeate the room. Then the casualties would take their turn, questioning everything from your unkempt hair to your dirty face.
Your reply was always silence.
They dismissed you for "refusing" treatment. The cycle continued. You would sneak out, be found, and then forced home. Your family did not know how to handle the situation. You didn't care. Whenever they spoke you saw their mouths moving and observed their desperation. You could see it, nothing more. In your mind you thought of only the highway. For months the same pattern played out.
Eventually, as you hoped, the family stopped trying to find you. They allowed you to stay at your sanctuary since all their efforts were exhausted. Sometimes they'd show up to check on you and leave with an untraceable look plastered on their faces. You stayed at your spot all day and sometimes all night, watching drivers go by—knowing they were clueless.
Clueless. The word sat like a razor blade against the tongue. Not the kind of pain that feels like joy. More like the kind that feels like collapse.
Before the accident you'd seen homeless people in the city and always been harsh towards them—internally of course. People from different planets don't speak. Some would be lying down drunk, high, and unaware. Others would be holding ominous signs attempting to enlighten the public. Back then you'd laugh at their ridiculous messages. What could they know that you didn't? Those people, you'd say, had no idea. Those people were the clueless ones.
Occasionally cars pull over and hand you various items: some food, a pair of gloves, even a used jacket. The highway is giving these things to you, using travelers as a tool. You're sure of it.
One day you decide to join the ranks of the other enlightened. For the first time since the accident, you willingly leave your spot. You're not a man, you're Buddha leaving the shade of the bodhi tree. You dumpster dive to find a large piece of cardboard. You stand outside a grocery store and ask uncomfortable patrons for something to write with. Most shake their heads or walk past without acknowledgement. Some even plug their noses and sneer. Eventually, a man offers you a pen like a cashier desperately shoving money towards an armed robber.
You scrawl large letters on the cardboard.
"Respect What Is Beneath You," your sign reads.
You return to the spot and hold the sign as you reflect. You know most will see you as a crazy homeless person and immediately discard your message. You don't care. They are traveling too. You just sit on the comfortable pavement and watch the leaves change color with the seasons.
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