“Holy Ghost” - Laura Stevenson and the Cans
“Summer in my town is nice; my front porch is my paradise.”
Shake off this dead skin.
Peel away the torn and tattered coat and show through the pink and healthy
Underneath. The cold air stings my new self. The sanctuary of the
Hideaway – finding comfort in an unfamiliar flesh.
Let the new sense of self awaken.
Stepping out of all that mars this charred body, yet Warmth radiates from my shoulders
Winding slowly around my neck
And she kisses my face.
Southern women, unlike women from Boston or Des Moines or Albuquerque, are leashed to history. For better or worse, we are forever entangled in and infused by a miasma of mercy and cruelty, order and chaos, cornpone and cornball, a potent mix that leaves us wise, morbid, good-humored, God-fearing, outspoken and immutable. Like the Irish, with better teeth.Garden & Gun Magazine
Whiskey Art Print - Jon Contino
“No, you’re not doing it right. Here, let me show you. It’s like sucking through a straw.”
To my surprise, having my oldest friend teach me how to smoke hookah wasn’t nearly as strange as I would have originally thought. I watched, hazy-eyed and drunk as fuck, as Holly inhaled deeply from the hose, noting the slow bubbling sound the tobacco should make when done correctly; it was like a round of applause for a pull well-done. Holly and I had been best friends since we were two years old, and with the ending of December and the fresh turn of January quickly approaching just a few cold days away, we were about to mark our eighteenth year of friendship. Despite the fact that this night in particular made our camaraderie seem to be one bonded by a shared taste for Yuengling, ties to a Southern Baptist church had originally bound our relationship.
She lifted her head and exhaled slowly, the billowing gray smoke twisting faintly from her chapped lips into more innocent apparitions as it rose to the cracked ceiling of Chris’s Atlanta apartment. And from the opposite corner, his face taking on the same countenance as his “Save Troy Davis” poster, the lanky, disheveled, sandy-haired object of my childhood affections watched in quiet observation. I met Chris in our fourth-grade Sunday school class and fell in love with him shortly after that. Well, it was as deep of a “love” as a fourth grader could understand.
“Let me get at that shit,” Chris wheezed, as he stood and sidestepped non-profit management textbooks, laptop cords, and other various kinds of college paraphernalia.
“Chris, you are literally blowing my mind,” Holly said as he haphazardly sprawled across her lap and grasped loose-handedly for the vase, “I can’t even sit up straight, and you’re, like, a friggin’… man… I just don’t even, like a gymnast. You’re a fuckin’ gymnast, Chrispy.”
A goofy grin tugged the corners of his lips at hearing his old nickname. I smiled endearingly at the sound as well, and was also extremely impressed with his ability to have basic motor control. His poise was short lived, though. As he picked up the hookah, his balance got thrown off and his unsteady grip sent the coals toppling to the mysteriously stained area rug, peppering Chris’s hands with flakes of smoldering ash on the way down.
“ FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK GODDAMNIT!”
Holly and I collapsed into fits of unrestrained giggles, clutching our stomachs and struggling so hard to catch our breath. Over the course of our friendship, I’d lost count of the times I had seen these same blue eyes, tear-strained from unhindered fits of laughter. Holly was easy-going, hilarious, and one of the most gorgeous souls I’d ever met. She also loved simply, and had a heart for dear friends.
When Chris came along into our lives, his personality fell right in line with Holly’s, seeing as how he was kind of quiet, yet equally hilarious in a quick-witted, dry way. I liked to think that the three of us brought out the best in each other.
And I still believed it ten years later, even as we sat together getting shitfaced in the way that only sheltered, suburbanite kids hungry for real experience can. The silver spoons we’d been born suckling had become rusty and nauseating, and had since been replaced with the cold mouthpiece of a hookah hose.
“You’ve just got to suck in deep,” she finally instructed once she regained composure and Chris had managed to salvage the remnants of the mild disaster.
She slid the vase back across the table towards me. Chris shot me a look that he intended to be of complete encouragement, but came across as blissful confusion, and what I interpreted as lustful visual indulgence of my body. Oh, the deceitful bastard that is the mind of a nineteen-year-old girl: telling me those spill-stains accentuated my small tits perfectly, my greasy hair looked better pushed back, and that any red-blooded American male would have to be out of his right mind to deny this muffin-topped, beer-bloated goddess who could only look better covered in cheap sequins and glitter. I should’ve known better, because Chris had told me just a while earlier that white girls just didn’t “do it” for him anymore. Surprisingly, the thick Southern accent I developed as I progressed further and further into inebriation wasn’t exotic enough for him. Bah Gawd.
I took the hose in my hand and brought it to my lips. I tried to replicate the way I sucked the last of a milkshake through a cream-thickened straw, struggling to get the last sweet sips of the calorie-ridden nectar into my mouth. I pulled in hard, and heard the tobacco begin to bubble. Moving the hose away, I let the strange mix of citrus and blueberry sink into my taste buds as I held my breath. With my exhalation, I was greeted by thick white clouds of smoke, and I smiled victoriously as the last few wisps of the exhaust slipped from the corners of my lips and nostrils. With just a couple more turns, I had the art perfected, and we spent the rest of the night passing the hookah back and forth between sips of beer and rounds of “Clue.”
We laughed and shared stories and raised some hell. Earlier that night, we had driven all over Atlanta in the epic timeless quest of a teenager. In the triumphant, heroic way that Telemachus left to find his father, we, too, embarked on a journey: the quest for a fake ID, an ATM, and the most beer we could get for $40. We dipped underneath the Krog Tunnel and wove through neighborhoods of East Atlanta that I didn’t even know existed before we finally parallel-parked at the dark mouth of a walking trail where, just a couple yards out of sight, Chris’s buddy Thomas was waiting with a few more of their friends (and most importantly, a 21 year-old I.D.). Being the paranoid kook I am, I was sure I looked like the silhouette of a cat that’d be carved into the side of a jack-o-lantern; I was on high fuckin’ alert.
“So, this is how I die,” Holly began sarcastically, “I feel like I’ve heard this horror story a million times over.” Despite the sound of Chris’s snicker, the pebbles crunching under our feet, and the wails of distant police sirens, the jackhammering of my heart was audible.
“Chriii-iiiiis! Down heee-eeereeeee!”
The little park was surprisingly dark, considering it was nestled into the folds of such a big city. I squinted tightly to try to make out the faces of the five guys standing down towards the creek. I watched Chris from the corner of my eye, trying to sense whether or not these were the friends we were looking for, or if I should grab Holly’s hand and bolt, running as fast as my wedge-heel-ridden feet could carry me.
Judging by the Dunder Mifflin graphic tees, fedoras, and flip-flops, I decided these weren’t gangbangers ready to leave me unconscious and bleeding to death in a ditch somewhere.
“Holly, Katie, this is Thomas, Lance, Ryan, Mac, and Eddie.”
We were met with a chorus of hellos, and then a huge puff of marijuana exhaust. I reached out to shake a few hands when the guy introduced as Eddie slipped a small, hard square of plastic into my palm. When I pulled back my hand, I looked down and was starting into the eyes of Lauren Donaldson, a twenty-six year-old brunette from Bexley, Ohio.
“So let me get this straight, you want me to go in and buy the alcohol?” I gulped nervously. In high school, I barely left the classroom without a hall pass, so this was taking my rule-breaking status to exponentially higher places.
“Well, I mean, we didn’t have much of a heads up, so this was the best we could do. Trust me. As long as you’re the same race and gender as the face on the card, you’ll be just fine.”
My eyes scanned across the card a few more times. Shit, 126 pounds. This is never going to work.
We all piled back into the car and headed to the gas station to harvest the bounty. And in no help to settle my rattled nerves, I somehow ended up squished next to Thomas, and it was my first experience around someone who was, as he called it, “rolling.” Ecstasy is a helluva drug.
We rolled up to the Shell Station beside Grady Hospital, and after one quick bout with a homeless man, Chris and I entered the store. Like a seasoned pro, I watched him meander his way towards the back coolers, straight to the 40s. He handed me two bottles, and gave me a quick little pump-up speech, with all the dramatics but an athletic butt slap. The moment of truth came as I approached the bulletproof divider, separating me from eternal glory. I propped the bottles up on the counter, and noticed my hands condensating on the hard plastic.
“No, ma’am. I need to see your I.D.”
“Oh, right.” I slid Lauren Donaldson underneath the counter window and immediately glanced down, shielding my face with my bangs. It was at that moment I caught sight of Chris slapping his palm against his face.
“Alright, your total comes to $17.35.”
Objective reached. Eternal glory.
Once we dropped the others off and just the three of us were left in the car, Chris told us earnestly of the bittersweet love he had for the lady Atlanta. He had gone through hell and back over the past year and so many things had brought him to the end of his rope, time after time. But the city had his heart, the cruel mistress that she is.
“You know, for all the shit that’s happened here, I could never actually leave the city.” I could feel the quiet conviction marking his words and noticed his hands gripping the steering wheel just a little tighter. I glanced out the passenger side window and watched the passing pizza places, tattoo parlors, and Christmas-light-trimmed front porches. People were outside with company on this relatively warm night, drinking and laughing over the loud music pouring from inside their houses. Chris pointed out his favorite street-art murals as well as places to get high. Five years ago, I would have never expected these things to spill from his mouth. Chris had been sort of an unspoken accountability partner for me throughout high school, whether he knew that or not. Having literally grown up with him in the church, he’d been a part of every single monumental moment in my life. The first real spiritual encounter I’d had at the tender and delicate age of thirteen, he had been the one I turned to and relied on. We did the right thing and had never let the world slow us down. We came from good families and had been the leaders of the kids our age, battling the animal that is adolescence. Staring at him in the dark of his Jeep Cherokee while weaving underneath the streetlights of downtown, I was still convinced that kid was still there. And I hoped he believed the same thing about me.
I think having grown up under the scrutiny that came with our melancholy hometown budded nothing but a greedy desire for quiet rebellion once we left. I think that speaks for all three of us. We drank. Blacked out. Got high. Smoked. Had sex. Made mistakes. Fell in love. Got reckless. Abandoned all we knew.
And in this night, I think we all fell together at just the right time. We all were at a pivotal crossroads with the angst-ridden concept of “twenty” soon approaching – we weren’t teenagers anymore, and had to get our shit together in time to face the real world. And sometimes, the only solution is to fall back into somewhat forgotten friendships of childhood and push the future off with a struggling liver and clouded lungs for just one night, and to know that you’re not alone. And that everything could be postponed until the morning, but in the night, all that mattered was the company of those who loved you more than anything.
That night in Atlanta, I was in that company. We all got so honest, and craved nothing but to be together.
Chris and I snuggled on the couch and almost kissed on several occasions, and Holly cheered it on behind his back. We danced through the apartment after discarding our jeans, and drew pictures with chalk on the wall. We pulled out mattresses and slept in the middle of the floor, and swore up and down we’d do it again soon. I fell in love with the gypsy Atlanta, and I sang her praises well into the night. It won’t be long until I see her again, and I can only thank her for one of the best nights of my life with the best friends I could have ever been given.
The cold dew from the long grass trickled like sweat down the smooth crease of my back; a wetness that’s always contributed to those sweltering days of summertime. And there was always an itch that followed, and at times, so consuming. I sat up and dark tresses of long, deep hair cascaded across my peeling shoulders. And a rough, familiar hand twisted itself at the back of my neck. I closed my eyes. Inhale.
And I felt his lips on my freckles. The warmth of his chest kissed my back, and his hand moved forward across my throat to tilt my head backwards.
That wetness that comes.
That moment when she looks so fucking good. And you fucking don’t.
And it’s all you can do to remind yourself that you have better things going for you.
But how can you know that.
You don’t know her. Don’t know her life.
All you know is she looks fucking good. And you fucking don’t.