I knew by the time we were driving down White Oak Estates, a neighborhood full of old two-story colonials exuding decency over opulence, paid-for privacy and open space, rolling lawns and willow trees and vine over windows, what Tommy had brought us to. Lines of dated early 2000’s and late 90’s sedans were parked up and down the street, the neighborhood being raided full of teenagers of one questionable age or another running in and out, yelling one obscenity or curse word into the air without a care in the world as to who heard; hell, probably wishing for it more than anything. I mean, it wasn’t like they had cops to worry about. We were in the middle of summer, most cops were out busy patrolling the streets due to us having what the papers had coined a DUI fatality epidemic, like it was its own plague or something and not just the result of a local attitude combined with everyone having to drive through the same swampland freeways to get anywhere around here. The kids could be as loud as they wanted.

Along a curving lawnway, electronic beats could be heard reverberating in and out the front double doors. We figured ringing the doorbell would be useless and so walked right in. Immediately, after our first couple steps inside the entryway, we noticed the carpet to be drenched heavily in a violet viscous that seeped out with every step we took. We turned to our left and saw the average American family foyer spotted full of portraits, trophies, and trinkets, except this time full of shirtless teenage boys and scantily dressed teenage girls singing and screaming across rooms, drinks in hand with marijuana floating in the air, all the while throwing white flour at each other as, for some strange reason, a turtle crawled across the floor of a sofa seat and a ewe stood puzzled as it was being painted red by a pair of slack-jawed teens around it; doves flying across the chandeliers, perching themselves on set-up string lights, and outside, in the back, we heard shackled rings, only to later see the head of an ox and horns of a ram, both being used for near constant photo backdrops. Cliff asked if Tommy knew how many of the girls were actually 18. He wasn’t sure. A group of them, the girls, stood as a conglomerate in thin linen skirts as they asked Tommy how being away at college had been. They were in awe of his seniority as Cliff was in their assumed purity. One asked how old I was. I said I had to use the bathroom and she pointed up a crowded staircase where boys stood trying to dance alongside girls. Bumped and shoved, I began walking toward them, squeezing through arms and hair, when out the throng came a stray calf walking between the partygoers’ legs. It looked to be trying to sip at some boxes of wine that had been left to run, stacked upon a console table. What the hell was up with these children, I did not know. Eventually, through it all and up the stairs, I found myself knocking against a white painted door that, when no one answered, I turned the knob of to let myself in and found the most boyish-looking child holding the hair back of a disheveled little girl as she threw up her insides into the back of a toilet, the corner of her mouth sliding vomit-colored drool off the seat cover, garbled cries about a father going to prison following after.

A warbling bass echoed through the foundation of the house as I, for some reason, stayed staring at the scene that was playing out in front of me. By the time the boy yelled for me to get the fuck out, though, my attention had already been turned to my phone. A slew of messages from Sarah were on my screen detailing how she’d left her aunt’s to hang out with her friends by the beach, a couple words misspelled here and there hinting she might have gotten drunk.

“—What the fuck, man!”

The kid continued to protest as I went to turn the faucet. He kicked at the door, shutting it close, going back to his slumped over girlfriend after. His insults at me never stopped coming as he comforted her, calling me a fucking weirdo loser and faggot ass bitch, both times sounding as if his first time using either phrase. I ignored him and ran the sink water, all of it building and dripping through my cupped-together hands. Avoiding my reflection, I took a sip, this lousy sort of feeling beginning to creep through me. Twisted and gulped, I left my last little empty bottle of Wave to tumble across the drain.

“You guys wanna buy something for that hangover?”

To be honest, I don’t remember if they had said yes or no, or if I had even sold any drugs to anyone at all. The only events I remember after were stumbling through crimson halls covered in oversized family photos and frames, jumping over my own feet to enter a room with a crib, promptly walking out, then entering another room that looked to be some sort of study covered in shelves with city planning guides, copies of the National Review, a small section of James Patterson, John Grisham and Tom Clancy, too. A warped ochre hardcover, tattered at the edges caught my attention; it was old and small, thin with less than a hundred pages. I opened to a random selection and read: “And here they noticed round his neck/ A scarf of red and yellow stripe/ To match with his coat of the self-same check/ And at the scarf’s end hung a pipe/ And his fingers, they noticed, were ever straying/ As if impatient to be playing.” Following the lines, a black and white etching was printed of a man in robes with a pointy hat, shadows of children running around him. Yanking off the cork-in-glass top of a decanted bourbon, I took several long swallows and sat myself down behind the room’s desk to read on, but a small frame of a man in blue police uniform caught my attention instead. In the photo were two women as well; I assumed his wife and daughter, the girl from the bathroom before. My thoughts are it was the county sheriff. Maybe, maybe not, but the time fits: his sentencing and the illegal bribes, 15 years and $30,000, several (some say dozens) of untested rape kits found sitting in evidence lockers.

Who knows.

A little while after was when Tommy barged in to tell me Cliff was getting close to being in a fight with some high schoolers. I’m not sure what he had expected me to do about it. From the room we were in, I heard a crashing outside. Through the windows, it looked as if the kids had started tossing broken furniture pieces into a triangle, burning pyre.


There was this all-night diner in town that no one used to go to until they started serving cocktails. Now, people came from all over. To sober up, Tommy and I had gone there. He’d driven my car and, once there, called for his brother to come pick him up. He didn’t think I was alright to still drive.

“He could give you a ride, too. If you want.”

“I’ll be fine after a meal.”

Tommy said okay and we walked in through the vestibule doors taped full of yard sale flyers or grocery store specials. Right away, something seemed off. Everyone was quiet, rows of heads looking up from their seats, raised and turned; the midnight hostess absent, yet the line cooks in their aprons hanging outside the kitchen. They all looked to be turned to this little TV mounted on a corner, playing the news. Of course, we didn’t have our own station; it’d been ABC 7 Chicago. Apparently, some time after we’d left the fair, there’d been an altercation and the people involved had been armed. The anchor said over 20 shell casings were found, but that the police weren’t sure about how many shots fired exactly. One person, a woman in her 20’s, had gotten grazed in the back of the head. No one else hurt.

“Jesus,” Tommy said as we sat ourselves down.

“Crazy,” I said, throwing myself in.

I don’t remember what I had ordered, but we’d eaten and, halfway through our meals, began to hear these two obnoxious voices a couple seats over. It’d been impossible not to look and when I had, I was greeted with an immediate “Hey!” Like we were long-lost friends. The voices were coming from Zaria and another girl, both of them with tall Pepsi glasses that I’m sure were the as advertised 5.50 long island iced teas.

“Hey,” I said. “What are you…when did you get in town?”

“Oh my god, A.—how have you been?”

“I thought Cliff said you were in Europe or something.”

“Is he here? Are you guys still friends? Is he in the bathroom?”

Cliff and Zaria used to be high school sweethearts back in the day, then she moved out to L.A. straight after the graduation ceremony, 5AM flight and everything. I think she had been trying to be a model or actress or something, with her most prominent role to that point having been an extra on a TV show called Blackish.

“What’ve you been doing since?” I asked her.

“Oh, you know, traveling.”

It wasn’t until a little while later that Cliff showed up, his face a little sweaty and messy with ash. At the time, I hadn’t even remembered telling him to and had been pretty confused by his appearance. I guess I thought Zaria had sent him a message before remembering that not only did he not have her number, but also couldn’t even text. Anyway, he’d shown up and we all had to squeeze into this far-off corner table away from our original spot. We sat there all cramped like we were all best friends in a fucking sitcom, Zaria talking about Germany, where she had celebrated her 21st birthday, and Cliff bullshitting his knowledge like he knew the place. He had wanted us all to go out and get drinks at a bar after, to have fun, for me to invite Sarah, for us all to have a grand old time together, like he hadn’t just been beaten to submission outside a party by a group of high school teenage boys for trying to sell them synthetic drugs they claimed were putting their friends in hospitals.

“Hey Tommy…”

“Yeah, A.?”

“You remember the guy who walked in close to closing time? He’d wanted a pint of Dark Eyes Red?”

“Yeah, I think so. What about him?”

“I asked him if he’d been to the county fair yet.”

“Yeah, and…?”

“He told me yeah, but…haha… ”


“He’d said there’d been too many black people there. I mean, you know what he’d said… he always kind of says stuff like that.”

“A.…what the fuck, man?”

“What are you trying to imply?” asked Zaria.

“Nothing? I mean I thought it’d been funny.”


There was a bottle of beer lying next to my head on the concrete porch outside, the stoop. There, I was staring at the moths as they flew over and around into the overhead porch lamp, this rustic lantern-looking thing that glowed yellow, six-legged bodies trapped inside and out. I don’t know why I’d been so infatuated with it; the whole thing had just looked so glossy to me, as if brushed over in some late-night intoxicating sheen. Especially with the music crawling out from inside the house, an indifferent female voice singing about the world being so far, far away, organ noise and slide guitars twanging solemnly after layered and hushed words.

“Having a party in there or something?”

I’d been too into the moths to notice Sarah walking up to greet me. Raising myself up by the hands, I got up, looking bewildered as all hell, scanning the area around for her little red Hyundai to make sure she hadn’t just materialized out of thin air. That night, it seemed like everyone was.

“When’d you get here?” I asked her.

“Just now,” she said moving herself to lie down beside me. “Did you forget about our plans to hang out?”

“No,” I said. “Have you been drinking?”

“Just a little.”

With her body resting next to mine, I didn’t say much of anything else. I felt like I didn’t need to. We had just sort of laid there, my eyes probably tracing those moths again while she stole sips off my beer and checked her phone. Eventually, I heard a lighter flick, and a grey tobacco smoke filled the air, moths dashing away.

“Since when do you smoke?” I asked her.

“People smoke here. I felt like smoking.”

“Here? Nowhere else?”

“Yeah. I mean, no one smokes at college. You want one?”


She tilted out the pack toward me to grab one, but I snatched the whole box. “Hey!” she’d said. Looking over the packaging, I thought that they were Virginia Slims, but what she was carrying inside were Newports. I asked why she had them like that, but all she could say was that I wouldn’t understand. In response, I took the cigarette out from her mouth, tearing it apart with a twist.

“They make you taste horrible,” I said.


“You can’t do ballet if you smoke either.”

“Are you kidding me? They all smoke.”

In an attempt to prove me wrong, she got up by the toes of her canvas-shoe wearing feet and twirled to perform a bit of a drunken pirouette, causing her to almost tumble down over the porch steps before deciding otherwise, saying that she’d left her slippers at home. She sat herself back down beside me laughing, saying that I was still wrong. I didn’t want to say anything back to her now because, with the moths gone, it was her that my shiny drunken veneer was fixed upon, her and her strawberry blonde complexion; skin that was smooth and freckled like pebbles and sand strewn across the beach. At the diner, I had tried to imagine her there with me, how she would have looked sitting across from us all. Yeah, the idea had felt nice, but utterly false, the sort of idea I only ever entertained from a drink too many, yet never let see the light of day.

“How’d it go with your aunt?” I asked.

She began to tell me about her evening and I picked up my beer only to realize it was now empty. I told her to wait as I headed back inside to grab myself another. At the time, I’d been renting this airtight little house in Gary, two blocks from Broadway and Ridge, the expressway not all that far; the street noise, a constant presence. For some reason, this always made me feel like the house was at its largest in its spaces in-between than inside any room itself, as if I lived many lives over and over again simply ambling between those short hallways and corridors. Why the hell was I doing this over and over again? As I was getting that next beer, combined with that weird, uncomfortable feeling from before, that so goddamn lousy feeling that I always felt a need to shake off, I sighed and threw that bottle down my throat, already knowing that it wouldn’t help much of anything at all.

“—Hey, I didn’t wanna wait outside.”


“There were too many mosquitoes coming out and it kinda started to smell like sulfur or something, I don’t know.”


“Have you noticed it? The smell?”

“No. You want one?”

“I’m okay. You don’t have an iPhone, right?”


“Cause I kinda need a charger.”

“I could look.”



“…You okay? You don’t sound too sharp, you know?”

Sarah spoke with a soft concern, one that was far and removed, and only ever slightly visible in her stares. She had since I’d first met her in the beginning of summer. Maybe that was why I’d liked her: I never had to feel like she was ever entirely present to my mistakes. Like after the first night the two of us slept together, she had told me two things: one, that she was on Lexapro, and two, that both her parents had been trailer park meth-heads that had left her to be raised mostly by her grandmother. She had presented it all to me in a very matter of fact manner, as if to prove to me that none of it was a big deal to her and that at only 20 years old, she was already over it. She had even explained how she had “deliberately exploited” her sad story to win a scholarship the following year to study abroad in England, even showing me the YouTube clip of her repeating the story on the Katie Couric Show where she’d been presented the award. I knew what all this had meant right from the start—what she saw in me, or didn’t—and what our arrangement would be. At first, I had sort of hated it, and I don’t know if I ever got to liking it, but more and more after every night we spent together came to pass, I grew to think that she had to too, in some sort of way, had to sort of hate herself sometimes as well.

“Can I ask you something?” I said to her.


“Have you heard about Brexit?”

“Britain leaving the European Union, right? Crazy, huh? I hope it won’t affect if I can go or not. I mean, it shouldn’t.”

“I doubt it…you excited?”

“How could I not be?”


There were only two bars that stayed open past 1AM and until closing at three. There was Johnny’s, the type of place fathers took their daughters to watch a football game their first fall back after turning 21, and then there was Hilder’s, an under-lit barroom where no one hung around to talk to anyone aside from roaches and flies, the place resembling much more a boiler room basement than any actual sort of social dive. Well, I found Cliff there at Hilder’s in the dark on top a stool with his head face down above the mottled surface board that was supposed to be the bar.

“Hey, you ready to go?” I asked him.

Some twenty minutes before, I’d been asleep next to Sarah. We’d been just two sticky bodies lying there in the heat beneath the placid whirl of a ceiling fan when I got the call from Cliff telling me that he was wasted and needed a ride home. I hadn’t wanted to, but Sarah had said I should and even offered to drive, saying that she could tell from the way we’d slept I’d been drinking all day. Inside my bathroom, she’d cleaned up while I’d gone to the fridge to grab another beer in hopes of washing away the septic nausea bubbling inside of me.

Cliff ordered another round of shots before I could even sit down, the bartender making sure we knew someone had to pay. Cliff said salud and I downed whatever karate water drink I’d been served. I asked Cliff again if he was ready to leave, only to be responded to by being told that the guy hated life. I’m not sure if he’d specified his life, or just life in general. Regardless, when he’d told me this, I hadn’t been nearly drunk enough to tell him I did too and so instead had headed on down toward the bathroom. I’m not sure what Cliff had been so upset about, but by the time I’d gotten out, he’d seemed over it and talking to this pair of spinsters, neither one looking particularly pretty. Walking past and around him, I decided on sitting in a corner stool across and let him enjoy his fun, cheer himself up, maybe even get laid. I ordered another drink for myself and took out my phone, texting Sarah that I was sorry I was taking so long and tried explaining the situation to her, going on and on until I was just rambling about how I wished she didn’t have to leave for Europe after the summer, stupidly saying that I could wait, that we could work something out, that I could help her write that book she was always talking about, shit that was just so pathetic and all though true, never supposed to be spoken with truth. I sent her the message and ordered the next drink, expecting a response that could change my life. But nothing came. The Springsteen song off the jukebox ended and I downed what droplets of liquor were left, waiting for another as my eyes were taking longer and longer to return from a scattered refocus. They wandered all around the place until finding Cliff with the women, except now it looked to me like he was trying to force himself into the conversation, being rowdy, being what I thought of Cliff. I stumbled over toward them, planning on pushing him out the conversation, only for another guy to do it before I could even approach. He told Cliff to chill the fuck out, and, of course, I intervened, shoving the guy off Cliff with enough force that this husky stranger felt it necessary to take a swing at me, causing a swelling of blood to come splurting out my nose. With that, Cliff got involved, and then the guy’s friends got involved, and there were more of them than there were of us, and my head got to bouncing off the floor, and we heard someone screaming about cops, and then we were all outside, except now Cliff was on the floor and I was punching the guy on top, my knuckle striking so hard it dislodged.

Sirens blared; the guy and his friends ran away.

A quick chance to see my reflection on outside broken glass revealed a swollen, pulpy mess. I couldn’t even make a fist without my middle knuckle traveling to the left. They tried asking me questions, but I was stuck looking around, not seeing her red Hyundai anywhere. The cops just want to know what happened; did we smash a car window? I don’t remember if I talked or lied.

What the hell…

They tell me they don’t know, that I need to calm down.

“—There’s nothing out there.”


For all installments of “Br(exit),” click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1