Sick

by Harmony Neal

Police sirens rise and fall from my speakers over a dark driving beat. In my sparkling three-bedroom house with the fruit and flower garden I cultivate, I am alone, even with Ben and Milkshake home. I summon Hex, as a brother, as kindred:

          Yo I’m sick, sick of the bullshit, sick of the bitches,
          Sick of fools that think I’m cool, and sick of all the snitches
          Givin descriptions, leads to getting convictions.
          Sick of being in positions where I’m under suspicion.

I become whole in these moments with Hex. Old Harmonys fly back into me, parallel Harmonys crowd out my insides. We come together and remember, dwell, empathize, eulogize. Repeat, repeat, repeat, then eventually, I can open a valve and let the other Harmonys pour back out, leaving only one Harmony, this one, in a world she wasn’t meant for, where she’s always under suspicion.

          Not that she belongs in Hex’s world.
          Sick of livin a victim, addiction got me flippin.
          Sick of sizzlin prescriptions just to keep me lifted.
          Sick of me, sick of you, sick of what I do.
          Sick of being intoxicated, faded off a case of brew.

Current Harmony is off all meds, but the Harmonys come together and shake their heads over the years and years of antidepressants. The Zoloft, the Prozac, the Effexor XR choked down with gulps of Brita water. The tiny chalky dots of Xanax. Seroquel taken only one time, that Harmony falling over ten minutes after swallowing, unable to stand or even sit. The Topamax, the tingling hands that could no longer control a plastic guitar as familiar notes flew by on the screen or be trusted while cutting her three-year-old sister’s fingernails.

          Sick of bein broke, my last dollar goes to smoke.
          No c-notes, no choke to toke, hope to cope with the misery.
          Vividly, know the good/bad times haunt me.
          Tryin to get me, the 50s keep tryin to off me.

The Harmonys long for a cigarette, but will wait a few rounds and crank up the computer speakers before they slink outside. They are all haunted. There is no parallel universe with a Harmony not haunted by good/bad times. Some of the Harmonys keep trying to off the others, a few have tried to off themselves.

They mumble along as best they can. No Harmony is a rapper.

          Like switches, sick of bitches actin like the shit. I’m smackin
          I’m accurate. I’m blastin gats at they fuckin kids.
          Sick of placin bids in the gamble of life
          Try to handle it right, but I’m sick of fuckin that.

          Fuckin phat blunts I puffed, even that’s gettin played out.
          I never made out—circumstance fucked me.
          I’m never lucky, gettin played short like Chucky.
          Fuck all this shit. Hey yo, I’m fuckin sick.

All the Harmonys are sick. They got lucky. They’ve almost made out, but they don’t know how to handle it right. Their rage bubbles. They’re smacking, they’re accurate. The kids they blast are their own, are concepts, ghosts, monsters, dreams, longing, missed opportunities, a long life not even half over, every single wrong fucking thing, in this, not the best of all possible worlds. All the gambles crush the Harmonys, push down their shoulders, press them small and gasping. The Harmonys that used to smoke weed almost want a joint now, a bong, a hitter, a blunt, a shotgun from another mouth, but some of those Harmonys know better, and the rest say, no fucking way, we don’t do drugs anymore. We traded in the eight balls of cocaine and meth for Ritalin and Adderall snorted by the gram, then traded that for Nesquik-laced coffee and Coca-Cola by the gallon and cigarettes by the carton and this song, these songs, on repeat by the dozen—Xanax traded for shitty television by the season and a coma of despair. Fuck me.

          Did I mention I’m stressin? The tension never lessin.
          Nateous thoughts, I’m caught up in depression.
          Sick of 50’s tryin to get me, give me room
          Before I suffocate, Shifty try to trick me,
          But I never trust a snake. Dutch intake, clutchin fate
          By my fuckin fingertips
          Sick of guts of blunts and butts of cigarettes.
          Get her wet, but I’m sick of sluts figurin what the fuck is up
          I’m bustin nuts all over the Cut.

The Harmonys ignore the misogyny of the song. People always put their anger somewhere. Sexism, classism, racism, it’s all about dumping your anger on someone else, making them less so you can be more. The Harmonys dump their anger on one another, smoke the cigarette, drink the coffee, stand in the shade outside and try not to suffocate in the wide open air.

The Harmonys travel through time, sit on the steps of 8Trax for a picture with their brother: JNCO’s, the purple Nature t-shirt with the alien head, the short red-brown hair, their cigarettes creating a toxic veil to contain their young bodies. John’s hair is still long, over his white t-shirt, before he got fat coming off the meth.

The Harmonys with their brother in their new used car, speeding onto I-4, bellies full of mushroom Kool-Aid, the mushrooms harvested from cow patties in the nearby fields. Billy’s in the backseat, not yet a father. John lights a blunt then burns a black circle into the door handle with the car lighter, the first accident in the Escort ZX2, letters and numbers promising a new life. Billy’s complaining about Ho-lene and how he finally dumped her. The Harmonys insist Billy learn to use a condom for fuckssake, all the chickenheads he fucks.

          I see you, ready to greet you,
          Ready these 9 millimeter cheatahs,
          Heaters seekin creatures tryin to sneak up
          When I’m high off reefer, creeper.
          Features I’m the reaper keeper
          Deeper in the dungeon
          Fallin every day, and I never quit plungin.

          I never quit plungin.
          No, I never quit plungin.
          I never quit plungin.
          No I never quit plungin.

The Harmonys plunge onto Billy’s porch at his new place. They keep their back to a wall and an eye on the chickenheads twitching down the orange dirt street in tattered t-shirts and tank tops, picking at the scabs on their faces and arms. She watches her fancy new used car, still special to her a year later, wishes it wasn’t freshly washed. Ho-lene hits the joint, then goes inside to take care of the baby. There are other babies by other hos with Billy’s genes around. Billy owes everything to everyone, but his mom got him and Ho-lene this trailer at least.

Sometimes the Harmonys forget Ho-lene’s name is really Jolene. They try to remember not to call her Ho-lene to her face. The trailers in rows on rows on rows, surrounded by tall swampy trees, dirt yards, in this neighborhood you could never find without John or Billy to guide you. The chickenheads everywhere, stopping by. The Harmonys’ name is “John’s sister” in the chickenhood, which suits the Harmonys just fine. She tries not to speak. When she does, Dirty South mush comes out. She knows better than to make a chickenhead feel dumb.

The Harmonys plunge back to the angry methhead who always came into the gas station where she worked third shift, his eyes on fire, muscles trembling, ready to explode violence on the world. The time the power shut off while he was waiting with his bag of chips and energy drink, his truck tank full from the pumps. She needed everyone to wait for the power to come back, the registers to work, but he squinted his sour meth-breath face right into hers, demanded she do the math and let him go. The other customers huddled into groups, mostly migrant worker slaves for the orange groves. The smell of sweat and dirt and orange rinds and rotting gums and shut off air conditioning threatened to overwhelm her. She added up his purchases with a blue Bic pen on a brown paper booze sack, guessed at tax, took his money, let him go. The others swarmed her, demanding the same, calloused brown hands thrusting beers and Goya juice cans at her.

Back in the chickenhood, Billy brags to a guy who can’t stop blinking and cracking his tattooed neck that the Harmonys are in college. The Harmonys flinch, but the chickenhead smiles, revealing black nub teeth. That’s great, he says. Ya muss be fuckin smart.

Nawwww, the Harmonys reply, not showing their teeth, then take the joint, and wait and wait for John to be ready to leave.

          Sick. Sick of the weekdays, sick of the months.
          Sick of smokin joints, sick of puffin blunts.
          Sick of bitches dumb, drunk and frontin at the bar.
          Sick of pumpin motherfuckin gas in my car.

The Harmonys rewind to Galesburg, going out with other Applebee’s servers to the club, the nineteen-year-old girl with a baby at home while she pounds back beers and dances with whatever guy has eyes hungry for her. The Harmonys jolt to Florida, to the Applebee’s next door to Carrabba’s, her and the other servers still in their long white aprons, their necknoose ties, buying drinks from Applebee’s dorks in dumb eggplant-colored polo shirts. The girl with the ginger hair says she bought her boyfriend a few Girls Gone Wild videos for his birthday. The girl with the truck payment due says she has weed at her house. People pull out their tipbooks, teasing out half their night’s profits, the Applebee’s dorks chuckling as green bills leave embossed tipbooks for theirs.

Mom’s triple-wide trailer. The Harmonys helping John paint the whole fucking thing, the white textured ceiling paint, the glitter gun that shoots bits of hard plastic into the paint, most of it falling back into hair and eyes. John on a rap-break in his room with the guys who came to lay down tracks, hoping to make out, be famous rappers, leave the chickenhood. Their half-formed beats and drawling rhymes leak through the broken plywood walls to where the Harmonys keep cranking the glitter gun by hand, coughing, choking on the fumes of the cheap paint in the trailer she’s getting ready for travel to a lot two towns over. She shivers in the odd Florida winter with all the windows and doors propped open to let out the chemical air. One night, it actually snows. She watches her breath sparkle.

The Harmonys have been hitting boats, trying to stay awake, eating frozen burritos and milk-soaked cheerios, working sixteen-hour days to finish the triple-wide during winter break from graduate school. She pulls the gas mask from her face, fingers the deep imprints along her cheeks. John’s new friends arrive with a clothesless toddler with Mountain Dew in its crusty bottle. She tries to get it some milk, but the parents say the baby doesn’t want milk. They try to keep the baby where they can see her, but she can’t see them smoking meth off tin foil.

The Harmonys don’t smoke with these strangers, worse than Billy and Ho-lene could ever be. She waits for them to leave, for John to pull out the off-white ball of meth wrapped in a corner of a baggie. He pulls the knot, scoops a small pea of crystals, holds the foil and lighter for her. The meth turns to liquid and runs down the boat, releasing smoke in its wake. The Harmonys struggle to get it right, to get the smoke up the straw, to inhale, but her lungs just can’t hold enough to wash away the things she’s seen, what she is and will be, the baby in its saggy old diaper, the teenage parents already missing teeth.

          Sick, sick of this shit
          I’m ready to fuckin flip and shit.
          That’ll be an incident
          Equal to imprisonment.
          Isn’t it shitty how we livin just to die?
          I think about it every day while I’m fuckin high.

The Harmonys rarely think of their father. How many years has it been? Last time she went, she had to get giant black trash bags from the maid, pick up all the empties and half empties, the tall boys with butts floating in sludge, the paper plates streaked with grease from hamburger meat bought in tubes at the dollar store across the street. Her father crying, saying she shouldn’t have to do this. The Harmonys with lips in a grim line, emptying cans in the bathroom sink of his motel room until the butts clog the drain, then throwing all the cans in the bag, half full or no. It’s just one motel room, but she fills two forty-gallon bags with cans and butts from floors and counters, under the bed, on top of the TV, eighty gallons of misery that weigh everything and nothing in her clenched fingers. She hauls them down the steps, past the chickenheads and grove slaves leaning out their doors, flicking cigarette ash on the ground, wondering who she is, if she’s carrying, waiting for her to leave so they can drink beers and smoke crack with her dad.

She doesn’t cry. She stands stiff, letting him insist on hugging her, promising he’ll do better, he’ll get sober, he’ll start a new wonderful life. He’s down to three teeth. The Harmonys already know how that story will someday end. In no parallel universe will her father not die alone in that motel where he works as the maintenance man.

          Then I’m gettin pissed. Hexasist, straight up pessimist
          To the exodus, flexin this mic for the evidence
          Restin in piss, if you’re testin this, never confess this shit
          Goin out like Freddie Prinze, I’m fuckin sick.

Hex will never be anywhere but where he is. The Harmonys travel back and forth, expand out, in, and on themselves, they multiply and divide. They’ve almost made out. They’re gettin pissed. They keep thinking about the admin who said she didn’t know much about the Harmonys, other than they’re always cheerful and like to bake cookies for their students. The student who said the Harmonys are full of “hopeful outcomes.” The Harmonys touch their face, reaching a palm down their throat, feeling the cold slippery organs that are the same as last time she checked. The Harmonys try to understand the Harmony the people in this world see.

Hex begins again. He’s so fucking sick. The Harmonys are sick. The Harmonys choke on their illness, repeat, repeat, repeat, until eventually they have to click the stop button, comb their hair, button up a shirt with French cuffs, pack a bag of contemporary literature and homemade almond shortbread, then step out the door where the Georgia sun will burn the extra Harmonys off, will burn Florida and her family and the chickenheads and drunken servers and grove slaves from her bones, leaving behind a cheerful phantom who will walk the sparkling halls of a rich university and provide perfectly pearl-toothed students with hopeful outcomes for their futures.


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