It was two in the morning and Eva and I were in a rental car on a six-hour drive back to Austin. It was dark and we were both so scared that we promised we would not stop talking and we would not listen to anything other than the Top 40. Pop songs slide right into your head like butter and they stick like chewed gum. They are metal kebab rods that keep the meat all in one place, hovering over an open flame. Eva told me that our fears, deep down, are of the things we think are incomprehensibly beautiful. She said, deep sea and I said, the dark and then, bridges. It was freezing but it was a nice night and the roads were empty so it was an easy drive and we were in the middle of nowhere so the stars were like, OK, we’ll bite, and took to the sky like termites. The woodwork of my skull was cracked so slightly that anything could come in, but nothing could leave.
What’s a bridge?
Something that takes you from one place to another.
I was listening to Bedouine and crying on the Megabus. My favourite seat: top deck, front row, left side. This meant that when we drove over the Atchafalaya Basin, I could look down into the negative space between the two bridges – the trough where there is just murk and slick and once, when I was very lucky, an alligator.
I was above the basin booking my ticket to a Kurt Vile show, thinking about the sidelined lip of the narrow bridge: getting into it would be easy, but getting back out would be impossible. The onset of moving cars is like hail and I would be stuck — suspended forever on the footbridge between void and motion.
I listened to Kurt Vile’s b’lieve i’m goin down… for the rest of the twelve-hour bus-ride and when he told me he had a funky psychosis oh sweet relief! I was like, yeah, this guy, he gets it. Freyja and I went to the SXSW screening of BLAZE right after Vile’s gig and I heard Blaze Foley sing, my head was ajar, and I was like, mine too… and then he said it again and I was like, yeah, this guy, he gets it too. Freyja stuck around in the city afterwards, but I took myself home. I waited for the bus until I thought I was going to die, and then I called a Lyft instead.
I cried six days a week, five if I was lucky, and attended a university with concealed carry laws. This meant that if you could hide your gun, you could have your gun. UT Austin had its own police department and I would fry an egg and ding and it would be an email from UTPD about assault and I would take a piss and ding there’s one about a shooting and once my phone dinged three times in three days and all of them were about different guns.
I met Paul in my Latin American History & Film class. The class where Professor Twinam made everyone sign a contract saying they would not bring a gun into the lecture hall or her office. I had not slept, showered, eaten, I was wearing clothes that weren’t mine. After class, I got into Paul’s car and he drove me the ten-minute walk home. He asked to use my toilet and I said yes and after he was done he sat on my yellow couch for far too long. Two hours later I texted my (now) ex, He’s right outside my window. And they said, OK that’s a bit much and, you kind of make me paranoid. But Paul had been in my house which meant that he’d left a GPS tracker on a pair of my shoes or a tiny invisible camera on my towel rack or drugs in my toothpaste. He’d doctored the locks on my front door. It didn’t happen but still, it happened to me.
What’s a door?
A sectioning off.
Getting into Texas was easy, it was swamp water through a keyhole. I stood in the queue at Austin-Bergstrom for ten minutes, then the passport control officer asked me what I was studying, then I told him, and then we said goodbye. Getting home was easy, too, I just took a cab until it stopped.
I forgot to take a photo of Professor Twinam’s gun contract before handing it back to her. The Parkland school shooting happened two weeks later and when I went to Twinam’s lecture the next day, she said to us, do you know the first thing I do before I begin teaching a class? Every semester? I make sure the room has doors that lock. I saw my first gun and then it clicked: it’s not the getting in that’s the problem.
What do you call a door that’s not a door?
I like the way suspension bridges collapse. Have you ever seen it happen? Before they go down, they wobble like tides, like Jell-O. The hard bits flex and contract like if wet clay is on a wheel and the wheel is spinning too fast. Suspension bridges are malleable and so, if I ask you, what’s a bridge? The answer is not just about me getting from one place to another, sometimes the bridge is warped, like wooden floorboards after a flood.
Art by Linda Liu.
On Longview street my a.c. unit ran like piss. It dribbled behind a white square cabinet outside my bedroom door and I would lie on my mattress and think of a water well that led down into a stinking mouldy pit, damp and dense and thick. How far does the water fall?
Water is ghosts. Just like the wind is ghosts and lights are ghosts, too. And by that I mean: the Marfa lights are ghosts. They are floating orbs in West Texas and no one knows what they’re made of or where they come from but when you see them you say, oh look! and then the person you’re with says, oh wow! They appeared without warning in the sky, then mid-air, then on the surface of the desert sand. I saw three and they were green. It lasted less than a second. I was terrified. I’m still terrified. There’s a whole world right here but no one can see it. The Marfa lights make me sad. When I saw them I wanted to jump down a well. I wanted to sit in the pit of it and look up at the sky and see it littered to shit with stars.
Little Mazarn are an Austin trio that twangs in the same way a lake does at midnight. Think of a voice stiller than whisper but a hundred times bendier. It tells you, Texas winds howl and wail, and you’re like, now that you’ve told me, I can’t stop noticing. It tells you about the Marfa lights. Little Mazarn use the saw as an instrument because it sounds like wind. I like the saw because it’s like if a bridge were an instrument: metal, bendy, building things, tearing them apart.
Charles Whitman shot forty-six people. I don’t know what kind of gun he used because when I go to the Wikipedia page it tells me that he was carrying nine different ones and a machete and three knives. This was in 1966 and he did it from The University of Texas tower, which connects to the main building, right in the middle of campus. I actually didn’t know about the shooting until I’d been in Austin for four months. And then I said, you’ve tricked me and now I’m stuck here.
I almost died more times than I can count. This is because I took the I-10 Calcasieu River Bridge more times than I can count. The Calcasieu River Bridge ropes together Lake Charles and Westlake. It has a safety rating of 6.6 out of 100. If you drive a company car, your insurance probably won’t cover being up there; they don’t count it as a bridge. So every time I rode over it I said, I either don’t exist right now or will stop existing very soon.
What do you call a bridge that’s not a bridge?
Eva and I drove seven hours to Marfa on Friday morning. We saw art, had dinner, had several drinks, saw the Marfa lights, stayed the night, had breakfast, saw more art, and left by one o’clock. Her family was flying in from Uppsala. We wanted to make it back to Austin by the time their plane landed.
Our rental car broke down two hours into the drive. We were in West Texas on a single-lane highway a twenty-minute drive from the nearest town with no cell reception. First we got a ride from Steven, then we got a ride from a seventy-year-old rancher, then we got a ride from two border patrol officers, then we got a ride in a tow-truck, then we were in Midland, then we were driving back to Austin in a replacement car, then it was four a.m. and I was in bed.
Until my body met my flat sheet, I could not think up a time in which we weren’t moving. To me, we would be driving forever: Eva hypnotised with white line fever, me with my eyes closed because our headlights didn’t reach a wide enough circumference. We’d always be in the rental car and it would go like this: drive, drive drive, fill up on petrol, drive again. With my eyes closed, I could see everything except my front door creeping open and my body entering my apartment.
What do you call a head that’s not a head?
I lived alone because Tiffany got sick within two months of me moving in. She went to live with her mum in New Orleans and the real estate agency couldn’t find anyone to take her place. Every time I showered I stood underneath the head and thought about one of two things: that scene in Psycho or how slippery the fibreglass was. Anything is slippery if it’s wet enough. And when something is slippery it also becomes: wide open, you can fall right in.
What’s a bridge when it stops being a bridge?
Rubble. And you are king of the rubble, sitting on the top of a pile of rocks somewhere in El Malpais in a dirty denim jacket and pink silk shorts thinking, I could be anywhere, but I am here.
What’s a bridge?
Something that takes you from one place to another.
Sleep paralysis in a border town. Between two things and looking at a pair of black gloves strangling a vulture. I was static in that I was: still, in that my antenna was broken. Flexing and contracting off a highway and right outside the front door is a thick pillar made of cement. It holds up the overpass for eighteen-wheelers, roadrunners, and hatchbacks that are moving, moving, moving. Trying to get from one place to the other.