I decided tonight that I was going to spend the night on the streets. I was mid-walk to another part of town when I got bored of the idea of turning around. The thought of all the hours until I could bring myself to return put a stress on me, to the point where I was able to look at my backpack and half-full water bottle, and say, this’ll be enough.
I just kept walking until the air got cold on the hot, spring day, as the sun kept falling down over the short, stuck-together buildings of the Downtown I found myself in. A Downtown cluster, deep in the streets I’d found, with people, and paths, and cars moving in between. In between stores, and in between street lamps, all now beginning to rise and brighten above me, painting the walls in patches of brick triangles, as I walked, and as people came out of their storefronts to take out their trash underneath the spotlights.
And all the nifty shops that sell candles were beginning to close, as their small owners shuffled out to Fiats and drove away listening to music they’d probably already heard. Driving passed me. Driving passed all of the bars on the Main Street that were now beginning to wake and turn profit, as Townies moved in on motorcycles and chose high-top tables outside, to sit at and drink and huddle together over each dirty, little, square, for just a little bit of warmth. As I walked past them—watch them—and I was in those sneakers, those big clunky ones I like to wear.
And as I kept walking, passed the end of the Downtown buildings, a neighborhood had been placed with small lawns and cute fences. And the little sidewalk began to crack and disappear, as I kept walking, my hands on my backpack straps, staring for more people, looking through windows, not watching them watch me, but watching them watch TV. It seemed that, on this street, everyone had their TV in that room; that room, that one room with the big window near the front door, with the blinds half closed and silhouettes moving. It seemed that, on this street, there was a TV in all of those rooms, and someone slumped in on the couch in between the blinds, and in between the walls of their own place.
And I was deep in the neighborhood by the time the sun was setting. Strings of mailboxes shined in the heavy light, fading, as house shadows swept over lawns, and the ground was getting colder, and I was just catching up to it all. I took a sip of water and began to think, to look up, for a big tree to sit in.
But the trees plotted along the street were sparse in leaves and branches. Bigger trees loomed over homes from their backyards, a good place to start—to start moving through fences, over fire pits, and with purpose, as the sun was now gone, behind the wall of hedges that the houses multiplied towards.
But the trees were mocking me, shrinking before me, getting smaller and smaller in the yards that I went through. They were turning into shrubs as the sun kept falling, passed the horizon, setting over yet another neighborhood that I’d be misplaced in.
But eventually, in someone’s backyard, behind their white-paneled, stained house, there was a big branch in a tree for me to straddle. I hopped onto the thing and dug into the bark, getting up there, taking a second to breathe. I took my backpack off. I put it behind my head. I laid back. I felt the breeze on my clothes and I took another breath. I’d be good up here for a day at least. I checked my phone for the time—9:01—and then my phone died.
For the first time since I was a child, I was alone in a tree. It was no lookout though. I couldn’t see much. The tree was thick with leaves that came down over me like a circus umbrella. There was no grand view. The only thing I could see was the yard beneath me, dimly lit, with one playground and one shed.
I decided to just listen for things. A squirrel jumping, a hammer hammering, and for a second, I was kind of peaceful. The farthest sounds away from me just sounded like traffic, low and rumbling—the combined force of metal—and my head began to itch again, and again, I felt restless.
I looked down at the tree I was sitting in—all the way down to the ground—and realized that I couldn’t sleep in a fucking tree. It was all coming to me, and the sun was set, and the leaves were rumbling, and I had to go.
I gave the big branch a warm, loving pat and I slung my backpack over my shoulder. I began to get down, but coming down, the bark was breaking from the weight of me. And I was having trouble getting started. The sound of me struggling, the sound of me cursing, and slipping, and over it, a door opened, with Spanish music pouring out like water. I froze. A man in flip-flops came with the tide.
I scrambled back up as he walked beneath me. Back to the shed. Going inside and rolling out a grill onto the grass. Ambient lights turned on all around me. Chairs were pulled out. He got the fire going.
Now, I was sprawled out like a lion in the tree, just waiting for him to go back inside. But whenever he’d go in, a wife would come out. And whenever she’d go in, a brother would come out. And when the brother went in, two kids came running out. Before I knew it, I was perched above an entire family BBQ. Music was playing. Burgers were being cooked. Even a small soccer game was going on. Two uncles knew a lot of tricks.
The party was just getting started. I was looking down at a family gathering that I was not invited to. I was tapping my toe on the branch I think—it was the only way I was allowing myself to move, besides my eyes, which were scanning the people of the party constantly to see if anyone had noticed me.
But after 45 minutes or so, no one had looked up, and I began to settle. After another 45, I sat back up and put my backpack behind my head again, looking beneath me, as everyone was still running around. Children were on the playground—one of them fell off—aunts were making bracelets, and I was up in the tree as all the delicious food was just about to break the table. Everyone began to sit down at the big, L-shape tables, covered in good food and good drinks: covered in good food and good drinks.
And I couldn't resist wanting some myself. If only one of the kids from the kid’s table’d look up at me. If only I could just whistle down to one of them, while they’re eating a hot dog, have them pinch off the end and toss it up. Toss up some cake too, and a glass of water. Throw up some corn like confetti to me and I’ll catch it.
My stomach was grumbling now—loud—and again, my eyes scanned the table for a trace of my whereabouts. Nothing though. No one had seen or heard of me. The family was passing the dishes, zig-zagging the length the backyard.
Now, I was really eyeing the kid’s table, all of them enjoying their little food on their little dishes. Don’t children always look up at trees? Doesn’t anyone ever look up at trees? It was apparent to me, that if I wanted some food, I was going to have to get it myself.
And why not? I took my backpack out from behind my head and put it on my back again. I shook my water bottle—nothing—and then tightened the cap. I began to get down, still slipping on the bark a little bit, breaking some of it as I do; the pieces fall down onto the tablecloth.
When I touched the ground, everyone was looking at me. People had stopped eating.
I started eating, or tried to…
“What are you doing?” said a brother from across the table. “Where did you come from?”
I had a corn dog in my hand now from the bowl, unbitten. “I came from that tree over there,” pointing with it at some branches in the distance.
Everyone was staring, looking over their shoulders. “Well, how did you end up here?”
I looked at them. “I walked.”
Now everyone was looking up at the trees, trying to plot my route. I still had the corn dog in my hand, debating whether to make a run for it or not, really, waiting for someone to ask, “Are you hungry?”
But the group stare down lasts for a while longer. I can see people still thinking, still confused, wondering why I’m still there, also wondering why no one’s asked me to leave yet. The stalemate lasts for so long that I take a bite out of my corn dog. Everyone remains watching me, very quiet. I take another bite. “It’s a really good corn dog.”
Like a sneeze someone says, “Thank you.”
And a fork is picked up and someone takes a bite again. A couple more people have the same reaction, slowly, and people begin to eat again. A certain person does the same, a slow crawl towards eating, and once they do, everyone is now slowly eating again, still keeping me in the corner of their eye, waiting for me to leave.
But I don’t. I kind of just stand there and finish my corn dog, slowly. When that’s done, I go to reach for some salad, taking a bowl of it, and eating while I stand. People are slowing down again, using their leftover energy to watch me again, thinking to themselves about it. They’re taking sips from their solo cups and looking at one another.
The kid’s table keeps eating though. They are unbothered. They are eating chicken fingers. I focus my attention on them, smiling a little bit because of it, taking bites from my salad, looking back and noticing that there are more heads turned towards me now. I feel them closing in on me again.
A chair scooches out from somewhere and she walks over. She puts her hand up on my shoulder, and I look down. An old woman stands next to me now, looking in my eyes. She’s one of those old women who are so old that their bottom lip has grown larger than their top, and her wrinkles are like veins, and her hair is balding in all the appropriate places. She’s smiling at me, and she keeps her hand on my shoulder. It’s trembling as she does, like she’s putting all of her weight on me, and I feel her softly shaking my body, like a massage chair, and I am feeling comforted by her. She looks at me. Her eyes, subtly watery, like a soul is glimmering in the pool of them, fluttering between her eyelashes, as if when they flutter, they brush up against my cheeks and tickle them. I am waiting for her to speak, I am waiting for her to tell me everything, and as she does, and as her lips begin to move, she says, “Please leave.”
And now, I sit in my bed, wondering where I would be if I were still in that tree. Would I still be bored? Would I still be hungry? Would I still have used up everything in one moment? Or was that one moment enough to make me happy.
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