I’m coming apart like the first cigarette I ever rolled. Loose, slobbering, and burning too fast.
White LightningEssays After Eighty
A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety
Send them flying away from you.
Wray: Not really. It’s just a clear case of you or him.
This week, as I tinker on this, Lauren, the artist and runner, showed me and a few others a picture of her car, which a large bird had crashed into on the highway and made a kaleidoscope of the windshield of her gold Mercedes. I wanted to tell her about the deer I hit in California in my gold truck but I didn’t. Maybe this is an essay about coincidence, which is cool, faint magic.
Another night at Dee’s, an older regular asks Sara to dial the lights down as I pull up to the bar. I was telling myself I’m here to read but end up working on this because you can still type in the dark, which is to say watch the sound guy tune the drum kit and drink diet Red Bull in all the humming electric sadness of another Tuesday happy hour when I should be at home with my family or at least here trying to write something meaningful about a full pack of American Spirits yellows I found walking our empty stroller to pick up my daughter from school and then hid in the shed under a collection of Flannery O’Connor letters about writing and God. I’ve got this long list of notes in my phone about smoking Lucky cigarettes in Europe with my wife—the ten packs—flipping that one lucky one to save for last—studying the drop off the bridge over the Cumberland river with a bummed Winston last winter—the ceremony of needing something to happen—that flick of the wrist, that nod at life to say, I see you, do you see me? I want this to be about living in the moment and magic or the magic of living in the moment when one thing leads to another even if just another smoke or knowing I’m lucky enough to hear the voice of God when my daughter calls me dude instead of dad or the jukebox plays my song. This is about disbelief in God and life—how it’s all a lot like holding smoke down while you run. How exhausting and exhaling are kissing cousins. This is about my wife’s uncle sneaking Camels as he recovers from a heart attack. That’s not simple fatalism, is it? It’s the opposite. And there’s more to unpack, but some things have to come to an end, and I only have three more of these things.
The house band at Dee’s heats up during what’s turned into another wet spring in Tennessee and the pedal steel slides in, and I find the email from the journalist and re-read it again. It’s been quiet between us since a birthday text from them in January. I write: My emotions are evasive and when they’re not I avoid them for a number of reasons. I’d like to think I know better than to launch into my own version of Tropic of Cancer even if there’s poetry in some of those long rant lists about the carnal parts of being. I know it’s played. But maybe I’m making up for lost time, having lost my body years to Christianity’s Purity Movement. I still don’t know any of the answers to your questions about my work and hope it’s okay because I don’t know another way of writing or any other reasons for trying. I come to one of my favorite lines of feedback. “I found myself wanting establishing elements.” To that end, all I can say about my life is, I feel that. I’m coming apart like the first cigarette I ever rolled. Loose, slobbering, and burning too fast.
My father’s cancer has nothing to do with smoking. In fact, it has nothing to do with anything at all.
Sam has a pack that December night after Dee’s and the Donald Hall essay about smoking and the Christmas party that went better than I thought it might. He and I, we just missed the band we Lyfted down to see at the Basement so we loiter and smoke on the porch just out of the windy rain and it’s just like it’s always been and it’s what started all of this. It’s why I’m here in the guesthouse of another boss’s place, considering how far my truck flung that deer that night on Highway One. It’s a part of why I’m stunned on nicotine gum—post-work, shaky on black tea and stress—watching cherry blossoms wave in this off-kilter yard in South Nashville. Nothing is not for nothing. Finally alone, the loss of friendships and time have me citing something weathered but sturdy like that about Nothing, and here in the moment, at least, I mean it. And this scene seems to agree. The neon leaves of a Maidenhair tree and the quiet it takes to replay my daughter calling me daddy—calling, Daddy, I need you, after thinking I was going to die on my way over here after my daughter and wife kissed me and I kissed them and the dog and steered onto the highway in an elated panic to be alone in the quiet. All of it had scared the death out of me for a moment—enough to wonder if I need another God and question the difference between craving something and loving it. I know I’m not the first to tease death with safe danger and dumb hope and shaky faith, and I won’t be the last.
Luke Wiget lives in Nashville. His work has appeared in Vol. 1 Brooklyn, BOMB, The Millions, The Rumpus, among others. He won the 2015 Quidity Lit Editors Prose Prize and was included in the Wigleaf Top Short Fictions 2014. Luke edits dD, a magazine and small press. You can find him on Twitter @godsteethandme.