Best Worst Year: Episode 92 (Or, Backslider)

You are sitting in a faux-pub in the land of Prince and Westerberg, staring at Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins on TNT, stray basket of fries going soggy and inedible in a thin pool of grease, soaking the wax paper into a wet, glassy mess. Not too long ago, you had managed to crawl out the other side of the Shawshank sewer drain, become slim enough to shimmy your way through this pipeline of shit, to climb out clean on the other side. You bury a part of you under a tree near a stone retaining wall–the excessive tissue and adipose fat suit of 115 pounds you carried in a sack of bad decisions and stress–just to find yourself another few months later staring down the barrel of another layoff.

treadmill cold pizza in the emergency room

The last time you were unemployed, you figured out you had watched Shawshank Redemption almost eleven times in one year—never in its entirety. Some nights, you would sleep on a stranger’s couch after a long shift at the local bar, gas station burrito nightcap and flip through the channels, waiting for that metered and world-weary narrative voice. Television night light, prison grays and the blood rushing to your belly were the cure for insomnia. Sometimes, it would be a Sunday at your cousin’s house, with chicken wings and a sixer. The rest of the world tied up a weekend’s worth of loose ends so they could get on with another forty hour work week, but you would only know the savory purgatory of waiting for a Monday morning to call home. You would binge without the purge. Sugar, salt, malted hops, processed cheese, and fast food. Romance of miles and drive-in/drive-thru freedom rung your neck dry and caused your feet to swell. You could see every stop along through calendar year in the bloodshot slate staring into a coffee cup or beer bottle—they both treated the same diagnosis.

Arc of a diver wine glass on the dashboard

Hours before wandering down 11th st. from Hennepin to Nicolette, you ran into friends from your former life out east. They rain down words like “impressed,” “inspired,” and “proud,” related to how healthy you looked–compared to just a few years ago, or how much happier you seemed. You don’t know what to say. In a handful of minutes, they feel caught up, but you know that they’re still behind–that they’re talking to the you of a year ago, not the one standing in front of them now. You already feel a second shift, one waiting for you–your body has already begun to feel its gravitational pull. You feel pounds accumulate with so much desperate awareness–it’s like every snow flurry which touches down feels like the deepest, most snow blinding blizzard piling up on your chest and over your belt buckle. It’s irrational and exponential–a house of cards in every bite of your not-salad dinner.

feedback loop
wearing oversized sweaters
just to feel small again

Your shirt is slightly more snug against your stomach. It’s a quiet fear slowly gaining momentum in the back of your mind, that this part of you is just inescapable. That the hard work of a year is only a year—an anomaly in your narrative and that maybe, you are resigned to a fate of bad decisions and bum tickers. Patton Oswalt was right—there isn’t a Bukowski for the fat bastards among us. No Keith Richards of the buffet crowd. No Last Exit to Brooklyn for the Waffle House generation. Even when Maron talks on-stage about cutting Ben and Jerry’s, it’s a punchline for most of the audience. Sugar or liquor—the numbness mistaken as warmth is the same to you. You wake up with a stomach full of broken bones and slowly solidifying concrete.

Crooked fingers
grates collect rain and vomit

You keep finding Carpenters records in used vinyl bins. She would’ve been repulsed by you. You lay on a hotel bed and feel the rise of your stomach pour over your ribcage. You can feel the extra weight fill like sandbags against your spine. You are backsliding and feel helpless to the gravity. So you go back to the gym and forget about words like gradual and patient. It’s well into a weekend-long happy hour and you have the entire weight room to yourself. You try to drown everything out and invest your ache in the discipline of burning muscle. Your ears are already ringing with the relentless low end rattling fuzz of Black Flag and Henry Rollins. You want to taste the sweetness of your blood, bite through part of your lip as you push through a final set of reps on a bench press. It’s always and never about the revision process. You remember trying to tell a student about false endings in poetry—how you always invariably write past the point of meaning, and need to peel back the lines and breaks until you carve away just enough. She kept asking you, “When do you know when you’re done?” You can hear your heart struggle to keep up with the kick drum between your ears.

Muscle memory quarter short at the vending machine.

Jim Warner is the Managing Editor of Quiddity International Literary Journal and Public Radio Program at Benedictine University and the author of two poetry collections Too Bad It’s Poetry and Social Studies (Paper Kite Press). His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in various journals including The North American Review, [PANK] Magazine, Midwestern Gothic, New South, and Smartish Pace. Follow him on twitter @whoismisterjim.

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