Real Subject


My favorite writing teacher once told me that there are two subjects in every story; the triggering subject, and the real subject. My favorite subject in every story is always the past. I keep getting stuck there, and who can blame me really, that world was so pungent, I’m still getting drunk on it, I’m still digging up all the sights and sounds, even in memory there’s little pieces that I can rip out like splinters and feel the same kind of sting. I keep getting stuck there but usually here, the house my friend rented senior year of college.

Everything was broken in that house, but it was a whole world to us once. It was too hot in the summer, as August stifled September. Too cold in the winter when we could see our breath. The blinds in the living room were missing a slat where the sun would leak in, without invitation. The basement would flood when it rained. The ceilings were lined with cardboard. The bedroom door wouldn’t shut. The green light bulb that hung over the front door was stolen, and never replaced. All of this, the house sighing and settling in its foundation as we lived.

But those aren’t the real subjects. No, the real subject is somewhere inside how things felt at the beginning, when the nights were still warm and the air was thick, and we would be there at the house every night, all night, people coming and going, the music shaking the walls. I would ask about tomorrow, and people would laugh, because they knew what I didn’t: either that tomorrow would never come, not really, or that there were enough tomorrows for the next one not to matter. The real subject is something to do with how I felt laying awake in the loft at night, before the green light bulb was stolen and it still drowned the room in eerie light, casting us in an almost sickly glaze, and the boy next to me would be snoring too loudly for me to sleep, and I would think of other boys, boys who had told me they loved me once—but if they still had, I wouldn’t be here. The real subject is the word for how I felt at the end of things, when I would wake up on the couch in the living room, the light pouring in through that broken slat, projecting a golden prism on the hardwood floor so pretty it made my chest ache, because I knew something else was coming but I didn’t know what, all I knew was here, which felt like everything before, at once. It has something to do with how I felt stepping around the people passed out around me, because when you’re 19 and 20 and 21, you can sleep anywhere and it doesn’t matter where you wake up, it has something to do with opening the door outside and walking home in the grey morning light that felt so crisp and clean, towards the noise and life of inner campus. There used to be a beginning and an ending inherent in those moments, and depending on my mood and how the light was striking me, I could choose which one to believe in—until an end was all that was left.

Now I watch my life like we used to watch the street from the porch, until it vanishes beyond sight. I think of driving by the house now in my mind. I think of seeing it, still and empty, where we left it, and I think of how it belongs to someone else now. I think of how it can hold so many lives inside of it, but I only have one life inside of me. I think of how it’s a place I used to go that I’ll never go again. That I can’t go again, not really. So I think the real subject is probably just the same thing it usually is—that I didn’t want to grow up, not really, and I still don’t. Everyone talks about growing old but I never thought it would happen to me.  

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