“We should be out there making something of our lives instead of drinking again. After all, we’re young and free,” I said.
“Free.” He let out a snort, sucking on a cigarette. “You think we’re free?”
“Do you have to smoke?” I demanded, coughing.
He exhaled smoke at my narrowed, watering eyes. “I don’t have to. But I want to.”
Another lazy summer night. Nothing else to do but hang out and chug down a couple bottles of beer out on the curb, something that we’ve been doing for over a week now. We try to ignore the mosquito bites and the ache in our asses from sitting on the concrete sidewalk.
I took a long swig of beer and wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. “You’re such an asshole. I’m trying to have a conversation with you.”
“And I’m trying to smoke.”
“The question is,” I pressed, trying to get back on track, “how can you not think we’re free? I admit this is a pretty suckass world, but we could change it if we want to. We could be free.”
“And you sound like a cynical, beaten-down, world-weary old geezer. We’re only eighteen fucking years old, stop acting like you’ve seen and done it all.”
“There’s nothing else to see or do.” He lifted his cigarette to his cracked lips. Drag. Hold. Exhale. “Think about it. We go to good schools so we can get good jobs so our kids can go to good schools so they can get good jobs. Life is all planned out for us and we don’t even realize it. Freedom is the biggest lie ever said about youth.”
Drag. Hold. Exhale.
“See those two over there?” he asked, pointing to a young couple walking along the street. “They’re happy now, but someday they’re gonna get married and get jobs they hate so their kids won’t go hungry. Life’s too predictable. A fucking assembly line.”
“You’re saying that life has no meaning?”
“I’m saying, quit talking about being young and free. We’re all prisoners, now and until we croak. Most of us just haven’t realized it yet, but when they do, mark my words, they’ll be doing what I’m doing.”
“Drinking, smoking, getting high, and getting laid? Not everyone’s as emotionally crippled as you are.”
“Maybe they won’t drink, smoke, get high or get laid, but trust me, they’ll be looking for a similar escape hatch. A break from their monotonous reality, no matter how brief.” Drag. Hold. Exhale.
“No,” I thought aloud, “No… You’re wrong.”
“Suit yourself. Don’t come running to me when you figure out otherwise.”
The night was clear, but my vision was foggy from all the cigarette smoke in the air. The stars were blurry around the edges, as if God or some heavenly being had dipped their finger into them and smudged the outlines.
I closed my eyes, let out a beer-breath, and leaned against him, my spine pressing against his arm. I could feel his cheek resting on top of my head.
“You’re only trapped if you quit trying to break free,” I decided. “You make your own prison.”
And for once, he fell quiet.