Top of the Rock
It’s something like 200 miles from Salt Lake City and I haven’t stopped crying. I’m thinking if I make it all the way to New Mexico without a break in this downpour, the rooftops of every house in Utah will rattle with the force of my hemorrhaging soul. I want them to feel it. My urgency to flee this banal, bullshit state puts an ache in both my back and my tire treads.
I must get out. I have to get out. I drive on and on, unwilling to stop even to release my howling bladder.
I feel the pounding pavement roll out from under me like a carpet unraveling. Waiting for me on the other side: something that’s not now. That’s all I need. To wake up somewhere no one knows my face – won’t wonder if it once owned a smile.
The cramp in my bowels reaches a fever pitch, but I’m not ready to patronize even the remotest of gas stations for the sake of a piss. Either way, I should be retaining some fluids. I try to think about anything but the sac of liquid screaming from inside me. I try to think about the color of my parent’s upstairs bathroom. I can’t remember if it’s lime or if it’s darker, something like pine tree. Or lighter, sea foam. Maybe cucumber?
Fuck. It’s becoming a medical emergency. I have to give in to my dumb fucking body.
Fifteen miles north of Moab, I veer off the road into a cloud of brown winter dust and slam hard on the breaks.
The snow of the night before might never have existed. But the cold certainly did. The bones of his neck taut below the skin, pushing against my crusted lips. I couldn’t escape the smell of him, it orbited my head like a hazy cloud. I would live there if I could.
But my eviction notice was pending.
The bullet points were all there, explicit in their outline, but I chose to focus on the dull, fading scribbles in the margins.
The stuff I clung to:
The softness of his tongue.
The scratch of his fingernail wiping sweat from my forehead.
The taste of his big, wild beard.
The way he looked at me when I made him cum.
That night he makes us garlic bread and spaghetti. We eat in silence as the sky spits hunks of white at us from outside. I scratch Zuzu, his beloved mutt, behind the ears, luring the pup’s affection with the empty promise of a food sampling. The boy, he won’t look at me. I don’t miss this. I thank him for dinner and he shrugs, as if my participation in the meal is incidental.
I’m not that hungry anyway. I want to put down my bread and cozy up to him, lure him back to his mattress and get tangled up for a few hours until we drift to sleep. But that’s not what he wants. And I know that. And I ignore that.
I’m at the four corners and the wind is so harsh fluids leak from every crevice of my face. At least these tears are involuntary. I stand amongst my options. Colorado. Arizona. New Mexico. Utah.
I feel a bit like Skylar White, except instead of a baby carrier in hand, I’m holding my camera and a half-eaten Kind bar that tastes like cement. And instead of a left-behind-drug-kingpin-husband, I’ve got a jobless-synth-player-who-wasn’t-sober-on-a-single-date.
I try to capture an evenly composed photo of the corners, perfectly intersecting, immortalized in stone, but the shadows work against me. I give up and scurry back to my car.
I make my choice: to Colorado, and beyond.
I can’t stop thinking about how little time we spent together. I lapped up every second in his presence, it felt like months together. Boiled down to reality, six short weeks. I felt silly for feeling this strongly. It was the Libra in me, I suppose.
How pathetic. I don’t even believe in fucking astrology.
He probably couldn’t remember my last name. Or that I was raised Catholic. Or that I wanted to be a cartographer as a kid. Or that I once stabbed myself in the arm with a box cutter by accident. Or that I’d hiked the Andes. Or that my abuela was friends with Fidel Castro’s sister in college. Or that I almost got arrested in the middle of my first blowjob.
I so wished to fill the halls of his memory with me. The specificity of a life lived. Wanted to stack every shelf with my stories. But he didn’t have room for a stanza. Not even a compound-complex sentence.
I suppose that’s my reoccurring issue. With guys, it’s always about me. The good stuff and the bad. So eager to fill an empty space, I forget to stop and recognize that there’s no slot for me. I come bursting in the front door, bags in hand, desperate to get out of the rain. Don’t even ask if there’s a free bed. Ask instead, “What’s for dinner? I’m starving.”
I stop for lunch an hour ouside of Denver, but not before I take an edible, cause I’m no better than the rest of them. Not Walter White. Not the boy of my miseries. I duck into this tiny tourist trap diner, narrow but with high ceilings, distressed wood and faded tile. A cluster of locals surround me, their lack of aloneness unsettling me. I sit at the bar next to the only other solo cowboy, an older man neck deep in his newspaper.
I’m higher than I realize, so I speak slow and careful to the waitress as I order my burger and sweet potato fries. I force myself to eat slow, like a sober person, but I’m ravenous. The chatter around me softens into smooth white noise, nothing more than the buzz of a ceiling fan. Choice words float gently to me, brushing against my temples, but not entering. At once, it’s pleasant and terrifying.
A half hour later, I step back into the calm sunny cold, the kind I love. Even then, floating above myself with a fat stomach and fuzzy head, I accept that I have to go back. I know I have no choice.
There, I had work. I had a roof over my head. Out here, I have nothing but four tires and $80 to my name.
I get back on the road and spend hours flying through the mountains, in the wrong state of mind for driving, but I feel soft and supple and light as air so it’s easy to ignore the danger. I trust myself to make it to Grand Junction before nightfall, perhaps not sound, but safe at the very least.
I’m sorry I thought I was good for you. (That was foolish.)
I’m sorry I let you serenade me. (Who are you, Craig from Degrassi? I guess that’d make me Manny. Or Ashley, more realistically.)
I’m sorry I was attracted to your pain. (You simply pulsate with it, babe.)
I’m sorry I ever let you “mac” on me. (Your words, not mine.)
I’m sorry I fell in love with your dog, too. (You don’t deserve him.)
I’m sorry I let your roommate talk shit on Beyoncé. (And praise Lloyd in the same breath? Give me a fucking break.)
I’m sorry I said I wanted to go to your concert. (I was going to go anyway and like, throw water on your amp or something. Ha! Then I’d really be like Ashley.)
I’m sorry I’m writing about it. (Except that I’m not.)
On my map, I detect a sanctuary. The perfect anecdote for a frozen heart. I pull off the road without a second thought. I jump out of my car and sprint up the snowy hill till I reach the top. There, I discover bliss. A steaming hot natural pool, just for me. I strip down naked and dip myself into the muddy waters, let them fill me up to my neck.
Around me, the sky speaks in turquoises and indigos. I shut my eyes and savor every sense. I’m alone for a while, but then I’m not.
I hear a trail of mounting footsteps approach. I wonder who it could be, furious at their disruption of my solitude. And then he appears. Tall, gruff, dirty. Weary face, taut body. Clothed for the woods. He might have wandered straight out of them. He nods his head to me, doesn’t seem to mind my nudity.
“How’s the water?” he asks.
“It’s perfect,” I murmur back.
Suddenly, his clothes are coming off too. I try not to stare until he’s safely in the water, but I catch glimpses of his legs, his chest, his ass. All pleasantly hairy. He wades in and keeps his distance from me. We exchange looks, few words. I wonder if he’s real, if I’m still high, if he’s a forest nymph disguised as a hunky older gentleman, here to seduce me and poison my blood.
I’d let him.
Or maybe he’s just a single guy, living alone in the Rockies, here to relax after a long day of logging. Uninterested in the stoned, transient, twenty-something homo taking up space in his favorite watering hole. Then I feel his toes tickle mine. An accident perhaps, but he doesn’t apologize. He smiles big at me. His foot doesn’t pull back, so I meet him halfway. He won’t look away, and neither will I.
Daring, I whisper, “I wasn’t expecting to run into such a handsome man out here.”
He laughs, lowers his gaze, embarrassed. His head bobs across the pool’s surface, drifting toward me like a magnet, his legs crossing over mine. His intentions, unmistakable. I let him come closer, till our facial hair scratches, till our lips search for the other. He reaches out and he pulls me in, cradles me like a child, probes me with his tongue. I feel his erection deep below the surface and I tug on it. My own pops out of the water and he releases my mouth to pay the throbbing, eager thing some mind. He holds me as Mary held Jesus. Head between my legs, praising my body. Eternal in the waters of baptism. Forgiven in the shadow of dusk. I belong to this man, this singular mystery, this stranger showing me love I’ve never known.
We finish, adding a bit of our bodies to the natural water. We float apart, grinning lasciviously. I give him one last kiss.
“I should get back on the road.”
He nods, silently thanking me. But I owe him everything.
The last minutes before I never saw you again, I asked you how you felt about me. Point blank. Sitting outside my apartment in your car in the unrelenting snowfall.
You said, “I mean, I like you…”
Noncommittal. The same way you’d say you like whole wheat bread or ABC Family holiday movies. Like you don’t even feel strongly enough to hate them, so you might as well like them.
I don’t need to be liked. I need to be fucking loved. I need someone to hurt without me there. I need someone whose stomach growls for me. I need someone who is paralyzed by my kiss. Brought alive by my breath.
I need a lot, I ask a lot, and I fucking deserve it.
Back near Moab, I’ve stopped to release myself. Despite the urgency, it won’t come. I’m too frantic or too exposed or too cold and the urine just won’t get out of my body. I scan a crest of boulders nearby. They head toward the sky, making a near perfect upward pathway. I put my dick back in my sweatpants and hustle toward them, hoping to find a small private crevice.
The sunset is thick and rich, dirty oranges and screaming yellows. I left my glasses in the car, so I take my time scaling that jagged walkway. My hands scrape against each edge, I’m already out of breath. I feel nauseous with sudden hunger. This is not good, but there’s no going back. I’m fit to burst.
Suddenly, somehow, I reach the top. No break in the boulders. Just a stairway to heaven. I breathe deep, calming myself, and I try take in what’s around me. I look to the swimming halfcircle sun, wiggling away from view with its peace fingers up.
I turn my back to it.
High across the sky, a million miles away from where I stand, I’m struck by a vision.
A towering mountain, a perfect hypotenuse triangle, one surface obstinately flat and vertical. The sun as it sinks casts a violent red glow against it. Loud as an LED sign, a cop siren. Nature’s brightest and boldest trick – but only for an infinitesimal bite. I scramble for my camera, which isn’t there. All I have is my phone. I pull it out, my fingers too cold to type in my password.
And then it’s too late. That blushing red, it’s slipped into nothing. No more. I exhale sharply. The loss of it runs across the surface of my skin, prickly and unpleasant.
My crotch, it’s soaked wet.
I missed everything.
I lower my arms and narrow my eyes at the vista, trying to find something left in it. What remains is nothing but a bare, brown rock, higher than the highest, but disappearing ever so.
Johnny Alvarez is a writer, a filmmaker, a Midwestern native, a Cubano queer boy. He is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago and is currently based on the West Coast. His work has been featured in The Odyssey, Quiet Lightning, and queer film festivals across the country. You can find him on Instagram and Twitter @jmigalv if you’re really about it.