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We did this thing when we were teenagers, fuck knows why, boredom probably, where one of us would stand against a wall while the others pushed against our sternums or hearts as hard as possible until we passed out. At least I think that’s how it went. I don’t know the science of it, or remember the exact specifics of the standing or pushing.

In any case, we took it in turns, and when it came to mine a few weeks after we first tried it – I never went first with these kind of things, still don’t – I remember being against the wall and then not, and the being against the wall disappeared so completely it was as if it had never existed.

I was on a highway, yellow lines at the side, broken white lines in the middle, and the highway was in the middle of a desert, American I think, though I’d never been to one (it probably came from old cowboy movies or Easy Rider), and I was in a car, or (Easy Rider again) on a motorbike – I can’t remember which now, though I remember it being extremely vivid at the time.

The sky was vast and blue above me, and I remember a feeling of absolute freedom and serenity, as if that was how life was meant to be, perfect, calm, subdued to some instrument that rendered everything around it superfluous and pointless – that was the desert, I suppose – and I could ignore all of it, the rocks and cacti and scorpions. And I did. I drove and that was all. Nothing happened. There was no drama or excitement. Just the hum of the vehicle I was in or on, the sound of the wind and the rubber of the tyres on the road’s asphalt surface.

When I woke up, I had no idea where I was. It felt like coming out from reality, a perfect reality, into a humdrum and disappointing dream. I was slumped on the pavement next to the wall, feeling woozy, and trying to say something, though it must’ve been gibberish because I remember my friends laughing as they tried to pick me up. I felt like I’d been gone for years, decades, and these people, my friends, were strangers, people I’d never met and would never want to meet either.

Not so long after that, one of my friend’s mothers – Paul’s, I think it was, though my mind might be telling me it was him for convenience’s sake – found out what we’d been doing – apparently Paul had tried it out on his eight-year-old brother – and went ballistic. She told the headmaster at our school, and we all got hauled in for a bollocking. We probably got detention too.

Whatever the case, Paul was definitely grounded, and I think we started to drift apart after that, though I don’t think what we’d been doing had anything to do with it, really. It was just one of those things. He went his way, I went mine. I’m not sure I can even picture his face anymore (I tried looking for him on Facebook and came back empty), and when I think about him now, the only thing I can remember is the calm I felt in that desert, the sound of the tyres and the hum of the engine, and a kind of sadness comes over me, knowing I’ll never hear or feel that way again.

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16 thoughts on “Subdued To Some Instrument

  1. Wow. That was captivating. I’m pretty sure if the camera had been on me while reading you’d see me staring at the screen with wide eyes and an open mouth. Good story.

    That said, I’m pretty sure that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of doing, whip-its included.

      • My friends and I used to go to a park and spin each other around on a tire suspended from a chain. The trick was to see just how dizzy you could get, and there was a lot of falling down afterwards. I was maybe the worst (or best, depending on your perspective) at getting so dizzy the world became a smear in front of my eyes. But I was not the one who had the bad luck of cracking his head against a concrete curb. That guy was not hurt as bad as it sounded like he was, but that smacking was the worst sound I’ve ever heard. We never did that again.

      • I remember doing something similar. And pretending to be WWF wrestlers, which was fine until I tombstoned my friend’s little brother. His mum wasn’t too pleased

  2. Beautiful story.
    Stupid things? Oh yeah. Most of them I prefer not to write. That’s part of the power of your stories, you dig up the stupid, the awkward, the uncomfortable. You’re willing to go where others might rather not go. Thank you.

  3. I am reminded of the many stupid things my peers did, as I had a way of always watching, never participating with this piece. Also, since I live in the desert and have traveled much of the American West, I can surely associate with the quiet subdued traveling. Great piece.

  4. Man, I really enjoyed this. Took me back to that ‘stupid’ stage (not that I’ve grown out of it much. But it reminds me of something very strange that happened to me when I was about 13/14. I wrote a story about it… let me find it (rewrite it, most definitely), and I’ll let you know. One of those where the old ‘veil’ comes off and the weird takes over.

    Good read, and thank you for sharing.

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