I don’t remember the name of that liquor store in Wichita, the one I drove to every few days. I do remember the asphalt of its parking lot—the line of burned yellow curbs, stepped-on cigarettes, some still smoldering, and the sadness of scratched lottery tickets. Still, I can’t remember the name—there’s nothing. No, not nothing, more like that hiss-sizzle-click on a record before the song. An unquiet blank. For the four months I lived in that town in my mid-thirties, I’d turn into one of the store’s two entrances, alternating each trip to see if one entrance over another might change something, anything.
I’ve moved to three different states since then.
Moving doesn’t make anything different either.
I was keeping my head down back then as if underwater, sure if I met strangers’ eyes they’d see the “I’m not supposed to be here” look in mine. Not the liquor store. Kansas. Wichita. A room of a house that wasn’t mine, a bed I borrowed. Just somewhere to wait out the world for a while until I got it in my mind again to get going. And I’ve kept on. Going, going, always somewhere between about-to-be-going and gone. Maybe I’m afraid to hear what I might say if I stayed and thought about it all for a while. Maybe if I’d just stop walking into liquor stores to buy wine. I bother my mind, wonder if I’ll ever let the liquor store alone.
He left long before Wichita.
He left in Boulder, so I left Boulder (Liquor Mart on 15th). Then I left Cedar City (State Liquor Store on Main) and Missoula (Walgreens on Reserve) and Boise (State Liquor Store on West Grove) and Stillwater (Brown’s Bottle Shop on North Main) and Canton (Ye Olde Liquors on Route 11). All those liquor stores, all those lingering, suitcase-heavy leavings. But his was sudden, like somebody picked up the arm from the record in the middle of a song. That needle scratch a wail.
Drinking is a lot like leaving.
But this isn’t about my drinking. I mean, so much already is. This is about one part of my self, a part I’ve exaggerated, like turning the volume way, way up. No, this isn’t about denial. It’s about distance. One true (leaving) and one false (lushing). What’s that line? And not waving but drowning? The way we all misinterpret the signals—even our own—from far, far away. Think we know better when we don’t. We have no idea. None.
This is about me trying to get ahead of something that already happened, as if I can move that needle back to the beginning and walk out before anyone can name the song.
The liquor store I go to now is on 53rd in Chicago, the next town I’ll be leaving. That’s the way I’ve come to think about towns. I’ll leave here. Just you wait. And I will.
In a month, I’ll head out to the desert and take the exit to a small New Mexico town and search for a liquor store sign. I imagine I’ll pull into the parking lot and sigh, know that nothing’s changing, my numbers aren’t coming up, and the fade of so much scratching is wearing me to smolder. Gripping the steering wheel, I’ll stare at the store’s name, the one I’ll forget in a year or two. And in that moment, I’ll be a needle poised above the record, knowing every note of the song I’m about to play, the one that warps in a quiet room with an open window, a thin sheer of a curtain billowing to unveil the shadows of the life I leave cities to forget. And I’ll set that needle down.