When I came to, I was in a bed. A hospital bed. Brown curtains boxed me in, but I could hear the beeps of machines and the lady at the desk on the phone. For a second I was unsure how I had ended up there, but as the volume of the throbbing aches in my body, more specifically my face, started to increase, so did the memory of the night before. Derek and Alex had jumped me outside the club. By the pain I was going through it was clear they did a number on me, even if I hadn’t been awake for it.
As I sat up in my bed, a nurse came through the curtains and noticed I was awake. “You’re up,” she said. She was an older Latina lady, one that was probably very attractive in her younger days.
“What happened?” I asked.
“An ambulance brought you in last night,” she answered. “You were beaten pretty bad. One of your friends called the hospital this morning. He’s on his way over.”
I thanked her and lied back against my pillow, trying to focus on anything but the throbbing, pounding, ringing pain. Sure enough, twenty minutes later, Decible came through the curtains. He cringed when he saw me. “Oh shit,” he gasped. “They really worked you over, didn’t they?”
“My face feels like it’s going to explode,” I said. Because of my swollen lip, it came out as a practically inaudible mumble.
He gave me a soft pat on the shoulder, “It’s okay, bud. Let’s get you back to the hood…”
“What a crazy show,” laughed Decible as we drove down the long straightaway back to Vancouver. “Bizarre killed it!”
I didn’t respond.
“Sorry we didn’t have your back,” he continued. “We didn’t know what had happened until the ambulance got there. Grandma saw the whole thing. She said they were stomping on you even after you were knocked out. Who the fuck were those guys?”
“Old friends,” I managed to say.
Decible scoffed, “Some friends…Just think, bro—In a few months we’ll be traveling across the country with Vlad, meeting all kinds of fans, fucking all kinds of chicks…you won’t even remember this shit, trust me.”
I nodded and closed my eyes, resting my head back on the leather headrest. He’s right, I thought. It’ll all be worth it soon enough.
When we got back to the city, I got Decible to drop me off at a bar near the shelter so I could have a few drinks to ease the pain before the shelter opened back up at four. But when I got to the shelter, the young blonde kid at the front desk, having a hard time looking me in the face, told me they gave away my bed because I didn’t show the night before.
That was a hard pill to swallow. It meant I’d be sleeping in the park again that night, something that, in my condition, I was not looking forward to.
So, to drown out my pain and anger, I went back to the bar I was at and started drinking with a purpose. I sat at that bar until it was dark out and when I finally got my bill it was over a hundred dollars. But I got the result I was looking for—I was far too hammered to feel anything. In fact, I was too drunk to even walk straight. So, after stumbling down the street like a true homeless person, I dropped down on the first patch of grass I saw and before I could even get the spins and puke, I was passed out.
When I opened my eyes I was looking up at the stars. The pain throughout my body quickly resurfaced, only this time with an added pounding headache from the hangover. I sat up and shivered. The familiar chill that came with the dead of night was blowing through the streets.
I had passed out in Victory Square, a small park across the street from the Vapour Lounge and just a short walk from Burger Barn. I was impressed that drunk me had found a spot so close to work to fall asleep in. I pulled out my phone and checked the time. It was five in the morning.
As I got up to my feet and wiped the dirt off jeans, I noticed a glowing red dot behind me. I turned and saw it was coming from the ember of a cigarette being smoked by a familiar figure. It was the old, bald guy with the goatee from the shelter. He sat quiet and still, with the exception of his arm raising and lowering the cig from his lips.
I walked up the hill and sat down beside him on the other side of the bench. “Rough night?” he asked, taking a slow drag from his cig. I nodded as I pulled out my Ziploc bag of discarded cigarette butts and my pack of zig-zags, preparing to roll up a butt-smoke. The man pulled out a pack of discount cigarettes and opened it up, offering me one. “Here,” he said. “Take one of these.”
I sighed, gratefully. “Thanks, man. You’re a lifesaver.” My arm shook from cold as I reached into his pack and removed a fresh, crisp cigarette.
“Not a great place to fall asleep,” he said after I lit up.
I exhaled. “Lesson learned…”
We sat and smoked in silence. He didn’t ask me about my fucked up face and I didn’t ask him why he was sitting alone in a park at five in the morning. In that time, I decided, since I had a key to get in, I would go to Burger Barn and try to sleep a little more before my shift started at nine. Before I left I thanked the man for the cigarette and introduced myself. He introduced himself as Bill.
“Nice to meet you, Bill,” I said, flicking my butt down the hill. I felt bad knowing I would soon be inside in the warmth while he was stuck in the cold. But the cold of the night didn’t seem to get to him as it had gotten to me. He almost seemed at home in it.
Standing in the back alleyway, I put the keys into the lock and pulled open the back door. Once inside, I quickly punched in the security code on the pad and flicked on the light to the back hallway.
I took a second to feel the heat surround me. The fluorescent lights puttered on and a rat came scurrying out the kitchen, passed the washrooms, following the wall around the corner, into the dining room. I was too tired to care. I was just looking for a safe place to hide too.
I trudged up the stairs to the office/dry storage and slid off my backpack, which was crinkled and bent from using it as a pillow at Victory Square. At first, I tried to sleep on the table beside the handicap washroom, but the surface was too hard and my legs dangled off the end of it. My next bet was the floor, though I was worried about the rats. I didn’t want my face to be that close to their pathways.
In the end, my exhaustion took over and I curled up like a dog on the dusty carpet. I never really did fully knock out though, because every time I heard a scratch or the ding of a can, I jerked up and scanned the darkness to make sure I wasn’t about to be ambushed by a pack of disease-ridden rodents.
When it came time to start my shift I was in pain, exhausted, and in a horribly foul mood. Needing a release and knowing that no one would be in the restaurant for another few hours, I decided I would give myself a tug in the handicapped bathroom.
I closed the door behind me and turned on the tap so no one would hear me. I knew I was the only one in there, but even still, when I did the dirty deed I always sort of felt like there was someone watching me. I was probably traumatized from how difficult jerking off was with my Indian landlord always wandering about my apartment unannounced back in Burnaby.
With my jeans and my boxers around my ankles, I pulled up some porn pics on my phone and went to work. It didn’t take long for me to get the effect I was looking for. About a minute worth of pumping and I exploded, spewing a goopy mess all over the bathroom floor. My knees buckled and all the pain from the beating and my hangover just melted away in an instant. I was completely refreshed and relaxed. I could have fallen asleep right then and there.
That day the kitchen ran smoother than ever. I was quick, I was focused, and I was in a great mood, despite everybody asking me why my face was so fucked up. We ran twenty-minute bill times for the entire lunch rush and when it was over, Nathan came by the line and said, “Hip Hop, that face is fucking disgusting. But that service was beautiful. Good job. There’s a beer waiting for you at the bar.”
But after the last night I had, I didn’t even want to look at alcohol. The smell alone would be enough to make me sick. The only thing I was looking for was a bed. Thankfully, there was one available at the shelter when I returned after my shift.
I got my blanket and pillow and after throwing them carelessly on my mattress, I headed to the television room to have a warm cup of coffee before I took a much-needed shower.
Bill was there, having a coffee at the table, once again surrounded by his disciples; Jake and the Scabby Kid. As I passed the table, Bill broke from their conversation to ask me if I made out okay. I told him I had. Jake and the Scabby Kid sat there, glaring at me, offended that I had stolen their leader’s attention from them.
Lately, the two of them had made it very clear that I was not welcome in that shelter. I assume they didn’t like me because I kept to myself and read books from the shelter’s library. Maybe they thought that made me untrustworthy, or that perhaps I thought I was better than them. Or maybe it was that I had walked passed Jake a couple times in the halls without acknowledging him. I didn’t think it was necessary. Was it that big of a deal? Or maybe it was nothing. Sometimes people just don’t like you. Plain and simple.
After a hot shower in the communal, I felt clean and exhausted. I hit my bed like a brick and fell asleep with the comforting thought that I was safe now and things would be a lot less problematic from here on out.
I was very wrong.