Jonathan Ratchford

A Bad Day for a White Wedding

We pulled into a dusty, gravel parking lot at a truck stop off of I-70. It was dark, we were lost in Indianapolis and had less than thirty minutes to find the Murat Theatre before The White Stripes took the stage. My cell phone battery was beeping more frequently, declaring the rapidly approaching loss of power.

“I know I turn left here. Where do I go after that? Are you there? Fuck,” I shouted at my phone.

“So what’s going on?” asked Jason, his curiosity now peaked from the verbal assault on my cell phone.

“The phone died!”

“It’s all good. Look I know the last few weeks have been bad for you and all, but trust me,” said Jason, “tonight is going to make up for it I promise,” he said as he ran toward the truck stop.

Jason’s plan sounded good in theory, but in reality we were still lost in a bad part of town with incomplete directions. It was just another incident in a continuous run of bad luck, at least that’s the way I chose to look at the situation. The night was the culmination of the previous few weeks of my life. Typical grade a bullshit. My relationship of three years had recently ended thanks to an unfaithful boyfriend, two lost jobs, and I was sleeping in my car. Needless to say it all added up to a bout of depression and a lot of self-medicating, which only exacerbated the situation. Pride’s a bitch.

Jason knew I was in a dark place when he invited me to the show. When you’ve known someone for twenty two years, you know when they are in over their head, even if they don’t, and Jason knew I was barely treading water.

He was trying to help alleviate my stress, be the light at the end of the tunnel, and he kept saying that, “This was going to be the night that I forgot all my problems!”

If only. Even opiates weren’t working anymore, so I wasn’t putting too much stock into a concert being the end all.

I was always a little self-destructive, but not like this. I definitely didn’t plan on being unemployed and homeless, but that’s what happens you fall in love and let yourself become dependent on somebody, who then cheats on you with a member of your family. He just had to twist the knife in that much deeper. You either lose your dignity to keep a roof over your head, or you do what I did and get the hell out of dodge.

I had little time to ponder my situation before Jason came jogging out of the truck stop excitedly yelling, “I got the directions! We are golden!”

Once you’ve seen the Murat Theatre, it is hard to believe that you could ever miss it. The Murat has a twisted, 1920’s Victorian majesty about it, looking as if Houdini or any other old vaudevillian act could have played there the night before.

“I told you we would find it in time!” said Jason as we pulled into the parking lot.

That was one of Jason’s better qualities, he was always so optimistic, cheeky bastard. We’re complete opposites but we do balance each other out, the Yin to my Yang. Jason is the closest thing I have have to have to a brother.

As we got out of the car I saw the lit marquee, which read, “Tonight Sold Out: The White Stripes”.

“Oh my god I can’t believe we are here right now!” I shouted.

Jason and I used to get high together behind our high school, and when we smoked we always talked about getting tickets for the White Stripes, but like most of our schemes it never came to fruition. Now the dream was real. Looking down from the glitz and glamour of the shiny marquee, I noticed we were in the middle of a dark circus that was the parking lot.

The parking lot stood in stark contrast to the bright and shiny marquee of the theatre. The crowd looked wild and an unstable vibe ran throughout. They were the uncivilized party goers, wild frat guys that just drunkenly stumbled upon a crowd, homeless people looking for a free buzz, etc. Suddenly the dream seemed a lot less dreamy and a lot more real. But who was I to judge? I was living in my car after all. So we set off into the sea of chaos.

We managed to shuffle our way through the rest of the parking lot party toward the theatre relatively unscathed. We brushed off random offers for various substances with a simple thank you and kept moving toward the theatre. Nobody was too aggressive, and I actually gave some cash to a fellow homeless guy. It was a nice change, being able to help someone instead of always being the one who needed help. Things seemed like they were looking up for the night, and that’s when I felt a hand on my shoulder.

I turned around to a kid close to my age, wearing a dirty tickle me Elmo backpack, ratty UFO pants, and a bunch of neon bracelets. He looked like a teenage runaway, a boxcar child.

The next thing I knew he started shouting at me, “Man, you guys ready to party? I’m fucked up, man!”

“So what’s up, man? Can we help you with something?” I asked.

I almost meant it too, something about this kid reminded me of myself. He seemed possessed with the same self-destructive nature that I was, a fellow lost soul. Then he started talking and I quickly forgot about being sympathetic.

“No, man! I wanna help you, man! You wanna get fucked up? I’ve got coke, man, speed, molly. Whatever you need, man!”

It was time to bail; I had enough problems.

“Yeah, man, that’s totally cool. I gotta go to an ATM though, so wait right here. That way we know where to find you and we will be right back.” I said, as convincingly as I could.

Jason and I immediately took off for the theatre, knowing if we got lost in the crowd fast enough that kid would never find us. Hell, if he had everything on him that he said he did,he shouldn’t even remember his own name in an hour. Doing business with strangers wasn’t my thing, and besides that this wasn’t my first rodeo, we came prepared.

After a hasty escape from raver kid we made our way inside the theatre to the lobby. The interior matched the exterior, but only vaguely. The place looked worn out inside, the “tires” were bare and it reeked of booze, cigarettes and fried food. The lighting was dim, giving the whole place an even more mysterious vibe. While waiting I couldn’t help but look at all the intricate little architectural nuances of the theatre and think that the place had “battle scars”. It was like a visual representation of my emotional state. Intricately cut crown moldings now chipped, finely embroidered red velvet curtains that had faded, and ironically the colors red and gold everywhere for their associations to royal elegance and the ideas that they evoked. This place must have been something back in its day.

Ten minutes, four beers, and two security doors later, the black and gold doors to the auditorium were opened and inside we went. A crowd of people under the influence of various substances swaggered and swayed their way to their purchased seats, Jason and I no differently.

“It’s crowded in here, man!” I yelled, while people bumped into me from all directions, clamoring to get inside as if their seats weren’t assigned.

“No duh! It’s called a crowd for a reason.” Jason said sarcastically.

The crowd was from all walks of life. There were hippies, hipsters, punk rockers, preppy people, old people, young people, and to top it all off the lovely young couple seated to my left had just gotten married and decided to wear their tux and wedding gown to the show. They looked so happy that even I couldn’t help but wonder what having someone love you enough to marry you must feel like. I’d never given marriage much thought before, seeing how I can’t legally get married and all, but sitting next to the newlyweds really made me start to wonder if I was even worth being loved. Stupid love. I didn’t even know if I believed in love anymore.

Jason, being the good friend that he is, was picking up on the associations I was making between the newly-weds and my own failed relationship, and quickly interrupted my train of thought.

“You ok?” he asked.

I pointed over to the newly-weds, who were now making out with each other.

“No. The newly-weds here are so lovey dovey it makes me want to puke!”

I didn’t want to keep bringing up all my problems while Jason was actively working to erase them from my mind.

“Don’t be like that. Being a bitter queen never helped anyone,” he said.

He was right.

“I know it isn’t nice, but as far as helping goes, it’s helping me deal right now.”

At this, the lights dimmed and the crowd erupted. Looking toward the stage, I could see why.

Jack and Meg, the brother and sister duo collectively known as The White Stripes, came walking out to a frenzied crowd. We were ready for blood. Meg quietly sat at her drums as Jack strapped on his guitar and stepped up to the mic. The crowd reached maximum volume, screaming in anticipation, knowing that the show was about to begin.

“Holy shit, man, this is really happening like right now!” I shouted.

Meg, while tucking her loose hair behind her ears, was waiting on Jack’s signal, the metaphorical firing gun. Jack built the anticipation to a fever pitch, then he nodded at Meg and they launched into the first song of the night, “Hello Operator”, with a fury.

Jason and I were jumping up and down in a state of intoxicated sonic bliss, stretching every fiber of muscle, which by then felt on fire, burning like hot coals. In the midst of the sweaty, sauna like crowd and my burning muscles, it felt as if I was being consumed within a primal, cleansing fire that was burning away all the negative thoughts and emotions, while the waves of music washed their ashes away. My body was telling me to stop, but I felt the drive to keep going; I needed to. I had to. So I just kept going until it became too painful to bare and my legs finally gave out.

As I fell to the ground all I could do was laugh. I was lying in a puddle of some unknown liquid and cigarette ashes on the floor of a dusty old theatre, and it was the cleanest I had ever felt.  I laid there laughing for a moment, not caring what happened next. I’d never been a religious man, but I imagined that this must have been how Catholics felt after a confession.  Jason, just as lost in the moment as I was, hadn’t even noticed my collapse and was startled to see me lying on the ground.

“Holy shit! What happened, man? Are you ok?” he shouted.

I thought about it for a second.

“I don’t know. But I think I will be,” I said as I got up from the theatre floor.

The pain in my muscles had decreased to manageable levels now and I was riding a natural high on top of an artificial one. The next two hours were a blur and before we knew it Jack was tapping the rhythm to “Seven Nation Army” on his brown vintage Kay guitar, signaling that this was to be the last song of the night. Jack shredded the song and with a simple thank you and bow, both Jack and Meg left the stage just as quietly as they appeared, leaving all of us in the crowd unsure if the greatness we had just witnessed really happened.

The lights of the auditorium switched back on and changed the vibe of the room instantly from the carefree party atmosphere that it had been for the past two hours into one of almost forced sobriety. The spell was broken, the illusion shattered, reality exposed. The natural high was long gone, and the horrible realization of one’s environment that happens when the lights come on during last call affects everyone differently, but for most people, including me, it’s not good. Both Jason and I were by then on the back end of a buzz and all the smells of the theatre were really starting to bother me, including the bride’s nasty perfume, which seemed more potent than ever.

“You alright?” asked Jason.

“No. I think I’m starting to get the fear. I just need to get out of this room. It’s too hot in here right now.”

I felt way too hot and was beginning to get that salty buildup of saliva that foreshadowed every time I had ever puked. All I could think was that if I spit, and kept spitting, I wouldn’t puke.

“I just got to make it out of this room to the bathroom, which wouldn’t be a problem if everyone wasn’t leaving right this second!” I shouted.

Of course everyone was confused at the door, causing the flow of people to become congested to the point of immobility. Just my luck. Left with only one viable option I started using my empty plastic beer cup.

I kept spitting and spitting, but the feeling wasn’t going away.

Jason tried to help by repeatedly saying, “You’ll be ok, man. We will be out of here in a minute, just hold it together for a little longer.”

It didn’t help me at all and, in a last ditch effort to keep from puking, I took a sip of my bottled water. For the first few seconds the cold water helped ease the nausea, but then I was hit square in the face by another strong whiff of the bride’s perfume and realized I was in trouble.

I felt the contents of my stomach rise and I tried with everything I had to hold it down as long as I could, but the floodgates were opened and out it came. Aim was never an option. I was surrounded by people on all sides, stuck in a row of chairs. Where was I going to aim at that didn’t hit somebody? So I let it fly, and fly it did, right onto the bride’s brand new virginal white dress. By the time I had stopped puking her dress wasn’t the only casualty, but the bride’s reaction let me know it was one of the hardest hit.

I felt like I was back at square one.

I was still pale white and pouring sweat when the bride was taking swings at me yelling, “You ruined my night! This was supposed to be my night!”

Jason, still highly under the influence, decided to save the day by leaning around me and yelling at the bride, “This man has a medical condition! You wouldn’t hit a cripple would you?”

The whole time that she was freaking out, all I could think is that I really couldn’t blame her, could I? Then again, who wears a wedding dress to a rock concert? Either way, I felt as if my bearings were starting to come back to me and my first instinct was the correct one. Run!

Jason and I fled instantly and the only place I could think to both clean my mouth out and avoid the bride was the nearest men’s restroom. The news of what had just happened traveled fast, and when we were jogging through the lobby towards the restroom there were more than a few people yelling “that’s the guy that puked on that girls wedding dress!” This caused Jason to burst out laughing uncontrollably every time he heard it. I just kept my head down.

Finally in the safety of the restroom, I gurgled as much water as I could until I was sure the nasty taste of vomit was long gone. I was sitting on the bathroom floor amidst overly long pubic hares and dried piss, fighting back tears.

“Why is this happening? Why does everything I touch turn to shit? I really thought I could escape my problems, but I am the fucking problem!” I said.

I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer.

“Tonight was so perfect. I should have seen it coming.”

“That’s not true,” said Jason.

“Oh, really? I didn’t tell you I tried to kill myself last week, did I?”

“What?”

The confession shocked Jason enough to sober him up for a second.

“Yup, sure did. It was the day I moved out of Rick’s. Fucking Rick. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to lose him. Nah, he was just another piece of shit on the pile. The reason, the real reason I wanted off this fucked up ride called life is simple. I’m tired man. I’m tired of not feeling anything. I’m tired of not being anything! Fuck I’m twenty seven years old and living in my car, with not shit to show for twenty seven fucking years worth of bullshit! So I went and got a half gram of some primo dope, the shit that killed Elvis, and I just fucking went to town. I figured hey, at the worst I go out high in my sleep. Turns out I’m such a fuck up that I couldn’t even overdose right! I woke up a day later when you were knocking on my door to invite me, funny enough, to come here,” I said.

I looked over at Jason, who was being uncharacteristically quiet, to see him just standing there, tears running down his face. He looked frozen in a state of disbelief. We both sat there silently for a few minutes, not knowing what to say.

Then Jason wiped his eyes, and out of nowhere blurted out, “Look the universe has a weird way of working. Maybe you needed to puke on that bride. Did you ever think of that? Maybe that was everything bad you had bottled up and if you hadn’t gotten it out you might have went crazy and shot all kind of people. Yeah, that’s it! That bride should be thankful! She got to serve some higher cosmic purpose and saved God knows how many lives by being puked on!”

He was being sincere, but it was such an asinine statement that without even thinking I burst out laughing.

“What’s so funny?” asked Jason.

“You don’t really mean that, do you?”

“Yeah, I mean it. You lived for a reason, I showed up at your house for a reason, and we are here tonight for a reason, whatever that reason is.”

“I’m going to go out on a limb and say mass murder is not the reason we are here tonight,” I said giggling.

“Well, no shit. I was just using that as an example. You know what I mean. Besides you’re no killer,” he said, realizing his words were starting to reach me.

“Yeah, I couldn’t even off myself, let alone someone who wanted to live,” I said, but Jason shot me a serious look that said I should quit while I was ahead, and he was rarely serious.

“So how the hell are we getting out of here?” I asked. “The Bride has probably got her posse of bridesmaids out in the lobby waiting to jump me with bridal bouquets and strangle my ass with a garter belt.”

“We could take em,” Jason said seriously.

“No, really, we need to go before anything else happens.”

I peeped out of the bathroom door, scouting for anyone who even looked like they might have been with a wedding party, but the coast was clear.

“Well, it’s now or never,” I said. “Jason?”

I turned around to see Jason was literally falling asleep standing up. We were emotionally and physically exhausted, but we weren’t out of the fire just yet. So I splashed my face with some water from the sink in an effort to regain a little bit more composure for the forty yard dash out the front door.

I grabbed Jason, who at that point was half awake, and becoming more of a liability and less like Buddha by the minute. We walked quickly and with purpose straight out of the bathroom, through the lobby full of people who were all discussing if they were lucky enough to witness what was already being referred to as “The Incident,” and straight out the front doors. Heading quickly for the line of waiting taxis, I was almost to the road when I felt it, the hand on my shoulder.

“Where you been, man? I’ve been waiting, like, two hours for you. I didn’t have a ticket, so I thought I would chill here. You left me hanging man!” shouted the raver kid.

Shit!

“Yeah, we couldn’t find an ATM, then the show started… This guy is really sick! He has a medical condition! I’m taking him to the hospital right now! Sorry, man!” I said as I carried Jason as fast as I could to the road.

We crossed the road quickly, and finally after all the obstacles and revelations, we made it.

I grabbed us the closest taxi I could and opened the back door, helping Jason in when I heard raver kid shout to me from across the street, “Where are you going, man? How you gonna do me like that?”

The raver kid sounded so genuinely let down that I thought I would try to offer some sort of peace token.

“I’m sorry,” I shouted across the street.

“Sorry? Really? No. No! You hurt me! A plague on both your houses,” the raver kid shouted back, and he turned and disappeared back into the parking lot party from whence he came.

I was stunned because up until this moment the night was going so well, and now it was going to end with raver kid putting a Shakespearean curse on me? Screw it. I hopped into the backseat of the taxi quickly, not wanting to linger there another minute.

“The Holiday Inn!” I said to the driver, and we pulled off into the safe obscurity of night.

 

 

Jonathan Ratchford is a sophomore at Indiana University East in Richmond, IN, where he majors in English with a concentration in creative writing. He is currently a member of the Indiana University East chapter of Sigma Tau Delta. He is expected to graduate with a B.A. in December 2016.

 

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