Escape (the) Artist
Though this is very inspired by a true story, it’s not 100% accurate because, frankly, I just don’t care to remember everything anymore.
But I’ve wanted to write about it for a long time because the parts that are true are better than fiction. And it’s taken me six years of re-writing and a big welcome nudge from Cara Thereon and her Draft Folder Challenge to get me to finish and finally be done with it.
I heard the second set of footsteps pass over my head.
Fully dressed, coat on, perched awkwardly on the edge of his bed, just… waiting. I didn’t have much of a choice, did I?
I looked up to the small window; it peeked out onto the backyard. I pretended to ponder the grey-gold twilight bleeding through the snow drifts pressed up to the glass while I sat there twiddling my thumbs.
Then, the soft thump of his feet descending the carpeted stairs heralded his return. He closed the door behind him and planted his hands on his hips. I caught that demonic glint in his eyes as he peered through the dim of his basement bedroom at me.
“Yeah,” he said with the slightest undertone of a snicker. “I think you’re fucked.”
In trying to recall this tale, I realize how tricky one’s memory can be. I had a rather unhealthy attachment to this guy and it seems that in cutting him out for good, I may have corrupted the part of my mind where I stored my memories of him.
So though I’ve done my best to capture this scene for you, I can’t be certain every detail is entirely accurate. For example, when I first sat down to write, I first thought it took place in the summertime. But it was, in fact, the late night hours of a cold near-winter night in the middle of November when I received the sudden, expectedly unexpected invitation to come over to his place.
But I feel that it’s gone under-appreciated for far too long.
For it was no mere morning-after walk of shame.
It was a feat of stealth and escape artistry.
This really starts with the last time I shared a bed with this guy. That’s noteworthy because this was not normal behaviour for us. We had sex in cars on purpose and in graveyards by accident. We trespassed on condemned properties and stole moments in strangers’ bathrooms and sprawled out on the cold hard floors in spare bedrooms.
We didn’t fuck in beds.
It was the middle of the night when I arrived. He’d left the door unlocked for me. I let myself into the dark, deathly quiet house. I’d been there only twice before, but I had an idea of the layout and where to go. I also knew to bring my shoes down with me so as to eliminate any evidence that a stranger was in the house.
I didn’t judge him for still living at home. He was a student. I’d have done the same if I’d had the option. But the way he conducted himself when I was his houseguest was as strange as he was.
I located the door to the basement, carefully and quietly opened it, closed it behind me, and made my descent. He was waiting for me at the foot of the stairs and greeted me with typical vicious enthusiasm.
He latched onto my lips and pushed me towards the bathroom. Very few words were exchanged as he ran the water in the shower and promptly tore into me, peeling every last scrap of material from my body. He was still fully clothed when he ushered me back by the mouth into the water.
As the warm stream poured down on us, he pressed into me, pressing me into the glass, and we drank each other in like it was the last time.
Because it was.
He stepped out before me and finally removed his soaking wet clothes. He wrapped me in a plush towel and held me close to him for a moment. Though it lacked tenderness, the compression was comforting and the closest thing to affection he was capable of offering me.
With our canvases rinsed clean to make way for fresh filth, we made our way then to his bedroom. It had been years since the last time I’d seen it but not much had changed. The same bed that was a little too big was still snug up against the wall to the outside. Papers were strewn about; stacks upon stacks of books and scientific journals and articles and piles of notes drowned his desk. Dresser drawers gaped open to reveal the neatness with which he folded his clothes…
As I surveyed his lair, the room went black and I heard a snarl as he came at me from behind.
What ensued then was feverish, sweating, rabid fucking that knew nothing of gentleness. With the lights out and the sun still fast asleep, we destroyed each other in the darkness.
I bit his lip between crude adaptations of kisses and tasted the tang of metal. His wicked laugh and wild eyes, dilated wide, told me how much he loved the pain I brought him. He spurred me on with similar ferociousness, carving blood-red tracks into my back, my chest. Bruises in the valley of my breasts, in the meat of my thighs, in the dips of my shoulder. Nothing so juvenile as hickeys, mind you… These were blisters and scars that would take years to disintegrate.
It was calculated brutality. We how to pick each other apart just so, leaving a collection of abrasive souvenirs that would stay with us as painful reminders that we were alive once. I lived for it then, and when I would think back on it later, alone in the darkness of my own solitary cave, I would die for it too.
Whatever we were to each other then, it was important, and it was devastating.
In the sweaty aftermath of our mutual destruction, I watched the first glow of twilight creep into the room and some skewed version of peace washed over his face.
With his eyes closed, nose pointed to the ceiling, a couple of long fingers threaded through my hair, he began to ramble. About existential philosophers and nihilism and socialist treatises. About his recent theories on the principles of sound frequencies and how one might be able to manipulate them to combine them in new, mathematically perfect yet musical ways. You know, normal stuff.
But then he slipped deeper, confiding in me the extent of his struggles with his creative cycles. He was a brooding and complex artist type, and he willingly suffered for his art. He felt the most alive when that pain was at its most intense; he preferred to embrace his darkness than pursue bliss.
I’m not sure how many people with whom he shared as rawly as he did me. Sometimes, I suspected I was amongst the very few privy to these deep dark thoughts of his, and that was why he kept coming back to me, of all people. I was a safe space. And for a time, I really thought I liked being that sanctuary for such a wild and terrifying animal. It felt like I’d tamed some forbidden magic. And nothing good has ever come of mortals tampering with the dark arts.
But even for him, this was a lot of sharing for one night. Maybe it was what scared him into the proverbial death of us.
Eventually, his words fell away, replaced by the soft hum of the complex bars of his yet-to-be-written opera until he drifted off to silence.
Though I did not sleep, I’d set an alarm. It went off too soon as it always did, alerting me that it was time to think about leaving. I did have to work later that morning, after all.
As I put the last of my clothes on, he stirred and asked if I was going. I said that I probably should.
Just then, the creak of soft footsteps passed over our head. His face turned up tot he source of the sound and he sneered with obvious concern. I looked at him questioningly.
He said something to the effect of: “My mother is awake.”
I asked him why that mattered. He didn’t respond. He got up, slipped into a pair of sweat pants and a t-shirt and walked out the door. I heard him plod up the stairs.
“Yeah, I think you’re fucked.”
I sat up a little straighter and found that my patience reserves had much less to offer than usual. “What do you mean ‘fucked’?”
There was never any proper explanation given. Whether it was more him or her who would be more scandalized by me encountering his mom in the hallway, I’ll never know. All I know is that I was forbidden from using the front door.
“Well, what am I supposed to do?” I asked. “I have to go to work.”
I don’t remember him having any suggestions. Approaching anger for his disregard for me then, I stood up on the bed and evaluated the small window that was then at face level. Oddly enough, one of my longstanding hidden talents is crawling through basement windows, so I asked, “Well then, can I go through here?”
He looked at me with a mix of confusion and intrigue; I wasn’t one to bark with such authority at him. I even surprised myself with my bluntness then.
This is also where things really start to get proper silly.
He stood up beside me and slid the window open to suss out my possible escape route. There was a screen over the window as is the custom in that part of the world, which he struggled to remove—it didn’t want to come free of its fasteners.
“I guess you’ll just have to cut it out,” I suggested.
I watched on with genuine shock and awe as he retrieved the pocket knife from somewhere in the mess on his desk and cut through screen, punching and ripping it right out of its frame. Some of the snow fell to the bed at our feet.
With the screen removed, we then had the issue of the barbecue to contend with. It had been pushed up against the side of the house, buried under snow until the spring’s return. And of course, it also blocked most of the opening of the window, i.e. my only possible exit.
Moving the top-heavy barbecue with a small amount of limited force at its bottom corner across snow-covered the patio space, and doing so without making a sound, was no easy feat. The strain on his face was cartoonish as he inched the hefty appliance across the pavement while more snow fell into the room. This is where the frame fell off its wheels; somehow he managed to catch the great metal beast without sending it crashing, nor severing his fingers at the knuckles.
“That’s good enough,” I snapped. It was as far as we were going to get it and I didn’t really want him to hurt himself. “I can make this work.”
Sweating and huffing, he explained the rough map of their property to me, highlighting where the kitchen window was (because I would need to keep low to avoid being spotted, of course). I wrapped my coat tighter around my neck and nodded, as if this was a totally normal conversation to be having at 6:30 in the morning.
I went backwards, facing him as I hoisted myself up by my palms like I was coming out of the most awkward pool to sit at its edge. Taking care not to snag myself on stray, wiry filaments of the sliced screen, I slid through the open space and squeezed myself up through the window frame, wrapping around the side panel of the barbecue. I ended up with a few little scrapes on my forehead when I underestimated how low the window frame dipped, and seat of my jeans was damp from the snow that had melted into it, but otherwise, it was a smooth ascent.
As I brushed snow from my coat and squatted down low, I took a quick survey of my surroundings to orient myself. I could see along the side of the house and though I couldn’t see the street through the snow-dusted shrubbery at the far end of the property, I knew then which way it was. A few meters away, I noted the aforementioned kitchen windows. Despite it being the middle of November, they were open wide, drinking in the first sips of morning.
This whole family is nuts, I thought.
He smirked like he’d heard me.
I looked back to the yard, fine-tuning the plan for my trajectory. It was only then I realized the major issue of the snow… Though it wasn’t very thick along the path to the front, it was still there. While I pondered how I’d deal with the inevitable footprints I’d leave behind, I heard the window slide shut. The beast had slipped back into the darkness of his cave.
There was a rogue pine branch on the ground next to the house. I picked it up and set to slinking off alone into the morning, still crouched low, brushing my tracks away with moderate amounts of success as I carefully stalked my way around the periphery of the house.
Listen—I didn’t do it for his sake. But I’ll be damned if I wasn’t going to ace this breakout. And I truly hope to all the gods that the nieghbours were watching this whole production while they sipped their morning coffee because come on—this whole thing is pretty hilarious.
With my back pressed flat to the side of the house, I edged myself under the kitchen window (by some gift from the Universe, there was no snow right under it), every bit the Hollywood spy I always dreamed of being. Just as I passed to the other side of it, I heard the sounds of life mulling around inside the house, punctuated by what sounded like the cough of a middle-aged woman.
When I finally got out from between the two houses, I took a few bounding leaps, making a wide berth (and as few snow prints as I could), pretending I’d come out from the neighbouring yard instead, and beelined it down to my car parked in the street.
From the safety of my driver’s seat, I gave a quick glance back to his house. There were no obvious signs of life. The curtains in all the front windows were tightly drawn.
I put on my sunglasses (the sun was actually quite bright by then and I was driving due east), turned my music up louder than it needed to be, rolled down my windows, and peeled off into the cool, though oddly comfortable morning like a bat out of the bowels of hell, shaking with tears of laughter.
I drove straight to work, changing into my work clothes while stopped at red lights along the way. I wouldn’t find the bite marks on my clavicle until I got home later that day, but my hair was long enough then that I don’t think anyone else noticed them either.
I would hear from him once or twice more after this event before we would sever ties completely, but this was the last proper chapter in the novelty that was our joint narrative. Now that I’ve long since exorcized the last of our demons and the bruises have healed, the scars faded; the hurts dissipated… This is the moment I look back on and see as our epic conclusion.
It marked the long-awaited death of something. That moment when I not only I crawled out and away from the beguiling, subterranean darkness that had ensnared me for too long, but then proceeded to run furtive early morning victory laps around its mother’s house.
Not a bad way to start the day.